A/N: This is a belated birthday gift for the AWESOME reviewer, Kleny Gingerhead. Happy birthday! I hope you like it.
Warnings: Mild language (people, neither Ichigo nor Grimmjow have very clean mouths. Deal with it.), Mild slash/shounen-ai/non-explicit yaoi (which is called shounen-ai)/BL/whatever else we call the category of male/male. Don't like? The back button was created for a reason. Use it.
Lame poem is mine, if you'd like to submit something better, send me a PM and I'll change it and give you credit.
When the rain ends,
The sky's are done,
With shedding tears,
Ichigo finishes high school, third in the class behind Ishida (who somehow still manages near perfect grades, despite hunting Hollows) and some other kid he's seen around school, but never bothered to learn her name. His family is proud that he hasn't let the "Shinigami business" get to him too much, that he can still function without his powers in the real world.
He stands and receives his diploma, but it's an empty accomplishment. He had moved through the rest of his education as if he didn't exist, a shadow of his former self. When he had returned from the battle with Aizen and the subsequent loss of his powers, all of his friends became involved with the Shinigami. He knew when they spoke about him behind his back, how they ceased to talk about the Winter War and the Others in his presence. They thought it would help him move on.
However, as his friends (Chad to a lesser extent, but they never really talked) alienated him by refusing to talk about the Shinigami, Ichigo stopped joining them. He didn't make any other friends, since he'd changed after returning from the Winter War. It was understandable, he thought, that he wouldn't laugh or smile as easily as he once did, which wasn't all that often, that he wouldn't be as carefree as the others in his class who'd never seen the horrors of war.
His mannerisms weren't the only things that now set him apart, though. He now had an aura, not necessarily of power, but one of experience and of a man who had done things he wasn't proud of, but would do again. That aura was probably the biggest reason why Ichigo made no friends, regardless of the fact that they seem like children compared to him.
It was ironic that in those last few years of high school, Ichigo had learned more about stealth than he had even known. Nightmares plagued his nights, and he could see how much they bothered the rest of his family. So he hid them. He trained himself to not cry out during his dreams, using what little spiritual presence he had to establish silencing wards around his bed, hidden by his blankets and pillow (he didn't bother to wonder why he still had some reiatsu, it would have driven him mad), he learned how to make his way around the house, out of the house, without alerting anyone. Ichigo's nighttime excursions were made more difficult by the wards that his father placed around his room and the house in general, which would alert his father to his whereabouts, something that would be almost as painful as his nightmares. He'd be forced to look at his father's eyes, filled with pity and pain.
Ichigo sits on the stairs leading up to the clinic and his home, head in his hands, watching the summer sun set above the buildings. People pass without a second glance; they already have their preconceived notions about the orange haired man.
The stream of people slows as the sun bathes Karakura in a color most similar to Ichigo's hair, when one person decides to stop. He's the only one on the street, apart from the man on the stairs, who doesn't notice him.
"I didn't ask that girl to save you just so you could die while living, Shinigami," a voice growls, shaking Ichigo from his stupor.
The orange-haired man whips his head around to stare at the only one who's stopped.
"Yo. Did you get stupider?"
"What – wait. How are you here? Is that a gigai? Who gave it to you? How are you still alive? Are the others still around?"
Grimmjow looks slightly stunned by the barrage of questions and the quick turn around of the desolate Berry's mood. Though he shouldn't be so surprised. He knows how everyone has been treating the Strawberry. Grimmjow's watched him often enough.
"Uh, I walked. It's a gigai. Some weirdo with a stripped hat gave it to me. That woman ya were there to save sent one of her fairy flowers to begin healing the worst of my wounds, but it left once I could heal the rest by myself. Some of the rest are around. That Ulquiorra bastard's still dead, though."
Ichigo takes a minute to digest the information; face smoothing back out to the mask it's become in the most recent years. It could give Byakuya's poker face a run for his money.
Grimmjow, never patient unless on a hunt, twitches and finally breaks down, "Come on, let's go for a walk."
Ichigo looks at him in surprise and disbelief, but there's a faint amount of relief in those warm brown eyes that signal to Grimmjow that the man's fire isn't completely extinguished just yet.
But the man still hesitates.
"Look, you got anyone ya're waiting for?"
"No," the tone is acrid, certainly not one that Grimmjow would have associated with the man before him when they first met.
"So there's no problem, then."
A small smile makes an appearance on the previously blank face, accompanied by, "Sure."
And that's exactly what they do – they walk all over Karakura, careful to avoid the patrols. The Winter War has been over for a few years now, but the paranoia war brings has yet to settle and Ichigo doesn't want to lose this one connection that he has to his past life.
There is silence between them, but it's not tense and only slightly awkward. This is the best company either has had in quite some time. Not that they'd admit it out loud.
Grimmjow walks with Ichigo back to the clinic and empty house, leaving with a, "See ya later, Shinigami."
Ichigo enters the house, for once content.
They continue in a similar vein for a while. Summer's almost over and Ichigo will have to attend the university he committed to, when something changes.
It starts like every other walk they've had, until they reach that park that Ichigo made his promise to Rukia in: his promise to be a Shinigami.
Grimmjow stops, causing Ichigo to halt as well. The blue-haired man seems to be nervous if the slight twitching is any indication. Suddenly he pulls his right hand out of the pocket that it's been hiding in.
Gruffly he shoves something into Ichigo's hand. Taken off guard by the action, Ichigo barely manages to catch the small objects; there are two rings with the stylized skull of his Substitute Shinigami badge and a simple chocker.
Completely baffled, Ichigo looks up the few inches to Grimmjow's eyes. "What the hell is this for?"
"The stupid hat guy gave it to me. Said it'd help get your powers back. Once you put it on, some needle things'll poke you and inject you with the ambient spiritual pressure from the surrounding area. Apparently since most of what's floating around is from you, it should be able to kick start whatever needs to happen for you to get you powers back."
Ichigo is speechless, carefully putting on the rings to both middle fingers (since that's where they're designed to go) and the chocker (which is thankfully a simple black band with a silver hole in the middle).
Feeling the needles pierce his skin, tiny pinpricks of pain compared to having Zangetsu and Shiro (he really needs a better name) ripped from him, Ichigo quietly says, "Thank you."
"Whatever," is the typical response. "Just get better so I can fight you again." Grimmjow is looking anywhere but at the grateful teen in front of him.
They return to Ichigo's house (no longer "home") once more, where this time Ichigo looks back at the man whose done more for him than any of his friends. Overcome by a moment of stupidity, Ichigo doesn't resist whatever gives him the idea that kissing Grimmjow on the cheek is a good idea. He's inside before the other man starts moving again.
Their subsequent meetings are much more random. Ichigo has entered the local university, but is continuously plied with homework and demands from various clubs he's joined. Grimmjow is still trying to figure out what that kiss meant and how it affects him. He's realized that if he goes to his default emotion, anger, Ichigo will just drift away again. No matter what he thinks about that kiss, he's not letting that Shinigami return to the sorry state he was in before. Anyone with eyes could tell that the man wasn't coping, but not one of those friends the Strawberry had risked his life for had seen it. Grimmjow had more honor than that, even if the Shinigami was technically an enemy.
When they do meet, it's slightly awkward silence they walk in, usually broken by Ichigo's comments on what he's been able to see now. They've also taken to sparring on a nearby riverbank where people don't go anymore. It used to be a soccer field, or at least that's what Ichigo thinks it was. Now it's theirs.
With the life returning to Ichigo, he's started to attract more attention from his peers. Some have begun to see that he's not the delinquent that his hair makes him out to be, but most just see the attractive young man he's become.
Grimmjow, who's never stopped following the man, finds that he doesn't like the bimbos who flutter their eyes at the other man, touching him on the arms, and at times almost rubbing themselves on him. The only thing that prevents the panther from killing the girls is that the other man doesn't react. For whatever reason, that makes the former Espada extremely happy.
Finally the day has come that Ichigo's powers have reawakened. The slightly shorter man is ecstatic, even having to deal with the annoying Hollow that inhabits his mind is better than the oppressive silence he's been forced to endure. The other Hollow, who seems to take great joy in embarrassing his host now that they've been reunited, amuses Grimmjow.
Grimmjow is torn. He was just supposed to help the Shinigami get his powers back, but now he doesn't want to leave. The other man knows that something is amiss, but also understands that Grimmjow won't tell him about it. Grimmjow thinks for any other solution, until he comes across the obvious. But will the Vizard (he's been corrected enough times now to automatically think "Vizard" instead of "Shinigami" with the other man) agree to it?
"Hey. You finally figure whatever was bothering you out?"
"…Wanna go back to Heuco Mundo with me?"
A smile. "Took you long enough."
Latter that day, Ichigo meets with Urahara Kisuke. The only words spoken are directions, but when the younger man leaves, the blond whispers, "Good luck."
He receives a bright grin in return.
One week later, summer in full swing with all the students release from the duties of school, the captains are called into a meeting.
"Kurosaki Ichigo has been killed in an accident. Begin searching for the boy's soul."
Once the surprise wears off, the captains bow and leave to fulfill the orders of the Captain-Commander.
At that moment, Kurosaki Ichigo is walking across the sands of Heuco Mundo, finally at peace, and alongside the one he's come to love. The other man doesn't know Ichigo's feelings yet, and is almost completely unaware of his own, but there's no rush. They have forever, after all.