His office is spacious but his presence is suffocating. He fixes a mirror bright gaze on her through the thin sheen of his glasses, eyes cold and unreadable.
"You are well then?" when he speaks, she doesn't look into his eyes, choosing instead to look at his desk, neat to the point of lifelessness.
She nods, throat caught between words and silence.
"The staff has grown quite fond of you." When he pushes his glasses up, she is reminded of the younger Quincy, kinder and gentler but far too bright for this world. "They say your presence here is a boon."
She reads between the words to read what he won't say.
"I can't spare any more time. You can go."
She moves to speak but her throat is still caught, with ghosts strangling the words in her soul.
It is only when Orihime leaves Ryuuken's office she is finally able to speak.
His absolution is never given, and Orihime knows it cannot be earned.
No matter what else happened, they succeeded.
Orihime wishes they hadn't.
The white halls of the hospital are small and narrow and confining- but human, oh so human and nothing like the inhuman smell and silence and feel of Las Noches.
Orihime walks the halls like the ghost of a goddess. She grants the boon of tiny, warm smiles to the dying and the damaged, the touch of her hands to some, the warmth of her words to others.
She tries to save their souls as best she can, since she cannot save their bodies.
After all, she's the only one who can protect everyone now.
Orihime could never fully recount those last moments, no matter how often Ryuuken interrogated her or how long she stayed awake in the quiet of the night.
The door was broken down by the grinning, battered and nearly broken jaw of Renji's bankai as he was screaming something incoherent, with Ichigo covering his back with nothing but Zangetsu's shikai form and Ishida gesturing wildly, grasping her hand and tugging her out of the room.
Scores of Arrancar leapt, flew, crawled or just lunged at them, with Renji smashing them aside with brute force and Ichigo hacking away constantly, a blur of black and steel.
"JUST GO!" Ichigo had screamed, voice hoarse, hands bleeding from holding the sword too tightly-
"Goddamn it kid, take the girl and run!" Renji snarled, and then screamed as his bankai was broken down as one of the Espada (not Ulquiorra, nor Grimmjaw she somehow remembered), punched through it.
Ichigo lunged between them, and Zangetsu's edge broke against the iron force of the Arrancar.
It was only when Ishida fled down the hallway and blasted open the walls of Las Noches that Orihime understood that place was going to become a grave.
Orihime spends the most amount of time in the Children's Ward. She entertains them with stories about mecha and monsters, with her smile and her laugh and her life. Sometimes she is brave enough to tell them about a boy with tattoos and wild red hair, a smart boy with a talent for archery, a gentle giant, the kindest and most beautiful girl she ever knew, and once she was brave enough to talk about a boy with the funniest scowl ever.
She tells them about these stories because the people in them can't tell their own stories anymore.
She is never brave enough to tell their final story.
Orihime likes the children in the ward, and loves to see their smiles, but doesn't come there for that.
She comes there because Ryuuken never does.
Somehow, through sheer will (Pride, Orihime will correct later, pride enough not to be the one who failed in their mission), Uryuu makes his way to his father's hospital, still clutching Orihime, despite all her attempts to free herself and return to the depths of Las Noches.
Ryuuken does not cry out as he stands at its gates, waiting in the midnight hour. He does not shake and he does not weep, as if carved out of stone.
Uryuu seems to expect this, and carries himself accordingly, and the two Quincy's stare at one another for an eternal moment.
"Take care of her," Uryuu's voice is rough and hoarse and only barely polite.
Ryuuken does not look at her, something she will learn to try and get used to. "Very well."
"Swear on your pride," Uryuu continues, and now he sounds ragged and done, as if this is spending all of his life at once. "Swear on your pride she'll stay safe."
Ryuuken judges his son with such cold impartiality in that moment that Orihime wishes she had never seen it.
"I swear it on my pride."
Uryuu smiles a grateful smile at his father- just a small one- and then turns away. "Then I'm going to go back. Ichigo needs someone to rescue his idiot self, and Renji's just as bad as him."
No one is fooled.
Uryuu is the only one of them denied the honor of a warrior's death, and his pride will not allow that. If there is a chance of redemption, no matter how foolhardy, Uryuu will take it.
Don't go, she wants to say, but as she steps forward to speak Ryuuken places hand on her shoulder and silences her. His grip is fierce and tight and hurting, and she realizes that he's crying without tears.
Together, they watch Uryuu leave, back straight, an Orpheus who had gotten Eurydice out of Hell but was still damned to Eternity there anyway.
The hospital is thrumming and screaming, like a mad beast in the throes of battle. Orihime's questions go unheard so she rushes down with the herd of people that are so much like the lifeblood the hospital, pushing life into others.
Oh God, he's just a boy, she hears somewhere in the mad rush.
It is just a boy- not even close to being a young man yet, and looking even smaller in his weakness, and when the light catches his brown hair, it looks like a kind of orange.
Orihime waits until even the most dedicated have abandoned him, declaring him dead. She leans over the bed, looking into closed eyes, and imagines they are a burning brown, full of determination.
She whispers the names of the Shun Shun Rikka, a prayer for absolution from a deaf God.
"You shouldn't have done that." Ryuuken dangles a cigarette between his lips as he lights it, breathing in the smoke like one embraces salvation. "People ask questions when the dead come back."
"He didn't have to die," Orihime whispers, her words as small as she knew they would be in the space of his office.
"No, he didn't have to," Ryuuken agrees, a slow stream of smoke lifting toward the heavens, "But that doesn't mean he should have been saved."
Orihime wants to argue that everyone needs to be saved, but those are Ichigo's words.
Orihime is proof that not everyone should be saved.
So she swallows down the words from the ghosts haunting her, and nods.
"You saved someone today." Ryuuken leans into his chair and pulls the cigarette from his lips with practiced grace. "Live with that."
The words are delivered without cruelty but without kindness as well.
Orihime had enough of both for a lifetime anyway though.
So she smiled something that was half-broken and half-okay. "Alright."
Ryuuken allowed himself to be surprised, and resisted the irrational impulse to smile too.
Orihime almost misses the reiatsu, hidden as it is, but feels it and runs to the roof.
"She must come with us. Her knowledge of Las Noches is invaluable." The Shinigami is unknown to her, a faceless member of the Gotei-13.
Ryuuken stands with his back to her, unseeing but no doubt aware of her presence. He is silent and still as a statue once more.
"Girl!" the Shinigami has noticed her at last, and takes a step toward her. "By order of General Yamamato, you must come with us," he advances with every word, and moves to grab her hand.
Ryuuken is between them in an instant, and his bow is raised, pointed directly into the Shinigami's face.
Unlike Uryuu, he is willing to kill for what he protects.
"Leave." The word is as dangerous as the weapon in his hands.
The Shinigami retreats, swearing retribution, but it seems the Quincy (for now Orihime has no doubt he is one) has chosen to ignore him, turning toward her.
For a moment, Orihime believes there is something kind in his eyes.
"I swore it on my pride," he murmurs dispassionately as he passes her, bow dissipating in his hands.
I swore it for Uryuu.
Orihime watches his back for a moment, then follows him inside.
The secretary flashes him a smile that is more knowing than her bland one. The nurses have been whispering and glancing at him with barely restrained amusement.
Orihime must have done something, he thinks to himself, missing the fact he has begun calling her by her name, when once she was only the girl.
He gets into his office, and sees what she has done. It is impossible to miss on amongst the immaculateness of his desk- a poorly made and strangely composed bento lunch with a bright pink note of thanks sitting in the center.
The food is bizarre and likely dangerous, but Ryuuken dares what other men would not dream to do and eats every bit of it.
If worse comes to worse, he is in a hospital already.
When it rains the next day, Orihime dances on the roof the hospital and whispers the names of her friends into the heavensent drops, a final prayer for the absolution she doesn't need as desperately anymore.
Ryuuken comes up to the roof with an annoyed look and a change of clothes, saying nothing but chiding her with his eyes anyway.
Orihime only smiles, grateful her prayer has been heard.