Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach...
This is a collaboration fic between myself and my buddy, Selphiebunny, who's also an excellent author. Hope you enjoy!
"It's my toy!"
In the late nineteen sixties, Kurosaki Ichigo smiled benignly down at a pigtailed, blonde, little girl who was shouting loudly at all the other children in her class. Her name was Sarugaki Hiyori and she was by no means a push over. The little girl had a toy truck in one hand, held above all the small fingers trying to snatch it away.
Ichigo's shadow fell ominously over the squabbling children.
"Hiyori! What have I told you about sharing? You know, I just spent the last few weeks explaining the importance of –"
He trailed off, frowning as she seemed to tune him out. She had her little tooth stuck over her bottom lip in the imitation of an overbite, while she bobbed her head back and forth for entertainment.
He growled to himself, taking the worn toy from her hands, while she was too busy ignoring him and put it on his desk out of reach. "I'm going to be making a call to Shinji after school, young lady," he admonished, and then sighed. Shinji was almost as bad as his sister. His behavior was erratic and ridiculous, and something Ichigo didn't really want to deal with when it came to the twenty two year old idiot.
Hiyori just scoffed, crossing her arms over her chest petulantly. "Fine!"
"And you're in time out until you can learn to stop taunting the other children. Now go!" She marched over to the corner of the brightly decorated kindergarten room of Karakura Elementary, at Ichigo's firm order. Ichigo himself had painted the walls in yellows and pinks, hoping to brighten up the boring standard white walls. The principal, Urahara Kisuke, didn't care.
If anything, he encouraged such creativity. He was never in formal attire, and rarely seen in his office. Ichigo almost always saw him in the halls, talking with teachers and playing with children. He reminded Ichigo a lot of his own father, in a way.
Ichigo smiled, chuckling to himself as the little girl sat on the pink chair designated for the bad girls. There was a matching blue one to her left. She was swinging her scraped up legs back in forth in some small fit of rebellion, a sour expression on her freckled face.
The other children had quickly lost interest in the spectacle, gathering around a play kitchen that was really only a desk that Ichigo drew a stove on. A realistic stove, but still just a desk. Ichigo watched little girls donning frilly aprons he had bought on sale, while boys sat at the tables, waiting for their play food consisting of colorful pieces of paper. Secretly, Ichigo thought it was cute. It was recess, after all.
Rain poured heavily down in pounding rivulets on the large windows, and Ichigo could clearly hear the pitter and patter. He hated rain. He loved taking the children outside in the fresh breeze of a sunny, beautiful day. There was nothing better.
The rain never failed to remind him of his mother's death so many years ago. Never failed to reopen the painful wound. He shook the thought out of his head then, not wanting his mood destroyed.
It was almost time to go home, anyway.
The walk home was nothing, if not irritating. Ichigo had a rain coat on, covering his obnoxious head of neon orange hair that was the subject of too much controversy, holding a yellow umbrella up for added protection. As stated, he really hated the rain. He would be glad when today was over and he could see the first specks of sunshine peaking through the windows at home.
There was nothing he loved more than being curled up in comfortable blankets, waking up to dark eyes staring down at him.
His lover was a very serious, quiet man, but Ichigo knew deep down he loved him. He knew.
He had fallen in love with Kuchiki Byakuya at the tender age of nineteen. Byakuya had beentwenty one. They had met through Byakuya's sister, who happened to be Ichigo's best friend. He and Rukia had grown up together. One day while helping Rukia in her garden after school, her brother had watched them from the patio.
Ichigo had been stricken by him. That was the only explanation he could give.
It was almost like an instantaneous attraction. Byakuya was beautiful, there was no denying that. Rukia had mercilessly made fun of his infatuation, teasing him from then on. Ichigo had chased him for two odd years, hoping beyond hope the man would acknowledge his presence in some way. He knew the Kuchiki's were rich and he wasn't, but he just didn't care. He was stubborn as a mule when it came to certain things, and he had a strong feeling that Byakuya was like him.
Finally, after many failed attempts by both he and Rukia, Byakuya approached him, showing up on his door step one afternoon.
Words were not exchanged.
Ichigo smiled, remembering the kiss Byakuya had forced on him, taking his lips expertly. It was so hard for homosexuals, so to be able to have a lover was something precious. Ichigo would do anything for the man, and he knew, though Byakuya didn't say much, hefelt the same way.
They had been together going on three years. And they were happy. Ichigo had wanted to become a teacher after his late mother, and his father readily supported him. Byakuya had a job at a local company, not too deep in the heart of bustling Karakura. Thankfully, they had moved into a small house in the countryside, to get away from all the looks and whispers and "those two men are living together… are they… disgusting."
Byakuya's family, too. Rukia was amazing, never judging them; judging Ichigo, but the rest of the Kuchiki's were a different story. They despised Ichigo and wanted Byakuya to stop such a silly affair and return to marry a chosen bride and continue the lineage.
To say Ichigo was insecure was an understatement.
But he just held his head up high and stood his ground.
He sighed, hating how the stupid rain always brought out his worst worries and troubles. The bus stop was crowded this afternoon, so he stood behind to wait. The dingy bus would drop him off close to the home he shared with Byakuya, but he would have to walk the rest of the way. Byakuya was working late and had the car.
He generally didn't mind. Even with the forceful drops of liquid hitting him, he still didn't complain.
When Ichigo finally reached the little white house in the middle of nowhere, he nearly whooped for joy. Quickly opening the door, he threw down the umbrella and tugged off his rain boots and shed his coat, enjoying the warmth the quaint abode provided. Byakuya made sure to keep it spotless on his off time, so he would have to clean the puddles of water up before the other man came home.
There was a loud gurgling noise coming from Ichigo's stomach. He would have blushed if his lover was around, and laughed at Byakuya's automatic disapproving stare.
The house felt empty with just him.
He padded to the tiny kitchen, staring at the lonely looking note on the counter beside the refrigerator.
Ichigo picked it up with a scowl. In precise handwriting, it read:
Please call the carpenter about the addition to the porch and reschedule.
Ichigo scowled harder.
Byakuya could have at least added "love". After nearly three years, the cold man hadn't so much as used that word around him, and it was beginning to both annoy and dishearten him. It was like Byakuya was some sort of machine, cold and repetitious, incapable of functioning with emotions.
Ichigo knew that when they began their tumultuous relationship, but he still yearned for something more. Something he wasn't quite sure Byakuya could give.
But who could he run to? It's not like he could leave, with him barely making enough money to support himself. With the "disease" called homosexuality. With ridiculously natural orange hair. He was a walking punch line.
Shaking his head free of his dark thoughts, Ichigo studied the perfectly written note. No one told him about a porch addition. He glared at the note. Obviously a carpenter would know not to come on a rainy day. Ugh, he hated talking to strangers on the phone; something just irked him about it.
Sighing petulantly, he looked down and prodded at his poor stomach. It would have to wait.
Before he could pick up the phone, it rang with shrill little sounds that did nothing for his mood. Ichigo picked up, murmuring a quiet greeting.
The other person on the line hesitated for a few seconds it seemed and then spoke softly, but his voice sounded rough as if the man never used it. Gravelly. Something twisted deep inside Ichigo, but he kicked the feeling down.
He almost missed what the man was saying. "I'm calling about the job you wanted me to start today. Not going to happen."
Ichigo frowned at the clipped tone, sticking out his bottom lip in contemplation. Well, obviously. "Yeah, it's raining pretty hard. How about sometime next week?" He almost said I'll get my boyfriend to call you, but immediately stopped himself. You just couldn't do that. Living in the country was spoiling him.
"We'll give you a call…?"
"Alright, when the rain stops we'll give you a call."
The line went dead. Ichigo blinked, holding the device away from him with a puzzled expression. What a strange fellow… but he must have been good, because to say Byakuya was particular was a complete understatement.
Ichigo thought their porch was fine the way it was, but an argument would just send the man further away from him. When they did fight, it was as if Ichigo was yelling just to hear his own voice. Like he was the child and Byakuya an admonishing parent.
With a heavy sigh, Ichigo padded to their bedroom, suddenly losing his appetite.
Grimmjow hung up his black, rotary telephone and glanced out the window of his kitchen.
He hated using the phone; he'd much rather say what he had to say face-to-face.
His day was now ruined, due to the weather, but thankfully, he always had a backup plan. He set the small slip of paper containing his recent client's phone number on the counter and left the kitchen, headed for the garage.
His home was small and had taken a little over two and a half years to build and furnish to his liking. He was a hopeless perfectionist, but in the end, it made for a solid foundation and a cozy home that was his haven away from the world. His home, probably the size of a small church, had two floors, as well as a basement and garage, the first floor containing a modest sitting room with Birch wood flooring and a beige, suede sofa. He didn't entertain much, but for decorative purposes, had added a long coffee table, made out of an excellent grade of Mahogany.
After the sitting room, was the small dining room that he never used, but just because he enjoyed making the furniture, he'd included a large, Walnut dining table, with six matching chairs. He would have to say the kitchen was his second favorite room of the house, since he had painstakingly carved and cut his own cabinets out of Cherry wood. There was a half bath that finished off the first floor, but he never used it.
The second floor held three bedrooms, one of which he kept as a guest room, sparsely furnished with a White Oak dresser and bed frame. The floor was the same Birch wood throughout the house; he didn't really care for anything else and the one window was covered with a dark-blue curtain. There was another bedroom that he'd converted into a collection room, where he housed all of his wood carvings. Handmade mahogany bookshelves lined all the walls and were filled with wooden figurines and other such trinkets he'd created during his spare time, which was basically when he wasn't doing carpentry work around the small town. His bedroom was also sparsely furnished, but he'd taken more care to detail the headboard of his bed. The wood he'd used for his bedroom furniture, which included a long dresser and two nightstands, was Cherry and the carving on his headboard was of a crescent moon, overlooking a small city resting on a sea of sand.
He didn't have a TV anywhere in the house, but he did have a radio. Whenever he worked in the garage, he turned the radio to a classical music station and left the world behind for hours at a time. He loved classical music, particularly Bach and Beethoven.
Ever since he'd been a boy of around eight, he'd known he was different from other people. High school had been hell for him because he hadn't understood why the other teenagers looked at him funny whenever he tried to converse with them, or why most girls that had spoken to him, would most times be reduced to tears or raging fury. The prom had been out of the question. Not only did he not know how to dance, but he hated crowds. He liked dressing up and looking nice, though, and his adoptive mother had wanted him to go so badly.
She'd even bought him a tuxedo.
He had put the outfit on just to appease her and so she could take pictures for her photo album, but he hadn't understood all the hubbub. She'd flitted around him wearing a yellow, paisley print, house dress and a pair of white flats, while she snapped photo after photo. He remembered the stiff material of the tux and how he'd given such lame excuses for smiles, but Neliel had been ecstatic.
After high school, he had become the apprentice of the local carpenter. He'd always had a thing for building and working with his hands and when he'd turned fourteen, Neliel had given him a wood carving kit for Christmas.
It was his one true treasure and he still worked with it to this day.
The man he'd apprenticed for, Barragan Luisenbarn, whom he called Old Man, had treated him like his own and when the man had passed on two years back, he'd left his lucrative business to Grimmjow. Grimmjow didn't have a license, but his work was far superior to any certified carpenter, so no one really questioned him.
He had a strict routine that he faithfully adhered to, only allowing for slight changes, which were still very much loathed when they occurred. He woke up every morning at four-thirty, showered, dressed and had breakfast in the kitchen, sitting on the counter, where he was able to look out the window and watch the sun rise. After that, he went about starting his day. If he had a job, he would head there and work until five or six in the evening, breaking at twelve for lunch. He usually packed his own, but on the chance that he didn't, he would go into town for a bite to eat at the local diner.
At the end of his work day, he would head to the bar that was five minutes from his home and limit himself to two beers before he headed home for the evening. Once home, he would shower, fix dinner, eat and then work in the garage on his wood carving until he was thoroughly exhausted. Wood carving was his hobby and he enjoyed it immensely. He could sit in his garage all day, sometimes without breaks, working on figurines or other projects. He never gave them away, most going into his favorite room on the second floor. The town's people knew him as the mean, weird guy that did great carpentry and strangely...he was ok with that.
Speaking of routines, he needed to call his mom. Neliel scolded him if he didn't call her every week and so far, he had forgotten to call this week. He doubled back to the kitchen and his phone, dialing the only number, aside from his own, that he knew by heart. Three rings and an overly cheerful voice filtered through the earpiece.
"Neliel," he stated.
Neliel's voice brightened further, "Grimmjow! Hi, Sweetie! How are you?"
"Fine. I was fine last week too," he answered, not understanding why Neliel felt the need to ask him that every time they spoke.
She giggled and he could imagine her smoothing her long, sea-green hair, "That's good. When are you coming by again? I'm making spaghetti and meatballs this weekend."
She always offered him food and most times it worked, as long as he knew about it ahead of time. "I can come this weekend."
"Great! So, Saturday, then?" she asked, her voice reminding him of the sun on his face and chocolate chip cookies.
"What time?" he inquired, hoping she would account for his job.
"Is seven good?"
"Yeah, that's good."
"Ok, honey, see you on Saturday. I love you."
He didn't get why people felt the need to say things like that, but Neliel had told him she liked when he said it back, "Love you, too," he mumbled and hung up.
With that out of the way, he was free to go work in the garage.
Grimmjow jerked out of his daydream and glared at the interruption. His phone was ringing at five-thirty in the morning? He frowned and slid off the kitchen counter, picked up the receiver, "Hello."
"Is this Luisenbarn Carpentry?" a deep voice asked, confident and somewhat condescending.
"Yes," he replied.
"This is Byakuya Kuchiki. I hired you to add a wrap-around porch to my home two days ago."
Grimmjow remembered. He never forgot a job. "Yes."
"Can you start today? This morning would be preferable. I won't be here to get you started, but my, er, roommate will," the man continued, his voice a boring drawl.
"I can be there at six," Grimmjow responded, glancing at the clock over the back door.
"Good. I'll let my roommate know." With that the line went dead.
Grimmjow replaced the receiver and cleared his breakfast dishes, gulped down his orange juice and headed out to his truck, a Cony 360 pickup truck. He checked the tarp that covered the bed of the vehicle, making sure it was still in place and hadn't flown off overnight during the rain. He slid behind the wheel and headed for his client's home. He remembered the name of the main road the man, Kuchiki, had given him, so he could find the house with relative ease. He never really had a problem finding clients' homes once he'd been given a main road and general directions from there.
Twenty minutes later and he pulled into the drive of a small, white house, a porch running the width of the front. The door was open and an orange-haired man was standing on the threshold. The sun was up and shining, the sky a pale blue and the air was a bit chilly, but nicer than the day before.
Grimmjow parked and strode up to the porch. The orange-haired man's eyebrows went skyward and maple brown eyes widened. Grimmjow stuck his hands in his pockets and scowling a bit, avoided eye contact with the shorter man.
"I was hired to make an addition to the porch," he stated.
"Uh, y-yeah, Byakuya told me. Um, do you need anything to get started? I'm Ichigo, by the way," the other man spoke.
Grimmjow liked the way his voice sounded. It was kind and warm, happy. A little bit nervous, too. He made a lot of people nervous, but he really didn't know why.
"No," he answered and turned his back, headed for his truck and supplies.
He hadn't even noticed the hand the guy had held out for him to shake.
So, let us know what you think! Thanks for reading!