Antithesis of Happiness
For mizulily, my last little ray of light in a stormy fandom
Thank you to nehalenia for being the best editor over the years
Forgive the long intro; I’m still stuck in the 90s when ficcers wrote such things and this may be my last Bleach piece.
This short piece is based on an idea given to me by jimachan to explain Uryuu Ishida’s treatment in the bizarre last chapter of the manga Bleach (rights belong to Kubo Tite, Shueisha, and World Shonen Jump), and it draws on Yhwach’s canon characterization, particularly his origin story in chapter 565. It was written as part of my recovery from disappointment in a manga I loved profoundly for thirteen years. Bleach went off the tracks in its last arc, despite some lovely moments, and gave thousands of fans an ending with dozens of plotholes, contradictions, inexplicable retcons and shocks that can’t be addressed in one fic; I only wanted to write this one fic for the sake of my most beloved character of all time.
Kubo drew his last color page with a gang of old friends relaxing in the spirit of camaraderie and happiness but drew Ishida Uryuu facing away from the audience, showing only the back of his head. Ishida Uryuu had previously given the nakama speech of all time, saying he was happy to be counted among those who did foolish things for the sake of others. He did it all “for the sake of his friends.” He had joined the enemy willing to let his friends believe he was a traitor with the intent of sacrificing himself for all humanity, and yet why did Kubo not make the tiniest effort to show him turned around, arm on the sofa, smiling with said friends? Later in the final chapter he is shown, alone on the roof, not joining his friends at a party, despite having the skills to meet them at the speed of hirenkyaku. As my friend put it, “Going from a prickly, tsundere loner to part of a group of friends, going from hating Shinigami to working with them, even trying to save them, and going from an adversarial, rival relationship with Ichigo to one of mutual respect and affection – that was what was important for the character of Ishida Uryuu. And that’s the outcome that should have been shown.” Why wasn’t it? In keeping with Kubo’s canon story, here is one answer.
Bonus points if you recognize digs at Kubo; I believe he put ones less subtle at his own audience in his own story.
They need Me.
I need them.
One day there will be no more need.
God was born in helplessness, and as the people touched the baby and felt their suffering diminished, He helped them without wanting to. He understood that He was blind and powerless. He knew all about the ribbons of time and possibilities that swathed him; He would change the universe for He would become the Almighty.
A creator, a being with the power to invest his own soul into his others and to take back those souls at will, should be able to feel the grief, longing, and fear of his subjects. This idea was known to philosophers of many worlds, to humans and spirits alike, and so it was of course known to most gods. Yet Yhwach, from the time His infant body was held high by those who worshipped Him and were healed by touching Him, did not feel anything. His senses were dead.
He regained senses with detachment. The smell of corpses burning, the sound of lovers panting, the vertigo of hope, the sight of one future after another. Then one moment a slash of light fell across his heart.
Oh this is fear. The baby Quincy reached out for his mother’s breast and the fear disappeared.
As He created more Quincy, their suffering became clearer to Him. He knew the feeling as a jewel of knowledge and sought to acquire more of these glistening, peculiar facts in the rivers of omniscience. Doubt, humiliation. The work that those who were less than divine did to acquire power was so painful that even though Yhwach had to squint to see these tiny people as they grunted for a sense of purpose, He felt their fear of Death.
Death was nothing; he already knew that. The ribbons of time spooled into so many alternate futures that Death had no meaning, but the fear of it was immense in His creations. He hardened His heart against their fear. He found one talented Quincy clutching a holy book on a bed of pain and bestowed upon this poor man his inherent gift to magnify fear. Use everything--for the worlds are in My palm. I will build and destroy. I am the Almighty. I am the Almighty.
Yhwach was fully awake; there was nothing He could not see. He saw every future. Like many gods, He needed to rest, and He had found his other half, a Quincy who would hold the power of the Almighty while He slept. Jugram Haschwalth’s purpose had been sensed quickly as Yhwach’s horse had approached the boy; as Yhwach’s clarity had sharpened, Haschwalth grew into a man with one destiny—to live and die for a leader. Right now Haschwalth was a crucial component in Yhwach’s plans; one day there would be no need for needs. Destroying everything was simple work; there were so many paths to the goal that it was only a matter of choosing which one was more amusing. He never smiled but his heart had taken back so many Quincy souls that their laughter sometimes rang in His heart.
The day the Quincy boy named Ishida Uryuu appeared, Yhwach felt joy. Because Yhwach had superior surveillance among his army besides a lifetime of acquired Quincy lore, He knew about the boy who had survived the Great Holy Selection, but there was one thing Yhwach did not know: how? He had sent for Ishida Uryuu, but he had not sensed the boy’s arrival near the palace. One does not survive Auswahlen without being possessed of a special gift. The boy walked into the presence of the Sternritter with the confidence of a god and requested entrance into Yhwach’s army.
“Your Majesty, I believe there is someone here You should meet,” Haschwalth had said.
Yhwach was blind again. The newness of the feeling was riveting. He could not sense the boy’s future. He could not see anything, not Uryuu’s motives, only his face. He was young, as beautiful as Haschwalth and like Haschwalth held himself with a distinct politeness that did not inspire fear or loathing; he was not even a pure Quincy from the smell of his blood, but a Gemischt who should have perished in the Auswahlen.
Use everything--for the worlds are in My palm. I will build and destroy. I am the Almighty. I am the Almighty.
When Ishida Uryuu was inducted by ritual into the Sternritter and drank the blood of God, the boy’s manifest powers were known to Yhwach. The boy had the same shrift as Yhwach, A. He was everything Yhwach was not. Antithesis. What meaning was this? The boy was divine. Surely in a new world, one without need and fear, a new leader would reign. Yhwach knew was that sleep would come again to Him, the Almighty, and that it would be an eternal sleep; such a thing was foretold in all the rivers of time. This strange boy would replace Haschwalth; in the meantime, Uryuu was deemed a prince. Yhwach told his followers only that much. He did not tell the rows of bewildered soldiers that He only guessed and did not see for certain that Ishida Uryuu would God’s successor. Let them envy and quarrel and speculate; such are the past-times of fools.
Haschwalth mistrusted Uryuu; that was to be expected.
Uryuu entered His Majesty’s quarters at night and quarreled with Haschwalth; that was to be expected too. It was amusing. Yhwach could see in his dreams the blue-green eyes of Haschwalth flashing with ire and the darker blue eyes of the prince intense with something like fear. He is young. He doesn’t understand his own strength. I was that way once. It takes years, it takes the lifetimes of fools to become fully awake. Fools believe they find their purpose in sculpting tiny trees, giving bread to the hungry, carving statues to commemorate battles won--statues that the years will turn to ash just as their own bodies will feed the worms and as their own souls will be lost to the enormity of their own fear.
Yhwach could not sense the comings and goings of Ishida Uryuu in the war. It was no matter. Yhwach had already defeated Yamamoto and absorbed the Soul King. These victories had been foretold; these victories were inevitable on many paths and on the paths where these things did not happen, all Yhwach had to do was decide not to go those ways. Only a fool would build a statue to honor a battle won; God could erase the battle and reclaim the souls who fought it and remake the world. That is how little defeating the Captain Commander of the Shinigami or eating the Soul King meant; Yhwach was the Almighty.
Almighty, Almighty, I don’t have to use anything anymore. What is left but to mock their fear for it will be nothing in the end, for it is all nothing ….
Kurosaki Ichigo and his persistent friends were amusing. The power to go back into the past was nothing, as was the power to reject reality, because the Almighty could go into the future and break it all, reset from zero, shatter everything. Their persistence was intriguing, even after his warning that if they dared follow him, he would find them in their happiest moment in the future and smite them there.
Where is their fear? They are made of fear of the future, all of them. The fear that their happiness will be shattered—that is the greatest fear of all fools—and still they come. What fools.
Come if you must. You must know what will happen. You’ve built cities and raised families with this fear. and you’ve destroyed the very same in the name of that fear. Fools, fools, you deserve to die in the lap of joy, dumb to the inevitable, then swatted like pests.
Come after me.
This is something I’ve seen over and over in the ribbons of time—the urge to self-destruct, to take down not only themselves but everything they’ve built with love and dedication around them. These impulses have names—suicide and genocide, terrorism and martyrdom. Unless one is GOD, these actions are tantrums of foolishness. Only a creator like the Almighty can recreate.
Yes, He would go to slay them in the future, at their happiest, as he promised.
When the silver arrowhead pierced his heart he had not seen it coming. Right away he knew the source.
The slash of light felt like grief and it paralyzed his powers. He knew it would not kill Him or reshape His destiny, but the pain was unbearable. In the seconds his heart held the suffering of the Holy Selection, he saw a man with silver hair bowed over a dying woman, a pure Quincy holding the hand of a Gemischt. The woman he knew, for her tears for her family had long been in his soul with the constant downpour of other Quincy tears. The man he did not know—how had he stayed hidden on Earth? The man spoke in resolute voice. “I will protect him, Kanae. He will never join the Quincy. I can’t swear on my own heart because it isn’t what it could be. I swear on yours which is pure. Our son will never be one of them.” He was the father of Ishida Uryuu. Yhwach grabbed all of Ishida Ryuuken’s futures with his foresight and saw so few because Uryuu, the blind spot, was missing. The shock doubled his pain. Just another moment and I’ll be free. I will find them at their happiest moment and I will kill them all, even Ishida Uryuu. I cannot be tricked. I am the Almighty.
Yhwach saw Ishida Uryuu turn his eyes away in fear, understanding the truth: there’s not enough time.
Yhwach scanned the universes for a future in which Ishida Uryuu was at his happiest with his friends, but he could not see one. No future. None. No—this boy had to be the one to pinpoint, his death had to be specific. Find him at his happiest, find him laughing with his friends.
The grip of suffering around Yhwach’s heart released. Kurosaki Ichigo’s blade cracked under Yhwach’s grasp. You are a fool. You die now.
When Yhwach entered the future timeline he had chosen, His body traveled in pure fluid vision and He saw them all, laughing, proud, content, bragging about their peace. He looked for Ishida Uryuu and saw the antithesis of happiness—why the forlorn face? Uryuu took his phone out of his pocket and smiled faintly at a video he was watching. Still a young man, only ten years older, wearing a lab coat, the wind in his hair, alone on a roof. Why was it that now Yhwach could read the Uyruu’s heart? It was sad. Despite the smile on the face, Uryuu’s loneliness was as vast as this particular timeline. He would live a long life, missing his mother, missing his grandfather, regretting not trying to understand his father sooner, feeling loss and uneasiness over a woman and … was this fool supposed to be the successor of the Quincy King?
Uryuu was ashamed of his own weaknesses. Uryuu had said too many times: “I’m sorry to say no again. I’m so busy.” A piece of silver in Yhwach’s own lost heart called out to the boy and Yhwach felt again that lurch of souls he sometimes felt when bloated with his own creations. Fine, kill him in his despair. It’s no matter. Kill them all.
At that moment the blade swung down.
God had made a mistake. Yhwach realized that during one night’s sleep, Haschwalth had sent him a dream about Ichigo coming to kill Him with his old unwieldy sword, and Yhwach had dismissed and misinterpreted that foreknowledge. God had never allowed others to advise him—why would God do that? Yhwach laughed at this failing, and He took a long time to die. His senses faded one by one, as words were spoken at him. He could not hear the words Aizen spoke. He became deaf. He did not learn anything new as he died. He had known this time would come. He simply closed his eyes, never to open them again.
In the timeline that happened after Yhwach’s demise, Ishida Uryuu took one step towards the happiness lying before him in so many futures that the Almighty had not seen. Ishida Uryuu was indeed special, as were many of his friends, given to good fortune and righteous choices as are many of those gifted with talent and compassion. Like many, he fell to freak accidents or lost opportunities in some timelines, but in this one, as Inoue Orihime cast her rikka over so many of the fallen and worked until her brow sweated to heal those fallen in the war, Uryuu stood next to his father and said words that were difficult for him to say. “Thank you for coming. Thank you for trusting me.” The pause ate at his courage because he did not know if the words needed to be spoken. True feelings were always shown in actions between people, but Uryuu knew he had wasted years resenting his father and needed to hurry. He made the choice the way one chooses to take an unfamiliar path, full of curiosity and a twinge of fear. “I’m sorry for doubting you for so many years,” Ishida Uryuu said. “I’m truly sorry.”
Both father and son didn’t look at each other and watched the goings-on of the battle aftermath. Finally, Ishida Ryuuken spoke, “I’ve always seen how you watch her. All these years.”
Uryuu felt his face grow hot. His father took off his Quincy cape, the one he must have kept from years ago—what stories were there to tell? Uryuu had to ask.
“Give this to her. That pervert from the candy shop made her wear that inappropriate costume. Sado-kun told me the whole story. Put the cape on her shoulders. Talk to her.”
Uryuu gave his father a dazed look.
“Go,” Ryuuken said sternly. “Be with your friends.”
And so it was. The friends took their steps into another timeline, one filled with less peace than the one Yhwach had seen, more tears, the upheavals of change, and the burden of trying to right wrongs. Soul Society and the other worlds were not easily rebuilt, and happiness did not fall on everyone all at once but it came, like relief after storms, the way grief chased comfort and deep restorative sleep was inevitable after any violent purging illness.
Ishida was not alone. He had friends for advice, a family, a job with devoted colleagues.
“I’m not going to fight Hollow anymore,” he told the shopkeeper. “I’m too busy at work.”
“Ah,” said Uraraha. “With Kurosaki-kun gone to the Royal Realm and the assigned Shinigami being so impotent, I guess there’s nothing left for me to do but train Asano-san—his powers are getting stronger every day. My goodness, he can probably run away from a Menos Grande at his current state. Or would you rather have me train your daughter?”
“No, no, no! My father wouldn’t hear of it! Not another Quincy. And Orihime! Would she--? We all work at the hospital. We’re about saving souls now, not destroying them!” Uryuu ran his hands through his hair. “Remember how we made allies with Hollow in Hueco Mundo? Neliel and her … brothers?”
“But the Hollow here are still nasty and eat souls, Ishida-san. You know that or else you would not have been moonlighting here for so long. Explain it to your family. Er—not Ryuuken. Never mind Ryuuken. Don’t tell him anything. Tell him your daughter is taking martial arts classes. Everyone wants a nice strong little granddaughter. Here,” The shopkeeper filled Uryuu’s arms with cartons of cigarettes. “His favorites.”
“I won’t be bribed, Urahara-san,” Uryuu said, “but I’ll talk to Orihime.”
“Yes, yes,” Urahara added a bag of sweets to Uryuu’s load. “You do that.”
Uryuu furrowed his brow. “I should’ve talked about this to her long ago.”
“Ah, no regrets, no regrets. You’ve never been much of a talker. You’re—ah—one of those show yourself in your deeds fellows. Words are words, yes? A man can go back on his word at any moment.”
For some reason it was an invitation to argue. “Speaking up matters. Staying true to what one says … this matters.”
Arguing with Kurosaki once in their first battle against Hollow, Uryuu had bluntly proposed his philosophical conclusion that the Shinigami were right in not allowing Quincy to continue their soul-killing, but somehow that point had been lost somewhere between “I hate Shinigami” and trying to save Kurosaki’s life that day.
Orihime saw no reason to hurt anyone unless it was to defend an innocent; so far Uryuu thought he had been aligned with her, but what is a man’s soul when he destroys a soul?
I make this man my heir and no one is to question it. He is Ishida Uryuu, Prince of Light.
Uryuu tasted a bitterness in his mouth at the memory of the words.
Urahara picked up a heavy bag of red bean paste rolls with dramatic deliberation and added it to pile in Uryuu’s arms. “It’s all a matter of balance, you see. A delicate matter of saying the right thing at the right time.”
A carton of cigarettes dropped from the bundle in Uryuu’s arms.
“Oops.” The shop-keeper picked up the carton and replaced it on the shelf.
Uryuu’s mind considered the past, Grandfather’s dream of Quincy and Shinigami working together—that had come true when he and Kurosaki had taken down Yhwach. Now? He was grateful for Urahara-san as a mentor, for his pointing him to this particular threat or that to the community because Ishida Ryuuken still would have no part in slaying Hollow souls. Uryuu stood before the shop-keeper and considered the future. Who were the Quincy? All of them, following or fighting a false god, had gone with Yhwach, lost to a dream of perfection. What had the Quincy ever contributed to the world? They destroyed souls from the cycle of reincarnation.
“Let me ask you a question, Urahara-san.”
The coy smile disappeared, and the shop-keeper lifted his head so that his hat didn’t shadow his eyes. His expression was curious. Uryuu saw the scientist, the man who could anticipate futures even if he could not see timelines with the clarity of the dead Quincy king.
“Why have you not returned to the Gotei? Every resource of the science and technology department is available to you there. Kurotshuchi’s seat became vacant; you would have been welcomed back.”
The familiar truth of how much corruption still stood in the government of Soul Society and how much sadness lay in surrounding districts came over both men as they looked at one another. Unhappiness in all worlds, flooding some corners, flowing gently in others, persistent as time, the rain missing no one. Where does one go to save one’s own soul?
Urahara finally spoke. “I prefer selling candy,” he said, smiling gently.
“I don’t want my daughter to be a Quincy,” Uryuu said. “It’s a better world without Quincy. He thought of Kurosaki, who restored souls, who sought a better way to rule all worlds, and considered his own work—heart surgery, for which he was becoming famous because his assistant was called in secretly late at night to cast a golden orb over the most critical patients.
“I will do what I can in my way, but I won’t destroy another Hollow or another soul. No. If I won’t let my daughter go down this path, then why should I still consider myself a Quincy?”
“I see.” The shop-keeper tipped his hat. “No charge for the cigarettes and candy. Give the family my regards. I mean—when Ryuuken isn’t around.
Uryuu walked home instead of using hirenkyaku or hailing a cab. He lost another cigarette box along the
way. Ishida Souken’s dream had lived and died, like Ishida Souken.
The sky was overcast, the sun setting, when he stood outside his apartment building. He had brought Inoue Orihime there one night, cooked fish stew which had gone uneaten because she had sobbed in his arms for an hour over Kurosaki, and Uryuu, in his dizzy hope and a selfishness he had always regretted, had imagined a new world with this woman, a child, maybe two or three children, passing on Quincy traditions.
Uryuu closed his eyes and said goodbye to a dream, understanding that Yhwach had been incapable of that. He opened his eyes again, eyelashes heavier with tears. “Urahara-san, I prefer fixing broken hearts.”