Before You Forget About Me
Chapter 10: The End
A FEW HOURS LATER…
Grimmjow caught a sense of something moving nearby. It was vague. Untraceable, maybe. But whatever he thought he saw through his hazy vision, he could not place in a context of time or space.
"Ichigo?" he mumbled blurrily, unsure of whom he had been with last. The name of that person finally returned itself to him, along with a glimpse of the memory. "Aizen?"
Grimmjow was too weak to defend himself against the impending darkness that crept into his conscious, closing his mind like a door. He was weakened. He was remembering snatches of the fight that had done this to him. Ichigo and he…they'd split up. Ichigo had been lucky to take the left. Because Aizen was to the right.
And Aizen had killed Grimmjow. He remembered that clearly. He was dying. Yet somehow there was an element to the memory that spread a bitter smile over his jaws; a smile that ran jagged until it met the grinning, broken Arrancar mask on the side of his face where it appeared elongated into something wider, crazier. That door of consciousness felt heavy.
But Grimmjow had saved Ichigo this time. Grimmjow had killed Aizen in the process of defending himself. He'd known how to finally crush Aizen. Their last fight had shone light in all the right crevices and he'd known where Aizen's ill-recovered body was most fragile. Unfortunately, even though illness brought him below the norm, Aizen was not easy to kill without tremendous consequence.
The point was that Ichigo was alive.
"I am telling you to help us fight!" Rukia demanded, clutching at Byakuya's robe and tugging.
He relinquished with a withdrawing swipe of his sleeve. "Alright! You make such impractical demands." Rukia arched one of her thin little eyebrows in question. Byakuya stammered. "Grimmjow and Ichigo are probably dead, Rukia. You saw that light show! We all know that was Aizen up there! If they hadn't been in the Tower, with their energy suppressed, we'd all be dead!"
The light in Rukia's eyes was ebbing. "Why did Ichigo have to go fight Aizen?"
"Because it's Grimmjow's problem," Hitsugaya muttered. "I always knew it would turn into this."
"He couldn't have died, right?" Rukia asked, everyone deviating to their own track of thought.
"We killed the Arrancar, and we got to the meeting spot," Renji offered her tentatively. "Those were our orders. I'm…not sure what else there was we could have done to prevent it."
"Ichigo's plan, and Grimmjow's meeting spot," Rukia reminded them, watching the legions of squad members they'd congregated before the war charge out from the doors covered in sheens of blood.
Byakuya looked to their breathless exit likewise. It appeared there was nothing left to stop the members from leaving, which meant the Arrancar they'd been facing were disposed of as well. "Hey, that's all of them."
"How do we know Ulquiorra was successful?" Hitsugaya pondered aloud.
Renji's face dropped. "Um. Well, geez, have faith in him, you guys."
"It's Ichigo!" Rukia cried out suddenly, throwing up an eager wave. "ICH-I-GO! Over here!"
He was smiling. Even at a distance, as the blood of the last battle slipped down his mouth.
He flew across the vast distance in no time, chest heaving for recovery. Rukia slid her arms around his neck and hugged him fondly. "My God! We thought you'd died…AGAIN!"
He giggled, pushing her gently off him and encountering Renji's eyes by chance. "Where's Grimmjow?"
Renji blinked back his surprise, the smile dropping off his face instantly. "You mean you weren't with him, fighting Aizen?"
"Aizen?" Ichigo asked, and his genuine surprise put them all on edge. "Where the hell was Aizen? I finished off the last three Arrancar. I didn't…" Ichigo's eyes widened. He appeared unwilling as he looked back up at the Tower. "Did Grimmjow…?"
There wasn't much left for anyone to say to him. It became clear as the light slowly faded in every room across the tower, marking the ends to the fights that had existed in them.
Hitsugaya sunk his orb-like eyes, blue and catching, to the ground.
People began to assemble around their Captains, eager for succor and praise after the hard battles won. Byakuya stood up tall to attend to his Squad, with Renji and Rukia beside him.
Hitsugaya hung back at first. "Ichigo…."
"He'll come," Ichigo said, and without seeing his face, Hitsugaya knew he was almost crying.
He clamped down on his bottom lip. "Ichigo—"
"He was in…that building, right?" Ichigo persisted, glaring at it. "That part of the tower? Right? We should check it. He could still be in there. He could be trapped in there."
"He could be! The spire next to that room is completely caved in! Maybe the rubble got in his way. Move!" Ichigo knocked the younger Captain aside, bound for the smoldering mess of building up ahead.
Hitsugaua dropped his voice so that Ichigo would need to focus to hear him. "Grimmjow was in the spire, Ichigo."
It stopped him. A lasting pause held Ichigo back from taking a step further. His voice roughened. "Then he's in the part of the building next to it by now, anyway."
"How do you know?"
"Because he got out," Ichigo provided simply, facing Hitsugaya for the first time since their confrontation had begun. "He definitely got out."
"I'll look with you," Hitsugaya said evenly, with an etch of sympathy prevalent, "but I don't think we're gonna find him."
"You think, or you hope?" Ichigo asked, unmindfully cutting in his time of mourning.
Hitsugaya looked scalded. "I don't…I hope we find him."
"I'll look alone, thank you."
"Ichigo—" Hitsugaya's voice was lost as his friend departed. He thought about going back to tend to his squad, but another, more persistent part of him thought about helping Ichigo anyway.
He eventually followed, his squad calling out to him as he disappeared in Ichigo's wake. "Maybe it could work out," Hitsuagya thought, dismal as he chased Ichigo's shadow up the precipitous steps of the higher halls. "I mean, this is Ichigo and Grimmjow. I don't think either of them are very true to what an actual Shinigami and Arrancar are anyway."
He paused as he caught sight of the doorway opposite the one Ichigo had just crossed through. He had a bad feeling about it. With a stealthy touch on his blade, Hitsugaya moved in to get a closer look. Then he heard a cry from the chamber in the room opposite and returned his attention to Ichigo. By the time he came into the room, he'd half expected to see Ichigo grounded. Getting attacked or defeated even.
Of course, it was much worse. There was no sight of their enemy. Only their ally.
"Can we save him?" Hitsugaya asked quietly, careful of his intrusion by maintaining a wide berth. Ichigo was crouched over Grimmjow's tattered state with his back turned, spiraling through his own headspace in disbelief.
And then Ichigo had the final memory. It jolted his mind, sent pain singing through his chest to remember it. He'd been dying then, that's why. He was remembering his final moment of life and how much it hurt.
IN HUECO MUNDO…
THE DAY ICHIGO DIED…
Aizen's blade had skewered him. It didn't feel real. That level of suffering could almost never be real. His brain begun to delude him into believing there was no pain; merely a numb, hollow resonance of the penetrating motion of Aizen's blade. Ichigo stuttered on an effort to say something as he woke up mentally to Grimmjow's presence.
"Ichigo, don't talk," Grimmjow told him quickly, glancing worriedly from his chest to his face. "Don't talk."
Ichigo coughed in air, but regretted trying almost instantly. It was no use. The brink of life and death had been crossed already. But Ichigo's eyes prompted Grimmjow to keep talking anyway.
Grimmjow had a lot to say. "Ichigo…I…You'll come back, you know. You'll come back to Soul Society. The others will find you. They'll take you in, they always said, when you died they'd just make you a Shingami, they…Ichigo…" Grimmjow waited, lost in his own mind. When he spoke, it was softly. "Can I tell you something?"
Ichigo couldn't feel anything anymore. He had no sense of time. The only tenuous connection he had to the living world seemed to be Grimmjow's voice. He smiled to encourage him.
Grimmjow felt the pieces of what he meant to tell him fall together as he spoke."I'm already dead, Ichigo. I passed from the human world and forgot my past life. But I…remembered my previous self when I met you on the battlefield that day. I had died on Earth a long, long time ago. And it was a Shinigami that came out of nowhere to pick me up when death came. He…was just like you." Grimmjow paused, holding onto his breath as though he might need it, before gushing, "Ichigo, I followed him. And he brought me to Soul Society. I thought he would stay with me. He'd been so great while he escorted me over, but…it turns out that was just his job. To comfort the dead. It worked as comfort while he stayed by me, but, as soon as we got as far as these towns, he said goodbye and it all went away. I ended up travelling, searching for him. I got lost. It got dark. And I fell into Hueco Mundo…and became this. But as soon as I saw you, Ichigo, I felt human again. And I was just that lost kid looking for his Shingami friend. He's gone now, whoever he was. They replaced all the great ones with amateurs and weirdos- that Hitsu-whatever kid and his snobbish Bya-thing," Grimmjow said, and he was motivated by the twitch of Ichigo's returning smile. "But I found him, Ichigo. After all these years, I found what I was looking for. You're the Shinigami I needed, in the end. And you know, the day I first met my first Shinigami, I thought they were angels." Grimmjow smiled through the prick of tears that came out of nowhere, surrendering himself to the wave of desolation that held him."I was pretty close, huh?"
There was a languid pause. Ichigo finally touched his face, laying his fingertips on Grimmjow's matted blue hair with great effort. It was gentle, almost weak, but he kept it there. There was nothing in his eyes that suggested he was dying.
"You know why he didn't come back for me, even after I strayed to Hueco Mundo, and got lost, and became this?" Grimmjow asked Ichigo, suddenly completely aware of every breath he took in properly. "Even after he told me he'd be there and even after he stood by my side and walked me into a new world safely?" The silence stole a moment."Because he forgot about me. And I never got to ask him if he really wanted to stay with me. If he loved me. Please, Ichigo…tell me you love me…" Grimmjow pleaded, Ichigo's tightly gripped sword pressed against his hand with a distinct clack, "…Before you forget about me."
A WEEK AFTER LEAVING THE TOWER…
Hitsugaya threw his glare to Renji. "Say that again."
"Reword it maybe," Byakuya suggested at a whisper in Renji's ear. They sat close enough to do that now days. "Try suggesting he's the only one alone out of choice, instead of making it seem unfortunate."
"What's this whispering?" Rukia asked with a bright smile, seated across from the happy couple on a bench in Byakuya's endless garden. "Is it perhaps…private?"
Byakuya kissed Renji's ear when he was finished conspiring into it. "Don't mind them, they're children. But say nothing until it filters through me, just in case."
Renji snorted, about to lean up and align their mouths when a faraway movement caught his attention. Byakuya followed the direction his eyes went.
"What is it?" He recognized the person walking along the far end of the path, towards the fountain, before Renji could answer him. The orange hair was unmistakable. "Oh. Ichigo."
Ichigo kept going further and further. He made it feel as though the garden path never ended. Then he disappeared behind some foliage.
"Probably Grimmjow," Renji said slowly. "He's been missing him."
Byakuya shook his head. "It is sort of quiet without him, which is strange." Renji met his gaze. "I never used to mind the silence."
Ichigo couldn't hear them at his distance. He wouldn't have been able to hear them even if he had been closer, anyway. His thoughts would have drowned them out. It was beginning to become clear to him just how much daylight he'd spent with Grimmjow, now that he found himself with an overabundance of free time.
Ichigo sat down on the edge of the fountain, watching the cool water swim around the lily pads. Almost able to feel the chill that wafted off the water's surface. He was watching his own reflection when suddenly, he thought he saw shapes of blue and white enter the space behind him. He didn't look back though. That happened a lot. He was beginning to think it might be dangerous for his health to hallucinate so often. It was only when the solid touch of someone's hand met his shoulder that he thought to look behind him. He'd never felt his heartbeat stop and start up again so quickly.
"You're awake," he said to Grimmjow, so elated that he forgot to mind his friend's injuries.
Grimmjow flinched as Ichigo pulled him into a hug, but he returned the embrace with equal vigor. Despite the protest of his bandaged wounds. "I couldn't sleep," Grimmjow told him, feeling so light headed he was sure he shouldn't be capable of standing. "I came to find you."
"Well, you shouldn't have," Ichigo burst suddenly, remembering why he'd left Grimmjow alone upstairs in the first place. "You need to rest if you're going to heal. And I'm a distraction."
Grimmjow reclaimed the hand Ichigo had ripped from his back, using it to draw him forwards until their outlines melded together. "You're a distraction anyway," he admitted. He dropped his mouth to Ichigo's and kissed him slowly.
Ichigo didn't resist as he probably should have. He touched the closing cut on Grimmjow's face when it was over, and Grimmjow rescinded momentarily.
Ichigo smiled. "You know I remembered everything, right?"
"You know that's not supposed to happen, don't you?"
"Ichigo, you and I were never supposed to happen." Grimmjow gripped him tighter. "But I kind of like that we had to fight for it."
There was a passing gust of wind that ruffled their hair sideways. Ichigo pierced his eyes against the force, opening one only slightly afterwards to catch sight of Grimmjow above him. He smiled at the sight of the cut on Grimmjow's face again, involuntarily touching it.
Grimmjow commented this time, amused. "Ow. What is your obsession?"
"That's gonna scar, you idiot."
"So, I'm glad in a way." Ichigo leant back against Grimmjow's bandaged chest, assured he'd find support there.
Grimmjow didn't flinch, a little proud to be the pillar of someone so strong. "Why?"
Ichigo smirked. "Because you'll always remember me."
I hope you enjoyed it!~ :D
BTW, I know I'm going to be receiving a few concerned queries as to what became of Ulquiorra. :P He went on to live a fulfilling life somewhere. Heck, he can be part of the group now if you'd like to imagine it! But he definitely lives; I just felt the emphasis should be on these two—GrimmIchi. ^^
Thank you to everyone who followed this story through until the end! And a huge thank you to my BETA Reader, DancingElf! :D
I'd love your thoughts!~ 3