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He got pushed down on the barstool via a hand on the back of his neck, when he balked at taking the seat.
"Son of a bitch, get your hands o- -" Was as far as he got before his head got slammed against the bar. As faces to bar tops went, he supposed it was a pretty gentle meeting. No broken bones resulted, just a little new blood in his mouth. He cursed under his breath, glowering, and cast a wary, narrow eyed look at the smirking bastard who settled down next to him.
"What is your problem, asshole?" he muttered, rubbing his forehead. "And don't think I owe you anything for what you did out there. I didn't ask for your help."
The guy motioned to the barkeep, before he planted an elbow on the grimy, pitted surface of the bar and leaned way too far into Ichigo's personal space. Ichigo leaned back a little, swallowing, the look in those pale blue eyes just short of entirely sane.
"You really don't remember, do you?"
Ichigo shook his head mutely.
"Yeah, I'd heard somebody offed you. A shame, because I'd really wanted it to be me, you know?"
"Wh- - what?"
"But look, here you are, looking good enough to eat, walking right up to me like a gift from the gods."
Ichigo kept staring, and despite the overwhelming urge to put as much distance between him and this asshole as he could, the desperate need to find out what he knew about him kept him firmly in place.
"You know me? Knew me?"
"You could say that. It hurts my feelings that you don't remember me. I like to make an impression, you know."
The barkeep slapped down two dirty glasses in front of them, filled them to overflowing with clear liquid. The guy picked up his and downed it in one gulp, then jerked his chin at the one before Ichigo.
"Don't insult my generosity, Ichigo."
Ichigo cast a narrow glance at the glass and figured alcohol could only help. He swallowed it down and gasped, choking on the burn. If it was sake, and it did have the general flavor, it was the strongest version imaginable.
"So you know me," he choked out, after the coughing had subsided. "But who are you?"
"Well that's a fucking mouthful," he muttered.
The grin spread wider, just damned sly and unsettling. "Yeah, so I've been told."
There was enough innuendo there that Ichigo snapped his mouth shut, feeling offended and embarrassed simultaneously. Meeting those pale eyes was uncomfortable when the guy was staring at him so intently. He flicked his gaze down, noticing beneath the half unzipped black leather of his jacket the jagged edges of an old scar. A pretty nasty, ragged line of thick scar tissue starting at his collarbone and disappearing beneath the jacket.
"You like this, do you?" Grimmjow noticed where he was looking and ran his knuckles across thickened scar tissue. "It's my most treasured memento."
Ichigo snapped his eyes away, looking at the empty glass in his hand instead.
"Yeah. You've got some fucked up priorities then."
"You don't know the half of it. Hee. Well at least not anymore."
"How do you know me? I thought - - when you died and were reborn here all your past memories were wiped clean?"
"You're assuming I died and was reborn here."
"Well - - yeah? No?"
The grin was white and feral. "Don't lump me in with the lot of sheep that roam Rukongai. I'm just visiting."
"Visiting? You can just - -like go on vacation in the afterlife?"
That made the guy laugh. "Pretty much."
"And you picked this shithole for your sabbatical?"
"There are worse places. And I like it here on the outskirts. Not many Soul Reapers wondering about to kill the mood. And the nightlife is killer."
"Okay. Okay. That doesn't answer my first question. How do you know me?"
"If I told you, I think I'd have to kill you afterward."
Ichigo narrowed his eyes, not entirely sure if Grimmjow wasn't dead serious.
Grimmjow sat back, tapping the bar top again to get the barkeep's attention. The grin turned into a frown. "You don't have shit for spirit pressure, you know? How the hell did that happen? This is a real fucking inconvenience for me. I had big plans, you know, if you and me ever ran into each other again."
"Excuse me for dying, asshole." Ichigo didn't hesitate to gulp down the sake this time, when the barkeep filled the glass. "And what the hell did I ever do to you?"
Grimmjow reached out, quicker than Ichigo could follow, and grasped the back of his head, fist tight in his hair. He pulled him close enough that Ichigo could feel the warmth of his breath. "You're making problems for me. How am I supposed to settle with you if you can't fight for shit? What's the fun in cutting you down, if you can't put up a decent fight?"
"You're batshit - - fucking crazy." Ichigo ground out, bracing his palms on the bar in an attempt to break away. But Grimmjow was strong. Really strong.
"I suppose I could get some satisfaction out of maybe giving you a head start and hunting you down. I could take my time and slice you up and maybe if you begged and pleaded enough for me to end you, I could take some enjoyment out of that."
"Oh - - fucking - - god - -" Batshit crazy didn't begin to describe this guy.
Grimmjow pulled back a little, eyes drifting down the open expanse of Ichigo's tattered shirt. "Or - - I could fuck you. If there's no satisfaction to be had out of fighting you - -I could probably get off fucking you. What do you think?"
"I think you're all full of shit and this is hell."
Grimmjow grinned at him. "So I'll let you choose. Hunt you down and torture you until you beg me to slice your throat open - - or fuck you?"
Ichigo gaped at him. "Seriously?"
"I'm okay with either option, really. So I'll let you make the choice."
"You - - dick." Ichigo could barely get the words out he was so mortally horrified/offended.
"My dick? Okay, so fucking it is." He let go Ichigo's hair and slapped the bar again with a jovial grin.
"Another couple of rounds. He's gonna need it."
* * *
There wasn't enough sake in the world. Or the afterlife. Or Rukongai - - or fuck, he didn't even know anymore where he was or what he was supposed to think or do or how the hell he'd gotten into this miserable situation. But he kept getting sake sloshed at him, and kept tossing it down in numb repetition. He didn't know if it were the alcohol messing with him, or the shock.
Grimmjow seemed content to sit there, grinning like a demented serial killer while he downed glass after glass, like he hadn't just promised a thorough raping once he was done.
"Listen," Ichigo was drunk enough after more glasses of the potent crap than he could count, that the notion of reasoning with a madman was starting to seem like a good idea. "I'm not really into guys - -" he paused, reasonably sure that was a correct assumption, but not entirely certain come to think on it, because really, how did he know? But for the sake of argument - -
"So - - you know - - this isn't really gonna work for me."
"Don't sweat it," Grimmjow shrugged. "Doesn't really matter if you enjoy it or not, long as I do."
"Dude - - that's cold." He stabbed a finger in indignation and the movement made him sway on the stool.
"Yeah, I think we're done here." Grimmjow tossed a few coin on the counter and pulled Ichigo off the stool. The floor tilted under him. Grimmjow curled an arm around his waist and shored him up.
Grimmjow got him to the street outside and he noted with surreal fascination that there was no indication of the decapitated body that had been there - - oh, how long ago? A hour? A couple of hours? His sake clouded brain was struggling with the concept of time. When you died in the afterlife - - what happened then. Was there an afterlife of the afterlife? Really, he should have thought to ask.
"Where are we going?" He tried to pry Grimmjow's arm off him. Grimmjow wasn't having it. Just kept hauling him along and Ichigo's legs were making a sort of half-assed effort of keeping up.
Grimmjow's room. That simple concept slammed a bit of reality home. Panic tried to work up enough momentum to break through the sake fog numbing his mind. It made enough of a dent for him to actually get an elbow jab in against Grimmjow's kidney and left him an opening to lurch free. He staggered a few steps, balance just shot to hell.
"I said no, you asshole." Turning his head without turning his body proved a difficult maneuver. He was not, he realized, a particularly graceful drunk. Self discovery was a wonderful thing.
Grimmjow stood there staring at him, amused, fingers gently tapping the hilt of the sword thrust through his belt. It occurred to Ichigo that he had seen no one else in Dead End sporting a sword. At least not one so obvious. He remembered just how efficient Grimmjow had been with it. Remembered with a surge of bile at the back of his throat, the head sailing through the air and hitting ground with that sickening thump of flesh and bone impacting soppy earth.
He dragged his eyes up from the sword to Grimmjow's face, to the slow spread of his grin and recalled the other option he'd been given. The one that would introduce him more intimately to the edge of that sword.
"Why are you doing this?" he asked miserably.
"Life sucks. Then you die. Then it sucks some more." Grimmjow spouted philosophy.
Ichigo blinked at him, then Grimmjow moved and Ichigo missed it entirely, only catching it after the fact when the shoulder impacted his gut and he was ass up over Grimmjow's shoulder. The blood rushing to his head didn't help the state of his coherent thought.
He cursed, head spinning so bad he thought he might vomit. There were people on the street, but none of them gave a shit, too lethargic in their misery to care.
He greyed out a little, and came back when his back hit a thin, lumpy excuse for a futon on the floor. He tried to push himself up, but Grimmjow's boot against his shoulder slammed him back down.
He blinked up at the ceiling then, reeling. A dingy little room, one dirty window that let in nothing but that miserable murky light that permeated everything.
Grimmjow pulled the sword out of his belt and laid it on a little table against the far wall. He unzipped his jacket, back to Ichigo. He glanced over his shoulder, a sliver of pale eye and sly grin as he shrugged the jacket off, and on the pale, muscular flesh of his back there was a black tattoo of the number 6. Oh, and a big, gaping hole of nothingness that perched at the center of his stomach. It was as big around as a melon and black as pitch around the inside edges.
Ichigo got an elbow under him and stared, wide-eyed in astonishment.
"The hell is that?" He could see the wall behind Grimmjow through the cavity in his abdomen. It was horrifyingly mesmerizing.
"You don't remember what an Arrancar is, huh?" Grimmjow slid his fingers around the edges of the hole. "You like?"
"I think I need another drink."
"No. I need you conscious. I need to see your eyes when I fuck you."
"My eyes?" He blinked up, painstakingly trying to wrap his mind around that.
"Yeah. They used to piss me off, but you know, now that you're all confused and scared, I'm thinking I like them."
"I'm not scared - - of you - -"
"Sure. Right. I like your bravado when you can't back it up worth shit. Oh and its okay if you put up a fight. In fact, I insist."
And he was just on him, bowling him backwards with the weight of his body, straddling him, pinning him down with one hand wrapped around his neck, fingers tightening like five vises. Breath stalled, cut off entirely. He clawed at Grimmjow's wrist, and when he couldn't dislodge it, went instead for the gleefully grinning face looming over him. Smashed his fist full on against Grimmjow's nose, and the bastard's head didn't even snap back. The grin just grew wider and Ichigo hit him again, and again until his knuckles were torn and bleeding, but the only blood on Grimmjow's face was Ichigo's.
He was fading, oxygen starved brain beginning to flounder. And Grimmjow was laughing. Cackling like a lunatic. He jerked at the drawstring of Ichigo's pants, ripping them down his hips while he was suffocating. Shoved his thighs apart with his knees while his eyes rolled back and the spots started dancing in the darkness closing in around his vision.
Then the grip at his throat slid away, Grimmjow fumbling instead at the opening of his own pants while Ichigo gasped after precious air. He didn't bother with preparation. Didn't even really allow Ichigo the chance to gather enough air back into his lungs to get in a proper breath, before he slammed it back out of him again.
Simple fleshy barriers couldn't stop the force of the initial entry. He tore into him with brutal efficiency. The scream that ripped from his throat lacked the air to be anything but a choked, aborted cry of pain. Even the lubrication of spilled blood didn't ease the agony of the following thrust.
He fought it best he could in the position he was in, one thigh flat against Grimmjow's chest, the other knee hooked under the bastard's elbow, his back flat on the floor Grimmjow was trying to drive him into. He didn't know where Grimmjow was getting his strength or how his own was so damned ineffectual against it. And it hurt. It burned like it was a blade tearing into him, or a fist trying to pound him into submission from the inside. And maybe it was the sake or injury or shock, but his head was spinning, vision going wonky enough that he thought he saw a carapace of bone, hard and bleached white covering one side of Grimmjow's jaw.
The strength to struggle seeped out of him, like the blood trickling down his spine.
He reeled in and out of cognizant awareness, jerked one way on the driving impact of Grimmjow's punishing thrusts, pulled the other by his body stubbornly refusing to crumble under the assault. But shock and injury took their toll. And there was only so much he could withstand and Grimmjow seemed endowed with brutal staying power. There was a point where he was just meat under him, past the ability to do anything other than lie there and take it.
Grimmjow caught Ichigo's jaw, forcing his eyes to focus on his face as he loomed over him. The plate of bone was still there, molded to his jaw, paler than his pale skin.
He pulled out and slid back in slow and deep, balls tight against Ichigo's ass.
"Yeah. This. I like you like this."
Then he dug his fingers into the back of Ichigo's thighs, pressing his knees almost to his ears, and started up again. Rapid strokes this time, fast and desperate rather than harsh punishment he'd been doling out earlier. This time it was just animal instinct as he came, thick and hot inside Ichigo's body. When he pulled out finally, a trail of his leavings oozed out after, burning as it mingled with the blood still seeping from torn flesh and muscle.
Ichigo shuddered, revulsion a distant thing hammering at the mush of his brain. Maybe later it would hit full force. But now, shock was dulling everything. Numbing everything and that wasn't entirely a bad thing.
Grimmjow flopped down next to him, skin hot against the curious cold that was flooding Ichigo. He ran a hand down Ichigo's stomach, idly stroking his flaccid cock, before sliding between his thighs. His fingers came back up, wet with blood and semen. He brushed them across Ichigo's lips, then slid a finger inside his mouth, then two, a languid imitation of fucking, before he leaned down and licked it off.
"That was payback," Grimmjow licked his way down his jaw to his neck, tongue raking a long swath across sweat dampened flesh. He seemed to like the taste. His mouth latched on, teeth grazing skin as he sucked and bit at the juncture of Ichigo's shoulder.
There were hands on his body, not rough now, but languidly thorough. Fondling, stroking, exploring.
"Next time," Grimmjow's voice was fading, eaten away by the white static of numb creeping through his head. "I won't make you bleed so much."
He couldn't move. He couldn't think. His mind shut off somewhere in the midst of it, plunging him into oblivion too damned late to escape the brunt of the pain. But better late than never.
* * *
Darkness. Utter black silence. A safe place. A sheltered place. Blissful ignorance. Blissful escape.
Until the faint scape of nails chipping away at the shell of something at the center of it frayed at the edges of the haven. The dimmest glow of dull light broke the velvet nothingness. He became aware of the sphere. A sphere wrapped in blood-tinged darkness, coiled with layers of steely thorn and banded with dull, black iron. Impenetrable. Curious. The scratching came from within. Relentless. The tiniest flake of armored plating chipped off, disintegrating in the darkness.
A feather soft whisper that slithered through the silence like a snake in the grass.
Say my name . . .
Ichigo opened his eyes with a start. Regretted it immediately as the throbbing hit the space behind his eyes. It was bad enough that it momentarily masked the ache permeating the rest of his body. He lay there for a few moments, staring with half cracked eyes at the ceiling, gathering together the scattered pieces of his memory.
And he remembered more than he wished he had. Some of it clear as day, some of it shrouded in the fog of pain and booze.
There was a blanket half covering him. Not enough to mistake the fact that he was naked under it. The second time he'd woken up naked in this place, only this time he knew the reason and the culprit - - and damn - - just damn.
But his rapist wasn't here. Just Ichigo and a furtive cockroach skittering across the wall, disappearing in a crack in the woodwork. Huh. So there were roaches in the afterlife.
He sat up, despite the body wide ache radiating out from between his legs. He curled his fingers in his hair, fisting them hard enough to hurt. That pain was better than the other. That he'd had that done to him - - and had been helpless to stop it - - the wetness running down the sides of his face was too hot to be anything but rage. He was not a victim. He was damn well not a victim. He was a stranger to himself, but of that he was sure all the way down to his bones.
He forced himself up with a grimace. He was surprisingly clean of blood or any other unsavory dried fluids and it made him cringe thinking of Grimmjow cleaning up the mess he'd made. He shuddered, a numb sense of revulsion curling in his gut thinking what had been done to him after he'd passed out. His threadbare clothing was strewn about the room. The shirt was in no worse shape than it had been, but the thin trousers were torn, the drawstring snapped. He seethed in irritation and tore a strip from the hem of the shirt to replace it.
He had to get out of here. Needed to put this room and what had happened in it far behind him. Needed to get away before Grimmjow came back, if Grimmjow was even coming back. Much as he'd like to smash the guy's head against a wall until his face was a bloody mess, the chances of that happening were pretty damned slim.
It hurt walking. But the pain kept his anger raw and vivid. And anger was the only thing keeping his hands from shaking. The only thing keeping him from sliding down the wall and sobbing in frustration.
He didn't remember coming into the place where Grimmjow had his room. It was a downtrodden little inn, with a beady-eyed woman sitting behind the counter beyond the entrance.
She glared at him as he passed. "You ply your trade here, house gets a cut," she called, as if she thought he might be a whore Grimmjow had solicited and brought back to do business with in her inn. His shoulders stiffened, he half turned, meeting her glare with one of his own. For a second she met it, before her gaze faltered and she flicked her eyes away, muttering to herself.
Then he was out onto the street, all the shadows the same as they'd been last time he'd been clear headed enough to notice. All the dirt the same and the dour, dingy buildings. The dead eyed, hopeless people. He hated this place with a passion. He'd take the featureless grass plains and the forests that hid dark and dangerous things and maybe if he walked long enough, he could reach one of those places where the sun actually came out to chase the shadows away.
"Did you hear?" He overheard a group of surly looking men standing around a barrel of burning rubbish. "There's Reapers in town."
"Reapers? What're those bastards stickin' their noses in round here for?"
"Asking around about all the hollows appearing round abouts."
"Humph. Ain't us they care about, its the hollows migrating from the outskirts to the proper districts more than usual that has them interested."
One of the men spat into the fire and the others followed, a sign of scorn. Eltha and Dltha hadn't been fond of the Reaper's either. But then Eltha and Dltha were organ snatching old bats, so maybe they had a healthy dislike of any sort of law, if the Soul Reapers actually did represent such a thing.
He kept walking, thinking he was heading the opposite direction of the way he'd come into the town. It was a lot bigger than he'd thought upon first sight. Shabby little structures stretching down as far as his eye could see. And really, he didn't think it had been this big when he'd seen it from a distance, approaching from the dirt path through the hills.
It wasn't long after that he came upon a pair of men kicking a grey, curled figure at the edge of an ally. Thin arms shielded a head from the brunt of the blows. There were other people around, huddled in the debris inside the alley, skulking aimlessly through the murk, some casting glances the way of the assault, most ignoring it altogether.
"Little shit. Who's going to protect you now?" One of the men taunted, slamming the ball of his foot against vulnerable flesh. There was a little whimper of pain and the body curled tighter. Taking it. Just taking it like there was no other option.
Red crowded in around the edges of Ichigo's vision. He didn't even think, just lunged, smashing a fist into the ear of one of the guys as he was drawing back his foot. The man howled, crumbling to his knees, clutching the side of his head. The other one turned, face twisted in surprised anger, and caught the full impact of Ichigo's knee between his legs. He brought up an elbow as the guy began to double over, saving him the pain of crushed genitals by knocking him the hell out. He turned and kicked the other one in the face, and that body thudded to the ground on the heels of the first, blood bubbling from a broken nose.
It felt good. The first thing he'd done in this place that had had any impact at all. It felt so damned satisfying to take a little power back and spread it around to two assholes that dearly seemed to need a lesson in civility. And he'd been pretty good at it. He hadn't given it any forethought at all, his body acting on something like ingrained instinct. Like in another life, he'd had a clue how to fight.
He glanced at the huddled figure in its tattered grey rags.
The kid on the ground uncoiled enough to peer up between his bruised forearms. One wide, frightened dark eye, the other swollen and puffy and a decidedly different color. It was the kid from yesterday, he realized. The one the big man had bought the eyeball from the two women for. It looked like somebody had put it in for him. An amazing feat of medical skill for a place that looked pretty much like it was right out of feudal times. But then, maybe medicine here, consisted of more than just practical knowhow. And that eyeball had looked pretty damned alive, when it had been floating in the jar. He shuffled that to the back of his mind, because it made him a little uneasy considering it, and offered a hand. The boy cringed, but took it.
A tentative nod. The amount of abuse this kid looked like he'd taken, the old scaring, the missing and now replaced eye - - Ichigo doubted he'd have answered any other way.
"C'mon. You stick around here, they're likely to come at you again, once they're up."
The boy swallowed, nodding mutely, but his eyes seemed to doubt that distance would make a difference. And maybe it wouldn't.
They walked a ways, the boy limping, arms wrapped around his ribs. Skinny as he was, it wouldn't have taken much to cause fractures. And bad as Ichigo wanted to leave this place, to put as much distance between it and the possibility of running into Grimmjow again as he could. He didn't quite have it in him to just give the kid a pat on the back and take off.
They took shelter under the shadow of a thatched overhang, the both of them sliding down the weathered wall of the building it was attached to sit on relatively dry dirt..
"What's your name?"
"I'm Ichigo. What were they messing with you for?"
The boy cast a puzzled glance his way. "Dothu is dead."
"The big guy? What's that have to do with - -?" then he stopped, putting it together.
"He protected you? He your family?" If he was optimistic, he could hope that was the case.
"No. My master." The boy's hand drifted up the scar running across his newly scavenged eye. It wasn't pleasant to look at. "No one else will have me now, the way I look."
Ichigo swallowed, trying not to look. He looked down at his knuckles instead. There was fresh blood on the right one, mixing with old dried. The backs of both his hands were pretty bruised and cut. He hadn't done so well fighting against Grimmjow last night. A lot of it, he couldn't even remember.
"What happened to your eye?" Ichigo asked softly, because thinking about the kid was better than thinking about himself.
Abu blinked at him - - well one of his eyes did. The other stared off in a vaguely different direction. "Dothu cut it out. I was bad. I was very bad." The boy's mouth twisted a faintly in smile that was a little less than sane. Not that a little insanity wasn't understandable considering what he'd been through.
"Nobody's that bad." He was appalled.
The kid just stared at him. "Why did you stop them?"
Ichigo looked up, perplexed. "Why wouldn't I?"
"They'll just find me again. Or others like them. What's the point?"
"The point - -?" he didn't even know how to answer a question sheathed in so much hopelessness. "There's got to be somebody that can help you."
The kid just looked at him.
"I heard there were Soul Reapers in town. They're sort of like the law, right? Go to them."
The kid kept staring, the look on his face suggesting he was beginning to suspect Ichigo wasn't all there.
"They won't care."
"Why wouldn't they? I heard they take out those things - - the hollows - - to protect the people. Well, what the difference between protecting you from supernatural monsters and protecting you from a human ones?"
Abu just stared. And Ichigo had never seen eyes so hopeless. "It won't matter. When they're gone, it will be the same. When you're gone, it will be the same."
Ichigo opened his mouth. Shut it. This world had his head spinning. Coming to terms with the idea that he'd died and this was the afterlife was hard enough. But there were terrifying things out there he had no understanding of and he had enemies he didn't even remember making. Insane, ridiculously strong enemies. The way he saw it, his problems were pretty damned overwhelming - - but compared to this kid, who'd lived a life enduring worse - - who'd had the concept of hope systematically beaten out of him - - well, he was in pretty good shape.
"Listen, I heard that if you walk far enough, you can reach Rukongai proper where the sun actually comes out. I'm thinking I'm gonna go there. Why don't you tag along?"
"Sure. Why not? Its not like this place is brimming over with opportunity."
"They don't welcome us," the boy pulled his knees close to his chest. "The folks from the proper districts."
"Yeah, well they'll have to deal. C'mon." He rose, thrusting out a hand and holding it there until the boy reluctantly took it and let Ichigo haul him to his feet. Not a kid used to putting up a resistance, which was just sad.
"So, Abu, you know which way we head to get out of here?" Ichigo realized he had no idea. The kid slowly lifted a hand, indicating the street leading off to the right.
It was as good a way as any to head.
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