Orihime in Hiding…The rest of the story.
Hey everyone, there are 5 chapters of Orihime in Hiding left and i’m going to be posting them all in here. So it will be a long post, but oh so worth it. Lets finish this story shall we?
“No, no, don’t pull in, Renji,” Ishida said as the truck neared the house he was staying at in Brooklyn that afternoon. “Keep going.”
Renji and Orihime looked at the brick house the recently deceased man owned as they slowly passed it. Orihime leaned closer to the Quincy to see the house better out his window, spying the car in the driveway.
Ishida reddened a little at her proximity, a waft of peaches following her as she resettled between him and Renji on the truck’s bench seat. “The realtor. I think the surviving family hired a realty company to look into the house.” He angled the side view mirror out the open window to see the driveway they’d passed. “I barely got out of there yesterday before she showed up. She’s not done much; just snoop around and make phone calls.”
Renji looked in the rear view mirror, past Orihime’s head that kept bopping in and out of sight, seeing the brown sedan in the driveway at Ishida’s temporary housing. He could feel Orihime looking at him, her hopeful brown eyes pleading without speaking. He didn’t look at her.
Nor did he see the gray Mercedes following them from three cars back on Brooklyn-Pierport Street.
The truck continued on into town amid the drizzle of warm rain. They passed the alley that ran behind the Manic Groove, and Orihime looked down it.
“Ooh, there’s Leah. She’s on break. I wish she could have come along today.”
Renji cleared his throat. “We could stop in. For a minute,” he decided.
Ishida looked from him to Orihime. “Would you like ice cream, Orihime?”
“Oh, yes, if you do.”
By the time Renji had caught the light at the end of the yellow signal at the main intersection in town and turned back along the side streets and found the restaurant’s parking lot, he’d lost the gray Mercedes, quite by accidental luck.
Renji passed on ice cream with Orihime and Ishida, and let them go into the restaurant without him after he parked at a far space in the end of the lot. He watched them go into the building’s front, and then made his way through the side alley until he was in the back of it at the rear entrance.
Leah was still on the restaurant’s back staircase entrance to the banquet room on the second story, sitting under the overhang out of the drizzling rain. She looked up as Renji approached down the alley, a smile coming to her face as he met her.
“Hi,” he said, jamming his hands into his front jean pockets, feeling suddenly that he should have brought Orihime with him.
Leah seemed to think the same. “Where’s Inoue?”
“Uh, getting ice cream inside with Ishida.”
“Oh.” She nodded, and then moved over some on the stair to make room for him. “Did you get to the market today?”
“Yeah. Same crowd. Clowns and all. Raining a little.” He sat down beside her and looked at her blue and purple tie-dye shirt that ended in fringe at the hem, and then up to her hair kept up in the blue hair-tie. “Was your mother angry about yesterday?”
“Oh. No, no.” She shook her head, bringing with the movement the smell of strawberries. She offered him the paper cup she’d been drinking out of. “It’s mostly melted.”
He took a drink of it, deciding it was diet something, watery with ice. “Come on in. I’ll get you ice cream.”
She giggled, shaking her head. “I can’t. Not on break. No mingling while in uniform.” She tugged on the fringe. “Such as it is.” She shrugged. “Mom was okay. She didn’t know.”
He handed back the cup. “What about your brother?”
She sighed, eyes falling to the tattoo at his neck. “He didn’t get home until later.” She shook the cup, hearing the melted iced slosh near the bottom, and then looked back to his eyes. “Is Inoue going to be okay? I mean, with these weirdoes hanging around.”
At the end of the alley the gray Mercedes crossed, following the traffic in front of it on the street, opposite from the signal light, the driver unaware of Renji at the staircase in the alley.
Leah looked to the bandage on his arm. “Did you ever take the stitches out?”
He nodded. “Most of them.”
“The ones that were loose.”
“Show me.” She turned on the step and set the cup behind them on another higher riser.
He unwrapped the ace bandage that had lost some of its elasticity over the last week to reveal the four inch red line that stretched over his arm. A few of the stitches stuck to the bandage as he tugged at them.
“You didn’t use gauze, Renji?” She took the bandage as he pulled at it when it caught. She eased the elastic away, shaking her head at the few spots that stuck. “It won’t heal if you keep ripping off the scabs.” She carefully worked loose the bandage.
“Forget it, Leah. You’re supposed to be on break.” She didn’t relinquish the bandage when his hand closed on it. “Finish your drink.”
She shook her head and unwound the last section of bandage. “Hey, it looks good.”
“Good?” He looked around her lowered head as her ponytail stuck in his face. “You’re kind of morbid, you know that?”
“Hey, Mom’s a nurse. She’s got some real stories.” Her finger traced over the red line, pausing on a stitch of floss still in the wound. “You’ve got a few more yet to come out.”
“You smell like strawberries.”
She looked up at him, blushing a little as she smiled. “I’ve been hulling them all afternoon.” She sat back, tapping his arm. “You’re going to have a scar.”
“No,” he said before thinking.
She nodded, sitting against the step behind them. “That’s going to leave a scar, Renji.”
“Yeah, well, can’t be helped.” He fingered one of the loose stitches.
“No, don’t rip them out,” she said quickly. “You want me to take them out?”
“No. I’ll do it later. Take your break.”
She nodded, drinking the last of the diluted soda. “I’ve got to go back in. My time is probably up already.”
“Hey, Leah!” Orihime and Ishida appeared around the corner of the building down the alley, she waving wildly until the Quincy stood back a step.
Renji and Leah got to their feet as Leah and Ishida met them at the staircase, Ishida with one hand pressed to his forehead.
“I don’t know how she can eat ice cream so fast,” he lamented. Renji stuck the ace bandage in his pocket, shaking his head at the boy.
Orihime hugged Leah quickly. “I wish you could have gone with us today to the market.” She turned her to the side and showed her the blue beaded bracelet on her wrist. “From the market.”
Leah smiled admiringly at the jewelry, one finger one the cornflower blue beads. “From Uryû?”
Ishida colored a little at the mention, his eyes fastened on Renji as neither of them noticed the gray Mercedes making another pass down at the end of the alley at the street.
“Come by after work later?” Orihime asked hopefully.
“Oh, I’ve got to go right home,” Leah said, looking hastily to Renji and back again to Orihime. “I promised Brad I’d do his laundry before he goes back to school tonight.”
“Oh, well, this week some time?” Orihime nodded.
“Sure. You should come by. You’ve never been to my house,” she said, then regretted saying it even as she did. “Sometime.” Stevie Wonder’s Superstition came over the restaurant speakers and she smiled quickly. “I’ve got to go. See you at school, Inoue.”
Leah gave a short wave to Renji and Ishida and went into the Manic Groove’s back door. Renji looked after her, rubbing his newly exposed arm, and then to Orihime as the drizzling turned into a more definite sprinkle.
Rybak spent the week canvassing Brooklyn. He started at the two car dealerships at the west side of town, giving both establishments a story about how he thought the carjacker that stole his truck may try to turn it in on trade. Both dealerships took a description of the truck Rybak had seen Renji drive, and a description of both the red-haired shinigami, and his partner in crime, a buxom auburn-haired Japanese girl in her mid teens.
The salesman at both dealerships expressed more interest in Rybak’s plight after he admitted he was in the market for a car, also.
His story changed at Busch’s supermarket. He went under the auspices of looking for his runaway daughter who was seen last keeping time with a tattooed man with a red ponytail. The story got sympathetic looks and reassuring nods from the deli help, the butcher, and a few of the cashiers.
And yes, some of them remembered seeing her with the red-haired man. They’d been coming in a few times a week for several weeks now.
“Don’t worry too much about her,” one kindly middle-aged cashier assured Rybak as he gave his story to her at the slow express lane checkout that afternoon. “She didn’t look beat up or nothing. Sweet-looking daughter you have. I hope you find her soon.” She glanced back down at the photo he’d shown her of Inoue Orihime. “Favors her mother, does she?”
“Oh, yes,” Rybak had said with a pleasant smile. “Much more so than she does me.”
Rybak slowly made his way through town with the photo and his stories. The north side of Main Street brought little response. The library was closed due to water damage, and the volunteers at the fire house couldn’t add to his cause. The women running the theater and antiques shop hadn’t seen his targets, nor had the bar owner, the workers at the cafe, the pharmacy, or barber shop. No one on the north side of town could recall seeing either Renji Abarai or the Japanese girl in the photo.
So on Wednesday Rybak began on the south side of town, minus the bank. He didn’t want to enlist the bank’s help until he had exhausted the rest of the two blocks that made up the south strip of stores, or after he’d made a thorough investigation of the junior high school in the afternoons. He didn’t like banking institutions.
It was early Wednesday evening, after the third straight day of rain, by the time Rybak entered the Cake Cottage, tinkling the little bell that announced the door opening. Behind the counter Leah looked to him, smiling and smoothing her burgundy apron as he approached the counter.
“Hi, can I help you find something?” she asked.
He smiled back at her, nodding. He looked at the cupcakes in the case between them. “It smells delicious in here,” he said, eyes going over the pastries and dessert cakes. “Maybe you can help me.”
She nodded. “What can I get you?”
“I’m looking for my daughter. She’s about your age; a little younger maybe.” He took the photo of Orihime Inoue from inside his long raincoat and unfolded it. He slid it across the counter to her. “She’s been running with a man I believe may harm her, and I’d like to find her before that happens.”
Leah was already nodding before she even looked at the photo, and when she saw the paper, the blood turned cold in her veins. She swallowed, looking back at the photo of Orihime in her Japanese school uniform, knowing the timid smile and bright eyes despite the crease developing in the center of the paper. She looked up slowly at Rybak.
She judged him to be in his early forties, neither tall nor short, a slightly bulky build beneath the raincoat, sparse with his movements, clean-shaven, with dark hair and an everyday face that would have blended into a hundred other customers. Except for the glass eye.
It didn’t move, but aside from that, was perfectly matched to his functional eye. She looked back to the photo. “No, I haven’t seen her.”
“Her name is Orihime Inoue. She may be with a Renji Abarai or Uryû Ishida.”
Leah listened, nodding numbly, as Karl Rybak gave her a detailed description of a man and a boy she’d come to know well in the last few weeks, disbelief coursing through her as she tried to force her voice into working order.
“That’s too bad, sir. I hope you find her.”
“They’ve been seen in town lately. I thought they might have come in here.” He folded the paper and put it back in his coat. “The Pizza Bucket worker said the man called Abarai has been in a few times.”
“No. I’d remember someone with that description.”
She nodded, hoping Mrs. Simons wouldn’t come back from her cake delivery run while the man was still there, relieved that Sam wasn’t due in for the overnight baking shift yet. “Do you have a phone number? In case I do see either of them.”
She handed him a business card from the small holder near the register, giving him a pen. She watched him write the phone number, noticing he was right-handed, had no wedding band, and wore a simple leather-banded watch on his left wrist along with a seamless metal band.
But not like Renji’s watch, she thought. She smiled as he handed back the card and pen.
He nodded, looking into display case. “I’ll take two Bavarian Cream,” he said, pointing to one of the trays.
She opened the case, hoping her nervous fingers wouldn’t drop the tray. “Coming right up.”
A septic service truck was parked in Raider’s driveway when Orihime, Renji, and Ishida returned from school later that day. There was no sign of the lanky, stringy-haired man, but the large truck and assorted hoses running into the back door of the house was evidence enough of the problems at hand.
It’s about time, Renji thought as Orihime set about preparing supper that afternoon. Ishida had tagged along after school, not because of the realtor at the house he was using, but because Orihime had invited him for dinner, and she wanted to try out spaghetti on him.
It seemed like a good idea to Renji. It gave her someone to bounce a new recipe off of besides him, and the Quincy’s presence put a smile on her face. He’d noticed she smiled for longer periods of time now, since the chip had been removed, and with Ishida’s arrival, she seemed to have lessened the periods of moping Renji had attributed to a certain orange-haired classmate.
And it gave him a chance to read up on the junior high field trip tragedy out of Manchester. He sat down at the living room sofa as sounds of the light rain increased outside. He threw a look into the kitchen where Ishida stood at the counter, a knife in his hand poised over a cutting board, with a bulb of garlic before him. Beside him Orihime was opening cans of tomato paste, nodding at him, her hair bouncing as she smiled and spoke.
Renji glanced at the back door, satisfied it was locked, and looked back at the newspaper in his hands. The television was on, a newscast playing lowly in the background, second to the story he was reading.
According to the reporter writing the article, the Manchester Junior High School trip was made up of eighth-graders visiting the planetarium at the Macomb Museum of Aeronautics. Even with eight chaperones, two gunmen had managed to separate Nana Orihime from her group of four girls and whisk her down three flights of stairs before the museum security guard tasered one of them. In response, the guard was shot, but not before another guard had called the police. A short stand-off had ensued, during which the wounded guard nearly bled to death. By the time the gunmen were apprehended, Nana Orihime, an exchange student from Japan, was frightened, but unharmed, and taken to safety. A report from her host family claimed the girl was “…cutting short her exchange in America, and going back home to Hokkaido as soon as arrangements could be made.”
The security guard had died of his wounds on the way to the hospital, but there were few other details of the Tuesday shooting.
Renji held the newspaper closer, studying the black and white photo of the two gunmen being led to the back of the police squad car. On the wrist of one, he could clearly see a metal band along with the handcuffs, but could determine no markings on it.
Much like the bands on the intruder he’d dug up from the garage, and the crossing guard. He sighed, and then looked to the two teens in the kitchen. Ishida stood closer than necessary to Orihime, his elbow barely touching hers as he paused chopping garlic, her hand resting on the counter as she stirred a pot over the stove top, her arm angled to his. Ishida nodded, looking back down at the bulbs before him on the cutting board. Renji saw Orihime’s profile as she looked up at the taller Quincy, saw her eyes study his face, the small smile that started at her lips, the blush that had nothing to do with the humid kitchen that smelled of basil.
Renji looked back to the article, grinning. Maybe that damn strawberry did have some competition. The phone rang from the stand near the kitchen, and Renji answered it. He nodded as he recognized the voice of the caller.
“Yeah, she’s here. Do you…” He frowned as Leah spoke quickly over the line. Renji looked to where Orihime was complimenting Ishida’s garlic slicing. He turned his back on the kitchen, focusing on Leah’s words.
“Are you sure?” he asked her, glancing to the newspaper still on the coffee table in the living room. “How long ago was that?” He looked at the clock on the wall. “All right. We’ll see you tomorrow.”
He hung up and turned to see Ishida was now watching him. “Leah said there’s a man passing a photo of Orihime around town, and he’s driving a gray Mercedes.”
Raider Bailey’s septic problems were just the beginning. By Thursday morning the basement had been pumped and emptied, and the bill sent to his landlord, but across town, dishwasher Frank had decided to cut a deal with the Brooklyn Police Department. Information began spilling out of the Manic Groove employee.
Raider didn’t know what the day held for him as he watched the service truck drive away in the brief lapse of rain just before noon. He’d just sprayed down the basement and main living floor with two cans of heavy duty antibacterial air freshener — which did a decent job of changing the smell lingering into something more floral — when there was a knock to his front door.
He opened it warily to see Karl Rybak, who gave Raider the impression of a private investigator rather than a policeman, but still put him a little on guard, despite the gray Mercedes parked in the driveway.
“Hey, help you, man?”
“Perhaps.” Rybak smiled. “I’m looking for a girl. My daughter, to be precise. Her name is Orihime Inoue. I’ve been checking the Brooklyn neighborhoods.” He took the photo from an inside pocket of his lather jacket, careful not to expose the Glock in the shoulder holster at his side. He unfolded the photo and showed it to the man in the doorway. “Have you seen her?”
Raider’s bleary eyes opened a bit more, a sloppy grin spreading across his face. “Hey, Inoue. Yeah.” His attention shifted to Renji’s house, and then back to Rybak before making an effort at a frown. “So, what do you want with Inoue?”
“She’s my daughter,” Rybak repeated, smiling at the younger man’s lax demeanor. “Is she still living with Renji or Uryû?”
“Yeah, Renji, yeah.” Raider achieved a frown. “But you’re not her old man. I seen him. He’s a big fellow.”
“You’ve been a great help.” Rybak reached into his pants pocket and found a fold of bills. He pulled off a fifty dollar bill and handed it to Raider. “For your time. Thank you.”
“Oh. Hey, yeah.” Raider looked down at the bill. “But they’re not home.”
Rybak nodded. “That’s okay. I’ll catch up with her later.”
The police were still swarming Raider Bailey’s house when Renji, Orihime, and Ishida pulled into the driveway of the Smith house after school later. They convinced Leah into giving her a ride to the Manic Groove after school, which made for a snug fit in the truck cab, but she’d been grateful as the rain continued for its fourth day.
Red lights flooded the neighbor’s yard, and three squad cars blocked the drive at the street. Raider was sitting on the front porch, hands cuffed behind him, pleading for legal counsel, a scared look on his suddenly sober face.
“What’s going on over there?” Ishida asked as Renji stopped the truck in the driveway near the garage.
Renji nodded. “Looks like Raider got in trouble.”
For a long moment they sat in the truck, watching the red lights sweep the yard, hearing police radios squawk and crack amid Milk Dud’s muted yipping from inside the elderly neighbors’ house. They watched what they could see of the police and detective unit activity until the drizzle of rain distorted their view of the neighboring yard.
“Leah said they busted a dishwasher at the restaurant, too,” Orihime said, moving her head to see better until Renji couldn’t see past her at all.
He glanced behind them for signs of the gray Mercedes he and Ishida had been watching for all day from the school parking lot. No sign of it. He sighed. “Let’s go.”
The next day passed quietly at Brooklyn High School. The few block drive to the building was done in a slight sprinkle, but the gray clouds overhead were heavy with rain, and promised much more later in the day. When they met Leah at school under the school’s overhang it was a quick discussion of the man who’d given his name only as Karl.
Her description could have fit half the men Renji had seen in their month in Brooklyn, except the fake eye. He nodded when she told him about the car make, unsure if it was a newer model or older style. It didn’t matter to Renji much, either. He wasn’t very familiar with automobiles — luxury or not. Ishida knew the model slightly better.
Orihime had listened to the hasty discussion before she and Leah went into the school with the rest of the throng of students. Ishida watched her leave, and then looked slowly back to Renji, and then out over the teachers’ parking lot across the side street, near the volleyball court.
“He’s only going to get closer,” he said as they started across the sidewalk and into the rain that was now accompanied by low thunder in the distance.
Renji shook his head. “No closer than I let him.”
“Hey, I’m here, too.”
Renji nodded as they crossed the large water puddle that had formed near the overwhelmed street drain. He paused as they reached the truck in the parking lot, looking to the other cars and trucks in it. “What the hell does a Mercedes look like anyway?”
“Expensive.” Ishida watched the few cars driven by parents slowly roll down the side street after dropping off students for the morning. “None of these.”
They spent the day watching the school with close scrutiny, inspecting every car, every bus, every person entering the building. Renji left the radio on the county station, listening for any breaking news of abduction attempts. There was nothing. For the whole day.
Eventually the last bell rang inside, and the students spilled out of the entry doors to swarm the buses parked in a semi-circle before the sidewalk, as they had every other day. Ishida watched Orihime chatting animatedly with Meg and Leah for a few moments as he and Renji waited under the large tree across the street in the light mist of rain.
“See you later!” Orihime called to Leah as the brunette girl broke off on the sidewalk into town.
She waved to Renji and Ishida, and Renji looked to Orihime.
“Hi,” Orihime said to them, her smile broadening at Ishida.
“Hi, Orihime.” He took her book bag from off her shoulder. “You don’t have to carry that.”
“Oh, thank you.” She fell into step beside them on the sidewalk.
“We could give her a ride to work, if that’s where she’s going,” Renji offered, looking to where Leah was already at the intersection at Brooklyn-Pierport Street.
Orihime shook her head, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “I told her that, but she said she’s fine. She just had to pick up her paycheck from the restaurant. I invited her over for supper,” she added hesitantly, watching his face. “I hope it’s okay. We’re making goulash.”
He nodded. “Any problems today?”
They got into the truck, and waited for the pedestrian traffic to clear the parking lot and sidewalk before dissolving into the line of cars made up mostly of other students packed with teens. Orihime waved to Danielle in the car behind them, clipping Ishida’s ear with her elbow as she turned.
“Sorry,” she mumbled as she settled back to face the front.
He smiled at her. “That’s okay.”
Renji glowered over the traffic facing him in the lane beside them, eyes searching out two gray cars. The occupants of both didn’t resemble the description Leah had given him of Karl. One was a harried-looking woman with two toddlers in child seats in the back. The second was full of seven teenagers who were jostling each other as the driver tried to concentrate on the task at hand.
He looked to Orihime and Ishida beside him, noting the girl’s contentedness with him, and the Quincy’s easing bashfulness around her. It had been on his mind since Ishida had shown up in Brooklyn, the thought crossing Renji’s mind, and he decided it may as well be spoken. It’s not like either of them are going to object, he thought, making the right turn at the traffic light. He waved at the hefty crossing-guard, who returned a stern confused look for his gesture.
A moment later he turned the truck into the two-story brick house’s driveway, relieved the realtor’s car was no where to be seen. He looked to Ishida as the boy opened the door.
“Can you come for supper tonight?” Orihime asked as Renji began to speak. “I’m going to make cinnamon muffins.”
“Oh, well, all right,” Ishida said with a grin. “I’d like that.”
She nodded. “Good.”
Renji returned Ishida’s stare. “You know, Ishida, you might as well…” He looked to Orihime as she glanced quickly at him, the expectation plain in her brown eyes, as if reading his mind. He glanced back to the Quincy, and then sighed as his attention went to the house. “You might as well stay with us. We’ve got the extra room, and this realtor is going to catch you here soon.”
Orihime made a high pitched ‘eee’ sound of glee, which she quickly smiled down, blushing as she looked from Renji to Ishida.
Who was still flushed, eyes wide behind his glasses. “Oh, uh, that wouldn’t be appropriate…and I…”
“Yeah, well it’s either that or I’ll have to bail you out of jail when you get caught staying here.” Renji thought back on Nanao cleaning up her captain’s incident at the airport. “It’ll be better if you’re with…not here.”
“Oh, well, if it’s okay with you, Orihime,” Ishida said, barely able to say the words above a croak. “If you wouldn’t feel uncomfortable about it.”
Renji felt like he was eavesdropping on a marriage proposal. He looked with sudden interest at the house’s Victorian trim that edged the front porch, waiting for the awkwardness to pass.
“Oh, no; it would be all right with me, Uryû,” she said with a smile.
Renji sighed. “You can move in tomorrow. Give us time to make up the other room.”
“Oh, yes! I know just how to do it,” Orihime said, nodding briskly.
Ishida was oblivious to the misting rain that was now developed into a light shower around him as he stared at her. Renji glanced at him and shook his head, deciding they’d better leave before the boy ended up drenched to the bone before he could react.
“See you later, Ishida,” he said, putting the truck’s gear shifter into reverse.
“Goodbye, Orihime,” Ishida stammered slightly as the truck pulled out of the drive.
“Bye!” She waved out the window despite the rain hitting her cheeks. She turned to look at Renji. “Thank you. I think it’s a good idea. That way he won’t have to worry about the family or the realtor, or the neighbors,” she said as they joined the street traffic.
He nodded, glancing to the other cars ahead of him, and then to the few behind him. No sign of any suspicious-looking gray cars. No gray cars at all; just a silver SUV and a dirty white sedan.
“Did Leah give you any other details today at school about that Karl guy?” he asked as they reached the small house they were calling home. He looked into the half open garage where a stream of water was making a trek to the lowest spot in the clay floor. Dammit, he thought, watching the rain add to the drainage. He knew just where it would accumulate.
“No. She said she told you everything she could remember.” Orihime gathered her book bag closer, looking to the inordinately quiet house that Raider had vacated so recently. “If there were fourteen, like it said on the paper Uryû got, then there’s only one more left, right, Renji?”
He didn’t like the fretfulness hinting her tone. “If that’s what the fourteen means, yeah, but don’t worry about it, Orihime. No one’s going to find you.” He saw her nod, a small smile back in place on her lips.
Once inside the house, Orihime knew just what she wanted to do with the bedroom on the main floor. She quickly took care of her book bag, barely giving Renji time to check over the upper level as he always did after school when they got home before she stepped around him in the upstairs hall. She piled her pillow and the spare blanket from her closet on her bed and bundled them together.
She passed him again in the hall, her arms full of bedclothes, as he watched her.
“Hey, where are you going with that?”
She didn’t stop, taking the stairs quickly as her mind moved on into thoughts of preparation for Ishida’s stay.
“Whoa, hey, wait.” He caught up with her at the bottom of the stairs where she was heading to the spare bedroom near the bathroom. “Don’t use your own stuff, Orihime.”
“He has to have a pillow and a blanket, Renji. That’s just good manners,” she told him with a frown, pushing past him into the bedroom. She dropped the blanket and pillow on the futon that was folded upright.
“Well, yeah, but not yours.” You’ll kill him, he thought, then shook his head. “We’ll get new stuff tomorrow for him. With him. He can come along. We’ll go to that department store in Pierport.”
“Oh…” She smiled at the thought, her eyes already taking on a dreamy, satisfied look. “That would be better.”
He nodded. “Take your stuff back up.”
He shook his head as she collected the pillow and blanket again and went back up to stairs. “I’m going out to look at the garage. I think we’ve got water collecting in the wrong spot.”
“Okay,” she called.
He looked around the spare bedroom. It wasn’t much, but he didn’t think Ishida was going to require much if he was close to Orihime Inoue. He glanced at the window that was half open. Another set of eyes in the house would be welcome. He just hoped Captain Hitsugaya would see it that way.
Orihime was back down the stairs and following him into the kitchen as he went to the back door. She turned on the radio near the sink and opened the pantry cupboard as he reached for the door latch.
She looked around for a moment in the pantry.
“What time is Leah going to be here?”
“Any time. She just had to drop by the restaurant for a moment.” She took out two tin cans.
He looked at the labels. Tomatoes. Beef gravy. “What does goulash taste like?”
She frowned. “I don’t know yet. We’ll make it yummy.”
He nodded, opening the back door as she put a hand to her hair where the fish barrettes were back in place.
“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to wear them. I wouldn’t use them. They’re not ready yet,” she said lightly, looking to him.
For a moment he just stared back at her, until realizing she was talking about the hairpins. “Sure, you can wear them, Orihime.”
“Hai,” she said, smiling and turning. “I miss them. I know I need to work with them, but I do miss them, Renji.”
He watched her go, and then left out the back door.
The rain water was forming a puddle in the garage, over the spot where Renji had — twice — buried the intruder. He stood leaning on the shovel, scowling at the four inches of water in the dip in the floor, making the slick clay even more slippery. He could either dig up another part of the garage floor and fill in the low spot — which would create another dip — or find other fill from outside. He decided on the latter.
The rain was increasing in volume, large drops spattering on his dark gray t-shirt as he looked at the ground at the back of the garage. Here the bottom of the wall of the outbuilding was met by grass and pea gravel. He sunk the shovel into the gravel and lifted it enough to see clay tightly bundled with grass roots. He sighed and pulled out the shovel. Maybe he could just shut the garage door for the day and worry about filling in the low spot inside tomorrow. It wasn’t something that needed to be done at that moment anyway, he decided.
He glanced at Raider’s house. Not a sound. No music, no laughing, no chance at a ‘Hey, Smith, where’s Inoue?’ Renji liked it.
He looked to the other neighboring house where the elderly couple lived. From it came Milk Dud’s squeaky-tinny bark-bark-bark from inside. The dog didn’t bark all day, or all night; just for reasons, like the mail carrier, or neighbors, or school children passing by on the sidewalk in the front.
The faint jingle of the Hello Kitty door pull from inside the house was accompanied by a clunk of being dropped. Renji looked up from the garage wall’s base, the sound drawing his attention more than he thought it should. He left the shovel against the wall and headed for the back door.
“Orihime?” he called as he stood in the back door, looking out over the empty kitchen. The radio played on, the cans on the counter waiting to be opened. He looked to what he could see of the living room. “Orihime?”
Renji left a track of watery muddy shoeprints as he climbed the stairs two at a time. When he stopped at the hall, he saw the Hello Kitty pull lying on the floor, midway to Orihime’s bedroom. He glanced into his own room, and then proceeded to the rose colored room at the end of the hall. He looked it over quickly, and then spun around.
On the main floor he searched the bathroom and then the spare bedroom, his eyes resting on the window. It was completely open now, the mesh screen cut along one side and the bottom, moving loosely in the rising force of the rain. He went back into the living room, seeing the door slightly ajar, and then to the kitchen. He ripped open the back door, startling Leah as she dashed up the path from around the driveway.
She clutched his arm, right on the newly mended laceration. “I just seen Inoue in the gray Mercedes with that Karl guy!”
“Which way?” Dread washed over Renji as he threw open the truck door and pushed her into the seat, digging the keys out of his jean pocket, sitting beside her.
“Uh, north. Into town.”
He slammed the door shut and started the engine, barely giving the reverse gear time to shift before he mashed the accelerator to the floor. The truck cleared the drive, barely missing a car coming in one lane, and Renji turned onto the street, stomping on the gas pedal again.
“How long ago?” he asked as Leah grabbed the dash board before her.
“Just a few minutes ago. She looked so scared, Renji.” She pointed. “There’s Uryû.”
Ishida was running down the sidewalk into town when they caught up with him. Leah opened the passenger side door as the truck slowed, and Ishida jumped in and pulled the door shut.
“He’s got her! Up ahead, at the light they made a right turn!” He crowded Leah as he leaned to Renji. “I thought you were taking care of her!”
The traffic ahead was lined up three cars at the red light, and Renji took the truck through the parking lot of two stores on the corner, weaving among the parked cars and pedestrians alike in the cramped lot. The truck veered around the car entering the lot from Main Street, crossing the sidewalk, grass and curb to join the eastbound traffic on the street.
Renji floored the accelerator, searching the two-lane street ahead, seeing only a few cars, none of which were gray. He fumbled with levers and switches for a moment until the windshield wiper blades began erratic, quick swipes across the window. He found the light switch, which illuminated the growing dark street before him.
“Where does this road go?” he asked Leah, dodging a car slowing to turn into the Manic Groove parking lot.
“Uh, east. A lot of little places. Manchester is next. But Detroit, if you take it far enough.”
He knew Detroit. So did Ishida. That was where the airport was, two hours away.
The truck gained speed and headed out of town to where the road opened up to farm fields and sparser houses set back far on spacious lots. For a few moments he wove around the slower vehicles, all of which were doing the speed limit, until the truck barreled over a slight rise and came up on a car stopped, waiting for oncoming traffic to clear before making a left turn.
Renji took the truck to the right of the stopped car, onto the soft muddy shoulder, the passenger side-view mirror clipping off by a mailbox, making Ishida flinch. He pulled the truck back on the road, hearing several cars honking horns and waving fingers at him. His wrist grew warm under the watch band.
The rain pelted harder as dark fell too early on the landscape, the wipers switching frantically to keep up, the taillights on the car ahead merely smears of red spots in the distance.
Leah looked at the speedometer, which was buried to the right of the dial in the numbers out of her sight. She sat back tightly in the seat.
The heat on Renji’s wrist eased off as the truck closed the distance to the next car. When another car from the opposite direction approached, the headlights shown into the car ahead, outlining two figures inside.
“That’s her,” Ishida said, pointing needlessly at the car in front of them.
The form in the passenger seat ahead slumped away from the driver, pressed to the door. The light from the oncoming car passed. Suddenly the car ahead swerved several times. The driver righted his course, only to repeat the zigzag. Renji took the truck to within a football field’s length before the car was close enough to identify the make.
“It’s them,” Leah said, pressing her back into the seat again as the truck closed up the distance between the vehicles.
When the headlights trained into the car ahead within a few yards, Orihime turned in the front seat, the light catching the look of terror on her face.
“Ram it, Renji!” Ishida ordered, one hand braced on the dashboard before him.
“I can’t catch it!”
The truck was within a few feet when the Mercedes swerved again as Orihime pulled at her door latch and Rybak grabbed her arm. The truck grill rammed into the back of the car, sending a lurch into both vehicles. They took the next curve of the road, and suddenly the car turned abruptly onto a side dirt road, fishtailing nearly into the weed and tree-lined shoulder as Rybak straightened the vehicle.
Renji followed, hands gripping the steering wheel that was still unfamiliar to him, the bed of the truck sliding into a small tree that shook the cab. “Where does this road go?”
Leah looked around at the farm fields on either side of the truck, not a house in sight, the dark inky on all sides, with nothing but mud fields separated by lines of trees. “It’s just a back road, running between the county roads. It’s all fields out here.”
The Mercedes pulled ahead a few car lengths, but the truck caught up with it, traveling at a high speed for both weather and road conditions. The car took the next corner too fast and lost traction, skipping along the slick road, putting the truck nearly beside it. Renji pulled the truck next to it at the straighter length of road, looking over as Rybak’s face appeared at the truck’s front fender.
“Hang on,” he said, twisting the wheel, sending the truck into the car’s door.
The impact sent Leah and Ishida reeling on the seat, driving the car to the side of the road, but not off. The car pulled ahead and then made a quick turn onto what seemed to be another secondary road. It was not.
The Mercedes got fifty feet into the newly-turned field before plowing to a halt in the thick mud. Renji had both feet on the brake pedal of the truck, skidding to a stop just before the field began. In the lights of the truck they saw the car’s tires spin, spraying mud in several directions as it sunk.
The passenger door flung open and Orihime darted from the car, her hands bound before her as she made her escape, sliding to her knees several times. She disappeared in the dark and heavy rain.
“I’m getting her!” Ishida shoved the door open, the hinges making a strange sound at the new crease in the fender. He started across the field, his steps slowed by the deep mud.
“Stay here!” Renji yelled to Leah, throwing open the door and starting across the field. In the headlights of the truck he saw the man get out of the car, and start around it, the mud pulling at his feet. He stopped and looked to Renji.
The ring was just off the finger of his hand when Renji felt the bullet tear through his arm, ripping part of a tattoo into shreds. In that moment, he got Rybak’s bearings in the pouring rain.
In a fleeting second he was at the man, before Rybak could shoot again, tackling him in a charge that sent them into the car, hitting him hard enough across the jaw to knock the glass eye from its socket. He closed his fingers around Rybak’s throat, the other hand ripping the gun out of his hand, only to feel the edge of a crowbar swung across his ribs.
Renji gasped, the air leaving his lungs as Rybak recoiled, and sent another blow to his lowest ribs again. His hand tightened on Rybak’s neck, feeling the softer flesh give beneath his hand. He heaved him to the ground and dropped onto him, pushing him face down into the mud that oozed around his mouth and nose. Rybak scrambled in the mud, nearly dislodging Renji’s slick hold in the rain and mud.
Renji held him down, pushing until the man’s head was up to his ears in mud. The pain burned up his arm and side as he heard the plop-plops of breath escaping Rybak. He gritted his teeth as the man’s efforts ceased, trying to catch his own breath in the precipitation saturated air. After a long moment, the man was silent, the only sound now the rain falling on the thick mud and the low hum of the car’s engine still running. Even Ishida’s calling had stopped.
Renji sat back on the dead man, trying to slow his breathing, which only made his ribs scream in pain. He watched the man for a moment, seeing no movement, the bubbles of mud at his face stopping. He looked up to where the car’s headlights stretched long beams across the muddy field, seeing little in the rain and dark, only mud.
It was the same from the truck’s headlights, which were angled slightly askew from the car, until he recognized Leah’s silhouette to one side. He wiped his face with his arm, and looked to where he’d last seen Ishida dash.
Orihime slid to her knees for the fourth time as she struggled to run through the thick mud that sucked at each step in the night’s pouring rain. The watery ground squished between the toes of her bare feet, catching on old weeds from last year’s crop plantings. She struggled to her feet, half-sobbing in the downpour, looking behind her at the slight swell of field that blocked her view of the two vehicles. She pulled her hands away from each other, trying to rip the gray furnace tape that Rybak had wound around them when he’d suddenly appeared in the hallway outside her bedroom at the house.
Footsteps behind her made her turn, crouching low in the wet night, her breath halting. She couldn’t discern any shapes amid the rain and dark, and as she paused, her feet sunk deeper into the mire.
“Orihime!” Ishida’s voice called through the noise of heavy rain. “Orihime!”
She tried to catch her breath. “Uryû!”
“I, I don’t know where you are,” she called, turning to look in another direction when she thought she heard footsteps.
“Orihime!” His voice was closer this time.
“Where are you?” She turned again, and this time put her bound hands out before her for balance as she slid. He grabbed her wrists before she could fall, pulling her upright in the muck.
“Are you all right, Orihime?”
She nodded briskly, nearly slipping at the motion. He was as soaked as she, both with their clothes hanging heavy on them. His arms came around her, loosely, enough to keep her on her bare feet. She could barely see his face in the dark despite his proximity. He pushed her hair back from her face, the rain pulling it back over her eyes as soon as he did.
“Did he hurt you?”
“No.” She squirmed as a root dug into her foot.
He felt along her arms to her wrists, his fingers trying to find the ends of the tightly wrapped tape in the dark, but the wet binding had stretched a little and resisted his attempts at removal. Through the noise of rain they could faintly hear Renji and Leah calling over the slope of gradient in the field.
“Let’s get back to the truck and take this off there, Orihime,” he said gently as she leaned to his shoulder. He tightened his arm on her shoulder, wishing he could see her better. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
She nodded. “I was just scared.” She took a deep breath. “Do you think he’s dead? I heard a gunshot, I think.”
He looked in the direction he thought the truck to be. “I’m sure Renji took care of him.” He looked down to the mud where her ankles seemed to disappear into the ground, frowning. “Where are your shoes?”
“Oh, I didn’t have any on when that man showed up.”
“Hmm.” Ishida hoped he was able to succeed at what he was about to suggest. “I’ll carry you back.”
“No!” She took half a step back before nearly falling. He grabbed her hand and righted her wobble. “Oh, I’m too heavy, Uryû. I can walk.”
“Nonsense. Come on. Piggyback?” He pushed his glasses up the slick bridge of his nose, missing her blush in the dark.
She giggled. “No.”
“Well, you can’t walk without any shoes. Your feet will get all cut up with stubs of …” He looked around at the mud, unsure what kind of field it had been the year before. “Whatever this was.” Another thought occurred to him, and for once he was thankful he had followed American styles in an attempt to blend in instead of his own fashion sense. He kneeled and untied his sneakers. “Here. Wear these.”
“Oh, no, I can’t …”
But he had already slipped off his shoes and was pulling one of her ankles out of the mud.
She put one hand on his shoulder to keep her balance, clutching his soaked shirt, as he eased her foot into the shoe, the rain washing most of the mud off.
“It sure got dark quickly,” he said as her fingers pressed into his shoulder.
“The sky was so gray today.” When she spoke again, he could hear the smile in her voice. “I feel like Cinderella.”
He nodded, working her other foot into the second shoe. “I guess you could say that.” He tightened the laces and stood, grinning at her, glad she couldn’t see the color flushing over his face. “Ready?”
She nodded as he turned her in the direction of the truck over the swell of field, smiling a little as his arm settled at her waist.
It took a few minutes to slosh and slide up the slight grade and over it before headlights from the two vehicles came into sight a few acres away through the heavy rain. Another moment later Renji and Leah’s voices could be heard louder shouting over the heavy rainfall.
“Here!” Ishida had called to them, unable to see either of them. Ten minutes of labored walking later they had met and made their way back to the truck, each trying to get more than a sketchy look at everyone else in the rain that made the truck headlight’s nearly ineffective.
“Are you all right, Orihime?” Renji immediately pulled her in front of the truck, making her turn, pushing her hair from her face almost roughly as he inspected her from head to toe.
“I’m okay, I’m okay,” she kept telling him in an effort to get him to ease up.
“You don’t have to manhandle her,” Ishida said, frowning as Orihime braced to keep her feet.
Renji threw him a glare. “I want to know she’s all right!”
“I am,” she said for the tenth time.
Leah took Orihime’s hands and held them before the truck’s headlight, fingers picking at the tape as the rain added another layer of wet to all of them. “Are you sure, Inoue?”
“Yes, yes.” Orihime looked to the brunette girl’s feet. “Where are your shoes?”
“Out in the field somewhere, broken. They were just flimsy sandals. The mud sucked them right off.” She sighed. “We’re going to have to cut this off.”
“Let’s go,” Renji said, coughing a little, and then swearing, one hand on his left ribs. He went to the passenger side and opened the door, the new dent in the front quarter panel making the door difficult to open. “Get in,” he told Orihime and Leah, and then turned to Ishida. “I’m leaving the car he drove running. Maybe it’ll look like an accident.”
Ishida had his doubts about that, but nodded. They both looked to the truck door hinges as a resistant squeak came from them as Renji shut the door. He looked to the tire near it, able only to see little. He ran a hand along the dented fender to the wheel well, feeling the indentations from slamming the heavy car. The opening angled in to the tire, rubbing on the treads.
He grabbed the opening above the tire and pulled, gritting his teeth at the throbbing pain in his upper arm. He made another pull at the metal, succeeding in freeing it from the tire.
“That should do it,” Ishida said, wiping his glasses with two fingers until they were hopelessly smeared with dirty water.
Renji glanced to the truck windshield where the wipers were leaving brief glimpses of the wet girls inside. “Is she all right, Uryû?”
He nodded. “I think so. Just scared now.”
Renji nodded. “Let’s go.”
They got into the truck, a snug, soggy fit, their breathing fogging up the cab by the time Renji had spun enough tires to pull them back out of the slick grassy easement by the field, dodging the trees to either side as the vehicle slid sloppily in reverse.
He put the truck into forward and they headed down the muddy, hole-pocked dirt road. He wanted to ask Orihime a dozen questions, but he was finding it a little hard to concentrate between the burning pain at his arm and the swelling at his ribs that made breathing a chore. He was about to speak when Leah did.
“We could go to my house,” she said to Orihime as she felt around above the rear window for the overhead light. It switched on and she pulled the other girl’s hands closer. “Are you sure you’re not hurt?”
“Oh, yes.” She bit her lip as Leah tried to pull the wet tape off her wrists, the lamp behind them shedding more light on the back of their wet heads than anything else. She tried to steady her trembling hands, more from the damp and residual fears than chill.
“You’re shaking. You’re cold.”
“No, just a little…” Orihime tried to giggle as Leah studied her intently. “Nervous, I guess.”
Ishida’s hand poked Leah in the shoulder as his arm came across Orihime’s shoulders, pulling her closer. “I hope you don’t get sick in this wet, Orihime.”
Leah glanced at the dark-haired boy. His glasses kept sliding down his nose, and the lenses were cloudy with muddy water. She couldn’t quite see his eyes behind them, but she figured they were on Orihime. She switched off the light and rubbed the girl’s wrists. “We’ll get the tape off later.”
Renji was oblivious to Ishida’s newfound boldness, concentrating on the blurry windshield before them. The rain was growing in force, and the road was visible only a few feet in front of the truck, with patches of fog hanging across the road in low-lying sections. “How do we get back to town, Leah?”
“Do you think that’s wise?” Ishida asked him in Japanese, his fingers closing possessively around Orihime’s arm as she slowly settled back on the seat. “There may be more.”
“You said fourteen,” Renji answered. He could feel Leah looking to him in the dark. Probably wondering at the change in language, he thought. He figured it was safer to let her be confused over that than the truth.
“Some of the others might not be part of this,” Ishida said. “The ones from the other schools.”
Renji nodded, trying to breathe shallowly as he took a turn in the road, the movement making the pain at his shoulder skyrocket. “You’re right.” He switched to English. “Where do you live, Leah?”
“Take this road until it comes to a stop, and then make a left turn.” She sat back in the seat, her shoulder bumping his arm. A grunt escaped him at the contact, and he tried not to think of the implications of a bullet wound on a human body.
Leah looked to Orihime sitting close to Ishida, the lights from the dash illuminating little in the truck cab. He was speaking lowly to her in Japanese, something that made the girl nod, a small smile crossing her face. Leah’s attention went back to the road, and a few moments later the truck halted at a stop sign.
Renji looked to each way, seeing no other cars. “Left here?”
Leah nodded, and then said: “Yes.”
It took ten minutes to get back near town by way of the side roads that ran between farm fields and large blocks of wooded area, and another three to find Leah’s house that, to Renji, seemed to be in the middle of nothing. At least, in the rain and dark.
“Here,” she said, pointing at a break in the trees across from a single mailbox.
He turned the truck, the headlights — the right one now pointing slightly askew from ramming the Mercedes — shining over an older farmhouse and even older barn as the vehicle followed the angled drive to the porch that ran along the front. The house was dark.
“Are you sure this is all right?” Renji asked, looking at the house.
“My Mom’s working the night shift, and Brad won’t be home until tomorrow.” Leah lowered her voice, trying to see him better in the thick dark. “You should go to the hospital, Renji. Mom’s working the ER. She could get you right in. I know you got hit at least twice.”
“Let’s get Orihime taken care of.”
“I’m okay, Renji,” Orihime said, nearly knocking Leah in the head as she leaned closer. “Are you hurt? Oh, I don’t have…” Her voice faltered. “Well…”
There was a moment of unsaid issues.
“Let’s get Orihime untied,” Ishida finally said.
By now it was raining even harder, which only added to the mudslide that had become the four of them. Leah opened back door of the house that led directly into the laundry room and switched on the light. It was a small room that had originally been an enclosed porch, but most of the windows were now covered with shelving. The back door that led into the main house opened to the kitchen. Leah opened this too and switched on the inside light, leaving the door open.
They each looked at each other with varying amounts of amusement and worry. Orihime was loaded with mud from her knees down and her forearms, smeared across her face, as was Ishida where he had held her, as well as his own pant legs. Leah was mostly spattered from the mud Renji had kicked up chasing down the field to Rybak and from where she’d slid to her knees and elbows a few times. Renji was mostly covered with mud everywhere, but his was mixed with blood, too.
Leah looked around for a moment, and then found an old pair of scissors on a shelf with some miscellaneous house tools in a berry basket. She saw Ishida look to her, and she gave him the scissors.
He immediately cut Orihime free, pulling the soggy and stretched tape carefully away from her wrists.
“Thank you,” she said, rubbing her wrists. She frowned a little as his finger worked on the firmly adhered tape on her skin.
Leah opened the washing machine and looked in. She twisted the control dial and the machine started to fill with water. She looked into the dryer next to it, and pulled out a bundle of dry towels. “You can wear some of my brother’s clothes,” she said, nodding at Renji and Ishida. She handed towels to each of them, her eyes pausing on Renji’s shoulder. She looked to her own left arm and saw the diluted bloodstains on her yellow shirt sleeve. “Did you get shot, Renji?”
He was going to say no, but it hurt too much. She pulled his arm closer, eyes widening at the jagged skin where the bullet had torn through the flesh, missing bone, but leaving a gash in the flesh.
“Oh, my gosh, Renji,” she murmured, taking one of the towels and carefully wrapping it around the timidly bleeding arm. “You’ve got to see a doctor for this.”
He was already shaking his head, making drips of water spatter from his hair. “Can’t you just use some floss?”
Ishida looked to him, frowning.
She pushed harder on the towel to stop the bleeding. “This isn’t something for floss.”
Renji wanted to say they’d head home, but he wasn’t ready to take Orihime back to that house yet. “Can they stay here while I check out our house?”
“You can’t go anywhere,” Orihime said, wiping the back of her hand across her face, succeeding only in smearing it. She looked at her hand, and then to Ishida who was grinning at her.
Leah shook her head. “She’s right. This is not a dog bite.”
Renji shook his head. “I’m not going to a doctor.”
Leah’s voice lowered as she frowned at him. “Why are you so stubborn? What are your parents going to say?”
Renji and Orihime exchanged a brief look, and then he took his arm out of Leah’s hands and held the towel tighter around the wound. “They’re out of town for a few days.”
Leah didn’t look like she was going to believe him, but shook her head and went to the washing machine. She poured a full cup of detergent in the machine, and then added another half cup.
“Maybe you should get cleaned up first, Orihime,” Ishida said. “We can work on this after that.” She nodded. He looked to Renji, his glasses a haze of drying mud. He took them off, leaving strange cleaner spots on his face. “You lost the ring, Abarai,” he said in Japanese.
Renji looked to his hand, then the other. Shit, it’s gone. He thought back on the scuffle in the field. He saw Leah look to Ishida questioningly, but then turn back to the machine.
Orihime looked to him. “Do you know where it is?”
Leah looked to her at the question.
He nodded. “I think so.”
Orihime was pulling off the mud-caked shoes Ishida had let her use.
Leah recognized his shoes. “Inoue, I’ve got clothes for you. Come on.” She looked to Renji and Ishida, and then sorted through the dry towels in the drier. She handed each of them another.
“Thanks,” Ishida said. “I’m sorry this is such a mess.”
“No problem.” She handed Renji another towel. “What did you lose?”
“Uh, a ring. Family ring.”
Orihime sent Ishida a concerned look.
Leah was looking at Renji’s hands. “Oh. We can look tomorrow.”
“How long do you think it’ll be until someone finds him?”
She shrugged, making the drying mud fall from her shirt. “Tomorrow, maybe a few days. It’s going to be too wet to work the fields, but someone might notice the car.”
He nodded as she handed another towel to Orihime. She glanced at the washing machine, and shut off the knob as an afterthought to stop it from filling.
“I’m sorry, Leah. We’re such a mess.” Orihime wiped her face with the towel.
Leah picked a clump of dirt out of the Japanese girl’s hair, smiling. “I’m glad you’re safe. Come on.”
They left Renji and Ishida in the laundry room with the towels and went through the kitchen that blended into the spacious living room and up the creaking staircase to the second floor. Leah switched on overhead lights as they went, each giggling at the amount of mud on the other, and down the hall that separated the three bedrooms on one side from the two bedrooms and bathroom on the other.
Orihime looked at each of the rooms as they passed them on their way to Leah’s bedroom at the end of the hall on the left. “Do you have a large family?”
“Oh, no. Mom had dreams of doing this bed-and-breakfast thing when she and Dad bought the house when we kids were young, but then, well, Dad left, and other stuff happened, and it’s just us. Too much room, actually.” She clicked on the overhead light to her bedroom. “Now it’s just a lot of storage and stuff.”
Orihime looked into the room of faded lavender walls and shelves of souvenir spoons on one side. The bed was made, the purple and brown braided rug well-worn, the hardwood floor scuffed. “You have a lot of fancy spoons.” She angled her head to see the three shelves of carefully arranged spoons in plastic holders. “You collect them?”
Leah shrugged, then stooped to pick up the clump of mud that fell from her shirt at the movement. “Sort of. Dad used to get me one whenever he went away on business.” She chuckled. “I haven’t gotten any recently. Anyway,” she said, sorting through the closet for a moment, “you’re, well, more curvy than me, so I think these will fit.”
Orihime took the teal tired skirt and pink knit shirt Leah handed her. “Oh, thank you. I’m sorry we’re such a bother.”
“Nonsense. Stop saying that.” Leah frowned at her. “Renji needs to go to the emergency room, Inoue. Can’t you convince him?”
“He won’t go. I know he won’t.”
For a few moments they both stared at each other, and Orihime hoped Leah wouldn’t press the topic.
“He’ll be all right. He’s strong. You can use floss, right? Like last time.”
Leah shook her head. “This is beyond floss, Inoue. He got shot.”
Leah smiled quickly. “We’ll figure something out. Don’t worry, Inoue. If he doesn’t want to go, he doesn’t want to go.” She took her arm. “I’ll show you the bathroom and we’ll get the rest of the tape off.”
By the time Leah collected clothes from her brother’s bedroom and got back to the laundry room, Orihime was in the shower and sloughing off mud and weeds. She went back downstairs to the kitchen and handed the clothes in through the few inches of open doorway to the room to Renji, and then headed upstairs to get her own change of clothes.
Within twenty minutes they were all back in the kitchen, clean, but damp, Orihime the cleanest after her shower, and most of their clothes in the washing machine. The clock shaped like an owl read eight-thirty-seven, but the dark moonless skies and heavy rain made it seem much later. The room was centered around an island with counters that formed an L-shape, with four stools on either side of it, with one side of the angled counter clustered with a fruit bowl, knife block, and assorted canisters.
Brad’s t-shirt and jeans were a little baggy on Ishida’s more slender form, but he took an uncharacteristic nonchalance over fit. His glasses were clean, and he looked with concern to Orihime as she stood at the counter, her fingers still toying with the remaining adhesive residue on the back of her wrists.
In contrast, Brad’s clothes were on the more-fitted side on Renji, who stood near the sink, minus the bandana or ponytail now, holding the bloodied towel to his arm beneath the sleeve of the borrowed t-shirt.
“Sit down,” Leah said as Ishida and Orihime stood at the counter, both looking to the girl’s hands. She glanced to Renji, then his arm. “Are you sure about going –”
“I’m sure. You can just sew it up, right?” There was no way he was going to a doctor in America.
“We’ve got something better than floss.” Leah looked to Orihime as she and Ishida settled in two of the stools at the counter. He reached for one of Orihime’s wrists.
“Sorry about the mess in the other room,” Renji said, pressing harder on his arm with the towel.
“Don’t worry about it.” Leah filled a kettle with water from the sink faucet and set it on a stove burner, turning on the flame. She looked from his shoulder to Orihime. “Tea or hot chocolate?”
“Oh, chocolate would be nice,” Orihime said. She rubbed a finger over the sticky tape residue on her wrist.
Leah frowned at Orihime’s reddened skin as she found the instant hot chocolate mix in a cupboard. “I’ll find some first aid ointment for that.”
“Oh, it’s okay.” Orihime held her breath as Ishida removed a few hairs from her skin along with the tape adhesive.
Renji eyes were on Orihime, watching Ishida gently pull pieces of adhesive from her hands. He looked to Leah as she stepped closer to him.
“Let’s see what we can do with that,” she said, nodding to his arm.
He followed her out of the kitchen and to the bathroom beyond the living room.
She switched on the overhead light and the one above the sink vanity. “Why don’t you want to go to the doctor, Renji? Is it a matter of insurance?”
He sighed, and then caught himself as the pressure made his ribs ache. “No. I just don’t want to go.” He vaguely remembered something about insurance, when he was reading up on the dossier Hitsugaya had given him for the assignment, but it had pertained to Orihime. He looked around at the cornflower blue walls and white trim. “Did she tell you what happened?”
“No.” She took the towel from his arm, the blue material dark from where he’d held it to the injury. She pushed up the t-shirt sleeve higher, anchoring it at his shoulder. The bullet had grazed the skin, but deeply, crossing two black lines of tattoo that peaked below his shoulder, passing through the flesh. She frowned, dabbing at the area around it with the towel, glad it was mostly clean from rain already. “Well, at least the bullet isn’t still in.” She opened the mirrored medicine cabinet and brought out several items. She ripped open an alcohol pad, looking to him, and then back at the wound that had nearly quit bleeding. “Do you want to sit or lie down?”
She raised an eyebrow.
He wasn’t about to tell her he’d been through worse. “Will that sting?”
She nodded, glancing at the hand he held to his left ribs. “You should lean against the wall; brace your back. It’ll be easier to breathe.”
He stood to the side of the sink, watching the top of her dark, wet hair that hung loose as she wiped the area around the wound with the pad. A slight sting edged at the sides of the jagged tear amid the tattoo. “Did she say anything?”
“No. She was still scared, but I think she feels a little better after the shower.” She held up a small atomizer. “This is antiseptic. It’ll sting just a little.” She sprayed the open wound, catching the drips with a gauze pad that ran pink down his arm. “Who is she?”
He frowned. “Ori — Inoue?”
She nodded, wiping off the excess antiseptic. “Is she someone important?”
“Well, yeah, to a lot of people.”
“That’s why those guys were after her?”
“It’s a long story.”
She sighed. She washed the area with another alcohol pad and held a double layer of gauze firmly over the wound, watching him. “You keep saying that.”
He looked to each of her eyes, and decided it was time for a little more truth. “I’ve been assigned to protect her. Someone abducted her a while ago,” he half-explained, “and they want her back. That’s why we’re in America and not Japan. This seemed like the safest place for her.”
She blinked a few times. “So, your parents, they’re hiding her, too?”
He nodded. “Kind of. They weren’t my parents, Leah. They were just checking up on us because there were some communication issues.”
“What about Gwen and Charlie?”
“Gwen found the house we’re living in. Charlie was checking up on us, too.” He watched her put his hand over the gauze and take the top off a small tube. “You can’t tell anyone anything about this.”
She half chuckled. “Who would believe me?”
“I won’t breathe a word, Renji.” She moved his hand and put the gauze on the sink vanity, examining the three inch wound that was over an inch wide. She used two fingers to pull the sides of skin together, squeezing the tube’s tip of fluid carefully along the edges. “So, it’s like the FBI or something?”
The name of the agency was only slightly familiar to Renji. “Not exactly. A little more…” What, he thought, dead? “It’s based out of Japan, and less formal.”
She studied him for a long moment. “She’ll be okay?”
“Yeah. She’ll be okay.”
“What about Uryû?”
“Uh, he’s not part of…He just came over on his own. He’s a schoolmate.”
“He’s certainly dedicated to her.”
He nodded. “She’s got friends.”
She held the skin tightly so it wouldn’t slip, waiting for the liquid sutures to cure. When they had, she closed another section, and then another until just the middle area was open. “I can’t do that last part; it’ll pull the skin too much. It’ll heal-in on its own, but it’s going to heal maligned, Renji.”
He shook his head. She seemed more concerned about it than he was, and he figured it would be pointless to explain that whatever happened to his human body wouldn’t matter once he returned to shinigami form permanently. “It’s fine. What is that? Glue?”
“Kind of.” She held a triple layer of gauze padding over the still-open area and used a roll of gauze bandage to wind over it. She wound an ace bandage over the gauze and attached the Velcro edge. “How are you feeling?”
He nodded. “All right.”
“Chills? Fever? Nausea? Any of that?”
“Good.” She looked to his hand at his ribs. “You got hit twice?”
She lifted the edge of the black t-shirt, looking quickly to him, and then back down as she moved the shirt higher to expose his lowest two ribs. “You have a lot of tattoos, Renji.”
He held his breath as her fingers moved over the swelling at his lowermost rib and then to next one up that had taken a harder blow. The impact of the second swing of the crowbar had resulted in the skin swelling quicker, making the skin split and open. Already a blue and purple color was spreading over the skin around the black jags pf tattoos. “You can glue it shut?”
She shook her head, feeling the heat still around the area. “You need x-rays. They’re probably fractured and you could have internal bruising and bleeding.” She looked to him, seeing him shake his head. “Okay. No x-rays. But it’s going to hurt for a long time, Renji. Weeks.” She moved the shirt edge to see no more bruising or injuries. Her eyes paused on the tattoos, and then went to his forehead where the marks were visible in absence of the muddied bandana. “You were assigned to Inoue?”
He nodded. “It’s complicated.”
“But you already knew her?”
He nodded again. The kettle whistled from the kitchen, and Orihime called, “I’ve got it!”
Leah looked to the doorway, and then back at him. Her attention rested on his side again, shaking her head. “I’ll close it with a bandage, and we’ll put ice on it. Once the swelling goes down we’ll see if it needs closing, but I think taping will be enough.” She gently pushed on the rib above the split in his skin, watching him hold his breath. “I can drive. I can take you to the ER if you don’t want to drive.”
“I’m not going.”
“Okay.” She carefully wiped an antiseptic pad over the area that had dried of blood, scowling at the purple marking among the black. She dropped the hem of his shirt and unwrapped a bandage and fit it over the split skin, smoothing it over the tender area.
“Did your brother ever break ribs?” he asked, watching her smile a little, nodding.
“He fell out of the loft of the barn onto a snowmobile. Mom took him in to ER and he had two fractured ribs.” She pressed the edges of the bandage firmly to adhere to his skin. “All they did was X-rays and medicate him.” She looked to the cabinet and nodded. “I’ll get you something for the pain from upstairs. Mom’s got mega-dose stuff that won’t impair your senses. Just take the edge off the pain.”
“Thanks.” He considered how best to phrase what he wanted to ask her. He didn’t think she’d say no. “I want to leave Orihime here while I check out the house. I won’t be gone –”
“You can’t go anywhere. You’ve got to rest.”
He shook his head, but secretly agreed with her. “I won’t be long. Uryû will be with her. And — Ow!” He frowned as her fingers pressed slightly below his last rib. “What the hell are you doing, Leah?”
She frowned back at him, moving her fingers. “That’s your vitals, Renji. You need to rest, not go traipsing around in the dark and rain. Driving is one of the worst movements for ribs, not to mention the hole in your arm. How’s your breathing?”
He shook his head. “Okay.”
“I can hear you rattling.”
He nodded. “Maybe I’ll go later.”
“Good.” She opened the vanity drawer to find a black hair-tie. She handed it to him, smiling as she looked at his nearly dry hair. “Let’s eat.”
Over a late supper of chicken salad sandwiches and pasta salad — and two laundry loads of muddy clothes later — the story of Orihime’s abduction came out. After Renji had gone out to look at the garage and water issues that afternoon, she had went upstairs to exchange her fish hairclips for her hairpins. She hadn’t even finished brushing out her hair, she told them, when Rybak was there.
“Just right behind me,” she said, looking down at her reddened wrists that smelled faintly of the medicated cream she had applied. She chased the last of the noodles around the bowl with her spoon. “He held that gun in my face and said not to make a sound, and I didn’t.” She managed a meek smile. “Thanks for finding me, Renji.”
He nodded, grunting a little at the movement. “I’m sorry he got that close, Orihime.” He’d taken to standing at the counter the last fifteen minutes when leaning over from the stool had placed too much strain on his side. He’d passed on the Vicodin Leah had suggested, instead choosing the high-dose ibuprofen she offered. “He should be the last.”
They rain outside was coming down in torrents and now accompanied by a howling wind that shook the window panes and screen door, making the lights dim a few times, but remain on. The early darkness falling made the evening seem much later, but even with the disorientation of her trial and rescue, Orihime had found her appetite.
“If that’s what the fourteen on the paper means,” Ishida added to Renji as Leah and Orihime put the dishes in the sink and spoke quietly at the other counter. “If the others are all part of Aizen’s mercenaries. If they weren’t, Renji, there’ll be more.”
The shinigami nodded, looking to Orihime at the sink, watching her smile, her hair nearly dry now, Leah’s clothes a little on the snug side on her. “They won’t find her here.”
“Rybak found her in town. It can happen again.” Ishida drank down the last of his hot chocolate that had cooled. He glanced to Orihime’s feet as she stood beside Leah. “She didn’t have any shoes on.”
Renji’s jaw tightened as he thought back over the day. “She’s all right now, Ishida. No one’s getting near her again.” He put a hand to his ribs, and then saw Leah glance his way at the movement. He dropped his hand and looked to the living room as a gust of wind rattled the windows there. “I’ll go tomorrow to find the ring.”
“What if you can’t find it?” Ishida looked to the bare finger on Renji’s left hand. “You’ll be stuck as human?”
“Hell, I hope not.”
“We’ll find it tomorrow.”
Renji shook his head. “I’ll find it. You stay with her.” They both looked to Orihime, who was absently rubbing her wrist as she nodded at Leah.
Ishida nodded. “I’ll stay with her.”
They congregated in the living room ten minutes later, and played Yahtzee — after a cursory course on the game’s objective and rules — for an hour. Renji gave up after twenty minutes, as leaning over the coffee table between the sofa and love seat wasn’t worth the shooting pain in his arm or the dull ache that had consumed his left side. He resorted to watching, grinning to himself that Orihime had indeed gotten herself on a love seat, even if it wasn’t the one in their house, and with someone. Probably not the someone she would have chosen, he thought, watching Ishida’s knee inch towards hers every time he leaned forward to roll the cup of dice onto the table.
But maybe it was. It was beginning to seem so.
Leah returned from the kitchen and sat beside him — carefully, so as not to jar the sofa — and handed him a fresh ice pack.
She nodded. “The emergency room is open all night.”
He spared her a resigned look, and she turned back to the game.
“Let me know if you change your mind,” she said, watching Orihime pour out the dice onto the table.
“I will.” He glanced to where the stereo was set to the local station, the pop songs interspersed with weather reports every few tunes, updates on power outages in the next county and flood advisories. Maybe they’d get enough rain to flood the field where Rybak is lying face down in the mud, he thought. Maybe the body wouldn’t be found until next week. Or later.
The game lasted another hour, and through a fog warning over the radio station, a few moments of flickering lights throughout the house that threatened a brown-out, and two bags of potato chips. The rain hadn’t eased up any, but the wind had died down, lending a lulling sound to the weather outside that invited sleep.
None were aware of the sole figure that sat watching the lone light blink out on the monitor inthe darkened room of Las Noches. The man sat back in the chair, content that all fourteen lights were extinguished after non-movement for twenty-four hours or lack of body heat. He’d like to think he had a part in it. He hadn’t been sure the slip of paper and the human girl’s hairpins would be enough of an indication, but the Quincy boy was a smart one.
He scowled at the monitor. The flaw was that the small lights had all congregated in one general location — bunched too closely — a sure indication of the whereabouts of Aizen’s target, even if none of the mercenaries had found her.
“Is that the last one?” Aizen’s voice startled Gin as he stood behind the white-haired man.
“Yup.” Gin frowned at the interruption. So caught up in his own cleverness he hadn’t even heard the self-imposed leader of Las Noches.
“I should never have used humans.”
“Looks like there won’t be any stick to pick up.”
Aizen nodded. “Weaklings.”
“Fourteen failures.” Gin turned in his chair and leaned back, looking to Aizen as he watched the monitor. “You won’t have to pay up.”
“No. There were fifteen. One had a faulty band that never showed up on the monitors. You look surprised.”
“I am. I thought there were fourteen.”
“Hmm. I guess I neglected to mention the one with the malfunctioning band. That one may be dead, too. There should have been fifteen lights.” Aizen nodded to the screen. “We know her location. If this one is still alive, she’ll be found shortly.”
Gin nodded as Aizen left the room. “I see.” He frowned at the blank screen. “You’re on your own, Quincy-boy.”
25- Guest Room
Renji didn’t remember falling asleep that night, but when he awoke the next morning it took a few moments to recall where he was. For a startling moment he wondered why he was staring at Orihime and Ishida across from the coffee table, still seated on the love seat. He was exclusively aware of the acute throbbing in his side, coupled by an encompassing pain at his upper arm.
Being human was intolerable, and it was this moment that made him realize how fragile humans were, and how much he missed being in true form. The rain outside had stopped and the sun was attempting an early, oblique appearance through the south windows that overlooked the back yard in the small dining room next to the kitchen. He glanced at Leah to his right, curled at the opposite side of the sofa, half draped over the plaid arm of the couch. Her face was hidden beneath her hair, which had dried wavier than he’d usually seen it. He watched her sleep for a moment, thoughts that had passed through his mind on other occasions making another pass. He glanced at her feet, seeing minor abrasions on the inside of one ankle from the half-buried roots in the field of mud.
“… road closed due to flooding,” the radio station was saying, the broadcaster’s monotone a steady drone. “All Brooklyn Schools’ soccer practices are canceled for the day. All Little League baseball practices are canceled county-wide…” The cancellations, floodings, and power-outages continued.
Ishida stirred but didn’t wake, and Renji looked there to see Orihime move closer to him, still sleeping, pinning him into the corner of love seat, her head resting determinedly on his shoulder, her fingers locked in his on his thigh.
Renji chuckled, then muttered a curse under his breath as the constriction in his chest magnified. He wiped his hair from his face, grunting at the movement, undecided which hurt more, his side or his shoulder.
Which was why he hadn’t used the hair-tie Leah had given him. Raising his hands over his head for a mere hair-tie wasn’t worth the agony the movement sent through his injuries. Now he changed his mind, and took a moment to stand and find the tie in his — Brad’s — jean pocket.
He decided the room was homey, most of the furniture out-dated, lived-in, coordinating but not matching. The floors were all hardwood, with braided and rag runners and rugs, and tall potted plants at several spots in the morning sun that shed across the early morning floor. Beyond the living room, beside the kitchen-to-laundry room door, was a sliding glass door that overlooked a small deck. Out it Renji could see sparse trees lining what looked to be another farm field to the south. He stepped past Leah’s sleeping form, pausing a moment, hesitating before picking a lock of brunette hair from her shoulder. It was as soft as he’d imagined, longer than he thought it would be when not kept in a ponytail. Her fingers curled over the sofa edge, and he moved away before she woke, and went to the sliding glass door in the kitchen.
Out it he could see more of the cropland past the perimeter trees that edged the two acres the house sat upon. Standing water covered a dip in the back yard near the west trees, tufts of grass protruding from a few spots. He knew it meant their garage in town was going to be a serious mess when they got back. He sighed, putting a hand to his side at the movement. Trenching out the garage to drain the burial spot might be less taxing than filling in the spot, he decided. He frowned. Maybe he could put Ishida to work. Let him take a hand at the shoveling. He turned to look at the Quincy, and saw Leah coming into the kitchen.
“Good morning,” she said.
“‘Morning.” He watched her look out the window beside him.
“Lot of water,” she said, her eyes moving over the new pond forming in the yard. “It’ll take a week to dry up.”
He nodded, twisting the hair-tie in his fingers. “I’m going to look at the field.”
Her eyes went to his side. “How are you feeling?”
He shook his head, but said: “All right.”
“You are not. Geez, Renji, people go to a doctor when they get shot.”
They glanced back to the living room beyond the kitchen as a clunk sounded, and both Orihime and Ishida sat straighter at the loveseat and rubbed their temples at the impact.
Leah giggled. “You know that hurt.”
Renji nodded. “Can they stay here while I go to the field?”
“Of course.” She looked to his hand. “I’ll help you look for it. You have to eat first so you can take something for the pain.”
He started to protest, but decided against it.
Less than an hour later, after a hasty breakfast of lemon poppy seed muffins, they were at the field. It was wetter than the night before, the ground saturated and slick with rain. Renji parked the truck at the edge of the field, seeing the trenches it had left the night before when he’d spun his way out of the mud, filled with water.
Leah got out the driver’s side door behind him, doubting the passenger door’s functionality. She stood beside him, looking over the field that was half mud, half standing muddy water. She watched as he loosened his watch and let it dangle at his wrist. He glanced at her, then back to the watch. The back of the metal had began to heat up a few minutes ago, but he wasn’t about to take it off, even when he knew Ishida was with Orihime.
“Do you remember where you were when you lost it?”
He nodded, but not in affirmation. “Between here and the car. Just follow the tracks, I guess.” He shook his head as he saw the lump of a body in the distance near the car, looking at the footprints leading to it that were now pockets of water. “Stay here. I’m sure he’s not a pretty sight.”
“Oh, well, as long as he’s dead…”
They followed the set of tracks that Renji thought were most likely his from the scramble the night before, searching the mud and muck for the ring. He’d tried to explain the importance of the ring to Leah, that it was a family heirloom, a signet, for all intent and purposes, which had led to her wondering why he was wearing it.
He’d decided against trying to explain any further. He was only relieved he’d lost it in human form rather than shinigami form; that would have taken a whole lot of explaining — to Orihime.
“These are mine,” he said, following a track of footsteps, some of which were no more than dirty water. As he recalled, it had been near the truck when he’d lost the ring, before he’d started into the field. He knelt, sticking his fingers into the first footstep indentation. Nothing.
Leah had moved ahead a few steps to the next couple, the mud pulling at her shoes, making her steps slow and uncertain. She squatted and felt around with her fingers in one of the footsteps of muddy water, and then felt along in another.
For a few long moments they searched the pockets of water as the sun rose higher, making the standing water shine like absurd spots in the field of mud.
Renji’s fingers closed around a small circular form in one of the holes of muddy water. “I’ve got it.” He stood and wiped the slick clay off the ring. He held it up when Leah looked to him a few yards away.
“Ooh, good. I’m glad you didn’t lose it.” It took a moment for her to backtrack to him, her shoes sticking with each step she took. “Geez, this stuff is like tar.”
He nodded, using his finger to wipe out the mud from the interior of the ring. He watched her for a moment, her arms out to her sides for balance as she pulled her feet up from the sucking muck. “You’re going to fall over,” he said, grinning.
She shook her head when she had nearly reached him. “Brooklyn is all clay, and it’s always a mess in rain.”
He nodded, slipping the mostly clean ring on his finger. Leah stopped a few feet away, her face falling.
“What?” He stepped closer as she stood still. “Are you stuck?” He put one hand to her elbow as she stared unfocused at him.
She flinched, shrieking, pulling away until she almost fell over. “What was that?!”
His hand moved to her wrist as she squirmed, her shoes sticking in the sloppy ground. “Leah, what’s the hell’s wrong with you?”
She pushed against his chest, then her hands stopped, her face searching, confusion eclipsing her fear. One hand moved over his chest, slowly, then withdrew completely from his black robe.
His shinigami robe, he realized.
He looked to the ring on his right hand. Shit, no wonder she was bewildered. He switched the ring to his left hand.
This time she screamed when he reappeared, her eyes wide, and turned to run, but only succeeded in taking two ungainly steps in the muck before he caught her. His hand closed on her wrist, making her face him, catching her other wrist.
“What was that?” She pulled, twisting from him futilely. “How did you do that, Renji?”
“Stop squirming, Leah.”
She didn’t, but she did lower her voice. “What kind of trick was that? You disappeared and now you’re, you’re… How did you do that?”
His hold changed on her wrists, and she stopped pulling away, still at arm’s length, eyes locked on his. “I can explain.”
She shook her head, looking to the ring. “How’d you do it?”
“Let’s go back to the truck.”
They sat for fifteen minutes in the truck cab while he tried to explain. During the whole time her eyes didn’t leave him, her expression volleying between disbelief, fear, and doubt of her own senses. She studied him closely from her corner against the passenger door, ready to bolt if she could get the door open, but fascinated at the same time.
The mud on the top of her shoes was nearly dry by the time he finished explaining. She looked him over carefully, attention resting on his bandaged arm.
“But I know you’re human. I saw you bleeding.”
“Right now, I’m just as human as you are.” He saw her eyes go to the ring.
“What about Inoue? What about Uryû?”
She nodded slowly. “So, all the stuff, at the library and out there …” she said, looking out at the sunny field where the Mercedes was still parked, the engine now stalled, “it’s all ….” Her eyes opened wider when she glanced back to him. “Have you killed a lot of people, Renji?”
He shook his head and turned the key in the ignition. The truck started and he eased it back onto the dirt road. “You can’t tell anyone, Leah. No one.”
“I won’t.” She pointed to the road before them. “You can keep going to the next road and make a right, and it’ll take you back to the house.”
They traveled in silence for a few moments, and he could feel her eyes study him. He debated saying more than he had, but deemed it pointless to elaborate on issues that would only bring up more questions.
“Does Inoue know?” she finally asked timidly.
He nodded. “So does Ishida. Uryû.” He saw the farmhouse appear between the trees. “This is it?”
He turned the truck into the driveway, watching a gray cat scamper into the barn at their approach. “You’re awfully quiet.”
“Oh? Oh.” She looked from him to the house. “Have you thought any more about going to the emergency room?”
She nodded. “Well, you can take the rest of the ibuprofen with you. It’ll help.”
He stopped the truck and switched off the ignition. For a moment she sat staring at the house.
“So, the people that you said were your dad and mom, and, and …” She shook her head. “They’re all like you?”
She frowned more intently. “There was a little boy driving your truck a few weeks ago. He came into the Cake Cottage and asked for directions to your house. Him, too?”
Renji couldn’t help but grin at the description of Hitsugaya. “Yeah. Him, too. He’s Gwen’s captain.”
Leah took a moment to consider the new information. She finally nodded. “Okay.” She looked to the front door of the house as Ishida slowly opened it and looked through the screen door at them. “Okay then.”
Renji and Leah had barely got to the front door where Orihime and Ishida stood and were taking off their muddy shoes when Leah looked to the driveway and groaned. Another car pulled in behind the truck.
“He’s early,” she murmured, setting her shoes to one side of the porch.
Orihime looked around Ishida in the doorway through the screen door. “Early?”
Renji turned to see the car’s driver side door open and a man in his early twenties get out. He was nearly as tall as the shinigami, dressed in jeans and a green Eastern Michigan University t-shirt, and threw a quick glance at the truck’s dented side as he made an impatient approach to the porch.
He looked from Renji to Leah when he got to the steps. “What’ve you got going on?”
“Mom’s still at work. Brad, this is –”
Brad was getting a closer look at Renji’s attire. “Hey, those are my clothes. Leah, what’s –”
“Brad,” Leah said pointedly as her brother glared at Renji, “listen. We hit a couple of deer last night. These are my friends.” She looked from Renji to Orihime and Ishida still in the house, each with degrees of awkwardness. Her attention returned to her brother as she managed a quick smile. “Did you bring your laundry?”
Brad was scowling at Renji, who was trying not to return the expression. “What? Yes.” He looked to the truck and back to Leah. “Deer, huh? Are you all right?”
She nodded. “Get your laundry and I’ll introduce you.”
Brad shot Renji another look, and then glanced to Ishida, and then Orihime. She gave him a sunny smile, and he grinned at her. “Oh, your exchange student friend.” He nodded at his sister. “But you’ve still got some explaining to do.”
“Just get your laundry.”
It took another half an hour for Leah to introduce Brad to Renji, Orihime, and Ishida, and then to explain yet another version of the preceding night’s events to him. During that time Leah talked almost nonstop, concocting excuse after excuse, and eventually convincing her brother all was well.
By the time they left, Renji wasn’t certain Brad believed everything Leah had told him, but he seemed to believe enough, and the overly-protective older brother suspicions had diminished to a handshake for him and Ishida. It helped that Leah plied her brother with muffins and misplaced enthusiasm at doing his laundry.
“Is it okay with him?” Orihime asked as Leah walked them out to the truck. “He won’t be too mad?”
Leah shook her head, looking to her brother still in the doorway at the front porch. “He’s always grumpy when he gets home. It’s fine.” She glanced at Renji and then back to Orihime. “We’ll talk later, okay?”
Ishida pulled a few times on the passenger door before it opened. Orihime climbed into the cab.
“Be careful,” Leah told her.
Orihime nodded. “I will. Thanks for everything.”
Leah turned back to the house as Renji and Ishida got into the truck. Ishida looked to Renji as the shinigami watched Leah meet her brother at the door.
“You told her, didn’t you?”
Renji frowned, grunting as he started the truck and turned the steering wheel. “I had to.”
They followed Leah’s directions for getting back into Brooklyn, which were surprisingly simple. A few turns, and a couple times of wading the truck through spots with water over the dirt road, and the town emerged over the hill outside of town. In moments they were on Brooklyn-Pierport Street.
Renji and Orihime waited at the truck in the driveway as Ishida collected his few belongings from his temporary residence at the brick house. He took only moments, reappearing from around the back of the brick house with two bags, his pace quickening as he looked nervously to the neighbor’s house close by.
Moving the Quincy into the small house Renji and Orihime were using was quick. Renji made Ishida and Orihime stay in the kitchen after they entered by the back door. He checked the living room thoroughly, seeing the front door still ajar as he’d seen it last the day before. He shut and locked it, and then took the katana from where it rested against the wall and investigated the other ground level rooms.
The bathroom, the spare bedroom Ishida was to use, the hall to the second floor. It all looked untouched since he’d left so hastily. There was a puddle of water on the carpet in the bedroom, the ripped window screen moving slightly in the breeze that blew in.
Renji went upstairs and made a search of the second level rooms. Nothing was amiss, nothing different. He picked up the Hello Kitty door pull that still lay in the hall, one hand at his side where his ribs protested the movement. He hung the beaded pull on Orihime’s bedroom doorknob and went back downstairs.
“Okay. I’m going to check the basement and garage,” he told Orihime and Ishida as they stood at the kitchen counter. He looked from the Quincy to the girl, suppressing most of a grin. “Move him in.”
She smiled broadly at Ishida, who was doing his best not to let a flush of diffidence consume him. She glanced to Renji as he left the room for the basement, and then back to Ishida. “He said we’d get you new bed linens from Pierport later. We’ll fix it up however you like.”
He shook his head, following her into the spare bedroom down the hall, looking the room over slowly. “It’s just fine the way it is, Orihime.”
She nodded, eyeing the wet floor. “Well, we’ll fix the window screen and get a few — ooh, do you want a plant? We have a plastic plant in the living room, so you wouldn’t have to water it, or a basil plant from the kitchen.”
“This is fine.”
She sighed. “Thank you for finding me last night. I’m glad you didn’t get hurt.” She looked to the doorway. “I wish Renji would let me heal his wounds. If I had just a day to –”
“You shouldn’t chance it, Orihime.” Ishida frowned. “Maybe I should go, too. I don’t want to get in the way by being near you.” His face fell, and he rephrased the statement. “As a Quincy, I don’t want to draw attention to your location. Renji is staying human, and I don’t want to –”
“Oh, you have to stay, Uryû. Please?” Her smile dimmed as she thought about his suggestion. “As long as you don’t use your powers, it should be all right. Right?”
He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Well, I think so, but I don’t want to endanger you, Orihime.”
Her smile brightened. “Then you should stay.”
He set his bags down by the futon. “Then I’ll stay.”
It took the afternoon for Renji to come to the conclusion that the standing water in the garage would just have to stand there for a few days until he felt like doing something about it. His side and arm hurt too much to make an effort at trenching out the water to drain the garage. They spent a few hours going to Pierport’s modest department store, where Orihime picked out a tasteful blue and gray sheet and blanket set for Ishida. She took great care in choosing his pillow, making him consider the soft and extra firm styles before settling on his selection. Renji had waited at the end of the linen aisle for them, hearing their conversation, sounding — to him — like a couple of bashful newlyweds as they discussed patterns and thread counts.
Back at the house, as the late afternoon sun headed for the west, Renji used a large-eyed needle and some fishing line to mend the first floor bedroom screen from the outside of the window. He stood half in the flower bed where the window sill was nearly eyelevel, tugging at the cut screen edge as Ishida pulled it taut from inside.
Renji fit the needle through the small holes in the screen and then through the remaining mesh still in the frame, drawing it together slowly. He glanced to his right where an unmarked police car was pulling into Raider’s empty house.
“Another one?” Ishida asked, leaning into the window to see what he could of the black car in the neighbor’s driveway.
Renji nodded, eyes going back to the needle and screen in his hands. “They’ve had everyone out the past few days.” At first it had been the Brooklyn Police Department at Raider’s house, followed by the county sheriff’s deputies, and then the Michigan State Police. “Some don’t even have uniforms. Just plainclothes.”
“Probably detectives,” Ishida added, pulling another section of screen tight so Renji could sew it back to the bottom torn part. “Have they asked you any questions?”
Renji shook his head, frowning as a piece of screen gave way and he had to anchor the fishing line by another hole. “I hope they don’t.”
“You have all the necessary paperwork?”
Renji nodded, sewing the screen edges together. “Captain Hitsugaya took care of all of it.” He glanced at the Quincy. “How about you? Are you legal here?”
Ishida frowned at him. “I have all the proper papers.”
Renji began mending the corner of the screen where the tension of the mesh was enlarging the metal holes. “I’ve got this, if you want to go see where she is.”
Renji chuckled as Ishida disappeared out the bedroom door without hesitation, then stopped when his side began throbbing. Damn ribs, he thought. He glanced obliquely at the unmarked police car at Raider’s house. A spotlight was angled down by the side view mirror by the driver’s door, the door itself devoid of any markings. It looked much like any other black car, except for the barred divider running between the front and back seats.
There’d been up to four police cars of one sort or another over the last few days, shades of blue and brown, and two black Suburbans with canine units. The appearance of the drug-finding dogs had led to Milk Dud’s incessant barking for two hours, which had driven both Orihime and Renji to agitated ends.
He watched the officer now at the neighbor house, deciding him to be a Brooklyn cop, judging from his gray-blue uniform. Like all the rest, Renji thought, seeing the man shine a flashlight into the unkempt bushes around the front of the house. He appeared barrel-chested from the bullet-proof vest beneath his uniform, one hand on the holster at his side, walking stiltedly.
Renji tied off the last bit of screen edge, tucking the fishing line back through the screen into the window. From the distance he couldn’t actually see the gun in the officer’s holster, but he knew it was there. All the officers had had the same posture — one hand on the weapon at their side — even when they were talking to each other. He estimated the patch job in the screen, deciding it was adequate. All it has to do is keep the bugs out, he thought. He glanced at the officer in the next yard who was making his way back to the other side of the house, out of Renji’s sight.
Good, he thought, satisfied the man wasn’t going to get nosey and ask questions. It was only a matter of time, he knew, before some detective would have to inquire of the neighbors. Hopefully, they’d be with Orihime at school when their turn came.
Some of the realities of Ishida’s presence in the house caught up with Orihime that night, right after a forty minute bubble bath. She carefully dried off, smiling at the lingering scent of peaches and sunflowers in the bathroom, and dressed in her camisole and short set pajamas. She wiped the foggy mirror and looked at her reflection, frowning.
Not very modest, she decided, adjusting the tank top over herself better. She pulled on the lavender robe, flipping her hair out of the collar, and tied it at her waist. She nodded at her reflection in the mirror.
“Much better,” she said with a smile. She combed out her hair, feeling a blush seep over her cheeks, suddenly overly-conscious of her pajamas. Maybe she should find something else to wear before she went downstairs. She thought over the items in her wardrobe for a moment. She hadn’t had this problem the first week she’d been in the house, she realized. Well, she’d thought about it a little bit, but not much, and not for long.
But that had been just Renji, she told herself; not Uryû. This was different. This mattered.
She sighed and retied her robe again, tucking the collar in so it crossed her chest with more coverage. She paused to look at the faintly reddened skin at her wrists before attaching the blue beaded bracelet below the bangle on her left arm. Memories of that horrid night in the rain had dimmed when she thought of Ishida’s frantic search for her. She was a little surprised at herself.
Had she really overlooked him for so long, even when he’d been right at her side through so much? To come all the way from Japan to check on her… She sighed, pushing her hair from her face as the steam lifted from the mirror, leaving a watery image of her reflection.
Maybe she’d been a little too focused elsewhere for too long. That was it, she thought, sighing. She opened the bathroom door and headed into the hall. She was going to make Ishida the biggest ice cream sundae he’d ever had.
Sunday morning Renji was out of bed by four and in the kitchen filling out reports for Soul Society. It hadn’t been his intention to be up and about that early, but lying down had proved too difficult for sleeping, and the ten minute intervals he spent in shinigami form and doses of ibuprofen Leah had given him weren’t providing much relief from his injuries.
He’d worked for three hours on the paperwork before anyone else in the house stirred, and then it was Orihime, startled to see him, and intent on rendering a breakfast of half a bread loaf of French toast.
“Are you sure?” she asked for the third time, hovering over the electric skillet with a spatula, a dish of milk and egg beside an array of ingredients on the counter. “We have plenty of bread, Renji. It’ll help you heal faster.”
“Rice is enough,” he said, turning back to the last two reports he had yet to complete. He eyed the containers on the counter. “He might not have recovered from the sundae you made him last night, Orihime.”
She seemed to consider this for a moment before realizing he was joking. “Oh, everyone likes French toast.”
Renji looked to the doorway as Ishida appeared there, looking a bit drowsy still, but fully dressed and grinning as he looked to Orihime. She turned to see him, smiling brightly, waving the spatula turner.
“Good morning! Did you sleep well, Uryû?”
He nodded and met her at the counter. “Did you?”
“Oh, yes. I hope you’re hungry. Do you like French toast?”
“Uh, I think I’ve had it once.” He looked at the ingredients, watching as she dropped a piece of bread in the dish of egg and milk.
“We have all kinds of toppings. Just you wait. I’ll get it all fixed up.” She placed the battered bread on the hot skillet and watched it sizzle. “Milk? Orange juice? Apple juice?”
“Uh, you don’t have to go through all that trouble, Orihime –”
“It’s no trouble. You have to have a big breakfast on Sundays.”
Ishida glanced to Renji’s half finished bowl of rice on the table. “What about your big breakfast?”
Renji grinned and looked back to his paperwork. “I had a big breakfast last Sunday. It’s your turn.”
Five minutes later Ishida found himself at the table before a stack of French toast topped with butter, pancake syrup, orange marmalade, strawberry preserves, ground cinnamon, and chopped walnuts, feeling a little intimidated. Orihime sat with him, an expectant look on her face. He returned her smile, and ate every bite on the plate.
Brooklyn spent the rest of Sunday draining from the week of rain. The sun was out strong, making an attempt at drying up the town, but the water had taken a stronghold, flooding side streets and overwhelming gutters and drains. Renji stood looking at the large puddle of water behind the garage that afternoon. It wasn’t nearly as large as the pond that had begun to form in Leah’s backyard, he determined, but enough water to make the ground soggy, gurgling as the garage drained into the yard. He didn’t even look in the outbuilding; it could wait another day.
Renji looked to where two blue uniformed policemen were heading into Raider’s house. He sighed before thinking, and put a hand to his side, pressing against the pain that caught. Leah hadn’t been exaggerating about the discomfort of busted ribs, he decided. He watched the officers pause at the back door before going down the stairs to Raider’s basement, their radios squawking. At least they hadn’t shown up on his doorstep yet. He hoped they wouldn’t.
Renji turned quickly to see Leah standing at the corner of the garage. He dropped his hand from his side. “Hi. When did you get here?”
“Oh, just now. Inoue said you were out here.” She looked out over the standing water in the back yard. “Well, at least you’re not under water.”
He shook his head and stepped closer to where she stood, nodding at the tie-dye shirt she wore. “Getting off work or going to?”
“Going to. How are you feeling?”
She looked to his bandaged arm exposed beneath the t-shirt sleeve. “Are you still against going to a doctor?”
She shook her head. “Any problems?”
“No.” He took her elbow and turned her towards the house, and then saw Brad’s car in the driveway behind the truck. “Is he taking you to work?”
“Yes. Part of the road is still underwater.” They walked to the house before she spoke again. “All that stuff you said yesterday morning when we were looking for the ring,” she said in a low tone, glancing at him slowly, “it’s really true?”
He nodded, watching her frown.
“Well, you’re not, like,” she said, shoving her hands in her black pants pockets, shrugging, “like a Grim Reaper or something, are you, Renji?”
It took him a moment to remember what the entity from folklore was, and then he chuckled, only to stop when the effort made his side hurt. “Not quite.”
“Good.” She nodded, hesitant about her next question. “No one’s going to die, are they? I mean, Inoue isn’t, is she?”
“No, nothing like that,” he said, grinning.
“Good,” she said, smiling a little. “Well, I’ll see you later.” She glanced back at her brother, who was watching them from the car. “Make sure you rest up.”
“I’ll do that.”
He watched her join her brother in the front seat of the car, and waved as they pulled out back onto the street. He looked to the back screen door of the house as Orihime appeared there.
“Leah dropped off our clothes,” she told him. “Did she find you?”
Renji nodded. “I saw her.”
By nightfall the rain had started again, but this time it was a mere sprinkle, just enough to make them shut the windows on the north side of the house. Supper had been of Pizza Bucket pizza — with raisins — and milkshakes that Orihime had created. Renji found himself moving from sofa to the kitchen table and back in an effort to find a more comfortable spot that didn’t tax his ribs, and finally resorted to slouching in the corner of the couch, half asleep as the second part of the movie Gone with the Windstarted on the television.
He didn’t care to watch the lengthy film. The front and kitchen doors were locked, the lamp lights low in the living room, the katana leaned against his side of the sofa. He rested his elbow on the sofa arm and set his temple in his hand, closing his eyes, trying to become oblivious to the muted conversation at the love seat where Orihime and Ishida were diagnosing the fashion designs of the crinoline era of dress portrayed in the movie. Orihime had finally overcome her hesitancy of sitting around in her robe and pajamas from the night before. She was well-covered, as long as she kept the robe tied shut, and he figured the Quincy was getting more than he bargained for by coming to America. This time she’d just taken a quick shower instead of her usual bubble bath, so as not to miss too much of the movie, but she still smelled of something. Renji wasn’t sure what. Something floral. Ishida had done his best not to notice.
The whole movie had been talk of petticoats and hoops, of pre-antebellum plantations and Yankees, and not a battle in sight, which Renji thought odd, considering it was a war movie. He had just dropped off to sleep and awoke to his own snoring when a commercial interrupted the momentous fog scene onscreen.
“That’s so sad,” Orihime said to Ishida. “Melanie was so nice. Poor Ashley. Now he’ll be lost, and Scarlett realizes she never really loved him anyway.”
Renji looked sharply at her in the lamp’s low light. Ishida was nodding, her hand grasped in his, looking strangely comfortable with the arrangement. Renji considered going on up to bed, but obligation outweighed his sense of propriety. After all, he was the one protecting Orihime Inoue, not the Quincy. They didn’t seem to be too aware of him anyway, he decided.
Orihime watched the movie return, remaining silent through to the end, sighing as Scarlett stood hopeful, watching Rhett Butler disappear into the fog as the movie closed to a black screen. She looked to Ishida. “She was a fool.”
He nodded. “It’s not a true story, Orihime.”
She nodded. “Do you want ice cream?”
Ishida wasn’t prepared for another sundae, but consented anyway. She looked to Renji, who was already sleeping again.
“We’ll let Renji sleep, do you think?” she asked Ishida.
“What?” Renji asked, opening his eyes quickly.
“Do you want ice cream?” Ishida asked as he and Orihime stood up.
“No. Thanks.” Renji propped his head on his palm again, attention going to the news broadcast coming on the channel after the movie. He frowned at the clock on the wall. Shit, was it eleven o’clock already? he thought. What a long movie.
Orihime switched on the light over the sink in the kitchen and brought out a carton of vanilla ice cream from the freezer. “What kind of toppings do you want?”
Ishida looked at the ice cream and then to her as she stood at the refrigerator. “Oh, no toppings, Orihime. Plain is fine.”
“Are you sure? It’s no trouble.” Her hand paused on the refrigerator door handle.
“Okay.” She found two bowls in the overhead cupboard they usually reserved for rice, and then took the ice cream scooper from a drawer. “You know, those dresses Scarlett wore would impress the crafts club at school. Do you think we could make one for the next competition?”
Ishida’s eyes opened wider at the mention. “Of course we could. We’d get high points for technique and foreign concept at the next competition. A historical piece with foreign concept,” he said, returning her smile. “It would be hard to beat a score like that, Orihime.”
She nodded, scooping out ice cream into the bowls. “Would you want to make an exact replica or just follow the styles we saw in the movie?”
“Hmm. What do you think? Either way you could work in your exemplary needlework. No one could beat us at regionals with a design like that.”
She nodded, setting one of the bowls before him. “A big hoop skirt, with lots of little bows and ruffles, and the tiny little waist — oh, it’s so Western!”
Visions of first place standings filled their heads as they discussed patterns and fabrics, lacework and trimmings. By the time they finished, it was nearly midnight, and they’d sketched several ideas — complete with fabric choices and historical notes — on a pad of paper.
Orihime nodded at the sketches with satisfaction. “I think we should do it.” She collected the ice cream bowls and put them in the sink. “Do you think we can get the rest of the club to go along with the idea?”
Ishida nodded slowly. “I think so. We’ll have to have a fundraiser to get enough money for supplies. It’s going to take a lot of fabric and trim.”
“Ooh, we could sell rice balls at the Summer Fair. That would be fun.” She shut off the light and they made their way out of the kitchen, pausing to glance at Renji still sleeping on the sofa, the television playing a baseball game lowly. “Do you think we should wake him up?”
He shook his head, looking to her fingers hooked over his arm. “Maybe sleeping sitting up is easier for him.”
He walked her down the darkened hall to where the back bedroom met the staircase by the bathroom, conscious of her hand on his arm, trying to summon his flagging resolve. She stopped at the stairs and looked to him, her eyes seeming darker and larger in the poor light.
“I know the perfect shop to get the material,” he said needlessly. “We can decide on the exact colors then.”
“Okay.” She nodded, her fingers tensing on his arm, and then suddenly withdrawing. “Well, goodnight, Uryû.”
He cleared his throat. “Goodnight, Orihime.”
She glanced down the hall to where Renji was out of sight in the living room, snoring lowly. “Do you have enough blankets?”
“Oh, yes. You took care of everything. Thank you.”
She nodded, putting one hand to the stair banister behind her. “Well, goodnight.”
“I, uh, I’ve been meaning to ask you,” he said haltingly, pushing his glasses farther onto the bridge of his nose, “about … well, a few things.”
“Well …” His looked down at her face close to his, his fingertips catching hers lightly. He leaned closer and kissed her lips, pressing gently as she moved closer, her fingers bending over his. When they parted, she lingered for a moment, smiling as he grinned, the dark hall hiding a shared blush.
“Oh,” she said. “Well…” She slowly put one foot on the stair.
“Well, goodnight, Orihime.”
She paused, looking back at him. She smiled, stood on tiptoe, touching her lips to his again in a quick, forceful kiss that made him step back a pace. His arms came around her instinctively, kissing her back, the smell of sunflowers pervading her, and then she slipped away back to the staircase.
“Goodnight, Uryû,” she said softly, a breathless giggle in her voice.
He watched her turn and go up the stairs, himself a little dazed, but happy. He grinned as she disappeared, and then went into his own room.
26- Last Light
The next morning dawned foggy and damp, but by the time Renji had finished cursing his bruised and busted ribs, the sun was making a determined attempt to shine through. It still hurt to raise his arms, but he wasn’t about to let another hair-tie beat him, and managed both that and the black bandana before joining Orihime in the kitchen.
He looked from the coffee pot that was making hot water to the rice cooker, to her, where she leaned against the counter, already dressed in the yellow and pink skirt and a peach blouse.
Which nearly matched the shade of blush on her cheeks, he noticed. He looked closer at her as she pushed a coffee mug to him on the counter. “Are you feeling all right, Orihime? Your cheeks are …rosy.”
She put both hands to her face, her eyes widening at him. “I’m not sick, Renji. I’m fine.” She turned to the refrigerator, opening the door and looking in. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine.” He frowned at her, and then looked to Ishida as the Quincy appeared in the kitchen doorway. The color came up quickly in his face, and Renji glanced back to Orihime, raising an eyebrow.
“Good morning, Orihime,” Ishida said, a grin surfacing as she looked to him.
“Oh, good morning, Uryû. Did you sleep well?”
“Oh, yes, very.”
They both looked to Renji as he paused at the counter, one hand on the carafe of hot water, the other on the coffee mug. He watched the look pass between them, a mixture of bashfulness and secretive commonality, and decided something had transpired. He looked back to the coffee pot, grinning. “How’d the movie end?”
“What?” they both asked.
Renji poured hot water into the coffee cup and dropped a teabag into it, enjoying their momentary discomfort. “Who won, in the movie?”
“Oh, the North,” Ishida said, his attention on Orihime, who was still paused at the refrigerator.
“It wasn’t much of a war movie,” Renji said, looking to each of them.
“Oh, no. Not really.” Orihime forced a smile, looking out the kitchen window where the sky was visible between the basil plants. “Maybe it will be sunny today.”
“Maybe.” Renji sighed, grunting at the movement, one hand at his side. “I’m going outside to look around,” he said as a silence developed in the room.
“Okay. The rice will be done soon,” Orihime said cheerfully.
He nodded and went out the back door. In the east the sun was burning off the fog at a steady pace, vying with the moisture ridden atmosphere for airspace. He could hear Milk Dud whining at the neighbor’s house, scratching at the back door to be let out.
Renji went into the garage and slipped the ring onto his right hand, and then made his usual rounds of the yard. He alighted to the house’s roof, his breathing freer in shinigami form, the tenderness at his shoulder absent. In the next yard over, the elderly woman was opening the back door for Milk Dud, who made a beeline for the laundry pole and lifted a leg. At Raider’s house was a patrol car, this one a tan and brown sheriff’s deputy squad car. No officers were in sight. He wondered how many more were going to parade through the house before the authorities decided they had enough information on Raider.
Renji’s communicator beeped and he reached for it in his robes. He looked to Hitsugaya’s code on the screen before answering it.
“How’s everything going there, Vice-Captain?” Hitsugaya asked, his tone its usual crispness.
“Fine. We had an incident last week, but it’s all under control.”
“Oh? How is Orihime?”
Renji made a sour face. “She’s fine, Captain.”
“Well, you can put it in a report. You’re to leave for Japan tonight.”
Renji stood stock still on the house’s rooftop, staring into Raider’s backyard without seeing it. “Tonight?”
“Yes. Your assignment is over. Escort Orihime home to Karakura Town, and then report back to Soul Society. Is Ishida still with you?”
“Yes, Captain.” Renji frowned, concentrating on the call. “Is everyone being recalled?”
“Yes. Everyone. Your flight is for ten-fifty tonight, out of Detroit Metro. There’s a ticket for Ishida, too.”
“We’ll be on it.”
They spoke for a few more moments, and then Renji pocketed the communicator, looking at the sheriff’s car in the next yard. It was over.
Five minutes later, stillness had engulfed the kitchen after Renji told Orihime the news. She sat at the table with Ishida, a blank look on her face as she stared at him, a pout pulling at her lips. Then she glanced to Renji standing at the sink, the mug of tea in his hand.
“But I can still go to school today, can’t I?”
Renji shrugged carefully. “Do you want to?”
She looked back to Ishida. “I want to say goodbye to my friends. Can I?”
Renji nodded, seeing Ishida’s expression turn crestfallen. “Sure. We don’t leave until tonight.”
Orihime spent the day repeating her newly fabricated story of having to leave early in order to catch the end of the next break in her school year in Osaka, Japan, before the hiatus was over. A few of her teachers were confused, a few nodding suspiciously but saying nothing of it, a few looking at the note she’d brought from Renji, bearing signatures from Matsumoto posing as Mrs. Smith and Yamahita Maasa, coordinator of the United Youth Exchange Program from Japan. It was enough to confuse or persuade both the teachers and the office personnel.
“But I was going to ask you out to the dance next week,” Scott said, hovering over her as she cleaned out her locker at the end of the school day. He frowned at her. “You didn’t even give me a chance.”
Orihime looked up at him, blinking. “Oh, well, that was nice of you to think of me.”
Leah stood nearby, clutching her book bag, giving him a dirty look. “She’s got a boyfriend, Scott. You’re out of your league, anyway.”
“You do?” Scott asked Orihime.
“Oh, well…” she looked to Leah, blushing, holding her books closer to her chest. “I won’t be here next week. It was nice to meet you, Scott.”
“Yeah. See you, Inoue.”
Orihime and Leah waded through the mass of students to the sidewalk outside, collecting Meg and Danielle as they went.
“I thought you’d be here the rest of the school year,” Danielle bemoaned as they passed through the entrance doors. “Maybe part of the summer.”
“Yeah,” Meg said, crowding closer to the Japanese girl. “It’s so sudden.”
Orihime nodded as they followed the sidewalk to the street, stepping over the puddles of water that had formed in the low spots. “Japanese schools have a different year. All year. I don’t want to fall behind.”
Meg looked hurt. “I’m not ready for you to go yet, Inoue. I thought you could show us how to make egg rolls.”
Orihime giggled as Danielle gave Meg a friendly shove. “Those are Chinese, you dolt.”
Leah looked on as Meg and Danielle gave Orihime a bone-crunching hug when they paused on the sunny sidewalk amid the student traffic near the street.
“You promise to email me?” Meg asked.
Danielle asked glanced from her to where Renji and Ishida were waiting across the street by the usual tree and back again. “You have my address?”
“Uh-huh.” Orihime sighed as she looked from Danielle to Meg. “Well, goodbye. Have a good year!”
Orihime and Leah parted Meg and Danielle’s company as the latter two girls headed to the street leading to the junior high school beyond the buses. Orihime tried not to sulk.
“I didn’t think it would be so soon,” Leah said for the fourth time that day, watching the Japanese girl. “I didn’t realize it would just pop up like this. Is it safe for you to go home?”
Orihime nodded as they crossed the street. “Renji got the call this morning.”
Leah looked to Renji and Ishida as they waited. “Uryû is going home with you?”
“Yes.” Orihime smiled, a slight pink hinting her cheeks as she looked to Ishida’s anxious stance as she approached. “Soul Society is even paying for his airfare.”
“Soul…Society?” Leah repeated, slowing as they crossed to the opposite side of the street.
Orihime looked to her. “Renji said he told you about it.”
“Oh, uh, he didn’t mention that part.” She returned Renji’s attention as they neared. “Is that where he’s from?”
“Uh-huh.” Orihime’s smile broadened as she met Ishida. “Hi.”
He grinned at her. “How was school?”
She nodded, then looked to Leah. “Do you work today?”
Leah nodded and fell into step beside her as they moved down the crowded sidewalk.
“Did you say your goodbyes?” Renji asked Orihime.
“Yup.” She hitched her book bag over her shoulder higher.
Leah saw Ishida’s hand brushed against Orihime’s at his side, and looked to the girl’s sheepish smile. She glanced back at Renji behind them, her eyes going from his to his shoulder. “Is she going to be all right now?”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
She looked to Orihime and Ishida and dropped back a step to Renji. “Are you okay?”
He nodded, looking to the tie-dye shirt she carried. “You work at the restaurant this afternoon?”
She nodded, watching Orihime and Ishida walking only inches apart in front of them. “You shouldn’t fly with broken ribs, Renji.”
He shrugged slowly. “Time’s come to leave.” They reached the end of the sidewalk where it turned into town. The crossing-guard held the stop sign up to them, waiting for the Brooklyn-Pierport Street traffic to halt as the light changed to red.
Orihime turned back to Leah, a small smile on her face. “I’m glad I met you,” she said, then brightened. “You can have the basil plants. Renji said I can’t take them with us, but I don’t want them to die off. I’ll leave them on the back porch, okay?”
“Sure.” Leah smiled back at her, then pulled her close and hugged her tight. “Be careful, Inoue. Write to me, if you can.”
Orihime nodded, then separated from the taller American girl. “I will.”
Leah looked to Ishida. “It was nice to meet you, Uryû.”
He bowed slightly. “You, too, Leah.”
The crossing-guard waved to the huddle of students that had gathered at the sidewalk corner. “Okay, you can cross now!”
Renji watched Leah pull at the book bag strap at her shoulder. “Bye.”
She nodded, taking a step backward down the sidewalk behind her, pushing a strand of dark hair out of her face. “Bye, Renji.” She half smiled, tossing a wave as Orihime raised a hand to her.
Renji, Orihime, and Ishida crossed the street with the rest of the students, and then crossed the side street to intercept the sidewalk opposite. Some of the students meandered to the side street walks, others jogging to catch up with friends ahead on the sidewalk. Renji saw Ishida reach for Orihime’s hand as they moved along the walk. The Quincy certainly made good use of his time, he thought, watching her smile.
He turned and glanced back to Leah across the street, seeing her move down the opposite way, her hair loose trailing along her back, the blue hair-tie in one hand. Her steps slowed, and she turned to look his way. He returned her brief wave, and then followed after Orihime and Ishida.
Within an hour Renji had packed his belongings back into the suitcase in the bedroom. Orihime had emptied the newly dried laundry from the machines in the basement, meticulously folding his clothes as always, despite his insisting that she just leave them in the basket for him.
He rolled his shirts and stuck them in the bag, the usual embarrassment washing over him when he thought of her handling his clothes, but she was adamant about the laundry duty. He stuffed the rest of his clothes in the bag, wrestling with the heavy duty zipper until it was sufficiently closed. He went down the hall to where Orihime was in the rose-colored room still packing. She stood at the bedside, pausing as she looked around the room.
“Got everything?” he asked, leaning against the doorframe with his good shoulder.
She nodded, sighing. “I thought we’d have more notice.”
“Yeah, well, Captain Hitsugaya said everyone is going home now.” He watched her zip the suitcase shut. “You do want to go home, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes, of course.”
“Tatsuki is going home.”
She nodded. “I kind of got used to it here,” she said in a low tone. “Thanks for taking care of me, Renji.”
He sighed, resisting a shrug. “I’m sorry that Karl guy got so close.”
He was tempted to say something about her other friends from Karakura Town missing her, but figured it might undermine Ishida’s progress as of late. “Well, make sure you’ve got everything. We’re leaving in two hours.”
She nodded, smiling at him. “I’ll be ready.”
He nodded and went outside to see to the truck’s damaged door. It took half an hour to make the hinges functional enough to use and twenty minutes to get the door to stay closed — when locked from the inside — and he decided a door that wouldn’t open was better than a door that wouldn’t stay shut.
He sorted through the thoughts running around in his mind as he walked to the front of the truck to look at the headlights. Something felt amiss, as it had all day, but seemed to be magnified now. He wasn’t sure if it was the abrupt recall to take Orihime home, or the dread of driving for two hours to the airport. Or something else. Something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Something incomplete.
He looked at the passenger side headlight, seeing its cockeyed tilt that would put the beam center of the truck instead of straight. Well, he could live with that. It would be nearly dark when they left, and completely night by the time they got to Detroit. He sighed, muttering a curse at the stifling pressure at his side and chest. The cross-eyed headlight wasn’t enough to fix.
Ishida came out the back door of the house as Renji stood at the passenger side front wheel well, estimating the dent that folded the metal into the tire.
Ishida put two bags in the truck bed. “She’s almost done. She wants to know what you’d like for supper.”
Renji shook his head. “Whatever she feels like fixing. Anything will do.”
Ishida looked around the yard. “We just leave? Don’t you have to notify someone?”
Renji walked around the truck to see the dent in the driver’s side bed from fishtailing into the small tree that rainy night as they’d followed the Mercedes. “No. The house is leased for six months. The rent will run out; it won’t matter after that.” He decided the slight bend in the bed between the wheel well and door was insignificant. “We just put the garbage out. That’s it.” He went back to the passenger side front tire.
Ishida joined him there, frowning at the dent. “Should we pull that out more?”
“I don’t think so. If it rubs, we’ll stop somewhere and deal with it then.”
Ishida nodded. “Why are you being called back so suddenly?”
Renji almost shrugged, but thought better of it. “It’s time to go back. We didn’t know how long we were going to be here. Captain Hitsugaya didn’t give too many details this morning.”
The back door opened and Orihime poked her head out, looking to them. “We could use up the rest of the hot dogs,” she called to them.
“That’s fine,” Renji told her, seeing her flash Ishida a smile before ducking back into the house. He put one hand to the truck fender, drumming his fingers on the blue metal as he looked at the dent. “I’m going to look over the area before we go.”
“Oh?” Ishida grinned, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Some area in town?”
Renji scowled at him. “I’ll be back in five minutes. Don’t let Orihime out of your sight.”
Ishida shook his head and rounded the front of the truck as he headed to the house. “I don’t plan to.”
Renji entered the alley behind the restaurant as early dusk settled over the town. He saw Leah sitting on the back staircase entrance to the banquet room on the second floor. She looked his way as he approached down the alley, standing when he stopped a few yards away.
He wished he hadn’t made the trip. It was foolish to think a goodbye was necessary. Orihime had said her farewell, and that was it, he knew, but he thought a thanks was in order. She had helped, he thought, justifying his presence.
She tilted her head at him, frowning a little. “You know I can see you, right?”
He nodded, grinning. “Yeah, I know it.” He glanced to the screen door of the restaurant where the upbeat tune We Got the Funk was jolting out. “On break?”
She nodded. “We’re busy tonight. They’ve got a booking for the banquet room.” She looked up at the staircase, and then down the alley behind him. “Is Inoue with you?”
“No. She’s finishing up the packing up with Ishida.” He stuck his hands deeper in his jean pockets. “I just wanted to say thanks for helping her. Us. I appreciate it.”
“Oh, hey, no problem.” She lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “She’s nice. I hope she’ll be okay.”
He nodded, closing the short distance between them, looking at the restaurant door again when a male voice from inside called out, “Leah?”
“I’m on break, Ray,” she called back.
Ray’s bulky form appeared in the doorway, filling it, looking from her to Renji, and then he disappeared farther into the building.
“Head chef,” she explained to Renji.
He nodded. “Are you late?”
“No. He’s just needy. They still haven’t gotten a replacement dishwasher.”
He watched her for a moment, attention falling to where her fingers played with the fringe at the bottom of her tie-dye shirt, unsure why seeing her was becoming so awkward. He looked back to her eyes. “You smell like pineapple.”
She smiled. “I’ve been coring them for an hour. Fruit salad.”
He nodded. “Well,” he said, sighing, resisting a grimace at the movement, “we’re leaving. Thanks for everything.”
She nodded, looking inquiringly to him. “Will you come back? I mean,” she added hastily, blushing faintly, “will she have to hide out again?”
“I don’t know. Not here.”
He stepped closer and leaned down, kissing her lips lightly. She responded belatedly, hesitantly. He kissed her more fully, slipping his arms around her waist, feeling the fingers on one hand clutch the front of his t-shirt, the other hand slowly sliding around his waist — the uninjured side. She smelled of pineapple and some other deft fragrance he couldn’t identify.
He watched her eyes rise to his, appearing no distinct color in the darkening alley.
“I wish you’d done that a few weeks ago,” she said quietly, her hand on his shirt carefully avoiding his bandaged ribs.
“I should have. Take care of yourself, Leah,” he said, but didn’t move away. He looked to her hair now in a ponytail, tempted to pull it free, just for a few moments.
She nodded, her fingertips pressing into his shoulder blade. “You, too. And her.”
He nodded and released her. “Goodbye.”
Her arms dropped as he stepped away, her fingers nervously moving to the front pockets of her pants as she smiled at his grin. “Goodbye.”
By the time Renji, Orihime, and Ishida left Brooklyn it was dark too early, the air warm and muggy, skies heavily clouded, threatening to rain more than the mist that was now descending. Renji had had enough of rain, and he didn’t want any more. So far, according to the newspapers and radio, no one had found the body in the muddy field, and it looked like they were going to escape Brooklyn before it was noticed. He liked the idea of that.
Orihime gave the green and purple basil plants on the back porch a final glance, sighing. Beside her Ishida had rolled the window down halfway, as far as it would go with the damaged door without making resistant noises. Renji backed the truck out onto Brooklyn-Pierport Street, and they headed into town.
The traffic was sparse for a Monday, most of it moving westbound from the hub of Ann Arbor and Detroit into the outlying rural areas. The truck turned onto the eastbound road that would evolve into the main highway at the outskirts of town. They passed the few businesses, the lights over the Manic Groove’s sign showcasing the restaurant’s blue and yellow lettering.
“I hope Leah remembers the basil plants,” Orihime said.
Ishida nodded. “She will.”
She looked behind them at the town’s main intersection as the traffic lights changed. “Goodbye, Brooklyn.”
Renji glanced in the rearview mirror, past Orihime’s head as she turned back around, limiting part of his view into the truck bed, seeing their belongings nestled close to the cab. He hoped it wouldn’t rain. It didn’t matter too much if the bags got wet, but he didn’t want any problems with the airport about wet luggage. Airport personnel found alarm with the oddest issues, and he wanted no problems. He saw the katana case, more of a bag than anything, slotted between the back wheel well hump and his bags. He was to leave it in the truck at the airport parking lot. No arrangements had been made in advance for it on the return flight to Japan, and Hitsugaya had made it clear it could remain with the abandoned truck.
Orihime looked to him in the darkened cab. “Did you remember your tablets?” she asked.
Orihime said, sighing. “It’ll be nice to see Tatsuki again.”
Renji glanced to where Ishida sat at the passenger door. The Quincy’s face appeared a little troubled in the dim light of the cab. “We’ve got a two hour drive. You two sure you got everything from the house?”
“Uh-huh,” Orihime said.
They left town and traveled down the nearly vacant highway that was surrounded by cropland and copses of trees that clumped, dividing fields, most running along side roads of dirt or gravel. It grew quiet in the cab, and Renji switched on the radio to the local county station. The weather forecast came over the speakers.
The interior was highlighted by headlights from the car behind them. Ishida glanced back at it after a few moments, frowning. “I think they’ve got their high beam lights on.”
Renji looked to the rearview mirror, and then to the sides of the highway that had become short patches of woods lining darkened fields. “It looks like it could rain.”
Ishida pointed to a side road that veered off from the highway. “That’s the road we followed the Mercedes man down.” He cocked his head to see it as they passed, uncertain. “I think.”
Orihime settled back into the seat at the mention, sighing shakily.
“Oh, I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories,” he told her gently, turning to her. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.” She smiled back at him, then looked to her left wrist where the two bracelets were. “Renji, when can I take the bangle off?”
His eyes were on the rearview mirror, frowning at the car behind them as the bright headlights lit the cab sporadically as they rode over dips in the road. “When we get to the airport. It has to come off and be dismantled before we go through the metal detector.”
She turned the metal on her wrist, her fingers pausing on the blue beaded bracelet Ishida had given her. “Should we do that now?”
“Nope. Not until we get to the airport.” Renji glared at the mirror, one hand on the key of the chain at his neck. “I don’t know if this guy’s rude or ignorant.” Suddenly a second spotlight shone into the truck, joined by a flashing red light from the car behind. “Shit, it’s a cop.” He gripped the steering wheel, looking to the shoulder of the road.
“You’re supposed to pull over,” Ishida said, watching the side of the road that was absent of mailboxes beside a field.
“I know; I am.” Renji slowed the truck and maneuvered it onto a secondary dirt road that was lined with trees. The police car behind them followed, stopping when they did.
“Do you have all your paperwork?” Ishida asked.
“Yes.” Renji looked at the side view mirror as the door opened in the car behind them. “Dammit. What could be wrong? I wasn’t speeding.”
Orihime turned to look behind them, the spotlight hitting her square in the face, the red light washing over her features. She sat forward again. “I wonder what kind of policeman it is. Maybe he’s from Raider’s house. Maybe he has questions for us.”
“We don’t know anything about Raider,” Renji muttered, hands on the steering wheel, eyes narrowing at the rearview mirror. “We can’t help.”
He rolled down the window as a figure came toward the door. A flashlight shone into the cab. The beam caught him in the face, then moved to Ishida and then to Orihime.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” a male tone said, the officer’s face blocked by the light, revealing little more than a vague silhouette of uniform. “Evening, miss. Driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance, please.”
“Okay.” Renji sighed. He reached into his back jeans pocket for his wallet, seeing the officer’s hand rest at his side at the belt, the light focused into the cab, briefly pausing on Renji’s bandaged arm. He flipped open his wallet and pulled out the proofs.
The light went to Orihime. “How old are you, miss?”
“Fifteen,” she stammered, looking back at the blinding light.
The officer trained the light back on Renji as he handed over the papers. “Are you with these gentlemen because you choose to be, miss?”
“Oh, yes,” she said.
“I’m her legal guardian,” Renji added, frowning at the officer.
He shone the flashlight on the papers, then back to Renji. “Do you have paperwork proving guardianship?”
“Where are we going this evening?”
“The airport.” Renji’s hands tightened on the steering wheel again, hoping against hope that he wouldn’t have to produce the documents Hitsugaya had provided for guardianship.
“So, Mr. Smith,” the officer said slowly, the light going back to Orihime, “you’re taking a minor to the airport.”
“What’s your name, miss?”
“Inoue Moriyama,” Orihime said, her voice faltering. She felt Ishida’s hand close over hers on the seat.
The light went back to Renji. “Shut off the engine and step out of the vehicle, Mr. Smith.”
Renji groaned, but turned off the ignition and opened the door as the officer stepped back. He got out, looking to the man, and finally got a slightly better look at him in the moonlight. The flashlight angled back into the truck as Renji stood at the bed. The officer’s hand rested at his side, but it wasn’t on a gun holster as he had assumed.
“Miss, step out here, please,” the officer said.
Renji frowned, considering the angle of the officer’s right hand. “Stay in there, Orihime,” he said in Japanese, trying to see the man better in the dim light of the moon.
There was a quick flick of movement from the man, and Renji felt the blade of a sword at his neck, etching into his skin as the metal caught the moonlight.
“I was told no guns,” the officer said, his tone losing its professional qualities. “Which is just fine with me. Out of the truck, Orihime Inoue!”
“Stay in there!” Renji reached into the truck bed and grabbed the katana, shucking off the case as the sword at his neck bit deeper. “Ishida, get her out of here!”
The officer put one hand to the door, but didn’t have time to open it. Renji’s katana knocked the man’s sword from his neck, and then beat him back a few steps as Ishida pulled Orihime across him and slid behind the steering wheel. The tuck started, then lurched into reverse, stopping when it hit the squad car, eclipsing the headlights with the bumper.
Renji beat the man back farther into the dirt road, his shoulder rebelling at every movement. The headlights of the truck illuminated the officer, and he realized it was the man who’d drove the unmarked police car from Raider’s house the last few days. He was leaner now, minus the bulky bulletproof vest, his movements practiced and calculated as he met every slash of the katana.
“You can walk away from this, Abarai,” he said, the sword lowered at his side, stepping across the road.
Behind him, Ishida accidentally found park with the gear shifter. He restarted the already running engine, making the starter squeal in protest. The engine revved higher in park.
“Hand over the girl,” the officer said, moving to the middle of the road where more moonlight fell through the trees. “That’s all I want.”
“Not going to happen,” Renji told him, clenching his teeth against the throbbing pain at his side. “Swords are fine with me, too.”
The man launched into an attack that sent Renji into a defensive mode, backing to the trees lining the dirt road. He dodged an exceptionally swift swipe, hearing it slice two small young trees in half. He lifted the katana in time to partially block a blow that half landed on the gunshot wound at his shoulder. Renji grit his teeth and brought the katana across the man’s chest, catching the gray-blue uniform shirt, leaving a diagonal cut from pocket to abdomen.
The man winced at the cut, backing up a step, one hand going to his chest. With renewed vigor he loosed a series of slashes at Renji, one landing obliquely flat on his injured ribs, bringing a muted gasp from the shinigami. He caught the officer’s sword midair at the next attack, then leaned into the stalemate, and threw him back, taking the fleeting second of lowered guard to thrust the blade into the uniformed waist.
The mock officer coughed, posture hunching forward, his sword hand dropping, the other hand fumbling on the blade embedded below his ribs. He sank to his knees in the dirt road as Ishida managed forward with the truck and the headlights passed over him.
Renji jerked the sword blade out of the dying man, watching him fall to his side in the dirt and mud. In the headlights he could see the dull metal band on the man’s wrist and what looked to be more of a security guard’s uniform than a legitimate policeman. Renji put one hand to his ribs, thankful the adrenalin had muted the pain ebbing through the broken bones. He looked to the truck as it jerked into park suddenly and the driver’s door opened. Ishida stepped in front of the headlights.
“Is he dead?” the Quincy asked, waving a hand behind him as Orihime stepped out.
“Yeah.” Renji used the tip of the blade to move the man’s head, watching his last breath bring a moan from him. He glanced to Ishida. “You don’t know how to drive, do you?”
Ishida’s tone held a frown. “I’ve never learned.”
Orihime joined them, stopping at Ishida’s side, her eyes going from the dead man to Renji. “Are you okay?”
He nodded, straightening, breathing carefully at his newly damaged injuries while trying to catch his breath. “Let’s go.”
They took a few moments to shut off the lights on the unmarked police car, which was devoid of siren and most of the equipment found in a genuine squad car, and turned off the ignition. Renji and Ishida both looked at the taser and roll of furnace tape in the passenger side of the car. Ishida ushered Orihime back to the truck as she tried to look into the squad car. Renji slammed the door shut.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said, nodding to Ishida as he and Orihime got into the truck’s cab. He took a moment to lean against the truck’s bent tailgate and lifted his t-shirt to look at the new swelling on his ribs in the moonlight, scowling at the timid trickle of blood that had surfaced. He fit the bandage over it better, thoughts of Leah, some of which weren’t equated with medical attention — an odd moment to recall her fingers soft on his side, tender movements across his flesh as she patched his broken skin — surfacing in his mind. He regretted not pulling that blue hair-tie out of her ponytail, even for just a brief moment. He sighed, and rewrapped the bandage at his arm more securely where it was starting to darken from being reopened, and joined Orihime and Ishida in the truck cab.
“He was one of them?” she asked, looking anxiously to his arm.
“Yeah.” He looked in the rearview mirror at the nick at his neck which had resulted in barely a mark of red.
“Do you want me to drive?” Ishida asked.
Renji took a moment to turn the truck around, holding his breath as he pulled at the steering wheel. The truck paused at the end of the dirt road, the dark car and body out of sight behind it near the edge of the road. There was no traffic, and Renji turned onto the highway, heading eastbound.
Orihime looked out the window at the road leading to town, watching the long strip of highway fall away. She turned and sat facing forward again, sighing and leaning against Ishida’s arm as his hand took hers.
He looked at Renji intent on the road before them, and then down at her. “Now we can go home.”
Renji glanced at both of them, and then back to the highway, trying to ignore the fresh pain at his side and arm. He was more than ready to go home. He’d had enough of being human.
Thank you so much Renji’s Girll! I hope everyone enjoyed this story!