Actions

Work Header

Lives Under War

Chapter Text

 

Section 1: Without Mercy

            "Attention gunners, commsmen, pilots, infantrymen, all you ruffians!" the division general yelled. His men tensed then stood perfectly attentive. The deck they stood on was in the belly of a large helicopter, air-cutting blades whirring were heard even through its thick metallic sides. "Today we truly commit our fresh lives to cause! To Jhezen! Death for Gehjoven!" The men and women soldiers roared, fists stabbed upward in non-optional loud agreement echoing in the helicopter.

 

            The Jhezenic helicopter circled a landing area, gunners on its sides fired with ferocity to defend the bird. Those enemies of theirs had come out to play when the heilo came lower to drop off its live package of Jhezenic soldiers. The gunmen aboard really let the fools on the ground, enemy infantry, have it after they'd been stupid enough to compromise their positions by emerging from brush camouflage for an attack at the helicopter. That was the sort of brutish army Gehjoven had all but taped together with their broken and violent civilization...if one could even call them any form of civil.

 

            Gehjoven's military had stepped on some toes, crossing through Jhezenic territory in recent days passed. A rogue Gehjovenic company, one of many that their military hadn't much control over but still allowed to be mobile, had raided an isolated Jhezenic storehouse. The guards were brutalized and killed then the storehouse's supplies were stolen. It was a large cache and the Jhezenic only noticed some months later when the contents of the storehouse were needed. One government howled at the other and Gehjoven was surely at fault, but unapologetic. So here parts of their armies were; to kill each other over stolen supplies and deaths of Jhezenic men. The Jhezenic army was specifically landing within Gehjovenic turf now to recover their valuable supplies or to steal others.

 

            Something Gehjoven would never permit: Jhezen allowed women into their military ranks with absolute equal treatment as men. Jhezen was known best for its cunning and wealth that generated better supplied troops. The massive heilo's ten odd gunners mowed down the determined Gehjoven infantry with only three injured on their side during the blitz; two gunners and one unlucky infantry woman of the total hundred aboard. Unfortunately for Jhezen, Gehjoven was known for its battle-hardened, versatile all-male infantry and paratroopers and they could appear for attack in less than a blink... Gehjoven's fighters were all male, all aggressive, probably all block-heads, and relentlessly flowing with overwhelming manpower.

 

            Gehjoven's ambush on the helicopter didn't work today; they were all mowed down. The Jhezens touched ground and rushed persons and supplies from the helicopter quickly, just a few were sent scouting around their position for further threats. It was a lucky day, there seemed to be just this surprise infantry force from Gehjoven. The massive helicopter let off its last item and personnel then lifted off, vanishing into the afternoon's clouded sky. No threats interfered with the bird's take-off, and it was seemingly gone fast as it had come. It left ten companies - one-hundred Jhezenic fresh-bloods in all - of relatively new soldiers in grass plains with just brush cover near them to scramble into their squads. Scouts confirmed that the Gehjoven infantry who had engaged them were mostly wiped out; survivors were executed. Supplies were distributed, no vehicles but fine rifles, pistols, radios, and rations. Every soldier had their personal gear and responsibilities already so the only thing left to do was get moving to investigate what might be left of the Gehjoven force.

 

            Generally speaking moving fast into enemy territory was a monumentally stupid idea. The Gehjoven army counted on that fool's mistake, 'rushing', more often than not because their enemies were often afraid to linger in their lands at one position as Gehjoven was known for coming out of nowhere and blitzing enemies viciously. That fact was not understood this time and the ground troops of Jhezen sought suitable cover immediately, in a place away from where the heilo could have been seen dropping them. This decision was ultimately agreed on by the fresh-bloods, new soldiers, and proposed by their anxious division general. The general was fine on the helicopter but now they weren't untouchable any longer and stresses were heavy. An orange haired communications man followed that same general around like a haunt, personally referring the general's orders to the division's different squads as they fanned out. They radioed questions about terrain to scouts and soon heard there was a river, a lesser known one with high banks, shallow current, and foliage about a mile ahead beyond an odd rise in the terrain of the plains.

 

            Once the Jhezenic companies each came by the river they noticed it cut far as the eye and scope could see through the dry plains, almost dried up. Trees and foliage hovered above them, barely alive and probably what had sucked this river so dry. No incidents occurred when Jhezen soldiers checked their side of the bank for enemies however... Peeking from the other side of the six-foot steep dirt and clay banks were Gehjoven ambushers, alerted by their comrades who had first fired on the heilo. Not two hours after landing, and ten minutes from arriving at the riverside, Jhezen soldiers found themselves engaged in a surprise firefight mid-way through establishing camp by the riverside. It was a nasty surprise and at least thirty well equipped Jhezenic were downed like flies within the first minutes, but their side seemed to be winning..!

 

            The periodic rattling of guns and whizzing bullets kept up for forty-five minutes. Just about the time the Jhezenic had the chance, after all those minutes, to set up their cannons a helicopter tore through the air. A harpoon shaped emblem painted on its underbelly...and it did not land on the Jhezenic side. That symbol was purely Gehjoven's, for how they stabbed and never released their prey. In fact the enemy bird didn't land at all, displaying their mark a hundred feet directly above the enemy companies. Gehjovenic men bearing rockets and grenades launched them at the cannon assembly sites and silenced the Jhezenics' best chance of defending, killing many of the soldiers assembling the cannons and destroying the artillery.

 

            Jhezenic emergency signals were transmitted as the helicopter lifted higher, out of a rifles' effective range. Panic riled and frenzied the Jhezenic companies as they lost men from the assaulting helicopter above the trees and many more from unmerciful firing by the ambushers. The Jhezen clustered together to try and keep to safety in numbers. From the helicopter some Gehjovenic paratroopers leapt to their enemies' tree lined bank and fanned on the ground, charging and closing upon the remaining Jhezenic. Many of both sides met death in the trickling riverbed in the middle of the two banks. When the Gehjovenic helicopter's pilots realized that their enemy was withholding far-ranged attackers and hoarding supplies near the back of the line they countered by coming in behind the Jhezenic. From high in the air the remainder of the paratroopers leapt, armed to the teeth they circled over the rear of their enemy's division dropping grenades and being shot down more often than making it onto the ground alive. For their men already on the ground they made this distraction; this...perhaps worth-while sacrifice.

 

            Twenty decisive minutes later the Jhezenic were devastated by the sheer amount of men and firepower aimed against them from all around. The Gehjovenic didn't fair too well either though. Their rushed and aerial strategies came at a price today; Jhezen's infantry had highly accurate automatic rifles which tore up parachutes and their human attachments easily. Many paratroopers fell to their death. When the smoke of grenades, bombs, and guns cleared the disorganized bodies of the dead and dying were all around.

 

            The general's young commsman rolled himself over the edge of the riverbank and lay flat against its raised edge, pushing his torn satchel and broken equipment away to ward off their hindrance. His breathing was fast, but not loud, and he'd taken several hits to his thigh. Hits from what? He didn't know, but the adrenaline was too much to feel their pain. A look of horror colored his eyes, especially so when he saw their division general drop over the edge as he'd just done. The man was still alive. 'Stubborn old bastard' he'd felt like saying but for the younger his Jhezen language failed him, and he couldn't say one word under the tense circumstances. The general, himself injured in the shoulder, ripped fabric and tied a tourniquet over the heavily bleeding injuries to his commsman's thigh. They sat for some moments, many bodies to see sprawled in the riverbed and none moving. The two just stared, cursing their fix.

 

            Ichigo knew what he personally was thinking about; he wished he hadn't fallen on his radio. It was broken now. At least, since their side had suffered total defeat, the Gehjoven weren't doing well either. The commsman didn't know about his general's thoughts, but he wondered. He looked at the man, in his thirties but seeming older right now, and didn't get a reaction. Was he praying to see his family again? Ichigo hoped he could see his own wife one more time... Suddenly they both heard a 'crunch' and quickly fell limp to play dead, eyes cracked barely to see.

 

            A man came vaulting over their heads and landed feet down on a corpse in the river. A survivor. Their eyes opened a little wider as he turned his mostly shaved head sideways, the side of his neck displaying a harpoon tattoo. The Gehjoven paratrooper began shooting any Jhezen in the ditch in front of him...his back was to the two spooked observers. Trigger-happy or rightfully cautious?

 

            The general looked to his commsman and whispered, "I need your ammunition." He still had his pistol and lifted it. All they communicated in some few seconds went undetected. The general pushed Ichigo away from him and covered the youth with a Gehjoven corpse. As the bullets were being loaded into their only hope the enemy paratrooper checked behind himself on a whim...

 

            The Gehjoven's rifle poised quickly as he noticed the general loading his pistol. A split second decision to fire must have been disappointing when uneven footing threw the paratrooper's aim a little and the general's arm was the only thing riddled by his rifle's spray of metal.

 

            The pistol's trigger had been squeezed some seconds ago but it had not fired! Seconds after his arm was shot-up horribly, the desperate general lunged when their enemy was forced to reload, balancing awkwardly on the corpses. With a loud snarl he met the other man and grappled with the hulking paratrooper. Sliding on dead men's skin and clothing the general toppled the other to the ground. It was a fight the general would never win but he bought time for his commsman and managed to toss the Gehjoven's automatic rifle far behind them.

 

            Without feeling in his injured leg below the tourniquet Ichigo was afraid but not paralyzed by it. Jhezen words echoed in his mind about the importance of calling in a defeat. Maybe they could even get evaced. The youth clawed his way up the dry bank and hauled up onto the rise, dragging himself and crawling as he fiddled with his radio. Everyone up here was dead as well. Dead like nails and scattered almost the same. The helicopter had fled and there were bodies in broken positions and pieces much ahead of him. A rifle clattered an fell a ways away from him on top of the rise. Seconds later a single gun shot was heard and the blue shocks of hair on the paratrooper's high head came toward the bank. He was going to climb back up and Ichigo was going to be in serious trouble. The youth decided not to test the fates on how fast that hulking guy could climb a six-foot rise and flopped into playing dead. It was a good choice, because that paratrooper hopped up the steepness like it was nothing, clearing it in three seconds tops.

 

            The paratrooper brute sauntered to pick up his rifle, the general's pistol in one hand already; it was hot with the recent discharge of a fatal bullet.

 

            Ichigo trembled and the paratrooper didn't notice that, it was just another corpse flat on the ground laying aside from the path he'd walk. Playing dead was working.

 

            His cruel vision scanned the carnage, probably displeased with his situation. Not a single living soul from either side; he hadn't reached for his rifle yet. His paratrooping comrades all in crunched heaps and that scene in the riverbed... This battlefield was brutal, even by what he'd witnessed before.

 

            The man's face looked utterly emotionless as Ichigo carefully watched him analyze things. Strangely he began to walk forward, throwing the Jhezen engineered pistol far into the distance, yet not collecting his rifle on the ground nearby. Ichigo took advantage of this careless moment and crawled, silent as he could, toward the rifle the paratrooper seemed to be abandoning. Unfortunately the commsman would come to sorely regret that.

 

            Carnage...the field where the heilo had let the lot of paratroopers out was covered with it. Blood on both sides. How the hell was he suppose to get back short of running the whole way? Maybe those all-terrain trucks their ambushers frequently used were still around. His following expression was solid, beholding the mesmerizing and hopeless sight of blood splatter and torn bodies. When the Gehjoven turned suddenly, importance of his rifle perhaps remembered, and caught Ichigo's head up he clearly realized the livelihood of the boy. Blink quick he rushed and kicked commsman hard in the throat and then the stomach.

 

            Ichigo coughed, rolling back toward the drop into the riverbed. He was kicked and stomped over and over without mercy. His hands came up to fend off what he could but it was just a pathetic sight. The Gehjoven drew a knife after kicking Ichigo to the very edge. The youth could only react one way. His trembling arms held his head and he cried, "Please don't-" He slipped over the bank's crumbling dirt edge without being stabbed. The unintentional tumble sent him rolling into the corpse of his division general, shot in the throat and face mutilated by a knife... The youth choked on his breath and stumbled over the corpse at the same time the paratrooper leapt back into the natural trench.

 

            The blue haired man stalked his prey swiftly and flaunted his upper-hand by kicking the crap out of the kid all the more when he caught up, until the commsman collapsed against the opposite side of the riverbed. Grimmjow poised his knife for his kill. He mutilated his enemies while they could still feel...that was his way.

 

            Ichigo sobbed and held his empty palms up, bloodied from dealing with his leg which his scramble had upset. "I'm begging you..! Please spare me...please! I was drafted into this war! I don't shoot guns! I use radios! Please!"

 

            The blubbering Jhezen words never seemed to stop as he held the knife ready. Grimmjow couldn't understand this soldier at all but he was going to kill him and wonder about it later.

 

            Glancing up and seeing the enemy's arms move Ichigo yelled louder, "PLEASE! Don't!" His face was a mix of sweat, ongoing tears, and dirt. His ribcage tingled and his one leg was totally out of touch. 'My kids..!' He was never going to see his kids ever again if this knife plunged into him! Then the Gehjoven moved, and Ichigo's watering eyes squeezed shut. The knife never came... The radio on his shoulder was ripped off instead.

 

            Grimmjow's red-eyed killing sprees made it easy for him to miss things until he calmed down. The heat of the moment was wearing off and he'd realized this radio could be the way he got reinforcements or evac for himself. He began fiddling while the boy he'd taken it off of began to inhale and exhale quick breaths. When he couldn't get the talking-box to beep or hiss the paratrooper threw it into the cowering man's lap.

 

            Ichigo's fingers trembled to hold the broken device, casting a glance at his dead general around the paratrooper's calf-high boots.

 

            "Get that fucking thing to work!" Grimmjow hollered. "It's your technology!"

 

            Ichigo was shaken up worse by the Gehjoven shouting, words he could not understand, but he didn't rush to cover his head or lift pleading hands. The sight of the unnecessary measure this monster had taken against his general...the carving of his face and this impossible communication made Ichigo's neck drop limp with defeat. He started sobbing quietly to himself, pressing on his bleeding thigh in his broken state.

 

            The paratrooper's mouth frowned, the scratchy hairs growing in all over his jaw following the lines. He noticed the commsman's abandon of the radio and drew the conclusion by the sobbing that it was unfixable. Grimmjow was out here on his own...with a Jhezenic pussy crying on his boots... His sharp blue eyes fell down and he blew pieces long hair from the middle of his head away from his eyes, the sides were shaven so hair there wasn't obstructing.

 

            Ichigo looked up again when the gruff man's shadow darkened, closing in. "Please..." he begged softly, watching the knife hand in one hand of the man's. His head shook; 'no' the shaken reaction said. "Please don't kill me..."

 

            Didn't this idiot understand that they spoke two totally different languages? Grimmjow sheathed his skinning knife with a sliding sound and a click. He grabbed hold of Ichigo by the shoulders of his uniform and roughly hauled the pained boy up his faction's side of the riverbank and began dragging him along.

 

            Ichigo tried to kick and squirm loose, the ground he was pulled across was abrasive and unforgiving. When he managed to kick the Gehjoven the fearsome man just dropped him for an instant, slugged him, then grabbed one of Ichigo's ankles and began dragging him again. His fearful thoughts trembled with possibilities; what was this monster hauling him off for?! If his general had been carved up without second thoughts... Ichigo could only imagine worse for his resistance.

 

            Grimmjow dropped the enemy soldier by the rear wheel of a truck the Gehjoven ambushers had driven in. So there was a truck around that had been in use. There was no one else to man this perfectly good transport vehicle now, so...why waste it? Now...what should he do with this kid he'd captured?

Chapter Text

Section 2: Cautivo

            By a rear wheel of the truck, where his wrists were handcuffed behind his back, the captured commsman writhed in the dirt. He cried while he sat crunched and leaning against a mud-crusted tire. Unknown to him he'd been left back here to be out of earshot. Fear had overtaken his mind and that injured thigh which was searing him with pain he couldn't do anything about was not helping.

 

            Away from the bawling guy the paratrooper was making use of his time in the fashion of turning the truck inside out for inventory of what useful supplies remained. It was of secondary importance to check the actual truck's functionality but quickly the Gehjoven man became very fed-up with the audible crying and jumped out of the driver's side. Slightly heeled soles of either knee-high boot hit the ground with heavy 'thuds' and dust from the dry dirt plumed upward. He was not going to be tolerant of sobbing. Not even a little bit. The paratrooper stormed back to his captive and smacked the Jhezen hard across the face as soon as he came around the corner. "Shut the fuck up! Goddamn!"

 

            The orange haired head bounced against the tire and pain pulsed through his skull. Gehjovenic dialect almost always sounded harsh to anyone who didn't speak it but this other dude was genuinely annoyed. Ichigo could tell. Was there really so much fault in being so afraid for your own safety that you absolutely lost it? The Jhezen crunched into himself and silently cried instead; he did not want to be struck again but the emotions in him wouldn't quit. It was of minimal description to label this young man as just 'scared'.

 

            A high booted foot came back as if it would kick and momentarily made the Jhezen cringe and stop all form of crying to protect himself. The paratrooper didn't kick him; that was only a warning. "Stop bein' a pussy." The rugged man skulked away and began cranking the ignition to start the truck engine. Its reluctance to fire up could easily be the fault of some refurbished or old spark plugs; it was an oftentime thing to find Gehjoven 'war' mechanics reusing nearly bad parts. It was regulation. 'Waste nothing but your enemies.' Gehjoven forces weren't richly supplied; which was why they stashed spares and tools in their trucks. Every Gehjoven military man had a standard level of mechanical proficiency so they could change components. They could also identify and use every tool in their trucks. So far in the covered eight by six foot bed of this miniature tank the paratrooper had found those spares, the tools, non-spoiling food rations to feed thirty men for a month, five barrels of clean water (the rest must have been unloaded), spare tents, boxes of batteries, some spare gasoline, miscellaneous supplies, guns, and a lot of ammunition. The fact that he couldn't find medical supplies was worrisome. The medical personnel had probably taken off with all of them for the fight. There were no radios either. Damn. Since he couldn't get the truck to fire he grabbed for engine parts and spark plugs in the spares.

 

            While the Jhezen commsman was left in the sun he could feel his strength beginning to evaporate. As he baked he groaned, his leg stung particularly horribly. An effort he made to distract himself was thinking about his kids and how happy they'd be to see him no matter what shape he shambled back to them in. He must have been back there for a sweaty thirty minutes or more before he saw his captor's unfriendly face again. The Gehjovenic paratrooper said some things he didn't understand, then the bigger and stronger man grabbed him under an arm and literally drug him on his ass around the truck. Beside the vehicle the Jhezen was let go and fell on his side - left in the shade. The handcuffed commsman awkwardly propped himself up to see upward, confused. He got no returned expression from the other man - not even a glare.

 

            Not overly concerned about this wimp messing anything up the Gehjoven paratrooper stomped off. Further off from the truck he delved into the riverside's tattered foliage and picked his way along the upper bank of the dried up riverbed. The edges of plants itched his mostly exposed arms - agitating. Medical supplies like vaccines, painkillers, bandages, gauze, adrenaline, and disinfectant were all very important to have and they were all out here somewhere. In his path were many corpses, and they were bound to have some of these and other useful things. He turned and searched each of them very cautiously in case any enemies were left barely alive. Scavenging was a natural thing for vultures and the Gehjoven so he'd gotten good at it long ago and quickly packed away all unused supplies into a satchel as well as stripped the good parts of his comrades' uniforms off. It was an honor to Gehjovenic men to be useful even in death. Scavenging of the dead, any dead, was something Jhezen found repulsive about them; then again Jhezen was a rich enough faction to not have to scrounge for their next bullet. Whatever friendlies the paratrooper found he took one of their identification tags. He wouldn't walk the entire battle field to find everyone's tags but having some made a difference; once he got back to his Gehjovenic base and told the military about their situation someone would be out here to scrounge for the dead persons' identity in time anyway. It was a well known fact not to instigate a fight with Gehjovenic soldiers while they collected their dead; they'd become flesh ripping monsters in the case of being interrupted during something so important. Returning well rewarded from his walk among carnage, with a ton more supplies than he could use up alone, the unshaven and unclean man spotted his Jhezen pal staggering into the distance away from the riverbed and the truck. "Fuck's sake, he's dumb." Where would that idiot go anyway? It was dry desert land for miles. Animals would smell that wound and kill him before he ever keeled over from dehydration. 'What a pain in my ass...' Grimmjow would like to imagine turning over a live Jhezen to the Gehjoven military would earn him something. It might, even something small, but it would ruin this commsman's life. Did this battle-hardened paratrooper care? Absolutely not. War's a bitch, so is life.

 

            Six yards from the truck, taking agonizing steps, the commsman was determined not to be another man's prisoner but not to die either. He had a half-assed plan.

 

            With a frustrated grunt the paratrooper dropped the scavenged supplies by the rear of the tank-like truck and approached the commsman's position with quick steps. He stomped down all of the plant life in his way with the tough soles of his high boots.

 

            When the Jhezen heard someone crunching through the low dry grass behind him - handcuffed wrists dangling in front of himself - his hand gripped a small pistol he'd taken from the truck with a faithful tightness. He was concealing the weapon. When the footsteps were very close he pivoted and shot the approaching man twice in the dead center of his chest.

 

            The mohawked Gehjoven was startled and staggered for a second but not stopped. Sharp training instincts and survival ones kicked into gear. The muscular Gehjoven was close enough to take one more step then grab the top of the pistol, point it down as the boy fired it again, and slug the Jhezen in the throat. His grip ripped the pistol away and the coughing commsman crashed against the dry earth, fallen. Immediately the paratrooper cocked the pistol and fired in a close semi-circle around the other man's head until the clip was spent. The bullets were spent fast. When the gun clicked that it was out of bullets and couldn't fire anymore the cross paratrooper threw the clip at the younger soldier. He was not kidding the fuck around. He pointed the empty gun's barrel at his own temple and began yelling. "You wanna shoot me ya little fucker?! Shoot me in the fucking head next time! Where you can clearly see I'm not wearing any body armor! Stupid fuck!"

 

            The Jhezen now brought his hands up around his head, trembling a little because of shock and a dull ringing in his ears. A Gehjoven opponent was mean and trained to be well-rounded for any kind of rigorous combat at any time; now he could say he was witness to that firsthand. Being a fresh blood this Jhezen was not so eager to kill anyone yet despite fearfulness was more stubborn, especially to live, than he'd initially let on. Those two facts didn't exactly compliment one another. There was a lack of gushing blood and his opponent was not dead. Under that Gehjovenic uniform must have been a lead vest Ichigo deduced because he'd shot true. Now hit on the head with the empty clip of the pistol the unsettled commsman kicked the standing man hard on the knee with his heel and twisted against the ground - about to stand up and run.

 

            Enraged the paratrooper wasted no time and used the leg he'd been struck on to kick his captive two painful times for payback. "Fuck with me, you punk?! I'll hurt you good!" One more kick to the ribs for good measure. A sore knee was not something he was happy about. He grabbed the writhing boy by the fabric of his uniform's shoulders and drug his captive back to the truck, slamming the commsman painfully against one of the front tires. Grimmjow crouched down and pointed a finger in the trembling face. "You have been warned."

 

            Words were not understood but Ichigo was sure that was a threat. This guy meant not to be screwed with. For now the Jhezen was done being reckless. Living was a high priority and this other man had a large upper hand. Un fortunately the shaken, younger, and less experienced soldier broke down again and started to cry.

 

            A roll of the eyes later and Grimmjow separated himself from this teary-eyed wimp. Fortunately the Jhezen wasn't crying loudly. He went to finish fixing the truck.

 

~

 

            Some time later the engine came alive and startled Ichigo awake. Believe it or not the commsman had actually silently cried himself to sleep, which helped him calm down, for a little while. He looked back and the truck was vibrating a little as it idled steadily. Not long after, maybe a minute, the Gehjoven came around to him and hauled his injured personage into the passenger's side. The Jhezen made it difficult for the other man by being floppy and uncooperative. The whole ordeal irritated his thigh's wound a lot.

 

            Finally the paratrooper forced the commsman into the seat and strapped him down with a lap belt. Never. Again. He'd groped this guy everywhere to keep him from sliding out of the truck.

 

            It wasn't hard to imagine something horrible in his future. With eyes pleading for his comfort's sake (the lap belt was tight) he looked at the paratrooper through the glass of the door after it closed with a 'bang'. The hazel eyes only found apathy and blinked. He'd never seen such a hard soldier before, such an absolutely stern man. It was discouraging at the very least. The paratrooper's lack of concern was going to remain definite he was sure; Ichigo officially felt like a prisoner of this war he had never condoned. No longer he sobbed or teared, sparing his captor that annoyance but not on purpose; despair ebbing in kept him quiet. The Gehjoven loaded the scavenged supplies and climbed into the warmed up vehicle. It was already running so he just sat down, shut the door, and touched the accelerator. Locked in a truck being steered away from his dead division and bumping along, the upset Jhezen watched the growing distance from it all in a side mirror. Silently 'goodbyes' filled his head; ones for the men and women he'd laughed with on the helicopter some hours earlier...when they had all been alive. 'I don't want to die like them... I don't want to be tortured by this guy or his friends...' Ichigo kicked the underside of the dashboard, a frustration filling him. Recalling a failed escape wasn't any less frustrating. Minutes later he heard the horrid sound of some coarse music switched on, apparently this truck came with a cassette or some CD player, and kicked the dash again.

 

            The paratrooper glanced at what he judged to be an angry reaction. It was his turn for the cold shoulder treatment. He would have done something if the passenger continued to kick or thrash or be a worse pain in the ass but instead the Jhezen just faced away and watched things outside of the window. "Behave," the paratrooper grumbled instead of hitting the younger man again.

 

            "I can't understand you," the Jhezen commsman grumbled, sulking.

 

            Neither could Grimmjow. "Behave better than that, asshole," he rephrased anyway. The Gehjoven planned to dump this ornery prisoner on someone he hated and laugh at them, he swore...

 

            "Asshole," the still unsettled commsman muttered.

 

            They didn't have any idea that they'd countered with the same insult. Oh well. What the other one didn't know wouldn't come back to bite the speaker...or it shouldn't. Just, how long would they have to put up with each other before they got where they were going?

Chapter Text

Section 3: Toward Hell...

            The tank-like truck jostled along, shaking and wobbling as it traveled over a lot of uneven ground; the desert out here was such for many miles, but now the drive through the dry brush was almost closed out after traveling about fifty miles.

 

            The Jhezen commsman stirred from stress induced slumber with one harsh jolt of the vehicle in particular; they'd just gone over a fallen tree trunk. He bumped his head and bit slightly down on his tongue. He was surprised when his mouth didn't taste of blood the instant after because it hurt so much. When would this series of 'unfortunateness' just quit? The uncomfortable young man grunted and squirmed for a better position in the seat but that was nearly impossible with the way the seatbelt had him. He just wanted to see where they were going; it was halfway through sunset and the sun was behind them so it wasn't easy to see far ahead or outside of his window.

 

            The headlights of this truck seemed like they were suppose to be brighter, yet if the bulbs were this dim they should be changed... It was that 'waste nothing' motto of Gehjoven rearing its head again. The paratrooper could see well enough to navigate. He wasn't going to burn out bulbs posing as the sun.

 

            After giving up on positioning himself perfectly, which just wasn't going to happen, the Jhezen noticed the dark outline of a pined forest ahead and mountains lifting further rows of those trees also ahead. They were coming into the foothills of some infamous Gehjovenic land. Ichigo knew from education with maps what Gehjovenic settlements and encampments they were near to. No bloody way he knew exactly where they were but a few guesses involved anything in this direction east of the river mentioned to be fortified by forest and mountains. Three possibilities: 'Ash Forest' a Gehjovenic military training ground; 'Semeichia' a work camp owned by Gehjoven's military for incarcerated Gehjovenic criminals and Jhezenic prisoners of war; and 'Souvenbash' an Elite Gehjovenic solider base. All of the names were in Gehjovenic slang so this Jhezen's translations could only be general. He thought the work camp Semeichia was two terms, Gehjoven's words for 'sweat' and 'lament', combined. That seemed appropriate for what it was. About the Elites' base, he wasn't sure what to suppose of that name; he'd never found Gehjovenic words that sounded like it. If only he had his translating book right now; that thing could have been so useful. The commsman's general vision of the long grind up into the steep land of these mountains was feeling too brief as when they reached this savage's comrades he would lose all of his freedom and quite probably his life. The urge to escape was rekindled, but silently. The journey before loss of one's freedoms could never be long enough. Ichigo glanced to his side and across from him in the dimly illuminated cabin the Gehjoven man steering this jerking and shaking vehicle was definitely paying more attention to the terrain than him. If that continued that behavior could be a very good opportunity.

 

            The truck's wheels arrived at the pine needle laden ground of the official foothills shortly and was steered around the first trees. Traction wasn't great because of the ground cover but shit could be worse, he could drive on this. The paratrooper stopped the vehicle on a relatively flat spot and shut the vehicle off. With one sharply warning look at his captive, to keep the commsman from doing anything that would upset their situation, he opened his door. It creaked loudly and the rugged solider leapt out. He tromped around to the rear of the truck and hefted a spare container of fuel and carried it to where he could pour the volatile substance into the vehicle's tank. Already set with less traction than desired he would not be starting out this climb with half a tank of fuel; there were too many things that could complicate. When he was done he replaced the independent container in its holster on the outside of the truck before getting back to his side of the vehicle. The paratrooper set himself in the driver's seat again and the door banged shut. He looked to see what mischief his passenger had been up to. Looks like that juvenile Jhezen had gone and twisted himself up badly in the seatbelt, there seemed no end to this pussy's squirming especially when he wasn't looking. The rugged man lifted an almost amused brow at the impressively tangled mess.

 

            Ichigo stared nervously at the other man as he tried to sit up straight without total success. He looked really uncomfortable and he knew it. His face flushed and he scolded, "Stop staring at me like that!"

 

            The paratrooper shrugged. Not his problem. Whatever this other guy had said... The truck fired up and began to creep into the foothills, moving around trees and bumping over obstacles like stumps and boulders, and sliding sometimes on thick sheets of pine needles which were covering most of the ground. This tank-like truck was a little too wide and long to be traveling over and around things very deftly but its driver exhibited skill at doing it anyway and avoiding impossible paths. Half of the credit was to the set up of the truck, a long arm lift and wide wheel base and weight mostly in the center of the vehicle meant they weren't easy to tip over as long as the angle was controlled. The tires were large and manufactured to withstand jagged terrain while maintaining good traction on most surfaces because of hybrid tread for all-terrain and mud. Granted, the thick layer of pine needles they slid around on made that claim to good traction look bad because it was like driving on loose snow or ice. All four wheels turned and the axels were selectively locked by switches in the cabin, which was their best weapon against sliding on the ground cover. The clearance under the truck wasn't stellar but that was because it wasn't the brightest idea to lift more than ten tons too high in the air when it was expected to climb over obstacles at an angle. Skid plates underneath the vehicle protected its lower components from being scraped and damaged by whatever it might not clear. The six-banger engine and automatic transmission that kept this thing moving was made for traveling just like they were now and proved an impressively durable pair. The other half of the skill to travel this terrain sat with the driver's judgment. The Gehjoven had a good sense of it from previous experience.

 

            Several hours into the drive, when they were actually in the mountains and past the foothills, Ichigo was still uncomfortably confined to his seat but now worse...he had to fucking pee. Fuck. Eventually, after unintelligibly complaining and being totally ignored the commsman kicked the paratrooper's leg hard. He was not going to humiliate himself by peeing himself no matter what he had to do to make his urge known.

 

            The truck jerked to a halt on the gentle slope they were climbing and, with a foot smashing the break until he could put the emergency one on to keep them from sliding, a cross Gehjoven glared toward his captive. Thankfully the vehicle wasn't about to slide. 'Are you fucking kidding me?' his thoughts growled unhappily. That was the leg which the Jhezen had kicked before they'd started driving, and now it hurt even more. Abruptly he brought a blow with his hand down on the injured commsman's thigh and gained a pained scream from the younger. "What's your goddamn malfunction?!"

 

            Ichigo cringed and hunched forward; despite what had just happened he crossed his thighs and squeezed them together. Damn this guy. How cruel. The sudden pain almost made Ichigo piss himself and was now stinging rigorously.

 

            Blinking at the trembling person in the passenger's seat the angered man suddenly got a better idea of what the other probably wanted by this new posture his captive took. Crossed legs were really a pretty blatant hint. Grimmjow rolled his eyes and switched off the truck so fuel wouldn't be wasted and jumped out, circling around to the Jhezen's side.

 

            Ichigo looked up after the door creaked open and the Gehjoven was standing on the sidestep of the truck reaching in to unbuckle and detangle him. It made the young man shudder with combined levels of disgust and fear to have a Gehjoven practically hug him to get the seatbelt off. No one of Jhezen would say that their ideas of Gehjoven's people were 'huggy' ones. Ichigo didn't care to have his mind changed and tilted his face upward, away. The man looming almost on top of him suddenly slipped on the outside step of the truck and his face crashed down into the commsman's lap. The Jhezen groaned as his crotch was head-butted very painfully and looked down in time to see the other man jerk his face up, presumably unhappy about where it had just been. Something was off though... The Gehjoven was now clawing to keep hold of the truck while something shook him violently by the leg the commsman realized. Before any real mutual glance was exchanged between the soldiers the paratrooper was ripped from the vehicle. Ichigo stared frightfully into the blackness of the evening where there was shouting and struggling from his captor.

 

            First Grimmjow had hit his jaw on the metal steps and felt a painful daze through his head as he was drug along the ground. Fighting to shake his stupor quickly he was yelling at whatever had him and tossing whatever he could grab at it. Come to soon find out...a huge wolf with one of his tough boots' soles in its mouth and another of larger size biting down on his calf were what had ambushed him. Fortunately the boots he wore covered his legs up to the knee and were intentionally designed to be tough enough to withstand, or resist for a little while, tearing from sharp objects like teeth, some blades, traps, etc.. The paratrooper's hands dug into the pine needle covered ground as the animals drug him along. All the while the man sought something firm to anchor him. They eventually brought him by a tree and he grabbed on. Realizing their prey was going to be stubborn and that they couldn't drag it anymore because it was snagged on something one wolf came forward to rip it off of the tree while the other still tugged savagely at the man's foot and mangled the tough heel of the boot. These creatures had to be at least three hundred pounds a piece and they could definitely see well in the dark.

 

            Ichigo did not care what happened to that man so long it wasn't himself who was eaten. Fuck him. That guy was going to ruin his life. The commsman shook off the unbuckled and partly untangled seatbelt and brought his handcuffed hands to the front of himself by moving them under his legs. He didn't even try to look at the scene in the distance and quickly closed the passenger's side door and hurriedly began to squirm across the median between his seat and the driver's side. Taking a piss could wait if he could take this truck and drive out of here..! Once he got away he could tend his injury...eat some food...sleep peacefully... He was too eager for a chance-

 

            The driver's side door creaked open swiftly and a blood smeared Gehjoven caught the Jhezen on his side of the truck's cabin. One of his biceps was bitten and bleeding heavily and he had blood on his chest and down his legs. The man looked like a murder victim from a fantastical nightmare come back to life with the faint cabin light of the truck displaying his disheveled state. On top of that he seemed generally peeved.

 

            The commsman froze with fear instantly but was grabbed by the front of his uniform and tossed out of the vehicle. Thigh screaming as its skin and muscle was stretched, he tumbled on the ground a roll or two and stared up in a daze once his body settled belly down against the ground. Around the front of the truck the injured young man glimpsed the whimpering bodies of the hulking pair of wolves, twitching and breathing their last as they lay in the path of the truck's headlights. He noticed the Gehjoven's hunting knife hooked in the man's belt. That damn thing. A man without a weapon against some wild wolves probably wouldn't have survived, but wasn't this asshole fortunate!? There was really no way to kill this guy..! Ichigo wasn't ashamed to feel disappointed that his captor hadn't been seriously injured or killed by the wildlife. The young Jhezen cringed as the Gehjoven approached with a slight limp and uncuffed him roughly.

 

            The commsman was made to face away on his knees and allowed to relieve himself while the paratrooper standing behind him kept a firm hold on the orange head of hair, one fistful of it. Wanting to get back in the truck and keep moving soon the paratrooper squeezed his hold when he got impatient. "Hurry up," the Gehjoven snarled. All the while he was wary of more animals that might come out of the woods for them.

 

            Ichigo tensed his shoulders and zipped up. He was done. A second later he was painfully yanked up, recuffed, and pushed around to his side of the truck. As he walked by, it was revolting to see how butchered the dying wolves were, made worse by the fact that they weren't actually dead yet. Clearly putting a creature out of its misery was beyond his captor. So cruel. The Jhezen was shoved back in the truck and when they started driving again the Gehjoven drove right over the animals. Ichigo could hear them crunch under the wheels and one gave a horrid yelp while being crushed. He would have looked disdainfully at the driver but he hadn't been beaten senseless after being discovered trying to get away again and didn't want to incur that; the absence of which was a blessing all by itself. The other man hadn't even forced his recuffed hands behind his back again and left the seatbelt off. Careless or casual? Or something else? As they got further away Ichigo thought more of the wolves. He had a dog as a child who'd been hit by a car...they'd put it down despite the fact he begged them not to. It had taken years for him to really grasp that some things were beyond helping hands. The weight of his thoughts were enough to distract him from the burning wound in his thigh.

 

            Contemplation of a freshly strained ankle, badly bruised calf, also bruised chin, bitten arm, and aching leg was interrupted. The Gehjoven heard muttering beside him and looked, finding the Jhezen staring out of the passenger's window at the blackness of the forest and...praying? That was a short prayer he'd heard from other Jhezen soldiers he'd run into. They were all dead now, and he'd never had the means or want to ask what it meant, but as soon as the younger man stopped talking other wolves hidden in the forest behind them began to howl loudly - many of them. Probably the rest of the pack. It was haunting timing and the weirded-out Gehjoven momentarily eyed the turned away commsman every so many seconds for about five minutes - until the howling behind them quit. Was this kid possessed or what?

 

            Seeking distraction the commsman rifled through the pocket of his door. A flashlight, some grenade pins, stray bullets for a high caliber rifle, and a small book. He lifted up that book and began to flip through pages of it, back and forth - a poor reading strategy it would seem. A minute later he had something to say. "To where are we going?" he uttered in badly pronounced Gehjoven tongue at a moment's notice. He caught a shocked expression on the harsh, dirtied face of his captor.

 

            Grimmjow knocked off his surprise and blinked his eyes toward the book the commsman had found. A basic translation book, no doubt full of handy phrases like the one this younger guy had barely been able to pronounce. The Gehjoven just shook his head to the question, he wasn't telling.

 

            A small ray of hope should be contained in the fact he could somewhat communicate now, but silence was no friend of such a hope. Ichigo clutched the book tighter between his cuffed hands and maintained a stare at the driver who was vigilantly keeping an eye on him now. He was stubborn to let his hope slip, so he repeated louder, "To where are we going?" This second attempt just made the Gehjoven more inclined to ignore his nagging. Looking up more words in the book the commsman whimpered out another message, "Why won't you talk to me?" in Gehjovenic, "Why not?!"

 

            Unfortunately his heartstrings weren't susceptible to pleas like this. Grimmjow shrugged. Suppose he just didn't want to talk. Suppose he had nothing to say...

 

            So the two injured soldiers drove through the mountains, probably headed for a Gehjoven settlement, and outwardly shunned each other while actually contemplating to themselves things they knew about one another so far. Only Ichigo wondered about things he didn't know though. 'Who is this hardened dude? Why was he so cruel? Does he have a family of his own? Children? A wife...or maybe he's gay-' Hell no. Perish that thought - he did not want to consider being violated, which he somehow doubted would happen. 'How old is he? Where in Gehjoven did he come from? What's it like to be in the Gehjoven military..?' So many things. He'd continue to consider his captor despite his loathing for what this guy was doing. Understanding this man might be his lone remaining hope to wriggle away from all things Gehjoven and get back to see his kids again. He was afraid to mess up and get himself killed but his mind was always coming back to the possibility of freedom. On his too brief journey to hell the hope of possibility would have to sustain his soul for now.

Chapter Text

Section 4: The Road to..- Stop Laughing at Me!

            As surmised by a Jhezen officer in Gehjovenic captivity who after seven years of surviving torture was executed...these were her final recorded words: 'A need of a person is a thing they cannot live without, such as their throat. The want of a human being is something much desired, like the wish to have freedom. Not all of us get freedom and our needs...but needs and wants drive powerful determination in some and those driven people excel and become our legends and inspiration. In my afterlife I hope I'm told what I've become.'

 

{Two days later and somewhere in the tree-laden Gehjoven wilderness...}

            After a couple of days of tense travel was their journey finally over? Heaven knew. Time out here just warped, and it wasn't easy to tell one day from the next. Still cuffed the Jhezen was curled on his seat sitting sans his seatbelt. With the amount of time he'd spent around this soldier, who he was beginning to believe was just a hot shit grunt with a bad temper and a nasty skill for killing things he didn't like, this young man was starting to get just a tad more use to being close to said lunatic. 'Well adjusted' not 'comfortable'. Otherwise...Ichigo was without his seatbelt because there really was no end to him tangling himself in it, this had been his captor's choice who'd seemingly grown tired of untangling him. At least this blue haired asshole had the decency to cleanse and stitch their wounds up before all this bouncing around through the woods occurred so he wasn't in too much pain and they wouldn't both die of infections. Well...Ichigo wouldn't mind if this man just dropped dead. Suddenly a fallen tree went under the wheels and bounced them horribly. The young Jhezen was thrown forward off his seat and hit his face on the dash. The space where the commsman was now crammed wasn't very big and he kicked and squirmed in a bloody fit to get into a position where he wasn't contorted. All and all an uncoordinated effort.

 

            Grimmjow noticed the commsman's bleeding and discomfort but turned a blind eye. Eventually after repeated bumps like this and his uncoordinated passenger smearing blood all over the seat and the dash the Gehjoven driver accepted that his continuing to drive at a hastened rate over uneven ground between monstrous trees was just shaking them up needlessly and probably harming the truck's suspension; there had to be a another way to get this over with quicker. He slowed the truck and continued at an easy crawl across the tree lined land. Well...he'd at least keep an eye out for a better shortcut because there was no immediate way around this fucking terrain.

 

            From his seat the Jhezen glowered at his captor. "Stop the truck." When the other man ignored him Ichigo sought his translation book, bringing his cuffed hands in front of himself, to see if he could get the message across another way.

 

            Keen on keeping an eye on his captive the Gehjoven didn't hide his notice of this effort. Leaning sideways Grimmjow yanked the small book out of the commsman's cuffed hands and then clocked him on the head so hard with the spine that the Jhezen seemed stunned.

 

            Almost confused by the childish punishment he'd received Ichigo's head was smarting something awful now. Immediately he sought the vital book...of course when he found it the thing had to be right on the Gehjoven's lap, why would it be anywhere easy to reach? In the next boring hours to come the jostling as they drove never ceased, even when they found a sort of road with ruts worn in the dirt from wheels traveling the path. Eventually the Jhezen boldly spoke up again, "Ash Forest? Souvenbash? Semeichia?" Three names of three locations ahead of them. One of these had to be where they were going.

 

            Startled by the Jhezen's knowledge of these areas so far into Gehjovenic territory Grimmjow stared at him and actually contemplated answering. Suddenly the truck lurched forward with a slamming sound and something they'd run over stopped the several ton vehicle abruptly. The Gehjoven was forced up against the steering wheel and the commsman was bounced off his seat again. In the next dazed seconds they collected themselves. Grabbing his rifle the paratrooper kicked the driver's door open to find out what the hell had stopped them. Blue shocks of the man's mohawk bobbed as he stormed to the side of the vehicle. Grimmjow's rifle rested on his back and his hands and knees pressed on dirt as he peered under the undercarriage. "Holy shit..." he mumbled looking at a moose-like creature trapped underneath. The partially decayed animal was rank with sink that wafted and its legs were mangled and twisted in the rear wheel wells. After hitting the front wheels and ruining the momentum that had gotten just the front ones over it this was where it had stuck huh? The haunting and partially open eyes of the dead beast just gazed with cloudy film and flies remained hugging to their surface. Its belly was gouged open and guts were picked out. Maggots were all over that mess. Something with claws, the paratrooper knew by the tearing pattern of flesh, had been devouring this. Finding these huge herbivores wasn't unheard of in these forests but it took something hella huge to take one down. Grimmjow gave a cautious look around the truck for suspicious upsets in nature or the animal that had killed this gigantic meal, predators and possible scavengers, guarding the rotting carcass. It wasn't likely they'd want to guard something rotten with all the good guts already eaten out, and none with his trained eyes did he see. Upon the ground were no tracks either. Well..! They weren't going anywhere until he moved this five hundred plus pound carcass and untangled the mangled legs from the truck's rear wheel wells. This would be a messy job...and time consuming.

 

            A familiar hunting knife remained unattended on the Gehjoven's seat. All in a rush Ichigo got a dreadfully risky idea. Snatching and unsheathing the knife with a bloody hand, bloody from his face's misfortune; he had to execute this without hesitation and try not to be caught. Rolling down his door's window Ichigo peered outside. Just then the driver's door opened with a loud creak.

 

            The Gehjoven noticed his knife in the Jhezen's hand as the door was coming open and raised his rifle, standing outside of the truck and disengaging the safety.

 

            Ichigo turned at the sound of the door and didn't even have a second to breathe before he cringed in fear of a fully automatic rifle aimed at his chest and dropped the knife when a second later the Gehjoven started yelling at him. The yelling didn't stop when the knife was down and Ichigo's hands lifted behind his head, fearful expression evident on his face. 'Damnit...Damnit! You won't kill me though will you?' his thoughts sung.

 

            Only when those hands went up did Grimmjow calm down and grabbed the side of the door to climb into the vehicle. He nabbed the front of the Jhezen's shirt with one hand then engaged the safety on his rifle. Opening the passenger's door and with a foot stepping on his hunting knife so the other man couldn't drag it out of the truck, the aggressive man slammed the reinforced stock of the rifle against the commsman's chest and knocked him backward out of the cabin.

 

            Lucky to not have his head struck against a rock or a stick Ichigo hit the ground hard and groaned, rocking side to side as he tried to stop the pain along his spine and back in this weird way.

 

            After restrapping and sheathing the hunting knife to his person Grimmjow glared down at him. Well that was what this idiot had wanted right? To get out. Only it was suppose to be a secret from him. The paratrooper didn't appreciate secrets. Climbing down from the truck and shutting the passenger's door the mohawked man leaned down and drug the Jhezen onto his feet and pulled him around to the front of the truck. There he cuffed him two handed to the dented grill.

 

            Ichigo pulled his hands as far forward, away from the hot grill as he could; they were behind his back and this was impressively uncomfortable.

 

            "HEY!" The shout drew all of the commsman's attention instantly and his captor pointed to the woods with a long spanning trail of a single finger.

 

            Knowing that the other man wanted him to keep watch Ichigo scoffed and a nodded unhappily. He'd just screwed up so he needed to play his attitude down a little and behave. It was Ichigo's own fault for getting a little more tolerant with this guy's consistent mean streaks, he knew when to let off pushing buttons yet pushed them to begin with anyway. While chained here he felt more like wild animal bait than a sentry.

 

            Grimmjow hooked his rifle on his back again and went back to what he knew needed doing instead of babysitting an antsy Jhezen, turning off the truck as he passed by the driver's door. Back on his hands and knees with a pair of gloves on from the truck he heard the chains from the cuffs rattle only a few times but while he took his hunting knife to the legs of the herbivore's carcass he could see the Jhezen's feet and they were still in front of the truck. "Good boy!" he called after a while, laughing about the dehumanizing words.

 

            Scowling at first Ichigo heard the wet hacking sounds and promptly gained a more appropriate expression, a little terrified and trying not to think of the mutilated wolves and his dead general. With a shudder as there was more wet ripping and a dragging sound Ichigo looked over a shoulder and suddenly that sick son of a bitch was standing right there with a damn decaying animal's head. It was held up to be seen well and scare the shit out of the commsman. The scare worked and at the horrid sight Ichigo jumped as far to the right as the hand cuffs' chain allowed. The foggy eyes, foul smell, sick color, tongue hanging out of the partly jarred mouth, and coagulated blood leaking from the neck in chunks made an immediate impression. Heaving breaths Ichigo's face reflected the horror before his eyes for an instant before he tilted his head to the right and puked. One seriously adverse reaction. Not only was it disgusting but he'd been scared shitless. Being stuck in this situation did nothing good for his nerves. He spat, trying to rid himself of the taste of vomit.

 

            Upon seeing the young man heave Grimmjow laughed hard, lowering the twenty pound head. His grip was on the antlers and his hands were still covered by tall gloves. "What a fucking wimp." He dropped the head upright a foot in front of the truck and snickered watching the other man back from it in panic and lean up against the grill.

 

            Ichigo yelped forthwith and pulled his lightly burnt hands away from the metal and just stood there, breathing in and out raggedly. He was too uncomfortable to really think any thoughts about what had just happened in all.

 

            Vastly amused, Grimmjow's fists rested on his hips as he finished laughing at the commsman. Shit on toast...what did Jhezen teach their soldiers? Obviously to be pathetic. This one was scared of anything. He waited to see if the other man would look up from uncomfortably hanging his head in case he puked again; Grimmjow got no look. Bored at that he walked away.

 

            After being left alone for two minutes Ichigo's coherent thoughts returned. He could not believe how alarming that had been. Gradually Ichigo's head turned up and he looked around the woods in front of them... Nothing. There was nothing watching them. Whimpering he kicked the severed head over so that the lifeless thing wasn't staring at him anymore. If only he could wish for this horrible trip to be over soon, but at its finish he'd be a prisoner or a tortured captive, probably not killed immediately or quickly and Gehjovens kept slaves didn't they? Long minutes passed. Ichigo's eyes traced the ground while the paratrooper finished up. A growling started in front of him. Terror filled his young soul. The Jhezen's head lifted at that and one enormous blackish bear was trotting toward the front of the truck. All gleaming teeth, beady eyes, yellowish claws, and a gleaming coat of thick hairs. Terror took hold and Ichigo pissed himself, literally, but faster than he could yell for help there was a firing sound from the paratrooper's rifle and the bear lost its footing as the trained man took out its front legs and shot it in the neck before the massive carnivore tumbled over itself and fell hard on the ground. Dead. A second later the tangerine haired man's ears began to ring, one more than the other. Whole body shaking Ichigo just stood and stared.

 

            The Gehjoven eased down his rifle after the creature was inert and whistled as he came around the dented front fender of the truck and walked nearer to the blackish furred bear. In passing he noticed the smell of urine and noticeably laughed at the commsman again.

 

            "DON'T YOU FUCKING DARE!" Ichigo shouted defensively. "You chained me up to be live bait so you have no right!" Gritting his teeth he glowered through frustrated tears that started to pour out of his blood crusted face.

 

            The Gehjoven cocked a shocked brow up, looking away from the young man, still chuckling softly. Again with the words he didn't know, but he was surprised this one had the nerve to yell at him like that. The rather fearless paratrooper kicked at the bear's back legs, circling the carnivore and judging its weight. Probably several hundred pounds or half a ton at the most. This bear was just a young adult, no mistaking that. It could have been an amazing animal bumming around in the woods, eating stuff out there, ravaging picnics and fishing in rivers if it hadn't threatened his captive. This sweet faced boy was worth some real cash if he kept that face in tact, not had it torn off by a wild bear. With a sound click of his tongue Grimmjow had made up his mind to bring this fresh kill with them. A gargantuan bear, even a young one, like this would be valuable on their markets and some extra money to spend on his wife immediately after getting back couldn't be a bad thing. It wasn't for a sweet coming home gift, that money would be a present for a ravenously greedy bitch.

 

            In a minute Ichigo was uncuffed and unwillingly pushed toward the bear to help with moving it; so as a result he dropped to his knees on the dirt and grassy ground to avoid doing just that. Terror still had hold of the young man. He wanted nothing to do with that bear.

 

            How frustrating. Grimmjow clicked his rifle's safety on and slung it on his back, crouching and lifting the other man up by the armpits while trying not to rub up against the soiled uniform.

 

            Apparently not quite dead but very incapacitated the bear lifted its head and huffed at the men. Even Grimmjow flinched once while Ichigo dug his heels in and pushed back against the man with enough force to stop them from walking any closer. A moment later the animal grunted a few times more and then its head flopped down and with tongue hanging out its eyes rolled to a still position.

 

            "Woooah. Close one, huh?" Grimmjow patted the other man's shoulders both at the same time and shoved the commsman forward with a quick gesture. They walked around to the bear's back and of course the Jhezen was a pain in the ass and tried to wriggle away, but the blue mohawked Gehjoven gripped a wrist of his hard and tugged his hand down onto the furry back of the black colored bear.

 

            Ichigo felt his heart do a flip but nothing happened when he touched the creature. The fur was a little matted but otherwise so thick. When the Gehjoven's rugged textured hand let go of his wrist the Jhezen placed another hand on its warm back and pet the fur once or twice before drawing back, now feeling a little sad. He found the Gehjoven watching him, hands on hips again.

 

            "See? Ain't scary, you fuckin' pussy. Bet you'll only ever get to do that once." Pointing at the bear and then the truck Grimmjow made sure his buddy here understood what they were doing with this creature. To make sure it was dead this time around he put two bullets from a handgun in the back of its head. It probably was already but this was just assurance. The Gehjoven was relatively fearless, not stupid. They hauled it to the back of the truck. The decomposing carcass of the moose creature had been tossed off the road, sections of it all in a pile plenty far from the truck; the Jhezen had probably noticed it. Grimmjow unhooked a ramp that lowered from the underside of the bed and took the lead pulling the dead bear into the plentiful space. The truck didn't complain much, its axles, tires, and bed were made for heavy loads. They would also get badass traction like this. After securing the dead beast with ropes and a tarp over it Grimmjow replaced the ramp and lowered the tailgate. Climbing back in he compiled two sets of uniforms, poured some of their plentiful water supply into a bucket, and set a wrapped package on the tailgate before jumping down. He made a gesture...

 

            "...no!" Ichigo yelled. "Hell no!" The paratrooper wanted him to strip. Ichigo crossed his arms and flicked the other man away. He wanted privacy if anything.

 

            Grimmjow cocked a blue brow up, understanding fully what was wanted but not willing to let his eyes leave this one again. He wouldn't risk the chance of the Jhezen concealing something troublesome in his clothing. With further refusal to strip the Gehjoven reached down and retrieved his hunting knife, coming toward the other man with it.

 

            Whether to get stabbed or the clothes cut off himself Ichigo lifted his hands and took a fright filled  step backward. "No, no! Please..!" He started untucking his shirt and the Gehjoven stopped advancing. His hands moved to his shirt's buttons swiftly.

 

            Waiting until he knew that the Jhezen meant it Grimmjow then moved back from the young man and pulled his own pile of clothes to the edge of the tailgate. By the time he was done ripping the sleeves off of the shirt he'd picked out for himself the Jhezen was down to his boots. Only his boots. From the distance the blue haired man broke a general rule among men...he looked at the gunshot wound on the commsman's thigh. It was healing. Good. The next thing he noticed was a patriotic tattoo on one of the pale man's calves.

 

            "Fuck! Stop it!" Ichigo shouted at the man who was staring at him, quickly dragging clothes in front of himself.

 

            The Gehjoven rolled his eyes in a ridiculous manner and reached for the bucket of water, lifting it with a grunt. That was one huge bucket.

 

            Ichigo's old uniform was set back on the tailgate next to the clean Gehjovenic one his captor had picked out...and when he saw the bucket raised he took a step back. That water was freezing he bet and he knew what this guy was going to do. "NO!" he barked, pointing at the Gehjoven who then started to snicker and tossed a little more than half of the bucket's water on his target with a single heave before the Jhezen decided which way to dodge it. Ichigo shrieked slightly. That water was COLD! Just in his socks he stood soaked and dripping with the other man laughing at him again.

 

            He was beginning to genuinely find this pussy's reactions hilarious. The paratrooper set the partially full bucket down with a relatively clean rag he ripped in half on its edge.

 

            Gasping after the shock Ichigo made his way over to the bucket and turned his back on the Gehjoven, dragging the bucket closer to himself and taking one half of the rag to wipe himself down with. Something tapped Ichigo's shoulder and he cautiously looked back to see what- Soap. A half a bar of soap, out of the brown papery package that had been pulled out of the truck. Not looking anywhere but the hand that offered it as he took the offered item Ichigo could tell the other man was half naked, washing up and changing just like him. That made Ichigo more uncomfortable and he washed off quickly, rinsing the soap off by cupping water in his hands. He had to turn around for that and broke the same rule the Gehjoven had. Honestly he was shocked by the lack of scars and tattoos on the back half of his captor. Stereotypically Ichigo felt one should expect such a mean individual to have a lot more of both. It wasn't like Jhezen was the land of the gruff and tough, mostly the opposite. Rich, buff, and pretty people all over. The commsman supposed by the amount of muscle that this guy worshiped himself in another way, physique. So this was how Gehjovens were? He had to wonder a little. Ichigo slammed his clothing on, pulling at the collar of the slightly tight uniform's shirt. The material felt smooth but it obviously wasn't brand new. Then he picked through his old uniform and used his own belt with the Jhezenic symbol on its buckle and found his laminated family photograph in his shirt's breast pocket just after. The most precious things he had with him. The photo remained on the tailgate for him to look back and forth at while he started to take out other little things from the pockets of his uniform, sorting through them and placing them in the larger pockets of this Gehjovenic uniform's pants.

 

            Grimmjow, fully dressed, came at the other man with a hairbrush and when the Jhezen tried to avoid it he grabbed the family photograph off of the tailgate. Instantly he got complacency, sliding it into his own pocket until he was done with what he planned on doing.

 

            Giving up Ichigo got that brush raked through his hair so roughly that his eyes watered. This unbelievable male had no clue how to brush hair... How often did he brush his own? Did he brush it like this? If so how did the paratrooper still have hair attached to his head?! When that was done the Jhezen separated himself immediately, rubbing his scalp. While his hair was combed down nicely he could feel his pulse throughout his skull. The Gehjoven handed the picture back. With a light grip Ichigo took it and hid it in a pocket. He sighed, thinking of his kids and hoping he could see them again.

 

            Noticing the mostly somber reaction to having that dear picture back Grimmjow didn't bother to antagonize this time. After soaking and wringing out the both of their old uniforms he threw the supplies and clothes back into the truck bed and shut the tailgate. He cocked his mohawked head toward the truck, telling the Jhezen to get back in.

 

            Ichigo noticed and considered the fact that the man had just afforded him a bath, new clothes, given his picture back, and hadn't touched him again since and spared the Gehjoven the trouble of chasing him into the woods by stalking around to his side of the truck. He was followed and watched until the door closed and the window rolled up but the young man was given some space.

 

            Walking around the front of the vehicle to his side and getting in the Gehjoven swore the first thing he was doing with his spare time on base was getting a haircut and shave and putting his piercings back in. He'd lost his razor in someone's skull before meeting this pussy and always took his piercings out for combat, didn't have to...just didn't want them ripped out. He'd schedule sex and/or a blowjob into there somewhere if his voluptuous and popular wife was anywhere to be found.

 

            In the truck Ichigo had hidden a secret... His eyes tried to avoid staring at the glove box he'd shoved his radio into. It wasn't working still but it had a tracking device buried inside. Maybe it was working. Maybe not. There were still many days yet to find out depending on how much father east they had to travel.

Chapter Text

Section 5: Gates of Hell

            Before the bear in the back of the truck started to rot and stink profoundly the pair, captor and captive, arrived at the edge of this forest where beyond the tree line there was an enormous Gehjoven camp seated on a man-made plain. Surrounding the plain were unaltered hills with the natural foliage of the forest minus its trees. The wind whistled through these and blew the blades and leaves of the plants, carrying a refreshing nature'sque' scent. These hills were not the only barrier around the camp. With a man-made wall around the compound's inner structures, that was at least fifty feet high, it was a barrier built of reinforced metals that were tank-proof and the ultimate barrier in the grand scheme of this camp's protection from infiltration and inner seclusion. The refreshing breeze scented with nature surely couldn't dip into so encased a camp as this. Industrialized stacks puffed smoke and the sound of productivity was subtle in the air. This obstructing fortification was the face of no simple camp. As a staple of Gehjoven's cruel and unruly might, this unyielding fortress contained its share of manufactured goods and horrors as well... While still within the cover of the hearty forest's trees the paratrooper stopped the truck and shook his captive awake; the young man beside him had been sleeping and he thought he should see.

 

            Early sun's rays casting the land before his vision with an almost blinding glow, Ichigo started in the passenger's seat and groggily looked around with a long yawn. He didn't want to look in a direction that blinded him with reflecting and brilliant light.

 

            The paratrooper snapped in the other man's reluctant face with calloused fingers and pointed toward the windshield where ahead there was obviously a structure for him to observe and drew the recently awakened man's attention to it.

 

            All in one the Jhezen's eyes focused easier after a minute or two of conditioning and then Ichigo's face lost energy. So they were here.

 

            "Semeichia." The Gehjoven settled back into his seat.

 

            Frightened eyes flicked from the intimidating fortress to his equally if not more intimidating captor. That name was all the Gehjoven needed to say for the other man to lose hope. This was the work camp for Gehjovenic criminals and captives like himself. A camp for prisoners of war. Men and women made slaves or worse until age, sickness, or execution claimed their lives.

 

            After giving the young man a chance to settle with his fate, and himself taking a relieved breath to be back near his comrades which meant being on edge less, the Gehjoven pointed a warning sort of finger at the Jhezen. One solid and stern look was given by the Gehjoven with the other man's eyes shakily staring at him. 'Don't humiliate me' or 'don't fuck around' it probably meant.

 

            Regardless of the exact translation the commsman knew it was a warning that called for his good behavior. Was behaving worth it? The sun was blinding as in the next minutes the Gehjoven pulled the truck out of the shade of the forest and approached the fortified camp at an easy pace - the terrain jostling them. Though the sun's rays were both blinding and warm Ichigo could feel his whole body going cold, better realizing the size of this insane camp. A contained fear overtook the young commsman as he sat back in his seat. His eyes twitched fast as he ran through any sort of possibility that might save him. The tracker in the radio...that had to help. They'd come for him. His comrades knew he was missing and they'd come for him. Could he try to run? Doubtful. Ichigo placed a hand over the pocket with his family photograph tucked safely away. No matter what though...he would hold onto this little possession. And so...there was a tinge of doubt in his heart that he would escape this.

 

            For a moment Grimmjow saw the commsman's hand clutching at his pocket. He knew there was no weapon in there. The Gehjoven cast his eyes forward again, making sure he didn't miss a signal to halt or another directional sign. This work camp was where all of the men from his doomed unit of paratroopers had rendezvoused before getting on their helicopter. Recalling their deaths, this Gehjoven didn't mourn. It wasn't him who was responsible for their folly. Those men had listened to the under experienced plan of a higher-up and died like sheep those days ago. Only Grimmjow had survived because he'd reaching the ground sooner and taken cover. The others were operating on the order to fight from a higher vantage point to eliminate their targets, unofficially at any cost. The paratroopers who'd hovered in the air longer had been taken out by the Jhezen cannons easily. If their unit leader was still alive he might have reprimanded Grimmjow for deviating but...Grimmjow was something of his own boss. He had a strange level of immunity to superiors' complaints as stricken negative notes on his records would show. He was also a recognized tactician but he had elected to avoid holding high rank, meaning he wasn't allowed to be a shot-caller. When the unit he belonged to for this mission had jumped out of that helicopter and found out that the Jhezenic cannons were already mounted that was when Grimmjow understood that their blitz wasn't going to work. Not only that though...it was too late to effectively warn anyone else. He'd reached the ground, grabbed cover, and then immediately opened fire on the cannons' operators and their aides. That was all he could do. Thoughts on the present times now, before the enormous metal gates Grimmjow stopped the truck, pulling up alongside them as he recognized a welcoming signal.

 

            A grated slit in one gate opened up and a man who revealed himself as they neared looked out.

 

            "Gehjoven be great," the blue haired paratrooper greeted his comrade, watching the man through his opened driver's side window.

 

            "Gehjoven be great. Damnit, I certainly remember yer face. Only ones that made it? Who's that fella there? I don't remember anyone like him, looks a little- a lot scrawny to be in your group..." The guard laughed at the comparison he'd made but he had a definite right to know.

 

            The blues in the mohawked paratrooper's head didn't swerve, staying on the guard. "I'm not all sure but he's suffered shell shock from the conflict we found out there. Don't bother him. He might start screaming again..." Were it not for long term practice at maintaining composure Grimmjow's face might have cracked into a grin as the gatekeeper bought into his lie. "Anyway, I have a half ton bear which I need delivered to Merk City faster than it can rot."

 

            "Marketing the beast huh? Bit of poachin' while ya were getting home then. Nice, nice. For ya we can certainly do that. How'd it go out there? Anything worth knowing besides assuming you and he are the only ones who made it?"

 

            "Not really." Grimmjow shortened his answer significantly.

 

            "Well, other troops already started scouting that area and they reported in that a truck and you were missing, so we were expectin' ya back sometime. They said to expect ya for sure, that nothin' upon nothin' could kill ya but really...with no one else left alive on that battlefield you're remarkable. Bodies and wreckage everywhere... At least we'll have a hell of a lotta scavenged supplies if their weapons are still functional."

 

            "Imagine that’s so." 'They're keeping some close tabs on me...not surprising. Fuck it though...' Fuck the risks. Grimmjow maintained his end of the conversation, "Feel free to tell them I made it this far."

 

            "What about him?" The guard tried to look around Grimmjow, who casually blocked his view with his broad built shoulder and didn't make it easy to see without the suspicion that it was on purpose. As difficult as it was to see, the Jhezen's rigid posture and fearful, downcast stare was helpfully convincing.

 

            "I don't even know his name and his tags weren't with him so I can't find out until he can talk sense. His superiors should see about it later, I'll take him to a train station and send him back to his base myself."

 

            "That the plan? Fine, fine. Luck be on his ass that he had you or he'd be as dead as all the rest."

 

            Yeah luck... Yeah right. Grimmjow perked up for a second remembering something. He turned and began digging for a bag that clanked; beside him he noticed the Jhezen's downcast and defeated stare toward the floor before turning back to the window and lifting the bag and shaking it. "I only got some of 'em but better than none. Make sure they're sent to the right folks. Now...could I get my effects? I'd like to be on my way."

 

            The man behind the gate laughed, recognizing the sound of ID tags clanking, apparently familiar with bags of dead men's names stamped on metal. He moved the grate over the slit in the gate and next reached for the container which was handed over carefully. "That many..." Then the man turned and yelled behind himself, "HURRY UP! Get this man's bike up here."

 

            "Hey...tell your people not to scratch that."

 

            "Oh ho, we know better."

 

            "Before we trade rides here...to warn you, I have scavenged supplies and effects of the dead in the bed of this truck. I trust you're able to deal with it all appropriately?"

 

            "Yes, sir. We'll have some soldiers out there to take inventory and sift through it all, and of course prepare your prized kill for transit to Gastben City. But ya don't want a shower or meal before ya both leave?"

 

            Perhaps the hospitality would have been pleasant but this wasn't the place to get it. "Nah."

 

            The gatekeeper squinted at the declination. "Well that's your call then. Don't say I didn't offer ya anything." The man paused, looking behind himself for the briefest of seconds. "Right back." The slot on the gate shut.

 

            Immediately Grimmjow turned away and slapped the Jhezen's arm and pointed at the door passenger side door, demanding that the young man get out.

 

            With a limp about him, Ichigo was sluggish to react but he pushed the door open and climbed out without a word of protest. Beside the truck he just sat down on the ground, staring at the forest they'd come from. Maybe he should have just let this guy shoot him out there? Tried to annoy him so much that he reached such a point. The Jhezen was so disappointed that the tracking device hadn't led help to him in time. He had no clue... Out of nowhere he felt the other man reaching down and unhooking his belt. Ichigo brought his hands down immediately to stop him, face flushed and angry. "Excuse me! What are you doing?!"

 

            He couldn't understand this guy but the Jhezen was very obviously upset. Trying not to cringe at the volume of the Jhezenic words Grimmjow rather nicely pushed the hands away and lifted the belt up and out of the loops anyway. Its buckle bore the Jhezenic emblem after all... That shouldn’t be noticed. Promptly Grimmjow began stuffing every bit of the Jhezenic apparel that the commsman had been wearing into a sack, even the translation book. The Gehjovenic man showed the Jhezen the bag of stuff with an open top, stuck it right in the young man's face so he would see...

 

            Ichigo couldn't help seeing, and looked upward as the other man quickly used the translation book.

 

            In quiet Jhezenic words the Gehjoven gave the younger an order, "Things you want to keep in here, now."

 

            Ichigo's face looked quite shocked as he had in fact understood the badly pronounced words and tried to decide what the other man meant by doing this.

 

            Taking the silence for confusion Grimmjow sought a descriptive word, "Contraband."

 

            Ichigo's shocked face slowly got back its color and he sat back against the truck. "Why are you-?"

 

            The Gehjoven gave a nasty hiss and shushed him, slapping the commsman on the head and dropping the bag in his lap. He didn't understand those words but it wouldn't do to have anyone overhear the 'shell shocked' soldier speaking fluent Jhezen.

 

            Startled by this sudden turn of events the commsman accepted the bag with a slight eagerness and was left to gather whatever he wanted. He definitely packed his busted radio in there, assuming it could be of use later. When the creak of the gates opening inward sounded the paratrooper immediately took his bag away. Ichigo didn't fight for it and returned to his quiet manner - assuming that's what the Gehjoven man wanted him to do. It wasn't hard but it was the right idea. As Ichigo stood there awkwardly he tried not to eye any of the Gehjovenic soldiers coming out. A few men tried to talk and ask if he was ok, but Ichigo understood none of that and just gazed with a blank hazel stare. After speaking with him failed they'd pat him on the back with a sigh and some would shake him encouragingly by the hand and then leave him alone. Eventually Ichigo started to realize and confirm the suspicion that none of them were here to put him in cuffs and chains... These gestures seemed like 'good wishes' or 'good luck'. Timidly his Jhezenic eyes tilted toward the paratrooper in the midst of the buzz, he looked at the back of the mohawked head as the other man wasn't facing him or giving him any special attention.

 

            A gleaming chrome and shining black motorcycle with some accents of blue was pushed out of the gates and around the truck. Its kickstand was set down and the owner went to inspect it. It was a cruiser sort of bike with single straight exhaust pipes on both sides, a v-twin engine, solid chrome and custom cut rims, a rear tire larger than the front, chrome coated handlebars and other bits, a polished steel frame, a pillion seat, no windshield, and two moderately sized sidesaddle bags below that back seat. Other details were mixed in...like the headlight being as bright as day and parts of the whole bike being so well kept that they could be mistaken as new; also, two handguns lurked mounted subtly to the body of this proud machine. Of course these details weren't all so obvious at first glance. This Gehjoven man knew how to conceal and downplay an ace or two. In fact, he was actively doing it right now by packing away the two bags of effects and contraband before anyone significant came to talk to him.

 

            "Ya really making him ride bitch?" The man that had been behind the gate had also come out to talk with Grimmjow and hand him another sack, less bulky in size than the others were.

 

            Grimmjow was just done closing the side bags after putting their two's stuff in them discretely. Acting casual and friendly - he did not want those possessions to be searched for any reason - he humored the gatekeeper. "Yeah well he isn't riding in my fucking lap."

 

            The man offered the sack of belongings he'd brought out and they were taken right away. "Make sure the bitch don't fall off huh," he laughed. "Bet ya missed a nice bike like this."

 

            Going through the sack for the keys to his cruiser and taking a brief inventory of all the things he'd left in there, Grimmjow whistled to get the commsman's attention and the young man slowly sauntered over at a slow shuffle. The paratrooper looked back at the gatekeeper, "Bike's the only thing I ride harder with than the wife. 'Course I missed it." That comment gained a resounding laugh from the gatekeeper. Now Grimmjow stuck the key into the ignition and twisted which started the bike on the first attempt. His fuel gage jumped to full, just where he'd left it and there really wasn't a scratch on the sleekly painted and shining chrome surfaces anywhere. Perfect. These men would be dead if they scratched his bike. As per the warning he'd given the gatekeeper; it was just fun to flex his authority sometimes and make people sweat. The gate man was under significant pressure of his own whether it was showing on his face or not.

 

            The man from the gate swallowed once, hearing the bike's healthy rumble as it idled. He was relieved that it had started perfectly.

 

            Before he’d be on his way the blue haired Gehjoven offered his hand to the gatekeeper for a shake, having offered it first the gesture was very well received.

 

            The flattered man's tongue loosened. "I'd warn ya to take the scenic route through the foothills on yer way instead of the direct one. Roadblock's up the direct one, huge accident." He let go the paratrooper's rough hand. "And it's an honor to shake your hand. Take care sir."

 

            Swinging a leg over the front seat of his bike Grimmjow tapped the Jhezen's arm to prompt him to get on. He showed the commsman the foot rests and handles he could hold onto instead of clinging to him for a hold because there was no backrest. The foothills were clear, huh? What a nice piece of information. "Any chance of rain?"

 

            "No, sir. Clear skies and sun for the next three days."

 

            "Excellent. Well you've been a bit of help. Thanks, take care." Grimmjow saluted and was saluted back by every man within sighting range.

 

            The soldiers around the truck all called, "Take care, sir."

 

            With a final glance around the mass of men gathering behind them Grimmjow swiped up the kickstand, worked the stiff clutch and turned the throttle with the vehicle in gear and the bike crept away from the prisoner camp over loose dirt and rocks. The tires were still aired up nicely so the bike bounced a little as it traveled but didn't skid or hesitate in its advance. It had only been about a week or two since he'd come out here so the lack of change in pressure was normal. The bike rolled onto the proper pavement of a proper road many yards ahead with a gentle bump.

 

            Ichigo couldn't believe this...he looked back at the enormous barrier around the camp which was so far away now. How had he been spared by the world's coldest soldier? He felt confused. Why? Was there an alternative motive here? It wasn't revealed yet if there was one. The bike started to accelerate after the turn onto the road and the commsman leaned closer to the paratrooper as they got up to speed and left the nightmarish camp behind. They rode between two tall hills and turned a corner and then the whole camp was out of sight. Ichigo leaned a little too much watching it vanish and the other man slowed way down and elbowed him meanly. The commsman was off balancing the bike. Ichigo righted himself, "Sorry!" They sped up again and his hands left the handles on the sides of the bike and wrapped around the Gehjovenic soldier's torso.

 

            Grimmjow obviously noticed but didn't remove the arms. He'd like to have thought it wasn't a hug...but it probably was.

Chapter Text

Section 6: That Which is Mercy...

            The Gehjoven's motorcycle rumbled especially loudly when the green hills of the wilds and trees of the forests shrank away gradually replaced by occasional buildings with walls to bounce the sound back. First small countryside towns began to appear, which surprised Ichigo; he hadn't thought Gehjovenic land was anything like this... He'd expected a crude industrial cluster of endless cities with very brief gaps between without trees and scenic sights. After all he'd been told nothing good about the Gehjovenic economy and their standards of living. Gehjovenic people did have a brutal, uncivilized militaristic reputation that made them out as people who probably couldn't give a shit about nature and held their military above all. Though Gehjoven culture revolved a lot around their military the truth was that this young Jhezen, like so many others, had been raised to believe negative propaganda; that Gehjovenic culture was just war, war, war, crush, kill, destroy, consisting of nothing else.

 

            Hours of this day-long drive were through humble towns and forests on old roads. Rarely did someone else pass them going the other direction; civilians didn't want to head toward a war zone. Eventually up and coming there was a really noteworthy elevation in the terrain at the edge of a town which at the peak offered a view of a huge city beyond. Or at least it might be mistaken as a city. This place looked much more established than the humble towns they'd been passing through so far. Ichigo's eyes scanned it widely, even with a weary body he was drawn to stare. What a surprising state... Militaristic for sure. There were easily recognizable barracks and practice ranges with military vehicles stored nearby but also normal houses in certain areas and groves of trees and parks and broad streets showed up in no small amount. Not lavish and not an actual city the Jhezen began to realize. This was just a beautiful military base, accented with nature - not glittering skyscrapers like he was use to. Ichigo hung onto the rear handles of the bike as they descended the slope leading up to the base and breathed a long sigh. He felt that he seriously wasn't at risk of being taken to a horrible place now, and really hoped that this surreal circumstance wouldn't change; just because the environment was nice didn't mean there were nice people living here - his captor taken into consideration as well.

 

            Calm as could be, Grimmjow relaxed on his bike as they coasted down the easy slope toward his base. Souvenbash. A nest for Elite soldiers; the absolute best of the best in the Gehjovenic military. He kicked his heels up on the front most footrests and just enjoyed the breeze moving his battered uniform, across his flesh, and through his hair. Grimmjow's thoughts were mostly of home, though while away he was plenty comfortable on most battlefields - they were like a shabby second home for this man born for war. The chrome and polished metal and paint of the bike gleamed with a proud shine as the sun cast its rays down, blocked sometimes by the occasional cloud as evening came closer and the weather cooled off. His feet twitched a slight amount as bumps in the road put his ride's shocks to work. One hand maintained the throttle and the other dangled, wrist on the handle. This was a nice home... A place where he usually didn't have to look over his shoulder for trouble. Where his gear was stored, where the bed he fucked his wife on was at, and also where he drank and practiced with his pals. A real nice place. He couldn't ask for a more ideal life... The cruiser rumbled as he clutched and downshifted as they came out of the slope and up to the main check-in station at the front of an entrance to Souvenbash.

 

            There were some people in cars ahead of them and Ichigo began to get nervous as he realized Gehjoven checked their incoming personnel in much the same way as Jhezenic bases; everyone admitted was read for ID and recorded. Did they just let in civilians without a scrap of identification-? Passively staring at the automatic rifle armed guards wandering the entrance and posted along the barrier around the base as he considered this Ichigo's thoughts were abruptly cut into as the bike rolled up beside the checking station for their lane. Right in front of him the paratrooper immediately handed over his cards and tags for the check and started talking to the soldier in the booth. Their accents were so bizarre to listen to in a native setting, the differences between his limited Jhezen education and reality felt like enormous gaps. Blanks on a map. Pits in understanding. Fascinating and terrifying actuality.

 

            The Gehjoven paratrooper's heels of the high, protective boots to his knees gritted a bit against the paving and sparse dirt under the bike's wheels as he held the cruiser upright and shut it off - so its large engine wouldn't overheat - while he talked with the astonished guard in the booth beside them. Call it playing his hand smartly...

 

            The soldier couldn't help pointing a finger, "Are you..?"

 

            "The only one."

 

            "Wow. What I heard about your unit is insane. We were getting bits of information about you guys and the others out there but it got so devastating that they shut down intel altogether hours ago. Only the uppers are still hearing stuff. I never thought that anyone would come back from that shit without a scratch."

 

            "I wouldn't call it 'unscathed' but I am fucking alive, huh? We held those rich boys off at the cost of a lotta Gehjovenic lives, but...we fuckin' stopped them and that's what matters out there." The mohawked man was amused by this soldier's respect or awe toward his brief story.

 

            Shaking from the awing moment the soldier knew he had a job to do, "Sorry to ask sir, but, who's he? You're not a paratrooper are you, fella?"

 

            The Jhezen on the back of the cruiser tensed as the soldier in the booth pointed the ID in hand at him, the paratrooper's dog tags and chain dangling off his fingers. Ichigo felt all of his hair raise up on the back of his neck at the gesture combined with indiscernible words. What should he do?!

 

            Before too long of a hesitant gap formed the paratrooper answered for the young man. "Shell shocked from the same conflict I was in. He belongs to another base but I need to get him there to find out who he is exactly. Stop pointin' at him, you're freaking him out."

 

            The soldier quickly withdrew his indicating gesture. "Oh...that must have been some wicked carnage he's seen. But he doesn't have his tags or a card..? No identification whatsoever?" The soldier seemed uneasy.

 

            "No. Is there a problem with that?" Grimmjow cocked a brow up and gave the soldier a flat stare. "Shit happens out there. I'm vouching for him."

 

            The soldier inhaled and exhaled roughly, "Ok." He recorded the paratrooper's identification information and a guest notation before leaning out of the booth and handing the flat ID card and dog tags back. The whole process took some extra minutes. It wasn't unheard of to bring a guest, it just wasn't easy...unless you were Grimmjow fucking Jaegerjaquez. He was a certain kind of man...

 

            "It's appreciated. Gehjoven be great and have yourself a nice day, fella." Grimmjow offered a salute before starting his bike's engine again with a loud rumble.

 

            "Gehjoven be great!" The soldier saluted sharply and leaned to watch the paratrooper pull away. 'Fuck, it must be great being him.'

 

            Another soldier from the group assigned to manage this entrance to the base came over, with his automatic rifle relaxed, "Was that really Jaegerjaquez?"

 

            "Yeah dude! Are you blind? Blue hair. Mohawk. Cold-ass eyes and biceps big as his head!"

 

            "I ain't blind jackass! I was just wondering."

 

            "He had the tags too. It was him!"

 

            "Shit. Wow. Wait... You didn't shake his fucking hand..!"

 

            That particular commentary was too far off to hear; the Jhezen on the back of the paratrooper's bike still hadn't caught onto the fact that this one had such a reputation preceding him. All he'd figured out so far was that this man was definitely an Elite soldier. As they left the gate behind Ichigo became wrapped up in the base's features; he stared at all of the establishments, trying to read the writing on their signs. The rumble of the cruiser threw its sound between the walls of buildings again and off of fixtures more so as they crossed into the less militaristic side of the base. Shops and markets and the like were set up on either side of the streets and Ichigo's eyes were tugged every which way to take it all in. Men in their uniforms and fatigues walked around with their families. There were plenty of children among the population. Classy women sat with their friends drinking at cafes and there were a ton of weaponry shops made obvious by their displays behind clean glass windows. They drove by several parks and the buzz of people eased as the sorts the Jhezen saw seemed increasingly laid back. Families and couples mostly wandered the parks, and a trend he wasn't accustom to seeing among them... Men. He thought he'd seen a few homosexual couples so far and now he knew he wasn't wrong. Of all societies... Gehjovenic people accepted this? Ichigo wasn't given much time to think about it while watching the people in the park. Soon the cruiser was past that place and into a quiet community with a two-lane road. Tall narrow houses with rustic appeal lined the sides of this street and the ones branching off from it. Enormous trees planted in the grass by the sidewalks before the houses grew healthy toward heaven and shaded this community's roadways. The paratrooper slowed down a little and his bike's rumble was softer as they passed many houses. The thirty or forty-foot trees endlessly shaded the long street they were on with their green broad-leafed tops, catching the passenger's eyes in a bit of awe. The Jhezen was having a little trouble believing that he wasn't dead or dreaming this up. This seemed absurdly unrealistic. Were they so wrong..? Was their whole idea of Gehjovenic people so tilted? There weren't crumbling or hard-edged houses without yards and plants. There weren't men marching down the streets in rank as constant reminders of their militaristic pride who shouted decrees. There wasn't an absence of children and women; there were even male couples walking happily out in public. No large amount of women were led around by their husbands tugging their arms meanly. No execution stands were in their parks. No...savagery. Ichigo realized what he'd thought for years was probably seriously biased and skewed. Gehjoven's military was definitely ruthless, but their society had better depth.

 

            The Gehjoven turned on a side street nearing the end of the long one they were on and followed an equally as shaded street until midway up this one he slowed the bike to a crawl and backed up to the sidewalk, leaning the fatter rear tire against the straight curb. He flicked down the kickstand with a foot and switched the bike's engine off. He stood holding the bike and elbowed the young man riding behind him.

 

            The commsman suddenly understood he was supposed to get off first and carefully dismounted the vehicle, standing a short way behind it as he waited. Shyly he stared around at the interesting rustic houses. They were old and earthy, but they were maintained.

 

            The paratrooper had just gotten off of the bike when he heard voices that made him turn toward the tall house they'd stopped in front of on this side of the street. He knew the people living here very well.

 

            "He's back..." a man mentioned loudly as he clapped his hands slowly. The fellow came out of the house's front door, across the finished wooden porch and down the steps walking the short slope to open the front gate. "...he's back alive."

 

            "No need to talk about me in third person," Grimmjow remarked with a snort.

 

            The man was soon followed to the gate by a child with dark green hair, a metal bowl on his head, loose clothing, no shoes to be found, and a stick with other sticks tied to it to make it look like a rifle. He came barreling out of the back gate on the narrow side of the house and stumbling over his pant legs toward the front gate after his father. The child was maybe eleven years old. Yelling 'hellos' apparently he was really excited to see their guest.

 

            The man having clapped for the returned soldier stepped nearer with hands out to the sides as if amazed. He actually was a little amazed to see Grimmjow so soon. "What happened? Things not go as planned?" He seemed to notice that Grimmjow had someone with him now, looking at the scrawnier man to the paratrooper's left.

 

            "No. They didn't."

 

            A girl with long wavy sea-green tresses stepped slowly out of house and waited on the porch by the door waving. She was always shy, though very pretty and very nice. She would have been about nineteen or twenty. Her hand gripped the side of the door again when she'd stopped waving.

 

            Ichigo stood back, closer to the motorcycle than the Gehjoven would probably approve of if he'd noticed. This was a little worrying, what else should he do?

 

            Grimmjow caught the bowl-helmeted child as he bonked into his leg with a charge, setting a hand on his head.

 

            "You killed them dead right? They won't get here will they?" The young child had the stick rifle pointed up at the paratrooper's face.

 

            Grimmjow moved his hand and pushed a finger against the nose of the fake rifle and pushed it at an angle away from his face. "Gonna kill me aimin' like that. I killed a lot of them. They won't get here." The child grinned up at him and clung to his leg. The paratrooper didn't mind it for now. Grimmjow looked up at the other Gehjoven man.

 

            "Did you bring a fan boy along with you?" The paratrooper's friend was, of course, teasing. He'd noticed the Gehjovenic uniform on Ichigo.

 

            Sensing the shift of conversation the child standing in front of Grimmjow squinted at the Jhezen, certainly confused as to why this Gehjovenic soldier was so skinny.

 

            Grimmjow shrugged and noticed that the commsman was trying to stay near his motorcycle. He guessed it was nerves but he'd brought the runt here for one reason and one reason only so... The paratrooper reached back,  pulling the Jhezen forward by the arm, and pushed him toward his Gehjovenic friend.

 

            The tangerine haired and scruffy looking commsman stopped, stumbling a step or two, in front of the new face. With the quick weight shift his thigh throbbed, reminding him that it needed better medical attention. The eyes that watched him now weren't exactly an improvement on the paratrooper's cold blue ones; these were intense in a different sense.

 

            "I seem to recall five times you didn't pay up for those card games you lost in terrific fashion. Five in a row. Ya have a shit poker face." Grimmjow's friend looked around the tangerine hair then down the young soldier's face and cocked a brow at the mohawked man while he listened for the meaning of this implication or reminder. "Pay me back by taking care of him." Grimmjow pointed sternly at the commsman's back.

 

            The other Gehjovenic man's eyes narrowed and he shook his head. "Brought him off the battlefield with you? I'm no baby sitter for your trainees. Take him to the soldier barracks."

 

            "Pal, you owe me a few thousand dollars...also there was that time I helped you hide your research notes on short notice. I hate to bring that up as leverage but I guess I am now..."

 

            The other man started to glare at Grimmjow. He looked like he was a breath away from growling.

 

            "Look, I don't wanna be an ass so I won't say anything about it ever again if you take care of this guy and teach him to speak Gehjovenic. I'm too high profile to do much for him."

 

            "What..?" The man looked from his friend to the tangerine haired young man who stood before him looking scared as beaten dog. In the minute it took to process this he stared silently examining the terror stricken into the younger man's face and began to realize more Gehjovenic qualities that were absent on him. In Jhezenic tongue the skeptical man quickly asked, "Child of Jhezen?" Apparently this fellow was able to use that language fluently - though not as well as a native but still a studious mind.

 

            "Yes," the commsman answered back softly.

 

            Grimmjow's friend's eyes widened broadly as the accent totally gave away this young man's affiliation.

 

            "Maybe he can teach you a few things?" Grimmjow suggested, noting the interaction and shock which overtook his pal's expression. "He's not stupid."

 

            "Do you understand that we will burn for having anything to do with him if this is found out?" The man asked, resuming his Gehjovenic speech. "Both of us."

 

            "You owe me."

 

            "Debts be damned, Grimmjow! Does your career mean nothing to you? Does my family's safety mean nothing as well?!"

 

            "This is once in a lifetime, and you fucking know it, and you owe me big time." The paratrooper crossed his heavily muscled arms and stared at the other man. When he'd done this guy a favor, hiding illegal research, it could have cost him worse than discharge from the military.

 

            "Fuck! I don't owe you this much! Why does he mean so much?!"

 

            Grimmjow shrugged immediately, "You're worried that you can't keep a handle on him? He's a damn kid."

 

            "This would be putting my entire family at risk!" the outraged man shouted at his stubborn and reckless friend.

 

            Grimmjow made an indifferent face with another shrug. "...and you haven't done the same with all your poking into Jhezenic culture? Once in a lifetime."

 

            The man seemed stunned that the paratrooper had no better answer for him and then calmed down just a little. 'Once in a lifetime' was right. He sighed long and put a hand on the Jhezenic soldier's shoulder. He spoke in Jhezenic once again, "Apparently you're staying with us. Go up to the house... If you hurt my children I'll cut your balls off with a saw." With a single hand he shoved the fellow back toward the front gate of the house. Even this fellow was reasonably strong. In Gehjovenic the man called to his daughter by the door, "Show him the guest room upstairs."

 

            It was the true then...he wasn't in hell. Ichigo was afraid of the threat, he wouldn't bother anyone but why was the Gehjoven handing him off to someone else? The 'why' of this all was so hazy at best. The cold paratrooper probably didn't have a good reason for doing this - or so the Jhezen figured thus far. The hazel eyes could only watch the paratrooper argue with his apparent friend as the daughter of that friend came down from the porch and opened the gate. She gently took his hesitant arm and led him up the slope to the house's front porch.

 

            "It's ok. We aren't mean like Grimmjow." The Jhezen gave the young girl a stunned look as she'd spoken to him in the Jhezenic language. These children's father was a theorist for military intelligence who didn't totally hate Jhezens, imagining that learning about their culture could be an advantage.

 

            "You..."

 

            "My little brother is learning to speak your language but I already know most of it. We aren't allowed to use it outside of the house though. It's a law in Gehjoven. You can't speak Jhezenic in public but you are allowed to learn. Remember that."

 

            Ichigo began to really calm down from being shuffled around after a few short breaths. He looked down at the arguing men and swallowed. "But I-"

 

            "You won't lose any liberties or rights in our home. You can't stay with Grimmjow, he lives in the barracks." The girl gently informed, letting go of the Jhezen's arm so he didn't feel as much pressure. "Are you hungry? We made breakfast cakes and just finished vegetables with beef steaks for dinner."

 

            Ichigo's focus was torn between her and the paratrooper and his friend.

 

            Down with the two Gehjoven men on the sidewalk in front of the theorist's house Grimmjow was just getting ready to leave, apparently getting really tired of arguing with a man as stubborn as himself. Handing over the bag of the commsman's possessions was one of a few finalizing gestures.

 

            "Aren't you going to stay and at least explain things to this young man, like why you're saving him among other things?" The theorist's youngest child stood beside him now, instead of attached to Grimmjow's leg.

 

            "Nope." Moving toward his motorcycle with an easy and even gait Grimmjow swung a leg over the bike and sat down on his cruiser, flicking the kickstand up next. "Got a wife to kiss and stick my dick in, I'd like to get going."

 

            The other man closed his eyes and made a barely tolerant face. "Don't behave like that in front of my son..." He nudged the young child toward the front gate and the bowl-helmeted boy went up the slope and onto the porch to join his sister and the Jhezen.

 

            Grimmjow waited until the boy was out of earshot. "I'm fucking kidding..! ...about the kissing part at least."

 

            It was hard not to laugh or at least give a short snort to that because Grimmjow's wife was a notorious bitch but this friend wanted to remain at least partly serious. "Alright Grimmjow...just get the heck out of here. I need space to consider forgiving you for dumping this burden in my lap."

 

            With a wild laugh the paratrooper started up the bike with a loud rumble. "I'm telling you the truth, I like pussy a lot more than I like him or arguing with you. Facts of life."

 

            "Facts my fucking foot. You better come back in the next few days to talk to this kid."

 

            "You're gonna teach him to talk like us that fast?" Grimmjow sounded like he didn't believe that could be done.

 

            It couldn't. "No, but you owe him a little attention."

 

            "I don't owe him shit." Working the clutch and putting the bike in gear Grimmjow twisted the throttle gently and pulled away from the curb with his head turned away silently. He leaned, turning onto the street he'd ride back up.

 

            Meanwhile the Jhezen begged the girl near him for a quick translation and just after he'd been told it Ichigo bellowed some badly pronounced Gehjovenic words, "Thank you!" He managed to make them understandable.

 

            That got the paratrooper's attention for the second before he'd speed up and drove off. He didn't turn his head but his eyes looked in the direction of the porch for just that instant. 'Yeah whatever...' his thoughts could only manage. The rumble of the motorcycle bounced off of buildings and eventually was a very distant sound.

 

            The Jhezen watched the wind follow up behind the man driving off, it seemed to blow him away from them. The trees rustled loudly like the rumbling engine. Some of their leaves fell off, following the Gehjoven's path and scattering behind him. Ichigo eased up on his leaning posture and exhaled; he was too caught up in the moment to really think about what it was going to be like here for a little fish in an enormously hostile pond.

 

            Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez wouldn't come to visit the Jhezen soldier at all...but that unwillingness couldn't prevent their paths crossing in the future.

 

 

            That which is mercy...is not always gentle.

Chapter Text

Section 7: Four Years

{It has been four years since the young Jhezenic commsman was taken off of the battlefield and spared death by an Elite paratrooper and soldier of Gehjoven named Grimmjow who is widely recognized for his war-oriented skills, devotion to Gehjoven, brutalization toward enemies...among other things.}

 

            "Grimmjoooow! My summer flowers, you destroyed these!" A certain man's beautiful wife threw a handful of crushed and floppy flowers of multiple kinds and vivid colors at the mohawked man's back. They struck his tank top across the spine with a harmless slap and fell dead onto the pavement behind the same crouched man.

 

            Surprised very minimally Grimmjow didn't lower the two tools in his gloved hands that were up against his motorcycle, he just vaguely looked over his shoulder. "Sorry." His apology was very flat.

 

            Having made the effort to stomp all the way around to their front yard the blonde was not willing to accept a lacking and flat apology. She became even more displeased when her husband turned his eyes forward again to continue maintenance on his bike. "At least mean that you're sorry when you say it. Look at these!" Her hands still held the rest of the flowering plants that had been smushed which she’d had to dig up, well-manicured fingers curling around the stems. "There are even more in the back..."

 

            Grimmjow's hands were still working but he was listening...sort of wishing that he wasn't. His bluish eyes shifted when a neighbor relaxing in a chair on their own lawn nearby left the chair and went in the house. The neighbors hated their arguing - which happened all too often. It would help if Tier just didn't piss and whine so loudly, even though she had a legitimate reason to be upset. "Honey, I'm sorry. Just use those as mulch and I'll buy you more seeds to replant them." His motorcycle was getting all of his eyes' focus again. "Fucking christ..." was muttered under his breath.

 

            "Don't you cuss at me..! It's past blooming season, they won't grow now."

 

            "That's not my problem." Grimmjow's hands hadn't left the bike and he was beginning to actually tune his wife out. He'd offered to help but the solution didn't seem like it was good enough.

 

            "It is your problem! It's your fault!" When her husband said nothing back in the coming minute or two after the accusation, while she stood there behind him fuming about her dead flowers...Tier's eyes narrowed and her temper lurched. She stepped forward and kicked the sidesaddle bag of the cruiser, hard. "You and this stupid motorcycle!" The bike began to lean.

 

            The tools clanked as Grimmjow let go of them and grabbed the unbalanced four-hundred-and-fifty-pound bike by the frame pulling it toward himself with a grunt of effort to save it from falling over. "Fuck..." he sighed with strained breaths. Just then he felt his wife pelt him with the rest of the flowers she'd been clutching; they struck him on the head and some tangled in his hair as he tilted the machine back on its kickstand and let go. Grimmjow gave his lady a hard frown and brushed the dead plants out of his upright mohawk and off the shaved sides of his head. Apparently that wasn't satisfying enough so Tier wound up a kick toward him specifically and Grimmjow was on his feet in a second, stalling her plan a stroke short without laying a hand on her. The intense look in his eyes was enough to make her hesitate. Grimmjow's further hard stare at his wife said 'do not do that', but after this time to consider Tier kicked him hard against the leg anyway. "GO IN THE HOUSE!" Grimmjow yelled after she kicked him. Thanks to that he could feel unruly anger boiling under his skin.

 

            "Fuck you!" she shouted in turn.

 

            Beyond angry Grimmjow continued to yell at the top of his carrying militaristic voice. "TAKE A HIKE, WOMAN!"

 

            "'Woman'?!" Tier stood her ground and smirked at him darkly. Her arms crossed and she lifted a blonde brow up while staring her husband down. He looked like he wanted to throw a punch. "Do it," her words were quiet and challenging. Grimmjow had never hit her.

 

            The mohawked man's knuckles got white as his hands clenched. The veins on his arms began to lift.

 

            "Hit me if you're so mad." ...had never hit her. "All of this is your fault though."

 

            He never would. Even with his teeth grinding together so hard that they groaned and the tense skin over his knuckles strained as he made fists at his sides. He never would hit back. Grimmjow bottled up his anger so tight that the glass it was in creaked and cracked but it didn’t burst.

 

            "No? Fine then. I'm going to get back to fixing my garden and your tools that crush my flowers are going in the garbage." Prissy and unharmed Tier turned and began to walk toward the house, her wedge heeled shoes tapping lightly on the concrete as she left the soldier to fume.

 

            "Stupid broad," Grimmjow snapped at a moderate volume. His wife stopped and turned to glare. "I called you a 'broad' in case you were wondering. Throw out my toolbox that's sitting on your stupid flowers if you can lift it."

 

            A little irked because he had a solid point there...she shot a remark back with a frown, "Since I pushed it off of them I'll figure something out."

 

            He gave up on glaring and turned back to his motorcycle. The bag she'd kicked was definitely damaged. While listening to his wife's distancing footsteps and the front door of the house opening and slamming closed he discovered by the loose movement of the container that its mounting bracket was bent in one place and broken in another. She wasn't a weak woman that was for sure. Beautiful too, but temperamental. Tier liked to get her way regardless. Grimmjow made sure his bike was leaning on its kickstand well and tightened up the remaining bolts he'd been replacing initially and then moved onto removing the ones for the side bag so he could take the damaged thing off. His thoughts revolved around the sour woman who'd gone off to fix something he'd accidentally messed up. He thought of her... She looked pretty in that pastel yellow summer top. Short sleeves that showed off most of her naturally tanned arms. The top was loose and hung over her huge boobs, lines of fabric cascading and hanging in a delicate way... Her waist was lean and the core of her hourglass build was fit and healthy below the shirt. Hips that were covered by well fitted and waist high jeans looked good in the mixture of dark and light faded blues. He'd picked those out for her, bought them as a present and thought at first that he'd fucked up and bought the wrong size when they fit her so tight and trim. She’d loved them immediately. Apparently that was a type of fashion. 'Skinny jeans'. His crotch and calves hurt just thinking about them.

 

            A little phased by what had just happened, Grimmjow huffed a breath up toward his forehead lifting a stray bit of hair annoyingly dangling in front of his eyes for a moment. It was a fairly hot day and his sweat had made just a few gelled parts of his mohawk fall down. His coarse hands carefully lifted the leathery sidesaddle bag off of the brackets on the bike and walked to the grass of their front yard and laid it down. Looking up at their abode as he straightened his back he thought about how he'd bought this small comfortable house a year or two ago. It was a nice location, also nice to be near the practice grounds and normal barracks of Souvenbash. It cost half of his savings to buy outright but it seemed worth it. An unhappy groan followed as it occurred to Grimmjow that he'd need to take the other side bag off too, for balance and appearance. Right now he didn't have a ton of money saved up, nor were most of his living conditions paid for directly by their military anymore. Gehjoven couldn't afford that for their soldiers outside of the barracks. It was alright though. The barracks weren't glamorous to live in and this house had been a necessary upgrade for sure. His pleased wife had spent her own earned money decorating a lot of it attractively; she had nice but expensive taste in decor. Next Grimmjow looked at Tier's car as he walked around his bike and purposefully removed a screw from her car's rear license plate, cocking it sideways. She'd hate that small upset. If the whole plate fell off he'd probably smirk as she howled and complained about it. Rather softly vengeful, the man grinned about his minimal prank, crouching down in the next second to remove the second leather bag on his bike. While he worked his neighbor came out of his house again and replaced himself in the chair he'd left earlier. Grimmjow's sharp eyes noticed the man over the seat of his cruiser. The mohawked man eventually straightened his back and lifted his face up a little to be better seen. "Sorry..!"

 

            The neighbor heard his call and looked over toward the soldier, maybe two or three yards away, and shrugged. Older by probably twenty years than Grimmjow and without his own wife nearby to hear the veteran sighed and called back, "Women can be bitches but it does nothing when we yell at them for it."

 

            Knowing that as very true, Grimmjow rolled his eyes and returned to his bike. Lifting the sidesaddle bag up from the frame after freeing it he carried the thing over to his grassy lawn and set it beside the first one. That grass was perfect. Not a single patch of it was dead, uneven, and there were no weeds around. Even in the shade of the towering trees that were everywhere along most neighborhood streets of Souvenbash the grassy spans of many lawns flourished. This was a popular type of grass which didn't mind a lot of shade but it was extremely picky about being trimmed often and watered well. Their lawn, front and back, looked like patches of Eden thanks to a lot of effort on Tier and Grimmjow's part. The blue haired, blue eyed man went now to pick up his few stray tools and a rag by the bike and put them inside a compartment built into the motorcycle before returning to the lawn and lifting up the leather bags. Respectfully he nodded at his elderly but attentive neighbor, "Gehjoven be great."

 

            Such a man nodded back at the younger soldier with an equal amount of respect, "Gehjoven be great. Indeed."

 

            Satisfied with that farewell Grimmjow took the leathery bags up to the house. This house he'd paid a small fortune for stood out among others. The paint on it was crisp and fresh, blues, greys, and whites. The roof supported solar panels. The front and back porches' floors were tough, clear glass and the railings were ornamental and unique twisted kinds of metal - dark in color. Other details were there but the most obvious thing about this house was that it was really modern for Gehjovenic society. Grimmjow kicked his shoes and socks off at the door and walked through the carpeted living room to a back storage closet that was for his things and set the two bags down in there. He closed the closet door with a soft 'click', listening for his wife. She wasn't in the house. She was grunting and heaving stuff around in the back yard, angry as ever. He could hear her through an open window. Damn spitfire. If there was one thing Grimmjow knew he couldn't exactly use from his military training when he was at home it was being stone faced when someone he loved blew up directly in front of him. Outbursts of physical rage he could control, but the look of emotion about him was always there and sometimes made things worse. The man walked through the next room, an open kitchen, and to the sliding back door past the stairwell to go into the basement and the staircase to get upstairs. In all the house was four layered stories, he was currently on the first. Observing, Grimmjow stood in front of the glass of the sliding door to the backyard for a half-minute before deciding to go out there. With a plastic 'crack' and a soft 'whirr' of the track it sat on he opened the door. His bare feet patted against the porch's glass floor, switched to rustling as he stepped down to the grass and crossed the lawn walking at an easy gait.

 

            Back turned, Tier had a large pile of mangled flowers beside the garden by their back fence because when she'd tried to move the tools in their locked chest it had apparently fallen over on more of them; that was not surprising considering that the whole chest probably weighed two hundred odd pounds. Her light blonde hair in a single tail was beginning to look tangled, falling out of the tail in places. In her frustration she hadn't noticed her husband yet. Tier's posture jumped when two coarse hands touched the tops of her arms just under the shoulders.

 

            "Let me help." Grimmjow let go then and carefully stepped into the garden and walked to the opposite end of his metal tool box.

 

            With eyes that still showed some of her anger but softer than they had been Tier waited while her husband stood the thing upright and hefted it off to a spot of concrete by their shed. Despite the help she refused to face him even when he walked back over to her.

 

            Stepping up closely despite the back turned to him, Grimmjow rested his nose and mouth up against the side of her neck around her hair. "There's a good greenhouse in the next territory over. I'll buy you these same ones from them and help you plant them..." Muscled arms set around her torso under her bust and his fingers folded together over her stomach. “They’re already in bloom so you won’t have to miss out…” He knew how to apologize, it was just a matter of having time to cool off and do it right. "...ok?"

 

            Tier grumbled in the hold and settled against her husband, "Stupid jarhead." His presence like this was only a little consoling.

 

            "Ouch honey. The next time I rest a corner of anything on your garden just say something to me so I can move it for you."

 

            "Don't put things in stupid places to start with."

 

            "All I can do is try."

 

            "If you're perfect at war you should be perfect at home too-" Tier shrieked briefly as she was hefted off of the grass and carried toward the porch of their house. "What are you doing?"

 

            "Proving something," he answered with a slight bounce to his tone. He crossed the lawn with his hands holding her waist and carrying her against the front of himself like that.

 

            "Oh, no. No. No. No!" Tier fussed, but by this point the destination he'd planned and what he was planning on proving was obvious and she didn't entirely hated his plot... "You better put me down..." They'd crossed the porch and gone into the house already.

 

            The sliding door clicked as Grimmjow nudged it shut with his foot and raised his wife a little higher so she wouldn't get traction on the floor to escape. "Or what?" That was a tease he offered, patting her plush butt.

 

            "Or I'll kick you in the dick."

 

            "Please don't do that," he mentioned with a soft laugh. Plenty affectionately Grimmjow snuggled up to the squirming woman - now also laughing as he began to tickle her while holding her captive and carrying her upstairs to the second floor.

 

            Grimmjow was always like this. A tease and a jokester when it came to apologizing. Tier started to squirm more insistently and couldn't help laughing as they came around the next floor's banister. She moved around enough to get a foot on the floor. Skillfully she slipped out of her husband's relatively good grasp - gentle for what he could actually manage she knew. The woman kicked off her heeled shoes and shook a well-manicured finger at him while back-pedaling. "No..." No really meant 'yes' with playful zest in the moment...

 

            The amused soldier's brows lifted as he folded his hands behind his back and walked at an easy pace toward his back-pedaling wife. A smirk seated on his lips. "No?"

 

            Now laughing softly and still backing up to avoid being grabbed again Tier was running out of hallway and opened the door at the end of it to the small upstairs bathroom and tried to close that door before Grimmjow got to it. She found Grimmjow's hand there just as she pushed and slammed his palm in the doorframe. That startled her and she let off pressure on the door when she realized.

 

            Bearing a mischievous grin, unphased, Grimmjow just sort of moseyed on in and backed her up against the glass door of the shower. He leaned his face to her level, their height difference wasn't much, and kissed her first on the nose and then on the lips - hands folded again behind his back.

 

            Girlishly, Tier smiled and touched his shaven face with her softer hands and brought more than one kiss out of him after he'd instigated the first.

 

            Grimmjow got closer and his torso pushed on her breasts significantly. He found his wife's hands untucking his tank top and removing it by pulling it over his head.

 

            "You smell like metal, beer, and gasoline...gross." she complained a little.

 

            Now his hands moved to her hips and smoothing over the jean fabric. He found their front and undid the button, zipped them down, and slotted his hands onto the sides over her panties. "That's what happens when you leave me alone all morning... I find things to roll around in all by myself." He gave her ass a squeeze, moving his hands around under the jeans to either supple globe and leaving them there. All of that flesh under his palms felt nice. "We could take a shower if it bothers you so much."

 

            Tier bit at his lip as Grimmjow tried to get another kiss out of her. "Should we? I don't want to smell as bad as you if I help you wash it off."

 

            "You won't. Soap helps," the aroused and eager man encouraged. "So we should take a shower?"

 

            "Hmmm."

 

            Grimmjow heard the shower door behind his wife slide open as she reached behind with a hand and moved it. In keeping with that good signal he moved his hands up and pulled her pretty, delicate yellow shirt over her head. Now this was a glorious sight, those luscious breasts on her chest cupped in fabric. They'd look even better bare. Young and endowed, Tier never needed to wear a push-up bra like lots of women to get cleavage out of these puppies. As soon as he found the clip Grimmjow let the fabric of her bra down. Pleased as ever, the man held his wife's weighty breasts with both hands and licked from the nipple of one up to her neck. That curve...she was full of curves. Warm skin and a bit of salt from sweat but he found it all extremely pleasing.

 

            Pleasant tingles up her spine from the tonguing, Tier let her jeans down and pulled the belt out of Grimmjow's pants, tossing it onto the floor and undoing the top of his pants so they could fall too. Their pants off, boxers and panties were easy enough to shake off next. Two totally bare bodies moved into the shower and turned the warm water on after the door closed behind them. They rinsed first and then with her breasts up against a stationary glassy wall and hands flat on it as well Tier smiled, facing away, as Grimmjow held onto her body and leaned against her back.

 

            He didn't waste an instant, hands down to the 'v' of his wife's lower body and dick pressed against her perky rear, Grimmjow's fingers got to work.

 

            Tier, feeling her husband's thoughtful habit of pleasuring her more than himself first, leaned the side of her forehead against the glass and reveled in the sensation brought by his fingers moving against her folds and caressing over her clit. Despite coarse, calloused hands he never lacked at making his touch feel exceptional. She moved against him, breasts more fully pressed to the warming glass, wanting of more with her body craving the sensation.

 

            Grimmjow's mouth moved up next to his wife's ear, "I love you." He'd leave a kiss on her ear, cupping his hands more inward and applying a little more pressure to her sensitive clit as a couple fingers moved over her pussy hole.

 

            "You love my face, my ass, my vagina, and my boobs..." Tier shrewdly retorted, loving the feel of his fingers where they were regardless.

 

            "No..." he countered in a gentle tone. His hands working against such a sensitive and wanting spot were getting soaked. "You know better..." Grimmjow corrected softly, kissing against the side of her face and keeping his head up beside hers.

 

            Under him Tier breathed harder and nerves through her body melted from the copasetic pleasures he offered to prove that he was sincere.

 

            The thoughtful husband's extra military grade chest and stomach, bound with muscle boasting excellent strength, rested flush against her back as he kept close. "All of you is what I love." His wife only hummed a 'hmm' sound in response, sweet enough to keep him in the mood but Grimmjow always wondered about what it meant when she did that; this wasn't the first time. His fingers spread apart the folds over pussy hole. "Lean your gorgeous ass back a bit."

 

            Tier gave him a sassy look over her shoulder, a little surprised to find his face so close to hers.

 

            Grimmjow's lips kept their grin, "You're torturing this mortal man...please?"

 

            Since he'd added 'please' she did now but she also made that ambiguous 'hmm' sound again...or at least until Grimmjow's erect cockhead pressed against her well-loved vagina. 'Well-loved', sex wasn't just a once and a while thing between them. It was often, as they both preferred. The tip slipped inward with the slick juices dripping from her already aiding that and the woman's shoulders rolled back with a pleasured moan as her husband moved his fingertips more firmly upward against her clit as he indulged himself too. Tier's fingers pawed the glass with more pressure until that hugely wonderful sensation of initial penetration calmed and his length seated fully inside of her. Some women also loved the risen veins they said they could feel around their men's cocks when they were penetrated, but it was Grimmjow's size she noticed the most every time. That...and the smooth way he started out penetrating and fucking. It generated a thrilling build-up to the rest.

 

            Finally able to enjoy his wife's tightness around his bare cock the mohawked man, hair soaked and sticking to the sides of his head instead of upright, could feel his tension draining as lust replaced it totally. He relaxed himself with a few 'nice' ins and outs of Tier's velvet pussy and gave her the time to get use to the position. It was the best damn thing he'd felt all day... His hands moved up under both enormous breasts squished to the glass and felt his way over the sides of the wet skin and squeezed the plush mounds as his hips rocked gently against Tier's. She was leaning back to him, a good sign that she was comfortable.

 

            Wantonly Tier closed the space between her thighs while he was 'slow' thrusting and heard her husband groan softly at the increase of tightness to be had. Tingles and pleasured sensations charged up and down her body as the cock in her, solid and huge, slid against her moist skin, between her pussy's lips, and made her feel like there was nothing in the world but this pleasure. The luxury of having her clit tended before Grimmjow's hands had moved up was still lingering with her, not an easy sensation to forget. In all she probably didn't need her clit rubbed to make her cum... There was more than one way to skin a cat...make a pussy drip...but Grimmjow usually gave her that thoughtful pleasure anyway because Tier adored that attention. Adored it so much that she grabbed his hands off of her breasts and stuffed them down to her 'v' again.

 

            Adjusting to suit the wanton indication from his wife with a light chuckle Grimmjow's fingertips teased with more pressure on and around her clit. The pair's want for a faster pace was picking up. At this point he was actually fucking her with fervor, his cock almost pulling out and then his hips would kick forward, faster and repeatedly, putting a little more force into each thrust as he sunk in. Her ass bounced as his groin connected with her rear each time and he could feel his balls swaying until they slapped against her closed thighs. Tier was practically going insane as the amount of sensations assaulting her were relentless. Not too hard...not too little...just enough to the point where her impulses took over and she moved against him with more want. Balls tense and full slapping up to Tier's closed thighs and hips pushing his cock through the tight gap into her soaking pussy hole Grimmjow's own reveling body couldn't ask for anything more than to keep going. His breathing was ragged and hurried. For want of the taste of sweat on her skin his mouth kissed along her shoulders and up her arched neck. Despite insane lust, he cared. He was a proud man with the capacity to genuinely give a damn whether his woman felt special, pleasured, and satisfied. For some long thirty minutes they carried on fucking even though the shower's water ran cold eventually. Enjoying each other and behaving like a civil couple happened mostly when they had sex like this, but they were both such aggressive personalities that they couldn't help being at each other's throats otherwise. Such was life. Intentionally Grimmjow gave Tier her climax first, it wasn't like he wasn't getting where he was going, but she was so tense and wanting for it.

 

            When the woman against the shower's glass felt a tense and powerful pleasure building she tried not to melt instantly but her breathing and posture switched and became more wanting, relaxed and leaning; she tried to keep pushing against him with her soft folds and smoldering body heat as his thrusts came to her. The powerful pressure of pleasure kept building toward a high point and Tier really leaned on the glass while her husband hooked his wrists around her hips and continued to work her clit, seriously picking up his thrusts' pace and keeping himself deep inside of her. She didn't even notice the weight of her breasts hanging off her chest, or the coldness of the water, or even the way fading steam made the shower's glass wall slippery under her hands. Just pleasure so intense that it made her mouth hang open and her body squeeze around her man.

 

            From a back angle Grimmjow got to watch the bounce of her ass, arch of her spine and shoulders moving under the pleasure he subjected. Aside from the shower's wall, he became literally the only other thing holding her up through the vigorous fucking, but it didn't hinder him. His arms held her back half's weight, wrists at the corners of her hips and hands still testing her clit with on and off amounts of pressure that made her squeeze his dick oh so agreeably. On and off the squeeze would get stronger and his extremely sensitive cockhead was pushed against the velvet of her pussy constantly. Fuck... Everything about this made him want to cum, want to cum so bad. His balls tensed and complained as he exercised control.

 

            At her highest point of pleasure the woman's body clutched around the cock inside of it for a lengthy minute and a huge wave of satisfaction washed through her and made her feel light. Her mouth hung upon as she breathily gasped over the sensation. The senses in her body were sent to a wonderful place where she felt pushed over an edge and then immediately after followed a hugely satisfied lingering feeling. Tier's hands slid audibly against the shower's glass.

 

            Very proud of himself for giving his lady such a strong orgasm and enjoying watching her lose her mind, Grimmjow paced his fucking thoughtfully until his wife had had a total and perfectly fulfilling climax, able to feel that out by when her crazy squeeze on his cock released from its peak. Then he got a better grip of her body, fluid and water soaked hands coming away from her clit and holding her thighs, and right away started hammering into her swollen pussy without his earlier restraint. Even though it was rough right now Tier seemed to love it anyway, still filled with the highly satisfactory sensation of her own orgasm that took over all of her feelings. They both knew he wasn't going to pull out for this...

 

            Tier looked back a moment to watch her husband getting himself up to the point of overwhelming pleasure. All of the muscles she could see on Grimmjow moving with the competent way he fucked to get his own satisfaction was extremely attractive. The flex of his shoulders...tense arms...the packed front of his stomach and pecs...the tilt of his head and neck... All wetted down by water made them look even better. A strong, sexy man's body.

 

            Being a long time coming, he didn't take long to hit his mark. A heated sensation moving up from his balls and another sensation through his whole body joining that shot to his groin and the paired feelings blasted his nerves head to toe. Grimmjow let his load go and came in his wife, moving in her until he had nothing left to gush and getting a full feeling of satisfaction...like being pushed over the edge of something into an abyss and feeling totally satisfied afterward. That sort of satisfaction brought some relaxation and made his nerves and muscles feel weightless. Thrusts diminished into nothing with that climax sating him.

 

            Tier moved off of her man's cock, standing upright and turning around after the slick member had slipped out of her messy, soaked, pussy. She set her arms around his neck and affectionately Grimmjow wrapped his around her.

 

            Pressing his hands against her back Grimmjow recognized Tier's head laying on his shoulder and her body leaning as she relaxed and cuddled up to him for whatever reason. Warmth. Affection. Support.

 

            "It's not even dark outside but I'm going to sleep after I wash off..."

 

            Pleasantly Grimmjow's fingertips traced the curve of her spine. He was enjoying her warmth against himself, and the fact she wasn't at his throat. With the cold water of the shower against his back the warmth was even more agreeable. "No rules say ya can't."

 

            "Wash off and come sleep with me."

 

            He tried to be nice with his answer. "Can't."

 

            "Hmm." Tier lifted her head and slowly separated from Grimmjow with a final brief kiss, the lingering sensation of satisfaction still in her. She got her soap and washed off in the cold shower, surprisingly not complaining about it. Grimmjow lathered and rinsed soap on her back thoughtfully. She was a little mad at him for turning her down. When it got to cleaning off the cum from between her legs the woman looked back at her husband who was now washing himself off next to her and remarked, "It's good you shoot blanks."

 

            Tier’d spite about his decline of her offer was immediately obvious. Grimmjow tried to ignore that comment.

 

            Out of the shower Tier dried her hair and body on a fresh towel and went to their bedroom naked to sleep. She locked Grimmjow out of their bedroom before he could get the clothes he wanted from his dresser.

 

            The man cursed 'fuck' quietly at the literally locked door and went downstairs in just a towel, still feeling physically good and just a little bit annoyed. Grimmjow made his way into the kitchen, trying not to be too irritated, and took down a box of his cigarettes from a cabinet that Tier didn't know about. He closed it and wandered into the next room with his pack. If only he could smoke in the house. He'd told her he'd quit four years ago though. The soldier doubted his wife believed him all this time but she hadn't bitched about that in particular of all things, so he would at least avoid smoking in the house. On his way Grimmjow cracked open that closet of stuff by the living room where he'd stashed his bike's sidesaddle bags and took clothing out of a duffle bag on a shelf in there. These dated clothes were a little musky - dark jeans with huge holes worn in the knees, black socks, and a very plain black shirt with the sleeves torn off. Something fell out of the clothes' folds that he didn't notice right away.

 

            Immediately Grimmjow started putting the clothes on and stuck his cigarettes in a pocket. Keen ears listened to the ceiling as his wife didn't seem to be sleeping but talking on the phone. She made a lot of excuses to get away from him regularly, something he could have investigated a long time ago but had left alone to keep the peace. The truth was that Grimmjow didn't care as much anymore. Maybe he should, but he didn't. He'd walk head-on into a firefight with his rifle out and shoot three guys before he got to strangle a fourth with his bare hands and fearlessly do so but fighting with his wife endlessly wasn't a conflict he wanted to deal with. So shortly after Tier turned shady Grimmjow started ignoring her whenever she gave him a reason to. It was weird. It wasn't loving, but it was how he got by. About the time he'd finished putting on his clothing Grimmjow saw a bracelet by his feet which had fallen on the floor and picked it up with a quick snap. The man pocketed the jewelry with a sigh and now tuned everything he felt out except physical after-sex satisfaction and marched out of the house in this comfortable and airy attire.

 

            On his way he'd grabbed his keys and now as he was halfway down the front walkway Grimmjow glanced at his neighbor's yard; that veteran wasn't there, nor the chair. Gone back inside surely... With a huff the Gehjovenic soldier took out his key and set it in the ignition, mounting the cruiser and sweeping up the kickstand quickly. A half-minute later and Grimmjow was up the street and getting farther from the house which he'd bought to try and improve their life. The wind was drying his hair and the remaining wetness on his flesh that he hadn't exactly used the towel to dry off. It could have been worse; he could've had a mortgage and tons of things to pay off aside from that but the military took as good of care of him as it could and he worked hard for the rest. Grimmjow wanted few things out of his life. Kids. To always have a motorcycle he could ride. A beautiful, loving wife. His military status. ...and freedom. He cranked the throttle higher, pressing the speed limit as he got onto a main road and headed for the edge of Souvenbash. He'd planned his afternoon today in advance, and was going to drive off of the base and meet up with a few guys for beer and a good time at a location about an hour away. Tier could give him up for a few hours to let him do what he wanted once and a while he figured. Even if she was mad when he got back...Grimmjow was going to do what he wanted this time regardless.

Chapter Text

Section 8: Dissociate

            Grimmjow took a less traveled path out of Souvenbash to escape for just a little while. Passing through the checkpoint, he was glad to be out of attention's eye and out on a two-lane road. No one ahead of him. No one traveling behind either.

 

            On the questionably cracking roadway the wind whipped his hair around and he resorted to a pair of sunglasses that he kept in a compartment of the cruiser to keep the strands and wind from batting directly against his eyes. No windshield. As much as he enjoyed to ride the elements could always be a bother, especially when he disliked the use of helmets or anything which would largely cut down on his feel for the drive. The wheels of the bike gripped and the shocks bounced pleasantly absorbing the force of bumps he couldn't or didn't need to avoid. Roads weren't perfect. Especially out here. But who needed them to be anyway? Much like life. To either side of himself easy hills with long grasses growing wild here were a grand sight. A bit of Gehjovenic countryside. Hardly any substantial trees took root in this soil so the view was expansive and unobstructed. The wind blew the grass and carried the scent of the blades that was strong and fresh to any nose passing through.

 

            The transitions of natural surroundings to Souvenbash were well varied. Here were the rolling hills. In another direction, dense forests; and in yet another way yet were plains just beyond initial hills like these rolling ones. Far beyond the plains was the sea... Grimmjow took this pleasant and less traveled route to spend a little longer riding his cruiser and eventually get to flatter, more expansive land - those plains, then continue out toward the coast.

 

            A Gehjovenic soldier, regardless of rank, was welcome to live wherever he wished within Gehjovenic lands. The military sensibly accommodated travel for soldiers who needed to reach military zones for work but that was about all their military could afford to do with so many serving. Elites living in Souvenbash were extremely lucky to have that designated space. For Grimmjow, it was very nice to be permitted to come and go from it as he wished; not every man in their military was so lucky.

 

            As the pleasant scenic route set him free, he’d nearly erased the memory of his wife talking to him earlier in their bathroom. That little stone she'd thrown which could have shattered a lesser man wasn't going to shatter him.

 

            Grimmjow was not weak to her words.

 

            Not very vulnerable...

 

            ...but he was upset with his inability to have any children of his own. His very human feelings were only a little upset that his wife would strike at him like that. A little. He had to let it go. Things with her had been this way for a while. It was hard because he loved his wife, or told himself that he did, but he couldn't let a spark of negative emotion get to him and shake him up. It could be fixed; day to day he had to believe that. It could be fixed. That belief drove him forward. The truth was, that it was more of a hope than something to believe in. Bad feelings were better to move on without regardless, but realistically the difficultly in letting them go was causing this Gehjovenic man to become a little more dissociative with every passing year. Toward everyone.

 

            An incident... The whole event that had left him impotent, the biggest scar his body held, an ugly ‘mark’ that couldn't heal as it had once been was just a freak incident... Years ago, this Gehjovenic soldier had been crushed under rubble during a training excursion after a grenade blew a building in half, and the surgery to mend him had cost more than it should have, but in turn he kept his life.

 

            The large V-engine of the cruiser rumbled through the last of the grassy hills - so low that they were barely even slopes after a point. Leaning the motorcycle he came around a bend and to a point where travel was over plains now. Around the road the land was vividly alive with shorter grasses and rogue plants that weren't very tall. He was more careful here, dirt and sediments scattered on the roads this far out of civilization. All of this grass, and earth, and nature... He pushed up his sunglasses to keep the wind from his eyes.

 

            This nice countryside wasn't how the further eastern areas of Gehjoven looked at all. He didn't prefer to drive there. Much of that land was polluted or restricted by the military. Grimmjow had the necessary clearance, it was just not a pleasant place to ride when he wanted his head settled. This gritty society endorsed war everywhere and in the east the land was severely scarred by it – made into pits to house soldiers and the tools of war. Being that saturated in war meant neglect of the earth. Neglecting nature took the form of green spaces rarely being on the docket for tending or preservation. Untouched parts of Gehjovenic land were wild in many ways. Invasive tree groves and plants spread. Rather dangerous animals encroached. Fierce and unchecked the wilderness surrounding their infamous society loomed. Nature was waiting to close in and take its turn – especially should they lose the war. The Gehjovenic government lacked funds and the will to change that possible fate. So many Gehjovenic people were oblivious to the fact that by ignoring nature one day their society was going to be trapped right between encroaching wilderness, their enemies, and their ruined industrial zones, and then they would be cut off from their usual resources and swallowed by the unforgiving cycle. Grimmjow was mindful of the ground that his people could lose. For now though, peaceful nature, like around Souvenbash, was becoming exceedingly scarce so he was enjoying it while it lasted.

 

            The soldier's bike thundered over the pavement as its rider shifted sequentially and kicked loose ground cover up behind it which turned from brown dirt and small stones into pavement dusted with sand as he kept on his way; that was when Grimmjow slowed down. Not only for the pretty sights but because he was approaching a beachy area and that occasional sand under his tires could be a real problem. He was coming toward a seaside town no larger than a couple of miles wide...

 

            After stopping at that town and meeting the guys he knew for a beer and reprieve, Grimmjow rode on for some hours more before ever thinking about driving back to Souvenbash. It was a feeling of freedom, forgetting his troubles and remembering that he was more than capable of tackling the world on his own. Not just anyone could confidently rely on themselves alone. Perhaps it was that solitary natured skill which was his greatest comfort on these rides, seconded by the pure nature around.

 

~

 

{0700 the following day...}

            The following day, with his back to the rest of the room and himself curled up to the backing of one seriously comfortable couch Grimmjow was asleep. He was at home. After his ride around the Gehjovenic countryside he’d returned as ever… Tier hadn't been at home though; their bedroom door was wide open, and it was like she herself had evaporated. Though she'd left a note on the fridge... Grimmjow’s thorough checking around the house for her had found a taped sticky note reading 'fuck you'. Fine. After that Grimmjow had called up a few more pals and they'd had themselves a blast in her absence. An unplanned party involving several packs of beer and a keg. They’d trashed the house a bit but who cared? Grimmjow was good at trying to put emphasis on forgetting his relationship woes; he despised them. It was just him here now, everyone else had gone home.

 

            Light glinted through the curtains across the windows where there were small gaps. He'd slept for maybe three or four hours so far. Eventually the noises from the street in front of his house woke him; it was a weekend so people were out doing things in their front yards and driving off to the more popular parts of the Souvenbash. With a groan the man turned over and squinted as he flung a light blanket off of himself and onto the floor, but he didn't get up. Laying sideways there Grimmjow's wakening eyes studied the curtains like they were an important text. The only light let into the room was making them glow; the rest of the house was dark with shade.

 

            He knew that he had to get up eventually; he had to be somewhere official tonight. For now though Grimmjow's eyes started to drift closed again as the morning light making those curtains glow lulled him and made him feel pleasant and warm. He hadn't had nearly enough sleep to be a functioning human being yet and was weak to the soothing ways of the faint sunlight, especially with an alcohol induced headache.

 

            Yet...with eyes closing and mind settling down to rest again Grimmjow's mind began an unpleasant dream...

 

            Screaming. There was screaming. The ground rocked and debris flew. A building nearby shook, crumbling particles cascading down from its sides. "Move! Keep moving!" Gunfire rattled off near and far as rapid fire.

 

            He was following...following someone. No...he was leading someone. Someone was following him. More than one someone. It was near chaos. His vision was blurred. There was a voice that was only a memory…yelling for men to keep moving. The stress was intense. It trembled within him - quivered like the explosions that wracked their surroundings. This exercise wasn't supposed to be so severe. Another explosion went off and looking with an upturn of the head...there was just rubble and wide blue eyes. Just falling rubble…and a feeling of fear. It was the last thing…

 

            The dream, a horror of a memory really, let go of its witness and disappeared, letting the soldier sleep more peacefully now. His mind became a blank slate without further concern. Though as a man of war it was only a light sleep that came then because of that brief flash of terror. Unfortunately, this dream recurred often.

 

{1400 the same day…}

            Seven hours later, Grimmjow's whole body flinched as the front door across the living room slammed shut and the startled man shifted on the couch.

 

            Tier stared angrily around their home at the miscellaneous beer bottles, cans, and upset decorations and moved furniture.

 

            The groggy solider sat up a little more on the couch and draped an arm over its backing to keep himself upright. Oh no, he could see that his wife was upset.

 

            “Were you smoking in here?!” The room smelled a bit like cigarettes, something she hated. Tier pointed a sharply filed nail at her husband and shook it. “There is no way that I am cleaning up after your disgusting habits. You shouldn’t smoke in the house or at all.”

 

            Calmly Grimmjow stared, his eyes trying to open more than halfway was a challenge even though their target was beautiful. Presently she was dressed to impress, a figure of beauty in a form hugging dress that bared her arms and legs. Surprisingly it covered her chest, not actually needing to display cleavage to make her busty in its fabric. “Nobody asked you to, honey. I'll take care of it. Planned on it.”

 

            “I told you I hated this. So stop doing it.”

 

            “Having fun with my friends?” Grimmjow countered with a lightly peeved tone of voice.

 

            “Trashing my house…” Tier asserted with a growl and her hands rising to her shapely hips.

 

            Grimmjow waited a minute and stared his wife in the eye with a sharp look, “Our house.” Not to mention the fact that he’d bought her this house. “This mess is not that bad, and I’ll deal with it when I get up.”

 

            There was a short and silent staring match of less than a minute that followed, and then Tier stormed to the stairs and went up to their bedroom to get herself dressed and ready for the rest of the evening. “Rot on that couch for all I care,” she’d called from upstairs.

 

            Not thinking too much more on the issue Grimmjow let the words bounce off of himself. Eventually the man woke up enough to start going around and collecting the trash and straightening their furniture. Nothing was ruined or spilled on. He took the garbage outside to the cans and then came back in so that he could start getting himself ready for an event they were going to tonight. After walking upstairs Grimmjow looked at their closed bedroom door when he got to the top. He sighed at the shut door, not wanting to go in, but he had no choice. Dress clothes didn’t press themselves. Hand on the knob he turned but it didn’t move. The fucking door was locked. Now that was a little irritating, but not entirely unexpected. “Tier...” Grimmjow knocked lightly with the backs of his knuckles, “I know you’re pissed but this ain't alright. I need to press my uniform.”

 

            “That’s not my fault. You should have been doing that instead of partying and sleeping your day away,” her voice from the other side of the door mentioned with the wood muffling the volume of the words.

 

            “Tier, honey, please…” he didn’t bother trying to explain himself. There was another light knock against the outside of the door.

 

            “You can come in when I’m through so I don’t have to be in the same room as you.”

 

            “Open the door please. I don’t have time to wait.”

 

            “It’s your own fault, dear.”

 

            Grimmjow's face twitched. After all, he’d tried to be civil, but a wrinkled uniform was going to land him in deep trouble. He grabbed the handle and shoved the door with force. The wood of the doorway and slot where the latch was lodged made a horrible sound as it was jammed forward and broken off. The metal frame for the latch’s slot and pieces of splintered wood showered forward into their bedroom and scattered on the carpet floor.

 

            Tier’s head whipped around from her mirror, make-up in hand. First her husband stepped over the broken bits of the door frame. That brutish break-in had startled her. Tier stared, silent and wary. Grimmjow didn’t look at her for more than a second before going to their closet on the opposite side of the room to get his things. “What the hell is wrong with you?” she accused after she could tell that he was ignoring her.

 

            Grimmjow found a good reason to keep ignoring her with his uniform taken out of the closet and then the phone suddenly rang. The mohawked man’s arm held his formal clothes and the other stretched to get the phone on the wall. Grimmjow answered and quickly found out that the formality of the evening was actually casual. He didn’t have to wear these. Oh well…he wouldn’t have had to break the bedroom door’s jam, but that much was already done. He’d fix it up later.

 

            Meanwhile, Tier finished with her clothes and hair and glared across the room as her husband hung up the phone, tossed his uniform carefully onto the bed, and pulled another set of clothes out of the closet. “What are you doing?”

 

            “I don’t need my uniform, they’re letting us dress casually.”

 

            “Well you’re making another mess, put those back if you don’t need them.”

 

            “Later.”

 

            “Now.”

 

            Grimmjow glared across the room as he stripped off his other clothes and put the new set on. “Later. They’re not a problem.”

 

            Being petty Tier leaned across their bed and grabbed her husband’s uniform, holding it in her fists and balled all of its pieces up pending to throw in some direction. It was irritating having her demands be brushed off.

 

            Seeing that, Grimmjow was across the room in a second, shirt on and holding up his unbuttoned pants with one hand. He stood in front of her and spoke with a nasty snarl. “Put my shit the fuck down.” That clothing she’d crumpled up was important to him. The mohawked man held out a free hand for the balled-up uniform. His wife had quickly developed some sensibility and handed it over without argument this time. Grimmjow physically backed off as soon as he had the uniform, one fair step back from her. “Why do you egg me on?” he asked, looking at Tier and shaking his head.

 

            Tier’s brows knitted, “Because you’re a stupid, impotent man.” Those beautiful plump lips could be so unnecessarily cruel.

 

            The Gehjovenic man’s expression didn’t change in his look toward her. No matter how he felt himself want to twitch at that mean statement, Grimmjow bit his tongue to further resist reacting to that remark and put his uniform back in the closet in a hurry. The couple dressed on opposite sides of their bedroom without another word. In Tier’s mind she was utterly justified, because she considered many of Grimmjow’s habits annoying, but for Grimmjow, the only thing on that man’s mind was letting no one know how he felt. Anger was usually the only emotion that ever broke through.

Chapter Text

Section 9: No Party Here

            Pleasant chatter and soft music bounced off walls of an expansive room filled with many Gehjovenic people. This nighttime gathering in Sovenbash was a celebration for those of Elite military status who had shown exceptional skill in the past six months, part of which involved several very bloody conflicts granting Gehjoven another victory battle over Jhezen. The end result was gore but victory was victory to this war-central society, and so...they celebrated. Though few, the decorations for this occasion were long strands of lights hanging from the ceilings and spring flowers in vases on tables and they were just enough to dress up the otherwise extremely plain event hall. On the face of the building there were doors for a front entrance leading in from the parking lot for all of the guests to come and go through. Those doors were propped open. Other doors along the back wall of the event hall were larger and opened onto the patio. These were also propped open for anyone who sought a more private place to stand or just more air. The food was catered and there was an open bar. Those two things were pretty agreeable to most of the people there. A light dance beat played on speakers around the room, turned way down so it wasn't disruptive, but added atmosphere. On a far wall from the main entrance were portraits of men who had died honorably in the conflict - remembered tonight. There were definitely worse things to celebrate than bloody victories.

 

            Among many, Grimmjow stood by his wife with a strong mixed drink in hand; he'd barely started it. Like a vortex with Tier around he'd been pulled into some conversation where she was doing all of the talking for both of them. The yammering of general social topics couldn't hold Grimmjow's interest though; he was happy to leave her to it. The soldier found himself fonder of spotting who else had turned up for the event as he passively listened. Attendance was high, and the room's crowd was diverse – not limited to just Elite soldiers. Grimmjow felt privileged to see so many serving men gathered.

 

            The vast majority of the soldiers here weren't in uniform. So, they’d picked up their phones too... There was a call that had gone out relieving the men of the requirement to dress formally. Most jumped at the chance to wear their comfortable duds. Nearly every man there was only in a button-down shirt and nice pants. The ladies however always seemed to be looking for an excuse to put on their highest heels and smallest dresses with shimmering patterns and sequins. Grimmjow didn't find that ridiculous, some of those women here were very beautiful and some were additionally very important figures like Retsu Unohana and her apprentice Inoue Orihime. These ladies were renowned doctors and they were given special privilege to live in Souvenbash independent of any Elite under agreement that they worked as doctors in the base for the benefit of the military. However beautiful the woman, Grimmjow did try not to stare. Since this society’s birth, the government's punishment for being unfaithful to your legal spouse in Gehjoven was death by execution after trial. There were no exceptions, if by trial you were found guilty...you were dead meat no matter if you were woman or man. A spouse also reserved the right to divorce the other on the spot if they were found cheating, the trick was proving it – typically most effective with a neutral witness. A rare and precious commodity in these situations.

 

            Suddenly there was commentary directed toward Grimmjow... “It’s always like this, he wasn't even up until seven this evening...isn't that right?” Tier's head turned and looked squarely at her husband with a tilted smile.

 

            Grimmjow had been paying enough attention to quickly realize where he needed to focus but he gave his wife a look with emptiness and eyes that played on being barely amused if at all. Was he supposed to humor her? He didn’t enjoy her teasing and the bare look was only tolerant. He’d clearly heard her; maybe he was a statue in comparison but he wasn't deaf or dumb. Studying Tier’s face told him that her tilted expression meant she was intentionally mocking him, but it was at such an angle and so subtle that no one else would have really known. How could he have ever fallen in love with such a volatile woman? It wasn’t love often enough anymore…it was an addiction, all the while he told himself that it was love.

 

            Quickly bored with a blank reaction Tier gave up and turned away to continue her chat. The rest of the group hadn't fully understood the awkward moment and were happy to move on from it.

 

            Or so they thought it was going to move on... The conversation kept getting worse, Tier’s tittering to the women in the group turned into playful, personal remarks but to Grimmjow's trained ears they were annoying jabs. He started to feel his worth in soul slipping. Wives and girlfriends all tittering together about their male significant others, anything from hairstyles to their man's position preference in bed, and at that point Grimmjow made an important choice. Drinking more of his mixer he walked away from the lot of them. No one, not even his wife, as she’d turned her head when his warmth at her back was gone, questioned him. On his walk away from tittering remarks that shared personal information of his, Grimmjow was stopped by men many times for handshakes. These other people in the room recognized him as a hero for Gehjoven, not as a joke. It felt good to be so respected, and from the bottom of his fervent heart he was proud to serve Gehjoven and his people to keep their faction in victories. Gehjoven be great.

 

            Grimmjow eventually got to the back of the event hall and slipped outside into the night. It was eerie, the separation from the hall; all noises from it were muffled behind him. The man found quiet relief here and a place behind the building to stand on the patio. He still had half of a mixer to finish and Grimmjow wasn’t the sort of man to waste a drink. In the dusk and dim light of the night, over here in a solitary corner on this outdoor patio, Grimmjow drank in his peace. Literally no one else was out here and it was cool with the breeze of the night. There were some steps off the patio leading to an enclosed garden - a rare feature on Gehjovenic lands. He looked out at it as he drank, over the iron gates and bushy plants with their flowers broadly open catching the starlight. What kind of a life would it be to take care of plants instead of guns? Not one for him…but he sure did appreciate a gardener’s touch. Grimmjow’s back leaned into the vines that climbed the outer wall of the event building. As he drank he also managed to take out a cigarette and strike a match. A few puffs later he shook the match out and took a huge inhale of the cancerous stick. Sometimes he wondered if fighting in the war would kill him. He never wondered that about these smokes though. It was a certain and honest thing that they would. Nicotine in the tobacco helped his mind stay easy, he was casually addicted to it. Exhale. Then he took another swallow of his mixer – almost gone. He wasn’t feeling tipsy, only relaxed. Moments like this were really appreciated. For a while Grimmjow stayed leaning against the plants and groaned softly.

 

            Around the same corner as Grimmjow had come some time earlier, maybe twenty minutes, a man in a light white shirt that was half unbuttoned stepped out onto the patio and started walking toward the relaxing soldier. The man stopped nearby, legs in sharp black slacks and hands partly hooked in his pockets. "Hi."

 

            Grimmjow’s eyes slid sideways and studied the red hair in dreads pulled up in a weaving tail of impressive thickness. Corporal First Class Abari Renji was easy to recognize. They were also friends. “Hi.”

 

            “Your party was pretty alright earlier.” He’d been one of the men at Grimmjow’s abode. “Not having any fun here?”

 

            "I just needed air."

 

            "Oh." Renji took a place beside Grimmjow leaning on the wall. "Sorry for askin'."

 

            "If you're sorry you'd be giving me space," the mohawked man's tone was quite flat.

 

            Knowing that Grimmjow actually meant that he should fuck off and leave him alone Renji sighed and pushed off the wall, he hadn't even been leaning there for a minute. "Well let me know when you're done having space... Gehjoven be great." He started to walk back toward the doors. Grimmjow didn't try to stop him, nor did the blue haired man mumble ‘Gehjoven be great’ back. Renji actually stopped, in front of the doorway and looked toward Grimmjow with a lingering gaze because of the silence. It was disconcerting. He found that Grimmjow was watching him to make sure that he was leaving. As friends he genuinely wanted to know, “Are you ok?”

 

            Grimmjow’s eyes and expression flattened, “Yeah.” The blue haired Gehjoven tossed his cigarette down after taking a few finalizing pulls and crushed it with a heel. Smoked that one pretty fast.

 

            “You suck at lying.”

 

            “You suck at interrogating.”

 

            Renji cracked a brief smile, “See you around asshole.” He couldn’t do any more than ask if the other man told him nothing, and actually interrogating Grimmjow wasn’t feasible; the man was a wall.

 

            Grimmjow watched the dreaded redhead go. It was funny. Only someone like Renji could make irritating conversations like that additionally amusing, even if just a little. Still…Grimmjow needed his space and had a drained interest in company right now. What he really craved was another cigarette. He swallowed the rest of his mixer and carried the glass along, finally moving off of the event hall’s wall. He wanted to get his smokes out of his cruiser without being bothered by anyone. The most covert way he figured that could be accomplished was by hopping off the patio and walking up the grass beside the event hall to the parking lot where his cruiser was. The cigarettes were locked in its front-most compartment. To the ground it was only an eight-foot drop, less if he lowered himself by his arms. So Grimmjow sauntered over and lifted himself onto the railing, leaving his empty lowball glass on it, then swinging his feet over he lowered himself and dropped the rest of the way. The landing was uneven. “Woah!” There was slick mud there and one foot slid forward to quickly be planted and keep his balance with arms out. Grimmjow exhaled a sigh of relief as he’d caught himself and trudged up the grass. His shoes were kind of caked in mud now though. Walking up the grass he headed for the parking lot and wiped some of the mud off of his good shoes by dragging them against the green blades. Those nice shoes might never be the same again. 'Clack', as he stepped onto the pavement of the parking lot-!!! There was a sudden a sickening crunch of metal and glass. Grimmjow visibly flinched as his eyes quickly located the cause. A belligerent car had hit another car which was backing out of its parking space. The driver who'd run into the one backing out quickly reversed and navigated around the ruined end of the other car then suddenly peeled off, apparently not someone who liked to be held accountable for their mistakes. Grimmjow's eyes had flickered to the license plate and read the number-letter combination.

 

            The remaining driver threw their door open and jumped out of the car, probably once they'd heard squealing tires. “Shit!”

 

            Holding onto his bike's keys Grimmjow slowly walked up, doing the only thing that was right in this situation; the distressed man didn't seem to notice him at first. “I got the plate,” he mentioned as he moved up.

 

            Slowly the driver turned around after a stressed groan. He hadn’t quite registered what the blue haired Gehjoven had just told him.

 

            Stricken with a sudden surprise the cruiser’s keys slipped out of his hand and hit the ground. The metal objects on that ring of keys ‘chinked’ loudly. The keys on the ground were now as silent as the night around them.

 

            The orange haired and goateed man who’d jumped out of his car in distress now stared wide-eyed for a few shocked seconds of his own, ignoring the keys that had hit the ground. Ichigo couldn't find words at all right now. He didn't know if he should be scared or excited or thankful but he definitely recognized this extremely distinct man…mohawk hairstyle, the frightening focus of his stare, imposing height, large build, the simple harpoon tattooed on the side of his neck… The Jhezen’s breathing was very shallow.

 

            Grimmjow broke his own stun by blinking and telling himself to look at the back end of the mashed car. That taillight was totally shattered, the bumper was cupped inward and somewhat separated from the frame, and the trunk was ajar as it'd been knocked out of alignment and bent. The trunk was still latched, it just looked terribly skewed. Suddenly Grimmjow realized by the make and model that the familiar man he was faced with was driving a fifty-thousand-dollar car… What the fuck? Grimmjow’s wide eyes turned back to the Jhezenic fellow. This man had come here with next to nothing… Swallowing Grimmjow relaxed his expression and spoke evenly, “You got insurance?” Grimmjow stooped to pick up his dropped keys with a quick snatch.

 

            The Jhezen stammered, “I- Uh… Y-Yeah.” He was speaking Gehjovenic, even the harsh accent. Convincingly, even though he was stuttering.

 

            Grimmjow hadn’t expected to be understood, but he supposed it was realistic... It had been four years… The number one thing on his mind was ‘what the fuck is this guy still doing here?’ Grimmjow turned and started to move off. “Well good. I’ll write the plate down for you.” He was actually going to his motorcycle, not just ditching the poor sob.

 

            Without being so sure what he should do, the Jhezen looked around at the parking lot like he was seeking another opinion, but no one else was here! He closed his car door and jogged after the Gehjovenic man, catching up by the time the other was at the familiar cruiser only a few rows of parking spaces across. Ichigo looked down at the two-wheeled vehicle; it was four years older but no less nice. The cool wisp of night air blew across them, the Jhezen breathed deeply to steal some of that air and calm himself down a little more. It was a good bit of pressure, facing the reality that his expensive car would probably be totaled out and that this man had risen up from his past.

 

            Unlocking the front compartment Grimmjow pulled out of a small mass of stuff including one sun bleached pen and a crumpled scrap of paper. He spread the paper against the cruiser’s firm seat and started writing.

 

            Unable to help it, Ichigo tilted his head to watch. When the paper was pinched and picked up to next be handed to him Ichigo realized that there was a license plate number and a phone number. Holding onto the scrap of paper with gratitude the Jhezen looked back up, staring with an unsure expression. “Is this your cellphone?” Again, he spoke Gehjovenic in a very convincing accent. He was very fluent.

 

            Grimmjow was picking through the junk out of his compartment for a smoke now. He reeeeeally hadn’t expected to hear his own language at this caliber out of the Jhezen’s mouth and it was strange to listen to because it was new. This stupid pussy could be mistaken for one of them…the Jhezen had even bulked up a bit since they’d parted. Fuck, how chameleons worked… “No. That's the police hotline.”

 

            “Oh!” Ichigo felt a little foolish. “Alright.” He stared at the paper for a minute, mumbling the numbers in order to make sure he could read the handwriting easily. Easy enough.

 

            The improvement in the Jhezen’s speech was insane, Grimmjow actually felt like he was talking to another Gehjovenic man despite the shortness and simplicity of the phrases. In a way, the small exchange was incredible.

 

            “Thanks a lot.” Ichigo chewed on his tongue as he looked up and then down at the paper again, he already had the police’s phone number somewhere in his car’s glove box, but this paper with it meant something. It seemed apparent that the Gehjovenic man didn’t want to talk much, so with the paper in hand Ichigo started to walk away from the motorcycle, figuring he hadn't written down anything else because he didn't want to stay in touch. It made sense, but it didn’t make Ichigo feel good. He was an illegal person here on an Elite base...and this Gehjovenic soldier seemed to have a reputation to uphold...so…Ichigo wasn't going to give him any trouble. “Saved my ass again.” The words called out from a short distance away.

 

            Not paying good attention to the Jhezen, Grimmjow had been minding starting his second cigarette after retrieving the pack from the compartment but he looked up at the words called out to him. “What?” he barked as he hadn’t caught them the first time.

 

            “You saved my hide again. Thank you.”

 

            Now Grimmjow said nothing as he watched the other man walk backward a few steps before the Jhezen turned around and jogged back to the damaged car in the dark. Grimmjow didn't look away; he was caught in a stare with an unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Realizing that the weight of world had disappeared from him for just five minutes with that distraction, the soldier shut the bike compartment. He put the cigarette back, back into the pack, and the pack with the lighter into his pants’ pocket. Briskly he walked after the other man and toward the expensive damaged car. The soles of Grimmjow’s shoes clacked loudly on the pavement the whole way. He wasn’t light on his feet in this haste. …what fuck was he hurrying for? Then the clacking stopped. He was right next to the car. The Gehjovenic man lifted a hand and knocked on the driver’s window with the back of his knuckles.

 

            The Jhezen flinched and looked up from storing away the paper he’d been given. He’d been in the car and not heard the footsteps.

 

            The hand gently knocked on the window again and the Gehjoven crouched, looking in.

 

            Those intense eyes caught Ichigo’s immediately through the glass and sent a chill up the Jhezen’s spine. That kind of a fully attentive stare from this man was still extremely frightening.

Chapter Text

Section 10: Could Have Been, Soulless

            For a minute Ichigo and Grimmjow did nothing but make eye contact through the window.

 

            It was Ichigo’s choice to see what the other man wanted. He rolled his window down to the Gehjovenic man but they stayed in silence for yet another minute.

 

            Grimmjow opened his mouth like he might speak and then realized that he hadn’t thought through any of this. “I forgot what I needed to say.” The fuck was he thinking?! He felt he shouldn’t talk to this guy. Immediately after the excuse, he turned and walked with a sharply quick stride back toward his cruiser, shoes clacking loudly with his sure steps.

 

            “Oh-” Ichigo’s reaction was choked out but he sounded surprised. He was surprised. “…ok.” He hadn’t even been given the chance to respond; the Gehjovenic man had already moved on. Something about this situation and watching the other man hurry away from him screamed ‘not again’. After giving a short thought to it, Ichigo pulled his car the rest of the way into the parking-space, he’d file that police report tomorrow, and with his window rolled up opened his door. It closed back up with a clap and Ichigo dogged after the other soldier faster than Grimmjow could start his bike and leave.

 

            The Gehjoven was on his cruiser and nearly set, the key was just not turned so the engine wasn’t running but they were poised. His earlier hard mixer wasn’t affecting him, he’d be fine to drive off.

 

            “Hold on! …please!” he softened his voice as he got closer, slowing his stride as he caught up.

 

            Grimmjow’s head turned immediately. “Leave me alone, man.” There was no escalation in his tone, it was completely flat. He was trying to be civil about the discouragement.

 

            Ichigo panted softly, holding onto his car keys. “Didn’t you have something to say?” he asked, hoping to find out what may or may not have been on the other man’s mind that had made the gruff soldier come over to his car.

 

            “No I didn’t.” Even if he had, Grimmjow wouldn’t disclose.

 

            “But you…” The former commsman felt his stomach turn and gestured toward the cruiser with anxious eyes and then let his hands fall at his sides. “Could you take me with you?” That impulsive question had just slipped out.

 

            Not even a twitch from the hardened soldier at the invasive and reckless request, but he wasn’t inclined to say ‘yes’. “Why would I do that?” Additionally, he did sound less than friendly – with his tone uneven now.

 

            Ichigo reasoned fastly, “Because you did before.” The Jhezen’s honest expression was not begging or pleading but he did seem a little earnest. A pause gave him a moment to think. He didn’t want to get back in his car and drive home alone. “And I’ve had a terrible night, until now…”

 

            The answer stuck the Gehjoven somewhere between sensible and shocked. The mohawked man gave the former commsman a hard stare for better than a minute, then looked toward the event building. There was no one else in sight, and he was checking to see if they were being watched.

 

            The Jhezen noticed that measure. “I’m sorry… Is…there someone you’re waiting on?” He hadn’t thought of that until he saw the other man’s head turn to scout the front of that building.

 

            Without looking at the Jhezen, Grimmjow answered by shaking his head ‘no’. He wasn’t exactly lying, but he wasn’t exactly being honest and fair either. He considered the consequences of leaving his wife here with her friends. In turn, he also considered the consequences of waiting for her… It made no sense to wait. The idea of waiting for her felt twisted, warped. Being married to someone shouldn’t feel that way; like you could do no right by your spouse even if you were at your best. She would probably go home with her friends anyway even if he waited on her. Wasn’t it the principal of the whole thing though? Despite that, it still made no sense to him to wait. Grimmjow’s head slanted back and he looked with a hard stare at the man standing near his cruiser’s wide rear tire. In that look toward the Jhezen he didn’t know exactly what he saw…but the weight of his shitty personal life felt less again. Not as shitty. The key in the bike’s ignition turned and the motorcycle came alive with a strong growl of its V-engine and Grimmjow’s heel swept up the kickstand.

 

            The former commsman took that differently than intended, worried he might be left behind, and anxiously took a half-step forward. The Gehjovenic soldier didn’t turn the throttle though; he waited with both feet planted sturdily on either side of the cruiser and looked back over a shoulder presumably because he hadn’t felt the other man try to climb on. Realizing that was his cue, Ichigo just barely remembered to press the ‘lock’ on his remote key for his car before he took the opportunity and carefully straddled the pillion seat of the bike and put his feet up on the back pegs. He’d almost forgotten how this felt… It was almost like rewinding time as the Gehjovenic man walked them forward a few feet and then used the clutch and throttle. That feel of the acceleration… shifting… deceleration… The wind – it was so open. The none-too-sweeping lean around corners – exhilarating. The engine’s rumble and shift of the transmission…vibrating with power. Ichigo’s hand had stuffed his car keys into his pocket and held onto the slight handles beside the small seat by his hips. If memory served, this man didn’t want to be clung to. He’d remembered. The Jhezen could respect that. Since he’d ridden as a passenger before he was a better one now, not leaning or having other obnoxious posture while they moved. They got to the near edge of the parking lot and had to stop and wait for a break in traffic to turn into. Then it was off again. Ichigo didn’t look back to his expensive and rather messed up car, or toward the event hall. He gazed forward over the Gehjoven’s shoulder. Forward to see wherever being with this wild human being would take him.

 

 

{A couple of hours, and beers, later into the night…}

            Grimmjow had only had one. One simple, cold beer. He was more than fine, especially to drive his motorcycle. It took at least three or four to make him questionable; if more were the case he wouldn’t have even thought about driving.

 

            Ichigo had had about two and he was doing almost as well. Honestly it had been a stressful night with his car getting smashed up and wondering at first what he was going to do, but when someone had saved him from the worst of that mess he started feeling better.

 

            They were both back on the motorcycle now and Grimmjow had told the other man to hold onto him instead of the bike in order to keep track of his passenger. It wasn’t a hassle, just lacking in personal boundaries. The former commsman had amply voiced that he had no interest in dealing with his damaged car tonight, so Grimmjow wasn’t taking the other man back to the parking lot. He was driving him home. They pulled up to a stoplight, red, and so they waited for its green flicker...

 

            Ichigo relaxed, tilting his head and leaning his cheek against the other man’s traps. He was trying to cling to the good sensation of spending time with someone who was familiar to him.

 

            “Don’t do that…” Grimmjow grumbled, not liking the feel of such a position with the side of a face rubbing against his high back.

 

            Quickly Ichigo’s head lifted, with an exasperation filling up in his thoughts. It was the alcohol making him a little physically friendly. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking…”

 

            They were at the light alone, just waiting. Grimmjow looked up at the traffic signal to pass the seconds. “My place is on the way so I’m going to stop there for something and then we’ll get on to yours.”

 

            “Sure,” Ichigo nodded agreeably even though he didn’t have much of a choice.

 

            They were still waiting. The other man was probably thinking it but Grimmjow said it, “Fuck this is taking forever.”

 

            Ichigo laughed softly and looked over the Gehjoven man’s shoulder at the gages on the indicator ‘dash’. He watched the needles at their markers as the bike rumbled softly at an idle. “Hey, what’s your name?” Though he had heard it from the people who he’d been left with, Ichigo wanted to hear this man say it.

 

            The quick question was at first met with a grunt as the traffic light changed and the motorcyclist started to pull forward into his sequential shifting to move the bike, which did not seem like the behavior of someone who was willing to answer, “Grimmjow.” With consideration, he gave his name to this man who he’d nearly royally screwed four years back…a stranger who’d given back something to him tonight without any expectations based on their history… The company had been a kindness in its way. Over the sound of sequential shifting that made the motor growl, he went the extra step to ask the other man for his name, “Yours?”

 

            The Jhezen answered immediately, very happy. “Ichigo.” It was really unexpected, he figured, that this man cared what his name was. He was kind of wondering if Grimmjow had disliked him before this time together. “But that’s a Jhezenic name so everyone else here knows me as ‘Svenatte’…”

 

            “Svenatte’s a strong name.”

 

            “Yeah whatever…” the Jhezen chuckled.

 

            “What does that make your nickname? ‘Sven’, or ‘Nate’?”

 

            Ichigo gave a low grunt, “Usually ‘Sven’…”

 

            “You speak well,” the Gehjoven mentioned of his own volition.

 

            “Thanks! Not as annoying anymore?” Ichigo milked that compliment a little.

 

            “No.” Grimmjow gave him no excess praise with a short confirmation.

 

            …and Ichigo just smiled and smiled; he kept that to himself.

 

            Grimmjow continued to drive the cruiser at a pleasant pace, it was so late in the evening that there was no one around them. Coming into Grimmjow’s neighborhood that sort of changed but it was still a very pleasant drive under the tall darkened trees, the wind carrying, and the dim lights from houses glowing in the night. The night was a little chilly but not cold.

 

            It was a cozy sort of thing, being on a motorcycle for a late-night drive with someone else. Ichigo wouldn’t say that out loud but he definitely felt so… Another thing that he would keep to himself.

 

            Arriving at his place, the Gehjoven started pulling up to his own house when he realized that there was car he didn’t recognize in the drive. It prevented him from rolling the motorcycle up there to park. Grimmjow cursed softly with a light frown and switched off his headlight then started to back the bike up to the curb, letting Ichigo off first and then turning it to back up so that the wide rear tire was up against the curb. He put the kickstand down and swung a leg to get off. The cruiser’s engine had already been stopped. “Come inside if you’d like.”

 

            Ichigo shook his head politely, and smiled. “Nah…” He’d already imposed on this man enough, he felt.

 

            The Gehjoven shrugged trying not to make eye contact at the smiling Jhezen, “Suit yourself.” Twirling his keys around a finger Grimmjow started to saunter up to the house, following the front walk and glanced at the car as he went by. His wife was probably home and had brought friends. Whatever. That was fine. Unlike her he had a tolerance for her company; there were probably four or five half naked and drunken women behaving like girls on the other side of that door ahead. Just because she was vindictive didn’t mean that he should deal that back to her. Grimmjow stopped on the porch to select his housekey on the ring. Some loud music was going, it had a lot of bass – the porch vibrated. He unlocked the door, or at least thought he had. Tier must have forgotten, it was left unlocked. Another thing he would just shrug off, no one was going to rob them here. Crime in Souvenbash was stupidly low because most military men or even their fierce spouses on an Elite base killed any criminals that their sharp senses found in their homes.

 

            The music blasted him in the face with that door wide open, he blinked one long time and looked around. Now…Grimmjow stood just past the doorway as he came into the house, his eyes caught two pairs of shoes kicked off by the stairs to their upper floor. There was no one down here where in the living room their CD changer had been left on max volume… One pair was his wife’s, strappy heeled shoes he recognized. The Gehjovenic man stared with his mouth just barely open but his eyes wide and blank in a stunned stare. The other pair were a man’s dress shoes. Not a pair of his. His ears filtered the thrumming music out and Grimmjow’s eyes slowly lifted to the stairs, following every rise of the steps… He realized that somewhat he could hear them upstairs, moaning and knocking something against the floor or the wall. No doubt Grimmjow was trained to be calm under stress, but in this…bringing home another man to their home…and blatantly fucking him upstairs in their bedroom no doubt…it smashed hard against his trained self-control. …in their own goddamn home! Grimmjow’s blue eyes were dead for a minute and then he moved. An anger taking hold of him and shattering his otherwise composed self. That heartless bitch had actually brought one of her toys home this time… There was always a wonder if she’d seriously cheated on him before, had sex with another man, now it wasn’t a wonder anymore.

 

            Looking toward the porch of the cozy house Ichigo stared as he saw his driver standing there stalled just beyond the front door. The music boomed. His head leaned a little but it didn’t help him to see. Then Grimmjow was gone into the house. The front door hadn’t been shut… Both brows furrowed and Ichigo started to get a really bad feeling; his eyes flickered toward the car in the drive and then back at the open door. It didn’t take long for something he understood to happen.

 

            Grimmjow stomped up the stairs, he’d truly had enough. Enough of feeling not good enough… Enough of tolerating teases and jabs in public… Enough of being taunted and feeling lastly rated.

 

            In a few minutes Ichigo could hear yelling and screaming and clattering from inside the house over the music. He swallowed with a dry throat, still not really sure what had happened. In another minute, he heard a huge smash and the music stopped. Then the blue haired Gehjoven tossed another man out of the front door and onto the porch like the fellow was made of hollow plastic. Ichigo flinched and backed up, crouching by the motorcycle. This other man was totally naked and laid on the porch groaning painfully and also shouting angrily toward the house. Grimmjow stormed out into full-view, and his wife with a bedsheet thrown around herself haphazardly followed him. She was yelling at the blue haired man, her husband, to stop. Ichigo was a horrified kind of spell-bound, but he’d put the pieces together.

 

            Grimmjow whirled around to his wife, “Would you shut the fuck up?!”

 

            “Why should I?!”

 

            With a snarl Grimmjow turned away from her and glared daggers as the bare skinned and sweat dried man pulled himself to his feet on the porch. They smelled heavily like each other, and that just made it harder to be sensible. The blue haired Gehjoven let himself stay angry with a thin amount of control regained. Though he glared at this man he was seething the most toward his wife.

 

            “Woah, woah man- sir…!” the stranger put his hands up and swallowed.

 

            “You know who the fuck I am don’t you?!” Grimmjow bellowed.

 

            The other man’s body was trying not to shake as he stood there, apparently understanding of whom he faced. Not just a husband, but a Gehjovenic war hero. His hands stayed up in a calming and defensive flat palmed appeal. He just breathed heavily instead of answering then.

 

            “And it’s pretty well known who my wife is!”

 

            The stranger cringed and his breath quickened for an instant. “I’m so sorry man!”

 

            “You’re fuckin’ not sorry enough yet…shut the fuck up! Low ranked piece of shit! And get the hell off my property…before I make a sorry motherfucker out of you…” Grimmjow had lowered his voice to a deadly low growl. He would give only one warning.

 

            “He’s my guest you can’t do that!” Tier was insistent.

 

            Turning his face toward his wife Grimmjow scowled with disgust at her, “I’ve put up with a lot of shit but this is it. You can go with him, this isn’t your home anymore.” It was trying to stare at his beautiful wife…no…not ‘his’…just a woman in a bedsheet with one of her massive tits poking out of the fabric, shapely thighs shown by the part in the cloth, and tussled blonde hair looking impressively disordered. Just a beautiful woman…who wasn’t his. For the first time in his life seeing her like this he didn’t want her. It was challenging to keep even a shred of control, but he needed to keep at least a little. Even though his instruction was plain, Tier seemed not sure what to do right away. “Did I fucking stutter? GET OUT!”

 

            The authoritative bellow made Ichigo’s blood run cold. He’d been forgotten about and not noticed by the others. From here he was just an unaffiliated observer…to a scene most dramatic and unsettling.

 

            The other man tried to approach Grimmjow, maybe to try reasoning with words, but the mohawked man would have none of this. With a hard blow from a fist to this fellow’s face he nearly laid the other man out consciousness. Fists said there would be no reasoning. The strange man was laying on the porch groaning again. Tier came up to him next, yanking on one of Grimmjow’s arms which he snatched away. “Take your sorry fuck, your shit, and get the hell out!” Grimmjow snapped in Tier’s face with a hand shooting out toward the front yard and a finger pointed. He wanted her to leave, and leave now.

 

            She tried a last act of arrogance, “This house-”

 

            “What? ‘This house’ what?! Is yours too? My ass… You either get your stuff now or I send it all to you in boxes.”

 

            Tier’s eyes were getting watery from the fear that this was really happening. Her bitchy nature melted away and left behind a scared woman faced with the shock of her self-wrought reality. Her husband had finally snapped. “But…”

 

            “Boxes it is.” She was practically a bleary-eyed bimbo to him with all of his affections toward her shut off. Grimmjow gripped Tier’s wrist tightly with a quick grab. She needed to leave…before he lost his faintly present self-control.

 

            Tier screamed and scratched at her husband’s squeezing grip with her other hand. “Aaaahhhh!”

 

            Covering his mouth to ensure that he stayed silent, Ichigo’s whole body felt cold. This was terrible…

 

            With a violent thrash Grimmjow shook her arm and demanded silence. “BE QUIET!” The naked man was on the wood of the porch coughing now and Tier had quieted her screams to slight panicked breaths. “You have your ticket out of here alive, now…GET OUT OF MY LIFE!” He did, in fact, bellow that directly in her face.

 

            Light drops of spit, one or two, stuck to her face and Tier fearfully shook her head ‘no’, blonde locks tossing slightly around her face and at her neck and shoulders. “You cannot put me out of my own house!”

 

            Feeling an agitated snap in his head Grimmjow pinched the wedding and engagement ring pairing off of Tier’s ring finger and pitched them into the green grass of their yard.

 

            Without any hesitation Grimmjow took off his band too and then tossed it into the yard. He said nothing, heaving angry breaths and feeling the thin handle on his temper slipping away. He put a hand around her back and shoved her off the porch, only enough force to make her stumble down the steps. She needed to go!

 

            Ichigo’s breath hitched but the woman caught herself and didn’t fall and crack her head.

 

            Tier stood for a second, trembling and staring up at the house and her ex-husband who gave her a murderous glare. If she didn’t leave she started to realize what he’d do. After so long of pushing his buttons they’d all popped off tonight and there were screws coming loose in Grimmjow’s head. “We need the keys,” she huffed with a haughty sniff.

 

            Grimmjow growled and turned, storming into the house and searching until he found their clothing. The other man had found his way off of the porch and stood with Tier, waiting. They both shivered, he rubbed her arms comfortingly with his hands. Lumping the clothes together in a pile Grimmjow came back to the front door and pitched that pile out at them; then he slammed the door shut. The jam shook violently.

 

            In a comical scramble the illegitimate couple, blonde babe and brunette fellow, grabbed their clothes and shoes off of the lawn and found the keys to the man’s car in his pocket. Not taking the time to dress they both piled in, backed out of the driveway, and then drove away in haste.

 

            Ichigo stood up slowly from his crouched place, hazel eyes wide and shocked. It was fortunate that he’d totally escaped their notice, yet unfortunately been forgotten outside. Ichigo looked at the cozy house and then started to move. Timidly the Jhezen followed the walk up toward the house, glimpsing the glint of a ring or two in the grass as the moonlight caught them. It gave him pause. He thought about what he’d just seen. Nearing the porch, he heard a pained bellow from inside the house, a soulless roar of pain and then followed a couple of crashes that were violent like a beast was rampaging in there. Ichigo took a breath as he walked onto the porch and very quietly so; he’d decided not to try to go in the house. Upon a wooden chair in the corner of the porch he sat instead and waited for Grimmjow to have enough time to calm down. The Jhezen wondered if that would be soon, because he was getting tired. That felt so selfish… This whole event was all really terrible; this man had caught this firsthand, and by the violent reaction he figured Grimmjow must have really loved her. The profound devastation in rage like his… Ichigo was pretty tired but he set that to the side for now and waited patiently.

 

            It took an hour, roughly.

 

            Ichigo had dialed someone on his cellphone to let them know that he was fine, just out late. They talked a while. Nothing specific about this evening in his ventures after the celebration at the event hall was mentioned. When the front door of the house cracked as it opened Ichigo quickly said goodbye to them and stood up off the chair, looking apprehensive toward the haggard man who walked out onto the porch. “Are you alright?” he insisted. Grimmjow’s face and body just looked drained of life. His posture was bad, his shirt he’d snagged on something and torn at the elbow, and his eyes…his shockingly blue eyes were hopelessly deadened. Ichigo blinked slowly at the other man; he wasn’t imagining a visage…this man was a haggard reality.

 

            Grimmjow’s face turned away, unhappy that he was seen like this. He didn’t even know what to say. His hands hung open, but his fingers curled like he needed something to grasp.

 

            Ichigo slowly walked forward, sliding his cellphone into a pocket. The Gehjoven wasn’t making a move to stop him so he kept going until he was right next to Grimmjow. Ichigo looked around at the neighbors’ yards in all directions; he just came to the realization that no one else had tried to figure out what was going on and that was weird to him. They were out here all alone now.

 

            Truth be told, most of the neighbors were sick of the now ex-couple’s drama spats, but no one present now except for Grimmjow understood that the disturbances had never been this bad before. He felt defeated, he’d sworn to himself that he would never lay an angry hand on her and he just had... It was so that he didn’t rip her limbs off. A hard nudge out of the door. …but what had he done?! A hand touched the Gehjoven’s arm, tapping, and Grimmjow swallowed – looking at it.

 

            “I’d like to come inside. Can I sit with you?”

 

            Grimmjow nodded after a moment’s consideration. Turning and shambling inside, he didn’t wait to shut the door behind Ichigo.

 

            The Jhezen swallowed hard, hazel eyes widening again at the damage one man alone had done to what had probably been a lovely house. The living room and the kitchen beyond that on this ground floor were beaten to heck. The glass sliding door to the backyard beside the kitchen was broken and let in chilly air. Two small tables in the living room were smashed, by the gouge in the wall they’d probably been thrown against it. The CD changer was half apart by a hole next to the drywall at the base of the ascending stairs. Dishes and utensils in the kitchen and little containers were thrown, bent, and scattered all over the floor. Doors of cupboards were ripped off. The sliding glass door, beside the kitchen to the back yard, the whole glass face was smashed out; something had been thrown through it. There was nowhere to immediately sit, the couches had been flipped over and knives from a holder in the kitchen were stabbed into them. The holder itself on the living room floor... It was so strange to walk into this. Ichigo quietly closed the front door with a gentle and silent turn of the handle. He looked next at Grimmjow who was still very much out of touch with reality, staring around in a daze. “Let’s keep as much of what we had, a good night, I’ll help you pick this up?”

 

            Again, silently, Grimmjow nodded his head. He would rather be on a battlefield riddling things with bullets than this…

Chapter Text

Section 11: Souls

‘…needs and wants drive powerful determination in some and those driven people excel and become our legends and inspiration.’

 

            Ichigo’s eyes cracked open the next morning to a room he did not recognize. He felt the space he’d been sleeping on. It was a bed with the covers underneath of him and a pillow haphazardly hugged up to his chest. The Jhezen yawned and noticed a smashed lamp on the nightstand by his edge of the bed. Then he remembered: He was at the Gehjoven’s house who’d spared him being a wartime slave…the same man who’d just caught his wife cheating on him. Probably on this bed…ugh. Ichigo sat up on the bed and rubbed at his face, looking over…and beside him was Grimmjow, fully clothed as they both were, in much of the same sleeping position he’d been in. The blue haired man was on top of the neat covers and facing the opposite direction, clutching a pillow under his head. The bed was made before they’d laid on it and there was no scent of sex upon this piece of furniture, so either it hadn’t happened in this room or Grimmjow had ripped the blankets and sheets off. ‘He probably burned them…’ the Jhezen thought. Curious, Ichigo looked around the bedroom. A full-length mirror was smashed on the floor. Clothes were cast out and all over from the large closet in the wall. Pictures in frames were smashed on a dresser top and the bottles of makeup and perfume were piled high in a trashcan beside it. The younger man sighed. What a terrible sight. He started with a quick breath as Grimmjow groaned beside him and started to shift, waking up.

 

            In a few moments Grimmjow’s eyes cracked open and the second thing that he saw, after the dismantled closet off his side of the bed, as he rolled over was the Jhezen staring at him. The Gehjovenic man blinked and his eyes turned to the ceiling instead in a blank gaze. He could feel the stiffness of some bandages on his person. He must’ve hurt himself while he tore the house apart, but he barely remembered getting these injuries.

 

            Ichigo sat with his legs bent and curled into himself slightly. His hands stayed on his own lap. He was trying to not seem weird.

 

            “Not someone I figured I’d wake up to…”

 

            Ichigo chuckled lightly. “Yeah me neither.”

 

            Grimmjow’s brain really kicked in and he realized that he was probably the reason that this guy wasn’t able to go home. “I kept you. Sorry...”

 

            Ichigo lifted his hands, shaking his head with a smile. “No, I could have called someone else but I stayed to help out.” They weren’t able to do much last night before they both needed to conk out and rest - only swept up the glass of the broken sliding door and taped a garbage bag over the void.

 

            Grimmjow blinked slowly back toward the Jhezen and stared with a bit more life in his eyes than before.

 

            “You heard me…” Ichigo affirmed, catching the stare and matching it.

 

            Grimmjow took a breath slowly and exhaled, feeling distressed but grateful. “You want breakfast first?”

 

            Ichigo blinked, breaking the straight stare. “Sure.”

 

            Grimmjow slowly sat up off of the bed with a sigh and rubbed his face as he stood up. “If you need a wash the shower’s up here at the end of the hall.” He started toward the open door of the master bedroom.

 

            “Don’t you need one first?”

 

            “No,” Grimmjow responded flatly without looking at Ichigo and started down the stairs.

 

            There was a soft sound of clinking and shuffling as the blue haired Gehjoven was clearly working on making a debris-free path to the kitchen.

 

            Ichigo moved off of the bed, avoiding bits of the broken lamp and walked out of the ravaged bedroom to the bathroom down the hall. He opened the door and his eyes widened a little. This was the quaintest bathroom he’d ever seen, untouched by master’s rage… It was tiny but everything was clean and arranged and there was a lot of light coming in from a window with a one-way curtain and a skylight. Was this whole house so beautiful, like this room proved, before this mess? Ichigo smiled and moved so he could close the door behind himself and stripped down. Clothes went on the floor carelessly by the toilet. He tested the water in the shower and waited with it running until it was warm. By the time he’d gotten in though he suddenly realized that he hadn’t asked if it was alright to use Grimmjow’s personal bar soap in the dish. There had to be something else; he wasn’t about to use the hand soap on the bathroom sink… Ichigo looked around and spotted a clever shelf up high just above his head in the shower and there were bottles of soap. That was better. He washed with the one that was quite obviously Grimmjow’s by the scent and used as little as possible. Drying himself off with a large towel Ichigo wrapped it around his waist and picked up his clothes…these were not suitable to be worn around right now. They needed a serious fluff and fold. Ichigo left the bathroom with his clothes over an arm and jumped a little when he turned to walk up the hall because Grimmjow was right there walking up the stairs. The Gehjoven gave him a look for being so startled. “I swear to god I only used one of the soaps in the bottles…”

 

            Grimmjow’s look shifted to a questionable stare, “I don’t care what you used…” In a blink his expression was neutral again. “Did you need clothes?”

 

            “Oh. Something you don’t mind me cleaning in.”

 

            Without a word first, Grimmjow walked into the master bedroom, talking louder. “You’re thinking about it too hard. Just come pick what you want.” He turned as Ichigo wandered in rather silently because feet on carpet just didn’t make that much noise. “Or whatever fits.”

 

            Ichigo blinked toward the half-destroyed closet.

 

            “Eh, they’re all clean. Even if they are on the floor.” Grimmjow snagged what he’d been looking for originally, a jean jacket and a pair of boots. He gave Ichigo a shove toward the closet, as the other man seemed extremely hesitant and then left the room again.

 

            Forced forward a couple of steps, Ichigo was staring at a mix of women and men’s clothing. He sighed and started to pick through the mess until he found a pair of jeans that he liked and was almost his waist size. Then a t-shirt that was all black except for a subtle grey design on one of the sides. This was probably ok to clean up in. Dressed anew, the Jhezen carried his clothes downstairs, “Um…do you have somewhere I can wash these?” He couldn’t see Grimmjow downstairs and got no response. Minding where he stepped Ichigo walked further into the ground floor. “Hello?” After a quiet moment looking around the wrecked ground level he noticed a form through the garbage bag taped where the gaping hole in the sliding glass door was. Grimmjow was sitting on the edge of the back-porch smoking. It was weird to see the raw Gehjovenic fellow like that. Ichigo had distinct images of this man in his mind; images that he figured few people lived to think about again. To be polite and not get too invested in another man’s troubles, he tried not to dissect Grimmjow too much, but it pretty evident that the Gehjovenic soldier wasn’t a usual victim of uncontrolled emotion. The point of breaking he’d witnessed last night wasn’t typical of a man so steeped in control of body and mind…the perfect soldier in the field…but unlike the Jhezen had figured at first when he was drug along, this other man had to have some kind of a heart after all to be broken when passion for his wife was betrayed. Ichigo blinked and stepped over a bag of broken pieces of drywall and went outside, closing the sliding door behind him.

 

            Grimmjow turned faintly, cigarette hanging in his mouth with smoke of its end trailing up and a larger plume that he exhaled. There was still glass in the kitchen sink and across the stove so he said, “Give me a bit and breakfast’ll be ready.”

 

            The Jhezen shrugged, looking out at the vast backyard beyond the porch. There had been flowers in the beds of dirt around the outside but they were all ripped up and in piles. It really seemed sad, with the permanent feeling…that Grimmjow was a man who never forgot betrayal. Also, probably a man who never forgave such… “Your house is really nice.”

 

            “It’s full of fuckin’ fru-fru…” Grimmjow complained, tapping the ashes off his cigarette into a glass dish.

 

            “Can I thank you for something?” Ichigo stared long out at the yard, appreciating the morning breeze without anything to interrupt it.

 

            The was a long and seemingly grouchy sidelong stare at the Jhezen. “I don’t give a shit. Sure.”

 

            “Jhezen doesn’t have what your country has. I like it here more. Thanks for all of this, you might have disappeared but you changed my life.”

 

            The Gehjoven took a few breaths and considered, “What about those people in the picture?” Why the hell was this guy saying this? He had responsibility to family. Grimmjow wasn’t dim; the persons in that photo…they were this man’s family.

 

            “Ghastben City in Jhezen was leveled about three years ago.” Ichigo closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

 

            That Jhezenic city had been destroyed. Thoroughly. “They died?”

 

            It seemed this soldier was very to the point without fear of upsetting a grieving man. Perhaps that was just how comfortable he was with destruction and death in war. Ichigo truly believed that this fellow lived and breathed it. “They did.”

 

            “You know that was an Elite task.”

 

            “I know.”

 

            Their gazes were off in the yard, not finding each other as a somber subject was made easier by just observing nature.

 

            In a few minutes Grimmjow got up and took his glass ashtray, crushing a finished cigarette in its base. “You surprise me.” He mentioned with a pass by the Jhezen to go back in the house.

 

            Ichigo still stared out at the backyard and all of that wonderful green grass, the wind moving his hair slightly. He didn’t say anything but he was thinking about what the Gehjoven said. Idly a hand of Ichigo’s moved across his own jaw, stubble meeting his fingers and the soul patch just under his bottom lip needing tending. His teeth needed brushing too. His soul however…was quite in tact. Sometimes the world’s shit thrown your way wasn’t as bad after you’d seen enough of it.

 

            What was it like to be able to survive anything?

 

            Was it worth it?

 

            It only seemed so…if you kept your soul…

Chapter Text

Section 12: Picking Up the Pieces

Life experiences that are extreme are not all coincidences. The choices that we make and the people whom we surround ourselves with bring to us our future selves, places, and fortunes – the good and the bad.

 

            The two men were apart for some time, wandering throughout the house separately to clean up the mess that the ground level had been reduced to. It worked out, without distraction the house was starting to look less like a tornado’s wake. After sweeping up, while taking a garbage bag of glass and drywall outside to the cans Ichigo found himself in a predicament as a piece of glass tore open the plastic bag’s bottom. It took some extra time to sweep the escaped shards of glass and crumbling chunks of wall off of the driveway and directly into one of the trashcans. The Jhezen made sure he got up every single bit so there was nothing left to damage a vehicle’s tire or someone’s feet should a person like Grimmjow walk down the drive barefoot.

 

            With a sigh of relief Ichigo made his way back inside and was immediately directed to the scent of food in the kitchen. The man looked from across the damaged living room toward the kitchen. There was no one here…but there was food prepared. Wandering forward, Ichigo walked around the ruined tables in the living room and glanced at the smashed CD changer with all of its parts piled into an open cardboard box. The hole it had left in the wall by the base of the upward flight of stairs was still gaping, as were the holes in other walls left by the demolished tables because they had been thrown. The loose drywall from those holes was what he’d just finished taking out, it made the living room look a little better not having the crumbled bits all over its floor.

 

            Among the mess though, there had been something that Ichigo hadn’t accounted for when he’d seen all of this damage initially. A rather frightening example of the lack of rationality that he would have met if he’d gone into the house last night before the Gehjoven had stopped the distressed rampage. A large flat screen television on the wall with two kitchen knives and a hunting knife plunged through the screen so deep that the blades had found the wall behind it was a fair example. Frankly, that was not how TVs were supposed to be mounted to walls... That television’s cost couldn’t have been cheap, but among angst and irrationality its monetary value had really no meaning. A shiver ran up Ichigo’s spine as his footsteps slowed while he looked at the ruined TV, taken down now, and leaning up against the same wall it had come off of. Like the television, the living room couches were stabbed to death too, it was a wonder if these would be discarded or could be repaired.

 

            The Jhezen swallowed the uneasy feeling at seeing this level of destruction and moved on to the kitchen where he saw a skillet kept warm and covered on the stove. Just scrambled eggs and bacon but this breakfast was appreciated, even if it was simple. Beside the place that the skillet was kept warm on the counter alongside the stove were two shakers, of salt and pepper, and a note with an arrow drawn and aimed at the fridge. Ichigo’s turn of vision with the arrow pointing granted him a look at the sorry state of the kitchen. Most of the cupboards were without their doors, hinges bent and some missing entirely. There was a cardboard box on the floor as high as his knee filled with broken porcelain and glass dishes and bent or snapped utensils. Having cleaned up all of the shards and hazards around the counters and tile floor Grimmjow had filled that box, and the remnants of dishes that had survived the Gehjoven’s rampage Ichigo could count on one hand. Eight in all. Two plates, a water glass, and a handful of silverware; he noticed them stacked together in a defaced cupboard. Not a single mug more.

 

            Unsure of whether he should just take the food, Ichigo called out into the house, “Is this food alright to eat yet?” After all he was a guest and if Grimmjow’s preference was to share meals together he would try to respect that. While Ichigo waited for an answer to be yelled back at him he reached up and removed a plate from the cupboard and the water glass. They were recently cleaned.

 

            Beside the kitchen there was a small washroom where the Gehjoven had been lurking, the door had been closed but opened silently now. “Why wouldn’t it be?” Grimmjow didn’t even have to raise his voice to be heard from that distance.

 

            The Jhezenic man flinched out of surprise and turned around.

 

            Not looking peculiar in any way, Grimmjow had realized that his appearance had startled his guest. Suppose that was the most correct term to describe the Jhezen’s status here… The gruff soldier leaned on the doorway and waited to see if there was anything else to be said by the other party. There was a solid block of silence so apparently not. Grimmjow spoke again, “Dig in. Much as you want.”

 

            “You scared me.”

 

            “Maybe if you weren’t such a pussy.”

 

            The Jhezen stared across at the other man with a light frown. “I thought we’d gone past that.” Ichigo sighed. Whether that sigh was relief or frustration was hard to say. “You know when I first met you sneaking up or surprising me like that would have had a profound difference in response. Like me jumping through the roof.”

 

            “What changed?”

 

            Ichigo scoffed, “A lot of things.” He felt like he was better equipped to deal with terror now. Turning back to the stove with food prepared he started serving himself up some of the scrambled eggs, bacon, and poured a glass of filtered water.

 

            Without any telltale expression toward the answer, the Gehjovenic soldier stepped back into the small washroom with the door left half open.

 

            Presently now, Ichigo was paying the most attention to filling up his plate. He salted and splattered ketchup from the refrigerator over the eggs only and grabbed a clean fork. He filled the glass he had with water. Now he was free to walk with his breakfast toward the mended sliding door, fully intending on eating outside. The Jhezen stalled as he passed the small washroom though. A razor had clicked on with an electric buzz. He could see into the washroom with the door left half open and was strangely transfixed watching the Gehjovenic man shaving the sides of his mohawked head and trimming the long ends of his center section of hair, his mohawk. It seemed that Grimmjow had already shaved his jaw and neck. There was a mesmerizing way that the razor moved that trapped Ichigo’s attention.

 

            In the mirror’s reflection Grimmjow noticed the other man staring at him, despite an excellent focus on his personal grooming. “Take a picture.” ‘It’ll last longer...’

 

            The Jhezen’s breath sharpened for an instant. His eyes refocused and found the garbage bag tapped sliding door. “I’ll be outside.” A talented elbow rolled the sliding door aside because his hands were totally full. Out on the glass floored deck of the back porch it was a foot of his which nudged the sliding door closed again. A mental image of the Gehjovenic soldier shaving was stuck with him. Wondering why that simple behavior was so committed to his memory for now, Ichigo wandered out and sat down on the grass about a yard off from the porch and with the water glass set by his leg and plate on his lap. He found himself quite comfortable now. He relaxed and started eating his breakfast with a sense of gratitude that someone else had cooked for him. This was more than he’d eaten at the bar they’d been to and the event hall; Ichigo had actually not eaten anything at the military event. Actually he’d planned, of his own accord, to leave the event quickly when it was only mid-way through. Being rear-ended had dashed that. As he put a fork-full of the ketchup and salted eggs into his mouth, chewed, and swallowed he could appreciate how fluffy and flavorful these were; not over or under-done at all. A simply good breakfast, and in a way he felt lucky to have food at all. All of this fresh morning air outside was pretty grand and better than being stuck in the ruined sections of that house. The moving air ruffled the grass, blew through his hair, and felt so peaceful that it refreshed his soul. This was all too necessary after yesterday. Ichigo still swore that he wasn’t sure how there wasn’t a bloody murder on their hands; he was thankful that there hadn’t been.

 

            Meanwhile in the house, Grimmjow had left the confines of that small washroom after his head and face were shaved to acceptable lengths, and the hair clippings were swept and thrown away. The gruff solider stopped in front of the unbroken side of the sliding door to look through. The Jhezen was sitting outside with his back turned. He probably should have offered the other man a razor to shave with… Ten or so minutes later, there was a sound from the sliding backdoor opening and then closing. The Gehjoven walked over the glass floored porch in booted feet and onto the grass and stood right next to the Jhezen.

 

            Looking up, Ichigo noted the lack of a cigarette with the other man this time and figured that his smoking was probably an occasional habit if it wasn’t his reason for coming outside; he also didn’t recall seeing the Ghejoven smoking at any other point today. The standing man seemed to be conscientious of the incognito water glass by his leg and didn’t accidentally kick it over but his foot was very close to it.

 

            “Needed a shave?”

 

            Ichigo blinked, “No, I’ll be fine without. Isn’t it kind of an unspoken rule to not share things that go through your hair anyway?”

 

            “Got a straight razor, sanitize it with alcohol and it would be just fine to use if you wanted to shave.”

 

            “That is a pretty nice gesture but…” Ichigo wanted to accept that offer but there was a tiny problem. “I just don’t know how to shave well with one.” He’d be damned if he messed up his soul patch.

 

            “Always a time to learn.”

            Ichigo found himself narrowing his eyes. “Are you offering to instruct?” Gleaming in the early sunlight he noticed several piercings through the Gehjovenic man’s right ear. They were distracting; a barbell through the top of its cartilage on either side, two tag-like circular clips on the outer shell of his ear, and one thick gaged ring centered through the lobe. That jewelry hadn’t been on this man yesterday eve. The Jhezen strained to remember if he’d ever noticed piercing holes in the soldier’s ear back when they were still truly opposing each other – essentially when he’d been kidnapped during the battle where they’d met. Ichigo couldn’t remember details that small.

 

            The Gehjoven just shrugged, “I don’t care what you decide, the offer stands.” It was all up to just how badly the other man felt he needed to shave.

 

            “Well a straight razor is a bit daunting when you think about learning to use it with a person who would have previously slit your throat and ripped out your vocal cords.” Ichigo shrugged. “Just saying.”

 

            Grimmjow barked a laugh. “Way to rake up the past…” He watched the other man deepen the shrug. “Actually, I have killed a few people with a razor when I had nothing else.”

 

            “Seriously?” That wasn’t just a convenient thing to say was it? Morbid humor? Or just grim fact?

 

            “That actually surprises you?” Grim fact.

 

            The flat tone which that was said with made Ichigo reconsider quickly. “Actually no… I take that back.”

 

            The Gehjoven clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Too late, ya already hurt my feelings.”

 

            “What feelings?” Ichigo was grinning at first saying that, but then he suddenly felt guilt for joking about that in the moment. “Sorry.”

 

            “For what?” Grimmjow wasn’t in disagreement about what was said.

 

            “Ah…” Ichigo was not sure how to answer. He sure felt like a dick.

 

            “Fuckin’ apologizing for something you meant to say will get you in trouble faster than keeping your mouth shut in Gehjoven. How’d you say you survived living here for four years again?”

 

            “I didn’t say,” Ichigo remarked flatly with a weird little grin.

 

            “Oh right.” Grimmjow knew full well already that Ichigo hadn’t mentioned anything about that yet…he just wanted to see if he could encourage an answer.

 

            “You could just ask me like a normal person and I’d tell you.”

 

            “That would make me seem interested.” A remark like that turned up a brow from the man beside him. “Finish your food.” His intense blue eyes made a noticeable glance at the Jhezen’s half emptied plate.

 

            “Yes mum,” Ichigo scoffed. They were back to lighter conversation for the moment. He started eating again, sucking the stubborn bits off of the fork and tapping the utensil on the porcelain plate. “Do the ranks here train men and women-” Ichigo stopped himself and corrected, “men to cook?”

 

            Grimmjow found that need for correction amusing. “Not really if you aren’t signing up for mess hall and field staff.” The Gehjoven blinked toward the other man’s plate. “Does it taste bad?”

 

            “N-No..! The food’s good actually, but I was just wondering in general.” Ichigo swallowed the last of the eggs and put his plate down in the grass, drinking from his water glass now. “In Gehjoven what would get you further? Strength or smarts separately?”

 

            “That’s a trick question. Smarts are a strength.”

 

            “Separately.”

 

            Grimmjow rolled his eyes, “I’ve seen plenty of brutes in our ranks who do alright for themselves until they turn into fodder walls. So as proven by the progress of the war, Gehjoven pushing Jhezen back, I’ll say brute strength gets you a little bit further but it isn’t endlessly enduring.”

 

            “Hmm. Jhezen has tried to buy victory through their weapons, resulting taxes were very high to fund the military. With the increased taxation for the weapons select classes of Jhezen have suffered. Jhezen’s rich stay rich. The high-middle class do too. However, the average middle class and poorer population have just about been wiped off of the grid because they can’t contribute what the Jhezenic military values above all things - money.”

 

            The mohawked man tilted his head and explicitly stared at the other fellow with a warming interest. “Sounds like you know a thing or two.”

 

            “I have opinions and observations is all…”

 

            “Your tone doesn’t convince me that it’s so casual.”

 

            Ichigo shrugged too nonchalantly, “Opinions and observations.”

 

            “You’re not a ranking Elite soldier and you’re also doing more than alright around this Elite base. Is this why you own a fifty-thousand-dollar car?”

 

            “I don’t know what you mean.”

 

            “Famous last words, and that is also bullshit. I’m not stupid, and you’re not a particularly brutal or strong man yet you’ve survived here for a long while. On top of that you live comfortably here, not scraping by. So, what have you got to trade us that affords you such comforts?” At this piecing together of clues the other man’s barely cocky and breaking-coy attitude didn’t escape Grimmjow.

 

            Ichigo remained silent for the better length of a minute before Grimmjow prodded at him to keep talking.

 

            “What’re you so afraid of? Talk.”

 

            “That took you a frighteningly short amount of time to put together is all…”

 

            “Indulge me.” Grimmjow was truly still the largest threat to this other man’s found harmony here. “Why and how are you still here?”

 

            Ichigo frowned softly, considering what he stood to lose by explaining himself which wasn’t enough to keep him silent. “I don’t have obligations waiting for me ‘back home’. Without people who are depending on me to return to Jhezen I’m partial to staying in a place like this because your society isn’t a rich, rotted out, candied apple. Before Ghastben City’s leveling when they died I guess I still cared… Afterward though…” Ichigo paused for a moment, in consideration of all of the old propaganda that he’d seen about Gehjoven from Jhezen which wasn’t true, “…I guess you could say that my perspective has changed.” The Jhezen’s posture hunched and his tone of voice had darkened.

 

            “Do you hate Jhezen that much?”

 

            Ichigo swallowed water from his glass. “It’s a pretty screwed up place if you have no money or a public opinion. My family and I lived well, but the less financially secure are forced into the military. Drafting is implemented. Our military might seem fancy but most of it isn’t formed voluntarily.”

 

            Grimmjow scoffed. Hearing that pissed him off, believing firmly that signing up for a deadly occupation should stay voluntary. “You volunteered?”

 

            “No. I just joined a small movement to stop drafting which backfired.”

 

            For a moment Grimmjow remained silent, considering. He was still pissed about the whole idea. The dark implication of what had happened to this Jhezenic man because of his effort to stop the draft was clear. The Jhezenic military had likely pulled strings to shut that small movement up; what a fucking joke. No wonder it was so easy to mow down Jhezens if most of their military was demoralized and unwilling. “Does anyone besides me and my friend who sheltered you know where you came from?”

 

            “No.”

 

            “You’re not a soldier either.”

 

            “Not a typical one.”

 

            “What the fuck makes you so valuable to us then?”

 

            “I’m a wild card. I know my way around computers and advanced programs, data storage, networks, the like. It’s where I started with the Jhezenic military…” Ichigo gave a slight pause as a look of surprise appeared on the gruff soldier’s face, “…and I’ve learned Gehjovenic systems since I came here and I continue to follow both sides’ systems as they evolve. I have old useful information to give sometimes, which I ‘find’, but current information is vastly more beneficial and I always have ways of getting to it.”

 

            “You’re a fucking tech?” Grimmjow’s narrowed at the man on the grass.

 

            “A former programmer, networker, and software designer actually, if you want to get technical. But you people just think I’m a geeked-out hacker with a few grade-A instincts from an unhealthy amount of time in some basement. I’ve proven myself trustworthy already. Now I just keep up-to-date and learn any new code and programs that surface and I can navigate straight to data. It’s easy if you’re diligent about your work. Surprising is how few times my research is audited by anyone with a shred of real sense about cyber warfare.”

 

            “You’ll have to excuse us for not knowing as much about computers. We’re too busy putting bullets in Jhezenic bodies and encroaching on your cities to practice your cyber warfare on the regular.”

 

            “Well now Gehjoven has a cyber-warrior. Also…I really wouldn’t call those cities ‘mine’ anymore...” Ichigo’s tone of voice got a little grim, “Not after I’ve been fucking Jhezen over for three years to please your military and earn my way here. I’m a bit of a turncoat.”

 

            Despite the distractingly dark tone of those remarks, the fact that the former commsman wasn’t referring to himself as part of Gehjoven or Jhezen did not escape Grimmjow’s notice. “So Jhezen puts their techs into their infantry?”

 

            “I was reassigned.”

 

            “Why?”

 

            “Take a wild guess.” Ichigo frowned.

 

            “If I could read your fucking mind, and I can’t, so just tell me.”

 

            Ichigo sighed with another frown, “I was still working with members of the anti-draft movement while I was a tech and things didn’t go well. Everyone they found communicating about the movement was put into the infantry.” Now that he was MIA or dead to Jhezen no one from that side was likely to be looking very hard for Ichigo.

 

            So the Jhezenic military wanted this little solider distanced or dead did they? Their loss. Grimmjow started to laugh and looked out at the flowers that he’d torn up from the backyard’s garden ahead of them. “Well you’ve sure got some balls on you.” Some defiant balls.

 

            Ichigo laughed for an instant, “Yeah… I guess.”

 

            “And here I thought you were someone’s date to our event…”

 

            “Hah. Yeah, nope. I was on the list.” Ichigo wasn’t exactly operating on a good moral wavelength but he was extremely successful at what he was doing and perfectly situated for now. No one had the foggiest about where he’d really come from. He’d had a whole year prior to forge a false identity and it was a damn good one.

 

            “Svenatte was it?”

 

            “Svenatte Alock.” Ichigo chuckled. A Gehjovenic name.

 

            At no point during this part of the conversation had Grimmjow consciously accepted the fact that they were just talking like civil people. “Never figured you were so cut-throat.”

 

            Ichigo shrugged, “I’m just fighting for the side that I like better. I suppose I’ve finally had the chance to make an educated call on who I want to win this war. You thought your culture would scare me away?”

 

            “I thought a short exposure would crush you.”

 

            That bluntness was almost unsettling. “You expected me to stay longer then?” That didn’t seem right to Ichigo, he wanted clarification.

 

            “I sure didn’t think you’d be able to get out of here for a while.”

 

            “How seemingly unlike you, to leave a loose end.”

 

            “What-the-fuck-ever. It’s survival of the fittest, a popular credo around here. I’m not meant to be your executioner. As you’ve probably noticed, if you don’t have thick skin and strength here you generally get shoved around until you break, especially on an Elite base where only excellence is accepted. I just figured I’d let the nature of the beast have its way with you.”

 

            “Are you admitting to giving me fair treatment?”

 

            “No,” Grimmjow piped with a slight snappiness. “Anyway, what did you do specifically for that battle to get into yesterday’s event? Since we’re on this honest track.” That event had honored a conflict which had been predicted to be minor but was suddenly upgraded. There had to be a solid reason behind that tactical choice.

 

            Ichigo moved on, “I pin-pointed receipts for weaponry that were marked for use, listings of soldier headcount, and messages to the Jhezenic High General about future plans after they pierced Gehjovenic lines during the battle. It was a really solid battleplan and they might have actually won that one if Gehjoven didn’t know how many men to send and what they were attacking.”

 

            Grimmjow stayed quiet while Ichigo talked.

 

            “Shoulder cannons, and long-range missiles with twice as many soldiers than necessary to man all of their weapons as well as their energy powered concealers, shields, so that their troops couldn’t be seen... They were trying to take you all by surprise and once you were surprised they were going to nuke you all to death with their missiles. Their infantry would have hidden under their energy shields at the last second.”

 

            The Gehjoven, who had firsthand been a part of this battle, was staring right at the man most responsible for all of their preemptive plans - a huge factor in their victory. It was rare that this gruff soldier was impressed by someone else being so intellectual and clever alone, perhaps because of the fact that he’d firsthand felt the strength of being so precisely prepared.

 

            “Do you interrogate for fun or something?”

 

            “Not for the military at least.”

 

            “Well you’ve kept me talking. I just gave you everything you’d need to get me executed if you were so inclined.” Something in Ichigo wasn’t worried right now though, but he did feel an adrenaline-based chill up his spine.

 

            “On the contrary all of what you just told me actually makes me feel that you’re a huge asset and should be left to your work.”

 

            “Nice to know how you feel,” Ichigo repeated as he’d heard the acceptance.

 

            “Yeah, whatever. I’d be put down if they figured out where you’d come from so I suppose if I fuck you I get fucked too.” It was true that they were about on even footing for being vulnerable.

 

            “Takes two to tango. Speaking of getting fucked… Last night-”

 

            Grimmjow cut in and put a warning finger out toward the Jhezen. “That’s not something we talk about.” That was an obvious order to not push it.

 

            Ichigo nodded, “Sorr-” he stopped himself, recalling a bit of advice the man had given him earlier about not apologizing for things that you meant to say. Ichigo supposed it was a sigh of strength and pride not to apologize for things one meant to say, traits essential to skilled and strong men to ensure that they were thought of as tough forces. “I won’t say more, and I won’t ask again.” Run over someone’s dog, apologize. Ask an awkward question, don’t apologize. He’d get the hang of it yet.

 

            “See that you don’t.”

 

            “It’s hard to pretend like that didn’t happen.”

 

            “You don’t have to pretend shit, just don’t ask me about it.”

 

            Ichigo lifted his water glass and took a few swallows before offering it up to Grimmjow. He was surprised, the other man lifted it and drank before handing it back.

 

            “You want her car?” Grimmjow blurted out.

 

            Ichigo made a choked sound. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

 

            “No. It’s not like she bought it and I don’t need it.”

 

            “I meant because it’s a downgrade.”

 

            Grimmjow started to laugh harder than he ever had around the Jhezen. “Fuck you. It’s a fine car!”

 

            Ichigo shrugged. “You know, I think it’s kind of cool that men can just be whatever they want here.”

 

            “The lack of gender equality doesn’t piss you off?”

 

            “No. Does it piss you off?”

 

            “Not really.”

 

            “Why do you think it’s not equal?”

 

            Grimmjow sighed and rolled his eyes, like this was a history lesson he’d constantly had to recite and was tired of. “Because a long time ago the Gehjovenic people discovered that our ancestry passed down some cursed gene that makes it harder for women to carry female babies to term. You need females to reproduce, thus: Protect the women. Our men to women ratio, despite wartime casualties of only male soldiers, is hugely slanted as proof. For every woman there are several men or more.”

 

            Ichigo took a moment to think about that, he’d expected an opinion, not facts like that. So there was an actual scientific reason behind their laws keeping women out of the military? Most everyone else seemed to have just an opinion. “Is that why there are a lot of gay or bisexual men?”

 

            “I dunno, you tell me.”

 

            “Well I don’t think men can function without sex, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that choosing another man here is a desperate choice. So it’s…a social choice?”

 

            Grimmjow’s eyes stayed evenly down on Ichigo, “Even if being bisexual, as it would be for men who would normally want a woman, was a choice out of desperation the general attitude of bisexual men around Gehjoven doesn’t match ‘desperate’. This is a male dominated culture and men are plenty comfortable with other men. It just works out that way,” Grimmjow finished with a shrug.

 

            It was surprising the savvy level of thought that Grimmjow had put into his answer. That was the exact sort of answer Ichigo hoped to hear. “You’d think it would be a brotherly love…”

 

            “Don’t make this weird…”

 

            “I’m not trying to!”

 

            “Next you’re gonna ask my preference.”

 

            That had been the plan. Ichigo barked like he was insulted, “No, I wasn’t!”

 

            “Like hell. I wouldn’t care if you did.”

 

            Ichigo paused awkwardly. “Then what are you?”

 

            Grimmjow smugly crossed his arms. “I fucking knew it.”

 

            Ichigo huffed and busied himself with his water glass, draining the last out of it and standing up with the plate and fork and glass stacked together. Closer than he normally would have stood, he gave the other man a sidelong stare and spoke briefly and clearly, “Well I’m bisexual.” His stare caught Grimmjow’s eyes before Ichigo looked away and walked back toward the house.

 

            Grimmjow’s head turned as Ichigo walked away from him, arms still settled in a crossed fashion. “And single I’m sure!” he called after the other man to mock his guest.

 

            “Kiss my ass!” Ichigo face was nearly a turnip’s color but he was turned away and far enough that no one else knew that. He slid the back door closed with a hard ‘thump’.

 

            Grimmjow stayed still looking at the closed door and grinning softly with his lower lip between his teeth subtly chewing on it. He’d just been hit on more effectively than anyone else had ever managed – he felt strangely good about that.

Chapter Text

Section 13: A Shave

            Grimmjow stood in front of the Jhezen who sat on a folded-down stool in the upstairs bathroom, straight razor in-hand. He’d already had Ichigo lather his own face up with shaving cream; apparently a shave was indeed in order.

 

            “Don’t fuck up my goatee…” Ichigo growled, leaning for a moment to spit out some shaving cream he’d accidentally gotten in his mouth into the sink.

 

            “Stop talking and I won’t. Pay attention to how this works.” Grimmjow watched the other man with a relatively easy stare and gripped Ichigo gently by the back of his head with one hand and tilted the Jhezen’s chin up and to the left, exposing the right side of the other man’s face.

 

            At the mercy of his situation, Ichigo could easily see them in the mirror and breathed in just a tad sharply when he felt the razor touching his cheek through the cream but he stayed still.

 

            “You don’t press too hard, the razor’s sharp enough and it’ll cut the hairs just fine.” Grimmjow made small strokes and shaved a little bit of the cream coated stubble off at a time. He’d never done this for another person before so the procedure was a little challenging, made easier by taking one’s time.

 

            “Mmm…” Ichigo hummed, as he was mindful to not move his jaw a lot by talking.

 

            “Shave in the same direction that your hair grows and just about a thirty-degree angle and while you’re getting used to this take your time. You’ll hate yourself more if you get an uneven shave and a bunch of cuts all over your face so it’s time well spent.” Grimmjow was very careful and precise, tilting the other man’s head up more to better see the right side of the Jhezen’s face. He worked around Ichigo’s chin and preserved the other man’s goatee with a bit of sculpting effort. Once he’d let go as he finished Ichigo’s right cheek and right side of his neck the Jhezen immediately turned his head to look in the mirror.

 

            With an examining eye what Ichigo saw was a perfectly smooth shave and his same goatee, albeit a bit overgrown but he could trim that himself. “Woah... You did it,” he remarked, touching the smooth side of his face.

 

            Grimmjow lifted a blueish brow, “Of course I did.”

 

            From the pressure and sensation of the razor gliding over his skin and cutting off those hairs cleanly Ichigo felt like he had gained a sense of this. He straightened a little and made his posture good with his hands folded over his lap, eager for the next side to be done.

 

            “You’re enjoying this too much…”

 

            “Is that bad?”

 

            “You’re not gonna want to do it yourself.” Grimmjow cleaned off the straight razor with some water and a few swipes against a dry towel, then he stepped up beside the left side of the other man.

 

            “I won’t confirm or deny that.” The Jhezen closed his eyes, still sitting up straight, almost in bliss. This was actually very nice, so nice that he was wary to admit it. He went perfectly complacent when he felt Grimmjow touch and tilt his head again.

 

            The Ghejoven moved the other man’s head to an angle where he could work on the left side. “Around curves and such you’ll have the most trouble but it isn’t that hard to get used to if you move the blade in small scrapes…” He started shaving the left side of Ichigo’s face from the neck up, careful as the razor glided against the Jhezen’s skin.

 

            “I do want to try it myself next time.”

 

            “Don’t talk,” Grimmjow’s reminder was only gentle here because he was focused on being careful with someone else’s face. He heard a soft ‘mm’ from Ichigo who stopped right away. When he was done on the side of Ichigo’s face there still was a line left on the upper space above the Jhezen’s mouth. “Curl your upper lip down over your teeth, so the skin’s tight.” It took a second for the other man to figure that command out but Ichigo got it and with a good amount of care Grimmjow shaved off the last of mangy stubble on Ichigo’s face. He looked over his work, turning the Jhezen’s head to both sides to ensure that he’d missed nothing. In the end it was a very good shave.

 

            Ichigo quietly admitted to himself that he was probably a fool for letting this otherwise brutally intense party handle his precious head, but a fool who was learning something from the experience was alright with this. In life there were worthwhile risks one could take. The gentle manner he was handled with made the whole experience feel less risky and more serene.

 

            “There. You’re done.” The Gehjoven turned away and washed the straight razor off under the water from the sink again. He nudged Ichigo with a leg to rouse the other man. “Wash your face off.”

 

            The younger man’s eyes came open with a few blinks, he glanced at himself in the mirror, still some shaving cream in odd thin lines on his smoothly shaven face, and paid attention to what Grimmjow was doing for a minute.

 

            The Gehjoven busied himself with cleaning the razor thoroughly with rubbing alcohol moving a bottle of foaming soap and aftershave on the side of the sink to Ichigo’s side. The scents of each product used hung heavily in the air of the quaint room; the potency of the alcohol easily overtook much of the other odors.

 

            Remembering the instruction to wash his face, Ichigo pulled a dry washcloth over to himself from a pile of stacked linens and wetted it. Leaning over the sink to clear his face of the cream and remnant severed hairs he gradually wiped them away. He felt particularly fresh after a shave like this; it was very different than using a motorized tool. It wasn’t a lie to admit that he was impressed by how smooth this shave was. “Did your father teach you this?” he asked, staring at himself in the mirror.

 

            Grimmjow’s eyes blinked over and first looked at the so-far untouched bottles and then over at Ichigo, “Wash your face off with the soap at least,” before his eyes went back to the razor and an alcohol dabbed cloth. He completely dodged the question.

 

            The Jhezen didn’t press his unanswered personal question, he just listened. He definitely opted out of using the aftershave and only lathered the foamy soap over his face for a minute and then rinsed it off over the sink. “You didn’t miss a single hair out of place. This is a perfect shave.”

 

            “I didn’t do it to give you a shave, I did this to teach you how to use a straight razor.”

 

            “Well you’re really good at it.” The statement was intentionally a bit open ended. When Grimmjow didn’t remark back Ichigo turned on the fold-down stool to look directly at him. Noticing the other man’s eyes transfixed on the sharp blade, Ichigo took the razor out of the Gehjoven’s hands with a rude pluck. Perhaps just to see what would happen… The surprising thing was that Grimmjow just let him take it. “Where’s it from?” The Jhezen started to look the tool over.

 

            “You want one?” Grimmjow’s eyes slanted over with a calm stare.

 

            He was starting to notice as a common occurrence that this Gehjoven often dodged questions that could be even remotely personal. Ichigo let him have that; dodged question aside… This razor was actually a beautiful and perfectly maintained tool worthy of appreciation. He’d not only plucked it away to garner a reaction out of the other man but to actually look at the tool. In reply Ichigo nodded, “This blade shaves smoother than my electric razor, and I think I could get good at using one if I had one this nice.”

 

            “Then you’re using the wrong razor if your shave isn’t satisfying. This blade is from Reeves’s Barbershop, which is on the base here.”

 

            Ichigo made mental note and closed the razor and handed it back almost too nicely. He stared at the other man, downward of Grimmjow’s eyes, more or less at the man’s chest as the tool was held out.

 

            Not quite knowing what to do about that odd stare but getting a strange feeling from it Grimmjow calmly lifted a hand to take the tool back. There was a point where either end of the closed straight razor was in both of their hands as it was offered back and that moment seemed to linger more than it should. “What?” Grimmjow questioned, noticing that the other man’s hand was reluctant to let go of the tool immediately coupled with the odd stare.

 

            The Jhezen shook his head and let go of the razor finally. He didn’t look up at the soldier in front of him or turn another direction. Ichigo was a bit hung up on the fact that they could get along like this; perhaps also a little disappointed that the experience was over.

 

            With a hard and brief sigh Grimmjow put the closed razor down on the sink’s counter with a clack and took a step forward.

 

            Ichigo clenched his teeth together and held his breath, keeping his eyes down. He felt two warm hands cup either side of his face and closed his eyes as his head was tilted up, lips just barely parted as he breathed and his eyes settled in a half-lidded upward stare.

 

            It would have been a very funny thing indeed to not follow through and just let go, leaving Ichigo wanting like that. The Jhezen would have probably complained in some way. However, that was not what the Gehjoven planned to do, he leaned down and pressed his mouth up against the other man’s gently, lips to lips. There was no hesitation, as though it was practiced. It was actually a very quick decision to try this.

 

            Instinctively Ichigo’s eyes fell closed and his tongue moved after seconds of the contact; it seemed like the Gehjoven’s idea of this matched his own, as when Ichigo’s tongue moved to the other man’s mouth it was met with Grimmjow’s. Mouths and tongues moved in unison in the very experimental kiss. For being a very spontaneous gesture they coordinated beautifully.

 

            Grimmjow too just shut his eyes at that point and left the carefree moments up to time. Maybe this was a little bit of rebound behavior…and maybe it was also something else too. He felt good again.

 

            Ichigo’s hands didn’t move to grasp at the Gehjoven, that kiss was so tender it rendered him nearly dumb and he sat still; he didn’t even quite feel like this was real but it made him feel just as good. The Jhezen exhaled a soft gasp as the other pair of lips parted from his eventually and the warmth of those hands left his face. Ichigo’s eyes slowly opened. Grimmjow was not in front of him. A little startled by the absence of the other man the Jhezen blinked, turning to look around the bathroom where he saw no one else. How had..? Where had Grimmjow gone? It was eerie to wonder if he’d just fantasized that completely on his own, maybe a little embarrassing to consider, but there was one clue that his imagination couldn’t fabricate; the taste of Grimmjow’s mouth lasting in his. Ichigo face darkened to a healthy blush while still sitting on the fold-down chair he was coming to terms with the fact that their kiss just now wasn’t imaginary. Ichigo smiled with a soft ‘mmm’ and called out, “Thank you!” if only to figure out where Grimmjow had gone. His eyes pensively watched the serene features of the bathroom and open doorway, waiting…

 

            “You’re welcome!” a strong voice called from the floor below.

 

            He was surprised that the Gehjoven had even responded. The other voice was pretty far off though, downstairs even. Someone sure was quick on their feet. Ichigo smiled, resting a forearm against the sink and letting his eyes drift to the mirror to look at himself. Euphoria was settling in him; he looked over and felt of the smooth shave he’d been given again. Was he thanking Grimmjow for the kiss or the shave?

Chapter Text

Section 14: Edge of Desire

For the Reader’s Reference-

*Unique Gehjovenic Ranks:

(Order unspecified, outside of normal military ranks)

“Odd” – Soldiers who have qualified and declined or traded their highest achieved rank for this one. Application for qualification is available only to men already of a Cpl ranking or higher. They have many special privileges. 1 in 50 are accepted. Answers to MaJ and higher.

War Medic (WaM) – Soldiers who have especial bonafide medical skill. In some settings they hold authority equal to a Ct ranking. Answers to MaJ and higher.

*Gehjovenic War Titles:

(In order, low to high. APPLIED TO RANKS, not ranks themselves. Applied to any rank above Pr.)

“Prospect” – Given to any man who should set himself apart in some way and show potential to advance to an “Elite”. Allowed to live on Elite bases.

“Apprentice” – Given to any man who should use his potential and study closely under an “Elite” to advance. Allowed to live on Elite bases.

“Elite” – Achieved when a man has fully proven himself intensely skilled and impressive in an area of performance such as strategy, combat proficiency, weapon proficiency, machine operation, pilot proficiency, maintenance, technical support, demolition, medical proficiency, interrogation, etc..

*Gehjovenic Noncommissioned Ranks:

(In order, low to high)

Advancing Recruit (AR)

Private Second Class (PrS)

Private First Class (PrF)

Corporal Second Class (CplS)

Corporal First Class (CplF)

Sergeant (Sgt)

*Gehjovenic Commissioned Ranks:

(In order, low to high)

Captain (Ct)

Major (MaJ)

Colonel (Col)

To the extremely inspirational men with leadership proficiency a commissioned rank of General would be given in several degrees:

General Fifth Class (GenFI)

General Fourth Class (GenFO)

General Third Class (GenT) – Men of this rank are often nicknamed ‘Gentleman General’ because of its abbreviation.

General Second Class (GenS)

Souven General [First Class] (SVGen) – A final rank given to only one man.

 

EX: *Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez is an “Odd” rank who gave up his Ct rank. He is an “Elite” soldier. Combat proficiency and strategy were his “Elite” qualifications. Elite “Odd” Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez

 

*Renji Abarai is a CplF rank. He is a “Prospect” soldier with potential to advance to “Elite”. His considered qualifications are demolition and machine operation. Prospect CplF Renji Abarai

 

*Hisagi Shūhei is a WaM rank. He is an “Apprentice” advancing toward “Elite” studying under Elite WaM Kaname Tōsen. Medical proficiency and weapon proficiency are Hisagi’s qualifications with potential. Apprentice WaM Hisagi Shūhei

 

*Ichigo Kurosaki/‘Svenatte Alock’ is an “Odd” rank who ‘gave up’ his CplS rank (false identity). He is a “Prospect” soldier with potential to advance to “Elite”. His considered qualifications are technical support and war strategy. Prospect “Odd” Ichigo Kurosaki/‘Svenatte Alock’

 

*Kenpachi Zaraki is a MaJ rank. He is an “Elite” soldier. Combat proficiency was his “Elite” qualification. Elite MaJ Kenpachi Zaraki

 

 

{Late morning at a military gym in Souvenbash…}

            Kenpachi hefted a large dumbbell and curled it in toward himself, his arm heaved of huge muscles with veins bulging up against the skin and grinned proudly as he slowly repeated his set of curls over a padded standing station. A bead of sweat dripped off of the Elite soldier’s curling arm’s elbow.

 

            Already plenty sweaty from the rest of his workout Renji just sort of watched with his own dumbbells clutched at his sides, dangling. They were fifty pounds each. “That’s fucking fucked up…”

 

            Grimmjow snorted, who was standing beside Renji and equally as sweaty as anyone else in the gym, and also watching the other Elite with a smart grin. MaJ Kenpachi was one of the biggest baddest motherfuckers on this base and widely known for his strength; to watch him work on that was a pleasure and an honor.

 

            Kenpachi finished his set and he was about to put the dumbbell back on the rack nearby when Renji set his own down his and came over to take the one that the jacked madman had just been using. “Gimmie that. I can do that too.”

 

            Amused at least Kenpachi let Renji take the eighty-pound weight and moved to spot the excessively tattooed soldier, hands at the ready to catch the thing.

 

            Not really weak but probably biting off more than he could chew, Renji frowned at the spotter idea but he knew that he was kind of pushing his limits and didn’t complain.

 

            Thoroughly amused now, Grimmjow crossed his arms and watched the other two PE uniformed soldiers.

 

            With hugely flexed muscles Renji got halfway into the curl with the eighty-pound dumbbell and just couldn’t follow through pulling it past the highest point of curve and toward his shoulder. “Fuck!” He let the weight fall and Kenpachi caught it with two hands under the rounded ends. Renji growled with frustration and tried one more time but he was tired and didn’t even get as far as he had before the Major needed to catch it again.

 

            Kenpachi held onto the weight and stayed by the standing curl station. “Good try, skinny. Work on it. Grimmjow, get over here.” It didn’t sound like a request, he didn’t even need to look in the mohawked man’s direction to get the message across.

 

            Grimmjow lifted a brow, he wasn’t about to offer to one-up Renji, but the Major wanted to see him do it too and technically Kenpachi outranked him so he could pass it off as just being given an order…right?

 

            Renji saw the other man hesitating, “Just get the fuck over here and do your curl so we can go. I’m hungry as fuck.” They were planning to go to a pub with a whole bunch of their pals when their workout was over and it almost was after they put these weights back and showered.

 

            Grimmjow narrowed his eyes at Renji and walked over, leaning up against the padded station and taking a grip on the extremely heavy weight with one arm. Kenpachi stayed to spot him but Grimmjow lifted the weight up just fine and curled in a set of eight slow pulls with it and then switched arms. His arms’ many muscles bulged out like Kenpachi’s had, large and venous. It was a good deal of effort to do these but it wasn’t exactly a strain.

 

            “Fuck me running… I hate you both.” Renji barked, actually more amused than irritated or jealous. Funny that Renji should phrase it like that…

 

            “I recall your five-mile run time trouncing the rest of us every month for the past half a year, so if you’d stop packing most of your muscle improvement into your legs maybe you could curl like this,” Grimmjow jabbed in good humor, finishing the reps in that last set and letting Kenpachi take the eighty-pound weight back. He leaned up off of the station and faced Renji. His biceps were twitching a little. Whew…that was a bit of extra he hadn’t planned on.

 

            “No way,” Renji protested, “I like running more and good legs and back muscles are what Hisagi likes.”

 

            “Whiiiiiped,” Grimmjow and Kenpachi said straight to Renji at the same time in elongathed but flat tones of voice.

 

            “EH?! That’s not it at all! And we’re not even married!”

 

{Mid-afternoon at a pub in Souvenbash…}

            The aged wooden walls of a pub enclosed the noise from its patrons in a main room, men mostly. The cozy local place was pretty damn packed this afternoon. Enjoying the atmosphere Renji placed a hand on Grimmjow’s shoulder, trying to peek at the other man’s face. His soldier buddy had been sitting here at the bar counter staring into the abyss for the past ten minutes. “Hey Grimm… Hey.”

 

            Broken from whatever trace that was Grimmjow slowly turned his head to look, snapping out of his daze. He eyed Renji.

 

            Renji removed his hand from Grimmjow’s shoulder and gestured down to the other man’s empty beer glass. “You want another one?”

 

            In turn Grimmjow looked down and declined with a shake of his head. He’d probably had enough already. This empty glass marked his fifth. He didn’t feel that last one much.

 

            “Well alright then.” Renji smiled and turned around to lean up against the bar counter and stare around that the lively pub. His partner Hisagi was smashing the rest of their group at darts in the distance. Unlike most of them Hisagi was a doctor – part of the military but a brainier part of it. Watching the darts game made Renji’s smile really genuine, not just because his significant other was winning though that was part of it, otherwise it was just amusing to watch a huge group of half-drunk men try to take a darts game seriously; basically there was a lot of laughter and punctures in the wall around the dart board. The overly tattooed redhead, with his long dreads tied back in a tail, sighed happily where he was.

 

            Grimmjow had noticed Renji watching the people behind him and looked back over a shoulder. The mohawked Gehjoven had played a few games earlier and was pretty much done with it by now, but they really did look like they were having fun still. The gruff soldier looked back to Renji, eyeing his pal’s dreadlocks; Renji’s hair hadn’t always been like that. “Did Kaname convince you to do that?” Elite WaM Kaname Tōsen. That man was Renji’s partner’s mentor and an extremely skilled Elite medic among the Gehjovenic military.

 

            Renji’s thoughts, generally directed toward the game ahead of him, stalled and he scrunched his expression and he wordlessly looked at Grimmjow. He wasn’t exactly the biggest fan of Kaname, and Grimmjow knew that.

 

            Grimmjow wordlessly looked back at him in a kind of blank stare.

 

            There was a minute-long awkward silence before someone interrupted it. Hisagi came back over to the bar counter after trouncing the rest of their friends at darts and put his arm around Renji, only realizing a second after doing this that his partner and Grimmjow were having an awkward staring contest.

 

            Both men snapped out of it at the same time and Grimmjow looked back to his empty beer glass while Renji turned his head and kissed Hisagi on the cheek. “Beat the shit outta them again did ya?”

 

            Hisagi, unaffected by the awkwardness and appreciative of that kiss, smiled broadly. “I did but I think I shouldn’t have. I should probably give someone else a chance to win for a change.” Like Renji, Hisagi’s appearance was pretty distinct; horizontally he had the Gehjovenic harpoon symbol and under it a ‘69’ tattooed over his left cheek bone and on the other side there were three vertical rough scars over the entire right side of his face. Assuming he’d been attacked by something with claws…only Renji and one other man that was not Grimmjow knew why the scars were there. “Wish you’d keep playing.” This man’s voice in comparison to most was particularly low and gravelly as he spoke.

 

            To Renji Hisagi’s voice had a very pleasing tone. He was close to asking his partner if they could leave so that he could get some rest – he and Grimmjow had spent the entire morning since five o’clock at their military gym. However, Renji noticed that Grimmjow was staring into the abyss again.

 

            The mohawked Gehjoven had perhaps mindlessly signaled the barman for another drink. That was counterintuitive to what he’d said to Renji three minutes ago, and was waiting for it. It didn’t take long and Grimmjow traded his empty beer glass for a full one.

 

            With a gentle pat Renji moved away from Hisagi and sat down sideways on the tall bar chair beside Grimmjow. He stared over at the other man and the new drink.

 

            Grimmjow had the full glass raised and drank a fourth of it in a couple of swallows and then put the beer glass down, he stared at the slightly frothy liquid and nothing else.

 

            Renji had a sense that something was amiss in this man’s head but he dared not put a hand on that drink to stop Grimmjow; he liked his hands unbroken. He just didn’t know what to say.

 

            Hisagi caught onto what was going on and, being a caring doctor and one who’d worked with Grimmjow before, he stepped in. “Grimmjow,” the man mentioned in modestly soft voice. Hisagi stood by Renji with a hand on Renji’s shoulder to give an impression of his intention to step in.

 

            Grimmjow’s eyes turned toward the two of them with a sudden attentiveness to his name being called. He was seemingly all ears now that he’d been snapped out of his daze again.

 

            Renji sighed, relieved a little maybe?

 

            “Do you feel well?” Hisagi added, sounding interested but neutral. He knew he wouldn’t get anywhere with a man this closed off by seeming too concerned out of the blue.

 

            Grimmjow opened his mouth slightly, his mind wanted to say something, but he closed it an instant later and just watched Hisagi with a questioning stare.

 

            Renji’s worries silently stirred again but he gave Hisagi the space to work.

 

            “Do you feel ill?” Hisagi tried again with a slightly different word.

 

            Grimmjow closed his eyes and shook his head ‘no’, looking down and toward his drink again. His hands stayed thoughtfully around the glass.

 

            “Grimmjow, before we leave I want to know what’s wrong. That means now, soldier,” Hisagi’s tone got more assertive. “Talk to me.”

 

            “It’s nothing.” Grimmjow was quick about dissuading that.

 

            Hisagi reached around Renji and under Grimmjow’s face and took the man’s sixth beer away, holding it for a short time before leaning over the bar counter and pouring it into the barman’s sink.

 

            “Hey!” Grimmjow snapped.

 

            “You have had enough,” Hisagi further asserted.

 

            “I’m not even fucking drunk yet,” Grimmjow growled. He really wasn’t but he was going to be if Hisagi hadn’t done something. There was certainly something that Grimmjow was trying to drink away.

 

            “Grimmjow please,” Hisagi furthered.

 

            With an exasperated huff Grimmjow folded his hands on the bar counter and scowled as if waiting patiently for Hisagi and Renji to leave.

 

            “I understand how awkward this is, especially at a place we come to relax, but I know what signs of trouble are like. I worked with you for a long time to get you fixed after that incident.” All three of them knew that Hisagi was talking about the time when Grimmjow had been crushed under half a building and almost lost his life or mobility but instead lost his reproductive potency. Hisagi had already proved that he was a stupidly patient man while he helped Grimmjow recover. Renji had been a stupidly patient friend as well, and was pretty pivotal in getting his comrade and friend to keep functioning. “So don’t close us off. It’ll only make you feel terrible and alone.”

 

            Grimmjow settled with the words, honestly he didn’t really understand the stuff that was making him want to drink, but he did know that it didn’t involve anything to do with his physical or mental health. Hisagi and Renji also deserved better treatment…being two good comrades and friends. Not being a particularly delightful or bubbly man but loyal to his friends he wished in a way that he could articulate his problem better. “It’s embarrassing.” Grimmjow’s face tinted pink.

 

            Renji blinked.

 

            Hisagi blinked.

 

            The pair of partners looked at each other and then back at Grimmjow. Yep. The gruff man was still blushing; it wasn’t a trick of the mind. They’d thought he was in some horrible sort of depressed funk!

 

            “You found someone else?” Renji asked excitedly. They already knew about his divorce from Tier. It was finalized.

 

            Hisagi waited to hear.

 

            “Dunno yet. Maybe,” the mohawked Gehjoven admitted with a certain bluntness. Goddamnit he could feel his face was still hot, he wished the flush over it would go away faster! He was good at not seeming very flustered.

 

            Renji clapped Grimmjow on the back with several hard pats that startled the blue haired Gehjoven. “Holy shit man! That’s way better than what I thought was wrong!”

 

            Grimmjow was staring wide eyed at his dreaded friend with only surprise but he buttoned his mouth about anything more to spare himself from excess amounts of Renji’s gushing. Eventually the blush faded out.

 

            Hisagi afforded a small laugh in moment. “I did think the situation was far worse, but I’m glad to hear otherwise.”

 

            “You owe me a beer, dude,” Grimmjow mentioned.

 

            “Ah. I suppose I do,” Hisagi admitted with a sigh.

 

            “Eh…get around to it the next time we go out. I probably have had enough for tonight.” Grimmjow gestured to the barman and ponied up for his tab. He started to get up, with Renji and Hisagi too, and they three told the rest of their group that they were leaving and headed out of the atmospheric pub.

 

            As they were near to Grimmjow’s motorcycle Renji looked back at the man, “Do you need us to give you a ride?”

 

            Politely Grimmjow declined with a shake of his head. He looked up at the mid-day sky and put his hands in his jeans pockets. “I’m gonna take myself for a walk.”

 

            “Heh, suit yourself. Hey, who’s the lucky lady?” Renji teased a bit, all in good fun.

 

            It didn’t piss Grimmjow off to be teased like this, “Maybe I’ll tell you if things pan out. Too soon to say anything.”

 

            “Huh. Fiiine.” Renji was still curious but he wouldn’t get anything that Grimmjow wouldn’t willingly give. His friend was extremely stubborn.

 

            “It sounds quite a bit like you’re on the edge of desire,” Hisagi added.

 

            “Edging what?” Grimmjow barked with some odd expression because that sounded funny.

 

            Hisgai gave a guilty chuckle toward the comment. “Not ‘edging’ as you’re thinking of it… The edge of desire. The edge of desire, being unsure if you like this person or not.”

 

            “Oh…uuh. Heh. I guess,” Grimmjow started to wander away from the both of them without a formal goodbye, walking down the sidewalk in front of the bar. One of his pocketed hands was taping his motorcycle’s keys. He should wait until he was sobered up a little bit more to drive anyway.

 

            Renji yelled after him, “Well bye!” Grimmjow lifted one hand and waved it without turning around and before not too long the man was away from the bar and crossing the street beside it. “Gosh…” Renji remarked when he knew for sure that he was out of earshot. “So fucking hard to read.”

 

            Hisagi smiled and patted Renji, “He just doesn’t understand how to communicate smoothly. Don’t be so harsh.”

 

            “Yeah but-” Renji got cut off.

 

            “But nothing. Just let him have his space, he’s an introvert. He needs it. When he wants something else besides space he’ll let us know.” Invasively Hisagi felt around in Renji’s pockets, maybe patting the man on the rear intentionally a few times, looking for and eventually finding the other man’s car keys. “What do you say to me driving home?”

 

            “Whatever you want hun, I’m happy to ride along.” Renji smiled. He still wondered about Grimmjow but it was less worried a wonder. Who was stuck in that man’s mind?

 

~

 

            Until it was dark Grimmjow walked around the shopping districts and through one of the base’s enormous parks. It was a good walk, a few miles, and a nice way to spend the end of a Friday. He’d easily been stalled in the park, staring out at the lake dug in its center and watching the sun drop out of the sky. He knew he was powerful…but the forces of nature made a man’s power look small. Humans could predict and alter nature but they couldn’t stop it; not entirely. He enjoyed the sunset because it reminded him strongly of the fact that humankind alone didn’t turn the world. The world turned itself. He was willingly a man of war, yet without the very thing that created the wars that he enjoyed, he figured he would be happier… Grimmjow was not a real people person, even if he enjoyed throwing a good party or going to a pub with a ton of his pals. He did not harbor any great hatred for mankind though. He was just more of a loner than anything else… So the Jhezen who was still around as his guest after facts really put a wrench into Grimmjow’s regularly scheduled programs. He had to think on that pretty hard.

 

            Grimmjow was trying to decide if the wrench was a wrench or more of an extra gear that was ok to be there.

 

            From close up, the gruff Gehjovenic man had seen the last of the sun vanish over the rippling lake and the mostly clouded-over moon replaced its light from another angle. He’d been standing still watching sunset with his hands in his thick jeans’ pockets for perhaps an hour. Being still for so long without a place to sit would have made others very uncomfortable but he was too trapped in enjoying his time and thinking to be uncomfortable. The time felt like it had passed quickly too, so if anything, once the bright golden gleam of sun on the water was gone, Grimmjow was disappointed that the sunset was over.

 

            The man exhaled and realized that he’d allowed himself to be completely ignorant of his other surroundings for a time. Oops. Good thing he wasn’t on a battlefield, that could have been a deadly mistake. He tried to remember what time the park closed and seeing no one else really around he assumed that it was close to it maybe? Ah…there was another way to know. He raised his cellphone from his jeans’ pocket and searched the internet for this park’s hours. Ten o’clock in the evening was when it was supposed to close, and because this was a main park they were pretty strict about that. He looked up at the time that was currently at the top of his phone. Eight fifteen. He had time… There was also a text from Renji; he didn’t read it yet. To Grimmjow the fact that the park seemed abandoned, and it was blissfully quiet save for nightly naturesque sounds, was very appealing to him. The man moved from his spot, cellphone back into his pocket without reading that text Grimmjow unbuttoned his button-down shirt to let the night air have at him – still wearing in a tank top that formed to his muscles under the shirt.

 

            Hands in his jeans’ pockets Grimmjow strolled once around the moonlit lake. He wondered if the situation he’d encouraged with Ichigo was more one-sided than he realized. Was it all him? Just his thoughts and feelings? Fuck if he knew. Grimmjow was not a master of reading people unless it was combat or military strategy. On top of it all…he was also straight…or he assumed so. He’d never in his life been inclined to kiss another man nor had he experimented with it until Ichigo. He also didn’t feel attracted to the Jhezen because of anything about his sex, it was probably just a matter of liking what Ichigo was about. Grimmjow’s thick leather boots’ soles crunched softly on the gravel pathway around the lake. The night air was warm, however when it blew across the lake it was cooled off significantly from traveling over the water’s surface. The scent of the lake was very earthy and clean. It was all really refreshing. He considered the fact that Ichigo had thanked him. Maybe it wasn’t so one-sided.

 

            The lake was big enough, and he was actually still strolling along rather than walking, that Grimmjow made it take a whole hour to get around the large serene body of water. He checked his phone’s time, because he was clearly not very perceptive of exact time tonight. About nine fifteen. That had also felt like time that had gone by way faster than it should. Suppose he should get on home. Grimmjow stood still to put his phone back in his pocket and stared at the dark deciduous trees around the park. Their leaves hissed at him in a light breeze, and then a cold wind blew from their direction and combined with the fact that he could barely see under them Grimmjow got an unsettling feeling.

 

            Despite that feeling that was the way he had to go to get back to the pub, so he walked toward the trees and across the park’s grass. The plants under his feet rustled with only the sounds of his own steps and no one else’s. His fingers drummed against his hips in his pockets and Grimmjow looked around warily as he got through the park as quickly as possible. He stepped out onto the lit street sidewalk and glanced back, scanning with sharp eyes. It took a ballsy man indeed to stop and look back at a place that carried with it a feeling that unsettling. He saw nothing strange but the dark shade of the leafy trees.

 

            Turning to his task of leaving, Grimmjow crossed the street and walked back up to the side of the pub, still open, but he wasn’t going to go inside. At least he was sober enough to drive his bike home now.

 

            Someone quickly moved up behind the Gehjovenic soldier and there was a loud shattering noise as a glass bottle broke over the back of Grimmjow’s head.

 

            He didn’t have much warning prior and the mohawked Gehjoven staggered before whipping around and grabbing the offender by the front of their shirt- err hoodie that they were wearing. Grimmjow was punched in the face and the gut and he returned the same to the other man whom he grappled with.

 

            The definite man wore dark clothes, a hood, a face mask, and dark sunglasses. He was only slightly smaller than Grimmjow. The assailant took a broken piece of the bottle and tried his hand at stabbing the soldier with it.

 

            Grimmjow grabbed his wrists and tried to keep the man back but that bottle to the head had really made things start to sway. With grunts and growls between them Grimmjow found out the hard way that this was probably another soldier by his manner of fighting because the guy kicked his legs out from under him and Grimmjow fell backward…on his bike… The motorcycle toppled over, snapping off the otherwise sturdy kickstand and landing on its side against its crash bars with its owner on his back on top of it. That was painful for more than one reason.

 

            The assailant came at his fallen target.

 

            With a pissed look in his eye and a pain in his back Grimmjow’s legs pulled up to his chest and he snapped one leg out and kicked the man in the face faster than the guy could realize he was going to do something like that. “Mother…fucker!”

 

            “AAAAUGH!” There was a painfilled scream and the assailant was bleeding through his face mask and trying to hold his sunglasses together. Then the man ran off entirely. That voice was definitely male.

 

            Grimmjow saw him run but couldn’t get up to chase him and gave a frustrated growl aloud. “You have to be fucking kidding me!”

 

~

 

            Inside the pub, where Grimmjow had stumbled into again, the staff had helped him with some ice and a glass of water. It was irritating because he’d really just wanted to get on home with the nice vibes from his long walk. The Gehjovenic soldier declined any offers of ambulances or a ride to a hospital – insisting that he could figure something out. Currently he was more interested in the little shit who’d attacked him. After icing his sore face and back for a short time he and the bar owner had gone to watch security footage.

 

            “So he came at you from the park. I’m surprised that you didn’t hear him. It looks like he was only thirty feet behind you but he seems pretty light on his feet,” the bar’s owner remarked. The footage was somewhat grainy but by the building they could see the assailant almost as clearly as Grimmjow could in person but from a higher perspective.

 

            Silently angry about all of this Grimmjow grunted, staring at the footage as it replayed the timestamp they were looking at from the beginning again. After watching it one more time with a careful eyes Grimmjow got up from his chair and started to walk out of the office.

 

            “Are you going to report this?” the pub’s owner wanted to know.

 

            Shaking his head ‘no’ Grimmjow sighed. “Too much trouble for you and for me. I’ll just be more careful.” With that he left the security office and walked out into the pub’s main area again. They were closing up, chasing out the last of the drunks. Grimmjow supposed he should beat the drunks out the door and got outside to his cruiser quick enough. The several-hundred-pound bike was already tilted up off of the crash bars it had fallen on and leaning on the pub’s wall. Those crash bars were installed a short while ago when he still had Tier around who seemed to have it out for him and his bike; they were a safety measure for her and the rest of whatever could happen to the machine. He was glad for them serving a purpose now. Some of the paint might need a little touching up, the side bags might be a bit scraped and the crash bars were definitely scraped to hell… It was a little hard to tell what all had been really damaged in the solely streetlamp lit parking space. His kickstand was still broken off, he’d put the pieces to it in one of the leather side bags, as when the cruiser had been forced over against it Grimmjow’s weight colliding was just too much on its hinge. Otherwise he would just have to check the fluids at home to make sure that they weren’t going to fuck up his engine, nothing was leaking that was for sure and the bike had been on its side at a slightly upward angle for a grand total of a minute and a half maybe, and of course hope that the alignment wasn’t too messed up from the handle on that side hitting the ground. He’d know if the alignment was severely fucked by driving it home he supposed.

 

            Grimmjow mounted up on the bike and turned his key in the ignition. It started well and didn’t blow up, sputter, or backfire. Yeah that was a good start. As he stood with a two-footed stance to balance it he looked at the glass on the ground. That bottle wasn’t very thick if it hadn’t knocked him out… Grimmjow saw a paper against the glass and carefully he walked his bike up in neutral beside the shattered glass without running over any of it with his tires and picked up the oval shaped label of what this bottle had held. The glass where it had been stuck was shattered but sticking to the back. This was a container which had once held Gehjovenic whiskey.

 

            Another clue to the puzzle of who the fuck had the balls to get the drop on him.

Chapter Text

Section 15: The Silhouette

            Grimmjow rolled up to his home at about midnight and every bump he’d experienced this whole ride, even to get over the curb up to his driveway, hurt his back. ‘Stupid fucking…moron idiot…son of a bitch.’ He was still a bit pissed that someone had knocked him over on his bike, it wasn’t even the fact of being attacked so much as the damage to his ride and maybe a little of the fact that his back was sore if not bruised. If it wasn’t so obviously a man he would have thought that assailant was Tier trying to make a statement; she’d always hated his cruiser. There was an element of perplexity about the attack that hung with Grimmjow though…the fact that the assailant hadn’t brought a traditional weapon, or at least hadn’t taken one out and tried to use it on him. That man had made the decision to use something mundane like a bottle and then tried to stab him with its glass mid-fight but he wasn’t just a drunk outside of the pub. The nature of that situationally staged choice was sincerely bothering Grimmjow. Perhaps it was just because the incident seemed more planned than improvised and the fact that the assailant had stalked him before attacking. Also, in general the act of attacking a man who was big like himself just seemed odd…like picking a fight you couldn’t win. Maybe Grimmjow was just used to people being too wary of his identity to cause him trouble though. This type of incident proved why it was so important to never consider yourself untouchable. In further consideration though, criminal violence in Souvenbash wasn’t nonexistent, it was just extremely rare because of the nature of the population – military trained and dangerous. The punishments for anything short of murder weren’t even terrible, as a lust for violence was believed by Gehjovenic people to be the soul of their soldiers. However, the choice to attack an Elite soldier of Souvenbash, even by another Elite resident, wasn’t a light one.

 

            Just damn glad to be home, Grimmjow turned off the motorcycle’s headlights and big v-engine after he’d brought it up the driveway’s slope and shut the rumbling engine off. Walking it into place he leaned it up against the house’s front wall by the garage, adjacent to the front porch. There was no space in the damn garage again so he couldn’t put it there. Eagerly Grimmjow got off of his machine without giving its miffed state much more thought for his own sanity’s sake; he’d had enough for tonight. It would be much easier to inspect when it was daylight again anyway and then he could make the machine gleam with pride once more. At least the headlights hadn’t cracked or broken and the alignment seemed fine, which he could tell from the ride home. It was a real shame but it wouldn’t ruin his otherwise great evening.

 

            Thoroughly tired Grimmjow tromped through the front yard, green grass rustling under his leather boots, until he got to the first square of concrete and then two ‘tacks’ as he stepped onto it. Immediately the Gehjovenic soldier hung a left to walk up onto the house’s wooden front porch with hollow ‘thumps’ and once he was at the front door he stopped to pick through his keys and unlocked it. It was pretty peaceful out here still, and Grimmjow regretted leaving the night behind but it couldn’t go on forever. Approaching, when he’d ridden up on his motorcycle, he’d noticed that the house was totally dark; the lights were all off and everything seemed as he’d left it. Ichigo, who was still his welcome guest, must have fallen sleep somewhere in the house, or maybe even gone out for the evening like he had. They hadn’t gone to the pub together because Ichigo simply wasn’t all that chummy with any of the other soldiers on the base who Grimmjow called friends, and the Jhezen and Grimmjow were also still in the process of learning to be friendly to each other. The way that Grimmjow figured it, the more space and peace he had tonight until he fell asleep the better, and if Ichigo was doing his own thing all the better; then he could calm down in time to get some good rest.

 

            The front door opened after it was unlocked and Grimmjow took a step inside and stopped cold. It was pretty damn dark in here, just as he’d left the house, except for the silhouette of a person sitting in a chair directly ahead of him about eighteen feet away. That chair was not supposed to be where it was…beside the living room but in the middle of the way one would walk toward the open kitchen at the back of the house. That chair with its occupant was perfectly positioned in front of the entrance to be seen. The light from the kitchen’s window and the sliding glass door that led to the back porch was cast far enough behind the out-of-place figure that it didn’t illuminate the person on the chair but made them a dark shape against the lit background. To his left the living room, to his right the stairs to go up to the second floor and in the back the kitchen…and where had they pulled this fucking chair from? There was almost no furniture left, he’d disposed of most of it after destroying so many things. The Gehjoven was immediately on guard and didn’t move after his single step in the door except for a hand toward the light switch by the entrance. The switch clicked several times but no lights came on. The lights weren’t going to work.

 

            The silhouetted figure tilted its head up at the arrival of the house’s owner and the dull gleam of what light the open front door was barely letting in somehow reflected on their round eyes without illuminating their whole figure. The only things that were clearly visible in this very dull lighting were part of the figure’s calves, feet, and the foremost legs of the basic wooden chair that they were sitting on. The person was certainly wearing black. All black. Besides the obvious obsidian colored boots on their feet and the onyx pants on their visible lower legs, the totality of their black attire was so strongly evident because of the flawless way that this person blended into their silhouette.

 

            Trained not to be fixated on one target for too long and to check his surroundings, Grimmjow gave vague glances toward his flanks. Damnit, if he’d had reason to suspect anything was amiss checking either side would have been something he would have done quicker as he’d entered; regardless, he was doing so now. Nothing was moving around him and the curtains to the shut front windows were down as they’d been when he left the house earlier. That was why the front of the house was so especially dark… “Friend or foe?” Grimmjow asked plainly but loud as he individually put his keys on their ring between the now clenched fingers of his right hand. The pointed ends of the keys all stuck out and he had himself a fist weapon of sorts. The Gehjovenic soldier waited to do anything offensive; for all he knew that could be someone innocent who was tied up in the chair or told to sit still or else…like Ichigo…or it could be someone patiently waiting to come at him…perhaps even someone from the shadows. Since walking into this situation Grimmjow had easily shifted from a man who was simply grateful to be home to a soldier ready for an ambush; in this situation he could assume nothing because so little was evident.

 

            There came no verbal answer. The night’s light breeze blew, the sounds of outside from the open front door behind the house’s owner and the soft sounds of the house creaking were the only noises…

 

            Tied up and gagged maybe. Grimmjow’s eyes attentively scanned around again without turning his head much. Besides the lights not working nothing else in the living room seemed to have changed. There were no extra silhouettes in the living room itself; the ruined furniture had been disposed of days ago. Still, nothing unexpected moved in the shadows. There was definitely at least a semi-conscious person on that chair. If they were a threat was uncertain, as was whether they were armed or tied up. Whomever this was they were either unwilling or unable to speak to him. Nothing about this situation was reassuring, absolutely nothing. Grimmjow had an extremely bad gut feeling about where the situation at hand was headed.

 

            The silent standoff lasted minutes and ended abruptly when the silhouette moved first. Their arm shifted outward and the gleam of a savage looking hunting knife in the person’s black gloved hand caught the dull light.

 

            Threat. Definitely a threat! An armed one at that. Grimmjow took advantage of the time which being at a distance would afford him and pulled off his overshirt, leaving his muscled torso in only his plain tank top, and wrapped the shirt hastily around his left arm with a hurried job of tying it in place. The fistful of keys poking out of the slots between his right hand’s fingers were still in place.

 

            The silhouette came almost immediately after showing the blade… In relative silence they pushed off of the floor and chair, unbalancing it, lunging for the man ahead. The sound that the piece of furniture made as it fell over from the shift happened just as the swift footed assailant reached their target. Within the time it took a chair to tip over they could advance eighteen feet – that was scarily substantial.

 

            Wide eyed the Gehjovenic soldier used his right hand to shove a grabbing hand of the attacker’s away. Then his shirt-wrapped forearm blocked a follow-up stab with the knife. The fabric of his shirt was thin and he could only avoid being hurt by knocking the keen hunting knife off-course. The assailant was in the light of the door now and Grimmjow recognized a lean version of black head to toe night ops tactical set of Gehjovenic gear on his assailant. Their gender was impossible to know though; it also hadn’t been eyes that he’d seen gleam in the light, it was a pair of special goggles – most likely night vision. The keenly sharp hunting knife put a slash through the wrapped shirt’s layers as the blow’s force was redirected. The blade almost cut through all of the layers of that shirt, but Grimmjow’s arm drew back in time to avoid that and for retaliation. While he wasn’t fast enough to get a hold of the attacker with his right hand he threw a quick punch toward them with his left and they barely got out of it. Seeing that he’d missed, the combat seasoned soldier rapidly backed outside onto the porch where the ambient light was even better. Grimmjow was clever and he knew, as he kept backpedaling until he was off of the porch and into the yard, that this person would have more trouble fighting him if they couldn’t hide in the dark. They obviously wanted a close-range fight with him and he’d make them come and get it.

 

            However the stealthy assailant did not follow him out the door, rather they waited just at the entrance of the front door in the light, still ominous against the dark shades of the house in their dark gear. They knew better than to be baited like this.

 

            ‘Fuck…’ Grimmjow’s thoughts growled as he realized that his bait wasn’t enough; that person was trained to think before they acted – not having impulsively chased after him. They still had that knife too…he saw no gun holsters attached to their tactical gear but there were a few pouches. Suddenly the concept of being stabbed by an assailant reoccurred to him as familiar…he’d already had to deal with one tonight, now another?! Why? Were they one and the same..? The one at the pub though was in baggier black street clothes…not Gehjovenic night ops tactical gear. Even for tactical gear this gear really seemed lean and slim on the person ahead of him, probably for stealth and maneuverability judging by their speed and the reduced noise as they moved. Also the assailant at the pub was more erratic and distinctly male; this one’s gender was not apparent in any way but they were far more coordinated. Both’s height and build were too average…yet similar. No evidence was solid enough to be sure. Right now it was just too vague to say if they were same person. From this point though Grimmjow fully intended to stay outside where he stood a better chance of winning this fight.

 

            The assailant seemed to notice that their prey wasn’t going to return to them and they backed into the house until they were swallowed in its darkness.

 

            Swiftly Grimmjow had moved, getting behind the nearest car on the street, Tier’s old car, and crouched there. He hadn’t let the porch out of his sight and did notice when the figure disappeared in the house. ‘Stupid creepy fuck…’ Wasn’t it enough to be fucked around with once tonight? Now Grimmjow was a bit more pissed. The moon through the trees made decent light out here and he could see all around, scouting what was around him for anything of note. The neighbors’ yards were quiet. Nothing shuffled, shifted, or made noise past crickets and the overhead sound of tree leaves. If anyone else was here or near the house they were hidden and not moving. If anyone was watching this scene from inside their house…they should fucking help out! He really didn’t expect help though. It was getting pretty close to midnight and many of the other houses around were dark – most of their occupants had probably gone to bed. Grimmjow’s bad gut feeling wasn’t going away even though he had distanced himself from the assailant. At least…he wasn’t being shot at.

 

            In the next couple of minutes despite their previous disappearance the assailant emerged from the darkness of the open house and walked calmly out onto the front porch. Something else was in the hand opposite the one with the hunting knife.

 

            Noticing the change Grimmjow tensed in his crouch by the car. He had no weapons besides his keys and looked like this person had plans for something.

 

            The tactical geared assailant had seen where their target had moved to and, with a heavy object tied to this to weigh it down, pitched a shirt toward the parked car. It sailed like a badminton birdie before falling and hitting the car’s roof with a denting ‘thunk’ and then tumbling onto the ground.

 

            Grimmjow followed the arch of the object just long enough to read that it was headed straight for him and then he immediately rolled to the next car over and swiftly took cover from the airborne object. The thing ‘thunked’ on the car’s roof and ‘clacked’ against the ground then laid absolutely still beside Tier’s old car. Effectively behind cover Grimmjow watched it and the assailant by looking back and forth. Well..! The object didn’t explode…that was perhaps good. That didn’t mean it wasn’t on a timer though…

 

            Curiously the assailant waited upon the porch…

 

            Based on the strange way that the mysterious assailant lingered, Grimmjow suspected that they had a message for him in that object…he focused a little stronger on the clothy object. The moonlight showed that it was a black and grey shirt. The spread of the grey design was darkened with fresh red. That was blood… The air started to smell of the fresh bodily fluid. The Gehjoven’s eyes got a little wider. His Jhezenic guest had been wearing a shirt of those colors and pattern to help him fix up the house for the past few days. This must be the message that they were waiting for him to discover. Grimmjow…was suddenly very concerned about his guest; he yelled over the car, “What the fuck’d you do to him?!” Watching the assailant again as he had been – through this other car’s windows.

 

            The assailant gestured in a full yet slow ‘come hither’ hand gesture as they backed into the house’s darkness again. It was a grim message they were sending.

 

            The Gehjovenic soldier grit his teeth and snuck past the cars, avoiding the shirt just in case there was something unpleasant tied up in it – namely an explosive on a timer. In this low-profile sneaking Grimmjow’s back would still hurt if his adrenaline wasn’t pumping so hard. The man snuck around with cover and got up his driveway again to his cruiser and reached for the two handguns that had subtle holsters mounted to its frame. He would put bullets in this asshole. Wait- They were gone! His two guns, both of them, were gone! ‘Fuck! You have to be kidding!’ When had they disappeared?! Grimmjow bared his teeth and bobbed his head in a frustrated gesture, still very careful to keep an eye on the porch. Something moved… A rock with a painted message on it was tossed toward the driveway and rolled near Grimmjow who flinched but came to realize that it was just a simple rock so after the movement on the porch disappeared he picked it up. ‘Just you or he dies,’ it read in Gehjovenic. With cover beside the wheel of his cruiser Grimmjow shook his head with frustration again. What the fuck could he do about this? He really wished he’d texted Renji about his run-in earlier. The redhead would’ve texted him back in urgency and when Grimmjow didn’t respond, as he was stuck here and unable, Renji would have done something and someone would have come to check on him. It wasn’t wise to try texting now, while his position was being so watched. If they saw him trying to get help this asshole might start or continue hurting their hostage. ‘Fuck…’ There was no graceful way to deal with this.

 

            He was going back in that house… Grimmjow swore that he shouldn’t be worrying about this Jhezen like he was a pussy all over again but he just couldn’t help it…ignoring Sven- Ichigo being in danger was just not right.

Chapter Text

Section 16: Killing Time

            Shaking his head the soldier was now clad in leather motorcycle gear over his civvy clothes, which he’d procured from his black and blue accented cruiser; those were a thick leather jacket and his chaps. They would help him not get stabbed, a pretty important component of staying alive. Pocketing his keys Grimmjow walked onto his house’s wooden porch in plain view and yelled toward the dark house with its open doorway…no sign of the assailant. “You have one fucking chance to give up!” They were still here…no way that someone who’d baited him so strongly wouldn’t be.

 

            There was a loud yelp of pain and some sobbing from therein the darkness.

 

            Assuming that chance was declined was probably a safe bet. Those vocalizations would be Ichigo…his guest. The voice was very recognizable. Great. So he was having to deal with the Jhezen like he was a pussy all over again, except this time he was a hostage and a pussy at the same time. “If you think his suffering’s gonna sway me, you’re wrong!”

 

            A door slammed and the sobbing muffled.

 

            Grimmjow sighed and advanced into the dark house, flicking at the lights again…nothing. His nerves were steely despite imminent danger; he’d done things like this before. All it would be was an unpredictable fight. Everything would be surprising. Expect anything. He wouldn’t be able to see things coming ahead of time so he would have to stay spry. This fight would be extremely close to the wire, but he could manage. A shadow lunged at the soldier from the right as he entered and the Gehjoven swung an arching fist in that direction without backing away. The assailant dropped a hunting knife that they had poised to stab him with as they were clobbered and smashed into the face of the open front door. Immediately Grimmjow had pivoted and grabbed a hold of them, hands on their neck and squeezing…but there was no fleshy give. Their neck had armor on it. Damnit. Clever. Instead Grimmjow wordlessly started beating the back of their skull against the panel of the door. His cold and stoic blue eyes bored down watching his work and seeming to take no pleasure in this…yet. Hunting and hurting people were things he was unapologetically skilled with.

 

            The dark geared assailant struggled while being mashed against the door and took out a small knife from a pouch on their chest piece and shallowly stabbed the Gehjovenic soldier in the forearm.

 

            Grimmjow jumped back. “Fuck!”

 

            Staggering the assailant retreated into the darkness of the living room and vanished from sight…probably to recover. Strangely they weren’t coughing audibly. They’d taken back the little shank they’d just used. All went quiet in the house except for the wind outside.

 

            The soldier looked around himself, holding his bleeding forearm. That had been careless of him. He wasn’t going to bleed to death but this injury was quite painful. Flexing the hand belonging to the arm that he’d been stabbed in he continued to look around yet saw nothing but the quiet house. The sobbing started again and it sounded like it was coming from his personal closet here in the living room. Grimmjow knew better than to immediately seek the source. Talking and taunting would only disturb his concentration and make it easier to miss cues and so he was quietly observant.

 

            In coming minutes the assailant silently jumped for the Gehjoven’s back and successfully making their grab they wrapped an arm around the man’s strong neck.

 

            Grimmjow tucked his chin and stumbled at first, trying not to be strangled but this person was actually pretty fucking strong in trying to strangle him. In this he’d reached up and pulled their night vision goggles off and scratched them across the face. That shook them off. With a cough Grimmjow stumbled toward the stairs to the upper floor. Being that the assailant kept coming alone and seemed to be alone and also not using their hostage as a shield the Gehjoven saw no reason to be unarmed in this. He ripped up a board of the stairs and took an M16 out of an opening and turned around with the rifle ready; it already had a magazine in it and as he was turning around the safety switch went off onto semi-automatic and he’d pulled the bolt to load a round in the chamber. Locked and loaded.

 

            Eerily the blackish assailant was right there at the end of the barrel with their arms up and hands out with fingers spread as the rifle whirled with the soldier’s pivot. They stopped like a black beast ready to claim their prey… They wouldn’t be claiming shit with a rifle’s barrel against their chest and they knew it.

 

            Grimmjow didn’t immediately fire. Instead he jammed the end of the barrel up into their neck under the chin and knocked the assailant over by butting against them with his shoulder when they staggered from being checked by the barrel.

 

            The assailant couldn’t help falling over.

 

            The soldier stepped methodically toward and loomed over them as their upper half lay in the moonlight that the front door let in. He pointed the barrel of the M16 at their head. The ops gear minus those goggles covered everything but the mystery person’s eyes. They were unremarkable eyes, common color and shape. Most fights were over in a matter of minutes…this one was no exception he figured. With a ‘thump’ Grimmjow dropped a boot on their chest and held them down, tapping the end of the M16’s barrel against their forehead. “If this were anywhere else you’d have been dead two seconds ago. If you want to have a chance of living you better sing me the answers to the following questions.”

 

            The assailant tried not to move, their eyes watched their looming prey intently.

 

            “Who the fuck are you?”

 

            There was no answer. Sobbing in the closet started again and quit after only a few seconds.

 

            Not very sensitive to Ichigo’s situation for the moment, probably because he’d taken control of the situation now, Grimmjow’s boot pushed down on his catch’s chest with more weight, enough to make it pretty hard to breathe. “You chew off your tongue already? Talk!” He started twisting his heel back and forth and finally earned a subdued and pained sound out of the assailant yet no more than that. He let off for a moment to give them a chance. They said nothing for a whole minute. “Fine.”

 

            Just then the assailant grabbed the end of the barrel and quickly pushed it away with one hand while the other raised a pistol that they’d been concealing from a pouch on their back.

 

            From being pushed Grimmjow’s finger by the trigger had been shifted enough to engage the firing sequence and the M16 rifle had fired into the floor once a few inches off of the assailant’s head.

 

            The assailant’s pistol had fired up toward the Gehjoven twice but only hit the ceiling. Missed.

 

            Grimmjow’s ears were ringing…his opponent’s were probably ringing louder though. He kicked the person’s hand and their pistol skipped out the front door and slid off the front steps to the porch and clattered over pavement and into the yard’s grass. That kick hadn’t been a tap that was for sure. Then Grimmjow stomped on their chest again as they tried to get away. “Cough if you can hear me still.”

 

            Oh they couldn’t help coughing after a heel came down on their chest. The sound was notably masculine. The dark clad person hacked several times and tried to stab the Gehjoven’s leg with their small shank and a fast gesture. The knife broke upon contact with the standing man’s lower leg.

 

            That cough told him that this wasn’t Tier. Good. His ex-wife wasn’t combat savvy anyway, to the extent of Grimmjow’s knowledge at least. The Gejoven watched, amused as the assailant found out the hard way that his boots were the same tall ones which he wore in the field and they were resistant to all sorts of damage from toe to knee. He stomped on their chest again, dead center. “So…you gonna tell me who you are and why you’re in my fuckin’ house before I cave your ribs in wipin’ my boots on you?”

 

            The assailant quieted down as if defiantly trying to prove that they weren’t at a loss here. They could hear him just fine.

 

            “Fine. Keep your damn secrets.” Grimmjow aimed his rifle’s barrel between their legs and fired twice. The bullets went into the floor and the empty casings bounced off of the Gehjoven’s leg but it still made the assailant jump and squirm underfoot. “I know you can still hear out of one of your ears!” He pushed down harder with his one heel up on their chest and fired one more time into the floor between their legs a little closer to their crotch. “Hear that?! That’s the sound of me blowing your dick off if you don’t fucking answer everything I ask!” It was actually unfortunately loud firing indoors for both of them.

 

            The assailant pointed toward the closet door and there was an absolutely bloodcurdling scream from behind it followed up by pleading and sobbing.

 

            Grimmjow face twitched and he kicked the assailant in the face with his boot and pointed the M16 rifle at their chest as the assailant started dragging themselves backward across the living room carpet in fear. “I told you. His suffering won’t change anything.” The fact that Ichigo was screaming was good enough assurance that the Jhezen was alive. Alive was what mattered. The murderous Gehjoven just followed them walking slowly and throwing back the windows’ curtains as they went by, flooding the room with moonlight. He saw the assailant grab the hunting knife of earlier and take it in their retreat. Switching the safety on he slammed the stock of the rifle down on the assailant’s head and in a painful daze they immediately dropped the knife. Sliding the knife away with his foot Grimmjow set the rifle against the windows with a ‘click’ and picked the disarmed assailant up by the front of their ops gear and slammed them up against the nearest living room wall, holding them off six inches off of the ground. “I know you now…you’re a coward. A nameless…fucking…coward.”

 

            The assailant butted their head against the Gehjoven’s face and dropped the strong man in a matter of one solid hit. They leapt for the propped-up rifle and picking it up and switching off the safety realized…that there was no clip in it.

 

            An angry Gehjoven was collecting himself and spitting blood as it ran from his nose over his lips. Grimmjow turned around and grinned wildly at the black clad assailant holding the useless M16. There was plenty of blood across his teeth. “Missing something?” his tone was becoming dangerously thrilled…perhaps because he was now in a bloodlust sort of mood and perhaps also because his opponent wasn’t as much of a pushover as it first seemed.

 

            The assailant took to swinging the rifle and bruised the Gehjoven a few times before Grimmjow got a hold on it and with brute force and they grappled. The assailant’s feet slid as the presumably male person was pushed around by the bloodthirsty mohawked soldier.

 

            When Grimmjow ripped the rifle away from them he did not immediately load the clip in his jeans back pocket into the rifle. He set the weapon against the windows again and leaned to pick up the earlier dropped hunting knife which was by his foot. His calloused fingers curled around the large hunting knife too comfortably and as Grimmjow straightened it was apparent that he’d given in fully to the bloodlust. “I’d much rather carve you up anyway… You ever been stuck with an eight-inch knife before?”

 

            The assailant scrambled in retreat toward the stairs and ran up them.

 

            “Probably not or you’d already be dead! YEAH?!” Grimmjow yelled after them lifting both brows at the hasty retreat. Quick prey was entertaining but once they were crippled, a snapped leg and so on, they weren’t much fun anymore. Instead of following them immediately the soldier wandered toward the closet where Ichigo was sobbing from and unlocked it with his keys. “Alright…time to get the fuck ou-” There was nobody in here. Just a bloody voice recorder playing a looping tape over and over again set upon one of the shelves. Grimmjow stared astonished for a second and then his head cocked away from the closet with a murderous gaze at the barely illuminated stairs. Ooooh… They either had Ichigo somewhere else…or they were that stupid little Jhezen pussy. His body throbbed. Grimmjow smashed the voice recorder on the living room floor with a forceful throw.

 

            There were loud ‘thumps’ from upstairs as several things fell over in various rooms.

 

            The Gehjoven left his personal closet, walking toward the stairs and slowly climbing them without bringing his rifle with him, however he did close and lock the front door before ascending so that if any nosey neighbors came by he wouldn’t have to deal with them too. They probably weren’t coming by to check on him if they hadn’t shown up by now. He did not want to be disturbed in his manhunt. “Where are you?” Grimmjow barked up the stairs in an eerie tone of voice. “Come out… Come out…” The Gehjoven stopped at the top of the stairs, catching the assailant’s shadow running into the guest room just ahead of him. “…and play.” With a slow advance Grimmjow followed, holding onto the hunting knife…which was actually his personal knife. They’d taken it out of his personal closet. It had his engraved initials on the guard. Despite clearly having the upper hand Grimmjow was being cautious not to get caught in any traps set in the dark. It was darker up here with less windows. He stepped into the doorway of the guest room and no further.

 

            The assailant shoved an elbow into the soldier’s gut as he came into the doorway of the dark guest room.

 

            Grimmjow’s motorcycle leathers combined with his muscles absorbed that blow pretty well, well enough to counter and slice a nice gash in the assailant’s shoulder before they could get back. Straight through that tactical gear. What a shame! They made no yelp or cries, shrinking into the darkness of the room with their wound. “Is that you…Sven?” Just in case it wasn’t…Grimmjow used the fake nickname Ichigo had mentioned. “Come on…I thought we had something…” He choked up on the knife. The Ghejoven advanced into the guest room and closed the door. It was dark. Nearly pitch black in here. He was having a good time hunting in the dark now that he knew a thing or two about his assailant.

 

            The assailant made for the door instead of trying to fight their prey.

 

            As soon as that door opened Grimmjow was right there to grab them. “You’re scared. That is you isn’t it?” he remarked darkly, squeezing the person’s sliced shoulder which he was holding them back by.

 

            There was a distinctly familiar scream of pain, except it was directly from the assailant.

 

            “You stupid fuck…” In a swift motion the Gehjoven cut into the back of their head covering with the hunting knife and roughly tore it the rest of the way off of his opponent’s head. The fabric made a terrible ripped sound as Grimmjow shoved them forward and they aided the process by trying to get away. The covering tore free entirely and Grimmjow threw it to the floor.

 

            Catching themselves on the hallway banister the assailant stumbled ahead and down the dim hallway trying to hide their face. Their shoulder’s blood drizzled on the carpet and their hands grasping the banister to pull themselves along smeared blood on the wood and walls.

 

            Letting them get a head start Grimmjow tried clicking the light switches he went by. Nothing up here worked either. Aware that the blood from his nose had stopped running and was starting to get crusty the Gehjoven stayed back and let the suspicious figure reach the end of the upstairs hallway while he brushed off the drying blood and cleared out his nose. Might as well go into this comfortably.

 

            The demasked assailant stumbled into the bathroom at the hall’s end. A long swipe of their hand to push the door open left a dark blood stain across its panel. They clutched at their messy shoulder. This was not good.

 

            Casually Grimmjow followed, actually lighting a cigarette from a pack in his leather jacket. This was as pleasurable as anything. Hunting someone. He entered the quaint bathroom with the huge hunting knife poised and the cigarette on the edge of his lips. Its hot cherry burned noticeably in the darkness and the smoke from the cigarette and exhaling shrouded his face like an angry cloud. His opponent was backed up against the glass wall of the shower with a straight razor in one hand, apparently ready to make their last stand.

 

            The standalone nightlight upon the sink counter, ironically meant to help people not die as they entered the bathroom, was about to get this person killed just by making their identity apparent. Bloodied and bruised up by the extremely violent fight an orange-haired man breathed shakily, leaning against the shower. “Fuck off…” Ichigo rasped, pointing the straight razor at the encroaching Gehjoven.

 

            Grimmjow’s piercing eyes flattened, forcibly without emotion.

 

            The slighter man breathed with evident pain and tired not to seem as terrified as he actually was. A path of blood ran down from the scratches that Grimmjow had put on his face when he’d tried to choke him out. Ichigo honestly didn’t feel good about this now…maybe it was because he’d lost to this Gehjoven yet again…even when using Gehjovenic gear and Gehjovenic technique against him… “I said fuck off!

 

            ‘…you’re not a particularly brutal or strong man yet you’ve survived here for a long while…’ He’d been so mistaken. Grimmjow advanced and batted the razor out of Ichigo’s hand when in range to be swiped at. It clattered metallically against a wall and then the floor. Stalled Grimmjow just stood before the Jhezen watching the slighter man breathe rapidly in fear while taking a drag or two more of his cigarette. He blew the smoke in the Jhezen’s face.

 

            Ichigo coughed and tried to shove him away but Grimmjow didn’t back off.

 

            With one hand he gripped the Jhezen by the neck and slammed Ichigo into the shower’s glass wall with a rattle from its door. Grimmjow poised his hunting knife at the other man’s gut and glared into the Jhezen’s hazel eyes with his piercing set and the cigarette still in his mouth.

 

            Ichigo choked a bit, his neck’s armor helped but not too much as Grimmjow’s grip stretched his neck upward. He was terrified but he didn’t get frantic. It would be better to be mutilated with dignity. Ichigo’s eyes closed and his breath quivered. He flinched when Grimmjow put the knife’s tip into his ops gear and slit the chest piece upward along the seam. The slit stopped after the front of the gear had been fully cut open – navel to neck. Ichigo coughed at being allowed to breathe when Grimmjow’s hand let off of his neck.

 

            No longer holding Ichigo by the throat Grimmjow touched the tip of the hunting knife to the Jhezen’s throat, discarding his cigarette in the sink behind himself. His blue eyes glared dangerously down the hilt.

 

            Ichigo inhaled sharply.

 

            With coarse passion Grimmjow invaded the Jhezen’s space over the poised knife and forced a kiss on the pinned and fearful man.

 

            Ichigo’s head knocked back against the shower’s glass wall. It was hard enough to breathe without someone else obstructing his mouth’s ability. Grimmjow also tasted of blood. Ichigo bit him and spat in the Gehjoven’s face as Grimmjow’s head snapped back.

 

            Grimmjow returned that with a withdrawal of the knife and a headbutt.

 

            Rattled thoroughly Ichigo staggered, as he was seeing stars. “U-Ugh…”

 

            Waiting only seconds Grimmjow advanced and kissed the Jhezen again with the same passion.

 

            Ichigo didn’t bite this time, finding that this actually felt good. Better than being cut up. He put his hands on Grimmjow’s shoulders…though not to push the other man off, in fists he gripped the leather on the soldier’s shoulders tightly and pulled Grimmjow in. The other man tasted of blood and sweat and cigarettes… Ichigo grabbed onto either of the Gehjoven’s shoulders and pulled inward, roughly choking up on the kiss they were somehow maintaining; it actually hurt his bruised face but Ichigo ignored the pain.

 

            Not completely making a sane decision in committing to this Grimmjow was just following his carnal instincts here…and for some reason the soldier’s instincts were devoid of vengeance. Maybe it was denial, rejection of the plain truth…but Grimmjow knew what he’d felt in small increasing amounts about this particular person before tonight: raw feelings, and increasingly good ones. He dropped his hunting knife, it hit the bathroom floor with a loud ‘clank’ and rattled before staying still.

 

            More roughly their mouths moved against each other…sucking, tonguing and biting. A very coarse sort of affection if one could even call it that.

 

            Without any conscious thought Grimmjow started unsnapping the tactical onyx pants on Ichigo with both of his hands.

 

            Ichigo pushed Grimmjow’s hands off and pulled back from the rough kissing. “N-No…” He breathed, staying back and pushing Grimmjow’s chest away from him now. That was his limit. The Jhezen watched nervously, probably a little delirious form all of the blood loss and being manhandled.

 

            Grimmjow’s hands stopped and his face moved back a half-inch. “What’d you mean ‘no’? You started this.”

 

            “I-I started a fight…not…th-this.” Ichigo’s eyes flicked between them. He was actually nervous as to whether the other man would listen.

 

            Grimmjow’s features darkened with a noteworthy aggravation. He didn’t want to stop.

 

            Well aware of that Ichigo struggled to swallow a lump in his throat. He did not have the upper hand here.

 

            “Fine,” the soldier remarked in a suitably agitated tone of voice. He took his hands off of the slighter man’s tactical trousers and one step back, staring at Ichigo coldly.

 

            The Jhezen’s breath wavered for an instant and he slid down the glass wall of the shower, shivering. He exhaled what was a relieved sigh but it sounded like a reaction out of fear or something the like.

 

            Grimmjow’s cold eyes followed the downward slide. Did this guy actually fucking think that he was going to force him into something just because tonight had been over the top? He wouldn’t. He was a bloodthirsty soldier with hands and skills meant to kill, a mind that showed remorse to very few, and an iron will to serve the war, but he was not a rapist or a vile person when it did not concern war. Many wouldn’t have guessed so by his demeanor and reputation.

 

            Tired and just completely lacking the will to fight anymore Ichigo weakly mentioned, “M-My…shoulder…” and reached up to grasp the bleeding gash that Grimmjow’s hunting knife had left through his tactical gear there. It was still bleeding badly.

 

            Strangely there seemed to be no sour feelings now over how much one had hurt the other as Grimmjow knelt down in front of him and dragged a military grade first aid case over from under the sink. “You’re gonna need to let me remove this,” the Gehjoven pointed to the tactical chest piece.

 

            Ichigo nodded. His face and neck really hurt…

 

            Grimmjow reached for the separation in the center around the other man’s arm that was reaching up to hold the bleeding gash. He didn’t seem pissed anymore, just stern. The tactical chest piece was off. Taking off his leather jacket Grimmjow found it easier to articulate for this.

 

            Ichigo yelped in pain when water hit his shoulder but it needed to be cleaned.

 

            Using further medical supplies with gloves on Grimmjow finished a searingly painful cleansing and dried the wound. With more pressure he slowed the bleeding a great deal but Ichigo was starting to show signs of being in a huge amount of pain. “Hold this.” The Gehjoven handed Ichigo a small capped tube with a needle under its cap.

 

            Ichigo started at the object that his hand barely wanted to clasp around. “Nnn?” His hazel eyes lifted up as Grimmjow was focusing on inspecting the wound and cleaning off a needle and threading it; that was out of the medical kit.

 

            When he had the things he needed to stitch Ichigo’s shoulder up ready the Gehjoven took the small tube back and uncapped it. He wiped off an area on Ichigo’s shoulder with alcohol. “Do you have any issues with morphine?”

 

            Ichigo weakly shook his head.

 

            “Good.” Grimmjow stabbed the slighter man in the shoulder at the same point where one might get a normal shot and squeezed in the full amount of the tube.

 

            Ichigo’s head rolled to one side against the glass door as in a few seconds the opiate hit him hard enough to coat him in a euphoric bliss without anymore pain. “A-Aaah…”

 

            Grimmjow capped the tube and set it aside to get rid of later. He took a minute to hold the gash and watch Ichigo to make sure that the drug had kicked in and that the Jhezen was feeling it. The other man sure looked like he was feeling it, rolling his head side to side with an expression like someone was blowing him. Grimmjow went about using the curved needle and thread to sew the shoulder’s laceration closed and cleaned off extra blood, placed antiseptic and some non-stick gauze and a water proof patch over it. He wasn’t a proper medic but Grimmjow knew a thing or two. He shifted over in front of the drugged Jhezen, taking care of the scratches that he’d put on Ichigo’s face next.

 

            “Oh my goooood…” Ichigo drawled as his bruised and scratched face was blotted and cleaned up.

 

            Grimmjow’s eyes flicked toward the Jhezen’s, watching him. “Hmm?”

 

            “So this is morphine.”

 

            Grimmjow barely showed a grin before he swallowed it and went back to being stern and stoic. “Yep.”

 

            Ichigo’s face was too stiff to keep talking much, no soreness but stiff yes. This drug was fucking amazing. He hadn’t felt any pain while Grimmjow stitched him nor anywhere else.

 

            He didn’t talk much while finishing with Ichigo’s other wounds. When done the soldier had to tend to himself and left Ichigo on the floor against the shower. Grimmjow still had the stab from the little shank on his forearm, bleeding was actually good and this one hadn’t done enough of it. Without gloves to work on himself but cleansed hands Grimmjow reopened the wound and let it bleed into the sink under warm water while Ichigo stayed on the floor enjoying the drug.

 

            Among his euphoria Ichigo talked up at Grimmjow in short sentences. “You kissed me again…”

 

            Grimmjow just sighed and ignored that one.

 

            “What were you gonna do after that..?”

 

            “That’s a stupid question.”

 

            “Mmm…” Ichigo went back to just laying still, faintly watching as the Gehjoven sanitized and wrapped his wound. The fact that Grimmjow hadn’t ended him tonight was a miracle. Eventually Ichigo put forth the effort to get up, wobbling on his feet and pulling off all of his remaining clothes and tossing them onto the floor.

 

            Grimmjow stared once he realized what was going on. He was so distracted with the naked and drugged up man beside himself that he dropped the bandage roll he was holding in the sink.

 

            “I think…I’m going to take a shower…”

 

            “You better not fuck up those wounds I just fixed for you.”

 

            Ichigo leaned lazily on the shower door after he’d opened it. It was a half-lazy and half-sexy pose because he was lax and naked. “I won’t…” He stepped into the shower and the glass door slammed shut unintentionally hard.

 

            “Hey don’t break that,” Grimmjow barked. This twit had caused enough property damage tonight.

 

            “I woooon’t.” Ichigo had started the water and was using the walls to support himself but he was being as careful as possible with the wounds. The warm water made his bruises feel hot. He felt really good. Exceptionally good for having just finished with a fight. While under the running water of the shower Ichigo realized that the water in the sink outside of the shower was running and Grimmjow’s head was down. He could see some things through the obscuring glass of the shower. The other man was washing his hair in the sink?

 

            In the next minutes Grimmjow was ruffling his mohawk dry and wiping the rest of the blood off of himself. He was past the point of caring which towel he stained in this.

 

            Ichigo’s head canted slightly, feeling aroused by watching Grimmjow from behind the obscured by the slurred glass. He wasn’t sure why…drugs aside…but he felt particularly stimulated by that.

 

            Grimmjow vaguely looked over his shoulder at the shower as he was about to head out of the bathroom. He couldn’t tell how Ichigo was feeling; he could barely see which way the other man was facing.

 

            Ichigo stayed in the shower with the door closed as the water continued to run watching the distorted form outside of it through the glass. Realizing that Grimmjow was stalled by something Ichigo tried to seem less like he was gawking and raised his hands to wash out his hair.

 

            In another moment Grimmjow was off, gone from sight.

 

            When Ichigo was sure that the Gehjoven was gone he got out and dried off and checked the waterproof patch over his shoulder wound. That patch was surprisingly effective but damn he looked like he’d been through hell. Swaying on his feet a little he stepped over his earlier discarded clothing and Grimmjow’s leather jacket. He also noticed the man’s shirts and motorcycle chaps on the around. Hmm… After taking a piss and flushing the toilet Ichigo staggered out of the bathroom wearing nothing, not even a towel and ventured up the hall a short way. Morphine made this seem totally ok. The master bedroom door was shut… Was he supposed to sleep in the guest room? No way in hell. Ichigo reach for the knob. It turned and opening it the Jhezen saw Grimmjow already in the bed, face down on a pillow on top of a heap of haphazard covers.

 

            The Gehjoven didn’t seem to notice someone else coming into the room; he was wearing only his jeans and socks and really selling the idea that he could give no shits so long as he was left alone to sleep.

 

            Ichigo observed the bruises that he’d put on the other man. Less than on himself but there was damage. The only remaining lamp in the room was on the opposite side of the bed on a small table and it was left on so that one could see around the- Wait! How was that light working when he’d pulled all the fuses? Ichigo carefully pushed the bedroom door closed and walked toward the large bed. He climbed up over the footboard and instead of going to his own side and crawled over to Grimmjow and prodded at the facedown man. Morphine made it hard to not be a little too friendly.

 

            Grimmjow groaned unhappily into his pillow.

 

            “Did you fix the electricity already?”

 

            “That light’s plugged into a backup battery… You’re fixing that shit tomorrow. Now go to sleep.”

 

            “Do you have a cigarette?”

 

            Grimmjow didn’t lift his face but stretched a hand and reached for the table on his side of the bed. His fingers fumbled until he caught the drawer and pulled it out, then they fumbled a bit more until he located his pack and lighter and rolled over to hand it to- Aaaaah…Ichigo was still naked and sitting cross-legged. “Goddamnit man…” Grimmjow handed the both over and then rolled to face away.

 

            “Uuuh?” The Jhezen just didn’t seem to get it, he sat swaying slightly just behind the lain down fellow and tapped the pack before taking one cigarette out and lighting it up. “Do you think it’s bad to have a smoke with this…drug?”

 

            “With liquid morphine? Fuck if I know. It’s probably fine.”

 

            Shrugging Ichigo took a drag and leaned over Grimmjow to toss the pack and lighter back into the drawer and shut it. Then he scooted back to his own side of the bed after almost falling on top of the other man. “I don’t usually smoke at all… It’s usually just when I need to think.”

 

            “Stop posing as a philosopher and try sleeping.” Grimmjow shut his eyes. “And get rid of that stupid Jhezenic tattoo on your calf. It’ll get you killed.”

 

            “After four years I think I’m fine. Hey thanks for…stopping…”

 

            There was a long minute of silence before Grimmjow surprisingly replied. “You’re lucky I did.”

 

            “Mmm…you’ve always seemed to have my best interests in mind…mostly.”

 

            Grimmjow stayed quiet.

 

            “You’re thoughtful so I’ll raincheck you.” The more he talked the easier it was despite a stiff face.

 

            That was unexpected. With a grunt Grimmjow dropped his head against the pillow again. “Whatever.”

 

            Finding that the other man wasn’t going to give him much to continue talking about Ichigo finished his cigarette peacefully and put it out in a glass ashtray under the lamp and then clicked the thing off. Before laying down the Jhezen on the opposite side of the bed looked toward Grimmjow’s shadowy form laying on top of the covers and moving just slightly with breath. He said ‘goodnight’ in Jhezenic to the other man, still watching Grimmjow, who said nothing back. Ichigo wondered…what did that man actually think of him? How much…or how little? Why did he tolerate him? Why had the Gehjoven taken a risk to save him? …and how long did this liquid morphine shit last? It was pretty stellar.

Chapter Text

Section 17: Mental

            When Ichigo awoke he found himself comfortably huddled under the covers of Grimmjow’s bed, alone. He moaned softly, moving around and stretching, even wincing once he realized how sore his face and shoulder still were – though they were nowhere near as bad as before the sun had come up this morning when they were fresh. Ichigo knew he’d look like he’d been in a fight but he just couldn’t care about that right now. He’d probably slept twelve hours from an early three in the morning, when their fighting had stopped, to a late three in the afternoon but he didn’t have a clock to tell him so. The Jhezen stirred a little more, rolling over to look for the soldier whom this bed belonged to and only then realized his solitude here in the master bedroom. The Gehjoven must’ve already gotten up… He wondered if Grimmjow was anywhere near as sore as him, the other man was packed with a lot more muscle and seemed sturdier. Trying not to think too hard after only just waking up with his head pounding Ichigo groggily rolled back toward his side of the bed and with another soft moan buried half of his face into his comfortable pillow.

 

            This position was very warm. Covered in blankets, the room wasn’t cold and the surface of the pillow and the bedsheets and such felt smooth and cozy against his bare skin; it was absolutely pleasant, even with the headache. The warmest bed he’d slept in for a while… The Jhezen shift the hand he had pinned under his pillow to keep it from going to sleep. With such movement there was a faint rattle and an uncomfortable pinch against his wrist which made Ichigo start and withdrew his hand to look. Around his wrist was a steely tightened cuff attached to a chain. Ichigo blinked his eyes open more widely and rubbed the rest of groggy sleep out of them. The cuff and chain were still there, they were not his hazy wakened imagination. Ichigo pulled, testing the longer than expected metal tether and sitting up he pulled up the slack until this chain had no more to give. It was probably twelve feet long and was cuffed on the other end to an immoveable post on the bed and could not be removed. Trust that, he tried. Pulling. Shaking. The Jhezen tugged several hard and final times then sighed in defeat, letting the chain fall on his blanket covered lap as he now sat up on the bed with one leg bent in and the other hanging off of it. How stupid…

 

            Grimmjow came to open door of the master bedroom. Perhaps he’d heard the sharp pitched rattling and clacking of the cuffs and chain.

 

            The Jhezen’s head turned fastly and saw the other man watching him. “Why am I-”

 

            Before his guest could ask a stupid question Grimmjow finished that statement for him. “Can’t trust you.”

 

            Ichigo’s mouth hung open slightly like he had something which he wanted to say about that but then shut it without so much as a word and he swallowed his words.

 

            The Ghejoven in the bedroom doorway stood back with his arms crossed casually. He was wearing paint splattered clothing, jeans and a t-shirt with no shoes or socks on, and leather mechanic gloves on his hands.

 

            Suddenly Ichigo realized the scent of fresh paint was in the air. Without asking he knew that meant his host had probably been cleaning and repairing while he slept. His cautious hazel eyes watched the gruff man, searching him for hints of emotional cues…probably wondering if he was pissed or not. There were none. Grimmjow was as stoic and straight faced as usual. “If you unchain me I’ll help you with things,” Ichigo offered, lifting the links that were attached to his cuff. He really wanted to be unchained.

 

            Grimmjow watched the clinking links, a slight downward tip of his eyes, and then in a moment they were back up staring the Jhezen square in the face. He wasn’t pissed but he was keeping his distance. “You’ve been sleepin’ so long I’m already done. I had some other help.”

 

            Ichigo sighed. Well…there went his easiest chance- Wait…‘other help’ his host had said?

 

            Just then a voice barked from downstairs, “Oddball! You’re out of beer! This isn’t cool Grimmjow!”

 

            Attentively Grimmjow’s head turned and he walked out of the master bedroom’s doorway and shut the door again. He was heading for the stairs.

 

            “Hey wait! What about my cuff?!” Ichigo called, jumping out of the bed – naked – and walking as far as the twelve-foot linkage chain would allow him. He couldn’t even walk as far as the doorway. He waited a moment and when Grimmjow didn’t come back he huffed, rather frustrated. “HEY!” Still he got no assistance.

 

            The Gehjovenic man had heard the yelling muffled from behind the door…he just chose to ignore it. Grimmjow’s bare feet thumped down one step at a time without hesitation and he wandered into the living room off of the stairs to find Renji. Grimmjow took his mechanic gloves off and shoved them in his back pocket before shoving his bare hands into his front pockets walking across the living room…which was cleaned to immaculate status and the early afternoon sun was streaming in. His eyes glancing around appreciated the fresh look to the house, even if it was mostly bare and undecorated. All of the blood was wiped away and the stained carpet had been pulled up to reveal a beautiful oak floor below that was cleaned and polished with a coat of finish already set and dry. All of the doors and windows were open to let the house air out – all of them. The only way that this had been accomplished was with Renji’s help.

 

            The redhead who’d been yelling wandered out of the kitchen. “Hey Grimmjow, you hear that? It’s a travesty man! You have no damn booze in this house.”

 

            Grimmjow stopped in front of Renji just outside of the kitchen and shrugged. “Guess that calls for a beer run, huh?”

 

            “Yeah it sure fucking does… Hey, did I hear yelling?” Renji had not been told about the other man besides themselves that was up in the bedroom and it had not been easy to keep that from him with so much to do tearing up the carpet, drywalling and painting on every floor. Surprisingly though…Renji hadn’t badgered him to find out what had happened yet.

 

            “Other than yourself? No. You’re hearing things.”

 

            Renji frowned to one side, “Don’t fuck with me… I totally heard something.”

 

            Grimmjow all too casually shook his head and shrugged again with his hands still managing to be lodged in both pockets. “You asked. I didn’t hear shit, it’s just you.”

 

            The redheaded Gehjoven sighed long and then his expression perked up. “Hey, I’ll go for that run if you buy two of the cases.”

 

            “Two? How many are you gonna fucking get?”

 

            Renji looked like he was doing some math in his head. “Four? Gotta fill that fridge.”

 

            Grimmjow lofted a brow with a snort and a laugh, “Get two and I’ll pay for one. We don’t need four cases.”

 

            “Why not?” Renji complained.

 

            “Because if we have four we’ll drink four.” The mohawked Gehjoven started pulling his wallet out of a front pocket. Folding it open to get a large bill out of the back crease a photograph fell out of another fold and dropped on the ground. A blonde woman…with beautiful eyes and a perfect smile… Staring at the photograph Grimmjow’s hands stalled with the paper currency in his one hand.

 

            Renji looked down and back up. His comrade was fixated with a very distant look in his eye…so the redhead crouched and picked the photo up. That was a non-sleezy picture of Tier, one of the few. Renji noticed that Grimmjow’s stare had followed it up. Without a second more of hesitation the redhead tore the photograph in half and handed it back to Grimmjow who snapped out of his daze as the torn photograph was pushed between his fingers. “With respect, Oddball sir, I feel that was my responsibility.” Renji was suddenly being very formal, taking responsibility for tearing the photograph without asking.

 

            Grimmjow’s expression eased slightly and he held the two halves of the picture together and tore it in half again. Then again. He crumpled the torn pieces of the photo in his one hand while handing Renji the bill with his other. Stuffing the crumpled pieces into a pocket he also put his wallet away in that same pocket. “Obliged to have your support, and you don’t need to ‘sir’ me. Gehjoven be great,” he nodded respectfully to his friend and comrade.

 

            Renji grinned smartly and nodded much the same. “Gehjoven be great.” He wandered toward the already open front door. “But I still think we need four cases.”

 

            “Two…” the mohawked man growled.

 

            “Alright… Alright…”

 

            In a nonsuspicious manner Grimmjow’s blue eyes observed and waited until Renji was well outside and in his car ready to drive off. The front door had still been left open for the sake of keeping air moving with the paint on the walls almost dry but still pungent. When that was a sure thing the mohawked Gehjovenic soldier walked into the kitchen. He slid a sheathed hunting knife off of one of the counters and turned it over, inspecting the heavy knife on all sides in its sheath. The man’s eyes were neutral as was his face but his mind mulled over all of the things that this military issued hunting knife had brought him through. There were too many to count anymore. He thumbed over his engraved initials on the knife’s guard. Countless things… When he was done inspecting he walked it to his personal closet out of the kitchen and across the living room.

 

            From the stairs Ichigo, who was actually able to slip out of his cuff somehow, silently watched the Gehjovenic fellow and had been since Grimmjow had gone into the kitchen and come back out with his knife. To think he’d survived multiple encounters with that savage killing tool and this soldier attached to it gave his Jhezenic blood a serious case of the chills. Wrapped in bedsheets only, Ichigo was quiet and undetected. He was actually a pretty sneaky individual if left to his own devices. As the Gehjovenic soldier opened the closet and lingered in the closet the observing Jhezen leaned to see around the wooden railing’s posts to figure out what Grimmjow was doing. He couldn’t really tell.

 

            Grimmjow’s calloused hands traveled over many military canvas bags, tents, a few old uniforms…old broken weapons…some pieces and parts to other motorcycles that he’d owned… It was all incredibly personal stuff, and it was all relatively undisturbed. He put his hunting knife back on the appropriate shelf in the cramped closet and stepped back out and closed the door with a solid ‘click’. His attention turned quickly when his peripherals caught something orange through the railing of the stairs directly ahead of him.

 

            Ichigo was thinking about how he’d touched this soldier’s most personal things in order to provoke him when he noticed being noticed.

 

            Grimmjow stared silently at the Jhezen on the stairs.

 

            Ichigo stared silently back. No emotional cues – at all from either of them.

 

            Seeming unphased by being observed the Gehjovenic man looked away first, ready to ignore the eye contact.

 

            “I didn’t take anything out except your knife.”

 

            “I could tell,” Grimmjow explained in a matter-of-fact tone, gazing to the side of the room and not at the Jhezen.

 

            Trying to be careful that he didn’t instigate anger, Ichigo slowly stood up on the stairs, looking over them now at the polished wooden floor. “That’s beautiful…” His hazel eyes traveled over the vibrantly brown oaken planks; they were polished nicely and otherwise naturally beautiful wood.

 

            Grimmjow was not interested in small-talk about wood. “Why did you fucking attack me?” His piercing eyes went back to his guest’s.

 

            Cutting straight to the chase. The Jhezen’s eyes lifted from the immaculate flooring and he opened his mouth with a slight hesitation because he knew how risky answering that question honestly could be, “It was a test.”

 

            Glaring, Grimmjow’s expression was easy to interpret even from the distance across the living room, he was not pleased with that answer. “You have the balls to test me?”

 

            Instead of his usual timid manner Ichigo folded his forearms against the top of the banister and smiled smartly, watching the soldier whose back straightened with an authoritative stance assumed as he glared. “No…” Grimmjow only had so much authority over him now and Ichigo recognized this but it didn’t save him the chills of that intimidating glare. “…but I do have the brains to. Would you rather consider it as me just killing time?

 

            Unamused by the other man’s wit the Gehjovenic soldier shook his head and hissed out a sigh as his piercing eyes tore away and he stormed off into the kitchen to grab his smokes and a lighter. This was stressing him out. What a pain in the ass having a guest was. He marched out onto the glass back porch through an already-open sliding glass door, the previously broken one replaced a day ago, and stood out by the edge of the porch at the top of the steps down to his green backyard. Perched or edging where he was Grimmjow tapped his pack, folded it open and started a cigarette with a cupped hand and the simple lighter.

 

            Ichigo was gradual and wary to come down off of the stairs. Still wrapped in just the bedsheets he wandered after the mohawked man, standing on the open sliding door’s track when he caught up but going no further. The back porch was wide and decently long; Grimmjow was about ten feet away from him.

 

            Even though he wasn’t facing his guest Grimmjow knew that the Jhezen was there, he could feel the stare and already considered it was likely. “Go get dressed before someone sees you,” he snapped.

 

            Ichigo considered refusing but didn’t. “Sure thing, sir.” For some unwise reason he was actually very intentionally pushing the other man’s buttons.

 

            Grimmjow looked over a shoulder at the formal but quiet reply. “And save your smart-mouth for someone else, lest I pop you in it. Don’t ‘sir’ me.”

 

            Ichigo cocked his jaw to contain a grin. “Careful, you might not win next time…” he took a single step back into the house, “…sir,” and rolled the sliding door closed as punctuation.

 

            Grimmjow’s face twitched. He didn’t like to be teased. The man lifted a free hand and pointed an index finger with his thumb cocked back at the Jhezen’s chest. ‘Pop’ he mouthed.

 

            Ichigo pretended to get hit briefly with an imaginary bullet and dropped the bedsheets he was covering up with. Absolutely naked with a soft tilted stare out at the soldier standing on the porch he held a hand over the spot he’d been ‘shot’ in.

 

            Lowering his finger-gun Grimmjow swallowed once at the teasing display and then shook his head and yanked his eyes back to the green spread of grass across the backyard. He took a heavy drag of his cigarette. That goddamn cocktease…

 

            Ichigo seemed satisfied with his effect on the otherwise thick-skinned soldier and pulled up the bedsheets, wrapping himself in them again and wandering away from the sliding door he’d shut before teasing the Gehjoven. Ichigo was headed back upstairs.

 

            Forcing himself to think of something else…anything else but that nude twit…Grimmjow considered how it felt to be here, in a comfortable home, on a well-supplied and flourishing base with great comrades and friends…beer whenever desired…his motorcycle…all of the things that he enjoyed but didn’t need to survive. It was a comfortable life. Despite it all though, the Gehjoven felt a twinge of discomfort; a soldier should never get too comfortable.

 

 

            On the top floor Ichigo had walked into the bathroom to wash off and dress himself and had just finished after five minutes in the shower, he was a little bristly but neglected to shave and had an inspection of his bruised-up face and body. Ouch. The hot shower had helped his headache and bodily aches dissipate somewhat. The Jhezen smoothed down his fresh clothes, they were actually his this time – not borrowed, and walked out of the bathroom with a plain long-sleeved shirt and jeans on with bare feet. He walked back up the carpetless hallway, his own blood having ruined the ‘floor fuzz’ up here so it’d been pulled up, and the oaken floor gleamed with a fresh polish just like the living room downstairs. Beautiful. He turned the corner of the upstairs banister, that thing had been fixed as well, and jumped tensely at the head of the stairs – surprised half to death. “Fuck!”

 

            Grimmjow was coming up the stairs and had unintentionally scared his guest; he didn’t look moved by the other man’s great surprise. He stopped on the step a couple down from the top where Ichigo had stalled.

 

            The orange haired Jhezen caught his breath, looking at Grimmjow the man was staring at him like he had something on his mind… That seemed an unusual cue. “Uh, needed me for something?”

 

            “I have deployment coming up.” Grimmjow’s expression stayed completely straight-faced as he mentioned this.

 

            Ichigo blinked, looking around the other man’s features, searching as he ever did so that he wouldn’t miss a clue or a cue. “Where?”

 

            “Jordendia,” he sounded all too calm about that, like the place he’d just named wasn’t one of the hottest dens of fighting on the border between their factions…it was, and very treacherous even for Elites. “Your people’s turf by our border.”

 

            The Jhezen’s eyes widened, “What..? Uh…I mean they’re not my people anymore…”

 

            “You tell yourself whatever you want. It isn’t for a couple weeks but I’ll be gone for as long as needed. If you’re gonna be here, working or whatever the fuck they have you doing as a tech, my house is your house. Just stop breaking shit.” Grimmjow paused and gave the Jhezen a chance to process this.

 

            Ichigo stayed at the top of the stairs watching the piercing set of eyes staring up at him. Did they ever stop being so intense? “Ok.” He tried to take that offer seriously.

 

            “I just thought you should know. Things considered.”

 

            Ichigo shifted on his feet slightly. “Well…thanks for telling me.”

 

            “When Renji gets back with beer feel free to join us,” Grimmjow added in.

 

            Was this man being genuinely friendly to him again? Ichigo stepped down the stairs between them a put his hands on both of Grimmjow’s shoulders. Surprisingly as he leaned in the Gehjoven didn’t push him away and Ichigo kissed the other man full on the mouth with a long tenderness.

 

            A little confused as to why he’d been told ‘no’ then teased and was now being kissed Grimmjow just shut his eyes and put both hands on the Jhezen’s waist and kissed back. It was a mild but tender kiss which felt good. He must be mental to allow this…

 

            Ichigo’s eyes closed too.

 

            They both had a warm sensation wash over their nerves.

 

            Noiselessly Renji stopped just past the still open front doorway with four cases of twelve beers stacked in his grip as he saw his comrade and some cute guy he did not recognize kissing at the top of the ascending stairs. That guy was cute but his face was bruised to heck… Broken house…bruised up stranger in said house… It didn’t take a genius to put two and two together. The redhead bit his lip with a horrible grin and backed out onto the front porch. He’d picked a great time to not cheekily announce his presence as he waltzed into a room. For multiple reasons he wasn’t going to interrupt that, and he was damn lucky that their eyes were shut because that affection would have probably broken off instantly if he’d been noticed. Outside Renji set the cases down quietly by a support beam on the wooden porch. He’d been lucky that this thing hadn’t creaked up a storm and given him away. The dreaded redhead sat on the porch in the shade with an arm propped up on the beer cases like an armrest and his phone in the opposite hand. He knew that he’d heard someone else in the house! So that must have been why the master bedroom had been locked the whole time they were working. Cutting open the top of a case and sliding out a still-cold beer Renji texted his boyfriend as he cracked it open with subtlety and relaxed on the porch. Had those two actually fucked or was this just something more innocent?

Chapter Text

Section 18: Brutality Lives

            ‘There are no saints and no universally acceptable behaviors. No absolute safe places and no easy paths to an honorable afterlife. No pristine corpses and no painless deaths. There are only your brothers. Your instincts and skills. Your luck and misfortune. Your service and absolute loyalty. You sign the below line agreeing to all afore mentioned conditions and terms as well as loss or altercation of rights and are acknowledging fully that you understand that your quality of life or your life entirely may be damaged or ended by military involvement. As a signee of this contract you imply that you prefer to be acknowledged for contributing to the greatness of Gehjoven by serving in its military and understand that Gehjoven is absolutely grateful for your service.’ The very last paragraph of the basic contract which all Gehjovenic men sign before joining its military is one of the most empowering and well known texts in Gehjovenic recorded history. It is not often that such a coarse faction admits thanks in writing. This contract would be signed only by the men who passed Gehjoven’s basic military training. Due to their economy revolving around their military and otherwise being poorer, only the men who pass basic training are paid a full compensation for their time. Others are given a smaller sum and sent on their way, back to civilian life. A coarse faction without many riches…but one lacking petty entitlement and bratty expectations among its people. By outsiders it is still one of the most widely misunderstood cultures across the territories.

 

{Approx. 1600 hours the same day… Jaeqerjaquez residence…}

            Out on the porch Renji was in the middle of a text when someone actually figured out that he was hunkered down out there. He’d been outside enjoying the peace for about five or ten minutes.

 

            Inside Grimmjow had walked independently upstairs, he was not the first one who noticed his pal out on the porch.

 

            Having come downstairs Ichigo was. It was easy since Renji’s dreadlocks of hair were quite literally the most noticeable color in the whole spectrum, vibrant red, and since the front door was still open. The Jhezenic man walked curiously toward the front door and tentatively poked his head out. “Renji?” This was ‘Renji’; Renji was Grimmjow’s friend who had gone to get beer as mentioned.

 

            With a jolt Renji stopped texting with his phone still in-hand and turned his body. “Fucking hell you’re sneaky! Whoever you are…”

 

            Ichigo looked half surprised for a moment.

 

            The redhead blinked at the man who already knew his name, and who was apparently so soft footed that he could get around without being heard. “Want a beer? They’re still mostly cold.” It was the only thing he could think of to say in the moment and he might as well offer, considering that this guy seemed close to Grimmjow. Renji was having trouble figuring out his first impression of this person. The guy was cute even when he was all bruised up and scratched across the face, but among the sweet tone of the stranger’s voice this person’s face had something quietly simmering in his eyes. In subtle ways he was very different from any Gehjoven that Renji had ever met before.

 

            Little did the redhead know that this man’s origins were inherently diverse; Ichigo was so different in fact – not Gehjovenic at all. “Umm...” Put on the spot Ichigo hesitated because he didn’t really want a beer but he also didn’t want to be rude.

 

            “You don’t hafta, you know.” Renji shrugged.

 

            Straightening up with his arms at his sides, watchful but friendly, Ichigo laughed softly, “Then I’ll wait.” Coming of a mind to glean something from this, the Jhezen found that he wanted something specific out of this conversation… How much had Renji seen? This friend of Grimmjow’s who was definitely welcome in the house was not sitting out on the front porch while the beer got warm for fun. “Why are you out here?”

 

            Renji was very direct in return. “Didn’t wanna interrupt you suckin’ face with Grim-bones. You know I always thought he was straight for some reason,” Renji remarked with a grin. “So who the heck are you anyway?”

 

            Now that wasn’t so hard – getting an answer. This direct manner of communication was very typical in Gehjoven, especially among its militant personnel. Frankly it was nice to know that direct communication was just a consistent thing and with such blunt honesty one got the truth and nothing but the truth usually. The Jhezen’s features relaxed even though he turned a little pink in the face. “Oh right… Uh, I’m Sven.” His false nickname. Ichigo’s scratched and bruised face and body was still a little stiff; at least the morphine had allowed him to sleep without discomforts but it had long since worn off. He was feeling a slight withdraw.

 

            “Sven? Just ‘Sven’? No: ‘I’m Grimmjow’s boyfriend’, ‘fiancé’…‘casual sex partner’?” Renji was teasing the other men a little.

 

            Embarrassed nonetheless Ichigo took it in good humor, “Ah…haha no. I’m just uuh…around.” He shrugged, tipping his eyes to the side for a moment. It was actually hard to bounce a response back at that.

 

            “Ah, I see.” Renji nodded, “Well nice to meet you, Sven. Hate to be rude but are you a cage fighter or something? Your face is all fucked up.”

 

            Ichigo’s eyes shifted side to side. “Oh that’s…well-”

 

            Renji didn’t mince words, “Grimmjow looked fucked up too…and the house…you two had a lover’s quarrel?”

 

            “We’re definitely not lovers… It was just…training. He was teaching me some advanced things and we got a little out of hand.” It was hard for Ichigo to decide how much to say; he couldn’t bullshit the guy who’d been cleaning the remnants of their mess up all morning.

 

            Renji shrugged. “Hey so where are you at?”

 

            “Uh?” Ichigo was confused because that question was just too vague.

 

            “Your rank man. Your rank,” Renji insisted.

 

            “Oh! Oh…I’m a Prospect ‘Odd’, like Grimmjow,” Ichigo answered with a friendly tone, still wary of how much he admitted.

 

            “No shit?! You lucky ‘Odd’ bastard. I’m stuck in CplF for now, but Prospect status like you. I’d rather just hurry up and get the Elite title before trying to get into ‘Odd’. For Elite it’s rough enough getting screening of your qualification skills to get to Apprentice status, I’m sure you know all about it… Set my qualifiers in as demolition and machine ops but they’re just dragging their feet like I’ve got all the time in the world to blossom into it.” Renji shook his head with a scoff, “But I’d rather get this squared in now when I’m young. My partner waited a year to get to Apprentice as a WaM, dunno how long until he gets full Elite. Took Grimmjow a couple years extra to get the official Elite title but he was fucking good enough from the start. He’s been in it for a bit, the comfy bastard.” Renji’s following grin was a sure sign that he was kidding about owning that title being ‘comfy’.

 

            “Oh? How old is he? I never asked.”

 

            Renji hummed and shrugged his shoulders. “Thirty something, maybe?”

 

            “Hmm. What rank did he come from into an ‘Odd’? I came from CplS.” Ichigo fit himself a little more into the conversation flawlessly even though everything he was saying about himself…was a lie.

 

            Renji’s face scrunched for a second as he twiddled his cellphone in thought. “Ct I think. He got into ‘Odd’ quickly because they needed him to work independently and he just hated being in charge of other people that much.”

 

            That grouchy mohawked man hated being in charge of people? Yeah…he could see that. “That makes a lot of sense…” Ichigo heard loud steps coming up behind him and tapered off the chatter.

 

            With a grin Renji’s eyes shifted over to Grimmjow who came to stand in the doorway. “The fuck you doing beating up cute guys in your time off?” the redhead barked immediately.

 

            It was pointless to lie; Grimmjow stood still and scowled. “None of your fuckin’ business is what.” Grimmjow’s jaw cocked irritably…for obvious reasons and not so obvious ones. He passed Ichigo a couple of white pills – painkillers.

 

            As he’d asked for these Ichigo gratefully took those pills out of the man’s coarse textured hand and swallowed them without any fluid. He couldn’t wait for those to kick in, his stitched up shoulder was starting to scream.

 

            Renji chuckled, “You’re lucky this one still wanted to kiss ya.”

 

            Grimmjow’s eyes lit up and he seriously pushed a scowl at Renji who’d clearly seen more than his comrade would have liked. “I swear to fuck…”

 

            “Eh… Now calm down,” Renji started in still relaxed on the porch and hoping to keep a tease from escalating into something it shouldn’t. “I just walked in and walked right back out, didn’t gawk. Figured I’d give you two a little privacy. I won’t say a damn thing to anyone about it. Frankly though…I feel a little jealous.”

 

            “I-It was really just practice…all of this.” Ichigo stammered to break up the tension, “I told him I could handle it and I found out the hard way that I couldn’t.”

 

            “The kissing was practice?” Renji prodded toward the orange and goateed fellow.

 

            Ichigo heard a displeased grunt from Grimmjow but stared at Renji, “No…I meant…um.” The Jhezenic man glanced at Grimmjow. “One thing led to another. It wasn’t really planned.”

 

            Grimmjow gave Ichigo a sidelong stare that attempted to be less pissed off than he actually was but it still said ‘shut up, you’re making it worse than it already is’ without actually speaking.

 

            Nervously Ichigo tapped his fingers together, eventually flicking his eyes away. Embarrassed…and fabulously unsure what to do for it!

 

            Plenty amused by this, but admitting to himself that he shouldn’t be too nosey, Renji reached in the already open case of beers and flung one at Grimmjow who caught it with a sharp eye and a snatch. “Peace offering.”

 

            Grimmjow grunted as he caught it and cracked open the can of beer over the porch with a hiss from the can and sucked the foam off of the top. “Accepted.” The blue mohawked soldier pointed toward Renji’s stack of four beer cases with his free hand. “You fuck…I told you to only get two.”

 

            “Don’t worry about it. I paid for the extras myself and you can bet I won’t leave them here for your ass to drink. Good beer isn’t cheap.” Feeling it was appropriate now, Renji pulled money out of his pocket and started counting the change from the large bill that his comrade had given him earlier. Once counted Renji leaned to give the remaining money back with an extended arm.

 

            “You’re gonna get a fucking beer-gut and look like a pig. MaJ’s gonna kill you for that.” After reaching out to take the money back and putting it in his pocket, not bothering with his wallet, Grimmjow took another swallow of the beer.

 

            “After he’s done decorating you with more bruises for having bruises. Can you imagine what he’d say?” Renji taunted back.

 

            “‘Who’d you fight?’ That’s what he’d say ‘cause he’s not fucking in charge of me. And he’d squeal at you, because he is in charge of you.”

 

            “Eh, fuck what you think. I can’t get a beer-gut with all the PT and shit we have to deal with and on top of that I’m a cardio god which’ll keep me lean as you please. What’d you do, lift weights? You’d get a gut from that sooner than I would from running your track time into the ground every week.”

 

            Grimmjow made a sneering face with piercing eyes settled squarely on Renji over the top of the beer can that he was drinking from; it was a direct but not so chilling stare.

 

            “Not such a big dick now, hmm?” Renji jabbed with a grin.

 

            The mohawked man swallowed a drink. “Your track time’s without a load,” Grimmjow pointed out sharply.

 

            “So what?” Renji was still grinning.

 

            Grimmjow spoke once he’d swallowed another swig, “When you can carry a hundred and twenty pounds for a ten-mile march that takes an hour and a half we’ll measure dicks. Until then…shut the fuck up.” The mohawked Gehjoven grinned as he drank from the can again, enjoying the flavor and fairly cool temperature. Had to drink it before it got warm. There was nothing more sinful than a warm beer.

 

            “Oh fuck you…” Renji laughed.

 

            “No thanks,” the mohawked man croaked back, fully knowing it wasn’t actually an offer.

 

            Renji rolled his eyes swallowing a drink of his own beer. “You and Kenpachi are two crazy peas in a pod that I’ll never try to perfectly mimic. I don’t pride myself in being crazy. Only you two punish yourselves with that kind of an avarice march just to say you’ve done that whole damn thing and grabbed a high score. You both don’t even need the score for anything!” They were referring to an infamous and voluntary march called the ‘avarice march’ which was completed for a score that would ultimately be beneficial to a soldier in their military career if they could get consecutive good scores. Currently Grimmjow was a desirable “Odd” rank and Kenpachi was already a Major so these lunatics didn’t need scores to get ranks they were just marching to prove that they could. Flexing their endurance, strength and bulging muscles.

 

            Ichigo settled, quietly listening to the other two men conversing. It was interesting to listen to. The avarice march was one of a handful of self-punishing challenges available to ballsiest of soldiers. It was specifically a voluntary five to ten mile trek in full gear while carrying at least a hundred pounds extra at minimum. Depending on how long it took a man to complete at least five miles and whether he could go even further than five, up to ten, in a timely fashion determined the score. It sounded like Grimmjow and this MaJ Kenpachi had gone the whole ten with extra weight. Certainly this march was one that was done by soldiers who burned to prove something about themselves and absolutely wanted to be recognized. Consecutively good scores from a march like the avarice brought rewards and recognition, but this march was designed to be a competitive man-breaker. It was extremely hard…yet very popular… The strange thing was indeed that the “Odd” and Major ranks didn’t really need the scores; those were already two very respected and desirable ranks. Listening to Renji and Grimmjow rattle on about their physical conditions through training and challenges he was reassured that natural Gehjovenic personalities were rather coarse. These men seemed to enjoy punishing themselves with extremely hard tasks just to maintain their worth and entertain themselves. Ichigo knew that he had trouble matching such coarse behavior so he didn’t try overly hard to do so, less was more so that he didn’t seem phony.

 

            Renji continued on, “I also thought that you two bet on carrying a hundred and fifty pounds extra though.”

 

            “It was supposed to be a hundred and fifty until someone took the loaded magazines out of our packs. They ‘needed’ them at the range but fuck if communication means anything anymore.” Grimmjow did not look particularly pleased recalling this…for the simple reason that when they’d noticed the missing gear they were tired, sweaty and ready to call it a day after the march and still had to look for their missing shit immediately afterward, which was miserable.

 

            “Idiots. A damn polite request really wouldn’t have killed anyone…not mentioning anything might’ve. Namely them for pissing you two off,” Renji jibed with a frown. “Shouldn’t have left your bags unattended though.”

 

            “Hardy fuckin’ har…you think MaJ or I’d do that? The packs were sitting right next to us. The sneaky fucker snuck up and took the magazines right out of both of our bags when we were looking at a map for the march. Silent as a fucking dead man, we didn’t hear a damn thing.”

 

            “Well who did it?” Renji jibed.

 

            “That cheeky asshole Luppi. I swear to fuck’s name I wouldn’t mind kicking his face in considering the fact that he thinks it’s just hilarious to mess with other soldiers and thinks he’s a goddamn ninja,” the mohawked soldier growled in a low tone. His boot in that twit’s face would fit nicely.

 

            Renji grinned, “You should have, he’s a pain in the neck. How did you even find out that it was him?”

 

            “Ulquiorra. You know how he habitually watches everything like a hawk, he said something seemed off up at the range and he happened to look at the magazines through his scope while watching Luppi then recognized our initials on them…reinforcing the fact: ALWAYS MARK YOUR SHIT,” Grimmjow said with an emphasis. The man was really lit up talking about this.

 

            “You got ‘em back?” Seeming amused Renji was genuinely keen to know.

 

            “Of course, MaJ took care of it. I haven’t heard what happened to Luppi if you were gonna ask. Regardless of that fuck-up…MaJ and I haven’t had time to do avarice again since then with the real hundred and fifty pounds. Our schedules have to line up and so far they haven’t,” the mohawked man explained with a shake of his head in disappointment and he swallowed another gulp of the beer.

 

            “Hah! I think you’ve proved enough.” Renji’s eyes turned to Ichigo, considering the fact that they hadn’t given him any room to speak. “How much do you march avarice with, Sven?”

 

            Ichigo’s thoughts scattered and then ran back together in disorderly fashion. As if he looked like the type of man who could handle that! Not really. Despite his welcome to this Elite base they kept him behind computers most of the time because there was no one else to do what he could but that left almost no time for the rigorous PT that Gehjoven’s rugged soldiers participated in, and that was to say nothing of extra challenges. Ichigo didn’t march and especially not the avarice march… “Uh… I’ve never done the avarice but I usually march with forty pounds.” He made up an average number on the lower end.

 

            Unable to figure that the answer was bullshit Renji nodded with approval, “You’re kinda skinny, that makes sense.”

 

            Without a word Grimmjow turned around and walked straight into the house and back toward the kitchen.

 

            “Eh? Where the fuck are you going?” Renji barked. “Hey!” he barked again when he didn’t get an answer. That still earned no reply so he gave up. “Must have to fuckin’ piss or something.”

 

            Ichigo had turned and saw the mohawked man hang a right into the small bathroom across from the kitchen. The Jhezen looked forward again and shrugged his shoulders.

 

            Renji sighed, “By the way he’s a little prickly because he’s seen his fair share of the ugly side of humanity. Doesn’t explain himself to anybody. It’s not you if you ever wondered when he suddenly shuts off like that.”

 

            Ichigo looked startled and shook his head adamantly, “Oh I didn’t- I imagine he has.” Watching Renji’s stare there was a very strong sincerity to it.

 

            “The guy’s basically a Zombie Man. Did you know that?” Renji spilled a little bit of the mohawked man’s personal history just to give this relative stranger a taste, and he only did it because any man that Grimmjow trusted enough to kiss was likely solid – assuming that ‘Sven’ was good at the core. This ‘Zombie Man’ Renji had mentioned referred to a Gehjovenic soldier being gravely injured badly enough to be taken out of active duty and then the same soldier recovering well enough to be put back into active duty, not just the reserves or discharged. A man who should be dead…but was still walking around. A Zombie Man.

 

            Ichigo blinked with a surprised look on his face, at least he seemed surprised to Renji.

 

            The redheaded soldier shifted and getting up to a crouch he halved the stack of beer cases. “Hey anyway, how about you do me a little favor? These two go in his fridge and these other two I’m gonna put in my car. Take care of the fridge would ya?”

 

            The Jhezen looked down at the already open case and the new one under it that Renji pushed toward him with a hand. “Oh. Sure.”

 

            The crimson dreadlocked man nodded approvingly, “Good man. Thanks,” and lifted his cases and stepped off of the porch, leaving his phone and open beer behind.

 

            Ichigo didn’t bother Renji’s stuff and lifted the other two cases then carried them into the house, through the living room and into the kitchen. He stalled when he got around the corner, surprised. There was his host, who was apparently not in the bathroom anymore, but the man was leaning over the sink spitting into it with his face dripping wet. So light on his feet Ichigo didn’t make a sound approaching behind the other man but he set the cases down on the counter nearest and that did attract some attention. Despite an unfriendly look on Grimmjow’s face when the Gehjoven looked around an arm at him Ichigo slowly walked forward empty handed. The Jhezen was clearly trying to see what was going on.

 

            “Don’t fucking touch me,” the irritable Gehjovenic man snapped.

 

            Ichigo stopped walking right where he was, that was a foot or so shy. “Was it the beer?” Assuming that the other man had gotten sick. Ichigo’s eyes blinked down. He could see in the sink. There was blood in the bubbling spit by the drain and Ichigo’s eyes turned back up with alarm.

 

            Grimmjow knew what was noticed. “Bloody nose. Don’t worry about it and just fuckin’ leave me alone.”

 

            Defeated in his attempt to care the Jhezen just sighed as his expression relaxed. There wasn’t much to be done to assist if Grimmjow adamantly refused to let him near. Ichigo got back to the task at hand, he slid the beer cases across the counter to a spot near the fridge and opened it up, packing the cans from the already open case into the fridge first and neatly lining them up in rows on a shelf. He thought about what Renji had just been talking about…

 

            “You should take that unopened case home with you,” the mohawked man growled, still leaning on the edge of the sink and spitting into it again.

 

            “Kicking me out?” Ichigo just kept going with what he was doing.

 

            “No,” Grimmjow stated flatly.

 

            “Oh. Well I hardly drink beer, especially canned beer…” Ichigo was still at putting the cans away.

 

            “Something wrong with beer from a can?” Grimmjow asked, looking over his other arm as Ichigo’s position was to that opposite side now.

 

            With a short chuckle the orange haired man shook his head, “Just me being an ungrateful pussy. I feel like cans should be for soup and soda.”

 

            “Tch…” Grimmjow’s head turned straight and he spat again into the sink’s basin with a hard ‘thock’ as the globule of bloody spit hit the stainless metal. “How long were you even in combat before I ran into you?” His voice’s projection was muffled slightly from being directed at the sink.

 

            Now that was rather out of the blue to be bringing up old memories. Ichigo’s hands stalled with the cans for a moment or two. “That was my first real fight.”

 

            “No wonder you fucking cried,” the soldier over the sink talked flatly.

 

            Just fine with letting the other man rag on him while Grimmjow was clearly having an off time Ichigo remembered that instance all too vividly still. “And begged. I’m surprised that I survived it.”

 

            After spitting a final time Grimmjow turned the water for the sink on and washed his bloody spit down the drain and after shutting the water off he turned around. The water he’d dampened his face with was almost dried off now. He leaned his tailbone against the counter where the sink was installed and crossed his arms – a very relaxed stance for the most part. He was just quiet, watching Ichigo stack the beers in the fridge.

 

            The Jhezen opened the second case anyway, packing those beers in with the rest. He didn’t want to take them home.

 

            At a brisk pace Renji came striding back into the house looking for the other two men. “Groan if you two are at it again!” It was Renji’s way of trying to be polite or irritating…maybe both. He already knew where to find Ichigo at least. Renji rounded the corner of the kitchen and was surprised by Grimmjow standing around right ahead of him. It was convenient to find the two of them in the same room. Renji clearly had something urgent to tell Grimmjow, it was obvious by his eyes and his hurried manner. “Done powdering your ass?”

 

            “What crawled up yours?” Grimmjow countered, now with all of his attention on the other Gehjovenic man.

 

            “Jordendia. There’s a meeting to review the deployment and all of the details right fucking now.”

 

            “Why the fuck haven’t I heard about that?” Grimmjow snapped, brows furrowing immediately.

 

            “It was last minute I guess, I dunno really. I got a phone call about it a minute ago. Hisagi was pulled to discuss some things with the medics and I guess he got a break and called me to tell me that it would be beneficial to come by. It’s totally voluntary but they have a plethora of shit that’s good to know from some damn computer guy running a program through the Jhezenic networks and collecting their data with plans about Jordendia. With this shit we could make a really good battleplan to take that place away! I for one want to be among the first to hear this shit.”

 

            It took all of Grimmjow’s current willpower not to look curiously at Ichigo who didn’t even bat a lash out of the ordinary – not seeming suspicious. “Alright…and you want me to go too.”

 

            Through their talking Ichigo was quiet and finished off placing the second case of beers into the fridge.

 

            “YES! That shouldn’t even be a wonder. Put some damn shoes on and let’s go. We’ll take my car, it’s already warmed up. Uuuh, Sven I guess if you want come too but they may only want to let us in to hear this meeting so I’ll have to see what I can do for you.”

 

            Ichigo straightened up and closed the fridge. He nodded, “It’s ok if they refuse, I’ll still go and wait outside if I need to.”

 

            Renji nodded too and booked it outside.

 

            Grimmjow spared a moment for Ichigo and only now after Renji was gone looked at the Jhezen with a cold, sharp stare. “Do you even need to listen to that meeting?” He was definitely implying something about Ichigo being connected to this; it seemed pretty obvious given the Jhezen’s skillset and Renji’s mention of a ‘computer guy’ since this had to do with Jhezenic intelligence.

 

            Rather unapologetically Ichigo sighed, “You got me. I don’t.” He smiled a little.

 

            The mohawked Gehjoven grunted at the other man’s too chipper behavior…there was something else to say, he could just see it in those eyes. “…and?”

 

            “And?” Ichigo asked with a convincing smile, even though his eyes said differently.

 

            “… Something else you’d like to tell me?”

 

            Ichigo shook his head with a friendly and seemingly unaware attitude…that was only very slightly suspicious.

 

            Slight or not this Gehjovenic soldier wasn’t easy to fool. “Consider your silence carefully,” Grimmjow mentioned with a perfectly calm tone of voice.

 

            From outside the house… “GRIMMJOW! SVEN! STOP FUCKING! LET’S GO!” Renji shouted without discretion from the window of his car. He was still outside and waiting.

 

            Having heard Renji’s howling from outside Ichigo hesitated, looking at Grimmjow for a signal to what they should do.

 

            Grimmjow didn’t seem interested in budging until this slightly suspicious behavior was explained. He lifted one hand and raised two fingers. “You have two short sentences to explain.” The fingers curled back in and his hand lowered…the tone of his voice was dark and demanding as he waited expectantly.

 

            Ichigo shook his head and crossed his arms, “I have nothing to share.”

 

            Grimmjow cocked his jaw irritably. He knew better, and anything worth hiding…was something significant. “Why don’t you just fuckin’ tell me so I don’t have to break a sweat beating it out of you later?”

 

            “Is that a threat?” Ichigo crossed his arms. “Over nothing.”

 

            The Gehjoven pushed off of the sink and slowly walked toward the Jhezen…who turned to escape so that the soldier couldn’t box him in…but Grimmjow grabbed Ichigo’s injured shoulder before the Jhezenic man got out of reach…and squeezed.

 

            “Agh!” Ichigo cried out for an instant in horrible pain. Blood seeped through the bandage and his shirt, and he stopped trying to walk away. “Fuck! Let go!” The pain pills of earlier couldn’t power through this.

 

            Grimmjow pushed his thumb down squarely on the top of the wound.

 

            Ichigo screamed, “AAAGH!”

 

            “Tell me.” Did this idiot get off on teasing him or what? Grimmjow was tired of it right now.

 

            Ichigo grit his teeth and tried to bear the pain or get free by squirming but the more he tried the harder Grimmjow’s grip got. At a point where he felt like he might pass out from the squeeze and pressure on the stitched gash the Jhezen couldn’t take it anymore. “I signed you up for deployment to Jordendia! I did it because I need your help saving my sisters and father from the fighting breaking out there!”

 

            Grimmjow let go.

 

            The Jhezen stumbled forward shivering from the shock of the pain that he’d been administered. Breathing in small panicked breaths for a minute he leaned on a wall and then turned his head to look for the other man who was wiping his slightly bloodied hand off on his pants. Ichigo didn’t budge.

 

            Grimmjow finished with his hand and stared coldly across the kitchen. “Not so hard was it? Two sentences.”

 

            Ichigo groaned in pain and slid down the wall, shaking his head defeatedly, he looked down and swallowed dryly.

 

            Grimmjow stepped over the man’s legs on his way out of the kitchen and just kept walking. He stormed up the stairs and got his boots. Heavy steps came back down the staircase and the short ways across the living room to the front door. It opened and slammed shut behind him.

 

            Ichigo had stayed slumped and staring down at his shivering hands. Goddamn that hadn’t gone well…

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

 

Chapter Text

Section 19: The Mastermind

What is a world which wouldn’t know what to do without war?

 

            There are alliances between Gehjoven and sea-side nations spread along several coasts. While some of Gehjoven’s territories and sections therein have been polluted by the war-effort and the faction’s civilizations are surrounded by thick, untamed nature they have sway in many of the coasts and control a good portion of ocean traffic. Another attribute to Gehjovenic advantage are their legendary paratroopers. They are not strictly part of airborne units, as air combat is not Gehjoven’s specialty. They are men who have mixed training and are dropped as anything from infantry and support to sabotage and assassination. Gehjoven’s paratroopers will descend upon their foes over land or sea, any perilous terrain, as angels of death. As a result of an ancestral anatomical issue spread through the genes of their people, it is hard for Gehjoven’s women to carry female babies to term so only men are enlisted in their military which makes their forces unforgiving, unrelenting and vicious with manpower. Versatile. Brutal. Determined.

 

            On the other hand, Jhezen has multiple alliances with many inland nations that trade them most of their necessary resources to profitable outcome. They support themselves with constant trade. Wealthy Jhezen retains air superiority as well as the most staggeringly efficient technological intelligence network of any nation making them an extremely well supplied and clever enemy. Their mixed-sex troops provide a rational advantage and make them seem more refined, however drafting of their poorer class civilians reduces morale. Jhezen’s advanced technological and highly well-supplied military is hard to combat especially when their helicopters, jets and planes can take them anywhere in a blink, even swiftly overseas. Agile. Clever. Well supplied.

 

            What started this conflict of factions? Who can really say…but neither faction in this war wears a halo or horns alone.

 

~

 

            Heading away from his house a ticked-off Grimmjow was halfway up the walk to Renji’s car when the front door to the house opened despite having slammed it shut not but a minute ago. He stopped dead in his tracks and hearing this sound he turned around.

 

            With some shoes on the Jhezen stood in the front doorway forcing himself to breathe deeply enough that his shaky form was slowly steadying. He was in a great deal of pain but he wasn’t going to fall behind. It was essential not to fall behind. He stood up there with a determined expression staring the Gehjovenic man straight in the face. No matter what this gruff soldier threw at him he wouldn’t fall behind.

 

            Having a flashback to the sight of this Jhezen as he’d first encountered him, bloody and worn down…it was just the visual that remained. Therein the other man’s eyes seethed something strong that was impossible for a perceptive man to overlook. Grimmjow stayed put as he simply observed for what the Jhezenic man would do from here. If that scheming son of a bitch was going to force himself to keep moving…in this case he would let him do his thing. What had angered this Gehjoven so much about Ichigo’s methods was having his service to Gehjoven tampered with, because of this he wouldn’t offer any softer place for Ichigo to land. Had he more tenderness left Grimmjow might’ve gone easier on him, but it just wasn’t in his nature and because of Ichigo’s scheming he didn’t feel like the Jhezen deserved it.

 

            Renji watched from the car, confused why the man he knew as Sven looked like he was in more pain so spontaneously, as from here it was hard to see details. He tried to push it to the back of his mind that they might miss more of the meeting if these two didn’t get their asses in the car.

 

            Ichigo shut the front door behind himself as he stepped outside and suddenly there was a gleaming object lobbed toward him. With a quick reflex of his better arm, he caught it. A key.

 

            “Lock the door,” the mohawked Gehjoven ordered as he turned around and walked briskly to his comrade’s vehicle. Grimmjow climbed into the backseat and after shutting the car door he laid down across the whole seat as much as he could and shut his eyes.

 

            Renji looked back at the relaxed man. “You know it’s only a twenty-minute drive.”

 

            “Twenty more minutes I’ll have to rest,” Grimmjow informed without opening his eyes. “Are you suddenly my drill sergeant?”

 

            Renji chuckled, “Not even close.”

 

            “Good. Then fuck off and let me rest.”

 

            After locking the front door and coming over to the car Ichigo had seen his gruff host taking up the backseat so he went around and climbed into the passenger’s side, careful not to bleed on the seat as he adjusted his shoulder wound’s dressing and pressed down to make the bleeding stop. The stitches weren’t torn out thank god but the flesh they held together might’ve separated a little… Perish the thought but it might need to be redone.

 

            Eyeing the hurting man beside him for just a second Renji shook his head as he pulled away from the curb. He kept a good eye on the road between glances at Ichigo’s shoulder. Assuming it was Grimmjow’s fault, all behaviors considered, but not totally sure, ‘Are you ok?’ he mouthed at his front seat passenger – so as to not attract the brutal Gehjoven’s attention.

 

            With a decent expression Ichigo just nodded and continued holding his shoulder. Some tenancies with Grimmjow he might just have to get used to…and to survive being around this man he would have to learn to be quite forthcoming and less spontaneous and underhanded with his plans. He didn’t take Grimmjow’s brutal conduct personally…though it might’ve been easy to do so. He’d tampered with Grimmjow’s proud livelihood and service; he’d gotten some repercussions. Earned repercussions even. The more he thought about the pain the more it seemed fair to Ichigo. The man in the backseat was just ensuring that he got total and accurate information to keep himself out of trouble. As Ichigo himself had to be ruthless in cyberspace to get what he needed he figured that Grimmjow would be just as ruthless to preserve his own integrity. So long as he didn’t tamper a lot Ichigo figured that he might be alright for a while.

 

            Grimmjow was quiet the entire car ride.

 

 

{Approx. 1800 hours, arriving at the Grand Tactics and Logistics Hall – GTLH – in central Souvenbash…}

            Renji got out of the parked car with a stretch and a groan then with his hands in his pockets, after his door was shut, headed through the heavily car-occupied parking lot with glances around. Apparently there were quite a few people who knew about this meeting.

 

            Grimmjow and Ichigo got out at almost the same time and as the Jhezen stared over the roof of the car at the Gehjovenic soldier Grimmjow didn’t look at him until he’d shut the car’s door. The piercing blue of his sharp eyes caught the other man’s stare. “What?” he asked as sharply as he stared.

 

            The Jhezen shook his head.

 

            “Fucking out with it if you have something to say.”

 

            Ichigo huffed, “Is it going to be a problem if I’m seen with you?”

 

            Grimmjow’s eyes narrowed, “No. Just use your common sense.” He turned and sauntered after Renji who had by now turned around and was walking backwards to see what the damn holdup was.

 

            Renji glanced at the Jhezen who wasn’t hurrying to catch up to them. The dreaded redhead looked at the Gehjovenic soldier walking beside him as they both faced forward and walked through the asphalt lot toward the GTLH main building. “Some ‘distraction’ he is huh?” By that word ‘distraction’ Renji intended their military jargon’s meaning of the word: a distractingly handsome man.

 

            “He’s a fucking POG.” Derogatory acronym which meant: person other than grunt.

 

            “You don’t have to be so cold to him.”

 

            “Shut up Renji.” Grimmjow’s eyes didn’t even glance at his friend and comrade.

 

            The redhead sighed loudly and dropped the subject. He hadn’t heard what they’d been talking about by the car but it was really obvious that Grimmjow was just not being very nice, but Renji knew that it still wasn’t much of his business.

 

            The building ahead was a very newish modern design with a huge awning over the large multi-door entrance. It had a lot of bulletproof glass windows and detailed metalwork in its design. Not many buildings of Gehjoven got this modernization, but this wasn’t just any building…not even just any military building. This was the place where all important decisions for the Elites of Souvenbash were made, where soldiers’ orders were generated and where generals from other Gehjovenic bases would come to collaborate with the men here. The Grand Tactics and Logistics Hall.

 

            Saluting as they were saluted by two soldiers in their formal uniforms who guarded the front entrance Renji and Grimmjow got to the glass doors and as Renji pulled his own door to walk in he stalled when he realized after five steps into the building that Grimmjow was no longer walking in stride with him. Per the lack of footsteps echoing his Renji’s head turned, stopping and he saw the other Gehjovenic man, Grimmjow, back by the doors.

 

            As he approached, following after the two soldiers ahead of him, Ichigo noticed the guard soldiers by the doors salute him as he walked closer and Ichigo spared his bloody hand and saluted them back as sharply as possible.

 

            “Medical office through the doors, down the hall and to your left,” one of the guarding soldiers said without any extra gestures.

 

            “Thank you Cpl.” Ichigo knew that soldier’s rank because of markings on his uniform. Next the Jhezen noticed surprisingly that Grimmjow was holding the glass door open for him and resumed pressing down on his own shoulder as he walked through that door and into the building. As he went by the gruff man he looked at Grimmjow for the briefest instant, really appreciating that small polite gesture. The Gehjovenic man could have left the door for the guards to consider opening, or for Ichigo himself…but he hadn’t.

 

            It was just as well that they didn’t behave like true friends yet, but Grimmjow was keen enough to notice the small smile that appeared as the Jhezen went by him. Wordlessly they caught up to Renji.

 

            Pleased to see that Grimmjow might’ve taken his advice to heart the redhead walked in stride with them across the huge lobby and they started down a few short sets of stairs, descending into the area where hallways split off before approaching the doors to the most important meeting room in the entire building.

 

            There were guard soldiers standing on each platform between the short sets of stairs that led straight ahead. Their backs were to the walls and their eyes straight forward. These men weren’t required to salute so they seemed like lifelike statues in sharp formal uniforms.

 

            The three visitors stopped at the end of the series of stairs where the main hallway split to their right and left and Grimmjow pointed out the sign on the wall for the medical office left ways of their position. It was down a short hallway. “Handle it. We’ll be in the meeting and go to the car when you’re done if they don’t let you in.” Grimmjow gave Ichigo a brief look in the eye to ensure that he was understood.

 

            Ichigo nodded, “Yes si- Odd sir.” A formal address, not friendly. It seemed appropriate here. He smiled at the two Gehjovenic men as he moved away to get his reopened wound treated.

 

            The two men continued their walk forward almost immediately. Renji looked at his comrade with an enduring stare, his brows up. “You could’ve gone with him.”

 

            “Would take two seconds for them to think we’d been in a fight looking the way we do.”

 

            Renji sighed hard again, “Who cares? They can’t prove it and they wouldn’t dare accuse you of shit without proof. Also…shouldn’t we at least try to escort him in?”

 

            Knowing what Grimmjow did about Ichigo’s importance in this assault on Jordendia he did not doubt that a mister ‘Svenatte Alock’ would be allowed to attend this meeting. “If he gets in…he gets in. Our say won’t change that.”

 

            Renji shrugged and sighed, “We could at least say something. I told him I would…”

 

            “We’ll explain that we’ve got another man with us who will be along shortly. Don’t say anything else,” Grimmjow growled.

 

            “Are you really so paranoid that they’ll peg you two as friends?” Renji sniped. “It’s not damning to have friends you know.”

 

            With another growl Grimmjow shook his head. Renji was pushing his buttons.

 

            Renji’s curiosity throbbed but he kept his mouth shut now that Grimmjow was actually getting angry. This wasn’t the place to be asking more about why his comrade was so dead-set on treating Sven in as formal of a manner as possible after Grimmjow had just been kissing him, just about the most far removed thing from formal that existed, so Renji stayed quiet but it continued to bother him.

 

            Arriving at the doors to the main meeting room there were six guard soldiers securing the entrance. Both Grimmjow and Renji were IDed and shortly they found out that neither of them passed requirements to go in. No exceptions apparently.

 

            Backing off from the doors the both of them were bewildered and pretty unhappy. Maybe this was why they hadn’t been notified, but they still badly wanted to hear what was going on in there. “You have to be fucking kidding me,” Grimmjow grumbled, rather accustom to having absolute permission to do anything with even an undertone of benefit to Gehjoven.

 

            Renji was less surprised that he didn’t meet requirements, not being as high of a rank as Grimmjow. “Hey man let’s just leave off then. No wonder we didn’t know about this.” Renji quietly suggested, “Maybe we can ask Hisagi what the deal is after the meeting. He’s got a pretty good memory.”

 

            Even though they might still get to hear some of the details from Hisagi Grimmjow was still rather irritated.

 

 

{Twenty minutes have passed…}

            Ichigo left the medical office with some very comfortable bandages under his clothes, a sling to hold that arm and fresh stitches. Some local aesthetic had been administered and he still couldn’t quite feel that spot on his shoulder and a small area around it but that didn’t bother him much. There was no pain so he was pleased. The sling merely kept his arm from flopping around and the wound from agitating the stitches or splitting open. The perfectly pleased Jhezen smiled and he stepped out of the hall half-surprised to find the two men he’d come in with waiting for him against a wall away from the main meeting room’s doors. Ichigo pretended to be surprised.

 

            Renji turned his head and smiled with a wave, “Sven!”

 

            Grimmjow cracked an eye and stared quietly. One of the first things he noticed was the sling holding Ichigo’s arm. Did they really think his injury was that bad? To Grimmjow it didn’t seem so, but he was no medical professional.

 

            Ichigo walked over and looked the two men up and down curiously. “Did you…you guys decided to wait for me?”

 

            Grimmjow stayed quiet and frowned with a bit of a glare.

 

            Renji sighed, “They couldn’t admit us. We didn’t pass being IDed.” Renji elbowed Grimmjow playfully, “Guess we’re not important enough…” His words faltered as the far more serious Gehjoven started glaring at him. “…or not.” Renji looked back to Ichigo after that awkward moment, “Uh yeah, so that’s the story. We couldn’t get in.”

 

            Ichigo tilted his head and frowned lightly, trying to decide what was appropriate to do. “Hold on,” he encouraged. “Maybe we can explain.” With that he started to walk away, toward the meeting doors and the six guards.

 

            Renji pushed off the wall and reached to pat Grimmjow’s arm to encourage the grouchy man along…finding out the hard way that he shouldn’t do that.

 

            Reactively Grimmjow’s arm moved out of reach, then very evenly Grimmjow gave an order to Renji, “Hands to yourself.” Grimmjow was not glaring as he spoke and he moved on his own, walking beside Renji without needing to be forced. ‘Hands to yourself’ was just an order. Nothing angry. Nothing personal. Just a plain order.

 

            “Right…right…” Renji assured, sighing before they’d caught up with Ichigo and stopping a step or two behind him. It seemed like Ichigo had been explaining something to the guards this whole time that they’d been meandering up.

 

            After his own check Ichigo took back his own ID from the formally dressed guard soldiers and turned around, looking back at the two Gehjovenic men with a fair expression.

 

            The guards asked for Renji and Grimmjow’s IDs again and cleared them to go in – all three of them. Politely a guard soldier opened a meeting door for Ichigo who would walk in first and then Renji and Grimmjow would follow.

 

            There was a small room that they walked into before going in the actual meeting room they’d emerge into. The first set of doors closed behind them and left the three totally alone for just a minute.

 

            “Woah…Sven how did you even do that?!” Renji quacked, genuinely amazed because he knew that his own rank and this man’s were barely different - rank was usually the culprit of restrictions.

 

            Walking up to the next set of doors so that they wouldn’t waste time Ichigo turned his head as he took hold of one door’s handle, “I just told them that you two were responsible for my wellbeing right now.”

 

            “Eh?!” Renji quacked again. Why did that matter? Renji was drawing a blank but if it got them into the meeting…

 

            Also moving up Grimmjow reached to grab the same door’s handle just above Ichigo’s grip and staring down at the Jhezen he mentioned, “Act like you need care.” It was merely a statement to suggest that Ichigo let go of the door and allow them to lend that very illusion.

 

            “Oh…right.” Ichigo removed his hand, wise to that. He smiled up at Grimmjow. “Thank you.”

 

            Grimmjow’s face didn’t budge as he saw that expression but he didn’t shrink from it.

 

            However Renji’s eyes shifted between them with a bit of a grin. “Ok you two…if you stand here eye-fucking much longer it’ll be suspicious and we’ll miss more of the meeting. C’mon.”

 

            Ichigo snapped to and as Grimmjow pulled the meeting room’s door open the Jhezen walked in first, then Renji, then Grimmjow. There was a room full of at least eighty people, extremely important military personnel and tons of medics sitting around a round table, staring down at a detailed map of their world. As the three new arrivals drew the attention of those already at this meeting, and before Renji and Grimmjow had a chance to realize what was going on, the whole room rose and saluted with a resounding ‘Gehjoven be great!’ Generals, important captains, majors and even colonels saluted Ichigo’s presence, and Ichigo was more ready than either of his ‘protectors’ were and saluted back smartly, “Gehjoven be great!” The two trailing men behind him weren’t far off in responsive salutes but they didn’t have Ichigo’s timing.

 

            Grimmjow could hardly believe what he was seeing even though he understood some of Ichigo’s significance already. A room full of men ranked higher than himself had just saluted someone ranked lower than him. Grimmjow’s trained expression betrayed nothing of this surprise.

 

            Renji, on the flip-side, looked thrilled. He wasn’t stupid; Grimmjow and he weren’t the ones these men had stood up for. It was still cool to be a part of that. What the hell was Sven’s deal though?! He must be damn important to get this.

 

            The salutes snapped down all at the same time from all parties in the room and everyone reseated themselves and continued on with the discussions of the meeting. A pair of generals on the right side of the circle gestured to Ichigo and offered a place beside them where there was a single chair. Only one chair. Ichigo walked over and it seemed like Grimmjow and Renji knew what to do. They walked behind him in perfect matching strides, ultimately standing at ease behind Ichigo once he sat down next to these generals. Renji had called dibs on pulling Ichigo’s chair out for him, and Ichigo didn’t mind at all.

 

            One of the generals which had gestured Ichigo over, Elite GenS Shunsui Kyoraku, grinned a little and whispered to the new arrival, “Sven you’re quite late, how bad.”

 

            Ichigo smiled apologetically.

 

            The other general, GenT – or affectionately known as a ‘Gentleman General’ – Jushiro Ukitake, shushed Shunsui discretely. As an apology or to cozy-up Shunsui placed an arm around Ukitake that was laid across the top of his chair and sighed in defeat of not getting to whisper to the other man next to him anymore. In Jushiro’s opinion it was a general’s responsibility to listen and not be so distracted. They were both generals from another base but well known and respectable.

 

            Ichigo folded his hands politely in his lap and straightened his eyes forward, sitting very attentively. It seemed like they were discussing munitions right now.

 

            Across the way Renji noticed Hisagi staring at him with a dumbfounded look on his face. Renji had no idea why but he was sure that he’d get an earful of it when the meeting was over.

 

            Hisagi silently gestured with his eyes to a table set up on the side of the room with water and some light snacks for all of the men at the meeting, then he discretely rose from a chair and started walking toward the table.

 

            Renji could take a hint and waited until Hisagi had actually gotten there to walk over too.

 

            Grimmjow noticed with a mere shift of the eyes and didn’t pay it any mind…Renji had just better not fuck around and make them look bad. He was back to looking attentive and listening to the information which was indeed about munitions at the moment.

 

            Hisagi was already pouring a glass of water for the both of them by the time that Renji got over to him and handed it to his redheaded partner with a few quick words exchanged, “How do you know that kid?” the words came in hushed tones.

 

            Renji blinked. Sven was hardly a kid. “Are you actually jealous?” That’s kind of what it seemed like by the insistent and serious look on his partner’s face.

 

            “No, but that’s Svenatte Alock and he’s the mastermind responsible for procuring all of the information that we have at this meeting,” Hisagi ushered quietly with an insistent tone, and then he moved off so as not to seem rude for lingering. Were it not a military meeting hall he would have kissed Renji on the cheek but the only one that ever seemed to get away with casual displays of affection, and even these were milder than a kiss, was GenS Kyoraku. Hisagi took his seat again. He was shocked to see Renji and Grimmjow with this person, absolutely shocked.

 

            Even before Hisagi had settled back into his chair at the round table was Renji moving off too. Holding his clear water cup and sipping at it he looked like he was pondering something really tough to digest. Had they known this they probably wouldn’t have even needed to come to this meeting! Unless of course this information was strictly confidential outside of this hall. In that possibility why Sven hadn’t offered was a little more apparent. Renji mulled it all over at his post behind Ichigo’s chair. What Renji did not know…was how much Grimmjow knew about ‘Sven’s’ situation already.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

Section 20: Ice the Cake

            Finished with the meeting Renji was again at the wheel of the car transporting the men, though this time there was a fourth; Hisagi had joined them, favoring this instead of getting back into a van with the many other medics he’d driven to the GTLH with. Overall that meeting had been long and very disappointing to half of the men in the car. With a lot of technical and strategic information on the deployment but deployment itself had been decidedly halted. One thing didn’t outweigh the other; while Ichigo rolled with the punches and Hisagi settled with the facts, Renji and Grimmjow were peeved.

 

            As Ichigo stared out of the mostly rolled up window of the rear passenger’s side of the car at lights whizzing by and the dark scenery of the base in the evening, there was a gentle breeze drifting through the vehicle and moving his hair. Idly rubbing the patch of facial hair on his chin Ichigo noticed Grimmjow’s reflection in his own window as the other man leaned toward the opposite rear window and blew smoke out into the air. It was easy to think that the Gehjovenic man was just doing that to calm down. Not even the bravest generals nor the medical personnel in attendance could have changed the majority’s mind at halting deployments. Ichigo himself had been called on to give updated input and unfortunately the truth was that he had to agree to what was folly – premature deployment. He’d shared these secretive updates with no one else before the meeting but he already suspected that this might happen. It was just too soon to send troops to Jordendia through the terrain and nothing sensible said otherwise.

 

            Renji quietly considered the weight everything that the orange haired man in the backseat said could carry. Such a weird soldier…this Sven guy…and his pal Grimmjow was involved with him! Renji was too convinced that there was something bigger going on, but he didn’t have a clear idea.

 

            Hisagi was going over all of the information he needed to consider for the future deployment…and hadn’t Renji said something about the two in the backseat to him discretely after the meeting? He had.

 

            Grimmjow’s head was an angry mass of irritation; he was smoking but still having trouble defusing the stress.

 

            So no one talked. They just drove. Their first destination…dropping Grimmjow and Ichigo off at the mohawked Gehjoven’s house.

 

 

{Approx. 2000 hours, Jaegerjaquez residence…}

            Renji’s car pulled up to the sidewalk in front of his pal’s house and was clapped on the shoulder comrade-like around the car’s driver seat as Grimmjow got out. Renji leaned to bark something at the mohawked man, “Hey let me know if something changes and ya hear about it first.”

 

            Grimmjow seemed stalled and was then drawn into talking to Renji for a minute on their side of the car.

 

            Feeling more parts of himself at the sorest they’d been all day Ichigo was sluggishly getting out at the same time and closed his door with the arm that wasn’t in a sling. He was startled to notice the passenger side window roll down and Hisagi gestured him to come over to it very subtly with a snap. Was that supposed to be discrete? It sure seemed a little rude and Ichigo had barely noticed anything other than the sounds in the dark. The cautious Jhezen crouched by the window. “Yes?” his tone was soft.

 

            Renji and Grimmjow were distracted all their own and didn’t hear this conversation.

 

            This was a matter of discretion for one reason or another and Hisagi’s voice was quieter as well. He leaned a little toward the open window and handed the Jhezen a small bottle that rattled and shone his cellphone’s light over them to let the other man see what they were. “One every twelve as needed. You’re not allergic to these right?” Hisagi handed them to the other man and kept his phone over the container.

 

            Ichigo looked down, shaking the obvious pill bottle gently. The label under that light showed…these were some pretty strong painkillers but they weren’t strong enough to be addictive. Extremely useful. He looked up at Hisagi through the open window. “I’m not. Thank you, I’ll share them.”

 

            “You’re welcome, but if Grimmjow is going to play rough let him find his own,” in his gravelly voice Hisagi was frank but offered an amused grin.

 

            Ichigo blinked. Had Renji said something to this man about them? “U-Uh…sure.”

 

            “And don’t let him tell you what to do all the time. He’ll try. It’s how he survives.” Hisgai shook his head and smiled warmly, the claw-like scars and tattoos, harpoon across his cheek and ‘69’ above that, lifted up a bit. Hisagi was being very genuine. Dropping these two men off together combined with the way Grimmjow had talked the other day about something ‘embarrassing’ left Hisagi with the impression that this bright-eyed yet battered man at the window was it; the other Gehjoven’s ‘embarrassing’ something.

 

            Renji was apparently through with talking to Grimmjow and leaned after rolling his window up so that he could see ‘Sven’ around Hisagi.

 

            With nods at the both of them Ichigo straightened up and saw that Grimmjow was already walking away from the car and up the front walk without him. He’d figured that the man was stressed out because of the meeting but just how stressed was that? Ichigo was gathering that Hisagi knew a thing or two about Grimmjow and they were already clearly friends. Ichigo crouched again and glanced at Renji then Hisagi. It couldn’t be helped that Renji was now paying attention to him but he had another question. “Can I ask something else?”

 

            Hisagi’s brows lifted, “Of course, Sven.”

 

            Renji’s brows furrowed.

 

            “Earlier today,” Ichigo gestured toward Renji, “Grimmjow walked away from us on the porch and when I went back inside he was spitting blood into the sink.”

 

            Hisagi’s eyes got a little wider.

 

            Renji’s mirrored that. “Why didn’t you tell us before?” he asked with an insistent tone that was still quiet.

 

            “I just…had enough of him being rough with me, you know? But I was still worried. He said it was a nosebleed but he was pretty angry that I noticed.”

 

            Hisagi’s tone changed to a very matter of fact one, stern like a proper doctor or medic should be. “He was probably angry because it could stop him from being deployed.”

 

            Ichigo looked between the men in the car, bewildered. “What’d you mean?” They seemed to know serious a thing or two more than he’d expected… So that bleeding was part of a serious issue?

 

            “Let’s just say he looks and behaves more indestructible than he is, and Grimmjow’s not weak by any means but he’s had a long service to our great Gehjoven,” Hisagi assured. “Without being rude to disclose his personal issues I want you to watch him and tell me if this happens again. He already has medicine to help but it might not be enough.” The tattooed man was already taking out his phone again so that he could take down Sven’s number. “I would prescribe more ahead of time but it’s not the kind of stuff you want to take too much of unless you absolutely have to. What was your phone number?”

 

            Ichigo recited the digits and typed his falsified name into the cellphone before handing it back to Hisagi. Health issues often got worse with time…no wonder Grimmjow was so seemingly stressed out about a delayed deployment, it meant more time as whatever he was dealing with progressed. “I didn’t want to be a snitch and bother him…”

 

            Renji shook his head and piped up before Hisagi could say anything, “Lookin’ out for a guy you like isn’t being a snitch.”

 

            Hisagi’s face turned to curious interest. “‘Like’?” ‘Like’ was the word hmm? The gravel-voiced man’s eyes pinned on the man outside the car window.

 

            Lucky enough to be in some natural cover from the darkness of night, Ichigo’s face got hot. “Well yeah…I guess. I’m gonna get over there before he starts wondering what secrets I’ve confided in you two.”

 

            Hisagi nodded, “I’ll send you a message so you have my number. Goodnight.”

 

            Renji chimed in with a wave.

 

            “Bye.” Ichigo patted the window and backed up as the men in the car waved and Reji navigated the vehicle away from the curb. Interesting information from the both of them… Ichigo’s head turned watching the red taillights of the car as it drove away and he walked idly to the sidewalk where another car wouldn’t be able to run him over. Ichigo’s mind was stuck in a thoughtful mode standing still on the sidewalk in front of the yard without budging as he watched Renji’s car until it was gone. So Grimmjow’s health wasn’t so great…this was new information to him. Ichigo was only startled from this wistful thoughtfulness by voices bickering toward the house, so his attention redirected and he looked up the walkway. The porchlight was on and Grimmjow was up there with a blonde woman… His hazel eyes got hugely wide, recognizing her in a second. Come to think of it there was an extra car parked out front… Suppose he and Grimmjow’s two friends were too engrossed in conversing about the Odd Elite’s health to notice other happenings.

 

            Up on the porch Grimmjow bared his teeth, “I thought I was pretty damn clear.”

 

            “Well that doesn’t change what I’m entitled to,” Tier stressed. She was standing straight, wearing tall white heels, pearls and a pale yellow tube dress…looking rather well-off for being divorced without a dime. “My property is-”

 

            “I don’t care what you think you’re entitled to. You gave shit up when you fucked some other dude in what was our bed. Just get the fuck out of here.” Grimmjow was stern and he wasn’t budging. He was in a piss-poor mood from that meeting and this was only egging it into being worse. Tier didn’t seem to be inclined to listen to him. “LEAVE.” The Gehjovenic man crossed his heavily muscled arms and waited to see if she’d actually leave or keep arguing. It was really irritating to find her waiting for him on the dark porch at this late hour after such a bad meeting. She said she’d been here all day but that sure wasn’t true, she’d also waved an old key that didn’t work in his face and complained…like it was her house to unlock and enter… It honestly wasn’t, not anymore. He’d changed the locks for a reason like this.

 

            “You owe me.”

 

            “I owe you nothing.” Grimmjow did recognize the fact that she looked well off, groomed and fresh standing here demanding fucking peanuts compared to what she could probably milk out of another man. He’d bought a her a house to live in…a car to drive…a lot of things without even a second thought. Grimmjow knew that she sure didn’t want any of their wedding junk or anything else sentimental, so she was probably just here for valuables.

 

            “You owe me the chance to get my jewelry-”

 

            “Sold it,” Grimmjow cut her off. He was lying through his teeth.

 

            “My car…” Tier growled.

 

            Grimmjow’s face soured up. “Sold that too. Did you need two? Cause you sure didn’t fuckin’ walk here.” This he actually wasn’t lying about.

 

            “My furniture…” The Gehjovenic man in front of her didn’t even say anything this time. “Grimmjow I’m pregnant and I don’t know if you can tell…you’re broken so of course it’s not yours don’t worry,” she snapped waved a hand in front of his face with a nasty expression unfitting for such a beautiful appearance, “but I need the rest of my things, and I need them now. You’ll pay me back for what you sold later.” Demands not requests. Hitting a low blow Tier wasn’t budging in her demands either, she crossed her arms and scowled at her ex-husband. In all honesty she did own some of the things still in that house… It seemed like she’d completely taken his mercy for granted…being that the penalty in Gehjoven for infidelity was still death and he’d never held that up to her in a threatening manner.

 

            Grimmjow’s rage was just starting to peg as his tolerance was cracking apart for someone who was so materialistic that she’d come back and expect him to let her into his house to scrounge for her belongings after finally really tearing his heart in half; it was bad enough that he regretted even having a heart to break. Just about the point where shit was probably about to fly off of the handle and get really ugly, a separate pair of footsteps touched the porch with meek taps. Only the Gehjovenic man’s blue eyes tilted toward the sounds as Ichigo came up from the shadows and walked up the few steps that were there leading onto the porch.

 

            Ichigo walked straight between the two bickering ex’s, not as a referee but just minding his own business, and tried to keep his head down and get in the house.

 

            Unfortunately Tier took this as a lot more of an insult than it was intended to be. She looked dumbfounded as this man who had walked directly between her and her ex-husband, in the middle of the argument, then proceeded to reach into a willing Grimmjow’s pants pockets to take the keys to the house.

 

            Ichigo started unlocking the front door, still trying to keep his head down.

 

            Tier exploded, “Excuse me?!” she snapped at the impudent man between her and Grimmjow.

 

            Ichigo looked up innocently as the door was unlocked and he’d opened it a crack. “Um…yes?”

 

            “Don’t you have any manners?!” Tier snapped, clearly irritated to be interrupted and what was with this familiar behavior toward her ex from this guy with his stupidly bright orange hair, goatee and…bruises? He looked like he’d been in a cage fight, but Tier wasn’t a dumb woman…Grimmjow had slight bruises on his neck and a mark on his nose from something…or someone, she just hadn’t cared about that until now.

 

            Plenty angry but not interested in putting the brakes on something that pissed his ex-wife off, Grimmjow stayed quiet and just let things happen as his ex-wife glared daggers at his houseguest. Ichigo would take care of himself.

 

            …and take care of himself the Jhezen did; it didn’t take a second for Ichigo to respond. “Not for a bitch who calls my friend ‘broken’.” Ichigo had looked her straight in the eye too, coldly, then shut the door in her face as he went inside. …that was that.

 

            Spectating Grimmjow didn’t give any superficial signs of taking pleasure in that harsh comeback, but at the core something in him bubbled pleasurably. “Si’down,” he finally snapped at Tier, “I’ll get what’s left of your shit minus the car and the furniture.”

 

            Coming away from being shocked to be talked to in a harsh manner by a stranger Tier’s eyes came back to Grimmjow. “I want the furniture and my clothes.”

 

            “Destroyed all the furniture already.” Grimmjow opened the front door just a crack. “Unless you’d like to go to the landfill to get it.” He moved inside and shut and locked the door. He’d get the stuff but…where had that smart-mouthed Jhezen run off to? Ichigo was nowhere immediately in sight after that glorious display of lip on the porch.

 

            Tier was locked out, she tried to open the front door with a few rough jerks but gave up when it was certainly locked, and went to sit on the lone wooden chair across the porch. Irritably she tapped her heels and texted on her cellphone with her designer purse on her lap while waiting expectantly. Funny enough…this same place on the porch was where Ichigo had once waited for Grimmjow to end his pain-stoked rampage that she’d pushed the Gehjovenic man into not so long ago. Funny how lonely nights outside in the cold could be. After minutes passed the front door opened up and out came that orange haired and goateed snot with a laundry basket of her belongings all tossed in. Tier got up and walked with clacking heels to retrieve it with a sour face. “You again. This is it?! You could have at least made it neat.”

 

            Glad to be a step closer to dismissing this bitchy woman Ichigo handed her the basket. “You’re lucky he even gathered these.”

 

            Tier scowled over the basket in her hands. “You’re pretty skinny to be his punching bag.” The blonde’s plump lips shifted as she moved them irritably, determined to get under this man’s skin for irritating her.

 

            “That’s a tall assumption,” the Jhezen countered with a scowl. Ichigo personally wouldn’t have given her anything, and now he was just continuing to be tactfully aggressive. She didn’t deserve a thing, she really didn’t, and she also didn’t intimidate him – not a bit. He could probably have told her that he’d find and sell her phone number, social security and credit cards on the dark-web or even that he’d witnessed her cheating on Grimmjow that fateful night but Ichigo knew he didn’t need to go that far yet, he just closed the door in her face again and locked it…then took a step back with a shaky sigh. He bowed his head and rubbed his face with his free hand. What a nasty person to deal with…

 

            Roaming the house freely a still pretty sour Grimmjow stormed out of the kitchen across the empty and polished living room floor and stopped when he saw the front door shut and Ichigo standing beside it. His eyes told him all he needed to know; that damn Jhezen had handed his ex the shit in that basket, and he hadn’t even asked Ichigo to do that. That struck a chord with Grimmjow, maybe one that wasn’t ready to be plucked yet.

 

            Having done Grimmjow a favor, Ichigo was quiet and stayed well out of the Gehjovenic man’s way. He’d been patched up for the second time today, there was no good reason for him to get in this enraged man’s way and risk squeezing in a third. They just needed to sleep this encounter and that meeting off so that they weren’t at each other’s throats irrationally…

 

            Holding all deployments for an additional two months to gather resources…an entire two months. The unpleasantries of that in Grimmjow’s mind involved far more than dismissing thoughts of Tier at this point; for a man who just wished he was out in the field doing what he did best and looking forward to not having to deal with civilian bullshit for two months that wait time was a goddamn eternity. Then there was his health to consider… It was all because transport in the area leading up to Jordendia was a rightful nightmare, and that wasn’t just because Jhezens were everywhere. No, no. The terrain was soggy and it rained frequently for days on end, generating mud and lush forests with huge trees in the slope of a valley they would campaign through. The updated information at the meeting had foretold very poor weather history in that valley’s area around this time; if they went at the wrong time it might even get flooded or have a mass landslide and Gehjoven just didn’t have the supplies to go the long way around and avoid the hazards. Grimmjow fully understood the absolute necessity to wait, he just didn’t like it.

 

            “I just…gave her the stuff,” the Jhezenic man confirmed.

 

            That earned an irritable stared from Grimmjow. “It wasn’t any of your business.”

 

            Rather silenced by that true fact Ichigo stalled further words. Shutting off the porch light and the lights in the living room the Jhezenic man moved and switched on the ascending stairs’ light as he stepped up onto the landing for the second floor’s stairs and stood facing into the house and holding onto the railing with the arm he had which wasn’t in a sling. He had thought that Grimmjow was on the same unsaid page as he was, that going to bed right now was ideal, but that just wasn’t so. The Gehjoven was too irritated to be still. He watched Grimmjow storm toward his personal closet across the living room and roughly unlock and open it. A few moments later the Gehjovenic man had a spare leather jacket, boots and keys in his hands. The closet slammed shut and locked. Ichigo waited quietly on the stairs, still watching the other man across the lonely and empty room.

 

            Grimmjow didn’t look at his guest. Not even while he was walking back toward the front door where the Jhezen was near; he was just too damn frustrated and needed more space right now. To think, to cope and to calm down.

 

            However this time Ichigo wouldn’t keep all quiet; he took a breath and swallowed his nerves. “You know, about the deployment… If I could have actually done anything to change their minds without lying…”

 

            Those words actually caught Grimmjow’s attention but he still wouldn’t look up; this man had a lot on his mind and he wasn’t about to share his feelings with this twit, no matter how fucking nicely Ichigo treated him.

 

            “…I would have.”

 

            With a deeply intimidating scowl at nothing that pressed hard on his masculine features Grimmjow had reached the front door with his jacket on and crammed the keys in a pocket while he kicked off the shoes that he’d worn to the GTLH and crammed his feet into the leather boots and pulled their straps over so that they wouldn’t fall off. With a gesture to unlock and a yank Grimmjow opened the front door. Noting that Tier was nowhere outside still, it slammed shut as he went back outside, then a moment later the lock clicked. He hadn’t said a word to the Jhezen who was left standing in there alone with naught but his own thoughts.

 

            Separately they could think what they liked about each other and the situations they were in but it was hard to figure out how to coexist sometimes when one was a stone wall and the other a mysterious enigma.

 

            Ichigo waited on the stairs until he heard the rumble of the Gehjoven’s motorcycle as its large engine was fired up, and a minute later Grimmjow was gone with the loud scream of the engine as it shifted up more than once and passed further down the street. Those echoing rumbles were the last thing that Ichigo heard and he resigned himself to not worrying about something he couldn’t change in a night. Left alone with just the very faded smell of new paint and polish and cleaners in the repaired house, perhaps this time alone would be beneficial. The Jhezen sighed and started to remove his arm from the sling as now, without the irate man storming around, he didn’t have to tip-toe about and should stretch that limb and his shoulder out without worry. He did so on a short walk back down the stairs and into the kitchen, retrieving a glass of cold water. Still in the same room Ichigo drank half of the water slowly while staring outside at the backyard of the Gehjoven’s house through the glass sliding door by the kitchen. His eyes screened over the plain grass to where he realized that new sod had been laid down at the very back of the moonlit yard. What had it looked like before? With a woman’s touch around the house perhaps there had been flowers or beautiful bushes, maybe even an Eden-like garden? The gardens which his family had kept…the Jhezen was reminiscing and had to stop himself before it could bother him. He took the rest of his water and climbed the stairs to go and lay down; instead of invading Grimmjow’s bedroom again he went to the guestroom, recently stripped of its carpet and left as polished wood like the living room floor, and closed the door.

 

            More tired and sore than he’d let anyone realize Ichigo undressed mostly and settled into the guest bed with the water glass on the bedside table and conked out in a matter of minutes, minimal to what a human would require to pass into the land of dreams…and nightmares.

 

 

{Approx. 2200 hours that evening… Jaegerjaquez residence…}

            Hours later Grimmjow’s motorcycle revved somewhat as he encouraged it up his driveway and parked the cruiser by the garage at a careful angle. One of these days he’d really have to clean out the garage so that he could have space for it in there. He’d been gone for at least two hours on a long drive outside of the base again, he’d avoided running into midnight curfew. There was next to nothing that calmed his nerves as much as that and it worked every time so why do anything different? With a light groan as Grimmjow dismounted from the heavy cruiser, letting it fully lean on the kickstand, he stretched his legs, feet and glutes out a bit before walking around to the house’s front porch. It was dark still so he was careful not to trip on anything. Getting up onto the porch were steps closer to sleep; he liked that idea right about now with his nerves more settled than they had been. Rest for the mind and the body. Not only was sitting on that bike for hours at a time pretty stiff but his body reminded him that it was still bruised and banged up from that sneaky Jhezen’s little ambush the other night. His steps stalled on the covered porch by the front door in the eerie darkness of night as a cloud overhead passed across the moon and made it so, so dark. Grimmjow’s hard stare studied around himself, the porch and the steps and the yard and yards beyond which weren’t easy to see. He felt like someone was watching…however he heard nothing and saw nothing so the Gehjoven chalked it up to being hyperaware from when the Jhezen had decided to try to maim him and Tier’s unpleasant and unexpected visit earlier. He just didn’t want to be bothered again, there was very little normal fear for his own safety in that mohawked head of his.

 

            As Grimmjow unlocked the front door with a slight rattle of keys and went into the recently repaired house nothing lunged at him or moved in the dark. He safely reclosed the door and locked it behind himself. He waited an extra second just in case, scanning the totally silent ground floor of the house. Nothing. Dead quiet. The Gehjovenic man took his boots off and started removing his spare leather jacket on his way over to his personal closet across the living room. His sock-clad feet gave off soft ‘thumps’ in the fresh and bare space. Actually he felt like he preferred this room to be this empty; there was nowhere for anything to hide and he could walk straight through. On top of those the only cleaning required would be sweeping and polishing the floors. At the closet he put his spare leather jacket, keys and boots away then closed and habitually relocked the door. The house creaked around him.

 

            Ever wary of things when he had a strange gut feeling plus proof to back it up, Grimmjow’s sharp eyes turned away from the closet as his hands fell back to his sides and the Gehjovenic man gazed around the ground floor with a slow and gradual examination of the dark house as the cloud over the moon outside moved away and again there was moonlight cast and through the front windows of the living room. Illuminated by moonlight the span around him was plain and still empty with no strange objects in sight. Surely he was alone…

 

            With weariness outweighing hunger, he’d barely eaten a thing since this morning, the Gehjoven hustled upstairs to his bedroom. In passing he looked at the closed guestroom door so when he arrived in his room and found no trace of the Jhezen he was unsurprised and just assumed that the guestroom was where his guest had decided to sleep – appropriately.

 

            After taking a quick leak in the bathroom Grimmjow was back to his own room and the bedroom door clicked shut and locked behind him. Immediately he pulled off his shirt and tossed it on the floor, sauntering toward his bed and collapsing facedown into the mass of covers, sheets and pillows haphazardly Grimmjow was comfortable. His mind was for once so tunneled toward sleep that he didn’t even care if he showered, brushed his teeth or took any vitamins or medication before bed. It was just time to fucking sleep; his body and brain both said so.

 

            No sooner had the gruff soldier fallen asleep, much to his satisfaction, then there was a bang on the floor below. Grimmjow jolted and grumbled, blinking his eyes slowly open and barely able to stay roused at first. The room felt like it was swaying at first, and the bang had startled him but he wasn’t all sure why he’d woken up. The house creaked more. Sliding irritably and groggily out of bed with just half of his clothes on, still some jeans, he seemed to realize that there was something going on. Grimmjow drug a pack of cigarettes out of the bedside table’s drawer and patted his pockets for his lighter, smoking to help calm himself. With carefully soft steps he made for the dark bedroom’s door.

 

            The door unlocked, opened and shut silently as he moved out, clearing the hallway upstairs before he stepped into it. Just outside the bedroom Grimmjow tapped his pack and lit up, the rest of the pack was shoved into his back pocket. Whatever was planning to fuck with him better think twice, he was tired as hell and riled up enough to tear someone’s arm off. Baring plainly the bruising on his arms and gut and neck still from his last confrontation with the Jhezen he was investigating further without bothering to dress his half-naked self more. Unarmed Grimmjow aimed to check on the lower floor of the house as a trained and cautious soldier might. There was another sound downstairs… Turning the lighter around in one hand the Gehjovenic man crept toward the head of the stairs and started going down, crouching to see…

 

            Apparently the Jhezen had been stirred by the noises as well because he was awakened too and the guestroom door opened silently while Ichigo peered out with caution and just barely caught the shape of his host creeping downstairs and rounding the banister into the living room. What was going on?

 

            Cigarette in mouth Grimmjow heard a soft and almost absent thump as he was coming into the living room and froze with a very tense stance, ready to grab anything that flew at him. The clouds passed again outside and were blocking the moon for there was no moonlight to shine through the front windows and show him the rest of the room. “Come the fuck out unless you wanna get jacked up!” he warned. In the dark Grimmjow struck his lighter, holding it up.

 

            Immediately Ichigo’s face was eerily lit up brightly by the flame and shadows in front of his hand.

 

            The lighter was blown out and a very startled Grimmjow jumped back, barely able to keep his cigarette from falling out of his mouth and he surely dropped the lighter. There was a small clack on the ground. “SHIT!” he snarled, back hitting a wall as the Jhezen’s darker shadow approached him from the front. Since when did shit like this make him stumble? The Gehjoven felt someone’s hands reach out and touch his bare stomach, then they slid down to the top of his jeans. “The fuck-?!” Grimmjow snapped angrily, sweeping a hand out to shove the person off but he missed completely. Was that still Ichigo?!

 

            The clouds moved for a moment or two and moonlight showed nothing but the orange haired Jhezen standing in front of his host with a stable stare, fully knowing what he was doing, before the cloud was over the moon again and the room was dark.

 

            Grimmjow was frozen against the wall; he stopped growling and felt lips kiss against his lower stomach. It was just a peck but Grimmjow stopped struggling altogether as the hair on the back of his neck stood up. Back glued to the wall… Determined fingers moved the leather of his belt with clinks as they unbuckled it and unbuttoned the front of the Gehjoven’s jeans.

 

            The Jhezen kissed his host’s lower abdominals a few more times and then drug the zipper of those jeans down.

 

            Was this actually fucking happening?! He didn’t hate it but this was not what he’d expected…had Ichigo been creeping around down here the entire time? Grimmjow didn’t have the inclination to push the Jhezen off, but what in the hell… Following up the front of his jeans zipped down came rough tugs until the jeans and underwear on the Gehjoven’s lower half were as low as his knees. Slightly bristled because he’d had no warning Grimmjow was feeling air where there was not clothing and it just made his nerves smolder; he could already feel himself getting hard.

 

            Ichigo wasn’t saying a word.

 

            The next thing that Grimmjow felt was himself sigh with pleasure as a mouth came down on him and just started to suck. It wasn’t hesitant at all, given that he hadn’t showered one would think anyone with their nose up to some musk might just have a second thought, but it just committed. With a tilting neck Grimmjow’s head rolled back to the wet pleasure and leaned against the wall with his shoulders as one hand reached down and settled on the bobbing head between his solid thighs. He was starting to not care how this had come to be, it just felt good; that was so wet and so fucking warm.

 

            Ichigo probably had his own agenda by doing this as he gave no rhyme or reason to this sudden advance, but he was as assertive as they came in getting what he wanted.

 

            Grimmjow didn’t bother to try and watch the show in the darkness, he just urged Ichigo to bob his head faster and periodically ashed his cigarette carelessly on the floor with a free hand as he savored the pleasure of two vices. He’d fucking clean the ashes up later, along with this Jhezen’s drool and his cum off the polished floor… The pleasure of that hard suction and the wet slide in between the Jhezen’s lips…that fucking obscene heat and the other man’s tongue… So this was another thing this twit’s mouth was good for.

 

            Ichigo slightly gagged a few times as his head was treated roughly but he didn’t try to pull off and instead his hands would move to holding onto the base of Grimmjow’s cock to steady it in his sucking mouth. A bit of drool had already started dripping from his lips and his nose was running just a touch with a light watering of his eyes from gagging…but it was apparently too good to stop. He didn’t give a damn about the musk, it just wasn’t enough to stop him.

 

            Pleasure rolled through the Gehjovenic soldier’s whole body in surges and waves and just as he exhaled a long draw off his cigarette there was relief and release; he came, and he came hard. Grimmjow’s body dropped every ounce of stress into a load straight into Ichigo’s face as the Jhezen choked on his cock but clung to it and the other man’s body.

 

            The kneeling Jhezen did not complain at all and started swallowing, dragging the rest fluid out of his victim like a starved vampire…minus the teeth.

 

            It was doubtful that Grimmjow even still considered that he had stress to shed before he got this head, but after nothing unpleasant remained he was stupidly relaxed for his usual self.

 

 

{Approx. 0800 hours the following morning…}

            With a yawn and tossing and turning a few times before actually waking up the Jhezen stirred in the guest bed as sunlight came streaming through the window of the guestroom and he rolled to one side and briefly covered his sore face with his pillow. He was sorer today than yesterday…and tangled in some of the blankets. His injuries were probably feeling the effects from tossing and turning on them all night. The old scratches on his face… Sutured gash on the shoulder… The bruises on his throat, face, back, arms, chest…hell it was easier to say where he wasn’t bruised than all of the places he was after attacking Grimmjow a night ago. However slow as he was to come to, when Ichigo sat up and yawned in some of his stale clothing from yesterday the man realized that…there was a damp and sticky spot against his underwear where his junk rubbed against. Oh great… Realizing what that meant Ichigo covered his face with a hand and groaned, faintly unhappy, as he sat hunched on bed. He’d had a fucking wet dream and he hadn’t even woken up feeling good about it. Damnit…what had it even been about? He could hardly remember, but he was definitely going to need a shower and to make sure that his Gehjovenic host did not notice this for his own sake or the teasing with probably never end.

 

 

{Two hours later, approx. 1000 hours…}

            Fully rested and extremely comfortable, Grimmjow stirred in his own bed with a groan and a squint. Against his plush pillow his head instinctively rolled toward the clock on the bedside table as he groggily became aware of the fact that he was sleeping in later than usual. Laying belly-down under the warm covers and sheets with his face in a pillow and just one eye on the clock it was hard to read the numbers and even harder to not let himself go back to sleep. He vaguely remembered being wary of noises in the house, going upstairs and then something had knocked him the hell out. Not upside the head but last night was the heaviest Grimmjow felt like he’d slept in a very long time. The man managed to haul himself up on the comfortable bed and kicked the covers back, realizing that if he didn’t want to fall back asleep there was no other way. He sat in a daze for a minute, rubbing his eyes with the sides of his hands and then slid off of the edge of the bed with coordinated feet touching the carpeted floor first.

 

            Something wet rubbed his thigh. “Nnn?” Groggily Grimmjow’s head tilted down with a hand rubbing one of his eyes and- There was a huge sticky and damp spot against the upper leg of his underwear and jeans. You had to be fucking kidding… Waking up more just because of that the Gehjovenic man growled and rubbed his face again with a palm in pure annoyance. So that’s why he’d slept so good… He hadn’t had a wet dream in a long time. Why now?!

 

            All at once Grimmjow started to remember his dream, staring ahead of himself at the open closet in the bedroom he remembered the Jhezen sucking his- Nope. Nope. Grimmjow shook his head immediately and banished the thoughts. No way; he wasn’t going to let his mind get even close to the rest of that. He’d already decided that he was a moron for letting anything happen before and this had to stop…yet he was still letting the Jhezen stay in his home… At this point Grimmjow absolutely refused to think about this dream or situation with Ichigo more because the more he thought the harder he might get again. The man kicked off the dirty pair of jeans and left them on the floor by the bed along with his underwear and drug a random pair of pants out of the closet and a shirt; he didn’t care what the clothes looked like. Grimmjow stormed off to the bathroom, unlocking and yanking his bedroom door open and closing it with a slam. Then the bathroom door slammed.

 

            Two slams later, interrupting his concentration in a very disconcerting manner, Ichigo looked up from his current project in the living room and stared at the ceiling overhead. What had crawled up his host’s ass now? If only to satisfy his own curiosity the Jhezen stood up, walking silently in his socks, basic jeans and tucked-in white t-shirt toward the stairs. He crept up them and peered to see the bathroom door shut and…Grimmjow’s bedroom door open just a jar. Hmmm…

 

            The bedroom door had been closed too hard and fast so the latch hadn’t caught.

 

            Tempting opportunity! Realizing that he heard the shower running Ichigo, the naughty bastard, couldn’t help himself and dared to go up and investigate. What had kept the very trained soldier asleep or locked up in his bedroom for longer? The stress or…something more obvious? Ichigo quietly pushed the bedroom door open and walked inside, eyes glancing around. It was an unremarkable room, especially with absolutely no feminine shit left. It didn’t smell like drugs or fresh cigarette smoke either. Ichigo noticed that the bed was thoroughly messed up on one side and the closet was practically in shambles – probably from Grimmjow yanking every piece of his ex’s clothing out of it last night…but…the Jhezen noticed the dirty jeans and underwear on the floor. Noticing the damp spots immediately Ichigo covered his nose and mouth so that he didn’t make any kind of sounds, namely chuckling. Without another second wasted he hurried out of the bedroom and closed the door all the way, scurrying back downstairs in a silent hustle before Grimmjow could come out of the bathroom and light him up for nosing around. That was a little funny, Grimmjow was just slamming doors because he’d had had a wet dream, huh?

 

            Ruffling his hair dry with a towel that he dropped lazily on the banister outside of the bathroom, Grimmjow came out of the steamed room dressed and with a long sigh and his composure restored. Comfortably he was just wearing some jeans and a flannel button-down shirt. The man walked straight to the stairs and started down them, however he stalled at halfway seeing Ichigo spread out in the living room with half a dozen mechanical boxes and several laptops and a desktop computer all across the wooden floor and running at the same time. The fuck had happened in here? There were cords and antennas and tech shit that Grimmjow had never seen sprawled across the entire room; he assumed it all belonged to the Jhezen because this sure wasn’t any of his. Shortly after being struck by just the sight of that scene Grimmjow continued the rest of the way down the stairs and walked behind an undisturbed Ichigo who was laying belly-down in front of a laptop and typing on it with both claves up behind him, ankles crossed, as they kicked back and forth idly. The hum of all the machines was…loud. Even a smart man like Grimmjow didn’t even know where to start with this…he said nothing but he did stare.

 

            Realizing that he was now being observed at the least, Ichigo looked over his shoulder and up even though his sore neck begged him not to.

 

            Eyes matching up, Grimmjow’s snapped away in a second. He couldn’t look the Jhezen in the face, not after that dream… Grimmjow was straight off, without any more glances, and on his way to the kitchen. Fuck this…whatever it was…

 

            Ichigo watched the man rapidly shrink from his attention and potential conflict which wasn’t the Gehjoven’s usual M.O.… He wondered if there was something else bugging Grimmjow. Maybe the groceries he’d just brought sitting there in the kitchen would help the man’s mood. It had been a very productive two hour difference in their times waking up. “You can eat anything you’d like!” Ichigo called, waiting a second before returning to his precious laptop and thoughtfully stroking his trimmed goatee as many thoughtful people were known to do.

 

            What was that supposed to mean? It was his house of course he’d eat- Grimmjow froze as soon as he’d set foot in the kitchen. There was a basket full of fruits and vegetables on the counter and about a dozen other bags full of…he looked in one or two of them…food and dishes. Why?! Especially the dishes, why, other than the fact he’d broken them all before but where the fuck had the Jhezen gotten this idea from, assuming it was all his doing. “Why is there a ton of shit in my kitchen?!”

 

            “It’s food, not shit! And I’ll help you put it away after I finish starting this program…” Ichigo’s fingers typed out a few more lines of code, double checked his work and then executed his program and left it to run, getting up from the ground and wandering into the kitchen to find Grimmjow waiting for him with his arms crossed. Ichigo shrugged harmlessly. “What? You took a long time to wake up and I thought this would help out.”

 

            “I don’t need help,” the Gehjoven groused. “You’re doing too much.”

 

            “Look I’m not just doing this for you. I don’t want to starve while I’m here either. I saw the fridge yesterday…there was barely anything but the beer.” Ichigo wandered toward the counter and started unpacking some things from the rustling bags and setting them on the counter; he paid no mind to the other man’s horribly stubborn attitude.

 

            Not just stubborn, Grimmjow grabbed his guest’s wrist and stalled him as Ichigo’s head turned warily. The Gehjoven looked his guest up and down and stopped his eyes on Ichigo’s t-shirt covered shoulders.

 

            Picking up on what the other man was inspecting him for Ichigo tried to be reassuring. “It feels a lot better today, don’t worry.” Even though he was still extremely sore and his many obvious bruises and scratches on his face weren’t even halfway to faded. The Jhezen tried to pull his wrist free but surprisingly Grimmjow wouldn’t let go yet he wasn’t crushing that joint to keep a hold on it either. “Please let go…”

 

            Grimmjow’s eyes blinked away irritably, about all he could handle of looking at Ichigo and let the other man’s wrist slip free. Well the shit- food was already here…he couldn’t just yell at the damn Jhezen and expect him to take it all back, so Grimmjow silently moved to unpacking the cans and dishes from some of the bags. Anything heavy that he didn’t want Ichigo lifting he made sure to get a hold of first. That damn Jhezen had actually bought him glass dishware, and fresh milk, bottled beer and eggs that were already in the fridge! What the fuck was this world coming to? Holding hands and passing out daisies to best-est friends? Grimmjow was bad at accepting favors. It was cringeworthy to him. He also knew that he didn’t deserve this stuff… After turning his back to put the plates in a cupboard, Grimmjow turned around again to go back to the counter with all of the groceries and stopped dead as the Jhezen was abruptly behind him and looking up at his face with bright hazel eyes. All the hair stood up on the back of the soldier’s neck; why was this happening?! They could have run smack into each other but Ichigo was careful about his distance and the Gehjoven’s reflexes were tuned.

 

            Selflessly the Jhezen extended a new pack of cigarettes. “You do smoke these, right?” He felt the pack lift up gently from his hand and just waited.

 

            Feeling something akin to being sentimentally smothered Grimmjow didn’t respond, he just didn’t know how to. With the excuse to lower his gaze the soldier turned the plastic wrapped pack around in his fingers. “Yeah it’s my brand.” Exactly his brand.

 

            “Well then you’re welcome,” the Jhezen tested with eyes still staring up at Grimmjow’s face as the other man did everything to avoid them. Before he’d even noticed Grimmjow’s clothes upstairs Ichigo had gathered all of this. Sure the cigarettes weren’t healthy at all but the rest of the food was and if Grimmjow’s health sucked…well… It was helping. There was no other way to put it, this Jhezen which should be his natural enemy had decided to be a huge help.

 

            Grimmjow pocketed the pack of smokes and moved around Ichigo without a word.

 

            Ichigo watched this behavior and he was no psychologist but…that behavior was suspicious. Where this Gehjoven’s first choice had always been confronting him now Grimmjow was trying his best to avoid his attention. What could have possibly made the man who’d initiated kissing him twice so shy? As Ichigo’s hopelessly sly hazel eyes watched Grimmjow try to just get back to the task at hand, he thought he felt like he was catching onto the whole story. “By the way…” he couldn’t resist icing the cake a little more when he already had the knife so to speak, “…you look nice today.”

 

            Grimmjow almost dropped a can.

 

            Ichigo watched the Gehjoven’s broad and strong back and shoulders drop with a sigh.

 

            Grimmjow shook his head without turning around and picked up more cans from the rustling bags, determined to ignore this.

 

            Ichigo just wouldn’t let him escape though.

 

            The gruff soldier felt the Jhezen’s face rest up between his shoulder blades and hands come to touch the flannel over his upper arms.

 

            Of all the weaknesses to have Ichigo loved this one of his host’s the most. The body he was up against got ridged and tried to nudge him off, gently albeit, but Grimmjow clearly wanted him to let go. So Ichigo didn’t let go…

 

            Grimmjow put down the cans and shoved Ichigo off with a forceful buck and when the warmth of the second body was clear he whipped around. The Jhezen had the sharp tip of a kitchen knife a centimeter away from his thick neck, probably as a precaution but that was useless.

 

            “But you missed a spot.”

 

            Face twitching Grimmjow’s neck moved out of harm’s way as he smacked the knife out of Ichigo’s hand and it went clattering across the hard floor.

 

            The Jhezen didn’t seem surprised and watched Grimmjow…not the knife…as he was starting to be circled by the Gehjoven who was either checking him out or about to teach him a lesson. Probably the latter. Ichigo’s heart thundered and unsurprisingly Grimmjow grabbed and twisted the slighter man’s arm behind his back, mercifully not the one on his injured shoulder’s side, and started forcefully walking Ichigo out of the kitchen. “Ouch that hurts!”

 

            “Shut up.” The Gehjoven’s tone was growling as he pushed the other man through the living room and upstairs.

 

            Ichigo stumbled with a couple of 'thumps' on the stairs and was forcibly stood back up and made to walk up the rest of them. What was Grimmjow going to do? Push him into a bedroom? The bathroom? The frustrated aura of this reeked of immanent and rough sex and the Jhezen was pretty much asking for it from the get-go. At the top of the stairs Ichigo was indeed pushed and spun so that his already bruised back hit a closed door. With a pained groan he remained up against its face as Grimmjow took steps to box him in. As Ichigo closed his eyes with a turn of his head and a wince that was only half-hearted he could feel the Gehjoven’s breath breaking over his skin… It must have surprised him that Grimmjow’s nearness was just to open the guestroom door and let him fall back into the room once the knob was released. Ichigo looked surprised standing after just catching his balance.

 

            The Gehjoven observed the other man for a half-second then closed the door on him with a ‘bang’. There had been so much door slamming lately in this tense situation of cohabitation. Reaching up Grimmjow got a key from above the doorframe and turned it in the knob’s lock so that his guest couldn’t open the door from the inside, effectively locking that damn annoying Jhezen into his own room.

 

            The door shook as Ichigo tried to get free. “That isn’t fair! You tricked me!”

 

            ‘Tricked him’? Grimmjow didn’t know what Ichigo was talking about at all…or did he? Someone shouldn't be playing with knives, figuratively or otherwise. “You can come out when you’re not so fucking horny for attention.” As Grimmjow stormed off down the stairs, and he made sure that his distancing steps could be heard. So Ichigo wanted to keep teasing him did he? Two could play.

 

            Ichigo shook the locked door a final frustrated time and growled. He’d gone through all of that for no good reason now! Half-irritated he thumped his forehead against the door’s flat panel a few times; well sure he’d iced the cake…but he wasn’t getting a single bite of it now. Not yet anyway.

Chapter Text

Section 21: To Be…

{Approx. 1200 hours…}

            Ichigo was sat down by the guestroom door which he’d been locked behind for about an hour as of now, and he was pretty bored. Good thing that laptop’s program would probably take a whole four hours to run. He’d thought about dramatically jumping out the window or tying bedsheets together to climb down but those would both agitate his healing body more so he just stayed put. Grimmjow was only locking him in here to tease him back, right? It would only be for a little while surely… It almost surprised Ichigo out of his skin when there was a knock on the door and the sound of a key turning in the mechanism. It gave him enough warning to lean away so that he didn’t fall back this time. Ichigo’s head turned to the side and his face lit up when he saw- “Is that food?” There was no amount of himself that could hide curious glee toward the man standing in the open doorway behind him with a plate supported on his palm.

 

            Grimmjow didn’t look nearly as happy, nor pissed off, but yes it was food. He crouched down to the Jhezen’s level at the open door and held out a nicely prepared meal on one of the white glass plates that had been in with the groceries. He didn’t just set it down, he handed it to the other man.

 

            Ichigo turned around, ridiculously attentive to the offer…and probably whom it was coming from too, and lifted the plate with silverware already on the sides. Eggs and bacon, bread and sausage with some sliced and fried potatoes and steamed vegetables…mouthwatering and very healthy. “I thought you were mad at me,” he quipped trying to seem testy yet playful as he brought the plate protectively close to himself.

 

            Without a word Grimmjow procured a saltshaker and tipped it, without spilling the salt, harmlessly toward the man he was crouched in front of; apparently he was thoughtful enough to consider that too.

 

            The Jhezen slowly reached up with one hand to take the saltshaker but Grimmjow didn’t let go of it at first. Now there was eye contact and a lot of it. Apparently the Gehjovenic solider had gotten his nerve back to look him in the eye because Ichigo felt like that intense stare of piercing blues was going to melt his.

 

            “Magic word.”

 

            Ichigo swallowed the drool collecting in his mouth from the scent of the food. “Please…aaaand thank you?”

 

            Nicely Grimmjow let go of the salt.

 

            The Jhezen hoarded the saltshaker and the plate of food all to himself gleefully as he remained sitting by the door. He fought off most of a broad grin, which turned out to be a smile, as he peered up with a long stare when Grimmjow rose to full height and stood in front of the doorway. “So can I come out now?” Ichigo prodded, still looking up.

 

            “If you’re good.” The cold tone that the Gehjovenic man used didn’t match up with his eyes which were slightly warmer. In the same minute Grimmjow turned and stomped off downstairs, it was a slightly less loud and intimidating stomp than usual.

 

            Left with the impression that locking him in the guestroom was just a means to several ends the Jhezenic man slowly rose to stand with small breaths to keep himself from exploding out of glee. He knew Grimmjow wasn’t going to hurt him or push him around again right now so why did that have his blood pumping so hard? Cautiously Ichigo ventured out and followed after the man who’d gone down the stairs. Over the banister Ichigo glanced at his laptop, it was still running the necessary program…and then out of nowhere a warm breeze hit him… Feeling refreshed and clutching the plate of food carefully, and the salt too, Ichigo’s head turned and saw the front door of the house wide-open and the curve of Grimmjow’s flannel-covered back as he was sitting outside on the front steps of the porch. Fighting down a smile, devious or delighted, Ichigo took that as the other man making himself purposefully easy to find and Ichigo went down the stairs and sat out on the steps outside with the Gehjovenic soldier – who was just fine with his presence. Outside it was a pleasantly warm afternoon with just enough of a breeze to be refreshing. Without hesitation Ichigo started to dig into his food as politely as possible but he was still damn hungry, noticing a plate balanced on the other man’s leg too while he was eating. He’d half-expected Grimmjow to just be smoking but the man wasn’t.

 

            Grimmjow didn’t start eating off his own plate until he noticed the Jhezen settle down next to him on the stairs; a very subtle glance cluing him in.

 

            Hungrily Ichigo ate a few eggs and didn’t bother Grimmjow’s peace any more than sitting by him to eat and relax outside…it was actually not even a bother. Also Ichigo recognized that this was twice that this man had cooked breakfast for him and, as an added bonus, proof that the Gehjoven knew how to make good food.

 

            In minutes to come both of their plates were emptied, set aside and Grimmjow leaned back on the short steps with his legs stretched out ahead and the middle done-up buttons of his flannel shirt making it cling midway to his torso and spread open comfortably on the top and bottom ends so that the breeze could get to his hard skin. In relaxed silence he started a cigarette, just smoking and relaxing as he stared out at the world around the house.

 

            After his meal Ichigo had gone to get a cold bottled beer, he really didn’t prefer the cans, and set another bottle beside the Gehjoven’s folded back arm with a bottle opener after cracking his own open and resuming sitting on the steps with his feet on the bottom step and his butt on the one just above it – bent legs and at a comfortable angle, it was nice to be comfortable. As Ichigo stared out where Grimmjow was staring, not disturbing the peace by talking, he saw the green of the season and heard the wind in the trees, as well as the rustic naturesque way that people in this neighborhood kept their lawns and homes. Some other people were outside tending to those greens or playing with their kids. It was a scene that was easy on the eyes. The temperature of the morning to afternoon transition of the day was easier still on his arms and face under the partial shade of the porch’s roof. Forgetful of his aches the Jhezen smiled, still holding onto his beer and just leaning a shoulder lightly against the side of the porch’s railing. Drinking from the bottle with a gradual tilt of it, Ichigo mulled over the fact that if this Gehjoven didn’t want his company that door wouldn’t have been left open…but this was a subtle invitation. It was mind-boggling to think that a gruff and brutal soldier like this could be subtle too, though this was time shared on Grimmjow’s terms, and respectfully Ichigo was quiet to admit that he liked it.

 

            The sound of Grimmjow opening the top to his own beer followed soon, and the drop of the opener and the cap on the porch, but nothing that subtle disrupted this moment…a collection of moments of peaceful time passing by…for it was so rare to have a satisfying, quiet time to drink a cold beer with a full belly and just appreciate being content and most importantly…being alive.

Chapter Text

Section 22: Fall

{Approx. 1400 hours Jaegerjaquez residence, early afternoon on a perfect day...}

            Grimmjow had his hands in the sink rinsing off the dishes that he and the Jhezen had used this morning for breakfast. The silverware clacked and the glass plates clinked as the water ran and the Gehjoven had a neutrally content expression on his face. His keen ears picked up Ichigo chuckling and footsteps as the Jhezen walked into the kitchen behind him.

 

            “You know, I feel bad for making your living room a mess.” Ichigo stopped at a counter across the kitchen with his hip against counter’s side and watching the other man’s flannel covered back as his shoulders, mostly, moved.

 

            “What are those computers even doing?”

 

            Ichigo was surprised to be asked a question, but it wasn’t the most surprising question. “Oh they’re running some programs for me, data scavenging.”

 

            Grimmjow looked vaguely over his shoulder as he carefully shook the extra water off of the plates and started finding a spot for them to dry beside the sink. He didn’t need a dishwasher, save for his own two hands.

 

            The Jhezen took that as further questioning; he was probably right. “I’m looking for possibilities to acquire enough resources to deploy troops to go around that unseasonable situation in the valley toward Jordendia, to get a sooner deployment date of course.”

 

            The Gehjoven stopped what he was doing, fishing the silverware out of the sink and running them under water, then stopped the tap and setting the utensils down. Grimmjow stared out the window in the wall across the sink as his forearms just leaned on the sink’s counter’s edge. “The fuck are you doing all this for? Honestly, do you fucking love pretending to be Gehjovenic that much?”

 

            “It’s less bad than where I was, and at least I won’t get killed for kissing another man here.” Ichigo was very flat, he knew that Grimmjow liked to run him through questioning sometimes. He could survive it. It was probably because his deeds made the genuine Gehjoven very uncomfortable with something that was hard to understand. Ichigo set down his empty beer bottle on the counter and gazed forward as his arms bent slightly back and palms set on the edge of the counter; his tailbone was against the edge now and he was still watching the other man across the kitchen.

 

            Grimmjow stopped staring out the window and looked over a shoulder, this time he didn’t look away. About that kiss…he damn well knew that Ichigo was referring to him. “Then get rid of that Jhezenic symbol on your calf.”

 

            “It meant something to me.”

 

            “So let it go.” Grimmjow wasn’t pushing this out of dislike, more to a cold logic that if the Jhezen didn’t get rid of it that one day it would come back to bite him; he’d run this by Ichigo before.

 

            Stubborn Ichigo shook his head. ‘…don’t let him tell you what to do all the time. He’ll try. It’s how he survives…’ To Ichigo it was feeling more and more like it was how Grimmjow lived with himself in terms of passing on knowledge to survive by. “I’m not ready to let it go.”

 

            “Then why the fuck are you doing all this work for us?” Slightly aggressive Grimmjow wouldn’t let this topic get away. Maybe he had an idea of why Ichigo actually worked so hard but just wanted to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.

 

            Ichigo stayed propped back against the opposite counter and had an expression half into a frown. “I do things like this specifically for you. Otherwise I’m just surviving.” Ichigo’s eyes fixed on the vivid pair sternly set on watching him. “Life’s no fun if you’re just surviving it.”

 

            …this pain in the ass was right. Grimmjow snapped his eyes away. An introvert commonly reflects on the self first and foremost. Whereas he’d survived some of the roughest fighting and a harsh life in warzones often, Grimmjow didn’t kid himself that existence wasn’t plain survival; he thrived in war. It was his life. It gave him meaning. It displayed his savage and resilient skills. His determination… The Jhezen had the same determination as he did, he’d just never seen it until a day a long time ago when he’d given this man a second chance at a new life. Grimmjow coughed over the sink.

 

            Giving the other man a minute Ichigo waited but the Gehjovenic man didn’t say anything to his statement. He just quietly stared at the back of the Gehjoven’s head as the other man wouldn’t look at him.

 

            Grimmjow’s eyes fixed out the window again. He’d straightened his back up a little but his hands were resting against the strip of counter in front of the sink where his forearms had been and he hadn’t budged otherwise. This was really hard to process for some reason.

 

            “I’m deploying with you.” Ichigo cut the detail loose.

 

            The Gehjovenic man felt his body stiffen. “No, you’re not.”

 

            “I am. It’s not your choice.” The Jhezen was telling not asking.

 

            “I will not be a fucking babysitter.” Meanwhile Grimmjow was arguing not accepting.

 

            “That’s insulting. I started this and I will chose-”

 

            Grimmjow quickly cut Ichigo off. “I have an obligation to deal with your sorry-ass if you tag along. This is not a field trip, this is war and you are not ready to be in a Gehjovenic war-camp or our active troops.” He was talking quickly but clearly and he was being honest.

 

            With rising aggravation between the two of them Ichigo struck a fist on the counter that he leaned on. He felt like he was better at getting along than the credit he was getting. “Damnit you cannot treat me like an obligation and keep me from helping when you don’t know-”

 

            At being argued back to, Grimmjow’s temper flared and he whipped around and aimed a flat, indicating hand at the man across the kitchen. “I DO KNOW!” he shouted. “From experience I know what it’s like to live with Gehjovenic soldiers in a war-camp,” he pointed away from them with a single finger, “out there fifty times over! You’ve deployed once! I’ve done it thirty or forty times, man! So listen to me. You’re not a fucking obligation, you’re just a manipulative little shit and I don’t want anything to happen to you!”

 

            That made Ichigo’s expression jump into surprise and he shut his mouth.

 

            Grimmjow looked like he was surprised at what had come out of his mouth too. They just stared at each other for a minute.

 

            Ichigo blinked back to reality first, he left the counter and started to walk forward to Grimmjow.

 

            The Gehjovenic man snapped back into reality with another cough and blood hit the clean floor. His face stayed turned down from directing the cough at the floor and not Ichigo’s face, as a drop of red hung from his lip and Grimmjow stared with eyes half open at the small amount of blood by his feet.

 

            Ichigo’s own blood went from sentimentally hot to cold. From the mouth…he hadn’t caused this by making Grimmjow shout, had he? The Jhezen came over the rest of the way in a hurry and picked up on Grimmjow’s face with his hands; surprisingly the Ghejovenic man didn’t try to break his wrists.

 

            Grimmjow shut his eyes so that he didn’t have to look at Ichigo. This was the last thing he needed.

 

            “Are you dying or something?” Ichigo’s voice cracked as he asked, searching the slightly taller man’s face.

 

            Licking the blood off of his lips smoothly Grimmjow pulled his head away from Ichigo’s hands and opened his eyes, staring off toward the exit to the kitchen. “No.” He tried to get away but Ichigo put his hands on the strip of counter in front of the sink and boxed him in. He looked irritably at the Jhezen.

 

            “Then what’s wrong?!” Ichigo snapped in demand. Grimmjow was trying to get away so that he didn’t have to talk about it but it was to the point of worry already and Ichigo felt this needed to be discussed. He would be calling Hisagi regardless, later.

 

            “NOTHING!” Grimmjow shouted loud enough to make the other man’s posture flinch but Grimmjow had stopped thinking about getting away in rising anger. “Would you stop this fucking shit?!”

 

            “Why should I?!”

 

            “BACK OFF!”

 

            “Then why aren’t you pushing me back right now?” The air between them went still as they had seconds of silence to stare at each other again.

 

            Using the Jhezen’s healing injuries from their fight wouldn’t be enough of an excuse to explain why he hadn’t just shoved Ichigo away. Grimmjow knew that. He tightened his jaw and glared angrily, hoping that Ichigo would just stop.

 

            Ichigo did not give up. “I haven’t touched a single file on your medical records out of respect so far. If you think I won’t start digging to figure out your situation and help you stay alive then you’re dead wrong!” It was practically a threat.

 

            A sentimental threat…Grimmjow’s least favorite kind. The Gehjoven snarled, leaning down in the Jhezen’s face who didn’t lose his nerve to the aggression this time. “You stay the fuck out of my personal files or I’ll break your goddamn legs and arms so you can’t follow me around…”

 

            Watching the whites of Grimmjow’s teeth behind his lips as the man snarled the words, Ichigo scowled back and brought his face in, noses a centimeter apart. He looked up into Grimmjow’s eyes dead-on. “You’d rather hate-fuck me than break my legs and arms.”

 

            The Gehjoven’s face twitched and a vein on his forehead lifted with an angry surge. He really didn’t know how to counter that but it made him really angry to be ousted.

 

            Ichigo tilted his head slightly so that he could get his face closer. “And I’d rather fuck you than fight like this…”

 

            Grimmjow didn’t move for the first second that Ichigo’s lips pressed on his. He didn’t even move when Ichigo hands moved from the counter to his chest. Grimmjow’s heart was thundering as hard as it did when he was under live fire in active combat and running at top speed. When Ichigo’s tongue tried to get past his lips he damn well moved…his mouth. He let that part of Ichigo inside himself and kissed that Jhezen back for all it was worth. Here was someone he wanted but the back of his mind was so wary. Right now his subconscious was shut up. Soft lips and a French kiss with two hands clinging to his shirt-covered pecs and a warm body up against himself…it felt good. Eyes shut. His body started to relax. He stopped being angry. Grimmjow fell to the passion.

 

            Even with the faint taste of blood Ichigo loved the kiss just as much. Eyes closed as well, he tried not to lean Grimmjow back with his weight by too much because the other man’s body was starting to feel like it would bend however he wanted it to. That lasted minutes, they weren’t counting them. When the Jhezen did finally back off his lips almost stuck to the other man’s and came apart like they’d been lightly sealed together. That kiss was incredible but it wasn’t enough for him. The Jhezen squeezed Grimmjow’s pecs and stared at the Ghejovenic man as Grimmjow’s eyes reopened. “Stop telling me ‘no’…” …because more was all they both wanted.

 

            Grimmjow’s eyes didn’t budge from the clear hazel ones in Ichigo’s head, but he did cock his jaw.

 

            Ichigo asked in softer voice, “What the hell are you afraid of?”

 

            “Nothing.”

 

            “Then show me that you’re not.” Ichigo moved back a step before Grimmjow could do or say anything else and took a breath. He watched with an expression that was thoughtful but not extremely friendly – stern. If Grimmjow just gave him a chance to prove more of what he could do Ichigo would do his damnedest with anything. It felt like the only things that this Gehjovenic man was afraid of were seeing something happen to his guest and being attached to another person. So ‘nothing’ was a lie, and it was denial. Despite his challenging words Grimmjow didn’t budge an inch. “Do you really want to graduate from playing hardball with me to stonewalling and lying to my face?”

 

            “Fuck you.” Grimmjow was quick to say.

 

            “I wish.”

 

            “Then why did you tell me to stop when I would have two nights ago?” Grimmjow snapped out of simple answers and started getting aggressive again as his tone growled.

 

            “Because I was bleeding out and uncomfortable.” Ichigo cut to honest answers. “What’s your excuse for not trying again? And it better be a good one.”

 

            “You’re fucking complicated.” As a last resort that was a shitting answer but it was something.

 

            Ichigo immediately lashed back. “That’s a bad excuse.” There was silence for the next minute. Ichigo started to realize that Grimmjow definitely had no other reasons to give him. “Is that really it?!”

 

            “It’s not easy to find reasons for you! Stop asking me to fucking open up to you, you’re acting like a damn bitch!

 

            “You’re the one starting fights and picking on me at the drop of a hat because you’re so frustrated with your own stupid emotions, it’s practically male menopause! FUCK! You’re the bitch!” Ichigo stomped his foot on the floor, looking really roasted over this subject. Then the unexpected happened.

 

            Immediately after being yelled at Grimmjow almost cracked a sick grin but covered it up with a hand and silently laughed into his palm.

 

            The Jhezen stalled. “What is so fucking funny?!” He was really riled up and that laughter was not helping.

 

            Grimmjow shook his head, still hiding his mouth with that hand and forcibly subduing his laughter to a silent sort.

 

            Ichigo grit his teeth. “I said, what is so fucking funny?!”

 

            The Ghejovenic man took his hand down and grinned savagely. “Who’s a bitch?” he challenged with some dark kind of amusement.

 

            It was an understatement to say that Ichigo felt his skin crawling at that moment when his anger cut off and he realized how far he’d pushed this lethal soldier. “Uuuh…” As the man across from him took a step forward Ichigo slid away and ran out of the kitchen, past his computers and yanked the front door open. Grimmjow’s hand was right there to close it after it had only opened an inch. Ichigo flipped around against the door and bit his lower lip with a fearful gaze cast upward at piercing eyes. If looks could kill… The Jhezen swallowed dryly.

 

            Grimmjow’s hands against the front door were boxing the Jhezen in. “You are very annoying.” He leaned his face down. “You have thirty minutes to sort your shit and get in the bedroom if you want your brains fucked out. I am not going to be gentle with you.”

 

            Ichigo swallowed nervously, staring upward with huge eyes. Is this what he really wanted? To get into bed with this fucked up soldier?

 

            “If not, don’t come near me.”

 

            Ichigo felt his breaths shake.

 

            “Time starts now.” Grimmjow straightened and lifted his hands off the door.

 

            Like a scared creature a freed Ichigo escaped his spot and ducked past Grimmjow taking a few careful steps backward in front of his computers in the living room. His breaths were still shaking and he was watching the other man with a nervous stare.

 

            Grimmjow turned halfway and stared across the distance at Ichigo who wasn’t processing this well, clearly. “Your time’s wasting,” he remarked coldly. Was this his way of scaring Ichigo into stopping his prying behavior? Probably.

 

            The Jhezen fought to steady his breathing.

 

            Then Grimmjow coughed and his eyes rolled up as they shut while his body sank limply and collapsed in a heap by the door. Faint breathing and he didn’t move.

 

            Ichigo’s blood stopped. He was in shock. The first time he’d ever seen Grimmjow unable to stay upright on his own. Of course he was going to do something but this moment would be stuck in his head for an eternity.

Chapter Text

Section 23: Want

            ‘Possession of product of any type and kind bearing Jhezenic relations or of Jhezenic manufacturing that is not explicitly designated by great Gehjoven’s government is found to be illegal and unlawful in the highest. Any man or woman of Gehjoven found to be in possession of such Jhezenic materials, contraband, shall be put to trial and face lawful confinement, disciplinary reform or exile if convicted. Any man of the Gehjovenic military to be tried and convicted of the same illegal possession of Jhezenic materials, contraband, will be dismissed under dishonorable credit and stripped of all his military honors, as well as privilege, hence forth and face lawful confinement, disciplinary reform or exile. Thus says the law. Gehjoven be great.’ The federal laws within Gehjoven regarding contraband remain a strict set and heavily enforced. To be in possession of any manner of Jhezenic contraband would not be a risk which many take.

 

~

 

            As he came out of a brief state of shock Ichigo approached the fallen man and crouched, lightly shaking Grimmjow yet all he got in return was a groan. Ichigo’s recovering but still bruised body was a vague amount sore from scurrying but he hardly noticed its tenderness right now. It was still only a couple days ago that they’d beaten the piss out of each other and Ichigo had taken the most of it but with something frightening like this to distract… Why now?! Why had the Gehjovenic soldier collapsed now of all times?! They were just about to…

 

            The reason for Grimmjow’s collapse was something relating to why Grimmjow could serve in the military as he did with his condition but an interruption in his usual strength. Ichigo had no idea about what enabled the other man’s physical strength nor did he understand anything about the condition itself; Grimmjow also wasn’t planning on telling him.

 

            Ichigo lightly shook the pained man again and the Gehjoven didn’t curse him out or smack that hand away like he would have usually. Looking over the Gehjovenic man on the floor Ichigo swallowed dryly. Fuck, he had to do something; immediately after the Jhezen pulled out his cellphone from a pocket and started dialing the emergency line.

 

            Before the dialing of numbers was completed Grimmjow mustered his every will, having heard the phone’s tones, and reached to grab Ichigo’s right wrist then squeezed. It was an unforgiving grip. He had a good reason for this: he didn’t know who Ichigo was calling. It hurt to do this, it hurt a lot both of them.

 

            Stalled from making the call a pained Ichigo tried to get his own limb back but the Gehjoven had a really good grip and pulled Ichigo’s hand down toward the floor. Unfortunately that was straining his bruised hand too. “Ouch! Grimmjow I will dial this phone whether you like it or not. You could be fucking dying!” Ichigo warned as he was trying to make the other man explain himself.

 

            Apparently more in tune with his situation, the mohawked Gehjoven growled painfully and spoke with a cracking voice, “Call Hisagi. No one else.” Easily his hand had chokingly encompassed Ichigo’s wrist and Grimmjow squeezed that wrist a lot harder despite this position hurting them both; he wouldn’t let go until Ichigo agreed and if Ichigo disagreed…well… The result would probably be a broken joint. Grimmjow wasn’t kidding around. If anyone but Hisagi knew about this Grimmjow understood that he wouldn’t get to deploy which meant a lot to him, but there was still something else about this that meant even Ichigo’s bones being intact weren’t as important. No one but Hisagi should know… On the spot the Gehjovenic man, with pain surging through his body in sharp stabs, recited a phone number which he didn’t know that Ichigo already had but it was Hisagi’s.

 

            On the other end of the demands the Jhezenic man felt more pain in his wrist and grabbed Grimmjow’s cleaving hand with his free one in a reflexive attempt to stop the rising pain from the crushing squeeze; he definitely knew better than to refuse, having already learned that Grimmjow’s tactics could be brutal and remembering that the man’s deployment was at stake – Grimmjow didn’t know that he knew. In this way the Gehjovenic man’s desperation made sense…for now. “I will! Please..! Let go!” Ichigo wasn’t getting into the specifics but he would have called Hisagi right after the emergency line; Grimmjow was just forcing him to skip to step two.

 

            Grimmjow let go and dropped his limb to the floor again, trying to keep still as he hoped to cull the pain wracking through his leg’s muscles, pelvis and gut. He wouldn’t admit it but he was in so much pain that it was hard to catch a breath. Without gasping he was forcing himself to take deep and even breaths while a drop of sweat rolled off of his neck and hit the wooden floor from the effort it took to be so calm. This was just fucking uncomfortable, he didn’t even have a mind to worry about how embarrassed he’d be when it was over. Right in front of this damn Jhezen…why the fuck did this have to happen? Grimmjow knew for a fact that he wasn’t dying, he’d just fucked up. Between not taking his meds and strain on his healing body he’d wrought this all on his own; today’s physical activity was just the final straw. Guts and the nerves all into his legs and around his pelvis started tightening and the pain got worse – a cramp or seizing of the muscles that just wouldn’t let up. Grimmjow didn’t make a sound other than breathing as he lay on his side and screwed his eyes shut and his mouth closed. More sweat ran down his neck and back. His nose flared with breaths.

 

            Without any real assurance that he was doing the right thing, not sure if he could trust Grimmjow’s words about not being in a state of dying, Ichigo called Hisagi right away and as the phone call was answered Ichigo hurried to explain the situation in full; his hand and wrist throbbed painfully the whole time but he ignored them.

 

            Apparently Hisagi broke away from whatever he was doing immediately with assurance that he would be by in no more than an hour, regrettable amount of time but he was across the base on a busy day. Also without Ichigo having to mention anything about Grimmjow’s wishes Hisagi said that ‘no emergency medical team was required to handle this’, just him and him alone. Apparently the WaM knew Grimmjow’s problem well enough to give that advice.

 

            Then a nervous Ichigo asked a simple question, “Then what should I do?”

 

            “There is medicine which he needs to take immediately. It should be in his house. Two drugs in fact. One is a muscle relaxer that’s probably got I.N.V. written on the bottle. White bottle, two tablets. The other medication just says J.V.I.N. a grey bottle and he takes two of those as well. I’ll bring what else is needed. Do not give him any pain killers. Once you get him to swallow those tablets, give it about twenty or thirty minutes for the medicines to kick in, then you can move him.” It sounded like Hisagi was shuffling into his coat and definitely slamming doors as he ran, wind was blowing past the phone receiver and the man himself was huffing breath on his end of the line. “Get him on a comfortable surface, take most of his clothes off. Make him stretch out. You’ll have to ask him where the heating pads he keeps in the house are and warm the muscles up that hurt as he’s stretching them. Warm the ones that hurt the most first. It’s very important. Grimmjow knows how this works, I do this for him in physical therapy.” The sound of a car door closing came and was followed by more shuffling and the start of an engine. “It’s definitely going to be a pain but he also knows that.”

 

            “But there was blood. He coughed up blood,” Ichigo insisted as a reminder.

 

            “His medicine will take care of that.”

 

            “He’s not dying right?” Ichigo pushed with an insistent tone.

 

            “He’s not. Can you do everything I said, Sven?” Hisagi sounded hopeful.

 

            Ichigo’s mind was racing as he’d watched Grimmjow start curling into himself and grinding his teeth, obvious by how the man’s jaw rigidly moved. No…pain killers? For this?! This seemed like the perfect time for some honestly, but Ichigo was going to follow Hisagi’s instructions. Even though Grimmjow didn’t complain at all Ichigo wasn’t a fool, he knew that there was a lot of pain to endure, and if Hisagi told him that other things did more good he was damn well going to do them. “Yes… I can manage those.”

 

            “Good.” The sound of a car’s engine was coming through the phone and the clicking of blinkers, Hisagi was driving now. “Once he’s got his meds in him Grimmjow will probably be coherent enough to help until I get there. I appreciate you calling me. I’m sure Grimmjow does too. If you need more advice call again, don’t wait a second to ask.”

 

            “Yeah.”

 

            Hisagi hung up first and the phoneline went dead.

 

            Ichigo let go of the breath he was holding and made himself take a calming one. If Hisagi said that Grimmjow wasn’t dying Ichigo believed him because the WaM seemed so honest and concerned but professional. Now just how the hell was this going to work? He had to follow Hisagi’s instructions exactly that’s how the hell it was going to work. Ichigo took a second to recall all the things he’d been told in the very order that they were said so his thoughts were organized. “Hisagi’s coming. Grimmjow where’s your medicine?”

 

            “Upstairs bathroom…” The Gehjovenic man didn’t open his eyes, he was trying to pretend Ichigo wasn’t there. The pain of muscles seizing and his guts turning wasn’t getting worse…but it definitely wasn’t getting any better either.

 

            Ichigo immediately got up and ran upstairs with loud footsteps despite soreness in himself then into the Gehjoven’s bathroom – a sensible place to keep medicine. It was as ever, the bathroom was past the guest room at the top of the stairs and down the hall from the master bedroom and Ichigo looked around; the mirror didn’t have storage behind it and there were only soap bottles and other hygiene and personal products like saline piercing cleaners and shaving cream up on any immediately noticeable shelves and surfaces. Ichigo started to get worried after pawing through the bottles but finding nothing. He dropped to knees and went through the medical kit under the sink. Not there either! Where?! Ichigo was just about to give up and ask Grimmjow specifically when he spotted a rather inconspicuous place on a shelf above a rack of towels in a corner of the bathroom, where the tops of whitish bottles camouflaged in against the white paint of the walls and ceiling. While standing on top of the closed toilet lid, next to this, the Jhezen rifled through the bottles; maybe Grimmjow was tall enough to know what he was grabbing without a boost but Ichigo was not. It hurt a little to have to reach these with his injuries. Ichigo found all sorts of medicine up there. The Jhezen’s blood ran cold again when he realized that most of the bottles he was holding were so familiar and had the Jhezenic emblem, a crossed out circle, on them. These were contraband! Ten or fifteen bottles…thousands of dollars’ worth of expensive Jhezenic medicine! The Jhezen’s widely open brownish eyes scanned the labels for their types. Antibiotics, analgesics, hormones, NSAIDs, stimulants, tranquilizers and even hybrid types of medicine specific to Jhezen alone…it was shocking but Jhezen was known to have some of the best medicine in the world. No wonder this stuff was put up so high in a relatively private bathroom; there would be consequences if so much contraband was found in Grimmjow’s home. As Ichigo eyed the different medicine bottles, honestly he barely knew medicine but these labels were absolutely authentic, he wondered where Grimmjow had acquired so much of this stuff from. Maybe Hisagi had helped. All the sudden the extreme discretion made a lot of sense; no wonder this was a private matter. Ichigo mentally marked his findings after locating the exact two bottles that Hisgai had mentioned and double-checking their labels. The Jhezen jumped down and bolted out of the bathroom, hurrying back downstairs. He noted that Grimmjow hadn’t moved at all and put the bottles down right by the man’s head with rattles and ran for the kitchen. “Stay there!”

 

            If that wasn’t the dumbest order ever… Grimmjow’s thoughts grumbled. He wasn’t going anywhere! Not wasting his breath countering he vaguely glanced at the bottles and recognized them; he’d heard the phone conversation only from Ichigo’s end but now he had a guess what the plan was, and it was sensible. The Gehjoven’s muscles screamed and tightened as they seized and didn’t release; Grimmjow again swallowed some surging pain without a peep.

 

            Ichigo came running back with a glass of water and crouched, setting it down and immediately going to open the bottles. Usually one was told to take these with a meal but that wasn’t possible right now so just like this would have to do. Ichigo was shaking the tablets out in the amount Hisagi had told him and trying to reason how he was going to get Grimmjow to swallow them with the water.

 

            Ever observant even though he was in agony, Grimmjow had noticed Ichigo with the water glass and the Gehjovenic man spared a hand and demanded the tablets. “Give. I don’t need water.”

 

            Well…that solved an immediate problem. Ichigo handed the tablets over and watched Grimmjow swallow them then go back to being a ball of pain on the polished wooden flooring. Suppose they just had to wait now. Ichigo felt horrible just watching the usually gruff man cope quietly. “Tell me when they feel like they’re working…Hisagi wants me to move you somewhere comfortable then and you have to stretch out.”

 

            “Of course he does,” Grimmjow growled. He expected that but he hated this because stretching hurt the most.

 

            “No pain killers yet either…”

 

            Grimmjow just growled.

 

            Ichigo swallowed and continued nervously watching the Gehjovenic man. Grimmjow’s eyes were shut but this was still a little awkward to just be staring, though he was afraid to take his eyes off of Grimmjow. Ichigo sighed, “Do you want to listen to some music or-”

 

            “How about some fucking silence?” Talking too much and being reminded about his situation being observed wasn’t helping.

 

            Talk about a tense situation. Trying not to take that personally Ichigo sighed softly and chose to quietly sit and stare at his computers across the room where he could look over at Grimmjow at any time. He just needed to give the man a little space. Meanwhile Ichigo executed a few more programs and just watched his computers process while waiting. Waiting… Glancing between the screens and the man on the floor Ichigo couldn’t ignore the soldier even if Grimmjow wanted that. Hell, he would have put something under Grimmjow’s head if he didn’t think that somehow the Gehjoven would try to beat him with it or try to strangle him. It was still hard to wait like this but Ichigo managed it respectfully. Following about twenty minutes time the Jhezenic man turned his head, bruised neck a little unhappy, when he heard the other man moving against the floor on his own.

 

            The Gehjoven breathed raggedly as he hauled himself up by grabbing onto the front door. The medicine had loosened his muscles up enough to manage standing, however his lower body still hurt obscenely.

 

            Ditching his computers Ichigo went straight to help by standing and supporting some of Grimmjow’s weight. The Jhezen struggled for a minute because it hurt him too but he was resolved to help. The only place to go for a comfortable spot was really upstairs where there were beds. “Your bedroom?”

 

            Just nodding, Grimmjow didn’t chew him out and tolerated the unintentionally painful hoist but he was extremely brief in responses. Then they staggered for the stairs. Moving his legs felt about like death but the more he focused on just one step after the other the closer to laying down on his agreeable bed that was. After taking five minutes to just climb the stairs, painfully, they were around the railing and into the master bedroom. Grimmjow hauled himself onto the bed face-down and spread out completely, stretching his limbs. Those limbs screamed pain even more but he didn’t care; he preferred laying on this bed than the floor and the sooner that he started stretching the sooner they would stop screaming with pain.

 

            “Uh, Hisagi mentioned heating pads…”

 

            “This closet. They go in the microwave first.” Grimmjow managed to point at the closet in the wall with his face half in a pillow and eyes shut.

 

            Ichigo blinked, he’d never used anything but an electronic heating pad. “Um, how long?”

 

            “Figure it out.” He might be hurting but Grimmjow’s snappy, sharp attitude wasn’t down by much now that he was slightly more comfortable.

 

            Ichigo frowned heavily. “If I burn you it’ll be your fault.”

 

            “Who has to touch them first, dumbass?” If anyone was getting burnt it was Ichigo who had to carry the pads. Grimmjow was presently just being a pain; he figured ‘figuring it out’ would also take Ichigo longer and he could have more time to himself, unobserved, to lament his situation. It was far more agreeable to lament this alone.

 

            Remembering that he shouldn’t waste time rebuking Grimmjow for being too gruff, Ichigo went digging in the closet and found pads made of pieces of decorative cloth sewn together containing lots of beads or beans that had an herbal and earthy smell. “These bean-things?”

 

            “Yes,” Grimmjow growled.

 

            These pads were a little wild, he was hoping he couldn’t blow them up in the microwave… With the heating pads Ichigo was off to the kitchen and it took him another ten minutes to heat all four of these two-foot by two-foot pads decently. Just before he was going to take them back upstairs in a stack, he’d managed to make them hot but not enough to burn himself and carried them on a towel, the Jhezen’s cellphone rang. Of course! Right when his hands were full! It was probably Hisagi. Ichigo put the pads down and immediately picked up. “Hello?”

 

            “Sven. I’m stuck on the other side of a hold up…it might be another twenty or thirty minutes, is he doing ok?”

 

            Ichigo paused for thought, “Well he’s upstairs and not curled up in a ball now. Grouchy…”

 

            “He’s always grouchy. Stretching?”

 

            “While I warm the heating pads, he should be.”

 

            “He better be. He’ll regret it if he’s not-”

 

            Ichigo cut in now that the conversation was a little more relaxed, “Hisagi, why is he like that? I mean, what happened?” Since Grimmjow wasn’t in the room he figured he might as well ask…

 

            There was a long pause where the ambient sounds of both sides of the phoneline and light breathing were all that there was to hear. Hisagi was considering how to answer. “Honestly I think you should ask Grimmjow if he’ll tell you, he’d probably tell a better, fuller story than I could anyway, and I also don’t think he would appreciate me talking about his condition.”

 

            “You know those medications aren’t local…” Ichigo let that statement trail off just in case Hisagi didn’t actually know enough to catch on and the phrasing was also intentionally vague.

 

            However Hisagi caught on immediately. “A smart man like yourself, I’m not surprised you realized that, Sven.”

 

            “Respectfully that stays between all of us but needing…‘hard to get’ medications…wouldn’t that mean that Grimmjow’s situation is pretty serious? I don’t want to call you two liars but this looks very different from what I’m being told…” Ichigo was asking Hisgai for information because he very seriously doubted that Grimmjow would give it to him in full. The Jhezen felt a little bit guilty for taking a minute longer to get back upstairs but this was important too.

 

            Hisagi sighed softly next to the phone; this was an unavoidable byproduct of having someone else as smart as Sven helping out. “I trust you to an extent, but to Grimmjow this information is so personal. Professionally…doctor and patient confidentiality and all that as well… I’m really sorry to stonewall you, Sven. I take no offense to your skepticism, I understand how it looks.” The man with his gravelly voice took a breath before getting into it. “Right now I promise you on my medical license that he is not dying and those medications he took today have worked consistently and very well without degrading his health in other areas. That’s why he uses ‘hard to get’ medicines which I monitor. That is the only thing I feel comfortable telling you on his behalf.” It was probably said also to further drive home empathy that would ensure that ‘Sven’ did not tell anyone else about this. Little did Hisagi know that ‘Sven’ actually understood confidentiality on a whole scale larger than just contraband.

 

            It didn’t matter how Hisagi reassured, Ichigo was still skeptical of the truth. People who coughed up blood weren’t just fine. It was also fucked up that this contraband was potentially saving Grimmjow’s life yet it was so illegal in Gehjoven; Ichigo knew all of these laws. It was an understandable set of federal laws in times of war to keep factions separate but still fucked up that something which could save lives was outlawed. Ichigo relaxed a little and suddenly remembered the heating pads. “I have to take these heating pads up to him.” Ichigo couldn’t help a sad sound escaping.

 

            “Sven?” Hisagi’s tone seemed concerned, he’d picked up that sound.

 

            “It’s nothing. Thank you for being as straight with me as possible.”

 

            If this were a less dire situation Hisagi would have probably made a very gay joke right then; he was thinking about it. “My pleasure. Let Grimmjow know that I’m running behind and I’m sorry for that. Thank you for helping him.” The phoneline cut off as Hisagi hung up first again; apparently the WaM had every confidence that Grimmjow would be told since Hisagi didn’t wait for confirmation.

 

            Feeling better informed Ichigo put away his cellphone and checked the pads, still a good warmth, then brought them back upstairs with his cellphone pocketed.

 

            Meanwhile Grimmjow had barely moved on his bed but he was still awake and still in a noteworthy amount of pain. He didn’t react to Ichigo coming back into the master bedroom but he was fully aware by the sounds he could hear.

 

            After setting the heating pads in a stack on the end of the bed Ichigo was standing beside it and next to Grimmjow. “Uh… Hisagi said he’s going to be about a half an hour late. He’s very sorry. I should also probably take your clothes off…mostly…” That sentence was horribly awkward, even more to say than to hear or to think about; not that Ichigo didn’t want the excuse to take Grimmjow’s clothing off, that jacked build was attractive, but he definitely knew that Grimmjow wouldn’t be fond of this in his current situation.

 

            “I don’t think so.” Grimmjow’s reply was a millisecond away and unsurprising.

 

            “These pads aren’t going to work as well through clothes and Hisagi said-”

 

            “He can cut them off when he gets here.”

 

            Ichigo sighed. Yeah that was about the reaction he expected, absolute refusal. For some reason Grimmjow’s continued aggression actually started making this less awkward because it was normal. Well, Ichigo figured that he’d been able to get the bullheaded Gehjoven to cooperate so far, so he wanted to see if he could make this work anyway. “Just let me take them off, if you’ve got nothing to hide.” First step, getting on Grimmjow’s level mentally.

 

            Grimmjow felt a vein on his neck pulse in anger. “‘Something to hide?’ Are you sayin’ something, you little shit?”

 

            “I’m saying you need to let me take your clothes off. Doctor’s orders.”

 

            “You’re fucking cracked. Doc ain’t here.” Grimmjow was still laying down and hadn’t made a single gesture to move himself yet. “Go fuck yourself.”

 

            Ichigo clicked his tongue. “Doctor’s orders…”

 

            Grimmjow’s head against a pillow was already facing away from Ichigo and his eyes shut again. “You’re not undressing me, and if you touch me other than those pads you’re gonna be a fuckin’ sorry motherfucker.”

 

            Stubborn man was still stubborn, and very, very pissed off. Fine. Ichigo was still going to do what he was supposed to. The next step was testing the threat. Ichigo stood as close as possible and reached his left hand under the back of Grimmjow’s flannel shirt and started to pull it up off of the Gehjoven’s back.

 

            Grimmjow started to move defensively and then his muscles screamed and he dropped right back down on the covers of the bed with a groan. That threat was very real but it was extremely flimsy when he was impaired like this. ‘Irritation’ and ‘anger’ weren’t words that could even slightly cover the hostility brewing in the impaired Gehjoven right now.

 

            To his advantage Ichigo could keep going without getting broken bones. He’d felt his gut turn when Grimmjow had moved but that hadn’t followed through. Kneeling up on the edge of the bed Ichigo managed to get the back of the flannel shirt as high as Grimmjow’s underarms then leaned down mouthing a line of kisses straight up the man’s spine. He wasn’t sure why he’d done that but he wanted to and he could.

 

            Grimmjow felt the trimmed hairs closest to the back of his neck, on his arms and legs stand up at attention as a chill followed by an easing sensation rushed down the anterior side of his body that was flat against the mattress. That felt good, and because it felt good it pissed him off even more. The man rumbled an angry sound.

 

            The Jhezen knew that the other man could have tried harder and yelled or even shouted about this if Grimmjow seriously disliked it; the Gehjoven wasn’t the type to hold back by much if he didn’t like something…

 

            “I fucking hate you.” Those were the only words that came out of this man’s mouth before Ichigo continued stripping him in the most embarrassingly sensual way possible. Not once more did he complain; simple fact proven, Grimmjow didn’t hate this. The Jhezen reached under him and unbuttoned the shirt, took it off completely…unhooked his belt, slid that out…his pants were unzipped and pulled off easily and all that remained were a black pair of underwear that covered his most intimate parts.

 

            Ichigo was staring right at Grimmjow’s toned ass and there wasn’t a damn thing the gruff Gehjoven could do about it. Nice. The rest of the Gehjoven wasn’t a bad view either! Actually Grimmjow looked just like before…ripped and no noteworthy scars but he was lightly bruised over the back, arms and neck. That was definitely from their ‘scuffle’. “Where do you hurt?”

 

            “Everywhere…” Grimmjow didn’t even want to talk to Ichigo right now. He kind of wanted to forget that the Jhezen even existed.

 

            Sighing at what was intentional vagueness Ichigo didn’t waste time, and this wasn’t just because seeing Grimmjow almost naked got him hot, but those heating pads weren’t going to stay warm forever. He leaned, still kneeling right next to Grimmjow and picked up the first one, laying it across Grimmjow’s muscular back. He could probably cover most essential areas with just these four and thanks to Grimmjow being a pain in the ass he had to guess which areas hurt.

 

            Ok well…his back was not as much of what hurt right now but that heat across it still felt good. Grimmjow swallowed a pleasured sound that he refused to make. He felt the other three pads laid over his thighs and his butt. The Gehjoven wasn’t going to complain on these not being exact, for now they just felt nice and the heat made him want to sink into the soft mattress more. It felt good enough that he stopped being hostile. The heat and weight of the bean and bead filled pads forced his muscles to release even more tension in the next five minutes and then Grimmjow could start actually stretching his muscles out because they’d be more willing to move and wouldn’t tear or bruise or worse yet…tighten up.

 

            Watching over the Gehjoven as it seemed like Grimmjow was doing better, Ichigo just waited until it seemed like the other man was probably half-asleep because Grimmjow was breathing so smoothly, then the Jhezen lifted the pad on Grimmjow’s back up. He’d made a decision to do something to help this along. Ichigo warmed his hands on the pad then drug his less trimmed nails soothingly along Grimmjow’s rough skin all across the man’s back; he couldn’t offer a massage with both hands because the one was bruised up but he could manage this comforting scratch nicely. After a few minutes where Grimmjow rumbled one or two happy notes that he couldn’t have swallowed if he tried, Ichigo felt like he’d warmed the situation up enough to scratch other parts of the man and softly asked a question. “Why don’t you have a lot of scars?”

 

            This scratch up and down his back…over his shoulders and arms was pure heaven but he would never admit that to Ichigo. That was ok. Ichigo probably already knew. Surprisingly though Grimmjow’s hostility didn’t return and he answered the Jhezen’s question, “Repaired, and I don’t get hurt that bad very often.” With the lingering tingle of a very pleasing back-scratch he could feel the warmth of the pad being placed over his back again. Grimmjow’s whole body tingled in a manner that he wasn’t used to as Ichigo’s hands reached up to his head, those nails had traveled up his thick neck, and through his strip of longer hair and across the man’s scalp on the shaved sides. Oh mercy that was fucking heaven…

 

            Fondly he’d moved his hands across so many of the slopes in Grimmjow’s muscles and now over the Gehjoven’s small harpoon tattoo on the neck and up to Grimmjow’s head with a mind to continue helping. Still Ichigo was being careful with the other man’s body and moved on from this to drag his nails over other limbs and parts, like sides and legs. Ichigo was completely convinced that no part of Grimmjow was ticklish because the man didn’t even twitch or chuckle, he just laid there in absolute bliss. Ichigo also helped hold, flex and stretch Grimmjow’s four limbs out to the sides the best he knew how; this hurt a little bit but then came more relaxing scratching so there were no complaints from the Gehjoven face-down on the bed.

 

            This was insanely nice, of gesture and feel…and even as the jelly Ichigo had made his mind Grimmjow could think enough to understand that.

 

 

            They’d been alone for about forty extra minutes by the time that Hisagi arrived to knock on the house’s front door; well actually he rang so that he would have a better chance of being heard. Hearing the bell from upstairs Ichigo left a very relaxed Grimmjow on the bed, face-down like the Gehjoven had pretty much been the whole time and covered with a light sheet and the heating pads spread out on him under the sheet, and answered the door downstairs. Up until that interruption Grimmjow had been asleep for the last ten minutes of that forty. Meeting Hisagi downstairs Ichigo explained the current situation and when he got to the part about Grimmjow just having woken up Hisagi’s brows went up; they went up even further when the spread of tech hardware in the living room was seen in passing as the WaM came into the house.

 

            The medic had a small trunk with him that locked, he choked up on the handle as he’d been welcomed in. Strange computers…no tension in the air…Ichigo saying he’d pretty much lulled Grimmjow to sleep with his own two hands… This was turning into a weird day of unexpected findings. The hell else had these two been up to together?! Hisagi didn’t linger to ponder the delicious idea of there being more to it, he had a patient to get to, and actually asked Ichigo to wait downstairs while he went up alone. Of course Ichigo seemed fine with that and Hisagi went up alone, bringing the small trunk of supplies too. Meeting ‘Sven’ again the man still looked like he’d been in a cage fight with visible injuries as a reminder. The impression stayed with Hisagi’s thoughts even as he tended to another task; he would have to ask Grimmjow’s new, presumably, ‘boyfriend’ how he was feeling after this too.

 

            Reluctantly the Jhezen hung back, expertly masking his feelings, and began checking the progress of his data scavenging and the files he’d already acquired on his computers. Most of the data was encrypted so he started the process of decrypting with some of his ‘hand-made’ software; Gehjoven tech users were so simple…they hardly ever encrypted things more than once, it was the Jhezenic data that was the hardest to decrypt and Ichigo was after more information from both sides. This was going to take a while…good thing he had some time now. It kept him distracted for at least two hours while Hisagi and Grimmjow didn’t come back down; Ichigo lost track of time as the lack of audible sounds from upstairs made it easy to get lost in his computers as he scooted between them. Two desktops were decrypting, another desktop was still scavenging and Ichigo was previewing and reading the data on his laptop as well as saving it to a portable solid state drive that usually belonged with his servers at home. It was while he was reading through, or better said ‘snooping on’, the two faction’s highly confidential data that something hit Ichigo’s mind like a fast-pitched ball.

 

            Now unfocused from reading, Ichgio’s eyes got wide as he remembered pieces of the wet dream he’d had, which he previously couldn’t remember. It was different than Grimmjow’s, but he couldn’t have made that comparison…he just knew his was sultry. Ichigo sat up abruptly, bruised back complaining and covered his hot face with both hands with a low groan of distress and embarrassment as he was still sitting toward the laptop he’d been viewing data on. He’d dream of time below the Gehjoven and Grimmjow’s piercing eyes and that hard stare…he couldn’t get the fantasy of the man staring down at him out of his head. There was a dull and pleasant pulse that was headed down into his groin. Good lord! Why did he have to remember that now?! Ichigo went to the small downstairs bathroom beside the kitchen to take care of this.

 

~

 

            Two hours and Grimmjow was settled and Hisagi was finished checks and stretching the man’s muscles out completely and dosing Grimmjow accordingly. The WaM had just put away several syringes that he’d used to inject fluids into Grimmjow’s lower body, then he mercilessly flicked the other Gehjoven on the side of the head.

 

            Sitting on the edge of the bed in nothing but underwear Grimmjow growled and rubbed his head where he’d been hit, scowling at Hisagi despite a very good guess why he’d received that.

 

            “You’re an idiot. You can’t forget medication. Is there a reason you didn’t take them?”

 

            Scowling still Grimmjow’s eyes panned toward a plain wall. “No. I just fucked up.” His piercing eyes looked back at Hisagi who was standing in front of him. “I apologize for the trouble and it won’t happen again.”

 

            “It’s no trouble for me, but you should be apologizing to Sven. You freaked him out. He rightfully thought you were dying.” Hisagi folded his arms together. “Are you two something?”

 

            “No.” Grimmjow’s eyes blinked away toward the wall again.

 

            Hisagi cocked a scowl to one side and leaned his weight on one hip, staring down at Grimmjow who unusually tried to avoid his gaze. “Then you were erect because you were so damn happy to see me?” Of course Hisagi knew better than to actually think it was his own presence. “I’m not going to kid myself and you shouldn’t either. He cares about you, if you want that you need to care about him.”

 

            Grimmjow just chewed on his tongue and stared away at the wall persistently.

 

~

 

            About ten minutes after Ichigo’s embarrassing remembrance, when Hisagi walked back down the stairs that were behind the techy man, the medic saw the Jhezenic man scooting franticly from desktop to desktop, checking them and some of the wireless routers then scooting back to his laptop to lay on his belly and read from it.

 

            Ichigo’s idea was to distract himself with work. Work, work, work! He didn’t have the time to be pulled into a fantasy or deal with random boners…past the one he’d just taken care of; not to mention, Hisagi was afoot.

 

            Honestly this Gehjovenic WaM had never seen someone like this before; it was really unusual in their culture. “Feeling alright Sven? You’re quite the nerd.” Such tact in announcing his presence, Hisagi came the rest of the way down the stairs. He was impressed that Ichigo was moving around well with his injuries; they must have been healing very good or the man was just fighting a deadline or something.

 

            Jumping because Hisagi had spooked him, Ichigo didn’t worry about being found working on this sketchy project. Maybe he was a little cocky but he doubted certain others’ ability to understand exactly what he was doing and none of Ichigo’s goals and findings were obvious or readable to the distanced eye. The Jhezen sighed and relaxed in the next moment; he looked over his shoulder and smiled nicely though his neck hurt a little. ‘Nerd’ wasn’t an insult and even if it was he hid his irritation well.

 

            Hisagi was already wearing a smile that kept going as he saw Ichigo’s. “I’m impressed how cooperative he was this time and I’m blaming you.” The gravel-voiced medic pointed directly at the man sitting on the floor.

 

            “Well I’ll take that blame. What else did you have to do to him?”

 

            Hisagi snorted amusedly. “Well I had to make sure that all of his muscles were relaxed and not threatening to seize up again. It might surprise you but he doesn’t take the same medications day to day and the muscle relaxers that you gave him today aren’t normally something he needs. He tells me that usually just stretching once a day is enough, but for now he’s going to be resting for the next week. Don’t let him get rowdy, please. You seem to have-”

 

            “Wait, you think I’ll be here that long?” Ichigo tested.

 

            Hisagi gestured to the expansive tech setup, “You’ve already moved in,” then laughed.

 

            Ichigo had a chuckle too, suppose it sure looked that way but he really hadn’t... “I’ll just be here long enough to help.”

 

            “He’s probably going to give you a hard time after today.” Hisagi just felt like that should be a warning he reinforced again.

 

            “I expect that. Considering the situation and how it makes sense for him to be annoyed I don’t mind it so much.”

 

            It took Hisagi a second to believe that Ichigo meant that because of looking the way that the other man did…the scabbed scratches across his face were almost healed but still a reminder that Grimmjow might put up a lot of resistance and could overpower this man. “Would you like me to take a look at you while I’m here? I see things are trying to heal but if anything’s not I’ll find out.”

 

            “Um…” Ichigo looked at his computers for a moment and then back to Hisagi and shrugged; he’d taken a second to contemplate. “Sure. Thank you, we could probably go up to the guestroom.”

 

            The WaM nodded and followed Ichigo’s lead who pressed one button on the laptop and all of his computer monitors turned off while the machines themselves stayed on. Hisagi didn’t think anything odd of that.

 

            If anyone tried to turn those monitors back on they would find password blanks and none of Ichigo’s computers used the same one. The Jhezen wandered over toward the stairs and followed by Hisagi they went up and into the guestroom where, behind a closed door, Ichigo stripped off most of his clothes off and let Hisagi get a look at him. Fortunately he’d culled his excitement of earlier so there was nothing embarrassing about standing there in his underwear.

 

            The gravel-voice medic was surprised to see the full extent of the injuries. Huge bruises on Ichigo’s upper right arm, back, neck and chest. There was a really horrible one under Ichigo’s jaw and over his hand and nose…and of course that gauze taped over the gash by Ichigo’s shoulder. “You really took a beating… You said that you were…doing what exactly with Grimmjow to get like this?” He palpated around some of the bruises but they were definitely all turning healing colors of lighter black and blue or yellowish as bruises do.

 

            That hurt but it wasn’t agonizing. “Uh…we were training.” Ichigo gave Hisagi the same answer as he’d given Renji.

 

            Hisagi frowned; Grimmjow was too rough on this guy. “Does your spine hurt?”

 

            “No, it’s fine. My shoulder and hand hurt the most actually.” As Ichigo’s head turned it reminded him of his bruised neck. “Oh, and my neck too I guess. I hope I didn’t hurt him badly…enough to cause all of this…”

 

            “Mmm… It wasn’t your fault.” From what he’d seen on Grimmjow the Gehjovenic man was only slightly bruised and banged up a little on the gut, neck and arms, and something had stuck Grimmjow in one of his forearms but the puncture wasn’t infected. Grimmjow’s strong build had protected him well, but it did take a negative physical toll with medication forgotten. Hisagi was especially careful of the darkest bruises. So Sven had given that rough badass some hell back? Good. That was a good strong Gehjovenic trait. Hisagi was inspecting most of the front, anterior, of Ichigo’s whole body first, tilting Ichigo’s head around carefully, palpating more and checking for signs of torn muscles or strange masses and unusual pain. As Hisagi went down Ichigo’s body he had the well behaved Jhezen turn around to see the posterior side and checked the man’s feet, ankles and up the calves…

 

            Ichigo’s eyes slanted over his injured shoulder as Hisagi’s hands manipulated his calves… Hisagi didn’t look like he’d noticed the symbol of Jhezen being that it was concealed by a long-term masking pigment…good…Ichigo didn’t want to have to kill one of Grimmjow’s friends. There was a dagger under the near side of the mattress of the guest bed if he’d had to do something.

 

            Seeming to be without a clue that this exam might’ve cost him his life, Hisagi pushed on the backs of either of Ichigo’s knees and checked their mobility before moving on up. Flexing and stretching of the legs, arms, elbows, back, all that was done to make sure that Ichigo had no worse injuries under the skin.

 

            Ichigo thought this might be the most relaxed physical he’d ever had.

 

            The last thing checked was the shoulder’s stitched gash, Hisagi peeled off the gauze carefully. Thankfully the injury was doing fine, just a bit irritated from some strain today. Advising that Ichigo take it easy Hisagi stepped back when he was done re-taping fresh gauze over the wound. “Where you training with weapons?” He did want to know what had cause this laceration…it was so close to having cut tendons.

 

            The Jhezen was getting redressed. “No, it was an accident. We fell down together.”

 

            “You both need good rest. You might not feel it but your body is still recovering a lot. This was also Grimmjow’s doing?” Hisagi eyed the scabbed scratches on Ichigo’s face closely. He’d never known the Gehjoven to scratch anyone in a training exercise.

 

            Being casual because he didn’t want Hisagi to keep wondering Ichigo nodded. “We just got carried away. It was actually fun. He’s a difficult opponent.”

 

            Hisagi looked amazed. He had never heard of anyone who’d been beat up on this level by Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez referring to the process as ‘fun’.

 

            “I implied that I didn’t want him to hold back.” Already in his pants Ichigo was into his shirt next and straightening it. “I don’t think he meant to hurt me so badly.”

 

            “You’re contradicting yourself there. Everything Grimmjow does is intended. He’s very a disciplined soldier, even when he’s angry.”

 

            “He wasn’t angry at me,” Ichigo defended with a lie.

 

            Hisagi was skeptical to believe that. “If he’s not angry then I suppose he likes you a lot to be so physical.”

 

            Ichigo stopped talking for a minute as that really sank in. Even though he’d just lied to get that response from Hisagi, Ichigo knew that when Grimmjow was being the roughest in their confrontation that the Gehjoven had started to suppose his identity, so Hisagi’s words were too true. At the least, Grimmjow loved a good fight; the glee he’d come after his prey with and the extra violence he’d used… Ichigo’s face tinted a light rose. “Can I ask something really personal?”

 

            “Alright.” Hisagi waited with an understanding expression.

 

            “What feels best about your relationship to Renji?”

 

            Hisagi looked pleasantly surprised; that question was actually quite appropriate. “Love.”

 

            Ichigo’s eyes immediately went to the floor in a worrying way.

 

            “Which is one type of relationship. There are a lot more,” Hisagi reassured. “You’re interested in Grimmjow right? I figure he’s interested in you.”

 

            Ichigo’s eyes tilted up. He was very wary of Hisagi saying this. “How?”

 

            It was hard not to chuckle and even then a small noise of amusement escaped him anyway. “Emotionally I have no idea but physically, absolutely. Example one: he beat you up, sparring without holding back. Example two: Renji said there was a bit of kissing going on…forgive Renji for telling me that. Example three: whatever you did in all to relax Grimmjow so much before I got here he turned over with an erection, and if that doesn’t trump all other proof of attraction I don’t know what does.”

 

            Highly embarrassed to learn that Ichigo felt vulnerable with someone else’s observations laid bare – he looked it too. He might’ve been willing to kill to keep his cultural identity a secret but right now that was heavily juxtaposed by this vulnerability.

 

            Hisagi smiled and clapped the other man on the arm, “Why don’t you just go after what you want?”

 

            Why didn’t he indeed… “I’ve tried. He keeps backing away.”

 

            “Reasonable considering the fact that he just got divorced from an abusive woman but I’ve never actually seen Grimmjow entertain a man and if he’s letting you stay here that’s also something. Believe it or not he’s probably not as far back from you as you think.”

 

            Ichigo’s eyes glimmered a little hearing that opinion. Well that was something he’d never considered, but that was a little cryptic.

 

            “Just go after what you want. If you want him, go get him- Just not tonight! Resting and all.” They both chuckled a small bit. “Grimmjow can take whatever you deal out and if he still won’t give you what you want maybe he’s not the one.” Hisagi wasn’t saying it but Ichigo couldn’t have picked a more difficult target for affection, however it wasn’t impossible.

 

            Ichigo’s eyes met the floor again but this time he was smiling shyly and quietly thinking about that good advice. He actually felt a little guilty for having the resolve some minutes earlier to knife Hisagi if the Gehjoven revealed the Jhezenic tattoo.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Chapter Text

Section 24: A Hard Time

{Approx. 2300 hours…}

            Later that night, after he’d already checked once to see if Grimmjow wanted something to eat and found the Gehjoven comfortably asleep under the covers of the bed that time, Ichigo came back to the bedroom a while later while Grimmjow was still asleep. The Jhezen was done with his computers; he’d actually packed everything up because it wasn’t necessary to leave spread out across the living room and stashed all of his tech in the guestroom upstairs and locked that door. There was only a towel tightened around his waist as he opened the master bedroom door silently and closed it just as silently this time. The room was nearly dark and Ichigo had a flashlight app on his phone to see. On bare feet he walked across the carpet quietly and turned off the flashlight once he reached the bed and set his phone with something else down on the bedside table that was on Grimmjow’s side… Ichigo’s eyes were taking a minute to adjust but he sat down softly on the edge of the bed without disturbing the other man initially; he’d realized that Grimmjow was sleeping on his back and was careful not to startle him as he decided to wake the other man up. “Hey…” Ichigo’s voice was pretty low. He was staring in the dark at grainy, grey shapes. He didn’t touch Grimmjow for fear of sparking a defensive reflex and getting strangled.

 

            To the soft sound of a voice the Gehjovenic soldier slowly woke up. “Mmmn?” He couldn’t really see anything either but something darker than the rest of the grainy room was next to him, he could also sense it by the way the mattress sagged.

 

            “Hey.”

 

            The Gehjoven easily recognized that voice in its second turn. “What?” he asked irritably. Why did this idiot have to come and wake him up?

 

            Ichigo shifted a little on the side of the bed. “Do you feel ok?”

 

            “Yes. You had to wake me up to ask?” That question really felt like it could have waited until morning. Honestly Grimmjow felt fine right now, he’d had a good amount of rest and time to relax.

 

            Ichigo sighed with a dumb little grin that only he knew was there. He leaned down and wrapped his bare arms around Grimmjow’s upper body and left his face up by the man’s shoulder. Ichigo’s bare upper body was warm and his hair probably felt damp. “I don’t want anything to happen to you either.” A mirror statement to what Grimmjow had let slip to him the day before. None of his own injuries showed in the dark but Ichigo could still feel them and forced any discomfort they brought to the back of his mind; especially that stitched laceration on his shoulder. He’d come in here to be close to a man that he enjoyed tempting.

 

            The dangerous Gehjoven froze, waking up a decent bit more because of what the Jhezen was doing to him, and it wasn’t just the sudden cuddling… “Get off’a me,” Grimmjow snapped.

 

            Ichigo completely ignored what the man said and in a low voice asked, “Do you want to have sex?”

 

            “What?!” Grimmjow snapped but in a hushed voice, almost in disbelief.

 

            Ichigo pulled his head back from the other man’s neck and found Grimmjow’s lips with his mouth and didn’t give him a second to think.

 

            Along with a pair of lips Grimmjow felt the Jhezen’s skin and goatee…he also felt his head pushed back into his pillow and Ichigo’s warm muscle-packed chest touching his and Grimmjow’s thoughts scrambled for just a second. A few seconds into that kiss and he felt Ichigo shifting and climbing over top of him, sliding his smoother skin against Grimmjow’s coarser sort while pushing the covers back.

 

            The Jhezen’s shoulder ached the most and Ichigo kept ignoring it.

 

            Grimmjow was almost naked, Ichigo was completely bare…rather intimate parts of the Jhezen drug against the Gehjoven’s ripped core. Grimmjow immediately got a charge of pleasure straight up the spine whether he wanted it or not.

 

            Ichigo’s soft mouth stayed paired with a very sensual kiss as he straddled the other man and he’d left his bath towel on the floor. With lust taken over his brain, Ichigo was not listening to what Hisagi had told him about letting Grimmjow rest and getting rest himself. If they felt fine what did it matter?

 

            Eventually Grimmjow’s usual senses took him over again and he pushed the Jhezen’s face back from the nice kiss. “Are you fucking sober? What the hell are you doing?!” Grimmjow’s voice was aggressive but still hushed. Ichigo sure didn’t taste like booze but the Jhezen was really going for it this time. “I said…get off!” now his tone was husky.

 

            Kicking the covers back more this left the Gehjovenic man under him bare except the thin fabric of underwear that Ichigo could feel at Grimmjow’s hips. “I intend to…” Ichigo chuckled softly and hopelessly. “…and you too.”

 

            The stubborn and aggravated Gehjoven bit the inside of his own cheek. Grimmjow was angry because he couldn’t help himself; he hadn’t thrown Ichigo off, but they both seemed to know that he could have.

 

            The Jhezen slid back and started pulling on the Gehjoven’s underwear to get it down; anticipation bubbled at Ichigo’s own solid core and he was getting hard. These underwear were nice, form fitting and smooth on such a muscular body as this soldier. Ichigo could feel a semi’s curve under the material and their edge caught slightly on it. How big was Grimmjow? Did he shave or trim? Was he uncut?

 

            A capable Grimmjow didn’t stop the Jhezen from stripping him, merely eyeing the dark shadow backing up over his legs as he felt skin sliding. The Gehjoven was able to see a little in the darkness right now but Ichigo was still mostly just a warm shadowy mass with a voice and smoldering flesh that was slightly damp from drying water.

 

            The Jhezen had Grimmjow’s last piece of clothing pulled down and off, and was right between Grimmjow’s legs now. He’d felt the brush of very short and trimmed hairs around the base and over the other man’s balls when he’d pulled the underwear off. Ichigo’s head dipped as he went down on the other man right away. This was how he found out some details and he didn’t care if the other man was perfectly fresh. The Jhezen got a strong taste, slight musk and it was immediately obvious that Grimmjow was cut and large. The slighter man’s muscles flexed and his injuries complained but he cast a ‘whatever’ to that. He’d never put a cock in his mouth before but if it was anything the Jhezen reflected on how he personally liked getting head and applied that to his technique. He was sucking hungrily, all the while grinding his own erection against the sheets on the bed. He couldn’t help it, he was so horny. While he disobeyed one thing Hisagi had said he was doing another…he was going after what he wanted.

 

            Fuck. The Gehjoven exhaled a long sigh of pleasure at the mouth that came down on him and started to suck. Wet pleasure and a man’s hands about his thighs, balls and cock was something to get used to, but Grimmjow didn’t complain, it was actually good head. It was also almost like that wet dream he’d had but so much more vivid. Ichigo’s tongue lapped up against his shaft and over the glans as the suction tugged on the cock’s sensitive skin. Grimmjow’s back arched as a wet warmth continued to suck his semi-erect member and blood surged into his groin and he got harder. His balls reacted too, swelling and pulsing up to his body. Ichigo was holding onto his thighs and sometimes grasping at his sack and meddling with its piercing…seemed Ichigo had discovered by touching that there was one hafada piercing, a ring, through the front of the Gehjoven’s sack. Grimmjow felt the other man almost gag on his cock twice and the constriction and suction tightened firmly both times. Oh fuck, that was ridiculously good.

 

            Avoiding actually gagging, the Jhezen played his tongue up against the underside of the other man’s shaft and straight up to lick the more sensitive glans more, sliding it around the corona and across the slit at the top before going back down with his mouth and just giving hard, bobbing sucks before he did that over and over again. Ichigo could only get about half of Grimmjow in his mouth but he could tell that the Gehjoven loved every inch of it by the breathing, the writhing and shifting of the man’s hips. Ichigo loved this too but his own urges for pleasure for himself were starting to edge into needy.

 

            Grimmjow kept his voice down and just enjoyed getting some great head while consequence and second thoughts completely disappeared. Fuck if he cared if this was a bad idea in general; it felt too good to stop. Additionally he was discovering that this is what another man actually felt like…a bigger mouth and rougher. He was enjoying that coarseness…from the texture of Ichigo’s skin to the way Ichigo sucked him with more want than anyone else ever had and the scratch of the goatee on the other man’s jaw. Inexperience was apparent in some ways but for some reason that made Grimmjow like getting head from the Jhezen even more.

 

            Unable to ignore what he wanted anymore, Ichigo had to stop mid-blow and pulled his mouth off to get a breath and something for the next part, and Grimmjow didn’t snarl or growl at him for once. Moving around and leaning over the heavily breathing Gehjovenic man, Ichigo was trying to get something off of the bedside table. Now his sutured shoulder really yelled at him and once again was ignored; it was probably bleeding into the fresh gauze by now. A durable package tore smoothly followed by Ichigo settling between Grimmjow’s legs again and rolling a condom down over the other man’s erect cock which had started drooling pre-cum. His fingers brushed the trimmed hairs around the base and caressed the other man’s balls again, teasing that sexy ring through Grimmjow’s sack again.

 

            Now that was a feeling he’d almost forgotten – condoms; Grimmjow didn’t use condoms usually because the only person he’d fucked for years had been his ex-wife and they didn’t need them, but if Ichigo thought it was appropriate he, again, wasn’t going to complain. The Gehjovenic man was so far removed from wanting to push the lusty Jhezen off, consumed by his own lust, that he’d completely forgotten any lingering desire to deny himself this pleasure. After all…he’d wanted something like this for a while… This anonymous darkness was the perfect setting to break Grimmjow’s wariness down. His cock twitched, he wanted more.

 

            They both didn’t really know how this should work between men exactly…but they weren’t virgins or clueless about what felt good to men in general. Ichigo had at least taken steps and read online about some of the things, like cleaning himself up well beforehand. Resourceful as it might’ve been, Ichigo just couldn’t ask Hisagi how this worked; he should have maybe but he just couldn’t make himself ask when the medic was around…it was just too embarrassing and compromising. This pair would find out if what Ichigo had done to prepare was enough and for right now they were just too lusty to worry if it wasn’t.

 

            Grimmjow grasped in the dark until he got a hold of one of Ichigo’s arms and pulled the other man down toward his face again and pushed their mouths together roughly. He could taste himself in Ichigo’s mouth, raunchy, and he wanted more and as much as Ichigo would give he would greedily take and administer something rough back. He would roll them through the sheets, fuck this Jhezen until he couldn’t think…

 

            Pulled forward over Grimmjow, Ichigo’s hands had left the other man’s cock completely and rested on the smooth bulging slabs of the Gehjoven’s pecs, rising and falling slightly with the man’s breaths through his nose as they sucked each other’s faces. His shoulder and damaged body screamed but the physical contact distracted. The Jhezen had meat on his bones but it was lean and nothing like Grimmjow’s packed physique. Despite lust Ichigo was ginger at first about leaning on the other man fully because he hurt and he also didn’t know how much Grimmjow still ached if at all. They almost knocked their teeth together kissing and squeezing the muscles on their bodies with heightened want for each other that neither could really control anymore – or so it seemed. They were doing this, in whatever way worked, they were fucking doing this. Ichigo’s cock pulsed.

 

            Grimmjow could care less if Ichigo’s lean muscular body’s weight bore down on him; he only ached vaguely and also ignored it. The sheets were warm, soft and wrinkled around his back. This was good, this was so good. The man on top of him was warm, strong, shapely and hungry for attention. Grimmjow gripped the Jhezen by both biceps, slightly large, so that he couldn’t escape the rough kissing as Grimmjow bit and sucked which made Ichigo’s scratched and bruised face sore. Grimmjow’s cock pulsed.

 

            The Jhezen still didn’t care about soreness, pain or further damage, he ignored every annoyance his injuries jabbed him with. When Grimmjow just barely gave him time for a breath with their lips apart Ichigo felt the man’s grip on his arms soften. The Jhezen took the opportunity to reach back to grasp the Gehjoven’s cock, having to completely part with Grimmjow’s lips to do so and not using his stitched shoulder; he backed up to the tip and this time Grimmjow stopped him right away.

 

            “Woah. Wait.” Instead of just refusing the gesture he’d felt altogether the muscular Gehjoven was taking a second to pull something out of his bedside table and found Ichigo’s hands in the dark and placed a bottle in them. “Lubricant…you’re gonna want that.” He wasn’t kidding either; someone knew how anal sex worked in general, that was good. Maybe they’d be pretty well off after all.

 

            Ichigo chuckled at the thoughtful gesture from someone he knew so many rough sides to. “Oh how sweet,” he teased.

 

            “Yeah, shut up.” Grimmjow waited with his hands on the Jhezen’s thighs, rubbing and squeezing the lean muscles there. He wanted the other man to hurry; he could feel his pulse in his cock and a raging voice in his head screaming ‘fuck him already!’ Ichigo was just lucky that Grimmjow always maintained some level of self-control or the savage man would have gone in without the condom.

 

            After taking a little of the lube the bottle was capped and set aside and Ichigo was applying some of the slick substance to himself, cock and puckered asshole, while leaning forward over Grimmjow’s body.

 

            The Gehjoven felt the cool drip of some of that lubricating substance on his lower abdomen. It dripped and ran over the lines of his packed muscles. That did not help his self-control at all; it sent a charge through his groin and the Gehjoven swallowed a groan and narrowly maintained what control was left.

 

            Spared a savage fucking, maybe not even realizing how close he’d come to that, Ichigo backed up to Grimmjow’s cock again and with the hand that had spread lube over his small virgin hole he held onto the man’s covered cock just below the head and carefully started to try penetration. Ichigo leaned and simultaneously tried to put the tip in. The glans and tip of the lubricated condom nudged his hole apart about halfway and oh that HURT. That hurt more than he’d thought it was going to as a bolt of pain shot into his ass, abdomen and through his thighs. “Hngh!” Ichigo made a sound of discomfort even as he was gently controlling the rate.

 

            Grimmjow just let Ichigo have his way up there for right now, just fine with the pleasure that being handled and squeezed and squished up against warm flesh was bringing, but that didn’t last forever. When it seemed like the Jhezen was still struggling with discomfort after a minute he did step in. “Get up.” Not a request. An order. “On your knees and hold the headboard.”

 

            Ichigo felt hot. His cock twitched. Hold the what?! Why was he doing that? Grimmjow smacked the Jhezen’s thigh when Ichigo didn’t immediately move and then Ichigo got the message and moved off and over to the center of the bed more or less on his knees. He reached forward until his hands touched the wood of the headboard, leaning slightly and putting more weight on the uninjured shoulder. Feeling Grimmjow moving too as the mattress and sheets shifted Ichigo asked nicely, “Are you sure you’re going to be ok sitting up..?” Despite having trouble of his own Ichigo felt bad; he’d had a mind to give this to Grimmjow so that the man didn’t have to get up.

 

            Not really giving two shits about getting up on the bed, Grimmjow made sure there was pillow at the head of the bed under Ichigo. Kneeling up behind the other man the Gehjoven was already being careful with his recovering body. “Patronizing me when I’m about to stick something up your ass is probably the last thing you want to do. I will put you in your place if you mouth off to me. Got it?”

 

            Ichigo swallowed an anxious but eager dryness in his throat. “Yes.”

 

            Grimmjow managed to feel out the bottle of lube on the bed and after popping the cap applied it to his fingers. Fortunate it was that this soldier kept his nails trimmed; after rubbing those slick fingers in the cleft of the Jhezen’s fit ass Grimmjow put his other hand on Ichigo’s back and pressed down to get the Jhezen to lean down more. When Ichigo did lean Grimmjow slowly pressed one of the fingertips against the virgin-tight hole presented, easy to feel, until the entrance gave and it slid in.

 

            “Aah…” Ichigo slumped forward, grip tightening on the headboard. That stung a bit but it was so arousing; he had a new appreciation for the size and texture of Grimmjow’s rough hands. His cock dripped with pre-cum and want. Ichigo wasn’t going to openly admit doubt right now but it was certainly close to his mind whether he could take anything bigger, but for now he would just enjoy anything pleasurable that the Gehjoven gave him. As a matter of fact…this fingering was borderline thoughtful; Grimmjow was actually being a variation of nice to him.

 

            “Hurts? Yes or no.” It was only his middle finger; Grimmjow got an amusement out of using that one particularly.

 

            “No.”

 

            “You’re a fucking horrible liar.” It did hurt but apparently not badly enough for Ichigo to beg him to stop even when that one finger started fucking the Jhezen. Ichigo was clean, color Grimmjow impressed; that was a sincere and polite gesture he didn’t miss picking up on. The Gehjoven let his tongue travel smoothly across the inside bottom row of his own teeth as he watched the dark shape of Ichigo writhing pleasantly and the headboard knocking occasionally against the wall. Nothing about doing this to a man who was enjoying it seemed off to the Gehjoven even though he wasn’t experienced with men. He was around them all the fucking time and he didn’t have it in him to blow them off as unattractive; they were attractive and strong and in their own ways different from a woman. Who cared what gender satisfied as long as they weren’t a rotten to the core person? Grimmjow kept his hand on Ichigo’s back so that the other man wouldn’t lean up and kept that finger moving in him. “You said you wanted to fuck? This all you can handle?”

 

            Feeling his cock getting larger and balls swollen as his asshole burned but his lust burned hotter, Ichigo had to admit this was fairly embarrassing but pleasing despite such. He fantasized about that finger being the Gehjoven’s large cock instead. “I was thinking of something bigger…” the Jhezen mused back in bliss. When another finger was added Ichigo was helping instinctively, rolling his hips back onto them, his urge was right up against needy now. He’d wanted to fuck since he walked into Grimmjow’s bedroom but he didn’t know he could want it this badly until the build-up really started to get to him.

 

            The Gehjoven’s trimmed nails of the hand on Ichigo’s back sank into skin and raked down the Jhezen’s back without a warning.

 

            “AGH!” Ichigo gave a strangled cry and squeezed the headboard, supporting more weight on it and making it rattle against the wall again. He still didn’t beg for Grimmjow to stop anything that the other man was doing. The nail marks burned worse than his tight hole and when Grimmjow’s fingers pulled out he was almost upset before he realized that the Gehjoven’s covered cock was lined up to try and penetrate him again. Ichigo’s nerves quivered, he wasn’t loosening up because he was too damn anxious.

 

            This was…difficult. Raking Ichigo’s back certainly hadn’t helped. Grimmjow offered a one-sided frown and no cues or irritation that Ichigo could notice but he was annoyed. This was still not going to work and he could tell by the resistance of the muscles gripping his glans as he was barely able to start penetrating. The Gehjoven’s mind ticked with warning to be careful how he used his own body else the muscles that had been helped yesterday might freak out again in the case that he was careless. Was this even fucking worth it? Grimmjow’s thoughts dropped into remembering the back scratch and physical help that the Jhezen had relaxed him with yesterday while presently trying to use his fingers to help spread the Jhezen’s virgin-tight hole. In the face of remembering that Grimmjow’s tolerance for this difficult situation leveled out. The Gehjoven decided he’d try just little bit more before telling this guy to go sleep in his own damn room and masturbate by himself.

 

            Seeping through his lust Ichigo was starting to get that doubting feeling again…

 

            The Gehjovenic man leaned over Ichigo’s rear and reached a hand between the other man’s thighs and gripped the needy member there while rubbing his own’s latex covered shaft against the Jhezen’s slippery and tightly puckered hole. Why try harder? Why persist when the sex was going to be difficult the first few times? Well, the Jhezen drove him fucking bananas most of the time but he’d never met anyone with the determination and brand of intelligent moxie like this Jhezen had. Grimmjow liked the challenge…and somewhere deep in his walled-up person the Gehjovenic soldier also understood that this other man gave a shit about him. The Gehjoven’s hand was beating off Ichigo as hard as he’d beat himself off – rigorous. The build-up to getting to fuck was nagging hard.

 

            If the build-up was just nagging to Grimmjow, it was wrecking Ichigo. Being jerked off like this Ichigo immediately started panting and fucking into Grimmjow’s already lively movements. The Jhezen’s freshly scratched back burned even more but Ichigo really wanted this pleasure and the pain merged into it. It took a few minutes of this heated pace but being jerked off actually relaxed Ichigo enough that Grimmjow tried penetrating him again and this time the head of the Gehjoven’s covered cock was able to edge in through the muscled rings of his hole with a searing sensation. That felt like fire and Ichigo yelped. “Yowch!” The Jhezen grimaced into the dark and tried to keep himself from tensing and making the penetration more difficult, it kind of worked. It was only his asshole that hurt surprisingly, even though he thought he felt the girth spreading the flesh past it. So that’s what it truly felt like the first time receiving anal sex? Hot but ouch. His cock still dripped with need; it wanted so much more friction.

 

            This was really awkward to gage…not to mention that Grimmjow didn’t know whether he should stop because he didn’t want to, but Ichigo was too tense. The constriction was a little intense but instead he was just very gradual even though every fiber of his being wanted him to just impale and fuck Ichigo into a dumb state now that he was actually inside the other man. “You’re lucky I have self-control. You need to completely relax or this isn’t gonna work.”

 

            “That’s not so easy…” About an inch more past the glans and Ichigo was asking Grimmjow to wait. “Please…ouch!” Ichigo leaned away, that hurt so much!

 

            Grimmjow stopped sliding his cock in and Ichigo actually reversed some of his progress by moving away. “Please what?” Grimmjow snapped to the vague begging.

 

            “Just wait,” the Jhezen asked. He was really embarrassed, he didn’t think it was going to be this hard to get used to. A slight dread for worry of whether he’d ever get used to penetration like this passed through Ichigo’s mind. Absolute doubt.

 

            “Did you expect this to feel sensational the first time? Cause that’s not how this works princess…” Irritated, Grimmjow could only speak from a giver’s perspective but this was actually more difficult than he’d experienced with anyone else and anal sex, granted they were all women but it was still no cakewalk. He kept that comparison to himself.

 

            “I’m sorry.”

 

            This was an apology that the Gehjoven actually didn’t question. Clearly Ichigo was not going to be able to do this yet. Grimmjow pulled out; Ichigo yelped at the suddenness.

 

            Disappointment and pain rolled through him as the Jhezen didn’t move holding the headboard and staying leaning as he’d been on his knees. He’d really displeased Grimmjow now. ‘Fuck.’ Now what? Suddenly the Jhezen’s nerves spiked as something wet went between his ass cheeks and licked his sore hole. A moment later a wet tongue, presumably, slipped through his sore hole and a hand grabbed at his balls and a thumb pressed upward… Ichigo’s body fell into a really good place all of the sudden. Oh my god was that Grimmjow’s mouth?! Not something he thought he’d ever have the pleasure of feeling up against his ass of all places. The Jhezen shuddered as he felt hot and cold sensations rolling through himself and started to melt as the Gehjoven behind him was doing him a huge service. Not only did the tongue feel good but so did that thumb up against the glad behind his balls. Heaven help him, a panting Ichigo could barely hold himself up with that pleasure careening over his nerves as he started to rigorously jerk himself off – hurt shoulder or not.

 

            So Grimmjow had one card left up his sleeve and he’d decided to play it. It had never bothered him to put his mouth on a woman’s pussy or their ass before and just applied that logic to this and kind of hoped for the best. It wasn’t gross, Ichigo was definitely clean, nor did the Gehjovenic man feel like it was degrading, if anything it was fun to make the other man squirm…and Ichigo had gone extra steps to do things for him… If there was one thing people didn’t expect before they knew Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez well it was that he was brutally fair by nature.

 

            Ichigo’s remaining hand dropped off the headboard and he leaned down into the soft pillows at the head of the bed with his rear end still up and Grimmjow holding onto his balls with one hand and his ass with the other. The Jhezen’s hand kept pumping over his own cock and Grimmjow didn’t stop tonguing him for as long as Ichigo could take it and Ichigo almost couldn’t get enough. If this was all he got for the rest of the week he felt right now that he could be absolutely happy. That was actually all Ichigo needed for the evening, Grimmjow rimmed him until the Jhezen came with a pleased cry. It was a little hard to be too embarrassed when it actually started feeling as good as this. Ichigo let the peaked pleasure sink in as his face drug against the pillows. “So good…” he moaned.

 

            Per writhing and pleased cries Grimmjow realized that the other man had cum and backed off, withdrawing his tongue and lips. The Jhezen was still ass-up near the head of the bed and while Ichigo was in heaven Grimmjow knelt behind him and started penetration again. The other man’s relaxed and sated body let him in much easier this time. He could actually penetrate and drove himself much deeper than before. That…was the most pleasingly tight thing…he’d ever put his cock into; he had a real had a hard time not blowing sooner than he’d like.

 

            Ichigo already felt so good and then his relaxed hole was being spread again as his cock dripped and swayed with his seed; he felt every inch of the Gehjoven behind him sliding in carefully. The penetration bottomed out at Grimmjow’s base. It didn’t even hurt because Ichigo was still riding out the last of his climax and that virtually erased pain. Sentient enough, when Grimmjow started to slide his huge erection back and forth, Ichigo reached up and leaned on the headboard again as he remained on his knees. The headboard started hitting the wall rhythmically and Ichigo’s body started to burn with lust again. Holy fuck…he was getting exactly what he’d wanted now.

 

            As soon as the Jhezen’s posture changed and he heard that headboard knocking and Ichigo’s breathing in pants Grimmjow pushed the other man’s legs wider apart and gave Ichigo a smooth build-up into a very pleasing fuck; those legs didn’t need to be together for it to be tight, the Jhezen was plenty of that.

 

            It was Grimmjow’s size Ichigo noticed the most first; the size and then the way the other man carried on with a pace that just made him ache with so much want as his first orgasm phased into more pleasure. Ichigo still wanted to be fucked, even if he’d just been satisfied he wanted more; his cock was semi-erect but he was going to get perfectly hard again, he could feel it. The Jhezen felt a hard grip on the hair at the back of his head and it was tugged. “Agh!” He didn’t beg Grimmjow to stop. Nails raked down his back and sides all the way to the bouncing flesh of his ass. “NNGH!” He didn’t beg Grimmjow to stop. The Gehjoven started to fuck him harder, almost knocking their balls together…forcing the trimmed hairs at the base of that large cock up against his ass repeatedly…pulling his hair harder… “FUCK!” Ichigo felt light headed and he still didn’t beg Grimmjow to stop…however what he did beg for came minutes later when a second orgasm rose as his cock got completely hard again. “Oh fuck! Please! PLEASE!”

 

            “Please WHAT?!” Grimmjow snapped among ragged pants as he bucked and gripped the Jhezen by the hair harshly. Their flesh was smacking together audibly, he was not being so gentle anymore.

 

            “Make me cum! PLEASE! FUCK!” Ichigo felt his sweat roll off of his raked back, neck, the curves of his hips and down his arms from the pits. The hair pulling continued. The scratches on his back burned hot. His body was edging into a state where he felt like he might pass out from the intensity. He was a ravenous mess of feeling, begging for release and Grimmjow gave it to him. Thank fuck the Gehjoven didn’t tease, he just gave it to him. “AaaaaAAAHH!” A few particular thrusts at downward angles discovered to be pleasing, dragging over Ichigo’s prostate, and the Jhezen came all over the bed below and squeezed the man behind him something fierce as he hit his peak again.

 

            Experiencing a similar level of intensity from the pleasure, Grimmjow actually winced and let himself cum as the release happened to relieve pressure from being constricted and squeezed…and when he came he came hard. It felt good, so fucking good; his every nerve was an odd hot and cool and it felt like he’d gone straight up to unbearable pleasure, had a few long seconds of absolute fucking bliss, then slowly came down to a lower high. He’d cum harder than he probably had for that wet dream… Harder than he thought might’ve ever with another person… The Gehjoven had lusty satisfaction rolling through his head and the fibers of every packed muscle on his body as he made slow thrusts after Ichigo’s body stopped squeezing him so just to milk all of the cum out of his still somewhat hiked-up balls…and when he’d finally drained himself and his balls dropped back down, just lingering with his cock in the other man as Ichigo trembled with pleasure and slipped onto the bed with a long and pleasured groan, Grimmjow was kneeling alone and realized that his whole body was shaking. Shaking…his muscles weren’t fucked up again, he just felt high on the absolute satisfying release and he’d finally fucked this guy. Gratifying mentally and physically. Sweat rolled off of the Gehjoven’s jacked form as he just let the sensation take its last courses.

 

            Surprised that he hadn’t passed out yet Ichigo was down on the bed catching his breath softly and riding the second wave of sexual euphoria. His nerves in his pecs, his arms, legs, core, cock, everywhere tingled with a smooth euphoria. In a way he wished he hadn’t put the condom on Grimmjow…he wanted to be more of a mess laying here, but this had already been all he should ever ask for. Who knew what the Gehjoven would do to him from now on… The Jhezen liked that idea. Ichigo breathed hard, grinning and letting the pain-pleasure mix run its course.

 

            So…fucking…good.

 

 

{The following morning approx. 0700 hours…}

            Ichigo seemed to be the one who’d awoken first. He felt warm, though his back still burned and body ached a bit, and someone was holding onto him.

 

            Grimmjow was flush up against Ichigo’s back with a relaxed hold around the other man and they were both under a warm amount of covers. It was incredibly cozy and the Gehjoven was still sleeping like rock.

 

            Managing to put his head down again Ichigo enjoyed the warmth. He had some memory of what they’d tried and what they’d actually accomplished. Somehow it was even more embarrassing to remember that Grimmjow had licked his asshole until he had an orgasm than to consider the fact that they almost hadn’t been able to actually fuck. Ichigo felt like he was going to blow up and tried not to squirm around a lot as he remembered this but he still woke Grimmjow up anyway.

 

            “Mmmn…” Grimmjow came to and realized how they were but didn’t try to get up yet. Still not someone he’d thought he’d wake up to…but it was nice enough.

 

            Ichigo realized that the other man was awake. “I’m so sorry about last night.” He was immediately doing that thing that he shouldn’t be and pointlessly apologizing.

 

            “For..?”

 

            “Um…” He wasn’t about to just say it! Ichigo squirmed a little more. He started to feel Grimmjow chuckling against his back. “Being difficult?”

 

            The Gehjoven didn’t seem to care. Grimmjow let go of Ichigo with his arm on top and reached a pack of cigarettes and a lighter out of the bedside drawer. He tapped the pack and flicked up the paper top, grabbing a smoke with his lips and sliding it out. “You want one?”

 

            “Maybe a drag or two off yours…” Ichigo settled into the warmth again as Grimmjow tossed the pack onto the bed beside them and lit up which meant tossing the lighter too and laying his arm back over the Jhezen. Ichigo saw a cloud of smoke drift up in the air and a kiss on the back of his neck that made all the hair on his body want to stand up with a pleasured chill. He stroked the back of his hand against the flat of Grimmjow’s forearm. “You’re not someone I figured I’d wake up to.”

 

            “As much of an asshole as I am, and regardless of how much I like to fight with you, I’m not actually a fan of letting someone I’ve fucked wake up alone.”

 

            Ichigo smiled, chewing lightly on his lip as his eyes looked over the skin on the other man that he could see. “What about staying with them longer?”

 

            Another cloud of smoke drifted up as Grimmjow exhaled. “Don’t push your luck.”

 

            Ichigo chuckled deviously. “Fair enough.”

 

 

            A naked Ichigo jolted as he actually awoke…he was cuddling his face against a pillow with two arms and still in Grimmjow’s bed but there was no warmth at his back and when he rolled over on what he realized was just the opposite side of the bed to Grimmjow’s the Gehjovenic man wasn’t even there. The covers on that side were tossed back. Ichigo let go of a sigh as he smiled sadly. Another fucking dream. Had they even done anything last night? Sitting up in the bed Ichigo got his answer. Several zings of pain straight to his ass, his shoulder and back and he felt less than fresh…aaaand the bed smelled like sex. Though his injuries were slightly more sore today than they had been the visible bruising was lighter now which said nothing for the angry scratches Grimmjow had made down his back and sides. The Jhezen picked one hand up and rubbed his face. Why had he ever thought that he’d wake up to Grimmjow after a wild night like that? At least the sex had been really good.

 

            POP.

 

            Ichigo jumped nervously as he heard the very muffled sound. He looked around. What the fuck was that?! He was frozen in place, listening for it again. While he was listening he did also notice that there was fresh gauze taped over his stitched laceration on the shoulder…and an old piece of gauze from it was just in the trash in the room next to a used condom and its torn wrapper. Had Grimmjow…changed the without waking him up? Ichigo wondered as he peered over the edge of the bed at the trash bin.

 

            POP.

 

            Almost the same as the first. Ichigo was surprised and distracted once again by the mysterious noise. He slid slowly out of the bed, sore but he’d be able to get around fine. He glanced at the clock on Grimmjow’s bedside table. It was early…seven in the morning.

 

            POP.

 

            What were those damn repetitive ‘pops’?! Thankful to not wake up chained to a bed-post this time, Ichigo moved to the other man’s closet, pulling out a button-down shirt that was just a simple dark blue and putting his arms through. He buttoned it as he walked for the bedroom door. Thankfully Grimmjow was a size or two bigger than he was so the shirt came down low and covered all it really needed to with his arms down. Leaving the master bedroom open Ichigo wandered in a slightly sleepy haze down the stairs and looked around the empty living room. He would have slipped into the bathroom first but the periodic ‘pops’ vaguely reminded him of gunfire and he wanted to know where it was coming from. The Jhezen held onto the front of the buttoned shirt and peered out one of the front windows. The world wasn’t burning and there were people just calmly making their way about outside. Nothing was going on out there. He sighed and just waited for the next time-

 

            POP.

 

            Sorely Ichigo hustled toward the kitchen and looked out the glass door in the backyard. “Grimmjow?” he called at a moderate volume as he went. No response. He stopped at the closed sliding door, looking through the glass at the green grass and the early morning sky. Picturesque but the backyard was empty; nothing going on out there. Ichigo squinted and looked upward. The roof maybe? No that was absurd-

 

            POP!

 

            He flinched when the sound was louder this time from where he was standing. It was right behind him. Ichigo whirled to see the modest downstairs bathroom door wide open and a black door against a wall just inside of it. That had never been there before… Slowly the curious Jhezen approached-

 

            POP!

 

            Flinched again! That was quite loud once he was in the small bathroom! Ichigo covered his ears with hands and sighed at having bare feet for this but still walked the short distance to this mysterious door. He stood in the small bathroom examining it for a moment. The freaking thing was a huge metal door! Like you’d see on a bulletproof safe… Ichigo pushed it open with effort, it was unlocked and opened inward, resting in the wall of a stairwell. It looked like there was wallpaper covering it up before this but that was rolled up above the ominous doorway like a poster. Ichigo pulled the safe-like door closed behind himself as he advanced onto slightly creaking wooden steps in a dimly lit decent that made a couple of turns into a strange basement with bold lighting which he’d not noticed to be a part of the house before. He was very cautious. Ichigo had dredged this house and missed any trace of this! It was very well concealed. The temperature of the basement was cold in this stony space below the house. Still covering his ears Ichigo’s hair stood up and his bare skin got chilled bumps, reacting. Reaching the base of the stairwell and stopping on a rubber mat Ichigo’s eyes widened as he was staring across the cold basement at a fully dressed Grimmjow leaning into a mounted forty caliber assault rifle taking his time firing shots from a clip at very small hanging targets and breaking them.

 

            POP!

 

            The size and design of this basement was crazy! It was almost the area of the property above it and looked like a bunker with a properly designed shooting range; the surprised Jhezen registered this much but he was watching the other soldier more than looking around. The other man had a pair of clear glasses and wireless headphones on, completely ignoring him or oblivious; Ichigo supposed they were specifically meant for blocking the sound of gunfire. The Jhezen’s palms were still pressed on his ears, harder now that he saw what was making the noise. He didn’t want to go deaf.

 

            POP!

 

            Ichigo felt the heat of the rifle firing from a fifteen-foot distance. His eyes got a little wider as he watched a target break and a casing for the forty-caliber bullet fly out of the weapon, bounce against the stony ceiling, and drop on the ground. He couldn’t hear the metallic ‘tink’ it would have made. As his eyes lifted from the casing the Jhezen realized that Grimmjow had paused to reload the clip and noticed him. Ichigo’s hands slowly slid off his ears. “Good morning.”

 

            The Gehjovenic man set the mounted rifle’s stock down and nudged the headphones off his ears, which could be heard playing some music now that they weren’t sealed to his head. “Uh?” he hadn’t heard, he wanted the Jhezen to repeat himself.

 

            “Oh, I said ‘good morning’.”

 

            Grimmjow watched the half-naked fellow across the basement for a second before just minding the clip he was reloading with his eyes down. “Morning. Careful, you lift your hands to cover your ears like that and your balls show under the shirt.” Fair warning. The big bullets clicked into place and he put the clip down after it was loaded, right next to the rifle and leaned a hand against the table, looking up again.

 

            Immediately self-conscious Ichigo’s arms glue to his sides like he was at attention and tugged on the bottom edge of the button-down shirt. “Uh…thanks.” His eyes were mostly on the Gehjovenic man further from himself and it looked like Grimmjow had something to tell him staring at him like that.

 

            The Gehjovenic man’s piercing blue eyes centered on the Jhezen for a second as all was awkwardly silent…then he gestured around the basement with the hand he wasn’t leaning on the table by in a circular motion. “Missed a few.”

 

            Ichigo’s vision was stirred and he looked at the walls… In good lighting he saw dark rifles and pistols. Thirty, forty, fifty calibers… Ichigo’s eyes got a little wider. There were at least thirty or forty sorts of guns with shelves of corresponding ammunition organized beside each…and they were high-grade Jhezenic weapons by the look… Grimmjow really seemed to like his illegal Jhezenic swag; perhaps that was something to think about. Ichigo had indeed missed these and this whole basement when he’d searched Grimmjow’s place for weapons. So the Gehjoven knew the whole time…that if he really needed something to shoot they were right downstairs. They’d probably blow the windows out of the house but if he needed them, but they were there. The Jhezenic man offered a nervous laugh but fascinated eyes looking around. There were thousands of dollars in this room, basement turned bunker or firing range, no wonder it had a safe-like door to get down here. Still he stayed on the mat by the door because that stone floor was probably colder and he knew better than to walk around firing range barefoot. “I missed a lot of them…yeah. You trust me to know about this place?” He kind of wanted to ask to shoot some of the bigger guns because he’d never touched anything larger than an M16 but he’d need to get dressed and all first. Ichigo looked back toward Grimmjow who’d crossed the room and started washing his hands off in a slop sink in a near corner of the basement.

 

            “You want to give me a reason not to?” The Gehjovenic man didn’t look over.

 

            “No. You know…this is probably the most literal man-cave I’ve ever seen.” Color Ichigo a little envious. This had nothing his man-cave, a typical full of computers and screens and the like.

 

            Grimmjow found that amusing whether he said so or not because that’s exactly what it was, even Tier hadn’t been privy to this basement.

 

            “Well I won’t abuse that. I’m going to go take a shower though. Maybe later you’ll let me touch some of your guns…” Ooooh if that wasn’t a loaded statement.

 

            The Gehjovenic man dried his hands off with a towel then tossed the cloth into a basket with others he’d have to wash later. He’d looked over and as soon as he had the other man’s hazel eyes locked to his hard, piercing stare Ichigo smiled.

 

            “Just a thought.”

 

            Grimmjow didn’t move or speak.

 

            The Jhezen turned and jogged back up the wooden stairs with rhythmic creaks until he was out of the stairwell. The ceiling didn’t creak when people walked above them; it was too thick and solid to do that, but Grimmjow looked up at it anyway, as though he was considering something.

 

            Ichigo hurried upstairs and just as he got to the top of those stairs he heard Grimmjow’s shoes meet the tile of the kitchen on the main floor below. Feeling giddy to be stalked like that, his tease had worked, Ichigo slid around the upstairs bannister and watched over its edge as he held in a grin and started unbuttoning the shirt he’d swiped… Grimmjow’s shoes’ steps were coming across the empty living room at a relaxed pace. The Gehjovenic man was definitely still following him.

 

            Just as he got to the stairs Grimmjow’s face tilted up only to have the dark blue shirt dropped over his vision. He pulled it off in a second and there was a flash of light skin and orange as Ichigo jumped back from the bannister and bounded into the bathroom at the end of the upstairs hallway. The slightest smirk crept onto the Gehjoven’s face as he held onto the shirt which had been dropped with a fist and jogged up the stairs to see the bathroom door left a crack open and heard the shower’s water hissing. That was a goddamn invitation. Medicine and rest, he would be fine this time. Grimmjow kicked off his shoes and pulled off his shirt and kicked off his pants as he walked up to the bathroom, going in with just his socks and underwear on and shutting the door behind himself with a solid tug.

 

            Ichigo was closed into the shower behind the distorting glass already. He’d been lathering soap over himself, being careful of his shoulder, when he heard Grimmjow step into the quaint room and the shut door. He wiped the water from his eyes and smirked slightly, watching the other man’s vague shape through the glass as Grimmjow stripped down the rest of the way. Ichigo was letting the water rise the soap off his body’s leanly muscled trunk as he stood almost perfectly still with hands up and catching some of the warm water from the shower in his palms. As that water ran down his frame in warm streams it dripped off of his joints like rain; his heart hit hard beats as Grimmjow’s larger build came to the shower door and opened it with a ‘click’.

 

            Looking in as the glass door rolled open by his hand Grimmjow’s intense eyes were immediately aligned with the other soldier’s. That intense stare rarely lessened. However they both started grinning wider immediately and the bare Gehjoven stepped in and shut the shower’s door, walking the two steps it took to get straight to Ichigo and getting a hold of the second body.

 

            The Jhezen felt arms and rough skin sliding against his as he turned to face the advance and slid his hands around Grimmjow’s solid waist as the other man held onto the edges of his jaw and went for a kiss. It was definitely mutual pleasure to kiss back and Ichigo enjoyed the warm rain from the shower as they stood together under it. This was so much better than being splashed with cold-ass water from a bucket behind a military truck…

 

            Grimmjow’s body felt a physical and emotional warmth rolling through himself; he’d never tell a soul out loud how good that was. They swapped tongues and hands moved against each other. The body of a challenging and strong man was different than the ones he was used to holding onto, but Grimmjow found it easy to like.

 

 

{Approx. 0900 hours…}

            Ichigo was smiling; he hadn’t stopped since they’d gotten out of the shower. They probably would have had sex again if his stomach hadn’t started growling loudly. Damn cockblocking hunger sounds. Grimmjow’s cellphone also starting ringing loudly from the bedroom. They’d washed up and gotten clean, brushed teeth, flossed, shaved and redone Ichigo’s shoulder’s dressing again before dealing with anything else.

 

            Wearing a towel on his hips, Grimmjow went straight for his phone to call whomever it was back directly afterward. He was in the master bedroom.

 

            After figuring out where to put his toothbrush, brought here with a few other things when he’d gone for his computers and tech, Ichigo dried off a little more in the bathroom then wandered out looking for Grimmjow, who wasn’t hard to find.

 

            “If you’re there that’s fine with me.” Grimmjow’s piercing blues caught Ichigo with a look of curiosity as the Gehjovenic man gestured for the Jhezen to stay quiet when he walked into the bedroom.

 

            Sure enough Ichigo stayed quiet and sat on the bed, bared-formed, with the towel tossed over his lap and waited. It was funny but he was surprised that he could even sit normally right now. Additionally the Jhezen found it surprising that Grimmjow hadn’t shooed him or walked away; it must not have been a formal phone call.

 

            Hisagi was on the other end so it was a bit casual, “I’ll be there all day actually. Renji pulled a muscle and I’m helping him work with it. I don’t mind working on you too if you come by.” His words were clear to Grimmjow but garbled past that. “Are you bringing your ‘distraction’?”

 

            “None of your business, man. Don’t tell me it was his leg,” Grimmjow mused.

 

            Hisagi scoffed into the phone from his end. “No. His left arm. He’s got no idea how to do this upper body shit right because he’s always doing legs. Anyway, whenever you show up just send me a text. Gehjoven be great.”

 

            “Gehjoven be great.” Grimmjow hung up the phone.

 

            Ichigo leaned back on the soft and messy bed with his legs spread a little ways apart; that towel was still in place over his otherwise bare body’s more intimate areas. “Are you busy today?”

 

            Grimmjow gave the Jhezen a look of skepticism as he set his cellphone down on the bedside table.

 

            “I actually need a gym day, if you’re interested in coming along. We can shoot guns another time, but I do need to go to the PX and buy a few things first too.”

 

            Quickly the gruff Gehjoven’s expression shifted to one of approval. “Alright. You have your own shit to work out in?”

 

            “Well that’s part of what I figured I’d buy while I’m there. I actually messed up my clothes the last time they were washed. Somehow bleach got into washer and they were black…so…yeah… Don’t ask me to do your laundry. Ever. I suck at it.”

 

            It was just so casual, soldier’s lives that other soldiers understood. Grimmjow rolled his eyes. “Wouldn’t ask.” So Grimmjow put on a white t-shirt with a Gehjovenic harpoon on the back and the same symbol on the breast in the right corner then a pair of white sweats with black stripes and the Gehjovenic harpoon on their hip; plain black swimming trunks had gone on under the sweats. He’d tossed Ichigo some nice casual clothes he thought might fit the other man so that the Jhezen had something to wear to the PX and the gym until Ichigo could change.

 

            Ichigo caught the clothes, not even tempted to try to get his own spares from the guestroom because he liked the fact that these smelled like Grimmjow and the Gehjoven’s clothes were actually pretty comfortable. With the rumpled pile of clothes on his lap for some reason Ichigo flexed at the standing Gehjoven, shoulders and arms bulging their muscles.

 

            Oh really? Grimmjow observed calmly with an extremely sharp once over of the other man then curled a hand into a fist and that elbow in and the biceps, triceps, deltoid and forearm of that arm surged up with a flex that nearly doubled the size of Ichigo’s arms.

 

            Ichigo chewed on his lower lip and chuckled. “Well I’m still proud of mine!”

 

            Size apparently mattered, no one said it but they were both thinking it. Grimmjow let off the flex and relaxed. “Do you have headphones?” No workout was acceptable without music.

 

            “Buying those too.”

 

            Grimmjow pulled an unused pair of in-ear headphones still in plastic down from a box in his closet and pocketed his usual pair and his own cellphone and wallet. He passed the unopened headphones and Ichigo’s cellphone, which had been left on the same bedside table, over to the Jhezen after Ichigo was dressed. “Keep ‘em.”

 

            “Oh! Thank you.” Ichigo took the headphones out of the plastic and pocketed them and the phone, tossing the plastic trash into a bin. He was missing something… “Mmmm…my wallet.” Leaving the master bedroom in sudden remembrance Ichigo went to get his wallet out of the guest room. That went quickly and by the time he was out with his wallet and shoes Grimmjow had just come out of the bedroom. While getting his wallet Ichigo had a thought which he voiced now. “Actually are you ok to work out? Because yesterday was rough.”

 

            Grimmjow looked up with a brow lifted and eyed the Jhezen with a hard stare that said ‘I already thought about this when I agreed to go’ wordlessly. All that in an intense look.

 

            “Ok… ok! I get it. Don’t question your decisions…” Ichigo hesitated for a moment with something else he felt like saying. He looked it.

 

            Grimmjow caught the hesitation and slowly started to walk over, stopping right in front of the other man and crossing his arms expectantly. Ichigo clearly had something to say so he’d better say it.

 

            “Why were you so fucked up?”

 

            Grimmjow held off for a second that seemed like he might not answer…but for once he was actually very fair and forthcoming. “Better than ten years ago I was crushed under a building from the waist down.”

 

            The Jhezen’s eyes widened and lit up. That couldn’t be right…Grimmjow looked perfectly fine for such a hideous accident. “Then you…how could you recover from something like that?”

 

            “A very talented surgeon with some very illegal materials. You met him when I left you at his house four years ago. My feet, legs and hips are thirty percent synthetic tissue. My guts couldn’t be fixed as easily and my semen doesn’t have any potency anymore but constant cycles of medication keep the synthetic tissues in them going. Sometimes weird things happen. Yesterday was my fault for not taking the drugs I should have to prevent that problem.”

 

            Ichigo was staring up at the unblinking gaze upon him, just processing that. Well…he’d finally gotten his explanation but it felt less good than he’d imagined.

 

            Grimmjow interrupted those processing thoughts in an unexpected way. “I’m sorry. It was my mistake.”

 

            The Jhezen stopped thinking so hard and grabbed the usually gruff soldier and hugged him hard, burying his face in Grimmjow’s fresh workout shirt at the shoulder and clinging to him with fistfuls of the material. He didn’t say a word back, he just clung. Curiosity sated it wasn’t as satisfying as he’d thought it might be because of morbidity but at least now he knew. Renji had called Grimmjow a ‘Zombie Man’ once…now that term really seemed appropriate. He actually didn’t know why this compelled him to hug Grimmjow, but either the facts or the apology had brought it on.

 

            Grimmjow realized that he needed to give the other soldier a moment and settled with this, putting his hands on Ichigo’s hips. The Gehjoven was just leaning the side of his face against the side of the Jhezen’s head. So that’s what it genuinely felt like…for someone to care affectionately. Not to be faking, manipulating or seducing…this is what it felt like to have someone intimate really give a shit…

 

            Ichigo’s back still burned from the scratches of last night and his body persistently ached but he was so content like this. “That night that asshole totaled my car and drove off…at the event we were both at…”

 

            “Mmm.” Grimmjow confirmed with a sound and stayed still, ensuring that he was listening. Why was the Jhezen bringing that up though?

 

            “I was invited but I mean…I actually accepted and attended because I heard that you specifically would be there. I vaguely knew who you were because of the family you left me with. I didn’t want to fuck up your life but I thought…maybe I could probably just talk to you at a military event and that wouldn’t hurt anything or make anybody wonder. I would have told you who I was if you didn’t recognize me.”

 

            Grimmjow got quiet, listening without interrupting. It sounded like Ichigo didn’t have to go to that event back then but he had anyway for that chance.

 

            “At first I saw you over by the bar with a drink, couldn’t get there fast enough and immediately lost track when you moved off because it was kind of hard to see walking around other people to get over to the counter. So I just walked around a little more, talked to a few people who apparently knew me, still pretty much looking for you, then saw you again walk out of the hall and a guy with red dreads following you…”

 

            “Renji.”

 

            “Yeah him, and you both walked outside and I just…kind of gave up.” Ichigo didn’t really know what that was about at the time and suppose he was a little jealous if it was ‘something’. “I walked out to leave because there was really no one else there that I’d have spent time with, got in my car and you know the rest.” Feeling foolish Ichigo’s hold on Grimmjow’s body loosened a little. “I’m sorry if that’s annoying or creepy or clingy. I just kind of wanted to talk to you. You’re one of the only people that actually knows me.”

 

            Grimmjow’s thoughts ran through the details he’d just heard one more time and his hold on the Jhezen actually tightened. He didn’t feel awful for leaving the other man to fend for himself back then, after all he’d done to give the Jhezen a safe house to live in and bringing him on base in the first place. Grimmjow’s mind had mostly been with his wife and their future four years ago, but he’d never actually forgotten about the Jhezenic man. Sure he’d just pushed it to the rear of his thoughts because the rest of life was so demanding, but Grimmjow had assumed Ichigo wouldn’t make it. At the very least he’d given the determined little shit a chance. One thing he’d always quietly regretted was not asking the Jhezen’s for his name. A name was important, and anyone worth a second chance should be given the respect of exchange of names. “It’s not annoying,” Grimmjow corrected.

 

            Ichigo settled in and tightened his hold again. That was good to know. “What were going to say that night, at the window of my car, that you ‘forgot’?”

 

            Grimmjow paused, considering before he answered. “I was going to ask if you were ok.”

Chapter Text

Section 25: Farewell to Old Things

            Save for Hisagi and Renji who’d already figured out Grimmjow’s inevitable and quietly developing partnership with Ichigo, ‘Sven’ to them, no one else really knew yet. Not amazing considering they didn’t much go out in public together. Whenever they did start making public appearances though, Ichigo should seem just like a skinny, or skinnier than most, Gehjovenic man whom the gruffer Gehjovenic man had taken under his wing while they conditioned for the same deployment…at least that’s what Grimmjow wanted it to seem like going forward. It was just for now. Grimmjow was not a fool of a man nor was he a coward about any relationship he would have, but he didn’t know how this should work and was aware of that lacking understanding. So it would have to be something which they figured out. No big deal. They’d probably fuck up somewhere, Grimmjow was actually sure of that, but probably not past anything that they could fix. Hopefully Tier would stay the fuck away, and Ichigo would stop tampering with his service, then everything should be better. The only other Gehjoven who should catch on quickly to their developing partnership was MaJ Zaraki, who was also a close friend and comrade to Grimmjow. The only reason that Grimmjow considered many of these details was because Ichigo was Jhezenic and if that was found out they would both die, so they did have to be a little careful. Grimmjow was sure that the death penalty, along with being stripped of all of his honest and respected military honors, would follow if they fucked that up. They would turn into examples. He didn’t shame that type of decision. In a way he was a real traitor to his faction even if Ichigo’s skills were an asset to Gehjoven for now. Those punishments made sense. Honestly if Grimmjow was called to judge someone like himself he would probably pass the death penalty to them too. Gehjoven be great.

 

{Approx. 0900 hours…}

            It was a warm and pleasant sunny day… Grimmjow’s large motorcycle shifted down in gears as the rumbling cruiser rolled into and was walked up to an ideal point in a parking space outside one of Souvenbash’s larger PXs; this PX, a retail store for military goods excluding food, was so central and frequented by so many people that a commissary, a military grocery store, had been built a few years later right next to it to be efficient. The PX alone contained multiple departments and quite a few separate stores, modernized certainly, and the perfect place to pick up almost anything one could need. The commissary was divided in two, the first layer a modern grocery store and the second was a fresh food market that welcomed traders from Gehjoven and neutral trade zones outside of Gehjoven. The market was heavily regulated by the military, the Gehjovenic government had a surprisingly small and noninvasive role in this. The PX and commissary were the only two complexes attached to this massive parking lot that was big enough for a few thousand people but they were enormous and multi-storied. It was ideal to come by these unless a quick trip was in order and neither man felt in a rush today of all days…not after such relief and satisfaction as last night; they were both in pretty good moods.

 

            Grimmjow switched off the bike and flipped down the kickstand as he lifted a leg up and over his padded seat so that he could get off of the cruiser first.

 

            Ichigo winced as he climbed off of the motorcycle too while Grimmjow waited for him; he caught Grimmjow staring questioningly. “I’m sore,” Ichigo chuckled in good spirits with a broad smile; he handed over the backpack of Grimmjow’s that he’d been holding onto the whole ride for the other man with all of the man’s gym stuff in it. “Courtesy of your nails and your dick. Thanks bunches for that.”

 

            ‘Sore’ huh? Listening but not responding Grimmjow lifted his pack from Ichigo’s hands as it was offered and hefted it onto his back. A few people were buzzing around nearby in the parking lot – coming and going. Grimmjow’s habitual awareness analyzed every noteworthy aspect of where they were at and what was going on – not much of anything unusual going on. He was only doing it out of habit, not in avoidance because Ichigo was teasing him. Actually the teasing was fine, it amused him though he didn’t let that show. As Grimmjow’s sharp blues came away from their surroundings he took off the deep blue tinted sunglasses which he’d been wearing on this blindingly sunny day and immediately squinted.

 

            Waiting patiently Ichigo eyed the mohawked man who was looking around and messing with his sunglasses and hardly talking. “I need a pair of those.”

 

            Putting the classy and efficient sunglasses on his head so they wouldn’t get lost Grimmjow squinted, scanned Ichigo’s features finding sincerity, turned his head away from the sun and thumbed at the PX building as if to say ‘you can get them from there’ or ‘let’s go’. He gave one last look around then started to walk.

 

            “Oh yeah?” Ichigo felt at least one of those meanings in a way, and while he wanted to cling to Grimmjow as they walked up to the PX he knew better. Grimmjow probably wouldn’t like that. Checking around for any vehicles moving the Jehzen started to walk away from the parked motorcycle at a comfortable pace, following Grimmjow. As they carried on Ichigo could tell progressively that the other man was looking at everything else but him. Was it nerves or just genuine wariness or maybe just the enjoyment of the outdoors? As they were walking and the cautious behavior from Grimmjow continued Ichigo lightly elbowed the other man. When Grimmjow’s vision snapped to him the Jhezen smiled broadly. “Relax! It’s a good day.”

 

            Grimmjow immediately became self-aware of what his habits seemed like – nervous or twitchy and out-of-place tendencies. Perhaps they kind of were, but not for any reason Ichigo knew of, and the Gehjoven was just keeping an eye out; nothing wrong with that. “Habit.”

 

            Ichigo sighed, “You’re trained to be wary I’m sure but there’s nothing that’s going to hurt you here-”

 

            “No.” Still flicking his eyes around Grimmjow dropped the singular word and it lingered alone for a few seconds as they walked through the parking lot closer toward the massive complexes. He decided to explain. “A few nights ago, the same night that you ‘tested’ me, someone had the balls to attack me outside of a bar. They were masked and they were not just some drunk.” It had been a slight wonder if that first attack had been part of Ichigo’s ‘test’ for him but it was just highly unlikely that the person who’d smashed a bottle over his head and knocked him and his bike over, whom Grimmjow had kicked in the face hard enough to break something, was Ichigo. The Jhezen would have looked worse now if he’d been struck like that.

 

            Ichigo’s thoughts scrambled; even he recognized how rare altercations like that were on this base and he felt a little awkward about confronting Grimmjow when something else had already happened, but now Grimmjow’s cautious behavior made sense. “Surely they wouldn’t try it again in broad daylight with a ton of people around.”

 

            Grimmjow just grunted with a frown. Second to assault there was also stalking.

 

            “You didn’t think it was me?” …because he sure would have. Ichigo wondered about that.

 

            “I kicked that dude in the face. You wouldn’t have been able to fight me as well as you did with a fractured jaw or worse.”

 

            “Oh…” Ichigo’s words quieted and he studied the pavement as they walked. Getting kicked in the face that hard sounded horrible. God… “Well that was really stupid of them…but you might not get a chance to hit them if I get to them first.”

 

            The implication that Ichigo would lay someone out for attacking him stuck. Grimmmjow’s piercing gaze slid toward the other man walking in equal stride to him as they were almost to the paving in front of the complexes, progressing to the PX’s side. He didn’t need to ask Ichigo how he felt he would fair if they were both attacked; it was clear. He trusted Ichigo, maybe not to mind his own business, but in combat the Jhezen certainly had proved some skill. Not so much flattered as intrigued, Grimmjow still changed the subject. “I’m returning old wedding bands while I’m in there. You need to go get what you want and leave me to it, got it?”

 

            Ichigo opened his mouth and hesitated, then closed his mouth. He better not… “Got it.” He looked disappointed. Shopping was so boring and he’d hoped Grimmjow’s presence would make it more interesting; apparently he wouldn’t be granted that.

 

            Apathetic to what disappointment he noticed, Grimmjow’s eyes moved away and they crossed the small paved street in front of the PX after checking for cars, got across a sidewalk and into the actual building through some automatic rolling doors. The inside span of the PX opened up impressively. Tactical and hunting gear, sporting equipment, casual clothes, jewelry, furniture, furnishings and many things in between…it was practically a mall. A military mall… There were a ton of soldiers roaming the grounds here first thing in the morning. Grimmjow and Ichigo kept walking until they were far enough away from the front entrance so as not to block the doors and then they stopped to get a look around.

 

            Ichigo glanced at where the PX connected to the commissary, a wall with sets of glass doors. “After I buy my stuff here we should find our lunch over there.” He lifted a hand and pointed cheerily. Maybe it would be fun to shop with Grimmjow for food, and Ichigo was really hungry. He didn’t know about Grimmjow but he’d skipped breakfast and Ichigo knew he’d definitely be even hungrier after a workout.

 

            Grimmjow looked over even though he knew what the Jhezen was talking about; he caught a few people staring at them – not insidious stares. These strangers weren’t even suspicious, they’d likely recognized Grimmjow. The group of younger soldiers saluted from a distance and Grimmjow saluted back before turning his eyes back to Ichigo who’d actually just dropped his own Gehjovenic salute. This damn Jhezen had such Gehjovenic manners in public…oh how culturally adapted Ichigo had become…it kind of impressed Grimmjow as well as weirding him out a fair bit. “Fucking chameleon.”

 

            “And you’re staring again.” Ichigo calmly lifted his brows and smirked a little.

 

            “Am I not allowed to stare at you?” Grimmjow snarled.

 

            Ichigo shrugged and smiled, turning over a hand and holding it out. “You’re going to have to hold my hand if you keep staring.”

 

            Grimmjow yanked his eyes away. A message of refusal for one reason or another. He wasn’t about to hold Ichigo’s hand as a sort of fee for staring. “Yeah, go fuck yourself.”

 

            “I’d much rather you do that for me.” Ichigo was still smirking at what he’d caused. Now he changed the subject. “Before the rest of the morning gets away from us you should let me buy you a cup of coffee.” To which Grimmjow’s piercing eyes slid back to him and one of the man’s blue brows went up so Ichigo explained. “It’s not much but you look like you didn’t get enough sleep.”

 

            Grimmjow’s face twitched. It wasn’t an angry twitch but he didn’t give in to the happier expression that had tried to form. He’d gotten laid last night and now Ichigo was being very nice to him and he wasn’t used to someone being this sweet. Without explanation or response Grimmjow just turned aside and started to walk on ahead.

 

            A bewildered Ichigo had to hurry to keep up as they went through crowds and up a short flight of stairs and continued to walk by different stores. Had he pushed too much?

 

            The whole time Grimmjow could see the Jhezen trying to read his expression from the corner of his eye; he gave nothing away. Ichigo was good at breaking down his walls so far but a few of them were still pristine and bulletproof. On their way Grimmjow himself wasn’t keen on going into most of the stores except the jewelers to get rid of those meaningless rings so he pretty much just watched where he was going.

 

            Ichigo wasn’t exactly sure where Grimmjow was headed right now and for reasons he just wasn’t going to ask, but when they climbed a higher set of stairs and turned a corner after passing a few stores he saw a coffee shop tucked into a store’s space that had open doorways to both the PX and commissary. Sure enough Grimmjow was leading him toward it. Ichigo exhaled and started to smile; so Grimmjow did want that cup of coffee.

 

            They were into the coffee shop with the strong and pleasing scent of coffee beans and other delicious auras wafting around and waiting in line, a slightly long one considering that it was morning and people wanted their cup of joe to wake up, when Grimmjow felt a hand pull one of his out of his white and black striped gym sweats’ pocket and clasp to it by his hip. The slightly surprised man turned his head faintly toward Ichigo with a skeptical squint but didn’t pull his hand away.

 

            “I’m so hungry I could probably eat all of the snacks they have here,” Ichigo mused like he hadn’t done anything unusual at all. His stomach growled.

 

            Oh great…dumb conversation as a kind of cover-up slash acceptance-trick for hand-holding. Letting Ichigo keep holding onto one of his hands Grimmjow’s face fell into a deadpan. “There’s better shit you could eat.”

 

            “I’d rather not eat shit.”

 

            Snapping his eyes away Grimmjow coughed softly to stop himself from laughing out loud. That joke was a little sad and he didn’t want to look stupid for being amused by it.

 

            Some of the people waiting in line ahead of them had snickered.

 

            Amused that he was making Grimmjow anxious Ichigo also noticed that the other man’s hand squeezed his hand a little tighter in the moment – probably out of reflex to his composure being tested. “Hey, Hades. That’s a death grip. Ease up,” Ichigo whispered, politely. The look on Grimmjow’s face when he looked back at Ichigo again after that was priceless.

 

            Wide blue eyes with a hint of what could only be described as playful aggression behind them… Grimmjow replied just as quietly. “Pardon me, Persephone. I didn’t realize you were delicate.”

 

            Ichigo’s eyes widened a little themselves. Clever. They edged forward in line as people moved off after ordering. “Does this imply love?” Ichigo was only speaking in whispers, for the other man’s sake.

 

            Actually having thought that he’d have the last laugh, Grimmjow looked fucking surprised to be trumped. He hadn’t meant it that way! Fuck. Was there anything he could say that Ichigo wouldn’t turn inside-out just to make him sweat? A sort of embarrassed shock was immediate and thank fucking heaven Ichigo just started snickering and chuckling to himself after that and didn’t lay anything else on. Grimmjow gave his embarrassment time to wear off. He didn’t even completely get why that had embarrassed him…maybe the fact that he’d walked himself into it and been caught off his guard. They got up to the counter of the pleasant coffee shop to order and Grimmjow got revenge on Ichigo’s cheeky comment by forcing the Jhezen to order both of their coffees on the spot without so much as a single hint about what he wanted to drink. They’d separated hands by now.

 

            As they wandered over to the window to wait for their order just like everyone else, Ichigo challenged having been put into that nerve-wracking instance. “What makes you think that you’re not the one who’ll pay dearly if you don’t like the coffee?”

 

            “I think you’d regret not making the right choice.” ‘You fuckin’ perfectionist tease…’ Well now Grimmjow was satisfied with his revenge; Ichigo deserved to sweat about it just as hard as he was.

 

            They stopped near the slightly crowded window and weren’t holding hands anymore so Ichigo crossed his arms and faced the Gehjovenic soldier with a gently annoyed expression. That was right… He wanted to do the man a favor and someone was intentionally trying to make it harder. Ichigo just wanted to have a nice cup of coffee with him, he didn’t want to fuck it up. “You get a twisted kick out of that, huh?”

 

            Grimmjow just grinned and crossed his own arms. Pot, kettle. The people also waiting didn’t seem to notice Grimmjow at first but gradually one or two people recognized who Grimmjow was…and soon more… It wasn’t enough to shake one or two hands and have five people offer to buy him a coffee for whatever their reasons; Grimmjow was being chatted up by about ten people within so many minutes and couldn’t get away from it.

 

            Meanwhile an irate Ichigo was a second note behind the heroically regarded soldier who seemed polite but only tolerant of being surrounded. Grimmjow wasn’t the only one being tolerant… When their order was up, in ‘Sven’s’ name, Ichigo took great pleasure in getting the two coffees from the window before Grimmjow could and handing the well-known Gehjovenic soldier his in front of everyone else. Silently Ichigo was informing them that this man already had someone to pay attention to.

 

            Grimmjow didn’t ruin that by putting the flavor of the coffee to the test in front of everyone else, he just politely excused them from the strangers with polite regards and laced hands with Ichigo voluntarily as they left the coffee shop.

 

            “Using me as an excuse to get away?” Ichigo was still unquestionably happy to have their hands clasped again; this was kind of fun and he hadn’t prompted it this time. When no response came Ichigo verbally prodded again, “Do you even like it?” Since Grimmjow hadn’t even taken a sip from his cup, Ichigo was actually worried that just by name, it was some kind of a mocha coffee, that the Gehjoven didn’t really want to drink it.

 

            “There isn’t a coffee on their menu I don’t like.” Grimmjow had been minding where they were walking and was more or less tugging Ichigo along.

 

            Ichigo let go of a sigh and a sound of complaint. “And you made me think I was on the spot. Asshole!” He didn’t seem to mind being manhandled and tugged though.

 

            If it was annoyance or covering up the satisfaction of getting a little revenge on the clever Jhezen, Grimmjow rolled his eyes and took a few swallows out of the covered cup of coffee. At a brisk pace that never stopped or slowed until they got where Grimmjow intended the two of them to go, they found themselves by his preferred jewelers’ shop in minutes. Grimmjow let go of Ichigo’s hand and took a step back. “Get your clothes or whatever and meet me by the doors to the commissary.” That was it, just a boring order to meet up after they got what they needed. This was definitely not a pleasure or leisurely trip to the PX for him.

 

            “Why don’t you meet me in a store, I won’t be done before you,” Ichigo tried to protest sensibly.

 

            “It’s boring. I don’t want to go shopping for clothes. Just do it yourself.” Grimmjow had other reasons but he didn’t feel like explaining them.

 

            “How do you think I feel?” Grimmjow’s expression got more stern. “Fine…” Ichigo groused.

 

            Grimmjow walked around Ichigo to get into the jewelry store without another word. There was only so much he could do to get rid of the Jhezen at this point but ignoring Ichigo’s irritation should work.

 

            When nothing was said in parting Ichigo scowled at the back of Grimmjow’s head and stalked off…or at least he seemed to have… Ichigo doubled back and casually waited where he could see Grimmjow through the glass of the jewelers’ shop as he finished his coffee from afar. What the fuck was wrong with doing things together? He watched everything from the jeweler asking about exchanges to the actual return of the rings. Ichigo couldn’t see from this distance what the wedding bands looked like but he could see that Grimmjow looked plentifully somber about the whole thing and the jeweler wasn’t giving him a hard time; it was posture that gave that away. One of the shop’s jewelers handed the Gehjovenic man an envelope with a polite bow. Seeing Grimmjow dealing with this alone rubbed Ichigo the wrong way; after all, he’d been there for Grimmjow’s absolute breakdown before. As Grimmjow was clearly counting the money in the envelope the Jhezen ducked away before the Gehjovenic soldier could have a chance to turn around and see him. Ichigo wanted to help again, but he just didn’t know how this time. Maybe he’d made a mistake. Maybe giving Grimmjow as much space as possible was what he should be doing even if he didn’t want to.

 

            These wedding bands had a long return policy which involved getting half of one’s money back in cash and half as store credit. It sucked but wasn’t the worst deal. Grimmjow counted the money in the envelope while he was at the jeweler’s counter.

 

            “It might be none of my business, sir but the man whom you parted ways with at the door seems to have given up waiting outside.” The jeweler had seen and recognized who Grimmjow had been with, assuming they were waiting around and just left.

 

            Grimmjow’s thoughts stalled on counting then he just sighed. He hadn’t asked Ichigo to wait for him, quite the contrary, but he wasn’t surprised to find out that the Jhezen had tried to anyway. Ichigo was almost as much a stubborn bastard as he was. “That’s fine.” He recounted the money, finding all that was supposed to be in there, threw away his empty coffee cup and with ‘Gehjoven be great’ in parting Grimmjow completed that bit of business and left the jewelry store. Never again would he have to look at those damned rings. He was glad to be out of there but the mohawked man did in fact pause outside of the doors to look around for Ichigo, though he didn’t see the other man anywhere. Not angry or even cross Grimmjow found his way back toward the front of the PX and sat on a metal bench near where the PX and commissary connected – exactly where he’d said they were supposed to meet. This spot was harder for passersby to notice which meant that he wouldn’t be bothered by more people who recognized him; just for a short while Grimmjow felt like he needed some peace – as he’d anticipated. The Ghejoven leaned back and spaced out with his eyes open. Damn Tier, and fuck those rings and their whole farce of a marriage. He started planning parts of his pre-deployment instead of thinking about his old relationship. The minutes passed like water over a fall, free-flowing; the time helped him settle. Secluded in the spot he’d chosen to sit, Grimmjow wasn’t bothered by anyone and when a voice actually spoke to him to rouse him from his settled state Grimmjow’s eyes focused to see the Jhezen standing there with a pair of new polarized orange-tinted sunglasses up on his head and few papery shopping bags over his arms and folded black and dark blue clothes extended in his hands. Grimmjow’s eyes flicked down from Ichigo’s smiling face at the obvious gift; after a moment of absolute silent consideration he picked the clothes up. How long had he been spacing out for? He didn’t even know.

 

            Ichigo’s arms came away once Grimmjow had a hold of the clothes. “Spares are always good. I’m finding that out the hard way.” He smiled as the Gehjoven was unfolding the clothes to get a look at them; there was a surprising lack of scrutiny on Grimmjow’s face.

 

            This was a form-fitting exercise outfit of sheer material, a long-sleeved shirt and the pants were actually leggings. The majority of the outfit was blue with the Gehjovenic harpoon in black on the right shoulder of the shirt and the hip of the leggings. They were even his size… Ichigo had probably bought them with him in mind specifically. Grimmjow lowered the outfit and hung it over his forearm as he stood up with an expression that turned to stern as he looked at Ichigo.

 

            The Jhezen’s throat got dry. Oh no… Those piercing eyes…that look. Grimmjow knew something…

 

            “You don’t get a pass just because you buy me shit. I know you stuck around after I asked you not to.”

 

            Ichigo looked a little panicked at first, “I’m not trying to kiss your ass-”

 

            “Well you did.” The Jhezen needed to start respecting his wishes else Grimmjow was going to stop giving him the time of day. Next came a really awkward silence where Grimmjow was just staring sternly and Ichigo’s eyes slid to the floor and the ambient sounds of the PX went on around them. “Look…I’m just going to forget that you didn’t listen to me this one last time, and only because I’m looking forward to the rest of the day with you.” …and he didn’t want to think about those rings anymore.

 

            Ichigo quickly perked up. Even after he’d been a bother? There was a light in those brownish eyes. He wanted to explain himself but Grimmjow already seemed to have let the subject go.

 

            With a stern yet mindful stare Grimmjow didn’t miss noticing that lively light in the other man’s eyes.

 

            “Do you like the clothes?” Ichigo prodded energetically with a smile and nudging the arm that Grimmjow had draped them over. “They’re supposed to be comfortable and I think you’ll look sexy in them, but if they aren’t right I can go return them.”

 

            ‘Sexy’? Had this damn Jhezen just implied something rather intimate? …yes he had. This was going to take some getting used to. Giving the other man another chance Grimmjow made the conscious decision to just be nice. “I’ll wear them today and see how they do.” With a fair expression that hinted at contentedness again Grimmjow zipped the new clothes up in his gym bag and putting the bag on his back again he nodded toward the automatic doors to the commissary and walked that way.

 

            Ichigo tagged along, a little relieved that this hadn’t gone worse. In the commissary, which was almost as packed as the PX, they walked around the aisles of the main grocery area and picked out some food that they both wanted to eat for lunch after their workout was over. It was plenty of food for just one meal but with Ichigo accidentally skipping breakfast he was pointing out extra things. Maybe he needed something to eat before their workout too. Ichigo pulled a box of energy bars down off of one of the shelves that he could just barely reach and turned it around, reading the ingredients and what good these were supposed to do. When he was done and he shook the box at Grimmjow who was standing close behind him.

 

            “I thought you didn’t want to eat shit.”

 

            Even though the retort was clever it was also very crude, Ichigo scowled. “They aren’t shit for you if you don’t eat the whole box and I was wondering if you’d want this kind too. Have you eaten anything today?”

 

            “Of course I have. Comes into territory when you take medication every single day. You should put those things back I have a better idea.”

 

            Ichigo felt annoyed by that for some reason and shook the box at the other man again.

 

            At being further annoyed Grimmjow plucked the box of prepackaged bars out of the Jhezen’s hands, lucky not to crush it in his solid grip, put it back up on the shelf easily and then put an arm around Ichigo and walked the Jhezen away.

 

            Probably only cooperative because he liked how the other soldier was holding onto him, Ichigo was taken to different aisles to find the raw, healthy ingredients that had been in those bars. Nuts and oats and various fruits, but fresh ones. Finally Grimmjow stopped at the refrigerated section and picked out a carton of low percentage milk. The Jhezen looked down at the bags of raw foods he was holding, it was only a small armful really but wasn’t milk going to be hard to have on the motorcycle? “Ok…ok! I get it. Fresh and raw food is healthier.”

 

            “You’re damn right. You know this already, you bought almost all the fuckin’ food that’s in my house right now and it’s all obscenely healthy.”

 

            Looking sheepish he followed Grimmjow to one last aisle, Ichigo kind of missed the Gehjoven’s arm being wrapped around his person, and watched the other man pick out paper bowls and plastic utensils. Then they walked along until they reached the front of the commissary, waited in line where thankfully only two people recognized Grimmjow and just shook his hand with greetings before moving on, and then the pair unloaded all of the groceries. Grimmjow paid for everything. He didn’t even give the cashier a chance to ask for cash or a card and used one of the bills he’d gotten in that envelope from the jewelers. Ichigo quietly relished the gesture with a smile. Now Grimmjow was forcefully trying to take care of him. When they left the commissary they were each carrying a few more bags than before – knowing right-well that having all of this on a motorcycle was going to mean that they needed to be a little creative.

 

            Outside the both of them put their sunglasses on and Grimmjow got observant again, realizing that he’d been very distracted by Ichigo and should have been paying a little more attention to their surroundings.

 

            Ichigo noticed the man’s habit kick in again. “Did you see anything off?”

 

            “No.” They walked the rest of the way in content silence across the parking lot to Grimmjow’s bike.

 

            Ichigo set all of his own bags down. He froze. Grimmjow was staring at him again.

 

            When Grimmjow realized what he was doing he quickly stopped.

 

            Ichigo smiled and as the other man tried to busy himself, opening up the rather empty side bags on the cruiser, Ichigo handed him groceries to pack into the side bags. Ichigo’s body had been sore this morning but for some reason, even after all of this moving around, it was agreeable now; he considered that he wasn’t the only one whose body mattered. “By the way, how does your body feel today?”

 

            Grimmjow was presently making sure that the milk wouldn’t spill or get crushed in one side’s compartment. “Fine.” That was the whole of his reply. They stopped talking while Ichigo was taking his new workout wear out of the papery bags and packing it into a new backpack that he’d bought just for his own gym stuff; the papery shopping bags were handed over to Grimmjow who balled them up to put around the groceries so that nothing would move. It was a clever trick. The Gehjovenic soldier stood up straight after securing the side bags on the cruiser and looked at Ichigo who’d put on the backpack. The injuries on the Jhezen were fading, day by day…something about them healing made the Gehjovenic soldier thoughtful in another silent stare.

 

            Ichigo held out his hands and pointed at Grimmjow’s gym bag, he presumed that Grimmjow was spacing out.

 

            The Gehjoven could have just handed his own gym bag over but in taking it off his back Grimmjow dropped it on the ground by Ichigo’s leg and took a step in before he left a kiss on Ichigo’s lips – just a brief kiss.

 

            Ichigo was fairly stunned to say the least but he liked it too. As Grimmjow was getting on the cruiser next and the bike started with a vastly loud rumble Ichigo mouthed off a little, “You seemed like you hated PDA.”

 

            Swiping the hefty kickstand up and holding the heavy cruiser upright Grimmjow backed the bike up by walking it backward, giving Ichigo a slanted frown as he stopped beside the Jhezen. The motorcycle continued to rumble as its engine vibrated at a low idle. “We’re not on display. You’re a pain in the ass, now just get on.” He was giving Ichigo the opportunity to climb on now with his feet both planted and standing up as he held the cruiser still.

 

            Chuckling Ichigo picked up the gym bag and made sure the footrests were out then carefully climbed onto the cruiser. He held onto the Gehjoven’s gym bag and Grimmjow. “How much do you think all of this weighs?”

 

            “Enough that you shouldn’t squirm around.” Grimmjow gave Ichigo an extra moment to settle on the back before they went anywhere; the Jhezen was a good passenger but there was a bit more weight than he usually had on the cruiser so he was being careful for both of them. Grimmjow put the bike into gear as he accelerated and lifted his feet so they started to cruise through the parking lot with the low rumble of the bike’s engine, and eventually they turned out of the lot and out onto a main street. The motorcycle accelerated as the gears were progressed with loud snarls.

 

            Ichigo smiled and sighed happily, still holding on and sitting still. This feeling of being on a powerful bike with the wind blowing past them and holding onto this man particularly was freeing and wonderful.

 

            The Gehjoven could feel Ichigo leaning his bag up against his back comfortably and the other man’s one hand clutching at his side. Grimmjow didn’t even mind; it wouldn’t have even bothered him if the Jhezen was belly-up to his back. For Grimmjow the realization of how his tolerances were growing was surprising but it wasn’t bad – just different.

 

            Ichigo was surprised when the Gehjovenic man slowed the bike and turned onto a main road leading them to a park with a few businesses on the other side of the street and stopped in a parallel parking space. Ichigo remained put until Grimmjow was off the bike and able to take his gym bag. What were they doing?

 

            Noticing a questioning stare Grimmjow just nodded for Ichigo to follow him as he got some of the groceries out of the side bags of the bike and hefted his own bag out of the Jhezen’s hands and started to walk into the vast and gorgeous park.

 

            In a careful hurry the Jhezen followed, keeping up and tromping through the broadly green grass under the shade of some trees; he’d sort of started to figure out what was going on. His new backpack’s zippers rattled. “Are we eating breakfast here?” There was only a grunt to that. They were coming up on a path out from under the park’s trees and passing some other people walking, standing and exercising this morning. Emerging from under the trees and following this path the sunlight was warm and it was a really nice day so far. This path was made beside a lake and nature was teeming in the water. After being distracted by several ducks and fishermen at the lake Ichigo hurried up to Grimmjow’s side and found the other man’s hand and took half of the groceries away, carrying some of them himself because he wanted to. Surprisingly that half of the plastic bags changed hands without a fuss from the gruffer man.

 

            The two of them walked around the lake on that path to the opposite side and then off into the grass to a calm spot where Grimmjow set down his grocery bags, dropped his gym bag and rummaged in it for a fresh towel which he shook out and laid down. It was plenty big enough for two butts to sit on. Settling onto the spot on the grass they dug through the groceries and mixed the healthy ingredients together in two paper bowls to each’s liking and poured milk over the fresh cereal and ate shoulder to shoulder with the plastic utensils while just staring out at the lake.

 

            Ichigo was very happy.

 

            Grimmjow was pleased.

 

            Another time with just bliss to be content and appreciate life for what it was. As many moments as these two could get they would gladly take…for there was more war on the horizon.

 

{Approx. 1200 hours… Souvenbash’s second largest military gym…}

            Still radiating with the happiness of such a pleasant morning Ichigo dismounted the motorcycle after it was parked in a massive lot again, and once the side bags were unlocked by Grimmjow, Ichigo started going through them for the remaining groceries that would be their lunch. Thankfully none of it needed to be refrigerated and they’d finished off that small carton of milk while they were at the park.

 

            Grimmjow helped. They both were carrying their bags and the food in together. As they approached the massive gym from one side this was one of five entrances to what was the second largest gym on this Elite military base, and the building itself was another example of a modernization – metal and glass. There was a huge track and field outside and even a path to jog on through a garden which was home to a sort of memorial for the military men who’d first organized and started this gym. A hidden obstacle course was outdoors in woods near the garden; there was even more equipment inside the building though. Once inside everything was uniformly grey, silvery, black and white and very, very clean with a check-in station that Grimmjow and Ichigo went through to be IDed and then turned lose into the rest of the building. They were allowed to bring their own food into this facility and they didn’t have to pay upfront as the deduction, with a very generous discount, was sent straight to their bank accounts after they were IDed. Gehjoven wasn’t a rich enough faction to not have their soldiers paying something to use facilities like this gym. Since this particular gym was also used to do military training no women were allowed to work out here. That bothered some people whereas most others just didn’t care because there were a lot of nicer gyms on-base that included women. The culture of Gehjovenic people was very used to rules like this.

 

            In the mornings the gym was pretty busy and today was no exception; the pair passed a lot of men coming and going in the halls, so Ichigo stayed close and avoided being bumped into. “I’ve never been to this place.” The sounds of loud music rumbling from some of the fitness rooms and clank of equipment and shouts or talk from the men around was everywhere as they walked halls and around stairs.

 

            “It’s huge. Don’t get lost,” Grimmjow warned, his pace was brisk and Ichigo seemed to be keeping up.

 

            Indeed able to keep up with the Gehjoven, Ichigo just followed along and it seemed like Grimmjow was leading him toward the pools because the smell of chlorine came into the air. It had taken them almost five minutes just to walk this far. Soon they passed the glass windows that revealed several large pools in a large room beyond. “Is it heated?”

 

            “What? No.” Grimmjow sounded like he was surprised that Ichigo had asked something like that. There were less people to pass as they came into these halls and Grimmjow noticed the Jhezen walking up beside him. “Is that what you’re used to?”

 

            “Kind of. I don’t swim a lot.” Ichigo was glancing at the men already in the pools; some of them were diving with and without gear, doing drills with coaches but most of them were swimming laps.

 

            “Get out that thought out of your head, and you better learn to swim really well,” Grimmjow warned. After all…Ichigo’s credits for his Gehjovenic status in the military were mostly fakes…

 

            Ichigo sighed as Grimmjow stopped by a locker room door and pushed it open, going inside first and looking around as they trekked into the echoing space with hard floors, hard walls and brackets of lockers all lined up. Ichigo was trailing along, looking around and peering about once they’d entered the locker room and this was arguably nice compared to other gyms that he’d been going to. There was also hardly anyone in this locker room right now and clearly very few of the lockers were in use.

 

            Grimmjow went to a specific locker in the dead-center of the room, setting his bag down he was taking out his lock. It was better to get a locker here by the pool because most of the men who came around weren’t interested in the pool as much as the weight and equipment rooms which were packed. “The showers are also only cold by the way. Just to warn you.”

 

            Ichigo groaned as he’d started unpacking too and taking off his clothing right away. He was currently pulling up his shirt. “That kind of sucks you know.”

 

            Grimmjow tended to disagree, working out for hours at a time with some breaks in there but being sweaty and hot as fuck he didn’t care what the showers felt like as long as they were clean and got the funk of working out off of him. The Gehjovenic man was currently clanking around with his belongings and his locker as he opened it up and started separating stuff in his gym bag with the groceries for their lunch tucked inside it too. “You’re just lucky this locker room doesn’t smell like ass. Be grateful.”

 

            Ichigo heard the only other guy he’d seen in the locker room leave and then the locker room door closed so of course Ichigo walked to the end and looked around then came back. “Hey, we’re alone.”

 

            Grimmjow looked up from his gym bag as he was crouched by it in front of the locker. “So?”

 

            Ichigo started taking off his pants…and his underwear.

 

            “Hey! No fucking way. You pull those up!” Grimmjow barked sternly as he paused all of what he was doing.

 

            Not serious about what his behavior implied the Jhezen chuckled with a grin plastered on his face, “I was only kidding anyway,” as he continued stripping off his clothes and was putting them into his new workout backpack.

 

            Grimmjow rolled his eyes and returned to digging through his gym bag in what was his typical demeanor gruff with a slight side of grouch. “You really do need a fucking cold shower.” Even with lockers on the same bracket in the room they minded their own business as either stripped completely and pulled on their workout attire. Grimmjow flexed his arms and legs as he put on the new clothes that the Jhezen has so kindly bought him. The top and bottom were long-sleeved and legged, mostly dark blue with the Gehjovenic harpoon in black on the right shoulder of the top and the right hip of the leggings. This sheer material was stupidly comfortable and the clothes fit well. Generally he washed new clothes before use but today there was just no time and it didn’t really matter once. Grimmjow adjusted a jockstrap’s band under the fabric of the leggings and he was pretty surprised how modest his crotch looked in leggings; they were definitely designed for modesty but mobility. That said nothing for how the curves of his sculpted and muscular build looked with the second skin of dark fabric. After tying up his slightly mis-matched grey shoes with dark socks Grimmjow shut his locker with a slam and clicked his lock closed, adjusting a pouch around his thigh that held his phone; he couldn’t stand armbands, this was better. He looked at Ichigo.

 

            The Jhezen was about done getting dressed himself and wearing just as formfitting an outfit but some of the details and design of it was slightly different. The outfit was completely black without any symbols on it, it had slim pockets on the sides and the top was short-sleeved, only coming to the tops of his modestly formed biceps. Already with his equally new matching black shoes on Ichigo was tightening some orange weight-lifting gloves on his hands and looked at Grimmjow whom he felt, “Staring.”

 

            “You know what? Fuck you. I’m allowed to stare,” Grimmjow growled. The damn Jhezen was thinner than himself but had muscle and it was toned…Ichigo looked good but the gruff soldier wasn’t about to tell him that.

 

            Sighing because he figured he knew why Grimmjow was being so brazen, Ichigo took his phone and the wired in-ear headphones out of his backpack as it hung in the locker he’d picked and then shut the metal box and put a lock that he’d just bought on its handle with a click and spun the combination lock.

 

            “I’ve got to find Hisagi and Renji.”

 

            “Fine well I’m going to find a weights room that I like.” He gave Grimmjow a once-over…that outfit really did fit the buff Gehjoven extremely well and he was pleased to stare at the man wearing it. Ichigo had men in mind for a lot longer than Grimmjow did, he didn’t feel even slightly conflicted about staring himself.

 

            “You do what you want. After seeing them I’ll be in the pool. Lunch in a few hours.” Grimmjow pushed off of the bracket of lockers and started to walk away; clearly they were going to do their own things while they were here, not wait up for each other.

 

            “Hey.” Ichigo walked after the Gehjoven quickly and kissed the gruff man on the cheek and darted for the locker room door narrowly dodging another guy who was coming in with an apology before he started hurrying off without Grimmjow.

 

            The gruff Gehjoven rumbled at the kiss he’d been left with, stopping just by the locker room door as the Jhezen got further away.

 

            Ichigo heard Grimmjow barking down the hall outside the locker room after him.

 

            “You better be ten pounds more muscle when you get back!”

 

            “Fifteen!” Ichigo glanced over his shoulder as he scurried up the hall, eager to check the rest of this place out on his own. It looked so nice and he was going to work out until his body felt like lead.

 

            Grimmjow was waiting outside the locker room on his cellphone, calling Hisagi to find out where they were.

 

            Ichigo went up some polished stone steps that wound around twice until he got to another floor and a hallway. Leaving the chlorine-scented air behind he noticed that the further he got from the pools the busier the building was again. There were tons of soldiers, or he presumed them to be soldiers, by the time he found the first weights room. Wandering inside Ichigo gave a moment or two’s glance around and decided that this one was too packed and moved on to the next. A couple of sweat-scented rooms later and he found a smaller weight room with less of a selection into heavier weights but there was a massive wall of glass windows framed by metal letting the sun in on one side and not as many soldiers in here. This was it. Eagerly he wandered in and went around some occupied benches to the dumbbell racks and picked up a few of the lighter ones to get started stretching. Arms, legs, torso, neck, back and pretty much everything needed a good stretch and it hurt a little at first before it started to feel good just because he had a recovering body. Even though he felt fine he still looked fairly beat-up but what hurt the most right now was actually the fresher scratches on his back… After an hour’s worth of necessary stretches, maybe he’d taken a little longer than he needed to, the Jhezen put the dumbbells he’d been using back and started to move over to the benches with racks for squats and bench pressing. He put his headphones in and music on to block out the music already playing on the speakers around the room.

 

            Loading up a twenty-pound bar with forty pounds on each side Ichigo figured he’d give himself a warm-up with some squats at a hundred pounds. He knew that he was definitely fine to front-squat that much without a spotter and moved the bench under the rack out of the way. He imagined Grimmjow doing twice as much weight with muscles surging and bulging and all veins popping out…after a set or two of squats when that idea really settled in Ichigo was starting to feel like maybe he shouldn’t be thinking about Grimmjow’s more attractive sides while he was working out in leggings. He was able to keep himself from getting very obvious wood but after a third set of front-squats Ichigo added ten pounds to each side of the bar and repeated three sets but this time back-squats then he racked the weighted bar and started to drag the bench back into position. Between two songs playing on his personal playlist in his in-ear headphones he heard snickering nearby the equipment that he was using.

 

            With a vague glance at mirrors on a wall behind the racks of dumbbells Ichigo saw men near him, staring at him, whom he didn’t recognize. That was awkward and he didn’t know them plus he wasn’t interested in company so Ichigo ignored them. The rest of the men in the room seemed to be minding their own business just fine so these guys should too; Ichigo figured ignoring them was the best idea. It probably was.

 

            Continuing with his warm-up the Jhezen weighted the long-bar he’d use next down to a hundred pounds again and tuned out with his music as he lay back on the flat-down bench with his feet planted on either side. He lifted the bar off of the rack and did a couple of sets bench pressing the easy amount of weight. When the scratches on his back started to hurt Ichigo racked the bar and took a moment’s break to change up his music. Actually his body was doing fine otherwise and this was just a small warm-up; later he wanted to do some more for his arms and definitely work on his back and shoulders. A shadow came to hover over his head and the Jhezen stopped what he was doing with music on his phone as he was still laying back-down on the flat bench and looked up.

 

            A weird man, one of the snickering guys of earlier had come over. He was unusually tall with an ear to ear grin and dark hair… “Hey.” He looked over the long-bar at the laid-down man’s face.

 

            Ichigo sighed, he’d been bothered despite his efforts to ignore them, and took a headphone out. “Hi. Can I help you?”

 

            “You look like you need a spotter.”

 

            Ichigo wasn’t sure what about those words were off but there was definitely something unlikable about them. “Um, no thanks. I actually don’t need one.”

 

            “Aw c’mon. Lemmie spot you, it’s no problem.”

 

            Very opposed to this because something didn’t feel right Ichigo figured if he did just one more set then excused himself he wouldn’t offend anyone and he could get out of this room and go find one with a lateral-pulldown or something. “Ah… Fine. Thanks…” The Jhezen adjusted his weight-lifting gloves after pocketing his cellphone in one of the pouches on his shirt’s side and reached up to lift the weighted long-bar again.

 

            The other man was behaved very normally and had his hands always under the bar as the man on the bench, whom he’d just met, did reps in the set. They didn’t speak at all. It was awkward.

 

            Gladly finishing a whole set more Ichigo went to lift the bar up to rack it after he was done with that set and all he could think of was how fast he could get out of this room, but found that the bar was tugged back over his chest and noticed two other men load fifty pounds onto each side of the bar sneakily. “Hey don’t..!” Ichigo’s arms shook as they let go of the weights and the long-bar started to come back down toward his chest as he struggled with the weight – actually putting up a fight to hold it up and rack the bar.

 

            “C’mon! It’s not that bad!” one of the three men jeered. They were indeed the same men who’d been snickering at him in a group earlier.

 

            The rest of the men working out in the weight room seemed to ignore or not notice what was going on as the music on speakers and clanking of weights and chatter to their own groups was pretty distracting for most.

 

            A hugely large man, elbowed the taller man who’d first approached Ichigo. “Nnoitora, he can’t rep that much. It’s pathetic. Look at him.” This man was a complete hulk with a mostly shaved head and a slim tail of hair at the nape of his neck.

 

            “It’s probably why he looks so beat up! You lose a fight little man?” Nnoitora, as indicated by his larger companion, was teasing the heck out of the struggling man on the bench.

 

            Gritting his teeth somewhat Ichigo felt sweat roll down his neck as his body complained sorely and he lost ground struggling with the heavily weighted long-bar. These fucking assholes…

 

            Tall and muscular, his grin was as sinister as his eyes and dark hair dangled as he looked down. Nnoitora. He liked to be a bother.

 

            Ichigo had to set the bar on his chest and supported some of the weight like that with his arms and chest to avoid getting hurt; he was just too sore to lift this much right now, but what was he going to do? The scratches on his back pressed to the fabric of his clothes and against the bench the skin screamed and he couldn’t even talk with two-hundred pounds bearing down on him. This wasn’t funny! Ichigo tried to tip the bar to one side to roll it off of himself but then the third man of their little gang on that side tipped it back. Ichigo’s phone slipped out of his pocket and the headphones he had came unplugged, pausing his music and thankfully not cracking its screen.

 

            “Hey no cheating! You’ve gotta lift it!” This third guy was about Ichigo’s size but just a tad more muscular and quite a bit more feminine with dark hair and a deviously bubbly tone.

 

            “Luppi, I don’t think he’s gonna be able to do it,” Yammy, the hulk, remarked.

 

            Ichigo choked out, “Can’t..! Get it off!” He felt sweat rolling off his neck more and the rest of his body as it soaked into his clothes and he struggled to keep the weight up enough to breathe. …and they let him keep struggling like that. For a few minutes Ichigo was panicked and then…he felt one of them tug on his leggings. In sudden anger Ichigo pulled a leg away and raising it with a huge breath in and just a glance down he kicked the man who was pulling on his leggings firmly in the face. All in a second’s notice.

 

            There was a clang and a rattling as Luppi went straight into another rack and knocked it over, laying by the toppled equipment and holding his face. Blood dripped on the ground. All of the friendly chatter in the room stopped and the other men stared at them with naught but the room’s speakers making more noise.

 

            The Jhezen still struggling on the bench with the weight was flushed because of the physical strain and embarrassment of having his damn pants almost being pulled down! There was nothing under there and they were presently half-way on his hips. Without wasting any time Ichigo started to tip the weighted long-bar toward the side where that feminine looking guy had been to get it the fuck off of himself while the other two men were distracted for the moment staring at their buddy. The bar and its weights hit the ground with a hard sound and bounced on the mats as Ichigo rolled off of the bench wheezing, scraping up his cellphone into a pocket again and then walking backward until his back was to the next bench and he was a little way away from the men who’d approach him. He was shaking, anger and strain.

 

            Luppi was on the ground in agony with muffled whines and probably missing some teeth.

 

            Yammy’s cruel eyes found their target again and stomping over toward the Jhezen he reached to get a hold of Ichigo. “You motherfucker…”

 

            Ichigo scrambled around the bench that he was near, tugged up his leggings and was ready to run out of the room.

 

            Nnoitora swiftly got in the way and made the slighter man take a wary step back as he blocked Ichigo’s path. “Going somewhere…pet?