A/N – Written for sueb262's "Dead of Night" challenge, which was to write a story (any fandom, any character) containing the line "two men sharing tea in the dead of night". Other than that, it's a rather pointless little drabble.

Disclaimer – I don't own Bleach, any of the canon characters, situations or settings. No money was made in the writing of this fic. Don't sue.

Staff Meetings

Renji does not drink tea.

He is a Rukongai gutter brat, a tattooed, battle-scarred veteran of the 11th, and the fierce Vice-Captain of the 6th. He stood toe-to-toe with Kuchiki-taichou and has the thousand faded scars of Senbonzakura's razor-sharp petals to prove it.

He does not drink…tea.

And yet one night, long after midnight, as he finishes off an elaborate set of kata in the 6th division's practice hall, he looks up to see Kuchiki-taichou watching him from the doorway.

"Taichou?" he asks, raising questioning brows. Once, he might have been half-nervous and overly defiant; he is more confident now, after testing all his strength against the other man's and coming out the other side alive.

"It is past midnight," Kuchiki-taichou intones.

"Heh." Renji laughs, carefully sheathing Zabimaru. "I don't get so much time for sword practice these days – my duties keep me too busy."

"I trust I do not work you too hard, Renji."

Renji looks up sharply at that, suspecting his captain of humour. But Kuchiki-taichou's face is impassive, his eyes flat and serious.

"Nah, nothing like that. 's just that other things have had to take a back seat."

"That is the price of duty, I am afraid."

Renji does not know what to say in response. He came to duty and responsibility late in life, and although some part of him still balks at the weight of it – the legacy of Rukongai that he both loves and hates – he has to admit that he enjoys his position.

"Taichou," he begins awkwardly, but the captain shakes his head, forestalling him.

"Walk with me, if you will. We have some matters to discuss." And before Renji can reply, Kuchiki Byakuya turns gracefully on his heel. Renji can only follow.

They end up kneeling across from each other in Kuchiki-taichou's office, two men sharing tea in the dead of night.

Kuchiki-taichou maintains seiza like he was born to it, his back ramrod-straight, his body perfectly, gracefully aligned. Renji can match that grace, but he has to force his body to such calm discipline; it took him hours and hours of determined practice at the Academy until he was satisfied with his form. Ambition and resentment had burned fiercely within him, then; he is older now, and somewhat wiser, so he does not try to match the noble airs and graces.

Somewhere in between getting carved up by Senbonzakura and the sight of his captain helpless and broken in the infirmary, Renji has lost the monumental chip on his shoulder. The weeks spent running the division while Kuchiki-taichou was laid up – the unexpected burden of military and administrative responsibility – gave him a new respect for the captain's haori, a clearer understanding of what he had so blindly dreamed of when he was younger. And because of that clearer understanding, Renji has more patience for these occasional quiet meetings where Kuchiki-taichou tries, in his own, enigmatic way, to work with him in the daily business of the 6th.

If only they didn't involve the captain's god-awful tea.