Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach...

So, yeah, I remember wanting to re-visit this kind of plot after writing my other story, The Christmas Card. So, here it is. Let's see how it turns out.



Karakura Middle School

April 2004

The playground was filled with bustling children, playing various games and screaming delightedly as the sun shone brightly in the clear, blue sky. It was a beautiful, Spring day and Ichigo and his friends were taking advantage of it, sitting in companionable silence under a nearby cherry blossom tree. Chado, Tatsuki and Inoue sat beside him, quietly eating, until Tatsuki broke the silence.

"Has anyone seen the new kid?" she asked suddenly. All heads swiveled in her direction in surprise. Tatsuki rarely spoke, unless someone was bothering Inoue or talking about karate.

"Yeah, what about him?" Ichigo questioned over a mouthful of his turkey sandwich.

Tatsuki's eyebrows shot to her hairline, "He's so tiny! And he's always getting teased by Gin and that Shiro boy, but he never does nothin' to take up for himself!"

"Why not? Is he stupid or somethin'?" Ichigo scrunched his nose in confusion.

He'd seen the new kid and knew exactly what Tatsuki meant by "tiny". He was half the size of all the kids their age and frightfully thin. He was really small, even at the age of ten. The boy's appearance was really different too. He had bright blue hair and vivid, ocean blue eyes that got him teased and bullied mercilessly. Ichigo didn't understand why he wouldn't stand up for himself, though, regardless of his size.

"I don't think so. He always looks good and mad when people bother him, but he never hits anyone back or says nothin'," Tatsuki answered, picking at her sandwich.

Inoue scowled slightly, chewing delicately on a...pickle, mayo and curry sandwich? Ichigo shuddered, but watched her curiously as she lifted a finger and pointed towards a tree a few meters from where they sat.

"They're doing it right now," she said disapprovingly.

Ichigo, as well as the others, focused on a group of children gathering around the small kid, backing him into the tree. Of course, Gin Ichimaru and Shirosaki Oghici were at the very center, Gin standing by, grinning wolfishly, while Shirosaki roughly shoved the blue-haired boy.

Suddenly, Shirosaki planted his pale fist into the blue-haired boy's face, making him hit his head against the tree and slide to the floor, holding his nose. Ichigo scowled darkly as he abruptly rose to his feet, dusted the seat of his gray uniform pants and quickly stormed towards the noisy group of kids.

He pushed roughly past the rowdy children until he managed to emerge in the center of the fray, mouth balled up and hands fisted at his sides. Words were unnecessary as he shoved Shirosaki away from the smaller, blue-haired boy.

The pale kid stumbled slightly, but regained his composure and whirled to face Ichigo, strange eyes narrowed at him menacingly. His white hair was disheveled and his inverted eyes, with golden irises and black sclera, glittered dangerously, even as a wide grin pulled at his lips.

"Yo, ya gotta death wish, Strawberry?" the albino kid taunted, stepping closer. Ichigo didn't even flinch.

"You're such a wimp, Shirosaki. Why ya gotta mess with him for? He's not botherin' nobody," he returned, his body coming to a stop before the small blunet, still seated at the base of the tree.

Ichigo held his arms out wide as his scowl deepened. Shirosaki was inching closer and closer. He wasn't afraid of the albino; as a matter of fact, he wasn't afraid of anyone, but Shirosaki was a bully and played by no set of rules.

Gin stood eerily silent at his side, eye-closing grin taking up most of his face and hands shoved deeply into the pockets of his uniform pants. He didn't seem to be in a hurry to make any moves, but Ichigo had the common sense not to disregard the silver-haired youth.

Suddenly, Shirosaki ceased moving forward and glared behind Ichigo before locking eyes with the orange-haired boy again. Ichigo didn't dare turn to see what Shirosaki was sneering scornfully at, but he didn't need to because the pissed off bully cracked his knuckles before snarling, "What the fuck, Yasutora? Ya the Strawberry's bodyguard er somethin'?"

As usual, Chado maintained his stony silence, which only served to piss the other boy off. He looked like he wanted to lunge at him and Chado, but thought better of it. The other children gathered around twittered excitedly, but had their hopes of a fight dashed to bits when Gin placed a hand on Shirosaki's shoulder.

"Jus' leave it fer now," he whispered into the albino's ear. "Yuh'll get yer chance."

"Tch, whatever. See ya 'round, Strawberry," Shirosaki scoffed, waving his hand dismissively as he and Gin stalked off, making the other children scatter like roaches.

Ichigo slowly loosened the tension that had gathered everywhere on his body as he turned to face Chado. The gentle giant with wavy, dark-brown hair that hung over his right eye, stood patiently waiting behind him. It looked like the brunet hadn't even been fazed. "Thanks, Chado," he mumbled.

Chado nodded somberly before heading off in the direction of their group. It was as if he'd read Ichigo's thoughts of wanting to be alone with the blue-haired boy still seated on the ground. The smaller boy was no longer holding his nose, but blood was tracking over his lips and under his chin. Bright blue eyes, shimmering with intensity, glared at him defiantly.

"Don' pity me!" the boy snapped angrily.

Ichigo arched a brow and placed his hands on his hips, "Maybe I wouldn't if ya stood up for yourself sometime!"

The smaller boy slowly climbed to his feet and brushed off his uniform, his mouth turned down at the corners, "You don' know nothin'," he muttered sullenly and brushed past Ichigo, bumping arms roughly.

Ichigo frowned and grabbed the boy's arm, stopping him. "Why don't ya fight back?" he asked incredulously.

He still didn't understand why the other boy just sat there and took all that abuse. The blue-haired boy growled and slapped away Ichigo's hand. "Ain't nunna yer business!" he snapped and shoved off, Ichigo's gaze burning a hole in his back.

The blue-haired boy's gait was stiff and pissed and Ichigo wanted to know now, more than ever, why the kid wouldn't defend himself against his classmates.


Karakura Middle School

April 2004

Grimmjow trudged to the nurse's office and flopped down on one of the five, blue, plastic chairs outside of the shut room. He knew he was going to scold him for being there again for the fourth time this week, but it really wasn't his fault. He hated this place, but no matter where he went, it was the same.

Kids bullied him, teased him, shunned him, made him feel worse than gum stuck to the bottoms of their shoes, all because of his appearance. Because he was shorter than the average kid their age, because he had blue hair and blue eyes. Not only was he gaijin, he was a runt to boot. He fisted the material at his knees and clenched his teeth until he thought they would break.

It wasn't fair.

He had been kicked out of three of the four public schools in Karakura and his mother couldn't afford the private ones. This was his last chance and he had to make it count. If he didn't, he would have no way to finish school, which for him was imperative. He had dreams of becoming a professional American football player one day and he knew college would help smooth the way.

Laugh if you want, he was pretty fast and could slip by most bigger kids.

Ever since the first time he'd seen an American football game on TV, he'd dreamt of becoming a running back. He had always liked running and he LOVED the idea of running WHILE dodging opponents. It wasn't like track and field, where you were restricted to running on a track with specific small spaces. With American football, you were granted more freedom and the thought of the dangerous physical contact gave him a thrill.

He knew better than to share his aspirations with anyone other than his mother, though. He would be tormented more than was usual and that was really saying something considering what he went through on a daily basis from his looks alone. His mother was supportive, encouraging him and telling him he could do anything he wanted, as long as he worked hard for it.

Grimmjow relaxed his hands and rubbed the palms across his knee caps, ridding them of the sweat that had gathered. The thought of his mother always served as a soothing agent for him. She did everything she could to give him a good life and it wasn't her fault they were poor. His father had died, leaving them in astonishing amounts of debt and it was all his mother could do just to keep them both clothed and fed, with a roof over their heads. She even went some nights without eating, just so he could.

It pissed him off and tore him apart at the same time. His mother didn't deserve to live the way they had to, which was why he vowed to become successful, even if it wasn't with his first love, American football. He would make sure his mother wanted for nothing in the future.

His mother – soft-spoken, gentle and kind – was a lovely woman, with deep, blue eyes and long, crow-black hair that she always kept back in a braid. Retsu. Grimmjow had always loved her name and thought it was funny that it contradicted her true nature. Although, his mom could be scary as hell when she was mad.

He brushed a hand under his sore nose and realized that it had stopped bleeding. His hands were still covered with red from earlier, but the damage wasn't as bad as he'd thought. Maybe he didn't need to be at the infirmary after all. Grimmjow stood and started to head for the bathroom to clean up, when the office door swung open and an orange-haired girl with storm-cloud eyes stepped out.

Those eyes widened as she noticed him and took in his haggard appearance. Grimmjow hardened his gaze and pursed his lips. He hated being stared at like that. He didn't need anyone's sympathy because he wasn't helpless. There was a reason for his passivity.

"Orihime-chan, please be careful of what you eat from now on, OK? We don't want this to happen again," the nurse said, his voice concerned.

The girl tore her gaze away from Grimmjow and turned to the older man. "Yes!" she chirped, her face brightening and almost lighting up the halls. "Um, Hanataro-san, he's bleeding," she continued in a confidential whisper, even going as far as cupping the side of her face.

The dark-haired nurse turned his concerned visage Grimmjow's way, making him cringe. He hadn't wanted to be seen, but now that option had been swept away. "Ah! Grimmjow-kun, what happened to your nose?" he asked, leaving the girl's side and hurrying to his.

Grimmjow scowled and gave the girl a pointed, rather heated glare before focusing on the nurse. "Nothin' serious. It ain't even bleedin' no more," he grumbled, swatting away the man's hand.

Hanataro finally gave up trying to touch his face, instead settling for his shoulder. "Well, come into my office and clean up," he suggested.

Grimmjow glanced up at him, ready to leave if he saw even an ounce of pity in those normally warm, periwinkle eyes. When all he saw was concern and worry, he nodded slowly and headed into the office, giving the apricot-haired girl one last glare as he did so. Hanataro followed behind him after advising the girl to head back to class. He shut the door silently and went to his desk, Grimmjow already making his way to the small half-bath.

He washed his hands and face thoroughly, making sure there was no evidence of what had happened. His school shirt was a lost cause, sporting several bright red drops of blood, but he would be able to change his clothes before his mother got home from work. After he was clean, he studied himself in the mirror, ready to celebrate, but his shoulders sagged as he noticed there was a bruise already forming along the bridge of his nose. Shit. His mom was going to wonder what happened and he was running out of excuses for the constant bumps and bruises he brought home.

Grimmjow growled as he stepped off the small stool in front of the sink. It was degrading to have to use such a thing, but without it, he had no hope of reaching the faucet. He couldn't stand being so damned small! Where the hell had his genes gone wrong? His mother was an average height woman and his father had been pretty tall from what he'd seen in pictures. So, why the hell was he getting the short end of the stick? Literally.

He stomped out of the bathroom and tried to breeze past Hanataro, hoping the nurse wouldn't mention the incident. No such luck. The dark-haired man lifted big, droopy eyes and locked onto him before Grimmjow could reach the door. "Grimmjow-kun, what happened? I have to ask. Are you being bullied?" he asked gently.

Grimmjow froze, his spine stiffening as his hair stood on end. He wasn't being bullied. Even though he was small, he could take care of himself. He just couldn't get in anymore trouble, meaning he couldn't fight back. If he did, it would mean dire consequences for him. "I ain't bein' bullied," he scoffed.

Hanataro arched a brow, expression clearly reading "oh, really?". Instead, he said, "Grimmjow-kun, you should tell me what's going on. I need to know why you're always in my office several times a week with various injuries.I can't just stand by and do nothing while a student is being bullied and injured on a daily basis."

Grimmjow gritted his teeth and balled up his hands. "I ain't bein' bullied!" he insisted, wishing the nurse would just let it go.

He did want the kids to stop bugging him, but he didn't want to be labeled a rat AND a chicken on top of everything else he was being called. No, thank you. His life was rough enough and he wasn't about to stoke the flames.

Hanataro gave him a weighty stare, penetrating him and making him completely uncomfortable. "Fine, but the next time you come in here with an injury, Grimmjow-kun, I'm going to the principal," he stated, for once ladling authority over his words.

Grimmjow grimaced and nodded, accepting his fate. That just meant he couldn't go to the nurse anymore. He slowly left the infirmary and headed to class. He would have to take care not to be harmed to that point then, but he was standing by his decision. He wasn't a rat and he wasn't risking his last chance at high school.


Karakura Middle School

April 2004

Ichigo stared at the blue-haired boy seated on the swings of the school playground. He was swinging lazily, his feet dangling in the air. He was the only kid whose feet couldn't reach the ground and Ichigo was surprised the kid would frequent something that so clearly stated his lack of vertical stature, but there he sat.

The blue-haired boy had gotten under Ichigo's skin with his words a couple days ago and since then, he'd been watching him, trying to figure out why he wouldn't fight back. His diligence had earned him curious glances from his friends, but no information that would answer his questions. Fed up with wondering, Ichigo crossed the playground, brow furrowed and gait stiff.

He wasn't leaving until he got his freaking answers.

When he was within a few feet of the boy, he noticed how the blue head came up and those startlingly blue eyes locked onto his with all the accuracy and threat of a sniper's scope. Ichigo had the urge to freeze, but brushed it aside and continued moving until he was standing directly in front of the blue-haired boy that Inoue had said was called Grimmjow.

Grimmjow glared up at him, blue eyes glittering and dancing like a kaleidoscope of fury. Why was he so mad? Did he think Ichigo was there to start trouble?

"Your name's Grimmjow?" he asked, just to be sure Inoue had given him the correct title.

Grimmjow's eyes sharpened and narrowed. "Why ya wanna know?" he snapped, his voice dripping mistrust and suspicion.

"'Cuz I wanna. Now, is it?"

Grimmjow's head jerked back and his eyes widened as if he was surprised. "Yeah," he grunted, absently rubbing the tip of his straight nose.

Ichigo liked the way it wrinkled across the bridge when he was angry. Grimmjow was an interesting kid with his exotic looks and small figure, but he had time to think about that later. Right now, he wanted answers. "So, how come ya don't tell Shirosaki and Gin to leave ya alone? You can fight back, ya know. You don't gotta take that crap from them," Ichigo insisted, hoping he could persuade the boy to just DO something when he was being bullied.

Ocean blue eyes considered him carefully, Grimmjow's angular face tilting to the side. "Why ya care? I'm a nobody," he spat as if the word itself pissed him off.

Ichigo hedged and drew himself up to his full height of five feet and one inch. "Who says you're a nobody?"

Grimmjow arched a perfect, blue eyebrow and for the first time since Ichigo had seen him, gave a small smirk, the left side of his mouth curving impishly upwards. Ichigo just stared. It had taken him way off guard and he didn't know how to deal with it. "I know I'm a nobody. I don' got no friends, I look different and I'm poor. That spells nobody in my book," he finished bitterly, his smirk fading like the sun during a sunset.

Ichigo growled but contained his anger. He didn't want Grimmjow to get the wrong idea, when all he really wanted to know was why the boy felt that way. Grimmjow's hands tightened around the swing's chains as he glared at the ground, a muscle in his jaw twitching. After some consideration, Ichigo took the swing next to him and sat. He knew what he would do.

"Oi, Grimmjow?" Grimmjow looked up, still frowning, but expression somewhat curious. "How 'bout I be your friend? We can hang out and you won't-"

Grimmjow cut him off sharply as he jumped from the swing. "I don' need yer pity!" he snapped, face – for one quick second – angry and vulnerable. "I don' need nobody's fuckin' pity!"

Ichigo's eyebrows flew up as he observed the near hysteria in Grimmjow's countenance. He had said something like that the last time they had traded words. "I'm not pitying you, stupid!" Ichigo snapped, getting angry as he too jumped from the swing. "I'm tryin' to be your friend!"

Grimmjow just stared back at him, face blank, lips pressed together. Finally, his shoulders sagged and air gusted from him as if he'd been holding his breath. "Why?" he asked, voice lacking its previous heat.

"Ain't nothin' wrong with you. You ain't a nobody and I'ma prove it," Ichigo declared, grinning at the prospect of learning more about the intriguing boy.

Grimmjow's face reddened and he tucked his head. He looked like he wanted to say something, but didn't know how. Ichigo ducked his head to get a good look at his face, hoping he hadn't managed to piss him off again, when his air was sucked from his lungs. Grimmjow looked up, wearing a wide grin, his blue eyes alive and shimmering. "OK," he said simply.

Ichigo's grin widened as he nodded, his heart beating frantically in his chest. "OK," he agreed.


Kurosaki Household

February 2005




"Gum ball."

"...Gum...ball? What the hell?"

"It's the first thing that came to my mind!" Ichigo defended.

Grimmjow sat back on his haunches and cracked up, his stomach hurting he was laughing so hard. Ichigo was so retarded.

"Shut up," the red head muttered sullenly, crossing his arms over his chest and pouting.

Grimmjow raised his head and tried to hold back his laughter by tucking his lips between his teeth and concentrating really hard. He locked eyes with Ichigo, those brown eyes glistening with annoyance. It didn't work. Grimmjow burst into laughter again and Ichigo reached over and punched him in the shoulder.


Ichigo hit pretty hard.

"Oi! That hurt," he grunted, gripping his injured shoulder.

"Serves ya right. Ya always wanna play that game 'cuz ya know you'll win. That ain't fair," Ichigo groused.

Grimmjow grinned and scooted closer to his friend. It still felt weird considering the orange-haired boy as such. When Ichigo had adamantly insisted in questioning him about his lack of backbone against Shirosaki and Gin, he had thought it was just to poke fun at him. Then, he realized that Ichigo was genuinely curious and really wanted to know why he wouldn't do anything to keep those two off of him.

He'd even gone as far as offering his friendship.

Grimmjow had been skeptical for the first two months, but then, with Ichigo's help, he'd come to recognize the sincerity in the other boy's gesture. After that, they had become inseparable. You never saw one without the other. Shirosaki and Gin still tried to corner him every now and then, but had slackened in their attempts since he was rarely alone now.

It felt so strange but good to be able to say he had a friend. Ichigo's friends were nice to him by default, but he sensed their distance. They weren't like Ichigo himself, which he didn't mind in the least. Ichigo was enough. Ichigo was one of a kind. Ichigo was HIS.

When Grimmjow had told his mom about Ichigo, she had been so happy for him, smiling and encouraging his enthusiasm. She was glad he wasn't lonely anymore; he was just glad to have a friend.

"We c'n play that video game ya like so much," he suggested, enjoying the warmth radiating from the other boy.

Ichigo gave him a sideways glance as if gauging his motives. "Really? Ya won't get mad?" the orange-haired boy asked quietly, his voice soft for a change, rather than his normally aggressive tone.

"Nah. That game ain't so bad," Grimmjow declared.

Suddenly, Ichigo reached over and wrapped him in a tight hug, making his chest tighten and his eyes widen. What was Ichigo doing? Why? Grimmjow lifted his hands and rested them on Ichigo's biceps, unsure of what to do or say, but luckily, Ichigo sat back wearing a wide grin, taking the awkward moment away. "Thanks, Grimm!"

Grimmjow stared at him blankly, his heart thundering in his chest. All that over a video game? Grimmjow allowed a slow grin to form as he shrugged, rubbing the tip of his nose to hide his sudden blush. Ichigo crawled over to the video game console and plugged it in, readying it to be played as Grimmjow watched him in fascination.

He didn't know what had warranted Ichigo's reaction, but the hug had made something in his heart melt as hot butterflies raged in his stomach. He liked it.

How do you like it so far?