Stained

AU. It's black on white on black—bleached-blank memories and red-stained hunger. A coup d'état leads to a new twist in this tale: his story from the dark side of the moon. –post episode 124–

(a/n) Portions of this idea actually occurred to me on my first time going through the series. I promptly forgot about most of them after the conclusion of the Arrancar arc, but was reminded of them recently during a phone conversation, and—wham! My fickle AU muse, whom I'd been trying to lure out to help me with a major endeavor in the KH section, turned up with the Godly Hammer of Inspiration, and I had no chance. Curse my muses. More coherent summary at the end of the next chapter. You wouldn't want me to ruin it, would you?

(ships) I'm not telling you; the romances do not make the story, and aren't even important, and I haven't really decided yet. Any eventual pairings that do occur, if any do, will be clean (no graphic sex scenes, heck, probably no sex scenes at all), and they will be het. That's a promise.

(disclaimer) Bleach belongs to Tite Kubo, TV Tokyo, Pierrot, Viz Media, and Shounen Jump. If I forgot anyone, too bad.


Prologue: Cigar Blues Breakdown

"The joys of parents are secret, and so are their griefs and fears."
-- Francis Bacon, Sr.

Kurosaki Isshin laid the remnants of his last pack of cigarettes out on the kitchen table. He hadn't bought another pack since he quit smoking eleven or twelve years ago, and his habit of smoking only once a year, on the anniversary of Masaki's death, was slowly but surely whittling his supply down. Isshin looked at the cigarettes, rolling them around on the tabletop with his finger. For some reason, he felt ill at ease tonight, and craved a smoke more strongly than he had in years.

"Ichi," he began to count, gently prodding each one as he spoke, "ni, san…" He lingered over the last one.

"Shi."

--

Inoue Orihime slept easily. A single candle, left alight at the small shrine left to her brother, flickered in a slight draft.

A final gust came, and blew it out completely.

--

Yasutora Sado, known to his friends as Chad, slept a bit more restlessly. More than once, he woke up, breathing hard, but unable to remember what he'd dreamed to cause it. He would then rub the coin his grandfather gave him, and, troubled, roll over to go back to sleep.

--

Ishida Uryū was drifting up from unconsciousness, having three hours earlier been blasted with a spirit arrow nineteen millimeters to the right of his heart. As his spiritual awareness expanded exponentially with the return of his Quincy power, he almost caught a trace of something huge, something dramatic flickering right at the edge of his senses. He had become so sensitized, however, that the rush of stimulation from all sides soon drowned out the almost-memory, as he drifted back into something more like proper sleep.

--

Kuchiki Rukia sat on the roof of the Kurosaki Clinic, a gentle wind stirring her hair. She gazed up at the star-filled sky.

"There's no moon tonight," she whispered.

--

Isshin considered the cigarettes on the table for another minutes, and then shook his head. He wouldn't break his habit just for one weak night, he told himself.

A knock at the door startled him. He glanced at the digital clock above the oven, just to reassure himself of how late it was. 1:39. The knock sounded again, and Isshin got up to answer it.

Odd, he thought, usually Ichigo just walks in.

It wasn't Ichigo.

Urahara Kisuke stood in the doorway, striped hat, geta sandals and all.

"Hello," Isshin said, frowning.

Kisuke flipped open that stupid fan he had, covering up most of the last visible portion of his face. "I'm sorry for the late hour, Kurosaki-san."

"That's all right; I was awake," Isshin replied, looking the shifty merchant over suspiciously. Ignoring for the moment how late it was, there was something off about their meeting. Kisuke never came to their house directly, if only to keep Ichigo in the dark about his connection with Isshin himself. Isshin had wondered if the man even knew where they lived. "Would you…like to come in?" he asked, stifling a yawn halfway through the sentence.

"No, that's all right," Kisuke said, closing his fan and pocketing it.

Isshin waited for him to elaborate, but Kisuke simply stood there, as if not knowing how to begin. His hat cast shadows over his face in the porch lights, rendering his eyes invisible. Slightly irritated, Isshin asked, "So…what are you here for?"

"It's…" Kisuke began, letting the word hang as he seemed to grope for words. He put a hand to his hat. "It's about your son."

A cold sensation trickled down his back. Isshin stared at Kisuke, trying to read his face. It was like trying to read a rock. "What about him?"

Kisuke's right hand tightened its grip on his hat. Slowly, he pulled it from his head, down his face, down to his chest, to rest over his heart. He said four words:

"Your son…is gone."

The world stopped for a full minute.

Isshin did not move, did not even blink.

"Gone," he repeated, barely above a whisper, the word not a question but merely a statement made in the hopes of it being corrected and proven false.

Kisuke's face itself betrayed no emotion, but his eyes, his haunted eyes, spoke volumes. One look, and Isshin knew.

"I'm so…" Kisuke blurted, and Isshin slammed the door in his face.

He walked back to the kitchen in a half-daze, stumbling a bit. His eyes fell on the handful of cigarettes on the table, and he snatched them up.

He put all four cigarettes in his mouth, and he lit every single damn one.

(a/n) …Stay tuned, review, and don't take any wooden nickels.