Disclaimer: I do not own a single character. Only the rights to my own twisted insanity. I know which I would prefer to claim... but shhh~

.:The Parent Trap:.

Part Four

Birthdays. A time for merriment and celebration, a day designed for loved ones to gather close, for all involved to forget past hardships and focus on something that truly matters; that one special person graced the earth, and henceforth the lives of their family and friends on this particular day. It should be a joyous and happy occasion, full of smiles and laughter – so why then did Ichigo find himself with one of the darkest scowls he can ever remember producing etching deeper and deeper into his brow? Well, that question can be summed up in one simple, infuriating word…


It was Saturday afternoon, April 24th – Nelliel's birthday. As was customary, he and his little Apple had made the short, twenty minute drive from their own abode to celebrate the day at his old family home. His father, one Isshin Kurosaki, still ran their family clinic – the same one he'd always hoped his son would one day take over, only for Ichigo to pursue his own interest in architecture – and, in spite of many, many years to grow and mature, the man was still an eccentric old loon. Honestly, a man his father's age should be all about living out his glory days in peace and quiet, not endeavouring to randomly 'attack' his only son as soon as he laid eyes on him, only to then go bawling his eyes out to a giant memorial picture of their deceased mother when said attacks ultimately led to the same inevitable conclusion. For crying out loud, his lunatic father hadn't managed to land a solid hit on him since he was fifteen, and even then it was a total fluke when the orange haired male had been too distracted to anticipate the 'elbow-of-impending-misery' coming.

Rolling his eyes at the memory, Ichigo pulled the sleeve of his pale blue Armani shirt up to reveal the face of his silver watch, his lip curling when he noted the time; 3:44PM. Damn it all to Hell, Grimmjow was nearly three fucking hours late! Forget his crazy ass dad, who treated the blue haired man like one of his own – "the fruit of my own hunky loins~!" – because when Grimmjow finally showed his face, if he bothered to at all, Ichigo was going to make sure it was he who got the first blow in.

"Is everything alright, Ichi-nii?" a pleasant, feminine tone inquired to his left, promptly snapping Ichigo from murderous thoughts of electric teal and torrents of crimson.

Slapping a wan smile on his face, he tilted his head up to the source of the voice, having to crane his neck from where he sat on the wooden steps of their patio out back. "Yeah, everything's fine, Yuzu. Nothing you need to concern yourself with."

Yuzu looked hesitant, but smiled and nodded nonetheless. Ichigo took a moment to study the girl, his precious little sister – well, she wasn't so much a 'girl' as she was a young woman now, he supposed. At twenty-two years of age, with shining honey-brown hair tumbling down to her shoulders, smouldering earthy brown eyes and a slim yet curvaceous body, she had really blossomed – much to Ichigo's chagrin. It didn't matter how old she got, he would always see her as his adoring, soft-hearted little sister, a fact made all the harder to cling on to when young boys started taking an avid interest in her during her early teens.

Ichigo will admit to taking his elder brotherly duties a tad bit too seriously, scaring off more than his fair share of 'admirers' with little more than a harsh glare and a few well placed expletives. It wasn't until he overheard her heartbroken sobs of "I'm obviously too unattractive to date!" to his other sister, and Yuzu's fraternal twin, that he'd reluctantly relented, allowing a few hopeful potentials to slip through his carefully woven net of brotherly protection. Hence now she was dating a young man by the name of Jinta Hanakari, and had been for the better part of two years.

Ichigo was still in two minds about that one, though. Jinta tended to be loud, obnoxious, and entirely too immature for someone claiming to be twenty-three years of age – his own father was obviously excluded from such labelling, the old fool being the 'exception' to damn near every moral and civil rule ever invented. Still, Jinta did have his redeeming qualities; such as diligently worshipping the very ground on which Yuzu trod. His unmistakable adoration for his little sister remained the only saving grace sparing him from Ichigo's wrath, and both knew it.

Standing now in a form complimenting white summer dress, her hair tied back in two pigtails and white pumps adorning her feet, Yuzu drew her attention away from her obviously bristling older brother, and instead focused on a squealing Nelliel who was being chased around a small picnic table in the backyard by their boisterous father, the table itself overflowing with shiny new gifts. The day was beautiful, the sun out in full-beam and the breeze gentle as it whispered over their skin, keeping all under the golden blanket of heat at a tolerable level of warmth. Sighing pleasantly, Yuzu took a seat beside her eldest sibling, sitting close enough to bump knees.

"You shouldn't worry so much, Ichi," she told her brother, still gazing fondly at the two frolicking 'children'. "I'm sure Grimm-nii will show up soon."

Ichigo couldn't stop himself, and scoffed derisively. "Yeah, right. I should've known better than to expect that bastard to actually turn up for something important." Raking a hand through his hair tetchily, he sighed. "Sorry, Yuzu. I didn't mean to curse."

Giggling softly behind her hand, Yuzu shook her head and pet her brother's luminous spikes in a very motherly fashion. "It's okay, onii-chan. I think I'm long since used to you swearing in front of me. For instance, every morning at breakfast when you and chichi got into petty squabbles about who had more food. Or every evening when you came home late for dinner and dad would pounce on you. Or every time you missed curfew and–"

"Okay, okay!" Ichigo interjected, waving his hands in a 'Dear god, please stop' motion. "I get it. I used to cuss a lot."

Yuzu arched a delicate brow. "'Used to'?"

Ichigo deadpanned, throwing an arm around her shoulder to pull her in close to his side and ruffle her hair affectionately. Yuzu squawked indignantly, trying to wriggle out of Ichigo's embrace as she shrieked and complained about her hair getting mussed up. Ichigo couldn't help but grin, remembering a time when the young girl used to openly display her delight at being pet, at receiving any sort of doting attention her perpetually temperamental older brother dished out. He guessed her priorities had changed somewhat, along with her developing body and expanding mind. His heart, however, swelled with a warming sense of pride when he noticed she still wore the little Strawberry hairpin he'd bought for her tenth birthday, the red clip taking purchase in her left pigtail. It would seem she hadn't grown up too much then – and Ichigo couldn't be happier.

Roughly twenty minutes of relative peace rolled by, during which Ichigo forced himself not to think about the glaring absence of a certain Sexta, instead concentrating on the temperate weather beating down on their shoulders and keeping a mindful eye on his offspring as she easily overpowered his loony sire, the wee madam now sat upon his back as she squealed and declared Isshin her "pretty bearded horsey~!"

Ichigo was left in kinks at the look on his old man's face as he was kicked animatedly in the ribs and his spiky, jet black locks – now sporting a dusting of silver at the sides that made him look 'ruggedly dashing' apparently – were yanked on as if they were the reins to a bridle. Yuzu, bless her kind heart, was doing her best to calm Nelliel down from hurting the man too gravely, though she herself was trying to quell her own mirthful ream of giggles at the sight. It wasn't until Karin, the aforementioned other sibling, ventured outside with the words, "Oi, goat-face! Phone call!", that Isshin finally escaped his torture, excusing himself as he made his way indoors.

Nelliel pouted at the loss of her self-proclaimed steed, but didn't have long to dwell on it as Yuzu stepped up to the plate, distracting the youngest Kurosaki with one of her newest toys – a stuffed, plushy unicorn.

"A fickle mind and short attention span," came a teasing, lilting voice from behind. "Jeez, Nel really is your daughter, huh?"

Ichigo glared, but there was no real malice behind it. "I didn't realise her paternity was in question," was the sarky reply.

Karin merely tched, settling for rolling her eyes rather than being drawn into a petulant row. Being the more authoritative and hardened of the two twin siblings, she and Ichigo had tended to butt heads a lot more often than not, especially when transitioning through the difficult teenage years. Because Nelliel had been but a little babe around then, Ichigo would oftentimes treat Yuzu and herself like daughters rather than sisters, and where Yuzu was fine with such a thing, Karin was not. She'd always been very independent, even from a young age, and as such didn't respond well to being mollycoddled or any of that kind of crap. Don't get her wrong, she loves her brother and sister – even their goofball father – unlike any other, but she couldn't abide feeling like her wings were being clipped before she'd even gotten the chance to take flight.

Settling her hands on the crest of her vastly swollen belly, she couldn't help but surmise that maybe that's how she got herself into her current predicament – though quickly shrugged it off as unimportant. What was, was, and there was no changing the past. She wasn't entirely sure that she actually would change anything now, even if given that chance. Again, unimportant.

Sighing, the older twin placed on hand on the small of her constantly aching back, and the other she used to grip the wooden handrail by the steps, attempting to lower herself to sit beside her brother. Ichigo was immediately on his feet, grasping her arm to gently guide her down. Predictably, Karin glowered.

"I'm pregnant, Ichigo, not a bloody invalid," she growled. "I don't need help to park my ass down!"

"Yeah, yeah," Ichigo dismissed, choosing not to comment on the fact that she was leaning rather heavily against the person she supposedly wanted no help from. "You're seven months pregnant, Karin. With twins. So quit your whining and lemme help."

Karin grumbled, but didn't protest further, allowing Ichigo to get her seated in the space beside him, one which was that much more crowded now that the raven haired twin was occupying it. Ichigo didn't complain though. Much like Yuzu, Karin had changed so much over the years – aside from the obvious, that is. Her own jet black hair had grown out, still as poker-straight as it ever was, only now long enough to reach midway down her back, sweeping bangs cut into place to give her once tomboyish looks a more feminine appeal. Her dark grey eyes were lined with black eyeliner and framed prettily with a light coating of mascara, though that was definitely her limit on the make-up front, the older twin drawing a deep and definite line at the use of blusher or lipstick. Yes she was more feminine than she had ever been, but she would never be 'girly'. Ichigo would be willing to bet that even being pregnant was pushing too much on that boundary as it was.

Dressed in a black maternity shirt with a white envelope and 'inbox 2' printed across the stomach, and loose fitting grey sweats, his younger sister was positively glowing. In spite of her frankly terrifying mood swings and a questionable palate that he dare say rivalled that of his high school friend Orihime Inoue, the orange haired male had the sneaking suspicion that Karin was rather enjoying the early stages of motherhood. He himself couldn't help but take a guilty pleasure in it also, having never had the chance to indulge in his own daughter's growth and development from within the womb.

"I just wish everyone would stop kicking up such a fuss every damn time I do something on my own," Karin huffed once they were settled, one hand supporting her weight behind her back as the other drew lazy patterns over the large swell of her abdomen. "I can't even go to the fucking bathroom without someone trying to follow me!"

"Karin-chan!" Yuzu protested from where she sat in the grass with Nelliel, her brows pulled together in a frustrated frown. "You shouldn't swear in front of the babies!"

Karin gave a soft growl, too low for Yuzu to hear, but not Ichigo. "They're not even born yet!"

"Think of the karma!" Yuzu chided, expertly dividing her attention between her stubborn sibling and her little niece.

Karin scoffed, muttering, "Karma can kiss my fat, preggers ass."

Ichigo chuckled at that. He was tempted to swat the raven haired girl on the back of the head for her pissy attitude, but quickly decided against it. He certainly didn't want to be caught on the receiving end of one of her tantrums, one that she would later blame on a surge of hormones just to get out of apologising for. Yeah, no thanks.

"So, where's the proud daddy-to-be?" he inquired as he leaned back on his own hands, tilting his head into the warming rays of the sun.

Karin mimicked his actions, sighing contentedly. "He's working. Pulling double shifts in fact, since I obviously can't work anymore."

Ichigo nodded his blatant approval. Tōshirō Hitsugaya was Karin's boyfriend of nearly four years now, the two having met back in college. Karin was eighteen, enrolling in her first year of a Sport and Exercise Science Degree, whereas Tōshirō was just finishing up his own Masters in Engineering. To say that Ichigo was shocked upon finding out that not only was the young man the same age as his sister, but that the white haired wonder had finished his course a whole year ahead of schedule, would be a grave understatement. The kid was surely a genius if ever there was one; a real boy prodigy. He still hadn't figured out what he wanted to do with his life, and so, seeing how Karin was on maternity leave from her job as Physical Education instructor at Karakura High, he'd taken on odd jobs here and there to support his vastly growing family. Even given his serious and often overtly mature disposition, Ichigo couldn't find much fault with the man. After all, here he was with a heavily pregnant girlfriend, about to embark into parenthood – something no amount of booksmarts could help him with – and he'd really stepped up to the responsibility. He was nothing if not honourable.

Yes, Ichigo mentally concluded. Karin and Tōshirō would make wonderful parents. Perhaps a bit rocky in the beginning, but honestly, who didn't cock up every once in a while? Now, if it were Jinta who'd gone and knocked up dear Yuzu… Well, let's just say the miserable sod would never have to worry about reproducing ever again.

Time began to filter by quite lazily, Ichigo soon forgetting he was ever angry as he sat and simply enjoyed the happy aura of his family. That all shattered, however, when Isshin suddenly stepped back onto the scene, and for once it had nothing to do with that gaudy, yellow Hawaiian shirt of his. The eldest Kurosaki's face was noticeably troubled as he popped his head out the back door, his eyes immediately picking Ichigo out from the herd.

"Ichigo, can I talk to you a moment?" he asked, his tone as serious as Ichigo had heard it all day. "Inside, if you don't mind," he added as he stepped back through the door.

Frowning, Ichigo rose to his feet, dusting off his pants as he went.

"Oooh~" Karin taunted from where she sat, giving him a sly smirk. "Someone's totally getting' busted for sticking their fingers in the birthday cake frosting!"

"Ichi-nii!" Yuzu piped up, her face scrunched up in motherly reprimand. "You better not have! I didn't slave away all day making the perfect cake for you to ruin it before Nelly even sees it!"

"That's okay!" Nelliel beamed from Yuzu's lap, tugging on the older woman's dress to regain her attention. "I'll eat it all anyways. Your cooking's the greatest ever – daddy's gross man fingers could never ruin it!"

Yuzu smiled down on her, gently petting her hair, leaving Ichigo to roll his eyes and storm off, leaving the trio of girls with a scathing; "I didn't even touch the damn thing!"

Attempting to slam the door behind him – a feat that didn't work particularly well when taking into consideration that it was a sliding door – Ichigo made his way through the kitchen, only just resisting the urge to plant his whole damn fist through the middle of said birthday cake, innocently sitting on the small island as he passed. God was it ever tempting, though.

Upon entering the living room, his inner musings ground to a halt when faced with a grave looking Isshin, a shocking contrast to the rowdy stallion from earlier. Frown etching further into his brow, Ichigo crossed his arms.

"Well? What's this all about, old man? In case you hadn't noticed, I have a daughter's birthday to celebrate."

Isshin scratched at his chin and sucked on his teeth. No point in beating around the bush.

"That was Rangiku-san from the hospital on the phone," he began, watching as his only son visibly tensed at his words. "They just admitted a patient beaten to within an inch of his life. He was dumped at the front doors, bleeding out and barely conscious. He was only able to mutter one word before he passed out… 'Ichigo'."

Ichigo blanched, swallowing thickly as he literally felt the blood draining from his face. "…A-And?"

Isshin drew in a deep breath, readying himself for whatever might come as he reiterated the nurse's words. "They have him in the ER right now, but it's touch-and-go. Ichigo, my boy…the man was described as around six-two, late twenties, having a tanned complexion and…bright blue hair."

Ichigo's heart instantly plummeted.

Ichigo had little doubt that he'd broken a good law or ten on his race to the hospital, his heart in constant turmoil and his breathing erratic at best. After promptly losing what he'd eaten for lunch that day in the depths of the kitchen sink, Isshin had told him that he would keep an eye on the girls, Nelliel especially, leaving Ichigo free to book it down town.

Having neither the patience nor the mental capacity to park his car properly, he simply abandoned the black 2004 Honda Civic Type R in the lot, caring not one fucking iota if the damn thing got towed and impounded.

Sprinting through the automatic doors, he narrowly missed a few nasty collisions with other patients and visitors, before skidding to a halt in front of the nurse his father had spoken to, a woman he'd known ever since her internship; one Rangiku Matsumoto.

"Whoa there, tiger!" Rangiku yelped, catching Ichigo by the shoulders before he collapsed in a tangled heap in front of her. The poor boy was clearly struggling to draw in a breath. "You nearly took out an old lady in a zimmer frame!"

"Grimm…Gr-Grimmjow…" Ichigo panted, clinging on to the front of her nurses' uniform – and for once not in the least bit concerned that her criminally gigantic bust was literally cushioned right under his fingertips. "Where is…where is he…?"

"Grimmjow?" Rangiku asked, her pouty lips pursing in confusion moments before her steel-blue shone with recognition. "Oh! You mean the John Doe? So that's his name… Huh. How fitting. An exotic name for such an exotic looking patient~"

If Ichigo wasn't so adverse to the idea, he'd have slapped the dim-witted strawberry blonde by now. "Focus, Rangiku!" he snapped, his ochre eyes flaring with panic. "Where is he? Is he alright? What happened? Can I see him?"

"Aa, chill out, Ichigo!" Rangiku replied, patting the manic boy on the shoulder in a placating manner. "If you don't start breathing soon, you'll end up occupying the bed right next to the blue haired wonder."

Ichigo glared, but tried to school his exerted panting all the same. "Rangiku…"

"Ehhh, no need to shoot the messenger," the busty woman pouted, draping an arm around Ichigo's shoulders as she led them down the corridor. "Your handsome man-friend is perfectly fine – he's stabilised and in recovery."

Ichigo scrubbed both hands over his face, breathing out a heavy sigh of relief. "Thank God…" he muttered quietly to himself, a warming sense of calm filling his veins and chasing away the cold sense of dread that had settled down around his heart. Fuck, he was getting too old for this shit. Shifting his gaze to the ditzy nurse, he asked, "What the hell happened to him?"

Rangiku shrugged, navigating them around a corner. "We honestly have no idea. He came in with multiple lacerations to the torso, a fractured left wrist, two broken ribs, heavy bruising to that beautiful face~" insert dramatic, dreamy sigh here, "and a pretty severe concussion."

"Shit," Ichigo mumbled, grimacing at each new piece of information. Sure, over the years they'd been together, Ichigo had had to tend to the odd, garish wound or two – Grimmjow collapsing through the front door of their family clinic when he was barely nineteen years of age being their first ever encounter – but it had never been this bad. Or at least, not all in one go. It had never been enough to land the older man in hospital, somewhere he made Ichigo swear he would never take him, no matter how bad he looked. Neither one of them wanted to contemplate what might happen to the older male should the cops ever go poking their nose in.

"We managed to stop the bleeding, luckily none of it was internal," Rangiku continued, slowing down as they neared their destination. "We've given him a blood transfusion, and he's now on an IV drip to replace any lost fluids, not to mention enough sedatives to take down a rampant rhino. He probably wont wake up for a few hours yet, but don't worry, since you're Isshin's boy I'll pull some strings, make sure you can stay until he revives himself." Giving Ichigo a saucy wink, she opened the door to the room they'd stopped in front of, standing aside to let him pass. "Go get 'im, tiger."

Nodding dumbly and uttering his gratitude, Ichigo entered the room, letting the door fall closed with a soft click behind him. Christ, he'd almost forgotten how much he truly hated hospitals until he finally took in his surroundings; white walls, white floor, white bed linens, the god-awful smell of disinfectant and utter cleanliness making his stomach lurch and his mouth feel like he was chewing on cotton wool. And then there was the incessant beeping of those infernal machines…the ones currently hooked up to and monitoring the progress of his blue haired love.

Steeling himself, Ichigo ventured deeper into the room, his teeth gritting at the infuriating squeak his shoes made on the spotless linoleum floor as he walked. His heart panged wretchedly in his chest, tears springing unbidden to his ochre eyes as his gaze settled on the practically comatose blunette.

Sinking into a horribly rigid chair conveniently placed by the bedside, Ichigo reached out with a trembling hand to his medically slumbering lover. Curling his fingers around the unresponsive ones of the blunette, he bit hard into his lip, his eyes tracing over every visible cut, lesion and darkened bruise not otherwise covered by the light bed sheet.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

"Damn it, Grimm…" he murmured, his heart choking up his throat as he tried desperately to keep his broken sobs at bay, a few wayward tears escaping undeterred from the corners of his eyes despite his efforts. Gripping the cool hand tighter, he rest his head in the crook of the man's elbow – the one minus a lengthy needle.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

"You'd better wake up soon, bastard," he told him, his eyes teary in spite of the dangerous tone.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

"Please…please wake up…"

Beep. Beep. Beep.

"…I love you, Grimmjow…"

Rangiku was right; Grimmjow didn't stir in the slightest until damn near midnight. Ichigo, who had been slipping in and out of fretful dozes for the past few hours due to a few false alarms, was instantly up and alert the very second Grimmjow's fingers twitched around his own, the man's face scrunching up in evident pain as he slowly, agonizingly, came to.

"Grimm?" Ichigo asked, his voice dripping with relief and enthusiasm. "Grimm, can you hear me? Are you alright? Do you need something? Anything?"

Grimmjow groaned, taking several long, torturous moments to chronicle his every ache and pain – and by fuck, were there a shit-tonne of those – before attempting to pry open his ridiculously heavy eyelids. His vision was bleary, not to mention vastly limited within the now darkened room, the only light source a small lamp on the bedside table – shit, was it even possible for your eyes to ache like this? – though he didn't exactly require sight to know who it was clutching so fervidly at his arm. Which also hurt like a bitch, just in case you're wondering.

Trying his damnedest to get some moisture going in his dryer-than-the-fucking-Savannah mouth, he gave speech a tentative first stab. "B-Berry…" Well, that was a fucking failure of epic proportions. His voice sounded like it'd been dragged across a cheese grater, and then shredded for good measure. Luckily for him though, Ichigo was already coming to his aid, a plastic cup of cold, fresh water presented to him after the gruelling task of getting him into a semi-upright position.

Avidly accepting the gift, Grimmjow downed the refreshment like it was the sweetest ambrosia, his parched throat practically singing out in praise. "Aa, fuck," he sighed, sinking back against the pillow Ichigo had busied himself propping up for him. "That's much better."

"Do you want more?" inquired Ichigo, already on his way to refill the cup from the cooler in the corner before he'd received the answer. Grimmjow gave a mental shrug – the real thing jarring too many injuries for comfort – waiting patiently for his pretty Berry to bring him his liquid aid.

Accepting the cup a second time, though making a conscious effort to drain the contents at a more languid pace, Grimmjow roved his eyes subtly over his young lover's form, trying to gauge just how much shit he was about to find himself in. Reading nothing more than palpable relief shining from those stunning ochre orbs, Grimmjow delicately reached out to him, brushing his fingertips across Ichigo's cheek.

Ichigo gave a tired exhale, leaning into the touch. "How do you feel?"

Grimmjow snorted, wincing when the action reminded him of several bruises and tender ribs. "Like shit," he answered honestly, grinning minutely at his lover's evident concern. "I'll live though, if that's what you're worried about."

"That's good," Ichigo hummed, gently grasping the blunette's wrist to place a quiet, amorous kiss against his palm. "I'm so happy you're safe…"

Grimmjow couldn't help but notice that the once tender pressure around his wrist was steadily increasing, causing him to damn near whimper in pain. "Uh, Ichi…shit. Ya wanna ease up a bit?"

Completely ignoring the frantic request, Ichigo clenched his jaw alongside his fingers. "You misunderstand me, Grimmjow," he began, his tone all of a sudden dark and menacing. "I'm only glad you're safe because it gives me the satisfaction of killing you with my own two hands!"

Grimmjow clutched his newly abused wrist to his chest as soon as Ichigo let up, the orange haired male rising up out of his chair so fast the thing clattered to the floor behind him. Hn. It would seem that Grimmjow's fantasies of a skimpily clad 'Berry-nurse' were little more than just that, the younger male positively growling in fury as he glared down on him.

"Damn. What the hell's your problem, Kurosaki?" Grimmjow groused, feeling incredibly vulnerable in the face of Ichigo's tangible anger. If he didn't play his cards right, the small space he occupied would end up becoming his deathbed.

Ichigo could feel his nostrils flaring, his balled up fists shaking at his sides. "What's my problem? Are you fucking kidding me?" Grimmjow had the good grace to at least look sheepish at his choice of words. "I was at my father's, celebrating Nelliel's birthday, waiting for hours for you to show up – only to get the fright of my fucking life when my dad tells me that you're here! In fucking hospital! Jesus Christ, Grimm! He told me you'd been beaten almost to death, that it was touch-and-go! I thought I was going to lose you, you prick!" Forcing himself to stop, to take a deep breath and calm his rattled nerves before he did something unbelievably stupid – like actually murdering the other – Ichigo averted his gaze off to the side, adrenaline flowing thick through his veins as tears pricked hotly in his ducts. "I thought I'd lost you this time…like, for good. It made me physically sick, Grimm…"

Grimmjow just let the other vent, not daring to interject or interrupt lest he lose a limb. Ichigo looked dog-tired, those beautiful eyes brimming with unshed tears as he righted his chair and sat down, still pointedly avoiding his gaze. He watched though, noticing how peachy fingers trembled slightly when they raked through luminous orange hair, how pearly teeth pulled and worried pink lips as the younger clearly strained to say whatever it was that was on his mind, how gorgeous features struggled to find an emotion to settle on; furious, anxious, upset…

And then he spoke.

"I can't do this."

Grimmjow blinked, sincerely hoping he'd heard that wrong – or was, at the very fucking least, taking it out of context.

Sitting up that little bit straighter, he glowered. "I'm sorry…what?"

Ichigo gave a solemn shake of the head, before finally flicking his gaze up to meet stormy cerulean. "I said I can't do this," he repeated, his tone firm in spite of his heart splintering into microscopic little pieces. "Shit, Grimm, I know we said we'd try a couple of months back, but I…I mean this, it's…fuck. I can't take it anymore. I can't just ignore the fact that one day your fucking 'job' will land you right back in here, and that next time you might not be so lucky. My heart can't stand much more of this; the worrying and fighting and turmoil… It's too much."

Feeling decidedly nauseas again, Ichigo rose on shaky legs, sheer determination alone keeping him from throwing himself at the blunette's mercy, from curling himself into those strong arms and begging Grimmjow to take all the heartache away. He had to see it through this time, he'd only end up regretting it at a later date if he didn't; of that he was certain. Giving Grimmjow's hand one last squeeze, tears now rolling uncaring down his cheeks, he locked his gaze resolutely to blazing, oceanic blue.

"I'm sorry, Grimm. I really, truly am."

'I love you' he just couldn't bring himself to say, the words catching painfully in his throat as he turned to leave, his heart breaking anew and with a certain, ice cold sense of finality.

"Ichigo!" Grimmjow hollered, pitching forward to seize the retreating figure by the back of his shirt. Cursing every deity under the sun when the sudden action jarred every single one of his wounds, nearly wrenching the IV needle from his arm in the process, he grit his teeth against the torrent of pain and physically hauled the orange haired male back to his side. "Hold the fuck up, Berry," he growled, pushing the hemming younger male back into his seat. "The hell, Ichigo? Ya think ya can just say your piece an' then leave? I don't fuckin' think so. It takes two people to end a relationship, an' I ain't goin' anywhere – especially not after what I did for you."

Ichigo sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose in irritation. He should've known better than to think he could end it as quick and as painless as possible. Honestly, didn't Grimmjow know that he was only trying to do what was best for him, what was best for the both of them? If he'd only let go and–

Whoa, hang on a sec…what did he just say?

Snapping his head up, Ichigo gave voice to his thoughts, "Wait, what do you mean by that?"

Grimmjow rolled his eyes. Oh yeah, now Ichigo was willing to listen, after he damn near gave himself a fucking hernia. Figures…

"If you'd given me even one second to explain before ya went an' flipped your fuckin' lid, I could'a saved us both the hassle of listenin' to that whole 'woe-is-me' spiel…" Grimmjow huffed, glaring heatedly at the younger as he sat back again, adequately convinced Ichigo would stick around to hear him out this time. One can only hope. "Didn't ya think it a lil' strange that I'm here in the first place? That after how many years workin' for that pompous prick with little more than a scratch here an' there, I suddenly end up clingin' to life by a mere thread?"

Ichigo frowned, not seeing the connection. "Well, yeah actually, I did. But I just assumed that something had gone seriously tits up and you'd been caught in the middle of it."

"Thanks for the bout of confidence there, Berry," Grimmjow sneered. "This," he gestured vaguely to his horridly battered person, "is considered as my one an' only warnin'."

"Warning? Of what, exactly?"

Grimmjow gave his trademark feral smirk at that, those cerulean pools teeming with newfound life. "I'm out, Ichi."

Ichigo blinked, not following in the slightest, his deadpan facial expression attesting as much. Grimmjow heaved a dejected sigh; so much for his gloriously triumphant news.

"Fuck me, ya really are dense sometimes," he muttered, still grinning manically as he yanked his pretty lover close. "I'm out, Berry – as in done, finished, currently unemployed…take your fuckin' pick."

Realisation dawned slowly on Ichigo, and he scarcely dared to believe his ears. "R-Really? You mean it?"

"Shit, this would be one helluv'n elaborate prank," Grimmjow drawled sarcastically, his heart fluttering warmly at the sight of Ichigo's evident joy. "I've been workin' on gettin' out for weeks, pretty much since we got back together. That bastard Aizen looked fuckin' ecstatic to see me go. He never did like me, always complainin' that I was too much of a loose canon or some shit. He told me to expect my 'honourable discharge' in the comin' weeks. I swear to the Almighty above I had no fuckin' clue he would pick today, Ichi – I wouldn't put it past the pretentious asshole to do it on purpose, probably somehow knowin' it was Nelly's birthday."

"So wait…your boss did this to you?"

"Tch, as if that dick would ever dirty his hands doin' his own grunt work. Naw, he sent his ever faithful lapdogs to bloody me up – fuckin' bastards enjoyed every single second of it, too, practically laughin' their asses off as I had to sit there an' take it. In a way I was lucky, that fucker Tosen wanted to hack my whole fuckin' arm off!"

Ichigo's stomach churned at the mere thought. "Christ, Grimm. They could've killed you…"

Grimmjow shook his head. "This ain't nothin' but a small taster of what's to come, instillin' my loyalty as it were, should I ever feel the need to play nark on their little 'shenanigans'. Basically, this is just a friendly warnin', declarin'; squeal, an' next time we will finish what we started."

Ichigo repressed a shudder, sitting up beside Grimmjow to gently wrap his arms around his neck, mindful not to put too much pressure on the injured man. A wide smile was curling his lips, the potent elation stretching all the way to his eyes.

"I can't believe it," he breathed, itching something fierce to just launch himself at the blunette. "I can't believe you went through all this just for me."

"And Nel," Grimmjow corrected, winding his arms around Ichigo's waist.

Ichigo's smile stretched even wider as he lowered his forehead to rest against his lover's, his whole being flooding with giddy warmth. "Thank you, Grimmjow. I don't know how I'll ever be able to pay you back for what you've done, but know that you have my eternal gratitude."

Grimmjow hummed, tilting his head just enough to rub his nose affectionately against the younger's. "Y'know, a kiss would be a rather nice start…"

Ichigo couldn't help but chuckle. "You got it."

Forgetting themselves entirely, both men gladly surged into the embrace, a willing and eager meeting of mouths sparking jolts of excited electricity through both their veins – until Grimmjow suddenly groaned, his face pinching in pain as a few different sore spots were rattled.

Ichigo immediately drew back, his eyes flashing with concern. "Shit, sorry! Did I hurt you?"

"A little," Grimmjow admitted, rubbing gingerly at his jaw before promptly shrugging his shoulders. "Y'know what? Fuck it. I'll just load up on meds later. C'mere, kitten."

Ichigo allowed himself to be manhandled into another searing kiss, pouring all of the burning happiness and undying love he had stored up inside into the fervent contact, sighing pleasantly through his nose as strong hands held him close, his love wordlessly returned with every ounce of strength the blunette possessed. Finally, finally, he wouldn't have to fret and worry himself stupid over Grimmjow's safety. No more restless nights wondering if tonight was the night he wouldn't come home. No more arguing over dirty money begot off of the blood of others. No more tears shed for a man he wanted nothing more to do with, and yet never had the strength to simply turn his back on. It was all over. The three of them could start again, afresh and revived, like the almighty phoenix – rising from the ashes of the past and blazing into a better, brighter future.

As Ichigo threw himself, body, heart, and soul, into Grimmjow's passion laden embrace, he could only hope and pray that it was true.

One Year Later

Grimmjow couldn't help but smirk as he let himself into his home – their home – late one Friday evening. He was absolutely beat, his feet, back and neck killing him, his arms and face sporting flecks of grime and dirt after a gruelling day at the building site he was currently assigned. It had taken a few months to actually find any work, and he'd had to fudge a few key details on his application – 'good with firearms, large and small' and 'surprisingly adept with lengths of piano wire' apparently not such glowing qualities when looking for honest work – but he'd persevered, and eventually landed himself a fair enough gig as a construction worker. The work was tiresome, the hours long, and the pay nowhere even close to what he used to make for a single hit, but at least it was something. And bonus, he sometimes got to blow shit up.

Kicking his heavy, mud-caked boots off at the door, the grinning blunette made his way into the living room where he could hear the TV playing an old rerun of some sitcom he'd never bothered to watch. Making sure his surprise was concealed within the confines of his black leather bomber jacket, he cracked open the door and peered inside, his insides bunching in the best kind of way at his findings. Nelliel was curled up on the plush, faux-fur rug in front of the fireplace, coloured pencils and sheets of paper – some still pristine white, and others depicting the young girl's own interpretation of 'art' – littered all around her as she slept soundly. And then there was Ichigo, who was sprawled out on his front on the leather couch, his face buried in the armrest and arms curled up underneath him as he dozed away, a small well of drool at the corner of his mouth making the picture almost too cute for words.

Scoffing at the fact that his precautions were now deemed unnecessary, Grimmjow ambled in, carefully retracting the furry surprise from the depths of his jacket as he hunkered down in front of his clearly worn out daughter. Setting the little ball of quivering fuzz down by the girl's face, he went and sat down on the floor by his Berry's head, flicking said male repeatedly between orange tinted brows until they scrunched up and he groaned in frustration.

"Dammit…" came the sleep-riddled rebuke, a peach hued hand attempting to swat away the provoking annoyance. Irritably slitting his eyes open, the first sight Ichigo witnessed was a major close-up of Grimmjow's smirking face.

"Wakey, wakey, sunshine," Grimmjow purred as Ichigo propped himself up on his forearms, rubbing groggily at his eyes with the heel of his hand.

"Mm, hey Grimm," he mumbled, a wide-jawed yawn making his eyes tear up. "Welcome home."

Grimmjow grinned at the adorable sight, leaning up to kiss his rousing lover. "Ta, babe."

As this was going on, the timid creature abandoned to its own devices mewed uncertainly, frightened that its carer had left it all alone to fend for itself. The soft, nervous sound caught Ichigo's attention instantly, the orange haired male quickly locating the source. Frowning, he rubbed at his eyes again, just in case he was seeing things…

…Nope. Definitely still there.

"Grimm…?" Ichigo began, his ochre orbs fixated on the tiny mass of static white fur. "What the hell is that?"

Grimmjow clicked his tongue. "Ya fuckin' blind? Or just stupid? It's a kitten, obviously."

Ichigo scowled at that. "Yes, thank you, I can see that much. I meant what is it doing here?"

"Shhh!" Grimmjow suddenly hushed him, watching animatedly as the kitten sought out the nearest heat source; aka the slumbering Nelliel.

Ichigo rolled his eyes at the ignorance, but smiled nonetheless at the excited gleam to his lover's captivating aquamarine pools, resting his cheek on the blunette's shoulder and draping an arm across his muscular chest as he joined him in observing the spectacle.

Mewing cutely to try and gain the attention of the human, the kitten crawled ever closer to the girl's face. When sound alone didn't invoke a reaction, the tiny creature intermixed vocals with a velvety soft paw to the human's nose, rubbing it's petite form against a warm cheek as it moved.

Grimmjow, never once breaking his gaze from the proceedings, reached up to blindly interlace his fingers with Ichigo's, giving his own version of a rumbling purr when his pretty Berry kissed amorously at his neck. Excitement welled up in his chest when Nelliel slowly began to stir, the downy soft fur of the kitten's pelt clearly tickling her face.

Wheaten eyes slowly blinked open, going cross-eyed as she tried to focus on the shining, crystal blue eyes staring straight back at her. Another timid mew, coupled with an eager bat to the face, had Nelliel quickly putting two and two together, her jubilant giggles filling the room as she sat up and gathered the little kitten carefully into her arms.

It took several minutes of cooing and general, girlish sounds of delight before Nelliel eventually tore her gaze away from the happily purring animal, her beaming grin so wide it threatened to split her face in half.

"Is the kitty mine?" she asked, her tone brimming with hope.

Ichigo sucked on his teeth, pretending to mull the question over. "Hn, I dunno… Looking after a pet is an awful big responsibility. What do you think, Grimm?"

"Ya got a point there, Ichi," Grimmjow smirked, playing his part flawlessly. Nelliel gasped, snuggling the kitten protectively against her chest, her eyes wide and pleading. Grimmjow chuckled. "Then again, she is ten years old today – that's double digits."

Ichigo hummed, nodding in concurrence. "Ten is pretty mature, I guess. Maybe she is ready…?"

"I am!" Nelliel cried, nodding her head frantically up and down, as if the intensity of her actions might sway her parents' decision. "I promise I'll take good care of him! I'll feed him an' pet him an' play with him every day! Honest!"

"'Her'", Grimmjow amended with a smile. "It's a girl."

"Please let me keep her," Nelliel begged, scratching beneath the kitten's chin and eliciting an even louder purr. "Oh, pleeeeeease~! I love her already~!"

Swatting at Grimmjow's chest, Ichigo sighed, his willpower against 'The Look' crumbling faster than a cheap deck of cards. "Put the poor girl out of her misery."

Smirking wildly, Grimmjow inclined his head at the simpering child. "Alright, Apple, ya can keep the beast. Consider her my apology for missin' out on your big day last year."

Nelliel gave a shriek of pure delight, mindful of the little animal nestled in her arms as she scampered over to her parents. "Thank you so much! I swear I'll love her forever!"

Giving a hearty chuckle at the childish claim, Grimmjow gathered his daughter into his lap, pressing a doting kiss to her temple. "Happy birthday, kiddo."

Smiling fondly at the picture, Ichigo used his free hand to reach across Grimmjow's right shoulder, petting his fingers lovingly through Nelliel's silky green tresses. "So, have you thought of what you might like to call your new pet?"

"I like Shirayuki," Nelliel informed them, nuzzling her face against the kitten's. "It's pretty, just like her."

Both males gave a nod of approval, gazing down on their beloved as she cuddled and fussed over the snowy animal. Ichigo, sensing the perfect opportunity whilst Nelliel was otherwise engaged, fisted a hand in Grimmjow's electric teal mane, tugging his head back so that he had ample access to those rough lips. Grinning when petal soft lips enclosed over his own, Grimmjow happily returned the heated, sinful contact, his tongue plundering the sweet cavern of his lover's mouth with ample vigour and a frankly soul-sucking passion.

Retreating just enough to formulate coherent words, Ichigo smiled down through hooded eyes at his one and only love. "I love you, Grimmjow Jeagerjaques."

Grimmjow returned the look tenfold, his lips quirking up into possibly the most genuine, ardent laced smile to ever grace his face. Oh yes, this is most definitely where he belonged; right here, with his fiery lover, their beautiful daughter, and now little Shirayuki.

Pecking at the tempting lips whispering so very sensually over his own, whilst simultaneously folding his left arm tighter around Nelliel, Grimmjow gave his reply, his husky baritone holding nothing but a resolute promise, a wholly eternal vow;

"And I love you, my delectable lil' Strawberry."

A/N: I did it... I finished a story... Yeah, okay, so it was short - by which I mean chapter length, not necessarily wordcount length... But I did it~! Oooh, I feel all tingly an' accomplished ^^ *happy, rumbly purrrrr*


N'awwwh. Who doesn't love a sappy, mushy, feel-good-inc endin'~? ... You don't? Oh. My apologies *humble bow* Fer those of yah who do love such an endin' though, please do enjoy what I managed ta haphazardly hash out fer yahs (: I had a lot of fun with this chapter - havin' not put any forethought into the additional characters backgrounds whatsoever, it turned out immensely fun ta just 'wing it'! I mean, Karin's pregnant? What tha chuff! Tha' just damn well cropped up out'a nowhere! But again, uber fun~ ^^ Yuzu an' Karin look so pretty in mah head, all grown up an' what not - I hope yah'll who read this final instalment got a pretty picture too.

Eep. So, yeah... Tha's it folks! Fer this one, at any rate. I really hope any an' all of yah who read/reviewed/alerted were happy with the - let's be honest - damnably long ride, an' enjoyed the final conclusion as much as tha rest (: I actually toyed with the idea of havin' Grimm-kitten *cough*killedoff*coughcoughcough*, an' then was gonna let Tosen lop off his arm... but I honestly couldn't stomach ta do either in tha end. Am so weak fer givin' Grimm-yums what he wants - which we all know is our pretty Ichi-Berry *purr*

Again, please do read an' enjoy at yer own peril mah sweets, an' thanks so much fer takin' tha time ta do so~ Big, wet, Nelly-esque kissies to yah all! *Mmmmmmwah* Honestly can't express mah gratitude enough ^^

Ciao fer now