A/N: Okay, I'm so sorry that this took so long to get out! But real life has gotten increasingly busy, and I just didn't have time to sit and write this out until I went back to work! Go figure! But to make up for it, this chapter is nearly 9 pages long, so it's significantly longer than a lot of my other chapters. There is a lemon in this chapter, so please consider yourselves forewarned. Happy reading!

Renji had forgiven Ichigo, mostly. And even if he hadn't forgiven the teen, Ichigo wouldn't have been able to bring himself to apologize for trying to protect Renji, so it would have been a wasted effort to continue being angry at him. The rest of the day passed by uninterrupted. He had to explain to the others that he had sensed something dangerous nearby, but he didn't bother to tell him that the demon lord had been in town. Ishida, at the very least, had his suspicions. After all, he hadn't felt the reiatsu, so he knew it hadn't been Hollows, and there just weren't that many other options.

Ichigo was only moderately worried about what she had been doing so close to his school. Perhaps she was just checking up on him? Or maybe she was here for a completely different reason, one that had nothing to do with him, and her presence in his hometown was just a coincidence.

After school, he and Renji had walked home together, a companionable silence between them. They were both on the lookout for danger, their focus elsewhere, but even so, Ichigo couldn't help but be aware of the man at his side, the heat radiating from his body a source of comfort.

Normally, once school had ended for the day, Ichigo would wander around town for a while, sometimes visiting the graves of those spirits who had not yet moved on, bringing them flowers and keeping them company for a while. It wasn't much, but the spirits seemed to derive some comfort from it, especially the children, so he continued his visits.

Now, though, he could send them on up to Soul Society, and he did so, once he reassured them that they would be safe up there. Knowing what he did about Rukongai, he sometimes wondered at that, but Renji had assured him that children were usually adopted into a family, or into a gang, and they survived just fine. Besides, he had pointed out, it was better to be around other spirits and shinigami, rather than remaining chained to the human world and risking being devoured by a Hollow or becoming one themselves.

Only just now realizing that he hadn't been out to visit the graves since Renji had first come to town, Ichigo decided to pay his respects. Stopping to pick a handful of flowers, ignoring Renji's puzzled, almost amused expression, Ichigo wandered across town, stopping at three different sites. He refilled the vases with water from nearby houses, and spent a few moments chatting with the spirits – two children and one adult.

He apologized to the children for not visiting, but they were just happy to see him. Next time, he told himself, he'd go ahead and send them up to Soul Society, where they'd be safe from Hollows, and would hopefully find a family of their own.

The adult he spoke to had died abruptly, but nobody knew the cause, not even him. He had been walking down the street on his way to work, and had just collapsed in the middle of the sidewalk. By the time the ambulance had arrived, he was pronounced dead. At the time, he had been perfectly healthy, tall, slender, and relatively young. He was only in his mid-thirties, and the autopsy hadn't turned up anything, either.

When he had arrived, the man was waiting for him, his posture tense and wary. It was then that Ichigo realized that this gravesite was near where the demon lord had been earlier. Upon seeing him, the spirit walked out to greet him, and Ichigo sent him on ahead to Soul Society. He was ready to go, and because he was an adult already, he understood what leaving the human world might entail, and was prepared for it.

Finished for the day, Ichigo headed for home, Renji still a silent presence beside him. Now, though, his expression was contemplative, as he periodically snuck glances at Ichigo. The teenager was aware of the looks he was receiving, but chose to ignore them. After all, it wouldn't do to lose the element of surprise for tonight, now would it?

Arriving home, Ichigo was greeted by his over-enthusiastic father, but he had been expecting it, and Isshin was flat on the ground in no time. Renji just excused himself and headed up the stairs, snickering. The man never did learn, did he?

After poking his head into the kitchen and letting Yuzu know that he had a guest and would need two portions for dinner, Ichigo followed the redhead up to his room. They'd probably do a little bit of their homework before dinner, and then either wander around outside, train in Urahara's underground shop, or just relax and chill out.

Renji seemed amenable to just lazing about in the evenings, doing nothing in particular. Apparently, it wasn't something that he got to do very often in Sereitei, as he was always dragged out drinking with some of the others when there wasn't an imminent threat for them to deal with instead. So just hanging out was an opportunity that Renji welcomed.

Sure enough, both men went upstairs and settled themselves on the floor, pulling blankets and pillows off of Ichigo's bed to make little nests for them to lay in while they poured over their homework. Today's workload was pretty light, and they were done quickly, though not without some grumbling from a certain redhead.

"Why do I have to do the homework, too? For that matter, why do I have to go to school? Can't I just hang out in the classroom as a shinigami? There's no need for me to wear a gigai, and it's a pain to get rid of when Hollow show up." The grumbling continued, but Ichigo tuned him out, studying the book before him.

He was surprisingly good at schoolwork, primarily because he tackled it the same way he did a fight. It was just a matter of studying your opponent and figuring out their strengths, and then finding a way to overcome them. When dealing with homework, he just had to figure out the one key that would let him solve the puzzle. The rest just sort of fell into place after that.

Yuzu brought dinner up a little later, and the two boys paused during their homework to eat, not bothering to talk in favor of wolfing down their respective meals. Twenty minutes later, they were back to homework, their empty dishes lying outside of the bedroom door. Yuzu would pick them up later, or Ichigo would run them downstairs.

With a final tired sigh, Ichigo closed his book, sitting up properly and stretching. He hated homework with a passion, but he fully intended to get into college one day. His mother wasn't around anymore, but she had planned for them all to get a college education, and it was the one promise that Ichigo was determined to keep. And so, he did his homework faithfully.

Beside him, Renji stretched as well, yawning. He only did the work because it was boring just sitting in the room and waiting for Ichigo to finish. He hardly cared if he failed the class or not, since he probably wouldn't finish out the school year before having to adjust his teachers' and classmates' memories to forget that he ever existed.

"No word from Rukia?" Ichigo asked, and relaxed when Renji shook his head. No word from Rukia meant no missions. And they were both able to sense and locate any stray Hollows that showed up, so Rukia wouldn't call them for something like that, assuming that they'd show up if they were needed.

Ichigo grabbed some sleep pants and headed for the door. "I'm gonna go take a shower," he said. Renji mumbled an okay behind him, and Ichigo padded down the hallway. A hot shower would feel good, and by the time he was done, Yuzu and Karin should be in bed. Isshin would probably still be at the hospital for a few hours yet.

Ichigo didn't waste time debating with himself over what he wanted to do, or what he should do. If Renji wasn't interested, he'd let him know, probably violently. After all, it's not like the contract was designed to make him submissive to Ichigo. But the teen had started to notice that Renji's loyalty and affection had seemed…different, somehow, than what he gave so freely to Rukia. So there might actually be a chance that this could work.

Twenty minutes later, he climbed out of the shower and put on his sleep pants, not bothering with a t-shirt. Renji was hardly going to care. His hair still dripping wet, he made his way back into his room, noting that both Yuzu's and Karin's lights were off. That would make this at least a little bit easier.

"Your turn," he said, walking into his room. Renji had been lounging on the chair next to the bed, staring out the window contemplatively, but he turned his head at Ichigo's entrance, and froze. "Renji? You okay, man?" Ichigo asked tentatively, watching the redhead in concern.

The shinigami shook his head abruptly and stood. "Yeah, I'm fine," he replied shortly. "You just surprised me is all." Now it was Ichigo's turn to be surprised; he hadn't realized that Renji was so lost in thought that he had, essentially, snuck up behind him and startled him.

Renji fled the room, and Ichigo stared after him, trying not to grin. He hadn't missed the fact that Renji's eyes had seemed glued to his chest, where the water from his hair was making a trail. Shaking his head like a dog shedding water, Ichigo chuckled to himself. He hadn't seen Renji embarrassed in a long time.

Lounging on his bed, Ichigo shut his eyes, dozing while Renji was in the shower. The redhead always took at least half an hour, on account of his long hair. He had tried to explain to Ichigo once that long hair required much more maintenance than the short spikes that the teen preferred, but Ichigo had just shot back that perhaps he simply needed to cut it off and save himself the hassle. Renji had just shot him an irritated look and proceeded to ignore him for the next several days.

Now, though, Ichigo mused, he wouldn't want Renji to cut his hair. He liked it long, and it suited the red-haired shinigami, in the same way that the tattoos did. He found himself wondering, again, what the tattoos meant. Maybe he'd ask Renji later.

Sensing Renji's approaching reiatsu, Ichigo kept his eyes closed, his arms curled under his head as he relaxed, breathing evenly. Renji paused briefly outside the door, hesitating, and Ichigo sensed a small flicker of energy as he debated with himself. The hesitation didn't last for long, though, and Renji pushed open the bedroom door, moving silently further into the room, watching Ichigo.

Cracking his eyes open, Ichigo noticed that Renji hadn't bothered to put on a shirt, either. His hair, on the other hand, was dry and left down, hanging straight and soft down past his shoulders. The tattoos made various patterns across his skin, and Ichigo found himself as entranced by them as ever. The boxy ones that ran across his chest and back somehow offset the smoother, sharp waves that curved down and around his arms. The bold lines that traveled down his body outlined sturdy ribs, covered by lean muscle.

Bringing his eyes up to meet Renji's laughing ones, Ichigo shrugged, sitting up. No doubt Renji already knew, or at least suspected, what he was after, but wasn't going to say anything. He was leaving all the work to Ichigo. Moving silently across the room, Ichigo let the redhead see the approval in his eyes when Renji didn't shift or back up. The shinigami just stared back at him calmly.

Reaching upwards slowly, Ichigo traced the sharp, pointed tattoos that travelled along Renji's face and up his forehead, taking his time to examine them. Renji sighed under the touch, pushing slightly into Ichigo's hands. "What do these mean?" Ichigo asked, his curiosity winning out over his desire…for the moment.

Renji looked down at him, his hands coming up to catch Ichigo's and still them where they traced the tattoos on his forehead. "They're…plateaus, I suppose," he replied, his voice serious. "When I make a worthy accomplishment, the symbols are added to. For surviving Rukongai, I had the ones on my face. For becoming a shinigami; and for moving up to the rank of Vice Captain; for mastering Bankai. All of these added to the symbols."

"Hmm…so it's like a reward?" Ichigo asked, and Renji shook his head, breathing out a frustrated huff. Ichigo stared up at him, curious, hoping that Renji would clarify. The tattoos themselves were fascinating, but if they weren't a reward, then what were they?

"They're more like a…manifestation of power," Renji spoke again, hesitating over the words as he tried to describe the mysterious lines that patterned his entire body. "Whenever I grow in power or strength, more of the lines appear. It's not something that I consciously do to myself. Some believe that they are a manifestation of Zabimaru on my body, but nobody is entirely certain," he admitted, his voice low.

Ichigo stared at the tattoos decorating Renji's chest in rapt fascination. If it wasn't something that Renji was doing consciously, and nobody knew what they truly meant, then why was it only him? Why didn't other shinigami have tattoos that symbolized their power or their zanpakuto?

"That's really, really cool," he breathed finally, and the chest under his now explorative fingers rumbled with suppressed laughter. Frowning up at Renji, he asked, "What? It is!" he insisted. Renji just shook his head at him, still grinning, his brown eyes dancing in amusement.

Ichigo growled and reached up with his left hand, grabbing Renji's hair and pulling the other man down for a kiss. That managed to shut him up, he thought in satisfaction. After a split second, Renji kissed back, and Ichigo smiled into the kiss, sensing no hesitation in the other man.

Walking backwards, Ichigo felt his way carefully across his small room until his knees hit the edge of his bed. With a twist and small push, Ichigo toppled them both onto the bed, making sure that he was on top when they landed. Other than a surprised huff, he got no further reaction. Instead, arms came up and wrapped around his neck, looping there loosely as they kissed, the contact more leisurely now that Ichigo was sure that Renji wouldn't protest this much, at least.

A little bolder now, Ichigo allowed his hand to wander, stroking across a firm chest. The sensation was familiar to him, and Renji mumbled appreciatively into the kiss, arching up slightly into Ichigo's hand. Breaking away from the kiss, Ichigo trailed small nips down Renji's chin and throat, stopping to nibble on his collarbone. This earned him a sigh, and slender fingers slipped behind his head, guiding but not holding him in place.

As a reward, Ichigo nipped his collarbone sharply, and then laved over the area with his tongue. Renji jerked in response, his grip tightening for a brief moment before they loosened, sliding easily through Ichigo's short spikes.

Pulling back for a moment, Ichigo's attention was caught once more by the fascinating tattoos that traced a pattern across Renji's flesh. With a grin, he bent back down and started tracing the markings with his tongue and lips, taking care to note the varying tastes as he went. Soap, and water, and a little bit of sweat, and a masculine taste that was pure Renji. Ichigo wondered idly if he tasted similar, but shrugged it off after a moment. It really wasn't important, not when he had Renji's lean body under his.

Shifting his weight a little more, so that he was situated further on top of the other shinigami, Ichigo gasped when he brushed against Renji's erection. The redhead arched up into him, and Ichigo groaned, muffling the sound against Renji's chest, which caused the other man to chuckle as the ticklish vibrations traveled across his body.

With a small frown at the laughing shinigami, Ichigo slipped a hand back up to Renji's face, holding two fingers in front of his mouth. Renji paused a moment, regarding him seriously, and then opened his mouth, allowing Ichigo to slip his fingers inside. Ichigo sighed at the new sensation, and continued his exploration, nibbling down Renji's stomach, pausing to dip his tongue inside the redhead's navel, where the scent and taste of Renji were stronger.

Renji moaned and scraped his teeth lightly against Ichigo's fingers, and then moved his tongue, the rasping motion wrapping around the intruding digits. Unable to move down any further without taking his hand back, Ichigo slid back up Renji's body, making sure to rub against him the whole way up. Renji's eyes widened as they met Ichigo's, the pupils darkened with lust, and he arched his back with a small cry. Ichigo found himself mimicking the shinigami as a wandering hand found its way to his crotch, rubbing firmly through the cloth.

That was it. The clothes were coming off, before Ichigo totally lost it. Sitting up, straddling Renji's waist, Ichigo removed his fingers, kissing the redhead instead. Breaking from the kiss, Ichigo shifted off of Renji and quickly stripped out of his sleep pants.

Renji remained lying on the bed, his breathing heavy and his hands clenched into fists. Noticing, Ichigo turned to look back at Renji in concern. "Renji? You okay?" he asked, ready to back off the moment the other man said 'no'.

Sighing, Renji unclenched his fists and turned to gaze up at Ichigo, nodding. "Yeah, I'm okay. I just…" he floundered, searching for the right words. "I want to touch you, too, but I don't know what you're looking for," he finally managed to choke out. Ichigo stared at him blankly for a few moments, before he managed to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Obviously, Renji had realized that Ichigo had taken control because he was afraid to not have it. No doubt, Renji remembered the possession and subsequent abuse the demon had put Ichigo through while hiding behind his friend's face, and was afraid of throwing him into a flashback or something.

Ichigo smiled, his hand reaching out to cup Renji's cheek as he bent down to give the other man a gentle kiss. "You don't have to worry about that," he replied softly, keeping his voice low. "Just don't try to pin me down or take control, and I'll be fine." He was sure of it.

Hesitantly, Renji reached up and stroked along the side of Ichigo's face. The teen smiled at him encouragingly, and Renji's strokes grew bolder, tracing down his throat and rubbing gently across his collar bone. Satisfied that there would be no further reluctance on the redhead's part, Ichigo turned his attention towards stripping Renji of his pants.

Renji accommodated his efforts by lifting his hips, and Ichigo slid the pants off, tossing them haphazardly onto the floor. Both of them bare now, Ichigo turned back around, straddling Renji once more. He was now in highly unfamiliar territory, but he was hardly going to let that stop him. Leaning down to kiss Renji, Ichigo thought that he just might be addicted to the other man.

For once, the other three personalities that resided inside of him were dormant. Not even Hichigo was interfering, his near-constant amusement and battle lust not tainting Ichigo's own emotions. Instead, the lust he was feeling was nothing but the slide of lips, and the slick writhing of warm bodies twisting against each other. Soft sighs and moans filled the air, and wandering hands took advantage of sensitive nerves.

Before Ichigo knew it, he had fallen over the edge, his back arching as he ground into the supple body below him. An answering groan, and liquid warmth flowed between them.

With a tired sigh, Ichigo rolled slightly to the side, slipping off of Renji's body. The redhead just lay there, staring blankly up at the ceiling, his breathing heavy and his body limp. Sated, the two boys gave themselves time to recuperate. Eventually, though, Ichigo forced his sated body to sit up. He needed to at least clean himself up a bit, although a shower would be better.

Standing on shaky legs, Ichigo was surprised to note that he seemed more tired now than he did after fighting a group of Hollows. Maybe that's because battle made him stronger, as he fed off of his enemies. The demon lord hadn't been the only one to notice his knack for growing stronger with every enemy he faced, Ichigo thought wryly. He had asked Zangetsu and Hichigo about it once, but his only response had been that he was unique by himself, so this extraordinary ability was just par for the course for him.

"Where're you goin'?" Renji mumbled muzzily from behind him. Ichigo paused, turning to face the other man, appreciating anew the body spread out on it. Renji's eyes were slit as he gazed up at Ichigo, tired and sated. Ichigo smiled; it made him feel rather proud to have exhausted Renji that much.

Shrugging, he replied, "I'm going to go take a shower. I'm sticky." He wrinkled his nose, and Renji chuckled at him, shifting his body until he, too, was sitting up. Standing, he teased Ichigo, whose eyes had roamed downwards, curious.

"Like what you see?" As if to emphasize the body that had caught Ichigo's attention, he stretched, muscles sliding under taut skin. Ichigo swallowed, his eyes meeting Renji's as he felt himself stirring again. Renji smirked outright this time. "Your eyes are starting to flicker again," he announced. "They were so beautiful before."

Ichigo blinked, caught off guard by the compliment. He had almost forgotten about his strange new eyes. Renji frowned at him, and Ichigo realized that his eyes must have damped, as they did whenever he was feeling upset or surprised. Shaking his head, he smiled at Renji and shrugged. "Yeah, well, what can I say? They're my best feature."

Renji snorted at his lame quip, but followed Ichigo as he turned to head for the shower. However, it looked like playtime was over. As Ichigo stepped out the door, he heard the front door creak open. Isshin was home, finally. Renji ducked back inside with a grin, and Ichigo rolled his eyes, heading straight for the shower. No doubt his father wouldn't bother to check his room if he heard the shower running. Hopefully, though, Renji would change the bedding, just in case.

Taking a deep breath and releasing it in a rough sigh, Ichigo combed his fingers through his mussed hair, the feel of slender fingers and gentle lips still making his skin tingle. Not even a hot shower would be enough to remove the phantom sensations, he thought with a smile, because now, he was Renji's, and Renji was his.

Take that, demons, he thought smugly, stepping into the shower again. What had started out as kidnapping and torture had instead turned into something wonderful. The absorption of a demon's energy and the manifestation of that energy had given him a bond all his own. And he swore to himself then and there, that nobody would ever take the fiery redhead away from him. Nobody.