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
“Get up, Kira,” Captain Hitsugaya said, voice irritable. “The floor is filthy.”
Izuru stared at the floor for a moment more. He had hoped he could conduct this entire visit while hiding his face- it would have made things easier. But it would have been rude to ignore his order while asking for assistance, and so he cleared his throat and lifted his head. Getting up was a little less elegant, but he managed to stand and brush off his hakama.
Matsumoto was staring at him from where she sat on the edge of Hitsugaya’s desk, jaw hanging open. Hitsugaya shifted a pile of papers from behind her, a frown on his face. “Can this be fast?” he inquired, barely even looking up.
“I-” Izuru hesitated. “Well, no, it- it’s kind of-”
Matsumoto slid down from the desk, taking the few steps across the office while he was stammering. “Izuru,” she said again, laying her hands on his shoulders. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost! What’s wrong?”
He met her eyes, and his stomach twisted. Her face was so open, so concerned- it made it almost impossible to open his mouth and say what he had come for. To betray her trust.
“It’s about the intruder,” he said, nails digging into his palms. “I- It’s my fault that he’s here.”
Matsumoto’s eyes widened, then hardened, her jaw set. Then she slapped him.
It took a step back to steady himself, and for a moment Izuru could only summon a kind of awe- for all the airs she put on, she was a strong woman. Then he lifted a hand to his smarting cheek, clearing his throat. He had deserved it, but that didn’t make it sting less.
“I’m sorry,” he began. “It was-”
“You lied to me!” Matsumoto’s voice was tight, even choked, and at that he looked up in surprise. Her face was pale but for the streaks of red over her cheekbones, and for the first time Izuru noticed that her hair looked tangled, even unbrushed. “I even asked you, and you just lied to my face! I thought after all this time-”
“When did you-” Izuru stared at her, his head swimming. “You never asked anything about the captured Espada, you only asked if he was-”
Even after interrupting her, he stopped in the middle of his sentence. Matsumoto stared at him, realization dawning on her face just as surely as it must have been on his own.
“Both of you sit down. Now.”
Hitsugaya’s voice broke the silence, and before he had gotten all the way up from the desk, Matsumoto had dragged Izuru to the couch. He sat beside her, hands in his lap, unable to shake the feeling of a naughty child who had just been caught by a very angry parent.
He came around the desk, hands in the pockets of his captain’s jacket, a frown etched into his face like he had been born with it there. “What do you know about the Espada, Kira?” he demanded, crossing his arms. “That’s classified information.”
“The intruder alert isn’t for the Espada who’s vanished from the holding cell,” he said, feeling numb.
“No,” Hitsugaya said simply.
“Oh, Izuru, I thought-” Matsumoto’s hand grabbed onto his wrist. “Geez, and I haul off and hit you without even being sure-”
“It’s Captain Ichimaru, isn’t it?!” Izuru was on his feet before he thought better of it, practically dragging Matsumoto along with him. He was aware somewhere in the back of his mind that he was now looking down at Hitsugaya, towering even, but the captain’s look of disinterest didn’t even flicker. “How did he-”
“That’s none of your concern, Kira,” Hitsugaya interrupted.
“Sit down.” This time there was ice behind his words, and Izuru crumpled back onto the couch. “The identity of the intruder is unconfirmed as of yet, and is being handled by the appropriate people. I’m more interested in who you thought it was.”
Silence filled the office again. Izuru laid his hands over his face, rubbing at his temples. Thoughts tore through his mind, bouncing off each other and tangling into knots. He was wrong. He had exposed himself. Grimmjow was in more danger now than he was before. Captain Ichimaru. He should have thought it through more before running for help like a child. Captain Ichimaru was in Soul Society. How? Why? What was he going to do?
“Kira.” Hitsugaya’s voice was quieter, even gentler, but still impatient. “You need to talk. Now.”
Izuru nodded, and without lifting his head from his hands, he did just that. The words fell mechanically from his lips- the whole story, from the beginning. Meeting him, half-dead but enduring in Huecco Mundo, to their long talks in the Central Forty-Six and Grimmjow’s angry denouncing of Aizen. Breaking him out, hiding him below the Seireitei in the old waterways.
When he fell quiet again, a hand folded over his knee. “Izuru,” Matsumoto said quietly. “This arrancar… is he…?”
“The man I was talking about?” She was silent, and Izuru just nodded. He could hear her sharp intake of breath.
Hitsugaya cleared his throat, and Izuru lifted his face from his hands. The look on the young captain’s face was unreadable, which did nothing for the nerves jangling through him.
“You’re sheltering an arrancar,” he said slowly. “An Espada.”
Izuru nodded, fingers curling into his hakama. “Yes,” he said simply.
Hitsugaya sighed, turning away for a moment. The fingers of one hand were drumming against his elbow, one foot tapping a staccato rhythm on the floor.
“I have to ask,” he said abruptly, turning back to face him. “Do you have some kind of brain injury? Or are you just irredeemably stupid?”
Matsumoto made a choking sound- whether in surprise or the attempt to hold back laughter, he wasn’t sure. Izuru just stared at him for a moment, unsure of how to reply.
“An arrancar is made of Hollows, Kira,” Hitsugaya explained, unamused. “Hollows, who kill shinigami, who eat souls. Giving them a human form makes them no different.”
Izuru shook his head, fingers tightening on his hakama. “I know that. I know what they are, I know. But Grimmjow-”
“Is a creation of Aizen,” Hitsugaya interrupted. “You’re being manipulated, Kira.”
“That’s not true!”
The words exploded out of him, the couch creaking beneath him as Izuru pushed to his feet. His hands were in fists at his sides, shoulders drawn up and tight. His chest hurt. “It’s not true,” he said again, not speaking, almost shouting. “It’s not true. You’re wrong.”
“Izuru, calm down,” Matsumoto said, and he felt her hand touch his. He yanked it away.
“Don’t you think I know what it’s like to be manipulated?” He knew even as the words came out of his mouth that everything he was doing was disrespectful, even insubordinate- the complete opposite of the correct way to behave in front of a captain. It was mortifying, but it just kept coming, overflowing. “I- I’m not stupid, Captain Hitsugaya. I know when I’m being pushed. I know when what I’m doing is wrong. With Captain Ichimaru, I- I knew. I knew I was wrong, and I did it anyway.”
Hitsugaya was impassive, but uncharacteristically quiet. He only nodded, arms crossed over his chest. Izuru felt his arms tremble at his sides, so he squeezed his fists tighter.
“This is right,” he said, holding himself up tightly. “I- I can’t be afraid to do what’s right, even if it’s defying orders, even defying Soul Society itself. I won’t stand back and just let this happen.”
The words felt almost foreign coming out of his mouth, and the silence that fell afterwards was deafening. Hitsugaya looked back at him, almost challenging, but all he could do was bite down hard on the inside of his cheek and hold firm. If he spoke, he would lose. Izuru wasn’t exactly a fighter, but even he knew that much.
“You’re defending one of Aizen’s creations,” Hitsugaya said. “How can you believe that something from his hands can ever be redeemable?”
Years ago- months ago, even- he would have crumbled. After everything Aizen had done, how could he even try? What was the point? There had been no point to this from the beginning. It had been a useless effort, and all he had done was doom them both.
But even though it was Hitsugaya who stood before him, all Izuru could see was Grimmjow- bruised, bloodied, battered, but still dragging himself up that sand dune and raising his sword. Knowing he was doomed, but continuing to fight so long as there was breath in his body.
“Hinamori still believes in him,” Izuru said, heart beating in his ears. “Is she irredeemable, too?”
The transformation of Hitsugaya’s face was indescribable- from confusion, to betrayal, to fury, to desolation, freezing into a mix of pain and something like respect that was nearly impossible to look upon.
“Where the hell do you get the nerve?” His voice was tight, even halting. His fingers stretched in clear warning- his zanpakutou was at his side, as it probably had been since the alert was raised.
“You would raise your sword to anyone if it was for the sake of doing the right thing,” Izuru said quietly. His nails were cutting into his palms. “Even if it means sacrificing everything I have left, I will follow your example. I owe you that respect for sparing me when I didn’t deserve it.”
For a long moment, Hitsugaya said nothing, and Izuru let out a tiny breath. For the first time, he felt his legs shaking.
“Take me to this arrancar,” Hitsugaya said abruptly. “I want to see what I’m dealing with before I make a decision.”
Izuru could have fainted. Instead, he nodded stiffly, not trusting himself to speak, and turned back towards the door.
The walk back seemed to take an eternity. He was aware that Hitsugaya and Matsumoto were following after him, and that the three of them were getting curious glances from what little passerby were left on the street, but all he could focus on was raising each foot and putting it down in line. If this went badly- he simply couldn’t comprehend what would happen if Hitsugaya decided to turn them in.
There was no going back.
He stopped and opened the stone cover, then looked up at the two behind him. Hitsugaya’s face was impassive, and Matsumoto’s was drawn, tight- she was worried. But there was no time for that.
“Down here,” he said, then swung down onto the ladder.
Once he was a few feet down, Hitsugaya’s shadow covered him. Izuru stepped more carefully, then waited for them at the bottom of the ladder.
“Smart idea,” Matsumoto offered, brushing her hair out of her face. “No one would think to look down here…”
Izuru nodded a little, managing a half smile. “This way,” he offered, then set off along the long path.
He might have escaped censure once, but if Hitsugaya chose to not be so forgiving this time, he was sunk. But even knowing full well that he could be walking to his own death sentence- not to mention Grimmjow’s- there was a curious serenity carrying him. He had made his choice, and there was no going back from it now. Perhaps if given the chance to do it over, he wouldn’t have been so hasty to confess. But he couldn’t turn back time, and even if he could, the result would be the same someday. He couldn’t protect Grimmjow forever. All he could do was offer up his faith and hope that the others would see things the same way.
Izuru stopped outside the small door, then turned back to Hitsugaya and Matsumoto one last time. “He’s not expecting you,” he said, a little lamely. “If he overreacts, please don’t think too badly of him because of it. He knows his situation, and he doesn’t trust shinigami that much as it is.”
Hitsugaya just nodded, then jerked his head towards the door. “Go on.”
For one moment, Izuru considered pushing them both into the water. He and Grimmjow could run- maybe to the human world, maybe to the negative space where normal Hollows lived.
But instead, he swallowed and opened the door. This was the right thing to do.
When he walked into the room, Grimmjow had already started to get up. There was a half-smile on his face, and Izuru found himself more than a little relieved that he was dressed.
Izuru wasn’t able to say one word more before Grimmjow’s casual demeanor completely vanished. His eyes darted behind Izuru, obviously taking in the two who had come through the door behind him. Izuru raised a hand, prepared to explain- what if he thought Izuru had simply betrayed him?
Fingers dug into his wrist, and before he was able to struggle, Grimmjow had yanked him close. With one hard step and a twist of his arm, he forced Izuru behind him, drawing himself up to his full height.
“Who the fuck are you and what the fuck do you think you’re doing here?” he demanded, jutting his chin out aggressively- letting the light from the open door play over the ridged bone on his jaw.
Izuru stared at the center of his back, trying to force his heart back to a normal rhythm. If Grimmjow had stayed where he had been standing and simply pulled Izuru within easy striking distance, it would have been a threat, plain and simple. He wouldn’t have needed to hold a blade to his throat to make that clear. And yet, that one simple movement, putting his bulk between Izuru and these two strange intruders…
He was protecting him. Or at least, he thought so.
The thought lumped a little in Izuru’s throat, and he flattened a palm against Grimmjow’s naked back- patting a little, soothing. “It’s all right,” he said, moving over from behind him. “They’re my friends, Grimmjow.”
When he looked up, Izuru was unsure to make of what he saw. Matsumoto had raised a hand to her mouth, one eyebrow arched. Hitsugaya looked dubious.
“This is Grimmjow Jaegerjacques,” he said, a little awkwardly. “Grimmjow, this is Captain Hitsugaya Toushirou and Vice-Captain Matsumoto Rangiku of the Tenth Division.”
“I hear you’ve renounced Aizen.” There was a peculiar look on Hitsugaya’s face. “Is that true?”
“Fuck Aizen,” Grimmjow said simply. “I hope he’s dead.”
Izuru moved up next to Grimmjow, then took a deep breath. “He came willingly to Soul Society,” he added, a little weakly. “He’s still wearing the reiatsu suppressor.”
“Would you be willing to coexist with shinigami, no matter how humiliating, if it meant the eventual defeat and death of Aizen?” Hitsugaya crossed his arms, face still unreadable.
Grimmjow cracked his knuckles. “I’m here, ain’t I?” he pointed out, lips curling in a feral grin. “It’s sure as hell not for my health.”
Hitsugaya nodded sharply, then took a step forward. “Let’s get one thing straight,” he said, voice crisp and businesslike. “I don’t trust you. You don’t trust us. Hollows and shinigami are designed to never get along.”
“No argument here.” Grimmjow watched him cautiously.
Hitsugaya looked back at Matsumoto, who simply shrugged. He made brief eye contact with Izuru. Izuru fought the urge to wring his hands and simply returned the gaze before looking up at Grimmjow.
“But as long as we both hate Aizen more than each other, I think there’s room to work here,” he said, nodding once. “Matsumoto, see to the squad’s needs. I’m going to request a meeting with Head Captain Yamamoto.”
“That- that’s it?” Izuru felt his knees sag and grabbed onto Grimmjow’s arm to steady himself. “Captain Hitsugaya, I- I can’t possibly thank you-”
“Then don’t,” he said archly, turning on his heel and waving to Matsumoto to follow. “Meet me in my office in an hour. Don’t think you’re out of the woods yet. The Head Captain will have his own questions to ask, I’m sure.”
“Of course.” Izuru just stared after him, still holding himself up.
Hitsugaya hesitated by the door, then looked back, letting Matsumoto leave ahead of him.
“I’d be a fool to turn down a powerful weapon against Aizen,” he said quietly. “I have my own reasons for this. You don’t owe me anything, Kira.”
The door closed behind him.
“So… you can be a captain before your balls even drop, huh?”
Izuru could only laugh until tears ran down his face, Grimmjow’s look of puzzlement blurring until he couldn’t see it at all.