CHAPTER 9

Disclaimer: We do not own Bleach...

Onwards...

XOXOXO

Grimmjow lay on his back and stared up at the ceiling. He'd already had a feeling upon arrival in the guest room of Ichigo's old home that he wouldn't be getting any sleep that night, and he was right. It was hard for him to find peace when he wasn't in a familiar environment like his own home or Neliel's. The window in the room was open, the light curtains swaying in the balmy, night breeze and the moon pouring its milky ambiance onto the carpeted floor. The bed was soft, yet firm, but Grimmjow was still unable to close his eyes for longer than a few seconds at a time. No matter how much he tried, sleep persistently eluded him. He finally gave up and sat forward, running a hand lazily through his hair. He allowed his eyes to adjust to the darkness before swinging his long legs over the side of the bed and climbing to his feet. He shuffled over to the window and peered through it.

Ichigo's home rested on a hill and was surrounded by a few, immaculate acres of land. The scent being carried on the wind was filled to bursting with the soothing perfume of jasmine and cherry blossom. Grimmjow perched on the wide window sill and leaned his head back against the wooden frame. Ichigo's family was indeed strange. After the encounter with Ichigo's younger sister with the dark hair and formidable eyes, along with Ichigo's oddball of a father, Grimmjow was in no hurry to socialize again. However, after a few more moments of careful thought, he realized that if he didn't involve himself with Ichigo's family, the orange-haired teacher would be incredibly disappointed.

Grimmjow didn't want that.

He listened to the small sounds the house made with half an ear, but most of his attention was diverted to his view of the front porch below him. He'd caught movement from the corner of his eye, and when he turned to check it out, he saw Ichigo settling himself onto a quietly creaking porch swing. The man had a steaming mug in one hand, a plate holding a sandwich in the other. Grimmjow tilted his head as he studied the teacher. What was Ichigo doing up and about at this hour? Of course, it was obvious that the younger man couldn't sleep, but the why was what confused Grimmjow.

After a few more moments of just watching the orange-haired man from the window, Grimmjow stood and decided that he didn't want to be alone. Plus, he was really curious as to why Ichigo was awake in the first place. He didn't bother putting on a t-shirt as he shuffled over to the bedroom door and very slowly pulled it open. Luckily, the floor was carpeted, so his descent to the first floor was a fairly quiet one. He got to the partially opened front door and stepped through, garnering a jolt of shock from Ichigo.

"Grimmjow? What are you doing up?"

"I can't sleep when I'm not at home, and I saw you in the window," he answered as he lowered himself onto the porch swing beside Ichigo. "Why are you awake? You're home, so you should be comfortable."

"Are you uncomfortable?"

"Yes."

"Oh," Ichigo grunted. He scowled as he set the now empty plate on the floor at his feet. Afterward, he gave a hefty sigh and ran a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry for dragging you all the way out here, Grimmjow. I know you don't like being around people you don't know, but...I just...I didn't really want to do this alone."

Grimmjow fought with a sudden onslaught of warring emotions. He didn't know how to respond right away. For one thing, why did Ichigo feel so insecure about facing his own family alone? For another, they had already put an end to Ichigo's uncertainty about Grimmjow not wanting to be there. Why was Ichigo bringing it up again? Although he had a million thoughts racing through his head, Grimmjow started with the one bothering him the most.

"I'm fine, but why are you uncomfortable around your own family?" he asked.

Ichigo pursed his lips and studied the floor. He didn't say anything for a while, so Grimmjow listened to the wind blowing through the leaves of the one tree on the property. He'd almost forgotten his own question by the time Ichigo decided to answer it.

"I told you before about how my Dad doesn't really...approve...of my sexuality, but I didn't tell you about the reason I left home to begin with."

Now, Grimmjow was really curious. What was it that Ichigo was keeping inside? Grimmjow nodded and allowed Ichigo to continue.

"My dad and I had a big fight one night, and he said some things that...kind of made me...some unforgivable things."

Grimmjow wanted to ask like what, but Neliel always told him to stop and look at the person he was talking to. If the person seemed upset, then it was more than likely that they wouldn't want to elaborate on the details. So, Grimmjow paused and frowned at the floor, his fingers clumsily toying with one another. The quiet between them was starting to stress him out. He didn't know what he was supposed to say to Ichigo, but Grimmjow could tell by the taut and heavy atmosphere lingering over them that Ichigo was uncomfortable. The worrying caused Grimmjow to fidget and breathe a little faster than normal. He didn't hear Ichigo when the orange-haired teacher obviously asked him a question, but he did feel the firm grasp on his arm. His head jerked up in Ichigo's direction, eyes wide as they alternated between Ichigo's chin and concerned brown stare.

"Are you alright? Grimmjow? Grimmjow! Look here!"

Ichigo's hands were on Grimmjow's face, keeping his gaze steady and locked with his own. Grimmjow hadn't even realized he'd started trembling somewhat, but once he was trapped within Ichigo's penetrating brown eyes, his body settled and his heart began to slow. He felt like he was in a trance, everything else falling away until it was just him and Ichigo left.

"Calm down and breathe. Just breathe, Grimmjow."

It took him a few moments, but once he came back to himself, the familiar sensation of being threatened by another's gaze overwhelmed him. He carefully pried Ichigo's fingers from the sides of his face and lowered his eyes.

"I'm fine now," he grunted, ashamed of himself. He'd come so far with his problem, only to have it embarrass him at the most inconvenient times. "I'm fine."

Ichigo let his hands stay in his lap, thankfully, but his demeanor was still high-strung and concerned, possibly even a little distraught. Grimmjow turned to him, but kept his eyes below Ichigo's chin.

"Stop worrying, Ichigo."

"That's impossible! Why did you just have a panic attack? Why did y-" Ichigo stopped and swiftly inhaled. "Oh, my God! That's why you looked like that earlier by the stairs. That's why you were so happy to see me, and that's why everyone was over there to begin with."

The words tumbled from the teacher's mouth like spilled sugar. It was almost as if with each realization, Ichigo gathered steam. By the time he was done, the orange-haired man was staring at Grimmjow with a scowl and thinned lips.

"Tell me what's going on! I need to know stuff like this in case it happens! I need to-"

Grimmjow covered his ears, squeezed his eyes shut and roared, "I DON'T KNOW!"

Silence.

No one said anything for what felt like forever. The night had gone still; there weren't even any crickets chirping. Finally, Grimmjow exhaled harshly and lowered his hands. He hadn't meant to shout, but Ichigo's demanding tone had begun to make him antsy all over again. Grimmjow kept his eyes closed as he continued speaking in a lower tone.

"I don't know. The doctors tell me that I might have a form of Autism called Asperger's Syndrome, but it's still new to the field. Neliel told me that all the medical jargon just means that I react to emotions differently from everyone else."

This time the silence seemed to stretch on for a little longer. Grimmjow rubbed his hands together as he kept his eyes glued to the dark finish of the wooden floor beneath his feet. Why did Ichigo have to go and ask him something like that? And why did Grimmjow feel the sudden urge to spill his guts to the orange-haired man? It was nerve-wracking. Grimmjow was so uncomfortable, he was on the verge of climbing to his feet and returning to his temporary room, but Ichigo's left hand shot out and gripped Grimmjow's wrist before he could rise.

"So..." Ichigo started quietly, his own eyes on the floor of the porch as well. "You've always been like this then?"

"Yes. Since as long as I can remember."

"That makes sense now."

"What does?"

"Why you can't look me in the eye. Why you can sometimes be completely clueless about personal boundaries. Why you're so fucking blunt."

Grimmjow shot a look at Ichigo from the corner of his eye, one blue brow raised in shock at the profanity Ichigo had used. When he found the teacher doing pretty much the same, his gut warmed as he averted his eyes. Did it bother Ichigo? Did Ichigo think the same as Grimmjow's old schoolmates? Did the younger man think Grimmjow was...a freak? A shudder ripped down his spine as he grimaced. That was the last thing he wanted. As much as he liked Ichigo, it would do nothing to soothe his ire if he found that Ichigo really thought that way about him. In fact, his like for the feisty teacher ensured that Grimmjow would suffer a great deal of hurt if he was rejected. Deciding to just get it over with, he cleared his throat and turned his upper body towards Ichigo.

"Do you think I'm a freak? That I'm crazy? Or stupid?"

"What?" Ichigo was facing Grimmjow as well, left hand perched on his thigh and left elbow bent as he leaned forward on his right forearm and knee. His expression was horrified as he stared at Grimmjow. "Are you serious?"

"Yes. Why wouldn't I be?"

The teacher shook his head and frowned. "No, Grimmjow. I don't think you're any of those. I just..."

"Just what?" Grimmjow asked with more bite than he'd intended. He didn't like the tone Ichigo was using, though. It almost seemed like there was something else that Ichigo had in mind to label Grimmjow with, and he didn't like that at all. "Just what?" he repeated.

"I just wish you would have told me sooner. I would have understood the things you do and say a little better."

"Oh."

Grimmjow deflated as he sat back in the swing. He was overcome with both relief and joy, Ichigo's response settling his nerves in a way that had only worked with Neliel. It was scary as hell. He was used to uncanny perception on the part of his mother, but not a man that he had only known for a few months. And Ichigo was beginning to understand Grimmjow, which was probably the most frightening aspect of their friendship.

But Grimmjow liked it.

As they sat in quiet for the umpteenth time that night, a question popped into the carpenter's mind. He scowled as it drilled into his brain and refused to budge. He tried to ignore it, but that was like trying to ignore Ichigo – it just couldn't be done. Grimmjow sighed and cast an uncertain glance at the man beside him. He wasn't sure he would like what Ichigo had to say to him after he asked his question, but Grimmjow had to know. If he didn't ask, it would drive him nuts.

"Why? Why don't you think I'm crazy or stupid like everyone else does?"

"Because it's obvious that you're not. You're too intelligent to be stupid, and then, the way you are with your mom eliminates the crazy part. Grimmjow, you're not incapable of showing your emotions. I can tell that much from the way you deal with me."

Grimmjow shifted in his seat, his face growing warmer and warmer with each passing second. The only people who had ever said anything like that to him had been Neliel and Barragan. They had been constantly reassuring him that he was just as good as everyone else. That he wasn't worthless. That he wasn't stupid, a freak, crazy. Grimmjow rubbed his nose, frowning at the incessant stinging. A warm bead of moisture slid down over his right cheek, making him swipe at it absently. What was wrong with him? Before he knew it, a hard lump had risen in his throat, and he suddenly had difficulty breathing.

"Grimmjow?"

A comforting hand settled on his back and slowly stroked upwards, igniting his skin and halting his tears. He peered at Ichigo from the corner of his eye and waited for what the man would do next. It was so strange. One minute, he was on the verge of having a breakdown, and the next, he was held in animated suspension by Ichigo's soft touch.

Ichigo's hand skated over his shoulders before dipping down between them and coming back up. Grimmjow wanted to sigh and moan, something he only associated with sex. Eyes blinking wide, he froze. Did that mean he wanted to have sex with Ichigo?

XXX

Ichigo was going crazy inside despite his outwardly calm appearance. Grimmjow's panic attack scared him more than he cared to admit, and though he knew he had to be strong for the man, it was no less disconcerting. Then to top it off, seeing those slowing trailing tears had completely ripped Ichigo up inside, his heart clenching at such an unusual sight from someone he least expected.

He wanted more than anything to pull Grimmjow into his arms and hold on as tightly as he could. It was crystal clear how difficult Grimmjow's life had been. Ichigo didn't understand how people could be so horrible. What was the point of running someone down? Making them think they were nothing? Ichigo hated it, hated people sometimes. He hated with a passion those nameless faces that had tormented Grimmjow into believing such ridiculous things about himself and attempting to ruin his self esteem.

Grimmjow's back was warm and solid underneath his hand and Ichigo knew he should probably stop touching the man, for his own good. His skin felt so nice and warm, muscles toned from years of hard work and it just did something to Ichigo, lighting a fire in his belly that he definitely had to ignore unless he wanted to both embarrass himself and run Grimmjow off.

Reluctantly, Ichigo took his hand away, and the night began to catch up to him, making him yawn lowly. He picked up the plate and mug and stood, smiling gently at Grimmjow. "Think you might be able to sleep now? Few hours 'til sunrise yet."

He received a nod in return, and tried not to openly gawk at the way Grimmjow's stomach muscles flexed when he got up, jeans riding low on his cut hips. He also tried not to think other situations in which those muscles could exert. The man made an almost obscene picture, lean and statuesque. Ichigo groaned internally with equal parts want and shame. He shouldn't have thoughts like that about Grimmjow when he knew his feelings would most likely never be returned. It was stupid and he was just setting himself up for heartbreak.

There was an interesting, delicate flush dusting across Grimmjow's cheeks while his eyes were flicked to the side, moonlight outlined his profile, giving him an almost ethereal glow. Ichigo gulped and shook his head. This was definitely becoming a problem he needed to rectify.

They walked silently into the house, which was a pretty intense effort between the two of them. Ichigo opened the door to his sister's room, grinning slightly at the flail of limbs scattered across the floor. His sisters had completely taken over the makeshift floor-bed, tangled around pillows and blankets, leaving no room for a third body to squeeze in or around. Ichigo sighed to himself, thinking of ways of sneaking in that wouldn't disturb them.

"I could take the floor and you could have the bed in the guest room. If you want," Grimmjow whispered beside him, eyeing his sisters with a fondly amused expression. Ichigo shook his head, gesturing to the small closet across the hall.

"It's alright. There's extra blankets in there. I'll just take the couch. Now shoo, you need some sleep."

Grimmjow gave him an almost wistful look before nodding hesitantly, waving as he retreated down the hall. Silence descended again and Ichigo carefully pried open the usually creaky closet door for a spare blanket, frowning at its scratchy texture. Oh, well. He shrugged and padded back down the steps. He would be up in a few hours anyway, heading out to Rukia's.

And boy, that thought did not want to put him to sleep.

The thought of seeing his best friend again was both exciting and terrifying. Rukia would most likely rip him a new one for not telling her about his breakup with Byakuya sooner, but hopefully she would be so elated at seeing him that his beating wouldn't be too severe. He was also worried about leaving Grimmjow in the clutches of his family. He knew by now how to handle the man, but others certainly didn't. He'd just have to tell his sisters to distract his father until he got home, because Isshin was almost too much sometimes for someone who couldn't understand certain ways.

xxx

Ichigo woke up with a pained groan, body twisted like a human pretzel on the beat up couch his father had never gotten around to replacing. It had patches sewn onto the back, and holes in the cushions. Needless to say, it was not the most comfortable place to crash. He would have been better taking one of the twins' abandoned beds, pillow or not.

The familiar sound of pots and pans banging had Ichigo lifting up the carpet that passed for a blanket and getting up. He made his way to the tiny kitchen, holding back a smile at the sight of his little sister scurrying around in a soft, pink apron, hair pulled back in a loose bun.

"Need any help?" he asked, already knowing what answer he'd receive.

Yuzu spun around and shook her head furiously. "No, Onii-chan! You're the guest! Now, go sit down!"

Ichigo grinned and leaned against the door frame. He was relieved that she didn't mention his absence from last night. It would have made for a slightly awkward conversation.

"I'm actually going to head out soon. I haven't seen Rukia in a long time."

The delighted expression on Yuzu's face was surprising, and Ichigo raised his eyebrows as she clapped her hands together. "That's a wonderful idea! Is Grimmjow going to drive you?"

Ichigo frowned. He hadn't thought of that. Rukia didn't live that far away – probably a fifteen minute drive. He didn't relish walking there, but he knew his father definitely would not let him borrow the family's only vehicle. Damn. He hated having to constantly rely on the blue-haired man. Grimmjow was so accommodating with him, even though Ichigo rarely had something to give back. When they got home, he would have to think of a way to repay Grimmjow for his kindness.

Speaking of the man, Grimmjow was currently walking down the stairs, barefoot in a pair of worn jeans, probably the same ones from last night. He didn't have a shirt on, either, reminding Ichigo of how intimate their late night encounter had been. He started blushing against his will.

Before Ichigo could greet him properly, a massive hand grabbed onto his t-shirt, throwing him back against the wall of the living room. Ichigo arched his back with a hacking cough, angling a glare at his father's cackling face.

"Ichigo!" a loud, obnoxious voice boomed right in his ear drum, further pounding in the fact that yes, he was home. And his dad was still a crazy asshole.

"What!?" he hissed between clenched teeth, stumbling from the unforgiving wall and tenderly rubbing at his poor back. His spine ached unpleasantly. Ichigo could only hope his glare properly conveyed his annoyance and underlying anger. He could handle his father's antics, but in the morning he wasn't aware enough to anticipate them.

Isshin gave him a curiously smug grin, nodding his head toward the clinic. "I want to talk to you before you head out. That alright?"

Ichigo shrugged, waving a hand at Grimmjow, who seemed speculative of their exchange, but not unsettled like yesterday. Yuzu was too busy putting together some type of mix to give them her attention.

"Sure."

He followed his father into the sterile familiarity of the clinic. It was never very busy, as not a lot of people lived in the area, or even knew it was there. Ichigo knew the man made enough to get by, but that was all. He sat down in a metal chair beside the little desk in the corner, crossing his arms.

"What did you want to talk about?"

It was harder than it should have been to meet his father's eyes. They were dark and yielded nothing, but really, Ichigo had this scenario memorized.

Isshin smiled slightly. "I want you, before you leave, to meet someone. Hear me out on this." A hand going up cut off Ichigo's immediate protest, and he could feel it dying on his tongue. He scowled darkly at the chipped tile of the floor. "She's a great girl. Really quiet. Nice family."

"I'm gay, Dad. You know, homosexual?" Ichigo didn't back down from the penetrating gaze focused on him, a frown curling his lips. "I haven't changed since the last time I was here. I'm not going to."

Isshin sighed, shoulders slumping, defeated. He wiped a large hand over his eyes and shook his head. "Ichigo, I just think if you met the right person, that if you tried-"

"No!" Ichigo roared, surging up and away from his father's shocked face. He threw his hands up as he turned, so completely fed up with the same conversation time after time. "No! Why can't you just understand? Why do I have to try?" He spun back around and threw a finger in Isshin's face. "This is why I don't come home!"

As soon as the words left his mouth, he knew that they were aimed to wound. The reaction he got did not disappoint. Isshin visibly deflated, exhaling a shaky breath and looking smaller than his actual size.

Ichigo opened the door, biting his lip to stifle the resentment and hurt. "I'm going to Rukia's."

His father didn't try to follow him back into the house, and Ichigo didn't bother looking back. He just wanted to get away. He stormed through the living room, headed straight for the blue haired man sitting at the table. Grimmjow was watching as Yuzu bustled around intently, eyes trailing her every move.

"Would you mind driving me to my friend's?" Ichigo bit out, fist clenching by his side. He tried to hide his anger, but it proved more difficult than he thought.

Grimmjow turned to stare at him, raising an eyebrow. "Your face is red. Have you been crying?"

Yuzu whirled around, just when Karin ambled into the kitchen. They both had their eyes trained on him now. He hated the heated questions in their gazes.

"No," he quickly mumbled. "No, I'm fine. So, would you?"

At Grimmjow's nod, Ichigo rushed up the stairs to put on a decent shirt, his movements harried and robotic. He found a soft, blue button down and pulled it on, deciding his slacks were fine as he ran back down. Grimmjow was standing by the couch, simple white shirt stretched tight over his muscled chest. Ichigo was impressed that he had dressed so quickly.

They walked out to Grimmjow's truck in tense silence. Ichigo was just grateful Grimmjow didn't ask him any probing questions as he sidled into the passenger's seat. Ichigo gave him a weak smile as Grimmjow backed up, watching his house get smaller as they pulled onto the road.

"I know I've thanked you a thousand times, but you know..." Ichigo sighed and waved a hand as his head fell back against the seat rest and he closed his eyes.

Grimmjow didn't say anything for a few moments, his eyes focused on the road. But then he quietly said, "Did you have a fight with your dad?"

Ichigo stiffened. He bit down on his cheek to stop a sigh, because he could handle this, and Grimmjow wasn't prodding him. He was just concerned.

"You could say that. I told you my dad doesn't agree with my sexuality, right? Every time I come home, he tries to talk me out of it. Like if I just tried harder, I could stop being gay." Ichigo let out a bitter, self depreciating, laugh. "He doesn't understand. It pisses me off, and after years of the same mind-numbing lecture, I can't sit back and stomach it anymore. He thinks I willingly went through high school, choosing to be laughed at and beat up, people lisping at me."

Grimmjow frowned and looked over, tentatively meeting Ichigo's eyes. "I don't understand why people wouldn't accept you for being gay. Neliel always told me that being different wasn't a bad thing."

The pit of Ichigo's stomach started bubbling with hope, but he stomped down the feeling. Grimmjow was just trying to empathize with him. Instead of replying, Ichigo just pointed toward the massive house off the road to the left, a long driveway curving down towards it.

"That's Rukia's parents' house. Hopefully, she's home. I didn't call because of the argument. I get so mad sometimes I just see red," Ichigo chuckled, blushing.

"I'll take you up to the door and wait," Grimmjow said with a small smile.

Ichigo's blush intensified instantly. "Are you sure? You don't have to."

Grimmjow shrugged, put the truck in park and moved to get out. Ichigo followed hastily, smoothing down his shirt before hurrying ahead of the blue haired man.

The sense of nostalgia erupted inside of him the closer he got to the massive property. The porch was almost as big as Grimmjow's house, with plenty of grandeur and pomp. Ichigo was relieved to notice Rukia's parents were absent. It made for a much easier experience. Grimmjow waited on the steps, looking down and kicking gently at the dirt absently, hands stuck in his jean pockets. Ichigo took a deep breath, steeling himself as he rapped on the large door. He waited with baited breath for what felt like a small eternity. And then the door opened, his eyes settling on the petite figure of his best friend. She looked up at him with a shocked expression, pale lips falling open.

"Ichigo."

Instead of the beat down Ichigo expected, Rukia's eyes brightened like a light being flicked on, and she threw her thin arms around his neck, height difference be damned, squeezing him for dear life. When they pulled apart, she smiled widely at him.

"There's a face I haven't seen in a while." She raised a perfectly trimmed eyebrow expectantly.

Ichigo chuckled, scratching the back of his neck. "Yeah, well...work and everything."

"Right," Rukia smirked. "Let's go talk out back. Father is on a business trip, and mother is out with her friends. We won't be bothered."

Following her short figure into the garden that seemed much more like an extravagant jungle, Ichigo was not surprised when Rukia's tiny hand collided with his head as they sat on a charming, white swing surrounded by flowers.

"Guess I deserved that," he grumbled, gently rubbing the sore spot amidst his orange spikes.

Rukia nodded sagely. "Of course you did. Be lucky. I haven't heard much out of you or Nii-sama since you two moved into that house. A post card would be nice once in a while," she said sarcastically.

Guilt and shame immediately coiled tight in Ichigo's gut. He flushed, swallowing before turning so he could properly face Rukia. "So you haven't spoken to Byakuya lately, either?" he asked tentatively.

Rukia's lips slid into a frown. "No, he hasn't called. We just assumed he's been busy with work. How is he?"

Ichigo bit his bottom lip, worrying the soft skin. He figured this would have to be treated like a band-aid. "I wouldn't know. He broke up with me and kicked me out. He moved in one of his co-workers." Ichigo's breath hitched. "A woman."

There was a gasp and small, manicured hands encased his own. "That doesn't sound like him at all. I'm so sorry, Ichigo. Do you have a place to stay? Do you want me to go and kick his ass? I would, for you."

Ichigo laughed roughly and waved her concern off. "No, no, I'm good. I found a place a while ago. I just, I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. It's just-"

"I understand. You guys were together a long time. I wish I could have been there for you."

"Seriously, Rukia. It's fine. It's over, and I'm over it. Telling you is the final step, and now I can forget all about it." Ichigo frowned bitterly. "I'm surprised you haven't met her yet. I knew he was ashamed of me. Your parents will be thrilled when they meet her."

Rukia shrugged. "Who knows about Nii-sama? But whoever she is, she'll never be better than you. What he did wasn't right, and the next time he comes home, you can believe I'm going to talk to him." Rukia poked Ichigo in the chest playfully. "And you damn well better start visiting more. No excuses!"

Ichigo was extremely relieved and he could literally feel the weight and stress that had been gnawing at him melt away. He and Rukia were good, and he let go of one problem on his checklist.

They sat comfortably for what seemed like forever, Rukia telling him about what had been going on since he last saw her. He told her about his job and the little kids he taught, specifically Hiyori, smiling warmly at the excited twinkle in her eye. He knew she had a soft spot for children; she could put up a tough demeanor all she wanted.

"So who's your friend that drove you?" she asked while nudging his shoulder.

Ichigo blinked several times. "Grimmjow?" He suddenly felt clammy all over.

Grimmjow.

He'd forgotten about Grimmjow in his excitement at seeing Rukia. He had left the man standing there awkwardly without so much as a word to him. Ichigo bolted from the swing, nearly uplifting Rukia in his haste to make it back to the front porch.

"Ichigo?!"

Distantly he heard Rukia's shrill, confused voice, but he didn't stop. The spot Grimmjow was previously standing at was empty. Panic flared up, potent, and a cold sweat broke out across his skin.

Relief was like a punch to the spleen when he turned and saw Grimmjow sitting in his truck, the door open with his legs swinging out. Ichigo almost fainted or died of embarrassment. He had forgotten about his friend, who had taken him into his home without complaint when he didn't have anything, and had driven him to see his family out of the kindness of his heart. He hoped Grimmjow wasn't livid with him, but he certainly had every right to be.

"Grimmjow?" he called tentatively.

XOXOXO

Grimmjow stood and watched as Ichigo entered the sprawling house with a short, dark-haired female, a small feeling of helplessness budding in his chest. He didn't know what to do. Did Ichigo want him to wait where he was? Did he want him to leave? But wouldn't he have said something? Grimmjow rubbed the back of his head as he looked around the property. The place was beautiful, but he couldn't bring himself to really enjoy the sight. He was too busy worrying about what he was supposed to do now. After a few more minutes of just standing around, his mind whirling with confusion, he headed over to his truck. He didn't want to leave without letting Ichigo know, but he also didn't want to wait around on someone's front stoop. People already thought he was strange without the suspicious behavior.

When he got to his vehicle, he opened the door and slid inside, leaving the door cracked and his legs hanging out. He rested an arm on the steering wheel as he studied the packed earth of the driveway. He tried to fight it, but a distinct sensation of rejection started small, but bloomed into something frustrating and almost overwhelming. Did Ichigo not want to be around him? Did Ichigo like that woman more than he liked Grimmjow? That was disturbing enough to make him wince. Had Ichigo forgotten about him? He just didn't know what to think. He was seriously considering starting up his truck and heading back to Ichigo's old home, when that familiar deep voice called his name.

"Grimmjow?"

He looked up and watched the orange-haired teacher slowly making his way over. Ichigo's face was weird. He looked like he was afraid and embarrassed all at the same time. Grimmjow didn't really know what to make of it until the other man was standing right in front of him, not quite meeting his eyes. Which was fine. The way Grimmjow was feeling at the moment, he couldn't be sure he'd be able to meet Ichigo's gaze, anyway.

"Grimmjow, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to just leave you there that way. I know I can be absentminded, but that was rude and inexcusable. I'm-"

"Ichigo, it's fine," Grimmjow mumbled, head down and hiding the blush threatening to creep across his cheeks.

He did know that Ichigo was very absentminded at times, and it was a great relief that Ichigo hadn't just left him out there for the entirety of his visit. It was also oddly comforting that Ichigo had come to look for him. It made Grimmjow feel like Ichigo wanted to be around him.

"Are you sure?" the younger man pressed. "I just don't want you to feel like I don't want you around or anything."

Grimmjow went silent as that blush from earlier consumed his entire face. He growled under his breath, trying to get himself together. Ever since last night, his thoughts towards Ichigo had gone into unfamiliar territory. He'd never thought about being with another man, but after having Ichigo's strong, yet gentle hand on his back, Grimmjow's thoughts had been of the lecherous variety. He lifted his head and tentatively met Ichigo's concerned brown eyes.

"I'm OK. I don't think that."

"Ichigo, is everything alright?"

Grimmjow turned to the new voice and watched warily as the small woman who'd answered the door gracefully sidled into view. She was giving Grimmjow a cautious look – probably the same one he was giving her. Did she think he was going to hurt Ichigo or something? Because he would never do a thing like that. Ichigo glanced over his shoulder at the woman and nodded.

"Yeah, everything's fine. I just came to get Grimmjow. I can't believe I left him out here," he said, a hand going to the back of his neck.

"Oh. Well, it's nice to meet you...Grimmjow?" she said, turning to Grimmjow with her hand outstretched.

Grimmjow studied the small, fragile-looking appendage before carefully taking it into his own. It was warm and soft.

"Yes. Nice to meet you too," he mumbled.

He'd tried meeting her large, dark-blue eyes, but the look in them was so intense, he felt forced to avert his own. He withdrew his hand and climbed out of the truck. When he stood at his full height, the woman's eyes went wide as she looked up.

"Wow, you're pretty tall, huh?"

he just nodded. He felt like he was under a microscope, all eyes on him. It made him fidget, incredibly uncomfortable. Luckily, Ichigo must have noticed because he drew the woman's attention to himself.

"Hey, Rukia, you still make the best sushi I've ever tasted. Wanna go inside and treat your best friend to some?"

The woman, Rukia, turned to Ichigo with an affectionate smile. "How can I say no to that face?"

The tone she'd used made Grimmjow's hackles go up. Did she like Ichigo that way? He understood that they were best friends, but that didn't mean she couldn't have a secret crush on the orange-haired man. The thought was daunting enough to make his stomach drop. Why his stomach dropped to begin with, though, was an entirely different story. He'd only ever felt that way when he was nervous about something or when Neliel was upset with him. He couldn't figure out why he was feeling so unsettled when it came to Ichigo.

Ichigo chuckled and began following Rukia towards the house. After a few steps, he turned back to Grimmjow with a soft grin. "You coming?"

Grimmjow returned Ichigo's grin with one of his own as he nodded and fell into step beside the shorter man.

XxxxxxX

Grimmjow toyed with an expensive-looking teacup as he sat at a long dining table. Ichigo was seated beside him to the left, while Rukia was across the table from them both. She had just set down a platter of sushi that was making Grimmjow's stomach growl anxiously. Ichigo glanced over at him and chuckled.

"Dig in."

Grimmjow wanted to writhe in embarrassment, but his focus was solely for the few food items Rukia put on the plate before him. He picked up the disposable chopsticks next to the plate and separated them before sticking an intricately rolled bit of sushi into his mouth. It was delicious. He didn't notice the looks of amusement coming from the other two occupants in the room at all. He didn't stop eating until his plate was completely empty. Only then did he sit back in his seat and rub his belly with a wide grin. Ichigo chuckled again.

"I take it you like sushi," he rumbled.

"I love it, but I've never had sushi this good before."

"Yeah, Rukia makes the best sushi."

Grimmjow nodded. Neliel made good sushi, but this was pretty excellent. Rukia smiled and blushed as she waved a hand in the air.

"Stop, stop," she laughed. "My ego can't take it."

Ichigo laughed with her as he finished eating and set his chopsticks across his plate. As he sat back in his seat, he glanced up at the clock and sighed.

"We gotta get going, Rukia. Don't wanna get back to the house too late, you know?"

She nodded, her big, dark-blue eyes going somber. "I understand. Just don't be a stranger, or else I'll come looking for you."

Her tone made even Grimmjow nervous. Her voice had gone low and almost gruff as she glared at Ichigo. Grimmjow swallowed and alternated his gaze between the two, wondering if she was serious. If the look in her eyes was any indication, she was dead serious. Ichigo scratched the back of his neck and chortled uneasily.

"I'll keep that in mind," he said before giving all of his attention to Grimmjow. "Are you ready to go?"

Grimmjow couldn't help it. He smiled back at Ichigo, not really understanding why every time he looked into those brown eyes, he felt like he could fly. He nodded and stood. When he pulled his eyes away from the teacher, he turned to Rukia and had to do a double-take. Her gaze kept switching back and forth between himself and Ichigo, and her eyes were slightly narrowed even though she wore a quiet grin. It was disturbing enough to make Grimmjow want to leave immediately. Finally, she broke the silence as she too left her seat. She came around the table and stood in front of Ichigo.

"Ichigo, can I talk to you for a minute?"

The orange-haired man frowned a little, but nodded anyway. He turned to Grimmjow and held up a finger. "Wait just one minute, Grimm, OK?"

Grimmjow shrugged as he reclaimed his seat at the table. He didn't know what to make of the way Rukia pulled Ichigo out of the room by the sleeve of his shirt, but he did know that he wasn't altogether alright with her touching him in such a familiar manner. He wondered what she was going to say to Ichigo. Was it about him? Was she going to tell Ichigo that she didn't like Grimmjow? Or was she going to tell Ichigo that she liked him? He was working himself up just thinking about it, so he tried turning his mind to something else. He'd just have to wait and find out from Ichigo himself if the man felt like sharing.

Xxx

Ichigo made a point of shooting Grimmjow a reassuring smile before following Rukia on the winding stair case, to her extravagant bedroom that never seemed to change. He was puzzled as to what she wanted to talk to him about, and the confusion only grew as she threw herself down on the wide, navy blue bed centered in the room.

He held up his hands with a smirk. "Rukia, I know I'm ridiculously good looking and everything, but I'm gay."

A pillow to the face spoke volumes about what she thought of his feeble attempt at a joke.

"Idiot." She gave him a sly grin, looking not unlike a fox. "That's what I want to talk about." She nodded her head to the door and raised a suggestive eyebrow. "So, Grimmjow?"

Ichigo sputtered, shaking his head indignantly. "He's not! We're not… He's not gay. He's my friend, and he's letting me stay at his house while I get my life together. It's not like that at all."

"Yeah? Doesn't seem that way to me. Seems like he likes you. And, knowing you the way I do, seems to me like you like him, too." The expression on her face left him no room to argue. "I noticed the looks you gave him. It's not subtle, Ichigo, I hope you realize that. I'm actually surprised he doesn't."

Of course, Rukia noticed the way Grimmjow acted. Ichigo wasn't sure if he wanted to explain him, though. He kind of wanted to keep Grimmjow all to himself, which was stupid. Who did that? He knew Rukia wouldn't judge Grimmjow, that she was just curious. Still, the possessive feelings that her simple statement evoked wouldn't be pressed down.

"You're over exaggerating. I do like him, but he doesn't feel the same. He knows I'm gay, and he doesn't care, but it isn't his cup of tea. Okay? Done with your meddling?"

"Hey!" Rukia jumped up and got in his face. Her height didn't seem to matter. "I kind of resent that! I just think I would be doing you a disservice by not bringing this to your attention. God knows you can be dense as hell sometimes. You can thank me when he makes a move. I wasn't sure what to make of him at first, but he seems like a nice, if eccentric, guy."

Ichigo rolled his eyes, clearly not getting through to her. "Okay, Rukia. Whatever you say."

Rukia huffed and opened the door. "I'm serious. Start paying more attention, and maybe you'll get your head out of your ass."

She left him there, retreating down the steps. He swallowed hard, her words ringing in his head. He tried to recall any situation that would lead him to find truth in her words. He shook his head and followed her exit.

There was no way. Grimmjow didn't like him. It was ridiculous.

He met electric blue eyes, clearer than any sky, by the door. Grimmjow was looking right at him, intense like nothing else. It made Ichigo feel hot all over, for some reason. Grimmjow had that overwhelming effect on him.

For a minute, he really wanted to believe Rukia.

More than anything.

'Til next time guys! Thanks for reading!