So after losing my muse for this story for a few days, I finally picked it up again. For some weird reason, my brain flips from "oh hey I can totally see this from Ichigo's POV" to "I AM GRIMMJOW!" to and fro like a freaking metronome. Today, I'm feeling very Grimmjow. :)

I'm in the middle of my last smoke break - the end of the work day barely an hour away - when someone taps me on the shoulder from the back. Assuming it's the idiot, Nnoitra, I turn around and blow a mouthful of smoke right into...

"That's gross!" Ichigo coughs and backpedals away from me, waving his hand in front of his face to rid the air of smoke.

I laugh and squish out the cigarette butt on the floor. "Sorry, thought you were—"

"Skinny Freak, I figured," Ichigo mumbles.

Before I can ask what a Skinny Freak is, a water bottle is thrust into my face. I break into a wide grin and accept it. As I pop it open and chug it down, Ichigo leans against the exterior wall of the shop and watches me. From the corner of my eyes, I can see the stormy look in his; the warmth in those eyes that I've come to like so much are dark with the mixture of uncertainty and frustration.

"What's wrong?" I ask. I cross my fingers behind my back and hope that he's not going to ask me about that damn dream.

Ichigo huffs and furrows his brows as though he's contemplating how he should phrase his words.

"C'mon, just spit it out," I prompt, my curiosity piqued.

He heaves a sigh. "Your friend hates me," he blurts.

Ah. I should've expected this. Nnoitra is never one for subtlety. I had wanted to talk to him about it, but with everything that's going on, it slipped my mind. I cross my arms over my chest and rest my back against the wall next to Ichigo. I figure honesty is best, although that doesn't mean I will tell him everything.

"He's a good friend," I say, choosing my words carefully. "See, I've had this bad experience before..." Oh, understatement of my life. "And Nnoi thinks that I might...get into the same situation..." I pause for a bit just to see how Ichigo's taking it. His gaze doesn't waver. "...with you. He's worried, you know, that...bad things will happen."

"Bad things?" he echoes. I sense a hint of disbelief in his tone. "Like what?"

Oh, for example, I might think I've fallen in love, only to find that it's all in my head, then I'd freak out and maybe get myself killed. Or worst, somehow cause Nnoitra to lose his other eye. That's all, no biggie.

I shrug instead and settle for the ever vague "Just...stuff." I feel so juvenile saying shit like that, but really, please don't make me relive everything. Already, I'm remembering a lot of things that I've shoved aside for so long, things that I thought I won't ever have to think of again. Trust me when I say I really, really, do not want to go there.

"Look," Ichigo says, his voice suddenly hard enough to halt my thoughts in their tracks. I stare at him and feel something shift in my stomach. "I've been honest about how I feel about you, while you've just been dodging. Maybe you have your reasons not to...I dunno, tell me certain things, but I need to know one thing."

The uncomfortable lump in my gut grows.

He takes a deep breath. "I just need to know if you're interested at all," he continues. A delicate pink stain spreads across his cheeks, but he goes on. "If you're interested in...getting to know me better, to go beyond whatever we have right now. Maybe start dating..." He rubs his forehead and scowls. "God, this is fucking awkward," he mutters under his breath.

I'm impressed. He's stuttering a little and blushing like there's no tomorrow, but he hasn't backed down. I wonder if I'm the first guy he has ever confessed to.

But I digress. That's not important. What's important is that he's now looking at me expectantly, waiting for an answer. An answer that I'm not sure I'm ready to give. The boy has no idea what he's getting himself into. I rub my face with both hands, not caring that my palms are grimy and stink of metal and wood. Call me paranoid, call me cowardly, you can call me whatever the fuck you want; I have my reasons. Nnoitra's right—this is shaky ground, but there's one thing that I'm sure my best friend hasn't thought of.

It's not just me that's on the line. If things go south, Ichigo will be ruined, too.

"Okay, I think I know what your answer is," Ichigo's voice rouses me from my internal debate.

I raise my head in alarm, recognizing the dejected tone for what it is. "Wait!" I exclaim impulsively. Ichigo has half-turned towards the front door, and without thinking, I push myself off of the wall and grab his arm.

Two seconds later it dawns on me. Who the hell am I fooling? I don't want my little stalker to leave.

"Listen." I pull him closer to me and lean down to whisper in his ear. "I can't promise anything, but I am—I'm interested, it's just...there are some things that I need to figure out."

I don't know when it started, but my heart's now beating so fast and so loudly that I think Nnoitra would be able to hear it from inside the shop. My blood is boiling with adrenaline, in a way not unlike what I feel when I'm at the very top of a peak on a roller coaster. Except, unlike a roller coaster, I don't have a safety harness to cling to.

My next words come out in a rush. "It won't be easy. Don't say I didn't warn you."

Ichigo nods, his breath light and ticklish on my neck. "Okay," he says with surprising calmness.

Oh, he has no clue what he just signed up for.

Ichigo returns indoors five minutes before I do. By the time I amble over to grab my work gloves, he's nowhere to be found. I guess he's in that tiny little office. If he's like any other sane person, he'd be in there bashing his own head for offering himself to someone like me. Seriously, I don't know what he sees in me. I wouldn't be surprised if he comes out later and tells me that it has all been a mistake.

Now, I wonder how that would feel.

Just as I straighten up to head over to lend a hand to Ilforte, a bulky figure steps in my way. A pair of narrowed, russet-colored eyes stare rudely at me; the owner not bothering to mask the look of distaste in them.

"What is it, Abarai?" I grit out, instantly disliking the confrontational aura that's wafting from the red-haired store clerk.

"What is Ichigo to you?" he asks, crossing his arms over his chest.

I raise an eyebrow. See, if he had asked me nicely, I might've answered him truthfully, but now he has just pissed me off. "What is Ichigo to you?" I sneer.

Abarai's eyes go wide for a split second and I swear his ears turned red, but I don't have time to linger on that right now. Even though we haven't raised our voices, I can sense the tension climbing in the room. I feel Ilforte's wary gaze upon us, and judging from the sound of Nnoitra's footsteps, he's walking towards us.

"What's going on?" Nnoitra asks testily as he pulls up next to the redhead.

Abarai stabs his finger at me. "I was just asking him what Ichigo is to him," he explains, much to my surprise. I thought he's just being a dick like Nnoitra, and I can't imagine Nnoitra clarifying his hostility to anyone.

Nnoitra's good eye narrows dangerously as he turns to me. "Yeah, Grimm," he says in a sickly sweet tone that sends a chill through my limbs. "I wanna know too. What's Ichigo ta ya?"


I look from Abarai to Nnoitra, my mouth beginning to go dry as I note the almost identical expressions on their faces. What the fuck. Nnoitra is supposed to be on my side! I'm shocked and dismayed, but it lasts only for about a second before the feeling of indignation brings forth a more primal reaction.

"It's none of your fucking business," I spit defensively.

"It is when Ichi's my best friend," the redhead says immediately. He unfolds his arms and curls his hands into fists, holding them at his sides at the ready.

I laugh in his face. The notion of him actually exchanging blows with me is hilarious. "You think this is some playground fight? I'll hit you if you hit my best friend? Well guess what, Ichigo is a grown man. You have no right to question what he does with me," I taunt, enjoying the look of hatred written on the redhead's features.

"And I take it that means I have no right to question what you do either," Nnoitra's biting words reach my ears. I don't show it, but I cringe inwardly. I've never heard him use such an icy tone with me.

I meet my friend's cold hard stare; his dark grey eye laced not only with anger but also with something worse—disappointment. My knuckles pop as I clench my fists. I don't want to do this to Nnoitra, but I can't back down now. It's not just a matter of pride. I've had enough of overprotective friends. This is as good an opportunity as any other to finally tell Nnoitra to back off about Ichigo, especially if I'm really going to try to take things a little further with him.

"Yeah, you got it right," I reply stiffly, struggling not to let any hesitation enter my voice. I flick my gaze to the right and catch Ilforte just as he is lowering his eyes to the floor. He looks torn, like he's not sure if he should side with Nnoitra or me. I know he wants me to be with Ichigo, if his poorly-disguised efforts of matchmaking is anything to go by, but I think he never expected the conflict to escalate to this level.

I feel yet another wave of deja vu as I think about our situation. The strain, the awkwardness, the rift; it has happened before, just once, long ago—long enough for me to pretend that it never happened but not long enough for me to completely forget it, especially since it revolved around the same topic.

Abarai looks between Nnoitra and I, the expression on his face indicating that he has sensed that there is something else going on. His features soften slightly, replaced with a hint of confusion. I ignore him. This has turned into a battle between Nnoitra and I. I hate to do this, I really do, but I've just given my word to Ichigo. If I really want it to work, I have to do it on my own terms. I can't have Nnoitra whispering poisonous words in my ears all the time. It would kill our future before it even begins.

For the longest moment, I stare at my best friend, our eyes never leaving each other; then Nnoitra does something he has never done before. He backs down. There's a heavy sense of defeat as his shoulders slump ever so slightly, and he gives me a look that tells me that I've let him down. Then he turns his back to me and goes back to what he was doing before this whole thing started. I stare blankly at him, speechless out of disbelief. I've never seen seen him do this, and despite my determination not to let it affect me, it does. I know what this means.

Nnoitra has given up on me.

I suppose it's a good thing that Ichigo was in the office when our hushed but heated exchange took place. I don't think he heard anything. He comes out of the office after work with a bright grin on his face and makes a beeline for me. The sense of trepidation in my chest dissipates slightly as I note the creases at the corners of his eyes. Now that I think about it, he doesn't do this often—smile, that is. The only time I remember is when he caught me pretending to look at the wall clock when I was actually staring at him.

I don't want to seem cocky, but I'm pretty sure his good mood has to do with me.

He hops into my car and I drive us home. He doesn't notice the distance between Nnoitra and I, which is good. I have no intention to tell him about what happened. I know it'll just make him feel guilty.

It's surprising how much I feel like I've known him for a long time. We've only started talking for what...a week? Yet I don't think of him as a stranger. Maybe it's because he always knows exactly what to do with me.

"Are you alright?"

I turn into my parking spot and kill the ignition before I nod. "Yeah, I'm fine," I reply.

No, not really. I've just pissed my best friend off and I think it's serious this time. I think I might've pushed him away for good, ya know?

Nah, telling Ichigo would not help.

"'Kay, if you say so," Ichigo says, sounding completely unconvinced. He slings a large laptop bag over his shoulder and walks by my side as we make our way to the automatic doors.

I remember, just yesterday evening, he had walked through these exact doors, driven away by my selfishness. A part of me tries to justify it as a reflex, an instinct to protect myself, but another voice also tells me that it's about fucking time to get my act back together. If Ichigo has the guts to confess to me, then I have the balls to try.

We decide to shower at our own apartments before meeting at the lobby to go out for dinner together. It takes me a while before I realize it, but there's a bounce in my step; a sense of excitement that I haven't felt in years. I'm pleased to find that this doesn't invite another onslaught of unwanted memories. I feel free, knowing that this is completely me.

Dinner is comfortable and slow, our conversation light. For once, we're not tearing each other's clothes off. I learn more about his mother's accidental death, how he harbors remorse over the incident even now. We talk about his college life. I tell him about my turbulent childhood and how I met Nnoitra and Ilforte.

Afterwards, I invite him to my apartment. Just for after-dinner coffee, nothing else, I promise myself. Ichigo's face is unreadable. Does he think that I simply want to sleep with him again? The truth is, I do, of course I do, but now doesn't seem to be the right time.

We are watching Chopped on The Food Network when we both crack. We're sitting side by side on the couch, my arm slung casually over his shoulder in a familiar but chaste manner.

When the second chef leaves the show, Ichigo drops his head on my shoulder and rests his palm on my thigh.

The effect is instant, whether I want it or not. I manage to hold in my urges until his fingertips begin to trace small circles over that spot. The playful touches become teasing, and before I can stop myself, I've pulled him into my arms, our lips crushed tightly together. He lets out a soft moan that sounds almost like a whine. I wonder if he's fighting against some sort of self control as well. Well, if he is, it's a lost cause.

I lay back length-wise across the couch, my head raised on the hand-rest. Ichigo climbs into my lap, his face becoming increasingly flushed. His breaths go from rapid to ragged, and mine match his unconsciously. Our teeth and tongue clash, both wanting to dominate but neither willing to yield. It's oddly fun, and we end up laughing half way. I take advantage of the opening and sneak my tongue past his parted lips, and he practically melts against me; one hand delving into my hair while the other snakes under and into my t-shirt.

The urgency tapers off slightly when we finally face each other without anything between us; our clothes strewn all over the carpet. He cups the sides of my face and brings our foreheads together, the gesture both gentle and sincere. His pants slow down, and for a few seconds I'm afraid to move, for fear of shattering what feels like a very special, intimate moment.

Then as quickly as it happened, he snaps out of it and presses his lips on mine once again. His warm, smooth palms seem to reach everywhere at once; massaging and rubbing circles on my chest and hips, ghosting over the throbbing, hot flesh of my erection, caressing my inner thighs. At first I try to stay in control and return the favor, nipping on his lower lip and kneading his supple bottom, but when he wraps his fingers around my cock and starts pumping slowly, I lose it and just let my head fall back against the hand-rest. I arch my back, effectively thrusting up into his fist, and he chuckles softly into my ear, his lips brushing over my jaw.

When the pleasure that's welling deep in my belly threatens to spill, I grab his waist and yank him up so that he's straddling my abdomen instead. I nuzzle his neck and reach around him to tease his entrance, my fingers circling, touching but not entering until he bucks back into my hand.

As he finally lowers himself onto me, the moan that leaves his lips rings loud and long and steals my voice. My eyes follow his youthful, innocent features: the slight frown from the ache of the invasion; the way his moist, kiss-swollen lips part as he breathes through his mouth; the sweat that dots his brow; his eyes, clenched shut so tightly that his forehead creases from the effort. He looks absolutely stunning, every bit as beautiful as the first day I set eyes on him; standing dripping wet with nothing but a towel around his waist.

After he wrings the last drop of my release from me, he collapses on my body, exhausted and sated. I hesitate at first, the wariness that has been etched into my being warring silently with my impulse to embrace him. This is me, I repeat in my head as I slowly wrap my arms around his lithe form.

This is all me.

To be continued…

I don't know if I'm just being paranoid, but I got the feeling that the previous chapter wasn't all that popular…is it because there's not much plot movement? Is the pace too slow? Let me know, okay? Hopefully this chapter makes up for whatever Chap 10 lacked!

As for this chapter, I hid a tiny hint of an upcoming plot twist in there somewhere (yay foreshadowing!)…I'm excited to see if anyone manages to spot it! :D