I couldn't find the inspiration to write that request fic today, so I ended up writing this instead. :) I already have the entire story drafted out in bullet points, so I know where I want it to go. I'm not sure how long it's going to be, though, but I have a feeling it's not going to be as long as The Roommate.
Now let's read, shall we? :)
Ichigo let out a breathless grunt as he set a wooden crate on the floor in the store room. He straightened up and stretched his back, wincing when his joints popped and cracked like he was an old man. It had been a long day, and he was tired, hungry, and thirsty…and did he mention tired?
"Wow, and I thought I was old," Tessai deadpanned as he, too, placed a similar-sized crate in the room.
Ichigo shot his uncle's best friend a dirty look before stretching some more. Those were the last crates they had in the back of Tessai's truck, so they were done for the day. The timing was perfect—the last of the sunlight had just disappeared behind the faraway mountains.
Ichigo took a step back and eyed the store room. Crates and boxes of all sizes filled the room, covering most of the floor and lined up on shelves upon shelves. Ichigo had no doubt that his uncle would not run out of stock for many, many months.
Uncle Kisuke operated a convenience store and gas station along a rarely travelled road. Why the man would pick such a desolate place to open a store was beyond Ichigo, but then again the man had always been…a bit eccentric, to put it kindly.
Ichigo had only visited his uncle a few times when he was growing up, but when Kisuke found out that he needed to get away from home for a while, the man had graciously offered him a place to stay. Ichigo had just finished high school and was in that awkward stage of figuring out what to do next. His father wanted him to go to med school, but Ichigo had his heart set on studying music. After fighting over this issue countless of times, they had reached an impasse, and Ichigo was willing to do anything if it meant he could be out of the house.
Including living out here in the middle of nowhere indefinitely.
"Come on," Tessai rumbled, giving Ichigo a friendly smack on the back of the head. "Let's see what Kisuke has made for dinner."
If they were lucky, it would not be another one of his experiments. The last time Uncle Kisuke was in an adventurous mood, the three of them had had to fight over the bathroom throughout the night. Ichigo would very much like not to experience that again.
As it was, he took a tentative step into the kitchen and sniffed the air. "Smells safe," he reported to Tessai, who let out a snicker behind him.
"Ah, you're so cruel, Ichigo," a voice floated softly from the kitchen.
"Uncle Juushirou!" Ichigo laughed, not bothering to conceal his relief. "I didn't know you're making dinner today!"
A tall, slender man looked up with a raised eyebrow from his position in front of the gas stove. His straight white hair was tied into a pony tail at the base of his neck, so long that it reached down almost to his waist. A few stray strands framed his open, friendly face.
Ichigo slapped his forehead with a groan. "Sorry, sorry…Juushirou."
"Honestly," Juushirou shook his head with a smile. "Sometimes I think you do it on purpose."
"I dare say that's exactly what he's doing," another voice piped up cheerfully from the stairs. A moment later, its owner stepped into view, sporting a serious case of bed head.
Juushirou smirked as he started to pour chicken soup into four bowls that were laid out neatly on the counter top. "Well, good morning to you."
Kisuke laughed sheepishly and slunk over to his partner's side. "Thank you for cooking," he said before stealing a quick peck on Juushirou's cheek.
Ichigo made a face at Tessai, who simply shrugged with a small smile. Kisuke had the bad habit of being overly affectionate in front of people, and it apparently never occurred to him that his nephew would rather not see him molest his lover in front of his eyes, despite Ichigo's not-so-subtle hints. Or it could be that he simply wanted to rub it in Ichigo's face, knowing how painfully single Ichigo was.
Anyhow, Ichigo decided not to comment, lest he provoke his uncle's mischievous streak. He quickly prepared the table, setting places for four. Between him and Kisuke, dishes soon filled up the small dining table, and then they dug in.
"We have all the new stock put away," Tessai reported between mouthfuls of rice and broiled mackerel.
Kisuke grinned. "Wonderful! Those jelly-filled candies arrived I hope?"
Ichigo snorted. "Yes, they have," he said. He didn't understand why his uncle liked those so much, to the point of importing them all the way from Japan. It wasn't like it would sell very well here. They didn't get customers often, and when they did, it was usually lone truckers—hardly the target market for cute Japanese sweets.
The rest of the conversation revolved around cataloguing the new stock and reevaluating the old ones. Ichigo sat quietly and listened. It was always amusing to see the good friends interact, seeing as to how different they were: Tessai was a tall, burly man with tanned skin and black cornrowed hair; his face mostly obscured by his thick eyebrows, glasses, and handle bar mustache. Kisuke, on the other hand, was slender and had shaggy blond hair and large grey eyes that could easily switch from childish humor to murderous in a blink of an eye. Juushirou, Kisuke's partner of eleven years, was more on the quiet side; his failing health giving him a gaunt, seemingly-weak appearance, but Ichigo knew that behind those gentle green eyes, lay a sharp mind that could easily outwit even Kisuke.
Tessai had many roles here, serving as Kisuke's assistant on good days, and as Juushirou's physician on bad ones. Kisuke owned and managed the store, while Juushirou helped when he could. There really wasn't much left for Ichigo to do, so his time here was very relaxing—just the thing he needed. It gave him plenty of time to think.
Ichigo jerked in his seat and lifted his head to find the three older men looking at him in concern.
"Are you alright, Ichigo?" Juushirou asked. "I've asked you three times if you wanted more tea…"
"Sorry," Ichigo scratched the back of his head, feeling a little embarrassed at being caught daydreaming. "Yeah, thanks. More tea, please." He pushed his tea cup towards Juushirou and nodded his gratitude once it was refilled. He was about to lift the cup to his lips when his ears picked up something. Instinctively, he turned and tilted his head to the side.
"What is it?" his uncle asked at once.
Ichigo remained still for a few more seconds, then he turned back and shook his head. "I thought I heard something, but—"
A dull thud rang out suddenly from somewhere in the front of the store.
Juushirou set down the teapot and moved to stand up, but Ichigo stopped him. "I'll get it," he said, pushing his chair back.
He walked briskly from the dining room into the small living room, then through the doorway that led out to the store. Whatever that was, it didn't sound like someone knocking on the door. It sounded, if he had to describe it, like something heavy landing on a hard surface. As he approached the front door, he slowed down unconsciously, his pulse beginning to speed up at the thought of the unknown.
He flipped on the switch for the porch light and turned back to see the others following behind him curiously.
They were, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. Something was on the other side of this door, and Ichigo hadn't the slightest clue what it could possibly be.
The lights outside flickered for a few seconds before staying on. Ichigo swallowed and took a deep breath, then, in one swift movement, yanked the door open.
There, sprawled face-down on the steps in front of the store, was a man; one of his arms stretched out in front of him, as if he had passed out right as he was about to knock on the door.
"Tessai!" Ichigo cried out, swooping down to the man's side immediately.
Tessai crouched down on the other side and did a quick visual inspection of their unconscious visitor. Ichigo watched as Tessai went into doctor mode; the older man's brows furrowed in concentration as he gently prodded and squeezed the stranger's head, neck, limbs, and back.
"Let's get him inside," Tessai said, gesturing to Ichigo for help.
Ichigo grabbed the man's shoulders and rolled him onto his back. He almost gasped out loud when the man's face was finally revealed. More than half of the man's face was covered in blood, and one of his eyes was swollen shut. The strands of hair that fell over his forehead was an eye-catching sky blue.
Even as Ichigo processed all of this, he thought of asking, "Is it safe to move him?"
Tessai nodded. "It should be. He'd walked here, look."
Sure enough, there was a trail of messy foot prints leading up to the porch, but it was too dark for Ichigo to see where it began. There was nothing out there: no vehicle, no sign of anyone else, not even the slightest trace of wind. It was like this man had materialized out of thin air.
Grunting in unison, they lifted the stranger together and carried him inside; Kisuke directing them to the nearest room—which happened to be Ichigo's. The man's head lolled limply to the side when he was set down gently onto the mattress. Here, under the bright florescent light, his wounds became clearer. There was a nasty gash on his forehead and another one at the back of his head, the eyelid of his swollen eye a raw pink, a bruise already forming across one of his cheekbones, his lips split and bleeding. It was impossible to tell what he originally looked like.
That was only his face. Ichigo couldn't tell if he was injured beneath the neck because of what he was wearing—a bulky jacket; the brown leather weathered and tattered in places; dark-wash jeans covered in dirt. His feet were bare but looked intact.
Kisuke stepped out of the room and came back minutes later with a small pail and a stack of clean cloth in one hand. His other hand carried a bag of Tessai's medical supplies.
"Wait outside," Tessai said curtly as he took out a pair of scissors from his bag, ready to cut the man's shirt open to assess his injuries.
Ichigo opened his mouth to protest, but his arm was tugged gently by Juushirou.
"There's no use for all of us to crowd around the man, Ichigo," the older man said.
That actually made sense, so Ichigo grudgingly let Juushirou steer him out to the hallway. Without a word, Kisuke slid the door closed.
"I wonder what happened to the poor man," Juushirou said, talking more to himself than to Ichigo. "Those look terribly painful."
Ichigo grunted in agreement, feeling oddly restless. He didn't understand how the others could be so calm about this; maybe getting older does cause people to mellow out.
Tessai and Kisuke were in there for what felt like hours; Ichigo paced up and down the hallway, cooking up all possible explanations that he could think of in his head. Maybe the man had a car accident and somehow managed to drag himself here, or maybe somebody had run him over and simply dumped him at the nearest building they could find, or maybe the man had fallen from an airplane—okay, he knew that one was stretching it, but he was fidgety and curious, alright?
Just as he was entertaining the thought that it may be a botched alien abduction, the door finally opened, and Kisuke stepped out.
"Still unconscious," the blonde reported, looking a little grim. "We won't be able to know the full extent of his head injury until he wakes up, but Tessai suspects he has at least a mild concussion, judging from how his pupils reacted. We'll just have to check on him every hour until he wakes up."
"Maybe we should call for an ambulance," Ichigo said with a frown.
Kisuke knew his nephew only meant well, so he didn't take offense. "It will take six hours for the nearest ambulance to get here, and then it will take the same amount of time for it to get back to the city," he explained. "Tessai is a very good doctor, and we have all the equipment we need here."
Ichigo looked flustered and turned pink in the face. "No…that's not what I meant, I wasn't doubting Tessai or anything," he sputtered with a look of panic.
"I know," Tessai rumbled good-naturedly, appearing behind his best friend.
Kisuke would've laughed at Ichigo's embarrassment if he wasn't so distracted by something else, but he offered a smile anyway, just in case the young man would find his reaction suspicious. He kept his hand pressed against his side, thankful that he was wearing his usual loose attire.
He was thankful because otherwise, he wouldn't be able to hide the pistol that was currently tucked in the waistband of his pants, which he had just extracted from the waistband of his jeans—that mysterious man, who seemed to have all the traits of someone running from the law.
That explanation seemed to be sufficient to placate Ichigo, and the boy fell silent. Kisuke exchanged a brief, meaningful look with his partner, silently promising that he would tell him everything later.
Although Kisuke decided to keep the discovery of the weapon from Ichigo for now, he saw no reason to hide what he had found in the man's jacket pocket: a thin, black leather wallet that contained a grand total of thirteen dollars, and most importantly, a driver's license.
The photo on the license was grainy and a little washed out, but the strong jaw and baby blue hair was unmistakable.
Grimmjow Jaegerjaques. Birthday, July 31st; aged 36. Male (obviously). His address indicated that he lived far, far away from here.
Kisuke was highly doubtful that this was the man's real name, but it was the only clue they had. He was wary of the stranger but had no choice but to take the man in. Where else could the man go out here? Kisuke may not be the most compassionate man in the world, but even he didn't have the heart to leave someone out in the wild like this.
"What the hell kind of name is that?" Ichigo mused out loud.
Kisuke chuckled. "I haven't the slightest clue," he said. He was being truthful. Never had he ever come across a name as exotic as this.
"We'll just have to wait for him to tell us, don't we?"
To be continued…
So, is this an interesting-enough premise to make you want to know more about this mysterious stranger? ;)