Title: Destined Fate

Chapter: 7of 17? – Curiosity
Author: mysticarchangel
Beta:xtrek
Pairing: Ichigo/Renji (well I think it's clear now that it won't stay at hints)
Rating: T
Warnings: plot bunnies out of control
WordCount: 3936
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach, it belongs to Tite Kubo
Summary:In the real world the shinigami are working hard to rescue Ichigo from the unknown dimension while he learns more about his inner world. Renji dreams and gets closer to Ichigo.

----- Chapter 7 - Curiosity (kills the cat) -------

„No sign of life. There were only rocks."
Rukia reported. Urahara nodded and prepared the UDP, the unknown-dimension-portal, for the next group.
„Did the connection to the communication central work?"
„Yes, although we had to wait for the results for 90 minutes, otherwise we could have returned earlier."
Urahara started the UDP and looked up. The members of the first group were sending out the information collected by the cameras.
„Group 2 ready?"
The named group took their camera-bandanas. Isane and Ishida got a pink one, the others neon-green headbands.
„Let's go!"Hitsugaya went through the gate first, followed by Ishida and Kira.

Renji and Isane looked at each other and nodded. Then they disappeared through the portal.
The portal led to a small island surrounded by what appeared to be an ocean. Renji looked around. Kira knelt on the ground, staring into the deep water, Isane beside him. Ishida walked around the island. His hike ended after 10minutes.
„Woah...there's water wherever you look!"
„I don't think Kurosaki could be here."
„What now?"
„We'll wait. The twelfth wants data."
„Of a water dimension? Here is nothing of interest! We could use the time much better!"
„I know, but complaining doesn't help."

----- Ichigo's inner World -----

Ichigo leaned against the door he had just stepped through. The image of Renji was still vivid in his mind.
Damn...what had happened? I didn't want to watch him...I didn't enjoy it, I didn't enjoy it! I won't think about it.
He shook his head and tried to think of something else. Ichigo eyed the door suspiciously.
Well, maybe there are other doors in my inner world. Will they lead me to other worlds?
Ichigo left the door with the mahogany tree behind him, trying to keep the thoughts out of his mind by concentrating on another subject. But he was curious. Why did this door lead him to Renji? Why Renji of all people? Why not anyone of his family? They were closer to him than Renji, so why? There were too many „why"s and Ichigo doubted that he wanted to know the answer to all of them.
If he found another door, would it lead him to other images of his friends? Would he be able to find out if all of them were alright?

He started to wander around, for the first time actually taking a look around. He had never spent time looking around properly. Either Zangetsu or Hichigo were always there. Fighting. Arguing. Explaining. Sometimes even comforting. It was silent in his inner world. He heard the rain drops hitting the window panes. Ichigo asked himself how it could still rain rain here despite of his confusion.
He had never thought that his inner world might be so big. After a few minutes shunpoing he didn't know where he had started.

Great. I should work on my inner world. Everything here looks too much alike. The buildings are still damaged from my fight with this living coat thing. All I can see are grey walls, broken windows, the ground and the skyline. Regardless of the direction I choose to go, it's the same everywhere besides the door with the mahogany tree and this weird red shimmer over there...

Ichigo blinked. Something red? In his inner world? He stopped nearly midair and ran back to the red glimmer that had caught his eyes.
Stopping in front of the new-found door, he examined it closer. Like the first one he had found it wasn't very peculiar. The red shimmer did not come from the door itself. The door was slightly open. The red light came from the other side.

Red light...uh...should I?

Ichigo reached out...and hesitated. Something behind this door obviously glowed red.
„Well... curiosity kills the cat.. I hope it doesn't kill shinigami, too."
Ichigo took several deep breaths and opened the door completely.
„Wow...and I thought my inner world was monotone."
Behind the door lay not only a room. Another world stretched before his eyes. A black path lead through a landscape of small hills, rivers of lava and small vulcanoes here and there. Flames leapt to meet him, but didn't burn him. Immediately he was surrounded by heat and the smell of ash. Even here it rained, although the raindrops did not reach the ground.
The ground was warm. Ichigo felt the heat under his feet with every step. It travelled up from his soles through his body. His soaked clothes were slowly dried.
Suddenly a fountain of fire shot out of the lava stream right in front of him. The lava seethed and leapt over him.
„ABOUT TIME, ICHIGO!"
The fire around him hissed and growled with a seething voice.
„HOW COULD YOU DARE TO LEAVE ME HERE!"
„Who are you? Where are you?"
Ichigo asked confusedly. Turning around, he only saw fire, lava and rocks.
„HOW COULD YOU DARE!!!"
Another fountain of fire shot out of the floor and threw Ichigo to the ground.
Ichigo blinked. He was not hurt. He did not catch fire.
„Stop the rain! Stop the damned rain! It isn't right to rain here. It's your fireland not a rainland."
Ichigo felt small hits against his chest and looked down.
A child with hair so red like fire clung to his chest and punched against it without real force. Ichigo stroked over its head. It was obvious that he was not in danger.
„What do you mean with 'your fireland'? And who are you?"
He asked the child friendly. He put the child on its feet and got up, too, brushing the dust from his uniform.
„Sorry, where were my manners. I'm Hibana. And this..."
The child bowed and opened its arms widely, gesturing to their surroundings.
„...this is your fireland. The fire inside of you."
Ichigo took a closer look at the kid in front of him. Hibana was a small boy who only reached up to his hips. He was dressed in traditional clothes. A black kimono with an obi that fit his red hair. The kimono had flame patterns on it.

Hibana? Fireland? Wait...doesn't Hibana mean 'spark'?

Ichigo was still confused, but everything seemed completely normal to Hibana. He did not explain things further.
„Ok...Hibana, what does a boy like you do in my inner world and why is a fireland in it?"
„Oh... isn't it obvious? I'm an elementary or elemental ghost. In my case a fire elementary. A fire ghost. I'm your inner fire."
„Er...well...fine...why have I never heard of you before? And why did you just appear now?"
Ichigo rubbed his temples, speaking more to himself than to Hibana.
„Now? I haven't just appeared. I have always been here."
Hibana said innocently. His green eyes were huge and he looked at Ichigo questioningly. Ichigo stared down, stopping to rub his temples.
„You want to tell me that you were always here?"
„Yup!"
„Great! I was always insane. That's really encouraging."
„Yes!"
„..."
„Er... NO! You're not insane!"
Hibana waved his arms up and down.
„And I thought getting a hollow was crazy. No, now I got also an elementary. And this isn't weird?"
„Every shinigami can get an elemental ghost. That isn't unusual."
„And why has nobody cared to tell me before?"
„I don't know..."
Ichigo regretted his questions as he saw Hibana's sad eyes. How could he forget that Hibana was a child?
„Sorry, kid. Don't be sad!"
He got on his knees and stroked the fire ghost's hair.
„Maybe the ether ghost knows an answer. The Ether connects everything."
Hibana beamed up.
„The Ether?"
„Ether, heaven, void or 'ku'. There are many names for it but it's the same element... I guess."
„Ah...'ku'... ninjutsu?"
Hibana nodded happily when Ichigo mentioned the martial art.
„Then you are 'ka' , right?"
„Yes! You can use my power in fights!"
The elementary threw a few punches into the air. He stopped in the middle of his motions.
„You have to go back! Do I have to stay here, onii-sama?"
The kid looked at Ichigo pleadingly. He looked reluctant to stay alone.
„We can leave the door open. Some companionship in my empty world would be fine. But I must warn you: The rain outside is stronger than here."
Ichigo pointed to the door which led to the main part of his world.
„Onii-sama should stop the rain!"
With that the conversation was back to its beginning. Ichigo sighed.

---- Inner world end -----

Ichigo opened his eyes. Why did he wake up? All of his senses were tingling. In the same moment he stood and looked around.

„Meow.."
Cabu's voice was weak, although the most beautiful sound that he heard over the last days.
„Hey Cabu, stay in your nest. You're still weak."
Ichigo turned his little friend and calmed it down. It lay in its nest right by his side. Cabu meowed again.
„You must be hungry. Here eat this."
Ichigo held a tiny berry in front of its eyes. Gratefully Cabu ate it, meowed again and fell asleep again.
„Today we will rest, but tomorrow we have to go. You're going to travel under my hood again."
He said quietly, petting it carefully.

„How much longer do we have to stay, Hitsugaya-taichou?"
„Abarai-fukutaichou, if you ask one more time..."
Kira and Ishida stared at the water. Small ice crystals started forming on its surface. Renji was rescued by a beep from Hitsugaya's modified mobile. The taichou answered it and listened. After a few minutes he hung up.
„We are leaving!"
Without waiting for a response he walked through the portal.
„How long did we wait for this order?"
Kira asked and looked at Isane.
„I think an hour and a half. That's the minimum we have to stay in each dimension."
Renji and Ishida shrugged.
„...Hey guys...we should hurry!"
„Why, Kira-san?"
„Our portal is drifting away."
„WHAT?!?"
Kira was right. The portal was now on the verge of being swallowed by the ocean, although it had been in the middle of the island before.
„And I can guess what's happening!"
„And what is that, mister smart-aleck?"
Ishida pointed behind him. Renji's eyes went wide.
„Shit...RUN!"
A giant tidal wave was threatening to wash them away. They turned on their heels and ran as fast as they could to the portal.
Kira was the first to reach it and jumped through..

„Kira-san, did anything happen?"
Hanatarou asked curiously as Kira fell from the portal. The first group was present and waited for their turn.
„Wave..."
He could not continue. Only seconds later masses of water shot out of the portal and washed over the other shinigami.
„My, my, my. Freeloader-san. Did you have to make such a mess?"
„Che, find someone else to blame. Hey Quincy, get up!"
Ishida, Renji and Isane were washed through the portal by the wave and lay on the floor in a tangled heap.
„Oi, Renji! Did something over there think you needed a bath? I thought you had showered just before the mission!"

Hisagi smirked, watching how the soaked shinigami and quincy tried to get up. Renji muttered something inaudible and wrung his clothes.
„Hey Urahara-san, is the portal really ok? I don't want to get stuck in an unknown dimension forever."
„A little bit of water can't damage the udp!"
Urahara said determinedly, but hid his face behind his fan. He glanced at the udp speculatively..
„Alright, let's go!"
Urahara started the portal again and the first group disappeared through the gate, leaving the wet mess in the living world. Renji and his group was on break now. Renji would have time for another shower – this time a warm one – and changing his clothes.

Thirty minutes later Renji was warm and dry. He lay on his futon, staring at the ceiling. 90 minutes left till their next turn. Depending on how interesting team one's dimension was, he could rest for that time.

----- Renji's dream -----

He stood on a window. Not simply on a window. This window made up the floor. When he looked up his eyes met the rain. It was warm and calming. He had never thought that rain might be comforting. The skyscrapers were damaged. Windows were cracked. Walls crumbled.

Bleak and hurt. Why it is so painful to see the damaged buildings? These buildings shouldn't be damaged. It seems so wrong.

Renji looked around, wondering about the reason for the damage. What had happened? An earthquake? A hurricane? He stopped in front of a large window. It was dirty and he could not see what lay behind it. Renji used his sleeve to polish it. He cleaned it from dirt and rain.
The red haired shinigami stared into the window and saw...

nothing.
It was pitch black on the other side. Renji polished the window pane again. This time with more force. He did not know why, but he knew he had to see something. He stared at the glass again.
Finally he saw something different than darkness. The darkness faded away and left a sight of bright green gras and a huge lake. It was deep blue and calm. Renji surveyed the edge of the lake. Several trees stood there and created shadowy places.
His eyes caught a glimpse of well-known orange.
Ichigo? But how can it be?

As if the window reacted to Renji's thoughts, the view scrolled nearer. It really was Ichigo. He looked a little bit grey. His hair was a mixture of grey and orange, his face was grey, too, but had white stripes on it. Renji watched Ichigo taking off black bandages from his arms.

Are you injured? Oh...more grey...che you need a bath very badly, little strawberry.

Renji surveyed Ichigo's deep brown eyes. They seemed sad and hurt. He liked the chocolate eyes of his strawberry but he could not stand the pain in it. He wished he could hug him. Soothing away loneliness and pain. Renji saw bare skin coming free. Ichigo removed the bandages from his chest. Even there he was slightly grey.

My sweet little strawberry. I hope you will never find out...

Slowly inch by inch the bandages fell and left bare skin. Ichigo was a bit skinny and Renji could see that the boy had not eaten enough lately. Although the strip was a nice show for him. His eyes went back to Ichigo's eyes. How would they look when they were filled with lust and desire? Filled with love and joy?
Renji continued his examination.

Those lips... what would it be like to touch them, to kiss them or to be kissed by them?

Renji did not notice the drool dripping down from the corner of his mouth. Mentally touching and caressing the soft skin. In his opinion Ichigo deserved more than fights and war. Why did the boy only get the hard side of live?
Renji followed the bandages with his eyes, how they were removed. Inch by inch more could be seen of the substitute shinigami.

I know Ichigo would kill me if he knew, but ...

Ichigo removed his last clothes and jumped into the lake. Too quick for Renji to admire anything below the waist, though...

Nice butt...

Renji slapped himself mentally. He did not just drool over his companion. He was his friend not his lover...All of this shouldn't have happened. And since when was Ichigo HIS strawberry? Since when was he attracted to him... and why? Why did he take so long to notice that his thoughts had taken another direction.

Ok, I think denial doesn't work anymore... Maybe I do have a little crush on him...May he never know...

He peered through the window again, seeing Ichigo scrubbing his head. Obviously he would not get rid of the grey without soap and hot water. But he tried.
Renji found himself dreaming about washing Ichigo's hair. Pampering the worn-out strawberry. And doing a lot of other things to him.

----- Renji's dream end -----

The whole day had passed and Ichigo had spent it with watching over Cabu, collecting food for his further journey and trying to get the grey from his skin. The latter had stayed. He was still greyish. Now he sat in the shadow of a tree, Cabu beside him. It had become colder, so he had had to put on his coat. Lost in his thoughts he ate several fruits for dinner and lay back in the soft gras. He stared up into the black sky. Stars couldn't be seen. Neither a moon. Only darkness.
He heard Cabu's constant breathing beside him, the wind in the trees and the water. Ichigo curled up into a ball and closed his eyes, keeping his senses on standby. He hoped he could sleep peacefully when his reiatsu was invisible and his senses at least half awake.

In the living world the last turn ended and everyone returned to their homes. As always Renji stayed at Urahara's. A few members of the KIRT were depressed about their lack of results. They had traveled to many dimensions but only in three of them life had been found. No trace of Ichigo.
His group was going to be the first next morning to start the search. It was better than doing nothing, but everyone knew that there was not much hope to find him. So many dimensions were unknown and the lost boy could be anywhere. Renji closed his eyes and let drift himself away.

----- Renji's inner world ------

Rain greeted him.
„The rain wasn't that strong a few hours ago during your break. Dreamt anything interesting?"
Renji turned to Zabimaru. He sat on a tree and looked down at Renji. He smirked.
„You gave up your denial?"
„As if you don't know... Zabimaru, spit it out! It was Ichigo from the beginning, right?"
Zabimaru did not answer. He jumped of the tree and rounded the small lake.
„You opened a door in your dreams. You'll find it over there!"
„Can you give any helpful answers?"
„Well... no! Go and open the door, I'm curios what lies behind."
Renji groaned loudly, but he headed forward in the said direction. He walked through his inner jungle without paying attention to what he saw. It was the same rainy jungle as always. Almost the same as always. Renji stopped in front of a giant mahogany tree. The tree itself was not that special. There was a door in it. Into its bark a skyscraper was carved..
„Zabimaru, where does the door lead to?"
„To your dreams. Good night, Renji!"
Renji opened the door and walked through. His zanpakutou was as useful as ever...

----- dreams (?) -----

Renji knew this area. It was just like his last dream. The buildings were still damaged. But it seemed their cracks closed very slowly.

Why am I here again?

Leaving the door wide open he started to wander around. Wondering why the rain on this side of the door was warmer than in his jungle. Perhaps because it was only a dream.
He was looking for the window in which he had seen Ichigo before. But something else caught his eye. In one of the windows a well-known orange-grey head was mirrored. Turning around he surveyed the surroundings.
Renji did not have to search for long. Ichigo stood on the other side of the building. His back was turned to him. He looked up to the sky. He looked so serene and calm.

Ichigo was surprised. Suddenly the rain had become warmer. It was not the same cold rain as usual. It reminded him of the rain in the jungle world. He felt like someone was watching him and he turned around.
He froze. He was greeted by a certain red haired shinigami.
They approached to each other and stopped only a few steps in front of the other. Both of them stared at the other unbelievingly.

This has to be a dream. How could he be here?

No one made a move. They simply stood there and stared at each other.

What Renji did not know was that Zabimaru had not stayed at 'home'. He had followed his shinigami through the door. Carefully he kept out of sight and attempted not to be noticed by Renji. He searched for Zangetsu. He had to be here.
„Hello, who are you?"
Zabimaru turned around to the voice. It sounded like a child. And it was a child. Hibana had left his fireland and visited Ichigo's 'main' world.
„Are you the zanpakutou of the red haired guy?"
„Yes. I'm Zabimaru. Where is Zangetsu, kid?"
„Zangetsu is still sealed. Ichigo is looking for him. I am Hibana."
„Oh, a fire ghost?"
Hibana beamed at the monkey with its snake-tail.
„Yep! Uhm... Zabimaru-san? They are boring! What do you think? How long will they stare at each other? Why can't they simply embrace each other and kiss?"
„Because we're talking about Ichigo and Renji here? They are too stubborn and too dense to do anything simple. I believe they think that this is only a strange dream."
„But it could end the rain! I hate the rain! When Renji-san visits this world the rain becomes warm and less heavy. Can't we do anything?"
„We shouldn't interfere. They have to figure it out on their own."
Hibana grinned innocently in a way only kids could grin.
„Why don't we give them a little shove in the right direction? They'll never know."
Hibana ran away before Zabimaru could reply.
„What does the kid plan?"

Hibana slipped behind Renji. He had to be careful that Ichigo did not see him. Between the shinigami were still a distance of several steps. Not close enough for Hibana. He wished he was a wind ghost or an earth ghost. Then it would be much easier.
He was right behind Renji. The young elementary was thankful for the wide hakama. It was easy to hide behind it. And if both of them thought this was a dream, his plan should work.
He waited for a few moments, hoping they would get a bit closer, but they seemed to be paralyzed.
Just in the moment as he wanted to push Renji he saw Zabimaru behind Ichigo. The zanpakutou had figured out his plan and seemed willing to help. Zabimaru and Hibana smirked at each other.
At the same time they pushed both shinigami towards the other. Quickly they disappeared and watched the scene from a save distance.

Ichigo and Renji fell forwards simultaneously. Intuitively Renji closed his arms around Ichigo. Holding him close he dared to look in his eyes. They showed puzzlement. Ichigo blushed and opened his mouth to say something.
Renji took advantage of this and pressed his lips softly against Ichigo's.

It's only a dream. Only in my dream I am free to kiss my sweet strawberry.

Ichigo murmured a small protest which was silenced by Renji.

In the background Hibana jumped up and down from joy and Zabimaru grinned. The rain stopped.
„Yay, no rain, no rain!"
Hibana sang.
„I hope we caused no damage to this relationship. It could..."
Zabimaru disappeared. Renji still kissing Ichigo vanished into thin air, leaving a really confused Ichigo who vanished only seconds later.
„NO! They can't go, not yet! It would be worse than before..."
Hibana sprinted to the door with the mahogany tree. It was locked.
„Damn...it will become worse...No it IS worse..."

-----Dreams/inner worlds end -----

---- Chapter 7 end ----