Written after chapter 353. Don't read if you don't want spoilers, cause there is a HUGE one in here. Kind of angsty, written from Ishida's point of view.

In, out.

In, out.

In, out.

He struggled to hold himself upright, trying to ignore the blood that pooled in the bottom of his lungs and ran out through the ragged hole in his chest. Tensa Zangetsu had skewered him like a butterfly on a card, and blood splattered across the clean white of his Quincy uniform where Ulquiorra had removed the zanpakuto.

In, out.

In, out.

He watched the Hollow with wary eyes. Ulquiorra was fast, powerful, and deadly, and even a full bankai, mask-powered Ichigo couldn't take him down in his Resurreccion. Even now, after taking a serious beating at the hands of whatever Ichigo had turned into, he still stood there impassive, his patented thousand-yard stare looking straight through his orange-haired adversary.

Ishida knew Ulquiorra was beaten. Ichigo knew he was beaten. Even Orihime knew he was beaten. Yet still he stood there like a marble pillar, his skeletal chest barely moving with his breath. Even as his very existence began to dissolve into smoke, he remained impassive and immovable. Suddenly, a shudder ran through his body, and Ishida saw Ulquiorra tense as his body told him of his impending death.

He watched in astonishment as Ulquiorra turned his head fractionally to look at his former captive. When he spoke, it was with slow deliberation, the words coming with the ponderous finality of the grave.

"In the end, I think I actually had some interest in you people."

And as Ishida gazed at the emotionless Arrancar, he saw a hint of something stirring in the depths of the stony green eyes. Despite his vaunted intellect, he couldn't place it until Ulquiorra slowly, tremblingly reached out an emaciated arm to Orihime. Galvanized, Ishida sat stock-still on the ground, hardly even daring to breathe, as the revelation on his face began to sink in.

The two cyan tear lines running down his cheeks stood out in stark relief against his skin, and Ishida could hear the tremor running through his voice as he said, "Are you afraid of me, woman?"

She was not afraid. Oh, no. He could see that, even from where he sat, blood running down his chest as his heart died a little inside him with the utter, overwhelming desolation on her face.

Her words pounded in his ears in time with his throbbing chest. Her eyes were filling with tears, as she said, "I'm not afraid." Ishida thought he saw, for a brief instant, something pass between them. Orihime's eyes spoke of might-have-beens, of maybes, of humanity regained too late.

He wanted to cry.

He wanted to scream.

But he was paralyzed by the pain in her kind gray eyes, and he couldn't look away. All he could hear was the drip of his blood falling drop by drop, as she slowly reached for Ulquiorra.

"Really."

And he saw the impassive mask shatter. Ishida chuckled bitterly in his mind, seeing the two hands destined to never quite touch, the two minds that could never quite meet. It was so heartbreaking, so bitterly ironic, seeing the shadow of the Arrancar slowly recede, all the while knowing it was being recast in her heart. His mouth tasted like ash as he watched the dying Espada…because as Ulquiorra's face began to erode around the edges, Ishida caught his last fleeting expression.

And it was mirrored in hers.

Finally, Ulquiorra had seen true despair.