Author's Note:

This is my first attempt at writing an AU fic! Renji may seem a little OOC at first, but I promise there's an explanation for it! =)

This is a gift to Nila101, who always manages to read my mind!


The figure under the covers stirred and groaned. It wasn't working; the covers weren't thick enough to block out the sounds of banging doors and yells coming from next door. Annoyed but too lazy to get up, Ichigo curled up in a ball and slapped his pillow over his ears. But soon it became too stuffy, and with a gasp he burst out from the covers. He took a few much-needed breaths of fresh air and mentally cursed his new neighbors again.

The house next to his had been empty for a few months now, and it looked like the new owners had arrived. At seven thirty in the fucking morning, on a fucking Saturday.

With a grunt, Ichigo flung open his curtains and glowered at the house next door. He didn't have a direct view of the street, but he could hear the sounds as clearly as though they were right under his window.

Seeing that he was already up, he decided that he might as well wash up and begin his day. Didn't mean he couldn't grumble and curse as he went through his routine, though.

He went down to the kitchen and grabbed himself a bowl of cereal. To his chagrin, he found four nearly-empty boxes of cereal, ranging from the standard plain Kellogg's corn flakes to the fancier Honey Bunches of Oats. Muttering under his breath, he settled for a bowl of mixed cereal. At least the milk wasn't expired.

"Ichi-nii! You're early!" His sister's voice rang from the stairs. Yuzu bounced into the kitchen with a look of surprise on her face.

Ichigo turned around in surprise, nearly knocking over his bowl in the process. "Hey," he said. "You're early too."

Yuzu gave him a weird look. "I'm always up around this time, Ichi-nii."

"Oh." Ichigo felt sheepish. He wouldn't know, given that he usually didn't get up till much later on weekends. He watched his sister navigate through the kitchen with familiar ease, opening drawers and cupboards, slowly filling up the countertop with pans, flour, baking scale, and stuff that Ichigo couldn't name.

"What are you doing?" he asked, speaking through a mouthful of cereal.

Yuzu flashed him one of her bright, motherly smile. "Cookies! I'm baking cookies to welcome our new neighbor," she said, peeking into the fridge to get milk and butter.

Ichigo scowled. Yeah, the new neighbor who woke him up at seven fucking thirty in the morning. It was just like Yuzu, though. She was always good with people, and had enough warmth for all of them combined. Ichigo wasn't exactly anti-social, but he wasn't the type who went out of his way to be nice to strangers either. Yuzu's twin sister, Karin, was just like him. And his dad was too busy with his clinic to pay attention to anything else.

"Okay," he said. "Need any help?"

"Nah, I'm doing fine," Yuzu replied, turning back to give him another smile.

Ichigo chuckled. Her smile practically said no thanks, you'll only get in my way. He wasn't the last offended, because he knew she was right. He excelled at a lot of things, but cooking or anything remotely related to the kitchen was not one of them.

He finished his breakfast and brought his bowl to the sink. Yuzu shooed him away, saying that she would wash everything when she was done with the cookies. With nothing else to do, he planted himself on the sofa in the living room and began to channel surf.

After a while, though, his attention turned to the movers next door. From the sounds of it, they were almost done. He walked to the window and looked out.

A large white truck was parked right in front of the house. A man with cornrowed hair was shaking hands with the driver while several other men were climbing into the truck.

"Huh," Ichigo said to nobody in particular. So that was their new neighbor. The guy looked huge; Ichigo figured the man's bicep was at least twice the size of his. His eyes searched the area around the house for other members of the household; surely the man wasn't going to live alone in such a big house, was he?

He was about to give up and turn around when he caught a flash of color at the corner of his eyes.

Bright, fiery red. His eyes widened in surprise as a younger man jogged out from the house and went up to the man. Wow. And he thought his orange hair was eye-catching enough. The guy's hair was an obnoxious shade of crimson, pulled back into a high ponytail that bobbed in sync with his strides.

The hair wasn't the only thing that stood out; the redhead was wearing a long-sleeved turtleneck, a rather odd choice for today's weather. Ichigo wondered if the guy was melting underneath all that fabric. He watched the two men chat for a little bit, then, deciding that he'd been nosy enough, Ichigo went back up to his room. Might as well take a stab at his homework while he still had the energy for it.

He was in the middle of a brain-wrecking calculus problem when soft knocking interrupted his thoughts. The knocks were followed by Yuzu's soft voice. "Ichi-nii! Can you help me with something?"

Ichigo was greeted by a full plate of cookies when he opened the door. "Eh?" He raised his eyebrows inquiringly, then he couldn't help laughing at the sight of the light dusting of flour on his sister's nose.

"I was going to take these over..." Yuzu said, blushing slightly in embarrassment. "But...I'm a little scared of the big man."

"The big man?" Ichigo echoed, then he remembered the neighbor he saw in the morning. He balked as he understood Yuzu's unspoken request. Kurosaki Ichigo—cool, macho Ichigo—walking to his neighbors with a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies; unacceptable.

Yuzu looked expectantly at her brother with those pretty brown eyes of hers, and Ichigo knew he was trapped.

"Fine." Ichigo sighed and took the plate from Yuzu's hands. He stepped out into the hallway and followed Yuzu downstairs, dragging his feet reluctantly.

The walk over to the house next door was agonizing. Yuzu stood on the porch and waved at Ichigo encouragingly, and he had no choice but to march on. He rang the doorbell, and then waited in front of the large wooden door, shifting his weight from left to right as he waited for his new neighbors to answer the door.

The door remained closed for a whole minute, and Ichigo looked over to Yuzu, who gestured for him to knock again. Rolling his eyes, he sighed and raised his arm to knock, his face still turned towards his sister. He saw Yuzu's hands fly to her mouth as her eyes widened, and was just wondering what could be the matter when his knuckles connected with something soft.

Shocked, he whipped his head around and immediately wished he could disappear into the ground. His very large, very intimidating-looking neighbor was at the door, Ichigo's fist still frozen in place on the man's chest.

"Hello," the man said with a look of amusement.

Ichigo snapped to his senses and quickly withdrew his hand. Face burning in embarrassment, he thrust the plate of cookies towards the man and said stiffly, "Welcome to the neighborhood."

The man accepted the plate. "And who might you be?" he asked, his deep voice surprisingly warm for someone who looked so tough.

"Ichigo Kurosaki," Ichigo said. He shoved a hand into his jeans pocket and rubbed the back of his neck with the other, feeling absolutely horrified at his earlier gaffe. "I'm your next door neighbor."

"Ah, thank you Kurosaki-san, I'm Tsukabishi Tessai," the man said. He sounded like he was smiling, but given that his mouth was almost completely hidden behind an impressive but well-groomed moustache, Ichigo couldn't really tell. "Would you like to come in?"

Ichigo shook his head vigorously. "Thanks, but ah...maybe next time."

Tessai looked disappointed. "No problem, when we're settled down I'll be sure to invite you and your family over," he said. "I may not look it, but I'm a pretty good cook." Then, chuckling, he added, "At least, my son thinks so."

Not one who excelled at making small talk, Ichigo was frantically thinking how to get out of the situation when a voice called out from inside the house, "Who're you talking to, dad?"

"Our new neighbor!" Tessai hollered back.

Ichigo groaned inwardly, but he couldn't help staring when the red-haired young man he'd seen earlier appeared behind his father. Close-up, his hair looked even brighter. Between the turtleneck shirt and the white bandana that completely covered his forehead, the only exposed skin on him was his clean-shaven face, ears, and hands. Ichigo figured that he was a couple of years older than he was.

"Renji, Ichigo," Tessai offered. "Ichigo, Renji."

The redhead nodded curtly at Ichigo before telling his father that one of their boxes was missing. Secretly grateful for the opening, Ichigo bid them a hasty farewell and left.


The rest of the day flew by with a combination of homework and video games. By the time Ichigo dragged himself back to his room after dinner, he was so tired that a nine o'clock bedtime actually sounded appealing.

Sweeping his books into a stack, he was arranging them in his backpack when he caught a flash of red through his window. Curious, he peered out and found himself staring into one of the rooms of the house next door.

Renji, if he remembered the name correctly.

The redhead was carrying several boxes into the room, still clad in the same stuffy-looking clothes.

One bad thing about the design of this community was the distance between the houses—Ichigo had a perfect view of Renji's room, which was the mirror image of his. He supposed the guy also had a good view of his room, but, even though his body was angled towards the window, it didn't look like Renji was interested in looking out from his window.

Instead, his hands reached up and pulled off his hair tie, freeing his ponytail. Ichigo was surprised to see how long his neighbor's hair was; it came down past his shoulders, standing out starkly against the dull color of his top. The messy red strands covered most of his face, blocking his features from view.

Then, to Ichigo's horror, he began to strip.

With a quick tug, the grey turtleneck shirt was pulled over his head, exposing a flat, toned torso. Ichigo swallowed; this should be his cue to turn around and give the guy his privacy, but he found himself unable to tear his eyes away.

Because that torso was covered in black jagged tattoos. And they were not just any tattoos; these were wild, fierce, and extended from his chest all the way down to his abdomen almost to his hips. They decorated his biceps as well, sharp and ragged on his lightly tanned skin.

As Ichigo watched, Renji twisted his body, stretching his back and arms, and then he began to unbuckle his jeans. This time, Ichigo forced himself to turn away. All of a sudden the absurd choice of clothing made sense—Renji was obviously hiding his tattoos.

Still dazed from the unexpected sight, Ichigo rubbed his eyes with the heel of his palms and shook his head, as though doing so would erase the memory of what he'd just seen. Unfortunately, whether he wanted it or not, the image of Renji's body had been seared into his mind.


Ichigo sat at his desk, listening to the chatter around him without truly paying enough attention to actually know what was going on. He had never understood why other people had so many things to talk about, but he wasn't really bothered by it as long as he wasn't required to participate in those lengthy, meaningless conversations.

The class fell silent abruptly when Ochi-sensei strode into the room. Chairs scraped the floor as students scrambled to get back to their seats.

"Good morning!" Ochi-sensei knocked on the blackboard to get her pupils' attention. When all eyes were on her, she gave a big smile and waved to someone outside the classroom.

Feeling mildly curious, Ichigo raised an eyebrow and looked towards the door, and then both his eyebrows shot up to his hairline as a familiar figure walked into the room. Renji's hair was back in a spiky ponytail, and he was once again wearing a turtleneck shirt and sporting a white bandana across his forehead.

Impossible.

"Class, this is Abarai Renji, our new transfer student!" Ochi-sensei announced, gesturing to the redhead.

Even with his head slightly bowed, Renji was a good one foot plus taller than the teacher. With his broad shoulders, height, and not to mention the unusual color of his hair, he was quite the sight. The class remained quiet, apparently stunned by his appearance. He didn't seem to mind the awkward silence, though; he just stood there, looking disinterested.

Abarai?

So the guy had a different last name from his father? That was unexpected, Ichigo thought.

"Take a seat next to Kurosaki," Ochi-sensei said. "He's the one with bright orange hair."

Ichigo scowled as some of his classmates snickered.

Renji didn't bother nodding before making his way slowly towards Ichigo and took his seat without giving Ichigo even the briefest glance.

Despite the redhead's silence, he'd obviously attracted everyone's attention, because he was the main topic during lunchtime that day. Ichigo sat with his friends on the roof at their usual lunch spot and listened to them talk excitedly about Renji, from his hair color to his eyes, it seemed like he had been completely dissected even though he'd only been in the school for less than a day.

"I texted a friend of mine," Keigo was saying. "He said he heard that Abarai has a history."

Mizuiro eyed him skeptically. "What do you mean?"

Keigo leaned forward and whispered in a dramatically secretive tone, "The guy was kicked out of school for fighting."

Ichigo rolled his eyes as he took a bite from his sandwich.

"Gang-related, you think?" somebody asked, sounding awed.

Keigo nodded thoughtfully. "Probably."

Ichigo couldn't help snorting in exasperation. It was just like Keigo to weave a possibly incorrect piece of information into a story. If Keigo had his way, this would be spread throughout the school by end of day.

"Come on, guys," he said, frowning pointedly at Keigo. "Don't believe in everything you hear. You don't even know if that's true."

"But my friend said so! He apparently beat up a bunch of kids, some of them even ended up in the hospita!" Keigo said indignantly.

"I don't think he looks that fierce," Orihime piped up sweetly, making Keigo blush.

Ichigo smirked. Given that Keigo had a huge crush on the girl, her lack of support was more effective at shutting him up than anything Ichigo could say.

"It's true," Keigo grumbled under his breath, but by then his friends had already moved on to other topics, and his pout went unnoticed.


Ichigo took his usual route home after school, walking with his head down with his backpack slung over one shoulder.

His red-haired neighbor had been just as silent during the classes after lunch as he had been in the morning. He responded as necessary when he was called upon in class, but other than that, he kept to himself, oblivious to the curious stares from his classmates.

To his own annoyance, Ichigo hadn't been able to get Keigo's gossip out of his mind. Much as he hated to admit it, he actually thought it was entirely possible that it was true. Renji definitely had the brawn to do it; Ichigo remembered how well-built he was. Not to mention, he had all those tattoos on him, too. Perhaps he did belong to a gang, who knew?

Ichigo didn't mention to his friends that Renji was his new neighbor. He knew that if he did, Keigo would never stop bugging him. Plus, he felt like he owed it to the guy to keep it quiet. Maybe he was feeling guilty for being a peeping tom last night, he mused.

Engrossed in his own thoughts, Ichigo rounded a corner and collided head-on with another pedestrian. Shocked and feeling more than a little embarrassed, he bent down and picked up the book that was dropped by the other person. When he looked back up, he found himself staring at the very man he'd been thinking of.

"Sorry." Ichigo handed the book to Renji, who accepted it without a word. Their eyes met briefly as the book exchanged hands, and Ichigo was struck by the intensity in the redhead's gaze. He didn't seem upset or angry, but he looked at Ichigo as though he could look through him.

But the moment was gone as soon as it came, and Ichigo found himself in the awkward situation of having to walk home in silence with Renji, given that their homes were right next to each other. They arrived at Renji's house first, and the redhead simply turned into his driveway and walked off while Ichigo continued on his way. It was easily the weirdest few minutes of Ichigo's life, and he couldn't be happier that it was over.

After announcing his arrival, Ichigo promptly dragged himself up the stairs to his room. It was unbelievably hot that day, and he couldn't wait to step into a cold shower. Throwing his backpack on his desk, Ichigo pulled his t-shirt over his head, and was just about to wiggle out of his jeans when he glanced at the window.

Ichigo hadn't meant to look, he really hadn't, but he did nonetheless.

Renji was at his window with his back towards Ichigo, already out of his shirt.

Huh, he has tattoos there too, Ichigo thought absent-mindedly as he stared. They looked as though they were alive as Renji bent over, obviously in the process of removing his pants.

Huh, I wonder if he has any down there, Ichigo thought.

Wait, what?

Ichigo shook his head, feeling shocked at his own morbid curiosity. As if watching his neighbor—and classmate—undress two days in a row wasn't bad enough, he was actually wondering what lay below the waist? Wow, that had got to be a new low for him.

Determined not to let his mind wander any further, Ichigo drew his curtains and headed for the shower.

That night, he dreamed of Abarai Renji for the first time.


To be continued...

Author's Note:

Hopefully this made you curious enough to want to know what's coming next! What'd you think?