Ichigo slid into his seat with a soft sigh. He was the last one to enter Biology class, and twenty minutes late at that. Thankfully he hadn't been reprimanded, save for a nod from the obviously distracted sensei; too busy dishing out hibiscus flowers to whoever was on laboratory assistant duty. Apparently they were dissecting flowers today to study the reproductive system of plants.

He hadn't arrived late to school. Quite the opposite, in fact; Ichigo had come to school at exactly seven forty-five in the morning, fifteen minutes early for daily assembly. He hadn't managed to attend that, much to Grimmjow's disappointment. Listening to the principal's steady droning wasn't as exciting without the chance to do some Ichigo-watching. Ichigo had been detained elsewhere, far from the assembly grounds in front of Block A and away from teachers.

Amagawa had sent three of his lackeys to corner the orange haired teen when he exited the library and brought him to the deserted courtyard between Block D and E. There hadn't been much talking, really, just a couple of exchanged glares and a lot of unasked questions on Ichigo's part as the thugs started advancing on him. They'd been ordered to beat Ichigo up in front of Amagawa, giving him minor – but still painful – injuries everywhere else on his body except his face and hands, because they would show, and teachers would come around asking questions no one wanted to answer. No one involved, that is.

The bald gang leader knew that Ichigo would rather swallow wet cement than go running to a teacher for help.

He gave the younger teen a sound kick in the stomach, satisfied by the pained grunt Ichigo released as he curled up involuntarily on the grass, vision getting more blurry by the second. Another kick lashed out at the teen's back, hurting his already sore spot a second time. Ichigo let loose a cry of agony. The thugs hurriedly looked around, getting spooked by the possibility of teachers or other students spotting them.

"Let's get going." One of the thugs suggested nervously, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his modified school jacket. "What if Byakuya-sensei comes? Heard he's on patrol duty today."

Ichigo coughed a little blood out of his mouth; he'd hit the ground face down and bit a hefty chunk of the inside of his left cheek. Everywhere on his body hurt like a bitch. It felt like his old wounds were reopened.

Amagawa sneered as he squatted on the damp soil beside Ichigo. He grasped Ichigo by the chin, blunt, grimy fingernails digging into the teen's skin.

"Listen up, Orange." He spat on the grass near Ichigo's face. It irked him to see his spittle miss its shot. "Don't think we'll let you off so easily. Just because Jeagerjacques is taking your side, doesn't mean your ass is covered for the rest of your time here. And guess what?"

Ichigo gritted his teeth and glared at the ugly bald thug with a vengeance. He hated this guy's guts.

"We're gonna play with you every chance we get." Amagawa ignored Ichigo's glare of rage. "Cry for help, why don't you? Maybe Jeagerjacques will come save your pansy ass again."

With that, Amagawa stood up and brushed some dirt off his jacket sleeves. He beckoned to his loyal cronies, who followed after him like a bunch of loser puppies. Ichigo spent all of five minutes keeping still on the damp grass, breathing deep breaths as slowly as he could. It was taking all of his energy not to move. He knew if he so much as pressed a sore spot on his arm, he'd feel a spike of pain instantly envelop his senses.

Still, he had to move sometime. And sometime soon, if he didn't want to get caught by the school's gardener or worse, Byakuya-sensei. Ichigo had managed to roll to his knees and get up in an awkward standing position before staggering against a pillar after barely three steps. His head had swum with the force of having taken a few beatings, then left upside down.

No matter what, he was not going to call for help. Not even from any of his friends; Ishida would definitely tell someone, like a teacher, and Chad would give him worried looks and stick to him like glue for the rest of the week. Of course, Ichigo knew it was all for his benefit, having friends who obviously cared about his wellbeing, but he didn't want any special treatment. What he had with Amagawa was his to deal with. There wouldn't be anyone else standing in his way, protecting him, when his wounds healed well enough for him to throw a few punches and come out the winner. Ichigo vowed that the bald thug would be dead the next time he caught him alone; poor sucker couldn't even fight without any of his cronies there to egg him on.

Back to Biology.

Ichigo winced as he shifted in his seat to shrug off his backpack strap resting on his right shoulder. One of Amagawa's thugs had given him a punch that had a brutal impact so hard; the hypothetical idea could be used to cut diamonds.

In short, first his back hurt like a bitch. Now his right shoulder hurt like a bigger bitch. As big as most bitches got, anyway.

Great, now his mind was coming up with metaphors so lame they were beginning to warp a whole corner of his abused brain. Ichigo took a deep breath and tried rolling his shoulders experimentally. He wished he hadn't. Letting out a groan of pure agony, the teen practically crumpled over his wood desk like a dying beetle. As far as most dying beetles crumpled, anyway. Ichigo groaned a second time, this time in agony over the fact that his brain was intent on coming up with the weirdest comparisons to his painful plight.

It had to be the pain. Either that, or the time he'd spent with Grimmjow was making his brain melt continuously. Like a piece of spongy pulp rolling around in the cavity of his head, like a soggy mush.

Wonderful.

Ichigo tried to clear his mind so he would be free of strangely irritating contemplations. Stupid metaphors that did nothing but distract his mind from the pain practically radiating off his body, screaming bloody murder for some medical attention – silently.

Over at the back of the lab, Grimmjow sat wedged between Yammy and Nnoitra, with Stark inherently shielding him from view of the teacher, who was still yammering away up front about some strangely missing apparatus. Cerulean eyes watched Ichigo's every move, narrowing in suspicion when the orange haired teenager stiffened before slumping forward onto his desk like he'd been recently whacked between the shoulder blades. Grimmjow knew the feeling, having been through a hundred and one fights with thugs in the vicinity.

In all honesty, Grimmjow wasn't sure when his heart began beating to the rhythm of two words, Kurosaki Ichigo. But when he'd finally realized he was harboring an arcane crush for the other boy, he'd dug himself in deep and started stalking him – literally. Though not in a creepy way, or so he liked to console himself. Still, realizing you were stalking someone was a signal that you were still a couple more blocks from going round the bend.

"Dude." Stark waved a hand before Grimmjow's face. "I'm ordering pizza for lunch. I know a guy who knows a guy who knows this guy, who said he can deliver through the hole in the fence behind the old gym on Block E. Sound cool?"

Grimmjow nodded absently, swatting Stark's hand from his line of Ichigo-vision. "Anything for you, bro."

"I also think you've got the gayest hair in history. It beats Szayel's pink 'do hands down."

"Uh huh." Grimmjow focused on Ichigo, who was now punching the bottom of his desk gently, as if he was cursing inwardly about his hatred for the world, or probably just Biology class. "True that."

Yammy exchanged a long look with Stark and Nnoitra.

"Oh yeah, and aside from that, I slept with your mom last night, and she says she wants me to marry her so we can live happily ever after in my apartment, where I rule on my Throne of Sex." Stark watched Grimmjow carefully.

On a normal day, Grimmjow would have leaned over and smacked him upside the head, but today was definitely not going as normally as Stark hoped.

"Dude." Nnoitra made a face. "Give the guy a break."

Yammy chuckled and popped a stick of gum into his mouth. "Seems to me he's already broken."

Nnoitra chuckled, while Stark gave Yammy a mock glare for the hundred percent lameness of his joke.

"Grimmy darlin'." Szayel leaned over from where he sat nestled close to Nnoitra's side. "I could suck you dry in the girl's locker room in Block B if you like."

Nnoitra bristled while Stark clapped both hands over his face, a clear show of disgust and exasperation.

"Dude, seriously?" Yammy looked like he'd just swallowed his gum, which wasn't much of a surprise.

"Did you swallow your gum?" Grimmjow surprised them as he rubbed a hand over Yammy's vast back. "See if you can spit it out."

Yammy spat obediently onto a vivid pink handkerchief Szayel duly handed him.

"Man." Stark shook his head while the rest burst out into laughter. "How long were you gonna keep that up, Grimmjow? Anyway, welcome back to good old Earth and Biology class."

"Yeah." Grimmjow waved a hand nonchalantly. "Hey, you guys know anyone who hangs with that Kurosaki kid before school?"

"Not really." Nnoitra shrugged. "That pansy ass kid with glasses, maybe?"

"Who else?" Grimmjow kept his blue eyes trained on Ichigo's fragile body, noting the obvious signs of fatigue virtually glowing off the boy.

Sparing Ichigo a glance, Stark turned back and leaned in closer to his lab mates. "I saw him head off with a couple guys from 3-G before assembly. Didn't see him around during the morning's speeches so I figured he skipped out."

Class 3-G was famous for their thugs, all under the rule of Amagawa's thumb. Things suddenly clicked into place and Grimmjow gave a low growl.

"What?" Nnoitra narrowed his eyes into slits as he watched his blue haired friend. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"Regardless of your high upstanding delusion that your brain cells are better coordinated than mine, do not try to lump me in with you." Grimmjow smoothly replied, flicking a strand of Nnoitra's flyaway hair off the shoulder of his padded school jacket.

"Burn." Stark chuckled as Nnoitra aimed a not-too-hard-but-hardly-gentle punch for Grimmjow's shoulder. "And you wanted to give this guy a break? Shows how much pity he has for you."

Nnoitra rolled his eyes. "Can it, Coyote. I have a kind heart that bleeds."

"Is that by any way related to the hypothesis that your cock is always limp due to chronic masturbation?" Stark shot back, sending Szayel and Yammy into peals of laughter, adding to the chaos in the laboratory.

"Bloody hell." Nnoitra all but wailed. "Give me a goddamn break."

Szayel settled for rubbing his back and nuzzling his cheek with his nose, reassuring his boyfriend with the promise of a very good surprise during lunch at Block D's deserted swimming pool.

Meanwhile, Grimmjow was already plotting things as he pieced ideas into place – sort of like a patchwork quilt in the making process. He sighed, rubbing a hand over his face tiredly. Silly metaphors were clogging his mind flow. So not the time to be thinking about unnecessary things.

"You guys remember the day Amagawa messed with Kurosaki?" He asked.

"Oh come on. That kid again?" Yammy shook his head.

"Dude, you have like, an unhealthy obsession." Nnoitra observed.

"You mean, tried to mess with him. You saved his ass, bro." Stark reminded him.

Grimmjow smiled. These were his friends. They would be right there to support him and stand beside him and stick with him no matter what stupid decision he planned to make. That was the unspoken pact they shared with each other. It was the moment of glorified truth that Grimmjow felt warmth seep into his chest at the way his friends reciprocated, however unique their methods of response to his single question.

"Are you thinking of avenging him?" Szayel spoke what was on his mind.

His words were like little fiery bombs landing on Grimmjow's skin, burning him with the harsh truth.

"Because if you are, Grimmjow, I'm not sure how I feel about it. You know how I get when it comes to fighting, especially fighting kids in school."

Szayel's stern amber-eyed gaze softened a great deal as he maintained eye contact with Grimmjow.

"And know that whatever wacky idea you come up with, I'm here. But don't say I didn't warn you. Teachers are always around. If there's something up Kurosaki-kun's ass, he should be able to deal with it on his own. Whatever is his problem, remains his problem. It's best not to interfere."

"Are you kidding?" Stark leaned over to tousle Szayel's neatly combed hair. "We've already interfered, Pink."

Nnoitra swatted his hand away. "Dude, hands off the merchandise."

Grimmjow laughed. "You guys are incredible, you know that?"

"Did you just figure that out?" Yammy quipped as he popped two new sticks of gum into his mouth.

"We're going to keep Amagawa away from Ichigo." Grimmjow said firmly.

For the second time that day, Yammy accidentally swallowed his gum. Grimmjow tossed him a bottle of water to stem his coughing.

Nnoitra gaped. "Whoa, slow down tiger. Do we look like bodyguards to you?"

Stark was leaning his chin on his hands now, knuckles facing Grimmjow directly. The blue haired teen could see the Roman numerals tattooed on the calloused skin of his fingers, just below his knuckles.

"Ichigo? Not Kurosaki, anymore?" Stark frowned. "Grimmjow, I know you have this huge crush on the kid, but don't you think this is getting a little . . . out of hand?"

Growing red in the face, Grimmjow all but spluttered. "I – It's not getting out of hand!"

"My guess, what you meant to say is: I don't have a crush on him!" Nnoitra responded sarcastically. "Admit it already. We know you're serious about that kid. The sooner you get over it, the better."

Common sense told Grimmjow to shut up before he said things he'd normally rather not say. Instead, he bunched his hands up inside his school jacket and inhaled a much needed breath of oxygen, deeply.

"Look," Stark said, holding both hands up in a gesture of surrender. Ever the pacifist. "Let's just think things through. You don't want to do something rash and suffer the consequences, right?"

Yammy crushed the empty bottle of water into a mashed heap before tossing it into the trashcan. "Grimm, I hate to be a party pooper, but there are things I wouldn't think of doing while sober. Like stepping into a fight between a random kid and Amagawa. Bald guy might be weak as hell on his own, but he sure as heck has a lot of tough goons on his side. And I don't think I wanna find out what happens when they're all angry."

Hearing this little speech about sensibility from Yammy sparked a flame of anger in Grimmjow.

"If you guys don't wanna help me out, it's cool. I can do this on my own."

This caused a general hubbub from Szayel, Stark and Yammy.

"Hold up." Nnoitra slammed a hand on the table. "Everyone shut the hell up."

When everyone at their lab table was quiet, Nnoitra sighed deeply and slapped Grimmjow on the shoulder before giving him a hard squeeze.

"Bro, I'm here for you. Do whatever it takes. I'll help you get your man."

Grimmjow stared at him for the stretch of a full minute before bursting into laughter. The others followed suit.

"What'd I say?" Nnoitra was shrugging helplessly at Szayel, who was busting a gut.

Grimmjow took a minute to revel in the moment. He really did have amazing friends.

x

Ichigo stepped out of gym feeling like a ton of bricks had just landed on his head. He really shouldn't have pressured himself to run the fifty rounds on the basketball court, but he didn't want to look like a total wuss in front of everyone else. Besides, Coach Kensei was a demon when it came to training. They had a tournament in eight weeks, and Ichigo still hadn't made the tryouts. And now he had a headache to contend with, accompanied by the screaming cacophony of his bruised and beaten muscles.

"You doing okay?"

Someone laid a hand gently on his shoulder. For a kid who'd been trying to avoid getting into physical contact with anyone during school hours, Ichigo handled the touch with a light jump before careening into a wall. Thankfully the lack of hard surface – there was a corkboard and several pinned notices stuck to the horridious blue and gray painted wall – cushioned his would-be bruise.

Slowly pushing away from the corkboard, Ichigo looked up with a considerable amount of surprise. Coyote Stark was the center on the basketball team, lived and breathed basketball, Student Council President's assistant and all round nice guy. But one thing Stark never did was talk to Ichigo like he was a friend. In fact, they'd never even gotten past a 'hey' or a 'hi' at all. And that was mostly due to the sheer miracle where they'd shared two minutes of their life together on the basketball court during tryouts exactly one year and three months ago.

"I'm fine." Ichigo winced as his words came out a little more defensive than he'd meant them to sound.

Stark cocked an eyebrow and nodded slowly. "Okay. Just wanted to see if you felt like hanging out with us for lunch today."

In all five years of sharing the same school grounds together, Ichigo had never – ever – been asked to join the popular guy gang for lunch break. Before this, he'd never even given a damn.

"Sure." Ichigo felt like someone else was speaking through his mouth. "That'd be cool."

Stark smiled. He looked gorgeous as usual. Ichigo cursed his radar for picking up details like that. A couple girls walking by giggled and turned their gazes automatically on Stark, which wasn't surprising, since he was taller than Ichigo and way hotter. Maybe being on the basketball team was a plus, too. Ichigo sighed inwardly as he wondered why he even bothered worrying whether girls would fall for him anymore. Kissing Grimmjow had its side effects.

"Like permanent brain damage." Ichigo muttered low under his breath.

Stark raised both eyebrows. "Did you say something?"

Feeling his face flame, Ichigo stammered. "Nah, nothing. Where'd you say you guys were eating again?"

"Rooftop, Block C. No one goes there." Stark winked.

Ichigo knew why. There were rumors about a girl committing suicide in the school's giant water tank situated on the rooftop above Block C, the building where most kids carried out laboratory experiments and group studies. It was also the library block.

"Not afraid of the rumors, are you?" Stark smiled at him, ruffling Ichigo's hair affectionately.

"Uh." Ichigo tried giving a nonchalant shrug, but his shoulders still hurt. "Ow."

Concerned gray eyes locked his in a firm gaze. "Still hurting from that other day, huh?"

"No, I got into another fight this morning." Ichigo mumbled, trying to pull away.

A thought hit him. Stark inviting him to lunch definitely had to be Grimmjow's idea. The time they'd spent together during Art class; Ichigo still wasn't ready to face that. He wasn't even ready to acknowledge how he felt about boys. He'd already agreed to join them, though. Ichigo worried about his lack of ability to say no when necessary.

Stark gave him a reassuring smile, making Ichigo wonder if his face really was too easy to read.

"Don't worry. We've got you covered, bro." A larger, more tanned hand gripped his right one in a firm handshake. "Let's head to lunch, okay?"

x

Keigo nudged Ishida, who was watching a short movie clip on Chad's phone. They were headed to the cafeteria, about to join the long lunch line. Grimmjow was swaggering out of the place, his usual friends tagging along behind him. It wasn't that surprising. What caught Keigo's attention was a certain orange haired teen in their midst, talking and laughing about something only the popular kids got to talk about.

"Weird and weirder." Keigo muttered.

Ishida gave him a one-shoulder shrug. "It's not that strange, really. If you read between the lines, you'll find out the actual truth in no time. Hardly hidden, to be honest."

"Please just speak simplified Japanese." Keigo pleaded.

Chad chuckled from somewhere behind them. "Jeagerjacques and Ichigo are going out."

Beside Chad, Tatsuki spat out a mouthful of honey green tea. "What?"

Ishida nodded and shuffled ahead of them in the line. "You should read the school papers more often."

x

"Would you please stop calling every girl you meet Miss Sexylegs?" Nnoitra shook his head at Yammy.

"Says the guy who calls his boyfriend Honeybunny." Yammy retorted before stuffing his mouth with a six-slice ham sandwich. "There's no saving you."

While Nnoitra spluttered and Szayel laughed along, Stark and Grimmjow flanked Ichigo, who fidgeted uncomfortably between the two members of the basketball team. The rooftop was fairly deserted and quiet, save for the low hum of the water tank in the locked shed and their laughter.

"Don't like your sandwich?" Grimmjow leaned over and placed a chilled can of passion fruit juice between Ichigo's bent knees. "Should've gotten you a peach bun."

"It's fine." Ichigo managed, nibbling on the edge of his sandwich.

Yeah, right. He wasn't even sure what he was eating. It could be ham, or it could be chicken floss, or even coconut egg jam. Just being next to Grimmjow was putting gauze over his senses.

"Everything okay?" Grimmjow asked, his voice low enough for Ichigo to hear. "How are you holding up?"

"Okay." Ichigo mumbled back, tearing off tiny bits of his sandwich bread. "Everything's cool."

"Sure about that?" Grimmjow pressed.

"Mmm."

He was aware of Grimmjow talking some more, and Stark joining in, but he wasn't sure what they were saying. Threads of worry and thoughts that burned their way through his head distracted his attention.

Grimmjow's hand on his cheek, tilting his face toward his brought Ichigo out of his semi-trance. "Can I kiss you?"

Ichigo felt his face flame as his fingers continued shredding what was left of his sandwich. "Um. It's probably not a good idea."

"No?" Grimmjow's blue eyes were twinkling, instead of looking disappointed. It was obvious he was just teasing. "But you told me I could."

Stark chuckled from beside Ichigo. "You guys need a room?"

"Don't worry, we won't break out the PG stuff so soon." Grimmjow leaned down to brush his lips over Ichigo's in a chaste, fleeting kiss. "Why are you so cute?"

"Who, me?" Stark shrugged. "Natural talent, I guess. Just like how I breeze through basketball."

"Like a pro?" Yammy laughed from where he leaned against the wall next to Szayel. "Or like a lump?"

"A professional lump." Nnoitra quipped, and duly dodged a flying wad of sandwich wrapper from Stark.

Ichigo felt his cheeks get warmer by the second. Grimmjow slung an arm around his shoulders, gently bringing him closer to his side. A gentle kiss to his temple made Ichigo's ears turn pink.

"D-Don't think I'm letting you get away with this." He told Grimmjow in a low voice.

"I'm not. But you're letting me hold you without a fuss, so I figure this much is okay." Grimmjow turned his brilliant, gorgeous gaze back to Ichigo. "I'm serious about this. About us."

Fighting down his blush, Ichigo felt like a shooting target. "Yeah, I'll give us a rate. A+ social value for you, total D- for me."

"Why worry about what other people think?" Grimmjow blinked down at Ichigo, looking truly confused.

It was like he had no idea about the endless teasing Ichigo knew was only a matter of time before it all erupted, like a furious volcano. Oh wait, Ichigo told himself. Of course Grimmjow wouldn't get it. He'd probably never been anything but the center of attention – in a good way, obviously – in school. Ichigo heaved a sigh.

"You wouldn't understand."

"Try me." Grimmjow replied.

His tone was gentle, open, inviting. Ichigo wasn't about to fall into that trap again. He shook his head and ran a hand through his bright hair.

"No one's going to tease you. I'm not going to let them." Grimmjow said softly, carding his fingers through orange strands. "Since when did you become so pessimistic?"

"Since I got beaten up by Amagawa." Ichigo muttered, avoiding his blue-eyed gaze. "God, why does this feel so surreal?"

"It's probably cause you're just trying to imagine the unimaginable." A shoulder nudged Ichigo's right one, and there's a pained grunt from the orange haired teen.

"Fuck." Ichigo pushes away from Grimmjow, dreading the anticipated onslaught of questions. "Look, I'm just gonna go."

Hands grabbing both his wrists tow him back down, slowing his not-so-smooth getaway. Ichigo turns around and resists the strong urge to roll his eyes. Both Stark and Grimmjow are keeping a good hold on his lower arms, like he was a criminal about to escape.

In a way, Ichigo felt like one.

"You're hurt." Stark reminded him. "And by the looks of it, this morning, right?"

Ichigo tried not to show his surprise, though the chances his face was as close to a poker face were exactly the same as a laboratory rat had to the wiles of a mad scientist.

"These metaphors are killing me." Ichigo murmured, not even bothering to pull his arms away as Grimmjow gently slid his uniform shirt off his shoulders.

Blue eyes met his, and Grimmjow smiled knowingly. "You're not alone, there."

Stark snapped his fingers and broke their sort of trance-like staring. "Dudes. Can we get back to the task at hand? You."

Ichigo blinked at Stark's accusatory finger.

"Definitely need medical attention, from the looks of this." Stark ghosted his hand over a blooming bluish black bruise on Ichigo's back. He pointed to a reddish patch on Ichigo's right shoulder. "And this."

"All of this happened this morning?" Grimmjow looked dubious. "I'd say the bloomers on his back look a couple days old."

"They are." Ichigo admitted. He figured if Stark already knew about what had transpired in the morning, Grimmjow would, too. They weren't Captain of the Karakura Knights and center player for nothing.

"Amagawa is dead." Grimmjow pronounced with a serious finality in his tone. "And not in a good way."

Stark gave him a light punch on the shoulder. "I know, bro. But right now, we have to focus on the matters at hand. Like getting this little guy to the infirmary."

"I don't want to go to the infirmary." Ichigo was aware that his voice made him seem petulant, but he decided he didn't care. "The nurse is gonna shoot me a dozen different questions before you can say disaster."

"We'll take care of that." Grimmjow answered firmly. He sounded businesslike. "And then we'll take care of Amagawa."

"No." Ichigo reached out to cup Grimmjow's face in his smaller hands. "Don't. If I wanted you to, I would have asked. Respect that. I'll give him back what he deserves when I decide the time is right."

Stark let out a low whistle. "Your boyfriend's a tough one."

"He's not my boyfriend." Grimmjow said too quickly, then ducked his head. "Yet."

Ichigo swallowed a grin.

His heart gave a light jump for happiness. Grimmjow liked him enough to want to be with him. The least he could do was not bring Grimmjow into his problems. He would deal with Amagawa on his own. And maybe then, he'd be okay with the rest of the world.

Jesus, why is there so much bromance in here? Okay, I'm gonna be honest. I almost forgot about this story. And I have no idea where I'm going with it, but I sort of have a rough idea. Am I contradicting myself or what. Lol. Anyway, this chapter is a kind of filler for the fifth one. Next chapter's already finished, but I'm just gonna hold it back for a bit, check for errors and patch things up before I post . . .Right after I head out to get more beer. Yes, I love procrastinating.