Three days later
"Rukia. Hey," Ichigo greeted when he found her outside his home. "How are things in Soul Society?"
"Recovering. It's hard to believe things are getting back to normal after all we've been through."
"Yeah..." But he turned sullen and there was no doubt why.
"Have you seen Halibel?" she asked.
"Not since she left us in the desert."
"Oh, I thought she might come back."
"There's no reason for her to. She fought with us to save Grimmjow...there's no reason for her to remain in touch now."
"I know it's hard. He was one of us in the end...and Nel..."
"She was just a kid, Rukia. She was my friend."
"I know. And I am sorry things had to end that way."
He just nodded but gave a sniff.
She closed a hand over his and looked to the sky. "They were in the land of lost souls, Ichigo. If it has gone back to rights, then it will send them where they need to go. No one's ever really gone, Ichigo, Soul Reapers know that best. They're just somewhere else."
"I guess." He swallowed hard but looked up to the sky as well. "For all his hatred and arrogance, it took one little girl to make him capable of love."
She smiled. "Maybe that was greatest miracle of all." They lowered her eyes and she squeezed his hand tighter when she saw the tear. "A love like that will never die," she comforted. "Wherever their spirits are now, I'm sure they are together. Come on, let's go have some tea at Urahara's and you can tell me what it's like to have a new brother."
The yip and yap of the dog's bark echoed off broken stone. Halibel worked her way through the ruins of Las Noches until she found him.
Dog just yapped again, wagged his tail and ran in the opposite direction.
"Stupid dog." But with nothing else for her in this barren landscape, she followed after. She lost sight of him quickly as he was much smaller and able to squeeze through narrow spaces, but when he burst out into the desert he waited for her to catch up. She ducked under a fallen beam and felt the open desert wind and knew she was near the end of the ruins.
"Dog!" The high voice stopped her dead. She stood frozen, just a half broken wall between her and the hollow pet. "Good dog!" The voice sounded again, unmistakable, especially with the next words, "Nel missed you!"
"...Nel..." Halibel ran the last few feet and broke out onto silver sands. She stood in cold shock, her eyes working from the dog, to the girl, to the man who towered over her.
"Halibel," Grimmjow greeted, his white t-shirt and black jeans still torn and bloody from his battle with Bach but none of his wounds visible. "Sorry."
"Sorry?" She took another step. Nel heard the dangerous edge to her voice and straightened with dog who whined in her arms. "You left me behind."
"After everything I did to save you—both of you—you left me behind!"
She grabbed him around the collar and pulled him close.
"You would have just been trapped with us." he argued. "You think I prefer being here? In this wasteland alone?" "I—"
"Don't you ever think you have the right to make that kind of decision for me again." She shoved him back, trembling, and looked between the pair. "How are you even alive?"
"I don't know," Grimmjow admitted. "My best guess is that the balance put us back where we belong."
"Lost souls..." she murmured, putting it back together. "So many hollows died, the world was trying to balance itself—it must have returned you to preserve the balance."
"Then what about Bach?"
"I don't know. But he was the one that broke the balance in the first place. If the universe did try to put itself to rights, then I'm sure it didn't send him anywhere but Hell."
"But we can't be sure! We'll have to go to the world of the living and to Soul Society and make sure he hasn't come back."
"We will," Grimmjow assured her. "But not yet."
"Because I've been waiting too long, to do this." He stepped toward her, she held up her hands and kept him from moving in entirely. "Halibel—"
"Shut up. You think I'll forgive you for what you did?"
"I tried to save the world."
"Without me. Don't you know, you can't survive without me?"
"I do know that. And so does the universe, because it sent me back here, to you."
"Good, as long as we have an understanding." And she pulled him into her.
"Yech!" Nel made a noise of disgust and turned her back on the pair with dog still in her arms.
"What about her?" Halibel asked, when she pulled back from him. "She was able to call on her adult form again."
"I don't know." Grimmjow knelt down next to the girl and put a hand on her head. "Nel, how do you feel?"
"Hungry! Nel wants ice-cream!"
"Okay, but how does your soul feel?"
She shrugged. "Nel doesn't know."
He sighed and picked her up with him as he stood. "I guess that's as good an answer as we're going to get," he said to Halibel. "So, want to check the world of the living first? We should probably let Kurosaki know we're alive anyway."
She nodded. "I'll open the Garganta."
"You sure, you're okay?" He turned to the girl hugged in one arm. "The universe didn't screw up when it spit you back out, did it?"
"Nope! Did it screw up Grimmjow?" she asked in return.
"No, I don't think so."
"Ready?" Halibel turned back to him.
"Ready." he confirmed but kept his eyes on the little girl he'd gone through hell and back to save, and who had given up her very soul to save him back. "Come on Nel, let's get you some ice cream."
THE END! Wow, I have never been so happy to be able to tick "complete" for a story. Not that I disliked this one, I just lost momentum with it and it's been hanging over my forever so I am really glad to be able to conclude it and I am so sorry for the long wait for those of you still following. Thanks so much for reading!