The Final Chapter of Pull of Destiny... I hope it was worth the wait. Please leave reviews, as it feeds the muses and the gods know they are hungry lately...
When they approached the clearing, Rukia's heart sank deep into her chest. The smell was indescribable, a combination of blood and reiatsu, wood and ash. She could see Kenpachi and Shuuhei, their bodies listless on the shattered ground. Rangiku's body lay still, face down next to a tattered shack.
"Rukia!" She spun around to see Kira, his arms lifting Renji from a pile of debris. She ran quickly and fell to his side.
"Renji. Renji!" She placed her hands on his chest. She swallowed the tears that threatened and shook him. "Renji!"
He stirred, a slight groan rumbling in his chest.
"Renji!" she gasped in relief.
"Ichigo…" he moaned, his eyes still shut tight.
Rukia lifted her head and searched the area. She could see the shinigami helping the wounded to their feet, rousing them carefully as squads from the 4th division rushed to the site. But she didn't see Ichigo.
Looking down at Renji, she tried to think of something to say. Suddenly, Kira's shoulder brushed hers as he stood up quickly. She turned her gaze to follow him and her heart stopped as she saw the figure before her.
His shinigami uniform was in shreds, his smile slight but evident. He was standing, braced on a familiar zanpaktou, the cotton wrap on the handle dancing in an unfelt wind. His vibrant brown eyes danced with a hint of blue, a startling contrast against his dirt-stained face.
"I-Ichigo!" Rukia let the tears run from her eyes.
"We need to get him to the infirmary," he said, looking down at Renji.
She nodded, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her uniform. "Then you can explain to me just what the hell happened here!" she laughed, still unable to stop the tears of joy.
When Renji opened his eyes, his vision was grey and his head was killing him. He felt the hand that was gently wrapped around his and turned his head slowly. "Hey," he said, a smile drifting to his lips at the sight of his lover beside him.
"Hey," Ichigo repeated. "How do you feel?"
Renji groaned as he moved his aching legs. "Shouldn't I be asking you that question?"
Ichigo let out a light chuckle. "I'm not the one shoving shit through my chest."
Renji's free hand drifted to his heart at the mention. There was a bandage covering the wound, but it didn't hurt.
"It's completely healed," Ichigo said quietly. "Look at this." He pulled open his uniform to reveal a small round scar directly over his heart.
"What the hell?" Renji's mouth gaped as he stared at the small mark. "How-?"
Ichigo shook his head. "I don't know," he chuckled.
Renji scoffed in disbelief before noticing a glimmer from behind Ichigo. The large zanpaktou rested against the wall, its blade covered with cotton wraps. He turned his eyes to Ichigo. "When did your zanpaktou come back?"
"I don't know. When I woke up, he was already in my hand." Ichigo glanced at the sword. "I guess the old man was ready to help me get back up."
After hours of Rukia trying to convince Ichigo to let her take him for something to eat, Renji finally demanded they go. He could tell that Ichigo was still weak and he wasn't about to let him starve to death after all the shit they'd just been through.
His chest was completely healed, just as Ichigo said, but his body was still sore and weak from the explosion. His memory was hazy after the scene with Chojiro, but he knew all he needed to know. Ichigo was safe, he was alive, and no one was severely hurt.
Chojiro had been taken into custody immediately after the squads had arrived on the scene. General Yamamoto had personally seen to the details of his imprisonment, obviously furious at the betrayal of his vice captain. He'd also made arrangements for his wife, seeing to it that she was cared for in her last days.
Renji let a sigh escape his lips as he sat up in the cot, stretching his tired body. When the door began to open, he glanced over lazily to see Kuchiki Byakuya standing before him.
"Kuchiki-taichou," he said, bowing his head slightly from his seated position. "Forgive me for not standing."
Byakuya nodded as he made his way over to the cot, standing beside it as he addressed Renji. "How are your wounds?"
"Better," he replied as he gestured toward the now uncovered wound on his chest.
Byakuya's eyes went wide for a moment. "I thought you were pierced through the heart."
Renji nodded. "I was. Ichigo healed me somehow."
Byakuya looked away, his thoughts lost to Renji as he moved to sit beside the bed. "There is something that I need to tell you," Byakuya stated, folding his hands in his lap.
"Yea?" Renji sat against the wall, wincing slightly.
"You commanded a squad of shinigami from my division without seeking the authorization I told you to receive," Byakuya started. Renji started to say something, but the captain held up his hand to stop him. "This disobedience cannot go unpunished."
Renji listened in shock. I'm still in the goddamn infirmary, and he's going to come in here and dole out punishments?
"General Yamamoto and I agree that you should be reassigned."
"What?!" Renji spit the word out like venom.
"You're being assigned a permanent placement in the mortal world," Byakuya said, raising his eyes to meet Renji's confused stare. "40 years, or when Kurosaki's physical body fails. Your duties include protecting the area from anything drawn to it by his immense reiatsu."
Am I hearing this right? Renji continued to stare, unable to speak.
"When the time comes, you will return to your seat as vice captain of my division and oversee the training required for Kurosaki to return to his duties as a shinigami. Is this understood?"
Renji swallowed, trying to wet his suddenly parched throat. "Yes – yes, taichou."
"Good." Byakuya stood and made his way to the door. His hand stopped as it reached the handle, and he turned, looking at Renji with a startling softness in his eyes. "I hope you understand why I've granted you this gift, Renji. Please cherish it."
Renji nodded, understanding the history behind his captain's words. Byakuya opened the door slowly and stepped from the room, leaving Renji to his thoughts.
Ichigo had been unable to control his smile since he heard the news. Feeling a bit more sociable than usual, he made his way around the Soul Society, making sure to thank all of the shinigami who contributed to his recovery. When he found Isane, she was eating her lunch under a tall cherry tree.
"Ichigo!" She smiled as she saw him, small bits of bread falling from her mouth. She quickly brushed them away as he sat down beside her.
"I came to say thanks. Renji told me what you did," he said, his smile sweet and genuine. "We owe you our lives."
Isane shook her head furiously. "No, no, you don't! I only did–"
Ichigo put a hand on her shoulder and stopped her. "Thank you," he said. "Whether you want to accept it or not, you saved us both with that smart head of yours."
Isane felt the blood rush to her face as he pulled away and stood. "I- Thank you."
He nodded, "Enjoy your lunch."
He smiled to himself as he headed toward the infirmary. There was still one person he needed to thank, and he had to make sure he did it while the man was still in the infirmary.
"You bastard," Kenpachi groaned as he sat up.
"How are you, Kenpachi?" Ichigo stood beside his large cot.
"You should know. You and Renji were the ones who went all radioactive on us." Kenpachi hoisted his broken arm over to rest in his lap.
"Yea," Ichigoi scratched the back of his head. "Sorry about that. I just wanted to stop by and say thanks."
Yachiru appeared suddenly on Ichigo's shoulder, surprising him. "Aww, Ichi. You're so nice."
"Yea," Ichigo looked at her, puzzled, then looked back at the bandaged captain.
"I didn't go out there out of compassion," Kenpachi began. "I just didn't want someone to finish you off before we could fight again." He groaned again as Yachiru hopped onto his cot, swinging her legs over the side.
"Either way. Thanks."
"Ya know, Ichigo," Kenpachi grinned. "I'm still gonna kill ya."
Ichigo rolled his eyes and poked at one of the captain's wounds through the bandage. When Kenpachi grunted, Ichigo smiled. "Not today, you're not."
Renji spent the next day accommodating several guests in his small home. Several of his subordinates from the 6th came by to wish him luck, and various friends and sparring partners stopped in to tease him about being stuck in the real world for 40 years. Ichigo just watched with humor in his eyes as Renji managed all of the guests cramped in the front room.
As the day became night, only a few friends remained. Shuuhei and Rangiku sat on a mat; both of them still sporting bandages in various places. Ikkaku and Yumichika were beside them, their backs resting against the wall. Rukia was perched on a small pillow beside them, Renji and Ichigo on her other side.
They all sat comfortably on the floor, their laughter and conversation never-ending as they drank. Rangiku and Yumichika had brought the sake, and the bottles sat in the center of their small circle. Rangiku grabbed one and poured more sake into her large cup, then leaned over to fill Rukia's for her.
"I still don't get it though," Ikkaku downed his drink in a swallow. "When did Kuchiki-taichou get soft?"
Rukia reached over and almost fell as she smacked his bald head. "He's not soft," she mumbled, pushing herself back to sitting.
"I'm not gonna question it," Renji said, wrapping his arm around Ichigo's shoulder. Ichigo had slowly made his way into Renji's lap as the night drew on, now placed perfectly between his legs, his back against Renji's chest. He had a bottle of sake between his legs, opened and half empty.
"Oh! No contemplation tonight, guys. This is a celebration, right?" Rangiku grinned, holding up her cup. "So drink!"
Rukia laughed, already feeling the relaxing tingle in the back of her mind. She looked over at Renji and Ichigo, their bodies lazily spread on the floor.
It's almost as if every piece of them fits together, she noticed. Their hands always found each other, their bodies fit together, and even their drunken smiles sported the same indescribable happiness and contentment. She smiled.
"You do realize," she began. "I'm responsible for this." She pointed at the two of them. "If I hadn't messed up that night, this would've never happened!"
Ichigo smacked her hand away. "Shut up, you're drunk," he said, his words slurring slightly, his mind a bit of a haze as he felt Renji's hand squeeze his.
"I'm going to miss you, Renji," Rangiku cried out suddenly, pulling Shuuhei into her breasts for comfort. He let out a muffled groan as she held him tight, his arms flailing wildly. She looked down at him and squeezed tighter. "Aren't you going to miss him, Shuuhei?"
"MMM- MMM-HMMM!" Shuuhei struggled and finally broke free of the massive breasts, gasping. "Rangiku, don't do that. Damn!" He ran a hand through his hair while the rest of them laughed hysterically.
"Um, Ichigo? There's something that I've been wanting to ask you…" Yumichika said tentatively.
"How in the world did you get Zaraki-taichou to carry you to Sokyoku Hill?" His feathered lashes fluttered.
"I asked him," Ichigo said simply. "What?" He asked as Ikkaku and Yumichika stared at him in silent shock and Rangiku chuckled beside them.
"You- you just- asked Zaraki-taichou – to carry you?" Yumichika's throat tightened slightly around the words, utter disbelief pronounced on his perfect face.
"I was there. Saw it. He looked him square in the eye and asked him for a 'ride'," Renji chuckled as he took a hit of sake, the liquid burning his tired throat.
Ikkaku shook his head, his bottom lip twitching slightly, eyebrows tucked so close that they blended together. Rangiku giggled and rubbed the back of his head soothingly. "It'll be ok, baldy."
"Are you nervous? About going?" Rukia shifted her legs under her, rubbing her now sleeping calves.
Renji considered a moment and shook his head. "Nah. I must've done it once before, right? Wouldn't be here otherwise."
"Will you be able to remember when you come back?" Shuuhei asked, the question directed at Ichigo.
"You mean when I die? I don't know," Ichigo said thoughtfully, looking up at Renji. "Will I?"
Renji nodded slightly. "Kuchiki-taichou's taken care of it."
"My nii-sama," Rukia said, a smile widening on her face.
"Like I said – soft," Ikkaku snickered, hiding his face in his sake.
"Hey!" Yumichika squealed as the tiny woman jumped over him to get to Ikkaku. "You almost spilled my sake," he pouted as Rukia pounded on the man beside him.
"Wha- Ow – Stop it! Dammit! – Ow – You little shit!" Ikkaku scrambled to get away from her, but the wall blocked his escape.
Shuuhei reached over and grabbed Rukia by the back of her uniform, tossing her back to her pillow. Huffing, she straightened the wrinkled fabric over her legs. "Don't talk about nii-sama like that."
"Thanks, Shuuhei," Ikkaku said, sitting up. He glared over at Rukia. "Shrimp."
"Baldy!" Rukia spit back.
"Shhh!" Rangiku shushed, nodding over at Ichigo and Renji.
All fighting ceased as they saw the two lovers, their eyes closed and breathing together in a slow rhythm. Their hands were linked across Ichigo's stomach, Renji's head nuzzled into Ichigo's neck and Ichigo's face turned into his.
"I think we should go," Rangiku said with a smile.
"Not before I get a picture!" Yumichika giggled softly as he reached in his pocket.
"I want copies," Rukia whispered.
"Me, too," Rangiku said, still watching the twin souls sleep.
"So beautiful," Yumichika quipped as he snapped a picture.
Saying "see you soon" was a lot easier than saying "good-bye" for Renji, so that's what he did. He knew it wasn't good-bye. This permanent assignment wasn't so permanent, after all. He felt the nervous rush of anxiousness every time he thought about living an actual life in the real world, but he was grateful for the gift that his captain had given him and Ichigo.
Byakuya had filled him in that morning on all of the details of his extended stay in the mortal world, telling him that updates were expected and he was responsible for a thorough report on the goings on of the current era.
Rukia alone saw them off, at their request. As the doors opened to the real world, she smiled warmly. "I'm glad you have each other," she said, hugging each of them fiercely.
"Come see me," Renji said, giving her a tight squeeze.
"Of course," she smiled.
When they stepped through the first set of doors, Ichigo looked over at Renji, a contemplative look on his face.
"What?" Renji asked as they stepped further into the white light and closer to the second set of doors.
"You know this means you gotta get a job, right?" Ichigo mused.
"Yea- Wait. WHAT?!"
A/N: I am really sad to post this, as this was my first Bleach fanfic, written over a period of two horrific, sleepless weeks. The story practically wrote itself, but it never would've been anything like it is without the help of my betas and my muse Shizzy. I love you all and thank you so much for all of your help with this. Ichigo and Renji certainly appreciate it :)