Beauty and the Beast
Chapter One: Beginning Tale
The sun was shining on bright blue sky while white cotton-like clouds gathered at either ends of azure-painted canvas. The birds were singing a harmonious tune on damp tree branches, still covered by the last vestiges of ice. The warmth gradually melted away the pristine snow that had blanketed the roads and streets, puddles of water pooled in crevices of the grounds in their place, while life began to fill the grasses and plants in the color of green.
Orihime gazed this, meanwhile the professor was busily explaining and scribbling chemical compositions on the whiteboard. The class fell quiet; some eagerly listened to the lecture and took notes, while others preoccupied by their own business. Orihime was the latter. She flipped a pen idly around her fingers while the other hand was used to support her chin; her eyes were fixated at the view beyond the frosted window.
It was such a bright, sunny day.
She felt as if the frozen season lasted very short and now the year had flipped open a new page of the calendar. The warmth of the air and the fresh scent of green grass indicated the spring had come, soon the pristine silver blanket would disappear and flowerbeds of various kinds and colors would grow on warm grounds.
And yet for some reasons, she was irritated.
She shadowed her eyes when a warm ray shone brilliantly at her. She gazed at the clear azure sky and the glorious orange-tinted sun that created a beautiful piece of tableau. The vivid color reminded her of something she'd rather not, and yet the very heaven had betrayed her. Stupid sky, she thought. Stupid sun, stupid, stupid Ichigo.
"—chemistry has been used by our ancestors for a number of years, for example—"
Orihime shook her head slightly and gathered her concentration into listening to what the professor was saying. But she couldn't digest a thing when her mind was preoccupied. She ended up staring absently at the complicated formulas and compositions written boldly on the board when she felt a soft tug on her right shoulder.
"Orihime," Tatsuki whispered from behind. "He's doing it again."
Orihime turned her head halfway back and her eyes collided with a pair of jade green eyes. Those eyes belonged to a dark-haired student who sat on the rear row of the right end, far apart from Orihime, who sat on the front row of the left end. He immediately directed his eyes at the professor as soon as she caught him.
"Geez. He's playing innocent right after we caught him." Tatsuki murmured in low voice.
Orihime looked over her shoulder and glanced swiftly at the chartreuse-eyed student whom she caught staring at her not only once, but many times before. He was a sophomore who majored in Chem, a year above her and her friends. She knew him only by name and face; they never speak to each other but casual greetings.
For some reasons that escaped her, she noticed that he had been staring at her whenever she wasn't looking, and that had happened for some times. She didn't understand why he did that, but the frequent stares had becoming more intense that she sometimes grew uncomfortable at it.
"—now, can anyone tell me about the early use of chemistry?" The professor directed his hand towards a student who raised a hand at his question. "Ah, yes. Please declare your answer in front of the class, Mr. Schiffer."
Then the chartreuse-eyed student stood up and walked over to the podium. "Our ancestors had discovered chemistry several hundred of years ago called alchemy. But rather than having logic as the basic idea of use, they created an earlier and unscientific form of chemistry used as means of seeking a way to transform base metals into gold and to discover a life-prolonging elixir, a universal cure for disease, and a universal solvent—"
"He talks like a freakin' robot, that smartass." Renji blurted on Orihime's right, wearing an annoyed expression.
"Well, he is smart, unlike you. You'd better listen to him or you'll fail again." Tatsuki snorted.
Renji quirked an eyebrow. "That's not very nice, Ms. Tatsuki Arisawa. I do not suck. In the matter of fact, I actually passed the last exam—"
"—barely. And please erase the 'not' from the trivia, admit you do suck at chem." She pointed her pen at him. "Who do you think tutored you last time?"
The red head flinched back. "…what the hell, Tatsuki? You're on his side now? Does the almighty Ms. Tatsuki Arisawa finally head over heels for Mr. Ulquiorra Schiffer, the honor student?"
"W-what the!? When did I say that! Why you little—"
"ehem." the professor coughed, causing the two to halt. "Ms. Arisawa and Mr. Abarai, please respect your friend's good intention while he is explaining his answer. Or does my class bore you so? If that's the case, feel free to leave. I do not tolerate students who make noise in my class."
Orihime giggled softly seeing her friends were apologizing frantically to the professor, as did the rest of the class. Then she came to notice that Ulquiorra, the chartreuse-eyed sophomore, yet again was staring at her in a way that made her smile falter. The class's attention was centered at Tatsuki and Renji and nobody noticed but herself, he didn't avert his eyes even after Orihime had averted hers.
"…well then, you may sit. I will not tolerate it next time I catch you two making noise in my class—" He was cut by the bell. "…I believe we're done for today, see you in the next class. Ms. Arisawa and Mr. Abarai, please come to the podium."
The students packed their things and left for lunch while four people remained. After a while, Tatsuki and Renji returned to their seats, Renji specifically had a look of listlessness and lethargy mixed together on his face.
"Christ…a fifteen pages essay by tomorrow…?" Renji slumped into his seat. "That's inhumane!"
"You reap what you sow." Tatsuki nonchalantly said as she fetched her bag. "Hime? What's wrong?" Tatsuki said, taking sight of Orihime's paling face.
Orihime smiled timidly at her. "Nothing. I'm okay."
"You don't look well, Orihime." The professor had stood nearby before they realized it. He observed Orihime's face. "Have you had breakfast? If not, you'd better go to the café and eat plenty of healthy lunch."
"Why don't you come with us too, Professor? Rukia will be happy if you do." Tatsuki suggested.
"Oh, I would love to. But I have a conference in another university this afternoon. So I thought of settling this quickly." Byakuya fished out a sheet of paper from his file folder. "Orihime, you're a scholarship student, correct?"
"Well, I have some bad news for you. According to the last exam results, it appears your grades have fallen quiet a tad. I'm not worried since the decrease isn't significant and your grades still far from the minimum limit. But if your grades keep falling, I'm afraid the university will have to take back the scholarship. Is there any reason for this? Do you have troubles keeping concentration?"
"Eh…um." Orihime muttered hesitantly. It was true that she hadn't been able to concentrate on school subjects, she would often doze off in the middle of the class and she had a hard time digesting the information.
"Orihime is working part-time, Sir." Tatsuki revealed. "She lives alone since her brother passed away some years ago, so she has to work every other day to cover daily expenses."
"I see." Byakuya nodded slightly. "It must be hard for you. I apologize for touching such a delicate subject."
"Oh no, it's okay Sir. It's been a long time." Orihime smiled reassuringly. When she noticed Byakuya was suddenly quiet, she asked. "Professor? What's the matter?"
"Ah, nothing." He replied. "I was just thinking if she was to experience the same—no, it's inconsequential. You're a strong child, Orihime." He smiled thinly as he gently patted Orihime's head.
"By the way, may I suggest a tutor for you?" Byakuya suggested.
"A tutor? You'll be my tutor, Professor?" Orihime perked up, wide-eyed.
"Well, no. I have plenty in my hands right now, so I'm saying that you should ask one of the students above your rank to be your tutor. If I may suggest, how about asking Ulquiorra? He's a top rank student and he's—"
Byakuya raised an eyebrow. "Pardon?"
Orihime averted her eyes, a hand had made its way on her upper arm, squeezing tightly. "I'm sorry professor, it's just that—no, I don't think I can have him as my tutor."
"Do you have a problem with him?" He asked, glancing at her and her friends.
"No, I don't have any. I-it's just…I'm sorry Professor." Then she fell silent. Neither Tatsuki nor Renji spoke anything either, but a bothered look was written on their faces.
Orihime recalled how those cold chartreuse eyes were looking at her. How Ulquiorra always stared at her with an expression deprived of emotions, without reasons. How his eyes looked so cold and empty and…lifeless. Like a doll. It chiseled within her memory and wouldn't vanish. She didn't want to remember it, both Ulquiorra and his ever omnipresent watchful gaze.
He frightened Orihime.
"…I see." The young professor finally said. "I have a list of possible candidates if you wish see, you can come to my office tomorrow then you tell me who you choose. I'm sorry, but I have to go to the conference now."
"Byakuyaaa… feel sorry for me too! Reduce the pages, the pages, for God's sake!!" Renji cried out.
"Be silent, you imbecile. Be grateful I didn't add another twenty pages for those F's and the vase you broke last summer. And do not call me so familiarly within campus. It's Professor Kuchiki for you." Byakuya retorted.
Renji cringed in a corner.
After he left, Tatsuki approached the silent girl. "Hime, are you sure you're alright? He didn't do anything to you, did he?"
Orihime shook her head. "I'm okay, Tatsuki. And no, he didn't do anything to me."
"Are you sure?"
"That bastard's still doin' that, huh? He's sick." Renji commented brusquely.
"Who knows? Maybe he's just bored. Anyways, as long as he doesn't lay a hand on Orihime, he'll live." She reached her bag and swung it to her shoulder. "I'm sure you'll be fine after you have lunch, Hime. The others must be waiting for us too."
"Good idea." Renji said.
When they were just about to leave, sounds of steps emerged from the hallway outside of the classroom. It stopped after a brief moment and the door was opened, a male student with a bundle of sunshine orange stepped in. Orihime's heart fluttered the moment she saw him.
"Oi Renji, what's taking you so long?" Ichigo uttered in annoyance, he greeted both girls when he noticed their presence. "Oh hey, Inoue, Tatsuki."
"Sorry man. The Prof's hemmed me." Renji's face turned sickly white at the thought of the essay he must submit tomorrow.
"Ha! Byakuya did, huh? I guess even the entitled sister's childhood friend couldn't get away from his tyranny." Ichigo laughed heartily. "Anyways, don't you want to go grab something at the café?"
"That's our plan. Right, Orihime?" Tatsuki elbowed Orihime lightly.
"Eh? Um…yes. I-it is." Orihime thought she had forgotten to breathe when she spoke.
Ichigo grinned widely. "Great! I'm going there too, so let's go together."
Orihime felt warmth rushed to her face as it grew red as she saw his smile, her heart accelerated wildly within its rib cage. Yet she felt happy despite the problems she was having presently, despite the source of those problems was just before her, smiling at her without knowing anything.
Why did Ichigo always able to brighten her world?
Her train of thoughts was dismantled when the door was opened again. Then a rather smallish dark-haired girl with lavender eyes entered the lone room, she had a mix of irritation and anger fixed on her pretty face.
"Ichigo, how dare you leave me! I just went to the lady's room for a minute and you were already gone!" She angrily exclaimed, her hands in akimbo.
A look of realization fell to Ichigo, before he frantically said, "Sorry Rukia, I forgot! I swear it wasn't intentional! …Ouch! What's that for, you midget!?"
"They're in for another lover's quarrel now? Can't they do it somewhere but the campus and places with spectators?" Tatsuki sighed as the two began throwing tantrums at each other, it was almost like a daily routine for them, that their friends were used to it.
"…Orihime?" Tatsuki turned to Orihime. She had her eyes fixated at Rukia and Ichigo with a look Tatsuki couldn't identify. Only when she called her name again, did Orihime turned to her.
"What is it, Tatsuki?" She asked with a smile. She looked fine, Tatsuki thought she was seeing things. She shook her head as a reply.
Orihime gave her a smile before she turned to her friends. "Um…I'm sorry, everyone. I just remember I have to go to work today and I have to go now." She announced.
Rukia and Ichigo stopped when they heard this. "Eh? But Inoue, I thought today you don't have to work?" Rukia asked.
"My boss said she needs more people because a worker just resigned yesterday, and she said she'll pay double, so I agree to work today." Orihime explained reassuringly.
"Oh, that's a shame." Rukia smiled thinly. "I guess next time then?"
"Yes, definitely!" Orihime cheerfully nodded.
She bid farewell to her friends and turned her back on them. She was several feet from them when someone called her name, she looked over her shoulder and saw Ichigo was waving his hand at her. His orange tresses shone brilliantly as a ray of sun fell to him and his smile was as dazzling as the glorious sun.
Her heart trembled.
She walked in fast pace, lunging through a throng of students aimlessly. Her surroundings became blurs of colors while noises fell to deaf ears. She didn't know where she was going; she just kept on walking. Orihime finally stopped in an emptied outdoor corridor of the campus' garden in the back of the main building, out of breath.
What am I doing? She thought as she leaned her back against a brick pillar. She realized she was only running away, although what she said wasn't a lie, it didn't change the fact that she had tried to escape reality.
She was a coward.
She closed her eyes and a bundle of sunshine orange flashed before the darkness. She opened her eyes and hung her head, a pang of loneliness made its way into her chest. She slowly placed her palm above her heart and felt it rumbled.
"No…I…" she muttered softly, a pair of lavender eyes flashed before her eyes. "I don't—"
"—stop fooling around!"
Orihime's eyes widened at the presence of another person. She cast her gaze to her surroundings but found no one but herself was nearby, but when she searched around she saw two men were standing in the wood area not very far from the garden hall. One of them had spiky, bright azure hair while the other…Orihime held her breath when she recognized that raven hair and dim chartreuse eyes. They seemed to be arguing about something.
"I am not fooling around, Grimmjow." Ulquiorra looked calm, despite the other man's outburst.
"Then what the fuck are you standing here and playing school for!? You know you must find a—" Orihime couldn't make the most of their conversation, their words sounded crude and far.
"I understand your reasons. But that woman… We can't force unrelated people to be involved in our…situation." The calmer of the two stated, it made the other's face grew redder.
"Fuck it!! This is not just about you, you motherfucker—"
As their argument of obstinate words went on, Orihime felt she must leave them both alone. She backed away slowly and soundlessly, but she failed to notice a wastebasket behind her. Orihime gave out a soft gasp when the basket rolled over by her feet, quickly slapped a hand onto her mouth.
Orihime quickly spun on her heels to leave, the second she did the man with azure-colored hair was already standing in front of her, causing her eyes to widen in surprise. I thought he was over there a second ago… She mused in her shock; she swiftly looked over her shoulder and realized he had gone from his previous position.
"…who're you, chick?" Grimmjow glared down to her.
Orihime's heart began to pound under those piercing cold blue eyes, she couldn't see before because of the distance, but now she noticed that this man's eyes…although his were filled with emotions, reminded her awfully of someone who lacked them.
Ulquiorra approached them from Orihime's behind, wide-eyed when he identified her. "Orihime Inoue…what are you doing here?"
Grimmjow glanced to Ulquiorra, then down to the girl. "…Inoue…Orihime?" He muttered. A chill ran down her spine as a wide, eerie grin started forming on Grimmjow's lips. "I see…so it's her."
"What are you talking about?" Ulquiorra suddenly looked stern. Orihime couldn't understand the flow of the conversation as she only repeatedly glanced at them.
"Don't play fool, Ulquiorra. It's her isn't it? The one you want!" Grimmjow barked. "We're running out of time. You've been weak all this time. You could've just used a girl or two, 'bout time to finish this once and for all…" He glared at Orihime and stretched out his hand.
Ulquiorra had pulled Orihime by the arm before Grimmjow could. Orihime, in her bewilderment, couldn't control her balance; resulting her back to fall against Ulquiorra's chest. She could hear Ulquiorra's chest rumbled deeply as he spoke. "Stop it, Grimmjow. She's unrelated."
"We can work on that."
Ulquiorra grasped at both of Orihime's upper arms, he brought his face close to her ear and whispered, "When I release you, run home and lock the doors. Don't leave tonight."
"Wh-what? I don't understand… I…I have to work today…" Orihime replied, glancing confusedly at him.
"Cancel it. You absolutely cannot leave your house tonight, no matter the reason. I'm sorry I can't give you an explanation right now, but please trust me." Orihime saw those chartreuse eyes gazed at her, yet she didn't feel fright but the otherwise. She wanted to ask him, but Grimmjow was slowly approaching them.
Before Grimmjow had been near enough, Ulquiorra pushed Orihime to the back and released his hands. Orihime immediately forced her legs to run, almost stumbling on her way. She had no idea what was going on and what their conversation meant, but somehow she had a bad feeling.
She briefly looked over her shoulder and Ulquiorra's back came to view. Of the things that she just witnessed, she could only understand one thing.
He's trying to protect me.
Why? And from what?
Orihime decided to save those questions for now.
It was already 10 P.M.
Orihime sighed as she held her legs close to her chest, clutching onto the thick blanket around her svelte body for warmth. The sounds of tickling clock filled the cold, silent atmosphere.
She hadn't come to work today. As soon as she got home, she called her boss and told her she couldn't work at the florist today and she had apologized. She even made sure to lock the doors and windows in her apartment. She did everything Ulquiorra told her.
She felt odd.
She had plenty of time to spare, hours even, and it caused her to think a lot about the strange things happened to her today. Up until recently, Orihime thought of Ulquiorra as a cold and unfriendly person, and she had been a little scared of him. And yet the recent event had proved that he was better than that. She realized they never had a real conversation before, would her perspective towards him be different if they had talked earlier? He protected her from that man called Grimmjow.
Orihime felt awful. She had assumed Ulquiorra before she actually knew him.
She clutched the blanket tighter as she buried her face on her knees.
She closed her eyes and listened to the sound of tickling clock, it was far better than having dull silence surrounding her, particularly at night, where she would be alone in her room. Before, when her brother was still alive, they would have dinner and watch TV together until bedtime, her brother would take her to bed and stroke her hair until she fell asleep; those nights were her happiest time. Being alone every night reminded her of him.
Somehow…she felt lonely.
Orihime got off of her bed and walked over to a wooden cabinet across the bed. She took a photo frame with a picture of her brother and stared at the face she missed so much. She smiled. "I miss you, brother."
She held it close to her heart, before placing it back to its place. No, I can't show him my sad face. She thought as she shook her head. She thought she had to look fine and happy so her brother in heaven wouldn't worry about her, she must become strong.
Orihime decided to go to the kitchen and fix herself a dinner, since she hadn't had one. She remembered she had some leftovers in the refrigerator. "Yes! Some meal will definitely cheer me up!" She said to herself.
She went to the door and reached for the doorknob, when she heard loud shattering noise coming from outside her room. Orihime gasped in surprise, she was sure it came from the living room just across her bedroom.
Is it thief? She instinctively reached for something she could use as weapon.
She gingerly opened the door and prepared herself with a mop. When the door leaf was wide opened, her eyes widened as she took the sight of the intruder. It wasn't even human. What she saw was a huge animal that looked like a leopard, no, a white panther was there, standing in the center of a cluster made of shattered glass. The glass door that led to the porch had a big hole that suggested it had been cracked open.
The white panther looked at her with its unusually familiar azure eyes. Orihime was petrified under its piercing gaze. The mop she held had fallen to the floorboard.
"My decision to follow your scent is accurate." The panther gave out a deep growl. Orihime's eyes grew wide in shock that the one who spoke just now was the white panther.
The panther took a step closer to her. "The master is too lenient. Helping such a helpless little girl… he would've succeeded if it wasn't me who found out about this. Such a pain in the ass."
Master? Orihime wordlessly questioned.
"I don't have anything against you, kiddo. But what the master wants, the master gets. We're on a roll, you see." It took another step closer, but Orihime couldn't move her legs to run.
Those cruel, piercing sky blue eyes looked up to her as if mocking. "…Orihime Inoue."
"I'm taking you as the master's bride."
To be continued…
Author's Note: Hello and pleased to meet you. This is my first fan fiction in this site, I hope you enjoy reading it. As you can see, this ficlet is an adaptation from the famous tale, 'Beauty and The Beast', and it will be continued for undecided number of chapters. If you are willing and have the time, please give me comments or constructive criticisms for future reference as I realize this fic has it flaws here and there. It will be great to hear your thoughts about it.
Thank you and see you later in the second chapter.