It sure has been a while since I last updated! RL has been busy, and I'm especially excited because I'm finally going to own a house! Finally, goodbye to the crappy piping in my apartment! :D But it won't be ready for a while so in the meantime I still have to be careful with my shower. :(

Anyways, so this chapter is going to be slightly different in format. There will more than one POVs here, as the storyline is picking up pace and I want to be able to show how the characters react to the upcoming events. I think it won't be too difficult to differentiate who's who. :)

I vaguely register the sound of my door slamming close, but all I see is that last look on his face. I've never seen him so...sad. There's no disappointment in his amber-like eyes this time, just a heavy sense of resignation. If I thought disappointment was bad, this was worse, much worse, because at least when he was disappointed, it showed that he cared enough to feel upset about being let down. Now, it just looks like he has given up, which is made clear by the note of finality when he turned away and left.

I rest my back against the door and slide down numbly, hearing more than feeling the rough wooden surface scrape the flimsy t-shirt I'm wearing until my butt hits the carpeted floor. Even now, even after what I said to him the other day, he still held hope for me. And now I've snuffed it out completely, which is exactly what I want, isn't it? So why do I feel like there's something twisting and writhing inside my ribcage and squeezing my lungs until I can hardly breathe?

Why is it that the first time I did something that is truly out of my own free will, it feels like I've made the worst mistake of my life?

Seething frustration gnaws at me deep in the pit of my stomach and slowly claws up to my throat until I can't take it anymore. I don't remember launching myself off the floor, but the next thing I know, I'm on my feet, swiping and throwing everything that I can reach off the kitchen counter top and the dining table. Everything that can break, breaks. Cups and plates shatter on the tiled floor, the crisp sound of them being smashed into pieces doing little to soothe the raging ache in my chest. I want to destroy everything in sight, every goddamn thing that I can see and then some.

I don't even know if I'm mad at Szayel or at myself now. I hate it. I hate the man who made me believe in something I never believed in in the first place. I hate how I'm still unable to escape from his clutches even after so many years. I hate how weak I've allowed myself to become. But most of all, I hate being the one who robbed the warmth from Ichigo's boyish face.

The thing that finally makes me stop is the sound of my couch crashing to the floor when I flip it over. I bend over and grab my knees, my breath coming in rapid pants as I struggle to force air into my lungs and swallow around the painful lump in my throat at the same time. My palm is throbbing and I can feel the unmistakable wetness that's beginning to soak through the bandage. I bring my hand up to my face to check the damage, but the sight of the blood-stained gauze brings nothing but the memory of Ichigo, and all of a sudden I can't stand having it around my palm. Ignoring the pain from the re-opened cut, I rip it off, my blunt nails digging and scraping my skin, tearing the injury even wider. After a while it stops hurting, and as I look at the blood that is now trickling down my hand, I begin to laugh. The crazed cackles make me sound like a deranged freak, but I can't help it. My sides starts to cramp up from laughing so hard and I double over further.

The last thing I hear is the door being kicked open.

The door opens just in time for us to see Grimmjow fall to his knees and collapse face-first onto the carpet.

"What the...shit!" Nnoitra gives the door an extra vicious kick to rush past me towards Grimmjow while I stare dumbly at the scene of chaos in front of me.

The kitchen is a mess, the floor littered with shattered pieces of porcelain and glass, some of them smeared with what can only be blood. Smudges of red lead to the living room, where Grimmjow's ugly, lumpy couch is lying on its back. The coffee table is upside down, the TV stand crooked with the TV resting precariously close to the edge of the stand.

Our blue-haired friend has certainly gone on a rampage. Earlier, we had heard his guttural screams and maniacal laughter even before we reached his unit. You have no idea how worried I was when we were fumbling with the door lock, frantically wondering why the key wasn't working the way it should, before finally realizing that the door was unlocked in the first place.

After a few huffs, I manage to lift the couch up so that Nnoitra can place our unconscious friend on it. If I may be blunt, Grimmjow looks absolutely dreadful, or, in Nnoitra-speak, he looks "like crap". His already unruly hair is even more so, soaked in sweat and matted to his forehead and cheeks; his face and lips several shades paler than usual. The thing that horrifies me the most, though, is his blood-covered hand; obviously the cut has re-opened, no doubt the result of his attempt to remove the bandage around it. I don't know how long he has spent destroying his apartment, but however long it was, it has definitely taken a toll on the poor man.

As Nnoitra fusses over Grimmjow, I start the daunting task of cleaning up the disaster zone. Even as my eyes twitch at the extent of the damage here, I can't help but smirk just a little. Not even half an hour ago, Nnoitra had adamantly claimed that he "hates the ungrateful son of a bitch" and "doesn't give a shit" about the man, yet now he's acting like an agitated mother hen. Who does he think he's kidding by putting on this macho front when he practically sees Grimmjow as his baby brother?

Twenty minutes later, the kitchen and dining room is as good as new, albeit a lot sparser than before. I manage to find a couple of protein bars in the cabinet, and I grab them along with a glass with water and a small bottle of aspirin, then I join Nnoitra in the living room.

Grimmjow is still out cold, his chest falling and rising steadily as he lies on his back along the length of the couch with his head raised slightly atop a folded jacket. His hand has been wiped clean of blood and is currently sporting a crude-looking bandage of sorts made of a thin strip of white cloth.

"Shut it," Nnoitra growls as soon as I glance at him with a knowing smile.

I shake my head and scoot closer to Grimmjow to feel his forehead. It's clammy from sweat but otherwise normal, so I settle back down in front of the couch and sit cross-legged next to Nnoitra. While it's shocking to see Grimmjow unconscious, I'm confident that his current condition is simply due to exhaustion combined with hunger and dehydration. I haven't seen him eat or drink throughout the entire day, not even a single drop of water. Besides, much as I wish it were not the case, this isn't the first time we've seen him in this state.

Back then, when my bastard brother left him, Grimmjow had crashed hard. For months, he would go through this cycle. One moment, we'd think that he's on the mend, bouncing back and recovering, then we would find him amidst a destroyed apartment, his knuckles bruised and bleeding from punching the wall when he ran out of things to break. I think he just doesn't know how to react to certain things, even before what Szayel did to him, and then after that, it has simply gotten worse. Over the years, I've learned to recognize the signs, so when I noticed them today - the dullness in his usually crystalline blue eyes, the sag in his posture, his lack of attention throughout the day - I knew something was up. Of course, I didn't miss the look on the orange-haired kid's face.

Just then, a raspy groan pulls my attention to the couch, where Grimmjow is slowly coming to. The couch creaks as he begins to shift his weight, raising his hand to his eyes. I slip an arm under his head and bring the glass of water to his lips. His eyes remain closed but he ceases his struggle and begins to sip slowly from the glass.

"Ya scared the shit outta us, you stupid fuck!" Nnoitra shouts, expressing his relief in his usual eloquent manner.

Grimmjow's features scrunch up into a grimace before he peeks at both of us with heavy-lidded eyes. With my help, he pulls himself into a sitting position and looks around his apartment and at his hand. He turns to me and Nnoitra with a grateful glint in his eyes.

"When was the last time you ate?" I admonish him sternly as I take the empty glass from him.

He cocks his head to the side and frowns for a bit before giving us a sheepish look. That tells me enough, and I purse my lips in exasperation.

"Fucking idiot," Nnoitra mumbles under his breath.

I thrust an opened protein bar into Grimmjow's face, and he accepts it quietly. For a moment he makes no move to actually eat it, so I glare at him, putting all the anger that I can summon into my eyes. His eyes widen a fraction and he finally relents and takes a bite out of the honey oat and chocolate bar. His expression changes immediately to one who has just realized how famished he is. The bar is gone within seconds, and I hand him the second one, which he wolfs down just as quickly. Then he glances at us, no doubt feeling the weight of our expectant gaze on him.

I can practically hear the gears turn in his head. If the stubborn fool thinks that we would let him off the hook so easily, then he doesn't know how wrong he is. I cross my arms over my chest and give him an uncharacteristically hard stare. I need him to know that I mean business this time. One way or another, he's going to tell us what went down between him and the kid from the convenience store.

Grimmjow's eyes dart from my face to Nnoitra's, then he lets his head drop into his palms with a groan. "I screwed up," he croaks.

Even though I can't see Nnoitra's expression from my angle, I know he's going to say something snarky, so I jab him hard in the ribs. He jerks and drives his elbow right back into my gut, wringing a grunt from me. Our antics brings a fleeting smile on Grimmjow's face, but it's gone just as quickly.

"I can't forget," he says in a scratchy whisper.

I know exactly what he means, and I reach out to give his knee a brief squeeze. A familiar sense of guilt overwhelms me, because it's my brother who caused all this pain and I was the one who introduced them to each other. He gives me a reassuring look and proceeds to tell us everything; the spiteful things he'd said to Ichigo, the promise he had broken, and how he had finally pushed the kid away. The most heartbreaking part is that he actually thinks he's doing what's best for both of them even though his heart clearly doesn't agree with that logic.

Neither Nnoitra or I comment immediately when Grimmjow finishes his confession. On my part, I'm honestly torn. All this while, I've known that there's a spark between the two of them and I've even tried to steer them towards the right direction despite Nnoitra's protests, but now...seeing how confused and distraught my friend is, I'm no longer certain that I should encourage him anymore. Chewing absently on my lower lip, I look to Nnoitra for his thoughts. He's scowling; his brows furrowed and lips curled in disdain.

"Knew this was gonna happen sooner or later," he mutters with a roll of his eye.

"Nnoi..." I warn quietly before he can rub salt into Grimmjow's wound.

To my surprise, instead of the snide remark that I'm expecting, Nnoitra grunts and asks, "Have ya ever thought of simply telling the kid the truth?"

I'm aware that I'm jiggling my leg - bad habit, that - but I can't bring myself to stop, because then I'd have nothing to distract me from the crippling worry that's clutching my chest in a vice grip. Ichi has been in that damn bathroom for almost an hour now. From the sounds of it, he's already done with his shower a good half an hour ago, so what the hell is he doing in there?

I bite my lip and push the gory images out of my head. Ichi lying in the tub, his head tilted unnaturally to the side as the water takes on a pink tint around his slit wrists; Ichi crumpled on the marble floor with a pool of blood beneath his head; Ichi slumped against the wall with a jagged piece of mirror in his hand. I literally have to shake my head to stop my mind from going down that path.

I know I'm probably thinking too much; Ichi's strong, he has overcome so many obstacles in his life. This is simply another small bump in his turbulent love life. Yet, at the same time, I have a feeling that this isn't just another small bump. I thought he'd feel better after one day, but if anything, he looks even worse today although he hasn't told me anything. I've never seen him like this, and that's the thing that worries me.

After waiting for another ten agonizing minutes, I finally give up and stomp over to the bathroom door and start pounding on it.

"Ya still alive in there?" I yell at the top of my lungs, trying to sound like my usual goofy self.

For a while, there is no response, then comes a tired, muffled voice. "Ha ha, very funny."

I feel a surge of relief, but I pretend that I'm miffed. "Well ya better come out now 'cause I really need ta pee!" I say to the door.

Ichi doesn't reply this time, and I wait anxiously in front of the door. Seriously, what the fuck is taking him so long?

Then all of a sudden, it dawns on me: he's stalling. He probably doesn't know how to face me; maybe he's worried that I'd ask him a lot of questions, or maybe he'd cried and he doesn't want me to see it. The realization only makes me even antsier, and I rub the back of my neck vigorously.

Okay, I'm going to play it cool. I won't ask him anything unless he brings it up himself. If he comes out looking all funny, I won't say anything. I'll just pretend that I didn't see anything. Yeah, that's what I'll-

The door opens suddenly and my mind grinds to a halt. "Holy shit! Were you trying to boil yourself alive?" The words are out of my mouth before I can stop myself. But can you blame me, though?

Standing in front of me, clad in a wrinkly t-shirt and checkered boxers, Ichi is the very picture of a makeup artist's worst nightmare. His hair is mussed and frizzy like he had rubbed it too hard with a towel, his face red and splotchy, probably from the near-scalding shower that he just had, if the temperature in the bathroom is any indication.

"It feels good," he replies with a shrug. I step aside and let him walk past me into the room. He shivers slightly as he leaves the warmth of the still-steaming bathroom, the action barely discernible but it doesn't escape my eyes. Without another word, he runs his fingers through his tangled locks and throws himself onto my bed. I hear him sigh in relief as his - likely raw and painful - skin comes into contact with the silky fabric of my bedsheets.

Oh, what I would give to go over there and gather him into my arms, but I know better than to give in to the temptation. That would be unfair; I'd be taking advantage of his vulnerable moment, and I don't really fancy the idea of being a rebound.

Of course, there are still other...bigger problems. For one, he thinks I'm as straight as a pole. And two, I'm in the dreaded "friend zone". If you think that it sucks to be in the friend zone, wait till you try the best friend zone. And then there's the ever-present fear of him freaking out on me. Anyone would if their supposedly straight best friend of almost two decades suddenly tells them that he has always harbored feelings for them. I know it's clich├ęd as fuck, but I'd rather remain as a friend than losing him completely, thank you very much. Plus, now is just not the best time, for obvious reasons.

So, instead of going over to him, I head into the bathroom. Once the door's closed, I start stripping mechanically, my mind more occupied with what I should do about Ichi. It isn't until I'm standing right under the shower head that I pause, my hand hovering barely an inch away from the faucet.

Heh. He still remembers.

Confused? Okay, let me tell you about this game of ours. Since we were little, every time he sleeps over at my place, if he showers first, he'd turn the water temperature to its coldest as a prank. The first few times had taken me by surprise because I had the bad habit of turning the shower on without checking the water temperature while standing right underneath the shower head, but seriously, does he really think that I'm that dense? I've long abandoned that habit, I just never had the heart to tell him that because he's always so entertained by it.

Now, here it is, the handle of the faucet, turned all the way to the left. If I had simply pulled on it without looking, I would've been drenched in ice-cold water. I'm surprised that he bothered doing this when he's in such a bad mood, but perhaps old habits die hard, yeah?

I grin. Oh, what the hell. Bracing myself, I pull on the handle. I don't even have to pretend to sound surprised as the water comes gushing down like a bucket of ice because it's that fucking cold. I let loose a stream of curses by reflex and fumble with the handle with stiff hands to turn the temperature up. But even as I stand here shivering from head to toe, I can't help but smirk, because I can hear the familiar peels of laughter coming from the bedroom. It's all worth it, even if I have to freeze my bottom off. I know I'm not the most sensitive, most expressive best friend in the world, but I sure as hell can provide entertainment, even if it's just a few minutes of reprieve from the funk he's going through.

It's not fair. This is how Ichi should be, happy and full of life like how he usually is before that bastard came along. Anger flares anew in my chest as I picture the man who made Ichi this way. No, I can provide more than entertainment. I'm going to show that blue-haired motherfucker that nobody messes with Ichi without consequences.

To be continued...