A/N: Sorry this is kinda late! One thing you need to know before you read this: Masaki was NOT a Quincy in this fic. I think that gives Ichigo far too much power and seems to try and compensate for some of the ridiculous attacks that we're seeing in the current arc. I'm currently planning to not include any cannon plot points after volume 48. I will let you know if that changes. (Also, I currently have a major headache, so if I didn't read my changes carefully enough, I apologize Isame Kuroda-san).
Warnings: Some language... I think that's it.
Disclaimer: Nope. Not mine in any way, shape, matter, or form. I just own the plot.
Everything shatters at a certain pitch
The first month back Isshin saw very little of his son. Perhaps the most he'd see would be the hunched back that was always leaving his sight. He'd see his son talking quietly with his girls, around town with his core group of friends (called the Karakura Quartet if you listened in the right places), or hear the stifled cries in the night that emanated from behind the door marked with the number 15. And he couldn't help but blame himself.
When Grand Fisher killed Masaki, the girls were young enough that he knew how to comfort them. It was not nearly as easy to help Ichigo, not the least because the boy blamed himself entirely for his mother's death. Perhaps Isshin had problems understanding Ichigo because his son had always been closer to Masaki, but whispering tendrils of reason and logic (also known as Engetsu) would not allow Isshin his continued, purposeful ignorance of the distance that yawned between him and his son.
It still broke his heart when he realized just how much the Spirit World had taken from his son. And it shamed him that he had done nothing to prevent it from nearly shattering the newly made man.
The first time Isshin ever thought to interfere, it was nearly a month and a half after Ichigo and the others returned from the war. It was dark when his son had finally returned to the house for sleep, if only to comfort Karin and Yuzu with his presence. It also made it easier to protect them if another Hollow desired to harm them (not that Isshin would allow it, but Ichigo didn't know that, his inner voice pointed out, and it eased his own mind that his son was still alive, for those moments). He noted the perpetual tired slump of the teen's shoulders and the ever-present wariness he exuded, which increased exponentially when none of his friends were in the near vicinity (even if Ichigo's sensory ability had improved as a matter of necessity during the war).
Isshin had stared into the dark, flat eyes of his son as the exhaustion plaguing the teen finally overcame the man's will. He moved forward to catch his son trying to be mindful of any possible wounds. Unfortunately even Isshin's caution was not enough to avoid all the injuries that littered the body of his son as the teen jerked in pain when his lower ribs were touched and he could smell blood in the air. Apparently, the medics and Inoue-chan were overworked again.
Isshin stood in silent mourning for a moment before gently lowering Ichigo to the floor to better inspect and treat the teen's wounds. The doctor couldn't help the tears the streamed down his cheeks once his son was in bed, treated to the best of Isshin's considerable capabilities without the use of kido. He had stared at his son, conflicted. His secret would come out eventually – was healing his son such a bad way for it to be brought out? But his hesitation caused his doubts to surface and he let his cowardice control his actions. Shame and guilt firmly entrenched themselves ever deeper into his soul.
Lifting his head, Isshin wanted to at least decide that it was time he took over some of the responsibility for Karakura. At least Ichigo might get a full nights rest if the number of Hollows decreased, even if he became suspicious of a mysterious ally. But his fear of discovery and the loss of his girls held him back at the last moment once more. It further shamed him.
In the end, even his meager attempts at assisting his son would have been too little, too late. The man who'd returned for good from the war was not the boy he'd healed that evening, months ago. If that child still existed, he was too broken to ever surface again.
So caught up was he in his memories, Isshin almost didn't recognize that Ichigo had broken his routine.
"Dad, we need to talk."
Hope stirred faintly in Isshin's chest. Maybe it wasn't too late. Maybe he could soften his feelings of guilt. Maybe he could redeem himself. Maybe, maybe…
With haunted eyes, Ichigo stared at his father for a moment before letting himself speak. "The teachers heard the rumors about the others and me. They were trying to collect evidence today and brought the four of us down to the police station. We think the teachers are trying to file for child abuse."
There was little to no inflection in his son's voice as he delivered what could be the equivalent of a deathblow to Isshin. Because, really, child soldiers, like those that Ichigo and his friends had become, could certainly be considered victims of child abuse.
Ichigo stared with a blank face for a moment longer at Isshin before turning away and silently retreating to his room. It was almost as if he had given up gaining help from his father. Isshin wouldn't blame him if he had.
Obviously, Ichigo's news was anything but the reconciliation for which he's (naively) been hoping. But, after much consideration, the debacle with the teachers was itself an opportunity. Something, one of the few things, that Ichigo needed him for. He wasn't going to waste the chance.
There's only so much he could do on his own so despite the various disagreements he's has with Ryuuken Ishida, he needed his help. Their sons needed their help. His son needed his help. Because really, on the off chance that this case went through, what normal people would be able to deal with the men and woman who emerged from the Winter War? It doesn't matter that two of them are technically emancipated minors. Such a situation would argue that these warriors would need extra care from their experiences and resulting psychological trauma.
While he won't argue that the group needs a certain type of care, normal means wouldn't be the way to go about helping them. With their luck (Ichigo's luck was the luck of the group at this point) such treatment would just screw them up even more. Or piss them off to the point that they'd snap. Either way, the heroes didn't deserve the treatment they might receive in the normal world, especially since they wouldn't be able to speak about their experiences without being thought to hallucinate over the presence of Soul Society, let alone Heuco Mundo.
Isshin ambled into Ryuuken's training center, where he'd felt the other's reiatsu pulsing in harmony with the rigorous workout the other man was giving himself. 'It doesn't matter if you have the best self-control this side of Mount Fuji, Ryuuken. If your son is in danger your just as worried as I am. And even more prepared to help him.'
"Uryuu informed you."
Ryuuken gave an undignified snort.
Isshin tipped his head at the response to the obvious question.
"I have an idea."
Ryuuken turned from the random patterns he was making in the various targets and obstacles in his training room. "Really. Is this idea on the same level as remaining distant from the spirit would during the War? Or never confronting and explaining all your secrets to your son?"
Isshin winced at the pointed barbs, delivered in a tone that made Antarctica look warm.
"You know," Ryuuken continued in his cold and frustratingly even tone, "when I gave Uryuu back his powers, we both admitted that neither of us was a candidate for Father if the Year, but I think I'm now much closer than you are – perhaps than you ever were. But then, you have your darling daughters for which to care."
Isshin let the resulting silence drag for a minute as he bowed his head in shame (finally someone else tells him of his failures). "I know. But at least I plan on trying to make up for it. Are you?"
Ryuuken paused, studying the shinigami before he sighed. "If only so you don't fuck your own son over further. I also won't have you messing about with Uryu's life without my consent and supervision."
Isshin bowed his head in acknowledgement even as his fists clench at the acrimonious swear word Ryuuken uses to so precisely detail what he's done to his only son. Maybe that's why he went to Ryuuken before Kisuke.
Ryuuken, on the train to the Shoten, was lost in his own memories of his own guilt. While he was admittedly better than Isshin – he'd at least actually helped with the destruction of random Hollows – he never had a truly active part in the war. He had never volunteered to go to the frontlines and assist his son. He had stayed back and defended the town and the unsuspecting humans. It was an important job – there would have been more human casualties and potentially stronger Hollows, but that failed to ease his guilt. What would his wife had said to him?
To make his predicament even worse, his son was fighting with SHINIGAMI. He wasn't nearly as biased as he portrayed himself, but it truly was a matter of principle. One does not go fighting alongside the same group who slaughtered ones own people. However, the various stories and reports he'd overheard indicated that the war was not between the Shinigami and the defectors, but a war over who would control the Spirit World. As unhappy as he was with the Shinigami, he understood and respected Uryu's choice. It wasn't as if he could reprimand his son without becoming a complete hypocrite – as much as he'd deny it, Kurosaki Isshin was a friend (albeit an incredibly annoying one)…
It seemed that Isshin wasn't the only one who had much for which to consider and atone.
Sitting in Kisuke's equivalent to living room was oddly nostalgic of happier times in the Seireitei, though the current purpose was for anything but happy.
Kisuke's unusually grim visage greeted Isshin's face as Tessai brought tea and snacks.
With a snap, Kisuke closed his fan, as if signaling the importance of the meeting and his feelings towards the man who was calling it.
"So, what's this brilliant idea of yours, now that we've all assembled? And how may I finally be allowed to help Kurosaki-kun?"
"Well, I was thinking that, if we pool our resources, we play off Ichigo and the others scars and trauma as a result of a kidnapping on some trip or another. . ."
Silence met this declaration.
"And if we were to attempt this, what, exactly, would we need to do?" Kisuke asked.
"Well, we need establish where they were and for what reason. Also we'd need to figure out how much we knew about this kidnaping, since Ryuuken and I gave pretty evasive answers when the school called..."
Kisuke observed him for a moment before he sighed. "I think I can get some people in on this, if only for the Quartet themselves. There are far too many people who own the group their lives. Many of those would be more than willing to help their heroes and saviors to try and pay them back for their lives. Unohana-taichou might also be willing to act. She didn't approve of the way the group was just sent back to the Human Realm before being cleared by either Isane or her. Unfortunately, both were far too busy and apparently a seated officer cleared them."
There was silence for a moment while the three contemplated the repercussions of this event. Each man's instincts were nudging them that something wasn't completely correct, especially given the recent isolationist behavior of the group…
Suddenly, Isshin grinned faintly. When he received disapproving and questioning glances he said, "Do you think Retsu-san would be willing to be a leader of an evil fictitious organization?"
Kisuke barely suppressed his inappropriate mirth at Isshin's statement. She would be far too good at that role. After all, she had been doing that for over a hundred years prior to the founding of the Gotei 13.