Summary: Wanting peace and quiet Grimmjow takes off to his cousin's place on a Cherokee Indian reservation. There he meets Ichigo, who has no idea what he wants. Complications due to drunken baby daddies and vengeful thugs arise. AU, yaoi, mpreg.

Warnings: AU, oneshot, yaoi, mpreg, sexual content, language, some violence, absurdly flufftastic moments. Most of all, IT IS LONG. Seriously. It's ridiculous.

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or the Cherokee Indian Reservation.




I think I missed you before I met you even.

~ Francesca Lia Block


The June evening was hot and humid, soft bluish light ensconcing the lush surroundings of thick woods made of sepia brown bark and an overwhelming curtain of verdant, emerald foliage that seemed to go on forever, up into the mountains looming in the distance, as a blue-haired man in a sleek black Jaguar convertible raced down the two-laned road cutting through the dense North Carolina forest.

The driver, a one Grimmjow Jaegerjaques, grinned enthusiastically as he heard nothing but chirping crickets and babbling cicadas. It was perfection - just what he wanted: peace and quiet.

Though most would say he had everything anyone could ever desire and then some, it was all Grimmjow wanted - wanted so much it bordered on an outrightneed - and so of course when he was given the chance to have that silent serenity for which he craved, he took it. Even if that chance wasn't exactly given to him as much as it was... forced upon him.

Prior to that very morning, when he'd thrown a hastily packed suitcase into the trunk of his car and floored it until the New York City skyline was nothing but a tiny little dot in the rearview mirror, Grimmjow's fast-paced lifestyle as a notable criminal defense attorney had long since become boring, tiring, and downright frustrating, in that order. Yes, once upon a time he'd revelled in the spoils that came with it, the wealth, the power, the fact that he was being paid to argue, shout, even humiliate a prosecutor or witness here and there, and he'd been the best.

But being that his clientele consisted of high-powered drug lords, mafia 'made men', and just about every kind of crime syndicate leader there was, his seat on the throne at the top of the food chain was in constant peril. Grimmjow had always known that if he were to ever lose a case not only would his reputation and winning streak be ruined but that dissatisfied client would be out for much more than a simple refund. He knew that and yet never believed it would happen, until he met Sosuke Aizen.

Despite that the influential 'businessman' had been charged with just about every felonious infraction of the law in existence, Grimmjow hadn't been intimidated in the least. However, for a man who believed himself a genius Aizen had sure run his 'business' with blatant indiscretion: the amount of evidence the investigators found in his computer files alone was enough to put him away for several lifetimes. Not that Grimmjow was ever unsure of a victory. But the reality of how incredibly annoying Aizen was with those fake smiles and softly spoken passive-aggressive insults convinced the attorney seeing his client behind bars would be significantly more satisfying.

Needless to say, Aizen was now currently lining up with the other inmates for a tray of slop barely fit for human consumption that passed for food in federal prison and Grimmjow was over five hundred miles away, finally free of the constant metropolitan buzz. There, in the clandestine shadow of the Smoky Mountains, for the first time he could remember his eardrums and psyche weren't being berated with never ending noise.

No insignificant, insufferable person talking, no cell phone ringing, no car horn blaring, no overindulged mutt barking, no street merchant shouting, no repetitive shitty music playing, no one night stand whining - it was magnificent.

Aizen would doubtlessly send some underlings and lackeys after him with a vengeance and Grimmjow couldn't care less. If they did manage to locate his whereabouts, they would be more than welcome to try to kill him. The idea that Aizen thought it would be that easy spurred a bark of laughter audible over the humming roar of the Jaguar's engine and the blunette toyed with the notion of turning around to make sure that narcissist would learn his lesson. However, before Grimmjow could think more on it a break in the pattern of trees caught his eye.

Easing off the gas, Grimmjow slowed down enough to read the white lettering on the wooden sign and smirked satisfactorily upon seeing he'd reached his destination: Cherokee Indian Reservation.

No doubt most would find the reservation an odd vacation choice for a man without any Cherokee lineage or interest and no immediate plans to go sightseeing in eastern North Carolina. However, the reason why Grimmjow traveled all the way down to the 56,000 acre Qualla boundary was because it was the best place he knew of to escape from city life where he wouldn't need to use his traceable credit cards to pay for a hotel room.

To elaborate: his cousin, Nelliel Tu Oderschvank, was the only one of his relatives both alive and not completely unbearable. The two of them had actually been quite close in their younger years, attending the same prestigious schools their wealthy, blue blood parents chose for them up to the graduate level, when Grimmjow enrolled in law school and Nelliel dropped out to pursue her dream of touring all fifty states. She only got down to North Carolina before she met a man on this very reservation and married him within the month. Though their contact with each other had been scarce the past six or seven years, Grimmjow's out of the blue phone call and subsequent request were followed with cheerful, unintelligible squeals he knew from experience was Nelliel's way of saying yes.

He could only hope she hadn't popped out any more kids recently. There were four or five of them at last count, Grimmjow couldn't really remember how many ankle-biters were depicted in the past year's Christmas card picture. They all looked the same, anyway.

The Jaguar slowed to a stop in front of a standard, orange and white toll booth gate, a teenaged boy sporting boredom glazed eyes and a neon yellow vest stepping up to the driver's side.

"Casino and hotel lot's full up so you have to park in the campgrounds, just follow the signs," the attendant deadpanned, withdrawing from his vest pocket a stack of pink parking passes. Grimmjow frowned, almost considering the possibility this was the wrong reservation (what Nelliel described to him over the phone hadn't sounded like a casino and hotel kind of place.)

Figuring it better not to ask anything of the seemingly zombified teenager, Grimmjow simply took the slip so the boy would just raise the gate and he could get on to finding that woman and then a tasty morsel to wolf down - the sooner, the better as the last time he'd stopped had been around noon and now he was positively starving.

After driving about fifty feet or so, the sudden change in atmosphere was like night and day. Trees had been cleared out in something resembling a town square, buildings Grimmjow promptly identified as a welcome center, a museum, and some sort of arts and crafts store circled around a patch of grass on which stood a colorful statue of a chief in a massive headdress in front of a teepee. The aforementioned hotel and casino was ten stories high, not only its flashing lights visible from where it was situated a ways down to the left but also its completely full parking lot.

To be brutally honest, the entire place looked like an exercise in nauseatingly stereotypical kitsch catered to visitors ignorant to that fact and it brought a grimace to his face.

Grimmjow was about to reach for his phone to call Nelliel for directions to wherever she was in this tourist-infested maze when his eyes landed on the main welcome sign listing all of the reservation's attractions beside the chief and his teepee, arrows next to the names pointing toward their locales. Listed near the bottom of the sign was a surprise and a bit of good luck: an arrow directing that down a side road to the left was 'Nel's Diner.'

"I'll be damned. She's got diners named after her now," Grimmjow muttered under his breath, feeling a spark of amusement at the novelty of his cousin's name gracing an establishment.

Only a half a mile down the side road, Nel's Diner was a rather ordinary venue compared to the other structures on the reservation. The wood paneling the exterior was painted a soft bluish-green, no doubt a tribute to its namesake's unique hair color, and there was a white wrap-around porch boasting several rocking chairs and large, screened windows that made it difficult to see inside. The singular piece of evidence it was even a diner the heavenly scent wafting out to the nearly empty parking lot, Grimmjow immediately placing it to Nelliel's ungodly good cooking - a talent his aunt and uncle never encouraged, claiming they'd rather die than send their daughter to culinary school.

Grimmjow parked in a spot toward the back of the diner, noticing the sky had darkened to the midnight blue of night time and even he, as averse as he was to such trite things, marveled at how he had never seen so many twinkling stars before stepping through the door, preparing himself for his cousin's inevitable suffocating embrace. Nevertheless, as he walked a few steps into the diner he was again taken aback; there wasn't a single customer to be seen anywhere, not in one of the booths lining the windowed wall or sitting atop one of the round stools by the counter.

Then he heard a soft scratching - the sound of pen on paper. Grimmjow took a step back and craned his neck to see in the very last booth all the way in the far right corner that there was indeed a living soul in the place, one a sight for sore eyes at that. One despite the former attorney's thirty-two years experience knew no rival nor equal - the otherworldly vision indisputably the most single most beautiful thing on the face of the Earth.

A young man was slightly bent over the booth's table, propping an arm up by the elbow to cradle his chin whilst the other lay angled on the surface as he furiously scribbled away. His face was somewhat hidden by layered locks of hair orange like bright autumn leaves that spiked around the crown of his head in a halo fashion, the ends brushing against lithe shoulders, but from what Grimmjow could make out, a perfect set of full lips and defined jaw and cheekbones, it had to be divine.

The blue-haired man smirked a little, his opinion of the reservation now much higher. He didn't make any move to draw attention to himself, instead deciding to lean against the counter and wait to see how long it took the other to notice his presence. His ego took a serious blow when a full minute passed by, the orange-haired boy never taking his eyes off whatever he was so intently writing. It wasn't until a sudden clamor from the back that sounded like pots and pans clattering onto the floor that the other male started a bit, sitting up straight and dropping his pen onto the table. Wide, expressive eyes a rare shade of luminescent dark amber swiveled over to meet Grimmjow's, the latter more than pleased to discover the face behind those tangerine locks was somehow far better than he'd envisioned. The charming minx even had a light dusting of freckles over the bridge of his nose and cheekbones, barely visible against the sublime tawny hue of his skin. Grimmjow's mouth started to water as he imagined how that skin would taste, nearly licking his lips lasciviously.

"How long have you been there?" were the first words spoken by the obviously flustered orangette, his voice a melodic baritone smooth as honey. However, when Grimmjow parted his lips to respond there was another loud crash from the back of the diner, this time the definite shattering of glass to be heard, causing the orange-haired man to huff exasperatedly. "Never mind, just sit down wherever. I'll be back in a second," he said, sliding out from the booth to stand up.

Grimmjow instantly noticed several things, like how the youth stood at about 5'11", possessed long legs made to be wrapped around another's waist, wore a plain red cotton t-shirt, loosely fitted black basketball shorts, and a white half-apron tied around his hips but nothing stood out quite like the telltale swell of his stomach that so clearly advertised he was approximately six or seven months pregnant.

While it wasn't rare to see a man with child in New York ever since news broke that a team of scientists had made it possible ten years ago, Grimmjow hadn't considered he would spot a Carrier (the politically correct term for male mothers) in a place inhabited by people stereotypically believed to be less accommodating to something breaking their 'traditions.'

A wave of disappointment washed over him as he strode over to the counter and took a seat on one of the stools, though it wasn't due to the fact itself that the man was expecting as much as it was because since male pregnancies had to be planned in advance, there was almost always a significant other involved. Which meant someone had already snatched up that orange-haired beauty.


Dear Baby,

Sorry I still haven't come up with a real name for you yet. Truth is I haven't really tried, every time I start to think about it I get a headache. You at the very least deserve a name that means something, like the one my mom gave to me. Then again, she was the best mother anyone could ask for and you got stuck with me - which is entirely my own stupid fault. It seems like I say sorry to you a million times every time I write in this book. You must be annoyed with my apologies by now. I would be, too.

Anyway, we're seven months in today. This morning the doctor asked me if I wanted to know the gender or keep it a surprise. Apparently 'I don't know' isn't an acceptable answer because I spent the next fifteen minutes trying to convince her I wasn't depressed, which I'm not. At least, I don't think I am. I know I'm not a ray of sunshine these days, especially when everyone attempts to get me excited and talk about bottles and cribs and pacifiers, and maybe it does mean I'm defective, missing some sort of parenting gene, but I can't stop thinking of what a bad time it is for you to be born. Being a single parent is hard enough as it is but I can't even support myself, let alone a baby. Don't get me wrong though, I'd rather roll over and die than go back to your biological father. I can at least get that right.

I feel like I keep waiting for something, these past six and a half months, ever since I found about you. I have no idea what exactly, but something big. Something that's going to change everything for us. It's no doubt just wishful thinking on my part and I need to stop fantasizing and get back to work; the show will be over soon and I have to make sure a certain someone doesn't break anything else.

But... maybe you could wish for that something instead. The universe may listen to you.

- I.K.


The exact moment when Ichigo Kurosaki's pen finished the 'K' with a flourish, a deafening crash rang out from the kitchen, causing him to jolt upright and drop his pen onto the table. He knew immediately what and who the source of the sound was, the occurrence an almost daily event at Nel's Diner. What he didn't know, he realized as his gaze flickered across the diner, was why a blindingly gorgeous man was staring at him intensely from where he was leaning against the counter.

The first thing Ichigo was aware of were the pair of multi-hued, glittering azure orbs hypnotizing him like ancient, cursed jewels, and then he caught sight of the tousled mess of porcelain blue hair atop a wickedly attractive face that was the stuff of legends, an illusion too stunning to be real that led naive romantics like the orangette to their doom.

Dressed in a white collared shirt with the top three buttons undone to display a portion of a marvelously sculpted chest and bronzed skin, dark-wash jeans, and black motorcycle boots, the beautiful stranger looked neither local nor tourist, he was a different breed entirely. Wondering how in the world it was possible he'd been oblivious to the man's presence, Ichigo's mind did that short-circuit malfunctioning thing that never fails to happen when faced with someone so illegally good-looking and the first words he spoke to the other were positively cringeworthy.

"How long have you been standing there?" he demanded in a much harsher tone than he intended. However, when the newcomer opened his mouth to reply another crash cut him off and all of Ichigo's flustered embarrassment quickly dissipated to make room for pure exasperation. Rolling his eyes, the orangette slid down the booth seat to the end of the table. "Never mind, just sit down wherever. I'll be back in a second," he said before carefully standing up, the extra weight in his midsection a hindrance to his balance, and with that he walked the few steps over to the swinging double doors leading into the kitchen.

Upon entry, Ichigo confirmed it was just as he suspected.

A pile of broken dishes lay on the floor, pieces spread out all across the kitchen, and a muscular youth sporting fire engine red hair and an apron tied over a bare torso covered in tribal tattoos was on his hands and knees, dustpan in hand as he hastily tried to get rid of the evidence. In the corner of the kitchen sitting in a folding chair was a man in his early thirties, shaggy brown hair falling over his face and eyes Ichigo knew to be bluish-gray closed whilst the proprietor of Nel's Diner, Coyote Starrk, contentedly snoozed away, able to sleep through both thunderous clamors.

"Ichigo!" Renji gasped when he finally caught on to the orangette's arrival, scrambling to step over the mess he'd made as if he could now hide it. "I, uh... I..." the redhead said and Ichigo could just see the cogs ticking in that tattooed noggin while Renji struggled to come up with an excuse and failed. "Please don't tell Nel," he ended up pleading instead. Ichigo shook his head and strode right up to the diner's resident dishwasher and personal bull to their china shop and reached upward to yank the earphones blasting some kind of reggae music out of Renji's ears.

"Honestly, how many times have I told you about these damn things?" Ichigo said. "You always break shit when you listen to music, so why do you keep doing it?"

"Hey, it's boring as hell back here with Starrk snoring away in his chair all day long," Renji protested, gesturing to said man still sound asleep in the corner.

"It's work, it's supposed to be boring," Ichigo said, thwacking his coworker in the forehead right between the two tribal designs, after which Renji scowled and rubbed the spot but didn't say anything. "Get this cleaned up before Nel gets back and wake up Starrk, we have an early bird today."

"Okay, but you're not going to tell her, right?"

At the look Ichigo gave him, the redhead spurred into action, grabbing a broom that was propped up against the wall they usually used to prod Starrk awake. Satisfied, Ichigo turned on his heel and walked back out to the main dining area. For some reason he half-expected the modern day Adonis to be gone and so was left a little breathless when the god-like man greeted him with a confident smirk from a seat at the counter. It actually pissed him off somewhat, that he would meet the indisputably most handsome man he'd ever seen when he was, well, like this. Believe it or not, very few suitors came calling for him since news broke that he was in the family way And to clarify, 'very few' meant an absolute zero. It was like he'd caught the plague or something.

Not that Ichigo cared, really. A relationship was the last thing he wanted or needed. Truth be told, he was highly considering remaining celibate for the rest of his life.

As he reached under the counter to pull out a menu, Ichigo could sense the man's blazingly blue orbs following his every move and he suddenly felt quite warm in the air-conditioned diner and hooked a finger around the collar of his t-shirt to try and get a little air. He set the off-white, laminated menu on the counter and hadn't even looked up yet when the alluring stranger spoke.

"Just over a minute."

Being that Ichigo was nowhere near prepared for that voice deep and husky in an obscenely enchanting way, his brain failed him for the second time and refused to comprehend the actual meaning behind those words.

"What?" he said lamely, on the verge of dying of shame when a blue brow quirked upwards.

"You asked me how long I had been standing there," the man explained. "Before whatever racket that was in the back made you look up from what you were writing, I was watching you for over a minute."

While Ichigo couldn't help but be flattered, he was also a little unnerved that not only had this stranger apparently been staring at him for far longer than was proper but also admit to it with such confidence. "Oh, right. Sorry, we usually don't get any customers around this time," he said, mentally attempting to decide what to do with his hands and eventually settling on folding them across his chest. "Do you need a minute to decide?"

"Nah," the blue-haired male said, which brought a slight frown of confusion to Ichigo's face since those cobalt eyes hadn't once glanced down at the menu. "I'm trying to find my dear little cousin Nelly and figured this would be a good place to start."

"You're Nel's cousin?" Ichigo asked, both eyebrows raising in mild shock. In all the time he'd known the woman for whom the diner was named, she hadn't ever mentioned any relatives. Well, except for that one in New York... "Wait, you're the big shot lawyer guy, right?"

The orangette's query was met with an amused, throaty chuckle. "Nowadays I just go by Grimmjow."

Ichigo couldn't stop himself from rolling his eyes even as his lips tilted up into a small smile. "Anyway, Nel went to pick up her kids - I think the babysitter had a nervous breakdown or something. She'll be back in time for the after show dinner rush, which is in about forty-five minutes," he said, turning to head back into the kitchen in order to ensure Renji had done what he was supposed to and managing to take two steps until the man he now knew as Grimmjow used that deadly voice to bring him to a halt.

"Hold up now, you haven't taken my order yet," Grimmjow said, grinning at the vexation Ichigo was certain showed itself in one of his customary scowls.

"I thought you didn't want anything."

"I don't remember saying that."

"Fine, what do you want?" Ichigo said, unable to stop his foot from tapping on the floor impatiently while Grimmjow brought the menu up to eye-level with one hand. He was pretty sure that the other man was getting off on messing with him, especially as the blunette hemmed and hawed over the options.

"Gee, I don't know if I can pick just one. They all look good," Grimmjow murmured almost to himself.

"Pick one or I'm bringing you the vegetable platter," Ichigo threatened, highly pleased when the other man practically threw the menu at him, a grimace of distaste on his stunning features. He could tell just from looking at Grimmjow that he wouldn't find that particular option appetizing; those pearly white teeth were designed for chewing through meat like a hot knife through butter.

"I'll take the ribeye instead - medium rare," Grimmjow said but stopped the waiter once again, grabbing on to the other end of the menu. "And a name, if you're so inclined."

"I'm not," Ichigo said, wresting the menu out of the other's hold. However, the reasoning of not disclosing his name because this wickedly toothsome man had gotten on his nerves was soon overridden by the fact Grimmjow was the singular person Ichigo had conversed with since he started to show that hadn't brought up his being pregnant. Those eyes hadn't even once strayed down to his rounded stomach. Plus, how long could the New Yorker be visiting the reservation for anyway? The orangette sighed. "It's Ichigo," he said, hurrying back to the kitchen so Grimmjow couldn't stop him for a third time.

The next twenty-six minutes that he spent watching Starrk grill the slab of meat and yawn repetitively were admittedly mind numbingly boring.

The silence in the entire diner, the calm before the storm if you will, was shattered when the back door swung open, a pack of six females all possessing heads of hair of variant shades of green spilling into the kitchen somehow all at the same time. True to form, they were all babbling on about something because not only had Nelliel's five daughters, aged from three to eight, inherited her hair color but her endless supply of energy.

And people wondered why the babysitters had nervous breakdowns.

Nelliel Starrk nee Tu Odelschwanck was a striking bombshell of a woman, of undetermined European roots that gave her a head full of naturally wavy, bedhead sea-foam green locks and sparkling eyes a unique hue most aptly characterized as the love child of gray timber wolf fur and fresh green apples - a mossy silverish hazel not to be seen anywhere else. She stood at Ichigo's own height of five feet and eleven inches with an exaggerated hourglass figure the envy of many a lingerie model and legs that went on for days. Currently, she wore a yellow sundress with thin shoulder straps, a modest sweetheart neckline, and ivory lace trim, and plain white sneakers for the comfort the day of a working mother demanded.

Miraculously, Nelliel had not only been blessed with beauty but five-star caliber culinary talent and a big heart brimming with never ending amounts of kindness. Not to mention, she had to be the best mother alive - able to raise five hyperactive daughters all under ten years of age while running the diner for which she prepared, cooked, and baked nearly all of the dishes served. Seriously, Wonder Woman could suck it.

Five seconds after the bubbly brood had entered the kitchen, Ichigo was forced to brace himself as the littlest one, an exact copy of her mother in miniature form down to a childhood lisp and an overly enthusiastic fondness for the orange-haired youth, immediately pinpointed his location reclining in Starrk's chair and took a running start toward him. Cringing as the little girl leapt into the air, Ichigo was beyond relieved when Nelliel impressively managed to catch her youngest daughter in mid-air.

"Sweetie, remember what I told you yesterday about jumping on Ichigo?" the sea foam-haired woman said in a gentle voice, elaborating when her mini-me struggled with her toddler-sized attention span. "Because of the baby...?"

Large hazel eyes widened before the tyke visibly deflated in Nelliel's arms, clearly on the verge of tears as she realized her mistake. "Sowwy, Itsygo. I forgot."

"It's okay," Ichigo said, hating that the little girl that inexplicably seemed to adore him and shadowed him incessantly every chance she got felt so badly. "Only two more months and then you can jump on me all you want."

The change in the child's demeanor was instantaneous, her entire aura brightening. "For weal?" she squealed emphatically.

"For real."

Nelliel let her daughter down, the toddler running off to find a substitute victim to tackle and settling on her father which set off a snowball effect of all five of Starrk's progeny pouncing onto the poor man. "You probably shouldn't have told her that, you know," Nelliel sighed.

"I realize that now," Ichigo said gloomily, beginning to push himself up off the chair to have his efforts thwarted by the deceptively strong Nelliel placing her hands on his shoulders.

"Ah ah ah, you aren't going anywhere until you tell me how the appointment went today," she said and in spite of her wheaten eyes sparkling eagerly and wide grin there was no mistaking that she really, truly meant that. Whenever she got this excited over something, Ichigo would freely admit he was a bit terrified of her.

"It went fine," Ichigo said, shrugging his shoulders.

"Oh, don't play coy with me, Kurosaki," Nelliel teased. "Come on, which is it - boy or girl? It's a girl isn't it? I knew it!"

"Um, I don't know. Maybe," Ichigo said as lightheartedly as he could though he knew the woman he considered his closest friend would see right through that facade. Nelliel's expression fell into a concerned frown.

"What do you mean you don't know? They should have been able to tell you the gender long before now." The stern, motherly tone to Nelliel's voice was all Ichigo needed to hear to realize his prediction had been correct and his female friend had caught on, her green-haired head looking over her shoulder to ensure no one was paying their conversation any mind before she bent down to look straight into sable brown orbs. "Did they at least say anything about the... you know?"

Ichigo bit his lip, shaking his head. Shame was always quick to follow whenever the topic of his unusual gestation experience was brought up.

Summarily, while expectant mothers could feel their child move or even kick as early as sixteen weeks, Ichigo was now in his twenty-eight and had never so much as felt even the slightest bit of movement, not once, not ever. Worrying as it was, he'd been told there was no evident medical reason and reassured the baby was fine over and over. So Ichigo had come to the inescapable conclusion that his baby could already tell how unfit a mother he was and had either decided to give him the silent treatment or succumbed to some kind of infantile depression. The orangette couldn't really blame the poor thing; he'd no doubt do the same if he found out he was to be brought into the world by someone as maternally incompetent as himself.

Nelliel's consoling smile and pat on the upper arm only served to further dampen Ichigo's spirits. "Don't worry, Ichi. She's probably just a shy one," she said, gripping the young man's hand in her own to help him to his feet.

"She?" Ichigo questioned, quirking a brow.

"Yep!" Nelliel chirped, smile growing to a full-fledged beam. "Trust me, I can sense these kinds of things from a mile away. It's a girl."

"If you say so," Ichigo said, trying to imagine a toddling little girl with hair his own rare shade of tangerine and failing miserably.

"I do. Now, I hope I don't have to remind you during dinner rush tonight I expect to see you taking quarter hourly breaks in that very chair and should you look the least bit tired I will exert my authority as your boss and landlady and have one of the others take over your section."

Ichigo scowled heavily, a completely futile gesture as Nelliel crossed her arms and appeared to strictly look down on him as if she were his own mother despite their equal heights and successfully intimidated the youth into huffing in exasperated defeat, breaking eye contact to glare at the floor. He hated being treated differently simply because of his 'delicate condition,' especially when it came to the work he felt compelled to complete the same as any of the other waiters in order to fairly earn his much-needed paycheck.

"Fine," he said, suddenly remembering a key bit of information he was sure his employer would consider important (and mind-blowingly exciting.) "Oh, and your annoying cousin's here by the way."

"Grimmy's here?" Nelliel shrieked so loudly all three males in the kitchen covered their ears in an attempt to extend their hearing ability for another day. "Why didn't you say so! Grimmy!" The sea foam-haired woman sprinted across the space and burst through the swinging doors, squealing her juvenile nickname for her cousin.

Ichigo almost felt bad for that blue-haired nuisance.


Grimmjow wasn't disappointed when what next came through the set of swinging doors was not the steak he'd ordered being delivered to him by the even tastier orange-haired little morsel but the familiar, busty figure of his cousin bereft of any such delicious sustenance. He was absolutely devastated.

And terrified.

"Grimmy!" the green-maned bundle of energy cried out before Grimmjow was fighting for air in a suffocating embrace. "You're here! I can't believe it. You're actually here!"

When there was no response save for choked, breathless gasps from the man, he was graciously released from the life-threatening hold, one of his hands reaching up to rub his chest that was no longer being crushed and now free to expand to draw in lungfuls of sweet air. "Damn it, Nelly," Grimmjow grunted, blue eyes raking over the barely-changed form of his beloved cousin. "You haven't changed a bit, have you?"

"Of course not, silly," Nelliel said, grinning and pinching the bronzed skin of the blunette's cheeks like one would a child. "But you've gotten so handsome, you little devil you! You used to be so gangly and now look at you, sporting some actual muscles and lookin' so darn manly. Been hitting the gym, have we?"

Grimmjow forcibly removed his cousins' hands from his face and grinned, never opposed to having his monstrous ego stroked. "Yeah, well I'm glad to see you haven't put on a few pounds after popping out all those kids. How many is it now - four, five?" he teased, pleased when Nel's expression turned sour and she none too gently punched him in the shoulder, causing him to wince and rub the abused spot. "It's a compliment, woman - learn to spot 'em." rcwagp

"Asshole," Nelliel said good-naturedly. "And you have five nieces, by the way, which you would know that had you ever took the time to stop by for a visit once in awhile."

Grimmjow felt a hint of guilt for practically ignoring the sole family member he ever gave a shit about; a set of dinnerware and five silver rattles purchased from Tiffany & Co. the only forms of recognition the attorney had paid to Nelliel's wedding and the birth of her five daughters. Nevertheless, he rolled his eyes even as the devious smirk spreading across the woman's face made his heart stop.

"Actually, with dinner rush coming up in fifteen minutes, now's the perfect time for them to catch up with their Uncle Grimm," Nelliel said, grabbing hold of his wrist and beginning to drag him off the stool using her superhuman strength. "The babysitter quit so someone has to look after them 'till closing. You like kids, right?"

The next six and a half hours for Grimmjow were... interesting, to say the least.

After Nelly had wrestled him into the back kitchens of the diner, he'd been introduced to her husband, a reasonably likable Coyote Starrk who went by his surname, the redheaded high school senior covered in tribal tattoos, Renji, who worked as a part-time dishwasher/general custodian, and her five miniature look-alikes who all gave Grimmjow an eerie sense of deja vu - the multiple exact copies of his cousin at various ages spurring a series of flashbacks to his younger years.

He had never really been around children before, well except for when he was once one himself of course, but the gang of green-haired girls didn't seem to mind his unease. In fact, Grimmjow could've sworn they thrived on it, pulling on his pant leg and sleeve and rambling on a million miles a minute and asking a never-ending string of questions as if they'd known him since birth.

It didn't escape the man's notice that this all went on under the gaze of a watchful pair of dark amber orbs; the waiter with both fiery hair and attitude known as Ichigo pretending not to pay any attention to Grimmjow, who'd so easily riled him up earlier, and impressively merely giving himself away once just once when the youngest of the Starrk spawn offered her uncle a saliva-saturated cherry lollipop and upon a lackluster refusal had called him an 'atthole.' The minx got a good chuckle out of that.

Nevertheless, Grimmjow's one-man audience was only allowed to view the spectacle of the adult male and ankle-biting females interaction a measly five minutes before the back door opened to announce the arrival of three more employees; waitresses Mila Rose, Sung-Sun, and Apache all native to the reservation and sorely in need of a good lay if their stunned reaction to their boss' cousin's presence that preceded the gals' four-way introduction consisting of an excessive amount of eyelash batting and cleavage baring. By the time Nelliel had rescued Grimmjow from the three overly welcoming and all too obvious ladies, he could hear the low hum of chatter belonging to just-arriving customers and Ichigo was nowhere to be seen.

In the ten minute period between the hungry horde's appearance and the kitchen's first order, Nelliel explained the drastic change in number of customers was due to the showtime of the reservation's theatrical event, Unto These Hills, that never failed to work up the tourists' appetite and the sole two dining establishments available to them were the hotel's bar and restaurant and the diner. Grimmjow didn't get to ask Nel why she'd suggested her home in what was apparently a vacation hotspot as the perfect place for his desired peace and quiet as that first order then came in and the woman's cooking demanded every last bit of her attention.

Those six and a half hours the 'dinner rush' lasted were excruciating. Though his gaggle of nieces, spirited and fearless as they were, weren't immune to the same menacing glare Grimmjow once used on every witness he questioned on the stand, it wasn't just boring standing watch over them in the kitchen but the diner's fast-paced and rushed atmosphere accompanied by the infernal clinking of glass and orders obnoxiously yelled over inane chatter was so frustratingly similar to everyday city noise. Not to mention, the numerous times Nelliel wrangled an unwilling, struggling orangette into that chair in the corner, any hope the blunette may have had to converse and possibly tease the lovely youth was squashed as every single time Ichigo pulled out that journal of his and scribbled away until Nelly let him return to work.

Grimmjow spent most of his time wondering what kind of boyfriend/husband/whatever would allow their pregnant significant other, male or female, work? Especially a job as physically demanding as waiting tables, where one nearly constantly had to be on their feet. Perhaps his extended visit would provide the man, cunning by nature and necessity, the opportunity to find out and maybe even talk the one he already desired so much out of such a bad relationship. Grimmjow knew that with all of his upcoming free time he didn't care if the other's partner was practically a saint; he wanted to eat that pretty little thing right up- expecting or not.

And for him, a fleeting taste was never enough. No, he wouldn't be satisfied until that sweet dish was his to savor every divine flavor, to devour whole.

Dear Baby,

I wish Nel would see working is the only thing that keeps me sane anymore. It's the one thing I know I can do right. And the one thing keeping a roof over our heads. I feel like such a worthless invalid every time she makes me sit down and take a break lest I overexert myself and pass out when the place is packed full of customers.

Speaking of customers, I'm sure I've mentioned before how irritating they are. Carriers are still pretty rare around here so it's like I'm some kind of circus sideshow freak to a lot of them. Most are nice and ask too many questions but leave decent tips, a few are those 'traditionalists' I make uncomfortable. Only one table wanted a different server though, so tonight actually went pretty smoothly.

Nel's cousin is visiting. I had the displeasure of meeting him right after my last entry. He's altogether incredibly annoying and keeps giving me the weirdest looks. I hope he doesn't stay long. The universe forbid you ever have to make his acquaintance.


Ichigo closed the journal, so thoroughly exhausted in his seat at the very last booth in the far right corner every so often his eyelids began to droop of their own accord. It was thirty five minutes past eleven and he'd fulfilled his duties of wiping the booths' table tops and the counter clean. Mila Rose, Sung-Sun, and Apache had already left in the latter's pick up truck to head home, Renji soon about to do the same as he was almost done mopping the dining room floor.

The Starrk clan and their visitor were finishing up in the kitchen, their completion of said tasks not able to come soon enough to the extremely tired orangette. He'd pocketed a fair amount in tips but not nearly as much he needed. It was never enough. But Ichigo had no other options. There weren't any job openings on the reservation, never mind the mythical one open to a knocked up nineteen year-old high school graduate paying a sufficient salary. If he hadn't been lucky enough to know the unfailingly generous and kind Nelliel, Ichigo didn't know where he'd be.

Renji casually waved in parting as he disappeared through the swinging doors, the orange-haired male noting with equal parts frustration and amusement the other's earphones were back in place. No doubt Ichigo would once again have to rip the things out of the redhead's ears the following day.

Not a second after the dishwasher's burly figure vanished from sight, Starrk's shaggy-haired head popped through the portal, hooded blue-gray eyes immediately swiveling over to his employee's usual spot. With a jerk of his chin he gestured to the younger man to follow him as it was finally time to go home. Suppressing a sigh of relief should it give away how tuckered out he really was, Ichigo carefully stood from the booth and walked through the swinging doors, the empty kitchen, and the diner's back door to the small employee parking lot.

Nelliel was just finishing strapping her eldest daughter into one of the booster seats occupying her and Starrk's station wagon, all five of her mini-me's fast asleep due to the late hour, and that was when Ichigo suddenly realized they had a problem, freezing in place.

Apparently, the green-haired woman had already stumbled upon the same conclusion, quietly closing the car door and turning to face the orangette.

"No worries, Ichigo," she said breezily, striding around to the station wagon's passenger side. "You can ride with Grimmy tonight."

Ichigo instantly wanted to protest Nelliel's idea of 'no worries' very adamantly as, in fact, what she suggested he do presented a great deal of worries, but forgot how to form coherent sentences and speak properly when a deep voice rumbled from somewhere beside and above him. "My ride's right over here, sweetheart."

Widened maple syrup brown eyes snapped up to lock with wickedly pleased cobalt blue. Nelliel's cousin, Grimmjow was standing a mere two feet away at most, wearing a wolfish grin that was somehow both vexing and charming at the same time. Ichigo opened his mouth to chew the man out for daring to call him 'sweetheart' and once again was thwarted, however this time he wasn't stunned in silence by the natural beauty of another human being but rather the artificial, man-made version he was much more willing to openly appreciate for in the corner of his eye he just caught sight of the 'ride' Grimmjow spoke of.

"Is that a black on black 2013 Jaguar XKR-S convertible?" came the rushed query past Ichigo's lips, amazement clear in the words uttered so quickly they nearly jumbled together incoherently. The orangette pushed past the blue-haired man, unable to even summon the slightest bit of embarrassment at impulsively acting like some sort of uncultured hick, drooling all over a rare sighting of a luxury vehicle such as the sleek, matte black convertible parked twenty feet away. Cars was one of Ichigo's few interests; a self-taught mechanical expert he appreciated such masterly crafted pieces of machinery like fine art.

"You're into cars, I take it?"

"A little," Ichigo answered as nonchalantly as he could, shrugging his shoulders bit. He'd somehow managed to trail over to the passenger side of the convertible, suppressing the urge to run his hands all over the exquisite vehicle, and nearly jumped in surprise when the car door in front of him swung open, guided by the broad hand of its owner.

"Hop in, then," Grimmjow said and seeing as how he didn't really have a choice, Ichigo pointedly kept his eyes focused on the ebony leather seat as he slowly lowered himself into the Jaguar, the other man shutting the windowless door closed after him. In the time it took Ichigo to buckle his seatbelt, Grimmjow managed to situate himself into the driver's seat, turn the key in the ignition, and shift the car into first.

All was silent as they pulled out of the diner's parking lot after the Starrks' station wagon and onto the long, winding road, Ichigo highly ill at ease whilst Grimmjow seemed cool as a cucumber. The blue-haired man didn't raise the convertible top or turn on the radio but Ichigo didn't mind, finding the summer air breezing over his face and through his hair and the familiar buzzing hum of insects in the all-consuming woods around them soothing in the midst of such an awkward situation. He was also thankful that he didn't have to give directions, mostly because he was so exhausted he didn't think he could properly navigate the newcomer through the complicated path to Nelliel and Company's abode seated deep within the reservation's forest.

Trees and underbrush occasionally gave way to a house or building as the Jaguar sped down the road and there were signs guided toward various basic structures for the reservation's community: schools, courthouse, etc. though no one who actually made use of said places needed pointing in the right direction.

"What's 'Tsalagi?'" Grimmjow asked out of the blue, surprising the orangette when he pronounced the foreign word near perfectly.

"It's what we call ourselves and our language. 'Cherokee' is actually a Creek word that means 'people of a different speech,'" Ichigo answered in a lackluster, rehearsed manner, having done so for the same question many times before, and the other male hummed noncommittally, not speaking again for another full minute.

"Are you a native to the reservation, then? Or a transfer like Nelly?"

"Transfer," Ichigo said, a tad irritated the blunette had decided to start interrogating him on his personal life and yet unable to deny the part of him that wanted to answer.

"Oh yeah? You move here to get married too?" Grimmjow said, chuckling a little and Ichigo knew the way the query made him bristle was clearly visible.

"No. My mother was Tsalagi but she left the reservation before I was born."

"You're Japanese on your father's side, I'm guessing."

"How did you know that?" Ichigo almost demanded, brows raised.

"Your name pretty much gives it away," Grimmjow said, flashing him a bright grin and the orangette hoped the man was done with his inquisition, realizing later how futile that was considering how rarely what he hoped for came true. "So why can't your boyfriend drive you home?"

Ichigo sneered, crossing his arms over his chest to rest on top of his baby bump and turning his head to look to the opposite side the other man was regarding him from his profile, eyes still fixated on the shadowy road. "I guess that would be because I don't have a boyfriend."


"Nope," Ichigo said, popping the 'p' in the word. If this was Grimmjow's way of making small talk, the blue-haired man couldn't have been very popular in his hometown of New York. "Are you quite finished now?"

"Touched a nerve, I see. Recent breakup?" Grimmjow pried and the biracial youth swore he could hear the grin in the man's voice, refusing to answer. "I'll take as a yes. No need to be so testy, I can't help but be curious if a looker like you's on the market."

Ichigo was this close to choking on his own spit when he heard that come out of the smooth-talking blunette's mouth and he wasn't sure whether to find such a line being used on him hilarious or maddening. He settled somewhere in the middle with annoyed condescension, snorting derisively. "Maybe bullshit lines like that got you all the tail you wanted back in New York but let me be the first to tell you, Grimmjow, they won't get you very far with me," he said and while he was speaking, as if a gift from the universe herself, they'd pulled up to the modest, two-story house painted a soft yellow the Starrk family called home. "Thanks for the ride," Ichigo spat before exiting the Jaguar convertible quickly as he could, slamming the door shut a bit too hard and stomping up the path leading around the house with as much dignity and speed his rounded stomach allowed.

He didn't know if Grimmjow thought he was easy because he was pregnant without a significant other to call his own or if the blue-haired male had some kind of weird fetish or whatever but Ichigo didn't want to find out. He wasn't a complete idiot, he wouldn't be fooled by that devastatingly handsome facade, he knew with a hundred percent certainty he was not now nor would ever be anything other than a one night conquest to this strange man whose burning gaze he could feel on his back even as he made his way to the back of moderately sized property and to the door of a small structure separate from the main house that he violently slammed shut behind him.

The day I learned about you was also the day I learned not to believe flattering words just because they came from someone I found physically attractive. I'll make sure you don't make the same mistake I did and allow pretty faces, no matter how lovely, to deceive you. I hope every day you'll be so much smarter than me but I already know you will. It won't be so hard considering how stupid I've been.

I'd like to say I've wised up in the past six and a half months, at least enough to raise you properly, but we both know that isn't true. I always was a sucker for blue eyes and deep voices and I hate myself for even entertaining the simple notion of what could have been when I caught that man staring at me today. I know I don't have that normal maternal excitement for your arrival, baby, but I believe when I do feel that connection a parent's supposed to have you will be so much more important than any one or thing else. I have to believe that.

What frustrates me the most was even though I keep wishing for something big to happen in the back of my mind, this morning I was... okay with the fact the rest of my life it would just be you and me. I can't figure out why a man I barely know from Adam with ungodly blue hair seems to have changed that. Maybe if I were smarter I could.

- I.K.

Grimmjow leaned on the hood of the Jaguar, chewing on the inside of his cheek pensively whilst he watched that head of orange hair disappear into a structure a hundred or so feet away from his cousin's house the size of a large shed.

He never expected in all of his years for his first rejection to come at the hands of a heavily pregnant youth more beautiful than all of his previous conquests combined and then some, especially not after the revelation of aforementioned youth's free agent status. Women and men of all types had pined after him like puppy dogs ever since he could remember, begged to be bedded by him, and surely would have fallen faint had Grimmjow ever so directly complimented them and made his interest so obvious. It was baffling.

"Oh no, Grimmy, no no no." Nelliel's voice drifted over to his ears, making him cock an eyebrow inquisitively and lower his eyes to look down at his green-haired cousin. "I know that look, Grimmjow Jaegerjaques, and I'm telling you right now: no. Ichigo is off limits, you got that?"

Absentmindedly noticing the woman's husband carrying their three youngest daughters into the yellow house while the older two stumbled after, rubbing their eyes, Grimmjow frowned, the one brow still quirked. "I have no idea what you're talking about. What 'look'?"

"Don't act all innocent with me, mister," Nelliel said, pointing a finger into the blunette's face and for the first time Grimmjow knew how it felt to be on trial, accused on the stand. "You and I both know you wanted Ichigo to warm your bed the second you set eyes on him. He's exactly your type, in both looks and personality - I knew you'd be interested even before you called me this morning - but he's different than all those urban floozies you've been consorting with ever since you hit puberty, Grimm. You play a game of cat and mouse and once you catch whichever cheap tart caught your eye that week you ravish them over a frenzied weekend, take everything they have to give, and leave 'em worn out and heartbroken come Monday morning. I won't let you do that to Ichigo."

Grimmjow wondered when Nel had ever paid such close attention to his dating routines, unable to dispute her accusation since it was just about spot on. "Why do you assume my intentions toward him are the same? I've literally left my old ways behind, turned a new leaf and all that. I'm playing for keeps now. Besides, he's an adult, Nelly, he can make his own decisions."

"As much as I want to believe that, I can't take the risk," Nelliel said, sighing, the prior ire to her words no longer there, now sounding nearly remorseful. "Ichigo's tough and he puts up a good front, but he's in a very vulnerable place right now. Say you even pulled off the impossible andgot past those huge emotional walls, maybe kept the relationship alive for over a week or two, if Ichigo grew too attached and you broke it off, he wouldn't be able to recover in time."

"In time for what?"

"The baby, you idiot!" Nelliel hissed, punching her blue-haired cousin in the shoulder the second time that night. "He's down and out as it is, don't make his situation any worse than it already is."

"I'm a bit offended you have so little faith in me, Nelly. Who knows, maybe I could even help cheer the minx up," Grimmjow said suggestively, waggling his eyebrows and causing the woman to huff and glare up at him in frustration, grabbing the collar of his white button up to yank him down to eye-level.

"Look, I don't know why you're so fixated on Ichigo, who you just met not eight hours age, and frankly, it's troubling me, so I'm going to try to appeal to any sense of decency you might have buried down deep inside, " Nelliel said, the level of her seriousness downright frightening. "I'm sure you've been asking yourself why Ichigo's single when it's flat out unheard of for a pregnant Carrier, since fertility clinics only provide the hormonal injection a man needs to become one to stable, long-term couples, right?"

Grimmjow nodded once, dying to know where his cousin was going with this.

"Well, let me just say that Ichigo hasn't told me a damn thing about what happened. All I know was that one day he was living with his boyfriend of two years and the next day he's on my doorstep saying he left the dirtbag and he's two weeks pregnant. That's why he's currently staying in the guesthouse out back and single," Nelliel said under her breath as if the subject of their conversation was within earshot. "I just thought they'd planned the pregnancy in secret and after all was said and done Ichigo finally realized what a tool the guy was. But two months ago, Ichigo let slip that before he confirmed he was with child they'd never, ever talked about having a baby. It was totally unexpected."

"So you're saying... " Grimmjow trailed off, upper lip curling up in a silent snarl and showcasing an inhumanly sharp incisor. "Bastard," he growled out from between gritted teeth when Nelliel nodded once in confirmation, his cousin loosening her grip on his collar and letting him stand up straight once more.

"That's enough hurt at the hands of a loved one for a lifetime, don't you think?" Nelliel asked rhetorically, grabbing the blunette's elbow and leading him away from the Jaguar to the house's front porch. "Do the poor boy a favor, Grimmjow, and just keep your distance."

She didn't receive any answer to that and swung back into her normal cheerier than humanly possible mood, insisting upon giving the man a tour of the house, which was relatively unremarkable save for the fact it had three bedrooms - one for Nel and Starrk and the two others divvied up between their spawn.

And when Grimmjow dared to ask where he would be sleeping his blood ran cold as one of the brats' boasting a gap-toothed smile missing four teeth and a pink nightgown depicting every Disney princess with her own movie popped into the hallway, a ragged stuffed wolf in the crook of one arm as the other one enthusiastically beckoned her uncle forward. A squealed "With us, stupid!" his answer.

Needless to say, it was a long while until Grimmjow, sprawled out over a twin bed whose footboard was at least two feet short for his legs and quilt and matching sheets and pillowcase were emblazoned with many bow and ribbon bedecked felines, succumbed to sleep, difficult as it was with three little midgets in the room snoring like freight trains (a definite far cry from the peace and quiet he'd so wanted.)

Grimmjow tried to do as Nelliel said and keep his distance, he really did.

He spent the following two days exploring all that the tourist-ruled territory had to offer. He lost two thousand at a blackjack table in the casino, walked through the small museum and the Ocunaluftee village, a recreation of what an authentic Cherokee village would have appeared some two hundred years ago. He caught the theatrical production of Unto These Hills, twice, drank a few domestic beers at the hotel bar, and even drove by the workaday places on the reservation, finding them no different than those in any American small town.

Pure and total boredom is what led him to the diner's counter day after day.

Okay, that and maybe the prospect of flirting outrageously with a certain orange-haired, sharp-tongued waiter. Grimmjow simply couldn't help himself, Ichigo brought out his teasingly lascivious side more than anything else. Seeing how hard he could make the orangette blush or how flustered or aggravated the boy became until storming off into the kitchens was far more entertaining than any other available activity in the Qualla boundary's 56,000 acres.

And every passing day brought with it a tidal wave of desire. Grimmjow wanted so much more than a sole bedroom romp, so, so much more. He wanted to discover and sink his teeth into every last bit of Ichigo's being, mind, body, and soul, to drink and taste all the man had to offer. It escaped him why his feelings for someone he had barely known for such a brief period of time were so powerful, another supernatural phenomena for the books.

Grimmjow didn't last a week before his self-control snapped like a twig.

Dear Baby,

One unavoidable aspect of life is that there are some people you will never understand. Some people are just downright bizarre and do things that don't make any sense. Some people will annoy you at work for no reason at all. Some people will never leave you alone, even if you put a caterpillar in their mashed potatoes or insult and call them names you won't understand until you're older or ignore them for hours on end. Some people will claim to like you even after you've done all these awful things to them. Some people will ask you out and when you say no and throw a dirty dishrag in their face they'll laugh and ask you again the next day. Some people will confuse you beyond belief. Some people will say something funny and you dislike them so much you don't want to laugh or even smile but your lips won't listen to you. Some people will never know when to give up.

He has asked ten times so far. Seven times I've answered with some variation of 'Are you crazy? NO' and the other three I flat out ignored him. I have a feeling he won't ever stop, which may be a good thing because I seem to have forgotten what I did with my time before he started.

- I.K.

Ichigo tapped the end of his pen against the lined paper of his journal, enjoying the solitude that came during the hour between ten and eleven in the morning. The last of the breakfasting diners had cleared out and it was too early or Grimmjow's daily appearance at the diner, it was the only time of day he had any semblance of peace.

Of course that would be the time a certain someone he'd prayed never to lay eye on upon ever again would choose to rear their ugly head.

Place clear of customers, Nelliel was hard at work in the kitchen baking that day's special, a berry medley pie she molded into a thing of mouth watering perfection, and Ichigo was sitting in his usual booth, writing entry after entry in his journal, when the squeal of tires shattered the serene silence.

The orangette's dark amber eyes widened, head shooting up to peer through the screened windows to locate the unhinged driver so recklessly pulling into the diner's parking lot. When he spied a flash of bright orange against a black background, those eyes narrowed immediately and Ichigo slid out from the booth and rose to his feet as fast he could. Nevertheless, he wasn't able to beat the tall, wiry figure stomping around like a petulant child to the door and the previously mentioned door slammed open and crashed against the wall.

Ichigo steeled himself not to flinch at the thunderous bang and stood his ground twenty feet from the threshold, feeling his hands clench into tight fists by his sides as he locked gazes with a pair of cloudy gray, bloodshot orbs. He didn't bother to wait for whatever bullshit was about to spew from chapped, once soft lips.

"Get out."

"D-don't you... fuckin' say that to me, Ichi - go."

"Are you seriously drunk at ten-thirty in the morning, Shuuhei?" Ichigo spat in disgust, almost covering his nose and mouth at the stench coming off of his ex-boyfriend in waves. Ugh, he reeked. The orange-haired man wrinkled his nose as he looked over the disheveled, grimy mess that once upon a time had been a boyishly handsome man Ichigo called his one and only. "God, you're pathetic."

Not a soul would believe it now, of course, but Shuuhei Hisagi, with spiky dark hair, fit physique, quiet and mysterious demeanor, traditional ink adorning his upper arms and face, had back in the day been considered the best-looking young man on the entire reservation. Ichigo remembered he had been so flattered when his very first week living on the Qualla Boundary the youthful tribesman had expressed romantic interest and their ensuing relationship had progressed so smoothly within three months of their first meeting the orangette eagerly moved in with Shuuhei full time. Eight months passed, Ichigo quite content with his life, and then, as if out of nowhere, the drinking started.

It wasn't that bad at first - a drink every night to help the brunette fall asleep, then two drinks, then three. Within weeks, their living room floor was carpeted in beer bottles and Ichigo found his always even-keeled lover transforming into a different person, one volatile and oftentimes barely coherent from alcohol consumption. Shuuhei vowed to clean up his act when Ichigo threatened to leave but they were empty promises and he descended further and further into addiction. The breaking point was when his mind, addled from the drink, concocted what he thought a surefire plan to keep Ichigo from leaving him - one that inevitably backfired and forever altered the life of his orange-maned lover.

"P-pathetic?" Shuuhei spluttered, stumbling further into the diner and closer to the other man. "Yer pathetic, leavin' me - tha only one'll ever love ya an' tha damn brat inside 'a ya, Ichi. Ya can't jus' get ridda me, ya know. I'm tha daddy, I got rights an' shit."

Ichigo opened his mouth to inform the intoxicated individual he could either turn around and nicely get the hell out or he would make him when the kitchen's doors were flung open, swinging back and forth behind the flour-covered form of the diner's namesake, her stormy expression enough to send any sober man running for his life. Unfortunately, Shuuhei's bloodstream was currently pumping liquid courage through his system.

"You," Nelliel growled, striding up to stand next to Ichigo. "I thought I told you the last time if you ever again showed your sorry hind end 'round here I-"

"Nel, shut up," Ichigo hissed under his breath to the green-haired woman, who seemed to have forgotten they were presently dealing with a well-built male drunk enough to be very easily provoked into abandoning verbal confrontation in favor of physical. While he knew neither of them were exactly pushovers, he'd rather the argument didn't turn violent for a number of reasons.

"Fuck off bitch, this don't concern ya. I'm talkin' ta Ichi," Shuuhei slurred, propping himself up against the back of a boot seat for balance. "Now, wha's say ya come back home, yea'? Ya can't have tha' kid yerself, ya need daddy ta help ya. C'mon, don' be stupid."

Ichigo swore he lost touch with reality for the second that flashed by then, not a single thought running through his mind, and when it was over he was clutching his throbbing right hand in the other one and Shuuhei was nearly bent over, holding his face as little rivulets of blood seeped out from between his fingers. The drunkard was howling in pain, stumbling backwards to the door.

"Ah, ya fuckin' little- ... goddamnit! Ya broke mah nose!" Shuuhei shouted hoarsely at his ex-lover, still in mild shock over actually hitting the man. All the fights the two ever had, Ichigo had never once took it to the next level and put his hands on the other, but he'd be damned if it didn't feel amazing. The rush was so satisfying if it hadn't been for the hand Nelliel placed on his shoulder, the orangette would have done it again.

Ichigo tensed, expecting an equally physical retaliation but either Shuuhei was too much of a coward or too wasted for the coordination required for fighting because the dark-haired man simply breathed heavily for a few seconds, glaring daggers at the one who'd just broken his nose until the low roar of an engine spurred him into action.

"Ya'll... regret tha', Ichigo," Shuuhei said, slurred words near unintelligible when muffled by the hands still trying to stop the blood pouring down his face, staggering out of the diner and to where he'd parked a black 1977 El Camino Classic with orange detailing that made Ichigo's chest ache to see peel out of the parking lot and speedily swerve down the one-lane road. It'd barely begun to move when he registered the sound of heavy, hurried footsteps on the diner's porch and then on the interior tiled floor, growing closer and closer. Ichigo only snapped out of his daze once he heard the rough velvet melody of none other than Grimmjow Jaegerjaques' voice.

"What the fuck's goin' on here?" he demanded, Ichigo witnessing that irreverent, arrogant playfulness gone from his person for the first time since they'd met.

"Calm down, Grimmy," Nelliel answered, patting the blunette's arm comfortingly. "Can't you see everything's fine?"

"Nelly, don't give me that shit. I just saw some drunk come out the door with his face all busted up."

"Oh yes, well that was all Ichigo's doing, isn't that right, Ichigo?" Nelliel beamed like a proud mother, wrapping an arm around her employee's shoulders and using her free hand to pinch the boy's cheek fondly. "He really nailed 'im, Grimm. Shame you couldn't see it."

"Christ, you did that much damage with one hit?" Grimmjow said, the manic glee returning to his gleaming sapphire eyes and wolfish grin. "Impressive."

Ichigo gave a weak smile. The thrill he'd gotten from punching the ex-lover who betrayed and screwed him over was fast beginning to wear off and much like the inevitable crash following the consumption of any kind of energizing substance, he felt a bit shaky, tired, and on edge.

"Here, let me see that hand," Nelliel coaxed gently, her fingers only managing to brush the skin of Ichigo's reddened knuckles before the orangette pulled away.

"It's fine, I'll just go put some ice on it," he said dismissively, breaking out of his friend's hold and spinning on his heel to stalk away from the other two. Thankfully, they both got the message that right now he just wanted to be alone.

Dear Baby,

I should've punched him with the hand I don't use to write. I should've tried to get a few kicks in there, too. I'm sure I'll try to tell you violence is never the answer, blah blah blah, but just this once I'll confess breaking the nose of someone who took advantage of my blind, foolish trust feels really, really good. I was naive and stupid and all of this is my fault, I know that, but I still think your biological father deserves a hell of a lot more than a broken nose.

And I want my car back.

- I.K.

"So you want to tell me who that guy was and what he did to get punched in the face?" Grimmjow addressed his cousin once Ichigo was well out of earshot. While he knew the fiery youth had a bit of temper, he wasn't really one to break a man's nose for no reason at all.

Nelliel bit her bottom lip, staring at the double doors Ichigo had disappeared past less than minute ago for a few more seconds until she looked up to the blue-haired man. "Do I really have to tell you?" she sighed.

"The asshole still has the nerve to show his face here?" Grimmjow snarled, quickly putting the pieces together.

"More often than you'd think," Nelliel said, shaking her head in disbelief. "He drops by twice, maybe three times a month, absolutely trashed, and makes a huge scene where either begs or orders for Ichigo to come back. I've never seen Ichigo hit him before though, something he said must've set him off. And you want to know the worst thing about it? Did you see the car he was driving?"

"The El Camino," Grimmjow said, flashing back to the beautifully restored classic car the piece of shit that was Ichigo's ex-boyfriend didn't deserve to drive.

"Yeah, well, Ichigo restored it himself - took him eleven months working around the clock every day - and after he left for good the bastard kept it. Every single time that drunk pays us a visit, Ichigo has to watch him drive it away."

"Has he tried to get it back?" Grimmjow said, the cogs in his brain beginning to turn and formulate something resembling an idea.

"A few times, I think," Nelliel said, wheaten eyes rolling up as she attempted to remember her friend's vehicular plight. "Starrk even went down to his old house to get it back, Ichigo had no idea of course, but the garage was locked and Shuuhei had drank too much to deal with as usual."

"Shuuhei? That his first name?" Grimmjow reached into his jeans pocket, aware of his cousin's eyes watching him like a hawk.

"Grimmy, if you don't want Ichigo to despise you for the rest of eternity you would do well to keep your nose out of his business," Nelliel said sternly despite the amused glimmer shimmering in her mossy gray orbs. "Especially when it comes to his car. He loves that thing to death, you know."

"Don't be so suspicious, Nels. You know I always leave well enough alone."

"Of course you do."

Grimmjow was pleased to find the older woman in charge of the reservation's residents' public and private records was more than accommodating about letting non-residential attorneys accessing any and all files. He was able to locate the little bit of information he needed for a personal endeavor so easily it should've been illegal. Oh, wait...

Navigating the reservation's long, winding roads turned out to be a tad more challenging. Grimmjow almost called his cousin for directions when he finally spotted down the street on which he was traveling the parting of trees signaling a driveway. Grinning evilly, Grimmjow turned onto the dirt path leading the way to a house nearing miniature proportions settled next to a two car garage, both doors closed to hide its interior from sight.

The blunette parked the Jaguar in front of the garage and stepped out of the convertible to stalk across the crudely constructed walkway connecting the dirt road and the single stone step under the house's front door. He was dressed to kill in the only suit he'd packed for his pseudo-vacation, guessing the need for one would arise sooner or later. It was a classic, black ensemble manufactured by Burberry and finely tailored to specifically fit him perfectly, under which he wore a collared white button up and a silk, navy blue tie. Grimmjow also made sure to have his leather briefcase in hand and his cockiest smirk on his full lips, completing a commanding masculine look designed to intimidate and impress.

There was no doorbell so he knocked forcefully three times on the wooden door, the only way anyone inside could ignore him if they were stone cold dead. He waited approximately thirty seconds and then repeated the action, satisfied when he heard the incoherent grumbling of someone on the other side, their tone all that was needed to identify the message as 'I'm coming, I'm coming. Hold on.'

Frustratingly, the door didn't swing open as Grimmjow would've like but rather cracked the slightest bit, a powerful, nauseating smell seeping through that miniscule opening as a pair of red-rimmed charcoal gray eyes blearily peered out.

"The fuck are you?" a man's tenor croaked and Grimmjow smiled widely, a terrifying sight to all who witnessed it.

"Grimmjow Jaegerjaques, attorney at law, at your service," the blue-haired man said, swiftly pulling a business card out of his left breast pocket and brandishing it in front of the homeowner's face, revelling in the unnerved confusion the mere piece of paper brought. "And you are Shuhei Hisagi."

"Wha' the hell is this about?" Shuhei crumpled the business card in one hand, straightening up a slight bit.

"A good question," Grimmjow said, not at all attempting to hide any of his condescension. "I'm here on behalf of someone you know very well. Care to take a guess on who that might be?"

"Get ta the goddamn point."

"If you insist," the attorney said smugly, leaning forward a bit to use the fact he was a head taller than Shuhei to his advantage in order to enhance the intimidation factor. "I'm representing Mr. Ichigo Kurosaki's interests in any and all legal disputes between you and my client from here on out. I assume you've taken the liberty to secure yourself an attorney as well?"

"Wha' the - ... is Ichigo fuckin' suing me?" Shuhei shouted, opening the door wider so he was fully visible and Grimmjow could see with great pleasure the man's mottled, swollen nose pitifully bandaged up in drug store medical gauze and tape.

"It was my understanding you had already been informed of both the civil lawsuits and criminal charges, Mr. Hisagi," Grimmjow said, feigning a moment of puzzlement.


"Surely you received the papers detailing the legal custody suit and the subpoena to appear in tribal court under counts of larceny and grand theft auto. Despite the criminal charges being misdemeanors, a guilty verdict could still merit a heavy sentence as five to ten years jail time. I highly suggest you hire a lawyer... now."

"I don't 'ave any damn money fer a fuckin' lawyer," Shuhei groused, a spark of panic now obvious in his slightly more alert eyes behind the alcohol-induced glaze. "An' when the hell did I steal a car?"

"Mr. Hisagi, you currently have in your possession a restored 1977 El Camino Classic you do not legally own, isn't that right?" Grimmjow said, relishing the drunkard's moment of horrified realization with sadistic delight. "I thought so."

"Fuck you, asshole," Shuhei slurred, moving to shut the door closed in the blue-haired man's face. "Take tha piece 'a junk if tha stupid bitch wants it back."

Grimmjow struck out with the hand not gripping the handle of his briefcase and wrapped it around the edge of the door, holding it open even when the dark-haired man growled and threw his back into forcing it closed, the door not budging one teeny tiny inch. The blunette smiled viciously down at the other male.

"Not so fast there, sixty-nine," Grimmjow said, chuckling darkly in a way that would send shivers down the spine of anyone who heard it. "If you want to keep boozin' it up out here so no hard-up cell mate takes that little tat' as you offerin' I have a few papers for you to sign."

Dear Baby,

My hand feels better. I don't see that blue-haired nuisance anywhere. Tomorrow is my first day off in over a month. I have a good feeling about today.

- I.K.

Polishing the last bit of smudge off the salad fork, Ichigo held the spotless piece of flatware up to give it one last inspection before tossing it into the clean bin. Seated next to him was the mannerly and reserved Sung-Sun, participating in the same tast, and directly across the booth were the far more loquacious Mila Rose and Apache, folding napkins whilst they bickered over some inane matter for the fifth time that morning. Though it was a Saturday and the diner was only open for dinner, work was still a day-long event as that was the day of the week designated as the one to catch up on the establishment's routine upkeep.

"So, Ichigo, what are your plans for your day off tomorrow?" Mila Rose asked when her quarrel with the other girl had reached a natural stopping point.

"Sleep," the orangette said, earning a raised elegantly sculpted brow.

"All day?" Mila Rose said doubtfully. "Come on, you have to have something lined up for our first day off in forever."

"Sleep is what I have lined up. That and maybe working on my stuff for the open air market," Ichigo said more wistfully than he'd intended as he remembered the half-finished projects he considered his true passion collecting dust.

"Ooh, are you making anything... different this year?" Apache questioned, a suggestive undertone in her voice that confused the orange-haired man.


"You know, different as in... smaller, maybe?" A chorus of giggles from the three females followed the leading question and Ichigo's lips pressed together in a thin line as he caught on to what Apache was hinting at, his mood instantly dampened as per usual once anything infant related was mentioned.

"No, not really," he deadpanned, hoping his obvious lack of enthusiasm was enough to dispel any notions to elaborate on the topic any further.

"Well if you're not making anything for the baby yourself... " Mila Rose trailed off, toying with the napkin in her hands instead of folding it. "It might be prudent for you to finally let us throw you that shower."

"No," Ichigo said harshly, thoroughly squashing down yet another silly baby shower idea - something that sounded to him like pure agony as not only did he hate receiving gifts but the promise of an event where he would be compelled to talk 'baby' for hours just sounded excruciating.

"Fine," Mila Rose whined, pouting, yet Ichigo knew any of the girl's hurt feelings were insignificant and would soon be forgotten.

"Ichigo?" Sung-Sun's whisper-soft voice sounded by the orangette's ear. "Didn't you use to drive an older model car that was black with an orange stripe on the side?"

"...Why?" Ichigo asked, afraid of the answer.

"It's outside in the parking lot."

The orange-haired youth groaned, letting his handful of unpolished silverware drop back into the bin with a clatter. It was just his luck Shuhei would decide to show up at the diner two days in a row, no doubt looking for some kind of payback for his broken nose. He buried his face in his hands, not even wanting to take a look out the window.

"Just ignore him, maybe he'll go away," Ichigo said, his words muffled by his palms.

"Are you freaking crazy? Why would I ever want that fine piece of ass to go away?" Apache proclaimed. "Like anyone could ignore all of that, anyway."

As he heard Mila Rose's hum of approval behind the hands masking his face, Ichigo's brow furrowed in bafflement. The two females had witnessed one or two of Shuhei's drunken scenes at the diner and since only ever expressed contempt and loathing for the man, so what was with the sudden attitude adjustment? Now more curious than anything, Ichigo lifted his head, spying through the screened glass visible between the figures now kneeling on the seat to feel his heart skip a beat at what met his eye.

In the parking lot, an impeccably dressed Grimmjow looking impossibly even more devilishly handsome in an expensive black suit was exiting the driver's seat of his Jaguar convertible, the back of which was hooked up to the hood of a very familiar 1977 El Camino Classic. Ichigo's jaw dropped, vaguely aware that he was moving whilst he stood from the booth and strode over to the diner's front door, flinging it open to stare slackjawed at the dream-like vision of the admittedly most gorgeous man he'd ever seen leaning against his precious car, one crooked arm atop the roof as the other jingled a keyring in the air.

"That's my car," Ichigo said lamely, descending the porch's few steps so he stood about fifteen feet away from the blue-haired man. "Why do you have my car?"

"Not exactly the reaction I was expecting but I guess it's better than getting my nose broken too," Grimmjow said, twirling the keyring around his pointer finger. "Let's just say I have a few tricks up my sleeve, yeah?"

"What did you do? Did you steal it?" Ichigo demanded breathlessly, unwilling to believe just yet his car would once again be in her rightful owner's hands. "You have to take it back. Take it back right now."

"Hey, give me a little more credit, will you?" the blunette said casually. "You can't steal something that's yours to begin with. Trust me, I went to law school."

"No, take it back right now, before he sees it's gone," Ichigo hissed. He loved his car and would die of happiness to drive it one more time but he wanted never to see or speak to Shuhei again even more. "And I would appreciate it if you would stay the hell out of my life, thank you very much."

"Do you always act so ungrateful every time somebody does something for you?" Grimmjow said cooly, grin falling to a detached slight frown. "Your charmer of an ex-boyfriend's dumb as shit and perpetually wasted out of his mind, it wasn't five minutes before he handed the keys over to me his damn self. And he won't be showing his ugly mug around here anytime soon. You can take that to the bank, sweetheart."

Ichigo blinked once and then was forced to reflexively catch the keyring Grimmjow tossed his way, his fingers closing around the well-known metallic grooves. It was too good to be true, that he once again had his beloved car he'd slaved over a long eleven months to restore to car show caliber and didn't have to rely on the Starrks' and their willingness to lend him the station wagon for transportation. It was like he'd gained back a bit of freedom.

Realizing Grimmjow was lowering himself into the Jaguar and therefore readying to drive off, Ichigo also realized how horribly he was acting after such a, dare he say, kind gesture.

"Wait!" he called out to the other man, walking briskly from the back of the convertible to the driver's side door. In a rare occasion, he found himself looking down into pools of electric azure - their devastating effect no less exquisite.

"No offense but if you still want to chew me out for what I did, I'm not exactly in the mood to stick around and listen," Grimmjow said, words dripping in sarcasm and moving the stick shift into first gear.

"No, wait," Ichigo said, reaching out a hand to grasp the wrist of the other's hand gripping the steering wheel before he knew what he was doing. "I... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to attack you or anything for returning my car to me after all this time. I was just surprised, but... um, I'm really grateful you did it, for me. I love that car and I-... thank you."

Grimmjow's self-satisfied, Cheshire grin returned full force. "I must confess, Ichigo, I did get your car back in the hope you would somewhat... repay the favor."

The orangette scowled, not liking the eager glint in those sapphire orbs. "I don't understand," he said.

"Maybe now you know that I'm not a complete arrogant prick, you could reconsider my suggestion we go out on a date - just one date lasting a few hours tops and after which I swear to leave you alone for the rest of eternity," Grimmjow said, his full lips curling into a sly smirk. "Unless you don't want me to, that is."

"Unlikely," Ichigo said, rolling his eyes and then nodding once affirmatively. "Fine. One date."

Ichigo dared to hope with all his might he wouldn't end up regretting giving in to the sinfully dreamy blunette as that night he drove home in the Camino he'd missed even more than he thought.

Dear Baby,

That good feeling I had earlier was sort of called for. I got the Camino back safe and sound today, before it could be totaled in some drunk driving accident. I almost forgot how much I love to drive. I felt more independent and free than I have in a long, long time. You'll understand when you get your license.

However, another life lesson I can pass down is there's always a catch. Always.

I'm sure there are worse things than having to agree to a date with the most insufferable man in the universe. None come to mind, but there has to be.

I suppose he's not all bad, if I think about it. Rescuing the Camino from the alcoholic mess I'm ashamed to admit from whom you inherit half of your genes was a pretty nice thing to do. I just hope he's not expecting to get some on this date or else he's in for a world of disappointment. Don't worry, I'll explain it to you when you're older. Much older.


At ten o'clock on Sunday morning, Grimmjow rapped on the guest house door. Not only was he very much looking forward to a few uninterrupted hours in Ichigo's company but he was also praising the heavens above he was able to escape the utter madness that was his cousin's household on a weekend morning. Those five little Tasmanian devils Nel and Starrk called their offspring seemed to delight in nothing more than tormenting their uncle by sticking lollipops and gum and some kind of glittery goo into his hair and shattering his eardrums with their nonstop banshee shrieking.

Grimmjow didn't have to wait very long the door opened halfway to reveal a half-asleep orangette in overly large pyjamas propped up against the doorframe and staring at him dazedly as Ichigo's sleep-fogged brain slowly process the situation. The former attorney couldn't remember when he'd seen anything more adorable than that flushed lovely face consisting of unseeing but starbright dark amber eyes, pinkened cheeks highlighting the boy's trail of freckles, and parted, plush lips.

"Grimmjow? Why are you here so early?" Ichigo mumbled, yawning afterwards.

"I'm here for our date, remember?" Grimmjow said, chuckling when something he said clicked in the younger male's brain and Ichigo shot up to to stand straight, hooded eyes widening to the size of saucers.

"Shit, I, uh, forgot. Sorry," he said a bit bashfully. "Just let me get dressed and, um, stuff." Ichigo vanished from the doorway to somewhere further inside, leaving the door wide open and the other standing in front of it.

"No rush," Grimmjow called back to wherever the orangette had disappeared to. "Mind if I come in?"

"Oh, sure, I guess," Ichigo's distracted voice came preceding the sound of another door opening and closing.

Grimmjow stepped into the guesthouse, shutting the door closed behind him and allowing his eyes to readjust from the natural light to the dimly lit space he entered. What he first took note of was the guesthouse was more like a guestroom. Seriously, the entirety of Ichigo's living quarters was a rectangular room about the size of an average single family home's living area with a sole door on the opposite wall that must lead into the bathroom, which Ichigo was now occupying.

There was a full-sized bed against the wall to his left, bedclothes still askew, a nightstand with a lamp and a wooden armoire on its right, and a set of a table and two chairs on the smaller side across the room. Grimmjow's eyes scanned over the few personal knick knacks on the nightstand, an old picture of a family of five - the mother and son displaying heads of orange hair whilst the father and twin girls were brunettes of varying shades - standing out avidly. A few pieces of clothing were scattered around the open armoire holding mostly plain, everyday wear save for the left end where he could spy somewhat hidden were a few traditional Tsalagi outfits. However, the most interesting aspect of Ichigo's living quarters was the makeshift work space by the table and chairs. Objects Grimmjow could identify as wood carving tools, spools of multi-colored thread, and several loose vividly hued feathers spread across the table.

Curiosity thoroughly piqued, he began to approach the work space but barely got two steps when the bathroom door opened and Ichigo reappeared, now changed into a pair of baggy black sweatpants and a hunter green t-shirt that had the reservation's high school crest embroidered in gold in the center.

"I hope you didn't want to go anywhere nice. I don't really have any clothes for that... " Ichigo trailed off, rubbing the back of his neck endearingly, and in response Grimmjow gestured to his own almost identical ensemble, the only difference being that his sweatpants were a dark gray and his shirt a plain navy blue. "Okay, so where are we going, then?"

"Actually, I was kind of thinking you would have something in mind."

"I beg your pardon?" Ichigo sputtered in disbelief.

"What? I don't know the area, you do. Makes sense to me," Grimmjow said, shrugging nonchalantly.

"Fine, okay," Ichigo huffed, chewing on his bottom lip rather cutely as the blunette watched him rack his mind for an idea. "Hmm, well have you been up into the mountains yet?"

"Nope," Grimmjow said as the orangette walked over to his workspace and started rifling through a pile of afghans on one of the chairs to haul out a large leather satchel buried underneath.

"We can make the hike up there," Ichigo said, flipping the satchel open and peering into its contents. "If you're up for it, that is."

Grimmjow smirked, marvelling at the winsome little tart so blatantly challenging him. He really had hit the jackpot with this one. "I'm game."

Born and raised in the mecca of all urban landscapes, Grimmjow had mistakenly believed they would be following a trail up the mountainside, and that they would wear shoes.

Instead a barefoot Ichigo, the satchel slung over his shoulder, was now leading him up through the thick forest, the tree canopy above them so dense there was no telling how far they'd ascended the small mountain behind his cousin's house. After a minute or two, Grimmjow had nearly asked the other man if he was okay to hike up the whole way to the peak being that he was so heavily pregnant but the blue-haired male only managed to utter "Are you okay-" when Ichigo shot him a fierce glare that shut him right up. The orangette even insisted on carrying whatever secret items in the satchel.

"I'm knocked up, not an invalid," the youth said defensively, readjusting the shoulder strap and picking up his pace in a somewhat haughty manner. Grimmjow decided then and there to mask even the most minute hint of concern he might have for the other. He could imagine how frustrating it would be for any grown adult to be coddled like an infant so he would do his best not to handle Ichigo with kid gloves like everyone else did. Of course, that didn't mean he wouldn't surreptitiously keep a watchful eye on the boy.

A few minutes passed by in which the two men merely trekked the mossy forest ground, Ichigo three steps ahead in the lead. Then Grimmjow tired of taking in the scenery. "You come up here often, I take it," he said mildly, aware of the sweat beginning to trickle down the back of his neck from the early July heat and wondering if his guide would mind terribly if he took off his shirt to cool off.

"Every chance I get," Ichigo said.

"You like it that much?"

"Yeah," the orangette said almost wistfully. "You'll get it when we reach the top."

Grimmjow bit back his impulsive retort of 'If you say so' and queries of how long it would take to actually get to the mountain's peak and what exactly was in that satchel. Instead, he figured this would be the perfect opportunity to learn more about the elusive minx who so completely commanded all of his attention and every waking thought.

"You said you moved to the reservation two years ago, yeah?" he said, waiting until Ichigo hummed in the affirmative to continue. "Where were you before then?"

"Japan," the nineteen year-old said. "In the Tokyo prefecture."

"No shit, eh? Your accent always been this good?" Grimmjow said. Never in a million years would he have guessed English wasn't the other's native tongue, his American accent was spot on.

"I guess," Ichigo said, glancing back over his shoulder briefly at the older male. "Maybe it got better since I moved here but foreign language was always my best subject."

"So you speak English, Japanese,..."

"English, Japanese, Tsalagi, and elementary Spanish..." the orangette trailed off but Grimmjow could sense there was something on the tip of his tongue and held his breath. "What about you?"

"I'm only fluent in English but I know some German and Spanish."

"And your last name, which one is that?"

"Both. My old man was German, his last name was Jaeger, and mom was from Barcelona and insisted her family name Jaques get tacked on the end there. So: Jaegerjaques. Awful, isn't it?"

"I don't know, I kind of like it. It's different," Ichigo said softly, bringing a grin to Grimmjow's lips.

"It would be to you but back in New York there are a bunch of brats running around whose last names are their parents' hyphenated ones slapped together. It's a mess," the blunette scoffed.

"Is that where you've always lived - New York?" Ichigo asked.

"Born and raised."

"So then why did you leave?" the orangette said, apparently never meaning to sound so interested in the other's life because he immediately began to backpedal. "I mean, you don't have to tell me. Or you can. I don't care either way."

"Slow your roll, Ichigo," Grimmjow said, chuckling. "The city was just too damn loud and crowded, it was driving me up the wall. I wanted some peace and quiet, so I left."

"Huh... that's why I left Japan and came here, too," Ichigo said almost thoughtfully. "And I wanted to experience my mother's culture for myself, explore my Tsalagi half and all that."

"Did you?"

"More than I ever thought possible," Ichigo said in a uncharacteristically tender voice, once more glancing back at the blue-haired man. "My life here has been far from perfect but it's so much... more than back in Japan. It sounds stupid, I know, but I feel like I was born to be here. This..."

Seemingly out of nowhere, the impenetrable wall of trees around them vanished into thin air and within a few more steps up Grimmjow was genuinely shocked in the rarest of moments as he realized they had reached the top. Suddenly he could see everything around them, all the fantastical emerald valleys and peaks that never seemed to end, traveling far past the horizon on all sides.

"This is home."

Though content to once again be in one of his favorite spots in the entire world, Ichigo could no longer ignore his aching muscles and fatigue - foreign to him following a simple hike. The Carrier carefully lowered himself down to the lush grass, sitting with his legs stretched out straight in front of him and hands supporting most of his weight behind his back. Despite how aggravating it was to have his body so weakened from his condition, Ichigo felt at peace as he gazed out over the spectacular view.

Beside him, Grimmjow was still slackjawed from awe and the orangette chuckled under his breath as he remembered his first time looking down from the mountaintop. Closing his eyes, Ichigo felt the gentle summer heat breeze over his face and through his hair, and he sensed instead of hearing or seeing it when the blue-haired man took the same position next to him.

"You weren't lying," Grimmjow's rough velvet voice sounded by his ear. "I get it now."

Turning toward the irresistible sound, Ichigo let his eyelids flutter open lazily to see the other staring straight back at him and for the first time, the orangette didn't feel unnerved and edgy but just the opposite: totally at peace.

"You going to tell me what's in the bag now?" Grimmjow said, his lips curling up and out into one of his signature suggestive smirks, its flustering effect immediate on the nineteen year-old. Ichigo started, pulling the satchel onto his lap and lifting the flap open so he could feel around for the items he'd brought along to make their impromptu nature walk a bit more exciting.

"It's not really anything special, just something I thought you might be interested in," he said, stumbling over his words a few times and withdrawing from the recesses of the satchel something instantly recognizable as a handmade wooden bow, approximately three and a half feet tall, tautly strung, and tightly wound with black and red yarn save for the centered grip. Beaded leather cords hung from either end, frayed feathers dangling from them, all decorations keeping with the crimson and ebony motif. Then Ichigo pulled free a fawn brown suede quiver on which a tribal design had been sewn with black, red, and white beads, its contents ten arrows with heads made of sharpened flint and tails of stiffened feathers.

"Archery lessons?" Grimmjow stated outright more than he asked.

"More or less," Ichigo murmured, shrugging his shoulders. He wasn't sure whether the blunette was genuinely intrigued by the offer or found it laughable. "If you want to."

"Show me."

"Huh?" The orange-haired youth blinked up at his 'date' with a blank expression.

"Show me what you can do," Grimmjow clarified. "How do I know if you're fit to instruct me unless I see you do it yourself?"

Ichigo somehow knew the other male was purposefully goading him. It was like the man lived to rile him up, enjoyed any virulent response to his teasing. Totally bizarre. "All right, pick a target," he said, accepting the challenge.

They both rose to their feet, Grimmjow admittedly a bit more swiftly before he strode to the semicircle of trees behind them while Ichigo slipped the quiver's strap over his head, gripping his bow and drawing a single arrow from over his shoulder. The other man suddenly halted in front of a towering oak's trunk, twisting around to face him and pointing up to a specific spot on the tree's bark canvas where a sole green leaf grew from the middle of a protruding knot. It wasn't a very high target, maybe fifteen feet from the ground, but the distance made the shot difficult even for a master archer.

When Grimmjow jogged away from the target, Ichigo held the bow out at arm's length and knocked his arrow. Closing his left eye to focus using his right and pinching the arrow's tail between two fingers, he used the same hand to pull the string taut as possible and wondered whether Nelliel or someone else had ever told Grimmjow were it not for the rule banning expectant mothers from all physical competitions this year Ichigo would once again bring home first prize in archery.

The arrow flew through the air, revolving so rapidly the circular movements were nearly impossible to see with the naked eye, and pierced directly through the center of the one green leaf and into the oak tree, vibrating audibly for several seconds afterwards. Ichigo bit the inside of his cheek to ensure he didn't grin in smug satisfaction, nearly failing when Grimmjow let out a low whistle.

"Satisfied?" the youth questioned sarcastically, tilting his head to the side.

"Never," Grimmjow said, cocking an eyebrow to make the double entendre painfully obvious, which caused the other male to clasp a hand over his mouth to stifle the peal of nervous laughter bubbling in his throat.

"Yes, well, bring that arrow here if you still want me to teach you," Ichigo ordered, attempting to sound stern despite his voice wavering. It really was pathetic how easily and strongly innuendos and anything else of the sort bothered him, heat readily flooding his cheeks and the tips of his ears at the slightest hint of anything carnal in nature. He was seven months pregnant for crying out loud.

In an admirable physical feat, Grimmjow jumped up and yanked the arrow free of the tree trunk, landing lightly on the balls of his feet. He returned the arrow to Ichigo's open palm with a flourish, the orangette rolling his eyes so hard it hurt.

"Now this," Ichigo said, holding the beautifully crafted bow out to the blunette. "Is a ga li tsa di. Always carry it from the center grip with one hand, where there's no yarn covering the wood."

Grimmjow took the bow from the other male, careful to hold it as instructed. "Did you make this yourself?" he asked, running a fingertip along the string.

"Yeah, I did," Ichigo affirmed, not able to help but feel a bit proud. "The ga tli da - the arrows - too. Traditional Tsalagi weaponry goes for top dollar at the open air market and I need the money."

"Christ, is there anything you're not good at?" Grimmjow said, appearing accusatory if not for the good-natured, broad grin displaying two rows of whiter than white teeth. The comment caught Ichigo completely off guard and it must have shown in his expression because the blunette elaborated. "Foreign languages, archery, craftsmanship, cars, etcetera, etcetera."

"Those are trivial things, hobbies. You make it seem like... like I'm... I don't even know but something I'm definitely not."

"I'm not making it seem like anything, Ichigo, I just went down the list," Grimmjow insisted, glittering cobalt orbs intense.

"Stop that," Ichigo demanded, pointing a finger in the other man's face.

"Stop what?"

"Stop... complimenting me all the time. You're wasting your breath, okay? I'm not going to sleep with you. Just because I'm pregnant doesn't mean I'm easy."

The bow in Grimmjow's hand clattered to the grass-carpeted ground and in a blurred motion, the blunette stepped across the distance between them, warm palms coming up to cradle Ichigo's face as his fingers tangled themselves in strands of tangerine. The younger male's heart stuttered in his chest, the situation and the emotions that came with it all completely foreign to him.

"You really think that?" Grimmjow growled menacingly. "You think all I want from you is a night or two of frenzied fucking? You think if that was the case I wouldn't have lost interest by now? You think I got the Camino back from that asshole just to get some? Well? Tell me."

"I..." Ichigo's mouth was bone dry, his tongue like lead. "I'm not stupid, Grimmjow, so of course that's what I think. Am I supposed to believe you want a serious relationship with me? You know I'm going to have another man's child in six weeks, right?"

"So?" the blue-haired man scoffed as if the fact was just a minor detail. "Why does that mean we can't be together?"

"Oh please, don't give me that," Ichigo spat, trying to break away from the other's iron hold. "Even if hell froze over and we started seeing each other, I couldn't ask you to stick around when my whole life suddenly revolves around an infant. That wouldn't be fair to you."

"Ichigo, you don't get it," Grimmjow said roughly. "I've never wanted someone the way I want you. I want you so fucking bad, all of you, until the day I die and then some. Just listen to me, I'm spouting romantic shit like cliche movie lines I'm so messed up over you."

"Stop saying stuff like that," Ichigo cried out, futilely covering his ears with his hands and screwing his eyes shut. "I'm not stupid. I'm not going to believe you. I won't fall for it. Please, just stop."

"Fine." Grimmjow's touch left him, the orangette's legs like jello he was so unsteady on his feet from the intensity. "But I know you feel the same way, sweetheart. This is the big moment and you're so scareed to take a risk you're shaking like a leaf. What are you so afraid of? Whatare you waiting for?"

It was purely due to the element of surprise that a second later, in a flash, Ichigo managed to summon all of his upper body strength and shove the larger man to the ground with a dull thud. Grimmjow's brilliant blue eyes widened when he landed flat on his back and barely a millisecond afterward had the air forced from his lungs with an audible woosh as the far along Carrier dropped onto his torso, straddling and leaning over the elder as much as he was able.

"You are the most insufferable, frustrating man I have ever known, Grimmjow Jaegerjaques. From the first time we met you have constantly deliberately provoked me to my breaking point and I'm pretty sure it's because when I insult and curse you out it gets you off, the shameless pervert that you are. You are too handsome for your own good and it drives me insane. You are the only one who can talk to me for five minutes without mentioning anything baby-related. You are cunning, headstrong, successful, and absolutely frightening whether you mean to be or not. You are everything I never knew I wanted. You are what I was waiting for. Now get up here and kiss me before I come to my senses."

Ichigo felt himself sliding from the man's chiseled torso to his lap as Grimmjow lifted his upper body off the ground to a position he could easily reach the orangette's lips despite that rounded stomach between them so he could obey the order to kiss the living daylights out of the younger man. A bit embarrassingly, Ichigo whimpered into their liplock, its intensity still taking him by surprise in spite of his brief mental preparation. A warm hand pressed to his lower back reassuringly, supporting him, and Ichigo tentatively brought his own to run through silken, sky blue locks.

Grimmjow was the one to break the kiss, the loss of spine-tingling contact making maple brown eyes blink open confusedl "So does this mean hell is one big ice skating rink?" he teased, licking his lips lecherously.

"I suppose so," Ichigo said, hooking his arms around the blunette's corded neck. "You better not make me regret this."

"Don't worry your pretty little head off, sweetheart," Grimmjow said, smirking deviously. "You're all mine now and I won't let you get away from me for anything."

The incredibly possessive words had Ichigo purring like a content housecat on the inside, even though his last relationship in which his partner became rather attached ended in betrayal. Not only were the two men like night and day but so was the way he felt about them. With Shuhei, before the drinking it had been pleasant, satisfactory and now so blatantly mediocre. What Ichigo felt for Grimmjow, a man he hadn't even known a full month, was so much more.

"Good to know," he said. "Now help me up so we can get back to the archery lesson that got so sidetracked."

Grimmjow circled one arm around the younger male's waist, bringing them as flush together as possible, the curve of Ichigo's midsection pressing against the other's flat plane. "It can wait," he insisted huskily and the Carrier would've protested had the blue-haired man's lips not brushed over the hollow of his throat and began placing butterfly kisses along the sensitive skin of his neck. It had been so long since Ichigo had indulged in carnal activities his deprived body was a livewire.

Nevertheless, don't think Grimmjow wouldn't have to wait for that particular experience too. After all, a little tit for tat for all the frustration he caused Ichigo would do him some good.

Dear Baby,

Since we hit the eighth month mark today, Nel's forcing me to take a maternity leave. It's so bizarre how two weeks ago I would have hated not being able to work for so long and now I couldn't think of anything better than taking a break from the mind-numbingly boring task of waiting tables for the next four weeks and I think I know why.

As it turns out I was waiting for that special something when it was right in front of me driving me crazy all this time. If it was your wish that brought him to me, I already owe you one. Maybe when you're older I'll tell you the story of how I took him up to my favorite spot on one of the mountaintops and somehow we got to this point where he said he wanted me for much more than one night together. I didn't want to believe it. Someone like him could only feel that way for someone like me in fairy tales, not in real life. No handsome bachelor in his prime wants a serious relationship, especially not with someone a month and a half away from having someone else's baby. I'd already been played by another man who said he loved me and I couldn't fall for it again. But then he asked me why I was so afraid to give him a chance, what I was waiting for, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Cliche as it may sound, I had always been waiting for him. He is that something I've been wishing for even when I didn't know it.

There's no valid reason I can come up with to explain why he ever took an interest in me in the first place or why he wants a serious relationship with a pregnant nineteen year-old with traffic cone orange hair and an attitude problem (yes, I'll admit it just this once.) I don't know if I'll ever understand so I'll stop trying to. What I do know is now that I don't have to pretend I'm attracted to him beyond the boundaries of decency spending time with him makes me feel like I've been in a coma for the past eight months and I finally woke up, never truly dead but feeling as if I was brought back to life.

The past two days we went back into the woods and up the mountain, testing the waters of our relationship. Amazing wouldn't even begin to cover it. However, our partnership as teacher and student requires much more patience to maintain. I've been attempting to teach him a few different things, like archery, blowguns, and spearfishing, and while he has a natural aptitude for all things physical after a while he tends to ignore my instructions and improvise his own methods on the spot. It's irritating and yet it makes me like him ever more.

And it still beats working in the diner by a longshot.

I'm too afraid of jinxing everything to assure or even hope that you'll meet him soon. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

- I.K.

In all his years, during which he'd experienced equal parts luxury and success, Grimmjow couldn't recall a single moment in time when he felt a fraction of the happiness brought to him by the taste of Ichigo's lips and still had yet to fade away.

It was as if the peace and quiet he'd been literally searching for in physical locales was actually a state of mind he'd never known until he had held the orangette in his arms. The serenity Ichigo's presence provided was addicting, and it wasn't a boring, tepid experience like one might think, no it was far from it. It was like now Grimmjow could actually enjoy the excitement and thrills of life without being on edge. He'd even noticed his subconscious habit of grinding his teeth in his sleep disappeared overnight.

And he owed it all to Ichigo, who he'd managed to fall for so hard and fast that were he superstitious he may have thought the boy himself to be an otherworldly creature. Two weeks after that first kiss on the mountaintop, Ichigo was relieved of his waiting duties at the diner as he officially reached the eight month of his term and therefore granted maternity leave. Grimmjow suspected the orangette would have protested the non optional vacation had it not meant they would have around four weeks of time to spend together.

They had already used their first two days to the fullest, Grimmjow under the younger male's tutelage in archery, blowguns, basic Tsalagi, and general knowledge of the extensive Carolina wilderness. But his favorite by far was the art of spearfishing, something he seemed to have a real knack for that even Ichigo had acknowledged (quickly following it up with a warning the blunette would do well to keep his ego in check.) And on the third day of his maternity leave, the orangette indulged Grimmjow's enthusiasm for the sport and led him through the woods to a decently-sized river with rushing currents that was definitely an upgrade from the day before's lily pad-covered pond. Grimmjow didn't waste a moment before divesting himself of his shirt, rolling his sweatpants up to his knees, snatching up the four and a half foot long spear and wading into the river.

"Remember, let the fish come to you, don't chase after them like a dog," Ichigo said from where he sat atop a fallen log on the bankside - his decision to simply be a spectator for the time being a wise one in Grimmjow's opinion. He knew the Carrier was incredibly active for an expecting mother and as in shape as humanly possible and so their daily hikes weren't at all detrimental to his health, but wading into a river full of strong currents was where Ichigo drew the line.

"Yeah, I know," Grimmjow dismissed the bit of advice, not even looking over his shoulder. He'd always been one to skip over a set of directions and do things his way.

And his way usually worked out pretty well, especially considering two minutes hadn't gone by when the blunette jerked the end of his spear to the surface to see a massive trout as his first catch of the day. Like a young child would, Grimmjow sprinted out of the river to show off his accomplishment to Ichigo, who was currently using his own baby bump as a makeshift desk to scribble away in his journal.

"Check it out, Ichi," the older male drawled. "Sucker's pretty big, isn't he?"

"I've seen bigger, but not bad for a beginner," Ichigo said impassively, immediately lowering his gaze back down to the page of lined paper he was marking up with blue ink. Grimmjow discarded any notion he had to respond in favor of asking a question to satisfy the curiosity eating away at him ever since he laid eye on the Carrier over a month ago.

"I hope you're not writing about me in there," he said.

"Maybe," Ichigo said, eyes still trained on the words he was scrawling across the paper and his lips twitching in what Grimmjow had come to identify as the sign of a suppressed smile.

"So it's a diary?" The blue-haired male knew he was pressing his luck with the private orangette yet he couldn't stifle the curiosity of what exactly was written in those pages any longer.

"Not... exactly." Ichigo shifted uneasily on the log, flipping the leather-bound volume closed, and Grimmjow lowered himself to sit beside the boy, spear still in hand. "They're letters."

When Grimmjow didn't say anything, unsure of what to say in reply to the cryptic answer, the orange-haired youth sighed almost defeatedly. "You know how during pregnancies the mother can feel movement, usually kicking? Well, not me. I haven't felt a single thing, not once."

Grimmjow's eyebrows rose in alarm, but Ichigo was already simultaneously elaborating and reassuring the other mn. "The doctor told me there's nothing to worry about," he said. "But that's why I started writing letters to the baby. I thought I couldn't feel anything because they could sense my lack of enthusiasm and maybe if I could develop some kind of a connection we would both feel better. But... nothing."

Ichigo was taken off guard when a strong arm wrapped around his shoulders and pulled him to lean against a broad chest, his head tucked under Grimmjow's chin, but he almost immediately relaxed in the embrace. "I don't know what to tell you, Ichi," he said, sounding strained and his chest constricting at hearing the hidden pain in the other's voice.

"You don't have to tell me anything, just listening and not silently judging me like everyone else is enough."

"Okay, you talk. I'll listen."

And so he did. Grimmjow listened to Ichigo talk about how he moved from Japan to the reservation two years ago after he graduated high school. His mother spoke of how much she missed her home there the day before she died in a car accident and though he'd been eight years-old at the time Ichigo never forgot the look in her eyes when she talked about how beautiful it was there. When he discovered the mountaintop view that was now his favorite place in the entire world he cried for the first time since his mother's passing.

Ichigo met Nelliel applying for a job at the diner named after her and was hired on the spot, never knowing his boss would soon become his best friend. His first paycheck he used to buy the El Camino in hopeless condition from a man who said Ichigo was insane to spend a dime on such a piece of junk but eleven months later would eat his words upon seeing the car fully restored to its original glory. But the orangette had only just begun to work on the car when he met one Shuhei Hisagi.

Apparently Shuhei had once been good-looking and well-mannered, dozens of hearts broken when he asked Ichigo out. Their relationship was calm, steady, and what some would call boring, but good. Then that temptress at the bottom of a bottle ensnared Shuhei in her evil clutches. Alcohol turned the man into a completely different person, no longer soft spoken or left with the slightest trace of his original comeliness. Ichigo threatened to leave if he didn't clean up his act and Shuhei promised to stop drinking, only to break that promise mere hours later and vow never to do it again over and over. The breaking point came when the orangette had been nauseated and more tired than he'd ever been and went to see a doctor to find out the reason. Ichigo remembered when they told him why he was feeling so strangely he fainted dead away in the doctor's office.

As with every drug, legal or not, there were always other ways to obtain it than through a pharmacy. Where Shuhei managed to procure the ridiculously expensive hormonal injection designed to enable any male capable of bearing a child Ichigo had no idea. All he knew was the man who supposedly loved him had shot him up with it while he was sleeping, forever altering the rest of his life, because Shuhei believed once there was a baby in the picture Ichigo would never leave him. It was beyond the last straw and so that night, having no one else to turn to, Ichigo knocked on Nelliel's door.

Though he hated Shuhei for what he'd done and it was near impossible to raise a child on a waiter's salary, Ichigo never considered any other option besides keeping the baby. However, the youth confessed he dreaded the moment he would have to bring the newborn back to where he lived in Nel's guesthouse. He never felt excited, only worried and stressed out. He couldn't picture rocking his baby to sleep or one day teaching his child archery. No, Ichigo could only imagine never having enough money, failing as a parent entirely, and his biggest fear of all: Shuhei suing for full legal custody and after winning snatching the baby away from him. Ichigo still hadn't been able to buy any of the necessities and if he didn't seriously profit from sales at the open air market he didn't know what he would do.

Grimmjow listened to it all, anger and sorrow making him eager to punch something. Though it was hard to believe, he already cared for Ichigo more than he ever had for anyone else. He wasn't scared off by the impending arrival of a baby. He may not particularly get along with children but if this one was anything like Ichigo he could definitely grow fond of the kid. Grimmjow wouldn't allow for either of the two to ever want for anything from there on out and to prove it he needed to do something.

Something big.

Grimmjow had speared a total of seventeen fish when the sky began to darken and thick, gray clouds rolled in over the mountains. Still in the river, he looked up towards the sky and frowned upon seeing that a summer thunderstorm was definitely headed their way. Turning around, he started wading back to the bankside, spotting Ichigo rising from his seat on the wooden log. He picked up the pace, jogging in a straight line directly to the orangette and scooping up the other's satchel off the ground.

"Are we heading back to the house now?" Grimmjow said, expecting the answer but not the intensity of the response he received.

"Yeah, we have to hurry and get out of these woods fast as possible," Ichigo said. "We have to make it back before it starts to rain. If we don't and it rains while we're still in here we'll be stuck until it stops if we're lucky and don't get lost." He grasped one of Grimmjow's wrists and began pulling the man away from the river and into the trees, walking as fast as he could, which by no fault of his own wasn't really fast at all. A flash of bright lightning flared and then it was as if the earth was quaking when rolling thunder promised an exquisite storm was fast approaching.

Barely giving it a second's thought, Grimmjow stopped short, forcing Ichigo to do the same since the younger man still tightly held his wrist. In one fluid motion, Grimmjow wrapped one arm around the torso and swooped the other under the knees of the Carrier, picking him up bridal style. By time he heard Ichigo's startled gasp, the blunette was already running through the woods, confident he knew the way back.

"Grimmjow, what are you doing? Put me down!" Ichigo said, wriggling in the larger man's hold who had foreseen such a reaction to being carried like a damsel in distress and made a mental note to do it again when they weren't in the middle of a crisis, obviously.

"Look, if you want to end up stuck here in a thunderstorm I'll gladly put you down but if you want to beat the rain we have to move faster than you're able to at the moment, so just tell me if I'm going the right way, yeah?"

Grimmjow could see the boy scowl in fury at him when he hinted at the fact Ichigo had trouble moving any faster than power walking due to his disproportionately protruding stomach but seemed to accept it as he noticeably relaxed in the other's arms and said nothing else. By the time Grimmjow knew they were getting close to the forest's edge and nearly sighed in relief. There was no arguing he was in exceptional shape, just about perfect if you asked him, but anyone would find it tiring to carry another person while running through woods equal to an obstacle course.

When the first raindrop touched his cheek , Grimmjow almost stopped, stumbling for a second before regaining his balance and beginning to sprint like there was a gold metal on the line. More droplets of water cascaded down, growing in speed and number with every millisecond.

"Grimm?" came Ichigo's tentative voice.

"Yeah?" Grimmjow grunted, not looking at the orangette's face that was resting against his shoulder.


As soon as the word was spoken, the rain increased from steady drizzle to a catastrophic torrent that rendered them both soaking wet within a matter of seconds. Grimmjow was grateful he'd been following Ichigo's example of going barefoot and ditched his own shoes as if he hadn't and worn a pair of sneakers, their rubber soles on the now slippery ground would have been a death sentence.

He never slowed nor stopped, running even when the downpour was making it impossible to see more than ten feet ahead and subconsciously hunching over as if to shield the one in his arms from the storm. And when he finally spied beyond the line of trees the open land of his cousin's property a burst of energy propelled him into a desperate rush that had him practically flying past the forest border and across the backyard to the guesthouse.

Using the hand of the arm still hooked under Ichigo's knees, Grimmjow opened the door and they both almost fell inside, the younger of the two slipping from the other's hold to stand on his own as the latter slammed the door shut and turned around to lean against it. They were both breathing heavily and soaked to the bone, Ichigo worse off since he wore more clothes and therefore more sopping wet fabric clinging to his shivering body, clearly defining his lithe form and the swell of his curved stomach. One second they were just staring at each other, completely silent, and the next they were pouncing on each other, perfectly in sync, and kissing with raw desire and a deeply embedded need.

At the other's divine taste Grimmjow gave a low, rumbling growl of approval that made his chest vibrate and felt the orangette's arms wrap around his neck, pulling him closer. Grimmjow returned the favor by clasping a hand to the nape of Ichigo's neck and placed the other flat on the small of his back, pleasantly surprised when the orange-haired minx tilted his head to the side and parted his lips ever so slightly in an invitation that was eagerly accepted. Grimmjow swept his tongue over those dollish lips, coaxing them into parting even more and then delving into that wet orifice with a gentle dominance he'd never used before, both in and out of the bedroom. Ichigo's arms tightened around his neck, gasping softly when Grimmjow possessively tasted all of his mouth and his tongue curved around and slid against the slighter man's own. For all of his fighting spirit, Grimmjow thought the brown-eyed beauty sure was bashful when it came to physical intimacy. The thought sent blood rushing to his groin almost painfully fast and he reluctantly broke their kiss, eyes opening to the lovely vision of Ichigo's flushed face, his breath coming and going in quiet, breathless gasps.

"Grimmjow?" Ichigo asked, eyes flickering up to look into the other's, though the contact was broken when the elder leaned down to bury his face in the crook of the orangette's neck, inhaling the subtle scent of musky vanilla. "Why did you stop?"

"Because if we keep at it I'm not going to be able to stop myself," Grimmjow husked against the flesh of Ichigo's throat, using every last ounce of his self-control not to taste that tantalizing, glistening skin not an inch from his mouth. He could feel the Carrier shudder in his arms, the words obviously having an intense effect.

"Th-that's okay," Ichigo said with a delicious delirium exclusive to overwhelming want. "I don't want to stop."

Grimmjow froze, almost not daring to believe that last statement -the end all epitome of too good to be true. It was only when the enticing body in his embrace shifted uneasily that he was spurred into action, hungrily attaching his mouth to Ichigo's smooth, elegant neck. Relishing the hitched gasps spilling from the youth's lips, Grimmjow trailed hot, open-mouthed kisses up from the place just above the collarbone to the jawline and was pleasantly surprised when Ichigo turned his head and initiated a supernaturally sweet kiss.

The blunette wasted no time deepening the kiss, again tasting the divine nectar flavor that was Ichigo, and instinctually guided them to the edge of the bed. When the orangette's knees hit the mattress, he instantly let himself fall backwards, Grimmjow using his hold on the boy to slow the descent to the bed, careful not to settle any of his weight on Ichigo as he straddled on his knees over that tempting figure. Ichigo arched upwards, almost enough to brush against the front of the older man's pants, and Grimmjow growled at the teasing gesture, nipping the other's lower lip lightly. Ichigo reacted favorably, clutching fistfuls of his porcelain blue hair and forcefully pulling him down so that he stopped himself just in time, the orangette making a noise very close to a petulant whine.

Grimmjow released Ichigo's lip, placing both hands on either side of the youth's head and staring ardently down into those hazy depths of the warmest caramel, feeling his pelvic region throb in a painfully good manner as Ichigo tongue darted out as if to lick up what was left of the taste of Grimmjow's lips.

"Is it all right if we do this?" the blunette made himself ask, a hand sliding down Ichigo's side to the place his stomach began to curve outwards, the implication being that he wanted to know if they could engage in physical intimacy safely while the Carrier was approaching his eighth month.

Ichigo flushed bashfully, gaze swiveling to the side, but nodded. "It's okay but... "

"We have to be careful." Grimmjow supplied and the other male nodded again, his modesty so completely endearing that instead of the prospect of a deviation from the usual rough, purely physical couplings being a disappointment it was altogether provocative - in more ways than one. "Believe me, sweetheart, I'm good at taking my time," he said lasciviously, delighting in Ichigo's response of blushing harder even as he scowled fiercely.

Grimmjow lowered himself so that their bodies touched just the slightest bit, sending shivers down both of their spines, and placed an uncharacteristically tender kiss on Ichigo's forehead before returning to plunder that pretty mouth like a starving beast. His hands ran over every last inch of the other's enticing form he could reach, memorizing every plane, angle, and curve. He found Ichigo's skin was smooth as velvet and hot to the touch when he slipped a palm underneath the damp fabric of the orangette's t-shirt and groaned in approval as Ichigo bucked up into his touch and wrapped those long legs around his waist.

Sliding his hand back down to the hem of the Carrier's shirt, Grimmjow attempted to peel the offending piece of clothing up and away but was stopped by Ichigo's fingers grasping his wrist. Breaking their kiss, the larger male looked down questioningly.

"I... I want to keep it on," Ichigo whispered, refusing to meet the searching gaze directed at him. Grimmjow frowned, eyes narrowing, as he instinctually sensed the reasoning behind the other's reluctance, a notion so wrong it was a challenge for him to prove it to the only one he would go the ends of the earth in order to so.

He would prove it to Ichigo, even if it took all night.

Thunder seemed to rumble from underground as rain pelted the guesthouse's roof and heavy winds screamed phantom-like wails. The fearsome power of nature made for an electrifying, intoxicating atmosphere that fit exactly what Ichigo was feeling. It was beautiful, spellbinding, and absolutely terrifying.

There he was, on the precipice of unadulterated bliss and more afraid than he'd ever been in his life.

This storybook scene, being in bed with a man fashioned from sweet dreams, was too divine to exist on earth. Surely one would have to die and pass through the pearly gates to eternal paradise first. It was only logical that Ichigo expected to wake up in a second or two. Though there was something that hindered this lovely delusion's perfection, perhaps rendering it believable after all.

Faced with the physical magnificence that was Grimmjow Jaegerjaques, he was painfully aware of his own shortcomings - the most worrisome of these his swollen midsection, a foreign sight on a man's body. Hence why Ichigo wanted - no, needed - to continue covering the flaw with his shirt, sopping wet or not. He could only hope the man for whom he ached like a sickness would understand.

Grimmjow pulled his wrist free and brought that hand up to delicately cradle one side of the orangette's face as if he were touching a fragile piece of spun glass. Gentility was not something Ichigo usually equated with the man and so a flustered surprise coursed through him, the long absent sensation of butterflies making its return. He felt unsure and inadequate, utterly virginal.

"You don't have to hide from me," Grimmjow said roughly in juxtaposition with his gentle touch. "And I won't let you."

Ichigo forgot any and all words that could've formed an answer, probably looking very much like a deer in headlights. But somehow what Grimmjow had said was the antidote to the poison of his insecurity. He bit his lip and nodded, his fearless nature rising to the surface.

He was not afraid of Grimmjow.

He loved him.

In a brazen move, Ichigo dropped his hands from the other's neck and light blue tresses to the hemline of his shirt, rising up slightly so he could lift the damp fabric up over his head. Flinging the oppressive article across the room, he flashed Grimmjow a sultry, easy smile.

"Much better," the blue-haired man said in a deep, primal tone, grinning hungrily so wide that his otherworldly pure white, feline-like incisors were bright in the darkness. Perhaps to most it would have been a frightful visage, one of a predator, but Ichigo thought it ethereally beautiful.

Their next kiss was brimming with feverish lust, a want for more than the other's flesh, a want for everything they were. Ichigo almost felt as if they were drinking each other, tasting their sheer essences. An outrageously romantic thought, yes, and most likely too quixotic for it to be true in this world, but for those few moments of ecstasy it seemed more real than anything.

Grimmjow lowered his head, lavishing attention on the trail leading down to Ichigo's pulse point, which he sank his teeth in deep and then sucked the sensitive skin there like a roguish vampire. Ichigo inhaled emphatically, eyes rolling up in his head and fingers tangling themselves into silken locks of porcelain blue, and he wondered whether the other male was so skilled in the ways of the bedroom from innate talent or time spent in experience. He decided it had to be both, no mortal man could be this good from merely one of the two.

But then Grimmjow's very mortality was called into question when his mouth traveled from where he'd marked Ichigo along the youth's collarbone and pectorals until the latter shuddered at the hot breath fanning over one of his nipples. Then a moist heat covered the erogenous bud, Ichigo's fingers clutching the blunette's hair even tighter as sharp teeth grazed his flesh and his hips tilting upwards involuntarily when Grimmjow plucked the other one with just the right amount of force. Ichigo knew he was acting unabashedly wanton, squirming and gasping in pleasure under the other man, and yet he didn't find the knowledge embarrassing in the least. In fact, he revelled in the freedom he felt to act as he truly wanted and be every last bit of himself. It was a rush, potent and addictive.

Grimmjow's fingers left his thoroughly toyed nipple, their seeking touch coasting down his ribcage and waistline to the curve of his stomach. Ichigo subconsciously tensed, unsure of what he was waiting for. The other man's fingertips' feather-light contact traced that curve, all the way to the hem of Ichigo's sweatpants, and then returned to right above his bellybutton, palm flattening against the flesh, warm and soothing. Ichigo relaxed, a diminutive, soft smile tilting his lips.

If someone would've told him two weeks ago he would share the tenderest moment of his life with the maddening, blue-haired newcomer Ichigo wouldn't have laughed as much as he would've directed that someone to the nearest psychiatric ward. And now...

Grimmjow rose so that he was once again directly above the orange-haired youth, fatally intense stare of gemstone blue boring into Ichigo's own of sweetened espresso. Taking in the radiance of Grimmjow's flawless, fairytale features and high-octane sapphire eyes, the latter was sure he died then and there, that the man's lethal beauty had stopped his heart. But when Ichigo heard a sinful, musical voice speak to him, he was proven very much alive.

"Fuck, you're gorgeous, you know that?" Grimmjow said in a gravelly manner too obscenely erotic to be used outside of the bedroom and it took a second longer than usual for the orangette to understand.

"Wha-" he began only to be cut off abruptly by the other's velvet lips sealing over his open mouth, stealing his breath right from his lungs. Ichigo hadn't even closed his eyes before Grimmjow broke their liplock, his face hovering barely an inch away, and the former suspected the older male had purposefully not allowed him to respond.

"You might want to save your energy. Just because we have to be careful doesn't mean I plan to go easy on you, "Grimmjow said lecherously, his cocky, leering expression something Ichigo would never admit to finding a huge turn on.

"I could say the same," Ichigo said in his best husky, seductive voice, releasing his fistfuls of blue hair to run his hands down over broad shoulders and the entire spanse of the other's muscular torso, not pausing until he passed the hemline of the blunette's sweatpants a few inches to palm the sizable bulge there. His reward was a lustful growl, Grimmjow clearly tittilated to discover the orangette was even bolder a lover than he'd originally thought.

In the next instant, Ichigo's arms were above his head, held to the mattress by Grimmjow's large hands around his wrists. For a reason too deeply embedded in the subconscious to identify, it was incredibly sensual to be held down like that and Ichigo felt his arousal soar to new heights, a delicious ache throbbing in between his legs. And when Grimmjow rocked his hips so that their clothed erections rubbed against each other, his amorous state became near unbearable and caused him to throw his head back and cry out.

"Mmm, you're damn sexy like this," Grimmjow drawled. "I'll have to remember to keep you in bed and all to myself in the future."

Ichigo didn't miss the implication in the other's statement, that the older male intended to stick around and by his side, and while it made him happier than he could ever remember, decided then was not the time to initiate a conversation on the matter. "Well then I guess you'd better show me why I should let you," he said instead, a bit breathless from the dangerous level of desire pumping through his system.

"As you wish."

To Ichigo's distinct relief, Grimmjow kissed him again and he let his eyes flutter closed, losing himself in the sensation of the other man's tongue delving into his mouth and languidly mapping out its entirety as if to commit to memory. So enraptured was he, Ichigo felt the grasp on his right wrist release him and then a finger hook around the waistband of his sweatpants and the boxers he wore underneath and yet hardly cared when they were steadily pulled down his thighs. In fact when the fabric pooled around his knees, he reflexively lifted his legs so the garments could be removed completely. Cool air met the heated flesh of his erect manhood, making him shiver and unthinkingly arch up into Grimmjow's warmth. But the man didn't seem to mind very much, caressing the outer side of Ichigo's slender thigh as he withdrew from their kiss.

The loss of Grimmjow's lips against his made Ichigo's eyes blink open dazedly, the youth a bit confused as the other male rose to his knees, turning to the headboard and reaching out with one arm to retrieve a pillow. Ichigo was lost up until the blunette returned to bend over him, slipping the pillow under his legs and gripping his right hip in the free hand. Realizing the cushion's intended purpose, the orangette tilted his lower body up and off the bed so Grimmjow could position the pillow beneath the small of his back. Afterwards, Ichigo lay permanently arched upwards, his legs spreading a little wider so that all of his intimate areas were easily accessible.

Ichigo supposed he should have felt unnerved at being so exposed to those orbs fashioned from the flames of a smoldering fire burning so hot its color was a mystical blue. However, just as his epiphany of sorts banished his earlier anxiety it kept any other self-conscious thoughts at bay. It was natural as breathing to bare his body to Grimmjow. For if he couldn't reveal himself to the man with whom he fell in love impossibly fast, perhaps before they'd even met, then who?

"Do you have-"

"Nightstand, bottom drawer," Ichigo rushed to answer, his impatience causing Grimmjow to arch a brow smugly.

"Eager, are we?" Grimmjow teased, already moving across the bed to where the younger male had directed him. Ichigo rolled his eyes to himself, nearly clarifying that he had such an item simply because it had somehow ended up in his boxes of stuff when he'd moved into the guesthouse and never got around to throwing it away. He really had lived like a monk the past eight months.

So yeah, maybe he was a little eager after abstaining for so long. Not that he would ever admit it, of course.

Apparently there was no need to say he'd never used the small, clear bottle's contents since Grimmjow had to tear off the remaining wrapper on his way back to the space between Ichigo's legs. It had been pretty obvious for a while now that the former attorney preferred to take the lead in lovemaking (and everything else) but Ichigo was all too willing to submit for once. Still clad in his gray sweatpants, Grimmjow bowed over the orangette, their lips finding each other again. This kiss, however, did not stay chaste for long. Ichigo had just closed his eyes when they snapped back open, a sound that started out as a gasp turning into a moan muffled by their connected mouths.

As Grimmjow's grasp on his erection began to move in long, even strokes, the Carrier mentally proclaimed he had definitely been abstinent for too long. Even that simple bit of stimulation was incredible to his deprived body and Grimmjow didn't stop there, alternating his strokes with a moment or two spent massaging the round sac of flesh under the base. The skilled touch sent Ichigo rocketing up to the euphoric peak, eyelids drifting closed, heart rate increasing, temperature rising, muscles contracting - the whole shebang. Somehow sensing this, Grimmjow's hand stilled, his lips traveling from the other's to the hollow of the throat, and Ichigo whimpered with the loss before he could stop himself. The blunette chuckled against the younger's skin, his large, warm palm leaving Ichigo's straining manhood.

"Don't worry, we have the whole night ahead of us," Grimmjow said, looking up into Ichigo's face, which was surely flushed a dark pink and readily gave away the height of his arousal without even considering his breath now came in desperate pants or the way his body kept squirming involuntarily.

"All right," Ichigo said, clasping either side of the other's handsome face to drive his upcoming point home. "So then let's ring the bell for round one."

"Can't argue with that," Grimmjow said, the statement's intended humor overwhelmed by the blunette's own tempestuous desire, its shadowy glow swirling in his lapis-lazuli irises. His eyes said it all, they practically screamed I want you.

Ichigo shuddered as the older man shifted back so that he kneeled between the former's cocked thighs. Chocolate brown orbs glittering with raw lust, adoration, and impatience watched Grimmjow uncap the small, clear bottle and pour the contents onto his fingers. For some reason, Ichigo found himself wondering what to expect, though he was no stranger to the ritual of sex. It had to be because it was Grimmjow he was now partnered with, the man was different from any of his past relationships so perhaps the sex would be too.

And it was.

Ichigo's toes curled as the tip of Grimmjow's forefinger circled his entrance, sometimes applying a maddeningly light pressure for about a minute that felt like an hour and then finally sliding slowly past the opening. The orangette's breath hitched and his head fell back against the mattress, clutching the sheets by his sides and staring unseeingly up at the ceiling. Recalling every last one of his sexual encounters, Ichigo couldn't remember a single time he'd been remotely close to feeling as drunk with desire as he did at that very moment, just from having Grimmjow's finger inside of him.

It seemed like the blue-haired man was perfectly in sync with Ichigo's wants and needs, so intuitive it bordered on a sixth sense. Grimmjow knew how to time and perform every move he made so perfectly, the god of love himself would be jealous. After a minute of pitching the first finger back and forth, he introduced a second one and later on, a third. The sensation of those three digits spreading and massaging his sensitive inner walls, Ichigo was a mess, moaning and quivering and totally unaware of anything other than the man making him feel like never before. Sure enough, just when an avid plea was on the tip of the Carrier's tongue, Grimmjow's fingers left his entrance and an unbearable emptiness.

Ichigo propped himself up on his elbows, looking on in admiration and reverence whilst the blunette stood by the bed to step out of his sweatpants, displaying the entirety of his exquisite splendor. The numerous images conjured within Ichigo's mind in dreams and waking hours couldn't compare in the slightest to the statuesque, chiseled planes and angles of Grimmjow's figure - the epitome of masculine beauty. And as the man approached, gliding across the bed to where he fit perfectly in the open embrace of Ichigo's legs, there certainly was a part of his anatomy that drew the eye - especially when it was unabashedly coated in slick lubricant.

Had he not overcome his embarrassment and was now wracked with mind-consuming amorous cravings, Ichigo would've probably blushed bright red laying eyes upon Grimmjow's rigid and dripping erection, an ample endowment for sure but not too much so and whose base lay among a thatch of short, blue curls. Ichigo's heart fluttered at the prospect of having it inside of him, having Grimmjow inside of him, connected in the most intimate of ways.

Hooking a hand under the orangette's right knee in order to bend that leg into a more comfortable position for both of them, Grimmjow guided the head of his member to gingerly press against Ichigo's opening. The latter exhaled shakily, nodding to answer the other's silent request for permission to continue.

Grimmjow entered him with an excruciatingly wonderful slow but steady pace, taking a good deal of time to sink in all of the way. There was pain, as there always was, yet the sheer bliss that swallowed Ichigo whole from being so satisfyingly full of the man he loved overtook everything else and though he hadn't moved an inch, he was breathing heavily like he'd just run a marathon. Grimmjow let go of his knee and Ichigo immediately wrapped both of his legs around the other's waist, the former lowering himself to support his weight on hands he placed on either side of that tangerine mane.

"Shit, you feel so good," the blunette said, his deep voice rumbling in his chest so much so that it sounded like purring. However, the one he was praising was having trouble comprehending anything other than his need for more and so when Ichigo then spoke in return, he attempted to express that need to find he was only able to form one-word sentences in his state.

"Move. Please," he breathlessly pleaded, earning an animalistic growl from Grimmjow, who obliged the boy on the verge of delirium.

Grimmjow nearly pulled all the way out before burying himself as far as he could, the pace vexingly languid but his thrusts steadfast and firm and consistently brushing against the other's prostate. It was a transformative experience for Ichigo, a chance to savor the euphoria of lovemaking and make it last rather than the customary fast and hard approach. He gripped Grimmjow's biceps, nails digging into the bronze flesh, and felt the man's forehead touch his own. Ichigo had no idea of how much time had passed when the other's hand slithered between their sweat-slickened bodies and wrapped around the youth's neglected erection.

"Ah, G-Grimm...jow!"

"Yea', sweetheart, let me hear you."

"Uhn... so... so good. I-I'm gonna..."

"Just let go. Come, Ichi. I wanna... see you, feel you..." Grimmjow whispered in his laboured breathing, something not from physical exertion but an almost painful exercise of control, staring right into Ichigo's soul. It was all too clear he was a man who harboured a primal beast in his soul, he made love like he made war - hard, fast, relentless and in the end you were left with nothing, a mystically harrowing experience. The fact that he was indulging in this kind of lovemaking made the back of Ichigo's eyes sting and constricted his throat - he was on the verge of tears and, like all of the great love stories told of, the earth itself was moving.

Grimmjow touched their lips together in not quite a kiss, their breath becoming one.

"Ichigo," that wickedly lovely voice said. "Come for me."

That sent Ichigo flying to the edge, spiraling magnificently into the abyss. An uneven, drawn out moan accompanied the sudden tensing of his muscles right before he bucked into the other's touch, spilling his liquid essence in climax. Body instantly relaxing into those strong arms, his afterglow as powerful as the orgasm itself because tempestuous midnight blue sky eyes mirroring the thunderstorm that raged outside seared into Ichigo's, Grimmjow driving himself in as deep as possible, a silent snarl on the man's angelic face as he too reached the apex of his pleasure. Ichigo could feel the blunette pulse, hard and hot, and then release inside him - bonding them devoutly, rapturously, immortally.

For a minute neither of them moved nor spoke, the intensity of their experience that profound. Grimmjow was the first to recover, sliding out of Ichigo and rolling over to lay on his back, head turned in the younger man's direction.

"So how long 'till round two, sweetheart?"

As it turned out, not very long.

Much, much later that night finally they both were satiated.

It seemed only natural for Grimmjow to stay over, so Ichigo had made room for them both in his bed after changing the sheets. However, tired as they were sleep didn't come readily to either of them, instead lying intertwined and wide awake.

For Ichigo, the reason he couldn't fall asleep was all too obvious. He was now just coming to terms with the epiphany he'd reached in order to fully devote himself to Grimmjow and their acts of intimacy. He hadn't realized at the time that after all was said and done he would have to face the reality of his feelings for the blue-haired stranger who'd walked into his life just when he wished for him to.

"You need a nickname," Ichigo said from where his head rested in the crook of Grimmjow's neck, the man's arm holding him in place.


"You call me 'sweetheart' all the time, I need something to call you, too. It's only fair." Ichigo shrugged casually despite the growing mass of nerves in his gut.

"Something tells me you've already got one in mind," Grimmjow said, sounding a little wary of the response.

"I was thinking about a ni da we hi."

"Seems kind of long for a pet name."

"Yeah, but I think it suits you," Ichigo said, smiling softly to himself.

"You're not going to tell me what it means, are you?" Grimmjow stated rather than asked as he already knew the answer. No doubt the big ol' lug believed the meaning to be negative. Oh, if he only knew. "Some teacher you are," the man scoffed good-naturedly, unknowingly presenting the opportunity Ichigo had been waiting for.

"You want to learn more Tsalagi? Here," the orangette said, shifting to the side and raising up slightly in order to look straight down into Grimmjow's hypnotically blue eyes. He mustered up every last ounce of courage he possessed and steeled himself to follow through. "Gv ge yu hi, a ni da we hi."

Grimmjow's at ease expression almost immediately transformed to a contemplative one, eyes narrowing in deep thought - a sign that he at least understood the significance of what had been said. "Are you trying to tell me you love me?" he finally demanded, sending Ichigo's blood pressure through the roof as he hesitantly nodded. The man definitely didn't seem particularly thrilled by the confession, instead looking rather forlorn, meaning Ichigo had just screwed everything up. "Because then I have to tell you..."

Ichigo somehow managed not to turn and run away from whatever pain the other's words would bring him, hoping his overly expressive eyes weren't betraying his inner turmoil though he knew they would anyway.

"Love ya, too, sweetheart."


"You asshole," Ichigo said harshly, punching the man in the shoulder, even as he was helpless to stop the bright smile at the confirmation that Grimmjow loved him. "That wasn't funny."

"Come on, Ichi," the older man said, clearly stifling a peal of laughter. "You knew I was going to say it back."

Ichigo rolled his eyes and tucked his head back under the other's chin, deciding not to affirm that he had in fact believed Grimmjow was about to feed him some cliche line and then leave him rejected during the hardest time of his life so far. It wouldn't have been the first time he'd been burned by someone he naively thought loved him.

Now calm enough to sleep, Ichigo closed his eyes and listened to the sound of Grimmjow's breath evening out as the man slipped under. He was about to follow suit when a sudden jolt of dull pain in his abdomen made him gasp and sit straight up.

Ever so cautiously, he laid a hand over the spot the pain had been the strongest, this time ready for when he felt it again so he only jerked forward a little. Perhaps it was the maternal instincts they said all mothers develop, regardless of gender, he could credit for the absolute certainty he had that what he was feeling the baby kicking.

"You okay?" Grimmjow murmured sleepily from beside him. It was endearing that even though the man was barely coherent he was fighting through the haze out of concern for him. Figuring it best to share the news in the morning, Ichigo hummed affirmatively and lay back down.

Not incidentally, his dreams that night featured a slew of rattles and bottles and strollers and a haunting pair of blazing blue eyes.

Dear Baby,

I'd be a fool to think your sudden introduction was a coincidence. You've needed the same thing as I did. We both wished for him.

And I love him, too.

- I.K.

P.S. A ni da we hi means 'guardian angel.' Fitting, isn't it?

Two weeks after their first night together, the day of the annual open air market, Grimmjow was speeding along the main reservation road when his cell phone rang from its resting place in the center console. His hand moved from the stick shift to snatch up the rectangular piece of metal and glass and swept his thumb across the screen Pressing it to his ear, he answered with a simple "Yes?"

"Hello, Mr. Jaegerjaques," an older female voice sounded through the speaker. "This is-"

"I know who it is," Grimmjow interrupted curtly, causing the woman on the other line to cough uncomfortably before she continued speaking.

"Right, well I was just calling to inform that your offer was accepted. Congratulations," she said, her words bringing a pleased smirk to the blunette's lips.

"Perfect. I'll be over Wednesday at nine to go through the paperwork," Grimmjow said, ending the connection and dropping his phone back into the console.

He chuckled darkly at himself. Never in his thirty-two years had he ever imagined loving one person, and their baby, as much as he did. So much he would make such a permanent decision as the one he'd made two days earlier. And he felt not a hint of regret or even concern.

Smirk widening into an enthusiastic grin, he slowed the Jaguar in order to turn from the road and into the Starrks' driveway, pulling up behind two other vehicles.

The station wagon belonging to his cousin was currently being filled to the brim with hyperactive little green-haired girls by their mother whilst their father sat in the driver's seat, head lolling against the window as his eyes altered between drooping closed and snapping open as the man struggled to stay awake. The other car, a black and orange 1977 El Camino Classic was void of any passenger but whose flatbed was piled with parcels of various shapes and sizes wrapped in brown paper.

Grimmjow exited his sleek convertible, Nelliel's verdigris orbs swiveling upward to meet his own lapis-lazuli ones. His left brow arched as he took in his cousin's choice of outfit - a sable suede, long-sleeved and knee-skimming dress, the hemline bordered in delicate fringe, matching moccasin boots, and heavily beaded belt, bracelet, and ornate choker necklace. Her sea-foam tresses had been tamed into two braids and crowned with a thin leather circlet. Nelliel was the embodiment of Tsalagi female beauty, save for her coloring. However, he easily realized all of the locals would dress to impress that day to attend the open air market. Nel had even closed the diner until dinner for the occasion.

"Where have you been? I thought you were helping Ichigo," she said, eyes narrowing.

"I had to pick up something," Grimmjow said dismissively, already walking around the yellow house's porch to the back yard. "I figured he would still be asleep," he mumbled to himself, hearing Nelliel sigh and then open and shut the car door.

Grimmjow strode across the lush lawn to the diminutive dwelling that had not only housed his orange-haired lover but himself as well for the past fortnight. After their first intimate coupling, he had been invited to stay in the guesthouse and he'd all too willingly accepted, grateful to escape the too small bed and three raucous roommates and spend his nights comfortably curled up with the one he'd grown in an unbelievably brief period of time to adore with the same sacred devotion a man gave his god.

He'd only just reached the guesthouse's door, hand outstretched for the doorknob, when it swung open, revealing a most welcome sight - one exquisitely lovely.

It seemed Ichigo had also chosen to doll up in traditional Tsalagi dress and the end result left Grimmjow's mouth dry and eyes glittering in hungry pleasure.

Ichigo wore oversized pants and short-sleeved vest fashioned from the same fawn brown suede, fringe running along the sides of his long legs and decorating the edges of his vest. Where most young males would leave their torso bare underneath the vest, the orangette donned a black stretch cotton shirt with sleeves going down to the crease of his elbows. Its slim cut outlined the outward curve of his stomach but didn't blatantly advertise it at the same time. He also wore bracers on his forearms and a simple choker, their threads beaded in intricate designs of alternating black, red, and white. Fastened over his dreamsicle hair was a leather circlet like Nelliel's except for the cords dangling from the knot to the right side, matching beads and raven feathers decorating their ends.

As always, the sheer perfection of Ichigo's expressive, dark amber eyes, high, defined cheekbones and plush, rosy lips against his flawless peachy skin was powerfully pretty. And for the thousandth time, Grimmjow was thankful he'd met the other in such a reclusive location instead of New York. He knew for certain had that been Ichigo would doubtlessly be the highly desired paramour of the rich and famous and completely out of even a prestigious attorney's league.

"Where were you?" Ichigo asked, more curious than suspicious, as he stepped over the threshold, closing the door behind him with one hand since the other was holding a long, slender package. Grimmjow decided to hold off on answering for a little, swooping down to thoroughly kiss the life out of his lover. Ichigo's startled gasp was muffled, but he almost instantly melted into the liplock, running the fingers of his free hand through the elder's powder blue mane.

They broke apart after only a few seconds, Grimmjow resting his forehead against the other male's and fearlessly staring into those thickly lashed, doe-like eyes. "I have something for you," he said softly, watching Ichigo's tangerine brows rise in obvious surprise, his full lips curving upwards into a small smile.

"What a coincidence, I have something for you too."

"Let me go first. You may not want to give me anything once you see what it is," Grimmjow said, sighing and managing a quiet, bittersweet smirk through his nervousness. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so outrightly anxious, if ever, and his heart thumped brutally against his ribcage as he gripped the lapel of his charcoal gray leather jacket in his left hand whilst his right reached into the inner pocket to withdraw a stack of paper stapled together and rolled up in a cylinder. Ichigo's smile fell into a straight, thin line, gaze turning stony.

"What is that?" the Carrier questioned in a strained voice, clearly having spotted the rather official look of the text.

"Do you remember when I got the Camino back?" Grimmjow said, waiting for Ichigo to nod his head before continuing. "Well I didn't just get that bastard to sign the car over. Here," the blunette said, proffering the now unfurled document. He watched with rapt attention as Ichigo cautiously took the stack of paper, shifting the parcel into the crook of his arm so he could flip through the pages, lips parting and eyes widening.

"Is this what I think it is?" the younger man asked hesitantly, voice cracking and dripping with emotion. "Are these... custody papers?"

"I had them notarized this morning. All they need is your signature," Grimmjow said, still painfully unsure of whether the strong effect his gift was having on the other was good or bad. "And the name to fill in those blank lines."

"I... I don't know what to say..." Ichigo trailed off and the blue-haired male's stomach clenched, thinking the sentiment more likely expressing the beginning stages of betrayal induced anger. However, he was proven very wrong when the orangette suddenly flung himself forward to draw Grimmjow into an embrace so passionately charged it felt positively electric. "Gv ge yu hi, a ni da we hi. Wa do," Ichigo whispered against the flesh of the larger man's corded neck, his breathless, overwhelmed tone musical in what could Grimmjow now translate as 'I love you. Thank you.' He still had not a clue as to what his nickname meant, despite his best attempts at researching every Tsalagi language resource available.

"So you don't hate me, then?" he said, chuckling.

"Don't be ridiculous," Ichigo chastised playfully, backing up so that he could look up into the blunette's face. "This is... this is the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me. I don't know what I did to deserve you."

"Hey, that's my line," Grimmjow insisted gruffly, a tad miffed when Ichigo simply rolled his eyes disbelievingly and took another step away, retrieving the wrapped parcel from under his arm as the older male let his hands drop back down to his sides.

"It's not anything remotely comparable to what you gave me, not even close, but... I thought you would like it," Ichigo said, gaze lowering to stare at the ground as he held the package out to the other, a blush painting him more bashful and unsure than Grimmjow had ever seen. The latter accepted the unexpected present, clueless as to what it could be, and gingerly unwrapped the brown paper to reveal its breathtaking contents.

In his hands Grimmjow held his very own traditional Tsalagi spear, more beautiful than he ever imagined an inanimate object to be and so obviously crafted by his incredibly skilled lover, the passion with which Ichigo had so clearly poured into its creation clear as day. Approximately four and a half feet long and sturdy, the spear's body was carved from birch and stained a deep navy, customary engravings of decorative swirls and meaningful hieroglyphics painstakingly detailed. The spearhead was fashioned from rare flint, pointed and sharp as the edge of a sword. It was made with a practical use in mind, bereft of superficial ornaments save for the leather and yarn braid fastened around the opposite end, two feathered strands hanging from the intricate knot - one an exact match to those on Ichigo's headband and the other boasting teal, white, and black beads and sapphire plumage.

Grimmjow concluded that in order for the orangette to have made the spear without him knowing, Ichigo must have woken in the dead of night to devote hours of time to its creation and the knowledge caused his chest to tighten and a burst of a hot, raw indescribable emotion to flare somewhere deep inside of him. He must have fallen mute for a second too long for Ichigo broke the silence with rushed words, wringing his hands uneasily.

"I know it's not much but I thought since you liked spearfishing so much maybe you'd want one of your own and - " Laying two fingers over Ichigo's lips, Grimmjow compelled the other to cease talking as he urgently needed to prove those first few words false.

"Now who's being ridiculous?" he asked, cobalt irises glittering with amusement as they witnessed the younger male visibly relax, a shy smile forming behind the blunette's fingertips. "You know I like it. I just have to come up with a way to thank you..."

Grimmjow leaned forward, hearing Ichigo's breath hitch, the sound confirming his lover was just as intensely affected at the prospect of him showing his gratitude, stroking his already monstrous ego. However, when their faces were only an inch apart, Ichigo jerked away, making him frown in both confusion and disappointment.

"Later," the Carrier said, sounding like he was short of breath. "The market starts in half an hour and I still have to set up."

Grimmjow wanted to convince Ichigo to forget the day's events entirely but never even considered acting on that desire. The slighter male had informed him once that the open air market where he sold his handcrafted traditional weaponry was his best opportunity to earn the money he so desperately needed and so Grimmjow simply nodded once, taking Ichigo by the hand and leading him around the house to where the items to be sold were ready to go in the El Camino's flatbed.

"You should've waited for me," Grimmjow said, not so much angry as he was frustrated that despite their discussion the night before the orangette had still went ahead and risked his health to load his wares onto the vehicle on his own.

"Then we would have been late," Ichigo huffed, pulling his hand free to walk to the passenger side door as he now couldn't fit comfortably behind the wheel. The blunette just shook his head at his lover's precociousness, placing his new spear with the brown paper covered parcels on the flatbed and then swiftly entering the miniature pick-up truck, sitting in the driver's seat.

After Grimmjow pulled out of the driveway and sped a good way down the road, he dropped his hand to the leather seat and reached over to gently clasp Ichigo's, brushing the pad of his thumb over the outer palm's smooth skin. Stealing a glimpse of the orange-haired youth, he caught the ever rare sight of a serene smile and mirrored the content expression. It was impossibly surreal how Grimmjow had come to realize how much he had always longed for the innocence and purity of something as otherworldly, heartbreakingly, excruciatingly real as what he had with Ichigo but he never doubted its existence, not for a second.

It wasn't fair that before the day was over it would be put to the ultimate test.

Standing amongst the throng of the reservation's locals all bedecked in customary Tsalagi ensembles, most far more colorful and dramatic than Nelliel and Ichigo's, Grimmjow stood out like a sore thumb in his casual outfit made up of a leather jacket, white t-shirt, and purposefully distressed jeans. Had the reservation's populace not come to recognize him by his unique shade of blue hair as Nel's visiting cousin, they probably would've mistaken him for a tourist arrived too early. He didn't much mind though, his attention was wholly devoted to ensuring his expecting lover didn't move an inch from the fold out chair behind the table of the booth he was hurriedly setting up.

To both his relief and chagrin, Ichigo didn't seem to really mind letting him do all the work, clearly enjoying himself as he instructed Grimmjow what to put where and then changing his mind so often that the blunette was perspiring lightly by the time he was finished - not a minute before the tourists began to pour into the sprawling layout of vendor booths and stands covered by three-sided white tents that spanned the entire main cul de sac except for the entrances to the museum, arts and crafts building, welcome center, and the roads leading to the hotel and casino, Nel's Diner, and the Oconaluftee village.

Ichigo's booth was situated directly next to the Qualla arts building's open doors - a blessing simply due to the cool, air-conditioned breeze from inside. It held a singular long table over which was a handwoven cloth, traditional patterns dyed onto the fabric, two fold out chairs, a banner in English and Tsalagi, and a place between it and the next booth where they'd parked the Camino. Grimmjow noticed it was also one of the larger booths and that numerous locals kept peeking over, leading him to conclude the youth's immeasurable talent was well known and appreciated. And that talent was displayed all along the surface of the table, an array of ornate, exquisitely crafted instruments of war from an era before gunpowder and heavy artillery - a stunning showcase of bows and arrows, spears, tomahawks, war hammers, blowguns miniature and massive, and daggers. They weren't weapons, they were pieces of art.

An unfamiliar sensation of pride at another's accomplishments swelled up within Grimmjow and he lowered himself to the other chair, draping an arm over the back of Ichigo's.

"Satisfied?" he asked.

"Never," Ichigo said, not missing a beat and flashing the elder male a mischievous, saucy grin. It was enough to make Grimmjow nearly throw caution to the wind and disregard the fact they were in public in order to pounce and ravish the other man until there was nothing left in his arms but a quivering mess of desire. But his intentions were pre-emptively thwarted by an approaching tourist and his wife, both clearly fascinated by the stand's wares if their large eyes and hanging jaws were anything to go by.

For the rest of the day, Grimmjow was merely an observer to the goings on of the open air market. He was silent for most of it, all too willing to let Ichigo manage the booth and its customers in his efficient but gracious way and never involving himself in the dealings save for when his lover asked him to help a tourist lug one of the larger items to their car or rearrange the display. Besides, Grimmjow had to admit he was rather impressed by Ichigo's business sense. The youth never lost a negotiation with a haggling customer and easily handled the mob of visitors that swarmed the booth, every patron leaving with a smile on their face and arms full of their purchases.

There were various performances throughout the morning and afternoon, including a few tribal dances accompanied by canvas drums and a play along with pitchy renditions of ancient Tsalagi songs courtesy of the reservation's grade schools (several unmistakable heads of green hair among the performers.)

Around one o'clock Nelliel, Starrk, and their animated gaggles of daughters stopped by. Ichigo cruelly put Grimmjow in charge of protecting the inventory from the highly destructive children while the orangette spoke briefly to their mother and when Nel ushered her girls away, Grimmjow was victorious but suffered a bruised shin and several tears in his shirt which Ichigo apparently found hilarious.

Nevertheless, Ichigo found a way to make it up to his beloved.

Sometime around three o'clock, the hottest part of the day, and after Grimmjow had returned with the seventh water bottle he'd purchased from another vendor, the blue-haired man collapsed into the chair beside Ichigo's. He handed the ice cold bottle over to his pretty lover, using the edge of his t-shirt to wipe the sweat from his own brow.

Ichigo popped the cap and was about to take a sip when he suddenly jolted in his seat, eyes wide and leaning forward, moving his free hand to his swollen abdomen.

"What is it? Are you all right?" was Grimmjow's immediate reaction, he too leaning forward to gently grasp the other's shoulder.

"Y-yeah," Ichigo said faintly before a soft smile blossomed. He set the water bottle down, lifting his undershirt to bare his beautiful skin, and reached for the broad hand on his shoulder, gripping it by the fingers to guide it to lay lightly on the taut skin right below his bellybutton. Grimmjow was lost for a second, until he felt a fleshy beat against his palm. His own eyes widened incredibly and looked up to Ichigo's serenely happy one.

"Was that what I think it was?"

"Yep. She really likes you," Ichigo said softly.

"She?" Grimmjow asked, not removing his hand in the subconscious hope he could experience it again.

"I don't know for sure, of course. But I just... know," Ichigo said, lids lowering as he stared affectionately down at the place the blunette's hand met his stomach. "Besides, a ni da we hi, we both know Nelliel's always right."

Grimmjow felt the baby kick again. This time he was helpless to stop the rare true blue smile that came from something so... unexpectedly wonderful.

By the time night had fallen, due to the booth's popularity they were completely and utterly sold out.

"So, how'd you make out?" Grimmjow asked, watching from his chair a few feet away as Ichigo finished counting all of the paper money that had been collected in a metal lockbox that day. The boy frowned and absentmindedly placed the stack of bills back into the container, appearing to be lost in thought.

"Better than I expected," Ichigo said, sighing and letting his shoulders drop in The unspoken 'But still not enough,' hung heavily in the air. "Do you mind getting me a bottled water?"

Grimmjow stood before the younger man could reach into his earnings for some money. Even though he wanted like he wanted to draw his next breath to stay by Ichigo's side and get it through that pretty skull that as long as he was still alive and kicking he would do everything humanly possible and then some to ensure the orangette and his child's happiness, he knew that his lover wished to be alone. He could never deny Ichigo anything. Nevertheless he pressed his lips to that head of glossy tangerine hair, murmuring a promise to be back in a second, before he began to walk away.

The vendor selling beverages from several different ice chests was almost all the way across the reservation's town center, a fact that he was sure had prompted Ichigo's request. As he strode through the aisles of tents in various stages of disassembly, Grimmjow started to feel the hair on the back of his neck raise, an unsettling tightness in his gut following soon after. He didn't know the reason for the sudden sensation but he knew there had to be one and that he didn't like it nor his distance from Ichigo one bit. Despite being within a couple of yards of the beverage stand, Grimmjow turned on his heel and took off in the opposite direction, his fast walk steadily increasing to a run and attracting many concerned looks as he hurried back.

He was a good twenty feet away when he spotted something ctic tidal wave of ice cold dread to wash over him, a bone-chilling frost freezing his entire body from the inside out and stopping his heart for one terrible moment.

Ichigo was gone.

Grimmjow rushed over to the empty booth and tried to tell himself that he was overreacting - a notion even harder to believe once he saw that the El Camino was gone too.

It could've been that Ichigo had desired to be alone for longer than the time it took for the blunette to fetch the bottle of water and driven off. But Ichigo couldn't fit comfortably behind the wheel. Grimmjow scanned the space fervently for some sort of sign, catching sight of the lockbox that was still on the table. Ichigo wouldn't have left it there. It didn't add up.

Something was wrong.

Grimmjow was about to sprint from the booth to search the area for his lover, possibly stopping to ask Nelliel if she knew anything, when a vaguely familiar voice called to him.

"Looking for someone?"

Figurative hackles raised, the former attorney slowly turned his head toward the speaker. A silent snarl immediately curled his upper lip as he recognized the abnormally tall, lanky figure leaning against one of the tent's poles and the buff, dark-skinned one standing still as a statue behind it.

Rather bitterly, Grimmjow remembered the past when he'd welcomed any of his last client Sosuke Aizen's lackeys to come and try their luck. However, at that moment, instead of eager anticipation he only felt overwhelming rage and a desperate ache in his chest completely strange to him.

This was all his fault. It was he who'd brought danger to the relatively peaceful home of those rare few he cared for, one of which he knew without a doubt had fallen prey to the career thugs, the two in front of him known as Nnoitra Jiruga and Zommarri Rureaux. Grimmjow never forgot the names of his clients' associates he'd had the displeasure of meeting.

"So you do remember us, then," Nnoitra laughed, a malevolent sound formed from pure sadism rather than humor. "I'm flattered, Jaegerjaques. It's been awhile since you ran away."

The part of Grimmjow that was more primal, instinct-based screamed at him to sink his claws into the living beanstalk and tear him apart. However, his evolved, intellectual side prevailed and reminded him that keeping a cool head would be the only way he could get Ichigo out of this mess. Fortunately, he was well versed in the art of suppressing the more visceral side of his personality. He hadn't been one of the best defense attorneys in New York by losing his temper in the courtroom, after all. Besides, he wasn't in the mood to play around.

"Where is he?" he said, tone, expression, his entire demeanor the epitome of deadpan.

"I can't tell you," Nnoitra drawled, his eerily wide grin showing off his piano key-like teeth. "But I can show you."

"Then let's go."

Nnoitra and Zommari drove Grimmjow in a black SUV to where they said Ichigo was, the location sickeningly familiar - the diner.

As he was led from the vehicle, the blunette spied another black SUV and the El Camino, the Starrks' station wagon nowhere to be seen which was somewhat of a relief. Stepping onto the porch, he also noticed that someone had punched a hole through the storm door's glass pane in order to break in. But he wasn't really concerned with any of the aforementioned as his entire body was heavy with dread he'd never before experienced.

Nnoitra swung the broken door aside to enter the diner first, Grimmjow following with Zommari directly behind him. Immediately he did a thorough scan of the dining room, looking for a glimpse of a unique shade of dreamsicle orange.

He spotted cotton candy pink first - the hair color of a slender man wearing square-framed white glasses and leaning daintily against the diner's counter. Then bright red belonging to the dyed eyebrows of a hulking mass of a man who wore his single patch of dark hair in a low ponytail and sat in the very back booth to the far right. They were two more of Aizen's 'employees'', Szayel Aporro Granz and Yammy Riyalgo, the brains and the brawn.

And finally, partially hidden by Yammy's bulky torso was a precious tuft of sunfire-colored hair. Grimmjow immediately felt all of his muscles relax from the tenseness before snapping back with a vengeance when his eyes drifted over the rest of Ichigo's visible body. He could see those luminescent dark amber eyes as overly expressive as ever with a monsoon of emotions - confusion, fear, horror, and rage to name just a few - and below the lips he knew to be soft as fallen petal were plastered with a piece of silver duct tape that made his fists clench and unclench several times in an attempt to remain composed. He nearly lost it when he saw resting on the diner countertop perfect, sun-kissed forearms bound in fortified knots of rope.

To bind and gag any pregnant person was abhorrent, but for them to do it to his Ichigo...

"Ah, and finally the guest of honor arrives," a lilting, simpering tenor voice said as if this were the entire thing was nothing but a dinner party. Grimmjow's gaze flicked to the sly face of the bespectacled Szayel, his former dislike of the mercurious man surging to burning hatred. He'd always known the scientist/mobster was book-smart and cunning, so Aizen had obviously made the logical choice to charge the slim man as the leader of this mission. "I must say, Mr. Jaegerjaques, I was rather bored with only a part of three. I was just about to... liven things up a bit."

Grimmjow's composure had never been harder to maintain at the blatant threat toward his innocent lover. He wouldn't be surprised if he didn't spit fire when he spoke his next words.

"You know me, Granz, I've always liked to be fashionably late," he said as mildly as he could, though he was sure his stare of steel and fire betrayed his mental and emotional state. "But now since I came to party, let's get rid of those who weren't invited."

Nnoitra cackled by his side, swiftly walking over to the booth Yammy and Ichigo occupied, sliding in across from them. "Nah, this punkin' pie here ain't a guest. He's a party favor." Yammy guffawed loudly, causing the orangette beside him to both glare daggers and lean as far away as he could, and Szayel tittered in his infamously coy manner.

"I'm afraid my lofty friend here speaks the truth, Mr. Jaegerjaques," the pink-haired male said. "I picked him up just for the occasion, like a balloon. Perhaps, if we're lucky he'll pop just like one."

Grimmjow couldn't for anything stop the snarl that left his mouth, peeling his upper lip up and to the side. He was far from stupid. He knew when Szayel said 'pop', it was a reference to Ichigo's almost to term pregnancy. Sick, sadistic bastard.

"He doesn't have a goddamn thing to do with this. You four came for me," he growled.

"Indeed we did," Szayel said, sighing and pushing away from the counter to saunter closer to the blue-haired man. "You see, our employer was quite upset with your services. Only you can undo the problem you yourself created, so we four are simply your guides back to New York."

"Aizen wants me to appeal his conviction," Grimmjow stated. It wasn't a question, he already knew that was the case.

"Precisely. Unfortunately, there is no arguing the fact you are the finest defense attorney in the city so we were sent simply to be your guides back to New York where you can right your wrongs."

Ah, so Aizen had figured out that he'd purposely lost the case in order to send the man to federal prison. It had only been a matter of time, though. Despite his blatant disregard for secrecy due to his own arrogance, Aizen was a man of admirable intelligence, a man smart enough to know Grimmjow was the only lawyer good enough to overturn his sentence.

"Fine, you only need me so only 'guide' me back to the city," Grimmjow said, deliberately crafting his tone into that of a man in great and unchallenged power - one he'd mastered in the courtroom and made all ordinary men kneel before him - it was the humane version of a lion - the king's roar.

And it worked, Yammy began to move away from the bound Ichigo (who Grimmjow was too ashamed to look at once again), Nnoitra's eyes narrowed in displeasured defeat, and even the formidable Zommari stepped two paces backwards. Szayel flinched but made no other sign that he was affected by the intimidation tactic.

"Lord Aizen warned me of your bark, Jaegerjaques," he said, his usual coy demeanor faltering to a more serious one. "But one thing he was certain of was that you would never bite should we have your little bone. He instructed that your weakness would be your favored cousin, the owner of this... fine establishment. However, I think he will be pleased that after our observance of you today that we've found a much better option. As a scientist, I'm quite curious to how a Carrier has carried to term so quickly considering the brief period you've been hiding in this wilderness. Unless, of course... the child in your lover's womb is not yours?"

Grimmjow saw red.

His next conscious moment was him holding Szayel by the collar of his shirt, sounds that were pure animal escaping his throat and the slight man's feet barely touching the floor, and a revolver held by Zommari sweeping up to press against his temple. What really caught his attention however was, in the corner of his eye,fifteen feet away, Nnoitra drew his own weapon, cocked it, and aimed it right between Ichigo's terrified toffee eyes.

"Now, now, Mr. Jaegerjaques, there's no need to be hostile," Szayel said coquettishly, a teasing little smile on his thin lips as he was clearly pleased at cracking the blunette's composure. He pressed against Grimmjow's chest with his customarily white-gloved hands and, incredibly reluctantly, the former roughly dropped Szayel to the ground, who immediately straightened his tie and brushed imaginary dirt off of his immaculately pressed suit. "Nnoitra, Zommari - lower your weapons, please. Let's keep the proceedings as civilized as possible, shall we?"

"This is fuckin' stupid, Granz. Let's just get rid of this lil' dandelion and drag Jaegerjaques back to New York," Nnoitra half-spat, half-whined even though both he and Zommari dropped their arms, but still kept the guns in their grip.

"Ah ah, don't be so eager, Jiruga. Doubtlessly, you and Yammy will both get to have your fun at some point." Szayel said complacently, even as Grimmjow's desperate rage at the second statement was visible and almost tangible (as if an invisible electric tornado stormed around his imposing figure.) "For now, - ah, I'm sorry what was your name again?" the pink-haired man cruelly asked the gagged Ichigo.

"His name is Ichigo Kurosaki, age nineteen, lives with Jaegerjaques' cousin," Zommari said in his Mufasa-like voice, speaking for the first time. Grimmjow cursed the fact that in spite of the man's memorable appearance, Zommari was an expert in reconnaissance.

"Nineteen, you say?" Szayel chuckled. "My, Jaegerjaques - I never pictured you to rob the cradle, especially for a single teen mother. Nevertheless, for now dear Ichigo is, shall we say... collateral."

Grimmjow had been expecting as much, had known his Ichi would irrevocably be put in the line of fire because of what he had done. He was nothing but pure scum. He'd brought danger to the peaceful sanctuary that Ichigo loved and called home, brought mortal peril to his beloved, brought Hell to the angel.

"Can we go already?" Yammy said impatiently, sounding like a petulant child.

"Yes, yes. In fact, we're already behind schedule due to our little friendly chat," Szayel said, sighing and waving a hand. "All right, children. Carpool groups are as we discussed earlier - I shall lead in the first SUV, Nnoitra and Zommari will escort Mr. Jaegerjaques in the second, and, last but certainly not least, Yammy will be young Ichigo's escort in... whatever that thing we brought him here in is.

Grimmjow couldn't bear to look at his pretty lover, but he knew for that one moment Szayel insulted the El Camino Ichigo's orbs of decadent chocolate of radiance doubtlessly darkened to pits of earthy fire directed at the bespectacled man. He knew his own visage blasted volumes of ire at the prospect of the brutish Yammy handling Ichigo in his delicate condition.

If anything happened to him...

Szayel exited first, traipsing over the broken glass and porch to the farthest black SUV. Once he was safely in the driver's seat, Nnoitra stood up to flank Grimmjow's other side and as added measure both he and Zommari grabbed his upper arms to lead/force the blue-haired man.

As if the universe herself commanded it, Grimmjow stole one last glance back at Ichigo, who was slowly standing from the booth. Next to the massive Yammy, he looked so small, so fragile, with his duct-taped mouth and bound wrists and his eyes huge and full of fear, unshed tears, and love. It was excruciating.

Grimmjow whipped his head forward, unsure of what he would do if he witnessed that tragic and yet still somehow beautiful sight any longer. He needed to master his emotions and impulses, keep a clear, cool head. It was the only way he could save Ichigo and the baby, for when he had come to hopelessly love one the other soon followed.

Evidently, the thugs didn't feel the need to tie or gag or do anything to him. Apparently, and unfortunately, Szayel seemed to have rightfully concluded the threat of Ichigo's safety was enough to keep him from doing anything risky. On the other hand, and as many people had his whole life, it appeared they had all merely seen him a creature of brute force and impulse.

That was a mistake.

Szayel drove off first, pulling out of the parking lot and onto the road but turning in the direction opposite of the reservation's town center and only exit. Zommari followed, Nnoitra and Grimmjow in the backseat of their SUV, and the El Camino brought up the rear. The blue-haired man spotted in the rearview mirror that Yammy was driving, even though he could barely fit behind the wheel and he had to stoop his head. Ichigo was in the passenger's side, turned away from the repulsive man as much as possible, eyes downcast.

Grimmjow's unspoken question of their direction was answered by the ever chatty Nnoitra.

"Hn, I hope they got seatbelts big enough for preggers in the chopper," he said, his ensuing laughter high-pitched and sadistic - a word which he and the other three thugs would soon learn the true meaning of once Grimmjow was done with them.

Nnoitra, whilst a competent enforcer, had never been incredibly bright. Surely, Grimmjow hadn't supposed to find out that a helicopter was meeting them deep in the Qualla boundary forest, on one of the mountaintops that better not be the one Ichigo had shown him. These assholes had desecrated enough.

He stole frequent, anxious glimpses back to the El Camino. He was well acquainted with the barbaric savagery Yammy was not only capable of but notorious for. Each time he was somewhat relieved to discover that the two passengers hadn't moved nor was that dumb giant taking the liberty to spew whatever garbage he usually did to Ichigo. Yammy didn't even deserve to walk the Earth with his crimes let alone talk to the orangette.

They drove for about twenty-five minutes until something obviously didn't go according to plan.

Grunting in confusion, Zommari decelerated and turned to the shoulder of the road, stopping completely. Nnoitra voiced Grimmjow's query, demanding to know why they were stopping. In front of them, Szayel copied the action, parking twenty feet away. Grimmjow snapped his head around and what he saw both sent his heart racing in excitement and his stomach plummeting to the ground.

Free of rope and duct tape, Ichigo was swiftly disappearing into the verdant foliage of the dense forest. Within a second, he was gone. Grimmjow mentally shouted for the boy to run as fast and far away as he could even while he worried about Ichigo attempting the physical feat in his condition and what Aizen's four lackeys may do now or if, the universe forbid, they caught him.

Zommari and Nnoitra hopped out of the SUV and visible through the front windshield was Szayel getting out of his own vehicle, a clearly frustrated expression on his face as he stomped over to where Yammy was dislodging himself from the El Camino. Grimmjow tapped the button on his door, rolling the window down just the slightest bit so he could hear what was being said.

"You imbecile!" Szayel screamed, rapidly walking up to Yammy. Not caring about the height difference, the pink-haired man pointed a finger in the other's ugly mug. "Will you please explain to me just how a heavily pregnant male half your size managed to escape from you! I knew you were stupid but this is absurd!"

"It's not my fault," Yammy protested, pretty meekly for a man bigger than some bear breeds. "He said he was going into labour!"

"You idiot, Carriers don't go into labour!" Szayel shrieked, his glasses now askew. "You and Nnoitra go find that little knocked up bitch. Rough him up if you must but bring him back alive!"

Grimmjow would've exploded in pure, manic wrath seeing the towering Nnoitra and bulky Yammy trude through the greenery and into the forest to recapture his lover, had he not already been slipping out of the SUV's other side door. Staying low to the ground and close to the vehicle, he slinked around the SUV, across the gap to the El Camino, and then along Ichigo's prized car until he hit the flatbed.

A bloodthirsty grin curved his upper lip in a monster-under-the-bed fashion when he saw his spear, the one Ichigo had made just for him, still sitting innocently under the tarp. He curled his fingers around the handle, drawing it out from the flatbed, his blood pumping thunderously in the thrill of the hunt as he gave the sharp flint a quick kiss.

Whether it was in the courtroom or the wild, Grimmjow was always meant to hunt.

Pressing himself against the driver side door of the El Camino, he peered around to see Szayel and Zommari facing the forest, completely unaware. He was well aware of which opponent would be the most fun and so Grimmjow stalked his prey from behind.

Clearly sensing something was off, Zommari turned his head, bright yellow eyes widening, and then he whirled around to face Grimmjow head-on, falling into a defensive stance. Szayel turned as well, an almost offended gasp escaping his throat, but he made no move otherwise. From Grimmjow's quick scan he could see the scientist had no weapon, a gun he probably never had use for stashed somewhere in his SUV, and clearly hoping his comrade would handle their target.

The blue-haired man nearly scoffed, the two's fighting styles were plain as day - one hand to hand contact, using a gun as a last resort, and the other one completely nonexistent.

Zommari charged, one arm held straight out - an offensive maneuver meant to clothesline the opponent and then sweep their knees from under them, the spear never making contact. It was too easy. Just like spearfishing.

Let the fish come to you.

Ichigo's melodic voice sounded in Grimmjow's mind as he skillfully dodged Zommari, coasting around until he was behind the man. Reaching out with both hands, the blunette brought the length of spear across Zommari's unprotected neck.

Not expecting that kind of attack, Zommari wheezed out a gasp and his hands flew to the spear that was currently cutting off his airway and pulling with all of his might. The man was strong, perhaps stronger than Grimmjow physically, but he was an effortless kill. Before Zommari could even begin to put his full strength into pulling the spear, Grimmjow had jabbed his thumb into the pressure point right below the jawline.

The man sank like a stone, and for good measure Grimmjow chopped him in the back of the neck a few seconds before he hit the pavement face first - out like a light and staying that way for a long while.

When Grimmjow rounded on Szayel, the man actually whimpered and held his hands out in surrender. Normally, the former attorney would have let a pathetic creature alone with a snort of disgust. However, this particular one had threatened and still posed a danger to something very dear to him. There was no room for mercy.

"W-wait," Szayel said timidly, backing away. "Aizen won't be very pleased if he hears you harmed or killed me."

Grimmjow lashed out, expertly swinging the spear so that it came into contact with the side of the pink-haired man's head, breaking those trendy white spectacles and thudding against the bone of skull and jaw, the sharp edge slicing a thin gash spanning from chin to temple. Szayel stumbled backwards for a moment and then collapsed like a broken doll, blunt trauma to the brain sure to knock his IQ down a few points and a dislocated jaw marring his once aristocratic features.

"Fuck Aizen."

Now to find Ichigo...

When Ichigo had first seen the odd couple of a cotton candy pink-haired, bespectacled slender man and a brutish, living Hulk approach his booth he'd suddenly wished he hadn't sent Grimmjow for that stupid bottle of water he didn't even want.

"May I help you?" he'd asked a bit more harshly than with his other customers.

The slender man had walked directly up to the table, placing a white-gloved finger to his lips contemplatively. "Oh dear, I see you're all sold out," he'd said. It was like a bad actor acting disappointed and instantly put Ichigo on edge.

"I'm sorry, everything went really fast today," Ichigo had said hurriedly, standing as swiftly as he could and picking the lockbox up in his arms. He'd had every intention of distancing himself from these two, whom he suspected were some kind of thieves, by walking to wherever Grimmjow was as fast as possible. He couldn't afford to let some common criminals steal his hard-earned money - literally.

"Hold on," the pink-haired male had commanded. "Fortunately, I see what I came here for in the first place."

Ichigo had narrowed his eyes, taking a step backwards and clutching the lockbox closer to his chest. Oh, how he'd wished Grimmjow would somehow sense that he needed help and come running back - however unlikely that was.

"You see, my associate and I have traveled a long way," the man had said, gesturing to his 'associate', and Ichigo had spied with dread the handgun that had been tucked into the man's jeans waistband. "We'll be very upset if we came all this way for nothing."

Knowing he had more than just himself to take care of at the moment and thinking he understood, the orangette had held out the lockbox. The two men had both laughed condescendingly, the larger of the two reaching out a massive hand to knock the thing to the ground, the lid opening and paper bills flying out. Scowling, Ichigo had looked up to notice with horror that the colossal man had rounded the display table and was reaching out for him.

"Do not scream or make a fuss, you'll only draw the attention of those who need not be involved," the pink-haired man had said and Ichigo had immediately thought of what might happen if he disobeyed, specifically his blue-haired lover rushing to his rescue only to be shot by the brute's gun. So, he had simply nodded.

They had all gotten into the El Camino, Ichigo having had to suppress his disgust at having the rather greasy-looking, large man drive his precious car. When they had reached the diner, he'd thought the worst but had been relieved to find it completely empty. There, as he'd suspected, the bigger one had made him sit in his regular booth seat, then bound his wrists with heavy rope and, to Ichigo's indignant humiliation, plastered a piece of duct tape over his mouth.

He'd only begun to wonder what kind of repulsive things they'd want him for when another car had pulled up. Silently, he'd watched an atypically tall, lanky man with long, black hair enter but he'd audibly gasped through his gag when he'd seen who'd entered the diner next. Ichigo's entire body had turned to ice with horror upon seeing these thugs had managed to capture Grimmjow, as well.

In the beginning, he'd tuned out most of the conversation that had followed between Grimmjow and the man he'd referred to as 'Granz' until the tall man had slid into the booth directly across from him. And when said man had called him 'punkin' pie' Ichigo had really thought he was going to be sick. All four men repulsed him thoroughly.

Truthfully, he had only began to listen when he'd heard 'Granz' mention him, specifically his pregnancy. That's when it had started to sink in that these thugs knew Grimmjow and he them. Ichigo had been and still was baffled by it. Then, of course, those guns had come out - a barrel pointing directly at his face. He had never been more terrified than that moment he'd thought would be his last. He remembered thinking how he couldn't die, not yet, not before the baby's born. His baby had to live.

The relief when the guns had been put away hadn't lasted long because then that pink-haired bastard had basically revealed the plan to force Grimmjow back to New York, using Ichigo as collateral, and apparently had a helicopter waiting for them in the mountains somewhere.

He'd tried to catch his lover's eye, but the man had refused to look at him which had hurt much worse than any bullet or blade. It had numbed him up until he'd had this outrageous moment of clarity, only then realizing he was in the El Camino with the largest of the men, Yammy, driving his beloved car.

Ichigo hadn't trusted 'Granz' when he'd told of the plan. He had pretty much figured out that they were going to kill him and forcibly take Grimmjow back to New York and once his purpose was served they would kill him, too. It wasn't acceptable. Forget fear for his own life, Ichigo hadn't been able to handle the thought of Grimmjow and his baby dead. He'd vowed then and there to do everything and anything he could to keep them alive. It had been a few minutes until he'd come up with a plan, one not totally developed, but he hadn't any more time to spare.

Groaning and clutching his stomach, he'd gotten the attention of the brute driving his car. At first, Yammy hadn't acknowledged Ichigo's award-winning performance as someone going into labor, but after four or five minutes he'd finally cracked.

"What the fuck's the matter with you?" Yammy had demanded, looking back and forth from the road to the orangette in the passenger seat. Since he hadn't been able to talk with duct tape over his mouth, Ichigo had continued making pained noises and used his bound hands to gesture at his stomach. Stupid as he was, Yammy hadn't understood and in frustration had reached over and viciously torn the duct tape off.

"Please, you have... have to pull over. I'm going to have the baby right now," Ichigo had lied, making his voice waver and strained.

"Hold it in or something, I'm not fucking pulling over," Yammy had sneered.

"I c-can't. Please just pull over... or else I'll have the baby right in this seat." The Carrier had moaned even louder, screeching a little at the end as if he really was in agonizing pain.

Yammy's face had screwed up in disgust and Ichigo had wanted badly to punch that expression off that hideous face. "Goddamnit, I don't wanna see that shit," he'd said. "Fine, I'll fucking pull over. Go behind a tree or whatever, long as I can't see I don't care."

Ichigo had mentally cheered even as he'd carried on groaning and holding his stomach. The instant the car had stopped, he'd jumped out of the El Camino and hurried fast as he could into the forest, an extra burst of adrenaline from the risk had helped him to run like no pregnant person had before. He'd disappeared from sight quickly, hearing shouting from the road and had hoped Grimmjow could hold on until he could come back with help.

Now he was deep within the forest, sitting on the ground with his back against a tree trunk and breathing heavily from exerting himself like he had when he was in no condition to do so. He'd found a sharp enough rock to cut through the ropes binding his hands together, which had been pretty difficult, obviously. He'd also kept the rock as a possible weapon should he need to defend himself.

The next second had him slowly pushing himself up, using the tree trunk as support to stand on his aching legs. He had to get back to the main area of the reservation to get help, Grimmjow's life was in his hands and Ichigo wouldn't fail him. He didn't even think of failure, it wasn't an option. Tonight, he would lay in bed with Grimmjow beside him.

And you can take that to the bank, sweetheart.

Ichigo started traveling through the forest in the direction of the main area of the reservation, walking the quickest his body would allow him. He kept a keen ear out to listen for any of the thugs searching for him, which they undoubtedly were. But Ichigo was a master at treading lightly on forest ground he made not a sound; he knew all the tricks of the trade, the forest was like his home away from home. Meanwhile, those four men were urban through and through and clueless about how to interact with nature.

Or at least he'd thought so, right up until he was going through a particularly thick patch of underbrush and emerged to immediately collide into something solid and warm, a man's hands grasping his upper arms.

Startled, Ichigo panicked and threw all of his strength into yanking out of the hold on his arms. He succeeded but he lost his balance from the momentum and began to fall. However, he never made it to the ground, a pair of strong arms holding him in midair and guiding him back to his feet.

"Grimm," he sighed in relief the very second he realized who stood there, as impossibly and wonderfully as the hero in romance novels who swoop just in time to rescue the damsel in distress, but Ichigo wasn't the type to throw himself into his lover's arms. "Are you okay? What happened? Why do you have your spear? Is that... blood?"

Normally, Grimmjow would grin or chuckle as he found amusement in something Ichigo said or did. Tonight his face was like that of a stone statue, expressionless save for his vividly blue eyes bright and alert. "I'm fine except for the past half hour I was looking for you. What were you thinking, running away like that? Forget that you're not supposed to run in the first place, didn't you think they'd chase after you and when they got you they would be especially pissed off?"

"I know that!" Ichigo snapped. "I was trying to make sure we didn't die, is that all right with you? I didn't see you even lift a finger and you're the one responsible for all this!" As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted them so much he instantly started apologizing. "Shit, I didn't mean it like that. Grimmjow, I'm so -"

"Don't apologize, you're right," Grimmjow said emotionlessly. "I'm the one who's sorry for getting you caught up in my damn mess." Without another word, the blue-haired man turned around and began walking away and Ichigo was unsure whether or not his lover wanted him to follow.

"Grimm -" he began to call the other's name, his voice sharply cut off due to the long, skinny arm hooked around his neck from behind, using such force his airway was being crushed so that it already was incredibly difficult to breathe. Grimmjow whipped around, body instantly tensed and spear raised reminiscent of the Tsalagi warriors whom had done the same in this forest long ago. If he'd been able, Ichigo would have gasped at the sight. He knew his lover was fierce, fearless, when they argued he'd seen voraciousness of the man, and yet he never imagined Grimmjow, so suave and worldly and capable, could take on the appearance of an absolute wild beast, radiating a dangerous thick aura that hung heavily in the air and eyes flaming in hunger - the bloodthirst of a true killer.

Nnoitra even seemed unnerved, silent for a few moments before bursting into cackling laughter. "You're not going to try to kill me with that stick, are you?" he mocked. "You're fucking pathetic, Jaegerjaques."

Now, Ichigo never knew why since childhood people consistently flagged him as a defenseless, meek little thing, an easy target. It annoyed him to no end, nevertheless, sometimes it came in handy - like this one. No one called Grimmjow 'pathetic,' in front of him and got away with it.

Swiveling his hips to the side, he hammerfisted Nnoitra in the groin as hard he was able. A grunt of intense pain was all he got, the hold on his neck not loosening a bit, so Ichigo lifted a leg and scraped the thug's shin with the inner side of his shoe, then stomping down on the other man's instep. He felt Nnoitra begin to back away but he wasn't done yet, bending his leg at the knee to heel kick the groin and elbow jabbed the ribcage. Then Nnoitra readily let his arm slacken around Ichigo's neck, the latter wasting no time to grab a thin wrist and spin out, locking the entire limb before pushing it. Nnoitra staggered to the side, holding the side that was elbowed and his doubly assaulted groin.

"They won't let me kill ya, but I'm gonna fuckin' make you pay for that 'till you want me to."

A gloating Ichigo was about to ask how the other planned to do that while getting his ass kicked again, Nnoitra starting to lunge for the youth, but the opportunity was stolen from him when, in the blink of an eye, Grimmjow traveled twenty feet, intent clear. He collided into Nnoitra's side, knocking them both to the ground, and they immediately went into wrestling mode, Nnoitra attempting simultaneously to grab the spear from Grimmjow's hand and keep the sharp flint away from him. Ichigo watched anxiously, unable to move. The two men seemed pretty evenly matched in skill and strength and it was impossible to predict the victor.

Suddenly, they both froze, Grimmjow on top of Nnoitra. Fearing the worst, Ichigo felt faint and then so weak-kneed he had to lean on the closest tree to ensure he wouldn't collapse as he watched the spear head being pulled from where it was deeply embedded in the center of the chest.

"Didn't we just have a discussion on you being too reckless for your own good?" Grimmjow said gruffly, sounding equal parts serious and playful. "At the very least, don't pick on anymore men seven feet tall, okay?"

"Fuck off, I'll go pick on men eight, nine, ten feet tall if I want to," Ichigo responded in kind, not really mad but spoke his words with sincerity.

"Hn. I suppose that'd be all right if you blitz them all like you did him," Grimmjow said, nodding his head toward the lifeless body lying on the forest floor. There was a long period of silence before he continued. "Let's get going. There's still one of 'em out here and I'm getting hungry."

Ichigo clasped his lover's free hand and urged for them to start a rushed pace back to civilization. He knew they were only five to ten minutes away from the diner and if they could get there, then they would be safe. He didn't ask how Grimmjow had gotten rid of the first two of the group, figuring it best to solely focus on getting to the diner. However, there was something he couldn't say earlier that he wanted to now he had the chance.

"You know I don't blame for any of this, right?" Ichigo bit his lip whilst the taller man looked down at him, neither of them slowing or ceasing their rapid pace. "Obviously you had to have done something good to get on criminals' bad side."

"I know you don't, Ichi," Grimmjow sighed, turning his gaze forward again. "I don't understand why you wouldn't but you always do things I don't understand, lots of things."

"Is that a... good thing?" Ichigo questioned hesitantly. "Because I could the same about you, really. I still don't get why you wanted to date someone in their third trimester with another man's kid, but... I'm glad for whatever strange reason it was."

"Yes, it is a good thing. Knowing everything about someone, especially their thought processes, is really fucking boring," the blunette said. "I hate talking like a Valentine's Day card. I suck at it, too. So, listen good to what I'm gonna say 'cause I won't repeat it, ever. When I left New York to come down here, what I wanted more than anything was peace and quiet - both non-existent in the city - and that first night I saw you writing in that journal and thought you... looked like the peace I was trying to find. There you go and don't you dare say anything else about it."

But Ichigo had to, he had to tell this man about the bizarre coincidence. Or was it something much more meaningful? Fate? Destiny?

"I need to tell you something, too. What I was writing in the journal when you first walked in was about this feeling I kept having, like I was waiting for something big, something that would change my entire life. I didn't know what it was until we went to the mountaintop and it was suddenly so clear that I'd been waiting for you."

Ichigo felt a strong arm fall onto his shoulders, pulling him into Grimmjow's side. You wouldn't think they were currently in mortal peril as normal, expected human behavior for such isn't exactly maudlin professions of love and whatnot.

"All right, I think that was enough sappiness for the rest of the year," Ichigo said.


Their next step brought them across the forest border and into the parking lot of Nel's Diner, which the younger man was sure he'd never been so happy to see his workplace. It was expectedly empty, no doubt the result of the break-in, but it seemed to radiate safety. The couple quickened their pace simultaneously, a rush of energy surging through them at being so close. They were halfway across the parking lot when the sound of a gunshot and a spark from a bullet hitting the blacktop appeared by their feet. Ichigo's instant reaction was to make a run for the diner but Grimmjow had other ideas, wrapping an arm around the orangette's waist and bodily carrying him in the opposite direction to take cover behind a nearby dumpster.

"Of the four of 'em, figures the only one who thinks to use their gun is the brain-dead Hulk," Grimmjow muttered with dark humor under his breath, he and Ichigo crouched low to the ground though it wouldn't be much help if Yammi walked around.

All in all, they were screwed.

"You can hide, but you can't run," Yammi sang loudly, and incorrectly, and Ichigo heard his footsteps coming their way, closer and closer.

"Ichigo, look at me," Grimmjow commanded, his tone making the other male obey without question. "One thing I know about Yammi is he's slower than a goddamn snail and this is what we're going to do, okay? I'm going to run out and rush him. That should give you a good ten second window to get in the diner and use the phone to call for help. Don't hesitate, don't even think about it, just run."

"You better check yourself into a damn psych ward if you think I'm leaving you here to fucking die, Grimmjow Jaegerjaques."

"Fuck, don't be stupid about this, Ichigo. We don't have time to bring you to your senses, so just do what I say."

"No! I'll be stupid all day long, for the rest of my life, I don't care if it means you won't throw yourself into the line of fire," he pleaded, beyond desperate and on the verge of tears. "You won't be a hero if you become a martyr getting yourself killed, you'll only be dead. You can't do that to me, you can't leave me alone."

Grimmjow's perfect face softened from its hardened expression, eyes melting from azure stone into molten pools of brilliantly blue liquid sapphire, the entire spectrum of the color from lightest baby blue to the dark beauty of deep navy. His full lips tilted slightly in a sad smile and he brought a hand to ever so gently cradle Ichigo's cheek, who felt his lover brush away tears he didn't know had fallen.

"I don't want to be a hero. It ain't exactly my style, you know," Grimmjow said whilst their predator's footsteps advanced upon their hiding spot. "I want you to live and raise your kid. That's what I want. If not for yourself, do it for that baby, they deserve the chance to live, yeah?"

"That's fucking low, Grimmjow," Ichigo murmured thickly as he tried to suppress the urge to cry uncontrollably.

"I know. I'm a lawyer, remember?" Grimmjow said, surreally calm for someone facing certain death. A kiss on the lips and then on the top of Ichigo's head and a whisper of "Thanks, sweetheart. Love you," and all so fast the orange-haired man didn't comprehend what was happening until he saw the man he loved, stepping out into plain view.

"No!" Ichigo gasped, moving faster than he thought possible to rise to his feet and lunge for the back of Grimmjow's shirt, gripping onto the fabric for dear life. This left both of them standing completely still straight across twenty feet from Yammy and his gun. The blue-haired man struggled to free his shirt from Ichigo's hand and push the youth behind him at the same time, but due to sheer power of will Ichigo was rooted to the spot.

"Hey!" Yammi shouted, pointing the barrel of his gun directly at him and earning a warning snarl from the man beside him. "You fucking tricked me, you little shit. Big mistake, doing that like you think you're so smart but you aren't 'cause now you're gonna die when I shoot you. So, you're like the opposite of smart. Yeah, actually you're stupid."

Ichigo briefly wondered if he had a trigger word, but then his vision turned red and then he was suddenly being restrained by Grimmjow. "Fuck you, moron! If anyone here's stupid, it's you, you huge, worthless mass of flesh and bones. I don't even know you and I can tell your idiocy knows no bounds. When you talk, you sound like an illiterate five year-old, you know that? It's fucking painful to listen to. Do you have one actual, functioning brain cell? Honestly, I have never met anyone as moronic, idiotic, or brainless as you. In fact, there probably isn't one. Frankly, most animals are smarter than you, you only smell like one. So congratulations, you're the stupidest... thing in the universe. Sorry we can't give you a trophy but you'll think it's food or something and choke on it."

There was a complete and total lack of any sound after Ichigo stopped ranting like a madman and what happened next suggested something like a glitch in the matrix kind of thing had occurred. Yammi's beady eyes filled with tears, his lower lip quivering and gun shaking in his hand. Then he was full on crying, teardrops rolling down his face and muffled sobs were heard.

"Now, I'm really gonna kill ya," the brutish man said shakily, using his thumb to cock his gun causing Grimmjow to again attempt to maneuver Ichigo out of the way, "I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna shoot you and then him and Aizen's gonna be real happy with me. He'll promote me and everything and you and you will be dead. Hah, now who's stupid?"

Unable to watch the moment he dies, Ichigo screwed his eyes shut and held onto Grimmjow as if the man could anchor him to the physical world and his spirit wouldn't leave his body, keeping him alive. Then a loud noise pierced the night air, but it wasn't the sound of a gunshot and the dull thud following it definitely wasn't either. Cautiously, the orangette opened his eyes.

"Jesus, Nelly, where in the hell did you learn that?" Grimmjow asked like they hadn't faced their demise literally seconds ago.

Ichigo first spotted Yammy lying facedown on the blacktop, utterly unconscious if not dead, and there were pieces of splintered wood scattered around his body. Above the felled man was Nelliel, holding the broken handle of a broom and appearing to be rather pleased with herself. Though he hadn't witnessed the act, Ichigo was fairly certain the woman had seen them in the parking lot, grabbed the broom and snuck up behind Yammy to use the broom to bash him over the head unbelievably forcefully, knocking their would-be killer out cold.

"Oh please, Grimmy," Nelliel said, waving him off. "I grew up in New York, remember? I improvised."

"Nel, you... dammit, you saved our lives! What the actual hell," Ichigo raved, his mental state a little unstable.

"I don't understand. Are you angry?" Nelliel approached the two men still clinging onto each other.

"What? No, I'm... I think I'm in some kind of shock," he said, getting a bit listless towards the end. Above him, Grimmjow peered down at him searchingly and an anxious knot formed in his stomach and he suddenly experienced a slew of feverish symptoms. "I probably need to sit down or something. I don't feel... right."

"Yeah, okay, I'll take you inside," Grimmjow said, even though his face showed he was working something out in his mind, skeptical that it wasn't that bad. For the first time when the blue-haired man scooped him bridal style, Ichigo didn't protest or try to get down. This time he was quiet and still whilst Grimmjow carried him into the diner and set him down on one of the counter's stools. Nelliel had followed them inside, also unusually mute and her eyes had that look of her mind being somewhere far away.

"Ichigo, I don't think you're feeling strangely from shock," she finally said gently as if someone wasn't going to like whatever she had to say.

"What do you think it is?" Grimmjow said in the Carrier's stead, the latter not much in the mood to talk.

"Well, sometimes when someone is pregnant, especially in their third trimester, an event considered to be traumatic can... induce early labor."

"But Carriers don't go into labor, they schedule the kid's birth in advance. Plus, Ichigo said he feels weird, that could be anything."

"All of that's true but feeling 'off' is a pretty common early symptom of labour. I had it the first time and brushed it off as nothing, then right before the first contraction I felt faint, a total loss of energy followed by the hot flashes and shivers of a fever, and the worst was my stomach was in knots, like I was really nervous for no reason. That's when I figured out it was something more serious than I thought," Nelliel explained, the more she said the more Ichigo panicked.

"I... I think you're right, Nel," he said, wavering whilst his mind raced with thoughts mostly various exclamations of what god awful timing this baby had.

"Dammit, Nel. Carriers don't go into labour," Grimmjow insisted though it sounded like a warning for his cousin not to say another word on the subject and turned back to Ichigo, laying a hand on his knee and squeezing reassuringly. "You're fine, Ichi. You're only shaken up from the... trouble we had today, that's normal."

Ichigo wanted to ask if his reaction was normal, why was the other man perfectly composed, but Nel beat him to the punch.

"Hmm, you seem pretty calm though, Grimm," she said. "But what I really want to know is who the hell broke my glass door and force me to lose an entire night's profit!"

"Relax, will ya? It wasn't me who broke it," Grimmjow attempted to reason with his cousin, who was clearly very upset about her glass door.

"But you know who did, don't you!" Nelliel accused him as if she were the detective and he the suspect being interrogated. "Yeah, I knew it. Names, Grimmjow. I want the names so I can hold the vandals responsible for their actions."

Ichigo was on the verge of pointing out that three of them were now deceased when his breath was stolen by an awfully drawn-out pain sparked sharply in his stomach and grew into an unbearable, duller almost cramp-like pain that accompanied his abdominal muscles stretching to their maximum and then compressing together. He nearly cried in relief when it abated, Nel and Grimmjow still arguing.

"Grimmjow, give me the damn names or else I'll have you charged with accessory!"

"That charge would never stick, you're bluffing me. Besides, do you really wanna go up against me in court, dear Nelly?"

"You bet your ass I do, and you'd better be prepared to lose magnificently because you may like know the law and all that but I'll be out for your blood. And I never bluff, I'll do it."

Another surge of the worst pain he'd ever known almost made Ichigo fall off the stool, biting into his lower lip so hard a trickle of blood dripped down his chin. Now, he was a hundred percent positive that these sporadic pains were the contractions of labor, something Carriers were never supposed to experience. "Um, guys-"

"I hope you like spending the night in jail, because you'll be doing it tonight."

"Prove it. Stop stalling for time by yelling at me that you'll do it."


"Oh, is that what you think? You're not as clever as you think, then, because I'm going to march right over there to the phone and do it."

"No, you won't. You're just trying to hold out until I beg you not to press charges on me."

"Hey, I ne-"

"I am not! I'll show you right now so can watch me. I have to call the cops anyway to get that ogre out of my parking lot so I'll be killing two birds with one stone."

"Really, Nels, you can stop now. I know you won't do it."

After two more contractions in the time he'd tried to get their attention, Ichigo was so done. He was going into labour for crying out loud, he needed to go to the hospital like yesterday.

"Will both of you SHUT UP for ONE second and get me to the fucking hospital!" Ichigo practically roared, slamming a fist on the countertop as he felt another horrible contraction come on. Grimmjow was on his feet in a second, bending over the younger male presently in a world of pain.

"What is it? What's wrong?" the man pressed urgently, and for some reason this annoyed Ichigo. A lot.

"What the fuck do you think is wrong? Nel was right, goddammit. Every other Carrier never went into labour but of course I'm the one exception!" Ichigo grabbed his lover by the collar, violently shaking Grimmjow - the pain and anxiety overwhelming whatever controlled his normal behavior. "Now, drive me to the hospital this second or I swear I'll make life very. Difficult. For you. Understand?"

It was fortunate that Grimmjow had nerves of steel, the orangette's rant not fazing him. Instead, he evidently recognized the fear powering Ichigo's need to take out his pain on anyone nearby. "I'm taking you right now, all right? It's going to be fine, you're going to be fine, and I'll be there to make damn sure of that. Now, let's go and finally get that kid out of you."

Experiencing a close to religiously devout faith, Ichigo believed those words with everything he had. Everything was fine as long as Grimmjow was there.

The drive to the hospital was a complete blur, the pain of Ichigo's contractions making him delirious. He barely responded to anything Grimmjow said, he could hardly even hear that soothingly deep voice through the fog of his physical suffering as the Jaguar raced through the streets, never slowing from a dangerously high speed until they pulled up to the curb where the ER entrance was.

After Grimmjow carried him inside, right away there was a lot of people swarming them and they all talked too loudly, barking questions at the orangette when he thought it obvious he was in no state to answer any of them. He tried to protest when he was transferred from the arms holding him to a wheelchair but no one seemed particularly interested in what he had to say. Then they were running the wheelchair he sat in down a bunch of hallways ending in one of those huge hospital doors opened from a keyhole on the wall.

Ichigo heard one of the nurses tell Grimmjow he wasn't allowed through and he immediately felt sick to his stomach, he couldn't do this alone in a room full of strangers.

"I'm sorry, sir, but only relatives are allowed to be present in the OR," the nurse said in an irritating, nasal voice. "And, of course, the father as well."

The door opened and they began to push his chair into the maternity ward, Ichigo finally reaching a moment of mental clarity. He would've grabbed onto something and refuse to go any farther alone, he'd have the baby right in that doorway if he had to. Fortunately, a certain someone secured the near future to be far less dramatic.

"I am the father," he heard Grimmjow very convincingly say as if the nurse was an idiot for not knowing that already and wholly believing the illusion, she apologized and ushered the blue-haired man through the doorway. Ichigo automatically relaxed when a large, warm hand rested on the nape of his neck soothingly. The entire thing was still nervewracking, considering the baby who'd lived inside of him for a long eight and a half months soon would be brought into the world, and yet he knew he could do it. Not that there was much of a choice, anyway.

He was placed in a bed and hooked up to an IV, an epidural never given to Carriers since they all gave birth through planned cesarean sections. Ichigo had intended to do the same, because he never expected to suddenly go into labor, which wasn't supposed to happen ever. What if it meant something was wrong? What if the baby...

No, he wouldn't think about it.

When Grimmjow left his bedside seat to get a cup of coffee, a good idea since the time was nearing midnight, a doctor finally showed up in the room - a woman with incredibly long, dark hair braided in the front and kind blue eyes. Immediately Ichigo liked her, she gave off a pleasant, serene energy he could feel all the way across the room.

"Hello, Mr. Kurosaki," she greeted, closing the door and coming to stand right beside the hospital bed. "I'm Dr. Unohana. I'll be the one taking care of you during your stay here and I will also deliver your baby myself."

"So you'll basically be doing everything for me?" Ichigo asked, the IV hindering his knowledge of manners.

"Basically, yes," Dr. Unohana affirmed, laughing softly. " If you're wondering why I'm investing myself so much in your case since I'm the only doctor on call here recognized as an expert specializing in artificial motherhood, or the patients that are 'Carriers.' I have delivered over five hundred children with male mothers so far."

"Okay, I'm convinced you know what you're doing," Ichigo said, a peal of nervous laughter slipping out.

"Yes, well, I have to tell you that in all my experiences caring for male mothers I have never before treated nor heard of a patient endure actual labor pains." Dr. Unohana flipped open the file in her hands, scanning over whatever information it held. "You seem to have had a fairly normal pregnancy, except for this one note written here saying you didn't feel the baby move until the eighth month. Hmm... "

Ichigo waited several seconds for the doctor to finish what she was saying and then decided to ask what he really wanted to know. "Uh, the unusual going into labour that... that wouldn't- " He stopped speaking when Dr. Unohana frown slightly, the woman sitting on the edge of the bed and real fear pierced his heart, hoping it wasn't the worst.

"Honestly, the extreme rarity of your case concerns me simply for that reason, that you are the only Carrier to go into labour. We have to take into consideration it could be... problematic," Dr. Unohana said and Ichigo wanted so badly for Grimmjow to return from his coffee run. "I believe the best thing to do is not allow the baby to spend more time in potential danger, by this I mean perform the C-section immediately. I have a good feeling everything will check out all right, but I assume you don't want to take any risk concerning your child's health."

"How soon can we do it?" Ichigo asked, his decision instant and permanent.

"I can meet you in the OR in fifteen minutes. It'll be standard procedure, you will be given local anesthetic and awake for the birth of your child. However, you are only allowed one person to accompany you so choose wisely." Dr. Unohana left the room then, probably heading off to prepare for the surgery.

Though certain of who would be there for one of the scariest ordeals of his life, as they'd already done what seemed like forever ago, to say Ichigo was nervous was a joke. He couldn't bear to imagine the possibility of the baby he'd written an entire journal worth of letters gone before ever truly living.

Grimmjow returning to the room couldn't have been more miraculous, his mere presence filling the space and wrapping around Ichigo in the strongest sense of security. "Their cheap ass coffee machine was broken so I had to walk over to the other building to get it," the man explained his prolonged absence and vented his irritation at the same time, plopping down into his chair. "So, what'd I miss?"

There is a universal truth that from the time children are born, they will never be more intensely, unconditionally loved as they are by their mother in the spiritually sublime moment they first meet, that soul new to the world placed in the mother's arms and by a force beyond comprehension create an everlasting bond. This is believed and appreciated by those with no children of their own yet a first-time parent is never fully prepared for the transformative experience.

And for eight months Ichigo thought he and the baby a product of deceit and betrayal could and would not share the emotional bond he was skeptical of in the first place, even though he'd loved his own mother more than anything. It was only recently he began to consider the reality of such a small sliver of time holding that kind of importance. Grimmjow had unknowingly sparked that tiny bit of belief, so Ichigo was glad the man he loved was there to witness when he was proved oh so wrong.

Everything seemed to move at warp speed after he was taken from the room to the OR, Dr. Unohana and the nurses performing the relatively simple procedure behind a green sheet hiding his body from the waist down from view and a strangely silent Grimmjow in scrubs by his head graciously only offering comfort by holding Ichigo's hand in both of his and then, as if out of nowhere, he heard high-pitched cries and it all happened in what he could've sworn to be seconds.

Someone was talking to him, every word ignored entirely because he couldn't think of anything other than a bundle wrapped in a pink blanket being placed in his arms and when he laid eyes on the wrinkled, red, teary, and perfect face of his daughter Ichigo wondered how he could have ever not loved her.

Well, this was... different.

Grimmjow didn't think he'd ever once been in a hospital, as a visitor or patient, so sitting like he was in a hospital room was already something unfamiliar. However, it paled in comparison to the rest of what was new to him. For instance, he presently kept vigil at the bedside he not only loved but intended to spend the rest of his life with. Grimmjow hoped he was doing it right, the doting boyfriend thing, he was just going off his instincts and it appeared to be working so far.

Ichigo was asleep again, the medicine they gave him for pain what dictated seven or eight times a day as the orangette's nap time. Yet, the older man was not the only one awake in the room, which brought him to another incredibly foreign matter on his hands. Grimmjow had been an only child, the sole relative not middle-aged or above his cousin, so his aversion to children had everything to do with how he knew nothing about interacting with them - they were practically aliens, in his eyes. He'd pretty much decided on remaining childless the rest of his days. Then he just had to meet Ichigo and finally he understood what people said about not wanting the marriage and kids deal until they met that one person that inspired the desire for the white-picket fence lifestyle. Grimmjow knew he and Ichigo were far from than average Mr. and Mrs., they were much better and much more in love. Anyway, he was still growing accustomed to feeling so strongly for a baby he hadn't know two days.

It had taken a millisecond for him to fall in love with Ichigo's daughter, the little girl a perfect miniature, female version of her mother. The resemblance was uncanny, their features an exact match and the best of these similarities was the tuft of bright orange hair on her head. How could have Grimmjow not completely fallen under her spell? He could barely stand holding her, thinking the baby far too fragile for his touch, sure that she would somehow break in his care. Ichigo thought his behavior around her amusing, laughing that the great Grimmjow Jaegerjaques was terrified to hold an infant.

The blunette did have something for her, though. Something she needed desperately. He only had to wait for Ichigo to wake so he could present a gift of sorts to the both of them, which included the last of his uncharted waters. Hopefully, Ichigo would react favorably, there was never any telling what he was going to think.

In other news, a dead body was found in the Cherokee Indian Reservation's forests, which told him the other three were alive and far, far away. Grimmjow was sure it was expected of him as a human being to experience some sort of moral crisis after killing someone yet he couldn't have cared less. The other night he would've killed them all and a hundred more if he'd needed to. His moral code was many shades of gray, not black and white.

At the sound of rustling bedsheets, he turned to see a newly wakened Ichigo sitting up in the bed and rubbing his eyes, strands of tangerine hair sticking up every which way. "Mmm, what time is it?" he murmured.


"Did she wake up at all?" Ichigo asked, becoming more alert, especially when his daughter was concerned.

"No, she just slept for once," Grimmjow said, referring to the baby girl's stubbornness when it came to sleeping and striding over to take his usual seat beside the bed. The former definitely reminded him of a certain someone. "You know they're releasing you first thing in the morning, right?"

"Now I do," Ichigo said, rolling his eyes but he quickly succumbed to a heartbreaking look of hopelessness. "Ugh, why was I so dumb - waiting 'till the last minute to buy everything? I don't even have the necessities yet."

Grimmjow couldn't take it anymore, couldn't watch Ichigo beat himself up when he'd done nothing wrong, couldn't wait any longer to reveal what he'd done. "Ichi, if I told you, you could go home tomorrow to a new house filled with everything the two of you need wouldn't that solve your problem?"

The younger man gave a blank, sarcastic look at him. "Really, Grimm?"

"Don't get all testy now, let me rephrase. What If I told you could go home to a new house filled with everything the two of you need, would you go for it?"

"What are you exactly are you getting at?" Ichigo said, eyes narrowing in suspicion and Grimmjow knew his excitement must be written all over his face. Deciding to show rather than tell, he reached into his back pocket and held out a piece cut out of a newspaper. Cautiously, his adorably confused lover took the clipping and stared at the picture of a beautiful, traditional house located on the reservation and its ad for sale. "You didn't."

"Oh, I did," Grimmjow confirmed, rather proud of himself. "Remember when I left yesterday for a bit? I went to sign the papers so I can tell you we are the official owners of that house. It's brand new and was totally empty 'till I had it fully furnished today. If this is what you want, we can go home tomorrow, all three of us."

The next thing he knew he had a lap full of Ichigo - not that he was complaining.

"How can be so wonderful and such an arrogant asshole at the same time? I should be pissed off at you for buying a house without telling me but I'm too... happy. Ugh, that word feels so weird to say."

"I don't think I even know how to say it," Grimmjow said, his chin resting on top of Ichigo's brilliant sunfire head of hair. "There's something else I wanted to talk to you about."

"Mmm, what?" the orange-haired man asked, sounding perfectly content.

"I think I found a name."

Ichigo sat up, his face inches away from the blunette's. "Okay, let's hear it."

"Kayah. It means 'wise one' in Tsalagi and 'resting place' in Japanese."


Dear Kayah,

Gv ge yu hi.

I love you.

- I.K.

A/N: This oneshot turned into a monster and nearly killed me. Lol, I swear I must have lost my mind to write something this long. Anyway, I hope my main point of writing mpreg in a very different way than the norm got through. I was especially nervous about the actual birth scene, I wanted it to be tasteful so hopefully I succeeded.

Hope you enjoyed!