Author's note: The comments made me realize I haven't really explained Renji's feelings enough. He's changed a bit, but Ichigo has changed more in a way… so this should explain some things.

Renji sighed to himself as he glanced over at Ichigo. The teen was eating his lunch with a remote expression, his gaze fixed on some nearby birds that were busy picking up a scatter of crumbs.

He wasn't sure how he felt about Ichigo anymore. That was the simple truth of the matter. It wasn't just what had happened yesterday, which had admittedly been mostly his fault. It was plenty of things. Since he'd come to Kuchiki manor and Seireitei, Ichigo had changed. He'd been nutty before, but at the caldera his nuttiness had been tamed by the fact that he was the protector. He had a job, and he worked hard every single day making sure everyone was safe. Here, he was the one being protected, and while Ichigo didn't slack he also wasn't taking things seriously at all anymore. He was… goofing around. Renji almost had the feeling he was making up for lost time, trying to recapture the childhood he'd lost prematurely.

The problem was, it could get really old. Renji almost wished they could make the strawberry a proper shinigami. He could just see himself patrolling with Ichigo, those black and gold eyes scanning for threats as their owner stood at his side, guarding him with his life. It would work, he knew it would. It would get Ichigo back to being semi-serious, as well, and he really wanted that.

But it couldn't happen. That was the other reason Renji wasn't sure about his feelings. Mayuri was in rhapsodies over his findings, but the rest of the Gotei 13 found them grim reading. The only reason they hadn't gotten rid of the kid was Byakuya's protection. Renji knew that with a sick certainty, and he wasn't sure that protection would last forever. Ichigo seemed to have no idea how much danger he was in, or maybe he just didn't want to face it, since there was almost nothing he could do to defend himself. And there was nothing Renji could do, either. Did he want a lover who might get hauled off to the Maggot's Nest at any moment?

"Renji, are you okay?" Ichigo said and he looked up, surprised as he met warm brown eyes. "I'm sorry about yesterday." He said softly and Renji cringed a little on the inside before capturing warm hands in his.

"Don't be, you and Rukia were right. It was my fault." He said softly. Suddenly, he didn't want his relationship with Ichigo to end. It was probably crazy and stupid, but he'd really miss the guy. "I have an idea. Why don't you come help me do my paperwork and we can go hunt squirrels?" He offered. Ichigo looked surprised, then grinned.

"Squirrel hunting! I knew you loved me." They kissed then and Renji loved every minute of it. Ichigo might be weird, but his joy was infectious. "I'd be glad to help you out. Byakuya found extra paperwork to punish you?"

"Oh yeah." Renji sighed as he thought about the mountain of paperwork in his office. "But he didn't say I couldn't get someone to help, so it should be fine." He said optimistically. True, Byakuya hadn't forbidden it, but he might not be very amused either. But he had a captain's meeting so he'd probably never notice. And if he did, well, Renji could always say he wanted to spend more time with Ichigo. That had the advantage of being true.

"Well, let's get going then." Ichigo popped a last piece of sushi in his mouth and stood, straightening his clothes. "I'm always glad to be doing something useful." Renji glanced at him, surprised by the near sadness in his voice. Did Ichigo miss being the guy in charge, the protector of the group? Maybe he did. Maybe that was part of why he was so out of control sometimes.

But again, that was nothing that could be changed. Renji put it out of mind, and led Ichigo to the Division. Pretty quickly, they were both ensconced with the paperwork and to his slight annoyance, Ichigo was very good at it. He didn't even have to ask many questions.

"Dad got me to fill out forms at the clinic." He replied as Renji asked him about it. "You wouldn't believe how many forms a doctor has to fill out. It's like, crazy stupid." Renji nodded, unsurprised.

"Bureaucracies are the universal constant." He agreed and Ichigo flashed him a grin. "You have better handwriting than me, too." Although almost everyone did. Ichigo laughed softly.

"That's not hard – oh hi, Byakuya!" Renji froze up for a moment as he saw his taichou in the doorway. He'd thought the captain's meeting would go on longer. Byakuya looked them both over, expressionless.

"Ichigo, why are you here?" He asked and Renji cringed to himself. This could go wrong so easily. But Ichigo answered easily.

"I offered to help Renji with the paperwork if he agreed to help me scout for squirrels later." Ichigo said and Renji relaxed as he saw Byakuya's lips twitch, ever so slightly. "We hear the Seireitei has quite an infestation, stealing from the bird feeders."

"I see. A worthy cause, I'm sure." He said and Renji blinked. There was something a bit odd about Byakuya's tone, but he couldn't place it before the noble turned away. "When you are done the paperwork, Renji, you can take the rest of the afternoon off."

"Thank you, taichou!" Renji was very glad to hear that Byakuya approved. He was also glad that Ichigo had been tactful for once. He gave the strawberry a smoldering smile that promised pleasure later, before bending down to complete the paperwork.

He couldn't wait to start looking for those squirrels.

"Mmm, yes, like that." Ichigo moaned, arching slightly into Renji's hands. "Yeeeesss." He hissed the word as their bodies ground together almost painfully. He could feel Hiro's silent approval of the hard body against him, even if his inner hollow would have preferred Zaraki.

They were up on the roof of the dance academy. To Ichigo's surprise and amusement, the roof was perfect for this sort of activity. True, it was remotely possible someone might see them, particularly a shinigami flying overhead. But Ichigo and Renji weren't the least bit concerned about that. They'd found the squirrel and were closing in for the kill.

"You are so fucking sexy, Kurosaki." Renji's breath in his ear made Ichigo thrust up his hips desperately. "So needy, too – oh!" Ichigo retaliated by tweaking his lover's nipples, gently teasing the sensitive flesh. "D-Damn!" Renji rubbed against him more quickly and Ichigo met burning cinnamon eyes before his mouth was covered by Renji's. The kiss filled his mind with fire and he ran his nails down Renji's back, bringing up thin lines of blood.

Then, Renji was reaching behind him, preparing him for the penetration. Ichigo didn't really need much preparation, not anymore. He sometimes topped the redhead, but not that often. Ichigo relaxed into Renji's questing hands, growling with primal lust as he easily found the best spots. He returned the attention, giving Renji quick love bites on his neck and shoulder, his reiatsu already beginning to rise.

"Renji, that feels so damned – ah! Yes!" He arched again as Renji began to enter him, meeting cinnamon eyes that were hazed with heat and lust. He knew his reiatsu was rising too much, and tried to bank it, for the sake of anyone in the dance academy. It was hard, though. He wasn't used to exercising any kind of restraint during sex. The way Renji's reiatsu kept trying to clash with his didn't help a bit. "Ah!" Ichigo grunted as Renji found his prostate, sending a hard jolt of pleasure to his straining cock.

Then Renji began to really take him, setting a hard pace that made him gasp and arch in pleasure, hands digging into strong, well-muscled shoulders. Renji's teeth found the spot where his shoulder met his neck and Ichigo moaned, deeply enjoying the love bites. Hiro approved, too, and Ichigo could feel the hollow trying to rise to the surface. Logic said to suppress him, but instinct led Ichigo to reach out, and he grasped his hollow powers. Skin began to bleed to white as a darkening tongue swiped Renji's throat.

"Shit Ichigo, you're so weird." Renji pulled back slightly, their bodies still moving together as he looked into the face of his lover. Ichigo knew he was seeing Hiro, the dead white skin and the black and gold eyes, but he didn't care, just grinning.

"You forgot 'and sexy'." He said, teasingly, and was glad to hear that his voice was still his own. Renji grinned and nuzzled his throat again, making Ichigo gasp as the pace speeded up, rocking him hard against the roof.

"And sexy. So fucking sexy." Renji's breath was hot in his ear and Ichigo shivered, hard, trying to pull back his errant reiatsu. It was a battle that was doomed to failure, especially when Renji's tongue ran over his throat.

"Nnngh!" Ichigo felt the pulse of power as he arched, his orgasm coming fast and powerful. "Renji!" He screamed the other man's name as his release dampened his chest and belly. A few hard thrusts inside him and he felt Renji stiffen, the other man's release filling him with sticky heat. Ichigo smiled as they both relaxed, just savoring the afterglow. "Renji." Ichigo murmured his name, running a finger over tattoos. He loved those markings, loved touching them. "You are wonderful."

"Thanks. So are you." He said and they kissed again, tongues clashing in an intimate duel. Then Renji pulled back and looked over Ichigo critically. "But you might want to do something about that. You're a little creepy." He warned and Ichigo blinked before giving a small sigh and pulling Hiro back. His skin went back to peach and he looked himself over.

"It's kind of odd. Hiro and I are getting along much better now." He said, trying to clean himself off a little. Fortunately, he'd thought of this and brought some tissues. "We're not remerging, but he's given up on fighting me." It seemed like their fights always devolved into sex anyway. Hiro really was horny as hell, and they seemed to be coming to a kind of balance. Renji blinked at that.

"That doesn't sound much like a hollow. You're sure he isn't plotting something?" He asked and Ichigo considered it as Hiro snorted.

Just how to fuck you next time you visit, whore. Ichigo sighed and rolled his eyes at that. He was getting very tired of his inner hollow's term for him. I'll call you what you are.

"A bit hostile… no, I don't think he's plotting much. He's actually pretty happy with how things are going." Ichigo knew that was true. Hiro was getting to experience a lot of things through him, since Ichigo was willing to share. He honestly thought they were coming to a real understanding, rude terms aside. "I can't explain it, but we just seem to be finding a balance." And Zangetsu was part of that balance, too. His power was a tripod, with one leg being hollow, one shinigami and the last being simply the very essence of himself. If the balance tipped in any direction, they would be weaker, although his hollow self would like to control the tripod. "Mmm." Ichigo lay back, enjoying the sun as he felt lazy and content. He smiled as Renji lay beside him, running a hand down his side. "This feels great, doesn't it?"

"It does." There was an odd note to Renji's voice, though, and Ichigo glanced at him. "I worry for you, sometimes."

"Huh?" Ichigo blinked, wondering what he could be talking about. Then it clicked in his mind. "Oh, you worry about my hollow powers?" He grimaced a little. "I worry about that too. But there's not much to be done." He couldn't make those powers go away, even if he'd wanted to.

"You're right about that." Renji said grimly and Ichigo blinked at the tone before catching the other man's hand and giving him a gentle squeeze. Their eyes met for a moment before Renji sat up. "Are you hungry? Because I'm pretty sure there's a taiyaki place not far from here." At that question Ichigo's stomach rumbled and he grinned, grabbing his clothes.

"I am so hungry. Show me this taiyaki place." They quickly got dressed, then spent the rest of the afternoon first at the taiyaki place, then going on a walk down by the river, quietly talking and enjoying nature. Ichigo just enjoyed being with his lover, and hearing about the things Renji had up to in the 6th Division. It made him wish he could be beside the redhead, hunting hollows and keeping him safe.

Alas, some things simply could not be. Ichigo tried to put aside his feelings and just enjoy the day.

The moment was all he had.

Ichigo pushed the food around his plate, feeling a bit unhappy. He was having supper with Byakuya and Rukia, but Renji was off at a party with the 11th Division.

"Is something wrong, Ichigo?" Byakuya asked and Ichigo looked up with a small smile.

"Oh, just missing Renji." He said, semi-truthfully. The truth was, he'd expected to be with Renji tonight. Ikkaku had invited him to the party as well. But then Renji had made it quietly clear that he didn't want Ichigo there. Ichigo wasn't sure why. The most hopeful guess he had was that he didn't want Zaraki to pick a fight with him.

Kenpachi was always trying to pick fights with him, and Ichigo sighed to himself as he thought about it. It was getting to be a real problem, because he knew he'd have to dig deep in himself to muster the power to defeat the towering taichou. And while he would have no problem doing that, it might not be wise to reveal just how far he could go to the shinigami. He'd strengthened his links to Zangetsu, and he could draw a lot of power from that part of his abilities, but Hiro was a potent force. Ichigo knew better than to think he wouldn't pull on his hollow in a fight against that lunatic.

"I'm a bit surprised he didn't invite you to go with him to the party." Rukia said with a small frown and Ichigo forced a smile before deliberately eating a bit of food. The stew was good, it didn't deserve to be treated this way.

"Well, we all need time alone with our friends." Ichigo said lightly. He had plenty of time without Renji, more than he would actually have liked. But there wasn't much he could do about that. Renji had duties in his unit, and aside from paperwork, Ichigo was not welcome there. It was frustrating, though. Byakuya and Renji would both have taken him in instantly if they could, the problem lay elsewhere.

"Still, it was not kind of him. I will speak to him." Byakuya said and Ichigo flinched internally.

"It's really not his fault. I… had a separate invitation to go, Renji just didn't think it would be wise." He sighed as they both looked a touch confused. "Kenpachi would be there, and he really wants to see how tough I am." Ichigo said, letting his frustration show. Comprehension dawned in Rukia's eyes and Byakuya frowned, ever so slightly.

"I will speak to Kenpachi then. He should not be harassing you." He said and Ichigo nodded, accepting that. If Byakuya could get Zaraki to back off, he would be grateful for the help.

After supper, Ichigo went to bed and went to commune with Zangetsu and his inner hollow. Not for sex, but just to practice, particularly with Zangetsu.

He needed to master his shinigami powers.

Things took a very, very bad turn the next day.

"Hi Ichigo!" Ichigo turned with a smile. He was walking the streets of the Seireitei, just taking a walk for fun. He had a small bag of peanuts he was eating, just a little midday snack.

"Hi Renji! Want a… nut…" Ichigo's smile faded as the redhead came up to him, smiling. The smell on him was unmistakable, and the musk was not his. "…" He just stared at Renji, and the redhead blinked, his smile fading as he saw that something was very wrong.

"Ichigo? What's – uck!" Peanuts scattered across the ground as Ichigo abruptly gripped the collar of Renji's clothes, jerking him close. "What the hell? Let go of me!"

"I told you I'm a jealous bastard, Renji." Ichigo's tone was calm, but it was a false front over a quickly building rage. The kind of rage that could obliterate suns. Renji was gripping his wrist, looking at him wide eyed. "Who did you fuck last night? Because I know it wasn't me."

"Wh-What are you talking about? I haven't cheated on you!" Renji squirmed as Ichigo's eyes narrowed to slits. His skin was going white and his eyes were Hiro's.

You should kill the bitch. Hiro hissed and Ichigo silently agreed. He was deeply tempted, and Renji's lies were not helping even the slightest bit.

"Don't bullshit me, Renji." Ichigo grinned, and he knew it was a very disturbing expression. Renji was staring at him, a bit of sweat on his face. "I'll let you in on a secret. Hollows can track other hollows for days, over endless sand, by smell. My sense of smell is every bit as good, so I'm not saying I think you had sex. I know you had sex. And if that other asshole was here, I'd be able to recognize him just from what he left on you." Ichigo's voice lowered to a snarl. "I should fucking kill you. I – "

"What the hell is going on here?" A cool voice interrupted them and Renji's eyes went very wide as Ichigo suddenly released him and whirled with a vicious snarl. There was a dark haired man standing there, with a strange tattoo on his cheek. Ichigo didn't care about that. What he cared about was the smell, and he could recognize this man's smell, oh yes he could.

KILL HIM! Hiro roared with all the possessiveness of a hollow. Ichigo vibrated with the desire to rend and kill, but Zangetsu held him back, quietly reminding him of the consequences. The man across him could feel the deadly force of his reiatsu and pulled out his sword.

"Ichigo, no!" Renji's hand was on his shoulder, yanking him back. "Shuhei, get out of here – mph!" Ichigo straight armed him away, still vibrating with rage. But he had a grip on it now. Not much, but enough.

"Fuck off Renji. I never want to see you again!" He snarled, managing to get back his flesh colored skin. Then he stabbed a glare at Shuhei. "I wish you joy of him. Now, both of you fuck off and die!" He stalked away, his rage smoking in the air behind him. Renji sat up with a pained grunt as Shuhei tilted his head to one side.

"What was that about?" He asked and Renji coughed, looking at his friend.

"Uh, Shuhei? Did we do something we shouldn't have last night?" Renji said tentatively. He'd been very, very drunk and honestly couldn't remember. He'd woken up at home in his apartment, but… someone could have brought him there.

"Oh, that. You don't remember?" Renji's stomach dropped at Shuhei's casual words. So Ichigo was right. "I took you home and you came onto me, so we had some fun. I was pretty drunk too. How'd he know if you didn't?" That was puzzling. Renji pulled himself to his feet, gripping his head. He still had a hangover, and it was coming back with a vengeance.

"Shit." He breathed. He could still feel Ichigo's immense reiatsu, heading away. "I need to tell Byakuya." His taichou was going to rip him a new orifice for hurting Ichigo like this, but someone would have to take care of the aftermath and it couldn't be him. Byakuya would know what to do… and maybe he'd know how to calm Ichigo's temper before something bad happened.

Unfortunately for Renji, Byakuya and Ichigo as well, the irresistible force was about to collide with the immovable object.

"Where is that kid?" Zaraki was looking for Ichigo, but not having much luck. "I want a good fight." He grumbled. He was absolutely dying for a good fight, and his best guess was the kid would give him an excellent one. He'd handled Ikkaku easily, and the powers he'd shown made Kenpachi grin. High speed regeneration? He was so there.

"That way Kenny!" Yachiru pointed but Danica spoke up.

"No no no, just stay right here!" They both looked at her and she grinned cheekily. "Ichigo's really pissed! Can't you feel it?" She said happily and they both looked around. They were feeling something, but they weren't sure what. "He feels like he did when a hollow ate three people, but worse! He's really mad! Someone's in trouble, and he's coming right here!"

"Perfect." Zaraki unsheathed his sword, then shoo'd Yachiru and Danica away. They both took a seat on a nearby wall. "And there he is. HEY! KID! I'm gonna – huh?" Zaraki was absolutely stunned as Ichigo stalked past him, completely ignoring him and his aura of bloodlust. "Hey!" He growled, grabbing the little shit by the back of his collar. "Don't you ignore – OW!" He dropped the kid, stunned, and grimaced. "You fucking shit, you bit me! You better not have rabies."

"Leave me alone." Ichigo snarled. He was trying to hold in his reiatsu, he really was, but the force of his rage was still driving people away. "Now is NOT the time for this Kenpachi!" He tried to warn off the man, his hands clenching. Ichigo wanted nothing more than to unleash his powers against this grinning idiot, but he had to hold it in. He couldn't do what he wanted.

"Now is the perfect time for this." A sword got in his way and Ichigo had to stop or risk impaling himself on the blade. "You're gonna fight me, Kurosaki." Kenpachi was deadly serious now and Ichigo's rage burst out. Bloodlust and rage met, and people a good block away fainted. Danica and Yachiru were both unaffected, however. They both had high reiatsu and long familiarity with the combatants.

"Fine!" Ichigo burst out. "I'll fucking fight you! And you know what? I'll fucking kill you! But not right here, we're in the middle of the Seireitei! Follow me you stupid bastard!" And Ichigo sonido'd out, looking for a good open spot for their duel. The training grounds immediately came to mind and he arrived there to roar at everyone currently there. "Get the fuck out! Kenpachi and I are having a death match!" That cleared out the place instantly, although there were far more watchers than Ichigo would have liked. But the barriers on the training field would keep them safe. Hopefully.

As soon as Kenpachi entered the training grounds, Ichigo went after him. The towering taichou laughed like a lunatic, enjoying every moment of the insanely violent assault. Ichigo went white instantly, and felt Hiro rising behind him. But he didn't reject the hollow or hold him back. No, he reached out to his other self and found it uplifting when that dark power answered him and enfolded him.

Zangetsu was there, too, and the teen blazed with an unholy combination of blue, black and red power. He was overpowering Kenpachi easily, but Ichigo's naturally suspicious mind thought there had to be more to him than this. There had to be something he was holding in reserve –

"HAH!" Zaraki ripped off his eyepatch, grinning like a lunatic, and Ichigo bounced away. He could vaguely feel Hiro's awe and felt Zangetsu's mental pause.

"Well, shit." Ichigo breathed then yelped as pain tore through him. He just managed to dodge enough that Kenpachi's sword didn't bisect him, and his regeneration was taking care of the wound, but it still hurt like a bitch. "Fuck! Getsuga Tenshou!" His rage beat in the air like a living thing as he released a massive attack. Zaraki parried it with an equally powerful burst of gold, and the two powers impacted the shields around the training area. "Fuck!" Ichigo snarled, his rage rising to new heights as Kenpachi grinned at him. He was going to make this bastard pay.

Red light began to form in one hand. Ichigo had no idea what it was, besides deadly. He could feel the tremendous potential for devastation in that little ball, and he felt it as white armor began to form on his body. His hands were clawed, just as they'd been when he saved Byakuya from the portal. And a mask was starting to form on his face, but Ichigo didn't care. His mind was consumed by the anger, and Hiro was deliberately feeding into it. Ichigo sensed his hollow's intentions and smacked him down with one brutal burst of rage.

Holy fuck! Hiro's exclamation was only a side note as Ichigo released the cero in his hand. Kenpachi just barely managed to deflect it and then it slammed into the barrier around the training grounds.

That barrier, which was meant to contain almost any bankai, shuddered. Ichigo didn't care, flying at him. Their swords clashed, raising sparks and he was even more enraged to see that Zaraki was laughing like a lunatic.

"Take me seriously, you bastard!" His voice didn't just sound like Hiro, it sounded dark and distorted. Ichigo couldn't spare any time for that, though. He was fully locked into the battle and Zaraki was getting through his guard, threatening to break through bone armor.

"You kidding kid? This is the best fight I've had in YEARS!" Kenpachi's sword grated on his shoulder, slicing through the bone and sending blood flying as Zangetsu darted for his chest. Zaraki dodged slightly and instead of taking his heart, the great blade sliced his chest. "Yeah, fight harder! I know you have it in you!"

"Fuck you!" Ichigo grabbed the blood off his shoulder, operating on pure instinct, and began summoning another cero. Instead of red light, the power that formed in his hand was black. He parried Kenpachi's attacks with his zanpakuto as the power continued to charge.

The Gran Rey Cero collided with a tidal wave of golden reiatsu, and the barriers around the training ground violently exploded. Many, many shinigami were knocked back by the force of the colliding powers. There was a tremendous cloud of dust and utter silence for a long moment.

"Are they dead?" Someone said, sounding very shaky.

"Kenny can't die!" Yachiru said confidently.

"Ichi can't die either! He's too mean!" Was Danica's contribution. "They're both still alive, I can feel them! Let's go Yachiru!" They both ran into the dust cloud, ignoring the shouts of the shinigami.

And they were both right. Ichigo was unconscious on the ground, back in his completely shinigami state, with blood splattering the ground beneath him. Kenpachi was in no better shape, lying on the ground across from him with his zanpakuto broken. But they were both still alive, and Danica began tending to Ichigo as Yachiru looked after Kenpachi. Well, in a manner of speaking.

"Hey Ichi, get up!" Danica jumped on the fallen boy's back. There was no reaction. "Hey, are you hurt bad? Ichigo?" She was poking him in the face when the real medics arrived.

"Danica, leave Ichigo alone." Byakuya ordered as several members of the 4th began gathering up the fallen warriors. Danica giggled and ran up to him, hugging his legs.

"Okay nii-san!" Byakuya didn't smile as he watched Ichigo being taken away. Everyone in the Seireitei had felt the power that had broken the barrier on the training field. It wouldn't be long before the news reached the Gotei 13 and Central 46.

And that was nothing to smile about.