Characters: Urahara, Shinji, Yoruichi, past UraAizen
Warning: spoilers, slight OOCness
Description: "What do you want most?" As if there was ever any doubt.
Inspired by Linkin Park's, "Iridescent". Sequel to "Anthem of Our Dying Day," "Tomorrow in a Bottle," and "Burning in the Skies"
Everywhere that Kisuke looks, he sees nothing but white.
White walls, white floors, white ceilings. The whole structure feels almost seamless. Lit by an equally white light that brightens the entire building, chasing away all the shadows except for the ones trailing behind him. His geta sound all too loud in the echoing silence, a clack-clack that disturbs the crypt-like quiet. His skin crawls with it, the utter emptiness and the subtle pulsing of reiatsu in the very walls around him.
He's in a place composed of spirit particles, a place not of the living world. Kisuke might almost think himself in Seireitei, except this building resembles nothing he's seen in all of Soul Society.
Kisuke has no idea where he's going, but his feet seem to know the way without explanation. He glances down at himself – he's clothed all in white, outfit similar to his usual dress save for the change of color. There's a sword at his side, not Benihime but still painfully familiar nonetheless. His fingers brush the green hilt, and Kyouka Suigetsu hums against his skin.
Kisuke is a genius, but it doesn't take one to put two and two together. He's in Hueco Mundo. Not only that but Las Noches in Hueco Mundo, a place he's never been physically but has heard described countless times. His imagination has done a good job of conjuring up what it must resemble.
"Why are you showing me this?" he whispers.
But there's no one to answer, no one listening. Still, when Kyouka Suigetsu pulses at his side, Kisuke can't quite chase the feeling there's a purpose in him being here.
He continues down countless hallways, through a literal labyrinth of corridors and rooms. Up stairs and down stairs, around sharp corners, from one doorway to the next. Kisuke's head is spinning from the constant change of direction, but there's a sensation in his chest, growing and growing. Something's leading him, guiding him… somewhere.
He supposes he'll figure it out when he gets there. Nevertheless, his hand tightens around Kyouka Suigetsu's hilt. Whether friend or foe, Kisuke will be prepared.
Then, he finds himself at an innocuous door with a simple lock that falls away when he reaches for the handle. It opens with a soft click, and the sound is an invitation as the door swings open, spilling shadow into the bright-white hallway. Surprisingly, Kisuke's not nervous or hesitant; his feet carry him forward and into the room.
It's sparsely furnished, and by sparsely, he means that there is a single, curtainless window and a small, nondescript cabinet. The window reveals a white desert, black sky, and single pale moon. Except for the occasional whisper of wind, it's just as quiet outside as it is within.
It's the cabinet that attracts Kisuke's attention the most. It looks as though it's been crafted from cherry wood with attractive iron embellishment. Kisuke knows he'll touch it, feel the pulse of the spirit particles that actually compose it, but it's still a handsome piece of furniture. It's the same height as him, and on closer inspection, it's locked.
But just like the door, the lock fades away the moment Kisuke reaches forward. Kyouka Suigetsu vibrates with greater urgency at his side, making his entire body hum as if he's turned into a tuning fork.
The doors swing outward of their own accord, and Kisuke is forced to take a step back or be smacked. The shadows in the room shift and sway, drawn toward the cabinet as though summoned, and inside is a single shelf, completely shaded. One item graces the surface, sparkling and churning out an immense power.
Kisuke feels his throat catch, and a dream within a dream sparks in his mind. He remembers how it felt to create this thing, to hold it in his hands. He remembers Sousuke's praise; he remembers his own joy. He remembers thinking he could change the world, change anything he wanted to, if only he could harness its fathomless power.
Kisuke stares and stares at the Hougyoku, sitting innocuous in its shadowed and dust-covered prison. Where Sousuke must have left it before the final fight. Had he felt there was no need for the Hougyoku on the battlefield? Or is there something else, something deeper at work here?
He doesn't know; Kisuke simply doesn't know. But his hand lifts of its own accord, reaching out as if drawn like a moth to the flame. He's not breathing, doesn't dare. His heart skips a beat and then two.
Kisuke reaches, fingers stretching out, Kyouka Suigetsu all but singing at his side, and the chill of the shadows nip at the ends of his fingers. There's power here, and something else, something that could change things. Fix what's been broken, fix everything. He reaches, body trembling-
-and wakes in a cold sweat. He stares up at a dark ceiling, eyes fixed as everything in his bedroom rattles from the force of his reiatsu. He'd lost control in his sleep, both Benihime and Kyouka Suigetsu humming in their sheaths, and Kisuke forces himself to put a clamp on his own power, to reel it in before someone grows concerned and comes to investigate. His hands are cold, his fingers are burning, and Kisuke clenches and unclenches them.
He still can't seem to breathe.
That's the fifth time in a week he's had such a dream. So vivid and sharp, as if he's actually been there. He swears he can still taste the cold sterility of Las Noches' halls and feel the bite of Hueco Mundo's desert. The sound of his footsteps in the empty corridors. The echoes of his own breathing. The rattle of Kyouka Suigetsu at his side.
Kisuke throws back the blanket and rises from his futon, pulling on a nemaki to cover up his nudity. His room is dark with nighttime, though the moon tries to peek through the tiny gaps in his blinds. Across the hall, he can feel the quiescent nature of Shinji's sleeping energy, and the whole night seems silent and still. As if even the world has paused.
There's a Hollow several miles away, pinging on the edge of Kisuke's senses. But it's extinguished before he can even contemplate going after it himself.
He feels restless, the dream playing over and over in his mind, unforgettable for its vividness. He feels like he can reach out and touch Sousuke. That there's a sound echoing in the darkness, the sound of Sousuke's breathing.
Kisuke feels a lot like he's lost his mind.
Sucking in a slow and careful inhale, he reaches for his zanpakutou, both of them, and tucks Benihime first into his obi. But when he reaches for Kyouka Suigetsu, there's a flash of reiatsu. Kisuke drops her, almost as if he'd been burned. She's all but vibrating right now, releasing subtle pulses of power that make her sheath warm and alive.
Kisuke's a man of magic and science, but not even he's sure what to make of this. The very fact that Kyouka Suigetsu still exists is a miracle in unto itself. That she would waken for his hand or on her own is another miracle entirely.
"What are you trying to tell me?" he whispers into the dark.
It does not answer. It never does. Sometimes, Kisuke swears the universe is laughing at him.
When he touches Kyouka Suigetsu again, her reiatsu has calmed. She's cold and silent once more, dormant as he lifts her to join Benihime at his side. As always, the two resonant together when reintroduced, then settle quietly.
Confused and a touch disturbed, Kisuke wanders out of his bedroom, exhausted and troubled but resigned to his fate.
He looks tired. Shinji says as much.
"I'm not sleeping well," Kisuke answers, sipping his tea and ignoring the massive breakfast that Shinji seems to have no trouble gobbling down. His own stomach, however, is in knots, and the very idea of eating makes him ill.
Brown eyes are solid, understanding and sympathetic. "Bad dreams?"
White walls and white ceilings and white floors. He's been here before many, many times. His feet know the way without conscious thought. The air tastes so familiar. He feels like he can reach out and touch the stone, like the walls pulse and throb to a familiar rhythm.
Kisuke closes his eyes and breathes in the steam of his tea. "You could call them that," he murmurs and wonders if this is truly Sousuke's curse. To drive Kisuke to the point of madness. This is his punishment for killing a man he'd loved.
"Ah." Shinji nods in quiet comprehension. "Maybe we should think 'bout visitin' Soul Society again. Clear yer head. Or better yet, head ta Karakura. Ichigo probably needs a good scare."
The corners of Kisuke's mouth twitch in fond thought of his student. He thinks of Jinta and Ururu, too. Of Tessai and Yoruichi.
"Okay," Kisuke agrees and hopes that seeing them will help chase away the ghosts of the past.
He feels more than sees Shinji's surprise.
"Good," the Vizard says after recovering from the shock of Kisuke finally agreeing to something other than lingering in the consequences of his actions. "We'll go tomorrow."
He's in that room again, the one with a single uncurtained window and the locked cabinet. A lock that dissolves away the moment Kisuke touches it and with a single pulse of Kyouka Suigetsu at his side. He can feel the wood this time, the fineness of the grain, the chill soaked into it.
The entire room is throbbing, enveloped by power. Kisuke can feel it pulsing at his fingers, pressing outward in steadying waves.
Once again, the doors swing open of their own accord, and like before, the shadows nestle around the Hougyoku, taunting Kisuke with its presence. He has only to reach out and take it.
Why? What would that accomplish?
He hesitates. His hand doesn't move from his side.
"Why?" he asks aloud, voice echoing in the otherwise empty room. "What do you want me to do?"
Outside the window, the wind whistles a mournful tune. A white moon in a black sky looks down at a white desert. Something howls in the distance, a wolf, and Kisuke thinks briefly of the Espada Stark before he waits for an answer.
He created the Hougyoku. He knows the limits of its power. Or to be more precise, Kisuke knows that it has no limits. It's capable of almost anything, restricted only by the imagination and the control of the user. Sousuke had been powerful enough to use the Hougyoku's full potential. Kisuke admits only to himself that he'd be lucky if it doesn't explode in his face or tear him apart when he loses control.
But in the white light of the room, the Hougyoku twinkles and winks at him. As if daring him to touch, daring him to reach out and take that power for his own.
"You could change so much," a tiny voice whispers in the back of his head. "All you have to do is take it."
A warm hand covers his fingers, and he's startled from his recollections. He'd fallen into a daydream again, and in the middle of sharing a bottle of sake with Yoruichi no less.
These fugues are coming more often. How troublesome.
He shakes his head, tries to chase away the lingering dream. "It's nothing," he lies and sips at the good, expensive sake. "How's the rebuilding going?"
Yoruichi looks at him, searches him with those impossibly beautiful eyes, before she decides it's better to drop the subject. She sighs.
"Fine. The captain-commander decided, much to Unohana-taichou's relief, that everyone will have to chip in and not just the fourth division alone."
Kisuke nods slowly, as though interested in the affairs of Soul Society. But really, his mind is drifting back to that dream. To the taunting existence of the Hougyoku.
His brow furrows, and he clears his throat noisily. "Did they ever find it?"
"Find what?" She sounds confused. She should. Kisuke didn't even bother to segue into the question normally.
"The Hougyoku." He tries not to let his yearning show in his voice; it seems to work.
Yoruichi shakes her head, slow and thoughtful. "Las Noches is rubble. No one's alive who might be able to tell us where Aizen hid it. Frankly, I think it's better that some things stay buried."
But her eyes are filled with pity. For him.
Hiding behind his cup, Kisuke crushes down a tiny sprig of hope that dares bud to life in the wake of Sousuke's war. He wishes for impossible things, to turn back time and so on. There are so many things he regrets, and so many things he'd never change. Funny how the two are starting to become jumbled up, mixed together, until he's not sure which is better to have.
He's wandered into his thoughts again. So much for coming to Soul Society to clear his thoughts.
He looks up guiltily.
Yoruichi's giving him that pitying look. There's something to her eyes, even if her words are strong.
"Please don't become so trapped by the past that you forget us in the present."
His lips twitch in a semblance of a smile, but even he can tell it's a hollow thing. "Was that a pearl of wisdom from the great Yoruichi-sama? I don't think I've ever heard you so serious."
"I can be wise sometimes. When I feel like it." She grins at him, punching him in the shoulder, her idea of affection.
Kisuke chuckles, and for a minute, it feels just like old times. He thinks if he concentrates, he can even forget.
'Just a little bit more,' he tells himself.
If only that were true.
"You should take it."
The voice comes from behind him, achingly familiar, making Kisuke's stomach flip and his heart skip several beats. He wants to turn around and look but fears that doing so will make Sousuke disappear. So his hands fist at his sides, and he stares at the Hougyoku, charmingly quiescent in its wooden cage.
"Why else?" Sousuke's voice is rich with humor and promise. He sounds just like the man Kisuke remembers, the one from before betrayal and madness. "Aren't you the least bit curious?"
Kisuke's breath catches. The curiosity burns inside of him.
Oh, he's curious. So curious that he's fighting himself now. Fear is there, too. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what this dream means. For himself, for the future. What it says about him as a person. What he's willing to sacrifice.
"A little," he admits on an exhale. "What will happen?"
There's a flutter of movement, a whisper of a touch against his shoulders. The ghostly impression of Sousuke's hands. The phantom brush of his breath across Kisuke's right ear.
"What do you want most?"
Kisuke swallows over a lump in his throat.
Kyouka Suigetsu burns at his side.
Shinji finds him standing at the window, staring up at a moonless sky that seems almost black. There are stars, of course, but still, it's probably the closest to a Hueco Mundo night that Kisuke will ever see anywhere else.
"What's goin' on?" Shinji demands, blunt as always, quick to the point.
He shivers, cold despite the heat blasting at them from the furnace. "What do I want most?" Kisuke whispers.
Since really, at this point, there's little that Shinji doesn't know. He's the only one Kisuke can trust.
"What the hell does that mean?"
Kisuke shakes his head, rubbing his right elbow with his left hand. "Sousuke asked me that. What I wanted most. Whatever it is… the Hougyoku can give it to me."
Shinji's stare burns between his shoulder blades. "Yer not thinkin' of goin' ta Hueco Mundo, are ya?"
"I don't see where I have a choice," Kisuke comments with eyes searching the heavens, as though the door to the Hollow world will suddenly appear just for him. "I think I'm losing my mind."
"Not that ya were ever particularly sane in the first place," Shinji mutters, and there's a ruffle of fabric as he moves to stand at Kisuke's side. "Ya really think it's there?"
"If it's not, then I'm being haunted by the lover I killed in some sort of sick revenge scheme," Kisuke says bitterly. "Because that's the only other rational explanation I can think of."
Shinji tilts his head back, looks up at the same sky that has captivated his friend. "If you say so," he puts in with a shrug. "But I'm goin' with ya."
The Vizard holds up a hand, lips twisted in a smirk, full of confidence. Kisuke wonders when he lost his.
"I've stuck by ya this long. Might as well see where it takes me."
Gratitude mixes with shame mixes with disquiet until Kisuke isn't sure which he'd rather have on his face.
"If you must," he says quietly and returns his attention to the sky.
There's nothing there but a bunch of stars.
Hueco Mundo is stark and silent, smelling of death and disuse as Kisuke steps foot onto the white sands. A billow of dust curls around him, but it quickly settles. Behind him echoes another step, Shinji following, and then, the Garganta closes, surrendering them to the silence.
"Che. I don't like this place," Shinji mutters.
Kisuke, hand on Kyouka Suigetsu, can feel her tremble. "It's this way," he insists without hesitation, going forward, always forward.
What else can he do?
Shinji's stare scratches over his spine, but the Vizard doesn't question him. Some day, Kisuke's going to have to thank Shinji for this. No one else would've been insane enough to stand by Urahara Kisuke as he slowly lost his grasp on reality.
Kisuke's never been here himself. Even during Aizen's war, Kisuke had never set foot in Hueco Mundo. He has nothing but his instincts and the push of Kyouka Suigetsu to tell him where to go. But when he and Shinji climb the next rise in a burst of shunpo and the ruins of Las Noches come into view, something inside of him gives a leap of hope.
He pauses, there on the hill, and looks down at the shattered remains of Aizen Sousuke's ambition. The towers have all crumpled, save one, and even it's pockmarked with holes and barely keeping up its fight against gravity. The dome has mostly caved in with only one column left clinging stubbornly to the roof. There's evidence of explosions everywhere, and the whole building radiates reiatsu, lingering traces from the months-ago battle. This close, it is gigantic. Surely greater than even Seireitei itself.
Shinji whistles. "I wonder what it looked like before Ichigo and his buddies went on a rampage," he muses aloud. "Well, I can't say that Sou-kun never had any taste."
"There was a dome," Kisuke says softly, the image burned in his mind. He's never been here before, but he knows, somehow he knows. "Five towers perched on top of it. There was a ring of towers around the wall, too. And hallways throughout the complex, all capable of being shifted around. It was… beautiful."
"I'm not even gonna ask how ya know that," Shinji retorts flatly. "Though a part of me really, really wants ta. I'm gonna refrain fer the sake of my sanity."
Kyouka Suigetsu rattles. She pulses warmly at his side, urging him onward.
"You're right,' Kisuke says with a sad smile. "You wouldn't want to know. Hell, I'm not even sure why I know."
He doesn't wait for Shinji to answer, sliding into shunpo from one step to the next, each flash bringing him closer to the massive walls of Las Noches. Or what's left of them anyway. Kisuke doesn't even have to look for a gate; he just enters at the nearest hole in the wall and steps right into a white corridor, dusted black from battle.
The hallway branches to the left and right. Without hesitating, Kisuke turns to the left, following the twisting, turning corridors. They slope downward, but passing windows assure him he's still above ground. He doesn't know where he's going; he's just following the subtle push of Kyouka Suigetsu. That and the lingering echoes of what had been in his dream.
He passes empty rooms. Some of them used for training, others obvious living quarters, a few swept clean, more still full of debris, as though they'd been ransacked.
"They never found all the Espada, ya know," Shinji says, probably more to fill the silence than for any real interest in conversation. "That lunk Yammy slithered into the shadows, a bleeding mess. Ichigo didn't finish off that Grimmjow guy, so no one knows what happened to him. The first Espada vanished, too."
"I doubt they're here," Kisuke murmurs and abruptly adjusts course, turning into an adjoining hall. This one climbs upwards, but it feels so uncomfortably familiar.
This place smells like death and abandonment, which isn't all that different from the rest of Hueco Mundo, but still… it'd be foolish.
Kisuke doesn't say that, however. He just chooses another corridor, seemingly at random, and then a third. His heart quickens its rhythm inside his chest.
"Do ya even know where yer going?"
Kisuke feels himself break into a sweat, though not from exertion. This is so painfully, uncomfortably familiar.
"No," he says and turns another corner, then another, one right after the next. Skirting around collapsed walls and the lingering evidence of battle.
In his wake, Shinji's reiatsu is a nervous wobble. "Kisuke, yer startin' ta scare me."
And he must really be feeling it to even admit that much. Shinji was never afraid through Hollows or Espada or betrayal or turning into a monster. But his breath has a slight flutter now, and he clenches his hands to find a tremble.
Kisuke swallows. "To be honest, I'm scaring myself," he admits, geta an echoing clack-clack on the white, white walls and the white, white floors. He swears he can hear Sousuke whispering just around the next bend.
"Good," Shinji murmurs as they pick up speed. "Then at least we're on the same page."
In his haste, Kisuke almost misses it, the narrow corridor that branches off at an angle. He has to stop, turn around, and slide into the hallway, heart beating faster and faster. Kyouka Suigetsu is all but singing now, and Kisuke knows what he's going to find. He feels it down in his marrow, in the quivering center of him where he has always felt his reiatsu the strongest.
And there it is. The door from his dreams, no different from any of the others on the corridor, but Kisuke can feel Kyouka Suigetsu humming at his side. He reaches for the handle, one hand on her hilt, and the knob turns with no resistance whatsoever. If it'd even been locked, Kisuke can't tell.
A hand falls on his wrist, not harshly, just reminding him of Shinji's presence. "I'm not sure we should go in there," he says lowly, eyes worried, face drawing into a wrinkled frown that Kisuke doesn't think he's ever seen before.
"I have to," Kisuke replies and pulls open the door, meeting no resistance.
Shinji had only meant to warn him, after all. He knows better than to actually try and stop Kisuke.
It's dim inside, just like in his dreams, and the room is empty save for a single cherry-wood cabinet and the uncurtained window. Through it, he can see the same dead tree with the same three branches. Part of Kisuke is a little afraid. He swallows over a lump in his throat, walking toward the cabinet that seems to pulse with an inner throb.
"It's here," he breathes, reaching for the handles, running his fingers over the smooth wood. It's cool to the touch, but warms under his skin.
Again, there's no lock, nothing to stop Kisuke from looking inside. That's the only difference from his dream. It's not enough to make him hesitate.
The doors open outward, revealing a single shelf and a single item resting on it, twinkling innocuously in the dim light. The Hougyoku.
"What do you want most?" Sousuke's voice whispers in the back of his mind, warm and seductive.
"This is what you wanted to show me," Kisuke murmurs as he stares at the Hougyoku, the single item that could change everything, change the world. All he has to do is take it.
He startles. He'd almost forgotten that Shinji is here, too.
"I wonder if he planned this," Kisuke says aloud. He stares at the Hougyoku, one hand wrapped firmly around Kyouka Suigetsu's hilt, a spare finger brushing across Benihime as well. "If this was why she stayed."
There is a single step, a whisper of shoes against the sterile white floor. "Kisuke, what are ya doin'?"
"What I have to," Kisuke says, and he doesn't look at Shinji. "This is the part where I say thank you and then I'm sorry because I'm probably going to strand you here."
Shinji scoffs. "Don't be stupid. Ya think I came here without a backup plan?"
A slow smile curls Kisuke's lips. "Good. One less thing for me to feel guilty about."
He's within reach of the Hougyoku, and Kisuke swears he can feel a presence behind him, not Shinji's, but still familiar. Warm and comfortable, a brief brush of warm air over his ear. Reiatsu that pulses at his skin. A voice that whispers in his ear.
"You should take it."
"I know better than ta stop ya," Shinji says, softer this time. Resigned. "But, ya know, I'm not the only one who'll miss ya."
For only a moment, a startling heartbeat, Kisuke's resolve falters. He closes his eyes, takes a breath, and makes his choice.
Who's he kidding? He made his choice a long time ago. From the moment he stabbed Sousuke in the back and watched his blood rain down. Nothing's going to change it now.
"It wasn't an illusion," Sousuke murmurs, reaching for him. Eyes impossibly soft and forgiving.
"I don't know what's going to happen." Kisuke's shoulders straighten, and his face sets. "It might be safer if you left the room."
Reiatsu fills the area, but it's not just Kisuke's. It's not Shinji's either. It's suffocatingly familiar, seeking to twine with Kisuke's own. It shouldn't be possible, but here, it is.
"I won't," Shinji inserts, stubborn to the end.
Shinji is a better friend than he deserves. A better man than he'll ever be.
Kisuke feels a smile curl his lips. "If you insist." He takes a breath, looks at the Hougyoku, seemingly innocent and yet brimming with power.
"What do you want most?"
A small smile curls the corner of Kisuke's lips. "You know me better than anyone. What do you think?" he says so quietly that it carries no further than his ears.
There is no answer, but then, Kisuke doesn't expect anyone.
He lifts his hand, Kyouka Suigetsu warm and pulsing at his side, and Kisuke reaches for the Hougyoku. It has the power to change the world, and all he has to do is take it.
a/n: Yep. Evil cliffhanger. I let you, the reader, decide what end the Hougyoku gave poor Kisuke.
And this marks the end of Seireitei Monogatari. It's been a good run and I'm still happy with the amount of ficcage I managed to produce.
Thanks to everyone who supported me over the long, long years. I have some of the best readers in the fandom. Much love to everyone!