Warnings: BL/Shounen ai/Yaoi (actually pretty mild, tho)
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Kubo Tite, Viz Media and whoever else owns them. It sure isn't me. This is provided for entertainment purposes and no profit is being made or sought.
Author's Notes: Thanks to _debbiechan_ for holding this contest! Forgive me for copping out on the smut, but all the other entries were PG and PG-13 and I wimped out. (Maybe I'll do an NSFW omake for this, tho?) :)
Story Notes: Kira's poetic efforts are from the "Bleach Official Bootleg", translations to be found here: http://kay-willow.livejournal.com/212477.html
This was all Matsumoto’s fault, Renji decided. It was her fault he was standing in a cramped hallway thick with the scent of other people’s dinners – fish, frying garlic, something pickled and sharp – and blurred with the sound of their TV programs seeping under the apartment doors. It was Matsumoto’s fault that he was standing there wearing a black silk shirt, crimson pants that fit his rump like a second skin, and pointy red boots with silver chasing while holding a dainty-looking parcel tied in a blue and white furoshiki. And it was definitely her fault that his head was pounding, and his chest felt tight, and that he was intensely aware of a single bead of sweat making its way down his spine as he stood facing that scuffed, off-green door. Ishida’s door. The one he’d last seen when he’d been unceremoniously shoved out of it and told never to darken its threshold again.
Actually, that last part was entirely his own fault and Renji knew it, but it was easier to lump everything together under ‘Matsumoto’s fault’ while he was grumbling about it under his breath.
“You look like a drowned rooster, Abarai.” That had been the tall blonde’s greeting when she’d sidled up to him as he’d stared forlornly into the display window of the Kohaku Sweet Shop, watching women in shihakushos and kimonos pick out chocolates for their friends and lovers. Renji knew he’d looked forlorn because he could see his reflection in the glass, and he’d immediately screwed his face into a glower to counteract it. It was too late, though. Matsumoto had already seen.
“What are you talking about?” he’d grunted as she reached over to tug on his top knot.
“You’re wilting,” she smirked, and Renji had given her a sidelong scowl because there was something wrong with his hair. Since he’d come back from the Living World, it had somehow managed to look both scruffy and limp when he tied it up, but he couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Even Byakuya had begun to eye him oddly when the captain didn’t think he was watching. “It’s not just your hair,” she added, surveying him with one narrowed eye. “Your color’s bad. And your shoulders are slumped. You never slump, Abarai. At least not in uniform. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he’d snorted, pulling himself up. “Why would anything be wrong?”
“Because you’re standing in front of Kohaku the day before Valentine’s Day looking like your dog just died,” Matsumoto had laughed. “Are you depressed because no one is giving you any chocolates tomorrow? Or are you waiting for all the girls to leave so you can sneak in and buy some yourself?”
“Of course I’m not buying anyone chocolates!” he’d burst out, scandalized. “And shut up before someone hears you.”
“It’s you they’re going to hear, dumbass,” she cackled, reaching over to pinch his cheek. “Are they for Captain Kuchiki? Do you want me to go in and buy them for you? Take me to The Pink Oleander for sake afterwards and I’ll help you out. Do you want them in a heart-shaped box?”
“I’m not buying chocolates!” Renji had insisted, shoving Matsumoto away and rubbing at his cheek.
“Hmph. Then you must have been hoping to get some yourself,” Matsumoto assessed. “From someone here in Seireitei? Maybe from a different Kuchiki, hmm? No, you didn’t even flinch at that.” Matsumoto had pouted for barely a moment and then hooted and snapped her fingers. “Hah! It’s that human boy, isn’t it? The slim one with the pretty eyes that you went to Hueco Mundo for.”
“He’s not a human, he’s a Quincy,” Renji had snapped before he could stop himself, only to have Matsumoto snort and pump her fist in a victory sign. “And I didn’t go to Hueco Mundo for him,” he’d added weakly. “We just… ended up there together.”
“I knew it,” Matsumoto had gloated, oblivious to both his explanation and his helpless glare. “You’ve been slouching around Seireitei like a thundercloud for nearly two weeks now. What happened? Did you two have a fight? Did you break up or something?”
“Or something,” Renji had grumbled, shoving his hands into his sleeves and looking away. He’d tried to shrug off the companionable arm Matsumoto draped over his shoulder, but it did no good.
“Tell me what happened then,” she’d offered. “Maybe I can help you get him back?”
“Who says I want him back?” he’d snorted, then yelped in pain when Matsumoto drove a sharp knuckle into his ribs.
“Idiot. If you didn’t want him back, you wouldn’t be moping around like you are. You’re almost as depressing as Kira. Another week of this and you might be worse.”
That had stopped him cold. ‘More depressing than Kira’ was a pretty serious accusation, and he’d peered sidelong at Matsumoto’s expression to see if she was joking. She wasn’t.
“So, what did you say to him?” she’d asked, tilting her head with a wise look.
What was the use of protesting false innocence? Of course it had been something he’d said.
“Do you want to hear what I really said, or what Ishida thinks I said?” he’d ventured.
Matsumoto glanced skyward and sighed. “What does he think you said?”
“That the Shinigami were right to wipe out all the Quincy.” At that, Matsumoto had stepped back and given him a look. “And,” Renji had continued, wincing as he said it, “that… maybe we hadn’t done a thorough enough job.”
Matsumoto’s eyes widened in disbelief. “You said that… to a Quincy?”
Renji had nodded miserably, staring at the ground while Matsumoto let out a soft whistle.
“And he let you keep your balls? That’s pretty restrained,” she’d assessed. “If I were a Quincy, I’d be wearing them on a necklace right now.”
“Oh, thanks a lot,” he’d grumbled. “And that wasn’t what I meant anyway. We were arguing about something – I don’t even remember what now – and he kept turning everything I said around and using it against me, and it was so fucking frustrating that I just…” Renji had thrown his hands up in annoyance and turned his back to the window of the chocolate shop. “It was supposed to be a joke, all right? Like, the real reason that the Shinigami took out the Quincy was because we couldn’t win any arguments with them, but…”
“That’s not how he took it,” Matsumoto had finished.
“Yeah,” Renji had sighed. “That’s definitely not how he took it. He thinks—hell, I don’t know what he thinks. That I was saying the Shinigami had some right to off the Quincy because we were better than them or something.”
“Why would he think that?”
“Eh, well… I might have called the Quincy a bunch of ‘jumped-up humans, trying to be Shinigami’,” he’d admitted in a sheepish tone. When Matsumoto didn’t say anything, he’d glanced over to find her frowning. She looked as perturbed as he’d ever seen her. “There’s no hope, is there?”
“Oh, there’s hope,” she had said, tossing her head as if shaking off a bad dream and planting her hands on her hips. “The fact that he let you live means there’s hope. And the fact that you walked out of there with your privates intact means he might even consider letting you use them again.”
That had been the most cheerful news Renji had heard all week, and he didn’t even balk when Matsumoto took him by the elbow and hauled him down the street, saying “Come on. If you follow my instructions to the letter, you might just get your Quincy back.”
And now, there he stood, wearing clothes that Matsumoto had picked out and bearing a gift about which he still had serious doubts, all in hopes of just that: getting Ishida back; or at least getting Ishida to let him back in the door.
At that point, it should have been simple. All he had to do was raise his fist and knock on Ishida’s door. After that, it would be up to Ishida. Ishida could answer the door or not, and if he did, he could either invite Renji in, or stand and talk with him over the threshold, or fire one of his spirit arrows at him point blank. Whatever happened, it wouldn’t be Renji’s decision. But then, perhaps that was what kept him from doing it: the fact that knocking on Ishida’s door might be the last thing he had any real control over.
It wasn’t like he had to knock, after all. Ishida knew Renji was standing there, loitering in the hallway. He had to know. With his Quincy senses, he’d probably known Renji was there the moment he stepped out of the Senkai Gate and into the Living World. Hadn’t it been like that the first time he’d ever seen Ishida, when the stupid dork came strolling down the sidewalk at midnight and nearly singed his chin with an arrow? In return, he’d laid a bright stripe of blood across Ishida’s stomach with Zabimaru’s teeth and left the kid down and bleeding. He’d meant to do worse, but then Ichigo had shown up with his ridiculous zanpakto and his crazy reiatsu, and nothing had turned out like Renji had thought it would.
Especially not with Ishida.
Remembering that night and the scar he’d given Ishida always reminded Renji of their first time – the way they’d pushed and shoved at each other, crumpling cloth in their fists, yanking shirt tails out of waistbands and fumbling with zippers as their mouths collided and twisted together, the same way fenders on human cars did when they crashed into each other. It had been late afternoon – panes of sunlight slanting across the apartment floor – and when he’d pushed up the kid’s shirt, there it was like a jagged pink seam across Ishida’s white stomach: the scar he’d given him that night.
Maybe he should have felt ashamed, or maybe he should have been freaked out that he’d nearly killed the guy he was rolling around with on the floor, but instead, he was fascinated. He’d trapped Ishida’s legs under his own and gripped both slender wrists in one hand like a bouquet, like those taut arms were the long stems of flowers, and held him as still as Ishida’s hungry body would allow just so he could stare at the scar.
It gave him an uncomfortable thrill that he had marked Ishida like that. It was a sign of just how strange things could be; how two months after nearly killing Ishida, the guy could save Renji’s life and end up fighting beside him, and then end up even closer. It was crazy, and when he saw it that first time, he’d leaned down and kissed the scar – gently; even reverently – from one end to the other while Ishida’s stomach had trembled beneath his lips.
The memory of warm, smooth skin against his mouth caused a brief lurch in his own stomach and reminded Renji of where he was standing and why. Steeling himself, he rapped on the door and then waited to see what would happen. Before he could even draw and release a full breath, the lock clicked, the door swung inward, and there was Ishida.
“Took you long enough to knock,” he observed.
Renji’s gut gave another, slightly bigger lurch at seeing him. He wanted to say I missed you, which he would never have said before, and What’s with your hair? Are you letting it grow? Are you trying to look like a girl or something?, which he would have, but instead he drank in the sight of Ishida – blue shirt with sleeves rolled up, white apron around his waist, bare feet, eyes blue and distant behind his lenses – and said, “I wasn’t sure you would answer.”
“Well now you know,” Ishida said. He made no move to step back from the door, but pushed his glasses up and surveyed Renji from the top of his head to his feet and then back again. “Going somewhere special tonight?” he posed. There was an arch note in his voice that sounded almost like jealousy, and it gave Renji a warm, secure feeling. Ishida wouldn’t sound jealous if he was done with him, right?
“Nowhere but here,” Renji admitted. “If you’ll let me come in, that is.”
Ishida seemed to consider this for a moment, then moved back, opened the door wider, and gave a small bow that was probably more mocking than polite. Renji didn’t care, though, as long as Ishida let him in. He stood gazing around the small apartment as if it had been far longer than two weeks since he’d been there until he heard Ishida shut the door. He turned to see Ishida leaning against it, arms crossed, giving him an assessing look.
“Well?” Ishida asked as if expecting something. “What have you got there?” He bent his head toward the parcel Renji was carrying. “Did you bring your lunch along for some reason, or is that some sort of offering?”
“Ah,” Renji blinked, glancing down at it. “It’s a gift For you. I’m sorry, you know,” he offered, holding the package out to Ishida. “About what I said. I didn’t mean it.”
Ishida raised an eyebrow at him, pulled off his apron, and tossed it toward the kitchen. Renji started to make a smart-assed comment about how it was all right with him if Ishida wanted to take off more of his clothing, but he bit it back. Ishida took the package from him and folded himself onto a floor pillow before the small table in the living area. Renji followed and, after a moment’s hesitation, took a seat beside Ishida, who was untying the parcel. It fell open to reveal a small book which Ishida ignored in favor of the furoshiki.
“This is really pretty,” Ishida approved, spreading the silk cloth out and running his fingers over the pattern of silver-white carp swimming in blue water. “But why carp?” he wondered.
“I couldn’t find any furoshiki with crosses on them. And I liked the carp because, well… they look like taiyaki,” Renji admitted, flushing a bit at the look Ishida gave him. “I like taiyaki,” he said defensively, then added, “and I like you.”
Ishida’s cheeks colored at Renji’s words and he scowled a bit, then ducked his head and turned his attention to the book. He held it up and peered at the title.
“I Want To Apologize To You,” he recited. “A collection of haiku by Kira Izuru.” Ishida blinked at the book and then at Renji. “This is by the 3rd Squad lieutenant? He writes poetry?”
“Oh yeah,” Renji nodded. “He’s even won prizes for his poems. This is his latest book. Just published. It, uh, seemed appropriate…. What with the title and all.”
Ishida gave a delicate snort and opened the book to a random page. He squinted, made an odd face, and turned a couple of more pages before making a sound that, after a moment’s thought, Renji recognized as a giggle.
“Are you—laughing?” Renji wanted to know. The idea that Kira Izuru’s haiku might be humorous had never occurred to him, but from the barely stifled snickers that Ishida was trying to quell, it obviously had some amusement value.
“My God,” Ishida snorted, shaking his head. “This is awful! Have you read these poems, Abarai? Listen to this one:
Persimmons have bloomed
- ah, alas, this year as well –
persimmons have bloomed.”
“So? What’s wrong with it?” Renji wanted to know.
Ishida blinked at him. “Abarai, it’s not even a haiku! The second line only works if 'ah' has three syllables.”
Renji stared at him for a moment, trying to figure out where the joke was. “So you’re saying the poems aren’t any good?”
Ishida stared back at Renji for a split second and then did something he had never seen the Quincy do before. He started to laugh. He let the book drop onto the table, put his face in his arms to muffle the sound, and laughed until his shoulders shook. When he finally lifted his head, there were tears in his eyes.
“Are you telling me,” Ishida giggled, swiping at his eyes with the heel of his hand, “that this is what the Shinigami think is good poetry? This?”
“I guess he sells a lot of books or they wouldn’t keep publishing them, would they?” Renji answered, torn between some affront on Izuru’s behalf and growing alarm at Ishida’s reaction.
This announcement, however, only served to send Ishida into further hysterics. “And you tried to tell me,” Ishida wheezed, pointing at Renji, “that Shinigami were superior to the Quincy! You-you can’t even write—a haiku!” When Ishida dissolved into helpless laughter once more, Renji’s apprehension escalated toward panic.
“All right, Ishida, that’s enough,” he said, taking the guy firmly by the shoulder and giving him a little shake. “C’mon, Ishida, you’re starting to freak me out.” When the only answer he could get from Ishida was hysterical giggling and the refrain ‘But it’s funny!’, Renji decided enough was enough, got up and headed for the kitchen.
“Water,” Renji muttered to himself. “He needs water.” He pulled a glass from the cabinet and wet a towel in the sink. He paused, thinking a stiff drink might help and wondering if Ishida had any alcohol. That’s when he saw what was on the table, and even though he could hear that Ishida had started hiccupping through his laughter, he stood there for a moment, gazing at the platter and feeling relief flow through him.
When Renji got back to the living room, Ishida had slumped onto the table, his laughter now down to the odd giggle. Renji set down the glass of water and the platter he’d brought from the kitchen, then knelt beside Ishida.
“Here,” he said, propping his friend up by the shoulder, pulling off his glasses, and wiping his face with a damp cloth.
“I can do it,” Ishida hiccupped, straightening up and scrubbing at his face. He let out a few more amused sniffles, then groped around for his glasses. When he put them on, he blinked at the platter of homemade taiyaki on the table.
“You’ve been busy, I see,” Renji said. He tried to keep the tone of his voice neutral, but he was too pleased not to let some of his satisfaction show.
“Hmm. I might have just happened to make some taiyaki,” Ishida allowed, trying to regain some of his composure.
Renji knew, even if Ishida didn’t, that it was already a lost cause. He couldn’t even pretend to be mad at him any longer. If only to prove it to himself, he took one of the carp-shaped pastries and bit into it, chewing the soft sweetness and giving a small groan of pleasure. Something was different, though. They weren’t filled with the usual red bean jam. They were filled with something better. Something that made his insides heat up from just behind his heart all the way down. He finished the rest of the taiyaki in two bites and lapped a crumb from the edge of his mouth.
“Did you also ‘just happen’ to make them with chocolate filling?” he grinned.
Ishida’s face wasn’t giving away anything. “Does there have to be a reason for chocolate?”
Renji wiped his mouth and scooted closer, leaning his face close to Ishida’s.
“Do you forgive me, then? Or were you making Valentine’s taiyaki for someone else?”
“That depends,” Ishida smirked. “Are you going to kiss me?”
Renji nearly dove for Ishida’s lips, then hesitated. “Do you want me to?”
Ishida cocked an eyebrow. “Isn’t kissing sort of necessary if we’re making up?”
“So we’re making up?”
“God, you’re thick, Abarai,” Ishida groaned, rolling his eyes and pushing him away. Renji caught his wrist, falling back onto the floor and pulling Ishida down beside him. This time, Renji kissed him before he could change his mind. When they came up for air, Renji was wearing a wolfish smile.
“I think I want to hear you say that again,” he told Ishida in a low, throaty voice.
“What?” Ishida huffed, his glasses askew and his eyes already half-lidded in pleasure. “That you’re thick?”
“Uh huh. Only next time,” Renji grinned, rolling on top of Ishida and leaning close, “you won’t be saying it about my head.”
Ishida’s pupils pulsed and bloomed, widening as his cheeks flushed at Renji’s words. “Give me a reason to, Shinigami,” Ishida challenged.
“I’ll give you a lot more than one.”
All in all, it was a good thing that Ishida’s neighbors kept the volume on their TVs turned up all evening, and even well into the night. It was, after all, Valentine’s Day.