I did it! I finally finished this story! pant pant It took over a month - partly because work was kicking my ass, but mostly because it just demanded so much more detail and depth than I'd originally planned. Who am I to argue with the muse?

Title: Nexus
Author: Akuni
Genre: Drama/Romance
Rating: M for 'Much Smut'
Pairing: Renji/Ichigo
Spoilers: read through Soul Society & Arrancar Arcs
Word Count(total): 20,500 (omfg!)
Word Count(chapter): 3000

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach, I'm just borrowing it for a while.
Distribution: Also posted to my LJ & comms (kurosakiclinic, bleachyaoi, and renxichi). Please ask if you want to share it :)

Dedication: To all fellow Renji/Ichigo fangirls/guys out there. We know it's impossible, we know it's silly, and we know it's damned hot!

A/N: My Bleach OTP is RenRuki, but I'm hooked on fandom Renji/Ichigo (ya ya I say this for each story, so what! ) After much blushing and chickening out (and wine), I managed to write the smut. Go me! Why is it so much harder to write than to read? Although come to think of it, the first time I read RenjixIchigo smut I did so peering between my fingers as I covered my eyes, and I'm pretty sure all the blood in my body was in my face - that might explain the swooning.



Chapter 1 – Renewal

The Soul Society was enjoying a time of relative peace. The terrible conflict precipitated by the former captain Aizen had ended years previously, and the reorganization of Soul Society operations was complete. Without any more pressing business, the Gotei 13 began tackling other issues that had been piling up unattended.

Such as the Soul Society being woefully out of touch with the living world. The information they had was decades old, and shinigami who needed to blend in… well, they just didn't. This matter was brought up at one of the captains' meetings, and the decision was made to enlist the help of one Kurosaki Ichigo to bring their understanding of the modern living world up to speed.

They even remembered to ask Ichigo if he would do them the favour, which he thought was decent of them. Of course, they had plenty of reason to be 'decent' to him, seeing as how he had played such a large part in helping defeat the traitor Aizen and his crew and restore peace to the Soul Society three years ago. He arranged to take the summer term off from his college classes after exams in order to accommodate the request; he was tired, and could definitely use the break. Though he was only called out to fight Hollows in an emergency – which didn't happen very often at all due to the efficient reorganization of patrols – Ichigo hadn't slept well since the war.

So when Ichigo heard a noise on the roof and a tap on the solitary window in his flat, it didn't particularly surprise him.

"Yeah, it's open, c'mon in." Ichigo wondered just who they had sent him to 'teach' about the living world.

What did surprise him was that the figure that leaped neatly through his window sported a shocking-red spiky ponytail and looked a hell of a lot like Abarai Renji. But they wouldn't send… they couldn't have sent…

"Yo, Ichigo!" Unbelievable. There was no mistaking the shinigami who stood in his tiny flat, grinning at him. The clothes alone made it obvious – Rukia must've been involved again, he'd put money on it.

"What the hell are you doing here!" The words flew out of Ichigo's mouth before he could stop them. He grimaced, and raised a hand in silent apology.

"Che. Nice way t' greet an old friend." Renji was still grinning at him like a fool. "Lucky for you I got a thick skin, or I might think ya ain't glad t' see me."

"I wasn't expecting they'd send, yanno, someone…" Ichigo floundered. "I thought you made Captain. Don't you have… responsibilities or somethin'?"

"Nah. Division mostly runs itself now that I got it cleaned up." Renji smirked at him but the pride shone clearly in his eyes. "'Sides, I got a good lieutenant takin' care a' things while I'm away. You remember her, right? Short, cute, terrible fashion sense." He plucked at his mismatched clothes. "These're her fault, a' course."

I win. Ichigo nodded. "So… um… seriously, why did you get picked for this?"

"I didn't 'get picked', I volunteered."

"What!"

"Well someone had ta go, an' I figured it'd better be someone high enough t' be able t' make decisions without needin' ta check back for every li'l thing. Ya know what they're like." Renji rolled his eyes. Ichigo couldn't hold back his amused snort of laughter. He did, indeed, know. Rukia had been a victim of an evil man's manipulation of Soul Society's bizarre – yet necessary – rules.

"Plus, I figured if you were gonna be saddled with the job, ya could at least have some fun. Yanno, on account a' we're friends an' all now." Renji's tone was… sincere?

Ichigo blinked. Renji really meant that. Ichigo knew they'd put aside their differences and fought together as part of a team during the war – side-by-side, back-to-back, and any other way they could to keep each other alive and win. And that camaraderie had carried forward after the war, during the cleanup and reconstruction of the Sereitei.

Renji had even taken him out drinking with his friends – most of whom were past or present members of the 11th Division. Ichigo vaguely recalled staggering through the streets with Renji and Shuuhei on either side, held up only by the arms they'd slung around each others' shoulders. They were assuring him that 'it' was a great idea and they should go do 'it' right away. Ichigo recalled much more clearly his horrified reaction the next morning when he woke up on Renji's floor with his first hangover splitting his head and a burning sting on his left shoulder. They'd taken him to get tattooed. He was eternally grateful that Yumichika had talked them out of putting it on his face – he really didn't get those two sometimes – but it was still embarrassing. It wasn't the worst thing that could have happened; tattoos were kind of cool after all, and having a good one wouldn't hurt his image, but… it was a strawberry. Ichigo had vowed on the spot to never go drinking alone with those thugs again. He remembered there had been singing…

"Oi, Ichigo?" Renji's voice snapped Ichigo out of the memory. He was looking at Ichigo rather strangely.

"Uh, sorry. Yeah, friends." It was bizarre but for some reason he couldn't fathom, he supposed they were friends, in an odd sort of way, even though he hadn't seen much of the man in the past three years. "And since I'm supposed to teach you, that means it's 'Kurosaki-sensei' now." Ichigo smirked.

Renji snickered, and played along. "Sure thing, sensei. In that case ya better remember it's 'Abarai-Taichou' now, ne?" He looked around Ichigo's small flat. "So where do I sleep?"

"What!"



A week sharing cramped quarters would strain even the best of friends, and Ichigo hardly thought the casual friendship he and Renji had developed qualified. Ichigo was busy studying for his exams, and Renji was doing his best to absorb modern culture through television and magazines. Unfortunately, Renji had a habit of talking back to whatever he was studying, and it seemed he had a new question for Ichigo every few minutes. Between the constant interruptions and the constant proximity, Ichigo was about ready to scream with frustration.

"Oi, Ichigo…" Renji began his usual query. Ichigo's pencil snapped in his fist.

"What is it this time?" he ground out.

Unfazed, Renji shot him a cheeky grin. "I can't take sittin' in this little room anymore. Gotta train the body as well as the mind, yanno. Let's go t' Urahara's and do some damage."

Ichigo blinked. That was the best thing he'd heard all week. He was out of his body and out the window in an instant.



"Ahhh—OWW!" Ichigo lowered himself into the hot spring, wincing as the water stung his cuts and bruises. "That last one hurt, you bastard." He glared at the red-haired shinigami who was already relaxing in the healing waters.

"Don't be such a crybaby. Ya broke two a' my ribs last week, remember." Renji shot back good-naturedly as he closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the ledge.

"Yeah, that was a good one, wasn't it?" Ichigo sunk to his chin in the steaming pool. "You were wide open on that last swing." Renji made a rude gesture, not even bothering to open his eyes. Ichigo snickered, and they began their usual post-training analysis.

The daily sparring matches had lifted the tension immediately. While they still shared Ichigo's cramped flat – when the spare futon was spread on the floor there was literally no floor left to be seen – the training helped siphon off their extra energy. They learned to coexist a bit more peacefully; Renji kept his outbursts toward the television to a minimum, and Ichigo became accustomed enough to Renji's presence that his studies progressed and he managed to get top grades in all of his college exams.

Now without the added pressure of school, Ichigo found he was enjoying Renji's uncomplicated company. The other man had an easiness of spirit that Ichigo envied. Renji spoke his thoughts honestly and without reservation. They spent a great deal of time just talking – about the changes in the Soul Society, about the modern living world, and anything in between. It was somehow easier for Ichigo to teach Renji than it had been trying to explain things to Rukia. He supposed it was because they were both guys, and could relate on that level at least. Ichigo didn't like to remember Rukia's endless stream of unanswerable questions in the pharmacy…

He might be uncomplicated to be around, but Renji wasn't a simple man to know. Ichigo truly hadn't thought that there was much more to him than the rough and ready fellow who'd taken him drinking with those 11th Division lunatics. As the weeks passed and they continued their training and Renji's lessons, Ichigo saw the determination of the man who had clawed his way out of the Rukongai slums. The same man who once dedicated his every waking moment working to surpass his former Captain, who bravely threw his life on the line repeatedly when trying to pull Rukia out of Aizen's heinous plot, was the same man who sat in his flat and laughed at children's television programs. It was the same man who stood bleeding over him, shielding him from Ichimaru's stabbing blade despite having two broken arms, who still retained enough of his sense of humour to toss over his shoulder that he was "just returning the favour" from when Ichigo had deflected a killing strike from Renji's neck the day before. The same man who had somehow, amazingly, become his friend.


Ichigo didn't have to remember to tread carefully when he got up in the night. By now his feet automatically stepped around the sleeping shinigami taking up his floor space and took the long way around to the bathroom, all by the light of the full moon shining in through the window. Funny how you can get so used to something - even something as bizarre as having a shinigami captain crashing on your floor for the summer. Though for my life, that's actually pretty tame.

Ichigo's eyesight adjusted as he made his way back to his bed. He started to step over his friend but stopped as Renji turned in his sleep, the moonlight suddenly illuminating his face. Ichigo was always a bit startled at the way Renji looked when he was truly asleep. It was disconcerting to see his energetic friend so completely relaxed, without his trademark grin, the laughing eyes lidded. He looked… peaceful. The moonlight washed over the hair tangled loose around his face and pillow, the dark lines of his tattoos standing out against pale skin. Ichigo's sleepy mind was transfixed.

I never realized how beautiful he is.

Then…

What the fuck!

Ichigo climbed back into his bed and buried his head under his pillow, trying to convince himself that when he woke up in the morning it would all be a horrible nightmare.

He had not just noticed how appealing his friend – his male friend – looked in the moonlight.



When he finally fell asleep, after an interminable hour of listening to his guest talking in his sleep – Renji talked back to the Hollows he fought even in his sleep, it seemed – Ichigo's dreams were filled with disturbing images of the battles he'd fought in Soul Society. He frequently had bad dreams, but lately it seemed they were getting worse. Some were old nightmares, ones that hadn't been so clear or painful for over a year. And some were new variations – instead of winning, they lost.

Ichigo's mind played out horror after imaginary horror for him. He saw Rukia crushed by a Menos Grande. He saw Hitsugaya lose all control and freeze a dozen sections of the Rukongai when the entire 10th Division was wiped out in an instant by some… thing… that swallowed them whole and spit out their bones. He saw Ichimaru's blade pierce Renji's heart instead of only running through his side and catching a rib, and continue stabbing straight toward Ichigo's eyes…

That one was just too much for Ichigo's strained psyche. He half-woke in a cold sweat, just long enough to remember that Rukia was fine and happy back in the Soul Society, and that Hitsugaya had lightened up a lot after marrying Hinamori and was still trying to compel Matsumoto to do her paperwork for the fully-intact 10th Division, and that Ichimaru hadn't managed to kill either him or Renji – or anyone else after that encounter for that matter; the frosty captain of the 10th and his lieutenant had seen to that.

The upside was the dreams changed. The downside was they took a decidedly erotic turn, and featured his innocently sleeping guest. His male guest. With whom he was friends and not interested in, er, in that way.

The next morning Ichigo woke late. His insane dreams had kept him from getting any real rest, and he knew he was going to be in a foul mood. He scowled into his pillow. Like it or not, he was going to have to get up and face the day. He'd shake off the dreams with a good training session at—

Ichigo groaned. Training session at Urahara's this morning. With Renji and Tessai. Crap. He glanced at the clock – an hour ago. Fuck.

Ok be a man, don't be stupid. Just get up and get on with it, and this will all just go away.

Ichigo threw back the covers and forced himself out of bed before he lost his nerve. "Oi, Renji, get up you lazy ass, we're late!" He looked around with bleary eyes. Renji's futon and bedding were put away, and Ichigo could see through the open bathroom door. There was no sign of his guest anywhere.

Bastard didn't wake me up! But now I don't have to deal with… things. This is good. Well I'm already late, I'll just have to be a little more late and take a shower to wake up. Ichigo hated being unreliable but after last night he was in a sorry state, and the one good thing about his ridiculously small flat was that it had its own private bathroom. He made his bed and closed the window against the summer heat before heading for the shower.

Standing under the stinging hot spray, Ichigo tried to clear his mind and prepare for the day ahead. Dreams aren't real. They're just strange things your brain does to entertain itself while you're sleeping. They're exaggerations of our hopes and fears, the things that happen in our daily lives, and leftover pizza eaten too late at night. He saw Soul Society crumble because he fought a war to save it – this was a normal thing that happened to war veterans, he knew. He dreamed about his good friend because they had spent the better part of every day for the past several weeks in each others' company. He had erotic dreams because he was a healthy adult male with a healthy – albeit unsatisfied – libido. He steadfastly refused to connect the last two rationalizations.

Well he couldn't do anything about the horrors of war – those scars he would bear for life. And your daily life changed every day, so a person's dreams were bound to have a different focus every night. And the other… well he just hadn't found the time for that. So it wasn't that strange, really, that his brain had gotten a bit confused…

Ichigo shrugged uncomfortably at his own thoughts, and scrubbed at his hair with perhaps a bit more vigour than was required in an attempt to distract himself. It doesn't mean anything, anyway. He tackled his arms fiercely. What a man's mind does while he's asleep is just not his responsibility. His skin stung from the force of his increasingly agitated washing. Right?

Right. Except his body wasn't listening to a word of it. Ichigo's scrubbing stopped abruptly when he felt an undeniable physical response to his train of thought. No, that wasn't it. It's perfectly normal. I'm a normal guy with a normal morning reaction. In a way he was glad – he couldn't resolve his inner turmoil, but this was something he could deal with.

Ichigo's mind was still a jumble as he delivered the steady strokes. Nothing about the previous night made any sense, so he gave up trying to understand and just tried to forget. His movements grew quicker and more urgent. The build-up of familiar tension was welcome after so many weeks without much privacy in the tiny flat he now shared. Unbidden, the image of pale, moonlit skin sprang into his thoughts, and – an unexpected jolt in the pit of his stomach sent shivers up and down his whole body, and he gasped loudly with the force of his sudden release.

He stood there a moment, breathing heavily as he rinsed himself with trembling hands. The relief warred with confusion and an inexplicable sense of guilt. The harder Ichigo tried not to think about what he had just – what had just happened, the wilder his emotions spun. He slammed off the water.

"Damn you, Renji!" he growled aloud, trying to break free of the mental cycle, his voice thick and deep. He wasn't sure why he was taking his confusion out on his absent friend, but oddly enough he did feel a bit better after channelling the frustration into the momentary burst of irrational anger.

It's been too long. That's all. He repeated this over and over as he quickly finished his morning routine and threw his clothes on.

I don't have time for this, I'm already late. Ichigo headed out, determined to restore order and sanity to his world. He didn't notice the curtains fluttering in the breeze from the open window behind him.



Omake

Ch 1 omake

Akuni: Welcome to the 'Nexus' omake! Sometimes funny things happen during the course of a story that don't always belong. I thought we'd share some of those thoughts and adventures with you all.

Renji: Yo.

Ichigo: Why am I already naked?