It is odd really. Everyone has said they were like Ichigo in their own way – Ishida being anti-social and Renji in his fiery-spirited knack of never listening - but nobody has ever said they were like each other.
Renji has never thought about this but Ishida, being the more intellectual of the two, has. He has come to the conclusion that there are so many sides of Ichigo that people can't help but compare others to him and pick out the parts that relate. Together, Ishida thinks, he and Renji each have a piece that makes up the whole of Ichigo.
But only a piece.
They are both are in love with other people.
Renji loves his best friend and has for over a hundred years. After all this time, he has never said anything about his feelings for her. He is too afraid to say anything because he doesn't want to lose what he does have with her. He has a piece of her and he is so paranoid of losing that that he bites his tongue.
Ishida loves the girl everyone else does. She is way out of his league but her generous personality gives him the illusion that one day he'll be able to have her. Ishida doesn't reveal anything. He's smarter than that. He stands on the outskirts and hovers on that little piece called friendship.
Together, they love in silence.
They both know their love will never get returned.
Ishida lost before he had even begun. He started a fight that was already over. There can never be a victory when there is no war.
Renji had thrown in the white flag before he realized he had a chance. He had given her up because that's what he thought she wanted. Now, she has given him up in return.
Renji and Ishida each have a piece of the love from the women they want. Ichigo has all the rest.
They are both fighters.
Renji was raised on harsh streets with harsher people. He has always fought for everything. It's the way he's grown up and the only path he knows.
Ishida was raised to be strong and honorable. The man he idealized fought and was strong and so Ishida wants to fight and be strong just like him.
They are from completely different backgrounds and they each have their own reasons for being what they are. They have always been great fighters and never had to step aside and let a comrade fight for them.
The day Ishida stood with Orihime on the hill and wished for Ichigo to win, he knew he had been struck down without a single blow being delivered.
The time Renji had seized Ichigo's clothes in his blood-stained hands and begged him to save Rukia, he too knew he had been thrown off his throne.
They are both failures.
Ishida will never be good enough in his father's eyes. Even when he gets good grades and aces all his tests, his father says no words of praise. He simply gives him a lofty look, as though he has expected this all along so why bother pointing it out and making a fuss about it?
When Ishida trains his Quincy powers, his father barbs him. "You have no talent," he tells him.
Ishida will never be good enough.
Renji spent most of his shinigami career trying to be better than somebody. He wanted his respect, his acknowledgment. He wanted to be better.
Renji never did fully reach the moon.
They are both number two.
In personality, in love, in battle, in whatever. They will never be number one, not so long as Ichigo lives.
Ichigo is everything they want to be and possess all the things they desire. He has their unique characteristics, the love of their women, and the ability to strike down whoever he fights. The worst part of all is that he doesn't even notice he has all these things.
Ichigo is the alpha male in every way, shape, and form. Renji and Ishida have no choice but to stand on the sidelines and make room for him. Together, Renji and Ishida share a common bond at falling short at everything.
They both must band together.
The alpha male protects the pack but when the alpha male is not around, the subordinates have to make up for this by combining their own strengths against the enemy.
Before Ichigo, neither of them would have ever compromised themselves to working with others. Before Ichigo, they had each been alpha males in their own worlds and answered to nobody. Now that Ichigo is a part of their world, they are no longer leaders.
In the depths of Las Noches, Renji and Ishida stand together.
Together, in silence, they make a pact.
They both make up for it.
When someone allows themselves to stand on the sidelines, it is easy to overlook them. When someone allows somebody else to have the limelight, they often get pushed into the darkness. And when something is hard to see, it is hard to appreciate.
Resilience is one of the hardest virtues to see and therefore one of the hardest to appreciate.
Ishida and Renji have a ton of this.
They are both resilient enough to bear the mark of a number two and still support the new number one that has taken their spot. They are both resilient enough to get up again and again, and continue to fight after they are beat in battle after battle. And they are both resilient enough to let the ones they love go and still stand by them.
Together, in silence, they fill in the holes of the other.
They are comrades.
In the midst of the blood and the gore, across the craggy stones Renji reaches out a hand.
"Don't leave me behind, alright?"
Gratefully, Ishida reaches back. "Never."