Renji realizes that despite everything he's gotten a little attached.

The Replacement

It is tough, starting out all over again. Not quite the same as transferring to the 11th division was, or later, when he was chosen for the 6th and had to leave again, this time with a cold-hearted bastard captain waiting for him impatiently and a whole division full of resentful Shinigami jealously watching his post for an opening to pounce.

So this time there are no jealous looks and cries of the eleven's street trash being transferred over, Renji's proved himself by now and anyway, it's hard to disrespect someone who managed to stick with Kuchiki-taichou for so long. Instead there's the sullen, distrusting silence of a division betrayed, and Hinamori's quiet exit when he enters the captain's office for the first time, complete with new robes that don't fit too well. They're Kuchiki-taichou's, borrowed until his own can be custom-made. On the back the kanji's been sewed on by Rukia on a piece of white cotton stitched to the cloth. It looks like a patch more than anything. Despite being washed, they still smell like Kuchiki-taichou, his favorite tea and office ink and the shampoo he uses, so strangely familiar.

Hinamori hasn't said a word to him since he's been appointed, and while Renji would usually ask Kira to check on it, the other man's been spending an unhealthy amount of time locked up in his division's offices, doing paperwork for two. Renji feels awkward walking in there, thinking of that sickening hour and a half in the hospital when he wasn't sure if Kuchiki-taichou would even wake up again, how close the wound was to the heart.

So he delays inspecting the division-full of Shinigami who would like to see him hanged, despite the fact that their previous captain was a psychopath who ran off with Hollows for god's sake (Renji wishes it weren't so fucking depressing that a guy like that still seems better than him). He does Hinamori's paperwork himself rather than trying to get up the urge to talk to her, feels guilty when he hears her crying in her own office next door. Wishes she would just not show up instead of trying so hard to be brave.

Sometimes he wonders if all captains start out this way, or if it's just bad luck that he happens to be replacing the most well-liked captain in the Gotei 13. He wonders how the sixth division would take it if Kuchiki-taichou were to suddenly die and some new upstart replace him. After that scenario this one seems excessive. He can't honestly think of that many people who actually liked his captain enough to be so angry.

He wonders, too, if all divisions get like this when a new captain is assigned. Everything is chaotic, there's paperwork up to the ears and transfers from division to division Renji signs blindly because half the time he doesn't know who's involved or why. There's letters of complaint from everyone from his 10th seat to half the other captains about him doing something wrong or forgetting to do something or a thousand other things. So much work he barely has time to train the troops, leaves it all to the seated officers.

It takes two weeks of this appointment before the fact sinks in that he hates it all. Renji sits in his office, doing the unfamiliar forms that no one's had the time to explain properly, and thinks that this is boring and depressing and lonely, because he hasn't seen a single person all day every day for weeks now. Even the guys from the 11th division are busy these days, and if they're not chances are Renji's got so much work he can't chance a lunch break. The only people he sees with regularity are the messengers coming in with more transfer requests and meeting notices for vice captains which Renji has to remind himself not to show up to. Instead he leaves them for Hinamori to find, pinned to the wall across from the door to her office, and has no idea whether she attends or not and what it's all about. He is told nothing, but sometimes forms are left on his desk that need signing and disappear the next day.

If it keeps going like this, Renji thinks, he'll go fucking nuts. He cannot remember if Kuchiki-taichou ever worked this hard, but he couldn't have or he'd have died of exhaustion by now. He remembers, clearly, that his captain had used to take lunch breaks like everyone else, always sitting alone to eat his home-cooked meal under the Sakura trees. He remembers clearly having time to play the occasional game of shoji (and losing miserably every time). They had never been so busy that he was denied half an hour to stretch his legs and eat.

Most of all, though, it's not the loneliness that gets him, but a strange feeling of incongruence that appears momentarily when he sees a familiar form, and automatically looks up to tell Kuchiki-taichou their piles got mixed up again. The sight of the vice-captain's unoccupied desk leaves him unreasonably anxious for a moment. These are the times when he sees his own robe hanging from his chair and thinks that captain's only gone to lunch, before realizing. The time in the morning when he comes into the office to find no morning tea already set on the table because captain works early, no familiar Rikichi-kun standing in the way with the newest stack of forms, just Hinamori's closed office door and some messages that came during the night left on the desk.

It's so fucking annoying, these flashes of uncomfortable awareness. Renji avoids thinking for the most part that he is no longer part of the 6th division. It is hard to forget, so when he sees a transfer form from the 5th to the 6th he nearly signs the place for vice-captain of the 6th approval automatically.

It is harder to remember because he has not been back to the 6th division yet, hasn't see his captain since the day Byakuya gave him two sets of robes and said good luck and goodbye with a momentary lifting of the lips that acknowledged he was proud. He does not know who replaced him or if he's been replaced at all. Although logically he most likely has, Renji does not think of it too much and so forgets sometimes.

So when he finally manages to take a day off, when the forms have dwindled down and those that were left were surreptitiously stolen away to Hinamori's desk while he wasn't looking, Renji takes a chance and wonders out of the office that had become his prison, taking a deep breath of fresh air and inspecting his division's court yard, complete with a few half-heartedly training boys. He wonders past them, and the unfamiliar salute "Abari-taichou" is still brand new and unexpected, despite having been true for the past month and a half. He watches them train for a bit, and gives a comment here or there that is taken better than he would have expected, and he begins to think that this taichou-thing is not so bad.

He decides to return the robes, first. Renji's new ones have arrived, all white and black and perfectly fitted. The old ones have been lying on the corner of the office desk for nearly a week, reminding Renji that he hasn't visited his old division once since he's been appointed, tempting him with the memory of his captain's face as he handed them over. Such a strange expression. Renji doesn't think he's ever seen Kuchiki-taichou looking so none-threatening, perhaps because he was finally getting rid of him.

He takes them with him when he leaves the compound, and walks the full twenty meters across to the sixth division offices. They are so close Renji is surprised, cooped up inside the office he had felt as if he were miles away. In the yard, familiar faces are training, the 5th and 4th seat are arguing again, Rikichi-kun races by with some training equipment and pauses to salute with a smile. It is so familiar Renji expects for a moment to walk into the office and sit at his desk, Kuchiki-taichou reminding him about a meeting or a form or a new assignment. This makes it all the harder when he comes to the senior staff offices to find a new boy he's never seen before eating lunch on the porch, wearing his vice-captain's badge and too much jell in his hair. The boy looks up and then scrambles to bow respectfully to "captain", and says that Kuchiki-taichou is busy now.

Renji, understanding that this kid doesn't know who he is, feels momentarily proud to be called just "captain", like Kuchiki-taichou is, with that honest respect, and then he realizes that he has to be let in like an outsider now. He smirks at the kid anyway and says he'll only be a moment, then opens the door and walks in despite the protests, slamming the door in the kid's face.

Inside, everything's as it's always been, complete with Kuchiki-taichou sitting at his desk, busy. Renji feels the familiar confusion coming on, the incongruence of his position. When Kuchiki-taichou looks up to greet him it only intensifies when he calls him "Abarai-taichou" and politely puts away the pen, standing. Renji wishes captain wouldn't act so strange, and then remembers that respect was what he'd wanted, wasn't it?

So instead of saying anything he takes out the folded and washed robes, and Kuchiki-taichou comes to take them and puts them away without inspecting them, and then looks Renji over as if he were as unfamiliar as that new boy on the porch. Feeling those eyes assessing him exactly as he was assessed on the first day of their acquaintance, Renji feels cold and wonders for a moment if he hadn't dreamed up the past few years of his life, if he hadn't always been captain. It feels as if he's been in that room far too long, the outside world has changed too much for him.

Then Kuchiki-taichou nods, and some tension seems to lift, because next he is asking about lunch, and calls him Renji with the same old ease, except perhaps something new that Renji had been noticing gradually since the drifters left. It had come first when Kuchiki-taichou woke up in the hospital and Renji had told him Rukia had only gone home to sleep and would be back tomorrow. A strange light in his eyes that had not been there before.

But he has gotten used to it, and used to his captain's slow half-smile, coming to the surface so rarely and yet more often than ever before. He can even, he thinks as they exit and the new boy whom captain calls Kaji rushes up, get used to the way Kuchiki-taichou introduces him as Abarai-taichou "the one whom you're replacing", rather than "Abarai, my subordinate". He watches the boy blush and stutter as his earlier mistake is realized and feels as if the world hasn't gone as far ahead as he'd thought, after all.

So when they go to lunch and Renji has to stop and buy something because he'd forgotten his miserable sandwich at the office, with Kuchiki-taichou finally waiting, and walking beside him where he'd always walked a little bit ahead, Renji looks at his captain a bit more carefully and thinks that it is not so bad after all, being replaced.

END

A/N: Soo? It's my first completed Bleach fic, what do you think? I kinda liked it. Maybe it was a bit too long-winded (I tend to think that most of the time anyway, though). Was it too OOC? I think Renji might have been, he's too emo here.