Rating: Definitely Nc-17

Word count: ~ 9700

Warnings: Dark themes, Sin City-esque AU, hooker!Ichigo, insane!Shiro, and all the baggage and dubious consent implied within. Implied twincest.

Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are the property of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the creators, and no copyright infringement is intended.

A/N: This is a repost of Dancer in the Dark, a story I wrote a while ago and never finished, which has now been condensed/altered into a one-shot. Apologies to everyone who was waiting for more, but the muse died a slow and painful death. Anyone who wants to continue this story, I'll send you the next chapter (written but not posted) if you'd like, but I'm done with it. :(


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Memento Mori

(Remember you will die)

The headquarters of the Karakura City Police Force was rather underwhelming, Renji reflected somewhat morosely. What had started out looking like a promotion was rapidly becoming more and more suspicious as he surveyed the worn stone and crumbling edges of what had probably once been an imposing building, but now just looked…worn. The cops he could see looked worn, too, grey and tired in a way that not even the retirees in Seireitei had been. The squad cars were dingy, and some looked only a few miles from being towed to the nearest scrap heap. Garbage piled up around the wide marble steps leading up to the main door, most of it street refuse that city workers should have taken care of long ago.

"You gettin' out, buddy, or are you gonna pay me for sitting here?" the cabbie snapped, breaking into Renji's thoughts. The redhead quickly grabbed a crumpled twenty from his pocket and paid the man, then dragged his duffle bag up off the floor and climbed out.

Just as he was about to shut the door, something occurred to him, and he leaned back down to ask the cabbie, "Did it…always look like this?" Just so there could be no mistake, he jerked a thumb at the tired building with its fading sign, the crooked letters reading, "Karakura City Police Headquarters."

The man laughed at that, a bitter sound that made the hair on Renji's arms stand up, and then fixed his passenger with mocking eyes. "You're new around here, aren't ya? Well, you'll get used to it soon enough. You'll have to, if ya wanna stay sane. So long as the war's goin' on, it'll always be like this." With that, he reached back and shut Renji's door himself, then slammed the car into drive. It lurched forward, and Renji had to leap back to avoid losing some toes. He swore after the retreating cab, only just then realizing that he'd never gotten his change

But his curses died in mid-breath as the cabbie's words suddenly struck him. The war, he had said, as though that should mean something significant. As though that was all that needed to be said. But Renji couldn't, for the life of him, figure out what he had meant.

Renji's frown grew deeper. This whole transfer was starting to give him a bad feeling.

Shaking off the dark thoughts—he was here anyway, so he might as well try to make the best of it—he shouldered his bag and made his way up the wide marble steps, worn smooth by countless feet. Behind him, the streetlights flickered on with a nearly noiseless hum as the sun finally lost the battle with night and slipped below the horizon. Renji paused, one hand on the heavy wooden door, and looked back over the rest of the city. Karakura shone in the twilight, but it was a strange, sharp glow, like neon lights reflecting off broken glass, dirty and somehow less than wholesome. Somewhere in the distance, towards the center of the city, the lights were flickering as the darkness edged in, seeming thicker there than anywhere else.

Gritting his teeth, Renji turned away from the eerie sight and pushed the door open, walking in. The front desk was manned—more or less—by a busty girl with burnt-orange hair held back by a pair of flowered hairpins. She was doing paperwork, but looked up when the door opened and, spotting him, put down her pen with a smile.

"Hello," she said cheerfully. "Can I help you?"

Slightly relieved to see the first friendly face since Seireitei Airport, he smiled back. "I'm detective Abarai Renji. I just transferred from Seireitei."

"Oh, yes, Abarai-san!" The woman disappeared behind a stack of papers for a moment, then came up with an envelope and handed it to him. "Here you are! The keys to your locker in the station and your room in the dorms are in here. The commander wanted to see you when you got in, so I'll have someone take you to him. Just give me a second!" She pushed a button on the intercom and leaned over to murmur into it, then cast him a friendly smile and nodded. "They'll send someone right away. You can leave your bag here if you want, and one of the janitors can move it to your room for you."

Renji nodded his thanks, tucked the envelope into the pocket of his jeans, and dropped the duffel onto one of the chairs, just as another set of doors opened behind the desk and a slim blond man emerged. He looked especially tired, Renji noted, with his uniform wrinkled and dark bags under his eyes. He nodded to the woman at the desk, then bowed briefly to Renji. "Hello, I'm Detective Kira Izuru. If you'll follow me." Without waiting for an answer, he turned back the way he had come, and Renji had to hurry to catch up. The woman gave him a polite smile as she went back to her paperwork.

Kira led him down a series of hallways and then through a wide room that was mostly taken up by desks, some standing separately and others pushed together in pairs. A few detectives in suits were working at their desks, while others had converged around a sorely pressed coffee machine along the far wall. They all looked just as tired as Kira, which made Renji wonder just how badly understaffed the Karakura Police force was.

Before he could ask, Kira stopped in front of a door of frosted glass, which bore the word "Commander" in gold letters. The blond knocked politely, then swung open the door and bowed. "Commander, the transfer from Seireitei is here."

The man behind the desk looked up, weariness just barely hidden behind an emotionless mask, and then nodded. "Thank you, Kira. You can head home now. That's all for tonight."

Kira bowed again before retreating. Renji swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry as he found himself pinned in place by a pair of steel-grey eyes. Police Commander Kuchiki Byakuya was a scary man, even when Renji was used to dealing with Old Man Yamamoto in Seireitei. Something about this commander was as cold as ice, and at the same time as sharp as razors. He bowed politely, murmuring his name and rank, and another greeting just to be safe. Something told him that this man was not one who accepted either informality or sloppiness.

Kuchiki inclined his head in return, then gestured to one of the two chairs in front of his desk. "Please, take a seat. I'm certain you are tired from your flight. Your new partner will be here shortly. I took the liberty of putting on duty for the rest of this shift—until midnight—so that you could get acquainted."

Almost as he finished speaking, the door slammed open, and a whirlwind in human form blew through, nearly knocking Renji off his feet. It was another woman, but the complete opposite of the woman at the desk. This one was petite and slim, with short, neatly cut black hair and snapping azure eyes, wearing street clothes. She stormed right up to the Commander's desk and dropped a piece of paper onto it, then put her hands on her hips and demanded, "What is the meaning of this? A new partner? But Kaien's—"

"In the hospital and off duty for at least another month," Commander Kuchiki interrupted smoothly, his grey eyes taking on a cold glint. Renji was surprised when the woman didn't cower. Instead, she returned the glare full-force.

"Commander, I have the right to—"

"You do not," Kuchiki interrupted again. "Detective, you will obey orders. And this is an order."

"But, Commander—"

"Rukia." Something changed in his tone, softening slightly, and Renji felt an eyebrow start to creep up. There was some strange relationship here that he was missing entirely. Were they—?

The woman hesitated for a long moment, and then sighed wearily, inclining her head. "Yes, nii-sama. As you wish."

Renji's eyebrow rose a little more. He was going to be paired with the Commander's little sister? That seemed suspiciously like a babysitting assignment, though he couldn't tell if he was going to be the babysitter or she was. Getting the sneaking suspicion that he probably didn't want to know, he stepped forward and bowed slightly to the woman. "Detective Abarai Renji."

She looked slightly surprised at his appearance—which was normal, since his time working undercover left him with more tattoos than most lifetime yakuza—but bowed back. "Detective Kuchiki Rukia. It's nice to meet you." Something like a blush flickered over her cheeks. "I'm sorry I didn't see you earlier. Forgive my behavior."

Renji offered her a wry grin. "I'd probably have the same reaction, gettin' stuck with a new transfer. Don't worry about it."

She smiled back, and though it was tired, it was sincere. "Good. Now, I'm on duty until midnight, so I'll show you to the dorms and—"

"No." This interruption just made Rukia roll her eyes, but she looked over at her brother and raised an eyebrow. He gave her a tiny smile, as though he could tell what she was thinking, and continued without missing a beat. "You're paying a visit to Senzaikyu, correct? Take Detective Abarai with you. I want him to understand Karakura as soon as possible."

"And you're dropping him into the deep end so he'll learn to swim?" Rukia sounded skeptical, though Renji couldn't understand why. It was just a city, wasn't it? Even if it was a bit rundown, it couldn't be that different from Seireitei, or even the Rukongai slums where he'd grown up.

Kuchiki snorted softly at that. "If you must put it that way, yes."

Rukia muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "How the hell else would you put it?" and then nodded to her brother. "Commander, if you'll excuse us?"

He returned the gesture with a slight flicker of amusement on his face. "Don't let anyone murder him tonight, Rukia. If I lose this one, Yamamoto won't send me any more."

Renji was surprised that the man could joke, even if it was black humor. He didn't seem the type. But then again, judging from what he'd seen of the city and the rest of the police department, black humor was probably the only thing keeping them going.

Rukia smiled, then breezed out of the room, pulling Renji helplessly in her wake. "Come on, I want to get this over with so I can sleep. I've been on duty since last night." She waved to several of the detectives in the room, and they nodded back, several of them casting Renji glances that ranged from amused to pitying. He wasn't quite sure what to make of that, so he ignored it and focused on his new partner as she dragged him out the back door and to a plain black Corolla. A moment later, she was pulling out of the station, Renji strapped safely into the passenger seat. He wondered, vaguely amused and slightly steamrolled, if their whole partnership was just going to be spent with her blowing through like a tornado run amuck and him following desperately behind her.


As they headed deeper into the city's center, it got darker and darker, until it became rare for a block to have more than two working streetlights. And as the darkness increased, so did the decay. Not overtly, not sickeningly, but subtly. Somehow, that seemed even worse, and Renji had to force himself not to look away as they passed streets that got steadily grimmer and more rundown.

After nearly half an hour, Rukia pulled the car over on a nearly deserted street and turned the engine off, then sat in silence for a moment. She seemed to be debating something with herself. The silence stretched between them, until finally she said, "You're not from around here."

It wasn't a question, but he shook his head anyway. "No. I grew up in Rukongai."

He waited for the usual Seireitei jeer, and the mocking look that always accompanied this pronouncement, but it never came. Instead, Rukia just gripped the steering wheel harder, staring out into the darkness as though it held all the answers. Then she sighed. "I thought so. You're not going to believe me right now, Renji, but I have to warn you. Byakuya married my sister, so the two of us have no blood relation—I'm a Rukongai brat, too. And Rukongai at its worst has nothing—nothing—on this place. Karakura isn't like anywhere else. It's steeped in corruption, and our only job is to keep it from spilling over the city's edges, so that it can't infect any other cities. This—" She gestured to the streets around them, which Renji thought were probably close to the very center of the city "—is the worst part. The deeper you get, the darker it becomes."

Renji had a feeling that she didn't just mean the lack of streetlights.

Rukia looked over at him, meeting his eyes, and he was surprised at the fierceness of that blue gaze. "I'm going to introduce you to someone very important tonight, and whatever you do, please keep an open mind. Karakura isn't like any other place. This part of it used to be called the Court of Pure Souls. Now, everyone calls is Senzaikyu, the Palace of Remorseful Sin."

He wondered how that name could be so foreboding when it was only a place, only a collection of streets and buildings. But, as he followed Rukia out of the car and down the sidewalk, he couldn't stop the small shiver that ran down his spine.

The other detective moved quickly, with the ease and wariness of long familiarity with a dangerous place. Renji tried to keep pace with her, but she was fast, and the pavement here could hardly be called such, so full of cracks and holes that he tripped with nearly every step. Rukia was far ahead of him before he realized it, and just as he opened his mouth to call out to her, the single streetlight flickered and went out, plunging his surrounding into darkness.

Renji froze, knowing instinctively that it would not be wise to go any further without a source of light, and that shouting would also not be wise. Almost in answer to that thought, lean arms suddenly slid around his chest, and a slim body pressed flush against his back. Renji stiffened as warm breath tickled his earlobe and lips feathered across his neck. The one holding him was slender, all hard, lithe muscle, small but not petite, and their position would have been arousing if not for the cold kiss of a blade against his carotid artery.

Down the street, the light flickered back on, revealing four figures arrayed in front of him, with another on either side. There were more behind him, too, in addition to his captor. Of the four he could see clearly, the closest was grinning at him, revealing oddly straight, white teeth, and looked greatly amused. Another, a muscular man with silver hair and a pierced eyebrow, leaned back against one of the buildings with his arms crossed over his chest. The third was a slim girl with glasses, her dark hair pulled back in a braid, and the last was hidden in the shadows, only the suggestion of a human figure to reveal his or her presence. The others were more felt than seen, sounds and movements alerting him to their existence even if they were out of sight.

"You must be new," the one holding him murmured in his ear, and he had to fight not to shiver—though whether it was because of the rough-soft voice or the threat of the razor-edged blade against his throat, he couldn't have said. That blade pressed closer, and the voice hissed, "That girl? She's off limits. Go find your pickings somewhere else."

The words confused him for a moment, until he realized what it must have seemed like to an outside observer—he was following a solitary woman down a badly lit street, wearing clothes that in no way distinguished him from anyone else, and sporting more tattoos than any three normal thugs. Of course it was suspicious—but why would these people care?

"That's enough, Ichi," Rukia said suddenly, moving out of the shadows a little ahead of their group. "He's with me, and nii-sama will be upset if I bring him back broken."

The man behind Renji moved slightly, as though looking around Renji's shoulder. Amusement colored his smoky voice as he answered. "Well, we can't have that. Kami knows what will happen if we upset Byakuya-hime." He released his captive, the knife sliding away as he stepped back. Automatically, Renji turned, putting his back to the space with the least enemies and sizing up his attackers. What he saw there, though, made him freeze in surprise.

Topaz-brown eyes, like a rich mix of chocolate and honey, regarded him in wary amusement from a face that was just this side of breathtaking. Spiky orange hair glowed under the dirty streetlight, the exact color of the daylilies that he remembered from the gardens in Rukongai, and contrasted with the suntanned skin that stretched over long, slender limbs. But even without the arresting features, the elegant bone structure, there was a strange fire in his gaze, his motions. As if everything he did was so incredibly contained that it was about to burst, ready to explode into motion at any moment. That danger, that flame, held Renji transfixed.

Beautiful, Renji thought distractedly, then tore his thoughts away and forced himself to look past the striking man to the others. However, his eyes didn't go far before they were caught again. Crouching a little to the left was the twin of his former captor, identical but opposite—pearl-pale skin, moon-pale hair, and gold-and-black eyes. He held a black nodachi in one hand, and the blade looked like an extension of his arm. He grinned at Renji, a fierce and bloody expression, and Renji made himself look away, towards the two men and two women beyond him. They stared back at him, not challenging, but almost, and their eyes were guarded.

Soft footsteps sounded on the shattered concrete, steps that he already recognized, and Rukia placed one hand on his shoulder. "It's all right," she said, and he couldn't tell if she was speaking to him or the others. "This is my new partner, Detective Abarai. He just transferred in."

The orange-haired man nodded, making a small signal with one hand, and the others faded back into the alleys, leaving only the beautiful one and his twin behind. The former looked back at Rukia, tilting his head slightly to one side. "Kaien?"

Rukia winced. "Shootout with some bastards near the Nest of Maggots. They tried to run us over with a truck. I got out of the way. Kaien wasn't as lucky. He'll be in the hospital until next month."

The man chuckled and shook his head. "A truck? Kami, that bastard's harder to kill than a cockroach." Then he turned and nodded once to Renji. "Good to see new cannon fodder on the front lines. Watch out for Rukia, though—she's a monster, and insane."

She hissed angrily at that. "Shut up, carrot-top!"

"Oh, still so feisty." The albino twin cackled and grinned at the woman. "Wanna go a round, Detective? It'd be fun."

"Shiro."

With that single word, the albino subsided, growling slightly. The orange-haired man cast him a look, holding his eyes, and they seemed to share a moment of silent communication. The albino nodded and took four steps back, then turned and leapt up, grabbing the edge of a rusted fire escape and quickly scaling it up to the roof, where he dropped into a crouch, eyes scanning the area in constant, flickering sweeps. His twin turned back and nodded to Rukia. "All right. We're clear."

Rukia met Renji's questioning gaze and flicked her eyes towards the man in the street. "Renji, this is Ichigo. The others were the Vizards, his enforcers, and that's his brother, Toshi—Shiro. Ichigo's the leader of the…the faction that controls Senzaikyu, and sometimes gives us information about the underground war that's going on in the city."

"Prostitutes," Ichigo corrected with a small, incredibly bitter smile. "We're not a faction, Rukia, we're prostitutes." He turned his topaz eyes to Renji, and they were full of so much despair and fury and sorrow that Renji could hardly breath for the weight of them. "Senzaikyu is what passes as Karakura's red light district, only a lot darker. But people talk, when they've fucked. We probably know more about the city than all the other groups combined. Not that it helps us any."

"But we're grateful for it," Rukia put in, reaching out as though to touch Ichigo's shoulder. She stopped just short, though, as if she were afraid she would be rejected. "Nii-sama passes on what he can to the higher-ups, and what he can't, we use in gathering more information."

But Ichigo wasn't watching her. He still had his eyes on Renji, that burning gaze alive with emotion. And there was something akin to curiosity within it, a curiosity that was bright and shining and as close to innocence as he had probably ever been, growing up here. Without looking away, Ichigo said softly, "Ichimaru Gin, second in command of Las Noches, will be meeting Largo Yammy of the Espada tomorrow at midnight in the Seijotokyorin. I don't know what kind of deal they're making, but it's something big. Aizen and Baraggan are both weighing in on this one. They're calling out full forces."

Rukia blew out a short breath and nodded. "All right. Thank you, Ichi. This really helps. You're sure of the information?"

That grim smile flickered over Ichigo's face again. "Yeah. Nnoitra might be a sadistic bastard, but he's always truthful when he brags. It's more impressive that way."

A scream split the air, sudden enough that both Rukia and Renji jumped. From the rooftop above them and the shadows beside them, a flurry of footsteps sounded, and Ichigo finally looked away to watch his twin leap down the next building's fire escape like a pale, demented squirrel and vanish into the gloom at the end of the street. Behind him, the grinning blond and the muscular guy emerged from the darkness and followed, weapons drawn. They, too, were swallowed up by the night, and Ichigo turned away from them to cast a quick glance at Rukia. "I know I told you I wouldn't ask again, but—"

She smiled gently at him, seeming to guess his question before he even asked. "Your sisters are fine, Ichi. We found which foster home they were staying at, and Unohana, the head of the hospital, took them in. They're adjusting well, and nothing happened while they were in the system."

Some of the tension eased from his slender shoulders, and he nodded once, briskly. "Good. I'm glad. Thanks, Rukia, and tell Byakuya-hime thanks for me, too. I appreciate it."

Rukia nodded and took a quick glance at her watch, then winced. "We have to go. Nii-sama will eat me alive if I'm much later. Bye, Ichi." She turned to go, reaching out to snag Renji's jacket as she went. He sighed, resigning himself to yet another episode of being dragged along like a naughty child. If she was always like this, he wouldn't be surprised to find out that her last partner had thrown himself under that truck, just to get a little rest.

But before she could, long, slim fingers closed around his wrist, and he looked back into topaz eyes that held the world in them.

"Wait," Ichigo said, and though he directed his words at Rukia, it was Renji's gaze he held. "You said he's new? Let him stay with me tonight. Then you won't have to work so hard breaking him in."

The words were playful, but the look in his eyes was serious, and Renji wondered how often he made this offer. Not very, he suspected. To be bought was one thing—and in Rukongai, like here, it seemed it was all too common—but to offer oneself…that was entirely different.

For some reason he could not name, the mere thought of it left him breathless.


Ichigo wondered, briefly, why he had stopped them. Why he had offered what he never offered, ready to give to a stranger what he kept even from those he had known for years. But, as he looked at this big stranger, with his bloody crimson hair and chocolate-cherry eyes, he felt something that he hadn't felt for a stranger in years.

Desire.

Desire that was his own, and not forced. He wanted those strong hands on him, those sharp eyes boring into his as he surrendered everything he had left—as little as that was. It was strange, so strange, but he thought this man was beautiful.

He had not thought anything was beautiful in a very long time.

"Well?" he asked, and the words sounded light, even though they felt like stones on his tongue. "What do you say to one night with Senzaikyu's finest?"

Abarai looked at him—stared—for a long moment, and then shook his head. "No, not a night with Senzaikyu's finest."

Ichigo hid his flinch. A rejection, the first time he offered. But that was only to be expected. After all, how many people had had his body since he started in Senzaikyu? He didn't think he could count that high. And this strong man, with his arresting looks and eye-catching body, no doubt had his pick of anyone, male or female, that he wanted.

But even as he withdrew, calloused fingers reached out to grip his elbow, and he was pulled against a much more muscular body, staring up into laughing red-brown eyes. Laughter—real laughter, and not forced, faked mirth—was so rare that the expression took his breath away, and he found that he could not even speak. Abarai leaned down, firm lips just barely brushing his own as the detective murmured, "I don't want a night with Senzaikyu's finest. I want a night with you."

If Ichigo had been a little softer, a little less tough, he might have cried. As it was, he melted against the taller man, one hand rising to fist in cherry-red hair, the other sliding over the hard planes of a sharply defined chest as their lips met and meshed. It was everything he had never wanted with others—devouring, gentle, fierce, and savoring. One large hand slipped from his elbow to his snake around his waist, pulling him closer. Tongues tangled, and he felt a shudder ripple through Abarai's body. For the first time, Ichigo was amazed at what his touch could cause, what he could invoke in this stranger-who-was-not-a-stranger. It was nearly…magical.

They drew apart to the sound of soft giggles, Rukia grinning as she watched them come down off a kissing-high like teenagers caught groping in a bathroom. Her eyes were full of wicked amusement as they turned to her partner and gave him a quick wink. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then, Renji. Don't use him too hard, Ichi. I want him able to work the night shift tomorrow."

Ichigo rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. He'll be there on time. If you see Shiro on your way out, tell him I've gone back, all right?"

She waved, already headed down the street, and he turned his attention back to the man who still held him. Abarai was staring down at him, eyes tracing over his features with a faint look of wonderment. And Ichigo, though he had thought he long ago lost the ability to blush, felt heat rising in his cheeks as he snapped, "What?"

His reaction just made Abarai chuckle. "Sorry. It's just…" He raised one hand, fingers tracing gently over Ichigo's cheek, outlining the sharp angles in his face. "You're beautiful."

He had heard the same thing a thousand times, from men who coveted his body and looked at him with greed. But the detective was different. From his expression, he could have been looking at a famous painting, or a fine sculpture—as though beauty and must possess were not connected in his mind. It was novel and, Ichigo realized, incredibly warming.

For one night, he would not be Senzaikyu's finest. He would just be Ichigo.

"Come on," he said, leading Abarai—Renji—down the street. "My apartment is this way."


They were on each other almost as soon as the door was locked, clothes falling to the ground, thrown haphazardly away until skin touched skin as they devoured each other's mouths, tongues twisting, teeth nipping, lips pressing against skin and eyelids and other lips. Ichigo, feeling impatient, broke away, leaping for the bedroom. He was fast, but not fast enough to escape Renji's long reach, and was scooped up and tackled to the mattress before he had taken more than a step past the threshold. Then Renji's mouth was on his neck, nipping and kissing and leaving marks that Ichigo could not bring himself to care about.

They were laughing, and breathless, and it was wonderful, even as they hurried. Neither of them had the perseverance to draw this first encounter out, not with the whole night ahead of them and fresh need burning in their veins, so Ichigo didn't protest when Renji spent only the most cursory amount of time on his neck before sliding down, leaving a trail of bites behind him. Then strong hands on his hips were turning him over, and before he could even catch his breath, something slick, wet, and hot was sliding inside his channel, probing, and Ichigo couldn't hold in the low moan that rumbled in his chest. He fisted his hands in the bed sheets as Renji's tongue did wicked, wicked things inside of him. He could count on one hand the times someone had done this to him, and before it had always been just another vice that he had to indulge. Now it was something wonderful and powerful, bringing him to the brink without even being touched.

And then Renji was pulling away, grinning at the sight of Ichigo shaking and moaning under him, and he rolled the smaller man underneath him again, this time on his back. He leaned down over him, eyes burning with some unrecognizable emotion, and growled, "I want to take you. Can I?"

The very idea of someone asking made Ichigo shudder, and he reached up to wrap his arms around the hard body above him, one leg sliding around Renji's hip. "I'm clean," he whispered back. "I want you, Renji."

"I like how you say my name." Renji kissed him again, and then buried himself in Ichigo's body in one swift, hard movement. Ichigo cried out, but even as he did, the overwhelming burn began to subside and sizzling heat replaced it, sparking off each one of his nerve endings and setting his whole body alight. Renji's hard body curved over him, almost protectively, and he kissed him hard, mimicking with his tongue what he began to do with his body. The feeling of heat intensified with every push, every shift of hips, and soon they were breathless with their rhythm. Ichigo threw his head back, both legs wrapping tight around Renji's hips as Renji bore down on him, the thick, smooth-hot fullness striking so deep that Ichigo swore he could feel it all the way to his core.

He opened eyes that he did not remember closing and stared up at the hard, angular face above him, even as Renji did the same. Their lips met again, almost lazily, despite the growing franticness of movements, and then broke apart again as Renji struck the spot inside him that made everything turn white and endless. Renji's rough, hot hand closed over his length, and the double stimulation was overwhelming, almost too much to bear. Ichigo was lost, drowning in that white pleasure with no ability to think, only feel. Lips met once more, and it was a claiming, from each to the other, equally possessive and demanding, tipping them all the way over the edge.

Ichigo had never thought it could ever be so perfect.


Dirty sunlight streamed into the room, nearly choked by the filthy glass of the window, but still warm and golden. Ichigo opened his eyes to the feel of fingers running softly through his hair and smiled, reveling in the simple touch. Renji saw the expression and returned it, even though the unspoken hung between them like a dark cloud.

What now?

Neither needed to say it, because it was the only thing in their minds. No matter what they had shared, they were still the same people who had met in a filthy street less than twelve hours before, and not all the perfect nights in the world would change that. But despite that, the warmth between them wasn't fading, couldn't fade. And Ichigo—the leader, the one who always had a plan, who took control and protected everyone and kept them going—did not know what to do.

Renji, for his part, looked just as lost, even as he wound their fingers together and pulled Ichigo against him, holding him close in the meager warmth of the sun. Ichigo buried his face in one tattooed shoulder and closed his eyes, as though ignoring the question would render it unnecessary.

And then the door of the bedroom flew open, rebounding off the wall with a loud crash, and they both shot up, Ichigo diving to the ground, rolling, and coming up with the knife that had been hidden in his boot, and Renji snatching his gun from the holster beside the bed and leveling it at the doorway. They both froze, staring at the intruder.

Shiro, Ichigo's twin, stood there, a wicked grin on his face as he took in the picture they made. The albino chuckled, though it came out more like a cackle, and said cheerfully, "Mornin', aibu. Rise an' shine." He didn't as much as flinch when Ichigo's knife imbedded itself in the doorframe right next to his left ear. After more than twenty years of waking up his brother, he considered that a rather polite reaction. Instead, he raised an eyebrow and commented, "Get yer lazy ass up, otouto. Somebody musta snitched on tellin' ya a thing or two, 'cause the Numeros want ya dead enough ta send three teams. Already talked ta Byakuya-hime, an' he's puttin' ya in protective custody wit' Rukia an' 'er new partner. So get packed. I'm dumping both a' yer asses at the station in an hour." He went back out, slamming the door behind him.

With a growl, Ichigo rose to his feet and reclaimed his knife, prying it out of the wood with a grunt. He looked up to find Renji watching him in bemusement and shook his head. "Don't ask. I don't know how we can be related."

Renji chuckled and slid off the bed, collecting his clothes. "Well, at least you get a bit of vacation now. But…is this a regular occurrence?"

Ichigo sighed and rubbed a hand through his bright hair. "I guess. Gah! I hate leaving. Shiro knows as much as I do about collecting the information and dropping it where it needs to go, and there's enough saved up that he can pay the rent for a while. But…I don't like leaving everyone defenseless."

Something banged against the door, as though the other room's occupant had thrown something heavy and rather solid at it. "I heard that, otouto!" Shiro shouted. "An' what am I, chopped liver?"

"Close enough," Ichigo muttered. Judging from the second crash against the door, Shiro didn't appreciate his answer.

Renji laughed and leaned down to wrap one arm around Ichigo's waist, pulling him close and pressing a soft kiss against his forehead. Ichigo had to stop himself from rubbing the spot. There was another first.

With a smile that said he knew what Ichigo was thinking, Renji reached up to run a hand over his spiky hair. "We'll be fine, hm?" he said softly. "Two heads are better than one, and all that, right?"

"I should hit you for being such a cliché bastard," Ichigo muttered, leaning against his shoulder with a sigh. "But right now, all I want is coffee. After that, we can talk." He leaned forward and up, and Renji accepted the kiss with a murmur of pleasure. They kept it soft and light, because it didn't need to be otherwise.

"Talk," Renji agreed. "And we'll see?"

"We'll see," he affirmed, and Renji couldn't help but smile.

"You know," he said thoughtfully, "Maybe that transfer wasn't all so bad."

Ichigo just leaned in and kissed him again.


~.*.~


The lord of Las Noches sat on his throne, staring out over the mass of white-clad figures below him. They huddled in clumps, in small groups, and spoke in bare whispers that echoed in the vast, monochrome hall like a nest of hissing snakes. Messengers in more normal clothes, like splashes of bright-dark weeds amongst the purity of his garden, entered and exited through a side door, finding their commanders and passing on whatever intelligence they carried. Aizen did not trust his security system enough to commit sensitive information to its memory banks. Humans could understand the consequences of betraying him, even accidentally. Computers could not.

And then, without warning, the sea of white was broken by a splash of Technicolor brilliance. Aizen lifted his head to watch the prince of Senzaikyu and his pet bodyguard make their way through the crowd. And, as ever, he could not help the avaricious smile that crossed his lips. This man, barely more than a boy, was beautiful. His brilliant hair shone, his amber eyes burned, and his smooth, golden skin glowed even in the harsh, colorless lighting. Aizen had never wanted to possess something more, and that desire was only compounded by the fact that he could not.

Instead, he would settle for ruining that perfect beauty, and leaving Senzaikyu's lovely prince with enduring proof of their time together.


Ichigo passed unhindered through the ranks of the Arrancar, the creamy golden kimono he wore—purchased, of course, by Aizen, just for such occasions—stark against the rest of the room. The feel of Shiro at his back was a comfort, if only a small one. After all, he had just stepped into the monster's den, willingly ridding himself of all his weapons. And Aizen was a sadistic bastard, far too fond of inflicting pain on his partners for Ichigo to allow anyone else to take his place—even if Aizen would have accepted a replacement, which he had never done before, even when Ichigo failed to keep their regular appointments because of another customer's rough handling.

He made his way to the base of the stairs around the tall white throne and inclined his head to the man looking down at him with covetous eyes. "Good evening, Aizen-san."

Aizen smiled, and it was as greedy as anything Ichigo had ever seen. "Ichigo. You're looking as lovely as ever." He rose with lazy, boneless grace, sweeping down the stairs and offering the redhead his hand. "You have exquisite timing, my treasure. I was just getting bored. Shall we retire?"

Ichigo forced himself not snarl at the nickname, as he wanted to, and take the offered hand—surprised, as he always was, that it was not cold and slimy. "All right." He didn't resist as the lord drew him towards the back of the room and through the door there. On the threshold, though, Ichigo paused and looked back at his twin, and murmured, "Two hours."

Shiro's mouth was set in a grim line, but he nodded and took his usual position beside the door, hand clenched around Zangetsu's hilt. "Survive it, otouto."

Offering a small, swift smile, Ichigo let the door swing shut behind him. Across the room, Aizen lounged against the wall. Beside him, the bed loomed like the open mouth of a grave. The redhead took a quick breath, steeling himself, and then dropped his hands to his obi*. Once it was undone, the layers of cloth slipped from his shoulders to pool around his feet, and he stepped forward, naked and unashamed, out of the puddle of fabric.

In the shadows, Aizen smiled covetously, and waited.


At one hour, fifty-nine minutes, and fifty-seven seconds, Shiro had had enough of waiting. He slammed open the door with a savage kick and snarled, "Time's up!"

On the large bed, Aizen stiffened over the prone body beneath him with a groan. After a moment, he pulled out and slid off the bed, drawing a robe around his shoulders. He tied the belt and swept past the fuming Shiro with a calm smirk.

"Take him away, then," the lord said breezily. "And make sure he doesn't skip the next appointment. I would hate to have to restrain myself for so long again."

With one last sneer, he left.

Shiro clenched his fists against the urge to follow and beat the ruler of Las Noches to a bloody pulp. Then his gaze fell on the still figure on the bed and he swore, leaping across the room and pulling his younger twin up into his arms. "Shit, otouto! What'd he do ta ya?" His hands wavered helplessly as he tried to figure out a place to put them that would not cause Ichigo even more pain.

At the sound of his voice, Ichigo groaned and opened hazy eyes, the brown vague and foggy in a face splattered with wine-red blood. "Ugh. Shiro. That bastard." His fingers curled loosely around his twin's wrist, and he rasped, "Remind me never to skip a session again, if this is how he retaliates."

"I'll kill the son of a bitch," Shiro hissed. "I'll slaughter him an' pin his carcass ta that throne he loves so much. He can't fuckin' get away with this shit forever, Ichi. Somebody's gotta stop him." He stroked pale hands over his brother's sides, trying not to further aggravate the long gashes, welts, and bruises that decorated the skin.

Ichigo coughed painfully, then let Shiro pull him to his feet, blood and other things he'd rather not think about trickling down his thighs. But, as he reached up and drew his brother's mouth down towards his own, his eyes were blazing with a murderous determination that sent shivers down Shiro's spine. Their lips met in a swift, barely brotherly kiss, and when Ichigo drew back, he whispered, "Don't worry, Shiro. Someday Aizen will get what's coming to him." Fury laced every word, dripping from each syllable like acid. "Just like every other corrupt bastard in this city."

Shiro grinned hungrily and devoured Ichigo's mouth in another searing kiss.


Urahara, Senzaikyu's emergency back-ally doctor, patched Ichigo up again, as he always did, and Shiro helped him wind the bandages around his twin's body when Ichigo began to flinch from the touch of anyone but his older brother. It was the delayed reaction setting in, as it always did, after a particularly brutal night—an urge to control, if only for a moment, who touched him, which he could never do at other times. Usually, it was the highest bidder, and Ichigo had no other say.

When the crazy doctor had gone, every open wound was finally covered, and every bruise spread with thick cream to heal it sooner, Shiro couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief and drop his head onto his brother's shoulder. He loved blood, loved the sight and feel and taste and smell of it, but this was Ichigo's blood, and entirely different. In saner, quieter moments, he knew that what they had together wasn't normal, wasn't accepted, but at times like this, he couldn't care, couldn't even think about not having the warmth of Ichigo's skin on his.

Gentle fingers carded through his white hair, then travelled lower to stroke the skin at the nape of his neck, and he relaxed into the touch with a sigh. The constant thrumming in his body and mind—blood death pain laughter deathpainlaughterpaindeathbloodbloodblood—eased under the feather-light caress.

"Ichigo," he whispered, even though he couldn't have said why.

The touch became firmer, as though reminding him of his twin's presence, and a slim hand covered his shoulder, pulling him forward. Shiro let Ichigo topple them both back onto the futon, then curled into the redhead's side, firmly winding his pale arms around a darker-skinned waist. Lips touched his forehead, and Ichigo wrapped him in a warm embrace in return.

"Sleep, Shiro," he ordered quietly. "I'll stay here until you wake up."

"Forever," Shiro insisted, not caring that it sounded childish. If it would keep Ichigo there, he would have done anything, manipulated him with any force he had. But this was Ichigo, his younger brother who had always taken care of him, and he didn't need to say any more than that. He tightened his grip, feeling shudders working their way up his spine at the thought of Ichigo ever leaving him, and buried his nose in orange hair, inhaling the scent of disinfectant, bruise cream, and soap. His throat tightened, and he panicked, unsure as to why, but knowing it was something bad. "Otouto. Otouto, I want to hunt. They need to die! We have to kill the bastards! I want—!"

Bruised lips, still tasting of blood from where Ichigo must have bitten through them, covered his own and halted the rapidly escalating words. Ichigo smiled at him as they drew apart, and a part of Shiro wondered at how he could still make such an expression, even now, even after everything. It wasn't his own half-mad grin, either, but a genuine expression of reassurance, comfort, and calm.

"That's enough," he said softly, stroking deceptively fragile, slender fingers over Shiro's face. "They'll get what's coming, Shiro, but we can't do anything yet. Come here." He rolled onto his back, pulling his twin on top of him, and offered that too-gentle smile again. "I still feel that bastard inside me. Get rid of it for me?"

Almost before he finished, Shiro crushed their mouths together, hands tracing bandaged skin, caressing bare patches, devouring the offered comfort—and he knew it was comfort for him, not Ichigo, and he knew that it was wrong—wrong wrong wrongwrongwrongwrong—but he couldn't stop, didn't want to stop. Didn't stop.

Sometimes he half-wondered, in especially calm moments, if that made him worse than Aizen.


Ichigo was still limping when they left their apartment later that night—morning, really. Shiro hovered at his shoulder, unsure of whether to help or keep his distance, but Ichigo just waved him away and headed deeper into the dark streets. Here and there on the broken sidewalk, groups of his people nodded or waved in greeting. Ichigo nodded in return, but didn't pause, even when approached. They seemed to see his preoccupation and didn't make many attempts, and the presence of the Vizards deterred those who tried.

Shinji slid into the space next to the redhead as they walked, grey-brown gaze rapidly scanning the darkness around them. "You're in a hurry tonight. Got someplace ta be, Ichi?" he asked cheerfully, though the weary wariness in his eyes belied the lightness in his tone.

Ichigo made a swift motion with one hand, signaling that they would talk in private, then looked at the dark-haired woman behind Shinji. "Lisa, you've been on rounds, right? Heard anything interesting?"

Lisa looked up from her ever-present manga, which hid the fact that nothing escaped her notice, and nodded. "Large groups were summoned to both Las Noches and Hueco Mundo. Several important figures requested company, as well. Isane was with Ulquiorra, and Yumichika entertained Charlotte Culhorne. Rangiku was called to Las Noches, most likely to see Gin. She left Toshiro at Ugendō and asked Ukitake to watch him."

"Any timeframe for their return?" Ichigo asked distractedly, eyes already narrowing to take in the implications. To call so many prostitutes, there had to be something going on, most likely a celebration. Celebrations meant events, and that meant information.

"They were hired until noon," Love offered, slipping his shades down to assess their leader. "Have you got a thought?"

The redhead flashed him a quick, distracted half-smile. "Always. Doesn't mean it's right."

"Though it usually is," Rose pointed out, fingers subtly flickering in the air, as though playing a piano.

Ichigo nodded, acquiescing to that. "Something large is happening, probably tomorrow, to give them time to sleep off the celebration. Mashiro, take Kensei and start spreading the word. I want to know everything that's going on in Las Noches and Hueco Mundo. Make sure nothing is left out, even something small."

"Right-o, Berry-tan!" Mashiro acknowledged cheerfully, saluting and then latching onto Kensei, who looked aggrieved. She dragged him away down a darkened side street, then up a rusty fire escape and over the rooftops, where they vanished into the absolute blackness of the city skyline.

Ichigo watched them for another moment, then turned to Lisa and Rose. "Do you have time before your next filming? I want you to go collect whispers in the other districts. Anything that might help, or add to what we know, I want to hear." Around them, the shadows stirred, those within it hearing his words and doubtless passing them on. Ichigo let his eyes flick briefly to them before looking away. The homeless and hunted knew him, and knew that it was far better to help him than to hinder him—something that Aizen would never inspire in them.

He found it in himself to gloat, just a little bit. For all that Aizen thought they were below him, they were far more numerous and widespread than even his best intelligence officers. It seemed fitting that the city's "rats" would someday be his downfall.

Lisa checked her watch and then nodded. "Yes. I'll go west and south." She readjusted her sword over her back before turning calmly away. Rose bowed silently and headed in the opposite direction.

Without looking back, Ichigo headed deeper into the city, a silent Shiro and wary Love following. Ahead of them, Shinji opened the door of an abandoned, gutted office building, and bowed grandly. With a sweep of his arm, he declared pompously, "Majesty, your golden palace awaits."

Ichigo gave him the look that statement deserved, then let his brother help him into the dimly lit interior, and on to the room where the members of Memento Mori had assembled.

From one end of the room, Rukia looked up and smiled at him. Izuru Kira nodded briefly before he went back to his charts and his discussion with Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez, a former member of Hueco Mundo. The other Hueco Mundo refugee, Nelliel tu Oderschvank, was across the room with Shunsui Kyoraku, one of Ichigo's section chiefs.

Ichigo took a short, painful breath and let it out. Everyone who could be here had assembled.

As the remaining Vizards filed in behind him, Ichigo let Shiro help him to his seat at the table, ignoring the concerned eyes that followed him—mostly, he thought, from the two police officers. The rest knew what his job entailed.

"Are you done gawking yet?" he snapped. "Kira, how is the planning coming?"

"The others?" Rukia questioned, even as she took a seat.

Shinji perched on the edge of his chair, the better to dodge Hiyori's flying sandal. "They were called. We'll fill them in later."

With a nod, Kira pushed Ichigo the charts. "I hacked the city database and got the blueprints. It seems like the sewer goes right under the building here and here." Quick fingers flickered over the spots, outlining a route from the opening up to the main rooms. "Someone I know works on the main floor, and she verified that nothing has changed since these plans were made. If we move quickly enough, we can get to the main record room in ten minutes."

"Good." Ichigo narrowed his eyes, committing the route to memory as he stared at it. "I just want core members on this, no one extra. Kira and Hachi will deal with the cameras and security system. Rukia, Grimmjow, Love, and Rose will disable the guards on the basement level and on the sixth floor, then stand watch. The rest of us will deal with the files."

"Yes, sir," Grimmjow muttered sarcastically, but there was eagerness in his expression as he straightened and put a hand on the gun he always carried. "When are we doing this? Tomorrow night?"

"Night after that," Shiro said before his twin could respond. The redhead didn't even try to argue, just rolled his eyes and stared down at the papers in front of him.

Memento mori.

Remember you will die.

They had been fighting for years now, and Ichigo could hardly remember a time when he hadn't been planning, or plotting, or trying to bring about the downfall of the city's powers through his actions. It was hardly anything legal, but that meant nothing.

They wanted to live.

Ichigo couldn't recall a time when he had ever laughed freely, without the weight of other things on his mind. He couldn't call to mind any time where he had felt safe, or secure, or stable. Or where he had not touched a building and drawn away a hand covered in filth. Or a time when the people who were supposed to protect the city actually did so. He wanted light, and happiness, and freedom, and he wanted a world where his sisters could be little girls instead of young women with too many cares. He didn't want the fear, and darkness, and filth, and all the corruption that came with living in Karakura. He wanted to live in a place that wasn't there only to keep the evil from spilling out to other cities.

I want, I want, I want. It was entirely selfish, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

Short of burning the entire city to the ground—which he still dreamed of some nights, when things were particularly bad—the only thing there was to do was change it.

Memento mori.

Remember you will die.

He smiled slightly, to himself alone. They would die, in the end—not by his hand, because he was not a killer, but they would die.

"Now," he said softly, calling their attention away from petty arguments and bickering. They focused on him, and he smiled slightly.

"Let's get down to business."