Maudlin

by: eternalsailorsolarwind AKA youkaigirl

Disclaimer: Bleach and all of its characters are owned by Tite Kubo, his Japanese publishers, and Viz. I only play with them for fun and games.

A/N: Written for the week 25 prompt at bleachcontest: quid pro quo. Had a little trouble with this one. The war has just ended. Renji's POV, with Byakuya/Ichigo at the end. A little bit drunk, Renji wonders why Ichigo did it all.

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The war was over. Aizen was defeated in a very messy, final kind of way. The Fourth Division was still finding chunks of the former captain across Seireitei. So naturally, after the years of war, it was time to party.

Swallowing the last of his latest tankard of beer, Abarai Renji looked around. The Sixth Division fukutaichou was drunk. Not pleasantly buzzed, or falling-down drunk, but he'd reached that level of intoxication that allowed him to see things with a clarity he never could while sober.

Never let it be said that Soul Society didn't know how to throw a party.

His eyes lit upon Ichigo – the orange hair drawing his attention like a beacon – comfortably ensconced in a group of friends that the substitute had made among the shinigami: Ikkaku, Yumi, Matsumoto, Hanatarou, Ganju, Shuuhei-senpai, and even Hitsugaya-taichou. The redhead was willing to bet his next paycheck that the Tenth Division captain had been drug "unwillingly" by his lieutenant.

Only he and Rukia were missing. He'd been wandering around, seeing friends who survived the war and taking note of those who hadn't. Snagging another tankard from a passing server, Renji looked back at the group surrounding the living Soul Reaper. He took a deep drink, wondering for the first time why the orange-haired man had done it all. He knew part of the reason: wanting to protect his friends and family. There had to be another one, though. Something else that kept him striving to be better, stronger, and faster than his enemies.

He wasn't like the rest of the shinigami; paid to fight this war. It was their job, their duty, and more importantly, their honor. Aizen had been one of them, and as a whole the Gotei 13 did not suffer traitors kindly. They had fought to restore their honor, and they had done it. The tattooed man knew his name was on the short list for captaincy now that the war was over. That would be his personal reward for his service.

But what was in it for Kurosaki Ichigo?

Movement out of the corner of his eye drew his attention, and the redhead turned to see who it was. Rukia, pausing to look around, spotted the substitute Soul Reaper, and hurried directly to him. She was urging him to get up and follow her, it seemed, and the tipsy young man didn't seem to be in the mood to do so. A swift kick to the chin changed his mind in a hurry.

Picking up his beer with a grin, the fukutaichou decided to follow them. Catching a declaration from Rukia to Ichigo would be worth the beating he'd get. It'd probably also explain why Ichigo had continued to fight so hard and so long: love.

Being a little unsteady on his feet from the amount of alcohol he'd drunk, Renji fell behind his two friends. Stumbling into the building he'd seen them enter, he stopped dead at the scene in front of him, trying to make sense of it. Four words crossed his mind as he hastily backed out.

Right reason, wrong Kuchiki.

It was his captain that he'd seen in a heated lip lock with the substitute shinigami, not Rukia. Neither seemed to be in any hurry for it to end, either. The kenseiken hung limply from where its fastenings had caught on Ichigo's wrist, while his hand was buried in the long, raven hair it usually covered. He wondered, briefly, how the orange-haired man had figured out how to remove it.

Giving himself a shake to banish the image now burned in his mind, the lieutenant decided that it might be a good time to go back to the party. It was still early, after all, and he wanted to get rid of the maudlin feelings the beer had caused. Maybe there was still some of the good sake left, and he could get good and rip-roaring drunk.