Watching the stranger out from the corner of his eyes as they went about cleaning up the area, Renji mentally smacked himself about the head. It was obvious to anyone, really, and it should have been even more so to him, being the lieutenant of the person in question. On hindsight, as they scrubbed away at the floor, he could not quite understand how he had missed it.

Yes, the reiatsu emitted was so faint that it was almost not there, but the signal itself, now that he had properly concentrated and was properly concentrated, was unmistakable. Completely and utterly unmistakable. He knew who it was immediately. But still, this was going to be fun to watch. Taicho was so completely out of character, so utterly not himself that had Renji not recognized the signature as that of the man he was going to surpass, he would have been duped.

But he was not duped. He had recognized it, and his adrenaline pumped brain, from the fight previously, had registered it and was chewing over it. The implications of this were just beginning to surface, and he was desperately trying to remember when he had last done something blackmail-able. He could not quite remember that, and could not quite keep a satisfied smile from his face. Hah!

As such, it was Kuchiki Byakuya's unlucky day. Or at least, whatever was left of the day was going to be his unlucky day. And hah! Renji was going to have so much fun. He smirked slightly to himself, before quailing under the stern glance of Obaa-san, who had returned from the little hideout to supervise the cleaning process. Eep.

Byakuya scrubbed away at the floor, being rather unused to menial labor, but finding that it was not as difficult as he had heard. There was this certain way one went about things that made it easier to do, like scrubbing along the grain of the wood and not across it. The bloodstains came off easily, especially since they were still fresh and not sunk into the wood yet. The four unconscious and one dead thug had been deposited some distance away from the hut, courtesy of Heiji and Izumo from up on the hill.

The after dinner activities were simple, they played a few non-gambling card games, with Renji teaching the whole room a few more borderline gambling ones. Kozei seemed to have found a new idol in the red-haired lieutenant, sticking to him like a limpet and refusing to let go, clinging onto every word eagerly. An image of Rikichi popped into Byakuya's head. Now, the poor hero worshipper had competition for Renji's attention. Nope, nope, nope. He did not like that mental image at all. Not at all.

And then the kids were put to bed, with Byakuya getting ready to leave. He hoped that Renji would leave first, which would allow for him to make it back to Seireitei without being caught. However, it would seem that Renji had no such ideas. Currently, Heiji, Izumo, Byakuya and Renji were seated around a short table, cards in hand as they gambled away. Poker was such an interesting game, and he was exceptionally good at it, what having a natural poker face and all, not to mention the countless practices he had had at the expense of others.

Good fun. He was now slightly richer than usual. Yes, it was possible for him to be richer than usual. He did not usually carry money around with him, and did not usually flaunt his wealth either. The extra coins, mostly earned from Renji for that man had the most expressive poker face he had ever seen (and he had played with the Shibas, so he did know what he was talking about), rested happily in a small pile at his side of the table.

And eventually, Izumo called it a night, leaving and dragging Heiji with him. Byakuya indicated to Renji, and Obaa-san in the corner who was doing some stitching, that he was going to leave as well. Please, please, let Renji not follow… Darn. His lieutenant had gotten up, stretched and made a big show of it being late, muttering something about not wanting to be late for work the next day. Hah. If only Renji actually showed this enthusiasm in the office.

As he had left the hut, with Obaa-san reminding him to come again as soon as he could, he noticed Renji following him closely, always a step behind. He did not like this at all. Please, please, let Renji not have realized. Crossing his fingers, it was then that he realized that somehow, he was going to have to shake Renji off, and he had no idea whatsoever as to how it was that he was going to achieve that.

Firstly, no, he did not have a home in Fifth district. He had been intending to purchase one so that he could bring the kids over, but no, he had not yet purchased it. And yes, he did regret that decision. Secondly, Renji was as stubborn as Kurosaki, which did say a lot about him. This would mean that he would have to be some really good distraction, which with the amount of sake in his system currently, he was incapable of coming up with.

In other words, he was in trouble. Deep trouble. He had no idea how to shake Renji off. Perhaps checking into an inn might work? Casting a glance behind him, he noticed that said lieutenant had an abnormally wide grin on his face, and was looking positively predatory. Now, that was a scary thought. Oh well… No choice then. He was really going to have to check into an inn, and pray that Renji did not notice him when he shunpoed off in the middle of the night.

Turning around the corner, he bid a quick farewell to Renji, breathing a sigh of relief as the lieutenant made no move to stop him, merely nodding slightly. A few steps into the empty lane, he was halted in his tracks by a voice.

"Ne, Kuchiki-taicho," A triumphant pause as he froze, hand halfway to his hat, to stabilize it before shunpoing away, his newfound method to escaping Renji. "Just when were you going to tell me?" Oh yeah… Renji 1, Taicho 0.

If I had my way, never? Byakuya was stumped. He could not think of a polite and logical response to the answer. He was surprised to hear a chuckle, and realized rather belatedly that he had said that aloud. Damn. This was why he did not usually drink in the company of others. He had this annoying tendency of embarrassing himself. Hm… Now that his cover had been blown, he could revert back to his "normal" self, and give Renji a dressing down. But somehow, he did not quite feel like it. Damn.

"When did you notice?" He knew the question sounded weak and rather pathetic, but it was all he could manage at the moment. His mind was completely blank. All the thinking, all the activity, everything had completely drained him. Not to mention, it was really late, some time after midnight, and although he did enjoy late night walks, it was because he had been sufficiently rested.

He was not sufficiently rested, and could currently think of nothing other than his nice futon and pillow back at Kuchiki manor. It did not help matters that he had had much to drink, and was half drunk, well on his way to becoming drunk, and as we all know, most people lose control and all sense and sensibility when they are drunk. As such, he was not capable of coming up with anything remotely more intelligent than that rather weak and pathetic half-retort.

"After the fight." Renji grinned broadly. "Wasn't too difficult once I concentrated. Your reiatsu signature is too distinctive." A triumphant smirk on his face as he paused for a moment before continuing.

"Why were ya so concerned about hiding your identity? 'S not like there's anything I can do about it, or that I'll do about it. You're afraid of your reputation?" Another thoughtful pause. "What are you doing in Rukongai, anyways, taicho? 'S not like you to be in Rukongai in the first place."

Silence. Renji blinked.

"Uh, taicho?" He did the little Rikichi shuffle thing which Byakuya found annoying. Extremely annoying. So annoying that had said kid not been so useful or good at what he did, the Renji wannabe would have found himself transferred out faster than you could say "shuffle". As such, he merely gritted his teeth slightly, exhaling.

"I was relaxing."

"Ano… relaxing?" Now Renji looked confused, this bamboozled look of a complete and utter lack of understanding on his face. Or at least, he looked kind of disbelieving. Well, Byakuya preferred the first option. It made more sense. (Then again, he did have to remind himself that Renji was not nearly as stupid as he had thought he was. Okay, okay. Renji was not stupid.)

"You of all people should know that I do not like to repeat myself."

"Um… Hai, taicho." A short pause as Renji scratched nervously at his head. "But… relaxing?"

"Simple language. What is so difficult to comprehend?"

"Ah… maybe it's because I cannot picture taicho relaxing?" His hands shot right up into the air as Byakuya turned a cold glare his way. "Pardon, taicho, but you're not the most lax person, ya know?"

"Thank you, Captain Obvious."

Renji blinked, before a huge grin spread across his face. "Ne, taicho. I never figured you to have a sense of humor."

"Neither did I."

Renji was gaping openly at the very amused Kuchiki Byakuya. (Hah! Kuchiki 1, Renji 1.) Stunned into speechlessness, they walked on in the direction of Seireitei, before they rounded a corner and came face to face with a very familiar face.


"Rukia? What'cha doin here?"

"Aiyee! Renji? Is that…"


"What's he doing here? I thought… I thought…"

"You thought he never steps into Rukongai? Yeah. So did I."

"I do not recall disappearing into thin air."

"Aw, don't be a spoilsport, taicho."

"Cease that whining, Renji. It is incredibly unbecoming."

"But taicho…"

Silence as they walked in the direction of Seireitei. (Walking because it had been instilled into him that it was rude to flaunt your talents, and he was definitely better at shunpo. Definitely. Most definitely.)

"Taicho?" Byakuya turned his head fractionally in his direction. A semi-annoyed look. Completely unperturbed, Renji plowed on, a cheeky grin on his face.

"I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

"I'd rather not."

And that's the end, folks! I know it's kind of short and all, but it seemed appropriate to end it here. Of course, I'm open to suggestions if you guys want it to be longer.