Okay. Here is a oneshot that had been bouncing around in the back of my mind since before I started on So Contradictory. I thought it was a very interesting idea and, while I had been writing SC, I had been entertaining ideas for this particular story. At this point, I have no idea how it will end. I write this with the intention of it ending one of two ways. I'm not sure which way I'll make it go, so I suppose it all depends on how I feel once it comes time for me to start to end it.
So this is like… really long for a oneshot (in my opinion, at least), so I'm really sorry to those of you who have trouble sitting and reading for long periods of time. In that case, I highly recommend downloading and using the Read It Later add-on for Mozilla Firefox. I use it all the time… and it saves the exact spot where you left off on the webpage. It's a god-send, I must say. :D
Started August 9th
Completed November 12th
Disclaimer(s): I do not own Bleach. It is owned by the fantastic Tite Kubo.
One thing that I've learned over the years is that the states of life and death are taken for granted.
He pulled the hat low over his eyes, instinctively knowing that his bright orange hair was successfully hidden from the world around him. It was dark out, the musky scent of mildew and nature from a recent rain lightly brushing against his nostrils. Even though he had stepped into the city boundaries a good mile or so back, it was quiet. The only sound that was audible during this particular night was the low whistle of a passing breeze, accompanied by the occasional hum of an engine as wayward cars happened to pass by.
Humans don't realize exactly how precious these two things are, instead choosing to rest them on a pedestal and move on with their lives. They are mere words with little meaning, used only to categorize certain instances of an organism's existence.
Huffing slightly, the lone man let out a breath of air, brown eyes following the wisps of cool vapor that curled into the atmosphere from his lips. Tucking his hands into his pockets, he continued forward, intent upon ignoring the world around him. He was merely a passerby, his only purpose in the city being to traverse through, and perhaps observe the way this particular city worked.
There are only two times when humans feel more in tune with these states of everlasting being: When a child is born, and when someone passes away. The birth of the infant becomes something beautiful—something to be celebrated. The death of the loved one becomes something tragic and unbearably saddening. Thus, the term 'mourning' is born.
Worn shoes scuffled along the ground, the person adorning them lost in thought. It was only when a sharp honk from a nearby car sounded that he snapped from his reverie. Without realizing it, he had made it to a much more populated area of the city. Now he was walking along the darkened sidewalk, passing the occasional person and more than a handful of cars. A few prominent buildings jutted out against a polluted night sky, forever scarred by the lights made by man. A frown slipped onto his lips as he stopped, staring up at what should have been a pitch black cover of night. The years had changed. Too much.
However, I've had enough experience and time to myself to become well-acquainted with these two words. I understand them in the exact same way a math genius would understand a simple algebraic function. There's so much more to it than what people assume.
Close-by, a woman stumbled, her heels forcing her to take larger steps in order to regain her balance. Before she was able to stand correctly upon her feet once more, she bumped into the shoulder of the lone man, arms flailing as she finally caught her balance. The two stood for a moment as the lady caught her breath. When her thumping heart finally seemed to slow down, she turned an apologetic smile on the mysterious figure and said, "Sorry about that." He merely shook his head whilst dipping it, tugging his hat further down his face and continued down the sidewalk, leaving the confused brunette to stare after him.
I'm not being arrogant or anything of that sort. I just happen to know more about it than the average person. After all…
As he moved further into the city, the buildings became taller, their exteriors more lavish. Without realizing it, he had likely wandered downtown. Even though it was nearing half-past midnight, there were still people milling about, cars cruising down the crowded streets. There were a few neon signs here and there, proudly displaying the small restaurants, cafes and stores tucked between large, glass office buildings.
I'm anything but average. Hell…
He paused before a rather nice restaurant, the glass windows allowing him to see the groups of friends and spattering of couples at different tables, a few males laughing loudly at the bar. His eyes latched onto the television hanging above the racks of gin and vodka. A slow-motion video was occurring on the screen, displaying the epic touchdown of the football tournament that was happening somewhere a little further up north. There was a brief announcement that he couldn't hear (presumably informing the viewers of a commercial break) before the screen cut to the standard default of the restaurant. The logo was emblazoned in the corner, the current time (down to the second) taking up most of the middle of the screen. Below that, there was small string of numbers entailing the date followed by the day of the week.
That explained the multitude of people wandering around at night. Other than that, he could really care less about what day of the week or time of year it was. Time was something that he had learned to cast aside. It was no longer an issue with him, so he disregarded it altogether. Shaking his head, he wrapped his coat tighter around himself and continued in the direction he had been heading.
To be honest, I'm not even sure if I could be considered human.
As he passed by a rather chatty group of friends, he allowed his eyes to trail along after them, a sort of melancholy in their chocolate-colored depths. Usually he would take the time to linger in the city and observe the way the people interacted. Just watch the trends and try to pick out the differences of that particular city and all the others. Today, however, he was in a dismal sort of mood. He just wanted to get away from all of the things that were unfamiliar to him. Get away from the people and away from the noise. He just wanted to be alone.
But then again, he mused, wrinkling his nose as a particularly strong gust of wind blew a crumbling leaf into his face.
That is my curse.
Minutes blended together as the mysterious young man made his trek through the city. He had no idea where he was going, and to be honest, he didn't much care either way. It was true that he wanted to get away from the irritating drone of the city, but then again, what was there left for him outside of the city?
He had nobody to go to. No home to return to.
The odd man was simply a wanderer. He had nothing to exist for and had no intention of finding that something. The only thing he could do was keep moving. Never stop moving.
The city slowly changed before his eyes, morphing from the lively, playful atmosphere of downtown to a more barren and threatening sort of area. It seemed to be a seedy part of town. He idly glanced around, looking for a sign that he should turn around and find a different way out of the city. It wasn't that he was frightened or anything like that, but he tended to attract attention. He disliked calling attention to himself and wanted nothing more than to avoid trouble.
While he didn't see anything out-right threatening, he did see things that would usually make the average person antsy. A few prostitutes slinked by, unsubtly dragging their eyes down his form, trying to evaluate if they should approach him. By the way they kept on walking, however, it seemed they didn't find him good enough to suit their needs. He kept moving, passing by countless bars in the process. As he rounded the corner, he saw a large neon sign, arrogantly displaying the words, 'Nezia's Nudes: Come see a true woman'.
He wanted nothing more than to snort, instead holding the noise at the back of his throat when he saw the group hanging out below the sign. The glow barely illuminated them, but he could see the tell-tale signs of weapons—a couple pistols and more than a few concealed knives. He turned on his heel, crossing the street to an alley that he had caught sight of only moments before. Hearing the sound of shoes scuffling along behind him, he balled his fists and let out a quiet, frustrated noise. While he had already gained the attention of trouble-makers, he was determined to avoid an unnecessary conflict.
Though most grown men would be pissing in their pants, he continued at an unhurried pace, hands shoved deep in the pockets of his wool coat. As he rounded the corner, he noticed more than a few openings and quickly made a decision. He moved to the last opening and hurriedly turned down it, making his way down the narrow entryway and around the brick building. Finally, he pushed out onto the street once more, and paused a moment before eying the opening he had just exited critically. He focused his hearing down the narrow alley and scowled when he heard the sound of a single person's footsteps and quiet cursing. He glanced around him, taking in his surroundings before landing on a rather dilapidated building. The windows had been busted in more than one spot, more than a few having lost glass altogether. He approached it, taking note of the gang tags having been marked and re-marked on the sad-looking bricks. With a bit of a sigh, he entered it, determined to stay there and wait for the chance for him to leave.
Quickly finding a few boxes, he sat behind them, ignoring the smell of rot and focusing all attention on his ears. He listened for sounds—anything that would tell him that his pursuer had given up his search. When he hadn't heard anything for at least a few minutes, he stood up and dusted the dirt off of the seat of his pants, a bored expression on his face. He rolled his shoulders and proceeded further into the building, intending to find another way out as a precaution. As he made his way further into the gloom, however, he began to hear sounds that set him on edge.
There was a loud banging, as if a heavy door had slammed up against the wall. There was a momentary silence before he heard a groan and then muffled words. The words grew in volume, climbing to a crescendo where a slapping broke through. Another groan issued, echoing through the darkness.
The man stepped forward, making sure to keep his footsteps quiet. As he rounded the corner, his eyes caught a dim glow issuing from a door hanging ajar. Carefully, he peeked his head around the corner, blinking when he saw two figures arguing amongst themselves.
"Look! We can't chicken out now. Boss'll have more control 'round here, and because we're the ones takin' care o' it, we're going to be the ones to git the status boost!"
"He's not the type of guy we want to mess with though! We'll be hunted down and killed! What's the point in gettin' higher in the ranks if it's only going to be for a day? We'll be living the good life for a good few hours 'fore our bodies are found face down in a ditch!"
There was a quiet chuckle from the ground, and brown eyes were drawn to the pathetic lump lying upon the dirty tiles. The lump squirmed for a moment before it seemed to uncurl into a figure, turning over to show flashy blue hair.
"Ya better get to a decision. Ya can't half-ass this kind of shit. Either ya kill me and take my corpse to your boss, or ya let me go and take your coward asses outta here. Either way, though," the blue haired child turned intense eyes on his captors, an unforgiving and almost cruel smirk upon his lips, "Aizen is gonna be comin' after your asses. The second you clubbed me over the head with the intention of handing me over to someone else, ya picked a fight with 'im."
The man who seemed to be against the whole plan made a strangled noise in the back of his throat. "He's right!" He quietly shrieked, voice cracking slightly. His head fell into his hands and he muttered quietly to himself. The orange haired man heaved a quiet sigh, realizing that he had to help the poor blue haired kid out or he would suffer from the guilt a few years down the road. The cowering man seemed to stiffen, head snapping in the red head's direction. He made another strangled noise, causing his partner to look at him in confusion.
"Oh… Oh shit!" he cursed, pointing a shaking finger toward their unexpected guest. "Someone's seen…!" He bit his lip and fell to his knees, cowering beside the child whom they had assaulted. The kid on the ground scoffed at the man and instead turned his attention to the newcomer and the braver of his kidnappers. The newcomer stepped forward into the room, showing himself to be as much of a mystery (though seemingly more) than everyone else occupying the chamber.
His assaulter (the one not currently in tears), slipped his hand behind his back, pulling something from the waist of his pants. A pistol.
Within moments the gun had been cocked and accurately aimed, held by a steady hand. The man was good. He knew what he was doing. The newcomer, however, seemed undeterred and moved a little further into the room. He paused when his opponent called out.
"Git outta here 'fore I blow a fuckin' hole through yo' head!" His voice was steady.
The man with the hat stopped and seemed to contemplate this. Then he said, "Somehow I doubt you're going to let me just walk out of here alive." His voice was hoarse; as if he hadn't talked in a very long time. The gunman narrowed his eyes, stance becoming somewhat more rigid. It was weird that the person before him seemed totally at ease—As if he felt that he was going to come out of this situation unscathed…
He shook his head. That was impossible. He clearly had the advantage—a gun, while the strange man had no weapons. He could do this.
Just as he had prepared to pull the trigger, however, he experienced an odd sort of sensation. The mysterious man had pushed his hat back a bit and made direct eye-contact with him. Everything seemed to blur and go hazy after that.
The child lying upon the floor, bloody and bruised, furrowed his eyebrows in confusion as the gunman slowly lowered his gun. Without warning, the man spun on his heel and marched over to where his comrade sat shaking and abruptly pulled him up by the arm. Without a single word, the coward was being pulled out of a back door and into the dark cover of the night. He stared at the door as it slowly clicked shut, leaving only him and the strange man in the room, accompanied only by a thick silence.
It was only a minute or so before he heard soft footsteps heading in his direction and he snapped his head up to look at the strange newcomer. He didn't think that the man would try to finish the two dumbass' job, but…
He glared daggers at the man, summoning as much strength as he could to get into a sitting position. The man didn't seem to notice him though, and instead walked past him toward the door. He was confused.
"Hey!" he yelled, scowling. What the hell was he supposed to do in a situation like this? What exactly were the man's intentions? And what the fuck had just occurred between him and the gunman? All of these questions pressed at the barrier of his mind, becoming a somewhat unpleasant buzz at the background of his thoughts. He suddenly got both the urge to groan and the urge to cheer when the man paused at the doorway.
"My name's Grimmjow Jaegerjaques." Many years later, he would continue to wonder what exactly had possessed him to say that. Nonetheless, what was done was done.
The stranger watched him for a moment before shrugging it off, reaching for the door handle. Grimmjow watched him incredulously before his temper took control. "Hey!" he yelled once more, wincing a bit when it pulled on some sore muscles. When he realized that he had the man's attention, he aimed his scowl in his direction once more. "Isn't it only p'lite to give yer own name after hearin' mine?" he growled out, slowly rising to his feet. Damned, if he wasn't in pain…
Instead of completely ignoring him (like Grimmjow had thought he would), the man allowed the handle to slip from his fingers as he turned and regarded him. There was a moment of silence until it was broken by the hoarse voice once more.
"Isn't it only polite to say 'thank you' to someone who helped you out?" he inquired, lips tilting up slightly when Grimmjow seemed to get a bit angrier. He made a step closer (smirk growing more defined when he noticed that the blue haired kid stepped back simultaneously) and shoved his hands back into his coat pockets. "You should never fail to say 'thank you'. Besides. Just because you were stupid enough to give me your name, doesn't mean I'm going to give you mine."
This man pissed Grimmjow off. He didn't really come off as egotistical or anything… but he was arrogant. That grated on his nerves. Before he could bite a retort back, the man with the hoarse voice dropped his shoulders and only said, "Ichigo."
Blinking for a moment, electric blue eyes looked up just in time to latch onto sad, brown eyes. He opened his mouth to ask what he meant, but the other seemed to already know what was going through his head. Chocolate eyes darted away, instead focusing upon the dingy wall of the opposite side of the room. "My name," he muttered, just loud enough for Grimmjow to hear.
This man… He was very strange. Grimmjow coughed, knees giving out on him. He winced when he hit the ground, only barely managing to put his arms out to catch himself. The guys who had ambushed him were weak… but they had had plenty of time to do enough damage on him—especially considering the fact that he was not yet big enough to take on an average-sized adult, let alone two. It was a little embarrassing to have been caught in the first place… But it couldn't be helped. He forced the thought back. He could deal with that later. Right now, he needed to get home and patch himself up. Grimmjow looked up, finding the mysterious stranger (Ichigo, he reminded himself) watching him with an analytical stare.
He held the strong gaze, years of pain and endurance keeping him from looking away in embarrassment. Grimmjow knew that there was something weird about this guy, but for now, he didn't find him intimidating. After all, he had stared down the barrels of more than a couple of guns without any hesitation all throughout his life. Sadly, that was the way many people grew up on this side of Hueco Mundo—in the slums where crime thrived. Las Noches.
Ichigo seemed to have decided upon something for he sighed and moved forward, extending his arms when he noticed the way the younger male seemed to be clenching his fists in an attempt to redirect his thoughts away from the pain of his inflicted wounds. The kid was more than a little roughed up. He had more than a couple of cuts running up and down his forearms, bruises showing up on his face and around his neck (which looked suspiciously similar to that of chain links) and an eye that was quickly swelling shut due to the bruise blooming only a few centimeters to the side. He was lucky that he hadn't gotten a black eye from that blow. Grimmjow looked up at him with a clouded expression, trying to deduce the man's intentions. His mind was starting to fog over. The adrenaline had long left him and the pain and fatigue was starting to get to him.
Not giving the child enough time to come to the realization of his intentions, Ichigo quickly threaded an arm around his torso and hauled him back to his feet, making slow, purposeful steps to the door that he had previously been about to exit. Ichigo made a noise of distaste as he trudged along, more than a little surprised with the lack of noise from Grimmjow. Back when he had first peeked in the room, he had instantly realized that all of the occupants had been mixed up with the wrong crowd.
The fact that the blue haired kid wasn't protesting was more than enough testament to how terrible his wounds were. Then again, he was merely a child. He had no idea how someone so young could get mixed up with such a crowd, but… at the same time, he had no desire to know. It was obvious that this city was much harsher than others—if the random gangsters here and there throughout the streets were any indication, at least. After stumbling for the second time, Ichigo pulled his arm out from underneath Grimmjow and leaned the kid up against the brick wall outside, instead pulling his arms around his neck to heft him onto his back. When Grimmjow got the general idea of what he was trying to do, he began thrashing slightly, protesting.
"Hell no! You are not givin' me a piggy-back ride!" He yelled, a little surprised with the lack of reaction from his savior. He had been right next to the man's ear… and most people would have flinched at the noise… But, he mused to himself, such was the mystery of the strange man named Ichigo.
Ichigo, on his part, ignored the grumblings of his passenger and instead glanced about the street, belatedly realizing that he had no idea where to go. He had no idea where the nearest hospital was… He sighed quietly and murmured, "Shrimp. Where's the hospital?"
There was a brief moment of silence before the kid exploded. "Shrimp? Wha' the hell, asshole! I may be short, but I could kick yo' ass!" The statement was punctuated with him grinding his heels into Ichigo's abdomen. He paid no attention to the intended pain and instead said, "Yeah, yeah. Hospital?"
"No," Grimmjow answered back immediately, presumably shaking his head. "Not allowed. Not 'n this city, 'least." His voice seemed to grow a bit distant. "They don' like my kind. 'Sides, s'all the way on the other side. Would take 'least two hours on foot." Ichigo shifted he kid on his back, bringing him up a little bit to make it a bit more comfortable. He wasn't positive, but he was pretty sure he knew the implications of that statement. Well, the only choice left was…
"Okay…" He muttered, "Then where do you live?"
The blue haired child stayed silent for a moment, contemplating the possible consequences of telling this total stranger where he lived. Then again, what was the point? If the guy had been planning on doing something to him, he would have done it long ago. Besides, he didn't have anything of value at home, so it wasn't like the man could steal anything important from him… He clenched his fists into the fabric of the man's coat, hoping beyond hope that he wasn't making the wrong decision. Silently, he lifted a hand and pointed down the street. Without any further words, Ichigo started in that direction, following Grimmjow's reticent directions.
When they finally arrived at the run-down apartment complex, it was already well into the early hours of the morning. According to Grimmjow, however, it was much quicker than going to the hospital. Ichigo reached forward and gripped the knob of the kid's apartment door, frowning when it opened without protest. Shouldn't the kid keep the place locked? Or had things changed that much since the last time he had actually stayed in an actual home? He didn't bother asking the kid about it, instead lowering him to the ground once they were inside and watching Grimmjow wince. The child was hurt pretty badly.
He allowed his eyes to do a subtle rake of the apartment, his frown deepening further. It was nearly empty, save for a beaten down couch and a crate serving as a coffee table. Below him, Grimmjow gave a quiet groan, as if he didn't want the older man to hear him. He shifted onto his knees and slowly stood up, stumbling toward one of the doorways. Ichigo followed behind him unabashedly, determined to make sure that the kid would be okay.
Grimmjow had already sat down on the floor of the tiny kitchen, shaking hands rummaging through the first aid kit that sat in his lap. Ichigo slumped down beside him, swatting his hand away lightly and pulling the kit into his own lap. He ignored the gaze burning into the side of his face, instead focusing on finding all of the needed supplies. Quickly pulling out a roll of bandages and salve, he turned his body to face the kid. Ichigo met the electric blue eyes with his own muddy brown, silently conveying that he wasn't going to back down from helping out. Grimmjow seemed to get the message, his shoulders lulling into a somewhat defeated posture and he slowly began to pull his shirt off.
He tossed the dirt-caked fabric to the side with a wince, one hand immediately snapping to his torso. Ichigo brushed his hand aside and looked at the skin, letting out a quiet 'tch' when he saw the blue and black bruising already forming. He had likely gotten a rib fracture… He immediately set to work, applying the salve to cuts and forming bruises and then bandaging him up. When he was finally finished , the blue haired child slowly got to his feet and got himself a glass of water from the sink, pulling a bottle sitting (a little too conveniently) on the counter open and downing a few pills.
Ichigo put away the supplies without a word, depositing the kit on the counter of the kitchen and glancing around. Again, the room was almost completely bare save for a small refrigerator and shelves along with the customary counters. He blew out a quiet sigh and watched the kid lumber to the doorway.
After nearly 3 hours of no talking, Grimmjow quietly said, "Feel free to stay."
Without so much as another word, he watched the kid disappear into the other room, flicking off the kitchen light (probably expecting him to follow). There was a moment where he felt torn, wondering if he should leave, just like he always had, or if he should stay to make sure that the child didn't get hurt again. He stayed in his spot against the counter, staring at the door even as the other room's light (for it couldn't be called a living room due to the sparse furniture) was flicked off. He stayed there in the dark, thoughts running through a torrent for who-knew-how-many hours until he finally snapped out of it, shaking his head.
He couldn't get attached, never could. That couldn't change.
And with that thought, he pushed away from the counter and slinked through the darkness of the room, passing through the next room without a single hesitant step and walked out the front door.
Outside, it was pouring. Even with all of the experience that he had out on the streets, in the various conditions of weather, he found it hard to see. Even with his thick skin, he found that the cold was seeping through to his bones, making his teeth chatter and his limbs seize up in protest. Ichigo bit viciously at his lip, thoughts whirling in pointless directions. He couldn't stop and think about the intriguing child that he had rescued mere hours before.
He fisted the wooden pendant resting in his pocket, miraculously and oddly dry despite his soaked-through clothes. His feet guided him down a side-turning alley, emerging on a street of small, quaint shops. Nobody was around. It was only natural.
Nobody was crazy enough to be out in weather like this. Except him, of course.
Finally, after numerous, countless steps, he gave in to his body's complaints and took shelter under a nearby awning, shielding the door of a small café. He fell heavily against the glass of the floor length windows and slid down to sit, blowing out a puff of air that created a small cloud of vapor. The temperature had fallen below freezing. Already his body was shaking, rejecting the improper treatment he put it through. A scowl slid across his lips.
"I don't have much of a choice, do I?" he muttered quietly to himself. Abruptly, an image of blue hair flashed across his vision, a whisp of the last words the child had spoken tickling at his ear.
'Feel free to stay.'
No choice? His mind taunted. You're just scared.
And as a new vision of a past far gone, of a hyperactive man, and two girls so different from one another yet privileged enough to call one another their twin, he felt a bitter smile twitch at the corner of his mouth. Yes, he thought, melancholy pulling him into its grasp, I'm scared. His fist tightened around the pendant, the corners digging into his hand painfully. An icy shock shot up his arm from the wood, rocketing to his brain and spasming in pain.
Ichigo grit his teeth, suddenly irritated. He yanked the pendant out and glared at it, silently cursing it to hell. This was the source of all his problems.
His eyes slowly took in the features of the wood as if it were the first time he had ever set his eyes upon it. However, he had looked at it long and hard many a time before, the skull engraved in the center of the pentagonal shape, the rough, small piece of rope connected to the longest side of the wood practically imprinted on the back of his brain. Though it was small and rather innocent looking (save for the skull engraving), it was actually the very start of his burden.
Without warning, the wind suddenly picked up, causing the rain to change direction and spew at him. He spat out a curse, pushing closer to the glass and bringing his feet closer to his body. In the sharp movement, he had accidentally let go of the pendant, allowing it to clatter to the ground, just enough in the way that it would get soaked by the rain.
Only it didn't.
In fact, it was as if the rain was avoiding the little wooden shape, first heading in a straight line for the pendant and then suddenly going off on a tangent just a few inches before hitting it, as if deflected by an invisible barrier. Chocolate eyes watched the water go off in a different angle, creating a ring around the pentagon, keeping it perfectly dry.
The primal urge to bare his teeth at the pendant burned at him, his jaw tingling with the profound craving. Instead, he mechanically reached out and scooped it up, letting it loosely rest in the palm of his hand. No matter how harsh the elements were, it would never affect it. He would know.
After all, he'd tried, various times, to destroy the damned thing.
It never worked. There wasn't even a scratch.
He scowled at his dismaying thoughts, roughly shoving the pendant into his pocket. Ichigo looked out to the street, blinking slightly when he realized that he couldn't see more than a couple yards in front of him through the rain. Abruptly, his body chose that moment to remind him that it was freezing cold outside, a shudder tearing violently through his body. He pulled his coat tighter around him, not caring that it didn't really help due to its soggy state. Nonetheless, he ignored the conditions, wrapping his arms around his legs and resting his chin upon his knees.
He didn't need anybody. He was able to stay alone. And Ichigo was okay with that.
The next few weeks went by rather slowly for young Grimmjow. He had no idea where the orange-haired stranger had disappeared to, more than a little surprised at the lack of his presence when he had emerged from his room the following morning. The child was curious about the man… but he was long gone. There was no point in lingering over a single person.
He had himself to worry about after all.
However, more and more, as the days continued to pass, he found his thoughts straying to the memories of sad, calm brown eyes and orange locks of hair. He honestly couldn't help himself. He had basically been living on his own for a long time, left alone in the middle of a harsh, uncaring city, with no-one for company. Then, suddenly, this complete stranger helps him out, mystery practically oozing from his person. It was the first time that anybody had helped him out—the first time anybody had actually shown him concern.
Him. A lowly, pathetic child, inducted into the underworld.
Grimmjow scoffed to himself, wincing slightly as he shoved his hands into his pockets. His wounds were still pretty painful. He glanced down at his wrist, the pristine white bandage sticking out slightly from where it wrapped all the way up his arm. He tugged his sleeve down before tugging his thin jacket around himself again. It was fucking cold.
He wrinkled his nose as something wet hit the tip, making him curiously glance to the sky. It was snowing. No wonder it was so cold. He trudged along the grungy road, eyes peeled for any filchers. It was common in the city of Hueco Mundo. Not to mention, people seemed to think he was something of an easy target. Of course, most of the time, the people that jumped him ended up getting the surprise of their lives when they chose him as their target. They never realized how cruel and powerful a child could be. Even though he was only 9 years old, he didn't mind using random things lying around as a weapon. Not to mention, he fully used his small figure to his advantage, slipping around and hitting his attackers in sensitive places.
A memory of lying on a filthy warehouse floor slipped across his mind, subsequently leading to the memory of the orange haired man. He shook his head, kicking idly at a rock as he glanced around. It was starting to get dark out. The sky was changing from its murky, cloudy gray to a dark coal color, slowly infecting the rest of the sky, starting from the east and seeping to the west.
He forced his thoughts away from the dangerous territory they had been edging toward, instead lingering over the prior hour.
The gang meeting.
He was a part of the fearsome Arrancars, a gang that had been taking Hueco Mundo by a storm. The meeting had been pretty bland, the only noteworthy information given out being that of the neighboring gang having been wiped out. The same gang that the two goons that had attacked him were from. His savior's brown eyes flashed through his mind. He growled quietly to himself, wondering why his head couldn't seem to get the idea that the thoughts of the stranger were off limits. He had found the man to be companionable, and in this world, that was a dangerous thing indeed. Especially in his circumstances.
Grimmjow couldn't trust people. The second he let down his guard could be the very same instant that his life was forfeited. Even if, for some reason, the man was someone to trust, it was never smart to get close to someone if you were involved in dangerous activities. Your thoughts would wander (too late) at critical moments and that person could be put in danger. Or used against you.
He stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, letting out a sharp yell. Why was he thinking about this? What was so special about that man? He was gone! He would never see him again. He didn't have to worry about becoming close to him. Didn't have to worry about caring for him and then having him ripped away from his grasp.
Once more, he steered his thoughts toward the previous meeting, glancing idly about himself. Aizen, their leader, had been particularly menacing when he had announced the destruction of the rivaling gang. Aizen had been the one to come across Grimmjow and offer him a position in their ranks, offered to take him under his wing and help him out in his situation. He knew the man was bat-shit crazy, but… he needed the help, as much as he hated to admit it. However, even though he was able to survive from day to day, he inevitably ended up placing himself in a much more vulnerable position. Before, he could die from starvation. Now, chances were that he would die by that man's hands, at the mercy of his whimsical temper and calculating, strategical moves.
The man was as dangerous as he was helpful. A fearful combination that always had him on his toes. Grimmjow pulled his jacket tighter around himself, letting out a little cough and frowning when he visibly saw his breath in the air. It was way too cold. He just wanted to go home, curl up in his ragged blankets, and go back to sleep.
Fighting the urge to close his eyes, he kept himself occupied by glancing around every few seconds, checking to make sure there were no unwanted presences in his vicinity. He kept this up for a good few minutes but snapped back when he passed a sketchy alley; the blur of orange out of the corner of his eye had him frantically twisting around. When his eyes landed on the man that had haunted his thoughts for too long, he frowned, a little off-put by the picture he made.
It was clear that the older man was cold, for he was leaning up against the wall, legs pulled up close to his chest with his coat laid across the front of him, blocking him from the icy, stabbing wind. He shook minutely, almost unnoticeably until a few gusts whirled past, shifting the bright orange hair (no longer contained by that hat he had worn before) and forcing a violent shudder through Ichigo's body. Grimmjow stalked forward before he could even contemplate over what he was doing and offered his hand to him, pleasantly relieved when those eyelids slid open to reveal the sad brown beneath and locked on his own electric blue. The man glanced at his hand for a moment before pushing it away gently.
Before Grimmjow could yell at Ichigo for being stupid, the orange haired man was already clambering to his feet, a little unsteady. They had a brief staring match for a moment where something unintelligible passed between them. A sort of understanding.
Without a single word, Grimmjow set off for his shitty apartment, the mysterious man following just a few steps behind.
The second he realized that the thought of leaving the city horrified him, Ichigo knew he was in deep shit. He had spent the past couple of weeks walking around the city, learning a bit more about its people and other singular things. (More specifically, he had made a trek to the hospital in order to find out more about the blue-haired child's sketchy answer way-back-when. Apparently they refused any known gangsters—though it was completely understandable.)
Each time he would find a road that would lead him out of the city, his stomach would drop, causing him to feel absolutely sick. So he would turn around and wander off in the other direction, hoping that his body would allow him to leave via another way. Ichigo had always been one to trust his instincts, and he wasn't about to stop now. However, there was the fact that his apparent attachment to the place (or a certain unmentionable someone) was liable to hurt him in the end. It never ended well to get attached in a position such as his.
Of course, the sealing of his doom had quite literally walked around the corner. Ichigo wouldn't lie—he was surprised as fuck. The city of Hueco Mundo was huge and he had made damned sure to avoid any area around Grimmjow's home. Yet, there he was, standing right before him, hand held out, palm up.
Well, fuck. Ichigo mused to himself. The moment he had met that electrifying gaze, he had been trapped. There was no turning back. So he pushed the kid's hand away (he was a kid—he wouldn't be able to support the weight of a grown man) and stood up, silently letting him know that he would accept whatever aid that he was willing to give. And it was strange. It was like they were connected on some level, because the child had understood.
And without anything being said aloud, he found himself slinking along behind Grimmjow, thoughts in absolute turmoil.
He followed along at a slightly slower pace, falling a little too far behind every once in a while. It was as if they were on the same wavelength, though—every time he fell just a tad too far behind, Grimmjow would mysteriously pause and perform some sort of minor action, like scuffing his shoes against the pavement or scratching at his leg. Before long, Ichigo found himself inside the tiny dilapidated apartment once more, standing awkwardly in the doorway.
Ichigo jumped slightly, not expecting for the kid to finally talk. His eyes shot from where they had lingered upon the rusted hinges of the door to land on owner of the voice, hands on his hips in a rather childish fashion. He made a quiet noise at the back of his throat; a query of Grimmjow's meaning. The blue eyes rolled in a sarcastic manner before darting to the kitchen doorway that Ichigo remembered disturbingly well.
"Want food?" Grimmjow asked, spinning on his heel and making his way to the kitchen as if he knew that Ichigo would answer in the affirmative. He halted, however, when Ichigo voiced his answer.
"No?" Grimmjow eyed him over his shoulder, making an obvious sweep of his state of dress with his eyes and then raising an eyebrow. "When was the last time ya' ate?" He gave Ichigo a somewhat smug smirk, knowing that he had the man cornered. When the red-head shrugged, his lips stretched into a scowl. "I don't know," Ichigo said, just loud enough for him to hear.
Practically feeling the child's eyes analyzing his form, Ichigo looked away, finding an odd interest in the new addition of furniture in the room. A small couch. Grimmjow made a light noise before shrugging. It wasn't like he was going to force the man to eat. He redirected his feet to the small bedroom, heading inside and quickly snagging a blanket to bring back to his guest. Without another word, the thin fleece blanket was tossed across the few meters separating the two and then he was rounding on his heel and retreating back into his bedroom for the night.
After staring at the shut door for a good few minutes longer, Ichigo finally pulled his eyes away, visually gauging the blanket. If he were to wrap it around himself, it would be soaked in seconds. So, without any further thought, he began to strip out of his clothes, shivering slightly when hit with the cold air permeating the room. Didn't Grimmjow have a heater in here? He glanced around as he pulled the thin blanket around him. Nope. Just like the last time he had been in here, there wasn't much at all. The only addition had been the couch.
He sat on the couch, pulling his knees close and wrapping the blanket all the way around, grateful that it was big enough to cover all of his skin. Ichigo pondered on the words that they had exchanged just a few minutes ago, lips lilting in a sort of dark smile. As ridiculous as it sounded, he really couldn't remember the last time he had eaten. More specifically, he couldn't remember the last he had been hungry.
It was one of the perks of being immortal.
The red head breathed out a loaded sigh, letting his forehead fall to his knees. He had been wandering the Earth for so long… and for so long, he had wanted it all to just end. The endless journeying was tiring and his soul was battered from his losses from over the years. So he just kept walking, resolving to never linger so as to become attached to someone that he would just end up losing in the future.
And here he was, making the decision to stay behind for a child.
He let out a quiet, somewhat crazed laugh, the sound slowly falling in intensity until he was quietly sobbing. Why couldn't things just end?
Why couldn't he just leave Grimmjow?
The days that followed were somewhat awkward. Anytime Grimmjow offered food, Ichigo would reject, so the young child would retreat to the solitude of his room and eat there. There would also be times where the kid would leave without a single word, coming back with a few bags of groceries part of the time, and others with a terrible scowl upon his face.
Ichigo spent these days doing absolutely nothing, not moving from his spot on the right-most cushion of the couch and thoughts whirling through his head. There came a day, however, where Grimmjow allowed the door to slam behind him, limping through the living room and into the kitchen. Ichigo blinked before standing up from his spot and following after the child, watching as he pulled down the first aid kit that they had used not-quite a month before.
"Hey," Ichigo called, frowning when he realized his voice was still rather hoarse. "Let me do that." Grimmjow looked over to him silently, seeming to look for something in his face. It seemed he had found it when, without a word, he lifted the kit up and motioned subtly to him. Ichigo crossed the space to the other side of the kitchen. Without another word between them, Ichigo began to bandage his wounds once more, idly wondering how a child could get into so much trouble in so short a time.
The next day, when Grimmjow had made himself lunch, instead of retreating back to his room, he went to the couch, sitting on the left-most cushion and promptly began to eat. Ichigo watched him in confusion for a moment, wondering what brought on the sudden change before he remembered the night prior, and Ichigo smiled, a long-lost warmth filling him and pushing away the worry and fear.
The next week brought about a change between the two. Grimmjow no longer disappeared into his room and instead chose to eat around Ichigo, even starting small conversations every once in a while. He hadn't bothered to ask Ichigo if he wanted any food anymore, already knowing that he would be denied. They began to ask each-other safe questions—'What's your favorite color? What do you think about this? Where would you like to go?'
One day, however, when Grimmjow came home with more injuries, Ichigo asked him what was going on. At first, Grimmjow ignored him, saying that nothing had happened and everything was fine. However, with just a bit more pushing Grimmjow's resolve snapped, the child only able to take so much. That was when Grimmjow told him everything. How his mother had died long ago and his father had left him just two years before. Living off the streets as best as he could for the better part of a year and nearly dying from starvation and an unhealthy system. His well-timed meeting with Aizen and his induction into a gang much-feared by the entire city.
Ichigo listened to his entire story without a single word, eyes betraying nothing of his sorrow for the child. Even though he had been through a lot of pain because of his curse, he was old enough to understand what was going on and fend for himself. Grimmjow's childhood had essentially been cut short because an unlucky chain of events and now… he was caught in the web of a gang. He finally frowned, watching as Grimmjow stared down at his lap in something like shame. He bit his lip harshly and reached forward, pushing the child's chin up to meet his eyes.
"You're scared of Aizen," he stated, wanting confirmation.
There was a moment of hesitation before Grimmjow nodded and said, "Everyone's scared of him." Ichigo's eyes held onto the electric blue, a small part of his mind marveling at the bright and unique color while the other turned cogs in his head. "You need to get away from him."
Grimmjow's eyes widened. "I can't, he'll—" he was cut off when Ichigo placed a hand over his mouth. "First," Ichigo started, eyes burning with new determination. "We need to get you on your own feet, able to support yourself." They watched each other in silence, both coming to a sort of non-verbal agreement.
After that, they began to make plans. Ichigo got Grimmjow to start doing odd jobs here and there, able to find the most high-paying activities that the child could handle with no problem. He told Grimmjow to continue to go to the meetings in order to maintain his position on Aizen's good side. While Grimmjow went to these meetings, Ichigo made plans of his own, leaving to go take his own jobs or to make arrangements for the future. Grimmjow knew nothing of these outings, and the older man hoped to keep it that way.
About a month of the random jobs brought them a rather hefty amount of money and the young child was starting to have confidence in the red head's plans. After a long day of odd errands, Grimmjow made his usual meal for one and sat next to Ichigo, making idle conversation and trying to get the older man to spill the rest of his plans. (Ichigo had kept a large portion of his plans secret from Grimmjow and repeatedly asked the child to trust him.) There was moment where Ichigo paused, brows furrowing and hand trailing to his stomach where an odd ache had bloomed.
Grimmjow stopped his harangue, glancing to Ichigo's stomach and then the expression of confusion upon his face. Without a second thought, he picked up a small piece of bread and offered it to the older man, a sort of wonder passing through him as Ichigo popped it in his mouth after a brief moment of debating.
The pain in his stomach abated ever so slightly as the food went down. His eyes widened with realization. It was hunger. Grimmjow watched the emotions play across the older man's face, a little worried when Ichigo's expression settled into something neutral. Pushing the curiosity back, he offered more food to the older man, a little pleased when Ichigo ate without any hesitation.
They began to eat together, only now, the moment was bathed in a thick silence. Thoughts continually plagued Ichigo, pushing and gnawing at him, causing a fear and, at the same time, a hope to rise within him. Was it possible..?
On one such meal together, Grimmjow finally became fed up with the silence and initiated a conversation. "How's it taste?" he asked, not sure of what else he could say. Ichigo blinked back into the present and glanced at the child beside him, a little confused by the sudden talking. "Fine," he muttered, wondering where the kid was planning on guiding the conversation. An odd sensation burned at the back of his neck and his instincts prickled long before Grimmjow uttered his next word.
"Why is it that you don't sleep?"Grimmjow blurted before he realized that he had just asked something that he had resolved to keep locked in his subconscious. He knew that there was something strange about this man whom resided within his home… but something in his gut told him that it was far beyond his understanding. There was no point in prying into Ichigo's life… because even if by some slim chance that the red head actually opened up and told him the truth, he could sense that the reality surrounding this man would be far beyond his comprehension.
Nevertheless, Ichigo regarded the younger child, marveling internally at how long the child had kept his curiosity to himself. It was honestly only a matter of time… but he still wasn't sure he could tell the truth. How would Grimmjow react to the knowledge that he didn't sleep? That he didn't need food (or at least, didn't at one point)? That he had been alive for longer than 20 times that of the longest-living human to date? That, if he willed it, he could guide someone's thoughts and control their will?
That, no matter how many times he had tried, he could not die?
Softly, Ichigo scoffed to himself. No, there was no point in getting this child caught up in his sorrows. Though he was such a young age, Grimmjow had lived through a lot himself—he had his own worries and past to grieve over without hearing about Ichigo's own.
So with a bit of a sad smile, Ichigo merely questioned, "What makes you think that I don't sleep?" He had set his plate down and hunched forward, resting his elbows upon his knees, head angled to the side to hold the small yet powerful gaze.
Grimmjow immediately realized the nature of Ichigo's question, knowing that it was merely used as a minor misdirection.
The child shrugged and made a general gesture with the wave of a hand, brushing the topic aside and returning to his food.
He was fine with not knowing.
Following that day, Grimmjow never asked a question pertaining to Ichigo's peculiar differences again.
As the days went by, very little changed between the two. Grimmjow would slip out to run an errand for some big shot, leaving Ichigo the opportunity to slip out after him. During these outings, Ichigo would look around the city, finding as many influential and trustworthy people as he could. It was the only way to make his plan truly work. He would hurry back to the apartment, and barely manage to get there a few minutes before the blue haired child would walk in behind him.
What really surprised Ichigo was the fact that he could go outside the city without that feeling plaguing him now. So long as he thought of Grimmjow waiting for him back at the apartment, he was free to go across the city lines and traverse into neighboring towns. This brought him to a terrible revelation, though.
He could no longer imagine losing Grimmjow.
His veins turned to ice at the realization. Hadn't he suffered enough? Watching as his family wasted away? Watching as friends, both new and old, lived their lives and went to the otherworld without him? Ichigo pushed the negative thoughts back for as long as he could. He might be left behind again, but he wasn't going to let the child suffer through the life that he was currently going through.
Ichigo began to notice little things about Grimmjow. How the child would be defensive if one moved unexpectedly. How he was socially awkward, quite like himself. How he would be quick to smirk, but just as quick to scowl. How the butchered slang that he had used when they first met quickly evolved into something a little more refined.
He noticed the bigger things, too. Like the fact that he had grown up way too fast for a child his age. Already at the tender age of nine, Grimmjow knew more about the world than some adults. He had a very unique personality and a one of a kind character. He was intelligent, despite not having gone to school for the past few years. He soaked things up like a sponge and was extremely adaptable.
With each new discovery, Ichigo found himself getting more and more attached to the one known as Grimmjow Jaegerjaques. He worked harder in his odd jobs and pushed harder for his plans to work.
If Grimmjow noticed the steady incline of the amount of furniture and items in his apartment, he never said anything. The first few weeks, the apartment was bare, the exact way that it had been when Ichigo had walked through the door for the second time. Following that, however, random items seemed to just appear. One week, a heater. The next, new, thick blankets. After that, a coffee table. Within 5 months of Ichigo's stay, Grimmjow had complete sets of furniture in every room, the run-down apartment filled with upper-scale appliances and furniture usually found in two-story houses and mansions.
One such day, after having just finished setting up the large television in front of the plush couch, Ichigo paused, having heard thumping outside. Grimmjow stumbled through the front door, panting from exhaustion as he shut it behind him. Ichigo looked over to the boy, concern causing his stomach to flip anxiously. He hurried over to the child, quickly supporting him when his knees gave out.
"What happened?" he asked, hands already giving him a quick pat down to check for injuries. Clean. He glanced back up, meeting the electric blue gaze of a child wise beyond his years. Their gaze broke when Grimmjow let his eyes slip shut and shook his head. "Too many…" He gulped a large breath of air and continued, ".. Had to run."
Though he wanted to push for more answers, Ichigo accepted the answer and guided him over to the plush couch. Depositing the small form on the cushions, he strode into the kitchen and got a glass of ice water, hurrying back to the kid to offer it to him. Grimmjow accepted the offering without a single thought, gulping it down like a man dying of thirst in the desert.
After a few more huffs, Grimmjow blew out a sigh and relaxed into the cushions. Ichigo sank quietly to the floor, sitting beside the couch, eyes never leaving the child's quiet form. As Grimmjow shifted his arm, laying it across his face to block the room's light from his eyes, there was a prolonged moment of tense silence. Ichigo's instincts were going haywire, warning him about something. He bit his lip harshly.
If only he knew why.
Finally, after expelling a harsh breath, Grimmjow spoke. "It was a job from Aizen." His arm slid down a bit, dragging his palm across his eyes and pausing to rub at one of the corners. The action was somewhat childish, and the odd twist of irony and the feeling of fitting struck a chord in Ichigo. Grimmjow didn't notice, instead continuing with his words. "I was supposed to get in and get some papers. Slip out unnoticed." He stopped, voice tinged with a sort of curious wonder.
"It was weird though. The information that Aizen gave me was wrong. There were a lot more guys than he said there would be. The whole place was practically rigged against potential thieves."
Ichigo's blood ran cold. His heart was in his throat and his stomach sinking to his toes. That was very, very bad news.
He kept quiet, determinedly keeping his face straight and showing no signs of emotion when Grimmjow looked over at him. Not a single word was exchanged after that for the night.
Things were moving way too fast, and Ichigo had to step up his plans to be able to make things work out.
Though the relationship between Grimmjow and Ichigo grew to massive proportions, they began to miss each other a lot. Ichigo no longer cared whether the child knew of his daily excursions. Ichigo was just thankful that he was never questioned about his whereabouts each day. Before either of them really comprehended or realized it, the sole thing they began to look forward to was the time when they would come home to see one another.
Exactly nine months, one week and three days from the first day that Ichigo had met Grimmjow, everything fell apart.
His day had gone by slowly. Ichigo had run out of things to do just a few days before, his part in his plans already having been completed. While he was relieved that everything had gone well, he no longer had anything left to do during the day while Grimmjow was off doing his odd jobs for money and attending gang meetings. Just a bit longer… Just a little bit longer and Grimmjow would be freed from Aizen's control.
Lounging on the couch, Ichigo pulled out the wooden pendant, a little awed that it was the first time in months that he had the time to ponder over his curse. Doomed to forever walk the earth with no way out of the plague called 'everlasting life.' He couldn't get attached—though he had obviously broken that rule—for fear of having to watch that person waste away from father time. It was also rather sadistic—allowing him to feel pain and experience immense heat and cold temperatures. It did have its perks, though. Immunity from fatal wounds. The supernatural ability of persuasion—the very tactic that he had used that fateful night nearly 10 months before to save Grimmjow's life. The lack of hunger.
Which he no longer had.
Before he had time to ponder over the strange affair, the front door to the apartment abruptly snapped open, the wood splintering from the force. Within seconds, a small group of men had filed in, stopping in confusion when they saw him sitting upon the couch. Immediately, two men pulled out automatic pistols and cocked them, aiming them at Ichigo threateningly.
"Who are you?" One of the men yelled. Ichigo recognized a tattoo wrapping around his wrist. One of Aizen's men. Without a single thought more, Ichigo stood up and slipped the cursed pendant into his hoodie pocket, ignoring the rest of the group as they pulled out their own weapons in warning. He stood perfectly still before darting forward, catching them by surprise and easily knocking the first two gang members out.
The following three men snapped from their frozen states and attacked him, charging him with their weapons—two lead pipes and a rather sizeable swiss-army knife. He dodged the downward arc of the knife, snapping his elbow back to knock the weapon from the man's hand. The knife went flying, leaving the gangster open for a quick, decisive jab to the gut. At the same time, he had swung his other arm around, catching one of the two remaining men in the neck, making him slacken his grip on the lead pipe that he brandished. He pivoted on the heel of his foot, using the other hand to snatch the pipe from his hands and taking advantage of the momentum of angle to smash the unrefined weapon against the man's head. He went down, blood already trailing down his face before he hit the carpet. The move had left him open to the last remaining assailant, however, and he could only shift to avoid the majority of the blow.
The last man's pipe caught him in the back of the leg, across the top of his calf and to the back of his knee. The impact forced his knee out from under him and he hit the floor, head smacking harshly against the ground. He forced the pain from his mind and rolled to the side, luckily evading a surely deadly blow—were he a mortal man.
On his knees facing away from his attacker, he aimed a kick at the man's legs, allowing himself a smirk when he heard the yell followed by a crash. Too quickly, Ichigo was on his feet, hit with a tilting dizziness. It was enough time for the last gangster to gain his bearings and aim a hit to his lower legs from his position on the ground. Ichigo dodged away, giving the other man the time to get to his knees for another blow. This time, Ichigo blocked it with the bottom of his foot, the impact reduced by the soles of his shoes. He kneed the man in the face, ignoring the dull clang the pipe made as it hit the carpet.
Ichigo followed up by kicking the downed man in the side, slightly sadistically pleased at the groan issued in response. The man lay on the ground, a sad and far cry from the state he had been in just moments ago. He knelt by the gangster and snatched the man's face up by the hair.
"Why are you here? Why did Aizen order you to ransack this apartment?" He yelled the last question, anger and fear seeping together to create an anxiousness that he had never felt before.
The man coughed and sputtered a bit at the awkward angle. "Told to collect," another cough, "… any valuables the kid has." The man gasped when Ichigo jerked his head to the side. "Why?" he growled, venom soaking his tone. Giving a light whimper, the gangster licked his lips. "Said…" He glanced off to the side, instinctively knowing that the orange haired stranger wasn't going to like the answer. "Said he was gonna take care a him 'mself."
"Where?" Ichigo asked, already considering all of the possible things that could have happened to Grimmjow within the few minutes that he had been fighting these gangsters. He snapped his eyes back to the man in his grip, gaze promising no mercy if he didn't get an answer. Though gangsters were used to torture and generally knew how to keep quiet, something told this man that he should fork over his answers.
"Usual meeting place..." Before the man uttered another word, Ichigo had dropped him to the floor and crossed to the dropped swiss-army knife. He snatched it up and slipped it into his pocket and then crossed the threshold to the door where, outside, rain was pouring. He broke into a run.
At the door of the warehouse later than he would have liked, Ichigo paused to take a breath. He knew he couldn't just storm in, but… what choice did he have? Besides, he had the curse. Ironically, it was the one thing that he could count on in this dire situation. He pushed all thoughts back. Right now, he could only fall back on his instincts.
He inched the door open, glad for the pouring rain disguising the noisy squeak of the hinges and slipped inside, eyes quickly adjusting to the dim light. He stopped for a brief moment to listen for sounds of life over the dripping of his clothes and drum of rain. He heard voices, quiet and tinny. Ichigo creeped through the large room, glancing around to check for any possible threats before he crossed the floor. He kept an eye on the dusty stacks of boxes and crates littering the space around him, instincts forcing him on edge.
There was a quiet scuffling to the left and he was immediately tracking it. A body shot forward, aiming to catch him around his midsection. He sidestepped the tackle and spun, kicking the attacker from the back, movements slowed slightly from his soaked clothing. As if a dam had burst, more bodies rushed at him. His hand-eye coordination and fighting skills were put to the test as he fought off attacker after attacker. He had knocked out four of the men from their initial attacks, leaving just two more. One of them threw a wide punch, forcing him to block. At the same time, he shifted his body to the side to avoid a kick to his hip. Using the momentum of his turn, he gave a sharp jab to the puncher's solar plexus and then pulled his arm back to hit the other man in the same spot with his elbow.
His other hand shot up to land a powerful blow on the first gangster's jaw. As the other man went down, he turned and gave his last remaining opponent a knee in the stomach and swipe across the temple. The only thing heard after the last man fell to the ground was his harsh breathing, coming out in a forced and uneven staccato, barely heard over the ominous thudding of rain outside.
Immediately, his mind began to process the information. The fact that the men were out here meant that they were guarding the next room. Without a doubt, that was where Aizen planned to kill Grimmjow. He wasted no more time and strode to the door, characterized by a single dim light swaying slowly above it. Ichigo threw the door open, just in time to see a man with greased-back hair aiming a single pistol at the small form before him.
Ichigo allowed the door to slam shut behind him, effectively gaining the man's attention. The man lowered the handgun, glancing at the new guest in utmost curiosity. His eyes flicked to the blue haired child and then back to the newcomer. "Why…" he murmured, seemingly amused if the smile twitching at the corners of his lips was anything to go by. "It seems we have a guest."
Even though he had heard the door slam open and shut, Grimmjow had assumed it was one of the gang members. When Aizen had muttered those words with that twisted amusement, he snapped around to see who had walked through the door. His eyes widened and the fear twisting at his gut lifted. It was Ichigo. Then, all at once, he realized the implications. His stomach plummeted once more, fear back with a vengeance and this time joined by horror. What if Ichigo got hurt…?
Ichigo ignored the growing look of horror on the child's face. Instead, he focused on the threat before him and inched his way closer, wanting just to put Grimmjow behind him.
"So you are the reason I'm losing an asset," the man, whom Ichigo assumed to be Aizen, said. Ichigo's expression clouded before he put up a mask. The gang leader seemed to notice, as his smirk widened. "He no longer has loyalty for me," he glanced to Grimmjow, who was now next to Ichigo, "So he is no longer needed."
Ichigo scowled, mask shattered into a thousand pieces. Before he could say anything, though, the gangster brought the handgun back up, aimed straight at Grimmjow. Ichigo winced as he tackled Grimmjow, the blow to the back of his knee beginning to throb mercilessly. The bullet hit the exact spot that the blue haired kid had been only moments before. He forced himself into action, hurriedly standing and pulling Grimmjow up with him, darting for the cover of some nearby crates. Shots rang out as they ran, missing them by mere inches.
As he hurled himself and the kid around the corner, Ichigo heard a quiet clinking sound. Chancing a look toward the noise, his eyes landed on the pendant. The momentum had hurled it from his pocket. He was about to look away when something clicked in his mind.
The pendant was wet.
His eyes widened, mind racing. But he couldn't stop to think right now. Footsteps echoed in the large room of the warehouse, slowly growing closer and closer to their position. He slipped a hand into his pocket, pulling out the pilfered knife and flicking it open and then snatched the pendant into the other hand. He exhaled quietly, tensing his muscles for the moment he would dart out. Before he could, though, he felt a light pressure around his wrist. He looked down to find Grimmjow's hand wrapped around it, the child shaking his head, pale.
"No," Grimmjow mouthed, "Don't."
Ichigo only smiled in response. Then he snapped his head around and darted forward, dodging the shot that rang out and punching the large man with the hand holding the pendant. He winced a bit as the wood dug harshly into the soft skin of his fingers, bringing even more attention to the stinging pain of his knuckles. Aizen was winded for a moment, and then suddenly, strangely quiet. Too quiet for just a single blow. He looked up and saw the man looking behind him, a smile creeping onto the disgusting man's lips. Ichigo followed his gaze as best as he could and saw it out of the corner of his eye.
Grimmjow had followed him from their hiding spot and was frozen, eyes locked on the pair before him.
Aizen lifted the arm that still had the pistol in hand, sending Ichigo's instincts into overdrive. He shifted his body further away from the man and angled it, then elbowed the hand holding the gun downward.
A shot rang out.
Ichigo ignored the loud noise and the reverberations it caused in his mind. He forced his other hand around, jabbing the swiss-knife into the gang leader's neck and killing him instantly. Panting slightly as the man fell to the grungy ground, knife still precariously jabbed in his windpipe, Ichigo took a moment to turn and check Grimmjow over, satisfied when he found the boy to be okay. Except he was even paler than before, eyes glued to Ichigo's midsection in horror.
Grimmjow stumbled the few yards over to Ichigo, falling to his knees without a care and pulling the older man into his lap as best as he could. He made sure to support Ichigo's head before he turned his gaze back to the man's wound. A single gunshot wound pierced his stomach, blood gushing out and dying the gray hoodie he wore a dark, unforgiving red.
He whimpered, already knowing the consequences of such a wound. He latched his eyes back onto the sad brown that had affected him so long ago. Ichigo gave the child a weak smile, finally relinquishing himself to the urge to close his eyes. He heard a sharp inhale above him and then heard quiet muttering. It was fine, though. He was alright with this. This is what he had wanted for so long…
His heart jerked in his chest when he felt something wet hit his cheek. Tears. Grimmjow, the small child above him that he had come to know so well for these past 9 months, was crying.
Grimmjow was crying for him. His heart ached at that thought, and all at once, his perception of his surroundings expanded and sharpened. Now that Ichigo pushed back the pain blooming from his abdomen, he could feel the miserable shaking of the tiny hand upon his chest, the sobs wracking the small body obvious down to the tips of his fingers. Not-quite-soundless sniffling sounded from above him and he realized then how selfish his decision had been.
He knew that something had changed when he had met Grimmjow. Ichigo would have been the dimmest person to grace the Earth had he not noticed. Granted, he had no clue how or why Grimmjow had been the trigger, but he did know that his meeting with the blue haired child had changed everything. The red head had known instinctively from the beginning… but it wasn't until he had seen the pendant get wet that it had dawned on him.
Grimmjow had released him from his curse.
He knew that full well when he put himself between Grimmjow and the source of danger. But… He had never been thinking about his wish: to finally die and be released from all of the pain that had built up over the years.
Ichigo had merely wanted to protect Grimmjow.
Even though he could feel the grit already building up in his eyes, he forced his heavy lids open, willing his eyes to focus so that he could see the child. It took a few moments, but he was able to bring the vivid blue hair back into focus, able to see the pain marring the face that had lost its innocence long ago. Ichigo coughed a bit, blood seeping from the corner of his mouth, and he frowned. He knew that this would be hard on Grimmjow. He knew that his decision was reckless and selfish. It would leave yet another mark on the blue haired kid, adding to the already-numerous others. They had grown close in the short time that they had spent with one another. They were two lost souls, simply looking for the safe-haven provided only by another kindred soul. And they had both found that.
And now it was being mercilessly ripped away.
With all of the strength he could muster, Ichigo lifted a shaky hand to Grimmjow's small cheek, clumsily brushing a stray tear away. Electric blue eyes slowly opened, the usual clear gaze blocked by a glaze of hazy tears. Grimmjow hurriedly blinked the salty evidence of his pain away, unwilling to let any sparks of life that the older man showed slip away. Ichigo smiled as Grimmjow's sobs slowed to sniffles and sharp breaths.
"Hey," he croaked. "Can't you do something other than cry?" Ichigo's lips twitched into a small smile, the image ruined by the blood trailing down to his chin.
Grimmjow said nothing.
Ichigo shook his head, the motion looking more like sharp jerks and tensed his muscles so that he could sit up. His strength had been rapidly sapped by the wound in his abdomen, however, and he could only sit up just a bit. The blue haired child, having realized the red head's intentions, helped as best as he could and together, they situated Ichigo into an almost perfect sitting position.
Without another word, Ichigo reached over to the younger child's hand, steeling his determination to get his feelings across. Grimmjow tracked the motion of Ichigo's hand with his eyes, pained with how long it took for him to reach across the short distance. He pushed the thought to the back of his mind. The second the bullet had pierced the older man, he knew the consequences.
He knew what was going to happen.
But until that moment came, he was going to prolong the memories for as long as possible.
Finally, Ichigo clutched the smaller hand in his own and brought it close to his face, turning the palm toward him and touching the fingertips to his lips. He placed a light, chaste kiss there and pulled away before saying as clearly as he could, "Danke."
Grimmjow's brow furrowed. Danke? He thought, momentarily caught in confusion. What…?
Before he had a chance to deliberate over the foreign word, Ichigo had flipped his hand over and pressed his lips to his knuckles. "Spasibo." He pulled the hand a bit closer and kissed the back of his hand. "Arigatō." Grimmjow blinked when there was a light tug on his hand, pulling him closer to Ichigo. The red head leaned a bit closer to him and kissed his nose, eyes burning in a bittersweet happiness when Grimmjow closed his eyes at the contact. "Xièxiè." He moved to the child's left eye, forcing him to close it and kissing the lid. "Obrigado."
Right eyelid. "Grazie."
Left temple. "Gratias."
Right temple. "Gracias."
And finally, Ichigo paused, watching Grimmjow and burning the tear-stained face into his memory. Then, with the most innocent intentions, he pressed his lips to Grimmjow's own chapped ones, and pulled back. He smiled and whispered, "Thank you."
Those expressive blue eyes widened. It was the first time he had heard the older man say those words… And he sounded so sincere. Sure, he had taken the man in and given him a home, but… Ichigo had done so much more for him…
What Grimmjow didn't realize was that Ichigo felt just the opposite—Grimmjow had done so much for him—to the point where he wasn't sure that his life as payment for the child's would suffice. Grimmjow had given him happiness, a reprieve from the world and memories that haunted him. He showed him kindness and gave him a place that he felt safe with. He restored Ichigo's faith in humanity. He remembered the feeling of love and allowed him to experience the good things in life again. His curse was broken. His soul could finally go back to where his family and friends from so long ago resided.
All thanks to Grimmjow.
Ichigo allowed his hand to trail back over to the blue haired kid's cheek, thoughts in a haze as the pain came back to him. He could finally find a resting place and reunite with his loved ones. But…
He didn't want to leave Grimmjow.
In that short amount of time, he had grown close to the child. No, he corrected himself, an epiphany hitting him with brute force. He didn't catch the way Grimmjow gave him a strange look, eyes slowly growing wider in dawning horror. Ichigo's sight had already failed him at this point. Grimmjow had become one of his precious loved ones.
For the first time since he had been doomed to walk the earth alone centuries ago, Ichigo made a wish from the bottom of his heart—a wish that he never thought he would ever hope for. He didn't want to die.
I feel like such a hypocrite, now. I criticized the natural human reflection over death, how it was categorized as something solely negative. But now… Now, I understand. I, too, at the edge of death, find myself wanting nothing more than to avoid the dark curtain it provides.
I want to live. For him.
And with that last thought, his hand dropped to his side and his heart slowed to a stop.
Tears running down his face once more, Grimmjow screamed, heart torn in two. That night, the mysterious man, known merely as Ichigo…
The clacking keys was the only thing heard in the large office, fingers dancing along the keyboard in a quick, but natural tango. It was after-hours in the office of the small but well-known and influential agency. The typing abated, and the man at the computer quickly saved the files and closed out of the computer, blowing out a weary sigh as the monitor cut to black.
Weaving a hand through his hair and pausing at the base of his neck to rub at the tense muscles there, Grimmjow, now twenty-seven years of age, allowed himself to slip back into thought. It had been a tense day, filled with nothing but paperwork and contracts for the next building that was being erected downtown. As one of the top architects, he had the duty to see the project through… but sadly, before he could truly get down to using his expertise, he first had to deal with the nitty-gritties.
After the moment to mentally collect himself after a hard day, he shook his head and made to stand, but froze as his eye caught the calendar hanging just to his left, right above the lonely plastic fern. The current day's box was marked in a vivid red, only one word printed clearly on the glossed paper.
His mood took a sudden downturn at the reminder. Today was exactly eighteen years after his life had changed.
Exactly eighteen years since the man named Ichigo had sacrificed himself in order to save Grimmjow.
He sank back into the leather spin-chair, hand already groping for the key taped beneath the desk. Snatching the little piece of tape from the metal key, he inserted it into the bottom drawer of the desk, the largest drawer. Slowly, as if dreading the moment he would lay his eyes upon the contents within, he inched the drawer open, revealing a single small, wooden box, a little bit bigger than the size of his hand. Otherwise, the drawer was completely empty.
Extracting the box, he lifted the lid, staring down at the small wooden pendant, half covered in dried blood. Ichigo's blood. The only thing that remained of the mysterious stranger that had saved his life and secured his future. Not even seconds after the orange haired man's heart had stopped, his body just… deteriorated. There was no other way to describe it. He had no idea what had happened, but one second he had Ichigo's head lying limp in his lap, and the next… there was nothing there. Simply… dust.
And the pendant that he had clutched in his hand to the very end.
He brushed his fingertips gingerly across the dark maroon-black stain that would never fade away, fighting back the stinging at the corners of his eyes. Even almost two decades later, he couldn't forget that man. He was the sole reason that Grimmjow was alive. For more than one reason.
Not only had he sacrificed himself, taking the bullet for Grimmjow, but he had also been the one to encourage him to stand for himself, upon his own two feet. His plan had also been the very reason that Grimmjow was sitting in the lap of luxury at such an early point in his life. A few days following that tragic night, he was approached by a man from a couple cities over claiming that he wanted to take care of Grimmjow and his needs.
He had only said, "Ichigo asked that I watch over you."
That had instantly won him over, and the man named Urahara had allowed him into his home, given him an education, and provided the means of his getting into a prestigious university. At Aizen's death, the gang had split up, choosing either to go to another leader or to start life anew. None of them bothered him. Grimmjow owed Ichigo the world, and there was no possible way to pay him back.
However, Ichigo's death had caused a part of his soul to rot, and he, himself, began to lose faith in humanity. Before Ichigo, he had seen nothing but the dark side of the world. When Ichigo came along, that world was pushed back, and he began to see things in a better light. But when Ichigo passed on, the ugly side of the world came rushing back, wrapping him in a dark cloak of bitterness. Grimmjow fought off a dark chuckle. He had even forsaken the very lesson that Ichigo had taught him so long ago.
"You should never fail to say' thank you'."
"…Thank you." A cracked voice whispered as an even more broken man fell further into depths that no entity could escape from.
He had forsaken the childish belief that hopes and wishes had the power to come true.
But on those rare nights where he found himself alone, thinking about that night so many years ago, Grimmjow would find the words tumbling out of his mouth, a wish craving to be morphed into truth.
"I wish I could see you one more time."
After taking a few more minutes to collect himself, Grimmjow walked out into the cold winter's night, secretly grateful that it wasn't raining. He didn't think he would be able to handle any concrete parallels to connect this night to that terrible one from so long ago. Night in this city was so different from the nights back in Las Noches. Back there, normal people would avoid venturing out, fearful of getting mugged or murdered. Here, it was nice to go out at night. The perfect time to run a few errands and look at the dazzling lights that pierced through the darkness from the large corporate buildings.
He shoved his hands deeper into the pockets of his thick jacket, a little miffed with the cold October night. Anything that reminded him of that short time with Ichigo tended to make him a little closed off. Grimmjow started toward his car and then stopped abruptly, the rational part of his mind reminding him that he needed to get some food for Pantera—the demon that he called a cat. Shaking his head slightly, he pivoted on his foot, turning the opposite direction to run two buildings over to a small grocer's store. He stopped before the street beside two other people, waiting for the pedestrian sign to change to the signal to walk.
As soon as it changed, he was striding across the paved road, eyes strayed downward as he got lost in his thoughts once more. It was only a split second after he had stepped back onto the sidewalk that he heard it.
Loud footfalls came from around the corner, heading in his direction. The last footfall made a loud slap noise, as if the person running had just realized that he was on a direct route for a collision with some innocent passers-by.
The runner only barely managed to avoid hitting Grimmjow, swerving instead into the street where an oncoming car was approaching. Grimmjow threw his arm out, catching the person by the shirt and yanking them back. The young man landed on the pavement with an "oof!", the jacket that had been laid across his forearm smacking the older man in the face.
More than a little irritated, Grimmjow scowled. "Now listen here—" He peeled the jacket off of his face and cut off, eyes widening when he caught sight of orange spikes, a shade that he hadn't seen for eighteen years. The kid in front of him was brushing himself off and then straightened, showing hauntingly familiar chocolate-brown eyes that had an unfamiliar spark of happiness.
"Ichigo..?" Grimmjow breathed, only able to register the fact that the person in front of him had the face of someone that had died years ago. The young man could be no older than 17.
As soon as those eyes landed on him, a spark of recognition flared across their depths, and the kid's mouth twitched up into a large smile.
"Yeah. Long time no see, Grimmjow."
For the first time in eighteen years, Grimmjow called upon the lesson that Ichigo had taught him so long ago, and murmured to nobody in particular, "Thank you for fulfilling my wish."
And then he was closing the short distance between him and the young man named Ichigo, wrapping his arms firmly around the smaller frame and whispering into his ear.
…I'm not usually one for relationships that have a rather large age difference, but… This idea would NOT. STOP. CHEWING. AT. ME!
Yeesh. Because of my preference of the age difference being a little closer, I almost left it as a really tragic ending, leaving off at the part where Ichigo passed away… but I couldn't help myself—I despise tragedies. They always make me cry. I can't stand it.
This oneshot is… really long. It's really weird to think I could write something this long… it's usually stuck somewhere around 4K. I basically quadrupled that, so… be happy. Twenty. Six. Pages. That is freaking long. I am so proud of this. You probably have no idea. XD
Okay, so the translation for all of those words that Ichigo said is generally "thank you" in different languages (if you didn't catch that. XP) He says it in German, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Italian, Latin, Spanish, French, and (of course) English, respectively. If, for some reason, I got those wrong or misspelled or something, feel free to point out my mistake.
…I really like warehouses, don't I? Eesh. And you know what? I think I really fell in love with this particular story while writing it. I don't mind doing a follow-up chapter-story for you guys if you really want it. As long as you don't mind the wait. Remember—I'm really busy with school right now. (Bah! Who needs school, right?)