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
“Where the hell are we going so fast?!”
Izuru glanced back over his shoulder, tugging at Grimmjow’s hand and not slowing his step. “We’re going to be meeting with Head Captain Yamamoto,” he explained hastily. “You haven’t changed your clothes or bathed for almost a month. No one will be in the squad house because of the intruder alert, so we can use my room.”
He didn’t answer, biting back the shudder and stopping at the bottom of the ladder. “Here. I’ll go up first, you follow.”
Before waiting for the response, he squeezed Grimmjow’s hand and let go to ascend the ladder. There wasn’t time to waste. He had no idea of how long the alert would be sounding, and if it were canceled, his squad members would be back in the barracks before he could hide Grimmjow. After having come this far, he couldn’t let that happen.
He stopped at the top of the ladder to push the stone aside, and Grimmjow bumped into him with a grunt. Izuru tightened his grip on the ladder and craned his neck to glance down at him, then pushed the stone aside and stuck his head up above the ground.
“It’s all clear,” he said, mostly to himself.
Grimmjow pushed at him again from beneath, and Izuru took the hint, climbing up and taking a few steps away from the opening. A moment later, Grimmjow followed suit, pushing the stone covering back with his foot.
“Come on,” Izuru said, brushing dirt of his hakama. “Let’s go.”
There was no response, and he paused, looking back over his shoulder.
Grimmjow had stopped, hands resting in the slits of his hakama. His eyes were closed, a faint smile just barely curling his lips. He took in a slow breath, arching his back, the breeze ruffling through his hair.
For a moment, Izuru just watched him. Grimmjow hadn’t had a breath of fresh air since he had come to Soul Society, not counting their flight from the Central Forty-Six to the sewers. With every breath he took, it was like he could see the color returning to his face, the strength returning to unstretched muscles.
He was coming back to life.
“Grimmjow, we have to go,” he said after a moment, sorely regretting breaking the silence.
Grimmjow opened an eye, then turned towards him, nodding and stretching his arms. “Yeah, okay.”
Izuru smiled a little, waiting for him, then turned, heading in the direction of the squad building. After a moment, Grimmjow’s hand closed on his elbow, and he let him tug him up against his side.
He was warm. For a moment, Izuru was grateful for that.
It seemed only seconds later that his hand was closing on the doorknob of the Third Squad barracks. The door pulled open easily, revealing empty silence- it was deserted. Even his footsteps sounded loud and hollow against the wooden floor.
“This is your place?” Grimmjow’s voice echoed down the hallway.
Izuru stopped outside his own room, pulling the key from a pocket inside his haori. “It’s not much,” he said honestly, unlocking and pulling the small door open. “But I don’t ask for much.” Grimmjow moved past him, ducking his head a little to pass easily through the doorway. Izuru looked up and down the hall once more, vaguely aware that his palms were sweating, and followed him in.
“The bathroom is here,” he said, opening a side door. Grimmjow poked his head in, then looked back at him, as through for encouragement. Izuru smiled, stepping aside to give him room.
“…I can use all of this?” He looked dubious.
It was hard to keep the smile steady. “Of course,” Izuru said gently, pushing at his back. “Go get clean.”
Grimmjow eyed him for a moment more, then shrugged and disappeared into the bathroom, pulling the door shut. A moment later, the door cracked open and a pair of dirty, torn hakama flew out and puddled on the floor.
Izuru let out a long sigh, sinking into a nearby chair. Meeting with Head Captain Yamamoto- easy enough to say, but actually doing it was going to be next to impossible. The few times he had been in his presence had been enough to send his knees to water, and he certainly hadn’t been the focus of the man’s attention. And now, facing him as a possible traitor? It was unimaginable.
He could feel it now- that prickle of overwhelming reiatsu, the sudden blackness welling up behind his eyes-
Izuru shook his head, rubbing at an eye. His imagination was getting the better of him. Instead, he forced out a long breath and stood- his legs still a little wobbly- and made his way to his closet. Grimmjow would need new clothing, and while there was no way Izuru’s own would fit him, there must be something he could use. He took the time to grab Wabisuke on the way- a vice-captain should be carrying his weapon in time of crisis, after all.
It only took a minute or so of rifling through his closet before his fingers brushed over a small pile of fabric. Izuru blinked, pushing his own hanging clothes out of the way to reveal a carefully folded haori and hakama. They were obviously a different size than his own, even folded. He frowned, leaning closer and picking them up.
It took a long moment of staring at the clothing before it dawned on him. It must have been years ago- a night of drinking that had ended badly, and both Abarai and Hisagi had crashed in his room, as his captain was much more relaxed than either of theirs.
The thought twinged in his chest, and Izuru found himself forcing his fingers to uncurl from his palms. He pushed out another heavy sigh, setting the clothing down on his desk. They were Abarai’s, and clean, if a little ripped in the leg from when he had tripped on their way back. Grimmjow wasn’t that different in size- they should fit all right.
He stared down at the desk, then wiped his palms on his hakama and turned to the side, eyes sweeping casually over the chair he had left pulled out the night before.
His eyes were dry by the time he could force himself to blink.
His vice-captain’s badge was sitting in the center of the chair. Directly in between the label of “three” and the etching of the marigold, the ribbon was tied in a neat little bow.
Izuru laid a hand on the desk- just after grabbing at his arm, automatically feeling for the badge. He must have left it accidentally while rushing out to meet with Captain Hitsugaya. Proper dress hadn’t exactly been on his mind at the time.
He never would have done such a thing himself- especially not when he was in such a rush. No. It hadn’t been by his hand that the badge sat there, neat, accusing, with such a pert little bow his trembling hands never could have tied.
He wasn’t sure if it was the intruder alarm or his own ears that were ringing.
“Hey, what’s goin’ on with you?”
Izuru bit down hard on the inside of his cheek, strangling back the yelp of surprise. It was Grimmjow’s hand on his shoulder- he knew that, he knew the weight of his hand and the warmth of his body right behind him, but it didn’t stop him from drawing himself up stiffly, trying to let out a breath.
“Hey,” Grimmjow said again, squeezing his shoulder.
“…I’m sorry,” he said finally, turning to face him, forcing calm onto his face. “We- we need to go. Now.”
“That little kid said an hour.” His brows drew together. “Why now?”
“We- we just need to go now.” Izuru laid a hand in the center of his chest, pacifying, then flushed slightly and turned to grab the folded clothing. “Here- this should fit you, at least well enough for now. Come on, get dressed.”
“Why now?” Grimmjow demanded, grabbing his arm. His fingers dug in, and Izuru winced. “What the hell is going on, Izuru? You look like you’ve seen a damn ghost!”
“Someone’s been in here!” Izuru snapped back before thinking, shoving the clothes into his chest. “There’s an intruder in the Seireitei, and someone’s been in my room touching my things, and I just need to get you to this meeting before something happens, so please, Grimmjow- please, Grimmjow, just do this.”
For a moment, Grimmjow just stared at him, and he nearly wilted. But all he was doing was looking, just gaping at him with big, puzzled eyes, and Izuru found himself staring back. Jaw tense, shoulders up.
Holding his ground.
“Okay,” Grimmjow said, unfolding the hakama and pulling them on grudgingly. “Okay- if there’s been someone in here, then we’re getting out. Right? Who the hell would break into your room? Is anything missing? You didn’t see anybody, right?”
Izuru took the haori from him and unfolded it, moving to help Grimmjow into it. “We’re leaving,” he said quietly. “It doesn’t matter who it is. We’re not staying long enough for it to matter. The court guard squads are already investigating.”
Grimmjow fumbled at the belt of the hakama, grumbling, then just tied it in an untidy knot and grabbed Izuru’s arm. “Come on, then,” he said roughly, setting off in a quick stride. “If it’s not safe, then we’re getting out.”
“Grimmjow-” He stumbled behind him.
The intruder alarm was ringing, the sound echoing down the hallway. Izuru kept his eyes on his feet, his heart beating in his throat, Matsumoto’s face floating in his mind. He didn’t know for sure that she was right. He didn’t even know what evidence they had- Captain Hitsugaya had made sure of that. But who else would bother to enter his room? Who else would see his discarded badge and decide to make a tidy little message out of it?
His chest hurt, but Grimmjow’s grip on his arm was tight and warm.
Grimmjow pushed the door open, and Izuru squinted his eyes against the mid-morning sun, struggling to keep up. He was far enough behind that he had to lean forward to keep up, and then he was running directly into Grimmjow’s back.
“Grimmjow,” he said, catching his breath hard and bouncing back. Grimmjow’s fingers dug into his wrist, and he looked up at the back of his head before shifting to look in front of him.
His knees sagged almost instantly, and it was only the quick grasp of the back of Grimmjow’s haori that kept him from falling completely.
“Captain Ichimaru,” Izuru said dumbly.
He was smiling. For a long moment, it was all Izuru could think, all he could see- those thin lips curled in that frozen smirk, the slivers of ice just barely visible behind his eyelids. Just like before. Just like always.
“Well, well, well,” Ichimaru drawled, hands in his sleeves, head tilting innocently. “Looks like I’ve been caught! What a shame.”
Izuru curled his fingers harder into the haori.
“Ichimaru-” Grimmjow started forward, hands tensing into fists at his sides. There was a snarl to his voice, the muscles in his shoulders knotted and stiff. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing here?”
Ichimaru’s lips pursed, brows drawing together in a look that almost perfectly simulated confusion. “I was just about t’ ask you that same thing. Only I thought it would be rude, is all.”
“Bullshit you were! It doesn’t even-”
Grimmjow abruptly fell silent when it became obvious that Ichimaru wasn’t listening. His head had barely turned, his eyes certainly hadn’t opened, but all the same, his center of attention had shifted. And Izuru felt his knees start to tremble.
Ichimaru took one step forward, and Grimmjow took one to the side- directly in front of Izuru.
Ichimaru laughed- a deceptive, lilting sound- and Izuru shuddered, leaning forward just a little to touch his face to Grimmjow’s back.
“What is this?” The laughter hadn’t left Ichimaru’s voice, nearly hiding the edge of steel that had appeared beneath. “Almost looks like there’s a little arrancar standin’ in my way.”
Grimmjow drew himself up. “You know who I am, you piece of shit,” he snarled. “You stay right where you are.”
Izuru stared at his back. Ichimaru took another step forward.
“Come on, Grimmjow,” he said, voice thin, barely audible. “Let’s go. Let’s just go.”
“Oh, I think I heard the little mouse squeak!” Izuru shuddered at the playful lilt in his voice, shoulders drawing up. “I see you hidin’ back there behind him, Izuru. Why dontcha come on out and say hi to your old Captain Ichimaru?”
“You’re not his captain anymore!” Grimmjow snapped, one hand snapping to the side in a gesture that told Izuru very clearly that he was not to move. “You’re not anything to him! So you might as well just run on home to Aizen. No one wants your sorry ass here.”
“Well, well, well.”
The change in Ichimaru’s voice was barely perceptible, but obvious enough that Izuru felt Grimmjow stiffen just a little.
“Stay where you are,” Grimmjow warned, even over the sound of Ichimaru’s footsteps.
“I just have t’ wonder,” Ichimaru continued, voice deceptively pleasant, “just why it is that you’re speakin’ for him, Grimmjow? Why, it’s almost like you know each other! Even pretty well, I daresay.”
“That’s because we-”
Before Grimmjow could say any more, Izuru yanked at his haori, ignoring the protective arm in front of him and stepping out to the side. “The alert’s already been raised, Captain Ichimaru,” he said, forcing a steadiness into his voice that he felt no part of. “There’s no point in starting a fight, even for you.”
“Izuru, goddammit, what the hell are you doing?” Grimmjow hissed, grabbing for his arm.
“You should be grateful,” Ichimaru observed, taking another lazy step forward, hands still hidden in his sleeves. “Poor little Izuru’s tryin’ to save your hide. He knows, after all.”
“Knows what?” Grimmjow’s fingers caught Izuru’s sleeve.
“That I don’t like other boys playin’ with my toys,” Ichimaru said, the frozen smile not even showing a crack as his fingers dug into Grimmjow’s throat.
Izuru’s sleeve tore.
It took a simple flick of Ichimaru’s wrist to fling Grimmjow across the small courtyard. He hit the ground hard, skidding a good distance across broken stone before stopping. Izuru stared, hands slack at his sides, heart pounding in his ears.
“Goodness.” Ichimaru cocked his head, attention on Grimmjow for a moment. “Was that a suppressor I saw? No wonder he flew so easy.” He shook his head, looking almost disappointed, then glanced back at Izuru over his shoulder. “Now, then…”
Every fiber of his being was screaming at him to run. For whatever other weaknesses he had, Izuru was not stupid- he knew Ichimaru was just as likely to run him through as he was to pretend he mattered anything at all. But his feet were rooted to the ground, his hands slack at his sides. He couldn’t move.
Ichimaru advanced on him, the frozen smile cracking and spreading. Sickness was rising in the back of his throat.
Then there was the sound of sandal scraping against broken ground, and scraped fingers were digging hard into Ichimaru’s sleeve. Grimmjow dragged himself up from the ground, eyes hard, jaw set. “Back up,” he snarled. His lip was bleeding, just a little. “Back the hell up.”
“You always were such a reckless thing,” Ichimaru said, brows lifting in amusement. “Probably why Sousuke kept you around.”
He pushed to his feet, face twisting, and Ichimaru only flicked his sleeve- and Grimmjow crashed to the ground, head slamming into the stone with a sickening crack. Izuru felt his knees buckle, heartbeat throbbing behind his eyes. No, he tried to say, the word turning to dust on his tongue. No.
“You might want to stay down there,” Ichimaru informed, and he forced his eyes down- down to the crumpled heap of dusty hakama and bare skin laced with old scars, blood already staining the shock of steel-blue hair and trickling over the bone-teeth on his jaw. The red suppressor around his throat stood out, a stark accusation.
And yet Grimmjow stirred again.
“Don’t,” Izuru said, the broken sound startling even him. “Grimmjow. Don’t. Please.”
Grimmjow looked up at him, his eyes cloudy but direct, and Izuru held his gaze. “Please,” he said again.
“That’s it,” Ichimaru said, voice cloying, lips curled. “Be a good boy. Izuru and I are just gonna have a little chat, that’s all.”
“Like hell you are,” Grimmjow spat, and he shifted, going to sit up.
Ichimaru clicked his tongue in disapproval, and one of his hands moved from his sleeve to his side. “I s’pose I’ll just have to keep you there.”
He saw the gleam of Shinsou, and for just that half a second, all he could see was metal, all he could smell was blood, and the familiar shame was choking him. Ichimaru was going to kill him- he was going to run Grimmjow through and pin him to the ground, and he was going to just stand here and watch because he was too much of a coward.
He could stand up to Captain Hitsugaya. Even to the thought of facing Head Captain Yamamoto. He could fight a wounded Espada with nothing to lose without a second thought, and yet even saying a word was too much for him now.
He couldn’t go on like this.
Shinsou flashed, and then the ground rumbled- just before a swath of pure black destruction crackled through the air between them, splitting the stone beneath their feet. In the back of his mind, Izuru was aware that the attack meant someone else was there, someone he would be able to place with a little more thought- but right now, all that mattered was that it gave him an opening.
By the time the air had cleared, his stomach was in knots and his palms were slick with sweat, but Wabisuke was clutched in his hand and the point of the blade was grazing Ichimaru’s throat.