It'd been seven years since he last saw Grimmjow, almost to the day. Seven years since the day those words – those terrible words – had left his mouth. He'd never even dreamed that Grimmjow might actually not come back, that he might vanish overnight with all his things and leave him alone. They'd fought before, brutally and viciously, words – and sometimes fists – specifically aimed to hurt and cripple, but that time it had gotten out of hand and instead of the regular end to their fights – inevitable make-up sex – Grimmjow had turned and walked out, eyes hard and mouth set in a grim line.
And he hadn't come back.
Ichigo spent weeks waiting, all the while expecting the taller, older, and stronger man to just suddenly burst in, all teeth, hands and yells. But he hadn't. And as the weeks passed he'd slowly realized that Grimmjow wasn't ever coming back, and oh how that hurt. How it made his chest seize with pain and his hands tremble.
Grimmjow was gone, because of his stupid words in the middle of their stupid argument, all because he'd lost control of his fucking temper. It was his fault, and he regretted it with every fiber of his being. Maybe if he hadn't been such an ass, if he hadn't snapped and verbally backed Grimmjow into a corner, then the blue haired man wouldn't have retaliated so viciously. Grimmjow had crossed a line, sure, but Ichigo should have left – shouldn't have bitten back just as fiercely. And from there it had just gotten worse, and worse, until finally he had said them, those words. God how he wished he could take them back.
"Get out. Don't ever fucking come near me again, Grimmjow."
Years had passed, lonely and painful and so very tiring. There were days where he couldn't bring himself to leave the house; when the pain was too overwhelming to even consider interacting with the world. It wore him down, even as the wound settled into an old scar that was still sensitive and sore and never going to heal right. Aching – sure – but manageable. So even though he maintained his job (as a psychologist of all fucking things), kept contact with his circle of friends, and never once let his shoulders bow or his head drop, every month had him just a touch more exhausted.
His friends moved on with their lives, marrying and in some cases having kids, happy and he was glad for them, really. Even when seeing them with their partners brought bitterness and pain, he didn't let it show. He smiled, laughed even though it felt like fucking razors, and watched them live out their happily-ever-afters. And oh god it hurt, because he'd blown that chance, and who else would ever match up to Grimmjow? Who else could possibly stand all his bullshit and his temper and his attitude and then throw it right back in his face with a savage grin and a laugh? Who else would understand when he got so frustrated and wound up that he just had to fight, and who else was possibly willing and able to match him blow for blow and word for word?
He'd tried, briefly. Once with an Aizen Sousuke, but that had turned sour quickly. Aizen could do all of it, match him and understand him, but he was so cool. Not unemotional, not entirely, but always distant, unreachable, and it left him feeling lonely and unappreciated, as if Aizen wouldn't care if he was there or not. Aizen had smiled, soft and gentle, when he'd called an end to things, and shaken his head, brown eyes glinting with amusement.
"I thought so. Relax, Ichigo-kun, I've expected this for quite some time. May you find what you're looking for."
Others had come and gone, but none were right. Sometimes he ended things, but more often they did, with tears or harsh insults and occasionally a punch or slap. Too passive, too rough, too gentle, and usually, too fragile. Sometimes the rejection stung (depending on how it was delivered) but none of them ever ached like Grimmjow's disappearance had. None of them ever mattered that much. And finally, he stopped looking. He accepted that no one would ever fill the void inside of him and with that realization came a permanent weight across his shoulders that he struggled to ignore – that threatened to break him but never quite did. He took up smoking, despite the disapproval from his friends, and when that weight got to be too much to bear he went out and found some nameless guy to take home and fuck. And if those men were always bigger than him – dominant, with bright white teeth and blue eyes – well no one would ever know but him.
After all, he was fine, right?
Finally Renji approaches him with concern in his eyes, his voice cautious and questioning. Uryuu, his permanent partner as of four years ago (that event was six years since Grimmjow – yes he is keeping track) is at the redhead's side.
"Ichigo, are you alright?"
"Fine," he mutters absently, paging through a bundle of notes on one of his more recent patients, a young teenage girl with some severe self-esteem issues, "Why wouldn't I be?" He's not really paying attention and he hasn't even noticed that the rest of the members of the impromptu gathering at his house have all vanished somewhere. It's just Renji, Uryuu, and him, the two of them standing across the counter that separates his kitchen and living room while he sits on a stool in the kitchen portion with the notes splayed out in front of him.
Uryuu snorts, his voice tight and irritated. "Well there's the whole, 'living alone in a house of your own at thirty-two with no relationships' thing. That might be a reason."
That's enough to get him to raise his head, and his heart sinks into his stomach as he takes in the narrowed eyes and crossed arms of the black haired man, right next to Renji's concerned puppy dog eyes. Fuck. He's seen these particular looks before (though admittedly never aimed at him) and it means they're not letting him escape till he answers their questions, honestly. And Uryuu's like a damn lie detector sometimes, when he tries.
He sighs, sweeping the papers to the side – it's not like he hasn't already memorized everything on them – and straightening up. "I'm in a house because I have the money, and I like it better than my old apartment. And if I find someone I'm interested in, I'll give it a shot. I just haven't in awhile."
Uryuu's eyes narrow just a fraction further, and Ichigo finds himself unconsciously leaning back a little, even though he knows he's a much better fighter then the lean man.
"You haven't had a serious relationship in almost four years, Ichigo. Not since Aizen."
He starts to make a noise of protest because damnit he hadn't stopped dating till about a year and a half ago, but Uryuu cuts him off ruthlessly, "you were never serious about any of them, and you know it."
Renji shifts, his shoulders lifting in a shrug, and the look the taller man has is so full of sympathy and pity and understanding that he has a hard time meeting it. "Ichigo, this isn't healthy. Everyone's concerned about you." Ah, well fuck. How had he not noticed that?
"Look, I'm sorry for making you guys worry, but I'm fine." He slips off the stool, gathering his papers into his hands. "I don't want to go through all the hassle of dating right now, that's all. But if I happen to run into someone interesting, sure." He starts to turn away, hoping against all hope that they'll take the half-assed excuse.
"It's been ten years, Ichigo. Move on." He stills for a few seconds, Uryuu's hissed voice sticking in his ears, before he looks back at them, shoulders tense.
"Excuse me?" He fights to keep the anger out of his voice, but can't stop his eyes narrowing with it. They have no right to interfere, not when they don't know the story. They don't know.
One of Renji's hands strokes over his lover's shoulders, eyes still fucking dripping with sympathy. "Uryuu, maybe-"
"I said move on, Ichigo!" Uryuu's eyes are narrowed in irritation, and his voice is sharp and frustrated. "Grimmjow was a bastard. He left you. So get rid of that pedestal you put him on and move on! Find someone who actually gives a damn about you."
His teeth clench, hands curling to fists, mindless of the way he's crumpling the papers in his hands.
"You don't know what the fuck you're talking about, Uryuu. Back off and leave it alone."
He whirls and heads for the door to his study, past the edge of the counter and across the room. He's intercepted by Uryuu grabbing hold of his arm and yanking Ichigo around to face them. And god damn the thin bastard is lucky that he would never hit a friend outside of a sparring ring. If it had been anyone else, they would already be on the ground.
"Then explain it! You've been agonizing over this for years, so just tell us why Grimmjow dumping you hurt this badly!"
He can't help it. The words slip from his mouth before he can think about them, before he can shove them back down his throat, "because he didn't!" He clamps his mouth shut the second the words register, turning his eyes to the ground. After a second Renji speaks, and god knows how the rough looking man sounds that much like a puppy.
"Please, tell us."
The words are so pleading, so full of that goddamn sympathy that his anger vaporizes under it, turning to pain and grief.
He sighs and bows his head. Fuck it. He's too tired to fight them, too exhausted with all the bullshit and having to deal with all of it by him-fucking-self to bother trying to keep it hidden any longer. He'll get them later, when the weight on his shoulders isn't quite this heavy and his chest doesn't ache so badly.
"We were fighting, and we got nasty – really nasty – worse than ever before. And I was so pissed off, so furious, that I told him to leave, that I didn't want him near me ever again." He swallows against the burn in his eyes and throat, voice cracking. "So he left. I, I didn't…" Uryuu releases him and he looks up, studiously avoiding their eyes. "It was my fault, I blew my chance with the only fucking person who could stand me. I'm a real fucking genius."
They don't speak, and god he can't look at them. "Just… Drop it." He turns and finishes the journey to his study, closing the door behind him and sinking to sit against it, cradling his head in his hands.
Fourteen years since Grimmjow. The world has acquired an insubstantial feeling, like he's just some actor in a play, numbly reciting his parts and doing his best not to show the audience that what they're watching isn't real. He fakes the emotions, interest, fakes his whole goddamn life, and exists.
Renji and Ishida never bring up Grimmjow again, much to his relief, in fact they drop the topic all together. A friend of theirs will occasionally seem to somehow get the impression that he's looking for a relationship, but it's a coincidence, of course.
He gives a soft smile, holding the door open for his patient. He's a teenage boy who's being forced to get counseling as part of a sentence for attacking a fellow student.
"Same time next week."
The kid sneers at him, his green eyes narrowed and angry and mumbles, "Whatever, old man."
The teen stomps down the hall and he shakes his head, shutting the door. He moves to his desk, which is against the wall and out of the way of the stereotypical couch and armchair that are his main counseling area. He files the kid's folder away, reaching for another folder on top of a small pile on the desk – his next patient. It's a referral from Ishida, and when he tells the hospital director about it someone's going to get either bitched at or fired. All the information – one of two men that were brought in by the police for a bar fight, unofficial diagnosis is anger management issues – is there, but the name has been smudged and is completely illegible. The most he can decipher that the guy's name may start with a J, or it might be a T. He sighs, hearing a firm knock before the door starts to open and he turns to greet the person.
"Hey, Ishida-san's file is a little smudged and I'm afraid I don't know your-" He cuts off, freezing in place. The man stares at him, just as frozen, with his blue eyes wide. "Name." he finishes softly, hands tight on the file. "Grimmjow?"
The blue hair is unmistakable – just as he remembers it – even if the face is a little different. "Ichigo…" Grimmjow is the first to blink out of his surprise, brow furrowing into a troubled look. "Sorry, I'll go."
He can't help the sound of denial that leaves him, mouth opening before he can even think to stop it. "No! Don't, don't. I-" He snaps his mouth shut, head bowing. No, he doesn't have the right. He's the one who'd made Grimmjow leave. It's his fault and he can't demand anything from the other man now. Grimmjow is still hovering at the door, but he doesn't dare look up to see the expression on the blue haired man's face.
For several long – infinite – moments, there's complete silence. And it rips the scar tissue open to a brand new fucking wound. It makes his chest ache with a pain that he'd thought was gone or at least numbed. He'd forgotten. Forgotten how much it initially hurt and oh god he cannot handle going through that again, not with how exhausted he already is.
What? He jerks his head up, looking at the other man, as Grimmjow steps fully into the room and shuts the door behind him with a force just shy of slamming. The other man moves towards him, somehow towering over him with just the three inches of difference in height.
"Tell me what you were going to say." he demands, blue eyes narrowed.
"Why?" he asks softly, struggling to keep himself together, fighting the urge to cling to Grimmjow with all his strength and never, never, let go.
Grimmjow bares his teeth, frustration in his eyes, "just fucking tell me!" he yells, large hands clenching to fists. There's something desperate in the older man's eyes, in his voice; a need. And he can't (could never) fight that, so he succumbs to it and locks eyes with Grimmjow.
"I… I'm sorry." Grimmjow's eyes flicker with confusion, but before the other man can speak he is rushing to explain. "I'm so sorry I said what I did. I never meant it, never, and I didn't even fucking think before I said it and I never dreamed you'd take it seriously. But then you were gone and I kept thinking you were coming back but you never did and god I'm so fucking sorry." He's babbling, he knows he is, but the dam's been broken and there's nothing he can do to stem the flow of words. There's no possible way he can stop himself from falling to fucking pieces in front of Grimmjow, "I was a bastard and a fucking idiot and I guess it's true that psychologists are the most fucked up of everyone 'cause god knows I'm all kinds of fucked up and you were the only person who ever accepted that and I drove you off and I'm so-" Grimmjow grabs him by the arm and drags him forward, sealing their mouths together in a hungry, desperate kiss and all he can do is drop the folder and latch onto Grimmjow's shirt, pouring all his need and grief and pain into the connection. Arms circle his body, one large hand cupping the back of his skull, fingers tangling in his hair, and Grimmjow makes a noise akin to a wounded animal as he presses impossibly closer.
He doesn't know how long they stand there and he doesn't know what's going through Grimmjow's mind, but he can't bring himself to let go or even part to breathe because he can't lose this again. And as Grimmjow pulls back he only resists for a moment before allowing the separation. He can't help being reluctant even if it's only a few inches of space. Grimmjow's grip tightens for a brief moment, his blue eyes intense and wild.
"I tried to find you, years ago. But you were gone. I couldn't. Fuck I didn't even know if you wanted me back. I should have fucking told you when we were together but I love you."
Ichigo stiffens and inhales sharply, his eyes widening, and Grimmjow bows his head to rest against his shoulder. The older man breathes out a very soft laugh against his skin, "Fourteen fucking years and I've never met anyone like you, Ichi."
He almost loses it right there. Almost collapses against the other man in a mess of emotion and tears, but somehow he swallows it down and shudders in Grimmjow's arms – allowing his head to fall against the taller man's chest. He breathes deeply, savoring the unique smell that is so painfully nostalgic and just like he remembers.
"I really fucked it up, didn't I?"
"We fucked it up. Not you, Ichi, we. It's not just your fault and I won't let you think that. We're both moronic bastards." He manages a pained laugh, letting his eyes close, and just relaxes into the familiar embrace. This. This is what's been missing, what he could never find with anyone else or even try and be happy without. Having someone who knows all of his mistakes and faults and accepts them without trying to change or sugarcoat.
It's perfect, and he won't let it slip away again.
"I guess it's my turn, isn't it?" he says quietly, drawing back from the older man. For a second Grimmjow won't let him pull away, a questioning noise slipping from his throat, but then the long arms release their hold and blue eyes meet his. He takes Grimmjow's hands in his, savoring the warmth of the calloused fingers, and sinks to his knees before the taller man.
"Grimmjow, will you forgive me for being a fucking moron?"
Blue eyes widen and then Grimmjow chuckles, shaking his head, "that was always my line. Of course I will, Ichi, of course."
The weight slides off Ichigo's shoulders and the world sharpens as the exhaustion clinging to his soul bleeds away. For the first time in fucking years, he gives a small, true, smile.
"I love you, Grimm."