disclaimer: disclaimed.
dedication: les.
notes: BAW BAW BAW.

title: the widow in paradise
summary: The endless sea of shimmering lights that we call home. — Ulquiorra/Orihime/Ishida

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Orihime screams as they fall.

The sound tears itself out of her throat like lightning and she isn't quite sure what she's trying to accomplish because screaming never helps anyone. Screaming never helps anything and usually it actually only makes things worse but Orihime can't help herself.

Gold and black streaking downwards, downwards, down forever and after in indigo blue until

She woke up.

Orihime sat straight up, rigid with the sheets tangled around her legs. She wrapped her arms around herself, dig her nails into her ribs because the pain would remind her that everything was going to be okay—everything was okay. Everything was okay.

Except that actually a lot of things weren't.

She still couldn't sleep a night through. She knew Chad-kun was the same, and Ishida-san—well, Ishida-san never slept very much in the first place, she thought. Kurosaki-kun, though…

He slept like the dead.

Not that that was saying very much.

Because being dead wasn't a consistent state. From what Orihime had seen, dead people who were actually alive were popping up all over the place. Or, rather, people who should have been dead.

Orihime was pretty sure she'd seen Szayel in the market, not two days ago. She'd seen pink hair and a flash of glasses, and done a double-take—the resemblance out of the corner of her eye had been uncanny.

But whoever it was had already gone. She had been so unnerved that she'd gathered up her groceries, paid and left as fast as she could with shivers chasing up and down her spine all the way home.

It hadn't been a good feeling.

And Szayel was supposed to be dead.

It brought a mixture of thoughts to the surface. It went a bit like this:

Szayel can't be back because he's dead because Ishida-san said he was dead and Ishida-san never lies because he's Ishida-san so it must have been someone else yes someone else you're being silly Orihime how could you even think

The thoughts streamed through her like water. Orihime couldn't help them.

Because if Szayel was alive—

She didn't like to think of what could be possible, if Szayel was alive. She winced. She'd immediately thought of the whole ordeal, leaving because she'd thought it would be the best thing to do. Only it hadn't been, and she'd somehow ended up in a loop with Aizen and Grimmjow and Ulquiorra.

Oh, Ulquiorra.

Orihime smiled in the darkness.

She didn't often let herself think of him. It was stupid, but dwelling on the past never came to anything good.

Orihime knew that first hand.

Her hands fisted in the sheets almost involuntarily. There were parts that she didn't want to remember because those parts hurt. Those parts brought the dreams. But there were good times, too.

when the moons turn red-gold and Orihime looks up and up and up, bathed in bloody light with her hair on fire and her soul looking hollow. Hollow, empty, sad, green eyes and black tear tracks, fingers along her throat and

Really.

Maybe harder times.

But good.

Sort of.

Orihime didn't really know what she was thinking. It was late, she was being silly, and she had class in the morning.

They were all dead.

Orihime flopped back down on her bed, and closed her eyes. She knew better than to pretend otherwise.

There was no coming back from the dead.

She stayed awake for a very long time; long enough that the earliest glow of sunlight was creeping over the houses. She stayed awake so long that there was no point going back to sleep.

Orihime sighed, and pushed herself out of bed.

Another day.

/ / /

It was the loneliness that got her. Orihime didn't even know where it came from, just that it was there in her chest and she couldn't get rid of it. It was stupid because she had Tatsuki-chan and Chizuru-chan and Chad-kun and Ishida-san and even Kurosaki-kun.

Although Orihime privately thought that the only person who really had Kurosaki-kun was Rukia-chan.

She tried not to wince.

(Rukia-chan was gone.)

She sighed and stared at her desk and she might have been sad.

"Are you alright?"

The voice came from her left, and Orihime looked up through her lashes to find an endless sea of dark blue staring intently at her.

She would have blushed, but it was just Ishida-san.

"I'm fine," she said and smiled.

She'd gotten better at lying through her teeth.

One day maybe it would be the truth.

She could see that he didn't believe her. Orihime didn't blame him, really, because who in their right mind would be fine, after everything? She'd bled, nearly tore her vocal chords out screaming, healed, lived, and laughed.

Hueco Mundo had been many things, but Orihime had not been unhappy there.

she's sitting in her bedroom with the window open. She's pretty sure he hates it (maybe because open windows are like freedom and Orihime is a caged bird. She's pretty and behind bars, not meant for the outside world to see), but she leaves it open anyway. He stands in the back of the room

She'd felt… safe. That was saying something, she guessed, because Orihime never really felt safe. Living alone had always left a little knot of paranoia under her breastbone that eased only through weird food and weirder friends.

Orihime had both, so it wasn't so bad.

(She'd learned early on that no one wanted to talk to a broken girl, and that bubbly and oblivious was better by far. She moulded herself into that girl, the girl that never frowned, never was sad, never hurt. People talked to her, when she smiled, and Orihime had missed talking.)

Ishida-san was still staring at her.

Orihime laughed a little nervously, spilling out of her mouth uncontrollably. "I'm sorry—did I space out again?"

Ishida-san raised an eyebrow and nodded almost imperceptibly.

For a moment there was nothing but the murmur of voices from far away and the scritch of pencil against paper. Orihime sat in her desk and mumbled to herself about being still alive and freedom.

If such a thing even existed.

/ / /

Four hours later, and Orihime sat in the sewing room with yards of emerald satin and black lace in front of her.

She was making a dress.

For who, she didn't know. Maybe Tatsuki-chan, but Tatsuki-chan never wore dresses. Chizuru-chan would look awful in this shade of green, so not Chizuru-chan. Rukia-chan was long gone.

So maybe she was just making it for herself.

The satin was the colour of Ulquiorra's eyes.

—"do you ever not stare?" she asks. He doesn't answer and she can feel his gaze on her. Orihime looks at a place on the wall right of his ear hard, diving secrets and reasons for not falling to pieces. There aren't all that many in Hueco Mundo because she's lonely and she misses her friends but the thing is, the thing is that it's all for the best, and Orihime knows it, but

Orihime pricked herself with the needle in her hand, and a tiny bubble of blood appeared.

She would have sworn, but the words didn't come. She scrambled back from the pile of fabric (staining it would have been such a pity). She held her hand aloft and for a minute just stared at the well of dark red.

She would have stared at it for a long time, but suddenly there was a tissue wiping away the blood, and Ishida-san's low voice in her ear.

"What happened?"

Orihime blinked dove-grey eyes up at him and murmured, "Pricked myself. I'm alright."

But she wasn't alright.

She just wasn't going to tell anyone.

Ishida-san wrapped her finger in a bandage. Orihime ignored the gooseflesh that had broken out on her arms, and for a moment, they could only look at each other. Grief was a comfortable friend.

A sigh escaped her and she pressed her face into his shoulder. He was Ishida-san and he was reliable and he was good and sometimes he made her heart hurt in almost the same way Kurosaki-kun did.

But it was a little different.

Orihime pulled back and smiled brilliantly up at him. She didn't say anything; she tipped her head just a little and motioned back towards their sewing.

Ishida-san nodded.

He understood.

(Sometimes she just needed someone.)

They sewed until the sun began to set and the world was lit with bloody red-gold. It spilled over the emerald satin and onto the black lace.

gold and black against blue, streaking down and down and down until

Orihime struggled not to cry.

/ / /

She didn't know why he'd walked her home. It was dark. But then, it was almost always dark when Orihime went home.

At the same time, walking home with someone else was… nice. Orihime chattered away, and Ishida-san nodded along and might have smiled, once or twice.

She thought he looked nice, when he smiled.

They walked up four flights of stairs to Orihime's apartment. Key in the lock, and Orihime pushed the door open. She paused, and looked at Ishida-san.

"Would you like to come in? I'm going to make some tea," she said.

"I would like that," he replied.

Fluorescent light flickered on. Orihime and Ishida-san stood in the unnatural light like ghosts in the sunlight; pale smoke impressions on glass. It would have been awkward, but Orihime flowed through her apartment, comfortable about of habit. Ishida-san followed.

Orihime put the kettle on to boil.

a flash of emerald. Black against blue, streaking down, forever down, until

Steam hissed. Orihime couldn't breathe with the sound of ticking clocks and failure in her ears, and she rushed to the sliding glass door and the balcony. Ishida-san was forgotten in the sudden onset of memories.

She took great gulps of cold air.

Karakura town glittered. The endless sea of shimmering lights that she called home sang of regret and falling in love with all the wrong people.

And then Ishida-san was at her side.

streaking down and down, until

He didn't touch her. He didn't offer any source of comfort. But he stood there and Orihime did not cry.

down, until

She stared out at the glitter (all that glitters is gold). Her eyes were hard as cold steel.

until

No one said anything.

crash.

Orihime dropped her head to his shoulder.

It would never end.

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fin.
notes2: please leave a review! :)