neko_in_blue requested this one and I wrote in first person for the first time in the Bleach fandom. Not sure how this worked because my narrator's voice is so close to mine, but eh, I tried.
Description: PG13. Ryuuken’s wife has a story to tell about lies and promises.
Warnings: None really. A totally heterosexual Ryuuken? This story is something of a tearjerker if you don’t like that sort of thing.
Disclaimer: Kubo Tite owns Bleach and I did not invent the character of Ishida Ryuuken. I did, though, invent the narrator of this story. If anyone wants to write her, it’s fine by me. In my artistic religion, everybody shares.
Description: PG13. Ryuuken’s wife has a story to tell about lies and promises.
Warnings: None really. A totally heterosexual Ryuuken? This story is something of a tearjerker if you don’t like that sort of thing.
A/N: I’m such a canon timeline girl, so this is a stretch for me. Many manga chapters from now we will read Kubo’s (better) version.
Thank you to Raiy for the wonderful, speedy beta jobs she does for me.
He lied to me.
More than once. About important things. I know well the stereotype of the spineless woman who condones her man’s lies, but how could I not forgive? Each of his deceptions embraced me with mercy and love.
People said I married a difficult man, but I was the difficult one.
Ryuuken was patient. He was quiet and consoling during my long crying spells. He listened to my rambling notions and grounded me during flights of insecurity. Whenever I clung to him at the door before he left for the hospital, he wouldn’t leave right away; he would sit down with me and reassure me with simple, believable data that there’s no danger in being a part-time Hollow slayer.
People saw a difficult man; I saw a man with high standards. Ryuuken expected people to see reason, trains to run on time, and professors to word their exams with clear instructions. He seldom lost his temper. All he did is voice complaints and make suggestions.
Late one winter night when the heater wasn’t working well in my giant inherited house (the Georgian mansion way too big for two people) and Ryuuken and I were hugging under four blankets, I whispered “You want the best of everything, so why me?”
He told the most beautiful lie.
“You are perfect,” he said.
My support and succor from the beginning. My Ryuuken. He needed to be needed (I think all true healers do; they’re all instinctual mothers), and I was the most needy basket-case in medical school.
I didn’t finish first year, much to my parents’ dismay, because one can’t bar-hop and entertain simultaneous affairs while striving to become a member of the most noble, caring profession. I never made it to morning classes.
Like most men, he was captured by my looks at first. He never denied this later. I’m pretty and have been called beautiful (these people aren’t looking closely), but men rarely saw past that. Or maybe I never gave them the chance to.
When he asked me on a proper date one day after anatomy lab, his invitation was phrased like a demand: “Meet me for coffee tomorrow morning.” I tried not to show my panic. I’d never been on a date; I’d only ever gone home half-drunk with students from bars.
Neither of us spoke for a long moment because we were having one of those “their eyes meet” moments of mutual interest. We smelled of formaldehyde, and the situation seemed unromantic but charged with anticipation.
“You’re never on time,” he said at last, “and you always looks tired. Beautiful but tired.” He smiled at that remark and I was impressed with his easy confidence. “Perhaps you need some stimulating beverage right before lab. Coffee, not tea. Tea doesn’t have enough caffeine and has too many medicinal properties so it doesn’t give one that … jolt of doing something decadent.”
He didn’t look like the sort who did decadent things. He was a little on the nerdy side. Out-of style glasses, a heavy bookbag. Skinny as a noodle. His self-possession belied nerd status, though. He had a straight nose and a handsome jaw.
“I know of a strange kissaten,” he said, “where one can get espresso and smoke. I go there every morning.”
“A ridiculous habit, but nicotine is an excellent late night stimulus.”
“Why me?” I must’ve looked unstrung and hung-over. “Why do you want to help me stay awake for class?”
“I’m helpful,” he said. “Shouldn’t doctors help people? Besides, I’m always looking for ways to stimulate myself--”
I gasped a little, sure he was going to say something untoward. Did he assume I was the sort of girl who prostituted her way through school for meals and rent money?
He smiled at me and continued, “I don’t know anyone here, and I’d like some stimulating conversation with my coffee.”
“What makes you think I’m a good conversationalist?”
“You seem to be interested in other things besides classes and grades.”
I don’t know why I said yes; it would be near-to-impossible for me to get up at the proposed hour. I wanted to be polite, though, and I wanted to live up to his expectation of being interesting. I didn’t think I was that interesting sober, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was an inherently fascinating person.
I didn’t meet my friends at the club that night, and the next morning I picked out the most conservative dress I owned and made it to the teahouse half an hour early.
He was already there.
“I’m refreshed already,” he said with what I would soon come to believe was the sexiest smile in Tokyo. “I don’t need coffee, because your beauty is quite stimulating enough.”
It was a stupid line, but he said it with such aplomb that I felt in awe of him. He ordered something sweet for me. He complimented me on the fabric of my dress (wool windowpane? I didn’t know; my parents had bought it for me so no doubt it was expensive). We talked about the impertinence of that student or the rigidity of that professor. Then, just as things were getting comfortable, it was time to go to class.
I’d never felt so blissful and un-nauseated around anatomy corpses before.
Even after I dropped out of school, Ryuuken and I met every morning for coffee. I had no need to get up early for a job because I was floating through my youth on a trust fund. My life quickly became Ryuuken-centered; his attentions, constant to begin with, intensified. I didn’t drink anymore or flirt with other men; he had no social life after classes beyond me.
We fell, if not in love, into the habit of being with one another every day.
We went on dinner dates a few times but I found that he preferred sitting in my apartment, reading a textbook while I cooked one of the many basic dishes I’d learned to cook once away from home. Beans and rice. Mackerel stew.
Physical intimacy followed naturally. Right away, he felt like a part of me. He was the best lover I’d ever had, and that was saying a lot, because between the ages of seventeen and nineteen I’d had a few dozen. He made love like he did everything else--with unwavering confidence. Even though he said I was his first, he was expert, exacting and not shy about what he wanted “What does one need experience for?” he said. “One can learn everything one needs to know from books and movies.”
“Maybe,” I said, “but it’s not all technique. It’s emotion too. Making love is the best way to get to know a person.”
What I could tell about Ryuuken was that he controlled his emotions as well as he commanded his sexual responses.
He never once looked down upon me for having been a promiscuous party girl. He sometimes joked about his love-making being superior to that of his sallow, careless classmates, and his devotion to me was plain. He worked to make me happy; I responded with loving appreciation, and before the end of the summer, we fell in love.
It was an easy fall, like going over a sparkling waterfall in a life raft.
My parents adored him, and because they wanted me to do something, anything, with my life, they pressured marriage. I suppose that because I’d been such a disappointment as their only child, they wanted to invest new hopes in grandchildren. Ryuuken amiably staved off their suggestions every time we visited my family home.
Marriage seemed inevitable for us, but he and I didn’t discuss it much.
Then one evening he caught me looking through a bridal magazine.
“Is that the dress you want to wear?”
“Is it too extravagant? My parents keep telling me that they will spare no expense for our wedding.”
“That one’s not very--. See this other one in duponi silk? Rich and elegant, wouldn’t you say?”
“Would you like to see me in something like that?”
“It doesn’t matter what you wear,” He leaned over to kiss my cheek. “I only want to see you as my bride.”
Sometimes his love-mushiness embarrassed me. He said so many lovely things to me all the time, but I mostly bitched about my parents.
“My parents are acting like three years from now is the twenty-first century,” I said. That was the plan. Marriage upon graduation. The plan was sensible. The plan was Ryuuken.
“Forget three years. I want to make your parents as happy as we are every day. We can set the appointment for a dress fitting as soon as you decide on your dress.” He closed the bridal magazine and set it on the end-table. He looked amused by my confusion.
He continued with eyes glinting and that sexy mouth half-smiling. “All eyes are always on the bride, so you could dress me any way you like--kimono, black suit, purple suit.” He paused while I processed his words. “Gina, will you have me? It will be short notice and a lot of pressure on your parents to plan a wedding so soon, but will you marry me when the semester is over? Will you marry me during Golden Week and after final exams?”
He had this way of making the most practical things sound romantic.
The wedding was gigantic. Five hundred people, mostly my father’s business acquaintances, and all the friends and family we could think to invite. I met Souken for the first time at our reception. Ryuuken had mentioned not being close to his father, but I had to wonder why--the man seemed gentle, intelligent, and kind. Ishida Souken’s eyes looked like Albert Einstein’s.
Souken and I didn’t talk much. “I’m happy that my son is happy” and “I’m glad to finally meet you, Souken-san.” Perfunctory wedding reception lines.
Later, I snagged Ryuuken’s elbow and asked him about his father’s clothes. I knew that Ryuuken came from a line of some European religious group and that his father had been some sort of cult leader. That explained Souken’s foreign ensemble--white tunic with white trousers, even though it’s not proper for anyone but the bride to wear white at the ceremony. “Is that Quincy formal wear?” I asked.
“He wears those all the time.” Ryuuken said with what I recognized as a spoiled child’s disparaging way of talking about a parent (I was such a spoiled child). “He wears that peasant’s robe in summer or winter. To casual events and fancy events. I wouldn’t be surprised if he sleeps in it.”
I hadn’t seen a robe, but later I learned that Souken had left it at the door with the garment checker. It being spring, the garment checker had only Souken’s long cape and a few colorful women’s jackets to watch.
After the wedding, I thought often about that serious robe among the flower-print jackets. Souken seemed so archaic and mysterious. He was apart from modern looks and attitudes. He was even apart from the old Japanese culture that young people like Ryuuken and myself were trampling down in favor of Western style.
I kept bothering Ryuuken to invite his father over, but he would cut me off with a terse “that would be uncomfortable for me and him.” After I wouldn’t let the subject go, Ryuuken agreed to a visit after things became less stressful. He had to graduate, choose from various jobs already being offered him (even an internship abroad--my intelligent, accomplished Ryuuken!), and we had to be settled in our married life.
“Restoration of the house is going to take a lot of our time and patience,” he said. “After the house is fixed, I promise we can take an extensive vacation or….” His eyes were full of humor even if his mouth wasn’t smiling. “Or you can have Souken over for mackerel stew. Take your pick.”
On occasion I would ask, “What happened between the two of you?” but Ryuuken shrugged off the question, and I assumed the distance between father and son had something to with cultures and world-views.
I secretly resolved to restore both the house and my husband’s relationship with his father. Given how out-of-shape my mansion was, I figured that work on it would take anywhere from one to twenty years. I didn’t know the extent of the damage suffered by the father and son, but I knew the relationship would require more time than the house.
The house was a six bedroom Georgian mansion with five white pillars at the front door. Built by an American dignitary who retired here, the house must been imposing in its day--especially in seventeenth century Japan when houses were flimsy and small (even flimsier and smaller than they are today). My great grandmother somehow acquired the property, and then my mother inherited it and gave it away as a wedding gift with the suggestion that Ryuuken and I turn it into a restaurant and inn. “I know doctors will always be in demand,” she confided to me, “but what if you and Ryuuken divorce? You will need a steady source of income.”
I accepted the inn suggestion with a weak feeling that my mother was reminding that me that I was too incompetent to finish med school and too lazy to find a job.
I’d never doubted marrying Ryuuken, but my mother’s pre-nuptial jitters had been terrible.
“Are you sure he’s not gay?” My mother had broached the question with a timidity that told me she already believed he was.
I’d laughed out loud. “Why? Because his fingernails are clean and he doesn’t forget his manners like Poppa?”
“He seems to know a lot about women’s clothes,” my mother had offered.
“He knows a lot about everything. His aesthetic interests are all over the place. Fashion, architecture, modern art.”
My art-loving Ryuuken. He encouraged my painting; it was only after I married him that I took up the cast-away hobby. I didn’t hurt anymore from more secret aspirations of gallery shows; he was my only audience, and I painted for the love of painting.
“He likes fashion, does he?” My mother had looked relieved. “The house is supposed to be a gift to you alone, so I suppose I could get him a new wardrobe of designer suits. He wears clothes so well, that man. If he wasn’t going to be a busy doctor, he’d make such a dashing host for your inn.”
After the wedding, I proposed the inn idea only half-heartedly to Ryuuken. I expected him to scoff at the idea and want to sell the huge, embarrassing house right away.
He looked away and said in a quiet, content voice. “I would finally have someplace to put all my books.”
The man actually wanted to live there!
And so we did--even though the house exterior needed intensive work, and the fifty-acre garden was overgrown. People had lived in this mansion until 1970, though, and there was heating, decent water pressure, and four or five rooms in perfect, habitable condition.
The months passed; I painted scenes of gardens and koi ponds and Ryuuken’s book collection grew and grew. He took a nearby job at Karakura hospital instead of going off on the foreign internship, and I supervised the fixing up of our home. The garden work alone took two years, and it would’ve eaten two years of my annual allowance. Garden restoration had been part of my mother’s gift, though. She thought that a large, traditional Japanese garden would be a sure-fire tourist attraction for the inn.
The inn that never happened became the Ishida family home.
When Ryuuken’s books filled an entire room and looked like a real library, and when the first crocuses appeared and the plum trees bloomed, I reminded my husband of his promise to have his father over for dinner.
“Invite someone else too--so he can’t dominate the conversation with his Quincy talk.”
I was trying not to smile too broadly. “I don’t know, Ryuuken. You may want it to be just us and him when we tell him the good news.”
Ryuuken’s face went slack, and he looked years younger, full of hope. “Good new--? Are you--?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m pregnant at last.”
An impractical idea but I was given to babbling about it late at night. How lovely it would be to have a child. How a child was a huge responsibility, but I felt worthy of taking on that responsibility. I was home all day; I could be an attentive mother; the house was big enough to hire a live-in nanny. A child wouldn’t be that expensive; babies drink only breastmilk the first two years. They’re small and easily managed so I could always carry the baby to another part of the house if Ryuuken was being bothered by the crying.
My husband had listened to me babble with pure affection in his face, but he always said it wasn’t time. And then, just as he’d caught me with the bridal magazine, he noticed the stack of baby-care books I’d bought. The receipt tags serving as bookmarks in each book.
“You’re becoming quite the educated mother, aren’t you?”
That month we tried to make a baby.
It didn’t happen right away, and I was worried. Those years of being on the Pill had ruined me, I was certain. The Pill was still illegal in Japan in those days, and my ever-righteous Ryuuken had never been comfortable about my father’s getting the tablets from overseas.
“Damn Pill,” Ryuuken muttered. He put me on a high-fat diet. I wanted to do more than just eat eggs and gristle, though, so I insisted on those “nonsensical” Chinese teas of black cohosh, raspberry leaf, and chasteberry that were supposed to help my fertility. I wanted to try acupuncture; he shook his head and sighed but indulged me in that too.
Nothing for a year and half.
Ryuuken had been more disappointed than I was. He said we shouldn’t worry, that it was too early to worry, that we should just forget about “trying” and hope for the best.
And every month I saw hope in his eyes. Every last day of my twenty-six day cycle, I had nothing new to report.
I began to paint close-ups of goldfish with bulging eyes and embryonic bodies, but I didn’t show any more concern. Intuition--something like my baby’s soul--told me that I would be a mother soon.
It was raining hard the morning I found out. Home pregnancy tests were quite the new thing then and Ryuuken didn’t trust them. I was sure, though, that this one wasn’t lying to me. I just felt full of life. Ryuuken was off at the hospital, and I remembered that he’d forgotten an umbrella. I wanted to run into the garden in the rain without one--I was that happy. Being pregnant is like being reborn. The only thing that stopped me from dashing outside was that I needed to write down all the private details in my trying-to-get-pregnant journal. (Why do people write things they expect never to be read by anyone? Why am I writing this story now?)
On another stormy day three months later (when I was confident I wouldn’t miscarry), I told Ryuuken I was pregnant. I never saw him look prouder--not on the day he graduated, or the day he proposed, or when we’d showed up at an administrative luncheon as the best-dressed, best-looking couple in the room (everyone said so, and he and I drank up more flattery than we drank champagne).
“It’s raining,” the new father-to-be observed. “I will always think of rain as a wonderful thing now.”
The news made him more than agreeable about his father visiting. Realizing that mere proximity to his father would be a strain, I acquiesced to his suggestion of inviting another person to cushion the awkwardness. “One of your friends from the hospital?” I suggested.
“I don’t have any friends.” He spoke as if friendlessness was something to be proud of, but it wasn’t true that Ryuuken lacked friends.
“Isshin,” I said. “You and he act like friends. Or more than acquaintances at least.”
Ryuuken looked worried. “The man is so loud and talkative that my poor father wouldn’t be able to get in a word. Maybe you and I can just meet Souken at a restaurant--nothing fancy, no lingering past closing time, and strangers strangers everywhere.”
“Ryuuken, it’s just a little dinner party. I need to show off my china and my new belly. Afterwards, things can go back to being as quiet and unsociable as ever.”
But after that evening, nothing was ever the same.
Souken was a beaming, delighted guest. His son probably never wrote or called him except for holidays and birthdays (if even that) because the old man had sounded startled when I’d invited him over the phone. “Are you sure this is alright with Ryuuken?” His question had been so touching. I assured him that Ryuuken was fine with the idea and that his perfectionist son was even helping me plan a menu.
On the designated evening Souken brought apple sake and little nut cookies he’d made himself. Ryuuken greeted him with a cordial, “Hello father” but then added in a tone too subtle to be cutting, “This place looks too large, I know, but Gina and I need our … space.”
It was true that he and I were introverts, but there should be only spaces, not great distances, between members of a family.
We gave Souken a cordial tour of the house and then a cordial tour of the new garden.
Only Kurosaki Isshin could call me a guzu (slang for slacker) and get away with it.
All cordiality dissolved when Isshin showed up. Upon entering our drafty mansion, he picked me up and swung me around the room until I got nauseated (in his defense, the man didn’t know yet that I was pregnant).
“A wife is all a man needs to be happy,” Isshin said. “Before the month’s finished, I will make Masaki mine! You’ll see.”
Ryuuken stubbed out his cigarette. “She’s out of your league.”
“I gave up smoking for her, Ryuuken,” chided Isshin. “You should do the same for girl.”
“I grew up in bars,” I said. “I’m not bothered by cigarette smoke.”
“You’ll have to be.” Ryuuken spoke so sharply that I jumped a little out of my high heels. “Second-hand smoke is not good for the baby.”
And that was how the truth came out. I’m glad it came out that way--due to Ryuuken’s being so protective that he didn’t bother with the proper preamble to such news. Souken looked like he was going to melt like a candle he was beaming so much, and Isshin (he had no excuse this time) picked me up to swing me around again.
“Isshin, please, pregnancy makes a woman queasy.”
“You should know that,” Ryuuken said. “You’re a doctor. Masaki is not going to take you seriously if you don’t act like a professional.”
“Bah! Who needs a serious man!” I exclaimed, perfectly aware that I had married one. I winked at Souken. “Isshin was exactly the type of guy who would have swept me away in my slut days.”
Isshin roared with laughter; Souken was still beaming over the grandchild news, and Ryuuken looked uncomfortable.
“Ryuu-chan! Smile!” Isshin couldn’t help teasing his friend further. “So lucky that you met this little guzu before I did! I would’ve swept her slutty self off into the high heavens.” And I thought, thank the stars for Isshin and his informal silly self. I can talk nonsense with him, and thus Ryuuken will have to talk to his father.
But there was no cutting the tension at first--even Isshin seemed a little subdued by it. I kept babbling like a cheery hostess, so there wouldn’t be dead silence. Souken and his son exchanged some thoughts about current obstetrics practices (Souken’s knowledge was folklore based--very quaint, I thought) but he seemed to get along better with Isshin than with Ryuuken (who wouldn’t get along with Isshin?) Ryuuken seemed at odds with everyone, even me, although he was never actually rude. It wasn’t until I brought out the soup and people had something else to do with their mouths besides talking that the room relaxed.
Dinner went smoothly because when they’re eating, men are always comrades. One could feel the unease fall away with each course, and by the time, the cookies were served, we’d all told so many anecdotes about first pregnancies and nervous fathers that the table seemed quite satiated from the conversation.
Even though one would think I’d remember such a thing, I don’t remember exactly how it happened that the subject of a “new Quincy” came up. It was either Souken or Isshin who spoke the words. All I remember is Ryuuken became very irritated at the word Quincy.
“He won’t be a Quincy,” Ryuuken said. He lit another cigarette--that evening he smoked twice as much as he usually did.
Then it was Isshin, I’m sure, who said: “But what if the little fellow is born with the gift?”
My life would never be the same.
Isshin went on. “Will you give him to Souken?”
Ryuuken was shooting death-glares at Isshin, and I was so confused--why give away my baby? What gift?
“Ryuuken,” Souken spoke quietly. “If the child is a Quincy, it will be your obligation to teach him to use his talent. I’m too old to train another one.”
“TRAIN?” I must’ve sounded frantic because everyone turned to look at me.
“Great gods,” Isshin said. “She doesn’t know.”
“Know what?” I looked from face to face. A moment ago, I’d been the woman in charge over the passive souls of three men in a new social situation; now they were in control of me. They were members of some secret society I could never be a part of; they dangled the secrets of Life and Death before me.
I watched the men exchange glances. Ryuuken didn’t look angry anymore; he looked resigned. Isshin’s hand was over his mouth like he’d let some cat out of some bag. Souken looked, as always, like Albert Einstein. Kind-eyed, understanding. I hadn’t noticed until that moment how much older Souken looked--old enough to be Ryuuken’s grandfather.
“I think we should go, Isshin-san,” said Souken. “These two have something to discuss.”
Isshin shook his head slowly. “You never told her, huh?” His voice was soft and affectionate. “Even Masaki knows about you. You could’ve had Masaki tell her--it could’ve been a girl bonding thing.” The large man rose from his seat and smiled at me. “An excellent meal and wonderful news about the baby. It really couldn’t have been a lovelier evening.”
Ryuuken was staring at his hand that held the silver cigarette lighter. I was about to cry from frustration at this point, but Souken saved me from that humiliation.
“Before we go, dear, you must give me the list of ingredients for this stew. I recognize all the shoot vegetables, but something crunchy?”
“Peanuts,” I said numbly. “Thai peanuts. I know it’s strange….” I rose from my seat without looking at Ryuuken. “There are some other strange things I throw in for fun. Ryuuken teases me about my strange ingredients but he always eats everything I make.”
“Strange is good,” Souken said as he walked with me to get a pen and paper. “Strange can be a challenge.”
I knew that. I was still afraid, though, of whatever was in store for me.
As I leaned over the kitchen table and wrote the list of ingredients, Souken whispered, “Forgive him. He didn’t tell you because he wanted to protect you. It was a loving intent, and it will be alright.”
Which of course, it wasn’t.
How does one describe the moment reality inverts itself? Becoming pregnant was like starting life over, but it was a life in the known universe. The things Ryuuken told me that night were about an existence beyond this mortal realm.
I’d never believed in gods, I’d never believed in ghosts. Life was short and cruel, and at one point, I thought it was best spent partying. Now I thought it was best spent making beautiful things, like gardens and watercolor paintings and babies, but the attitude was the same--live now, die happy because that’s all there is.
“I didn’t want you to think you were marrying a man with a mental disease,” Ryuuken said. “What sensible woman would believe my story? I’m sorry. I should’ve trusted you.”
“And Souken….” I sat awestricken at the foot of the bed. My shoes were kicked off. Wearing shoes indoors, let alone high heels, was tiring. I didn’t know how Westerners could do it every day. “Souken still does this Hollow-killing thing?”
“Yes,” Ryuuken said.
“But….” Refusing to even consider that Souken and Ryuuken both shared the same delusion because of some genetic madness, I had allowed my worldview to flip over in the space of an hour. “Isn’t that a noble thing, then? Protecting the innocent spirits from these bad creatures?”
“Yes,” Ryuuken said. “But interfering with the natural balance of the universe is not something mortals, even Quincy, should be doing.”
“Is Isshin a Quincy too?”
“No,” Ryuuken said. He took off his tie and looked ready for bed, even though it was only seven o clock or thereabouts. “Isshin is a Shinigami.”
I closed my eyes, felt the slow impact of that sentence on my brain-cells, opened my eyes again. “A real Shinigami?”
“Yes,” Ryuuken said. “A real Shinigami.”
I didn’t get the whole story in one night; Ryuuken was wise enough to let me process the major parts first. During Ryuuken’s telling me about ghosts and Hollow, I hadn’t felt anything but shock. Later, when Ryuuken and I called it an early night and lay down to bed, the first real emotion washed over me. In Ryuuken’s arms, on the verge of sleep, I felt a rush of happiness--my baby will live forever! This child i am carrying is an eternal soul … I’d known that somehow. I’d felt it somehow. Why hadn’t I believed my own pregnant body that told me it held another soul in its belly?
Following the rush of happiness, though, came a trickle of worry. What if my baby wants to fight Hollow? A soul may live in this life and the next but it still suffers--or so I’d gathered from Ryuuken’s description of some heroic Quincy who had sacrificed their lives for the Dead.
Monster spirit teeth, humans blood….
I was glad Ryuuken didn’t want to battle monsters anymore. But would our baby?
Uryuu cried so much. More than most babies, the nurses said, and suggested burp-holds and gas-drops to remedy his colic. But Uryuu’s crying didn’t sound like pain-crying. To me, it sounded like grief and fear. He would be nursing contentedly one moment and then he would let go my breast and wail.
Colic, Ryuuken insisted. Even though the crying went on much longer than the three months colic is supposed to last. No reflux condition. Ryuuken made sure Uryuu saw the best pediatrician in Tokyo. No allergies. My eyes were sunken from so many sleepless nights of carrying around an inconsolable baby.
Well, I could console him, but it took time. I sang, even though I’d never sung before. I remembered words from childhood songs I thought I’d forgotten. Eventually, either from tiredness or my bad singing, he’d relax. The baby who’d cried himself into a state of being bright red all over would turn the natural very pale color he inherited from me and drift into a light sleep that often lasted no more than an hour.
He was sensitive to everything--subtle changes in room lighting, the colors of my clothes. He would fuss if his baby socks were too nubby and not pure wool.
He was a very challenging baby.
It was Souken, who came by every so often to watch Uryuu so I could sleep, who suggested that my son was hearing the voices of the Dead.
“You think?” It was dumb of me but I hadn’t considered the possibility. Since the trauma of finding out about Quincy and Shinigami and Hollow, Ryuuken and I had not discussed the supernatural much. When Isshin and Masaki came over with their baby (Ichigo had been born only months after Uryuu--such a darling little strawberryhead) or when Souken came with covered pans of home-cooked meals, the talk was human and baby-oriented. The Dead were flying all about us, but we were more concerned with new Life.
“Whether he’s hearing the spirits or not, you’re doing the right thing,” Souken had told me. “Just hold him. Let him know you’re there.”
Ryuuken tolerated Souken’s visits, even appreciated them because they allowed me some rest (the nanny was never hired--how could I trust a stranger with my Uryuu!), and my mother told me that grandchildren always softened men and healed family relationships.
Ryuuken was still cold with his father, but at least now I knew why. Ryuuken had wanted a real life in the human world saving the Living; Souken had “pushed” an outdated unnecessary Quincy career on his son.
“He cries around the clock,” I told Souken. “Are there that many spirits around?”
“I would think that ordinary spirits don’t bother him,” Souken said, “but spirits in fear of Hollow--that would frighten anyone, let alone a sensitive little baby.”
The idea that my son could hear Hollow monsters was one I wasn’t ready to accept. That misery being inflicted on an innocent child? No. I couldn’t bear it. Uryuu was just … a normal baby who cried often.
“Ryuuken said the Shinigami can take care of all the Hollow,” I said. I had been led to believe that a Hollow attack was a rare occurrence, like a tiger descending into a village or a bear finding a camper. I couldn’t believe that spirits cried in fear of Hollow every single day.
“The Shinigami do a good job destroying the Hollow,” Souken said. I could tell there was more, but that he didn’t want to tell it. He leaned over Uryuu and let the baby take hold of his grandfather’s pinky. “Strong grip,” Souken said, but wasn’t that what all grandfathers said of grandsons?
No, my son would never learn to handle a bow. Not if I could help it.
I asked Ryuuken that very night, shortly after calming Uryuu from a fit, if it was possible that spirit noises were disturbing our son.
Ryuuken looked angry. “Souken told you that?”
I felt afraid. “Uryuu can hear them?”
“Of course not.”
“Then why would Souken suggest--”
“He wants to train the boy,” Ryuuken said. “He doesn’t want the Quincy line to die out. He’s an old man and he doesn’t want to lose his world. What he doesn’t understand is that the world changes--cultures grow and die all the time. It’s natural. It’s part of the natural order of things.”
Uryuu was lying over my shoulder in my arms. I held him in this burp-hold through many a nap because even putting him down in his crib could wake him up. Mother wasn’t fond of the crib and called it a cruel modern invention. When I was a baby, she slept with me in the same bed; all Japanese women did. Goodness, was I spoiled. Or so I believed until I started sneaking Uryuu into the bed every now and then. He slept more contentedly there--until Ryuuken would wake up, that is, and insist in a loud voice that our son would never learn independence this way.
Independence was one of those very Western virtues that Ryuuken and I admired. But I was starting to wonder if humans weren’t meant to all rely on one another. Independence, as I remembered it from my pre-Ryuuken days, involved a lot of pain. Pain and loneliness.
“Ryuuken,” I said. My voice was very firm even though my insides were rattled by the idea that had only now come to my mind. “Can you hear the spirits?”
He looked at the floor. “Yes,” he said as if it were a shameful thing.
“You can? Are they everywhere? Are Hollows eating spirits all the time?”
“Of course not, of course not.” Ryuuken proceeded to tell me what I now recognized as a merciful lie. He had never been able to lie very well to me after that memorable dinner party. I watched his face too closely. “This is why I know our son isn’t hearing spirits,” he went on. “His crying spells don’t coincide with Hollow attacks. They don’t. He’s just a fussy, sensitive baby. Some babies are like that.”
“You can hear the Hollow attack,” I whispered. “You were born being able to hear them, and you hear them now.”
“Yes,” he said with an odd look. Sometimes my confident Ryuuken could look so vulnerable. “It’s not a horrible thing, you know. The Shinigami are taking care of the Hollow. Souls aren’t being eaten by the hundreds….”
Souls were being eaten by the hundreds.
“As a child,” I continued with sadness, “what did you tell your parents? How did they handle your … fear?”
Ryuuken didn’t say anything.
“You may as well tell me the truth,” I said. “One day Uryuu will have words and he’ll be able to tell me himself.”
“He doesn’t hear them,” Ryuuken insisted. He sat down in a chair and rubbed his brow as if extremely tired. It was morning, though--he had no reason to look this depleted. “Let’s please not continue this. There’s no reason for you to be worried for him. He doesn’t have the talent.”
It was another beautiful merciful lie, but this time I wondered if Ryuuken wasn’t telling it to himself instead of to me.
Continued in next post