Invisible Writing, Part Seven
Characters; Ishida, Orihime, Aizen
Aizen and his "daughter" have a little talk
Disclaimer: Kubo Tite owns Bleach, and Incandescens owns the imagination that gave me the scenario for this particular fanfic.
Description: Orihime acquires a slave in Hueco Mundo--Ishida.
Warnings: Mild sexual innuendo, violence, reference to character deaths
Special thanks to Incandescens and Finnigan Geist
Orihime had never hated anyone. Not anyone. She could hold no grudge or bitterness, not even towards the parents who had abandoned her years ago. She had vague visceral memories of those times--the pain of being struck with the flat heel of a woman’s shoe, the comfort of being carried away by Sora’s arms. But those parents who had been cruel to her--maybe, she reasoned, they had sad stories behind their actions. Remembering her mother’s frequent tears, Orihime could not anything but feel sympathy for her.
Orihime’s anger was sharp and short-lived. Her temper could fly like Tsubaki and cut once, but that was it. Tatsuki always said of their arguments that Orihime was apologizing before anyone knew she had been offended. Orihime knew that chewing on anger was a wasteful past-time, even a harmful one. The last time Orihime had indulged in an angry fit was when she had yelled at Sora about the ugly hairpins. She could remember sitting in a corner and thinking: "He should know. I’m not a baby. I don’t wear baby hairpins. I will look like a baby in those stupid hairpins with this horrible short hair. Stupid, stupid Onii-chan." And then her brother had not come home.
Orihime knew how to love. After the death of her brother, there had been an emptiness in which people gathered, one after the other. First, the boy who had answered the door at the Kurosaki Clinic. His funny face, his kindnesses--how could she not love him? Then Tatsuki, who understood that it wasn’t the short hair Orihime was embarrassed about; it was being victimized and made to feel incompetent by those girls with scissors. Tatsuki, who walked by Orihime’s side and made Orihime feel safe. There would never again be an emptiness; Orihime knew how to fill it with a sweet, mad thankfulness for her life and friends.
She was even thankful, in an odd way, for her time in Hueco Mundo. She had discovered friendship and kindness even here. She could not walk the halls of Las Noches without being stirred by its austere beauty.
The tall, barred windows that lined most of the palace were non-existent near Aizen’s private quarters. The walls held their own energy and reflected reiatsu with a cold whiteness. Orihime was always cold here. She had once planned to make a heavy cloak for herself to wear inside the palace, since she rarely went outdoors… except for that one time when she had found Ishida-kun. Now, though, she planned to wander Las Noches in a cloak sewn by Ishida-kun.
"I can hide my reiatsu," she had said to him, "but not my face! Isn’t that funny? If I look for the hougyoku wearing a hooded cloak, there is less of a chance that someone like Ulquiorra or door sentinels will recognize me."
Ishida-kun had begrudgingly taken up the basket of sewing materials. "For you, Inoue-san. But if you can’t find the hougyoku within one day, we have to go home. It will be too dangerous here."
Orihime turned the corner into the anteroom to Aizen’s quarters.
Ishida-kun is right about Aizen being an evil man.
Aizen-sama was leaving her heart, not all at once, but bit by bit. And the space he was leaving was raw and cold. Orihime knew that she should be feeling hate.
She still felt love.
Aizen was sitting on a huge white couch by a tall white vase. Guards had been dismissed. Gin wasn’t there.
"I’ve been waiting for you," Aizen said.
"Oh, I’m sorry." Orihime stammered. "I--I--spent too much time sewing again, and I must have lost track of time--"
"No, no, not that." Aizen patted the place next to him. "Sit down. Assembly let out early, and I was here alone with my thoughts. I was thinking about how I have been waiting for you ever since you were born."
Orihime sat down and didn’t understand.
She didn’t understand a lot of things. How Aizen could claim that his goal was peace and a new universe and yet he was willing to slaughter innocents to get there. Why Aizen had told her that he was her father.
"You see, my dear," Aizen went on, "I have been waiting for you to ask me about the hougyoku. I know that you, like the hougyoku, need time to mature."
"Well … ." Orihime smoothed her palms across her skirt and didn’t know if she could really carry this off. "I am very curious about it."
In a lilting, resonant voice--the voice of a father reading stories to his child--Aizen began to tell Orihime about how she and the hougyoku were similar. That she and the hougyoku were not only conduits for energy but contained their own special power. How combined with the reiatsu of the very strong, they could create new creatures, new worlds, new realities. Orihime had heard all this before.
"I want you to understand, Aizen-sama," Orihime said, "that I am so in awe of your vision that I never understood how someone like me could be that important to it."
"Humility suits you," Aizen said, "The Arrancar are all so proud. When you are an Arrancar, your quiet strength and belief in yourself will outshine all their bravado."
"Belief in myself?" Here’s where Orihime knew she had to put on a convincing lie. "I have been so full of doubt recently, Aizen-sama."
Not a bat of an eyelash, no surprise. "Oh?"
"Aizen-sama, you have to understand that I believe in your goals with all my heart, that I want to fulfill my destiny, that I will always see you as my father--"
Orihime felt her heart in her throat. She spoke the words: "I have been remembering a life in the Living World."
Aizen was silent for a moment, and then he heaved a small sigh. "I have been expecting this."
Orihime felt a trembling begin inside her. "You have?"
"Orihime, my darling girl, do you understand why I put you under the spell of my kidou when you came here? Do you know why I stood over you and told you that I was your father?"
"No," said Orihime, "but I figure it had to do something with saving the universe?" Her eyes were beginning to water. Don’t mess this up, don’t mess this up.
"Tell me," said Aizen, "tell me that the pain when Ulquiorra brought you here was bearable, that you could have lived through it with your sanity intact."
Orihime could not, in truth, remember that moment. She could, however, remember what passed in the minutes before that moment. She turned away from Aizen’s face and a single tear rolled down her cheek.
"Ulquiorra," she said. "Ulquiorra told me that I had no choice but to go with him or else my friends would die."
"It was only natural that you would resist him, my dear," said Aizen, "but I had not expected you to. I expected you to come willingly. You are, after all, such a humble girl, and not a fighter."
That day Orihime had released Tsubaki, aiming with all her heart and everything she had learned from Kuchiki-san about the will to kill at the strange Arrancar’s face. A mere tilt of the head and the Arrancar dodged the attack. He was that quick. It had been that feeble of an attempt to kill him.
"Or your friends will die," Ulquiorra had said, grabbing her by the arm.
Tsubaki had sped back to her hairpin. Orihime had felt the fullness of her power, but in one moment, all her faith in herself had been shattered. She was unable to move. Ulquiorra caught her under the arm as her body sagged, and she was transported to the Living World.
There, Kurosaki-kun and Kuchiki-san were facing a one-armed being with blue-green hair.
"Kill him, Grimmjow," Ulquiorra had said.
Orihime sat on Aizen’s couch and wondered if targeting Kurosaki-kun, too, had been part of the mission. Had Aizen wanted Kurosaki-kun to turn into a horrible monster? Orihime knew all about that monster; she had sensed it inside Kurosaki before. She felt it lurch that day; she felt it heaving its will against Kurosaki’s soul.
"The things you saw that day," Aizen said. "They were not planned. Your friends were casualties of their own hubris. Ulquiorra was under my orders to retrieve you, and he threatened your friends again only to keep you from attacking again. Not because you were dangerous to him, but because you were dangerous to yourself."
Orihime knew that she was visibly trembling now. He was a liar, but unlike herself, Aizen was such a good liar.
"Only I and the hougyoku know how to manifest your power properly," said Aizen. "That’s why I had to bring you here. That’s why I had to make you my charge, my duty, my daughter."
Orihime shut her eyes.
"You remember now?" asked Aizen in a quiet voice.
Yes, she had remembered bits and pieces on the bathroom floor as she leaned, naked and sobbing, against Ishida-kun. She had remembered rising into the sky inside a clear tunnel and seeing the carnage below. The green-haired Arrancar was down. Kurosaki-kun was down. Rangiku-san, Toushiro-san, covered in blood, and Kuchiki-san….
"I still don’t remember everything about that day," said Orihime, "except leaving the battle scene and knowing that I would not be there to heal the wounded."
"You were inconsolable when you arrived," Aizen said. "I sedated you; I put your past life to sleep. But I knew you would remember it one day. I knew that until you were strong enough to remember your past, you would not be strong enough to meet your destiny."
"You knew?" So Orihime’s instincts had been right; Aizen had been wanting her to remember all along.
"The sewing articles, the foods, all the items from the Living World," Aizen said. "Ulquiorra had researched your life thoroughly. We knew the tiny things that would jar your memory. I wanted you to put the pieces of your past life together little by little. That is how a palace is built, my dear--stone by stone. That is how one grows strong--lesson by lesson."
Orihime looked at her lap. Wow. None of Aizen’s cues had been working at all. She had been completely oblivious to them, and none of her memory had returned until Ishida-kun made her that towel. Looking at the names of her friends had allowed memories to come pouring out in a rush. Maybe that’s what saved her. Maybe her own dumb resistance to clues like red bean paste had saved her from Aizen’s manipulation, while Ishida-kun’s towel--
"You wanted me to remember?" Orihime had only guessed at this after regaining her memory. The red bean paste--Aizen had seemed overly-eager for her to taste it.
"Yes." Aizen smiled. "And that is why I say I have been waiting for you."
White and blue were traditional Quincy colors, and Ishida resented that the Arrancar made so much use of them in Las Noches. Granted, the blues were darker, approaching midnight, and the whites were too glossy (Arrancar robes looked luminous in the strange indoor lighting of the palace), but Ishida could not see them and not think of how high these monsters were and how the Quincy were extinct … all but the one Quincy who would help bring the Arrancar down.
Ishida bowed over his needlework and felt a little smug. Maybe Inoue-san’s plan would work, and the two of them could deliver the hougyoku into Urahara’s hands. That would be … magnificent. Still, Inoue-san’s plan was dangerous, and he was hoping that she would spirit them home, hougyoku or no hougyoku, if things started to go wrong.
"I surprised that Querida wanted to use spirit cloth for this coat," said Almatriste. "She’s been so enraptured of Living World things lately."
"Spirit cloth is the only proper fabric for a princess," said Lastimada. "I’m surprised she didn’t want to stitch it herself, though. She’s made all her other formal clothes."
"Uryuu sews better," said Almatriste.
Rarely did Inoue-san leave her rooms without one of her handmaidens, but today’s appointment with Aizen was a private, special one, and so the handmaidens were hovering around Ishida.
Ishida didn’t like their presence but he tolerated it.
Of course, Inoue-san had wanted her cloak to be white. Inconspicuous Arrancar white. Ishida, however, could not help but add a personal touch to the garment. No one would notice it. It disappeared when one snapped the cloak closed at the collar.
"Oh that’s pretty," said Almatriste as Ishida sewed the decoration on the cloth. "What is it?"
"Nothing really," said Ishida. "A six-pointed blue star. I was thinking of her hairpins when I cut it out. All I wanted to do was put a marker inside the cloak to show where the top snap is. You know how easy it is to misalign your snaps."
He was involved with pulling out pins from hems, and he scarcely noticed that Almatriste was stepping closer to him. He didn’t trust her, but he didn’t fear her--even though her reiatsu was superior to his. There was a simplicity about her that he was certain could be outwitted.
She cast no shadow over Ishida as he worked. Her reiatsu was a soft, efficient hum. The Arrancar seemed to be very contained beings--until releasing their zanpakutou, probably.
Ishida had emphasized to Inoue-san that she should not give any unnecessary information to either of her servants, but he sensed that the handmaidens posed less of a threat to Inoue’s safety than Aizen or higher-seated Arrancar. Maybe they could even unwittingly help him and Inoue-san escape Hueco Mundo.
"You care for her too much, you know," said Almatriste.
"Hmm?" Ishida tried to appear nonchalant, but his cheeks felt warm. There would never be any hiding his feelings about Inoue-san.
"You should get over it," said Almatriste. "Next week there will another servant, and maybe another lover, and when she is an Arrancar, you will not be allowed near her. She will probably have you placed somewhere nice, an enviable servant’s position, but you will not see her again."
Ishida lay down his needle and looked away. He was not going to address the lover issue. "It does not matter to me where I am," he said, and his words had the ring of truth. "All I want is for her to be happy and safe wherever she is."
Aizen placed his hand on Orihime’s shoulder. "What I wanted," he said, "was for you to remember your life in the Living World and to renounce it anyway--for me."
Orihime was no longer trembling. Doubt had made her shiver, and now she did not have doubts about Aizen’s intentions. She could look into Aizen’s eyes and see malice. She could not, however, look into her own heart and find malice there.
"I still care for you," she said, and it was not a lie. Her next words, though, were a lie: "I believe in all your ideals and that everything you have done is for the greater good."
"Good," said Aizen. He leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. "Now what did you want to know about the hougyoku?"
"You told me once…." Orihime did not move away from Aizen on the couch--even though she wanted to. She did not want to betray a posture of trust and closeness. "You said that once I was ready, I would be able to hold the hougyoku and use its power. I always wondered why I could not sense this thing, even with my abilities to sense reiatsu behind all sorts of barriers."
Aizen smiled. "Did you think I would make such a precious thing easily accessible to anyone?"
"Oh, I know you’ve put it somewhere safe," Orihime said, "but these past few days as I--as I was doubting my ability to serve you because I was remembering my past life…. I was wondering…."
Aizen’s eyes were intent on her own.
"I was wondering, Aizen-sama, if you say that the hougyoku and I are alike and have similar powers… if … if …."
"If it would heal you?"
"Heal me?" Whatever did Aizen mean by that? "Actually, I was wondering if my holding the hougyoku would seal my allegiance to you somehow. If I can’t witness one of your assemblies, then maybe you could take it out and show it to me in private? Maybe you can cast a bonding kidou between it and myself. I should be an Arrancar already. You could make me an Arrancar with the hougyoku."
There. She had said it. Getting Aizen to initiate the Arrancar transformation would be the easiest way to get the hougyoku in her sight.
"Don’t you remember, my dear?"
"What I said was that the day you are ready, you will be able to find the hougyoku yourself. There already exists a bond between it and you."
Orihime put her hand to her heart. "There does?" Oh, so that’s why the plan had come to her. She already knew what to do. Did the bond pre-exist Aizen? Had he created it? "I--I thought you were talking metaphorically. Like, one day I would wear it on a necklace--did you say something like that or am I not remembering right? Of course, it make a rather awkward necklace, wouldn’t it? A big crystal ball like that."
Aizen chuckled. He actually chuckled. It was a deep, pleasant sound, but it worried Orihime.
"You, of all special beings," said Aizen. "You who can pass through all barriers and stroll the paths between Heaven and Earth, you will be able to find the hougyoku in this palace when you are ready. And you, my dear, are far from ready."