This is it…after all the tears and sweat, here is the ending of Not Always Easy. This chapter is a little shorter than the previous ones, and let me warn ya, it's a little fluffy! Hopefully I managed to wrap the story up nicely and won't disappoint any of you.
Warnings: A short trip down memory lane, good ol' angst and a bucket of fluff!
"What did he mean…when he said that you wouldn't be here…?" Ichigo asked carefully.
Grimmjow didn't reply; he remained seated on the couch, now fully-dressed in a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. He massaged his temple with one hand, messing up his already-tussled hair, while pinching the bridge of his nose with the other.
Ichigo fidgeted, shifting his weight from foot to foot as he waited for the blue-haired teenager to respond. It had been almost half an hour since Renji stormed out of the apartment. Ichigo had closed and locked the door, cleaned up the mess from the pizza box, and now all he wanted to know was what they were going to do next.
Finally, after a long stretch of silence, during which Ichigo planted himself on the coffee table directly in front of Grimmjow, the silence was finally broken.
"We were seven at the time," Grimmjow said suddenly.
Ichigo swallowed the "huh?" that almost slipped from his tongue and waited for Grimmjow to elaborate on his seemingly random comment.
To his chagrin, Grimmjow's next sentence was just as random. "Did you know that I can't swim?"
"No," Ichigo replied anyway.
"When we were seven, we…our families took us to a country club one time," Grimmjow said, staring down at his hands. "We had these…float things on, and we were supposed to stay at the shallow end. But, uh, you know me."
Ichigo's stomach cramped. He could imagine what must've happened.
Grimmjow scratched the back of his head and went on, "Renji asked me not to go. Back then, he was a big wuss." He chuckled. "Anyway, I got into some trouble, one of my floats came off. I yelled for help but the adults couldn't hear me."
Shit. For a moment Ichigo felt a stab of panic, but then he immediately kicked himself for being stupid. Grimmjow was here, so obviously things had ended well.
"The idiot came after me. He was shit in the water…okay, maybe a bit better than me, but still…" Grimmjow chuckled and rubbed his face. "He nearly killed himself in the process, but he managed to get his dad's attention by screaming his head off before he went under. They had to give him CPR."
Ichigo nodded, finally understanding now — why Grimmjow was so loyal to his red-haired friend, why he'd put Renji's happiness above his own, why Renji was so important to him.
"He has never brought it up before," Grimjow sighed. "Ever. Not after we came back from the hospital, not after any of the fights we've had over the years. Not even once, but just now…" He groaned into his palms.
After a pause, Ichigo left the coffee table and pushed Grimmjow back so that he had space to crawl onto the teen's lap. He held Grimmjow's face with both hands and stared into his ocean-blue eyes. "You'll get him back. We'll get him back," he said firmly. "We screwed up, but if Renji's half the brother you are to him, he'll listen."
Grimmjow grimaced. "I should've told him," he mumbled regretfully.
"Yeah, well, a little too late for that," Ichigo said dryly. "I fucked up too. We made a mistake and like it or not, we gotta answer for it." He slid off of Grimmjow's thighs and pulled him to his feet.
That seemed to strengthen Grimmjow's resolve, and he picked up his jacket from the back of the couch. Shrugging it on, he grabbed his keys and headed for the door.
"C'mon, I know where he'd be."
Ichigo hopped off of Grimmjow's bike and removed his helmet. He had walked past this place before but had never really stopped to look — it was a wide, grassy slope next to the man-made river that flowed through Karakura. It was plain, pale green from the short grass that covered the ground like a carpet, but it was quiet and peaceful. He could see why Renji would pick this as his favorite spot, or as Grimmjow called it, his "Zen" spot.
"When he needs to be alone, he comes here," Grimmjow said confidently.
Ichigo raised an eyebrow. He couldn't imagine Renji wanting to be alone very much; the Renji he knew couldn't stay away from people.
Grimmjow saw his look and grinned. "Yeah, doesn't happen very often. Usually only when he got dumped and was too embarrassed to face me." His smile faltered at the thought of their closeness, and then he frowned, more determined than ever to make things right again. He'd take it if Renji wanted to beat the crap out of him, but he wasn't going to walk away until this was solved. Why it took him so long to realize that this was what he should've done all along, he had no idea. Guess he was too busy playing the ostrich with its head buried in the sand.
Ichigo followed Grimmjow, who walked down the narrow dirt road that ran parallel to the river. Even from afar, he could see the unmistakable splash of crimson. Renji was spread out on his back near the river, his hands laced behind his head serving as a pillow. His hair wasn't in his regular ponytail; it fanned out from his face, long and messy, giving him the morbid image of lying in a pool of blood.
There was no way Renji didn't know they were there because the uneven ground and dry grass did nothing to dampen the sound of their footsteps, but he didn't acknowledge them. Grimmjow gave Ichigo a nod, then he approached his best friend. Ichigo decided to hang back for a little bit and remained on the dirt road, giving the two friends some privacy.
"Hey," Ichigo heard Grimmjow's low murmur. There was light scraping of feet, then Grimmjow sat down next to Renji, who was still lying on his back.
The greeting was met with silence, then, Renji suddenly sprang up with a growl and pounced on Grimmjow, knocking his friend over. Grimmjow hit the ground on his back and grunted in surprise. Before he could recover, Renji rolled on top of him and immediately went for his neck, gripping it and looking like he was going to strangle his friend to death.
With a cry of alarm, Ichigo sprinted over to Grimmjow's aid, but he slowed down when he got closer. Renji wasn't squeezing hard on Grimmjow's neck as much as he was shaking it, like he was throwing a tantrum and Grimmjow was a rag doll. Grimmjow winced as his back hit the ground repeatedly, but Ichigo could tell that Renji wasn't really putting his strength into it. So he stopped walking and just stood off to one side and watched the scene unfold.
Renji finally stopped after a while, then he rolled off of Grimmjow and threw himself on the ground, landing hard on his butt. He still looked pissed, but at least he wasn't yelling and snarling anymore as he had been for the past few minutes. Grimmjow remained on his back, tired and panting harshly from the tussle.
The whole thing was weird as hell, but from the look on Grimmjow's face, Ichigo had the feeling that this wasn't the first time they fought like this. Perhaps it was a good sign.
"How could you do this to me?" Renji asked, his voice still raised and slightly cracked from shouting so much.
Grimmjow sat up and croaked, sounding a little disoriented from being tossed around. "I'm sorry, Renji. I didn't mean to steal your—"
Renji cut him off. "Do you know how much it hurts to find out this way that you're fucking Ichigo behind my back? You!" Renji got to his knees and shoved Grimmjow, throwing the teen on his back again. "You! The whole time I was fucked up you told me that you're sorry, like you cared, and then I find out that you're fucking him! How long has it been, huh? Huh?"
Grimmjow raised his arms to defend himself, but before he could begin to explain, Renji went off again. "Why didn't you tell me? After all the shit we've gone through! You think that I can't handle it or something? Do you really think so little of me?"
Grimmjow propped himself up, a confused look on his face. "Wait, what?"
"What what?" Renji yelled. "What do you mean what?" Then, as if he was too impatient to hear Grimmjow's response, he rambled on, "I can't believe you hid this from me! And you!" He turned to Ichigo, eyes narrowed and fierce. "You! Why can't you just say that you like him instead of giving me that let's just be friends bullshit? Are you ashamed of him?"
"What?" Ichigo blurted. Now he was thoroughly confused.
"The fuck's wrong with you two? Did you guys fuck so much that you've gone stupid?" Renji asked, glaring from Grimmjow to Ichigo.
"Wait…" Ichigo said, his eyes wide with disbelief. "What exactly are you mad about?"
"Do you really need me to spell it out for you?" Renji gave him a weird look, then he mumbled something under his breath before saying, "You — " He pointed to Grimmjow. "— don't trust me, and you —" He turned to Ichigo. "You lied to me."
Ichigo swore he heard Renji mumbled something akin to "and Ishida said I'm dumb", but he couldn't have, because Ishida and Renji had no connection whatsoever.
Grimmjow had been silent since his "wait, what?" question, but now he suddenly laughed; his deep, gravelly laughter sliced through Renji's indignant huffing and Ichigo's stunned silence.
"It's not funny!" Renji snapped, narrowing his eyes.
The look of annoyance on Renji's face was too precious, and Ichigo burst into laughter, his softer voice joining Grimmjow's and echoing through the small clearing. Renji's face grew confused.
"What the hell's so funny?" he asked indignantly.
Grimmjow leaned forward and grabbed his best friend's shoulders. "How stupid we've been, that's what," he said, a grin beginning to stretch across his face.
"You guys are idiots, you know that?" Renji sighed, rolling his eyes first at Grimmjow, and then at Ichigo.
Ichigo grinned. He hadn't stopped grinning in the past ten minutes, and his cheeks were starting to ache. But he didn't care the slightest bit. In fact, if his mouth could go any wider, it would.
As it turned out, the reason Renji lost it was because he felt betrayed — except, it wasn't in the way that he and Grimmjow had been been worried about all along, but because he took his best friend's lack of faith and trust in him as an insult.
Granted, Renji did admit that his first thought was that they had cheated on him, but once he left the apartment, when the initial shock ebbed, what really made his blood boil was that his best friend didn't have the decency to tell him about it. Grimmjow had betrayed their brotherhood, as he put it, despite everything they had gone through.
Now, Ichigo couldn't help but laugh at themselves. All that secrecy and fear and worry had been for naught, and had only existed because none of them had been brave enough to be honest. They'd all let their egos get the best of them, and it had come around and kicked them in their sorry asses.
"If you ever, ever, pull this stunt again, I will beat the crap out of you," Renji warned, glaring pointedly at Grimmjow. Then, to Ichigo's chagrin and amusement, the redhead went on to poke his best friend in the chest and said, "And if you ever break Ichigo's heart, I will hunt you down personally and cut your balls off!"
Grimmjow made a face, and Ichigo started laughing. Renji turned to him immediately and wagged a finger at him. "The same goes for you," he said. Unfortunately for the redhead, the playful glint in his eyes dampened his valiant effort to look stern.
Ichigo opened his mouth to retort, but at that moment, the sunlight caught the pendant hanging on Renji's necklace and it flashed, causing Ichigo to flinch. Ichigo frowned, cringing inwardly as he recalled the obscene silver penis. Then, he stared. His eyes widened, and he stared, and stared, and stared some more, until Renji finally noticed his expression and looked down at his own chest. The redhead's face immediately flushed pink.
Grimmjow caught the exchange and lunged forward to grab his friend's necklace. "What's this?" he asked, staring at the pendant in his palm. It was an interesting design — a five-pointed star set against a small circle, the outlines thin and a metallic silver-blue. It was a surprisingly elegant piece of jewelry that looked completely out of place amongst Renji's garish wardrobe.
Renji tried to stuff it back into his shirt, but by then, Ichigo had recognized it. He'd seen this design before — on the wrist of a certain lab partner of his.
"Ishida?" Ichigo asked, his mouth beginning to twitch as the implication of this discovery slowly sank in.
"Ah hah!" Grimmjow yelled, giving Renji a big shove on the head that sent the redhead tumbling over his side. "Now who's keeping a secret?"
"It's not…not what you think!" Renji sputtered, finally able to tuck his necklace into his t-shirt.
If the color on Renji's face was any indication, it was most definitely what Ichigo was thinking.
Any lingering awkwardness and tension between the three of them dissolved as Grimmjow tackled Renji again, sending them both rolling across the grassy slope. Ichigo sighed happily and lay down on the short, prickly grass. A torrent of obscenities later, Grimmjow and Renji threw themselves on the ground next to Ichigo, panting and laughing as they stretched out their sore muscles.
Ichigo stared up at the cloudless, baby blue sky and smiled. The color reminded him of Grimmjow's hair, and he couldn't help but turn to his side to look at the teen, only to catch a pair of equally blue eyes that happened to be looking at him too. Grimmjow winked, sending a shiver through Ichigo's limbs.
No, friendships were not always easy, and definitely weren't always pretty, but they will be alright. Ichigo was sure of it.
Thank you for following this story, and thank you for supporting me throughout it all. Hopefully this ending does not seem abrupt - this is how I've planned for it to end all along. I'm a sucker for happy endings, and I think it shows. :p
On another note, another idea is beginning to brew in my head. If anyone's interested...it's a Renji x Ichigo x Shuuhei story, it's not something I'm used to - a little darker, sicker (to me)...hopefully it will turn out the way I want it to be.