This took me a little longer than I had expected to finish, but it's finished as promised nonetheless~
The epilogue takes place a few weeks after the battle, the dream Ichigo had in the last chapter taking place somewhere between the two events. just clarifying on the timeline ^_^
With a heavy heart, Renji pounded on the thick door to Ichigo and Shiro's large home. Several weeks had passed since their fierce companion had been taken from them and the twins had locked themselves away, time that had seemed to flow much too fast and yet seemed to drag on for an eternity all at once.
The red head paused, listening to the resounding echos of his knocking carry through the inner hallway of the home before bouncing back to him through the door. It was as though the building, hardly feeling like much of a home anymore, was empty and lifeless; an unsettling thought that plagued the man everyday. Yet everyday, without fail, Renji made the trip out to their home. Even as the snow had continued to deepen, he would traverse through the forest, still wary of the dangerous creatures that used to lurk the trees, though he had nothing to fear. Starrk's Pack remained loyal to the once great werepanther even in his absence and no harm would come to Renji or the two humans the Fallen deidad had given his life to.
A saddened but unsurprised frown marring his features, Renji scrubbed a hand down his face after a moment. As he had expected, no one had answered the door this day either. But he refused to give up, he would find a way to break down the solid door if he had to, just so long as he figured out what had happened to Shiro and Ichigo. He didn't care what they thought of him afterward, he just needed to know that they were ok, that they were alive and hadn't done something stupid.
He raised his hand to knock again but just as his fist was about to collide with the door, the faint click of a lock stilled his motion and froze the red head in place. Cinnamon hued eyes wide with surprise and slight apprehension, Renji waited for a moment, waited for the door to swing open, for one of the two to greet him, to shout through the metal portal or step out from inside, anything. Anything at all.
Nothing happened and Renji let out the breath he hadn't known he had been holding. Flattening his palm against the smooth metal of the door, he gave a gentle push and waited as the heavy portal swung open on silent hinges to reveal the familiar interior of the twins' once lively home.
The hallway within was dark and no lights shown from any of the doorways lining it. The pictures in their frames that decorated the walls were covered in dust and the red tinted, dried and caked mud on the floor of the entryway had the look of an old mess that had been left uncleaned.
Renji was silent as he stepped through, quietly closing the door behind him. He was met with more silence; a thick silence that spoke of dread and torment, of loathing and pain, a hush that felt heavy and stifling, like it could drown one if they stayed too long, but it was a living silence nonetheless.
The red head edged down the hall and peered around the door frame of the sitting room, a room that had once been the home's occupant's favored room, with a lively fireplace, great tales to spin and laughs to be had. Now, the room was silent. No fire cast a warm glow, no shadows danced across the wooden floor, no one occupied the high backed and regal looking chairs. One such chair had been knocked over, quite the feat with the ornate furniture's weight, and slid across the floor where it came to a rest against the far wall. Scrape marks showed the path it's wooden feet and arms had created in the dark wooden floor, a testament to the perpetrator's state of mind. On the side table that sat between the chairs the twins used to claim for themselves sat two, silver plated handguns. The once cherished weapons hadn't been cleaned after the battle and the lack of care showed on the less than shinning silver and the greenish tint the trigger and a few other places were beginning to take on. A few silver slugs lay scattered near them, strewn across the table from the emptied clip and left to lay after the owner, none other than Shirosaki, had given up on whatever he had been trying to do.
Renji was about to continue to the next room when a pale figure caught his attention. Huddled on the floor, his back facing toward the red haired man, sat Shirosaki like a pale shadow in the darkened room. His long, ashen locks had been left unbound to hang in a tangled mess down his bare back and flow over his shoulders. Renji's expression showed nothing but sorrow as he noted how thin the man looked. Even from across the room and in the dark, he could see the pale twin's ribs and spine beginning to show where lean but strong muscle had once covered. The few wounds he had taken during the battle were raw and puckered from the lack of medical attention, the need to be cleaned and dressed obvious.
Stepping quietly into the room and wondering where Ichigo was, surprised that the two would leave each other's side at all, Renji watched the near-albino as he sat unmoving, his back bowed and shoulders hunched in obvious fatigue and grief.
"Shiro...?" He called in a quiet voice, unsure if breaking the heavy silence was a good idea or not. The man, his friend, didn't seem to be in the best mind set, mentally and physically scarred by what had happened. Though, how could he not be, how could either of them not be?
The pale man seemed to flinch slightly at his voice, but he slowly turned to look over his shoulder and pin the red head with wide, haunted eyes, the normally swirling gold seeming to dance with less fire and hide more sinking emotions. Dark circles showed the near-albino's many sleepless nights and horror filled dreams and as he spoke, his lilting voice was brittle and uneven. "H...Hey, Red..."
At Shiro's voice, a pair of lightly tanned, thin arms snaked around the near-albino's waist, long fingered hands seeming to shake, if only slightly. Ichigo's head lifted off his brother's chest to peer over his twin's shoulder at Renji with much the same haunted expression as Shiro held, his normally warm brown eyes dull and reflecting almost nothing at all.
"Hey, Ichi..." Renji greeted quietly, edging closer to the two before lowering himself to sit cross legged on the floor beside the twins. He received the very barest hint of a smile, really just a slight relief to the deep and pained frown the Caster had etched across his features.
Ichigo let his head fall to rest on his brother's chest again, tilted to the side so that he could look at their friend, his features drawn with a deep mental and physical exhaustion, dark circles ringing his eyes as well. His orange hair had been tied in a tail, but it had lost it's luster from malnourishment and hung limply across the man's narrow shoulders. Much like his twin, the Caster had lost the definition of his leanly muscled physique, the bone structure of his ribs showing through his paler than normal skin while his shoulder blades protruded much further than they should have. His body didn't seem to hold the same cuts and bruises Shiro's did, the near-albino had done a hell of a job in protecting his beloved twin between castings, but Ichigo looked just as beaten up and warn down, just as drained and lifeless.
Shiro rested his chin on the top of the Caster's head, his pale arms circling around the more colorful man's shoulders. The two held each other in a loving and comforting embrace, just as it had always been yet it seemed lacking somehow. Renji realized that it wasn't that anything was lacking, just that the third man, the man that had completed them, was missing. He would be forever missing...and it showed.
Just as it had been before they had learned of the werewolves' plans, seeming so long ago now, it was awkward to try talking to the near-albino, or either of the twins for that matter. However, it was for an entirely different reason this time and Renji had no idea what to say to the two. His first thought was to ask how they were doing. That would have been anyone's first question, but he could see the evidance of how they were doing for himself, written clearly on the twins' bodies and in their eyes. It could have only been cruel to ask such a thing, so he held his question as he looked at the two.
These two men, the twins he had and always would call his friends, were broken in nearly every way. Their mental and emotional wounds far out weighed the damage that a mortal body could take. If they were to pull through, they would need time and help to heal those wounds. But then, Renji thought they already realized that, at least on some level, else he wouldn't have been granted entry, he wouldn't have been allowed to see them like this; broken and brittle, less than themselves. Finally rewarding his perseverance had been a silent plea louder than any scream for help from the only person they had left to turn to.
After a moment with nothing being said, Renji climbed back to his feet and crossed the room to disappear through the swinging door that led to the kitchen. He would gladly answer their silent scream for the help they needed, he would not fail them. Ichigo and Shiro were strong, so much stronger than they realized, they would pull through. But before they could begin healing the emotional scarring, their bodies would need to be healed so that they had the strength to try.
Doing what he did best and feeling like history was repeating once again, the red head quickly set about putting something together that the twins would be able to eat, something that their battered and malnourished systems would be able to handle. It was clear they hadn't been eating, at least not properly and he knew getting nourishment into their bodies would go a long way in giving them their strength back. He pulled pots and pans out, being as quiet as he could after witnessing how Shiro had jumped at his voice only minutes ago. Digging through the twins' fridge and cupboards, Renji found a few things he could make a decent soup out of. It wouldn't be much, but it would be easy for them to eat and hopefully would be something their abused and neglected stomachs would be able to handle.
After setting the pot on the stove, Renji filled a bowl with hot, soapy water and another with luke warm water. Grabbing a few clean towels, he carefully carried the two bowls into the sitting room.
The two brothers hadn't moved from where they sat on the hard floor, seeming to not notice the cold, or perhaps they were already numbed from it. The only shift in their positions was that Ichigo had turned his head to hide his face against Shiro's neck, while the near-albino continued to stare sightlessly at the wall mere feet behind the Caster. Their posture was one of defeat, on the verge of giving up on almost everything. Almost everything. They, for all the world, looked like they were still trying to hold onto each other, protect one another from something they knew they would never be able to.
Renji set the bowls down beside them, laying the towels next to those before straightening and crossing the room again. He grabbed a thick blanket from the back of one of the untoppled chairs. With gentle and careful movements, he draped it around Ichigo's gaunt form, gently wrapping it around him and tucking it close, before settling himself down on the floor near Shiro. His mother had worked alongside Ichigo and Shiro's father in the village hospital and so Renji knew what he was doing as he carefully began cleaning the deeper, grime and blood crusted gashes that marred the pale man's colorless flesh with the hot, soapy water.
Both twins remained silent as the red head went to work, though Ichigo lifted his head slightly to watch over Shiro's shoulder and meet Renji's eyes for the first time since he had arrived. Behind the sorrow that damped the Caster's normally shining orbs, appreciation and gratitude reflected back at Renji and the red head nodded slightly, offering the Caster a slightly worried but genuine smile before directing his attention back to the wounds he was treating.
They were few and probably wouldn't have been much to worry about had they been treated sooner. However, neither twin had had the energy or ability to summon the concern needed to care for them and the wounds had been left to fester, beginning to heal only to be reopened with the Undead's movements. They only didn't bleed now because the fresh fluids couldn't seep through the thick scabs of old, dried blood that coated them as the onset of infection began to show it's self.
As Renji moved to one of the deeper cuts, probably the worst of the few marks Shiro had received those weeks ago, the pale man hissed a quite breath between clenched teeth but still refused to move even as his grip around Ichigo tightened with the sting. Renji dipped the soiled cloth back into the soapy water, ringing red tinted water out before continuing again. After they were cleaned out, he used a fresh towel and the luke warm, clean water to gently wipe away the soap and traces of blood.
Once done, Renji looked up as he began patting the cuts and gashes dry with another clean towel to see that Shiro's brow was furrowed as he stared at the wall. His eyes were glassy with unshed tears but Renji had his doubts that it was completely from whatever pain the cleaning had caused. More likely, the man felt guilty for something or another that he had no business feeling guilty over. Ichigo slowly unwound his arms from around Shiro's waist to sit up slightly, looking into his twin's inverted eyes as if sensing or knowing whatever it was.
Renji watched as their gazes locked and something silent but strong passed between them, the two were far too close to need words to communicate with one another. A pale hand reached up, the backs of long fingers gently brushing the Caster's jaw line before Shiro leaned forward. Their lips brushed in the barest ghosting of touch, neither emotionally capable of engaging the other in a full kiss. It was over as quickly as Shiro had initiated it, but the simple notion of what the touch meant was enough. Both turned to look at the red head, their eyes not quite so empty as they had been before, but instead filled with so much overflowing emotion; pain, sorrow, regret, love and too many others to name. Enough to nearly stagger the red head, tearing at his heart and making him hurt for them.
It had taken days, very nearly a week, before Ichigo had finally been able to find the words to tell Shiro what he had dreamt that night, what he had seen on a night that seemed so very long ago. It had nearly crippled the pale twin, bringing him to his knees in not so silent tears as Ichigo trembled in his embrace, voice cracking with raw pain. That had been a full night and day ago and the twins had hardly moved from where they had collapsed at, not a word being passed between each other, but then, they didn't need the spoken words and both had come to the same conclusion.
For Grimmjow, they would try.
As Ichigo spoke in a quiet, broken tone, tears beginning to streak his cheeks, Renji listened, finding it hard not to cry along side his friends. He listened as the Caster told him about the dream he had had, about how Grimmjow, even weakened as he had seemed, had sought him out and had done all he could to make sure Ichigo and Shiro knew how he felt and received his parting words. He told the red head of their once mighty companion's sorrow and how he had seemed so tired and broken after seeing how the twins were fairing in his absence. When the Caster's suddenly so frail looking shoulders began bobbing slightly, his words faltering, Renji leaned in to wrap his arms around the grieving twins and pull them close, uncaring as salty tears soaked both sides of his shirt.
They sat like that for nearly an hour, the twins not bothering to hide their still very fresh wounds, wounds deeper than any cut, as Renji offered his support and shoulder, rubbing slow, reassuring circles gently across their backs. Between Ichigo and Shiro, their hands linked, squeezing tight enough to whiten Ichigo's knuckles to match Shiro's, hands trembling slightly. Finally, they pulled back, the tears no longer flowing but leaving them drained and even more tired looking than before. Both shivered and trembled slightly in wake of their emotional release and the cold they were finally beginning to feel again.
Renji climbed to his feet, carefully pulling the two slightly smaller men with him, though they were a little unbalanced from having sat upon the hard floor for so long. With slow steps he guided them to a chair, knowing they would never part so that each could take their own seat. As he had expected, Shiro sat down making himself comfortable as Ichigo curled on his lap, resting his head back on Shiro's chest.
They didn't bother hiding the not so usual relationship they held as they once had and some part of Renji was glad for that. He had already realized long ago that they loved each other more than the way simple brothers would and he knew how much that bond would help them in this.
The red head let a slight smile tilt the corners of his lips before leaving the room to check on the meal he had been preparing. Luckily, he had chosen something that wouldn't burn if left to simmer. After a bit of protesting from Ichigo and Shiro and a bit of convincing on Renji's part, he managed to get the two to eat at least a few bites before they set aside their bowls, looking throughly worn out.
Before either of the two could begin to get up and take the dishes to the kitchen, Renji snagged them, receiving a quiet thank you from the Caster. By the time he came back into the room, only a couple minutes having gone by, Renji rounded the chair the twins sat in to find them sound asleep, intertwined and clinging onto one another almost desperately, but asleep. The pained expressions were gone from their drawn features and neither whimpered or twitched with haunting nightmares. It was deep and much needed sleep, blessedly devoid of memories or thought, a blackness that swallowed them and brought relief for the first time in weeks.
Renji pulled the blanket over the two, not wanting to wake them to send them to a bed he knew they wouldn't sleep in, before crossing the chilly room to light a small fire in the empty hearth. The flames that flickered reluctantly but hungrily to life played across the shinning glass of a nearly empty jar that sat atop the mantle, a mangled silver slug resting at it's bottom. The blood that had once coated the bullet and the sides of the glass had dried, flaking to the bottom of the jar and blackening until it hardly looked like blood and the jar's flat lid was coated in dust but neither twin would ever work up the desire to remove or get rid of it. It would be weeks until they worked up the nerve to so much as clean the little jar, but it would forever sit on the mantle of their fireplace where he had placed it so long ago as a sign to them that he had been there.
Tugging at the sleeves of his shirt, Renji wondered down the hall back toward the front door, lost in thought. There was no way he could leave them like this, not while they were still so fragile and broken. He knew it would take time, but he would be there for them in every way he could. The red head mechanically led his horse into one of the empty stables in the twins' barn, happy to see that the twins' animals had been left free of their stables, the barn door left open to let them into the fenced off corral behind.
As the red head was laying out fresh hey in the stables, his own horse now occupying one while Shiro's stallion and one of the spare horses had wondered outside to nose through the slowly lessening snow, the beasts shied away from the entrances of their stalls. From outside, he heard as the more aggressive stallion brayed it's distress before the other's began snorting and pawing at the ground nervously, eyes wide and rolling.
The nearly silent scratching of claw on wood had Renji spinning around to face the barn's entrance. His own eyes widened as they landed on the hulking, shadowed form of a werewolf taking up the entire doorway. For a split second, Renji felt panic stir in his gut, thoughts of the creatures they had fought against swirling in his mind, before a smaller, four legged form hobbled around the larger werecreature, it's stormy grey eyes shining in the dim light.
Starrk, still favoring his shattered limb and stuck in his wolf body, glanced up at his towering second before limping closer to the human, his eyes swirling with open concern and curiosity. "You have been granted entry."
Renji sighed quietly, both in relief as his pounding heart resumed a normal beat with the recognition of the wolves that had entered and at the wolf's inquiry. He nodded, looking down at the Alpha's smaller, four legged form.
He didn't have to look down far. While being much smaller than his resurrection, he was still much larger than a natural born wolf. Rather than standing roughly waist height like a normal wolf, the Alpha's big head and grayish tan muzzle was nearly level with Renji's chest.
"How are they?" Starrk's deep voice was quiet, seeming almost timid to ask and apprehensive about the answer. While he had known of them for a while now, he had only connected with the two strange humans through their feline companion, yet he found that he already held a soft spot for the two. Like Grimmjow had been, they would always be considered part of his Pack whether they wanted it or not.
Renji shrugged a bit and shook his head, plowing his fingers through his long red mane and leaning back against the door of the stall his nervous horse was currently in. How was he supposed to find words to tell the Alpha how very distraught the twins were? How lost they seemed, how haunted and broken and near the point of giving up they still were? Anything he told the wolf would fall miserably short of the devastating truth.
Starrk seemed to understand the red head's issue and what it meant. With a simple, barely noticeable nod, the wolf's wise gaze drifted away from Renji and the quiet of the barn seemed almost as stifling and remorseful as in the large home with Ichigo and Shiro. After a moment, Starrk broke the quiet and spoke aloud what they both knew, his deep baritone voice nearly a whisper. "He would not wish for this."
"I know..." Renji told the wolf in an equally quiet voice as he too stared off at nothing in particular. After a second, he looked back to meet the Alpha's eyes. "And they know too..."
Starrk nodded his understanding before turning back toward Nnoitra, still taking up the entrance with his massive form, having to duck just to do so. Even with the creature's pronounced limp as he tried to put as little weight on his injured leg as possible, the Alpha moved about silently in a way only a creature of the forest could.
"Uhh...Starrk..." Renji hesitated. Months ago, he would have never found himself talking with a werecreature that could have killed him with ease had it wanted to, now it was almost as if he were simply talking to another man. Grimmjow had changed so much in the short time he had known the werepanther.
"Yes?" The Alpha turned to look back at the human, feeling his hesitation as well as easily hearing it in his voice.
Renji vaguely gestured to the wolf's injured leg and his second while he spoke. "How...how are you and your Pack fairing?"
A slightly sad smile seemed to curl canine lips. "Even to the victors, battle is rarely something to be celebrated." A lesson learned from centuries of experience, the Alpha turned to leave once again. His injury would heal, his Pack would rebuild and had come out mostly intact but they had still had many that hadn't made it or would be crippled forever. Yet even though he had once been their greatest enemy, the loss of the feline seemed to be what hurt the most, both for the soft hearted Alpha, and for his Pack. His deep voice called back to Renji as he exited the barn, Nnoitra loyally and silently at his side. "The Pack will recover, as will I. Though this cold is tiring."
The days that followed were trying at best and nearly unlivable at worst, filled with the tears, screams and pleads of desperate, broken men but their determination was clear and their friend refused to leave their sides. The absence of the creature they had loved and would forever love would never weigh any less heavily on their hearts but it was for his sake that Ichigo and Shiro were determined learn how to cope without him. For Grimmjow, they would try. For him, they would survive and strive to regain their happiness.
Somedays were easier than others. Somedays, they wouldn't lay in bed all day, drowning in their grief and tears. Somedays they would drag themselves down the stairs, help Renji with the cooking or the cleaning that so desperately needed done. The chair that had been knocked over in the same fit of rage that had left Shiro's guns in disarray had been righted. The near-albino eventually cleaned his treasured weapons, spending hours on a task that would have normally took him a few minutes. Ichigo carefully, meticulously cleaned the dried mud and evidance of Grimmjow's injuries off his robes, fixing the tear that a stray werewolf had made in the back of them.
All the while, Renji payed close attention to his friends while he went about his self imposed duties, unable to miss as the two would occasionally loose themselves in dire and haunting memories, flinching from the unseen and unheard scenes that replayed in their minds. At times he forced them to eat or do other things, much like he had Ichigo after the accident that had taken Shiro from the Caster. Other times they would sit around the table together in quiet conversation or in mostly comfortable silence.
Days passed, turning into weeks. The physical injuries were healed, but the emotional ones were deep and slow to mend, slow to scar over and begin fading.
Starrk limped around in his wolf form most of the time, unhappy about it but unable to prevent it. As the shattered bones of his leg began mending, he veered into his resurrection more often. He led his Pack as only he had ever been able to and the members worked on healing their own wounds during their time of relative peace, a peace that hadn't been seen in generations.
The Alpha kept at least one wolf posted near the humans' home at all times, insuring their safety and the peace and quiet they no doubt needed to do the healing Grimmjow would have wished for and would have protected them during. The werepanther's absence in his forest hadn't gone unnoticed, but it hadn't had the same effect as the first time he had left his territory unguarded. Nothing set foot in the cherished forest, the only life being that of the plants and the natural born animals he had ever looked after. Not a single wolf, natural or of werecreature heritage, dared set foot within what had once been his borders. Only Starrk and Nnoitra did so, and even that was rare, only when needed to continue their patrol and insure that it remained an untouched sanctuary.
Urahara and his operation had ultimately been forced into the light for the citizens to see, though the effects had hardly been what anyone would have expected. Even with the war over and the threat eliminated, the majority of the citizens had accepted what the strange shopkeeper did under his small shop. He and his partners were now free to patrol and go about their business in the open and in the daylight, studying the werecreatures and other mythical beasts that surrounded them.
One of his first tasks had been confirming the suspicion tearing at his gut and the man's fan didn't hide the smile it usually did as he examined the sword and the few silver pellets he had managed to collect after word of the once-deidad's death had reached him. Instead, it hid the downward curve of a regretful frown. He had seen how distraught the twins had been as they clutched their more than human companion, arriving on scene after Starrk's deep howl had rang sorrowful and knowingly through the suddenly much too still air of the aftermath.
He had very nearly received a silver bullet of his own as he had ignored Renji's warnings for him to leave them be and the Caster had turned a look so very full of pain and lose on him. The two unique men had handled their grief differently at first; Ichigo with open pain and tears while Shiro cried as his anger took over in a slightly destructive display, but he suspected both were grieving and lost still.
Much to Urahara's horror, his suspicions had proven correct and it had indeed been his missing weapon that had killed the Fallen werecreature. He sent Kenpachi in search of the small, raven haired woman. The blond himself had paid a visit to her brother, recognizing the crest of old royalty on the hilt of the sword that had been left to impale the werepanther. The eldest Kuchiki hadn't seen nor heard anything of his sister, not before the battle and not since. Kenpachi, a master at what he did, had returned empty handed. No one had seen anything of the missing woman and Rukia had left no trace. They had even gone so far as breaking into Renji's home after the third visit that he hadn't been home during. Everything seemed untouched, both within the home and in the stables. Rukia had simply vanished. Urahara suspected, should she have survived the journey to where ever she had gone, that she would return one day, but she was a strong and independent woman and that day would likely be years down the road.
Urahara didn't dare try to visit the Caster and Undead, fearing that silver bullet would hit it's mark this time, since Shiro's outburst would have ended and the pale man would probably have a much calmer aim. However, aside from not being granted access to their home, he would have had nothing to fear.
It wasn't in Ichigo and Shiro's nature to do such a thing and the original incident had been emotionally driven during a time of instability. They put as little thought into who had killed their cherished companion as possible and though in the backs of their minds, both suspected who had been responsible, neither would voice it aloud. To do so would be to invite much more pain than either could deal with, as well as harming Renji in the process. The subject would do no one any good. It wouldn't bring him back and it was left buried.
On one of the twins' better days, the two busied themselves with washing the dishes Renji had dirtied for another meal he had prepared for three. Much to the red head's pleased surprise, he looked up from placing the left overs in the fridge to see Ichigo locked in place by Shiro, their lips connected in a passionate kiss, dishes and soapy water all but forgotten. Face heating up slightly, Renji quickly turned away from the scene and ignored the two, but he couldn't help the smile that curved his features.
The two broke the kiss, still unable to take it much further even had Renji not been in the room and continued doing the dishes. But it was a start, a step in the right direction and a sign that however slowly, the two were beginning to heal.
Shiro finished scrubbing the porcelain bowl in his hands, dipping it back into the soapy water before passing it to Ichigo for the Caster to rinse and dry. Ichigo froze as his fingers brushed the smooth surface, letting the bowl slip from Shiro's grasp to splash into the sink. The Caster's eyes widened slightly as his brows furrowed and he inhaled a quick, short breath as something in the back of his mind stirred in a way it hadn't in more than a month.
Both of the other men in the room paused in what they were doing to look at him. Renji's eyes, showing confusion and worry, drifted to meet Shiro's inverted orbs before settling back on the still frozen Caster. Shiro, a sneer beginning to curl his upper lip, reached behind his back to where his favored handgun rested as he automatically peered out the window to their yard beyond. But the magical barrier had yet to be reconstructed and could not have been the source of Ichigo's reaction nor the catch in his mind. The pale twin realized this just as Ichigo seemed to shake himself from his surprise.
He grasped his brother's arm as he turned wide eyes to Shiro, unable to form words through his swirling confusion and disbelieving surprise. Shiro was given a moment to notice that tears had begun to collect in the Caster's eyes before the next stage of whatever was happening was set into motion. A nearly crippling wave of pain flooded the two, crashing almost physically into them with it's unexpected intensity. Ichigo stumbled backward, still clutching onto Shiro for support while the near-albino braced himself against the sink's edge, one hand clutching at his head while he grit his teeth as the link binding them to each other trembled.
It lasted barely a minute and the two were given enough time to recognize Renji's worried voice from near by as the link that connected them quieted down, seeming to breathe and let the pain ebbed on that intake of air. Wide, shocked gold met soft brown that held nearly the same look. Without a word between the two, Ichigo turned and scrambled from the kitchen, nearly tripping over himself as he pushed his still recovering body into a more rigorous motion than either of the two had seen since the battle. Shiro, on his twin's heals, caught himself with a hand against the wall of the hallway while he took the turn from the kitchen as quickly as he could.
They said nothing as they hurried down the hall, words not being needed to express the confusion and uncertainty they both felt. There had been no denying the flavor the pain from the link had held and whether it was real or not, they wouldn't and couldn't just ignore it. They would do all they could to find it's source.
Confused and a little worried, Renji yelled out to them as he threw off his surprise and followed them down the hall. Before they could make it to the front door, at nearly the same time, Ichigo and Shiro both cried out in pain as the link flared to life once again, the strength redoubled and crippling in it's intensity. Ichigo collapsed under the pressure to his mind, his sensitivity and connection to the magic much stronger than his twin's. Shiro nearly tripped over him to stumble passed before he too hit the floor. Feature's twisted with pain, the twins curled in on the assault to their minds Renji couldn't even begin to imagine, clutching at their heads and writhing on the smooth floor. So overwhelmed by the electric like current running through them, neither of the two men were able to so much as utter a noise to express that pain, let alone were capable of acknowledging their friend.
"Ichi? Shiro?" Renji slid to a halt on his knees beside them, at a lose as to what he should do or what was going on with his friends. Panic tinted his words and made his voice rise as it wavered. The twins ignored him, unable to hear his worried voice or feel his hands as he tried desperately to figure out what was going on and how to help them.
From the tree line, a howl broke the still evening air as the red head's worried voice reached the wolf stationed to watch over the home. It was a call to the Alpha that something was going on with the humans he seemed intent on protecting. As soon as the hollow voice cut through the air, Starrk's head snapped up, his ears perked to listen. The message was easily read and he took off, dropping what he had been doing without a second thought. Nnoitra, also hearing the call, as had the rest of the Pack, joined his leader in the corridor that led to the entrance of the den. The two wolves took up a swift, ground devouring pace, Starrk's shorter, three legs able to keep up with Nnoitra's lanky, two legged form. The miles were covered in minutes, quickly bringing them into range of Renji's worried tone.
Without hesitation, Starrk sailed over where the magical barrier had once been. He and Nnoitra rounded the large building and jumped up the small flight of stairs that led to the porch and entrance of the Caster and his brother's home. Using one big paw, the Alpha found the door locked, the dead bolt protesting but holding against the weight he could put behind his attempt. He snarled, massive fangs bared as he listened to the red haired man, noting that while he could smell the other two, they were making not a sound.
Carefully but quickly, Nnoitra all but pushed his leader away from the thick metal door. Gripping the knob in one taloned hand, he twisted against the lock while he pushed his shoulder against the door. His massive weight combined with the strength of his wereform had the hinges of the door creaking, the metal bowing inward slightly before the dead bolt snapped and the door flew open to slam into the wall behind it, echoing through the hallway beyond.
Renji stood wide eyed but unshaken and steady before them, determined to protect the twins as they still writhed and panted on the floor behind him. One of Shiro's guns was in his hand, aimed toward the door but he let it drop as he realized who was breaking in and went back to Ichigo and Shiro's side.
Starrk veered into his wereform as he pushed passed Nnoitra's hulking body in the door way. Limping but ignoring it, he kneeled beside the red head and looked down at the twins with worry and confusion showing in his grey eyes. "What is happening to them?"
"I.." Renji shook his head, at a lose as what to tell the wolf. "I don't know...I think it has something to do with Ichigo's magic..."
As they spoke, the twins slowly began recovering as the crippling pain began ebbing once again. Ichigo's fingers linked with Shiro's as the near-albino began trying to steady himself enough to pull himself from the floor. Panting, Ichigo looked over at him, his eyes wide.
They climbed to their feet, hands still linked, followed by Starrk and Renji. The twins ignored the worry and confusion that showed openly on the wolf's and their friend's features. The link they had formed between themselves, strengthened and anchored by their third companion was alive and thrumming with sensations that could not have been caused by either the Caster, nor the Undead. The flavor it held had belonged to him, belonged to the creature they had lost and while neither understood what was going on any better than the onlookers did, they did know one thing; if he was truly dead, he wouldn't be in so much pain.
"M...move..." Shiro panted as he pushed between Renji and Starrk, all but dragging Ichigo with him. He didn't notice the fresh tears that stung at the backs of his eyes, nor did he hear the questions Renji tried to ask.
Ichigo spared the red head a glance, his own eyes filled with tears as well but he too pushed passed the wolf and Renji. Nothing would keep them there, nothing would keep them from finding him.
"He...he's...hurting..." Ichigo told Renji, his shaking tone full of disbelief and tinted with fear, for a dead creature could not feel pain and nothing seemed to make sense at the moment. The twins took off across the yard of their large home, hardly registering the cold or the snow. They darted passed the tree line and into the forest, knowing the way by heart. Renji followed behind them, Starrk and Nnoitra racing through the trees not far away as they watched and insured that whatever was going on, the humans would be safe.
The werepanther's long gone followers had been fierce in their loyalty and not even death had been able to take that from them. When Grimmjow had been sent to them, his life ended as theirs' had been, his followers, the thousands of men, women and children that had died in his name, had seen to it that he was welcomed and worshipped as he was always meant to be. While the mighty werepanther had rejoiced at being reunited with his followers once again, they hadn't been able to miss the sorrow that swirled in untamable blue eyes and had quickly found the source. It was ever a painful and traumatic event for a Fallen to regain his status as a deity.
Just as Ichigo and Shiro had felt Grimmjow's death through the link that bound them to the once-Fallen deidad, so too did they feel as he rose again, regaining the power he had once held and all that came with it.
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