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They work as a team.

Rukia flies into battle with Renji and Ichigo screaming at her side, their combined reiatsu roaring like a wind that fills her with fierce determination.

And when they emerge triumphant—bloody and tired but triumphant —Renji grins at Rukia nods to Ichigo smiles at Renji and it’s—

It’s good. Whatever this is that they have, it’s good.

 

-

 

Rukia gravitates towards them, they’re both gravitating towards her, and—no, they’re all gravitating towards each other. Sometimes she catches Renji looking at Ichigo the same way he looks at her, and Ichigo argues with Renji in the same way he argues with Rukia. And Rukia loves them both, no questions asked.

They’re headed towards something that’s going to be awful or awesome. It’s inevitable, like a collision course, except she doesn’t know if it ends in a brilliant fireworks display or a train wreck.

She hopes for fireworks.

 

-

 

Renji sprawls on Ichigo’s bed, lightly dozing. Rukia has her legs crossed over Renji’s as she sits against the wall and reads. Ichigo sits at his desk, allegedly studying but stopping every five minutes to glare at his friends. “Do you guys have to stay here?”

“Yes,” Renji answers for the both of them, because he knows Rukia is engrossed in her book. “What else are we gonna do?”

“The hell do I know?” says Ichigo, waving his hands. “Go out! See the town! I don’t care, just get off my bed.”

Renji actually settles deeper into Ichigo’s pillow. “Hey, you should show us around. Couldn’t that be a substitute soul reaper job? Get the real soul reapers acquainted with the town?”

“Real soul reapers my ass! I’ve got homework! And besides, haven’t you been here a dozen times now?”

“Yeah, for work.”

“Yeah, working in Karakura Town.”

“Doesn’t mean I remember stuff about the town. I was busy!”

“Oh, so are you just that big of an idiot?”

“You bastard—!”

 

-

 

The thing about these two meatheads that Rukia loves so much is that for all their blustering insensitivity, deep down they can be quite emotionally fragile. She has to go about this in a way that doesn’t upset the balance.

The thing about Rukia though, is that as much as she wants this, both of them, all three of them together, she doesn’t want to do all the work. She shouldn’t have to. It’s kind of sexist to leave all the emotional labor to the woman, and besides, this will work best if they’re all on the same page, all together.

If only her beloved meatheads would get to that page faster.

 

-

 

“Rukia,” Ichigo says completely straight-faced as he stares at her artwork, “I think it’s time for you to get actual drawing lessons.”

“How dare you?” Rukia shoves the sketchpad in his face. “What about this is difficult to understand? Maybe you’re the one who needs lessons!”

“What, lessons in deciphering your ridiculous drawings?”

“I’ll have you know my diagrams were instrumental in getting Renji and myself through the most horrifying of academy exams! Isn’t that right, Renji?”

Renji, who has been suspiciously quiet, is busy filching all their snacks.

 

-

 

Rukia is only taking this into her own hands for her own damn self, thank you very much. She deserves this, damn it.

But in baby steps.

They’re taking a break during recon in Hueco Mundo, hiding out beneath a sizeable outcrop that would serve well as a shield in case of a Hollow attack. Rukia sits between Renji and Ichigo, jostles and nudges them so they’re sitting next to her as close as possible without being uncomfortable, and holds their hands.

“Rukia.” Ichigo’s tone is uncertain, but he doesn’t move away. “What’s gotten into you?”

“It’s more comfortable like this,” Rukia says dismissively.

They don’t protest. Renji shifts away for a moment, but only to lean down to rest his head on Rukia’s shoulder.

“Hey, don’t get too comfortable,” Ichigo says over her head.

“I’m resting,” says Renji. “Jeez, you never heard of taking a break?”

“Fine, just don’t come crying to me when a Hollow tries to eat your lazy ass.”

“I’m a lieutenant, I could kill a dozen Hollows in my sleep.”

Rukia rubs Ichigo’s knuckles idly with her thumb and leans her head against Renji’s. It’s nice. Even their inane, meandering arguments are starting to be comforting.

 

-

 

It’s not easy to climb down the ladder to Urahara’s basement while holding a bag of snacks, but Rukia manages. Ichigo and Renji have been training down there for what seems like forever, and it’s entirely plausible that they’ve knocked each other out by banging their incredibly thick heads together.

She finds them sitting back to back near a rock.

“Hey, Rukia,” Renji calls with palpable relief. “I was just gonna call you. I’m starving.”

Rukia frowns. “Why didn’t you just come upstairs?”

Renji gestures to Ichigo behind him—fast asleep. Rukia snickers.

“‘S not funny,” Renji insists. “We sat down and he just knocked out! I’m starting to get cramps in places I didn’t even know I could get cramps.”

“Just wake him up then,” Rukia suggests, still smiling.

Renji glances at Ichigo, then quickly glances away. “Tch. If I did, he’d never let me hear the end of it.”

 

-

 

Most of the time, Rukia is sure of where they're headed. Sometimes though, doubt whispers in her ear.

Am I being selfish? Deluded?

Renji has always been physically affectionate, even with friends. And Ichigo is passionately devoted to anyone he cares about, without having it to be anything other than friendship.

Maybe that’s all there is.

 

-

 

Maybe.

 

-

 

It takes Ichigo two weeks to muster the nerve to casually hold Rukia’s hand while they’re walking. It takes Renji three days, but only because he tried to pass it off as a friendly thing.

They also seem to pat each other on the shoulder a lot more these days, or nudge each other to get one another’s attention, and it doesn’t escape Rukia that their touches seem to linger longer than necessary.

One day she realizes she can’t remember why she ever doubted this.

 

-

 

“Hey Ichigo, did you know that Renji once snored so loud he woke up all the kids in our house?”

“Hey Ichigo, once Rukia almost got trampled during an assembly at the academy because she’s so tiny literally no one could see her.”

“Hey, Ichigo, once Renji botched kido training so bad that he completely burned off his own eyebrows. That’s why he had to tattoo them.”

“You asshole, that one’s not even true.”

“Ah, you’re right. Sorry. Ichigo, in case you don’t already know, Renji tattoos his eyebrows like that because he has horrible taste.”

“Ichigo, did you know—”

“Did you two know that I’m probably going to fail school because you’re always bothering me when I’m trying to do homework?!”

 

-

 

Sometimes they’re not so victorious in battle.

It happens. They get stronger, their enemies get stronger. They get new enemies, with powers they can’t figure out right away.

Sometimes victory means running away after getting beaten within an inch of their lives.

Every muscle in Rukia’s body hurts as they flash-step to safety. The thing that hurts most is the feeling of utter uselessness in her heart. She’s too tired to will these old demons away. Just for a moment she gives in to them, reliving every time that her attacks were useless, that she was overpowered, that Ichigo and Renji had to worry about saving her.

There’s no point in thinking about that, she tries to tell herself. That kind of thinking will definitely make you useless.

But still.

Rukia puts on a brave face—as brave as she can with her lip split in two places and blood dripping into her eyes—so they won’t have to worry about her now.

Beside her, Renji is pale and dull, his reiatsu slightly fading. His injuries aren’t fatal, but they’re numerous, and he’s bone tired. On the small, small bright side, he looks so pathetic that Urahara and his people probably won’t pick on him for eating too much now.

Ichigo is ahead of them, his bright head bowed low. Rukia almost wants to go to him, but she doesn’t know what she would say or do. Maybe she should vanquish her own demons first. For now, she gives him space. She’s good at that, at least.

Renji’s hand is on her arm, and when she turns he’s standing very close to her.

“Hey.” His voice is gruff and soft at the same time. “You did good. You know that, right?” Renji cups her cheek and kisses her forehead. It’s all slightly clumsy but undoubtedly sincere. Rukia smiles. The weight isn’t completely gone from her chest, but she can feel herself smiling.

And, despite the blood loss, Renji is still warm. It’s nice.

“Don’t get stuck in your own head,” he tells her. “Sometimes I don’t know where you’re goin’.”

“You always know,” she tells him.

He pats her cheek.

He goes to Ichigo.

Rukia reaches out. “Renji, wait—”

Ichigo pushes him away the first time, just like she knew he would—not hard enough to hurt physically or emotionally, but even from a distance she can see the rainstorm in his eyes. Rukia thought it’d be better to let it pass, to be there for Ichigo when he was ready to let them, but Renji has always been tactless and reckless.

He keeps trying. He has both hands on either side of Ichigo’s jaw, pressing their foreheads together, and Rukia can’t hear what he’s saying, but Ichigo—doesn’t pull away. He sags a little bit, even smiles for a second. One of his hands reaches up, touches Renji’s.

He’s going to be okay. They’re all going to be okay.

“Cute,” Rukia says as she walks over, just because she can.

“Shut up,” says Ichigo, smiling.

She pulls him down and kisses him on the forehead. He almost has to bend in half for her to do it, but he’s still smiling like it’s worth it. Renji laughs and pulls them all into a bear hug.

“You guys smell really bad,” Ichigo says, but he doesn’t pull away.

 

-

 

Ichigo takes Rukia out for ice cream. He tries to be really casual about it, but he orders a big bowl with three flavors for them to share and he’s nervous and stammering at first. It’s almost cute.

But when Rukia points out that one of the café decorations looks like Chappy, he relaxes. He scowls and lightheartedly rags on her for her love of Chappy, and after that he seems to be more comfortable, even looking up at her now and then, smiling.

Ichigo has a lovely smile.

It morphs into a look of horror.

“What is it?” Rukia asks, tensing immediately. “What’s wrong? Is it a Hollow? Is it—”

“Go away, Keigo!” Ichigo shouts.

Rukia spins around.

Keigo is just outside, staring at them with an incredible look of astonishment. The only reason he hasn’t burst in is because Mizuiro and Sado—mostly Sado—are holding him by the shirt. Still, it doesn’t stop him from going on an overdramatic tirade.

“Is that Ichigo?” The glass doesn’t completely muffle his voice. “Ichigo and Kuchiki-san? Ichigo and Kuchiki-san on a DATE?!”

Ichigo goes red. “No!” he yells back, miraculously without stammering. “You want me to go out there and kick your ass?!”

He looks ready to do it. The other customers in the café look equal parts annoyed and scared, and the workers are just about ready to kick Ichigo out. Rukia does not want to be kicked out before she finishes this ice cream.

“Sit down,” she says. “You look like a fool.”

“He’s the fool,” Ichigo mutters, very maturely, but he sits. “A date… Psh.”

“Are you saying this isn’t a date?” Rukia asks, all casual.

“Ye— no. I mean! Not that I wouldn’t, I would, but it’s just—”

She starts eating his half of the ice cream as he stutters for a while.

“It’s just—what about Renji?” he finally asks.

“You want to go on a date with Renji, too?”

Ichigo sputters. “That’s not what I meant! I meant—I meant what about you and Renji?”

“What about me and Renji?”

“Goddamn it, Rukia…”

Rukia takes a slow, indulgent bite of strawberry ice cream. “I think… that Renji and I…” She points to the menu above the counter. “…would like to try number seven. You’d have to order a large one for all three of us, though.”

She’s worried for a moment that she’s being too obscure, that Ichigo won’t get it. He makes a questionable face that’s really very cute, but Rukia holds her breath for a moment.

“O-okay,” he says.

Outside, Sado gives them a thumbs-up.

 

-

 

“Okay, I’m heading out,” Rukia says when the meeting at Urahara’s is over. “Ichigo, I’ll see you at home. Renji, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

And she kisses them both on the cheek.

Ichigo first, because he’s sitting closest to her, then she walks around him to kiss Renji.

Ichigo’s eyes go wide.

Renji hesitates at first, and then a wide smile grows on his face, blooming like a flower. He gets it. Rukia can see it in his eyes. They’ve known each other for almost their entire lives; of course he gets it.

Ichigo looks from Renji to Rukia, back and forth, and she thinks he might be getting it too.

Urahara, all but forgotten, ducks behind his fan. “My, my.”

 

-

 

“Do you have to hang out here?” Ichigo asks. “Last time you were in my bed I found a bunch of red hair all over the place. It was gross.”

Renji grins, lewdly. “No,” Ichigo says immediately. “No dirty jokes, you fucking asshole.”

Renji only laughs before settling himself more comfortably in Ichigo’s bed.

In truth, he’s actually mostly quiet for once and keeping to himself, so Ichigo isn’t exactly sure why he’s so frustrated. It doesn’t really have anything to do with Renji. Or maybe it does. He’s not sure. All he knows is that he’s supposed to be finishing some make-up homework, but he keeps glancing over at Renji lazing in his bed, staring up at the ceiling but not looking bored at all.

“Seriously, why do you even stay here,” he grumbles, because with Renji, it’s easier to just pick a dumb fight.

“It’s comfortable,” says Renji.

“Tch.” Ichigo decides to ignore him then, and he turns back to the textbook. He only has three questions left. Three more, and then he can—

He puts his pencil down. “Hey, Renji.”

“Huh?”

“Is—is Rukia—” Ichigo looks away, feeling his face flush. This should not be that hard. “Does she ever talk to you about—about dating?”

Renji gives him a weird look. “No. Why?”

“Do you ever get the feeling that she’s… dating us? Both of us?”

It made sense in his head, but the words sound so stupid when he says them out loud. He waits for Renji to laugh, to call him a dumbass, to be indignant.

Instead, Renji just says, “Yeah, I guess.”

“Does it… bother you?”

“Nah. She seems happy, right?”

“Yeah, but…”

Renji sits up, swings his legs over the edge so he’s facing Ichigo. “Does it bother you?”

Ichigo shrugs. “I don’t know.” He realizes that that’s the source of his frustration. “It’s just—kind of weird. Like, are we sharing her, or—”

Renji barks a laugh. “You really think Rukia would let herself be shared like that?”

Ichigo flushes. “No, I guess not.”

Renji’s still kind of looking at him, leaning his forearms on his knees. His hair is loose and a little messy from lying down on his ponytail. Not for the first time in his life, Ichigo is struck with the urge to touch it—while it’s still attached to Renji anyway, and looking beautiful, and not when it’s stuck to his pillowcase in strands and looking kind of gross.

“You said Rukia seems happy,” Ichigo says. “Are you happy?”

“Could be happier,” says Renji.

He looks at Ichigo. It’s in that moment that Ichigo realizes how close his desk and chair are to the bed, how close he and Renji are to each other. He can see Renji’s stray hairs escaping his hair tie, the details of those ridiculous tattoos on his ridiculous forehead. Ichigo swallows. Renji raises his eyebrows, expectantly.

“You’re weird,” Ichigo finally blurts out. He turns back to his desk, almost aggressively. “You and Rukia deserve each other. You’re both weird as hell.”

Renji laughs and laughs. “Don’t act like you don’t love it, Ichigo.”

Ichigo refuses to look at him. “Shut up and go back to sleep.”

“Nah. I’m actually kinda hungry.”

Ichigo rolls his eyes, but before he can stop himself he says, “I think we have some leftover soba in the fridge that you can have.”

Renji claps him on the back on his way out. Ichigo can still feel it, the exact spot where Renji’s hand touched him, long after he leaves. He doesn’t know what it means, the fact that he can still feel it.

Well, he thinks he knows what it means, but not enough to put it into words. It feels like falling. Like they’re all falling, towards each other, for each other—and it scares him. It’s frustrating and confusing and scary to think about Rukia kissing him on the cheek and the way Renji’s casual touches linger and Rukia talking about dating and stupid Renji’s stupid hair—

The thing is, though, it doesn’t always feel like the bad kind of scary.

 

-

 

Renji doesn’t think it’s all that complicated—him and Rukia and Ichigo, him and Ichigo and Rukia.

It feels right.

They’re like the sun and the moon, Ichigo and Rukia, except instead of hanging far, far out of reach in the sky, they’re here at his side. And they want to be here.

It brings a fierce joy to his mongrel heart.

The only problem was— how do you tell two of your close friends that you want to make out with them and that you maybe even love them? At the same time?

Renji kind of wishes Rukia would make her big move already. She’d be better at this kind of stuff, he thinks. But he remembers Ichigo’s talk of sharing her and he thinks he gets why maybe everything shouldn’t all be hinged on Rukia. He sighs.

It has to be a group effort. They work well as a group, as a team.

And then there’s Ichigo, who’s clearly kind of freaked out. Not necessarily in a bad way, because Renji’s seen the way Ichigo looks at him, and Ichigo’s obviously head over heels for Rukia, because really, who wouldn’t be, but just… freaked out in general.

Renji sighs again as he takes the soba and closes the Kurosakis’ fridge door. He hopes they’ll get there soon before he does something Rukia will call brash and careless.

He grabs an extra soda for Ichigo, then an extra pair of chopsticks, because there’s more than enough soba for two and he can’t remember the last time he saw Ichigo eat.

 

-

 

They prepare for the big fight side by side. Rukia stands tall, the strength of her friends giving her hope—not just Renji and Ichigo, but others as well.

Inoue gives her a big hug. She tries to be cheerful and optimistic, as always, but Rukia hears her voice waver very slightly. Rukia hugs her back fiercely. She knows Inoue can fight and defend herself, but still, she promises herself that anyone who tries to harm Inoue will not live long enough to regret it.

Sado nods to her, and even Ishida is affable. She’s never been very close with either of them, but she trusts and cares for them both, in battle and out. She gives Sado a goofy thumbs-up, and he smiles.

“Hey, Renji,” she says after a moment, somberly. “Don’t die. If we survive this, Ichigo is going to take us out for ice cream.”

“When we defeat these assholes,” Ichigo adds, “I’ll buy you so much ice cream you’ll be sick.”

Renji laughs. “Sounds like a plan.”

They fly into battle.

 

-

 

They lose Ichigo.

The world is dust and debris, and Rukia curses Ichigo’s own explosive attacks. She can’t see through all this dust. She can’t find him.

“Ichigo,” she whispers, “where are you?”

He was right here. She saw him. She refuses to consider the option that he’s still right here, buried under rubble.

“He’s not dead,” Renji says, more to himself than anyone. “He’s too powerful and stupid to die. Ichigo!”

Their voices echo pitifully through the ruins of the battlefield.

Rukia sees it first: in the distance, a lanky figure, limping towards them. Her breath catches in her throat. Atop the figure’s head is a shock of bright orange hair.

“You goddamn bastard,” Renji says, relief palpable in his voice.

Part of Ichigo’s hair is matted with blood and half his face is bloody and bits of his clothes are torn away to reveal leaking wounds underneath. His eyes are slightly dull, from exhaustion, from pain, from blood loss, but when he sees Renji and Rukia, he smiles. Rukia laughs, once, inexplicably. She’s rooted to the spot, still having whiplash from the wave of immense relief washing over the intense worry.

Renji runs, still cursing.

“Shit. You goddamn fucking asshole, Ichigo!” His hands are on Ichigo’s face, trying to wipe off the blood but sort of making it worse—but Ichigo lets him do it anyway, leans into the touch. “You dumbass, we were looking for you and—”

“You’re the dumbass,” says Ichigo, voice quiet and hoarse. “I was right here. Where did you guys even look—”

Renji kisses him full on the mouth.

There it is, Rukia thinks, dazedly. Here we are.

Because of course this is how they get here, with no planning or even foresight (not consciously, anyway) and it’s messy and kind of terrible, but Rukia is fiercely happy anyway.

They pull away as she finally walks up to them, coincidentally. Renji still has his hands grasping Ichigo’s face, Ichigo’s hands in Renji’s hair. They stare at each other, bright eyed, and when they turn to Rukia, they both look a little embarrassed. It’s cute.

“Huh,” Ichigo says thoughtfully, still idly playing with what’s left of Renji’s ponytail. “You know, I always thought Rukia would kiss me first.”

Renji glares at him. “What the hell’s that supposed to mean!”

“Oh. I mean, I just—nothing against you, Renji, I—”

“Damn right nothing against the guy who actually kissed you!”

“God, you are so—”

But they’re still holding each other and smiling, and even though Rukia is standing apart, untouched, she doesn’t feel left out or anything like that at all, and she cannot stop grinning.

 

-

 

Rukia kisses them both later.

She kisses Ichigo first, and Renji pouts and asks, “What about me?” and she rolls her eyes. “You kissed Ichigo before I did, so you’re not one to talk,” she says before kissing him, and then he kisses Ichigo again, and then it doesn’t really matter who kisses who, because it starts to feel like they’re all kissing each other at the same time, and distantly Rukia wonders how strange they must look if anyone saw them now, before two different hands slip under her clothing and she decides she doesn’t care at all.

They work best as a team.

 

-

 

“Do you guys have to take over my bed like this?”

Renji and Rukia have made something of an Ichigo sandwich, Rukia on the side by the wall holding Ichigo to her chest, and Renji spooning him from behind.

“You weren’t complaining before,” Rukia says coyly, idly stroking his hair.

Ichigo flushes. “That was—this bed wasn’t made to have three people sleeping in it! And Renji’s a goddamn furnace—”

The goddamn furnace, already half asleep, slings an arm across Ichigo’s chest, but Ichigo doesn’t move away or even protest.

“Now you won’t have to get a space heater,” says Rukia, pretty dazed herself. Renji mumbles something unintelligible into Ichigo’s shoulder.

“You’re the worst,” says Ichigo. Then he looks up at Rukia. “Are you okay like that?”

“Like what?”

“Against the wall like that.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

“What, you really hate being in the middle like that?”

Renji lifts his head, blinking blearily. “Should I be offended again?”

Ichigo laughs. “No, no. Just wanna make sure you’re comfortable, Rukia, is all.”

“I’m fine.” Rukia smiles, kisses Ichigo on the forehead. “Don’t worry. We fit just fine.”

Ichigo’s smile is small and soft and beautiful. “Yeah, we do, don’t we?”