Note: This time it's Strawberry's POV. I changed the rating, it's M now (some language, some violence, some sex) so that noone would feel offended.

As for the story itself, the characters may seem a bit OOC but I believe that they would behave like that if they love and have to go through such situations. Just imagine it :) Also, there is some RenjiRuki in the background, just in case... Enjoy!

When I come home, I always wonder if he would be there. It's like a game I play with myself, trying to determine the conditions of his coming to me. Like for example: it's raining so probably he won't come. But then does, so the reason must be something else. When the darkness was falling early I went as far as connecting his behaviour with the moon being full of new but I gave up this scheme pretty fast. It would be too complicated to observe and I felt stupid studying moon phases. He would die laughing if he knew.

There is no pattern. He comes when he likes. When he feels like seeing me. I got used to it, although it wasn't that easy. Especially in the beginning. I was head over hills in love not to mention I could barely think because of hormones. I wanted to see him everyday. I needed his presence to perform my usual duties. I was dying to fall asleep in his arms after making love so passionately we both were on the verge of passing out. But it was always the same. He came or not, I had nothing to say. There was no way to make him appear in my window or on my bed if he didn't feel like coming. I thought he should take my needs into consideration; I was enraged when he was absent for a day or two. I was sure I was giving him much so I can have my expectations as well. Which he disappointed, one after another. Funnily enough, it changed after a talk I had with Urahara. I knew that Grimmjow was living there, at least from time to time. After he disappeared for a few days, I came to the shop, apparently by accident. I pretended to be looking on something on the shelf when I noticed Urahara staying with his arms crossed and an ironic smile on his face.

"Hello, Kurosaki-kun," he said with a smile hidden behind his fan, "Searching for something specific?"

"No, no," I shrugged, pretending to be indifferent, "Just looking."

"Sure?" he sounded as if he contained laughter, "Not looking for a cute pet?"

"No," I gulped, feeling even more uneasy than a second ago. I knew it would be like that. I shouldn't have come there.

"A cute cat. No?" he continued, having fun.

My cheeks became purple. It was no use.

"With turquoise… fur?" Urahara's voice was innocent but his smile wasn't.

I must have had a really stupid face because he laughed aloud.

"Ok," I muttered, surrendering. "So where is he?"

"I don't know," Urahara shrugged and I resisted the urge to kill him. I just looked at him heavily and went back to observing goods on the shelves, not really knowing what to do with myself. I didn't think what would I do if I didn't find him at Urahara's shop. To be honest, I had no idea what to do if I would have met him there as well. I was angry with him and above all, I missed him as hell.

"May I tell you something, Kurosaki-kun?" he begun again. I raised my eyes to meet his gaze. He looked quite seriously and I nodded, intrigued. He continued, "You should learn something about cats. They value freedom. They would do whatever they please, no matter what you would do. So instead of searching for him, make everything he would come to you again and again, out of his own will and need."

He was right. Damn right. I felt like a scolded, spoilt child.

"Oh, don't have such a serious face!" he laughed again, "I'm sure he would like to come back soon! Who wouldn't!"

I got irritated and embarrassed again so I quickly said my goodbyes and went out of the shop, followed by Urahara's cheerful laughter. I was walking home slowly, pondering on what he'd told me. Grimmjow was really a cat-like person and cats go their own ways. I knew that, I just didn't want to acknowledge it. I wanted him to be there for me every time I needed him but I quickly had to realise I had two options: accept him as he was or finish this relationship as soon as possible. The latter was beside the point so in fact I had no choice but to change. You always think someone should change for you but usually you don't have the power to transform anyone beside yourself. At least, I was in such a situation. So I decided to give him his freedom.

It's possible to say I lacked self-confidence. I had to fight my jealousy and anger every time he didn't come. I didn't know what to do with myself, on such occasions I was useless. But I had to learn how to deal with his absence. It was hard, believe me, but thanks to it I treated his every visit as a pleasant surprise. But it would be a mistake to think that because of my appreciating his coming we had a peaceful and idyllic relationship. Even though I felt happiness all over my body, rushing through my veins and sparkling in my eyes, it was hard to express it. He is not the easiest person to deal with and I'm not the one either. So we always quarrel a lot now and we did it constantly in the past. But deep inside, apart from all frustration, I felt that my heart beat in the rhythm of his breath. And even when he was ruthlessly making fun of me, I was seeing some warm twinkle in his eyes. Maybe our relationship wasn't the healthiest one and even now there are many things we should work on, it gave us something I wouldn't exchange for anything else.

But sometimes it was not enough. Sometimes after having sex he remained very far away from me. I was lying next to him, cuddling to his side but his thoughts were wandering in other places, other dimensions. Even though his hand was stroking my hair at times, he wasn't there with me. When I asked him about something he would turn his head and look at me vacantly as if he was surprised that I was there or even as if he tried to remember my name. It froze me every time and I moved away to my side of the bed, confused and embittered. On such occasions I wanted to hear, not only guess, what he felt for me. But usually he stood up, stretching himself as a cat would do, and went out through the window, without a single word, without a kiss. I was all alone with my uncertainty, being hurt and wanted to cry. But I never cried because I'm a man, after all. I just lay in the darkness with eyes wide open, breathing heavily, and I couldn't stop thinking that he was just using me, that all I was for him was a nice fuck and as for the rest he didn't care. I thought that I should stop it, break this devastating relationship and didn't let him take advantage of me every time just because I was in love and he wasn't. During these cold nights I was almost determined not to let him play with me and fool me once again. However, in the light of the day I saw it all in brighter colours and when he came back again, I was surprised and happy as always. We talked, laughed, quarrelled, fought, kissed, cuddled, made love and just cherished the moments of being together. So I forgot about all bad moments, till the next time the story repeated. But that was the way he managed his relationship with me and although at times I didn't have the slightest idea what he was thinking about while lying next to me and sometimes I suffered and hated him, I got used to it somehow. He was hurting me but I preferred to be hurt by him than not to have him at all.

The turning point came quietly when neither of us sensed it. It started with my awful day at school after which the only thing I wanted was to appear in his arms and stay there for the rest of the night. But then, of course, everything went wrong and instead of relax we had another quarrel. I was tired and got irritated by his light-heartedness while he wasn't able to cope with the fact that I was going on my missions from time to time. He was jealous of all the fights I could have during them. We said too many cold words and accusations that we probably didn't really mean. All in all, we parted in anger.

I woke up exaggerated because of the stress and tiredness after all the schoolwork I was doing late at night. I felt bad about previous day's quarrel with Grimmjow and wanted to talk to him when he'd come to visit me that night. If he would. But I had to do my mission first and I went to Seireitei for more detailed instructions. Yama-jii didn't waste his time on me as always and it was Sasakibe who told me I was to kill a hollow somewhere in the mountains. The monster was clever and already killed a Shinigami. On hearing that I couldn't resist not to snort. Of course. They usually asked me for such things – dangerous opponents so that none of their people would get hurt but also not too splendid cases because then they would have to deal with me in Soul Society too often and gave me some titles or things like that. Their gratitude after my victory over Aizen was short and sometimes I wondered why I was doing these things for them, all these missions. Maybe I felt more like Shinigami than I was willing to admit. Maybe deep in my heart I missed fighting which had some meaning. Maybe I just wanted to get stronger.

I was to go in those mountains together with Renji. I was happy to meet him, as we didn't see each other for a while. He acted a bit strangely, though. When we headed to the outskirts of Soul Society, he stopped and asked, if I could go further alone. I must have looked confused because when we had talked before he hadn't mentioned anything wrong going on.

"It's nothing too important," he explained seeing my face. "Well, at least it's not that… bad. Ichigo," he looked at me pleadingly, "I must be somewhere else today."

I remained silence.

"I know, I know," he continued staring at me closely, "It's probably a dangerous hollow since they told us both to go and get it but c'mon, it's you. You'll kill it within a second and I…"

"Ok, just give me the real reason," I interrupted him. I wasn't scared or angry but felt that again someone was using me and I started to have enough of it.

"Rukia," he said not looking in my face.

"What's with Rukia?" I asked quietly sensing my anger growing. I knew that they started dating or whatever it should be called in Soul Society and, after all, I was happy she found her happiness. I was happy with my awkward relationship too. But if anyone hurt her, I would kill that person without batting an eyelid. And I knew she would do the same for me.

"She… she was injured during her mission and she's in hospital now," Renji explained, worried look on his face.

"Why didn't you tell me?!" I lost my temper, "What did you think?! That I would go on that mission without seeing her in hospital? How's she?"

"Calm down," Renji looked confused and irritated at the same time. "She's getting better and better, no worries. I was told not to tell you, ok? They knew you'd go to her so they forbade everyone to even mention that to you! But…" his eyebrows twitched, "I'm with her… I mean, I'm her… partner. I should be by her side now, don't you think?"

I heard all the unspoken things he wanted to say. That it was him who should visit her, not me. That it was all wrong that I was the person they didn't want to tell about her state because they knew I would postpone the mission in order to see her and became convinced she was alright. It was him who was at her side everyday so he should stay there. I knew all this. So I nodded and said it was ok with me. I would defeat the hollow quickly myself, why wouldn't I?

We parted and I went farther alone. I was worried about Rukia but knew that Renji should be the person sitting beside her bed now. I thought I'd like to be with Grimmjow instead. I wished we had walked together, shoulder to shoulder and then fought in the same manner. He was forbidden to come to Soul Society and not for the first time I felt anger and disappointment with this Seireitei and all its rules. I wanted to believe it was a better place but in fact it remained quite dark and gloomy. I reflected there had to be something dark and gloomy in me then since I continued to work for them. I almost smiled, as I knew perfectly well what it was. Although I didn't have to put my hollow mask to often on my face these days, it was still there, somewhere inside me, ready to wake up.

When I reached the destination they described to me I didn't feel any hollow energy. I was walking back and forth raising my energy level to lure it but I still was unable to sense anything. Yama-jii left some details for me but I thought they were useless now. According to them one person should lower his reiatsu as much as possible and hide somewhere while the second should be used as bait. Very well, but now I had to be the bait and the killer in one so I had no tactics – just to lure the hollow and smash it to pieces before it would do the same with me. I sat heavily on the stone and watched evening falling and violet shadows appearing in the sky. I could only wait and so I did.

I was on my guard all the time but I really didn't see it coming. I felt no energy, no slightest reiatsu. Only the pain in my cheek and strange hotness when my blood started to flow from it. I leapt to my feet and I managed to repulse the next attack. I saw it in the darkness. The hollow was big and it looked like the whole surface of it was moving. When I attacked it with all my strength I noticed it had many limbs that it could lengthen or shorten at its will. Apart from that the hollow had human posture, but of course it was bigger than an average person. The awful mask was twisted in a horrible smile and two muscular arms were parrying all my blows. He, as I treated all hollows as males, was strong and damn fast. I still barely sensed his energy; he must have had some special technique with which he was able to hide it. His moves were all quiet as if I was fighting a ghost. But I felt he was backing with my every move and I thought I could lead him this way to the pile of rocks and then use my hollow attack to finish him off. However, as we moved, still fighting, I realised it was him who led me to an entrance to a small cave, probably his hideout. It couldn't be deep so I decided to let him believe he was leading me into his trap but then stay in the very entrance where the moonlight was illuminating the cave. So I went there for a few steps and that was my mistake.

Immediately, he shot his arms towards me and I had to jump aside, unfortunately I moved left instead of backing and he took advantage of it. Blast shot from one of his limbs made the rocky ceiling fall and again I had to make a few steps deeper inside the cave not to be hit by falling stones. Then the hollow started another attack, his blows more and more savage, faster and stronger. I couldn't do much just to defence myself. It was completely dark in the cave, no light managed to come through the stonewalls. I was concentrated on the reiatsu of the hollow and quiet sounds made by his arms while he was attacking but otherwise I saw nothing. Suddenly the monster withdrew somewhere in the impenetrable darkness, lowering its reiatsu to the minimum. I felt only his presence but I wasn't able to distinguish any move, I didn't hear any sound, just my heavy breath. I was deprived of my eyesight, my hearing was also limited and that damn creature made it even worse by not emitting reiatsu. I held Zangetsu ready for attack or dodge but nothing happened and it was this stillness that made me feel nervous. Then, all of a sudden, I felt a wave of energy and moved my sword but it cut only air, my senses were slowed by the darkness covering me tightly. I felt sharp pain in my leg and a second later I was screaming because hollow's limb pierced through my thigh. I waved Zangetsu in a flash and managed to cut off this tentacle-like leg. Gasping, I touched the injury and felt blood coming out of it like from a spring. I tried to concentrate and sense hollow's reiatsu to attack him and finish this madness but once again, complete stillness fell over the cave. It was then when I broke out in a cold sweat. I realised he was simply toying with me.

I should have known better than this. I shouldn't have gone into his trap so readily. I was biting my lip concentrating on every little sound, every tiny movement of the air in the cave, not to let him take me by surprise once again. But the pain was so severe I was breathing with difficulty and I saw red spots before my eyes. I braced myself up and attacked darkness where I assumed the monster was waiting. I felt my blade cutting the skin but I knew I missed, it was only a flesh wound, and I was far from hurting him for real. And I paid for this – another arm, leg, whatever it was, punched me in the chest so heavily that I gasped and he took advantage again, thrusting his blade-like arm into my stomach. I cried out and it was the only sound I heard, growing in the darkness as my blood was spilling on the ground. The thought came through my mind that I defeated Aizen and now was losing to some damn hollow but I couldn't do much about it, the pain was almost unbearable and although I parried the next blow, I could barely stand on my legs. The following one knocked me over, Zangetsu fell somewhere near but I couldn't reach it. The hollow started beating and kicking me, I tried to cover my injuries with my hands and I got a punch into my head, so strong I nearly passed out.

I started to panic. I tried to move and reach my sword but I saw nothing, I heard nothing but my gasps. I was made of pain; I tasted my blood, felt in on my hands, on my eyes, on the ground where I was lying. I knew I had one chance, I had to kill son of a bitch with one blow, otherwise I was finished. I was covering my stomach with one arm; I stretched the other and felt the ground with fingers in order to find Zangetsu. He must have sensed it in some inexplicable way because he brutally stepped on my palm and I clenched my teeth not to shout again. The next kick threw back my head and it hit against the stonewall. Then, it all stopped.

I was lying, making another attempt to take my sword. I couldn't put on my hollow mask, I was too weak. I thought that it was the end. After all spectacular victories I'd die in a cave, killed by a random hollow. I saw the face before my eyes, the face I longed to see, the one and only that truly mattered to me. The one with ironic smirk and warm feelings hidden deeply in his eyes. I thought I'd never see him again. I wanted him to be there with me, to protect me because I was unable to manage on my own, because I was weak and miserable, for the first time so much. And I was scared, scared like a little child and on the verge of crying. All the fights in the past came to my mind, there was always some shadow of fear but I knew I would win, this certainty gave me strength. But it was absent in that cave, in complete darkness. And I thought it was because of my loneliness there, because there was no one to care. Some people in Soul Society would probably sigh with relief after my death because dealing with me must have been confusing in some ways as I was on outcasts' side; Rukia was injured herself and my friends didn't know what was going on with me. He didn't know either. But he should be there; he should save me, because I was his.

The hollow approached me; I finally felt his presence, so close to me. But it was too difficult to move. I was still looking for Zangetsu, knowing that only with my sword I have a chance to fight back. Then I felt his arms on my shoulders, pinning me to the floor. I tried to pull out, my terror growing, fingers desperately searching for the sword. His other limbs started touching my bruised body in a slow, lustful manner and I screamed, almost petrified. I thought he was going to hurt me even more, they way nobody hurt me before and I couldn't allow it. I understood that I was just a terrified animal not a powerful Shinigami, that I was only sixteen and I wanted to be saved. And then the hollow lowered his head and I realised what he was really going to do when he bit off the piece of my shoulder.

He was going to eat me.

I cried out desperately and somehow found strength originating from my primal fear to break free a bit, enough to finally catch the handle of Zangetsu. And then I felt it – this strange, disturbing feeling that I felt only twice so far: when I was fighting with Ulquiorra and then with Aizen. I saw blinding light and knew the hollow in me was taking the control. I let him.

Everything around me exploded in that inexplicable light which came from the world of darkness itself and my consciousness sank in soft non-existence.

I woke up in the hospital of the Fourth Division. Of course, it took me some time to realise it as my mind wasn't at its best and my body presented a sorry sight. I was unable to eat on my own, not to mention talking or walking. I had nightmares in which someone was eating me, bit my bit, chewing my skin and breaking my bones. I was waking up and catching my breath heavily, scared to death every time. It was pitiful. My condition was pitiful. The fear that settled in my heart was pitiful. Finally, my longing for Grimmjow's presence was probably most pitiful from all. Because he wouldn't like to see me being so weak, so scared, so pathetic.

I didn't know for how long I'd been lying in that state, coming from burning hotness to freezing coldness, my mind wandering through many worlds and dimensions. I was looking for him, I wanted to see him badly as well as being afraid of the meeting at the same time. When I finally opened my eyes and looked around more consciously, I saw Rukia sitting next to me. She was almost cured then and explained what happened to me after I allowed my inner hollow to take control over me. Renji came back to me after talk with Rukia, she was worried about me and preferred him to help me so, although reluctantly, he went to the mountains. Just to find me lying on the grass, covered in blood, with pieces of hollow all around me. I was unconscious and my reiatsu was so low that he was horrified I might get killed but I was still living so he took me to Seireitei. I was fighting for my life for about four days but captain Unohana took care of me and I was visibly getting better and better. Rukia looked at me uncertainly so I assured her I wouldn't say anything about Renji's absence. I knew she was feeling guilty with the whole situation and I didn't want to make it even worse. As for Renji, I didn't bear a grudge against him and when he came to see me and apologise I told him not to play the fool because it wasn't his fault. I was just tired and wanted them to leave me alone. I felt like a piece of shit, I was ashamed and it was difficult to look them in the eye. I wanted to disappear from Soul Society as quickly as possible. Of course, Gotei 13 thanked me officially (me and Renji, that is) and wished me a quick recovery. But I felt uneasy, knowing I blew the whole matter. After all, it wasn't me who defeated the hollow. I was the one who lost, miserably.

So immediately after I was able to walk, or rather limp, I decided I must go home. My family might have been worried and… Maybe he was worried as well. He probably didn't know what was going on or at least I hoped so. Because if he had known and didn't come… I drove these thoughts away because otherwise I'd go crazy. I hated to do so but I had to ask Rukia for help with disappearing from the Fourth Division's hospital quietly, without informing neither Unohana nor anyone else. I was still to weak to walk fast; I was getting dizzy at once. Rukia wasn't delighted with my idea, she threatened me my wounds may open any time and they probably would during passing to my world. But I had to go back. I used my family as an excuse, but my real reason had turquoise hair, ironic grin and a bone on the right cheek.

After a few hours, completely exhausted, I found myself going up the stairs in my house after a brief talk with my sisters. My condition was visibly pitiful so I told them I had a small accident but it looked worse than it was for real, so no worries. I'd be fine in a few days' time. My stairs never seemed so high as on that evening and when I reached the second floor, I was gasping with eyes wide open, feeling that my wounds were burning. I opened the door and saw him inside, lying on my bed as usual. As if it was a normal day. I wished it had been but it wasn't.

He was staring at me without a word when I closed the door quietly and dropped my things on the floor. I stayed in the middle of the room, not able to face him. He stood up and approached me but my head was still lowered. He grasped my chin and raised it to make me look him into eyes but I wasn't ready for it. My gaze was still full of fear, pain and shame. I wasn't the person he liked spending time with. I needed some time to get that person back. So I looked away, avoiding his eyes. Then he shook my chin gently.

"Ichigo," he said demandingly and I couldn't resist any longer, I met his glance.

We stood like that for a few minutes, long as hours. He seemed to read the entire story from my eyes and I just wanted to disappear. Close my eyes and fall asleep, without dreams, without nightmares.

"Who has done it to you…?" he asked slowly, gazing at me. His eyes were full of anger and some kind of… hurt? I thought that he might be disappointed with me because I disappeared without a word for a few days. But then I thought that he was doing it all the time and shouldn't make such a fuss when it happened to me. Not to mention the reason of my absence. Something in me rebelled against such treatment but then I looked at him more closely and I noticed that his face was full of worry.

I was so tired I didn't think clearly. It was obvious he did care for me; he wasn't such an insensitive bastard after all. I was exhausted, both physically and mentally. I didn't know what he expected from me, I wasn't even sure if I myself knew what I would like him to do. For the first time I found myself unable to approach him and put my arms around his neck. After all what happened, I felt dirty. Because of what hollow did to me and because of my fear and shame that nestled in my heart.

"So?" he insisted.

I didn't want to explain the whole story to him. I wanted to forget about it all as soon as possible. Unconsciously, I touched my bruised cheek.

"It's nothing, really," I managed to shrug, feeling uneasy under his heavy gaze. My words felt foreign to me, I wanted to shout how depressed and pitiful I was, how I craved for his hug and how much I didn't want him to abandon me because of how weak I was then, in that cave. "The mission… didn't go exactly as planned… but you see, all injuries are almost healed up," I tried to smile but all images appeared in my head once again and I felt rather miserable.

"I'm not talking about your injuries," he said quietly. "I mean your eyes. Who has done it to you?"

I looked in his face, mesmerised, into his light-blue eyes full of concern. Few days ago, in that complete darkness, I longed to see them so much it was more painful than all the wounds. My desire was to see the feeling I was observing at that moment.

I felt shame, pain, gratitude and affection, all at once. I felt disgraced in some way as if it was me who was guilty. The whole incident returned to me, punched me and almost smashed to pieces. I wanted to say that something horrible happened to me, that I was scared and needed him so badly. That I wanted him to hold me and make me forget all the pain, anger and fear. But I couldn't say a word. I thought that if I said anything, I would start crying like a baby. "I am not that weak," I repeated and repeated in my mind. The only thing I could do was to shrug and gave him a helpless look.

Again, he raised my chin.

"Why are you scared?" he asked, touching my injured cheek, my swollen lip, and my black eye. I couldn't have been too pleasant to look at but he seemed not to care at all. He kissed me lightly. His lips against my own were like cure. I felt my mind coming back to my body at last, after floating in non-existence, scared and ashamed. I returned the kiss, feeling at home.

I could feel his passion, rising like a wave with every kiss, every touch. Although it hurt, it was purifying. All negative feelings were melting inside me, numbness was leaving me. His hands were already under my shirt, touching the bandages I had all around me. I moaned because of pain but didn't want him to stop. With his eyes looking at me tenderly, with his hands on my body, all the darkness was disappearing.

I thought that I always believed in him. Even though I had my doubts, unsatisfied needs and desires, somehow I knew he would be with me to save me. He was saving me now, with his every movement.

An image came to my mind: it happened a few weeks ago, we were in Dangai together. We fought a hollow or rather it was him who defeated it. I was standing nearby, observing his every move. His pleasure was almost tangible. A crooked smile appeared on my face, a mixture of irony and pleasure. He was as a child playing with a favourite toy; despite he was a killing machine at the same time. He was entertaining himself, trying to come as close as possible to the hollow and I knew he did it to provoke me and get me into a fight. He was always doing that which was driving me nuts. But I took my time, not letting him have his own way with me. After he finished, he seemed to be a bit disappointed and asked me what I was waiting for.

"For the moment when you'll need me to save you, idiot," I replied, cheerfully, which made him even more irritated.

"You could have a problem if I were dead already before you decided it's high time to move your lazy ass," he growled.

"Oh, Grimmjow is so afraid somebody would injure him?" I laughed, dodging his blow a second later, "No worries, I won't let anyone else touch you," I added and because the declaration had some undertone his face straighten and a sly smile spread across it. He loved when I talked about double-meaning things, especially when I did it unconsciously. Which happened to me too often, I'm afraid.

But later I did let somebody touch him. That damned hollow with horns that I smashed to pieces but not in time to prevent that monster from hurting him. Now he let another one touch me. We were quits. But I saved him after and now he was saving me.

Just as it should be.

He wanted to take off my shirt so I raised my arms to help him and the pain struck me so hard I reeled against him, biting my lip not to shout. He pushed me gently on the bed so I sat there, fighting dizziness I felt.

"Show me," he demanded in a low voice. He was really quiet and it was unusual. He should shout at me and insult me that it was ridiculous to let your enemy come so close and do such harm to you. I thought that he fought disturbing emotions just as I did. I took off my shirt with his help, hissing and clenching my teeth. He looked at all the bandages without a word. There was a stain of dark blood on the bandages wrapped around my stomach and shoulder. As Rukia said, the wounds must have opened. The third one appeared on my jeans, on the level of my thigh.

"Was that a hollow?" he posed a question and I only nodded, lowering my eyes. The shame was crashing me.

"Is it dead?" he went on inquiring. I nodded again, looking at his feet. He came close to me and crouched down beside my bed, our faces almost on the same level. He looked at me intensively.

"Who killed it?" I heard the tension in his voice.

"Me," I replied quietly.

He looked at me a minute more, then stood up with a sigh and patted me on my head.

"Good," he said. Tenderness and some pity in his voice, eyes, every movement. I raised my head, surprised. I waited for being scolded, ridiculed. But he just sat in front of me on the floor cross-legged and kept on looking.

"Otherwise I'd have a problem," he continued, smiling a bit, "How to travel to damn Soul Society to kill it myself. Or, if it were someone else, not you… Maybe I'd also want to kill the guy," he squinted his eyes, "I don't want you to feel… Or maybe… Such a person… Well, I don't want to share. You. With anybody," he finished, irritated.

I remained silence. Because it left me without words.

"Ok, just don't have such a face!" he lowered and turned his head to look me in the eyes. "Does it… hurt a lot?"

"No…" I said in a small voice. My emotions were so overwhelming I was afraid I could really burst into tears if I started to speak louder. I wouldn't survive such a shame. He held his tongue so I added, "Tomorrow I'll go and ask Inoue if she could do something with it. I didn't want to spend too much time in Soul Society, having you all worried what happened to me. So I didn't wait till the injuries will be healed completely and… well, you can say I ran away from their hospital," I tried to smile.

"You should go to her now," he sounded irritated. I laughed up my sleeve – my favourite cat was back. He continued with his usual face, "That's just like you! You'll bleed to death in your own bed rather than disturb somebody's sleep. You should go and see a psychiatrist…"

"Guess who's talking…" I managed to smile at last, fighting slight nausea caused by pain. It was still sending shivers down my spine and resulted in a strange hotness in my head. I didn't want him to notice that but there must have been something strange in my face because he sat next to me on the bed looking concerned.

"Maybe you should lie down," he suggested, touching my shoulder. It was that shoulder and I hissed against my will. I gave him a frightened look before I could think – I didn't want him to feel rejected but my pain was too severe to contain. But it was my gaze that worried him more.

"Why are you scared?" he repeated the question and I was able only to shrug and open my mouth but not to say anything. Once again I was in the dark cave with the hollow pinning me to the ground and I had to use all my strength to fight back tears.

"Ichi?" he asked softly.

My only response was a helpless look. I felt like an idiot. I was so awfully pitiful I wanted to die.

But it seemed he knew me better than that. He told me to lie down and turned off the light. My body ached like hell. The bed stood close to the window and some moonlight came through it and lay on my bed sheets. There was something soothing and comforting in this pale light. I felt Grimmjow lying down next to me and embracing me gently, clinging close to my healthy shoulder.

"I'm here," he muttered, "So there is no need to be afraid."

I knew how he hated saying such things. How much it probably cost him to say these words. I snuggled my face into his shoulder, thankfully. He was holding me tight but gently, no one in my whole life held me quite like that.

"I'm so pitiful," I muttered, "I hate myself for that. Sorry you have to put up with me in such state…"

"Oh please, stop talking fucking nonsense," he interrupted me with irritation. "How about apologising for being hurt by some fucking hollow? C'mon, just stop it. You're the one who should listen to apologies now! From that Soul Society bastards and… nevermind," he stopped suddenly. But I knew what he wanted to say and I understood it was his awkward way of saying 'I'm sorry' and I accepted these untold words.

His warmth was passing to my body, circulating in my veins. I felt safe and when he asked me, "Now, tell me everything," and added the nickname, Strawberry, which always makes me melt, I found myself talking, relating the entire story with details. It was hard. All images were returning to my head, all awful feelings squeezed my heart and mind once again. And when I finished my cheeks were wet and my breath wasn't even but he was still embracing me tightly.

And it was then that I let go all the pain and fear. I wasn't alone. He could put up with such an idiot like me. He did care. He brought his lips closer to my ear and whispered things I always wanted to hear and he knew about it.

"See, Strawberry, I'm useless in talking and you had to almost die to make me talk this way," he ended with his usual smile and I couldn't help but to smile back as I felt happiness returning to my world. After a while he added in a serious voice, "I know I… maybe I'm not the ideal… whatever you'd like to call me but… Ichi, you idiot, I'd die for you, in case you have any doubts so don't you dare thinking otherwise 'cause it makes me mad."

I hid my smile in his shoulder.

He is a bastard, arrogant and tactless at times. He comes when he wants and disappears when it's convenient for him. He hates big words and is always ironic, smirking at me all the time. But he is there for me, in his strange, cat-like way. I can deal with it. I agree. I couldn't have anything better.

One day we will learn how to satisfy undisclosed desires of our hearts. I know we will, we are not too far away from that moment. Believing in it makes it possible. As simple as that.

On that day I was falling asleep with his chin on my shoulder, believing that the moon was shining only for me.

December 12, 2009