Thank you all for leaving such lovely reviews for the first chapter! I'm happy to see many familiar faces/names following the story, and to new readers, welcome and thanks for reading!
They decided on a simple roster to take care of the man. By the time it was Ichigo's turn, it was already close to midnight.
Grimmjow remained out cold, lying on Ichigo's bed on his back with his eyes closed, his long eyelashes fanned out on his cheeks. The only sign that differentiated him from a corpse was the steady rise and fall of his chest.
Ichigo wrung the towelette thoroughly to get rid of access water and brought it over to the man's forehead. His body temperature was hovering a few degrees above normal, and it had stubbornly remained so even after Tessai administered intravenous Acetaminophen. Ichigo dabbed the towel all over the man's face and grimaced when the cloth became warm within seconds. Grimmjow's face was flushed from the fever, the fierce pink tint clearly visible under the cuts and bruises that marred his skin.
Being so close to the stranger, Ichigo couldn't help but study the man's facial features. It was difficult to see through the injuries at first, but it was getting more and more obvious—the graceful arc of his brows, the high cheekbones, the supple lips, the strong angular jaw. This was, no doubt, a very good looking man.
Ichigo didn't understand why that would make any difference, but as soon as he came to that realization, he felt his pulse spike abruptly. He immediately felt silly, but he couldn't stop his heart from pounding wildly in his chest. He let out a long breath slowly to calm himself, chastising himself inwardly for being so immature.
Ichigo tore his eyes away from Grimmjow's face, only to find himself looking at the man's bare chest. It was relatively unscathed except for a long thin gash across the stomach, but Tessai had left him naked above the waist in the hopes that it would help decrease his body temperature. Since his jeans was destroyed by Tessai's scissors, they had dressed him in a pair of Kisuke's loose-fitting sleeping shorts.
Judging from his perfectly sculpted torso and broad, firm chest, Grimmjow was someone who either worked out diligently or had a job that was physically demanding. He had just the right balance of muscle tone; not overly ripped like a weightlifter, nor long and lean like a swimmer.
Suddenly realizing that he was practically drooling, Ichigo gave his own face a rough rub. When had he become such a hopeless pervert?
It must be Uncle Kisuke.
After a few minutes, he finally felt calm enough to continue tending to the unconscious stranger. Despite his effort to suppress his curiosity, he found himself pondering the same questions over and over again. What would they learn when Grimmjow wakes up? What kind of person was he? How would he react? And most importantly, how on earth did he end up here?
As the clock ticked away, the door was suddenly opened from the outside. Ichigo looked up to see his uncle peeking into the room.
"No change?" Kisuke mouthed.
Ichigo shook his head and gestured to the prone figure on the bed. He placed a palm on his own forehead and pointed a finger to the ceiling.
Kisuke gave the man a worried look. Ichigo knew what his uncle must be thinking. If Grimmjow's fever didn't go down soon, they would be in a sticky situation. Without knowing his medical history, and seeing that he had extensive head injuries, it would be risky to give him any more fever suppressant so soon after the last dose.
Ichigo put the towelette away and stood up. "I'll stay with him, you guys should go to bed," he offered. This was his room after all.
His uncle didn't respond immediately. Instead, he looked uncertain.
Ichigo didn't understand why his uncle was behaving so strangely. And he was behaving strangely. Kisuke had been oddly quiet since the stranger arrived. Normally, the blonde was a light-hearted person. He's often acted like an idiot, but he was a decisive man.
"I'll call for you guys if anything changes," Ichigo insisted. "I can handle it."
Kisuke gave him a look, his expression inscrutable. Ichigo was beginning to feel impatient when his uncle finally nodded. Not wanting to disturb their visitor any further, Kisuke patted Ichigo on the shoulder and stepped out of the room. Ichigo closed the door gently and turned back to the bed. He felt a pang of worry; Kisuke's anxiety had rubbed off on him.
He knew there would be no sleep for him tonight, but he spread out a sleeping bag on the floor next to his bed anyway. The bed frame was low, he could see Grimmjow from his position on the floor. Stifling a yawn, Ichigo swept Grimmjow's blue-colored bangs away from his forehead one last time, then he settled onto his sleeping bag and closed his eyes.
Ichigo wasn't sure what woke him up. He cracked his eyes open groggily, trying to make sense of his surroundings. For a moment, he was confused to find himself on the floor, then just as he remembered the reason, he heard a soft, raspy groan next to him.
He was kneeling next to the bed within two seconds. Grimmjow was frowning, grunting in pain through his dry, chapped lips. His eyes were closed, but it was obvious that he was waking up.
"Take it easy," Ichigo whispered and reached out to rest a palm on the man's forehead. It was still hot, but seemed a little cooler than before. His fever appeared to have broken some time during the night.
The stranger flinched from Ichigo's touch and let out another moan. Ichigo began to stand up to get Tessai, but at that very moment, Grimmjow's eyes flew open. Ichigo froze mid-stride.
Grimmjow stared at him with a dazed expression, clearly disoriented.
"Uhh, hi," Ichigo said. "How are you—hey! Wait!"
Taken by surprise, Ichigo lunged at Grimmjow as the man suddenly sat up and struggled to swing his legs over the side of the bed. His movements were stiff, and he was clearly in pain, but he managed to sit up, his body shaking and beginning to glisten with a layer of sweat.
"Wait! Don't move!" Ichigo caught the man to stop him from moving.
Grimmjow tried to push Ichigo away, but his arm fell limp half way and he sagged heavily against Ichigo's chest. Not knowing what else to do, Ichigo slipped an arm under the man's body and cradled the back of his head. Grimmjow thrashed weakly in Ichigo's arms, his eyes wide open but unfocused. A sense of panic began to set in over Ichigo's head as he realized that he really didn't know how to handle this. So he did the only thing he could think of.
Their unexpected visitor had calmed down significantly since he first woke up. Tessai was whispering to him, his deep voice soothing and reassuring, but from his position, Kisuke couldn't discern what was being said. Whatever it was, though, was enough to placate the man.
Kisuke stole a sideways glance at his nephew. Ichigo was next to him, sitting Indian-style on the floor with his back leaned against the wall. The boy's face was still a little pale, but his breathing was beginning to even out. Just minutes ago, Kisuke had been jolted awake by Ichigo's frantic calls. When he and Tessai burst into the room, Ichigo was clutching Grimmjow against his body, looking lost and panicky.
"It's fine, Ichigo, stop beating yourself up," Kisuke chided. "He's going to be fine."
Ichigo flashed him a scowl. "I'm not 'beating myself up'." After a pause, the boy added curtly, "And I wasn't 'freaking out' either."
Kisuke shook his head and smiled to himself. He should've known better than to tease his nephew, Ichigo was a stubborn and proud young man after all.
Ichigo turned away and continued to sulk in silence, but he eventually asked grudgingly, "So you think he's really going to be okay?"
Kisuke shrugged. "We won't know until we talk to him."
They fell silent after that and waited patiently for Tessai to finish assessing the man. Grimmjow appeared coherent enough to hold a conversation with Tessai. A few minutes later, Tessai gestured for Kisuke to go over. Ichigo hesitated for a moment and shot Kisuke a look. Knowing that the boy was itching for information, Kisuke nodded, and they hurried to Tessai's side.
"How are you?" Kisuke asked gently.
The stranger gave Kisuke a once-over, wariness and curiosity apparent in his glacial-blue eyes. "Feel like shit," he croaked wryly.
Kisuke chuckled. It appeared that their visitor had survived his ordeal—whatever it may be—with his sense of humor intact. "Very well, then," Kisuke said. "I have a few questions for you."
The man grunted his permission.
"Do you know what day it is today?" Kisuke began. "You can give me the date, or day in the week, whatever is fine."
Grimmjow frowned and closed his eyes. After a while, he shook his head.
"That's okay," Kisuke assured him. "It's normal not to know, you are badly injured after all. Now," he paused. "Can you tell us your name?"
The man rolled his eyes as if to say that Kisuke was an idiot for asking him such a stupid question. He opened his mouth to speak, then he stopped, his eyes narrowing in confusion.
Alarm bells sounded in Kisuke's head. "It's alright, take your time," he said.
His attempt to reassure the stranger only served to provoke the man further. With a strangled yell, Grimmjow tried to push himself up from the bed, his arm trembling under his body weight. Tessai lurched forward to support the man, but Grimmjow shoved him aside. Or tried to, anyway. He was still too weak to actually make Tessai budge at all. He clutched his head with both hands and let out another cry of frustration.
Through it all, Kisuke eyed the man skeptically. Grimmjow appeared to be genuinely distraught, but Kisuke had seen a lot of people with very good acting skills in his lifetime. His nephew, however, being young and hot-blooded, became visibly disturbed. Kisuke was thankful that Ichigo at least had the tact to keep his mouth shut. They didn't need to agitate the man any more than he already was.
As Grimmjow continued to hold his head and mutter under his breath, Kisuke found himself becoming more and more convinced that the man's distress was real. After a few more minutes of quiet observation, he reached a decision: he would believe this man for now, but he would not trust him completely. Not yet.
Now that he had made up his mind, Kisuke sat down on the edge of the bed and rested one hand on the man's shoulder. Grimmjow went still, but his chest continued to heave, his breath coming out in loud, raspy gasps.
"Here," Kisuke rummaged in his pocket and fished out the man's wallet. He opened it and plucked the driver's license from one of the slots. "I found this on you."
Grimmjow snatched the card from Kisuke's grasp and stared at it greedily, his eyes wide and hopeful. As seconds ticked by, his hand began to shake lightly. His expression remained blank. His eyes didn't light up in recognition, the tension in his body did not go away, he did not sigh in relief. When he lifted his head, his face was deathly pale.
"G-grimm...jow," he read.
Kisuke listened to the man repeat the name under his breath, rolling the word around his mouth like he was trying to wring some sense of familiarity from it. The glimmer of hope in the man's eyes flickered and died. Despite his lingering doubts, Kisuke found himself feeling sorry for the poor fellow. Nobody deserved to wake up to a nightmare like this.
Out of the corner of his eye, Kisuke noticed Tessai looking at him. He caught his friend's gaze and held it. Tessai raised an eyebrow questioningly.
The gun. Kisuke tapped his foot on the floor as he contemplated his options. He was expecting a confrontation regarding the matter when their visitor regained consciousness. To have the man wake up with no recollection of his own identity—not even his name—was not something that had crossed his mind. He eyed Grimmjow, who was too busy staring at his driver's license to notice that he was being scrutinized.
No, he would not bring up the issue with the gun, Kisuke decided. He could see no benefit in it, at least not right now. The man was already upset. If he couldn't remember his own name, what were the chances that he would remember that he was carrying a gun? Kisuke knew there was a possibility that seeing the weapon may trigger Grimmjow's memory, but given his weakened condition and obviously turbulent emotions, Kisuke would rather wait. The right time would eventually arrive, he was sure of it.
Tessai seemed to understand the meaning behind Kisuke's silence. He stood up and patted the man gently on the back. "Get some rest, Grimmjow," he said.
Grimmjow shot Tessai a look. Kisuke could see anger and fear flashing in the man's eyes like tiny little flames. Kisuke sighed inwardly. He didn't blame Grimmjow for being hostile. He could not even begin to imagine what his own reaction would be if he were to wake up one day not knowing who he was.
"You're safe here," Kisuke added, getting to his feet as well. "My friend is right, you need to rest in order to recover. I won't say that I know what you're feeling, but I can assure you that we will take care of you."
Their blue-haired visitor lowered his head and clutched his ID tightly in his fist. He looked like he didn't hear Kisuke at all, but Kisuke knew better. Ichigo followed at his heels as he left the room, blinking furiously. Kisuke knew that his nephew was going to explode if he were to keep his questions bottled up any longer. Sure enough, as soon as the door clicked closed, Ichigo flung his arms in the air.
"How can he not remember who he is?" the young man whispered fiercely. "What are we gonna do? We have no idea where he came from—"
"Ichigo, give the man a break," Kisuke interrupted, gesturing for Ichigo to lower his voice. "He was knocked in the head and it's normal to be a little confused at first. You never know, by this time tomorrow, perhaps he would remember everything. And if he doesn't...well, we can decide what to do next when the time comes, yes?"
Ichigo didn't look convinced, but after a while he let out an irritated huff and nodded grudgingly. Kisuke ruffled his nephew's hair fondly and chuckled when the kid gave him a swift kick in the shin in return.
"Come, since we're already up, we might as well start making breakfast..."
Ichigo bit off another mouthful of apple and stole a quick glance at the stranger. The man was sitting up on the bed, staring thoughtfully at the bowl of oatmeal in his hand. He hadn't eaten much of it even though he had been prodding at the thick concoction for the past thirty minutes. Ichigo was surprised that the oatmeal hadn't congealed into an inedible blob by now.
"Go on, spit it out," the man said suddenly.
Ichigo nearly choked on the piece of apple in his mouth. Grimmjow hadn't spoken a word since his earlier outburst. Ichigo was only here to serve him some food and to keep him company while he ate.
"W-what?" Ichigo sputtered.
The older man scoffed. "You're dying to say something, so spit it the fuck out."
Ichigo resisted the urge to sock the man in the jaw, and at the same time couldn't help wondering if this was the man's real personality. If he couldn't remember who he was, did that mean he was no longer the same person? Did he, in a sense...lose himself in the process?
"Well?" Grimmjow raised his eyebrows. His face was still a mess, but the discomfort didn't seem to faze him.
Ichigo scratched the back of his neck, feeling self conscious all of a sudden. The stranger was peering intently at him, the bottomless, sapphire-like eyes gleaming with a hint of amusement. Ichigo's skin prickled under that gaze. The man was practically oozing sex appeal through those gorgeous eyes of his. At least he was wearing a top now; one of Tessai's old button-down shirts that had gotten so soft from wear that it molded easily to Grimmjow's body, doing absolutely nothing to conceal the shape of man's perfectly cut pectorals.
Becoming increasingly flustered, Ichigo blurted out the first thing on his mind. "How do you pronounce your name?"
He cringed as soon as the words left his mouth, but it was too late. Real smooth, Kurosaki, Ichigo mentally kicked himself and braced for the worst.
To his surprise, the only response he received from Grimmjow was a loud snort. "That's all?" the man asked, his tone sarcastic but in a playful way.
Ichigo found himself blushing for no good reason.
"Wish I can tell you, kid," Grimmjow answered after a pause. "I wouldn't know."
Ichigo kicked himself again for being so tactless, feeling so upset that he ignored the fact that Grimmjow had just called him a kid. Of all things, he just had to bring up the most sensitive topic of the hour. He felt a pang of guilt when he saw Grimmjow's lips became downturned.
"Sorry," Ichigo said quietly, wishing that he could take his question back.
Grimmjow looked surprised. "Nah, don't worry about it," he said, waving his hand dismissively. "It's a damn stupid name if you ask me." He chuckled and shook his head, then he cocked his head to the side. "Now, how about you tell me your name?"
Only then did Ichigo realize that, in the excitement and confusion that happened since this morning, none of them had thought of introducing themselves to their visitor. He offered his hand.
"Kurosaki Ichigo," he said.
Ichigo felt his heart skip a beat as his hand was engulfed in Grimmjow's larger, calloused one. Biting back a gasp, he snatched his arm back quickly, hoping that the man would not find his behavior odd. Something about this man...Ichigo didn't know what...unnerved him. Whether it was simply because he was the most attractive man Ichigo had ever seen, or whether it was because of the air of mystery around him, Ichigo wasn't sure.
"The big guy who treated you...the doctor, he's Tsukabishi Tessai," Ichigo continued, shoving his tingling hand deep into the pocket of his cargo shorts. "The blonde dude with the messy hair is my uncle, Urahara Kisuke. There's another one you haven't seen...that would be Ukitake Juushirou, my uncle's partner."
Grimmjow wrinkled his nose. "And you have the nerve to complain about my name," he grunted.
Ichigo's widened. "I wasn't really complaining..." he began, but then he saw that there was a hint of a smile on Grimmjow's battered face. He let his sentence trail off and grinned back, feeling strangely happy that the man was feeling well enough to joke around.
As Grimmjow brought the bowl up to his nose and sniffed it apprehensively, Ichigo shook his head and tried to imagine what on earth happened to this man. But, given Grimmjow's current condition, would they ever find out?
To be continued…
Did anyone see this coming? I hope that this doesn't come across as too cliché. If it does, hopefully the little twists later in the story will make up for it. ;)