"I was in over my head, wasn't I?"

Who was to say he belonged there anyway? He went because of Rukia- everything is because of Rukia for him, for her he has bled and fought.

And Rukia went because of Ichigo, bled and fought for him.

His voice is hoarse, ragged, and weary. His fingers clutch at themselves, constrained tightly by nothing at all, tempted to run over the scar on his shoulder; a long, clean one running all the way down in neat and orderly fashion, unlike all the others on his body.

Aizen-taicho- no, Aizen Sousuke, is nothing if not a perfectionist.

Momo says nothing for the moment. Her skin is so very pale, so very lifeless, like dry paper awaiting a flame.

Rukia has gone back to the Thirteenth- she said no words the entire way back, not to him, not to Byakuya, to anyone. There is a look in her eyes, haunted and hurt, like someone who just had hope ripped out of their heart.

And this time, he knows Byakuya feels guilt at taking her away from the orange haired ryoka.

He doesn't know why or how his footsteps took him here, just that he wanted to come and see her.

"Hitsugaya-kun wouldn't have let you on the mission if he hadn't trusted you," Momo replies, and there is a tremor in her voice and in her hands as she says the name, like a sudden chill entering her veins.

Renji places his hand on her shoulder, and squeezes. The gesture of comfort is not just for her.

"Ya think?" to another, it would have been argumentative. But Momo hears the softness in his voice, and nods once to affirm, and that's all he needs to feel a warmth settle in his gut.

He wonders how they haven't changed after so much, sitting in her hospital room, the white void of the walls surrounding them on all sides, a pot of tea (courtesy of Unohana-taicho) and two cups sitting between them on a cart.

Despite it all, this feels familiar.

Everything else has changed throughout the years.

Rukia has gone from the warm presence at h is side to a distant star to something close enough to burn him alive. Byakuya has gone from the rival he could never touch to the man he can't help but respect. Aizen-taicho has gone from the patient, gentle mentor to the merciless enemy.

"How is he?" she is quiet and withdrawn, and suddenly he remembers the warm energy that is Momo.

Its absence kills him a little inside, like a poison dripping into his veins.

"He's okay," Renji responds, trying to regain some semblance of normalcy. This is all familiar, but wrong in ways he thinks might end up being right. "Got roughed up a bit a coupla' times, but nothin' much. He is a captain, after all."

"Oh... that's right," Momo manages, and he can clearly see the faint traces of the past glimmering like broken glass in her eyes.

He is not a little boy anymore, and that breaks her heart a little more every day.

Everything changes, Renji thinks again. Everything but us.

Without thinking and without warning, Renji says lightly, "Do ya remember that time you and Kira tried to teach me some higher level Kido?" she looks up at him, confused, but he presses on. "And how we ended up destroying the wall that separated the girls and boys changing rooms?"

She giggles, and it brings all the familiar feelings back again. It satisfies him, in a way. "I remember," Momo says mirthfully, "Especially when Nanao-fukutaicho disciplined us. I thought Kira-kun was going to faint..."

"He did," Renji reminds her, the old smiles coming back as easy as breathing. "But he woke up pretty quick, so you just thought he stumbled."

"Why didn't you tell me Kira-kun fainted!" Momo demands, smiling now as well.

"Made me swear," he replies, grinning at her with his old rogue's grin. What he doesn't say is that, in turn, Kira is sworn to secrecy about the time Renji accidentally saw Momo naked (a long story involving stupid bets and even more idiotic ideas).

"You two," she complains, pushing him slightly, and he laughs because the last time she pushed him like that they were newly graduated and he had made a crack about Aizen's glasses.

Renji only continues to smile, until it doesn't feel right and both it and Momo's own smile fade away.

The familiar, returned so easy, after so much had changed.

It was a gift for both of them, when everything else had been stripped away and made different and frightening, this could stay the same.

"Rukia's going to go," he says quietly, because its been sitting at the back of his mind, waiting to have its turn. "Because he'll go."

Because Renji is not whom Rukia follows. Rukia is who Renji follows, because Rukia only follows spiky headed idiots who hold her heart in their hands unknowingly, and that cannot change either.

He glances up at Momo then, and she can clearly see the hurt in his eyes because she reaches out and cups his chin with her hand (slim and warmer than it should be), and smiles gently, compassionately, and suddenly Renji wonders how Aizen could ever want to bring that wonderful light to its end.

"Then you should get going too," she all but whispers, and, on some impulse, Renji leans forward and gently brushes her lips with his. Not a full kiss, full of longing and lust and love, but something gentle and thankful and exactly what they both need right now, something for both of them, for Renji and Momo.

There is no blushing, no stuttering exchanges, because this is Momo, and she understands, even if the rest of the world crumbles, she'll understand what he means.

"I don't ever want this to change," he whispers hoarsely, with all the desperation of a dying man in the desert, pulling just a little bit away. "Ever."

Momo places her forehead against his, closing her eyes as she embraces him slowly, and the peaceful look she has in that moment makes him believe his words might come to pass.

When Renji leaves, he doesn't look back. He doesn't have to.

The world could fall apart on them, everything else could be in doubt, but Renji and Momo can still sit and talk and laugh and dream, together, no matter what happens, no matter what else changes.

And that's enough for him.