Author's Note: For me, sometimes a story decides to go a different place… this isn't actually what I planned, we'll have to see what happens.
"This is so weird." Ichigo murmured as he held the baby to his chest in a white blanket that had once been Grimmjow's jacket. Their little one had woken up hungry and his cries had stimulated the vizard to produce hollow milk. It was mostly reiatsu, very powerful reiatsu. Amusingly, Ichigo's 'milk' was black and red, reflecting the color of his power. Grimmjow smiled, putting an arm around his shoulders and letting his mate lean on him as he fed their child.
"I've been meaning to ask. How does your hollow feel about all this?" He asked curiously. From what he understood, the vizard were like two souls in one. The powers were often working against each other, which was why Aizen had given up on them and moved on to arrancar instead. Ichigo looked puzzled at the question.
"I'm just… me. I hear Zangetsu sometimes, but he's faint. There's no one else." He said and that made Grimmjow frown. He didn't know a lot about how vizards worked but he was pretty sure that wasn't right. Then he shrugged to himself. It wasn't like he could do anything about it, if Ichigo and his hollow had somehow merged. "Grimm, I'm hungry." He said and Grimmjow grimaced. Rocca had already warned him about that.
Living in the wastes really wasn't good with a baby in tow. Ichigo could feed the cub and oddly enough, Nel could in her adult form. Sympathetic lactation, that often happened with true females in a larger pack. But no matter who did it, they were draining themselves of energy and substance, things the pup needed to grow rapidly. That meant they needed food, and lots of it. Hunting vasto lorde could be challenging, but they had to do what they had to do.
"Hm." There was only one question and Grimmjow wrestled with it for a moment. But he finally decided it had to be done. Vasto lorde were tough prey and they might end up taking on a pack. "Ichigo, can you leave the pup with Nel and come hunting with us?" He asked and Ichigo looked stricken. "We might need you. These aren't adjuchas we're taking on." Rocca was seriously worried about that. Grimmjow thought he was a bit of a worry wart – the two of them were damned powerful – but still, they could really use Kurosaki's firepower. Ichigo regarded him for a moment before looking down at his white little baby, clearly torn. Then he nodded.
"If you died because I wasn't there, I would never forgive myself. And Nel can keep him safe." He smiled as the little one let go of his chest with a small pop, just looking up at him with black and gold eyes. "What are we naming him, Grimm?" They still hadn't decided. Grimmjow scratched his head.
"It's not really a name, but I know what I'm going to call him." He said firmly and Ichigo looked at him, a bit confused. "Pequino Rey. It means little king." That made Ichigo smile.
"You were always the king." He said affectionately and Grimmjow grinned. "I know… let's call him Masahiko." He said before placing a kiss against the babies' head. "It means just prince." He explained and Grimmjow tested out the name.
"Masahiko. Yeah, that works. Let's do that. Now, let's go find Nel and Rocca." They were off playing eternal tag. Grimm was absolutely certain they weren't doing anything more. With the need to hunt Nel would stay in her child form and conserve her energy for danger. That meant no matings, but Rocca would manage just fine. He had a hand and knew how to use it.
Nel was more than happy to look after Masahiko. She stayed in her child form, cuddling the baby in the shadow of their makeshift den. Then they set out to hunt.
It was a long, boring hunt. The stony desert was very empty and lacked any kind of cover, but the sands hadn't had much either. Finally they came upon a pair of vasto lorde who immediately tried to run. Grimmjow grinned as they loped in pursuit. This was going to be easy. They were moving far too slowly to get away from them.
"I'll take the male. You two take the female!" This was a mated pair, he could tell from the scent. The male of the pair was pretty weak while the female was about Rocca's strength. He'd make quick work of the male then go help Ichigo and Rocca with the female. He drew his sword and was just about to attack when they suddenly stopped running. Blue eyes flared wide as suspicion hit him, but then it was too late.
HOLYFUCKINGSONUFABITCH! Grimmjow's head snapped back as an incredibly dense reiatsu hit him. It reminded him a little of the first time Ichigo had pulled out his mask. It reminded him a LOT of the several occasions where Aizen had crushed him to his knees with power alone. He barely got his sword up in time to intercept deadly claws, aimed for his throat. Great bat wings spread behind the stranger as he looked into the mask of a monster. Black and gold eyes stared at him intently below upswept, curling horns. Grimmjow gritted his teeth as he was driven back by a sonido much faster than anything he could muster.
"My apologies. My mate is pregnant and we require sustenance. Your souls will be used well." The stranger assured him and Grimmjow managed to separate from him, leaping away. But the monster was onto him in a heartbeat and he barely managed to parry those claws a second time. Then a fist got through and he reeled at the hard blow to his head. It was followed by a wicked slash across his throat. His hierro saved him, but just barely and bright red blood stained his enemies' claws.
"Not… comforting!" He managed to gasp out as the vasto lorde went in for the kill. Then he heard Ichigo's hollow scream and the vasto lorde was knocked off his feet by the frantic hybrid. "Sh… shit…" Grimmjow collapsed to the ground, panting heavily and trying to stay awake. But the world was spinning and he could feel his strength ebbing. The waves of reiatsu rolling over him weren't helping, alternately pinning him and shoving him. He finally lost his struggle against unconsciousness, barely hearing Ichigo screaming something as he tumbled into darkness.
When Grimmjow began to wake, sometime later, he was remarkably free of pain.
Is this the afterlife? He wondered as he floated in a sea of nothingness. It was warm and comforting and he really didn't want to leave. Is this what it's like to be part of a vasto lorde soul collection? But no. If he were part of that bastard's collection, or his mate's, he wouldn't be conscious at all. The souls within a vasto lorde were not in any pain but they had no true awareness, merely existing as they awaited another try on the wheel of fate. What is happening to me? The warmth was still there but he was becoming aware of the fact that he had a body. He could vaguely feel sharp stones pressing into his skin, the beginnings of discomfort. He cherished the sensation. It was real, it was a sign that he was alive.
It took a while but he finally found enough awareness to open his eyes. Eyelids fluttered and he blinked, a dark form slowly came into focus.
"SHIT!" Grimmjow jerked up and banged his head against bone and twisting horns. That hurt, a lot, but the vasto lorde recoiled in surprise. "FUCK OFF YOU ASSHOLE!" Desperately reaching around he tried to find Pantera. He hadn't even gotten a chance to release her in the battle, it had gone so fucking fast. His own fault for thinking he wouldn't need it. But the bastard had felt like the lowest level of vasto lorde.
"Please calm down. I had no idea you were mated to my pup." The vasto lorde raised both his hands in a pacific gesture and Grimmjow blinked before giving him an odd look. What in hell was he talking about? Then he decided he didn't care. He had a bigger bone to pick with this asshole.
"You suckered me, you jackoff!" He snarled. It was so clear now. This vasto lorde was one of the 'great old ones' Rocca had mentioned and he had enough control over his reiatsu to hide it. He'd pretended to be slow and weak to take them off guard. The vasto lorde tilted his head to one side before examining his claws.
"Yes, I did. I was thinking about hunting and when you started to chase us, well, it was the obvious thing to do. I'm a lazy old thing and if food comes to me, why do extra work?" The vasto lorde said and Grimmjow glared at him for a long moment before snorting. The bastard was right. He'd have done the exact same thing, if some group had come after them.
"You only think you're lazy. I knew an arrancar ten times as lazy as you." He said to the vasto lorde, who looked a bit taken aback.
"Ten times? …Did he ever move?" He asked with morbid curiosity and Grimmjow grimaced, remembering the Primera.
"Not much, no. Now what was this about a pup?" He still didn't get that part. The vasto lorde gestured to the side and he looked to see Ichigo sitting with the female. She was a fox type and was holding Masahiko in her arms, cradling the young one against her chest. Not far from them were a few bits and pieces from a kill, a good powered vasto lorde from what he could sense. His mouth salivated at the thought and he blinked as something was shoved into his hands.
"I caught that for us. Eat." The vasto lorde advised and Grimmjow looked at the arm. He didn't protest, biting into the rich flesh. He needed the energy to heal his wounds, that was for damned sure. "I'm referring to your mate. I have no idea how it happened but I recognized his reiatsu when he attacked me. He contains the essence of my little Shiro-hana. I'd always wondered what had become of him." The vasto lorde seemed a bit melancholy. "We'd thought he was dead, and he is in a way. The shinigami seems to have absorbed him… it is very strange."
"…Huh." He was finally getting it now. Ichigo's inner hollow had been a natural born vasto lorde? "Shit, no wonder he kicked my ass when he finally got his mask." Grimmjow muttered to himself. "Hey, who are you anyway?" He hadn't caught the jackass's name. Although he was still thinking of him in swear words.
"I am Vandular Sturmdraggan." He said politely and Grimmjow put him on a tentative 'to kill when stronger' list. Although he had spared their lives and brought them a kill. And he was technically Ichigo's sire. When had life gotten so complicated? "My mate is Rinascita Bellamina. But you can call me Van, and she prefers to be called Rin." Short names that were easy to yell in a fight. Very practical.
"So are we forming a pack here or what?" Grimmjow said warily. Although he didn't see how it could work. One of the general rules of hollow reproduction was that only the alpha pair got to breed. It wasn't really a hard rule, though. Very strong packs might let some of the weaker members breed, and if half of the alpha pair got broken a surrogate might be used. But they had just met. Trying to form a pack when Vandular's mate was pregnant would be awkward, to say the least. Van shook his head.
"No, my mate and I have decided it is time to return to the mountains. I am afraid you should probably do the same." He said, his tone gentle and Grimmjow scowled at the thought. "I know the danger it places you in but hunting vasto lorde… you are putting yourself in just as much danger here. And also disrupting the balance." He said and Grimmjow stared.
"The balance? What do you mean?" He asked, confused. The vasto lorde scratched himself for a moment before answering.
"There is a balance of souls. I have no way to know for certain, but I believe the number of powerful vasto lorde roughly equals the number of powerful shinigami." He said and Grimmjow blinked. "Times of disruption always thin the herd. I estimate a bit less than half of the vasto lorde who fled the mountains have died, mostly to each other. Children are very rare, but my mate has conceived and so has yours. Hueco Mundo is trying to find balance and by killing more of our kind, we are not helping." Van paused, then sighed. "That is the only reason we are leaving this place. I have the power to hunt anything." He said with a certainty that was a bit frightening. Grimmjow swallowed before finding his voice.
"Yeah, well, I don't care about the balance. But are there more out here like you?" He asked, apprehensive and Vandular shrugged. "Seriously!"
"Mmm, the number of great old ones? At least three. The others are not as great as me." He said with assurance and Grimmjow breathed a small sigh of relief. "However, they are far more likely to kill for sport. I think most of the casualties have fallen to them." He said which was not reassuring at all. Grimmjow looked over as Rocca crawled over. His body language was extremely submissive and Van regarded him with amused tolerance.
"I'm sorry, great one… Ichigo says Masahiko wants you." He said to Grimmjow and the Espada nodded before pushing himself up. He was completely healed and feeling a lot better.
"I've told you, youngling. You really don't have to call me that…" Van sounded irritated but amused. Grimmjow tuned him out as he went to Ichigo. His beta looked up at him with a small smile, cuddling a crying baby to his chest.
"He has a special cry for when he wants his papi." He said and Grimmjow laughed, taking the fussing baby in his arms. Masahiko's cries tapered off into soft whines, and then the baby reached up with a coo. Grimmjow smiled and gave the little one a finger to hold.
"So cute." The female said and Grimmjow looked her over. She was a fox type, with red fur on her wrists and red lines on her facial mask. Interestingly, she was wearing a sundress that had probably been stolen from Soul Society. It was very loose and he could tell that it didn't really fit her body properly, likely because she had more than two teats. That was common for anything that had big litters as an adjuchas. "He looks just like Shiro-hana would have, without his bones." She said softly, reaching out to touch the pup and Grimmjow gave her a sharp look.
"Your kid was an albino?" That could explain a lot about Masahiko. Rin nodded.
"We could see the white skin under the bone, just a bit." She said and Grimmjow nodded. That made sense. "And his hair was white as snow. Van said it came from him… he wasn't an albino but albinism ran very strongly in his clan, as a living man. His mother and his grandfather on his father's side were both albino."
"Huh." Grimmjow processed that before looking down at his baby. The genetics of hollows could get weird, but it did sort of make sense. Ultimately, their 'genes' were derived from their existence in the Living World, or possibly Soul Society. "I can see he definitely got their eyes." Vandular and Ichigo's hollow eyes were identical. The female moved a little closer and Grimmjow could practically smell the desire on her. "You want to hold him?"
"Could I?" She asked, giving him a hopeful look and flirting her tail playfully. Ichigo laughed softly and Grimmjow smiled before passing the baby over. Masahiko fussed for a moment before scenting something familiar in the reiatsu holding his, and calmed down. For a moment Grimmjow wished they could form a pack with these two. Vandular would be potent firepower against the shinigami.
Could we? He thought for a moment. It would mean giving up his position as pack alpha. Hell, it was pretty much unheard of for a pair with a cub to join a larger pack. But… shit, they needed the help. This was honestly a bit of a nightmare. And he'd thought Rocca was just being too anxious!
"Could we maybe form a pack?" He said to Rin and she looked at him, surprised. Then she looked down at the baby in her arms. Masahiko was falling asleep, his little hands clutching the edge of his blanket.
"Maybe… I don't know." She sounded hesitant, which was completely understandable. "I would like to see more of my grandchild, though." Masahiko started to fuss and she handed him over to Ichigo, who smiled as he let the infant feed. "Van has never really been one for crowds." She said doubtfully as she looked over at her mate. Then she glanced at Grimmjow again. "And, forgive me, you seem to be very… dominant."
"She definitely has you pegged." Ichigo said cheerfully. "Vandular doesn't seem that dominant, though." Grimm scratched his cheek thoughtfully. He wasn't sure he agreed with that. Rin shook her head.
"He is very calm, very relaxed. He might not assert himself or flaunt his power, but it will always be there." She cautioned and Grimmjow understood although he didn't like it. The problem wouldn't be Vandular, it would be him. If he couldn't contain his instinctive reaction to a more powerful male this would never work. Ichigo looked a little confused and glanced at him.
"She's saying that I might not be able to handle having him around. They should be the alpha pair and even if he lets me play alpha, my instincts will know it's an act." Grimmjow explained and Ichigo frowned. "We'll just have to see." If Vandular was willing to try he was willing to have a go at it. That kind of reaction would either get better or it would get worse. If it got worse, they would have to part ways.
Van was dubious but he caved easily under his mate's pressure. Grimmjow grinned to himself. If he was any judge, and he was, the fox hollow had him wrapped neatly around her little finger. From the smile on Ichigo's face, he saw it too. Rocca was being extra quiet and submissive but Nel easily made up for that, begging Van to play. Soon he was chasing the endless child and even managed to gently nudge Rocca into joining in. They both sat in the shade of the rocks, holding Masahiko and watching the hollows at play.
It was beautiful and Grimmjow hoped it would last.
"Shit." Grimmjow cursed to himself as he glared at the decapitated adjuchas. He'd gone out to hunt even though they didn't really need the meat. He'd hoped a kill would take the edge off his temper but the bastard hadn't given him any kind of fight. Really, the bloodshed had only made things worse.
It had been two days since they had returned to the mountains and Vandular's presence was stinging him like a red hot pin. He knew it was stupid and knew it was entirely his fault, but Grimmjow simply couldn't help it. It reminded him of how he'd felt in Los Noches, dealing with hollows more powerful than he, but it was even worse. He hadn't been mated with a cub then so he'd been able to grudgingly accept that he was a lesser member of the pack. Now, he couldn't do that.
Vandular was letting him pretend he was the alpha. The elder vasto lorde was actually very gracious about it and Grimmjow wondered how his instincts could stomach it. But it wasn't really helping because his own instincts knew it for a farce. The constant urge to drive the other male away was quietly killing him. His intellect knew they needed the stronger hollow but he couldn't seem to beat the lesson into his instincts.
"Grimmjow." The voice made him start and turn. The subject of his thoughts was standing there and Grimmjow snarled before he could control himself. Vandular just looked at him, his black and gold eyes almost sad. Grimmjow took a deep breath and centred himself. He was not an animal that lived and died by instincts!
"I'm sorry. What is it?" He said as politely as he could, glancing Van over. There was no sign of trouble, nothing out of place. His armor was white as a bone, just like all vasto lorde. The other male's hollow hole was positioned at the base of his throat and jagged black lines spread out from it, reminding him strongly of Ichigo's hollow form. They shared many similarities, although Vandular's horns were more in a dragon motif and seemed more ornamental than functional. All he wore was a black covering around his privates.
"This isn't working." The vasto lorde said dispassionately and Grimmjow grimaced, looking away. "We must leave or you must submit to me. There can be no other outcome."
"Fuck!" He suddenly flared, gripping his sword. "We're not just fucking animals! There has to be some other way." He wasn't willing to accept this. He needed Rin and Van to help protect Ichigo and Masahiko. Van pretty much quadrupled their firepower. He needed them. "This instinctive bullshit is, is bullshit!" Not exactly the most coherent protest but it summed up his feelings well. Vandular was quiet for a moment before sighing softly.
"I understand your feelings, I truly do. But it doesn't work that way." He said gently and Grimmjow set his jaw mulishly. "If we keep going this way there will be a fight and it will be needlessly violent. We need to settle this before you go berserk." Vandular cautioned and Grimmjow scowled uneasily. Berserk? Could that happen? He had a bad feeling it could.
"How are you handling this so well?" He asked. Because as far as he could see, the older hollow was showing no signs of strain. Van shrugged.
"I'm much older and this is far from my first litter. You are a young vasto lorde with your first cub." He said and Grimmjow frowned. "It doesn't matter how long you were an adjuchas and how many pups you raised then. You are new to your powers and that makes your instincts stronger."
"…Oh." That did make some sense. "Well… fuck." He drew his sword, looking at Vandular through narrowed eyes. "Let's do this." He said decisively. He wasn't going to put his mate and cub in danger by asking Van and Rin to leave. That meant submitting, letting Van take over being the alpha but that meant they had to fight. There was no way he would submit without that!
The battle that followed was more for form than anything. Grimmjow had already felt the weight of Vandular's reiatsu, the incredible density of it. He summoned his resurrection, then his second stage and that made the fight more even. That only meant he lasted longer and finally Van pinned him down, fangs pressed firmly against his throat. Grimmjow shivered slightly at the feeling of cold bone against his skin. A single swipe of those fangs could end his life. Instead of staying resistant he relaxed, going completely limp in the older hollow's grip and letting his reiatsu submit to the elder. There was a grunt of satisfaction before Vandular let go.
"Good. Let us go back to the den." Van said before glancing at the kill. "Bringing that, of course." Even if they didn't really need the meat there was no reason to waste it. Grimmjow nodded as he slipped back into his sealed form. Strangely, he felt much better now. He might be a lesser member of the pack but at least the tension of pretending to be something he wasn't was gone. Although he wondered how Ichigo would react when he saw what had happened. If there was one power in the pack that might be able to challenge Van, it was Ichigo.
They would just have to see.