Wow. Two years. It's been a really long ride since I started this story. Thank you so much to everyone who's been reading from the very beginning and to all those that have joined in along the way. I write because I love it but the feedback is fantastic and I appreciate everyone who has taken the time tell me what they think.
This story actually started out as a one-shot that just kept growing and turning into something else. I'm a little sad that it's finished now but I'm very happy that I was able to finish it.
Thank you again. :)
Epilogue- Part 2
As Grimmjow drove across town, he had to fight down the nerves that were roiling in his gut. They'd taken the car because it was a little too far to walk comfortably. Ichigo loved riding the bike that was parked down in the garage but depending on his reaction and how things turned out today, he might not want to be that close to Grimmjow. A little voice in his head was telling him that was just a paranoid thought but Grimmjow was feeling pretty damn paranoid right now. He wondered idly why this seemed to scare him more than anything else they'd been through but he was too frazzled to figure out why.
Ichigo had asked where they were going and Grimmjow had tried to be as casual about it as he could manage. He'd only said that it was a place Ilfort had suggested and he wanted to try something new. It had been very difficult not to start babbling to cover for his nervousness. But that would just make Ichigo even more suspicious. Fortunately, it only took about fifteen minutes to get there. Parking on the street, he got out and looked at the exterior of the bakery. It was a simple storefront that felt very welcoming like you'd be waking into someone's kitchen to get a home cooked meal.
Ichigo looked up at the small sign. "I wonder what made Ilfort come here. This doesn't seem like the kind of place he go out of his way to get to."
Grimmjow didn't answer as he went over and held the door open for him. Ichigo's lips immediately twitched in the beginnings of a snarl. When he felt like he was being treated like a girl or even worse, a wife, his temper tended to flare. Grimmjow just gave him his best shit-eating grin and dared him to say something about it. Knowing that it was a dare and that anything he said would just sound petty, the redhead squared his shoulders and walked inside. But a few steps in the door, he stopped and seemed to sniff the air. Grimmjow could see tension immediately settle in Ichigo's shoulders and prayed that he hadn't made a huge mistake as he came in and let the door close behind him.
There were no customers currently in the café and the only person present was a girl with black hair pulled back in a loose tail that was sweeping the floor. She had been the one yelling in the photo. Straightening, she opened her mouth to greet them but when her eyes settled on Ichigo, she froze and dropped the broom with a clatter. But only for a moment. Her expression immediately darkened and she stocked over with anger burning in her eyes. Grimmjow had seen that expression on Ichigo's face before and found himself rooted to the spot. He didn't even move when the girl's fist plowed into Ichigo's jaw.
"YOU ASSHOLE!" She yelled at him. She stared like she wasn't quite sure he was real. But then she moved in and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tight. Her words trailed off in a pained whisper as she buried her face in his shirt. "We thought you were dead."
"Is everything okay. . ." Another girl came out from the kitchen to see what was going on. When she saw Ichigo, her eyes widened and she screeched as she broke into a run. "Onii-chan!" She latched onto her brother like she was afraid he'd disappear if she let go.
Ichigo seemed frozen in place and he didn't know how to react. But after those first pained moments, he relaxed and wrapped his arms around the girls and held them close. Both were crying openly and when Grimmjow saw Ichigo's shoulders start to shake, he had to swallow around the growing lump in his own throat. His eyes flicked nervously toward the kitchen door, but there was no sign of Ichigo's dad. Since he hadn't come out to find out why everyone was yelling, it was probably safe to assume that he wasn't here right now. Grimmjow felt a little disconnected from what was happening but this moment wasn't for him. This was for Ichigo. Not wanting anything to interrupt, he flipped the open sign on the front window to closed. Nobody would be in any shape to serve guests tonight after this. They would definitely need some time.
It was the dark haired girl who looked up and noticed him first. Her eyes immediately narrowed. "Who's your friend?" she asked Ichigo.
Ichigo sniffed and turned to look over his shoulder without letting go of either of his sisters. He paused like he needed to think about it. "Uh, Karin, Yuzu. This is Grimmjow."
Karin seemed unconvinced that he wasn't a threat. "And who is Grimmjow?"
"He's mine," Ichigo answered automatically. It was a simple but definite statement. But for some reason, the declaration of possession didn't bother Grimmjow at all. He was Ichigo's, body and soul. Right now Ichigo was giving him a very mixed, significant look. There was suspicion and blame probably because this had been an extreme surprise. But over all of it was a profound sense of gratitude. Grimmjow just hoped that would be enough to keep him from getting his ass handed to him later. He wasn't going to argue about this and if the redhead decided to lay into him, he wouldn't fight back. Not this time.
Ichigo's expression suddenly shifted to worry and then outright panic as he looked around the cafe. "Where's dad?"
Yuzu seemed to understand and she hugged her brother again. "It's okay, he's fine. He's out delivering a birthday cake." She looked over at Karin. "Maybe we should call him."
Karin snorted. "And make Goat-face run off the road and miss the delivery? No way. He'll be back in a couple of hours. Let's just close up early and go home for the day." She glanced at the sign that had been turned around on the front door and slanted her gaze at Grimmjow. "Well aren't you just making yourself at home."
After the initial flurry of nervous emotions, Grimmjow felt himself settle. Smirking, he shrugged. "I just wanted to give all of you a chance to have your girl moment."
Karin's eyes narrowed dangerously again. "I'm not sure I like you."
Ichigo laughed and hugged her which made her scowl but Grimmjow noticed she hugged him back just as hard. Yuzu stretched up on her tiptoes to kiss her brother on the cheek before disentangling herself and heading for the kitchen.
"There's a couple things I need to do before we close up."
Almost an hour later, they were sitting around the Kurosaki kitchen table catching up on the last two and a half years. Urahara had moved Ichigo's family out of the city in secret. From there, Ichigo's dad had changed their family name to Kakusu and moved them two more times before they ended up here. The café wasn't super busy or hugely successful but they made enough to be comfortable. Yuzu was taking culinary courses at the local university and Karin was training to be a Karate instructor. Isshin managed the restaurant and kept a close watch on his daughters.
Ichigo did his best to answer all of the girls' questions in turn. They mostly wanted to know how he'd been, if he'd finished school, and whether or not Urahara had proposed to Yoruichi yet. But Karin was more interested in Grimmjow and how he came into the picture. That was a little more tricky. Aizen's name hadn't come up yet and Grimmjow wasn't sure how much the girls knew about what had happened. But he wasn't going to bring it up first if they didn't.
"Wait a sec." Karin grabbed both Ichigo's and Grimmjow's hands and tugged them across the table towards her. Her eyes flicked between the two of them and then down to the matching rings they wore. "Are you guys married?"
Ichigo winced and for the first time, Grimmjow realized he didn't even know if his family knew he was gay. Not wanting to step on his toes in how he handled that particular minefield, he let the redhead answer. But the girls spoke up before their brother could say anything.
"Where was the ceremony? Were there flowers? What color were they?" Yuzu asked him.
Karin smirked evilly. "Who wore the dress?"
Ichigo blinked. It didn't seem to matter to them that he was married to a man instead of a woman which surprised him. Riding the wave of relief that came from their immediate acceptance, Grimmjow took back his hand back and chuckled.
"He was such a beautiful bride." The comment earned him a laugh from Karin and a fierce scowl from Ichigo. But the tension eased before it had a chance to get really uncomfortable. Yuzu smiled and patted Ichigo's hand.
"As long as you're happy, it doesn't matter."
Ichigo took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he considered it. Then his face brightened with that smile Grimmjow loved to see. "I really am."
Smiling, Yuzu got up and headed for the kitchen. "Let me make something for you."
Ichigo followed to give her a hand. Before Grimmjow could join them, Karin snagged his wrist with an iron grip. He looked down at her fingers and then up at her face with a look that told her he wasn't pleased. But he didn't make a move to shaker her off. Her expression dared him to do something about it and he was more intrigued than anything else. She kept her voice low.
"I know he won't tell me even if I ask but I have to know. Is he dead?"
Grimmjow didn't have to ask to know who she meant. And it was probably true that Ichigo would dance around the subject if Aizen ever did come up. Grimmjow would be hesitant to tell Yuzu himself. She was just so sweet and he wouldn't dare do anything to make her unhappy but Karin seemed to have a more level, pragmatic attitude. She could take it and she deserved to know.
"Yes," he told her.
"Did it hurt?" Her eyes were hard. It was difficult to see that look on her face but it was completely understandable.
"Not enough. But trust me, he's gone."
Karin held his gaze for a few more seconds before nodding. Releasing him, she shook off the hardness and headed into the kitchen to poke Ichigo in the ribs. She took the bowl he was holding out of his hands and said something that made him glower before the expression softened into a laugh. When Grimmjow finally settled on a stool at the island counter, Ichigo sent him a questioning look but Grimmjow just shook his head. They'd definitely have to talk about all of this, but not right now. Grimmjow felt like he'd just passed some sort of inspection. But the real test would be when Isshin got home.
After they'd eaten, Grimmjow was conscripted for dish duty. But he didn't mind. With the exception of some of the things Ichigo had made for him, that was probably the best meal he'd ever eaten. It seemed that cooking skills ran in the family. When they were finished, they settled in the living room where they talked some more. Karin was interested in the motorcycle Grimmjow was building and Yuzu made Ichigo promise to take her to the art gallery. Grimmjow was surprised at how comfortable he felt. He wasn't a fan of people in general and the prospect of spending any sort of quality time with two teenage girls would normally make him irritable. But he had to admire Karin's forward and confident attitude and he liked hearing Yuzu laugh. And Ichigo. He was radiating a happy warmth that made him shine. Grimmjow felt something in him settle again. This was definitely the right decision but his nerves immediately revved up when he heard the front door open.
"I'm home darlings!" The buoyant declaration rang throughout the house. They all stood but nobody said anything. Ichigo and the girls seemed to want Ichigo's homecoming to be a surprise. "Anybody here?" Isshin called again. The sound of shoes being kicked off and the crinkle of a plastic bag could be heard from the entryway.
Ichigo moved across the floor so that he'd be seen the moment his father rounded the corner from the front hallway. He cleared his throat before he spoke. "We're in here."
Silence settled over the house and for a few moments, it was almost as if nobody had come in at all. But then Isshin came slowly around the corner. He reached out and set the bag he was carrying on the counter, not caring when it slipped off the edge to land in a heap on the floor. His eyes quickly took in the room with the practiced ease of a security professional which made Grimmjow blink. With everything he'd seen and heard about the man, he hadn't been prepared for that kind of skill. He started to worry all over again but Isshin's eyes temporarily dismissed him and settled on Ichigo.
"Hi, Dad." The redhead's voice was a little rough. Isshin stared at his son like he didn't really believe he was there. But then he move forward and pulled him into a tight hug just like the girls had earlier. Ichigo buried his face in the collar of his father's jacket. The tension in his shoulders had returned and his body shook as he let out a hiccupping sob.
"I'm so sorry."
"Shhhh." Isshin murmured soothing words and stroked Ichigo's hair as he rocked him. The girls were both sniffling as they went over joined them, wrapping their brother in a group hug with their father. They were a unit and Grimmjow felt a little bit like an intruder. His chest was tight with emotion and he rubbed the heel of his hand across his eyes. He really didn't know what to do with himself and he almost wished he could find a discreet way to leave. This was a very personal moment for them. But when they pulled back a little to take a breath, Ichigo turned to include him.
"Dad, this is Grimmjow." He met his father's watery yet surprisingly shrewd gaze. "I wouldn't be here without him."
"Pleased to meet you." Isshin held out his hand and Grimmjow came forward to shake but he wasn't quite sure if the other man really meant that or not. Ichigo's dad seemed to be reserving his opinion for the moment. But his mood was light as he reverted back to the goofiness that Grimmjow had initially assumed was his usual personality.
They all settled back in the living room where there was another round of surface questions and explanations about how Ichigo had been doing. Grimmjow was able to relax a little but every once in a while, Isshin would send him a speculative look. It seemed he still had his approval to gain. The way the man could shift his personality was mildly disturbing and it put Grimmjow on the defensive. But he tried to not let it show too much.
When it got late enough, Isshin sent the girls to bed. They had a catering order to fill the next day so even though they wanted to take the day off to spend with their brother, they needed to open the café. They begged Ichigo to come up with them so they could exchange contact information. But it also seemed like they were reluctant to let him go. Before he went up with them, Ichigo gave Grimmjow a questioning look. Grimmjow took a deep breath and let it out slowly before shrugging. He couldn't put this off forever. He'd have to face Isshin eventually.
When they were finally alone, all traces of humor left Isshin's face. His attitude wasn't really cold, just extremely cautious. Grimmjow honestly couldn't blame him. But after all the fear and apprehension he'd felt building up to this moment, he suddenly felt the nerves drain away. He didn't want to create any stress for Ichigo but he was not going to bow down to this man. He'd already lowered himself to doing that once for someone else and he'd never do it again.
"You know who I am, don't you?" he asked Isshin. If he'd kept tabs on Aizen at all, he had to know.
"I do," the other man replied coolly. It was hard to tell how he felt about it.
"I don't care what you think about me."
"I would have guessed otherwise judging from the way you've been fidgeting in your chair since I got here."
"I care about what Ichigo thinks and when it comes down to it, he's all that matters to me." And that was the heart of it. Ichigo was the most important thing Grimmjow had ever had.
"Which is one of the reasons I've allowed you to stay in my home." Isshin's tone suggested that had he chosen otherwise, the night would have gone very differently. But he sighed suddenly and slumped in his seat. "It appears that my son cares a great deal for you."
Grimmjow twisted the ring on his finger. "I care about him. Very much," he said quietly. He'd come out swinging with aggression like he always did but Isshin wasn't really fighting back. He seemed tired, like all of the fight had suddenly drained out of him.
"For whatever part you played in saving my son, I will be forever grateful."
Grimmjow raised his head and stared the man in the eye. "I'm sorry I couldn't save your wife." He froze as soon as the words left his mouth. He hadn't intended to bring that up at all. When it came down to it, he really meant it but this wasn't really the time to open other old wounds. Isshin stared back at him and stayed quiet enough that Grimmjow was worried that he'd just ruined everything. The lines around the other man's mouth had tightened and he suddenly seemed older. But there was also a dangerous glint in his eye.
"You were there that night."
"He sent me." Grimmjow was just digging himself deeper but he couldn't seem to stop. His heart was thudding in his chest. He didn't want to fight Ichigo's father but the older man had started to shake a little and his hands were clenched into fists.
"If you hadn't been there, I'd be dead too." Ichigo stood on the stairs watching both of them. Grimmjow had no idea how long he'd been there or how much he'd heard. The redhead looked down at his father who seemed to be trying to calm himself. "He was the one who called the police that night." Ichigo came down the stairs and into the living room before settling on couch next to his father. Grimmjow didn't miss how he'd placed himself between him and Isshin. He'd never wanted him to be in that position.
"You never said anything," Isshin said quietly.
"I-" Ichigo began. "I didn't really know what to say. Or how to say it." He sighed heavily. "And then I forgot about all of it for a while. I didn't want to think about it, so I didn't." Closing his eyes, he sat back on the couch and swallowed hard. "What does it say about me that I tried to forget her?"
"That you were trying to survive. You were quiet for a while but you found your voice and picked yourself up again." Isshin put his arm around Ichigo's shoulders and pulled him a little closer. "She would be so proud of you. I know that I am." His gaze shifted to Grimmjow. "But I'll be honest. I'm still not sure about you. This is the first time we've met."
Ichigo looked at his father. "After that first time, I didn't see him for more than ten years. It was after you and the girls left that I decided that I needed to do something. But I got in over my head. Grimmjow pulled me out again."
He gave his father a brief explanation of what had happened while leaving out some of the more personal details. After he was finished, Isshin sat thoughtfully for a few moments as if he were trying to process all of the information. It was clear he still wasn't quite convinced. To be honest, Grimmjow probably wouldn't have trusted him as much if he was. The caution was good. He really cared about his kids and Grimmjow had to respect that. But after a while, Isshin sighed and turned to his son.
"But it's not really about what I think. You've grown into a fine man and if you love and trust him, then I will trust you," he said solemnly.
Ichigo nodded and swallowed hard. "That. . .means a lot," he said, his voice rough. "Um. Do you think I could come into the café and help out with that order tomorrow?"
Isshin smiled. "We would love for you to be there." He hugged his son again and held him again until they were both a little more composed. "We start work at four in the morning so you should go home and get some sleep." Isshin met Grimmjow's eyes over Ichigo's shoulder and his look was hard to read. After Ichigo headed into the entryway to put on his shoes, Grimmjow held back a little to say one last thing to Isshin.
"We're not that far away from here." He hated the idea of letting anyone else into the space that he shared with Ichigo. But he couldn't keep the redhead from this just because he was feeling selfish. "You're all welcome anytime."
Isshin nodded and surprised him by shaking his hand again. Somehow it felt more genuine this time. "Thank you."
The drive home was quiet and Ichigo stared out the window the whole time. Grimmjow really wasn't sure what he was thinking. He knew this hadn't been a mistake but he was still a little nervous. The redhead head remained silent until they were finally home and inside the apartment. But as soon as the door closed, Ichigo turned and wrapped his arms around him. Pressing his face into Grimmjow's shoulder, he started to cry. It wasn't despair, or sadness, or stress. It was just pure emotion that he'd been holding in for years.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you." The words were muffled and tight.
Grimmjow held him and finally let go himself. All the tears that he'd never allowed himself to shed finally fell. "I love you."
They held each other for a while until they were both calm enough to breathe easier. Grimmjow felt a little drained. But it was a good, healthy tired feeling. And then Ichigo buried his fist into Grimmjow's stomach. He gasped for breath and frowned at Ichigo who was glaring right back at him.
"That's for not telling me where we were going," he said, his glistening eyes fierce with emotion. But then his expression softened and he reached forward to cup Grimmjow's face in his hands and kissed him gently. "And that's for not telling me where we were going. I'm not sure I would have been able to make myself go it if I knew where you were taking me." He kissed him again. "Thank you."
Grimmjow smiled and was nearly dizzy with relief. "I can't really take all the credit. Ilfort tracked them down and that's why we settled here."
Ichigo grinned. "Then I seriously owe him a kiss." Taking Grimmjow's hand, he led him back towards the bedroom. "Let's go to bed. I have an early day tomorrow."
Later, after Ichigo had fallen asleep curled up against him, Grimmjow pulled out his phone to text Ilfort. He knew the other man would still be up.
"I owe you big time for finding that café." He got an almost instantaneous response.
"I haven't decided what you'll have to give me yet." Knowing Ilfort, it could be anything.
"Ichigo said he'll give you a kiss."
Grimmjow chuckled. "No tongue."
Laughing quietly, he turned the phone off and set it on the nightstand before settling into the covers and wrapping his arms around Ichigo. The redhead snuggled closer and sighed contentedly in his sleep.
Grimmjow was so unbelievably happy. The things that were so important to him now where things that he hadn't even known he wanted. He had a home, he had his brother, and he had love. It was a little scary to think that he might actually have a family as well. He'd never considered the possibility of having in-laws. But he liked the girls and while Isshin probably still harbored some suspicion, at least they'd made peace for the time being. He let himself fall asleep feeling truly content and comfortable for the first time that he could remember.