Waves of darkness rolled in stormy swells high above, the sound of their crash against rock and stone no more than distant vibrations at these depth.
The nether realm of death ensnared him. It held no secrets to one who'd already passed this way, long ago, but it gripped him tight and would not surrender.
Not until a voice torpedoed through the deep, blew back the crushing weight of silence and grabbed him tight around each shoulder.
Ichigo's face was bathed gold. An incandescent glow filled the space between them and Grimmjow slowly relaxed his fingers from where they had gripped Ichigo back tight around his arms.
"That's enough, Orihime." A soft voice warned. Orihime's power faded away and the two were left in the natural light that poured in from the broad window next to his bed in the Fourth Division.
"Ichigo?" His voice was hoarse, he swallowed and took in his condition. White sheets had been thrown askew, he guessed in his revival. In their absence several white bandages were visible, his midriff tightly bound and he still felt a tingling pain there, but not the deep wound that had threatened to kill him. All over were minor wounds that had been stitched and covered and now their healing advanced by the power Orihime could spare. He drew his eyes away from himself and back to Ichigo, the teen he'd nearly died trying to save. He'd been wounded, but it seemed Orhime had taken care of the terrible blows Kurotsuchi had lain in his back.
"Grimmjow, you're back."
"Yeah. Was I that close?"
"Yes." Unohana said behind Ichigo. "If it weren't for Orihime, I'm afraid we would have lost you."
"Oh. Thanks." He said to the tired girl. She smiled.
"Of course. I'll do more, when I can."
Unohana walked her out, presumably so she could rest up. Ichigo puffed the pillows at Grimmjow's back so he could sit up more comfortably before taking a seat on the stool next to his bed. Unohana rejoined them.
"What happened?" Grimmjow asked the expected question.
"What do you remember?"
"Pantera returning. And then nothing until...your face in the laboratory." He turned to Ichigo. "Is he dead?"
"Grimmjow." Unohana put a hand on his shoulder, "the manner of his death-"
"What? Tell me how he died."
"You shouldn't dwell on it."
"You tore him to shreds, according to members of his staff who witnessed your fight."
"I always told him I would." She quieted. No matter what the espada had suffered, it was hard to stomach the animalistic way in which Grimmjow had killed Kurotsuchi.
"What is it?" Grimmjow had watched her features darken. "Don't tell me their going to arrest me for this."
"THE HELL THEY ARE!" He lunged from the bed, sheets flying in Ichigo's face before he could get a hold of Grimmjow. But the sixth only made a few paces before his knees failed to lock and he fell against another empty bed, clutching desperately at the supportive bar to stay upright.
"Grimmjow." The teen got his arms around his waist.
"Where's Pantera?" He asked as he was righted, completely supported by Ichigo, he held onto the other as he scanned the room wildly. "Tell me where he is?"
"Grimmjow calm down," Unohana warned.
"Give him to me!"
"He's right here!" Ichigo's voice brought his attention back to him. "We just put him over there." Ichigo nodded to a cupboard by the bed, the zanpakuto was propped in the corner.
"So...they aren't arresting me?"
"Oh." He sagged slightly in Ichigo's grip.
"Like I always told you, Grimmjow," he propelled him back to his bed, "I won't let them hurt you again."
He retrieved Pantera for his friend once he was back in the bed. "Here you go."
"Pantera." The whisper was reverent. Grimmjow held his soul like it might vanish, like it was perhaps just some dream that would disappear.
"How does he feel? I mean, is he the same?"
"He's mine. He's him." he nodded. "He's fine."
"I can't believe he's back."
"I thought Kurotsuchi had broken me forever."
"But he didn't. You won, Grimmjow, in every sense."
The warrior lowered his forehead against the pommel of his blade. "We did. We're whole again."
They took it step by step out in the cold pathways. It hadn't snowed for days, everything was clear, and Ichigo walked next to his side as he manoeuvred his way along on crutches. There had been more damage than Grimmjow had first realized and even with his spiritual pressure back to full strength it would take some time to recover.
It was the first he'd seen of the damage. He'd heard wisps of conversations about the fight. He knew more than one building had suffered. Kurotsuchi had really done most of the damage with his enormous bankai and there had actually been some casualties of lesser soul reapers who had not escaped the shockwave of his blows or been treated for his poison in time.
Grimmjow was fairly certain this had helped his case. He'd stopped an enemy who had killed their own. His personal vengeance had saved them. So he'd been rewarded a full pardon, and the permission to return to the world of the living so long as he remained under Ichigo's guidance.
But not until he was healed. And not until his mental health could be reassessed.
He remembered nothing of the fight. This fact bothered Unohana, and ichigo a little. Grimmjow shrugged it off, though part of him wanted to relish in the moment he'd been knee deep in Kurotsuchi's blood, another part of him knew it would just be more memory of pain on top of all the other ones.
He just wanted to be done with Soul Society once and for all, to turn his back, and never return.
Because no matter what they did to make amends, he would always hate the Soul Reapers.
"Ichigo. Grimmjow." Rukia waved off the other members of her squad she'd been with and turned down the path to meet them. "How are you?"
"We're good." Ichigo answered for them.
"Ready to get back." Grimmjow grunted, trying to find a comfortable position to rest on his crutches.
"So you're going back with Ichigo, then?"
"Yeah." Ichigo said quickly. He was ever worried Grimmjow would think he was a burden and didn't want to give him an opportunity to doubt he was welcome.
"That's probably for the best." Rukia said. "And how are you feeling, Grimmjow?"
"I'm not quite so crazy, if that's what you're asking."
"I didn't mean it like that."
"Well, most people do." He sighed. It was true, he'd seen a marked improvement with the return of his soul and the knowledge Kurotsuchi could never again come for him. But despite this, years of mental breakdown couldn't be reversed in the blink of an eye. He still scanned ever inch of every room they entered, watched soul reapers with suspicious eyes and didn't sleep more than half an hour at a time.
"We should get back inside. You've been up too long already."
Rukia walked them back to the Fourth but waved goodbye at the door. Ichigo eased Grimmjow back onto the bed but he sat, hands clasped loosely in his lap, deep in thought.
"What is it?"
"What now?" Ichigo had feared this question. "What do I do when we go back?"
"Whatever you want to. Whatever you need to."
"It's just... I just don't know what I should be feeling now."
"Grimmjow," Ichigo stood and put a hand on his shoulder. The other looked up to him, nothing hidden in those blue eyes anymore, at least not to Ichigo. "You're free, of everything now. We take it one step at a time, you keep getting better, and you'll figure out what you want along the way."
"You really think it will be that simple."
"Nothing's simple, but we started this together, Grimmjow, and we're damn well going to end it that way."
Grimmjow bowed head, but nodded. "Thank you, Ichigo."
"Always." He lifted his hand. "Now get some rest."
A week later they were back in the apartment. It was strange for them both, things had been so different when last they'd been here, especially for Grimmjow. He was a new person.
Though still recovering from the last of his wounds, he was a whole being again, his sword strapped to his hip even while wearing sweatpants and a sweater. He went immediately to the mirror in the bathroom and stared at himself straight on. His right cheek held the faintest scar that Orihime still promised to heal. His jaw was sensitive, a molar was missing. A bandage still poked around his collar and he couldn't' quite stand straight for the pain in his stomach but the crutches were gone, he stood on his own two feet, and he met the gaze that was once a stranger's.
"Is it you?" Ichigo asked in the doorway. "Is it Grimmjow Jaggerjaques yet?"
A grin creased over still pale features. "You tell me. Is this the man who kicked your ass in that rocky field?"
"No. It's the man who didn't leave me to die in the dark. It's the man who became my ally on those sands."
"What about the man that tore Kurotsuchi to shreds?"
"I don't know. You don't even remember it." He caught the look in blue eyes and they shifted away ever so slightly. "Or maybe you do. When did it come back?"
"Three days ago. A dream, well, I guess it was a memory."
"And it was everything they said." He brought his gaze back square, almost challenging, waiting to see Ichigo's reaction. None who had seen seemed able to shake what Grimmjow had done. No matter how evil, the way Grimmjow had torn him apart had been anamalistic, some said, psychotic.
"How do you feel about that?"
"I don't feel anything." He turned back to the mirror, "I did exactly what I told him I would. I did exactly what I promised myself I'd do. And now it's done."
"Then let's move on. Let's not dwell on what happened or on him."
But the triumph of their moment faltered and blue eyes dropped to the porcelain sink. "I want it to be over so bad Ichigo. I thought when I killed him, when I got Pantera back, that would fix everything."
"You can't expect it to."
"The dreams." He shut his eyes. "The noise, the light. When will that go away? When can I feel normal again?"
"I don't know. Nobody does."
Grimmjow opened his eyes again and let out a long breath. "Yeah. Unohana said the same. I guess patience just never was my best virtue. Still," he dropped his hand on the handled of his sword, "I got twice the resilience now. Twice the strength. That's gotta count for something."
"Yeah. It does. Grimmjow, we're on the home stretch."
"I friggin hope so."
They took it step by step as promised. It was no picnic. Now when Grimmjow woke from a nightmare there was the danger of cero bursts, sword swings, or just his raw strength striking out in the heat of fear and horror. Ichigo suffered a bad burn and a broken nose because of it. Grimmjow was always apologetic, once he recovered.
There were still days where he barely moved, when the weight of it all just seemed too much to shake off, and he lose himself to the memories again. Other times, they could talk and hang out like nothing had ever happened. They exercised in the gym in the basement of the apartment building, they even began venturing outside.
The city was still strange to Grimmjow, and though he and Ichigo had walked around the hills of Soul Society, the noise and bustle of the city in winter was at time overwhelming for Grimmjow. He wasn't afraid of humans, or cars, or anything the human world presented, it was simply too much sensory intake for one who'd been locked in silence for so long. Old conditions would take a long time to disappear- possibly even years, Unohana had warned them. A honking car had sent Grimmjow sideways into a brick wall while he clutched at his chest. The chime of a door bell had him swallowing back bile.
Nothing would take those memories, but at least now he had a body and soul better equipped to deal with the stress and Ichigo ever at his side to help him.
It was on one of their walks through slush covered sidewalks that Grimmjow caught the look in Ichigo's eyes as they passed the university. He wasn't very familiar with the concept of school or university, but he made out enough from the sign and the bustle of young people with books to gather this was the place Ichigo had once left the apartment to attend classes. They moved past it in silence, but Grimmjow didn't forget that look. A day later, when Ichigo was gone to the store, he went into his room. It took little detective work for him to find papers listing courses. Many of the words were foreign to him, but he knew he was looking at a class time table.
Ichigo wanted to go back to school. Hints of conversation from Chad and Uryu informed the espada that a new semester was staring. He wasn't sure what that meant, but he gathered Ichigo had the chance to go back to school when that happened.
He didn't address it until that night, when the apartment shook and he woke drenched in sweat, the black and white face still floating in the air before him.
"Grimmjow." Fortunately the apartment was spiritually protected- their neighbours would never be affected by his outbursts, but now the room was askew. Blue eyes noted the overturned chair, the spilled glass of water.
"Grimmjow." the second call turned his attention back to the teen beside him. He stiffened when he felt his wrist caught and only now noticed he was rubbing them again. He stopped, a long sigh escaping him.
"I keep thinking I am. Then I have another nightmare."
"It's alright. Want to stay up for a bit?"
"No, Ichigo. I mean... I don't want to be doing this to you anymore."
Anxiety creased the teen's features, "What are you saying?"
"You want to go back to school." He watched the teen's shoulder's slump, like he'd failed horribly in letting the other perceive his true feelings. But Grimmjow kept his gaze. "I want you to."
"It's too late."
He was. "Grimmjow, do you really want to be alone in the apartment all day?"
"I'll be fine."
"What if you're not?"
"Ichigo." His eyes were hard. "We have no idea how long the effects of what he did to me will last. If it goes on for years, does that mean you'll put your life on hold for years? If it does then I'm leaving, I'm going back to Hueco Mundo. In fact," he swung his legs over the bed to emphasize the threat, "if you don't agree to go back to school, I'll leave right now."
"Grimmjow!" They both stood. Ichigo watched him closely, absolute conviction in him.
"What's your decision?"
"You would really go?"
"You're not a burden."
"I am as long as you stop living your life because I'm here."
"I won't mess it up for you. I promise."
"I'm not afraid of that, Grimmjow, I'm afraid of not being here when you need me."
"I've been better, haven't I? I went outside three times this week. I ate every meal, I exercised I—"
"Yes, Grimmjow," Ichigo realized his refusal might be making the other doubt his remarkable progress. "You've been so much better. I guess I'm just worried about messing up all that progress."
"Then okay. I'll go back to school."
"Yeah..." Ichigo let anxiety fade to relief, to happiness. He wanted to go back to school but he'd been afraid. "But if you change your mind-"
"I won't. Night, Ichigo."
"Night Grimmjow." The espada watched him leave and sat back heavily on his bed. More nightmares would come, if he dared go back to sleep, but he had seen the hint of a smile in Ichigo, and that was enough to get him through the dark night.
School started two weeks later. Ichigo had spent that whole time preparing Grimmjow for days alone, even though the other insisted he would be fine. He had started listening to the radio. He attempted tv, it was still a bit of a risk as the strobe effect could trigger memories or conditions. He had a key so he could go to the exercise room, or leave if he needed to. On Monday morning, Grimmjow listened to Ichigo repeat every instruction again with a half smile.
"I'll be fine." He repeated for the hundredth time as Ichigo frantically packed a lunch and gathered all the things he needed for the day.
"Call me if you need anything."
"I won't because I'll be fine."
"Ichigo, just go."
He stopped and let out a long breath. "Sorry, I know you're okay. I'm just worried. Bye."
Grimmjow waved him out.
Yes, the day was long without Ichigo. But so were the nights when you barely slept. So had been that year deaf and blind in Soul Society. So he could handle a little loneliness.
What he was having difficulty with, was that fact he had no place anymore. Yes, Ichigo had welcomed him into his home, but being his patient wasn't exactly what he wanted in life. He needed something to do. Going back to Hueco Mundo presented the exact same problem. There, he had striven to be the strongest. With all his competition dead, he'd already accomplished that. He had nothing to accomplish there either. With his strength he could be king, but king of a dead world and a broken throne.
He found himself looking forward to when Ichigo got home, to hear about his day, even if talk of boring professors and not understanding statistics really meant nothing to him. But then Ichigo was busy with homework and though he would sit at the kitchen table to do work, it still left Grimmjow with silence.
He began to venture out on his own, mostly a night. At night, there were fewer people, fewer noises, and though it made Ichigo anxious, he also understood that there was nothing that could hurt Grimmjow in this world, especially if he left in his soul form and moved about unseen. In the dark, Grimmjow's eyes were sharp, he saw what most couldn't hidden in shadow. He felt more at peace, like he was back in his homeworld, hunting prey.
But there was nothing to hunt. He would just move over the rooftops and watch the city. Always, he scanned for threats. He didn't know if he could ever be completely at ease again, afraid that the soul reapers would come for him. Their word meant nothing to him, he knew he would probably die still looking over his shoulder, expecting to see Soifon or another standing there, saying it was time for him to go back.
But he did his best to fight past the feeling. He didn't let it keep him locked inside anymore. He would beat back everything that made him into the mess he'd become. He would not let Kurotsuchi win, not now, not after everything.
It was a few weeks later that things changed. Ichigo yawned in class. Grimmjow had been sick in the night after a particularly bad nightmare that had spun out into a panic attack. Though it didn't happen often anymore, from time to time the nightmare would win out and no matter what Grimmjow did he would be dragged back into horror and darkness.
Ichigo hadn't wanted to leave him that morning, but the other had insisted from where he sat on the couch, staring with vacant eyes onto the city below them.
So when he felt the flare of Grimmjow's spiritual pressure from his desk at the university five kilometres away, he bolted, leaving an auditorium of students staring at the trail of papers that had flown in his wake.
He ran flat out along icy sidewalks, drawn to the dark energy ripping through the air. But it was all over by the time he got there. He rounded the corner to a car park and came to a halt, frozen in fear.
Grimmjow knelt over a bleeding form, black robes torn, a zanpakuto shattered.
"Oh no...what happened?" But he heard a sputtered cough and saw the soul reaper was still alive.
"Go..." The soldier choked out. It was the latest guardian of their city, a young soul reaper. But he didn't look at Grimmjow with fear in his eyes, instead with pleading.
Grimmjow stood and drew his sword.
"Grimmjow, what are you-"
"Get down!" Ichigo was in his body, and had no way out at the moment, but even so, he felt the sudden dark pressure at his back, the rumbling breath of the hollow puffed out ominously around him.
In his human body he was too slow to dodge, but instead of feeling teeth or claws, he felt cold ground smack into him when he was struck by another form. Grimmjow rolled them out of a dangerous swipe before spring up with Pantera at the ready. A rain of black blood sprayed down on his formerly white collared shirt and the beast of a hollow turned to spiritual dust.
"Ugh." Ichigo sat up from the snow that also soaked him, a complete mess and shivering in the cold but he looked to Grimmjow who stood above him, flicking the hollow's blood from his blade. "Thanks."
Grimmjow offered him a hand and he stood. "He's injured." He indicated the soul reaper.
"Crap." Ichigo moved to the young man's side. His breaths were ragged but he had already gotten his soul pager out and was calling for assistance. It didn't take long for someone from the Fourth to arrive and once they did Ichigo and Girmmjow left.
They went home, Ichigo had to change and he didn't feel like walking back into class after his dramatic exit. When they made it to the apartment, Grimmjow stopped Ichigo from going to the shower.
"What is it?"
"You thought I'd lost it, didn't you?"
"You thought it was me who'd attacked that soul reaper, I saw it in your eyes."
"Grimmjow, I was confused, I didn't expect to feel your spirit and-"
"It's alright. I think he thought I was going to off him until I saved his ass." He ran a hand through his hair, he too, was splattered from the blood but also covered in sweat. It had been a powerful hollow and he must have been fighting it for a while before Ichigo had arrived.
"You saved him, and me."
"I know I did."
Ichigo watched him carefully.
"How often do you have clean up after the Soul Reapers, Ichigo?"
"You mean kill hollows?"
"I don't know, a few times a week. You know Karakura attracts higher numbers than usual."
"Yeah. And someone more powerful than a mediocre Soul Reaper should be on watch in this town."
"Are you saying you want to?"
"I'm saying I've got nothing, Ichigo, no purpose. But this- this is something I can do."
Ichigo considered. "How do you feel?"
"I feel strong Ichigo. Killing hollows has nothing to do with what happened to me. In fact, for those few minutes I was fighting that thing, I was me again, I was a warrior and nothing more."
"Well then, I guess that's the answer. If it's what you want to do, you should."
"Okay then. That's what I want."
But Ichigo didn't turn away. He watched Grimmjow so long the other finally had to ask.
But he didn't speak. He forgot the mess they both were, covered in hollow blood, and pulled Grimmjwo against him.
"Ichigo, what is it?"
"Nothing." But emotion was thick in the young man's voice. "I just... I've just waited for this moment for so long."
"Yeah, that makes two of us." When he didn't feel Ichigo letting go, he slowly brought his arms up around the teen as well. It felt strange to hug someone out of happiness, and not when he was in the throes of utter despair. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah. Sorry." Ichigo withdrew slowly.
"You went through alot for me Ichigo." Grimmjow said when he thought he understood why Ichigo had become so emotional.
"It was nothing, compared to what happened to you."
"Then don't compare it." He said bluntly. "That doesn't mean you didn't suffer."
"Well we're past that now. It's only uphill from here. You're getting your life back." He gripped his shoulder with one hand. "And I don't want to wake up one day and find you gone." He was worried this conversation was headed in that direction. "This is your home now. You have friends here."
"You're worried I'll run to Hueco Mundo."
"Yes. And if someday that's what you want, I'll accept that, but for now, will you promise you'll stay?"
"You sure that's what you want? I mean, my nightmares, my baggage, when you have school, university?"
"Yes, Grimmjow, I'm sure. So will you promise?"
Grimmjow let out a sigh. "Yeah, I promise."
"Good." Ichigo sighed too. "Now, I really do need a shower." He continued into the washroom and shut the door. Grimmjow stood there hearing the water turn on, thinking about the boy beyond, he'd once tried to kill, thinking about the long years that stretched between then and now. What had happened, how he'd changed, but more, he thought to the future, to the next days, months, years. Maybe fighting hollows wouldn't be enough. Maybe he would desire to return to his moonlit world.
But not now. Now he could only rise each day for two reasons: one hung in his hilt at his side, and the other now drenched himself in hot water.
After so long of waiting to be whole once more, he wouldn't split himself in two again.
So he sat on the couch, and lay Pantera across his knees, shutting his eyes to the sound of thundering water that a few weeks ago would have given him chest pains. But it didn't bother him now. He knew this place. He knew Ichigo was with him.
He was safe.
He was healing.
He was home.
THE END! Wow, this was a very unplanned piece of work from the beginning and I never expected the response and support I have recieved from all of you so THANK YOU so much for all of it! I wanted to give it a happy ending, but obviously tempered with the reality that Grimmjow has more progress to make. I hope you will find it appropriate and satisfying. Thanks again for following this story with me.
I am trying to wrap up my other fictions as well. I have also been trying to give up fanfic because of my own original project I've been working on, but I find the feedback of this site helps me stay positive about the possibility of being published for my own work someday. Still, I will be trying to back off a bit and not publish quite so much at once. I have another completed story that I will start publishing soon as I edit it. It's going to be called "Point Blank" it's an AU Ichigo and Grimmjow fiction, I quite like it, so it you are interested, keep an eye out for that.
Again, thanks so much for your support on this one. I'd love to read your final thoughts,
Riza A. Winters