Chapter 17: Y Tu Que Miras? [What are you looking at?]
Wherein a child keeps her secrets
A question is answered
And who knows what else.
"Go on a date with me."
Ichigo never imagined that he'd be done in by a few simple grains of rice. But there the little suckers were, lodged in his throat, attempting to suffocate him. As soon as he caught his breath, he looked over at the other to see if he was joking but the look that covered the arrancar's face told him that no, Grimmjow was quite serious. He wondered if it would be worth it to ask where he had gotten this ridiculous idea from but soon thereafter figured it to be some half-baked plan he managed to come up with on his own. Out of curiosity he asked a question anyway.
"Why would I do something like that?"
Grimmjow frowned. "Because I asked you to." he said simply like the answer was quite obvious, but Ichigo wasn't buying. Luckily his sisters had already taken Nel and wandered off to mind their own business elsewhere in the house and his father made his way into the front part of the clinic to work, so they were relatively alone having this conversation. Ichigo gave the blue haired male a squinted glare and Grimmjow bristled. "What? Isn't that what you want?"
He was confused, this is what he thought couples did together, right? Plus taking a step to further their relationship would help get his mind off of a few things.
Ichigo sighed. "What makes you think I would want to go on a date with you?" He deadpanned, his heart beat rising slightly as he pushed around the contents of his rice bowl, suddenly not very hungry anymore, while afterwards Grimmjow made a very disgruntled sound in his throat that caught the other's attention.
"Why wouldn't you want to go on a date with me." He seemed overly offended and Ichigo had to hide a smile, not meaning to stab at the other's pride.
"Why should I?"
It was a fair question but he still expected Grimmjow to catch an attitude the way he did. But as they stared each other down over the breakfast table, no glower made it's presence known on the hollow's features. Ichigo tilted his head to the side and lifted a brow in curiosity. That same brow lowered in confusion when blue eyes looked away in defeat. The brown pools of Kurosaki's eyes swiftly changed to concern as defeat turned into dejection.
No... it couldn't be. Was it... was he?
"Grimmjow... are you sulking?" That got a reaction, blue eyes snapped at him in a sharp glare.
"Now why the fuck would I be sulking?" He shot up from his seat at the table and stormed upstairs, leaving the shinigami in a daze.
What the hell just happened?
It took a moment to sink in before the teen stood as well, appetite completely gone, and followed Grimmjow up the stairs. This was getting ridiculous.
A week or two ago he would have written the outburst off as one of Grimmjow's normal overreactions to just about anything he said, but ever since about two days ago Grimmjow had been acting strange, he seemed a lot more edgy and aggravated for some reason. Ichigo figured it none of his business but when the blue haired male all but snapped at Karin - though he quickly apologized for it afterward - the redhead figured it was time he said something about Grimmjow's recent demeanor. However, every time he asked the man about it the bluenette would shrug off his concern and say it was nothing, an obvious lie, what really concerned Ichigo was that he didn't even bother to attempt to make it sound believable. To make matters worse Nel was beginning to act peculiar as well.
It wasn't anything too dramatic but Kurosaki did have his worries.
Ichigo found Grimmjow in their room, sitting down in a corner near the window. He entered slowly and made his way over to the arrancar, sliding down to the floor and crossing his legs to sit in order to meet him at eye-level. He stared at the bluenette for a long time while the other made it apparent he was not trying to make conversation or even eye contact with him. Ichigo sighed again.
"Look, I'm gonna be frank with you. I don't know what the hell your problem is but whatever is causing this attitude needs to stop. I can't figure out who acts more childish; you or Nel." He thought he saw Grimmjow's eyes roll to the side but that could have been a trick of the light. But the man still didn't look his way and Ichigo got angry. "What's you're deal? Why the hell are you acting this way, Grimmjow? Have you forgotten about your promise? Because if so we can just stop-"
"Of course I haven't forgotten about that." He cut off the shinigami abruptly, shooting the teen an almost cruel look with his stormy blue eyes. "That's why I offered the fucking date. But you had to be a bitch about it."
A huff of indignation blew out of Ichigo's mouth as he said, "I was just joking, I didn't think you would take it so seriously." Grimmjow's glare turned cold.
"Joking? You take me for some big joke? What, do you laugh at me behind my back as well, Kurosaki?"
Ichigo threw up his hands in defeat. "What the hell are you going on about now? Of course I don't. I would never laugh about something like this."
"Then why turn it into a joke, huh?" His voice got louder as the anger within him grew.
This was turning bad and Ichigo really didn't know why, what started as a joke, something he considered simple banter - never mind him using it as a defense to stall his answer because his heart was beating so fast at the time he couldn't think - grew serious. Now Grimmjow thought he was just humoring him? Did he seem that cruel? The orange haired shinigami really couldn't understand how the conversation turned out this way, it was honestly starting to scare him. He looked over at Grimmjow who stared at him in expectation, waiting for him to clarify his motives. He was upset, clearly, but there was something else behind this anger, Ichigo had the feeling he was caught in the crossfire of a bigger war going on and he just happened to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Cooling his head and letting out a long sigh, he squared his shoulders and looked directly into Grimmjow's eyes.
"I don't see you as a joke. I was serious when I said I wanted to try this with you, but lately you've been on edge and difficult to speak too... not that you were ever the ideal person to strike a conversation with..." he mumbled off-handedly before continuing. "... recently you've been downright mean. I was... trying to lighten the atmosphere?" He offered but the excuse sounded lame even to his ears. "P-plus you caught me off guard, I didn't know how to respond."
He saw Grimmjow fidget with his hands before his fingers came up to run through his messy blue hair. He lifted a brow as the bluenette closed his eyes and knocked his head against the wall softly a few times. A short moment later, blue eyes locked with caramel brown and they seemed calmer, a lot less angry. He froze as Grimmjow's hands lifted to cup around his face, the blue haired male pulling him closer so that their lips came together in the briefest of touches. The redhead blushed lightly, trying to hide it behind his perpetual scowl as his head was released and Grimmjow drew out a heavy sigh.
"Sorry, Kurosaki." He leaned back against the wall and Ichigo waited. "It's just that I've been worried... about Nel."
"What's wrong with her?" he asked, genuine concern shining in his eyes.
Grimmjow scratched the back of his head, truly wishing he could answer the boy. "I don't know, she won't tell me. She wont even come near me." Ichigo was certain that wasn't true. Nowadays Nel fawned over Grimmjow more than she did him. The connection they shared was something special, something he was slightly jealous of and he was sure it couldn't be broken so easily.
"Did you do something to make her angry?"
"The hell if I know. The only thing I can remember is asking her about this picture she drew in class."
After the incident, Nel made it seem like she had forgotten the whole thing, but later on her demeanor changed. She was often silent, lost in thought or not paying attention. At first Grimmjow thought it was one of her many quirks because the girl was known to spazz out at times and flat out stop listening to what people had to say but the day after, when she returned home from school she didn't even greet Grimmjow. She barely even looked at his face.
Lips pursed in confusion. "What was the picture of?" Maybe the contents of the drawing would give some kind of clue as to the little girl's behavior.
"Me you and her." Grimmjow explained and Ichigo's confusion only deepened. "But she said it wasn't finished so..."
"... so maybe she's mad at you for seeing it before it was finished. Artists can be finicky like that." There was a deft shake of blue strands and Ichigo knew it was a silly thing to suggest even before he said it. He looked up at Grimmjow's face and was forced to hold back a gasp at the distress that was written all over it.
"It's not like that. She's distant, she hardly speaks to me. Whenever she looks at me it's like she wants to say something but she doesn't. I don't know how to deal with this."
All of those years in Hueco Mundo. All those days alone, caring for no one but himself, loving only himself. It was lonely and deep down inside he hated it, he knew he did because once he was able to form that bond with Nel, he knew he never wanted to be that way again. Attaining something more, another reason to live was like starting a new life all together. It was like he was given another chance and being with Nel was like a breath of fresh air. Now that air was threatened and he was on the verge of suffocating. He knew that living for someone else would have it's difficulties, but he wasn't ready for this. He loved Nel, he could admit that, and her pulling away from him like this was the same as taking his soul away. Was this the way he felt long ago as a ghost on earth right before his chain rotted through and broke his hold on the world? Was this how it felt to have your heart devoured by a hollow? He couldn't tell because he couldn't remember but it's certainly what it seemed like.
"Give her time, she probably just needs some space."
"I can't just leave her alone... you don't get it, Ichigo."
And it was true, he didn't get the point and was very confused as to why Grimmjow was making a big deal out of this, but he also knew that this was something the male had to deal with on his own and it wasn't necessarily right to voice his own biased opinion on the matter. He couldn't say for sure that he knew exactly what Grimmjow was feeling, hell he couldn't even say he had a remote idea of what the other was going through, judging from his reactions. But that didn't keep him from wanting to know, from trying to understand the blue haired male.
But he didn't understand and really didn't know if he ever would.
His attention roamed over Grimmjow's face for a moment before settling on his eyes. The emotion trapped within them was so mysterious yet so familiar at the same time. When their eyes locked, he could almost feel the raw emotion burning from within him; it began to stir questions within the young soul reaper.
There were many things that were lost to her. Nel often found herself trying to remember things she didn't know she forgot, times of war, days in cold box-like rooms sitting at a table accompanied by people she never really cared for. But then, as fleeting as a dream, they'd slip through her grasp and return to the seemingly endless void of her forgotten memories. She never really cared about her once powerful self and much more enjoyed the simplicities of living life as an innocent child. Things were easier this way, without the politics and without confusion.
This was her life now and the fact that she could live it here in the human world with Ichigo and now Grimmjow was all the better. Of course she missed her friends in Hueco Mundo, but they knew she was being taken care of. She was happy and that's all that really matters.
In her ignorant bliss, however, Nel failed to realize how much more different the human world was compared to the hollow world. She received a crash course to the facts of life when she initially began living out there with Grimmjow in the form of a quick lecture on the Do's and Don'ts of Human Society given by Urahara at his shop. However, she was soon sheltered and protected because for a long while Grimmjow Jeaggerjaques was her only company. In not dealing with very many other people, the reservations she had about humans - like how most of them were probably all nice and friendly like Ichigo and his group of friends and nothing like the hollow personalities she had encountered in Hueco Mundo - stayed intact. It was so easy to be so accepting of people, and not so distrusting as Grimmjow obviously was but she did understand that that was naught without reason.
There was only one incident that she could remember that made her doubt the ideals she had placed inside her brain regarding humans. It was many months ago, months after Urahara placed her in the care of Grimmjow, all smiles and good will but with ulterior motives. She could still remember those days; she had still been terrified of Grimmjow. She didn't understand why she had to go with him; if she was on earth, she wanted to be with Ichigo. At that time she could remember thinking bad things about Urahara, but he had promised that one day she would see Ichigo again so she had hope, if she could see his big bright head again then it wasn't so bad.
Grimmjow had figured very early on that in order to do anything in this world, one needed money and he was very good at acquiring it through odd jobs and hard labor. At times he would check into hotels - a survival tip he'd gotten from Kisuke - and then disappear for days on end, but would return with enough money for the two of them to travel pretty much anywhere he wanted to go. At these times, Nel never knew if the blue haired man would return or not, he would only say that he was leaving and would probably be back later. Whenever he did return she would be relieved, she told herself that it was because he was her only source for food.
But there was a time in particular, the days of the blue haired hollow's absence had stretched from one, to two... then three... it was when the sun rose on the fifth day that the little girl began to worry about her guardian. She didn't know how to contact him and had no recollection of how to trace spirit energy even if the gigai he wore allowed some of it to leak out. They were in a place she didn't know and surrounded by things she didn't understand. The buildings were tall and nearly blocked out the sun in the daytime. The smells were pungent and the sounds were loud. Unable to pull herself out the state of panic she had woken from, Neliel opened the window of their modest room that lead to a busy street where people and cars bustled around noisily. She called Grimmjows name for many minutes hoping he'd hear her.
Morning turned into noon and then noon into night and still her guardian hadn't returned. In the back of her mind, Nel had known that Grimmjow was reluctant to take her with him and never really saw the point to it. She knew he cursed Urahara's very soul and thought it wouldn't be long before he abandoned her somewhere. It appeared that her worries were finally realized today. She remembered not knowing what to think, not knowing what to do; feeling so abandoned, so lost. So cast aside and rejected.
She made her way quietly out of the hotel and found the street on her own, the night time in this city even more scary than the day. But now she was on her own, she had to be strong; if she could do it in Hueco Mundo then she could survive there. As she walked among the streets, few people giving her curious stare while everyone else simply ignored her existence, she told herself she wasn't looking for Grimmjow. She didn't imagine this as a game of eternal tag of which the pursued ran so far ahead she could never catch up.
What she didn't know, though was how moments after she escaped from the hotel room, Grimmjow returned to the suite, exhausted and confused. He had finally finished a job he had acquired, working with less than favorable people whose name they refused to give; but hey, at least the pay was good. As he entered the room Grimmjow expected to see Nel somewhere waiting for him to return with food but as he searched the room for the young girl, his once uncaring eyes brightening to little more than irritated as his search proved to find the place empty. Anger boiling, wondering where she could have gone, he ran down to the reception desk to ask if anyone had seen the little girl escape from the room while he wasn't there but everyone was preoccupied, didn't see her or didn't care that she was missing. Frustrated, Grimmjow made his way into the night of the city and hoped to the high king that Nel was alright.
Grimmjow's search proceeded in levels as the night wore on. It started off as casual as he could be, walking back and forth along the block the hotel sat on, checking behind gates and peeking into small crevices. During this time he told himself that he needed to find her because Hat 'n Sandals would probably freak out and/or tell Ichigo if anything happened to the brat. When he didn't find her on the first block, he reasoned to himself that if she'd been gone for a long period of time, then she would have had the chance to make it farther down. He attempted to convince himself that he'd find her wandering around the sidewalk staring at something stupid. As he crossed the street and stepped onto the third block, his casual search rose to worry.
He didn't know the little girl's mind, never really cared to know either. Grimmjow was perfectly find living together as strangers, as long as he was able to do what he wished, but because of that, as his eyes darted behind every hiding space on the fifth block, his mind suddenly asked, would she walk in a straight line? Common sense would say yes, but Nel was different, in her mind, she was a child. Children wander aimlessly. Cursing loudly he turned back around; worry slipped into panic.
Nel surmised that she didn't like this place. The buildings were to big and the people were loud and scary. She much preferred her empty desert in Hueco Mundo. Because she'd spent most her life in eternal night, she assumed doing it in the human realm wouldn't be so different, she couldn't know how wrong she would be. The small girl had been walking for about an hour, she was cold and hungry but kept going, she had to find Ichigo; she bet he would save her from this. The only thing was she didn't know how to find him or where he was, the people in this city spoke a language that sounded strange to her, none of them sounded like Ichigo. Once or twice a stranger had stopped to ask her something but she couldn't understand what they were saying, got frightened and ran away.
She wandered and wandered until her feet were sore and would most certainly blister. By this time the sky was starting to lighten and the birds were waking, starting to sing and the streets were all but bare. Everything looked different so she guessed she had walked quite a long way during the night but there was no way she could possibly tell and since the day was nearing, she could finally find a good place to rest for a while. Soon she found a bench near a modest looking building with funny writing on the front and decided this would be a good place to rest, her stomach was angry and growling but she had no means to feed it and almost wished Grimmjow had taken her with him. At least when they were together he kept her well fed.
Sitting there she observed the daylight awaken the city and found it's dwellers to be much louder in the morning than they are at night. Though no one was on the sidewalks just yet, cars honked down the street and people shouted from building windows. For the first time, Nel realized that she was afraid and didn't know what to do; she wasn't prepared for this. The human world wasn't as it seemed, wasn't how she imagined, maybe it was because of Grimmjow, or this place, but she knew this wasn't where she wanted to be, she wanted to be home - whether that was in Hueco Mundo or with Ichigo she didn't know - but not here.
She didn't mean to doze off there, shivering and wrapping her small arms around her tiny body, but walking all night exhausted her and Nel couldn't really help it when she laid her head down and knocked out immediately.
That was how Grimmjow found her sometime in the afternoon. He had been frantic and at first all he did was stare down angrily at the moderately peacefully sleeping little girl. All night he had ran around arguing with and even threatening people because he wanted to find her so badly and here she was, asleep on the bench outside their hotel. The stupid monkey must have wandered in circles all night. Soon though, as he allowed his anger to subside, he noticed how the girl was shaking, how her breaths seemed shallow and how her plump cheeks were flushed more than should be at her age. He reached down to feel her head, almost in disbelief he snatched back; gigai weren't supposed to have fevers, at least none of the ones he'd ever heard about. Cursing Old Hat to every four corners of the wind, Grimmjow took off the jacket that he wore and bundled the little girl up in it, desperately in search for a hospital hoping that they'd be able to help.
Nel woke feeling like she'd slept too long with a cotton like taste in her mouth as if she hadn't drank water for days. As soon as her wide hazel eyes opened, she noticed that she wasn't where she last remembered, in fact the walls looked a little too different. As she looked around she swished her tongue around in her mouth to moisten it a little. Out if what she perceived was no where a bent straw landed in her face, it led into a cup where she could only guess was filled with water. Curiously she gazed up at the holder of the cup and frowned. Grimmjow scowled back, motioning for her to drink. Nel complied, still a bit wary and confused but not say anything.
That time barely seemed like anything at all, wasn't suppose to, but it changed the two. It was never discussed, never brought to light. Nel never said how afraid and alone she had felt, Grimmjow never admit how panicked and desperate he was. There was a silent agreement made that day, and a silent acceptance that the both of them were in each other's lives now, or as long as their borrowed bodies permitted them to be.