Hello all, thank you for reading. I would love to hear your comments and reviews, they are always appreciated, but not necessary. I hope you enjoy the story, that's all I'm hoping for.
I just wanted to put up a couple notes now that this story is finally finished: I started writing this fic after being out of the classroom for over six years. I did an army tour, had a kid, and moved around the US for a while. So that is why it starts off with an enormous amount of typos and grammatical errors. During the last half of this work, I pulled out my English text books and got a beta. You'll be able to tell the difference; it's kind of sad. At first, I thought since I had finished the whole thing, I would go back with my beta and fix all the little problems, but then I thought that this would be a great thing to look back on and help remind me where I started and how far along I've come in the last two-three years. Also, I started and almost finished this fic before Kubo decided to name Shuuhei's zanpakuto. I had to make something up before Kazeshini was revealed, so if there's some confusion on that, sorry. I fixed it the best I could. So anyway, please enjoy, ignore the English/grammar/typo mistakes and the zanpakuto craziness, and leave a comment if you feel like it.
Thank you again! xD
Renji stared down at the jagged form of Zambimaru resting comfortably in his grip. The shinogi reflected the moonlight like a mirror, and as he turned the blade to get a better look, the boshi twinkled like stardust. The hollow had nicked the skin of his wrist, and crimson lines were making their way down the collar and through the guard. Renji could feel the spirit of the Chimera shutter.
"Do I taste good asshole?" he muttered.
The Zanpakuto ignored his comment. He had been doing that a lot more in the recent months… but then again, Renji hadn't really been saying anything worth listening to anyway…
A lithe figure came from somewhere above, and landed silently beside the tall shinigami. Renji had already know he was there, the kid couldn't hide is reiatsu to save his fucking life. But still, when he saw the flash of orange hair, his pulse quickened.
"Damn Renji," Ichigo said, "You're gettin' good. I can never get here fast enough anymore."
Renji half smiled, but didn't turn to look at his friend; he already knew what he would see. Ichigo would be standing there with Zangetsu slung over his shoulder, other hand on his hip, his head cocked to the side in a well practiced show of the most outrageous arrogance in this world and the next. His eyes would shine like the surface of a great lake: calm and placid on the surface, but underneath holding deep dark secrets. And of course, his lips would be set in that half smile- half sneer he always wore.
He would be breathtaking in this moonlight…
So Renji didn't look. Instead he slung Zambimaru over his own shoulder and began the inevitable chiding session.
"Naw," he puffed up his chest, "I've always been good. You're just getting' slow."
Ichigo snickered, "Last time I compliment you, ass."
The younger man took a few steps forward, and Renji felt his reiatsu tense.
"Oi Renji," Ichigo motioned with his hand, "you're bleeding."
Renji pulled his hand closer to his side. "I know," he snapped, "It's nothing I can't handle."
Ichigo new better then to press it, "Okay…" he backed off.
Fuck, Renji thought, now I really can't look at him. He's gonna have those stupid puppy dog concerned eyes…
He quickly took action and started down the street. "I saw another beacon on the communicator earlier. There might still be another one."
But Ichigo didn't follow. Renji could feel his reiatsu was still tense, but didn't say anything. If the cause was what he thought it was, the kid was going to have to bring it up on his own.
Keep moving, pretend you don't notice. He probably won't-
"What?" Renji's reply came out a little harsher than he had planned.
He heard Ichigo shift his feet, the uncomfortable reiatsu intensifying.
"Are you nervous?"
Renji closed his eyes. He really didn't want to talk about this right now.
Ichigo growled, and moved up behind the red head. "What the hell d'you mean 'no', you asshole! It's a Captain's position! It's what you've been striving so hard for! Isn't it just-"
"I know Ichigo!" Renji said through his teeth, "I know… it's…" He sighed deeply, pinching the bridge of his nose.
Ichigo moved around Renji to face him. "You're getting screwed Renji!" he spat, "This board is bullshit! You're an amazing shinigami! You're strong, you're smart- damnit we wouldn't have won the war without you! I can't believe they're putting you underneath the microscope like this!"
Renji kept his eyes downcast. "You said it yourself… 'It's a Captain's position'… They have to make sure they're not swearing in another Aizen."
Ichigo bit his lip trying to calm his rage. "Renji…" he continued again in a softer tone, "if they turn you down because of the few times we broke the rules- turn you down because of something you did with me, it'll be my-"
He was cut off as Renji's fist connected with his jaw. Ichigo staggered bringing his hand to his mouth.
"Mmmmmm! Fuck Renji!" he spat blood onto the concrete.
"Don't… you… dare… say it'll be your fault… you selfish bastard…" Renji, seething, opened his eyes to stare at Ichigo's feet. "You always act like everything's your responsibility, everything's gonna fall apart if you don't kill yourself!"
Closing the distance between them, Renji grabbed the neckline of Ichigo's haori and finally met his eyes.
"I did everything because I wanted to..." his voice was deadly quiet, "I went against all of Soul Society to save Rukia because I wanted to… I followed you into Hueco Mundo because I wanted to help you… and I went against orders during the war because I wanted to save you."
Ichigo glared at Renji. "Exactly… if the board doesn't pass you… it'll be because of me…"
Renji lost himself in that moment: Ichigo's beautiful eyes boring into his own, the warmth of his body so close, the electric feel of his skin on the back of Renji's hand, his intoxicating smell taking over the older shinigami's senses, driving him to insanity.
Renji would never admit that if he didn't make Captain, it really would be Ichigo's fault. Everything he had done in the last four years had been for Ichigo, starting from the fiasco with Rukia in Soul Society. The fact that a complete stranger- not even a shinigami- would risk his life for Renji's childhood friend and not think twice… It had captivated him. Renji had been drawn to Ichigo's passion, strength, his overpowering willpower, and his complete selflessness.
As the years passed by, and the two were thrown into countless battles together, Renji had become more and more attached to the young shinigami. Then, in the final stages of the war, Aizen had finally succeeded in capturing the famous Ichigo. He had tapped into the Vizard's seemingly unlimited reiatsu, and made an entirely new level of hollow. Soul Society had decided the risk of trying to save the substitute shinigami was far too great. They declared Ichigo a casualty of war, and dismissed him.
But Renji never gave up, because Ichigo never gave up. He had risked everything, his life, his friends, the future of Soul Society, and led a suicide rescue mission into Aizen's headquarters. Many had joined him and many had died, but in the end they had been victorious.
Renji remembered Ichigo's eyes opening as the red head screamed his name. Ichigo had looked around at the rejection shield Orihime had placed over them. He remembered Ichigo sitting up, and staring in shock as Hitsugaya, Ishida, and Shuuhei frantically fought swarms of Arrancar above them.
And the image that would never leave… The image that was etched into Renji's memory like it was chiseled in stone… Ichigo looking up into his eyes, Ichigo grabbing his hand and saying-
"Renji… I knew you'd come for me…"
That was the moment Renji knew he had fallen in love with Ichigo… Completely. Head over heels. In love….
Yes, it would be Ichigo's fault if Renji didn't make Captain… But if that happened, he would never say it out loud. Ichigo had enough guilt in his soul for fifty people.
Renji slowly let go of Ichigo's Hakama, and stepped back. He put on one of his best Renji grins, and slung his Zanpakuto over his shoulder again.
"Don't worry Ichi-nii…" his grin getting wider when Ichigo flinched, "I'll make Captain."
Ichigo sighed, and dragged a hand across his face.
"Gods I hope so… I'm glad you're so confident…" He turned and started walking down the street, heading in the direction Renji had indicated earlier, "And stop fucking calling me that."
Renji chuckled. Even if he was in love with him, he still loved to piss the idiot off.
"Inoue!" Ichigo shouted as they entered the apartment, "Inoue I'm back!"
Renji removed his waraji and leaned Zambimaru against the wall next to Zangetsu. Orihimes' apartment was small and she requested the swords be left by the door.
"Ichigo-kun!" Renji heard just in time to look up and see the busty girl race in and throw her arms around the chuckling carrot top.
"Oh, Ichigo! I was so worried!" she exclaimed as she kissed his cheeks, "You left so fast you hit your head on the table, so Kon has been complaining for the last half hour! Matsumoto gave him an ice pack, but I think he's just pretending it's worse than it really is so she'll hug him."
"Matsumoto's here?" Renji asked.
"Yes!" She blinked at Renji, "Oh! Renji-kun! Hello! It's nice to see you!" she pulled away from Ichigo and waved, a deep blush spreading over her cheeks.
"He beat me to it," Ichigo explained, "hollow was dead already when I got there."
Orihime threw her arms in the air, "Yay! Renji-kun! Good job!"
Renji looked at the floor, his own blush spreading all the way down his neck. "It's nothing. I'll leave you two alone now, I'll go see Matsumoto."
"Yeah," Ichigo said with an evil grin, "You were telling me how worried you were about me… let's go back to that part."
Renji quickly looked away, but still saw Ichigo's arms snake around Orihime's waist. He tried to ignore the pang of jealousy that chewed at his chest as he made his way to the living room.
Kon was sprawled on the couch, an ice pack to his forehead. Matsumoto sat on the floor drinking tea and watching a fashion show on television. She looked up when Renji entered.
"Abarai-kun! What are you doing here?" a smile lit up her face.
"Ichigo and I were after the same hollow." He quickly explained, "He invited me back here."
"Oh that's right, you're leaving tomorrow." Matsumoto grabbed the control and turned off the television. "How do you feel?"
Renji sat, and crossed his legs underneath the table. "I'm nervous as fuck, I'd rather die than go in front of this board next week… and I'm not looking forward to the mountain of paperwork Kuchiki Taichou probably has for me…" he looked at the floor and shrugged.
Matsumoto lifted her tea cup and took a dainty sip.
"I wasn't really referring to how you felt about the board…"
Renji felt his chest tighten. Slowly he looked up at the blond who was regarding him carefully over the rim or her cup.
"Shitty… why ya gotta rub my face in it?" He growled.
"I'm not rubbing your face in it, I know how you hurt." She set the tea cup down and rested her elbows on the table. "But I also know you're going to have to start thinking about what you're going to do. If you make Captain, you won't be assigned to the real world anymore."
Renji's chest tightened harder, he hated thinking about this.
"And on the other hand, if you don't… what are you going to do? Are you going to come back here and torture yourself until you're so run down you won't be any use to anyone?"
Renji gripped the table until his knuckles turned white. "For your information- I'm just fine Rankigu." But then he felt bad the moment he said it. Matsumoto was just trying to help him, she didn't deserve his anger.
Laying his head against the cool surface, he sighed.
He felt her hand on his head, gently caressing his hair. The touch was comforting, like a mothers or sisters.
"It's okay, no harm done."
"I have no idea what to do…" Renji's breath hitched.
"Go back and sleep in your own bed. Surround yourself with people you know and trust- Yumichika, Ikkaku, Shuuhei, Kira… Try not to think about it for a while, just relax."
Renji reached out, caught her hand and squeezed. Matsumoto might come off as ditsy and shallow, but she was the only person who had noticed Renji's heartache. She had approached him and asked the question. And she had offered to be his shoulder to cry on.
"You're a good friend, you know that?" He whispered.
"Yes." She giggled and took another sip of tea.
"Oi, Renji!" Ichigo called from the doorway, "Go get your gigai! Let's go get a drink!"
Renji looked up at Matsumoto, she saw the pain in his eyes and her heart went out to him.
"Why don't you tell him? He might stop being so shamelessly friendly around you."
"No," Renji said as he stood, "He'd stop being friendly period."
It wasn't too late in the evening, so the bar was still a little lively. Ichigo sat down and ordered drinks for himself and Renji while some horrible American pop song played over the speakers. They talked about nothing, about everything, about comrades lost, comrades won, Rukia's promotion, college… everything except what was really on their minds.
The two had been together almost every day for over four years. They had been soldiers together; they had fought, bled, and almost died together. Their bond was strong, like family; like brothers.
And now Renji was going back to Soul Society, taken off patrol in Karakura… and if made a Captain, would possibly not be coming back.
Renji felt like his heart was literally breaking.
Finally, Ichigo brought it up.
"So… when will you know?" Ichigo asked.
Renji sighed, "Uh… probably a month or so."
"A month!" Ichigo choked on his drink.
"The board takes a while…"
"Holy shit!" Ichigo wiped the alcohol from his chin and neck. "That sucks…"
The two sat in silence for a few minutes. The younger trying to think of something to say and the older trying to hold his composure.
"If you become a Captain…" Ichigo started.
Renji's hands were shaking, so he tossed back the remainder of his drink.
"If you become a Captain…" Ichigo started again, "You won't be able to come back… will you."
Renji slowly shook his head. Then shoved his hands in his pockets to keep the shaking under control.
Ichigo seemed to find a nick in the grain of the bar fascinating. He studied it for several minutes before he spoke again.
"I'll miss ya Renji…"
The sob that escaped Renji was quickly masked by a cough, and a forced laugh.
Renji over the years had become an expert at hiding all of his pain inside humor. "You make it sound like I'm breaking up with you."
Ichigo cracked a smile. "You can write or something once in a while right?"
"Of course asshole!" Renji punched Ichigo's shoulder, "Like I'm gonna just leave and never look back! Who do you think I am? And if I don't make Captain, I'm sure Kuchiki Taichou would reassign me here if I asked."
Ichigo turned to Renji with wide eyes. "Oh?"
"Yeah, of course." Renji couldn't stand the helpless look of hope in the kids; eyes; he had to get out of there. "But don't go wishing for it now. If I come back that means the board didn't pass me."
"Oh shit…" Ichigo looked back at the counter, "That's right."
Renji needed to leave, immediately.
He stood, and Ichigo looked up at him.
"You're going now?"
"Yeah," Renji was finding it hard to breath, "I'm gonna sleep in my own bed tonight."
Ichigo stood as well, and before Renji could stop him, the kid had him wrapped in the mother of all bear hugs. The taller man squeezed his eyes shut trying to stop the onrush of tears that threatened to flow. He thought about it for only a second before fiercely returning the embrace.
Damn you Ichigo! Damn you for wearing your emotions on your sleeve…
"Bye Renji." Ichigo whispered.
Renji didn't speak, he just slipped out if the younger mans grasp, and quickly headed for the door. Outside, the rain was coming down hard, but Renji didn't care. He walked all the way back to Urahara's shop hands in his pockets, grinding his teeth.
His resolve held through the entire trek. It held still when he reached the shop and slipped inside. It held even until he slid open the door to his room and he stepped over the threshold.
But that was where it broke.
Renji slid the shoji shut behind him, and slowly sank to the floor. He drew his legs up to his chest, and wrapped his arms around his knotted stomach. The tears came slow at first, as if they were merely a warning, the calm before the storm. But then a small moan escaped his throat, and they started to pour. They streamed down his cheeks, so hot they almost burned. He lowered his head to his knees and let out the sob he had held in since earlier at the bar.
The choked gasps from Abarai Renji's room continued well into the night, only fading as the first rays of sunlight touched the streets of Karakura…