Chapter 1: overture
Hello there. It's me! This is where all the cool kids are posting nowadays so I thought, why not.
This is a revised and updated version. I first started writing this story almost TEN years ago and I have changed a lot as a writer and a person since! So bear with me and feel free to ask questions if you have any. (edit: re-reading and editing this was a harsh exercise in CRINGE lol)
DEDICATION: This story is dedicated to every single Grimmjow/Ichigo writer and supporter out there who have in turn inspired, annoyed, educated, infuriated and entertained me for hours and hours on end. Where would I be without you?
ALSO: I would like to thank angstymcgoth and Mistress Penelopye, someone whose works you have probably already read on ff.net. If not, go read them. She is an absolute star, and without her support and encouragement I could not have done as much as I did. Thank you forever, Penny.
1. an opening or initiating move toward negotiations, a new relationship, an agreement, etc.; a formal or informal proposal or offer: overtures of peace; a shy man who rarely made overtures of friendship.
2. Music. a. an orchestral composition forming the prelude or introduction to an opera, oratorio, etc. b. an independent piece of similar character.
3. an introductory part, as of a poem; prelude; prologue.
He chewed on the end of his pen. Squinted at the page. Scowled.
The beginning was always the hardest part. How did you capture someone immediately, pull them into your world, make them stay?
Ichigo mumbled aloud to himself, "I suppose I should tell you the details of when and where exactly it started. And when I say started, I mean that this is where my relationship with Grimmjow Jaegerjaques changes from us being childhood enemies into something a lot more...um, complicated. No. Complex. Hmm. En...twined? No. Gross."
He hastily scribbled out a few words from the paper he was writing on, scored out and underlined others, and continued reading to himself, muttering quietly under his breath.
"It's not like I saw it happening. It's not like I meant for it to happen. The strangest things change you in the strangest ways, and most of the time it's when you're not looking - and then you turn your head and you look at yourself in the past and it hits you like a smack to the face, when you see how much you've grown up, how much the people around you have changed. It's slow and unnoticeable, that maturity, but when you add it all up it's kind of frightening how much you grow in just a few years."
Ichigo was so caught up in his monologue that he didn't notice a figure slink up several paces behind him, moving almost silently; that figure paused at the sound of Ichigo's voice, then after a few seconds, crept into the shade of the trees directly behind the picnic bench where the orange-haired man sat crouched over a battered notebook.
"And it's pretty much the same with feelings, right? You don't take them out of a box and measure them and compare them every month or whatever, you only see what's happened to them when someone points out to you that they've turned into something else. Your feelings towards someone can change in an instant, or they can change as slowly as a tree turns into oil. It happens like...it happens like a plant growing. Or like a flower turning into, I dunno, a fruit or something."
The figure crouched in the shadows suppressed a snort, emerging from under the trees and creeping up behind Ichigo, taking care to make no noise.
He waited until orange hair was tickling his nose, then purred in the shell of a pink ear, "I gotta say Kurosaki, I'm no Shakespeare or nothing but that sounded pretty high school to me."
Ichigo yelped, flinging a hand to his chest.
"Grimmjow-! You son of a - how long have you been there?"
"Long enough to hear a good chunk of...whatever that was."
Ichigo turned red. "You...that's just a first draft! Shut up! I'm gonna kick your heart straight up your neck, you hear me?"
"Don't be so mean," Grimmjow smirked as his arms slid over Ichigo's shoulders, his blue eyes hooded with amusement. "After all, whose idea was it to write down all the crazy shit that happened to us?
"You did! It was your idea, asshole!"
Ichigo glared at him with heated brown eyes. Grimmjow opened his mouth, then paused and said slowly.
"Hey, my bad, it wasn't that...awful. But write down the juicy stuff first and you can get that other introductory shit later."
"The juicy stuff?" Ichigo chewed on his pen again, but this time in a thoughtful manner. "What do you mean?"
"What do you...are you fucking serious? Like the fact that we got kidnapped and tortured, you got shot and almost died, I was a fucking heroin addict for years and OD'd and almost died, a psychotic madman hunted me across the world-"
"Yeah OK, OK, I get what you mean! But I don't like working that way, I need to start from the beginning!"
"The beginning? Like from elementary school?"
"Fuck, don't do that."
"Or should I start with high school?"
"High school. Who gives a fuck what happened when we were toddlers and still shitting our pants?"
overture: first year
So let's just say my entrance was suitably dramatic. Looking back it was probably a bit unnecessary, bashing through that big sign. But me and Chad, we burst through the sign posting the class registers on our first day of high school (so messy and a huge inconvenience to everyone else, I realize that now) and we take down at least half a dozen annoying wannabe gangsters. I didn't remember my little podunk town being a magnet for such lowlives, but maybe times had changed.
In any case, they didn't present much of a challenge and it didn't take ten minutes. It was a bracing start to the day. Me and Chad got a light morning workout and were feeling fresh. We made an odd pair - a silent, half-Mexican half-Japanese giant and a permanently scowling teenage boy with orange hair - and even walking through the streets on our way there were plenty of stares and muttered comments.
I could tell instantly I'd be going to the principals office a lot here. Didn't matter that I did my homework and got good grades, and kept myself to myself. Most of the kids would avoid me, apart from the weirdos, and the teachers would look at me like I was something they'd stepped in.
But it was cool. I was used to it, even if it did piss me off. I'd been ostracized all my life. It was nothing new, so Chad and I were prepared to be avoided, stared at suspiciously, gossiped about. I braced myself for it. I expected it.
And then, life threw me a curveball. Actually it threw me several loud, obnoxious curveballs, and looking back I still don't know how I didn't have a heart attack that first day.
I hadn't even stepped inside my shiny new classroom. Everyone had turned to me as I slid the rusty door open and their eyes had widened at the side of me and Chad side by side. I could feel my scowl getting darker, my shoulders getting more hunched, let them try say something, I dare them-
"Ichigo? Is that you?"
Someone barged to the front, someone with dark hair and a competitive streak so intense you could feel a mile away, someone I knew and should have expected to see. Sure she was bigger and taller and had boobs now, but her dark eyes were just as fiery as I remembered and I almost smiled at her before remembering who I was and what kind of reputation I had to maintain.
"Ichigo! It is you!" Without hesitation, Tatsuki walked up and punched me in the arm, just like when we were kids sparring at the dojo. "I thought I recognized that hair! You asshole, are you going to school here now? Why didn't you tell me?" Hands on her hips, her short spiky hair was almost standing on end and her eyes were sending out sparks. Clearly she'd only gotten scarier since we last saw each other six years ago.
"Nice to see you too, Tatsuki."
She rolled her eyes. "Don't give me that. I thought you were going to that fancy military academy place your dad taught at? Why are you back in Karakura?"
I shrugged and finally stepped inside, Chad following behind and ducking his head. I didn't have to look at my other classmates to know they would be staring out the corners of their eyes and whispering about me and my friends.
"Just wanted a change. Oh, this is Chad, by the way. Chad, this is Tatsuki. We know each other from way back."
Tatsuki studied him carefully. He stared back at her. I wondered what she would think.
"Chad? That's a pretty cool name."
"My full name is Sado Yasutora," he rumbled back quietly, and I was surprised to see her smile.
"Yasutora? That's even cooler. I'm Tatsuki. And this is Orihime."
Oblivious to the fact that just about everyone was staring at us, she led us to a girl sitting at her desk, chin resting on her fist and her eyes closed. There was a happy smile on her face. She was mumbling something about red bean and wasabi ice cream. Her hair was a shiny browny-red color and almost every single boy in the room was stealing glances at her...generous figure, something that I was immune to thanks to a former shameless upperclassman named Rangiku who was similarly blessed and enjoyed 'letting the girls breathe' (as she put it) on the regular.
"Orihime?" Tatsuki waved a hand in front of her face.
"Ah!" The girl's eyes flew open and she stood straight up. I heard gasps as her massive breasts almost knocked Tatsuki out. "Present! Yes! I'm here! Oh, sorry Tatsuki, did I hurt you?"
"Of course not, doofus...haven't you been sleeping well lately?"
The redhead laughed and scratched at her head while Tatsuki scolded her. She seemed sweet and kind of ditzy. She reminded me of Yuzu, and when she met my eyes for the first time I nodded at her with a friendlier than usual look on my face but I must have scared her anyway, since she went very red and her eyes dropped to her feet.
Tatsuki's eyes darted between us. "Orihime, this is Kurosaki Ichigo. Ichigo and I were friends when we were kids, I used to kick his ass at karate! Probably still could-"
"Hey, there's no need-"
"Even if he has been at a fancy military school for the last six years."
Despite myself, a smile cracked my face. "Still the same Tatsuki." I nodded at the new girl. "Nice to meet you, uh...sorry, I'm not super good with names."
"Inoue Orihime!" she said, her face still bright red. "It's...it's very nice to meet you, Kurosaki-kun!"
The rusty door screeched open again. The sound pierced your ears, you couldn't not look. This time it was a skinny dude with glasses and a snotty expression. When he saw me, Chad, Tatsuki and whatshername together, he did a double take and made a beeline straight for us.
"Know him too?" Tatsuki asked me.
"Don't think so..."
"Sure looks like he knows you."
The stranger stopped in front of me, sniffed, and pushed his glasses up his nose. "Kurosaki."
Everyone was looking at me expectantly. How awkward.
"Um. Nice to meet you?"
Another sniff, slightly more outraged. "Excuse me? You don't recognize your own cousin?"
Say what now? "Uh, no...I didn't even know I had a cousin."
"Hmph. Well, my name is Ishida," he said. "Ishida Uryuu. Our parents were cousins, my father and your mother."
"Another childhood friend?" Tatsuki said, only slightly sarcastically.
"Hardly," he said before I could get a word in. "Our mothers passed away at similar times and our braindead fathers thought it might be a good time to push two little boys who were essentially strangers together for a whole summer of misery. Thankfully it only happened once."
"And thankfully I don't even remember it," I said, grinding my teeth together. What an asshole! Hadn't even known him ten seconds and I was already done with this...Ichida person.
I would have said more and really gotten that straight-laced jackass steaming but someone threw open the door yet again - or they tried to, resulting in the worst ear-piercing shriek produced yet - and yelled "There's someone pulling up in a huge limo at the gates! For real! It has a little flag on it and everything! Everybody come outside and look!"
Almost immediately everyone flooded out the room. In a town like Karakura, limousines were not an everyday kind of thing and I had to admit I was curious myself. I generally avoid people so I watched from a window as it idled outside the main gates. That tiny useless flag was oddly familiar. It was close enough that I could vaguely read the license plate, and for a second I thought my eyes were playing a trick on me.
One of the doors opened, and Kuchiki Byakuya appeared, regal as ever, his little sister Rukia close behind him. My mouth fell open.
Somehow Rukia knew where I was. Maybe it was some kind of sixth sense, or maybe she just saw my hair. Our eyes met and she smirked at me.
If Rukia was here, that meant someone else was sure to follow -
"There you are, Ichigo! Man I thought it would take me longer to find you, this place is huge."
My heart almost stopped. I turned around, wondering if this whole day was some sort of hallucination.
Renji was grinning so wide it almost split his face in two. His spiky red hair added to his already ridiculous height and he walked through our speechless classmates like a hot knife through butter. He seemed the same as I remembered - tall, loud, obnoxious - except for his uniform which was identical to mine and somehow already rumpled even though it must have been brand-new.
"Speechless with joy, huh! Long time no see my dude!"
Are you kidding me? "We saw each other a couple weeks ago, dummy. What the hell are you doing here? Why are you wearing my school uniform?"
"Heh, asking me stupid questions and calling me a dummy!" he snorted. "Take a flying guess!"
"Do you know everyone in this town?" Tatsuki asked loudly with an eyebrow raised, interrupting us. A sense of foreboding flooded my whole body. Tatsuki and Rukia together...no, I had to keep those two apart at all times.
"Oh, hey, who's this cutie? Or should I say...cuties." Renji's smile got bigger and more wicked. "Wow Ichigo, first day of school and you already got a little fanclub. I'm hurt! What happened to bros before hoes?"
"Fine, fine. I'm Abarai Renji, Ichigo's other half. Nice to meet you."
He flashed a charming smile at Tatsuki, Chad and...the other two new people. No one, apart from the redhead girl, seemed impressed. Maybe Chad might have been, but it was impossible to tell.
"My name is Ishida Uryuu. Remember it. You'll be hearing it a lot," said glasses guy. I could tell Renji (bless his heart) honestly tried to stop himself from laughing out loud, but did a bad job.
"I'm Inoue Orihime. Nice to meet you too," redhead said, smiling.
"Chad," said Chad.
"I'm Tatsuki. Can you fight? You look like you can." Tatsuki was blunt as ever.
My idiot crimson-haired friend preened and flexed his arms. "Do I! Sure can. Why, me and Ichigo here were only best friends for the last six years while we attended an elite-"
"Snobby," I said.
"An elite military school where the best of the best-"
"The richest and snobbiest."
"Where the best of the best developed their brains and their brawn-"
"And their asskissing skills," I muttered, annoyed. "Renji, lay off it. Why are you here?"
"To keep you out of trouble, fool!"
A tiny foot stamped on mine, out of nowhere. The pain doubled me up and brought me down to eye-level with the sneakiest, worst human being I knew and loved.
"Rukia..." I choked. "That was unnecessary. You could have just said hello."
"I'll decide what's unnecessary and what's not." Her arms were crossed, her expression serious but her gray eyes bright with mischief. Tatsuki was staring at her with much interest, while Chad...Mishida and...Minoue looked nonplussed.
"I saw your brother outside with you," I said. "Tell him I say hi. And that his hair still looks stupid."
"You know fine well you're jealous of his luscious locks, you've told me yourself."
I felt myself going red. What a tiny demon woman. "Let me ask again, why are you two here?"
"And let me tell you again, it's to keep you out of trouble!"
"That's such a pile of crap, for the last six years it's been you two getting me into trouble!"
"Lies and slander."
Tatsuki perked up at that. "Trouble? Ichigo? This shy little goody two shoes?"
"You couldn't imagine!" Renji slung an arm around my shoulders. "Back at the Shinigami acadamy-"
"Oh, our old school...Rukia, what's the real name? Yamamoto Genryusai School of Excellence in...Military...whatever...yadda yadda...anyway, no one really knows what it's actually called! But we have to wear these gross old heavy black robes that make you look like the Grim Reaper so everyone calls it the Shinigami Academy, and let me tell you, me and Ichigo here got up to some shit, why, we played pranks and caused havoc-"
"And constantly got me into trouble," I interuppted, "which is why I don't believe you at all."
Renji gave up and rolled his eyes. "Fine. Fine! We were bored. Like you. Heard you were leaving and Rukia was like, you know what, he has the right idea, let's go join the real world with real people instead of having to deal with Kenpachi's crazy ass or Kurotsuchi's creepy painted face. Normal schools don't have teachers like that right?"
I shuddered. "I hope to God not. "
"Tell me more about this weird school of yours. Sounds like you'd fit right in," Tatsuki said, grinning at me.
Once Renji got started, he was hard to stop. I could barely shut him up. He regaled them with past stories of blowing up toilets and tricking people into eating dog treats, gesturing wildly; I could see Jinoue and Chad were enraptured, while Rukia and Tatsuki, being basically the same angry young woman, were getting along like a house on fire. Even Kishida seemed to have relaxed slightly. And then I thought to myself - hey, this might not be too bad. High school might actually be pretty fun.
The class door screeched open. At this point I was used to it, enough that I didn't turn to look who it was, I didn't even realize someone was standing behind me until a dark, hateful voice cut right through us.
"Well now, this is interesting," a new voice said, dark and smooth. "Just look who it is. Long time no see, Kurosaki."
I sighed. Yet another interruption, and the day hadn't even started yet.
"Oh wow, another long lost friend? Look at you Mr. Popular!" Tatsuki elbowed me and I turned around to look this stranger in the eye.
Blue hair, tousled around a sharp-featured face that I'd never thought I'd see again.
Blue eyes, seething with hatred.
A smile full of sharp teeth.
The first time I laid eyes on him, all I could see was his hair. His impossibly vibrant, icy blue hair.
It was like a beacon to me, because orange was unusual enough, but in some places it wasn't such a weird color, you know? But blue…that's something else entirely.
And his eyes. They were blue too, but more intense, almost violently so. Darker. His hair was the color of the light sliding off an iceberg, and his eyes were like the sky at the peak of summer. His hair was longish, and hung in his eyes, and it only framed the disgruntled expression he was wearing when I first saw his face.
I hadn't been able to take my eyes off him.
My mom told me not to stare, that it was rude. It was my very first day of school. I was five or six years old. I was terrified.
She whispered soft words in my ear, stuff you say to kids to stop them from crying, but it didn't work for me. I was a real crybaby then. I clung to my mom like a barnacle. She practically had to peel me off so that I could go to class that day, and for the first two weeks all I did was stare out the window in case she came back for me early. I cried a lot, because I missed her and I was scared. I was without my mother for the first time, it's not really that surprising. It should embarrass me, but it doesn't.
But I got over it, I guess. After a while I stopped bawling my eyes out so much, but I still didn't talk to anyone. The other kids…they all just stared at my hair, then pointed and whispered. Whenever I got near them I just clammed up. I had no friends at school. Tatsuki went somewhere else, and she was the only person I knew who was of the same age. The only other name I knew was Grimmjow Jaegerjaques.
I'm terrible with names, and with faces. I can meet someone half a dozen times and not have any clue who they are.
But he stuck in my head.
Mostly, it was because he had a really weird name. Hardly anyone could pronounce it right, at first. And then there was the fact that he was foreign, and rich – I'd heard that his parents were from Europe, wherever that was – but I think more than anything it was the hair.
Grimmjow had hair like mine; unusual, loud, colorful. He was cool, exotic, otherworldly. He was smart and loud and witty, and everyone liked him. Even when he was six years old he had charisma. He was the boy everyone wanted to be friends with. Including me.
I thought that maybe we would be similar. Maybe we would both share the same experiences, of being picked on or stared at because of our hair. It sounds shallow, it sounds stupid, and it's a terrible reason to want to be friends with someone (because they have blue hair!) but I was six years old. From the moment I saw him I thought he was cool. I thought to myself, That is someone I think I will like.
And you know, I thought he might have liked to be friends with me too.
As it turned out, I was dead wrong.
That voice had deepened considerably in the years since I'd heard it last, but I could still recognize the anger churning under the contempt, the snide tone, the hatred dripping off every word. As a kid, Grimmjow had already been hateful, and it looked like that hatred had only been concentrated over the years, distilled into some kind of fine essence that fueled him.
Blood rushed in my ears. I couldn't hear anything but the sound of my heart thumping. Grimmjow was older now, of course, but the blue eyes and hair were the same, his expression was as menacing as ever, and I could taste the stink of his arrogance. I felt a knife made of fear stabbing into my heart; it was mixed with resentment and a slow, rising fury.
My jaw clenched so hard I didn't think I could speak, but I managed to choke out: "You…what are you…"
Grimmjow Jaegerjaques grinned, and it honest-to-God sent chills scuttling down my spine. "I go to school here now. I'm in your class. Ain't that just peachy?"
My whole body was stiff with amazement, and I could not believe what I was hearing.
Of all the schools in the world, he had to choose this one?
This school, in this town, this tiny shitty town in the back end of nowhere? What were the chances? Why did God hate me?
"You…here? School? With me?"
"Hah, that's right. Didn't think we'd meet again after so long, but maybe it's fate, huh?"
I almost couldn't breathe. That voice - those eyes - they triggered a deep primal urge to curl up and hide. To be honest, I wanted nothing more than to run away. Just looking at him, it filled with me with such a heady cocktail of emotions I thought I would black out. Fear was foremost.
It's instinct, right? When you're faced with a predator it's fight or flight. I used to run. In the past, it had been all I'd ever done when he faced me. But now-
I took a deep breath. Counted to ten. Breathe, Ichigo, breathe. I was stronger now. I wasn't a coward, not anymore. I'd gone through years of merciless, brutal training at the hands of some of the most talented fighters in the country, I'd been beaten and bruised black and blue, I'd bled and broken my bones, and that was just scratching the surface. I wasn't a child anymore.
Anything he dished out, I could take. And I'd give it back times ten.
I hear his voice in my head, I hear him saying it again and again – only nine years old but so cruel already.
"You were the one who killed her."
Grimmjow, you're not going to win the game this time. I won't let you.
"I don't care why or what you're here for," I said, proud of the way my voice only trembled a little, "but you better leave me the fuck alone."
The face-splitting grin just widened, "Ooh, Kurosaki, you should watch your language. Wouldn't want your mommy to scold you now, would you? Oh, no, wait…sorry, I forgot she was dead. Must be six years since you basically murdered her, right?" His eyes widened in mock concern.
Everything became white noise. I felt the blood drain from my face.
"Hey, you guys got a problem here?"
A warm arm slung around my neck. Renji stood next to me, looking relaxed, but I could feel how tense he really was.
Grimmjow looked at him with flat, bored eyes. "Problem? Nah. Just catchin' up with an old friend. Ain't that right, I-chi-go?"
The boredom turned into mockery and he smiled at me, the same way a hyena would smile if they could.
"Is that so?" drawled Renji, not missing a beat. "Well in that case, you're gonna have to wait your turn. Mr Kurosaki's a bit occupied here with, let's see, one, two, three, four, five...six other friends he's gotta catch up with." He smiled back at Grimmjow, every bit as predatory. "I'd say you're slightly outnumbered here, huh?"
Grimmjow's contempt was almost tangible. He looked at Renji like he was lower than dirt, and scoffed.
"Anything you want to say to Ichigo, you can say it in front of us too," said Rukia, crossing her arms and turning up her nose. No one could out-scoff her.
Tatsuki and...Inoue? made a noise of agreement. Chad stayed silent but I could feel his reassuring presence by my side. Even my asshole long-lost cousin pushed up his glasses and glared at this newcomer.
I saw Grimmjow take a moment to consider them all carefully. What he saw didn't seem to impress him. A scowl twisted his mouth, his blue eyes slid to mine, and that scowl became a dangerous smile full of promises and threats.
"Well, it's only the first day," he said, "and we got three whole years ahead of us, don't we Kurosaki? I'm sure we'll find some time to catch up."
Keep a brave face on Ichigo, you're not a kid anymore. He can't hurt you anymore.
"I'm sure we will." My throat was still tight. It was hard to talk.
Things had changed. I had changed. He couldn't hurt me anymore, that's what I told myself.
But of course, once again, I was dead wrong.
Chapter 2: enmity
Some gross homophobic language erased from this chapter! *smacks my younger self*
I do not own Bleach.
Chapter 2: enmity
a feeling or condition of hostility; hatred; ill will; animosity; antagonism.
That day, the first time I'd seen Kurosaki in since his mom had bit the dust, I couldn't believe my luck. I'd just moved back to that little shithole of a town and I was feeling pretty nostalgic, you know? But not in a good way. Last six years I'd spent in the underbelly of Tokyo, an outlaw on the skirts of society. Big city scum.
But ONE WORD from Aizen's over-botoxed puckered little asshole of a mouth and I get shunted here, back in some backwards glorified ditch.
Plus, everything bad that had ever happened to me had happened right there in Karakura, so you could understand that I was in a really fucking shitty mood.
The school my mother made me attend was still there, still old and expensive and prestigious. That school where some orange-haired brat with tears in his big brown innocent eyes had given me my first taste of bitterness.
The memories of that place – it's like something's glued itself onto my brain and I can't scratch it out.
And the house.
That big, old, empty, lonely house.
It was exactly the same – huge, high-ceilinged rooms where your footsteps echoed; too many doors; it was cold husk, just like I'd remembered.
The skeleton of a whale.
Just the sort of place where you want to bring up your kid, right?
I didn't want my old room. It was too big, there was too much space I didn't know what to do with.
I had hardly anything, just some clothes, posters, a few knick-knacks – nothing special, though, nothing precious.
They could burn with the house if there was ever a fire.
I wouldn't give a shit.
Even with a tiny, poky little bedroom, there was a depressing amount of empty space. A bed. Desk. Wardrobe. Nothing else.
But I'm a messy guy, so I knew it wouldn't be long till you wouldn't be able to see the floor for all the dirty plates and the clothes thrown carelessly to the ground.
I was right, but usually the effect that you get when you see a teenage boy's dumping ground of a bedroom is that it's lived in.
I don't think mine ever felt like that. It felt forced. Everything did.
Never spent any time in that fucking house. Couldn't even look my useless excuse for a father in the eye. The man still had no backbone. Cowered in front of me like he cowered in front of just about everyone fucking else.
But what else can you expect from a Frenchman.
All I did was walk.
That's what Aizen had told me to do, after all. Get to know the area. Search out potential clientele.
I hated Karakura. I hated the streets, I hated the houses, I hated the people. I hated the air and the trees and every single fucking thing I saw.
But I still walked. And thought. And fumed at the memory of how he got me here, back in my own personal hell.
"I have some good news for you, Grimmjow."
The carpet was so plush. My feet were sinking into it. I was only half listening to him.
Goddamn, my family was rich, but this fucking place was something else. Barely anything in it but three marble blocks to act as a table and chairs, and I bet anything even one would be worth more than my whole apartment.
"Grimmjow. Your attention please."
I looked at him out the corner of my eye. He looked slightly less smug than usual. Maybe I should pay attention.
He just tilted his head to side slightly but it was enough.
Didn't roll my eyes, 'cause I knew he'd gauge them out or some shit.
I did sit up straighter though.
"As I was telling you, we're adding some new territory and expanding the market. Specifically, to include a town you might be familiar with." He paused, and I swore I could see a flicker of amusement in his eyes. "Ever heard of Karakura?"
I didn't need to say anything. Never been good at hiding my emotions. When I blow a fuse, you'll fucking know it.
"I'm not going back there," I growled.
"I'm not asking you to. You're going. Gin is taking care of the district, Nnoitra will be in charge of the town itself. You are to be their support and aide. Arrangements have already been made."
Assistant to piano-toothed human trashbag Nnoitra and creepy eyeless Gin? NO THANK YOU, I thought.
"Then unmake them."
Aizen didn't say anything. Just looked at me.
Couldn't do anything. Except sit there and glare at him. Hate him.
"You'll go with your father," he continued, "Like I said. Arrangements have already been made."
Arrangements have already been made.
That's how he worked, the puppet master. With his fake ass glasses.
His kind smile, his soft voice, it was all an illusion.
I've seen him in his true evil form, with that tacky little Superman curl hanging over his forehead. Such a dick.
When I left I didn't bow in respect. Tousen grabbed the back of my neck like I was an animal and made me.
Almost bit his fucking hand off.
Wish I had.
We'd already moved back into my old house, full of old and unwelcome memories, and I was already feeling pretty shitty, and then my dad just added the cherry to the cake and told me I was supposed to attend some dump of a high school.
I was furious. I refused.
Fucking high school? After basically running the streets back in one of the biggest cities in the world?
Losing my apartment and being forced to live with my spineless blobfish of a father was bad enough, now I had to go to school?
Couldn't believe he suddenly decided to start parenting after I've already been alive fifteen years.
So I complain to one shitty underling and all of a sudden everyone fucking knows about it. Then, naturally, the Allmighty Aizen Above decides to stick his surgically chiseled nose into the matter and tells me, Hey Grimmjow, actually going to school for once would be a good cover for pushing drugs. Kids love drugs!
Or something like that.
So not only that, my dear father didn't let me out of his sight and drove me to school himself and I had no way of skipping the whole fucking affair.
There I was, getting lost in the hallways, then I saw my classroom and I walked in.
I opened the door and holy shit the sound it made could have woke the dead.
I got stares. It was the hair – I ignored them. No one knew me here. No one knew who I was. I didn't give a shit about any of them.
Then, I saw it.
I can't really describe what I felt then. It completely took me over. Something like shock. Something like anger. Hatred and bitterness, all frothing up inside me, warm and metallic and familiar.
Blood on my tongue.
The first drug I'd ever tasted was him.
It was raining when I saw him with his mother. I was looking outside the classroom window. I saw a lady with orange hair and a radiant smile and my first thought was, she looks so nice. I wish she was my mom.
The kid she was with had the same color hair as her. He was small and skinny, tearful, terrified, clutching at her like a lifeline.
I hated him as soon as I saw him.
What a crybaby!
If I did that to my mother she'd brush me right off like I was an insect, but this lady smiled and fussed all over her gross snotty crybaby kid.
I stood next to an open window and listened to them.
"Ichigo, you'll be fine. I'm sure you'll make lots of friends and have fun." Her voice was sweet, soothing.
The boy mumbled something under his breath.
"Tatsuki's going to a different school, sweetie. But you'll still see her at karate!"
"No honey, I need to leave you here. But I'll be right here when class ends, and I can't wait to hear everything you get up to!"
Whimpers turned into sniffles.
From that very first day I resented him.
Why should Kurosaki Ichigo, some weakling who wasn't good at anything get such a nice mom?
I never cried. I was smart and spoke three languages. People called me handsome all the time. Said I'd grow up to be a heartbreaker.
I was the best kid.
So why didn't I have the best mom?
He was weird too. At first he just kept staring at me, shyly, looking away when he saw me noticing and nervously sniffling up the gross boogers hanging from his nose - but he was too quiet, too weak, too boring to interest me for long.
However. When I saw his mother picking him up after school day after goddamn day, smiling, waving, hugging him, I started to get irritated.
As soon as he saw her his face lit up.
Instead of my mom or dad it was my nanny who collected me from school every day. She was tall and old and stern-faced, as motherly as a brick. My mother was hardly in the fucking country, my dad was too busy to look at me twice, the house was too big and empty and all the fancy toys in the world couldn't hide it.
Nothing I did got their attention.
Nothing I did was good enough.
Getting the best scores in school.
I had to be the best.
I was not allowed to let my mother down, but she only noticed when I did.
Kurosaki…he had it good. He had it easy. His mom didn't care if her son got ninety-nine percent in a Math test instead of a hundred, she didn't care if he wasn't part of just about every stupid shitty after-school club, she didn't care if he didn't practice his violin for an hour every fucking day – but mine did. That was all she cared about.
Can you tell that I feel just a teensy little bit bitter about it?
It got worse and worse. For some reason, he just stuck out more than the other kids. I started to hate the sight of his face, his voice, his clothes, the way he walked, the color of his hair.
Once Kurosaki's whole family came to pick him up after school. They were so perfect and happy. I hated all of them. His stupid goofy dad, his gentle pretty mom, his cute sisters. I hated his shyness and his gentle eyes. I hated the way he started smiling at the other kids, the way he started to make friends. I hated it all. I wanted to make his life hell. I wanted to break him down, tear him into tiny orange pieces. I wanted to destroy him.
And let me tell you - if there is anything I'm good at, it's destruction.
And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With old odd ends, stol'n forth of holy writ;
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.
Ichigo froze up. His heart skipped a beat.
"I'm Grimmjow. You're Ichigo, right? I got a present for ya."
Grimmjow's eyes were wide and innocent, as was smile on his face. He was holding out his hand. Ichigo blinked at it, then looked around.
They were in front of the lockers, just outside their classroom. Everyone else had gone home. Ichigo was waiting for his mother, nervously aware that Grimmjow was also lurking somewhere in the building. They hadn't spoken to each other yet - Ichigo had barely spoken to any of his classmates, but blue hair kept drawing his eyes and the urge to approach Grimmjow was like an itch.
And lo and behold, here he was. With a...
"It's a pie. Chocolate. Heard you liked chocolate," Grimmjow said. In his hand was a small metal tin. It was filled with what looked like brown sludge.
There was a giggle from around the corner, quickly shushed. Ichigo glanced at the 'pie', then back to Grimmjow.
"Have some," the other boy insisted. He grinned, showing sharp little white teeth. "Here. Got you a spoon too."
Ichigo took it and slowly scooped up a spoonful. Raised it to his lips. It didn't smell right. Didn't look right.
"Eat it." The encouragement sounded a little more like a threat this time.
The refusal died in his throat. Ichigo's courage shriveled under those razorlike blue eyes.
If it made Grimmjow like him, why not?
He opened his mouth and -
As soon as it hit his tongue he spat it out on instinct. There was a shriek of laughter.
"He just ate poop!" Grimmjow was howling, pointing at him - Ichigo could see other kids peeking around the corner, their eyes bright and cheeks flushed. "See, told ya he would!"
Ichigo's eyes were burning, his face was burning, he could feel tears. Frantically he wiped his tongue with his hands.
"Eww, what a weirdo!"
"He's so grosss!"
"Aw look, he's gonna cry again!" Grimmjow's voice was the loudest, the most mocking. "You gonna cry for your mommy, stupid baby?"
Ichigo rubbed his eyes with his arm and shook his head, eyes shut tight. His voice seemed to have deserted him.
"You better not tell!"
Tiny, sharp little fingers pinched at his arm.
"Are you gonna tell anyone, crybaby?"
Ichigo shook his head again. His face felt very hot. The tears wouldn't stop falling. He knew his nose would soon be running too, dripping with snot.
Grimmjow came close to him and whispered in his ear, "If you tell, I bet your mom would be grossed out anyway. She wouldn't want you anymore. Imagine having a son that cried all the time and ate poop. Ewwww."
"What's going on here?"
A teacher poked their head round the corner. The other children scattered. Grimmjow instantly squeezed closer to Ichigo's side.
"Oh nothing sensei, Kurosaki just bumped into something. I was helping him out, right?"
Out of sight, fingers pinched Ichigo's arm hard. He flinched but kept quiet and nodded quickly.
"See?" Grimmjow crowed. He cocked his head to the side, a picture of wide-eyed innocence.
Ichigo waited, heart hammering. When his mother arrived she commented on his unusual quietness. He brushed his teeth and his tongue and slowly, reluctantly choked down his dinner in silence. He cried himself to sleep, wondering what he had done wrong and why the boy he wanted to be friends with seemed to hate him.
The 'chocolate pie' was only the beginning.
After that, no one wanted to play with him or work with him in class. Other children screamed and ran from him, chanting names.
Then he started to find his schoolbooks outside, dropped in the mud and trampled on. His shoes, his bag, his umbrella mysteriously disappeared. He never knew who did it exactly, but it didn't matter. Grimmjow always told him not to tell and Ichigo had no choice but to listen.
I think it lasted three years.
Yeah, that sounds about right.
I was a twisted little fuck as kid as well, not just as an adult. Let me tell you, this kind of potently hateful attitude takes a lifetime of nurturing.
See, I can hold grudges for a hell of a long time. I was petty, selfish, full of resentment and anger – I still am, and I don't make excuses for it.
It's who I am.
In my eyes, Kurosaki didn't deserve the happiness he got, not while I was suffering.
So I did my best to kill every shred of happiness in his life.
And you know, it was surprisingly easy. People think that six year old kids are always so sweet and innocent and all that shit, but really, when you get down to it, they're devious fucking little monsters. They haven't been taught the intricate systems that make up human society and its rules. They're animals – they see something weak, and they pounce. They band together and attack, like lions leaping onto a zebra and ripping it apart.
Children represent humanity without the frills. They're pure animal instinct.
Instinctively, they saw that I was strong. They followed me like I was their leader.
Kurosaki was weak.
He became the prey.
All I did was nudge them along. Suggest a few things. I oversaw it all. And I was proud, when I heard Kurosaki sniffling and whimpering in the boys' toilets at lunchtime. I liked making him cry. I liked to pick at the shield he'd built around himself. I liked seeing him break down. It meant I was winning whatever game I was playing with him. It meant that his mother couldn't solve every single fucking problem in his life.
And in the end, it meant that he was just like me. Crushed down to the level he deserved to be at. I enjoyed seeing Kurosaki pale, on the verge of tears.
He looked how I felt on the inside.
I liked seeing him like that because proved that he wasn't better than me.
More deserving of something I should have had.
I looked at him then, on the first day of high school, and I could tell that Kurosaki was still as pathetic as ever. Still as weak. He needed his friends to protect him – it was always someone else who saved him, shielded him from the real world. His mother. His family. And now, these freaks.
Some busty ginger chick, a giant, two angry little girls, an overgrown red chicken and some nerd loser?
Well. You know what they say about birds of a feather...
I'd always known that if he had friends they would be like that.
But they wouldn't be able to help him. No, I wouldn't let them. I would get my fucking revenge – it was all his fault, after all. All because of him.
I hadn't known he would fight back. So what if his mother had just died? It wasn't like I gave a shit.
And it all started because of him. Everything that went wrong with my life, I can trace it back to Kurosaki fucking Ichigo.
Anger and jealousy can no more bear to lose sight of their objects than love.
For three years, I endured everything Grimmjow threw at me. At school I didn't talk to anyone and kept to myself; I put up with the whispers, the laughing, the jokes they made up about my hair; I put up with the missing textbooks and jackets, my bag being stolen, my work being sabotaged, the worms in my shoes and in my lunch.
When I was nine and considered too old to cry I still did, and they mocked me, they surrounded me in rings and taunted me, and at the helm of that ship Grimmjow stood grinning, vindictive, victorious.
Even the teachers gossiped about me. I heard them in the staffroom talking about my hair, saying something was wrong with my parents if they kept their son looking the way he did. That was the only thing that made me angry - blaming my parents, my family. The one thing I wanted to be strong for. I didn't want to disappoint them. I couldn't. I had sworn to be strong, to protect the ones I loved: my sisters, my mother, my father - and anyway, wasn't that what my name meant? One Who Protects? It was my purpose in life. I was a stubborn kid. I still am, really.
Those years were like living in some haunted world where everyone your own age ignored your very existence. In three years I don't think I said more than a dozen words to five people in the whole school. For a few weeks, I stopped talking entirely, even at home. That worried my mom, though, so I stopped it.
I hated thinking about Grimmjow. I couldn't stand him anymore, I couldn't look at him or be around him or think about him. Even the sound of his voice made me literally shake with fear. But as well as scared, confused, lonely - I felt betrayed by him. I'd thought we had shared something in common. He had so many friends, he was so popular, he didn't have the time of day for me. I didn't understand why he'd started it, why he hated me so much.
And he did hate me. I could see it in his eyes every time we looked at each other.
I never, ever told my mother. I knew she didn't deserve the anger and guilt she would feel if she found out, but it wasn't her fault. I thought that it was mine. And I felt so pathetic, so weak and useless for nothing being able to stand up to them, for not being able to deal with the problem on my own.
The only times I enjoyed himself during those three years, my only outlets, were karate lessons at the dojo and helping my mother at home with my sisters. At the dojo Tatsuki was my friend, even though it always seemed like she never really liked me as much as I liked her, but I enjoyed learning from my master and slowly getting stronger. It helped me get through it all.
My parents knew something was wrong, but they didn't find out what. They kept telling me that they were my parents, that I could trust them with everything, that I could tell them anything and they would still love me. I understood what they were saying, but I still couldn't get it out. They helped anyway: my dad took me to his old school three times a week, for extra training in martial arts. All my teachers there were his old friends and they helped me become stronger, more focused; they made my days bearable.
Sometimes, when it was too much, I would spend all weekend there and focus all my anger, my frustration, my wrath through my fists. I was progressing, but not fast enough for my tastes. I was impatient. I found myself wishing for something, anything, which would finally help me escape.
And I have to hand it to God or fate or whoever is up there, because in the end my wish came true - just in the worst way possible.
Chapter 3: impetus
1. An impelling force; an impulse.
2. The force or energy associated with a moving body.
3. Something that incites, a stimulus; increased activity in response to a stimulus
They told me she died before the car even hit her. A heart attack.
Not my fault. A chronic medical condition.
It was raining, that day. The kind of rain that seems to just kind of spit at you but still soaks you through. Mom and I were walking home after karate, where Tatsuki had given me an old soccer ball. The route home came close to where I knew Grimmjow lived. A car splashed by and I thought I saw a flash of bright icy blue hair.
Scowling, I kicked that ball angrily, and it skidded onto the road.
I ran after it, knowing Tatsuki would kill me if I lost her second-favorite soccer ball after she'd just given it to me.
I heard mom shouting my name. I heard a car horn blaring, a screech of tyres.
Something heavy crashed into me, rolling me onto the grass on the other side.
A second, two seconds, passed.
And then, the shouts.
They must have been close by but they sounded muffled. My eyes were squeezed closed. I was on my back. My ears were ringing. My arms were wrapped tight around that stupid, stupid ball.
There was something heavy on top of me. Something that smelled familiar, felt familiar.
I remember seeing blood in her hair, like red beads. I remember the dazed expression on her face, her slightly parted lips, her half-open eyes. I remember a mob of loud, screeching people; hands tugging me away, forcing my head to the side so I couldn't see her; a blaring siren and blinding lights, and the feeling of holding her limp, clammy, dead hand in mine on the way to the hospital in that horrible, horrible ambulance.
And I remember that for days after my mom died I had felt absolutely nothing.
Nothing. I wondered, what was wrong with me? Was I a freak, for not feeling sad? For not crying? And I thought that maybe if I went back there I would feel it, that grief.
I didn't go to school for two weeks. I returned to that spot by the river and stared at where the fence had been mangled out of shape by the car crashing into it, at the place where I could still imagine her dead body. But nothing came.
There was no anger, really, just a void. Like something was eating me up from the inside out. I could feel nothing. I stopped talking. I stopped crying. When I hit my head it must have done something to my hearing, because back then everything sounded like it came from miles away. Big invisible stoppers had been stuffed into my eyes, my ears and my mouth, and sadness filled me up to the brim and the numbness hardened into something darker. Demons started to visit me when I slept.
In my nightmares, I opened my eyes and she was there, watching over me. Smiling. White as a marble statue. Blood dripping down her face. Instead of her kind, warm eyes empty, yawning black hollows stared back at me.
Sometimes maggots would start falling from the empty, rotten eye sockets onto my hair and face, squirming and writhing, white and fat and disgusting. Her smile always got bigger and her teeth was stained with blood, blood that dripped onto my face and into my eyes. My mother's mouth would open, wider, wider, wider, the bones snapping and dislocating, she leaned forward until I was stiff with terror – I knew that she was going to eat me, swallow me whole, as punishment for letting her die.
I used to wake up screaming, covered in sweat, and after that I slept with my father and sisters in the same bed for a month. It was too hot, too uncomfortable: Yuzu cried so much she left the pillows soggy, dad had always had cold feet, and Karin squirmed too much and almost kicked us all out of the bed onto the floor.
I kept apologizing to dad about it. He looked more tired than all of us put together, weary, numb, black shadows under his eyes and more scratchy stubble on his chin than usual, but all he would do was smile at me and tell me it was all right, it wasn't my fault. Just mommy's health. The pills she had to take sometimes. Her heart. Dad told me, we would all get through it together. He said mom wouldn't have wanted us to act like this. He smiled, but his eyes were dead.
He kept telling me it wasn't my fault. I didn't say anything back to that - I didn't say anything at all. I was silent at school and at home. The other kids at school found out and it spread like wildfire. Ridiculous rumors started to crop up, whispers that I had tried to kill myself and my mom had pushed me out the way, or that I had pushed her, or she had pushed me because she was tired of having a gross snotnosed crybaby like me as her son.
I didn't care. I didn't listen to it. In any case, just about everyone left me alone. Teachers talked to me but I ignored them, and they ignored me ignoring them. It worked out great. People my own age stopped picking on me once they saw I stopped crying. They let me exist as a little orange-haired ghost, floating alone, writing weird stories on his homework and mumbling to himself.
Grimmjow still tried his bullshit, of course, but it wasn't having the same effect. I was exasperating him. I didn't cry. I didn't sniff. I didn't even look at him, and I knew it drove him crazy. There was a new desperation in his eyes that made me smile on the inside.
Except, it wasn't me. There was outside Orange Me, and then there was the inside of me, stripped raw, bleached of feeling. Hollow. Nothing but ghosts and demons inside my head and my heart, fluttering like black moths.
Bleached Me was made up of all that sadness and loneliness. The opposite of what I had been when mom was around. The worst parts of me, my darkest, most sadistic thoughts and feelings. He smiled when other people cried, he was wicked, he saw Grimmjow from inside my head, through my eyes, like he was the pilot and my body was just his robot to control. I had always heard his voice when I was feeling at my worst, but it always sounded so weak and faraway until then. In those days, the world had dulled to a distant hum around me and I could hear him so clearly, mocking and mean, and he sounded just like Grimmjow.
He that studieth revenge keepeth his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.
So. That day.
That fucking day.
Ruined my life.
How was I supposed to know he was a fucking black belt at whatever?
Sure I knew he went to karate classes, but I also knew karate was useless.
Kurosaki had come back from wherever you went when one of your parents kicked the bucket. He had only been away a couple of days but he came back a different person, like his feet didn't quite touch the floor or his shadow had changed or something.
Somehow, he got even weirder.
Stopped talking. Stopped crying. Stopped even looking at me. Acknowledging me.
And I thought to myself, who do you think you are, my mother?
You don't get to ignore me!
How fucking dare you!
I was used to getting my way. Kurosaki, even though he had stopped outright bawling at the grand old age of nine (finally grown kind of a backbone, thanks to me) still got tears in his eyes. Or his face turned red. Or he scowled at me, which was rare but hilarious.
In any case, I got a fucking reaction.
New Kurosaki was no fun at all.
He was still a freak. Mumbled to himself under his breath. Dark shadows under his eyes and small for his age. He was always doodling disturbing stuff on his schoolwork, demons and blood and disturbing yellow eyes, but never got into trouble for it.
I could feel my blood starting to boil, an itch under my skin.
He had no friends. At his lunch alone. Played alone. This day was no different. It was just after school and he was on the swings outside, probably waiting for his dad. His legs dangled, feet dragging on the sand, as he rocked back and forth slowly, chewing on a fingernail.
"Sucking your thumb, crybaby?"
He didn't respond. Hadn't expected him to.
It was weak stuff, admittedly, but I was nine. Give me a break.
I got nice and close. Hovered right above him, put my hands on his shoulders, and gave a great big push.
He fell backwards and hit his head with a satisfying thump. I crowed with laughter, laughter that faded when I saw Kurosaki just sit up, silent, and just...look at me.
His eyes were flat, rusted pennies.
Is that the best you can do?
I swore, I could hear him say it.
And those weeks of being ignored, not being looked at, I just snapped.
Kicked the swing right in his face. Made a really satisfying sound.
It felt good. He cried out and it was like a chorus of angels.
Then I saw blood, and the exhilaration turned to fear. I'd never made him bleed before. Just cry.
He stood up slowly, touched his forehead then held his hand in front of his eyes. It was bright red. It almost looked fake.
And then he went and fucking licked it.
He made a disgusted face. I was speechless.
"You're such a fucking freak, Kurosaki!"
He paused, like he'd forgotten I was even there. Looked at me. The rust was peeling off his eyes. There was a shine in them I hadn't ever seen before.
"What do you want, Grimmjow?" he said. His voice was raw and scratchy. It was the first time he'd spoken in weeks.
It didn't sound like him.
That made me hesitate, just for a split second.
"'Cause I want you to leave me alone."
Leave him alone?
"Leave you alone? In your dreams, freak." I laughed, and kicked the swing at him again. He caught it.
And swung it back.
I raised my arms just in time, and it hit my skinny little child bones. I didn't howl in pain like I wanted to, I was too shocked.
What was happening?
"Do you wanna fight me, Grimmjow?"
A burst of laughter escaped me. "Fight you? What's the fun in that? I bet I'd wipe the floor with a little wimp like you!"
"OK," he said. "Then prove it. Fight me."
He was one hundred percent serious. He was already in some kind of weird martial arts stance, watching me with his new crazy-shiny eyes, blood sticking in clumps over one eyebrow.
I hesitated, just for a second, and then I thought Really? Kurosaki? This tiny shrimpy little crybaby? Easy.
I put my fists up. Brown eyes narrowed at me just a fraction. Out of nowhere a foot came flying and kicked me in the chest so hard I thought it would go through my ribcage.
Something cracked. I fell to the ground, gasping. My eyes were stinging.
Kurosaki, he was standing above me, looking down at me. He held out his hand. I slapped it away, spat at his feet.
"Get away from me, you freak," I panted, getting to my feet and holding my chest. Every breath was a razorblade to my lungs.
He just shrugged. The sheen had gone from his eyes, and they were rusted over once more. Kurosaki turned back into a robot.
That was it?
Not good enough.
The pain of my ribs was nothing to the beating my pride had taken. I was alight with fury. I could feel anger on my skin like flames.
I wanted to light him up too, but first I had to douse him with some emotional gasoline.
"So did your mom look all gross and twisted up after the car hit her?"
"Your stupid dead mommy," I said, smiling with teeth. "Was there blood all over the place? Did you lick up her blood too, you gross weirdo?"
He was shaking slightly. He'd gone pale, almost white.
"I bet she looked really disgusting, all splattered on the ground. Were her guts all over the pace?"
"Shut up!" His voice was trembling, and two bright spots of color had appeared on his cheekbones. His eyes had gone shiny again.
I was enjoying myself too much to stop. I almost forgot about my ribs. I was on a roll, falling from a dangerous height at a terrifying speed – and I couldn't stop myself.
"And you were there, right? You saw it all. Y'know, I heard that you were the one who caused it-"
Kurosaki crumpled to the ground, hands clutching at his face. "No, stop it, please stop-"
"'Cuz she pushed you out of the way of a car and it hit her instead, that's what I heard a teacher saying-"
"No, no, I'm sorry, I didn't-"
"So really, you were responsible, right? You were the one who killed her-"
"Shut UP!" he screamed. "I didn't mean it! She wasn't…I didn't…"
He took a deep breath. Two.
I just laughed.
"My mom loved me."
It took a second for that to sink in. Didn't stop me laughing.
"Yeah? So what? She's still dead, loser!" I cackled, then stopped as my ribs protested.
Kurosaki was just staring at me now, wide-eyed. His face was so white and his eyes were so shiny and feverish. The words that came out of his mouth sounded like they were being said by someone else.
"My mom loved me. She saved me." A pause. "I bet your mom wouldn't have."
Now it was my turn to fall silent.
There was a cruel little twist to Kurosaki's mouth I had never seen before.
"I bet your mom wouldn't have saved you," he said, almost a whisper, but I heard it clear as day. "Your mom doesn't even like you."
I couldn't speak.
"I've seen her around. She never looks at you. She never holds your hand or kisses your or hugs you. She's never liked you, she hates you even though she's your mother."
He said it so matter-of-factly. My blood ran cold.
"Shut up, Kurosaki." It was just a whisper.
Like a faultline, the mean edge to his face cracked and bled from his mouth to his eyes.
He smiled, and I thought, Wow, he looks just like me.
Wasn't that what I'd wanted, for him to be like me? Just as miserable?
Looked like I'd done a good job.
"You're pathetic." In the light, his eyes were gold and crazy. "A pathetic weak little worm, and nobody loves you, not even your own mother-"
"You're weak, you're so weak, and you don't even have real friends, people only hang around with you 'cuz they're scared of you and you're rich." He didn't scream. He didn't have to. His voice was low and malevolent, a shadow. "You really think you have friends? You really think anyone likes you? Not even your mom likes you. No one likes you, Grimmjow."
I just remember breathing, clutching my chest, before launching myself at him.
I got my hands around his neck and his face had gone almost purple before teachers managed to pull me off.
We both got expelled. The last time I saw him it was in the principal's office, him seated with his dad behind him. My parents were behind me and I could feel nothing but ice from my mother. Her hand gripped on of my shoulders so hard I had bruises from it. My father dripped with shame and embarrassment, falling over himself to apologize for my behavior. Kurosaki's dad looked hollow-eyed and tired, and his son sat motionless, staring at the ground with wide unblinking eyes.
Not even your mom likes you. No one likes you, Grimmjow.
I took care to memorize his face. How his name was spelled, in case I ever saw it again. The exact shade of his hair was seared into my memory.
If I ever saw him again, I swore to myself, I would cause him twice the amount of pain I did the first time.
Not twice. Ten times. A hundred times.
I wanted to burn him up to a crisp, until he was nothing but ashes and dust.
I remembered him even when my parents got a divorce and I got shipped to boarding school after boarding school. I remembered him even when I started hanging out with the wrong people, at the wrong place and the wrong time. I remembered him even after I met Aizen, after I dug myself deeper and deeper into a hole I wasn't sure I wanted to escape.
And it was all Kurosaki's fault. He started all of it. It was because of him that my life was a pile of shit.
Because of him, because of that chain reaction he caused, everything had gone wrong.
My mother lived on the other side of the world.
My dad was always tired and overworked and I hardly ever saw him.
I worked for a creepy megalomaniac fuck with delusions of godhood and who bought the shittiest tea I've ever tasted in my life.
I was fucked up.
My life was fucked up.
Everything was fucked up.
Everything had started to go downhill, beginning from that day, because of Kurosaki.
He had turned into something of a mythological figure. He was an altar where I poured out my hatred, resentment, frustration, almost every day, so seeing him again after so long, so unexpectedly, was a shock.
Six years had changed him a lot. He was tall, as tall as me, and his face was permanently set in a dark frown. No more wide-eyed sniffling snotbaby.
But I looked into his eyes, that first day after so long, and saw the same fire I knew would be in mine.
Nothing had changed between us.
I hated him. He hated me. You could feel it, choking, stifling.
Kurosaki's friends surrounded him and I thought, Still a weakling, needing other people to save him.
I told myself I'd get my revenge, that I'd have no problem getting under the little shit's skin second time round. And then it'd be just like before. I hadn't forgotten a word he'd said to me during that fight so long ago. He would pay for what he had said, for what he had done.
It was almost too good to be true: a perfect opportunity for revenge.
Kurosaki was back in my life and I would destroy him again.
I can't tell you how my mood lifted when I saw his eyes turn so sharp and bitter at the sight of my face. I knew I could twist him any way I wanted. It would be easy. An insult there, a reference to his poor dead mommy there – hah, my job would be done in weeks. I was older and wiser and had more tricks up my sleeve. I would crush him so thoroughly he wouldn't have the chance to get back up this time.
Looking back at it, I did a good job, if I do say so myself. I managed to break him in ways I had never imagined. It was just too bad I ended up destroying myself in the process, too.
Chapter 4: segue: a child
I do not own Bleach.
Hope you are all enjoying the re-vamped chapters! Sorry for my slowness.
Isshin waited outside his son's bedroom door, but there was no answer from within, so he entered. Ichigo was sitting on the floor, cross-legged and staring out the window, the sunset bright on his stony face. He looked his father's way and Isshin fought the urge to shrink away from the sight of the forbidding, bottomless black pits his son's eyes had become.
"Ichigo, dinner's ready."
"I'm not hungry."
He attempted a smile. "Heh, you don't have to worry, I didn't cook. Uncle Jyuushirou came over and dropped something off for us. Do you remember him? Young looking but long white hair- "
"I said I'm not hungry."
"Ichigo," He sat down next to his son, smoothed the wayward orange hair; his smile faded when Ichigo jerked away from his touch, scowling darkly.
"I'm not hungry, dad."
"But you need to keep up your strength-"
"Then I'll eat later!" Ichigo yelled, his control snapping. "I'm fine, OK? Just leave me alone!"
There was a moment of silence and then Isshin nodded, rising to his feet slowly.
"OK," he said quietly. "Just come down when you want. I'll heat it up again for you."
Ichigo stared ahead, biting his lip, something inside him tearing apart. He wanted to apologize to his father. He wanted to run him through with a spear. He wanted to curl up inside his mother's arms, like he used to after a bad dream, but he couldn't. He couldn't do any of it. He wasn't even able to cry – the tears just would not come. He didn't know what to say.
Isshin was at the door when he heard the small voice call for him.
He froze. "What is it, son?"
"What am I going to do about school now?"
Ichigo's voice was so helpless. Isshin wordlessly crept back to his side and brushed back that vibrant hair again. This time Ichigo didn't move away, and he felt it again, just as he had when he had seen his son for the very first time: an overwhelming rush of love for this tiny child, his son, the boy Masaki had died for. He would be dishonoring her memory if he let anything happen to Ichigo or the girls. He would have to do his best, even if it meant soldiering on alone.
Isshin crushed his son to his chest, not caring that Ichigo didn't react, pressed against him limply.
"We're just going to have to sort that out later, OK?"
"OK." Ichigo's voice was muffled but it didn't waver.
Isshin squeezed his eyes shut and willed himself not to cry. "Still not hungry?"
The small figure enfolded in his arms shifted. "Maybe a bit," Ichigo admitted.
"A bit, huh?"
"Want something to eat? Jyuushirou brought chocolate cake too. You can have it for dessert."
Isshin smiled down at his son and picked him up, cuddling him. Ichigo didn't protest, but Isshin knew everything had changed. Ichigo had changed. He had seen it in his son, the drawings, he had heard Ichigo's screams while he slept. The pale face and changed eyes. He knew wouldn't be able to hold his son like this much longer.
Ichigo felt thin and bony against him. Isshin felt his heart squeeze in pain. Anything, he thought, I'll do anything to bring him back. I can't bring you back Masaki, but don't take Ichigo with you. I need him here. I can't lose both of you. I'll do anything to keep him with me. Oh, God, help me find something to bring him back!
“He's done well.”
Shihouin Yoruichi tended to purr rather than speak. Even her eyes were catlike. Right now they shined in satisfaction, and there was a crooked smile on her face as she watched Isshin's face radiate with pride. She turned back to look at the pair of boys sparring on the dojo floor, expression turning more thoughtful. “He's progressed fast. Very fast.. Works hard. Constantly practicing. Actually, he's been told more than once to take it easy. Good thing you brought him to an actual school instead of trying to 'train' him on your own.”
“Good thing the quality of teachers here hasn't taken a nosedive since I left,” Isshin said with a wink.
“Pfft. If anything, it's improved. What kind of 'training' is breaking into a child's bedroom?”
A shout interrupted them. Yoruichi and Isshin turned back to the floor. Two dogi-clad figures removed their helmets, revealing two bright heads of hair, one orange and one red.
“Bow!” barked the referee.
They bowed to each other. Both were blank faced. Then, suddenly, as soon as they straightened the red-haired boy – Abarai Renji, if Isshin remembered correctly - elbowed Ichigo's shoulder roughly, his raucous comment paired with a toothy grin. Isshin watched Ichigo's face slide slowly from annoyance to amused tolerance, then finally to a small smile - and something in his chest loosened even as it swelled.
"Three years tomorrow, am I right?" Yoruichi lowered her voice but he heard her clearly.
Three years already? he thought. It sent a shock through him.
“I guess it must be," he said, suddenly feeling weary. It had felt like ten, a hundred, a thousand years. And yet, it also still seemed like it all happened yesterday.
“ So we won't see him tomorrow.”
“ No. The old man knows.”
“ Tch. If Yamamoto ever hears you calling him that, he'll set you on fire.”
“ Who's setting what on fire?”
Ichigo had approached and was eying his father suspiciously. Renji dawdled in the background, before a girl Isshin recognised as Kuchiki Byakuya's adopted younger sister joined him. They whispered to each other and watched curiously.
“ Dad, did you try to cook again?” Ichigo was scowling, as he usually did these days. “We told you to cut that out. Anyways I was gonna eat at the cafeteria with Renji and Rukia-”
“ No no, I insist! I'll treat you and your sisters to a nice meal out. I didn't try and cook. I promise. Scout's honor.” He held his hand up solemnly.
“ You were never a Scout.” Ichigo opened his mouth and paused, looking back at his friends before turning to face his father again with a strange expression on his face. “Um. Anyway. Yeah. OK. Let's go. I, uh, wanted to tell you something anyway.”
“ I'll tell you at dinner,” his son mumbled.
Isshin had no idea what to expect. Later as they settled into their booth at family restaurant, Ichigo fiddled with his menu and changed his order almost three times before hurriedly admitting that he wanted to move back home with his father and sisters and go to, as he put it, 'a normal school where teachers don't wear eyepatches or clown costumes and face paint and threaten to dissect you'.
Which, when Isshin thought about it, was pretty reasonable.
"So it looks like you told him, huh. You're packing so that must mean you're leaving already."
Renji started every conversation with a blatantly obvious observation. Ichigo only sighed in response as he stuffed another shirt into his already-overfull suitcase.
“ Are you? For real?” There was a note of concern in Renji's voice.
"Yeah.” He paused. “ I mean. You know I wanted to. It's the end of the school year in two weeks anyway. Dad wanted to wait but exams are done and I won't be missing much."
"Except the fireworks," Renji argued. "They always have awesome fireworks here."
"And the street festivals," another voice piped up. "Don't forget that."
Ichigo turned around, eyebrows raised. "Rukia, this is the boys' dorm. How did you get in here?"
She looked prim and smug as she settled onto his bed like she owned it. "I have my means."
"Uh-huh," Ichigo rolled his eyes. "Well, whatever. I'm not staying any longer. I'm leaving tomorrow night. After...you know."
Renji opened his mouth, but shut it audibly when Rukia shot him a warning glance.
“ I told dad at dinner tonight. He's waiting downstairs. I'm just taking some stuff with me, and I'll get the rest tomorrow.” A beat. “I'll still be here at the weekends for training and stuff. So you'll see me again. I just won't be here all day every day.”
“ Are you looking forward to going back?” Rukia asked.
He hesitated, then said, “ Of course! I'll be going to a middle school near home now, with normal people, instead of having to live in here and go to school with a buncha weirdos ."
"Who're you calling a weirdo?" a new voice demanded. "Like you can talk with that stupid hair of yours!"
Ichigo looked over at the door where one of his roommates was standing. " Oh, Ikkaku, hey. I thought you were still sparring with Kenpachi."
The other boy grimaced and rubbed his arm gingerly. "He beat me again."
A sigh. “See? This is why I want to leave. What kind of school has teachers that are seven foot tall and three hundred pounds, and who still won't go easy on their students? I don't want to be chased down halls and challenged to fights anymore!”
“ Pah! That kind of thing builds strength and character!” Ikkaku harrumphed, arms over his chest. “Anyway, what's this I hear about you leaving, tangerine?”
Brown eyes leveled a glare at Renji and Rukia, both of whom feigned innocence. “I knew this would happen. 'OF COURSE we can keep secrets, Ichigo' my ass!” He turned to Ikkaku. “Does anyone else know about this?”
“You mean apart from all the students, teachers, office workers, custodial staff and PTA members? Hmm, couldn't say.”
“ Are you serious?”
“ What did you expect, dum-dum? If you didn't want to make a scene you should've left after the term ended instead of sneaking away two weeks early.”
He had a point. Ichigo's plan had backfired spectacularly, and he found himself the object of stares and whispers more than usual as he headed downstairs to meet his father. A few passing teachers wished him luck, Kurotsuchi the science teacher leered at him unpleasantly, and Ichigo quickened his pace. Murmurs clouded the hallways and bounced off the concrete floors, the high ceilings. He looked at the walls filled with pictures of past students and teachers, awards, accolades, names and faces he recognised. He almost walked right past the one of his father.
The photo was just before Ichigo had been born, and Isshin looked young and unburdened. His hair was the spiky mess Ichigo recognized as his own, but in black, and he was smiling, a contrast to the stern expressions on the portraits around him. So much had changed since then. A bleak sadness had crept into his eyes, sadness that he masked well but still leaked out when he thought his children weren't watching, a sadness Ichigo felt responsible for.
A hand settled over one shoulder. Usually this would have merited Ichigo throwing his father at the wall, or at least a elbow to the stomach, but this time the grip was firm, friendly, reassuring.
'Ah, look how fresh I was! I'm still as good looking of course, but more in a rugged way these days.” Isshin winked at his son. “Ready to go home?”
Ichigo paused. Was he?
The halls were quiet but in distant classrooms he heard teachers barking orders, students chanting, practicing with weapons, the thud of limbs against mats and punching bags. He felt the eyes watching him, comparing him to his father, his peers, felt the judgment of those who were not much different to the children at his previous school.
Three years. Three years already. The same amount of time he had lived under blue-eyed torture. He had made friends here, he had grown, he had thrived, but he was ready to move on.
He was ready.
“ Yeah,” Ichigo said, feeling a smile crack his face, “let's go home.”
Middle s chool hadn't been that bad so far. The usual schoolyard bullies approached him but he beat them all easily. They multiplied – despite Karakura being a small town, it seemed to have no end of wannabe gangsters and criminals - and after that it started becoming a little harder. Then he met Chad.
"I'll fight for you and you'll fight for me. Is it a deal?"
They were just fourteen. They didn't know what they were really promising. But they didn't regret it – at least, Ichigo knew he didn't.
Interests developed from martial arts into soccer and basketball. Hair started growing in weird places. His voice changed. Over one summer he shot up several inches and outgrew almost all his clothes. Ichigo persuaded his friends from the Academy to come and visit occasionally, and they kept him up to date on all the horrifying details of the latest escapades of both students and staff members (Ichigo was particularly sorry to miss the apparently legendary stand off between Kenpachi and Soi-Fon, the no-nonsense Weapons and Armed Defense teacher).
The days before his mother had died became a hazy distant dream. The nightmares were forgotten and all he could see was her smile, and it still drove a stake into his heart.
"You were the one who killed her."
He hadn't forgotten. He would never forget.