Warnings: The M rating is there because yes, there will be plenty of sex (eventually). I won't be putting in warnings by chapter, so this counts for the entire story.
Also look out for: foul language, violence, guns, blood, light bondage, and some OOCness.
Pairings include, but are not restricted to - Grimmjow&Ichigo as the focus, Nnoitra&Shinji and Shiro(saki)&Tensa(Zangetsu). Old man Zangetsu himself is also a character (as 'Zan'), and in this fic, he's with Kisuke (of all people) Oh yes, the crack is everywhere.
I'd like to thank those that have faved, followed and reviewed my other fics. Your love and support is very much appreciated.
Edit (3-8-2015): I've removed several harmful ableist words from this fic. I know that it's far too late for this, but want to apologize for including these in the first place. If you notice anything that I've missed, please feel free to point them out and I'll make the changes as soon as possible.
Chapter One: Patience.
Five guys walk into a bar…
"He's a stranger to some, and a vision to none."
30 Seconds To Mars – From Yesterday.
Voices surrounded Grimmjow, mingling with the commotion of people shuffling in and out of booths and glasses clinking on tables. There was just enough lighting to allow comfort without leaving it too dark. Being an observer in the busy bar, he remained as people came and left; some familiar, most of them not.
What most of the patrons shared was the craving for intoxication, an escape from stress, or even a quick route to a fleeting, carnal connection. Everybody had a reason, clear or not, and all left with the same troubles they arrived with, only warped by the fluids teeming in their systems. It was a life style, and to some a cure; temporary at best.
To Grimmjow, it was something else. As was required of him, he watched with calculating eyes. The sound in the bar was diminished by his thoughts and his gaze was trained on one specific person. Brilliant, sky blue bangs spilled over Grimmjow's furrowed brow, hardly masking a vivid, sapphire leer. The bridge of his nose crinkled slightly, lips downturned into a frown that clamped over the pale butt of an unlit cigarette. It didn't need to be live to have its effect; Grimmjow only required the distraction for his mouth while he worked.
Today would mark the beginning of his assignment to find out… well, he wasn't entirely sure yet. The assumed objective was to seek trust from the target and then obtain the information required of him by the organization for which he worked, Seven. All Grimmjow really knew about the job at this point was his target, Ichigo Kurosaki.
The kid wasn't anything special. He had an everlasting pout, enough stubbornness to challenge even the most petulant mule, and about as oblivious a personality as one can get. Also mentionable was Ichigo's full head of blazing tangerine colored hair that could be seen from across a stadium.
Nope, nothing out of the ordinary there.
Ichigo was currently clad in a long sleeved, white button up shirt with a black vest over it and stoically endured the animated ranting from a redheaded man who sat at the bar counter in front of him. Grimmjow could hear the redhead jabbing on and on from his booth across the room, though he didn't bother paying any mind to the actual words. Behind the bar, Ichigo smiled to himself as he listened and polished a glass to set on a rack nearby.
By now, Grimmjow knew the routine by heart. Ichigo would serve drinks until an hour before the end of his shift, and then work on reducing the load of dirty glassware while awaiting a replacement. More often than not, Ichigo would be relieved by a man a few years younger than him. A friend, it seemed, with brown hair that didn't quite reach his shoulders and sad, blue eyes that could fluently sing with the despair of a caged bird. Grimmjow liked to call him Droopy. In his head, that is.
No, Grimmjow hadn't formally met the subject of his assignment just yet, so he didn't know Ichigo's friends either. First, he would examine Ichigo from a distance, or as far as the circumstances would allow, and catch whatever subtleties might give him an advantage for earning a quickly built friendship.
Admittedly, Grimmjow had an easier time with the female targets, what with all the swooning and beckoning they tended to do in his presence. Sometimes all it took was a well-placed compliment and the restraint of a saint to get them to gush. It helped that he was ridiculously handsome, too.
Men ...eh, they could be difficult. All had their vices, though, and Grimmjow was quick to figure them out. He found that most males just needed an outlet. Juice 'em up a little, toss some reassuring words out there and they opened up soon enough.
Due to his training and high self-standards, Grimmjow excelled in manipulation, could out talk any accomplished salesman and sell a glass of water to a drowning man should the time call for such a thing. It was his talent, his profession. For the past six years it was his life.
Beneath the act of a charming gentleman, Grimmjow was actually quite the opposite. He had a rough and untamed personality; a certain lesser seen side of off putting candor most would consider distasteful. But it was the truth of who he was when not putting on a show of refinement. Only those in Grimmjow's line of work as well as the few he trusted outside the operation were aware of this hidden aspect, a fact Grimmjow took much pride in. Always dashing, always acting; that was how he functioned. It was what made him so fucking good at it.
A deep sigh ruffled the hanging line of bangs shading Grimmjow's eyes. His feet shuffled beneath the table; a habit he was well aware of, and not entirely comfortable with. Fidgeting showed anxiety, and while Grimmjow was excited, he hated to reveal that without meaning to.
It was best to know one's self before attempting to understand others, but Grimmjow had nearly perfected the knowledge of his own emotions and impulsive actions long before setting foot into this very bar. Nearly, you see, as there were still times when he surprised himself.
Music from the speakers played like a soft lullaby to the drunk, a drifting anthem to raise the spirits of those at their lowest of lows. Grimmjow ignored it like the rest; the sounds, sights, lights and conversations. Even at his table, four other men slew half joked insults back and forth, laughter spilling like wildfire over their faces, echoing through their bodies as tension eased and liquid inspired courage.
Patience wasn't among one of Grimmjow's strengths, somewhat of a tragedy in his line of work, but he made do. He could handle his comrades' excitement and could tune most of it out. All he could feel right then was thrill of closing in on a job and what he thought was the absolute best part of the entire process, which was the first meeting. Like the predator he was, Grimmjow would creep up on his unawares prey and catch them off guard, but not just yet. Ichigo had about another half an hour before being free for the evening. So Grimmjow would wait as he'd taught himself to do, until the opportune moment presented itself.
"So there I was with a breast pump in one hand and one of those baby bump pillows in the other – you know, to make a girl look like she's preggo to try on clothes and shit - and Rukia comes charging out of the dressing room like a bat out of fiery hell with that look on her face that I can't fucking stand," Renji looked grave for a moment and shivered. "You know the one I mean," The redhead dropped an elbow onto the counter, holding a hand next to his mouth while his eyebrows rose at Ichigo behind the bar.
"You aren't going to believe the shit she freaks out about now. It's unbelievable," Renji raved. "I mean she stops everything she's doing just to come to me and rant about the most irrelevant things, as if complaining about it is going to make anything better," Renji rolled his eyes and dropped his hand back down.
"So she's got a hanger in her hand and she's eyeing me down like I ate the last of her specially ordered chocolates again. I felt like some kind of trapped dog on one of those animal rescue shows where the people are supposed to be saving the poor creature, but it looks more frightened than anything. And dude, you'll never guess what the problem was this time!" Renji licked his dry lips from all the chattering and lifted a mug to his mouth, drawing on it like the seasoned vet of stress drinking he is. After draining half of the golden beverage, Renji clanked the glass back down on the bar and took a deep breath.
Ichigo realized he was supposed to reply and blinked up from the few bottles he'd been reorganizing behind the bar. "I can't possibly imagine, Renji," he said dully, wondering if his friend would be even the slightest bit bothered by the unenthusiastic reply. As usual, Renji didn't notice.
"The pair of pants she was trying on ...didn't fit," Renji gave an incredulous look, mouth lingering over his drink again before taking another long suck from it. "I mean, we were at a fucking mall with probably three different maternity shops in it and about a billion different sizes of pants, and she's complaining because the first one she picks doesn't fit like it's the end of the world. And thenwhen I tell her it's not a big deal, her eyes get all huge and her little arms start shaking," he drained the rest of his beer and sighed. "Rukia cried. In the middle of the store. Face all red and everything. I didn't know what to do! I've never seen her like that before, Ichigo. You wouldn't believe it."
Ichigo just shook his head. Renji sure did know how to spin a tale. While he had high doubts that Rukia would ever cry, and in public for that matter, Ichigo trusted his longtime friend not to exaggerate quite so much as to completely make it all up. It wasn't impossible that Rukia would be hormonal enough to get emotional from time to time. She was about seven months pregnant with a melon bulging from her teensy frame. Ichigo often wondered how she hadn't fallen over on her face from a misplaced breeze.
It was scary for Ichigo to think about two of his closest friends being parents. Hell, it was weird that they were married to begin with. Was he really that old, or were they just starting young? Was it normal to have already been a best man at 26?
Ichigo still remembered the day Renji had told him about Rukia's pregnancy. Even after all of the shit they'd been through as friends, the loads mischief they'd caused in school, Ichigo had never seen his friend look as pale or sick as on that day. Renji had surpassed all definitions of scared shitless and delved into an entirely new realm of complete and utter panic. He just about paced a three foot deep path through Ichigo's bedroom carpet as he thought over the fact that he was going to be a father, that he would have to actually have to raise a child, or so help them all, grow up a little bit. At the time, Ichigo doubted Renji had it in him to be mature enough to be a parent, but he'd been impressed when his friend stepped up to the plate and got himself a better job, one worthy of supporting a real family, and he and Rukia had found themselves a respectable home.
The whole thing made Ichigo wonder if he should be in a similar place in his life. As it was, he had no real ties to anything besides working at the bar, Benihime's for two of the three people he'd known longest in his life outside his family; Kisuke and Zan. Both men were close friends of Ichigo's father Isshin and had taken a particularly large part in helping the old goat raise Ichigo and his sisters after his mother had passed away.
Through Zan, Ichigo had met Tensa, one of his closest friends and somebody he would entrust his life to if the situation ever rose. Tensa, also a worker at Benihime's, was Zan's son and tended to be soft spoken- to say the least. With Ichigo, he was different, but not many were privileged enough to see that side of him.
Ichigo had never been one to worry about his future. Having been involved with Benihime's from the beginning of high school, along with all of the other things included in being a trusted confidant of the two elder bar owners, Ichigo had always assumed he'd follow in their tracks unless some other career caught his interests along the way.
Outside of work, Ichigo would mostly dabble in what he preferred to call his passion; the love of all things related to water and sports. Surfing, jet-ski, water-ski, skim boarding, sailing, diving, anything else you could imagine of the like, Ichigo had done it.
Because of his love for the ocean and the intense work out provided naturally by his athletic nature, Ichigo had become somewhat of a legend at any of the local beaches, and had even been offered random deals for this or that gig. Modeling, being the most common of the opportunities he was presented with. Ichigo turned most of them down, being modest and wholly uninterested in the idea of primping or posing all day, but had been known to except a quick deal or two if he needed some extra cash to fund a newly found hobby or pastime.
It wasn't as if Ichigo was ever truly short for money, being that his father was wealthy enough to own half the town - in fact, he owned every hospital in the county - but Ichigo refused accepting any of it under the strict promise that he would only take what he needed for emergencies or further education should he choose to return to college for another major. Medical school hadn't exactly turned out to be his calling, and Ichigo's father had been supportive of his choice to follow his heart. It probably helped that where Ichigo's heart took him was with others so close to the family.
If he broke it down to the barest of facts, Ichigo was content with his laid back life style. There may have been more to it than serving drinks and catching waves, but he tried not to stress about things he had little control over. What was the use in that anyway?
Ichigo could only imagine the kind of chaos that was about to be born into his friends life. It was sure to be a lethal combination; the DNA of both Renji and Rukia joining as one, or possibly, more than one. Ichigo had to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that he wouldn't have to worry over that sort of thing for a long, long time, if ever. He was all for kids, totally on that bandwagon if ever there was one, but didn't exactly see himself running off and impregnating a woman anytime soon, and adopting was a huge decision to make. Having kids just wasn't something he would do with someone he hadn't known and been with for a very long time.
Ichigo had plenty of friends in his life, enough to keep him happy, but he wasn't entirely sure he'd ever find the right guy worth settling down with. Not that he considered that an issue at the moment. He had offers, options, and all the time in the world, as far as he was concerned. No need to rush the inevitable.
Grimmjow breathed a sigh of relief when the redheaded friend of Ichigo's made his exit from the bar. Nearly an hour passed as he sat there between his friends, pretending to drink while barely whispering a word in response to the borderline gossip going on around him. Two girls had managed to sneak their way into the booth, long arms wrapping around this or that body on either side of him, all the while Grimmjow's mind counted away the minutes and seconds left until he could finally make his move.
His pointer and middle fingers traced languid lines over circular pools of condensation left from random glasses on the table. Giggles and chuckles spread out around him, and then his attention was sharply caught when a slender finger hooked into one of his belt loops and a plump-lipped, strawberry blonde purred near the back of his ear. Summoning what little restraint he had the patience for, Grimmjow wrapped an arm around the woman and by her shoulder, gently pulled her away. "Not interested, sweetheart," he said with a frustrated sigh, and then returned his attention to the bartender across the room, not at all concerned by the clarity of his intensions.
"Oh!" the woman exclaimed, following Grimmjow's gaze and looking unbothered by his rejection. "So you play for the other side, hmm?"
She assumed wrong.
The woman slumped over the table, resting her dainty chin upon an equally elegant hand. Her chest nearly spilled over the top of her shirt while it came to press against the table in front of her. All eyes around the booth darted in her direction when she let out a drawn out, dreamy sigh.
"He is pretty cute," the strange woman admitted, eyes locking on Ichigo as the tangerine –what Grimmjow had taken to calling Ichigo within his mind- set a round of shots in front of a group of football jersey clad men a few tables down. A round of cheers filled the room before there was a short silence and then the smacking of shot glasses hitting the table.
"But even I've had no luck with him," she informed haughtily. "I've tried, believe me."
Grimmjow had no doubt that she had, but really didn't care. It was obvious enough why she had no success, though it seemed the woman hadn't caught on to the fact just yet.
"That's 'cause that berry's as gay as it gets," Nnoitra slurred from the other side of the blonde woman. He curled a thin, right arm around her waist to bring her close. "Ain't that right, Grim?"
Leave it to Nnoitra to clear things up.
Grimmjow gave a noncommittal grunt, lost again in his uninterested daze. He had to wonder how his friends weren't sick of the tired old routine of drinking and messing with random women –or men, depending on who you asked- though it was probably the reason that all of them (save one) were lower ranked than Grimmjow himself in Seven, with what seemed to be little hope of any change.
To Grimmjow's right, his buddy Starrk was leaning back, eyes closed and arms draped over the booth on either side of him. Beneath Starrk's left arm was a raven-haired, flat chested bimbo that seemed not to mind that Starrk was half asleep. He sat back and let her hands wander across his white, fitted jeans and fur-lined belt without a word of complaint. Twin holsters hung at either of his hips, hardly concealed by a long hanging, fluffy, gray coat. Highly expensive and effective pistols filled either side-arm carrier and a peaceful smile adorned his face. Life was as good as it was going to get for the mid-thirties man, as he had the top position in what he felt was the best fit job for his talents.
Grimmjow was hardly dense enough to believe that Starrk was less than aware of what went on around him, even as he appeared to be sleeping. In the blink of an eye, the sharpshooter could whip out his weapons, drop every one of the individuals at the bar, and then holster them with lids still half shut. He may be lazy, unmotivated and melancholic, but Starrk was quick when he needed to be. If not for Grimmjow's complete indifference about position among the others that made up his team, he might have long passed the gun-clad Coyote in ranking, but couldn't care so long as the brunet was on his side. That, and as long as Starrk kept those flea-ridden mongrels he liked to call pets far the hell away from him.
Beneath Starrk's right arm sat the brightly smiling and bubbly Szayel; their sixth member in ranking and by far, the most fab-u-lous. Seriously, the guy could out-pink a fucking Barbie and start a new trend with the flip of his hair. Grimmjow could never figure out what qualified Szayel to be an operative on the field, but he assumed it had something to do with his...unconventional talents. There was also the observation that Szayel was deceivingly intelligent and universally gifted with all things scientific or mathematical by nature. Who knew what that meant when paired with an arguably androgynous agent, hired for drawing secrets out of even the tightest lipped of individuals. The guy may appear harmless, but really he was sharper than any of them with matters of the mind.
To Grimmjow's left, beyond the cooing blonde and lanky giant that was Nnoitra, sat the ever silent, vigilantly watching Ulquiorra. The raven haired male stuck out like a stick in the mud amidst the others whom at least looked to be enjoying themselves, even when compared to Grimmjow. Having somewhat of a hate-it-when-you-even-talk sort of relationship with Ulquiorra, Grimmjow considered himself lucky to be seated between even the dimmest of witted females in the building rather than by him. At least the strange girls wouldn't occasionally turn toward him and give the sourest of looks while uttering 'trash' beneath their breath, as Ulquiorra was known to do. Even after years in Seven, Grimmjow still knew little about the guy and didn't have any plans to change that as he quite honestly didn't give a shit.
The five men at the table (Starrk, Szayel, Grimmjow, Nnoitra and Ulquiorra) made up the majority of Seven. A motley crew, to be sure, but even with all of their differences and disagreements, they were the best in their field, and a deadly force not meant to be underestimated. Grimmjow didn't normally count fear among his emotions, but if he ever had, he wouldn't have considered it worthwhile when surrounded by such individuals as those he was in league with; even if only two of them held any sort of item that could be technically considered a weapon at the moment.
The time was closing in; only minutes left until Ichigo's friend Droopy made his appearance and sent the tangerine off into the darkened streets to return home. Grimmjow could tell that Ichigo and the young brunet had a tight relationship, something he'd based on the observations he made over the last few weeks. It was something unspoken, not proven by words or a constant connection to each other but by distant looks, exchanged courtesies and the comfortableness they had with one another. Grimmjow had picked up on a lot of little things like that, even as he maintained a safe distance from the young bartender.
For example, Grimmjow was positive that Ichigo lived alone and could tell that he denied his inheritance, something simple enough to find out when Ichigo's father was so widely known in the area. He could also see that Ichigo struggled with something heavy. Perhaps the loss of his mother or possibly something related to what Grimmjow was assigned to uncover. Outwardly, Ichigo appeared calm, but sometimes Grimmjow would catch his wayward eyes, the drifting of his mind toward the welcoming embrace of daydreams. Ichigo did a lot of thinking, stressing inside his head. His brows would pull together when something was particularly frustrating him, but it was a hard thing to catch when the same expression was just about plastered on the tangerine's face.
"Isn't it about time, Grimmjow?" Ulquiorra asked, emerald eyes dipping toward the cancer stick pressed between Grimmjow's lips. Ulquiorra would never understand why the man insisted on sucking on the things when there were so many more favorable alternatives.
It was half past midnight and before Grimmjow could conjure up a response, his words were cut short by the awful sound of cheap, jingling bells from the front entrance of the bar. The tacky things brought the attention of half the room to the door and in walked the downcast brunet, Droopy.
Everyone at Grimmjow's booth watched as Droopy paced between the tables toward the bar and unzipped the front of his hoodie to reveal his uniform for bartending. Not unlike some kind of lame superhero with the worst possible powers in the world. Or the best, if you happened to be a patron at the bar.
Droopy's solemn face lit up when he caught sight of Ichigo. The two exchanged smiles as Ichigo peeled away his overly tight vest and then smacked a strong hand on his friends back.
"Thanks a load, Tensa," Ichigo said, shoulders already sagging in relief from the knowledge that he was done for the night. He disappeared behind the bar, gathering up his belongings as he did every evening, and Grimmjow took his cue to find an escape from the booth he was confined in.
"Looks like an easy job," Nnoitra pointed out while scooting out of the way to allow Grimmjow to stand. He stopped the blue-eyed man with a hand on his chest and met his gaze, showing that he had no intention of moving without sharing his thoughts.
Grimmjow's upper lip curled, eyes narrowing. "So? Don't they all seem easy at the start?"
"Keh, I guess so. Point is, I think you should make it a sweeter deal."
Behind them, Starrk and the two women remained to the booth, but Ulquiorra and Szayel came up to listen in on the conversation. Grimmjow sighed, realizing that if he wanted to get away quick enough to make his first introduction to Ichigo smooth, he was going to have to listen to what Nnoitra was proposing.
"I say you make the berry think you want him. Like, really want him," Nnoitra's smile grew to unnatural proportions while Grimmjow considered and then trashed the idea in an instant.
"That's the worst idea I've ever heard," Grimmjow spat out, turning to leave, but Nnoitra's hand only tightened on his jacket, bringing him back around to meet his unwavering grin.
"You don't think he'll warm up faster if he thinks you want to get in his pants?" Nnoitra's grip loosened, likely because he saw that a seed of his idea was planted in Grimmjow's mind. The taller man knew Grimmjow to be smart, one of the best perhaps, but the blunet tended to look beyond the simpler solutions, always orchestrating some grand scheme so that things would go down exactly according to plan. If they didn't, Grimmjow would have a backup lying in wait to fix it all.
Despite his confidence, Grimmjow absolutely hated when things went wrong and would become one of the biggest bitches on the planet if everything didn't work out in the end. It was one of the few weaknesses he had.
"How do you guys even know he's gay?" Starrk asked from behind the four, and all of them turned, Grimmjow taking the moment of distraction to brush Nnoitra's hand away from him.
"Welcome to the conversation, jackass!" Nnoitra barked out a laugh at his friend's lack of attention. The group wasn't all too surprised, and it was always amusing for them to see such trivial things pass a mile above the Starrk's head. At least until they had to explain something for the fourth or fifth time because the brunet had dozed off in the middle of the...speaking of which, he looked to have done so just now.
The girls at the table giggled, drawing closer to the slumbering male and showering him with kisses and unheard whispers. Really, it was ridiculous how the sleeping bastard got all of the attention.
"So what do you think?" Nnoitra questioned, turning his back to Grimmjow just long enough to snatch a drink from the table.
Grimmjow shrugged. His eyes may have been set on the door, ready to bolt out there and catch Ichigo if needed, but inside his mind, Nnoitra's idea was still spinning around. Grimmjow's friends were well aware that he wasn't gay, as was he. Or at least, he didn't think he was. It wasn't ever something he considered important, regardless of others claims that it really was. If he turned out to like dudes, then so be it. It wasn't as if he could do anything about it, and it wasn't like Grimmjow hadn't ever used his looks to his advantage when he felt it might work on a male target. But it hardly ever had to go that far, providing him little opportunity to explore such a thing.
Shaking his head to the absurdity of the whole idea, Grimmjow unwillingly came to the realization that it might actually work. Ichigo was lonely, without any romantic connections, and as far as he knew, the tangerine wasn't involved in any sort of outlet for sexual needs. At the very least, Grimmjow might be able to use his charm to get the guy to open up, but it would be in a field of play he had very little experience in. Stepping outside his box, challenging himself was one of Grimmjow's favorite pastimes, but was this really something that could work, that he could pull off?
After rolling his shoulders back and letting loose a deep exhale, Grimmjow gave Nnoitra's shoulder an unnecessary shove and then headed away with a mumble of 'Ass'. He pushed through the jingling door and took a spot outside on the curb, attempting to keep his jaw from clenching so tightly.
Grimmjow rolled up his sleeves to the elbow and fished a lighter out of his pocket to bring the poor, abused cigarette in his mouth its well-deserved death. Just as he took the first pull, eyes closed as his whole body eased to the sublime sensation of nicotine coursing through his body, the obnoxious bells jangled again, and out walked the very same person he expected. Ichigo Kurosaki, with an over the shoulder bag and a laziness in his step that Grimmjow had long since recognized as defeat rather than fatigue.
Just like every night before, Ichigo came to the curb and paused, unaware of anything around him, only dropping his head back to stare wondrously at the sky. Sometimes he would be searching for something, other times just listlessly staring, as if waiting.
Grimmjow glanced over at Ichigo, dropping his hand to the side while a curved stream of smoke jetted from the fag between his fingers and wafted through the air toward the tangerine. Ichigo half glanced back at him and then returned his gaze to the sky, fighting the urge to crinkle his nose to the foul smell. Ichigo's father would smoke at times, but rarely, and he always hated it when he did.
"Slow night," Grimmjow said, one hand tugging at the partially opened front of his jacket and dress shirt. He rocked forward and back on his feet, toes hanging over the curb while he swayed.
Ichigo searched for stars in the sky, eyes squinting but finding nothing more than a vast, sheet of black beneath the fog and lights of the town around him. He hadn't even realized that it had become habit to do this before going home from work, that he would spend a few moments each day to scour the skies above for something like that of his old home.
When Ichigo was younger, he had lived with his family in a much more rural area. Open land that stretched beyond the eyes reach and slews of fields with either crops or cows in them. But now, with his beautiful mother passed away and his father having fully taken over an old family business of managing medical establishments back in town, Ichigo had been ripped away from his country life.
Even though he did miss the comfort of home, Ichigo was grateful for the change in some aspects. There sure as hell weren't any large bodies of water where he used to live, or an endless supply of things to do within. Part of the reason he had become obsessed with the beautiful sea to begin with had to do with his mother saying to him once that she was an artist in her younger years, and of all her subjects, the ocean was her favorite to portray.
Ichigo enjoyed the freedom his job allowed. For what seemed like an ever changing variety of times and hours, he made his living at the bar. Kisuke, the kooky bar owner with a clingy black cat on his shoulder would come in from time to time, but mostly ran things from down below, in the underground basement of the bar. Most buildings in the older parts of town had them, a perfect addition for bars like Benihime's, but Kisuke and Zan had seen fit to find a much more recreational use of the space than just storage for alcohol. Being as the bar itself was rather large, the underground space was just as great, so Kisuke had at least two rooms that Ichigo knew of, along with who knew how many other hidden compartments, storage areas that connected to them, or unknown passage ways. One time, Ichigo had almost gotten lost in a hallway he didn't recognize and promised himself not to wander too far down there again.
Allowing a momentary smirk, Ichigo thought of the whole new world of things he had stepped into upon taking a spot at what he thought would be merely a hand for serving drinks or cleaning tables. He loved the connections he would make with people he met or chatted with over the bar, seeing strangers interact with each other and overall just spending time away from the solitude of his home.
Upon realizing somebody was talking to him, Ichigo finally responded to the stranger after clearing his head. "Yeah, it's usually dead mid-week. The crowd is thickest from Friday through the weekend until Monday, then it dies out again, but we make do."
Grimmjow nodded, giving off the impression that he hadn't already known what Ichigo said. In truth, Grimmjow had planned on it being less crowded tonight, knowing that his best chance for an improv introduction would be during the middle of the week when Ichigo was less likely to have to change shifts or work late.
Grimmjow switched the cigarette between hands after noticing the way Ichigo leaned away. Flicking the ash from the end and pulling it up to take a final drag, Grimmjow inhaled for a long moment, then let the butt fall to the ground where he extinguished it with the toe of his shoe. "See you around," he said with a curt nod, catching Ichigo's momentarily widened eyes before they softened, and Ichigo nodded back, hands nervously shifting into his pockets.
Grimmjow paced down the street, following the sidewalk for two blocks before hanging a left and coming upon the paid parking lot where he'd left his car. He spotted a gas station across the street and headed there first, wanting to wash the stink of smoke from his hands before getting it all over the wheel of his car. He hardly ever indulged in the real purpose of cigarettes, but figured that holding it there, unlit in his mouth while standing next to Ichigo might prove to be a distraction from the simplicity of the short lived conversation he'd planned for them to have.
Their meeting may have amounted to less than an entire minute of time, but Grimmjow had accomplished what he'd meant to and learned more than he expected. Such as the fact that Ichigo disliked smoke. Most people did, but it seemed to have a specifically negative effect on the tangerine. Note made, don't smoke around him anymore. Also, he made Ichigo nervous. Why, Grimmjow wasn't certain yet, but it wouldn't take long to figure out if it was intimidation or attraction. That, though, would be left for their next meeting, and that time Ichigo would recognize him, which was exactly what Grimmjow wanted.
Pushing his way into the men's room at the gas station, Grimmjow flipped open his phone, sending a call before cradling the device between his ear and shoulder, hands turning on the faucet to soap and rinse.
"Moshi Moshi!" came the immediate response.
Grimmjow rolled his eyes and flicked his hands inside the sink before reaching out to yank a paper towel from the dispenser. "Can you let Sosuke know I've started, so he can put me on the clock for the job?"
"Sure can!" the voice on the line said. "Not sure that I get why it matters though, since you're bein' paid by assignment instead'a by hour."
Grimmjow took hold of his phone again and this time elbowed his way through the door, not wanting to touch the public surface after washing his hands. "It matters," he muttered, then clapped his phone shut and pocketed it, heading out of the gas station and across the street to his car. He poured himself into the seat of his treasured, black Maserati and let the engine sit idle for a moment while closing his eyes and thinking over the night. His clean hands gripped the cool, smooth wheel, fingers curling tighter around it the longer he thought.
Nnoitra had been right about what he should do but that didn't mean he was about to like the plan. Grimmjow had his own damn way of doing things and had been carefully constructing each of his moves, laying them out in an intricate order, ready to be executed and perfectly played. Now he was considering trashing the whole thing just to wing it. Would giving Ichigo the idea that he was interested really prove to be a better route?
Grimmjow turned on some music and threw his car in reverse. It was going to take some more time to come to a decision about what to do and he had a few days before he planned to go back to the bar, but Grimmjow had a feeling he wasn't going to be getting any sleep until his mind was made up.
Ichigo had not expected the result of his encounter earlier that night. Was it weird that he had been gazing up at the sky for stars all that time when someone like that gorgeous man had been standing right next to him? It may have been strange to think of it that way, but Ichigo still couldn't suppress the shivers as he sat on the edge of his bed, unbuttoning the front of his work shirt.
It'd been a long time since a guy really got his attention and that man had done it with a total of five words, though it wasn't exactly the words themselves that had Ichigo's mind running on a nonstop loop of naughty thoughts. It occurred to him that the man must have, at some point, been in the very same bar he had been working at for near to six hours and he hadn't ended up noticing him at all. If Ichigo had, he would have remembered it, and it bothered him that he'd missed such a fine specimen of eye candy while it was being so pleasantly displayed in front of him.
Admittedly, Ichigo was distracted that evening. Even before Renji had come gallivanting into the bar with a gut full of word vomit, Ichigo's mind was out and about, eyes as vacant and distant as his thoughts. His distraction for the evening had something to do with the stuck up, four eyed jerk he'd met a couple years ago in medical school.
This guy, Uryu Ishida, had a degree now and that little fact had somehow managed to wedge the ever present stick just a couple more inches right up his tight ass. When Ichigo decided to pass on the whole genre of medicine all together, he was far beyond glad of the fact that he'd never have to deal with Uryu again. But he wasn't so soon rid of the guy.
Ichigo liked to think he could get along with anyone. Until he met Uryu, that is. It was like the guy instantly ruled out any slight chance of kindness when faced with a situation in which he had to speak or interact with Ichigo at all. As far as Ichigo could tell, Uryu was polite to just about everyone else save him, and he couldn't fathom any reasoning for why that was so.
Ichigo slumped across his room to toss his dirty shirt in the hamper then worked on the thin, leather belt about his pants while his mind wandered back to the day before yesterday. A friend of his, Shinji had insisted on Ichigo teaching him how to surf, so they'd taken the weekend to give it a try. It only took about five whole minutes for Ichigo to realize that Shinji was in it for the looks and attention more than the actual sport. Still, Ichigo tried to be the good friend and help the blond out. That was until Uryu came stomping up the beach, folded beach chair in hand and his nose so far in the air, Ichigo wondered how the guy didn't trip over himself and land face first in the sand.
"What are you doing here?" Uryu demanded, back straightened and shoulders squared.
Shinji waded out of the water behind Ichigo and put a hand on his chest, heaving dramatically until he spotted the angry, four-eyed monster near his friend.
"Who's this douche?" Shinji asked loudly, even while putting a hand to Ichigo's ear and pretending to whisper.
Uryu's left eyebrow shot up and his whole body stiffened with building rage. He brought a hand to the bridge of his nose, pinching it while closing his eyes. "Don't you have something more productive to do than screwing around at a beach, Ichigo? Or are your career choices so few that you really do have nothing else to do?"
Ichigo shrugged. He shook Shinji's grabbing hands away from his arm and stepped closer to the bespectacled raven, noticing for the first time that an orange haired woman stood just behind him. "Who's this? Oh, is that-" Ichigo snorted, then teetered into a fit of chuckles. "Are you on a date?"
With his whole face burning red and hand tightening around the wooden chair in his grip, Uryu sighed from his nose and stabbed a finger in Ichigo's direction. "Not that it's any of your business, but yes. I am. Is that so hard to believe?"
"Yep," Shinji chimed.
Ichigo directed a glare at his friend. "Tactful today, aren't you?" he whispered, then turned back to Uryu and the young lady accompanying him. At first, Ichigo had figured the woman was shy about being on a date, but rather than looking anxious toward Uryu, she seemed to be hiding behind him.
"Excuse me Miss, what is your name?" Ichigo held out a hand, reaching around Uryu.
The woman stumbled over the first syllables of her name before finally coming out with "Inoue". Her chocolaty eyes widened when Ichigo took her soft hand and shook it carefully.
"Pleased to meet you, Inoue," he said with a smile and the woman lit up like a Christmas tree, even taking a step back behind Uryu again to hide her embarrassment.
Shinji chuckled off to the side and Ichigo shook his head, returning his attention to his old classmate. "Have a nice date, Uryu." Ichigo said politely, then grabbed Shinji's arm and dragged him back out into the water where he could still hear Uryu's deep sigh from behind him.
What on earth had that been about?
Only Shinji seemed to know and later mentioned that Uryu's annoyance and Inoue's shyness had to do with the fact that Ichigo always seemed to steal the attention of anyone Uryu liked. Ichigo still didn't believe it, even with as clear as the facts were in front of him.
Back in his room, Ichigo's pants dropped to his feet and he kicked the loose clothing up and into the basket, following it with his socks and then underwear.
Shinji, being the pale and stubborn guy that he is, had ended up getting a major sun burn during the so-called lessons Ichigo was giving him and wouldn't let Ichigo forget it for a single minute. Even when Ichigo had been the one to insist on Shinji using sun block before they went out, Shinji had refused, claiming that he needed the tan and would be fine. The burn that his stubborness resulted in had Ichigo making a quick run earlier that day to the pharmacy to pick some aloe up for the poor baby, and drove out of his way to take it to the blond. As annoying as the task had been, it had at least made Shinji stop pestering him via text about the pain.
Ichigo shuffled toward his dresser, raking a hand through his hair. He pulled out a loose tee shirt and boxer shorts to sleep in, donned them, then collapsed on his bed, eyes shutting and immediately finding the image of the blue-haired stranger from outside the bar waiting for him there. What was that man's name? Was he going to come back? Ichigo knew the possibility was slim. People would stop by the bar every day that he never saw again. He wondered why it wasn't until the man left that he finally looked over and noticed how attractive he was.
Ichigo rolled on his side and adjusted his feet so they slipped out of the covers into the cool air of his room. It only took a couple of minutes for him to drift off to sleep, thoughts on the blue mystery man, determined not to forget.
It was quarter to midnight on a Monday and Benihime's was full; not quite packed, but lively enough to require just a couple extra staff on duty. Shunsui sat with his old styled sake cup and a bottle at hand to refill. He twisted a worn toothpick between two fingers and exhaled tellingly while peering across the table at his snowy haired partner.
Jushiro held a hand to his stomach and wore a pink tinge across his otherwise pale cheeks.
"I told you that you didn't have to drink to sit with me, Juu," Shunsui chided, smiling while tucking a loose, almond lock of hair behind one ear.
Jushiro waved the man off and pushed his emptied sake cup further from him on the table. "One is hardly enough to cause any harm, but sufficient to put me at ease."
"Fair enough," the brunet conceded, lifting his gaze past his partner to spy on a group of three men who sat two booths away. "They've got a look I don't like," he mused.
"Then tell Kisuke. I'm sure he can have them easily removed."
Shunsui hummed and shook his head. "I'm not that worried, only thinking out loud," He lifted the cup to his lips again and let it linger, breathing in softly while pondering. "That blue one is familiar."
Jushiro turned his head just enough to spot the small group of the men across the room. Sure enough, one of the three had sky blue hair and a determined look in his eye as he stared toward the bar. "Well it certainly isn't a common color. I can't imagine you'd mistake something like that."
"Mah, Juu, what's that supposed to mean?" Shunsui whined, stretching one of his legs beneath the table so that his sandaled foot brushed against Jushiro's.
Jushiro blushed and looked away. "It means you're intoxicated and likely imagining things," He rubbed his foot back against Shunsui's all the same, having little ability to resist the handsome brunet.
Shunsui smiled smugly and suddenly rose out of the booth, grabbing the bottle of sake, capping it and then leaving a bill on the table. "I say we do some of our own imagining for the rest of the night. How about that?" He held a hand out to his lover and smiled inescapably.
Jushiro knew he was done for before the man even spoke.
Tensa unbuckled his seatbelt and frowned through the window. Water was pouring from the sky in bullets, careening down to splash against all parts of his car with loud smacks that made his eyes twitch.
He absolutely despised the rain. It was dreary, wet, and cold. Some would say it was beautiful, even emotional, but the only thing Tensa ever felt when it rained was depression. At times, he would get these images of the water endlessly pouring from the clouds until the whole city was lost in its dark embrace.
Tensa breathed unsteadily in, preparing himself for the run he would have to make toward the door. This part was the worst; anticipation, pushing past the nerves to get out there and move. He jerked his hoodie up over his head, pulling the drawstrings tight to cover all of his hair and the majority of his face. Then with another deep breath, Tensa opened his car door, hopped out into the deep puddle formed next to his car and slammed the door shut before tearing across the parking lot toward Benihime's side entrance.
Fumbling the keys from his pocket and hitting the alarm and lock button for his car, Tensa blinked through the raindrops collecting on his face, shook his head and stared down at his hand where he sifted through his key ring to find the right one. Coming to the brown, metal door before he found it, Tensa hopped from foot to foot, cursing under his breath until he finally found the key and jammed it into the door, throwing it open when the locking mechanism clicked. Had he been thinking clearly, he might have just gone in through the front door.
Thunder clapped when he shut the door behind him, then the sounds from outside melted away, muted against the cheerful music inside the bar while goose bumps from the air conditioner rose over his arms and legs. Ichigo came over immediately and greeted Tensa with a warm smile that reached his eyes. It was just enough to make Tensa's anxious heartbeat slow to a much calmer rate. Ichigo always did have that effect on him.
"Hey," Tensa said softly, shaking his head while pulling the hood away from his hair.
Ichigo lips turned down at the drenched mess Tensa was. "It must be pouring out there. C'mon, let's get you changed. I think there's a spare uniform somewhere down stairs," Ichigo helped pull Tensa's clinging sweater away and wandered off to hang it on one of the unused coat racks near the front door. Coming back, he hooked an arm in Tensa's and escorted his younger friend through the busy bar toward the lift that went down to the underground area, part of which was used for staff.
Tensa slipped his arm out of Ichigo's when the doors slid open and he smiled reassuringly. "I'll be fine. I'll see you in a few."
Ichigo nodded at his friend and turned, wiping his hands on the front of his pants while returning to the counter. A few people had crowded around, looking lost with nobody to serve them and Ichigo sighed, glancing down at his watch and wondering where exactly the ridiculous bar owner was. Kisuke knew this was one of the potentially busy nights but he was tardy as usual, probably off somewhere buying a new fancy collar for his pampered pet.
"What would you like?" Ichigo asked, connecting gazes with the first person he saw, readying a few glasses for filling.
"Vodka Tonic please," the young man said, his eyes downcast from beneath a dark veil of hair that shrouded one eye.
Ichigo nodded, preparing the drink while smiling and asking for the man's I.D.
The brunet raised an eyebrow then shuffled in his back pocket for the requested card. He may have been tall and built with a deep voice, but Ichigo had learned that masculinity didn't necessarily mean legal. After glancing at the card, Ichigo slid the glass toward the customer and turned just in time to see a wide, green sleeve wrapping itself around his neck.
"Ichigo! How are you on this wonderful evening?" Kisuke sang, scrubbing a hand through Ichigo's strategically unorganized hair.
Ichigo squirmed out of the embrace, stubbornly fixing his misplaced locks while glaring at the amused bar owner. "It's about time you got here!" he scolded, having been more than familiar enough with his boss to realize he could get away with such a thing. Kisuke knew he was coming in late and wouldn't belittle Ichigo for pointing that out. He would, however, deny it was true no matter how many hours past his shift he showed up.
"Did you miss me that much?" Kisuke cooed, clasping a hand to his chest with a heartfelt gaze.
Ichigo rolled his eyes and turned to serve the next customer, forcing out a wry smile when the woman giggled at him for no apparent reason. "Don't kid yourself, old man," Ichigo said over his shoulder, then scowled when he realized Kisuke was actually talking to his cat who had wandered out of whatever hole she was hiding in and started circling Kisuke's legs, pressing against them lovingly.
"You and that damn cat," Ichigo muttered.
Kisuke gasped, bending enough for his treasured pet to hop up on his shoulder, and then he reached up to stroke her fur. "You will refer to her as Yoruichi-san, Ichigo! That is not a suggestion, but a rule," Kisuke nodded with all the seriousness he could muster and carefully turned around to help Ichigo clear out the crowd of people awaiting drinks at the bar.
Ichigo merely scowled and went about his job as he always did; half his mind used to bartend and the other half to daydream. That was, until it seemed his dreams had come to life. There, at the third booth from the door sat a blue eyed vision, the man he'd met less than a week ago outside. Ichigo nearly dropped the shaker he was holding, then calmed himself, tearing his eyes away long enough to finish mixing the drink. A burning blush had flooded its way up toward Ichigo's cheeks and the woman waiting for her beverage took his change of color as attraction directed at her.
She rested an elbow on the bar, luring her newly gained martini closer with one finger around the glass, and kept her eyes locked on the blushing bartender. "Hey cutie, what time do you get off?"
Startled, Ichigo pulled himself out of his thoughts and let his eyes clear, realizing he had been staring through the woman for the better part of a minute. "Excuse me- uh, sorry. I..."
"That's alright honey. So is it much longer?"
Ichigo glanced around, determined not to notice how low cut the woman's shirt was, or wonder just how far down that deep tan on her skin went. Her soft voice continued on, beckoning to him and Ichigo felt that he was going to fry on the spot. He may not have been interested in women, but they sure as fuck still made him nervous, especially the type like this, forward and unashamed.
"Well, alright. I dig the silent types," The woman scrawled something out on a napkin the pushed it toward him, grabbing her drink and tossing a wink over her shoulder before wandering away.
Ichigo gulped, glaring at the offending napkin. He considered leaving it there, but didn't want her to feel bad about it if he left it there. Ichigo quickly snatched it up and shoved it in his pocket, figuring that at the very least, he could pawn it off on Renji as a joke the next time he was feeling down. That was sure to go over well.
Ichigo blinked back up toward the blunet's booth and nearly fell forward over the bar when he saw the blonde woman who'd just offered up her number sliding into the deep cushioned seats next to the man he had been secretly admiring from afar. The blue haired male made room for her, but didn't look all that interested in her arrival, which Ichigo decided was better than nothing. The rest of the table, however were all eyes for her, as Ichigo figured was normal in that woman's case.
Finally letting his eyes stray from the blonde woman and blue-haired stud, Ichigo took notice of two others sitting at the same table. One guy had his head rested on the table over crossed arms, and then one other with stark, white hair. The second man's skin was paler than Ichigo had ever seen and he wore what Ichigo admittedly recognized as designer sunglasses, dark enough to shade his eyes from view.
Then Ichigo's eyes gravitated back toward the devil with blue hair. Continuing to serve drinks with the little bit of his attention it required, Ichigo kept looking up to study what the attractive man wore. It looked to be simple enough; a thick, black sleeveless tank with an equally dark, long sleeved shirt over top. The collar was raised and came up to frame his neck and jaw, and the front of it was unbuttoned and pulled open to reveal the way the shirt beneath it hugged his toned chest. Ichigo's breathing grew more and more labored the longer he stared and had to force himself to stop stealing glances when he realized he'd forgotten to card the last person that came by to pick up a drink.
Turning his attention to Tensa, who had just returned with a fresh uniform and recently combed hair, Ichigo offered him a smile and struck up a conversation, if for no other reason but to distract himself.
Starrk groaned, eyes directed below the table where he'd just pulled his phone from his pocket. Without even a word, the rest of the group knew exactly who it was that was calling.
"Yes Lilynette?" Starrk answered, one hand running back through his hair so that stray locks fell to either side of his face, nearly hanging long enough to reach his shoulders. Letting his head fall back on the edge of the booth, Starrk closed his eyes while the shrill voice of his sister rattled through the phone. About what? He didn't care.
"So you're going to just go along with what Nnoitra says?"
Though Grimmjow couldn't see Shiro's eyes, he could tell the albino was talking to him. He wrapped fingers around his second glass of beer and gave a slight shrug. Truthfully, he hadn't yet decided what to do and it was seriously grating on his nerves that he'd had such an issue with something he was so sure about only a few days back.
"I don't know. I just don't feel right going with something he pulled out of his ass," Grimmjow said with a growl, letting his eyes wander over to Starrk when the man gave out an unrestrained sigh and shoved his phone back in the pocket of his coat.
"I have to go," Starrk informed and sent a meaningful glance at the blonde, female member of their group, allowing his lips to tilt just enough for her to get his point.
"That's me too, then," Tia said, smiling wider as she slipped out of the booth and wrapped an arm around Starrk's waist. "You boys have yourselves a good night!" she called, leading the sleepy man out of the bar and onto the street with the orange headed bartender and her dare to hit on him already forgotten.
"What's with them?" Shiro questioned.
Grimmjow didn't bother to answer, only pondering further on what he was going to do. He had planned to make the first real move tonight, but with how unsure he was, it was starting to look like he'd have to push it back. That idea didn't sit well with him either.
"Fuck, you're dull as shit tonight," the albino remarked, balling up a straw wrapper and tossing at the blunet. "Just fag it up for the little fruit and you'll be done with that job in no time."
Grimmjow sneered and shifted uncomfortably in the booth. Something about seats that sank low when you sat in them just didn't work for him. He needed something firm beneath him, supportive. "If you're so eager," Grimmjow said, lifting his glass and giving Shiro one of his unreadable expressions. "Then why don't you bend him over yourself, and while he's bored out of his mind with your tiny dick, I'll ask him whatever I need to know."
Shiro didn't rise to the bait, but laughed instead, tossing his head back and cackling like the deranged freak he was. Grimmjow had to smirk at his friends' reaction. He loved to get a rise out of people, but Shiro's defense of laughing it off had always amused him.
"So is that a no? 'Cause I'd be more than glad to take this job off your hands," Shiro leaned back in the booth, bringing one arm up to rest on the back of his seat while looking over at the busy bartender. "Hell, just looking at that kid makes me all kinds of hard. I can't believe you aren't at least a little gay just from looking at him."
Grimmjow shook his head. "Gay or not, this one's mine. I'll figure it out as I go."
"Eh?" Shiro dipped his head, peering over his shades with both piercing, yellow eyes. "My man Grimmjow doesn't have a fuckin' plan? What the hell is this? Are you going soft on me, kitty?"
"Tch, fuck you, Shiro. Even without a plan, I can wrap this one up," Grimmjow snapped. "But don't worry, if I end up screwing him, I'll memorize all the pretty details just for you," Grimmjow sent a wink over the top of his glass and drank from it for a long moment as Shiro tore into laughter once again.
In the past, Grimmjow was willing to do just about anything for his job, but had never considered the possibility that something like this might come up. Usually, when a target was pegged with this or that sexual preference, the agent sent in would have corresponding tastes, and it was unlikely that he was paired with anyone he wasn't willing to mess with. Though at times, a particular case would require a higher ranked member, and so Grimmjow or Starrk would be sent to woo a guy or two despite their known preferences.
This job, Grimmjow figured, was likely to be a different story than the others. Unlike any of the other cases Grimmjow was given, there was virtually no information or clue about what he was supposed to be finding out. Only that Benihime's contained an interesting secret, one that Grimmjow's boss and his associates wanted to know more about. Being that Starrk was partial to shorter assignments, Grimmjow was chosen for the job with the promise that if he succeeded, he'd be considered for a raise and boost in rank, bringing him to first position on the team along with all of the perks that included.
Grimmjow settled his emptied glass back down on the table and cast a casual glance toward the bar. To his surprise, honey colored eyes met his gaze and Grimmjow found himself unable to resist the wide smile that broke out on his face. Ichigo's soft eyes went wide and then he turned away, pouring all of his attention onto a customer while Grimmjow beamed at the simple reaction. Now he was sure, Ichigo's shy behavior was indeed attraction and not just intimidation. Which meant Grimmjow was just about to get himself involved in a possibly very uncomfortable and new type of chase.
The worst kind of restraint he could ever have on a job was uncertainty about if he actually wanted the target or not, so this would prove to be interesting. How badly did he want the information, the promotion and recognition? Grimmjow's job was his life, which meant putting aside anything else, including his inhibitions. Tonight he was going to cross the line, and even though the idea made his gut turn, Grimmjow realized he was surprisingly thrilled about doing just that.
Last call went out at 2am and Ichigo spent the next half hour churning out drinks faster than his half attentive mind could register. It was simple enough, something he had become so adapt at that simply hearing the name of a drink automatically led his hands to the right materials, and in minutes he was sending the customer on their way.
For the entire night, the albino man and the blue haired stranger occupied booth three, chatting it up loudly and occasionally erupting into obnoxious laughter. Ichigo's whole body tensed at the rich sound of Grimmjow's voice each time it carried across the room and met his ears. He kept wishing he bussed tables tonight instead of working at the bar so he could go over and take a closer look at those captivating eyes and dangerous lips.
Ichigo jumped half a foot in the air before catching himself, and twisted around to meet Shinji's gleeful face. "Oh, you scared me."
"Why so jumpy?" Shinji asked, hoisting himself up to sit on the edge of the bar, feet kicking while he tilted his head at his curiously skittish friend. "You usually catch me long before I can sneak up on you."
Ichigo slumped. Shinji knew him way too well for his own good. It was scary how he could call him on anything before Ichigo even realized it was true. At least it seemed like Shinji had gotten over the whiny stage of his sun burn.
"I saw you staring at that guy across the room," Shinji licked his lips and his feet kicked harder than before. "Gawd, but what I'd give to slide my tongue all the way up that perfect che-"
"Shinji!" Ichigo scoffed, hoping to hide the fact that he'd been daydreaming about the very same thought for most of his shift. "Not so loud!" Ichigo lowered his voice and glanced over warily at said blunet. "What if he could hear you?"
Shinji shrugged his shoulders, replying louder than he'd spoken before. "I hope he did! I'd love to hear what he'd have to say when I lay a nice, hard smack on that ass of his!"
"OhmygodShinji," Ichigo said in a rush, seizing his friend's wrist and yanking him off the bar to drag him as far out of sight as possible. "I get it; you want me to admit that I think he's hot, and I do, okay? But it's difficult enough not to get hard without you pointing out each and every one of his god-like qualities, alright? Happy?"
Shinji nodded joyfully and flicked the end of Ichigo's nose. "It wasn't so bad saying all that now was it?"
"It was horrible," Ichigo muttered, unable to hide the smile tugging at his lips when Shinji grinned smugly.
"Soooo who is he? Where's he from? Have you guys talked?" Shinji babbled on, rattling off every question he could think of before Ichigo clapped a hand over his mouth and shook his head.
"Not now. I have to close the bar tonight since Tensa had to head out early and Kisuke…is Kisuke. I'll call you tomorrow and tell you anything you want to know, okay?"
Shinji agreed and pulled Ichigo close, sneaking a quick kiss onto his cheek before bounding away and sending an unashamed wink at the blue haired man on his way out the door. Ichigo shook his head and started unbuttoning the front of his vest while heading toward the closet for a rag and sanitizer to wipe the bar down. When he got back to the counter, he set down both the wash cloth and spray bottle, and then started clearing away the rest of the dirty glasses left by long gone customers.
Ichigo hadn't noticed that he was mostly alone; only one patron was left, wandering in his direction with a grin that showed nearly every one of his shiny, white teeth.
Grimmjow took a slow pace, coming up on the tangerine as carefully as he could without making a sound. After watching the bartenders blond friend prance out the door, he'd sent Shiro away right behind him and then slipped out of the booth to begin his journey across the room.
Ichigo had just piled a couple of half empty glasses onto a tray and was about to turn around when Grimmjow stopped just behind him and offered a hearty greeting of "Oi!"
Ichigo spun in an instant, all the while losing grip on his tray, and down went the three half-finished glasses of beer, skidding right off of the plastic tray and spilling across the front of Grimmjow's shirt.
"Shit! Where did you-? Nevermind..I am SO sorry!" Ichigo quickly tossed the tray on the counter and scooped up the rag for wiping the bar, holding it out to the man while bending to gather up the fallen glasses and half melted cubes of ice. "I can't believe...I am just so sorry!" Ichigo continued on, not even realizing who he was talking to until a strong hand closed around his wrist and he looked up to meet a fiery, blue stare directed right back at him. "Oh..." Ichigo was sure his heart skipped a beat.
"Do you always run around ready to explode like that?" Grimmjow asked, smiling at the way Ichigo gaped at him. "Looks like you've just seen the devil himself," he continued, chuckling and pulling the kid up from the ground.
Ichigo laughed weakly and lifted a hand to scratch the back of his neck. "Sorry. I didn't see you there."
"Quit saying sorry already, fuck," Grimmjow took one look at the trembling target of his assigned job and then froze.
How the… what the hell?
Grimmjow had every intension of swooping in and taking advantage of Ichigo's cautious behavior with his customary charm and reassurance, but instead, out popped his ingrained nature of being a complete jackass by all accounts. He pressed his lips together and gave Ichigo another once over, realizing that somehow the kid wasn't completely thrown off by his rude comments, and instead looked to be unsurprised by it.
"What's your name?" Grimmjow demanded, figuring it was too late to suddenly be the gentleman now.
Ichigo resisted the urge to keep cleaning the huge mess he'd made and watched while Grimmjow brushed the rag he'd given him over his messy shirt. "Ichigo," he muttered and sucked his lip up between his teeth. Fuck, had he really spilled beer all over his crushes shirt? What the hell was he doing that he didn't even notice somebody standing behind him for the second, no wait, third time in one night?
Oh right, thinking about the tall, gorgeous sex-on-legs that was now dripping wet in front of him with a leer that made his ankles feel they might give at any second.
"Y-you?" Ichigo asked. Holy hell, he needed to get himself under control. Be a man, Ichigo and stand the fuck up straight! What was that guy doing standing right behind him like that anyway?
"Grimmjow Jaegerjaques," the man said, his smooth voice twisting the name with a slight accent that made Ichigo melt all over again. "Don't you have a last name, Ichigo?"
Ichigo nodded. "Kurosaki. You probably recog-"
"Kurosaki? Ah yeah, like the guy with the monkey face in those ridiculous medical commercials?"
Ichigo might have been defensive about Grimmjow insulting his father if he hadn't agreed with his opinion right down to the last word. "Yeah, that'd be the one. He's my dad," he said with a sigh and then turned to find another rag to clean his mess up.
Grimmjow followed him along, abandoning the useless task of cleaning his shirt. It didn't matter all that much anyway since it was black, he just hated being wet. "Do you have anything I can change into? I kind of needed to look nice for where I was going after this."
Ichigo paused and looked back at the other man. Grimmjow had just finished pulling off his long sleeve shirt, revealing two thickly muscled arms and strong shoulders that brought a sudden surge of drool to his mouth. Sucking it all up and swallowing it down, Ichigo cleared his throat and then motioned toward the lift. "Yeah, I might have something downstairs you can use. Let me go grab it."
Grimmjow leaned against the bar and scowled while Ichigo walked away, then looked back up when he saw that the tangerine had paused near the old elevator and was frowning over at him. "The fuck is that look for?"
Ichigo's frown deepened and his head tilted slightly. "I was just thinking you might as well come with me. I don't think you really want to change out here in the middle of the bar, right?"
Grimmjow shrugged. "You've got a point there, kid."
Ichigo turned back just in time for the elevator doors to swish open, and he loaded into the tiny room, Grimmjow filing in behind him.
"I'm 26," Ichigo suddenly blurted, heat coloring his face while the lift went down.
"You called me kid," Ichigo clenched his fists, hating it when people his age treated him like he was young. The doors swung back open and he stepped out, trailing into the room and sighing when he felt the cooler air hit his body. It was always so much hotter up in the bar. Grimmjow walked out behind him until he turned and held a hand up. "You have to stay here, employees only and all that crap."
Grimmjow rolled his eyes, but waited, glancing around the mostly dark room and finding that it looked to be a break area for those that worked up stairs. "I guess you probably don't have anything that matches what I'm wearing? Grimmjow hollered, then lowered his voice when Ichigo returned with a navy blue button up shirt.
"Black and blue match, right?" Ichigo honestly wasn't sure, but he had a hard time believing anything wouldn't look good on this guy. "I don't know if you're really going to fit since we have different...uh, builds, but you can try rolling up the sleeves if they're too short," Ichigo held out the shirt and stood back while Grimmjow peeled the sleeveless tee off his body; arm and chest muscles flexing beneath his smooth, golden skin and bringing twice the naughty images straight back into Ichigo's mind.
Ichigo turned around, fighting the blush on his face and hoping to any higher power that he wouldn't be sporting a raging hard on when he looked down. Luckily enough, he seemed to have it under control, but wouldn't bet on that lasting if Grimmjow took any longer getting dressed. When he turned back around, Grimmjow was humming to himself while tucking the ends of the shirt back into his pants.
"Looks like a perfect fit," Grimmjow said with a smirk, extending his arms and rolling his shoulders.
Ichigo nodded, though he noticed that the shirt didn't quite hang on Grimmjow's body as much as it did on his own frame, instead hugging his body tightly as Grimmjow's previous shirt had. "Perfect," he muttered under his breath.
In fact, all of it had been just a little too perfect. Remembering a conversation he'd had with Shinji a couple of weeks ago, Ichigo suddenly raised his head and stared at Grimmjow suspiciously. "I know why you're here," he said, deciding that his assumption just had to be right.
Grimmjow's head shot up and he frowned at Ichigo. "What?"
"I know. I can't believe I didn't realize it earlier, but now I can tell...The 'accidental' spill, your suggestion that I let you borrow a shirt, accepting my invitation down here. I get it now."
Grimmjow had frozen on the spot, jaw tightening while he thought back on his actions that night and wondered where he'd gone wrong. Six years and he'd never once been caught. Maybe there would be suspicion on longer jobs as his lies had to be spun more intricately, but never had he been faced with someone so easily calling his bluff. Who the fuck was this kid anyway? Some kind of mind reader? Grimmjow liked to think that he could read people accurately, but he had seriously underestimated the orange-headed goof.
"Don't be so surprised, it's happened before," Ichigo laughed and walked back toward the closet to retrieve his bag, shuffling in it while strapping it over his shoulder. "I get it, I really do, and I don't blame you," Finding his keys, Ichigo yanked them out and stepped closer to Grimmjow again, laying a hand on his shoulder and smiling disarmingly.
Grimmjow's eyes widened, surprised by the way Ichigo's soft contact with him had sent a bolt of fire through his entire body. Was he really so off guard? Was he, for once in the entire time he'd had this career, a little bit scared? Caught?
"I didn't know this at first and I'm not sure I really believe it," Ichigo went on "But after a friend clued me in, I realized it might just be true. I can be pretty dense sometimes..." Ichigo let his hand slide down off of Grimmjow's shoulder, tracing it over his long arm until his fingers grazed the back of Grimmjow's hand. "You wanted to hook up, right? Maybe get me alone after hours, sneak down here and have a quick rut? If it makes you feel any better, I kept thinking about it too."
Grimmjow didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Was Ichigo just playing with him or was he really that clueless? Shit, at least he hadn't figured him out, that was a relief. Grimmjow forced out a snort and twisted his hand to grab Ichigo's wrist, bending the tangerine's arm while bringing him close and letting the excitement of the moment guide his next words. "You're hot, Ichigo, I'll give you that. But it's going to take more than lending me your shirt to get a piece of this, understand?"
Instead of backing down like he had been all night, Ichigo's temper flared and he had to bite his cheek to keep from telling Grimmjow exactly how he felt. If Grimmjow hadn't wanted sex, then what the hell was going on? Was it an honest accident and he'd just made a complete ass of himself in front of a guy he was totally hot for? Or was there something else...?
"Fine, deny it, but don't think I don't know what's really going on!" Ichigo said stubbornly, jerking his hand out of Grimmjow's grip and sneering when the other man snickered.
"Look kid, I don't care if you believe me or not, but if you want, maybe we can do something about those delusions you seem to have," Grimmjow chuckled again and Ichigo frowned at the way it made his heart flutter.
"I say we hang out and see if there's anything really happening between us. Then you can decide what you think was going on here tonight."
"Hang out?" Ichigo paused and rubbed a hand over the place Grimmjow had grabbed his wrist. The hold had been much tighter than he expected and somehow beyond his embarrassment and anger, he found that it turned him on. "You mean like a date?"
"I'd call it more of a test drive," Grimmjow explained. "I'll bring some friends to keep it casual, and you can too. I hear there's a carnival down in Karakura, so why don't we meet this weekend, on let's say… Saturday around noon?"
Ichigo sucked in a breath and wet his lips. Was this really happening? He just basically threw himself over a ledge and far away from any chance of being with Grimmjow with an assumption based on one of Shinji's rants, and had somehow landed on a perfect opportunity to not only date him but meet his friends? "I ... um."
"I'll take that as a yes," Grimmjow pulled out his phone and brought up a list for a new contact. "What's your number? So I can call you when we get there."
While Ichigo rattled off the numbers, hoping he'd been giving the right ones, he stared at the man in front of him with narrowed, unsure eyes and his mind quickly filling with a mixture of alarms and chorus-like praise.
After Grimmjow saved the contact and snapped a quick picture of Ichigo's gaping face to add to it, he slipped the phone back in his pocket and offered a simple wave before heading back toward the lift and taking it up alone.
As Grimmjow walked out at the top, humming to the tune of the music from the elevator, he couldn't help but laugh at how he'd actually believed that Ichigo figured him out. He still wasn't sure if the plan of attempting to seduce Ichigo was really his best course of action, but it seemed to have worked out so far, and best of all, he'd done it all by being himself. Could things have gotten any sweeter?
"Are you kidding me? You invited a complete stranger and some of his friends to come out with us?"
Ichigo fidgeted, unable to meet Shinji's eyes. "Yes. Well, no. He invited us…"
Two broad shoulders lifted into a shrug and Ichigo grabbed a pillow from across the bed to support his head on it. "Aren't you the one always trying to get me to go out and meet new people?"
"Not complete strangers!" Shinji yelled, making his friend flinch and roll further away on the bed. He'd have smacked Ichigo if it wasn't still painful to stretch his sunburned arm that far above his head.
"How can a person be new to me at all if they don't start off as a stranger?" Ichigo challenged. "Besides, how is this any different from you hooking me up with just about any half decent guy you can find in that club you work at? I don't know any of them."
"But I do, Ichigo! Those guys are regulars, real nice men," Shinji reached feebly for the bottle of aloe next to his bed, making a scene of it until Ichigo got up and handed it to him. "You'd have a lot of fun with them, Ichi," Shinji added as if he were scolding him.
"How does you sitting in somebody's lap and complimenting their faults make them a trustworthy person?" Ichigo had a feeling he'd be regretting that as soon as it was out of his mouth. But instead of a whine or punch from Shinji, all he got was a pouty lip.
"That's not fair, and you know it," Shinji hissed when he spread the first bit of cool gel onto his bare shoulder. "Damn it, this is all your fault!" he accused for the tenth time that day.
"The sunburn is your own fault and you know it," Ichigo took the bottle from Shinji and lifted the back of the blond's shirt to get the hard spots for him. "But I am a little on edge about this. I haven't gone on any sort of date for a long time. I know this is just supposed to be us hanging out, but I don't really know him and I have to meet all of his friends and... What am I even going to wear?"
Shinji turned to stare at his friend. "Really, Ichigo? Did you really just ask that?"
A smile grew on Ichigo's face as a similar one spread across Shinji's. "Oh I don't know, I don't think I know anybody with any sort of style or- OW, okay fine, you can dress me. But I have to approve!" Ichigo rubbed his arm where he'd been firmly smacked.
"Sure, sure," Shinji waved a not so reassuring hand in the air and then turned on the mattress bounced a bit, scooting closer to Ichigo. Suddenly, he didn't look to be in so much pain. "So do you want to look casually handsome or double take sexy?"
"Do I really have a choice in this?" Ichigo whined.
"No, just thought I'd make you think you do," Shinji laughed when Ichigo sighed.
The rankings for the 'espada' characters, or as they're called here, the 'Seven' members, are a little different, so I'll clarify to clear up any confusion: Starrk is still first, Grimmjow is ranked second, Shiro is third, Ulquiorra and Nnoitra still have their original numbers as fourth and fifth. Tia is sixth and Szayel is now seventh. So the only changes are Grimmjow, Szayel, Tia and Shiro who is obviously not an espada, but that isn't all that relevant in this story :P