For the 20 Souls community on livejournal. And for all the people that made me realize how popular the thugs really are.

Spoilers on up to chapter 206, by the way. You have been warned.

It's Good to be Gangsta
20 Truths About the Thugs

The first time they all met was in the Academy. They were all in different years and they all met individually. Iba thought Hisagi was a prick, Hisagi thought Renji was retarded, Ikkaku thought Iba was a know-it-all and Renji thought Ikkaku was an ass.

At that point there was only one bar where students were allowed to mingle with shinigami and, one unfortunate weekend, the four of them finally all met up. After that night, all the students and shinigami were blacklisted from the establishment and they had between them three concussions, eight broken bones, a week stuck at medical, two months confinement to quarters and one hell of a friendship.

Hisagi was the only one that was never, at one point, part of the 11th division. Honestly… he might be a little jealous that he was stuck in the 6th. The others all had these grand stories and battles and bonding and camaraderie and so much blatant respect for their captain. Meanwhile, he had stiff Kuchiki and equally stiff officers.

But he still had pride in his division and the fact that they weren't all muscle-headed, charge-blindly type idiots like the 11th and the three retards that were laughing at him. And to prove to them that he didn't care a whit about how hard Zaraki-taichou kicked someone's ass or that they got to go hunt down another band of Hollows out on the fringes, Hisagi got 6 tattooed on his face. He said it was out of joy that he wasn't in such a mindless, hopeless division like theirs and he was going to have every division he was in tattooed on his face so long as he didn't go to the 11th. In response, they just snorted.

That is, until he got transferred to the 9th. Then they just laughed themselves sick.

They didn't have a set ranking in who was the strongest in their little group but Renji considered himself to be the weakest of the four. Admittedly he did better in the Academy than Ikkaku, but even Iba sometimes had trouble beating the bald shinigami in a one-on-one fight.

It took a lot of debating and swallowing of the pride before Renji finally asked Ikkaku to help him become stronger. He had a goal he had to accomplish, no matter the cost. But after three weeks of being Ikkaku's bitch before he finally agreed to train him, Renji thought it almost wasn't worth it.

Iba and Renji only ever argued about one thing: their shades.

Iba claimed his were better because they could stand up to more than just one hit.

Renji claimed his were better because they're more expensive.

Iba then claimed that that was his second reason.

Hisagi and Ikkaku never understood why they'd waste money on something so pointless anyway and would say as much whenever they tired of the argument.

Iba and Renji would then point out that Hisagi is tattooed and is therefore a hypocrite and Ikkaku is bald.

Ikkaku snapped at them, wondering what the hell that had to do with anything.

They'd say he doesn't know anything about being stylish and therefore his opinion is moot. Or they'd call him a fucking moron. The argument always dissolved into a brawl from there. If they went with the first answer it would've degenerated a little later on.

The four of them were a bit infamous in the less desirable districts of the Rukongai. They liked the more rundown bars and cruder atmosphere. And they liked beating the crap out of any of the drunkards that tried to mug them.

All the bars knew them by given name and drink preferences. And those that had them available even knew which girls they favored.

So when the four of them came in, glaring at each other and turning away the girls and their drinks, it frightened the hosts and the customers. That night the bar was unusually hushed and tense.

That is until Iba ordered the best drink in the house for everyone saying 'Drink up, mother fuckers- Renji's made vice-captain!'

Out of boredom the four of them once held a drinking contest. They don't know who won, all they knew was they woke up in varying states of decency in an alley covered in mud and alcohol and vomit and sporting a nice mixture of graffiti, bruises and blood.

They argued constantly over whose fault it was and got into more than several scuffles over it. That is until Zaraki kicked the lot of them apart and told them to stop being whiny little bitches about it. If they were going to do something that stupid they had to expect someone would take advantage of it and to think otherwise was sheer idiocy.

It took a long discussion, but they finally came to a unanimous decision and made Zaraki king thug.

Not long after Renji graduated from the Academy he was assigned to a district in Japan. He reached a fair understanding of their technology at the time and the route was really rather bland to his liking. And then a religious cult set off bombs in the subway systems where he was assigned. There weren't many who were killed by this attack, but Renji had arrived at the scene not long after the first few victims died and witnessed the effects of it on the living. He saw the people overcome with coughing and retching, puking blood from their blistered lungs. He saw dozens fall over, too weak to move, unable to breath. He'd never felt so helpless, so uncertain in his life. He couldn't help any of them and he didn't know what he could've done.

Renji never talked about it, but sometimes he still dreamed about the cries scorched into his brain. The other three didn't understand, not completely anyway. They all had their own terrors that haunted them in the stillness. Hisagi was called out to a special duty when two bombs landed in Japan, three days apart. Their radius reached hundreds of miles and thousands upon thousands were killed and still dying from it years later. Ikkaku was sent to an island where foreign invaders and Japanese defenders were being slaughtered deep in bleak jungles. Weeks and months of fighting and Ikkaku watched them tear into each other like animals. Iba's first assignment after the academy was an earthquake and fires that killed over 14 thousand people, the sight of crushed bodies and smell of burnt skin still shook him sometimes.

They'd never be able to fully understand what the others went through. But they knew they weren't alone. And in the nights that they spent staring into the disfigured ghosts screaming at the bottom of their glasses, it was the only thing that kept them sane.

It eventually came to pass that Yamamoto-soutaichou had to address the issue of the four of them never backing down from a dare. This, of course, happened when Iba spent five minutes attempting to feel up Soi Fong. The captain general wouldn't have gotten involved in it except that Iba swore up and down that he couldn't find her breasts and Soi Fong's subsequent reaction to the claim.

When Renji came back from the mortal plane he had blood dripping in his face. None of the other three were there to see it, but they heard about it. They laughed at him, called him weak and a dumbass and too overconfident. They even offered to take him down a couple notches just so it wouldn't happen again.

Renji just sneered at their jeering and stalked off, refusing to talk about what had happened or who had done it to him. But it disturbed him. The entire situation disturbed him, actually. Having to retrieve his childhood friend, the power of whoever cut him, the somber and tense air between Kuchiki and his sister.

The weight of everything made him retreat into himself. And they didn't know how to go in after him.

Fewer things were a more blatant slap in the face than hearing Ikkaku of all people lost to some intruder.

They wouldn't admit it- even to each other –but things were starting to get a bit frightening.

Fewer things were like being stabbed in the chest than when Hisagi and Iba and Ikkaku stood together with a line drawn between them. Ikkaku was following his captain, just like they were following theirs. It still felt like a betrayal. Friends weren't supposed to fight each other, not like this, anyway.

That was why, even though they said they were taking this fight seriously, they really weren't.

After everything had settled for the most part, Hisagi spent his days moping about. Iba and Renji fidgeted around him, not certain what to do. It wasn't long until Ikkaku went around with a pair of goggles he found after raiding Tousen's closet, going on in a bad imitation about justice and peace but I'll be an ass and betray everyone and join up with the rest of the douchecocks…

The other two hid their faces, not wanting to see what Hisagi would do. Except that Hisagi just stared at Ikkaku. And then he started to laugh. And then he started to cry and laughed and cried and swore and beat the ground until his fists bled and they had to pin his arms down.

And then, after that was out of his system and he started looking more like his competent, level-headed self again, he beat the crap out of Ikkaku.

After much arguing and ball bashing and Matsumoto using her feminine wiles they finally convinced Ichigo to at least hang out with them while the five of them got wasted (carefully wasted, Matsumoto could really hold her liquor and did terrible things to those that passed out before she did). After a long night of drinking and an even longer afternoon of hangovers, Ichigo noted that they sang.

The four of them shrugged. So what? A lot of drunks sing. That's why there's drinking songs.

But, Ichigo said, you guys sang in four-part harmony.

They shrugged again, this time with a bit more embarrassment. Over 30 years drinking with the same guys and singing the same songs you needed to mix it up to keep it interesting.

It didn't explain why he kept referring to them as Backstreet Boys after that, though.

Festivals were everyone's favorite part of the year. Hisagi, Renji and Ikkaku would always crash Iba's place despite his mother being the sickly type. Between the four of them the Iba household was always the rockinest place on the block. There's be crates and crates of sake, fully catered dinners and at least three kinds of entertainment. They even managed to hire up the Shibas to set up the fireworks from time to time.

The local kids called them the Festival Heroes. They just liked having a good time, splurging or not. But hell, if the kids introduced them to their sisters they could call them whatever the hell they liked.

It took them a bit longer than they'd care to admit, but the four of them finally realized they were getting a lot less play than they used to. At first they thought is was just because Renji attempted to fight and got his ass handed to him by Kuchiki-taichou, Ikkaku helped out the ryoka, Hisagi was vice-captain of a traitor and Iba's captain turned out to be a giant furry. When, after much debate in the utter failing of logic that made, Ikkaku inadvertently came across the discovery of their problem. Yachiru had left the latest issue of the Shinigami Women's Association's monthly magazine out and on the cover- in big glaring characters –it said inside was the hidden side of some of the Gotei-13's more eligible bachelors.

Curious as to what could make Ikkaku sweat, the other three turned to the page. Inside was an interview. Of the four of them. Done by Matsumoto. They swore and paled. She must've snuck in the interview the last time they all went drinking together. But what caught their attention was the photo that took up the top 2/3 of the first page. It was right after they had tussled for rights to the last sake bottle. Where they were leaned up against each other, half falling over, grinning, flushed from the skirmish, clothes still pulled half down their bodies and obviously drunk off their collective asses.

In short, it looked pretty gay.

They didn't read the rest of it, but they were pretty sure they found the source of their problem.

Ikkaku loved his position in the 11th division more than anything. Even having to deal with Yachiru and her apparent teething problem and all the paperwork that was tossed at him on top of a 3rd seat's regular duties. He loved it because he genuinely liked the people he worked with and what he got to do. Leaving the 11th was something he would never, ever do.

Though when Renji said Ikkaku could take over as captain of the 9th, the first thing he thought was the last scathing remark Hisagi made about doing the vice-captain's work with none of the benefits and still being abused like a bitch by a hyperactive ball of pink.

Man, was he ever tempted.

If Hisagi ever found out that Ikkaku was considered to be his new captain, he'd kill the man. Then he'd track down and kill Tousen for letting Ikkaku be considered as the new captain. And then he'd kill himself.

When Renji and Ikkaku left on their mission, Iba and Hisagi spent the next few days sulking. They said they wished they were lucky enough to fight someone that was an actual challenge. Most people believed them.

Those that didn't see the two extra sake cups set next to them while they drank, anyway.

When Renji and Ikkaku came back, torn up, worn, not entirely victorious but still alive, Iba and Hisagi threw them 'Congratulations on not completely fucking up' party.

It was good to be whole again.

Once, when they were drunk- drunk enough to play it off as alcohol-related stupidity, drunk enough to say things they'd never acknowledge without alcohol –they made a pact. They swore over their favorite brand of sake that they'd stick together.

Come Hell or high water, wars and death, they told each other that they'd meet again for one last drink on the other side. And until then, they'd be right here.