Now that the ryoka are gone and things are beginning to calm down in Soul Society, Renji's friends have taken to nagging him again.

When he visits Hinamori he runs into Kira. "Now is the time," urges the blond. "While things are calm, before . . . something else happens." Renji ignores him; he feels Kira has never really understood, even with Hinamori lying at death's door, it just isn't the same.

"You were almost too late," says Ikkaku, running through basic exercises to test his healing body. "Last time you wanted to wait until she came back. And you both almost died. You always wait too long Renji." And that just brings up the last time he and the third seat of the Eleventh had talked about it. Ikkaku may have a point, but Renji isn't willing to concede it just yet.

Rangiku collars him when he's finally released from the Fourth Division and they go drinking. "This is the perfect time," she says, taking gulp of sake. "You've just been promoted and you have less to prove to that ice-prick of a brother of hers. Besides . . . " He almost turns away from the look in her eyes. "It's easier to apologize for the things you've said, than regret never saying them at all." And Renji knows that if there's one person who would know that, it would the vice-captain of the Tenth.

Yet he still can't say anything.

Every night, he goes up the Kuchiki house with a firm conviction, this time he'll talk to her and make her understand. Yet every night he ends up spending with the Kuchiki heirs. They sit and they talk and the two of them invite him to eat dinner with them. And while he watches them over the sumptuous meal, similar to what he and Rukia use to dream of when still in Rukongai, the words will turn to lead in his throat. All those words he wanted to say, to Rukia alone, get forcefully smothered under pleasant banalities. There's something there, half-glimpsed in the candlelight and through the steam from the tea. Something he thinks the two of them don't even realize.

They escort him down the path, they bid him goodnight. He watches them walk together. They're not quite comfortable with each other yet, but neither are they as far apart as they were. Ever since the ryoka, Rukia no longer trails behind her brother. She no longer looks back at her childhood friend. And Renji knows that once again he's lost.

Every evening he tells them both good-night. What Renji really wants is just to kiss Rukia good-bye.