Series: Amaranthine (second in series; sequel to Nexus)
Rating: M for 'Much Smut'
Spoilers: read through Soul Society & Arrancar Arcs
Summary: One year after Nexus, Ichigo and Renji face personal challenges and a new crisis that threatens everyone.
Word Count: 65,500ish
Warnings: There is more talk about the war with Aizen that I wrote around in Nexus. There are mentions of character deaths during the war, but they're mostly minor. Should also be noted that there's some definite Shuuhei/Yumichika subtext, and off camera Hitsugaya/Hinamori.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach, I'm just borrowing it for a
while. A few lines of song lyrics are included in this chapter, and they are
the property of their owner(s).
Distribution: Also posted to my LJ. Please ask if you want to share it :)
Dedication: To my wonderful beta Shelagh, for putting up with my writing process and for drawing the amazing art that goes with my stories. She keeps me on the path of reality when my feet try to take me down sugar plum lane. And for Sara, our partner in fangirling and BL love, for helping us stay silly and sane. And I suppose even for my husband, who has had to endure my mental love affair with Renji, my extended hours on my laptop writing this beast, and my ups and downs while writing it. One night we got drunk and he let me read all my fics out loud to him in one night (yes, even all of Nexus) - my voice was ruined the next day, but we had a great laugh. He laughed in all the right places, and wouldn't let me chicken out and stop reading at the sexy bits. :)
And as always, to all my 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: I said Nexus ate my life - I was wrong. So very wrong. The idea for Apotheosis came to me while I was still writing Nexus, and I scribbled down a couple pages of notes as I went along. Nexus was posted at the end of August, and it's now December. I've only taken a handful of days off writing this story - I even took my notebook to work and scribbled lines and scenes as they came to me. This is definitely an obsession. And I loved every minute of it. I hope you all do, too.
NEWS - NOV 26/07: The third story in the series is called 'Covenant', and I will begin posting it Monday, December 3, 2007.
Chapter 18 - Metamorphosis
In the morning, Ichigo was up early and ready to go. He slung his knapsack with the last of his possessions over his shoulder and left without a backward glance. Renji followed silently, nursing a hangover but still smiling beneath the dark sunglasses shading his vision.
They stopped at the Kurosaki home for a quick breakfast and a 'farewell for now' with the family. Ichigo left the keys to his now former flat with his father, who would retrieve the last of the furniture and settle things with the landlord.
Yuzu insisted on sending the leftovers from the party with them, convinced that "Ichi-nii and Renji-nii are too busy to learn to cook properly." Ichigo's pack bulged, but they accepted her offering, grateful that she was doing her best and not holding any resentment over Ichigo's choice.
To Ichigo's surprise, Karin was the one standing back with suspiciously bright eyes as Yuzu fussed.
"Ichi-nii, make sure you take care of Renji-nii," Yuzu admonished. "Don't work too hard." She hugged them in turn, laughter returning to her voice as she insisted she was too old for that now when Renji swung her up like he used to.
Karin squared her shoulders and, with a set look on her face, advanced on the red-haired shinigami as soon as he'd set Yuzu back on her feet.
Renji reached out to muss her hair, but Karin ducked and caught his hand. She motioned for him to bend low. Karin leaned toward the bowed head and stage whispered in his ear. "Take care of Ichi-nii, or remember I will find Orihime and Tatsuki to hold you down while I pound you."
"You got it," Renji promised, returning the hug the young woman threw around his shoulders. As he straightened, a small hand slapped the top of his head, tangling deliberately in his hair and knocking the spiky tail askew. "Hey!"
"Payback," Karin grinned at him. Then she turned at last to her brother.
Ichigo bent to gather his sister in his arms. She squeezed his neck tightly, not saying anything for a long time.
"Don't forget us, Ichi-nii," she finally whispered.
"Not a chance," he assured her, squeezing back as strongly as he dared. He let her go when she grunted from the force.
Ichigo faced his father. "Time to go, Pop."
Isshin looked surprised when Ichigo stepped up and hugged him voluntarily. He nodded and smiled. "Take care, my sons."
"Ahh, Kurosaki-san!" Urahara welcomed them into his dusty shop. "Right on time."
"Hi, Urahara-san." Ichigo looked around. "Where are the others?"
"They're downstairs, getting ready." Urahara peered up at him from the shadows of his striped hat. "Are you ready?"
Ichigo nodded. "Yeah."
"Then let's begin." The exiled shinigami led them into his odd basement.
Memories assaulted Ichigo, of so many hours spent there. He thought especially about that first summer with Renji; he couldn't help but chuckle when Renji nudged him as they passed the remains of a shattered boulder.
Tessai stood alone in front of the gate they'd been using to travel back and forth to Soul Society since the war. Urahara was still exiled, but now he was the unofficial liason between the Soul Society and the living world – a role for which he was uniquely suited.
Brief greetings were exchanged as Urahara fiddled near the gate. Eventually, he stood back and looked expectantly at Ichigo.
Ichigo shared a confused look with Renji. "So, what now? How do I become a permanent shinigami?"
"It's very simple, Kurosaki-san – you have to die."
Ichigo stared. Beside him, Renji looked on in open-mouthed astonishment.
"Wh-what do you mean?" Ichigo demanded, advancing on the man he'd come to trust more than he thought possible during the war. "This'd better not be one of your tricks!"
"No tricks, Kurosaki-san." Benihime suddenly seemed very conspicuous resting in the crook of Urahara's arm.
Ichigo stood his ground. "Explain," he said shortly.
"To become a real, full-time, permanent shinigami, you need to leave your mortal life behind and cross over into the land of the dead." Urahara dropped the piercing gaze and fluttered his fan. "That means you have to give up your body and go to Soul Society," he explained brightly.
"We know that part!" Renji sounded as annoyed as Ichigo felt.
"How do I do that? I can't just leave my body lyin' on the ground, right?"
"Oh no, definitely not! That just wouldn't be the same at all." The eccentric shopkeeper dropped the vapid smile, and pointed Benihime at the gate. "You remember when we sent your friends with you to Soul Society, to help save Kuchiki Rukia… we installed spirit exchangers to turn their physical bodies into spirits, and then turn them back when you all returned."
"Right! Because only spirits can go to Soul Society. But," Ichigo frowned. "I'm already a spirit when I'm in my shinigami form, it's my body that's the problem now."
"We installed a different kind of spirit exchanger this time. It only works on flesh and bone bodies, of course," Urahara explained. "This one will reshape your entire being. Your shinigami form will become your only form. Your mortal life will be over. You will be dead, like any other shinigami."
"What happens to my body?"
Urahara looked at him consideringly. "It's rather… complicated. And it's a one-way process – do you really need to know any more than that?"
Ichigo shook his head. "I knew it was a one-way trip when I made the decision." One corner of his mouth twitched up in a crooked grin. "Renji's already lookin' forward to seein' me struggle with a gigai the first time I come back for a visit."
Urahara laughed. "We'll save a really special one just for you."
"So that's it? Just step through the gate and I'm a shinigami?" This sounds too easy.
"Not quite. Do you remember what Yoruichi-san told you about travelling through to Soul Society that time?"
Ichigo scratched his head thoughtfully. "Er, somethin' about puttin' your heart into it?"
Urahara nodded approvingly. "Very good, Kurosaki-san! I didn't expect you'd remember."
"Hey I remember important stuff!" Ichigo huffed. "Just tell me the rest."
"You have to focus your heart and soul on the task, make it the thing you want most in the whole world. You have to move forward, through the gate, through the process and out to the Soul Society side where you will have been fully transformed into a permanent shinigami like all the others."
"Wouldn't have come this far if I wasn't fully committed to the idea, Urahara-san." Ichigo said firmly. "Anything else I need to know, or can we do this already?"
"That's all, Kurosaki-san!" Another flutter. "It's ready when you are."
"Right then. Let's do it." Ichigo glanced at Renji before moving forward. The red-haired shinigami nodded and moved up behind him.
When Ichigo stepped through the gate, he was surrounded by darkness, and a warm, tingling energy field. He focused hard on his goal. Going to Soul Society and becoming a full shinigami. He chanted the phrase like a mantra in his mind as the warm tingle turned into molten knives piercing his very being.
"Argh, Urahara you bastard you didn't tell me it was gonna hurt!" The pain was excruciating – he felt like he was burning from the inside out.
Going to Soul Society and becoming a full shinigami!
He ran blindly, holding firmly to his resolve as the pain lanced through him.
Going to Soul Society! Becoming a full shinigami!
He stumbled; it felt like his flesh was melting, tearing itself away from his bones… he pushed forward… running, tripping, falling...
Going to… Soul Society! Becoming… a full shinigami!
He could see the light shining in the darkness. He gathered the last of his strength.
Going to Soul Society… becoming a full shinigami… protecting everyone I love forever… Renji…!
With a wordless scream, he threw himself into the light.
Ichigo blinked rapidly in the bright sunlight. When I get my hands on him, I swear I'm gonna…
He looked himself over quickly. His shinigami uniform looked the same as it always did, Zangetsu's comforting weight strapped reassuringly to his back. His white cloak stirred in the light breeze.
I did it.
"I did it," he repeated aloud, absently smoothing the folds of his cloak. Everything seemed new and distant. He felt… odd.
"'Course ya did. Ya wouldn't pick a time like this t' fail, would ya?" The rough voice pulled his awareness back into place.
Ichigo's head snapped up. His lover was standing beside him, grinning broadly. "Renji!"
Renji laughed. "Expectin' someone else? We did just come through that gate together." When Ichigo didn't respond, his eyes narrowed. "What happened in there?"
Ichigo shook his head. "Felt like I was bein' dipped in fuckin' lava," he growled. "Remind me to hit Urahara the next time we go back there. Hard." Renji snickered.
The two shinigami captains began walking toward Seireitei. "So where to now?" his partner asked.
"We're still off for another two days, right?"
Renji nodded. "Yep."
"And I took care of all outstanding Division business before we left, right?"
Ichigo let out a relieved breath. "Then let's go home before someone finds out we're here and wants to throw another party… I'm exhausted!"
Renji couldn't stop looking at his lover's sleeping form. I get t' wake up t' this every day, forever. His heart swelled, and his fingers trembled as he brushed a piece of hair out of Ichigo's face.
So sexy, even asleep. Renji smiled and shook his head as Ichigo rolled over on his back, taking most of the blankets with him. One of Ichigo's hands came to rest on Renji's thigh, its random twitching sending teasing shocks to his groin.
Now that'd be a good way t' wake up. Renji grinned as he pushed the blankets down to the floor and took in the sight of his lover's naked form stretched out so appealingly beside him.
Irresistible. An' all mine.
His loose braid fell over his shoulder, the tip brushing over the firm stomach muscles as Renji slid his lips down over his lover's arousal. He swept his tongue over the rigid flesh while his fingers fondled the sensitive areas of the body he knew so well.
This's just too damn good. Renji's own body ached in response to the activity; he reached a hand down and stroked himself slowly as he mentally changed his plans for the day.
Ichigo's hips twitched upward with each squeeze; Renji could feel the tension in his lover quickly approaching the peak as he sucked hungrily.
Too close… better wake him up or he'll miss the good part. He let go of himself and rubbed small circles over Ichigo's chest, gently tweaking the pert nipples.
Ichigo shifted a little more, his eyelids fluttering.
If this don't wake him up, nothin' will. Renji swallowed hard against the heat pressed against the back of his throat.
Ichigo's eyes flew wide open as he woke with a gasp. One startled downward glance was all he had time for before his head snapped back and his body spasmed. Renji could barely make out the start of his name in his lover's garbled cry. He revelled in the sensuous sight before him; the rapture that washed through their bond was so intense he nearly lost it himself.
"Good mornin'." Renji kissed the quivering stomach muscles before raising his eyes to meet his panting lover's glazed stare.
"What was that for?" Ichigo asked breathlessly. "Please tell me so I can make sure to do it every day."
Renji chuckled. "Couldn't help myself. Ya just looked so tasty." He began stroking himself again, deliberately, as he continued nibbling his way up his lover's body. The energy swirling around them made him dizzy with the need to join their bodies together.
Ichigo reached for the trailing braid, pulling insistently to bring Renji's mouth in range of his own.
"You look a bit busy there," Ichigo ran his tongue over Renji's lips. "Lemme give you a hand with that."
"Plea—nngh." Another shaft of desire shot through him as strong fingers took over, much more swiftly than his own preparatory touches.
"Fun as it is to watch, I really need to touch you right now."
The need was still powerful and strong. His lover's firm grasp was electric, pulling a desperate moan from deep within his chest as he was quickly taken to the edge. Ichigo's tongue pushing in to explore every corner of his mouth was Renji's undoing. His head spun as expert hands prolonged the pleasure that shook his whole body and flooded their bond with ecstasy.
Ichigo's arms and legs pulled him down beside him, holding him close as he shuddered. His lover's eyes held him fast; he watched as Ichigo licked at a sticky spot on his thumb.
Renji groaned. "Damn it's hot when ya do stuff like that. Thought I was seducin' you, here, but I ain't so sure anymore." He ran his lips over Ichigo's neck and shoulder.
Ichigo's tongue found Renji's ear. "Oh you are, lover," he breathed.
"It's mutual, then. I need ya so bad, I can barely stand it." Renji pulled back to give Ichigo a serious look. "I got ya here, now, we're livin' in our forever, but I don't wanna let ya go for a second, an' I got no idea why." He held Ichigo's gaze as he brought their lips together.
"I think I understand," Ichigo replied softly. His arms wound tighter around Renji's waist and neck, his forehead pressing against Renji's. "I wanna be with you so much it hurts." Renji felt the answering need through their linked reiatsu.
They sated themselves in each other over and over. The intoxicating flow of energy between them intensified the whispered endearments that came straight from their connected hearts. Renji lost himself in Ichigo's deliciously heated embrace, finding himself again when his lover moved perfectly inside him.
They didn't usually feel the need to fill the air with conversation, but today was different. As they rested in each others' arms, they talked endlessly, of anything and everything. Of their plans for the future, for themselves, for Soul Society, of the things Ichigo wanted to do for his new Division, and of the love and trust they shared.
Around noon they made an effort to pull themselves together. They shared a long soak and a small meal, but they were drawn back to each other's arms time and time again, unable to part, and unwilling to stop. With fresh bedding and a pitcher of water next to them, their tightly meshed reiatsu flared again.
They lay still when they finally rode out the flood of exquisite emotion, happily exhausted and content to rest, satisfied simply to feel each others' hearts beat against their chests.
"I'm glad ya stayed." A tired arm draped itself around his waist.
Ichigo returned the loose embrace. "Me too, Renji."
The cool night was still. Quiet breathing was the only indication that the peaceful room was occupied.
The lovers slept easily, the usually animated faces softer in sleep. They shared one pillow, the other askew off the end of the futon. Fingers wound gently through the long red hair, their tips just barely caressing a tanned cheek. The tattooed forehead was pressed against a lighter-skinned temple; short strands of bright orange mingled with the vibrant red, making a little spot of flame on the pillow beneath them.
Most of the blanket had been pulled to the side, exposing their legs. They were remarkably intertwined, making it difficult to see just which limb belonged to whom, the subtle difference in skin tone the only small clue. The hand on the smooth neck and shoulder was covered by another, fingers curling gently; an intricately inked wristband stood out against one lover's lighter skin, in a pattern similar to the markings worn by the other.
One long arm had pinned down the last corner of the blanket before it too slipped away, the curve of one hip already exposed, along with the entirety of the muscled back that was covered in even more complex designs. The stripes running down the arm turned into a thick, twisted ribbon that ran down to the hilt of a uniquely shaped sword whose point ended on the pulse of the wrist.
They remained entwined the rest of the night, the promise of forever an unbreakable covenant between them.
Chapter 18 omake
Akuni: We've reached the end of another installment in the Amaranthine series. This is the end of 'Apotheosis', but we're already hard at work on the third story!
Ichigo: Why were you planning the smut for the next story when you were still writin' this one?
Akuni: Ehhh… (sweatdrop)
Renji: Motivation. (big dorky Renji grin)
Akuni: Yes! That's it! (Aside: Phew, thanks)
Ichigo: Ohhh... (eyes light up)
Ichigo: Hey... do you take requests?
Renji: (suspicious) What kinda requests?
Ichigo: (innocent) Oh nothin' weird. Just, yanno, requests.
Akuni: Um, maybe… what've you got in mind?
Ichigo: Well Renji had this dream the other night, an—
Renji: NO! NO FUCKIN' WAY!!
Ichigo: Aw c'mon, it might be fun!
Renji: I am DEFINITELY NOT wearin' that!
Akuni: I don't think I wanna know… Goodbye for now, everyone! Hope you'll join us again!
A/N2: It's been a wild ride. :) Thank you everyone! Please go check out the story on my LJ so you can see the amazing artwork my friend Shelagh has done for this story, as well as additional story information and a soundtrack. It is absolutely worth the trip! http:// akuni . livejournal . com / 9214 . html