Even without a war for the fate of the world, things were rarely calm in the Kurosaki house.
Packing was something most families did with a lot less chaos, but most families weren’t a former soul reaper captain and his two spiritually aware daughters and a stuffed lion possessed by a synthetic soul who was raising an absolute stink over being made to spend the duration of the trip stuffed into a carry-on. “How am I supposed to sightsee with your spare underwear in my face and one of Yuzu’s drawing pencils up my--”
“You’re lucky we’re letting you come at all you furry little pervert,” came Karin’s timely counter. “The last thing we need is for you to get lost in the airport or something. If you don’t like it we could always leave you here with Ichigo.”
“Nuh-uh. This is supposed to be my quiet weekend.” Pushing his fingers through his hair with a sigh, Ichigo pushed off the door frame he’d been leaning against and dropped into a chair by her bed to roll her shirts for her. “You sure it’s okay if I don’t go?”
Karin rolled her eyes, stuffing balled up socks into her duffel. “For the last time, it’s fine. You have to work. It’s good, it’s normal. You need a little normal.” The look she gave him was one of understanding. She shared a wall with Ichigo; she was well aware of how much sleep he was--or wasn’t--getting these days, and why. “It’s just one soccer tournament. There’ll be more of ‘em. We’ve got a good team. Plus Yuzu’ll keep you updated on the scores and send you video, so you won’t miss anything important.”
Ichigo wasn’t really sure when his sisters had grown up or whether he deserved them. “Thanks Karin,” he murmured, and went back to folding.
Truth be told he did need a little bit of normal. He’d been fighting wars since Rukia had dropped into his life and pushed her sword through his fifteen-year-old chest. Adapting to life that consisted of more than running from one crisis to another with a sword and a half-baked plan was proving difficult, and he was plagued by bad dreams of too many eyes and the phantom sensation of swords slicing into his flesh and warm blood on his skin and the crushing terror of an enemy who knew his every move before he did.
After Aizen, when he’d spent a year utterly powerless, he’d thought that was the lowest point he could reach, but even then he’d made a weird sort of peace with his circumstances knowing that it hadn’t been for nothing, that Mugetsu had done what he’d meant it to do. By contrast, coming through the grueling trials of Squad zero only to be struck down immediately by an enemy that had seen him coming… Yhwach had been defeated by luck and the skin of his teeth and he kept on haunting Ichigo even this long after he was gone.
Busing tables for shit pay was a weird kind of balm for his weary soul, but needs must.
Eventually Karin shooed him out so she could finish her own packing, and Ichigo wandered down the stairs, ignoring the dull throb between his temples. It was minor, probably the result of not enough sleep and too much caffeine and easily remedied by an early bedtime and, hopefully, a restful night.
Isshin was in the living room with Yuzu, watching in mute horror as she tore her way through his suitcase with flabbergasted amusement. “Ichigo your sister wants me to go naked.”
“You don’t need nine pairs of underwear for a two-day trip.”
Chuckling at the stricken look on his father’s face as his youngest sister started pulling shirts out of his bag, Ichigo slid into the kitchen, rifling in the cabinet for the bottle of ibuprofen mixed in with the lesser-used spices. Dry-swallowing three of them, he skirted back around the ongoing disaster of Isshin’s packing to drop onto the couch, stretching out with a sigh and letting his eyes close and the familiar bickering in the background lull him into a doze.
Yuzu shook him awake a little while later to tell him the cab was out front waiting. Blinking his way through a wave of vertigo, Ichigo helped Isshin carry the bags out to the trunk.
His dad clapped him on the shoulder after he slammed the trunk shut. “Try to get some sleep, yeah?”
“Yeah. Have fun.”
Yuzu hugged him while Karin just waved, too busy stuffing Kon into her backpack while he was playing dead in front of the cab driver. “There’s a stack of leftovers in the fridge, and I put the takeout menus in the drawer. Don’t just eat cereal all weekend okay?”
And then they were gone.
He had cereal for dinner, partly out of spite and partly because his stomach was a tad queasy, then locked the doors and headed upstairs, rolling himself into his blankets. With the window cracked open the room was pleasantly cool, and it didn’t take him long to nod off.
He woke at two in the morning in a panic, tangled in the sheets so badly he nearly fell as he fought to extricate himself and ran for the toilet, and that was where he stayed.
It figured. He’d survived two wars, he’d beaten Aizen and Yhwach, been to literal Hell and back twice, fought half the Arrancar in Hueco Mundo and (mostly) lived to tell about it, and he was going to die in his bathroom. Kurosaki Ichigo, substitute shinigami, taken down by a virus, trying not to think about how many asses were making indirect contact with his face where it rested against the cool curve of the toilet seat. Rest in peace. His only consolation prize was being able to throw up as loudly as he needed to without earning Isshin’s foot in his face for it.
The vomiting was bad enough, but the fever absolutely flattened him, leeching energy from his limbs until all he could do as the hours passed was sit hunched and stare at the corner of the sink vanity, willing his organs to stop trying to escape through his mouth long enough to get a little sleep. His phone kept buzzing, Yuzu with updates about the soccer game, most likely, or asking which of the leftovers he’d eaten. Ichigo moaned as his stomach turned at the thought of food and squeezed his eyes shut, grinding his teeth when the phone buzzed again. If it was her and he didn’t answer she’d eventually start to worry, and the last thing he wanted to do was ruin her weekend.
He was grateful that no one was around to hear the pathetic whine that crawled up the back of his throat when the phone screen lit up in his hand and lanced his eyeballs straight into his brain. Squinting at the display, he tapped in his password and opened a string of texts not from Yuzu, as expected, but from Urahara.
HatnClogs: I thought I should let you know your friend is here ahead of schedule today. Please collect him at your earliest convenience.
HatnClogs: Preferably before he destroys my shop.
HatnClogs: He’s going to push all my favorite mugs off the counters. =^._.^= ∫
HatnClogs: Do you think he’d chew up the corners of Tessai’s newspapers if I asked him to?
HatnClogs: I’ve put him in the bunker to wait for you. From the sound of it you’re going to owe me several paychecks’ worth of repair costs for making him cranky.（งΦ Д Φ）ง
HatnClogs: I hope you have a good reason for missing your scheduled playdate. And I’d advise you lock down the house. Have a nice evening!
With a groan Ichigo let the phone slide from boneless fingers to thump softly on the bath mat. It was Friday, and for months his afternoons had been reserved for a mutual ass-kicking courtesy of one Grimmjow Jaegerjacquez.
The former sixth espada had shown up a few months after the end of Yhwach, a little thinner, a lot crabbier, and having somehow agreed to work as a go-between for Las Noches and Urahara, who’d been assisting Harribel and the rest of the arrancar in obtaining materials to enact repairs. The shopkeeper had loudly proclaimed that sharing a near death experience had bonded him irreparably with Grimmjow. More likely Harribel had simply considered it a natural extension of the tenuous alliance he’d forged with Kisuke during the war. Ichigo had just been fascinated by the concept of Grimmjow doing anything that didn’t involve actively trying to cut him to ribbons, which was why he wasn’t surprised when the first thing the arrancar did upon catching sight of him was challenging him to a rematch.
Urahara offered the bunker to keep them from leveling half of Karakura Town. It was a good call; by the time they were both incapacitated the pristine desert landscape was scarred and pitted and smoldering in places and the kidou that built the artificial sky was cracked badly enough to make the clouds skip into fuzzy technicolor. Grimmjow, bleeding profusely from a split in his scalp courtesy of Zangetsu’s hilt, among other injuries, grinned from his prone position in the dirt, declared that Ichigo had gone soft on him, and demanded that they make it a weekly thing until he was back in peak form because “when I kill you I want it to be because my best was better than yours, you ginger piece of shit.”
Thus began what Kisuke called their weekly playdates, albeit only when Grimmjow wasn’t around to hear him and possibly cero the shop to ashes. At first it was just fighting until neither of them could move, punishing and brutal and exactly what Ichigo needed to soothe the part of him that still clamored for battle. It was easy to ignore the phantom sensation of blades in his flesh when Pantera’s very real edge was cutting into him.
More recently things between them had been almost amiable, relatively speaking. They still fought to exhaustion, but afterward if Ichigo offered a hand up Grimmjow took it, and he stuck around sometimes to drink sake with the rest of them and swap war stories.
Of course, he thought as he heard the window in his room slide open, it would all be a moot point if he was about to die anyway, one was or another. So much for Kisuke’s warning.
“Oi, Kurosaki, it fucking stinks in here!” Two twin thumps echoed from his bedroom, followed by the quiet shuffle of sock feet across the rug. “Where the hell are you?”
Ichigo considered not answering but didn’t fancy the arrancar burning the house down to spite him, so he rasped “bathroom” and tried not to groan when the sound scraped his throat like sandpaper. A moment later Grimmjow’s lanky shadow blocked the dim light from down the hall and the door creaked open enough to admit his lanky frame.
“You look like shit. What the fuck?”
He couldn’t argue if he looked even half as bad as he felt, so he settled for a half-assed middle finger. “Gonna have to take a raincheck this week,” he murmured in lieu of a proper greeting. “I’ll make it up to you though.”
He expected him to leave as soon as his curiosity was sated, so it was a surprise when long fingers brushed his sweaty bangs off his forehead. “Damn right you’ll make it up to me.” His eyes popped open in shock as Grimmjow’s cool, calloused hand settled against the skin there, uncharacteristically gentle. “Shit, you’re hot.”
“‘S nice that you finally noticed.”
“Tch, shut up.” The hand withdrew, and Ichigo swallowed the small sound of distress that wanted to crawl out of him at the loss of contact, focusing instead on the slow churn in his stomach as Grimmjow slipped out of the room.
He must have dozed off because suddenly there was a cup of water in his face. “Drink.”
“Can’t,” he moaned. “I’ll just throw it up.”
“You’re gonna shrivel like a raisin if you don’t. Drink it or I’m calling your sister.” For emphasis, he held up Ichigo’s phone, pilfered from its resting place on the floor mat while he was napping on the toilet seat. The grin on his face was smug and said in no uncertain terms that he absolutely would dial Yuzu and subject her older brother to the guilt trip she’d level on him for not telling her he was sick.
He sat up slowly, leaning back against the wall with a leg on either side of the toilet, and took the cup from Grimmjow, sipping slowly. The water was soothing on his throat but hit his stomach like concrete, and he winced after a few sips and set it aside. “Low blow Jaegerjacquez,” he said, tipping his head back and closing his eyes in preparation for the battle of wills with his stomach to keep the water down. He knew he needed to rehydrate. He also needed a shower and about sixteen hours of uninterrupted sleep, but in short order he lost the fight with his gut and lurched forward, barely getting his face back over the bowl in time to puke up the water. It hurt, the painful heaving going on long after his stomach was empty, chest seizing up with the effort until he couldn’t breathe properly.
Firm pressure between his shoulder blades distracted him, marking a repetitive path down the column of his spine and back, and gradually his body responded to the sensation, relaxing enough for him to pull in a ragged breath and then another. Ichigo didn’t let himself dwell on the fact that Grimmjow was rubbing his back as he took the wad of toilet paper the arrancar offered him and wiped a string of drool off his chin. It was awkward and jerky and not entirely comforting, but the distraction had helped. “Thanks,” he whispered. Grimmjow merely shrugged, snagged the water cup off the floor where he’d left it and slipped out the door again.
They established a pattern pretty quickly. Ichigo dozed against the wall until Grimmjow woke him up to drink. Sometimes he kept the water down and sometimes he didn’t, and then he’d space out again. Time passed in fits and starts, but Grimmjow was always there, sitting against the vanity with one leg bent and his chin on his knee.
The next time Ichigo felt vaguely coherent he awoke to tinny sound of angry birds and Grimmjow’s triumphant “take that you green little fucker.”
“You better not be buying things on my account.”
Grimmjow looked up. “Are you actually awake this time?”
He considered the question, tonguing the inside of his cheek with a grimace. His mouth felt like sandpaper and tasted worse, his throat and ribs were sore and his head was throbbing, but he’d managed to drink water twice without hurling it back up again. “Think so,” he said finally. “What time is it?”
Long fingers tapped at the screen a few times. “‘Bout six am.”
“You stayed all night?”
“I called Urahara. He said you’d probably be fine but that someone should make sure you didn’t choke to death on your own vomit.” Grimmjow shrugged one shoulder. “Only thing that gets to kill you is me, so I stayed.”
From literally anyone else it would sound passive and maybe vaguely threatening, but from Grimmjow it felt like an admission of endearment, and it planted a warm little seed of something deep in Ichigo’s gut. “Aw, you really do like me,” he said, and then laughed when he got a middle finger in response. Ichigo shifted against the wall and consequently caught a whiff of his own body stench; stale vomit and old sweat. “Ugh. I need a shower.” Carefully, he got his legs under himself and pushed up, swaying just a little from the resultant vertigo and residual weakness in his limbs but managing not to fall over. “I uh… can probably handle it myself.”
Grimmjow snorted. “Wasn’t offering, Kurosaki. Try not to fall and break your neck.” Unfolding from the floor like a gangly accordion, he pocketed Ichigo’s phone and headed for the door. “Your sister’s team is in the final four, if you were curious. The little one won’t shut up about it.”
“You know they’re twins right?” he asked, but Grimmjow had already disappeared down the hall.
Kisuke had laughed at him when he called.
“Why, Grimmjow-san, when did you go and grow a heart?”
“Just shut the hell up and tell me how to keep him alive, asshole. And can it with the honorifics.” The shopkeeper had laughed again, but he’d given Grimmjow a solid rundown of how to play nurse to a sick human and wished him luck before hanging up. There was something suspiciously amused in his voice, but the arrancar figured he could beat it out of him later. He was plotting how to do it and glaring at the instructions on a package of cup noodles when he heard the human in question shuffling down the stairs.
Kurosaki looked better. Still pale and shaky on his feet, wrapped like a grandmother in the comforter from his bed, but more human. He smelled better, at least, tea tree and jasmine soap and the faint undercurrent of mint and sunlight that was just his natural scent. He stopped in the kitchen doorway, expression quizzical. “Are you making me soup?”
“Yes. Shut up and go sit down.” He turned away when the kettle whistled, busying himself peeling back the label on the cup.
Several minutes later he plonked the styrofoam cup of slightly crunchy noodles in front of the ball of blankets on the couch and dropped onto the cushions in a lazy sprawl while the shinigami emerged like a moth from a cocoon to pick at the offering. “You know when Urahara mentioned chicken noodle soup this isn’t what he meant.”
Grimmow’s eyes narrowed. “It’s chicken flavored. There’s fucking noodles. Who am I, Gordon Ramsay? Eat your fucking soup.”
Ichigo grinned. “How do you know who Gordon Ramsay is? I didn’t think Urahara owned a television.”
“Tessai watches Hell’s Kitchen or whatever on his phone.”
“Huh. Would have put him down for soap operas.” Kurosaki picked up the remote from the table, chewing his lip thoughtfully. “Well I can’t focus on anything deep, so I guess I can educate you on the wonderful world of situational comedy, as long as you’re here.”
So it was that he wound up on Kurosaki’s living room couch watching reruns of Friends on a Saturday evening, one watchful eye on the shinigami as he ate. Ichigo mostly just picked at the noodles, but he did drink the broth, and when he was finished and trying to unobtrusively find a comfortable way to lie down without encroaching on Grimmjow’s space the arrancar seized his legs and dragged them across his lap, gaze fixed pointedly on the screen.
It wasn’t uncomfortable, but there was something heavy in the silence between them. Grimmjow eventually looked over to see Ichigo watching him instead of the screen, brow creased in contemplation. His eyes were still glassy with lingering fever, but there was color in his face again besides the high blush on his cheeks. “What?” the arrancar hissed eventually.
“You’re rubbing my legs.”
So he was. “And?”
“And? Usually the extent of your tactile interactions involve you trying to maul me. You rubbed my back before too.” He shrugged. “Not that I’m complaining. I just never pegged you for the touchy feely type.”
He wasn’t really. Outside of sleeping in a pile with his fracción once upon a time, he avoided contact when he could unless it was the kind that accompanied violence.
Kurosaki, on the other hand, was irritatingly tactile, squeezing a shoulder here and there, offering a hand up after a fight, probing the edges of wounds in the aftermath with his tongue tucked into the corner of his mouth. Grimmjow’s sense memory could still recall with perfect clarity the way he’d squeezed behind him in Urahara’s shop the week before, hands on his ribs, a full body slide against his back that had left him tingling for hours afterward. He was always gentle, in contrast to the all-out violence of his fighting style. Not even Nel, who was the only other arrancar who ever dared to touch the sixth espada, could be considered gentle, what with the way her hugs could turn anyone’s ribcage to dust.
His gaze went back to the screen, but he was acutely aware of the eyes burning holes into the masked side of his face as his fingers continued to knead a path past Kurosaki’s ankle into the meat of his calf under the loose leg of his sweats, feeling for the knots he knew had to be wound into the muscle from hours of sitting crouched over the toilet. Ichigo was watching him with lips slightly parted, tv forgotten entirely, the look on his face hovering somewhere between relief and confusion and something else that made Grimmjow want to purr. It was nice to know he could still unsettle the shinigami so thoroughly.
“So this guy, Ross, is gonna marry this other girl,” he asked conversationally.
“I thought he was in love with the other one. Nipples, what’s her name?”
Kurosaki snorted. “Rachel. Her name is Rachel, and he is.”
“Eh, he’s a prick. She could do better.” Grimmjow circled a thumb into the sensitive pocket of skin near the back of Ichigo’s knee.
“You’d know,” came the reply, slightly breathless. The arrancar just smiled.
He woke with the sun in his eyes and Ichigo’s fingers buried in his hair, draped over the soul reaper’s legs with the unmasked side of his face pushed into the dent between his abdominals and the curve of his hip bone. Grimmjow yawned into the relative peace of the morning and felt the fingers pause against his scalp. “You’re awake.”
“Don’t remember falling asleep,” he admitted, pushing his head into the pads of Ichigo’s fingers until they resumed making trails through his hair and humming in satisfaction.
“This is weird right?” Kurosaki asked after a second. “Your face is practically on top of my dick. I’m petting your hair. It should be weird. I keep waiting for you to stab me or bite me or something.”
Grimmjow grinned. “So you like biting?”
“Oh shut up.”
“Asshole.” He tugged lightly on the blue strands between his fingers, teasing. “Why isn’t this weird?”
Turning his face to prop his chin against the jut of Ichigo’s hip, Grimmjow narrowed his eyes at him, blinking slowly. “Do you ever stop overthinking or can you just not help yourself?”
Kurosaki flushed. “I just… we fight. It’s what we do. Taking care of me when I’m sick, sleeping in my lap, watching sitcoms with me… mixed fucking signals, Jaegerjacquez. Aren’t you always the one claiming you want to kill me?”
He had a point. Grimmjow wasn’t sure when exactly that attitude had changed, and he wasn’t the type to analyze it too deeply either. People changed, motivations changed. Maybe Grimmjow had realized that Kurosaki hadn’t been lying that day in Hueco Mundo when he promised to fight him whenever he wanted, that the shinigami had only ever seen him as an equal and never looked down on him the way he’d expected him to.
Maybe he’d figured out that his life without Kurosaki Ichigo in it was pretty damn dull.
What the hell. He’d always been a creature of impulse. In one motion he reached for the armrest behind Kurosaki’s head, pushing up with his other arm to lever himself forward, and smashed their lips together.
Ichigo’s lips were rough, chapped with lingering dehydration, but they were pliant under his, and after a moment of shocked rigidity he whimpered against Grimmjow’s mouth and brought both hands up to tangle in his hair, dragging him closer. What followed was several minutes of clashing teeth and smashed noses while they tried to find an angle that worked. They kissed like they fought, aggressive and enthusiastic and bruising, Kurosaki tugging on his hair, smiling against his mouth when he growled, trailing off into a half-choked whine when he pushed their hips together through the blanket.
Eventually Grimmjow pulled back, grinning. “That unmix the signals, Kurosaki?”
The answering smile was a little dazed. “Kisuke was right, you are a hedonist.”
“Pot, kettle.” He ground his hips down for emphasis where Ichigo had been slowly rolling his upward, seeking friction. Both of them were hard and the blanket was quickly becoming a nuisance. Grimmjow grabbed a fistful of pink fleece and yanked it out from between them.“You really wanna talk about Urahara right now?”
“No. No I really don’t.” Instead he went for the zipper on Grimmjow’s catsuit, yanking it down and pushing the fabric off his shoulders with trembling fingers.
It shouldn’t have been as good as it was, awkward and sloppy and quick, Grimmjow’s jumpsuit bunched weirdly around his thighs, bare ass in the breeze as he shoved Kurosaki’s sweats down enough to get a hand around both of them. It was sort of dry and there was too much friction and at one point Ichigo zigged when he zagged and headbutted him in the mouth, but when he buried his face in Grimmjow’s shoulder and tugged the hair at the nape of his neck like that the awkwardness didn’t matter at all.
They must have fallen asleep in the aftermath, cleaned up and squared away and tucked back under the blanket. At first Grimmjow wasn’t sure what woke him up, but the second time the camera flash seared into his retinas suddenly all the grogginess was gone.
Apparently the Kurosaki family had made it home a bit early.
Within seconds Karin was sprinting up the stairs shouting about plastering their pictures all over social media while Isshin was prostrate on the floor in front of Masaki’s poster wailing about how his son never told him anything.
Yuzu just smiled and pulled the blanket up over them both a little higher, squinting at whatever wavering sort-of shape she saw instead of Grimmjow. Thanks for texting me,” she said quietly. “And for taking care of him.”
She made it to the kitchen before he felt Ichigo shift underneath him. “You did call my sister, you dick.”
Grimmjow laughed. “Shut up and go back to sleep.”