I must say, this is kinda sad... this is the final chapter... I cry! Well, it's certainly been fun, 4,146 hits later, and a whoping 93 (jaw drops) reviews, it's done! I had so much fun with this story, and I must say, it's one of my most popular ones! (In my top 15 with reviews, alerts, favs, and almost hits! I feel so honored!) This story didn't really start out as much for me, but I must admit that it went a whole lot farther than I thought it would. I enjoyed writing this, and I hope that you enjoyed reading it!

Chapter 8

It was a long night.

Orihime had managed to heal Ichigo completely; all of them breathing a sigh of relief when Ichigo was finally out of the danger zone. Wanting him to be comfortable, and so as not to be a bother to Orihime and Rukia, Renji had then carried him home, carefully cradling the sleeping man in his arms.

Ichigo had slept deeply the whole way there, cuddled up to Renji's chest with one hand tangled in the cloth of his shihakshou. Once settled in his bed, Ichigo had lay still, only whimpering faintly when Renji had moved away to slip back into his gigai and carefully lay Ichigo in his own body.

The redhead had then climbed into the bed wearily, pulling the blankets over their bodies and slipping up behind Ichigo, fitting their bodies together carefully. He wrapped an arm over Ichigo's waist, pulling him flush against his chest so that they were molded together; wanting to make sure that he knew Ichigo was really there.

Renji shivered faintly. I almost lost him tonight. Over something as simple as a small Hollow and his own pride. I almost lost him…

He put his chin against Ichigo's shoulder, laying his head against Ichigo's cheek and filling his lungs with the man's scent. His hand sought out Ichigo's and he wound his fingers through Ichigo's limp ones, repressing his body's shivers and the rapid thudding of his heart. His reiatsu threaded out, tangling with the lingering traces of Ichigo's and wrapping securely around the man, cradling him in warmth and protection. Renji breathed deep, shuddering again and pressing his body closer to Ichigo.

After a few moments of being wrapped around Ichigo body and soul, the man began to come to, his eyelids fluttering and his body shifting where it was tightly embraced. Ichigo awoke to the warm tendrils of Renji's reiatsu tangled around him, and his body restrained in Renji's muscular arms.

Ichigo blinked, looking to the side where he could barely see Renji's face where it rested against his cheek. "R-Renji?"

Renji turned his head, burying his nose in the hollow just below Ichigo's left ear, not responding. Ichigo wriggled slightly, trying to turn to so he could see the redhead, but Renji's hold was too tight on him.

"Renji, talk to me. What's going on? What's wrong with you?" Ichigo asked, worry creeping into his voice.

"Don't." Renji said softly, his limbs starting to relax a little. "Don't you ever do that again."

Ichigo managed to turn over, his eyes widening at the sight of Renji's downturned eyes sparkling faintly with unshed tears. The orange-head felt something in his chest ache at that sight; Renji was too strong to cry. "Renji, I'm sorry, I didn't mean…"

Renji snapped, wrapping his hands around Ichigo's biceps and shaking him hard, anger flaring in his eyes as the angry and frustrated tears escaped from his eyes. "Sorry doesn't cut it, Ichigo!" Renji roared in his face. "You almost died because you're too goddamn stubborn to admit when you need to sit back and let others do the work! I almost lost you because of your stupid attitude!"

Renji growled, looking away. His voice grew softer, more hurt coming out. "I don't need to lose anyone else that I care about. The people that I lost in the Rukongai were enough. Losing Momo was enough."

As these words faded Renji's hands fell away from Ichigo's arms, leaving faint marks on the orange-head's skin as he stared at Renji with wide chocolate eyes. He stared at him for a moment, and then his face softened, and he shifted forward, carefully wrapping his arms around under Renji's arms, his hands latching onto his broad shoulders.

"I'm sorry." Ichigo murmured against the other's bare skin. "I know that that's not good enough, but I'm still sorry. I… I guess I wasn't thinking. I should have called you, because I knew that I couldn't handle it."

Renji scoffed faintly. "Of course you should have called me. You should never have left in the first place on your own."

Ichigo sighed. "I know. I was… I was stupid. And I'm sorry."

The redhead was silent for a moment, and then sighed, wrapping his arms around Ichigo's slender form and holding him close, breathing deep of his scent once more. "Alright, you're forgiven. I guess I can't get mad at you for something I probably would have done myself."

Ichigo chuckled at that, leaning away from Renji to look at him. "That's true, you hypocrite."

"Hey, at least I could admit it."

The orange-head nodded, and then relaxed against the bed, sighing contentedly as he kept his eyes on Renji's face. Renji returned his gaze for a long while, and then blinked in confusion. "What are you staring at me for?"

Ichigo snorted. "What do you think? I haven't seen you for so long, and now I finally get to again…" He raised his hand, gently running his fingers over the sharp angle of Renji's cheekbone. "Now I know what I was missing before."

Renji pressed his face into Ichigo's palm, smiling faintly. "I think I liked it better when you were blind. The touching to see was a lot more fun."

At those words Ichigo grinned almost wickedly. "Whoever said that was going to stop? Personally I think I liked that better as well."

The redhead chuckled evilly, diving in to claim Ichigo's lips with his own, their reiatsu meshing together and filling the room with warmth and pleasure.

Ichigo lay still as he allowed his breathing to settle down to a normal pace, his fingers still weakly entwined with Renji's where their hands lay on the pillow beside his head. Renji's cheek was hot on his chest, his breath burning across his collarbone as the redhead settled his own breathing. The orange-head sighed heavily, his fingers moving slowly through the strands of red that decorated his chest, Renji's hair having come loose at some point.

Renji purred faintly at the sensation of Ichigo's fingers moving through his hair, closing his red-brown eyes in contentment. His hand tightened where it was tangled with Ichigo's, squeezing gently and lovingly.



Ichigo closed his eyes, his hand stilling in Renji's hair before slowly beginning to stroke along his scalp again. Renji sighed contentedly, relaxing. Ichigo's voice was soft and soothing when he spoke next. "I never did get to tell you…"

Renji's eyes opened, his head turning to he could look up into Ichigo's warm chocolate eyes. "Tell me what?"

Ichigo grinned. "I love you. I don't know when it started, and hell if I know how it works, but I know that I love you, more than I have anyone else. You make me feel… complete, safe. Like I don't have to prove myself to you, like I have to everyone else." Ichigo grinned. "You make me feel like I belong, like I don't have to fight to have my place in the world."

Renji blinked in shock at this little declaration, and then he smiled softly, scooting up to press a gentle kiss against Ichigo's lips. His hand was gentle as it smoothed the orange bangs away from Ichigo's forehead, his red-brown eyes dancing faintly. "Stupid. You didn't need to tell me that you loved me. I already knew." His grin widened. "And I love you too."

The orange-head felt a weight lift off of his chest, and his smile grew more heartfelt and relieved, his head rolling to the side on the pillow so he could press his face against Renji's throat. "I'm so glad…"

They were quiet for a moment, and then Renji chuckled, squeezing Ichigo faintly. "You better not be going soft on me, Kurosaki, that was pretty mushy for a guy like you."

Ichigo growled, his face tightening in a glare. "What's that supposed to mean?.! I just told you something really important and that's what I get?.! Ungrateful bastard!"

"Ow, hey, that hurts!"

"Well you shoulda thought of that!"

"Ichigo! HEY! Ichigo, that's not supposed to bend that way! ICHIGO!!"