[AliCe InChains]


[The Art of Subconscious Allusion]

It started innocently enough.

She'd seen him- rarely- and never face to face. A glimpse of his form, taller than her, yet somehow lost among the rest- she could always recall her eyes following the clean, pristine lines of his straight back as it faded into the distance. Pride- he carried a certain pride, a certain something that was too regal, too magnificent- in those cluttered halls, crowded with loud voices, the murmur of idle conversation and gossip. She'd stop and think to herself sometimes, when her mind was lost in the fog as is usually was- 'that man…' because she had never thought, not even once, of him being anything else. She didn't identify him as a youth, a budding adolescent, a teenager- the idea was too preposterous, outlandish even in her mind.

Through the noise, the fog, she would instinctively sense his approach- an electric tingle that started from the tip of her head, coursing through her body like a barely concealed shudder. And she would turn- always too late, and she would catch him, see that straight line of his back, and feel the cold radiating from him- it could chill her from a distance. And she would always think 'that man…'

Because he was everything she wasn't.

Orihime Inoue was your typical teenager (borderline adult, if you looked hard enough). Well…mostly. Or at least that was what she considered herself. She was friendly, cheerful, and well liked. She was smarter than the average student, and had aced her fair share of tests, and taken the top scorer position more than once. She was undeniably gorgeous, with a naïve innocence that instead of making her a fool, gave her a lovable charm that instinctively made her the light of everyone. It was to the point that even a fair share of girls admitted their attraction to her on numerous occasions. She had a fan club. She had never been insulted, or threatened- her friends were over protective of her, of that charm, so she never had cause for worry. She was popular, to the point where she had been Queen of every university supported event, pageant or otherwise Karakura had to offer.

She was bubbly, often overly hyperactive, prone to random bouts of foolishness, and had outlandish taste when it came to food. She would openly share everything she was with everyone within listening range. She was virtually devoid of shame, anger, or any of the like. Because of her carefree nature and warm spirit, she was a keeper of secrets- anyone who confided in her would be granted with a smile and a listening ear- even the most serious problems seemed less than trivial around her. She could calm anyone with that smile, settle any dispute by simply gracing the brawlers with her presence. Her fellow students adored her, her teachers doted on her, her friends loved her. She was the school princess, the residential angel- if there could be living perfection on earth, then at seventeen, Inoue Orihime was it.

Then maybe that was why he wanted to break her.

"Alright everyone! One more time! Three, two, one, lets go!"

In unison, they spun, their skirts twirling about the length of their legs. Arms raised, heads thrown back, a sashay here, a sashay there- high kick, the motion of brightly colored pompoms being moved through the air, a group cheer, a well placed split. She smiled, jumping to her feet, dropping her pompoms and clapping with mirth.

"That was great you guys! Miyumi, that high kick you did was mega cool, you've gotten really good at this! Maybe even good enough to be my replacement! But of course if you wanna duke it out for captain, I suggest we do mud wrestling, I here it's really fun and good for your skin! You probably wouldn't think so, it being icky mud and all…"

The squad grinned along with her, laughing at her usual antics- the realm of Orihime's mind was an odd thing, and they rarely tried to make sense of her lovable nonsense. She shrugged her shoulders at them and smiled good naturedly- she was used to this by now wasn't she? Even if it had been in her nature to make sense, they would have rarely paid her any serious attention…that was how things were. She smiled and smiled- because yes, that was what they expected her to do, that was what they wanted out of her. She felt the fade begin, her eyes unconsciously being drawn to her feet- because- that was all they ever wanted out of her. A smile here, a laugh there- that was all-

"Shh Orihime! Look up there, on the bleachers!"

Instinctively, she knew- she didn't know how she could not have known. She swallowed hard- and suddenly the midriff baring uniform seemed too revealing, suddenly, she could feel the chill, the goose bumps start along her bare arms. The group instinctively tightened around her, the wall of mumbling girls inclosing her- it didn't work. She could feel that gaze through the chatter, through the barely contained gossip of her cheer mates.

"Woah! Creepy much?"

"I swear they think just because everyone else is afraid of them that they can show up and intimidate us…"

"Well things have gone to hell since they got here- especially with that Grimmjow! He single handedly annihilated an entire class of freshman just because one of them stepped on his shoe!"

"And I was wondering why the Public Speaking class was canceled! What the hell! How can they allow them to even come to school!"

"Grimmjow is awful, but the others are just as bad! Especially that Nnoitra-"

"Even though Nel is "supposed" to be his girlfriend, he'll grope anything with breasts and an ass!"

"I heard he even managed to get to Mrs. Yura- and you remember she was married!"

"That bastard! No wonder she changed districts! And she was my favorite professor too!"

"Yeah but they're both tame compared to-"-don't say it. She didn't want them to say it, didn't want them to give that tall, straight back a name. She knew it yes, she knew it- but she couldn't make herself say it, and simultaneously, could not bear them to utter it-not without the proper respect, the proper fear-

But it was different now, different with those eyes right behind them, perched at the top of the bleachers as if he owned them, those eyes coldly analyzing them and cutting their pitiful egos down to size. The girl who had begun the words, who had begun to sound out the name, felt it shrivel and die on her tongue. She abruptly lowered her head into the circle, furtively glancing upwards out of the corner of her eyes. Orihime envied her that brief glance- until she saw the cold sweat break out on her forehead. What must the relief be like- to look into those eyes, and away- haunted by the barely contained power behind them.

The other girls felt it- the magnitude of it, the consequences that came with uttering that name- it hung over them like an invisible guillotine. The girl swallowed, and tried again in a voice barely below a whisper.

"Well…you guys know who I mean."

They nodded in unison, the silence thickening amongst them. The security they had previously found by huddling was suddenly futile- they all felt it- being stripped of that comfort they found in each others company. Orihime's tongue seemed glued to the roof of her mouth- even if she had words, she would have been unable to utter them in this moment- as long as she felt those eyes on her. Bravely, one girl attempted to speak, utter the words that reverberated within their minds.

"Grimmjow is fine as long as you don't piss him off. Nnoitra is bearable as long as you're not alone. The girls rarely speak with anyone but each other, and Yammy's too stupid to be taken seriously half the time. But he-"

A shudder raced through the girl's body that Orihime immediately felt, a shudder that effectively spoke volumes for the feeling he gave them- the feeling he could give everyone. The girl paused, took in a shuddering breath that Orihime mirrored- that breath gave her strength to keep listening, for her to name it, name that forbidden feeling.

"I don't know…I've always felt as if…I mean it's like…you don't have anywhere to hide. Even with your friends, in class- it doesn't even matter…it's like he…"

"-sucks the life out of everything."

She couldn't look at them. The fade was starting- her head dropped, idly took in the lines of the worn boots she used for practice, her pompoms on the ground at her feet- it was ridiculous now, to even think that a moment before, she had been waving the multicolored balls through the air with such fervor. It was suddenly absurd, outrageously absurd. She lost the point, lost the passion, as soon as she could feel those eyes on her. Because that was what he did. He took people out of their safe, delusional little worlds, and smashed them to pieces. He ripped them asunder. He gave you a glimpse of a colder reality…it was like-

"-with…him…everything suddenly seems so…"


The gloom solidified around them. The intensity of the silence echoed within all their hearts- the green expanse of the field was empty today- with an overcast sky overhead, the threat of rain had been more than enough- it was only Orihime in her good natured stubbornness that had insisted they practice anyway. And they obliged her. Of course. They always did. If she had asked them to fuck off and die, she wondered if they'd have done that too. She bit her lip- she hated it, hated being like this. Only he could bring it out of her- the uncharacteristic bitterness.

Meaningless? That's exactly what this all was. Three hours of practice turned to ash in the span of a few minutes. The heart had gone out of all of them- the dejected glances they shot one another, their eyes never quite meeting. This was what he did to people.

"There's no other way to explain it…he must be a monster in person…there's no other way anyone can have that kind of…presence about them…I mean, not even the professors will say anything to him now…no one will."

What kind of monster must he be? She'd heard the stories, the whispered gossip. The rumors around them always circulated like wildfire. Rumor had it the fierce Grimmjow-whose nature was frighteningly unpredictable- had beaten three kids to death when he was in high school. For looking at him the wrong way. Rumor had it Nnoitra used an empty room behind the gym for fantastical orgies that had involved as many as ten girls at once. Supposedly the reason why Harribel covered half her face was because the entire bottom half of her jaw had been lost in an accident. And him…well…some of the things said were too horrible to be true of any sane human being, much less one who was supposed to be just like them. Just like them? The thought was another one suddenly preposterous to her.

"Mayumi what are they even doing up there?"

"I don't know I'm too scared to look! Yumi you're the closest, take a peek- but for the love of God don't let them catch you staring!"

Yumi was the brave one- she took the plunge and dared a glance. Orihime envied her. She could do it- even though she was like them, outlandishly afraid. Yumi, small boned and short as she was, could do it- but she- as great as she was supposed to be- couldn't even muster the courage to lift her head. How strange.

"They're just…talking. I mean…Grimmjow's already lit a cigarette…I don't think they'll be leaving anytime soon."

"And…what about…him?"

"He's the one that's freaking me out the most! He's at the top, just…looking. I don't know what he's looking at but…"-she shivered with something that could have been disgust or displeasure. Either way, Orihime wondered what it must be like…to be on the receiving end of that gaze.

"I'm scared guys…I don't want to practice anymore. Not while they're here…"

"Yeah let's just…quit for today. Right Orihime?"

(Right Orihime? Right Orihime? Right Orihime?)

Ordinarily, they wouldn't even ask her opinion anymore- they always automatically assumed that when they were ready to leave, she was too- whether practice lasted half an hour or five minutes. They had only decided to oblige her today because they felt guilty about abandoning practice for the last few days to meet up with some college boys who attended university downtown. Were it not for that- once again she would be the lone ranger on the field, practicing alone, sweat running down her face and bangs matted to her cheeks.

Her phone would constantly ring, blowing up with apologies- 'I'm sorry I couldn't make it, something came up- you understand don't you Hime?'-beep-'Hey, can't come, but I'll see you tomorrow okay? I owe you one!'-beep-'Sorry got to go-but hey, can you perfect the routine and let me know about any improvements you might have? Love you Hime, you're the best!

That's what it was, what it always was. But she nodded her head dumbly- heard the clutter as they quickly packed up their equipment- she felt herself coddled, poked and carried along- 'Are you okay Hime? They didn't scare you to bad did they?' 'Poor thing! They must have frightened you half to death!' 'Don't worry Hime, we'll just practice earlier next time..' 'Don't sweat it Hime…we won't let them bother you anymore! Wait till I tell Ichigo- he'll know how to handle them-'

She smiled, laughed on cue, brushing off their idle threats. Ichigo? They figured she'd be relieved- Ichigo was the ultimate problem solver when it came to anything involving her. Group consensus was that they would make the perfect couple.

She used to believe that. They were both orange haired, outrageously popular and well liked. Cheerleader Captain and the sports star- why wouldn't they be the perfect couple? They were practically made for each other! The stars were aligned, the parents approved, their horoscopes matched, they were widely supported, everything was in their favor.

Their roles were perfect- she as the fumbling, lovable and beautiful princess, he the dashing, over protective, handsome prince. There was the merry kingdom of good natured townsfolk (Karakura), the silent bodyguard (Chad), the lady knight (Tatsuki), the lady in training (Rukia) and the castle wizard (Ishida)- she'd had this very same fantasy countless times before. Whatever monster of the week it was- the demon, the troll, the giant. And then there was the evil dragon, the one feared throughout the land for his power and might. He would kidnap the fair princess and lock her in a tower, away from everything she had known and loved. But fearlessly, the prince would ride into battle and fight for her sake. He would vanquish the beast, save his darling princess, and they would ride off into the sunset on a white horse to the cheers of millions and the merry making of the townspeople, complete with flower petals dancing in the wind and trumpets being blown.

It used to be her constant dream- she would wish for it so hard sometimes, that any sign- any message filled fortune cookie, any daily horoscope, shooting star- she would put so much faith in those words, that fleeting streak across the sky. She used to wish for it so hard it was all she could think about at night- her and him. Ichigo and Orihime. Ichihime. Their names, interlinked.

That's why she couldn't bear to tell them.

She could barely believe it herself- some part of her refused to acknowledge it. She kept it to herself, her innermost secret, her private shame, her forbidden fruit. She couldn't write it in her diary, she couldn't whisper it to the wind. By giving it words, she would give it form. That would make it too frighteningly real, too real to be possible, that would make her as naïve as they always took her to be, for even considering it. She would be setting herself up for failure, for despair- because she knew it was impossible all along. Because she knew it was stupid of her, an insult to everything she was and was supposed to be.

Because the princess didn't want prince charming anymore.

She wanted The Dragon.

She lived alone, in a nice sized apartment complex on the outside of town. In fact, it was the furthest one from town, not to mention the nearest police department, in case (as Tatsuki eloquently put it) "some psycho bitch tried to rape her with a broomstick" she would virtually be out of the range of help. Orihime laughed and brushed her off- she didn't have the heart to tell the girl that was part of the charm of the place. Being isolated like that- away from them- away from that halo of over protectiveness- made her feel relieved. Free.

She could be anything she wanted within those walls. She wasn't just the girl everyone knew and had come to love, and had even begun to expect. If she felt like being moody, she could. If she felt like throwing a tantrum, cursing to her heart's content, watching bad shows on late night TV, she could. She didn't have to smile for anyone but herself here; she didn't have to make everyone else feel good while she was dying inside. She could afford to be selfish here- and she could be the exact opposite of everything they expected her to be.

It was a five story building, with who knew how many available apartments in all- the bottom floor had the highest numbered apartments, and the numbers got smaller the higher up you went. She lived on the third floor- she'd never been up to the top, and only passed through the bottom going up to her apartment and down in order to catch the bus.

Recently, she'd heard the top floor had been bought out- and she marveled at that, a long low whistle. Rich mofo's they had to be- rent here wasn't exactly cheap. She had been lucky that after her brother's death, a co-worker of his that owned this place opted to take her in. So although she was living here free of charge she still had to make due with a monthly stipend for food and such.

On this particular day as she passed through the front office, with her cheerleading uniform snugly tucked into her hand bag, she was feeling strange again. She mentally chided herself at the feeling that wouldn't disappear as she approached the front desk- she had to be Orihime now, the good natured girl.

The old lady at the counter perked up at her entrance, a barely contained smile bursting onto her wrinkled cheeks.

"My darling Orihime!"

She smiled back at the older lady, waving her hand madly in return as she approached the counter.

"Good day to you Mrs. Mimi! You look like you've been having a great day! And I hope you're not abusing your prescription pills again…"

The older woman let loose a cackling laugh, with a heaving breath that walked the line between stale kitty litter and moldy cake. It made Orihime's eyes water, but she kept her good natured grin as Mrs. Mimi pinched her cheeks with her wrinkled talons. Mrs. Mimi could open a soda using nothing but her fingernail, so the daily cheek pinch she suffered through was usually anything but pleasant. But she suppressed the (owie owie owie OWCH!) that always tingled on her lips when those red tipped claws latched onto her delicate flesh and twisted without mercy.

"Oh you silly girl! I hope you had a good day at school today? And what's this- you still haven't introduced me to your young man!"

Orihime's smile faltered for a moment- and she stuttered for a moment- and felt the barely contained heat begin to light up her cheeks. She quickly hurried to reclaim herself. She'd always forget how perceptive Mrs. Mimi could be. And lately, her guesses had been frighteningly accurate whenever it came to her young charge. She playfully batted at the older woman's hand, smiling in good fun- anxious at the heart of her- overly so. The questions begin- (did she know? How could she know? She can't! Not when I've been so careful!)- before logic could set in and calm them- she didn't know.

"Pfft! Now Mrs. Mimi you know the only love of my life is Mr. Sourpuss! He'd be awfully jealous if he found out I liked anyone else you know-"- she leaned forward with a suddenly serious expression, jerking her head casually to the side at the enormous gray cat sprawled out on the arm of an office chair-"he's sensitive to these kinds of things!"

Mrs. Mimi batted at her, leaning back in her roller chair behind the desk with an ear piercing creak.

"Whatever darling! You're lovesick I just know it! Just because I'm a lazy old fart doesn't mean shit! You know I was young once and I-"

Orihime rolled her eyes playfully, filling in the blank of a lecture she'd heard countless times before, intertwining her hands and swooning like a day time tv soap opera actress. "-dated numerous amounts of outlandishly handsome men who were fabulously wealthy and had such incredible physiques that they would even make Fabio jealous."

-"Damn right! And it used to be so that I-"

"was married ten times and divorced nine."-she counted off on her fingers.

"Yes and then my tenth husband-"

"-Cheated on you with the nanny-"

"-That two bit slut! I knew from the moment I hired her-"

"-that she was nothing but trouble. Because she had-" She smothered her smile and knew she was home free. This was her favorite part-

"The Evil Eye!" Mrs. Mimi slammed her wrinkled fist on the surface of the office desk so hard that Mr. Sourpuss jumped up and crashed to the floor, and in his terror got stuck trying to squeeze his enormous girth under the nearest couch. Orihime bit her tongue to hold her snicker, the corner of her mouth twitching a mile a minute as she held her breath to contain herself- Mrs. Mimi couldn't stand to be laughed at- but her 'Evil Eye' rant was more than enough to slay her, especially when Mr. Sourpuss got stuck-

"Beware them! Those kinds of eyes will bring you nothing but misfortune! I tell you what, Satan has that girl's eyes, I just know it!"

Orihime nodded along in tune, smothering the very real peal of laughter bubbling in her belly- the effort was so considerable it took a very serious moment of contemplating her bald history professor lecturing in his underwear to stop it. Mrs. Mimi's stories always could brighten her up considerably, no matter how the day had gone. Not only was the older woman hilarious , but there was something admirable about her- she didn't take crap from anyone, and didn't let anyone walk over her. If she had something to say, she said it, and to hell with the consequences! Orihime smiled to herself- she couldn't help but to admire that.

Suddenly, Mrs. Mimi seemed to recall herself- she was often lost in a delusional haze once she started ranting, but suddenly she sobered up, and grabbed Orihime's hand so tightly she jumped and looked into the older woman's eyes, bewildered.

"Listen here child…"-and that wrinkled face like worn leather came towards her-"Someone here has it. The evil eye."-the words spilled from her mouth like a curse- " Someone here has it, and god forbid if you should ever have to be beneath that gaze!"

Orihime floundered for a moment- beginning to feel as if a good natured and daily routine had suddenly gone too far. She gulped, and smiled weakly- but the serious gaze in those beady black eyes was starting to make her stomach churn. Hastily, she patted at the wiry hand tightly grasping her wrist, in an attempt to soothe the older woman.

"It's alright Mrs. Mimi! You and I both know there's no such thing as the evil eye…I think maybe you and I shouldn't have watched that late night occult movie marathon…no more old horror films for you do you hear me?"

Mrs. Mimi suddenly scoffed, loosening her grip and leaning back in her chair. "No more old horror movies? With ketchup for blood and plastic fangs and fake zombies, complete with bad acting? You have got to be shitting me. You ain't taking my damn movies." Mrs. Mimi grumbled, back to normal as quickly as she had ascended to suddenly psycho- but that was Orihime's landlord for you. Orihime grinned, secretly relieved.

"I was only kidding! To make up for it, how about I make you some of my banana and chocolate covered carrot cake?"

Mrs. Mimi mused over this for a moment, and then nodded her head sagely in agreement. Mrs. Mimi and sweets went together like whipped cream and cookies in her mind- perfectly suited for one another. She smiled and turned, waving her goodbyes.

"Then it's a deal! And if you'll excuse me, I have some homework to attend too-"

"Wait a moment! I need you to do me a favor, if you will. Take this."

She paused, and turned around with a curious expression on her face. Mrs. Mimi held an outstretched hand to her, and in the middle of her palm was a single white key. Orihime cautiously picked up the key, balancing the weight of it in her palm. She looked up at her landlord again, raising an eyebrow. Mrs. Mimi nodded at her, as if she had just given Orihime some age old secret. Orihime cocked her head and nodded back, to which Mrs. Mimi turned back towards her desk as if that was the end of it. Orihime stood there for a moment, awkwardly shuffling from foot to foot- but Mrs. Mimi didn't look up at her again. She smiled wearily- Mrs. Mimi was old after all.

"Um…what am I supposed to…?"

"-One of the upper floor tenants dropped it. I just haven't had the energy or the drive to carry it up there. I figured you wouldn't mind going up an extra flight of stairs and taking it back to whom it belongs. I don't know if they're back already, but it won't matter as long as you leave it where they can find it."

She nodded, secretly pleased that Mrs. Mimi trusted her enough to do this- and then wondered if it was pathetic to be happy over something so trivial. But had she been in any other company… "Orihime? Walking up four flights of stairs to give someone back their key? Don't be absurd! The princess's composition is far too delicate for something so trivial! (-insert fanfare-) Ichigo's on the case! My trusty sidekicks and I will gladly take up the challenge! Rest assured Princess, we will complete this task and return to you-"

Mrs. Mimi coughed expectantly and she shook herself back to reality, nodding briskly to assure the older woman of her compliance.

"Alright, just leave it up to me!"- She gave a mock salute that was more carefree than she felt- but Mrs. Mimi smiled and waved her on.

"However…the tenants on the top floor have some very…odd circumstances that permits them to stay there. Among other things- well…let's just say it would be a lot simpler for you to just leave the key at the door and get back to your floor. No need to linger alright? You hear me Orihime? Drop the key off and that's it!"

She grinned, scoffing playfully at Mrs. Mimi's warning- every complex had more than its fair share of strange tenants, what made them any different? "Yes ma'am!"

"That's a good girl. Now as for the room number…its Cuatro."

She paused- at the sound of that word, dropping into the bottom of her being like a penny in a well.

[She remembered that pause, would never forget it- it would haunt her waking hours, her night time visions and fantasies. It was a number that would later be able to induce in her cold sweats, otherworldly visions of horrors she's couldn't even begin to imagine then. If she'd only known then! Would she have turned her back and run? Or would she have still climbed those steps to her doom? Perhaps she'd never had a choice. How often had he assured her of that? For her, it would become the number of the beast, the boogieman's calling card- the nails on her coffin, the sign of evil to come.]

Number Four.

She hopped up the steps- two at a time, humming idly under her breath. She tossed the key into the air, and deftly caught it in her palm- repeat. The slight weight in her hand didn't give anything away- it was just a key. It didn't give away any tell tale information about its possessor, what manner of person he must be- and she knew it had to be a he. Instinctively, she knew it without a doubt. The somber white paint that was glossed over the barely discernable lines on the key, the ornately molded four on it colored a deep green- she found it somewhat beautiful. In an odd kind of way.

As she approached the landing of the top floor, she looked out behind her over the city- it looked like another, far off world from here- sprawled out like a map, a mass jumble of rooftops and sky scrapers. Complete with toy cars and ant sized specks migrating the streets. It looked like an oversized play set- as if she could reach out and hold it all in the palm of her hand.

But she was letting her mind wander again, so she turned away and stepped onto the landing of the top floor- and was greeted by an elaborate work of graffiti that was scrawled against the whitewashed wall. She raised in an eyebrow in surprise- graffiti? Mrs. Mimi was obviously unaware that someone had disfigured the walls on one of her floors, or there would be nothing short of a spree of mass destruction to follow. Mrs. Mimi might've been older (in her mind) than the oldest old person in the world, but she was hell in a motorized wheelchair when she wanted to be.

Curiously her eyes skimmed over the words, the hastily written characters sloppily scrawled- as if they were done random, spontaneously- by a kid if she had to guess by the atrocious hand writing. (Some backwards kid grinning like the cat that ate the canary, the spray can held menacingly in his hand) She smiled at the thought in her head, surely he was one of the adorable brat kind- missing two front teeth and freckled if she had to guess. She walked closer to inspect the work, her eyes skimming along the lines, reading the words aloud-

"Welcome to Hueco Mundo. Descend or continue onward into hell. And if you ain't got balls, don't even bother. Cause we-"

She blushed, and looked around carefully before she hurriedly mumbled the other words under her breath.


The words felt wrong as soon as they left her lips. She felt almost guilty about saying such dirty words, even though she didn't have parents to reprimand her in any way- the thought of what Tatsuki or Rukia would say if they're heard her was more than enough to make her feel ashamed. And then she wondered why she should feel ashamed- she was seventeen too, on the verge of turning eighteen, a college freshman, even if they didn't always treated her like it. She should be allowed to say anything she pleased when she pleased- they certainly had no qualms about it! They cursed as they pleased, did as they pleased- and made it somehow socially acceptable. Tatsuki could flip desks and kick in doors at will- but because she was Tatsuki- because bloody knuckles and battle scars were the characteristics that made her the fierce woman she was- it was all part of the package.

(But because it was her-) she sighed and stepped forward, inspecting the words.

She traced them with her fingertips- it looked as if it had taken time- they stretched from ceiling to floor, so whoever had done this had patience- not to mention height. Unless her imaginary kid was a giant, then he had to have been a midget with a step ladder. She smiled at the image of a miniature man teetering dangerously on the top of a ladder- but it was all fun and games until he fell backwards over the landing and went splat like vomit on the pavement. She quickly shook the image from her mind.

The lay out of the landing was rather curious- once you arrived on the landing, there was this wide, empty expanse of (graffiti-ed) wall, that sprawled around two corners at opposite ends. At the left end of the wall was a plate engraved with the numbers 1-5. The right- 5-10. And that was it. This message, and those plates with pointed arrows pointing around their respective corners.

She went to her left, grasping the key in her hand as she turned the corner. As she walked down the railed walkway, she couldn't help but notice the apartments from this side had a rather dismal view of the sky. From this angle, the sun's rays, much less its light, couldn't penetrate the gloom and shadow. To her left now was nothing but a sea of trees- she could only imagine what a view it would be at night- from this angle the moon would be perfectly visible. She was guessing the opposite was true of the right hand side of the top floor.

She walked casually down the walkway- to her surprise, the apartments four and five were at the end of the walkway, rather than being there as soon as she turned the corner. It was weird…yet somehow appropriate for that black key. It felt as if It belonged in the gloom that was cast on the back apartments. As she passed the first three apartments, she listened carefully for any signs of life- on her floor, you could walk by and hear the blare of the television, or tenants otherwise yelling, laughing, or having outrageously loud, cover-your-kids-ears, raunchy sex. They seemed to make it their business that their neighbors knew exactly what was going on behind closed doors. But up here…it seemed to be the exact opposite. The name of the game now was who could hide their business the best. She wondered who was winning.

Before she knew it, she was in front of the apartment- all of the doors were white, with their respective numbers hanging in the center, wrought with in black iron that was somehow foreboding. The fourth apartment, Cuatro, as Mrs. Mimi said. Orihime coughed- and in the silence the sound was so frightening she hurriedly covered her mouth. Embarrassed at how skittish she suddenly found herself, she hurriedly knocked, and waited patiently, her heart pounding a little more fiercely than necessary.

She wondered what kind of person he would be- if he'd chosen the side with the moon, he was probably a quiet man- the solitary silent type. Maybe if she asked, he would tell her which one of the tenants had written the black message, and what it meant- he probably wouldn't answer her. She could envision him now - tall, with glasses, maybe with long bangs that covered his face, shy, with rich parents who'd sent him here so he could go to prep school. Of course they'd become fast friends, bond overnight, she'd introduce him to her inner circle, they would love him, and he would give Ichigo a run for his money. Then she could tell Ichigo no because obviously Tenant #4 was taller, cooler, and better overall. Then he would realize that all along he had liked Rukia, and then everyone would be happy. That would be the end of it.

No more semi-awkward lunches between the three of them. No more of that awful, heady silence that even her most good natured jabs and most randomly outrageous comments couldn't penetrate. No more of that gloom hanging over them all, everything they used to be- if they used to be anything at all. She couldn't remember what it used to be like, before that long ago night when she had wholeheartedly admitted that she was in love with him. Then.

She broke her own thoughts, and rapped her knuckles once more on the back of the door. Once again, she was met with silence. She sighed. It was obvious they weren't home…and Mrs. Mimi had neglected to inform her if the tenant had another key, or if the one in her palm was the only one in existence. If she left, what if he came home and found himself locked out of his apartment? With her luck, at that moment he would find himself assaulted by a group of wheelchair ninjas, and forced to battle to the death with nothing but a pen and a notebook. Not to mention without sanctuary. And by the time the police came to peel his remains from the walkway floor (since he'd been wheeled to death) they'd know what a horrible tenant she'd been, and next thing she knew- it would be a ball and chain, orange jumpsuits and black and white striped sweaters, one phone call a month- puff puff pass me a cigarette- braids and tattoos- and 'I came to this place when I was around your age'-

She shivered at the thought. If she just slid it under the door, he still wouldn't be able to get in…unless he knew how to steamroll himself flat and slide under door cracks, like the misshapen characters on late night cartoons.

She could…open the door for him. Unlock it, leave the key on his table- with a note of course- so that when he returned he wouldn't think some homicidal maniac had broken into his apartment. Some homicidal maniac being herself. The idea of her running around screaming and wielding a machete was so outrageous she smiled at her own foolishness. Yeah right! Princess Hime a homicidal maniac? Her fan club would literally commit mass suicide if that one got out. The very idea of her being anything less than 'little Mrs. Perfect' frightened a hell of a lot of people.

But would a 'little Mrs. Perfect' be even considering something like this? The grin that spread across her face was the one the kid that snuck a cookie out the cookie jar. A big fat Noooooo. That thought alone was what made her put the key in the lock and turn. She swung the door inward, and took a fleeting glance down both ends of the walkway- with the silence reconfirmed, she hurriedly stepped in and closed the door behind her.

The menacing click that followed should have been more than enough to stop her- if she had only taken the time to think about it- but it wasn't.

As with all apartments, this one led into a living room and dining area- yet the size of this one completely dwarfed her own apartment, which suddenly felt miniature in comparison- but she guessed that's what you got for a couple of extra hundred dollars a month, so she couldn't really complain…

And besides, the room was such that instead of using the space provided, the tenant seemed to almost…reject putting it to good use, while simultaneously appreciating the emptiness. The first thing she noticed about the front part of the apartment was that it was outrageously bare. The lone white couch placed in front of the TV-less stand was anything but welcoming.

Rather than inciting in her the desire to jump on it until the stuffing came out (as couches usually did), it frightened her away with its pristine whiteness, covered with a thin plastic veil as if it had been brought yesterday. But as far as she knew the upper floor had been bought out for months now. There was a plain white table to the right of that, with a lone, plain white chair seated at it. The kitchen, while large, was hardly worth mentioning due to the unlived in feel of it. There were no pictures on the fridge, no doodles hastily taped there like hers- and she had the feeling that if she opened it, there would be nothing but cold empty racks inside.

Behind the living room area was a narrow hall- which she knew led to the master bedroom and bathroom. She wondered if they would be as bare as the rest of this place. Everything in here felt so cold and sharp and so…brand spankin' new but in the eeriest, creepiest way she could think of. She was almost afraid to even walk, lest she dirtied the floor, or broke something- even though there wasn't anything to break. She wanted to take a bucket of paint and splash it on the floor, roll in it and use her body as a paint roller to coat the walls in color. Anything was better than all this…white. She gulped as she silently took off her shoes, leaving them as close to the door as possible- she had the feeling she would be quick to do what she came to do and leave.

Her tenant #4 fantasy of him being a shy, glasses wearing prepster had already turned to ash. She sighed- with a room like this, a bald, needle-wielding serial killer seemed to be the only suitable occupant. In which case she was screwed. It was suddenly a good thing she had her friends on speed dial…not like it would do her any good. But what was she thinking? Serial killers didn't just up and rent whole apartment floors like this, especially in such a peaceful town. (Or at least she really really hoped so.)

She considered leaving the key on the table- but that would raise too many questions. She looked around idly, sweeping a lock of hair over her shoulder as her eyes scanned the room. If she had a piece of paper she could leave him a note- but she only had her cheering equipment with her right now…which was pretty much useless. Well, unless she was in the mood to be creative- ripping makeshift letters out of the back of her uniform was a promising idea. She smiled imagining what it would be like at tomorrow's practice, her with a suddenly hole-y uniform, cheering like nothing was wrong with the picture.

The fresh white paint on the walls made everything look surreal- she knew how Alice felt now, lost in wonderland. She shivered- it was an unpleasant feeling- a strange one of paranoia and fear that made her suddenly look up- come to think of it, she hadn't turned the lights on- had they been on when she came in? And what? How come she hadn't noticed there were no windows in here? She felt suffocated- she fumbled forward, the key clutched tight in her palm. She didn't belong here. She needed to leave, needed to leave right now.

She tried to tell herself that a windowless apartment was completely normal- he had to be a…a…an albino! A sun fearing albino! Of course, that made sense- his skin was probably super sensitive so he couldn't afford to take any chances- she believed it the instant she thought of it, since it made her feel a little less anxious.

She had the key in her hand- a slip of paper was all she needed- hell she didn't need a pen, she'd prick her finger and write in blood if it got her out of here any quicker. She tried to tell herself she was just being silly, she was still freaked out from this afternoon- but even herself knew that was nothing but bull. She had enough of that during the day-thank-you-very-much. The last place she wanted to deal with it was during her time of freedom.

Left without much choice, she hurriedly held her head down and skirted the couch, drawing a deep breath before she stepped into the narrow hall. She tried not to think about it- she wasn't doing anything wrong, she had the best intentions in mind- she wasn't going to steal anything, or touch anything- all she needed was a pen and a piece of paper, and she would be gone.

She walked through the dim of the hall, her heart pounding rhythmically in her chest- and none of that all in 'good fun girls just messing around ' kinda way- but the kind children have in the dark when they know there's a monster under the bed and nothing can convince them otherwise.

She pushed open the door at the end of the hall before her limbs locked up, and like before, the lights came on immediately- the motion detecting kind. It was somewhat of a relief. But the room that met her eyes was hardly welcoming- it was windowless too, and the room was absolutely empty except for a circular bed in the center, and a closed niche in the wall she took for a closest. The white of the walls, the bed sheets, seemed to compound on each other in conjunction with the bright light, and made her eyes water. She hurriedly stepped out the room, closing the door shut behind her, blinking the spots out of her vision.

She leaned heavily against the back of the door, drawing in a deep breath. No luck in there, in that intensely white room- she was glad. The thought of being in there another moment was already giving her the heebi jeebies…and she'd had more than enough of those for a day.

Sighing, she blinked as the light in the hallway finally decided to notice her presence, and turned on, effectively blinding her once more. She blinked, rubbing hurriedly at her eyes, and mumbling under her breath at the sudden explosion of light in the dark. As she finished rubbing her vision back to normal- she noticed that there were two other doors lining the hall. The one to the right side of the hall was partially open- and she could tell it led to a bathroom. But never, in her ten plus years of living here, had she ever been in an apartment with another door on the hall.

She suddenly remembered Mrs. Mimi's reference to "special circumstances." Common sense was telling her that the lone white door on the left was better left unopened. But the good girl she wanted to believe herself to be was telling her that she'd gone this far- why not? Her mind was assaulted with sudden images- tenant #4 locked out of his apartment during the arrival of a sudden hail storm, being pelted unmercifully with hail the size of goose eggs, bruised and bleeding, sneezing teeth into his wet palms, shivering in his soaked uniform- she was a sucker and she knew it.

She opened the door- and was met with the dark. The hall light illuminated the first few steps- and she was immediately intrigued. A basement? An apartment with a basement? Besides being cool (and extremely unfair!) she couldn't help but wonder if this had anything to do with what Mrs. Mimi had been talking about. Cautiously, she put her foot on the first step- and when nothing happened, kept going forward. She groped with her hands in the dark- there was no handrail. She held her hands out at her side, imagining she was walking on a thin tightrope a hundred feet above a lion infested pit as she carefully stepped down.

She assumed that a light would come on eventually- the rest of the apartment ran on that premise, so she could only assume the basement did too. As she navigated her way down the stairs in the dark, she counted the steps- ten steps, and her feet were level on the ground. The only light now was that of the hallway light, barely doing anything but giving her some reassurance. It was fine, the light would come on any minute now-

Shifting her weight anxiously from one foot to another, she took another deep breath to calm her nerves, and slowly walked further into the dark. She felt the empty air with her hands- perhaps he had a work desk or something down here- when suddenly a dangling something smacked her in the face.

And she knew it could have been nothing less than the noose of the boogeyman- he had tried to catch her head and jack her up- he was going to swallow her head first and there was no Ichigo, Rukia, Tatsuki here to cut the lights on and whip out the razor blades, to crack the knuckles and tackle the beast. It was only Princess Orihime stumbling awkwardly in her princess gown, to hell with the ribbons and bows and her magical 'power of love'- she was screwed and she knew it-

She reeled back with a scream, and leaped back, stumbling over something else onto the floor. She fell none too gently on the cold pavement of the floor, and instantly scrambled to her feet, all kinds of horrific conclusions rattling in her brain in the dark. And suddenly she realized she was in the dark, and that conclusion was so horrifying now, fumbling as she was on her knees, devoid of sight, hands grasping at any and everything, that it nearly brought her to tears.

But her hands grasped against something- something cold and hard. It felt like a wall, and she groped her way blindly up the surface of it, her dry pants in the dark frightening her even more. She tried to tell herself it was fine, it had probably been nothing to worry about- there was no way that a hanging hand had hit her in the face, from the mangled corpses he hung from his ceiling, since boogeymen didn't keep evidence. Maybe it had been a…a radish or…or a- she'd seen shows where people hung vegetables from their ceiling- she began to hum under her breath, trying to stop thinking about monsters and shadow men that ate stupid little girls. She tried to think of rainbows and sunsets, the princess dancing at her birthday ball, laughing and twirling- puppies and kittens- but that only made her think of the first time she'd seen a cat get hit by a car- the nasty squish, then pop-goes-weasel- all over her brand new shoes-don'tlookdowndon'tlookdown-and she looked down and the bloody flattened corpse was a mushy cat cake baking on the pavement-

She pinched herself, the pain wringing her free of the nightmarish turn her thoughts had taken. Her heart was pounding so she could barely hear herself think- a light switch, anything, there had to be something- and then she could feel something cold and metallic in her grasp- feeling panic eating away at her, her hands were trembling as she pulled sharply on the metal fixture with her right hand- only to pause as she heard a dull click. Confused, she didn't recognize the sound- she tried to pull herself up, only to wince in pain as cold metal bit into the unprotected flesh of her wrist.

She paused, and felt something cold seep into the heart of her. Unbelieving, she felt upward with her left, in some attempt to understand the contraption that had seized her- only to be awarded with a second click for her efforts.

She froze in sheer disbelief. She pulled down once more, and barely hid her scream as she was viciously hoisted upwards. It echoed in the dark, reverberated against the four walls and rung in her ears and made her temples ache. Her stomach dropped into her feet, and for the first time she felt an icy tingle race down her spine. Stopstopdon'tpanicdon'tpanic. She repeated the words in her mind, sucking in breaths so deep she could have choked on them. She'd just gotten stuck in something was all- just because she couldn't see she'd gotten tangled in something- she'd seen infomercials for work out pulls that hung from ceilings, maybe tenant #4 was a tanned surfer boy fitness junkie. She'd seen hanging flower pot hangers with some dangerous looking attachments- a botanist maybe? The fact that the circular bands felt oddly similar to those things policemen used to contain prisoners didn't even register in her mind. Because if memory served, those were also the things sexual deviants used on innocent girls before torturing and raping them. (And then skinning them and using their flesh to make bootleg purses to sell at the flee market, or to make girl cakes depending on what crazy late night snack was effing up her dreams on any given night-)

Woah. Shut up Hime. That was dangerous territory, for being strung up in the dark on the top floor of an apartment complex in someone's basement. She closed her eyes, tried not to panic, tried not to panic- you were never supposed to panic- even though her cell phone was in her bag upstairs and she was alone in a stranger's apartment in the dark with the boogeyman. She felt a freak out, a mental breakdown creeping up on her so strong the scream was just at the back of her throat. She wished she could be like Dorothy, kick her red heels together- There's no place like home, no place like-

In an attempt to focus on anything else, she tried it in vain- only to realize now something of vital importance. Sucking in a breath, she extended her foot, pointing her toes- empty space. And then to hell with reason!

She kicked her feet in a mad panic, growing even more frantic as she realized she could no longer touch the ground. She struggled, trying in vain to free herself, throwing her weight against her bonds and wincing as they cut into the delicate flesh of her wrists. She gnawed her lip to near shreds as tears of frustration began to brim in her eyes. What kind of sick, sick dream was this? There was no way this was real. Nu uh, no way- she'd fallen asleep on her couch watching a lifetime movie after another disappointing day- was this how she acted after an afternoon eating strawberry pudding with almond sprinkles? Never again. Because this obviously was a dream- all of it- she'd been fading in and out of reality lately, so maybe this was some messed up dream her mind had cooked up.

'If this is a dream, if this is a dream- Kurosaki-kun will be here, and Rukia a-and Tatsuki, Uryuu- Chad-'-they'd come barrel rolling in and cut on the lights, and reveal to her a decked out basement with colored ribbons hanging from the rafters- and it would turn out she'd tripped over her birthday cake- yeah they'd meant to scare her, but of course it was all a joke- and no worriers because they had baked a spare. And she'd grin and smile and half heartedly admit she'd known all along- Tatsuki was horrible at this, she knew at lunch when her eyebrow had started twitching. (If this was a dream!)

…If she were a real princess, she could've been calm- obviously the prince was on his way, all she had to do was sit and look pretty until he kicked the doors in. But she was just regular Orihime, who liked strange foods and even stranger men. And her hands were caught, she couldn't see in the dark, and the real life Ichigo was far too busy smiling in Rukia's face by now to even worry about her, especially when he wasn't on Orihime-babysitter duty.

It was just her in the dark, and her thighs were beginning to chafe, her long socks made her calves itch, her skirt was riding high, and there was a very real trickle of sweat running down between her breasts and along the plane of her stomach that was about to drive her insane because it tickled in a funny weird kind of way that made her wish she could wipe it away. Her breath stuttered in her chest, and a very real whimper left her lips and probed the dark-"Kurosaki-kun?"- it was swallowed in the silence. She was stupid for thinking his name alone would be enough to save her. And then all she could hear was her heart pounding in her ears.

She smiled pointlessly- until her face broke and she knew her eyes were watering. She wished this were a dream.

She tugged against the handcuffs -because that's exactly what they were and she was stupid to have thought otherwise- and they held fast. She felt the shattered remains of her pitiful resolve being swallowed in the void. She loudly sucked in a breath, tossed her head back and screamed as loud as she knew how. In the dark, the room greedily devoured her scream. And she suddenly understood in a moment that could have been brilliance or madness.

With renewed vigor she struggled for an endless moment, thrashed in the bonds, screamed at her helplessness. Her back and neck quickly grew soaked with sweat, her bangs plastered against her forehead, her chest heaving for want of breath- but the air was stale, she couldn't breathe enough, she couldn't- her socked feet dangled, and she could have laughed at her own stupidity. This was why, exactly why- for stupid nosy goody two shoes like her, naïve cheerleading homecoming queens with fan clubs and more friends than she could count- that was why-

In a voice more broken than she realized, weary from the struggle, the hopelessness that now assaulted her-

"T-This was why….there were no windows."

No windows, no openings, a lone basement that perhaps only god knew about. No windows, no openings, closed in, cut off- because this way…nobody could hear her scream.

"How perceptive. That is correct."

The words didn't drown in the dark as her screams had done. Instead, they seemed to come from the midst of the dark itself- seemed to be the very voice of that nameless void. Something cold sunk into the bottom of her, some invisible pressure that smothered her. She felt the fade begin- the dark got darker, and the unspoken words seemed to die on her tongue. She dared not raise her eyes. A cold bead of sweat ran down the back of her neck, and down the already soaked back of her shirt through her weary shoulder blades. She was suddenly feverish- so hot she shivered, could feel the hairs standing up on the back of her neck.

She had no idea if she was more afraid than she'd ever been in this moment, or more alive than she'd ever felt. She wanted to burst into tears and smile in relief at the same time. And she wanted to curse herself, for the pathetic sight she had to be, tears in her eyes- her voice hoarse from the might of that scream- sweaty and filthy, the proof of her struggle.

His voice was crisp, cold, and exact- even the true voice of the dark, of the boogeyman himself, had to be more welcoming in her ears than his was. It was everything she had imagined it would be- and it was nothing like that. Even in her wildest dreams- it had never been like that- the cold in his words could have frozen the very marrow in her bones, the detachment in his voice, from her, from life, from everything- because he wasn't like her, he didn't give a damn about the trivial world, he was free of it, so wonderfully free-

"Onna. Look at me."

And the chills ran down her spine, a pure electric chill that made her already heated skin burn. She was glad he'd allowed her to look at him, to finally look up at him- and her head raised, followed the trail of that enigmatic voice- and standing there at the head of those steps, the fluorescent light behind him illuminating his form, hands shoved deep into his pockets, that inky black halo of hair, that ramrod straight back- and those eyes-

Those eyes she'd seen more in her dreams in the last couple of months, than she had seen of her prince's in the last couple of years. Those eyes that made her forget how to breathe for a moment that swept her everything away as she drowned in them, those vivid green emeralds that pronounced everything in the world as little more than filth. Those eyes, looking at her, finally looking at her- and she was left gaping, eyes wide, heart shuddering to a halt in her chest.

"Orihime Inoue."

And she starred at him dumbly, mouth agape, eyes frozen wide. Was that her name? Her name, coming from those lips, with the same breath he had used to pronounce her and others like her as trash? Orihime Inoue. As if he were categorizing a specimen, analyzing something that he couldn't even associate with reality. That was how he said it- as if she didn't exist, as if he were reading a name from a crumbling tombstone. There was no reverence in it, no awe. No respect or admiration. Just those empty words she used to identify herself. Yeah that's what they always were, had always been- why ahd she allowed herself to think any different?

And she was expected to do the same- and suddenly, the words were easy, breathtakingly easy beneath the glow of those emerald eyes, those cold, flat eyes. She knew she couldn't win. She knew it.


Yes- the way she'd said his name betrayed her. Her heart stuttered to life and began to pound once more, the heat flooded her face and the electric tingle raced up and down her arms. She tried to squash it- but his eyes zeroed in on her and she was lost.

"Seeing as how you have intruded into my personal quarters, I will to see to it that you thoroughly explain yourself."

He came down the steps slowly, at his leisure with an otherworldly grace that was like a god descending. But she was stupid to think that. He was more suited for hell.

As those green eyes drew towards her, her knees began to waver. Were she standing, she would have fallen. Were she able to speak again, all words would have left her by now. She went limp in her bonds, suddenly more painfully aware of her body than she had ever been. When he reached the bottom of the steps, of its own volition, the door to the basement closed with nothing short of finality.

And then complete darkness descended upon them. If she thought she'd known it before, she was sorely mistaken. This was it. Something hard bit into the unprotected flesh of her palms- the key that had been tightly grasped in her hand slid from her loosened fist and clattered to the floor. And that was the kiss of death.

The princess was trapped in the dark with the dragon.

"And that was how Orihime Inoue found herself handcuffed and strung up in Ulquiorra's basement, which was the beginning of what she was sure to be a hardly healthy relationship…"

-quote me on that.

To those wondering: WTF BETCH YO ASS AIN'T BEEN UPDATIN SHET LATELY AND YO ROLL UP IN HERR WITH DIS SHET! You're 97% right. I've had a shit load to do (my ass be going to college next year!) but I'm getting on my other stuff. word to yo mama. But this gais, is a PENANCE FIC. Basically, when you're on a specific forum, and told specifically not to do something and someone catches you doing it (CAPSLOCK/lapslock anyone?) They have a right to make you PAY. Usually it's via fanfic/fanart...guess which one I got asked to do? And of COURSE bitch was like: ''Hey don't you lyke, right Ulquihime?" My response? "Shit." I've already got that Segunda Etapa/sacrficial maiden request fic lined up to post (I've already written five chapters HELLZ YEAH) and then I get busted with this 'ish.

Her premise? Orihime tied up in Ulquiorra's basement. BOOM. Yeah, I dropped the bomb. Oh and for whatever reason, she has to be a masochist aka TIED UP AND LIKING IT. Oh and of course, ALL PLOT MUST LEAD TO SMUT. Aw hell. She had to be legal, this had to be semi-high school esque (Cheerleaders! Popular kids! Yadda Yadda Blah!) Also, there has to be something up with our favorite emospada and his crew -le gasp!- Maybe they're vampires! THAT'S RIGHT BITCHES THEY MOTHA FUGGIN SPARKLE. Dunno. I'll figure it out later. Tell me what you think thus far!

DISCLAIMER: BITCHES I OWN NOTHING BUT THE DAMN PLOTLINE. Kubo Tite stop calling my house you ain't gettin a damn penny outta me!