Chapter 15 - Quedate Con El. [Stay With Him.]

Wherein tears are dried.

Pains are accepted.

And an enemy shows his gratitude.


"So, who's in love with you?" He asked curiously.

"According to Inoue, you are."

There was a choked laugh that sounded horribly forced before Grimmjow attempted to say jokingly, "That woman has some wild ideas, heh."

Ichigo didn't hesitate to ask his next question.

"Are you?"

The blue haired male stalled in the middle of wiping away the dampness on his face with a towel. He continued after a moment and simply stared at the Kurosaki, unsure if the male was testing him or making fun of him or what. The weary yet serious look in the shinigami's brown eyes told him that this wasn't a joke and the boy really needed to know the answer.

Allowing the silence to stretch on into the room for a little while longer, Grimmjow considered his words carefully before he began to speak. "I know you have your own opinions about hollows... hell you won't shut up about them, and I know there's shit that you'll never be able to accept…" He looked over to the redhead for some kind of denial but was pleased to see the teen grudgingly accept the truth about himself, even if the response was only in his face. "But… and don't think I came up with this shit overnight, I've lost a lot of sleep and annoyed tons of people about this crap just to come to this point, but... sigh... yeah, with you I think I might be."

Though he had been partly expecting a round-the-way answer like that, to hear the confession fall out of Grimmjow's lips... Ichigo could not really say he was ready for it. It comforted his rapidly beating heart some to know, however that the hollow had lost just about as much sleep as he had thinking about this particular topic, even if they had come to slightly different conclusions. It was hard to grip the concept of Grimmjow, a man who had tried killing him on different occasions, actually being in love with him.

He knew the dangers of asking the question even before it left his lips, but he still had to know. "Ho-how do you know? I mean... How did you figure out that you might be in l-l-love with me?" It was awkward and there was no doubt that he was blushing, he could feel the heat in his face and ears, but he managed the words, surprised to see that Grimmjow wasn't as angry as he initially thought he'd be.

Even if he hadn't let his temper get the best of him, Grimmjow did frown and sigh as he sat down on the extra bed squeezed into the too small room. "I assume that woman told you we had a little talk at Stupid Hat's place?" Ichigo nodded, barely remembering her saying something about speaking to the male before... having a conversation about him and Grimmjow's feelings relative to the subject. "Well we talked about more than you. Actually she talked; I kind of just listened and nodded if what she said was true."

"And what did she tell you?" At that Grimmjow made a face and scratched his neck.

"It's not so much what she told me, but what I realized." He looked uncomfortable for a moment and Ichigo almost regretted putting the bluenette on the spot like this, but then he remembered all of the things the other put him through in the past and didn't feel so bad anymore. No, he reprimanded himself quickly, if anything was going to change, then he needed to let go of the past. Unfortunately the scary thought of what exactly he wanted to change came into mind and Ichigo scowled at his thoughts. Luckily Grimmjow spoke up again, pulling him out of his musings.

"I had asked myself a lot, ya know, what you meant to me. I had pretty much gotten comfortable with the fact that you meant more to me than any other human I know. All I had to say to her was 'I've never felt this way before' and that when I'm around you, I feel calmer than ever, even when you annoy the hell outta me." He left out the less manly parts in his pause as he looked up at the Shinigami who was staring at him uncertainly.

'You ever consider that you might love him?' He could still hear her soft voice, could see the way she looked as if she wanted to cry. 'The way you sound, the tone of your voice… I can tell you love him.'

Ichigo's face was torn and Grimmjow didn't know what to make of it. The teen stood and paced the floor of his bedroom for a moment before stopping in front of the arrancar. He shook his head.

The red head couldn't get passed the admission that he meant something to the bluenette. Meant 'more to him than any other human' to be exact. What could he do with that information besides allow it to tear away at his brain and heart? "What if... if you're just confused? What if there just like the feelings you have for Nel? Maybe that's the kind of love she was talking about."

Rather than upset or desperate, Kurosaki still looked tormented, like he wanted to accept it, but for whatever reason he couldn't. He was thinking too much about this, about everything. Grimmjow got up from his seat and stepped before the shinigami, arms poised to hold him still if he started to pace again. He was sure the boy was going to give himself a brain aneurism with all the worrying he was doing. There wasn't a reason he could grasp as to why it was such an issue; of course he'd come into contact with homophobia while on his tour of the world, but he never understood it. The value of a person comes from within, not from who they are in love with.

Anyway, Grimmjow managed to say, "At first that was what I thought because that's how it was." He shrugged. "The same way I felt about Neliel was how I felt about you." Some hope shone within the shinigami's eyes, but Grimmjow was happy to see some disappointment as well. He continued after a moment. "But over time, as I thought about it again and again... I figured what I had for you was, well not stronger, really, but... more focused." Ichigo's face looked as if he was going to protest some more, but Grimmjow stopped it.

"Look, Inoue explained this in a lot of words that I really didn't understand, so I'm gonna give you the short version, 'specially since ya look like yer brain's about ta melt... She told me that just 'cause we think our heart is gone, our emotions leave with it. But yer heart is somethin' much more immaterial. But because of what we've been told, that's how we believe. Tell you the truth; I think that's what's wrong with this fucking world." Grimmjow thought was nice to know, at least, that someone else felt the same as he did. While he would admit that at one point he believed this like everyone else, he wasn't too stubborn to say he knew better now.

As he stared at the teenager in front of him, Grimmjow noticed that the boy still looked as if he'd need a little more convincing. One thing he was glad to learn those few years ago that the redhead was just as hardheaded as he was. It frustrated him too, however because it didn't make their current situation any easier. Not that he expected to just confess to the shinigami and have him fall into his arms with the same words on his lips. Good thing he was just as obstinate or this might never work.

"I think that's your problem too." Ichigo looked up at the blue haired male in question, mind previously muddling over what he deemed fit to worry about under the circumstances. His orange head gave a tilt in question. "Because 'hollow' is all you know, ya won't accept me as anything else."

Dark orange brows twisted with his frown, "I can... I just..."


Ichigo sighed and brought his hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Look, Grimmjow, this is more complicated than it seems."

But it wasn't. Nothing was simpler, he just didn't want to admit it; didn't want to confront what came after he did.

"I don't really understand how it's so complicated." He could see the scowl coming back into place on the slightly taller man's visage. It had been so long since Grimmjow looked at him that way he forgot to remember that he wasn't afraid of that look. He opted for silence, however, knowing that he didn't have a good enough response to the male's previous statement. Grimmjow's irritation grew a little more. "You know, I think you're just scared."

You're scared. A horribly mocking statement. The voice was quiet now, but he could still hear the words as crystal clear as the day the hollow inside of him had said them.

You're chicken.

You see him, you see what he was, what he is and it terrifies you.

A sharp glare narrowed Kurosaki's brown eyes. "I'm not afraid of you."

"Not of me, you prick, yer still afraid to lose control, aren't ya? Why can't cha just let go? You might like the feeling."

It wasn't true. Ichigo was determined to beat that into his brain. He had morals to adhere to, that was why he couldn't accept Grimmjow's offer, why he couldn't encourage his advances. This had nothing to do with the barrier he'd built around himself. It wasn't even the allegation that he'd like... whatever Grimmjow thought it was that he would; this was about something more, some other thing he fought himself over.

You're afraid you'd like it too much. He hadn't wanted to admit to the voice, still didn't, that it was true. Grimmjow could be the one to help him let go of all the things he told himself he needed to hold on to. He would be the one that wrestled away the control that he desperately hung onto.

"Ichigo." The word was said soft enough to pull the teen out of his frown. "I'm gonna ask you somethin' and this time I want ya to be honest with me."

The redhead looked up into blue eyes that looked as troubled and as nervous as he felt in that moment. "I already know what you're going to say."

A sigh. "I'm gonna ask you anyway." He smiled slightly at the look the Kurosaki made and continued. "If I weren't a hollow, prejudice be damned, would you want to be with me?"

It was all so stupid and it seemed so simple to just say 'no' or 'I don't know' or 'it doesn't matter because you are a hollow, end of discussion', but then if he did he would not have been honest with Grimmjow or himself. Why couldn't he just say it, what he really wanted to say? What was he so afraid of?

Grimmjow noticed the look on Kurosaki's face and tilted his head. "You want to say yes, right?"

Ichigo scowled, it would also have been too easy to get mad at Grimmjow, to tell him he was dumb for jumping to conclusions. It would have been easy to storm out of the room, to get flustered and turn away from the ex espada. Ichigo had realized that since this - whatever it was that started between Grimmjow and himself - started, he hadn't done anything the easy way, so why should he start now? Maybe he needed to complicated things some more in order to see what he wanted, if what Grimmjow was saying was true. So, to save himself more indirect answers and very forward questions, he nodded, eyes averted from wondering blue orbs.

Grimmjow's smile nearly cracked through but he allowed himself to frown instead. He had the urge to grab Kurosaki and kiss some sense back into his stupid orange head, but refrained from doing that as well. For the time being he stepped closer to the shinigami, "Then why don't you? Why can't you just admit it?"

Ichigo came to the conclusion that the blue haired male didn't really want an answer to that question so he didn't bother verbalizing a response. Instead his answer had been an unblinking stare directed towards the slightly taller man. Grimmjow's scowl darkened a bit more.

"You're damn stubborn, ya know that?" The teen pursed his lips, tilting his orange head to the side. "I'm not gonna beg ya about this anymore, Ichigo. Yer human, you should be able to empathize with how I feel. Or have you never wanted anything in your life?"

After a short pause Ichigo sighed, Grimmjow was right; he should be able to understand what the man was going through. With all that he's been through lately, he should fully comprehend the troubles of heartache. He remembered all the years with Orihime, wishing that feeling would come along any day; hoping that he'd be able to fall in love with the girl as much as she had fallen in love with him. It was crushing when he finally came to terms with the fact that he would never have a proper relationship with her, he regretted that the realization came too late. So to have Grimmjow, of all people here, begging him to understand… begging him to accept him…

He looked at the hollow then, noticed the creased brow, the frowning lips. Looked down at the way his fists clenched impatiently. Ichigo looked back up into those expressive – even before the whole reclamation – eyes and wondered what he felt about Grimmjow. This time, he ignored his brain.

Looking back, he could say that Grimmjow wasn't a bad guy anymore. He looked out for the one that he had promised to protect. Hell, he looked after Nel like she was a part of his family. They were family. Grimmjow wasn't the same Grimmjow he had met 3 years ago. This might as well have been a completely different person, even the way the male carried himself changed. Grimmjow of the past was brash and arrogant and violent and dangerous… this Grimmjow was calm, still arrogant, but more humble, if that made sense. Parts of his personality didn't change but the overall picture did and that's what was important. Ichigo appreciated that, he accepted it, and he welcomed it. He loved it.

Now, given the fact that Grimmjow is a male was a mere quirk, Ichigo could see himself getting over that fact. Of course he had never particularly thought of himself as gay, the idea of it happening never really crossed his mind either so he hadn't any room to applaud or deny a relationship with the other male. He could even honestly say that Grimmjow was a really good looking guy and was certain that the male was approached on a daily basis, even with his less than approachable attitude.

Gods, am I seriously thinking about Grimmjow this way? He asked himself, looking the male over once more. So let's say I do accept his feelings, what then? I can't just change the way I feel about everything else. I just…

"I just want to be happy… Grimmjow."

"You think you can't be happy with me?"

"That's not what I'm saying."

"Then what are you saying?" The frown that had nearly relaxed from his features came back tenfold and Ichigo winced at the expression.

The orange haired teen allowed a small smile to creep into his expression as he looked up into the other male's eyes. "All I'm saying is that I want to see if you'd be able to do that for me?" Grimmjow ruffled, placing his hands on his hips and shifted his feet. He huffed and was about to yell at the teen before he paused.

"Wait, what?"

"I'm tired, Grimmjow. I'm tired of lying to myself. I'm tired of meaningless relationships. I'm tired of pretending to be fine with my life. You say you care about me, prove it. Be the one to change my mind. Make me happy."

Grimmjow smirked down at the boy in front of him, okay with that condition, okay with anything that included him and Ichigo… Perhaps too okay with it, but eager none the less. He gathered the teen up in his arms and squeezed him in a hug, smothering him in a kiss that was fueled by delight and lingered because of it. By the time he released the breathless Kurosaki back down onto the floor; the ex-espada couldn't stop grinning.

Outside of the substitute shinigami's window, a black butterfly fluttered from its perch near the window and flew off into the evening sky. Ichigo would have recognized the butterfly had he not been preoccupied with an arm full of blue haired hollow. The black shadow returned to its sender, rendering the small soul reaper confused as she cupped her hands to receive her unsent message. That was strange, the butterfly was supposed to reach Ichigo no matter what he was doing, but the message had been blocked somehow…

Well… it had been a while since she visited Karakura.