Characters: Ishida, Rukia, Renji
Summary: Now there's two of them. Sequel to 'Shift'.
Pairings: None
Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers for Deicide arc
Timeline: during time skip
Author's Note: This is the sequel to Shift; it might be better if you read that first.
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.


And it was such a quiet night too…

When he hears the knocking on his front door Ishida doesn't even once consider not answering it. It's after dark but it's not so late at night that he ought to worry about it being someone he wouldn't want to see. Still, he can't help but be curious; who's over here at this time of night?

When he opens the door, Ishida half-wishes he'd ignored the knocking.

Like she did three and a half weeks ago, Rukia stomps in as though she was expected, as though she was invited in and as though she owns the place. Little midget queen of all she surveys, which would be a futon, a heavily battered card table used as a kitchen table and not much more than that.

"Once again, come right on in, Kuchiki-san," Ishida remarks half-whimsically and half-bitingly and once more Rukia simply ignores the pointed note in his voice.

However, the repeat rendition ends there because Rukia does not take a straight path to the refrigerator as she did last time. Instead, Rukia, hands on her hips, stares up at Ishida with a decidedly blunt expression on her face. I wasn't aware someone's expression could be blunt. "Okay Ishida, here's how it is. We've been put on Hollow extermination duty so we're probably going to be here a while."

Wait, what? If Rukia expected him to take this lying down, she's got another thing coming. "What do you mean 'a while'?" Ishida glares at her; Rukia is noticeably unfazed. "And what do you mean 'we'?" he asks sharply.

"That would be me."

This is the point where Renji walks in through the open door and shuts it behind him, and this is the point where Ishida vows that whatever force of the Universe decided he needed ulcers before hitting seventeen is going to pay.

Ishida gapes down at Rukia, who is by this time smirking evilly up at him. "You actually did it."

The diminutive Shinigami snorts. "I said I'd bring Renji next time, didn't I?" Her tone is dismissive. "You ought to know me better than that by now, Ishida. If I say I'm going to do something, it means that I'm going to do something. Plain and simple."

If that's a headache coming on in his left temple, Ishida can't say he's surprised. Suddenly, the lights overhead seem entirely too bright. "Yes, but I didn't think that you would actually do it—Hello, Abarai-kun," he hastily greets Renji, suddenly remembering that he's there and proving incapable of forgetting to say 'Hello'.

"Hi." Renji raises his hand lamely, staring at them bemusedly. He doesn't seem quite sure what to make of the situation.

Ishida's attention snaps back to Rukia. "I didn't think you would actually do it," he hisses. "Usually when someone makes comments like that, they aren't being serious. That is the generally accepted convention."

"Look Ishida, we need somewhere to stay." Renji enters the conversation with an almost absurdly reasonable expression on his face. "It's going to be a while but it won't be forever. It won't kill you to let us stay here; we won't trash the place or anything like that, if you're wondering." Rukia nods vigorously, a suddenly hopeful gleam in her dark eyes.

"Thank you for that assurance, Abarai-kun," Ishida replies stiffly, knowing even now that he's been had. But there is ammunition for a last-ditch effort to get them to stay somewhere else. "Why me? Why not any of the others? They'd almost certainly be better company." He's honest enough with himself to admit that quiet + high-strung + prickly does not equal good company in the eyes of most.

Rukia shrugs as though this is the most obvious thing in the world. "Simple. You keep crazier hours than anyone we know, for the same reason that we keep crazy hours. If me and Renji come in at, say, three in the morning, you're the most likely to either still be awake or not be at home. We're going to need a key, if you've got an extra one," she added as an afterthought, sniffing. "I wouldn't leave my front door unlocked for any amount of time in this part of town."

Ishida sighs. Oh yes, he's been had. They know him, they know his weakness and most of all Kuchiki Rukia and Abarai Renji know that Ishida Uryuu is the biggest pushover this side of Pluto; give him a sob story and if he can't poke so much as a single hole in it he'll feel sorry for you whether he wants to or not.

They have to stay somewhere…

"Fine."

Rukia's face lights up, Renji promptly collapses on the couch and Ishida just knows he's going to have reason to regret this moment of charity before it's all over.

-0-0-0-

The first of those moments comes the next morning, when Ishida gets up and goes to the refrigerator to get something to eat before school.

"Why is this refrigerator empty?"

Rukia is sitting on the couch reading one of the books off the bookshelf when she hears Ishida's exclamation, and suddenly she really wishes Renji hadn't gone out when he felt that Hollow's reiatsu. "Because we were hungry?" she replies, wondering if she should go join Renji.

"What am I supposed to eat!"

At that point, Ishida hears no response. Instead, there is just the sound of the heavy door of his apartment slamming shut.

Freeloaders.

-0-0-0-

When he gets home, the old stand-by of Chinese takeout in one hand and a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke in the other, Ishida sighs moodily when he sees Rukia reading a book and wonders if he has enough money to do another grocery run.

Then, when he opens the refrigerator door, he sees that he doesn't have to.

"Oh, you've noticed that, have you?" Upon seeing his slightly slack-jawed expression, Rukia takes the roughly five steps necessary to get to where he's standing. She smiles slightly.

"I don't think I have ever seen it this full." That's all Ishida can think to say, and it's probably appropriate. The refrigerator is only about half full, but that's still a right sight better than usual. The carton of eggs especially stands out; Ishida likes to boil eggs in the morning.

Something occurs to him. Ishida lays the takeout down on the table and puts the Coke in the fridge before reaching to open the freezer door. "Aha." Lo and behold, the carton Ishida pulls out is one of chocolate ice cream. "I can guess who this is for," he remarks whimsically, putting the carton back in the freezer.

Rukia nods firmly. "You'd better believe it."

"But no lime sherbet?"

"None. You need more chocolate in your life."

"Well I'm not going to argue with that." Then, something else occurs to Ishida, and the half-smile that had been hovering on his face abruptly disappears. "Kuchiki-san, where did all of this food come from?"

Rukia shrugs innocently. "Me and Renji got it while you were at school."

Blue eyes narrow suspiciously. "How exactly did you "get" all of this food, Kuchiki-san?"

She somehow manages to bite her lip and smile at the same time, and Rukia's response is quite noticeable by its absence.

Oh God, this can not be good, I just know it's not. Ishida groans; he knew this wasn't going to be a good idea from the start. "At least tell me I won't have the police down my throat."

"I… I can't make any promises, Ishida." Somehow Rukia manages to maintain that slightly stretched, lip-bitten smile even though her voice becomes considerably more guarded.

Ishida sighs again. "I was afraid of that." He moves to the table and starts to take out his supper—he bought it so he might as well eat it; no use in it going to waste. "No more grocery runs, please?"

"Ungrateful."

"I'm not ungrateful; I just don't want to get arrested."

"Sure." Rukia pulls a little clear carton of shrimp salad out of the refrigerator and goes for something to eat it with. "Whatever you say. We were just trying to make sure you'd have something to eat tonight. Okay," she amends when Ishida raises an eyebrow, "we were trying to make sure we'd have something to eat tonight too. Renji went out for a walk, if you're wondering; he'll probably be back soon."

Ishida takes a bite out of the chicken. Here's hoping Rukia and Renji's generous streak won't get him put in the slammer.

It's not all bad, though. He'll at least have a decent breakfast tomorrow morning—and for several mornings after that, it looks like.

-0-0-0-

Rukia sits on the living room (or what passes for a living room) floor of Ishida's apartment one Saturday morning, reading a newspaper, listening out for the signs of a Hollow's reiatsu and caught up in her own little world. In particular she's reading the obituaries. Rukia doesn't know why but the Obituary Section is probably her favorite section of the newspaper; the comics run a close second.

When the sound of a scuffle comes from the kitchen, she looks up, frowning.

"Come… on, Ishida," Renji huffs, hand on the boy's arm and trying to get Ishida to move towards the front door.

Ishida is holding on to the card table for dear life and no one has to guess just how recalcitrant he is about whatever it is Renji's trying to get him to do. "I'm not going," he insists stubbornly. "I have homework, Abarai-kun; a lot of it. I'm not going."

He continues to cling to the card table and Renji snorts, transferring his efforts from Ishida's arm to the back of his shirt. "Come off it," he says, rolling his eyes. "You don't weigh anything. If I had to I could carry you and the card table to where we're going."

"You'll just have to do that then."

Rukia puts down the newspaper and looks them over incredulously. "What's this?"

"I wanna see if the kid's any good in a fist fight," Renji explains, still trying to pull Ishida away from the makeshift kitchen table. Though Renji probably hasn't noticed, Ishida has removed one hand from the table to grab his math book and is currently aiming it at Renji's head.

"Ow!"

Now he's noticed. He doesn't, however, let go, and the look on Ishida's face is something akin to "Why me?"

"I assure you, I can throw a straight punch," Ishida mutters, again clamping both hands on the card table. "Don't you have anything better to be doing?" he snaps at Renji. "Because I do."

Renji grins. "No. And for the next four to five hours, neither do you."

The struggle to get Ishida away from the table and out the door has nearly met with success. As far as Rukia can tell, Ishida's losing because apart from throwing a text book at Renji's head he seems to be reluctant to do anything that might hurt him. Renji's winning because he has no such scruples; obviously, if Ishida's a bit roughed up before they get to wherever it is Renji wants to go, Renji's not going to care.

Finally, Renji manages to break Ishida's grip on the card table. As Renji drags him through the living room, Ishida mouths the word "Help!" in Rukia's direction.

Rukia shrugs helplessly and Ishida glowers at her as Renji pulls him through the door

After they're gone, Rukia goes back to reading the obituaries. It'll do Ishida good to get out more, and really, so long as they don't kill each other, she doesn't care what they look like when they get back.

-0-0-0-

While they're gone, Rukia notices something for the first time.

"Why does this table have two chairs around it?" she mutters, staring at the kitchen table and its—count 'em—two chairs. "Does anyone ever visit him?"

-0-0-0-

"What the Hell did you two do?"

Okay, so maybe she does care what Renji and Ishida look like when they get back. Frankly, Rukia thinks she can be excused considering exactly what they look like.

Ishida sits down on the futon with frankly more nonchalant calm than any bleeding, scowling teenager ought to have. Renji collapses to the floor with considerably less poise, groaning as he does so.

At least they don't seem to have any broken bones. Not that this makes me want to knock their heads together any less, but still…

Rukia glares fiercely at them, hands on hips. "Seriously, what did you do?"

Ishida adjusts his askew glasses and rubs his forehead. "We had a knockdown, drag-out brawl. What does it look like we did, Kuchiki-san?" His eyes shoot to the kitchen table. "I wonder how much of that I could get done before having to go to work," he muses.

She turns her attention to Renji, who weakly waves a hand in the air while gingerly probing his black eye with the other. "The kid tells the truth. God, he really can throw a straight punch, and then some." He looks up at Ishida, frowning. "Were you really going to kill me if I broke your glasses?"

"Possibly." Ishida shrugs primly and gets up, heading in the direction of the bathroom at a labored pace. "Suffice to say if there had been so much as a scratch on the lenses when all was said and done it wouldn't have been pretty. You might have never walked again."

Renji groans. "That makes me feel so much better. But did you really have to bite me?" he asks indignantly as Ishida disappears into the bathroom.

Rukia's eyebrows disappear behind her bangs; now this is just too much. "He bit you?" Her tone is beyond incredulous; it's flat-out disbelieving. She hopes to God Renji's just taking a bit of poetic license.

When he nods, Rukia instantly has a migraine. "Yeah, look." Renji rolls up his right sleeve and, sure enough, there's the outline of human teeth, perfect, bloody, starting to swell teeth marks.

Her incredulous, slightly sickened gaze snaps to the open bathroom. "You bit him?" she demands of Ishida, shaking her head and rubbing a hand in a vain attempt to ward off the even larger migraine that's just arisen. "Why did you bite him?"

Renji adds his voice to the accusations. "Yeah, why did you bite me?"

"You wouldn't let go," comes the agitated response. "I told you to let go and you didn't. You should have let go; if you had I wouldn't have had to bite you to make you let go."

"Well of all the—"

Renji's head-shaking, affronted response is cut off by a terse "Catch" from the bathroom. A split-second later a green bottle comes flying out. Renji just barely manages to catch it without it hitting his head first.

"What's this supposed to be?"

Ishida's tone is both businesslike and derisive. "Antiseptic. Use, enjoy. Here, take this too." A roll of bandages comes flying out after, and Renji drops the bottle to catch it. "Now if you will excuse me, I need to shower. I've got work in two hours." The door abruptly slams shut, followed by the sound of the lock being turned. Paranoid, are we? A few minutes after that comes the telltale sound of a rush of water.

Alone, Rukia refocuses her attention on Renji, who's squinting as he reads the instructions on the back of the bottle of antiseptic. "You're both lunatics," she flatly informs him.

Renji looks up, a little hurt. "Rukia—"

"No." She squeezes her eyes shut and holds up a hand. "Don't talk to me. Don't you dare talk to me. If you weren't so beat up I'd give you another black eye to match the one you've got."

The displeasure of Kuchiki Rukia is not something Renji wants to risk incurring further, so he rubs on antiseptic in silence.

-0-0-0-

Rukia fumbles in the dark with the spare key Ishida gave her, once dropping it on the pavement.

"Careful," Renji hisses behind her, looking over his shoulder warily.

She drops to her knees and pries the key up off the ground. "I know; stop rushing me."

It's two forty-eight in the morning and more than anything Renji and Rukia want to just get inside, get something to eat and go to bed. Sleep is the most attractive thing in the world right now; there's absolutely no doubt about that.

Finally, Rukia manages to get the little gold key in the lock and turns it, opening the door. All the lights are off inside the apartment, and Rukia signals for Renji to be cautious as they go inside. "Okay," Rukia whispers for her companion's benefit, "he's either not here or he's asleep, and personally, I'm not sure I want to find out what Ishida's like when someone wakes him up at this time of night…"

"Kuchiki-san?" The indistinct, slurred murmur from the general direction of the futon makes them both freeze in their tracks. "Abarai-kun?"

Renji swears under his breath. Rukia goes and turns on the overhead light; after all, Ishida doesn't sound angry.

On the couch, Ishida squeezes his eyes tightly shut and mumbles something inaudible to express his displeasure at the sudden presence of light. Rukia frowns down at him—that's where she sleeps—but the sharpest edge is taken out by a sharp spike of sympathy. "You look like Hell."

"Thanks," Ishida responds vaguely, shifting his arm so his elbow falls over his eyes. His glasses glint on the coffee table.

"When'd you get in?"

"An hour ago."

"Oh." Rukia nods at Renji. "I guess that explains why some of the Hollows we picked up on weren't there when we got to where we'd sensed them."

Ishida nods, elbow still over his eyes. "Uh-huh. Kuchiki-san, could you please turn the light out now?"

Rukia is suddenly struck with the insane urge to giggle, probably because Ishida looks bizarrely like a full-sized ragdoll tossed haphazardly on the futon. One of his legs is hanging off the edge of the couch; he hasn't even bothered to take his shoes off. That can't be comfortable. "Soon. One more question. You have a bed, don't you?"

Ishida nods.

"Why aren't you sleeping there?"

"Too tired," comes the muffled reply.

Well this is new. "You were too tired."

"Yes."

"You were so tired that you couldn't make it to your bed, and you collapsed on the futon without even taking your shoes off."

"Yes."

"But you remembered to take your glasses off."

"Yes."

Rukia can hear Renji snickering behind her and she bites back a sigh. "The monosyllabic answers are about as charming as ever, Ishida."

"Yes."

All patience flies out the window. "Can't you say anything but 'yes'?" Rukia snaps.

"Yes."

Renji steps forward, both to ask the pressing question and to keep the now-irate Rukia from killing Ishida. "Ishida, where are we supposed to sleep?"

The arm not being used to shield Ishida's face from the irritating light waves uncaringly in the air. "My bed, the floor, the bathroom, the oven; take your pick." He sinks his back deeper against the dark blue upholstery fabric of the futon, plainly wishing for the two annoyances to leave him alone and let him sleep.

Rukia nods firmly, regaining control of her temper. "Fine. I get the bed."

"Knock yourself out."

Renji does a double-take. "What?"

Rukia smiles beatifically and disappears into the bedroom. "This wouldn't be the first time, Renji. I'm sure you'll make do." The bedroom door slams shut.

Really? Renji resists the urge to slap his forehead.

"Could you please turn out the light, Abarai-kun?" Ishida asks weakly, squirming on the futon in the attempt to find a comfortable position. He shows no sign of getting up to turn it off himself; too tired for anything, including something so simple as flipping a light switch, apparently.

Renji sighs. "Yeah, sure kid."

There are probably towels in the bathroom. Maybe he could use them as a pallet.

-0-0-0-

What Ishida has discovered is that when Renji and Rukia argue, that little thing called the sound barrier abruptly ceases to exist. It may as well have never existed at all.

I hope no one can hear this. Ishida is of course referring to his neighbors; the ones on either side of him and the ones on the floor above his. The walls here are much thicker than those of his childhood 'home'; they're considerably more effective when it comes to blocking out sound. Beside, if one is not spiritually sensitive, they aren't going to be able to hear a Shinigami any better than they're going to be able to see one. However, apart from the landlady and the single father and his young son three apartments to the left, Ishida doesn't know any of his neighbors. They could all be spiritually sensitive as far as he knows, so Ishida's really counting on the thick walls to mask the sound of Renji and Rukia arguing.

Then again…

Good luck with that happening.

"You are such a damn fool!" Rukia shrieks, and Ishida, sitting on the couch, digs his nose deeper in to The Great Gatsby. Two people arguing in front of him or anywhere near him brings back really bad memories and he doesn't particularly want to have to listen.

In the end though, it's inevitable. The apartment's too small, Ishida's too morbidly curious and Renji and Rukia are just too loud.

"What do you mean I'm a damn fool?" Renji protests, just barely quieter than her, brow furrowing and distorting his dark tattoos. "You're the one who ducked when you should have dodged. I was doing everything right, but you just had to make that Hollow mad!"

They don't even know I'm here, Ishida realizes, and for a moment his eyes flick over the top of his mother's old, battered copy of The Great Gatsby; he can't help it. Renji looks like he's ready to grab Rukia and shake her; if Ishida squints he thinks he can see wisps of smoke rising from Rukia's ears and licks of flame shooting from her mouth.

"Don't start that; don't you dare start on that!"

Ishida jerks his eyes back to the book and sinks in to the couch. Hit-and-run deaths, murder-suicide, adultery and the mob are so much more attractive things to focus his attention on than this. "I just live here," he mutters to himself as the two Shinigami in his living room continue to shout and swear and carry on. "I just live here. Pay no attention to the Quincy hiding behind the book. I just live here."

It certainly is a pity that his newfound mantra can't block out the sound of screaming.

-0-0-0-

"Rukia, come on, open up." Renji hammers on the bathroom door, brow furrowing.

"No!" comes the resounding reply, and Renji heaves a sigh.

It's eight o'clock at night and Rukia's been holed up in Ishida's bathroom for the last three hours, refusing to come out. She won't leave and Renji's beginning to wonder what he ever did to deserve this.

Oh yes, now he remembers. Anyone who makes Rukia mad is asking for it; everybody knows that. Renji knows that too, so why, why did he have to go and get her angry, especially with how uneven her temper's been lately?

Ishida looks up at him from the floor and shrugs. He's sitting with his back against the wall and his legs pulled up to his chest since the hall's not wide enough to let him stretch his legs out. "She'll come out when she wants to, Abarai-kun. At the very least, Kuchiki-san has to get hungry eventually."

"And you haven't got a clue when that will be!" Rukia shouts, perversely triumphant.

A pause.

"Ishida, why is there no glass in the mirror over your medicine cabinet?" Rukia demands, a slight incredulous note rising in her voice from through the bathroom door.

Ishida stiffens and Renji frowns perplexedly at him. He looks down at hands poised on his knees. "I broke it," Ishida says slowly, not staring determinedly at the floor.

"You broke it?" There is no mistaking Rukia's incredulous tone this time around. "How did you break it?"

Ishida doesn't answer.

"Anger issues?" Renji asks gently.

"I don't want to talk about it," he replies tersely, still burning holes in the carpet with his eyes.

Storing this little fact away into memory for examination at a later date, Renji refocuses his attention on the door barred against him. "Rukia, I swear, if you don't open this door, I'll…" He trails off as a means of letting her envision the worst thing possible.

"You'll what?" Rukia's tone is threatening and distinctly unintimidated.

At this, Renji has Ishida's full attention; the boy's dark blue gaze snaps from floor to Shinigami, eyes narrowed. "Yes, what will you do, Abarai-kun?" he asks sharply.

Perhaps to his detriment, Renji doesn't hear Ishida's pointed question. "I will take this door clean off its hinges to get you out," he threatens, trying again with the doorknob, which predictably is still locked.

For a moment, there is stunned silence.

Then…

"…You wouldn't dare," is all Rukia can think to say. Her voice, though still defiant, no longer carries the same degree of certainty that it once possessed.

"Oh no you will not!" Ishida springs to his feet, cheeks flushed with color and eyes flashing dangerously. "Do you have any idea what my landlady will do to me if I tell her my bathroom door's been ripped off?"

Okay, didn't know Ishida could get quite this angry. Renji holds up his hands in an attempt to placate him. "I'll put it back on after I'm—"

"No!" Ishida all but shouts, and Renji decides that this would probably be a good moment to make a strategic retreat to the kitchen.

Damn it. Renji braces his hands on a counter, sighing heavily and staring down on the cheap excuse for marble. Damn it to Hell. He wonders if he's supposed to feel as tired, as wrung-out or as suddenly guilty as he does. Shoot, I didn't mean to get her so riled up.

I forgot how short-tempered Rukia's been lately.

Ishida walks by him and stops in front of the kitchen sink. Without even acknowledging Renji's presence, he takes out a glass from the cabinet and fills it with tap water. Then, he uncaps the tube of toothpaste and—

Hold on.

Renji gapes. Ishida has his toothbrush and toothpaste with him. These, if he recalls are things generally kept in a bathroom.

"How did you—"

"He asked nicely!" Rukia can be heard to scream from the still-locked bathroom. "At least someone here is polite to me!"

Ishida shrugs and gazes calmly at Renji. "Saying 'please' has its advantages."

The Shinigami folds his arms across his chest and stares skeptically at Ishida. "So she'll open up to you to give you your toothpaste and toothbrush, but she won't let me in to talk to her face to face? Is this fair?"

"I suppose, and what is 'fair', really Abarai-kun?"

"Oh, this is just perfect."

Rukia falls to silence and Renji is left to brood while Ishida brushes his teeth. Getting Rukia upset always makes him feel guilty; that's the way it's been ever since they were kids. The way she acts, so obviously hurt whether she shows it by outbursts or coldness, is enough to pierce anyone to the core.

After finishing with the toothbrush, Ishida lays the instrument down on counter and swigs the glass of water. "Abarai-kun, I have a question for you, if you can answer it," he says, after spitting out the water in the sink.

Renji shrugs tiredly, still staring at the floor. "Sure, fire away."

"Has Kuchiki-san been to visit Kurosaki?"

This gets Renji's attention; he jerks his head up to meet Ishida's narrowed gaze. "I asked her about it," he explains slowly, "when she first came over here. She said 'no' and wouldn't tell me why. Do you know if that's changed since we last spoke on the subject?"

To be honest, I've been afraid to ask her about that. Renji frowns and tilts his head to the right. "I don't think so, honestly." He rubs his forehead wearily. "She'd probably feel a lot better if she did."

"They both would," Ishida mumbles into his cup—he's filled it up again—and Renji nods.

"What's he been like lately?"

Ishida shrugs, trying and just barely failing to hide a small spike of concern. "Ooh, I don't know, withdrawn, surlier than usual, no longer even pretending to care about school, the list goes on. Of course, those are just my observations." He turns slightly widened eyes on Renji. "Have you seen him?"

Renji shifts weight uncomfortably. "No. We both know that he might be happy to see me but he wouldn't really be happy until Rukia showed up, and she won't, so what's the point? And what if he asks about her; what am I supposed to tell Ichigo, that Rukia refuses to see him? What's he supposed to think when I tell him that?"

"That seems reasonable, I suppose."

Sighing, Renji gets out a glass of his own—all this shouting with Rukia's had the effect of making him thirsty. "So… Have you told Ichigo we're mooching off you yet?"

Sparks practically flew from Ishida's eyes at the word "mooching", but other than that he seemed relatively calm. "No. Since neither one of you will bother to say "Hello" to him, it would only make him feel worse, so as you say, what's the point?"

"Good point."

At that moment, the bathroom door opens.

"Decided to come out, have you?" Renji calls.

Rukia marches in to the kitchen, face unnaturally pale and eyes just as unnaturally bright. Renji blinks; it looks like she's about to cry, almost. "Rukia…"

She steadfastly ignores him and addresses Ishida instead. "You mind if I take a shower here?"

Ishida waves a hand in the hair and shakes his head. "Go right ahead."

With a strange, slightly raw note in her voice, Rukia sucks in a breath, replies, "Thanks," and retreats back to the bathroom.

When she's gone, Renji and Ishida stare at each other for a second. Then, they both nod at the exact same time.

"She'd definitely feel better if she went to visit him."

"Agreed."

Pity she won't.

-0-0-0-

"Why am I on the floor?"

Frankly, this isn't the first time in Renji's life that he's asked this question. Somehow, when there are more people than surfaces to sleep, Renji always ends up on the floor.

Out of the night darkness, there comes the predictable answer from the direction of the futon. "Because Kuchiki-san stole my bed and you're too long for the futon," Ishida answers sleepily, his voice barely capable of being heard.

"Oh." Renji stares up at the ceiling—well, he thinks he's staring up at the ceiling. "Isn't that thing a pull-out? 'Cause we could always, if you want…"

"No, Abarai-kun."

"Just asking."

The distant thunder of footsteps on the second floor comes and Renji wonders just how often Ishida has to put up with that; that would be so annoying to have to deal with every night. "So… You were still awake?"

"I've always had trouble sleeping."

"Oh." For a moment, Renji wonders if he should just go to sleep, but soon he gets curious again and the urge to ask Ishida another question is overwhelming. "Hey, Ishida, if you could make us leave, would you?"

"…"

"Ishida?"

The sound of Ishida rolling over on the futon comes across clearly as a muffled shudder of the spare bed sheets he got out of the bathroom closet. "I… I'm really not at liberty to say, Abarai-kun. What I can tell you is that I'm very tired and that I'd appreciate being allowed to sleep."

"Fine. Good night."

There is no response.

Renji smiles slightly, having finally proved something pressing to himself. He guesses that "not at liberty to say" means no.

He knew Ishida liked having them around, deep down.