Things got better after that.

For Grimmjow, it was like waking from a fog. The pain he'd felt from Nel, the fear and the panic had roused his mind and awakened his spirit. Being given the duty of helping watch over Ichigo brought him back even more and before long he seemed almost normal.

Almost. Shiro discovered the major remaining problem one stormy night.

"Nnn… Grimm…" Shiro moaned, half-asleep, as he dreamed of warm lips on his skin. Warm, callused hands stroking his body, touching him in all the right ways. "Grimm… ah…" He blinked as it started to penetrate his mind that this wasn't a dream. Grimmjow was touching him, exploring his body. Yet it was oddly tentative, nothing like his usual confidence.

"Shiro." The big man whispered in his ear but his voice… wasn't quite right. It was warm and loving but there was something else, something Shiro couldn't quite grasp. "I love you." Shiro shivered at the husky tone Grimmjow was using, his bedroom voice. "Let me please you." Then those warm hands were travelling down his body and Shiro gasped as the blanket was pushed away and Grimmjow went down on him, taking his cock in his mouth. That felt glorious, the blue man had taught him how to give oral pleasure and knew every trick. Yet… something wasn't quite right. Even through the bliss of Grimmjow deep throating him, that feeling nagged at him.

Feels like he's acting. Feels like… he's treating me like a customer…? Shiro thought, his mind hazed with pleasure but still clear enough to register the wrongness. "Why…?" He started to say but then Grimmjow hummed, letting the vibrations torture him. "Grimm!" He gasped, gripping blue hair as his whole body tensed. Inverted eyes went wide as the hybrid swallowed, making the movement slow and tantalizing. "AH!" Shiro couldn't hold back anymore. He came in a rush of pleasure and Grimmjow swallowed everything before pulling away, his breathing a bit ragged. Then Shiro reached up, intending to push the blue man on his back, but a hand on his wrist stopped him.

"Grimm?" He questioned, not understanding. But Grimmjow just gave him a small smile, lying down beside him.

"Don't worry about me. I'm fine." He said softly and Shiro frowned, taken aback. That wasn't right. They'd always given each other pleasure, once they were truly lovers. Was he self-conscious about his wound? A darker suspicion occurred to him and Shiro stiffened. Then he swept the blanket away, gazing at his lover's body. Grimmjow turned away but not quickly enough and Shiro saw he did have an erection, just… not a very good one. "I'm sorry. I… can't." His face was turned away but Shiro could hear the anguish, the pain.

"That's what you meant." He murmured to himself before hugging Grimmjow from behind. His lover was facing away from him, trying to hide his shame. "Grimm, we can talk to Zangetsu, see if there's anything he can do. I want you to enjoy this." It hurt to think that Grimmjow was trying to please him, without taking anything for himself.

"…He might not be able to. Magic and potions sometimes don't work well on me." He whispered and Shiro winced. But then he was moving, turning back to face him. Black and gold eyes met blue and Shiro was shocked by the vulnerability in those cerulean orbs. "If… I never can… will you still love me?" Grimmjow asked, sounding horribly fragile. Shiro hugged him tightly, nuzzling sky blue curls. Grimmjow was keeping his hair trimmed now, not letting it grow out. He hadn't said why but for some reason he seemed to prefer it.

"Of course I will." Shiro said comfortingly. "You don't have to do things like this." He didn't want the blue man to humble himself like this. But Grimmjow shook his head, his expression tired and world-weary.

"I do. You know how things go, Shiro. How many times did we get customers whose wife had a bad birth, or something else that made her stop having sex?" He asked and Shiro winced. He knew that was true, it happened all the time. "So they came to us for relief. I love you and I don't want you to look away from me." He said softly and Shiro opened his mouth to say he didn't want that, but Grimmjow silenced him with a kiss.

Things got out of hand then. Grimmjow began exploring him a second time and this time his hands and lips were confident, passionate. Shiro arched into that feeling, returning the passion but being careful not to touch Grimmjow too intimately. He didn't want to remind the blue man of his mutilation. Grimmjow didn't seem to notice or care, sliding his hot, wet tongue over dead white skin. Shiro moaned as his lover took him in his mouth a second time, but noticed that his hand was busy with himself. He was preparing himself?

"Grimm, you shouldn't – " He started but stopped as the blue man let go of him with a pop and quickly moved up his body and gave him a heavy, searching kiss. Shiro gasped raggedly into his mouth as Grimmjow lowered himself onto him, impaling himself on his hard cock. It felt wonderful, glorious and Shiro was powerless to resist. "Grimm…!" He gripped the blue man's hips, trying to find his prostate. Would that still help him?

Grimmjow arched and growled as Shiro found that spot and the white man smiled, glancing down. His erection was looking a bit better. Pleased with the response, Shiro gripped Grimmjow's hips and flipped him onto his back, taking him quickly but carefully. He looked into those bright blue eyes, seeing the familiar pain… but the lust and warmth were easily overwhelming it.

"I love ya Grimm." He whispered in one furry ear and felt his lover jerk as he thrust in quickly, taking him with a hard rhythm. "Love ya so much." He felt it so deeply, so intensely. Grimmjow tightened around him and Shiro groaned in pleasure before giving his lover a feral love bite on the neck. The mark vanished instantly but that just gave him more pristine skin to explore.

"I love you too." Grimmjow said, his voice heavy with desire. "Oh shit…!" The blue man arched with a primal, lustful sound and Shiro couldn't resist. He gripped the blue man's erection, ignoring the lack of stiffness, and did his best to pump him. It seemed to be working, from the look on Grimmjow's face. "Shiro…!"

"Cum for me Grimm." He whispered in one furry ear and Grimmjow stiffened just before cumming with a scream. There were no ropes of cum, just a tiny bit of release. But Shiro could feel the way he tightened, feel the way his cock pulsed as his body found pleasure. That was what he wanted, needed to give to his lover. "Grimm…!" Those hot walls around his cock stimulated him almost unbearably and Shiro came a moment later, gasping as the pleasure jolted him and made sparks dance across his eyes.

They stayed together for a while, just looking at each other and savoring the closeness. Shiro smiled and gripped Grimm's hand, lacing their fingers together before slowly pulling away. Grimmjow looked sated and pleased.

"Didn't think I'd be able to do that…" He said and Shiro nuzzled him gently, murmuring soft, comforting words. "Thank you." Grimmjow said softly, blue eyes meeting black and gold. Shiro just shook his head.

"Ya shouldn't thank me. I love you Grimm." He said again and the blue man nodded, curling up beside him. Shiro gently stroked soft blue hair, the soft blue fur of those furry, flexible ears. He watched as Grimmjow fell asleep, his face becoming soft and open as he dreamed and Shiro quietly made a vow to himself.

Even if the time came when Grimmjow couldn't do this at all, he would never turn away from him.

Shiro watched with narrowed eyes as the man they had summoned walked into the room.

He was one of their relatives, a powerful but distant uncle. He had many properties in his own name but he lived at the Kurosaki family seat, as most of the close family did. Physically, he wasn't very imposing. Just a middle aged man with grey hair that had once been brown, a cherub like face and a wide smile. He'd never realized how false that smile was until now.

"Why uncle?" Ichigo asked, his voice full of sadness and pain. His uncle looked taken aback for a moment before smiling again.

"Why what, Ichigo? Really, I haven't seduced any of the chambermaids recently!" He said with a jolly laugh and Ichigo's lips tightened as Shiro growled to himself. This was sort of insulting.

"Why did you try to have me murdered?" He asked and for a moment Shiro thought he was going to try to bluff his way through this. But that friendly face abruptly morphed into a mask of hate.

"You mean to pollute our clan with that half-breed creature, and you ask me that?" He spat as Ichigo looked almost stricken. Shiro felt a bolt of rage. He knew all about the prejudice against half breeds – he'd suffered it himself, many times – but it still angered him. "You shouldn't have been the one to inherit, you worthless brat! And now, I'll make sure of it!" He pulled a dagger from his sleeve and leapt at Ichigo. The movement was preternaturally fast and if Ichigo had been depending on his own or Shiro's abilities, he would have died.

But he wasn't. There was a flash of blue and instead of a dagger slamming home on unprotected skin, a wrist was caught in a large, clawed hand. His uncle barely had time to be startled before Grimmjow punched him in the face, pulling to blow slightly. They'd made it clear to him that they wanted his uncle alive.

The man put up a good fight, though. It was shocking really but Shiro quickly realized why. He was wearing some kind of special boots that enhanced his foot speed. They only enhanced his feet, though, and Grimmjow soon figured out that his hands couldn't keep up. His uncle had been a fine warrior in his youth but once the ex-gladiator understood what he was dealing with, he didn't stand a chance. A few moments later he was unconscious on the floor and Grimmjow was licking a scratch he'd picked up on his knuckles.

"Poisoned." He said and Shiro felt his heart drop to his feet. Then the blue man flashed him a grin. "Don't worry. It takes the breath of a green dragon to even affect me." He said and Shiro breathed out again.

"Ganju!" Ichigo called his cousin and the man goggled at the scene as he stepped inside. "Take him to the cells. Grimmjow, go with him." It wasn't that he distrusted Ganju in particular, but his uncle had plenty of support in the clan and Ichigo and Shiro were just beginning to ferret it out. Hopefully soon, the housecleaning would be complete. And hopefully, not too many of their relatives would have to be put to death. Shiro was grimly certain there would be a few.

But you did what you had to do.

Grimmjow stood close to Shiro, gazing through the crowd with some curiosity.

"Can't see. Why d'you have t' be so tall?" Shiro grumbled and Grimmjow chuckled softly. That made his lover glance up at him with a smile. He had been relegated to the back of the crowd because of his height and Shiro had gone with him, but it posed problems for the pale man.

"I could lift you." He suggested and Shiro gave him an outraged look.

"Oi! Don't know why I went with you." He said grouchily and Grimmjow grinned, putting an arm around Shiro and resting a hand on his hip. The smaller man leaned against him, enjoying the embrace. They didn't care who saw. Attitudes in this Kingdom were fairly relaxed about that sort of thing and after hiding for so long, they didn't want to hide anymore.

Right now, they were waiting for the Kuchiki delegation to arrive. Everyone who could wangle a spot was out in the crowd, waiting for them to arrive. The common folk were just glad the feud was finally coming to an end. They didn't care that Ichigo was marrying a woman with a child and if he didn't have one of his own, she would be the heir. They just wanted the bloodshed to come to an end and today was a promise of that.

Grimmjow had expected there to be some cheers when the Kuchiki's arrived. The little girls in the front of the row even had baskets of flower petals. He hadn't expected dead silence followed by whispering. Frowning, he looked at the delegation, trying to see what was wrong.

Then he grunted, feeling like he'd just been punched in the gut. Blue eyes widened as he saw the man and woman at the front of the delegation. He didn't know the man at all, with his long black hair and silver ornaments but the woman… he knew that petite, surprisingly ferocious girl. She'd never given him her last name. And the little girl walking beside her and holding her hand…

"Grimm, what is it? What's wrong?" Shiro asked and Grimmjow threw decorum to the winds. Ignoring the pale man's yelp he gripped his waist and gave him enough of a boost that he could easily see what was happening. "…Holy shit." Shiro whispered as he saw what Grimmjow had. The little girl walking in the Kuchiki delegation had blue hair and furry ears. "Grimm, you gotta go to them." Shiro said as the big man put him down.

"I can't – " He started but Shiro scowled as he interrupted.

"You got to! The Kuchiki's don't know what's going on. They think everyone's bein' rude." He said and Grimmjow glanced around, realizing he was right. The Kuchiki clan didn't know why the Kurosaki's were staring at the little girl. Fortunately, the girl herself was oblivious, looking around with wide eyed curiosity. But there was hostility rising in the air. "You got to go now!" He gave Grimmjow a shove and the blue man nodded before making his way through the crowd. The people in front of him took one look and parted, making room for him to get through.

Grimmjow paused for a moment as he reached the front of the crowd before quickly stepping forward. It was the little girl who glanced to the side and saw him first. She stopped moving, tugging on her mother's hand. The dark haired woman glanced over and gasped audibly, her free hand flying to her mouth. The procession ground to a halt as she stopped and soon there were whispers passing through the Kuchiki clan as well. But Grimmjow didn't care about that. He walked up to the little girl, the child who had to be six years old.

"Mommy?" She said uncertainly, backing away a bit. Rukia held her shoulders, tears streaming down her face as Grimmjow gave her a small smile. Then he knelt, offering the little girl a hand. She hesitated before placing her tiny hand in his huge paw and he noticed that her hands were black, too. Black that trailed off at the elbows, just like his.

"Hi there. I'm your daddy." He said huskily, feeling… he wasn't sure what. So many emotions that he couldn't begin to name them all. "My name is Grimmjow. What's yours?"

"Sora-iro." She said softly and Grimmjow hesitated. Not that he was one to talk about names, but sky blue didn't really seem like a name to him. Rukia quickly corrected her daughter.

"It's Risa. That's a nickname sweety." She said and Grimmjow grinned. Little children often didn't know the difference between real names and nicknames.

"Risa, that's a beautiful name. So is Sora-iro." He saw the man at the head of the delegation shift slightly. Grey eyes were looking at him in a way that was less than friendly and he wasn't the least bit surprised. No doubt Rukia's brother had often wanted to kill the man who'd knocked her up, but now wasn't the time. "You see that man there? That's Ichigo. He's going to be your daddy too." Grimmjow said quietly, pointing at Shiro's brother. He was at the front with the priest and lawyer. They had the betrothal documents, as binding as a marriage ceremony once they both signed. "He's very nice. You should go see him, okay?"

"Will I see you again?" She asked and Grimmjow smiled before reaching out to ruffle her hair. It was soft as silk under his rough, callused hands.

"Of course. But you should see him now." He said and she nodded solemnly. He stepped back and Rukia took her daughter's hand again, taking her to Ichigo. Grimmjow watched as the procession gave him a few looks, but no one said anything. At least the hostility towards the Kurosaki clan had been snuffed out.

The rest of the ceremony went off without a hitch. Ichigo greeted his new wife and daughter and they signed all the documents, finishing with the exchange of rings. The betrothal couldn't be broken now, without some truly dire legal consequences. Ichigo gave Rukia a gentle, chaste kiss as the crowd cheered and the little girls tossed their petals. Grimmjow just smiled, watching as his daughter hugged her new father. Ichigo hugged her back with a gentle smile.

He thought this was going to be the start of something good.

The next day.

"Grimmjow?" That soft voice made him turn, slightly surprised. Rukia had managed to sneak up on him and that wasn't easy to do. But then, she'd managed to sneak into his pen when he was a gladiator. That wasn't easy to do, either. "Can I talk to you?" She sounded hesitant and he smiled, vaguely noticing that six years had aged her a bit. Not that it was a bad thing. No, she had an air of maturity now that had been lacking before.

"Of course." He said easily. So far, Byakuya hadn't cornered him but he was sure it was coming. He would much rather speak to Rukia first. Glancing around, he tried to think of a good place. "The garden?" It was a beautiful sunny day and it would be a relaxing place to talk. Rukia nodded with a smile.

"That would be perfect." Soon they were sitting in the grass. Grimmjow took a cross-legged position as Rukia took off her shoes, digging her feet into the grass. "Grimmjow… I've missed you so much." She said with a tiny catch in her voice. "I tried to buy you after you retired, but he was charging so much…"

"Ah." Grimmjow grimaced before nodding. So that had been Rukia trying to buy him. Not for the first time, he cursed Aizen. He could have been in his daughter's life. "Aizen's a complete bastard." That was putting it mildly. Grimmjow sometimes wished there could be some kind of justice against the archmage, but he knew better. Everything he was doing was legal and letting Shiro and Ichigo get into a feud with someone who held that much power was just stupid. He was not going to endanger his new family for revenge. "I'm glad to meet little Risa… and I'm glad one of my children is free." He said softly. That really meant a lot to him. He likely had dozens of children, from the several times he'd been put to stud. He'd even met a few of them, but they were all slaves and doomed before they were even born. Rukia nodded but there was an oddly hopeful look in her face.

"Grimmjow." She said softly, putting a hand on his arm. He had a feeling he knew where this was going. "Would you want to…?" She asked and he grimaced, looking away. That hurt, although she couldn't understand why her offer pained him.

"I can't." He said softly before going with the less painful reasons. "You're getting married, Rukia. Ichigo's a good man, I can't hurt him that way." That made her scowl and look away.

"He already has that elven whore." She said sharply and Grimmjow had to stifle a laugh. Then he caught her arm gently in one clawed hand, shaking his head with a smile.

"Nel is my mother." He corrected her gently and Rukia abruptly looked horrified. "I'm not offended. She was sold into slavery a long time ago, and men really had only one use for her. But she's still my mother." Letting Rukia insult Nel would just embarrass her more, when she found out. Rukia swallowed and nodded.

"I'm sorry. But he can't really complain. Is it that white man you're with? You seem to be attached to him." She said and Grimmjow sighed, looking down. He could hear the competitive note in Rukia's voice and knew he needed to nip this in the bud. It would be much easier if she knew about… that.

"Rukia… I love Shiro deeply. But it's not just that." He took her hands in his, blue eyes meeting violet as he spoke very seriously. "I helped him escape and when Aizen found out, he gave me a very special punishment. Risa will be my last child." He said simply, not wanting to use the word. Rukia stared at him for a moment, then paled as she understood.

"Grimmjow." She whispered, appalled. Then she hugged him and he hugged her back, her body warm against his chest. "I'm sorry." She said and he nodded, resting his cheek against her hair. He vaguely wondered how his life would have been, if she had been able to buy him. Would it have been better? He couldn't be entirely sure – Byakuya didn't like him – but he thought it would have been. He doubted her brother could hold a candle to Aizen when it came to cruelty.

"It's fine. I'm adapting… but I can't be with a woman." He said softly. It wasn't entirely true, of course. He still knew how to please a woman with his hands and tongue, but that wasn't what Rukia wanted from him. She wanted the same thing Shiro wanted, honest passion. "And I do love Shiro very much." He added and Rukia pulled away from him with a sniff. She managed a smile, looking into his eyes.

"I'm glad you have him." She said and Grimmjow smiled, glad that she was giving up any thought of him. Hopefully, she and Ichigo could grow closer. Nel certainly wouldn't mind. She was more than used to sharing.

"Mommy! Daddy!" Their moment in the garden was suddenly interrupted as Risa bounded into the gardens. The woman behind her, a rather dried up old puss, said something disapproving. The little girl immediately controlled herself, slowing her pace and walking almost elegantly. She was wearing a lovely blue kimono with a green belt and Grimmjow smiled at how it matched her fur and eye markings. "Are you well?" She asked politely and Grimmjow rumbled a laugh. He could sense how she was practically vibrating under the forced courtesy.

"Oh yes. You know, there are rabbits in these gardens. Would you like to try and catch one?" He asked and her eyes lit up as the woman behind her looked horrified. She seemed about ready to protest but glanced at Rukia first, before thinking better of it. "I can show you how." He said encouragingly.

"Yes please!" Risa said happily before jumping several times. Her black, paw like feet dug into the grass easily. Grimmjow chuckled again before leading her into the gardens to show her proper stalking technique. It was a bit hard with the kimono she was wearing, but they managed. He vaguely wondered how the laundresses would get the grass stains out, then decided he didn't care.

His child needed to have some fun.