Series: Amaranthine (third in series; sequel to Nexus and Apotheosis)
Rating: M for 'Much Smut' (NC-17)
Pairing: Renji/Ichigo (Note: I always write them reversible)
Spoilers: read through Soul Society, Arrancar, & Hueco Mundo Arcs
Warnings: By this point, everyone reading this story should know that this is futurefic, with all that that implies – character development, interpretations of events not yet seen in canon, etc. There's more talk of the war with Aizen, and mentions of character deaths during the war.
Word Count: 112,000
Summary: Three years after Ichigo began a rewarding life as a full-time shinigami captain, an unexpected challenge changes things for everyone, and Ichigo and Renji face their biggest trials yet.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach, I'm just borrowing it for a while.
Distribution: Please ask if you want to share it. :)
Dedication: To everyone who's stood by me this past crazy year and cheered me on. And for me, 'cause I did it!
And as always, to all my fellow Renji/Ichigo fangirls/guys out there. We know it's impossible, we know it's silly, and we know it's damned hot!
Special thanks go to…
Sekra, for her MSN stickman porn-art keeping me giggling at work.
Cheza, for sending me cookies and wallscrolls and funny icons.
Mosh, for putting up with so many grammar questions without context.
And of course, massive love for Shelagh, for being my ultimate #1 partner in crime… for being the sounding board for all my plot ideas and all my wibbles over characterization and scenes… for spending entire days snickering together as we posed the body doubles and searched for sexy references on the net… and for taking this whole journey with me.
A/N: Well, once again I have underestimated what it really means for something to take over your life. This fic ate my life for nearly a year. Phew!
Other pairings in this story include Hitsugaya/Hinamori (pre-established marriage, off-camera), and several others that are written in a 'reader's choice' sort of way. Platonic friendship or mild romantic subtext, I've left it open for readers to interpret however they wish, without anything too overt to squick anyone.
The relationship between Renji and Ichigo as portrayed in this story is a mature one, established in the previous stories in this series. The sexual content is pretty vanilla overall (no surprise, considering I don't generally write anything kinkier than lovebites), but the guys are quite happy to explore their physical attraction to each other in different and interesting ways. I'm not going to put warnings of what they get up to on every chapter; if they start doing things that aren't to your taste, just skim ahead until they're done and carry on with the bulk of the story.
Chapter 33 – Restoration
"So…" Ichigo sat on the couch, sinking back into the cushions. "What's that about Byakuya, anyway?" He quirked an eyebrow at Renji, a small smile pulling at the corner of his mouth. Being able to sit and joke was so ordinary and normal that it was thrilling.
Renji coloured faintly as he sat beside him. "Ahh…" He rubbed the back of his neck. "He told me it was time we, uh, 'moved on from our previous relationship', since we're 'peers' an' all now." Renji pretended indifference, but they were both aware of his poorly hidden thread of pride at having been acknowledged by his former captain.
"'Bout time," Ichigo commented. "Dunno how much more of all that "Would you care to join us for tea, Abarai-san?" and "We appreciate the invitation, Kuchiki-san." I could've taken, especially since you two worked so closely before."
Renji shrugged and shook his head. "Some things don't change all that easy. Lotta hard feelings between us before, ya know?" He sighed. "But when ya were…" He cleared his throat, and when he continued the Rukongai wasn't so strong in his voice. "When ya were gone, he actually came to me, and offered to help. Sorta."
Ichigo blinked. "Sorta?"
"Well, he didn't come right out an' say it – ya know how he is," Renji gave him a half-grin. "But he made it clear he knew what I was goin' through, losing a… er, losin' a spouse, an' that he'd turn a blind eye to my trips to Hueco Mundo, long's I…" He looked away and stared at a point on the wall. "Long's I took care of myself. Made me sleep in the mansion three nights a week, and eat a 'proper' meal with him an' Rukia those nights."
"What were you doin' before that?" Ichigo asked quietly. I know I'm not gonna like this…
Renji's reiatsu curled tightly. "Sleepin' in my office, few hours at a time. Eatin' commissary crap on the run," he said frankly, turning and meeting Ichigo's gaze steadily.
Ichigo tried not to think about how he'd feel if he'd returned home to find Renji'd got himself killed trying to find him. I couldn't take it, and Soul Society can't afford to lose either of us… which sort of makes it the right thing to do, and I know damn well I would've gone, too, but…
Ichigo fought off a shiver. Doesn't matter anymore, we're both home safely. He nodded briefly. "That crap'd kill ya," he said lightly. "Even here in the afterlife."
The tired joke got a short laugh from Renji, and Ichigo smiled despite himself. Warmth flowed between them, and Ichigo tried to relax and put the trials of the past month out of his mind. That was all over now.
"C'mon." Renji stood and headed into the kitchen. "You must be starvin'. Ya gotta try some of what Rukia brought. Ya know the cooks at the Kuchiki place are great – when I stayed there they insisted on feedin' me 'til I thought I was gonna burst."
It really was excellent, but Ichigo could only manage half of the small plate before his body resisted, having subsisted solely on spirit energy for so long. As they ate, Renji filled him in on the news he'd missed.
Finding out that he'd been given up for dead wasn't much of a surprise; he'd been missing a very long time, and Ichigo had suspected something of the sort based on Renji's attitude in the infirmary. Hearing it straight out was a bit surreal, but the fact that his closest friends – and his entire Division – weren't willing to write him off so easily was incredibly moving. Ichigo nodded approvingly as Renji detailed some of the 3rd Division's finer moments, and eventually relaxed enough to tell Renji about his experiences in Hueco Mundo.
"How'd ya wind up at Las Noches?" Renji asked, after telling Ichigo about his brief stop at the awful, haunted place.
Ichigo drew his feet up on the couch and rested his arms on his knees. "Lucky accident, mostly," he admitted. "I had no way to tell where I was – I was a month's walk from there in the wrong direction, so nowhere near explored territory. The only thing I had to go on was this odd feeling that came and… went…" He trailed off as it clicked in his mind, and he stared at Renji incredulously.
Renji was staring right back, jaw slack. "I didn't know where you'd been thrown," he said. "There was no trace. The only thing I had to go on was the faintest sense that I should go… 'that way'."
"It was you," Ichigo said slowly. "Without you, I wouldn't've had any direction. I would've stayed lost." Warmth burst into their shared energies. "You guided me home."
There wasn't much left to say after that. Now at the end of it, Ichigo yawned widely as everything finally started to catch up with him.
"Don't do that, it…" Renji yawned, too, "…catches," he finished weakly.
Ichigo chuckled. "Think we should move this to the bed," he suggested. It'll be so damn good to sleep somewhere warm and safe. In each others' arms, not worryin' about anything more than whether we wanna get up for breakfast or sleep through 'til lunch.
Ichigo was a bit surprised to find himself sitting fully dressed on the futon. He wanted nothing more than to slide between the crisp sheets with Renji and rediscover every inch of each other, but he suddenly felt a twinge of anxiety. When Renji sat beside him, hair down and feet bare but still equally clothed, he realized his lover's reiatsu was echoing his nerves.
They sat awkwardly for a moment, looking at each other hesitantly.
"Well this's pretty stupid," Renji observed, sounding slightly amused.
"Yeah," Ichigo agreed. He tried to reach out, but his arm wouldn't move. "Huh."
Renji's hand crept over halfway and lay open atop the bedding, trembling very faintly. Ichigo slid his equally twitching hand over to clasp it tentatively. He smiled and looked up, but as soon as their eyes met, they both began laughing.
"What're we, twelve?" Ichigo grinned ruefully.
"Oh yeah." Renji tugged his still clasped hand, and Ichigo fell eagerly into his lover's embrace.
"Yanno we haven't had to wait this long in years" Ichigo pulled at Renji's robes.
"Don't remind me." Renji undid Ichigo's sash with quick, deft fingers.
Their meshed reiatsu flared brightly with every touch of fingertips on tattooed skin, every sweep of a dry thumb over a tiny nipple. Ichigo revelled in the return of the easy rapport they'd shared for years, smoothing over the rough edges left behind by their ordeal.
He wasn't sure how it happened, but suddenly Ichigo realized that the words had faltered and they'd been sitting very still, arms wrapped tightly around each other. Their robes hung open, hanging off halfway, but they hadn't gotten any farther despite their initial urgency.
Renji's head lay heavy on Ichigo's shoulder, his breath stirring the hairs on his neck. The hand that had been shoving at Ichigo's robes was clutching his shoulder, the other splayed on his lower back holding him close.
Ichigo lifted his head – and that was the first he knew that he'd buried his face in Renji's neck. Slowly he relaxed his arms, withdrawing them from around Renji's back and sliding them up in between their bodies.
Renji's hands clenched briefly before he pulled out of the crushing embrace and pressed their foreheads together. The dark eyes looking deeply into Ichigo's own were filled with emotion – he saw his own love and relief mirrored there, his pain and longing.
When their lips finally met, it wasn't the lightning crash of their first, or the fiery heat of their last, but a deep, tingling warmth that spread through their combined energies. Renji's hands were on his face as they kissed slowly, deliberately, mouths pressing firmly and opening to tongues determined to recapture each others' taste.
Without breaking the kiss, Ichigo slid his arms up Renji's shoulders and resumed his efforts at disrobing him. After a bit of wriggling, his own robes were removed and the rest of their uniforms rested in a heap off the side of the futon.
Ichigo finally pulled out of the kiss, wanting to drink in the sight of the naked form beside him. He pushed a stray strand of hair out of Renji's face, then let his hands explore the familiar patterns on his lover's body.
Renji caught his wrist, bringing Ichigo's arm to his lips and nibbling at the tattoo that matched the ones under Ichigo's fingers. He started to lean back, drawing Ichigo with him.
"Love me." Renji's voice was the barest whisper that somehow didn't break the tender silence.
Ichigo pressed his lover down into the bedding, brushing his lips over Renji's. "I will," he breathed. "I do."
Their bodies fit together as easily as they always had. No thought was required as Ichigo knelt between Renji's thighs and ran a hand down the tattooed chest, and long habit guided their movements as they oiled each other. Ichigo shifted unconsciously as a leg wrapped around his waist, his fingers still mapping the inky lines unerringly.
Each brush of Ichigo's lips reinforced the message singing through him.
I'm home. I'm safe. With you.
Renji's hands on his body echoed the feelings wordlessly.
You're home. You're safe. With me.
Ichigo sought Renji's hand with his own, fingers twining overtop the spill of crimson hair on the sheets. Pushing into the tight, slick heat brought a soft sigh to his lips, a sigh echoed by his lover as peace settled over their trembling limbs. They stayed locked like that for a long, long moment, breathing each other in, the energy swirling deep and thick around them speaking more eloquently than words ever could. Ichigo stared down in to Renji's slightly lidded eyes as long fingers curled warm around the back of his neck.
Ichigo traced the angular patterns on Renji's forehead with his lips, starting from the top and working his way down every corner to the inked eyebrows. A gentle rub eased the furrowed brow, and the lids slid shut on the dark red eyes only long enough to be brushed over before reopening half-way. Soft kisses along the sharp nose led him to the slightly parted lips; their low moans were lost as their mouths came together lightly, their tongues sliding out to taste each other again.
Renji's legs tightened around Ichigo as he began to move, pulling himself out of his lover almost all the way before he was drawn back into the deliciously warm depths of Renji's embrace. Long, slow thrusts stoked the fire between them steadily, eyes that began to shine with passion locked firmly on each other.
They moved together easily, the sensual press of hips and mouths unhurried, but the tension building inside them eventually begged to be released; it had been a long time, and the desire that filled their combined energies was overwhelming.
"I-Ichigo…" His name was only a whisper on Renji's lips as they reached the peak together. The wet heat spreading on their stomachs was a pale echo of the sudden flare of reiatsu as they shuddered with pleasure in each others' arms. One final, silent gasp was wrung from them both, then they finally allowed their eyes to close and their movements to slow.
Ichigo rested his head on Renji's chest as their bodies separated, shifting to lie at his lover's side when he was released from the tight circle of his legs. He swiped half-heartedly at the stickiness with a handful of tissues, but he didn't really care – they were just going to get messier.
Smells like home. Ichigo breathed deeply, the scent of their bedding and sex reassuringly familiar. He settled comfortably in Renji's embrace, listening to Renji's heart beating quickly in his chest.
But after a minute, Renji's breathing was still rough and heavy; Ichigo felt his partner's energy spike and heartbeat shoot up an instant before Renji sat straight up with a strangled gasp.
"What, what's wrong?" Ichigo sat up quickly and reached out, but Renji turned wild eyes on him and gripped his arms hard enough to bruise.
"Coulda… lost everythin'," Renji stammered. "Ya coulda been killed. I…" his voice broke, "…coulda lost ya." Renji was trembling violently.
Ichigo barely had time to remember he should have been ready for this before he was knocked flat by the emotional storm. It took him a few seconds to realize that fully half of it was coming from himself.
I could've lost this! The thought tumbled shrieking through his mind. He reeled. I might've been…
"I know," Ichigo choked out, his own hands digging into Renji's thigh. His reiatsu was tangled hopelessly with Renji's, racing through them in an overwhelming flood that got more painful as the chaotic feedback bounced between them "It's… we gotta… go with it," he gasped.
Renji shook his head stubbornly. "No," he rasped. "Not like this… I won't… not over this." He blinked furiously to clear the moisture from his eyes.
"Why not?" Ichigo didn't know how much longer he could hold back.
…I could've lost everything!
"It's ok. You taught me—"
"Not the same!" Renji ground out. "Dammit!" he swore as the tears spilled down. "I never gave up," he insisted. "Never thought ya weren't comin' back, so I can't… shouldn't grieve." His breaths were shallow and hoarse as he fought vainly to restrain himself.
What if I never made it? What if he…
"Too close." Ichigo swallowed hard around the aching lump in his throat. "Came too close this time, and we…" He let his own fear and grief loose with a moan, dropping his head on Renji's shoulder. "Fucking hell Renji, you went into Hueco Mundo alone a dozen times or more. I coulda come home to find you 'missing and presumed dead' instead of just worn to a thread." Hot, wet teardrops fell freely onto the tattooed skin.
Renji let out a strangled sob and buried his face in Ichigo's neck. "Not sorry," he mumbled as they clutched each other tightly. "Can't tell me it was wrong, 'cause we both know ya woulda done the same, you're such a damn hero."
Caught between a sob and a laugh at Renji's undefeatable stubbornness, Ichigo wound up hiccupping. "I know. Hic. It's…hic…ok, Renji. Hic. Stubborn idi—hic—ot."
The shaking of Renji's shoulder under his cheek changed, and Ichigo realized that Renji was suddenly laughing through his tears, too. "Oh…hic…nice." He took a long, deep breath, slowly gaining control over his breathing as Renji reined in their madly thrashing energies.
"It's not…hic…funny." Ichigo swiped the moisture from his eyes.
Renji kept laughing. "Yeah, it is." He leaned away, grabbing another handful of tissues from the box on the shelf to wipe his face and blow his nose. "It really is," he snorted, lips twitching.
Ichigo failed to hold back a wide grin. "Is not." He whacked Renji's shoulder.
"So is." A foot shoved at his knee.
Red-rimmed eyes stared at each other for a split second – then they were rolling around like children; jabbing fingers into ribs, pulling hair, and generally taking unashamed advantage of their knowledge of each others' bodies to attack sensitive or ticklish spots as they grappled.
Ichigo wasn't above applying the dirty tricks he'd picked up sparring with Renji and other friends over the years. He wiggled his way out of a headlock and twisted his legs around Renji's to heave his partner over to the side. Before Renji could roll out of the way, Ichigo reached out and pinched him right on one firm, bare butt cheek.
Renji yelped and tried to squirm out of the way, but Ichigo had already taken advantage of his momentary distraction. In a blink he was straddling Renji's waist, pinning his shoulders and hips to the mattress.
Ichigo grinned down in triumph, breathing hard. "I win," he gloated.
Renji rolled his eyes, but he was grinning, too. "Don't count," he argued. "That was no kinda fight."
"Does too count." Ichigo bent further and nipped at Renji's lips briefly before shifting to slide off to one side.
As soon as Ichigo had unseated himself, however, Renji was moving. His long arms captured Ichigo and pulled him back down.
"Ok then," Renji purred at him. "That means I get my prize." Then his mouth was on Ichigo's neck, and the energy flowing between them radiated desire.
"Ok." Ichigo's breath caught as his skin was sucked and nibbled from ear to shoulder. "I won, you pick. What are we doin' next?"
Renji turned them over onto their sides after leaving one last mark on Ichigo's collarbone. "First, we're gonna do some more of that 'recharging our energies and rebuilding our bond' that Unohana-taichou ordered us to do." Renji grinned broadly, wiggling inked eyebrows in amusement. "Then, we're gonna have a bath, 'cause I'm a mess an' you still smell like Hueco Mundo."
Ichigo laughed. "I smell like sand?"
"Well, no. I was just tryin' to get ya in the bath with me so I could get my hands all over ya again."
He snickered. "Since when have you ever needed an excuse to ambush me in the bath?"
"Never," Renji admitted happily. "So forget that, an' just expect to get wet."
"So is that all you're gonna claim?" Ichigo asked. "Sex, bath, more sex?"
Renji shook his head. "Don't forget supper. I'm hungry again already."
"Sex, bath, more sex in the bath, and food." Ichigo counted them off on his fingers. "Anything else?"
"I'll let ya know when I figure it out." Renji grinned. "Right now we got other things to do."
His mouth was back on Ichigo's neck, nipping back up the same path from collar to ear. "I didn't welcome ya home properly yet," he breathed. "Need to let ya know how much I missed ya."
"You'd better do something about that, then."
Renji wanted nothing more than to do just that. The need to touch, the need to feel, the need to reclaim himself and their life from the past month still pressed strongly. He didn't fight the happiness that bubbled up, or the renewed desire coursing through him.
Ichigo's voice was low in his ear. "I missed you, too. Missed this." Renji shifted as Ichigo pulled himself closer. "Missed feeling you around me." Ichigo's teeth grazed his jaw right below the ear, making him shiver. "Missed feeling you moving in me," Ichigo continued, his desire evident in his voice and in the burst of energy through their link.
"Well you're home now, and I'm right here." Renji turned and leaned over his partner, meeting the wide smile with one of his own. He brought his lips down on the warm mouth, savouring the feel and taste he'd missed so badly, breathing deeply of their mingled scents. A rough-skinned hand slid over his side, tracing the ribs that were still just a little too visible under the skin.
"What's left of you," Ichigo mumbled against his lips.
"You're a bit scrawny yourself." Renji sat back and slid his hands over Ichigo's lean torso. "We'll hafta spend some time in Karakura, let our family fatten us up again."
"Yuzu's gonna freak when she sees how thin you got."
Renji continued rubbing the hard muscled chest, and only smiled again in reply.
"Are you gonna stare at me, or are you gonna make love to me?" Ichigo gave him a lopsided smile. The air between them thrummed with anticipation.
"Can't I do both?" Renji ran his eyes over Ichigo's body, tracing each new scar with a fingertip. Ichigo squirmed a bit at one ticklish touch, laughing lightly. The carefree sound set Renji's blood racing.
He moved again, this time rolling Ichigo underneath him. "I'll stare at ya later. Right now Ineed… you."
"You got me." Ichigo smiled, wrapping his arms around his waist and squeezing his backside.
"Need to touch you." Renji let his hands roam over Ichigo's body, sweeping caresses over everywhere, mapping the swell of muscle and the sharp jut of bony joints. Mine.
He followed his hands with his lips. "Need to taste you." Renji licked at one pert brown nipple, pulling a low moan from Ichigo as he sucked it into his mouth. A spike of energy and a grasping hand in his hair brought a smirk to his lips, and he trailed his tongue further down. Ichigo's unique taste filled Renji's mouth as he nibbled all around, deliberately teasing, deliberately marking Ichigo as his. When he coaxed a deep groan out of his lover, he finally swallowed the heated flesh that quivered under his swirling tongue. Mine.
Ichigo's hips twitched upward when Renji pulled away; Renji pushed Ichigo's legs all the way back with a chuckle as he continued, tasting the tightly drawn skin. He dipped his tongue down low between Ichigo's legs, the sharp cry of pleasure earned as he licked his way inside stirring a deep ache in his groin.
Renji kissed both quivering thighs as he sat up and ran his oiled fingers down his length, eyes fixed on Ichigo's flushed face. "Need to be inside you." Renji pressed forward and slid himself inside, aided by insistent hands that gripped his buttocks and pulled him deeper, all hot and smooth and deliciously tight. Mine.
"Welcome home." Renji grinned around the old ritual; it was oddly comforting.
Ichigo's answering smirk was accompanied by a deep, heady lust rising in their blended reiatsu."I need you to move," he gasped, bucking his hips.
Renji moved. Sharp pleasure rushed through him as Ichigo met each thrust, fingers tangling in his hair and yanking his head down for a messy meeting of lips and tongues that left him completely breathless.
Renji let himself go, spurred on by Ichigo's encouragement. Their movements were perfectly in sync, and they revelled in the energetic love-making. Every nerve was on fire as they rode the crest of the wave before falling wildly into pleasure.
Ecstasy crashed through them, the spiritual feedback heightening the sensation of each firm thrust and clenched muscle almost unbearably. The shared passion carried them along for a long time before their senses cleared and they lay panting, entwined in the twisted sheets.
"Need to revise your list," Ichigo groaned. "I wanna sleep for a week."
Renji laughed and rolled to the side. "C'mon, you can rest in the bath. You'll be all stiff later if ya don't."
"Stiff? You're gonna grope me!" Ichigo cracked one eye open and smirked at him.
"Well yeah, but I'll give ya a massage first," Renji offered with a grin.
"In that case, help me up…"
The leisurely bath – complete with the promised massage and groping – consumed a large part of the evening. By the time they were through with supper, they were both ready for sleep. As they cleared away the dishes and prepared for bed, Ichigo reflected on just how much it meant to know that, no matter how bad things got, he could always count on at least one person looking out for him.
"Thanks," Ichigo said quietly. "For not giving up on me."
Renji shook his head. "Promised we'd see this through 'til the end."
"But it's never gonna end," Ichigo pointed out with a smile.
Renji grinned. "Good thing we're planning on stickin' around forever, then."
Ichigo followed Renji into the bedroom. "You say that now, but what about in hundreds of years, when I'm white-haired and cranky, and you're bald and—"
"I ain't gonna lose my hair!" Renji objected, turning and thumping him on the shoulder. "Ukitake-taichou's got white hair, I'll give ya that, but Kyouraku-taichou's the same age and he still only looks 'bout forty."
Ichigo snickered. "We'll see." Renji just laughed.
As they settled into the blankets, Renji immediately shifted into his favourite position draped over Ichigo's side. They lay together in the darkness, comfortably full and sleepy, and utterly content for the first time in months.
Akuni: And we're done, that's it, the end of another installment of the Amaranthine series.
Ichigo: Though with a name like that, you could keep it goin' for…
Akuni: Well, I dunno, are you guys gonna do anything else story-worthy again? Or will it all be boring day-to-day stuff? Training recruits, filling out paperwork, blah blah blah?
Renji: Oh hell, I hope it ain't gonna be that boring!
Ichigo: With our luck? Dream on! I figure we've got about three more years, story time, before she drops another bomb on us.
Akuni: I really don't know, guys. But never say never, so just enjoy the peace while you can.
Akuni: I… I can't believe it's done. -bursts into tears-
Renji: Uh oh, tears. Quick, where's Karin?
Ichigo: Crap, she's not in this chapter!
Akuni: -sniffles- I'm ok, it's just… a shock. -pulls self together- Well… ok everyone, I hope you enjoyed the ride. I know I sure did. Thank you so much for reading. We may see you again someday.
Ichigo: See? Told ya.
Renji: She just can't let us go.
Akuni: Never! -clings- :)
See the story posted on LJ or ygal for links to the art that goes with this chapter. Link to my LJ – where this story is very prominently featured – is on my bio.
(This has been one of my favourites since it was first completed, months and months and months ago. I adore the way the precise moment in the story is captured so completely and perfectly. I actually got teary when I saw even the preliminary sketch. The pic and the scene it goes with were developed around the same time and influenced each other quite a bit – yes, that means I had this ending written a very long time ago. :)
As time went on, we both had to tweak, fixing mistakes in the chapter and in the pic, and I think they're even better now. This is a gorgeously coloured piece, but the black and white is still my favourite.)
♫ 'Nothing Else Matters' – Metallica
(The theme song for the entire series… nothing else matters, except the bond between these two. Forever.)
Additional story information is available on my LJ – things that FFNet framework won't allow me to post here.
Note: This may very well be the last fic I will upload to FFNet. If you want to continue to follow my writing, I will still be posting fic regularly on LJ. You don't need an LJ to read there, but you do need one to comment. It's not hard to sign up, and if you do, you'll find a whole wealth of fandom resources, and a lot less drek to wade through. Better stories, lots of great art - what's not to love?