Lesser Evil- 48

Grimmjow ducked the swipe of Ichigo's sword and swore. Again. They'd been training every day after Ichigo got home from school this past week and he was having trouble adapting to his new powers.

"Pay attention," came a growling voice from the general direction of his left knee. A tearing sting at Grimmjow's calf nearly made him fall off the rock he was perched on. He glared down at Pantera who sitting at his side pulling his paw back from where he'd just clawed him. The large cat looked irritated. Grimmjow could relate.

"I'm paying attention, I'm just pissed off." His former arrancar transformation had changed his body and all of his power had been focused on his melee attacks. Which was just the way he liked it. Grimmjow was an in-your-face kind of fighter and he liked using his bare hands. The new distance attacks of his desgarron and the panthers that sprang from his bankai just didn't have that same edge.

"You need a minute over there?" Ichigo had shifted his weight to one foot, cocking his hip slightly. His voice was mildly bored with a sarcastic edge. Normally Grimmjow would have enjoyed the biting words they often tossed back and forth but right now he was too pissed to appreciate it. He replied by leaping across the space that separated them and attacking. Ichigo brought his slim black blade up to block as Grimmjow's curved sword caught against it.

"Shut up," Grimmjow growled. "I've got it."

"You know, you never used to be this. . . Shit!" Ichigo twisted to the side as a tearing sound filled the air. The back of his jacket was ripped and it revealed a fresh set of scratches down the center of his back that started weeping blood. Pantera sat where the redhead had just been standing, casually washing his paw.

"Dammit, I told you-" Grimmjow snarled at the cat but it cut him off.

"You looked like you needed a hand."

"I don't need your damned help." This had been going on all week, a constant battle of wills that was seriously pissing him off. Not only had he lost his battle form, he gained a mouthy, manipulative pet that insisted on telling him everything that he was doing wrong.

"Really? You could have fooled me," the cat said nonchalantly.

"Are you going to keep doing this? Seriously?" Ichigo came over to glower at the panther. He reached around to his back and brought his hand up to see blood staining his fingers. "That was a cheap shot."

"There is no such thing as a cheap shot in a real fight. You win or you lose. Victory doesn't come from babying your honor." Pantera seemed disinterested in the anger shot in his direction.

Grimmjow didn't care that he'd practically said the same thing himself in the past, it wasn't what he wanted to hear. And he was getting tired of the cat going off and doing things on his own. He huffed an aggravated sigh. "I'm done." Releasing his bankai and sheathing his sword, he headed for the ladder. Ichigo bit his lip and followed him.

"Now why don't I get to come out and play like that? He and I never did finish our fight from the first time we met."

Ichigo stifled a groan as he heard his hollow cackle in his head. "Because that would just be trouble and you know it," he muttered.

"Aww, come on. I wouldn't. . ."


"You're no fun," the hollow pouted and Ichigo felt him shift restlessly. "You and I are going to have to have a nice chat one of these days. The kitty was right, there is no such thing as a fair fight and I don't think you quite get that yet. You're just not ready for the big stuff and you need to be."

"We will. Just not right now." Ichigo wasn't sure he liked the calm, convincing tone of the usually unstable hollow's voice.


Ichigo sighed before answering. The hollow had been respecting his space so far but he was right. At least a little bit. He still needed to work really hard to be as strong as he needed. "Yeah, I promise."

"Allrighty then," came the cheery reply. "I'll leave you to stroke his bruised ego." There was a distorted giggle. "Or to stroke whatever else will make him feel better." The lecherous tone was not lost on Ichigo as he pulled himself up the ladder. But after a few moments, his hollow retreated completely and left him alone. Grimmjow had already stalked upstairs by the time he reached the top and Ichigo closed the hatch to the training room with a small sigh.

School had been fine so far, nobody had tried to get the drop on him or ask him uncomfortable questions. But his mind wasn't really on the lessons most of the time. Occasionally, his eyes would flick to Inoue's empty desk. She was still in the Soul Society with Rukia. According to Renji who had given him his badge back a few days ago, she was coming back at the beginning of next week so she could get back to classes. But that's not what was really bothering him. Grimmjow had been having a rough time coping with the change to his powers. They didn't seem to suit him as well they used to and while he was still a deadly, capable fighter, he wasn't as happy as he used to be. Well, happy was probably a relative term but he was definitely bothered by it.

As much as he wanted to go up and see how he was doing, Ichigo stopped himself. Grimmjow had been prickly at best lately and would probably snap at him if he asked if he was okay. Maybe he'd just stay down here for a few minutes and let him calm down a little bit. But after thinking about that, he dismissed the idea. He'd be down here all night if he waited for that to happen. Ichigo headed up the stairs and braced himself for bitching and moodiness but when he got up to the apartment, Grimmjow wasn't there. His body wasn't on the bed where they'd left it either so he wasn't just in his soul form anymore.

Kon popped up from where he was sitting on the couch and gave Ichigo an exasperated look. "What the hell crawled up his ass and died?"

"Please, Kon. Don't start." The mod soul got along well enough with Grimmjow but he could start arguments pretty easily without really trying.

"Sorry," Kon muttered. "He just looked kind of pissed before he left and I was wondering if it was anything specific."

"Not really. He's just having a bad day."

"He has a lot of those, you know." Kon flopped back down on the cushions and started surfing through the channels.

Ichigo knew that first hand. It had occurred to him that they'd never really had time to settle down and live normally together. Or at least as normal as they could get. Their relationship worked well enough during turmoil as they stood side by side fending off the world. But it seemed to be faltering in the recent calm. He hoped it wasn't permanent because he found he really missed being with Grimmjow and they hadn't really done much together lately. His face heated as he thought about what they could be doing. But it wouldn't really solve any of their problems. No, they had to talk about it even if he had to beat him into the ground first to do it.

. . . . . . .

Grimmjow wandered the streets, his mood dark and irritable. He couldn't sit still and being cooped up in the apartment made him itch. Everything was pissing him off lately and he felt like he couldn't do anything about it. Fortunately, Pantera was smart enough to keep his distance at the moment. Grimmjow didn't think he could deal with that smug son of a bitch right now. The fucking cat thought he knew everything and seemed to enjoy shoving it in Grimmjow's face. Was every Zanpakuto such a pushy bastard? He frowned as he thought about Ichigo's. And then he frowned harder when he thought about the hollow.

The two of them were just weird. If a Zanpakuto was a reflection of someone's soul, what did it say about Ichigo that his was a depressing old man. And the hollow. That was just odd all by itself. It felt like a separate entity altogether and while it was definitely malicious and calculating, it seemed to want to help Ichigo survive as much as Zangetsu did. But probably only because it's survival depended on him. That made more sense. Grimmjow remembered how it had been holding the barely conscious redhead when they were both inside Ichigo's soul and began to wonder. There was a sudden thread of jealousy that twined through him, sharp and hot. The embrace hadn't been just an 'I-want-to-keep-you-alive-so-I-don't-die' kind of hug.

He was so caught up in his increasingly pissed off thoughts that he nearly missed the object that came flying at his head. Whipping around at the last minute and snarling in surprise, he pivoted and kicked it back where it came from. There was a chorus of surprised awe as the soccer ball slammed into a nearby light post and flopped limply to the ground after it nearly exploded on impact. Several children were watching him with wide eyes including Ichigo's sister Karin. She recovered first and came over to him, picking up the corpse of the ball on the way.

"Wait, Kurosaki!" one of the other kids yelled and held out a placating hand. "He looks dangerous."

She rolled her eyes and shot a look over her shoulder. "He's a friend of my brother's. It's fine."

One of the other boys glowered as he started to get confidence back after his fear ebbed away. "Yeah, well my ball's not fine," he muttered. He caught the deflated ball when Karin threw it to him.

"I'll get you a new one. Give it a rest." She shooed them off with a dismissive wave. "I'll see you guys to tomorrow." They continued to watch, their interest obvious now that they weren't scared. But the fear returned a little as she continued to glare back at them. Slowly, they trickled away in the other direction. Turning back to Grimmjow and tucking her hair behind her ear, her look turned thoughtful as she raised a brow. "You didn't have to kill it, you know."

He shrugged and kept walking and didn't bother to apologize.

"You and Ichi-nii get in a fight?" Karin jogged to catch up and walked beside him as she put her hands in her pockets.

Grimmjow snorted. "What makes you think that?"

"Well, he's not here and you look like you want to rip someone's face off. Or are you just pissy all the time?"

Grimmjow glanced down at her and frowned. Didn't she have any fear at all? Those other kids had practically pissed themselves at a distance and she was barely batting an eye under the full force of his glare.

"No," he said and kept walking.

"Good, so you're not doing anything. I've got to stop at the store on the way home and you can help carry the bags." There was a calm surety to her voice like she was utterly convinced he'd give a damn and do what she wanted. Grimmjow opened his mouth to tell her to go to hell but all that came out was: "Fine." Inwardly, he groaned and kept walking. He was turning into such a pussy. There was an echoing chuckle from somewhere in the back of his mind and he stomped on it hard. That had not been a joke. He followed the younger Kurosaki into a corner store and obligingly grabbed the bag so he could tuck it into the crook of his arm before following her back out. Grimmjow noticed that all she had in her hands was a small box filled with chocolate coated sticks. Shooting her another glare, he sniffed dismissively.

"Any particular reason I've been demoted to being your pack animal?"

Karin shrugged. "You were there." She shot him a sly, sideways glance. "And Yuzu's been asking about you. It was a good excuse as any to get you to come home with me so she'll stop talking about it." When he paled a little bit, she laughed. "Unless you're going to bail on me and drop the groceries on the ground."

"I'll manage," Grimmjow muttered uncomfortably. Ichigo's other sister made him nervous for some reason. More so by the fact she thought he was 'cute.'

"Some big, scary guy you are, Karin said chewed on a stick and grinned.

"Just shut up and give me one of those." Grimmjow held out a hand. Ichigo had brought home a box the other day, and even though Grimmjow would never admit it out loud, they were pretty damn good. Karin offered the box and he pulled out a couple sticks with his free hand. They munched pocky as they walked and remained silent for a while.

"So," Karin began after several minutes. "Are you and my brother really serious?"

Grimmjow flicked his eyes to her and away again as he considered his answer. Well, obviously they were. He'd been inside the redhead's soul. And he had Ichigo's heart. But as he thought about it, they'd been rather distant lately and he knew it was mostly his fault. Sighing, Grimmjow shifted the bag to his other arm. He felt mildly uncomfortable discussing this with Karin but for some reason, it wasn't because he didn't think she'd understand. Despite her relatively young age, she seemed to be a hell of a lot more reasonable than most adults he'd met so far.

"Depends on what you mean by serious, I guess." He wasn't going to talk about the sex. It just wasn't going to happen.

"Not sure really but most everybody expected him and Orihime to get together and it's pretty obvious that's not an option."

Orihime? The name sounded familiar. And then Grimmjow remembered that she was the girl with the healing powers. "Why would anybody expect that?"

Karin shot him an incredulous look. "I don't know, maybe because she's been salivating over him since they started going to school together?" She snorted and finished off the last of her pocky. "Not that Ichi-nii would notice. He's totally clueless about a lot of stuff."

Grimmjow felt another small stab of jealousy. It was bad enough imagining him in his hollow's arms. To think of him with a girl was just irritating. He didn't need to hear Pantera's murmured reminder that she had been the one to save his life. Grimacing, he pushed that whole thought train aside. "He's mine and I don't care what anybody else thinks."

If Karin was bothered by the possessiveness of the statement, it didn't show. She seemed to be lost in thought. After another stretch of silence, she turned to look at him with a direct gaze that bordered on being intrusive. "Something's different about you."

Grimmjow tried not to fidget. He wasn't going to talk about his shift from Arrancar to Shinigami either. "Not really."

"Yeah. Really. Can't tell what it is while you're in that body though. I wonder what you look like out of it now. I'm guessing it's not that white getup you had on the last time."

Grimmjow blinked at her for a moment. Her dad had used that poofy thing on her so she shouldn't even remember seeing him in his spirit form. Karin glared right back at him and dared him to deny it.

"I'm not stupid. And I told you. They can't make me forget. It doesn't matter that Dad thinks he's protecting me." Her steps became a little more forceful as if she were stomping her frustration out on the ground. "I'm not sure why Dad doesn't want me to know he's a Soul Reaper too. It kind of pisses me off that he thinks I can't handle it. I mean, Yuzu is the softer one but she can't even see spirits so that doesn't matter."

"I thought that thing he pulled out made it so you couldn't remember. Like when that guy with the afro pulled out his little memory thing."

Karin shrugged and kept walking. "Urahara's got some useful stuff at his shop."

Interesting. Grimmjow wondered if Ichigo and his dad had any idea how much she knew or that she was starting to take things into her own hands. Grimmjow couldn't help but admire her, at least a little bit. And he didn't blame her for being pissed. Lying always bothered him even when he'd been an Arrancar. If you couldn't win without cheating, what was the damned point? Taking advantage of every opportunity was one thing. Outright lying was different.

"So?" she asked after another few moments of silence.

"So what?"

"What's different? I mean, about you?"

Persistent. Grimmjow struggled for a vague answer that would satisfy her enough so she'd drop it. "I'm just playing for a different team now, I guess."

"Which side?"

"Ichigo's." That answer would never change. It didn't matter who the redhead fought for or against. Grimmjow would be there with him.

Karin merely nodded and continued walking as she pulled out her phone and started typing.

"What are you doing?"

Karin smirked. "Telling Ichi-nii that you'll be at dad's mercy all night if he doesn't come rescue you."

Grimmjow bristled at the thought that she figured he'd need rescuing but reconsidered when he remembered Isshin's antics around the family. He wasn't sure how to defend himself against that. Not that he couldn't hold him off if he had to. But for whatever reason, Ichigo's father didn't want any of his children to know he was a Soul Reaper. Playacting and pretending he didn't know could prove to be difficult. And Grimmjow might not have the patience to deal with his goofiness especially with how touchy he'd felt lately. Taking a deep breath, he let it out in a long sigh.

"Jeez, you look like you're preparing for a fight. It's just dinner."

"Yeah. Dinner at your house." And Ichigo wasn't here as a buffer this time and a thought suddenly occurred to Grimmjow. "Maybe you should carry the bag."

"Why?" Karin stuffed her hands in her pockets, pointedly refusing to take it.

"Because it may not survive the flying tackle that might be heading my way."

Karin shook her head and laughed. "Goat-face only does that to Ichi-nii." She grinned. "If we hurry up, we'll have a front row seat."

Grimmjow chuckled as he felt some of his tension and irritation ease. For some reason, he was incredibly amused by the image of Ichigo being broadsided by his loud and obnoxious father.

Twenty minutes later, he was laughing again as he saw it for real instead of just in his head. Ichigo was cursing from where he'd landed in a heap under his father's foot.

"Such language, my son. I'm appalled. I-ooof. . ." Isshin was cut off as Ichigo flipped him bodily across the entry hall.

"When the hell are you going to cut that out! I'm not eleven anymore and I don't find it funny." But clearly, everybody else did since they were all smiling, Grimmjow included. Ichigo opened his mouth to continue his rant until he caught sight of Grimmjow's expression. He huffed in irritation before smiling tentatively himself. Until his father recovered and pinned him to the ground again.

"It's past time you came home for dinner like the thoughtful son you should be."

"I'm a little busy, Old Man." Ichigo flipped their positions. "At least I called the last time."

Their little wrestling match was degenerating into a slapping fight that was only interrupted by Yuzu calling them all to the table. As much as he'd complained, Ichigo couldn't help but feel something settle in him at the familiarity of the exchange. And seeing Grimmjow smile for the first time in days was more than worth a few stray bruises from his father.

Ichigo had been in a mild panic when Karin had sent him that text earlier. The thought of leaving Grimmjow alone with his family freaked him out a little. They seemed to like him but he was still an arrancar. Or at least he used to be. Now he was something different an neither of them knew how to deal with it. But they'd figure out something.