The second law of thermodynamics states that systems left to themselves invariably tend towards disorder. Rangiku had never heard of this. But even if she had, she would have just laughed at it.
She had developed a drinking problem.
It started out slow at first. Just a drink here and there to cure this headache or help her relax. Just some sake so she could concrete.
After a while it became a necessity.
Those that noticed, the very few that did, made comments about it. Mostly it was Hitsugaya, who is so much younger than she but so much like a father.
She waves away his complaints. "Just a drink," she says, "to get through the day."
He was supposed to be a hero.
After all those weeks of fighting and nearly dying and the power struggle inside hell, he had returned.
Aizen had been defeated.
But rather than the expected hero's commemoration like the rest of the Captains that had gone got, Renji is greeted by a judge and jury and receives castigation instead of flowers and congratulations.
It is an ironic, sad situation. Rangiku thinks those that try the hardest often are the least appreciated.
It is difficult getting to him but when she finally does, she taps him on his shoulder. "Gin?" she asks without explanation.
He looks at her a long moment, expressionless, careful to show nothing. "Dead," he says at last.
Rangiku stiffens just a little bit. "Oh." She swallows. "Good," she lies, "good."
Gin had been inside and outside of her life so much that she doesn't see why him being gone now should bother her. Perhaps it is because this time she knows there won't be another inside, that his outside is inevitable and permanent.
She misses him.
She hadn't gone to Hueco Muendo even though she had been asked. She had made up excuses, excuses Hitsugaya could see right through but couldn't determine why. Rangiku had no desire to be a war hero or a martyr, and she had no desire to make Gin one either.
If anyone knew about her history or relationship with Gin, they never said anything. She had never divulged it to anyone either because it hadn't mattered then.
And now that Gin was gone for good, it didn't matter at all.
It is on one of her better days (or worse days – she can't determine if it's worse or better to be sober) when he comes around. He stands in the doorway and she looks up at him. She is messy and a little incoherent and doesn't recognize him at first.
"You've forgotten me too then."
She blinks in the filtered light. Vaguely she remembers his voice. It is been a long time since she last saw him though she can't remember exactly how long. Often lately she has had trouble remembering things.
She sees the change in light and recognizes it as he turning his face away, averting his eyes. "Fix yourself."
"Oh." She adjusts her clothing to cover herself better. "I can't help it, you know?" she says to him conversationally, as if it were no big deal at all that her breasts should be hanging out. "They just can't be contained."
There is a slight blush on his face but she is kind enough not to point this out.
"What do you want?" she asks.
He steps into the room uninvited. He looks at the bottles on the floor, her sprawled position on the sofa, and her disheveled hair. "I heard you've been drinking a lot. I see now that they weren't lying."
"Oh, that." Rangiku rolls her pretty eyes. "Are you going to tell me to stop too? Like Hitsugaya always does."
His answer surprises her. She looks up at him.
"I was going to ask," says Renji, "if you had some you could spare."
Sometimes she pauses between drinks, in the space between not-remembering and simple-self-exploration, and wonders why she does this. She had never been much of an alcoholic before. She had only drank during social occasions or when it was needed to lighten the mood, like when Kira was around.
Sometimes she thinks it's because of stress. There is always work to be done and Hitsugaya, though he tries to be kind, is a forceful master. He is punctual, straight-as-an-arrow, knife-sharp. He sticks only to his goal and doesn't waver, not for anybody. Not even those he loves.
When Rangiku thinks of this, before she gets too drunk, she wishes she could be like him. Not completely like him – she likes being tall for one – but somewhat like him.
She wishes she could be like ice.
They drink by themselves for a while and then he starts coming by and just staying. He never offers an explanation as to why he stays and she never asks for one. She had stopped asking questions about people's business years ago.
"I noticed," says Rangiku, pointing hazily at his shoulder, unable to keep her arm from wavering, "that you don't wear your badge anymore."
When there is no explanation following, Rangiku demands exasperatedly, "Why not?"
Being drunk makes her impatient and she hates when people avoid answering questions properly. Gin used to do this a lot. It had been one of the things that bothered her most about him and had also made him so mysterious to the point she couldn't help but want to find out what he was doing.
Over the years that had changed. Rangiku had gotten sick of asking. She had left him alone to his own business and as it had turned out that business had happened to be Aizen.
"I left and disobeyed my orders, didn't I?" says Renji.
"That makes me a criminal doesn't it?"
"I hate how you respond to a question with a question."
Renji grins in a self-mocking way, barely bordering on amusement. "I lost my rank. I couldn't be trusted anymore. I disobeyed too much, broke too many rules."
"But you…" Rangiku narrows her eyes, trying to put words together through the sludge of her mind. "But you killed Aizen." She throws up her hands in exclamation. "You stopped the war."
"That's one way to look at it."
"What's the other way?"
Sometimes she thinks it's because the day is so boring and the night even more so.
After the fight with Aizen, everything in comparison seems so slow, so mediocre, so unimportant. Her work is unchanging, unflexing, same-in-same-out.
The only thing changed is the people.
Shuuehi is busy being the new captain of the Ninth Division. He is swamped with work, with adjusting, and there are dark circles under his eyes from lack of sleep.
Kira had resigned from his position as vice-captain. She had heard rumors that he was planning to leave the Gotei 13 and settle down somewhere, at a farm perhaps, somewhere quiet and safe.
Momo is quieter than ever, not wanting to grieve for the one who had betrayed her and feeling ashamed for not grieving. Rangiku rarely sees her.
Hitsugaya is still around but he is more withdrawn, more stoic, more firm. He is no longer the naive boy she had discovered on the dirty streets.
Gone are the ties with those she had felt so close to. She is the only who feels unchanged.
She runs late getting home one night. Hitsugaya had kept her and made her do extra work. Momo, he had said, was leaving tomorrow so he would not be in the office. He needed most of the work done today in order to be free.
When Rangiku asked him where Momo was going, he had said shortly, "Home." He would speak no more about it besides that.
She rounds the corner and stops in surprise. Renji is waiting in front of her door, sitting with his back against the wall. He rises when she approaches.
"Late night at the office?"
She nods to him. She opens the door and he follows her in. "My captain wouldn't let me leave," she explains. "Everything must be perfect, everything must be finished. Then he lectured me about drinking too much"
"Hitsugaya isn't it?"
"He's not so bad."
"He's a slave driver."
Renji laughs, the very first time she can recall since he had returned from Hueco Muendo. "You should be thankful that you have got a captain like him."
"He cares about you."
"All he does is nag at me."
"That's because he cares about you."
She frowns and pauses in pouring her drink to consider. She shrugs. "Maybe." It occurs to her then and she looks at him. "Whatever happened to your captain anyway? Why don't you ever mention him?"
"What's there to mention?"
"For one," says Rangiku, scowling, "why do you never say anything about him? Weren't you two close at all?"
He gives her a weird look, as if she has asked about something that is utterly obvious. "Are you so drunk already?"
She glares angrily at him then she hefts the now empty bottle in her hand and throws it at him. He dodges it effortlessly and it shatters against the far wall.
"What the hell was that for?!"
"I hate," she seethes, already a new bottle in her hand, "how you answer a question with a question."
"Was it really necessary to throw something at me over that?"
"It didn't even hit you. Stop acting like a little girl."
For a moment, she half expects him to return the favor of throwing something or stomp out in a fit of rage. It would almost make her glad to see it. It would make him seem more like his old self. Like the Renji she used to know. But he too, like everyone else, had changed.
He makes no move to counter or leave but his eyes remain angry. "My captain," he says, bitingly, fiercely, "was Kuchiki Byakuya."
She waits for him to continue and when he doesn't, she fixes him with another glare. "And?"
"You're not going to throw another bottle at me are you?"
"Not now," Rangiku answers breezily. "This bottle isn't empty yet."
It is Renji who rolls his eyes now. "If you knew him - Kuchiki I mean - that would be explanation enough."
"I know of him."
"He's magnificent," says Renji, "and powerful. He's also cold, calculating, and nearly heartless. He's the perfect leader if you're on his side. The worst enemy if you're not."
"You must have hated him very much to say things like that."
"No, I never hated him. I was in awe of him. I wanted to be like him."
Rangiku becomes very still. In his words she is reminded of Hitsugaya and his icy personality. She is reminded of how she wanted to be like him.
She moves her hand robotically to her drink.
"Surely," she says just as robotically, "he helped you when you came back from Hueco Muendo."
"Help me?" Renji is close to scoffing.
When he moves, she doesn't, and he nearly presses against her to reach the liquor. He chugs it easily. Rangiku feels absurdly sorry for him, even though there is also a bottle in her hand.
He turns to her. In his features she finds he looks like a wild, dangerous animal. "Kuchiki Byakuya is too good to help anyone. Not even his own lieutenant. He doesn't care about anyone, except maybe Rukia. And then only slightly."
"You think he doesn't love Rukia?"
Renji snorts. "I don't think he's capable of loving himself," he responds, "much less anybody else."
Sometimes she thinks it's because her love hurt.
After this thought crosses her mind, she thinks this is silly because love isn't supposed to hurt. Love is supposed to be a good emotion. Love is supposed to make you feel happy and free.
But then she sees Hinamori, a shadow of the person she used to be before love touched her and she remembers the look that had appeared on Hinamori's face the day she had delivered Aizen's sick letter into her hands. She remembers the person Hinamori used to be.
Rangiku thinks maybe she isn't so wrong after all.
"Whatever happened to your friend?" Rangiku asks.
Outside the moon is full and pale. There is just enough breeze to leave the door open. Rangiku sits on the floor for some unknown reason, a reason she doesn't even know herself. Renji is on the much more comfortable couch.
They are both nearly wasted. Rangiku is a festive, inquisitive drunk. Renji is the exact opposite. Therefore it is Rangiku that asks the questions and Renji who takes several minutes to remember he isn't by himself before he answers.
He looks at her slowly, as if she is a stranger. "Who?"
"That girl," Rangiku stresses. "The one with the black hair. I can't remember her name now." She stops herself, muddled. "Has it been so long?"
"You mean Rukia," says Renji, ignoring her last comment. "Rukia was her name."
"Yes, her. Didn't she go with you to Hueco Muendo?"
"Where is she then?"
Renji shrugs. "She didn't come back. She stayed on Earth."
Rangiku peers into an empty bottle. With her swaying eyesight she can't tell if there is anything in the bottle or not. She drops it anyway back onto the floor.
"Whatever what she do that for?" she asks and falls rather ungracefully into the remaining full bottles.
There is a long silence, other than the clink and clatter of Rangiku extracting herself, and Rangiku had forgotten she had even asked a question when he suddenly replies, "I think she loved somebody."
From her slumped position on the floor Rangiku looks sadly up at him. It is such a soft, heartfelt, doleful confession that she cannot say anything back. She is reminded ridiculously of a boy peering down at her with food in his arms. Her throat tightens. She feels the absurd desire to cry.
Then the moment is over and Renji shakes himself. "Besides she knew what waited for her here. She knew there would be punishment for going to Hueco Muendo if she ever came back here. She didn't want to come back."
"Won't she be punished for staying on Earth?"
"Oh, yes." He reaches for another bottle, one of the ones Rangiku had knocked over that had rolled against his foot. "Now she can never come back."
If Renji did love Rukia, if he had had a history with her, he had never mentioned it to Rangiku much less tell her about it. She doubted he had told anybody, maybe not even himself until the end. Love was funny like that.
She hadn't asked him either because now that Rukia was gone for good, it didn't matter what he had felt.
Sometimes she thinks it's because she isn't strong enough.
To everyone else, she imagines, she must seem so strong for letting Gin go without a fight.
But to her it is the exact opposite.
To her, she wasn't strong enough to keep him.
"Why do you wear that necklace all the time?"
Rangiku stops in surprise. Through the doors shines the bright sun and on the couch Renji is sitting up. She had forgotten he had stayed there. He had been too drunk to make it back to his own place.
It takes her a moment to process that Renji is sober. It is the first time she has seen him sober in a while.
She looks down at her chest. Gently she lifts the thin chain that nestles in between her breasts. "This necklace?"
"Yeah. I noticed you always wear it."
"I keep it to remind me of someone."
She smiles sadly at him. "Someone I used to know."
Renji says nothing to that. He just looks at her. She almost wishes he would probe more, demand she tell him. But she knows she never will.
"Do you miss Rukia?" she asks instead.
Renji frowns. "That's a strange question."
"Do you feel bad," Rangiku reiterates, "for leaving her behind?"
"I didn't leave her behind. She wanted to stay."
"I know. But…I mean…" She moves her hands, trying to piece together the words but she doesn't know how to. Renji, after all, doesn't know about Gin.
Renji, somehow, seems to understand just a little bit what she is trying to convey. "I promised her," he says softly, " that I would always protect her, but sometimes protection doesn't mean in the physical sense. Sometimes in order to protect someone you have to let them go."
Rangiku looks at the necklace dangling from her fingertips. She smiles sadly once more. Though she isn't convinced at all, she says, "Maybe."
If it had been anyone else, Rangiku may have thought Renji was right. But Renji was nothing like Gin and Gin was nothing like Renji.
After their conversation, she can't help but wish that Gin had been, if just a little bit, like Renji.
Sometimes she thinks it's because she feels like she's moving but is going no where. The path she follows is one big circle and it leads her again and again right back where she started from.
No matter what Rangiku does, she will always be stuck and everyone else will leave.
"They're all gone now."
She turns in a circle, spilling her drink all over, including all over herself, and tries to stop when she faces him. She doesn't manage and falls against the wall.
She had been feeling most sorry for herself today. Kira, she had heard, had left at last. He hadn't even bothered to come say good-bye to her, not even after she had let him drink her sake. He was an insensitive bastard.
And Momo too was gone and without a whisper in Rangiku's direction.
It seemed that people liked her and wanted her around but then she was forgotten when they left. She was apparently just that forgettable and she voiced this opinion outloud.
Renji doesn't answer. His gaze is lost in the trees. Rangiku purposely splashes some of her drink on him.
"What the hell!"
"I said they're all gone."
"You're such a pain in the ass," Renji swears. He shakes his sleeve.
"Don't you care?" Rangiku demands.
"Care about what?"
"You are the worse listener ever. They all left; Rukia, Kira, Momo and…and Shuuhei. He's never around anymore. Don't you care?"
"I don't know. Should I care?"
"Yes!" Rangiku is shouting. "They were your friends weren't they?"
"So you're supposed to care when your friends leave."
Renji shrugs. "People come, people go. Doesn't mean they're gone forever."
Rangiku frowns unhappily at his logic. "They didn't even say good-bye to me," she says miserably. "They didn't even remember me. What kind of friends are those?"
"Friends are people. People do bad things; they forget things, important things." He pauses a moment then laughs a little. The devilish grin he gives her is full of forlornness, fury, and regret. It is the same grin he had worn the day he had tracked Rukia down in the human world.
"They didn't say good-bye to me either."
Sometimes she thinks it's because she likens herself to a tree
When a tree is uprooted and placed in a new area, supports are often placed around it until the tree has become rooted enough to stand on its own. If the supports are removed to early, the tree will fall. If the supports are left too long, the tree will swell until it grows around the support and they become embedded into the tree. Then they can never be removed.
"Why do you have so many tattoos?"
He stares out at the stars. Rangiku wobbles on her arm. Time seems to be crawling by or flashing past. It makes quite the paradox and Rangiku can't help but giggle about the conundrum she has gotten herself into.
"What?" says Renji. He had come into himself at last.
"What?" says Rangiku back.
"Didn't you say something?"
"What? Did I?" She muddles on that for several minutes. "Oh, yeah. Your tattoos. Why do you have so many?"
"I like them."
"Do they mean anything?"
"They're accomplishments," he says. "One for every accomplishment I've ever made."
"Well, that's not flashy at all," she giggles.
"To help me remember," he says, ignoring her twittering, as if she had not interrupted him at all. "To remind me how far I've come."
"And how far have you come?"
"Far." He waves his hand slowly in front of his face and makes himself dizzy. "But not far enough. Actually I may have gone backwards"
He shakes himself and only manages to make the dizziness worse. He falls back against the hard roof they were lying on. "Fuck," he curses to the stars, "I've had too much."
"Tattoos or alcohol?"
"Both," he says. "Neither. I'm not sure."
He laughs then, stupidly, inanely. It wasn't funny but at that moment unfunny things seemed incredibly humorous. Alcohol tends to make him do that. Rangiku laughs with him.
"Do you have more tattoos?" she asks. "Under your clothes I mean."
"Yeah," he giggles, sounding like her. He gestures with his hand down the length of his body. "Everywhere. All the way down."
"Really?" She becomes coy and before she can think of what her words might bring about, she says slyly, "Can I see them?"
His laughter stops abruptly. He looks at her out of the corner of his eye. He doesn't move. He says nothing. Suddenly he didn't seem so drunk nor so carefree.
Rangiku, realizing what she has done, blinks in hazy embarrassment. She turns away. "Sorry."
A long moment passes. "It's alright," he says to her turned back.
Rangiku's muscles relax. She hadn't noticed she had clenched them. She stumbles to her feet and barely manages to stop herself from teetering off the roof. Not close enough to touch but close enough to feel the body heat of each other, she lies down next to him. Together they stare at the stars.
"So," she says eventually, "what do you have to show for your accomplishments?"
He laughs but this time it is a different laugh than before. It is a bitter laugh. "Not a damn thing," he says. He turns his head to look at her. His breath moves the tips of her hair. "How about you? What have you got to show?"
Rangiku looks out at the stars and all the inky blackness in between. She wonders, briefly, what it would be like to fall into the sky. "Nothing," she says at last. "Absolutely nothing."
Rangiku has known since she was young that she was exceptionally endowed. She tried not to flaunt it but everyone kept reminding her, even her enemies. She couldn't help but know about it when it was brought to her attention so often.
And she was well aware that beauty could sometimes be more of a curse than a gift. It made others jealous and made others view her as an item rather than a person. She was a pair of breasts with a pretty face, not a woman.
But regardless how she sometimes despised being voluptuous, she can't help but smirk a little at the blush that stains Renji's cheeks when she loosens her top to cool off and how tiny Rukia could have never compared to her.
Sometimes she thinks it's because of Gin.
He had betrayed her. He was a criminal. He was a bad person.
That's what everyone said anyway.
Rangiku couldn't disagree. What Gin had done was horrible and ghastly. He had joined the very ranks he had entered the Gotei 13 to slaughter. He was a turncoat.
She couldn't give him the excuse of being disillusioned either. Gin was too smart for that. He knew exactly what he had been doing. He was guilty in every way, shape, and form.
But yet there are times she remembers him in a different way. Back when they were young, back when Gin had been nothing to everybody except her, and before he had become somebody and she had become nothing to him.
She misses him. Not the Gin-that-is but the Gin-that-was.
On the other hand, she hasn't seen that man in years and now she never will.
"I think I miss things a lot."
It is always night when they are together and it is always a drink in hand. Rangiku is always the conversation starter and it is always Renji who answers.
"What about you? Do you miss anything?"
"...I miss the person I used to be."
Rangiku leans her shoulder against his. Silently they watch the sun come up.
Sometimes she thinks it's because she has changed. As a person she has been changed but she is still stuck in the same position she had been beforehand. She is still stuck in her circle.
And, like Renji, Rangiku misses the person she used to be.
"Hitsugaya told me I should take some time off." She slams her drink down. "He's such an asshole."
Renji makes no reply. Rangiku continues on anyway.
"He said I wasn't myself lately. He said my work was suffering. He said I should take some time off and come back when I had fixed myself. Isn't that funny? If only I knew how to fix myself."
She looks up at Renji. He is staring at the sky again. He is always staring at the sky, as if there were some hidden riddle there he was trying to solve.
"Don't you think that's fucking sad?" she demands of him.
He turns slowly to look at her. In the moonlight she can see his tattoos, jagged stripes against his face. They lower down across his neck, under his clothes, pieces of lightning that will never go out. She wonders faintly how far under his clothes they go.
"What?" he says.
"I said don't you think that's fucking sad?"
"Is what sad?" he asks.
"You weren't even listening!"
"Maybe I would listen more if you stopped fucking screaming at me for once."
Rangiku's mouth gapes. She hadn't expected that comeback. He had never said anything like that before. She scowls at him. "Fuck you, asshole."
"You have a dirty whorish mouth too."
"I hope they kick you out of Soul Society," she responds bitingly. "I hope they make you go back to whatever dirty street you crawled out of."
"I hope they do too," snaps Renji just as bitingly. "Then I won't have to deal with stupid drunks like you that only want to sit around all day and feel sorry for themselves even though they got opportunities and a great fucking life up the ass."
"I have a great life? I have a great life?" She forces herself to stand in order to yell at him better. "Who says I have a great life? You don't know a damn thing. I did once. Now there's nobody. He betrayed me and the rest just left. They're all gone. And where do you get off yelling at me anyway? You're just as bad as I am."
He stands too. When he comes at her, she doesn't move. He stops mere inches away from her.
"I'm just as bad?" he snarls into her face. "Let me remind you that I'm the one who went to Hueco Muendo, I'm the one who fought against Aizen. What the hell did you do besides sit around here on your ass? I'm supposed to be a fucking hero!"
"Would you like a medal?" she interrupts scathingly.
"Yes I fucking would! I'd also like my rank back. I'd like some fucking appreciation. They should be kissing my feet, instead they pissed on them. At least you still have a job and a captain who cares about you!"
"He does! You're just too blind to pay attention to it. You have all those things-"
"I," Rangiku interrupts again, pulling her shoulders back, "have nobody."
"Are you seriously that stupid?" He slams his hand palm-down against his chest. "I'm still here aren't I?"
Rangiku says nothing. She stares at him. Inside her heart, his words clatter like bones. And she thinks that in all his anger and all his fury, he looks positively magnificent.
She kisses him to prove him.
Against his angry words and furious features, she presses herself against him.
Her action takes him by surprise. For a second he is as rigid as a board. Then the rigidity of his body changes and he is pressing back. He pushes her into the wall and he is no longer the virginal boy who had blushed upon seeing her breast and didn't know what to do with himself but rather a man who knows exactly what he wants.
To her, he is a greater captain than Byakuya could ever be.
In his vindictiveness, she had not seen the Renji-that-is but rather the Renji-that-was. The one who had been fierce, domineering, and self-righteous. The Renji he had been before love touched him.
The Renji they had both missed.
This time it is not Rangiku who starts the conversation but Renji, and it is Rangiku who answers.
"Where do we go from here?"
"No where. Absolutely no where."
"Good." He shoots her a look out of the corner of his eye. "Are we drinking tonight?"
"I don't feel much like it."
"I'm sure we can find something to do though."
"I'm sure we can too."
Rangiku smiles. Softly she lifts the necklace off her neck. She drops it onto the floor.
And there it stayed.
Across his skin, she traces his accomplishments one by one, and in his embrace she becomes not the Rangiku-that-was nor the Rangiku-that-is, but the Rangiku-that-will-be.
The Rangiku after love touched her.