Shuuhei smiled, small but plainly visible, and took a bite of his bento, looking for all the world as normal as usual. He chewed and swallowed and took another bite, listening intently to the conversation at the table, which only included one other person.
Across from him, Ichigo raked a hand through his hair, disturbing strands usually carelessly arranged anyway, and gestured as he explained something. It wasn’t grand, so it probably wasn’t a battle. He was likely talking about the real world, a thing the Shinigami who hadn’t been there often would not understand.
He watched as his senpai shifted in his seat, shoulders slumped as his elbows rested on the table, obviously at ease. The bento was nearing its end, but it wasn’t like Shuuhei was really paying much attention to his food. In his eyes was warmth, not entirely unexpected, but directed solely at the man across from him. And he made some comment to Ichigo’s story.
Ichigo blinked as if confused before his lips pulled into that often rare grin. And he chuckled, shaking his head. He pointed towards the nearly empty bento.
From his distance, Renji couldn’t hear what either of them were saying. The subject didn’t really matter. What was important was that they were talking, and they were talking together. No one else was around. It was a date, though they didn’t actually call it that. It was painfully obvious in their body language, in the looks given when the one didn’t think the other would notice.
Not unexpected, a surge of jealousy attacked Renji, though he had no right to feel it. In all honesty, it should have been him at that table, quietly conversing and laughing with Ichigo. But he had fucked up. There was no other way to put it. And now, here he was, a good distance away. Not daring to come closer. Watching his former boyfriend… his onetime lover and his senpai together.
The fault was entirely his own.
Those eyes, always burning with determination, were giving him a look that could only be described as abject disappointment. It made him feel lower than dirt, but he also knew that the true shame had yet to come. There was still a question unanswered between them.
“The truth, Renji,” Ichigo demanded without threatening.
He didn’t have to threaten, honestly. That look was enough to make Renji feel like a piece of scum. Make him feel like the stray dog that he was.
He looked away, unable to meet his boyfriend’s eyes. “Yeah, it happened.”
It was a mistake. Or it had been. At least, the first time was. He had been drunk, and she had been drunk, and maybe a part of him had wanted it anyway. And she had known just as he had known that he was with someone else, but they both had disregarded that truth as if it were only a guideline. Just a suggestion really, that idea of monogamy.
He didn’t know who had told Ichigo and wasn’t about to ask either since that would only make things worse. He was pretty sure that it hadn’t been Matsumoto; she was at fault, too. And anyone within their immediate group would have minded their own business, unwilling to get in the middle of a potentially volatile situation. He supposed in the long run that it didn’t really matter.
Ichigo knew now; everything else was pointless.
Silence fell at his admission, and the seconds ticked by. The space between them might as well have been a gulf. A damn chasm. Somewhere on the edge of his senses, Renji detected a Hollow, something minor and not much to worry about. He resisted the urge to suggest they go after it, if only to escape from this conversation. Let that dumb afro-guy do his job for once.
Renji hoped that Ichigo wouldn’t ask for an explanation. He didn’t have one that wasn’t trite or stupid or… not an excuse at all. He couldn’t explain himself, wasn’t sure if he could really apologize. He wasn’t even certain if he had ever intended to tell Ichigo. A part of him had hoped to continue sweeping it all under the rug, pretending it had never happened and wasn’t continuing to happen.
It wasn’t that he didn’t like Ichigo, didn’t care for him in some way. It was quite the opposite in fact. There was something about the teen that was gravitating, that was incredibly inviting. And they had been friends first, a relation that had gradually deepened to more during the war.
Maybe it had started out as a distraction at first, something to fall into at night when they were strained from fighting and bleeding for a cause that seemed unending. They fought side-by-side, becoming each other’s support. And Renji knew that a part of him cared for Ichigo. It was hard not to. He had never met anyone more worthy of being loved.
They had never really announced that they were together, hadn’t made it obvious, but the people who knew them, friends and family, were aware. They were supportive. No one judged. And the two of them were lucky for that, not having to face rumors and comments from people too ignorant to know better.
Renji had been happy. He was pretty sure of that. It was hard not to be. Not much had really changed between them, after all. They still argued and fought, still sparred together. They still disagreed. And he was of a belief that Ichigo had been happy as well, even if he remained the same scowly teen as usual. Renji could remember every single instance Ichigo had smiled for him, that genuine and content smile.
“Why, you bastard?” Ichigo growled, reminding him that they were still very much in the middle of a serious discussion. His fingers curled into fists, shaking as he held them at his side.
Renji’s heart sank into his chest, the anticipated query something he didn’t have an answer for. She had come onto him; he had accepted her advances. In all honestly, he shouldn’t have been surprised. She’d done it before. He still couldn’t figure out why he’d fallen for it.
Maybe it had something to do with intimacy.
“I don’t know.”
“That’s not an answer, dammit.”
He could feel the anger rolling off Ichigo in waves, blinding pulses of reiatsu that were nearly choking. He felt trapped by that disappointment, that betrayal. For someone like Ichigo, loyalty was perhaps the most important thing of all. And Renji had stabbed that trust in the gut and ground it into the dirt.
The redhead sighed. “Well, it’s the best I’ve got. What d’you want me ter say?”
A hand shoved into his shoulder, forcing him to look up. “How about the truth, dumbass? You don’t just accidentally fall into bed with Matsumoto more than once.”
His eyes widened. He hadn’t realized that Ichigo knew it was a multiple affair. Renji sucked in a breath, looking for something, anything really, to offer his lover that was better than an “I don’t know.”
He shrugged, hating that it came out so nonchalant. “Well, maybe I wasn’t ready to give up women.”
Ichigo blinked at him, face coloring with sheer fury at the absurdity of his reason. “That’s no excuse!” he spat, fists visibly clenching again in an attempt not to strike the other man. “You should’ve told me that beforehand, you asshole. If we’re just casual, it would’ve been nice to know.”
“I didn’t know!” Renji insisted fiercely. It wasn’t his right to get angry, but somehow, the emotion kept trying to crop up. Maybe because of the guilt he felt… or rather didn’t feel.
“That’s all you have to say?” Ichigo bit out. But before Renji could answer, he shook his head and violently turned away, shoulders drawn tight. “Forget it.”
Renji knew he should say something. Like apologize. But try as he might, the words wouldn’t come to his lips. He knew they’d be a lie. As if he didn’t really mean it, even if he did. He was sorry that he had hurt Ichigo, was sorry he had been caught. But Renji wasn’t entirely certain he was sorry for what he’d done. It was confusing, and he didn’t understand it, and that only made things worse.
Then, Ichigo was walking away. And he knew he had to say something.
The answer came clipped, interrupting him before whatever inane babble he had been about to spew emerged.
“If I look at you, I will stab you,” Ichigo put in coldly, almost dangerously calm, all too similar to Kuchiki-taichou at his very worst. “There’s nothing else to say. Goodbye, Renji.”
He walked away.
Renji didn’t dare chase after him.
He thought it would have been better if had Ichigo yelled at him. Or screamed. Attacked him even. It would have been easier to handle if they had fought and bled and traded blows. But that infuriating calm, those clipped tones and demands, he just couldn’t understand. A part of Renji wanted Ichigo to start the fight, to claim the blood he was owed.
Watching Ichigo walk away should have hurt a hell of a lot more, and he couldn’t help but wonder why it didn’t. It wasn’t until Renji turned, planning on heading his own direction, that he caught sight of Rukia. He didn’t know how long she had been standing there, how much she had heard, or what all she had seen. But by the look in her eyes, he knew it was enough.
The first strike shouldn’t have been such a surprise.
Rukia wasn’t the only one angry with him. The truth came out rather quickly after that, not because of him and Ichigo but because of the others. Then again, it was plainly obvious since they were avoiding each other, Ichigo furious and Renji barely sober.
He’d had to hear it from everybody, the disappointment and their anger. From his own captain, from his senpai, from Ikkaku and the rest of the Eleventh Division. From his friends, Izuru and the others. Orihime still wouldn’t speak with him, and the memory of Ishida’s disgust was burned into his brain. Yoruichi-san’s glare and Urahara’s deadly smile had been enough to keep him from returning to the living world. He could only imagine how Goat-Face and Ichigo’s sisters had reacted.
Whatever respect he had gained had been lost in the wake of his infidelity. He couldn’t blame anyone but himself. It was only a small comfort that Matsumoto was given the same treatment.
Shuuhei was livid, but he had more reason to be. Not only for Ichigo’s pain but for his own as well. Renji had known, after all, of his senpai’s crush on Matsumoto. Shuuhei had liked her for a long time, a couple of decades at least. And while the other vice-captain was used to seeing Matsumoto sleeping around, he had never expected someone who knew his carefully guarded secret to be another mark on her tally.
An entirely different kind of betrayal altogether.
And from his somewhat hidden position, Renji watched as Shuuhei finished the last of his bento, chopsticks clattering inside the empty box. He said something to Ichigo, and his companion looked thoughtful before nodding. They stood, rising from the table in the same motion, a look passing between them.
They converged to walk together to some unknown location, shoulders brushing casually. Renji didn’t even have to look hard to see their fingers momentarily come in contact, intertwining and squeezing, before the touch was gone. Ichigo glanced up, their eyes meeting in a flash of something shared that was too easy for their watcher to recognize.
Something clenched in Renji’s gut, a painful stab that was both guilty and jealous.
He watched them go, happily together, and he never hated himself more.