Even though I braced myself for it, expecting something and experiencing are, in the end, entirely different. It's only natural. Surrounded by so many people who reject you for no good reason, being a part of it all, yet completely separate—it's a heavy, oppressive feeling.
Things were far from perfect back in those days, but even while surviving by the skin of our teeth, there were moments of peace.
Some summer nights, we would all sleep outside. On the riverbank, we sought respite from the sticky heat. Lying side-by-side, limbs touching, watching the fireflies float over the surface of the water— I could recall peace. In the limbo between waking and sleep, it was hard to tell where one of us ended and the next began.

"What're you doing here?" Renji asked me when I showed up at his room. His hair was tousled, eyes still groggy with sleep.
"I was feeling kind of... homesick."
"Homesick? For Rukongai?"
"Well, it's not that. I just feel like an intruder here; it's-"
He smiled wryly at me. "I know what you mean."
"Can I stay with you tonight?"
"Of course."

I could feel Renji's breath on my hair in the dark. The heat from both our bodies warmed the covers, and the full moon leaked in from the window.
The tense knot between my shoulders was loosening. For the first time in days, my mind stopped its endless motion and simply stood still.
In the haze between conciousness and sleep, I could no longer tell where he ended and I began.