Thanks for the reviews and reads! You guys really make my day *blows kisses*

Here, I present you, the ending.

Ichigo heard Shuuhei, he really did, but the guy wasn't making any sense. He stole who? What? His face must've looked as stupid as he felt, because Shuuhei started shaking him and screaming.

"Don't look at me like you don't know what I'm talking about!"

But I really don't know what you're talking about, Ichigo thought. But he knew better to say that out loud. Plus, he was beginning to get pissed. He didn't appreciate getting jumped like this; he'd already let Shuuhei go far enough without hitting back, the time to be polite had come and gone.

" me!" Ichigo huffed, bringing his hand around and tugging at the other teen's hand, which was still clutching the front of his shirt in a death grip. When Shuuhei wouldn't budge, Ichigo had no choice but to bend his knee, suck in a deep breath, and lash out with his leg with all the strength he could muster in his awkward position. The dull thud as his foot connected with Shuuhei's ribs and the surprised grunt of pain from the boy sent a shudder of satisfaction through Ichigo's body.

Ichigo straightened up and dusted himself while eyeing Shuuhei apprehensively. The dark-haired teen was clutching his side and glaring at him with murderous intent, clearly looking for an opening to launch himself at Ichigo again. Ichigo felt an adrenaline rush when he caught the challenging glint in the boy's eyes. So he wanted a fight, eh? Ichigo would give him one; he hadn't grown up with a head of strange orange hair for nothing. He'd learned from a young age that kids were not kind to each other, and he'd had his fair share of bullies, which was why he had found Hanatarou so endearing. Still, he wasn't one for pointless fights — and this one was pretty pointless as far as he was concerned. Why the hell was Shuuhei so riled up?

"I don't know what your problem is, but I think we have a misunderstanding," Ichigo gave one more attempt at remaining civilized.

Shuuhei chuckled darkly and shook his head. "Oh, no, I understand things perfectly."

Ichigo sighed in exasperation. Okay, so he wasn't completely clueless, even with a throbbing headache he could still put two and two together, except he didn't understand why it added up to four. If anything, Shuuhei was the one who robbed Ichigo, so why was he turning around and accusing Ichigo of stealing the redhead from him?

"I didn't do what you think I did," Ichigo said, raising his hands up and positioning them in front of his body in a defensive stance. He could see from the tension in Shuuhei's muscles that the boy was coiled like a tightly wound spring, he sure as hell was not going to let himself be manhandled again.

His words only served to bristle the other boy further. Shuuhei drew himself up to his full height and brought his arms up in a similar fashion, and the two of them circled each other, not unlike two fighters in a boxing ring. It was ridiculous.

"You think you're smart, huh, weasling your way between us like that," Shuuhei said, his voice tight and dry. "Ren and I go way back, Ichigo, don't think it's that easy to take him away from me."

Ichigo exhaled through his teeth, fists tightening in frustration. "Look —" he began, and then his eyes widened and he ducked down instinctively to avoid a sudden swing of Shuuhei's arm. Another surprise attack! Ichigo clenched his jaw. This fucker was sneaky!

Shuuhei retracted his arm smoothly, looking pissed that he'd missed. Then, narrowing his eyes, he lashed out again, this time with his leg, aiming for Ichigo's torso. Ichigo dodged the hit with a quick twist of his body and immediately countered with a move of his own — with uncanny accuracy, he caught Shuuhei's leg between his hands and used the boy's own momentum to throw him off-balance. With a yelp of surprise, Shuuhei stumbled and fell, but he quickly got back on his feet, looking even angrier than before.

"I really don't want to fight you," Ichigo said as calmly as he could. Crazy or not, Shuuhei was Renji's ex — and current? — boyfriend, and Ichigo didn't want to get any more tangled in this mess than he already was.

Whether Shuuhei heard him or not, Ichigo would never knew, because it didn't make any difference. With a throaty growl, Shuuhei pounced on Ichigo and started to rain punch after punch, his fists connecting with Ichigo's arms, which he had raised to protect his face. The pain from the punches registered, but the way Shuuhei was belting them out didn't allow him to pack enough strength into them as he probably would've liked, and Ichigo soon saw an opening. Taking a deep breath, Ichigo took the risk and removed his right hand from his face and hit the teen right in the chest.

Shuuhei's breath escaped him with an audible whoosh and he stumbled backwards with a frustrated cry. The indignation of it all welled up in Ichigo's chest and he plowed forward and followed up with a couple more solid, well-placed punches, splitting the other teen's lips and snapping his head to the side. Almost immediately, Ichigo felt guilty and stepped away.

It was clear that Shuuhei wouldn't be able to overpower his opponent barehanded, and the boy knew it. The realization was a blow to his pride, and the next thing Ichigo knew, there was a glint of metal in the sunlight, and he was suddenly slammed bodily into the wall again.

Except this time, there was a stinging pain as something cold and sharp was pressed against the tender skin on his throat.

"Stay away from Ren," Shuuhei hissed in Ichigo's face, standing so close that Ichigo could feel his breath. And it was only then did Ichigo notice the guy's reddened eyes and dilated pupils, not to mention the tang of alcohol from Shuuhei's mouth.

Ichigo opened his mouth to speak, but his voice turned into a pained grunt when the pressure against his skin increased. It could just be his overactive imagination, but he swore he felt something wet and warm slide down his neck. For the first time in his life, Ichigo felt a stab of true fear. This would be a very, very lousy way to check out.

"Heh," Shuuhei suddenly said, and then chuckled. The pressure against Ichigo's neck vanished, and Ichigo was about to sigh out loud in relief when he felt a pinprick of pain on his forehead above his right eyebrow. "How about..." Shuuhei whispered in a mocking voice. "Since you want to replace me, how about I make you look just like me, eh?" Ichigo jumped when the pain increased, but Shuuhei pressed down on his shoulders and kept him still.

Ichigo thought he was going to have a heart attack. He knew what Shuuhei meant, and the image of the boy's three scars flashed in front of his eyes. "No..." Ichigo whispered in horror, eyes sliding closed on their own accord. He didn't even know that Shuuhei had a weapon with him; he'd been too distracted by the absurd accusation. He would've been more careful if he'd known.

There was a loud crack, then the pressure against his forehead was suddenly gone. He opened his eyes in stunned silence and saw Shuuhei standing in front of him with his face turned to his side, mouth hanging open in disbelief and shock. Then, Ichigo's eyes fell on a black, wicked-looking weapon on the ground a couple of feet away from them. The handle was long, and it ended with a sleek, scythe-like blade that shone brightly under the sun. Wrapped tightly around the handle just below the blade was several coils of dark-colored rope. Ichigo lifted his head to follow the rope, which extended from the handle right up to...


The redhead held the handle of the whip in his right hand, his eyes narrowed into slits, yet Ichigo could feel the death glare emanating from them like a physical force.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Renji's voice was ice cold and dripping with quiet fury. Ichigo shuddered involuntarily; somehow the calmness from the redhead right now felt even more dangerous than a screaming fit would.

Shuuhei continued to stare at his former lover, and then his lips curled up in a eerie grin. "Here to save your little bitch, Ren?"

Ichigo felt his own anger rise, but before he could say anything, Renji interrupted, "I'm disappointed in you, Hisagi Shuuhei. You're no longer the man I knew," he said slowly. "The Shuuhei I knew was generous, kind, level-headed. What the fuck have you become?"

There was a sharp intake of breath, followed by what sounded like a choked sob, and then shit hit the fan.

Ichigo didn't know what triggered his reflexes — it could've been the almost-panicked yell from Renji, or it could be the sudden darkening of Shuuhei's eyes that set off his own internal alarms — but he suddenly got an ominous feeling and began backpedaling. There was the dreaded sounds of metal against gravel, and then Ichigo felt the air leave his lungs as his back collided into the solid concrete wall.

He had nowhere else to go, and the scythe was no longer on the ground.

Renji saw everything in slow motion. Shuuhei looked at him as if he wanted to burn a hole in his skull, his scythe lying on the ground between them. Renji remembered how they had taken up self defense classes in middle school. Their teacher was an unconventional fellow — Urahara-sensei didn't believe in the usual fist and leg approach, and the usual stuff like nunchucks and swords were too "boring" for him and his "brilliant students". Instead, he had asked Renji and Shuuhei to select something unique each; the more difficult it was to master, the better.

Shuuhei had named his Kazeshini, inspired by the way the blades form deadly ripples in the air when he swings them. Compared to Renji, Shuuhei found it especially hard to use his weapon of choice, because it was Renji who had talked him into picking it. Shuuhei had complained that it was too dangerous, the blade too unforgiving, too sharp, but he had grudgingly relented in the end because he couldn't stand the idea of Renji laughing at him for being a chicken.

But, back to the present.

Renji saw those grey eyes dart to the scythe on the ground, and he immediately knew something bad was going to happen. He didn't have the luxury to think whether it would be aimed at him or Ichigo, but even the most remote possibility that it could be Ichigo sent his pulse racing, and before he knew it, he was yelling at the top of his lungs for Ichigo to run.

He tightened his grasp on the handle of his whip, but it was yanked bodily out of his hand, and then he saw, in agonizing slow motion, the deadly blade swing in Ichigo's direction. To his horror, the orange-haired teen had his back pressed against the wall with nowhere to go.

Renji didn't think before he moved, all he knew was that Ichigo was going to die, and he couldn't let that happen.

Ichigo didn't close his eyes. He didn't see his memories flash by like novels usually describe the moment right before death. The only thing that came to mind was a stupid "oh", and then he just stared numbly at the crazed expression on Shuuhei's face.

He thought it wasn't possible for him to go any nearer to the wall than he already was without blowing a hole through it, but something slammed into his body, nearly jarring his lungs through his chest. He tumbled, limbs flailing, to the side. Shocked, he turned around to see what it was that knocked him away. Blood immediately roared in his ears even as he felt himself turn cold.

Shuuhei was falling onto his knees with a strangled cry. His scythe slid from his hand and landed with a loud clang on the ground, and then he lurched forward and wrapped his arms around the fallen form in front of him. Ichigo stood frozen on the spot as he struggled to process the scene. Renji lay on the ground, propped up on one elbow, coughing and clutching his stomach with bright crimson liquid seeping through his fingers.

Then, as though someone snapped their fingers in front of Ichigo's face, he shot forward before skidding to a stop next to the redhead and, like Shuuhei, fell to his knees. He was so mortified that it didn't even occur to him to scream at Shuuhei, but he did reach out with a trembling hand to grab a fistful of Renji's shirt. "No," he whispered softly.

Renji peered at him through a frown and croaked, "A-ambulance?"

How ironic.

Ichigo fumbled in his pockets and pulled out his cell phone. His pleas over the phone were frantic and almost unintelligible, but he finally did get the message across.

Now, it was just a matter of waiting for help.

Shuuhei was pale and sweating, his hands trembling as he squatted next to Renji's head, looking completely different from his feisty self not five minutes ago. He kept murmuring apologies in a hoarse, broken voice, and didn't stop until Renji rested a hand on his.

"Idiot," Renji said, and then winced. He prodded his wound gingerly. It was bleeding a lot, and judging from the degree of pain he could've sworn that he had been sliced in half, but it wasn't so bad that his guts were at risk of spilling out of his stomach. Shuuhei didn't go all out after all, his intent was to hurt, not kill, and for that Renji was thankful. Still, he was glad that it was him lying on the ground and not Ichigo, although, from the way Ichigo was currently looking at him, the carrot-top was clearly having the complete opposite thought.

"But...I don't get it," Ichigo said, looking from Renji to Shuuhei and then back again.

And that was how the whole story came out. Haltingly, face flushed with shame and regret, Shuuhei related their history; how he had caved when a younger student he'd been mentoring approached him, and how Renji had witnessed it. When it came to the part where Renji told Shuuhei that he was seeing someone else, Ichigo became speechless.

Renji gave him a long look through tired, half-lidded eyes and mumbled, "We g-gotta…t-talk...later." His lips were getting paler by the minute from blood loss, and Ichigo began to fret over the late arrival of the ambulance.

Then, right on cue, it arrived.

The monitor beeped softly in the background, the sound almost completely dwarfed by the rumbling snores coming from the redhead currently in deep sleep after surgery. Renji's dark-haired step-father sat next to the bed, looking at the unconscious boy, his thick eyebrows pulled together in a concerned frown.

Shuuhei and Ichigo stood outside of the room, looking inside through the glass of the wide window that stretched across one side of the hospital ward. Both had bandages around their arms, having donated their blood for Renji.

Shuuhei had calmed down significantly during the ride in the wailing ambulance, and he had been fully prepared to be handed over to the police for assaulting Renji, but Tessai had quietly told him that the decision whether to press charges or not lay in Renji's hands. And since Renji was currently out of commission, all Shuuhei could do was wait.

"I don't suppose...saying sorry...would cut it," Shuuhei said softly, turning around slowly to face Ichigo.

Ichigo stared at him for a few seconds, then his eyes softened. "You'd have to ask him, not me." His eyes went to the healing cut on Shuuhei's lower lip, courtesy to his fist earlier. He wanted to be angry at the guy, but found that he couldn't, because now that he knew that Renji cared, everything else seemed...trivial.

Shuuhei sighed. "I'm so stupid," he said, sounding like he was talking around a lump in his throat.

"We all make mistakes," Ichigo mumbled.

There was a long stretch of silence before Shuuhei said, "I'm glad that he has you."

Ichigo swallowed. He was glad, too, but he was also sad for Shuuhei. He could tell that the boy still cared deeply for his former boyfriend, but it was impossible to turn things around now.

Shuuhei peered at the sleeping redhead once more, and then whispered, "I should go. Tell him I said bye, okay?"

Ichigo nodded. The dark-haired teen gave him a small smile, and then walked away slowly.

One month later

Ichigo traced the still-tender skin on his boyfriend's torso, following the lines of the intricate tattoos on his body, wringing a soft hiss from the redhead beneath him. The cut was healing well, but it had been deep and long enough that Renji was still forbidden to do any strenuous activities.

At least, that was what he told Ichigo anyway, and what he had been using to talk Ichigo into doing all the work while he lay on his back grinning from ear to ear.

Ichigo straddled Renji's thighs and leaned down to nuzzle the redhead's neck, earning him a small moan in return. Ichigo ran his hands up and down the sides of the muscular body below him, carefully avoiding any pressure around the area of the injury, and slowly teased the redhead, kneading and caressing all the sensitive parts that he had discovered over the past few weeks.

Renji had one hand below his head while the other cupped Ichigo's butt, savoring the way the muscles flexed every time Ichigo moved around. His fingers were slick from assisting Ichigo with the prep work, and now he waited eagerly, his breathing harsh and rapid, for Ichigo to ease himself slowly onto him. A drawn-out groan escaped from between his teeth as he felt himself engulfed in that tight, velvety heat, and he had to force himself to lay still. If it were up to him, he would be thrusting up with all the strength he could muster, except that would probably send him back to the hospital for re-stitching.

Now, wouldn't that be difficult to explain?

It had taken a lot of coaxing and soothing before Ichigo got Renji to go completely bare in front of him. Even after everything that had happened, Renji still felt uncomfortable with his tattoos, but it was gradually getting better. Ichigo understood that it would take a while, and he would be there with him all the way. At least Renji had discarded his turtlenecks and begun to wear normal clothes to school; the reactions he got hadn't been as dramatic as he'd expected. People were actually more curious than horrified or disgusted.

At the moment, though, feeling shy about his tattoos was the last thing on the redhead's mind. His eyes slid shut on their own as Ichigo pushed down again, whispering Renji's name softly as he did so.

As Ichigo's hips began to rock faster, Renji cracked his eyes open to gape at the lean, sculpted body moving on top of him. It was hard to believe that just a few months ago, he had considered this very person a nuisance. Now, he couldn't imagine not having him by his side. Ichigo had helped him learn to let go of his past, convinced him that it was okay to accept that his past, no matter how ugly or painful it was, was part of the lessons in life, and that he should embrace it and focus on moving forward.

A particularly well-placed roll of Ichigo's hips sent Renji's back arching off the bed, and he gasped in a mixture of pleasure and pain from his protesting skin, and then, laughing and panting, Ichigo pinned him down to the mattress by his hips.

"Don't move around so much, idiot," Ichigo murmured with a roll of his eyes while his lips curled up in a smirk. "I know I'm really good, but seriously…oww!" His protest dissolved into laughter when Renji smacked him on the butt for being a smart-ass.

And then their laughter turned into low moans as Ichigo picked up his pace, sending their blood pressures up to the sky. Renji's toes curled and he grasped the sheets as he felt the tension build deep in his gut. From the sounds tumbling from Ichigo's lips, he wasn't going to last much longer either. Renji bit his lip, and, against his doctor's orders, thrust his hips upwards and pushed them both over the edge. The burst of pleasure made him cry out — he heard Ichigo croak his name again — and then he slumped down onto the mattress, exhausted.

Ichigo sagged forward and supported himself on the palms of his hands and inspected Renji's stitches — still intact. "You're such an idiot!" He swatted the side of Renji's head, making the boy yelp in protest. Ichigo scowled down at the grinning redhead and then burst out laughing before leaning down and pressing their foreheads together.

"You think someone's gonna walk into your room one day and see us?" Renji asked with a mischievous glint in his eyes. "Like your sister cleaning your room or something?"

Ichigo's eyes flicked to the window that provided a good view of Renji's bed and stuck out his tongue.

"Oh, right," Renji drawled with a smirk. "I forgot…you're the only pervert who peeps at people through your — owww!"


Thank you all for being with me throughout the journey, and I'm so happy that you guys like it. This is my first ever AU story so I really had fun with it. It's super hard to keep the characters in, well, character in an AU though, phew! So, yeah, unfortunately, Shuuhei drew the short straw and got stuck as the bad guy, and I do apologize for making him OOC and kinda psycho. In hindsight, perhaps Grimmjow would've been a better pick, yea?