Grimmjow glared at the bustling crowd, his lips curled in a sneer as couples walked hand in hand, and children tugged their parents towards glass windows decorated with bright ribbons and trees, and cute toys. He wasn't sure what all the excitement was about, but it was palpable, something that pervaded all the senses, until his body sang with tension. If he had been in his Pantera form, his tail would have been lashing with agitation. As it was, the Espada only growled deep in his throat, baring his fangs. It was far too noisy, and he was quick to seek out a quieter place.

Finding a small park nearby, Grimmjow leaped lightly to the ground, sending up a cloud of powdery snow. The cold didn't bother him, as he couldn't feel it, but his feet didn't appreciate the dampness caused by the melting snow, and he climbed onto a half-circle of steel, knocking the snow off of the climbing structure before having a seat, pissed off and sulking.

He was bored. Bored, bored, bored! Ever since that asshole of a Shinigami calling himself their lord had gotten the shit beat out of him by that little runt Kurosaki, Las Noches had been nothing but dull. The other Arrancar were either dead or dispersed, and Aizen was imprisoned somewhere in Sereitei. Grimmjow hoped the bastard never got out.

With nothing better to do with his time – picking on weak Hollows just wasn't any fun – Grimmjow had decided to make an unauthorized trip to the human world. He had hoped to find some excitement here, but so far, all he had seen were normal, pathetically weak humans. He could slaughter them all and they'd never know what happened until it was far too late and they found themselves on the outskirts of Sereitei, with the Shinigami scratching their heads and wondering where the sudden influx of dead had come from.

The metal creaked under his hands as he tightened his grip, leaning as far over the edge as he could, his balance perfect as he stared down at the snow-covered ground. A familiar presence approached him, and Grimmjow looked up just in time to see Kurosaki coming around the corner of the small wall that surrounded the park. The orange-haired teenager seemed completely oblivious to Grimmjow's existence, walking over to a swing and brushing snow off of it before sitting down.

Grimmjow took a few moments to study the substitute Shinigami, frowning as he realized that while his spiritual power was still there, it was so low as to leave him all but blind to the presence of nearby Hollows. Making a quick check of the area, Grimmjow's eyes narrowed; there were no other Shinigami in the town. What the hell had they been thinking, to leave Ichigo alone and defenseless? It's not like Hollows hadn't heard about him. Hell, if Grimmjow took him out right now, they would never make it on time to save him. Then perhaps he could become a Shinigami for real. Grimmjow smiled darkly.

"What's so funny?" Kurosaki asked, and Grimmjow realized that the boy was staring straight at him, that ever present scowl on his face. Grimmjow wondered if he ever smiled.

Baring his fangs, Grimmjow stood casually and jumped to the ground, sauntering over to stand above Ichigo where he sat on the swing. Angry brown eyes stared back up at him, and Grimmjow smiled; defiant, even when death stood over him, huh? He shrugged, "I was bored. I came here. I'm still bored, so I'm thinking about leaving. Then you showed up. So weak without your spiritual energy, Kurosaki. What happened?"

At first, he thought the orange-haired Shinigami wouldn't answer him, but then Ichigo shrugged, looking down at his feet and swinging idly, not touching Grimmjow. "I took down Aizen. To do it, I had to give up my spiritual energy." Grimmjow scented the air; the boy wasn't telling him everything, but he was speaking the truth. He was certain that there was more going on than just Kurosaki giving up his spiritual energy, but he wouldn't push it just yet. He still wanted the rest of his questions answered.

"What the hell is going on?" he growled. When Kurosaki looked up at him, confused, he made a wide arc with his arm that encompassed everything outside the park. "The humans here are behaving like they've all gone mad. I can practically taste their excitement, but there's nothing going on. It's cold out, it's snowing, it's getting dark, and still they run around like they're rushing to get somewhere. It doesn't make any sense." And to Grimmjow, it didn't.

But Kurosaki's brow had cleared as Grimmjow spoke, and the other boy looked up at him like he was an idiot. "It's Christmas," he said, in a tone that clearly stated that anybody with half a brain should know that. Grimmjow just glared at him, tapping his foot impatiently, until the other boy realized that an Arrancar, especially one who had started life as a panther, wouldn't know about Christmas.

He shrugged. "It's not like that matters to you," he grumbled. "Christmastime isn't something that Las Noches would celebrate. Halloween, maybe," he muttered. Standing up suddenly, he forced Grimmjow to either take a step back or touch him. The blue-haired Espada took a single step back, and watched as Kurosaki took the chance to slip around him and head back out of the park, obviously done with their conversation. Unfortunately for him, Grimmjow thought cheerfully, he wasn't done with the other boy yet.

He followed Kurosaki out of the park, whistling merrily under his breath. It was one of the tunes he'd heard playing in the center of the town, and it seemed to irritate Kurosaki to no end. This night might turn out to be more fun than he had anticipated. Riling up the orange-haired punk promised to be a fantastically fun pastime. Kurosaki did his best to ignore the smirking Espada, hands shoved into the pockets of his parka as he hunched down against the cold, staring at the ground. He didn't seem to have a destination in mind, and Grimmjow wondered if he had just been wandering aimlessly when he'd come to the park where Grimmjow had been.

He was so busy wondering if Kurosaki was suffering from depression after losing both his Shinigami friends and his position as a substitute Shinigami that he nearly plowed straight into the other boy when Kurosaki stopped suddenly. Only his low growl of warning alerted Grimmjow to the fact that Kurosaki had stopped and spun around to glare up at him. Grimmjow grinned, satisfied to see that he was still several inches taller than the other male.

"Are you planning to follow me all night, like a damn stray?" Kurosaki demanded. Grimmjow just shrugged; it wasn't like he had anything better to do. Kurosaki must have read something in his expression, because he huffed out an irritated breath. "Look, I'd like to go home at some point tonight," he said reasonably, "and I can't do that if I've got an Espada following me around. I won't put my family in danger," he insisted, his jaw set determinedly. "So do whatever it is you're planning to do, then go away, okay?"

Grimmjow just shrugged again; he had no interest in Kurosaki's family. And only that little slip of a girl with the power to heal held any fascination for him among Kurosaki's circle of friends. And of the two, the orange-haired former Shinigami was far more entertaining. Small and fierce, wiry and strong, an avenging guardian for the weak humans that surrounded him. If he had been a Hollow, he would've easily made it into the Espada ranks. After all, he had brought down that smug bastard Aizen, which was something that even that old man Yamamoto hadn't been able to do.

Switching topics, Grimmjow demanded, "Tell me what Christmas is. It seems to be something that has humans behaving very aggressively," he noted, remembering watching people standing in long lines for a silly little toy or knick-knack of some sort. "Then I might leave you alone," he promised, wording it carefully. After all, if this turned out to be something interesting, he just might decide to hang around a little longer.

Sharp brown eyes gave him a disgusted look that let him know that Kurosaki hadn't missed the key word in there, either, but the boy just turned away with a low growl and stalked down the street, Grimmjow following sedately. Kurosaki led them back into the town of Karakura, and then things got interesting. The orange-haired Shinigami explained the origins of the holiday, as well as the current sentiments regarding it. He explained that it was a celebration held once a year in which families that hadn't seen each other in a while came calling, and in which children got presents and candy, while the adults watched and exchanged small gifts of their own.

He showed Grimmjow the Christmas trees that were visible in the front windows of houses, and the wreaths that decorated doors and light posts throughout the entire town. People continued to rush by, ignoring the two males in their rush to finish with their shopping before Christmas Day arrived. Kurosaki never brought up his own family, but Grimmjow didn't mind, absorbing everything the boy told him, and more that he didn't. And, at some point, he realized that he was having fun. Not only was he no longer bored, but he was enjoying listening to Kurosaki talk about the holiday that had animated every last citizen of his small town.

Eventually, Kurosaki ran out of things to say, and they found themselves just outside the park, standing under a street lamp that cast a soft glow on the snow at their feet. Blue eyes regarded wary brown, but Kurosaki's body was much more relaxed than it had been when he'd first seen Grimmjow. Or perhaps he was simply resigned to the Espada's presence.

Grimmjow tilted his head up to watch the snow falling down, and decided that he'd had enough, for now. Without looking over at the orange-haired teenager, he said, "I'd better get going back to Las Noches. Boring as hell, but things tend to go awry without somebody to beat down the troublemakers," he growled. Beside him, Kurosaki gave a snort of amusement, and they grinned briefly at each other before Kurosaki realized what he was doing and gave him an angry frown instead. Grimmjow shrugged it off; it wasn't like he was trying to make friends with the other boy. He had just been relieving his boredom, and if nothing else, the substitute Shinigami had always proven to be an interesting challenge.

"See ya around, Kurosaki," he called back cheerfully as he leapt away, gone as suddenly as he had appeared. He felt brown eyes watching his retreating form and smiled to himself; he had meant it. Kurosaki couldn't get rid of him that easily. He'd be back for sure.

The first thing he did when he returned to Las Noches was to find the weakest Hollow in the immediate area and send him to observe Kurosaki. If there was no Shinigami guard, then the Hollow was unlikely to be seen by the orange-haired teenager. He made it absolutely clear that if anything happened to Kurosaki while the Hollow was on duty, he would tear him into tiny little pieces and make him wish he was dead long before Grimmjow actually killed him. The terrified Hollow had agreed to go to the human world and just watch, nothing more. In exchange, Grimmjow promised to spare his pathetic life.

When the Hollow returned two nights later with the location of Kurosaki's home, Grimmjow nodded his acknowledgment, and watched as the Hollow escaped with his life. Turning to two nearby Hollows, he made a gesture, and they took off after the unfortunate Hollow, who wouldn't live to see the morning. After all, Grimmjow hadn't promised how long, exactly, he would spare the creature's life for. And he was determined that nobody else would know of Kurosaki's location. The temptation to destroy a Shinigami, even a former substitute with no spiritual energy, would be far too great for most Hollows, and Grimmjow's pride wouldn't allow anybody but himself to take out the other male.

The following night, he followed the Hollow's instructions and found himself outside of a home that looked exactly like the other houses on the block. He scowled; if that Hollow had been lying, he was going to be pissed. And since the creature was dead, he'd have to take his frustration out on whoever was handy when he returned.

Before he could hop down from the wall, the door opened, spilling light out in a small rectangle outside the door. Kurosaki frowned up at him. "So I wasn't imagining it, huh?" he grunted. Then he shrugged, resigned. "Might as well come in," he said, then turned and walked back into the house, leaving the door open. Grimmjow debated for a moment before realizing that if Kurosaki had something up his sleeve, he wouldn't have bothered to beat around the bush. He would've just attacked. If nothing else, Kurosaki was very straightforward in his dealings with people and Hollows alike.

So he strolled inside, noting that the place was homey, but not decorated like the houses in town had been. Or even the house next door, which had a large Christmas tree displayed proudly in the front window. There were pictures of a woman he had never seen before, and of Kurosaki's father and two younger sisters, which he had either heard of or actually met already.

He found Kurosaki sprawled out over a couch in the living room. The lights were on, but the room itself was chilly. Brown eyes looked up at him tiredly. "I take it that since you just waltzed on in here, you got my location from a spy? Or have I been completely oblivious and not noticed you?"

Grimmjow debated baiting the younger man, but decided it wasn't worth the effort, so he just smirked. "I sent a weakling to watch you. I figured, without spirit energy, you'd never even feel him. And he apparently didn't set off any alarms to Shinigami guards, either," he added, unable to keep from taking the cheap shot, even as he knew it was childish and a bit unreasonable.

Still, the reaction he expected never happened. Instead, all the energy seemed to leave Kurosaki's body as he slouched further into the couch cushions, closing his eyes. "So it's true, then," he murmured. "There are no more Shinigami in Karakura." The sorrow in his voice was impossible to miss, even to somebody as insensitive as Grimmjow.

The Espada snarled, and Kurosaki's eyes opened to stare at him wearily. "Of course they're not here!" he snapped back. "I found you only by accident, and I know you live in this town! But without your Shinigami powers, you don't hold any more interest for us than most of the townspeople do! We hunt high spiritual energy, those with greater awareness, and you have neither! Do you think the Shinigami have time to sit here and babysit you when you should be safe?!"

Grimmjow watched as Kurosaki's expression went from anger to puzzlement to thoughtfulness, and then the other boy surprised him by nodding. "You're right, of course," he murmured. His chin lifted defiantly and he gave the blue-haired Espada a hard stare. "Were you trying to cheer me up? Or were you just not having any fun?" he teased sarcastically. Grimmjow just blinked at the teen, completely nonplussed. Kurosaki chuckled. "That's it, isn't it? It's not fun when I'm not battle ready and fighting, is it?" he asked, obviously amused at the thought of Grimmjow being cranky because Kurosaki wouldn't rise when baited.

"So what, Kurosaki?" Grimmjow blustered, foundering. "What's the point in coming to this stupid little town if you're just gonna mope 'cause the Shinigami are too stupid to realize they should be protecting you now?"

The smile he got was genuinely happy, and the Espada froze, uncertain. Blue eyes watched as Kurosaki stood up and walked towards him. Almost against his will, Grimmjow found himself backing off, his body shifting into a defensive stance, ready to fight at a moment's notice, because he would never flee. Kurosaki didn't seem mind, and he spoke as he circled in counterpoint to Grimmjow's wary movements.

"My name's Ichigo. Kurosaki is my father," he said simply. Grimmjow frowned at him, and the former Shinigami grinned more widely. "Dad's out of town on an emergency call, and my sisters are at a friend's house. I didn't see the point in decorating for Christmas when it was just me. But I did put up one decoration," he grinned wickedly, his eyes sparkling with mischief and good humor as he stopped moving.

Grimmjow moved out of his crouch, curiosity getting the better of him. Kurosaki – Ichigo – glanced upwards, and Grimmjow followed his gaze, frowning when he saw an innocent patch of green leaves, surrounding some tiny red berries. These were a Christmas decoration as well? He remembered seeing the plant in some of the homes, but Ichigo hadn't seemed to think it was important, so he'd figured that perhaps they were always there, and not just for Christmas. It seemed that he might have been wrong.

"It's called Mistletoe," Ichigo explained, stepping close to Grimmjow, invading his personal space. The Espada looked down at the other boy, refusing to back off any more, and Ichigo smiled, his next words practically purred. "It's poisonous to humans," he said, "but around the holidays, it's still hung in doorways, and serves a single purpose. It's part of a long-standing tradition."

Grimmjow glanced up at the innocent-looking plant warily, as if it would attack him with teeth and venomous sap, and Ichigo chuckled, shifting so that he was standing on his toes, his face inches from Grimmjow. When the blue-haired Espada looked down again, the former Shinigami pressed his lips against Grimmjow's. His first instinct was to sink claws into the impudent human for daring to take such liberties, but he paused as he registered that the feeling of Ichigo's lips against his was actually…quite nice.

The Espada had never bothered to take the time to court another Hollow. They were beneath him, too dull and weak to generate any interest in him. Ichigo, on the other hand, had the audacity to not only argue with, but to actually touch and kiss an Espada that could easily tear him apart. Fierce and strong and determined, both ruthless and compassionate in his own way, Ichigo would make the perfect mate for the Espada.

With a low growl, Grimmjow wrapped arms around the orange-haired male, his claws tickling through thin clothing, pressing his mouth hard against Ichigo's, so that his fangs were clearly felt by the other boy. Ichigo's response was to groan, his back arching as he pressed wonderfully against Grimmjow's body, the Espada the dominant of the two. Then his hands fisted in Grimmjow's hair, and he took control of the kiss, surprising Grimmjow momentarily before he snarled deep in his throat, squeezing Ichigo's wrists tightly, forcing the other man to either release him or have his bones crushed. Ichigo let go, but not before a brief tightening of his fists warned Grimmjow that this wasn't over.

They broke apart finally, their breath loud in the silent house as they panted. Ichigo managed to gasp out, "When two people walk under mistletoe, they're supposed to kiss each other."

Grimmjow thought about this for a moment, then grinned slowly, glancing upwards at the simple plant with a gleam in his eyes. "I see," he growled. "And if they stand under it, instead of just walking?" Ichigo just grinned back at him, and Grimmjow threw his head back and laughed, before leaning down for another kiss.

"That's what I thought."