Middle Grounds

BY : Khallsnea
Category: Bleach > Yaoi - Male/Male > Grimmjow/Ichigo
Dragon prints: 3143
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. All characters associated with the series are the property of Tite Kubo and no money/profit is made with this story. I'm just playing with them.


First warning: Inoue is slighly OOC. I have always imagined her character more mature that what is shown in the series. I guess it is expected if you have no family and you are living alone in your teens.

Second warning: It is rated M for a reason. In future chapters, there are some hard yaoi situations. Don't read if you are not comfortable with it.

I started this story long ago, but I lost interest and left it for a while. Finally, I'm close to finish it, so I decided to publish it. However, the story has run its own path, which is now quite away from the canon. It was bothering me some time ago, but I just didn't care anymore. I hope you enjoy it.

Thanks a lot to my beta, Kaemiri. Without her help, I would have never published it :)


Chapter I. Prison.

Soul Society. Few hours after Karakura's winter war.

After bringing the prisoners in, the four low rank shinigami left the room, securing the iron bar doors behind them. Inside the cell, two dark figures sat tiredly on the floor, leaning against the old wooden wall. Their clothes were completely trashed, and their bodies were covered with a mixture of dust and blood.

The younger one finally broke the silence, running out of patience. "Tell me Gin, what the fuck are we doing here?"

"C'mon Kurosaki. Just enjoy this peaceful moment… the sun is still shining…" his eyes were looking through a tiny window in the cell's roof. "A real blue sky…. I've missed it so much…"

"We should be out there! I can't believe we have been locked up here…" He raised one leg and braced it with an arm, resting his head on the knee.

"Mah, mah, you can't expect them to trust us? Trust is something you gain with patience and time." The voice was oddly calm… and Ichigo couldn't say if he was being serious or just mocking.

"Yeah, and it's something you lose in a second without anybody even questioning it. I have realized that so you can skip me the crap."

"This is Soul Society, after all… things almost never change…" the older man seemed now completely lost in his thoughts. "After so many years, so few things have changed… and not always for the better." He turned to Ichigo before adding, "But they will. We will make them change, even if it's not by the diplomatic way." His smile was slowly turning into his characteristic wolfy smirk, "And that's gonna be fun."

"Fun?" Ichigo's voice increased as his last bits of calm shattered apart. He stood up and started padding around the cell, like a caged tiger "Do you find it funny? We know nothing of what's going on in Hueco Mundo, nothing about my friends, nothing about… anyone! What if they are fighting with the captains? Or worst, what if they are fighting my friends? What if…"

"Stop it, Kurosaki. They are smarter than that. Starrk will be careful enough. Forget about them, they were espadas, after all. They will be fine". He opened his eyes slightly, just enough to meet Ichigo's. "Keep your mind clear, even if it is rather uncomfortable down here."

Ichigo sighed and tried to calm down a little. Although he had no idea who this Starrk was, the older man was damn right about him. His inner world would be extremely unstable by now… and the last thing he needed was an angry Shirosaki barking at him.

Ichigo sat down in a corner, legs crossed in a meditation stance. He tried to find a comfortable position besides the reiatsu suppressors, which were pissing him off. He looked again at his partner. Gin was sitting in the same spot since he came to the cell. His eyes were closed and his breath utterly calm. He was probably already meditating.

He tried to do the same. He took a deep breath and focused on meditating. It had never been easy for him, and this wasn't an exception. He just needed to breathe… And focus…. Breathe…. Focus…

Ichigo opened his eyes. He could hardly recognize his inner world. The water level was lower than the last time; the buildings were high skyscrapers again. But the weather… it wasn't raining, it was a huge hurricane! Wind blew savagely, crystal windows were cracking everywhere and one particular habitant of this world was looking at him with mad yellow eyes. His white copy opened his mouth to yell while flying directly to him, sword already at hand.

"Ichigo! This time I swear I'm gonna kill you!"

"Wait! I don't know how… Ah! Do not shoot me a Cero, asshole! I haven't come here to fight!"

Ichigo barely avoided the cero, but was immediately attacked by his other self, sending him flying to impact into the nearest building.

"You should have thought about that before you dared to come here with this weather!"

As soon as Ichigo stood up again, the hollow resumed his attack, pressing him breathlessly. He continued complaining while Ichigo barely managed to defend himself with his sword. "I should have taken your body and made it stop!"

"Don't you dare threaten me! I would make it stop myself if I knew how!" Ichigo sent a getsuga tensho, which was easily rejected by his white nemesis, who sent him flying again to crash into another building.

"Don't fucking joke with me, Ichigo! What's your problem now? The war is over!"

"But I don't know what happened in Hueco Mundo! I know nothing of my friends…" Ichigo stood at the building roof, looking unsure and worried… Both had stop fighting, but kept arguing, the level of their voices increasing as the anger filled their minds.

"Then why don't you go there and find what's going on? You could have gone there and come back without anybody missing you. What's your problem? Just. Do. Something!"

"What's my problem? How the hell I'm supposed to go there? Is there a Garganta hidden in my cell?"

The hollow moved faster than Ichigo expected. He hit him in the ribs, sending him flying again. It was so fast that the shinigami hadn't seen him at all. He found himself pinned into the ground, with the hollow straddling him. The white figure twisted his arm painfully on his back, making Ichigo scream. His sword was nowhere to be found and he couldn't make a move. The hollow's voice sounded deadly serious and somehow hurt…

"Any high level hollow can open a Garganta. I could open any fucking Garganta to any fucking place you wanted to go."

Ichigo's voice was barely a hiss "Why you didn't tell me before?"

Shirosaki twisted Ichigo's arm a little more, making the shinigami scream again.

"I shouldn't have told you even now. I have given you ALL my powers; you at least should know what it means…"

While Ichigo was still analyzing the meaning of these words, Shirosaki suddenly released him and went away walking slowly.

"Wait! Where are you going? How can I…"

"You already know how to do it. You have to feel… although you still suck at feeling reiatsu."

Ichigo opened his eyes to find Rukia looking at him through the cell bars. She was bandaged but looked unharmed, through utterly worried. Her look scared him… He immediately jumped and ran to see her closer.

"Rukia! What happened?"

She just punched him hard in the head, taking Ichigo by surprise.

"Dumbass! I should ask you this! We just came back from Hueco Mundo to find you jailed! You can't behave properly for once? What the hell have you done?"

"Is everybody OK?" Ichigo was glad to find his friend in good shape, but couldn't help but feel responsible for their wounds, as if everything had been his fault in some way… if he had been stronger, they would had been safer…

"Of course they are. Who do you think we are? Inoue is taking care of all the injured, and Renji, Chad and Ishida are still in the infirmary. But they are going to be fine in no time."

Ichigo gaze went down when he hear about Ishida and Inoue… He was the responsible for Ishida's wound and he would probably be scared of him… He felt the sorrow evolving him, slowly pushing his spirit down… until Rukia hit him again.

"What's with this face? We have won the war and everybody is OK. You should be happy! And… by the way…" She looked puzzled at the cell bars. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Well…" He lowered his gaze, his voice unsure and nervous. "I use my full hollow form to defeat Aizen … so, they are trying to decide if I'm a danger to everybody… they sort of think that my hollow is too powerful to be controlled, and they assumed that he can just possess me at any moment now…"

"And can he?" Rukia's gaze was on Ichigo's, frowning concerned.

"… well… I guess Inoue and Ishida have explained to you what happened in the fight with Ulquiorra… then I suppose they have good reasons to not trust me…" The sadness was painfully tangible in his cracking voice.

"Wait, wait. Ichigo, stop. What the fuck are you talking about?" Her eyes opened in confusion, bringing Ichigo out of his concerns. "They told us that you barely managed to defeat him, and almost died there. There's something else?"

Ichigo's eyes widen in surprise. His friends hadn't said a word about Shiro being berserk and attacking them! Then as he thought about it, his surprise slowly changed to anger as he realized that if nobody knew it, they had no reasons at all to distrust him…

"Ichigo?" Rukia was still there, surprised at his sudden scowl.

"Oh, sorry Rukia. It's just… I did some pretty stupid things during that battle and Inoue and Ishida got hurt because of that… I would like to apologize to them… could you tell them to come here? … Please?" Ichigo's face looked defeated again… A gaze that Rukia remembered clearly. He had the same frightened eyes after the previous Soul Society incident, just after Byakuya's fight… back there, he was afraid of his hollow. Was he afraid again? Were the rumors about his powers true?

"Of course I will tell them." She tried to change the mood, something she always used to obtain with some teasing. "And, anyway, how long do you plan to be living in this cell? My home is far more comfortable, you know?"

Ichigo finally managed to smile her. He gave a quick glance to Gin, who was still meditating, before answer. However, Rukia didn't miss the movement of Ichigo's eyes.

"Don't know really… but I hope it will be over soon."

"Ichigo, your… situation has it any relation with him?" Her voice was calm and soft… but somehow it was too soft to be fine… Ichigo's eyes widen slowly again. What could he say? The situation was too damn complicated…

A voice coming from the corner of the cell spared him the trouble to find an answer.

"Mah, mah… everything is related in this life, Kuchiki. Even you… you had the hoygoku, so, in a way, you precipitated the beginning of the war…" Although the voice had the usual wicked edge that Rukia remembered too well, it was also somehow different… it lacked some of the passion it used to emanate.

"Ichimaru… You betrayed us… then you apparently betrayed Aizen… what are you fighting for?" Her gaze was on him, even though the old captain was still keeping his eyes on the small roof's window. She had never been able to understand this man, and it unnerved her more than she dared to admit. "Are you trying to regain your position in Soul Society after all what you did? Do you really expect us to trust you?"

"Such a passion… Young people are always so passionate…" He turned his face to look at the young shinigami, his trademark smile piercing through her frail nerves. "I'm not gonna discuss it with you, Rukia-chan."

She could felt her calm almost physically shattering… and decided to wait for a better chance to speak with her friend. "Fine, neither will I. Ichigo, I have to go. See you…"

She rushed out of the building, obviously furious. Ichigo watched speechless as she left, before snapping angrily at his cell partner. "Gin! The fuck was that for?"

"C'mon Kurosaki. I thought you needed help… as it seems that you didn't know how to answer her questions…. I was just helping you to get out of the hole you were falling into…" He smiled faintly at some lost memory. "Anyway, it has always been so easy to piss her off…"

Ichigo was speechless again. This man always seemed to be a step ahead of him.

"By the way, Ichigo… I was wondering…" The young shinigami snap out of his thoughts as a pair of silver eyes stared at him. "How do you expect that Soul Society trusts you if you don't even trust your friends?"

Ichigo's eyes opened in surprise for the umpteenth time that day… he wanted to explain everything to his friends but how could he? There were too many things… and what if they didn't understand him? What if they didn't approve… or if they got angry at him… what if they wanted to kill the espada…. Thinking of the devil, he suddenly remembered the conversation with his white self.

"Gin… Do you think I could open a Garganta? We could just go there for a moment…"

"Oi, it took you long enough to realize. You came up with this idea by yourself?" Gin was looking at him mildly amused.

Ishido blushed, feeling deeply ashamed with the admission "… Shiro told me…"

Gin smirked widely. "The bastard is getting soft on you…"

"You already knew? Why the hell didn't you tell me before?" Ichigo drop down unceremoniously to the ground, resting his back on the cell bars. If it was true, it was worth a try… but the shinigami would probably realize that an inter-dimensional door opened in the middle of Seireitei. Or so he imagined. "But… won't anybody notice here? I mean, they will feel the flow of my reiatsu, won't they?"

"It can be helped. If you wanna try, I can make some arrangements."

Ichigo jumped to his feet, raising his arms in dismay as the possibility of some action was finally displayed in front of him. "Of course I want to! You should have told me earlier!"

"Quit bitching, Kurosaki. Take a seat and relax. It won't take long"

Ichigo shut up but kept standing, looking at the older man carefully. Gin started whispering something… it looked like some kind of kido… Suddenly the whole prison was covered by a glowing yellow light. Ichigo's eyes opened in surprise, they were still wearing the reiatsu suppressors, so Gin wasn't supposed to be able to use any kido at all… Before Ichigo could open his mouth to ask, the handcuffs placed on Gin wrists unlocked and fell to the floor.

"What have you done?" Ichigo heart started speeding up, as he noticed his own handcuffs unlocking. "How can you remove them?"

"You really though that I would let them put these on me if I weren't able to remove them? Please, my kido is far better than that."

Ichigo expected some kind of advice about the best way to open a Garganta, but the other shinigami was walking slowly to his former place on the floor. He just sat there and made himself comfortable.

"You are not coming?" Ichigo's voice revealed a note of disappointment, as he was waiting for some kind of help…

"C'mon, Kurosaki. Of course I'm coming, but you need to open a directed Garganta. We have about one hour, I'm not gonna risk more time with the illusion, so, you can start trying to focus in on Grimmjow's reiatsu and opened it there. I suppose you didn't expect me to cross all of Hueco Mundo looking for them."

"Wait, wait. What illusion? Are you talking about this glowing yellow…. thing?"

"It's an illusion cage. Nobody will notice any change in reiatsu coming out from here. And nobody will notice it's here… except a few people good enough at feeling reiatsu, but none of them are currently close, so it doesn't matter. Anyway, I don't wanna take more risks than necessary, so I guess one hour is OK."

"A few people? You mean the captains?"

"Na… Probably Yamamoto and Ukitake… but most surely Urahara, Hachi and your friends… the Quincy and that girl… they are surprisingly sensitive to any kind of reiatsu."

"Oh, I see…" He dropped the subject and focused in his new challenge. "So, I need to open the Garganta and direct it… OK" Ichigo closed his eyes. He tried to focus on Grimmjow's reiatsu… but he couldn't feel the slightest trace. Of course, he was here; he wasn't in Hueco Mundo, so how the hell was he supposed to detect that? Besides, was he even able to open a Garganta? He tried to remember the countless times that he had seen Grimmjow opening one… It seemed so easy… and thinking about it, the arrancar always managed to open it close to Ichigo, no matter where he was… so, he must be able to detect him in some way…

He tried again to focus in Grimmjow's reiatsu and mimicked the movements of the arrancar. The air ripped apart and a black line stretched following the path of Ichigo's hand. It was small and looked terribly unstable, but it was definitively a Garganta.

"I've done it, Gin!" Ichigo's eyes shined with emotion.

"You better not attempt to cross it. It's far too unstable, you are gonna get lost in the way." Gin opened slightly his eyes to tease the younger shinigami "Try to open a door instead of a window."

"I just need to practice a little, asshole; I'm going to do it!"

Ichigo closed this one and repeated the process. After half an hour of failed attempts, it looked now stable enough to cross it. When looking across, the white sands of Hueco Mundo were clearly visible. He tried to feel the reiatsu of the arrancar, but he wasn't able to find it yet. He started worrying again… maybe he couldn't do that because there was no reiatsu to feel… maybe he hadn't survived after all…

"Are you giving up, Kurosaki?" Gin was still watching mildly amused as the young boy struggled with his untamed dark reiatsu.

"Of course not! I never give up, I've told you that. I'm gonna do it!" His face was a display of pure resolve, although the weariness of this endless day was easy to notice in his heated breath.

"Well, well… but maybe you should think about your priorities here…. Do you want to learn how to open a Garganta properly or you want to see what has happened there? Because we are running out of time."

Ichigo blinked at Gin, not sure if he had understood what was he suggesting. He asked carefully. "Can you open one?"

"Of course not. I'm just a shinigami" Besides Ichigo's intense stare, his face was still unreadable.

Ichigo sighed. Just a shinigami were the last words he would dare to use to describe the older man… His thoughts were a mess again. He wasn't use to asking for help… and the idea of releasing Shirosaki in the core of Seireitei unnerved him a little… but Gin was right. He needed to know what happened. The uncertainty was eating him… he wanted to know no matter what, even if it means accepting his help. Again.

"OK, Gin. But I'm gonna come back when we get there."

"As long as you come back in half an hour, before I remove the illusion is perfectly OK. " Gin sat up and walked to him, while Ichigo's figure disappeared in a blur of black reiatsu. Smiling, the shinigami joined the white figure staring amused at him.

"Oi Gin, long time no see." The hollow grinned evilly, as the shinigami approached him, their trademark smirks on their faces.

"Hi Shiro. I hope you are better at opening a Garganta." Gin cocked his head, half teasing him.

The hollow snorted, not taking the bait. "Ichigo sucks at reiatsu manipulation. How close you want to go?"

"Just outside the house is OK. We don't need to scare them."

Shiro's smile broadened as a perfect Garganta opened at his command. A big white house appeared at the other side.

"Great. There we go." Gin stepped in the opening, the hollow following close behind. They knocked at the door to find an amused arrancar laughing at them.

"Took you long enough. I was thinking of breaking in there to look for you."

Shirosaki smirked at the espada. "You should have done it, kitty. It's deadly boring there."

Grimmjow's smirk quickly became a snarl at the white hollow mocking tone. "Don't call me kitty, asshole!"

Shiro chucked and lowered his voice. "Make me."

Grimmjow's fist aimed at the hollow's face. Shiro avoided it easily, smiling madly. "You are damn slow, kitty. Need a proper motivation?"

The arrancar was grinning widely by now. "Shut the fuck up, hollow. I'll teach you some manners!"

"Kids, kids… lets go play out there. I have some work to do." Without any warning, Gin caught both hollows and sent them flying away to the sand dunes behind, as far as possible from the house. Not bothering with a second glance, the shinigami disappeared into the house, waving his hand and leaving them half buried in the white sand. "See you in a while!"

Grimmjow brushed the sand from his clothes and sat down on the dune. He was looking amused at the orange haired shinigami, who has apparently recovered his body just before impacting with the ground. Shirosaki had a twisted sense of humor…

"Fucking bastard…" Ichigo was cursing while removing most of the sand from his clothes. He approached the arrancar slowly.

"Who are you talking about, shinigami?" Grimmjow cocked an eyebrow, giving him a quick glance before stretching his legs out in front of him and leaning back on his hands.

"To both of you! Can't you two stop arguing for a moment?" Ichigo frowned to look down at him.

"He was provoking me." The arrancar pointed out.

"As if it was difficult!" Ichigo shot back at him, dropping down at his side.

"Don't make me kick your ass shinigami! Stop bitching!" His tone was thick and low, without real heat in it. Somehow, Ichigo found it oddly relaxing.

The young shinigami finally smirked, eyes narrowing slightly. "Make me."

Grimmjow smiled widely, easily falling into their arguing routine. Ichigo had finally got used to the body switches with his hollow, and it looks like they were getting closer…

The arrancar laid down, looking at the moon over their heads. "So, you managed to defeat Aizen. I wasn't sure if you could actually kill him."

Ichigo looked down at him. Sighing, he fell onto his back, fixing his gaze at that weird eternal half moon. "I… we didn't kill him… just hurt him enough for Urahara to seal him."

"You don't look exactly happy, shinigami… what's bothering you? You fucking defeated that bastard! Everything is over for you now. You can come here anytime and I will gladly beat your ass!" Grimmjow smiled broadly. However, Ichigo couldn't bring himself to smile. He just sighed again… and a sad smile replaced his frown.

"Nothing is over, Grimmjow… on the contrary. Everything is starting now. We are in detention, waiting for the trial. We won't be able to go anywhere any soon…"

Grimmjow's smile faded away. He incorporated a little, resting on this elbows to face Ichigo. "Are you joking? Are you telling me you defeated Aizen and they just imprisoned you? You have already escaped, I guess…"

"I'm not gonna escape. I promised Gin I would help him… so if he expects to convince Soul Society about…" Ichigo closed his eyes… and sighed again "I don't really know what he is trying to do…In fact, I don't give a damn about Soul Society… I just wanted to go home…"

Grimmjow looked really puzzled "I understand they imprisoned Gin, but you? How much do they know about you?"

Ichigo smiled sadly again…. and kept his eyes locked on the moon.

"Nothing. Urahara and Matsumoto saw me fighting Aizen with Shiro's released body… the others arrived to see him talking with Gin… They fear my power. They think my hollow is too powerful to be controlled, that he will eventually possess me… and as I refused to leave Gin alone, they imprisoned both of us. He will be judged by treason while I'm just under 'surveillance'."

"And what about your friends?"

Ichigo shifted uncomfortably… "I… I haven't seen them yet… I don't know what… how…"

"Oh, please. It's not such a big deal. They have already accepted you with that freaking mask. It's not so different!"

"It's completely different! And what happened in that tower… I almost killed Ishida…"

"It wasn't you, dumbass!"

"But all of that happened because of me!"

"Stop Ichigo! Get over it! It was a fucking war! People fight, get hurt and die! Just be happy that you won and all your friends are still alive…"

Ichigo noticed an unusual bitterness in Grimmjow's voice.

"Oh, I never asked… who were at your side? Are all of them OK?"

"Forget it, shinigami. It's not your fucking problem" Grimmjow laid down again, not meeting Ichigo's eyes.

To Ichigo, that was the straw that broke the camel's back. He had chosen to walk this path with the arrancar despite all the difficulties, and he had always thought it hadn't been alone. Grimmjow had never told him anything about Hueco Mundo, or a single word about the other arrancars. The only time he saw him caring about anybody beside himself was in that damn tower when he was fighting Ulquiorra… He understood he couldn't risk betraying Gin, or somebody else, but now it was at least unnerving. Aizen was out of the picture, but things seemed to keep getting worse.

Cursing loudly, the shinigami jumped on the arrancar, straddling him and punching him hard in the face. "Of course it's my fucking problem, stupid dickhead! I'm in prison with Gin because of this! Don't you dare tell me it's not my fucking problem!"

"Oi, oi Kurosaki. I like this look on your face…" Grimmjow griped his wrists, smirking again while teasing the younger boy. He pulled him closer to whisper, "but you are asking the wrong person."

Before any of them could say another word, Gin's tired voice appeared out of nowhere.

"Time's over, Kurosaki." He left the house and approached them, making no sign of surprise to the unusual scene in front of him, where Ichigo was still straddling Grimmjow`s waist, with both wrist caught in the arrancar iron grip. "We must go back."

Ichigo got up slowly and walked to Gin, his voice harder than he intended. "Next time, you are gonna explain to me the whole fucking story, Grimmjow."

"Keep dreaming, shinigami." The arrancar words were meant to keep the light mood, but there was an odd sad edge in his tone.

Gin smirked slightly as Ichigo changed body with his white self, who turned to face the arrancar behind them, "You still owe me a fight, kitty."

Grimmjow chuckled softly, standing arms crossed as Shiro was already opening the portal. "Need a map to your cell, hollow?"

Shiro grinned widely and took a step into the darkness, words echoing behind. "Nope. It's much easier than looking for your tiny reiatsu."

Before Grimmjow could reply, the two figures disappeared inside the Garganta, the path closing immediately after them. He walked slowly to the house, smiling tiredly. He was curious about Gin's plans. It seemed that despite the partial failure of his original scheme, the secondary one was already set into motion. That old shinigami was really something…


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