Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.

Mizuiro clapped his hands. "Good game, everyone! Let's take a quick break!"

Ichigo, Mizuiro, Chad, and Keigo climbed out of the swimming pool and headed for a nearby table to grab some drinks and snacks. Taking a giant gulp of soda, Ichigo looked around to see what the others were doing. Tatsuki and Orihime were sunbathing nearby, and Ishida was sitting alone in a lawn chair shaded by a tree, reading a paperback book.

Barely a week had passed since Ichigo, Chad, Ishida, and Orihime returned to the real world after their adventures in Soul Society. Not long after their return, Keigo had called Ichigo with some news. "Ichigo, guess what? My aunt gave me the keys to her place so that I can feed her cat this week, and she lives in an apartment with a swimming pool! I already invited Mizuiro and Chad over for a swim after dinner; you can invite anyone else if you want to come!"

The idea of a swim with friends definitely appealed to Ichigo, so he invited Tatsuki, Orihime, and Ishida to the pool as well. Ishida, still in the mindset that he and Ichigo were enemies now that they were no longer in Soul Society, had stubbornly refused to come at first. It was not until Ichigo showed up on his doorstep along with Chad and Orihime to talk him into going swimming with them that Ishida grudgingly agreed to come. Ishida was, after all, not a fool and knew when he was clearly outnumbered.

Munching on a granola bar, Ichigo walked over to where Ishida was reading and stopped in front of his chair. "Hey, Ishida, we're just about to start another game of volleyball; you want to play in this round?"

Ishida sighed and readjusted his glasses. "I don't play water sports, Kurosaki. Besides, there'll be an uneven number of people on each team if I join you."

Ichigo snorted. "That's the dumbest excuse I ever heard. If it's a matter of keeping the numbers even, then we could let you take Keigo's place. He can sit on the sidelines for this round."

"No thanks," Ishida replied, returning to his book.

What's his problem? Ichigo scowled. Feeling annoyed, he yanked Ishida's book out of his hand and smacked him in the head with it.

"OUCH!" Ishida yelled, rubbing his head gingerly. "What was that for, Kurosaki?"

"What the hell's the matter with you?" Ichigo demanded. "I invited you here so that you could hang out with us at the pool, not sit under a tree and read, you nerd!"

Ishida glared at Ichigo. "I never asked to be invited, Kurosaki. If I feel like swimming later, I'll get in the pool and join you and the others, but not now."

Ichigo looked like he wanted nothing more than to punch Ishida, but instead he returned Ishida's glare and tossed his book on the floor. "Sure, whatever," he shrugged as he turned to go back to join Chad, Mizuiro, and Keigo back in the pool for another round of volleyball. That's the last time I invite you to hang out with us outside of school, Ishida.

Chad silently watched Ichigo make his way back toward the pool. He was too far away to hear what Ichigo and Ishida had been arguing about, but ever observant, he saw the brief flash of pain that crossed Ishida's face as soon as Ichigo's back was turned. Once Ichigo settled back in the water, Chad approached him. "Ichigo, wasn't Ishida supposed to play in this round?"

Ichigo rolled his eyes. "He said he doesn't play water sports and reminded me that he didn't even want to come here in the first place. If I didn't know better I'd say he's washed his hands of us."

Is that true? Chad wondered. Ishida had gotten along well with almost everyone in Soul Society, and he seemed to be most at ease when he was around Ichigo, Chad, and Orihime. But if that's the case, then why is he trying to isolate himself from us, the way he did before we met him?

As Tatsuki flipped through a magazine on martial arts, Orihime turned and looked at Ishida with a sad look in her eyes. She had come to know Ishida quite well after spending time with him in Soul Society, and she didn't understand why he was shutting her out, shutting everyone out now that they were back in the real world. It hurt her to see him so distant from everyone else. Ishida-kun, why don't you want to be friends with us anymore?

Ishida retrieved his book from the ground where Ichigo had tossed it and watched silently as the volleyball game began. It was Ichigo and Chad versus Keigo and Mizuiro. From the sidelines, Orihime and Tatsuki cheered for Ichigo's team, which did not go well with Keigo. Ishida had to admit, everyone looked very happy.

I was happy like that once, too, he mused. When Sensei was alive, he made me feel like I could do anything, but after he died, all I could think about was getting revenge against the Shinigami. I never expected to actually befriend Kurosaki, a Shinigami, much less go to Soul Society with him and Sado-kun and Inoue-san. Those two became my friends, too, and we all fought to save Kuchiki-san from execution. But now, just as I've learned what it's like to have friends…

Ishida stared at the Quincy cross still dangling from his wrist and clenched his fist in frustration. It hurts. Without my Quincy powers, I cannot slay Hollows, and I have no way to defend myself against them. I can't let them fight for me. I refuse to be anyone's burden. That's why I told Kurosaki that as Shinigami and Quincy, we were still enemies, but the damn fool wouldn't listen! It would be so much easier if everyone just forgot about me

All these thoughts were doing nothing for Ishida's peace of mind. A swim sounded good right about now, so he pulled off his shirt and removed his glasses, placing them on a nearby table before heading toward the deep end of the pool. As he slid into the pool and began swimming toward the opposite end, he thought, Maybe a cool swim will help clear my head.

Three elementary-school boys holding water balloon launchers stood impatiently outside the pool gate. "Man, I want to go swimming, but those high school guys have been hogging the pool for almost an hour," one boy complained. "That's not fair! They don't even live here!"

"I know! Someone needs to kick them out! We have to do something!" another boy chimed in.

"Maybe we can scare them out of the pool," the third boy suggested. "What if we just started shooting our balloons at them? It'd be funny to see what they do."

"Yeah!" the others agreed as they positioned their launchers and angled them so that the balloons were likely to land beyond the gate into the pool. "They won't even know what hit them," the first boy smirked to himself.

Meanwhile, at the pool, Ichigo and Chad were winning the game against Keigo and Mizuiro. Orihime was telling Tatsuki about a new curry recipe she recently found. Ishida was growing tired of swimming laps in the pool by himself. Once more across the pool, then I'm out, he thought. All seven were unaware of what was conspiring outside the gate.

"Ready, set, GO!" With that, the three boys fired their launchers simultaneously.

The first balloon fell short, hitting the gate and exploding with a loud WHAM! The second balloon flew over the gate into the pool area and landed directly on a table, exploding and knocking several unopened cans of soda into the pool where Ichigo and his friends were playing volleyball. "What the hell was that?!" Ichigo exploded.

The third balloon flew through the air and struck Ishida squarely in the back of the head as he was completing his final lap across the pool. Stunned by the impact, Ishida gasped as his head went underwater. Water swirled around him, filling his nose and mouth, choking him. Can't…breathe…he thought numbly as a sharp pain in the back of his head overwhelmed him and enveloped him in darkness.

To be continued