When Rukia met Kurosaki Ichigo, her first thought was: He and Renji would not get along.

...all right, that might not have been her first thought. Her first thought was actually: WHAT? HE CAN SEE ME? followed by: LITTLE SNOT? I'M GOING TO KILL HIM! So she did not actually get to thinking about Renji until after the Hollow attacking Ichigo's family had been dispatched. But it was still true. Renji – or at least Rukia's memory of Renji, for they had not spoken in years – and Ichigo were simply too much alike: headstrong, temperamental, cocky, bossy and brazen. She couldn't imagine them getting along without bashing heads.

So of course they got along marvelously. After beating the crap out of one another, at least. Rukia wished she had been around to see more than just their first meeting and fight. Maybe then she would understand their strange camaraderie. Because as things were, it was really creepy.

"Ichigo!" Rukia snapped, slamming her hand down on her textbook.

"I HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING!" Ichigo snapped back once he had stopped choking on his juice. Renji ignored the both of them, his feet kicked up on Ichigo's dining room table, chewing an apple as he read one of Karin's sports manga.

"Sengoku's an ass," he commented thoughtfully, but neither Ichigo nor Rukia paid him the slightest heed.

"I didn't say you did anything, you idiot!" Rukia said snippily.

"Then what'd you shout my name for?" Ichigo asked, and got a textbook shoved in his face in response.

"Explain," she ordered tersely.

Ichigo grumbled some choice words as he shoved the textbook back so he could see exactly what she was pointing at. And he cursed again.

"Ah damn, not science!" he said. "I hate this shit! Oi, Renji!" He tossed a crumbled up wad of notebook paper at the redhead to get his attention. "You're good at this science shit, right? Explain it to Rukia."

"Sure," Renji said casually, and tossed the paper wad back at Ichigo's head as he straightened and scooted his chair over to get closer to Rukia. "What's the problem?"

Rukia pointed out the problem to Renji, but only half-paid attention to his explanation, absent-mindedly rubbing her right leg, which she had injured in a fight with a Hollow just recently. How had Ichigo passed her off so easily? She knew how he hated admitting weakness...almost refused to do so, in academics as well as in fighting. He took great pride in being almost as strong academically as he was physically. And yet he had just passed off a chance to help her, to show off in front of his rival. He had done the same thing before, tossing her down to Renji after he rescued her from the execution block. That she had justified as he was going to fight Byakuya; he simply realized he couldn't fight Byakuya no-holds-barred while still protecting her. But that explanation didn't take into account Renji: how he had immediately obeyed Ichigo's orders, how he had told Rukia to trust Ichigo. Here, once again, Renji was obeying Ichigo. What in the world is going on with them? Rukia wondered.

"Hey, idiot!" Rukia yelped as Renji suddenly flicked her nose, jolting her from her reverie. "Were you playing the slightest bit of attention?"

Rukia rubbed her sore nose and glared at Renji.

"You didn't have to do that, you big brute!" she snapped. "Of course I was paying attention!"

"Good," Renji said, "'cause I wanna go to a movie."

"What movie?" Ichigo asked, and Renji shrugged.

"Dunno," he answered. "Maybe Godzilla vs. Bunnicula." He shot Rukia a knowing look, which she completely missed in her sudden euphoria. Godzilla vs. Bunnicula! BUNNIES!

"I want to go!" she declared immediately, only to realize a moment later: "I have no money."

"I can pay," Renji said, and pulled out his wallet to make sure this statement was true. "...or not. Few yen short." He looked up at Ichigo. "You got any yen, Ichigo?"

You weren't supposed to ask your rival for money so casually. Rukia twitched. She did not understand these two at all.

"Yeah, I've got some," Ichigo replied. "But do we have to see Godzilla? Between Keigo and Inoue, I've had enough of that freak to last me a lifetime." One look, though, at Rukia's shining and hopeful face, and he caved. "Fine. But we're renting Throne of Blood from the video store, got it?"

Renji made a face.

"Ain't that the movie based on that foreign play?" he asked dubiously. "By that guy you like so much?"

"Shakespeare, you idiot!" Ichigo snapped, tossing another wad of paper at Renji. "And yeah, it's adapted from Macbeth. It's a good movie."

Renji hrmphed, not sounding particularly impressed. He admired a great deal of human technology (especially motion pictures), but he was wary of anything non-Japanese.

"Cool," Ichigo said, taking Renji's silence as agreement. "Let's go." He jumped to his feet and grabbed their jackets, tossing them to Rukia and Renji. Rukia put hers on mechanically, still lost in thought. On one hand, she was very very happy to be seeing a movie about bunnies (as of course Bunnicula in all his rabbit glory would be the main focus of the movie...who cared about a giant lizard?). On the other hand...Why were Ichigo and Renji getting along so well? This question had been bothering her for weeks, but somehow now it seemed more urgent to answer than ever. Rukia pondered this as the three walked down to the local theater, her thoughts jolted every time her arms brushed Ichigo's or Renji's. The two walked on either side of her casually, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. They were falling into a steady rhythm, a pattern of behavior, and Rukia didn't want to get caught in something she didn't understand.

"Oi, Renji."

"I know."

"Hn?" Rukia forced herself to pay attention to her surroundings as the two boys spoke, and immediately noticed what the boys had already reacted to – they were surrounded. Karakura town was notorious for its gang problem; one could hardly walk the streets at night without at least passing one, and many times one was actually confronted.

"Woohoo, lookey here, fellas. A pretty little lady out for the evening." The head gang member leered at Rukia. "Whaddya say, lovely? Ditch these suckers and come hang out with us." His voice tried to be persuasive, but it was obvious he did not plan on heeding the word "no." This didn't scare Rukia; what were these barely literate punks compared to Hollows and Allankar? But so many of them still presented a problem...especially with her leg still hurting. She had grown weaker in the months she spent in the powerless gigai; her stamina and ability to cope with physical pain were not what they had been. Her hand instinctively went to her leg, clutching the fabric above her wound. If she had been strong, she wouldn't have been hurt, and she would have been better able to fight. Once again, Ichigo and Renji would have to step in and protect her.

"Go screw yourselves," Ichigo snapped at the gang leader.

"You take the front, I take the back?" Renji asked Ichigo quietly, and the orange-haired boy shook his head.

"Too many of 'em," he answered. "Stay by Rukia. I'll attack as many as I can." At Renji's wary look, he added snippily: "I'm faster than you are, you moron." Renji then nodded in acceptance, and the two boys put the plan into motion. Rukia watched as they ripped through the crowd, Ichigo moving like lightening while Renji stood solid and knocked back those who broke through. They moved in perfect harmony, completely synchronized with each other. When did they become a team? Rukia wondered.

"And why?"

"Huh?" Ichigo asked, turning around from knocking out the last of the gang members. "You say something, Rukia?"

Had she spoken out loud? She hadn't meant to. And yet now Rukia couldn't stop the words from tumbling out.

"Why are you acting like this?" she asked. "You two...working together. Protecting me together. It isn't supposed to work like this! You're supposed to be jealous and angry and fight!" Her indecisiveness...her weakness...her reluctance to hold onto one and let the other go...These things were supposed to hurt them, like everything she had always done. She was always hurting people, ruining people. They should be hurting now too, not taking the entire thing in stride. "Why are you both still here with me?"

Ichigo and Renji looked at her, then at each other, and then back at her.

"Why d'you think?" Ichigo asked.

"You're important," Renji said, looking almost shy about it. "You're the reason we became strong."

She wasn't about to cry. She was not about to cry. Kuchiki Rukia wasn't that weak yet! "But...both of you..."

Ichigo snorted.

"Che, you're such a troublemaker," he said. "Like any one guy can handle protectin' you twenty-four/seven." Renji sniggered his agreement.

"Jerk!" Rukia made a face at Ichigo. No, it wasn't to disguise any tears that might be in her eyes, because she wasn't crying. And if she turned away, that wasn't to hide the fact that she was wiping them away.

"Stop thinking so much," Renji said, placing his hand on Rukia's shoulder. "Let things be what they are."

"Right," Ichigo agreed, resting his arm on her other shoulder. "Otherwise you'll just drive all of us crazy." He glanced at his watch and then snorted. "Stupid punks...we're too late for the movie." He shrugged, then started dragging Rukia (and therefore Renji) in another direction. "Guess we're goin' to the movie store."

"Oi!" Renji protested, quickening his steps so that Rukia wasn't awkwardly caught in the middle of them. "That Throne of Blood thing was only if we saw the Godzilla first! I don't wanna see no Britainish movie!"

"It's British, you dumbass," Ichigo retorted. "And we can check out more than one movie!"

"We can?"

"YEAH! Geez, hasn't anyone taken you to a video store before?"

"Oh shut up!"

Rukia giggled, emotionally stepping back and just listening to the boys banter. It was strange, really, how all their different pieces fit together. But the boys were right – why question it? If they clicked together, then they clicked. Simple as that.

Thank you.