Фик jennabiding для тех, у кого нет жж-аккаунта.

TITLE: The Quality of Mercy
AUTHOR: Jenn Abiding
FANDOM: Bleach
PAIRING: Ryuuken+Isshin, Ryuuken/Uryuu
NOTES: Alternate version of events in manga chapter 241, elongating thetimeline and slightly delaying the departure to Hueco Mundo. Quitepossibly an insanity of OOCness. Inspired by this picture (which is beautiful and in no way insane) by mangust, written by challenge of the artist.

Ryuuken does not turn when he senses the presence.

"They're going into battle, you know." Kurosaki is leaning in the doorway. He doesn't straighten when Ryuuken turns to face him; if anything, he slouches against the frame a little more. "Our boys," Kurosaki continues, "they're off to war."

Ryuuken greets him and his words with a noncommittal sound.

When Kurosaki doesn't get the cold outrage he must have been anticipating, he straightens against the door frame. "Pretty girl got kidnapped," he says, studying Ryuuken. "Kind of like Helen of Troy."

It is, in point of fact, nothing like Helen of Troy. But Kurosaki is just baiting him now, and Ryuuken refuses to rise to it.

Finally, Kurosaki says, "You expected this." It's not a question, and Ryuuken doesn't bother answering. "You knew this was going to happen when you helped him get his powers back." Ryuuken can't tell whether it is realization or accusation that colors Kurosaki's voice. Perhaps it is both.

"I see you got yours back as well," Ryuuken acknowledges now, with a nod at the shinigami uniform.

"I did," Kurosaki grins, coming away from the door with hands raised to show himself off. But just as quickly as he allows himself to be distracted, he fades the smile off his face and refocuses: "But we're not talking about me."

Ryuuken offers neither response nor invitation to further conversation. But instead of leaving, Kurosaki sits down unbidden, as if he is in his own home, or quarters quite familiar. Ryuuken can't keep the irritation out of his voice: "Why are you here?"

Leaning back in the sofa, stretching his arms along the top as he stretches his legs out in front of him, Kurosaki looks Ryuuken dead in the eye and says, "I want to know what you mean to do."

Ryuuken holds the gaze just long enough so it will be clear he is not flinching from it. "I've already done everything I mean to do," he says, pointedly making a show of returning his attention to the stack of paperwork on his desk, even though he knows Kurosaki is unlikely to take the hint.

"But not everything you can."

Ryuuken freezes. The pen in his hand stops moving down the paper; the ink doesn't stop but begins a slow pool at the point of contact. Of all his indiscretions regarding Kurosaki, having confided in him about this particular thing may have been the most egregious; certainly, it seems so at this moment.

The chill migrates to his voice. "As shoddy a father as you are yourself," Ryuuken sets down the pen now that he can move again, "I cannot believe even you would suggest that."

Unreadable emotion flickers across Kurosaki's face, subduing him. But not dissuading him: "I'm not saying I would give that to my own son," Kurosaki's thoughts solider on aloud, "or that any man should. But you aren't just a man, as you used to be so fond of reminding me." To his credit, Kurosaki does not take advantage of the opening to joke; he does not even smile, and there is no mockery in his next words: "You are a Quincy."

Ryuuken hardly needs to be reminded by this man, this Shinigami, of what he himself is. Nevertheless, he feels a spike of heat.

"I don't pretend to understand," Kurosaki continues, "but it's your tradition, isn't it? Souken gave this to you–"

"And I hated him for it," Ryuuken interrupts, the hot spike turning to ice in his belly. He fights the unpleasant shivers the wrap around his spine, reaching up for his brain stem to drag him down into memory. He goes blank, refusing to sink, refusing to meet memory's eye. "I never forgave him."

"Even though he made you stronger?" Kurosaki probes. Pushes: "Even though he made you the Quincy you became?"

Ryuuken does not respond at first. Then, too softly for Kurosaki to hear, he says, "He did not make me a monster."

But Kurosaki hears anyhow. "No, you're not a monster. This is not." Kurosaki stops. Hesitates. "I swore then that I would not judge your people's ways, and I hold to that."

Maybe you should judge, Ryuuken thinks; but only says, "You also swore never to mention it again." He is unable to keep the bitterness from the edges of his words, which in turn leave a bitter edge on his tongue; the bitterness lingers even when he swallows.

At last, there is the rustle of fabric against itself and against skin as Kurosaki stirs and the soft exhale of leather as he rises from the sofa. "I guess I'll be going now."

It is typical of the Shinigami, and this time more than Ryuuken can bear: How dare Kurosaki waltz in, stir up trouble, and easily waltz out again leaving a mess in his wake?

"Why did you come here?" Ryuuken turns on him, at last facing him again. "What did you want here? What do you want of me?"

Kurosaki meets his eye with an unexpected smile, which, Ryuuken realizes with disgust, he should have anticipated. "I only wanted to know your mind. I wanted to know what you plan." The smile broadens as if to cover the hesitation, the search for words or the daring to ask them: "I wanted to know if you will support Uryuu."

It would be easy to fire off a retort that of course he will support Uryuu, that he always has and always will, that everything he has ever done has been in support of Uryuu. But that is not Kurosaki's question. "If it wasn't the Orihime girl, it would be something else. There will always be someone and something to fight for." There is resignation in his words, but acceptance and determination as well, and Ryuuken holds the image of his son in his mind as he goes on, "So I will not stop him nor even try, if that's what you mean." Ryuuken meets Kurosaki evenly in the gaze. "He will be by your son's side in this."

Again Kurosaki shows the restraint he often tries to make others forget he is capable of.

"But," Ryuuken continues, when the moment of silent accord has passed, "if anything happens to him there, if Uryuu does not come back–" He stops, jaw clenching as he fights for control of the hot emotions that have welled up with threatening urgency. "If he does not return to me," Ryuuken says now, quiet with white hot control, "there will be no mercy."

Kurosaki extends his arm towards Ryuuken readily. "Nor none from me."

Ryukken glances at the outstretched hand, glances away again without looking at Kurosaki's face. "I was not asking anything of you."

"I know. But as shoddy a father as I am," Kurosaki says, and Ryuuken doesn't have to look to know the man is flashing one of his grins; doesn't have to look to know that it is gone with the next words, "I am offering. Come, Ishida: Take this hand held out to you."

Ryuuken regards the hand again. And then he looks to Kurosaki's face – as strong and serious as Ryuuken ever remembers him being. There is concern, writ in flashes and flickers, but not fear, not doubt; it is a father's prerogative to worry for his son even as he is proud.

Finally, Ryuuken clasps him, not by the hand but the forearm, the heel of his palm flush with Kurosaki's wrist; Kurosaki closes around him similarly, mirroring, and the pact is sealed.

When they release each other, Kurosaki says, "Well, I'll be off now. Got to be sure to catch my boy before he goes, you know." He grins wide, all flickering washed away in the smile's overwhelming steadiness.

And then he is gone.

Ryuuken looks away from the empty doorway. He looks at the papers in front of him, forcing himself to see them, pushing himself until his hand is once more moving a pen across them purposefully.

Uryuu is surprised when he enters his room well after dark, but he recovers himself almost immediately. "You can't stop me," he says firmly and without preamble.

Ryuuken must credit him for assessing the situation so quickly, as well as for his brashness: he wonders, if it did come to a show of force, which one of them really would have not only the strength, but the will to prevail.

They will not find out this night. "I am not here to stop you," Ryuuken tells him as he rises from the bed where he has been sitting for the past while.

"Then what are you here for?"

Standing here now, looking at Uryuu as Uryuu looks at him, Ryuuken wonders that himself. There are echoes in Uryuu's words, reflecting Ryuuken back to himself from this afternoon. But his encounter with Kurosaki was nothing like this. Neither he nor Uryuu have Kurosaki's ease or openness; given their history together, it would be difficult, at best, for Ryuuken to tell Uryuu that he came fatherly to see him off. He doesn't know why he let Kurosaki influence him into thinking he could do this.

So Ryuuken chooses silence, as he has chosen so often over the years. Silently, he looks at Uryuu, and silently Uryuu looks back. They have never seen eye to eye, even when they have looked each other in the eye as they are now. They are looking, but they are not connected in the gaze that goes between them.

It is more than Ryuuken will tolerate this night. He reaches out, his fingers curve under Uryuu's chin, and though it is not necessary to adjust the angle to bring those defiant eyes to him, Ryuuken tilts him nevertheless. He looks at Uryuu's eyes, looks at bright sharp blue, at blue so familiar and yet so unknown. Ryuuken looks into this blue, he looks into Uryuu's eyes, into Uryuu. Uryuu's eyes widen; he is wide open, taking Ryuuken's gaze in, and Ryuuken feels himself slipping along the gaze between them, sinking down in it, falling into Uryuu's eyes...

Ryuuken has never looked at Uryuu like this. He has rarely looked at anyone like this, and never exactly like this; his gaze has never been accepted like this. Never returned like this.

For Uryuu looks back into him. Ryuuken can feel Uryuu's gaze entering him, and he lets it.

Ryuuken loves Uryuu. He loves Uryuu so much, he will never be able to tell him.

The gaze consumes and subsumes. Nothing exists outside the gaze; the room has fallen away around them, the world outside it has fallen away. Everything has fallen away, and there is only this.

This, yes: this is what Ryuuken has wanted, to feel connected to Uryuu, his Uryuu; oh, his.

Ryuuken's pulse is a soft swell and rush within him; his breath too, soft rush out, soft rush in. He dares, softly, to reach for Uryuu's very breath: bridging the space between Uryuu's open lips with his thumb, he feels the soft fluttering exhales against his skin. He slips down to linger along Uryuu's lower lip.

And still the gaze is unbroken; no mere fluttering of lashes and lids can break the connection.

And then there is not just warm, living breath, but warm, living flesh, flickering wet – Uryuu's tongue, trailing tiny licks like warm wet pulses over Ryuuken's thumb. And Uryuu's eyes are wide, wide open, open and innocent; and there in the innocence, not hiding or shy at the edges, but bold, is something else–

"You know." There is nothing of the gaze in Ryuuken's words, his voice hollowed out. His hand hovers by Uryuu's face, the touch broken even as the gaze holds. For Uryuu is still looking at him, still open and looking, looking; and the man in Ryuuken wants to look away from the boy – but Quincy eyes meet Quincy eyes.

Now Uryuu nods. "Souken told me."

Ryuuken wonders what exactly Souken told Uryuu, and when. He wonders if Uryuu has always known what he thinks he knows, even from when he was that small boy who came to Ryuuken with such joy and hope in his heart. There is still joy in Uryuu, but oft muted by his determination, senses of duty and responsibility that have made him world weary before his time and beyond his years.

Although neither has looked away from the other, Ryuuken can feel the edges of the gaze beginning to fray.

And then fear wells up, acid-burning the connection, widening and filling the holes with decay: "Did he ever–" Ryuuken stops, unable to give form to the fear.

Uryuu understands nevertheless. "No," he shakes his head adamantly. "He said it could only be you." Uryuu looks at Ryuuken, and this time the connection catches Ryuuken, twists around him, and he's tangled up in it anew. "He said it had to be you."

They fall wordless, but not silent; Ryuuken's head fills with the sound of his own breathing, the thunder of his pulse beneath it. He does not know when his hand fell to his side, but he makes no move with it now.

It is Uryuu who makes the move, touching Ryuuken only with words: "Will you?" Uryuu asks, and the bottom of Ryuuken's soul drops out, he falls through himself, falls through the hole in the world; the only thing holding him now is the tangled, entangling gaze.

Uryuu moves bodily, brings himself a step closer to Ryuuken, and Ryuuken changes the angle of his head to match Uryuu's; and the world must be upside down, for how can Ryuuken have to tilt down instead of up when he himself has fallen so far, so far down?

When Uryuu goes to his knees, the angle slants steeper, and the distance widens as Ryuuken falls farther down in the upside down world - but the gaze holds fast.

It is Uryuu's hand that reaches now, that hovers now, just at the buckle of Ryuuken's belt without touching it, without touching him; only his gaze touches Ryuuken, the blue so bright and sharp and cutting into him; the words penetrating him: "Please, Ryuuken," cutting bright sharp and blue, "give this to me. Give me the full and absolute strength of the Quincy."


The word, though whispered, is hard and sharp enough to break the connection; gaze broken, Ryuuken is left spun and spinning.

"Do you have such little love for me," Uryuu says, and when Ryuuken opens his eyes again he finds that Uryuu's do not quite meet his, "that you would deny me this?"

Too much, Ryuuken thinks impotently; too much love. "I would deny you nothing."

"Then why won't share this with me?" A frustrated, near-desperate whine rises up through the core of Uryuu's words, even though he won't meet Ryuuken's eyes. "Why will you not perform the ritual?"

Since Uryuu refuses to rise to his feet, Ryuuken now kneels with him. "You don't know what you're asking." He wants to force Uryuu to look at him again, but he keeps his hands on his knees.

No hand is needed, for Uryuu looks up of his own accord, eyes as stubborn as his voice. "I do."

"Do you know what the ritual is?" Ryuuken asks, studying Uryuu's face, his eyes. "What did Souken tell you?"

"He said that reiatsu can be concentrated and heightened through a physical manifestation of love, Quincy to Quincy," Uryuu says, meeting Ryuuken's eyes unwavering. "That it can be transferred through love, and that what is given is not lost, but only made stronger in each."

It is the same story that Souken told Ryuuken, the story that Ryuuken has come to believe Souken's father had told him. But whether it is the truth of a genuine ritual or the thing men tell themselves to live with their monstrosities and those done unto them, Ryuuken cannot say. It is true that he became stronger after Souken performed the ritual – but that could have been an effect of post-trauma, or just coincidence. And even if a transference or heightening of powers occurred, surely that was not love.

A slight shifting of weight in the boy before him reminds Ryuuken that Uryuu has been waiting in patient silence. Finally, Ryuuken speaks: "I never wanted this for you."

Uryuu's brow knits, the same hurt expression that Ryuuken remembers from when Uryuu was a child – but innocent, at least this pain is innocent as Uryuu says, "You still oppose me being a Quincy." Ryuuken does not correct the misunderstanding as he watches Uryuu stand. "When will you understand how serious I am about this?" Uryuu asks, rhetorical and yet desiring a response. "How much this means to me? I will do anything, whatever it takes, to carry on the Quincy Pride fully, to continue the work of the Clan. Anything, Ryuuken," Uryuu's eyes bore into him. "Anything."

The world gives an appearance of having flipped right-side up, now that Ryuuken has to look up from where he has fallen. But the world is not right yet, the axle is tilted strangely, the spin sickeningly off-balance. "Not this." He rises to his feet, lays his hand along Uryuu's cheek, fingers splaying to cradle his jawline and down along his neck; he takes Uryuu's face in both hands, holds him as he touches his lips to that innocent pain, kissing Uryuu's brow; touching his lips to Uryuu's, parting only to breathe, feeling Uryuu's breath brush against his. Ryuuken opens his eyes onto Uryuu's, feels a thick warm rush as the gaze reconnects, and steps back in it as the kiss fades from his lips. "Not this," he repeats.

"But," Uryuu's brow furrows again and a deep more-than-flicker appears in his eyes, fracturing the gaze, "that felt like love."

"No," Ryuuken says. He doesn't know how to explain that the cold he has given Uryuu since Uryuu was a child is the best love he can give.

"What if the ritual is true?" Uryuu turns away as he speaks. "Would you deny me my rightful heritage?"

Ryuuken would, yes, deny Uryuu a legacy of pain.

"What if my powers are not fully restored?" Uryuu asks without waiting for response. "What if the power I have is not enough? What if," Uryuu looks at Ryuuken again, and his eyes speak of something that is not a question, but a challenge, a dare, "I die?"

"You are a Quincy," Ryuuken says simply. It means nothing, and it means everything. "If you die, you will truly be the last."

He takes a step forward, touches Uryuu's face again and Uryuu's gaze latches with his. "But you will not die."

Uryuu's eyes flash bright, bright blue: "Because you're going to give me this?"

Wordlessly, Ryuuken watches himself unbutton Uryuu's shirt. When it is open, he presses his palm to Uryuu's chest, to the Quincy symbol on his skin, the heart beating beneath it. He has given Uryuu everything he can, everything that is his to give. "Because," he tells Uryuu, needing the boy not only to understand but to believe and accept, "everything you need is within you already."

Uryuu is looking at him, searching. Ryuuken is helpless to make him understand. Uryuu's eyes beg and demand more, more than everything -

So Ryuuken touches him more. He touches Uryuu's face with his other hand, this one still over Uryuu's heart; he touches Uryuu's breath with his own. Touches his mouth to Uryuu's, open, Uryuu open against him; and they breathe, Ryuuken breathes Uryuu in, returns Uryuu to himself in breath, gives himself to Uryuu in breath. He accepts Uryuu into his mouth, cradles Uryuu with his own mute tongue, curls around Uryuu's; curls into Uryuu, warm wet flickers and flashes, licking traces of himself into Uryuu, swell and flow of breath, of pulse, heartbeating and breathing himself into Uryuu, breathing love, oh~ just breathing, breathless, eyes closed to orient himself to the spin and fall…

When the kiss breaks, Ryuuken rests his forehead against Uryuu's, his hand cupped around Uryuu's nape. He feels Uryuu's hand on his heart only as it slips away, and now Ryuuken steps back, and their eyes meet again. He looks into Uryuu's eyes and sees something wordless in their depths – wordless, but not unspeakable.

As Ryuuken leaves, he still feels the brightness and blueness of Uryuu's eyes. He would like to see these eyes again.

And he will. But not this night; this night, he will not look back.

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