Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach...
So, here's the thing. I'm gonna need you guys to have mega patience because after chapter one, I'm taking this story to a different place that will eventually tie together neatly once I'm done. However, I'm giving you a heads up because I know there will be readers whining about what I plan to do. Sorry if this doesn't suit your taste!
Three Day's Grace "Time of Dying"...
On the ground I lay
Motionless in pain
I can see my life flashing before my eyes
Did I fall asleep?
Is this all a dream
Wake me up, I'm living a nightmare
I will not die (I will not die)
I will survive
I will not die, I'll wait here for you
I feel alive, when you're beside me
I will not die, I'll wait here for you
In my time of dying
The first thing he registered was an all-consuming pain. It encompassed his entire body like a poor replacement for skin. His head ached, his chest ached, his throat ached, and when he blinked for the first time in what felt like an eternity, his eyes ached.
The room was dim, but the light was still painful, still a nuisance. There was a faint beeping in the background, and the smell of vitamins mixed in with cleaning products and rubbing alcohol made him nervous. Ichigo had had his share of experiences with hospitals – none of them particularly good. He blinked against the onslaught of sensations flooding him out of nowhere. It felt like he was coming out of a pitch-dark, soundproofed room and stepping into a crowded hallway. He could hear people talking outside of his room, heard a gurney roll by, even heard the telephone ringing out near the nurse's station. And then, his mind decided to remind him just why he was in a hospital to begin with.
He was a fucking junkie, and he'd tried to put himself out of his own misery.
Ichigo closed his eyes as a wave of humiliation, shame, and utter pain took his breath away. He gasped, tears coming swiftly and suddenly, spilling past his lashes and down over his cheeks. He felt like a ghost, like he wasn't even supposed to be alive. Maybe he wasn't. Maybe it was all a horrible nightmare that he was just waking from, maybe he'd imagined being kidnapped and turned into a dope addict. One glance down at his bare arms was enough to make any hope disappear.
His lungs burned as he tried to take slow, even breaths, tried to fight off the panic swallowing him whole. It wasn't working. The IV in the crook of his left arm made him grit his teeth, pissed. With a strangled, rage-filled noise, he snatched it out of him and blindly threw it. He didn't realize he was sobbing as he dug his fingers into his arms, his nails creating raw-looking gouges along his pale skin. He just wanted the marks to go away. They needed to disappear. They were nothing more than a constant reminder of his weakness, of his absolute failure.
He didn't care that blood was welling beneath his fingertips. He didn't care that the sound he was making was incoherent and desperate, one long, drawn out, agonized whine. He wanted to die. Why hadn't he died? Why was he still alive? Why did he have to face the evidence of his shortcoming?
Ichigo swiped at his running nose before going right back to scraping at the track marks littering his arms. He didn't hear the door creak open, nor did he see a cup of coffee hit the floor and make a mess. He just felt warm arms around him, a voice he'd longed to hear during his darkest times, crooning in his ear as gentle fingers carded through his hair.
"C'mon, King, what're ya doin'? Stop. Yer hurtin' yerself."
Shiro's voice was wrecked, tears apparent in the soft words. Ichigo sniffled, and leaned close. He wanted to wrap himself in the familiar warmth, wanted to close his eyes for good, lullabied by his brother's comforting scent and presence. Yet, it wasn't meant to be, so he found himself burying his face into Shiro's t-shirt as he wept bitterly.
The next time he opened his eyes, he was lying on his back, the skin on his face tight and itchy. The pain was still a constant companion, but now his stomach was throwing its own personal mutiny as well. Ichigo swallowed air and saliva a few times before it all started racing back into his mouth. He had a second to force his body over the bed rail before he was puking like his life depended on it.
And who knew...maybe it did.
There was a hand brushing dry, orange hair out of his eyes, and a waste basket was held in front of his face. Where the hell did that come from? He squinted past pained tears at the person standing over him and instantly broke down. He just knew he was dreaming now. He flopped back onto his pillow and turned away from the concerned blue eyes his dope-sick mind had conjured. How fucking cruel and unfair was it for him to hallucinate images of his dead love?
Ichigo brought a hand up to his forehead, where it turned into a fist as he squeezed his eyes shut. This kind of pain was too much for him to deal with. How was he supposed to handle this? His mind betrayed him further as he registered the bed rail lowering and the mattress dipping to accommodate the extra weight of an added body. That hand was back, this time cupping the side of his face, the gesture so wildly nostalgic, Ichigo couldn't help but lean into it, relishing the familiar roughness of the large palm against his cheek. He caught a whiff of the person's scent, and it floored him. He couldn't fight the urge to open his eyes and focus on his own personal ghost.
Grimmjow's expression was gentle, the hard crease in his forehead gone for the time being. His head was canted to the side as he stared down at Ichigo, eyes filled with concern and so many other emotions Ichigo couldn't identify.
Ichigo's tears were hot like acid as he closed his eyes again, just bathing in the sound of his love's voice. And it was his voice: that deep, sultry tenor was impossible to forget.
How was any of this fair?
"You're dead," Ichigo groaned in dismay, voice a pitiful croak.
Grimmjow didn't respond; he just brushed aside Ichigo's bangs and dropped a kiss on his forehead. Ichigo opened his eyes so fast, it made him dizzy. Grimmjow's smirk was like a rainbow after a storm. It was warm, filled with love and even a tiny bit of amusement.
"You need ta sleep," he murmured.
Ichigo shook his head, the action urgent and forlorn. He wished he had the strength to reach forward and grip his love's hoodie, keeping him in place for as long as the sickness allowed.
"Don't leave!" he gasped, a different kind of agony washing over him. "I don't want you to go, Grimm."
Grimmjow's jaw tensed, and his lips thinned. "I know, but ya need yer rest. I'll come back. I promise."
"Nooo," Ichigo moaned. "If you go now, you won't come back."
"Yeah, I will."
"How? How will you come back when you're dead?"
It was too much. Ichigo couldn't cope with this kind of torment. His mind was playing the worst kind of trick on him, and his body was in an uproar. Everything was going haywire, making him more emotional than he normally would be. He couldn't stop crying, even though he wanted to. He never wanted to cry again, never wanted to show any kind of weakness again, but he had no control. He literally had no say-so over what his body was going through.
"You'll see, but ya gotta be strong. You can beat this, Ichigo."
Ichigo took a long look at Grimmjow, memorizing his bright blue hair that seemed longer than he remembered, his hooded, glowing blue eyes that made Ichigo feel like he was the only person in the world, and those full lips that were tilted up in a knowing grin. Ichigo let his eyes slide shut as a lump that had nothing to do with his illness rose in his throat.
"You shouldn't be dead," he whispered.
There was quiet for so long that Ichigo began to think that his hallucination was over. And then, Grimmjow's lips were pressed to his forehead again, his unique scent blanketing Ichigo's senses.
"I love you."
Ichigo's face crumpled as he fought the turmoil wreaking havoc with his emotions. The bed shifted, signaling Grimmjow's departure, and Ichigo opened his eyes, blinking past the tears stubbornly clinging to his lashes. He watched as Grimmjow reached over to the chair beside the bed and grabbed a navy-blue Yankee fitted cap. He put it on backwards and pulled his hood over it as he ambled over to the room door. Once there, he turned back to Ichigo and smiled, a genuine one that made Ichigo's breath catch.
"See ya later, Ich."
Ichigo stared at the door until he dropped back off to sleep.
His third attempt at consciousness was successful. Well, as successful as could be expected under the circumstances. He opened his eyes and turned to his right, hoping to see Grimmjow, only to find his brother staring at him, expression wary. He looked like he was waiting for Ichigo to jump off a cliff or something. Ichigo cleared his throat, grimacing at the parched tissue. He tried a smile, and it somehow worked, even though the gesture pulled at his lips in a painful way.
"Hey," he croaked.
Shiro's eyes immediately filled as he came to his feet and edged closer to the bed. He reached over and ran a hand through Ichigo's hair, his bottom lip trembling for a fraction of a second before it was hidden away with a determined bravado.
"You dumbass," Shiro admonished, voice more watery than usual. "Stupid King."
Ichigo wrapped the arm without the IV around his brother, heat blossoming in his chest. He was feeling a lot better, but something told him the worst was yet to pass. He was grateful for the reprieve, though. When they pulled apart, Shiro sat back down and just stared, his strange eyes glimmering with something Ichigo wasn't ready to acknowledge. He didn't want to talk about what had happened to him. He didn't want to relive the times where he thought he would surely die if he didn't get high. But the questions were practically screaming and waving enthusiastic hands in Shiro's eyes. Ichigo turned away from them.
"Has Dad come by yet?" he asked.
"He's been here a couple times, but you were sleepin'."
"Wh-what about the girls?"
Shiro sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. "Karin has, but Yuzu hasn't. Says she don't wanna see ya like this."
Ichigo nodded, but it still hurt. He wanted to see his family, but he knew he looked shameful. Everything about him was pathetic, and he couldn't blame his sister for not wanting to witness it.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, eyes still on the door, far away from Shiro's perceptive gaze.
The way Shiro had said that one word made Ichigo slowly face him, fear of what he would see, making him shiver like an icy wind had swept into the room.
"What the fuck're ya sorry for, King? What'd you do ta need ta apologize? I'm lost here."
Ichigo swallowed a few times before he finally shook his head and stammered, "I-I shoulda been stronger."
"Stop it. There's no way-"
"Shiro, I shoulda been stronger."
"Shut. Up. OK? I don't wanna hear that kinda talk comin' from you."
Shiro scowled and glared at Ichigo, everything he wanted to say broadcasted in his black and gold eyes. Ichigo gave up the fight for now, but it didn't change the way he felt about the situation. There had to have been something he could've done. He should have been able to resist the dope, fight its effects. Something. No, instead, he'd ended up a statistic.
He shook his head again and gripped the sheet under his hands. He hated himself right now. And his dreams made life no better. He'd seen Grimmjow. Grimmjow had taken care of him and kissed him and encouraged him. Ichigo closed his eyes against that particular onslaught of pain. Fuck, he missed that man so much, it literally ached. It was a yawning wound that was going absolutely nowhere. Nothing he did would mend the tear Grimmjow's death had created in his heart, and if he ended up seeing his love every time he was sick, then he wished he could just die.
"He still thinks I'm dead."
Grimmjow lowered the cigarette he was smoking and turned to his best friend. Shinji's eyes were wide, clearly shocked.
"Even though he was awake the last time?"
"He's fuckin' sick. Prob'ly thinkin' he's seein' shit." Grimmjow paused to shake his head and pull from the cigarette. After he exhaled, he continued, voice morose and laced with underlying rage. "Ya shoulda seen him, Shin. I'm gonna pull Tousen's balls off wit' mah bare hands when I catch 'im."
"Good luck wit' that," Shinji snorted. "I heard the coward's in the wind."
"I'll find him."
And he meant that with every fiber of his being. He would find Tousen, and he would end his life, but only after a sufficient amount of torture. Grimmjow still couldn't get over Ichigo's appearance. He was a ghost of his former spitfire self. His hair was longer and lacking its vibrant "oomph" that made it so utterly orange. He was painfully thin, and the scars on his arms made Grimmjow wanna break everything in sight.
"Well, I guess it's good that the kid's alive, at least."
Grimmjow didn't even want to consider what he'd be feeling had Ichigo died. The pain was too breathtaking, too acute and debilitating.
"Yeah," he grunted and tossed the spent cigarette.
He ran a hand through his hair and stared off into the distance. They were at Javier's mansion, borrowing a couple of the lavish suites. Grimmjow planned to lay low while he was back home, but only because he wanted to reinforce the idea of him being dead. He wanted to be a ghost to the people who had wronged him, that way it would hurt more when the reaper came to collect his due.
"Oh, yeah! That Unohana lady's real sweet on you, huh?" Shinji teased, a special kind of gleam in his eye.
"She's like a mom ta me, don' be a fuckin' perv."
"Duh. She dotes on you somethin' awful. It's cute."
"Shut up. Yer bein' a prick about it."
Shinji chuckled, then went silent, eyes glazing as he too stared off into the distance. Grimmjow allowed his mind to wander, but every time it did, it only went one place. He'd missed Ichigo, and seeing the younger man that one time upon his arrival back in the states hadn't been enough. He'd made it a habit to enter Ichigo's hospital room in the middle of the night, using his connect. Most of the time, he just sat beside the bed, waiting, watching, wishing he could change things. However, last night, Ichigo had come out of his sleep, breathing harshly, eyes rounded with panic. Grimmjow had seen that expression before when his parents had been unable to get their fix. He never went near his mother because he couldn't have cared less if she'd died or not, but his father had been a different story entirely.
He'd kept vigil over his old man, hoping that the sickness would get him to quit altogether. It never did, but Grimmjow had become somewhat of an expert when it came to dope-sickness. From cleaning up the green and yellow vomit, to the fevers, chills, and hallucinations – he'd gone through it all. He hated that he had to do the same for Ichigo, but this time, he understood. Ichigo hadn't asked for this. Tousen had forced it on him, created a monster and left that monster alone to devour itself.
The hatred he felt for Tousen was almost supernatural.
Grimmjow huffed a breath and closed his eyes. He just wanted Ichigo to be better already. He wanted to kiss him for real, hold him and make sure they never split ways again. After his business with Tousen and a few others, he wanted to take Ichigo and just go far away, where they could lead normal lives and possibly have happiness that wasn't tainted with danger at every fucking turn.
"Ya think the food's done?" Shinji asked, interrupting Grimmjow's thoughts.
"Nah, Retsu woulda told us."
"Yer such a momma's boy."
Shinji danced away from Grimmjow's fist, slipping back into the suite and heading over to his favorite spot by the TV. It was blasting away, as per Shinji's usual, this time showing an action flick. It looked sort of interesting, so Grimmjow followed behind him and plopped down on the couch, intent on focusing his mind towards something that wouldn't keep him in a murderous rage.
"You mind tellin' me why we just gave that turd a bag fulla cash, Tats?" Nel snapped, hands on her hips.
Tatsuki rolled her eyes and kicked her feet up on her glass coffee table. They were collected at her and Yoruichi's home, discussing recent events. More like, Nel was testing her last fucking nerve.
"Because Tousen thinks he's fuckin' invincible, that's why. He's not goin' anywhere. He's gonna stay right here, and how much you wanna bet he really thinks G is dead?"
Nel pouted and flounced over to the recliner. "Fuck. I think I just really want that guy dead already. He's such an eyesore."
"He's already a dead man walking," Hal commented from her spot on the floor next to the coffee table. "I'm just glad we got ta dat boy before he died."
Tatsuki nodded and sipped a beer, the neck of the bottle clenched in her hand. She couldn't believe what Tousen had done to Ichigo. She'd assumed he'd tortured him, but not with dope. She hadn't been prepared to walk in on one of her closest friends overdosed on heroin. She quietly shuddered in remembrance. It had been horrible. Ichigo had been convulsing and foaming at the mouth, his body frightfully skinny and pale. Honestly, if she'd been aware of Ichigo's state before giving that cash to Tousen, she would have killed him herself, dibs on the guy be damned.
"Yeah, well, I guess now we jus' wait," Nel continued, sulking. "Though I hate waiting."
"We know," the entire room chorused before bursting into laughter.
Tatsuki glanced over at Yoruichi, who was deep in thought near the window. The purple-haired woman hadn't said a word since they'd rescued Ichigo, but Tatsuki knew it had to be eating at her. Ichigo was her friend as well.
But what Nel said was true. Now, they just had to wait. Genevieve had informed them that Tousen's life had a claim to it already, so they had been invited to work for The Man AKA Javier Yasutora. Tatsuki had heard all sorts of rumors about the guy, ranging from a charitable philanthropist to a terrifying drug lord. She was sure he was both and then some. Guys like him made it a habit to be comfortable in more than one skin.
They'd agreed because the money sounded too tempting to pass up. But the waiting game was excruciating. There was so much drama unfolding in the streets right now, and it had Tatsuki excited. She wanted to get out there and pound the pavement, make some Blood heads roll. She wanted to be in the thick of action, where the fire was hottest. Sitting on their thumbs wasn't their style, and something had to give soon.
She turned back to Yoruichi and was thrown by the haunted look the brown-skinned woman wore. Something else was off, and it was just another tally to add to the strange list.
"I've been waiting," Javier called as Aizen was trundled into an empty warehouse.
The door was slammed behind them, the noise echoing ominously, but Aizen wasn't fazed. He would only begin to worry when Javier's eyes changed. Right now, they still seemed amiable and willing to negotiate.
"Apologies. I would have come sooner, but there was traffic."
Javier chuckled as he approached, demeanor full of good-nature and well-being. It was easy to be deceived by the outward graciousness. Aizen remained alert, eyes darting around the warehouse, taking in everything. He spotted a few guards along the walls, but the room was cavernous, so they seemed rather insignificant. Javier waved him over to a couple of sepia-colored, plush, high-backed chairs that reminded Aizen of something Victorian and ancient.
"Come. Sit with me. I'd like to talk."
The words were succinct and crisp, and Aizen detected the cool tone a mile away. "What do you want to talk about, Javier? Could we not have discussed this over the phone?"
"I've tried that, remember? You didn't wish to cooperate."
Javier looked him over, expression casual and uncaring, but his eyes burned with indignation. If Aizen wanted to get out of this alive, he figured he should play along. He strolled over to one of the chairs and carefully lowered himself into it. Javier followed suit across from him and waved his hand, a slight gesture that summoned one of the guards to him.
"Bring the tea and the table from the office, please."
The guard, a tall, burly, brown-skinned man with a low mohawk and gold teeth, nodded and moved off to a door on the other side of the large room. Meanwhile, Javier's eyes were hawk-like as he studied Aizen and crossed his legs.
"You look well, my friend. Life has been good, no?"
Aizen narrowed his eyes at the thinly veiled threat, but gave a small grin anyway, amused. "Yes, I would say so. It's been the same for you, am I right?"
"For the most part."
Javier never minced words. He certainly didn't participate in idle chit-chat without a motive, so Aizen just sat, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He only refrained from outright asking what Javier wanted since the man would more than likely take offense and things would only deteriorate from there. Best not to push his luck.
They sat in silence for a while, Javier's shrewd eyes still picking him apart, until the guard from earlier, plus one, sauntered over. The plus one carried a low, wooden table that seemed pretty sturdy, and the guard from earlier carried a tray laden with tea and all the fixings. Aizen smiled pleasantly as the area was set and cups were poured. Once the tea was passed out, Javier reclined in his seat, legs still crossed and a faintly curious smirk tugged at his lips.
"So, tell me, Sosuke. Why do you think I brought you here?"
Aizen sipped his tea, not surprised at the high quality, before he sat back in his own seat and eyed the man across from him. "I assume it has something to do with the rising tensions between the Bloods and Crips."
Javier's lips quirked before he shook his head and arched a dark brow. "Not quite." His accent was pronounced when he leaned forward and pinned Aizen with a stern look. "Your men killed Starrk, and I think we both know who killed JJ. I believe you have some explaining to do, Sosuke."
Aizen liked to think that he was good at keeping his true emotions and reactions at bay. Most people even said he had an impeccable poker face. However, Javier's words triggered an emotion – a reaction – that he hadn't exactly expected. Hearing that last name felt like a demon had climbed out of Hell. JJ, James Jaegerjaques: there was nothing about the man that he liked, and that included his son, who had ended up turning out just like his father.
"JJ was business," he clipped with more calm than he felt. "Starrk was an unfortunate casualty."
Javier remained silent, but lightning flashed behind those green-gray eyes. He shifted and sipped his tea before setting the porcelain cup on the table beside them. Once he folded his hands in his lap, he tilted his head to the side and licked his lips, his thick mustache twitching.
"Please, tell me how you came to that conclusion."
Welcome to my party... Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed!