Here it is. The last chapter. My baby is finished.

I want to thank everyone for their support and comments. I couldn't have done this without my readers. Thank you for sticking with me through the writer's block and all the other bumps and rough roads and other crap. Thank you to the people that wrote inspiring fics for me, thank you to the people that chatted with me in messenger so I could bump ideas around, and thank you just to everyone for just, well… reading.

Enjoy my lovely readers. (falls over from exhaustion and relief)

Chapter 22

Shuuhei opened his eyes. His lids felt like lead and his eyeballs burned at the intense blue of the sky. He saw tall evergreens reaching high into the heavens and color dotted the edges of his vision. He turned and tried to fix his bleary eyes on the bright splashes of gold and red. He blinked a few times and his focus returned. They were maples, ten or twelve of them, planted in a perfect arc.

The vice Captain sat up slowly, feeling a strange familiarity at this place, but pretty sure he had never been here. He turned from side to side, taking in only trees and lush green grass as far as his eyes could see. His head was stuffy. He couldn't think clearly. I was like the front of his skull had been stuffed with cotton, but there was no pain, just a light pressure.

"Try behind you…" A deep voice instructed him.

Shuuhei's back almost snapped in half with the force of his upper body whirling around. He came face to face with fur, lots and lots of black and silver fur. Red eyes looked up at him from underneath large, pointy ears, and a great maw of sharp teeth smiled frighteningly.

"Kazeshini?" Shuuhei gaped, confused. "What are you doing here? Where am I?"

The wolf lifted his head and nuzzled Shuuhei's arm gently. "I brought you here. This is the grounds behind my temple. You were here just yesterday."

"Yesterday?" Shuuhei asked; there was no way it had been a day! "Have I been out a full day?"

Kazeshini let his head fall back to the ground, and rolled onto his side. He looked a little less terrifying when he did that: showing the silver underside of his belly, exposing himself to Shuuhei. The shinigami moved without thinking and stroked his hand along the coarse fur.

The wolf made a rumbling sound of approval and licked his chops. "You have actually been out for several days in your reality. Time flows to my will here. I command it to be as fast or as slow as I want."

Shuuhei looked around again. "What happened to me? Why am I here?" He couldn't remember what had happened after calling out for his Zanpakuto. The memories in his head were jumbled together with strange images he wasn't sure were real.

"You died," Kazeshini stated softly.

Shuuhei froze. "I what?"

"I said you died," the wolf repeated.

Shuuhei turned, rolling his lower half and resting on his knees. He faced his Zanpakuto directly and took a shaky breath.

"How?" he asked softly.

Kazeshini rolled again to his stomach and brought his muzzle up underneath Shuuhei's chin. He nuzzled the shinigami's neck, his spiritual energy wrapped around Shuuhei and calmed his racing heartbeat.

"You gave your life defending your friends. You and the Scentless One slew your enemy and saved the other shinigami."

Shuuhei blinked. "Scentless one?"

The wolf nodded. "Wabisuke's master."

"Kira?" Shuuhei's hands found the cool grass and he let his head fall between his arms. He remembered flashes of his blond friend holding him in his arms, his tears falling steadily onto Shuuhei's cheeks and neck. The tattooed shinigami closed his eyes to fend back his own tears threatening to fall.

"And… Renji?" he whispered. "What about Renji?"

"Your Fire Mane is alive, Hisagi. Do not worry." The wolf's cold nose brushed against the skin of Shuuhei's knuckles. His tongue lolled out and lapped up the tears that had started to fall on the backs of Shuuhei's clenched fists. "He came to you the moment he awoke… He cares for you very much…"

Shuuhei's body relaxed and a sob slipped through his lips. He had been so sure Renji was dead. When the red head's body had fallen from the hollow's grasp, Shuuhei had lost the touch of his reiatsu. Nothing, not the faintest whisper of power had come from his lover's lifeless form. Now, the dark-haired shinigami palmed at his eyes and wept in relief at Kazeshini's news.

"Hisagi…" The wolf nosed Shuuhei's shoulder. "Why do you cry? I have just told you that the Fire Mane is alive."

Shuuhei sniffed and rubbed his forehead against the comforting warmth of his soul spirit. "I'm crying because I'm happy. Renji is alive and we accomplished our mission. I can't ask for more than that."

Kazeshini pulled away and lowered his head to meet the shinigami with his ruby gaze.

"Then why is your soul so sad?" he asked in a gravelly whisper.

Shuuhei clenched his teeth, embarrassed with himself that after everything, he still wasn't satisfied. He almost lied to the wolf, but remembered at the last moment that the spirit would know.

"I…" Shuuhei stammered. "I didn't ever tell him I loved him. I mean, I did… but… not that he heard… He never… heard me say it…"

Kazeshini's eyes turned sad and he nodded.

"Foolish human pride," he said softly. "The Baboon and I have no such misunderstanding. We made each other aware of our feelings almost the moment we first discovered them. It's more practical that way. Less confusion."

Shuuhei looked up then and, through his tears, found a smile spreading across his face.

"Kazeshini?" He sat up straighter and rested his hands on his thighs. "You told Zabimaru that you love him? You love Zabimaru?"

The wolf spirit made a strange face, and Shuuhei supposed it was a wolf's version of a scowl.

"Of course I do. And, yes," Kazeshini answered. "You and I share the same soul, as do your lover and Zabimaru. How can I not love him?"

Shuuhei stared thoughtfully at his soul slayer for several seconds.

"Zabimaru… loves you?"

Kazeshini nuzzled Shuuhei's neck again and licked his cheek gently. "Yes, he does. And you know what that means, so don't make me say it. It's childish."

"Oh, let them be childish, Your Highness," a sweet, melodic voice chimed behind Shuuhei. "They are still young after all. Don't take away one of my only forms of entertainment."

Shuuhei whirled around again, and was startled to see a beautiful woman standing at the forest edge. Her hair was long and a deep shade of red plum sake. Her eyes burned dark amethyst under thick lashes. Her skin was flawless caramel. She wore a simple kimono of red and gold, and the fabric shimmered as she slowly stepped into the clearing.

Kazeshini moved to stand behind Shuuhei, but the stunned shinigami couldn't make his body cooperate. This was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life. Where did she come from? Who was she? How the hell did she get into his spirit realm?

"I expected you hours ago," Kazeshini said, his voice betraying his mirth. "Have you lost your touch?"

"Oh please," the woman scoffed and moved to run a hand over the wolf's forehead and scratch behind his ears. "There were many precautions to take, and Freeloader's nervousness was immensely distracting. I had to wait to come here until Hisagi-san's energy was stable enough to accommodate me."

Shuuhei found his voice and stood quickly.

"Pardon my rudeness, ma'am but, who exactly are you?"

The woman turned her gaze on Shuuhei and smiled. The young shinigami felt his knees go a little weak and he leaned on Kazeshini to keep himself steady.

"Hisagi," Kazeshini said, chuckling. "You are one of the few, privileged shinigami to have another soul slayer enter your spirit realm. This vision before you is Benihime. She halted your shift into the Next Realm and brought you back to life. It is very hard to do, and the Princess is one of the only soul slayers in existence who has ever been able to do it."

Shuuhei's head spun. "Beni… Benihime…" Why did that name sound so familiar? The shinigami ran his hand over his face, racking his brain to try and remember--

Then it hit him. Shuuhei's gaze shot up and his eyes widened as he stared at the woman petting his soul slayer.

"You…" Shuuhei almost choked. "You're Ura… Urahara's…"

The Princess turned to Kazeshini and smiled. "He is very charming in person, even if he is a little slow. Wabisuke did not exaggerate."

Shuuhei's tongue still refused to work properly. "H-huh?"

Benihime turned to smile at Shuuhei again, and she reached out a delicate hand.

"I think I will bring you back before you die again, of shock. It is not natural for one to be in such close proximity to another's soul slayer."

Shuuhei looked at Kazeshini, who only nodded and stepped away. The shinigami glanced at Benihime's hand and took a small step closer.

"You will take me to Renji?" he asked softly.

Benihime nodded. "Yes, I will take you to Freelo- er, 'Fire Mane' as His Highness calls him."

Shuuhei lifted his hand and tentatively placed it in Benihime's soft palm. Her smooth skin felt like silk, and a pleasant tingling started in the places they touched.

"This might hurt a little," the Princess said, "but I'm not sure. I've never done this part before."

Shuuhei nodded as the tingling crawled up his arm and spread through his chest. The pain was light, just pins and needles, like when you've been sitting on your leg for too long, or you happened to fall asleep on your arm.

"I will see you, Hisagi," Kazeshini said. Shuuhei nodded to him and turned back to his hand. Gentle warmth had started in his palm and it too started spreading up his arm.

"One last thing, Hisagi-san," Benihime said, pulling the shinigami's attention back to her face.

"Yes, Princess?"

"Please," she spoke softly, "you must worry for your friend no longer. He is loved and will never again be treated without respect and benevolence. I give you my word."

Shuuhei's heart skipped a few beats as the soul slayer's words hit him. The warmth from his hand, spreading throughout his body, intensified and started to burn. He steeled himself against it and forced words through his lips.

"Princess," Shuuhei gasped, "please… please tell me you're talking about… about Kira?"

"Put your worry to rest, Hisagi-san." The Princess' voice was fading. Her face wavered as Shuuhei's vision shifted and blurred. "Let go. Love Fire Mane with everything you have and let the broken pieces of your heart be made whole again by his love."

Tears streamed down Shuuhei's face even as his heart sang. He whispered a thank you as the burning pain spread completely throughout his body and consumed him. Shuuhei then let go and lost the last bit of consciousness he clung to. Blackness enveloped him then, and he felt nothing.

X x X x X

When he awoke, Shuuhei's eyelids felt heavy. His body was stiff, but fortunately there was no pain. He took a deep breath, and squinted as sunlight made his eyes sting. He blinked a few times, his vision still a little blurry, and tried to identify the wealth of calm reiatsu by his side.

He turned his head carefully, and took in full length windows letting in the setting sun. The light framed a head of long white hair, and Shuuhei smiled softly as Ukitake Jyuushiro's features came into focus. The Thirteenth Division Captain sat reading a tattered, leather-bound book by the side of the western style bed. He closed the book without saving his place, and looked up to return Shuuhei's smile.

"Welcome back to the land of the conscious," the Captain said quietly.

Shuuhei lifted his hand to rub at his eyes. "Where am I, if you please, Ukitake Taichou?"

"Oh no need to be so formal," the older man said with a wave of his hand. "And you're home, back in Seireitei at Ninth Division."

"Oh." Shuuhei squeezed his eyes shut and shifted to try and sit up. His back and shoulders protested the movement, but he managed to get himself upright and leaning against the pillows without too much difficulty.

When he had situated himself to his satisfaction, Shuuhei took another look out the windows and admired the bamboo garden and pond just outside. He had taken many strolls through that garden with his former Captain. They had stood on the arch rail bridge and discussed training techniques, walked along the rock path, surrounded by tall stalks of bamboo and talked about nothing, or sometimes just sat on the steps of the tea house, silent in their own thoughts. Shuuhei felt a distinct calm settle over him as he admired the greens and blues. He relaxed his head against the solid wooden headboard.

"I don't think I've ever been in this room," Shuuhei said. "Where are we?"

Ukitake's mouth pulled into a brighter grin. "Never been in this room you say? I find that hard to believe."

Shuuhei made a face at the older man. "Well, maybe I have, but I don't recognize it. They probably changed all the furniture around so I don't--"

Something caught the vice Captain's eye, and his confusion stopped his words abruptly.

"Wait, that chest of drawers over there." He pointed across the room. "That's mine."

Ukitake lifted the book to cover his mouth. Shuuhei had the impression that the Captain was stifling a chuckle, and the action reminded him of Urahara.

"What?" he asked, getting annoyed. "What's funny?"

"All of these things are yours, Hisagi-san." Ukitake lowered the book and turned in his chair to face Shuuhei directly. He placed a slender arm over the chair back, and tucked a stray lock of his hair behind an ear. "We moved everything yesterday before Fourth released you."

"'We'?" Shuuhei asked.

"Myself, Shunsui, Zaraki Taichou and a few others. We wanted you to be comfortable when you awoke."

Shuuhei looked around, confusion filling his already clouded head. It was true, his bookcase stood a few feet from the bed, his oil paintings were hanging on the walls, and his writing desk and china cabinet were on the lower level closer to the door. He could see a small kitchen around the corner with another window over the sink, letting in the gentle rays of sunlight. Everything was very neat and tidy, and the larger space gave him ideas for a few potted plant arrangements. He craned his neck to see the door by the bookcase led to a washroom; a very large washroom.

Something nagged at the back of his mind. He did know this room, but where or why he had been in here before slipped his memory.

"This isn't my bed though, Taichou." Shuuhei smiled and admired the framework on the dark, wooden posts and headboard.

Ukitake stood and moved to place the book back on Shuuhei's case. "Yes, we thought you might need a bigger one."

Shuuhei coughed, "Why?"

Ukitake looked at him with mock surprise. "Well, you are going to be sharing it more often than not, are you not?"

Shuuhei felt his cheeks flush. He smiled sheepishly and scratched the back of his neck. "Well, yeah, I guess… Gods, didn't take long for that to get around…"

Ukitake nodded, smiling. "The changes in your relationship with Abarai-kun were made known to everyone within about an hour of Ayasegawa-kun's return."

Shuuhei groaned. "I'll kill him."

Ukitake laughed and moved to sit on the edge of Shuuhei's bed. His features remained gentle but a seriousness came over him as he continued. "You did very well, Hisagi. I read about what happened in Hitsugaya Taichou's report. Seems you were fearless and protected your subordinates and comrades above all else."

Shuuhei shrugged. "Hitsugaya Taichou gives me too much credit. I just did what I thought was right and had the best calculated outcome for the mission."

"Do you think Hitsugaya Taichou gives anyone credit they do not deserve?"

Shuuhei shook his head. "Oh, well… no, Taichou. I guess not."

"I told you not to be so formal with me, Hisagi." Ukitake stood again and crossed the room to the small kitchen area. "Would you like some tea?"

Shuuhei ran his tongue over his teeth and grimaced at the sour taste in his mouth.

"Yes please."

Water ran and Shuuhei heard the sounds of a pot being filled. Ukitake returned moments later to sit once again on the edge of the bed. His eyes were tired, but his face remained kind.

"A lot has changed since you left, Hisagi-san," the Captain said quietly. "I want you to know that I am here if you need anything."

Shuuhei closed his eyes. "You've always been there for me, Taichou. I appreciate it."

After several minutes, the younger man felt a cool hand over his before a weight was lifted from the mattress. He felt Ukitake's hand move to his shoulder and squeeze before the Captain padded back into the kitchen. Shuuhei listened absently as the older man bustling about. He let his thoughts wander, trying to think up some way to restrain himself from running through the streets, proclaiming his love for Renji as soon as he had the strength to stand. Now, that would be a spectacle to see: Hisagi Shuuhei running up and down the streets of Seireitei, shouting at the top of his lungs how much he loved another man. That would secure his stature as a lunatic and kill any chance of impressing the board… if they were still going to have the board. Gods, it seemed like forever since he had thought about the panel, about the upcoming deliberations to choose new Captains for…

Shuuhei's eyes suddenly snapped open.

Oh… my… gods…

The young shinigami sat up in bed, his fists clenching in the sheets as realization hit him in the gut. He knew what this room was, he remembered being here once before, when he had first made it to the rank of vice Captain… But there was no way… No way unless…

"Taichou?" Shuuhei stammered, his voice holding a slight tremor. "U-Ukitake Taichou?"

Ukitake poked his head around the corner and grinned at him. "Yes?"

Shuuhei's mouth had gone dry. "Is this… This is…" He brought a hand to his mouth and wiped at his flushed skin.

"This was Tousen Tai… Taichou's room… wasn't it?"

Ukitake's grin grew wider. "I was wondering when you were going to recognize it." The white-haired Captain turned quickly to retrieve the tea tray and glided back to Shuuhei's bedside. "I didn't think anyone ever forgot their first time being allowed an audience with their Captain in their private chambers." The older man sat and handed Shuuhei a small cup. "Just ask your own vice Captain--whomever you decide that will be--about it in fifty years or so. They will probably be able to tell you every detail about the encounter."

Shuuhei's heart was trying to slam a hole through his ribcage. He sat stone still, listening to the Captain talk to him like nothing out of the ordinary was happening at all. The tea cup in his hands was warm, but he didn't feel it. He couldn't feel much of anything at that moment, besides that insistent pounding against the inside of his chest and a tightening in his lungs.

He struggled with getting his thoughts to his mouth for a few moments before he took a deep breath and swallowed thickly.

"Ukitake Taichou… what… what are you saying?"

The older man smiled again and raised his hand to point across the room to Shuuhei's chest of drawers. Atop the wooden piece, were two folded uniforms and a folded white…

A folded white…

Shuuhei almost lost his grip on his cup. He looked at Ukitake with wide eyes and stammered, "That's not… I mean… How could--?"

Ukitake laughed, a rich sound that warmed Shuuhei and lessened the tightening in his chest. The Captain stood and crossed the room, plucked the white Captain's haori from the dresser and returned to the bed.

"It was voted on while you were recovering." He sat and placed the haori gently in Shuuhei's lap. "Hitsugaya Taichou made a strong case for you and said the board was a waste of time and money. After reading his report, the count was unanimous in favor of your promotion."

Shuuhei's cheeks burned and his pulse raced. He stared down at the folded haori and tried to just breathe. Everything he had worked for in the last fifty years, everything he had ever wanted out of his job; everything he had ever hoped for in his time as a shinigami, had just literally been placed in his lap. He ran his fingers over the Ninth Division crest, displayed proudly against the white and swallowed a hard lump in his throat.

"You should drink your tea… Hisagi Taichou…"

Shuuhei looked up and couldn't help but smile. He smiled so hard his cheeks hurt. He tipped his cup up and drained the contents before handing it back to Ukitake.

"Does Renji know?"

Ukitake, clearly amused at Shuuhei's reaction, raised an eyebrow and turned towards the door.

"Funny you should ask that right now… Perhaps you knew and didn't realize…"

A knock sounded and Shuuhei's door opened slowly. Shuuhei turned towards the sound, excited and anxious to see his visitor when he recognized the familiar reiatsu.

"Ne, Ukitake Taichou… is he…"

Renji's voice died when he poked his head in the room and saw Shuuhei sitting up in bed. His eyes widened, and his fingers gripped the wood of the door so hard, Shuuhei thought it would splinter.

"Shuuhei…" Renji whispered.

Ukitake stood and gathered up the tea things. "You should come in Abarai, it's rude to just stand in the doorway like that." The white-haired Captain then moved into the kitchen with a chuckle.

Shuuhei could only stare as Renji's cheeks reddened and he slipped into the room. As his lover stepped into view, Shuuhei gasped softly as he took in the white Captain's haori, long sleeved, and standing out starkly against the fiery red of his hair.

"Oh my gods, Renji…"

Renji's hand went to his hair. "I know… they sort of… well, they liked how we handled the mission… and I guess my Tai… er… Byakuya Taichou put in a good word for me…"

Shuuhei hugged his own haori to his chest. "This is all so hard to believe…"

"Wait 'till you see the paperwork," Renji teased.

"Well, I believe you two have some catching up to do," Ukitake said and he slipped past Renji to wave at Shuuhei from the doorway. "Rest well, Hisagi Taichou." The door closed softly behind him, and Shuuhei was left alone with his blushing lover.

The red head moved across the floor and only hesitated a moment before he sat down on the edge of the bed. Shuuhei's hand instinctively reached out and Renji caught it in his own.

"Oh, Renji I thought you were dead," Shuuhei whispered.

Renji seemed to choke before he was able to speak.

"I held you in my arms, Shuu… there was nothing… Your reiatsu was gone… I have no idea what the fuck Urahara did to… to bring you back…"

Shuuhei watched Renji's eyes fill with tears. He wrapped his fingers around Renji's hand, and pulled him close. Renji slipped his arms around Shuuhei's waist, and buried his face in his lover's neck. The two sat in silence, holding each other, comforting each other with just their presence. Shuuhei reached up and pulled the band in Renji's hair, letting loose his favorite temptation. He ran his fingers through the silken strands, and kissed the top of his friend's head.

Shuuhei knew this was it; this was forever. He would settle for nothing less than having Renji by his side for the rest of his time in Seireitei. The red head was his.

Pulling the other man tighter against him, Shuuhei felt his heart swell. Every muscle in his body tingled with anticipation as he murmured into Renji's hair.


"Hm?" Renji replied, muffled in Shuuhei's embrace.

Shuuhei let out a soft breath and whispered into Renji's ear, "Stay with me tonight?"

Renji slowly raised his head and looked into Shuuhei's eyes. Shuuhei couldn't help but move his hands to run his thumbs over his lover's smooth cheeks.

"Of course I'll stay with you, Shuu... You don't have to ask me something like that…"

Shuuhei pressed on, taking his fingers and running them through Renji's soft hair. He cupped the back Renji's head and brought their mouths close together.

"Stay with me every night, Renji," Shuuhei breathed across Renji's lips. "Stay with me every night and let me love you as much as my heart is pleading to love you."

Shuuhei felt Renji still as tension snapped throughout his body. For a moment Shuuhei feared he had made a mistake, but then tears welled up in Renji's dark eyes. Renji's hands slid up Shuuhei's chest to trail his fingers over the scars on the older man's eye and cheek. "Shuuhei…" he whispered. The touch was so gentle, so innocent, and yet it sent a fire blazing through Shuuhei's soul.

"I love you, Renji," Shuuhei said, his hands going back to Renji's cheeks. "I've always loved you. I love your passion and your courage… you're temper, your determination… Your body, your lips, your hair… Gods, your hair…"

Renji leaned in closer, his tears making tracks down his tanned cheeks. He put his hands on Shuuhei's hips and gently pushed the older man down on his back. He climbed over his lover's body and settled with his legs straddling Shuuhei's waist.

Shuuhei lifted his chin and met Renji's lips in a soft kiss. He felt that passion he loved so dearly smoldering beneath his friend's calm surface. He fed the flame as he opened his mouth and pressed his tongue past Renji's trembling lips. Renji's lips moved over his in a careful caress that raced towards becoming violent. Shuuhei could feel the red head's control slipping, his zeal threatening to burst forward and consume every part of Shuuhei's being.

"More," Renji whispered as he broke the kiss. "Tell me more, Shuuhei, please… tell me how much you love me…" The red head slid his hips down over the other man's and ground his arousal against Shuuhei's.

Shuuhei hissed at the unbelievable feeling. He marveled at how intense the sensation of Renji against him had become. His confession had seemed to awaken something in his lover, causing him to lose control of some fundamental barrier. Renji moved against him with an almost desperate abandon. A slow and powerful need that did nothing but build with every breath they took.

"I came to you broken, Renji," Shuuhei panted, his palms wet from the red head's tears. "I came to you broken… in pieces… so fucking lonely… But you fixed me… Renji, you fixed me…" Shuuhei watched Renji's eyes close and the red head's grinding started a pleasurable coiling in his loins. "You've made me whole again… Renji… oh fuck… Renji…"

Everything was tightening toward orgasm, his muscles strained, his nerves sang. Shuuhei's back arched and his eyes closed as his head tilted back. Renji lapped up his throat, and then groaned into his mouth as he kissed him hard.

"Make love to me, Shuu…"

Shuuhei kissed him back, not sure anymore if the wetness on his cheeks was from just Renji's tears, or if his own were now mixed in. He pulled at the red head's uniform, tugging the Captain's haori off and untying the sash with unsteady hands. Renji pulled away, but only long enough to shed his hakama and tabi. He yanked the sheets down to the foot of the bed and tore open the simple kimono Shuuhei was wearing. The rush of air felt good against Shuuhei's flushed skin as he shrugged the kimono off, but he had no complaints when Renji climbed back into his lap, and the hot flesh of their erections slid together between their stomachs.

"Ah… shit…" Shuuhei gasped. He leaned forward and gripped Renji's hips hard, grinding the younger man down on top of him.

Renji leaned back and spit into his palm. He brought his hand down to Shuuhei's cock and slicked the other man as best he could. Before Shuuhei could react, Renji rose up on his knees and lowered himself down on the older man's length.

"Oh gods…" the red head whispered breathlessly, adjusting, sliding his arms around Shuuhei's neck. "I thought I was never going to do this again…"

Shuuhei ran his hands up Renji's back as he just did his best not to pass out. He kissed up the other's neck and bit into the tanned flesh just below the jaw line. "You're beautiful," he murmured, his breath coming harsh as Renji began to move over him. The red head's slow but powerful pace undid the dark-haired Captain and he started to lose his control. "So beautiful, Renji…"

From the moment Renji had walked through the door, he had wanted Shuuhei. He had wanted to run his hands over every part of the other man, kiss his lips, his neck, his chest… It had taken every trace of willpower and restraint the red head had ever had to not just attack his lover while Ukitake was still in the room. He hadn't cared who would see, who would hear. He had believed his love was dead, and was never coming back, despite Urahara and Unohana's assurances. Shuuhei had just lain there, not moving, not breathing for two days. Renji had almost cracked under the stress of it all.

Now, he let it all loose. He said with his body what he could not have said aloud. He conveyed with his lips and his tongue how he felt about the amazing man beneath him. The man who said he loved him, was completely undone by him. The man that Renji had saved unknowingly and unintentionally, but he had just the same. The red head wrestled with himself, with his words, as he moved over his lover's erection. He felt the exquisite sensation of the other man's want for him sliding in and out of his body, hitting places inside him and making him feel things he thought could not be possible.

When those magnificent words slid from Shuuhei's mouth again, said in that unbelievably sensual voice, Renji slowed his movements and nuzzled the older man's head until Shuuhei looked up and they locked eyes. Lust and impending orgasm made Renji's head swim, his thoughts jumbled, but he pushed through it all to say what he needed to say.

"I love you…" he panted, his lips brushing Shuuhei's. The older man froze beneath him and his eyes widened.

Renji rolled his hips again. "I know it sounds stupid because you've just said it a bunch but… I do love you, Shuuhei… I've loved you for a long time but I didn't realize it right away because I was stupid."

Shuuhei blinked up at him and slowly lifted a hand to trail his fingers over Renji's mouth.

"It doesn't sound stupid at all…" Shuuhei whispered, "I've been waiting so long to hear it…"

Renji melted all over again, and let out a small yelp as Shuuhei flipped them. Renji landed on his back with Shuuhei leaning over him, his dark eyes smiling down at him, seeing through to his soul the way no one else ever had.

Shuuhei started to move, his heart so full he felt it would burst. The words he had longed to hear for sixty years, finally ringing in his ears, electrifying his soul and his body. His energy mixed and melded with Renji's heat, his passion, to engulf them both. He leaned down over his lover as he moved, pounding over and over into the other man's body. Their hips met every time with a hard slap that echoed through the room. Renji's legs went around his waist and his fingers dug into the flesh of the older man's shoulders. The red head cried out softly with every powerful thrust Shuuhei gave him.

"Say it again Renji," Shuuhei panted hard into the other's mouth between kisses. "Say that you love me again."

Renji almost couldn't think, pleasure was clouding his head. His mind shut down until only the most basic of thoughts remained. Of his orgasm, coming on slowly, but close enough that he could feel it building in his balls, of how much he wished Shuuhei would touch his cock, of how much he loved it when Shuuhei talked to him while they made love.

"I love you, Shuuhei…" he said. He didn't have to think, it came naturally.

Shuuhei felt his peak coming, his orgasm tightening, and he reached down to stroke Renji's length. He kissed the red head again, and watched as pleasure clouded the younger man's vision.

"Once more, Renji," Shuuhei pleaded, his voice hoarse and his breath ragged, "I'm coming… Please, Renji… say it once more while I come."

Renji lost it. He arched his back, Shuuhei's words sending him over the edge, spiraling down into a sea of pleasure so vast, he saw white as wave after wave of bliss hit him hard. He cried out again and again as he released over Shuuhei's hand and onto his chest.

"I love you, Shuuhei… aaahh… oh fuck, I love you… I love you…"

Shuuhei couldn't have asked for more, couldn't have wished for more. He buried himself to the hilt and, with Renji's beautiful words still ringing in his ears and through his heart, he emptied himself into his lover's perfect body. He cried out, burying his face in Renji's throat, pulsing hard, violently as the younger man clenched around him.

He collapsed. Renji's arms fell away. The two lay together in silence breathing each other in, taking a long moment to cherish each other's scent and warmth before Shuuhei rose up and separated them gently. The older man rolled to his back, searching blindly for Renji's hand and pulling the younger man close to him. Renji complied and curled around Shuuhei's sweaty form, kissing the skin of the other's chest, his collar, his neck.

Shuuhei smiled softly, and ran a hand through Renji's damp hair.

"I should die more often…"

"Gods no," Renji replied. "You'll kill me. I have a hard enough time with just your regular sex. You're like a monster."

Shuuhei chuckled and felt himself slipping into sleep. He probably shouldn't have exerted himself so soon after recovering.

Oh well…

He was almost under when he felt Renji shift beside him. He opened his eyes and frowned as Renji crawled over him to lay on his right side.

"What are you doing?" Shuuhei asked with a smirk.

"I sleep on the right side," Renji explained. "Be prepared to never sleep on the right side of your bed ever again." He slipped underneath Shuuhei's arm, and rested his head on his lover's shoulder.

Shuuhei heaved a dramatic sigh. "Well, it's a heavy price to pay, but you're a good enough fuck that I'll allow it."

That got him a hard punch in the gut, but that led to wrestling, which lead to kissing, which ultimately lead to another round.

Yes, Shuuhei thought to himself, definitely a price I'm willing to pay

X x X x X

Shuuhei stepped off the bridge and gazed up at high walls of the Second Division barracks. He had never before been permitted to set foot on the Northwest premise of the division, but with his new Captain rank, he was granted unlimited access. He stepped through the gates and opened the doors leading to the long underground stairway.

Detainees littered the grounds, some sitting at tables reading or writing on wrinkled parchment, and some wandering on foot, lost in whatever thoughts plagued their troubled minds. A few heads turned to look at Shuuhei as he made his way through the large underground chamber, but no one made a move to speak to him, and luckily, he was not attacked. He didn't entirely agree with the 'no swords' rule, he felt naked without Kazeshini at his hip, but he understood why the rule was enforced.

Taking another stairway down even deeper into the ground, Shuuhei came to a long stretch of hallway. He passed several cells, empty save for a metal cot and a small toilet. Shuuhei studied the small rooms with interest as he passed, he had never seen a prison so clean. The place almost put Fourth Division to shame.

He neared the end of the hallway and slowed to a stop, his feet hesitating even as his heart started to beat faster. He had not expected to be so nervous. He hadn't seen the man in years, and the circumstances of their parting had been… well, terrible. But the last time they had seen each other, there had been nothing but kind words and encouragement for Shuuhei. The young Captain had looked forward to this moment for four years; looked forward to sitting down with the man he so greatly admired and talk to him as an equal.

He took the last few steps slowly and placed his hands on the cool iron of the cell bars.

The figure inside sat on the edge of the cot, his face did not turn to meet Shuuhei's, but his bearing told the younger man that he was aware of Shuuhei's presence.

"If you are here," he said with a voice that was soft, scratchy as if it hadn't been used in a long time, "That must mean I am either being released… or you have been promoted. I sincerely doubt that I am being released… so…"

Shuuhei smiled softly and leaned against the bars. "It is as you say, Tousen-san… The division once again has a leader."

Tousen's mouth turned up in a gentle smile. "Oh, I do not think the division was ever lacking a leader, Hisagi."

Shuuhei felt his cheeks heat. After everything, after the betrayal, the loss, the long years of wondering and aching inside, his former Captain's words still meant so much to him. He couldn't help it; this man had been his teacher, his mentor, his friend… and so much more. Tousen would always have a place in Shuuhei's heart, no matter what.

"You have many questions, I presume?" Tousen asked.

Shuuhei swallowed thickly and stood straight.


Tousen lifted a hand and beckoned the younger man to him. "Come then, Hisagi. Sit with me for a while. If there is anyone in this world I owe an explanation to, it is you."

Shuuhei took a deep breath, smile curving his lips, and opened the cell door.

X x X x X

Several hours later, Shuuhei emerged from the underground supervision center, feeling some of the weight which had been pressing down on him for years fall away. The pain was not completely gone, but he was well on his way to healing, and his heart was light at the thought of seeing his former Captain once in a while. He stretched and decided to head over to Fifth Division, and see if Renji was done with his work for the day.

As he crossed the bridge, he spotted a figure waiting for him on the opposite side of the moat. Looking closer, he saw the soft, blond hair blowing in the breeze, and he raised a hand in greeting.

"Kira!" he shouted. He picked up his pace and met his friend on the other side. "It's good to see you. Are you okay?"

Kira's smile widened. "I should be asking you the same thing, Taichou."

Shuuhei grinned and rubbed the back of his head. "It's so weird. I've wanted it for a long time, and sort of have already been working as a division head, but… it's still weird." Shuuhei then took in the brown travelling cloak covering his friend and frowned. "Are you going somewhere?"

Kira nodded. "I'm going back to Kurakara for a few days."

Shuuhei made a face. "Why?"

Kira looked around and moved closer to Shuuhei, lowering his voice. "I am to train with Urahara-san for the next three days. The counsel commanded it--discreetly of course."

Shuuhei's eyes widened. He had heard the stories about Urahara's three day bankai. Kurosaki had most definitely utilized it, there was no other way that kid had achieved bankai so fast.

"So… Kira…" Shuuhei breathed. "You're…"

Kira nodded, pulling back his cloak slightly to show Shuuhei the Captain's haori beneath. "It was one of the conditions. Please don't tell anyone yet."

Shuuhei's heart thumped in his chest. He had hoped Kira would someday be allowed to step into the role of Captain. He had earned it, maybe even more than Shuuhei had himself. He smiled down at his best friend and clapped the slighter man on the shoulder.

"It's about time," he said simply.

"Yes it has," Kira agreed, his eyes flickering to Shuuhei's haori.

Shuuhei held the other's eyes for only a moment before he stepped back and crossed his arms over his chest. "Good luck."

Kira nodded and turned to depart. As Shuuhei watched his friend start up the hill, he thought about what Benihime had said to him. He wrestled with words and his hands came apart to tug at the collar of his uniform absently.

"Oi, Kira," Shuuhei started.

"Hm?" The blond turned and fixed him with one of his unreadable stares.

"Um…" Shuuhei tugged at his collar and smoothed the edge of the haori. He cleared his throat. "Are you… happy?" He felt stupid the instant in came out of his mouth.

Kira turned to face him directly.

"Are you talking about my new position? Or are you… talking about something else?"

Shuuhei looked at the ground. "Something else…"

Kira shifted his feet and Shuuhei could hear his soft sigh.

"Kisuke treats me very well, Shuu. You don't have to worry about me anymore."

Shuuhei looked up at his friend. Kira's green eyes regarded him, clear and void of the loneliness the older man had gotten so used to seeing staring back at him. The other man's posture, his bearing, even his reiatsu was different. Healthier. Steadier.

"Do you love him?" Shuuhei asked.

Kira's mouth opened, but he closed it quickly. His cheeks reddened and Shuuhei had to chuckle at the blonds' discomfort.

"It's all right, Kira. You're face says enough."

Kira relaxed and smiled back at him. "I have to go. I'll see you around?"

Shuuhei nodded and pulled on his haori once more. Kira laughed and pointed at his hands.

"Stop fidgeting, you. Not something Hisagi Taichou should be doing."

Shuuhei made a face and waved his hand dismissively. "Get going. You're annoying."

Kira laughed and flash-stepped away.

Shuuhei stared at the spot his friend had been standing for a few minutes. Just when it had seemed there was no more room for anything in his heart, his friend had brought him more good news. At that moment, Shuuhei's soul was crammed so full, it seemed he would burst.

Finally he turned towards the sunset and smiled. Renji was probably done with his work, and no doubt starving. Shuuhei decided he would go pick him up and take him to dinner. Somewhere nice, to celebrate their promotions, but not so upscale that they would attract attention. No, tonight he would have the red head to himself. After their meal, he would bring Renji back to his quarters and promptly begin 'dessert'.

He started out in the direction of Fifth Division, humming softly under his breath. There was nothing else he could ask for. His heart was mending, his mind was at peace. He had his division, he had his friends, and he had Renji; beautiful, wonderful, passionate Renji.

He reached above his head and pulled a few soft sakura blossoms from an overhanging branch. He scattered them on the path as he neared Fifth Division headquarters, the pink of the flower's petals reminded him of the marks he had created on Renji's skin the night before and he shivered in anticipation to see his lover.

Maybe dinner would have to wait. Maybe he would have his dessert first.