Feb 202007

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 Title: This is How It Feels to be Free (Chapter 2)
Characters: Ishida Uryuu, Ukitake Jyuushirou
Rating: T (at least, WIP)
Spoiler: Best after the Bounto arc
Notes: Two men and a river; heavy art, heavy philosophy.

Ukitake stood, carefully, and began pulling at the knots that held his outfit together. He spoke as the clothing fell away, piece by piece. "Thank you. I would ask you to join me, but I fear you'd run away again. It really is a beautiful day to enjoy the water, if one refuses to allow oneself to be disturbed by the eyes of others."

Ishida had meant to look away, but found himself captured by the sight of the sickly captain's flesh. Jyuu's skin was nearly as pale as his hair, and his entire body reflected the afternoon sun as though he were made of the moon, itself. His ribs showed clearly through his skin, and half-healed bedsores showed a stark red against the sharp white expanse of his hip and shoulder blades. Nonetheless, this was a powerful man who had surrendered his fear and shame to achieve true inner peace. That a naked man could have such bearing was simple proof of that. "Your Shunsui is a lucky man, to have your favour. I am afraid you will never be someone of no consequence, despite your desire to escape, but I'm not going to ask you for anything. You have given me so much to consider…"

The nude Shinigami stretched and sighed as the breeze rolled across his flesh. He looked down at the ashamed and amazed ryoka's bright blue eyes. "You're feeling sorry for yourself, again. And Shunsui is far luckier for all the other things he has, I think, but I am very lucky to have his placid eyes on me when I am at my worst." He reached out and took Uryuu's hand. "Stand with me. We are not so different. It is simply the way of youth, I think, to feel bad about oneself."

Looking up, Ishida saw the older man smiling at him like an old friend. He took the advice and stood, taking note that Jyuu was almost half a foot taller, and probably weighed proportionally what he did. "Six inches and ten kilograms, at a guess," he joked, looking out at the water to avoid noticing how close they stood.

Ukitake pulled back Ishida's sleeve, below the hand he still held. "Good guess, at a glance, but I'm a good deal heavier than I look. I'll call it twenty kilograms. Now, tell me, what else is different?"

"I'm younger, shorter, darker — never thought I 'd get to say that — and less ill. You're braver, shameless, self-possessed in ways I can only pretend to… You're a Shinigami; I'm … I was a Quincy." Ishida shuddered at the last bit. "You're someone, and you want to be no-one. I'm no-one and I want to be someone. No one will remember my name."

"I will remember your name, probably until long after you have died." Jyuu really didn't like to be reminded of his age and the near guarantee that time would continue to pass for centuries, yet, if not millenia. He was rather tired of coughing all the time. "Aside from a few irreparable physical aspects — notably your height and colouring — the only real difference is that I am a Shingami and you are not. The rest is a function of age and circumstance, subject to change at any time. 'Jewels tarnish, kingdoms fall', to quote a poet I knew not long past."

"'Death's the rarest prize of all'? She's been dead more than eighty years, Jyuu." Wide blue eyes snapped forward. Not long past? Renji speaks of forty years as a long time…

"I had wondered why she stopped writing. Time passes so very quickly, after a while." Ukitake looked across the water, a bit uncomfortably. He was old enough to have met this Quincy's soul eight or ten times as it was recycled. "I believe I meant to swim," he said finally, stepping away.

Ishida nodded and failed to comment until Ukitake had cautiously lowered himself into the water. "Hah. You look like you belong there," he offered as the pale man played in the water, cavorting as if gravity were merely a suggestion rather than a law of nature. He looked around to make certain that no one he knew was coming
up behind them. "You really do make that look like fun. Maybe, I will join you."

Ukitake watched the young man blush, considering the water. "It's just cool enough to feel clean without being cold. I'm content to watch the dust spread across the city until you're in the water, if that helps."

"Thanks." Ishida unzipped his shirt and carefully folded it, laying it beside the untidy heap of Jyuu's clothes. He stood and watched the city for some time before even touching his pants. The water ripples. No one can see. You're just going to go for a swim. He sighed and opened his pants, slipping out of them and folding them atop his shirt. His briefs were the last thing to go, and he seriously considered not removing them, but wearing them wet under his clothes for the rest of the day was a singularly unappealing idea. He added them to the pile and lowered himself into the water.

"It's not as cold as you'd think, is it?" Ukitake turned back around as he heard Ishida enter the water.

"Yes, it's not. It's a bit deeper though. I suspect that's because I'm not thinking properly. It's a moat. Moats that one can wade across don't repel invasions." He finally removed his glasses, setting them on the stone that separated the grass from the water. "Remind me where I put those when I forget, later. I think I'd rather not know who might be sneaking up on me. Perhaps they'll just kill me before I'm forced to notice."

Ukitake laughed clearly, this time; the sound suited him well, a thin, melodic series of tones, like a nightingale in the distance. "Nearsighted, I take it. I'm afraid I won't be much use to you, then. Centuries of getting nearly all of my excitement from books hasn't done wonders for my distance vision either. I tend to find it incredible that I don't do myself more damage flash stepping into things. It's not much good to go far, when you can't see where you're going."

"God preserve us, we're blind." Ishida rolled his eyes and grumbled.

"May I try them? Aizen-san used to wear glasses to read," his eyes lowered painfully as he mentioned Aizen, "but they were never very popular, here. Perhaps I should give in and get a pair — violate my one concession to fashion. I've heard there's a girl in the Sixth who makes them."

Ishida realised that there were many more layers of meaning in those brief statements than he could begin to name. In the interest of staying away from loaded topics like Aizen or fashion, he held out his glasses to Jyuu. "Please be careful with them; I've run out of spares after that last fight."

Smiling a decidedly feline smile, Ukitake accepted the glasses. "I won't drop them."

Unfortunately, upon wearing them, he discovered that he really did have much better distance vision than poor Uryuu, and the sudden shift in perspective left him staggering. Pulling the lenses away from his crossed eyes, he flailed a bit in the water before returning the glasses, unharmed. "No," he said, at last, "now we're both blind. Can you see at all in those things?"

With a self-deprecating smirk, Ishida placed his glasses back on the stones. "Perhaps more telling, I can't see at all without them. Human frailty is a terrible thing."

"Put your glasses back on so you can see me pointing and laughing. Frailty is not only a human trait, you might have noticed, and yours is overcome with a simple tool."

Ishida could feel the blood draining from his extremities as he remembered who he was talking to — a man who had spent centuries drowning in his own blood, and could still find the strength to berate Captain Kuchiki and stand up to Captain-Commander Yamamoto. Suddenly, the world looked like a lovely place, if only he lived long enough to enjoy it. "You make a good point," he offered, weakly, and totally failed to see the vengeance about to be visited upon him.

Woooo… vengeance. I suppose this means there's going to be a frickin' chapter *three*, too. I might throw in another page of 'Never Speak of This Again', before I get back here.
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