The sun filtered through the trees in a pearly sheet. Dust floated in front of his eyes. Due to the heat, the square was virtually deserted and he seemed to be the only one there, sitting on a rickety iron chair at a table in front of a small, abandoned cafe. Though he stayed under the shade of a large tree his clothes were sticking to his skin, and he could feel moisture drip unpleasantly down his back. As far as he knew he had been the only customer that whole day; everyone else had wisely chosen to stay inside instead of braving the heat. He himself would have chosen to sleep away the hottest part of the day but this had unfortunately been the time chosen in advance for the meeting.
He didn't know who would turn up. He didn't know what they would look like. Hirako had only said that he would 'know when it happened', and the the memory of that exasperating man and his casual evasiveness caused irritation to ripple in waves under his skin.
Lips curled back into a slight snarl. He smothered it immediately. There were things he'd had to change: mannerisms, the tone of his voice, his body language, not to mention his looks. Short cropped hair dyed a chestnut brown and contact lenses, sometimes brown and sometimes a toned-down blue, in order to make him fit in with other, 'normal' people.
And his name. His name.
It wasn't until he'd changed it that Grimmjow realized that he had actually been quite fond of his name. 'Grimmjow Jaegerjacques' was rough. Abrasive. Hard to understand. It fit him to a T, and now that he switched between other, more common names, he found himself chafing underneath them. Their normality, their blandness, their lack of anything close to what he identified as.
But that had all gone now. Everything was gone. Grimmjow Jaegerjacques was dead, and an impostor had taken his place.
Anger stirred in his gut. He quelled it forcefully, downing the last of his iced coffee and feeling sweat trickle down his forehead. He wiped it away with the back of his hand, eyes searching the empty square. There was no one, and he sighed. Nothing but a dirty white fountain trickling pathetically.
He tipped the edge of his hat over his eyes to shade them from the burning sun. The heat made his scalp itch but his roots were growing out and he didn't want anyone to notice that his natural hair color was blue, of all things. An appointment with his most trusted hair stylist – his father – was overdue.
The sound of soft footsteps drawing closer had him opening dark brown eyes, slitted against the light. A figure was approaching him. He stiffened, and couldn't help a small sneer scrape across his teeth.
Brown hair, brown eyes. Not pale but not especially tanned, either. Average height, average looks, dressed in a suit that hundreds if not thousands of other men were also sporting, this person was nothing out of the ordinary. He would meld seamlessly into a crowd, slip in and out of houses and hotels and countries with no one any the wiser. Completely innocuous. Innocent.
Closer and closer. With every step dust rose. There had been no rain for days.
"Excuse me, sir. Would you happen to have a light?"
The stranger smiled apologetically. Even up close, he was completely forgettable.
"No," a gruff voice answered him. "Don't smoke."
"I see." A pause. "You wouldn't mind if I stayed in the shade with you for a moment, would you? It's so warm outside."
The man's German was smooth and perfect, with no accent that hinted towards a region of origin. A chair was pulled back before an answer was spoken, and the stranger pulled out an old pack of cards from his back pocket, spreading them out in a fan shape on the small wrought iron table.
"May I ask your name, sir?"
A slight, hesitant pause. His name...was it safe...? "Leon. Leon Muller."
Such a common name. Easily slipped from the mind; hard to trace.
The stranger smiled. "Very nice to meet you, Leon. My name is Paul."
"Of course." There was a hint of sarcasm. "So...Paul. What brings you here?"
The smile did not fade. "I was hoping you would ask that. Pick a card, please."
There were no questions asked. Scowling Grimmjow took one of the proffered cards and laid it face up against the table; though it was old and battered, through the dirt one could see that it depicted a man riding a chariot led by horses.
Paul smiled broadly. "Ah, yes. I'm not surprised you would receive this. The chariot - it represents perseverance, a journey, a rushed decision, adversity, turmoil, vengeance. Very fitting. Adversely, however, it can also mean defeat and failure. I would be careful if I were you."
"What sort of mystic bullshit is this?" The other man growled. "I'm not here to play games."
"Hush. All will be revealed. Another card, if you will."
Grimmjow checked his frustration and did as he was told several times over, uneasy under the gaze of this stranger. He barely listened as the meanings to his chosen tarot cards were recited, his hands clenched around the edge of the table. He was hard put not to leap at the other man there and then and beat the information out of him, but even as Grimmjow listened Paul's slow smooth voice changed in intensity as he leaned forward, deft hands shuffling and flipping the cards as easy as breathing.
"You'll be glad to know that your friend, though he's not been trapped yet, is in hiding. Those who abandoned him have been let off with a light slap to the wrist. The majority have changed their names and moved abroad, but a few remain." Paul's voice was low, confidential. "All is going smoothly. He is in no position to hunt. For now, you're safe."
Abruptly, a cloud covered the sun. The temperature dropped. A waiter stopped by and asked if they desired anything more. 'Paul' was silent, but Grimmjow – he always thought of himself as Grimmjow, even now, even though it was risking his life to do so – ordered an expresso.
He licked his lips, which suddenly felt dry and cracked to the point of bleeding. "And...what about him?"
Paul cocked his head and fluidly gathered up the cards into a single pile with what seemed like one movement. "I don't understand. Who are you talking about?"
"You know fine fucking well who. Enough with the mind games." It came out in a low growl.
His only answer was a slight smile. A cool breeze picked up, and the trees rustled.
"He's safe. No need to worry."
That was it. No elaboration. The waiter came back and placed a small expresso cup on the table, was paid, and left. Silence stretched between the two men before Grimmjow coughed discreetly, or as discreetly as he could manage. Paul smiled, understanding the signal.
"I shall of course leave you now, sir. I'm sorry to have bothered you. Thank you for the directions, I can't believe I'm so far away from my destination. Have a good day." He rose and bowed slightly, before turning and walking away.
"I would watch your temper if I were you." Eyes locked with his, froze him in place. "There are some things about ourselves we don't want to change. But you don't have that choice. Anger reveals the true self, and that you cannot afford. Goodbye."
Paul nodded and walked away. Grimmjow stared after him, face expressionless as the words sank in, swallowing heavily. He watched until the stranger was gone, no longer anything but a memory. Thoughts tumbled messily in his head, wired and electric. His jaw clenched and he stood up suddenly, scraping the chair back.
Hands stuffed in his pockets he walked away, hat tipped over his eyes. His heart felt heavy, as if made of lead, weighing in his chest like a deadweight. His eyes burned - from tears or irritation from the contacts, he didn't know. He was thinking about one thing and one thing only, one person, the one man he had given up everything for.
There was still a picture, in his wallet, hidden and slightly crumpled. Him and Ichigo, both grinning wildly into the camera, the sun lighting up their eyes like stars. His most precious possession, he never took it out but it was good to know that it was there. That Ichigo was still there, and the last few years hadn't been a beautiful hallucination. There had been so many moments of pain, frustration, ecstasy. That, he would never regret. He would never regret Ichigo.
Lost in his thoughts and drowning in memories, Grimmjow left the square and disappeared into the orange-scented air, long legs eating up the distance. Soon there was no sign that he had ever been there.
Lavender clouds gathered in the air, as if the sky was blushing with its skin blue. Nothing but the soft murmur of trees, the faraway sounds of families in their homes, the buzz of cars and motorcycles. And in the summer heat, wisps of steam danced into the air as a cup of coffee sat upon a table, forgotten.