Warning(s): Spoilers up to chapter 229 of the manga. Also superangst.
"There is no point in saving the dead. You should learn to save the people who are alive."
"I'm here." Ryuuken lifted a hand in the dark as a signal to his wife, who silently padded over to the bed and slid in under the covers. She draped an arm across his chest, settling in.
"Uryuu," he muttered, making a move to get up.
"He's fine," she replied. "He sleeps through the night now."
He could feel her soft laughter against his chest. "And he'll survive just fine without you standing over him."
"You're no diety, you know," she whispered in his ear, something she had taken to telling him frequently, playfully, since Uryuu was born. "You can't protect everyone in the world, both here and in the afterlife." Ryuuken ran a hand over her arm slowly. "And you're not responsible for all the lives and deaths in the world. You're an amazing man, but even you can't rescue so many souls."
He nodded against her forehead, but Ryuuken didn't know why it had to be that way. He was an exceptional Quincy, an incredible doctor, especially for one so early in his career. There was no reason he could see why he wasn't strong or capable enough to save whoever he wanted. As his wife drew light fingers over his chest and trailed lazy kissed along his neck, the weight of the world didn't seem like such a great burden at all.
There was nothing you could have done, everyone told him. An accident. Unforseeable. No doctor could have saved her.
For some reason, the words didn't offer any comfort. The vast expanse of empty bed beside him was still cold, the spaces his wife once moved through conspicuously silent.
The silence itself was like a body beside him, always with him. Even when Uryuu cried or Souken walked through the house, it was next to him, making his ears ring and his skin crawl. He wanted to reach out and touch it, grab it, strangle it into submission, but his fingers would never obey. They hadn't saved her, after all, and his sharp mind had been unable to anticipate her need.
Souken came over almost every day, to take care of the house and Uryuu, and, of course, Ryuuken. He didn't need the attention, but he let his father manage the rest. Ryuuken went back to work long hours at the hospital and often only saw Uryuu after his son was asleep.
Ryuuken would touch the blanket that covered the small body and watch him breathing while the silence watched them both.
Ryuuken didn't raise his voice; he rarely did anymore. He watched his father with an unwavering gaze, unsure how his point could be misunderstood or seen as unreasonable.
"You will stop teaching him your useless tricks."
Souken would not be baited. In this, at least, his son was very like him. "He's growing up, Ryuuken. His choices are his own."
"He's a child, and his choices are your choices."
Souken watched him with kind old eyes that had seen more than Ryuuken could fathom. The soft, wise expression in them sometimes made him want to scream.
"Ryuuken, I don't think you --"
"I want you to stop teaching my son your form of suicide," he cut in firmly. "There will be no argument. That boy will never be a Quincy."
Seven months later, Souken was dead, as he discovered from his trembling, sobbing son many hours after the fact. Ryuuken's prediction that pursuing the Quincy lifestyle would end his father brought him no satisfaction, not that he had expected it to. He looked down at his empty hands, hands that hadn't formed a bow in years but saved many lives in spite of it, and wondered - not for the first time - if they were truly useless after all.
Uryuu's expression was bleak and lost and guilty, begging for some comfort, some reassurance that he would be fine, that it wasn't his fault, that someday he would stop feeling such agony from the loss.
Everything will be all right, Ryuuken thought he should say, or maybe You can cry, since it seemed cruel to tell such lies to a child. Instead he stared at the chair by the window where Souken used to sit when he visited. Souken hadn't sat there for longer than he could remember, hadn't been welcome to, and Ryuuken hadn't honestly expected him to come back to it, but now there was something particularly desolate about the absence. Though it had been there for a long time, it was a void he hadn't noticed before. It stared back, reflecting a darker lack within.
When Uryuu finally came to him, clutching a small hand into his father's pant leg and staring up at him bleakly, Ryuuken simply told him to go to bed and unwound the fingers from his clothes.
"I refuse to allow you to live under my roof and carry on that old man's work."
"That man was your father," Uryuu spat.
Ryuuken raised an eyebrow at him. His dedication to the subject was exhausting. "That doesn't mean he was right, or that I respected him."
"On that point, I agree with you."
Ryuuken tossed a bored glance his son's way. The slight was petty; surely the boy could do better. "It doesn't change matters. If you live here, you obey my rules. If you can take care of yourself and be a Quincy, then, by all means, do it. But you won't do it in this house."
Uryuu moved out when he was thirteen, taking his textbooks and a backpack containing a change of clothes, a toothbrush, and some sewing supplies.
Ryuuken watched him leave from the kitchen window, drinking coffee. Uryuu walked steadily, but with purpose, even though his head kept turning slightly, jerkily, as though he wanted to look back at the home he was leaving. To see if his father would come after him.
When Uryuu was finally out of sight, Ryuuken finished his coffee, cleaned the cup, and placed it back in its place in the cupboard. The tapping of his shoes on the tile floor was the only thing to interrupt the quiet that fell around him.
Every day, he woke up, read the newspaper, went to work, came home at seven. The old, kind, grey-haired receptionist clucked over him, told him he seemed so lonely, and asked wouldn't he come to her house if she cooked him a good meal? He smiled and refused, drove home, and sat in the strange silence of a house that was full of the people who weren't there anymore.
"You look terrible, Uryuu. Are those girls' shirts you wear?" Home for half a day and they were already speaking to each other as they had before Uryuu left. In spite of what Ryuuken had revealed to his son just nights before, in spite of Uryuu admitting he needed his father's help, it was as if nothing had changed. At least superficially.
"I'm here to train, not chat, pleasant as our conversations are." Uryuu stared at the wall, hardly even acknowledging his father. How very mature. "So let's train. If you have some way to restore my powers, let's begin."
Ryuuken regarded his son calmly over the edge of his cup. He could sense Uryuu's unease under his cool exterior. A tick of a muscle in his cheek, a finger tapping the table. He had become nervous over the years, and there seemed to be a permanent crease in his brows. No wonder he was so skinny.
"The method is exhausting, and will probably be too much for you on the first try, if you get it at all. Why don't you rest for now? There's plenty of time to work yourself to death later."
"No there isn't!" Uryuu snapped, finally locking eyes with his father. "We don't have any time at all."
Ryuuken didn't flinch, didn't look away. He sipped his coffee silently, unrelenting. After a moment, Uryuu broke eye contact and went back to staring at the wall, this time assaulting the floor with restless beats of his foot.
Ryuuken smiled grimly to himself. Uryuu had no idea just how long life was.
As simple as that, and Uryuu was living at home again. Granted, the circumstances of his stay were much different than they once had been, and their relationship - already fragile - was strained by Uryuu's obvious doubt that Ryuuken would or could help him, and the unspoken knowledge that he wouldn't be there if he had any other choice.
They didn't fight as many people would define fighting - no one yelled or threw things or argued their side - but they warred with sly insults insinuated into conversation, with unspoken or spoken disapproval, with stares and a refusal to acknowledge one another, with silence that reverberated like a slap.
One afternoon, Ryuuken shot his son through the chest with spirit energy he swore long ago to never use again. He was restoring the boy's squandered power, and it was the only way to do it, but the action chilled his quiet heart.
The look on Uryuu's face was unforgettable: surprise, overwhelming surprise, betrayal, and, rooted deep below them, despair. In spite of all that passed between them, Uryuu had believed his father wouldn't seriously hurt him.
Even though Uryuu would be fine, that trust was gone, shattered. Once more, Ryuuken only truly felt the absence of something after it could never come back.
He swallowed roughly as he took in his son's thin, unconscious form. Without glasses, he looked impossibly vulnerable. Maybe it was because his brow was finally unfurrowed, or because he was totally still for the first time since Ryuuken saved him from the Menos. Uryuu was far too young to have years of worry fall off his face like that.
If only Uryuu hadn't been such a headstrong, useless idiot and insisted on studying the ways of the long-defunct Quincy. If only Souken hadn't had such a strong guiding hand in his upbringing. If only there were no hollows, no horror, no hope to destroy.
For the first time in over six years, Ryuuken bent low and gathered his son into his arms.
"You made a promise to me never to associate with shinigami again." Ryuuken stood firm, attempting to glare the importance of this into his thick-headed moronic waste of a son.
"I need to save her!" Uryuu yelled, struggling to push past his father to the door. Ryuuken grabbed his wrists, not hard, but enough to keep him from leaving.
"Who do you think you are? You think you can rescue the world? You can't even take care of yourself, Uryuu."
Uryuu twisted his arms, trying to writhe out of Ryuuken's grip, and cried out in frustration when it proved fruitless. "There's a war going on!"
"You gave me your word."
"So what?" he screamed. "Why did you even give me my powers back if you didn't want me to use them? Did you honestly think I would stand back and watch people die when I have the ability to help? Like you?"
Ryuuken paused. It wasn't a particularly stinging comeback, but something about the words struck his heart. In the moment of hesitation, Uryuu broke free and was at the door before Ryuuken could stop him. He watched his son leave, again, and wondered when he had ever been in control of anyone's life, including his own.
He ran until his lungs burned, terrified both of the force he felt and what he couldn't feel.
Street signs and pockets of illumination blurred by his vision; he raced toward the place he last felt his son's energy, now quiet. If he had kept him home. If he had come out sooner to fight. If he hadn't fought so much on the way. A million accusations that would mean nothing if he could find his son and prove his worst fears were empty.
Ryuuken couldn't remember the last time he felt so much so strongly at once, his heart practically bursting with the intensity and suddenness of the panic that struck him when he felt Uryuu's spirit force flame up and then fade away. Like Uryuu himself had simply stopped.
He almost tripped over his son when he finally found him, a small huddle of clothes and thin, lifeless limbs. The enemy he'd been fighting was gone, either destroyed or moved on to different prey. Ryuuken fell to his knees so hard his palms hit the ground and ripped flesh away. He was crouched over Uryuu's form, their faces close enough for Ryuuken to see pores in the skin and the blood caked in them.
A floodgate opened in him and he scooped Uryuu's body into his arms. Gently, he pulled hair out of the closed eyes and stroked the pale cheeks and rocked him and trembled, holding him tenderly and viciously close. After a few moments, he realized he was speaking, a low rush of words lanced out of him and tumbling over each other in their urgency. "I'm here," he whispered into Uryuu's hair, "I'm here," for all the times he should have said it before, "I'm here," and he couldn't stop saying it, "I'm here," like promises or words of love, "I'm here," echoing off stones and cold flesh, "I'm here," and no one heard them.
"Think of all the dead there are. This world was made for the dead."