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14 February 2010 @ 11:12 pm
Title: So That He May Ascend
Author: enisy
Pairing: Ulquiorra/Orihime
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 4,972
Summary: Orihime has sought him out in Soul Society, in the human realm, and in the Hell realm. There's one last.
Author's Notes: Initial beta-reading by issues09, thorough beta-reading by tuathafae. Their respective fanfiction archives can be found here and here. I was quite liberal with the contest theme, but I hope this is still valid. If not, I hope you still get a decent read out of it. :)

So That He May Ascend


"Your boyfriend is in Hell," she recalled that big, grotesque Espada -- Yammy -- chortling at her shortly after she'd descended from the dome. Of course she recalled. Her mind had been kneading and pestling that sentence ever since. But it was a lie.

He wasn't in Soul Society.

He wasn't in the human world.

He wasn't in Hell, either.

No matter how implausible this sounded, it was the only conclusion Inoue Orihime could come to. She'd spent four months doing nothing but searching, sweeping those realms clean, milking her every last connection to hike her way to the authorities, and milking the authorities in turn. She was a veritable dairy farm of information -- yet none about the man she sought.

"What's it that makes him so great, anyway?" Rukia had muttered exasperatedly, not long after they'd ventured into Hell and had their first run-in with its horrors. Her eyes had widened in guilt as soon as the words left her mouth, but Orihime didn't blame her for them. Chad would have said the same, if he were the vocal type. Even Ishida felt uncomfortable with this side-mission, she could tell, though he'd been present at the dome, start to finish.

Ichigo was the only one who understood, if only because he'd also reached out for an Espada's hand once. He couldn't know -- not unless he'd witnessed the sudden shift of vulnerability in Ulquiorra's eyes, felt the life-to-death ferry embodied in his five outstretched fingertips, broke some nails and scraped others raw in a fruitless attempt to scrape his ashes off the ground, not unless he'd done all that could he really, really know -- but he understood.

Not that it made any difference, in the long run. She knew what death entailed for humans and Hollows and Shinigami, but Ulquiorra was an Arrancar, and she had no idea what happened to Arrancar when they died. She was starting to feel like an average person again, one who knew nothing about the afterlife, one who reeled from fantasies of the unknown and glanced at clocks every other minute.

And maybe nothing did happen to Arrancar when they died, her mind persisted. Maybe they were just gone.

She ran that word over her tongue, but she must have misplaced her taste-buds in her gut, kooky girl that she was, because that's where she felt it. Its four letters dropped all the way down and just lay there like soft rotten marshmallows. Gone.

Ulquiorra was (not-in-Soul-Society-not-in-this-world-and-not-in-Hell-either) gone.

She'd been walking through Karakura Town when this cold shower of facts finally drenched her heart. Her hands shook. They went on shaking even when she squeezed them into fists.

"Why are you crying, Miss?" a familiar voice addressed her. It startled Orihime out of her sobs, although her eyes refused to dry.

"Oh! Ururu-san! From the Urahara Shop! Good day! Crying... is what I'm doing," she finished lamely.

"I noticed," Ururu answered. Not sarcastic-like, though -- she was a very polite kid. "Why?"

The redhead hesitated. "My friend," she said finally. It felt right; timely. "My friend died."

"The friend you were asking us about last time?" Orihime nodded. "That's sad. I'm sorry. That's really very sad." A beat. "Would you like to discuss it with the Owner over tea?"

Urahara Kisuke was all too happy to serve Orihime the aforementioned tea when she showed up beside the pigtailed girl. All too happy to hear her narration of the Life and Times of Ulquiorra Cifer while they sipped it. All too happy to announce his recent findings on the subject, to calm her down when she gasped and squealed and cried joyful tears into his shirt.

All too happy to open a portal for her.

(First Episode)

Her starting impression was that no, this wasn't right, Urahara-san must have made a mistake, there were butterflies around and everyone knew that was strictly a Soul Society thing --

But these were no butterflies.

They were moths.

Orihime followed one with her eyes, entranced by the downy pinkish-brown wings in place of the ebony-black she was so used to. And the native insects wouldn't be the only thing to contradict her expectations, as she discovered seconds later -- when her surroundings finally clicked.


Well. So.

The textbook version of Purgatory, from what little Orihime had read about it, seemed to involve unique, exotic activities like purification of one's Human soul through Searing pain and Cleansing fire. But Orihime did not care for pain in the slightest, and she only cared for fire insofar as it was used to caramelize crème brûlées, so she'd envisioned Purgatory kinda differently. Like, maybe each of the soul-people would be presented with a number of candles equal to the number of their sins, all of which would be sitting atop a gigantic, custom-made birthday cake, and those people would only have to blow out the candles to ascend to Heaven and eat their cake.

Neither of these scenarios bore any resemblance to the real thing.

Spread out before Orihime was... a street. A wide, sleek, black street -- the kind you'd find in a megalopolis rather than a village -- perfectly normal on a structural level, but with no end in sight whichever direction the girl turned. Forward: the street, unraveling and unraveling like the carpet of a throne room, until the horizon. Backward: the street, sluicing like an extension of her now-visible shadow, until the horizon.

And on either side of it were buildings. Oh, nothing like the hammocks of Rukongai, which had been sprinkled all over the map like blocks of tofu in a soup, and built no differently. These were the sort of buildings that, in Orihime's own world, could only be afforded by the upper classes: vast, multi-floored structures, with chestnut panels against white walls and a verdant, well-trimmed garden. They were spaced apart with inhuman precision, down to the centimeter. She felt ashamed to even look at them.

Yet there was no sign of life around, barring the insects still fluttering around her head. Absent was the motion and bustle of Soul Society, in favor of an overarching quiet that reduced the grand mansions to little more than lavish tombstones.

The girl loitered on the spot for some time, irresolute.

Her hesitation proved baseless when she finally worked up enough courage to approach one of the structures. While the outer gate yielded easily to her touch, the inner door wouldn't budge. Neither did anyone come to her assistance when she knocked. Maybe the house didn't even have tenants; there was no name on the doorbell, for one thing.

The same was true of the next building, and the next. And the one after that.

Weary and disconsolate, Orihime was left with nothing to do but to slog on down the road. The scenery flickered by -- uniform, mass-produced -- as if viewed through a sandstorm or a fine mist. And regardless of how many hours she felt she'd been walking, the sky and its sun remained nailed in position, unchanging in hue. A fossil of time and space.

How many crocodiles would she have to count jumping over a fence before she'd leave this street? How many steps did it take to reach a dead man?

Her throat was parched. Her feet hurt. Even the moths had stopped following her.

If you... with your horns and your claws and your hole and your insane sadness... if you didn't frighten me, Orihime mused to anchor herself, then nothing here can. Wait, Ulquiorra. Please wait for me.

Just when her imaginary crocodiles had finished lunching on the fence and were deliberating whether to cannibalize each other out of sheer boredom... someone spoke:

"Oh, may I help you, Ma'am?"

Orihime couldn't stop herself from gasping at the sound of the voice, nor from gasping again at the sight of its source. Far to her left, nestled snugly between two buildings, stood a counter piled with computers of different sizes, and behind it...

"Nnoitra!" the girl exclaimed. "What are you -- how did you -- why did you --" Orihime paused her babble just long enough to frown. "'Ma'am'?"

"Oh. My apologies," the sable-haired Espada said, straightening his glasses. Glasses! "This isn't really Nnoitra Jiruga. My current form is merely a random copy drawn from your subconscious." Probably sensing his listener's befuddlement, he elaborated: "It's an ability granted only to Purgatory's authorized personnel. This realm is designed to tap into the minds of its occupants, you see, in order to project the images most likely to trigger an emotional response from them. It's something of an excess, but we're dealing with heavy sinners here. You understand."

As a matter of fact, Orihime did not understand, but she had a feeling she would soon. Despite her apprehension, she felt a little relieved to have met another person -- this was a whole new realm, and there was so much to see, to explore, that she might have drifted till the end of time without him.

"So, what may I help you with?" the gabby clerk went on. "You seemed a little lost just now. To be honest with you, Purgatory is just an obscure little holding realm, so we don't get much tourism. There's another dozen staff members down this road, but I'd bet an eyepatch you're the only client any of us has got today. And you are certainly the only girl your age ever seen frolicking" -- hearing the word 'frolicking' out of Nnoitra's lips really gave her the creeps -- "in the realm all on her own. How old are you? Oh... sixteen? Seventeen?"

"Sixteen. I'm looking for my friend." The girl looked him right in his one slitted eye, willing him to understand how many square miles of her heart this person occupied. "Ulquiorra Cifer. Do you know where I could find him?"

"Oh, lucky fellow!" He pressed a bunch of keys in the computer nearest to him, and within seconds he triumphantly announced: "Building number 4, Street of Erentil. He first entered our records four months, eleven days, sixteen minutes, and five seconds ago."

"Why is he here?" Orihime blurted out; couldn't help herself. "Who goes here?"

"Pluses or post-sublimation Hollows that have committed too many sins to enter Soul Society, but few enough to gain a temporary reprieve from Hell," Not-Nnoitra recited practically in one breath, making it obvious that this was something he'd explained a thousand-and-one times before. "Plus all Arrancar and Vizards. They 'confuse the system', you could say. -- Do you know that, despite the low profile of our realm, we actually have a higher population than either Soul Society or Hell? You must have noticed the incredible number of buildings. Speaks for the grayness of humanity, don't you think?"

"Yes. I... Yes." She wasn't really in the mood to humor his preening. "My friend. Could I see him now?"

"Oh, but of course. Just fill out this form and we'll be on our way."

Last Name: INOUE, she typed on the proffered keyboard. First Name: ORIHIME. Address ... Postal Code ... Method of Transportation ... Number of Visits ... she typed and typed. Purpose of Visit: BRING HIM BACK. She thought she might have gone too far with that, but the clerk only snorted and clicked the 'save' button.

They started walking. All of a sudden Orihime wished the ground had been covered with tiles for hopscotch and other children's games instead of this depressing asphalt. Its bleak mien was forcing her to turn her attention to secondary things -- like the way Nnoitra's shadow swallowed her whole.

"Um... excuse me... is this going to be a long walk?"

"Quite long, yes. Why?"

The redhead fidgeted in unrest. "Just... my last memory of this body you're borrowing isn't too pleasant and it doesn't fit with the way you speak and it's all kinda awkward, so... if it's not much trouble for you... could you change to something a bit less intimidating?"

Not-Nnoitra stopped in his tracks and gave her a look eerily reminiscent of Actual-Nnoitra.

"What did you have in mind?"

Moments later, Inoue Orihime could be seen following a bespectacled, bipedal crocodile to Ulquiorra's latest residence.

(Second Episode)

There was only one room.

Only four walls, only a ceiling and a floor, illuminated just barely by a frail, self-sustaining twilight: such was the empty, growling belly hidden inside Purgatory's titanic establishments. Only one room, the size of a planet.

Given the context, Ulquiorra Cifer was impossible to miss. The sole piece of furniture in this orgy of empty space was a metal chair, right within the entrance's line of sight, and he sat there in his released form -- his true form -- with his majestic wings unfolded, his horned head bowed. The poor, four-legged mold looked like it could barely hold him.

He was beastly, infernal, wretched, queer, misshapen, he was all coarse fur and sharp edges, and Orihime had never feared him less than now; never missed or adored him more.

"Ulquiorra!" she called out happily. Her erstwhile caretaker remained motionless. He didn't seem to hear her. "Hey, Ulquiorra --"

She wanted to ask him; she wanted to know. How had he changed, was he happy, was he tired, did he want to stay, did he remember her...?

She made to rush forward -- he was only a dozen feet away -- but her foot hadn't even touched the ground before she bumped into... something. She lifted both hands, felt it around. An invisible barrier.

"Oh, my bad," her chaperone spoke up before she could put a voice to her question. "Our timing seems to be unfortunate. The cleansing process is starting." Orihime's eyes widened in horror. "Oh, don't worry," the Sobek-lookalike said reassuringly -- she'd only just noticed it, but he sure said 'oh' a lot. "It should only last an hour, in human terms, and then you'll have him all to yourself for about, oh... five minutes, before it starts over again."

"Five minutes? That's not --" Not enough time, she meant to say, but then she remembered their parting scene, and how little it had lasted, and how much it had accomplished. Keep the time: two minutes. Keep the entropy: even in the end -- some interest in you -- am I frightening -- you're not -- I see -- I see -- I see. "That's not a problem."

The crocodile nodded; he had hardly any neck, so he had to bob his huge snout up and down instead. It was kind of funny, but she didn't feel like laughing. "This might interest you," he said next, using that snout of his to gesture to the chair and its attached Espada. Something was happening.

The walls of the house, only some seconds ago shrouded in shadows, were beginning to light up. The transition was quick and painful, like giant blinds being lifted from giant windows, and it took her a while to process what she was seeing. Screens. Six enormous cinematic screens, one for each of the room's rectangular facets. Ulquiorra's eyes were already open, and trained on the one to his right. He looked sad, pained; why? Displayed onscreen was a scarlet smudge; was a nondescript face; was...


Every single screen displayed her.

On the wall across the doorway where Orihime was standing, two guards charged toward the 'camera' -- toward Ulquiorra, she remembered -- while the tiny, onscreen her looked on, fawn-eyed. To her right, it was her avatar who was charging forward, hand extended; crack. On the ceiling, force-feeding session. Beneath her feet, 'she existed only for Aizen-sama and his desires'. The scenes alternated every few minutes, but the point of focus always remained the same big-breasted, red-haired girl.

Orihime took a look at the screen Ulquiorra had turned to face. It was dominated by an undraped window, and behind it her double was leaning in to kiss an unconscious Ichigo -- why was that even in there?

"Hate me," she murmured, never taking her eyes off the screen. "You want to make him hate me. S-so he won't want to follow me back home. That's what this is." In a small, confused voice she continued, "Isn't it?"

Even as she said that, though, the clerk's exposition resurfaced in her head: this realm ... designed to tap into minds ... in order ... images most likely to trigger an emotional response ...

"So you see," the anthropomorphic crocodile stated, having caught sight of her guilty expression. "The images aren't normally that vivid, but your friend's projection ability came in useful." He grinned toothily. "It even weaves his feelings into the replay, if you focus hard enough. Ironic, isn't it? Oh, occasionally there's also displays of his past victims -- but most of the time, it's just you. You really did a number on him."

Orihime pleaded. She reasoned. She used Tsubaki. She beat her fists on the barrier. Nothing worked. In the end, she could only press her cheek against the invisible block, close as could be, and watch Ulquiorra watch her.

He didn't react to his environment beyond flinching or sporadically shutting his eyes, but even that was a whole lot by his standards (and taking into account that he'd already been doing this for months, but she didn't want to think about that). At one point, she tried to focus on his feelings, like the clerk had told her, but it was too intense -- how he saw her, how he experienced her. Not 'intense' in the conventional way... not the watery torrent of 'intense' that Orihime felt every day, but 'intense' like a treasured little oasis in a drought. At any rate, she couldn't go on.

The show, on the other hand... did.

It was capped off by a duplicate of her (another staff member?) walking up to the released Espada and unleashing a healing shield on his round, gaping hollow hole. Ulquiorra hissed in pain as it closed up, like a vampire scalded by a cross.

"Right out of his subconscious, mind you!" Orihime's supervisor yelled after her when she took off, but she didn't care, she was running, running fast and she was almost there --

And then she was there.

(Third Episode)

She'd acted this reunion out in her head innumerable times since he'd died; she'd planned to hug him, to pull him close, to cry against him and link their hands the way she'd wanted to back at the dome. But now that he was real and she was standing over his seated, slumped-over form, she suddenly felt all shy.

Just a touch on his shoulder, just a curt greeting. That wouldn't be too presumptuous, would it?

"Ulquiorra," she ventured, shaking him lightly."Hey. It's me. Ulquiorra, hey."

He didn't lift his head when he responded in his usual colorless tone: "So soon...?"

"Soon?" she mewled. "No, it's not soon at all! It took me four full months to get here! Ahh, I would have come sooner, but I was looking in the wrong places! Can you ever --" Her ex-captor wasn't reacting. She realized, with a dawning nausea, that they'd been talking about entirely different things. "Ulquiorra, you think that -- no! No, that torture is over, and you'll never have to go through it again, I promise! This is me -- the real me." Still no reaction. "Here," she said, and tried to take his hand from where it was fastened on the chair's arm.

Ulquiorra muttered something under his breath. The girl leaned in closer to hear, and caught something that sounded like 'getting better at this'.

"I told you I'm not -- listen to me! I can explain everything later, but they only gave me five minutes with you and we have to leave now!"

He straightened up a bit. His sternum had already eroded into a hole. "Inoue Orihime?" he said, and her heart leapt, only to plummet back down when he continued: "Whatever would she come here for? You know what I did to her -- it's on the walls for everyone to see."

Orihime felt like crying. "She forgave you, didn't she?" she asked, taking care to be gentle with him. He looked away again. "Didn't she?" the girl pressed.

The atmosphere was heavy with dilemmas and potential, humid with redemption.

"She didn't mean it," the demon replied finally, uncertainly.

There it was. A cluster of nerves. Just another minute or two and she...

...was sucked back to the entrance before she could mouth another word. The barrier was back in place, and the clerk was metamorphosed into another random dramatis persona from her subconscious -- Ichimaru Gin -- and waving at her merrily.

"Why do you think I didn't pay any mind to your 'bring him back' stipulation?" he asked, sporting his likeness's ubiquitous smirk. "No-one wants to leave here. They know Hell will be waiting for them if they do. They're terrified of it -- anyone would be."

"Not Ulquiorra," the girl disagreed, flashing back to the dome. The blood first; then the ash. Do it. Kill me. Hurry up. "He's not repelled by death... or by time, or the afterlife... any of it, really." Heart? "Only by... that other big word."

Her listener shook his head in amusement and took to twirling his glasses with his index finger, while the redhead snuggled up against the barrier and waited for another hour to pass. Another hour of memories pulsing together like a single organism, with a constant beat of Inoue-Orihime-woman-woman-woman-her-her-her. Another replay of her clone scorching Ulquiorra's hole out of existence, as she had before and as she would again. Orihime was reminded of that Greek myth about Prometheus, who had his liver eaten by an eagle every day, only to have it grow back to be eaten again the next day.

Eventually it was over, and she wouldn't waste any time, this time.

"Why do you stay here?" she asked Ulquiorra without preamble, marching up to him as if she owned the place. He glanced at her out of the corner of one eye, like he'd used to in the past. "What good does it do?"

"If you were really that woman, you would know," he answered monotonously. He looked and sounded haggard... but she couldn't let it get to her. "I'm making it up to you -- her -- for what I did."

"This is your idea of 'making up'? Sitting around and whipping yourself?" No answer. "Are you too scared to make it up to her in person? Too scared to go outside and live?" His silence drove her furious. It wasn't a common person's silence; it was a silence with subtext. It's no use. Trash. Disappointing. She wiped a few angry tears away. "It would serve you right if I just up and left you here! I'm almost m-mad at myself f-for caring about you this much!"

"I see," Ulquiorra said, in a timbre that suggested he didn't. His yellow gaze connected with hers for the first time, driving the knife deep: "I won't even be allowed my five minutes of recess anymore, is that so?"

Orihime's eyes stung where she'd rubbed them, but she had to rub them again, now.

The rest of her imparted time zoomed by. There was nothing more she could think to say or do to him. (Maybe he'd also be better off with Kuchiki-san giving him a pep talk in my place, that small, green, needy part of her had to muse.) She actually felt a little relieved when she found herself back at the doorway.

"Giving up?" Ichimaru Gin snarked at her, to no avail.

The redhead spent the following hour cross-legged on the floor, trying to gather her resolve. Her closed eyelids buffered her against the peripheral visuals, but not against her past self's blood-curdling screams. She must have gone up to the dome again. How had Ulquiorra maintained his sanity over whole months in this realm? She'd been here no more than a few hours, and she was already going half-mad. Half-mad.

That was the only excuse Orihime had for what she did next -- what she never would have done under normal circumstances, she or any other good girl. As soon as Ulquiorra hissed in pain, signaling the end of the ritual, she stood up, approached him, opened her mouth to speak, and... couldn't. What she did instead -- what she did was straddle his lap, place a palm on each side of his face, and kiss him on the lips.

I'm a horrible person.

Ulquiorra's fur was ticklish against her thigh, where her skirt had ridden up. His mouth was coarse and salty, and for a while unresponsive -- he must have still been disoriented by the so-called cleansing process. At length he kissed her back.

He moved his mouth against hers.

He touched his tongue to hers briefly.

Then he made a tiny, choked sound of anguish in his throat.

I'm a horrible person. I'm horrible. Just horrible.

This became Orihime's mantra for the next hour, after she'd broken the kiss -- stricken -- and retreated to the front of the room. She'd been a fool to think she could come in and out of Purgatory without a guilt-trip of her very own. Her chaperone didn't say anything this time, which was for the best. She wouldn't have been responsible for her actions.

Once the passage was open, the redhead fell to the Cuatro Espada's feet, crying and repeating how sorry she was, how very sorry, how much more controlled her actions normally were and how her brother had taught her not to treat people that way but how, if he would just listen to her -- suffice it to say, her monologue was a huge blur both at the time it was being said and afterwards. Ulquiorra seemed to agree, since he kept looking at a point over her shoulder the entire while, and didn't dignify her with an answer until four minutes fifty seconds in:

"I see you're not even trying to inject a semblance of realism into your performance anymore."

She didn't ask him if the wide-eyed, tear-streaked face she turned on him was 'realistic' enough for his taste. Time was up.

That was the precise moment it became clear to her that: this wasn't enough. This wouldn't do.

The Orihime on the walls spent most of the subsequent hour sobbing in her cell; the Orihime between the walls spent it drying her eyes.

The instant the barrier vanished, she was on her way. The clerk must have marked something disturbing in her steely glare or her lofty carriage -- something that hadn't been there before -- because he patted her head, more like a threat than an endearment. "Shouldn't you be getting back home now?" he inquired in Ichimaru's ophidian voice. The girl took another step. "Shouldn't you, Orihime?" The hand on her head had changed; the voice, too.

Into her brother's. Into Sora's.

She continued striding over to Ulquiorra. Didn't even look back.

The Espada had adopted his usual posture: head lowered, back hunched, horns jutting out like dangerous barbs. (Orihime turned her right palm over, considered the curves, the creases, the lines.) Not for long.


His hierro damaged the hapless basin of her hand something terrible, but it was worth it for the stunned expression on his face.

"Woman... you --"

"Get up," she said, not caring to let him finish. "Get up, and come with me."

Ulquiorra let himself see her, really see her, for the first time in months. He took in everything, from her blood-shot eyes to her fever-pink cheeks to her wrinkled clothes. His shiny, bat-like eyes made the rounds, and concluded their journey on her face. "You're the strangest human," he decided. His exhaustion still showed through, but it was just slightly overshadowed by curiosity -- that was more like the Ulquiorra she was familiar with, and she let him know with a weak smile. "I assume this isn't a negotiation?" he asked her softly.

"It's really not," she replied, smiling large.

Her brother -- no, the clerk -- stood to the side to let the two of them pass, hand-in-hand. Her puny fingers were completely submerged under Ulquiorra's jet-black hide.

"You know, someday you're going to end up in Purgatory yourself just for this breakout," the clerk said scathingly, in her brother's beloved voice. His target ignored him. "Oh, is that all? Aren't you going to make a speech about the sadistic workings of this realm, and the injustice of the world, and how you're going to change all of it someday?"

That gave Orihime pause.

"Make a speech? Why?" she retorted in an even pitch. "I know I can't change the big things -- not the fabric of the universe, which... this realm is part of. I once thought I could, but... no. The world is what it is. You are what you are." She tightened her grip on Ulquiorra's hand. "It's just that me, too... I am what I am."

Past her brother's pleas and Tatsuki's yells and her mother's booming orders, the girl guided the Espada into the portal.


Orihime's apartment is situated up a long, winding staircase, and she gets there before him, throwing the door wide-open with all the excitement of a proud housekeeper. She switches all the lights on and she's back at the doorway by the time his slow, leisurely pace takes him near her.

They meet each other's eyes, she at the threshold of her home, he at the near-top of the staircase. A shadow flits behind his eyes, and right there for a second, she knows him so well:

Should I rid myself of this moody, fickle heart you've forced onto me and return to Purgatory... even to my unlife in Hueco Mundo... or should I stay by your side forever? Should I throw you down the stairs, or have a cup of tea?

He takes the last step up.

End Notes: Two kinds of "making up" here, hm? Title taken from an obscure passage in Dante's "Purgatory".
Current Mood: energeticenergetic
eriu11eriu11 on February 14th, 2010 11:00 pm (UTC)
Okay, first off: Wow, that was amazing. I mean really, really good.

Everything was so In-Character and it read so well all together. I loved your idea of purgatory and the concept of Ulqui's punishment was very believable. And you wrote strong, forceful Orihime. That's the way she is best, when she's not breaking down or giving up. (On a side-note, you had her go through that anyway, almost like she needed to go through the bad to bring out her best. Hopes for future Orihime perhaps?). And you had Ulqui respond to it and even make that joke about 'not negotiation'. I loved that part.

Also, the part at the beginning about the nakama, perfect. Especially concerning Ichigo and the guilt and mixed feelings he must have about Ulquiorra's death.

All in all, probably one of my favourite (if not my absolute favourite) how-Ulquiorra-comes-back stories. Well done again. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to reread it and be fangirl squeeing over there in the corner.

enisy: Bleach:: Ulquihime (Cuteness)enisy on February 14th, 2010 11:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm very glad you enjoyed it. And I appreciate that you took the time to list your favourite bits. That's always a special treat for me -- well, for authors in general. :)
shinebunny: orihimeshinebunny on February 14th, 2010 11:05 pm (UTC)
She ran that word over her tongue, but she must have misplaced her taste-buds in her gut, kooky girl that she was, because that's where she felt it. Its four letters dropped all the way down and just lay there like soft rotten marshmallows. Gone.

I love this kind of imagery for Orihime, all childishly simple and mixed-up; physical but emotional.

There's so much I love about this. I really like how you 'resurrected' Ulq here, for one thing, because I think that's one of the more difficult things to do in fanfic.

"I see you're not even trying to inject a semblance of realism into your performance anymore." - Ouch. So much ouch. Which is a compliment, of course. :)

And this: Past her brother's pleas and Tatsuki's yells and her mother's booming orders, the girl guided the Espada into the portal. I love that Orihime has to overcome mental trauma and become strong - put her insecurities and all her obedience aside - to finally break them out of Purgatory. That her strength is what Ulq recognizes in her most of all. Yes!
enisy: Bleach:: Ulquihime (Love and Death)enisy on February 14th, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC)
Still flailing Ishida-style every time I see your username, still reclaiming my inferiority complex every time I see your username under my stories... but thank you. ;)
mrdracospirit on February 14th, 2010 11:14 pm (UTC)
I rather liked the whole Purgatory setting in this and how you wrote Orihime and her desire to bring Ulquiorra back, rather touching and quiet deep.
enisy: Bleach:: Ulquihime (Angel of Darkness)enisy on February 14th, 2010 11:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you! ♥
tuathafae on February 14th, 2010 11:37 pm (UTC)
After reading this posted I have the weird urge to pat your head and say "you'll go far, kid." But I honestly didn't contribute much to this, you're a very good writer. :)

This was my favorite imagery:

maybe each of the soul-people would be presented with a number of candles equal to the number of their sins, all of which would be sitting atop a gigantic, custom-made birthday cake, and those people would only have to blow out the candles to ascend to Heaven and eat their cake.

What an optimistic view on purgatory. Bad news for the COPDers out there though. ;) Shouldn't have smoked. Anyway, good luck in the contest! :)
enisy: Bleach:: Ulquihime (Not Allowed)enisy on February 14th, 2010 11:49 pm (UTC)
Ahhh, I always feel so embarrassed and unworthy when my favourite writers beta-read and/or review my stories (see shinebunny up there). Even so... I can't thank you enough. *hugs tightly*
sagebrush_2008sagebrush_2008 on February 15th, 2010 04:10 am (UTC)
*sigh* Each time I read this I find something else that I like about it, in addition to the previous bits.

The Prologue, with the nakama reactions... so spot on.

And Not-Nnoitra had me laughing fit to scare the cats.

And Ulquiorra's punishment, so well-designed to get that emotional response they're after. Almost Clockwork Orange caliber cruelty there (alliteration not intended).

And that whole second episode, where she can't get through to him. Heartbreaking.

And, and, and... Just the whole concept is brilliant, really. That there's another realm, that it's arranged all spooky-like the way inner worlds are, that arrancar/vizard go there by default as punishment, but almost more for "confusing the system" than for what they've done. Bleach-verse really is a bureaucracy isn't it, complete with creepy help desks...

Yikes. Even the last bit, Ulquiorra's debate, the "moody, fickle heart" that was "forced onto" him, and his ultimate decision to really live...

tl;dr: I love this story, and thank you for writing it.
enisy: Bleach:: Ulquihime (See Here It)enisy on February 15th, 2010 09:26 am (UTC)
Not as much as I love yours. ♥ Thank you so much for the lovely, detailed review, though!
coffee_gyrl: Ulqui(animed) taunts Ichigocoffee_gyrl on February 15th, 2010 05:02 am (UTC)
I love this! What a great take on the whole heaven/hell/somewhere-in-between. The 'learning' the soul had to do was great and not over the top, yet not too soft either. I really liked this line 'humid with redemption.' very nice. I adored the way everyone was written and that you weaved so many elements from the orginal. My favorite was that she slapped him, the scene where we all cheered Orihime and wanted to see her strong again and you did that as his wake up call, that was great.
enisy: Bleach:: Ulquihime (Eyesmex)enisy on February 15th, 2010 09:29 am (UTC)
Sankyuu! I'm very happy you enjoyed it. Always a delight to see a review of yours. :)
Issues: Bleach- *Embaressed*lovely_masoka on February 15th, 2010 05:29 am (UTC)
Nya~ I love this, you know that but everything after I loved. the characterzation and the idea of purgatory is just amazing. ♥

Great job. <3
enisy: Bleach:: Ulquiorra (Valentine's)enisy on February 15th, 2010 09:24 am (UTC)
Thank you! For the review, and for the emergency beta-read, too. ♥
>Kat<: [Bleach] NnoiNel Plushietanya_lilac on February 15th, 2010 06:01 am (UTC)
I adore the way you write, the concept, and the very in character characterisation. It's not over the top, but it's really strong - I think you've captured a very profound episode for these two.
enisy: Bleach:: Ulquihime (Chu)enisy on February 15th, 2010 09:23 am (UTC)
Aww, thanks. :)
hinodeh: it's strange how it all changeshinodeh on February 15th, 2010 12:38 pm (UTC)
I think this is my favorite fic of yours so far.

There are so many original and brilliant ideas and bits of characterization in it:

That a purgatory exists and the Bleach universe and that it mimicks some of the usual unfairness and bureaucracy of it. The fact that even to visitors, the keepers of this place appear in forms that would evoke emotional responses from them, and what that ultimately means for Orihime and Ulquiorra both. The moths and the sterile buildings and the endless road.
The self-inflicted torment that makes it hard to distinguish reality and and illusion/memory.

Ah, and all those wonderful moments of characterization: Ichigo understanding Orihime's desire to save Ulquiorra and the reason for it. The crocodiles and the candles and how Orihime asks the clerk to turn into such a creature because it makes her more comfortable.
The fact that at one point she returns to her jealousy of Rukia and thinks that she would do a better pep talk than her. How when she finally reunited with Ulquiorra, she opted to touch his shoulder because it was just different from what she imagined.
Her increasingly desperate attempts tor each him, and her guilt even while she kisses him and her tearful apologies after that. And the Prometheus reference was made of win.

I loved Ulquiorra, too: how he couldn't forgive himself and move on and therefore also couldn't believe that Orihime really forgave him and that she even cared enough to save him. It was heartbreaking, and just gorgeous.

I also liked how he finally snapped out of it when she slapped him: because it matched up with how he perceived Orihime to be, even if that perception was partly skewed due to the self-hate he experienced in purgatory. Heh, and I always love Ulquihime fics which make references to past moments from canon between them and completely turn them around.

The last scene between the clerk and Orihime was so cool. Her realization and fearlessness were just great. It showed how far she'd come.

And the last scene was also very well-done, for how understated it was and how it showed that Ulquiorra had still a long way to go, while similarly hinting that from there on it could only get better and that the worst was over.

But I think my favorite part was that Orihime rescued him in this story without healing or restoring hi body but with the strength of her heart.

Like with sagebrush_2008, I hope you get far in this contest and bag a prize.

enisy: Bleach:: Ulquiorra (Everything Divides)enisy on February 15th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I think by now it should go without saying that I love your lengthy, in-depth reviews, I've praised you for them so many times. ♥ You like this better than my other fics? Really? That means a lot coming from you.
(Deleted comment)
enisy: Bleach:: Ulquihime (Babysitter)enisy on February 15th, 2010 06:54 pm (UTC)
I always get a big smile on my face from your art, so it's a fair exchange. :) I'm delighted that you like it! I trust your judgment!
r0ck3tsci3ntist - sorry, kiddingr0ck3tsci3ntist on February 15th, 2010 08:16 pm (UTC)
Great story! Very in character for all parties!
enisy: Bleach:: Hell-Butterflyenisy on February 15th, 2010 08:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you! ♥♥♥
masterzutarafan: um...himasterzutarafan on February 16th, 2010 01:38 am (UTC)
OH MAH GAWD! Another masterpiece, you talented writer you XD I love how you make them into character so easily. I'm so envious. <3 I LOVE your style, filled with metaphors and very powerful sentences.
I think Ulquiorra's purgatory punishment was so fitting and ,oh man, love how he mistakes the real Orihime for another session. there's so many great details. I can reread it and still flail the same way each time. <3 I really hope you win! <3333333333333
enisy: Bleach:: Ulquihime (What Is a Heart)enisy on February 16th, 2010 09:22 am (UTC)
What an awesome review! Thank you! :)
cuddl on February 16th, 2010 10:07 am (UTC)
But Orihime did not care for pain in the slightest, and she only cared for fire insofar as it was used to caramelize crème brûlées, so she'd envisioned Purgatory kinda differently. Like, maybe each of the soul-people would be presented with a number of candles equal to the number of their sins, all of which would be sitting atop a gigantic, custom-made birthday cake, and those people would only have to blow out the candles to ascend to Heaven and eat their cake.
I loved this. ♥

I really liked your portrayal of Orihime--you captured many of aspects that I love about her.
enisy: Bleach:: Ulquihime (Pwned)enisy on February 16th, 2010 10:37 am (UTC)
Whee, thank you! :D
_debbiechan__debbiechan_ on February 16th, 2010 09:50 pm (UTC)

Fuck, that was awesome. Conception and execution and while I always love your fics, this one had layers of delight to it, all like the sufferings described by Dante for our amusement.
enisy: Bleach:: Ulquiorra (Do I Frighten You)enisy on February 16th, 2010 10:00 pm (UTC)
Ahhhh, thank you, Debbie! I hope to participate in your future contests, too. This one has been great fun so far. :)
nehalenia: ulquihime slapnehalenia on February 17th, 2010 10:38 pm (UTC)
Wow, this is so creative and unique. I love all the imagination you put into this, the way Purgatory is worked out, and what happens there. The way you describe the inner workings of Orihime's brain are just wonderful, and I love her view of what Purgatory should be -- a birthday cake where you blow out the candles. The scenes where Ulquiorra thinks the real Orihime is part of his torture are heart-wrenching, and I love that it's the slap that brings him around. The last bit -- should he throw her down the stairs or have tea? -- is wonderful and so IC for Ulqui. Well done! *claps*
enisy: Bleach:: NnoiNel (Half-Moon)enisy on February 17th, 2010 10:57 pm (UTC)
Aww, thanks! I'm glad those things worked for you. I loved your story, too, so much. ♥