It has been brought to my attention today that Ichigo and Grimmjow's interaction eludes to sexual abuse. I'm shocked as I never intended for it to be viewed as such, but since I am fortunate enough to not have a history of sexual abuse, I acknowledge the fact that I don't know what it feels like to have gone through that experience. So if I have offended anyone, please forgive me. Thank you, (you know who you are, if you're still reading this), for letting me know in such a kind way. Needless to say, if anyone feels uncomfortable with such elements, please do not continue reading.

Now that we are all clear on what to expect, let's move on, shall we?

This chapter is a bit of a challenge for me, and quite possibly, for you as the reader as well. It's a lot of information that I want to convey, and I want to do it in the subtlest way possible. My biggest concern is that it'd be hard to distinguish between the current timeline versus the past, so please do let me know if it becomes confusing. It may not be immediately obvious what actually happened to Grimmjow, but I'm sure it'll click eventually.

I watch him walk away—his head held high, strides stiff—until he disappears through the automatic doors that separate the lobby and the garage. My throat constricts until it hurts as I force myself to stand my ground.

No, no more running after people asking for forgiveness. I've had enough of that—

Ah, shit.

The dreaded memories hit me like a tidal wave, and I feel a stab of panic. Images that I haven't thought of for so long, the man I've been trying to forget ever existed, flash in front of my eyelids as if they were new and real and happening all over again. I should've known that I would face this sooner or later. The dream I had the other night—so vivid and accurate down to the smallest detail—had warned me but I had shrugged it off like the idiot that I am.

This is exactly what Nnoitra has been trying to avoid. He's right, why haven't I fucking learned not to put myself in this situation again? I've been doing so well too—finally picking myself up from the blue funk that I've been submersed in for the past few years, working out again, regaining control over my life, rebuilding and relearning who I am, who I was.

And then this...stalker...this mere kid simply waltzes in and ruins fucking everything. I vaguely remember that it was I who started it in the first place, by literally storming into his life and tempting him, basking in the glow of his obvious lust for me, taking advantage of his inability to refuse my advances; yet it infuriates me how, in the end, I have let myself become affected in the worst way possible.

Every time I don't see him, I feel that I'm in control, I'm fine, and I'm strong; then every damn time I do, it just makes me realize that I can't keep myself away from him. I can't seem to be able to be in his presence without wanting to touch him, to see him fall apart from the pleasure that I'm giving him. Maybe it's an ego thing, maybe I just get a kick out of knowing how much power I have over him, knowing how easily that I can crush his self control.

Control. It all boils down to that. To be able to decide for yourself what you want to do, how you want to react to something.

"Did you love, that Operant Conditioning was first studied by an American psychologist named Edward Thorndike? Such a genius, that man, for extracting such a complex biological process by merely observing cats!"

I stagger into my apartment, my mind reeling from the unwanted recollection of past conversations—all of which were meant to be hints, tests, for me to interpret on my own but which I never did until it was too late.

"Nucleus basalis, a group of neurons in the basal forebrain, are activated and releases acethlcholineOh, in English, you say? Alright, alright. So there were these two psychologists, deLong and Richardson, who did a scientific study that showed that our brain reacts when it is exposed to conditional stimuli...aww, still too much, love? It's okay, I'm just rambling anyway, don't mind me. I'm just so excited about what I've learned today!"


"The fuck, Grimm! You've turned soft! Since when do you actually care what people think about you?"

I crash into my couch, stubbing my toe in the process but not feeling the pain at all. I see Nnoitra in my head—his hair still short at the time, his slanted, dark grey eyes narrowed in annoyance—and I drop into the seat like a sack of bricks.

"He's just sulking, leave him alone! I don't see why you have to apologize all the time!"

"What the fuck has he done to you?"

My palms are becoming wet from tears that are suddenly falling, unbidden and unwelcome. I rub my eyes, shocked and ashamed that I'm being so fucking melodramatic. Crying is for sissies, for children. I, Grimmjow Jaggerjaques, do not cry. I still myself, taking in deep breaths and closing my eyes to block out everything around me, and eventually I manage to stop shaking. Finally, after god knows how long, I allow myself to collapse into the sofa, exhausted.

After a few minutes, I drag myself to the bathroom and wash myself thoroughly, scrubbing and rinsing away the grime that has collected throughout the day, including Ichigo's...With calmness comes common sense, logic, and all that good stuff that had fled my head earlier. Slowly but surely, remorse begins to creep into my chest.

What have I done?

I'm not a very complex person. I'm not the most pleasant man on most daysI'm arrogant, competitive, sarcastic, crass, rude; I can go on foreverbut I'm also proud to say that I'm strong, independent, courageous, loyal. I wouldn't say that I'm very insightful, but I know myself enough to understand that I'm most likely going to grow old and die alone. I can't imagine anyone wanting to spend the rest of their lives with me or trust that I would give them happiness.

Nah. I'm a confirmed bachelor, just like Nnoitra. And just like him, I'm totally fine with it.

Then I met him.

My life story plays in the back of my head like a rerun of a bad daytime soap opera while I stand in front of Ichigo's door. I've knocked several times but have yet to get a response.

I run a hand through my hair, wringing out the last droplets of water from it. The shower has soothed my nerves, and I feel better now. I'm not freaking out anymore. In its place is a deep, unsettling sense of regret. I don't know what I can do to make up for it, but I suppose talking to him is a good first step.

"Thank you for the roses, Grimm. You know how much I love them, don't you?"

I cover my face with both hands. No. This is all me. I'm making the conscious decision to come up here and apologize to Ichigo. It's not because...not because...

"What do you want?" Ichigo's gruff voice startles me.

He has a fierce scowl on his face, an expression that I've not seen since the first time I met him. He's clearly still very, very pissed off.

I rub the back of my neck, feeling awkward as hell. Admitting a mistake isn't my forte, so sue me.

"If you're here to apologize, you're not doing a very good job," he snaps.

Letting out a dejected sigh, I mumble to my toes, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to brush you off like that earlier."

Oh. My pride. It hurts. I know, I sound like a douche bag.

I risk a glance at Ichigo's face and feel a rush of relief when his eyes soften slightly. Oh no, his scowl hasn't vanished completely, but at least he looks less like Nnoitra now.

There, mission completed. I've done what I came here to do, and now I can drag my sorry ass back downstairs. He stops me, however, when he asks me if I would like to go in and have a cup of tea. I hesitate. That smells like nothing but trouble. Temptation. A trap.

"Sure," I reply.

This is the second time I'm in his apartment, and I must say that it feels a lot different from the first. For one, I'm not pissed so I'm actually paying attention to what the place looks like. It looks pretty much like mine, just a lot neater and looks more lived-in than mine. There are pictures on the wall, on the book shelves, even next to the television.

"Your family?" I ask, picking up the nearest photo frame.

He takes down two mugs from the cabinet and answers over his shoulder. "Yeah, my dad and my sisters. They're twins."

"Where's your mom?" I blurt out without thinking.

There is a stretch of silence, during which I mentally kick myself in the nuts.

Finally, he says softly, "She passed away when I was nine."

I apologize for the second time tonight, but this time there is no hesitation on my part, and I think he senses it because he actually smiles. He doesn't elaborate, however, so I keep quiet.

For once, I manage to keep my hands to myself and accept the cup he offers without even brushing against his fingers. He makes his way to the couch, and I follow behind him and mimic the way he curls up in the seat. I notice for the first time how graceful he is in a chaste way; his long limbs tucked close against his body with his lean torso bowed towards his knees.

I sip the scalding hot liquid carefully and wait. His body is tense in a way that I can tell that he has something to say. He did mention in the car that he had something to tell me before I distracted him.

"I don't know if you know," he starts, his voice low and more than a little awkward. He sounds like he's out of his element. "I really like you."

My eyes narrow in confusion. I mean, I kind of knew that already, given that he has told me that he has been..."stalking" me for the past four months, so what's the big deal? I tell him as much with a shrug.

His eyes dart away from me for a few seconds. "That's different. I mean I like you, as in I want to get to know you better. More than...this, whatever we have now," he says finally.

Shock. That's the only thing that courses through me. So it's more than physical attraction? I'm not just some random hot stuff that happens to cross his path? I don't know whether to be flattered or to panic all over again. What the hell does he see in me?

"It's okay," he adds hastily. "I know this is, uhh, sudden. I'm not asking for an answer, not immediately, anyway." He pauses and I see a deep blush spread across his cheeks and the bridge of his nose. "I just wanted you to know."

The mug of tea is suddenly extremely interesting, and I stare at it; the way steam swirls above the surface of the liquid, how there are bits of tea fragments at the bottom of the cup. In a way, I'm impressed by his forwardness, but now what am I supposed to do? I'm obviously not looking for a relationship. In fact, the thought of being in one sends a shiver of terror and dread down my back. I don't want to sound like a fucking therapist and say that I'm "broken" or "I have unresolved issues"; the idea is just…unappealing.

Yet, as I rest my eyes on the young man who's looking at me with clear adoration on his face—how have I not noticed it before?—I find myself unable to outright reject him. At least not in the way I usually do it to people. It's not pretty, I can tell you that.

"Do I at least stand a chance?" he asks, sounding slightly more confident than earlier. Maybe now that he has gotten it off his chest, it's easier to proceed from there. For him, that is. For me, it has just begun.

I rub my face vigorously as though rubbing it would somehow make his question go away. I don't want to deal with this shit. It makes me think of...

"Learning takes place in context, not in the free range of any plausible situation, my love. Behaviors that are under...what they call, 'stimulus control', develop when a particular response only occurs when an appropriate discriminative stimulus is present. In English? They learn, darling, the lab rats, they're learning without even knowing, without realizing that they're being taught. Extremely tragic, if you think about it, isn't it?"

I realize I'm sweating; panting; panicking again. No. This is me. Ichigo is asking me.

I think Ichigo has noticed my strange behavior. I'm probably turning pale, my lips going dry, my hands shaking. He sits up and puts his cup down on the coffee table, his eyes widening in concern.


Shit. Control. Take back. Control. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out.

I flinch when something touches my hand. It's Ichigo. He has crawled over to me, his brows furrowed in confusion and uncertainty, and he's running his palm along my forearm, no doubt trying to calm me down.

"It's okay, you don't have to give me an answer today," he says.

I know he's disappointed. I can see it in his eyes, the way his mouth is slightly downturned. But he doesn't stop crawling towards me. He's coming closer, closer, until his forehead is resting on mine. Then his fingers are in my hair, holding my face, caressing; petting, even. He smells strongly of our beloved peach body wash. He tastes like mint.

Without even knowing it—at least on my part—we're kissing. In my frozen state I can't overpower him the way I usually do. This is completely different. It's still Ichigo, but different. There is a bit of clumsiness in his movements as though he's not sure of himself, and I realize that this is the first time he's leading a kiss. It's unexpectedly endearing and arousing in a way I've never thought possible. He's not aggressive and rough like I am, yet not sultry and seductive like he was.

When we break apart for air, I tell him that he does.

The waiter gives me a knowing look as he takes away the last of our dishes from our table. I swallow nervously, my eyes darting around the room. I've been lucky enough to secure a table in one of their smaller, more private dining rooms, but there are still enough spectators around to make me jittery.

"Are you okay?"

I look across the table at my partner, who's looking at me with a concerned frown. I lick my lips and nod. My fingers wrap around the small velvet box that I have tucked inside the interior pocket of my jacket.

It's time.

The couple in the next table next to us stands up to leave, and I use the short distraction to whip the box out and place it in my lap. I grasp it tightly with both hands, my fingers ice cold and stiff from excitement.

"Grimm? Are you sure?" he asks again, his mouth downturned with worry.

I straighten up and smile at him. I chuckle inwardly at the look of confusion on his face, then I stand up and walk over to his side of the table. I hide the box behind my back, and, after taking a deep breath, sink down to the carpeted floor on one knee.

"Szayelaporro Granz, will you marry me?"

To be continued...

There, mystery solved! Sort of. Any guesses to what Szayel actually did to Grimmjow? The clues are all in his dialogue!

Disclaimer: All the scientific-sounding stuff are taken from an online article. I'm a software engineer, not a psychologist hehe. :P