"I need the assignments within the next ten days," Urahara said to a class full of groaning students. Ignoring the protests, he continued, "You'll not be working with your regular partners. I'm assigning new partners to you all. The list is on the notice board, check it."
Saying so the blonde man walked out. All the students gathered around the notice board to find out who was assigned to whom. Ulquiorra hated the pushing, pulling and general unruliness that occurred in such occasions, so he stood back and waited for the crowd to dissipate. In the resultant confusion he caught Orihime' s eyes and felt the corners of his lips twitch into an inadvertent smile. She had seen the notice and seemed pleased about it. She winked at him and skipped over to her place. He watched her as she picked up her bag and capered out of the classroom.
Once everyone had left, Ulquiorra walked over to the notice at a leisurely pace and looked for his name. There it was, below Sang, Cho; Shciffer, Ulquiorra. And next to his name was the name he had hoped but not expected; Inoue, Orihime.
"You're paired with Ulquiorra Schiffer?" Chizuru screamed making half the lunch hall turn to look at them. Then in a softer voice she said, "I'm also in the history class, why didn't he pair you with me? I'm going to ask him to change it and make me your partner."
"No you'll not," Orihime said in a tone sharper than she intended it to be. Then in a placating tone she said, "I'm perfectly comfortable working with him."
"Orihime," Ichigo said seriously, "That guy is not the best person you should be around. I don't know what Urahara was thinking when he appointed him as your partner. He's just
"Ichigo," Orihime said cutting off his diatribe, "I'll be fine. You guys are just worrying too much."
"And we have very good reason for it," Ichigo insisted, "I know you like to forgive people and try to see the best in everyone, but trust me when I say this, Ulquiorra Schiffer isn't worth it."
"I assume you know him very well and are speaking from experience?" Orihime asked sweetly.
"No, but his general reputation
," Ichigo started.
"Your general reputation is that you're short-tempered, confrontational, unnecessarily aggressive and domineering. Does that mean that you're someone that should be avoided at all cost?" Orihime replied.
"Fine Orihime," Ichigo said with a small smile, "You win. But promise us, you'll only work with him in the library. Don't call him to your home. "
Orihime smiled and agreed, her mind already painting the pictures of her spending time with Ulquiorra working on the assignment. It was only later in the day that she realized that Ichigo had been protective of her. Strangely, the thought only brought a small smile on her face. She felt none of the thrill or warmth that she would have expected to feel. She reasoned that maybe it was because he had been critical of her best friend. That definitely explained her lack of reaction.
Ulquiorra parked his car in a small alley that was some distance away from her house. He picked up the bag from the passenger seat and got out of the car. While getting down he noticed that the lace of his sneakers had come undone. Tying it he stood up and straightened his clothes. He had been very careful in choosing today's wardrobe. He wanted to look casual and yet not overly so. Thus, after a lot of deliberation, he had chosen a blue T-shirt, black jeans and a grey sweat shirt. He licked his lips nervously and took a deep breath.
"Relax," he whispered to himself, "It's just an assignment. It's not like you haven't met her before."
That did little to quell his nervousness. After all, it was the first time he was meeting her at her place. Of course they spent hours in the park together, but that wasn't as personal as this. This time they weren't meeting on neutral grounds. Granted he was going there for the assignment but he was going to her house and it was a big deal. After all, she was the only person he'd ever developed a crush on.
He walked the distance to her home and rang the doorbell. A tall, brown-haired, and medium built man opened the door.
"Ulquiorra, right?" he said with a bright smile that instantly reminded him of her.
"Sora," it wasn't a question.
Sora nodded and moved out of the way, "I've heard a lot about you. Come in."
He walked in, took off his shoes and put them on the shoe rack. Adjusting the bag strap he walked to the living room. His eyes fell on Orihime and for a moment he forgot to breathe. She was dressed in a sleeveless white dress with a modest neckline, a thin, black belt with a silver buckle and knee-length flowing skirt. She looked like a princess, his princess.
"Ulquiorra!" she chimed, "Come here, sit. Coffee?"
He nodded and sat down on the couch. Orihime turned, her skirt twirling, and walked over to the kitchen. As Orihime went out of his sight, he relaxed slightly. He felt the couch depress slightly and he turned to find Sora sitting on the couch.
"So," Sora said conversationally, "You like my sister?"
Ulquiorra managed to keep a straight face, although it was tough. How the hell had he guessed? He took his time to think but then decided to be honest with the older man, "Yes I do."
Sora nodded, "I thought so."
"May I ask how did you know it?"
"I was seventeen once," Sora replied chuckling.
Ulquiorra nodded, unsure of what to reply. He could hear Orihime singing in the kitchen.
"Make sure you don't hurt her, ever," Sora said casually, "Otherwise you'll have me to answer to."
"I won't," he whispered slowly.
The conversation was interrupted when Orihime came in with three cups of steaming coffee. Sora took his and stood up.
"Well, I'll leave you kids to do your assignment. I'll be in the bedroom, holler if you need me."
"Will do," Orihime answered as she settled on the space her brother had just emptied.
Meanwhile Ulquiorra had reached over for the cup of coffee. He was about to sip it when something smelled
different. There was something was in the coffee that shouldn't be. He sniffed it surreptitiously. There it was! Something that wasn't quite right. It was faint, but it was definitely there. He looked at Orihime who seemed to be oblivious of her surroundings as she sipped hers and arranged the books in front of her. His eyes then fell on Sora who stood by the book shelf, trying to find a magazine for himself, sipping on his beverage nonchalantly. Ulquiorra shook his head slightly, he must be imagining it. He was just being finicky and nervous.
He didn't give it a second thought as he sipped on his coffee. Because he had been telling himself that there was nothing wrong with it, he took a hearty gulp and instantly choked at the taste. His emerald eyes flew open wide as he realized what it was that he had smelled. There was basil in it. BASIL? Who the hell put basil in their coffee?
Somehow he managed to swallow the vile tasting thing and blinked the tears that had come into his eyes. Next to him, Orihime was muttering to herself, completely unaware of the mini crisis that he was having. His eyes met Sora's, who was about to step into the bedroom. The man lifted his mug, as if to say cheers, with a downright impish gleam in his eyes that was eerily like his sister's. Despite himself, Ulquiorra smirked slightly.
As Sora went into the bedroom, Ulquiorra put down his coffee on the table, "Carrot-top, this is undrinkable."
"What? Why?" she was perplexed.
"You put basil in there," he replied calmly.
"I mean I put basil in there, so?"
He couldn't believe it. In would be calm voice he said, "Coffee and basil don't usually go together."
He blinked a couple of times trying to process what he had heard, "What?"
"Oh you're one of those huh?" she said waving her hand airily.
"One of those?" he repeated, his brain refusing to process the events.
She shrugged, "You know the ones with the boring traditional taste buds."
"You're insane," he answered finally.
"Glad at least you haven't changed your opinion about me," she answered dryly, "Simple joys in life."
"I think we should get on with the assignment," he said in an effort to change the subject.
The next couple of hours passed pleasantly in her company, although Ulquiorra was sure that the basil laced coffee had scarred him for life.
Orihime's heart was beating at an erratic rhythm although she couldn't understand why. What on Earth was wrong with her? She couldn't take her eyes off him. He was sitting on the couch, carefully reading the summary for the assignment that she had prepared, making a note here and a remark there. She couldn't help but notice the way his jet black hair fell against his pale face. She noticed the way he had pushed his sleeves which revealed his muscular and toned forearm. She noticed his long, thin fingers that looked like they belonged to a piano player. She noticed the way the navy blue T-shirt contrasted against his marble skin.
Inexplicably she was overtaken by the intense desire to touch him. She wanted to run her fingers through his hair just to see if it was as silky as it looked. He was completely absorbed in his work, so Orihime took the opportunity to reach out and grab his hand. However, just as she was about to touch him, he looked at her. She hastily grabbed a pencil from the coffee table and started scribbling on her notebook. She felt heat creeping up her cheeks and wished that Ulquiorra would look away but no, he was staring at her fixatedly, his eyes slightly narrowed.
"Is something wrong?" he asked finally.
"Uh, no. Why would you say so?" she knew she sounded hurried and she hated herself for that.
"Your face is the color of your hair," he stated with his usual bluntness.
Orihime swallowed, hoping that her face wouldn't betray any more than it already had, "N-No, No, nothing's wrong. Y-You're just i-imagining things."
"If you say so," he didn't sound even remotely convinced.
Glad that he had decided to let the matters be, Orihime buried herself behind her notebook, avoiding his keen eyes. Ulquiorra continued to look at her for a while before shrugging and resuming his work.
Later that night, after Ulquiorra had left, Sora and Orihime sat for dinner. She tried her best to ignore the knowing smile on Sora's lips but the gleam in his eyes was infuriating her. Finally she reached her limit. She clanged her fork loudly on her plate and leaned on the table.
"Alright, what's going on?" she demanded.
"With what?" he asked innocently.
"Why are you grinning?"
"Arrrgh! Stop it!" she screamed, "I want to know."
At the other end of the table, Sora collapsed into peals of laughter causing Orihime to fling a paper napkin at him.
"Alright alright!" he said holding up his hands, "I'll tell you. I was smiling because I think I know what's gotten into my baby sister."
She scowled, "First, I'm not your 'baby sister', I'm seventeen now! I'm almost an adult. So please, stop treating me like a kid. And second, nothing's 'gotten into me'."
"Are you sure?" Sora asked in a sing-song voice.
"Then tell me," Sora asked casually, "Why did you dress up today?"
Sora nodded, "Yes. You know, you're usually dressed in a pair of jeans and a top. But today you wore something fairly
how do I put it, dressy? I wonder why?"
Orihime waved her hand, "You're reading too much into nothing. I just felt like wearing that dress, so I did. It wasn't like I was dressing up for Ulquiorra or anything."
"Interesting," he said exaggeratedly, "I was merely asking for the reason you chose to dress that way. I never said you had dressed up for him. Wonder why you jumped to that conclusion though?"
For the second time in the evening, Orihime felt heat creeping up her cheeks. She mumbled something incoherent and ran away. As Sora watched his little sister flee, a multitude of emotions rose within him. From what he had seen and heard of Ulquiorra, he knew that the guy was a keeper. He was happy for her that she had found someone like him. He also felt a sense of loss. When had his baby sister grown so much? It felt like it was yesterday when he had changed her diapers or wiped drool from her cute and chubby little face. He was bursting with joy that his sister found love. He knew that he was most probably going to be alone all his life and he never regretted it. If it would make Orihime smile, he was willing to lay down his life. So he was happy that his sister had found the bliss that he wasn't destined to find.
But he was also jealous. For years Orihime had nurtured a crush on Ichigo but Sora had never felt envious of him. Perhaps because he had always known that one day the crush would wear off. But Ulquiorra was different. Orihime had fallen in love with him and from the way he had looked at her, Ulquiorra loved her deeply too. The two hadn't realized it yet and he wanted them to realize it on their own, so he wouldn't interfere, but the fact was, Ulquiorra had claimed his sister's heart. A place where till now, only he had resided. Now he had to share it with the green-eyed boy and it wasn't a very pleasing thought.
Sora gave a deep sigh and stood up to gather the plates and clean up.