Characters: Ryuuken, Uryuu, and many others.
Warnings/Spoilers: Covers all of the arcs. Spoilers for the Arrancar, Hueco Mundo and Fake Karakura Town Arc in particular.
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach.
While she was pregnant with their son, Sayuri had looked up at Ryuuken one day while they were at a restaurant with Isshin and Masaki, and said, with a big, toothy grin on her face, "You know, I hope our son smiles more than you do. I don't think I could stand living with another man who couldn't take a joke."
Isshin had made a mock slight concerning how long it had taken for Ryuuken and Sayuri, and Ryuuken had given a deadpan, humorless response.
Ryuuken's flabbergasted expression after Sayuri told him that was, in her terms, "priceless". Sayuri caught Masaki's eye and they burst into a giggling fit over the table as the waiter came up and asked them what they would have. Ryuuken exchanged a slightly disturbed look with Isshin, who muttered, "Women". The waiter was all around ignored.
When Uryuu got to be a teenager, Ryuuken wondered if he would have smiled more often if Sayuri had lived to see him grow.
He thinks he would have.
After Sayuri died, the only thing keeping Ryuuken from completely losing his mind and going after her into the murky realm of the Dead was the thought of his son, that his son still needed him, that he had to hold on.
The first few days were nothing but an empty, monotonous routine. He took the first weeks after Sayuri's death off from work (no one questioned it), and struggled to keep from falling apart at the seams, holding onto his soul by the skin of his teeth.
Isshin checked up on him, regularly.
Isshin wouldn't leave him alone, in fact. At first, Ryuuken found it immensely annoying, but then it was comforting to have someone who knew and understood exactly what sort of hell he was going through and didn't try to offer useless platitudes or the empty comfort about the afterlife that his father constantly spouted.
Of course, when Isshin realized how little Ryuuken was eating, how gauntly thin he had gotten, he knew he had a problem.
Isshin somewhat forcibly convinced Ryuuken that, A: he had to eat something, and B: he had to go back to work.
Ryuuken didn't trust any of the neighbors to do the job right, and he wasn't quite ready to swallow his pride and ask his father to look after Uryuu while he was working, so Isshin, exasperated to the end of his rope, told his idiot friend that he and Masaki would be more than happy to have Uryuu at the clinic with them while Ryuuken was at work in the hospital.
The then one-year and one month old Uryuu and five-month old Ichigo were put in the same room as each other. Both were surprised when, some fifteen years later, Isshin let slip that they had more of a history together than they had guessed while drunk.
Between the ages of three and five, Uryuu would crawl into his father's bed after having nightmares of Hollow attacks (That was the only thing he ever had nightmares of). He was always small for his age, quiet, and didn't writhe or shift around when he slept, so Ryuuken, a relatively deep sleeper, normally didn't notice he was there until morning came and the alarm clock rang.
The first time this happened, Ryuuken woke up to see his three-year-old son curled up next to him, and a pair of wide blue eyes staring up at him hesitantly, because even at that age, Uryuu had been nervous around and a bit in awe of his father.
Ryuuken didn't do what Uryuu expected. He picked up the alarm clock, held it close to his eyes so he could read the time. Sunlight filtered in through the plain white curtains on the windows, early morning sunlight.
"Go back to sleep," Ryuuken murmured, sinking back down on to the mattress and closing his eyes. "It's Sunday, and it's not even six o'clock yet." He knew full well why Uryuu was there, and wasn't quite willing to send him back to sleep by himself.
Uryuu was more than happy to oblige.
Uryuu moved into a small apartment far from home, nearly all the way across Karakura Town, when he was thirteen and a half.
Ryuuken didn't question it. The boy had said he would do it, and if he wanted to burn out, that was his own business. Ryuuken didn't expect it to last more than a week, two weeks at the most. He was surprised, but not impressed (he would never admit he was impressed), when two months passed and Uryuu still hadn't shown up on the front doorstep. He wondered how Uryuu was managing to pay rent.
Two and a half months after he moved into the apartment, Uryuu was surprised by his landlady one afternoon when she told him a man had come with a package for him, handed him a thick manila envelope and left.
Frowning, Uryuu opened the package. Inside, there was a photograph and a worn, battered book.
Uryuu felt his heart began to beat a little more quickly as he looked at the photograph. Staring up at him was a smiling woman who looked almost identical to him, down to the way her blue-black hair hung down over her face, except her features were a little softer, her face a little rounder.
It was the only photograph of his mother that Uryuu had ever seen in the house.
It was obvious then that it was Ryuuken who had sent the envelope.
Uryuu picked up the book after very gently laying the picture down on top of the envelope. It was a copy of The Great Gatsby. Uryuu frowned. Why had Ryuuken sent him a copy of The Great Gatsby?
As he was flipping through the book, a small scrap of paper floated out. Uryuu picked it up and read it.
This belonged to your mother. She would read it to you when you were a baby. She wanted you to have it when you were old enough to understand it.
P.S. Only your mother would think that "The Great Gatsby" was suitable reading material for a baby.
The writing was instantly recognizable as Ryuuken's neat script.
The next day, Ryuuken received a note in his office.
There were only two words on the piece of paper, in Uryuu's small, untidy scrawl.
Ryuuken had the experience of watching from afar as his son and a boy immediately recognizable as Isshin's oldest child interact one day.
It came as a bit of a shock to Ryuuken that Uryuu and Ichigo were actually much less dysfunctional than he and Isshin had been.
Ryuuken wouldn't allow his son to continue to go around helpless.
Even with his Quincy powers gone, Uryuu remained vulnerable to Hollow attacks; if anything, Uryuu was essentially walking around with a giant Bull's Eye on his back. Hollows would still be attracted to him, and Uryuu would have no means of defending himself.
There were some things that Ryuuken wouldn't stand around and let happen.
He would give Uryuu his Quincy powers back. But on his terms.
Admittedly, Ryuuken didn't expect Uryuu to keep the promise he made to him. The boy would go around and do whatever suited him, just the way his mother had. Ryuuken really didn't care. Everyone was entitled to freedom of choice, and Ryuuken would not hold it against him if Uryuu didn't keep the promise. Uryuu would agonize about it for a while, Ryuuken knew that; his sense of pride forced him to keep promises made. But eventually, Uryuu would decide he didn't care and would either find a loophole or just outright break the promise.
Ryuuken expected it to last five minutes. Ten, if he was lucky.
When Ryuuken leaned over his son and talked about Uryuu's mother while he was unconscious, it was the first time he had said Sayuri's name out loud in fifteen years.
One day during training, a line was crossed that Ryuuken would later admit (though only to himself) that he shouldn't have crossed.
His fear and concern for his friends made Uryuu soft. Too soft. It was a liability, a dangerous one, and Ryuuken had demanded to know why Uryuu clung to the thoughts of his friends when it was clear it made him weak.
The answer, screamed across a large, cavernous room with the sort of rage and defiance that only a teenage boy could express, convinced Ryuuken that, as well as he knew Uryuu (much better than the boy suspected), there were some times when he felt he did not know his son at all.
"Because they're the first people I've given a damn about in years! I would die for them and I will live for them, because I know they'll do the same for me!" The response floored Ryuuken.
Uryuu added, in a quieter voice that was no less enraged, "Don't you remember what it's like to feel that way about someone you care about? Or did you ever feel that way at all?" Uryuu asked, quietly, bitterly. Apparently, he was under the impression that his father was an unfeeling block of ice.
Ryuuken gritted his teeth. Yes, he remembered. He remembered still, and he remembered all too well.
He continued to chip away at Uryuu, piece by piece, taunting him. The boy was exhausted, and they weren't fighting anymore. Only exchanging verbal barbs, each growing more underhanded and vicious than the last.
Eventually, Ryuuken heard hoarse, rasping sounds coming from his son as he slumped on the ground, hands bracing to keep himself from landing on his face. It took a moment for Ryuuken to realize Uryuu was crying.
He was sobbing openly, head bowed, shoulders shaking. He barely seemed to register Ryuuken's presence a yard from him.
Ryuuken stared at him, mouth slightly open. Why was he crying? He wanted to ask, but found his throat was dry and his tongue reluctant to form words. He stared down at Uryuu instead, eyes burning holes in the crown of his head.
Two things went through Ryuuken's mind.
The last time Uryuu had cried in front of him was six years ago, after having a nightmare. He had stopped crying because of Ryuuken's brutal reaction.
Uryuu looked a little too much like his mother when he cried.
"Go home and get some sleep," Ryuuken told his son roughly. "Be back here tomorrow at five o'clock in the afternoon."
Ryuuken stayed up that night, and couldn't sleep no matter how hard he tried.
Uryuu mourned a man still alive. Uryuu mourned his father, though he still breathed. Because the way Ryuuken lived could be considered a sort of death.
The day after Uryuu disappeared, Isshin and Ryuuken went to Urahara's shop for answers.
Hueco Mundo. The idiot had gone to Hueco Mundo. And for a girl who had gone there willingly? Ryuuken barely heard the conversation as Isshin and Urahara continued it.
"I should warn you both," Urahara continued in his lazy voice. "Time passes differently in Hueco Mundo. More slowly, I should say. A few hours there can add up to much longer here. Your sons may be gone for a very long time."
"When will they be back?" Isshin demanded, his face unusually pale.
Urahara gave him a long, measured look, not devoid of sympathy. "It's not a matter of when your sons come back. It's if they come back."
At that point, Ryuuken walked out of the shop.
When he stood outside, he was amazed to find his hands were shaking.
Ryuuken stared at his shaking hands with a numb fascination.
Why I am reacting like this? There's always a risk of death when someone walks blindly and stupidly into a situation. Uryuu's taking his own chances.
But still, his hands wouldn't stop shaking.
"Hey." A woman's voice called from down the alley, and Ryuuken saw a face he hadn't seen in at least fifteen years staring back at him.
Shihoin Yoruichi and Sayuri had been good friends, but to Ryuuken, she had never been any closer than an acquaintance. He recognized her immediately though.
"Are you worried about your kid?" she asked roughly, her golden eyes gleaming unsettlingly.
Ryuuken shoved his hands into his pockets as he leveled a cool gaze on her. "He chose his own path."
Yoruichi's gold eyes narrowed. "It's perfectly natural to be worried. Even when it's you, Ishida."
"I'm not worried," Ryuuken insisted stubbornly.
Two weeks after Uryuu disappeared, Ryuuken stepped out of the front door one day to nearly collide with Urahara Kisuke on his front porch.
Urahara didn't miss a beat, pulling a key from a pocket. "Before leaving, your son left this with me for safe-keeping. It's the key to his apartment; I thought you might want it in case he doesn't come back."
Urahara was gone in a moment, and Ryuuken turned over the key in his hand.
He had never been to Uryuu's apartment, but somehow, as he stepped over the threshold, he immediately recognized the place as his.
There were only sparse furnishments. No television set. A futon in the living room, a small square table with two chairs in the tiny kitchen, with no dish washer and a dish rack with a plate and two cups still sitting on it. Before he knew what he was doing, Ryuuken was putting the plate and the cups away in a cabinet. There was only a twin bed and a dresser in the bedroom, nothing on the walls.
Uryuu was a much neater housekeeper than Ryuuken had ever guessed.
The house felt pitifully empty. The bed was made, the sheets unwrinkled. It was as though even the apartment itself didn't expect its occupant to come back.
Ryuuken made his way back towards the living room, and saw some cracks.
The picture of Sayuri sat on top of a bookcase half full with books. There was a thin layer of dust on the bookcase, but even after two weeks, there was no dust on the glass of the frame. There was a large messenger bag on the futon. A trigonometry book and a calculator sat on the coffee table. A few pieces of paper with complicated equations were nearby.
There were traces of his son everywhere.
Ryuuken practically ran out of the front door.
After one month and eight days, Ryuuken learned how to breathe again.
He had not participated in the battle for Karakura Town just yet. He had told himself that he would only do that if Uryuu came back, or if he learned that Uryuu had been killed.
When night had fallen, both sides had regrouped and withdrawn to their bases of operation, most of the Shinigami to Soul Society and those two renegade Shinigami still living to Hueco Mundo. It had been Isshin who had told Ryuuken that his son was back.
"Apparently they only spent two days in Hueco Mundo. Funny, that."
Ryuuken didn't see anything funny about it.
Ryuuken pushed open the door to Urahara's shop, quietly. Urahara himself, along with Isshin and Yoruichi, were inside, and seemed unsurprised at his appearance. Also there was a male Shinigami with long black hair, gray eyes, and an apathetic expression, as he sat at a table sipping tea. Two children and a man poked their heads out of a side room and then closed the door again, uninterested.
Urahara stepped forward, clearly knowing what he wanted. "They're all in that back room. But I'd suggest you leave any emotional reunions for tomorrow morning. They've all been beat to within an inch of their lives."
Ryuuken brushed past him towards the door to the back room. He pressed his hand against the door for a moment, having a hard time breathing, and he told himself it was all the smoking he did.
After a moment, he worked up the courage to gently open the door.
The light from the outside cast illumination on the occupants. Ryuuken saw a great many young people, asleep on pallets and under blankets, all sleeping too heavily to notice him.
Ryuuken saw an orange-haired boy, on his back with his legs splayed out, obviously Isshin's son Ichigo. Near him was a man with curling brown hair and a girl with long hair asleep on her side, whimpering in her sleep as though afflicted by nightmares.
There were two Shinigami. One was a tiny girl with black hair, huddled under the blanket as though she expected them to be ripped from her at any moment, and the other was a huge man with wicked tattoos who slept the sleep of the clear conscience.
When Ryuuken saw Uryuu, his breath caught in his throat.
Uryuu slept on the pallet closest to the door, head resting on one side on the pillow, his glasses sitting close by him. Uryuu with his mother's dark hair, blue eyes and almost ridiculously slight bone structure, with a facial structure that was similar, though not identical to Ryuuken's own, and a face in sleep that was all his own.
Ryuuken gently pulled the door shut.
He did not leave the shop that night. Instead, Ryuuken sat on the back stoop with Isshin for the rest of the night, smoking a cigarette and staring up at the moon, as a coiling swirl of bluish smoke traveled towards the heavens.
The morning dawned bright and clear. Uryuu didn't at first know his father was there.
The Urahara shop had a sort of backyard to it, with the stoop and a small grassy lawn, with a single skinny ash tree, and all six of the young people gathered out back.
When Ryuuken was made aware that Uryuu was awake, he headed towards the back door.
The six all stared up at him with wide eyes when he opened the back door. "Clear out," he stated flatly, in a tone that brooked no opposition.
One by one, they filed back into the store, silently and shooting looks at Uryuu as they did so. The door slammed shut behind Ryuuken.
They stood a foot from each other, silent for a moment. Ryuuken took in his son's appearance. Pallid, ghastly pale and pasty, gaunt, huge circles under his eyes, as if he hadn't really slept at all. Ryuuken didn't want to know why there was a slit in Uryuu's shirt that looked suspiciously like it had been made by a blade or why his left sleeve cuff was so soaked in blood as to almost appear black.
Uryuu cast an uncertain look at him, his discomfort painfully plain along with the silent assertion that he would rather be anywhere else. Ryuuken couldn't help but notice, notice how wary he was and how he stood waiting to be attacked. For the first time, the realization made Ryuuken uncomfortable.
The moment passed.
Abruptly, Ryuuken raised his fist and swung it at his son's head; his discomfort had been short-lived. Uryuu barely ducked in time; the blow had enough force behind it that it probably would have broken his jaw had it connected.
"I suppose I should have expected that," Uryuu commented as he stood just out of range of his father's still clenched fist. The contempt, the barely concealed anger, it was gone out of his voice. Instead, Uryuu just seemed shaken.
He smelled of death. Not of decay, but of death. It was an indescribable smell, undetectable to those who were not spirit sensitive. It was the smell of Hueco Mundo, and Ryuuken knew it would never go away.
"If my hair weren't already gray," he muttered, narrowing his eyes as he took in Uryuu's appearance, "I think it would be a little grayer."
"You make it sound as though you were actually concerned," Uryuu retorted shakily.
That did it. "You stupid boy," Ryuuken snarled, finally losing his temper entirely. He reached out again, this time to grab hold of Uryuu's shoulders and pull him to him. As he did so, Ryuuken realized that if Uryuu were any thinner, he'd be able to feel his bones. Was he this thin before?
Ryuuken was uncaring of how Uryuu stiffened, nor of the five pairs of eyes staring out the window, nor of the two whispered voices floating outside from the shop.
"Okay…First he tries to hit him, then he hugs him. Is this typical behavior?"
"How am I supposed to know? It's not Ishida talks about his home life!"
"Yeah, and this is probably why."
Ryuuken pulled him closer, wrapped his other arm around his teenage son's back, and gritted his teeth as he held him in a death grip. "If you die before me," Ryuuken snapped, "I am not attending your funeral!"