Author's Notes: Usually when I come to the end of a story I feel elated, but for some reason I am somewhat sad. This story was a roller-coaster for me as well. In the beginning I almost scrapped it, but now I am glad I stuck with it. I hope each of you enjoyed it as well.
I am so grateful to everyone who reviewed...some every chapter or close to it! Also a huge thank you to my beta lilarin for the help and encouragement, and Walis for the cover art for the story.
So one last request...if you have been out there reading this from the beginning and have not left a review, please leave me a note and let me know what you thought about this story now that it is over. I am always curious about what people think and love to hear from you...especially now that you have the whole story.
"Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory."William Barclay
…Starrk's shot with the silver bullets caused Cain to pull back and release his hold on Grimmjow. The hunter swayed on his feet. The vampire had drained much of his energy when he began to feed moments earlier. Slowly he lifted his uninjured hand as he tried to slow the blood coming from the still open wound.
"Fucking piece of shit," he cursed, "I will cut out that black heart of yours once and for all."
He tightened his hold on Pantera, unable to remain silent as the pain the simple motion caused in his injured hand shot through his body with nauseating intensity. Unable to hold it up with the hand alone, he let go of his hold on his neck and used the other hand to strengthen his grip. The blood made his grasp slippery and he struggled to remain steady.
Pointing the blade at Cain, he lunged forward. The vampire had no time to react, his own body slowed by the effect of the silver shots in his blood. The katana pierced his chest, driving forward through his heart. Grimmjow grinned as he buried Pantera to the hilt.
"Die motherfucker!" he bit out.
Cain's eyes opened wide and he moved his mouth, but no words came out. Instead only dark blood spewed past his lips, and as Grimmjow pulled the katana from the creature's body, the vampire fell to his knees.
Once more Grimmjow swayed, but this time he lost his balance and slumped forward as well, driving the blade of Pantera into the floor to steady himself. Cain looked up and met his gaze. His skin had gone from pale to ghostly white. Real tears ran down his face along the path of his cursed markings, but a smile graced his lips.
He never spoke a word, and Grimmjow would be left to wonder what exactly that smile was about. Cain fell forward, his head resting on Grimmjow's shoulder, his life finally at an end.
Around him the other vampires fell as well. The hunters made quick disposal of their bodies and the smell of burning flesh began to fill the air as the building and its former inhabitants were lit on fire. It was a fitting end to the dark creatures.
He remained where he was staring at the spectacle around him; Cain's head still resting on his shoulder. Quoting Romans he said softly, "The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light."
A new age had indeed begun. Since the dawn of man Cain's children had plagued mankind, but now those days were over. It was time again to walk in the daylight. He pushed Cain off of him and inhaled deeply. Every part of his body hurt and he wanted nothing more than to sleep. Falling back he was stopped from hitting the cold stone floor by Hime's soft body.
Her light floral scent chased away the acrid smell of the burning corpses. "Can you stand?" she asked.
"I don't think so," he whispered. His strength was quickly leaving him.
"Let me get Yammy," she said. "The house is burning fast and we need to get you out of here."
"Don't go," he pleaded. It shocked him how tiny his voice had become. "I don't want to be separated from you again."
"I'm not going anywhere," she smiled through her tears.
"I love you, Hime," he smiled back weakly. "No matter what happens…"
"Stop it Jaegerjaquez," she became firm, "Don't go getting sentimental on me now."
This time he grinned wide, "I really do love you."
She kissed the top of his head, "And I love you. Now let me get that huge barbarian so we can get out of here."
She lowered him carefully to the ground and was gone. He lay still, his breathing shallow. He was going to die. He knew it. It was the punishment for killing Cain, wasn't it? Still it didn't matter he had done his task, and avenged his parents as well. If he died at least he did so nobly.
He closed his eyes.
Oh who the hell was he kidding? He didn't want a noble death. What he really wanted to do was lock himself in his apartment with Hime, making love to her until she pleaded with him to stop.
Slowly, and with great deliberation, he pushed himself into a seated position. She was making her way back to him, the idiot Yammy behind her. Like hell he was going to die when he had finally found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
After all he deserved a happy ending too. And he vowed he would spend every day he had left giving her just that - a happy ending.
The reporter sat across from their place on the couch. She smiled reassuringly as the lights blazed and the countdown began. With the cameras now rolling she opened, "I am sitting here today in the lovely home of bestselling author, and creator of the graphic novel series Pantera, Orihime Inoue."
The camera's panned to where Orihime sat on the over-sized couch; Ulquiorra beside her, looking slightly uncomfortable with all the attention.
"It has been a rather amazing two years for you Miss Inoue, starting with the accident that left you comatose for over a month, and the long road to recovery after you finally regained consciousness. Yet in that time you managed to complete the third book in your series about the larger-than-life vampire hunter, Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez. The last book, as you mentioned at its release."
Orihime smiled and nodded and the woman continued, "Yet this book has taken a heavy dose of criticism from the literary world. Many have questioned your approach, and why you would do something so unusual, if not almost taboo in the writing community, but I understand that you have a unique reason as to your inspiration. Would you care to explain the concept behind your latest novel?"
Orihime blushed before she spoke, her voice a little shaky from nerves, "Well, Miss Ise, as you mentioned I was struck by a car two years ago and lapsed into a coma for over a month. At the time I had just begun my novel and was sketching out the story, so the ideas and the plot were always at the forefront of my thoughts," she squeezed Ulquiorra's hand for reassurance. "So it would seem that while I was asleep, so to say," she laughed nervously, "I dreamed in vivid detail the entire novel."
"With you as one of the characters," the reporter Nanao Ise interrupted.
"Yes," Orihime agreed and smiled, "I woke up, in my dream, to find Grimmjow, just where I left him before my accident. Only I didn't know I was in an accident. I believed I was in my story, and believing it was a dream I enthusiastically played along with it," she winked, "After all it would be great material to draw from when I woke, or so I thought."
"So if it was a dream," Nanao interrupted again, "Why actually incorporate yourself into the story when you finally woke from your coma and recovered enough to get back to it?"
Orihime blushed again, "I sort of promised Grimmjow I would."
"You promised Grimmjow? The character in your story…"
"You have to understand this dream was very real to me. It was as if I was living in another universe, a different life…"
"So Miss Inoue," the reporter removed her glasses momentarily and stared hard at Orihime, "Do you believe Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez is real?"
Orihime laughed, trying to mask the unease the question brought her. "The dream was real to me, and I guess, in my mind he will always be real."
"What you need to understand," Ulquiorra spoke calmly from beside his wife, "Is that Orihime suffered a traumatic brain injury, and during her coma she honestly believed she was living this life with the hunter from her novels. Upon waking, the incident was still very real to her, and distinguishing that reality from her waking life was difficult."
Nanao turned her attention to Ulquiorra, "And as her husband, Mr. Schiffer, you have no qualms about her believing in Grimmjow and his world to such a degree?"
"I cannot make her forget what she lived through," he now squeezed Orihime's hand, "And it would be cruel for me to even try."
Miss Ise gave a miniscule smile.
"And the fact that the villain of the story, Cain, the leader and creator of the vampire race bears a striking resemblance to you doesn't bother you?"
He never missed a beat, "I have been told I posses a rather dark side."
Beside him Orihime laughed in earnest as she released his hand and rubbed his arm tenderly, "You have to admit he makes a very handsome and mysterious vampire."
Nanao returned her scrutinizing gaze to Orihime, "But you do understand why so many people in the have lambasted your book because of your insistence on writing yourself into the story."
"Yes," Orihime grew serious. "I understand that. It was a risk."
"A risk that cost you a movie deal that would have made you a very rich woman."
"I have all the riches I need," her smile returned and she turned to her husband, kissing him lovingly.
Nanao paused, "Yet in the end your fans have agreed with your decision. Sales of the novel have propelled it to the top of the bestsellers' list where it has remained for the last two months."
"They just wanted Grimmjow to be happy," she replied and her tone turned wistful. "Imagine how disappointed they would have been if she," she grew somber, "if I had decided to stay with Cain."
"The numbers don't lie," Nanao said, "Your readers love the story." She replaced her glasses and looked down at the notebook in her lap, "Yet what many people may not know about your book is that fifty percent of the proceeds are being donated to fund coma research, in particular, the research of a rather controversial scientist, Kisuke Urahara."
"Dr. Urahara was a big help to Ulquiorra while I was in the coma," Orihime stated, "And after experiencing what I did, I believe that studying coma patients may actually provide a way to help with recovery."
"That is assuming the victims can recover on their own," Nanao replied, "Or that the answers have a more psychological basis, rather than physical."
"All I can say is that I was in a lot of pain after the tragic loss of my son Jess four years ago," Orihime lowered her voice, "I created Grimmjow to escape that pain, and by entering his world during my coma I discovered that I was strong enough to deal with my loss without him, and once I did, I woke up. Of course I had Ulquiorra by my side, giving me strength. His belief in me was ultimately what saved me."
"If Dr. Urahara's research can return one person to their loved ones, it would be worth it," Ulquiorra added. "We have no regrets about our decision."
A soft mewling came from a bundle wrapped in a colorful pink blanket cradled in Ulquiorra's other arm. Both he and Orihime smiled and Nanao said, "It would seem someone else has a comment for us."
Both interviewees laughed as Ulquiorra pushed back the blanket revealing thick, black curls.
"Besides writing a novel, you have also been busy with another creation, so to say," Nanao nodded towards the infant in Ulquiorra's arms.
Orihime smiled even wider, "Yachiru was born three months ago," she reached over and tickled the child. "She has helped heal our family even more so than the story."
Nanao's smile was genuine, "A true happy ending."
Orihime turned to face the cameras and the reporter.
"In the end, we all got our happy endings," with that she leaned over and placed a kiss on Yachiru's head. Looking up at Ulquiorra she smiled and whispered, "I love you."
There was nothing more for the reporter to say. Orihime's happiness said more than any words ever could. Her decision to remain true to Grimmjow had provided all of them with a new chance at life, and she would never regret it.
As the camera's stopped filming, and the lights turned off, she knew that she was a stronger woman because of the love of both men. Ulquiorra's undying devotion and faith in her, and Grimmjow's confidence in the end that she would make the right choice, had shaped her and she was glad at the outcome.
Now with Yachiru in their lives, Ulquiorra and she would be able to truly move forward. And in Yachiru they would experience the joys that had been denied them with Jess' tragic death. The infant's life celebrated her brother's life as well, and Orihime never wanted to forget all she and Ulquiorra went through to get to this point.
Later, as they gazed looking down at their daughter asleep in her bassinet, she said softly, "I can never thank you enough, Ulquiorra."
He wrapped his arms around her from behind and whispered in her ear, "I love you Orihime. To me there was never an option other than fighting with everything I had to bring you back to me again."
She felt the tears slip down her cheeks. He had gone through hell to bring her back. A hell that would remain a secret only known to them, and the two men that had been pulled into it with them; Kisuke Urahara, and Isshin Kurosaki. As a result they had made many concessions since her accident, yet there was not one that either regretted.
Her eyes fell to Yachiru asleep. Beside the child lay a blue kitty; a gift from Jess, she and Ulquiorra agreed. Grimmy had been her son's protector, and then as Grimmjow hers, and now the circle was complete, their lives whole once more.