He brought her a chocolate mint pie, once. Her favorite; she'd always had a sweet tooth. Looking back, he wasn't sure why he'd thought it would help... in those days he'd clung to any hope he could find, and the idea that such an offering might somehow coax her back to him hadn't seemed beyond possibility. It had certainly seemed more fitting than the endless procession of paper birds that had roosted on windowsills and tabletops and never flown.

It hadn't worked, of course. The pie had gone untouched until he could no longer bear to look at it, until he'd given it away just to get it out of his sight. It had gone to the cadre of quiet women who came and went throughout the day and looked at him with pitying eyes; one of them had pressed a piece of it towards him on a paper plate, but he hadn't been able to eat it. He'd just looked at it until the nauseated lump in his throat had grown unbearable and he'd had to throw it away.

The smell of chocolate mint brought that sick feeling back even now.

It just didn't seem right, somehow. How could he take any pleasure in something she loved when she couldn't herself? He'd never been any kind of artist - had never had the imagination for it - but he'd always had a keen eye for balance, and it went against the rightness of things that he should be able to smile when she couldn't. So he'd simply stopped smiling.

Maybe that was how he'd ended up where he was - not just for vengeance, although there was that, too, but for justice. A different kind of justice, a self-imposed penance for every cup of tea drunk in the mornings, every flower smelled, every sunrise and sunset that he saw while she lay imprisoned in antiseptic white. There was so little he could do for her, and the need ached inside until the only way to fill it was to punish himself for having what she didn't.

Every wound was endured as fair payment. His soul he sold for money, for the promises of treatment and protection, but every drop of blood he shed was another paper bird. He would buy back her pain with his own, a bit at a time, until there was none left. He'd make his revenge on earth with his own two hands, and when that was done a thousand paper birds would carry his prayer to heaven - a request not for a miracle, but for a fair trade.

He would give her the only thing he had left to give - the life that should have been hers to begin with. He would die, the scales would be balanced, and she would live and smile and eat chocolate mint pie again.

He hoped that for her, it would still taste sweet.