"They've sentenced him to death."

"What?" Ichigo looked up from his research, the papers splayed around him at the library study table. Rukia slid into the seat next to him her hair shorter now, made her seem a little bit older but still out of place on a university campus. She zipped her sweater closer in the chill of the air conditioning and lowered her voice.

"Ichigo, at this point it's merciful."

"What does that mean?" He dropped his pen and shut his laptop to look at her straight on. It had been four years since Aizen's defeat, two since the end of the Vandenreich. He hadn't been involved in Soul Reapers affairs much since- only the occasional hollow or visit from Rukia or Renji. He'd actually managed to pass his first year at university.

"It means it's been two years- two years of interrogation."

"Wait, what?" Ichigo stood, not noticing the many other students who gave him an extremely offended look as their studies were interrupted by his outburst. But he ignored them as he stared down on Rukia. "What does that mean?"

"Why else do you think the Soul Reapers have kept him prisoner for so long? Why not just execute him?"

"Because he fought them in the end."

"For selfish reasons, nothing more. We were all afraid of the Vandenriech. And you can't forget what he did to you before all of that. And to me."

"Yes I know, Rukia. He almost killed you, he tried to kill me, but when the whole world was at stake-"

"Just because he didn't kill Urahara and the others in Hueco Mundo when he found them doesn't absolve him of that. And a few dead Vandenreich certainly doesn't make up for his sins. Not even what he did for Orihime."
"Yes, and so you imprisoned him, I get it. But what do you mean by interrogation?"
"He has been in the care of the Twelfth Division since the day he was captured."

Ichigo sat again, slowly, his face changing to dark dread. "Oh Hell.."

"Ichigo don't forget-"

"Why did you come here then?"

"I just thought you deserved to know."

"I'm going back with you."

"What?"

"You heard me."
"Ichigo you haven't been back in two years, it's for the best, it's time you moved on with your life."

"No. Not like this. It isn't right."

"Ichigo-"

"I've decided. Let's go."

He shoved papers and laptop into a bag and slung it over his shoulder before shoving his chair under the desk. With a sigh, she rose as well, following him from the library.


They arrived in the Seireitei within the hour. Rukia straightened her lieutenant's badge and followed after Ichigo, attempting to give him warnings which he didn't heed.

He didn't go to the Head Captain, or the Central 46, he went straight to the Twelfth Division. He shoved past lesser soul reapers and made his way down through the twisting stair case of the lab. Rukia got held up behind him somewhere, attempting to explain what was happening, so he was alone when he came to the darkest part of the Twelfth, maybe even all of Soul Society and forced open the door of the cell.

He could barely see the interior, nothing on the walls or floor, not a cot, not a basin of water or plate of food. Not a blanket against the chill, or a light against the dark. But there, in one corner, hands bound to one another, he lay against the wall, never turning to look at who entered.

"No way..." Ichigo approached him, saw he was naked save a pair of black shorts on a near skeletal form. He knelt and looked at him eye level, though he never looked back.

"Two years..." Ichigo breathed, reaching out a hand. But thin shoulders hunched, face pressed closed into the wall behind him and he flinched at the prospect of contact.

"Hey, it's okay..." Ichigo found himself soothing, "I'm not going to hurt you."

He got no response. He hung his head, in shame, in horror.

"I should never have let this happen. I'm sorry, Grimmjow."


Two and Half Years Ago.

Ichigo screamed Urahara's name into the soul pager but the call was cut short. The shop keeper looked to the broken pager in the sand and then up the shaft of the blade that had ripped it form his hands.

"It's you."

"You were the Soul Reaper at the shop." Grimmjow responded. "And I hear you had a role in taking down Aizen."

Urahara considered him. "Yes."
"I see." Grimmjow glanced beyond him to the others- Orihime, Chad and Nel and her brothers. "You're not alone."

"No."

"Where is he?"

"Who?" The blade dug dangerously close along the sensitive flesh of his neck.

"You know who. If she's here, then he must be too." He looked to Oirhime again.

"Oh. Him."

The blade dug deeper and Kisuke hissed as blood trailed from his neck.

"Stop!" Orihime begged. "Grimmjow, please."

"Why should I?"

"Because you're scared, aren't you." The blade immediately left Urahara to point at her.

"What did you say, girl?"

"I said you're afraid, aren't you? The Vanderneich have invaded your home. You're on the run."

"I'm not running from anyone. I just wanted to know where your boyfriend is."
He succeeded in making her blush but not in getting her to back down.

"Why? What would you do if her were here now?"

"I'd kick his ass."

"So you haven't changed."

"No. Disappointed?"

"Yes." He was stopped by her bluntness. He considered her for several long seconds before sheathing Pantera.

"I'm not interested in you lot." Urahara stood and looked to the body of Kirge next to them.

"You defeated him in one strike."

"Your point?" Grimmjow looked on the verge of sodinoing away but perhaps a small spark of pride or curiosity stayed him.

"We could hardly put a dent in him."

He smirked. "Course not. You haven't figured out how to penetrate their Blutt."

"Is that so? Enlighten me."

"You wish, Soul Reaper."

"It's a common enemy. Everyone that I kill, is one less to track you down."
Grimmjow narrowed his eyes. "I don't need the help of Soul Reapers. And I'm definitely not sharing information with them. Unless you happen to know the whereabouts of Ichigo Kurosaki."

"I do. He was trapped on his way to Soul Society by this Vandenreich,"

"KISUKE!" Orihime protested.

"Oh?" Grimmjow's hand found the hilt of Pantera again. "Really?"
He moved to the body of the quincy he had just cut in half and dug something out of his pocket. "Then I get to have my rematch after all." He shattered whatever the object was he'd taken from Kirge, and the air broke around them. Black light opened like a giant maw and Ichigo came tumbling back out into silver sands.

"Kisuke!" he sputtered, already half in tears, having heard the desperate voices of so many Soul Reapers. "Please hurry, send me back, Soul Society is-" he stopped short when he finally noticed Grimmjow.

"Kurosaki." He greeted.

"Grimmjow...no." he shook his orange mop of hair. "NO!"

Grimmjow was a little taken aback. He didn't expect the teen to react quite so desperately or fearful in his presence. He expected that arrogance he remembered from seventeen months ago.

"Renji, Rukia, Byakuya.." Ichigo whispered, "I heard them, I heard them dying." His voice cracked but he took hold of Zangetsu and unsheathed him, facing the espada. "I won't let you stop me from saving them."

Grimmjow narrowed his eyes, remembering similar words when Ichigo had gone to rescue Orihime.

"Fine." He said. "Then go."

"What?"

"I'll just stay here, with your friends." He smiled evilly and looked to Orihime. Ichigo's shoulders bunched.

"DAMN IT GRIMMJOW!" His fury was all human but just as deep and angry as his hollow side. "Don't you understand- I'll rip my way through anything that gets in my way- including you."

"Fine." He unsheathed Pantera. "Bring it on."

But a spray of sand caught them both off guard and Grimmjow found himself parrying a blow. He rolled back in the sand from the strike and came up just in time before he was beheaded. The Stern Ritter who had attacked didn't waste time with formalities or asking questions, he simply struck to kill.

When he managed to send Grimmjow back with blood spewing from his mouth, he turned his attention on Ichigo. The teen struggled to hold back his attacks as well and they momentarily disappeared in a slew of silver dust.

"ICHIGO!" Urahara shot a kido at the beast but the next instant there was a blade through his side.

"Kisuke." Orihime caught him when the blade slid free but did not see the second strike coming.

The blade intended for Orihime swung wide when Grimmjow slashed through his back. The Stern Ritter lurched but swung back, catching Grimmjow in the neck, a dangerous cut that spilt blood all down his front, threatening to take his life with it if he didn't staunch the flow. One hand against the wound, he raised his sword with the other to stop the ensuing attacks but it was hardly enough. When he went down, he knew it was over.

But that damned orange-haired teen got in the way, just like with Nnoitra. And the enemy hit sand when he was struck with a Getsuga Tenshou.

"There." He breathed when the Vandrenreich fell back in the sands. "Now do you understand? I won't waste my time, these guys are too dangerous." He watched Grimmjow stand again, hand against his neck drenched in blood, but his cold eyes turned to the Vandenreich.

"I suppose you think I owe you twice now." He spoke coldly. "For Nnoitra and now this guy."
"I don't think you owe me anything. But if that would convince you to leave me alone-" "You're right-" Grimmjow moved faster than he could see and there was a sharp ring in the air right next to his ear. Pantera shoved the Vandenreich's sword aside and Grimmjow raised a hand to the soldier. It wasn't a cero he formed, but he spoke quick words of an incantation Ichigo had never heard. The moment he was finished he drove a knee into the gut of the enemy before bringing Pantera around again and beheading him. A spray of blood flew back in Grimmjow's face but he ignored it as he looked to Ichigo, the enemy's body at his feet. "I don't owe you anything, not anymore."

He flicked the blood from Pantera and sheathed him, booting the head across the sands.

"You didn't come to fight me?"

"Don't be so full of yourself. I haven't been thinking about you for the past year and a half."

"Good."

"I just needed to get that debt out of the way."

"Okay."

"Don't think I won't mess you up next time we meet. I still wouldn't mind throwing you down." He warned, preparing to leave.

"Grimmjow, wait." Ichigo followed after him a few paces. "How did you do that? How do we fight these guys?"

"I already told the other one, I'm not teaming up with-"

"Grimmjow. If you're so bent on repaying debts then consider what Orihime did for you. She healed your arm and you may have saved her after that- but then she healed me on your request- and you for that matter. So you still owe her. And telling me this will help protect her."

Grimmjow stiffened, blue eyes narrowing.

"So, Grimmjow, how do we defeat them?"


Present

"Sir, the information Grimmjow gave us was key to our victory of the Vandenreich. An argument could be made that without that information the battle would have been lost."

Ichigo stood in what closely resembled a court room of earth, but above him instead of a judge were several aged and challenging faces of the members of the Central 46.

"We understand your reasoning," one spoke, "but he was still an enemy, and he still committed heinous crimes."

"Yes." Ichigo agreed. "Against me." He saw the shift in several eyes above. "Grimmjow targeted me, he attacked me, and tried to kill me. I'm not saying he didn't attack others, I know this, I don't discount this, but the bulk of his crimes were against me and I do not press charges."

He knew he was using terms from earth but they seemed to get the point across any way.

"You would absolve him of his crimes against you?"

Ichigo wasn't sure about that, but in order to get what he wanted he agreed. "Yes."

"Then we call an adjournment for further consideration."

The court broke up, Ichigo stepped out of the central lights.

"Ichigo, you shouldn't be doing this."
"You know me, Rukia. I have to."

"You're right. I do know you, and you're about to get yourself way in over your head. Again."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, if they agree, what do you think is going to happen? Grimmjow won't be killed, but he'll still be a prisoner, forever, and that's going to bother you, isn't it?"

"What, no I-"

"Yes, Ichigo. I am sorry. I should never have told you about his execution."

"Can't they just let him go back to Hueco Mundo?"

"No, Ichigo, they can't. Besides, it would be just as much of a death sentence the way he is now."

Ichigo quieted. He had been in that cell for fifteen minutes before someone dragged him out and the entire time Grimmjow had barely moved and not spoken at all.

"Then it must bother you too." He said more calmly now. "For you to have come to me."

"Perhaps you are right." she intoned softly. "I knew he was a prisoner, but it wasn't until...later, that I realized what has been going on."

"Rukia, what has been going on?"

"You have to understand Ichigo, that Aizen created the Espada specifically to attack the Soul Reapers. And on the heels of the battle with the Vandenreich that cost us so many lives- they were desperate to get any information that might help us defend ourselves in future. Grimmjow was the last Espada- the last evidence of how powerful hollows can become. Not only that, but he knew things. What Aizen trained them to do, what weaknesses he identified in the Soul Reapers, what his plans were- you can't forget they were unable to execute Aizen, he's still in captivity and many still fear he will some day escape and harm us again. And besides that, Grimmjow knew more about the Vandenreich than we ever learned in the course of the war. We had to know all we could in case more quincies appeared."

"Rukia, you're justifying things, but not telling me what happened. Please. What did they do to him?"

"Everything, Ichigo. Everything you can imagine and everything you can't."


This is a HUGE Hurt/Comfort story, less about the plot and action and more about the H/C aspect and the relationship between Ichigo and Grimmjow. I just had this H/C urge in my system from writing "Silence in the Shadows" and decided to go with it. Thought I'd share, not sure if it will interest you, but more to come if there is interest.

Riza.