Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach...
"This is why you have no friends!" his baby sister yelled at him, hands on slender hips and wrinkles creasing the bridge of her straight nose. "You only leave the house to go into town for supplies, you never take the time to socialize, and when you are forced into the general population, it's like pulling teeth! I don't get you, Grimm!"
"If he don't wanna go ta the fair, then he don't gotta go," his older brother drawled from the wicker chair beside him, toothpick moving restlessly at the corner of his mouth.
"Look," Grimmjow spoke up, sitting forward in his own wicker seat. "Yer my lil sister, but even you can't get me within two feet a'that disaster of a fair."
"Why the heck are you so against the fair all of a sudden? We always used to go as kids, and you'd always win a huge stuffed whatever for me in the water gun game! Then, Kenny would give me cotton candy and win me an inflatable hammer at the test your strength game. Why can't we-"
"Lo-ly," he enunciated, stopping her before she really got going. "Things've changed since ya gone off ta New York."
Loly pouted, arms going over her breasts. Even though she was twenty-three now, she still only managed to reach the middle of his chest. Their older brother, Kenpachi Zaraki, better known as Kenny, overwhelmed his seat with his height and mass as he settled back into it, and gave a low chuckle that sounded more like a rumbling growl. It was hard to tell with the older man sometimes.
"Yeah, like Grimmy here gettin' hounded by ninety-eight percent a'the female species here in good ole *Denville."
Loly's eyes widened as her dark gaze swung from Kenny and back in Grimmjow's direction. "You're a ladies man now, Grimmy?"
"Not really," he mumbled, looking away from his sister's piercing eyes and out across the family's sprawling backyard as he absently scratched the tip of his nose. "Actually...not at all."
Another chortle from big brother, Kenny. "Ya gon' tell 'er why?"
"Hadn' really planned on it," Grimmjow answered, stern stare pointed at his dark-haired brother.
Their sister squeaked like a chew toy. "I don't know whether to feel mad or hurt that you're keeping secrets from me! I'm not a kid anymore, you know!"
He sucked his teeth and rolled cornflower-blue eyes away from Kenny and onto Loly. "Stop bein' so dramatic. Ya been gone fer 'bout two years since the last time ya visited. Can't really get all fussy 'cuz it slipped my mind."
"More like-" Kenny started, but Grimmjow hushed him with a slicing glare. "OK, OK. I'll be quiet."
"Well-" Loly opened her mouth.
"For now," Kenny finished with a shark-like grin, slate-gray eyes twinkling with mischief.
Grimmjow could kill his brother for putting him on the spot like that. He'd planned to tell Loly when she got home from New York – which was now – but just hadn't gotten around to it yet. Hell, he'd only just figured out why the homecoming queen had never really done it for him, and why most women's advances fell on deaf ears. With a sigh, he rubbed the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes.
"Loly, I ain't attracted ta women."
Well, the silence that followed that statement was pretty resounding, if he did say so himself. Kenny sat with a huge smirk while Loly could only stand and stare, mouth open and dark eyes imitating saucers. She worked her lips open and closed a few times, hands dropping to her sides before she finally settled on a comment.
"Are you telling me you're not attracted to women because you're attracted...to men?" she ended with a dramatic stage whisper.
"Yep, tha's 'bout right."
Kenny cracked up, the toothpick in the corner of his mouth tumbling to his lap. Grimmjow frowned over at the taller man. It wasn't that funny. However, Loly's reaction was a bit more disturbing.
She gave a loud gasp and covered her mouth with both hands, eyes lighting up like a lamp. "Oh my God, Grimmy!" she squealed. "I've like, always wanted a gay guy friend, and here I actually have a gay brother! That is so awesome, you have no idea!"
While Kenny's laughter merely escalated, Grimmjow grew alarmed.
"Don' think we're gonna paint each other's toenails over margaritas an' shit like that," he threatened, one eyebrow damned near in his hair.
"Tch! You're so boring, Grimmy!"
"Stop callin' me that," he grumbled, glowering at Kenny, who was still fucking laughing. "It ain't that damned funny, ya know."
"Ohhh, but I beg ta differ, lil brother. Loly's gonna have ya modelin' ass-less chaps 'fore she leaves."
"Ewww!" Loly shrieked through a bunch of giggling. "That's just gross, Kenny!"
"Hey!" Grimmjow snapped. "Ain't nothin' wrong wit' my ass. I jus' ain't lettin' our lil sister see it."
By now, Kenny was wiping tears from his eyes as he doubled over in his chair. Grimmjow just scowled and stared at the large, inflatable pool a few feet from the back porch. An exotic-looking, brown-skinned and violet-haired woman with golden, cat-like eyes splashed around in the turquoise monstrosity. A little dark-haired girl with huge, so dark they were almost blue, puppy-dog eyes splashed and played with her, girlish giggles punctuating the lulls in conversation.
"Ururu's gonna turn into a prune soon," Loly admonished.
"She's fine," Kenny said lazily as he smiled with pride at his wife and daughter. "'Sides, we're gonna eat inna minute."
Speaking of which: Grimmjow climbed to his feet and stalked off the porch towards the grill, booted feet thudding deeply along the wooden planks. Once he reached the long, charcoal grill, he flipped the lid and waved away the aromatic smoke. Then, he took a set of metal tongs and turned six steaks and two racks of ribs. The hamburgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, and grilled red potatoes were already done. Along with that, there was a table in the kitchen laden with dishes filled with a garden salad, potato salad, baked beans and greens. The food would last forever because Kenny and his wife insisted on going overboard for their little sister's return, and had purchased way too much. It didn't matter. At least they wouldn't have to cook for a while.
After the meat was situated to his liking, he closed the lid and sauntered back onto the porch. Instead of going to his seat, though, he made his way to the other end to the big, red cooler. There he bent and grabbed a couple of beers and a wine spritzer. On the trip to his seat, he handed off a beer and the spritzer to Kenny and Loly respectively before plopping down onto the comfortable, paisley print cushion of the wicker chair.
"Grimm, I'm sure there's guys at the fair that you can browse through," Loly commented nonchalantly.
Kenny snorted into his beer after getting rid of the cap and taking a long swig. Grimmjow did the same, but almost choked on the liquid as his little sister's statement sunk in.
"Ya gotta be kiddin' me, right, Loly?"
"What?" she chirped innocently.
"What, she says. Loly, this ain't New York. I can't jus' walk aroun', pointin' an' pickin' who I wanna take home. Maybe if I liked girls, I could get away wit' that. But..." he trailed off, frustrated.
It was a sore topic that had made itself known time and time again. Whenever he went into town for supplies for the house, or just grocery shopping, he sometimes saw guys who were rather attractive. It even seemed like a few of them had been thinking the same about him. But he'd never dragged up the courage to approach one. He was scared to death of ruining his brother's reputation as Sheriff of their small town. His job was keeping house and freelance landscaping. His reputation didn't mean shit, but...he wouldn't jeopardize Kenny's. So, it kept him from being able to explore his sexuality the way he really wanted to.
Of course, he'd had the occasional, out-of-town romp with a few of the bolder men he'd shared a mutual interest in, but as far as a relationship? He'd never had one. And the way things were going, he didn't think he'd ever have one. It was depressing at times, but he would never let his family see him sulk.
He smirked as he lifted his beer bottle for another sip. "I gotta be a bit more discreet than that, Loly."
Loly quirked her lips, dark eyes narrowed on his face. He gulped down a few swallows and shifted his gaze to Kenny. Didn't seem like he'd been as convincing as he'd hoped. His older brother watched him with intense gray eyes that seemed to see right into his soul.
"Well, don't worry, Grimm. Little sister's here to help you find a man!" Loly shouted, pumping her dainty fist over her head.
He grimaced and shook his head at the way Yoruichi and Ururu paused, the former wearing a small, knowing grin and the latter wearing a perplexed expression. If it hadn't been involving his sexual orientation, he might've found the situation comical; instead, he sighed and went back to his beer, unable to shake the feeling of Kenny's eyes all over him.
Two Weeks Later
"Good morning, Kurosaki-kun!"
"Mornin', Inoue," he rumbled, disgruntled.
"Ah, is something wrong, Kurosaki-kun? You look unwell."
Ichigo turned away from the large, stainless steel refrigerator, focused on the apricot-haired woman, and shook his head. "I'm fine. How's your morning goin'?"
Inoue immediately launched into a detailed explanation that would last more than ten minutes, for sure. Ichigo had experienced it before, and frankly, looked forward to it this morning. He needed something to help take his mind off the horrible weekend he'd had.
It started with a disagreement with his old man on Friday evening. Isshin Kurosaki hadn't been too thrilled to hear that his only son planned to pursue his field in America. Hell, the older man wasn't even thrilled about that field to begin with. In the eyes of his father, being a chef didn't really make for a stable living. Oh, well. That was just too bad. The old goat would have to suck it up and get used to it. Ichigo's heart lay with cooking and creating art in the form of food, not medicine; he'd long outgrown the idea of becoming a surgeon like his father.
Saturday had seen his "friend" accusing him of treachery in the form of a stolen girlfriend. Ichigo inwardly scoffed and rolled his eyes. He didn't even like girls, so what the hell would he steal his "friend's" for? Not to mention, he already had someone he'd been seeing. It was just another example of how blind and stupid people could be. After a knock-down, drag-out fight with the pale-haired guy, they'd split ways, vowing never to see or speak to each other again. Which normally meant about a week.
But Sunday had been the icing on the already lop-sided cake. His boyfriend – and he used the term very loosely – had broken up with him. They'd been together – again, loosely – for about four months, when suddenly, the blond felt like he wanted to explore other options. Not that he'd had the decency to tell Ichigo this ahead of time; Ichigo had been forced to walk in on his supposed other half instructing some frail-looking dark-haired boy on all the wonders of the Kama Sutra. A ton of vodka and a sleepless night had the orange-haired man walking into work looking like death on a silver platter. Of course, he looked unwell.
He shuffled over to one of the prep counters and set out a few ingredients for the salmon-inspired chowder he had in mind for the main dish of the evening. Inoue was still rambling, her voice a soothing background hum. That was...until she required him to participate.
With a soft giggle, she said, "Kurosaki-kun, you're not even listening."
He jerked at the sound of his name and stared at her, still in la-la land. "Huh?"
Inoue faked a long-suffering sigh as she turned to the ingredients he'd lain out. She was a bit creepily cheerful, but she was a sharp sous-chef. Her passion for cooking almost rivaled his own and he admired that. Although, sometimes her ideas and suggestions for menu items ran wild. Without his line cook, Renji, the days Ichigo hadn't been at the restaurant would've been disastrous.
"I'm sorry, Inoue. My mind was somewhere else."
"Is it Shinji-kun?" she asked innocently enough, but the jolt of pain was nearly breathtaking.
"Uh...um...," he faltered.
Was he ready to share that kind of news? Did he want the most optimistic being on the face of this planet knowing how negative a mood he was in? Ichigo sent Inoue a tentative glance and sighed at the concern shining in her steel-gray eyes. Dammit.
"Yeah, among other things, I guess," he mumbled and leaned a hip against the steel surface of the prep counter. "Remember I told you I wanna go to America to open up a restaurant and everything? Maybe a couple years if I'm lucky?" Inoue nodded. "Well, I told my old man about those plans and he flipped out. Says I'm a million years too young to strike out on my own, especially in America."
"Yeah. Add to that a fight with Shiro and my break-up with Shinji, and you've got my weekend."
"Wow. Th-that's horrible."
"Eh, I guess it could've been worse," he replied nonchalantly.
The swinging kitchen doors suddenly swished apart, revealing the red-haired line cook, Renji Abarai. The taller man wore his white uniform impeccably and looked damned good in it. But that was neither here nor there. Renji swaggered into the room, hooded, russet eyes alight with mischief as they landed on Ichigo.
"Yo, Taichou! How's it goin'?"
Ichigo sucked his teeth through an exasperated grin. "You can stop calling me that now, you know."
"No way," the red head's deep voice rumbled into the partially empty kitchen. "Yer the captain a'this ship, amigo."
"Abarai-kun, you watch too much TV," Inoue chimed in with a laugh.
Renji sucked his teeth and rolled his eyes dramatically. "Woman, this ain't a fuckin' classroom. Stop tackin' that 'kun' at the end a'my name."
The apricot-haired girl blushed from the roots of her hair to the tips of her ears. It was pretty funny, but Ichigo felt the need to reprimand his brash line cook.
"Stop embarrassing Inoue, Renji."
"Heh," the red head grinned fiendishly. "Ain't no fun if I don't."
The three got down to business after that, the sounds of clinking metal, sizzling pans and running water filling the background. Time flew by and before Ichigo knew it, he was pausing for his break.
He glanced around the animated kitchen and blew out a deep, satisfied breath. He'd gotten many compliments on the salmon chowder, so he filed it away with the other prime items on his mental menu.
"Inoue," he called after undoing the tie of his white apron. "I'm takin' fifteen."
The cheery girl lifted her head from a saucepan where she was creating a red wine glaze for a sauteed beef dish. "Sure thing, Kurosaki-kun!"
Ichigo went towards the back exit of the kitchen and hung his apron on a hook before pushing the heavy metal door open and stepping into the mellow, evening air. It felt marvelous on his slightly perspiring face. He leaned against the ashen stone wall of the restaurant and smiled. He was well on his way to achieving his goal, his dream. He had a bunch of money saved for the restaurant he wanted to start and he was almost finished with the business courses he'd picked up two years ago. Since he'd discovered his passion for cooking and food, and once he'd tuned into the website for the American television station, Food Network, he'd yearned to make his way to the exciting states and experience that world for himself. His old man was completely against it, but Ichigo wouldn't let that deter him. Medicine just wasn't on the agenda.
His cell phone abruptly buzzed in his pocket, making him jump. He didn't have many people he could label friend. Shiro wasn't about to call him so soon after their last argument, and he and Shinji were through, so he wondered who could be trying to contact him. He pulled the sleek, silver device from his black uniform pants and glanced at the glowing screen. Ah, new email. Then, his heart rate spiked when he remembered the new acquaintance he'd made through a pen pal website. He forgot the name of it, but he'd run across it while absently surfing the web. With nothing better to do, he'd signed up, kind of thrilled about the idea of talking with someone from the US. Those were the requirements he'd entered into his profile: US native and male.
Ichigo felt his ears go warm as he opened the email application and read the strange name in his inbox. Grimmjow Jaegerjaques. They'd been exchanging messages for a little over two weeks now and he could honestly say, he found the guy interesting. Grimmjow was twenty-seven years old, funny, he seemed nice – although very blunt – he did landscaping for a living, and he had two other siblings. He'd also mentioned that they'd all been adopted and raised together by a nice, older couple until that couple had passed, leaving them all a house in Denville, Tennessee. Grimmjow had a niece that he pretty much adored, if the way he described her was any indication. He seemed close to his brother and sister too. Ichigo liked that. He felt family was extremely important and it sucked that he wasn't as close as he used to be with his own.
Grinning, he opened the message and read:
How's your day going? It's about nine AM over here, so it should be evening by you, right? I have a yard to take care of in an hour, so I figured I'd shoot you a message before I left for the day. Just had breakfast and coffee with Kenny and Loly. Sort of a spontaneous kind of thing, I guess. Ruru was still asleep and Yoruichi was in the backyard cleaning the kiddie pool. You know how to swim, Ichigo? I was thinking of having a real pool put out there.
But anyway, Loly's still trying to get me to that fair I told you about the other day. I really don't wanna go, though. Women freak me out when they're in large, demanding numbers, ya know? I don't know. I DO know I'm not going. Loly can whine and plead all she wants. Do they have fairs or anything in Karakura? Or I guess you'd call them festivals, right? I'm just learning about Japanese culture, so don't mind if I don't get it all correct right away.
Enough about me, though. How are things on your side of the world? Any new food suggestions? I tried the onigiri recipe you sent me last week and it was pretty good. Kenny demolished them, LoL. If he didn't have me and his wife here to cook for him, he'd be useless. Yeah, but, um...what was I gonna write? Oh yeah! The restaurant! Did you have any luck finding a place over here yet? I don't wanna sound like a creep or anything, but it'd be nice to actually meet you, ya know? Loly says I need to make more friends and get out more often, but I like to take my time with these things. People can be assholes.
By the way, I'm glad you can understand English. It makes things a lot easier. Not that I wouldn't try that translation thing I heard about, but...well, anyway. I gotta get ready to go now. Talk to you soon, Ichigo.
Ichigo smiled, entire face hot by now. It wasn't as if Grimmjow'd expressed any sexual interest in him, but the fact that the guy wanted to meet him sent warm shudders through his body. He really liked receiving messages from the man. They hadn't even approached the topic of exchanging pictures and hell, Ichigo was kind of nervous. What if Grimmjow was unattractive? What if Grimmjow wasn't unattractive and thought Ichigo was? There was so much that could fuck up what seemed like a blossoming friendship, and he really didn't want that. Besides, as things stood, he and Grimmjow were only pen pals, friends. Nothing more, nothing less. He was jumping the gun with all this sudden schoolgirl giddiness. Ichigo lowered himself onto a crate outside the restaurant and hit the reply option. Another smile slowly crept across his face as he began entering his response.
Didn't hurt to dream, though.
*Denville—I seriously don't know if this place really exists, but I made it up for the sake of this story. You know, sorta like how Gotham and Metropolis are made up, but still manage to be in America? Yeah, just like that.
This is only going to be around maybe ten chapters. Nothing too big. I've had this idea running around in my head for over a year I think, and I'm tired of sitting on it. Hope you liked the first chapter! Thanks for reading~