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Pale Blossom

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The sun sat vibrant in the sky.  Only a few wispy clouds decorated the sky in a nearly artistic looking painting of blue and white vibrancy.  The buildings stretched to the sky in what appeared to be some vain attempt to reach the heavens above.  Of course, those within the buildings were far too busy to pay attention to such trivial matters as the status of the early summer sky.  However, the young man standing outside staring at the sky took the time to look and commit the scene to memory.  A special day deserved to be committed to memory.  Today was perhaps the most special day of his life.  Ichigo Kurosaki was twenty years old in a few weeks, and he was going to do something today that took all of his courage and heart to do.  He was going to ask his longtime girlfriend Arisawa Tatsuki to marry him.

It really had little to do with want or desire, though, if Ichigo had really thought of it.  Their relationship had never been about that sort of thing.  From the days when they were children until now, it was just expected of them to be together.  It was always them.  Before his mother died, they played and fought together at the dojo, and afterward, she’d been the only one to treat him normally.  She’d always bested him in the dojo, though, after all she was always a better martial artist than he was, but he always wondered if things would have been different if he hadn’t been injured and kept from advancing in martial arts.  He sighed.  Yes, today he would ask her.  He loved her, of course he did.  Who else was he supposed to love?  She told him they were girlfriend and boyfriend when they were thirteen, and that was that.

He opened them and looked down at the small box in his hand.  Inside, it contained a small diamond solitaire.  He’d saved for the last six months, a few dollars here and there that neither of them would miss at his overnight grocery stocking job.  It was small, and the clarity wasn’t great, but it was what he could pull together and still surprise her with.  He just wanted to show her that he loved her so much, and appreciated her for everything she had done.  She had kept him together when he was falling apart, and she kept him on the best path for their future every day of their lives together.  Everything else didn’t matter, only the good things, only the good times, he thought nodding purposefully to himself as he took the stairs in the apartment building two at a time.  Maybe if she saw how much he loved her, despite all the things that went on, she’d understand, and maybe she’d be happier.

“Arisawa?” he called, opening the door.

Silence met him.  He had been hoping she’d been home from class already.  He didn’t have a lot of time before he had to go to work this evening.  He worked overnights at a local grocery store doing the stocking and cleaning.  He really didn’t get much sleep, mostly he slept between his day classes, but he didn’t mind.  It let Tatsuki concentrate on her own work, and that was what Ichigo was there for, to help her.  He owed her so very much for what she put up with out of him.  He was far from the perfect boyfriend, and she deserved better, really she did.  He had no doubt that he was lucky for having her accept him as he was.

She came out of the bedroom and fixed him with a dark glare.  He flinched unconsciously because that glare was always a bad sign for him.  Maybe it wasn’t a good time.  “What do you want?” she snapped at him, her eyes narrowing in the way that Ichigo knew was a very, very bad sign.  She was in a foul mood, and if he didn’t miss his guess, it was one that stemmed from her speaking with her mother.

Tatsuki was unpredictable, Ichigo knew.  Her moods changed so quickly that sometimes he wondered if there was something wrong with her.  She would go for being happy and talkative to screaming at him for something he didn’t have any control over.   Early in their relationship it had scared him a bit, until he came to realize that it was simply the way she was.  She was a changeful person, he told himself.  He loved her anyway.  It meant that no matter what, Ichigo never knew what mood she’d be in, and her moods impacted her reactions to him greatly.

“Nothing, I just wanted to see you before class, Arisawa,” he said, hiding the box behind him.  He hoped she didn’t notice because in this mood, his marriage proposal would not only be denied, he would likely end up bruised at the very least.  This type of mood invariably led to violence.

She moved, fast though, and was standing in front of him a second later.  Her eyes were hard, and Ichigo, though taller than her by a couple inches, felt tiny.  He tried to step back but reached around and wrenched his arm painfully from behind him.  She pried his hand pen, nails digging into his skin painfully and pulled the box from his hand.  She shook her head and frowned at himShe flicked the box open and stared at it.

“S-sorry, I was going to wait since you seem upset today…B-but…” his statement was ended with a solid, fast punch to his abdomen, doubling him over in immediate pain. 

He should have expected that with her mood today.  She was top of the list of tournament fighters in the area, easily, and her first response was to strike.  Ichigo remembered to breathe and tightened the muscles for the second blow.  She never hit only once, she hit until her opponent was down.  Ever since they were kids it had been this way.  He ended up flat on his back between the back of the couch and the coffee table after another blow and was looking at her with watery eyes.

“You bought a ring?  You think I’d ever actually marry you?  You’re stupider than I thought, you’re lucky I let you live with me.  It should be enough,” she said, pressing a foot into the side of his neck.  “You wasted money on this?  Take it back and bring me whatever you bought it with.  Not much since it’s a cheap piece of crap, obviously.  I’ve seen better diamonds on hobos in the street, you poor excuse for a man.”

She punctuated the thought by kicking him right in the jaw, sending him rolling over, bouncing his head off the coffee table with the sudden movement. Stars exploded in his vision and he felt something slick running down the back of his neck. He gasped, blood filling his mouth and wondered why he hadn’t expected this reaction yet again.  He was so stupid.  Why would she marry him?  He wasn’t worth being married to; after all, he was barely worth having as a boyfriend.  He gathered himself up though as quickly as he could and nodded to her, leaving without bothering to clean his bleeding lip, or even checking for the damage she’d caused this time before he was out the door.  She said to return the ring, so that’s what he’d do.

He stood for a moment outside the doorway, ignoring the blood dripping down the front of his shirt from his split lip.  Don’t ever fight with girls, that’s just not what good boys do!  Sparring and practicing, that’s one thing, but don’t ever hit in anger, no matter what! His mother’s voice rang in his head like it was yesterday.

But mama, she hit me first!

I don’t care!  She can hit you all she wants, you don’t hit back!  Good boys do not hit girls, Ichigo!  He shook the memory away.  He’d been seven, maybe.  I’m a good boy, mom, he thought to himself.  I’m a good boy, right?

He walked away, running a hand through his thick, orange hair.  He was a fighter himself, leanly muscled and lithe.  He was fast on his feet.  Yet, here he was, his longtime girlfriend taking out her frustrations on his body. He told himself that she needed it.  He told himself things were rough with school.  She was, after all, a pre-law student.  He deserved it, of course he did.  If he wasn’t so stupid, he wouldn’t make her angry. She told him that all the time.  If he would just listen and do what he was told, things would be different. When they slept together, she was aggressive, too, but she allowed him to control the situation, at least, he thought she did.  She was his first and he was her first.  He thought surely that like him, she’d never known another lover’s touch.  Why would she?  He’d never been with another lover.

He was jarred out of his thoughts as he thumped into a very solid body.  He stumbled back and realized his ears were ringing a bit for some reason.  He glanced up to see a guy several inches taller than him and twice as broad staring at him with deep blue brows knitted in confusion bordering on irritation.  He had blue hair, of all things, not that he could comment with his own bright orange locks.  He muttered something unintelligible, his lip swollen up by now making his voice come out in a mumble.  He didn’t want to get into a fight right now, he’d had enough today. The man reached out and yanked his chin up to look at his face though when he went to move away.

“The hell happened to you, man?” the blue haired guy asked. 

Ichigo thought and stammered trying to come up with an excuse, knowing he wasn’t going to tell him his girlfriend just kicked him in the face, that would sound ridiculous and he didn’t want anyone to know that happened.  He never did. So instead he shook his head free and tried to step away, only to have the guy grab his wrist again and stopped him all too easily.

“Man, you might need a stitch in that, it’s still bleeding,” he said, and Ichigo looked down to realize his shirt was drenched in blood from the split lip. 

How did he miss that?  Then something dripped in his eye, he rolled his eyes up and realized his head was bleeding.  That explained the amount of blood but was he so lost in thought he hadn’t realized he had a laceration on his scalp.  That had probably happened when he hit the table.  He reached up and pulled away a bloody hand from the back of his head.  He frowned.  The position he’d been walking in had let the blood flow straight down the back of his shirt, and he hadn’t even realized it.  Suddenly his knees were weak and he stumbled into the big guy again.

“Ah, no,” he muttered, pressing a hand to the wound on his scalp.  “Gonna be mad if I go to the ER again,” he said under his breath, trying to stagger away from the man gripping his wrist.   “S’okay, I got some butterfly in my place.”

The man frowned and shook his head.  “No way, you’re in no condition, come on, there’s a quick fix urgent care on the next block I know pretty well, they can stitch it up.”

Ichigo tried to wave it away but he was being led strongly by the stranger.  He had no idea why, but he couldn’t fight him off at the moment.  He sighed deeply as he was led into the waiting room.  The nurse behind the desk looked like she was talking to him.  He just blinked at her.  Was she speaking to him?

The blue haired man, Grimmjow Jagerjaquez by name, frowned at the orange haired kid next to him.  He was staring at the intake nurse and leaning heavily on him.  Today had been a strange day to say the least.  First off, he’d missed the movie he’d been planning on seeing because some jackoff had slashed his tires, and then on the way back to his place he ran into a stumbling, bleeding kid with obnoxiously orange hair. 

“Sir, what’s your name?” the nurse asked again patiently.  He continued to stare and then his eyes rolled up in his head and he slumped into a dead faint. Grimmjow reacted immediately and caught him before he hit the ground.

There was a flurry of motion as Grimmjow picked up the light boy, he couldn’t be more than sixteen, the thought, and followed the nurse, a woman named Nemu Kurosuchi, to the back.  He stayed by him as she cleared up the wounds and found where the blood was coming from.  She put a pressure pad on the back of his head for a few minutes until the bleeding stopped, and a few minutes later the doctor came back.  Grimmjow sat in the uncomfortable plastic chair and watched as he quickly stitched the wound on the back of his head with four stitches.  He looked him over again, and glanced at the chart, and then gave him a stimulant to wake him up. 

“Ah, Arisawa I wanna sleep in today,” he muttered, rolling his head to the side.

“Can you wake up for me?” the doctor said, a man with messy blond hair and a striped bucket hat and green doctor’s coat instead of white.  He was more than a little strange, but oh well, that was Kisuke.  Grimmjow knew the guy though and smirked.  Dr. Kisuke Urahara was eccentric as hell, but a good guy, and Grimmjow’s godfather.

Ichigo groaned, blinking rapidly, his eyes unfocused.  “Sorry, Arisawa, sorry…don’t be mad, okay?”

The strange blond doctor snapped in front of his eyes and he blinked.  “Huh?”

“There you are; can you tell me your name, kid?” the doctor asked.

He hummed.  “Ichigo Kurosaki,” he said looking around.  “Where am I?”

“This big guy here found you outside wandering around in a daze, and you have a concussion, which is why you were in such a stupor.  What happened, you look like you’ve been in a fight.”

Ichigo shook his head wearily as he tried to sit up but ended up just laying back again.  “Fell on the table, that’s all.”

Urahara exchanged looks with Grimmjow.  Neither one believed for a minute that he’d just fallen into a table.  “And the lip and the bruised ribs?”

Ichigo visibly paled, and shrugged, looking away from them.  “Dunno, when I fell, I guess.”

“Okay, well Ichigo, I’m going to get your paperwork, my name is Dr. Urahara if you need anything.  Oh, do you have someone we should call, a significant other or parent?”

Ichigo sighed and shook his head.  “Nah, don’t bother her, and my dad’s a doctor so I’m sure he’ll figure out I’ve been in here soon enough.  I can walk home when I leave, no big deal.”

Dr. Urahara frowned.  “I don’t recommend it; you need to be watched for the next twenty four hours…”

Ichigo smiled nervously.  “Ah, she’s on business, so not home anyway,” he stammered, eyes darting around the room.  Grimmjow frowned, easily catching the obvious lie.  Why didn’t he want to go home?

Grimmjow cleared his throat.  “I can keep an eye on him, Doc, I mean, what kind of asshole would I be not to after I brought ‘im in, yeah?”  He turned to him.  “You wanna stay with me so I can keep an eye on you?  My sister is there too, but she loves company.”

Ichigo blinked and frowned at the guy.  Wow, he thought.  He hadn’t gotten a good look at this guy before, probably because he was on the edge of passing out cold.  He was a very big guy, at least six foot or more and two hundred fifty pounds or more, and aside from his already noticed blue hair, he had tattoos and piercings.  He had a large tattoo on his right jaw and cheek that looked like a skeletal jaw bone.  His eyes were brilliantly blue, and he had brow piercings on both brows.  He had a single stud in the side of his nose and gauged ears.  The gauges weren’t very big, but they were plugged with ornate looking plugs depicting a panther, it appeared.  He had other ear piercings.  He had a couple lip rings and a labret that was a simple captured ball.  He was wearing short sleeves and he could see tribal looking marks coming down either arm in full sleeves with several other things in the patterns that he couldn’t recognize.  If he had run into the guy fully aware he would have never gone anywhere with him.

Ichigo tried to protest but the doctor looked at him.  “Either that or I’ll call your father to come pick you up, unless of course you’re underage, then I have to call him…” he said, arching a brow.

“No, I’m nineteen, dammit!” he blustered.  “Okay I’ll go with him, I guess.  Wait, why are you suggesting I go home with a stranger?” he blurted, staring at the doctor.

He snorted.  “Well you have the good fortune to have been dragged in here by my godson, if you must know,” he said with a smile, grinning at Grimmjow who just rolled his eyes.  “If you go with him, I can check in with you without sending you to the hospital overnight, which I will do if you refuse to go with him or someone you know.”

Ichigo sighed, defeated. “Concussion, this sucks, she’s gonna be mad now,” he muttered, thinking about how upset she’d be when he didn’t come home. Not only that but he was going to miss a night of work.  That would really make her mad, he knew. “I better call her, where’s my phone?”

Grimmjow handed the kid his phone as he chose a number, swallowing nervously.  Grimmjow kept a close eye on him as he spoke.  Something was going on and he wanted to know exactly what it was.

“Hey, Arisawa, um, I’m staying with a friend tonight, okay?  I won’t be at work.  No, no, not like that…I know, but…I can’t…If you’ll just…but….No.  No.  Okay.”  There was a long pause and Grimmjow could hear a husky female voice over the speaker.  “But, no, I won’t…but…but…”  Grimmjow frowned at the kid, arguing with whoever was on the phone.  His eyes were distant.  “It’s not like that!  I’m sorry…I just…when I fell, I hit my head and…yeah…but it gave me…. no, come on, listen a minute, I’m…  Yes it gave me a concussion, okay?”  There was a loud burst of sound from the phone.  “No, no, I got it stitched.  I’m not with my dad, okay?  Can you stop…it won’t…please…I…well, I can’t leave…th-the doctor said so!”  He looked flushed at the discussion.  “It’s either that or he’s calling pop.  Yes I know, okay, I know already!”  He sighed and clicked off the phone, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

“I thought your girl was out of town,” Grimmjow said with a quirked eyebrow.

Ichigo sighed.  “Just don’t wanna go home right now,” he said, rubbing his stomach at the soreness there and looking away from the man in the room.

“Fair enough, kid,” he said, wondering just what the hell was going on with him.  Soon enough, Urahara returned frowning at the boy.

“Ichigo, you’ve had a lot of broken bones in the last couple years,” he said, frowning at the newly acquired file.  He saw the initial flinch and then Ichigo shrugged.

He smiled.  “You know, sometimes I’m clumsy, and I get in fights and stuff because of my hair, some people don’t like it.”

The doctor looked at him warily.  “You must fight a lot, Ichigo.  The last time you were seen, you had a broken collar bone, three broken ribs and a broken elbow.”

He shrugged, remembering that visit.  That had hurt a bit.  He really should have listened to the little voice in his head that told him to steer clear of Tatsuki after she lost the match at nationals, to a completely illegal move that the judges had missed.  Then he tried to comfort her.  That had been a huge mistake.  He sighed, wincing at the memory.  How could he ever bring himself to admit he’d let his own girlfriend do that to him?  He loved her, and he could take it, he was a man after all.  He was supposed to be tough for the woman he loved.  And if he wasn’t, she’d take it out on someone and get in trouble, and he couldn’t let that happen.  He owed her too much, even if she didn’t want him going out on his own with his friends.  He missed them a little, but Tatsuki was so busy that she wasn’t home a lot, and she had forbidden Ishida and Chad from coming to their apartment.

“Anyway, I’ll let my dear godson take you, and you can meet my goddaughter.  I hope you get along well, Ichigo.  If there is anything, anything at all, you want to talk about, you can come see me,” Urahara said with a soft smile at him.

With that, Ichigo was left with the charge nurse who was filling out his discharge paperwork.  He was given a gown to replace his soiled shirt and sighed.  That would never come out; he frowned at the previously light blue t-shirt.  He shoved it into the plastic bag and stood up.  The nurse came back and handed him a prescription for some antibiotics.  He took it and walked sullenly behind the guy he didn’t even know.  What the hell? He thought.  This was really weird.

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

Tatsuki rolled her eyes and put the phone down on the bedside table.  It was getting late and she’d raised the shades on all the windows to let the evening light into the room. 

“Stupid fuckin’ boy,” she muttered, reaching over to the other person in the bed and taking the lit joint from him and breathing it deeply.

The other occupant of the bed, a much older man with long brown hair that fell just below his chin smiled at her.  “Your boyfriend, my dear?”

She shook he head.  “Fucking stupid idiot.  He knows better than to mess with me when I’m in a bad mood.  His own fault he split is fool head open.  Now his goddamned father is going to be snooping around to see if he’s ‘okay’ again.  I swear.”

The older man nodded, watching her drag off the joint with a pleased look on her face.  She offered it back, but he shook his head.  “You know I don’t like the stuff, my dear.  But please, do enjoy.  I also brought some of my finest black tar for you.”

She smiled.  “Ah, Sōsuke, you are too good to me.  What did I do to deserve it?”

Sōsuke smiled at her and arched a brow.  “You give better head than any prostitute I employ, and your body is like satin.  How could I deny you anything, my dear?”

“Oh, I see, you just like to fuck me,” she said, sliding over and climbing on top of him.

“But of course, my dear, but I also find you incredibly alluring and charming,” he said with a smile.

“Fuck,” she moaned as she mounted his already hard cock.  “You just fucking came, Sōsuke, are you sure you’re not on Viagra or something?”

Sōsuke gripped her hips and smiled.  “I’m a virile man.  And I’m not that old, dear, I am only fifteen years older than you.  That is not old, by any means.”

“Ah, fuck,” she moaned again and gave him a sultry glare.  “You are so fuckin’ good, Sōsuke, I can’t even begin to explain it…”

Sometime later, the impeccably dressed Sōsuke Aizen left the sleeping girl in the bedroom and exited the apartment into the hallway where two of his men stood waiting for him on either side of the door.  He straightened the suit jacket and nodded to each of them.  The man on the right was a short man with dark hair and vivid green eyes, the one of the right an incredibly thin and tall man with a bandana across one eye.  Together they left the building.

“Have fun, boss?” the tall one asked.

“Of course, she’s a halfway decent lay, but she has a horribly dirty mouth,” he said, getting into the back of the limo as the green eyed man opened his door. “There is something undeniably unladylike about a woman that curses like a man.”

The tall one got in beside him while the green eyed one got in front to drive.  “Nothin’ wrong with a dirty mouth as long as she’s good at usin’ it right when ya got it stuffed.”

Sōsuke smiled.  “I wish I could say that.  She serves a purpose, and she believes she is important, when in the long run she is simply a means to an end.  Have you checked the cameras in the apartment lately?”

“Yah, nothin’ out of the way.  Boy, though she put a fuckin’ beatin’ on that boyfriend a’hers today.  Ya think she’ll go too far before your plan goes into action?” he said, looking out the window.

“Up the monitoring of the apartment.  We already know he’s restricted to staying in there if he isn’t at work or school.  Make sure she doesn’t kill him before his usefulness comes to fruition,” he said with a sigh.  “I don’t mind that she beats him, makes him easy to manipulate later on, but she can’t kill him.  It would ruin the entirety of the plan, and I cannot have something I’ve worked on for nearly eleven years destroyed by a woman, again.”

“So that’s why ya fuck her, keep her in line?” the bodyguard asked, frowning.

“That and to keep her under control.  I swear she’ll do anything for dope.  Make sure you and Ulquiorra keep her happy while I’m away overseas.   I’ll be out of communication, just make sure you answer to her every whim until I return.  But make sure the boy doesn’t die.  I need him alive,” he said, and got out of the car and walked toward a private jet.

“Make sure he doesn’t die,” Ulquiorra muttered from the front.  “With that unpredictable bitch, how are we supposed to do that, Nnoi?”

He shook his head.  “Dunno, but better do what the boss said, or we’ll be workin’ a fuckin’ street corner by the end of the week when he gets back.  Thanks, but I in no way am gonna be some hairy fuckers rent boy.  Come on, let’s get back.”

The limo pulled away and Aizen watched it go.  Something was coming, he knew.  The end of his plans was coming.  It had been so long since he felt this freedom and the knowledge that his work would not all be for nothing.  No one would stop him this time.  Not some stupid doctor with a penchant for saving people who shouldn’t be saved, and not some stupid woman who stepped between him and his ideal research subject.