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Chapter 10 - Tolerance

"I need your love
I need your love"

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"Heya Ichigo," Shinji was standing downstairs on the sidewalk outside my apartment when I exited the building, his hands shoved in his pockets and a grin firmly in place. His grin was always the first thing someone noticed when meeting Hirako Shinji, since it seldom left his face. Though, it didn't quite have the same effect on me as Grimm's did, either because Grimmjow had a very unique effect on me or because Shinji's grin wasn't predatory, just creepily happy.

Or maybe both.

"Hey," I smiled easily and slipped into place beside him on the street. Shinji and I had met a few years ago, after I'd moved to the city, and we'd gotten along right away. Generally I avoided making snap judgments based on what someone looks like, with my hair I'd felt like I'd never had the right, so the grin had never fazed me. Our first conversation had mostly consisted of me telling him to stop smiling at me like an idiot, to which he'd only laughed and pestered me as he prodded for information on me. Nosy, but genuine, I'd liked him from the beginning. His kind of off-beat personality reminded me of a strange blend between Renji and my dad's long time best friend Kisuke Urahara- blunt, loyal, occasionally stupid, but also surprisingly wise beyond his years. I had no trouble falling into an easy friendship, especially when I hadn't had either Grimmjow or Renji around to fill that gap.

I'd never gotten around to explaining about Grimmjow in particular, since I'd done my best to avoid ever talking about him, but Shinji knew that I'd moved to the city to end a self-destructive relationship. Now that Grimmjow appeared to be once again a prominent part of my life, I felt that I owed Shinji a bit more by way of details.

Not that I wanted to give into that particular feeling, mind you.

I was entirely sure that Shinji, of all people, would adamantly encourage me not to return to something that had caused me problems in the past. But then again, he'd also never seen me with Grimmjow, so he really couldn't understand what it meant when I said I had been addicted.

Regardless, I wasn't necessarily eager to start the conversation.

As always, Shinji seemed to have this eerie way of knowing that I needed him to relax me before I could get around to talking about whatever I needed to talk about. He chattered on as we walked toward our favorite street to shop- the slightly trendy but offbeat clothing offered just outside the main downtown area.

"Do you want to come out with me next Friday?" I finally blurted, interrupting Shinji mid-sentence. He'd been complaining about Hiyori again- his step sister who had insisted on living with him when she'd moved to the city after graduating from college last year. I hadn't been paying attention; he complained about her so often that I'd gotten into the habit of tuning him out.

"S'only Friday now, yer thinkin pretty far ahead Ichi." Shinji raised a curious eyebrow as we slipped into his favorite store 'Purple Velvet'. He loved all their vintage tee shirts, though I was usually drawn to all their accessories and odd items.

Eclectic knick-knacks and clothes, just our style.

"Yeah, well, I thought you might like to meet some of my old friends." I muttered, trying hard not to meet his gaze and watch the gears turn as he realized what I was implying. There was a brief pause, and then Shinji's face was suddenly right in front of mine.

"Are ya sayin what I think ya are?" he asked, looking more surprised than curious. I ran my hand through my hair idly and stepped away from the blonde, trying to regain some of my personal space by moving to the other side of a table of shirts and staring idly at them.

"Yeah, I guess I am."

"Sounds interestin. I'm in." Shinji knew when to pry and when not to, it was yet another one of the things I liked about him. Bringing Shinji would be a reminder to maintain my balance, since it was so easily overthrown by a certain blue haired man.

Satisfied, I nodded my head and let out a relieved sigh as we turned our attention back to shopping.

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Friday was clearly going well for me: I managed to resist buying the whole store AND Shinji hadn't prodded me with questions that I didn't have answers for.

Unlike my other two closest friends, those who made my personal life their business, Shinji generally operated on a "you talk, I'll listen" definition of emotional and personal sharing. Words cannot explain how important that was during the past few years. God knew I wouldn't have maintained sanity if I had to answer questions about Grimmjow whenever someone asked how I was feeling about everything- especially when I was trying hard to distract myself.

While shopping and eating, we hadn't talked about Grimmjow at all. We chatted about work and clothes and Shinji's adventures out on the town with his friend Kensei. All mentions of him made me wonder how on earth he and Shinji could ever be friends- they were clearly very different people in both personality and interest. Somehow, however, they seemed to understand each other in a way and often went out to the bars together. That mystery might never be solved, but I listened eagerly to him as he told pointlessly amusing stories while we ate. After we'd enjoyed a nice dinner, Shinji had come over to watch some cheap action flick on late night TV and then he'd crashed at my place.

Oddly, Shinji was one of the few people I let sleep in my bed. First of all, he is nearly impossible to say no to. I may be known for my stubbornness, but even I couldn't turn down Shinji- his persistence far outweighed any hope to deny him. Second, that same "you talk, I'll listen" policy of his was alarmingly unassuming. He'd slipped into my life rather quickly for multiple reasons, and I would be lying if I didn't admit that my loneliness had been a part of it, but he'd stayed because he was an honest and genuine friend.

Which caused me to be rather unguarded around him, and possibly because of that, I slept well when he was there. However, I usually didn't dream when he was around.

I'd probably never live down waking up Shinji in the middle of the night…

"Oi, Ichi! Wake up!" I'd felt someone shaking me, but my mind was caught in the deep pull of a dream that was reluctant to let go. I remembered the shock, the haunting feeling that something terrible was happening, and a vision of blue that seemed to always be present in my nocturnal mind. A last hard shake and I finally opened my eyes.

"What the hell Shinji?" I asked dozily, noting his face hover above mine, grin unusually absent.

"Ya've been thrashin around in bed for long 'nough to wake me up, and we all know how hard tha is." Shinji assessed me thoroughly, as if looking for damage. Shinji slept like the dead, so for me to have woken him up I must have been quite… active.

"Must have been that last beer, gave me nightmares." I brushed it off, "Sorry Shin."

"S'not me I'm worried 'bout." He was still looking at me with far too much intensity. I rolled over to face the opposite direction and tried to verbally and physically brush him off, unsettled by both his intensity and the dream that still hovered on the edge of my subconscious.

"It was just a dream, it happens." I gave a pseudo-shrug, the best I could do lying down, and closed my eyes purposefully.

"Ichi, you kept saying 'Grimmjow'," he said, very quietly. I wasn't surprised, since Grimm was often part of my dreams, but I still didn't like the idea of him being in my nightmares.

"Shinji, I've had nightmares where you've sicced a horde of rabid bunnies on the town. My brain dreams up some crazy shit when I'm asleep, but I haven't been worried that you're secretly procuring rabbits." I sighed, rolling back over to make eye contact. He looked torn with indecision. I knew he wanted to pry, wanted to ask who Grimmjow was, but he wouldn't. Shinji would wait for me to explain.

And I would have to, if I intended to drag him with me to Departures next week.

I sighed and reached over to place a hand on his shoulder for a brief moment before rolling back to face the wall.

"I'll explain tomorrow. Go back to sleep, Shinji."

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Tomorrow had come too soon for my liking, and facing my blonde friend across the table was sheer torture. His eyes were quite serious today, even though his lips were unable to fight their inevitable smile, and his gaze was making me fidget. For the first time, I wished he would ask instead of waiting for me to tell. I sighed and played with my cereal as I ate it before finally I relented.

"Grimmjow is the guy I was in a relationship with my last year of college. He's the guy who I was addicted to. I dream about him pretty much all the time," I shrugged slightly as I took a bite of cereal, chancing a glance at Shinji where he sat sipping his tea. His eyebrows were raised curiously, but somehow he knew I wasn't done. "Grimmjow showed up in my life again this month." I paused and glanced at the door that led to my living room, before turning back to my cereal with a very slight smile. "If Thursday night was any indication, it's likely we're going to be reacquainting more permanently soon."

I finished my bowl of cereal in relative silence, interrupted only by the occasional slurp of Shinji finishing his tea. I had nothing else to add really, he knew enough from previous conversations to piece together all of the relevant information. When I stood to go rinse my bowl in the sink he didn't stop me, but when I was done and I turned back around his grin was firmly in place. His sparkling eyes were finally lit with something akin to interest and amusement, though I knew Shinji was probably feeling more than what he let me see.

"So yer headin for a relapse, ay?" There was concern behind the teasing comment, so I snorted in amusement.

"Well, more like I'm hoping that I've acquired a moderate tolerance."

"Hopin ain't gonna do ya much good." Shinji pointed out, "But I s'ppose a few years apart and a few years of growth ain't gonna hurt yer chances."

I laughed, and took his empty tea cup to the sink to rinse it out too. That is exactly why I love Shinji.

"You're going to hate him." I pointed out, "You'll think he's arrogant, pushy and self-centered."

"Ya never know," Shinji grinned, "He have any hot friends? Better be a perk to taggin along wit cha Friday."

"You've always had weird taste in men Shinji, how am I supposed to guess who you're going to hit it off with?" I shook my head, "Though there are a bunch of guys, so the odds are in your favor. Just please, for the love of God, don't even think about liking Renji."

"Gah, not my type." Shinji stuck his tongue out in mock disgust, "too clingy n' shit. I like'm tall n' self-sufficient."

"Whatever. Are you going to get the hell out of my place so I can laze around my apartment in peace on my day off?"

"Don't wanna. I think I'll stick wit ya for the day." Shinji grinned, springing up from his seat at the table and bouncing off into the living room. "I think there's a marathon of Law n' Order on t'day. Or maybe 'merica's Next Top Model is onnn…"

I'd followed him through the apartment, torn between a laugh and a groan as he made himself comfortable on my couch and picked up the remote to control my TV. Then again, it wasn't like I had any real plans for Saturday anyway… so I plopped into my arm chair and settled in for what was sure to be a brain-melting day of television.

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The week passed much quicker than I expected, at least until Friday morning when I got Grimmjow's text:

Strawberry,

I've been thinking bout ya all week. Wish ya would have come away with me for the weekend, there was a hot spring next door to my hotel and I would have loved to go with ya… instead I just dreamed about it.

I'm still looking forward to makeup sex on the table.

See you tonight,

Grimm

Now, the day couldn't go by fast enough since it was exponentially more challenging to drag my mind away from tonight.

Shinji was coming over to my place around six and then we were going to head over to Departures together from there. Shinji had a car, and since he wasn't big on drinking he'd offered to drive. The little doubts were still there, and it was comforting to know that I had a ride home whenever I wanted to go if I needed to escape. Not that it was really a prime concern, one just liked to be prepared for a self-control meltdown that might make me feel like running.

Not that I really thought Grimmjow would let me get away with that again, even if I'd wanted to.

I was also pretty sure that, once I was faced with the opportunity, I wouldn't deny myself the chance to reacquaint myself with all aspects of Grimmjow. Did that make me weak? This would be only my fourth time even seeing him in person over the last three years, and yet my body eagerly approved of any potential physical contact I would make with Grimmjow- it practically begged for more.

And mentally, I wasn't that far behind.

Though I really did doubt my willpower, I knew the only way to really test it was to throw myself back into the fire. Balls to the wall, as Renji used to say when we were in college. It had potential to be destructive, unsurprisingly, since it involved a potentially addictive substance…

But, maybe, aging really had developed a tolerance?

Maybe it really had been all about timing: right place but wrong time- but now right place and right time?

Grimmjow's arms had certainly always FELT like the right place…

There was only one way to find out, and it involved a lot of things that had my body wound up tighter than a cord of rope. I think even a brush from Grimmjow's velvet smooth skin would set me on fire, but as long as relief was promised by night's end, I figured I could stick it out.

I sent a return text when I was leaving work at five, and I guessed it would leave quite an impact.

Grimm,

I thought about you too. I'm bringing my friend Shinji with tonight, but I told him that I won't need a ride home.

Don't make me a liar.

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At exactly 6 o'clock Shinji was at my door. I had just read Grimmjow's response and hadn't quite had time to hide my anticipatory flush before I answered the door.

"Hot n bother'd already Ichi?" Shinji teased, his usual slim tie in place over his white shirt and jeans. He collapsed onto my couch, where we'd wasted away last Saturday, and raised an eyebrow.

"So 'm I still yer escape from the clutches of yer evil, 'ddictive suitor or are ya lookin to do some seducin yerself now?" He asked, I'm guessing, because it was obvious which route I'd decided to take. Dressed in my tightest pair of black jeans and a close-fitting dark, royal blue v-neck, I wasn't dressed for business- blue was one of his favorite colors, after all.

Though it had been a while, I not only knew what Grimmjow's personal tastes were, but I knew his favorite things about me. My white belt contrasted just so with the rest of my outfir, and I knew that together everything presented all of my attributes perfectly.

"I'm guessing I won't need a ride home tonight Shinji." I smiled slightly, nervous even though I knew that I was finally going to relieve some of the ridiculously built up sexual tension I had developed over the last few years. The question still remained whether or not I'd be able to retain any sense of self once I'd stripped down and literally bared everything to Grimmjow.

"Ya seem to be under the false interpretation that ya were the only one without control"

He'd said that the last time I'd mentioned how lost I felt around him, and if that was true at least we were in this together this time- not just physically, but emotionally too. I thought I could handle that.

At least I hoped I could.

"Let's go."

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A/N: I'M SO SORRY that this took me so long. With winter break road trips and family time and then the beginning of a new term things have been crazy, but I've finally got this chapter done.

Thanks for sticking with me! Please review :)