He breathed deeply, but the feeling there was not enough air didn't lessen in the slightest. Irritated, he growled, banging at the bedding. He couldn't stand the situations he was unable to ease his position, whatever it was. Sure, he could always leave - leave the wardrobe, leave from home, leave for roof or the street - but he had to swallow the frustrating realisation it was ever worse outside. It had been stuffy for the whole day - for the last days, in fact - and hadn't changed after the sunset either. Only in the morning, some time before the sunrise, it would cool down a bit, offering an hour or two of delightful freshness. He snorted, rolling over and looking hatefully into darkness of the closet. Another sleepless night was coming up.
Kurosaki was sleeping soundly. He didn't care about the heat - he was able to sleep in every condition, even standing. Grimmjow growled with anger. If he began to bother himself with Kurosaki, the less chance for getting any sleep. However, the thought - of course - clang to him and didn't want to leave. In his closet, spending the long hours completely uselessly, he had more than enough time and opportunities to think. He had never been a thinker, tending to form his opinions quickly and without a second thought. World had been simple that time. Only after his world had crumbled, he had been forced to reflection on various issues. To be honest, lying like a log and vacantly looking at the ceiling didn't suit him at all. Blast it! He was a Hollow, okay, but it didn't automatically mean he was dead! He clenched his fists again, suddenly mad at himself and everyone else, at the world and this damn weather too. He hated the rain, but now he caught himself longing for the storm that would do something to this overpowering closeness. He was under the impression that his brain was going to shrink inside his scull if nothing changed. However incredible it was, though, there was no storm in spite of the heat. This world was stupid.
He turned over, angrily lashing his ghostly tail against the bed. He could hear Kurosaki breathe quietly, seeing pleasant dreams and not caring about anything. Once, in one of those ridiculous conversations he insisted on having with Grimmjow, he had informed him about being "a summer child". As if Grimmjow ever cared! But it probably explained why the heat didn't affect him. In the morning, Kurosaki woke up as brisk as a lark and then spent his day bright and all - at school, at home, outside and inside his room. His life was that of a completely normal human, save for his Shinigami duties, but these too were his daily routine, and he didn't attach any greater importance to them than to his other activities. He didn't complain, he didn't sulk, he simply walked through his life. Regardless of the weather. Grimmjow couldn't stand it.
He tried to remember how he had finished up here in the first place - or, in fact, he didn't, for the memory of it was so humiliating he rather tried not to recall it. He felt so stupid for having done what he had done. Nnoitra, let him rot in hell, completely unaware, had scrambled his brain with that imbecile attack, and it had seemed to Grimmjow that Kurosaki had been right about everything. He set his jaws. He could remember, despite not wanting to, how he had clung to life, his only determination to stand before that Shinigami once more. He had wanted to retaliate against him, yet he had already known it to be impossible. Something in Kurosaki... Grimmjow had simply understood he couldn't defeat him despite his best efforts. Something in Kurosaki had made him want to follow him and stay with him. Nothing else.
He rested his forehead on the makeshift pillow and hit his fist against the makeshift bedding. What a rubbish. What an idiotic, moronic rubbish! Nnoitra must have hit him really hard to make him come up with something like that. There was no other explanation - now, that he was thinking about it. However, that time... He swallowed. Not only had he rebelled against Aizen - nothing much, though, as he had never considered that trash his master - but also joined Kurosaki's side in the final battle. Now it seemed an utter stupidity, but then... He'd had a feeling that, for the first time in his life, he had been doing a right thing.
He tried not to remember the look Kurosaki had gave him that moment.
And where had it lead him? Kurosaki had recognized Grimmjow as his best pal and taken him in! Las Noches and Espada had fallen, and the Human World had been saved. For Kurosaki, it had been only natural that Grimmjow had no place to go, so he could stay here. Damn him, along with his instinct of protecting all the orphans and caring for everyone in sight - which had never brought him any good. If anything annoyed Grimmjow most, it was this. Another thing was, however, why he had consented to this in the first place and why he didn't leave if he wasn't content. After all, he could do it any moment.
The reason was obvious, even for him. Even if it felt so hard to admit it.
Had in been not for Kurosaki, he would be left all alone - which he simply didn't wish. He could hate him, he could despise him, but it didn't change the fact that Kurosaki had invaded his world and stayed in it, while all the others had vanished. He hadn't realized it until there was no-one else nearby any more.
Oh, how many times he wanted to tear him to shreds. Hit. Strike down. Crush and await the begging for mercy. Fantasies were so ludicrous they were simple waste of time. Nevertheless, when Kurosaki looked at him with these calm and serene eyes - saying 'Good morning, Grimmjow' or 'I'm back', or 'Good night, Grimmjow' - then Grimmjow had really hard time to restrain himself from answering him the way he really wanted to. Kurosaki seemed to believe he could lead a normal, every-day life with a Hollow. He was so damn... good and perfect. He behaved as if the past had never happened. Never at all. Grimmjow couldn't grasp it and, eventually, he would probably kill him one day; but then...
He rolled over.
He rarely had dreams, but once he had seen a vision that had almost thrown him off balance. In this blissful dream, he had got to do what he had really wanted to: bring Kurosaki to his knees, beat him, overpower him, strike him, break him. Savour his feeling of defeat and tear off the mask of an invincible ideal. He didn't remember the details, but he couldn't forget one thing, that kept coming to him afterwards with a frightening clarity: Kurosaki's eyes. In this dream, Kurosaki had looked at him in a different way than usually: it had been not a smile, not a serenity, not an understanding. Grimmjow had thought that, upon seeing pain, suffering and despair in his eyes, he would finally be satisfied - yet he had waked up in a cold sweat and with feeling it couldn't and shouldn't be like this, which he had been not able to explain to himself. Ever since, however, he had controlled himself twice as much in his relation with Kurosaki. Deep inside him, there was a certainty he definitely didn't want to see Kurosaki looking that way in real. He feared that something horrible would happen if Kurosaki did.
Why was he recollecting it right now?
He slid the door aside. His perfect eyes, now full of reluctance, moved to the figure in the bed. Kurosaki had thrown the blanket down. Grimmjow spotted the sweatshops on his forehead. Enraged by everything, he closed his eyes - and then opened them, frowning. Only now he realized that Kurosaki was breathing quickly and shallowly. When he concentrated, he could hear his heart-beating, faster than usual. Perhaps he didn't have any pleasant dreams after all... As if to confirm that, Shinigami let out a quiet moan. Grimmjow winced. Hero of Soul Society was being tormented by a nightmare.
"Be a man, Kurosaki!" he shouted angrily, fighting the urge to add a pillow. Or mini-Cero.
It didn't help. Kurosaki's breathing grew faster, and his muscles began to tense, as if he tried to run away from the nightmare, yet he couldn't. Grimmjow gave him a pitying look, regarding him with increasing irritation. As if the night hadn't been unpleasant enough - with all that heat and reflections coming to his head although he didn't invite them. He snorted.
He got out of the closet and approached the bed. Kurosaki's fair skin glistened with sweat, his damp hair were sticking to the forehead, and his lips were parted; apart from this he seemed totally normal. Grimmjow raised his hand, ready to slap his face - it wouldn't possibly harm him, while it could ease Grimmjow's mind. He restrained himself in the last moment, when the heat wave reached him. He stepped back. Unnatural warmth was coming from Kurosaki, perceptible even in this temperature. Was he sick?
Grimmjow's thought automatically bolted towards Kurosaki senior, before ex-Espada realized he had just been considering getting help. He took another step back, opening his eyes wide. Apart from the fact that rest of the family was out for the whole week, it was an absurd idea that Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez should bother with Kurosaki's problems. He frowned again and set his jaws, angry with himself for the very thought. Yet he was staying there and wondering what he should do - not knowing what he wanted to do. He raised his hand - and froze. He couldn't stand him, detested him and despised him. He hated him for having crashed his world. He couldn't accept his daily kindness and serene eyes. But, above all, what drove him insane was the feeling that he wasn't himself any more when staying with Kurosaki. He should turn back now and leave, not look and not bother. He should laugh at his misery.
It was his fault, too. He clenched his fists.
There was still that chick who imagined she was Kurosaki's woman, and acted like cat in heat. Better than anyone else, Grimmjow knew Kurosaki wasn't interested in her in the slightest. He would be damned if he brought her here! Kurosaki moaned again, his hands moving on the sheet as if he wanted to catch something or shield himself from something. His reiatsu flickered with black, and Grimmjow felt hair rise all over his body. He had to end it before... He didn't know. He only knew that the shadow spreading out in Kurosaki's reiatsu evoked his worst emotions. Only after a moment he realized what it smelled of: a Hollow. He shivered. Something absurdly inconsistent was in it: nothing in the world terrified him - a Hollow - more that Kurosaki's Hollow.
He came closer again, although all his instincts were telling him to run away. He growled at them, and they fell silent. Firmly, he shook Kurosaki by his shoulder. No effect, but he didn't even pay attention to it, for suddenly and unexpectedly he was flooded by the surge of emotions so strong he swayed. He pulled his hand away from Shinigami's body, but the feeling continued. It felt as if someone had just sent a pure energy through his arm. He was under the impression it got darker in the room.
Pain, suffering, despair. And mortal fear mixed with an absolute emptiness. Grimmjow felt them attack him almost physically, sneaking in and coiling around his inside. However, his first - how irrational - thought was: How anyone can endure it?
"That wasn't me...!" came from Kurosaki's mouth, while his head started to thrash around the pillow as if he wanted to deny something or drive away in disbelief or retreat.
Grimmjow wanted to move back - the farther the better. He couldn't deny he was scared, no matter how low it was. His instincts weren't silent for long and now ordered him to flee.
Why should he care for Kurosaki?
He knew Shinigami wouldn't hurt himself, even if he fell out of bed or hit the wall. He realized, however... he wasn't able to... look calmly at Kurosaki's fight with his own. As a Hollow, he should treat him with a contempt... so whence the feeling he simply couldn't leave him alone?
Mad at himself and at Kurosaki - and feeling something squeeze his insides - he sat down onto the bed and, paying no attention to all the subconscious and uncontrolled transmissions, he took Shinigami in a firm grip and pulled closer. His hands were shaking, and he realized his heart pounded very quickly. He clenched his jaws, embracing Kurosaki's shoulders tighter and resting the back against the wall. The heat Shinigami's body radiated was almost unbearable, and his muscles were trembling as if from a great effort. It seemed as if he was to fall apart.
Grimmjow was holding him tightly.
In Kurosaki's reiatsu flashed memories of others. Dark green of Ulquiorra, charcoal grey of the girl, sapphire of Quincy - and, over it, empty black of his Hollow. Grimmjow realized Kurosaki was reliving the final confrontation with the Fourth Espada. Everything started to make sense. Grimmjow didn't know the details of it, yet he sometimes had dreams in which he saw the shreds of the battle on the top of Las Noches. That time he himself had lain on the sand of the very same Las Noches, trying to grasp the life leaking through his fingers. With a particle of his mind, teetering on the line between life and dead, he must have been aware of the incidents on the dome, even if he didn't remember it. He remembered, however, Kurosaki's black and empty reiatsu when Shinigami had ultimately become Hollow, and remembered how terrified he had became himself. He remembered he had wanted to howl then. Even now he couldn't stop from trembling when recalling it. Kurosaki was shivering in his embrace.
Grimmjow looked at him, although from his position he could see only orange mop of hair and tip of the nose. It seemed to him, however, he could get inside Shinigami, which wasn't that difficult since Kurosaki's emotions, feelings and thoughts were infiltrating the whole place and ex-Espada's mind in an infinite stream. Grimmjow felt like he was to grind his teeth. He focused on the reality, aware he was the only one here in touch with it. He focused on the physical sensations, trying to anchor in the time and place. He had to do it, otherwise he would lost his mind himself, and it would be that.
To hold Kurosaki in his arms didn't fill him with any particular disgust; to tell the truth - and he did it with reluctance - it was more comfortable he could have ever expected. The concept of closeness hadn't existed in his dictionary - and, so far, his only contact with Kurosaki had happened during their fighting. He hadn't expected the touch could feel so natural. Now, when he sensed Shinigami's slim figure all over his body, he had to admit that - apart from the general situation - it was almost pleas... He shook his head. Anyway, after a while even the unnatural heat stopped to irritate him, and the impression that his skin was going to evaporate faded. It was easier, now, to carry out the original resolution he wouldn't let go out of Kurosaki, no matter what. It was these emotions - especially the dark shadow that seemed to materialize and devour everything around - that made such a close contact exhausting and overwhelming. But he didn't intend to give up.
Kurosaki moaned; his heart was pounding frantically as if ready to tear out from his chest. Grimmjow pressed his eye-lids together when another surge of energy hit him. The empty blackness was mixed with white-hot suffering. Grimmjow concentrated, yet he felt so frustrated with the fact that... he was unable to do anything. Although all of this was happening only in Kurosaki's head, for him it was as real as Grimmjow sitting next to him - or probably more real than that, for he wasn't aware of the world around him. Before his eyes existed only this desperate fight he couldn't lose because it meant to plunge into darkness. After a cautious reflection, Grimmjow realized he did want to do something - because, of course, he had been born to act. He hated the feeling of total helplessness; yet, he couldn't affect Kurosaki's situation at all...
He felt like banging his head against the wall behind his back to sober himself.
He looked at him again. Kurosaki's teeth were chattering.
Only now an obvious thought occurred to Grimmjow: how much Kurosaki was paying for playing a Hollow. What kind of person was Kurosaki really? He did know. He recollected his smile - not fake, now he had to admit it - his sincere eyes and his annoying instinct to protect everyone. Everything which Grimmjow couldn't stand in him because it seemed so different from his own reality. Anyway, the real nature of Kurosaki was bright, serene and gentle. Grimmjow swallowed. He had known it since long, but he couldn't acknowledge it, even less understand it. After all, the warrior shouldn't be like this.
Hollow meant to deny that all; Hollow meant to enter the darkness and sink into emptiness. It was a madness aimed not only at the enemies but allies as well.
No wonder his heart appeared to fall to pieces. No wonder he was suffering so much that Grimmjow could barely stand his touch. He clenched his jaws.
He felt something akin to the reluctant respect. For the first time in his life.
Night went on. Grimmjow couldn't say whether Kurosaki's condition was changing or not. He knew, however, that his arms started to feel the effect of prolonged holding of charge that could explode any moment. It didn't worry him much, for he had enough strength to do it for another couple of days and nights if needed. He could manage the furious lashes of reiatsu as well, whether it was that empty blackness or hot whiteness - although he didn't know himself which was worse. Nevertheless, he hoped that Kurosaki would finally get tired and wake up - or fall asleep. Or whatever. For the sake of them both.
Some time had already passed before Grimmjow realized that his irritation, accompanying him for the whole day and having its culmination in night, had vanished. It surprised him. After all, the general situation didn't help to relax, yet he did feel better inside now.
Kurosaki moved abruptly, throwing his hands up as if he wanted to reach something. Grimmjow caught them and pulled back to the trembling body. Something tickled him, a trail of turquoise hinted with dark red. The sensation was so light, barely perceptible in the storm Kurosaki was fighting - and, through him, Grimmjow as well - that only after a moment he grasped its nature. Kurosaki's consciousness must have caught on the memories of his other battles. He looked down on Shinigami's hands he was still clutching. Turquoise flashed before his eyes once more.
He felt a pang he couldn't identify - and then he remembered.
Kurosaki is trying to use his Hollow powers, but he has no chance to recreate his mask. Grimmjow doesn't give him time for any attack; he throws him back with a powerful blow and, before Shinigami realizes, he has his hands immobile. Grimmjow's Zanpakutō, firmly hammered in the ground, is piercing both his wrists. Kurosaki can't make a move.
Grimmjow remembered the feeling of triumph that had filled him that moment. The intoxication with victory and the upcoming final, when his opponent, defeated and broken, would be punished for being weak. Now this memory didn't bring any joy.
Something squirmed inside again, and he took trouble to examine this feeling, for it was not pleasant. It was completely different from the emotions Kurosaki was emitting because it belonged to him, having its source in him. Once more, he recollected Kurosaki's face, Shinigami kneeling before him and unable to make any gesture, his eyes wide open, surprised, shocked, not frightened because he hadn't had enough time to feel the fear yet. The pang in the place of ghostly heart was a fact. The remembrance - a mere remembrance! - of Kurosaki's suffering filled him with... sorrow? regret? Especially the suffering he had inflicted on him himself, although not so long ago it had seemed the greatest delight.
Now he couldn't stop his mind from bringing right before his eyes another memories, the entire film of his fighting with Kurosaki. And each single time when he had directed his power against him. He had never even thought about it; now he couldn't drive it away.
He was in pain at the thought that he had hurt him.
Surprised, he almost let Kurosaki off, but the jerky movement of Shinigami's shoulders made him manage the situation. Kurosaki drew closer, for the first time this night. Grimmjow took a deep breath, regarding the unconscious Shinigami, not as much as aware of who was next to him - yet pressing himself nearer as if looking for... support? help? Grimmjow swallowed. Something had changed, he realized suddenly. The atmosphere in the room was more alive. It was still pulsating fiercely, almost piercing the eardrums, but the choking blackness, raging to absorb everything, seemed to fade. Grimmjow decided that Kurosaki calmed down a bit.
His heart leapt. Of relief.
He felt like snorting, but didn't want to waste his strength.
He hugged Kurosaki tighter, pressing face to his hair when realization struck him. Once in a while, the shock treatment wasn't bad, he thought ironically, trying to calm the wild beating of his heart. If he was to be guided by his old fear, he would escape - but now he couldn't escape, so he had to accept it all. Everything began to fall into place.
Perhaps he had once hated Kurosaki - perhaps not as long as an hour ago - for nothing and for everything. Perhaps he had clung to this hatred because it had been all that had left from his old life. Perhaps he couldn't accept the invitation to the new world - that hand reached to him and that smile. Of course he couldn't. Even if subconsciously he had wished nothing more. He couldn't. Above all, he had been afraid to lose himself and become someone else, weak and dependent, someone he wouldn't be able to respect.
It didn't matter any more. His world had crumbled, and Kurosaki Ichigo was the only one to show him in the new world - and, in fact, he had already done it.
Grimmjow felt something warm spreading inside him. He was terrified, he was shocked - but, all above this, there was a calmness. It was as if he opened his eyes and saw a real sun. He didn't need a sun to walk in the darkness; he need it to go ahead through the new world. For the first time he felt the gratitude - that had already been in him since long. And the desire to be with him, one of the most genuine feelings he had ever experienced.
It was a good feeling. Having it, he didn't feel as a different person. He didn't feel weak or dependent. He felt... good. Complete.
He smiled to himself; after all, no-one could see him.
He wasn't able to hate him. Now, in this moment of sincerity, he realized how pointless his resentment had been. In darkness - how convenient - he had seen only what he had wished to see. He had kept rejecting what had been reflected in Kurosaki's eyes: the real self of Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez. That glance of absolute had made him realize, deep inside him, he had deserved only pity. He couldn't stand that walking perfection because he had felt he couldn't get anywhere near him. He had kept to himself and raised barriers, one after another - although, in fact...
Kurosaki had needed to be thrown into Hollow madness for Grimmjow to understand his own foolishness. To understand that Kurosaki was someone who might be in pain, in fear and need help as well.
He couldn't hate someone who seek that comfort from him.
He didn't want him to suffer - but he realized right away he could do nothing about it. Kurosaki's stupid heart, that forced him to care for everyone - his greatest power - was his greatest weakness. Grimmjow sighed helplessly , knowing that, sooner or later, Kurosaki would go on another crusade to protect those important to him, for he couldn't do otherwise. He knew one more thing, though: he himself would rather die than make him suffer again. Kurosaki didn't deserve it - that one was clear to Grimmjow after this night, when Kurosaki's pain had become his own.
In a way, they were more alike he could have ever expected. Grimmjow was sure, however, he preferred to remain an only Hollow here. Kurosaki was a Shinigami. It was natural this way.
"That wasn't me," Kurosaki whispered.
"I know," Grimmjow whispered back.
Kurosaki let out a sigh, relaxing. Grimmjow realized that everything had ended. Kurosaki's reiatsu was pulsating with a calm blue. The ghosts of the past had disappeared, taking the pain and despair with them.
It thundered outside the window. The next moment rain was already lashing down. The furious storm covered the suffocating Karakura Town with its cloak.
Kurosaki Ichigo slept peacefully in his arms.
"Good night," Grimmjow murmured into his hair and closed his eyes.
Raindrops were hitting the windowsill, creating a most wonderful lullaby.