Grimmjow sat on the edge of the roof, checking his e-mail. Below him, there was a small crowd of people pointing and taking pictures, but he ignored them with the ease of long practice. They were mostly tourists, unaccustomed to seeing super heroes and super villains going about their business.
He lived in the city-state of Duranada. The city was huge, massive, and sometimes seemed like the centre of gravity for the whole world. Beautiful and vicious, it was a natural haven for people with abilities that were more or less than human. El Pantera was one of those.
That was his super villain name. Grimmjow was definitely on the dark side of things, although he was kind of a piker where real villainy was concerned. He didn't do assassinations, he didn't have a crime ring, he wasn't trying to take over the world… the things he didn't do went on and on. What he did do was thievery, general thuggery and finding missing persons. He was really good at that last, and it was the only thing he did that was quasi-legitimate.
His super powers were the boring, Spider-man variety. An excellent healing factor, enhanced speed and endurance, and the ability to track people via their aura signatures. That last power could have made him a pretty good assassin, but El Pantera still had a few morals. Shooting suburban housewives because the old man was having an affair and wanted to marry the secretary had less than no appeal. So he was just a moderately unknown criminal, except among the police and the people who wanted to find people.
His only real claim to fame was one of his enemies. It was sort of hilarious. The Mask was a superhero with a really fucked up mask that was apparently part of his powers. He was as famous as Grimmjow wasn't, with all the enemies he'd put in their places. Theoretically, the Mask should have made quick work of a garden variety thug like him. But he never had, and El Pantera knew why. Seeing the Mask somehow brought out his hidden abilities, the things he knew about and tried to suppress. But when he fought that bastard, everything just came oozing out and before you knew it, he was close to breaking that mask. So their names had become linked together, and El Pantera's one claim to fame was all the pictures people had of him fighting the Mask.
Grimmjow tilted his head as he read one particular e-mail. It was from a guy he knew only vaguely, and was babbling on about his good time on a Caribbean cruise. Not really worth reading, but he had nothing better to do at the moment. He was reading it off a VR screen inside his helmet. His super villain outfit consisted of a black and blue cat suit and his helmet. The helmet was an absolute masterpiece, his equivalent of Spider-man's web serum and web dispensers. The helmet had wi-fi, internet screens, e-mail access, thermo vision, you name it. It also hid his face perfectly and sharpened his aura sensing abilities. It looked a lot like a motorcycle helmet, bright blue except for the black visor, and the top was shaped into cat ears.
"When is he gonna get here?" Grimmjow muttered to himself as he finally deleted the e-mail and started to do a full cleanout of the folder. He was waiting for the Mask. No doubt word had already gone out that El Pantera was hanging out on the roof of a building, plotting some nefarious mischief. The Mask would have to show up soon to find out what he was up to. The damned bastard wouldn't be able to stay away.
It took another fifteen minutes, but he was right. There was the soft sound of someone landing behind him and Grimmjow glanced over his shoulder. The Mask could fly, which he couldn't do, unless he was calling on his hidden powers. Only the Mask could make him fly.
"You took your fucking time. I was about ready to start calling my buddies so we could bullshit about the weather." Flipping his legs up, El Pantera turned around so he could look at the Mask.
That mask really was scary, mostly because it looked so real. It was like a skull, white bone, but decorated with red markings. The eyes inside it were the weirdest things Grimmjow had ever seen, black and gold. The rest of his outfit was loose flowing robes. They probably had some kind of fancy name, but Grimmjow preferred to just call them robes. They were black, of course, although his belt was red and so was the strap he used to hold his sword in place. El Pantera used a sword, too, but he kept his on his belt like a normal person. But then, his sword was tiny compared to the Mask's.
"What are you doing here, Pantera?" The Mask's voice always had a gritty, echoing quality behind his mask. Grimmjow grinned, secure in the knowledge that the Mask couldn't see the expression.
"Waiting for you, strawberry." He said just to see his enemy twitch. He loved making fun of that orange hair, and strawberry was a bit more creative than carrot top. "How's my favorite super hero been?"
"Stuff it, you asshole. Are you looking for a fight again? Because I told you last time to stop that." Grimmjow's grin widened to shark like proportions. The Mask had actually said something obscene the last time he'd picked a fight for no reason. It hadn't stopped him, though. No, something else was stopping him, something more permanent.
"Nah. I'm not up for a fight. I just wanted to let you know that you ain't gonna be seein' me around these parts no more." He said in a very fake Western accent. Even with the mask in the way, his old enemy managed to look puzzled. "I'm retiring. Going straight, getting a job, going to school, all that shit. Good luck, have fun, not sure how you'll get on without me and all that."
"…Are you serious?" The Mask said in a wondering tone and El Pantera nodded. "Why did you want to tell me this?" He asked and Grimmjow shrugged.
"I just thought you might like to know. We've known each other longer'n most of my friends. And besides, it's always good to know that someone ain't dead, right? Remember that guy with the spiky red hair? What the hell was his name…" Grimmjow snapped his fingers, trying to recall. He was a super hero like the Mask, they'd been inseparable for a while.
"The Red Tornado." He supplied and Grimmjow nodded.
"Yeah, that guy! Whatever happened to that guy? He just stopped showing up one day." Grimmjow honestly had no clue what had become of him. He didn't really care much, though. The Red Tornado had just been an annoyance, getting in his way when he went after the Mask.
"He got married and had a kid, actually." The Mask supplied, which made him blink.
"Huh. Perfect example then. I thought maybe he'd died or something. So I thought maybe you'd like to know that I'm not dead in a ditch somewhere." He hesitated a moment before admitting to the embarrassing part. "And I just wanted to say goodbye." He gazed at the Mask, wondering if he'd understand. Probably not. "I loved fighting you and I'm gonna miss it." Sometimes, he thought the only time he really felt alive was when he was fighting the strawberry.
"You are weird as hell." The Mask finally said before offering him a hand. Grimmjow took it, squeezing gently as they shook. "Good luck, Pantera. I hope it works out for you."
"Thanks. I'll be reading the news about you, try not to get killed. I might have to go avenge you." He said, clapping his old enemy on the shoulder. "Later man." Then he leapt away, jumping to the next roof over easily. He couldn't fly, except when he was fighting against the Mask, but he sure could jump.
It was time to go home and put the monkey suit away. He wouldn't be needing it anymore.
Grimmjow turned up the collar of his jacket, waiting for the bus.
It had been three months since he'd said goodbye to his old life, and to tell the truth, he wasn't missing it a bit. Sure, the daily commute to campus kinda sucked, but his classes were going really well.
He was enrolled in the engineering program. He'd always had a knack for machines and math, and his high school marks had been just good enough to get into the program. Things had been rough, his final year of high school, or they would have been better. It didn't matter now though. All that mattered was the grades he could get in uni.
The only reason he hadn't gone straight earlier was money. To be precise, lack of it. Grimmjow had shitty credit, thanks to his old man stealing his identity when he was still in the cradle. He was still trying to clear that up, but he couldn't get a student loan. So he'd turned to dirty deeds to put away the money he'd needed. It had finally paid off. He had almost fifty thousand in the bank, and that would be enough to see him through school if he was frugal and kept his weekend job as a bartender.
To his surprise, when he got to his math class, the TA beckoned him over right away. Lifting an eyebrow, he went to see what she wanted. There was another guy with her, and Grimmjow stiffened as he saw the orange hair. That was an incredibly familiar shade. The eyes, though, were warm brown and he was wearing a friendly smile on a handsome but rather forgettable face.
"Grimm? This is Ichigo Kurosaki. He's been away for a week due to a family emergency, and could use a bit of help catching up. I think you have empty spots in your schedule at the same time. Would you be willing to tutor him?" Then she turned to Ichigo. "This is Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez, he's one of our best students." Grimmjow couldn't help but blush a little at that. No one in high school had ever said that to him. But then, he was way more focused now than he'd been in high school.
"Sure, I'd be glad to." It wasn't like he did much on his empty spots except go outside and feed the birds, or hit up the food court for something tasty. Although he didn't do that often. He hadn't gotten and kept his current physique by eating processed crap. "I'm free from two to four. Is that the spot you've got open?" The other guy nodded.
"Yes." He said, and his voice was soft and sweet, nothing like the tones the Mask used. Grimmjow shrugged off his momentary idea that they might be the same person. A lot of people had orange hair. "Would you like to sit together?" Ichigo asked and Grimmjow nodded.
"Sure." They both found seats and Grimmjow grimaced, as usual, at the crappy desks. They just hadn't been designed with a guy as tall as him in mind. His legs were always a little jammed up, but he endured it, paying close attention to the lessons. They were doing calculating the areas of irregular objects, which was really a lot of fun.
"Damn." Kurosaki said quietly and Grimmjow glanced at him. "I've missed so much in just a week."
"Eh, it's not that bad. We should be able to fix you up in no time." He said back, quietly, and Ichigo flashed him a small smile. "You in engineering too?" He honestly didn't think so. Grimmjow would have noticed that hair, if they'd been sharing more classes. Sure enough, Ichigo shook his head.
"No, science." He said and Grimmjow nodded. That made sense. Math was definitely an overlapping class. Then they both paid attention to the lecture. As it was ending and everyone was packing up, Kurosaki spoke again. "Where did you want to meet?"
"The café place down in the food court." Grimmjow said instantly. They served some wicked coffee, and no one would mind if they monopolized a table for a couple hours. It wasn't busy from two to four, and then he'd be able to make his last class easily. Ichigo nodded with a smile.
"See you then." They split up then, each going to their separate classes. For Grimmjow, that was another heavy math course. His whole course of study was going to be heavy as hell on math, which was how he liked it. He sucked at literature.
Soon enough, he went down to the café to meet Ichigo. The redhead was sitting in a corner, sipping on a hot cup of joe. Grimmjow decided that looked like a fine idea and bellied up to the counter, getting a skinny mocha latte with sea salt topping. Then he joined him in the corner.
"Hey. So what have you been having problems with?" He asked, feeling a little enchanted as Kurosaki smiled at him.
"This part here…" Grimmjow scooted closer so he could see what the other guy was pointing at.
"Ah, right, that's a bitch. Okay, it's like this…" Grimmjow did his best to tutor Ichigo. He knew his stuff, and unlike some people, he was pretty good at getting it out of his head. Some of the really good mathematics students were like black holes. Their brains were where knowledge went to die. If you tried to get them to explain something, you figured that out pretty fast. "Let's try one of the problems, hey?" Then they got down to dissecting a class problem, and by the time three thirty rolled around Ichigo was smiling.
"Thank you. This has really helped. Do you think we could meet again tomorrow?" He asked and Grimmjow flipped open his cell, quickly checking his schedule.
"Yeah, sure. My first class starts at ten, and I don't have a free spot until three. I could come in early though." That was actually a bit of effort for him, Grimmjow was not naturally an early riser. But he found he was willing to do it for Ichigo. "What time do your classes start?"
"Eleven. That would be perfect, if you could." Kurosaki's smile warmed the blue haired man down to his toes. "I'll buy you coffee." He said teasingly and Grimmjow laughed.
"Anything for free coffee! Okay, meet you at eight?" He said and Ichigo nodded. Grimmjow clasped hands with him for a moment, and felt a strange tingle in his palm. It almost seemed like… but he needed to get to class. "Later man."
"Later." Ichigo said with a smile, but the smile vanished as Grimmjow walked away. The blue haired man didn't see the very thoughtful look the other man was giving to his retreating back. But he wouldn't have known what to make of it if he had.
And things went on.
A month later.
Grimmjow whistled as he worked on a major project. It was serious as hell, and constituted thirty percent of his grades for that particular class. It wasn't due for weeks though, and he was starting to feel a bit stale. Pushing away from his computer, he decided he needed a breather. But what did he want to do?
"Play Star Wars?" He mused. He was Sith, of course. "Nah. Play Civ 5? Nah." He liked that game, but he'd beaten it on almost every level and the multiplayer reeked. "Play Babes with Bazookas? Hehe, no." That had been a gift from his brother over his Steam account. The stupid bastard was still trying to turn him straight. "Um…" He ran through his whole list of games and felt uninspired. He could buy something new, but maybe what he wanted wasn't a game at all. "…Huh." A smile crossed his lips as he thought of something.
Grimmjow and Kurosaki had exchanged phone numbers a week ago. It seemed like the kid was constantly missing classes. The teachers didn't give a damn, as long as he kept up his grades, and apparently he was smart enough to do it… in most classes. Their shared math class was an exception and the orange haired man really needed help. Grimmjow had turned into his go to guy, and he honestly didn't mind, despite the imposition on his time. He had a feeling that wouldn't go away, and was getting stronger every day. Was it coincidence that every time the Mask was out fighting crime, Kurosaki was missing his classes? Yeah, he didn't think so.
And that tingling feeling when he was around Ichigo was getting stronger. He didn't think the other guy felt a thing, which wasn't surprising since Grimmjow had never noticed his power affecting the Mask at all. It seemed to be a one way thing, and if Kurosaki was the Mask, he was getting a whiff of his power even when he wasn't using it. If he wasn't, well…
The other reason he was willing to tutor Ichigo was pretty simple. Sexual attraction. Grimmjow was honest enough to admit that the other guy was hot. He had muscles in all the right places, a nice smile and a great laugh. He played Sith too, which was sort of funny, and Grimmjow had switched servers to play with him a bit. They made a pretty nice team, his Warrior fucking things up as Ichigo's Inquisitor stood in the back, healing and throwing lightning around. So far, though, they'd only hung out online. Grimmjow was thinking they should take it a step further.
Flicking open his cell, he quickly placed a call. Tapping his fingers against the arm of his chair, he tried hard to suppress any nervousness. He'd invited people on dates all the fucking time, and he'd heard no or maybe later enough to get used to it. Why should this be any different? Of course, this time he cared a lot, but still.
Hello? From the background sounds, Ichigo was on the bus home. That was fine, he lived not far from Grimmjow, as it happened. They'd already done a bit of studying at his house.
"Hey Ichigo, it's me, Grimm. I was wondering if you'd be interested in heading out tonight." He said easily and there was a brief pause on the other end.
It depends. What did you have in mind? I'm not into strip clubs. Kurosaki said suspiciously and Grimmjow grinned.
"Hoi! First off, I don't swing that way, and even if I did ya think I'm drowning in money? Nah, I just meant we could go to the bar or somethin'. Maybe get a bite to eat, that sort of thing." He said easily, mentally holding his breath. This was the first time he'd brought up his sexual orientation to Kurosaki. If the guy was going to freak, or even just politely let him down, it would be now.
Either of those sound nice. Just nowhere expensive, I'm dead broke. Kurosaki said and Grimmjow grinned, feeling elated. He'd just made it to first base.
"How about the Toad and Hole? It's right down the road from your place." It would be a bit of a walk for him, but he could hack it. And he wasn't afraid to walk home in the dark. This was a scary neighborhood, but he was a hell of a lot scarier than most of the people living in it.
Sounds great. I'll meet you there. Grimmjow said his goodbye's and went to find his nice leather jacket. It was black with blue stripes, and actually resembled his old cat suit a little. He hoped Ichigo didn't notice that. But at least it didn't have anything stupid like a snarling panther head on it or something.
He was pretty sure Ichigo was actually the Mask, but didn't want to bring it up. He wasn't sure how Kurosaki would react to finding out he was dating his former worst enemy.
"She's so cute." Ichigo smiled as he watched the young child climbing up a jungle gym. "I'm almost jealous of you." The little girl had black hair like her mother, and cinnamon eyes from her father. She was athletic, social and having a lot of fun playing with the other kids.
"Yeah, almost! Bet you didn't envy me the midnight feedings." Renji leaned back against the bench, watching his daughter proudly. "Or all the times we have to discipline her. She has mastered the art of the woebegone look, absolutely mastered it." He sighed and Ichigo laughed. "Let me tell you what she did last week…" Ichigo smiled as he listened to the story of the little girl's misdeeds. Apparently, she'd spilt flour on the cat as she tried to imitate her mother's baking, and then spread it all over the house trying to catch the cat. "So what's been going on in your life?" Renji asked and Ichigo hesitated. He honestly wasn't sure how much to say. But then, he and Renji went way, way back. They'd been friends since junior high.
That was also when they'd both discovered they had super powers. Renji's ran in the family, so he wasn't exactly shocked, but Ichigo's had come out of nowhere. They'd never had an explanation for it. All they knew was that at fifteen, they were strong and young and immortal and they could do some good in the world.
And they had, although some of it had been a bit dubious. Ichigo remembered his first fight with El Pantera. The damage they'd caused to that city block had probably been more than the stolen jewelry was worth, and he'd gotten away in the end anyway. He'd learned something from that, though, and had tried to keep the damage to a minimum ever since. Nothing lasted forever, though, and when Renji accidentally impregnated his high school sweetheart – another super hero, in fact – they'd both dropped their crime fighting to focus on the new addition to their lives. They'd kept in touch, though, and Ichigo felt safe confiding in Renji.
"I think I might be in love." He said shyly and smiled as Renji sat bolt upright, his eyes bugging out a little. "It's a bit soon to know for sure, but I'm dating a really interesting guy." Renji knew he was bi, so there would be no awkwardness about that.
"Really! You hardly ever date at all." Renji said, and Ichigo blushed. That was unfortunately true. "Who is this guy? What does he look like?"
"His name is Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez." Ichigo said, smiling just thinking about it. "He's about your size and he has blue hair…" He gave Renji a quick description of the man and his general habits. "He's helped me so much with my math class. I don't know if I would be passing it without him."
"You need to cut back on the super hero work." Renji observed and Ichigo grimaced. "You're not Superman, you know."
"Superman was just a story." He huffed. "I'm real, and I'm very powerful." There were powerful forces at work in the world, things much darker than El Pantera. Really, the man had never been worth his time, in terms of the damage he was doing. But Ichigo just hadn't been able to stay away.
He'd briefly had a few suspicions about Grimmjow, but then dismissed them as ridiculous. He sounded a bit like El Pantera, sometimes, but Pantera had been an asshole. He'd once randomly started destroying street lights just to make Ichigo show up to fight him! And then they'd beaten each other so bad, Ichigo had needed to take a day off school to recover from the bruises and strains. El Pantera was a lunatic.
Grimmjow, on the other hand, was nice. He was helpful, kind and very funny. He had a repertoire of the cheesiest fake accents and was willing to use them all. He had a temper and had his asshole moments, but really, who didn't? And Ichigo had never seen him raise a hand to anyone, not even the drunk at the bar who'd threatened to punch his lights out. Nothing like the constantly hostile El Pantera.
"That might be true, but you have a life Ichigo." Renji said and Ichigo brought his attention back to his friend. "University is only going to get harder, you know."
"I know." Ichigo sighed. He was on his second year. After this it would definitely get harder, and he wasn't sure what to do about it. "I'll just have to make do. At least Grimmjow can help me with it." He was really incredibly grateful for that. "We're going to the ballet this weekend." Ichigo couldn't help the pleasure in his voice. He loved the ballet. Renji choked.
"This guy is going to the ballet for you? Damn, it must be love!" Ichigo scowled and punched his friend in the shoulder. Renji winced in pain. "Hey, watch it! You're way too strong for that."
"Hmph." Ichigo glowered for a moment, then smiled. He just couldn't stay mad at his oldest friend. "I admit, the ballet probably isn't his thing. But he might like it." And how would Grimmjow know unless he tried? "Besides, I'm covering the tickets."
"Thank god. If you were making him buy his own ticket I'd say he should dump you." Ichigo scowled and faked a punch at his friend. "Woah, watch it! Hey, when can I meet this guy?"
"At this rate? Never." Ichigo retorted and Renji looked hurt. "When's the next time you're having a guy's night out?" Rukia and Renji had a rule that once a month, they each got to have special time with their friends. It let them hang out with their single friends and have a bit of adult fun.
"I was planning to go down to the Cocobana next week." Ichigo winced a little. That was Renji's favorite club, but the cover charge was a little steep and he didn't like the music. "I could change it though, I haven't invited anyone yet. What did you have in mind?"
"How about the Toad and Hole? It's where we hang out." Ichigo was absolutely certain Grimmjow would be willing to come to the Toad. He loved the British pub food and the general, low class ambience. Ichigo liked it too, especially the cheap beer on tap. It was kind of far from Renji, but his friend did have a car, which the two of them lacked.
"That's right by your place, isn't it? Sure, I'll be there. I can't wait to meet this guy." Ichigo smiled and went back to watching Renji's daughter. He thought he might like to have children someday, although if he was going to get serious about a guy it would have to be via surrogacy or adoption. And would Grimmjow be interested in children? He'd have to ask… later. Much later.
A month into dating was much too soon for heavy discussions.