Warnings: AU timeline based shortly after the current manga storyline- spoilers for everything that has happened and some things that haven't!
Half-credit to yashy
Tomorrow had come far too soon.
Izuru stared at the ceiling. The makeshift bed had turned out to not be that comfortable at all to sleep on. His back ached in all the wrong places, and his neck was already stiff. But he hadn’t managed to force himself up just yet.
He knew he needed to get back to the squad house. There was a vice-captains meeting in probably half an hour, and he could use a shower- not to mention something to eat. His stomach was reminding him with sharp pangs that he had already overslept breakfast, and the bag of food he’d brought the night before had been emptied mere seconds after it was opened.
And yet, while he struggled to find a more comfortable position and ignore his stomach at the same time, Grimmjow was curled on his side, face on his arms, dead to the world. Izuru wasn’t entirely sure whether the quiet snoring was reassuring or irritating.
The next growl in his stomach had a distinctly ominous note to it, and Izuru sighed, forcing himself up. There was no possible way he was going to make it to this meeting- he was a good fifteen-minute walk away as it was, not to mention starving and smelling thoroughly of sex.
Even knowing that, Izuru was in the middle of trying to wobble to his feet when a hand reached out and snagged his knee. He fell backwards again, landing hard on his backside, and for a moment could do nothing but hiss through his teeth at the pain that lanced through him.
“Sorry,” came a muffled voice. “Still sore, huh?”
Izuru took a deep breath, rubbing at his temples. “You’re awake, I see.”
A moment later, the sheets shifted, and Grimmjow sat up, stretching his arms back behind him. He yawned widely, eyes squeezing shut, back arching so far it looked almost painful. He held that for a moment, then relaxed, arms easing back to his sides, eyes blinking open.
He couldn’t help but smile, just a little. “Good morning,” he said, a little belatedly.
Grimmjow grunted in reply, then looped an arm around Izuru’s waist and pulled him down next to him. “You looked like you were leaving,” he said gruffly. “Don’t.”
“I have to go get food sometime,” Izuru reminded, but he stretched out against him regardless. His stomach would put up another complaint in a few minutes, but this was at least much more comfortable than he was before.
“I’ll go with you.” One arm stayed wrapped lazily around his waist, fingers of his free hand tugging at the ends of Izuru’s bangs.
He resisted the urge to bat at his hand and just watched his face. “Grimmjow, you can’t,” he said, leaning into the grip of his arm. “It’d be dangerous. You know that.”
Grimmjow snorted but didn’t answer, fingers moving to stroke lightly through his hair.
It was tempting to just lay there. Izuru found his eyes closing, almost of their own will, and he reached a hand up, fingers loose and relaxed against Grimmjow’s shoulder.
Then his stomach growled, and he sighed, smoothing his palm over his bicep and pulling away to sit up. “I have to go,” he said softly. “I’m hungry. You’re hungry. People will be looking for me.”
Grimmjow opened one eye, then nodded, stretching out again. “Go on, if you gotta,” he said, grudgingly. “I’ll be here.”
“I know.” Izuru attempted to smooth out the wrinkles in his hakama, frowning a little. “But… I hope it won’t be for that long. There must be something I can do. Someone I can talk to.”
He sat up a little, wriggling into his hakama. “I mean it,” Izuru insisted, glancing back at him over his shoulder. “There’s no reason to keep you locked up. I said I would take responsibility for you, and I’m going to.”
“Talkin’s not gonna fix anything.” Grimmjow rolled over onto his stomach, sheets tangled around his legs. “All these shinigami understand is a smack in the face. Do that.”
Izuru shook his head a little, sliding his arms into the sleeves of his haori. “Fighting doesn’t solve every problem,” he said, getting carefully to his feet before tucking his clothing together in some semblance of decency. “Sometimes, someone has to talk.”
When he turned to face him, Grimmjow had propped his chin up on one hand, a dubious expression on his face. “You do what you gotta do, I guess,” he shrugged.
“I will,” Izuru said. “Trust me.”
One eyebrow went up, and Grimmjow sat up a little more. Izuru hid a wince- he was developing a bad habit of speaking without thinking. Trust was a tricky thing in any situation, but here, it was almost offensive to assume.
“…Sure,” Grimmjow said, lips curling just a little.
Izuru blinked, momentarily taken aback. “…Sure?”
Grimmjow shrugged. “Sure,” he said again. “Y’haven’t let me down yet. Besides, what’ve I got to lose?” He sat up a little more, then waved a hand. “C’mere. We’ll trade.”
He found himself going down on one knee next to him before thinking. “Trade?”
A hand took firm hold of his chin, and Grimmjow pulled him down. After one firm kiss, he patted his cheek and let go. “There,” he declared. “Now I’ll trust you.”
Izuru was aware that he was red, but just coughed and straightened back up. “All right,” he managed, adjusting his haori. “Good. I- I’ll be back.”
“You better be.”
He took a step back, hesitating for one last moment before heading for the door. This time, Grimmjow didn’t stop him, and the door closed with a hollow thud behind him.
His footsteps echoed through the huge hallways, and Izuru winced, making a conscious effort to step more lightly. It wasn’t like sneaking out in the early hours of the morning, taking each step by moonlight and worrying about leaving footprints in the dew- no, it was sunlight slanting down the ladder now, and he was going to have to wait until the small courtyard was deserted.
For all his bravado the night before, he could feel the familiar fear rising in the back of his throat. It tasted like bile.
Izuru swallowed and put his right foot on the bottom rung. Then his left foot on the one above it. He gripped the rung in front of his face, then nearly slipped- he pulled it back, wiping the sweat off his palm onto his hakama, and tried again.
The process up the ladder was a long and uncomfortable, and by the time Izuru reached the top, his hands ached from gripping the rungs and his knees shook just a little with the effort of holding still. He could still hear footsteps above him.
There was no suitable excuse for him to be in the waterways- especially not if he was late. And yet his mind raced, running over and over the possibilities. He should have asked Matsumoto to vouch for him, to come up with some sort of excuse- that was her specialty, after all. He needed one right now. Minutes were ticking by, the vice-captains’ meeting was undoubtedly proceeding as planned, and the longer he waited the more he was convinced suspicion was building.
He was beginning to despair when the footsteps above him halted. Izuru stopped breathing. He couldn’t have given himself away- there was no way.
Then, almost as one, however many pairs of feet there were turned and hurried away from the space directly above Izuru’s head. If the map in his head was correct, those feet were headed towards the main road, in the direction of the squad houses.
There was no time to wonder about why. Izuru waited a moment more, giving them time to get far enough away, then pushed the stone cover aside and scrambled up into the daylight.
It wasn’t until the cover had fallen back into place that he heard the gong.
Izuru straightened up, a hand mechanically fixing his hair. The street was deserted. In the distance, he could hear shouting. And behind it, the hollow, echoing sound of the gong. The intruder alert.
His hands uncurled at his sides, arms hanging slack. Again, that acid raised in the back of his throat, all his weight sinking to the soles of his feet.
Of course. If they claimed him an intruder from the beginning, there would be no backlash- and the captains who knew would agree. At least the lie was minor, compared to the need to mobilize forces. There was never a need for everyone to know everything, especially when the security of all of Soul Society was at stake.
It was over.
The feeling was as familiar as any could be. Grimmjow had trusted him- had put his fate in his hands, with a shrug and complete assurance- and any minute now, the Seireitei would be consumed with only the mission to find him. And get rid of him, the most efficient way possible. He had handed over his life to Izuru, and like anyone with any sense could predict, it was as good as giving up from the beginning.
And if he turned around and went right back down that ladder, and woke Grimmjow up and told him that he was sorry but all of Soul Society knew he was there and was out for his blood, and he would never see the light of day again unless it was from behind prison bars- no matter what he said, he somehow knew that Grimmjow wouldn’t be angry.
He wouldn’t blame him. He wouldn’t swear and curse and pace- no, he would let whatever came, come.
It hadn’t made sense to him from the beginning. It wasn’t like he could claim that he’d understood Grimmjow the moment he’d set eyes on him, but somehow, he knew that the way he was reacting, the way he simply rolled over and said fine, go- it wasn’t him. Every time he relented, every time he did something other than take charge and throw himself headfirst into a situation, that wasn’t the same Grimmjow he had been when their swords had crossed, when he had broken down those prison bars- when they had met eye to eye in the tangle of borrowed sheets.
It was because he wasn’t fighting his fate. He had already given up.
Izuru was faintly aware of a straining in his muscles, but it took a moment to realize it was the complaint of his leg- he was lifting his foot, setting it forward. Then the next. Then again. Then again, and faster, until he had broken into a run, his feet carrying him to the street and down a side alley to his own squad building.
It was like watching a tiger pace the length of its cage, not even mustering a growl at passerby, wild eyes only brightening when you threw a rat in the cage for lunch. It was like coming to that zoo everyday, learning every twitch of that tiger’s whiskers and every flick of its tail, and then standing by while it was put to death for being a natural predator.
He couldn’t just stand by and watch it happen.
But the first strike of that gong had put him in over his head. Going against Soul Society with his own limited power and influence was a death sentence on top of being stupid- even Kurosaki Ichigo had been unable to do it alone, and Izuru wasn’t foolish enough to put himself anywhere near the human boy’s class.
No, he would need help.
The hallways of the barracks were empty- as to be expected, as shinigami would be reporting to their duties as specified during an alert. Maybe they were wondering where he was- or maybe not. Either way, there wasn’t time for him to worry over it in between throwing himself into the shower and finding a clean uniform. It would speak badly to his standing with the squad, but he refused to let himself care.
It was almost exhilarating.
It wasn’t until he was clean, dressed, and headed back outside that Izuru realized he had no idea where to go. He needed assistance, that much was clear. Another vice-captain wouldn’t be enough- it would require a captain on his side, and one with a good record. One that had served Soul Society well, but would still be willing to listen to his case and not immediately turn him in.
Head Captain Yamamoto was obviously out. He had never had contact of any significant kind with Captain Soi Fong, and she was unlikely to be sympathetic. Captain Unohana was a possibility, but he simply didn’t know her well enough to be certain, and her vice-captain- while a lovely young lady and very kind- was very excitable. Captain Kyoraku was approachable, but unpredictable. Captain Komamura was far too strict on law to even be an option, as was Captain Kuchiki. Captain Kurotsuchi wasn’t exactly the kind of ally anyone wanted, and Captain Zaraki frankly scared him too much.
Izuru peered out into the street. It was mostly deserted, just a few shinigami darting about here and there. Most looked newly graduated from the Academy, and uncertain of where to go. Any other time, he would have stopped to help them, but he had more pressing matters right now. So he headed down to the street, setting off at a steady jog.
When it came down to it, there were only two options.
Captain Ukitake would undoubtedly listen, and he certainly had the experience and relationship with Head Captain Yamamoto to be a desirous ally. In fact, every captain and vice-captain seemed to hold a special esteem for Captain Ukitake- he was kind, skilled, and a capable teacher. His loyalty to his squad was unmatched. He had led the destruction of the Sokyouku to rescue an unseated member of his squad, and showed no hesitation in defying his own teacher and the supposed ruling of the Central Forty-Six.
And yet, while something to be admired (as Izuru certainly did), his rebellion couldn’t have sat well with the Head Captain. He had no way of knowing, but he could only assume that there had been some kind of censure. To ask him to rebel again was unthinkable, especially considering he only knew the man through Abarai, who knew him through Kuchiki. And to ask such a great task of a man so frail was unconscionable.
Assuming Captain Ukitake was not an option, it left him with only Captain Hitsugaya. Captain Hitsugaya, who had no patience for rule-breakers and slackers, who had fought valiantly in the defense of Soul Society in every conflict, raising his sword to even Aizen without fear. Captain Hitsugaya, who was the only captain aware of his betrayal, and had chosen to keep it to himself for reasons Izuru wasn’t quite clear on and couldn’t rely on.
Between the two, the choice was obvious.
Izuru slowed outside the squad building, dimly aware of the nails that were digging into his palms. When it was only his own life he was putting on the line, it was a much easier decision. But now- now, that he had no choice but to either surrender or involve someone else, it was agonizing.
But he could not surrender. Not this. Not anymore.
So Izuru pulled the door open, passing bewildered-looking shinigami on either side down the long hallway. As far as he remembered, this squad would report at the next stage of alert and remain as backup for this one. So while they were no doubt aware there was a situation, it was doubtful that the unseated members had any idea what the situation actually was. Normally, he would have the courtesy to nod to them, or at least make brief eye contact. He didn’t have that time today.
He took the time to knock- it was only polite- but didn’t bother to wait for an answer, throwing the door open. He could apologize later, and would- over and over and over again, if necessary.
The door shut behind him, and Izuru dropped to his knees, flattening his hands on the floor and bowing his head forward. It wasn’t respect, it wasn’t tradition- it was pure supplication, nothing else.
“Izuru?” he heard Matsumoto say, her voice distant and befuddled.
“Please, Captain Hitsugaya,” he said, eyes squeezed shut, his heart in his throat. “I need your help.”