“What the fuck is Kurosaki thinking?” Ishida demanded, suddenly breaking the silence that had settled like a heavy blanket in the laboratory.
All eyes – the conscious ones anyway – present in the room turned towards him, where he stood leaning against the wall with arms folded over his chest. The Quincy reached up, fixing his glasses on his nose.
“I don’t think he’s thinkin’,” Renji responded, forehead furrowed in confusion as to what brought about the sudden statement. He leaned back in his chair, sprawled out as comfortably as he could get in the steel and wood contraption. “At least, not with tha’ head,” he added with a drawl.
Rukia rolled her eyes, perched in a chair nearest to the bed. “Don’t talk about him when he’s unconscious,” she retorted. “It’s rude.”
“It’s not like he can hear us ‘nough ta care,” Renji retorted, fingers fiddling with a block of wood. The blade had snapped off the knife he was using to whittle it, so he’d given up, leaving him with a half-finished creation impossible to identify.
Rukia reached out and slapped him across the back of his head, causing him to fumble the block and drop it on the floor. As he muttered under his breath, shooting her a dirty look, Rukia ignored him.
The three of them seemed to have conveniently forgotten about the other resident in the room. Szayel was out at the moment, claiming a need to look up something in another lab. Stark had stopped by earlier with Nel, but the two had departed when she had gotten a tad too cuddly with Ichigo, the others fearing for his bodily safety. And Ichimaru had momentarily left as well but provided little explanation. The trio had breathed a sigh of relief at his departure, uncomfortable in his presence.
“Still,” Ishida continued, ignoring their usual comedy routine. “I don’t quite understand.”
Giving Rukia a foul look, Renji shook his head in disbelief. “How can ya not understand? Yer the only one I actually thought was… ya know.” He made the same vague hand gesture as before as he groped around for the lost piece of wood.
“I’m not the one with the weird crush,” Ishida retorted with a bland snort. “That would be the eighth Espada.” He said the title as though it left a bad taste in his mouth, thoughts of the other male sending a shiver up his spine.
“Che,” Renji agreed, voice muffled as he peered under the bed. “Pink-haired freak.”
“Quite.” Ishida sniffed and shifted position, crossing one leg over the other. There was no love lost from that particular battle, despite Szayel’s obsession. “But I did not see Ichimaru-san as Kurosaki’s type.”
Rukia frowned, her gaze falling on Ichigo, whose face was beading with sweat again. “That’s the damn truth,” she muttered under her breath, reaching for the rag that was soaked in cool water and dotting it over his face carefully. “I don’t think anyone is Ichimaru’s type.”
“Obviously, Kurosaki sees something in him, but I just don’t get it.”
Clearly, Ishida was stuck on this point. It was something that he couldn’t comprehend, and therefore, it bothered him immensely. He enjoyed and relished logic, and Kurosaki’s relationship with Ichimaru seemed to defy all rationale.
Rukia sighed, feeling as if she was in a bad position; she didn’t get it either. Ichimaru said he loved Ichigo, but she didn’t believe him. Urahara-san claimed that the two had feelings for each other, and she should be able to believe that. There was definitely something; she just couldn’t name it.
“And there has to be something. Otherwise, Ichimaru-san wouldn’t have bothered spending any time here with him,” Ishida continued like speaking aloud might enable him to piece out some answer.
Renji huffed, successfully locating his block and flopping back into his chair. “I don’t see why we’re even talkin’ about this,” he muttered. “S’not like we can convince Ichigo of anythin’ otherwise.”
“True. He’s even more stubborn than you, Abarai. And that’s really saying something,” Ishida replied snidely, a smirk pulling at his lips.
“Stuff it.” Renji scowled and shot him a glare. “Yer the one that brought it up anyhow.”
He remained unperturbed by the Shinigami’s attitude and shook it off easily. “Well, when the proof’s lying right there in front of you–”
“Maybe we’re not supposed to understand,” Rukia interjected to cut them off before Ishida said something uncomplimentary. She might have felt the same way, but it was somehow wrong to put voice to it. Like she would be insulting Ichigo.
When both males looked at her, fully expecting an explanation, she squirmed.
“Maybe it’s just one of those things,” she suggested. “And maybe he just makes Ichigo happy. That should be the only thing that matters.”
Renji and Ishida looked at her as though she’d grown another head or started spouting Aizen’s praises.
“Ya were the one most against it,” the redhead proclaimed, one hand tugging at his headband, having lost all interest in his whittling. “Ya changed yer mind awful quick.”
The Quincy watched her critically, glasses catching the gleam of the lights and seeming to make his eyes disappear. “Something happen?” he questioned, almost hinting he knew something she didn’t.
Bristling at their accusing looks, Rukia rose to her feet, dropping the rag back into the bowl of water. In her mind’s eye, she recalled what she had seen between the two – Ichigo and Ichimaru. And her mind’s ear remembered what Urahara-san had said to her.
“No,” she replied defensively. “I just don’t think we have a right to question. Ichigo’s made that pretty clear.”
The twin looks of confusion the two gave her proved that they didn’t understand. Rukia shook her head, unable to explain what she didn’t quite comprehend herself.
“I’m going to get something to drink,” Rukia declared, though she didn’t feel the slightest bit thirsty. She just needed to think somewhere away from the two idiots.
Muttering under her breath, she pulled open the door and stepped out into the corridor. Only to collide with someone who was attempting to enter at the same time. Rukia bounced back, a small cry escaping her as she stumbled backwards and hit the hall. An apology was on her lips until she realized just who she had bumped into.
Ichimaru was standing there, arms folded into his sleeves. A strange look on his face as he regarded her curiously. And just from his expression, she knew he had heard some if not all of the conversation.
All sense of politeness left her. “I didn’t know you were in the habit of eavesdropping,” she spat, hating what he might have heard.
Ichimaru just looked at her, however, his countenance unreadable. “Considerin’ the subject, it didn’t seem polite ta interrupt.” He tipped his head to the side, lips spreading into a smile.
She knew that pretty much meant he had heard enough. “You should have said something.” Her eyes narrowed.
“But ya were speakin’ fer me jes fine,” Ichimaru replied cheerily, as though mocking her. “’Sides, I’m done explainin’ things ta others. And Ichi is, too.”
Rukia hated that he seemed damned proud of himself, like he believed he had finally won her over. It made her spine shiver at the thought, and she felt as she had before he turned traitor, when he used to mock her for his own enjoyment. She really hated this man.
“Don’t thank me,” Rukia growled at him, all sense of civility gone from her tone. “I didn’t do this for you. I did it for Ichigo because it would hurt him if they hurt you.” And without even bothering to dismiss herself, she stalked down the corridor, feeling his snake-like gaze slithering after her.
Left behind, Gin watched her departure, amusement indeed trickling into his expression. Wouldn’t Ichigo be happy to learn about this? And Gin would make sure to be the first to tell him, as soon as Ichigo awoke.
He thought that perhaps he might be able to get along with Rukia, after all.
But right now… now, he planned on walking in on Ishida and Abarai-kun, who were still hypothesizing amongst themselves. He might not be able to alarm the Quincy but seeing Abarai lose his cool would serve as a source of entertainment. And he would take nearly anything at this point to take his mind off Ichigo’s condition.
The thought of seeing the redhead flounder was enough to brighten his day just a bit.