In the morning, Unohana brought Grimmjow his sword. Now that he was free, it was his right to have his zanpakuto. He no longer had a sheath for it, long destroyed with his uniform. But she held the bare blade out to him and he actually smiled.
"I knew I was missing something. He's beautiful."
To the rest of the world, Pantera might look a bit rough and not as shiny or dazzling as some other zanpakutos, but it was his and he would never want anything more.
"Do you remember his name?"
"I will, when I take him back."
"Go ahead, then." She smiled as she lifted it closer. His hand reached for the hilt slowly, anticipating the connection that would return the moment they touched.
Neither expected quite what happened next.
His fingers closed over the handle while his other hand reached to caress the blade and the white room was instantly washed away by a brilliant golden light.
"I nearly ripped the world apart last time, Grimmjow, so what do you think I'm going to do to you?!" There were no words in this universe to explain the ways in which the Hogyoku made Grimmjow suffer in those long seconds where time, by the Hogyoku's infinitely impossible power, actually stood still.
MASTER! And beyond the agony he endured, the other half of his soul was in just as much pain, trapped and unable to help him. Grimmjow relived the moment that lasted an eternity, breaking between his own horrifying memories and that of his zanpakuto.
Grimmjow snapped back for a second, long enough to see the room almost completely destroyed, Unohana standing before him, breathing hard and holding his zanpakuto, the blade slick with blood, before he dropped to his knees and his head hit the floor.
"Should we call Inoue?" Kisuke asked looking down at the unconscious espada. "It's been two days, he might never snap out of it."
"She just got settled back in her own life. I would prefer not to disrupt the humans anymore." Unohana answered, checking over Grimmjow's monitors.
"What's happening to him?" The third soul reaper in the room finally spoke. Toshiro watched Grimmjow's eyes move furiously beneath the lids, as if in a vivid dream. He remembered being trapped in his own body, reliving the cataclysm over and over in the Hogyoku's torture.
"It's hard to tell." the Fourth Captain answered. "He may just be dreaming."
"So it happened when he touched Pantera..." Urahara was thinking. "His zanpakuto was just as traumatized, perhaps, but did not suppress the event as Grimmjow did. So when they reconnected, he nearly blew up the Fourth Division because it forced that memory back on him."
"It is a logical assumption." Unohana replied.
"So is there anything we can do for him?" Toshiro asked.
"I think he just needs to wake up on his own. And then, we will be there for him when he does."
Monitors beeped wildly, cords ripped out of machines and veins when the patient sat up straight in his bed. A warm light washed in on him from the window, he looked around the familiar setting of the Fourth Division.
"Dammit." Grimmjow looked down at his bleeding arm and pulled the rest of the sticky pads and the IV from his skin. He was on his feet by the time Unohana got there.
"Slow down." She warned but he was heading straight for Pantera. "Grimmjow, it's not a good idea."
But he picked up his zanpakuto with zero hesitation and she couldn't help prepare herself for another violent reaction but nothing happened. Grimmjow just stood there and sighed, staring at the dull surface of the blade.
"Do you feel alright?" She asked, moving closer. He raised his other hand to touched the surface and saw the heavy bandage. "You cut yourself quite deeply last time you held him."
"He couldn't control it, and neither could I." Grimmjow said finally. "The Hogyoku needed my body but it nearly destroyed my mind." As if on cue his bandaged hand shot to his head.
"What is it?"
"Nothing," he grunted, dropping his hand, "I'll be fine."
"You've been traumatized, Grimmjow, you need some time."
"No. It's time I leave. Thanks for everything."
He stalked toward the door. "You need to deal with this, Grimmjow."
"I will, in Hueco Mundo. See ya."
She let him walk out, but he knew it wouldn't be that easy. It wasn't, however, the Head Captain who she sent after him as he'd suspected, it was the young captain, his lieutenant ever hovering a few steps behind. He was out in the court yard just beyond the Fourth. He just needed enough open space to open the Garganta.
"Grimmjow wait!" Toshiro called.
"Why?" Grimmjow asked staring back. "I don't know you. And if you did know me, it wasn't who I am now."
Toshiro stared back at him, but relented.
"Alright then, goodbye."
"Remember what we discussed, Rangiku."
She fell silent. Grimmjow looked between them. Then he raised his hand and formed the cracks. "See ya, kid." He jumped through and disappeared.
For a long moment Toshiro stood wide-eyed, staring at where he'd been.
"That bastard," he finally said.
Rangiku was taken aback. "What is it, Captain?" But he stalked away without giving an answer. "Captain?"
"Well, I must say I wasn't expecting to see you again." The vastal lordes said by way of greeting as Grimmjow stomped up the stone steps of the palace. He just shot him a look that would kill if possible and kept moving, sword in hand. Creed didn't push but followed him inside.
Eventually Grimmjow slowed down and looked the vastal lordes over.
"So is it over?" Creed asked. "Did you destroy the creature?"
"Yeah." He said shortly.
"And it's just you this time? No one else came back with you?"
"Well there isn't much to report here." Creed continued after a moment.
"How many others are here?" Grimmjow asked feeling several souls in the vicinity.
"Most of the vastal lordes have moved from the forest here- when you didn't return we-"
"I don't care." Grimmjow looked down at his sword. "I need a sheath, and some new clothes." He was still in the white scrubs of the Fourth Division.
"I'll see what I can do."
"Good." Pain lanced through is head and he grabbed one side.
"I'm alright." He said dismissively but the pain wasn't ending.
Creed continued to stand there. "Whatever, I won't pretend to care. But I do have one questions."
"Where is Toshiro Hitsugaya?"
Blue eyes flashed with poorly concealed emotion and he dropped his hand from his head. "He's where he belongs. And so am I."
Grimmjow craned his neck over his shoulder to examine his back. He'd removed the bandages and was trying to see how well the wound had closed over. It looked pretty good. Since he'd been reunited with Pantera, he'd been healing much fasted. His hand was still a bit sore, but he would be able to leave it unwrapped now. His eyes flashed down to the number six on his back. But then he glanced away and turned around so he could look over his chest. It was still quite sore, deep bruises surrounded the point of impact of the blade and all around that the skin was already spotted with scars.
"What a mess." He sighed. But the image in the mirror became less clear and faint silver tendrils crept over the surface. He gasped out only to see his breath form before him.
"You idiot." Grimmjow spun. He hadn't even felt the little Captain arrived.
"What are you doing here?" Grimmjow stared at him, jaw set.
"I know you regained your memories, Grimmjow, so just give it up."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Teal eyes flashed dangerously.
"After all this time, you really think I can't see through you, King of Hueco Mundo?" Broad shoulders sagged. Grimmjow couldn't hold his gaze.
"I don't care if this is your choice, Grimmjow, but don't you think after everything I deserve a straight answer?"
"Of course." Grimmjow still didn't look at him. "I left for the same reason you didn't push me to have my memories back. You were okay with it because you thought I would be happier this way."
"You saying you lied because it was better for me?"
"Of course it is, Toshiro! Look at everything that happened to you because you defended me! The Head Captain hates me and resents our friendship so staying there would only make things worse for you."
Toshiro balked a little at this. They had both walked away to protect the other. His anger faded a bit. "You're still an idiot." He said finally.
"No more than you."
"So, when you woke up after touching Pantera..."
"Yeah, I remembered."
Toshiro saw the look in his eyes even though they were adamantly fixed on the floor.
"Even before the Cataclysm?"
For a moment there was silence. "So, what's it like?"
"I wish I didn't remember, Toshiro. I wish I didn't know what Aizen did to us all; why I was so angry. Or those moments, when the Cataclysm-" His words cut off, he winced and shut his eyes.
"Grimmjow!" Toshiro moved to his side.
"It'll pass." He whispered through clenched teeth. Toshiro lead him to the bed where he sat heavily and held his head between his hands.
"No wonder you're having head aches, Grimmjow, the Hogyoku tortured you, and now you have layers of memories fighting with one another. You lost your memory, twice- you need to work through this."
"Not here. Come back with me."
"No. This is for the best."
"Grimmjow...I thought you were dead." The voice was surprisingly small, and through all the many memories that were swirling in his brain, when he looked over to the captain next to him, he was sure he saw the boy he'd rescued so long ago.
"I know." Grimmjow reached out and put his hand on his shoulder.
"Come back, please, so we can help you. Then we'll figure it out from there."
"Kid-" Teal and blue met. How many times had they looked to each other in the heat of battle- one prepared to lay their life down for the other? So after it all, when they finally had a chance to live, that pale boy was never going to let him refuse the offer of help.
"Okay." Grimmjow rose. He reached for the sword in it's new sheath, well—new for it. It was the only thing he'd been able to find. So now, like the boy before him, his zanpakuto was slung over his back in it's borrowed casing.
Four Months Later
Rukia took a step forward only to feel her feet off the ground and her robe suddenly strangling her. She stumbled when she was dropped and looked up at the broad back of the man who had pulled her back.
Pantera stabbed the ground before him and he drew a line in the silver sands. "That is what you were supposed to be avoiding. If I hadn't grabbed you, you would have been falling into the Gillion Forest. Didn't you pay attention in training?"
Her face turned bright red and he looked to the other squad thirteen members behind her.
"And since none of you warned her, I am assuming you didn't know either."
The scared faces told him he was right. He sighed long. "Lesson over, let's go back."
"Grimmjow, please don't punish them for my mis-" But Rukia caught the look in his face and turned to the others.
"We're going back." She stood next to the man who'd once tried to kill her, and who towered above her, but they both held out their hands in well practised unison to opened the new hybrid gate that would allow them direct access to Soul Society.
"Move." Grimmjow shot at the young soul reapers and they jumped through, he and Rukia last.
"Grimmjow..." He was wincing in the bright light of the Seireitei and she knew what was happening.
"You've returned ahead of schedule." Rukia felt her captain's presence there to greet them. "Oh, is he having an episode?"
"I think so."
"I'm fine." Grimmjow growled out and resisted raising a hand to hold his head.
"I'm sure you are but as long as you're part of my squad I want to take every precaution."
"I am not a part of your squad." But Grimmjwo didn't resist when Ukitake put an arm around him to help him move in the right direction while his eyes were practically shut.
"I know," the silver haired captain sighed repeating well rehearsed lines, "You're just helping out."
Bright lights flashed over his pupils. He blinked when the healer withdrew and when his vision cleared saw that the room had gotten quite crowded. Ukitake and Rukia had brought him to see Unohana, and apparently news had gotten to Toshiro and Rangiku.
Unohana smiled at all the concerned faces. "There's nothing to worry about," she assured them. "It's been twelve days since the last episode and by what I can tell this one is much less severe. Grimmjow, how do you feel?"
"It's gone now."
"So he is getting better?" Toshiro insisted.
"Yes. As we discussed, the trauma may never completely leave, as I am sure you are aware Captain Hitsugaya. But given our treatments, I think we can eradicate these symptoms of headaches and flashbacks completely."
"That's great." Rangiku breathed.
"Yes." Ukitake added before he and Rukia excused themselves.
"So, is he good to go?" Toshiro asked.
"Yes, let me know though, if any more symptoms arise, alright?"
"Yeah, I know." Grimmjow grumbled, but despite his tiredness with the whole process, he was extremely thankful to this woman who had taken him through months of therapy to the point that he had now gone nearly two weeks without an flashback of the horrific pain the Hogyoku had inflicted on him, or his memories getting thrown into a jumbled order.
"Thanks." He grunted on his way out, following the other two back to Toshiro's. Rangiku pulled out a bottle of sake, Toshiro didn't even bother being annoyed.
"So how was Hueco Mundo?" the little captain asked as Ranigku handed out plates and food.
"Same as usual." He shrugged. "Creed hasn't torn the place down yet and still no signs of anything more powerful than them in that desert."
"Good. And the training?"
Grimmjow snorted. "I can't believe Ichigo and those kids managed to survive when they broke in after the performance I just saw. I mean, you had no memories and no zanpakuto and you managed it for nine months."
"They are very young."
"So were you."
"You need to stop comparing them to me, Grimmjow. Take it easy on them."
"Hey, if I hadn't, they wouldn't have made it back. Seven, days, that was all they had to do, survive seven days without my help."
"Give them time. Patience is one of the most important parts of leadership."
"Hey, I'm not leading anyone."
"We know, your just 'helping out'." Rangiku said with a laugh.
"I am." Grimmjow reinforced defensively. "I ain't joining any squads, I'm not moving in, I'm just...keeping busy." He took a drink and crossed his arms. Captain and lieutenant did their best to repress their smiles.
"Captain Ukitake really appreciates the help. It was alot for him to take on the responsibility of Hueco Mundo with his health."
"Yeah well, beats hanging out with the vastal lorders. How is training with the Head Captain?"
"We are making progress. He says that my powers have grown immensely but have not been properly trained, but when they are, I should be more powerful."
"That's a scary thought." Grimmjow joked. "And your squad, they doing alright?"
"Well, I think they could benefit from some sparring time with you if you are interested."
"Yeah, but they'll have to get in line, Kenpachi has been bugging me for a show down."
Toshiro's cup clanked loudly against the table. "Please tell me you're doing it in his yard and not ours."
"S'long as it doesn't spill over."
"Spill over?!" Toshiro glanced out the windows at his well kept yard, and just beyond, the mess that was the squad eleven training grounds.
"And when is this taking place?"
"Tomorrow morning. You should come watch, should be good."
"Watch, more like make sure you two don't destroy the place." He rose, picking up his dishes. "You staying here tonight then?"
"Woo hoo!" Rangiku stood too, "I'll get more sake!"
"That was not an open invitation, lieutenant Matsumoto." But Toshiro didn't protest when she dug out more bottles from her hiding place and handed some to Grimmjow. He couldn't help smile to have his home full of life again.
Toshiro was still staring at the smouldering remains of his porch when Grimmjow limped into the yard. He stopped when the icy glare struck him.
"Hey, it was Kenpachi who did that, not me."
Cold eyes were unyielding.
"Sorry, the boys at the eleventh will be by to fix it." He tried. This only earned a sigh. "Come on, kid, lighten up."
"I'll lighten up when my porch is rebuilt and the yard cleaned up. Are you satisfied?"
"What, no! I almost had him when the Head Captain interrupted."
"If he hadn't put an end to it, I might not have a squad left. And you might have been in worse shape. You should go the Fourth."
"I'll be fine."
"Well, you wouldn't be limping if you hadn't dropped your guard when Kenpachi started taunting you."
"Are you trying to criticize how I fight, kid?"
"Not, trying, I am."
"Hey, I remember winning alot of sparring matches back in Hueco Mundo."
"That was a long time ago. We've never gone full out."
Grimmjow stared at him for a moment before drawing Pantera and gripping him tight.
"Well then, your yard's already ready ruined so let's settle this. Bring it on, kid."
The cool captain was washed away by a wry smile the boy may have adopted from the man standing before him. His teal eyes glinted with a hint of feral ferocity he would never admit had rubbed off on him from his time with the espada. And his body crouched low with sword in hand in acceptance of the challenge.
"Alright, let's see what you've got, King of Hueco Mundo."
So I've had this complete up to the last 100 words or so for a long time and just could not find the right way to end it. I tried to come up with something meaningful, powerful, poetic- but as I stared at that blinking cursor, I realized I wanted it to end on a note that represented why they were friends from the start, bring it back to the beginning and the way their friendship was before all the craziness. And I'm happy with it. So I hope you are too. It was a very long journey from the beginning of "The Boy From Hueco Mundo" to here, but if you have stuck with me to the end then I am very happy and thankful, and I do hope you will share your thoughts on its conclusion.
Thank you all so much,
Riza A. Winters