A/N: I got bored and decided to write a Bleach fic. Set 5+ years after the current Anime story line. As a general rule, I assume they are speaking in Japanese to each other so therefore do not need to add in any extraneous bits. The only time I use it, is when there is no English equivalent.

Enjoy

Disclaimer: I own nothing probably not even the idea.

Chapter 1: Guard dog

Rukia flashstepped to the 6th division training ground to meet her brother. The night before, she had convinced him to meet her for lunch and a day of shopping for new fabric to make a new kimono for the upcoming Doll Festival. Now normally, she hated shopping and didn't care for wearing formal kimonos but when he had come to supper with no kenseikan in his hair and looking like he was about to start spitting nails she decided he needed a distraction. This was always a stressful time of year, with festivals, a new graduating class to place, and some formal nobles meeting that had both him and Lady Shihoin nervous. So seeing how stressed he seemed, she begged for some of his time under pretense but he did agree.

She was therefore disappointed when she stopped and did not see either his white coat, his gleaming kenseiken, or feel his aura. Instead, she was met by the rank and file of the 6th being run through drills by Lt. Renji Abarai. While not her brother, at least her best friend was there. She watched him correct the stance of a new graduate, showing her how to balance her weight more effectively. No swords were used, this was just hand to hand combat practice.

She waited for a good time to interrupt and announce herself, but without even turning around, he addressed her, "Hey, little girl, if you're looking for your brother, he had an emergency Captains meeting. He should be back anytime now."

"I can wait," she smiled at him and settled herself on the fence to watch. One of the biggest differences between her division and the 6th was in their training. In the 13th training was left up the individual, though mentoring was available, it was never done formally or en mass. But here, between Byakuya, Renji, and the 3rd seat, the Sixth was run, drilled, trained, taught, and generally beaten upon every single day. It was probably one of the reasons they were the most elite of the units, now even more so than the 2nd. Her brother only accepted the best, most well rounded, smartest Soul Reapers into his unit of freakish over achievers. Renji was the sole exception with his utterly disastrous skills in Kido.

After half an hour, her butt was going numb and she was bored. She hopped down and stood beside Renji, where he was leaning, observing the new recruits. "Anyone you like?" She broke the silence, trying to figure out what he was looking for.

"Third guy from the left is strong and fast but sloppy. I think he needs a few years with Kenpachi. If he survives Ikkaku and Yumichika, then he might make a good 6th member." He pointed then to a very tall lanky girl with a long braid of black hair that made Rukia jealous. Over the last 5 years, she had decided to grow her hair out. It was on its way to her waist but wasn't nearly as pretty as that girl's. "She's way too timid in her movements. She would break under me and Captain Kuchiki. The 7th under Hisagi might be a good place for her. He's an excellent teacher and very patient."

They watched a bit longer and she pointed out a few more and he commented. Apparently there were only two recruits he thought could hack it under him, the rest he would swap out with other units to find ones that were a better fit. Near the end of the training, she turned to him. "So, feel like sparring a little? Give these newbies a show, monkey boy?"

"Are you challenging me?" he quirked a tattooed eyebrow at her and she smiled devilishly back at him. "Ok, your funeral, ice queen." He gave the signal to clear the field and the two stepped into the center.

"So how about we bet on this, best three out of five. Loser buys lunch and ice cream?" she asked, as she watched him crack his wrists and roll his shoulders.

"Sounds fair but winner gets to choose the place too. I don't want to get stuck having to eat at someplace that serves nothing but tempura battered chili peppers and hot mustard beef."

"Ok, but we need to even the odds a little, so no bankai and no sitting on me."

"Agreed but no kido spells to groin either. After the last time my balls were so swollen I couldn't walk right for a week." They both tried to ignore the fact that none of the recruits or 6th members had left, but were instead lining up by the fence to watch. It never bothered Renji but it made her a little self conscious. He smiled at her and whispered, "just relax, it's just you and me out here. None of them matter."

She refused to admit that calmed her downed and shot back, "Oh stop thinking about your balls for 5 minutes and fight."

"Hey my balls are like two little friends I get to talk to when I'm bored."

That got a snicker from her, "please like anything on you is actually small, ya' big oaf." With that she attached with a quick downward arc, knowing it was more difficult for Renji to defend against overhead attacks from people so much shorter than him. However, before her swing was even complete, she suddenly felt incredibly weak and noticed Renji was standing back to back with her. He tapped her left side with the flat of his still sealed blade, watching her through the corner of his eye. "What the fuck!"

"Seriously?" He turned more and looked at her confused face, "Senka, your brother's favorite move." He smiled and announced, "point Abarai." And winked as she turned around, swinging her zanpakto in a wide arc at him. "Touchy, aren't we?" He joked as he jumped away.

"Come here and let Sode no Shirayuki touch you." she taunted, switching to several quick kido blasts, keeping him moving further and further from her. She needed to put some distance between them. At close range, Renji always had the upper hand with his strength, speed, height, and skill but at a distance some of that was equalized with her kido Once he was far enough away, she shouted, "Dance, Sode no Shirayuki!" sweeping her sword in a ribboned circled in front of her.

Renji smiled at her from across the field and mimicked a howl, his own zanpakto glowing red for a split second before taking on its distinctive segmented serrations. "Game on, princess."

"Game over, mutt," and she shot a blast of ice at him only to see that he had extended Zabimaru towards her, splitting the attack in half so he remained unharmed. "Son of a bitch!" she ranted, quickly following it with Kido attacks, keeping him on the run. He gave up dodging and let one hit him square in the chest, only blocked by his sword. Rukia looked on with anticipation on the damage she had caused. She ground her teeth in frustration, when she saw that all she had done was push him back by about 10 inches and her hopes of a point were dashed. "For the love of god, you could at least act like it hurt."

"Please, if I got taken out by one low level kido blast with no incantation, I wouldn't be good enough to be the Lieutenant of the Sixth. If you wanted to spar with a candy ass, you should have stayed with your own division. You won't find any lazy weaklings here," the last was said for the benefit of the recruits still standing around watching. Rukia noticed how some slumped but the two Renji had liked seemed to stand a bit taller. She decided to be nice and not point out that her brother had taken him out with a low level kido spell during their fight before the Aizen incident. But then again, even a low level kido spell from her brother was devastating.

"Hey Renji," she called, "did you get the memo from the 1st?" She didn't wait for his answer but quickly started to throw ice pillars around him, "they said to discount the rumors of a rogue palm tree running around Soul Society, turns out it was only you." She blew a kiss at him as he ended up on top of a pillar.

"I think I filed that one under the one that said Chappy Bunny is really a Hallow." He jumped down and whipped his sword out before even landing, "my turn," he winked and banked his blade off the pillars, until it came up from behind her and she was trapped between two of the segments, a wickedly sharp edge pressing against her stomach. If she were to try and move, he could easily retract the blade and slice her in half.

She dropped her head, "damn." Renji always could reduce her to profanity.

"Point Abarai," he freed her and brought his sword back together, amidst claps from his division and a few boos by members of the 13th that seemed to have shown up out of nowhere. "You really need to train a little more, hon, this is too easy. Now take a deep breath and show me how tough that little Rukon rat I remember can be."

She took that deep breath and thought of how different Renji was now from the snot nosed, hyper sensitive jerk he had been when they had joined the Academy. True he had been hurting over the death of their friends but even still, he never used to be able to separate teaching from sparring and sparring from real fighting. He never used to be able to allow himself to lose even if it meant someone else would learn, his pride had been too fragile. Now there was real confidence, where once there had been only bravado. But she knew deep down that those insecurities still existed and she also knew how to bring them out.

"You're right, you have brute strength on me so I need to use my advantages," she charged towards him, feigning and underhand strike but at the last minute using a cheap kido trick Tessei had taught her to produce several very bright lights in his face. Just as she suspected, his sensitive eyes were momentarily blinded by the light and she jumped past his wild swing, tapping the flat of her blade against his neck. She then finished her statement, "my intellect. Point Kuchiki." The 13th Division members cheered for her even as the 6th started to look annoyed. She saw bets starting to change hands and was glad someone had enough faith in her to gamble on her side.

"You little, bitch," Renji wiped his streaming eyes. "So no more pulling punches I guess." He jumped at her, barely giving her time to move aside. She spun and dodged but he was too fast for her to actually attack.

She knew she couldn't keep this up long so she jumped backwards and shot an ice shower at him to give herself time to escape. Once she was far enough away she still had to counter his sword as it whipped around her like an angry snake. With a flash of inspiration, she waited till he extended it then shot an ice pillar up, trapping the blade within it. "Take that you, moron!" She laughed at him, sauntering up for her 'kill.'

However, no sooner than she had taken one step she felt his spiritual pressure rise and saw that Zabimaru was beginning to shake sounding like a rattle snake she had once seen on Ichigo's TV. Within another step, Renji's spiritual pressure had fractured her pillar and it came tumbling down. "Mother fucker!" she yelled, jumping out of the way to avoid being hit by falling ice only to jump into a solid chest and arm wrapped around her.

"You're not an Arrancar so next time attack, don't gloat, weakling." She felt the flat of a sealed blade tap her throat and sagged. "Point and match Abarai." He released her but she stood against him until the cheers died down. He bent down and kissed her head. "Not bad, but you still owe me lunch."

"That was a neat trick, where did you learn it?"

"Captain Hitsugaya has been sparring with me so I've had a lot of practice with ice lately."

"You suck," she pouted, jealous beyond belief. She had been trying to get the little jerk to work with her for years since their powers were similar in nature.

"Yeah, but not as much as you," he teased and danced out of the way when she made a swipe at him. "So what do I want you to buy me for lunch?

The two made their way to the gate, where Rikichi waited like a loyal puppy. He smiled hugely at Renji and bowed low and respectfully to her. "I have a message from the Captain for you." He held up his finger to show a Hell Butterfly grooming itself.

Renji waited, then finally snapped, "well, what's the message?"

"Oh, sorry, sir" he quickly straightened and repeated the message from the animal, "it says, 'Lieutenant, Rukia should be on her way there to meet me for lunch, however the Captains meeting is running later than expected. Please treat her to lunch wherever she wants and anywhere else she would like to go this afternoon. I will join you, when my work here is complete. Sincerely , Captain Kuchiki'."

Rukia smirked at her companion for the afternoon and gloated, "well, looks like you are buying me lunch after all."

"No fair, I won. You are supposed to by me lunch."

"Yeah, but your Captain ordered you to take me out, so come on. I'm thinking Wagyu beef," she grabbed his hand and led him away from the rather large group watching them. She barely suppressed her laugh when he cringed from her extremely expensive request. "And afterwards, fabric shopping for a new kimono."

"Shopping? You are making me go shopping!?!" He was indignant at the idea. "Since when do you like shopping you barely even act like a girl?"

She slugged him in the arm and yelled, "idiot, the trip was to make Nii-sama take a day off work not because I really wanted a new kimono. But just for that, you are totally taking me shopping."

He retaliated by kicking her in the ass, "I wonder if any other lieutenants have to deal with being pimped out by their Captain to entertain their deranged family members?"

"Deranged?" She shrieked at him ready to go for her sword again.

"But cute," he smiled and pulled her into a headlock as they walked. "So where do you want to go for lunch?" As usual, they left everyone behind them stunned and confused to the nature of their relationship. Were they brother and sister? Were they friends? Were they lovers? How exactly did 7th seat rate private training from the most powerful of all the lieutenants and how did a nobody Rukon dog get to speak to a lady of the Kuchiki Clan so disrespectfully? Separately they made no sense but together they made even less but somehow no one ever questioned whether they belonged together.

They decided on sushi and sat at an open air courtyard to enjoy their meal. As usual they ate off out of each other's bento as often as their own and thought nothing of feeding each other delicious morsels. For the first time she noticed he had bandages wrapped around both forearms from his wrists to his elbows. "Did you get hurt?" She pointed them out.

"No, Zabi decided I needed some new tattoos." He smiled at her proudly. It was a little known fact around Soul Society that Renji's tattoos were not strictly tattoos. Each one of them was branded on him by his zanpakto after he had accomplished some new technique or feat of strength. They always started the same way, with his skin itching and burning, till he had to cover it or even the mere touch of clothing would hurt. Eventually, the skin would sluff like snake and he would have his new tattoos. Where it sounded cool, she knew it hurt and there were times he was almost in tears while large portions of his skin were covered with sometimes 2 and 3 inch blood filled blisters. When they broke, they left bleeding craters in his skin that hurt to even look at. He had once told he the worst pain he had ever been in was when he had gotten the large, thick bands along his shoulder blades. It had been for his bankai and he had gotten knocked on his back and had broken open almost all the blisters on his back. The wounds had been so hideous they had even made Ichigo puke. Afterwards, he had spent two days walking around with no skin on his shoulder blades. She had asked him why, and he had simply told her that it was nothing compared to the pain of thinking he couldn't save her. She sometimes hated him, when he was so willing to harm himself for her.

"I wonder where your brother is, we passed two other captains on the way here." Renji mused, pulling her from her sour thoughts, as he shoved all his wasabi onto Rukia's food.

"Probably with Lady Shihoin. They have been cloistered up with each other for weeks. Something about the upcoming Noble council has them both spooked." She took Renji's ginger too, knowing he didn't like it and replaced it with her quail eggs. "I did hear him arguing with Ginrei the other day though. Apparently the two families want him and Yoruichi to get married." Renji chuckled at that. "I don't believe either is too keen on the idea. In fact Nii-sama said something to the affect that, 'arranged marriages only worked if neither party knew what they were getting into and he knew her far too well to fall for it'."

"That sounds about like him. I wonder what she said?"

They both laughed at that before she took it one step further. "Can you imagine what their honeymoon night would be like. You would have to use Sekiseki stone all over the room and ban edged weapons from the bed chamber." They laughed harder.

"Hey but I bet it would be the fasted honeymoon in recorded history and afterwards they would argue over who finished faster." Rukia threw her head back and laughed at that one.

Unknown to the two friends, others were watching them. Captains Ukitake and Kyouraku walked along with a young looker in expensive clothes and shades. "Who is that vision over there?" Shigeru Kyouraku stopped his uncle to ask.

"The one there laughing," Shinsui asked, seeming unsurprised that his second nephew would be keeping an eye out for good looking women. "That's Rukia Kuchiki." He might have been shocked at anyone calling Rukia a vision but she was truly lovely, when she laughed or smiled.

"Kuchiki, like Clan Kuchiki?" Where before his interest was piqued, now he was entranced.

"None other, Shigeru-kun," Ukitake smiled at the grown up that was once a little boy he loved to play with. "She's Byakuya's sister and one of mine."

"What is that thing beside her?" he waved derisively at the thuggish looking red head laughing with her.

"That's Renji Abarai, Byakuya's Lieutenant." Ukitake continued.

"That thing is a lieutenant? He doesn't look so tough," Shigeru snorted.

"Tough isn't the best word to describe Abarai." Kyouraku patted his nephew on the shoulder. "It's not nearly a descriptive enough adjective. I think insentient to pain and idiotically headstrong are better."

"You forgot loyal to the point of stupidity and incapable of admitting defeat," Jushiro added with a smile.

The younger man looked discouraged but pressed on, "So she doesn't have an agreement with him or anyone else for that matter? He's just a lieutenant she knows"

"Agreement?"

"Is she engaged to him or anyone else? They seem very familiar with each other," Shigeru tried to keep the impatient from his voice. He loved Uncle Shiro but sometimes the man was just too obtuse.

"No, they aren't engaged, but," was as far as the silvered hair captain got.

"Good," Shigeru turned to walk off, then stopped, "by the way, Byakuya isn't as scary as everyone says he is, is he?"

"Depends what you consider scary?" Shinsui smiled at his nephew and watched him walk away.

"You aren't going to stop him?"

"No, this is more interesting." He handed his oldest friend a flask and Ukitake handed him some candy and they watched the kid walk into a field of land mines.

Shigeru felt his hair, checked his clothes and sauntered up to the answer to his prayers. Shigeru Kyouraku was a handsome man, of a noble house, good breeding, intellect, some spiritual power, and very expensive taste. His life until recently had been about drinking, vacationing with his friends, and having fun, that was until his father decided either he did something with his life or he was being cut off. But there in front of him was a woman that was easy on the eyes if not truly hot, unattached, and probably dowered for more than his family had ever even had. In other words, the answer to all his problems.

He took a deep breath and turned on all the charm he possessed, "hello, there, mind if I have a seat." He walked towards them and walked straight into an extended leg blocking his path. He tried to move it but it didn't budge and was as hard a freakin' tree trunk.

"Depends who you are?" Just as he figured but hoped against, the red head questioned him. He turned on a smile and tried not to notice how long the leg was. This guy must be as tall as his uncle. He hadn't noticed before because he was slouched low in his seat.

"Shigeru Kyouraku, at your service, ma'am." He raised one of her dainty but surprisingly callused hands to his mouth for a kiss. He hoped she knew it was all the rage to eschew the traditional bowing and go more for the western touching. However, from the murderous glare her companion had, apparently he was not accustomed to it.

"You should probably remove your hands from her, unless you want to lose them," he rose and Shigeru realized he was right. The guy was a freakin' giant and the weird markings on his face made him look primal and menacing. Clearly this guy was no noble but an enforcer.

"Oh back down, fido, its fine." The woman, he now realized was extremely short, glared at the red head. "You will have to excuse my guard dog. My brother pays him well to keep me safe and he takes the job quite seriously. I'm 7th seat Rukia Kuchiki of the 13th and this mongrel is Lt. Renji Abarai of the 6th."

"Very nice to meet you Rukia," he smiled again, completely ignoring the glowering lieutenant and she blushed. He was in. He took a seat, turning partially away from her 'guard dog' and continued to speak to her. "I hope you don't think I am imposing, but I was walking with my uncle, Captain Kyouraku and my Uncle Shiro when I saw you from across the way. I thought you so lovely I simply had to come meet you and extend to you an invitation for a ball I am having next week."

"A ball," Rukia smiled at him, "I'll have to ask my brother."

"Well of course Lord Kuchiki will be invited as well as all of the captains and most of the lieutenants," he allowed his eyes to duck to the side, knowing there was no way in hell he was invited his tattooed freak to his party.

"Well now's your chance," the thug interrupted as he rose again but at least this time his hand wasn't on his very scary sword. He bowed low and respectfully to a group of people coming up behind him. "Captain Kuchiki, Lady Shihoin, Captain Ukitake, Captain Kyouraku." Shigeru's jaw nearly hit the floor, when he finally got a good look at Lady Shihoin. She had been the one he had intended to try and woo and apparently the rumors of her beauty were not exaggerated.

"So formal," he laughed at waved at the oversized redhead. "So you must be Byakuya," he held his hand out in the new Western style, "I'm Shigeru Kyouraku. It's a pleasure to finally meet you." His hand was stared at but the man made no move to take it. "I was just chatting with your sister here and inviting her to my party in two weeks. Your invitation will be delivered to you later, but I just couldn't wait to talk to this lovely lady in person." He was starting to sweat as Byakuya hadn't said a word and continued to stare at him as if he were something that had drown in his famous coi pond. His eyes were an inscrutable grey and seemed as hard and unforgiving as steel.

"Don't worry Nii-sama, I told him I had to talk to you first." All he did was raise one eyebrow but still said nothing.

"Oh relax, Bya-kun, it's not like anything too terrible could have happened with your faithful hound keeping watch." Lady Shihoin tugged on Byakuya's scarf, and smiled impishly at her fellow noble. "Now, I believe that you promised me an afternoon of shopping." She grabbed his arm and started to lead him away. "By the way, Shigeru, it was a pleasure to meet you, but next time," she suddenly appeared in front of him before he even registered she had moved, "remember your place, second son of Kyouraku." She then was back with the ender Kuchiki, intending to head towards the fabric district.

"I'll leave you to it, Captain," Renji turned to leave, apparently glad to be sprung from shopping only to feel his commander's hand on his collar.

"Not so fast, lieutenant." He said then pulled him closer, "if you think you are leaving me alone with these two for an entire afternoon, you are sorely mistaken."

"Yes, sir." They then followed the women off.

"Well that went fairly well, don't you think?" Shigeru shook of the fright of Yoruichi popping up so close to him. "Rukia is cuter than I thought she would be but Yoruichi Shihoin is magnificent. I can't believe she isn't married yet."

"Give up, junior, she doesn't come with training wheels," Shinsui threw his arm over his nephew and started towards the sake houses.

"Uncle Shiro, she can't be that bad." he whined.

"She would eat you alive." Ukitake shrugged. "Besides, I don't believe she has any intention of getting married and even if she did, I think it would be arranged."

"But who would her family arrange a marriage to, there is no one as high," he stopped for a moment, thinking it through, "oh. That explains it."

"Actually it doesn't explain anything, kiddo," Kyouraku, smiled at some passing ladies. "Anything you can even think of to describe the relationship between Yoruichi and Byakuya is far too simplistic. I find it is better to not even ponder it, especially sober."

"Agreed," Uncle Shiro chimed in and accepted a box of chocolate from a pretty young Soul Reaper that stopped to talk to him. He never would understand how the man didn't weigh 500 pounds with as much candy as people gave him.

"Well what about Rukia, she seemed nice enough."

"Rukia is great, you just have to make it past her brother."

"You think it went badly?"

"You're still alive, so it didn't go as badly as it could have." They waited for the silver haired captain to catch up. "You have to understand, Geru, the Kuchiki's aren't like us. They are very, very, very strict and traditional. No one but other Captains and Yoruichi even call him by his first name and she does it more to annoy him than anything."

"So you think it is hopeless?" He slumped, his plans for her dowry dwindling.

"No, not hopeless but you have to understand it will be a hard sell. You'll have to behave beyond reproach around her."

"Wait, he can't be that strict if he let that thing be so familiar with her." He pointed out, remembering how they ate off each other's plates and how she had touched his hair.

"He isn't a thing, Shigeru," Ukitake corrected, "he's a lieutenant and her best friend. Insulting him will not get you anywhere with her."

"How in the world could a noble of her caliber be friends with that tattooed freak of nature?"

"We'll explain over lunch." They entered a fine sake house and Shigeru was all ears.

Rukia leaned back against Renji, and took his arm to wrap around herself. After an afternoon of shopping watching her brother and Yoruichi fighting with each, she had thought Renji deserved that ice cream he had won in their earlier match. So here they sat, contentedly licking off of each other's cones and watching the sunset. He liked banana and she liked chocolate.

"Today was fun." She smiled up at him and crunched into her cone.

"If you call being dragged to every cloth merchant in the Seireitei to debate the finer points between wisteria and eggshell vs. orchid and ecru when they are both just fucking purple and white, then sure." She knew it was mostly for effect that he blustered.

"Philistine," she called him haughtily, then leaned her head against him. "I meant getting to spend the day with you and Nii-sama. Sometimes I get jealous that you know him so much better than I do." She felt him tighten his arm around her and rest his hand on her stomach. For an instant she pictured him doing so if she were carrying his child, then shook her head at the absurdity of it.

"I know. But take heart, I spend more time with him but he clearly likes you better." He smiled down at her deviously as she took his cone for more of his banana ice cream. "He hasn't once threatened you with extra paper work, extra training, or beheading today, unlike me."

"You told him you were going to leave him there with two women arguing about who was prettier. What did you expect him to say?" They both looked over at the Captain where he was glaring at Yoruichi as she tried to feed force feed him ice cream. She loved it and he had never been a fan of sweets.

"We should start a betting pool on how long before they kill each other now that she has come back to take over the punishment squad again." Rukia laughed, thinking it wasn't a bad idea. "I give them less than a year if she doesn't back off a bit. I don't know how he hasn't hauled off and punched her yet."

"Better breeding than you, would be my guess." She giggled, "but seriously, he wouldn't hit her any more than you would hit me for picking on you."

"Subtle difference is that we like each other. I think she sees him as a toy and he sees her as an annoyance."

"Maybe." Rukia finished her ice cream and hugged Renji's arm to her. She could really think of no better end to any day than being cuddled against her best friend, watching the sunset. He must have finished his dessert too because she felt his chin come to rest on her head. She wondered if he felt the same way. She almost asked him but decided not to ruin the relaxed mood, "so, what are you planning on doing for the rest of the night? I'm sure that after your sacrifice, Nii-sama would be willing to let you come home for supper."

He snorted, just imagining how the Captain would feel about having to spend any more time in Renji's presence. "Nah, I can't. I have a date with a cute blond and some paperwork tonight." She whipped around to stare at him in shock. Renji never dated. "Kira, silly," he tweaked her nose and she settled back against him.

"You work too much, you are almost as bad as Nii-sama."

"Hey, squads don't run themselves. And besides, I took off the entire afternoon so I have to make up for it tonight. I won't even have time for evening training."

"Well sorry to waste your precious time, Lieutenant." She snapped, vaguely hurt that he hadn't enjoyed himself as much as she had. The same old, ugly fear that she was holding him back started to rear its head again.

"I never said you were wasting my time," he pulled her closer, almost sensing her insecurity. "I just meant that I need to work a lot. Your brother expects perfection and since I fail miserably at that, I have to make up for it with long hours."

She reached up, putting her hand behind his neck so she could pull his head down and kissed him on the cheek. "It's ok, I'm sure he knew you were a failure when you were assigned to his squad," she snickered at him.

"I'm so glad that anytime I start to feel good about myself you are there to remind me what a fuck up I am." He smiled at her and she laughed at him, knowing he didn't really mean it at least he better not. He looked at the sky again and sighed, "I've got to get going. I'll walk you back if you don't want to stay with your brother and the future Mrs. Kuchiki."

"Please, I don't think I can take any more of their bickering today. Let me just tell the future Lord of Shihoin I'm leaving." They both giggled and headed back.

Lt. Izuru Kira was unsurprised when his door was unceremoniously opened without a knock and a bento of supper was tossed onto his papers. Over the years he had grown used to his friend's complete and utter lack of manners only because of his incredibly soft heart about helping with paperwork. So for the last four and half years, whenever Renji was in town, he would show up on the last Wed of every month to help Kira finish the work for the 3rd. He would usually do the Captain's work, which Izuru might have found insulting if he weren't so grateful.

"Evening too-tall, how are things?" Kira took a break to pull out a bottle of sake from his desk drawer, restocked just this morning to take the edge off tonight's work.

"Not bad, not bad. I spent the day looking at fabric with Lady Shihoin and Rukia. I sort of feel like I need to beat up someone from the 4th to get my masculinity back. I did get free ice cream though." Renji countered him with a larger more expensive bottle of sake.

"Yeah for you, what's with the bribe?" He pointed at the pricey sake, he knew it had to have come from Kuchiki's stash.

"What makes you think I'm bribing you? Maybe I'm just tired of drinking that rock-gut you always have." He dug into his bento, stuffing his face as usual.

Kira smiled at what a simpleton his friend was. "You bring me military issue food but a $200 bottle of liquor. You want something, now what is it?"

"Two hundred dollars!?!" he shouted, "man, the captain's going to kill me for picking that one. I just grabbed it 'cause I like the kitty-cat on the label."

Kira snorted, "I'm sure $200 is nothing to your captain." Just because Renji had made a mistake didn't mean he wasn't going to enjoy the hell out of some expensive sake. "So quit pouting and tell me what you wanted, though I'm guessing it involves sniping my new recruits," he raised his exposed eyebrow at his companion.

"Why would you think that. Maybe I just wanted to gift you with a nice bottle," he trailed off unable to keep up the rouse any longer. Renji had never been very good at subterfuge, subtly was not his thing. "Ok, I totally want to snipe some of your recruits," he admitted with a smile.

Izuru took a sip and sighed in contentment, just perfect. "Ok, come by tomorrow morning and you can have whoever you want. It's not like my squad can get much worse than it already is."

"True." He threw a rice ball at the redhead, but was foiled when Renji caught it in his mouth. They worked quietly till Renji started to play with a partially folded origami crane. "What's this, you don't have enough work so you have to make little birds?" He flapped its wings pretending it was flying around. Sometimes Renji's childlike behavior was both refreshing and frightening.

"Invitation to some ball the Kyourakus are throwing in a few weeks. I'm sure there is one for you at your office." He noticed Renji glared at the crane menacingly.

"Actually, no there isn't. There was one for the Captain but not me." He savagely bent the little crane over till its beak was going up its backside. "I met the little punk throwing the party earlier today. His name's Shigeru, the Captain's nephew."

"I'm guessing from the way you are mauling the invitation that you were unimpressed with him."

"He was a twerp. He was annoying, disrespectful to Rukia and the Captain and kind of rude to me" he grumbled, then started to rant, "and he shook hands instead of bowing and smiled too much. He had this really stupid looking spiky hair, expensive clothes, and big puppy dog brown eyes. He was smarmy and I wanted to punch him in the face."

Kira leaned back and smiled. "So he hit on Rukia?"

"Why would you say that?"

Because you are about as subtle as Ryūjin Jakka about your jealousy, he thought but said, "because I were a second son about to be cutoff, an unmarried Kuchiki daughter would be an ideal solution to my problem. Her dowry would definitely render her far more attractive than her general physical appearance and disposition would on its own."

Renji tilted his head sideways for a second, "did you just insult her?"

"No, of course not," even though he actually had. "But my point was that he was probably attracted more by her money and family than her person."

"Oh," Renji went back to Kira's extra paperwork until he looked up again. "Do you think they only invited you because you are a noble too?"

"I doubt it. Rankigu and Hisagi were invited too. I thought all the Captains and Lieutenants were."

"Expect for me," Renji looked down at his work, bleeding dejection.

"I bet I can tell you why." Kira finished his cup and poured another. "So I'm guessing upon your first meeting with this fellow, he walked up to Rukia and you put yourself between the two of them. At some point you probably stood just so you could tower over him looking scary and if he was really bad, you might have threatened to draw your sword. Am I close?"

"Were you there watching or something?" Renji grumped.

"No, I just know you. You are always act the same way whenever any other man tries to engage Rukia in even simple conversation. You are almost as bad as Ikkaku is with Yumichika."

"But I thought women liked it, when men were protective?" Renji tried to defend himself.

"Protective maybe, a caveman, I'm bet not so much."

"But Yumichika likes it, when Ikkaku acts even worse than I did."

"There are so many things wrong with that statement I'm not sure where to start. First, Yumichika is a guy, a very pretty one but still a guy. Two, Yumichika likes it because he hates other people getting near him unless it's in a fight. And Three, as a blanket rule, you should probably never use Chi when trying gauge normality."

"True but you didn't meet the guy. He was such a jerk." Renji scowled.

"Did he look at all like Kaien, Ashido, or Ichigo? I mean, since you mentioned spiky hair, smiles, and big brown eyes?"

"Yes," Renji sounded despondent.

"So maybe he wasn't a jerk so much as you just recognized he is Rukia's type plus a noble and he made you feel a bit insecure, which in Renji-world immediately translates into hostile and unpleasant." Renji was actually pouting now and Kira couldn't help but laugh. "Next time don't act like a jealous prick and maybe you might get invited."

"Ok," Renji finally looked at him, "but will you keep an eye on her at the party, make sure he doesn't do anything to her?"

"Yeah, I'm sure if he does anything to her I'll be her first line of defense rather than her own kido or sword or even worse her brother's."

"I'm overacting, aren't I?"

"You're overreacting." They finished their paperwork in silence and Kira decided he would maybe keep an eye on Rukia for his friend after all.

TBC