[IDW] Marry Me 01

It was all Rodimus’ fault, as most things usually were.

Because Rodimus was the Prime of doing Stupid Things. He was ludicrously good at doing stupid things. He was so skilled at getting in over his head that Ultra Magnus thought his Rodimus Star should have been for extracting the co-captain from the holes he’d dug himself rather than ‘Neatest Handwriting’ and other various accomplishments.

Ultra Magnus also blamed Ratchet. The irascible medic seemed the only one capable of smacking some sense into the Lost Light crew. But Ratchet was gone, leaving only a note behind, and those left behind were still reeling. Magnus didn’t blame him, but right now, he missed Ratchet’s blunt common sense, something that was in short supply on this ship.

It was also Ratchet’s fault because his exit had left a hole in the crew and though few would say so aloud, they would miss him.

It was why Rodimus suggested they stop at Exelon Five. He said the entire crew could use a break and they were lightyears away from Hedonia. Exelon, Rodimus said, was the entertainment hub of this sector. With its overdeveloped planet and massive spaceport, Ultra Magnus actually believed him.

Everywhere one looked were gleaming towers, polished roadways, and more development than seemed possible for a single planet to support. It actually reminded Ultra Magnus of Cybertron before the war. The sight sent a pang of longing through him.

Most importantly, however, was that the Exelons welcomed Cybertronian visitors.

So long as your name wasn’t Megatron and you weren’t the leader of the universally loathed Decepticons. Ultra Magnus made it a point to not mention that Megatron was on board when they requested clearance to land. A task made easier as Megatron wasn’t on the bridge at the time.

When asked whether or not he agreed they should take a pause in their journey, Megatron’s response had been one Ultra Magnus did not care to repeat. Clearly, Megatron was still reeling from the revelations of Brainstorm’s ill-advised journey to the past.

Ultra Magnus should have known not to listen to Rodimus. But informing Rodimus not to do something never worked. And with Megatron continuing to sulk in his quarters, there was no one to keep Rodimus from landing on the gleaming planet. Especially since the rest of the crew was so excited, eagerly latching onto anything that would serve as a healthy distraction.

“A week,” Rodimus declared with a grin on his face and his hands on his hips. “We’ll take a week. We’ll get our groove back. We’ll forget all about that Brainstorm… nonsense. And then it’s back to the quest!”

Ultra Magnus wasn’t sure who Rodimus was trying to convince more.

So he sighed, nodded, and said, “Very well, Rodimus. A week it is.”

To Rodimus’ credit, he managed to stay out of trouble for five days.

Ultra Magnus was tentatively daring to believe that they might manage to extricate themselves from Exelon Five without any incidents. The locals were friendly and welcomed shanix. There was plenty to keep everyone occupied. There was lots of entertainment to be had from shopping to fictional vids to amusement parks, all of it sized well for Cybertronians.

Most of all, there was quiet. Ultra Magnus could walk around the halls of the Lost Light without worrying about being barreled into by random mechs or stopping yet another game of Grenade Tag. Reluctantly, he had to admit, the brief stop did much toward alleviating the tension that had been lingering every since Brainstorm’s trial.

Ultra Magnus would even admit enj– enjoy– not hating this brief vacation.

Until he received the ping on his communications array.
0o0o0

The residents of Exelon Five did not drink engex. That, however, did not stop them from socializing with the Lost Light‘s crew in Swerve’s bar. Nor did it stop them from buying round after round for the crewmembers that they found most entertaining.

They adored Tailgate for one, but then, who didn’t?

The Exelons were about the standard for organics in Swerve’s opinion. Bipedal in appearance, a little smaller than the average Cybertronian, which meant they towered over Swerve, but someone like Skids could look down on them. The tentacles were pretty weird, and they had extra arms, and their outer dermal layer was a translucent blue, but they weren’t ugly. And they didn’t stink like most organics.

They were fearless around the Cybertronians. They were either packing some serious firepower or didn’t know enough to be afraid. Swerve suspected it was the former. He doubted there was anyone left in the universe who didn’t know how dangerous Cybertronians could be.

Frankly, Swerve was glad they weren’t afraid. The more carefree they were, the more shanix they spent in his bar. And well, they pretty much defined chatty. Everyone thought Swerve talked a lot. But the Exelons had both Swerve and Bluestreak beaten in that regard. They also had no shame. No topic was off-limits.

Swerve had even seen one ask Rewind if he could see their interfacing equipment! Chromedome had gotten all bristly while Rewind laughed and Whirl was about to trot on over and proudly display his. Thank Primus Rung had enough sense to put a stop to that!

Swerve tilted his head and had a thought. Perhaps he ought to amend the rules of the bar. No briefcases. No swords. And all panels needed to remain closed at all times. No exceptions.

It was bad enough Mirage was trying to open a “classier” bar. The last thing Swerve needed was to drive offended patrons in Mirage’s direction. Swerve didn’t want to be the sleazy dive on the Lost Light. He wanted to be the friendly, feels-like-home place that everyone felt welcome.

Which meant offending and upsetting no one with unwanted sexual displays.

“Hey, Swerve.”

He turned from arranging his already carefully alphabetized engexes – seriously, it was part of the rules for keeping his bar open. Ultra Magnus decreed – and planted a big grin on his face.

“Yo, Skids,” he greeted, and leaned against the counter. “What can I get for you? No, wait. Let me guess. Another Overdrive, right?”

Skids laughed, his optics lighting up with amusement. “Right. You always know what I want, Swerve.”

“I’m good at knowing what mechs want.” He winked, but Skids had already turned away, scanning the room for others to socialize with. Probably Getaway. Maybe Nautica. Somebody who wasn’t Swerve.

The usual.

Swerve fixed Skids’ engex, handing him the mixed drink and adding it to Skids’ tab. He watched the theoretician walk off with said engex after offering a cheerful ‘thank you!’ only to join Nighbeat and Nautica in the corner.

Shocker.

“My friend, you do not seem to be having much luck.” The thick accent dragged Swerve’s attention to one of the Exelons who had taken up a post at the very end of Swerve’s main bar and seemed content to stay there.

He – or maybe she, Swerve didn’t know, he just defaulted to he because until Nautica, he thought everybody was he, but whatever. Anyway, this Exelon seemed more like an observer. He sipped his drink and watched the laughter and the dancing and the chatting.

“Luck?” Swerve repeated as he took himself and his cleaning cloth down to the end of the bar. No one else was clamoring for a drink so he might as well take the opportunity to have a little chat.

Not like anyone else was clamoring for one of those either.

“With your flirtations.” The Exelon language was strange, all bubbly and slag, but Swerve’s internal translator seemed to work just fine. It gave him an almost Tarnian accent and that was the weirdest part. “No one is responding.”

“Oh. Yeah…” Swerve trailed off, feeling his faceplate heat. Wow. Not only was he a loser that no one noticed, he was one who aliens noticed couldn’t seem to catch so much as a friendly smile in return.

Like frag he was going to admit the truth.

“Truth is,” Swerve continued as he leaned onto the bar, getting closer and lowering his voice conspiratorially. “I’m a one-bot kinda guy, you know? Faithful to the end, that’s me. My partner just couldn’t make it tonight is all.”

“Ohhhhhh.” Multiple eyes blink at him in that sideways blinking thing the Exelons do. “Why, then, do you flirt?”

Swerve shrugged. “Because I can. It’s fun. Sells more engex.” He half-lit his optical band, a type of wink that he’d learned from Atomizer. “Part of the job, you know. Suave and charming bartender.”

The Exelon laughed. “Well, I think you fit the part well, friend Swerve. And your partner must be a lucky mech.”

“He sure is. Luckiest mech on the Lost Light.” Swerve chuckled and was glad that it didn’t come out as hollow as it felt.

Someone else hollered for him and by someone, Swerve meant Whirl, so he excused himself from the Exelon and went to do his job. His conversation with the local alien remained on his mind, but he was simply too busy the rest of the night to go back and speak with him. The next time Swerve looked, the Exelon had left, along with most of his peers and the crowd had become predominantly Cybertronian.

Back to business as usual.

It wasn’t until later, when he was cleaning up and most of his customers had departed and Ten planted himself firmly in the doorway that Swerve could breathe anything like a sigh of relief. There were a few who lingered, the quiet ones mostly, one of whom was Tailgate. Good old Tailgate. He could always be counted on to stick around and chat, even lend a hand if Cyclonus wasn’t around to brood enticingly in his direction.

“The Exelons are interesting,” Tailgate was saying as he sipped on his Tangerine Dream, sat on his stool, and kicked his legs.

He was infuriatingly adorable and no wonder he could have damn near any mech on this ship. Swerve wasn’t jealous. Much.

“One of ’em kept trying to get Cyclonus to show off his vocal skills on a stage,” Tailgate added.

Swerve snickered. “A shame he didn’t succeed. I’m sure that would have been epic. Or hilarious. Or both. Epically hilarious.”

“Yep! So now he’s hiding in our room and I think he’s going to stay there until we leave.” Tailgate laughed and slurped harder at his engex. “Especially since one of them kept trying to feel him up with their tentacles.”

Swerve could just imagine it, too. Though he’d probably go hide in his habsuite if one of the Exelons tried to grope him, too. Or maybe he was just lonely enough to let them…

“Sorry, by the way.”

Swerve blinked and looked at Tailgate, pausing mid-sweep. “Sorry for what?”

“You were too busy to flirt tonight, I guess. No luck, huh?”

Swerve shrugged and paid more attention to his sweeping. Oh, look, another victim of Whirl! Into this dustpan went the shattered glass. He’d be getting another scrawled apology from Whirl later. Which was improvement.

“Nah, it’s fine,” he said and then laughed a little because it was absurd, but Tailgate was probably the only one who would understand. After all, he’d spent a good bit of time lying about the words on his arm. “One of them noticed my lack of success and I lied. Told them I already had a partner. So I made sure to keep up appearances the rest of the night by flirting with none of the zero people who hit on me.”

Tailgate’s optics dimmed. “Oh.” He shifted on the stool with a squeak of rusty screws. He set his empty cup on the bar behind him. “Well, there’s always tomorrow.”

“Yeah.” Swerve sighed as he picked up what looked to be a mesh cloth soaked in someone’s lubricant. Definitely time to update the sign. “I guess there is.”
0o0o0

He didn’t run out of the Lost Light per se, but it was a near thing.

“Uh, Ultra Magnus…? I seem to have gotten myself into some trouble. And I need your help.”

He was doomed. Utterly doomed to a life spent cleaning up after Rodimus’ messes. He’d barked an order into the comm systems, ignoring Megatron’s petulant ‘I’m busy’ reply, and informed the former warlord to get himself to the command station instead of hiding. Because his co-captain was being an idiot. Again.

“You see, there was this race, and I entered it because their idea of a race car is a joke. And I won, of course I won, it was easy! But, the problem is, I shouldn’t have won. Because winning means I’m now their future king and they don’t like that. They don’t like that at all.”

The prospect of Rodimus being in danger, possibly getting damaged or punished, had been what managed to draw Megatron out of his quarters. He’d strode into the command center as though he hadn’t been hiding, nose to the air like a king on his throne. There was a Sharkticon-like grin on his face.

There was little love lost between the two co-captains. But that wasn’t Ultra Magnus’ problem to solve at the moment. No.

He had to keep Rodimus alive first.

“And now the only way to redeem themselves is to kill me and I’m not interested in going to my own execution, Ultra Magnus. So unless you want to spend the rest of the quest with only Megatron to lead you, maybe you could get your aft down here and save me?”

At least Rodimus had had enough sense to call the right person for the job. Sometimes, Rodimus just didn’t think. Trust him to do something as stupid as, oh, calling Blaster or someone else first. It was hard to say with Rodimus sometimes.

No. Ultra Magnus did not run out of the Lost Light, but he did transform as soon as he was free of the off-ramp and dove into the core of the city with its towering spires and flashing, neon lights. Of course Rodimus would choose a place as flashy and gaudy as himself. He knew he should have gone with Rodimus! Why did he ever think Rodimus could look after himself?

Magnus’ engine revved. Traffic parted for him, though he was obeying the posted speed limit and the traffic laws he’d discovered on the Exelon intranet. It took him little time at all to arrive at Council Headquarters where Rodimus was being kept. He transformed and took a page out of Megatron’s book, striding through the front doors with authority clinging to every inch of his frame.

“Where is my Captain?” he demanded politely.

Although the Exelons weren’t small by any means, Ultra Magnus still towered over them. So even his polite voice was quite effective.

The Exelon at the front desk, however, looked at him coolly. “If you’re referring to the one called Rodimus Prime, he is in the back office. Through that door and to your left.” And then he looked back at his computer or equivalent and continued typing. Dismissing.

Ultra Magnus squinted at the Exelon. “Thank you,” he said. He’d expected more of a fight. Maybe retrieving Rodimus would be easier than he thought.

As it turned out, it would not be.

He found the back office easily enough and after knocking, Ultra Magnus was let into the large room. He found Rodimus, seated in a chair and draped with chains, far more than must have been necessary. Rodimus’ fingers were rapping a bored rhythm on the arm of his chair.

There were four Exelons in the room, two of them pointing a rather impressive looking weapon at Rodimus. A subtle scan informed Ultra Magnus that the blaster was more than enough to remove Rodimus’ head from his shoulders. And after, no doubt, put a hole where his spark should be. Oh my.

Another Exelon sat behind a desk, glowering in Rodimus’ direction, and there was a second one behind her, smaller and younger. He was grinning from ear to ear, his extra appendages wriggling.

“I have come to retrieve my captain,” Ultra Magnus began with a slanted look in Rodimus’ direction. “I understand that there has been some misunderstanding–”

“There is no misunderstanding,” the female behind the desk interjected, her eyes narrowing into slits. A placard on her desk identified her as Grand Regent Prixa. In other words, she was Important. “The rules are quite clear. And we will not tolerate an outsider on our throne.”

Rules? Rules were the engex of Ultra Magnus’ existence!

He stared down the female. “Then I must protest. Until I have reviewed the regulations, I cannot, in good conscience, allow this to proceed. Per the Galactic Code, Volume 1301, Subsection B; Paragraph 17, we are entitled to–”

“Yes, yes, I know.” Grand Regent Prixa waved her hand and huffed a breath. Her appendages flicked at him. One hand pushed an item resembling a datapad across the desk. “Here. The last thing I need is another visit from the Galactic Council.”

Indeed. Especially since the Galactic Council had little to no fondness for Cybertronians and thanks to Rodimus, no liking for the Lost Light in general. Though the Exelons could not know that. Ultra Magnus wasn’t about to tell them that it probably work in their favor to summon the attention of the Galactic Council.

He picked up the datapad, flicked it on, and began to read. He ignored, for the moment, Rodimus pinging his internal comm. This required the utmost attention.

What he found was most discouraging.

In short, yes, the Exelons were within their right to execute Rodimus in order to prevent him ascending to the throne he had rightfully won. A throne Rodimus probably hadn’t even realized he was vying to take. There was no simple solution. The Exelon royalty succession rights were tangled up in the necessity to prove themselves superior in a once a solar cycle race that, unfortunately, anyone was allowed to enter.

Ultra Magnus suspected that there were few who entered with the intention of winning. As the preceding royal line could always put in a bid to execute a winner of whom they did not approve.

The simple answer, of course, seemed to be that Rodimus should just say, “No, thank you. I don’t want your throne.” But that wasn’t an option. By entering the race, he’d declared his intentions. He couldn’t change his mind after the fact.

How frustrating.

Rodimus was going to be executed. There was no way around that. But, and here was a loophole that Ultra Magnus almost missed because he was looking for prevention, there was a way to delay said execution. Not indefinitely, but perhaps long enough for Ultra Magnus to come up with a new solution as the Grand Regent was looking hungry for energon and Rodimus’ guards looked like they had itchy trigger fingers.

Ultra Magnus sighed.

“I didn’t know,” Rodimus blurted with an urgency in his voice. “I swear. If I’d known, I would have walked away and never looked back.”

“Ignorance is no excuse,” Ultra Magnus retorted and he knew he’d won a point when the Grand Regent inclined her head and smiled approvingly.

He tucked the datapad under his arm for further dissection, hoping that the female wouldn’t demand it back. Maybe there was something he’d missed that Perceptor could understand. Highly unlikely, but Ultra Magnus was going to exhaust all avenues first.

“Now you see,” the Grand Regent said with a gesture toward Rodimus. “We must proceed.”

Rodimus made a distressed noise.

Ultra Magnus sighed again. “Yes, but there is one detail that my captain perhaps neglected to mention given his ignorance of your rules.”

Prixa’s eyes narrowed and she leaned back in her chair, crossing all of her arms. “I am listening.”

“There is a provision,” Ultra Magnus began as he folded his arms behind his back, “which states that if the individual in question is required for a duty that no one else can perform in his absence, than said individual’s execution can be delayed until after the duty has been performed in full.”

“This is true.” One arm unfolded as the Grand Regent began rapping her fingers on the desk top. “But I understand that you are his second in command, yes? What duty do you claim he must perform that you cannot?”

Ultra Magnus did his absolute best not to fidget because this, here, was the unfortunate part. This was the part that left him squirming as he considered it and a part of him could not believe it was the only solution he could provide. It was so monumentally stupid that he wondered if Rodimus hadn’t infected him after all.

“A wedding,” he said.

“A wedding,” she repeated and her eyes became narrower, if it was at all possible. “You cannot perform a wedding?”

“Not if it is my own,” Ultra Magnus clarified.

Rodimus sucked in a ventilation so fast that he started to cough. Ultra Magnus wasn’t sure if he was laughing or in denial, but he tossed his captain a bland look anyway. Rodimus bent forward, his vents wheezing.

The Grand Regent blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

“He’s… he’s engaged,” Rodimus managed to say as his chains rattled around him and the blasters pointed at his head wobbled with threat. “It’s a recent thing. I totally forgot about that. But yeah. He’s engaged. Aren’t you, Magnus?”

Magnus squinted at him. Rodimus was deriving far too much pleasure from the threat of near-death.

“Yes,” he said, “I am.”

He drew himself up straight and looked the Grand Regent right in the eye. Er, eyes.

“I am engaged,” Ultra Magnus repeated, louder now, for the sake of all who were listening. “And as the second in command of the Lost Light, the only one who can perform the ceremony is Rodimus.”

Please, for the love of Primus, he hoped they did not ask about Megatron. He hoped no one had mentioned Megatron or Megatron’s place on the Lost Light. Because if they did, Ultra Magnus was going to have to lie again, and he did not like this first lie.

Though he liked the idea of Rodimus without a head even less.

“That is highly convenient,” Prixa said as she leaned forward, glaring at both of them.

Ultra Magnus conceded her observation with a tilt of his head. “Yes, but to be fair, my existing engagement has no bearings on the fact that my captain mistakenly entered a race. It was not relevant until now.”

Her fingers laced together in front of her as she looked over her hands at them. “So you say. But I also find it interesting that my cultural investigators tell me everyone on your ship is either attached, married or single. No one claimed to be engaged. And no one claimed to be partnered with you.”

One of Rodimus’ guards coughed into a tentacle.

“Oh, right, except for one mech.” She waved a hand of dismissal. “He declined to give the name of his partner.”

Rodimus lurched forward, rattling his chains again. “Well, process of elimination, lady. That was obviously Magnus’, uh, promised. He’s the one with the, uh…” Rodimus trailed off and tossed Ultra Magnus a pleading look.

For the love of Primus, it had better not be Whirl. He was the only one likely to lie like that for reasons unbeknownst to anyone but Whirl. Ultra Magnus could not imagine the ramifications of trying to get someone with as little tact as Whirl to give off the necessary subtle performance which would be needed here.

The Grand Regent picked up a piece of paper and read in a bored tone, “He was very pleasant and friendly and I appreciated his red and white paint. After being surrounded by the larger Cybertronians, it was nice to have a conversation with one who was shorter than I.” She put down the paper and looked at them both. “Does this sound like your fiance?”

Ultra Magnus’ spark dropped into his tanks. To be fair, most of the mechs on the Lost Light were shorter than Ultra Magnus. Though the color of the paint did narrow down his suspicions.

“Um, maybe?” Rodimus said, but he sounded confused.

Magnus would have to speak to him another time about learning his crew better. But for now, he sighed.

“Swerve,” Ultra Magnus acknowledged aloud and resisted the urge to scrape his hand down his faceplate. “Yes, Swerve is my… we’re getting married.”

Rodimus outright cackled.

[Bleach] One Way Street

Renji thinks he might be a masochist. Or if not, then he’s at least a little sick in the head. Since this doesn’t make any sort of sense. Not at all.

Only a fool would stand here, breath bated, watching from the shadows like some kind of stalker. Only a really twisted person would stand here, hand down his hakama. Watching with a mixture of want and pleasure and hatred and disgust, until it all coils in his belly like a fire and showers him in guilt and shame. Only a supreme idiot of the world would watch the man he’s pretty sure he loves in some kind of way, shove his tongue down the throat of a Hollow who should be dead.

Renji hates that it simultaneously turns him on like nothing else and fills him to the core with disgust. He hates that he can’t seem to drag his eyes away from Ichigo and flinches every time a piece of Grimmjow interrupts his view. And more than that, Renji hates that his own breathing grows ragged. That he’s so hard and aching that he’s naturally slicked his fingers to make things easier. That his entire body trembles and he’s tasting blood because he’s biting down on his lip to keep himself from making a noise that might be noticed.

Swallowing thickly, Renji watches. Eyes avidly tracing each twitch of muscle beneath smooth and scarred tanned skin. The red flush in Ichigo’s cheeks. The way he licks his lips and how his eyes darken with lust.

The redhead can just imagine himself there in that fucker Grimmjow’s place. Above Ichigo or under him, it doesn’t matter to Renji. He wonders how Ichigo tastes and imagines dragging his tongue over every inch of Ichigo’s skin. Curling his tongue around the head of Ichigo’s arousal and taking him deep. Listening to those sexy grunts and moans and bitten-down whimpers.

Renji sucks air through his nose, swallowing down a groan as his hand works faster over his own length. Hating himself but unwilling to stop. It’s sick, and it’s wrong, but he watches. Gods above and below, he watches and can’t tear his eyes away.

He rubs his thumb over the slick head of his length, feels himself shiver as jagged heat rips through him. Renji sucks on his bottom lip, watching as Ichigo drags his hands down Grimmjow’s back and grips his hips, and Renji’s imagination easily puts himself in the Arrancar’s place. Wondering how it would feel for Ichigo to slide against him, wet and hard, throbbing.

Heart pounding in his chest and the strong taste of copper in his mouth, Renji jerks himself off so hard it almost hurts. Long, tight pulls of his fist. He watches, and he seethes. And when he comes, it’s both a relief and a greater suffering. He spills all over his fingers and dampens his hakama, satiation battling with shame.

Renji’s eyes close as tremors of pleasure wrack his body. He turns, leaning back against the boulder that has served as his cover. He slides down the length of it, head falling back to lightly hit the rock.

He’s such a fucking idiot.

A slow chuckle slides through the quiet. “How naughty, Abarai-kun.”

His eyes snap open. And Renji freezes as he catches sight of Urahara-san standing a mere dozen feet away from him, eyes hidden by that damn hat. A smirk twists his lips as one hand toys with the head of his cane – his concealed zanpakutou.

“U-Urahara-san,” Renji splutters and struggles to cover himself, doing nothing but streaking his clothes in his semen. “How long have ya been standin’ there?”

“Long enough,” the blond sing-songs with an evil note in his tone. “My, my, I wander just what Kurosaki-kun would say if you knew what you were up to. I imagine young Grimm-kun wouldn’t be too happy either.”

Renji feels the color drain from his face, and his breath catches in his throat. “You’re here, too!” he says and feels like a kid for arguing so stupidly like this. “So what’s that say about ya?”

“But my eyes were for a different show altogether,” Urahara-san practically purrs and approaches until he is a mere two feet away. “In thanks for that, I won’t be telling Kurosaki-kun anything, but really, Abarai-kun. I never knew you had it in you.”

Renji refuses to admit that the heat staining his cheeks is anything close to a blush. “It’s none of your business,” he snarls. Pushing himself to his feet and pressing his back against the boulder as though it will serve as some protection against such blatant manipulations.

The shopkeeper tilts his head to the side, eyes gleaming from the shadows of his hat. “Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t.”

Renji bares his teeth, feeling like a cornered, wild animal. The last thing he needs is Urahara-san piling guilt on top of the shame that’s already making a nasty nest inside of him. He knows he’s some kind of sick bastard; he doesn’t need Urahara-san as a witness to his perversion.

“What do ya want?” the vice-captain demands because Urahara-san wouldn’t have announced himself just to tease him. He’s still sticking around because he wants something, has to be. “Want me ta beg ya not ta tell him?”

It’s false bravado. Inside, Renji feels just a bit like puking at the thought of either Ichigo figuring things out or Urahara-san forcing him to do something unsavory. But if there’s one thing Renji’s always been good at, it’s lifting his head and putting on a front of bravery. Even if inside he’s quaking and his face is paler than snow.

Urahara-san clucks his tongue, staff rapping sharply against the ground as he just looks at Renji. A stare that’s enough to make the redhead’s skin prickle and remind him that his clothes are rumpled, his fingers sticky with his own come, and parts of his body are bared to the air. Not that Renji’s ever been particularly modest, but he feels stripped naked right now. And it’s a disquieting feeling.

“As entertaining as that might be, Abarai-kun, I’m not here to blackmail you,” Urahara-san says carefully though he never lost that edge to his tone. “This just happens to be a matter of providence for me.”

A matter of providence? What the fuck is he talking about?

Renji knows he must be gaping like a landed fish. And he can’t seem to formulate any kind of response other. Except to give Urahara-san a stupefied expression.

The blond chuckles and turns on his heel. Geta an annoying, distinctive clack-clack of noise against the hard-packed dirt.

“You should get cleaned up, Abarai-kun. Unless you’re planning on making today the day you confess,” he tosses over his shoulder.

Confess? The thought has never crossed Renji’s mind. Confess? To what purpose? To watch Ichigo get all uncomfortable around him, to realize that his kinda-sorta friend has been harboring all sorts of lusty thoughts. And worse, that it won’t matter anyway because Ichigo’s with that Arrancar now – if that’s what they want to call it – and there’s not any room for Renji. If there was even any room before.

The vice-captain knocks his head back against the boulder, skull rapping sharply. Not enough to hurt. Just to feel it. And half-considers banging his head into the boulder a few times. Wondering if it will be enough to pound some sense into his brain.

He hears voice somewhere behind him, growing louder. Ichigo and that Hollow are arguing. Not mean-spirited but their usual annoyed banter. No doubt Grimmjow’s challenging Ichigo to some sort of spar so he can feel like king of the mountain again. And Ichigo puts up with it for some reason Renji can’t understand. He just doesn’t see what Ichigo finds so alluring about the damn Arrancar. And not for the first time, Renji wishes he hadn’t helped, that he hadn’t been there to hit Grimmjow with a binding kidoh and haul his unconscious ass to Urahara-san’s.

Things would be so much easier if Renji hadn’t given a damn.

[Bleach] What Are You Looking For?

“Well, if it isn’t my newest freeloader?”

Grimmjow freezes at the sound of that voice, somehow always sounding like it’s lewd to him. He swears up and down that the geta-boushi looks at him funny. Like he knows something Grimmjow doesn’t. And he hates that stupid, ugly hat, too. It hides too much, and Grimmjow can’t guess what he’s thinking.

Turning, Grimmjow presses his back against the wall, caught in his attempt to stealthily sneak into the kitchen and obtain something to eat. It’s been hours since the “fast food” that Kurosaki brought him, and his stomach is growling. Hell, at this point, he’s considering Hollow-hunting, except that he can’t really leave this place.

Dammit.

“Ya should talk to Ichigo ’bout that,” Grimmjow returns warily. “He’s the one that won’t let me leave.”

Urahara looks at him, his eyes shadowed by that stupid hat and making his intentions impossible to read. “I don’t see any chains or shackles. Perhaps there’s something else keeping you here,” he hints, that damn fan fluttering in front of him and only half-concealing his face.

The Espada swears that the Shinigami-smelling shopkeeper is leering at him. And yeah, the blond doesn’t look like one, but he stinks like a Shinigami. An exiled one probably. Or even retired. But Urahara is definitely Shinigami somehow.

“I could leave if I wanted,” Grimmjow returns, squaring his shoulders. If Urahara thinks he knows Grimmjow, then he’s sorely mistaken. “I just haven’t yet.”

“And why not?” Geta clack against the floor as he steps closer. And though they are the same height, the shopkeeper seems to loom over Grimmjow. “Have you fallen under dear Kurosaki-kun’s spell as well?”

Stepping backwards to return the space between them, Grimmjow splutters. “I don’t know what the hell yer talking about!” he says and feels the hair rise on the back of his neck. He doesn’t like this creepy Maybe-Shinigami at all. “Ichigo’s the freak that saved me. I didn’t ask him ta do it.”

The man laughs. “Yes, he does have a mind of his own. Strange how that works,” he murmurs, that fan fluttering again as he continues to watch Grimmjow.

The Arrancar edges down the hallway and towards the safety of the underground basement. Feeling as if that bastard is stripping him down with those shadowed eyes. Fuck lunch. He can do without it.

“If ya want me out of here, just say it,” Grimmjow says, hating that he’s here by this man’s grace and nothing else.

He doesn’t want to admit that he has nowhere else to go, so he pretends that he does. That if he gets thrown out on his ass it’s no big deal. And though that pretty thick wound on his chest itches, he ignores it. He can make it on his own. He’s done a good job of it so far. He doesn’t need anyone. Not this pervert and definitely not Kurosaki Ichigo.

“Now, Grimm-chan, whatever makes you think I’d be happy to be rid of your presence?” Urahara says in a near purr. He cocks his head to the side.

Warning bells ring in the back of Grimmjow’s head. He’s pretty sure that Urahara has something up his sleeve. Grimmjow has come to realize that the blond is a crafty bastard. It’s why he avoids the man whenever possible.

“Ya certainly ain’t celebratin’ it.”

Urahara chuckles, and somehow, the sound makes Grimmjow worried for his chastity. If he even has such a thing. Bright blue eyes narrow, but before he can speak, his gaze catches movement behind the shopkeeper. Stepping down the hall, Grimmjow recognizes a familiar face.

“Yo, Urahara-san,” Abarai Renji greets and lifts a hand. He is wearing the black robes of a Shinigami, zanpakutou strapped at his side.

“Well, if it isn’t my other freeloader,” Urahara says with an easy grin, turning to greet him. “Come for dinner again, Abarai-san?”

A flush stains the redhead’s cheeks, but he shakes his head. “Actually, I thought Grimmjow might be up for a spar.” His eyes shift to the Arrancar, carefully guarded and revealing nothing. “Are ya?”

“Che.” He snorts. “These wounds’re nothing.”

The fan snaps shut as Urahara claps his hands together. “Play nice, boys! And maybe I’ll have Tessai whip us all up dinner. Ne?”

Grimmjow watches the pervert warily. Unwilling to get any closer but seeing the escape of the trapdoor just behind him.

“Yeah whatever.”

Luckily, Urahara is already moving past Renji, leaving Shinigami and Arrancar to their business. Keeping his sigh of relief internal, Grimmjow turns toward the basement, the pineapple-headed idiot on his heels. Still, he swears that he can hear a chuckle echo in the hallway behind them – Urahara laughing.

He grits his teeth. “Bastard,” he mutters under his breath.

“He’s not so bad,” Renji returns as he moves around him to lift up the concealing trapdoor. “Once ya overlook the perversions and invasions of personal space.”

“He do that to everybody?” Grimmjow asks.

Renji thinks about it for a minute before he ducks his head, nodding. “Yeah, pretty much.” Heat stains his cheeks as the door snaps open, and he rises to his feet.

Grimmjow snorts. “Che. Pervert.”

And then, he realizes he’s becoming friendly of all things with a Shinigami. He can’t have that.

He says nothing else, dropping down into the basement with Renji right behind him. The sudden change from the dim interior of the shouten to the bright and fake light of the basement makes Grimmjow momentarily wince. He can’t say that he misses the darkness of Hueco Mundo though since he doesn’t. There is something about that black sky that had always seemed so lonely to him. Though he will never admit that out loud to anyone.

“Ya ain’t seen Ichigo, have ya?” he questions then, mostly because it seems weird to be here when the teen isn’t. Grimmjow knows he doesn’t belong here. But that’s all Ichigo’s fault to begin with, so what else is he supposed to do?

Renji looks at him with a strange, stupid expression. “Why?”

“Forget it,” Grimmjow says, not wanting to answer the question because he isn’t about to explain himself to some Shinigami. Even if said Shinigami had been one to help Ichigo in the first place. “Are we gonna spar or not?”

Drawing his zanpakutou, Renji huffs. “Spar,” he mutters with an annoyed breath. “Impatient bastard. I shoulda just killed ya when I had the chance.”

Smirking, Grimmjow draws his own blade, a part of him surprised that they allow him to keep it. But then, no one’s ever mentioned that he’s a prisoner or anything. He’s free to come and go as he pleases. His fate is up to him. Too bad he doesn’t know what he plans on doing with it.

“Why didn’t you?” he counters, gradually loosening his hold on his reiatsu and letting it curl around him like a powerful cloak.

By the feeling of power rising in the air, Renji is doing much the same.

The redhead shrugs. And the motion seems nonchalant but even Grimmjow knows better than that.

“Ichigo didn’t want ya dead.”

In the end, it all comes back to him, doesn’t it?

Eyes narrowing, Grimmjow avoids the line of conversation and darts forward with blade lifted. Renji isn’t much of a challenge; he would rather be sparring with Ichigo. But the Vizard isn’t here right now, and Grimmjow will take what he can get. Anything to distract him from the excitement his existence currently lacks. And especially from the lusty thoughts that occasionally intrude on his subconscious. Thoughts that usually involve Ichigo in some state of erotic disarray.

Their swords collide, and Grimmjow smirks when the force of his blow drives his opponent back a step. The Shinigami is quick to recover, however, And soon, they are trading skilled strikes, a familiar burn building its way through Grimmjow’s body. This, at least, he can understand. The sound of blades clashing and the adrenaline rushing through his veins.

He twists, and his sword flashes out, cutting shallowly into Renji’s side. With a muttered hiss, the redhead counterattacks. Grimmjow whirls to avoid and catches a small gash across the top of his arm. The smell of blood rises in the air, but they’re not out to kill each other.

“Yer not so bad, Shinigami,” Grimmjow taunts because he finds that his opponents make more mistakes when they are angry. Especially this one. “Not as good as Ichigo, of course. But you’ll do.”

Red flushes Renji’s cheeks, a mix of anger and embarrassment. Grimmjow knows his type and isn’t surprised when the redhead’s attacks suddenly get more aggressive. Bolder.

“Shut up!” he snarls, zanpakutou whipping through the air. “I don’t want to hear somethin’ like that from someone who was only the sixth.”

Grimmjow snorts. Throwing out rankings that don’t mean anything anymore. If Renji thinks it’s an insult, he’s sorely mistaken.

Their blades crash and lock. Grimmjow meets eyes nearly the color of blood, finding that they are the same height, and counters with a feral grin. He drags his tongue over his lips, blood pumping through his veins.

“So tell me, Shinigami,” he says, the exertion is more than his body is ready to deal with so soon. Not that Grimmjow is going to stop or anything. “Which Espada was it you defeated? ‘Cause I can’t remember one.”

He is amused by the fury that promptly colors Renji’s face as the Shinigami growls in wordless fury. Grimmjow pushes forward with a violent shove, ready to end their deadlock. His fingers curl around his sword, and Renji shifts to counter.

“Renji?”

The redhead stumbles at the sudden sound of his name by a female voice, and Grimmjow’s blade breaks through his guard. His sword slashes across Renji’s shoulder, tearing through cloth and shallowly slicing into his flesh. Panting, Grimmjow pulls back. Pretty damn sure that killing Ichigo’s friend is not in his best interest right now.

Cursing under his breath, Renji slaps a hand over the wound. He whirls to face the newcomer.

“Rukia!” he splutters, sounding like a child caught doing something very, very bad. “What’re ya doing here?”

Bored, Grimmjow rolls his eyes and drags his sword back towards himself and inspects the blade. His fingers dance over the length of it, skipping briefly over the small cracks that haven’t healed yet. Only proving the limits of his own body.

“I was looking for Ichigo,” Rukia replies with a veiled threat in her eyes.

Grimmjow can practically feel the weight of her stare. It crawls over him, pinning right between his shoulder blades. He distinctly remembers shoving his hand through her chest once upon a time. That definitely explains the hostility. Well, that and the fact he’s a Hollow and she’s a Shinigami. The two are naturally inclined to hate one another. Still, he also recalls her trying to drown him in ice, so the feeling of hostility is mutual.

“What the hell is he doing here?” Rukia continues with a half-snarl, taking a step towards them. One hand rests on the hilt of her zanpakutou. “I thought he was dead!

Renji quickly sheathes his sword, running a hand over his hair with obvious nervousness. “Ichigo and I sorta found him in Hueco Mundo,” he rushes to explain. “And things happened. We couldn’t leave ‘im ta die. So he’s here.”

“And you didn’t tell me?” A mixture of outrage and hurt clouds the woman’s tone, not that Grimmjow really cares.

This argument doesn’t concern him in the slightest. Let them have their little tiff. His stomach is growling with increased insistence, and if he doesn’t get something to eat soon, he’s going to hurt something. Preferably Ichigo for abandoning him here with a perverted shopkeeper and a bunch of stuffed animals that moved on their own.

Renji splutters and makes more excuses, apologizing profusely. Grimmjow ignores the both of them, already heading for the massive ladder to the exit. What is it with Shinigami and being pushed around by people half their size? He doesn’t really get it, and he’d rather not stick around to find out the results of their little discussion.

Climbing up the ladder, the Arrancar peers around to ensure that the shopkeeper is nowhere in sight, scowling all the while. He sees neither stripe nor fan of Urahara and assumes that the man is off skulking somewhere else. Luckily for him. And Grimmjow hauls himself off the ladder and slams the trapdoor shut behind him. Better that than one of the brats falling down and injuring themselves, only to blame it on him later. He’d rather avoid that kind of issue.

Yawning, Grimmjow rakes a hand over his hair as he moves down the hallway. This kind of life doesn’t suit him, he reminds himself. This kind of boring, humdrum existence where he does nothing but sit around and heal. But what else can he do? Where else can he go where he won’t be hunted like a mad animal?

The shouten seems abandoned, meaning he won’t run into anyone else who will possibly annoy him. A definite plus. And Grimmjow steps into the kitchen and pulls open the fridge, searching the stocked shelves for something quick and easy. His other hand lifts and rubs across his chest, where his scar is currently twitching with a light ache.

“It still hurts?”

Grimmjow startles at the sudden voice and whirls. The fridge slams shut behind him.

“Don’t do that,” he hisses, glaring furiously. “Does everyone creep around here like a bunch of damn ninjas?”

Ichigo arches one brow at him from where he leans in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest. “Scared were you?”

“Shut up,” Grimmjow snaps. He really, really hates that brat. “When did you get here anyway?”

He wants to ask for food as well, but Grimmjow’s not that weak. He won’t beg Ichigo for anything. Not help. Not food. Not even the answers he can’t seem to find.

“Just now.” The Vizard smirks. “I just came to make sure you hadn’t keeled over or anything. Figured you’d be pretty bored.”

“Oh, you were thinkin’ of me? How sweet,” Grimmjow drawls, rolling his eyes.

He feels aggressive without really knowing why. He thinks if he can just prompt Ichigo into fighting with him, things might clear themselves up. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do with the brat.

He still remembers what happened a couple of days ago. Grimmjow still recalls the feel of Ichigo writhing against him, the warmth of Ichigo in his own fingers, and the heat of the teen’s hand on his arousal. He wants to kiss Ichigo, of all things, and that most of all is what Grimmjow doesn’t understand. He hates this brat.

Doesn’t he?

Brown eyes look at him, as unreadable as everyone else in this damn place, and Grimmjow really hates that. At least in Hueco Mundo. it was pretty easy to tell what others wanted from him. Eat. Sleep. Kill. Fuck. Intrude on the living world to wreak a little havoc. Grimmjow never had to second guess things. Not like here. With Ichigo who should be his enemy but isn’t anymore for reasons he can’t even begin to comprehend.

It’s like a puzzle. One where he’s lost half the pieces and the ones he has left don’t fit together with any sort of sense. No matter which way he turns them or tries to match up the patterns. He can’t even see the big picture anymore. It’s just a confusing jumble of images that don’t form a whole.

Ichigo moves off the doorjamb. His hands fall to his side as he steps into the kitchen, directly into a spray of dappled sunlight that further conceals his expression.

“You never answered my question.”

Grimmjow scowls and tears his gaze away, something strange gripping inside his chest and refusing to let go. “It’s an old wound, Kurosaki. I’m not goin’ ta die from it. Don’t get yer panties in a twist.”

More than an old wound. It’s an injury that Ichigo gave him. Grimmjow deftly steers away from the implications involved by a simple scar, not wanting to think about what it might mean. Why he refused to let Szayel get rid it.

“Sometimes, it’s the old wounds that hurt the most,” Ichigo comments softly. Wistfully.

It’s enough to make Grimmjow look over at him again, and there’s a startled edge to Ichigo’s movement as he shifts out of the sunlight and peers into the fridge. As though it is something Ichigo did not mean to say, something that slipped out of his mouth unintentionally.

The quiet that follows is not quite awkward, but it’s not comfortable either. There’s a sizzling expectation that remembers heated touches and frantic gasps. But there’s also a thin line of tension that divides Grimmjow’s uncertainty and Ichigo’s nonchalance.

“Why did you bring me here?” Grimmjow demands, the question lacking the aggression he intended for it to carry.

Bottles clink, and things scoot around before Ichigo withdraws a couple of cans and tosses one to Grimmjow. He catches it, glancing briefly at the label, before his attention focuses back on his companion.

“Seemed like a good idea at the time,” Ichigo answers with a shrug, popping open his drink with an echoing snick.

What the hell is his problem? Going on and on like nothing’s changed. Acting like it’s no big deal to pick up the first pathetic Hollow he could find and drag him home. Patching him up like it’s his right. Rescuing him when he doesn’t even want it, hasn’t even asked for it!

His fist slams into the wall before he entirely knows what’s happening, a crest of emotions threatening to explode from his chest. He’s here, and he doesn’t know why. He has nothing to do with himself but a debt to a fucking Vizard he doesn’t even like.

Grimmjow snarls even as wood cracks beneath the blow. His voice emerges as a frantic hiss because he can’t be certain that damn pervert isn’t listening and no way in hell is Grimmjow airing his business to the world.

“Well, yer just carefree ain’t ya?” He spits out the words, feeling his breath heave in and out of his lungs as something mad coils inside of him. “Doesn’t matter that ya fucked a Hollow who’s supposed to be your enemy, does it? Yer standards are pretty low these days, ain’t they?”

Ichigo’s drink hits the counter and slides a safe distance onto it. His brown eyes harden.

“The war’s over. And last I remember, part of me is Hollow, too. The only one who seems to have a problem here is you.” He closes the distance between them, stalking more like. And though he’s shorter than Grimmjow, it doesn’t feel like it. “I seem to remember you participating. Or did you forget I’m part Shinigami and human also?”

“How the hell am I supposed to know what the fuck you are?” Grimmjow counters with a growl, standing his ground. “I don’t get a damned thing about you!”

Ichigo’s hand snaps out and fists in Grimmjow’s borrowed shirt. He braces himself, preparing to avoid the violent strike, glad that it’s come to this. At least violence Grimmjow understands. Fighting and battle and blood and pain – he understands these. It’s the other stuff – the kisses and soft looks and promises of friendship, of maybe even something more – that Grimmjow can’t fathom.

He is jerked forward, and his foot slides across the floor. He prepares himself to fight back. Hands ball into fists, and his reiatsu lashes around his body like a wounded beast.

Ichigo’s mouth falls over his, tongue darting into Grimmjow’s mouth and tasting of whatever it was he’d been drinking. The Arrancar is stunned into immobility, instinct to fight floundering in the face of the intimate contact. Wobbling against the sudden urge to kiss back. To take his hands and wrap them around the brat’s face. To pull him closer until there is no space between them.

The lack of violence is what startles him the most. Ichigo’s lips move gently against his, tongue a soft stroke. And the tension in Grimmjow eases as he responds to the kiss, resisting the urge to cling that suddenly slides through his every nerve. What the hell is wrong with him?

The kiss ends, and Ichigo draws back. But still so near that Grimmjow can feel the puff of his lips.

“I don’t understand it any more than you do,” Ichigo says lowly, eyes dark with determination and something else entirely. “But I’m not so much of a coward that I’m going to run away because I don’t get it.”

“Che.” Grimmjow reaches up, untangling Ichigo’s hand from his borrowed shirt. “No one said I was runnin’ away either.” He slips out from being trapped between Ichigo and the wall, heart thumping inside his chest. “I’m still here, ain’t I?”

Though he doesn’t know why he hasn’t left yet. Why does he linger? Why is he still here? What is he looking for? What is he waiting for?

Something in Ichigo’s face softens with understanding. But before he can speak, a noise in the doorway alerts the both of them to the presence of another.

“Ichigo! What the hell is going on!”

Grimmjow recognizes that voice. It’s the ice-bitch again. Having finished scolding Renji, it seems she’s set her sights on Ichigo now.

Sighing, Ichigo turns towards her, raking a hand through his hair. “Rukia, please don’t start. It’s complicated enough without the lecture.”

Her hands plant on her hips. And her eyes dart between Grimmjow and Ichigo and the suspicious closeness she had intruded on.

“Don’t start! When you’re hiding an Espada in Urahara-san’s shouten!”

“It’s not like I’m doing it without his permission,” Ichigo argues crossly. “The war’s over, remember? We won. Let it go.”

Rolling his eyes, Grimmjow turns his attention back to the fridge, stomach making quite the protest. Women can be so annoying. He realizes that Kuchiki’s appearance prevented Ichigo from saying something important. And Grimmjow hates that the answer has been stolen from him.

He sneaks a glance at the Vizard over the top of the fridge door, Ichigo’s face is twisted with annoyance as the ice-bitch runs her mouth. He’s allowing it because they’re comrades, and she’s gotta be someone precious to him. Or something like that. Not that Grimmjow understands anything like that. There’s nothing he holds that sacred. Nothing he would give himself to protect. Nothing at all.

So why is he still here?

[Bleach] Anywhere But Here

He awakes to a mouth as dry as paper, as though he’s been sucking on sand for the last few weeks. His eyes feel gummed shut, and it takes several tries to open them. Only to immediately wish he hadn’t. It is too damn bright here, wherever here is. It is nothing like the darkness of Hueco Mundo with its constant black night and pale moon. Grimmjow groans, slapping a weak hand over his eyes to block out the blinding brightness.

“You’re awake.”

He starts at the unexpected voice, bolting into a sitting position as his every sense goes on alert. Again, he regrets the action when several injuries start protesting the motion by sending out flares of heated agony. Grimmjow groans and slumps as his entire body is overcome with the feeling of being stabbed all over again.

A hand reaches out and smacks against his forehead, pushing him onto his back with very little effort. “Idiot,” the voice chastises. “You’re goin’ to ruin all of Tessai’s work.”

He hits the blanket beneath him and decides it’s in his best interest not to get back up. “Who the fuck is Tessai?” Grimmjow demands, dropping his hand from covering his face and looking into brown eyes.

Uncomfortably, angrily, furiously familiar brown eyes. That damn Kurosaki. He should have known the brat is a stupid bleeding heart.

“The guy who saved your life,” the kid answers and shoves him down with another palm. “So lie still while I make sure you didn’t fuck up his work.”

Grimmjow wants to argue, but Ichigo is prodding at one of his wounds. It hurts like hell. So he just grits his teeth and lets the brat look his fill.

“Can’t keep yer hands off me, eh, Kurosaki?”

Ichigo sticks a finger in one of his injuries in answer, and Grimmjow hisses, reaching up to strike out at the annoying brat. He easily dodges the half-hearted blow, smirking at him.

“Got pretty tore up, didn’t you?” Ichigo mocks as he peels back the layers and reveals the slices in all their freshly healed glory.

“Shut up,” Grimmjow growls, hating himself for lying here and taking this. But really, hating Ichigo more for dragging him out of Hueco Mundo to wherever here is.

Ichigo just smirks and pokes around at his bandages some more. Then, he’s slapping something cool and tingling over the injuries, slathering it all over and managing to chase away some of the pain. Grimmjow realizes as the brat starts to wind new wrappings around the wounds, that Ichigo must have been there the whole time. Watching over him.

It makes him uneasy.

“What the hell didja do that for?” Grimmjow demands, forcing himself to sit up despite Ichigo’s glare. He’ll be damned if he catches himself actually listening to the fucker’s wishes.

Tightening the last knot, Ichigo frowns, smirk shifting back into his usual scowl. “Do what, asshole? Try bein’ clear for once.”

“You know what I mean. Don’t play stupid.” Grimmjow’s own eyes narrow as he gingerly tests his limbs, which don’t feel as weak and shaky as they had in Hueco Mundo. He wonders how long he was unconscious and how he’d gotten here.

“No, that’s more your specialty,” Ichigo returns without an ounce of pause, snorting derisively. He idly tosses a few things over his shoulder, including the soiled bandages, towards a pack that is half-open and somewhat spilling out its contents.

They are somewhere empty, Grimmjow can tell that much. Surrounded by rock and the brightness of a sky that gives him the same feeling as Aizen’s fake blue one. He just doesn’t know where the hell Ichigo has taken him.

“Shut up,” Grimmjow snarls, recognizing an insult when he hears one. He feels like he’s being pitied, and Grimmjow really hates that. “Ain’t saving me against some Shinigami code?”

Ichigo rolls his shoulders dismissively. “Probably.”

He doesn’t offer up any other sort of explanation, and for some reason, it makes Grimmjow see red. He feels fury bubbling up inside of him, most likely fueled by all the other emotions that have become his existence in the past fortnight. Lingering sensations of loneliness, of self-pity. Annoyance and hatred, regret, all of it hanging over him and whispering in his ear while surrounded by the emptiness of Las Noches.

He remembers trudging relentlessly through the white sands of Hueco Mundo, fighting Hollows when they crossed his path and trying to keep his blood in his body rather than out as it seemed to prefer. Grimmjow can recall the last two weeks with stark clarity, though bits and pieces still try to haze past his reason. He remembers that the last thing on his mind had been Kurosaki Ichigo, and the look in his brown eyes.

For some reason, it all pisses him the fuck off. And he wants to respond to that anger in the only way he knows how. Violently. Rudely. Recklessly. It doesn’t even make sense, but he thinks that if he doesn’t let it out, he might just fall apart even more than he already has. It’s Ichigo’s damn fault anyway. He had to go and play the hero again.

“You’re some sort of martyr, aren’t ya?” Grimmjow growls, hands curling into angered fists, even if he doesn’t really understand why. “It’s your kind that really pisses me off.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Ichigo looks at him, straight at him, and there’s confusion on his face, though a hefty dose of irritation is starting to creep in.

“I didn’t ask for yer fucking help, Shinigami.” Grimmjow sneers, only seeing himself, seeing his pathetic position. Pitied by the Shinigami.

How low could he get? Saved by the Shinigami? Even lower?

Ulquiorra would have been amused by this, if he were still alive. But like everyone else, Ulquiorra’s dead. And Grimmjow should be, too. Were it not for Ichigo and his kami-bedamned pity.

“Well, too bad, because you got it,” Ichigo retorts sharply, face flushing with a hefty dose of rising anger. “You’re the dumbass who got knocked out by a level one kidoh!”

Hissing angrily and paying no mind to his own injuries, Grimmjow doesn’t think. He reacts. A fist tunnels through the air as he takes a wild swing, which is easily dodged considering his rather sorry state. His pride is a wounded, snarling beast, and Ichigo is an easy target. Grimmjow doesn’t do gratitude.

“I hate you,” he snaps, ignoring his precarious balance in favor of another wild throw of his fist.

Ichigo grabs his arm, pushing it away from him. Brown eyes are smoldering, flashing with fury.

“The feeling’s mutual, bastard!” Ichigo snarls.

And then, Grimmjow isn’t sure what happens next. He doesn’t know who started it – he or Ichigo – he just knows that they’re kissing. Or perhaps that isn’t the right word for it.

They are fighting with their lips, rough nips with their teeth against soft flesh. A fierce pressure of mouth on mouth, and Ichigo’s tongue trying to push against his as Grimmjow’s tongue fights back. He can taste whatever it was that Ichigo ate last, something both sweet and sour, and the sharp tang of blood flavors the kiss. He thinks he might have bitten his own lip.

Grimmjow’s hands clench tightly on Ichigo’s shoulders, and he tries to push the teen to the ground, but Ichigo’s not willing to go down easily. One hand grabs Grimmjow’s hip, and a knee tries to knock aside his legs. Grimmjow fights the motion, and they end up losing their balance, toppling over with little grace. Their heads knock together. Grimmjow mutters a low curse, a stirring in his blood unlike anything he’s felt before.

He’s tumbled a woman or two; there were some pretty Arrancar in Aizen’s army. Useful for a night or three, something to end the boredom or relieve tension. And he always felt satisfied in the end. But it was nothing like this. Frantic. Furious. Hot and heavy. Hands grabbing and twisting, the two of them rolling over and over on the ground, no longer even on the blanket. Their lips part at some point, and Grimmjow briefly misses the tangle of their tongues. The feel of the hot air from their mouths colliding and mingling.

Grimmjow feels a rock digging into his side, and one of his injuries breaks open under the roughhousing. But the pain is nothing. He can’t even feel it. He’s too busy trying to rip off Ichigo’s clothes and pin the brat beneath him all in the same breath. The damn obi is too complicated, the knot drawing tighter despite his best efforts, and he gives up, shoving his hands through the slit in Ichigo’s hakama and pawing about relentlessly.

Ichigo reciprocates by shoving a palm over Grimmjow’s groin, muttering something under his breath. Grimmjow’s blood is rushing through his veins, and there is a sound crashing in his ears, he can’t hear anything. He tastes blood and grit and sweat and sees flesh near his mouth. A bared shoulder, collarbone visible just so, and he can’t help himself. He licks a hot line across the tanned flesh, tasting more sweat.

Ichigo makes a sound. Grimmjow doesn’t know what it is except that it’s pretty damn sexy, especially when his searching fingers finally find hard flesh within the brat’s hakama. He doesn’t hesitate, dampness streaking across his palm before he manages to wrap fingers around Ichigo. The teen groans long and hard, and Grimmjow smirks.

They’re on their sides, limbs entangled, having given up on dominance over one another. Grimmjow doesn’t care anymore. He’s got a rod in his pants that needs relief, and the more Ichigo rubs down on him, the worse it gets. Grimmjow pants, hearing his own breathing, rapid and harsh. Desperate.

Ichigo doesn’t sound any better.

His hips jerk of their own accord as Ichigo strokes him through his clothing, somehow erotic. Enough that Grimmjow can imagine what it would be like to feel Ichigo’s bare skin on him. He thinks about it, imagination fueled by the sounds Ichigo is making as he strokes his fingers faster and faster over the brat’s own shaft. Those little noises are more frequent, and Ichigo curses under his breath. So does Grimmjow, but he hardly notices.

All he knows is that he wants with a desperation he doesn’t understand. There’s something pent up inside of him, begging to be released. He clamps down on the bare skin near his mouth, probably harder than he should. Ichigo hisses, squeezing reflexively, and Grimmjow shudders, releasing into the confines of his own pants. It’s hot and messy and sticky, spilling everywhere. But damn if he doesn’t care. Pleasure is streaking through his entire body as he pants and practically writhes beneath the teen’s fingers.

His own hand is no less busy. Grimmjow laps wetly over the bite mark, one impression oozing just a little. The sharp, coppery taste of blood dances on the tip of his tongue, coloring the encounter. Ichigo’s free hand grabs arm. Squeezing tightly, almost bruisingly. A finger digs into one of Grimmjow’s wounds, and he snarls, but Ichigo doesn’t notice.

The kid draws in breath through his teeth, tightly clenched. And throwing his head back, he arches his hips and climaxes, covering Grimmjow’s hand in his sticky release. He wonders why he doesn’t seem to care as the last of Ichigo’s tremors leave him, and Grimmjow wisely retracts his hand.

They fall apart from each other, panting against the dry and dusty ground. Grimmjow can feel the blood seeping from one of his reopened wounds, and his hand is sticky, dirtied by Ichigo’s release. He lifts a hand, curiously sniffing the substance. He doesn’t quite have the balls to lick it though and just rubs it off on his pants. They can’t get any dirtier anyway. He can feel his own cum squishing about in his likely borrowed hakama. It’s uncomfortable, though he can hardly tell thanks to the pleasure still thrumming through his body.

It’s a strange moment, this aftermath. And though the inexplicable rage has bled out of Grimmjow, he’s still left with confusion. He’s never tumbled a male before, never really thought about liking one and especially not the brat. But the proof lies sticky against his groin and the fact that he’s not utterly disgusted.

“Now what, bastard?” he asks and considers it somewhat polite as he’s managed not to grind it out or make a demand.

A wind stirs out of nowhere, brushing against his half-dressed and sweat-sticky skin. He probably stinks like shit, all things considered. Good thing his nose isn’t working too well at the moment.

Ichigo snorts and barely twitches. “Don’t ask me. You started it.”

“You kissed me first.”

“And you attacked me.”

“But you went looking for me.”

“And you never even thanked me,” Ichigo retorts and rolls his head to the side, darkened eyes gleaming with a mixture of slaked lust and brimming annoyance. “Ungrateful shit.”

Funny, Grimmjow still doesn’t feel an inch of gratitude. He can’t decide whether he would have preferred dying or if that bit of absolute defeat isn’t acceptable. “If ya wanted thanks, ya shouldn’t bothered looking, brat.”

“Ichigo.”

“The fuck?”

The teen scowls and lazily swats a hand at him, the back of his palm hitting against Grimmjow’s barely clothed hip. “My name’s Ichigo. Not brat. Or bastard. Or any of your other pet names.”

Grimmjow snorts, swirling a finger into his ear. “Stupid name.”

“And yours is any better?” Ichigo attempts to elbow him, but he doesn’t try very hard and his aim falls far off. Instead, he looks down at himself and grimaces. “You made a mess.”

Why isn’t this more awkward? Grimmjow wonders this as he glances down at his own soiled state, and the blanket that’s more than ten feet away. He and Ichigo are little more than enemies. They hate each other. Shouldn’t there be something more like unease?

He grunts, shifting a bit and hating the squish in his pants. “So did you.”

Rolling his eyes, Ichigo hauls himself to his feet and reaches down, grabbing Grimmjow’s arm. With very little effort, he pulls the former Espada to his feet, ignoring Grimmjow’s pained curses. He allows the manhandling because he’s too tired and dirty to care otherwise.

“You’re too damn heavy,” he complains, fingers locked tightly around Grimmjow’s upper arm. He gives a tug and pulls Grimmjow away from the soiled location.

It takes several seconds for Grimmjow to realize where they are going. Steam curls slowly over a depression in the rocky outcrop, some kind of hot springs in the ground. Ichigo’s intentions are pretty damn obvious. But Grimmjow’s having none of it.

He digs his heels into the ground, finally putting up a protest. “Hell, no. I don’t do water.”

Ichigo smirks at him, all self-righteous. As usual. “Just like a cat,” he remarks, though it seems more like teasing.

It doesn’t even faze him that Grimmjow’s resisting. He gives a sharp tug to the former Espada’s arm, and with a sneaky trip, he shoves Grimmjow forward, sending him face first into the warm water. He has all of a second to hate Ichigo’s guts before he is instantly soaked and bogged down, especially since he is still wearing his hakama.

Grimmjow immediately surfaces, spitting out the water he’s accidentally swallowed and pinning the teen with an indignant stare. “Bastard,” he growls as he flounders a bit. He tries to catch his footing and remove the clinging fabric all in the same motion. “You’re going to pay for that.” He finally manages to get his hakama off but still hasn’t found his feet.

“Promises, promises,” Ichigo returns, shoving at him with a foot and pushing him right back into the water.

As Grimmjow flounders a bit more, releasing a string of nonsense syllables, Ichigo calmly drops the layers of his own clothing and slips down into the warm and almost tingling waters himself. He really hates that kid, Grimmjow realizes. A growl edging its way out of his throat, he surges forward, fully intending on attacking Ichigo. Payback is absolutely necessary.

A washcloth is immediately shoved in his face. “You’re filthy,” Ichigo says and leaves him no choice but to take the damn rag.

Grimmjow snatches it out of his hand. “What the hell’s the matter with you?” he demands, and it’s absolutely not sulking.

The water must be medicated or something because his nose twitches at the bitter and metallic scent to it. Not to mention it stings over his wounds, and his skin prickles as though it’s pulling itself together. A quick peek informs him that all of the smaller scratches are gone, smoothed over as if they never existed. It gives him an overwhelming sense of fatigue, but it feels pretty damn good, too.

“I’m dirty, too,” Ichigo comments offhandedly, reaching for his own washcloth and scrubbing it over the streak of dirt on his face.

“Idiot, that’s not what I’m talkin’ about.” Sometimes, Grimmjow really feels like strangling this kid. No, wait, that’s all the time. “Why’d ya bring me here?”

There’s a moment’s pause, and then, Ichigo shrugs. “I could have left you to die,” he replies and looks up at Grimmjow with those damn sympathetic eyes. “I didn’t feel like it. Besides, weren’t you the one that wanted to fight again?”

It looks, sounds, and smells a lot like pity. Even feels like it. And if there’s one thing Grimmjow hates, it’s being pitied. Though he hates the bastard, he and Nnoitra were alike in that regards. There’s nothing more demeaning than seeking strength and power, only to be pitied. That fake understanding. That “poor Grimmjow; he can’t help it.” Grimmjow can’t stand it. He isn’t some fucking charity case.

With a sneer, Grimmjow chucks the washcloth at Ichigo’s face and reaches for the sides, trying to haul himself out of the water. “Fuck you,” he snarls, water splashing noisily around him. “I’m getting’ the hell out of here.”

“Suit yourself.” Ichigo doesn’t even try to stop him. “We’ll see how far you get when Soul Society starts looking for you.”

Grimmjow pauses, considering. He won’t back down, he decides. No matter what Soul Society and the fucking Shinigami think they’re going to do to him. He’ll die before he puts himself in their hands. No matter what Aizen’s defeat is supposed to prove.

“Che. I ain’t afraid.” With a final heave, he pulls himself out of the pool and instantly feels eyes on his back.

They are no doubt tracing scars and finding the number six that is still so prominent against his skin. Grimmjow wants to scrape it off with his own fingers because it means nothing now. But he also wants to keep it because he worked damn hard to get that far, and no one can take that effort away from him.

Fucking Aizen lost. How is that even possible? Grimmjow doesn’t know because he was unconscious for a good bit of what happened. He’d woken hours after his battle with Ichigo, amid the ruins of Las Noches. He’d found nothing there but increasing evidence that their side had lost.

Biting his lip, Grimmjow stands on the edge of the pool, not caring for his nudity. He still has the bandages, though they’re unnecessary at this point. He rips them off and lets them slide to the ground in a damp slither. Ichigo makes a whole lot of sense, though he doesn’t want to admit it. He really has nowhere else to go.

“What the hell do you expect me to do?” Grimmjow demands, but he doesn’t look at Ichigo because he doesn’t want to see those damned eyes. “You’re the one that saved me.” He hates having to admit that. “Take responsibility.”

Silence descends, save for the sound of water splashing. Grimmjow should feel cold, considering he’s naked and all, and Ichigo is staring at him. And he’s reminded that just a few minutes ago, they were rolling around like a couple of dogs in heat, hands on each other’s cocks. That should probably feel a bit weird, too, but it doesn’t. And he’ll be damned if he knows why.

“Do whatever you want, Grimmjow,” Ichigo finally answers. “You’ve got that option now. Though I’d recommend staying under Soul Society’s radar.”

Grimmjow feels an unhealthy urge to run, and even more unhealthy desire to stay. “What if I want to fight ya every day?”

“Sounds boring, but whatever. Time and place.” There is a splash, and he suspects Ichigo is ducking his head under the water before surfacing once more. “You can stay here; no one’ll bother you ‘cept me or Renji.”

What is it that binds them, he wonders. Why can’t he just walk away from Ichigo without even a backward look? Why does he, even now, want to pick up his sword and attack the kid? Why does he want to kiss him again?

It’s all the same to Grimmjow.

Where has that prior desire to surrender gone?

“Fine,” Grimmjow says, as though he’s making some great acquiescence for Ichigo’s sake. “I’ll stay.” He glances over his shoulder, tossing the teen a fanged smirk. “But only ’cause ya begged me to.”

Ichigo rolls his eyes, almost smirking. And Grimmjow thinks to himself that he doesn’t have anything better to do. Aizen’s gone. Ulquiorra’s dead. Everyone’s dead, and he’s all that’s left. He can’t just lie down and die. He’s definitely not giving himself up to the Shinigami. Best thing for now is to stay here and try to figure out what’s going on.

Grimmjow isn’t defeated just yet.

[Bleach] All the Same

He ignores the sound of feet chasing after him, the sharp press of his breath in his lungs and the stench of destruction and death around him.

“Ichigo!”

“Shut the fuck up, Renji!” he snarls, throwing the words over his shoulder as he flashes forward in another burst of shunpo and lands on the ruins of a shattered tower.

He crouches down and scans the waving hills of white sand in front of him. Above him, the sky is black in some places. In others, a fake blue to mimic that of the living world. Or even Seireitei. And below him, a shattered Las Noches is his only vista.

There is a thud, and Renji lands beside him, a little out of breath, sweat on his brow. “Dammit,” he gasps with hands on his knees. “What the hell do ya think yer goin’ to find here, Ichigo? There’s nothin’ left!”

Ichigo twists his jaw, refusing to answer what he has already answered several times over. Renji doesn’t understand. Rukia doesn’t understand. None of them do. They hadn’t understood before, and they aren’t going to understand now. Ichigo has stopped bothering to try explain himself.

On his back, Zangetsu thrums uneasily. Ichigo tips his head to the side, eyes narrowing slightly as he concentrates on the ossan and the further hum of Shirosaki.

‘Feel anything?’

There is something akin to a mental shake of the head. ‘No, Ichigo. Nothing.’

‘Well, keep looking,’ he nearly snarls at another form of himself. ‘I know that bastard isn’t dead. He’s too stubborn to die.’

There is the sound laughter, Shirosaki mocking him. ‘Stupid king, ya should listen to that damn tattooed idiot for once. There ain’t nothin’ here.‘ He has an image of a white sneer, and that echoing voice seems to taunt him.

Ichigo doesn’t bother to respond to the Hollow either. His instincts have always served him well, and he’s sure this time. Grimmjow is not dead.

He doesn’t know what has driven him to find the fallen Espada or why he feels he has to return to this scene, weeks later. Logic dictates that even if Grimmjow were alive, he would be far away from the ruins of his lord’s failed attempt at becoming god. Rationality believes firmly that Grimmjow is dead, that Nnoitra’s final blow killed him. Or if he survived that, then bleeding out surely did so afterwards.

But Ichigo has never been the type to bow down to logic or rationality. He has always crashed against it headfirst, butting into impossible and making it victory. And he knows that he’s going to find Grimmjow or die trying. With or without the help of the Shinigami. In fact, preferably without. After all, he doesn’t know what they would try to do to a former Espada.

“Ichigo.” A hand settles on his shoulder, and Ichigo roughly shakes it off.

He whips his head to the side, fixing Renji with a glare firm enough that Byakuya would be proud. “Leave it alone, Renji,” he growls, muscles bunching in preparation for another great leap. “I’m doing this whether you like it or not.”

Renji is unmoved by his determination, showing his usual idiotic resolve. He isn’t intimidated by the flaring of Ichigo’s reiatsu as it whips at his skin. He doesn’t even flinch, the brave bastard. And for a single moment, Ichigo remarks that he really is a good friend to follow him to the edges of hell for a reason that not even Ichigo completely understands.

“Fine,” Renji spits, squaring his jaw with eyes flashing. “Then, at least lemme help ya before ya kill yerself searching empty miles of fuckin’ nothin’.”

“I don’t need your help,” Ichigo mutters and leaps down to the ground. And then, he is racing across the sand, trying to look for something that’s familiar. Anything that will remind him of where that battle had taken place.

He thinks that if he could just find something. The signature of Grimmjow’s reiatsu. Even a clue as to the Arrancar’s location would satisfy him. From there he could track it. Find something more than the unanswered questions that linger in the back of his mind.

He hears footsteps speeding across the sand behind him and knows that Renji is following. He can’t shake off the stubborn asshole unless he slips into bankai, and Ichigo doesn’t want to waste his energy to do that. He is only glad that Rukia hasn’t caught wind of this. Otherwise, she would be out here and chasing him, too.

Resolving to simply ignore Renji, Ichigo fixes his gaze firmly forward. But dammit, every tattered and crumpled building looked the same. Every hill of white sand. Every faint splash of blood, not faded even after all this time. And his memory has never been the best either. Especially not when he is trying to recall things through a haze of battle and pain and blood and fighting to just plain survive.

‘Ichigo.‘ Zangetsu’s voice is quiet on the edge of his mind, almost hesitant. As though he doesn’t want to reveal whatever new information he has discovered. ‘I think that Renji may be right. There is nothing living here.’

“You don’t know for sure,” Ichigo growls aloud, not caring that Renji is shooting him a strange look from the sound.

The war has been over for months now. All that is left is the ashes of a fierce battle, the echoes of it still present in the debris that litters Karakura. Which the general public still hasn’t been able to explain away.

It had been brutal and vicious, dark enough to haunt Ichigo’s dreams. He can only remember fighting, breathing blood, rising to his feet again and again. He sees himself fighting Ulquiorra over and over in his dreams. Sometimes, he still wins; sometimes, he loses. And yet, in the back of his mind, Grimmjow has always hovered. And he has always wondered what happened to the sixth Espada who is just like him and yet so different.

He regrets that he hasn’t been able to come sooner than now. He wonders what he will find. If he even finds anything at all.

A black and red blur appears in front of him, and Ichigo screeches to a halt to avoid crashing into it. He steps out of shunpo and glowers at the body forcefully standing in his path. Unexpectedly, it is Renji. He takes a step forward with the intention of beating his friend to a pulp when his knee gives out beneath him, and he nearly crumples to the ground. It takes all his effort to remain standing, but that one moment of weakness is all it takes for a look of triumph to appear over Renji’s face.

Only then does Ichigo feel it. The muscles that are straining, pulsing and pounding with the force of effort he has ruthlessly coerced them to output. His body is covered in a sweat that makes him shiver, and he is shaking, though he isn’t sure why. His reiatsu is a wild and rippling thing, barely held back by the threads of his control. Ichigo has the distinct fear that he may be losing his mind.

What is this desperation?

“See,” Renji practically sneers at him. “Yer actin’ crazy, Ichigo. Why do ya care so much about an Espada? And especially him. He tried ta kill ya! And Rukia, too!”

“I don’t know,” Ichigo gasps, wishing he could have screamed it, but his body is rebelling now, and it takes effort to breathe. He folds over, putting his hands on his knees. “I really don’t know.”

He just feels that he can’t just let Grimmjow die, fade away into nonexistence. There’s something alike in them, something that only they can understand, and Ichigo has been desperately searching for that. He has his friends and his family. He has those he cares for. But no one gets him, understands him. And by kami, is it so fucking wrong that he wants that?

He has more friends than he knows what to do with. More people to look out for, to protect and watch over. But the loneliness is still there. It’s still pressing inside of him, and he doesn’t really understand that. He still wants to know, just what it is that binds them together. And he fears that if Grimmjow is dead, he’ll never understand. That the gnawing confusion that has been gripping him will only get worse until he goes mad from it.

‘King,’ Shirosaki begins, and there is a hint of a cackle in his tone. ‘Ya damn persistent bastard. Ya did it.’

“What the hell are you talkin’ about?” Ichigo demands aloud, too tired to concentrate on speaking inside his own head. “I don’t feel anyth–” His words cut off as it hits him then, just a dull buzz on the edge of his senses.

Renji feels it too because he suddenly straightens, and his hand drops to the hilt of Zabimaru, body slipping into an attack stance. It is reiatsu, weak but with the hint of having been strong at some point. It is tired and pained. But filled with determination. And most importantly, it is heading their way.

Drawing himself up straight, as much as his aching body agrees to do, Ichigo wraps his fingers around Zangetsu’s hilt. The hair on the back of his neck rises, and he turns, whipping his zanpakutou from his back in one smooth motion. The sharp sound of metal striking metal fills the emptiness of the shattered Las Noches, and Ichigo’s eyes widen impossibly large. Behind him, Renji sucks in a surprised breath, for once absolutely mute.

“Never thought I’d ever see ya again,” a specter with blue hair cackles at him, grinning madly behind the silver length of his blade. “Thought ya woulda left with the other Shinigami trash.”

Ichigo grits his teeth and pushes back against the force being directed towards him. The metal of their blades shriek as they scrape but hold steady.

“How the fuck are you alive?” he demands, even as his eyes rake up and down Grimmjow’s frame.

He isn’t sure he wants to call what he sees before him alive. Grimmjow looks no better now than he did when Ichigo left him laying there more than two weeks ago. His clothes are tattered and worn, though he has made some effort to pull them together, and where he has gathered the semblance of a cloak, Ichigo isn’t sure. His body is covered in a myriad of bruises in varied states of discoloration, and Ichigo can see every wound that mars Grimmjow’s frame. Some are caked over. Some are healed, and some look as if they tried to heal but gave up and lingered somewhere between sealed and the unhealthy tint of impeding infection.

“Takes a lot more than that shit ta kill me.” Grimmjow sneers and then surges forward, trying to throw Ichigo off balance.

Ichigo twists out of the trap of blade on blade and swings Zangetsu around, only to meet with Grimmjow’s katana again. They trade several blows, each one more jarring than the last, and for the first time in several weeks, Ichigo feels the excitement rising again. Even with his body trying to pull him down to the floor, and the smell of blood fresh in the air, he can feel it.

Behind him, he feels Renji’s reiatsu spike, and he is surprised because for a moment he has completely Renji is even there. His world has already narrowed to this duel, he and Grimmjow, one on one. Ichigo just knows that Renji plans on joining the battle. That what Renji sees, he interprets as a threat. And that’s not the truth at all. Besides, even if he is tired as all fuck, Ichigo doesn’t need any help. This battle is his and his alone.

“Stay the fuck out of it, Renji!” Ichigo screams, raising his tired arms against the Espada’s onslaught. He knows that he sounds like a madman.

Grimmjow smirks, as though pleased by Ichigo’s command. “Ya said it didn’t ya, Kurosaki,” the Arrancar rasps, and their blades scrape together. Ichigo in shikai, Grimmjow’s sword naked. “Anytime I wanted, you would fight me as many times as it took.”

He grits his death. “You’re half-dead,” Ichigo growls, feeling sweat gather on his brow as his feet scrape across the sand. “It’s no fun defeating an Espada who’s barely standing.”

Blue eyes darken but in challenge. “We’ll see who’s half-dead.” Grimmjow sneers and then grunts, forcing himself forward and driving Ichigo a step backwards. His foot threatens to turn on a half-buried piece of debris, but he keeps his stance. He will not fall here.

He sees in Grimmjow’s eyes a mixture of emotions. Determination and a wildness that explains his mad rush into battle, despite his condition. And even deeper still, the same loneliness that had captured Ichigo’s attention in their last fight.

Ichigo digs his waraji into the sand, grits his teeth, and presses Zangetsu forward. They trade blows for several long moments, and Grimmjow is the one to stumble. Ichigo takes his advantage and swings Zangetsu at the last moment altering his blow so that the flat of his blade smacks Grimmjow in the chest rather than the sharp edge.

The Arrancar is driven backwards by several steps, gasping for breath as his fingers spasm around his zanpakutou. He hisses a curse, face twisting into a scowl that he directs at Ichigo. But before Grimmjow can even begin to initiate another attack, he doubles over and spits up a glob of sticky but bright blood to the ground. And Ichigo sees it then, the red seeping through the makeshift array of cloth that he has wrapped around his frame.

The damn stubborn bastard. He fights even when he can barely stand, can barely breathe and bleeding all over the place. Why does that sound familiar?

He is still injured but also still clinging to his life. Yet, the light is dying from his eyes. Another few days, Ichigo knows he would have only found a corpse. Sheer willpower alone has kept him alive this long. Willpower and maybe a bit of something else as well.

“What do you think you’re doing, idiot?” Ichigo demands as Grimmjow wipes the back of his hand over his mouth and spits to the side. “Attacking me when you look like that?”

Blue eyes glower at him and at what he perceives to be pity. “And what does it matter to you, brat? Or can’t ya beat me? Even like this?” He draws himself up straight laboriously, curling his fingers even tighter around his zanpakutou. Blood seeps from his wounds, and Ichigo can’t help but watch it drip to the ground.

Ichigo squares his jaw, determined not to be goaded into this battle. “You’re just looking for death, Grimmjow,” he returns, just wanting Grimmjow tostop because he doesn’t want the Arrancar to die. “The easy way out because you don’t want to die anyplace but battle. Which is still pretty fucking cowardly.”

Rage lights those eyes, and then, Grimmjow is forcing his battered body forwards, raising his cracked – Ichigo just notices this – blade upwards. Before he can move more than two steps, however, his entire body locks up, arms clamped to the sides. The zanpakutou slides from his fingers, slipping to the ground.

A growl of frustration emerges from Grimmjow’s lips, a look of almost betrayal, and then, Renji’s hilt slams into the back of his head, knocking him unconscious. He slumps to the ground in a graceless heap.

Wide eyes regard Renji with half-confusion and half-wonder. A part of Ichigo is angry that Renji interfered, another part of him is glad that Renji did. And then, he wonders if the redhead plans on killing the Espada next. But the man does nothing, just stands there and stares at Grimmjow’s prone form.

Ichigo himself is still panting for breath. He finally forces his fingers to uncurl from Zangetsu’s hilt and reattaches his zanpakutou to his back. He looks down at Grimmjow and wonders.

What the hell am I going to do now?’

Sure, he has entered Hueco Mundo with the sheer intention of finding Grimmjow, but Ichigo never thought much past that. Just what is he going to do now?

“Well,” Renji drawls and folds his arms over his chest, lifting his eyes to Ichigo. “Now what?”

Ichigo shrugs. “You’re the one that knocked him out,” he feels that it is important to point this out, as though it should be Renji’s answer that is necessary.

“And yer the one who took off without a word into Hueco Mundo,” Renji counters, a hint of irritation filling his tone.

“And you followed me,” Ichigo shoots back accusingly.

But really, them arguing over the unconscious Espada is doing no good. Grimmjow could wake up at any moment, and Ichigo knows, he’ll wake in a mood to fight again. It doesn’t matter how beaten and bloody Grimmjow is, he will not simply lie down. Ichigo knows this as sure as he knows he would do the very same thing.

Ichigo releases a ragged sigh and rakes his palm down his face. Just what the hell does he think he’s going to do? It’s obvious Grimmjow needs medical attention, as well as a place to stay. He can’t take the Arrancar home with him, and he doubts anyone in Seireitei would give a damn. The Vizard might, if he actually knew where to find them. That only left…

“Urahara,” Ichigo says in a firm tone, his choice making more and more sense with every passing moment. “We’ll take him to Urahara.”

He doesn’t know where else to go. Ichigo only knows that he has to save Grimmjow, to understand what this is. This unnamable something that makes no sense. He knows that he can’t let the Espada die.

Renji nods to agree with him, and Ichigo wonders if he can really trust the man. But then, it is also too late now. If Renji had planned to kill Grimmjow, he would’ve already done it. He wouldn’t have bothered knocking him out or asking Ichigo what he planned to do.

“Sounds like a plan.”

Ichigo watches him carefully. “You’re going to help me?”

The Shinigami shrugs, already kneeling to grab Grimmjow’s shoulders – not too gently, Ichigo notices – and prop him up into an easier position. When he does, several wounds start seeping blood more profusely, and Renji curses under his breath, reaching for the tattered remnants of Grimmjow’s cloak to wrap around the injuries.

“I don’t understand it,” Renji answers as Ichigo kneels to help, energized by the success of his mad pursuit and fully able to ignore the protests of his body. “And I think I’m crazy myself fer helpin’ ya, but I’ll do it, Ichigo.”

The Vizard’s fingers flutter against Grimmjow’s throat, and there is a heartbeat at the tip of them, frantic and worried beneath his touch, but there all the same. Grimmjow will survive, but only if he can get him some medical aid. He wonders if he can get the Espada on his back all alone, to send Renji for Orihime to meet them at the Urahara Shouten. Or if he should just let Tessai take care of it.

“Why?”

Renji shrugs, tightening one of the makeshift bandages with a bit more force than necessary. “Because,” he responds gruffly, giving no explanation whatsoever.

It is an answer Ichigo will accept however, since he doesn’t want to stand here and argue reasoning with Renji. He knows that the other man never bothers with subtlety or hidden agendas. Renji isn’t the type to help him with other motives. He’ll just do it because, and that’s the only reason he needs.

Ichigo looks down at Grimmjow, at the beaten and nearly destroyed Arrancar he has become. And yet, he doesn’t feel that Grimmjow has been defeated in the slightest. He feels that the moment Grimmjow awakens, he’ll fight again, even if his body can’t take it. He knows because he would do the same thing.

So here he is, heaving Grimmjow up between Renji and him and carting him off to Urahara-san’s, where he’ll hope the shopkeeper will be willing to heal him. Possibly even house him for a short duration. Ichigo still isn’t sure why he’s doing this. Why he’s risking everything, even himself, for this Arrancar. He just knows he has to. The why at this moment isn’t even that important. Or that he’ll find the answer eventually. He always did before.

All that matters to him right is that he knows what he’s doing. And that’s saving Grimmjow, just like he should have done all those weeks ago.

[Bleach] The Thin, Red Line

Plip.

Plip.

It is the sound of his own blood, dripping from his body and to the ground. It falls at the same cadence as the slowing beat of his heart. It’s the same rhythm that guides the fluttering of his eyelashes and the final twitches of his muscles.

There is no wind here, so nothing stirs around him. He can feel the dust and grit against his bare back, caking into wounds left behind by Zangetsu. He can still feel their burn, the slice of the cold metal into his skin, grinding against his body. He can still see those brown eyes, momentarily tainted by the gold of a Hollow and then returned to brown again. Human brown, to go with those all too human emotions. The same emotions he seems to feel, too.

He hates him; Grimmjow is certain of this. He hates everything that Kurosaki is, everything that Kurosaki stands for. He hates his strength and his personality. He hates his ideals and his stupid sword and his bright orange hair. But most of all, he hates his words. After all, Grimmjow knows they hold some truth. And that, he cannot stand.

He hears the clashing of swords somewhere past his ears, but even that is slowly fading. He can see the bright blue of Aizen’s artificial sky. So fake and covering the endless black that is the truth of Hueco Mundo. He honestly doesn’t know which he prefers. On the edge of his vision, he sees dust billowing into the air. He sees the remaining bits of crumbled towers.

He blinks, and the image is still burned on the back of his lids. Fluttering black cloth.

Plip.

Plip.

The cadence of Kurosaki’s own blood dripping onto his chest as he, just a boy really, defends Grimmjow from his own allies attack. Defends his enemy. Foolish.

He really hates that.

He wonders if this is death approaching him. He can’t tell if the coldness in his extremities is the chill of deathly fingers or if he’s just imagining things. He’s always been cold but not quite like that bastard Ulquiorra.

Kurosaki’s voice rises loud somewhere nearby, and Grimmjow still can’t move.

Don’t touch her!”

Nnoitra’s even more annoying tone follows, mocking and taunting. Goading the kid into fighting him.

Bastard. Grimmjow hates him, too.

He tries to make his finger move, but it won’t obey his commands. Warmth is seeping across his chest, puddling over to the side. He feels like he’s lying in a pool of wet and sticky liquid. He can’t really breathe that well either, each intake a wet and raspy sound. Ragged. He really does think he’s dying.

He could have won, Grimmjow thinks. If he had been just a little stronger. If he had pushed himself to that level. If he’d had a reason.

He thinks that it is pathetic. Kurosaki’s strength comes from nowhere. It springs from nothing. He’s just a scrawny brat. A human. A Shinigami. A Vizard. He’s just this kid, who thinks he’s better because he fights for something. Because his battles mean something.

And he pities Grimmjow.

Grimmjow hates that. That pity. It means that Kurosaki sees him as something – someone if he even is a someone – weak. Pitiable. Worthy of sympathy and nothing else. It is charity when he makes that offer, which is why Grimmjow rebels. He’s humoring Grimmjow.

Come at me anytime you want,” Kurosaki was saying to him in not so many words. “I’ll defeat you every time, but if you hate me so much, I’ll let you fight me every time.

And why not? Grimmjow is a creature to be pitied, yes? What has he to live for in this existence of his? Let him have his one desire. Drown himself in his lust for battle.

It’s pathetic. He wants to take that sympathy and strangle Kurosaki with it. Wants to take the pity he sees in brown eyes and claw them out. He hates the feeling that look evokes in him, the warmth that surges through his chest and the momentary helpless feeling it gives him.

Grimmjow doesn’t want to name it, that clawing emptiness inside of him. The one he tries to fill with all matter of lusts – battle, food, alcohol, sex. Battle. Fight, fight, fight, and blood. He knows it has a name, but he ignores it. Pretends it doesn’t exist.

Loneliness,” those brown eyes tell him. “They call it loneliness, Grimmjow.

Fuck, he’s even hallucinating. The final minutes of his existence… and he’s hallucinating, hearing voices. And worse, it’s that brat. Kurosaki. He really hates that kid.

He has clawed his way to the top, or as near as he could reach with his power. He’s stomped on whatever he needed, used whatever he needed to make it there. He’s made no promises; he’s bound himself to no one. Save Aizen. And that has been in name only. He admits only to himself that Aizen’s power terrifies him. But that doesn’t stop him from loathing the former Shinigami, from wanting to tear out his throat with his teeth. Taste his blood. Grimmjow is sure that it’s sweet.

Plip.

Plip.

Time stretches longer between each drop. He can’t turn his head to see the source of the shaking ground even if he wants to. Kurosaki’s voice within his mind and within earshot has fallen silent. He can hear that big-chested chick crying. Nnoitra laughing. He wonders if Kurosaki’s dead and hates the feeling that thought produces.

Grimmjow doesn’t know why he attached his obsession to the teen in the first place. From the moment he first faced off against those eyes, it became a desire to see them fall. They are so defiant and determined. Even when it is obvious that stubborn will alone won’t win the battle for him. And against all odds, he comes back, stronger than before. Even more determined. It bugs the shit out of him.

The last battle… that last blow, Grimmjow remembers letting it come. Remembers hearing the words Kurosaki spat at him, about saving his friends. Remembers watching that black blade aiming for his chest and remembers not even bothering to block it. Not even attempting to try.

Whether it would have been futile or not hadn’t even been an issue. He was defeated before the blade even touched his flesh. He had known in that moment he could rend Kurosaki limb from limb, and the brat would still find some way to stand up. To fight again. To get even stronger. And he was powerless against that determination.

What’s the point of it all?

His eyes had been so earnest, so pleading. Filled with pity and wishing that Grimmjow would just end it. Stop trying to fight. Stop throwing his existence away on something that meant nothing.

Grimmjow really hates that about Ichigo.

Heavy reiatsu is pouring over the battlefield. It’s suffocating, making his limbs want to curl together. His heart feels like it’s squeezing in his chest, and he’s almost reminded of Aizen in that moment. Except this reiatsu is only a quarter, maybe even less, of that painful press that had squeezed his very veins.

Another battle is about to begin.

He uses every last vestige of his strength and turns his head. His vision is blurry, darkening on the edges. But even so, he can make out a head of bright orange hair lying against the stark white of the sand.

Plip.

Plip.

He thinks that the cadence isn’t just his own blood anymore. And Kurosaki is down, felled by Nnoitra most likely. That bastard. Grimmjow hates him, too. More than he had despised Luppi and just a bit less than he loathes Ulquiorra.

You actually lost, and now, you’re letting your enemy protect you?”

Che. As if he could have gotten up to stop him. Can’t stop that brat when he’s made up his mind. Saving his friends. Rescuing the girl. Defeating the Espada.

His vision is getting blacker around the edges. He wants to fight Kurosaki one more time. Feels his fingers twitch just once, two inches away from his blade. He wants to test his strength, test his own beliefs against Kurosaki’s.

What’s the point of it all, Grimmjow?”

Damn, those voices.

The point? What is the point?

To be stronger, of course. To be the king, to stand above everyone and everything. For his existence to have a meaning. The only thing that ever mattered in Hueco Mundo was strength, and Grimmjow wants it. All of it. It’s all he needs.

He really hates that kid, making him think things like this right before he dies. He hates everything about him. His voice and his words and his clothes and his sword. He hates his eyes, those damn sympathetic and understanding eyes. Lonely eyes, even when surrounded by his friends. Even when she stands on the side, crying for fear of his death. Damned lonely eyes.

Grimmjow hates that they may be more alike than he wants to admit. That he sees Ichigo in himself and himself in Ichigo. That maybe in the end, what he really hates is that reflection. What he really despises and loathes and wants to destroy… is himself.

One more shuddering breath, wet and ripe with the taste of copper, and he wonders if Ichigo is going to live. No, he doesn’t wonder. He’s pretty damn sure of it. Something always comes out right for the brat.

For some reason, the idea of that doesn’t bother him too much.

His eyes are open, but he sees nothing but black now. Faint shadows of grey on the edges but black all the same. His memory recalls brown eyes, completely without his permission. And a sad smile, fresh with loneliness.

Or maybe that’s just his own reflection.

[Bleach] Quiet Destruction

It didn’t seem like it, but there was a healthy respect between him and Grimmjow. It was entirely beneath the surface and invisible to the naked eye, but nevertheless, it was present.

They understood each other on some base level. The need to be stronger, even if was for that reason alone. The want to be the best, to be unbeatable and unbreakable. Loving one’s pride and refusing to let it go, refusing to be cowed by rules and regulations.

Ichigo understood Grimmjow a lot better than he ever told anyone.

He also kept it to himself just how much alike he thought they were. He and an Espada. A Vizard and Shinigami substitute was just the same as an Arrancar. At least, in his view.

When they fought, Ichigo truly felt as if he could let go. He threw everything he had into it, not just because he wanted to save Inoue and defeat Aizen and protect everything important to him. But also because he wanted to fight Grimmjow; he wanted to show the Arrancar how much he had improved. To show him that the determination that lit his eyes was the same as Grimmjow’s.

Perhaps on some level, he wanted the Espada to know just how alike they were.

He took no pleasure in stabbing Grimmjow, the satisfaction at winning fading quickly in the end. Grimmjow, the bastard, he had time to block the blow. He could have done something. But Ichigo saw the defeat in that expression moments before his zanpakutou pierced Grimmjow’s flesh. The Arrancar had already accepted his end.

It made him angry for reasons he couldn’t understand. It made him feel as if he had been cheated out of the victory he was owed, out of the understanding they were supposed to share beneath the surface.

He watched with scattered emotions, removing Zangetsu and watching as Grimmjow’s eyes slid closed, surrendering to the inevitable.

The last look Ichigo saw in Grimmjow’s blue eyes was undeniably loneliness, so strong and consuming it couldn’t help but show itself in the face of what seemed to be an inevitable death.

He fell. And Ichigo moved before he could stop himself, grasping Grimmjow’s hand in his before the man could even touch the ground. He didn’t want to see the Espada crash to the ground in an undignified pile. That feeling of being cheated rose up strongly again. That feeling of anger and sorrow bundling up into a messy coil in his belly and gnawing at his insides forced him to act before he could even think it through.

He stared at the Arrancar for several long moments because he couldn’t understand. This string that had bound them, this understanding. That loneliness, it meant something. Only, he wasn’t sure what exactly. He just knew it was important.

A kinship perhaps. Maybe it was the resonance of Hollow within himself and within Grimmjow. Maybe it was the knowledge that they had always sought the same thing, that there was nothing wrong with wanting to be stronger. Maybe it was the loneliness.

Whatever the reason, even as he walked away from Grimmjow, to actually attend to the reason he had invaded Hueco Mundo to begin with, he couldn’t forget that last look. Both grateful and angry, bitter but resigned. Accepting that it was his fate, to die then and there. Alone and beaten.

It rang strongly inside of Ichigo, a constant presence at the back of his mind and a constant clenching inside of him. It was so achingly known to him, that loneliness. An arrogant sort of isolation, brought about by what was believed to be necessary.

It was loud enough, familiar enough, that Ichigo had every intention to return. That he had plans to ask Inoue to heal Grimmjow as the Arrancar had done for him. A part of him strongly wanted Grimmjow to live, perhaps to find that understanding. Even he wasn’t entirely sure why; he just knew it was something he needed to do.

He never expected Nnoitra’s arrival. He never expected Nel’s change. Or Kenpachi’s appearance. Or Aizen’s attack. Or any of it.

He protected Grimmjow not out of pity or spite but because he honestly didn’t want to see the Arrancar die. If he had, he would have killed Grimmjow himself. There was that kinship, that perception, that something curling in his gut that he had to comprehend.

In the end, Ichigo never got the chance.

And that, perhaps, was his biggest regret of all.