Many thanks to Scathachdhu and Arafel for fic clean-up duty and alcohol advisory. I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that portions of this fic are taken from real life, but I have too much dignity to say which ones. For the uneducated: "I've Never" is a drinking game where one person states something they haven't done. Those who have, drink.
Spoilers: Minor references to current manga arc spoilers, but if you don't know what they are it probably won't make a difference
Renji knew that, sooner or later, Rukia was going to break his heart. He just hadn't expected it to happen on a playground. That didn't make it hurt any less; it just made the scene all that much more surreal. There he was, surrounded by teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds while Kuchiki Rukia was kissing Kurosaki Ichigo on the swingset.
The night hadn't started out badly. While Rukia's cell phone had signaled the need for them to switch to their spirit forms, their foe was just another hollow. Still nothing to be trifled with, but infinitely easier to deal with than the allancar. That was just fine with Renji; he still hadn't forgotten how still and pale Rukia had been after Grimmjow had punched a hole in her side. For the time being, hollows were just fine.
Truth be told, Renji kind of enjoyed fighting in tandem with the other two shinigami. He'd known for years that he and Rukia made a good team, but adding Ichigo to the mix actually made battle fun, as long as they remembered to strike at the hollow as much as they aimed verbal jabs at each other. In the end, Rukia had cracked it across the head and that was that. Rukia had invited him to slip into his gigai and join them for dinner at Ichigo's, but Renji trusted Urahara's culinary skills more than anyone from Ichigo's genetic stock. He'd bid them goodnight and headed back for the store.
And then he'd turned around. Maybe it was a sixth sense. Maybe something in him decided he'd better spend more time with his friend now that she wasn't in danger of being executed. Maybe it was just because it was early in the evening and he didn't feel like turning in. Whatever the reason, he'd been happy enough to sense that Ichigo's and Rukia's reiatsu were still nearby, until he'd come within eyeshot and stopped cold.
For there Rukia sat on one of the swings, being firmly kissed by Ichigo, who held her face in his hands. As he watched, Rukia reached her arms around his, pulling him closer.
That was when Renji made a strategic exit.
If there was a name for what Renji felt, he didn't know it. Rukia had always been a star; shining, brilliant, and out of his reach. He'd lost her years ago when he hadn't let her know how much he wanted to keep her with him. His younger self hadn't seen a way to do anything else without dulling her light.
As a result she'd become the noble she was meant to be. Respected and proud and always, always above him.
Not a day had gone by when he hadn't wished he'd said more. And not a day went by that he didn't remind himself she'd done the right thing. He tried to bring himself up, to meet his friend at her level, but a stray dog can only jump so high and it can never be fully domesticated after running wild. And if it tried to catch a star, it would only be burned.
Ichigo, it seemed, had caught her. Renji couldn't hate him for it. He'd seen it in the boy's eyes before. He loved Rukia, even if he didn't even know how or what to do about it. Renji could relate. But Rukia, strong and cool as Shirayuki's ice when she wanted to be, was impossible to read in that regard. Unless she let you. Renji had wondered.
Well, now he knew. There was a word that described the situation after all, he decided. It sucked.
He couldn't blame Ichigo, but he still wanted to punch him a little.
"Welcome back, Abarai-san," Urahara called from the kitchen table as Renji trudged into the place he temporarily called home. "You're back early. Was the hollow so easy?"
Renji just grunted and headed to the refrigerator for a soda.
"Of course it was," Urahara continued. "My apologies, it would be insulting to assume the three of you couldn't handle—"
Renji slammed the refrigerator door. "It was fine," he snarled. "We killed the bastard and that was it. I came back because there's nothing else to do and I don't know where they went so don't ask!"
Urahara was silent for a moment before setting his chopsticks down beside the plate he shared with Yoruichi, who watched placidly, tail twitching at the end. "Ah," he said at last. "Kuchiki-san and Kurosaki-kun, eh? I wondered when that might happen."
Renji glared. "How would you know?"
"I'm a wonderful guesser. After all, you hide it so well."
"Whatever," Renji said. "Not like it matters. Why should I care?"
"Oh, Abarai-san, of course you do." Urahara stood, waving his fan lightly. "It's natural to feel this way when the one you love chooses someone else."
"I don't love Rukia." Renji had never heard a cat laugh before.
Urahara just shook his head. "Don't pretend. It just makes things worse. Is there anything we can do to help?"
Renji grunted. "Not unless you can turn back time."
"No, I'm afraid that's a bit beyond my capabilities. I don't suppose you'd like to try beating him up?"
"Like to, yeah," Renji said. "But that ain't a good idea. I just want to not think about it right now."
"Something to take your mind off it, then?"
"Yeah, that sounds nice. Feel like sparring?"
"Ah, it's too late in the day for these old bones," Urahara said, leaning on his cane. "But since you've had such a hard day, I couldn't possibly leave you here in turmoil. I have a solution for your problems."
Renji raised and eyebrow. "What's that?"
"We," said Urahara, "are going drinking."
"That's a great idea!" spoke up Yoruichi, who stood naked momentarily before turning on her heel and marching into the other room. "Just let me put some clothes on."
He had a bad feeling about this.
"Tetsuro!" Urahara waved as the three of them walked in. "Good to see you again. How are you?"
The bartender smirked. "Don't start, Urahara. You need to pay your tab before I can serve you tonight. I've let it go long enough as it is."
"Ah, but Tetsuro, I have a special friend with me tonight." He poked Renji with his cane. "His girlfriend dumped him for another man."
Renji glared. "She wasn't—she didn't—"
"Right, right." Urahara shrugged. "But he's in pain. He needs some liquid comfort."
"He's not a man," Renji mumbled.
Tetsuro folded his arms over his chest. "Nothing doing, Urahara. I'm running a business here."
"I'll pay you, you know that. I've never welched before."
"Aw, Tetsuro dear, have a heart," Yoruichi purred. "I'll make sure Kisuke doesn't run away on you. You can trust me."
"Please?" Her smile fairly sparkled.
"For you, Yoru-chan," he relented. "But this is the last time."
"Yoru-chan'?" Renji whispered.
"Shut up." She jabbed him in the ribs and dragged him to sit at the bar.
"What'll it be then?"
"Asahi for Yoruichi and me," Urahara said. "The special drink for our friend here. He needs it."
Renji slumped in his seat. "I really don't want to be here."
"Yes you do," said Urahara from his left. "Otherwise you'd be gone already. Can you think of a better place to be?"
He really couldn't.
"It's okay, Renji," Yoruichi said from his other side, putting a hand on his arm. "We understand. Do you want to talk about it?"
He shrugged. "What's to talk about? I caught em on the playground where we fought a hollow. I left. Not much more to it."
"A playground? Shocking. They'll sully the children's innocence," Urahara commented. "What did they say?"
"Say? Nothin. Che, you think I'm going to stick around after that? They didn't even know I was there." Renji blinked. "They didn't even know I was there! What the hell? They were so wrapped up they didn't even notice my reiatsu! And I was standing right behind the teeter-totter!" He dropped his head into his hands. "I really need a drink."
He jerked back when a glass slid down the length of the bar. It was on fire. "What the hell!"
"The Flaming Heartbreak!" Urahara announced cheerily. "It'll go out in a second."
Renji stared into the murky liquid. "It got plenty of alcohol in it?"
He grabbed it and downed it in one gulp. "Gimme another."
And so it began.
Three drinks later, Renji was a little more open to unburdening his soul. "I only told her to go because it was best for her," he said.
Yoruichi grinned, her eyes a little glassier than usual. "That's so noble."
"It was stupid!" Renji barked. "I could've said something more! But no, I had to let her go…I lost her then. I know it. Stupid. I thought I had to be worthy of her." He turned his glass upside down. "This thing empty?"
"I think so."
"Fuck that. Yo bartender, gimme another one of them fiery things."
"Make it sake," Urahara said. "You've got to pace yourself, Abarai-san."
Renji grunted. "Huh. What do you know?"
"Oh, I know a thing or two about losing," he said in a low voice.
"And about leaving things behind that you want to take with you," Yoruichi said. She wasn't smiling.
They sat in silence for a minute.
"Well, enough of that," Yoruichi said. "We're not drinking nearly fast enough. Time for a drinking game!"
Renji knew it was another bad idea, but found himself asking "What kind of drinking game?"
Yoruichi leaned forward. "Have you ever heard of I've never'?"
Ten drinks later—most of them drunk by Yoruichi—Renji slammed his glass down. "All right, that's it," he sneered. "You guys are cheating."
"Abarai-san, whyever would you say that?" Urahara beamed at him.
He snorted. "Maybe because every time you've never done something, she has!" He refrained from mentioning how surprised he was at the many things Yoruichi had done. He would never be able to look Soi Fong in the eye ever again."You know each other too well. You're just trying to get each other drunk!"
"It's a game, but not a competition," Urahara pointed out. "Still, I think we can be a little fairer, right Yoruichi?"
"Kanpai!" she cried.
"I'll take that as a yes. So." Urahara tilted his hat towards Renji. "I've never been beaten into submission by a fifteen-year-old boy."
And took a long swig of his sake.
Too many drinks later—Renji lost count after his fingers got a little blurry—he was in a better mood.
"Aw, don't be mad at Kisuke, Renji-chan," Yoruichi purred. "He's just tryin' to get you to let your anger out…it's like that…that love thing."
"Tough love," Urahara supplied.
"RIGHT! Rough love. The best kind."
"Thass all right," Renji slurred. "Love is…nice. I really love Rukia. And she knows it. She has to, right? That's why I let her go!" He took another sip. "Can't blame her really. m just a stray dog. He takes better care of her anyway."
"And he's younger," Yoruichi added. "More stamina in bed."
Renji chugged the rest of his drink.
"Hey man, what's up with the tats?"
Renji looked up to see a young punk standing behind him, flanked by two other guys. They looked drunk. Maybe not as drunk as Renji, but drunk. "What?"
"Your tats." The punk pointed. "Saw them from across the bar. Man, I never seen anything like those before. You trying to be a yakuza or something?"
"Fuck off." He scowled. "What's a yakuza?" He hissed at Yoruichi.
"What's a mafia?" The trio of morons guffawed. "Guess you really are a poser. Pussy like you couldn't be a yakuza."
Renji slid his glass over to Urahara. "Watch this for me."
"Feh. What'd you do your tattoos with, marker?" The head punk reached out to swipe at the tattoos on Renji's forehead.
"Was that really necessary?" Urahara asked five minutes later.
"Mmm." Renji swayed on his feet a bit. That had felt good, but the alcohol had dulled his fighting skills somewhat. The three punks were still lying in puddles on the floor, of course, but he felt a little woozy instead of elated with victory. And he had like…a tiny cut on his forehead. It stung a bit.
There was glass everywhere. It was…pretty. Nice and sparkly.
"That's it, Urahara," Tetsuro barked. "You and your friends are out of here!"
"I didn't get into a fight," Urahara said mildly. "Just add the damage to my tab."
Tetsuro snorted. "Right. Like I'm ever going to see that money. Fine. You can stay, but your pit bull friend here is gone."
"But Tetsuro," Yoruichi started.
"Forget it," Renji interrupted. "I'm done here." He grabbed his glass, finished off the drink, and staggered towards the door. "Thanks for the booze."
Once outside, he shook his head to clear it, but it didn't really work. When was the last time he'd had…had…however many drinks he'd had? A long time, his fuzzy memory supplied; it didn't usually take this much to outdrink the rest of the 6th division.
What to do now. He still didn't feel like going back to Urahara's yet. He couldn't go see any of the other shinigami. They'd want to know why he was so drunk, and it was no one's business except maybe Byakuya's because it was his sister and all and he'd want to know because he'd been a lot more attentive since the whole execution thing, probably trying to overcompensate for being an asshole and almost letting his sister die, and HEY YEAH Byakuya would want to know about this!
He quickly summoned a hell moth. "Byakuya!" he barked at the thing as it perched on the back of his hand. He ignored the people walking by that gave him odd glances. He'd seen Jinta's TV programs with their color-coded rangers. People in the living world talked to their hands all the time."Byakuya, er, captain, whatever. s me, reporting in. Things here are…" He considered it for a moment, swaying slightly. "Things are STUPID here. I think there's something in the air, man, makes living people act…stupid. I said that already. Hollows are fine though. I mean getting rid of them. Because I have ban kai now, remember? Not supposed to use it, but I can. And I earned it, unlike some speed freaks. Because I'm a vice-captain, dammit. Sooooo everything's fine. FINE!" He lowered his hand for a moment before remembering the purpose of his message and pulling the butterfly close to his face. "Oh yeah. Your sister is putting her mouth in very weird places." Before he could say more, the hell mouth fluttered away from his hand, careening a little drunkenly as it disappeared. Renji wondered if maybe it had breathed in too much alcohol from his breath, but his brain was too fuzzy to hold on to the thought.
With nowhere else to go and nothing else to do, Renji walked. As the cool evening air hit his face, he found himself growing slightly more sober. Not too sober—just enough to feel steadier on his feet and be really aware of how drunk he was without being able to do anything about it.
Hell, what had the point of this been—besides the other two laughing it up at his expense? It wasn't going to make him feel better in the long run. It wasn't going to help him get over Rukia. He'd been trying to do that for decades now. It wasn't that he wanted this maudlin, moony-eyed bullshit. He'd just never been good at letting go.
Maybe it was time he fuckin' practiced.
Yeah. He could do that. He'd go to Urahara's, sober up, and get on with his life. It's not like they'd had anything to lose. He was Abarai Renji, vice-captain of the 6th division! He had plenty to offer! Yeah! Yeah, he'd be okay.
Of course, it was just then that he heard it. "Renji?"
Rukia's voice. Shit.
He spun on his heel to see Rukia and Ichigo standing near the entrance of an open-air arcade. He glanced down quickly—they weren't holding hands, but they were standing a touch too close for his liking.
He started to say "Hi" but it somehow came out as "Heeeeeeeey Rukia! Whatcha doin'?" He plastered a grin on his face and hoped it looked natural.
She frowned. "We went home and Karin and Yuzu wanted to play games, so we…are you okay?"
"Sure! Why wouldn't I be?" he waved his hand in a gesture that was meant to say yeah, of course I'm fine, why WOULDN'T I be fine, aren't YOU fine, what with making out with strawberry-head here, because IM fine with it. He hoped she got the gist.
Rukia's eyes opened wide. "Are you DRUNK?"
"No," he said. And teetered, because he'd forgotten to stop waving his arm. He stopped.
"You are drunk," Rukia said. "In public! I can't believe it!"
"I can." Ichigo grinned. "Seems like him. Have a little too much fun tonight, Renji?"
"Urahara and Yoruichi dragged me out," he said. "What could I do? You got some nice bars in the living world, Kurosaki."
"Those two. I should've known," Rukia scoffed. "Really, Renji, it's undignified. What would nii-sama think?"
"Ah, he wouldn't care." Some spark of sobriety in the back of Renji's brain suggested he should pay more heed to what Rukia had said, but he ignored it.
"Well, you can do with a little less fun if it has you staggering around in public," she said. "It's undignified."
Renji shrugged. "It was more fun than hanging around the park."
Rukia just scowled, but Ichigo grew very still. "Rukia, why don't you go find Karin and Yuzu?" he suggested quietly. "I bet Yuzu could use some help with the crane game. She's not very good at it."
"And I am?"
"It doesn't matter. We should check on them anyway. Pop said we should take care of them."
Rukia rolled her eyes and wandered off, grumbling about how the girls were eleven, not three.
Renji looked hard at Ichigo, who met his gaze without blinking. "Yeah, Ichigo. You do that. You take care of her."
Ichigo nodded once, and moved to follow Rukia.
Renji let out a long sigh and turned to leave. So that was that. He felt better…but slightly sick at the same time. He'd get used to it.
It was time to go home. He suddenly felt as if passing out in his room at Urahara's would be an excellent idea and turned in that direction. He wasn't exactly sure how to get there from here, but he'd manage.
He'd trod about three blocks when a car pulled up beside him with a screech. "Hey, kid!"
It took Renji a minute to realize the voice was referring to him. It had been many decades since he'd been referred to as a kid, and he'd beaten bloody the last person to do so. He turned to see Kurosaki Isshin grinning at him from the driver's seat. "You're one of Ichigo's friends, right? Need a ride somewhere?"
"m fine," Renji grunted.
"Ah, come on. Your young feet will walk far in this life, why be so hard on them now? Let me give you a ride."
"Okay, fine, whatever." Anything if it would get him back faster and get this guy to quit pestering. He was really annoying. Must be a family resemblance.
Another car honked angrily just as Renji shut the door behind him and Isshin slammed his foot on the gas, pressing Renji into the window.
"So, what are you up to tonight? Were you out with my son? He went to the arcade!"
"Yeah, I saw," murmured Renji, trying his brain stop spinning after that sudden jolt. "Uh, do you wanna…"
"Slow down? This'll get you home faster! I'm much better than a cab! Besides, I have a house call to make after this!"
"Uh…" His stomach joined in the spinning. Not. Good. What was wrong with this freak, anyway? Other than the fact that he was Ichigo's father? And how unlucky was he that he'd had to deal with two Kurosakis in one evening?
"Uh oh! There's a stalled car in the lane! Hold on, Isshin's going to make a quick turn."
The world turned inside out.
Later on, Renji would barely remember mumbling an apology as Isshin screeched up to Urahara's. He remembered even less stumbling to his room and passing out. And he didn't remember at all that he'd never told Isshin how to get there.
"Ugh." Renji searched for another word that fit as he returned to consciousness, but he seemed to have gotten it the first time. "Ugh."
"Good mooooorning, Abarai-san!" Urahara waved from the doorway. The man was practically sparkling. "Did you have a good evening?"
"Of course," Urahara grinned. "Pancakes are on the table, along with Yoruichi's surefire hangover remedy."
"Does it work?"
Urahara shrugged and ducked out.
Renji pulled himself together and sat up. So, the world hadn't ended after all. Life went on. The sun shined, birds sang. Rukia didn't love him.
He felt…okay. It'd be a long while before Yoruichi and Urahara let him live this down, and he wasn't sure what he'd say to Rukia when he saw her again. But it'd be all right. He was Abarai Renji, vice-captain 6th division. He could handle this. At least he hadn't said anything too humiliating.
Just then a butterfly flapped by the window. Renji felt a jolt and had a sudden image of a hell moth…on his hand…flying off to Byakuya.