Grimmjow wasn't in his blue jumpsuit, but instead was in a black tee and jeans, sitting down on the sofa in a room Ichigo recognized to be the living room of his apartment. His greyish-blue cat Pantera was curled up comfortably on his lap, eyes closed and ears twitching occasionally. Grimmjow looked content as he stroked the cat's fur almost adoringly. Ichigo felt his cheeks burn at the sight of the small smile on the man's lips.
Grimmjow finally turned to look at him but the smile vanished into a frown. "What are you looking at?"
"Nothing," Ichigo said quickly. The other man's expression softened slightly. He motioned to Ichigo to come closer. "C'mere."
Ichigo did quietly.
"You said you like me, so why are you acting like you're scared of me?" Grimmjow asked.
"I'm not…" Ichigo didn't know how to convey what exactly he was feeling. "I'm not scared. But it's just that... when I see you like this, you're almost untouchable, like you're out of reach. I'm happy enough just to watch you." Grimmjow scowled.
"What crap are you talking about?" he said harshly, and Ichigo kept quiet. But the man reached out and pulled him closer, bringing Ichigo's head to his shoulder. He turned his head to lightly rest his head on Ichigo's, with his chin by the shinigami's forehead. His voice lowered to a soft, gentle whisper so unlike him that Ichigo remained silent from surprise. "I'm happy you're here, Kurosaki. I'm not out of reach now, am I?"
Ichigo's breath stopped for a moment. He grabbed onto Grimmjow's shirt as if he could disappear any moment. He sighed and breathed in Grimmjow's scent. He tilted his head up a little for his lips to brush against Grimmjow's cheek. Ichigo heard Grimmjow purr in response, which he smiled at.
Or perhaps that was the cat. The feline moved in its sleep and relaxed its body, now resting on its side.
"Thanks," Grimmjow said out the blue. Ichigo was startled by its suddenness and looked at him questioningly.
"For finding me, I guess," he gave a stoic expression and didn't meet his eye but Ichigo knew he was hiding his shyness. He smiled.
"I didn't expect to find you through reiraku, so I guess you should thank fate," Ichigo told him.
"That sounds romantic," Grimmjow said with a grin Ichigo was used to seeing. Ichigo nudged him a little with his nose in reply. They remained like that for a moment, just enjoying each other's warmth. A little funny, Ichigo thought, since he is a spirit. But Grimmjow seemed comfortable and wanted him there, and that was enough to make Ichigo feel like the happiest person in the world.
"Reiraku are spirit threads aren't they? And mine's blue... So rather than the saying 'red thread of fate' it's 'blue thread of fate' now?"
Ichigo stared at him. "That sounds kinda lame and cheesy, Grimmjow," he burst into a soft laugh even though the blue-haired man frowned at him. His smirk didn't escape Ichigo's eye though. "But I suppose yeah, that sounds about right for us."
"You know, even though sometimes you're an idiot, I can't bring myself to hurt you," Grimmjow said.
"I'm the idiot? You're the one who came up with that lame line," Ichigo grinned. Grimmjow knocked him lightly on the head.
"Shut up, I'm serious," Grimmjow told him. Ichigo nodded and moved closer, with his arm over Grimmjow's waist. "If I did hurt you, then it'd either be because you did something seriously stupid, or I'm possessed. With my bad luck I guess the latter won't be surprising."
"You're not that bad," Ichigo said. He felt himself beginning to frown. Grimmjow had begun to feel otherworldly again. To Ichigo, he was human, and sometimes entirely something else. The man's detachedness at times only strengthened his feeling about it. It was like Grimmjow saw something and was anticipating it, resigned himself to it and trying to tell him something. Was it because they were special? Beings with so much power that they sometimes seem neither human nor spirits? But that was only occasionally. He still had that fire in him, and that was the part Ichigo loved most about him.
"I'm just saying... But Kurosaki, if I did hurt you, I'd rather you kill me," Grimmjow said. Ichigo's hold on his shirt tightened.
"Grimmjow," Ichigo didn't want to think about it. Not yet. They had only just begun this relationship. Why must he talk about it now? "I'll never do something like that. Now stop talking shit."
Grimmjow smiled at him. It was neither sad nor happy. Just a smile, but it tugged at Ichigo's heart nonetheless. He thought the fire had been extinguished. Pantera suddenly meowed and moved in Grimmjow's lap. The cat rubbed against its owner's tummy and hand before it went to do the same to Ichigo. It then jumped off and disappeared under some furniture, probably to return to sleep.
Ichigo felt Grimmjow's arms around him. "You know after you said you like me, you're mine, right?" Grimmjow asked him, sounding possessive. Ichigo chuckled. This was the Grimmjow he knew. Grimmjow held Ichigo's face in his hands, pulling him up to look at him in the eye a little roughly. His eyes were bright again filled with that fire, but also with something else Ichigo wasn't sure what it was. The fire hadn't been extinguished, Ichigo thought, and felt relieved. Good.
"I'm yours," Ichigo said, and their lips met.
Another treasured memory.
That was a week before his death. It was like he knew.
Ichigo opened his eyes. He was lying on something concrete, and staring at the cloudy blue sky. It wasn't as bright as usual. He was in his Inner World.
"Did you really think he knew, Zangetsu?" Ichigo asked, still lying on his back and still looking at the sky. He felt his sword spirit's presence not far from him, perhaps a few metres beside him.
"I don't know, Ichigo," the older man said. "But I think he'd want you to do what's right for both of you."
"It still hurts," Ichigo said, his voice cracking. The clouds were turning grey.
"I know, Ichigo."
There was no more time. A few days had passed since the fight with Grimmjow and that other Espada named Ulquiorra announced the invasion to Ichigo. Ichigo had yet to get Zangetsu to tell him how to get his power. His Hollow was in the way too, even though he'd beaten and have been beaten by him more than just a couple of times. Shinji was clearly disappointed in him, but there was no clear sign of him being scared that the clock was ticking closer to the invasion. Ichigo admired him, the Vizards, and Urahara, who calmly continued his training even though Ichigo felt he was getting nowhere.
Urahara said he was going to unlock his memories but had yet to make any movement to do so. He appeared to be waiting for something, and Ichigo left it at that. The man should know what he was doing. His thoughts went to Yoruichi. He wondered how she was; she had gone back to Soul Society, secretly of course, since she was supposed to be exiled, and thought what she was could possibly be doing there. Was she meeting with the Gotei and thinking up of a tactical plan against Aizen? But wouldn't he be informed about it, since he was after all, their mediator, and also one of the captains? If not, what else was there that she could do there?
"Ichigo get back to your Inner World," Shinji ordered.
"It's not working," Ichigo replied. "Zangetsu won't tell me."
"It's not that he doesn't want ta tell ya, it's ya who can't get it," Shinji said. Ichigo frowned at him.
"What do you mean by that?"
"We don't have time, Ichigo, and ya can't get to it unless ya realize it yerself," Shinji told him. "Think what your zanpakutou tells ya, what your Hollow tells ya. They're tryin' ta help, even that Hollow, but nobody can help ya unless ya help yerself." Ichigo opened his mouth to retort but what Shinji said had him thinking. Shinji noticed the expression and smiled. He left Ichigo in his corner in their underground training area for him to meditate and hopefully finally get that power.
Time was running short.
"Tut, tut, I'm afraid we do not have time, Hirako-san." Urahara had came in, and was walking down the long steps from the entrance. His fan covered his face as usual, but his eyes were visible, and they were serious.
And that was when a large amount of spirit pressure rained on them – no, the whole town.
Ichigo snapped out of his concentration and looked alarmed, horrified. The Espada had arrived, along with Aizen and Grimmjow. "I have to go!" He flash-stepped his way up the staircase. Shinji and Urahara watched him go. Neither of them stopped him. Instead they looked at each other.
"Yoruichi-san and I still need some time," Urahara said. Shinji nodded.
"I guess we can buy ya some, ya owe me!" Shinji said. He went off to gather the other Vizards.
Ichigo had sensed the Shinigami's presence almost immediately after the Espada's. He grabbed his captain's haori and wore it on his way to where the Gotei were. He noticed Renji and Rukia there, by their captains. They nodded at each other and Ichigo went to report to the Captain Commander.
"I hope you are prepared, Captain Kurosaki," Yamamoto said. He held his staff firmly, and waited patiently for Aizen to appear. Apparently they hadn't arrived yet, but they were approaching very soon.
"But sir, the town..."
"The town has been switched to a faux one. The town and its people have been sent to another dimension. Aizen will have to go through us before he can proceed there. You have no need to hold back," the Captain Commander informed him. Ichigo looked confused. "The change was quick and almost unnoticeable. It's not surprising you didn't feel the change."
Ichigo nodded and stood at his position. A Garganta had begun to tear a hole in the sky. "They're here!"
The first to step out was Aizen. Now clad in stiff white clothing with a coloured sash and his hair slicked back, he looked almost regal, just as he wanted to be. His face remained the same, still smiling condescendingly at the Gotei. Tousen and Gin stood behind him. Five more Garganta opened below theirs. Two Espada stood in each portal. They stepped out and the Garganta closed behind them.
Ichigo's eye immediately searched for Grimmjow. And there he was, standing upright, looking arrogant. His hair almost blended into the colour of the sky behind him, but his eyes were still cold and cruel. At the moment while Ichigo was staring, Grimmjow turned as well and their eyes met. Ichigo held his gaze. Grimmjow's scowl deepened.
Yamamoto tapped his staff on the invisible ground with a loud boom. It acted like a starter gun for a race; the Captains , lieutenants and seated officers immediately took on the opponents they fancied while Ichigo flash-stepped towards Grimmjow, gripping Zangetsu tightly.
The world around them seemed to vanish as their eyes locked once again. Ichigo could feel Grimmjow raising his reiatsu.
"Yo, Kurosaki," Grimmjow sneered.
Ichigo didn't answer, but mirrored the other's actions. He could feel his fellow captains entering battle, most of them taking it slow, judging and reading each other's abilities. But Ichigo had fought Grimmjow many times before, knew his skills, his movements, his personality. Did it mean he should hurry up?
Yeah, he should, so that he could go help the others and not dwell on it. Charging all his reiatsu into Zangetsu, Ichigo flash-stepped towards the blue-haired Espada. Grimmjow already had his sword out, and their blades clanged loudly as they clashed.
"I'll kill you right here, right now, shinigami," Grimmjow spat. Ichigo tried to shut it out, shut it all out. He had to kill him.
They fought just like they had always done. Scars accumulated on their bodies as time passed, their clothes bloodier with each attack they sent to the other but neither seemed to go under without a fight. From the corner of his eye, Ichigo noticed Renji and Rukia fighting one of the Espada – a masked figure with frilly attire. The Espada began to glow and Ichigo heard the muttering of a command, much like how Shinigami do when they release the power of their zanpakutou, and the Espada's lower body grew. It grew into a large blob of god-knows-what; grotesque-looking and organic, like a pile of dead Hollows moulded together.
Ichigo caught glimpses of the battle whenever he could, unable to resist feeling the worry for his friends even as he fought Grimmjow. The blue-haired Espada didn't look happy at his distraction and shot a cero at Rukia and Renji's way, which fortunately they got to dodge. It had Ichigo turning his attention back to Grimmjow, but still tried to feel for their status as they continued to fight. He felt their reiatsu diminishing, seemingly losing, but after what seemed like eternity, their fight took an unexpected turn when Ichigo saw that the Espada's mask broke, revealing a water tube with two strange spheres. The figure fell, the grotesque body burst, and it seemed that the Espada had fallen. Rukia collapsed as well, and Renji, looking exhausted and severely injured, went to her side.
"Keep your eye on me, Kurosaki!" Grimmjow screamed at him. He sent a cero flying in Ichigo's direction, and the orange-haired captain managed to evade it. Ichigo shot a Getsuga Tenshou at Grimmjow, who easily dodged it and used his sonido to teleport himself behind Ichigo. Another clang of metal, and Ichigo took a few steps back.
How long had they been fighting? Half an hour, probably, but it felt like forever. Ichigo tried to sense the other captains' reiatsu to check on them. They seem fine. The dark-skinned, thick-lipped Espada had already fallen, in his strange pumpkin-like released form, defeated by Captain Kuchiki Byakuya, who immediately went to Rukia after his own battle was over. Those already defeated seem to be the lower ranked Espada. Ichigo noticed though, that the Espada's body remained. They didn't disappear like Hollows were supposed to when they die. Did that mean they were still alive?
Ichigo side-stepped from another cero and thrust his sword forward. Grimmjow parried it and grabbed Ichigo by the arm to reel him in for a kick, but Ichigo flipped himself to the other side and gave one to Grimmjow instead. The Sexta grunted, but managed to get Ichigo hard in the ribs with his elbow.
"You're not fighting at your fullest Kurosaki!" Grimmjow bellowed. "Bring your mask out! I want to kill you where you're strongest! Take away every bit of power that you have painfully and excruciatingly just like you did to me."
"You left me there to die, Kurosaki," Grimmjow seethed. "Protect me? You must be joking." Ichigo stared at him agape, knowing exactly what Grimmjow was talking about. Grimmjow had remembered.
"Do you know how it feels to feel your soul getting eaten slowly? Screaming, fighting in vain, trying to claw my way to escape them. Me alone against six fucking Hollows. I fought by my goddamned self," Grimmjow hissed, hate and anger dripping off his every word. Ichigo just stood there, his breath stopping at the man's recounting of his own death. The death he was supposed to prevent. "I fought, thinking about those words you fucking dared to say to me, Kurosaki."
Ichigo's mouth moved, but no words came out. 'I'll protect you' was what he had mouthed, more of a reminder to himself than to say it to the other.
"That's right," Grimmjow said with a nasty grin. Ichigo remained rooted at where he was. No don't think about it. You have to kill him, you have to cleanse his soul, Ichigo!
"Fifty years of pain, Kurosaki," Grimmjow said, strangely softer this time. "Fifty years of pain, rage and destruction. Only those occupied my mind. All because of you. The good thing is, along with those I gained power. I became the Sexta, the sixth strongest among the Espada." Grimmjow's blade began to glow, and with it came a shrill whistle as Grimmjow's reiatsu flared.
"Grimmjow, wait!" Ichigo wanted to explain, but Grimmjow had already half-sheathed his sword, his posture almost predatory like with his back hunched over and his legs apart. His long thin fingers were poised over the bared blade. Grimmjow stared right into Ichigo's eyes as he spoke.
"I'll show you the power of Destruction," Grimmjow said. His fingers clawed the surface of the blade, his hand swiping away as he declared, "Kishire, Pantera!"
Once he uttered the words, Grimmjow was immediately enveloped in blue light of his reiatsu. Ichigo felt himself getting pushed away by the mere pressure, and soon, as if on cue, the other remaining Espada had also done the same. Ichigo felt himself almost smothered by all the spiritual pressure being released. What was happening?
Soon the dust and pressures cleared, and Ichigo could only see another form. Grimmjow was lithe, and his legs seemed to have grown longer and had paws. He was covered in a white suit, and his hair had grown much longer. The bone mask on his cheek disappeared, replaced by a crown-like mask on his forehead, and his nails had grown to become claws. His teeth had elongated to become fangs as well. He looked more animal, more feline... and more predatory.
Ichigo felt a cold shiver run down his spine as he looked at Grimmjow's new form. The rage was still there again in those eyes. Ichigo tightened his grip on Zangetsu as he stared at the new form before him. He heard a buzz and then Grimmjow disappeared, and before he could barely hear the next buzz, he felt pain to his side and was thrown into a building, crashing into the hard concrete.
Ichigo looked up and saw Grimmjow hovering in the air above him. Ichigo noted that it was a mere kick, and yet he guessed he already had a couple of broken ribs. He hissed in pain as he moved.
"Fight back, Kurosaki!" Grimmjow growled as he raised his arm and bent it at the elbow, firing small dart-like projectiles at him. Ichigo flash-stepped away from the building and saw the concrete structure crumbled from getting hit by the small missiles. Grimmjow whirled around, appearing in front of him with sonido and fired another 5 shots of those from his other elbow and Ichigo couldn't dodge it this time. He could barely back away with shunpo before he found himself crashing into another building again, his bones and body aching from the attack.
Ichigo had managed to summon his mask before the attack reached him, but with that much destructive power, even his mask couldn't withstand the attack. He struggled to even move himself from the crash, but barely managed to albeit breathing heavily, clutching his wounded body. He looked up to see Grimmjow still glaring at him, furious at his weakness. Ichigo gathered some energy and threw a Getsuga Tensho at him and flash stepped away, getting some cover to recover himself a bit, breathing heavily from his injuries. He heard Grimmjow roar and from the surrounding reiatsu of the other captains it felt as if some of them were facing a losing battle as well.
Was this how it was going to end? Aizen will get his way, and Ichigo will die by Grimmjow's destructive anger towards him? He felt like such a failure. He couldn't protect anything. Ichigo gripped Tensa Zangetsu tighter, and made a move to stand but felt the cover of the concrete wall behind him crumble, accompanied by the energy of a cero.
Ichigo escaped with some bad burns to his side, his Bankai outfit tattered and burned from the attack. His mask had started breaking and Grimmjow had appeared not far from him, the look of anger and frustration still on his face.
"The fuck are you doing, Shinigami," Grimmjow snarled, moving towards Ichigo with a sneer. He appeared in front of Ichigo with sonido and grabbed the front of his robes, smacked away Zangetsu from Ichigo's hand almost too easily and his clawed hand raised, ready to punch a hole through him again. Ichigo tried to pull himself away, punching and clawing the armoured hand on him, but Grimmjow kept his grip firm, cruel blue eyes boring holes through him.
What was he doing? Ichigo thought to himself. He glanced at his friends who were still fighting; some of the captains who were facing the Espada were having difficulty. Some had gone down. And there he was hesitating, with his mask crumbling...
"Goodbye, Kurosaki," Grimmjow said, before he plunged his hand through Ichigo's chest.
- Part 8 end -
Sorry for the wait, but here it is, chapter 8. Ichigo's still conflicted. So annoying, right? I know. But when you love someone, it just takes so long to recover sometimes... Hope you guys enjoyed the chapter. Like Killer Instinct, I really want to complete this, even if it takes me years (which I hope wouldn't take that long!). Thank you to everyone who kept reading and supported this story!