Orihime is a girl who struggled to live in the streets of Inuzuri – the poorest district in all of Edo. There, she stayed, living a life of an impoverished folk, and finding her way out of misery through her best friends Tatsuki and Renji, and her wonderful "adopted" little siblings, Jinta and Ururu.
But the townsfolk, whom Orihime owes a big debt to, were now after her to claim their money, and she desperately sought ways to pay them back.
Until one day, she agreed to a mysterious man named Urahara Kisuke to sell herself to a rich man just to save her friends.
And what will she do if her new owner forces her to marry him?!
Your Fading Starlight
"Ow… ow… ow…" Orihime whimpered, massaging her bottom. Tears threatened to sting her eyes as she adjusted her body to put less pressure on her swollen backside. She looked at the skies above, praying for some miracle to take the pain she felt away.
She had just received three blows at the back from Mitsuhashi-san, who was forcing Jinta to work for him to pay for the cabbages they owed him. Orihime saw the big man pulling Jinta's arm, attempting to hit the boy with a stick. Luckily, she arrived just in time to shield the little boy from the blows and instead receiving the attack.
To appease the beefy man, she agreed to be the one to work for his shop. Mitsuhashi let them off the hook for another two days. But who knows how long this temporary peace would last?
She moved to her side a little, her head still in the direction of the gaping hole on the roof, showing those twinkling stars in the heavens above. She tried counting them. I know how to count, she thought wryly. Orihime knew money, and for that, she learned how to count even when in the slums where people were considered stupid and uneducated.
Stars, she thought. Why are you all so far away? Are you trying to escape my reach?
Inoue Orihime hated the stars. She hated them for being so high above. She hated them for being within the center of peace and tranquility – safely being held by the calm and mysterious night sky. She hated them for looking down at her, showing off their glint and sparkle, winking mischievously at her as if mocking her that she could never understand what it felt like to be just like them.
She hated those stars. She hated the light they gave.
She sighed, catching a glimpse of four people who seemed to be in deep sleep, languishing about in what little space they had in this cramped 'home' they had.
Abarai Renji, a man with a shock of crimson hair, was lying down nearest to the door, his long mane surrounding his sharp-featured face in disarray. He was snoring slightly, huffing up a bit of the hair on his face and showing hints of the tattoos that covered his body. Covered his – everywhere. He was considered as the punk of Inuzuri and no one dared cross him, unless you want a taste of his fist and a doze of his anger.
But in their little family, Renji was gentler, and was given the role as the 'protector.'
Next to him, a little boy with the same shade of hair slept, open-mouthed, with drool hanging on the side of his mouth. Little Jinta, the boy Orihime tried to protect. A gutsy little person with a temper that rivaled Renji's, he was the boy whom was the 'gang leader' of his small group of friends in Inuzuri. But because of this, he was often in trouble. He was always caught stealing something from the stalls, or tricking the owners. And as always, his Orihime-neechan was there to save the day. But despite Jinta's rough exterior, he would be nicest towards Orihime, often helping Renji in hard tasks just to follow her orders. He was a difficult child to take care of at first, but in a two years that Orihime has spent with the boy, he has grown more caring and helpful to others.
Beside Jinta was a girl curled up tightly, looking like a ball. She had jet black hair that was parted neatly in the middle and covered her face entirely. Orihime smiled to herself. Ururu, a shy but extremely helpful girl, was Jinta's opposite in every way. She would often sit or help uncomplainingly even when matters grow worse and worse for them each day. She would offer Jinta her spare food, even though she was still hungry, just to feed the hyperactive boy's dissatisfaction. Her shy smile was often seen on her face, but her eyes were cold and sad. There was something about her that seemed very fragile. But Orihime and the others who really knew Ururu knew better. This girl could be tougher than Jinta when agitated. One time, Orihime found a beaten up, beefy boy that tried to punch Jinta. She was about to scold the young boy, when Ururu timidly admitted that she was the one who did so and only did it to protect the food they gathered from the bully.
On Orihime's other side was a girl whose black hair was cropped short with a frown slashing across her thin lips. Her form was unusually carefree as she was in her slumber, far from the always guarded and prepared stance she makes for real life. She was Orihime's best friend, Arisawa Tatsuki. Tatsuki was a young woman unlike any other, and many people of Inuzuri seldom treat her as a female. She was tough and roguish, like a man, with discipline and principle that was hard to come by in a woman. She stood tall amongst the hard street life of the poor. Whenever she walked, she didn't earn teasing and degrading stares from the wayward men of the slums. They feared and respected her. She could take down a man twice her size if she wanted to protect something – her friends and her dignity. She was Orihime's loving friend, who always cheered her up in times of trouble. She was Orihime's pillar of support – her source of strength. Orihime felt proud to have such a friend. She was mostly the reason that she could stand up now and be happy. And even when Orihime picked up two children from the sidewalks in charity, even though the three of them (Renji, Tatsuki and herself) were already struggling, Tatsuki supported her decision and even took turns to look after the two kids.
Peaceful moments like these seldom did last, and she was truly grateful for it. She didn't want to be away from these four people whom she learned to love. Even with all the trouble that has been occuring in their daily lives - all the occasional outbursts of townfolk whom they borrowed money and asked food from, they still stuck by each other. No one leaves. One for all, all for one. It was like an unspoken code that bound them together through almost anything.
Orihime sighed contentedly and looked up at the stars once again. If I have these people who're with me now, I would never need that sky and those stars.
She closed her eyes.
"Orihime," a voice spoke. "What are you doing?!"
She looked up at the woman with disinterest, hiding the conflicting emotions within her. It saddened her to stay away, but she knew she needed to. She discovered something that was truly painful for her – her existence was something that should not even be realized.
"I'm keeping these away," she replied nonchalantly.
"You have to go back to the house," the voice convinced once more. "Your mother and father are coming home."
"Mother and father?" she repeated. "What mother and father?"
"What are you saying?"
"What am I saying? I thought you knew," Orihime said with a smile twisted in grief. "Do not lie, Haruka-san."
The woman was stunned. It was the first time that darling and caring child addressed her in such a way – such a cold and uncaring way.
"Orihime…" Haruka whispered, "Orihime-sama."
"Stop calling me like that," Orihime said, her eyes hidden by the shadows of her hair.
With that, she turned and ran away.
Away from that life. Away from it all. She was never going back. She hated to suffer like that. She despised all of those people. She despised those faces with fake smiles, curious eyes and greedy hands. She disliked their sugar-coated words and their honeyed tongues and movements. She abhorred those actions that seem to degrade her very existence.
She ran into the night. She never glanced skywards like the way she carelessly used to. She loathed those stars that twinkle in the night sky – those high and mighty jewels of the eve, which seemed to be dazzling everyone. But she knew those stars are a sham. Those stars will never shed tears like she had. She had fallen from grace. They had fallen from grace.
Orihime woke up in a start.
That dream, she thought. That dream. What was it? Why has it been haunting me ever since the past week?
She didn't know that face. The woman she addressed as Haruka. She wasn't even sure if she was the girl in the dream. But she was the one talking. She wasn't sure of that dream – it gave her a feeling of creeping uncertainty that bothered her for almost over a week now. She didn't like the feeling at all. It was like it was something of the past.
She shook her head in silliness. How could it even possibly be? I'm poor! No one would call me 'Orihime-sama' and there wouldn't be a chance in ANY of my lifetimes that I would be ever addressed that way.
Orihime had a very vague memory of anything that had happened to her before she was seven years old. But she didn't care. She was a wanderer, and Tatsuki saved her from complete starvation and death.
Her first memory was lying down, almost lifeless, in the outskirts of Inuzuri, hunger yelling in the bottom of her stomach. Pain brutally knocked her small body as she was being stepped on by some boys who were picking at her. She groaned in protest, but in the harshly parched throat of hers, no sound escaped. She didn't force herself to move any longer. She didn't have the energy.
A yell and a thud – that was all she heard next. Then a pair of concerned, dark eyes that gave her hope.
Orihime sighed to herself as she pulled herself from the cold floor that was her haven every night for nine years. Rays of morning lights spilled through the holes of the ceiling, and into the window that was in front of her.
Memories of before she was seven years old? Why bother? She was perhaps too young to even remember anything. Plus, she was too hungry to even try to think about it.
She let out an energetic breath as she stood up, looking at her four companions, who were still asleep. She took careful steps towards the door, careful not to wake them from their rest.
As she stepped outside, the birth of morning's light greeted her, as the cool breeze of the young dawn welcomed her. She breathed in slowly – to comfort her stormed thoughts, and to give sanctuary, even a little sanctuary, to her heavily protesting stomach.
Two days, she thought wryly. I haven't eaten for two days.
Her stomach sang its angered hymn again. She frowned to herself as she started marching towards the market.
Renji didn't make any earnings yesterday, since he got into a fight with the owner of the new shop he was working in. He came home with a foul mood, leaving the whole district tending to a nearly dead Azuma-san.
Tatsuki, who was also out yesterday to get some money, came back with nothing. She intended to steal from a man who was busily finding whores for himself. Unfortunately, a guard caught her in the middle of the act and tried to chase her. She had no time to get the perverted man's coin sack and she'd rather risk another day being hungry than to be caught and beheaded.
Orihime closed her eyes and tried fishing out from the sleeves of her untidy yukata. Nothing.
They had no money to spare.
Should I ask for some food again? She thought nervously.
The marketplace was the area in Inuzuri that Orihime dreaded the most. Every storekeeper and owner knew her. Everyone knew Inoue Orihime.
She was the one who owed them money.
She owed every single shop in Inuzuri some money, for all the food she asked of them and promised to pay back. For all the damages done by Renji in his street fights, Tatsuki in her stealing, and Jinta in his mischief. And for some reason, all of them were saved by Orihime, by promising the offended people payment. For reasons also unknown, the people believed Orihime, and let her three friends off the hook just for her.
Who would believe Inoue Orihime, who also had no money and who was also a companion of the three same people who wrecked their stores and robbed them of money?
Because of the way Inoue Orihime looked.
If you were a stranger, someone who didn't come from Inuzuri, you wouldn't believe that Inoue Orihime was one of the poorest people in that district. That is, if you were to judge by her looks, and not her clothing.
Her skin was creamy and fair, albeit stained by a bit of grime and dust. Her build was beautiful – her long shapely legs pushing through her simple kimono. Her body was that of a full-fledged woman who bloomed early and deemed as the most beautiful. Her narrow waist, giving way to rounded and firm buttocks were a sight that most of the men drool over. Her breasts were full and rounded, ones who were buried in the perverse thoughts of the street men of Inuzuri. Her hair was the color of dark, rich honey which flowed to her back in waves that seemed soft even to the eyes. Her over-all appearance was that of a princess – someone who doesn't seem to belong to the slums. And the way she moved and the way she talked – all of it was refined, smooth and gentle, like she was a curve among the rugged edges of the town.
With a look of her gray eyes that seemed to see through a person and a breath of her sweet voice, men and women who were angered by her 'family' would calm down.
Unfortunately, Orihime knew that these techniques wouldn't last. It only spared them temporarily. And now, all of her companions' offenses were to be paid by her, since she vouched for them.
I can try my luck for now, she thought with newfound confidence. Who knows, she was treading on a very thin line right now. She would never know what people would ask for her just to pay back for the money they owed.
She continued her walk towards the marketplace, and when she finally did arrive, she felt her body slowly grow numb as eyes of hatred welcomed her in their chilling embrace.
"Isn't that the woman who owes everyone here money?" she heard an elderly woman whisper.
"Yeah," the man beside her replied, "I heard she whores herself out to pay off her debts."
"So that's where she uses that body of hers. I thought she couldn't do anything with it."
"I guess that's her role in that house filled with scum and asses. Since they have no money, she's the compensation."
"What is she doing here now?"
"I guess she'll ask for some food?"
"No way! My business will close if she continues this!"
"That piece of filth! Why can't she find a decent job?!"
"I thought she already worked as a whore?"
Orihime closed her eyes as she tried to block away the degrading comments her ears were involuntarily catching. But the voices were too loud. She opened her eyes once more to scan the area for signs of a kinder being who would let her have some food for herself and her friends.
"YOU FILTHY GIRL!" a screech came out of nowhere.
Orihime felt her eyes go wide in pain as a wrecking blow exploded on her back. She turned her neck to face her assailant. It was Shiyo-san, a middle-aged woman with really big lips and a flaring nose that seemed to often smell something horrible. Her shriveled hands were holding a bamboo stick and her frail frame was shaking with hatred. Her small and squinty eyes were narrowed upon Orihime in disgust and annoyance.
"WHERE'S THAT MONEY FOR ALL THE THINGS AND FOOD YOU BORROWED FROM MY STORE, HUH?!" she shrieked, not caring if all of Inuzuri, or even Edo, heard her unrestrained scream.
"I-I'm sorry, Shiyo-san," Orihime whispered, trying to get up, "I will try to pay you as soon as I can."
"And when is soon?!" the woman yelled back, "You bunch of scum owe me three weeks' worth of food! And I've been asking you for a month now! I SHALL HAVE NO MORE EXCUSES!"
"Please," Orihime said, raising a hand to plead. "I am very sorry, but we still have no money and – "
"Damn you!" Shiyo said, raising the stick once more to hit her.
Orihime closed her eyes, waiting for the blow to fall upon her. But none came. She opened her eyes to see what was going on.
A man in a dark green yukata wearing a striped hat stood before her, holding the stick Shiyo-san intended to hit her. He was chuckling slightly as he broke the stick effortlessly into two. He adjusted his hat to hide his eyes as he spoke to the shaking woman before him,
"That's not nice of you, Shiyo-san," he said in a teasing manner.
"What are you doing here, Urahara?!" she spat, trying to still her quavering voice.
"Nothin' special," the man named Urahara replied, "I was just in town to give out some supplies to you poor people, and here I see you hittin' this poor girl."
"So what?! She owes me a lot of money!"
"Tsk tsk," he said, "You owe me a lot of money as well, don't you remember?"
To Orihime's surprise, Shiyo said nothing. It seemed like this man before her had some sort of power over the vendors here. Even the brawling men weren't doing anything to intervene. She hastily looked around to see their reactions – they all looked fearful.
"I shall forget all the money that you owe me if you let this little lady here off the hook," he continued then turned his head to the side to address the people watching, "And the same goes for all of you."
Murmurs erupted from all around, ringing in Orihime's ears. The man did have a lot of influence around these parts of Inuzuri. She briefly wondered why.
"All of our debts?!" a man shouted in disbelief.
"I won't repeat myself again, Big Mouth-san," Urahara said mockingly. "Now, did I make myself clear?"
"Hai, Urahara-san!" almost all of the bystanders replied.
"Good, good," he said, waving off a hand and fixing his hat, "Now I have to go. Take care, Shiyo-san!"
Then he turned around and faced Orihime, tossing her some gold pieces. But when he looked at her, she observed his expression change to something of surprise. His mysterious eyes widened for a fraction of a second under the shadow of the brim of his hat, then turned away, walking hastily.
"Wait!" Orihime shouted, running after the enigmatic man, "Urahara-sama!"
She ran after his rapidly retreating form until she found herself at the back of an old shack. She stopped suddenly as the man she was following paused, then turned to her, this time with his annoying smile back in place.
"What is it you want from me, little lady?" he asked airily.
"I just wanted to thank you for what you did," Orihime said, bowing. "I promise to repay you."
"Repay me?" he said mockingly, "When you can't even pay off that old lady?"
Orihime reddened at this and frowned, "Forgive me, but I have nothing to lose by showing my gratitude, and if you refuse to accept it, then I shall readily withdraw it."
To her surprise, he chuckled, "I'm Urahara Kisuke, missie," he said out of nowhere. "You can say that I am the supplier of everything you see in this bustling market."
Now I know why they're all so scared of him, she thought.
"I'm Inoue Orihime," she said, noticing once again that the man's expression changed once more to shock then went back to the usual.
"You say you wanna repay me?" he said.
"You're family's in a lot of trouble?" he asked.
"As it is obviously seen," she replied sadly. "And by family, we are talking about two of my closest friends and two of my siblings."
"Siblings?" he inquired.
"We're not really blood-related; I just took care of them."
He chuckled again, in that knowledgeable manner that seemed to annoy and scare her, "Wasn't that nice of you?"
"That's the right thing to do," she said.
"Hmm…" she heard him whisper as his gaze swept over him in a way that made her uncomfortable.
What am I bargaining for? She thought in worry, praying that this man in front of her may not be some sort of pervert.
"You definitely could do," he whispered.
"Excuse me?" she asked.
"Are you willing to sell yourself?" he asked, with no hesitation.
"What?!" Orihime said in alarm. "Sell myself?!"
"Mm-hmm," Urahara said with a nod and a smile. "You look quite fine, and in exchange for yourself, I shall assure you that your friends would be living a better life – a way better life."
Orihime felt her world swirl around her. Sell myself? To this man?! And leave Renji, Tatsuki, Jinta, and Ururu? Where will he take me if I said yes? What will I do? What will he make me do?!
"Don't worry, it's nothing of the sort that you're thinking of," Urahara said with a chuckle. "I do not do whoring."
Orihime huffed in relief. "Then what?"
"You shall be of service to someone who really requires your need."
"Am I to be a maid?" she asked.
Urahara stared at her in a puzzling manner, "You can say that."
Orihime thought about this, and knew that if she did this, she would be helping her friends a lot. But she didn't know if she could stand being away from them for so long.
"Do I get to see my friends?" she asked.
The man laughed and opened a fan to cover the smirk that slashed across his face, "You're selling yourself, lil' missie. Do you think your allegiance still lie on those friends of yours? You should devote all of your time to the person who saved you from starvation."
Orihime frowned and looked at Urahara Kisuke squarely in the eye. "I don't think I can do it," she replied. "Go look for someone else."
To her surprise, Urahara didn't push on further and merely turned around. "Hai, hai," he said in abandonment. "I wonder if I can find anyone like you, Orihime-sama."
Orihime's eyes widened and asked, "Orihime – what did you call me?"
To her shock, Urahara Kisuke was already gone.
That again, she thought. Now I have to find another way to pay for my debt to that man.
She knew she was letting go of what possibly be the only way to pay back for what Urahara Kisuke had done. She knew she was being ungrateful by not accepting his offer, and that she had let go of what could be her family's only salvation from hunger. She was being selfish in choosing to be with them rather than to give them their needs, but she couldn't help it. She wouldn't know what to do without her precious nakama. She was dependent on them as they were dependent on her – for all the little things in their simple lives. If she went away with Urahara Kisuke and sold herself to him, what would happen to her? She didn't want to be abused. She knew that by giving herself away, she would be in a life of torment, this time without her friends.
Orihime walked back to the market to make some use out of the money Urahara had given her. She went to the nearest and cheapest stand to buy some vegetables and a slice of meat. She ignored the alarmed and curious stares the people were giving her. She didn't want to know what filthy thoughts they were thinking, and she needed to go home soon.
"Nee-chan!" a voice called out.
Orihime turned and saw a grinning Jinta running towards her. The young boy paused in front of her to catch her breath and spoke, in an authoritative manner,
"Where have you been?!"
"I bought food, Jinta-kun," she replied, smiling gently at him.
"WOW!" Jinta said in excitement, browsing through the contents of Orihime's basket. Orihime smiled as she saw the obvious hunger in Jinta's eyes as she walked away from the gossiping market with him.
"I'm going to cook a delicious meal, okay?" she said.
"But nee-chan, where did you get the money to buy food?"
Orihime debated whether to answer Jinta's question honestly or not. She decided in choosing the good path.
"A man gave me money."
"A man?!" Jinta said in surprise.
"Yes," Orihime said. "And now, because of him, we're free from debt."
To her surprise, Jinta frowned, "Don't tell me that that man fancies nee-chan."
Orihime laughed at this obvious display of jealousy, "No, of course not!"
"Then why would he give you money and free us of debt?"
"I don't know," she said in a soft voice. "Really, I don't know."
So guys, this is my new fic. It's kinda interesting for me to write long chapters for a change. I'm having severe story/fan fic overload this past few weeks so as you have noticed, I have been updating Lasting Accidents more and more. After posting this, I shall try to update Bloody Banquet and perhaps two days after this one, I'll be updating Sen no Yoru o Koete. :D
I hope you liked it! Leave a review please! :D