Isshin and the girls arrived home after Karin's soccer game to find the door wide open, the handle clearly broken.
"Someone broke in." Karin whispered, pulling her sister close. "But there's no car."
Isshin nodded, "stay here." He stepped in just enough to get a look around. The place looked untouched.
"He could still be here, we should call the police."
"What if Ichigo and Grimmjow are in there?"
He frowned, it was a possibility that they were in trouble. "Go to the neighbour's and ask them to call the police."
He watched his daughters cross the street and then stepped back into the house. He saw it right away: the magnets from the fridge lying on the floor, some of the pictures fallen off, but what he was focusing on was the scrap of paper that was left dangling from what had been ripped off. The orange slip the hospital had sent to remind Grimmjow of his appointment.
"Who would..." but he saw the flashing light on the phone, hit the play back button and he felt the world crashing down around him.
"How was it?" Ichigo asked, throwing his empty coffee cup in the trash and standing up from his seat in the cafeteria.
"Fine. He is very optimistic that he can make me pretty again," Grimmjow grinned, "I just have to-" Grimmjow froze before Ichigo. He heard someone scream, and then people were standing up, trying to run, but a shock wave of thunder stopped them all. A second shot fired, straight up, shattering one of the lights and sending glass onto screaming bystanders.
"Grimmjow Jaggerjaques." Ichigo felt something press against the back of his head, "and Ichigo Kurosaki. The ones I have to thank for my father's death."
"Ichigo..." Grimmjow strained.
"Oh, that's right," Takeo hissed, "This was the kid you were fighting with through the door that day. You were pretty desperate to save him, weren't you?" His grip around the trigger tightened.
"Don't." Grimmjow begged, Ichigo was staring straight back at him, unable to move. His eyes were hard, not showing the true terror inside of him.
"And why shouldn't I? You're the reason my father is dead!"
"Reason?" Grimmjow sputtered, tearing his gaze from Ichigo's and looking past him to the bastard son. "Reason? YOUR FATHER SENT YOU TO KILL MY FATHER! And you did! You egotistical, arrogant, bastard! You have no right to want revenge!"
Ichigo didn't know if Grimmjow lost it on purpose to draw the gun from him or not, but the moment the barrel wandered from the back of his head he elbowed Takeo wherever he could- he thought maybe it was his neck- and Grimmjow leaped forward to topple him.
The gun went off. Grimmjow collapsed.
"Don't move!" Takeo had righted himself and had the gun trained on Ichigo again but the teen was staring down at Grimmjow.
He hadn't been hit, the bullet had shattered the doughnut display case on the other side of the room. But Ichigo remembered the day someone had dropped the tray in here and how that had floored Grimmjow. The gun had gone off right next to his head, one hand was covering that ear, the other was twisted in the front of his shirt while he struggled to breath.
"I said don't move!" Ichigo felt the ringing blow of cold metal against the back of his skull, he fell on his hand and knees next to Grimmjow, a hot stream oozing down the back of his neck. Takeo Aizen stood over the two, hand shaking on the trigger, his whole body looked like an electric current was running through it.
"You two will pay for what you did."
There was nothing they could do. Grimmjow was consumed by the panic attack and Ichigo was trying to keep the black at the edge of his vision from taking over.
"Don't touch them." A harsh voice shot out from the crowd.
"Yeah, step away." A second voice sounded, shaky. Ichigo dared to look up. He saw more people moving out from where they'd taken cover.
"Back away from them." A woman shouted.
More people moved toward them, more people were shouting.
The gun pulled away from them, Takeo started aiming wildly at the crowd.
"Someone get the gun!"
Takeo became more frantic, Ichigo got a hold of Grimmjow, ready to run, but the man before them was wild, unpredictable.
"Ichigo..." Grimmjow gasped, "Don't let him..."
"Don't let him what, Grimmjow?"
But he saw the mania, saw the gun twitch and turn inward, pointing to his own head. "You bastards. This is on all of you!" Grimmjow lurched, Ichigo was barely clinging to consciousness and easily fell sideways form the way Grimmjow used him to launch himself at the Hollow Prince.
Grimmjow hand closed over the barrel, pushing it away from his temple. "Don't. You. Dare." The two stood in a silent struggle for the gun. Then four shots sounded in quick succession, striking the wall harmlessly, and Grimmjow stepped back. The only sound was the rapid clicking of the trigger again and again as a desperate child tried to escape his punishment. Grimmjow watched him with cold eyes. "You're father has already killed enough people. And you don't deserve the easy way out."
The gun clanked on the cafeteria tile. A couple people from the crowd moved in to grab him but he wasn't fighting any more.
"There." Grimmjow said, sinking back to the floor next to Ichigo. "Now, it's over."
"Where are they? Where are they!" Isshin ducked under line after line of yellow tape, over shattered glass, but the cafeteria was empty save the crime scene investigators. Someone grabbed his arm and pulled him away but he found himself directed toward a private room and there he found Ichigo sitting on a bed, head bent forward and a doctor standing over him with a light in hand trying to see the damage.
"Son, SON!" Isshin didn't really care that he half shoved the other doctor away to get his son in his arms.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah dad, I am."
"No, you're not, look you bleeding,"
"Dad," Ichigo had to take hold of his father by the shoulders, "it's okay." Isshin stared into his brown eyes, so strong and unwavering, and he knew his son would indeed, be okay.
Brown eyes shifted to the closed bathroom door. He heard a retch.
"Go, I'm okay."
"I'm sure, Dad."
Isshin slowly withdrew from Ichigo and apologized to the other doctor, and put his hand on the door knob. He pulled the door open slowly.
"Grimmjow, it's me."
The figure on the floor didn't move except to heave again into the porcelain bowl, his hands tight around the edge and his body slumped over it, head half resting on his arm. He spit and slid back a bit to gasp in cleaner air, his face was flushed and his eyes wet with hot tears from puking so much. Isshin could see he was just throwing up bile now.
"Ish- shin-" Speaking only proved to bring more heaves, but nothing was coming up anymore despite the convulsions of his body.
"It's okay," Isshin tried to sooth, "it'll pass."
Grimmjow just nodded to acknowledge he'd heard him and Isshin made to stand but as if knowing, the door opened and a nurse came in with a bottle of water.
"Did you give him anything?"
"We haven't been able too, he was vomiting when we reached him."
Isshin nodded and cracked the bottle, helping Grimmjow tip the water in small doses.
"Does he have any injuries?" When she gave him a blank look he turned to the patient himself. "Grimmjow, are you hurt anywhere?"
Grimmjow shook his head. He looked up into concerned eyes and reached a shaking hand out to grip Isshin's arm. He gave it a squeeze. He was going to be alright. They had once again survived, as hard as it was for Isshin to believe.
"Okay." he whispered back in understanding.
"Isshin." The door pushed open again, the doctor told him that Ichigo had a mild concussion but after the police took their statements the boys could go home with him. He stepped out again and was replaced by Ichigo.
"Son, you should stay in bed." But Ichigo came over to them and reached a hand out to Grimmjow. Isshin watched him wipe his hand off on his shirt and accepting the help up. He scanned Ichigo over head to foot before throwing his arms around him.
"I thought he was going to shoot you." he croaked out past his burn throat.
"I thought he did shoot you." Ichigo whispered back still feeling that jarring moment when the gun when off and Grimmjow dropped. He was the one who'd taken a blow to the head, but Grimmjow looked like he was in much worse shape after his panic attack. But Ichigo stepped back and looked him square in the eyes.
"Why did you stop him? What did you mean by what you said?"
Isshin looked between them, he was still burning for answers.
"Ichigo I-" he stopped, trying to find his words, "I couldn't watch it happen." Ichigo watched his gaze fall to the floor and knew old habits were returning, so he pulled Grimmjow back against him in a desperate attempt to keep him from shutting himself off. Isshin seemed to notice and left for a moment to get the medications they couldn't give him earlier. He was actually rather calm, but underneath the surface both Ichigo and Isshin knew Grimmjow's trauma wouldn't let his mind stop endlessly reliving the terror for days.
"I didn't want to see that either, Grimmjow. He was, disturbed, wasn't he? Dad said he didn't think he was quite right."
"How could he be? He was Aizen's son."
"Here we go." Isshin was back with a small plastic cup and glass of water. They both saw Grimmjow's shoulders slump in the disappointment of having to rely on drugs, but he swallowed them and the three went out. They left the hospital right away, to let Grimmjow fall asleep in his own bed, and the police followed them home to interview Ichigo. Isshin listened to what happened in horror, but also in pride, that this town had stood up for his family.
"We'll return for Mr. Jaggerjaques' statement tomorrow and let you know what will happen from there."
"What will happen?" Isshin asked.
"He pulled a gun in a room full of people with the intent to kill. There were at least two dozen witnesses. He won't receive bail. Sir, to be frank, I don't think you'll ever have to worry about him again."
"Thank you, officer."
"Ichigo, hurry up, I don't want to be late on our first day!" The shrill voice on the other side of the door made everyone in the kitchen jump. The girls were still making breakfast but Ichigo was racing around trying to pack everything he thought he might need in his book bag.
When the furious knocking began, Grimmjow quickly moved to open the door.
"Ichigo I'm going to—oh..." She stopped short, hand still raised and stared up at Grimmjow. "Grimmjow your face..."
"Handsome as ever right?" He smirked, letting her in. She and Byakuya had gone away for a few weeks and she had not seen him since his plastic surgery. You could still tell that he'd had work done, but it was a hundred times better than what it had been.
"Yes." She finally breathed out, a smile spreading over her face.
"Hey, don't let Renji hear that." Ichigo said pushing past, Grimmjow. "Okay let's go."
"Don't screw up." Grimmjow called after him. Ichigo had half a mind to throw him the finger but the girls and his dad might see so he just waved and got into the car. Renji gave a wave to him out the window and they drove off to the university. It was Renji's second year so he would show them around. Orihime and Chad would be there too. Grimmjow couldn't help feel left behind, but then he looked at the clock and realized he too was going to be late.
He grabbed toast from Yuzu and left out the door.
"You're late." Uryu glared at him when he got to his house trying to hide the fact he was out of breath.
"Come on, it's seven thirty in the morning, why do we have to start so early?"
"Hey, when you accepted my help, you accepted my terms."
"Fine." Grimmjow entered, Uryu lead them on his crutches down the hall to a study room. He had made progress but he still had a long way to go and even after months of training he couldn't walk without support for very long. So he had decided to postpone university and try to concentrate on healing. But in the mean time, he was willing to tutor Grimmjow to help him get his High school equivalent.
Grimmjow knew it was unfinished business for the teen. He had started his little project in the hospital, getting Grimmjow to read and follow a routine. Now he needed to see it through, and like they had promised a long time ago to walk out of the hospital together, they were now operating on the unspoken promise that they would enter university together.
They called it a day just before dinner time. Grimmjow was spent, his mind exhausted from Uryu's lessons, but if this was a taste of what was to come, he guessed he would be well prepared for university by the end of it. But on his way home he found himself wandering not to the Kurosaki house hold, but to that steep hill and those rows of grey stone. He walked the rows without counting, without looking at names or numbers, he would never forget which ones held the names he sought.
To her, he said what he always did. He loved her, he wished she was here, he hoped she was proud. To him, words were less forthcoming. His hands wandered into his pockets, he stood just staring at his father's name.
"I put an end to it." He finally said, the sun closing in on the horizon, bathing the grave in a rose light. "Everything you started. It's all put to rights. So if there is, you know, something after, then I hope it brings you peace."
He nodded to himself. "It's over now, so we can both move on." He turned, but his feet weren't moving, the last heat of a September sun on his back. He bowed his head.
"He's a better man than you ever were." His voice dropped to just above a whisper when he turned back to face his father. "He always puts his family first, always. He has no addictions, vices. He never gets drunk. He always knows what to say, how to help. And I love him. He's made me part of his family, and I love them too."
The last edge of the sun burned hot over distant hills, shadows began to overtake the engraved names all around him.
"But he isn't a replacement." the words came out hot, choking past tears he did not want to shed. "I just needed to say it." they came despite his efforts, rolling down his cheeks. "I just needed you to know that even after everything, you're still my dad. I still love you. I still want you to be there waiting for me when I go home. I still want to celebrate the holidays with you, and sit in those damn plastic chairs and have a cigarette. I want you to teach me how to drive and see me graduate. I want you to help me decide what I want to do with my life. And I want to ask you about mom. I want to hear you talk about her, tell me about her. I don't want to be the only one left in this world to hold onto our memories in that house before that night. I don't want that life to slip away with time."
Darkness consumed the last slice of the sun, and he stood in the darkest of dusk before the stars and moon would shed a little more light on the night.
"I won't let that happen." He finally breathed. "I know what I have to do."
He wasn't sure how long it took him to walk home. It was well past any dinner hour, his phone had vibrated in his pocket the whole way here, but he hadn't been able to stop. He tramped over the lawn and hauled the sign out of the earth before marching up the front steps. He fumbled for his ring of keys and found the one that unlocked his memories, his nightmares, and once the lock clicked he moved inside.
His eyes had adjusted to the low light on the way here. He stood in the kitchen, tracing a hand over the bare counter, his eyes fixed on the living room beyond. He moved to the closet, where he'd gotten the baseball bat that night Aizen's men had come for him. He opened it, now bare, and knelt down, running a hand over the interior of the door frame, feeling the words etched in there, knowing them without having to squint in the dark to read them.
2 years 78 cm
3 years 83 cm
4 years 93 cm
He continued tracing up the wall, feeling the long smooth gap between ages twelve and thirteen, when he'd had a huge growth spurt. He remembered having to wear old shoes of his dad's until he could get a new pair of sneakers. He laughed at the memory, remembered tripping in those old things on the stairs and chipping a tooth but taking an even bigger chip out of the hard wood that you could still see today.
He rose, fingers still idle on the marks on the wall, thinking of all the scars he'd put in this house- a failed science project had put a hole in the kitchen wall that had been covered up by the bread box. A yelling match at the table had seen four fork sized rakes through the wall paper. Spilled juice had forever stained the carpet in his bedroom, another spill of water had warped a floor board in the living room that had tripped his father up every day since.
He thought he had earned more scars on his body than he'd inflicted on the house, but the difference was he wanted to remember the ones carved in wood.
"I'm sorry I didn't answer my phone." He spoke to the door frame when he heard the footsteps making their way through the dark entrance into the kitchen.
"You know I worry." Isshin answered.
"I saw the sign on the lawn."
"I went to the cemetery."
"Did it make you change your mind?"
Isshin moved carefully over to him, some moonlight streamed in now, and he saw what held Grimmjow's attention.
"He loved you deeply, and he was very proud of you."
"I...I want him back." And it came. It was the first sorrow he should have felt, all those months ago. It was the first pain he should have had to deal with. But it had been lost under the torment of nightmares, the trauma of torture, the shock of truth and past secrets. It was the one most devastating feeling in the core of his being but it had been buried by everything else that had happened after that night. He was a son who'd lost his father. And he hadn't mourned the end of that life, not properly, not without images of what he looked like on that night tied to that chair. But now, in the shadow of childhood memories, he finally wept wholly and solely the loss of his father.
Isshin quietly held him, feeling a body so much stronger than when he'd held him before- in the hospital, the clinic, in that bloody warehouse. And when the tears ended, he didn't look to the floor, didn't shy away from Isshin's gaze, he stood tall next to the evidence of just how much he had grown. He wiped up the last tears with a hand that had been burned; he stood firm on a leg that had been broken; was held straight by a back that had been scarred, and spoke with the voice that had defied evil incarnate when nobody else dared.
"You are my family, Isshin. But I want to keep my house. I don't know when, but some day I will make it my home again. I need to keep it, for them, but mostly for me. So the little things like this will help me remember him, remember us, before that night."
"I understand." Isshin said as they backed out of the closet and closed it up.
"And frankly, a bit relieved."
"Relieved?" They stepped back out into the night and Grimmjow locked the door behind them.
"Yeah, I really wasn't looking forward to new neighbours."
Grimmjow shot him a look and smiled. Isshin put a hand on his shoulder, stopping him just before they stepped into his house. "No matter what you decide down the road, you will always have a home here, Grimmjow."
"I know." He spoke, half breathless, eyes still raw from his earlier breakdown shone in the now full light of the moon, threatening to overflow again. "I love you."
"I know." Isshin slid his arm around him and took him in a firm embrace, no tears this time. "I love you too."
They separated, Isshin held the door open for Grimmjow. He walked inside to a warm house, his dinner still sitting on the kitchen table, the girls and Ichigo waiting for him on the couch under the guise of watching t.v. There were smiles and chit chat about everyone's first day of school. There were jokes and stories and laughter. There were memories forged here, some good some bad, scarring linoleum, plaster, wood and tile. And there were more to be made, some good some bad- the difference was, they would make them together, good or bad, he wasn't alone.
He was home.
Well, I have to say thanks to all who read and reviewed this story. It was a dark inspiration that I feel turned into something more about hope and triumph of good. It was outside my usual area of writing and I am glad I took on the risk and challenge. I would love to hear feedback on the conclusion or the story as a whole. Thanks so much again.
I am planning on publishing a canon-related Ichigo-Grimmjow story soon, similar to "Psychology of Grimmjow" so if you're interested, check back.