Chapter 7:

La Ciudad

Renji hummed to himself as he approached Ichigo's apartment door, twirling his spare key in hand. Ichigo had given it to him in case of emergencies, but he sometimes used it when he didn't feel like knocking on the door. It was early, anyway, and he worried that his friend might still be asleep.

In his free hand he held a bag of freshly-made donuts from Ichigo's favorite place down the street. Renji figured they were an appropriate apology for his drunken antics the other night. He didn't remember much of anything, but when he woke up in his own bed the next morning he realized Ichi must've gotten him home somehow.

When he reached the door, he didn't bother knocking. He eased himself in as stealthily as he could. He was doing fine at being sneaky until Ichigo's cat, Baka, decided to entwine herself between his legs.

"Oi! Baka!" Renji hissed, struggling not to trip over the purring feline. "Where've you been, anyway?"

Baka liked to disappear for days on end. Sometimes she brought back 'gifts' for Ichigo, but more often she just showed up unexplained. They still hadn't figured out how Baka got into the apartment when Ichigo wasn't home – he didn't own a cat door.

Ichigo called her Baka because she was such a pain in the ass – she slept on his face, interrupted his showers, and walked all over his homework. But Renji knew that despite all of his complaining, Ichi loved that cat like she was his baby.

Renji dropped the keys and the bag of donuts on the kitchen table, then wandered into the living room. He frowned when he saw the fold-out bed was, well, folded out, and that there was a mess of covers and pillows on top.

He shrugged and turned away to head down the hall to Ichigo's room. There's no way his friend had a girl over – he'd be the first to know, right? And why would she be sleeping in the living room, anyway? Oh my god. Renji thought suddenly, stopping in his tracks. Maybe he'd brought her home and she was horrible in bed…or he pulled down her pants and something else was down there.

Renji marched towards Ichigo's bedroom door purposefully, ready to lend a much-needed helping hand. His friend would not be forced to suffer any longer. There was a creak of a floorboard behind him, but he barely registered it as he reached out to open the door –

A hand wrapped around his neck and dragged him away from the door, the other jerking his left arm behind his back and twisting it harshly, trapping it there. "Who are you?" A voice growled next to his ear.

Renji thrashed against his assailant, wincing when his arm was cranked further up his back. "What the fuck?" he yelled. "ICHIGO!"

Grimmjow snarled and staggered as Renji convulsed in his grip, but he stood his ground. "Why are you in Ichigo's house?" he demanded.

"Me?" Renji howled incredulously. "Who the flying fuck're you?"

"I am Grimmjow," Grimmjow said. Renji just continued to flail.

Just then Ichigo burst out of his room, eyes wild as he beheld the sight before him.

"Oi! Ichigo!" Renji cried out. "Is this your she-male?"

"My what? Renji, what the fuck are you talking about?"

"Then who is he? And tell him to let me go!"

Ichigo sighed, rubbing his temples. "Grimmjow, please."

"He was trying to break into your room," Grimmjow said seriously.

Ichigo removed his hand from his forehead and let an open expression lighten up his face as he looked straight at Grimmjow. "It's alright! He's a very close friend. It's okay."

Grimmjow slowly let Renji go, keeping his eyes on Ichigo the entire time. Renji stumbled away, rubbing his left arm. His eyes flitted between the two, and a mischievous look flashed across his face.

"Oh, I get it," he said with a chuckle, elbowing Ichigo playfully in the ribs and raising his eyebrows up and down suggestively. "Ichi, I never knew –"

"Would you just shut the fuck up?" Ichigo said crossly, and pushed Renji into the kitchen. "It's not like that you idiot."

Grimmjow cocked his head and followed the two young men into the kitchen. He sat down directly across from Renji at the table, letting him know with his sharp glare that the redhead was not welcome.

"This is Grimmjow. Grimmjow, Renji," Ichigo said, pulling down plates from the cabinets. "He's staying with me for a while."

"Pleasure," Renji said with an expression that looked the exact opposite. He extended his right arm for a handshake, but when Grimmjow just regarded the hand with an unchanging expression he slowly pulled it back. "Uh…where did this Grimmjow come from?"

Ichigo swallowed. "He was just, you know. I kind of, um, found him?"

"The fuck? You taking in bums now? Are you crazy? This monster nearly ripped off my arm, he could kill you in your sleep!"

Ichigo replied with a sharp "he's not a monster!" as Grimmjow snarled from across the table. "I would never harm Ichigo," he spat.

Renji leaned back, stunned by the force of their twin outbursts. He looked at Ichigo, confused, but the young man said nothing as he set out napkins and picked up the bag of donuts.

He placed a chocolate one on Grimmjow's plate with a smile. "You'll like this one. I know it looks weird but it's really good, trust me," he said brightly.

He tossed the bag to Renji, but the red-haired man just held it, trying not to gape at the scene in front of him. Ichigo sat down next to Grimmjow and tried not to laugh as the blue-haired man took a tentative bite after sniffing the whole thing around – then wolfed the rest of it down with a look of sheer pleasure. Ichigo looked up suddenly as if broken from a reverie.

"Well come on," he said. "Don't hog the bag."

Renji passed it back, still shocked. Grimmjow grabbed two more, one chocolate and one glazed, and Ichigo took out three for himself as well. When Renji got the bag back he sat there and picked at a blueberry cake, confused as hell.

"Thanks for bringing these, by the way," Ichigo said. "Any particular reason you stopped by?"

"Oh, um…I wanted to apologize for the other night," Renji replied. "At least, I think I do."

Ichigo smirked. "Yeah, I had to drag you up ten flights of stairs you asshole. You're welcome."

"Thanks," Renji said sheepishly, and then shook himself. "Ichigo –"

Ichigo silenced him with a glare, and then made a motion that meant, Later. Renji sighed and returned to his food. He could eat now that he knew he'd get some answers soon enough.

As soon as Grimmjow stalked off to take a shower, Ichigo pulled Renji into the living room and sat him down on the fold-out bed. He took a seat next to him and looked into the redhead's eyes seriously.

"Well?" he asked.

"What's going on, Ichigo?" Renji demanded.

"Renji, all of that stuff we heard, about Las Noches? It's all true," Ichigo said, sighing heavily. "He esaped, and I took him in."

Renji paled. "Ichigo, they're gonna come after you! They've got to be tracking him somehow, y'know? It's not worth it to put yourself in this kind of danger."

"No, you don't understand!" Ichigo snapped. "He's staying here with me, there's no way I'm turning him out. Once you get to know him, he's…" Ichigo struggled for the right words to describe the powerful, quiet man. "Just trust me." He'd been saying that a lot recently.

"I'm just…worried, Ichigo," Renji said. "I understand why you're doing this, it's fucked up what they do to people down there, but…this is serious shit, my friend. You need to be on your guard."

"I know, I know," Ichigo said.

He felt a worry gnawing at his gut, and he suddenly began to fear for himself and for Grimmjow. Were they really tracking him right now? He wondered how, and then thought of Grimmjow's collar.

But then he recalled how Grimmjow had reacted the last time he had tried to get close to it…Ichigo shivered. They'd have to get that collar off eventually, sooner rather than later. He hoped he'd be able to build up Grimmjow's trust enough to be able to convince him to remove it.

Renji stood up as the sound of the shower stopped. "I guess I'd better head out. I'm meeting Rukia for an early lunch."

Ichigo smiled at that, letting his troubled thoughts fall into the back of his mind for a moment. "Have fun," he said, and walked Renji to the door.

He returned to the kitchen and cleaned up the plates and trash, waiting for Grimmjow to emerge from the bathroom. Ichigo was excited to do a little walking out in the city streets. It was a beautiful day, and a great chance for Grimmjow to begin to expose himself to the world aboveground.

Aizen sat up in a rage, ripping tape and needles from his arms as he struggled to stand up from the hospital bed. Tousen stood across the room from him, near the door – as far away as possible. He knew not to cross Aizen when the man was like this. It didn't happen often, but when it did, someone usually paid for any transgression with a bullet through the head.

"Two," he ground out, his words barely above a whisper. "Two of my pets have escaped, Tousen, within twenty-four hours of each other. I am not very happy to hear that. At all."

"I understand, Sir."

"I didn't ask for your opinion, Tousen."

The man stood silent.

"This represents a serious breakdown in discipline. I've been too easy on them all…they are not understanding that they are my property. I think they need to be taught a strong lesson in obedience."

Tousen let the man carry on his monologue. He watched as Aizen's eyes darkened; he was no doubt remembering how Nnoitra had drugged him and gotten away. Tousen knew that that was the root of Aizen's rage – he favored the Fifth Espada, he prized that pet above all the others. Tousen watched in growing trepidation as the heart monitor beeped with Aizen's growing agitation – the man had not yet ripped off the markers taped to his chest.

"Tsk, tsk," A voice sounded at the door, and both men turned to see a pink-haired man saunter in, a clipboard in hand. "you need to be resting, My Lord." Szayel bowed deeply, a glint in his eyes that Aizen could not see.

Aizen scoffed and rolled his eyes. "Hello to you too, Doctor. Tell me, how did Nnoitra get his hands on such a strong tranquilizer? You keep them locked up."

"How, indeed," Szayel answered, covering his mouth with a gloved hand. "As you said, there seems to be quite the breakdown in discipline…perhaps not just in the Espada, but…elsewhere as well."

Aizen narrowed his eyes. "What are you insinuating?"

"Nothing, My Lord," Szayel answered. "I would never dream of betraying you, I am only asking that you be aware."

"Oh, I know that you would never betray me, Szayel," Aizen said. "You're been with me since the very beginning. I'm just so distraught. I've lost Nnoitra, you see. He was my jewel – I could use that body of his all day."

Szayel stiffened imperceptivity. "Then I pray that you retrieve him," he responded, perhaps a little too quickly.

If Aizen could tell, he did not show it. "Lock up the rest of the Espada, and double the security on all doors of the basement," he said to Tousen. "And what's the status on their location?"

"They've been secured," Tousen responded. "I'm sending out men now as we speak."

"Good," Aizen said, settling back a little. "Very good, Tousen."

Grimmjow followed behind Ichigo closely. They were surrounded by people – the streets were full of them, pressing against each other, walking, eating, singing, laughing. There were people that Ichigo called buskers who sat on street corners and made beautiful music with great wooden and metal instruments. Grimmjow was mystified by them and could have stood there watching all day, but Ichigo pulled him away to see more of what the city had to offer.

They stopped at many places and did something called shopping – there were buildings filled with food and clothes and other goods that people could just take – in exchange for money, of course. Grimmjow was happy to follow along as they entered several of these buildings. He took in the sights and smells of each one, sometimes picking up items he found intriguing and adding them to Ichigo's baskets.

His favorite additions were a can of strawberry milk that he was excited to try and a…candy, he remembered it was called, a type of candy called chewing gum. Ichigo said you chewed and chewed to suck out the flavor, but did not swallow. This was interesting to Grimmjow and Ichigo willingly let him have it.

He really loved shopping for produce – the feel of fresh fruits and vegetables in his hands, the smells varying from sweet, to savory, to spicy, to bitter. Ichigo taught him how to check for ripeness of a fruit and the vitality and freshness of a vegetable, and how to tell between a small number of spices.

He trailed along beside the orange-haired man, helping him choose groceries and breathing in the scent of each new object that entered his vision. He was a bit overwhelmed, but in a good way. He couldn't wait to bring all that they had bought back home.

Home. Grimmjow felt a small weight in his chest as he thought of that word. He had already become accustomed to the small apartment, had familiarized himself with and taken a liking to the familiar scent of the place, and of Ichigo. The thoughts he had harbored of leaving to fend for himself now seemed highly undesirable. He wondered how long Ichigo would tolerate him before he grew weary of watching after him.

As the pair walked away from the busy market and turned into a mostly empty alley, Grimmjow felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He felt cold all of a sudden, and he put out his arm to stop Ichigo from walking.

"What? What's wrong?" Ichigo asked, looking around with alarm.

Grimmjow merely snarled, and in response three men stepped out from under a doorframe. Two held crowbars, the other a sick-looking knife.

"Your Master desires your return, Sexta," one of the men said. "If I were you I'd come quietly before he sends out more…persuasive enforcement."

A second man, this one with blond hair, turned his body to eye Ichigo. "What's this, Sexta? A friend?"

Grimmjow just glared in response, pushing Ichigo behind him.

"Aww," the blond man said with a sneer. "Kill the redhead."

Ichigo dropped the bags he was holding as the three men leapt towards him, ready to defend himself. But Grimmjow didn't let them get very far; he dodged the man with the knife, and grabbed the blonde-haired man at the neck.

He buried his fingers into his flesh, crushing his windpipe. Grimmjow then threw him against the wall, where he slumped to the ground, choking on air that refused to enter his lungs.

The man with the knife lunged again, this time slicing through Grimmjow's shirt and tracing a red line across his stomach. Grimmjow made no sign that he felt it, but twisted to the side and grabbed the man's outstretched arm.

There was a horrible snapping sound as Grimmjow brought the limb down, breaking it over his knee and then pulling the man across his body to collide with the third assailant, whose bat was midway through landing down on Grimmjow's back.

The blue-haired man was a whirlwind of motion, a snarling warrior. He dodged as if he could anticipate each move and retaliated with such ferocity that Ichigo's stomach dropped.

When all three men fell to the ground around him, he stood still – then clenched his fists at his sides and let out a howl of pure animal pride. He turned to Ichigo, his face still on fire from the heat of battle. When he saw Ichigo involuntarily take a step back, the light faded from Grimmjow's eyes.

"Are you afraid?" He asked. His chest heaved as he panted, and blood stained his clothes – not all of it was his.

"No," Ichigo said. He willed his voice not to quake, and steeled himself, stepping forward to inspect the slash across Grimmjow's abdomen. "No, Grimmjow. I'm not afraid." And he meant it.

Then Grimmjow did something completely unexpected, something he had no knowledge of but his body seemed to recall instinctually. Adrenaline singing in his veins, the rush of a victory ringing in his ears, Grimmjow reached out and clutched the back of Ichigo's head, ignoring the shocked gasp the action evoked.

He looked into the young man's clear eyes, and saw a mess of emotions there – fear, confusion, and something else that Grimmjow could not name, something that he felt too.

And Grimmjow kissed him.

Two chapters in one day, holy shit. I figured you all deserved something with a little more substance after, what, nearly a year and a half? How have you all been in that time? I feel like I'm meeting old friends. Which reminds me, hello to new readers too (cough, Alexa).

Please leave a review, they spur me on when I feel blocked, and they encouraged me to add this extra chapter. And anyways, your opinions keep me in line, I love reading them.

Hope everyone's summers are going great, see you next update.