Final chapter! It's been a (not very) long journey, and I sincerely thank everyone who reviewed and those who didn't from the bottom of my heart. The constructive criticism was incredible, and the amount of response I've gotten to this has absolutely floored me. Now, because I'm sure all of you are going "Ok, blablabla, get to the story please!" I'll do additional thank you's and such at the end. Enjoy the final installment of Escaping Normal!
*Single biggest face-palm moment- 4th of July doesn't happen in Japan. Oh god I think my head just blew up with the sheer amount of failure contained within it. I don't believe it. I look up everything, I research obscure things deeply, and THE BIGGEST THING I completely miss XD I don't think there's even a term to describe such epic failure. All I can say in my pathetic defense though is, it's a fanfic. Use your imagination? ^-^;; Thanks to jumble for pointing out exactly the degree of failure I possess when dealing with American things. I live in America, but I don't give a damn about it's history- to me, America is the most boring country on the Earth. The British, we fight against ourselves like morons, blablabla. I dun care ._. *
No notes had been passed during class today, as Orihime knew Ulquiorra didn't like the show of immaturity even if he was willing to go along with it. That and the ex Espada seemed distant, almost far off in his thoughts. He gazed at the board, hearing and seeing the lesson, but not really. For once the lunch bell actually surprised Ulquiorra, and blinking, he came back to himself and stood quickly enough to not warrant any notice from the class. The walk to lunch was uneventful, buying the school food was uneventful, and sitting beneath his tree was uneventful. The only difference was that the humans allowed themselves to press a little closer than before.
"I must be more like them now... a month ago I would have chided myself for such foolishness." Ulquiorra mused, finishing off a neatly sliced tomato, grimacing at the taste- the school's food left much to be desired. He leaned his head in his palm, turning to the page in his book he'd left off at.
The sound pulled Ulquiorra to attention, he looking up from his book calmly.
"If you won't sit at the table with us, I'll just have to sit with you until you will." Orihime said serenely, kneeling beside Ulquiorra pointedly as he gave her a flat stare.
"You're really not going to give up until I sit at that table, are you?" Ulquiorra grumbled resignedly.
"Nope!" The proclamation was chirped happily and with determination, Orihime adding to its effect by giving a cheeky smile.
"Hmm. We shall see, Princesa. I can quite easily deter you by doing something as small as this." Crumpling up his tray and tossing it into a trash can over his shoulder without turning around and shutting the book with a "pok", Ulquiorra held back a smirk as he furtively grabbed her hand and simply played with her fingers, feeling satisfied as the red rose to her face.
"You are blushing." He noted playfully, wondering how much more she could take before she'd either crack, or melt from embarrassment.
"I-I am not." Orihime denied, but made no move to remove her hand from his tauntingly light hold.
"You are a terrible liar. And yes, you are. The tomato I had for lunch a moment ago must be rather envious." Ulquiorra's mouth curved into a half smile, watching the sunset haired woman flail around for a response to that.
"Well….you're…you're bad with using contractions when talking!" The comeback was rushed and not thought out, but at least it was correct.
"Am I? I'm not from this time period, so I would say I have an excuse." Ulquiorra studied Orihime's face, not noticing when her hand slipped from his grasp to around his wrist, still determined to bring him to the table.
"You lived close enough to today. I'd say you're excuse is a bad one. If you add together all the years you spent alive and as an arrancar, you really haven't lived much longer than me." While Ulquiorra was still fumbling over how she'd guessed his collective "age" so closely, Orihime stood and pulled him the few yards to her table, and Ulquiorra was met with a group of looks, most indifferent. Even Ichigo and Rukia seemed nice enough, both nodding politely at him as he registered being pulled down on a seat beside Orihime. Sado didn't smile, but his air of calm acceptance was all that was needed. The Quincy hadn't bothered to twitch at the ex Espada's arrival, buried as he was in his studies and flicking a page in his textbook instead.
"Normal people would be glaring at me now, if they were you." Ulquiorra trailed off, trying to read Ichigo's face.
"I'm clearly not normal people. Lucky for you, I don't hold grudges." The orange haired youth said flippantly, going back to shoveling food in his mouth as he ignored the short shinigami yelling at him to eat like a decent human to his side.
Quirking an eyebrow at Orihime, Ulquiorra said "Well, you've finally brought me to your table. Are you happy now?"
Orihime's enthusiastic cry of "Yes!" made the following midget and carrot-head jokes that much more comical.
"What do you find so fascinating about your hand, woman?"
Shrieking and jumping a few feet away and batting at whoever was in the direction of the voice, which happened to be right over her shoulder, Orihime wobbled on one foot before the weight of her bag pitched her back. A pair of strong, pale arms mischievously dipped her within a few inches of the pavement before then righting her gently.
"Ulquiorra! You scared me half to death!" the orange haired woman shrieked shrilly, stomping up to him and giving the ex Espada a firm tug by the horn of his helmet to lower him to her level. Even stooped as he was now, he still had the advantage of size over her, and Orihime seemed to disdainfully note this. She could bring him to eye level with her, yet she still couldn't win. It was rather funny to watch.
A sly smile made itself known as Ulquiorra's lips ticked up at the corners briefly. "Hmm. Then I had better not scare you half to death a second time- you'd be dead."
"Congratulations, you paid attention during the lesson on fractions." Orihime spoke blandly, giving the horn another slight tug stubbornly.
"Well if it so interests you." Ulquiorra murmured smugly, ducked his head, and straightening to his full height, leisurely strolling down the street as Orihime gaped after him, carefully clutching the bone white helmet by the horn in one hand.
"I know you're walking home this way, woman." Ulquiorra called over his shoulder, pausing as Orihime hurried to catch up with him. The back road was empty as usual, the neatly groomed green lawns and colorful window boxes winking back like something in a commercial for lawyers or healthcare- Ulquiorra avoided the television for this reason; he couldn't stand commercials, "filled to the brim with false promises" as he put it. Leaves occasionally fluttered by, or a cheerful bird would chirp here and there. The scene was overall very aesthetically pleasing, lulling people into a content harmony with themselves and all around them.
"You appeared rather preoccupied with this hand." Lifting it up for a mock inspection, Ulquiorra manipulated the appendage casually, watching Orihime flounder for a train of rational thought to hitch a ride on, until she came out looking plain irritated. Ulquiorra glanced at her expression, wondering where she was going with a look like that.
"If I'm not busy carrying things, you're messing with my hands! Fine, have it your way." Obstinately, Orihime pulled her hand from his long enough to plunk his helmet on her own head, before thrusting both hands out to her side at him.
Ulquiorra watched her move the helmet above her head as if in slow motion, hand darting up to stop her a moment too late.
"There. Now you can mess with both of them all you want…eh, Ulquiorra?" Orihime did a double-take at the ex Espada's countenance, edging away a few steps. Ulquiorra had gone stiff except for a hand that awkwardly patted the side of his head a few times, freezing the moment she moved backward.
"She retreated. Foolish woman! Doesn't she know what it means to an animal when its prey tries to flee? It only spurs them on." Dredging up the ability to speak that had been temporarily lost, Ulquiorra forced his hand down to his side. His voice came out unsteadily, even cracking and jumping a few pitches at the end of his sentence for an instant, with the effort of trying to hold himself back from…from what? He wasn't an animal- he wasn't going to eat her. This instinctual reaction wasn't for prey; it was for….
"Orihime, I think you should take that off. Quickly." The obvious strain in Ulquiorra's voice prompted Orihime to tear the helmet of her head and practically shove it back on Ulquiorra's. Before Orihime could snatch her hand back, Ulquiorra had intercepted and caught her arm. He clearly fought with himself over something as he brought the inside of her wrist to his face and pressed it against his lips, inhaling her odd scent slowly. As time sped back up, Ulquiorra's eyes snapped open and he took a step back, immediately releasing her.
"M…my apologies." Ulquiorra said, pulling his emotions into check, using only a second to ponder the action- a month ago he wouldn't have had to worry about this at all.
"N-no, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that. I didn't know it would…what exactly did that do, Ulquiorra?" Orihime's words tripped over themselves in her haste to make sense of the situation, while in the meantime trying to beat down the red across her features.
Wincing, Ulquiorra tried out a few excuses in his mind, but all of them were too flimsy to pass for an actual reason. The woman could be… bubbleheaded, he thought was an accurate term, but she was by no means stupid. Her perception was almost uncannily, unnervingly accurate. She'd see through any excuse he attempted to throw out there to pass off the events, so he decided to do what she did have trouble with; he, as always, would tell the truth, but speak his words in a puzzle.
"Hm. You merely sped up an unavoidable process." Ulquiorra looked away uncomfortably. By placing that protective bone skull piece on herself, however innocent the gesture, had sealed her fate. Espada or no, all Espada in the end were advanced arrancar, which were advanced hollows. Instinct was hardwired into his being, and that was something that couldn't be shaken off, not ever.
She'd inadvertently claimed herself for him. She'd only intensified Yoruichi's "go get her" command.
Said woman's voice broke him from his thoughts. "I don't really get what you just said, and I know you won't explain it to me if I ask, so I won't. But can I ask if I'll understand soon?" Orihime studied him. He looked as cool, as unruffled as always, but Orihime knew better. The slope of his shoulders was a few inches higher, his jaw tighter, and his eyes narrowed marginally. The biggest giveaway though, was the look she'd seen behind those aqua-green eyes- the only thing she could come close to describing it as was hunger. The same glittering green eyes widened at the question a centimeter, then narrowed just as much while he thought over his answer.
"…Yes. Let's go."
"Hey Ulqui- whoa…. you look….I dunno, spooked?" Yoruichi's pattern of mini handball with the wall was violently interrupted as she stared openly at the arrancar's face, the little red ball flying out the open door and landing in the dirt with a slight "Pf!" before skidding to a stop. Ulquiorra trudged through the door, shutting it behind him and locking the little red ball outside for the time being, an unfortunate victim of misdirected anxiety. "What the hell happened?" The purple haired shinigami leaned forward intently, actually appearing concerned.
"Don't look so concerned- you like torturing me too much to worry about me." Ulquiorra groused, kicking an empty, bled-out chip bag into a corner. The cat woman whipped her head back in forth and yelled an enthusiastic "That's not true, Ulqui-ku-….Ulquiorra! I care. You're just easy to mess with. So, what happened?" Yoruichi pressed, no doubt excited to know what could have ruffled Ulquiorra's feathers so badly.
In a rare show of compliance, Ulquiorra let a sigh hiss loose and mumbled "She… she put on my helmet." while shifting aforementioned carapace a little.
"Oh man, that's like a female wolf flashing her throat at her mate- she made it five times harder for you to ignore her, didn't she?" Yoruichi's astonished, openmouthed face of course slid back into its typical smirk "…But, hey! Congratulations! You can now claim to be a fast worker when you two are together within the next few days. Even though she kinda dug her own grave with that…" The cat woman held her sides tightly, presumably to stop herself from rolling around the floor laughing her ass off. A snicker managed to eke out, and then a full laugh, but an errant thought distracted Yoruichi from her mirth. "You are going to tell her what she did and why you almost jumped on her when she did sometime soon, right Ulqui-kun?" Yoruichi's piercing gold eyes flicked to Ulquiorra's, the two meeting. The gaze held Until Yoruichi dropped her eyes to inspect her nails. Successful in the battle of wills, Ulquiorra picked his folder from school up off the table and turned towards his room, frowning as a mellow "It's her right to know" was cast after him. Infuriatingly, the cat woman was- again- correct.
A few weeks had gone by, each day increasingly harder to be around the woman without letting his pent up, held back emotions out. His still hollow half demanded he make the woman his immediately, but his now human half knew better- it spelled out for him that listening to the instinctual part in him would jumble things into one big mess. It was the piece of him that stopped himself from going too far each time they were together, which had also been an increasing occurrence. Thanks to it, he knew better than to rush things with her- but his hollow half was getting impatient, pressing at his willpower more fervently than ever. It was near maddening.
"Hey Ulquiorra- you have a visitor." The low voice dripped with a smug taunting, a black cat's tail whapping the book from Ulquiorra's hands. Yanking the tail, a yowl reverberated through the room and down the hall.
"Who is it? It's late." Ulquiorra picked his book back up, looking for the page that had been lost. A paw poked his leg inexorably.
"It's someone you wouldn't want to miss, trust me. And…you've waited long enough." The cat said cryptically, dropping off the bed and slinking down the hall.
"It's a Sunday night- why would someone be here?" Ulquiorra thought, sliding back the door to see Orihime staring, fascinated, into a tree across the "yard" of cement in front of the shop.
"What are-" "Shh!" Ulquiorra was promptly interrupted as Orihime flailed one of her hands, and beckoned him over. Sighing in exasperation, the ex Espada drifted over to see what had so captivated the woman's interest. A cheep tittered out of a nest on a low branch, the downy head of a chick fluffing up at the two beings staring so fixatedly at it.
"This is a bird." Ulquiorra stated from over Orihime's shoulder, honestly more concerned with how close he'd ended up to her when his original intent was to stay a few feet away. If only she hadn't put on his damn helmet and caused his instincts to screw him over….
"Yeah, isn't it cute?" Orihime breathed quietly, watching the chick poke around its nest and flap its stubby wings.
"Birds are everywhere." Ulquiorra said monotonously, blinking slowly as the chick swiveled its head at his voice, cheeping irately at him. "It is dark out- how can you even see it?"
Orihime stuck her tongue out at the arrancar, and said "I don't have the absolutely stellar eyesight like you do, but I'm not blind as a bat." Here Orihime smothered a giggle into her hand, as Ulquiorra resisted rolling his eyes at the pun. A short feeling of amusement flowed from Murciélago.
"And yeah birds are everywhere, but…." Orihime's face fell a little at Ulquiorra's lack of enthusiasm over the chirping mass of downy fluff, and Ulquiorra sighed, conceding.
"Alright, fine, the bird is…"cute"" Ulquiorra ground out, watching it. He supposed he could, at the very most, see the appeal- it was fluffy, made a high pitched sound, was pudgy, and soft. What wasn't a sentimental female to like about it?
"Humph. I think it's adorable. And I'm going to guess you haven't realized what today is?" Orihime harrumphed and pouted, then glanced up at him as she posed her second question, idly twisting a length of orange hair around her finger.
"Today is Sunday. Sunday evening." Ulquiorra said the obvious, slipping his hands in the white robes of his uniform's pants, scrutinizing the woman.
"Seriously, how could you have not noticed? Today is the fou-" "Fewwwwww! Ksssh!" a firework screamed into the sky and burst, painting the heavens a flurry of sparks. "Ha, it's the fourth of July!" Orihime rushed out, before another firework exploded, a cloud of purple erupting from the center of the miniature nova and pulsing out, fading into sparks that vanished like ghosts as soon as the eye locked onto one.
An odd expression stole across Ulquiorra's face long enough for Orihime to turn and question it. "Ulquiorra? Is something wrong with today?" She asked, dipping her head to the side and blinking quizzically at him.
"I do not know. I get the impression of it not being the best holiday from my memories, even as faded as they are." A brief feeling of loneliness poked at the fringes of Ulquiorra's memory, the briefest snippet of a child hugging his knees to his chest while watching fireworks glitter through the sky from the vantage point of a rooftop, the sounds of a bickering family below thankfully drowned out by the mesmerizing noise. As quickly as the memory had flashed by his mind's eye it was gone like dust in the wind, like he had almost been until the woman had saved him.
Ulquiorra tapped his fingers along the hilt of Murciélago. The blade had been quiet recently save for it's response to Orihime's pun, and it unnerved him, but surely Murciélago would have made a rude comment by now if it disapproved of something, right?
"Hey, hey, let's go on the roof where we can see them better!" Orihime hopped a few times excitedly, tugging him by his sleeve to the ladder against the side of the shop. Her hair swished, blowing a wave of her scent over Ulquiorra. This was it- he couldn't take it anymore. A quiet boom and whoosh of air, and a half second later they were instantly on the roof, Orihime on Ulquiorra's lap with his arms looped around her waist loosely.
"U-Ulquiorra?" Orihime stammered, fireworks far from her mind as she tried to see his expression out of the corner of her eye. Placing his chin on her shoulder to effectively quell her attempts at moving her head, he said quietly "Do you remember that walk home a while ago?" When Orihime's answer wasn't forthcoming, he pulled back and knocked his helmet against her head gently, feeling her flush as he replaced his chin nonchalantly.
"Uh-h, yeah. The one I still don't get." Orihime said, trying not to squirm. What was Ulquiorra doing? She wasn't complaining, per se, but she knew the cuatro Espada loved mind games. With emotion, obviously the slight sadism that came with them was gone, but that didn't stop him from confusing her endlessly. She knew he found her blush to be fascinating and entertaining- he could be messing with her yet again.
"First, you're tense. Relax. I am not going to pretend to throw you off the roof, or whatever ridiculous thing you're imagining, Second, you are aware that when you put this" another careful head knock for emphasis "on yourself, some…odd…things happened. I can sugarcoat it, or put to you bluntly what you did." Ulquiorra honestly wasn't sure what her choice would be, and prepared himself for either.
The offer was left hanging for barely a second before Orihime gave her immediate answer. "Just stick it to me."
Ulquiorra belatedly hoped his sigh of relief wasn't felt by Orihime. "Alright then. What you did was force me to indirectly claim you. I will let you digest that- take your time. I'm comfortable where I am and don't intend to move any time soon." Ulquiorra said as bluntly as possible, unable to banish the shameless smirk that Orihime no doubt felt against her neck.
"I, you…ohhh…wait, no way in hell…" Orihime's jaw dropped, and she wriggled away from Ulquiorra enough to face him, but his arms stubbornly stayed right where they were around her middle, pressing her close. The result was them being almost nose to nose. Her "my brain just shorted out" face was hilarious, and Ulquiorra had to completely ignore the desire to laugh- something told him she wouldn't appreciate that particular sentiment at the moment.
"You're making that tomato turn green with envy again." Ulquiorra chuckled, swiping the pad of his thumb across her cheek briefly, comparing the temperatures- predictably, hers was through the roof in embarrassment.
"So that's why you've had that…. Almost pained look for a while lately, isn't it?" Orihime said, looking triumphant as she put two and two together.
"I prefer the term restrained." Ulquiorra informed her, idly wondering how many more degrees her face would heat up before her brain began to boil.
The two stared at each other, nether moving, and neither looking away. "Uhh. Do we just….. stare at each other now? What…do you want from me, Ulquiorra?" Orihime's eyes searched his, looking for an answer to her question. He'd make it easy and just tell her- but not too easy; she'd get it in a puzzle first.
"However much you're willing to give, Woman." Ulquiorra brought his hand up and tweaked her nose to emphasize the nickname- she twitched and drew back, as any person would. Orihime opened her mouth to give a rebuttal, but the protest shriveled and died in her throat as Ulquiorra effectively silenced her by hooking a finger under her chin and pressing his lips against hers.
Pulling back, Ulquiorra poked Orihime's cheek to turn her head back to the sky. "You're missing the fireworks." Orihime remained taut as a bowstring, but relaxed once Ulquiorra placed his chin back on her shoulder. She leaned into the ex Espada that had gradually learned to care, and the two held each other closely and watched as the symphony of colors danced through the sky.
"I love you's" weren't necessary- as Orihime mischievously pecked Ulquiorra between a break in the explosions and his eyes widened considerably before gladly returning the favor, there wasn't anything to say. Except maybe a "You still haven't eaten this note."
*If you don't read this next part, even though if you reviewed any previous chapters you're on the list with my own response, at least read the last sentence please :p*
Alright, the end of my first story! *confetti, over 9,000 dancing llamas, balloons, the works* I'm interested in the feedback for this chapter, because every little story I've written in the past I've never legitimately finished, so I hope I did okay here? Now, because I fail, and don't know how to go and edit previous chapters, I'm stuffing everyone into this chapter. So! The following people improved and in a way provided this story. (motivation would have been 0 if not for them)
Mika- my lovely anonymous reviewer who was also my first reviewer, and provided a bit of a pick-me-up when I was feeling unmotivated.
VenG- VenG took the time to personally PM me some mistakes (which I don't know how to fix unless I re-upload the chapter and I think that would mess with the people who have me on story alert D:) and has devotedly reviewed each chapter- you're awesome! :D
The Form Of True Despair- was the first to alert me of the wall-of-textyness, and made me confident I wasn't making my chapters spammingly long. Thank you! :D
Kt- a nice motivation booster :D
bend over backwards- again pointed out the wall-of-textyness, so I took further measures to find out how to correct it- and I did (I think?). Thank you!
Deviltrigger Dante- another motivation booster :D
darkness surrounds me- told me an alternate way of making spaces between portions of text using symbols and such. I figured out how to use the line break thanks to another reviewer and used that instead, but if I'm ever feeling fancy or something in a future story, I might use your method. Thank you! :D
Twoformemories- I always thought Murciélago should have some kind of an imput- the Shinigami's Zanpakutō communicate with them and usually have somewhat different personalities, so why should an arrancar's be any different? Besides, I think the comic interludes with Murciélago giving Ulquiorra a bit of grief lightened things up a bit. :3
TwistedRoses132- An excellent pick me up and compliment, thank you! :D
wutai flea- Sorry! D: But it's got to end somewhere. I'll write more things, so never fear! XD
Symbion- I'm glad you think I kept Ulquiorra in character. :3 Writing Orihime was the hardest- I can't relate well to her upbeat, slightly ditzy nature because I'm pretty chill and cynical myself. But I don't think I butchered her character... (I hope)...
iloveme264- The request nudged me to finish the chapter all the way at eh...when did I say it was on my profile update? 6 AM or something? Whatever, you can thank them for giving me that little push I needed while idling around bored-ly on a Sunday night...er, morning XD
Tobi Tortue- Tobi, your constructive criticism was absolutely excellent, and I tried to anchor down the passages in this chapter as clearly belonging to Ulquiorra or Orihime, based on either tenses, or what is said/thought. You told me the linebreak thing which I later face-palmed myself for, because it was pathetically obvious yet I still missed it. And best of all, I'm glad you noticed my dry humor- I've been told I'm funny in a kill-the-sunshine way at times, and I laughed when I saw you too had noticed. Thank you so much! :D
Okay, I think that's everyone. Phew. One more noob question though, bear with me- How do I mark this story as complete? (man it felt good saying that) :D