Actions

Work Header

Anche se la strada è in salita

Work Text:

E se um dia hei de ser pó, cinza e nada

Que seja a minha noite uma alvorada,

Que me saiba perder… pra me encontrar…

(And if one day I’ll be dust, ash and nothing

May my night be a dawn

May I know how to lose myself… to find myself…)

Florbela Espanca – Amar

 

Eventually, Grimmjow gets up. He doesn’t know how much time has passed – not like it much matters, in Hueco Mundo. But the world itself feels different; he knows Aizen hasn’t won just by the way the atmosphere seems… light.

Grimmjow feels upset he wasn’t there for that fight, because he’s sure it wasn’t any regular fight. But instead, what he got was an enemy that wasn’t even capable of killing him. Not even that, but that saved him.

It makes Grimmjow’s insides burn. The shame, the anger, the… everything. You either kill or you’re killed. Someone else saving you is not how life works in Hueco Mundo.

Dying from Nnoitra’s scythe wouldn’t have been the way Grimmjow wanted to go, but after fighting something with Kurosaki’s power? It wouldn’t have been totally bad. And anyway, he would have been too dead to have regrets.

Instead, he has… this.

Life.

And life in a way that he hasn’t felt in years. There is no more Fráccion. He imagines the number 6 holds no more meaning either.

Grimmjow had clawed and killed and eaten and bled his way to the top (never the full top, which had only made him all the hungrier for it), and now that means… nothing.

But Grimmjow isn’t a quitter. He doesn’t believe in some high fucking power or whatever, but if he’s alive… Then he’s going to make damn sure he stays that way.

And he’s going to find Kurosaki and he’s going to force him to fight, and this time it will be to the death. Grimmjow will accept nothing less.

.

Harribel rules Hueco Mundo now. Grimmjow’s surprised she survived when everyone else – Starrk, Barragan – didn’t, but then again, maybe he shouldn’t be. When Nel had disappeared years before, no one had expected a new Espada to have been found, only for their ranking to go up by one.

Grimmjow still remembers Nnoitra’s rage. Harribel had fought him, left him alive and that had been it. Grimmjow is surprised she’s alive, but not displeased. He doesn’t particularly care about her, but he respects her, at the very least.

And then there’s Nel. Who, apparently, Nnoitra had turned into a fucking child.

There’s also a fucking truce with Soul Society going on. Grimmjow doesn’t give a shit about that; he just wants to fight Kurosaki Ichigo.

For some reason, that gets Harribel and Nel sharing a look. Nel is the only one to look somewhat reticent. Grimmjow squints at them.

“What?” he growls.

“Ichigo… He isn’t a Shinigami anymore.”

Grimmjow frowns, “how the fuck do you stop being a Shinigami?”

“He… He gave up his powers to defeat Aizen.”

Grimmjow blinks. That… that might just be the stupidest thing he’s ever heard. How the fuck does that even work, anyway? How is Kurosaki even alive? If Grimmjow didn’t have his reiatsu… well, then he wouldn’t exist anymore. Simple as that.

“What the fuck is he doing now?” Grimmjow asks, still in a gruff tone, but curious as well. Not that it much matters – if Kurosaki doesn’t have his powers anymore, that means he’s human, and that means all he is now is prey. No longer a fight worth even unsheathing Pantera.

“Living his human life,” Nel doesn’t sound exactly sad about it but there is something there. But Grimmjow doesn’t care so all he does is grunt.

“We can’t trust Soul Society,” Harribel starts, “it’s important we unite.”

Grimmjow narrows his eyes at her. He moves his hand to Pantera’s hilt, Nel doing the same to Gamuza, but Harribel just keep her eyes on Grimmjow. The point isn’t to threaten – not the whole of it, anyway.

“I’m not being your underlying.”

“That is not what I’m offering you. But the truth of the matter is that we are weaker right now. Most Arrancars are dead; it will be decades, if not centuries before so many of us exist once again. Right now, Soul Society is dealing with their own issues as well, so they won’t attack us. I doubt this will last forever. You’re a powerful ally. That is what I am offering: an alliance.”

“What’s in it for me?”

“To not see our home destroyed. I know you want to die in a fight. But this would just be a massacre.”

Grimmjow chews on the words. Home. Not a word he much cares for. But he guesses Harribel isn’t wrong. If there is any place in any plane that can be considered his home, Hueco Mundo is that.

If it’s destroyed, where the hell is he going to live?

Slowly, he nods. “I accept.”

Harribel nods back, turns to Nel, who does the same.

“We also have an alliance with Urahara Kisuke. He’s a Shinigami who left Soul Society over a hundred years ago.”

“You trust him?”

“More than Soul Society,” which isn’t the same as a yes.

“What does this alliance imply?”

“He wants to know more about what Aizen was doing here. Of course, I do not allow him to simply step foot in Las Noches. Nel is the one to take the items to him. She brings others with her, to keep this place functioning. I believe Urahara is also keeping Soul Society away from us.”

Grimmjow nods again, this time more slowly.

“Would you like to switch with Nel?”

Grimmjow squints. “Why are you offering me this?”

“As a show of trust. Grimmjow, you are one of us. I do want to fully trust you, not second-guess you like I do Soul Society and Urahara.”

Grimmjow ponders her words. He gets what she means. Grimmjow doesn’t fully trust her either. He doesn’t know if that’s possible, if he even wants to. Full trust just means blindness to a possible attack. Grimmjow isn’t going down on his back.

It’s not like there’s much keeping him here, though. Like Harribel said, there aren’t many Arrancar anymore. He doesn’t want to go looking for a new Fráccion. And sure, he can keep eating Menos but… he’s fully evolved.

He remembers the glimpses he got of the human world. Tall buildings everywhere, the noise of thousands of people sharing small spaces, the smell of… Grimmjow doesn’t know, but something toxic. And stars. Actual stars. Not that Grimmjow had paid much attention to them.

“I wanna stay there,” he finally says.

Harribel and Nel share a glance. Harribel turns back to him, “I believe that can be arranged.”

Grimmjow nods. Then he turns around and goes to find his old bedroom.

.

Urahara doesn’t surprise Grimmjow in the least. It’s so obvious that he’s keeping his power contained, that the smiles, the hiding behind his hat, the fan, are all just a show. And then there are the other residents of the house: Tsukabishi, a giant of a man, but that doesn’t say much, Yoruichi, the cat lady – “no, really, no one calls me Shihouin” – and then two kids: Ururu and Jinta.

Urahara makes it quite clear what’ll happen to Grimmjow if he so much as looks at them the wrong way, which Grimmjow respects.

The room he’s given is bare in relation to the ones he sees during the tour, but it’s more than enough for Grimmjow. A futon, a desk with a chair and a closet. Not that Grimmjow has any clothes to put inside. Clothes. Objects that humans care about. He notices the photos and the books and the things he can’t even name.

It’s all so… foreign. Grimmjow almost tells Urahara to forget it and open a Garganta right there to go back to Hueco Mundo, but he isn’t giving him – or Harribel, or Nel – the satisfaction. And what is he going to do in Hueco Mundo, anyway?

Harribel and Nel seem too worried about somehow keeping Las Noches functioning to spar with him and Grimmjow won’t accept anything except their best.

There’s no one else there to even be worth a glance. He could go to Soul Society to start shit, of course… but it’s not really worth the effort. And he’d be breaking the truce. Just the word makes his upper lip twitch.

It’s boring. Urahara asks questions about Hueco Mundo, which Grimmjow sometimes answers, sometimes doesn’t, forcing him to ask questions back, just because he doesn’t want Urahara to think he can get whatever the hell he wants without giving in return.

There’s a huge bunker that he gets to practice in but the only one who accepts to spar with him is Yoruichi and while it is kind of fun to have to use his full speed to get her, she also refuses to actually fight him until he’s caught her. And despite what Grimmjow says, that is turning out to be harder than expected.

Grimmjow doesn’t forget about Kurosaki, though.

Human.

Sacrifice. Like hell would Grimmjow give up who he is for anyone else. Let the world burn with him. But the little asshole did it, no thoughts to how Grimmjow now can’t get back at him.

Part of him thinks of going to kill him anyway. But it wouldn’t be a fight and while Grimmjow doesn’t much care about blood on his hands, it’s not like he simply goes around ripping out throats for the fun of it.

So he stays away. And the sun keeps rising and setting.

And Grimmjow keeps thinking about it. And then, finally, after a good couple of months of living in the human world – the buildings are still too high, too many people live in such a small space, there’s definitely something toxic in the air and there are a lot of things he doesn’t get (they apologize a lot, for instance) –, Grimmjow goes to Kurosaki.

.

It isn’t hard to find Kurosaki. His reiatsu might be gone, but he has blood relatives that have a familiar type of energy.

Grimmjow stays outside a house with a sign saying Kurosaki clinic for four days. One man – trying to mask his reiatsu –, two girls – one whose similar reiatsu brought Grimmjow here, the other ridiculously human –, and a guy that is neither Shinigami nor human and that looks similar to Kurosaki, coming and going. Grimmjow would think that Kurosaki doesn’t live here anymore if he couldn’t still smell him. He doesn’t live here full time, but he comes back enough that it’s just a matter of waiting.

And Grimmjow can be patient when he wants. And he has nothing but time.

Eventually, his waiting pays off. Kurosaki shows up.

If Grimmjow had any doubt that everyone was lying to him, it disappears immediately. If it wasn’t for the familiar smell, the recognizable looks (older, though, less child-like), Grimmjow wouldn’t know who he was.

From out here, he can hear everything that goes on inside.

And it is… mundane. Discussions about Kurosaki’s course – university, medicine, Grimmjow doesn’t really know what this all means, but they all act like this is perfectly normal –, the girls’ – Karin and Yuzu – extracurricular activities. Karin plays football; got a red card for kicking a guy’s chin, while Yuzu dances ballet and has a spectacle coming up soon.

Ballet. Grimmjow doesn’t know what that means. Not that he knows what football is either, but it apparently involves some violence – though that gets you off the game. Boring.

Kurosaki’s there for most of the afternoon. The family watches a movie. He’s asked to stay for dinner but he says he has to go back to his place, has to study. Yuzu, especially, doesn’t mask her disappointment that well. For some reason, it makes Grimmjow clench his hands.

It’s not like he cares. Like it matters. But Kurosaki is just… going through the motions.

He leaves the house, starts walking. Takes a bus, Grimmjow running beside it the whole time.

It takes him over an hour and a half to open the door to a building that has seen better days and start climbing the stairs, Grimmjow right behind him. Once, Kurosaki stops, turns back, but obviously, he can’t see anything. Still, his shoulders are tense.

Grimmjow wonders if there’s still a remain of reiatsu there – how can someone lose that much? – or if Kurosaki’s simply paranoid. It’s not like he doesn’t know someone that he can’t see really could be right there.

They end up on the fourth floor. Kurosaki opens the door, gets inside a small apartment. From the entrance, Grimmjow can see the living room, which is divided from the kitchen just by a counter. Two closed doors. Bedroom and bathroom, he assumes.

Kurosaki goes to the kitchen. Grimmjow watches him from across the counter.

He takes out a glass, gets some water from the tap and drinks about half the glass. Then he places it down by the sink. Lays his palms down on it, bends down his head. His eyes are closed.

Kurosaki stays like that for a good two minutes. Grimmjow doesn’t take his eyes from him.

Then, just like that, Kurosaki straightens up. He moves to the living room, gets a backpack that was besides the sofa and sits down in front of the coffee table. He gets out several books, a laptop, starts studying.

Grimmjow stays the whole time. Kurosaki doesn’t take a break for at least two hours. Then he has Yuzu’s leftovers, standing right in the kitchen, even though he has a small table there, with two chairs. Goes back to studying, does it for another hour. Then switches to watching something on the laptop.

He goes to the bathroom. Then to his bedroom, doesn’t bother to close the door behind him.

Grimmjow watches him. Kurosaki moves from side to side a lot. Eventually, he falls asleep.

Grimmjow leaves.

.

Urahara knows he went to Kurosaki. He doesn’t say anything about it, but he’s acting differently. Keeps his eyes on Grimmjow for longer.

Grimmjow doesn’t know what gave him away – if he brought back some reiatsu from the Kurosakis, if that man could feel him –, and he doesn’t much care either.

There will be no fighting Kurosaki, that much is obvious. Killing him would be easy and while Grimmjow isn’t particularly against it, he knows it would just cause more problems than it’s worth it. If Kurosaki wants to live this sad life, then that’s up to him.

Grimmjow doesn’t actually do much around the shouten. Sometimes he joins the household for meals, but it’s rare. It’s not like he needs human food. He mostly just keeps to himself. Stays in his bedroom, walks around the town.

He knows what university is now. You go there after high school, get a degree to find a job afterwards. Oh, and then you’re expected to fall in love, get married, have kids.

Boring.

After a couple more weeks, Grimmjow starts to think about just going back to Hueco Mundo. Surely, he can find something to occupy himself. Harribel said there aren’t that many Arrancars around anymore and Grimmjow knows that’s true, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t a single one out there.

If nothing else, Grimmjow might be able to help speed up the process a little bit, find sustenance for the Adjuchas; there must be some out there. The thought doesn’t particularly please Grimmjow – you don’t deserve to evolve if you don’t fight for it –, but Harribel is right: they need numbers, they need strength.

Before he’s decided to leave, Urahara comes to him.

“I’ve been working on a gigai for you.”

“Why?” Grimmjow frowns. He knows what it is; Urahara, Yoruichi and Tsukabishi use them, so that humans can see them, and to keep their reiatsu hidden as well. Grimmjow doesn’t care about hiding himself, or having his abilities locked away.

Urahara smiles. “It’s a challenge. I’ve never created a gigai for a Hollow before. Would you like to test it?”

Grimmjow narrows his eyes. He wouldn’t put it above Urahara to be doing this because of Kurosaki – he hasn’t heard his name mentioned in the household once, but his absence is almost a physical force. Maybe this is Urahara’s way of making sure Grimmjow stays away; do something to him while he’s in the gigai, tell Harribel it was an accident. And Harribel and Nel cannot afford to go to war because of him.

Urahara laughs; it doesn’t inspire confidence.

“It’s perfectly safe, Grimmjow-san.”

Urahara doesn’t ask, “are you afraid?” but Grimmjow hears it nonetheless and the answer is a resounding, “no”.

So he says, “fine,” and follows Urahara to his lab. A fucking creepy place, definitely brings back unpleasant memories of Szayel.

Still, Grimmjow just stands there, is explained the process of how to get in and out of a gigai, what he can and can’t do with it. It’s easy to get out, at least, but while he’s in it, he’s basically human. He can still see Shinigamis and Hollows, but he won’t be able to use Sonido or a Cero. Pantera won’t be physical, either.

For at least a couple seconds, he will be vulnerable. But Grimmjow’s not just his spiritual strength. He can take care of himself.

Grimmjow gets in the gigai. There’s no broken mask on his cheek, no hole above his pelvis.

“I’ve made your body more durable than a regular human, though I would try not to get hit by a car. I’ve also given it a human system. You can eat, drink, use the bathroom.”

Grimmjow makes a face at that; disgusting.

“Use it wisely, Grimmjow-san,” Urahara says, seriously, face not hidden by his fan for once.

Grimmjow doesn’t bother to say or do anything. He just turns around and leaves, trying to get used to the sensation.

His body feels heavier.

Grimmjow walks. By the time he gets to Kurosaki’s apartment, his feet hurt.

A bit of strength gets the outside door open. He climbs the stairs. Then he rings Kurosaki’s doorbell.

In the gigai, all of his senses are diminished, but he can still hear someone moving inside, though he can’t smell Kurosaki anymore.

The door opens. Grimmjow doesn’t think he’s ever seen anyone so shocked. He smiles.

“Long time no see, Kurosaki.”

“What… Grimmjow!? How are you… you’re alive!”

Grimmjow snorts, then glares. “You made sure of that, didn’t you?”

“I… I mean, I wasn’t sure.”

“Nel didn’t tell you?”

Kurosaki’s face closes off, “I haven’t seen her in years.”

Grimmjow blinks at that. So it’s not just Urahara and his people keeping away from Kurosaki, but Nel as well. Grimmjow wonders if Kurosaki has seen any Shinigami since he lost his powers. Are his half human/half something else friends still around?

“If you’re here for a fight-”

“I know you’re a weak human now.”

Kurosaki clenches his jaw, but forces it to relax. It’s not like Grimmjow’s lying.

“Why are you here then? Wait. How do you even know where I live? Did Urahara-” The look of hope, even as Kurosaki tries to hide it, is disgusting. Sentiment.

“I followed you here a couple weeks ago.”

“So, what? You just found me randomly?”

“Found your family. Waited for you to visit them. Then followed you here.”

“You- What the fuck, Grimmjow!?”

“I didn’t hurt them. Or you.”

“That’s not the point! You can’t just do things like that!”

Grimmjow barks a laugh. “Can’t? It’s not like you can stop me, Kurosaki.”

Kurosaki clenches his jaw again, squeezes the frame of the door he’s still holding onto.

“Why… why did you come back, Grimmjow? You saw what you wanted, didn’t you? I’m human now,” there’s an edge of bitterness there. Hurt as well.

“I came inside that time, you know. Watched you until you went to bed. Your life’s pretty fucking boring, Kurosaki.” Kurosaki opens his mouth but Grimmjow doesn’t give him a chance to speak, continues, “most humans’ are. But at least they seem satisfied with it. Or they try and change when they’re not. You’re just… going through the motions, aren’t you? Do you even want to be alive, Kurosaki?”

Kurosaki looks beyond tense. He doesn’t say anything for a while, too angry to even be able of that. Grimmjow waits him out, relaxed. He’s kind of curious of where this will lead, but it’s not like he particularly cares.

Then, Kurosaki leans back, closes the door in Grimmjow’s face with a bang. Grimmjow laughs at it. So, he won’t even try for a comeback.

Pathetic.

Grimmjow shakes his head. Leaves.

.

Grimmjow goes back. He doesn’t know why, except that he feels like it. He doesn’t care about anyone that lives at the shouten. The kids are alright, he guesses; a bit annoying, but they also keep their distance. Tsukabishi feeds him, so he’s on his good list. But Urahara and Yoruichi? Fucking annoying as shit.

But Grimmjow told Harribel he was staying in the human world, and like fuck is he going back with his tail between his legs (yeah, that’s a new human expression he’s learnt).

It’s not like there’s anyone else he knows in this world (Grimmjow amuses himself by imagining what Inoue Orihime’s reaction would be to his sudden presence around her). It’s not like it matters. He doesn’t need fucking anyone. But… he is in this world. He might as well… live in it.

So he goes back to Kurosaki’s apartment. Would have Sonido his way there if it wasn’t for the fact he’s in the gigai. It itches like clothes that are too tight.

He rings the doorbell. Then again. And again.

“Fuck off!” Kurosaki yells from the inside. Grimmjow wonders what gave him away. Keeping his finger on the button too long? Or does no one ever visit Kurosaki?

“I can do this all day,” Grimmjow says in a slightly louder tone, then rings the doorbell again. Keeps his finger there for a good half a minute. Once he lets go, he says, “’don’t think your neighbors are going to enjoy this.”

This time, he’s only been ringing the doorbell for around ten seconds when the door is pulled open. Kurosaki is already glaring. Grimmjow smirks at him.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

“So much aggression,” Grimmjow can’t help but to rib him. Even knowing this isn’t going to go anywhere, there’s still something about Kurosaki that just makes me want to… prod.

Kurosaki clenches his jaw, then forces himself to relax. “Seriously, why are you here? Again. And how do you even have a gigai?”

Grimmjow replies to the last question first, “Urahara.” Doesn’t pay attention to the way Kurosaki’s face goes through several emotions at that, just shrugs and continues, “boredom. And you never answered my question last time.”

“You mean when you implied that I wanted to be dead?”

“Yeah, that one.”

Kurosaki’s body goes all tense once again. He breathes out slowly, “I’m not a toy. I’m not here for you to come and pick at me whenever you’re bored or you just want to be an asshole. I don’t owe you shit, you realize that, right? If anything, you owe me.”

Grimmjow raises a hand to grab onto Kurosaki’s neck before he’s even thought about it. Immediately, Kurosaki’s hands raise to his, but even in the gigai, Grimmjow’s the stronger one.

“Owe you?” Grimmjow narrows his eyes. “I never asked you to save my life. You were too much of a coward to kill me yourself and then you couldn’t have just stood back and watched someone do it.”

“It… wasn’t…” Kurosaki can barely speak. Grimmjow keeps glaring at him for a couple more seconds before he lets go just as quick as he first grabbed him.

Kurosaki bends down at the knees, one hand on his neck, massaging it. But when he glares up at Grimmjow, he doesn’t look scared. Just angry. Hateful, maybe.

“It wasn’t what?”

“It wasn’t right,” Kurosaki says, voice low, raspy.

Grimmjow makes a face at that. He doesn’t even know what the hell to say to that. “Fucking hell, Kurosaki, you’re just… fucking perfect, huh?”

Kurosaki lets out a laugh, but is quick to stop it, throat probably hurting too much for it. “Definitely not.”

Eventually, Kurosaki straightens up. They stare at each other for a good minute in silence. Then, Grimmjow asks, “do you want me to kill you?”

“What? No!”

“I don’t mean it hypothetically. I mean, for real. Do you want to die?”

“If I wanted to be dead, I would be.”

“Nah, I don’t think you would. You wouldn’t want to do that to your family and friends, right? That would hurt them too much. I can kill you, though.”

“I may not be a Shinigami anymore, but I can’t imagine Soul Society would take with kind eyes me being murdered by an Arrancar.”

Grimmjow raises an eyebrow, “you think I can’t make it look like someone else did it?”

Kurosaki blinks, “then the kill wouldn’t be yours.”

Grimmjow barks a laugh, “don’t you get it, Kurosaki? You wouldn’t be a real kill. You’re weak. There’s no fight to be had. I’d be putting you out of your misery.”

Kurosaki glares, “you need to leave.”

Grimmjow shrugs, “alright, suit yourself. Don’t forget my offer, though.”

Kurosaki doesn’t bother replying, just closes the door.

.

Grimmjow almost goes back to Hueco Mundo. But the situation hasn’t changed: there is still nothing for him there.

But just being at Urahara’s is boring. He walks around, sometimes in the gigai, sometimes in his real form. Humans. So weak, so… weird. Grimmjow learns quickly that if he walks too long behind someone in the gigai, especially a woman, they’ll be scared, so he stops that, even though his plan was never to hurt them. He’s just… he doesn’t get them.

Hell, he doesn’t get Kurosaki. Why is life worth so much? Why are the lives of others worth so much?

Grimmjow doesn’t miss Aizen; he was an asshole and good riddance to him. But he does miss the… the structure of it all. He had a place, a role, and he knew what was expected of him, just as he knew what he had to do to have more power.

None of that matters anymore. And while it’s obvious some humans do care about power – if in a different way; why the hell does money matter so much? –, a lot of them just… don’t. They go about their lives every day. Eat, work, sleep, be with people, have sex, watch movies, go out… Just this endless cycle. And Grimmjow does see a lot of people who the minute they’re alone, it’s like a mask falls off; they seem tired. But he sees them continue on. And he also sees the ones who look genuinely happy, and for the stupidest, smallest things. Like the girl and boy, around Ururu’s and Jinta’s age, who blush and giggle as they hold hands. The mother who kisses her kid before dropping them off at school.

Grimmjow watches.

And then he goes back to Kurosaki. He’s nice enough to ring the doorbell, just once, and only for a second. He waits. After half a minute, he rings the doorbell again.

“I’m coming!” Kurosaki’s voice comes from the inside and then the door is being opened. The polite look on his face immediately turns to apprehension. “You’re back.”

“We didn’t finish our talk,” Grimmjow says and takes a step forward. Kurosaki tries to close the door on his face, but Grimmjow laughs and forces his way inside.

“Get out,” Kurosaki says as Grimmjow’s inside. He turns around to him, and instead is nice enough to take off his shoes. With a jaw so clenched Grimmjow’s sure he’ll break a tooth, Kurosaki closes the door.

He crosses his arms; Grimmjow sits on the sofa. He doesn’t much like being looked down on but Kurosaki isn’t any type of threat. He lets himself fall so the end of his back isn’t touching the back of the sofa, legs wide apart, one arm on the back of the sofa.

“Make yourself at home, why don’t you,” Kurosaki says, rolling his eyes. Grimmjow smiles at him, teeth on display and at least Urahara got that right.

“I will.”

Kurosaki sighs, uncrosses his arms, but only to bring a hand up to his face, squeezing the skin between his eyes.

“Can we just… not do this? I don’t know why you’re obsessed with me but you need to stop and leave me alone.”

Grimmjow moves his arm so that his elbows are on his knees, face turned to Kurosaki. “That really what you want?” Before Kurosaki can answer, he continues, “I’m the closest you’ve gotten to your former life in years, aren’t I?”

Kurosaki’s words come out almost bitten off, “and what makes you think I want a remainder of that?”

Ah. Hurt.

“Hurt too much to think about what you don’t have anymore?”

“You’re such a fucking asshole.” Kurosaki takes a deep breath, “but fine, you wanna hear this? Then I’ll tell you. Yeah, it does hurt. I haven’t seen my friends in years, I have no fucking idea what’s going on and I’m just expected to… to… keep going with my life. Like I didn’t spend months living with one foot on the world of the dead. It’s bullshit.”

Kurosaki’s eyes are intense as they don’t stray from Grimmjow’s. “But it is my life. Regardless of whether you think it’s a good one or not, worth living or not, it is mine. And I do like it. You want more honesty? You’re right, I didn’t always, not after… not after losing my powers. I felt… I wasn’t sad, I was just…” he lets out a breath, “there was nothing for me to do.” He swallows, “but I moved on. And some days are still hard, and not every day is a fucking… sea of flowers, but it is my life. You’re not going to ruin it just because you’re bored.”

Grimmjow stares for a couple seconds. Then he goes back to his relaxed position. “Alright.”

“Alright?” Kurosaki’s frowning and while a fight would be much better than this, messing with Kurosaki is still pretty fun.

“It’s your life. I won’t ruin it.”

Kurosaki narrows his eyes, “and I’m just supposed to trust you?”

Grimmjow barks a laugh, “it’s got nothing to do with trust. You ain’t worth the fight anymore, Kurosaki. So I don’t give a shit about killing you.”

“But you’re bored.”

“But I’m bored.”

Kurosaki clenches his jaw; Grimmjow is nice enough to let him go through his thoughts in silence.

“Stay away from my family,” Kurosaki starts with. Grimmjow nods; he has no desire to be any closer to the kids, the ex-Shinigami or the other weirdo. Kurosaki lets out a breath, “you’re serious? I’m not going to wake up with a sword on my chest?”

“You wouldn’t wake up from that, dipshit.”

Kurosaki rolls his eyes, makes an aggravated sound. Yeah, Grimmjow can definitely live with this.

“You know what I mean, asshole. You’re not going to kill me?”

“Not unless you ask. Nicely.”

Kurosaki rolls his eyes again, but Grimmjow sees the way his lips are twitching. Of course the guy would have some dark sense of humor.

“Fine. But I’m not changing my life for you.”

Grimmjow shrugs, doesn’t really care.

“And call me Ichigo.”

Grimmjow frowns. “Why?”

Ichigo looks incredibly unimpressed with him. “Because it’s my name.”

“Ichigo,” Grimmjow lets out the name, slowly. It’s… softer than Kurosaki. Fits the human he is now. A good distinction to have. Grimmjow nods, “alright, I’ll call you Ichigo.”

Kurosaki – Ichigo – smiles and then he actually offers up his hand. “Nice to meet you, Grimmjow.”

Grimmjow knows the action isn’t even popular in this part of the world, but he still takes the offered hand, is nice enough to not break Ichigo’s. They shake, though he doesn’t bother saying it’s nice to meet him either; it isn’t and it wasn’t.

“Now, I’m going back to study. Do whatever you want. Just don’t break anything.”

Ichigo sits down almost in front of Grimmjow, back to him as he starts going through the books and notebooks he has on top of the kitchen table. Grimmjow’s first instinct is to tell him how dumb he is; you don’t show your back to an enemy.

But they aren’t enemies anymore, are there? And it’s not like Ichigo could do anything against him, anyway.

So he closes his eyes. Doesn’t sleep, of course, but he does… rest.

The sound of writing, pages being leafed, it isn’t bad.

.

The next time Grimmjow goes to visit Ichigo, he doesn’t bother ringing the doorbell. Instead, he just lockpicks the door – like he said, he doesn’t hate the kids and they do teach him cool tricks.

“What the fuck!” Ichigo exclaims as Grimmjow opens the door. He’s standing in the middle of the living room… book in his hand?

Grimmjow raises an eyebrow, “were you going to use that as a weapon?”

“I can still do it,” Ichigo says and Grimmjow barks a laugh. He’s got spunk even being this weak.

“Sure, go ahead,” Grimmjow walks inside, closes the door behind him, and after taking off his shoes, stands with arms extended sideways. “Give me your best shot.”

Ichigo glares. Then he puts down the book on the coffee table.

“What are you doing here?”

Grimmjow shrugs, gives the same old answer: “I’m bored.”

Ichigo lets out a breath from his nose, noisily, “so you come annoy me.”

“Yeah,” Grimmjow replies and Ichigo glares, puts his hands on his waist.

“You know I don’t have to deal with this, right?”

“This?” Grimmjow raises an eyebrow, “non-human beings?”

Ichigo clenches his jaw. Grimmjow’s never been the best at mind games – though fuck knows he’s been in the receiving end of his fair share – but there’s just something about Ichigo that makes him what to get under his skin. Even if this is all they can do.

“You, specifically.”

Grimmjow shrugs; what, was that supposed to have hurt his feelings?

Ichigo sighs, “so you’re bored and you want me to… what? Show you the human world?”

Grimmjow raises an eyebrow, “not like you’re good for anything else, is it?”

Ichigo clenches his jaw. Grimmjow almost regrets his words.

Then Ichigo gives this bitter bark of laugh. “Guess you’re not wrong.”

He sits on the sofa and Grimmjow goes to sit next to him, enough space between them not to accidentally touch each. Grimmjow will stab him if he gets in his space, consequences be damned.

Ichigo leans his head on the back of the sofa, eyes turned skyward as he speaks.

“I don’t think I’m that good at being human.”

Grimmjow doesn’t frown, but it’s close. What the hell does that mean?

“The fuck does that matter?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

Grimmjow huffs from his nose. He’s the one to grab Ichigo’s arm, shake him until he has his attention. Ichigo glares at him, but he does look him in the eyes.

“What the fuck does it matter if you’re good at something or not? You just keep doing it. If you stop… you die.”

Ichigo blinks. His face goes kind of soft. “That’s not really how being human works.”

“Yeah?” Grimmjow narrows his eyes, “isn’t that what you’ve been doing these past few years?”

“What?” The softness disappears as fast as it came. Ichigo pulls his arm back. Grimmjow’s nice enough to let it go so he doesn’t dislocate it.

“You’re dying. And I don’t just mean in the mortal way. I mean… The fuck is this life? You’re right, I’m not human, but even I can see you’re…” Grimmjow pauses, looking for the word. He sticks a finger against Ichigo’s chest. “You’re not fully here. After you… saved me,” he spits out the words, “and left me in the desert, I wasn’t either. I was healing. You’re not.”

Ichigo clenches his jaw. Then he gets up, “I think you should leave.”

“What? Your friends too chicken shit to tell the truth to your face?”

“Leave. Now.”

There isn’t actually anything Ichigo can do to make Grimmjow leave his place and both of them know it. Still, Grimmjow gets up.

He doesn’t bother to say anything as he leaves.

.

“Grimmjow-san,” Urahara says in his annoying sing-song tone, face half hidden behind that fucking fan. Grimmjow’s broken three, hidden five, and still, there’s always a new one. Or maybe it’s the same one and it’s magical. Who the hell knows with this weirdo. He and Szayel would probably get along quite well.

“I have a present for you.”

Grimmjow glares at him from where he’s lying on the futon, arms bent behind his head. “You think I trust anything you give me?”

“You wound me, Grimmjow-san,” Urahara puts a hand on his chest.

“Good.”

Urahara shakes his head, like he’s disappointed in Grimmjow. As if he cares.

It’s been three days since he last saw Ichigo and the events keep replaying in his mind. He’s already destroyed a good portion of Urahara’s bunker but no one wants to spar him. He’s fucking bored.

“This is a cell phone,” Urahara shows him a device. “You can use it to call people. And text. Well, nowadays it’s like a tiny computer, really.” Urahara smiles, suddenly looks younger, fan no longer hiding his face, “it’s truly remarkable what the humans have achieved in such a short amount of time.”

“Sure.”

“May I teach you how to use it?”

Grimmjow squints his eyes at him. Who the hell is he going to be calling? Or calling him. But he doesn’t like being in the dark either.

So he nods and Urahara comes closer, teaches him the basics of making a call, accepting one, sending texts, then shows him the applications store, though all he puts on Grimmjow’s phone is sudoku. What the hell that means, Grimmjow has no idea.

“The numbers of everyone on the household is there. I’m working on a prototype for it to work in Hueco Mundo as well,” a pause. “Kurosaki Ichigo’s number is also there.”

Grimmjow doesn’t say anything to that. But when he looks up at Urahara, he has a serious look on his face.

“If you do anything to hurt Kurosaki-san, I will kill you.”

Grimmjow is a bit surprised by the threat. But all he does is smile, makes sure his canines are displayed. “I’d like to see you try.”

“You wouldn’t. Kurosaki-san has been through enough. He doesn’t need you messing his life.”

“Like Soul Society has?” Grimmjow shoots back and Urahara clenches his jaw. Then he raises his fan, hides the bottom half of his face.

“Don’t forget my words, Grimmjow-san.”

He leaves the bedroom without another word. Grimmjow picks up his phone. He almost starts a text to Ichigo, but what is he going to say? He’s not fucking apologizing; he was right and they both know it. Just like Urahara knows. He wants to keep Ichigo in his safe little bubble because he feels guilty.

Grimmjow’s used to not being particularly noticed and he sees more than they think.

Instead, he opens up the sudoku app.

.

It’s another two days before Grimmjow ends up back outside Ichigo’s door. This time, he’s nice enough to actually ring the doorbell.

He has to do it twice more before Ichigo is opening the door.

“You. Again,” Ichigo’s already clenching his jaw. Good to know he hasn’t lost his charms.

Grimmjow smirks, “me. Again.”

Ichigo sighs, “you really aren’t going to leave me alone, are you?”

Grimmjow raises an eyebrow, “that really what you want?”

Ichigo seems to chew on his words. He sighs, “just… keep to yourself what you think of my life choices, alright?”

“Sure.”

Ichigo sighs again. Then he moves sideways so that Grimmjow can enter, closes the door behind him.

“I need to study. You can just… sit. Pick up a book if you want, just… don’t make too much noise.”

Grimmjow rolls his eyes. Still, after taking off his shoes, he goes to Ichigo’s bookshelf. The only books Grimmjow has ever seen are Aizen’s. The only things he has ever read are those he told him to.

He clenches his jaw. Takes a random one – Please look after mom. Mom. One of those human words that Grimmjow’s heard saying hundreds of times since he’s first come, in a lot of different tones but always… it’s not like most other words, where the tone makes the meaning. The actual word has a meaning by itself.

He turns the book around, reads the text in the back of the book. It doesn’t really say much more than it is about an old woman who disappeared in the streets of Seoul – a human place, Grimmjow doesn’t know where it is – and the way his family worries over her.

That’s what humans do. Worry about each other. When they’re there, when they’re gone.

Grimmjow puts the book back in its space. Grabs a different one – Battle Royale. This one doesn’t seem so bad; it’s about a group of high school students who are taken to a deserted island to fight to the death until only one is left standing. Grimmjow puts that one on the sofa’s cushion as he grabs a different one.

The Idiot, about some man in the corrupt world of Russia. What the hell is Russia?

Grimmjow puts it back, takes out The Picture of Dorian Gray, about… a guy who exchanges his soul for eternal youth and beauty? Grimmjow puts it on top of Battle Royale.

“We should go to a bookstore,” Ichigo’s voice suddenly cuts to the silence. Grimmjow isn’t surprised, he just turns to him. “Or a library. There’re hundreds of books there.”

“You can’t read them all.”

Ichigo laughs, “yeah, no, that would be impossible. Lots haven’t even been translated.”

“Translated?”

“Yeah, from different languages. You know, different countries have different languages. We’re in Japan, we’re Japanese, at least I am, we speak Japanese. Not that you have to be a specific nationality to live in a place, or even speak that language. There are more popular languages than others. I think English is the most spoken language in the world. Or Mandarin.”

“English?”

“Do you understand me?” Ichigo asks in a different language and Grimmjow nods. “You speak Spanish as well, right?”

“Spanish?”

“Yeah, like… the words you use. Espada, Fráccion, Sonido…” They don’t sound right from Ichigo’s voice. Unfamiliar. “Ok, give me a second.”

Ichigo grabs his phone. After a few clicks, music starts coming from it.

Grimmjow doesn’t know what he’s supposed to get from it. It takes over half a minute for a male voice to start singing.

Te gusta ver desde las alturas/¿Cuál es tu pena? El tiempo lo cura/Tengo la piel de la aceituna

(You like to watch from the heights/What is your sorrow? Time heals it/I got the skin of an olive)

“You understand it, right?”

“Obviously,” Grimmjow says.

“I don’t.”

Grimmjow snorts, “I’m sure there’s a lot you don’t understand.”

Ichigo rolls his eyes, “you’re such an asshole. The point is, there are different languages and we have to learn them to know it.”

“You can’t know them all, right?” Grimmjow doesn’t think he knows any more than these three, even though he doesn’t know where le learnt them. He thinks Spanish may have come first, but he can’t be sure.

Ichigo rolls, “definitely not.”

The song keeps playing.

¿Quién te cantará?/Desde las alturas veo todo, claridad/Santa tú me guarda' y es frenético el compás

(Who will sing to you?/From the heights I see everything, clarity/Saint, you keep me and the beat is frantic)

Grimmjow’s never heard Spanish singing. He’s never heard much singing, really. It’s another of those things that he simply knows exists, just like he knows how to speak three different languages.

“Do you like it?” Ichigo asks.

“What?”

“The music.”

No, is Grimmjow’s first answer. Because Grimmjow does not like things. Not ones that don’t involve fighting and blood and climbing the ranks and making sure you’re the most powerful and never stopping and always wanting more, more, more.

Maybe this could be something you want more of, a voice says inside his mind which he immediately steps on. The human world is not going to make him soft.

Grimmjow can say no. He can also figure out how Ichigo got music playing from his phone – he has one now, after all. He can also say yes.

Instead of pushing, Ichigo just places the phone on the coffee table. Another song in Spanish is playing, still the same male voice. Grimmjow goes to sit on the sofa, doesn’t pick up a book. Instead, he leans back on it, closes his eyes. Listens.

Y has quemado la ciudad/Mamacita, dame alas/Que me quiero ir a volar, ah ah

En las cuevas de Cañar/La vida es tan bonita/Que parece de verdad

(And you have burnt the city/Mommy, give me wings/Because I want to go flying, ah ah

In the caves of Cañar/Life is so beautiful/It appears to be real)

.

Ichigo doesn’t even jump as Grimmjow unlocks his door. Instead, he just sighs. “You’re back.”

Grimmjow doesn’t let the lack of a welcoming tone bother him. Unluckily for Ichigo, it turns out he’s the most interesting thing in this world, even without his Shinigami powers. And Grimmjow gets to keep annoying him. A win-win situation.

“I’m bored. Entertain me.”

“You’re such a piece of work. Isn’t there anything for you to do in Hueco Mundo?”

“Nah. Peace is boring.”

Ichigo’s jaw clenches at that and Grimmjow wonders what bothers him more: Grimmjow’s words themselves or the reminder that Ichigo no longer has anything to do with what goes on around Hueco Mundo, or Soul Society. He doesn’t ask either; doesn’t much care for the answer.

“I need to study.”

“For what?” Grimmjow sits down behind Ichigo, on the sofa, since he’s back to kneeling on the ground with a big book open, notebook filled with his tiny handwriting.

“Seriously, do you think I just… what, do nothing in my apartment all day? Why do you even think I live here and not at home?”

Grimmjow shrugs; why the hell does he care why Ichigo doesn’t live with his family anymore? “Isn’t that what humans do? Grow up and leave home?”

Grimmjow’s learning that not everything he sees on TV necessitates it being actual human reality, but he’s seen that enough times to be pretty sure that is important for humans.

“Yeah, exactly. I’m a medicine student.”

“Medicine,” Grimmjow repeats. He’s heard the word before, or a similar enough one. “To do what?” He doesn’t know why he’s asking; he doesn’t care if Ichigo sleeps around all day or “studies”.

“Become a doctor. Save lives. Well, depends on the specialty. I have years before I have to make that choice. My dad’s a doctor too.”

“That why you want to do it?” Seriously, Grimmjow is not a chatty person, why is he asking so many questions?

Ichigo nods, “yeah, I spent a lot of time helping him as a kid.”

“Then why do you need to study now?” Humans make no sense.

Ichigo laughs, “I wasn’t actually a doctor. I just did the simply things he told me to.”

“How many years is it?” Now Grimmjow is kind of curious. Don’t humans study when they’re children too? And then they just keep doing it? For a job?

“Six in total. I’m on my third.”

Grimmjow lets his head fall on the back of the sofa. Now that he’s heard everything he wanted to, he doesn’t much care about the conversation anymore.

Ichigo doesn’t continue either and soon enough Grimmjow can hear him flipping pages, writing on the notebook. The sounds are kind of relaxing. Grimmjow doesn’t let himself fall asleep, but he does go into a sort of daze, where he gets to rest up a bit, but still be alert.

When he opens his eyes again, Ichigo is no longer in front of him. Grimmjow gets up, stretches, yawns, rubs at his stomach, is still getting used to his hand not going straight through it, then goes to the kitchen, where noises are coming from.

“I’m making pasta. You want any?”

Pasta. Grimmjow doesn’t know what it is. Might be awful. Might be good.

“Yeah, alright.”

Grimmjow goes to sit at the kitchen table, looks around himself. He’s been here before, but it’s… he doesn’t know. Domestic, or something. He squeezes his hands into fists, even as he doesn’t know why he’s irritated.

But Ichigo’s just listening to music, humming along to it as he does something around the hob. And before that, he’d been studying so he can continue his course. For what? To continue his human life.

“Don’t you miss it?” Grimmjow breaks the silence.

“Huh?” Ichigo doesn’t bother turning around.

“Being a Shinigami.”

Ichigo freezes. It takes him a couple of seconds to continue on his movements – making the pasta? Making something for it? –, but his body is still tenser than before. Grimmjow knows humans would feel regret over that, over the hurt, the bringing back buried memories. But Grimmjow isn’t human, and he likes getting under Ichigo’s skin. And, he is kind of trying to understand him. Is this powerless life truly worth it?

“Of course,” Ichigo turns to Grimmjow, elbows bent behind him as he keeps his palms by the counter, careful not to touch anything hot. Easily breakable. “But I’m not going back to being one.”

“Yeah? If you really wanted it, you wouldn’t give up so easily.”

Ichigo clenches his jaw, breathes noisily through his nose. “It wasn’t about giving up, it was about moving on. I…” he takes a deep breath, Grimmjow witnessing in real time as he forces his body to relax. “It took me a while to actually want to continue on with my life. To wake up and not immediately think ugh, another day. I worked hard for that, I pulled myself up, with the help of my family, friends and even a professional. And I’m here now. And I get it, okay? This isn’t your life. But it’s mine. And I like it.”

It takes Grimmjow a couple seconds, but eventually he nods. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

Grimmjow shrugs, “it’s your life.” He still doesn’t get it, but he can accept it. He’s sure as fuck not going to be looking at ways for Ichigo to get his Shinigami powers back if he doesn’t care about them himself.

Ichigo nods. Then he turns back to the cooking, Grimmjow simply following his movements with his eyes. It’s quiet. It’s… not bad, but not good either. (Maybe it could be, Grimmjow doesn’t know, doesn’t hate the thought, decides he won’t simply abandon this.)

Eventually, Ichigo brings the pot to the table, gets a plate for each of them alongside a glass of water.

“My sister would kill me if she saw me serving from the pot but what she doesn’t know…”

Grimmjow understood literally nothing of what he just said, so he just nods.

“Enjoy,” Ichigo says after putting down Grimmjow’s plate in front of him.

Grimmjow sniffs it. Vegetables, meat, something lighter.

He watches Ichigo eat with a fork instead of chopsticks. He twirls it around the pasta, so the strings go around it several times. Then he eats that.

Grimmjow copies the movement. And then again and again. He serves himself some more. “It’s good,” he says in between mouthfuls, “you should be a cook.”

“Oh, so you don’t know what a doctor is but you know what a cook is?” Ichigo is smiling, for some reason.

Grimmjow slurps the spaghetti – that’s the name of the pasta – noisily into his mouth. Nods, doesn’t bother to mention all the arguments he’s heard around Urahara’s about whose turn it is to cook and how none of them are actually paid to feed six people. Grimmjow wants no part in it, usually just gets dish washing duty; Ururu had taught him to use the dishwater.

“Next Saturday, come on over.”

“Why?”

“I’m borrowing my dad’s car. We’ll go to the forest.”

“Why?” Grimmjow repeats. The hell does he care about some forest?

“You’re in this world now, right? You might as well get to know it.”

Grimmjow wonders if this isn’t also about showing him the world Ichigo lives in. The one that makes it worth it getting up every day without his Shinigami powers, not wanting them back.

“Okay,” he says. Ichigo nods and they go back to eating.

.

Grimmjow’s never been inside a car. Like hell is ever telling anyone that, though. So Grimmjow opens the door to the seat by Ichigo and sits himself.

“Seatbelt.”

“Huh?” Grimmjow asks. He’s not even wearing one; humans were onto something with sweatpants and he’s taking them back to Hueco Mundo.

“Seatbelt,” Ichigo repeats, turning back to Grimmjow, who narrows his eyes. He looks at him, notices the belt that Ichigo has across his front, then turns to his left and pushes a belt until he’s clicked it on the other end.

“Safety first,” Ichigo says, which Grimmjow doesn’t comment because in an accident, only one of them would actually die.

Ichigo drives in silence, Grimmjow pretending he isn’t paying attention, but watching closely everything he does. There’s a part of him that wants to ask what it all is – the round thing that Ichigo puts both hands on when the right isn’t going to some stick between the two of them, wherever his feet keep touching to make the car go faster or slower. But Grimmjow doesn’t show ignorance. It’s a stupid damn choice and he won’t do it. His phone has internet, he’ll find out later.

Eventually, Ichigo does something with his phone that makes music come out of the car instead. It’s in Spanish, again.

Hoy creí que ya volvió/Que todo iba ya mejor/Pero fue un sueño nada más

(Today I believed she’d already come back/That everything was going to be better/But it was a dream, nothing more)

And fucking depressive Spanish.

“This isn’t a happy song,” Grimmjow says.

“Huh?” Ichigo quickly glances at him before turning back to the road.

“The song. It’s about fucking…” Grimmjow listens to the lyrics, “this guy who’s waiting for his lover, but she ain’t coming back, so he just waits around. And now he’s wondering if she ever loved him, and says that what matters is that she’ll be happy again.”

“Sounds like a love song to me,” Ichigo says and there’s something amused in his eyes.

“’Thought love was supposed to be happy,” Grimmjow says, crosses his arms. He doesn’t know why he’s even bothered, but the thing is, the man’s voice really doesn’t even sound that sad. He’s fucking heartbroken, and he’s just… hoping for the best for the woman that broke it.

Ichigo laughs again, “definitely not just happy.”

“What’s the point, then?” Grimmjow’s confused. He’s spent enough time in the human world to get that love, whatever the hell it actually is, is this big thing that apparently all humans want, that’s the biggest… achievement, or whatever. That life without it ain’t worth much.

Grimmjow’s never loved, it isn’t in his nature, but if humans are going to think so damn hard about it, then it should at least be something good, right?

“Of love?” Ichigo asks, once again eyes on Grimmjow, who nods. Ichigo’s face goes through several different emotions, like he can’t figure out which one to choose. Grimmjow doesn’t look away. “It isn’t really something that can be explained… it’s a feeling. But it’s… obviously, you don’t love everyone. And there are different types of love. I love my family, but I’m definitely not in love with them.”

“What’s the difference?” Grimmjow knows he’s showing too much of himself, but in this, he doesn’t mind it. He isn’t human, why the hell should he know or understand love?

“Well, it’s… my love for my family, my friends, it’s familial. And being in love it’s… romantic. Sexual or not,” there’s a blush on Ichigo’s cheeks, to which Grimmjow rolls his eyes. Yeah, he’s figured out humans are mostly really prudish about fucking. “I guess, in a relationship you want to… see them all the time. They brighten up your days. And eventually you want to start a life with them. I guess.”

“But it hurts?”

Ichigo lets out a breath, “it can hurt. If the other person doesn’t feel the same. If you fall out of love already in a relationship. Or just… it’s two people, or more, together. Of course there are going to be problems. It’s about finding a balance. Love requires work.”

“What kind of work?” Grimmjow frowns.

“Well, you should show someone that you love them. Depends on the other person; my family isn’t big on telling each other I love you but it’s in the gestures, you know? The way my sister Yuzu cooks, takes care of the house…”

Grimmjow is still frowning; he doesn’t get it.

“And how do you fall in love?”

“Uh… it just… happens? I mean, I’ve never been in love.”

“Really?” Grimmjow doesn’t know why he’s surprised.

“No,” Ichigo’s blushing again, which Grimmjow doesn’t get. Why is this embarrassing? Should he have already experienced it at whatever age he is?

“How old are you?”

“Wh-” Ichigo lets out a laugh, “that’s a random change of topic.”

“So?”

“I’m twenty-two.”

Grimmjow actually has no idea if that’s a good age for a human or not. He knows they don’t usually live to a hundred, at least.

There’s a pause. And then Grimmjow asks, “do you want to be in love?”

Ichigo seems to almost choke in his own saliva, but Grimmjow doesn’t laugh, just waits him out.

“I… I guess. Maybe. One day. I don’t know, not right now. And it’s… difficult. I’m not normal. I mean, I am now, but I still… I still remember. And they’ve probably never dealt with anything of the sort. So there’s going to be… I won’t be fully myself.”

Grimmjow snorts, “why would you want to?”

“What? You’re the one that just-”

“I mean, why would you want to be fully yourself around someone else. Fuck, I definitely don’t want that.”

“I guess we’re different.”

Grimmjow nods; they are. The song’s changed, but it’s still the same voice.

“All his songs are depressing as fuck.”

“Fine,” Ichigo rolls his eyes and when he doesn’t have to pay so much attention to the road, he changes the music.

“Better,” Grimmjow says, hums along to the words in a low tone when they come along a second time.

Voy a reír, voy a gozar/Vivir mi vida, la la la la

(I’m gonna laugh, I’m gonna enjoy/Live my life, la la la la)

.

They make it to the forest. Ichigo stops the car, turns everything off, then gets out, grabs a backpack. Once outside, Grimmjow stretches up and down. He isn’t used to sitting in such an uncomfortable position for so long.

“Come on,” Ichigo says, beside him and Grimmjow almost wants to growl – he’ll move at his own damn pace, thank you – but instead nods, follows Ichigo.

There’s a small voice at the back of his head wondering what the hell he’s doing – riding a damn car with a human who’d die with one good punch, asking questions about love. But Grimmjow ignores that voice. Anyway, what is he supposed to do? It’s been so many years of trying to be more powerful, keeping hold of the power he already had with his claws and teeth, and now… there isn’t any of that.

Grimmjow isn’t going to turn into some damn weakling, but it’s not like he has anything better to do anyway.

He likes the forest more than the city, at least.

Smells much better. And even though the landscape is completely unfamiliar – Grimmjow’s never seen so many trees together –, something in it does still remind him of Hueco Mundo. Maybe the silence. Though here that’s broken by animals, by the wind. The quietness, then. No humans.

They go up a hill and even Grimmjow has to admit the view is pretty nice. Just green, brown, the sky above them… He keeps smelling everything; if he could, he’d take it back with him. He’s sick of smelling fucking pollution. Damn humans; can’t even take care of their own world.

“You know you’re killing this world, right?” Ichigo frowns and Grimmjow rolls his eyes. “You humans. I can smell the decay.”

“Is that all you smell?”

“Nah. Doesn’t smell like it here. Probably’s just a matter of time.”

“Probably,” Ichigo takes a deep breath, “guess that’s another reason to enjoy life as much as we can, isn’t it? Knowing it’s going to end, maybe sooner than we want.”

Grimmjow doesn’t answer. He doesn’t know what that means – enjoy life. He enjoys fighting, fucking sometimes, being left the fuck alone… Power. Somehow, he knows that’s not what Ichigo is thinking of. Love. Family. Friends. Work.

Just something else to show that Grimmjow really is just a visitor in this world. It doesn’t bother him. He’s still the strongest thing around; if that’s the price to pay for not loving, it’s a price he’s willing to pay.

“I got you something,” Ichigo suddenly says and Grimmjow turns to him. Ichigo’s squatting as he goes through his backpack. With one hand, he offers Grimmjow a book. He takes it.

Cien años de soledad. He blinks.

“The fuck’s this supposed to mean?”

“Wh-”

“A hundred years of solitude. You trying to tell me something?”

“No! It’s from a famous Colombian writer, okay? I found the book at the bookstore by my university. I don’t even know what it’s about. Remember I don’t speak Spanish.”

“Why’d you give it to me, then?” Grimmjow’s still moving the book around in his hands, reads the text on the back. The book’s apparently about a family, the Buendía-Iguarán, and their fabulous adventures.

“Sorry for trying to do something nice,” Ichigo’s back on his feet and although he does sound annoyed, he doesn’t look that angry.

Nice? Grimmjow’s first urge is to throw the book at his feet, snarl that he doesn’t need nice things. But this is what humans do. They give things to each other. Are nice. So he just rolls his eyes.

“Thanks. I guess.”

“You’re welcome,” Ichigo rolls his eyes back. Then, he drops down onto the ground, sitting cross-legged. “Read it to me.”

“You just said you don’t understand Spanish, dipshit.”

“I know,” Ichigo says in a tone like Grimmjow’s the one not making sense. “Read it anyway.”

Grimmjow stares at him for a couple seconds. And then he sits down as well, not quite in front of Ichigo, but neither on his side. Just somewhere on his line of vision. He opens the book.

“Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo.”

(Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.)

.

“Maybe it was for the best,” Ichigo suddenly speaks. Grimmjow doesn’t bother opening his eyes, just grunts to show that he’s awake and listening. “Losing my powers.”

This does make Grimmjow open his eyes. He turns to Ichigo, but he’s still leaning on the coffee table, books still open in front of him, pen in his hand, even though it’s obvious he’s no longer paying attention to any of it.

“I hurt Ishida,” Ichigo starts speaking and it’s clear he’s trying to keep emotions out of his voice. He doesn’t fully manage it, of course; Grimmjow never expected him to. “I don’t remember it. I was fighting Ulquiorra and then I was dying, and suddenly I was winning… And then he was dead and Inoue had to heal Ishida, because I stabbed him in the stomach.”

Ichigo pauses; Grimmjow can hear him swallowing. He must be feeling the way Grimmjow’s eyes are staring into the back of his head, but he still doesn’t turn to him.

“I asked them how it happened but Ishida told me it wasn’t important and Inoue… she said “please don’t ask”,” Ichigo raises a hand to his face, moves it a bit – wiping his eyes? – before lowering it again. “So maybe it was for the best that I lost my powers. If the outcome was me getting stronger and losing complete control…”

Grimmjow knows he means it, that he certainly would throw away his powers if the consequence was him hurting the people he loved. Hell, he’d throw his whole life away too, if need be.

He wonders why Ichigo is telling him these things. His first instinct is also to tell him that that’s the stupidest thing he’s ever heard; Ichigo isn’t someone who lets others control him. He didn’t kill that Ishida guy, did he? Clearly, he came back from wherever he was while fighting Ulquiorra.

But instead, he goes for his question. “Why are you telling me this?”

Ichigo finally turns to him, eyes serious, and there is, in fact, the remains of tear tracks at the sides of his eyes. “Who else am I going to tell?”

Grimmjow blinks and Ichigo smiles, kind of sad. “All my friends will just feel guilty if I tell them this. And the new ones…” Kurosaki shrugs, “they’re normal. They don’t see ghosts. They want to gossip about who’s dating who, stress about exams and what city they’ll end up working at and throw parties. And that was the point, right? I mean, that people got to be… people. Live.”

Grimmjow still doesn’t know what to say, absolutely despises the feeling. Has the urge to simply leave the gigai behind and go away, either just to wonder around or back to Hueco Mundo. Just somewhere that isn’t here, with Ichigo spilling his guts to him.

But somehow, he doesn’t. Because Ichigo is still looking sad and him leaving what would pretty much amount to a corpse behind certainly wouldn’t make it better. And he doesn’t want to make him sadder. But he also can’t figure out what to say. So he gets up, sees the disappointed look in Ichigo’s eyes, there and gone in a flash, him turning back to his books, shoulders tensing up.

Grimmjow goes to the kitchen, opens the freezer, finds what he’s looking for and after grabbing two spoons, goes back to Ichigo. He drops next to him on the floor, passes him the tube of chocolate ice cream.

“It’s what you humans eat when you’re sad, right?”

Ichigo’s eyes are wide, Grimmjow clearly having taken him by surprise. He can’t help the flash of teeth at that, not threatening, just… bemused.

“I’ll eat it by myself, then,” Grimmjow says, takes off the lid and scoops out a big spoonful.

Ichigo steals the tub from him. “You didn’t even pay for it.”

“So?” Grimmjow says, ice cream still in his mouth. It’s too cold, but it’s something he’s still not used to, so he likes to savor it.

Ichigo rolls his eyes, but he grabs the other spoon and starts eating from the tub as well.

It’s a good couple of minutes of the only sounds being the two of them eating before Ichigo speaks again, “we watch movies too.”

“Huh?”

“When we’re sad,” Ichigo isn’t looking at him, “we watch movies too.”

Grimmjow doesn’t do or say anything for a couple seconds. Then he nudges Ichigo’s side. “So? Go set it up.”

“You’re bossy,” Ichigo says but he’s clearly fighting off letting his lips turn up.

“You’re damn right I am,” is Grimmjow’s response and he nudges him again, this time with more strength, enough that Ichigo ends up having to put a hand on the floor to make sure he keeps his balance. He huffs, but finally gets up and goes to get his laptop.

He brings it back and puts in on the coffee table. “The movie’s called Princess Monoke. I haven’t watched it in years but I used to be obsessed with it as a kid,” Ichigo says as he sets the movie up. Grimmjow just grunts; at least he’s not being morose anymore.

Ichigo presses play, then sits down next to Grimmjow, who still has the melting tub of ice cream on his lap. Ichigo moves to take a spoonful of it and Grimmjow almost snarls at the sudden proximity, but then he smells his hair – fucking strawberry – and doesn’t.

It doesn’t take long for Grimmjow to get involved in the movie. Before this, the only animation he’d seen is a show that Urahara’s brats watch, about a robot cat whose ears were eaten by a mouse robot and cried so hard his yellow paint got rubbed off to become blue. Oh yeah, and he has a magic fucking pouch. And the Shinigami think Hollows are fucked up.

Ashitaka is clearly Ichigo, with the way he keeps putting his life on the line for complete strangers. The way he puts himself in front of the wolf princess to save her from the villagers reminds Grimmjow of when Ichigo stopped Nnoitra from killing him.

Then Ashitaka’s arm starts acting by itself, wanting to murder people, and Grimmjow turns to Ichigo, wonders if it reminds him of the Hollow inside himself (it can’t be there anymore, right?), but Ichigo is simply leaned back on the sofa, relaxingly watching the movie, fingers interlaced on top of his stomach.

He turns back to the screen, snorts when the princess says “I smell like a human” in a disgusting tone because yeah, he still remembers smelling the Shinigami and how off the whole thing was.

For the first time in forever, Grimmjow is reminded of his fráccion, in the way the smaller wolves act. The big one reminds him of Harribel, though he can’t figure out why; sure as fuck isn’t her maternal instincts. Maybe just the way she’s quiet, yet powerful.

The wolf princess reminds Grimmjow of Starrk and Lilynette, the way she doesn’t really belong to either race. It reminds him of the first few times Starrk approached him, like he was looking for some type of comradery. It hadn’t taken him long to stop that.

When the movie ends, Grimmjow doesn’t feel better. Not that he was feeling bad to start with, but he doesn’t get why Ichigo chose this movie to make himself feel better.

“It’s just going to happen again,” Grimmjow says as the credits are still rolling; at least the songs were good.

“Huh?” Ichigo turns to him and somehow, he actually does look more relaxed. For some reason, it pisses Grimmjow off. It’s not a happy movie.

“The humans are just going to do it again,” he snorts, “sure, right now they’re promising to be better, but they’ll always want more. Isn’t that what the creepy guy said? Everyone wants everything?”

Ichigo is staring at him, then he kind of laughs. Grimmjow wants to punch him. “I guess you’re right. Maybe Eboshi-gozen does eventually just go after the forest again. But maybe she doesn’t. Isn’t that the whole point? You don’t know how things will go if you don’t try. And if you try… maybe they’ll be better.”

Grimmjow looks away, huffs. Then back to him, “you’d be eaten in five seconds in Hueco Mundo.”

Ichigo laughs, this time fully amused. “You know, I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Grimmjow rolls his eyes, “you would.”

“Anyway, that’s not why I like this movie. I like it because… Ashitaka is good. He could so easily choose a side, or even just ignore both. But he doesn’t. He just tries to help.”

“Yeah, and because it’s a movie, he gets the curse taken off. Real life doesn’t work like that, right?” Grimmjow asks and Ichigo’s eyes widen slightly before he looks away, back to the computer, the screen now dark.

Ichigo takes a deep breath, then turns back to Grimmjow. The smile on his face looks kind of bittersweet. “I guess not. But it’s like the bandaged guy said. You still find reasons to keep living.”

This time, it’s Grimmjow who looks away.

“Put some Doraemon on.”

“What?” When Grimmjow turns back to him, Kurosaki has his eyebrows raised.

“You got some problem with Doraemon?”

“No, it’s just… it’s for kids. I guess Jinta and Ururu were the ones to introduce you to it.”

Grimmjow raises an eyebrow, “didn’t you just say you used to watch this movie as a kid?”

There’s a pause. Then, “yeah, alright, you got me there. But this time I’m getting popcorn.”

Ichigo gets up, to the kitchen. When he comes back five minutes later with a bowl filled with weird little yellow-ish things, he puts it on Grimmjow’s lap as he goes to find a random Doraemon episode for them to watch.

Grimmjow doesn’t pass him the bowl back as he sits down, has to deal with him leaning towards instead.

.

(There are things Grimmjow now knows about Ichigo. Like he’s obsessed with an Icelandic band called Of Monsters and Men, though they sing in English, which at first seem like pretty happy songs, fast rhythm, easy melody to follow until Grimmjow pays more attention and notices how the songs are actually more bitter than expected.

There’s one, especially, that starts fast and strong that Ichigo will just move his head to the rhythm until suddenly a pause will come and the words come slow and then he’ll pause, listen attentively to “But I'm okay in see-through skin/I forgive what is within/'Cause I'm in this house/I'm in this home/All my time” even though by this point he must know them by heart.)

.

“Have you ever gone to the ocean?”

Grimmjow blinks, caught off guard by the question. “Huh?” He asks, frowning. Ichigo is looking attentively at him.

“The ocean, have you ever been?”

“The fuck is it to you?” Grimmjow asks because he hates when Ichigo asks him these types of questions. There’s always a certain tone to it, like Grimmjow’s life is somehow lacking for not having done all the boring human experiences.

“I was just wondering if you’d ever put your feet in it.”

Grimmjow blinks again, “why my feet?”

Ichigo shrugs, “it’s winter so it’ll be too cold to swim in it.”

“You think I can’t handle cold water?” Grimmjow asks, dangerous tone in his voice but Ichigo just rolls his eyes.

“Not everything is a challenge.”

Fuck yeah, it is, Grimmjow thinks but doesn’t actually say because he’s known Ichigo long enough and said enough of these comments around him to know that he’ll look at him with that soft fucking look in his face, like what Grimmjow is saying is somehow… Sad. Or some shit like that.

“So, have you?” Ichigo is still looking with glinting eyes at him and, like usual, Grimmjow has this urge to say something to rip it away. He knows saying I can get out of this gigai and go there right now would do the trick but it’s an urge that’s quickly squashed.

“No,” he finally says, gets ready to add why the fuck would I? but Ichigo beats him to it.

“Wanna go?”

Grimmjow blinks, “now?”

Ichigo blinks, “yeah, Moriya beach isn’t that far. A couple hours by train.”

Grimmjow almost scoffs, because he’s seen trains and like hell is he spending two hours trapped in a tiny metal container. But it’s not like Ichigo can get there any other way. He can’t go through a garganta and one jump with sonido will definitely leave Ichigo’s skin behind.

“We don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Ichigo has started to say, eyes no longer with that glint and Grimmjow hates the way that makes him feel, when he fucking thought about putting that light out just some minutes ago.

“We’ll go,” he says and Ichigo immediately smiles and Grimmjow wants to tell him to stop being so easy to please, so fucking soft, but for some fucking reason he stays quiet.

“Ok!” Ichigo gets up. “Let me just see when the next train is.”

Around twenty minutes later and they’re finally leaving the house to get a bus to get to the train station, tickets already purchased. Grimmjow wants to claw his eyes out from how fucking slow everything is moving around him, but Ichigo has this content look in his face and his side’s warm against Grimmjow’s.

Grimmjow will never say it to anyone but when he gets to the beach… He’s kind of amazed. It’s not like he isn’t aware the living world is made of more water than land, but it was never something that he actually had to think about so he never did.

But now he is. Because looking straight ahead, there’s nothing except water as far as the eye can see and Grimmjow’s eyes can see pretty damn fair.

He suddenly remembers he’s not alone, clenches his jaw as he looks sideways to Ichigo, who he’s sure is going to be silently laughing at him, at the stupid look he must have been sporting the past few minutes. But Ichigo is still just looking soft, staring at Grimmjow, not the ocean.

Grimmjow turns back to it, then starts walking towards it.

“Wait!” Ichigo jogs after him, “you have to take your boots off.”

Grimmjow looks down at the sand beneath his feet, slightly darker than the dust that covers Hueco Mundo. But he knows immediately it’ll feel different beneath his bare feet; these aren’t billions of hollow bones trampled so often they’ve completely turned to sand.

Grimmjow takes off his boots, Ichigo doing the same to his sneakers next to him. Then he copies him as he rolls up his pants almost until his knees. Grimmjow doesn’t wait for him, though, before he starts walking towards the ocean.

It’s cold. Colder than he expected. Fuck, it might just be the coldest thing to have ever touched his feet.

Grimmjow stays there until it feels like there are tiny needles coming down on his skin over and over again. Then he turns to go back to the sand, finds Ichigo just at the edge of the water, his toes only getting fully covered as small waves reach them.

Ichigo sends him a small smile as he approaches and Grimmjow clenches his hands into fists once before relaxing. For a second there, he felt like raising them and… he doesn’t even know.

“What do you think?” Ichigo sounds expectant, like it actually matters. Like he’ll be disappointed if Grimmjow didn’t enjoy. But Grimmjow wasn’t made for soft whispers, so he shrugs.

“It’s alright.”

Somehow, that doesn’t actually make Ichigo look like someone killed his puppy (human sayings are fucked up, Grimmjow is learning), instead he still looks satisfied. Like he knows that Grimmjow’s it’s alright is more than that.

“Ok, there’s something I always like to do on the beach,” Ichigo turns his back to him and walks a few feet closer to their shoes, but he stops before he can pick them up. Then he turns to Grimmjow, raises his arms and then… twists sideways. Grimmjow tilts his head.

“Do it again.”

Ichigo laughs, and does. First his left hand touches the sand, immediately followed by the right and then his feet leave the ground, before they’re touching again and he’s standing up.

“It’s called a cartwheel.”

“What’s the point?”

“There’s no point. It’s just fun. Well, and it’s part of gymnastics, but I don’t do that.”

Gymnastics, Grimmjow repeats the word inside his head, makes a mental note to somehow find out what that is later.

“Wanna try?”

Grimmjow wants to tell Ichigo to fuck off, because if there’s no point to it, why the hell would he learn to do it? And if he actually can’t do it right away, he’ll have to kill Ichigo.

“It’s easy,” Ichigo starts, not even waiting for a reply and then he’s standing next to Grimmjow, but just slightly in front of him. "You just go sideways and then kind of throw your legs up in the air. Ok, I don’t think I’m explaining it that well. Just try it.”

Grimmjow glares at him but for some fucking reason, actually does try it. He doesn’t end up eating sand, but he’s also pretty sure his feet don’t go up in the air as much as Ichigo’s. So he immediately does a second cartwheel. And then another.

By the time he’s finally satisfied and stops, he’s a good distance away from Ichigo. So he cartwheels his way back to him.

“Ok, I’ve never been very good at this, but I have a feeling you will,” Ichigo says once he’s standing next to him again and then he raises his hands once more, but this time throws them in front of him and once they’re touching the sand, his feet go in the air too. But they just stand for a couple seconds, and then they’re going back down to where they first were. “It’s called a handstand.”

Grimmjow doesn’t reply before he’s copying him. Because he’s not some weakling, he actually manages to stay with his legs hanging in the air for a while, then kind of moves them around, first slightly forward, then sideways.

When he’s standing back upright, Ichigo smiles at him, “I knew you’d be good at that.”

“Obviously,” Grimmjow rolls his eyes.

Ichigo turns to look down at their shoes, then turns back to Grimmjow, a challenging look in his eyes. Then he takes off back to the ocean.

“Oi!” Grimmjow calls after him, immediately taking off and, of course, getting his feet in the water before him. He turns smugly to Ichigo who, once he’s just a couple feet away from him, kicks water at him, which barely reach his chest. Still, Grimmjow can’t let that stand but because he’ll be damned if he does things halfway, he bends down so that he can use both hands to throw water at Ichigo, getting him nicely wet.

Grimmjow loses track of time, this time not leaving the water even when it gets uncomfortably cold. It’s only when Ichigo is squinting his eyes at him, seeing him worse from the slowly darkening sky, that he finally leaves, Ichigo following him.

He takes off a small towel from the backpack he brought with him and passes it to Grimmjow, taking another for him and then starting to wipe his feet with it. Grimmjow does the same, then they both put their shoes on.

When he passes him the towel, Grimmjow is almost sure Ichigo can just see him as an outline in front of him. But to him, his contentment is clear as day.

“Thank you for coming with me,” Ichigo says and Grimmjow snorts, isn’t even entirely sure why, probably more instinct than anything else since it isn’t like being thanked honestly is something that’s happened a lot to him. And he doesn’t get why Ichigo is thanking him, anyway. If anything, it should probably be him doing it.

But that sure isn’t Grimmjow so what he ends up saying is, “it was alright,” an echo of his words hours before. And, again, Ichigo smiles, like the words are good enough. Grimmjow suddenly has this unwanted thought that maybe it isn’t Ichigo being satisfied with little, but that coming from Grimmjow, he knows it means more than when coming from someone else.

He doesn’t know what to do with that, so he does nothing, instead starting the trek back to the train station, half a mind to take off just to get some distance from Ichigo, even though he doesn’t feel like doing it at all, which is all the more reason to go.

But he doesn’t do that, knowing Ichigo would accept it, but it would also make him feel sad.

Grimmjow spends the whole train ride thinking something along the lines of what the fuck are you doing to me, Ichigo?

.

“What if we go dancing?”

“Dancing?” Grimmjow repeats the word like he would say bicycle or apple. Words he understands in the abstract, that he knows exist and even what they mean, but not that he’s ever really experienced.

“Do you know what it is?” Ichigo says and he sounds judgmental, with a raised eyebrow, but there’s also a soft look in his eyes, like he’s thinking the exact same thing as Grimmjow.

Grimmjow huffs, “yeah, I fucking know what it is.”

“So? Wanna go?”

Ichigo looks seriously at him, and like he’s giving him his full attention. Like the choice is absolutely on Grimmjow’s hands. And yeah, Grimmjow knows Ichigo will moan and complain if he shoots down his plans, but he also knows that he’ll listen to him, that he won’t force Grimmjow to do something he doesn’t want to.

That he’ll be kind.

“Let’s go,” Grimmjow says before he can spend any more time thinking about it. Ichigo’s face breaks out on a smile and Grimmjow feels his heart skip a beat and, though he truly wishes otherwise, knows it has nothing to do with some gigai malfunction.

Ichigo gives him a once over, then shrugs, “I guess you’ll pass.”

“The fuck is that supposed to mean? You think I haven’t noticed how women do a double take every time they see me? Or men?”

There’s a flash of something in Ichigo’s eyes, but it’s gone just as fast and then he’s rolling his eyes, “they probably just can’t believe a grown ass man is walking around with blue hair.”

“I look like a rockstar,” Grimmjow says and rockstar comes out not unlike dancing but he doesn’t trip on the word. Maybe they’ll never be as familiar as killing and violence and death but maybe he can work on it.

“You want some more eyeliner, or?”

Grimmjow raises his eyebrows, “you have some?”

“Yeah, dude. Fight heteronormative patriarchy and all that.”

His eyebrows go down, into a frown. “What?”

“It means, fuck stereotypical gender roles. I can be a guy and wear makeup and paint my nails and wear skirts,” Ichigo is glaring at Grimmjow, taking him back to how things used to be years ago. But there’s no hatred there anymore, at least not directed at Grimmjow.

“You wear skirts?”

Ichigo rolls his eyes, “of course that’s where you got stuck.”

“No, seriously, I wanna see.”

Ichigo sends him a look, but then goes to his room, anyway, Grimmjow following him. He opens his closet and pulls the first shelf towards himself and then takes out a skirt, holding it by the waist and turning to show it to Grimmjow.

It’s black leather, but not tight, it’s clearly meant to flow around someone’s – Ichigo’s – legs. Maybe on someone shorter it would go until their knees, but it must stop above them by quite a few inches on Ichigo.

Grimmjow swallows, “you’d look good in it.”

Ichigo looks at him for a couple seconds, then says, resolutely, “I do.”

They stare at each other for a couple seconds after, and then Ichigo clears his throat, folds the skirt and puts it back where it belongs.

“I’ll probably get into a fight if I wear it tonight, though.”

“Is that how you get humans to fight you?” Grimmjow makes a considering face, then takes a couple steps forward, “give it to me.”

“No way, you’ll just ruin it. And sure, if you wear it, you’ll probably get some assholes bothering you, but it’s not worth killing them.”

Grimmjow smiles, makes sure to show off his canines, “says who?”

Ichigo rolls his eyes, then presses a hand to Grimmjow’s chest, pushing him away. It’s more surprise than anything that actually gets Grimmjow to take a step back to keep his balance. “Says I. Come on, let’s go before it gets too late.”

“What about the makeup?” Grimmjow asks and Ichigo gives him that assessing look again. Then he shrugs.

“You look fine.”

“Fine? I look better than fucking fine. You wish you looked this good,” Grimmjow says, but he still follows Ichigo as he grabs his wallet, phone and key and leaves the apartment, locking up after him.

.

The club is big. There are too many lights and fucking fake smoke and Grimmjow doesn’t think he’s going to last long inside.

The music is different from what he’s gotten used to as well. More repetitive, less instrumental, more… mechanical?

It doesn’t take him long to feel it inside his head, like he’s standing right by the loudspeakers. It isn’t a good feeling, but it isn’t bad either. There is a part of him that hates it, of course; it’s messing with his senses. Yet, there’s also something strangely… freeing about it.

There are more humans packed together than Grimmjow has ever seen and not one gives a shit about him or Ichigo. Well, some give them appreciative glances, especially when Ichigo starts dancing, but they’re… nobodies.

And Ichigo dances like no one’s watching. He moves his whole body to the music, and even though the moves aren’t anything special – Grimmjow sees a girl twirling another, a guy almost dropping a girl only to get her back up immediately by the waist – it’s still… different.

It’s messing with Grimmjow’s head, maybe. What is he doing here?

“Come on! Let’s get drinks!” Ichigo’s voice brings him back to the moment.

“You better not fucking poison me.”

Ichigo laughs like he said something really funny, then leads him to the bar, where it takes far too long for someone to ask for their orders, and then to actually get them. Three different shots for each. Grimmjow has no fucking idea what he’s drinking, except that it burns down his throat, stays in his stomach.

Ichigo is making faces as well, which at least makes Grimmjow laugh at him.

Then they go back to dancing.

People get in between them, but Grimmjow doesn’t lose sight of Ichigo, who stares him in the eyes until he’s closing them, moving in circles. And then he ends up in the start position, opens his eyes to look Grimmjow in his. Smiles. Like it was some test; though Grimmjow has no idea if he was testing Grimmjow still being there, or being able to easily find him, like even without his powers, there’s some unseen rope tying them together.

They keep dancing. They have a couple more drinks. Eventually, Grimmjow realizes he can’t see Ichigo anymore. He doesn’t panic about it, just starts methodically going through different rooms and eventually, he ends up in the smoking area. He can feel the cold through the gigai; not so much he can’t handle, but enough that he doesn’t particularly want to stay here.

But he easily finds Ichigo’s red head, cigarette dangling from his fingers.

“Didn’t know you smoked,” Grimmjow says once he’s close enough to be easily heard.

Ichigo’s eyes are dropping in a way Grimmjow has never seen before. It’s clear he’s had a few drinks, though he doesn’t necessarily look drunk, not like a lot of people inside. No, he just looks utterly relaxed.

Ichigo takes a drag from the cigarette before replying, “sometimes.” Ichigo blinks, “you ever try it?”

Grimmjow shakes his head. He’s seen enough humans with them to know what they are – awful smell, clearly something toxic in them – but it hasn’t been something he’s ever thought of trying.

Ichigo moves his hold on the cigarette, so that instead of it being between his index and middle finger, he’s now holding onto it with the tips of his fingers. He offers it to Grimmjow.

Grimmjow takes it slowly. He brings it to his mouth, then drags in a breath. He doesn’t start coughing, but it’s a close thing.

“Disgusting,” he says, hands the cigarette back to Ichigo, who takes another drag.

“The nicotine… it mellows you out. I guess that’s one of the reasons not to become a regular smoker; ‘don’t wanna lose that effect. That and lung cancer,” Ichigo smiles like he’s sharing a joke. Grimmjow, who only knows cancer is a deadly human disease, doesn’t say anything in response.

“You do this a lot, then?” Grimmjow takes a look around him before turning back to Ichigo, “drink and smoke to relax?”

Ichigo laughs like Grimmjow just said something hilarious. It makes him frown.

“I know there are monsters out there,” Ichigo takes a final drag from his cigarette, takes a small portable ashtray from his jacket pocket and after putting out the cigarette, drops the remains inside. From the smell, Grimmjow’s pretty sure it’s not Ichigo’s first of the night. “And I can’t do anything about it except be afraid of them.”

Ichigo sighs, turns his face skyward. “You make me feel safe,” he looks back down at Grimmjow, smiles, but it’s just bitter, nothing happy about it. “So no, I don’t drink and smoke a lot to relax. But around you… I can let go of that worry. You’re the boogeyman to the boogeymen,” Ichigo laughs again and at least this time there is an amused tinge to it. Still the bitterness, though.

Grimmjow doesn’t know what to say. His first instinct is, of course, to grab Ichigo by the throat, squeeze enough that he understands that his life is in Grimmjow’s hands. He’s never made anyone feel safe and he’s not about to start now.

But Ichigo looks tired. Behind the dropped eyelids and the pink cheeks, there’s a deep tiredness about him.

So Grimmjow doesn’t say or do anything about what Ichigo just said. “I’m going back inside,” is what he says instead. He might not be doing something to upset Ichigo just now, but the last thing he wants is for him to think Grimmjow wants to hear his laments.

“Okay,” Ichigo gets up, stumbles just a bit, grabs onto Grimmjow’s arm for support. He squeezes once before letting go. The hold doesn’t leave a mark, Grimmjow is sure, yet it feels like a brand. It’s very, very rare that someone touches Grimmjow. And without the intent of hurting?

Grimmjow turns his back on Ichigo, goes back inside, gets two new drinks for each of them.  Keeps an eye on Ichigo for the rest of the night.

.

Grimmjow has to help Ichigo up the stairs, hand on his waist, otherwise the guy would fall on his face.

He’s drunk. And even without walking like a newborn fawn, Grimmjow would know Ichigo isn’t sober because of the way he’s acted throughout the whole night. Freely.

He’d started laughing sometime after his fifth drink and pretty much hadn’t stopped since. He’d hugged strangers and complimented them and danced with whoever asked and his shoulders hadn’t looked weighted down at all.

Grimmjow had had a few drinks too but if there was one thing he knew about humans is that one shouldn’t be left completely drunk unsupervised.

It takes Ichigo several tries to get the key in the lock but eventually they’re inside. Grimmjow deposits his ass on the sofa and then bends down to take his shoes off. It’s only when he’s up that he looks at Ichigo again, whose eyes look attentively at him. But they’re still half-lidded, the alcohol clearly still surging through his veins.

Grimmjow goes to put his shoes by the rack in the entrance, then takes off his boots. He pads to the kitchen, pours some water into a glass and then goes back to Ichigo, gives him the glass, then sits down next to him, looking at him through the corner of his eye to make sure he doesn’t drop it.

Ichigo drinks the whole thing, then puts it on the coffee table. Then he leans back and closes his eyes.

Grimmjow is trying to decide whether to leave him like that or put him in bed when Ichigo suddenly gets up.

“Let’s dance!”

Grimmjow snorts, rolling his eyes for good measure, “the alcohol affecting you that badly, Ichigo? We just got back from dancing.”

“No, no,” Ichigo shakes his head. “That was out, with strangers. This is here.”

Grimmjow blinks. “You know that made zero sense, right?”

Ichigo rolls his eyes, like Grimmjow’s the one that can’t follow his thoughts. Unbelievable. Then he takes his phone from his pants and after a few clicks, puts it down as a song starts playing.

As the first sentence comes through the device – Que mis ojos se despierten/Con la luz de tu mirada (That my eyes wake up/With the light of your gaze) –, Ichigo pulls on Grimmjow’s hands, trying to get him up. Grimmjow goes more from sheer surprise than anything else.

Ichigo moves them so they have enough space to move without accidentally hitting the table. Ichigo starts moving his hips, front and back, and Grimmjow, for reasons absolutely unknown, follows his movements. Probably because with the amount of alcohol Ichigo’s drunk, it’s unlikely he’ll remember the whole night with details.

Grimmjow feels like someone’s squeezing his insides as he looks at Ichigo dancing with his eyes closed, warm hands still engulfed in his. Unlike the club, there are no flashing colorful lights moving across Kurosaki’s face, instead it’s just the light hanging from the ceiling that if Grimmjow focused, he’d hear it buzzing. And there are no other bodies to focus on. Just Ichigo.

The song ends and a different one starts, still by the same singer, still with that peppiness, the guitar strumming along. Ichigo doesn’t stop his movements, just smiles.

Grimmjow doesn’t smile back, instead he just stares. Ichigo laughs, noticing the eyes on him, but he doesn’t look mad at all. No, he looks… free. Grimmjow can’t look away.

But Ichigo doesn’t ask what’s up with him, just keeps on dancing. Their movements have barely changed, still holding hands, still pretty much just their hips moving. But it isn’t like Grimmjow has miraculously learnt to dance after one night out. But suddenly he wishes he knew more, that he could twirl Ichigo the way he’d seen in the club.

The song that starts next isn’t so peppy anymore. The guitar is still the first sound Grimmjow hears, but its rhythm is slower.

Ichigo notices it right away, his movements slowing down. Grimmjow wonders if he’s about to stop, can’t help but to squeeze his hands. Ichigo sends him a look, so Grimmjow lets go. But instead of pulling away, Ichigo takes half a step forward, until Grimmjow can’t smell anything but him – the smell of his shampoo, the salty sweat on his skin, the alcohol and smoke on his breath and the smell that is just him, something earthly. He raises his arms to let them fall around Grimmjow’s neck and, hesitantly, Grimmjow puts his hands around his waist, hold loose.

Ichigo is barely moving, even as the song starts going faster. They’re pretty much just hugging standing.

He probably won’t remember this, Grimmjow thinks alongside he wouldn’t do this sober, but then again, would Grimmjow have accepted this if Ichigo wasn’t drunk?

Grimmjow lowers his face until his nose’s rubbing on Kurosaki’s neck, his smell even stronger. It’s kind of intoxicating, but Grimmjow doesn’t focus on how much he wants to lick it. Instead, he just breathes slowly, accepts Ichigo’s touch, tries to hold him just as tightly in return.

Y de nuevo siento enfermo este corazón/Que no le queda remedio más que amarte

(And again I feel this heart sick/That has no other remedy but to love you)

.

“Get up,” Ichigo says and Grimmjow grunts, too comfortable where he’s leaning against the sofa, feet on Ichigo’s lap. He’s already tried to remove them and it didn’t work; why’s he bothering again? “We’re going out.”

Grimmjow turns an unimpressed look on Ichigo. “It’s cold.” Grimmjow has half a mind to hit Urahara for deciding that the gigai should feel all human seasons. He never got fucking cold in Hueco Mundo, even at night.

He’s heard about hot chocolate and that’s the only thing he cares about. (Humans also drink tea in the coldest seasons but Grimmjow’s had more than enough of it.) Unfortunately, he may have mentioned it in passing to Ichigo, because that’s exactly what he uses to blackmail him.

“I’ll buy you a hot chocolate.”

Grimmjow grunts again. “Where do you want to go, anyway?”

“Ice skating.”

Grimmjow blinks. Then he frowns, “what the fuck’s that?”

Ichigo smiles and there’s childish glee there. “You’re going to love it.”

Grimmjow immediately wants to scoff, even though if he’s honest, most new experiences with Ichigo have been… alright.

“If I don’t, you’ll owe me hot chocolate until the cold’s gone.”

“What! That’s…” Grimmjow’s smirking, so Ichigo narrows his eyes. “Fine. If you don’t have fun, I’ll make you hot chocolate until it’s warm again.”

“The good kind.”

“You don’t even know what that is! You’ve never had it before.”

Grimmjow shrugs, “I don’t care. I’ll know if you cheapen out on me.”

Ichigo lets out a deep breath from his nose. “Fine. Now get up,” he doesn’t wait for Grimmjow to move his feet, just jumps up, forcing Grimmjow to roll with the action, though his feet simply end up on the floor, body curved almost like an L.

Ichigo goes to the bedroom and Grimmjow gets up. He stretches, hears bones popping. If he gets fucking back pain or something, Urahara is a dead man.

“Here,” Grimmjow turns at Ichigo’s voice, is fast enough to catch whatever he throws at him. Warm, soft. “Gloves, a beanie and a scarf. Everything you need for the cold. Yuzu made them. If you’re a good boy, I might even let you keep them,” Ichigo is smirking and Grimmjow wants to throw the things at him. But they feel like nothing he’s ever known before.

He’s quick to put them on; at least they’re easy to figure out. The gloves are fingerless – “I usually use them to write on my laptop” –, the scarf is a sea of colors and the beanie has a cat’s nose, mouth and whiskers. Ichigo gets gloves with fingers, a regular brown, a scarf in just three colors – pink, yellow and blue – and a beanie with the same characteristics but of a bunny. (Grimmjow hadn’t even known what a bunny was before moving in with Urahara and meeting Ururu.)

“We’re gonna have to take the bus,” Ichigo says after locking the front door and Grimmjow always knew he was a sneaky bastard; if Grimmjow had known that was necessary, he definitely would never have said yes to the outing.

But he’s sure as fuck not backing out now.

So he takes the bus, Ichigo buying his ticket. Ichigo hands him an earbud and this time the music is just instrumental; something about it is familiar. Grimmjow frowns, nudges Ichigo’s shoulder with his own to get his attention. “What’s this?”

“The soundtrack to Princess Monoke. Don’t worry, I got some Doraemon too, just for you.”

“Little shit,” Grimmjow says, refuses to ponder on the way his voice sounds undoubtfully fond.

The ride isn’t particularly long, neither is the walk.

“It only opened a few days ago, but it’s three pm on a Tuesday, so we should be fine,” Ichigo says and Grimmjow is quick to find out what he means. He blinks at it. It’s an… ice rink?

Ichigo turns to him with a smile, and the happiness is honestly almost blinding. “We’re going ice skating.”

Grimmjow blinks. He turns from Ichigo the rink, back to Ichigo, back to the rink. “Come on,” Ichigo grabs him by the arm, starts walking; Grimmjow is nice enough to allow himself to be lead. “You’re going to enjoy it, I’m serious. And you’re probably going to be a natural and mock me because I’m not actually very good at this.”

“Then why are we here?” Grimmjow doesn’t try to mask the confusion he’s feeling. Even after all this time with humans – with Ichigo – Grimmjow still doesn’t understand so much about them. Why would you leave yourself open?

“Because,” Ichigo’s smile has turned soft; his whole face has, really. It makes Grimmjow’s stomach clench. “It’s fun.”

And just like that, Ichigo takes them to a stand, where they’re expected to give their shoe size and receive ones with blades on the sole back. Now this… is kind of wild. Grimmjow runs his finger over the edge; it doesn’t cut, but it would do as a weapon.

“Stop thinking of how many people you could maim with that thing, and get them on,” Ichigo says and sits down on a bench to switch shoes. Grimmjow joins him.

When he stands up, he’s taller. Slightly unbalanced. Ichigo doesn’t say anything, just starts walking to the rink and Grimmjow follows him, watches his feet to copy the way he’s walking, feet coming higher up before laying the weight on the ground.

Ichigo gets in, slowly, and then he turns back to smile at Grimmjow. He offers up his hands, palms up, “want help?”

And here’s the thing: Grimmjow’s first urge is obviously to say “no”, maybe add some aggression for good measure because he does not need help. Ever.

But it’s cold. And he’s been promised either one hot chocolate or months of them (like it was never in doubt that Grimmjow would be around for all that time) and maybe even Ichigo’s sister’s presents. So what he does do is take Ichigo on his offer – he knows he’s not looking down on him, anyway – and lower his hands on top of his.

Ichigo’s eyes widen, but he still squeezes. Grimmjow enters the rink. Ichigo lets go of his right hand so they’re standing side by side instead.

“Watch my feet,” he says, tone lower than usual and Ichigo’s a goddamn liar, because he so clearly knows what he’s doing.

It reminds Grimmjow of him as a Shinigami. Not the power, but just… the naturality. Grimmjow doesn’t know how to feel about the fact that it is still there, within Ichigo, even if in a completely different way.

“You’re doing great,” Ichigo says, gets Grimmjow back to the moment. He looks down; yeah, this isn’t so bad. Then he looks back at Ichigo, smiles. He did say he was expecting ribbing, didn’t he?

“Some of us are just naturally gifted.”

Ichigo rolls his eyes – fondly. “Naturally gifted at being an ass, sure.”

Grimmjow barks a laugh. Ichigo looks proud of himself; Grimmjow doesn’t spend too long pondering on it (pride? For him? For making him laugh? No, he isn’t thinking about it. About the novelty of it all).

“Well, I think it’s safe to say I won’t be spending a ridiculous amount of money on hot chocolate this year. Don’t worry,” Ichigo squeezes Grimmjow’s hand once, “I’ll let you keep the clothes.”

“I wasn’t giving them back anyway,” Grimmjow counters and Ichigo just shakes his head.

.

Grimmjow doesn’t pay attention to the unfamiliar voices he can hear approaching Ichigo’s floor. It might not be a particularly big building, but people come and go at all times of days. But then the voices – female, young – stop just outside the door and Grimmjow can hear keys rustling and that does make him frown. He gets up from the sofa, slowly – he was quite enjoying My Uncle Napoleon.

“- said that?” The door is being unlocked.

“I was surprised by it too, but-” the girl talking suddenly stops. Her and the other one – similar to one another, familiar in a way Grimmjow would recognize even if he hadn’t already seen them – are just standing outside with their eyes wide open, the black-haired girl still with her hand on the key.

Grimmjow smirks, “Ichigo’s sisters, right?”

They both nod, slowly. This is fun.

He sits back down, and even though the sofa is horizontal to the door, he makes sure he sits sideways enough that he can see them from both eyes, but still quite relaxed, arms extended to the sides, one knee bent on top of the other. “He’s not here.”

“We know,” the black-haired girl (Grimmjow has heard their names, but he can’t remember them) takes out the key, and they both come inside. With the door closed behind them, the girl crosses her arms.

“We brought food,” the other girl says.

“What’re your names?” Grimmjow decides to simply ask, is quite done already with thinking of them by their hair color. Or maybe it should be frown-face, happy-face.

“I’m Yuzu, this is Karin,” the girl – Yuzu – bends her head as she greets him. Karin doesn’t bother to do it; neither does Grimmjow.

“You’re the Hollow.”

Grimmjow makes sure that when he smiles, his canines are on show. He quite likes being the Hollow.

Karin and Yuzu share a glance. And then keep staring at each other, like they’re having some type of telepathic conversation. Honestly, after the shit Grimmjow’s heard of Ichigo’s powers, that wouldn’t even surprise him.

“I didn’t know you and Ichi-nii talked,” Karin is glaring. Grimmjow likes her; she’s feisty. Definitely reminds him of her brother. Then again, Yuzu’s quietness, but attentive look does it as well.

Grimmjow shrugs, “I hear humans after they’re eighteen are pretty independent.”

Karin makes a face at that. And then no one speaks. Grimmjow picks up his book.

“This is what you do, then?” Grimmjow doesn’t bother to acknowledge Karin’s voice with more than a grunt. “Just spend all your time lazing about Ichi-nii’s apartment?” Grimmjow shrugs again. “You’re really talkative. No wonder you and Ichi-nii get along,” this time, the bitterness in Karin’s tone is obvious.

“Karin-chan…” Yuzu starts and Grimmjow finally raises his eyes, sees the way Karin looks to be hugging herself, jaw clenched.

“He doesn’t talk to us, you know. Not about anything serious,” Karin says. Yuzu has her eyes on the floor; she’s still holding the almost overflowing plastic bag. For some reason, Grimmjow stays quiet, waits them out. There’s a part of him that is curious about this; it’s not like he’s had many opportunities to see how human family dynamics work, not aside from the craziness that is life at the shouten, which he refuses to believe is the normal (he still doesn’t get who in their right mind let Urahara take care of two kids). But mostly… this is a window into another aspect of Ichigo. And for some reason, Grimmjow is interested in that.

Suddenly, Karin deflates. Yuzu takes one step closer to her; Grimmjow thinks that if he wasn’t there, she’d hug her sister. Instead, she just stays close by. Support. Even without being obvious about it.

“Is he okay?” Karin asks and her lips are trembling but her eyes aren’t wet. Yuzu’s looking at him too; he has their full attention.

Grimmjow isn’t sure how to answer. It’s obvious what Ichigo would want him to say – yes, of course – but now that Grimmjow has to deal with his actual sisters… People who care, and want for nothing in return. They just want to know their brother is okay; nothing more.

So Grimmjow is honest. “He’s getting there.” His voice sounds rougher than usual. He wants to leave. Feelings. Both sisters nod and then Yuzu does move so that she can hold onto Karin’s hands. Grimmjow looks back at their faces.

“Just… don’t hurt him, alright? He’s had enough of that.”

This time, Grimmjow doesn’t reply. He turns his attention back to the book.

Yuzu and Karin go to the kitchen, go back to the story they’d been sharing when they’d first walked in – something about a school teacher, someone who answered rudely to them. He has a hard time focusing on the words, though. But somehow, he does kind of feel warm that if he didn’t necessarily make Ichigo’s sisters feel better, he didn’t make them feel worse either.

.

(One time, Grimmjow ends up falling asleep on the sofa. When he wakes up, Ichigo isn’t there anymore but there’s a soft melody coming from his bedroom. Grimmjow walks to his door, leans his ear against it.

It’s not a voice he recognizes, but Grimmjow stands there for a good ten minutes and gets to hear the song twice, finally moves back to the sofa when it starts playing a third time. He closes his eyes, focuses on the lyrics to draw him back to sleep, just like they’re doing to Ichigo.

And at once, I knew I was not magnificent)

.

The second Grimmjow walks inside the apartment, he knows something isn’t right. There’s this weird… aura. Not spiritual, exactly, Ichigo is still giving off absolutely zero reiatsu. But it’s… quiet in a way it usually isn’t. It reminds Grimmjow of Hueco Mundo, but it doesn’t make him feel comforted in the least.

Grimmjow takes off his boots, walks towards Ichigo’s bedroom, the door being closed. When he opens it, he almost sighs in relief. The guy’s there, sleeping under the covers, back to the door.

Then Grimmjow frowns because the sun has already moved past its apex and Ichigo never seemed the type of guy to take naps.

“You sick?” Grimmjow asks and it takes a few seconds for him to get a reply, long enough that he actually does start to believe Ichigo really is asleep.

“No,” Ichigo’s voice comes out blankly. Grimmjow blinks at his back, still frowning. He opens his mouth, ready to ask, “what the fuck’s wrong with you, then?” but something makes him close his mouth with the words still there. He remembers the feeling he first got when walking in the house, the one that reminded him of Hueco Mundo.

He walks inside the bedroom, closes the door behind him and then goes to the bed, doesn’t spend any time staring at him, just turns his back to it and flops down on the floor, legs stretched in front of him and back leaning on the bed frame.

It takes a while, long enough that Grimmjow is almost falling asleep himself, but eventually Ichigo speaks again.

“It’s not a good day.”

He says it like it’s an explanation rolled up with an apology. Grimmjow doesn’t know what to do with it. The fuck does “it’s not a good day” mean?

Grimmjow makes a kind of agreeing sound, even though what he really wants to do is get up, throw Ichigo’s blankets off him and… shake him or something. Tell him to snap out of it. But even instinctively he knows that’s not the right thing to do.

Still, he gets up, finally turns to look at the sad lump in the bed. He does raise Ichigo’s blankets away from his body, but only enough to make an opening for himself. He lies with his chest touching Ichigo’s back, the front of his knees to his calves touching the back of Kurosaki’s and after making sure the blankets are safely tucked around his back, he puts an arm around Ichigo’s.

“If you get to spend the day in bed, so do I,” he mutters and Ichigo makes a huffing sound, like it was going to come out a laugh but halfway through he lost the strength to do it. It makes Grimmjow squeeze his waist.

Ichigo moves so that he has his own hand on top of Grimmjow’s.

“Thanks.”

Grimmjow pretends not to hear him, resolutely closes his eyes. He doesn’t fall asleep until Ichigo’s breathing has slowed down, though.

.

(Ichigo has an obsession with an English musician called Keaton Henson. But unlike the Icelandic band, his sad songs are obvious from the very start. Even Grimmjow can’t help but to be kind of taken by them, to stop and listen.

And when Ichigo plays them, he always does it through earbuds. Sometimes, Grimmjow will sit next to him – usually on the floor, their backs against the wall – and Ichigo will pass him an earbud and Grimmjow will take it.

There’s a song that’s soft and Ichigo never skips it and Grimmjow doesn’t know if he’s trying to send him some kind of message, because the whole thing is damn sentimental. But Ichigo never says or does anything, just listens to it on repeat.

Please do not break my heart,/I think it’s had enough pain to last the rest of my life)

.

From: Ichigo

Message: Wanna go somewhere with me tomorrow?

From: You

Message: Where?

From: Ichigo

Message: I’m getting a tattoo

Grimmjow stares at his phone screen. Then he clenches his fists. He takes a deep breath, gets up from the bed, leaves his phone behind and goes to the backyard of the house.

He can hear Ururu and Jinta arguing inside about whose turn it is to take the trash out. Urahara must be in his lab, Yoruichi maybe taking a cat nap and Tsukabishi… Doing whatever the hell he does. He’s the quietest of the household, which means he’s the one Grimmjow finds the most dangerous.

Grimmjow raises a hand to touch his back, where he knows the 6 is. He remembers when he first got it, even though he has no idea how long ago that was.

It was painful, the needle piercing his skin, but Grimmjow had felt proud. Partly. Proud that he was an Espada, ashamed all he got was the Sexta. Not as bad as being the tenth or over, of course, but still not good enough.

And then he’d lost it. And he’d gained it back.

And now it’s meaningless. He doesn’t know what Harribel and Nel have done to theirs, if anything, but he hasn’t seen them since Aizen’s defeat.

Grimmjow wonders why Ichigo would get a tattoo. What the tattoo is.

Aizen had been the one to bring the technology to Hueco Mundo. Thinking back on it, the Shinigami had had an unholy gleam in his eyes. And why shouldn’t he have? He hadn’t been ranking them. He’d been branding them.

And they’d taken it. All of them. The one who had been followed by piles of bones. The self-made god.

Suddenly, Grimmjow remembers one of the first things Ichigo told him: I’m not a toy. That’s what they had been in Aizen’s hands. Not even weapons, but discardable things. He picked them up when he wanted to, and threw them away when he was done with them, like humans did with so much broken stuff. Sometimes they weren’t even broken. They just wanted the new models.

Grimmjow lets out a bitter laugh. Isn’t that exactly what Aizen did to him, to Nel? They had been easily replaceable.

And now… he’s here. In the human world, living in the town that he’d come without orders and had lost his number for.

With a human boy.

Grimmjow turns his face upwards. The sky is dark, not too many stars out but it doesn’t matter, the difference between it and Hueco Mundo’s sky is still stark. This is an alive darkness. There is more behind it. Hueco Mundo’s is just… there. One dimensional.

Grimmjow straightens up, turns around and goes back inside – the trash is gone, though he doesn’t know who ended up taking it.

He unlocks his phone. There are two missed calls from Ichigo, alongside four texts.

From: Ichigo

Message: U there?

From Ichigo

Message: U don’t have to come if you don’t want to

From: Ichigo

Message: are you okay?

From: Ichigo

Message: fine, be like that

The last text was sent after the two phone calls.

Grimmjow lays back down on the bed. He fidgets with the phone for a couple minutes.

From: You

Message: what are you getting?

There’s no reply. Grimmjow snorts, leaves the phone by his head. Ichigo’s probably just sulking.

After some more minutes, his phone starts ringing. It’s, of course, Ichigo. Grimmjow accepts the call.

“Seriously, asshole? You leave me on read and decide to just ignore that?”

“I left my bedroom, dickhead, and left my phone behind. Didn’t know I had to tell you everything I do and where I go,” the words come out angry. It’s not like Grimmjow actually believes Ichigo wants that in any shape or form, but with memories of Aizen so fresh in his mind, Ichigo’s tone is just getting him angrier.

“Excuse me for getting fucking worried!” Ichigo huffs as he finishes. Grimmjow doesn’t reply, because his first thought is, “then fucking don’t get worried over me. I didn’t ask for it and I don’t want it.”

Of course, the realization that he doesn’t hate Ichigo’s worry – the first, Grimmjow realizes – just makes him all the angrier.

What is he doing here?

Ichigo sighs audibly. “It’s Karakura.”

“What?” Grimmjow frowns, having no idea what the hell Ichigo is on about now.

“The tattoo. It’s Karakura’s outline. A few buildings, some trees and… the sunrise.”

Out of everything Grimmjow was expecting Ichigo to get tattooed, this wasn’t one of them. It’s not like he hasn’t seen humans with tattoos around, and they did appear as random as it gets.

“Why?”

Ichigo doesn’t say anything right away, but Grimmjow can still hear his breathing. It doesn’t escape him that just the sound – in, out, in, out – has managed to calm him down.

“Because of you. I mean! These last few weeks… look, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you were right. You showed up and you told me all the things I didn’t want to hear, but it doesn’t mean they weren’t true. About how I was here, but I was just… existing, not living.” A pause. Grimmjow doesn’t break it.

“Spending time with you… the music, the books, the movies, the trips… For the first time in years, I feel… excited about the future. And thankful that I’m still here, in this world, even as a human, to enjoy it. The tattoo symbolizes that. My home. How I’ll always have it. How it’s real,” Ichigo lets out a laugh, “the sky in Soul Society was weird. It looked painted on. Beautiful, but…”

“One dimensional,” Grimmjow finishes.

“Exactly.”

They both go silent. Remembering Aizen feels so far away.

“So… do you wanna come with me?”

Grimmjow smirks, “want me to hold your hand, Ichigo?”

“I don’t even know why I bother.”

Because you like me, Grimmjow thinks but, of course, doesn’t let the words out.

“But yeah, sure, come along. I’ll text you the time and place, yeah?”

“Alright.”

“Okay, well… sleep well, Grimmjow.”

“Yeah… You too.”

.

Grimmjow rings the doorbell.

It barely takes any time before Ichigo’s opening it, smiling, “you came.”

Grimmjow grunts; there’s a part of him still wondering what the hell he’s doing here. But Ichigo had asked, “so hey, do you want to have dinner with my family? My sisters already met you and now my dad’s on my case about it and Kon won’t shut up about it either-”. There had been more but Grimmjow had tuned it out, waited him out – Ichigo had eventually ran out of breath – to say, “yeah, I’ll have dinner with your family”.

And now he’s here. About to have dinner with a bunch of humans – well, three humans, an ex-Shinigami and a mod soul that’s gotten his own gigai because, and this is directly quoted, “well, it wasn’t fair for him to stay a plush toy forever. He has his own personality, you know. He’s a real person”. And Ichigo had honestly looked ready to punch him if he decided to be an asshole about it.

Grimmjow hadn’t, but only because he’d been too… amazed is too strong a word, but even he knew that mod souls weren’t taken seriously by the Shinigami. But here Ichigo is, having gotten Kon a gigai, papers so that he officially exists in the eyes of the state. He lives in Ichigo’s bedroom, since he’s moved out, works in a coffee shop.

And why does Grimmjow know all this? Completely unimportant information, but he knows it. And he thinks about it. Kindness. Love. It’s what this all is. Family.

“You okay?” And now this, worry in Ichigo’s face. For him.

Grimmjow grunts again, starts walking, forcing Ichigo to move to the side to let him in. He takes off his shoes in silence, Ichigo handing him a pair of visitor slippers.

“Seriously, are you okay? If you’re uncomfortable-”

“I don’t do shit I don’t want to,” Grimmjow says and it sounds rougher than it’s supposed to but something just… this is unfamiliar. But in a different way than anything else in the human world has been; Grimmjow has been invited into it.

Like he’s… wanted. In this domestic, full of breakable bodies, normal situation.

But he meant what he said. If Grimmjow didn’t want to be here, he wouldn’t be. He inhales, exhales.

“Come on, don’t be a rude shit, and introduce me.”

Ichigo rolls his eyes, “come on, then,” he grabs Grimmjow by the wrist, whose eyes turn down to follow the movement, but he doesn’t do anything to get out of it, allows himself to be led.

Everyone stops talking in the kitchen when they see him. There are the two girls he already met, Ichigo’s sisters, then a man that must be their father that at first glance doesn’t look that similar – except for the dark hair he’s passed to Karin –, but then he thinks he gave his chin to Ichigo as well. He gets what Ichigo said about Kon, how he had to fight him not to become his twin. Still, he’s actually the one that most resembles Ichigo, similar eyes and build, though he currently has purple dyed hair, lots of ear piercings, one above an eyebrow.

“You must be Grimmjow,” the father says, gives a little bow, “you can just call me Isshin.”

Grimmjow grunts – seems to be a recurring theme this night – but like hell is he bowing to a Shinigami, former or otherwise.

“I’m Kon,” Kon says, waves, Grimmjow nods back.

“Thank you for coming, Grimmjow-san,” Yuzu says and Grimmjow blinks at her respectful tone.

“Sorry we don’t have Hollows to feed you,” Karin says, arms crossed and Grimmjow smirks, a lot more comfortable now.

“Don’t worry, I can make do with human children.”

Karin’s lips twitch, but she controls her face, rolls her eyes. “We’re not children, we’re teenagers.”

Grimmjow shrugs, “I’ll make the sacrifice.”

“Okay, maybe we could move on from your cannibalistic urges?” Ichigo asks, one hand on Grimmjow’s back, leading him to the kitchen table.

“It ain’t cannibalism if I’m not human, dipshit,” Grimmjow says, turning back to him, but he sits down. So do Karin, Ichigo and Isshin.

“Then eating hollows is cannibalism,” Karin says and she’s leaning forward, like the subject interests her. Grimmjow should have known all Kurosakis would be freaks.

“Yeah, so?”

“Brutal,” she nods.

“How are you enjoying Karakura, Grimmjow?” Isshin asks and Grimmjow almost sends him an “are you serious?” look simply because… what? Are they really doing this? Just having a normal human conversation?

But Isshin looks genuinely interested; they all do, really. Even Ichigo, which doesn’t make any sense, considering out of everyone in this town, he’s the one Grimmjow spends the most time with. He should know better than anyone what Grimmjow likes and doesn’t like about the town.

“It’s alright,” it’s what he settles on. Like hell is he telling any of these strangers that he enjoys hot chocolate, and popcorn, and the ice skating was fun and he wouldn’t mind going back to the ocean. That he likes this world.

And seeing the way Ichigo relaxes at his words, Grimmjow can admit, inside his own mind, that it’s not just the place he likes, but the company as well.

Instead of giving time for another question to be asked, Ichigo turns to Karin, asks her about her last football match. Grimmjow knows the rules of the game in the broadest sense of the word but even he can tell there’s a reason she got that yellow card, as much as she says otherwise.

Yuzu and Kon bring food to the table. And then more of it. It’s a lot of what Grimmjow recognizes from the shouten, but not in this quantity. Unadon, tempura, onigiri, yakitori, noodles…

“Hope you enjoy the food, Grimmjow-san,” Yuzu says as she sits down.

Grimmjow blinks at her, “did you make all this?”

“Oh,” Yuzu blushes, “Kon helped. He likes to cook.”

Kon’s blushing too. This whole family is weird as fuck. Grimmjow just grabs a random dish and starts piling food on top of his plate, the others doing the same.

He starts by eating in silence, the conversation around him light. Ichigo asks his father about an old case that he remembers helping in, that he now thinks he’s studying something similar. Grimmjow catches Yuzu staring at him from time to time.

“It’s good,” he says, swallowing first, “the food.”

“Oh! Thank you,” Yuzu smiles, looks genuinely content about his compliment.

Seriously, the Kurosakis, all fucking weirdos.

The questions do come back around to Grimmjow, but they’re all… non-serious. Yuzu asks about the books he reads after Ichigo makes a comment about Grimmjow reading all of his. Karin asks if he knows any sports, then spends a good ten minutes explaining the Olympics. Isshin pays attention to everything, but apart from stupid ass jokes, doesn’t say a lot. Kon talks about the human things he’s still figuring out.

It’s… relaxing. Simple. There is, of course, still a part of Grimmjow that’s attentive, that notices where Isshin’s hands are at all times, that chose a place with his back to the wall on purpose. But he also notices how Ichigo’s smiling and laughing, how at one point, his hand ends up on Grimmjow’s thigh, stays there until desserts – more than enough for all of them – arrive.

It’s a good two hours before Grimmjow’s putting his shoes back on, Ichigo having offered to drive him back.

“So,” Ichigo starts after the first couple of minutes of silence. “What did you think?”

“Your family’re weirdos. Just like you.”

“Hey!” Ichigo slaps his shoulder, but he’s laughing too. “Yeah, I guess they are something, huh?” He sounds so undeniable fond.

Grimmjow remembers the conversation they had about love, what feels like so long ago. He thinks he’s at least starting to understand the whole thing about love requiring work, and how it’s not just in the words, but the actions as well.

“Thanks for inviting me,” Grimmjow says, eyes looking outside because he knows Ichigo and he knows his words are going to make him look all soft and… no.

“You’re welcome. Thank you for coming,” Ichigo’s voice sounds exactly as expected. Grimmjow doesn’t stop himself from turning to him anymore, catches Ichigo’s eyes already on him, though he has to look away, back on the road.

Yet, Grimmjow keeps his eyes on him. Ichigo doesn’t tense up. There’s a smile playing around his lips.

Grimmjow exhales. He feels almost like on the edge of a cliff, and how he got there is a bit vague.

What are you doing to me, Ichigo?

Grimmjow keeps the words inside. Instead, he simply enjoys Ichigo’s presence, breathes in and out slowly. He’s never been afraid of heights, anyway.

.

Ichigo invites him out for dancing again. Grimmjow can’t help but to grimace at it.

“I promise I won’t drink so much this time.”

“You better not. And cigarettes are fucking disgusting.” And deadly, but Grimmjow doesn’t say that.

“Only one drink, no cigarettes. Guess you’ll have to be the one to relax me,” Ichigo says, smile playing around his lips that’s almost… cocky. Flirty, maybe. Grimmjow doesn’t know what to do with that, so he does nothing.

Ichigo moves on, and they get dressed; still no skirts outside, though Ichigo wears them around him all the time now.

The club is different from the last one, smaller. The music is more… pop, Grimmjow thinks is the genre.

As promised, they each have one shot and that’s it. This time, though, Ichigo puts his arms around Grimmjow’s neck, who automatically raises his hands to Ichigo’s waist. Then he tenses.

Ichigo is just moving his body side to side, feet stuck to the ground, hips and upper body moving, not as fast as the rhythm of the music calls for.

“Can I tell you something?”

Grimmjow almost says no. Suddenly, he wants to stop Ichigo from saying whatever it is he wants because he can’t help but to be sure it’s going to change something. For some reason, though, what he does, is nod.

Ichigo gets even closer, then on his tiptoes, approaches his face to Grimmjow’s, turns it to his ear and then says, “you’ve been the best part of my year.”

Grimmjow squeezes his waist once. Ichigo gets back on solid ground.

“Fucking depressing, Ichigo.”

Ichigo laughs, but he doesn’t look hurt at all. Or bitter.

“You know something? I don’t think it is at all.”

Grimmjow looks seriously at Ichigo, who drops the smile, but he doesn’t back down. Of course he doesn’t; it’s not in his nature, powers or no powers. It’s not in Grimmjow’s either.

“What are you doing?”

Ichigo blinks. He moves a hand so that it’s touching Grimmjow’s hair instead, though he doesn’t grab it.

“Can I kiss you?”

It’s Grimmjow’s turn to blink.

What are you doing? he thinks again and doesn’t know if the question is directed inwards or to Ichigo.

Instead of trying to come up with an answer, he bends down to kiss Ichigo.

Ichigo is pliant is his hands. He opens his mouth easily, groans and messes with Grimmjow’s hair, though his touch still isn’t forceful.

Grimmjow lowers a hand to his ass, copes a feel, gets Ichigo laughing against his lips.

“Can I take you home?” Ichigo sounds breathless and Grimmjow can’t help but to kiss him again, quicker.

He doesn’t think he ever wants to stop. It’s a scary thought, but Grimmjow pushes it away.

“Yeah,” Grimmjow says afterwards and he’s the one to lead Ichigo away, wants to find a deserted place to Sonido away. Before, of course, he remembers that that will just kill Ichigo’s human, regular, weak, body.

They get a taxi instead. Keep their hands to themselves.

And then they’re inside Ichigo’s apartment and Grimmjow rips Ichigo’s shirt with both hands, leaves it in tatters, kisses the exposed skin around his neck and shoulders as he leads him backwards to the bedroom.

“Take it… take it off,” Ichigo says with his hands on Grimmjow’s arms. Grimmjow does it, the two of them taking the chance to take off their shoes and socks as well. And then, because Grimmjow isn’t shy, he takes off the rest of his clothes.

Ichigo makes a sound at it, Grimmjow smirking at him. He pushes him down on the bed with a hand on his chest, then climbs up after him, ends up on his lap.

Grimmjow’s never been sick one day of his undead life, yet he thinks this is what having a fever must feel like. His body feels too hot, his thoughts kind of disjointed. He wants to possess Ichigo. Make him his.

They kiss until Grimmjow’s lips are tingling, and then he moves so that he can kiss Ichigo’s neck, leaves marks behind, uses his nails as well, though he makes sure they’re not deep scratches at all. The point isn’t to hurt Ichigo, it’s to leave a reminder.

Grimmjow gets off his lap so that he can drop his knees on the floor. Then, he slows down, smirks up at Ichigo, leans down so that he can put his mouth on Ichigo’s jeans, mouths at it. The tattoo is on his ribs and Grimmjow presses a hand against it; it’s healed enough to not hurt.

Ichigo puts a hand on his head, the other behind him so that he can keep his balance.

“Are you… are you going to make me come in my pants?”

“Why?” Grimmjow makes sure to make a pop sound as he gets off, licks his lips. Ichigo’s pupils are blown wide. “That something you want?”

Ichigo swallows. “I want whatever you wanna give me.”

“Fuck,” Grimmjow says before he can stop himself. He gets Ichigo’s jeans and underwear off, then moves them so that they’re lying on the bed, Grimmjow on top of Ichigo. He can’t help but to rut against him, even as he knows he wants more.

So he says it. “You can fuck me.”

“Re-really?” In another situation, Grimmjow would absolutely mock Ichigo for stuttering just by the idea of fucking him, but as it is, he just raises an eyebrow.

“Aren’t you the one always preaching about the dangers of toxic masculinity and smashing the patriarchy?”

“That’s not it,” Ichigo’s mouth is still open as he finishes the sentence, but after a couple seconds of saying nothing else, he closes it. He’s still leaning on his forearms, face so close to Grimmjow that he can see the faint freckles dusting his cheeks. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Grimmjow snorts, “think highly of yourself, don’tcha?”

Ichigo doesn’t take the bait. Instead, he moves to sit, grabs Grimmjow by the shoulders and pulls him up too, so he’s sitting as well. Ichigo grabs Grimmjow by the hands.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Ichigo repeats, is looking seriously at Grimmjow, who opens his mouth to ask him again what the fuck is wrong with him, but the words don’t make it out, his mouth closing with a clack sound as Ichigo raises his right hand to his cheek. “I think you’ve been hurt enough.”

Grimmjow takes his face away with an almost growl and Ichigo doesn’t try to follow him, lets his hand drop to his knee. The other is still holding onto one of Grimmjow’s and he looks down at it. Grimmjow turns it, palm to palm, and then he squeezes, looks back up, only stops when Ichigo flinches from the pain, though he still doesn’t fully let go.

“I could break you,” he says and it was supposed to come out as a warning, a clear sign to not try any funny business, to get the fuck away. Instead, it sounds almost… plaintive. Like Grimmjow isn’t threatening Ichigo, but like he’s telling him of some dark deep fear he holds inside himself.

“I know,” Ichigo says and he raises his free hand again, slowly, and Grimmjow doesn’t move away this time. Instead, as Ichigo’s hand fully touches his face, he closes his eyes.

“I could break you,” he says again, eyes still close, because this bears repeating.

Ichigo inhales and then Grimmjow hears him moving before he feels his forehead touching his. Ichigo moves his hand to the back of his neck.

“You won’t.”

Grimmjow opens his eyes and Ichigo is looking right at him. “It’s what I was made for,” it comes out in a whisper when Grimmjow didn’t mean to, but he doesn’t pull away from the words either.

“Maybe,” Ichigo squeezes his neck, “but it’s not all you are.”

Grimmjow swallows and he really wants to get away. He feels like he’s drowning in Ichigo’s eyes. In his smell, in his touch… in his love.

Because that’s what this is, isn’t it? Or what it would be, if they were any other two people. If Grimmjow was someone else.

I can’t love you, he thinks and the words don’t sound as unfamiliar as dancing and bycicle and apple but Grimmjow is pretty sure he wouldn’t recognize them without the can’t somewhere in there. But what he says is, “you can’t fall in love with me.”

“Too late for that,” Ichigo says it like it’s as easy as breathing, easier even, since Grimmjow has seen him, knows that sometimes just breathing is actually the harder thing to do. He’s smiling too and surely, it should look sad. Being in love with Grimmjow… it sounds like a curse. But Ichigo is smiling, maybe not fully happy, but… accepting.

 Grimmjow could kill him right now. He could do worse. He also thinks it would kill a part of himself, something he didn’t even realize existed until some time ago – until Ichigo. But killing a part of himself for Ichigo doesn’t sound all that bad. But killing Ichigo, or any part of him… Grimmjow would rather lose his arm again. Both of them. Hell, take his whole body too. Take his soul, if he has any.

“That’s a terrible choice,” Grimmjow finally says and his voice comes out choked off. Grimmjow can barely even recognize it and Ichigo is still holding onto him, making it really hard to see his features in full, and Grimmjow doesn’t want to kill him in the least, but he does want to run away. But he’s not a fucking coward, so he stays there, slowly breathing.

“It feels quite easy, actually.”

Grimmjow blinks as Ichigo’s words fully enter his brain.

Ichigo’s just looking at him, calmly, but Grimmjow can hear his heartbeat. He raises a hand, presses it against his chest, feels the quick pulse of his heart against it. He slowly clenches his hand, just slightly, enough to bunch the shirt below his fingers, but not enough to hurt.

But it would be so easy to hurt him.

Grimmjow keeps staring at his hand on top of Ichigo’s chest for a couple minutes, really just putting off the inevitable. Finally, he lets go, looks Ichigo in the eyes, “no.”

Ichigo’s eyes widen slightly and he raises a hand but before it can touch Grimmjow, he drops it. He swallows. Then has to do it a second time, eyes tearing up. Grimmjow clenches his jaw, wants to look away but not because he wants to give Ichigo privacy, simply because he doesn’t want to deal with these emotions. So he doesn’t look away.

“Ok,” Ichigo says, voice low, “I can’t force you to love me. But… If you’re saying no because… I don’t know, you think it’s what’s best for me or-”

“When have I ever done anything I didn’t want?” Grimmjow interrupts him, doesn’t want to hear the end of the sentence.

Ichigo nods, then raises his hand again, but not to approach Grimmjow. He uses his fingers to wipe his eyes, but the slow tears keep coming. Finally, he turns his back on Grimmjow. “I think you should leave,” the words come out cracking.

Grimmjow takes out a deep breath. Ichigo’s in pain and that’s…

“Please,” Ichigo says.

Staying here will only continue to hurt Ichigo.

The words I’m sorry play around his brain but Grimmjow’s never been one to use them and anyway, do they really mean anything? When Ichigo opened his heart up to him, just to get it trampled?

Grimmjow gets up, leaves the apartment.

He enters his room at Urahara’s through the window, really doesn’t want to deal with any of its residences. Then he unceremoniously leaves the gigai, it hollowly dropping onto the floor, face down. Grimmjow looks at it for a couple seconds, can’t even find it in himself to feel disgusted by it.

Instead he makes his way to the bunker, a buzzing in his ears that doesn’t even let him hear if someone is talking to him or not.

There, he opens a garganta. Then he goes home.

.

Grimmjow loses track of time. It’s not exactly hard, in a place where time barely has a meaning. He doesn’t even really do anything. Doesn’t go close to Las Noches, just wanders around.

There’s no one to fight; at least, no one that he couldn’t kill in a fraction of a second.

Not unlike Ichigo, Grimmjow’s brain reminds him and just like every time he’s thought of the former Shinigami, he growls out loud, like that’ll somehow beat up his subconscious.

But it doesn’t because after hours – minutes, who knows –, Grimmjow’s brain always goes back to him.

Not just the way he left him, which the first few days left him almost curled up in a cave because guilt wasn’t something Arrancars were supposed to feel, but everything else. The way he dances when he cooks, the music in Spanish that he played just for Grimmjow, the ocean, the dancing…

“It feels quite easy, actually.”

That, especially, keeps replaying over and over again.

How the fuck can Grimmjow be easy to love?

If it wouldn’t kill him, Grimmjow would rip off his heart. Hell, sometimes he thinks even death might be better than this. No moment in his very long life has ever hurt like this. And it’s his fault. But what other choice did he have?

Ichigo is human. And Grimmjow is very clearly not, gigai or otherwise.

What was Ichigo going to do with him? Introduce him to his friends? And then, what? Marriage, kids? Grimmjow getting a new gigai every few years, to pretend he was growing old and Ichigo wasn’t some perv?

It’ll pass, he tells himself. Ichigo is going to meet someone else and fall in love again and this time it’s going to be actually good.

(Grimmjow doesn’t bother telling himself it’ll pass.)

“How much longer are you going to spend wallowing?” Grimmjow jumps at the voice, Pantera in his hand even before he can think about it, mouth open in a snarl.

“It’s just me, Grimmjow,” Nel waves, coming closer to him. Grimmjow lets his mouth fall into a line, but he keeps Pantera unsheathed.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

“You haven’t spent this much time back here in months. I was worried.”

Nel says the last sentence like it’s somehow easy, like they’re words that they mutter around to one another. Like they’re familiar words.

Grimmjow roars and jumps, attacking.

Nel’s eyes widen just for a moment, and then she’s getting Gamuza out, immediately meeting his blade. Grimmjow laughs at the sound; it’s been too long since he heard it.

Nel’s face hardens and then the fight is on.

Grimmjow can’t remember the last time the two of them fought. Usually, it was Nnoitra who was obsessed with trying his luck against her, even though there was still one number between them. Like the fact Nel had breasts meant anything.

Nel doesn’t try to talk and Grimmjow is thankful for that. Then he roars, because he’s not supposed to feel thankful. He’s not supposed to feel anything except hatred and anger and… And death and destruction.

That’s what they are. Who he is.

Pantera flies off his hand, Nel hitting him on the wrist from below.

Grimmjow looks to the side to his sword, slowly goes to pick it up, but then he just… keeps standing.

“Grimmjow,” Nel says and it really does sound fucking worried. It makes Grimmjow laugh, bitterly. But when has he ever laughed non-bitterly?

With Ichigo.

“What?” Grimmjow bites out, finally turns to her.

Nel has sheathed Gamuza and for a moment, Grimmjow almost attacks her just for that, like the fact she got Pantera out of his hand once means the fight is over. The fight’s only over when he says so!

But, once again, he stops.

“We can be more than what Aizen tried to make us,” Nel says, head raised and Grimmjow can tell the words aren’t just meant for him.

“You want us to be friends?” Grimmjow spits out friends.

“Why not?” Nel sounds challenging, eyebrow raised, two hands on her waist.

She wasn’t like that just before she disappeared, Grimmjow remembers. She was more quiet, more… in her place.

Because one day one of us is going to kill the other, Grimmjow thinks. Right now, Hueco Mundo is somehow peaceful – or as peaceful as a place stinking of desperation can ever get – but it won’t always be like that.

They can live forever and they’re beings of war. One day, they’ll fight again. Maybe together, most likely against each other.

“I don’t want to be your friend,” Grimmjow spits out the words and Nel’s eyes get a kind of down look at it, like he fucking hurt her feelings or something.

You seem to be good at that.

Nel doesn’t say anything to that and Grimmjow gets ready for her to leave the way she came, but instead she walks closer to him. And then, when she’s barely one foot away from him, takes a hold of the hand not holding Pantera.

She looks him in the eyes, “we are more than what he made us.”

Grimmjow snarls, yanks his hand away.

“You looking to get killed, bitch?”

Nel’s face suddenly goes fierce, bringing back memories and then Grimmjow’s face is snapping to the side, the slap not echoing because they’re in a fucking desert.

“Do not forget who I am.”

Grimmjow spits on the floor; some blood actually comes out, the impact strong enough to make him cut himself on his teeth.

He raises his head, glares at her, “I think it’s you who’s forgetting who we are.”

Nel stares at him for a couple seconds, then walks so she’s standing next to him, still looking ahead, and drops on the floor, legs crossed. She pats the sand next to him.

In this position, Grimmjow could cut off her head easily. Instead, he sheathes Pantera, drops to the floor as well, legs straight in front of him.

“What are you afraid of?” Grimmjow’s face snaps to Nel, snarl on his face, but she’s not looking his way, continues to look ahead.

I’m not afraid of anything! he thinks, but then… stops. Like the balloons humans have. There’re the ones that are meant to stay afloat for longer, and the ones that barely last a second in the air, but eventually they all come down. Grimmjow feels a bit like that.

So he opens his mouth, feels the words around before finally putting them out there, “Ichigo’s in love with me.”

Nel nods, like what he just said makes any type of sense.

“Are you surprised?” She’s still not looking at him.

Is he surprised?

“How the fuck could I have known? It’s not like I know what love is.”

“Maybe not how humans feel, but if you didn’t feel it at all, you wouldn’t be here.” Grimmjow doesn’t say anything and Nel finally turns to him, green eyes shining, “you wouldn’t be hurting if you didn’t feel.”

Grimmjow’s jaw clenches but he keeps quiet. And so does Nel.

Grimmjow loses track of time. But Nel doesn’t move and Grimmjow is starting to get the feeling that she really won’t anytime soon. Not unless she’s called away.

Comfort, Grimmjow thinks.

Grimmjow inhales deeply through his nose, then lets it out through his mouth. “It’ll pass. He’ll fall in love with someone else.”

Nel’s face had been turned upwards before he spoke and she keeps it that way. “Is that what you want?”

Grimmjow’s hands clench against his pants. Fuck no, Ichigo falling in love with someone else isn’t what he wants.

“Isn’t that what love means?” he asks, bitterly, “wanting what’s best for the other person? Even if it hurts.”

 Nel lowers her face to look at him. It’s dark around them, but they can still both see perfectly.

“It’s not just pain.”

Grimmjow makes a little huff, the words “it feels quite easy, actually” once again playing around his mind.

Nel suddenly sighs, grabs his hand and then moves it so that it’s lying on top of her bare leg. She leaves her hand on top of his, but not trapping it. Just a weight.

“I want you to be happy, Grimmjow. And I want Ichigo to be happy.”

“Then you should tell me to stay away from him.”

Nel turns her face to him, and glares. Her touch stays soft. It takes a couple minutes for her to speak again, long enough that her eyes have softened again. “I don’t actually know what to tell you, Grimmjow. I’m not… I’m trying to. To be more,” she squeezes his hand once, but it feels like a forgotten touch, like it wasn’t actually meant to reach him. “I can’t force you to be with him. But… Why don’t you want to?”

Grimmjow opens his mouth but Nel shakes her head, cutting him off before any words come out, “not why you think it’s the best thing for him. Why don’t you want to love him?”

Grimmjow doesn’t say anything. Eventually, Nel looks away, but she doesn’t let go of his hand and he doesn’t make any move to pull it away.

Hours pass once again before he speaks.

“What if I can’t love him properly?”

Nel’s reaction is to turn to him with a smile. “Then you tried. Isn’t that the whole point?”

The whole point is to be the best. To win, to become stronger. At least… it used to be.

Grimmjow thinks back to everything Nel’s said. About trying to be more than what Aizen made them, about being capable of that.

“He probably hates me now,” Grimmjow says, knows it’s a type of cop out, but he still wants to put the words out there.

Nel smiles softly at him, “I don’t think he ever could.”

Grimmjow does that slow breathing again, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Then he drops back to the sand, still holding Nel’s hand. She goes along with it.

“I don’t think we were made to love.”

“Grimm,” Nel says and Grimmjow turns to her, eyebrows raised, can’t remember the last time someone called him like that. Nel smiles, shows off her teeth, “who cares what we were made for? It only matters what we choose to do, now.”

Grimmjow stares at her for a few seconds, then turns his face so that he’s back to staring at the endless sky. He squeezes her hand and Nel squeezes back.

.

The gigai isn’t where he left it. Grimmjow’s vision almost whites out from the panic because if he doesn’t have a gigai, Ichigo can’t see him and if he can’t see him…

“You’re back,” Urahara’s voice sounds from behind and Grimmjow turns to the doorway of his bedroom.

Urahara has the stupid hat on, but no fan in sight. He also looks serious.

“I wasn’t sure I was ever going to see you again.”

Grimmjow shrugs because it’s not like he owes him anything.

Urahara studies him for a few seconds before asking, “do you want the gigai?”

Grimmjow opens his mouth to say “why the fuck else would I be here?” but swallows down the urge. Instead, slowly, “please.”

Urahara’s eyes widen at that and then he studies him some more. Then he nods and his face actually breaks out into a smile. He suddenly looks younger.

“Good,” Urahara says, gives a half turn. He raises a hand and wiggles his fingers, Grimmjow going after him.

Urahara ends up having some type of freaky morgue in his house and Grimmjow’s gigai is inside some type of body refrigerator.

Grimmjow doesn’t waste any time in getting inside it, immediately moving up.

“You should probably shower before you go.”

Grimmjow almost snarls but it’s not like the words don’t make sense. And Kurosaki has already waited… fuck, however long it’s been.

“How long was I gone?” Grimmjow asks, almost doesn’t want to know the answer, but he needs to. What if it’s actually been much longer and it’s been years?

“One month.”

“Oh,” Grimmjow blinks.

“Go take a shower, Grimmjow-san,” Urahara says and then he leaves the room.

After taking a breath, Grimmjow actually does as told, makes sure he cleans the gigai top to bottom. He even brushes his teeth, but he doesn’t bother with any makeup, even though it’s weird to look himself in the mirror and find his eyes bare. Somehow, he too looks younger.

Grimmjow puts on sweatpants, a loose T-Shirt and his used combat boots, grabs his wallet, which actually has some money in it. Then he leaves the house.

He takes a bus, kind of wishes he’d brought his phone and the earbuds so he could listen to music. But that probably wouldn’t have exactly taken his mind off things; Ichigo gave him the earbuds, Ichigo taught him how to play music through his phone and pretty much all the music he listens to he first got to know through him.

Ichigo, Ichigo, Ichigo. It’s like he’s infected or something.

But Grimmjow finally accepts that he’s here because he wants to be. It would hurt but he could have stayed in Hueco Mundo. And eventually, surely, it would have stopped hurting so much.

But Grimmjow doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want to not love Ichigo. Even if he’s not that good at it.

Eventually, the bus stops and Grimmjow gets out. He looks around himself, remembers the first time he first came here, but this time the place is familiar.

Grimmjow walks slowly to Ichigo’s building apartment. He almost buzzes at a different name, because what if he says it’s him and Ichigo refuses to let him in? But that’s the whole point. The last time they saw each other, Ichigo asked him to leave. Grimmjow won’t take the choice away from him.

He buzzes the button next to the handwritten Kurosaki I.

Nothing happens. Grimmjow waits at least a whole minute before buzzing again. Still nothing. Maybe he’s out? Grimmjow buzzes one more time; it’s not like he can’t wait.

Finally, Ichigo’s voices comes through, “yeah?”

Grimmjow hisses in a breath. He sounds… normal. Maybe a bit tired, like on the days he’d studied a lot (has he had his exams yet?).

“It’s me,” Grimmjow forces himself to say. No reply. “Grimmjow.”

Still no reply and Grimmjow almost buzzes again but he knows Ichigo heard him. And he promised himself: this is on Ichigo’s terms.

It takes long enough for him to say or do something that Grimmjow is about ready to leave. But eventually the door buzzes, opening.

Grimmjow pulls it, goes in, makes sure it doesn’t hit when he closes it and then he walks the three flights of stairs.

The door is ajar. Grimmjow goes in, closes it and then takes off his shoes. When he stands up, Ichigo is standing in the middle of his living room.

He has his arms crossed, but the way his hands are squeezing the sides they’re touching makes it seem more like he’s hugging himself (Grimmjow has the sudden recollection of having seen this before, in this exact same room, by a different Kurosaki).

Ichigo has bags under his eyes and his mouth has a downward slope that Grimmjow hasn’t seen in a long time.

Neither speaks right away. Grimmjow doesn’t know where to even start. Suddenly, Ichigo sighs. He sounds tired. When he speaks, his eyes are clearly somewhere to the right of Grimmjow’s face.

“Why are you here? I’m sorry, but we can’t be friends anymore. Not for a while, anyway. Maybe…” he fully looks away, “maybe later. I need time.”

This, at least, is easy to reply to. “I don’t want you to have time.” Ichigo raises his head to him, mouth already open, expression angry and Grimmjow is quick to continue, “I don’t want you to have time to get over me. I don’t want you to ever get over me.”

“What the fuck? That’s real selfish of you, you know. You-”

“Because I feel the same,” Grimmjow lets out in a rush. That does shut Ichigo up, though he keeps his mouth open, jaw slack. I love you, he thinks, but can’t force the words out.

Ichigo clenches his jaw, “you were gone for a month.”

“I know.”

“You broke my heart.”

Grimmjow really wants to go to Ichigo, but not until he’s sure his touch will be welcome. An apology isn’t enough.

“We were given aspects of death to emulate,” Grimmjow starts, because he doesn’t know how else to explain. Ichigo is clearly confused by the change of subject, angry, but he keeps quiet. “I got Destruction,” he pauses. He’s never talked about this before. “The emptiness of it. Even if you build from it… the scars are there. I wasn’t ever meant to win. Just to destroy. And if I went out for that… then so be it. I just wasn’t going alone.”

Ichigo’s eyes are wide. Grimmjow is suddenly hit by how much he has missed him.

“You stopped that. You saved my life. And I hated you for it. Because… you took away from me the one thing I was.”

“You’re more than that. You always were,” Ichigo says, not in a whisper, but lower than his normal tone.

Grimmjow remembers Nel’s words. Even her, who’s been away from Aizen’s influence for so long is still trying to figure out her path. Which she believes can be more than what was given to them. And she was Sacrifice, once upon a time.

“I don’t know,” the words come gradually once again, “if I can love you, the way you love me. The way you deserve to be loved.”

Ichigo is quiet for some moments. Then he takes several steps forward, though not enough for them to touch.

“It isn’t about deserving to be loved. Worthy of it. It’s about… I don’t know,” Ichigo lets out a laugh, and it does sound kind of bemused, “I’ve only been in love with you.”

Grimmjow licks his lips, forces himself to say, “you could love someone else.”

Ichigo’s eyes suddenly harden and what Grimmjow remembers is meeting him – fighting him – in Hueco Mundo. “I don’t want to love anyone else. You are… you are infuriating. You came into my life unapologetically and you carved up a space for yourself with zero regard to what you were cutting. And I love you for it. Because you… you woke me up,” Ichigo exhales, “you’re the most stubborn, smug asshole I have ever met. You have changed my life. And you’ve done it since the moment we first met. And these past few months… you did it again. And I’ll always be thankful for that.”

“Even with the heartbreak?” Grimmjow’s words almost come out in a croak, like he hasn’t drunk in days.

“Yeah, even then.”

Finally, Ichigo closes the distance between them. He raises an arm and with his hand in a fist, he lowers it to Grimmjow’s chest, where the gigai’s heart rests. “I don’t need you to love me perfectly. I don’t want you to. I want you to be here. Exactly as you’ve been for the past few months. So, just…” Ichigo opens up his hand, all five fingers extended, “stay.”

“That simple?”

Ichigo laughs, looks Grimmjow in the eyes, “when has anything in our lives ever been simple?” He turns serious, “I’m still hurt. But… you came back.”

“I’m sorry it took me so long.”

Ichigo nods, slowly. He smiles, raises his free hand to Grimmjow’s face, rubs his thumb below Grimmjow’s right eye. “You’re not wearing any makeup.”

The response to that, at least, is simple. “You waited long enough.”

Ichigo blinks, the smile still playing around his lips. He’s beautiful. Grimmjow raises his hands to his waist and he can’t help the way the touch is light. Like he’s afraid Ichigo is abruptly going to disappear.

Ichigo’s hand is still on Grimmjow’s face, his own going through too many expressions for Grimmjow to parse them all. “I wish I could see your mask again. But… I think if I’d still had my powers when you came back, we wouldn’t be here now. You would have wanted to fight and I don’t know if we’d both survive that.”

Grimmjow moves his head so that Ichigo’s whole palm is around his right cheek. He’s right; Grimmjow wouldn’t have left without his fair share of blood. And that feels like… a waste. Winning. Unimportant, in the face of this.

It is scary. What is Grimmjow without his want of more? Without the Destruction? But he wants to find out. He wants to be more. And he wants Ichigo. In all the ways he’s willing to give himself. And he’ll give himself in return. Open himself up for an even deadlier wound than the one that left him almost dead for ages in the desert.

A leap of faith.

Grimmjow stares at Ichigo, whose eyes are still on him, soft. No, not a leap of faith. He’s never felt surer of anything in his life.