Characters: Ryuuken, Yoruichi, Uryuu, theoretical members of Uryuu's mother's side of the family
Genre: Gen, some angst
Warnings: Mentions of character death
Summary: Yoruichi makes a late-night visit to discuss plans for an uncertain future, and Ryuuken realizes that time is shorter than he thought.
A/N: I meant for this to be set sometime after Orihime's abduction but before the "fake Karakura" is installed. Also, dear God I'm sorry for how late this is. Gah.
Too late even for sleep and weary beyond weariness– how long a day had it been? (The work of running a hospital this size was never done.)
Outside the seventh-story window, the wind sung wickedly– fiercely, howling its way between buildings– and the moon was bright. (Bright so that even the glimmer of the city lights could not dampen it completely, and it painted the sky all colors of silver and lead.) The first Quincies, with their superstitious minds, would probably have spoken of portents. –But Ishida Ryuuken, who had no interest in the voices of the past to begin with, drew the blinds and turned on his desk lamp instead. (And its light was plain, white, and constant: something the moon could surely never compare to.)
He sat down at his desk (his back to the window, of course, as always) and took off his glasses for a moment; he made a quick attempt at cleaning the lenses on his sleeve and rubbed at the place where the nose pads had left red marks– again– on either side of the bridge of his nose. It was a quarter past three, but the day wasn’t over yet. –Still, you got used to it after a while.
With one hand he opened the top right hand desk drawer and pulled out a stack of papers; with the other he fished out the last cigarette from the pack. Ryuuken was only human, after all (and that wasn’t even an acknowledgment of inferiority, not for those– and he was one of them– who knew better. Only human was a blessing...), and it was true what they said: he needed something to do with his hands, especially if he had to sort through this mess. There were always so many reports to read over, so many dotted lines to sign– Oh, but such was administrative work, and he would not have given it up for anything. It was his life.
He shook his head as he read and started in on another pack, and in the silence he said to himself, They could have put more effort into this, and This had better be accurate or he’s getting fired this time, and, simply, The stupidity! Ryuuken was a man who could spot even the smallest flaws no matter how much other information they were entangled in. He had always prided himself on that.
(And as he read, the minutes ticked away on the desk clock, and outside the wind buffeted the windows– but in the stillness of the office, smoke hung in the air, coiled in upon itself in elegant, fragile shapes.)
Uryuu must have been five at the time, six at the oldest. Young enough, at any rate, to gaze at his new bicycle with unconcealed delight, young enough to beg his father to teach him how to ride it: he had not yet learned that such a venture would surely end in disappointment.
Still, Ryuuken did not have much work to do that day, so he dusted off his own bike and they took a ride down the street: Ryuuken swiftly and surely, Uryuu with false starts and much effort: so clumsy, almost as if he were still an infant.
But Ryuuken was proud of him.
He would never have allowed himself to show it– because what could that possibly breed but weakness?– but he was. That was a good day: the breeze was pleasantly cool on Ryuuken’s face as he glided on easily, far ahead of his son, full of the secret contempt– the contempt that comes from superiority– that all adults have for all children. And still, Uryuu, intent on catching up, kept going. Ryuuken glanced over his shoulder at one point, after hearing a faint crash, to see Uryuu kneeling on the ground next to his toppled bicycle, holding a skinned knee– and even then, all that was on his face was determination. That was something to be proud of: a son who had already made up his mind that he would catch up.
–Or at least, he thought that he would. And it had started out as a good day.
A while later, Ryuuken turned his head again only to find his son nowhere in sight. Had he fallen again, perhaps? –No, there he was, standing beside his bicycle and talking with a girl about his own age (except she wasn’t really a girl, not anymore; anyone could tell that much from all the blood and the broken chain that hung from her chest) who was crouched next to a street corner.
“It’ll be okay,” Uryuu said, “I’ll come back and–”
That was when Ryuuken snatched him away by the wrist and dragged him home, the pride draining like blood from his face.
Pressure: that was one good way to describe it.
He felt it coming from a long way off, but he didn’t raise his head until its source was standing right in front of his desk. He didn’t want to give it the honor of acknowledging it too soon, especially not if it was the one he thought it was. When he did look up, he saw just what he had expected: he was right, of course, about the reiatsu’s source.
He put out his cigarette in the glass ash tray, and then said cooly, “Unfortunately, animals are not allowed in this building.”
Yoruichi just held his gaze, unblinking. “Is smoking?” she asked as she settled down on her haunches.
“I have certain privileges in this hospital which you do not.”
She didn’t say anything in reply to that, but simply flicked the tip of her tail at him and continued to fix him in her amber eyes– as if she really thought she were being intimidating.
“So then, I suppose we should get right to the point. What is it going to be? A clumsy attempt at recruitment?”
“If you want to call it that,” she replied, unfazed, her voice gruff as always– like a man’s voice, as if she had been swallowing gravel. “I’ve come on Kisuke’s behalf, of course. I’m sure that you can see the way things are going, even if you don’t want to. Aizen–”
“Isshin has already been. And I told him the same thing: I have no interest in your spirit wars. They’re your business, not mine. It’s a little bit sad, actually, that you shinigami can’t handle this on your own. Aren’t you supposed to be the great guardians of souls?”
A cat couldn’t raise its eyebrows, but if it could he was sure she would have done just that. “Not surprisingly, Kisuke and I have had much more contact with your son regarding this matter. You know that he feels differently.”
But there was no “differently” at the first meeting.
“Blue eyes,” commented Uryuu’s (Uryuu, the baby’s name was Uryuu; the baby was born, had been named, was real in a way he hadn’t been an hour earlier) aunt. (And before, she was only Ryuuken’s sister-in-law. But now, she was Uryuu’s aunt as well.) “Just like his father, I suppose.”
Granted, it was true. They were the exact same shade of blue: a dark blue, but very intense. Ryuuken would hear that comment more times than even he could count in the weeks to come: “He looks just like you.”
But all the same (what use was there in trying to deny it?): when Ryuuken looked into the newborn boy’s face, he saw not his own reflection but rather the sea-colored gaze of the man whose portrait his own father still carried around with him: a French priest who had been one of the first of the Quincies.
“Yes. Of course I know. He has disobeyed me again, I see, even after all I did for him... But it wasn’t unexpected; I imagine that he felt obligated to bring back that girl. Sixteen and he sees himself as a man....”
He paused, shook his head bitterly, and reached for another cigarette. These days, Uryuu always made him feel bitter.
“My son, you see, believes in the honor of the Quincies. It’s something he inherited from my father. And no matter how much he may claim to hate you shinigami, he most likely won’t ever really desert you if only for that reason: he wants to prove how useful the Quincies are, how powerful they are; he wants Soul Society itself to see how righteous he is. Idiot. But that’s him. Personally, I believe in something in quite different.”
“Really?” Now she sounded half-amused– but only half, like she wasn’t really paying any attention anymore. Still trying, Ryuuken supposed, to pretend like she was in control of the conversation.
She flourished her head around and began licking her side to demonstrate just how disinterested she was before she continued, “You believe in things, Ryuuken? I never would have guessed. So, tell me, what is it that you say you believe in?”
He smiled. “Shihouin Yoruichi. You’re exactly what I would expect you to be. You were born to one of the elite families of Soul Society, weren’t you? A princess, you might say. Oh, but I don’t envy you, not at all. I wouldn’t trade places with you, wouldn’t even dream of it. You don’t even know what you’re missing. But tell me: how does it feel, having been born in the land of the dead?”
“And this is your own clumsy attempt at... What, exactly?”
“At explaining something to you. But you’re right; I probably shouldn’t even bother. You’ve never been alive, and because of that, you couldn’t possibly understand what it is that I believe in.”
Ishida Ryuuken graduated from high school in exactly the same manner as he did everything in life: with an apparently effortless excellence. Grace, one might call it, or ease. He was at the top of his class, of course. And since he was a diligent student in all aspects of life, he had already mastered his father’s craft as well, thoroughly but without enthusiasm. The troubles of the dead never had been of any interest to him. He could kill any Hollow he was confronted with, but he did so less out of a sense of duty and more out of sheer irritation: he had no desire to see storybook monsters, and killing them was the quickest way to remove them.
He attended a top university, then medical school, and graduated in record time. A genius, that was what everybody said, and he wore the title with pride. It was the truth, after all.
Plus, there was something about medicine that spoke to him, and it wasn’t just the prestige that it carried. The day he got his medical licence was the day he was finally able to plant both feet firmly in the world of real things: there were living people (normal people: neither Hollows nor wandering spirits, but just people as authentic and alive as he himself was) who needed his help; there were actual, physical catastrophes to be attended to that were just as important as anything that happened among the dead; there were lives, not souls, that needed saving.
He told his father exactly what he thought of the Quincies. Foolishness, that was what he called it. Foolishness fit for an old man, I suppose, but foolishness all the same. Don’t expect the young to want to listen to your stories; we want to do things with our lives.
They were important things, more important than someone so preoccupied with spirits could understand.
See: a sudden flash of headlights, bright as diamonds in the night, and the corresponding screech of metal on metal. This had happened a thousand times before, and it would happen a thousand thousand times again, but Ryuuken could not help but be entranced.
Sometimes the victim was a woman, sometimes a man; other times there were many people brought in. Sometimes it was one driver’s fault, sometimes another’s, or sometimes it was an accident in the truest sense of the word and nobody was to blame. It didn’t matter. Ryuuken treated everybody the same; what did it matter to him whose fault something was? He wasn’t a judge. (He wasn’t a god.)
In the end, sometimes the patient made it, and sometimes he or she didn’t. Sometimes– and Ryuuken was always so proud of this– they would survive even against the worst of odds. His pride wasn’t directed simply at his own skills or, later, those of the doctors who worked under him, but rather at humanity as a whole. That intense desire to survive wasn’t something to be taken lightly.
That wasn’t to say, of course, that he hadn’t seen more than his fair share of death. What else could be expected? Sometimes they were dead on arrival; sometimes they died soon after; sometimes they lingered. Many times, they became preoccupied with whatever their vision was of life after death: Please, tell me that the next life will be a good one; surely I’ve done only the best things in my life...
Please, tell me that there will be another life. Any other life.
It was in those moments that Ryuuken found himself a little less proud. It left a bad taste in his mouth to hear people humbling themselves before their gods like that.
But, on the other hand, he would always remember the incident that happened several months after his own wife got her diagnosis. (Diagnosis, what a word. Well, there it was: it wasn’t as if marrying a doctor could make one immortal....) Souken had come over, mostly for Uryuu’s sake– but he also smiled at his daughter-in-law, was about to say something to comfort her...
She just laughed and said, “It’s no use, old man. I still don’t believe in any of it. Dead is dead and nothing more.”
(Later, after Souken went home, Uryuu was crying yet again.
“I love okaa-san. I love her!”
“You should love her,” commented Ryuuken. “She’s the most sensible person in the world.”)
“The living, you see, have real bodies and real blood running in our veins. These days, most of us would see something like you as an imaginary creature, something out of an old myth. Irrelevant. And more importantly, we have the choice: we can choose whether we want to believe in things like you or not.
“Right now,” he said, and gestured with his cigarette at the floor, “There are people dying on the floors below us. I’m sure that, under the same circumstances, someone like you would live– if that’s really what you call it. You are very strong; I won’t deny that. ...But still. You fear Aizen. Don’t pretend like you don’t; you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t. But if I went down there and stood at the bedside of even the sickest of patients, and if I were to proceed to tell them all about that man and his plans... What, do you think, are the chances that even those most likely to want to believe in a life after death would laugh in my face? And they would be right to do so. They have the choice. We, the living, always do.”
“Ishida-san,” she said, with more than a hint of anger audible in her voice.
“No,” he said, and looked down at the report he had been reading before she had interrupted him. “I already told you once: you’re not allowed in this building. You can see yourself out; I have more important things to attend to. The world doesn’t actually begin and end with you, or with Urahara for that matter.”
Uryuu was twelve this time. Old enough to know what he wanted and young enough to make sure that everyone else knew too. He must have put a lot of effort into learning how to stomp like that.
“What do you want now?”
Uryuu made a sound like phhhhh, then regained his angry composure and leaned forward, the palms of his hands pressed flat on the desk. He looked so funny: thin and wiry, but nearly shivering with rage.
Ryuuken looked up from the journal he had been reading and asked a second time, “You have my attention. Now what is it, exactly, that you want?”
“You have no pride. No honor. I can’t stand it. I can’t stand listening to you anymore! Even okaa-san died; even after your own father died!”
“Do you want something or not? If all you want to do is to tell me why you don’t like me, I don’t have the time.”
–Then Uryuu stopped shaking and withdrew his hands from the desk, but in a quiet voice he said, “I hate you. I really do.”
“And I hate you so much that I can’t even bear to live with you anymore. If I could go anywhere else in the world....”
He sighed and shook his head, then turned on his heel and was just about to walk out the door when Ryuuken murmured, “I hope you have a plan, then.”
“Huh?” Uryuu didn’t understand. He never understood anything worth knowing, did he?
“Do you ever pay attention to anything? Please don’t think I’m desperate for you to stay. But since you’re too young to work, I’d like to see a plan for how you’re going to pay for somewhere of your own to live. You should call your aunt as well. She was never too fond of me either; she’d probably be more sympathetic to your cause. I assume you don’t actually want to move out to Hokkaido to live with her? I didn’t think so. But still, you could see if she would be willing to loan you some money. If you can get her to pay half of your expenses, I’ll take care of the other half.”
Uryuu was dumbfounded.
“Although you shouldn’t be imagining that this is a gift. It’s a loan. Do you know what that means? Once you turn eighteen, I’ll be wanting to you to start paying me back, with interest. And all of this rides on whether your aunt is willing to help you out. If you’re going to be this ungrateful, you can hardly expect me to pay for all of your expenses on my own. And I still want to see that you have a plan for how you’re going to pay me back. Those are my conditions. Do you accept them?”
Uryuu nodded mutely.
“Good. I have no interest in hosting a son so determined to be a Quincy in my house anyway.”
And that was that.
“I can go, if that’s what you want, although I’m sure you know I’ll only be back later.”
He blew smoke at her and she made a small sneezing noise and response.
“But, you know... What I said earlier about Uryuu being on our side wasn’t a comment on his ideals. I don’t care whether either of you loves the shinigami or hates us– Not that many of us really count as shinigami anymore, anyway. I was never any good at all of that– ideals, philosophy, whatever it is– anyway. All I’m doing is making a statement of fact.”
He started to say something, and then his breath caught in his throat (why now of all times?) and instead he coughed– a long, drawn out, oddly dry sort of a sound.
Yoruichi regarded him cooly, without comment (aside from another disdainful flick of her tail); then when he fell silent, she murmured, “Because your son, Ryuuken, already made his decision. And if you’re not afraid of Aizen, you should be.”
Your son, Ryuuken. Oh yes, what was that he had said earlier? The living had blood, all right. Very funny.
Call it fortune; he refused to believe that it was stress that had caused his hair to turn white in his thirty-fifth year. It didn’t upset him at all. This made him look even more distinguished; what was there to be upset about?
And distinguished he was: distinguished, discriminating, possessed of excellent taste. Perhaps even too excellent. Although he had a key to Uryuu’s little apartment, he never went to visit him there; after all, a son, a figured, should be the one to go out of his way to speak with his father, not the other way around.
However, there was one day, a chilly mid-winter afternoon when he was sure that Uryuu would be at school, when he took the train across town during his lunch hour and slipped into the empty apartment. It was very small, of course, just as he had expected that it would be: claustrophobic, in fact. Uryuu was sensible enough not to want for anything extravagant, and so he had wound up in the smallest and cheapest room he could rent.
Small and cheap, noted Ryuuken, but he couldn’t deny that the boy (boy? He was almost fourteen now; Ryuuken supposed that he probably didn’t think of himself as a child anymore) had done his best: the place was spotlessly clean, the walls as white as new paper. Three pairs of gray slacks had been piled neatly on top of a folding chair along with a sewing kit in a yellow box. Had he been mending his own clothes? That sounded about right, and Uryuu always had had an unusual amount of talent with needle and thread, had he not?
It was then that it occurred to him that perhaps Uryuu really was a little adult after all (because surely no normal teenage boy had ever been this neat, this organized), and one of the last of his own black hairs fell onto his shirt sleeve. –He thought nothing of it, of course.
“You should think it over, of course,” she said, “Take your time. Kisuke awaits your call.”
And then she leapt, very swiftly and gracefully, to the top of his desk and from there to the wide brim of the windowsill.
“Can you really get out that way without opposable thumbs?” he wondered aloud, about to light another cigarette.
–A stupid question if there ever was one, of course. A moment later she was crouched on the windowsill still, in her human form now, and she was pulling up the blinds and fiddling with the lock on the window.
“Opposable thumbs,” she muttered.
Ryuuken couldn’t even bear to look at her, save for a quick glance over his shoulder– which she noticed, and in a tone of weary amusement asked, “Really? Aren’t you a little too old for schoolboy antics like that? Give me another look like that and you’ll regret it.”
And she laughed, albeit not unpleasantly. (But she didn’t understand, not in the slightest. She must have been centuries old, and that was what was so terrible that he had to turn his head. She looked so young–)
The lock on the window clicked, and she pulled first the window and then the screen open with long, smooth motions, and the wind howled louder than ever as it raced into the room: sharp, clean, and cold, blowing away the spirals of smoke into oblivion. Had it been that windy earlier in the day? Ryuuken found he couldn’t remember, and he looked down just in time to see the flame of his lighter sputter and die as the night air snuffed it out.
“Don’t wait too long,” said Yoruichi, her amber eyes wide, and wild, and fey– a parting warning?– and then she plunged serenely out into the darkness.
Suddenly, Ryuuken was tired– more tired than he had been before, more tired than he could remember ever having been in his life. And he would have to go home now, get some sleep, and tomorrow, Isshin and Urahara and Aizen... Choice, he said to himself ruefully, What choice do the living have?
(And then he coughed again, and then he shrugged to himself and lit another cigarette in spite of that; after all, how long was he really going to live, anyway?)
-- Dude, the writing on the later part of this is so much worse than the writing on the early part that it's not even funny. Well, the beginning was written earlier in the semester when I was less stressed out....
-- Btw, anyone who feels like it: critique the hell out of this if you want to. You guys, I feel really bad that I'm trying to write fic for you and I know it's not very good fic and I don't have enough time to make it good fic.... Anyway, this definitely didn't turn out the way I wanted, so you can feel free to tell me what's wrong with it.
-- helike! I didn't forget about you either! Your fic should be up by the end of the week. If it's not, seriously, feel free to poke me or something to remind me, k?