In a green newfangled universe a few doors down, Orihime was riding a bus to the other side of Karakura. It wasn't very often she used public transport, since all her usual destinations lay at a walking distance from her apartment; but on that particular day, the girl was on the hunt for a good cafeteria, to subside the stomach bug she'd gotten from her breakfast. Whatever had made Tatsuki think that scrambled eggs would go well with toast and bacon, of all things? Dippy.
The percussion of water on glass set the atmosphere: it spoke in whispers beside her ear, like a goblin language, and made her feel all the warmer, all the safer for being inside the vehicle. She watched as sleepy buildings and muddy rivulets zoomed past, inching closer to the window when someone took a seat beside her. If I were the rain, she mused, would I be able to connect two hearts together – but that was a wish she'd already fulfilled. Her thoughts galloped back to the dome, to the dark sky and the smell of sulfur, and to this:
Ichigo hadn't believed her, when she'd said someone had pushed her.
One of the passengers pressed the button and a bleeping sound penetrated the bus, which pulled over and rattled to a stop. Orihime sighed contentedly, lifted the hood of her jacket, and prepared to rejoin the lazy, soggy outside world. She hadn't taken more than a couple of steps, though, before she was apprehended by a hand on her elbow. It was with great difficulty that she forced herself to look up from the black fingernails – to the green eyes – of the person who'd been sitting beside her.
Her hood fell down.
"What? You mean… I was the one who revived you?" the redhead was marveling, half an hour later, when they were both seated at a tiny table in an open-air cafeteria, huddled under an even tinier umbrella. "But I only held your hand! I never used my Soten Kisshun!"
"Not consciously," the Espada in the gigai admitted. "However – do you remember your farewell visit to Kurosaki Ichigo, the night I took you to Las Noches? You only held his hand, too, but even that limited contact was enough for it to be healed." He brought the umbrella closer to her, unmindful of the raindrops pelting his head. "This is only a supposition, but… it's possible that the contact of your hand, with its latent healing powers, is what set my regeneration back in motion."
They stared at their hands, rubbing against each other on the table hesitantly, like small animals.
"Kurosaki-kun didn't believe me, when I said someone had pushed me," Orihime mumbled dejectedly. "Someone intervened for me, though – a god or the fates or someone! – so I could catch your hand and we could be together."
"I saw who it was," Ulquiorra confessed. "You couldn't see her because she was wearing your bracelet, the one that makes its owner invisible to everyone but Arrancar, but… it was Inoue Orihime. It was you."
The paradox contained in that simple sentence turned Orihime's brains to slush. Her mouth hung open. "So… I'm gonna die young?" she exclaimed, horrified. "And so – and so my ghost scours the epochs and the realms and shoves me around when it's feeling crabby? Is that why I stumbled in the kitchen today…!"
"Time travel," Ulquiorra said, short of patience. "Alternate universes."
The waiter came with their orders, and Ulquiorra ate his food while Orihime stared at him in awe for braving the scrambled-eggs-with-bacon-and-toast concoction that had bested her that morning. When at length they were both done, she ventured, quietly:
"I hope the other Orihime got her Ulquiorra back, too."
"Hm," Ulquiorra grunted, staring out at the drenched and glittering streets, at their bustling humanity. A will-o'-wisp flickered behind his otherwise still eyes. He thought and thought. "Some lines simply can't be crossed. There's only so much she could do, if that was one of them." Softer, he resolved: "She did plenty."
Orihime pursed her lips and scooted closer to Ulquiorra, happily shielded by the arch of his umbrella.
And – she apologized to Ichigo from the depths of her heart, because she wished the rain would never stop.
End of Epilogue.