I shall not fail that rendezvous

It is years later, after the war is past, and Orihime has come as she does every year, to clean the gravestones of her beloved dead and to leave flowers. The cemetery is a quiet one, bordering on a lake and wild land, and she can hear the birds singing. After joy, sorrow -

"Surely they will put a nice angel there instead," she murmurs, and bends to put incense in front of the gravestone marked Ulquiorra. After all, she never knew his name before he was an Espada, but he died, and he had once been alive, and he had deserved a gravestone as much as any of the other dead.

The clouds above break, and the sunlight breaks through, brilliant and painful. The clouds are still grey, but the sunlight burns around their edges as fiercely as molten metal, so harsh that she cannot quite say what colour it is.

One of the birds on the lake takes flight, startled: others follow, and there is suddenly a rush of wings, with flocks of birds throwing themselves up onto the wind. Behind the smaller birds a crane follows, wings fanning out wide and white.

Something in her heart shifts and breaks a little, but it is a good break, a healing break that releases an old sorrow. Ulquiorra is free now, just as her brother is free, and he is no longer chained to her or to Aizen or even to his old hunger and despair. Maybe some day she will see him again, and maybe they will recognise each other, or maybe not: maybe they will simply pass in the street, two strangers going about their own lives, following their own happiness, and glad to be so.

The crane beats its wings again, climbing towards where the sunlight splits the clouds, and she has to shield her eyes with her hand and look away.

The gravestones wait: she has the duty of the living, which is to tend them and to remember. The dead are gone.