I decided to stop writing and actually post this much to prove I am still alive and working on this.
It has been really difficult to write since the last chapter. Everything is just a jumble and I can't focus my thoughts. But every time I have a little clarity, I sit down and try to write. :)
I felt like I lost some control over the characters and it's taking me time to make things right. For starters, Ichigo was a wee bit too girlish recently for my tastes. :-\

Anyway, we have a Grimmjow interlude, some character insight (or perhaps you'll just be weirded out) eheh. ._.
Then our boys will be back together and talking... if I can come up with decent dialogue. I struggle with that shit. =.=

Enjoy.
(Please please please enjoy *paces nervously*)

Junichiblue


CHAPTER 21

He could feel the cool snap of crisp air filling his lungs, the whispered scrape of sharpened blades slicing against the ice, and the stretch and pull of muscles so powerful that it would take hours of punishment to exhaust them.

But only in his mind.

Grimmjow settled himself deeper into the guts of his couch and folded arms heavy with knotted muscle into a rigid weave against his chest, face set in an unimpressed scowl as he watched the game play out from the relative solitude of his apartment.

He inhaled slow and deep, held it, and exhaled just as slowly. He could feel an acid growl building, an uprising of resentment tightening things in the depths of his chest and throat. But he kept it to himself.

He wasn't alone.

The neighbours down the hall had insisted on dropping in with a six pack of beer.

They were a nice couple. Considerate. Helpful. And unobtrusive... as a rule.

The pretence tonight was to keep Grimmjow company. And they did. But he knew their true motive. Not that they tried to hide it. It had been the subject of several recent short hallway conversations.

They really wanted to watch the game on his system.

Grimmjow had wanted to say no. He really had. But, he'd been promising them for awhile now. And short of lying, he really couldn't come up with a tangible reason to turn them away. He wasn't sick. He wasn't going anywhere. He wasn't about to miss the game.

So, as it turned out, tonight was the night he would keep that promise. And what an opportunity, to watch their favourite team in the company of their favourite player. So, here they were.

Grimmjow didn't blame them one bit. It was a sweet setup. A huge flat screen TV that dropped down remotely from the ceiling of his apartment. The images were so spectacular, so vivid, that no detail of the game was missed, right down to the film of slick sweat and colourful bruises that stained the players' faces.

Indeed, it was the next best thing to rinkside. Grimmjow's system rocked. Now the neighbours were thinking of getting one too. But that was neither here nor there.

With the Reaper's stadium in a happy uproar, the final period of the game had come to a close. Right now, Grimmjow was lost in contemplation, a world away from the cheerful banter going on right next to him. He was so consumed by his thoughts that the sense that something was happening around him was barely enough to catch even a thread of his attention. But remarkably it did, if only for a moment.

Voices from his left and the rustle of bodies practically clawing their way out of their near supine bliss on his couch drew the bluenet from the crowd-pleasing "three stars" segment that was playing out on his screen. It was tradition, having three players, deemed the stars of the game, skate a loop out onto the ice to receive recognition from the fans for their input into the action.

It meant nothing. It was just a bit of fun for the fans. And normally, the enforcer remained unmoved about who won what when he wasn't playing. But now he had a growing, if not gnawing curiosity to see who was selected. In fact, as the lights of the arena went down and the spotlights came up, it was fast becoming a burning anxiety, like his stomach was rusting from the inside out.

The chaos to his left faded back to nothing. And Grimmjow listened and watched as, one by one, three players each did a quick u-turn on the ice for the crowd before retreating to the locker room to strip down and rinse off.

The muscles in Grimmjow's jaw twitched.

Kurosaki wasn't called out.

Good.

No cake for him.

Grimmjow could just imagine how insufferable the little cocksucker would be if he'd been chosen by the media as one of the night's star players.

'Cause he would just... well he'd...

Grimmjow's arm muscles tensed and strained against themselves, powerful coiled weapons still bound within their self-made cage.

Alright... Kurosaki wouldn't even mention it.

The enforcer's lips drew into a tight thin line.

But still... it would be just too much to see him again, both of them knowing that he'd...

The hollow ring of empty bottles jostled the bluenet back to the present before his lip could finish its ascent into an angry curl. He blinked hard, like he'd been stung in the eye, before he got his bearings.

That's right. He had guests. The enforcer dragged his tense scowl away from the screen and turned it on said guests, his expression quickly and forcibly tamed into something a little less... scary. He was mildly relieved to see that it worked, the amorous pair acting as jubilant as ever.

Grimmjow unhooked a hand long enough to raise it, a short cheerless motion, as they gathered up their case of empties and let themselves out of his apartment.

Smiles. Laughter. A playful hint that somebody was going to get some tonight.

Tch. It was nauseating.

He snorted loudly at the lovers, his anaemic sideways grin, as they backed into the hall half bowed in mock reverence, falling dead away as the door clicked shut.

Still facing the doorway, Grimmjow slumped back and let his head drop to the side, ignoring the awkward twist it put in his neck to have his cheek resting on the back of the couch, and finding less enjoyment in the empty space beside him than he'd expected. He contemplated the spot and the couple a thick moment longer than he felt he should have before finally righting himself and turning his attention back to the screen.

The post game wrap up was starting. Grimmjow unhooked his ankles and let a deep yawn get the better of him as he dragged his feet off the coffee table, knees parting obscenely as he slouched down in a sudden fit of boneless bacheloresque apathy. It wasn't that late; eleven. But he was still tired. He wanted to watch parts of the game again, scroll through to the important bits, but he'd have to do that in the morning.

Casually, he reached down to the burdened space between his legs and drug two blunt fingertips across the material of his sweats, the pliant flesh beneath them shifting against his fingers as he worked away a small itch.

All he'd really wanted to do tonight was let himself be absorbed in the game. It had been a little distracting having company, but in the end he knew it wasn't a bad thing to have it. He had the tendency to shut the world out at times, and even he couldn't deny that he'd been getting his sulk on since his injury. He wanted, no, needed to get back out there on the ice.

He sat up and shifted his ass towards the edge of the couch, still watching as the announcers replayed the highlights, his fingers absently digging for the remote that lay half trapped beneath the bulking edge of his thigh.

He pulled it free and switched the system off. The apartment went quiet, save for the hum of the screen being drawn back up into its chambers.

If he'd wanted to, he could have been watching the game from the team's private suite, a fully stocked luxury box perched at the summit of the stands, far above the reach of the crowds. But why bother? He could see the game fine from here, study Ichigo from a different angle, see how he played, hear the announcer's take on things. A totally new vantage point.

He placed the remote on the table, setting in its spot beside the others.

Then he reached for his drink, plucking the tall glass from its coaster, and took a large sip. It wasn't creepy at all... hiding at home and following his teammate's every move with near predatory concentration. It had seemed sensible, in fact, when he'd first thought about it. Grimmjow wanted answers as much as Ichigo did. And he needed at least some peace and quiet to do that. Besides, he didn't really want to be there if he couldn't play. There was no hiding from the well wishers, the owners, the fans and arena staff, all prodding, meaning well, but in the end just reminding him that he wasn't strong enough yet to return.

The press would sniff him out in no time flat as well. And he didn't feel like being subjected to the same questions over and over.

How are you feeling? When do you think you'll be ready to play?

And now... Kurosaki Ichigo scored while you were away, and the Reapers won. What do you think about that?

Growling, the bluenet lifted his heavy weight off the couch, then sidestepped around the coffee table and thudded in socked feet towards the kitchen with his glass. He stopped at the sink and paused before he threw back another mouth full of liquid, then poured the rest of the water down the drain.

What did he think about that?

It wasn't what Grimmjow would have called a spectacular shot against the opposing team's goalie. Kurosaki caught him napping. Plain and simple. But the result was the same. The Reapers won 4-2. And though Kurosaki didn't get an official assist on two of the other goals, he'd been as much a part of them as if he'd put it in the net himself.

Grimmjow's palm slammed against the flat switch on the wall as he left the kitchen, throwing the apartment into a near pitch black silence. He turned left, making no effort to turn on the hall light. He knew his way around this place fine in the dark. The floors of his apartment were clean. He wasn't going to stub his toes on anything in the hall.

And he sure as shit didn't believe in monsters and things that went bump in the night. Indeed, the world was a scary enough place with the people that inhabited it. Him included. Why make shit up?

Bump in the night. Monsters.

A few steps further down the hall, Grimmjow reached the open doorway of his bedroom and stopped dead. His lungs stilled. He swayed against his own heartbeat, and all his concentration turned inward, ghostly voices from the past whispering over his shoulder through the darkness. He couldn't stop them.

"I'm telling you, you are getting too rough."

"Paaaa." A growled warning. "I said don't start on me again. I'm doing my job."

"You were not this rough before you became a big shot star."

"Hn." A side glare, but no argument.

"This coach asks too much. And you just do whatever he says."

"They need an enforcer to make the other team's take'm seriously."

"Not like this." A fist resting on the table top. "You are making a name for yourself and I don't like it."

"I do what they need me ta do. And we're winning." A glare. Defiant.

"That's not how we played hockey when I was a kid."

A derisive snort. "Yeah, well, when you were a kid they were still playing on the glaciers."

"Hn. And you are this great Sexta now." Contempt. "With all this money, these... floozy women, all this fame."

Eyes bright, dangerous. "Yeah. I am. And I like it."

"Is it worth your body? Your health?"

"We're winning games because of the sexta."

"Keep it up, Grimmjow, and you won't last."

"Nothing is gonna stop me. And I'm gonna keep getting better." Voice raised. Angry. Bitter. "So, why can't ya just be happy for me?"

"Better at what?" Heated. "You're buying into your own hype! You are not being the son I raised you to be." Arms folded. A dismissal.

"I'm exactly what you raised me to be!" A snarl. "You put me in hockey so I could be myself!"

"No! I put you in to curb your temper, show you some control! But look what I have gotten from all of my efforts!" The cash on the table, swiped away. A gift. An insult. "All these years and all I have to show for it is a young hotheaded brat of a son! That's what you are!"

Silence. "So, I'm a failure to you, am I?" A dangerous calm.

"I don't like at all what you've become. You're better..."

The hard scrape of a chair.

"Grimmjow..."

"Keep it. Burn it. I don't fuckin' care."

"Grimmjow..."

"Don't!" Eyes wild. Ice cold. "...fuckin' talk to me."

No. Stop. No more. Go away. Think of something else. Grimmjow's jaw clenched, tightening, threatening to snap his own bones. He opened his eyes, finding himself back in his apartment, the dark, the present. The ugly truth squashed under the shadows. That had crept up on him too fast this time. Too real.

Dead things, it seemed, denied their peace, never stayed buried.

He needed to get back to reality, to something more tangible, that mattered right now. Something he could deal with, instead of wallowing in past mistakes.

Another voice helpfully filled in the momentary silence in his head, chiming in to sound as real as ever.

"...I can't play with an idiot like you when you're always so busy hating my guts..."

The bluenet's shoulders rose as a catch in his throat met with the return of breath. Almost relief. But not. Tonight's game was proof that Kurosaki could do it when he wanted to, that the forward wasn't living up to his potential. Grimmjow had seen a telling flicker of the old Ichigo tonight.

And it was troubling.

Because maybe Ichigo had been right. And the kink in their slinky really was Grimmjow.

He let out a wordless growl, the side of his palm slamming against the hard wood of the frame with a thud.

Thoughts beginning to race, Grimmjow's head turned in the dark, slowly, tilting as though he were listening for a sound he knew would be there.

"I think our young pup actually quite likes you."

He snorted, a hard derisive burst of warm air. Ichigo liked Grimmjow about as much as Grimmjow liked him. The decree that Kurosaki "quite liked him" was just Kensei's misguided opinion. Had to be. And Grimmjow still wasn't sure just what Kensei had meant by that. The words themselves were harmless, casual. But the tone... the damn tone and the damn smirk he'd worn... that had left Grimmjow wondering what his friend was really alluding to.

Grimmjow wasn't the kind of guy to jump to conclusions about people's personal preferences most of the time, and he didn't really see what that had to do with anything, even if it were true. At face value, the only thing Kensei actually said was that Ichigo liked him.

But that was a lie. Of course it was. Kurosaki was just trying to save his career. Nothing more. There was no love lost here. Everything Grimmjow had seen and been through with the younger male said otherwise. All those screw ups and missed chances. It had to be on purpose. And despite everything that had happened recently, one dark and narrow corner of Grimmjow's mind hadn't quit entertaining the idea that the orangette was purposely undermining Grimmjow's efforts, making them both look bad. But in his calmer states he'd had to ask himself, why? Because Grimmjow wasn't good enough for Ichigo?

Colourless in the shadows of his darkened apartment, the enforcer's knuckles lightened as he squeezed all the space he could from within his curled fist, anger thrumming closer to the surface with each quickened heartbeat.

Not good enough for Ichigo?

That idea could fuck off.

"Getting your dick sucked sounds great..."

He sneered at the odd little piece of memory, unconcerned as to why that particular one had chosen to surface at this moment, but focused on it now in his turbulent mood nevertheless.

The tips of two sharp bits of bone appeared as glints in the dark, picking up the whisper of light from the clock across the room. He was more than good enough. Ichigo should bend over, drop to his chest and knees and take every last one of Grimmjow's ridged inches and fucking weep his thanks to Grimmjow for the honour while he took them.

Grimmjow gripped the door frame he'd struck moments ago and sagged forward, forehead pressing against his knuckles. The enforcer's breathing was harsh and hot. He turned his head and let the sharp bones of his knuckles dig themselves into the ache that had started up in his temple.

He dragged air into his lungs and squeezed his eyes shut, skin burning from heat that had surfaced like orange, fiery veins of lava.

Shit. Was he listening to himself? That was some fucked up. Grimmjow had gotten rough during sex before, as Yoruichi had pointed out, but he never used it intentionally as violence. Hockey was the place to let his rage out. In the game, and only the game. Most of the time he'd been able to control it to some degree, the anger itself, but never with Ichigo.

Why was it always so hard?

As if with a will of their own, more images appeared, and for a moment Grimmjow was reliving the terrible dance that was their battle on the ice. The powerful memory slammed through him and he let it. It started to get him hard, and he let that happen too, thinking about how they might fight like that again. But with the chaotic memory came that glare, a look of pure disgust and hate, like Grimmjow was something vile and contemptible. His jaw tensed. Fuck, how he'd hated that look. Ichigo was like no other force on earth when it came to making his blood boil.

His fist tightened, then relaxed as he sighed. He was suddenly tired, a bone aching crush of lethargy settling as much into his limbs as it was his soul.

He couldn't be like this tomorrow. Not around Ichigo. He at least needed a decent night's sleep to hold himself together.

Grimmjow drew another deep breath and stepped inside his bedroom, ripping his shirt off, balling it up, and tossing it into the blackness. The catching sound of fabric hitting wicker and dragging along it told him he'd hit the outside of the basket in the left corner of the room. Close enough. He felt better already, the cool air robbing some the heat from his skin.

He didn't bother to brush his teeth or piss. He'd done that earlier. Instead, he crawled on all fours across the smooth covers of his bed, still wearing his grey sweat pants, and let himself collapse. He lay there like that in the dark, sprawled on his stomach, like something defeated on the muddy pitch of battle, arms flung out, and stared unfocused into the darkness.

He felt calmer now, still thinking about a number of things as he waited for sleep to take him.

Being an enforcer in the NHL wasn't exactly the ultimate dream of most little kids playing hockey. There was so much pressure in that role, something most people didn't understand. Not every team in the league had one, and Grimmjow was beginning to question whether or not he was even needed. If he couldn't score and he wasn't needed, then where was it going to leave him?

Grimmjow swallowed. He'd had someone he talked with about his role in the game, though the words were few, unneeded much of the time, a person who'd been there from the moment he was born, who knew his fears, strengths, better than he seemed to at times. Other times not at all. But he was gone now. By Grimmjow's own hand. He sighed and pushed the thought away, gently this time, but firmly.

The questions had come up several times in his absences, before the seasons started and now. He had nobody to talk to about that pressure, except perhaps Kensei. But they didn't talk about it. Grimmjow just never felt the need to. His role felt so natural. He loved it. And the thing he really had going for him was that he was strong. He didn't turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with the anxiety of the job like some other players did. In fact, most of the time, specially during the game, he had no anxiety at all.

It was times like now though, when he was left sitting on the sidelines that he really started to wonder, started to worry. It was now, that the need to smooth things out with Kurosaki and get his own scoring issues under control became glaringly obvious.

And this time, this chance, if he were to look at it that way, was fast coming to an end.

He'd had a checkup this morning and the prognosis was positive. So much so, that Grimmjow's doctor had been rather impressed.

Hn. Night after night of the show he put on and the guy didn't know he was fucking Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez?

Well, the hint of light sensitivity and the occasional dull ache in Grimmjow's head were his only symptoms at this point. (And maybe a little confusion, but he doubted that had anything to do with his concussion.) The important thing was, his doctor was letting the leash out. He was encouraged to start exercising again, though nothing more than a power walk or some laps around the pool followed by rest, for the next few days.

Well, that was fucking exciting. But when was going to see the ice again? How long was he going to be stuck watching from the sidelines?

If he continued to improve, at most a week, perhaps. They'd take it day by day. But not yet.

Not yet.

In the meantime, he had work to do. As soon as he'd finished his checkup, he'd rushed off to do exactly what his doctor told him, and he'd thrown on his swim briefs, not shorts (too much drag), and done a heap of laps in the building's private pool. He was exhausted afterwards, but it was a good kind of tired. The resulting headache was noticeable, but an afternoon sprawl on his couch was enough to wipe it away. He had every intention of going at it again tomorrow.

In fact, he had no choice. Grimmjow had emerged from his post swim pass out session to the drilling sound of his phone vibrating its way across his coffee table. He struggled to reach it in time, disoriented and half asleep as he was, but managed to scoop it out of the air before it hit the floor.

His senses had all but snapped back into place when he saw who had interrupted his nap. Kurosaki, calling him after the team's morning practice to see if they could hook up. Grimmjow had told him the good news, that he'd be back soon, and though it had come out sounding a bit more like a threat than anything, Ichigo had sounded... happy for him.

Grimmjow couldn't figure that out. They hadn't even breached the surface of their problems, and thanks to Kensei, they weren't allowed to, and Ichigo was fucking happy the enforcer was coming back? After a half hour of pondering this as he continued to recline on his couch, the bluenet had given up entirely.

He had no choice but to focus on the now. And that was this. Barring any injuries from his own first game back, Ichigo had said he'd be available to help Grimmjow out. They could go for a nice long walk. The enforcer had wrinkled his nose at the thought of taking a pansy-assed stroll. He wanted to hit the ground running, not walking. But in the end he'd agreed to it. Hell, Grimmjow was pretty sure that hanging out with Ichigo counted as a form of exercise.

Grimmjow stared into the inky blackness, the subdued blue light from his alarm clock lost somewhere behind him. He was tired minutes ago, but now his mind had wound itself up again, jumping from thought to thought, the only connecting piece, that waste of space pumpkin head. Grimmjow felt a small grin appear despite the downward flux of his emotions. He'd have to try that one out at some point tomorrow and see where it got him.

Tomorrow. Shit.

Grimmjow had always abided by one simple motto when it came to hockey as a career. The better you play, the better you get to live. Now, more than ever, he had to play to win. And it all seemed to hinge on Ichigo.

How bad could tomorrow be? Their meeting with Kensei had been a small success. Rather, it wasn't nearly as bad as Grimmjow had anticipated. The one beer Kurosaki had "allowed" him to have had helped take the edge off... until Ichigo... swallowing that beer. Crap. For the first time, without being in the heat of anger, Grimmjow had... reacted. The constricting movement of the long lines of his throat had caused Grimmjow's libido to stir in excitement. Just for that brief moment all he could see was his dick sliding deep down into the wet abyss of that bobbing column, filling that mouth with his flesh and shutting it up. He saw himself fisting Ichigo's orange hair by the scruff, wrenching his head back and holding his body hostage, all while forcing wet lips to part and slide, kissing again and again against the base of his cock until he shot his seed right down his throat.

Great. Now he was hard.

He really wasn't looking forward to tomorrow. Grimmjow curled his arms around the pillow beneath his face, hugging it tight and staring into the darkness of his room. He was feeling less and less prepared for the unknown it would bring.

His stiff member twitched for attention, and he groaned. No fucking way. He would just white knuckle it until morning. No way was he going to rub one out to that image, no matter how enticing it might be.