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The Ishida Family in 28 Tales

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The Ishida Family in 28 Tales

By debbiechan

Thanks as always to my beloved editor, Nehalenia. This long piece was written for the Tumblr Ishida Family Month with a prompt for every day. Thank you to the group maintainers @itsnaruto710 and @je-taime-amira for allowing me the opportunity to indulge my Quincy obsession.

PG, no real warnings except for some curse words, the usual Ishida angst, and if you know the manga, expect references to genocide and death, Ryuuken’s smoking habit, and family strife. Also, IshiHime if you squint.

 

  1. Letting Her Go

Souken had learned to let go of his wife day by day when he spent longer hours training, reluctant to come home to the angry and bitter person she had become. He missed dinner. She yelled at him for that, so he came home after she was asleep. Breakfasts passed quickly; she would hand him a plate with a caustic comment, and he would make a remark about his obligation to learn what he could from artifacts he had stolen from the Wandenreich. Their son ate little and hurried to school. Soon husband and wife spoke less.  Breakfasts were silent. The death of a marriage has its own life-force when both partners are in the same room; it oppresses the heart with a cruel weight, and Souken felt that he was less of a man and a Quincy for sitting in that silence.

Upon the passing of his wife, Souken found that he could let go his resentment. He remembered the strong, intelligent girl he had loved once, the girl made fearful by politics and war, the young woman who tried so hard to control the destiny of her family and yet knew she could not. He still loved the girl he married; that girl was somewhere in the body lying cold beside him in the bed. They had not slept apart in all these years. He bent over, gave the shoulders a gentle hug. Then he let her spirit go.

Ryuuken had learned to let go one woman. When he and Masaki were betrothed, he had imagined a life with her that would fulfill every dream—his father’s aspirations for a new Quincy heritage, and of course, Masaki was indisputably the prettiest girl at school.  What boy didn’t dream of her?  What boy would not have traded places with him for the moments she stood on tip-toe, brought her face close to his, winked and called him “cousin” in a teasing, lilting voice.  Ryuuken lost her when a Shinigami entered her soul and destiny. He lost her again when she died, a victim to the Quincy. His beloved wife Kanae took a longer time to die because Ryuuken used every skill as a medical doctor and every secret taught to him by Souken to prolong her life, but in the end, she too was lost. He refused to accept Kanae’s death. The Quincy had ruined everything in his life, shredded his family, taken those he loved one by one. Blind with tears, he carried the body to his home.

He never let Kanae go. He dug in her body until he found the source of her death. He knew from his experience of shooting so many arrows what it felt like to draw back and release. Let go? No. The piece of silver from Kanae’s heart could be the key to taking down the Quincy king who had destroyed so much of his life, and Ryuuken spent hours crafting the arrowhead, but he knew he couldn’t shoot it.

There came a time, though, when that arrowhead would fly away, when the last remaining part of Kanae would fulfill Ryuuken’s promise to her. I will protect our son.

Letting her go would mean believing she had died.  He couldn’t do that. He saw her face every time he looked at Uryuu.

Uryuu noticed the prettiest girl in his school right away because who could not? She was in his sewing club, and soon it became clear that she not only was pretty but smart and kind and possessed of a unique sense of humor.  Sometimes students would make faces at her and walk away puzzled by her non-sequiturs about robots and donut factories, but Uryuu, who was fond of puzzles, began to try to make sense of her.

He began to practice letting her go when he realized she had a mad crush on another classmate and that he was painfully unworthy of her.

He wanted the best for her; he wanted to protected her; he was willing to die for her--over the years, he came close to doing just that.

Many years later, it was she who told him that she was unworthy of his love. “I know what it’s like,” she said, “to love from afar, to want to protect someone.”  She tugged the end of her long ponytail, not a nervous gesture but to make a point. “People have protected me. I grew my hair long as a promise to Tatsuki. So many people were hurt protecting me but…”

She put her hand on his. Her touch was familiar as morning bread to him now, not as electrifying as when he was a teenager. He felt comforted by it, not anxious.

“I am so sorry for all the times you were hurt protecting me,” she went on. “I always had the power in me to defend myself, but I didn’t understand it. I am not a fragile flower. I understand my powers now. I am a strong woman.”

He let go a fantasy of her. The woman who needed him to die for her. He let go of a fantasy of himself.  Her knight.

“A strong woman?” He covered her hand with his own. “You are even more worthy of my love than ever before.”

She looked at him with gratitude, as if she had been forgiven, although it had not been his intent to forgive her for anything; she had done nothing wrong---she had simply grown up, like everyone does. Her eyes smiled, even as they grew moist with tears. She leaned forward and kissed the corner of his mouth and whispered, “Thank you, Ishida-kun,” as the sky was letting go the day, as the evening breeze was tossing papers and autumn leaves around the sidewalk.

 

  1. Undercover

Ryuuken knew that his son believed himself to be as well-versed in the art of subterfuge as he was German or mathematics, but Uryuu had always worn his heart on his sleeve.  Uryuu had Kanae’s eyes. In battle, Kanae’s eyes would narrow and look vigilant and hard—one could see her scanning the horizon and strategies aligning in her mind—but when she wasn’t in battle gear? Ryuuken sucked on a cigarette so he would not smile at the memory.  The little girl in her maid’s outfit gazing with delight for the first time at Mother’s heirloom china plates. Her pure love of pretty things—it was more than that Uryuu got from her. The boy’s mouth could lie, but his eyes never did.

Ryuuken hadn’t commented on Uryuu’s predilection for sewing when the boy started making costumes for himself.  Sewing was an essential skill for a surgeon after all, and the time spent making plushies and clothes for his classmates was time Uryuu didn’t spend at his grandfather’s listening to the old man prattle about the old Quincy ways. At first Uryuu had tried to hide his costumes from his father, but one afternoon Ryuuken had walked in on his son swinging a cardboard blade while wearing a super-hero cape. “School project,” Uryuu had lied promptly, his ears red. Ryuuken had told him the hem was un-even.

It was clear during Uryuu’s first year at Karakura hospital that all the staff were in love with his handsome son, and while that annoyed Ryuuken, Uryuu attempted to be stoic about it and yet was often turned into a stammering mess every time a nurse or receptionist gave him a gift “just because” or asked him to lunch (he was always too busy and preferred to eat alone). Uryuu was, however, pleased and proud whenever someone complimented his handmade ties. It showed in his eyes, his eyes like Kanae’s. The vivid delight he couldn’t hide.

Ryuuken could often hide his own facial reactions with a puff of smoke, but it took more than a prop to control one’s emotions. Why hadn’t Uryuu inherited his father’s insensitivity to other people’s feelings instead of his mother’s weakness for displaying emotional reactions?  The worst part was he tried to be cool.  Kanae hadn’t been a pretentious person. Showing some good sense, Uryuu didn’t take up a bad habit like smoking; the habit was truly unbecoming for a doctor, but Uryuu was not cool. How the hell did he get away with pretending to be a member of the Quincy army?  Fortunately, Uryuu did not register at all under the Quincy king’s perception as Souken had suspected or the idiot would’ve been dead before Isshin had talked Ryuuken into bringing the boy the silver arrowhead.

At some point, Uryuu started to pay back the nurses for their little gifts of candy, soap and expensive bottles of sweet sake with hand-sewn handkerchiefs. He quit when the young women began to take the gifts as signs of returned affection. Apparently, soon after that, he began to take sewing commissions on the side.

It had to be commissions. He certainly could not have been doing all this sewing just for the fun of it. Or was he?  Was he giving these dresses to one particular girl? No, there didn’t seem to be anyone at the hospital Uryuu blushed over. Was he selling the dresses to a shop? Perhaps.

But there they were. Ryuuken had been in his son’s office only briefly, after Uryuu left to find some papers at his receptionist’s office in front, and Ryuuken decided to check a closet for said paperwork; what he saw among the usual lab coats and changes of menswear was a dressing dummy on a stand covered in measuring tape and stuck with pins. Further exploration revealed at least five women’s dresses far in the back on a stand-alone rack. His son’s taste had matured. Or perhaps his clientele’s had. The dresses Uryuu had sewn in high school were frillier. These dresses, hanging from padded satin hangers, were tailored daywear in muted jewel tones, not showy but decidedly feminine with embroidered details.

He was so busy as a surgeon; when did he find the time? Here, in the hospital?

His son was an undercover dressmaker.  Ryuuken had patted the pack of cigarettes in his chest pocket at that moment and excused himself to go into the smoking lobby.  He didn’t make it there. No one ever reported him anyway.

Outside the hospital, Ryuuken smashed his third cigarette underfoot. What would Uryuu say if confronted?  A hospital benefit project? Ryuuken would just tell him that his embroidery was a little ostentatious.

 

  1. Remembering My Mother

Kurosaki’s family made an excursion to their mother’s grave on the day she died.  Every year, June 17th.  Uryuu would learn years later that this was the same date that his own mother fell to the great Holy Selection perpetuated by the Quincy king, but he didn’t know the exact date of his mother’s death. 

Memories of her illness were a blur, of staying at Grandfather’s for a long time, of demanding to see her at the hospital, but Grandfather insisted that there was a danger and said to wait. Uryuu started school; he waited; he didn’t want to eat but Grandfather always boiled noodles in the evening and said his feelings would be hurt if Uryuu didn’t have just a little.

What day he was finally allowed to visit the hospital? It was unseasonably chilly; he wore a sweater. Grandfather held his hand past the section where children were not allowed. Grandfather had not held his hand since Uryuu was very small, so what was Grandfather protecting him against now? The staff looked at Uryuu strangely, with gentle eyes. He recognized many of them, for he was a doctor’s son, but there were some faces he did not know, and still those faces were staring at him as if they knew something he did not.

His mother’s room was at the end of a long hallway; there was a thin silver emblem hanging on the left doorpost that Uryuu did not recognize. It looked spidery—but only had six long arms. His father was leaning on the wall outside the room in his scrubs and lab coat. Expressionless.

“She’s awake?” Grandfather asked.

A nod was the response, so Grandfather turned the doorknob and led Uryuu inside.

The room was huge, luxurious, not like any hospital room Uryuu had ever seen. There were dressers and a small dining table and an unmade day bed. Fine furniture among hospital machinery. The latter clicked and whirred, and there were Quincy artifacts everywhere, more spidery silver things, and at the foot of his mother’s giant bed glowed two large tubes like bedposts—only Uryuu knew they were not bedposts and that they were blue reishi encased somehow in vessels.

Mother lay in the fetal position. She was so tiny, wrapped in several blankets, plastic tubes attached to her skinny arms.

Uryuu let go Grandfather’s hand and ran to her.

She had two tubes in her nostrils, thinning hair and sunken cheeks but she looked beautiful still. Her eyes were bright and happy. “Uryuu, you’re here.”

He didn’t know what to say.

“You’ve been doing your schoolwork and going to bed on time?”

He nodded.

“I wanted to see right away.” She smiled and there were tiny wrinkles around her mouth. “I’m very sick. I was asleep for many weeks, and I woke up, but… I’m still very sick. Your father has been working very hard to help me, but there is only so much he can do.”

Uryuu felt his chest tighten. He wanted to throw his arms around his mother, but he didn’t want to upset the tubes. She held out her hand, and he took it.  Her fingers had never felt so fragile, her skin so papery.

“You’re going to be all right,” he said. “Father will save you.”

Her wrist dropped to the mattress, but she did not let go his hand. “Tired,” she explained. “Too tired to even hold up my hand.”

He wanted to do something. He wanted to hold her up with all his strength.

“Don’t be sad,” she said. “You are my heart.”

It may have been a few minutes; it may have been a half an hour, but she lay there, very tired, holding hands with her son, until Grandfather approached and put his hand on Uryuu’s shoulder.

“Thank you, Souken,” she said. “I’m going to sleep for a while. Good-bye to you both.”

Grandfather and grandson passed his expressionless father in the hallway without a word. Uryuu thought it peculiar at the time, but years later he would understand that there were no words to be said to a man at such a time.

“Can we come again tomorrow?” Uryuu had hope. He hoped he would see his mother again and again and that every day her face would grow fuller and one day she would sit up and put her arms around him.

“Let’s wait and see,” Grandfather replied.

The next day she died. It was sometime after the day Uryuu’s father announced that there would be no funeral that Uryuu began to question if this man was a real father or husband. Why was he acting like this?  Cold, not grieving, speaking to no one.

His mother’s body was in their family home, in a guest bedroom downstairs, for many days.  Uryuu was supposed to be staying at his grandfather’s, but he wanted to see his mother again so he escaped to his family home a few times. The room where his mother’s body was kept was always locked.

Until that evening it wasn’t, and he discovered his father dissecting his mother’s corpse.

It would be years before he learned the reason why. It would be years before he held the silver arrowhead fashioned out of what his father had found in his mother’s body and remembered his mother’s words and felt for the first time, his father’s trust. You are my heart.

 

  1. Father

Souken’s father had been a child after the first war with the Shinigami one thousand years ago; that child’s grandfather had been instrumental in establishing the New Order of the Shadow Realm, a place where the Quincy could live free. The Wandenreich had been a monumental effort in stealing reishi from the Living World, re-aligning it and constructing it into a secret kingdom. The Ishida family was held in esteem; they were entrusted with the keeping of artifacts and special knowledge. Souken’s father was a dazzling soldier and manipulator of spells, well over a few hundred years old when Souken had sat at his knee, listening with enchantment as his father bragged about reishi tricks and secret weapons.

As Souken grew, the stories seemed sadder, no longer heroic. Souken did not understand why Father despised the Living World so much. The people he described seemed to have had fair reason for not wanting souls destroyed. It seemed to Souken that there was so much beyond the tribe of the Quincy, that the needs of other people mattered too.

Souken was not alone in his beliefs.  When he and others began to speak out against the Quincy ways, the infidels were exiled. “Go to the Living World and see for yourself how they will treat you there,” were the last words Souken’s father said to him.

And so he left, his beautiful black-haired wife by his side, her eyes defiant and her back straight. Their small, light-haired son stepped carefully of out of the shadow realm first and pronounced, “looks fine.” He shifted his weight and put down his book-sack. “Father, what did you put in there?”

“Quincy secrets,” said Souken. “You’ll learn in time. We’re going to make a world where Shinigami and Quincy can work together.”

“The Shinigami killed most of the last batch of exiles over a hundred years ago,” his wife reminded him.

“It’s warm here,” said the son.  His eyes were blue as ice as he spoke the words. “It’s not unpleasant.”

As Souken defied his father, his own son would defy him. Ryuuken saw his father’s dream of Shinigami and Quincy working together unfulfilled, and he saw his family members perish one by one in the Living World. There was no mercy anywhere, for not even the Wandenreich, the supposed haven for Quincy, was safe. The Shinigami killed Souken, and the Quincy king himself had been responsible for the death of his wife, so what was there to do in the Living World but pursue his own death? He took up smoking.

In the meantime, he continued to save human lives as a doctor because he still had a conscience to redeem and there was the matter of his own son….

He had made a pledge to his dying wife.  Kanae, I will protect him.

After his mother’s death, Ishida Uryuu did not know what to make of his father’s brittle, silent grief.  The already cold person Uryuu knew as his father became even colder, critical to the point of using words as scalpels—if one look from him didn’t cut you down, a remark like “you have no talent as a Quincy” would open a wound so deep that as your faith bled out, doubt poured in. It was easy enough to leave home when Uryuu was old enough to rent an apartment with the generous allowance he’d saved up. The cigarette smoke around the man would have been enough to drive anyone away.

 Still, the man didn’t let up. “When you are a doctor, Uryuu…  “Because a career is important, Uryuu….” When Uryuu had been but a small child, Souken had placed a hand on his head and told him that one day he would understand what his father wanted to protect.  Uryuu had wondered if it was money that his father wanted to protect, and for years, for all of Uryuu’s affinity for puzzles and his ability to think things through, the truth never occurred to him.

Uryuu had rebelled against his own father because he thought his own father didn’t know what it meant to be a Quincy.

He did.

Ishida Ryuuken had wanted to protect his son from the Shinigami who had killed the Quincy and from the Quincy who had killed the Quincy.

The day Uryuu was entrusted by his father with a silver arrowhead was a day Uryuu knew that, as a son, he had been given charge to protect himself as well as others. Uryuu understood his father that day.

He shot that arrowhead for his father, for his mother, for his grandfather, for all murdered lost and betrayed Quincy, and yes, for himself. It rang from his bow the way perfect understanding flies past generations because its source is from the same true heart.

 

  1. Sensei

Souken did not, at first, want to go against his son’s wishes and introduce Uryuu into the ways of the Quincy, but the boy was teaching himself how to shoot a bow and he was doing it all wrong.

Uryuu was a fine marksman even if he did shoot with his left hand.

Souken took it upon himself to teach the boy some history and lore, then took him out by a fast creek in a wooded spot and showed him how to gather his reishi from his heart to his hands towards his aim. It was that day that Uryuu called his grandfather “sensei,” and Souken did not express either delight or displeasure, merely said, “oh very well, tomorrow I will teach you something else.”

Uryuu showed up after school the next day with his bow, but Souken had a cooking lesson planned. “Why cooking?” the boy asked, and Souken explained that household skills were crucial to independence.  He showed Uryuu how to bone a fish. He said that what swam in the water with vigor and life in the morning was a sacrifice to the grill in the evening and should be savored as such, that all life has meaning. A little rice wine, he added, was to give the sacrifice more flavor.

The following day Souken showed his grandson how to thread a needle and sew a button back onto a shirt.

“You did that very well,” he said after Uryuu bit off the thread and handed back the shirt.

“Thank you, Sensei.”

“I’ll see if I can find something more challenging for you to do. Maybe we can make a little puppet out of this old towel.”

“When are we going to start training with my little bow again?”

“Soon enough, soon enough.” Souken was cutting the towel with scissors. “Finish the puppet out of the pattern the way I instruct you, and I may show you an ancient Quincy technique called ransoutengai.”

“Ransoutengai?” Uryuu’s eyes widened. “What’s that?”

“Oh very difficult. Not a technique known to this time. Requires talent, concentration. Like puppeteering, it’s a skill.”

“And you can do it?” Uryuu had his needle threaded and was holding it up like a weapon.

Souken pressed Uryuu’s hand down. “Don’t display your gifts. There’s no need to draw attention to what one is capable of until it is time to act.” He handed his grandson two identical bits of cloth. “Here, sew these together and leave a space at the bottom for the hand. You will have a fine puppet.”

“Yes, Sensei.” Uryuu’s eyes were gleaming. “Of course, Sensei.” 

It was at that moment that Souken realized that his own son, by not training Uryuu, was not offering the boy a choice. Ryuuken, his future has always been out of your grasp. I am here for him, as I was for you. The Quincy king would awaken one day. Uryuu needed to decide if and how to confront the new armies the Quincy king would gather. Ryuuken mistook knowledge itself for a power that could be denied or imparted, but Souken understood: any choices Uryuu would make would be his own. A sensei does not decide the path for his pupil; a sensei opens the door to the future.

 

  1. Doctor Ishida

Damn giggling nurses were getting on Ishida Ryuuken’s last nerve.  Administrative staff who were older addressed him as “sensei,” which was proper, but these girls fresh out of university--their poorly applied eyeliner smudged by mid-morning--they claimed that “Doctor this” and “Doctor that” was the way they had been taught and it was sooooo confusing to them because there was an elder Doctor Ishida and a younger Doctor Ishida.  Both doctors apparently made the new nurses titter and blush; Ryuuken had never seen such a frivolous fall crop and yelled that he would fire the whole lot if one nurse was so much as three seconds late filing a report or, all the gods preserve their souls, dropped an instrument. They only blushed and tittered more at his yelling. “He’s so handsome when he’s angry,” he actually overheard one say. By that account, Ryuuken decided the nurses were going to witness an Adonis every time they saw him; he was always angry.

And oh my heavens they adored his son.  They exchanged glances when Uryuu passed in the corridor. They invented reasons to speak to him that had nothing to do with patients and endlessly complimented his hair, his ties, and help us all, they noticed his new Italian shoes one day.

Ryuuken and his son were standing outside the hospital one morning waiting for a cab that was going to take them to a conference across town when one of new nurses—they were all indistinguishable, dyed blondish hair, too much eye-make-up--ran up with a batch of papers in her hand. “Doctor Uryuu!” She was breathless. “You left these on the admissions desk!”

“What did you just call my son?”

She batted her lashes. They were weighed down with a ton of mascara so how she managed to flutter them so quickly was a mystery to Ryuuken. “You mean… Doctor Uryuu?” She giggled. “Didn’t you know?

Everyone has started to call him that. It is very difficult to know which doctor one is speaking about when there are two Doctor Ishidas in the same hospital---“

“Idiot.” Ryuuken threw his cigarette on the floor.  It’s a common name. There are always people who share the same name in offices everywhere.”

The young nurse looked startled but not afraid. These girls were indefatigably stupid in a way Ryuuken had not encountered before. Uryuu looked embarrassed for the fool’s sake but was wise enough to be silent.

“Don’t you ever,” and here Ryuuken lifted his finger and pointed it. “Don’t you ever call my son anything but Doctor Ishida ever again. Tell everyone to do the same. Or else ….” He paused for effect. “I’ll make you come to work for a week without fucking mascara before I fire you for insubordination and bad taste.”

“Y-yes, Doctor Ishida,” said the young nurse, a little taken aback this time. She fled from the sight.

“Did you have to--” began Uryuu.

“Stand up straight, Uryuu,” said Ryuuken. “You should’ve corrected those children, not me. Get some respect for yourself. And look sharp at this meeting.”

Uryuu put the retrieved papers in his briefcase. “Yes, Father.”

 

  1. Nakama Day

Doctor Ishida Uryuu could not get the day off for his birthday, but no matter; he never cared for parties. His friends, however, were fond of them and wildly disappointed that the gang could not go to the new BBQ restaurant grand opening that was also being celebrated this November 6th. Uryuu was certain that his friends would, one by one, bring him boxes of meats all day and that his office would smell like a smoky grill for a week.

Keigo and Mizuiro were there before visiting hours. Keigo was standing in Uryuu’s office with a bouquet of balloons and when Uryuu asked him how he got there, Keigo said that his buddy had given the security guard a massage parlor pass.

“Where is Mizuiro now?”

“Sharing your breakfast with the staff on the first floor. Sorry man, it was a big basket of fruit and candy but those little nurses are ravenous.” He handed the balloons to Uryuu. “Happy birthday and many more. You don’t look a day over twenty-eight.”

Uryuu hadn’t even taken off his sweater yet. He sat down in his office chair. “Thanks.”

“Gotta fetch Mizuiro. Taking him to work. He’s got an early photoshoot by the park. Want the morning light but don’t want the models getting too goose-pimpled. It’s going to be tricky. I brought spare jackets in my car and of course—“ He wrapped his arms around himself and made a smooching sound with his lips. “I have my own body warmth.”

“You’re a good friend. Give him my regards.”

“I have to pry your first floor head nurse off him first. She’s wasn’t after them little candied figs, no—there was cougar in her eyes.”

The BBQ place must have opened around noon because after Doctor Ishida’s routine rounds, he went to his office to enter data and smelled the grilled meat before he saw it.

Then he saw Abarai Renji, a ghost, in black Shinigami garb, sitting on his desk. The smile that broke across Uryuu’s face almost hurt; the glee and the ache of nostalgia surprised him; seeing Abarai there was that much of a rupture into whatever Doctor Ishida’s routine life had become.

“I didn’t feel like paying for anything,” Abarai said, “so didn’t bother with a gigai this time. Dudes said this place was worth it so I picked out the best meat box, forked up some kimchi and there you go—happy lunch.”

“Are you going to join me?”

“Don’t like spicy food. Grabbed me nice snacks out your hospital vending machines. Mmm, you guys have the best stuff.”

“Kuchiki-san?”

“Captain stuff. She said she was coming by later. Oh, I almost forgot.” Abarai dug under his kosode, where his transmitter to Soul Society was supposed to be and pulled out a stunning pair of handcrafted Matsuda sunglasses. Silver frames with a dark blue tint. “I figured these were your style.”

“Abarai! These….” Uryuu tried them on, hoping they wouldn’t fit but they did. “There are like $160 thousand yen a pair.”

I told you I wasn’t in a gigai. I just lifted them. I know your face. Every guy needs a pair of shades.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Eat your lunch. I saw someone else on her way while I was flash-stepping here so I’ll get going. You need to pay a visit to Soul Society sometime. Captain Kotetsu still talks about the clothes you made for her. Everyone would be happy to see you.”

Through the blue-tinted glass of his expensive new glasses, Uryuu watched Abarai leap out the open window. “Wait—I—“

The door flung open at the same time, and a beautiful woman with cinnamon hair carrying a giant cake box appeared. She shut the door behind her with her foot. “Is your birthday supposed to be some sort of secret because the hospital staff didn’t seem to know a thing about it!”

“I never tell anyone,” Uryuu said.

“The welcome desk had a clue. Mizuiro gave them a fruit basket? I think the word’s getting out. I heard that nurses are scrambling during their breaks to run out and buy you presents.”

“Oh no.” Doctor Ishida ran his hands through his hair.

“Nice glasses,” said Orihime. “They bring out the blue in your eyes. Oh, is that kimchi I smell?”

She ate the kimchi. She had always lived for spicy vegetables in school. Uryuu ate the grilled fish, which he had to admit, was very good, and he would recommend the restaurant to paying customers. The cake Orihime had made was ridiculously huge and of course it would be shared with staff later, but it moist and tangy, with just the barest layer of lemon frosting. Uryuu ate one piece and pronounced it a “cheery cake.”

“Birthdays should be cheery,” she said.

“Why?” He shrugged. “They seem like such a bother. My father always sends a card and a check. That seems easy enough, not very personal perhaps, but ….”

“Birthdays are also for your friends to show you how much they care for you—and you have so many … different sorts of friends.”

The paper plates went into the waste-basket. “Thank you so much for the beautiful cake. But I’m so sorry—Really, I need to get to my follow-up work now.”

She gave him a brief hug goodbye and took the waste basket lining out with her before he could protest. “You don’t want it to smell like fish in here all day,” she explained. “It’s chilly in here—do you want me to close the window?”

“Uh, no, that’s fine.” Uryuu couldn’t help but smile. “Expecting Shinigami company later.”

Hours later, Uryuu had completely forgotten it was his birthday and was deep into the file of a patient with reoccurring viral pericarditis. He was still wearing Abarai’s sunglasses, which weren’t prescription, and wondering if for some reason his monitor needed to be replaced because the text looked a little blurry. The patient on file was young; her condition seemed easy enough to treat but more vigilant after-care was necessary if she was to make a complete recovery.  He was typing instructions to the discharge department when a small gray tabby kitten jumped on his desk and said “meow.”

He looked up and there was Sado-kun.

I smuggled Rosita in my back-pack past the front desk,” he said.  “I do that for the pediatric ward all the time. Ichigo’s dad doesn’t mind.”

Uryuu petted the kitty’s neck. “No, I’m sure he doesn’t. Ever since he’s been made head of the pediatric ward, things have been very different there. He practically lives there. He has his own room.”

Sado stroked the cat’s tail while Uryuu scratched the cat’s neck. “I’ve asked your dad about allowing therapy animals in there, but ….”

“My dad is slow to change his ways, but he wants to help people. I’ll do my best to persuade him. It’s not like the animals will be living here and staff will be emptying litter boxes, right?”

“Right. Doctor Kurosaki even said that. He doesn’t want to clean up cat poop.”

“No, no, no, doctors don’t clean up poop,” came a female voice from the windowsill. There was Kuchiki-san, sitting in her captain’s robes but waggling her tiny feet like a girl on a high branch in a tree. “There are always subordinates to clean up poop, whether you are a people doctor or an animal doctor.”

“Supposedly that’s the way it works,” began Uryuu, “but sometimes on the operating table, stuff happens….”

“There are not always enough hands to catch what can come spilling out of—“ Sado started.

“Stop! I don’t want to hear it!” You two can tell your yucky doctor stories to one another later. “Chad, I think it was really nice of you to stop by Ishida’s on a workday for his birthday.

“You came all the way from Soul Society,” Uryuu said. “I’m honored.”

“Oh, I stopped to bring a box of the BBQ from the new restaurant,” Sado said. “I put it in my knapsack on my way to the pediatric ward with Rosita but ….”

The large man face looked genuinely sorry. “The little cat ate all the BBQ fish in the box.”

“Aw, forget it, I brought some BBQ myself,” Kuchiki-san said. “Who’s in the mood for steak and grilled vegetables?”

Uryuu figured that since Kuchiki-san wasn’t in her gigai, she stole the food as well. He was going to have to go the new restaurant tomorrow and leave a large tip to make up for his thieving ghost friends.

“Enough for everyone!” Kuchiki-san pulled out a few boxes from under her billowing robes. “If you have a human appetite, if you’re over-worked and skinny like Ishida here, or if you just happen to have a massive reiatsu that likes cucumbers even when they’re all burned up and mooshed up with meat— “

“Meow,” said Rosita.

“I think you’re full,” said Kuchiki-san to the kitty.

“Is there enough for me, Rukia?” asked Kurosaki Ichigo. He was sitting  on the opposite side of the window sill in his Shinigami robes.

Uryuu’s stomach was still full from the lunch he’d eaten earlier, but now his heart was full. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been with Kurosaki, Kuchiki-san, and Sado-kun in the same room. Had their lives really become so adult and complicated? There was still a bouquet of yellow balloons floating in the corner of his office.

“There’s cake,” Uryuu offered, a little more excitedly than he intended to sound. “And paper plates. I think I have a bottle of sweet sake one of the nurses brought by earlier.”

“Oh I can’t drink on the job,” Sado said.

“Don’t like sake,” Kuchiki-san said.

“Ok, Kurosaki.” Uryuu said. “Just one? I’ll have one, go back to my reports and call it a night.”

“Pour me a shot glass,” Kurosaki said. “I want to make a toast. And lose the sun-glasses. They make you look like a pimp.”

“They were Renji’s idea,” Kuchiki-san said, almost apologetically. “I think they look nice, but maybe not indoors.”

“They’re my birthday glasses and I’m wearing them,” Uryuu said defiantly. He poured himself a glass and handed another to Kurosaki. He petted the cat while Kurosaki raised his arm to make a toast.

“To friendship,” said Kurosaki with some of the drama he’d been famous for as a teenager.

Sado and Rukia nodded.

Rosita went “meow,” and when Uryuu gave her neck an extra loving rub, she erupted into deep happy purring noises.

 

  1. First Encounter

Common sense will tell you that the best marriages begin with friendship, not worship, but the first time Katagiri Kanae saw the person who would be her husband, she was small child and a servant; she had expected that devotion was a job requirement; she did not expect her feelings to surge past duty.

She had been chosen from many other girls for her housekeeping skills and social adeptness, taken from the small house where she had lived with an elderly aunt to a vast estate with many floors; she was nervous, awed by the spaciousness of every room she passed through and worried about the exact nature of her responsibilities.  The lady of the house brought her to the chief maid who then led her upstairs to the young master’s door, walked her right in without knocking and there he was, a boy her age with messy white hair, glasses, and a look of perfectly focused intelligence.

“You are to serve Ishida Ryuuken,” the maid explained. “You can begin by cleaning his room. Do what he asks, and he will call for you and dismiss you as he pleases.”

After the maid left, the young master gestured to small trash basket. “There’s only that. I like to keep things where I put them and don’t like other people touching them.”

“Yes, young Master.”

“You can dust tomorrow, I suppose.” He plopped on his bed with a book. “Do you go to school?”

“Yes, young Master. I’m supposed to attend to my duties after you return from school and all through our school vacations.”

“That’s a lot of time,” he noted. “I’ve never had a personal servant follow me around before. Do you like books?”

Kanae picked the trash-can lining and knotted it at the top. She was stunned by the question. “Yes, young Master, I like books.”

“You’re dismissed. I suppose you have some settling in to do.”

She left the room on a cloud. He’s smart. He’s kind. He asked me if I like books.

It took years, but the young Master became a young man and the child servant became a woman. He did not confide in anyone; he read books and kept to himself, but he often asked his constant companion a question and listened to her advice. He trusted her opinion.  Her worship of him waned naturally because of their proximity; she saw him for the sheltered, tense, guarded loner he was. She loved him anyway.

Occasionally they disagreed on a subject.  His eyes always flashed as if he liked being challenged.  “You are a very principled person,” he would say, almost as if that were a criticism, and then he would smile. Her heart sang at such moments. Did he say such things to anyone else?

There came a time of much suffering and on a night when the sky was thundering and the rain beating against the windows, the young Master fell into the arms of the woman who would forever be in his heart, and a little over a year later they had a child. The boy was named Rain Dragon. Upon her first encounter with this new Ishida, Kanae also felt immediate worship.

“He looks like you,” she said.

“More like you, I’d say,” said the father. “Something about the eyes. Look how open they are already.”

“Your mother’s mouth.”

“Yes. I hope he doesn’t turn out to be a bitter old boss-lady though. What type of person do you suppose he’ll be?”

Kanae smiled, remembering the day she left the young Master’s room on a cloud. “I don’t know.  Smart? Kind? He’ll like books.”

 

  1. Life of a Mother

Kanae was pregnant at the wedding, which she had wanted to be a small civil ceremony but Ryuuken knew that his mother would object to the union, big wedding or small wedding, and insisted on a big one. “Whatever you want,” he told her. “Five hundred roses, all the Gemischt servants seated as guests, a Western holy man or a Buddhist priest conducting the service, it doesn’t matter, the Ishida lineage is broken, I’m not a Quincy anymore—“ He had smiled while saying this. “I am a better man for joining my life with yours.”

They had compromised with an elegant wedding at the Ishida estate. Kanae wasn’t showing much, her belly hidden in the folds of a simple, sleeveless white dress that fell no farther than her knees. It was early summer, unusually hot for the season, and no one suspected why she looked so flushed—brides were given to bright cheeks and having to sit down suddenly, overwhelmed with emotions.

No one would have suspected that the bride was not a pure-blood the way she was treated by family, guests and servants. Souken’s very presence in any room set the precedence for the graceful behavior of others, and even Mrs. Ishida, as full of grief as she was over her son marrying his own maid, had been somewhat mollified when Ryuuken had told her that out of respect for the Ishida family, for the way of life passed on to them by the Quincy, for the hospital built by Father with his magical knowledge and Mother with her keen talent for investing money and hiring the best people—for all these reasons, Ryuuken and his bride were not going to elope and wanted to start their new life in the family home.

“A toast!” proclaimed the head of the household, and before Souken scarcely had begun expounding on the virtues of marriage, Kanae fainted dead-away.

“She’s so delicate,” Mrs. Ishida muttered. “Masaki never caught cold not a day in her life. Such a shame she’s tainted now. “

Souken hushed his wife with a look as Ryuuken carried his bride out of the room, but Mrs. Ishida didn’t listen.

“He’ll be too busy protecting her to mind his studies in medical school,” she added.

The baby was born five months later in a hospital in Kobe City where Ryuuken and Kanae were living in a modest apartment. Ryuuken took it upon himself to make the phone-call one day after the birth, made the announcement that the boy’s name was Uryuu, that he was healthy, that the mother was fine and back in her own bed. Mrs. Ishida took the three-hour bullet train from Tokyo that very day.

Kanae could hear mother and son outside the balcony. No comments about a pregnant bride.

“Are you sleeping well, Ryuuken? You look tired.”

“I’m fine, fine. Yesterday was just a bit of a day, you know. Baby and all. It was a normal delivery. Labor was only six hours.”

“This is terrible housing. Surely you can find something nicer even it’s a little further from the university. I’ll speak to Souken about it. He’ll send a man over—“

“No, it’s fine. We’re very comfortable. There’s even a play-room for Uryuu. Kanae set it up months ago.”

Kanae wondered if she would ever be that obsessed with her son’s eating and sleeping.  Uryuu had only been in the world for a day, and so far there had been nothing to worry about. When he cried, she nursed him. After she nursed him, he slept well. She knew it had to be more complicated eventually, but so far ….

“You look good for a woman who’s just given birth,” Mrs. Ishida said upon entering the bedroom.

“I told you, Mother,” said Ryuuken.

Kanae sat up, a little startled by the compliment. Uryuu was in her arms. “Do you want to hold him?”

Amazingly enough, Mrs. Ishida did. The old woman who never seemed pleased by anything opened her arms and took the baby, the tiniest of newborns wrapped in a heavy blanket because it was November, and held him as if holding babies was what she did every day. She reached under the blanket and gingerly patted a tuft of jet black hair. “He has your hair and complexion,” she said to Kanae.

“I think he looks a lot like you, though,” Kanae said. “Look at his mouth. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Ryuuken’s mother inspected the baby’s face. “I believe you’re right.”

It was pointless to ask the old woman to spend the night; she would not accept a futon on the floor, and when Ryuuken asked her if she had a hotel room, she said she had to return home, that she had work in the morning, many “particulars” to attend to. She did stay to drink a cup of tea but refused any dinner. She did not, by any stretch of the imagination, appear cheerful, but she seemed softer.

Her parting words were to Kanae. “The life of a mother always brings suffering, but it is the suffering you get on your knees and thank the gods for.  You were blessed with a son, never forget how blessed you are.” She was still talking on the balcony as she walked with Ryuuken. “He’s an attractive boy. Yes. Pretty little baby.”

 

  1. His Eyes

Most people who wear glasses look vulnerable without them; Ryuuken did not. He was possessed of extraordinary senses, the ability to detect reiatsu and be aware of the shapes of objects around him merely by their emitted thermodynamic frequencies. Sometimes he took off his glasses to wipe them and did not break his authoritarian stare when addressing a nurse or another employee.

Sometimes at night, if Uryuu was sick (the boy was prone to coughing fits that Ryuuken had already diagnosed as a seasonal pollen allergy, but Uryuu was also given to many colds his first year of school, even after allergy treatments, both traditional and Quincy), Kanae would pace the hallway between her son’s room and her husband’s.  Uryuu’s reading had already earned him pronounced myopia and he’d been prescribed glasses at age four.  The little round spectacles lay on the dresser next to the glass of lemon water, and Uryuu never slept soundly while Ryuuken always slept well; it was as if Ryuuken turned himself off at a certain hour, dead to the world for six hours, no more, no less.

They had the same blue eyes, husband and son, but when shut, they were so different. Ryuuken’s eyes held a slight frown even in sleep, and Uryuu’s eyelids were smooth, so pale that the veins made them look like translucent shells underwater.

Uryuu slept so little, the same six or so hours as his father, and Kanae knew that was not nearly enough for a child, and especially when that sleep was interrupted by coughing.  The medicines Souken sent didn’t always work. She worried, especially at night, when problems seemed deeper, when the darkness and fatigue made her imagine worst case scenarios.

But every morning, without fail, Uryuu showed up for breakfast, sometimes chirping his “good morning” with a hoarse voice, but his eyes were clear, his chin was held high, and Kanae saw in him his father’s strength. She knew, without having to be told by either Ryuuken or Souken, that Uryuu possessed a special Quincy ability to sense the world around him; in fact, the boy’s sensitivities exceeded those of his father and grandfather. Strength, a special strength. Uryuu would survive a cold; in fact, he could survive anything.

She could see that in his eyes.

 

  1. Fashion

Kanae had worn a servant’s outfit for so much of her life that adjusting to being the spouse of a wealthy young doctor challenged her.  Mrs. Ishida had offered Kanae a guide to help her choose outfits shortly before the young wife, Ryuuken, and their small son moved into their first family home, but Kanae had refused. She thought it infantilizing that a stranger would be hired to help her pick out her own clothes.

One Saturday, she took Uryuu by the hand and told him they were going to a high-end boutique to buy “many many dresses” for his mother to wear.

“Why do you need so many?” The boy had asked.

“Parties, social events,” Kanae had explained. “There’s a certain way a woman needs to look on certain occasions, and the simple clothes I own now aren’t … pretty enough.”

“You look beautiful,” Uyruu had said.

At the shop, Kanae was right away overwhelmed by the choices. She had planned on purchasing two day suits, two cocktail dresses, a few casual skirts and blouses, and matching shoes and bags, but oh—she had no idea that there would be so many fabrics, styles, colors. The shop-tags, even though she had a credit card and Ryuuken’s command to “spend without considering the cost,” were marked with obscene prices.

The shop girl tried to help, but she talked fast and kept bringing out item after item which only confused Kanae more.

At some point, Uryuu told the shop girl which dresses to put back on the racks. “Those lacey things don’t suit my mother. And she doesn’t look good in black either. She doesn’t like it.”

He was right. Kanae didn’t own a single piece of clothing that resembled her maid uniform.

“She’s slim so something that is fitted around her waist, maybe?”

Kanae had always known Uryuu to be an observant child, but his ability to discern things like this?

“She likes to be comfortable too.” He touched the skirt of one pale blue dress. “What fabric is this? The name? It’s crinkly, like what you wrap desserts in, not comfortable at all.”

“Chiffon,” answered the girl. “This chiffon is a little heavy but— “

“This one.” Uryuu was palming another dress. “Looks big for mother but if you have it in her size, I think it would be nice. It’s simple but a purse and fancy shoes would make it fancier. The dress is pretty—what do you think, Mother?”

“It’s very pretty,” Kanae agreed. “I like the soft gold color.”

“What is this fabric called?” The small boy pushed up his round spectacles.

“Linen.”

And within an hour, Kanae had bought all she came for, her confidence buoyed by her son’s attention to her needs and by his curious questions about the specifics of the merchandise. “Maybe you will be a fashion designer when you grow up,” she told him.

He was helping her carry boxes and only his eyes showed over the top of them. “Can one be a fashion designer AND a Quincy?”

“I don’t see why not,” Kanae answered and hailed a cab.

 

  1. Protect

Souken had told Uryuu that any one person’s life is always motivated by what that person wants to protect.

The idea helped Uryuu learn empathy. Did the science teacher who yelled when students didn’t do their homework want to protect ideas and make sure that facts were preserved—did Honda-sensei live in order for students to learn the sanctity of the scientific method? Did the strange old man at the barber shop who fed all those stray cats—did he want to protect the lost and abandoned?

Uryuu wasn’t sure what bullies on the street-corner who tripped kids and took their toys wanted to protect—maybe their delusions that they were tough.

Uryuu was home after school one afternoon when the phone rang and not long after, he heard his mother sobbing.  He ran to the kitchen where she sat on a chair, his father stone-faced, his arm on her shoulder.

“It was time,” his father said. “It was a lingering illness. To be honest, I’m relieved.”

Uryuu had never seen his mother angry before. She turned to his father and spat the words, “how can you say that? Relieved? She wasn’t even in pain. Souken saw to that. She’s gone, she’s gone. Your own mother.”

“All her life,” and here Father removed his hand from his wife and put it in his pants pocket. His stance was defensive. His tone was harsh. “All her life she fought for control of other peoples’ lives. She was trying to preserve an outdated, toxic culture. She … I know I owe her for my own life, and I tried to maintain my responsibility to her as best I could, but you know this yourself: she was a hateful, angry person. Life will be easier for our family without her.”

Mother dropped her face into her hands and sobbed. Father stood over her, appearing as if he wanted to comfort her, taking a step forward, then one back, but not saying a word, his face softening in a way that was perceptible only to someone like Uryuu.

Mother raised her face from her hands to say, “Ryuuken, she only ever wanted to protect you. She was your mother.”

A long silence. Uryuu did not feel any grief. He had not known his grandmother well. She rarely came to visit and when she did, she was cross and critical.

“I have arrangements to make for the funeral,” Father said. “I’ll be in my office. The family will take two weeks off for bereavement, no more. I’ll sell the estate while I’m there. I’m quite sure my father would prefer living closer to his grandson.”

 

  1. Love

The Ishida men rarely spoke of love, even to their loved ones. This was an Ishida phenomenon, not a Quincy trait. In fact, in the Wandenreich, which had consisted of purebloods, had been a chivalrous and even romantic culture, given to the courting of women with poetry. It was only when the need to distinguish between Echt and Gemischt evolved that the relevance of romantic love diminished. It was only after exiles from the shadow world began interbreeding with spiritually non-gifted humans that noble families emerged, intent on preserving their status. These nobles were the Echt, who valued pride over frivolous emotions like love, who arranged marriages, who prepared with diligence and with Quincy secrets for war.

Ishida Ryuuken, who had come to Japan as a small boy, had in many ways learned to communicate in the oblique ways of the country to which his Quincy family had returned after centuries in the Wandenreich. His mixed-blood wife, even though trained as a servant, spoke her mind, as the best matriarchs were expected to in Japan. She was small but strong-willed, fiercely intelligent, a woman of impeccable principles, efficient and organized. Ryuuken expressed his pride in her often: a man required such a partner who could run a household because a man cannot be everywhere at once, and she was the most devoted mother in the world.

“I love you, Ryuuken,” she would say, without hesitation, after every argument. She would say it when he thought he had failed at work, when he believed he had disappointed her, when a patient died or when the world was, as it never failed to be, a wretched and unjust place.

He would never say the words directly back. He would say, “I am not worthy of your love.”  An Ishida, he believed that actions spoke better than words, and he kissed her often. He made love to her every morning before dawn, with passion and tenderness. He never refused a request from her, no matter how large or small.  She was sensible; she made a case for every new addition to the house or more family time with Souken, but he had already said yes in his heart before he spoke the word.

It was on her deathbed that he told her that he swore by not by his heart which was not as good as it could be, but by her own, which was pure, that he would protect their son. It was not until many years later that passing by her photograph as he always did, he paused, and for no reason he could name then or later, whispered, “Kanae, I love you.”

There were no regrets. She had always known.        

 

  1. Freedom

A misconception reigned among bigots in the human world that Quincy had no souls, were not reincarnated, or were eternally punished by Shinigami for their sins of blasting Hollow from the cycle of reincarnation by equally having their own souls disintegrated. “Bam, a Quincy keels over and dies, a Shinigami arrives, pops him on the head with a mumbo-jumbo spell—no after-life for you, Quincy!” Such a belief was held by spiritually aware people, of course—those who could sense the dead and see the monsters who preyed on those dearly departed. These people did not belong to any particular tribe or religion; they were simply those who knew who Quincy were and either feared them or looked down upon them.

Souken did not hide his identity. When people asked him what the emblem around his neck was, he said it was a Quincy cross. Most of the time, people asked no further questions. Every once in a while, a person stepped back, afraid. There were rumors about his healing powers, and after he died, the old superstitious women of Karakura told one another: what a shame, he was a Quincy, there is no afterlife for him.

But there was.  He went to Soul Society, and even after suffering the tortures of the 12the division and dying there, Souken’s soul returned to the World of the Living to be reborn.

Such was also the case with Ryuuken’s mother. Her death had been the result of a Hollow attack that had tainted her with a mysterious illness her pureblood strength had fought for years; all of Souken’s magic could not save her. Her illness was not like what had stricken Masaki; there was no imminent danger of soul suicide as Kisuke had explained. The Hollow wound ate at her internal organs like a cancer and her unhappiness seemed to aggravate the spread of the strange disease. She died, but her soul, as mixed with sin and goodness as anyone’s, had flown to another realm.

Not so with Masaki and Kanae.  Their deaths were what broke Ryuuken and made him renounce his heritage. His father had told him about the ability of the Quincy king to absorb the souls of other Quincy. Followers believed the process to be a coming home to God, but some had questioned how one entity could be so selfish as to yank others from of the balance of worlds, to murder each individual’s chance to evolve through reincarnation.

Kanae, lost forever?

The silver that Ryuuken dug from her heart was fashioned into an arrowhead that waited, for years and years, in a locked drawer in the secret basement of the hospital. Ryuuken and Uryuu had trained in that basement. Ryuuken did not want to use the arrowhead. He did not want to think about his son using the arrowhead. He did not want to believe that Souken was right about the Quincy king returning.

But if the king did return? Would Kanae return with him?

Uryuu shot the arrow into the chest of the Quincy king.  A Shinigami split the Quincy king in half with a zanpaktou, the sword that cleanses souls from their sins.

It was in that moment that hundreds of thousands of souls, once lost, found freedom.

“Kanae,” Ryuuken heard himself say. He was standing at the base of what used to be the king’s palace. It had been made mostly rubble by war. “Kanae.” He felt her reiatsu. It was there, and it was gone.

Kanae had always been pure; her own heart could not be more virtuous—no Shinigami sword had been necessary to absolve her of anything, merely to set her free. There were particles lingering in the cold air—other souls. “Kanae?” A trace of her gleamed from the silver arrowhead and disappeared, as if she had wanted to hide for a moment.  Clouds of souls spiraled around in invisible funnels for a minute or so. Then all spirit particles dissipated and went wherever they needed to go.

There was still a place inside him, though, where she held fast.  Even in that moment of lightness, there was no freedom from the pain of missing her.

 

  1. Betrothed

The girl was thirteen when she moved into the Ishida estate--her aunt, a second cousin of Mrs. Ishida, having passed from old age and her parents long dead from battling Hollow. She was not from a wealthy family, but she was a pureblood, educated, and Mrs. Ishida was nothing if not devoted to preserving the purity of the Quincy heritage.  Mixed marriages with untalented humans were dangerous in her view; mixed children were brought up with improper ideas and their powers were weak or non-existent.

The girl began training right away with the best sensei available—short of Souken himself, who was busy with his own projects.  Ryuuken rarely saw the girl except at breakfast and dinner, noted that she was pretty and talkative, especially bubbly for someone who had so recently lost a family member, and he heard that she was good at spells but untalented in archery, and that Mrs. Ishida was not pleased with her progress over the months.

It came as a shock, therefore, when his mother told him one day that he and the girl were to be betrothed.

Ryuuken’s glasses slipped a little off his nose, and he didn’t bother to adjust them. He looked at his mother over the rims. “Masaki?”

“She’s the right age. I have complete supervision of her in our home; I will make certain that she develops all the proper qualities for a Quincy wife.”

“You have control of her, you mean,” Ryuuken noted.

“Respect!” chided Mrs. Ishida, raising her voice only slightly. She was accustomed to her son’s irreverent remarks in private conversation; he was polite in public, but she still had no tolerance for the haughty tone he took against his own mother. “What I would like for you to do is to get to know her better. You seem to barely acknowledge her existence. It would help if the two of you were friends.”

Ryuuken considered the proposal. “We’re not very much alike.”

“Yes, yes, I know. She’s rather extroverted, and you like to keep to yourself, but I’ll arrange for the two of you to go to the movies, perhaps to a ramen shop.”

Ryuuken shut his eyes. This was going to be torture.

As it turns out, it wasn’t.  Masaki was funny and engaging company, and there was no awkwardness because she didn’t know of the betrothal yet.  Ryuuken learned, over the course of a year or so, that Masaki was smarter than she had first seemed, that she was very kind, and every time he saw her, she seemed to get prettier. All the boys in school were talking about her. She was developing what could only be described as a … voluptuous shape.

One day after school, she was munching on a seaweed snack (she was always eating it seemed) and she said in the most nonchalant voice: “Your mother told me that you and I are going to get married one day.”

“Is that so?”

“You mean you knew about this?”

“She told me, yes.” Ryuuken put down his book-bag. Some sort of discussion was inevitable.

“There’s not supposed to be an announcement of the betrothal until after we graduate. It’s supposed to be a biiiig secret.” Masaki talked with food in her mouth, an unappealing habit. “So I guess we have plenty of time to get used to the idea.”

She didn’t seem perturbed. She didn’t seem unhappy.

She chewed her snack, swallowed and winked at him. “See you at dinner, cousin,” she said. And she ran up the stairs to her room.

Ryuuken sighed, a little bit in relief. His next sigh was broken and shallow. He was afraid he was falling for the girl he was supposed to marry.

 

  1. Pride

Souken had always been, by all appearances, a humble man, but even Souken, like all Quincy who Ryuuken remembered from his early boyhood in the Wandenreich, spoke of the “pride of the Quincy.”  The concept was so integral to Ryuuken’s identity that he could not remember a moment when it had been explained to him; he understood it as a devotion to a set of principles. Some of the most essential principles: no Quincy would allow an innocent to go unprotected, an injustice to be overlooked, or any challenge to the tribe and its legacy to pass without a display of Quincy merit and power.

After he lost Kanae, Ryuuken did not think he had any pride left in him at all, let alone Quincy pride. He wondered about how his own father had felt about not being to save Mother, but that was different. Souken still had faith in his ancient religion, in some bygone tradition and lore that he expected to hold up the universe. Souken had not lost the soul of the woman he loved to the unimaginable void that was the Quincy king. Kanae’s soul, eaten like rice, swallowed by a bloated power.

What was pride after that kind of loss?

Ryuuken searched for it, the way a man might reach for his glasses if he wakes up from a nightmare in the middle of the night.  He tried to take pride in his exacting surgery, in every life he saved at the hospital. He didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment, let alone pride.

Uryuu would come home from school, look up with an expression that was so much like Kanae’s, and there were stirrings Ryuuken remembered from the early days when she would say “Look, Ryuuken, look who you and I made!” But Ryuuken would read over his son’s composition, marked with a high grade, and tell Uryuu the very words he wanted to tell himself:

“Not good enough.”

 

  1. Kanae and Masaki

Ryuuken had never compared the two, never actually spoken the two names in the same sentence that he could remember, except perhaps once or twice to Isshin when mentioning how their wives had died. There came a day, though, that he chose to describe his feelings, in a complexity of detail that was decidedly out of his comfort zone, to his son Uryuu. It was after the defeat of Yhwach and such a thing felt necessary.

Uryuu already knew about Masaki, about how his friend Kurosaki Ichigo’s mom had once been betrothed to his own dad.  Uryuu had heard the story from the shopkeeper Urahara Kisuke. Who knew the perverted Kisuke was that much of gossip?

Isshin had told Ryuuken: “Hey, I told Ichigo all about how he’s part Quincy, but word’s been around for a while. Did you know Kisuke told your kid?  Not just the Quincy part but that you were in love with my wife long ago.” Ryuuken said a silent thank you to Kisuke for traumatizing his son, swore he would blow the shopkeeper’s head off one day, and nothing more had been spoken about the matter.

There really hadn’t been much to say; both Isshin and Ryuuken had been en route to the Royal Realm at the time with the intention of helping their sons save the universe from collapsing.

After it was clear that the universe was not going to do that, after the bodies were piling up, and that beautiful girl who cast the golden orb was tending to the many wounded, Ryuuken caught his son, as he had many times, staring at the girl with open adoration.

Ryuuken took off his jacket, muttered something about how he’d heard that Kisuke, that pervert, had made the girl put on that inappropriate costume, and told Uryuu to lend the jacket to the girl. “Go,” he commanded his son. He watched while the girl and his son talked, for at least an hour, for as long as it took to reject wound after wound. Sado-kun was healed at last: that giant kid never spoke much, but he listened, a towering presence over Inoue Orihime and Ishida Uryuu as the two knelt side by side, at ease with one another, talking and talking. Sado looked from one to the other and seemed to be thinking what Ryuuken was thinking.

“Your son has a thing for the girl in your jacket,” Isshin said.

“Shut up,” Ryuuken said.

Later, after Sado-kun gestured to the girl that there might be someone under the rubble and that he was going to lift a part of fallen wall to see, the girl and Sado left the scene. “Ichigo, come here!” shouted Sado” I don’t think this guy’s dead!” Uryuu was left where he had been kneeling, looking wistfully in the direction of his friends. Something about how his face looked so much like Kanae’s at that moment prompted Ryuuken to walk over.

“I know she’s in love with another young man,” Ryuuken said in as plain a voice as possible.

Uryuu blushed, stood up, and seemed stricken speechless.

“People can love more than once, I’m sure you know that,” Ryuuken went on. He felt itchy. He lit a cigarette. He cleared his throat. He took a drag, cleared his throat again. “There was a woman before your mother.”

Uryuu could only stare.

“Lives change.” Ryuuken took a long drag and exhaled a cloud of smoke. “My life did. One never knows, and this girl you like… well…” He was not sure how to phrase it. “Her affections could move on, the way this woman before your mother— “Another drag. “Hers did.”

“You mean Kurosaki Masaki, my friend’s mom.”

“Yes, yes, I know that disgusting shopkeeper told you about that.” Ryuuken was annoyed just thinking about it. “What you don’t know is how adults handle these sorts of situations.  When people grow up, accept their lot in life, so much changes.” A long piece of ash on the tip of Ryuuken’s cigarette fell off by itself. He flicked off the rest. “Your mother was my best friend and the person I…” How could he explain Kanae? There was no explaining a love like that to a stupid teenager. “This girl, Inoue-san—her affections could move on. You—your affections could also….”

The look Uryuu was giving him was so exposed that Ryuuken could scarcely stand it. No, his son was too much like Kanae. His affections would never move on.

“Get my jacket back at some point,” Ryuuken said before walking away. “At least it will give you an excuse to go to her apartment.”

 

  1. Failure

Ryuuken lost his pride, his identity as a Quincy, and for the most part, his will to live after Kanae died, but it was still impossible for him to admit failure.  Yes, it was true, undeniably, that he had failed to protect Masaki. Yes, he had failed to save Kanae’s life.  But there had to be a way out.  Existence was tedious, people were stupid, the world was a crass and unjust mess, but Masaki had always delighted in it, and Kanae, good Kanae, had always looked for the best in people, even in bitter hypercritical old women like Mother, and had inspired kindness in everyone around her, even in a cynical bastard like himself.

A way out. A way out. Ryuuken had never failed at anything as a young man. He had excelled at sports, academics, Quincy training. He could be courteous if necessary, and he had inherited elegant good looks from his mother’s side of the family, looks which had been famous long ago in the Wandenreich; he was now Karakura’s richest, most eligible bachelor, and even women who didn’t know that he had recently been promoted to director of the hospital stopped dead in their tracks and stared when he walked down a corridor.

He never failed to be on time. He was always immaculately dressed. He didn’t fail his patients. He paid his employees on time, and he made certain that the garden Kanae had loved in the back of the house was weeded and trimmed by professionals and maintained exactly as she left it. The blue wisteria tree grew larger every year.  How any unexpected cold snap could turn the plants brown overnight reminded him of the frailty of the World of the Living, but he kept paying the gardeners.

A way out. A way out. He experimented with the silver from Kanae’s heart. He created alloys with his own Quincy reiatsu. It was less powerful that way. Many late nights in the secret basement in the hospital, he considered what it would take to destroy the Quincy regime and kill the king. Every path led to failure.

Still, he manipulated the silver so that it took on its own organic spirit, became malleable and a thousand times more sensitive than any of the silver used in Quincy artifacts. It was pure, like Kanae herself, even though she had been a Gemischt. It was still not strong enough to kill the Quincy king.

Souken had said the silver gathered from the heart of a Quincy taken in the Holy Selection would be able to paralyze the Quincy king’s powers. For a few seconds, maybe longer. If Ryuuken only had access to other hearts from Quincy who had perished when ….

There was no way out. What would a few seconds mean? Still, he worked the silver into an arrowhead. He polished it and engraved Kanae’s name near the tip in small letters. He put the arrowhead in a box in the basement and locked the box with a silver key.

Father had failed to save his own wife from some Hollow poison. As well as Masaki and Kanae from the Holy Selection. Souken had been busy training in a secret reiatsu-sealed chamber that June 17th. Ryuuken had failed to save his own father later; he had sensed the old man battling the army of Hollow and figured that Souken could handle himself or that the Shinigami would arrive soon enough. Uryuu had been there, a non-combatant, ready to flee. Ryuuken had been certain of his father’s safety, of his own son’s safety. What if something had happened to Uryuu?

Ryuuken would not accept failure though. He promised his wife on her deathbed that he would protect their son.

The silver arrowhead in its box called to him some nights: A way out. A way out.

 

  1. Isshin

The man was a damn fool, but Masaki, in all her foolish goodness, had sacrificed her life for his, and Kurosaki Isshin, in all his stupid virtue, had saved Masaki’s life. That shady shopkeeper who sold expired candies and sex toys in the same aisle facilitated the whole affair, and for that, Ryuuken was eternally grateful. Still, the day came when the wedding was announced and the shopkeeper had the goddamn nerve to tip his ridiculous sunhat in Ryuuken’s direction and say, “Am I or am I not an excellent matchmaker?”

“Cut the act,” Ryuuken had snapped. “I’m not buying it. You probably knew of another way. You did this to amuse yourself, and if I ever find out that you set up this match on purpose, I’ll blow your fucking Shinigami head off with a Quincy arrow, I can promise you that.”

“Ohhhhh, pardon,” Urahara Kisuke hid behind his fan. “Did not mean to offend. I take it you will not be a guest at the party?”

Isshin’s large hand slapped Ryuuken’s shoulder. “This man? Ryuuken is my best friend! Helped me set up the house clinic—no offense, Kisuke, but the papers you forged didn’t pass inspection to the top. The after-hours business is doing great now. Right, Ryuuken? You get a seat at the front table. You and your delicious wife, Kanae.”

“Please do not refer to my wife as delicious.”

“Oh oh, of course not, but let’s be a little proud of the fact—she’s a babe. Looking a little chunky in the middle but …” Here, Isshin made a loud stage-whisper. “It’s ok.  I knocked up Masaki before the wedding too. Guess love can’t wait, eh?” He elbowed Isshin in the ribs.

The shopkeeper giggled like a girl behind his fan. “I wasn’t invited to the Ishida wedding.”

“Black tie,” Ryuuken said coldly. “Anyone wearing beach clothing would’ve been turned away. Isshin, are you inviting this person to your wedding?”

“I don’t see why not? It’s a small party at the house, after the stop to the government office. Ryuuken and Kanae, do you want to be the formal witnesses?”

“Perhaps I shouldn’t go,” Urahara said in a guarded tone. “Given that Ryuuken wants to shoot my head off. I’ll send some gifts along with my best regards. Ururu will deliver them. When did you say the date was?”

“Saturday!” Isshin boomed.

“That’s…. that’s … three days from now,” Ryuuken was amazed. “You didn’t send out invitations?”

“What’s the use of invitations? I’m here to get supplies for the BBQ.” He held up a bag of charcoal. “What are you here for, my friend?”

Ryuuken adjusted his tie. It was very late, but this shop kept the strangest hours. “Kanae had a craving for spicy potato sticks and lemon chews.”

“Ahhh very specific. Masaki eats anything. Usually a gallon of milk every morning.”

Ryuuken wondered if the offspring of Isshin and Masaki would be Quincy or Shinigami or both—would the baby need a gigai to function in the World of the Living? Whatever. It wasn’t his business. The shopkeeper would attend to such things.

The gigai was slowly zapping Isshin’s powers from him; in a way Ryuuken was envious. Sometimes Ryuuken wished to be rid of his Quincy power, and yet at the same time he did not want to identify as a mere human. He still found use for his special abilities. It was his culture and its dumb traditions he rejected, not his own gifts. Still, sometimes, when he heard the screeching of Hollow and the violent way they ate human souls, he wanted the gift of dumbness to the pain of that.

Why was Isshin always so happy? He could still sense Hollow; he knew of the horrors of the world.

There was only one answer: Isshin was an idiot.

“Okie dokie, Ryuuken, I’ll see you Saturday in the government office—I’ll phone you with address. I’m afraid I don’t remember it. No need to bring anything. We’re happy as can be. Tell Kanae to wear a pretty dress. Put everything on my tab, Kisuke.”

“Ah don’t leave first,” the shopkeeper said. “Doctor Ishida threatened to blow my head off.”

“That’s only if I find out you’ve been up to funny business,” Ryuuken said as Isshin left the shop, the door chimes jangling.

“Uh oh,” Urahara said. “I’m always up to funny business.”

“A dozen packs of lemon chews and all the spicy potato sticks you have in stock.”

“For you, discount price.”

The Kurosaki family and the Ishida family might have grown close, their children playing together, the parents revisiting memories of childhood, but Ryuuken didn’t want the families to mingle, insisting on a singular very human life for Uryuu. Then came the genocide on that summer day, July 17, and the wives died, and the husbands were no longer the men they used to be. Their friendship grew more and more distant; the years grew heavier with secrets they knew they should have revealed to their sons, but somehow the time was never right.

And yet, as Souken had always taught Ryuuken, a Shinigami was not a natural enemy—it was only that this one, Kurosaki Isshin was so particularly stupid and annoying. And as Masaki had taught Isshin, Quincy were an honorable people—Isshin often told himself, laughing, that this one, Ishida Ryuuken, was a bitter hard-ass with a terrible smell from all those damn cigs. Isshin saw Ryuuken less and less over the years but never without remarking on how smelly he was. “The cigarettes will kill you before any damn Quincy war.”

Ryuuken sometimes suspected that he and Isshin shared a destiny, if he were to believe in such a thing as destiny, that is.  He had tried to keep their sons apart. Shinigami were trouble. Quincy were trouble. But there were too many neon signs pointing to the paths of the fathers crossing again. Whenever Ryuuken thought about Isshin, which was too often and always required a cigarette, it appeared inevitable that the fool would come lumbering into the hospital one day with a special request or a dire announcement. Some mornings, Ryuuken woke up and dreaded it: Kurosaki, not today, I have a conference. Let it be tomorrow you ruin my life again.

 

  1. A Father’s Duty

“It’s not like I don’t get my hands covered in disgusting bodily fluids and excretions all day at work,” Ryuuken was explaining to his father. “There’s absolutely no need for me to change my son’s diaper when I come home.”

“It’s a special skill,” Souken explained. “Not one relegated to only women in the old days.  Men knew how to sew, cook, nurture the little ones in the old days.”

Ryuuken’s silence seemed to remind Souken that any talk of the old days was verboten.

“Kanae needs the break,” Souken added. “She’s been changing diapers all day.”

Ryuuken got up from the table to refill his glass of milk. “Then I’ll hire her a maid.”

“You know she wouldn’t hear of that.”

“Well then.” Ryuuken sat down. “Would you like some more fish, Father? Kanae doesn’t have to cook. I send out for breakfast these days. Really, we’re doing just fine. There’s no reason for me to deal with shit to fulfill my paternal obligations.”

Years later, Uryuu asked his grandfather what Ryuuken had been like as a baby.  It was difficult to imagine his own father as a baby, but Uryuu was fond of puzzles and stretching his imagination to consider things like this.

“A sensitive little one,” Souken said. “Cried for his mother all the time.”

“Really?”

“Oh once he got on a sleeping schedule, he was better, but those first few weeks were so difficult. The slightest noise would wake him and he would cry for hours. I would pace around the room rocking him after his mother was tired. He had a delicate stomach too. I changed his diapers.”

“You changed father’s DIAPERS?”

“Oh yes. And he had such a sensitive stomach. He threw up constantly for a year. I was always cleaning up after him. But such are the things you do for a baby. Babies are helpless. But they are very delightful.” The old man was smiling widely and appearing a little younger as he remembered his baby son. “Your father’s first words came early. He was pointing to people and objects before he was a year old and pronouncing words clear as a bell.”

“Father was always smart.” Uryuu was steeling himself to the fact that when he himself became a father he would have to change diapers and clean up vomit. Such was a father’s duty, but he would commit himself to it with the pride of the Quincy.

Years after that conversation, long after Masaki passed and after Souken died, and Ryuuken was a shell of a man, wandering around a large house, obsessed with work, always looking up something in the library, never sharing a meal with his own son, Uryuu understood that his own father wasn’t his father anymore.  Uryuu had acquired his own bank account at age twelve because Ryuuken had stressed the importance of learning to manage finances if not much else, and now, three years later, there was enough money there to rent an apartment for the duration of high school.  A scholarship to a university would be no problem. Other expenses—he would have to do without sometimes, but he could always make cash from tailoring commissions and dolls. In fact, his original dresses were in high demand among girls beyond the neighborhood. He could ask a higher price for the dresses.

He wrote his father a note: “Ryuuken, I’m leaving. I don’t have a phone. I will send you the address when I locate an apartment.”

Uryuu decided that when he himself became a father, his one guiding principle would be to do the exact opposite of what Ryuuken had done with him.  He would not be hypercritical; he would not be distant; he would sew plushies for his child and teach the child to cook and sew and how to shoot a bow.

 

  1. Cigarettes

Eleven months after Masaki’s death, Ryuuken’s colleagues decided that the mourning period was over and that Ryuuken, although he still looked wan and less himself, was no longer a widower and now an official bachelor again. Two doctors and the director of the oncology department took him to a nightclub under the pretense of cheering him up.

Ryuuken went; he had nothing else to do. The place was lurid, gaudy, filled with cigarette smoke, and he regretted going the moment he passed the entrance.  He stayed for the drinks, which his colleagues bought him. Ryuuken was accustomed to drinking; he had developed a high tolerance for alcohol in the past year.

The women were beautiful. The servers, who wore scanty clothing, and the guests, who were there unaccompanied, approached the table and always leaned too far over so that their cleavage was on display. They spoke in flirty tones. It was plain why the establishment existed; Ryuuken recalled seeing a cheap hotel just down the street.

Ryuuken was filled with contempt for the men who had brought him here and even more disdain for the women who flaunted themselves for men like them.  Like he had many times in the past eleven months, he felt like he wanted to die. Seriously die. Vanish from the earth.

He beckoned a server girl over with his finger.  She flashed a broad smile as if thrilled to be singled out. Ridiculous.

“What long fingers you have,” she said. “You have the loveliest hands.”

He overlooked her forwardness. “I would like a pack of cigarettes, please.”

“What brand.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’ve never smoked before.”

“Oh my. Are you sure you want to start? It’s not good for your health.”

“Of course I know it’s not good for my health. I’m a doctor. I just want to try one.”

“You’re a doctor.” Her interest in the man before her amplified. She leaned over the table. The flashing lights in the room cast red and green colors on her ample bosom. “I can suggest a brand. Smooth, expensive. Would look good in your lovely long fingers— “

Ryuuken didn’t let her finish. “Fine.” He gave her a wad of money, more than what any expensive pack of cigarettes could possibly cost and enough of a tip for her help.

“Thank you, Doctor…?”

“You don’t need to know my name.”

When she came back with the cigarettes, she tried to talk to him again, but he waved her off rudely, much to the moans of his colleagues. “She likes you.” “She’s pretty.” “You need the stress relief.”

Ryuuken realized he didn’t have a light, but there were matchbooks with the bar logo on the table. His colleagues watched in awe as he slid a cigarette out of the box. Apparently they thought he really wasn’t going to smoke, that he had only been trying to get the server’s attention.

He liked the way the cigarette felt in his hand. Like a tool. Like something to occupy his terrible boredom.

The little flame reminded him of everything that had gone to fucking hell in his life.

He inhaled tentatively at first, allowed the smoke past his palate where it didn’t burn as he expected and had no distinguishable taste. The smoke entered his lungs where he held it, no problem, and he exhaled, no issue there either. He took a longer drag. No coughing. It was like he had been born to smoke. Born to smoke himself to death.

“You do that well,” said the man to his right.

“It’s a sexy look on you,” said the one to his left and chortled, drunkenly, over his glass of gin.

Ryuuken let part of the cigarette burn out before tasting it again. He flicked the ashes into what remained of his last drink. There was hissing sound against the ice. It sounded like how his life was fizzling out.

His gentlemen companions got more intoxicated and began to behave like people he no longer recognized, so he didn’t want to watch that. He announced that he was going to take a cab home. He had already smoked four or five cigarettes before his departure. He put the pack in his jacket pocket, and the next morning took note of the brand. He sent his secretary out for a carton and told her to purchase a high-end cigarette lighter, silver-plated. The look on her face was priceless. It was the most amusement Ryuuken had enjoyed in weeks.

During his lunch break, he ate a vending machine sandwich in his office, leaned back in his office chair, put his feet on his desk, heels smack on his tedious paperwork, and smoked a cigarette. He could taste the flavor now. He could feel the mild stimulant effect. His mood lifted.

“We all die anyway,” he said aloud to no one.

He took another long drag and closed his eyes. He had found his path to his longed-for grave, and it felt good. So good.

 

  1. Quincy Honor

Souken had always said that honor was something that could not be stolen, no matter how beaten down by poverty, humiliation, illness or suffering a person was. He said Quincy honor was a strength developed like the muscles in one’s arms from practice shooting a bow; one needed to learn how to trust oneself and value others, to have compassion for even one’s enemies and that honor would grow stronger than any armor, any weapon, any evil intent.

Uryuu as a young child had believed in Souken’s words. He began to doubt them in Soul Society when he encountered the captain of the 12th division and learned what happened to the 2,661 Quincy souls who fell to his experiments. By Kurotsuchi’s own words, they all said that by their “Quincy honor they would never do such and such,” that they would stop this evil scientist. Kurotsuchi made them burn their own children.

Did Souken, who also fell to Kurotsuchi, who died with Uryuu’s own name on his lips, feel compassion for his tormentor? What did it mean that he called out for his grandson? Can honor be stolen? Surely those Quincy, in the grasp of a madman, were not to blame for actions committed under extreme duress, but how strong exactly was Quincy honor? Souken’s was strong—did he expect his grandson’s to be as strong?

Uryuu was proud. All his life, despite Ryuuken’s constant criticism, he carried with him his mother’s love and his grandfather’s support. Still, he doubted himself. His brief training with his father had been cut short when he went to Hueco Mundo to rescue Inoue Orihime. He didn’t understand the full extent of his powers; he wanted to protect; he improvised. He made a deal with the devil himself by accepting bombs from Kurotsuchi in order to collapse the tower where Inoue-san was being held. It had not been a difficult ethical problem; the honor of the Quincy prioritized his friend. But under Uryuu’s honor and pride, there lurked a fear—not of dying, for he had learned to manage that fear as he fought in battle after battle, but a darker fear.

Hueco Mundo was a strange, terrifying world.  Sometimes absurdly comical. Frustrating, even though the annoying Desert brothers were more human-like than Hollow and became allies. The atmosphere seemed to inspire perversion. Cirucci with her sadistic laugh, the way Szayel looked at both him and Abarai-kun in an overtly lustful way as if the Espada wanted to do something unspeakable first before killing them, then there was that unforgettable sight of Kurotsuchi healing his daughter in that way Uryuu had never witnessed, not even in a hentai magazine let alone before his very eyes—

There had been dark stirrings inside Uryuu at that last moment. Darker ones when his enemies confused him with their human-like qualities and yet Uryuu felt drained of compassion for them because he wanted to destroy their Hollow ugliness—he fought the urge to battle to the death because it was a distraction from his sole mission of saving Inoue-san. There was the dark fear of making a fatal mistake. He discovered his ability to navigate his hirenkyaku platform in the Hueco Mundo atmosphere too late; he knew the ability would’ve saved time had he used it earlier. He forged on. Inoue-san asked him to take her closer to a dangerous battle. He made the wrong choice.

There would never be childish ideals of what honor meant anymore. Enemies were no longer the monsters one could shoot at from a distance, the menacing Hollow who were inhuman.  Could Uryuu fall to some of his own worst faults in a place like this? Uryuu watched his friend Kurosaki turn into a ravaging beast who could kill anyone in his sight—enemy or friend. A good guy like Kurosaki. If such a transformation was possible in Kurosaki, it was possible in anyone.

With fear for himself, knowing that his own sense of honor was at stake, Uryuu watched the Thing that had once been Kurosaki lift his weapon to stab an already slain enemy. An image flashed through Uryuu’s mind. His own father mutilating his mother’s body, conducting a frantic autopsy on her for days and days. There was Mayuri too—in the name of science—examining 2,661 Quincy until they were pulp.

Before he knew it, the one hand that he still had left from the recent fighting grasped Kurosaki’s arm. “That’s enough. The fight is over. There’s no need to mangle his corpse.”

And in that moment, Uryuu’s fear vanished, his sense of honor surged, his goal became to save his friend. “Kurosaki, can you hear me?”

The aftermath was violent, tragic, and Uryuu sat with his friend’s sword in his stomach as the slain Hollow revived. Ulquiorra appeared to be reborn with the illumination of true humanity over his frail body before he turned to dust in the wind, Kurosaki healed himself, and Inoue-san cried and cried, ignoring Uryuu’s wounds.

Uryuu sat there, dumbstruck by what he had witnessed, not even grieving yet, feeling no pain, but aware that he was alone, and that his sensei’s words had held true. His Quincy honor could not be taken from him.

He felt alone with it. It was enough. My honor. I did not lose my Quincy honor. The thought had no sooner entered his mind with a hint of pride when it vanished, the pain in his body starting to break through his resolve, and worse, the sadness of his friends deepening with the sound of Inoue-san’s sobbing. Honor or no honor, he was helpless to bring back the dead, nor could he empty Hueco Mundo of its miles and miles of loneliness, the piles of sand that shifted in the wind and blew around those who had once been its Hollow inhabitants. Loneliness everywhere.

He was not a boy anymore.

 

  1. The Wandenreich

Ishida Uryuu was sent for. He was training by the fast creek where he and Souken had often shot arrows, and the only sounds were birds, an occasional frog, the rush of the water. Uryuu could hear his own intake of breath as he drew back his bow, and then there was a peculiar whoosh in the sky above him. He felt the reiatsu right away: Quincy.

The young man standing before him wore a white uniform with a high collar, too many silver buttons, a waist length cape, and knee-high boots. Uryuu instantly recognized him as one of the officers Grandfather had described from what Uryuu had assumed was a long-ago, perhaps mythological place.

“Ishida Uryuu.” The man bowed. “I am Bogart Jung, a member of His Majesty’s Executive Hunting Corps. We have been observing you for many years, and the Quincy kingdom has extensive daten on the last surviving Quincy in the Living World.”

Uryuu lowered his bow.  His grandfather had only dropped clues about another place, another time—did it really still exist? Why hadn’t Ryuuken spoken of it?

“Because your family’s strength was so renown in the Wandenreich, despite your grandfather’s exile, and because His Majesty has been made aware of your ability to use ransoutengai and other rare Quincy techniques, you are being honored with a call to return to your true home.”

Think, think. “What purpose am I to serve in the … Wandenreich?”

“You would serve in His Majesty’s army, of course,” Jung said. “You are no doubt despised here. His Majesty will assign your rank in the event you are granted an audience. It’s not my place to assume, but I would not expect less to be offered to a son of the Ishida family.” And here Jung bowed again.

“What if I refuse to go back?” Uryuu already knew what the answer would be.

“I have orders not to harm you, but other elite members of the hunting corps are standing by to take you by force. I did not think it necessary to persuade you to return to a position of power and privilege, but you should know that His Majesty plans on destroying the World of the Living soon. You honestly have no other option.”

“I see.”

The sound of the babbling creek was all that could be heard for a long moment.

“Give me a day to gather some personal items and make an excuse for my leaving. I will not tell anyone the true reason for my departure.”

Jung gave a wave of his hand. “Of course, a day is granted to you. And it makes no difference to us if you tell anyone about the Quincy invasion. People will know of it soon enough, and there is nothing they can do to prepare. The Living World will fall. As will Hueco Mundo. As will Soul Society.”

Uryuu felt his heart clench. He would come up with a plan.

“I will be back for you in twenty-four hours. In this very place.”

Another Quincy appeared in Karakura not long after; at first Ishida mistook the Quincy for an Arrancar—he wore a piece of a mask, and there was definitely Hollow in him. What Quincy would have the scent of a Hollow? Then Kurosaki left to fight the man, and it was plain what this abomination truly was.  Quincy reiatsu rang from the battle scene, and Uryuu felt the full darkness of the situation fall over him. The Wandenreich were doing experiments on other beings, recruiting Arrancar in the pursuit to take over all the existing worlds. That they had contacted Kurosaki was no accident either; they wanted something from Kurosaki, just as they wanted something from him.

Jung was waiting for Uryuu by the creek the next day. Uryuu’s knapsack held small packages encased in the reiatsu-hiding silver with which his father had built the secret basement in Karakura hospital. Who knows, maybe somehow Ryuuken had learned to hide his own presence from these people and that’s why they referred to Uryuu as the only remaining Quincy in the Living World.

As Uryuu made his way through the corridors of the Silbern, as he met the Sternritter, the Quincy king, learned of their transgressions against everything he had been taught by Souken and witnessed their cruelty firsthand, he learned the truth: Quincy honor can be stolen. The Quincy king himself, this horror of a ruler who could not be called a true Quincy, to whom so many Quincy had pledged their souls, had robbed an entire culture of its honor.

But not Uryuu’s. He told himself over and over as the Quincy king stood next to him, called him “Uryuu” in an odd, mild tone approaching affection, that his own honor would not be stolen by this disgusting despot, that he would die before such a thing could happen. He remembered the words of the Quincy tortured by Kurotsuchi. I will stop you.

He looked at the Quincy king who, strangely enough, unlike the others, seemed to trust Uryuu. It was abhorrent, painful, and insulting that the king had anointed Uryuu as prince and successor. The king’s dark, sharp profile stood out against the gray skies.

I may not be able to stop you, but I will die trying. I will die with my honor.

Uryuu turned his face to the wind and felt no fear.  It was a waiting game, his senses more alert to his surroundings than ever before, his purpose never more clear.

 

  1. Souken

Like most men in his family, Souken was not given to revealing much about himself.  Like most Ishidas, he had a flair for drama; when he told a story, he would speak softly then with more force, pause for effect, and always leave his audience with a riddle to ponder. He taught the ways of the Quincy by example as well, and not a soul beyond his wife knew personal details of his past in the Wandenreich. His son Ryuuken inherited a similar style of passing along information while concealing vital facts.  Ishida Ryuuken’s interns sweated when he entered a room, but they learned to diagnose on their feet and think for themselves. No one had ever known his life from boyhood to manhood like Kanae; his only confidences had been shared with her.

Souken had not lived to see Uryuu claim the Ishida penchant for both presenting himself as a spectacle of overwrought theatre while at the same time managing to stay under the radar of many people around him. In senior year, the boy was top of his class, school president, known for giving eloquent speeches on honor in the cafeteria (to anyone who would listen), for wearing checkered wool slacks and designer shirts that were borderline girly, for skipping class often and for selling dresses to local shops, and yet a solid third of the student body would often ask, “who is that guy with the peculiar haircut?” Uryuu usually snapped that the question was better asked about his friend Kurosaki than himself, but everyone knew Kurosaki Ichigo; Uryuu Ishida, somehow, was a man of mystery.

“Souken would have loved those checkered pants,” Ryuuken muttered the day he heard about them.  From Isshin of course; Isshin always brought him the talk of the town.

“He’s not in any trouble, is he?” Ryuuken asked as if he didn’t care, but he did.

“He’s a suspected homosexual, but most of the kids know he’s crushing madly on the Inoue girl.” Here, Isshin made a sweeping gesture with his large hands to signify the swell of significant breasts.

“Stop it now. If you’re going to start with gossip from high school children, or worse, from that perverted shop-keeper— “

“No, no, no, I came to tell you that it looks like the Quincy are back. I guess your father was right.”

“What do you mean?”

“You didn’t feel it? Quincy reiatsu all over the place yesterday. Ichigo messed with one. Another one approached your son. No damage done—they talked maybe. That was all.”

Ryuuken felt a pang of remorse. Like his father before him, he had been in a reiatsu-blind chamber when the shit went down. He had been toying with the silver arrowhead. It was too early for the Quincy king to be fully awake, even according to the myths and lore his father had passed down. This wasn’t happening. For years he’d walked the streets in thin street clothes that were actually armor; the armor made his reiatsu imperceptible to Hollow and Arrancar, probably to all but the most perceptive Quincy, but he was at least alert to any threats to Uryuu. Outside the basement, he could still help--No, not now, this can’t be the real war. He didn’t want to fight. He didn’t want a war. His family, the Echt, had prepared for war; that was what they had lived for; the tension and morbid anticipation of living in that sort of family life had been unbearable.

“What are we supposed to do?” asked Isshin. “This could be the big one.”

“I don’t know.” Ryuuken felt in his pocket for his cigarettes. “Our sons will make their own decisions. They’re full-grown men now.”

“The Shinigami are going to go all out. Kisuke is prepared. You know how he rolls. He’s been inside the game for years.”

“Don’t.” Ryuuken’s lighter shot up fire like a torch. “Don’t talk to me about Kisuke.”

“Ok, ok.” Isshin held up his hands. “But what did your pops tell you? Didn’t he have a plan or something?”

Did Souken have a plan?

Souken, as far back as Ryuuken could remember, had only had dreams. Dreams of a better world. He wanted Shinigami and Quincy to cooperate; he wanted tribunals established to investigate war crimes; he wanted the Quincy in the Living World to practice restraint with their destructive power and focus on the more honorable aspects of their culture.

Souken had not been so naïve as to think that the uniquely spiritually gifted baby born to the spiritually gifted people in an oft-told story was their real god, the god they called Yhwach. That which was called Yhwach, as occasionally mentioned by Mother and Father, was older than time and did not exist in a body, human or otherwise. That god had been the source of everything and what bound together all the planes of existence. That Yhwach was not the Spirit King enslaved by the Shinigami but more like a force field created by the processes of the universe itself. The original Quincy, Souken had said, had been but a clan of humans with unique sensitivities that included the ability to sense this god, the true source of Life and Death.

Fuck that god. Ryuuken had never sensed it. Destiny? The way Isshin always talked about such a thing it was as if his own life might still have some grand purpose beyond getting up, going to work, and oh what else was there? Keeping his promise to Kanae….

“The Wandenreich,” Souken had said once, and only once, while Mother, in those early days before servants served breakfast and she was more doting, poured steaming hot miso soup into her husband’s bowl. “They are worshipping a false god. Everyone does this. There are false gods of pleasure, vanity, unbridled self-interest. There is even the false god of obsessive love.” Here, Mrs. Ishida over-filled the bowl; brown broth with bits of spinach poured on the dish below.

“But the surest sign of a false god is one who razes his enemies before seeking negotiation. The balance of the world does not begin with battling the Shinigami. The balance of the world begins with peace in the home.”

That last remark had been enough to disillusion young Ryuuken. He thought of his father’s remark when he was betrothed to Masaki; he questioned whether such an arrangement would make her happy, whether two such unsuited people could really build a life together. Would the marriage end up with him at work all day and Masaki growing lines of resentment on her pretty face as the years passed—like Mother?

“Souken told you things,” Isshin pressed. “You have a plan. You’ve been working in the basement.”

“How do you know?”

“Do you really think I’m an idiot? I have connections. Kisuke makes portals.”

“Goddammit,” Ryuuken said, although he wasn’t surprised.

“This isn’t a matter of avenging our wives or even saving the world, you know.” Isshin crossed his arms. “You want to see that boy of yours survive this, right? To marry a girl, to have a little bit of the happiness we had once, eh? We sure had some fun, right?”

Isshin was deliberately not thinking about the promise he had made to Kanae. There was a way to do that. It was to take a long drag of a cigarette, fill one’s entire mind with the rush of annihilation and deliberately deny that one had ever been happy or could ever be happy again, that happiness itself was one of those false gods Souken had talked about. In fact—here Ryuuken was holding his breath so the fog of nicotine actually jolted his memory—Souken may have said that very thing about happiness once, how it was not worth pursuing as an end in itself.

Not thinking about Kanae, not thinking about Kanae.

“I’ll be back,” Isshin said. “I’ll help you every step of the way. You’re my friend, after all.”

Damn Isshin. Ryuuken chained-smoked through the pack. Damn Father and every single piece of crap he stole from the Wandenreich. Ishida Souken, philosopher and thief. What a family I come from.

 

  1. Ishida

She had given her heart to Souken because of the twinkle in his eye; she told herself that it was for other reasons, though.  He would make a good match because of his family status, because he was brilliant and treated her with gentlemanliness that went far beyond what was expected of men his age, and because he was confident; this last trait was important. Of all her suitors, Souken was the only one who never once succumbed to a fit of blushing or stammering.

Amaya herself was a confident girl with no patience for fools. Souken was no fool. Sometimes he pretended to be one in order to expose the fools around him, and that cleverness made her laugh. She did not laugh easily like so many girls—nor did she understand why giggling like a child was a trait that many men found appealing. She did not like to appear vulnerable; Souken, apparently, did not like girls who faked vulnerability, who laughed in bell-like tones too loudly at his jokes.

He asked Amaya to marry him not three months after they met; they were married in an elaborate wedding befitting the joining of two powerful Wandenreich families. The couple passed through two long rows of soldat after being pronounced bound for eternity, and after emerging from the human hallway composed of white-uniformed archers, bows were raised, and blue and white reishi shot into the air a thousand feet above, exploding in soundless blinding light, a symbol of the great Quincy power to alter the universe, to destroy souls.

“It’s a beautiful tradition,” Souken explained later to no one in particular; seated around him were many friends eating grapes and drinking the frigid blue cocktail popular at celebrations. “Even in times of greatest joy, never forget that the Quincy are capable of the greatest destruction.”

He had that way about him. His poetry pleased people. Amaya was pleased that he was popular because she, despite her great beauty, was not, and in order to make the proper social connections, a family needed to exude charm and approachability.

She was never henceforth known as Amaya again, except to her husband; she was Mrs. Ishida. That there would be a family, a large one, was not even a matter of debate between husband and wife. She became pregnant right away, and a few weeks before the birth, something went wrong. Souken himself, a famous healer, detected it first. He placed his hand on her tummy one morning in bed and said simply, without preamble but with great sadness, “there is no heartbeat.”

“Do something!” Her voice was panicked.

But nothing could be done; labor was induced, and a dead baby girl was delivered into Souken’s hands.

“Do you want to hold her?” Souken asked.

Mrs. Ishida did. There seemed only one way to hold a baby, to hold its head in one palm and the small body in the other. The baby looked like her cousin, round-faced, small-nosed.

The next baby was stillborn too, too soon to even determine the gender. Mrs. Ishida began to lose her famous confidence. The future she had planned for herself was slowly collapsing; she found herself taking out her resentments on the servants, on Souken himself.  “Ask another healer to examine me. You are obviously not the best if you can’t find out what is wrong with me.”

But no one knew what was wrong. Souken himself was examined; there was no reason the two of them could not produce a healthy child. Rest was prescribed; the order only stressed Mrs. Ishida more. When she became pregnant a third time, she prayed for the soul of the first child to return to her. It was a foolish prayer, she realized. She wanted to hold that child in her arms again, to teach her the ways of the Quincy, to mold her into the perfect Quincy wife, the wife that now she herself was falling short of being.

Ishida Ryuuken was born on a spring day, perfectly healthy, bald and blue-eyed, with the elegant toes and fingers her side of the family was known for, and before the boy was even a year old, it was clear that he was a genius like his father.

By that time, there was already unrest among quarreling factions in the Wandenreich. Mrs. Ishida worried about her husband going to battle; she began to fret about Ryuuken growing up and having to fight. Her own battle skills were almost non-existent. She had done poorly in archery in academy; her gifts were in administrative management and planning. Like Souken, she could easily anticipate which way the political winds were blowing, but she was clueless about how to influence people as effectively as he was; she told him what she thought might work best; she was the woman behind the man who spoke at rallies.

One night, her back against the bedrest, her long black hair unbraided, her eyes calm but her mouth pinched with anxiety, she told Souken, “We’re going to be exiled. We may as well start planning a new life in the World of the Living.”

“You’re right,” he agreed. “I’ll need to start packing some artifacts bit by bit so no one notices my movements.”

“What?”

“Weapons, secrets.” There was that twinkle in his eye again. “Do you think I’d leave my history behind me? We can start a new Quincy clan elsewhere.”

“They’ll kill you if they find out what you’ve done! If the Shinigami don’t first! They massacred Quincy not long ago. It’s not going to be easy, Souken—we’ve got to be very careful.”

“I’ve got this,” he promised.

She believed him, but she was worried. Her brow furrowed, and that was the expression she would wear for most of her remaining years.

 

  1. Training

Souken had made the mistake for so many years that training his body was more important than training his mind and heart. Like many who are gifted in one area or another, he did not feel the need to study what came naturally to him. He was possessed of a quick wit and a keen intelligence; his compassion came naturally. He trained to excess in his private chamber for much of his early life, neglecting his wife. His mind had not been able to foresee how conflicted and rebellious his son was becoming. By the time Uryuu was old enough, Souken reached out to his grandson with all his heart. The great irony was that Uryuu called Souken “Sensei,” but it was Uryuu who taught the old man more about love than anyone else.

Ryuuken was good at teaching himself to stretch his talents to their limits; he taught himself to be an expert archer, to be an exacting and consummate surgeon, to love Kanae so that she would never doubt his devotion. What he could not do was train his heart to forgive himself after his wife’s death. There was no desire to do that sort of work. He carried on, a cigarette on his lip. He trained himself to disguise his emotions, to kick ash over even the slightest embers of hope and love he felt for his son.

Uryuu worked hard.  He knew that he was not the strongest at his school, so he trained at archery by himself before Grandfather even offered to help. He trained after Grandfather’s death until his upper body was pure sleek muscle. He knew he was smart, but he read beyond assigned syllabi, not just for pleasure but out of a sense of obligation that he should understand the world’s history, cultures, and languages. He knew he was given to unsightly spasms of emotion, sometimes easily startled, occasionally brought to tears of sadness, and he trained, as his father had, but without Ryuuken’s perfect achievement, to control his emotions. At the very least, he was able to look intimidating in battle and to give tough looks to anyone who crossed him in high school. His deepest heart? He would do anything for his friends, for he had spent most of his life a loner, and he loved his friends. He also loved a girl, and had spent long years training his heart to be self-less when it came to her.

But the day Yhwach was defeated, the world didn’t end, and yet something else did. Uryuu wasn’t sure what, but it reminded him of the huge sense of nothingness one feels right after finishing a final exam. There was no immediate goal, nothing to work towards, and Uryuu was accustomed to training hard every day of his life. For one moment, when he was alone in the rubble in the Royal Realm, after his father had walked away, and Inoue-san and Sado-kun were helping someone trapped under a fallen wall, and no one could see, he wrapped his arms around his knees, put his head down and wept silent tears.

He was immediately ashamed. He had no idea what had come over him. He imagined that Grandfather would have explained the moment to him. He considered that maybe he needed to vent out his feelings physically somehow, let loose arrows and tire himself out, but he already felt so tired.  He wiped his eyes with his sleeve and got up to see if he could help the others.

 

My father always wanted to help people too.  He just trained himself to lie about it.

 

 

  1. Family

“Where are our dads?” Kurosaki wondered. A circle of friends was sitting on piles of rocks in the Royal Realm, and some official Soul Society business was going on; the captain commander, now healed of his injuries, was yards away, speaking in private with Renji about recent events. It seemed to Uryuu that everyone was waiting to be interrogated.

Uryuu scanned for reiatsu before he looked over the horizon. There they were, standing together against a wall of what had been the Quincy king’s palace. Ryuuken looked oddly noble in his Quincy uniform, arms crossed, no cigarette. Isshin was gesturing wildly, no doubt annoying the hell out of Ryuuken. Then Uryuu actually saw his father mouth the word idiot.

“I come from one dysfunctional family,” Uryuu muttered, not really intending anyone to respond.

“I’m sorry.” Kurosaki looked like hell. He wasn’t beat up so much as he seemed emotionally exhausted, his eyes wearier than Uryuu had ever seen them. Kurosaki was probably up next for Captain Kyouraku’s questioning. “I grew up with so much family around me, and I know you and your dad…. I mean, I know you were alone …” Was Kurosaki having some kind of brain aneurysm? What the hell was this sputtering apology? “No Quincies to hang out with, I mean.”

“We’re related,” Ishida said curtly. “Your dysfunctional family is part of my dysfunctional family.”

“You know?” Kurosaki’s eyes seemed to come to life for a moment.

“Urahara-san told me. A long time ago. When you lost your powers. During those seventeen months, I was working to keep down the Hollow population, and I trained in that candy shop basement a lot.”

There was a long, not uncomfortable silence as everyone sat, breathing in and out from exhaustion, uncertain of what would happen next.

“I don’t have a family really except for all of you,” Inoue Orihime said. She pulled Ishida Ryuuken’s Quincy coat around her because it was dusk, getting colder, and sharp winds were blowing. “I try to think of people I meet everywhere as family. Aren’t we all a family when you think of it that way? We’re all… connected somehow?”

Kuchiki-san spoke in a soft voice: “That’s a nice way to look at it. When Renji and I were growing up, our friends were our family too.”

Sado-kun was clenching and un-clenching one fist in front of his face. “Abuelo told me never to use my power for personal gain.”

Everyone looked at him expectantly. There might be a story afterwards; there might not be. With Sado-kun, one never knew if the full meaning of anything he said was to be guessed at, like a poem, or if one sentence was supposed to be a stepping stone to some important issue for others to discuss. Uryuu was on the verge of telling his friend that he had fought bravely for the sake of protecting others, when the large man spoke again.

“Abuelo was my only family. To this day, I’ve always kept my promise to him, but I’ve been thinking…”

All ears were waiting.

“I want to go veterinary school. I’m going to need some cash. Since I’ve been working out, a few coaches have come up and said I could make it in the ring. Championship money. Now, I know it wouldn’t be fair. I’m too strong, and I can beat anyone, but…”

“If you go easy on them,” Kurosaki said.

Uryuu cocked his head to one side. “If you cheat, you mean.”

“It would be to help sick dogs and cats later!” Inoue-san piped up. “I think his abuelo would approve!”

Kuchiki-san smiled the tiniest bit—it was the first smile Uryuu had seen in a long while. She turned her violet eyes to Sado-kun and pronounced, “Look at me, Chad.” The big guy looked in her direction but because of the hair in his eyes, it was impossible to see if he was looking directly at her. “You know in your heart already what you need to do, don’t you? It’s just that you need support and validation … from your family.”

Sado-kun nodded. “You’re a wise woman, Kuchiki-san.”

Kurosaki looked from Sado-kun to Kuchiki-san to each of his friends sitting around him, his eyes still sad and lost, but there was a special tenderness in them now. When his gaze fell on Uryuu, he said, “Not so dysfunctional maybe? Kinda ok.”

“All right, all right,” Uryuu said. “For the record, I weigh in that Sado-kun should choose the path that leads to the most ethical outcome. I myself was wrong to judge so quickly because I have a trust fund and huge scholarships offered to me all the time, and I— “

Everyone was staring.

“I’m sorry; what I mean is that I’m agreeing that Sado-kun should follow his own heart. I just wanted to give the perspective of— “

“You would make a good lawyer,” said Inoue-san.

“A good fashion designer,” offered Sado-kun.

“Doctor?” Kuchiki-san said. “You’re in line to inherit that hospital, aren’t you?”

“I vote for the head of a non-dysfunctional family,” Kurosaki said, his eyes a little less weary. “The kind of dad who dresses all his kids in matching outfits and makes sure they do their homework on time, but isn’t really a dickhead.”

“Not a dickhead,” Uryuu repeated. “That’s a great goal, Kurosaki. I always aim high.”

He wasn’t really joking. Not being a dickhead sounded like an excellent life-plan.

 

28   Happy Endings

One cold winter night when Uryuu was a little boy, his mother read him a bedtime story, a book that was mostly illustrations, beautiful detailed ink drawings. The story wasn’t much—there was a good knight fighting a dragon, a bad king who held an archery competition in the deep green forest, the prize being marriage to the king’s daughter who was the fairest in the land.  The print was large, the vocabulary simple, and it was not at all the sort of story Uryuu liked at all; he preferred little paperbacks with facts about reptiles or rocks or traditional costumes of all nations.

Mother liked the story; her voice rang with pleasure reading it. Uryuu had to admit the pictures were good. The forest gleamed with lush green possibility; the archers’ arrows shot into the air with speed one could see; the eyes of the princess expressed realistic fear. “How do people draw so well?” He asked at one point.

“Some people are talented at it, and they work hard at what they’re good at,” Mother said.

So it was like Father being a doctor or Grandfather being a Quincy.

The story ended with a marriage, and Uryuu said, “That’s it? There isn’t any more?”

“It’s a happy ending,” Mother said.

Uryuu went to bed, but he thought about what Mother had said the next day, and once he had thought and thought himself into a corner, he asked Grandfather about the subject.

The magnolia tree was blooming, and Grandfather was cutting some blossoms with a thick knife to take inside. The pink flowers made Mother happy.

It was so cold that Uryuu had to pull down the scarf covering his mouth. “When will it be warm again?”

“Soon,” Grandfather said.

“Why are seasons a little different every year? I don’t remember it being this cold last year when the magnolias bloomed?”

“Every season is a little bit the same as the one before but always different.”

“Grandfather, what are happy endings?”

The old man stopped looking through the tree branches for the most perfect blossoms and turned his gaze to his grandson. “Honestly, Uryuu, there are no such things.”

“There are in books. Mother read a happy ending to me the other day. It seemed really fake.”

Grandfather laughed. He cut off another magnolia. “Ha, you see, that’s right. That’s because there are no endings. We are always going around in circles. Happiness isn’t really a thing to be pursued; one shouldn’t strive to be happy; one should strive to be good, to be honorable.”

Uryuu was stamping his feet. It was that cold. “Isn’t happiness a good thing, though?”

“Oh of course, of course.”

Uryuu thought that he felt happy at that particular moment, and it was at that particular moment that Grandfather said, “What we are blessed with is life itself, and life has sad moments and happy moments. Remember the happy ones when you can.”

And so Uryuu would do that.

After the defeat of Yhwach, when the end of the world did not happen, and yet there was a sadness in his heart that felt it might stretch out without an end, he lay back on the ground, the skies darkening above him, the reiatsu in the Royal Realm so thick it was hard to literally be still in it without feeling its weight on one’s body, all the worlds of the universe still shuddering from the shock of what had occurred and seeming to breathe in synchronized fear over the great unknowable future—

Uryuu knew that there would be no happy ending soon, so he recalled happy moments.

Helping his mother pick out dresses and her delight when he found just the right golden linen shift her size in the boutique.

Grandfather’s noodles, how the steam from the pot clouded the old man’s glasses so his smiling eyes were no longer visible, and then how Uryuu’s own glasses turned cloudy when his bowl was filled. The warmth was felt, not seen.

Inoue-san, those floral skirts she used to wear in high school, so pretty, and her unwavering faith in him when no one else had it. He lied to her about going to Soul Society for the purpose of saving anyone. She looked at him with those light brown eyes that saw right through him. “I’ll be waiting,” she told him.

The first time Kurosaki paid for lunch. He really paid for it. Sucker.

Training with Sado-kun in the basement of Urahara-san’s candy shop. Sado-kun and he worked well together. They also got to eat a lot of free snacks. Funny how for a big guy Sado did not eat as much as one would guess.

How Abarai had called Uryuu the brains of the two in Hueco Mundo and quit being a smart-ass when it came to real battle. He was a nicer guy than one would ever assume at first. If he wasn’t trying to kill you, he would give you the shirt off his back. No one could ask for a better friend.

Eating dinner at the Kurosaki house and Yuzu-chan serving everyone in her cute little apron.  Everyone treated Uryuu like family or at least in that way Uryuu had heard families were supposed to act—familiar, talking over one another’s sentences, curious about one another’s interests, expressing emotions—negative ones even—openly. It was a shock later, not an unpleasant one, to discover that he was indeed related to this noisy, happy bunch.

When Kuchiki-san healed him after he was ambushed by Tsukishima. “Thank you for coming for Ichigo,” she said. “I can tell you weren’t fully healed. You must have left the hospital in pain.” Uryuu wouldn’t acknowledge that, of course, but there was always something reassuring about being in Kuchiki-san’s presence, like one was being graced by exemplary good judgement. “You’re someone Ichigo worries about too much. He would never say so, but he does. I’m not sure why, since you’re very smart and powerful and nowhere NEAR as reckless as he is, but do me a favor and don’t charge into any battles if you’re not at full-strength.” Uryuu planned not to take her advice, but it was good to know she cared. And Kurosaki—what a dope.

Ryuuken appearing out of nowhere and shooting that silver arrowhead at Uryuu’s feet. “You are the one who should shoot this arrow.” It was the one and only time his father had expressed trust in him. It was the moment he understood his father’s love for his mother, all of it. It was the moment when so much sadness took on another context—no, it was not erased—but it made sense, and Uryuu’s heart was full of hope and happiness and purpose.

Not an ending, a will to go on.

“Ishida-kuuuuuuuun,” sang a voice above him as he lay there in the night. “The little Fullbringer boy, Yukio, is bringing a transport. Don’t you want to be with us on the first ride?”

“Yes, yes, of course, Inoue-san.” Uryuu rose and brushed dust off his clothes. “Where are we going?”

She spread her arms wide. His father’s jacket sleeves fluttered like angel wings in the sharp night winds. “I have no idea!”

Of course. There were no happy endings, only happy memories, and Uryuu had only begun to collect the tales of his life.

                                                   

Nicht Das Ende

 

 

 note---This is my first story uploaded here, despite my having an account for years. Ahhh, I did it in honor of Uyruu's birthday. If I ever find time, I may upload my more than 100 Bleach stories and a few dozen DBZ stories here too. I like the formatting. But time? If only I were Yhwach and could skip across the pebbles or take the rivers of timelines like threads through a needle and sew all these babies up like button onto a shirt.