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Human Souls

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Someone knocked at the door. Ulquiorra knew it was Grimmjow; his reiatsu was unmistakable, loud and brutish, heavy as lead, thick and cloying like cologne. And, well, Ulquiorra had been expecting him.

Ulquiorra had two options: First, he could open the door. Grimmjow would enter, say something boorish with a smug, vicious grin, then the door would close behind him and they would fuck, hungrily, greedily, each of them a starving animal and the other a fresh carcass – and secretly, with the intensity of something that must be done but must be done silent, hard, and fast.

Second, he could choose not to answer the door. Grimmjow would knock again, and Ulquiorra would have to resist the ache of desire in his stomach and the heady, smothering weight of Grimmjow’s reiatsu. But eventually, Grimmjow would leave, and Ulquiorra would be alone in his quarters with his own cold, hard thoughts, the silence, and the unfortunate knowledge of where Grimmjow would be.

It was difficult for Ulquiorra to follow the string of events that had led him here. He and Grimmjow had become… involved. That was the clearest way he could describe it. Grimmjow was in him like a hook; the longing snagged in his chest and pulled at him. He was being stretched thin, like molten glass.

Such involvement between Espada had not been explicitly forbidden by Aizen, but they both knew that if they were found out, there was the possibility of punishment by death, or worse. Ulquiorra was nothing if not practiced. He could go days without saying a word, without meeting Grimmjow’s eye, without moving so much as a finger in a direction that might give cause for suspicion.

Grimmjow was not so careful, and Ulquiorra had to do his share of subtlety, too. In Aizen’s throne room, when he could feel Grimmjow’s eyes on the back of his head. In the hallways, when Grimmjow purposefully bumped into his shoulder, or let their hands brush as they passed. In the human world, when Grimmjow showed up unexpectedly and tried to pull him away. Ulquiorra kept his eyes forward, breathed one breath at a time, and clenched his teeth. He willed Grimmjow to take a hint, to be more careful; he imagined sending each one of his appeals down the line anchored in his chest, straight to Grimmjow at the other end. But if they reached Grimmjow, he ignored them.

This was why he had tried, more than once, to cut things off with Grimmjow: to protect him. But Ulquiorra couldn’t make it stick; the longer they were apart, the more brittle his resolve became. He cracked. They had agreed to see each other only very late at night, and only sometimes – and yet Grimmjow was at his door almost every night.

The knock came again. Ulquiorra stared at the door – he could almost see Grimmjow snarling on the other side. His hair would be falling into his eyes, his fists would be clenched. Ulquiorra wanted him – his skin sang with wanting to be touched, his blood churned, his muscles tensed. He closed his eyes, trying to drown out the sensation of Grimmjow, standing ten feet from him on the other side of that door. Then the sensation disappeared completely, and Ulquiorra was alone.

***

Ichigo was doing homework – or, at least, he was pretending to do homework. He had other thoughts on his mind. For one thing, it was hard for him to imagine a future where calculus played any part in his life – even more than most students. And for another, he suspected that Grimmjow was coming.

It’d been three days since Ichigo had seen him. He never knew whether Grimmjow was going to show up at his bedroom window. Everything was always on Grimmjow’s terms, of course – that was the type of jerk he was. It left Ichigo feeling on-edge, as if he might appear at any moment of any day, even though he only ever showed up after midnight. So Ichigo stayed up, “doing homework,” leaving his window open, and waiting.

“Yo,” Grimmjow said. He crouched just outside the window, one arm leaning on the frame above his head, an asshole smirk on his asshole face.

“I was starting to think you were dead,” Ichigo said.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

Grimmjow dropped into the room and pulled Ichigo half out of his chair into a deep, wild kiss. Ichigo grabbed at him, digging his fingers into Grimmjow’s shoulder blades. He struggled to get his feet under him as he kissed back – Grimmjow wasn’t letting up at all. Grimmjow spun Ichigo around and pinned his back to the wall. He slid one hand down the back of Ichigo’s jeans, cupping a handful of ass. With the other he grabbed Ichigo’s hair, pulling his head back and up so that Ichigo had to look down at him from the corner of his eye. Ichigo’s cock twitched against Grimmjow’s thigh.

“What do you think I should do with you today?” Grimmjow asked. He meant “fuck you or kill you?” and Ichigo scoffed; it wasn’t much of a threat anymore.

Ichigo reached to the side to shut the window and pull the blinds closed as Grimmjow kissed down the side of Ichigo’s exposed neck. The sharp teeth of his mask raked at Ichigo’s skin and  he felt the spark of it run across his skin. Ichigo groped Grimmjow through his hakama – he was already throbbing hard.

Grimmjow grabbed Ichigo’s t-shirt by the hem and ripped it off over Ichigo’s head, then shrugged out of his own jacket. He grabbed Ichigo by the waist and half lifted, half threw him up and across the room to the bed.

“Be careful, asshole,” Ichigo said as Grimmjow straddled him, his strong thighs holding Ichigo’s hips in place. Ichigo started to sit up but Grimmjow grabbed one shoulder and pushed him back onto the bed.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Grimmjow said. “What do you want me to do with you?”

Ichigo blushed and turned away as he realized what Grimmjow was getting at.

Grimmjow burst out laughing at Ichigo’s reaction. “That’s right, Shinigami,” he said, with a grin that was begging to be smacked off his face. “Say it out loud, or I might not do it.”

“Fuck you!” Ichigo spat back, and Grimmjow laughed again.

“Close enough, I guess.” Then Grimmjow leaned down and licked Ichigo’s nipple, lightly, before biting into it.

 Ichigo cried out, and Grimmjow’s hand shot up and clamped over his mouth, pinning his head against the mattress. Grimmjow’s other hand dug into Ichigo’s pec, rubbing the nipple there roughly with his thumb as he flicked the other with his tongue, rolled it between his teeth. Ichigo arched his chest into Grimmjow’s touch, and when he glanced down Grimmjow was looking up at him with a wicked sparkle in his eyes that sent a shiver through his flesh.

Then Grimmjow pulled back and dragged both his hands down Ichigo’s torso, his nails scratching across Ichigo’s skin, and Ichigo pressed up into him as if he were drawn to his hands. They stopped at the waistband of Ichigo’s jeans, and Grimmjow palmed at Ichigo’s hard-on through the fabric, rubbing it up and down with the heel of his hand.

“This hard for me already, huh?” Grimmjow asked. Ichigo wished he could deny it, but his hips thrust up into Grimmjow’s hand anyway.

Grimmjow unfastened Ichigo’s jeans, tugged the front of his boxers down and grabbed his cock. His hand was big, enough to wrap all the way around Ichigo, and it felt cool against his overheated skin. Grimmjow worked him roughly, pressing into the underside of Ichigo’s cock as he moved down, squeezing his head as he pulled up.  He rolled his thumb across the tip, smearing the precum there around, and making Ichigo’s hips shake reflexively. More welled up immediately, and Grimmjow gave Ichigo a smirk before licking it off, dragging the head of Ichigo’s cock slowly down his tongue. Between the sight of Grimmjow looking up at him from under his eyelashes and the electric sensation of Grimmjow touching him, Ichigo could only barely hold back.

“Wait,” Ichigo gasped. “Too much.”

Grimmjow let him go and sat up, and Ichigo sighed in relief. “Take those off,” Grimmjow said, motioning at Ichigo’s jeans as he undid his own hakama. Ichigo followed his orders and both men tossed the last of their clothing aside.

Grimmjow sat up and patted his lap as if calling a dog, and Ichigo obeyed, straddling his knees. “No, like this,” Grimmjow said, and grabbed Ichigo by the backs of his knees, pulling him forward so the two men were pressed against each other.

Ichigo paused for a moment to catch his breath. His heartbeat was thudding in his ears and he felt dizzy from the sight of Grimmjow under him. The heat between their bodies was smothering. Ichigo imagined brushing his fingertips over the large scar on Grimmjow’s chest, but he didn’t dare attempt it. What a waste, he thought. Grimmjow’s eyes were glassy with lust and beads of sweat were starting to appear on his brow. Ichigo licked one away – salty, just like a human’s – and felt a tremor run through Grimmjow’s body. He couldn’t wait anymore after that. He kissed Grimmjow the same way he would fight him, fierce and unrestrained.

Then Grimmjow reached over and grabbed the bottle of lube from the nightstand drawer. Ichigo felt a rush of shame and annoyance that Grimmjow knew right where to find it. He tried to avoid thinking about how he was regularly sleeping with the enemy, but sometimes the evidence wouldn’t let him ignore it. Grimmjow tossed the bottle to Ichigo, and Ichigo caught it.

He knew what Grimmjow wanted him to do; Ichigo squeezed a healthy portion of lube out onto his fingertips, then, with both of Grimmjow’s hands on his ass, spreading him open, he started to finger himself.  

“Aren’t you a good little slut?” Grimmjow said. The way he smiled looked like he was baring his teeth for a fight, getting ready to take a chunk of flesh out of Ichigo’s neck.

“Shut up,” Ichigo tried to say, but it came out as a sort of half-moan as Grimmjow wrapped one hand around both their cocks and began to jerk them off.

“What was that?” Grimmjow asked.

Ichigo couldn’t answer. He slid another lubed-up finger into his ass and wrapped his other arm around Grimmjow’s shoulders to steady himself. Grimmjow stretched upwards to kiss him again. Ichigo rocked his hips into Grimmjow’s hand, grinding against the other man’s cock, and felt the slickness of their precum mixing together. Grimmjow reached behind him, grasping Ichigo’s hand, and slowly guided him as he fingered himself, forcing him to pull out further and dive in deeper than before.

“Holy shit, Grimmjow,” Ichigo said. His voice was almost unrecognizable, and his whole body trembled. “Just fuck me already.”

In one fluid movement Grimmjow ducked out from under Ichigo and threw him face down on the bed. Looking back over his shoulder, Ichigo couldn’t see much more than a blur of bright blue hair, but he could feel Grimmjow grinding against him, hot and hard. Then Grimmjow caught his eye, and grinned again, and Ichigo felt another rush of hunger and shame run through him from head to toe. Grimmjow leaned down next to Ichigo’s ear; his breath was hot on Ichigo’s face, and his carefully swept-up hair had deflated from sweat. He put an elbow in Ichigo’s back, pinning him to the mattress. And for the first time in a long time, something about him – whether it was the fine, gritty layer of sand between their bodies, the predatory glint in his eyes, or the way his breath smelled faintly of blood – made Ichigo remember that he should be afraid. But then he felt the head of Grimmjow’s cock slip inside him, and the only feeling he had was how badly he wanted to be fucked.

Ichigo slid his hips back into Grimmjow, taking as much as he could. He couldn’t help but moan, louder than he should have, and Grimmjow kissed him to keep him quiet. They moved together, slowly at first, Ichigo lifting his hips as Grimmjow thrust into him. “Touch yourself,” Grimmjow hissed in his ear, and Ichigo did. Grimmjow moved faster, and his hands moved across Ichigo’s back and hips, his fingernails digging into Ichigo’s shoulder blades.

Ichigo could hardly breathe – his face was crushed against the bed – but he barely noticed. His moans grew louder and louder and he furiously fucked his own hand, until Grimmjow covered his mouth with a hand and he came. His vision blurred as Grimmjow’s cock stroked him, his orgasm making the sensation too intense too handle. Then he collapsed, his arms and legs too liquified to keep him up.

“Hey, you’re not done yet,” Grimmjow said. He grabbed Ichigo around the waist and pulled him back up to his knees. It took everything Ichigo had to stay upright. His head was swimming and every one of Grimmjow’s thrusts was more pleasure than his body knew what to do with. Then Grimmjow thrust deep into him, once, then twice, wrapping his arms around Ichigo’s chest and biting his shoulder, and Ichigo cried out with how good it felt and how much it hurt.

They both dropped like sacks of flour, soaked in sweat and cum. They laid panting for a minute, then Grimmjow started to get up.

“Wait,” Ichigo said.

“What?”

“Stay with me. A minute,” Ichigo said, and immediately regretted it. But it was there now, he had said it.

To his surprise, Grimmjow didn’t ridicule him. He sat back on the bed where he had been about to stand up. “Why?” he asked.

Because it’s quiet when you leave, Ichigo thought. “Because I asked you to,” he said.

“You don’t want me to stay,” Grimmjow said. He turned and looked back at Ichigo, still breathing heavy, then lifted a hand and brushed the hair back from Ichigo’s forehead. Ichigo tensed in shock.  “Sorry,” he said. “I can’t stay.”

Then Grimmjow gathered the clothes they’d scattered earlier, dressed, and left the same way he’d come in. Ichigo sank into the quiet he left behind, like deep water.

***

The next day, after midnight, Grimmjow moved quietly through the halls of Las Noches toward Ulquiorra’s chambers. Nobody was out at this time of night, but he listened attentively for footsteps, anyway. He knew Ulquiorra thought he was reckless, doing this every night, but he was more careful than he got credit for.

He stopped in front of Ulquiorra’s door and took a deep breath. The thought of seeing Ulquiorra always made him nervous; it was a feeling he never got used to. Ulquiorra’s reiatsu was palpable, and he knew Ulquiorra could feel his. It was a strange sort of greeting, like hands pressed against opposite sides of a pane of glass. Being able to feel his presence but not see him or touch him made Ulquiorra seem unreachable, somehow. Grimmjow swallowed the knot in his throat and knocked.

The next part was the worst: the moment after he knocked, when he didn’t know whether Ulquiorra would open the door or not, whether he’d have to spend the night alone or, if he couldn’t hack it, in the Shinigami’s bed. His anticipation doubled in size and then doubled again before he’d even dropped his hand.

He heard a click as the deadbolt turned, and his anxiety changed shape inside him. The door opened and Ulquiorra was there. Grimmjow slid past the door, swung it closed behind him, and before it had even clicked shut again he had grabbed Ulquiorra, or Ulquiorra had grabbed him, and they were kissing. Grimmjow had to lean down to make up the half-foot difference in their height, or maybe Ulquiorra had pulled him down – his hand was threaded in Grimmjow’s hair. The world seemed to move differently between them; cause and effect were simultaneous. It was a struggle to prove who wanted the other more, and the answer was both, and neither.

“You’re late,” Ulquiorra said as Grimmjow kissed down the side of his neck.

“My bad,” Grimmjow said.

Ulquiorra pushed Grimmjow’s jacket off his shoulders. “Did anyone see you?”

Grimmjow rolled his eyes. “No,” he said.

Grimmjow unzipped Ulquiorra’s uniform and wrapped his arms around Ulquiorra’s bare torso. He rested his cheek against Ulquiorra’s head, breathing in his scent. It reminded him of something he couldn’t quite place, something herbal – fennel, or allspice. He felt Ulquiorra’s breath on his ear and shivered. Grimmjow moved a hand flat-palmed up Ulquiorra’s back until his thumb brushed the edge of his hollow hole and he felt Ulquiorra’s breath catch.

Compared to Ulquiorra, Ichigo was a pale shadow in Grimmjow’s mind. Ulquiorra’s skin was like a hot iron under Grimmjow’s fingers, and he wanted to be burned. Ulquiorra’s hands had bent and sculpted him into a shape no one else could see. And yet, there was a shadow.

Ulquiorra gripped Grimmjow’s shoulders and before he knew it, Grimmjow was sprawled on the ground with Ulquiorra’s thin body pinning him. The hair stood up on Grimmjow’s neck and a wave of lust washed over him. It was one thing to know, numerically, that Ulquiorra was stronger than him, but another to feel the strength in his hands.

“Mess me up, Ulquiorra,” Grimmjow said.

Ulquiorra raked his tongue up the side of Grimmjow’s throat, then he slowly kissed lower and reached into Grimmjow’s hakama to stroke his hardening cock. With his other hand he traced just barely outside Grimmjow’s hollow hole, and the sensation was electric, numbing. He kissed the rim of it, his lips stinging Grimmjow like acid, even as his cock swelled in Ulquiorra’s hand. Then Ulquiorra slipped his tongue inside, and Grimmjow cried out. He bucked under Ulquiorra instinctively, and his vision tunneled.

“Careful,” Ulquiorra said. His hands held Grimmjow’s hips firmly on the ground as he traced the edge with his tongue. Grimmjow felt sure he would black out. Just before he lost consciousness though, Ulquiorra let up. Then, as Grimmjow laid panting, blinking the stars out of his vision, Ulquiorra swirled his tongue around the head of his cock, and a different kind of electricity ran him through.

Ulquiorra moved agonizingly slowly up and down Grimmjow’s length, gripping it with a hand to keep the underside pressed firmly against his tongue. Grimmjow felt Ulquiorra’s throat tighten around the head as he swallowed as much as he could. It was too much, he was too close already. He grabbed at Ulquiorra’s helmet, his fingers curling around the bone, not trying to get deeper but trying to pull Ulquiorra off him. Ulquiorra complied at first, backing off Grimmjow’s length, but then took him again, and Grimmjow was powerless as he came down Ulquiorra’s throat.

“That wasn’t fair,” Grimmjow said, his voice wavering pathetically.

“Wasn’t that what you had in mind?” Ulquiorra said, and Grimmjow could see the faintest hint of a wry smile on his face.

“Let me do you, now,” Grimmjow said.

Ulquiorra leaned over Grimmjow and kissed him, and Grimmjow tried not to make a face at the bitter taste of cum in his mouth. “Let’s move to the bed,” Ulquiorra said.

Grimmjow followed Ulquiorra into the bedroom and they both shed the rest of their clothes – Grimmjow couldn’t help but eye the lines of Ulquiorra’s body as he undressed. The way he moved was so deliberate, so graceful. Grimmjow could see the power being just barely held back in every move. He wanted Ulquiorra so badly he couldn’t stand it. He slid an arm around Ulquiorra’s waist from behind, the other around his shoulders, kissed the back of his neck and held him close.

“Grimmjow.” Ulquiorra placed a hand over each of Grimmjow’s wrists and started to pull them away, but Grimmjow resisted.

“Not yet,” Grimmjow said. “Just let me hold you for a minute.” He closed his eyes and soaked in the heat of Ulquiorra’s body, his back pressed against him, the shallow rise and fall of his breath. It was moments like this one that Grimmjow coveted the most – being able to reach out and touch Ulquiorra in a way that was just familiar, or casual. Normal. He wanted holding Ulquiorra to be normal, and it ate at him that he couldn’t have it.

“Do you hold the Shinigami like this?” Ulquiorra asked.

Grimmjow’s arms went weak and Ulquiorra pulled them away, and turned. Grimmjow couldn’t tell what he saw on Ulquiorra’s face. Was he angry? Sad? Or was Grimmjow just seeing what he wanted to see?

“So, you did know about that,” Grimmjow said.

“Don’t underestimate me.”

They stood facing each other, wary. Grimmjow had known this would happen, eventually, but he still wasn’t prepared. He didn’t know how to explain himself. He didn’t know what Ulquiorra wanted from him. He hardly knew what he wanted himself.

“He’s just a quick fuck, that’s all,” Grimmjow said. “I don’t want him. I want you.”

“You didn’t think I might be jealous?”

No, he hadn’t.

Ulquiorra curled his hand around the back of Grimmjow’s neck, his nails digging like claws into his scalp, and pulled him down. He felt the tension in Ulquiorra’s body, like he was only just holding himself back. He could snap Grimmjow’s spine like a twig if he wanted, but that wasn’t what Grimmjow was afraid of. Ulquiorra’s eyes held him like iron, and when he spoke his words were low and hard, his breath sharp on Grimmjow’s cheek.

“Then pay attention,” Ulquiorra said, and kissed him.

Grimmjow leaned into it – he wanted to paper over Ichigo in his mind, replace every speck of him with Ulquiorra. More than that, he wanted Ulquiorra to feel how desperate he was to be with him.

Ulquiorra hit the mattress first, and Grimmjow bowed over him, his arms and legs like a cage to keep Ulquiorra from flying away. His teeth and tongue marked a warm trail down Ulquiorra’s chest, across his stomach and jutting hip bone. He kissed the pale, silky skin of Ulquiorra’s inner thigh – his favorite – so soft and warm it hardly seemed like it could belong to someone so cold. He kissed the back of Ulquiorra’s knee, where he knew he was the most sensitive. He ran his hands all the way up Ulquiorra’s body and down again, pressing his palms firmly against him, and heard Ulquiorra sigh.

Grimmjow looked Ulquiorra in the eye as he ran his tongue up his cock, then swallowed his length. He jerked Ulquiorra off with his hand as he teased the head, then took as much as he could with his throat. Look, Grimmjow thought. I want you this much. Ulquiorra grabbed the side of his head and pulled him even deeper – Grimmjow gagged but he reveled in it. He glanced up at Ulquiorra and saw his face ever so slightly flushed, and Grimmjow’s own cock jumped at the sight. He would let Ulquiorra fuck his mouth as much as he liked if it meant he got to see a face like that.

“Come here,” Ulquiorra said, and Grimmjow leapt up to kiss him.

“Should I get the lube?” Grimmjow asked, and Ulquiorra nodded breathlessly.

Grimmjow got up to grab the tube from its spot in the dresser. When he came back to the bed Ulquiorra took it from him, then grabbed him and rolled him onto his back. He rubbed lube over Grimmjow’s rapidly hardening cock and started to finger himself at the same time, and Grimmjow shivered under him. Ulquiorra was exquisite – just the sight of him sent a chill down Grimmjow’s spine, pure and ringing like the high note of an aria. Grimmjow would let Ulquiorra do whatever he wanted with him. If Ulquiorra wanted to fuck him, Grimmjow would lay himself out for him, take whatever he gave and love every minute of it. And if Ulquiorra wanted Grimmjow inside him, Grimmjow would give him everything he had and then some.

Ulquiorra raised himself on his knees and slowly lowered himself onto Grimmjow’s cock; he was so tight, it made Grimmjow’s head spin. Ulquiorra paused with Grimmjow deep inside him, and Grimmjow moaned and raised his hips up into the heat of him. He grabbed Ulquiorra’s thighs and pushed them apart. Ulquiorra was swollen so hard he looked like he might burst, and the arc of his body echoing his cock was so beautiful that Grimmjow felt his heart skip. As Grimmjow watched, a bead of precum glistened at the tip and rolled down his length.

Ulquiorra pushed Grimmjow’s hips back down onto the bed and then rolled himself up and back down Grimmjow’s length. His breath shuddered. Grimmjow watched Ulquiorra’s face as he rode him: his eyes closed, lips barely parted, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed. It was all Grimmjow could do not to slam his hips up into him. He needed more.

“Ulquiorra,” Grimmjow moaned, his fingers digging deeper into Ulquiorra’s thighs, pulling him in.

Then Ulquiorra hooked his arms around Grimmjow’s back, surprising him, and pulled him forward. The movement rocked him even deeper onto Grimmjow, and they both moaned. Grimmjow bit at Ulquiorra’s shoulder and wrapped an arm around his waist. He brushed his fingers over one of Ulquiorra’s nipples and started to tease it. Ulquiorra’s skin was sticky with sweat, and he radiated against Grimmjow. He felt like he could drown in Ulquiorra’s scent. Ulquiorra grabbed Grimmjow’s hand and moved it to his cock, and Grimmjow stroked him.

“What do you want?” Grimmjow asked. Ulquiorra kissed him, glassy eyed.

“Give me more of you,” Ulquiorra said, resting his forehead on Grimmjow’s shoulder, his voice low. He paused, breathing hard but steady, his breath hot on Grimmjow’s skin. “Harder.”

Grimmjow looped his arm behind Ulquiorra’s back and lunged forward, draping Ulquiorra over it, his head and shoulders falling back on the bed. He lifted Ulquiorra’s hips up towards him and pressed in as deep as he could, and felt Ulquiorra shiver, his hand clawing at Grimmjow’s arm. He knew what Ulquiorra wanted, and he gave it to him, lifting one knee over each arm, his hands wide over the tops of Ulquiorra’s thighs, around his hips. Grimmjow fucked him as hard as he knew how to, pulling Ulquiorra into his thrusts, and watched Ulquiorra’s eyes flutter closed, his stomach clenching, his cock bouncing as Grimmjow took him.

“Touch me,” Ulquiorra said, his voice barely more than a whisper, and Grimmjow could tell he was losing himself. He shifted Ulquiorra’s legs over his shoulders, wrapped a hand around his cock, and leaned low over his chest, kissing his neck. Ulquiorra’s moans were low and soft – if you didn’t know what to listen for, you might miss them, but Grimmjow did know, and every one went straight to his cock inside Ulquiorra. He stroked Ulquiorra in time with his thrusts. He could tell he wasn’t going to be able to cum again, but he didn’t care – Ulquiorra was close, his body shaking, his cock weeping into Grimmjow’s hand. He kissed Ulquiorra’s lips, then his throat, then the gothic four on his chest, and then, even though he knew it was cheating, he kissed the base of Ulquiorra’s neck, right at the top of his hollow hole, and felt Ulquiorra gasp and buck underneath him. He fucked Ulquiorra through his orgasm: his hands clenched in Grimmjow’s hair, his head rolled back, his lips parted. He was too beautiful to look at.

“Grimmjow…” Ulquiorra whispered as Grimmjow pulled out of him, exhausted.

“Yeah?” He collapsed next to Ulquiorra, panting, rolled over and put an arm around him. But Ulquiorra didn’t say any more.

***

Ulquiorra woke late in the night, or very early in the morning. Grimmjow’s arms were still around him. He didn’t usually let Grimmjow stay the night – not because he didn’t want him there, but to avoid suspicion. Like everything. He was exhausted with hiding. Ulquiorra pressed his face into Grimmjow’s chest and breathed deeply; he smelled overwhelmingly of dried sex and sweat. Grimmjow didn’t even twitch – he was fast asleep. Ulquiorra knew he would have to wake him soon, send him back to his own apartment, but not yet.

The scar on Grimmjow’s chest was unavoidable, and Ulquiorra stared at it. He remembered what he had said earlier, about Kurosaki, and his stomach turned. That had been a mistake. He hadn’t planned to ever tell Grimmjow that he knew about his other secret affair. Ulquiorra knew that he wasn’t enough for Grimmjow, and he had thought that he’d accepted it.  

Sometimes – and Ulquiorra wouldn’t ever admit this – he wished that he and Grimmjow were human. Or that they had gone to Soul Society after their deaths, like normal souls. The Grimmjow he knew wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t become a hollow, and that was an unbearable thought, but at least they might have been able to sleep in the same bed without fear.

Ulquiorra reached up and stroked Grimmjow’s face – Grimmjow twitched, and then slowly blinked.

“Ulquiorra…” Grimmjow said. Then he hugged Ulquiorra to him and started to snore again. Ulquiorra let him. He was suddenly feeling the blackness in his chest and he needed Grimmjow’s warmth to fish him out of it. He put an arm around Grimmjow and clung to his broad chest.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Grimmjow murmured.

Ulquiorra realized he had been squeezing him too tightly and let go. “Nothing,” he said, too quickly.

“Liar,” Grimmjow said.

“You should go. It’s almost morning.”

“Is it about the thing with Ichigo?”

Ulquiorra rolled out of Grimmjow’s arms and stared up at the ceiling. He wanted to dive away into the white.

“Hey, wait,” Grimmjow said, and Ulquiorra let him grab his hand and bring it to his lips. “I’m sorry. I really fucked up.”

“You’re free to sleep with whoever you like. It has nothing to do with me."

“I’m trying to apologize,” Grimmjow said. Ulquiorra watched distantly as Grimmjow’s face twisted into a shape he didn’t recognize – pain, or fear, or somewhere in between. “Why won’t you let me love you?” he asked.

Ulquiorra snatched his hand back from Grimmjow. “Don’t use that word,” he said.

“Then what word should I use?” Grimmjow asked. He sat up in the bed and hung his head in his hands. “Tell me. I’ll do whatever you want. If you tell me to leave, I’ll leave. If you tell me to choose, I’ll choose you. But don’t tell me you don’t care.”

They watched each other, and Ulquiorra felt helpless and trapped. He did care. Too much.

“Do I not satisfy you, Grimmjow?” Ulquiorra asked.

“It’s not that,” Grimmjow said. He spread a hand over Ulquiorra’s bare stomach and Ulquiorra’s breath quickened. “It’s the exact opposite of that. You don’t think that, do you?”

Ulquiorra didn’t reply. His body tensed, his skin blistering against Grimmjow’s palm.

“You’re too good, Ulquiorra. I can’t stand being away from you.” Grimmjow drew his hand away and raked it through his hair. “What should I do?”

“For now,” Ulquiorra said, “don’t come here for a while. And don’t go there, either.”

Grimmjow ground his teeth, and Ulquiorra felt the same way. “Am I gonna see you again?” Grimmjow asked.

“Yes,” Ulquiorra said with a certainty he didn’t have.

“Let me kiss you now, just in case.”

Ulquiorra grabbed the back of his neck and kissed him. He didn’t want to think about what that case would be. Then Grimmjow laid back down, gathered Ulquiorra up in his arms and held him close.

Chapter Text

When it came to Grimmjow, Ichigo couldn’t be honest with himself. He pretended what he felt as he waited for Grimmjow to show up was dread. When Grimmjow left, he pretended it was relief. When he didn’t show up, and Ichigo ended up jerking off alone instead, he pretended he was just bored. He pretended, quite successfully, that he hated him.

It had been a few days since Grimmjow had last been there, and Ichigo was getting antsy. His homework wasn’t done, but he’d resigned himself to the fact that it never would be. Instead, he lay on his bed, checking his phone, staring at the ceiling, and craning his neck to look out the window in rotation.

Ichigo closed his eyes while he waited – for Grimmjow, for a text from Ishida, to fall asleep, anything – and tried to picture the future. It was an exercise he often did lately. He imagined his life in increments, where he would be, where he wanted to be. A week from now: simple. A month from now: almost the same. But six months from now? A year? Things got blurry fast. How long could the war with Aizen go on? Would he still be fighting as a Shinigami while he studied to get into college? Would Grimmjow be showing up in his dorm room? Did he even know how to live a normal life, seeing everything that he’d seen? He had always thought, in the back of his mind, that he would take over the clinic from his dad. Now that simple vision seemed at once too easy and impossibly difficult.

He had almost drifted to sleep when the tearing sound of a garganta opening jolted him upright. The black vortex of the portal mirrored the pit in Ichigo’s stomach. It wasn’t Grimmjow.

“Kurosaki Ichigo,” Ulquiorra said.

Ichigo reached for a zanpakutou that wasn’t there. Of course not – he was in his human body. There was no way he could get out of it and draw his sword before Ulquiorra ran him through. The garganta closed behind Ulquiorra as he stepped into the room, and Ichigo braced himself.

“Don’t move,” Ulquiorra said, “or I will kill you.”

 Ulquiorra’s eyes caught Ichigo’s and trapped him, pinned to the spot like a moth on a bit of styrofoam. Ichigo held his breath; his pulse thundered in his ears. Ulquiorra’s reiatsu was like a mountain, or the vacuum of space: immense, inescapable, and crushing. Darkness crept in at the edges of his vision as Ulquiorra stepped towards him, raising a hand. His fingernails were flat black, and with his pale grey skin he looked monochromatic, like an old movie, completely unreal. Then the hand touched Ichigo’s face, and Ulquiorra kissed him.

Ichigo recoiled, and Ulquiorra backed off a little, though he kept his hand on Ichigo’s cheek.

“Do you understand why I’m here?” Ulquiorra asked.

“Of course not,” Ichigo snarled.

Ulquiorra traced the line of Ichigo’s jaw and lifted his chin. “I want you to show me what you do with him,” Ulquiorra said.

“With who?”

“Grimmjow.”

Just the sound of his name filled Ichigo’s belly with hot coals, and he could see Ulquiorra’s eyes glittering darkly. “Grimmjow,” Ichigo repeated. The name was like piano wire strung between them.

“Show me what it is,” Ulquiorra said, each word drawn out, clear and piercing, “that makes him come running to you when he can’t have me.”

The floor dropped out from under him, the air squeezed from his lungs. It was worse than a punch to the gut, so much worse than he’d thought it would be. The feeling that he couldn’t quite place. The thing that was on Grimmjow’s mind when he showed up in the window, that had him frustrated in a way Ichigo never understood. What he was so impatient to get back to. Of course Ichigo had known he was being used, but here was what he was being used for: a replacement, a stop-gap. Here was the real thing.

Suddenly Ichigo wanted to know, too.

A wave of heat swallowed him, like opening the door of a blast furnace. Ulquiorra seemed to vibrate with barely contained rage, and Ichigo wanted him as much as he feared him. The hand on his face burned like lightning. Ulquiorra’s whole being was a black hole, pulling him in.

“Fuck me, then,” he said.

Ulquiorra leaned down and kissed him again, rougher than before, and Ichigo kissed back. Ulquiorra’s hand squeezed the back of his neck like a vise. He stepped even closer, his body bowed over Ichigo’s, and put a knee up on the bed. Ichigo grabbed at Ulquiorra’s shoulder to steady himself, but Ulquiorra pushed him down onto his back. It was obvious, so obvious it seemed stupid to point it out, that Ulquiorra was a hundred times stronger than him. He had complete control.

Ulquiorra pulled Ichigo’s shirt off over his shoulders and flung it away. For a moment he gazed at Ichigo’s body, as if inspecting him. Then Ulquiorra bent down and pressed his mouth to Ichigo’s throat, just under his jaw. His tongue was soft and warm, and Ichigo felt the occasional scrape of his teeth as he moved down towards his chest. Ulquiorra slid a hand across Ichigo’s stomach, then up his body, slowly feeling every rib. His fingertips brushed across Ichigo’s nipple as he bit down on his collarbone, and Ichigo’s breath caught. Ichigo grabbed Ulquiorra’s hand to pull it away, but he had hardly touched it before Ulquiorra had pinned both his hands above his head.

Ichigo had never felt more exposed, and it sent a shiver down his spine. Ulquiorra was studying him an inch at a time, reading Ichigo with his fingertips, his tongue, learning what made him tick. Ichigo closed his eyes, his body stinging under the touch of unfamiliar hands, and remembered, unexpectedly, his first time with Grimmjow. He had thought it was going to be a fight, of course, but Grimmjow had stopped him from drawing his sword and kissed him. Then the scene changed and he saw the flash of green eyes, wide hands on a narrow back, Grimmjow pressed close against Ulquiorra. He felt betrayed and guilty at the same time, filthy and violated, and it made him hard.

He slipped one wrist out of Ulquiorra’s hand and grabbed him by the back of his uniform, wrinkling the fabric in his fist. Ulquiorra paused, looking at him expectantly, or maybe pissed off, Ichigo couldn’t tell.

“I want to—” Ichigo blushed; he couldn’t say the thing he wanted to do. “—touch you, too,” he finished instead.

Their eyes locked, and anticipation coiled in Ichigo’s chest. Ulquiorra’s gaze was like thick rope coiled around Ichigo’s lungs, squeezing the breath out of him. It wiped Ichigo’s mind clean of everything but fear – and, this time, lust.

Ulquiorra let go of Ichigo’s hand and sat up, keeping him pinned with his eyes instead, unzipped his jacket and shrugged it off. His body was striking. Not that Ichigo would ever admit it, but Ulquiorra was without a doubt his type: slender, but not soft. The four on his chest was awful to look at, and it seemed darker than a normal tattoo, like a wet inkstone. Ichigo brushed it with the tips of his fingers, then with his palm. When he glanced up Ulquiorra was still staring at him, and Ichigo felt the strength of his gaze and the heat of his body both burning under his hand. Somehow he had expected Ulquiorra to feel like cold metal, or stone. Not like a living thing.

Ichigo sat up and switched his hand for his mouth, kissing Ulquiorra’s chest over his tattoo, careful not to stray too close to his hollow hole. He tasted strange on Ichigo’s tongue – different from Grimmjow, more complex. Ichigo licked a quick circle around Ulquiorra’s nipple and felt a shift in Ulquiorra’s body, his muscles tensing under Ichigo’s hands. Wait. Had he imagined it? Could the espada really have such a normal reaction to being touched? Ichigo sucked a little to see if he could make it happen again, and Ulquiorra shivered.

That was more than Ichigo could take. Instinctively he thrust his hips forward against Ulquiorra’s, and was surprised to feel Ulquiorra’s erection pressing back. Ulquiorra grabbed a handful of hair and tipped Ichigo’s head back to kiss him, and Ichigo wrapped an arm around his waist, pulling him in. Ulquiorra ground himself against Ichigo through their pants, and the pressure made Ichigo gasp for breath. He slid his hand down the front of Ulquiorra’s hakama and felt the tip of Ulquiorra’s cock rubbing against him, already slick with precum, and his own hard-on jumped. Ichigo’s brain was going numb, he could tell his eyes were glazing over, and he kissed Ulquiorra hungrily, but he wanted even more.

“Let me suck you off,” Ichigo said. His face flushed red with embarrassment but he held Ulquiorra’s gaze, and when he saw Ulquiorra swallow, and his nostrils flare, the shame melted away. Ulquiorra’s cock was hot to the touch and he was dripping precum over Ichigo’s hand as he stroked him. Ichigo was dying to taste him.

Ulquiorra stood and stripped the rest of his clothes. Ichigo followed suit, and at the same time grabbed the lube from his dresser drawer. He had been intending to prep himself, the way Grimmjow always made him, but Ulquiorra grabbed the bottle and set it aside.

“On your knees,” Ulquiorra said, pointing to the bed. Ichigo obeyed and Ulquiorra knelt in front of him, so the two of them were facing. Then Ulquiorra grabbed him by the shoulder and pushed him down. Ichigo went willingly, though he didn’t have much choice.

Ichigo started with his hand, stroking Ulquiorra, admiring him. It was a beautiful cock, the kind that Ichigo daydreamed about. He gently pulled back his foreskin, revealing the swollen head, and a drop of precum gathered at the tip. Ichigo licked it off. He took Ulquiorra a little bit at a time, bobbing his head and his hand together, filling his mouth with the taste of Ulquiorra, the heat, feeling the silkiness of his skin against his tongue. With his other hand he started jerking off to the same rhythm. He loved sucking cock, even though – or maybe because – it made him feel filthy and used. Nothing got him hotter.

Suddenly Ichigo felt Ulquiorra’s cold fingers rubbing his asshole, slick with lube, and he nearly choked. Ulquiorra grabbed the back of his head before he could pull away and slid two fingers into Ichigo’s ass as he fucked his mouth. Ichigo’s eyes streamed as Ulquiorra’s cock filled his throat. Trying to get some control back, he leaned away, into the hand that was now slowly fingering him. Ulquiorra let his head go and Ichigo pulled back gasping.

Ulquiorra’s whole cock was slick with spit and precum now, so hard and hot it almost seemed to glow as Ichigo stroked it. Ichigo took it in his mouth again, as deep as he could, opening his throat to take as much of Ulquiorra as possible. He arched his hips into Ulquiorra’s hand. Ulquiorra paused to add more lube and a third finger, and Ichigo moaned around his cock as he stretched him. He understood why: Ulquiorra’s cock was thicker than Grimmjow’s, and Ichigo was about to get fucked, hard.

“Ulquiorra,” Ichigo said, wiping a string of saliva off his chin.

“Are you ready?” Ulquiorra asked.

“Yeah,” Ichigo said. “I want you inside me, already.”

Ulquiorra withdrew his fingers, and Ichigo quickly turned onto his back, grabbing the backs of his knees. Ulquiorra applied even more lube to himself, then settled between Ichigo’s legs and eased his way in.

Ichigo groaned as Ulquiorra’s cock slid into him. His asshole was stretched to its limit and he quivered as Ulquiorra pressed even deeper. When it was all the way in Ulquiorra paused.

“Does it hurt?” Ulquiorra asked.

Ichigo’s head snapped up in shock. That was the question he had least expected to hear. Ulquiorra was staring at him, as usual, intense and unreadable.

“No,” Ichigo said. “Fuck me. Please.”

Ulquiorra started slow, and Ichigo moaned as he moved, throwing his head back into the bed. After a few thrusts, Ichigo had loosened up and Ulquiorra moved faster, but not fast enough. Ichigo grasped Ulquiorra’s forearms and used them to pull him closer.

“I’m serious, Ulquiorra,” Ichigo said breathlessly. “I want it harder. It feels so good I could die.”

Ulquiorra kissed him, deeply, their tongues in each other’s mouths. Then he sat up, lifted Ichigo’s hips, and pounded him. Ichigo’s whole body shook with each thrust, and sparks dotted his vision. He bit down on his hand to keep from crying out every time the head of Ulquiorra’s cock rubbed the spot that made him crazy. It was a shockwave, sending sparks of pure warmth – simple, undiluted pleasure – through every inch of him.

Ulquiorra pulled Ichigo’s hand away from his mouth and pinned it to the bed. With his other hand he grabbed Ichigo’s cock and Ichigo yelled and bucked. Just that touch was all he needed. He locked his feet behind Ulquiorra’s back, pulling Ulquiorra deep inside him as he came.

Ulquiorra leaned forward and wrapped an arm around the small of Ichigo’s back. His body made a shell around Ichigo’s, their stomachs pressed together, Ulquiorra’s breath hot and wet on Ichigo’s neck. His black hair hung in sweat-damp strings across his face. His cheeks were flushed. In the haze of Ichigo’s orgasm, and from so close, Ulquiorra looked like a dark god. Not a hollow, but something old and magnificent, the chalk white of his helmet framing his head like a crown. Ichigo lifted his free hand to Ulquiorra’s cheek and saw the shape of surprise on his face. So, he wasn’t completely unreadable. Ichigo kissed him. He felt Ulquiorra’s cock jump inside him and drew him in with his legs. With his eyes closed it was easy to forget everything he knew about Ulquiorra and focus on the sweetness of his mouth, the dampness of his skin, the smell of his sweat.

Ichigo laid his head back and closed his eyes as Ulquiorra rolled off him. His breathing slowed, the sweat and cum on his skin chilling against the open air. He felt strange, so strange. Warm and airy, the taste of Ulquiorra still on his tongue. The fog of sleep was coming for him, and he didn’t feel empty or ashamed at all.

He shifted to grab a blanket and realized, with a start, that Ulquiorra was still in the bed next to him. His eyes were closed. The flush had faded from his face, but his body still glistened with sweat. His lips were very slightly parted. Ichigo’s heart jumped into his throat. He was truly breathtaking.

“Can I–” Ichigo said.

Ulquiorra opened his eyes. His expressionless stare was back, but it seemed like it was missing some of his usual intensity. Or maybe it was that Ichigo had stopped being so afraid.

Ichigo laid back down, closer to Ulquiorra, pressing his face into Ulquiorra’s shoulder. He draped an arm across his stomach. “Just for a minute,” Ichigo said.

Ulquiorra shifted his arm so it cradled Ichigo’s back, and Ichigo felt all the tension he had coiled inside himself let go. He closed his eyes again – he didn’t dare look at Ulquiorra’s face – and thought of all the times he had imagined cuddling like this with Grimmjow. Or with Ishida.

“Did you get whatever you came here for?” Ichigo asked.

“Maybe,” Ulquiorra said.

He knew this was nothing more than some kind of mission to Ulquiorra, but Ichigo felt connected to him somehow. Despite himself. Maybe if the red thread of fate were black instead. Like that. Ichigo moved his hand up Ulquiorra’s chest and brushed the edge of his hollow hole, the spot he had avoided so carefully earlier. Ulquiorra inhaled and grabbed Ichigo’s hand away from it. His hand was so pale it was almost blue, and he kept gripping Ichigo even though he’d stopped moving. Ichigo wondered at the sight of it.

“Do you do this with him, too?” Ulquiorra asked.

“No,” Ichigo said. “He won’t let me.”

Ulquiorra touched Ichigo’s face, and kissed him again, and Ichigo understood what he was trying to say. This is ours, then. He leaned up into Ulquiorra and kissed him slowly, softly, purposefully. He tasted his lips and his tongue and felt the shape of him, and he let Ulquiorra feel him, too. Ichigo kissed him until he fell asleep, and when he woke up, Ulquiorra was gone.

***

Las Noches was mercifully quiet and dark. Ulquiorra stood still and absorbed it, after he stepped out of the garganta that had brought him from the Shinigami’s home. At night, the white walls seemed to glow a soft blue, and Ulquiorra wanted his mind to mirror that. His footsteps echoed through the hallways, and even though the likelihood of running into someone who would dare to question him was small, each one was a dagger to his nerves.

He stopped in front of Grimmjow’s door. He didn’t have to knock. He felt Grimmjow’s reiatsu and he knew Grimmjow could feel his. The door opened. It hadn’t even been a week since they’d seen each other, but it felt like it had been a hundred years. All the cool that Ulquiorra had gathered a minute earlier evaporated.

“Ulquio—” Grimmjow started.

Ulquiorra pushed Grimmjow back into the room and closed the door behind them. He took Grimmjow by the collar and pulled him in to meet his lips. Grimmjow held him tight at the waist and Ulquiorra tangled his hands in Grimmjow’s hair. When he was with Grimmjow he dove into him like a lake in the desert, clung to him like a dying man. Desire, uneasiness, relief poured off Grimmjow as they kissed. Ulquiorra envied that about him. That his emotions came to him so easily, that he could share them with Ulquiorra without saying a word. The Shinigami had been like that, too.

“I was wrong,” Ulquiorra said, when they parted, gasping.

“About?”

Almost everything, Ulquiorra thought.

“Don’t see him anymore,” he said. “I’ll sleep with you every night from now on, if that’s what you want. But don’t let him touch you again.”

“That is what I want,” Grimmjow said. But he was frowning. “But… I can’t stop thinking, Ulquiorra. Is that what you want?”

Ulquiorra blinked. He didn’t understand what Grimmjow was getting at. “Of course,” Ulquiorra said. “I always wanted that. But you know why we haven’t.”

“So what’s different now?”

Ulquiorra didn’t answer.

“You’re just not gonna say anything?” Grimmjow asked. Suddenly his face twisted, and he stepped back. “You know I can smell him on you, right?”

That didn’t surprise him. He could still feel Ichigo in his hands, still taste him. He had been so warm.

“What did you do to him?” Grimmjow asked, his voice hoarse, barely above a whisper.

“Nothing you wouldn’t have done.”

“Did you kill him?”

“No,” Ulquiorra said. But he had been intending to. What had changed? The Shinigami wasn’t so much different from what Ulquiorra had been expecting. But he had been soft; his hands had been gentle. He was human, of course, but Ulquiorra had been unprepared for how vital that humanity was. How vibrant. “I wanted to know what you see in him.”

“Then you should have asked me. I would have told you, I see a warm hole, and that’s it,” Grimmjow said. He was snarling. “Do you want to know the real reason, Ulquiorra? Why I go fuck Ichigo when I feel like shit? It’s because when I’m with you, I can’t tell if you love me, or if I’m dog shit under your heel.”

Ulquiorra’s blood ran cold. There was that word again. It made him dizzy and sick to his stomach. “Don’t—”

“I know, I know!” Grimmjow shouted. “But I can’t fucking take it anymore. I need you to tell me something! It doesn’t have to be that. Just tell me what I am to you.”

What he was. Ulquiorra didn’t know. How many hours had he wasted trying to unravel that very thing? There were words he could use, but none of them were right. Grimmjow was a bit of sand that had festered into a pearl in his brain. He was talons sunk into Ulquiorra’s arms, the blood dripping from him, thick and steaming. He was sex, and he was better than sex. He was the cliff edge that Ulquiorra clung to with the tips of his fingers, and the infinite pit below.

Ulquiorra looked into Grimmjow’s eye, refracting fury and pain like fractured glass, and felt the terror that he’d kept swallowed for months bubbling up in his throat. He searched his brain for something, anything he could he say to stop what he knew was about to happen. “I can’t,” he said.

Grimmjow dropped his eyes. “Then I can’t keep doing this.”

Silence followed his words like poison spreading through veins. Ulquiorra was frozen. His breath caught in his throat. He didn’t know what to say or how to say it. For the first time since he could remember, he felt helpless. Without thinking, he started to reach his hand towards Grimmjow. Grimmjow caught it.

“I think you should go,” Grimmjow said quietly. He squeezed Ulquiorra’s hand once, then dropped it, and the reality of what was happening hit Ulquiorra. It swallowed him up.

He turned and left quickly. He felt that staying could only make things worse, though he didn’t know what could be worse. The halls of Las Noches were serene like always, but they were cold, too. Ulquiorra went home. He laid in his bed, and for the few hours that were left in the night, he looked at his white ceiling. He thought about humans. He thought about heat, and what too much of it could do to a person, and what he would look like when it was gone.

Chapter Text

Ichigo was looking for a fight. It had been a month since Ulquiorra’s strange visit, and he hadn’t seen so much as a hair of him or Grimmjow since. He was, to put it mildly, confused. To cope, he’d fallen back on one of his old habits – prowling Karakura Town for someone to beat the shit out of. He’d been out almost every night for the past three weeks. Back in middle school, his targets had been neighborhood bullies, but he was too strong to mess with them anymore. Someone would get seriously hurt, or worse. A hollow would be perfect, but it had been regrettably quiet lately. So Ichigo strolled through town itching to punch something, or get laid, and spent his time thinking too much instead.

It should have been a good thing that the espada were nowhere to be seen. Ichigo kept telling himself that, but it didn’t make his stomach hurt any less. He had gotten used to Grimmjow barging into his room, and he missed the bastard despite himself. And Ulquiorra… when he thought about that, his head really started to spin. He was jealous of them both. They obviously had something, though he had no idea what. He imagined grabbing the bond between them with his bare hands, tearing it away and keeping it for himself. He had tried to distract himself by spending as much time with Ishida as he could, but that only made him feel worse: guilty, and stupid, and lonely. He was all those things.

The sun was starting to set, and in the pink glow Karakura Town seemed more like a postcard of his hometown than a real place. He had felt distant from it ever since they got back from Soul Society. On his walks he had settled into a routine, stopping by his childhood haunts. The park where he had taught Karin and Yuzu to ride bikes. The convenience store where Keigo dragged him to buy Jump after school. The baseball pitch where he and Tatsuki had fought over a foul ball. It all seemed nostalgic and untouchable, even though it was right there in front of him. He always ended up near the cemetery, but he didn’t go in. He didn’t want her to see him like this, even though he wanted to talk to her more than anything in the world.

Ichigo turned around when the sun disappeared and made his way home as the city turned purple. He was almost home when the sound of a garganta tore through the quiet, and he froze. A dark shape moved between two houses up ahead and Ichigo recognized the voice that called out to him, but something about the shadow looked wrong. He braced himself.

“Kurosaki Ichigo,” Ulquiorra said. He stepped into a street light and Ichigo struggled to understand what he was seeing. It was Ulquiorra, but he was a ragged mess. Something was slung across his back like a sack of grain. “I humbly request your help.”

Ulquiorra bowed, low and formal, bending at the waist until his chest was parallel to the ground. He was mindful of the load on his back, one hand braced against it to keep it from sliding forward, and Ichigo recognized it with a start. He was filthy, and limp like a rag, but Grimmjow’s blue hair was unmistakable. The back of his jacket was shredded, and stained black – no, not quite. It looked different under the street lights, but Ichigo knew it was blood. Grimmjow’s arm slipped to Ulquiorra’s side, and Ichigo could see a dark river running down it, over his elbow, the bones in his wrist, down his pinky finger. Ulquiorra held deathly still, his face hidden by dark hair that was grimy with sweat and probably more, but Ichigo could see a vein on the back of his hand, raised across his clenched fist, pulsing with the race of his heart.

Ichigo’s blood turned to ice. Every part of him, from the roots of his hair to his toenails, screamed that this was wrong. It felt like someone had suddenly turned the contrast on a television up too high: Ulquiorra’s hair against his helmet, the circle of streetlight against the night around them, Grimmjow’s blood against his uniform. Both of them, here, on the street outside his family home. Ichigo couldn’t move. He’d forgotten how to breathe.

“You know that I would not have come to you-,” Ulquiorra said, and his voice was strained and whisper-quiet, “-that I would have gone anywhere else if there were anywhere else to go.”

Two drops of blood fell – one from Ulquiorra’s shoulder, still bowed; the other from Grimmjow’s hand – and splattered like dark fireworks against the sidewalk.

“Meet me at my window,” Ichigo said, and Ulquiorra finally looked up at him.

“Thank you,” Ulquiorra said, and then he quick-stepped away.

Ichigo sprinted to the house. He did a mental headcount of who was home. Karin would probably be doing homework, either in her room or at the kitchen table. She wouldn’t bug him. Yuzu and Isshin had gone to the store just before Ichigo had left, and he prayed that they were still gone. Isshin’s attention was the last thing he needed. Ichigo slipped in the front door and listened for a second – nothing, thank god – and darted over to the clinic. He had no idea what kind of shape Grimmjow was in, so he grabbed just about everything he could think of: a bunch of gauze, some disinfectant, a stitch kit, and then two more kits for good measure. Then he bounded up the stairs to his bedroom and threw open the window.

“How bad is it?” Ichigo said as Ulquiorra ducked inside. “Here, lay him on the bed.”

“I don’t know,” Ulquiorra said. He carefully rolled Grimmjow off his back and onto the mattress.

“Should I call Inoue?”

“Not yet. I’d like to avoid getting anyone else involved unless it’s necessary.”

Ichigo grabbed a pair of scissors off his desk and cut away the remains of Grimmjow’s jacket. He had a large gash across his chest, but it looked shallow. There were two on each of his forearms and a deep one in his left shoulder. Ichigo stuffed that one with gauze before rolling Grimmjow on his side. He had two large cuts in an X on his back. Ichigo’s hands shook as he laid Grimmjow onto his stomach and carefully moved his head to the side so he could breathe. His expression was deceptively peaceful, but it made Ichigo’s skin crawl. Grimmjow always had a look on his face like he wanted to tear someone’s throat out, and without it he looked uncanny, like a wax doll of himself.

“I can try to stitch him up,” Ichigo said. “But I’m not, like, a doctor. He should really have medical attention.” He knew as he was saying it, though, that it wasn’t an option.

“I understand,” Ulquiorra said. He was standing back in the corner, his hands in his pockets, as if trying to stay as far away as possible. “Please do what you can.”

Ichigo wetted some gauze with the disinfectant and started wiping away the blood and grime around the wound on Grimmjow’s back. “Who did this to him?”

“Gin,” Ulquiorra said. “On Aizen-sama’s orders.”

Ichigo looked up with raised eyebrows. “Aizen? Why?”

Ulquiorra didn’t answer. He turned his face away, pointedly, and Ichigo thought he’d better not press the issue just yet.

“Do you think they’ll come after you?”

Ulquiorra shook his head. “Gin is dead. And some others. It will be a while before anyone finds them, and then they will have to regroup.”

Ichigo didn’t find that too reassuring, but he didn’t say anything. He pulled and prodded a little at the skin around Grimmjow’s wound trying to decide how best to go about closing it, and tried not to think about how familiar he was being with Grimmjow’s body. He could feel Ulquiorra’s eyes on him like daggers.

“Come help me count stitches,” Ichigo said. He kicked a box over to the foot of the bed for Ulquiorra to sit on, and Ulquiorra did so reluctantly. Ichigo had given stitches a few times. His dad had taught him to suture when he’d needed it once, and since then, Ichigo had sewn himself up after more than a couple fights, but he was far from practiced. He went slowly, and before long his shoulders ached from hunching over Grimmjow.

“You’re really not gonna tell me what happened?” Ichigo said. Two and a half hours had passed, and he was leaning back to take a break. He glanced at Ulquiorra, who was staring at Grimmjow with blank eyes.

“Aizen-sama learned about something we had tried to hide from him,” Ulquiorra said. “Or rather...” He seemed at a loss. “It was my fault.”

“You two are dating or something, right?”

Ulquiorra glanced at Ichigo, surprised, and then turned his eyes back to Grimmjow just as quickly. “No,” he said. “We had been… sleeping together. But I haven’t even spoken to him in a month.”

Ichigo swallowed. He knew what had happened a month ago.

“Aizen noticed that we were both distracted. He thought that if he killed Grimmjow, at least I might be of some use to him again.”

Then Ulquiorra stood up, surprising Ichigo. “I’ll stand watch outside,” he said.

“Ulquiorra, wait,” Ichigo said. He reached towards him half-heartedly. “I don’t really know, but it doesn’t sound to me like you did anything wrong.”

Ulquiorra half turned back to Ichigo, then opened the window and ducked out.

It was quiet. Ichigo stared at the spot where Ulquiorra had just been, out the window at the dark sky, and let his mind go blank as he bent back over Grimmjow’s stitches. He knew that he should be feeling afraid, alert for an army of espada to show up at his home, confused about what was going with Grimmjow and Ulquiorra and why he was in the middle of it. But he was just tired. He didn’t know if it was him that had changed, or the Arrancar, or all three of them. All he knew was that he didn’t want to fight anymore.

An hour later, after he’d done all he could, Ichigo sat back, rubbed at his sore eyes, and stretched. Moving quietly, he got up and slipped out of his room and to the bathroom. It was late, after midnight, and everyone else was probably asleep, but Ichigo still didn’t want to risk drawing their attention. He splashed his face in the sink, then grabbed a washcloth, ran it under some hot water, wrung it out, and snuck back to his room.

Grimmjow’s face was caked with dried blood, sweat, and dirt. Ichigo brushed the hair away from his forehead and gently wiped away the gore. Grimmjow looked almost like a different person in his sleep. His face under the mess was pale. He had probably lost a lot of blood, but Ichigo didn’t even know if a transfusion would help him or hurt him, much less how to get him one. Please don’t die, Ichigo thought. They could figure everything else out later, as long as Grimmjow didn’t die tonight.

When Grimmjow’s face was mostly clean, Ichigo set the cloth aside. He brought the bedding that Rukia had used out of the closet – Ichigo was too tall to fit inside it like she had – and laid it out on the floor. Then he leaned out the window. Ulquiorra was standing on his roof, his coattails flapping in the breeze. In the dark he struck an eerie silhouette.

“Ulquiorra,” Ichigo said, to get his attention. He saw the shadow of Ulquiorra’s helmet turn. “I have to sleep. What about you?”

“I’m fine,” Ulquiorra said.

“If you wake me in a couple hours I’ll trade you places.”

“Alright.”

Ichigo waited to see if he had anything else to say, but the only sound was a distant siren carried on the wind. “Good night, then,” Ichigo said, and ducked back inside.

He clicked the lights off and crawled into the futon. He wondered, for a second, if he would have trouble falling asleep with two enemies only feet away, but the thought had only barely crossed his mind before he passed out.

***

Ulquiorra stood lookout all night. It gave him a purpose, a distraction. If he started to think about something he didn’t want to, he could turn and scan a different skyline. He was exhausted – tired in his bones – but he didn’t want to sleep yet. The sky was just starting to lighten. If he could wait until sunrise, the greatest risk of them being followed would be past. He hoped.

When the first sliver of sun was visible over the roofs of Karakura Town, Ulquiorra breathed a sigh of relief. He ducked back into the Shinigami’s bedroom. He was going to wake Ichigo up to take his post. But first.

Ulquiorra stepped over to the bed and looked at Grimmjow’s sleeping face. It had been too long since he’d seen him, and he hadn’t wanted it to be like this, of course, but he still needed to. Everything that had happened earlier than night was rattling around in his head, even as he tried not to remember it. Every time he dismissed an image another took its place, like rats swarming him with gnawing, jagged teeth.

The fight had been almost over when Ulquiorra burst through the door, and not in Grimmjow’s favor. Grimmjow had killed two of the Arrancar Gin had brought with him, but his fracción were dead, and he was surrounded. That was the first image trapped in Ulquiorra’s brain, rancid and festering: the blood stain spreading across the back of Grimmjow’s white jacket, his head turning to see Ulquiorra come in, his wry smile through his exhaustion. Gin had taken advantage of that moment and lunged, but Ulquiorra had quickstepped past Grimmjow and deflected his blade as it shot out.

Ulquiorra had fought, blacked out with cold fury, until they were all dead. He’d come to with his hand in Gin’s chest. The second image that kept coming back: Gin’s unnatural smile, drooling blood, and the overwhelming rage and disgust that filled him at the sight of it. Ulquiorra had shaken him off onto the floor next to his conspirators, Arrancar he would have called allies only an hour earlier.

Then the last image, the one that wouldn’t stay down: when he’d turned to Grimmjow, finally. His face too pale, his body shaking. His eyes rolling back in his head as he pitched forward, and Ulquiorra had only half caught him, both landing hard in a dark lake of blood.

It had been a coincidence that Ulquiorra had been close enough to feel the strange reiatsu in Grimmjow’s room. It was only luck that Gin had failed. But it was over now, and Grimmjow would be okay, if he would just wake up.

Grimmjow was lying uncharacteristically still. Ulquiorra’s hand shook as he reached out and laid it against his cheek. He flinched in his sleep, and Ulquiorra breathed again. He fought the urge to kiss him. Even if Grimmjow did wake up, there was still the question of whether he’d take Ulquiorra back, but Ulquiorra wasn’t ready to think about that yet. For now, he only needed Grimmjow to be alive.

He felt something tugging at the hem of his hakama, and quickly dropped his hand from Grimmjow’s face. He looked down to see Ichigo’s hand poking out from under the futon. Ichigo looked up at him out of one blinking eye and yawned. His hair was even messier than usual, and he was wearing the same t-shirt he’d worn the day before. He sat up and rubbed at his face. Ulquiorra realized abruptly how young Ichigo was. He was only just barely not a child anymore. Compared to their lives, Ichigo’s was a blink, and he’d be gone in another blink.

“I thought you would wake me up sooner,” Ichigo said through another yawn.

“I wanted to wait until sunrise.”

“Ulquiorra!” Ichigo said. He grabbed Ulquiorra’s wrist suddenly and pulled his arm down. “You’re hurt too! Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Oh,” Ulquiorra said. Ichigo was looking at a gash on his arm, under his split open and bloodied sleeve. “This is almost healed.”

“How bad was it before?” Ichigo asked, shocked.

“I couldn’t use it last night. I’m surprised you didn’t notice.” Ulquiorra shook Ichigo off and lifted the arm to look at himself. Gin had caught him and sliced through at least one tendon in his elbow as Ulquiorra had finished him off. Now there was only a shallow wound left.

Ichigo rolled out of the futon and grabbed a pack of gauze from the desk as he pulled himself up into the chair. “Here,” he said, holding a hand out. “Let me wrap it.”

“There’s no need,” Ulquiorra said. “This will be gone in an hour or so.”

“You should worry about yourself a little, too,” Ichigo said.

Ulquiorra didn’t think so. He would gladly give his regeneration up to Grimmjow if he could.

“At least let me clean it,” Ichigo said. He leaned forward, grabbed Ulquiorra again by the wrist, and pulled him over. Ulquiorra let him. It wasn’t worth the energy it would take to argue.

Ichigo rolled back the sleeve of his uniform, being careful not to let it touch the exposed pink flesh too much. He wetted a square of gauze from a bottle and gave Ulquiorra a look under raised eyebrows. “This’ll sting,” he said, then he grabbed Ulquiorra’s forearm in one hand and lightly dabbed at the wound.

It did sting. Much more than Ulquiorra had been expecting, but he managed not to give away more than a sharp inhale and a clenched fist.

“Sorry,” Ichigo muttered.

Ulquiorra watched him, to see if he was getting some satisfaction out of causing him this little bit of pain, the way Grimmjow might have, but Ichigo’s face was serious and focused. He wetted another piece of gauze and wiped lightly at the dirt around the cut’s edges, his other hand holding Ulquiorra firmly in place.

He remembered the moment, a month ago, when Ichigo had sat up under him and kissed his chest. What was it he had said? I want to touch you, too. This wasn’t the same, of course, but there were echoes of it in the way Ichigo’s fingers dug into his forearm, moving deliberately even though he was uncertain and afraid. A filament flickered in Ulquiorra’s stomach, a tiny spark of warmth.

He had thought about it, a little – only a little, because it brought with it the most painful memories that Ulquiorra couldn’t face. He had even touched himself while remembering it, once. Ichigo, sweet like a rose past its bloom, his body opening up under Ulquiorra’s hands. Ichigo begging to get fucked, cumming at his touch, crying his name. Ichigo melting against his side. Ulquiorra had found himself envying Grimmjow, wondering how things could have been different if he’d kissed the Shinigami first.

And now here he was again, in front of Ulquiorra with his head bent earnestly to his task. Ulquiorra brought himself back to the moment. He watched the hair at the back of Ichigo’s neck, the bumps of his spine, and felt Ichigo’s fingers against his skin. It was a kindness he didn’t deserve.

“All done,” Ichigo said, and Ulquiorra looked to realize that he had bandaged it, after all. Ulquiorra flexed to make sure he still had his full range of motion.

“I don’t think we’ll be attacked during the day,” Ulquiorra said. “But we should take shifts standing watch, just in case.”

“Yeah, good thinking,” Ichigo said. “I gotta grab breakfast first, do you want – uh, never mind.” He grimaced, apparently realizing what a hollow breakfast would look like.

Ulquiorra turned back to Grimmjow as he listened to Ichigo’s footsteps descend the stairs. He was so tired he felt delirious. He pulled Ichigo’s desk chair over by the head of the bed and sat down. Grimmjow was sleeping peacefully – Ulquiorra could see the slow rise and fall of his chest, his face relaxed, ignorant. Ulquiorra ran the back of his knuckle along Grimmjow’s cheek again, and sighed when he flinched. He only meant to sit by Grimmjow for another minute, but he fell asleep before Ichigo had even come back.

***

It was too hot to be sitting out on a roof in the middle of the day – in a black kimono of all things – but Ichigo did it because he’d said he would. He wasn’t paying attention as closely as Ulquiorra would probably like, but he couldn’t be constantly alert for four hours. He was still human, after all. Instead he was doing that thing again – thinking too much.

He felt like he’d seen something he shouldn’t have: Ulquiorra, slumped over asleep, his hand resting palm up next to Grimmjow. If he’d thought he was jealous before, now he was sick with it. He wanted someone to worry over him that way, and he didn’t even know who anymore. Ichigo kept looking at his phone, wanting to talk to someone, but not knowing what he wanted to say. He picked it up again and scrolled through his messages. He landed on Ishida’s name, his most recent text sent a week ago, just one word: “Idiot.” God, if Ishida could see how stupid he was being now.

Ichigo heard the window slide open and looked over. Ulquiorra’s clothes were still a bloody, tattered mess, and Ichigo made a mental note to find him something clean to wear.

“Switch?” Ichigo said.

“Soon,” Ulquiorra said. He climbed out onto the roof. “I think we should discuss some things.”

“Have a seat,” Ichigo said, patting the shingles next to him. He was a little surprised when Ulquiorra did.

“I know we can’t impose on you forever,” Ulquiorra said. “But I’d like to ask your permission to stay at least until Grimmjow wakes up. Whenever that will be.”

“Yeah, of course,” Ichigo said. He had thought that was obvious already.

“I want to make sure you understand that our presence here puts your family in danger.”

“Yeah….” Ichigo sighed. “I know. I don’t like that. But to be honest, I’m already a pretty big target. They’ll be in danger as long as I’m alive.”

Ichigo didn’t like to admit that, but it haunted him every day. He wasn’t sure how Ulquiorra had drawn it out of him so easily. They sat quiet, for a moment.

“I owe you an apology,” Ulquiorra said. “For me and Grimmjow both.”

“What? Why?”

“We did something horrible to you. I can see that now.”

“Oh,” Ichigo said, realizing what he meant. “No. You didn’t make me do anything that I didn’t want to do. Neither of you did.” He avoided Ulquiorra’s eyes as much as he could. “I knew I was being used. From the beginning. ‘Cause I was using him, too.”

Ichigo nervously flipped his phone open and closed, over and over. “Besides,” Ichigo said, “you shouldn’t apologize for him. I know he’s not sorry.”

“You may be right about that.”

“Why did he….” Ichigo snapped the phone shut and gulped. “I mean, why me?”

Ulquiorra was quiet. Ichigo hadn’t really expected an answer from him anyway. He got the courage to glance in Ulquiorra’s direction, and Ulquiorra was looking the other way, way out over the rooftops. His dark hair shifted in the breeze. Ichigo could just see the line of one tear mark on his cheek, and he wondered, not for the first time, if those had any meaning. Tears seemed almost the opposite of who Ulquiorra was.

“I don’t know if you will be able to understand this,” Ulquiorra said. He turned and looked straight into Ichigo’s eyes, and Ichigo flinched a little. “Being with a human is different from being with a hollow. Humans are alive. They’re visceral. And you are very special.”

Ichigo felt his face flushing red, but luckily Ulquiorra looked away again.

“You will have to ask Grimmjow if you want to know all his reasons. But that question is the one I came here to answer in the first place, and that is what I learned.”

Ichigo was feeling that strange warm feeling again, but this time it was mixed with something more familiar: the nauseous pangs of jealousy and loneliness.

“After we had sex, Ulquiorra, you and I, I really… I felt different,” Ichigo said. He didn’t know what he was trying to say, but it was coming out of his mouth anyway.

“It was the same for me,” Ulquiorra said.

“I want to do it again.”

“I know. But we can’t now.”

Ichigo already knew that, but he still wanted him. He was acutely aware of Grimmjow sleeping in the room behind them, and he was sure Ulquiorra must be, too. Ichigo leaned forward to catch Ulquiorra’s eye. “Because you love him?” Ichigo asked.

Ulquiorra didn’t reply, but Ichigo knew the answer was yes.

“Why aren’t you two talking, then?” Ichigo asked. “Is it because of me?”

“No,” Ulquiorra said. His voice was quiet. He seemed far away. “Grimmjow is very human, in some ways. He’s more like you than he is like me. He needs affection. He wants feelings put into words. I couldn’t give him that.”

Ichigo could feel Ulquiorra’s overwhelming sadness, and he struggled not to reach out to him. He didn’t know how to comfort him, though, and he knew Ulquiorra wouldn’t want to be comforted. “Sorry,” Ichigo said. “For prying.”

“You should sleep more if you can,” Ulquiorra said as he stood up. “We can switch again in another four hours.”

Ichigo stood, too, stepped around Ulquiorra and slid into his room. He looked down at his phone and flipped it open again. It was still on the same screen: Idiot. Ichigo tossed it onto his desk.

Grimmjow was fast asleep still, and Ichigo wished he was, too, but he sat down to check the dressings on Grimmjow’s wounds, anyway. He changed the gauze on Grimmjow’s back, and on his shoulder, then sat back and looked at him. Even under the bandages on his chest, Ichigo could see the huge scar left by his getsuga tenshou. He wished he’d never done that. It was a stark reminder that he was supposed to hate them both. That he had hated them both. He didn’t know what he felt anymore, but he felt something.

Chapter Text

Grimmjow woke up with a headache. The world was blurry, and it hurt, and he didn’t know where he was, but it didn’t look like Las Noches. What had he been doing? He remembered something about Gin, but he couldn’t tell how much of it was real and how much was a nightmare. It had something to do with Ulquiorra. Ulquiorra had been there. Grimmjow tried to open his eyes, but it was too bright. His head pounded, and when he flinched from that pain his back and his chest ached too. Something was not right. He was fucked up.

So the fight with Gin was at least partly real. That meant that Ulquiorra had really been there, but Grimmjow couldn’t remember beyond that. If he was hurt this badly, though, Ulquiorra might be too. He got the feeling he was close by, somehow.

“Ulquiorra?” Grimmjow said. His throat was dry, and his voice cracked. He was tempted to just go back to sleep.

“Grimmjow! You’re awake!”

Someone yelled right in his ear. It didn’t sound like Ulquiorra. Grimmjow turned his head, grimacing at the pain, and saw Ichigo.

“Why are you here?” Grimmjow mumbled.

“You’re in my house, dumbass,” Ichigo said. “How do you feel?”

Well, that made no goddamn sense. Grimmjow dropped his head back onto the pillow. He wanted to go back to sleep, but now his brain was starting to work. He had fought Gin and a bunch of other Arrancar. Ulquiorra had swooped in and fought them off. Grimmjow pushed himself up into a sitting position and groaned loudly at how much it hurt.

“You don’t need to get up,” Ichigo said.

“What happened to Ulquiorra?” Grimmjow asked.

“I’ll get him.”

Grimmjow rubbed his face in his hands as he put more of the pieces together. He hadn’t talked to Ulquiorra since he’d told him to get out of his apartment, weeks ago. A black pit opened in Grimmjow’s stomach – the same one that had been sitting there for a month, and that had been festering for months before that. Ulquiorra didn’t want him. Even though Grimmjow needed him more than anything. Even though he would have done whatever, said whatever, given up whatever he had to for him.

Grimmjow hadn’t slept a full night since then. He struggled just to stand in the same room as Ulquiorra. He felt like vomiting all the time. He was a husk of himself. If he’d been Aizen, he’d have wanted himself dead, too.

“Grimmjow.”

He dropped his hands and looked up. Ulquiorra was there, standing at the foot of the bed, looking at him. They hadn’t even made eye contact in a month.

“You’re okay,” Grimmjow said.

“Yes.”

Grimmjow breathed a heavy sigh as the warmth of relief washed over him. He put his head back in his hands and rubbed his temples. He wanted to keep looking at Ulquiorra, but it hurt too much.

“Can I get you some water?” Ichigo asked. Grimmjow had forgotten he was there.

“Please,” Grimmjow said.

“I’ll be right back,” Ichigo said, and Grimmjow heard the door close behind him.

“Sorry,” Grimmjow said, when Ichigo was gone. “You were right. I should have been more careful.”

“No,” Ulquiorra said. “Aizen-sama probably knew all along. It was arrogant of me to think we could hide.”

“What happened to Gin?”

“Dead.”

“And the others?”

“Yes.”

“How long have I been out?”

“Two days.”

Grimmjow steeled himself, then asked the question he didn’t want to hear the answer to.

“Why did you stop him?”

“I….” Ulquiorra said. Grimmjow looked up, surprised by the hesitance in his voice. Ulquiorra had turned to look out the window. “I wish you wouldn’t ask me that. You should already know.”

Ichigo came back in then and set a glass of water next to the bed. He looked nervous, and Grimmjow wondered again why they were in his room. “Do you need anything else?” Ichigo asked.

“Will you give us a minute?” Ulquiorra asked.

“We can just switch shifts now,” Ichigo said. Ulquiorra nodded in agreement, and Ichigo climbed out the window. Ulquiorra slid it closed behind him, and then it was quiet.

Grimmjow’s hands burned with wanting to touch Ulquiorra. Being near Ulquiorra was like standing on a bridge over a canyon, his body asking what if you just jumped? He felt weak, and he wondered, not for the first time, if they couldn’t just go back to the way things had been. Grimmjow could pretend the sex was enough until it drove him crazy.

“Ulquiorra, I-” Grimmjow started, but Ulquiorra cut him off with a raised hand.

“Wait,” Ulquiorra said. “I have something I need to say, before anything else. If you’ll hear me out.”

Grimmjow’s stomach swirled, and his head pounded, but he nodded.

“I’m afraid, Grimmjow,” Ulquiorra said. “You were right about me, from the beginning. I thought if I used that word….” Ulquiorra stopped and Grimmjow could see his throat moving as he swallowed. “I would disappear.”

“What are you talking about?” Grimmjow asked.

“I don’t know what we are anymore. Hollows that can feel love… isn’t that a paradox? I was afraid to admit it, even to myself. For you, too. I thought it would change us so fundamentally that we would simply stop existing. And I’m still scared.”

Grimmjow only understand half of what Ulquiorra was saying, but he had never seen him like this before. His body was so tense Grimmjow could see him shaking a little. The wall had finally come down.

"But I have to say it now, even if you won’t take me back, or I won’t be able to live with myself. I love you. I want to be with you without fear. Even if everything about our lives has to change.”

“Come here,” Grimmjow said. He felt like he was going to cry but he couldn’t let that happen. Ulquiorra stepped towards him slowly. When he was close enough Grimmjow grabbed his wrist, even though it hurt to reach like that, and pulled Ulquiorra on top of him. He threaded a hand in Ulquiorra’s hair and felt Ulquiorra’s fingers digging into his shoulders. “You idiot,” Grimmjow said. They were so close he could feel Ulquiorra’s breath on his lips and see the threads of his iris swirl. “You stubborn asshole.” Tears were burning his eyes. He tried to bite them back, but he saw the glitter of tears on Ulquiorra’s black eyelashes, too, and he lost. “I’ve loved you this whole time.”

Ulquiorra kissed him. His lips were familiar, warm, his tongue soft and sweet like fresh bread. Grimmjow smelled the saltiness of their tears and feel them mixing hot on their cheeks. Proof that they were both, at least a little bit, alive. The blackness in his belly was turning inside out. All the nights he had laid awake, the days he had scraped through with a clenched jaw, every time he had fucked Ulquiorra and left not knowing what to think came rushing through him and he felt them all. They stung like hot coals in his wounds, but he could let them go now. He wiped the tears from Ulquiorra’s cheek and kissed him again.

Ulquiorra moved to stand up and Grimmjow grabbed his arm. “Wait,” Grimmjow said.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“Sit with me,” Grimmjow said. He moved over to make room on the bed and Ulquiorra sank onto the covers next to him. Grimmjow put an arm around his shoulder and rested his head on Ulquiorra’s. He felt Ulquiorra’s hand on his knee. Grimmjow breathed in the scent of Ulquiorra’s hair, a dark, forest-like smell, and his joints all went to jelly. He slumped over onto Ulquiorra’s shoulder and pulled him closer, wrapping himself around the heat of him.

“I don’t know where we go now,” Ulquiorra said softly.

“Anywhere. I don’t care,” Grimmjow said. “I’ll follow you.” Grimmjow closed his eyes and pressed his face against Ulquiorra’s neck. He felt all the tiny movements of Ulquiorra’s body; the small twitches of his muscles keeping him balanced, the echo of his pulse. Ulquiorra pulled his hand back between them and put it around Grimmjow’s back.

“What about the Shinigami?”

Grimmjow tensed. “What about him?”

“You have feelings for him too, don’t you?”

Grimmjow took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. He weighed the benefits of lying and decided he didn’t have the energy for it. “Yeah,” He said. “But it’s not the same at all, Ulquiorra. I can forget him in a minute.”

“So you’ll leave him behind? Just like that?”

“If that’s what I have to do, yeah, no question,” Grimmjow said. He sat up to look at Ulquiorra; he could tell he was annoyed, but he couldn’t figure out why. “What are you getting at? Isn’t that what you want?”

***

Ulquiorra didn’t know what he wanted. Or rather, he didn’t know how to make the things he wanted fit together. He wanted to run with Grimmjow to the end of the Earth, to keep Grimmjow all to himself and never be touched by anyone else. But he also wanted Ichigo.

Karakura Town was quiet in the dark. During the day Ulquiorra found it hard to tolerate, bustling with humans and full of their ghosts. He wondered whether it was something about the city that kept them there, or if they were attracted to Ichigo’s outlandish reiatsu. At night, though, it was calming, the halogen light of the streetlamps the same cold blue of Las Noches.

This was the fourth night in a row he had spent standing watch. They had settled into something of a routine – Ulquiorra stood watch most of the day, while Ichigo was at school. Then they switched every four hours or so until it was time for Ichigo to go to school again. Since Grimmjow had woken up, Ulquiorra had spent some of his time making plans with him, but otherwise he stood on the roof, or slept, and did very little else.

It was strange how little he had seen Ichigo, if he thought about it. They only briefly talked between shift changes, and yet Ulquiorra’s mind was full of him. He felt as if he were standing in a cloud of perfume, choking on the sweetness of him. Everywhere he looked there was some bit of him lying haphazard – a sock, a scrap of paper. When he slept, it was in a futon still warm with Ichigo’s heat. Ulquiorra was surprised at himself, surprised at how hard it was to resist. It reminded him of how he’d first gotten tangled with Grimmjow, but then he had had the luxury of avoidance. Here, he was trapped in Ichigo’s orbit.

They needed to leave, and soon. Ulquiorra didn’t know how long he’d be able to resist Ichigo, and he didn’t want to hurt Grimmjow by failing. He knew what that felt like. And, even more than that, he was afraid of the two of them. He knew that Grimmjow probably loved Ichigo, and that Ichigo might feel the same. The thought of the two of them together made Ulquiorra dizzy and hard at the same time.

The watch that Ichigo had loaned him beeped on his wrist – his shift was up, and Ulquiorra breathed a sigh of relief. He was exhausted. Pushing all the nonsense out of his head, he ducked back into the dark bedroom quietly.

It was pitch black except for the soft red glow of Ichigo’s alarm clock. Three in the morning. Ulquiorra’s head felt heavy on his shoulders, exhausted. He stepped towards Ichigo sleeping in the futon but paused when he heard something out of the ordinary.

Ichigo’s breathing was heavier than normal, and there was a slight shuffling sound. He was turned away from Ulquiorra, towards the wall, but Ulquiorra could see his shoulders moving. He realized, with a rush of blood, that Ichigo was jerking off.

Ulquiorra padded towards him silently, swallowing a lump in his throat, and knelt next to him. Ichigo’s breaths were low but ragged, and Ulquiorra could tell he was trying to be quiet to avoid waking Grimmjow. He reached out carefully and touched Ichigo’s shoulder.

Ichigo jumped and turned to Ulquiorra. His face was red, and his chest rose and fell hard with each breath, his hair a flattened mess. He was irresistibly sexy.

“Ul—” Ichigo started.

“Shh,” Ulquiorra said. “Keep going.”

Ichigo looked at him confused for a moment, and his eyes darted to Grimmjow sleeping in the bed, but when Ulquiorra pressed lightly on his shoulder, he laid back down.

“Let me look at you,” Ulquiorra whispered.

Ichigo shifted, and Ulquiorra followed the shapes under the covers with his eyes as Ichigo reached down and grabbed himself again. The heavy down comforter draped over his erection rose and fell slightly as he stroked himself.

Ulquiorra looked back up into Ichigo’s face. His lips were pursed, and his eyebrows knitted in embarrassment. He looked so good like that, a bead of sweat rolling down his temple. He stared right into Ulquiorra’s eyes, his breaths coming closer together as he sped up. His lips parted slightly and Ulquiorra ached to kiss them.

“Touch me, Ulquiorra,” Ichigo said. His hips jerked up into his hand.

Ulquiorra didn’t reply. If he so much as brushed Ichigo’s cheek, he wouldn’t be able to stop until he was cumming inside him.

“At least touch yourself,” Ichigo whispered. He glanced out of the corner of his eye at Ulquiorra’s pants, the obvious shape of his hard-on straining against them.

Ulquiorra shook his head. Ichigo closed his eyes and turned away, and Ulquiorra could see the shame and frustration on his face as his hand sped up even more. God, he wanted him. He wanted to tear the covers away and bury himself in Ichigo’s ass, or maybe ride him until he screamed. Instead he held his breath and watched as Ichigo’s mouth fell open and his head rolled back, his hips rising off the ground as he came under Ulquiorra’s gaze.

Ulquiorra started to stand up, but Ichigo reached out and grabbed his arm. He waited as Ichigo’s breathing slowed.

“What is it that you want from me, Ulquiorra?” Ichigo asked. “Just tell me. I don’t get it.”

Ulquiorra shook him off and turned away. What he wanted was to hold him the way he had a month ago, to feel the blood inside him burning through his skin.

“I’ll give you a minute,” Ulquiorra said as he stepped back over to the window. The night air cooled his head a little as he waited for Ichigo to clean himself up and get dressed. Every shuffle of Ichigo’s feet, the roll of his dresser drawer, the zip of his jeans was like a dagger in the silence. Ichigo’s anger filled the room like thick smoke.

“Move it,” Ichigo said as shouldered his way past Ulquiorra and out into the night. Ulquiorra couldn’t blame him for being upset. Hadn’t he just said, a few days earlier, that they weren’t going to do anything? He didn’t understand himself, either.

Ulquiorra took his shirt off and crawled under the futon Ichigo had just left. It was still warm, and it smelled overwhelmingly of Ichigo – his sweat, his cum – and Ulquiorra felt the pull of lust in his stomach.

“So that’s how it is, huh?” Grimmjow said.

Ulquiorra rolled over to meet his eyes. “You were awake,” he said.

“You like Ichigo now?”

Ulquiorra took a deep breath and sighed it away. “I’m sorry I played with your toy without asking,” he said.

“He’s not my toy,” Grimmjow said. Ulquiorra was surprised that bothered him. “And I’m not mad. I just wanna know since when.”

“You know when,” Ulquiorra said.

“Tell me what you like about him.”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

Grimmjow scowled. Ulquiorra knew he shouldn’t be taking his frustrations out on him, but then again this was all Grimmjow’s fault, in a way. He sighed again.

“I get it,” Ulquiorra said. “He’s irresistible. He melts in your hands.”

“I bet you’re hard right now, aren’t you?” Grimmjow said. His voice was a low growl, and it made the hair stand up on Ulquiorra’s neck.

“Don’t pretend that you’re not,” Ulquiorra said. “It’s tiresome.”

Grimmjow grinned. “You should let me take care of you,” he said.

Ulquiorra lifted the covers and Grimmjow rolled down off the bed and crawled under with him, hooking an arm under Ulquiorra’s back as he kissed him. Ulquiorra tried to wash the thoughts of Ichigo out of his brain as Grimmjow touched him, but he could still feel Ichigo’s warmth in the down futon. Even when he was cumming in Grimmjow’s hand, pressed against his cock, he looked out the window and saw the corner of Ichigo’s back and felt himself being dragged down, spiraling into a depth he didn’t understand.

***

The next day, Grimmjow convinced Ulquiorra to let him take the day shift. He was much stronger than he had been a few days ago, and he was going out of his mind with boredom. He’d been on his best behavior, trying not piss off either of them after they’d saved his life. It was brutal. Ichigo had lent him a bunch of human magazines and comics, but they didn’t hold his interest very long. Occasionally, Ulquiorra was well-rested enough during his downtime that they could talk, but usually he slept. And Ichigo… well, he didn’t know what to say to Ichigo. So Grimmjow mostly slept, too, and when he couldn’t sleep, he stewed. It was a relief just to be outside, sitting on the roof. Karakura Town wasn’t exactly a bustling metropolis, but at least it had things to look at other than Ichigo’s ceiling.

Grimmjow was looking at clouds when he heard the voices of teenagers laughing at each other. He closed his eyes and listened for a moment, and sure enough felt Ichigo’s stupid reiatsu not too far away. He sat up and leaned to look down the street; there were a few groups of uniformed kids coming this way. Ichigo was easy to pick out, hanging a little behind two other guys. One of the boys had the other in a headlock, but Ichigo wasn’t paying them any attention. He looked bored. Maybe as bored as Grimmjow felt.

Ichigo’s eyes flicked up to the house; his eyes caught Grimmjow’s immediately and his frown deepened. Grimmjow felt a grin spreading slowly across his face. He couldn’t help it. Pissing Ichigo off brought him too much joy. Ichigo looked away then, and Grimmjow laid back and looked at the clouds instead.

He might have dozed off, the sun on his bare chest like a heavy blanket, but the sound of the window rolling open made him come to. Ichigo crawled out, still in his uniform, and slid the window closed again behind him.

“Don’t wanna wake him,” Ichigo mumbled as he scooted down the shingles next to Grimmjow. His ears were red at the tips.

Grimmjow knew what was up. He knew Ichigo was ignoring Ulquiorra because of what had happened the night before. It was cute, in a way, but he felt uneasy, too. Ichigo was quiet, just looking out over the street, and Grimmjow wondered if he should go back in and leave him alone. He started to move to get up when Ichigo spoke.

“Are you avoiding me?”

Grimmjow froze and grimaced. “No,” he lied.

“You sure?” Ichigo said. He turned to Grimmjow with an eyebrow raised. “’Cause you’ve barely said a word to me in the last three days, and I saved your fucking life.”

Grimmjow sighed. “He never should have gotten you involved in all this.”

“Ulquiorra didn’t get me involved in anything, Grimmjow. You did. And I want to know why.”

“What do you want to hear?” Grimmjow asked. “That I’ve been secretly in love with you this whole time? That you were a convenient fuck and that’s all?”

“The truth,” Ichigo insisted.

“The truth sucks, kid,” Grimmjow said. “You’re better off not knowing.”

That was the same excuse Grimmjow had been using with himself. Ulquiorra hadn’t been wrong: he did have feelings for Ichigo. But what good did they do him? Who was it going to help, to tell Ichigo that he loved him, when he didn’t even know if that was true?

He half expected there to be a shouting match after that. That was one of the things he liked about Ichigo – his anger came out hot-headed and loud, like his own, not like Ulquiorra’s cold disapproval. But instead he looked away again, and Grimmjow cooled down a little. He focused on the curve of Ichigo’s neck, the hairs there wavering in the breeze.

“I’m really not a kid anymore, Grimmjow,” Ichigo said. “I know how that sounds, but just listen for a minute. I go to school now and I feel like I don’t know a single person there. It used to be boring, but now I see how meaningless it really is and it’s a relief. Nobody’s getting hurt if they fail a test. Nobody’s gonna die if I don’t study hard enough. The things my friends talk about… where to go for karaoke, what they’ll do after high school, all that crap. I don’t care about any of it. I know too much about how the world really works.”

“Don’t you have friends who know, too? Like the redhead girl?”

“Yeah, but they’re hard to talk to. Inoue is an airhead; Chad hardly talks at all; Rukia doesn’t get it. And Ishida…” Ichigo swallowed a lump in his throat. “I can’t talk to Ishida.”

“He’s the one with the fancy bow and arrows, right?”

“Yeah.”

Grimmjow blew out a huge sigh. “Ichigo…” he said. It was hard not to touch him. Grimmjow knew what it felt like to be lonely like that, clinging to the smallest scrap of affection just to get by. It was the same way he’d been with Ulquiorra, and now here he was doing it to Ichigo. “I slept with you because I wanted to. Isn't that enough?”

He knew that it wasn’t. Ichigo drew his knees up and folded his arms across them, and Grimmjow felt all his suppressed guilt and self-loathing bubbling up in his throat.

“Look,” he said, “I really treated you like shit and I—"

“Stop it.” Ichigo reached out and grabbed Grimmjow’s knee. His grip was so tight it stung. “I know what comes next and I don’t want to hear it. You’re gonna tell me you’re sorry, that you never should have come here. If you’re sorry that means you regret it, and I don’t want that.” He dropped his forehead onto his fist. “I don’t regret it, Grimmjow. I don’t want you to regret it."

Grimmjow rested his hand on the back of Ichigo’s head, the peach fuzz on his neck bending under his palm, his skin hot and damp with sweat. “No,” he said. “You’re right. I don’t regret it, either.”

Then Ichigo looked up, lunged forward and kissed him. Grimmjow jumped back at first, surprised, but then he felt the softness of Ichigo’s lips, the warmth of his tongue pressed against him, and he let himself give in. Ichigo tasted like whatever he had last eaten, something salty like seaweed, so human. He never threw himself at Grimmjow like this, and Grimmjow drank it in: Ichigo’s hand pulling at his hair a little too much, his teeth raking across Grimmjow’s lower lip. His other hand slipped up Grimmjow’s thigh, and Grimmjow felt the squeeze of his fingers and the rush that went through them both. He wanted him, and maybe more than that. But there was Ulquiorra.

“Wait,” Grimmjow said, grabbing Ichigo’s wrist.

Ichigo pulled his hands away and sat back. He rubbed his face with his hands, then slid them up into his hair. “Sorry,” he said, and Grimmjow’s stomach dropped at how miserable he sounded. “That was stupid. Even though I know you guys just made up.” He tipped his head back to the sky. “Or whatever.”

“Ichigo—”

“Sorry. Just leave me alone for a while.”

Grimmjow stayed where he was for a second, waiting to see if Ichigo would change his mind, or if he would. But neither one of them was wrong, so Grimmjow got up and went inside.

Ulquiorra was asleep in the futon. Grimmjow knew that if he woke him up, he’d come sleep in the bed with him instead, but he wasn’t ready to do that just yet.

Don’t let him touch you again. That was what Ulquiorra had said, that last night, and Grimmjow had honored it, had clung to it like a bit of wood in a shipwrecked sea. One sliver of jealousy to let himself keep believing that he had, somehow, been loved. And now he had broken that promise.

Chapter Text

A week had passed since the espada had arrived, Grimmjow had been awake for two and half days, and Ichigo was going out of his mind. He was starting to wonder if the whole thing was an Aizen plan to drive him mad. The more he thought about everything the more confused he got. Why had Ulquiorra made him jerk off in front of him, the other night? Did Grimmjow know that he was being unfaithful? Was there such a thing as unfaithful between hollows? And why had Grimmjow let him kiss him?

When he was home he was trapped with two men he wanted and couldn’t have. When he was at school he was irritable – even more than usual – and distracted. When he tried to sleep he lay awake for hours instead, trying to drive unwanted to fantasies out of his head, or quietly masturbating while keeping an ear open to Grimmjow’s snores, hoping he wouldn’t be discovered again, but also hoping that he would.

The only place he felt any measure of calm was out on the roof, when he stood watch to let Ulquiorra have a break. The clean air cooled his head a little, and the boredom of it was almost meditative. With his anger and frustration sapped out of him, all that was left was melancholy.

Ichigo’s phone beeped to let him know that five hours had passed. They had agreed on four-hour shifts, but Ichigo tried to take longer ones since Ulquiorra did the bulk of it while he was at school. There was only so much meditative boredom that Ichigo could take, though. Patience was not one of his strengths. He slid the window open, dropped in feet-first, and froze.

Grimmjow and Ulquiorra were both asleep. They were lying on the bed, Grimmjow’s arm around Ulquiorra’s back, Ulquiorra’s hand resting on Grimmjow’s waist, his head tucked under Grimmjow’s chin. Ichigo didn’t know what he had expected but it was not this. He turned around, scrambled back out the way he’d come in and shut the window behind him with a little too much force. Now he had really seen something he shouldn’t have. More than that, he’d seen something he didn’t want to see: a moment so quiet and intimate it made him sick. Proof that he was alone.

He wanted Grimmjow. He wanted Ulquiorra. He wanted someone, anyone, to hold him like that. It didn’t have to be love, even. Just warm hands and a comfortable silence.

The window slid open and Ichigo jumped. It was Ulquiorra.

“Sorry,” Ichigo said, as Ulquiorra climbed out. “I really didn’t mean to – I mean, I didn’t –”

Ulquiorra held a hand up to quiet him. “It’s okay,” he said. “He wants to talk to you.”

Ichigo didn’t move. Ulquiorra’s eyes had caught his, and he suddenly was back in the dark, stroking himself and begging Ulquiorra to touch him, Grimmjow sleeping unaware almost in arm’s reach. Arousal and shame both rose in him in an instant, but he couldn’t look away. Ulquiorra’s eyes were shadowed and intense like always, and Ichigo longed to know what he was thinking. Was he also remembering that night? Did he know about the kiss with Grimmjow? Could he tell how badly Ichigo wanted him right now?

Ulquiorra stepped back and nodded towards the window, breaking Ichigo’s trance.  Ichigo shook his head to clear it and stepped past Ulquiorra – his stomach clenching with desire as he slid around him, the scent of him crashing over Ichigo like a wave – and dropped into the room.

Grimmjow was sitting up in the bed, looking at him, and Ichigo paused. Everything was like this lately: the moment he escaped Ulquiorra’s gravity, he was pulled in by Grimmjow’s. Ichigo didn’t want to talk to him. It had been a couple days since he’d accidentally kissed Grimmjow, and he’d been keeping his distance ever since. He was embarrassed – humiliated, actually – and it didn’t help that every time he looked at Grimmjow he wanted to do it again.

“You lost?” Grimmjow asked.

Ichigo huffed at him, then gave up and threw himself into the chair next to the bed. “Let me see your shoulder,” he said.

Grimmjow turned, and Ichigo lifted the wrap to peek at the gauze underneath – it was crusty and brown with old blood. He’d taken out the rest of the stitches last night, but the shoulder had been the deepest cut and it wasn’t ready to heal yet. “Let me change this,” he said.

“Be my guest.”

Ichigo grabbed some fresh gauze and disinfectant and started to unwrap the wound on Grimmjow’s shoulder. It was still oozing a bit, and Ichigo didn’t really know if that was bad or not. It didn’t look infected, as far as he could tell, but he was, still, frustratingly, not a doctor. He wiped away the grime and felt thankful to have a reason not to meet Grimmjow’s eyes.

“Thanks,” Grimmjow said, after a minute.

“No problem,” Ichigo said as he packed gauze back on top of the stitches.

“No, I mean…” Grimmjow cleared his throat. “You did save my life. Thank you.”

Ichigo’s stomach squirmed. He wasn’t sure what to say. “You’re welcome” seemed arrogant. “Thanks for not dying” was closer to how he felt, but he couldn’t say that. He wrapped the bandage around Grimmjow’s bicep and saw the muscles shifting under his skin. He loved Grimmjow’s arms. He loved clinging to them during sex, being lifted and pinned by them, daydreaming about sleeping in them. Of course he had saved him.

He suddenly remembered Ulquiorra hovering above him, his eyes shining in the dark. He remembered Grimmjow’s tongue against his. He gripped Grimmjow’s bicep in his hands and squeezed.

“Hey, ouch,” Grimmjow said, flinching. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m so confused, Grimmjow,” Ichigo said, staring at the way the shapes of Grimmjow’s arm changed as he moved.

“About what? Wishing you’d thrown me out on the street after all?”

“No,” Ichigo said. He knew that things were only going to get more confusing the more he kept talking, but the words kept coming out of his mouth. “I’m so jealous I can’t stand it. Of both of you. Ever since—”

“Since you slept with him?”

Ichigo nodded. “Not just that. The other night, he—”

“Yeah,” Grimmjow said, “I know about that, too.”

“Why?” Ichigo hung his head. The strength went out of his hands and he dropped them from Grimmjow’s arm. “Why did he do that? When he already knows that I—that I—”

“Ichigo, did something else happen that night? When he came here?”

“No, not really,” Ichigo said. “We just had sex, but—” He paused again. “I don’t know if I’m supposed to tell you this, but he stayed afterwards, until I fell asleep. He was so different from what I thought he would be. He always seemed like he was just pure, cold evil. But he was…”

If Ichigo closed his eyes he could go right back there: into the hazy darkness of Ulquiorra’s arms, kissing him slowly again and again, their bodies still glowing with the heat of sex.

“…it feels weird to say it, but he was kind to me.”

Grimmjow sighed loudly. “He’s a lot more human than you’d think, isn’t he?”

Ichigo gave a half laugh. “He said the same thing about you.” He watched the scowl on Grimmjow’s face soften a little, and his heart turned over in his chest. He wanted Grimmjow to look that way for his sake.

“And you still want him,” Grimmjow said.

“I know you’re the last person I should be saying this to,” Ichigo said, “but yeah. I want him so much it hurts.”

“Come here,” Ulquiorra said.

Ichigo spun around, and he felt Grimmjow jump next to him. The air between them all seemed sharp, and Ichigo’s chest ached. “You were listening?” he said, his voice quiet and strained.

Ulquiorra rested a hand against Ichigo’s cheek, and Ichigo heard his own blood rushing in his ears, his heartbeat pounding so fast he was sure Ulquiorra could feel it. He felt unstable, jittery, impatient. He didn’t want Grimmjow to see this, or did he?

Ulquiorra bent down and tilted Ichigo’s head up to his. His eyes drilled into Ichigo’s, asking, and Ichigo stared back thinking, yes, please, yes. Then Ulquiorra kissed him, and Ichigo sighed into him, his mouth hot and slow. He slipped his tongue between Ulquiorra’s lips and felt the softness of them. He tasted rich, like heavy spice cake or fresh coffee. Ichigo could feel Grimmjow’s eyes on them and he didn’t care; if anything, it made the kiss sweeter.

“Grimmjow,” Ulquiorra said as he pulled away. His hand still held Ichigo’s cheek as his eyes flicked up. “Give me a reason I shouldn’t take this boy right here in front of you.”

“I wasn’t gonna say anything,” Grimmjow said.

“Wait,” Ichigo said. His whole body seemed centered around the hand on his face, but he fought to stay clearheaded. He turned to look at Grimmjow, who was watching him with raised eyebrows. He felt his face burning red. “I want you both,” he said.

Grimmjow and Ulquiorra shared a look, then Grimmjow turned to Ichigo with a wicked smile. “I think you better give him what he wants, first,” he said. Then he leaned in and kissed Ichigo, and Ichigo felt the heat of it jumping inside him. “Besides, I want to see it.”

Ichigo turned back to Ulquiorra and suddenly they were in each other’s arms: Ulquiorra’s hands on Ichigo’s face, his neck, his chest; Ichigo clutching the back of Ulquiorra’s shirt, pulling it up where it had been tucked in and feeling the warmth of his skin underneath; their mouths crushing into each other like kissing wasn’t enough. They both tore out of their shirts, and then Ulquiorra pulled Ichigo to the ground, on top of the futon they had both been sleeping in – and of course Ichigo had thought about that while he touched himself, had imagined something just like what was happening now.

Ulquiorra’s teeth sunk into Ichigo’s shoulder, and Ichigo cried out in pain and clung to him at the same time. He felt the wetness of Ulquiorra’s tongue circling the spot, then inching down, kissing as he went. Ichigo ran his hands across Ulquiorra’s back, feeling every dip between his rising muscles, the hard lines of his shoulder blades, the bumps of his spine. He was already breathing heavy – days’, weeks’ worth of lust boiling to the surface all at once. Ulquiorra’s thumb rubbed across one nipple as he gently sucked at the other, and Ichigo arched up into him with a groan. Every flick of Ulquiorra’s tongue shot straight through his body to his cock.

Ichigo dared himself to glance up at Grimmjow and saw him watching them hungrily. His eye caught Ichigo’s and he grinned – that grin that was half a snarl, like a predator pleased with his catch. Ichigo looked away quickly, shame and lust both threatening to overwhelm him. He switched his attention back to Ulquiorra, and Ulquiorra made it easy by biting down on his nipple.

Ichigo yelped but Ulquiorra was already moving on, his mouth moving across the sensitive skin of Ichigo’s stomach as his hands undid his jeans. Ichigo’s cock was half hard and dying to be touched, but Ulquiorra ignored it, swirling his tongue around Ichigo’s bellybutton as he tugged his jeans down. Ichigo squirmed under him as Ulquiorra kissed down the inside of his thigh, then down even further, over his knee, his calf, and finally licking up the sole of his foot.

“Ah!” Ichigo threw his head back and tried to jerk his foot away, instinctively, but Ulquiorra held him firmly. “What the fuck, Ulquiorra,” Ichigo said, tears stinging his eyes. Ulquiorra took Ichigo’s big toe into his mouth and sucked on it a little, and the feeling was so ticklish and strange Ichigo couldn’t handle it. He twisted, trying to get away, and Ulquiorra finally let him go and came back up to kiss his mouth.

“I want to try every bit of you,” Ulquiorra said. His hand hooked under Ichigo’s thigh, his fingers digging into the soft flesh of Ichigo’s ass. “Is that wrong?”

Ichigo wrapped his leg around Ulquiorra’s waist and drew him down into a kiss, grinding their hips together. He could feel the bulge of Ulquiorra’s hard-on through his jeans, and Ichigo remembered with a thrill how big his cock was, how good it felt inside him, and thrust against him again.

“I want to get fucked, Ulquiorra,” Ichigo said.

“Be patient. You will.”

Then Ulquiorra slid down again and wrapped a hand around Ichigo’s cock. He ran his tongue up the underside and then rubbed the slit with the tip of his tongue and Ichigo gasped. Ulquiorra took him, just the head at first but a little more each time; Ichigo’s cock pressed against his tongue, the heat of him, the pressure of his hand rubbing spit and precum all down Ichigo’s shaft. It felt so good Ichigo’s mind was going blank, and somehow it felt even better as Ulquiorra swallowed more and more of him.

Ulquiorra paused and sat up, and Ichigo started to, too, but Ulquiorra put a hand on his stomach to hold him in place.

“I’m not finished with you yet.” Ulquiorra waved a hand toward Grimmjow. “Pass me the lube,” he said as he slid out of his jeans.

A shiver ran down Ichigo’s spine as he watched Grimmjow toss the bottle to Ulquiorra. Ichigo eagerly spread his legs as Ulquiorra squeezed some onto his fingers. Then Ulquiorra bent down and swallowed Ichigo’s cock again, and at the same time pressed the tip of one finger against Ichigo’s asshole and slipped inside. Ichigo moaned loudly and his hips jerked without his permission. Ulquiorra rubbed him slowly, one hand on Ichigo’s cock and one in his ass, both in time with his mouth. Then Ulquiorra added a second finger and curled them up as he stroked, and Ichigo all but screamed. His back arched, and he threaded a hand through his hair, his body full of sensations that it didn’t know what to do with. Ulquiorra had unlocked him. He knew just where to touch to turn Ichigo absolutely wild.

“Shh,” Grimmjow said, “You’re gonna wake up the whole city.”

Ichigo bit down on his hand and looked up at Grimmjow through teary eyes as Ulquiorra continued to suck him off, his fingers pressed right up against his sweet spot.

“Does it feel good?” Grimmjow asked, his voice even more gravelly than usual, and Ichigo finally noticed that he was touching himself.

“Yeah,” Ichigo groaned. “Oh god, Ulquiorra!”

“Do you want to cum?” Grimmjow asked.

Ichigo nodded. He was going to cum, god, just a little more.

“Are you gonna let him cum?” Grimmjow asked Ulquiorra.

Ulquiorra sat up and withdrew his hands and Ichigo whimpered. He was so hard, and his cock was leaking precum obscenely.

“Not yet,” Ulquiorra said. “I promised to fuck him.”

Then he sat up, pushed Ichigo’s knees back, and slid himself into Ichigo’s ass.

Ichigo moaned, wrapped his arms behind Ulquiorra’s neck, and pulled him down to kiss him. He was being swallowed by blackness: stars dancing in his eyes, Ulquiorra dark and wide above him, his hollow hole pulling Ichigo in like an inky whirlpool. He felt so full, so hot, his head and cock both throbbing with it all. Ulquiorra slowly pulled out and pushed back in, deeper, then again. He pressed Ichigo’s hips back even further, nearly bending him in half to get as deep as he could go, and Ichigo grabbed the back of his knees as Ulquiorra sat up and fucked him hard.

“Holy shit,” Grimmjow moaned. Ichigo looked up at him as Ulquiorra pounded him. He felt lightheaded with pleasure and the whole room seemed to spin around him with every thrust, but he could see Grimmjow on his knees on the bed, stroking himself furiously as he watched. He looked like he was just barely holding back, and Ichigo’s mouth watered: he wanted to kiss him, or suck him off, or both.

Ichigo held a hand out a towards Grimmjow, and Grimmjow and Ulquiorra both paused and looked at him in surprise. “Come here,” Ichigo said. Grimmjow seemed uncertain, but then Ulquiorra reached a hand towards him, too, and Grimmjow scrambled down and let them pull him in, kneeling on the floor next to the them both.

Ulquiorra kissed him first, and Ichigo felt his cock jump inside him. He realized it was the first time he’d seen them kiss, and he saw the strength of it, all the sorrow they had built up together, and the relief they could finally share. Ulquiorra’s hand lingered on Grimmjow’s face as they parted, and Ichigo felt a twinge of jealousy. Then Grimmjow turned and Ichigo pulled him down into a kiss as Ulquiorra started moving inside him again.

“What do you want?” Grimmjow asked, his breath soft on Ichigo’s ear. His hand crept down Ichigo’s stomach until his found his cock, and he started to stroke Ichigo slowly.

Ichigo was feeling too good to answer. He moaned and kissed Grimmjow again instead.

“I bet you want to blow me, don’t you?” Grimmjow said, and Ichigo nodded. Grimmjow knew him too well.

Suddenly Ulquiorra stopped, pulled out and backed away from Ichigo. Cold air stung Ichigo where skin had been a second before.

“Don’t stop,” Ichigo begged.

Ulquiorra pulled him upright and kissed him; Ichigo tasted sweat on his lips. “It’ll be easier if you get on your knees,” Ulquiorra said, and Ichigo realized what he was planning.

He scrambled around to all fours and Ulquiorra grabbed his hips and started grinding himself against Ichigo’s asshole, his cock slippery and hot, teasing him. Then Grimmjow moved in front of Ichigo and his cock was right there, huge and delicious, swollen dark and twitching in Ichigo’s face. Ichigo grabbed it, and, without any teasing or buildup at all, swallowed it all, right up into the back of his throat. He heard Grimmjow moan, felt Ulquiorra inside him again, and he melted – his whole body burning, euphoric. He bobbed his head, his eyes and nose both streaming as he gagged, then Grimmjow grabbed him by the hair and Ichigo let go, let Grimmjow fuck his throat as hard as he could, and loved it.

Ichigo could tell that the two of them were kissing above him. Both of their rhythms got slow and unsteady and he could feel Grimmjow’s waist bending forward. But this time the jealousy was smaller – maybe it was only because they were both inside him, but Ichigo suddenly didn’t feel so outside. He could feel them flowing through him: whether it was lust, love, or just cum, he couldn’t say, but he felt like part of it.

Grimmjow pulled Ichigo off his cock and brought him up to kiss him. Ichigo clung to his forearms for support, his body weak and shaking with every one of Ulquiorra’s thrusts.

“God, look at you,” Grimmjow said. He wiped a trail of spit off Ichigo’s chin, and Ichigo realized his mouth was hanging open and swallowed it closed. “I almost forgot how good you look when you’re getting fucked. What do you think of him, Ulquiorra?”

Ulquiorra wrapped an arm around Ichigo’s chest, and grabbed Grimmjow’s shoulder with the other, and Ichigo realized how close he was. His thrusts came hard and fast, and Ichigo leaned into him as Grimmjow pressed in from the front. Ichigo was so hot, crushed between them, all three of them slick with sweat.

“Ichigo,” Ulquiorra moaned, squeezing him from behind, and the sound of his name on Ulquiorra’s voice brought tears to Ichigo’s eyes. Ulquiorra buried his face against Ichigo’s neck as he came, and Ichigo shook with how good it felt, his ass squeezing Ulquiorra’s throbbing cock as he filled him.

Ichigo twisted between the two of them to kiss Ulquiorra. He was so beautiful – his cheeks subtly flushed, his eyes dark and glazed over, his chest rising with each heavy breath. He looked unreal, like he’d been molded by an impressionist painter, delicate and complex and striking. Ichigo held him close and wanted to never let go.

Ichigo felt Grimmjow closing in behind him as he kissed Ulquiorra, his lips on the back of Ichigo’s neck, his bare chest pressed hot against him. His hands ran down Ichigo’s sides, then around to his stomach, and finally to his cock. Ichigo jumped a little at the touch and Ulquiorra grabbed his head and held him firm, his tongue still in Ichigo’s mouth.

“God,” Grimmjow groaned. He was grinding against Ichigo’s ass as he stroked him. “I dunno if I’ve ever seen you this hard before, Ichigo. It’d be a shame not to do something with it. I bet Ulquiorra will let you use his ass if you ask him nicely.”

“I have a better idea,” Ulquiorra said, finally breaking away from their kiss. He gave Ichigo a tiny glance to the side and Ichigo just barely dodged as he lunged past, grabbed Grimmjow by the collarbone, slammed him into the floor and pinned him.

A manic grin spread on Grimmjow’s face. He swung one hand toward Ulquiorra wildly, but Ulquiorra caught him and had both hands pinned above his head in a flash. Ichigo saw Grimmjow’s cock jump and his hips thrust instinctively as Ulquiorra grabbed him by the jaw, the heel of his hand pressing into Grimmjow’s throat. He kissed Grimmjow violently, and even though Grimmjow struggled under him, Ichigo could tell it was only for show.

Then Ulquiorra slid down between Grimmjow’s muscled thighs, pushed his knees back, and lowered his mouth onto Grimmjow’s asshole. Grimmjow threw his head back and arched into Ulquiorra’s touch. He was almost like a different person – in an instant, Ulquiorra had changed him from the brash, rude fucker that Ichigo knew into a submissive, shuddering mess. Ulquiorra reached over, grabbed the lube, and started to finger him. Grimmjow moaned and his cock jumped again, and Ulquiorra started working it with his other hand, running the whole length from his head to his balls, squeezing them gently, and then up again. Ichigo was sure he had never seen anything so hot, and even though his cock was throbbing desperately, he resisted touching himself, or he would cum right away.

“You’ve never let the Shinigami fuck you before. Am I right?” Ulquiorra asked.

“No,” Grimmjow moaned. He covered his eyes with the back of his hand, maybe in embarrassment, as his hips jerked up into Ulquiorra’s hands.

“Don’t you think you owe him, in that case?”

Grimmjow didn’t answer. He bit his lip and thrust mindlessly again.

Ulquiorra pulled his hands away and looked at Ichigo and his raging hard-on. “Come here,” he said.

“I…” Ichigo didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to fuck Grimmjow – he did, oh god, he was dying to. But he didn’t really know what he was doing; he was still a virgin on that side of the equation. And he didn’t want to force Grimmjow, even though Grimmjow had forced him plenty of times.

“It’s okay,” Ulquiorra said. “He loves to get fucked by someone stronger than him. And you gave him this scar…” He ran a finger down the middle of Grimmjow’s chest. “I think you’ve earned the right.”

Grimmjow peeked out from under his arm, his face flushed, and gave Ichigo a tiny nod. Then Ulquiorra held a hand out to him and Ichigo took it and let Ulquiorra guide him over in between Grimmjow’s knees. His heart was pounding like crazy in his chest and the sight of Grimmjow laid out in front of him was almost too much. The same Grimmjow who had held him down and fucked him so many times, laying under him waiting to get fucked…

Something cold and wet touched his cock, and Ichigo looked down to see Ulquiorra’s hand rubbing him with lube.

“Are you ready?” Ulquiorra asked. He knelt behind Ichigo, just a little bit to the side.

Ichigo didn’t know if he was ready. He stared at Ulquiorra’s face, serene as always, and tried to catch his breath. Ulquiorra kissed him, and Ichigo calmed just enough. He nodded. Ulquiorra nudged him closer to Grimmjow, so that he was hovering right over him. Ichigo looked up and his eyes caught Grimmjow’s as Ulquiorra guided the head of his cock into Grimmjow’s ass.

Ichigo gasped, and Grimmjow groaned, his asshole tightening around Ichigo. The sensation ran up Ichigo’s whole body, lodging like a lump in his throat. It felt so good, and so tight, Grimmjow’s entrance twitching around the head of his cock. He wanted to dive right in, but Ulquiorra’s hand was holding him back.

“Slowly,” Ulquiorra said. He pressed Ichigo forward with his thigh, and Grimmjow tightened even more around him as he slid in deeper. Once Grimmjow had relaxed a little Ulquiorra pushed Ichigo forward again, guiding Ichigo into Grimmjow a little bit at a time, until his whole cock was buried inside him.

“Grimmjow,” Ichigo moaned. “You’re so fucking tight. I don’t think I can move.”

Grimmjow didn’t say anything, only looked at Ichigo with a pained look and panted.

“Wait,” Ulquiorra said. He moved around Ichigo and knelt over Grimmjow. “Look at me,” he said to Grimmjow, and Grimmjow did. Then he bent down and kissed him, slowly and deeply, and Ichigo felt Grimmjow relax around him. Ichigo gave a small, tentative thrust, and Grimmjow groaned. Ichigo didn’t think it was a bad groan, though, so he did it again, a little more, and felt Grimmjow loosening up around him. His ass was so hot and wet with lube; Ichigo was in heaven.

“Ichigo,” Grimmjow said, and Ichigo leaned forward to kiss him.

“I’m really gonna fuck you now. Okay?” Ichigo said.

Grimmjow grinned. “Who taught you to talk dirty like that?”

Ichigo pulled back and rolled his hips into him again, and Grimmjow’s head rolled back. “You did, asshole,” Ichigo said, and thrust again, and again. Grimmjow reached down and grabbed Ichigo’s ass cheeks in both hands, pulling him up even deeper inside him, and Ichigo buried his face in the side of Grimmjow’s neck as he picked up speed.

Ulquiorra was behind him again, leaning over so that Ichigo felt the warmth of his chest against his back. His hand was in Ichigo’s hair and he bit at Ichigo’s earlobe. Then he reached around and grabbed Grimmjow’s cock, not stroking it but letting Ichigo’s thrusts force it up into his hand. Ichigo was already close, had been since before, and he could tell Grimmjow was too from how tight his balls were, the precum dribbling all over Ulquiorra’s hand.

“I’m gonna…” Ichigo said. He leaned over Grimmjow and kissed him again, and Grimmjow wrapped one arm around Ichigo’s shoulders, the other around Ulquiorra’s, and kept them both close.

“Yeah, me too,” Grimmjow groaned. “Fill me up, Ichigo.”

Ichigo slammed into him, his cock singing, aching to cum, Grimmjow’s ass swallowing him eagerly, and Ichigo loved it… loved it… loved him. He loved him, and he wouldn’t let him go. Ichigo hugged Grimmjow’s chest tight to him, and Grimmjow cried out. He felt Grimmjow’s orgasm splashing across his stomach. Tears stung Ichigo’s eyes again, and he kissed Grimmjow with all his fervor, spilling all he had into him, this man who he had hated and loved and hated and loved for so long now.

Exhaustion washed over Ichigo as he pulled out, and he dropped to the ground next to Grimmjow. He felt Ulquiorra’s hand moving gently up him, over his hip, up his arm, then brushing the hair out of his eyes. He turned and Ulquiorra kissed him, and Ichigo swam in the warmth of him and of his newfound love for Grimmjow mixing together with something else inside him, like warm honey.

Grimmjow sat up, and started to move away, but Ulquiorra’s hand shot out and caught his arm. Ichigo watched in a haze. The two of them stared at each other, a look that Ichigo couldn’t quite read, and kissed slowly. He wanted them to be happy. Everything felt full of light, so simple, natural. The warm feeling in his chest was unfolding into an aurora inside of him, the yellows and greens of jealousy being swallowed by the purples and reds and blues of he didn’t know what.

Finally, Ulquiorra laid down next to him, but Grimmjow didn’t move. Ichigo didn’t think he would leave, this time, but he couldn’t dare to hope that he would stay. Then Grimmjow reached for him, slowly, haltingly. Like he was nervous. He laid down, pulled Ichigo into his arms and squeezed him tight. Ichigo’s heart felt swollen, rising into a lump in his throat.

“Sorry,” Grimmjow said, and Ichigo made a small noise in protest but Grimmjow held him even tighter. “No, let me say it this time. I do regret this. Not holding you when I wanted to.”

Ichigo felt Ulquiorra move in close behind him, his arm brushing Grimmjow’s as he held them both, and Grimmjow’s grip loosened to something more normal.

“I didn’t want to get attached. Or make things complicated.”

“You’re an idiot,” Ichigo murmured, and he felt Ulquiorra sigh, warm on his neck.

Grimmjow pulled both of them in closer. Ichigo pressed his face against his chest and breathed him in. He traced the edge of the old scar with his finger, and then ever so lightly along a fresh one, too. He didn’t want this to end, the warmth of their bodies enveloping him in a world he’d only dreamed about, but he could already feel the cold air of reality creeping in. The hairs on the back of his neck curled against it.

“You’re leaving, aren’t you?” Ichigo asked, and he felt them both tense. “Wasn’t that what you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Yeah,” Grimmjow admitted.

“When?”

“Tomorrow,” Ulquiorra said.

Ichigo closed his eyes and tried to accept it. It was too soon, but it could have been worse. “You’ll stay tonight, though?” he asked, and he suddenly remembered the last time he’d asked Grimmjow to stay, the cold and sad look on his face as he turned back to him. “Right here?”

“Yeah,” Grimmjow said. Then he kissed Ichigo, and Ulquiorra, and Ichigo again, and the three of them laid back, breathing slowly in the last light of evening, curled under the futon.

***

Grimmjow only slept a little. When he closed his eyes, he floated half-awake through the last month of his life. Whenever he opened them to turn and get comfortable, he stopped himself. Ichigo was next to him, heat pouring off him like a furnace, using Grimmjow’s arm as a pillow. Past Ichigo he could see Ulquiorra sleeping on his stomach, his face blurry in the shadows. Both dead asleep from exhaustion. A sliver of light cut across them, glowing over Ichigo’s side, white across Ulquiorra’s back. It wasn’t something he had even thought to dream about, before. He was lying in emotions like surf, every glance at them a wave knocking him back, no time to right himself before another pulled him under. He didn’t care how tired he was going to be tomorrow. There were endless nights of sleep ahead of him, and maybe never another one like this.

He was watching them in the first grey light of morning when Ulquiorra turned, blinked, and saw him. Grimmjow couldn’t move, but he twitched the hand that was under Ichigo, and Ulquiorra slid his up into it. A rush went through him – from the first time he had stayed in bed after sex, terrified that Ulquiorra would make him leave, through the night he’d spent crumpled on the floor, wailing his grief out into the darkness, to here, now, running his thumb across the back of Ulquiorra’s knuckles, his fingers cold but warming against Grimmjow’s palm. He squeezed his hand a little too tightly.

“What is it?” Ulquiorra whispered, his voice hoarse with sleep.

Grimmjow shook his head. His heart was too mixed up for words.

“I can make room for him, Grimmjow.”

His stomach clenched. “I thought you were jealous of him,” Grimmjow whispered. “I thought you hated him.”

“I used to.”

“What changed?”

Ulquiorra slipped his hand out of Grimmjow’s and brushed his fingers lightly over just the ends of Ichigo’s hair. “I owe this boy more than my own life,” he said. Grimmjow saw the way he looked at Ichigo, the softness in his eyes like crumbling charcoal. “It was when I was with him that I realized what I feel for you is real.”

Grimmjow’s chest felt heavy with something like sadness, but it was more than that, too. He stretched his fingers again, just barely catching Ulquiorra’s chest with his fingertips, and Ulquiorra grabbed his hand and squeezed. “I really wanna kiss you right now,” Grimmjow said.

“Later,” Ulquiorra promised.

Grimmjow closed his eyes, feeling the shapes of Ulquiorra’s hand under his thumb, the weight of Ichigo’s head on his arm as his muscles shifted ever so slightly, and remembered something else that had been bugging him.

“What made you bring me here, though?” he asked, looking up again.

Ulquiorra’s eyes fluttered open, like Grimmjow had caught him just as he was falling back asleep.

“After the fight,” Grimmjow clarified. “Why him?”

“Because I knew he couldn’t let you die,” Ulquiorra whispered. “Even if there were nothing else, I would love him for that.”

The heaviness in Grimmjow’s chest swelled, lodging in his throat and stinging in his eyes. “Will you use that word again?” he asked.

Ulquiorra reached his other hand towards Grimmjow, careful not to bump Ichigo, pushed the hair back from Grimmjow’s forehead and rested his palm there. “I love you,” he said, so simple and sure that Grimmjow felt weak.

Grimmjow carefully eased his arm out from under Ichigo’s head and propped himself up. He leaned across Ichigo, careful not to jostle him, took Ulquiorra’s face in his hands and kissed him properly. Ulquiorra’s lips were warm and soft with sleep, and Grimmjow prayed that he would get to kiss them that way a million more times. “Love you, too,” he whispered.

Ulquiorra relaxed back into the pillow, his eyes sliding shut, and Grimmjow carefully slid out from under the comforter. Ichigo flinched when cold air hit him, then turned over and nuzzled his face into Ulquiorra’s chest, and Ulquiorra laid an arm over him. Grimmjow saw Ulquiorra open one eye to look at him, just a sliver, and couldn’t help but give him a little smile. Ulquiorra closed it again with no reaction, already drifting.

Grimmjow watched the two of them sleep, curled together. He took a deep breath, and when he let it out, he blew away all his uncertainties with it.

***

The sun rose earlier than usual, or at least it seemed that way to Ichigo. He woke up to Ulquiorra stirring beside him; Grimmjow was already up, leaning on his forearms in the open window, still naked, and Ichigo watched him dreamily, his eyes only half open. He looked so normal, somehow, like he belonged here in Ichigo’s room, the morning sun carving the shape of his shoulders. The wounds on his back looked red, raw, and Ichigo realized that was probably his fault. They should have been more careful last night. He blushed remembering it.

A cold, smooth hand touched Ichigo’s cheek, and he turned to see Ulquiorra staring at him. He was unreadable again. Ichigo half expected to be kissed, but instead Ulquiorra sat up and started to reach for the clothes they’d scattered around the room.

“Morning,” Grimmjow said, turning to them.

“Are you ready to go?” Ulquiorra asked.

“Already?” Ichigo said.

“There’s no need to wait,” Ulquiorra said.

“Ichigo, can I borrow some clothes?” Grimmjow asked. “Mine are all...” He motioned to the hakama he’d been wearing yesterday, more like a pile of bloody rags than clothing.

Ichigo couldn’t reply past the lump in his throat, so he nodded instead, and pulled on his own sweatpants and t-shirt. He tried to motion that he’d be right back, but he didn’t know if it came across. He slipped out the door anyways, and finally breathed again.

He didn’t want them to leave. He padded carefully down the stairs and to the back, where yesterday’s laundry was hanging outside, the whole way trying to think of excuses to keep them there. Maybe he couldn’t find any clothes that would fit Grimmjow. Maybe one of his wounds was suddenly infected. Maybe he didn’t think his family would be safe without a constant lookout. Ichigo grabbed one of Isshin’s old t-shirts and some khaki slacks off the clothesline. He’d have to lie and say he’d spilled bleach on them, later. But that was about the only lie he had the energy to tell, anymore.

He snuck back to his room and tossed the clothes at Grimmjow. He looked strange in them – Ulquiorra, too. Their masks and markings were suddenly the things that looked most out of place.

“Where will you go?” Ichigo asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Ulquiorra said. “Out of Japan, at least.”

“We’ll keep moving, for a while anyway.”

A thought suddenly occurred to Ichigo. “You’re not gonna go around eating a bunch of people, are you? ‘Cause if so…”

Grimmjow laughed.

“No,” Ulquiorra said. “Normal souls aren’t enough for us anymore. It’d be like eating one grain of rice at a time. We’ll hunt hollows when we need to.”

Ichigo’s stomach turned, and he wondered again if he had gone crazy.

“Ready?” Grimmjow said, and Ulquiorra nodded, and they both stepped toward the window.

“Wait!” Ichigo said, his voice cracking. They both turned to him. Ichigo was shaking. His head spun, his heart pounded, and his eyes welled with tears. “Take me with you.”

Grimmjow’s façade crumbled then, and a flash of pain crossed his face before he turned away.

“Tell him,” Ulquiorra said softly. Ichigo saw his hand brush the back of Grimmjow’s.

“No,” Grimmjow said, and Ichigo’s heart plummeted. “I want to. But you still have to live.” Grimmjow’s voice wavered and he looked at Ulquiorra, pleading, but Ulquiorra didn’t say anything.  “You’re so young,” Grimmjow went on. “And the two of us are already dead. You need to live your life first. Go tell that archer boy that you like him. Or marry Inoue and have a bunch of redheaded kids. And then, if you still want to, come find us when you’re dead.”

Ulquiorra wiped a tear off Grimmjow’s cheek and looked at Ichigo. “Your human life is the most precious thing you have,” he said. “It’s the one thing you can’t ever get back.”

“But—” Ichigo whispered.

Grimmjow suddenly stepped forward and pulled Ichigo into his chest. “I know it seems like forever,” he said. “But ninety years is nothing, Ichigo. It’ll be over before you know it.”

Grimmjow kissed him, and Ichigo clung to him. He wanted to say it, had to say it before they left and he never saw Grimmjow again, but he couldn’t get the words out. Grimmjow stepped back from him and Ichigo looked to Ulquiorra. You know, he thought. You know that I love him. Tell him. Love him for me, and Ulquiorra nodded.

Grimmjow slipped out of Ichigo’s hands, and they both climbed out the window, but Grimmjow ducked back down. “I’m not gonna say goodbye,” he said.

“Ok,” Ichigo said. The first tear rolled off his eyelashes onto his cheek. “I won’t either.”

Then Grimmjow quickstepped away, and Ulquiorra was gone, too, nothing left but the sky behind them, wide and bright. Ichigo sat down on his bed and let himself cry.