Note: To clarify, this is a Grimmjow x Ichigo fanfic. I understand that at the moment it doesn't feel that way, but trust me, those two are the main couple, whether they like it or not.
One more thing: I've recently discovered I have CTS. It's my only valid excuse for this chapter being so late. Not to mention I've been working all summer. No rest or spare time for me.
Thank you for the lovely reviews, everyone. Preggo Ichi plushies given to all who did.
The hits were hard and heavy; Ichigo spat out a glob of blood that had blossomed from a wound in his mouth, turning angry chestnut colored eyes to the bane of his relatively peaceful day. Grimmjow looked back at him with an amused glint to his eye, a cocky curl to his lips. It was obvious he was enjoying their fight more than Ichigo was. There was no mistaking the confident jut to his hips as he remained afloat in the air and looked down at Ichigo.
From his position on the rooftop, one hand tightly grasping the edge of the ridge board, the other fisting around the handle of his Zanpakutou, Ichigo glared at the man who was so cock-sure he'd win this fight. It was aggravating how their recent battles have ended. Never really finishing, Grimmjow always escaped with the upper hand, smirking down at Ichigo as though he were some pathetic pup who tried to bite his ankle.
Ichigo's pride was hurt, and it fueled the angry determination to defeat the Arrancar. Were it not for the fact he was handicapped with pre-established fatigue from his training with the Vaizards, Ichigo was certain his anger would've been enough to push him toward victory.
Alas, luck was not on his side, as the darkening bruise on his side was telling him silently with its throbbing, so he would have to make do. It pissed him off that he was once again disadvantaged in this tango of theirs, but there was naught he could about it now. He could only endure. And endure he would.
He'd make it last. He'd jump as far as need be. He'd win.
"Y'know, Shinigami, I think I like you down there. On your knees."
Ichigo bristled at the casual mockery, barking back, "You won't see it ever again! Not if I defeat you!"
Grimmjow's smirk widened. "We'll see about that."
Gaze darkening at the casual comment, Ichigo pushed up to his feet, gaining his footing on the angled rooftop. Without warning he launched into the air, aiming straight for Grimmjow. He was met with resistance, the Arrancar once again countering his attacks with his own, hardly touching his own sword to assault him.
For whatever reason, Grimmjow seemed to prefer more hand-to-hand fighting. He grinned like a predator that loved to sink its own claws into its victim before devouring it. For Ichigo, it was frustrating and irritating to feel like some pathetic meal to this guy, to struggle against his attacks as a child would a deadly, full-grown wolf, starving for meat.
This inferior complex that burst open by Grimmjow's provocations gave him enough will to heighten his speed, slicing clean through the Arrancar's defenses and cutting him open. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to make a fatal cut, as Grimmjow dodged just in time to only damage his side.
With a grin and an amused chuckle, Grimmjow grabbed Ichigo by his wrist and jerked the sword away from his body, swinging the boy out, tossing him high into the air. Following the momentum, he brought his other hand up to point after Ichigo. "Bala."
Like firing from a sniper rifle, Grimmjow fired the bullet, piercing Ichigo's flesh in an instant, never giving him time to defend himself. The shot went clean through Ichigo's chest, racing up in a diagonal angle, piercing several organs at once.
Ichigo gasped only to cough and start hacking, fighting for balance as well as consciousness as pain seared through is body. He squeezed his eyes shut, gritting his teeth and shaking off the sudden blindness of his eyes.
"Damnit!" he cursed under his breath, regaining his footing. He hissed at the awful feeling in his chest and forced his eyes open.
"Are we done playing, Shinigami, or do I need to hit you a few more times?" Grimmjow taunted with a laugh. "Show it to me!"
Ichigo snarled, coughing up another spot of blood and spitting it out. He probably punctured a lung. "Fine! You want it, you got it, Grimmjow," he growled.
"That's more like it."
Ichigo ignored the pain and settled back into a proper stance, bringing his hand up to his face. Feeling the familiar dark power like a black cord at the corner of his conscience, he yanked on it, dragging his hand down across his face. In the shadow of a black burst of power, a porcelain white mask formed, hideous and threatening in appearance, shadowed, fire colored eyes menacingly glaring out through twin eye slots.
In an instant the air around them changed, dark with menace. Grimmjow grinned at the heavy feeling that settled on his shoulders, pleased with the evil intent that radiated from Ichigo's new form. It was like an energy rush for him to see the Shinigami so dark. In this form he was teetering precariously on the edge of good and evil, and all that was needed was a simple push from a helpful friend to cast that boy into dark oblivion.
Hell suited this form well. And the heightened power was a sin. A god-sent sin. "That's more like it!" Grimmjow crowed, sliding back into a fighting stance.
"You asked for it." The voice behind the mask was warped, ugly. It hardly sounded like Ichigo at all.
Grimmjow chuckled. "Come."
Ichigo shot forward without further prompt, slamming into Grimmjow with incredible force. Grimmjow laughed despite the fact he was being pushed back, forcing more strength into his attacks and he defended himself, countering whenever an open was available, shoving Ichigo back with a delighted ferocity only a bloodthirsty animal could possess.
Ichigo parried and caught jerked forward, catching Grimmjow by the collar of his gi.
"How long can you hold it this time, Shinigami?" the Espada asked, still grinning despite his situation.
"Long enough," Ichigo growled through that warped voice before slamming his fist into the side of Grimmjow's face, sending the man reeling back flying a good number of feet.
Gin neared the door, pausing just outside it to peer in between the cracks and listen to the going-ons inside. The distinctive voices of the Arrancar under Lord Aizen's rule, and the various Shinigami who fought against them, clashed together as the noise bounced around the spacious room, echoing off walls. Gin slid into the room quietly, spying the various screens spread out before Aizen, each one safely observing the battles taken place on earth.
"It entertains me to watch them."
Gin turned his gaze away from the screens to stare instead at the back of Aizen's chair. "Hmm?" he hummed lightly in inquiry, sliding further into the room.
"Their determination is fathomless."
"Ah. Is dat so?" He came close to Aizen's chair, standing beside it. He glanced casually at the other man's expression before turning back to peer at the various monitors of the faraway action. "--Oh? Look at dat! Dat Kurosaki kid is still alive."
"Grimmjow seems to favor him."
Gin grinned lightly. He reached forward and passed his hand over the length of the arm of the chair, switching all the images to center on the of Ichigo's and Grimmjow's fight. "I didn't think dat Grimmjow would play favorites." He tilted his head to the side. "I don't blame 'im though."
"Nor would I." Aizen's gaze slowly slid over to catch his, a small smile curling his lips. It wasn't so much a mirthful smile as it was a mischievous and secretive one. "The boy is an asset to the Shinigami."
"And a detriment to ours, aye?"
"...Not necessarily." Aizen returned his gaze to the fight, watching as Grimmjow overpowered Ichigo, cracking his mask with a direct hit from his Cero. "He could prove useful."
Gin silently inquired the meaning behind that sentence. He did enjoy hearing the other man's thoughts, getting hints to his plans.
"Even as a White Pawn, he carries the strength of a Knight. But with Hollow attributes, is he really so pure?"
He chuckled. "Kurosaki ain't easy ta taint, though."
"No, his connection to his friends and family make him too stubborn to be easily persuaded. His will is steel."
"But dere are ways around dat, ain't dere?" Gin grinned.
At this, Gin's grin widened, another chuckle escaping him. In the background was the sharp yell of pain as Ichigo was once more blasted by Grimmjow, his mask breaking into millions of pieces.
"'S long as Grimmjow don't kill him before he can be used."
"He knows better," Aizen replied. "He is more obedient than he appears. He needs only a small reminder, that's all."
Gin watched the screens, still grinning. "Y'know, d'ose two are a lot alike. Grimmjow and Kurosaki."
Aizen chuckled softly. "Very much so. That is probably what makes them so violent toward each other."
"Like two dogs chompin' on each other's neck."
"Yes... which is why it is so entertaining to watch them. We must be careful, however, because the game won't last long if either hound is put out of commission too early."
"Someone's gotta die eventually," Gin reminded. Another cry bounced off the walls as the screens displayed Ichigo crashing into a wall, smashing a hole through the brick. Blood soaked into his clothes, trailing down his bruised skin and spilling over the rubble. Just some dozen feet away from the damage stood Grimmjow, casually standing in the middle of the road. His harsh laugh echoed in the room. "By da looks o' it, Kurosaki might go first."
"It would be a shame to lose him. He is still a valuable player despite being White."
"Too bad he ain't got a twin."
Aizen smiled, leaning to the side in his chair casually, resting his chin on the curve of his hand. "...Indeed."
"Get up, Shinigami! I know you're not dead yet."
As if on command, the rubble moved, Ichigo shifting atop the haphazard pile. He groaned, gritting his teeth as he forced himself up to his feet. He panted, wincing against the pain that rocketed through his chest, encompassing most of his body.
"You wish," he spat, literally hawking blood and spit onto the floor. He glanced in disgruntlement at the mess he was in. He hated how horrible a shape his body currently was, adrenaline the main crutch that held him up.
"You have no idea."
Without warning, Grimmjow launched forward and snatched Ichigo by the front of his gi, throwing him out onto the street to tumble helplessly across the asphalt. Ichigo struggled to stop, skidding several feet. He grunted as he pushed up to his knees, bracing his free hand against his wound. He cursed inwardly at the sharp pain that electrified his very bones, sending him crashing back to the ground in a sweaty, bloody mess.
Grimmjow came up to him then, roughly kicking him to roll him over onto his back. Ichigo made to swipe at the Espada's legs with his sword, but Grimmjow stepped on his hand, stilling the attack. He grinned down at Ichigo, aiming a finger at his chest.
"Too bad, Shinigami. It was fun while it lasted."
He powered up a Cero, his blue eyes laughing at Ichigo's stricken, stubborn face. The boy was denying him the satisfaction of looking completely pathetic even in the eyes of death. Oh well. As if he really got off on stuff like that.
"Oi!" A hand immediately snatched Grimmjow's, pointing it away from Ichigo.
Grimmjow snarled at the sudden interruption, turning to glare at Gin as he stood next to him, the Gargantua gaping open behind him.
Gin clicked his tongue in admonishment. "Now, now, Grimmjow, we can't have ya killin' yer play mates, now can we?"
Grimmjow jerked his arm back to free his wrist, but Gin held it tightly. "--the hell are you doing, interrupting me!"
"But I came ta pick you and da kiddies up," Gin reasoned with childish seriousness. "Time ta head back home ta Papa."
Grimmjow snorted loudly at the nickname for their master. "Damn it." He jerked again, this time yanking his arm free. He looked back at Ichigo and gave him a snide look. "Looks like you're safe this time, Shinigami."
Ichigo didn't feel like he was lucky, though. He glared back despite his condition, watching with narrowed eyes as the two left through the hole, meeting the other Arrancar that were waiting there. The rip in reality slowly closed, giving Grimmjow just enough time to shove a rude gesture at him before he vanished from sight.
Ichigo coughed at the blood welling in his lungs, turning to the side to spit it out. He felt horrible, to put it simply. He ached, he was drained, he wanted to close his eyes and just surrender to the sweet oblivion that lingered at the corner of his conscience.
He didn't allow himself the satisfaction, however, as he waited out the pain, listening to his own haggard breathing. He hated how easily Grimmjow still beat him. Even with an increase to the time he could hold his mask, it still wasn't enough to match Grimmjow. And when he charged into the battle handicapped, it was stupid to think he could win. Still, he couldn't allow Grimmjow to roam free to harm innocents as he pleased. He couldn't let him destroy Karakura.
"That's why you need to train harder."
Ichigo looked up at the voice, spotting Shinji Hirako, his Vaizard supervisor of sorts, walk toward him, smirking as he casually came up to him.
"You wanted to become stronger, that's why you came to us. Now you just have to pull through."
Ichigo glared, weakly turning to find a less painful position, maybe even sit up if he could. "I have been! But it's still not enough."
"Moron!" a female voice interjected, drawing Ichigo's attention to the Vaizard Hiyori Sarugaki, Shinji's partner in crime, come near, tossing him a disgusted look. "You haven't been trying hard enough. Stupid."
Ichigo opened his mouth to snap out a retort, but was cut short when Hiyori kicked him in the gut, sending him down into the ground again.
"Tomorrow, we're gonna try again. And you--" she jabbed a finger at one of his bruises, earning a glare from him, "--are going to get better. Or I'll kick your ass."
"Of course I'll get better!" Ichigo cut in, swatting her hand away from him.
"Good. Now go to sleep, damnit. Don't you know when to fall unconscious?" Helping him out, Hiyori hit him again, knocking the wind out of him, and maybe some blood.
Ichigo hissed, clutching his wound. He tried to cursed Hiyori for handling him roughly, but the corners of his vision were already turning dark, and his long awaited blackout was taking hold of him now. Surrendering instead of resisting as instinct told him to, Ichigo let the darkness claim him and passed out.
Hiyori made a face, snorting again. "Idiot."
"He's learning," Shinji said calmly, glancing at her. "He'll get there." He paused to call over his shoulder, "Hachi--! Ichi needs to be picked up!"
A large man, Hachigen Ushouda, came forward and gently scooped Ichigo up into his arms.
"You know what to do," Shinji patted him on the arm, grinning. When the other man nodded, Shinji turned and started back for the Warehouse they'd been occupying lately.
Grimmjow growled inwardly as he stood before Aizen with the other Arrancar he'd taken with him to Karakura. One more he didn't expect to join them was that priss, Szayel. Their eyes met and instantly a spark of hate flew between them. They would never get along.
"Play nice, kids," Gin teased, grinning at them from his spot next to Aizen's chair. "Don't make us ground ya."
Grimmjow scoffed, turning to Gin, silently daring him to do something.
"Calm yourself, Grimmjow," Aizen interrupted, speaking calmly and casually in light of the subtle order. "There are reasons you were called back."
"Yeah?" he replied shortly, his voice rough with lack of discipline.
Aizen took the rudeness in stride. "I'm sure you are sour because you were interrupted, however you will have another chance soon enough. In the meantime, relax. I have something else for you instead."
Grimmjow gave a disgruntled expression yet didn't dare voice his protest. He wasn't some princess that needed a break from work every two hours. He wanted to go back out there and finished what he started. But because Aizen ordered he back off, he had to comply. Reluctantly.
"As for you, Szayel..." Aizen turned his gaze to the pink-haired Espada. "I do remember there was something I'd asked of you."
Szayel contained his displeasure and stepped forward, bowing slightly. "I have successfully recorded the battles between the Arrancar and the Vaizard, my Lord. I need only to analyze the research I gathered further in my labs."
"I hope you will be prompt with the results. You gathered information from all the battles?"
"Yes, my Lord."
"...Yes, my Lord."
"I hope for that one first, Szayel."
The Eighth Espada nodded, accepting the orders with little argument. He didn't need to humiliate himself again, and in front of the other Arrancar. Especially not in front of Grimmjow.
Aizen glanced at the other Arrancar and smiled kindly at them. "You may go. Rest, you have fought well." To Grimmjow, he added, "Leave yourself available." To Szayel, he said, "Stay with me, Szayel. I would like to speak with you."
Szayel hesitated, but bowed in acceptance. "...Of course, my Lord."
The other Arrancar left the room, Grimmjow lingering only for a second to cast Szayel a snarky grin before disappearing out of the room, leaving Szayel bristling like a pissed cat.
As he left, he separated from the other Arrancar, splitting down the various halls. He was angry he had to stop short, being so close to ending the game, but he had to comply. He had to hold his tongue. If only he didn't have to, damnit.
Hitting the wall as he passed, Grimmjow's lips pulled into a snarl. Perhaps he was the pissed cat instead.
To make matters just a hair worse, along the way back to his room, Grimmjow passed none other than Ulquiorra Schiffer, Fourth Espada. With such an impassive face, and equally impassive attitude, it irritated Grimmjow to be near the guy. Ulquiorra acted strictly on orders, never going a hair farther than he needed to, completely loyal to Aizen.
He was a walking, breathing pawn to a black king.
Sneering as they slid past each other, Grimmjow's ire grew when Ulquiorra blatantly ignored him, calmly, silently walking by as though Grimmjow's antics were nothing to him.
Ulquiorra continued on to the room Aizen occupied, quietly entering without prompt. Aizen smiled once he saw him.
"Ah, Ulquiorra. I want you to go with Szayel a moment. He will give you something of his. Once you have it, return to me. I have an assignment for you."
Ulquiorra met Aizen's gaze calmly, silently loyalty spoken in his cold eyes, a sharp contrast to the prominent green "tear trails" marking his face.
"Yes, Lord Aizen."
Afterwords: I've tried to stay true to the English translations but it JUST. WON'T. WORK. Damn it all, it grates on my nerves to use the English. I'll just stick with the Romaji version of... oh, well, everything. Just thought you'd like to know.
Also: The mentions of "Black" and "White" are not racial comments. They're references to Chess.
Thank you for your patience. I know it was a little different this time, and maybe a little wonky due to the length of time I had to mess with it. I hope you enjoyed it anyway. Please look forward to the next chapter!