This is my first RenxIchi fan fic, and it turned out to be a bit longer than I thought it would. Updates will be frequent. R&R please :D
Disclaimer: Don't own bleach or have anything to do with the manga/anime. Just a fan.

Ichigo awoke with a start and shot up. The pale light from the moon poured into his window as he tried to calm his pulse, sweat saturating his heated body. The pain was still clinging to him, threatening to claim him once again. He sighed as he swung his legs around to touch the cold wooden floor beneath his bed. His head hung, his breathing finally slowed to a regular rhythm. Ichigo dared not close his eyes until he was sure that the sensation from the dream had evaded his mind.

Standing, he grabbed a fresh shirt from the pile of laundry sitting on his side table and tugged the cool fabric over his head. His body was still trembling slightly as he opened the bedroom door and made his way to the kitchen.

Where did that come from?
he wondered as he opened the fridge, the light blinding him momentarily as he reached for a bottle of water. The dream was so real, so vivid. The pain was so terrifyingly real. He could feel it as it wrapped around his body, suffocating him until he forced himself to wake.

Shaking his head to clear it, Ichigo placed the bottle on the breakfast bar and headed to the door. He needed something REAL to drink, and he had to get away from the quiet of his apartment.

Ichigo walked through the darkness of the alley and reached for the handle of the steel door. Opening it, he was met with surprised looks as he made his way into the industrial kitchen. He nodded at the busy bodies and headed directly for the office.

He knocked lightly and allowed a few seconds to pass before opening the door and seeing the friendly face he'd been looking for.

"Hey, Orihime." He forced a slight smile when she turned around, her mouth open with surprise.

"ICHIGO!" she squealed, jumping up and wrapping her arms around him, squeezing him tight. "What are you doing here? This is the first time you've snuck up on me in years. Are you ok?" she went on, her face pressed against his sweater.

Ichigo let out a quiet chuckle before giving her a quick squeeze. "I couldn't sleep. Figured I'd come see what the place looks like at night." He nodded at the double doors that led to Orihime's new endeavor, an all night restaurant with an open stage for performers.

"Oh! You have to see this!" She jumped up at the mention of her business and grabbed Ichigo's hand, pulling him out of the office with speed. She swung open the double doors and ran over to one of the small wooden tables beyond, grabbing the menu that was placed neatly behind the napkin dispenser. Her smile widened as she walked back to Ichigo and handed him the menu.

"Please don't tell me you put one of your weird recipes on the menu," Ichigo cocked a brow as he took the menu and opened it. He couldn't contain his smile when he saw what he knew she'd been so excited about. "You didn't have to do this," he said, shaking his head in disbelief.

"You get it, though? The HERO sub? The Ichigo sub?" Orihime giggled. Her expression quickly changed into a pout, "Tatsuki won't let me have ANYTHING to do with the food. I just get to name them."

Ichigo laughed and put an arm around her petite shoulders. "That's a good thing, though. You wouldn't be in business very long if all of your customers ended up with food poisoning."

Orihime huffed and punched him in the stomach, "That's not very nice, Ichigo!"

Groaning, he pulled his hand up to his pained stomach, "You didn't have to punch me so hard!"

A few moments later, Ichigo rested comfortably at one of the tables and sipped his coffee. Orihime had prepared this batch with a "lil' something extra". The touch of absinthe stung Ichigo's throat as he swallowed.

He could hear Orihime shouting something in the kitchen and he thought back to their days in high school. She'd always been there for him, even if he did scare her sometimes. His power had been a bridge between them that neither could ultimately cross.

He cared for her deeply, even more now than back then, but he knew that they'd made the right decision remaining friends. His emotional detachment during his days as a shinigami was not something he would have wished on anyone, let alone Orihime, who cared for him with an unwavering heart.

He looked up as he heard the double doors swing open and smiled at her as she made her way to the table.

"How is it?" she asked, sitting across from him.

"It's fine - good. So, how are things here? You and Tatsuki doing ok?"

Orihime nodded, her arms folded across her on the table. "Things are great. When Chizuru told us about this place, I had my doubts, but we've been able to make some profit already, and we've only had the place about 6 months."

"How is it working with Chizuru?" Ichigo asked with a grin.

Her eyes narrowed as she glared at him, "It's fine. Will you ever stop with that? Chizuru and I are just FRIENDS, despite whatever fantasies you and your friends have concocted over the years!"

Ichigo laughed, taking a sip of his coffee, his throat tightening slightly at the combination of warmth and alcohol.

"Besides," Orihime continued, "we hardly ever see each other. She runs the place during the day, Tatsuki comes in mid-afternoon, and I'm here at night. That way, one of us is always here to look after things." She smiled proudly.

Ichigo just shook his head, looking down at his cup. "It's just so weird."

"What is?" She tilted her head slightly, looking at Ichigo with curious eyes.

Ichigo looked up and shrugged, "Everyone's just doing their own thing now, and it's all so different. I never guessed we'd grow up to be so ordinary. When I was a shinigami-" He stopped, the sudden feeling of his nightmare flashing over him. He grabbed his temple. "Fuck."

"What's wrong?" Orihime reached a hand across the table to grab his free hand. As her fingers touched him she gasped, pulling away quickly. Something in the energy around Ichigo's body was in turmoil, seeming to almost shock her fingers.

Oblivious to the event, Ichigo shook his head. "I have a headache suddenly." He stood and looked at Orihime with apologetic eyes. "I think I should go."

She nodded with understanding. Whatever was causing that disruption was more than just a headache, but she knew he had plenty of demons that he didn't want to share with her. It took her many years to realize that she was a better friend to Ichigo when she let him come to her. She rose and embraced him warmly, "It was good to see you."

"You, too." As he headed toward the door, Ichigo turned and waved, "Thanks for the drink. Tell Ishida I said hey."

"I will."

A few weeks later, Ichigo made his way down the familiar street of Karakura Town, stopping in front of the Urahara Shop for a moment before opening the door. He was greeted timidly by a black-haired woman with pink cheeks.

"Hello," she said with a slight bow. "How can I assist you?" As she returned to standing, her expression changed and her eyes went wide. "Ichigo?" she asked in disbelief.

Ichigo's jaw dropped, "Ururu?"The slender woman nodded. "You've grown up," Ichigo smiled.

"Yes," she said with a light smile. "Shall I alert Kisuke of your visit?"

Ichigo nodded, "Yes, please."

Ururu walked to the back of the shop and a few moments later, a green cloaked figure emerged from the door.

"Ahhh, Ichigo. It's been too long." He grabbed his hat and bowed his head.

"Yeah," Ichigo said, standing up straight, his hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans.

"What can I do for you?" Urahara plopped down onto a stool and rested his hands on his cane, looking up at Ichigo from under his ever present hat.

"I need to get a message to the Soul Society."

"Of course," Urahara said, a jovial smile on his lips. "I must tell you, things have been downright boring since you stopped coming around."

Ichigo shrugged. "Things have changed, Urahara. You know that."

The former shinigami captain nodded and replied, "Yes, Ichigo. Things certainly have changed." He stood, moving the cane to his side. "Now, let us prepare your message."

It had been six years since Ichigo relinquished his title as a shinigami representative. His body had felt the effects of his double life far longer than he'd care to admit; the stress of missing classes, trying to keep the friendships he'd made while at the university, facing death down everyday and the constant strain of losing sleep to battle hollows.

When the stress came to a climax and Ichigo lost control of his power, Chad had been the one to suffer the consequences. He hadn't been mortally wounded, but as Ichigo watched Orihime heal his wounds, he felt the guilt more heavily than any resolve he'd ever possessed.

Surprisingly enough, it was his father who he'd confided in, finally having been informed of the former captain's past in the Soul Society. Kurosaki Isshin had listened quietly as his son broke down, a rare showing of his son's vulnerability. When the night was over, Ichigo had already made his decision.

"I have to… protect them, Pop."

"And you believe that laying down your sword is the best way?" he had asked somberly.

"I do. I can't balance both worlds anymore."

When things finally settled down in the Soul Society, he announced his decision and returned his representative's badge. There had been no complaints, only understanding wishes for him. He would miss the friends and comrades he'd become so close to during his six years as a shinigami, but he knew he'd see them again someday.

The night of his 21st birthday, he closed his eyes on the roof of the clinic and felt the fabric of his uniform sweep across his skin in the slight breeze. He cherished the weight of Zangetsu as he rolled it from hand to hand, watching the sun rise in a beautiful hue of red over his home. As the light touched the world and the shadows dispersed at the slow awakening day, Ichigo put away his sword for the last time.

Ichigo stretched in his desk chair, reaching to the sky with his tired hands. He'd been working on this article for hours, but couldn't concentrate. His lack of sleep over the past few weeks had fatigued his mind and body, and it was beginning to affect his work. Thankfully, his editor had chalked it up to stress from the job, and allowed him to take an early vacation. That is, after he finished this article.

Removing the black metal frames from his eyes, he rubbed the bridge of his nose. This is bullshit! It's just a politic piece! Groaning with frustration, Ichigo moved from his chair to the floor.

Flipping onto his stomach, he began pushing his body up and down with his arms. Exercise had always helped to clear his head. As the fire began to spread through his biceps, Ichigo pushed faster, moving one arm behind his back, and then switching.

The sweat began to collect at his brow as he huffed, his breath deepening with each repetition. As he focused on the exhilarating pain shooting in his arms, he didn't notice the red haired man watching him.

When his arms began to quiver at his weight, Ichigo lowered himself to the floor, finally picking up on the new energy in the room. Pushing himself up quickly, he spun around and glared at his visitor.

"Dammit, Renji!"

There was a grin on the shinigami's face. Crouched in the frame of the window, his hair swayed as the wind blew into the small office.

"You scared the shit out of me!" Ichigo shouted.

"What? No warm welcome for an old friend?" The grin remained as Renji hopped into the room and sat in the chair against the wall.


"What? You said you wanted to see me, so I'm here. What's the big deal?"

"I didn't think that you'd come," Ichigo sighed, settling into his office chair and running his hand through his sweat dampened hair.

"Ahh, I see." Renji cocked his head as he studied the weary face of his old friend, "What's going on?"

Ichigo sighed, "I don't know. It started a few weeks ago. Weird shit, happening in my dreams."

"What kind of weird shit?"

Ichigo lifted his gaze to the vice captain, "I really don't feel like talking about it now." He shook his head. "I need to eat."

A few hours later, the two men were sprawled out on Ichigo's living room floor, eating pizza, and drinking sake.

"I still don't understand this world you live in, Ichigo," Renji said, gesturing toward the TV that was quietly playing the local news.

Ichigo finished off his drink before replying, "I don't think anyone does anymore." He swiped the bottle sitting between them and poured himself another. He held the bottle out to Renji who dutifully finished off what was in his glass and seized the bottle for his own.

"How long are you staying?"

"As long as I need to, I guess." He shrugged, "I have some time off, and Kuchiki-taichou said to just make sure I checked in everyday. He and Rukia had plans for this weekend."

"So I take it things are better between them now?"

"They seem to be very close now," Renji said, nodding. "I'm happy for her. She tells me about how he talks about her sister…. It's good for her, I think. And he's lightened up a lot in the last couple of years." He held the bottle up as if to toast, "Actually smiled at me a few months ago!"

"What?!" Ichigo laughed as Renji took a gulp from the bottle and finished off the remaining contents.

"Yup. I was training one day, and he just pats me on the back and says 'Well done,' and has a fucking smile on his face. I thought I'd died."


"Who you telling? Damn." Renji put the empty bottle on the table and tried to stand, stumbling into the couch behind him. "Shit. Fuckin' sake. Why am I all wiggly?"

"I think you're drunk, Renji," Ichigo mused with a smirk on his face. "I know I am."

"What the hell was in that sake?" Renji demanded, still trying to get his bearings.

"This bottle or the two bottles before that?" With a low chuckle he pointed a weak finger at the empty sake bottles on the table beside him.

"Oh," Renji said simply as he hobbled toward the bathroom. "Hey, why don't you grab another?"

Ichigo groaned as he pushed himself up from the floor. His mind was a swirl of intoxication. Reaching the kitchen, he opened the freezer and groaned.

"No more sake!" he shouted as he pulled a bottle from the back and read the label. "Just this Grey Goose that my old roommate left here!"

After no response from Renji,Ichigoclosed the freezer and headed back to the living room, his vision wavering slightly as he stepped around the mess on his floor.

Renji flung open the door to the bathroom and stumbled back into the living room. "What's this?"

"It's Grey Goose. It was either this or tap water."

Renji sat on the floor with a thud and snatched the bottle from Ichigo, unscrewing the cap.

"Wha-" Ichigo watched as Renji gulped the vodka out of the bottle for a few seconds before lowering it and shuddering.

"Ok," Renji said, staring at the floor with a silly grin on his face. He shuddered violently at the aftertaste, "NOW, I'm drunk."

Ichigo snatched the bottle back and poured some into his glass. Renji had already downed half of the bottle, so he possessively capped it and placed it beside him.

"You're a bastard," Ichigo said, laughing at the still-dumbfounded expression on Renji's face.

"Maybe - But right now I'm a happy bastard!" Renji bounced lightly on the floor, holding his folded knees together like an excited toddler.

Ichigo couldn't help but laugh. It had been a long time since he'd felt so comfortable, so relaxed, and he knew it was because of Renji's company. Stretching out on the floor with his back against the lounger, he put his hands behind his head and closed his eyes.

"Hey, Ichigo."

Ichigo slowly opened his eyes. Renji's hair was down and the elastic band he'd used to hold it up was now firmly taught between his index fingers. He quickly snapped the band and it hit Ichigo square in the forehead with an evil thwack.

"Sonofa-" He pounced on Renji, landing punches wherever his drunken hands would go. Renji laughed uproariously as he tried to fight back, his vision waning back and forth. Ichigo's fist caught him in the side and he let out a groan in between gasps of laughter.

The sight of Abarai Renji curled up in a ball, unable to quit – is he giggling? - just made the situation even more unbearable for Ichigo. Laughing, he fell onto the floor beside Renji and watched the ceiling dance.

"You're a bastard," Ichigo said again, putting an arm behind his head.

"I thought we already went over that," Renji quipped, still lying on his side.

Neither one noticed as the world seemed to fall away into a void, sleep claiming their tired, drunken bodies.

Another note: Updates will be frequent, since the story is finished. Just have to wait until they're cleared by the betas and edited for posting online :) Keep your eyes open.