_debbiechan_ (_debbiechan_) wrote in bleachness,
_debbiechan_
_debbiechan_
bleachness

New Fic "My Ryuuken," Part Two


Part One is in the previous post here.


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.

My Ryuuken
by debbiechan


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.
 




Part Two, continued from previous post.

Mother told me that the first year of parenting was the hardest; she said that it was a time when husbands felt left out, when wives should take care to pay loving attention to their husbands. I instinctively knew this, but I was always so tired. I didn’t eat well, I caught colds (Uryuu didn’t) and suffered from chronic bronchitis. When Ryuuken came home--sometimes after a double shift, sometimes after grueling surgery--we were both too tired to interact. We didn’t become strangers, persay, but there was a lack of … emotional intimacy.

Souken, interestingly enough, seemed to be taking my husband’s place as touchstone and support.

I was happy for every meal he brought over, and I selfishly left no leftovers for Ryuuken; Ryuuken said he didn’t mind, that I was a nursing mother and needed more calories, but I know he would’ve appreciated the food. I knew how to make very little beyond mackerel stew. Souken made it once in the kitchen when I had a silly craving, and his stew was better than mine. It was made of my quirky ingredients but it was far better.

That night, my Ryuuken--my Ryuuken who so appreciated music and art and beautiful things--paused in the doorway and smelled the stew. There was nothing left of the dinner but its fishy, peanut aroma. Ryuuken looked… nostalgic.

“He cooked for you when you were little?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“But I thought your mother didn’t die until a few years ago, just before you left for university.”

“Souken cooked for us often. He didn’t have to; he just liked to do it.”

When I told my mother about Souken’s wonderful cooking, her face looked relieved--even though I thought the gayness issue had been resolved.

“Oh that’s good to hear,” she said. “It runs in the family. This sort of sweet, caring womanishness.”

“Oh, I don’t know if its womanishness. The Ishidas are very strong men--they’re so strong that they don’t hesitate to be show tenderness--”

“Or wear beautiful clothes,” my mother said. “I must say that the Quincy uniform is growing on me---the fabric just shines and the stitching is so well done. It gives him a very elegant look, really.”

I wondered if Ryuuken had ever worn a white tunic and a brown cape.

“Souken sewed it himself,” I added.

“Ha,” Mother said. “I knew it! He didn’t seem like he could afford someone to tailor that many silk blend outfits. The Quincy outfit is truly beautiful.” She curled my baby’s hand around her finger the way everyone liked to do. “The Quincy men are truly beautiful too.”

I patted the back of the sleeping baby in my arms. “Yes,” I said. “Yes they are.”

-----

It was my fault that Ryuuken went back to Hollow-hunting. Somehow I’d convinced him it was his moral obligation, and because I was Gina and not an old man clinging to an outdated past, he listened to me.

It took time to convince him. Two years of pillow talk. After the first year of parenting passed and Uryuu was toddling (and repeatedly babbling “there it goes again” when he heard a Hollow roar), Ryuuken and I could not avoid talking about the Spirit World. It was such talk, in fact, that helped us recapture our emotional intimacy. Uryuu’s third year of life was one during which I felt the bonds of love and family strongly--

Maybe too strongly.

“Just because he hears them doesn’t mean he has the gift.” Although Ryuuken was still in denial about his son, his conscience was breaking down over his own identity.

Then one evening as he and I were sitting before the television (Uryuu slept in his own bed now--what freedom for me!), Ryuuken rose, went to his library and came downstairs with a small metal box. He took a chain out of it--on the end was a shining silver pentacle design exactly like the one Souken wore around his neck. Without a word, Ryuuken put the chain around his wrist, and he didn’t take it off again.

I knew better than to question him about it.

The following night, during the late evening news, Ryuuken rose and excused himself.

“Where are you going?”

“To reclaim my Quincy heritage.”

I didn’t know whether to feel proud or terrified. I felt both, I suppose. I sat barely breathing until he came back. He didn’t take long--the news program was ending and its credits were rolling.

“Did you--?”

Ryuuken smiled a little and let out a little snort of self-satisfaction. “Like riding a bike,” he said. “Like riding a bike.”

He didn’t tell Souken about it, but of course Souken knew--Ryuuken told me that Quincy could detect subtle changes in spiritual power, and that Souken knew whenever Ryuuken left his family to kill a Hollow.

He never didn’t kill one, as frightened as I was every time that he left. He always came back.

He only killed when he wasn’t at work or on call at the hospital.

Ryuuken told me that would not leave his job or a patient to assume his Quincy duty--he was sworn to uphold his role as a healer by the codes of Hippocrates, Amatus, Maimonides and the Japanese Medical Board of Ethics. A principled man, my Ryuuken nonetheless couldn’t see the hypocrisy of leaving home and family for this Hollow-hunting. He wasn’t pursuing a casual hobby; he was endangering his life every time he left a family dinner or rose from our bed to answer what I, in all foolishness, had convinced him was his right and heritage.

I thought it was weak and silly of me to be so afraid for him when he was, after all, only doing what I had begged him to do and he seemed the happier man for being a part-time Quincy. Then a perfectly good reason for my wanting him to stop found its way to me.

Ryuuken had told me another lie, you see, and it was through Isshin that I discovered what a Quincy truly does to a Hollow.

“No, no,” Isshin had said once. “I don’t purge souls anymore.”

Isshin and I saw one another infrequently now. The Kurosakis had moved to an outer district of Tokyo and Isshin had started his own medical clinic. Masaki had given birth to twin girls, and Isshin came by one day, both babies in tow, to show them off to me.

“Purging souls?” I hadn’t heard the term before. Ryuuken had explained that Hollow and Shinigami both destroy Hollow.

“You know, making the Hollows pure souls again so they can re-enter the cycle of reincarnation.” Isshin spoke with mock pride. “That’s not my job anymore. I’m retired.” He rocked the stroller in which his two six-month old lovelies sat, heads fallen against their chests, fast asleep. “I don’t know anything about Shinigami surveillance of Quincy, if that’s what you’re getting at. It’s all for show, I’m sure. There are only two Quincy operating on Shinigami turf now and the higher-ups don’t consider your Ishida men a threat to the balance of the universe.”

I knew that there had been some intense competition between Shinigami and Quincy once as to which group should operate where. Ryuuken said the death gods had always been very possessive of their role. They didn’t want Quincy helping them out beyond the districts where Quincy lived.

Isshin gave me a kind look. “You needn’t worry that Shinigami will come killing Quincy again. I mean, look at me--do I look like the sort of fellow who could take out Ryuuken? You man is in much better shape--and he’s fast too.” Isshin rocked the stroller. “Damn fast Quincy. I wonder if they were all like that.”

Killing Quincy again? My expression must’ve told Isshin that he’d let something slip.

“Shit,” said Isshin. He smacked his forehead. “Ryuuken really acts like the big protector man, doesn’t he? He never told you the sad tale of the Quincy?”

“You tell me. Please, Isshin.”

“I can’t. Ryuuken might--it’s not right, Gina.”

Isshin could only hold off my pleas for so long. Then he told me I’d get the story anyway from Ryuuken when the doctor returned from work, so what difference would an hour make?

“I’ll get blamed for squealing either way, so I may as we tell you.”

Quincy arrows destroy souls. Completely obliterate them from existence. This is why the Shinigami had taken offense at the Quincy doing what was a Shinigami’s job. This is why the Shinigami slaughtered the Quincy en masse two hundred years ago. This is why there were only two (three?) Quincy left in the world. This was why Souken had wanted to preserve the Quincy culture; he’d believed that Quincy and Shinigami could cooperate. He believed that the Shinigami had acted wrongly in destroying the Quincy.

But had they? Quincy destroyed souls. It was a horrible concept. Hollow had once been human; their sins could be cleansed, and here my beloved kind-eyed Souken and my Ryuuken, the love of my life, were destroying souls.

Quincy, Isshin told me, means destroyer.

-----

I didn’t expect him to object so strongly to my wanting him to quit Hollow-hunting. He and I rarely argued; most disagreements ended with rational compromises because Ryuuken and I were sensible people.

Isshin left before Ryuuken came home, because he didn’t want to witness the “volcano erupting.” I didn’t know if he was referring to Ryuuken or me. Neither my husband nor I were volcano-material. I tended to be womanish and emotional and teary at times, especially as I started to fear more and more that my husband would die from a Hollow attack, but I didn’t carry on hysterically. Ryuuken, as long as I’d known him, had never outright lost his temper.

“No, Gina,” Ryuuken told me firmly. “You can’t ask this of me now.”

“But--”

“NO!” The force of the word completely unstrung me. Had I ever heard him shout? We’d been married nearly five years.

I cried. I felt like he was belittling me. I had the power of a righteous argument on my side, though. Right away I played my “you betrayed me” card and said, “You knew I wouldn’t agree to your doing this if I knew the whole story.”

“Yes,” Ryuuken said. “Yes. But you’re not a Quincy--how could you ever understand?”

I felt like he was insulting me and he noticed, so he tempered his words,

“You’re an intelligent woman,” he said. “How could you not see what hundreds of years of Quincy counsel couldn’t see---that Quincy pride could destroy the universe? But only Souken and I are left. There’s no way the two of us could ever slaughter enough Hollow to make a dent in the balance of things.”

Tears were pouring freely down my face. “But Ryuuken--being a Quincy is about destroying souls.”

He shouted again. “Being a Quincy is about saving souls!” Was this man the one Isshin had known; was this passionate person the Quincy I’d never known until now?

“Tell me, Gina.” He wasn’t out of control but he was ablaze with something like a cool fire--a silvery fire. “Tell me--if a Hollow came through the walls right now, attracted by the reiatsu of our son--”

“Reiatsu?”

“Isshin didn’t tell you? Hollow like to eat those with strong spiritual power. They fed on Quincy for generations.”

The Quincy had become Hollow-killers out of a sense of revenge? This idea didn’t fit with my picture of a compassionate, loving Souken.

“If a Hollow were about to eat our son’s soul, Gina--wouldn’t you want me to save him? Whenever I save a soul from a Hollow, I am saving Uryuu. An innocent. Someone who isn’t bitter and lost like a Hollow. A soul who deserves to be born again.”

I stopped at the argument. My husband was telling me that souls that had become Hollow didn’t deserve to be reborn. My husband was playing God--they say doctors do that, but my husband wasn’t deciding matters of Life and Death here. He was judging the fates of those in the afterlife.

Being pregnant is like being born again
, I remembered. Every Hollow had once been a soul--a soul that spoke to his mother’s body the way Uryuu had spoken to mine. There is life, there is eternity, there is hope.

“Of course I’d want you to save Uryuu,” I said. “But I’d also want the Shinigami to do that job before you.”

“They don’t always come in time,” Ryuuken said.

I had one last argument.

“Tell me, every time you destroy a soul, doesn’t it feel like you’ve destroyed a part of your own soul as well? How will Quincy be judged in the afterlife? Do you know for a fact that Quincy who kill will be purged of sin, that they will be allowed back into the cycle of reincarnation?”

“Yes,” he said, surprising me. “Quincy souls were often reborn in the same tribes. Their spiritual power sought its own kind. That fact was part of our religion. It was what I was taught as a young child, and it’s what I have to believe now--otherwise, as you say, I’m a dead soul walking.”

“It doesn’t hurt you to destroy?” I went on. I knew I was grasping. I sat on the couch and sobbed while Ryuuken looked at me coldly--had he ever looked at me without sympathy? “You say you are saving Uryuu when you save a soul? But isn’t there something else you need to save your son from? The pain? He’s so sensitive; he’s so good. He’s like you, Ryuuken, and he’ll grow up to be an ethical, intelligent man. This is a boy who won’t kill a worm in the garden--”

“Are you saying I should spare my son from simple reality that Hollow exist, death happens, that destruction happens? I can’t spare him from that, Gina. No one can.”

“Tell me that it doesn’t hurt you when you destroy,” I challenged.

“It doesn’t,” Ryuuken said.

Another beautiful lie.

-----

Ryuuken and I would argue again. I knew our son could not be a destroyer; he was a creator, a person with a deep artistic spirit like Ryuuken’s. Every few weeks, after watching Uryuu stacking blocks or tearing cabbage for soup with his grandfather, I’d be stirred to confront Ryuuken again.

His answer was always the same: “You can’t ask this of me now.”

“Let the Shinigami do their job, Ryuuken.”

“You sound like one of them.”

“I trust them,” I said. “Yes, they can mess up, but why shouldn’t I trust them the way I put faith in the fire department or the police? If a Hollow came for you or Souken or Uryuu, I have to trust that they would come in time to save you.”

“I don’t need to be saved, Gina,” Ryuuken would say.

How could I fight what appeared to be a matter of pure pride?

How could Ryuuken be a busy doctor, a family man, and a Hollow-killer in one lifetime? I watched him try to balance his life, and it was like he was trying, as the Shinigami did, to balance the universe. He couldn’t find the most comfortable equilibrium, but like long-ago Quincy clans trying to justify their forays into the supernatural, he went on with his prideful, valiant efforts.

Ryuuken seemed less kind than his former self. He often looked as hard and determined as he had when preparing for an exam or entering the surgery room--only harder and even more determined.

I felt stressed. I was sick almost all the time. The doctors said it was asthma, and I carried around an inhaler. I felt weak and sad but I hadn’t given up on changing my husband’s mind.

I started to believe that the only thing that would stop Ryuuken’s Hollow-killing would be his death.

Souken didn’t alleviate my fears. I would sob, wheezing over meals he’d prepared, and he would rub my back until my sobs quieted, but he never made me feel better. He said that Ryuuken had been struggling with his identity all his life--with an instinctual need to protect that he found fulfilled in medicine--but there was no turning away from his life’s duty. For what reason had humans developed their Quincy powers? Were these powers, like an appendix in a human body--so purposeless and meaningless that they could be cut out of humanity easily?

Yes, I thought. Yes. There are only two of you left. Just stop being Quincy.

All I wanted was to save my son pain. If it were only Souken who lived as a Quincy then maybe Uryuu could make the choice to live as a normal human. But if his father--?

I saw Uryuu as a young man trying to live up to his father’s expectations. I saw the pain in my son’s eyes before he let go that first arrow into the suffering soul that was a Hollow’s soul.

My gentle Uryuu.

Never.
Not if I could help it. I was his mother, and it was my job to save him from that cruel future.

-----


My illness, in a way, came as a gift. It hurt me, Ryuuken, and Uryuu, but it gave me some leverage against Ryuuken’s resolve. He would leave to fight a Hollow and come back to find me gasping for air against the couch, blood streaming from my nose. I could see in his eyes that he was sorry for abandoning me, but he didn’t stop fighting Hollow.

“’Kasan,” my little Uryuu would say in his bell-like voice. “’Kasan, why are you crying?”

I told him that breathing hurt--it was like when he had a stomach virus. It hurt and Uryuu cried but the medicine made him better. The asthma medicine made ’Kasan better too.

“’Tousan will fix you,” my little Uryuu would say and take my hand. He indeed had a strong grip for a little boy--even when he was trying to be gentle. “’Tousan is a doctor and he can fix anybody.”

“Yes,” I lied. “Of course he can.”

I got worse. I thought that Ryuuken’s concern for me wasn’t worsening along with my symptoms, but one evening when I was hacking blood and spit into the kitchen sink, he said “Asthma, my ass.”

Against my protestations, he called an ambulance.

There were tests. I was in the hospital for days. Ryuuken didn’t leave me--he slept on a cot in my room. Souken took care of Uryuu.

One by one the tests confirmed the truth.

I had stage two cancer in both lungs. It was four in the afternoon, and Ryuuken and I had been watching a comedy on the television in my hospital room. The doctor came in, and I knew that from Ryuuken’s expression, not my attending doctor’s, that the news was bad.

The doctor said that the cancer had probably spread to other organs.

My chances of surviving the next five years were under ten percent.

-----

Ryuuken wasn’t an oncologist. Still, he blamed himself for not recognizing my symptoms earlier. Never a slim woman, I’d been losing weight steadily for the past year. I’d blamed that on Souken’s nutritious vegetable stews, and I’d been grateful that I wasn’t eating the vending machine sort of junk food that had sustained me all through college. I liked my slimmer body; Ryuuken as always had lied to me and insisted I was beautiful, but after the cancer diagnosis, in his grief, he blurted out, “You were so round and luscious once. You were a healthy woman. Now look at you--a skeleton. You walked around like a skeleton for a year and I didn’t suspect a thing.”

Not even wincing at being called a skeleton, I tried to console him. “The doctors said it was asthma. You took me to the best doctors.”

“Because I myself thought it was asthma,” he said, “I took you to allergy and asthma specialists.”

“The pulmonary specialist--he never questioned the diagnosis.”

“He hadn’t known you the way you were before. He didn’t know that you could work two hours in the garden, then nurse a baby, then clean the house, then cook a meal, then make love like….” Ryuuken didn’t cry. He looked out the window at tree branches swaying in monsoon weather. It rained every afternoon during my first stay in the hospital.

I didn’t tell Ryuuken that during the time he described. I wasn’t a superwoman at all. I’d been exhausted. I thought that was the natural state of motherhood. My Ryuuken--he really hadn’t noticed, had he?

“What do we do now?” I asked weakly. “They said for me to put my affairs in order. What the hell does that mean?”

“It means they think you’re going to die,” Ryuuken said. He set his jaw and that Quincy look of fire and ice came to his eyes. He was such a handsome man, my Ryuuken, and he’d been married to a wilting scarecrow for the past year. “You’re not going to die.”

“But--”

“I’m not going to let you die.”

It was then, that in all my scheming selfishness, I realized I had him where I wanted him. He was sworn to heal the sick. He wouldn’t chase Hollow when I needed him.

And best of all….

Oh best of all, I thought, I could get him to stop be a Quincy. For what man could refuse the last request of his dying wife?

----

I bade my time. I came to bear the pain as the price for saving my family. I would, with drama and tears, give Ryuuken my last request at the proper moment and there--he and Uryuu would be saved. Souken--let the Quincy line die with him. The good man was Quincy through and through and there was no changing him.

Lung cancer was a disease that was only recently coming to be recognized as an avoidable, self-inflicted one. Smokers got lung cancer; smokers deserved no sympathy. The “Live Healthy” movement was at its apex in Japan. Doing anything that endangered your body was to young people as it had been to previous generations--a grievous sin.

I had smoked for nearly four years of my young life. I quit shortly after I became pregnant with Uryuu. Ryuuken quit too. We were still smokers in our souls, though. We would stroll with the baby carriage past the college apartments and we would find ourselves leaning towards the aroma of cigarettes. Clove cigarettes were popular then--they smelled like candy. I inhaled their smoke along with the perfume of spring flowers.

During my illness, there were times that I was well enough to go for short walks. I would hold Ryuuken’s arm and look over my fifty-acre garden that was now completely in the hands of landscape architects. The garden was cleaner, more pristine, more balanced and Buddhist than when I had been in charge of it, but I missed getting mud under my fingernails and sweating while pulling weeds.

I could still paint, even when I could scarcely breathe. I had started to do portraits. They weren’t very good--my forte had always been landscapes and abstracts--but I wanted to capture my family the way photographs couldn’t. I sketched Uryuu over and over. I had always been aware of how much he looked like his father but sketching him, I learned exactly how much. The strong jaw, the prominent nostrils and cheekbones, the almond-shaped eyes. Big-knuckled hands, long legs disproportionate to his torso. Even Uryuu’s toes and the curves of his ear were identical to Ryuuken’s. The boy had my deep black hair, a shade deeper than Ryuuken’s black hair, and he had my pale skin and blue eyes.
He was striking, like his father, but those clear eyes, that pale skin--he looked more vulnerable somehow.

My greatest pain, even as I choked on my own blood, unable to swallow the morphine pills that would take a little of the body’s weight away, was that I would not be there to look after Uryuu for much longer.

How does one tell a little boy that his mother is leaving him? Forever?

I didn’t tell him. I understood the profound necessity of beautiful, merciful lies.

“I’ll get better, Uryuu.”

“I read about lung cancer in the encyclopaedia, ’Kasan.” Uryuu’s blue eyes were frightened--his father’s eyes never seemed frightened for me. Ryuuken still believed that I was going to survive. “People die from it. But you won’t, will you?”

“I won’t die, Uryuu.”

He was only four and he could read from his father’s encyclopaedias. I wasn’t at all surprised. Uryuu hadn’t gone to school yet--unlike most Japanese children he wasn’t enrolled in an early learning program. He had this year, maybe the next, with me, and it wasn’t going to be spent reciting math facts and drawing hiragana.

“He needs to learn to be independent,” Ryuuken would always say. He hadn’t given up trying to convince me of that. He thought I coddled Uryuu too much. The world was a hard place, Ryuuken insisted. Hollows ate souls. Diseases ate the internal organs of the people you loved.

Yet here was Ryuuken coddling his own conscience. He checked medical journals out of the library every day. Why, I didn’t ask. Maybe he was trying to find a cure for me through reading alone. I knew how guilty the poor man felt. Even though he had been the one who insisted I quit smoking, he had encouraged the stupid habit during our early years. “Another cancer stick, dear?” he had joked, offering me a cigarette from his pack. He would light my cigarettes with his silver lighter and I had remarked more than once about what a sexy gesture that was.

I know how I would feel were I in his shoes. A medical doctor. He should’ve known better.

He still didn’t know better. One afternoon Uryuu told me that he’d caught ’Tousan smoking.

I couldn’t believe it.

I yelled at him when I saw him. I yelled even though my face and throat hurt from the yelling. The cancer had reached parts of my nasal passages and the tissue had recently been removed.

“Are you trying to kill yourself, Ryuuken? Do you think that’s the way to fix your guilt? Aren’t you even thinking about Uryuu?”

Apparently he wasn’t anymore. Ryuuken seemed to be distancing himself from his son--it was an odd phenomenon and I couldn’t figure out the psychology behind it.

“You’re one to talk about killing yourself,” Ryuuken said. “You’re giving up the chemotherapy.”

“I’m dying,” I told him. “I don’t want to be bald and puking my last days--is that so wrong? Every other part of my body hurts as it is.”

“Stop that,” Ryuuken said. “The last surgery removed all the metastasis of the cancer from your colon. All of it.”

“Ryuuken, it will come back. you know that. And even if it didn’t, I’m still going to die from what’s in my chest and esophagus.”

“Your attitude has to change,” he said. “There’s compelling evidence that shows that a patient’s outlook can affect medical outcomes.”

I sighed. It even hurt to sigh. “Why are you smoking again?”

He fiddled with his tie, trying to straighten it but messing it up more so he pulled it off. He sat on the edge of the bed. “Souken brought you some pudding. You were sleeping so he didn’t stay. I put the stuff in the refrigerator so it’s perfectly cold if you want it now.”

Cold pudding that didn’t hurt my throat. The stuff reminded me of the way Ryuuken treated me---icy but soft. As if he were my own doctor, not my husband.

“You didn’t answer me.”

“Do you want some pain medicine before you eat again?”

“Ryuuken.”

“At least I’m not drinking, alright? Smoking was a nervous habit for me the way it wasn’t for you. It alleviates stress. Do you want a stressed partner in this? I can’t help you if I fall apart.”

The very idea of Ryuuken falling apart changed the way I saw my illness. The cancer was not only ripping through my own body, it had a destructive hold on the man I loved. Ryuuken wasn’t the sort of person who fell apart. Until that moment, I hadn’t believed that my illness could threaten his control of body and soul.

“Promise me then,” I said quietly. “Promise that after I’m dead you’ll quit the cigarettes.”

“You’re not going to--”

“Alright, IF and when I die, you idiot, will you give up smoking?”

“Yes.”

I glared at him because I wanted a stronger response.

“I promise,” he said.

-----

I planned to ask Ryuuken to quit being a Quincy before I lost the ability to talk. As it was, in my last days, I had to take off the oxygen mask in order to talk, and as such, I couldn’t last a few sentences without collapsing into coughing.

I don’t know why I waited so long. Maybe I had been hoping he would quit on his own. Not once had he left me to answer a spirit cry and to kill a Hollow. But Uryuu told me that when his father was asleep on the couch in the late evening, sometimes he would get up, disappear and not come back for a while.

“It doesn’t scare me to be alone,” Uryuu said. He was immediately concerned about my being concerned. “I’m very brave. Sensei said so.”

Sensei?

It had already begun. Souken was training the boy.

“Why do you call your grandfather Sensei now?”

“He’s teaching me to make dinner and sew clothes. He said that’s what Sensei do. Yesterday he let me cut up the fish with a real knife.”

I tried not to think about my little boy handling a kitchen knife and smiled at Uryuu. I took off the mask long enough to say, “Your stew is better than mine, I’m sure.”

“I don’t know,” Uryuu said in all innocence and wore a very serious expression. “I put in all the ingredients you have in your recipe but it never comes out tasting the same.”

-----

I was in the hospital for Uryuu’s fifth birthday and this really hurt. Ryuuken and I had always followed the Western tradition of party hats and cake. It was a happy tradition. And there was nothing more important I’d done in all my life than bringing Uryuu into the world on a rainy day. I wanted to celebrate his birth as I was dying.

I was sad, but even through my sadness, I was calculating. Today would be the perfect day. Ryuuken knew how upset I was about missing Uryuu’s birthday.

“He isn’t even having a party, ”I told Ryuuken. “How can he make friends when he’s not in school?”

“I told you we should’ve sent him to school.” Ryuuken was given to hard jokes like these lately. He sat on my bed. “Uryuu doesn’t know better. All his last birthday parties were just the three of us. Today, well… because I’m not there, and you’re not there, I thought I’d invite Isshin and his crew over. The man can be very entertaining when he wants to be. I’m sure Uryuu will have a great time today.”

I was so happy. The idea hadn’t occurred to me. I’d asked Souken to make a cherry cake but other than that, there had been no plans for a party.

“Wait a minute,” I said, smiling. “That Ichigo of theirs will tear up my plants. The last time the Kurosakis were here, he pulled out every single row of my Hime lilies.”

“He was small then,” Ryuuken said. “He’s five now.”

The skies outside the hospital window were gray and November-dark. For some reason I wanted it to rain. Rain made Ryuuken remember the day I found out I was pregnant. Rain blew away the fallen leaves or sunk them deep into the ground. Rain fed the plants and cleared the air.

I wanted to say all this to Ryuuken but I didn’t have the breath. I decided to be straight to the point. I took off the mask again.

“After I die, you must stop being a Quincy. After I die, there must be no more Hollow killing and soul-destroying.” I took a deep breath, not for lack of oxygen but for lack of courage. Ryuuken’s face looked unmoved. “Please, Ryuuken. For Uryuu’s sake. For mine.”

He did not have the look of a man who had just heard his dying wife’s last wish.

“You’re not going to die,” he said.

-----


Until one finds a group of people who will accept you as family, there isn’t much to do in Soul Society but walk around.

Children have chores like fetching wellwater; old spirits sat on bridges and fish. I tried to find some art materials but had no luck. Finally, someone gave me this little journal and a pen and said, “I’m too busy these days. I don’t have time for reminisces.”

For now, there is nothing to fill Death but my memories of Life. If I weren’t so deathly bored, I might be sad.

But I’m not sad.

When I died, I wanted to stay with my little boy. The longing was so strong that it hurt my spirit throat and my spirit heart, even though every other pain from the cancer had left. I wanted to drift out the hospital window, over rooftops, towards his bedroom with the butterfly wallpaper.

I write. I remember. I wonder if one day bored, new arrivals will like to read my story.

Butterfly wallpaper. Uryuu picked it out himself, and I’d been so proud of Ryuuken who, unlike other fathers, didn’t try to steer his son towards a more masculine choice.

During my last spell of illness I’d wanted to overdose but Ryuuken wouldn’t hear of it, and I don’t blame him--he took an oath. It wasn’t the pain so much that made me want to die, it was having to watch Ryuuken watch me suffer.

I didn’t see Uryuu all this time, and I missed him, so the first thing I wanted to do when I died was see my little boy. Didn’t I have the right to say goodbye?

But then I considered that if I saw his sleeping face, the one so much like Ryuuken’s even though it was a child’s round face, I would never be able to leave. I would become a Hollow, full of bitterness and longing. I would grow to hate a system that took me away from my life’s joy, from Uryuu who needed me, from Ryuuken who needed to be needed.

A Hollow, a creature that threatened other souls. A Hollow with a soul Ryuuken believed worthy of annihilation.

I hovered over my bed and waited for the Shinigami. I would be a practical ghost and try not to think of missing Life. I was prepared to wait a long time, but the Shinigami found me quickly, before the nurses could walk down the hall at the sound of the alarm. The alarm told them that either my monitors had fallen off again or that I was dead, but it went off all the time, and soon not even Ryuuken jumped at the sound of it.

He didn’t wake up.

The last thing I saw in the Realm of the Living was the back of my husband’s head. There were so many new sparkling silver hairs among the black ones. Did I give him those gray hairs? He lay, his upper torso across my bed, his lower body in a chair. His hand held my body’s hand.

Yes, I probably did give him those gray hairs--he hadn’t had that many before my diagnosis. But I gave that man all my love and I gave him Uryuu, so my life had been one well spent.

The Shinigami stamped me between the eyes and now here I am.

Winds blow dust across the streets of the Rukongai, but when the air is still, the grasses and plants look very vibrant green. As vibrant as my garden and speaking of hope. Everyone here hopes to be reunited with loved ones eventually. No one seems to be, but they tell me no spirit has ever given up trying.

Did Ryuuken keep his promise? I don’t know. In my last days I watched him struggle against the plain fact that I was dying. He probably didn’t have room in his mind for another struggle--the one between his heritage and what I wanted him to give up.

He had to have made the right choice. It was a choice between a long-gone people and me. I hope he chose me. If only for Uryuu’s sake, I hope he chose me.


END


Tags: chibi uryuu, ishida, my ryuuken, ryuuken, souken
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