The Losing Side
Chapter Ten: Treacherous Reprobates
Uryuu watched uneasily as the round robin did a circuit of the table. They were seven people squeezing into a circular booth at a KFC franchise and, as Chad was one of those seven, there was some tricky squeezing going on indeed.
Orihime tapped the pen against her lips and then let it hover over the piece of paper that currently bore Chizuru and Tatsuki's signatures under the legend "Ichigo Sucks". Uryuu hadn't the faintest idea what she was doing here with the rest of them, but then he hardly knew what he was doing at the meeting himself. He listened to what she had to say.
"Orihime!" Tatsuki sounded somewhere between annoyed and exasperated. "Just sign. Ichigo's made you sadder than he's made any of us. This is your chance to take back your life. To stop liking him and find a nice, not-amazing boy to settle down with."
Uryuu, sitting directly opposite the love of his life, adjusted his glasses with a sort of carefully nice, not-amazing nonchalance. Tatsuki looked up and pointed.
"Like Sado! Sado is a very nice, not-amazing boy."
Chad fidgeted and nearly crushed Uryuu's shoulder on one side and Mizuiro's thigh on the other. "I don't know if I want to date Orihime, Tatsuki."
Chizuru shoved her spectacles further up her nose and said, "Exactly. Why does it even have to be a boy? I would guard the princess with my life and make her feel beautiful all the time."
"Only, sempai," Keigo said, his shoulder leaning against hers, "I don't know that Orihime wants that?"
Orihime spoke up for herself. "I, um. I would like to be able to be happy for Kuchiki-san. I guess that means I have to stop liking Kurosaki-kun, right?"
"Right, so it's decided," Tatsuki said, "Sign the thing, Orihime. And pass it across to Uryuu."
The bespectacled boy didn't know when they'd all become so close that they called each other by given name, but he liked it. Especially when Orihime slid the round robin across the table to him, saying, "Here you go, Uryuu-kun," he liked it. The two of them had seats at opposite ends of the curving couch, and simply knowing that if he stretched his legs he'd be touching toes with her made his heart thud. Sometimes young love was creepy. Sometimes young love was beautiful.
He signed his name next to Tatsuki's, directly under the heading. He glanced discreetly over his shoulder as he did so to make sure no orange-haired nice guy stood waiting to feel bad. He saw only the counter where some pre-teens were ordering a bucket of chicken and a couple of men sitting at a far table in ridiculous top hats and monocles.
Chad tugged both pen and paper away from him to add his own appellation to the abominable plot against Ichigo. Mizuiro and Keigo were in on it too, and Chizuru questioned why.
"It's interesting," Mizuiro cheerfully divulged, and Keigo muttered about how Ichigo's friend Ikkaku was going marry his sister and he'd end up with the scariest family in the world.
"And you, Sado?" Uryuu questioned the hulking boy, "I thought you were his best friend."
"I am," Chad said, and didn't explain further. Tatsuki rolled her eyes at Uryuu, a gesture that only deepened his lack of comprehension. She beckoned her crew with a crooked finger, and they all squeezed closer together to listen to the mutiny master.
"Ichigo sucks." She glared around at them. "…That's all."
Mizuiro coughed. Chizuru took over. "We've known Kurosaki for a while. And we've all been aggrieved by him, or had a loved one cry because of him." She tried to reach around Tatsuki to reassuringly pat Orihime's breast, but the dragon didn't let her pass. Nursing her slapped wrist, she continued. "That his crimes were committed in ignorance is not an excuse. He's happy with Kuchiki, but he should notice the harem he's got! The harem…of hate."
"Hear, hear," Tatsuki muttered.
"We have an agenda. And that is to teach Ichigo a lesson before we disperse for college at the end of this year."
"Speaking of which," Uryuu glanced at his phone's digital clock, "My tuition starts in twenty minutes; can we hurry this up?"
"Uryuu," Keigo stared at him, "You need tuition? What's to become of the rest of us?"
"I don't take tuition, I give tuition. To middle-school children. How do you think I pay my rent?"
"I assumed your parents…"
"I don't," Uryuu said coldly, "Have parents."
Near the counter, one of the monocle men sneezed. Keigo sucked in his breath and also some of his chicken. Tatsuki lassoed the conversation back into her control.
"So, we're all in accordance? We're going to murder Ichigo in the face."
"Excuse me?" Orihime spun to scan her friend's face for sincerity. "I didn't sign up for that."
"I know. Instead we'll just ignore him. Hard."
"This is horrible," Isshin hissed at his compatriot as the young people plotted the downfall of his son.
Ryuuken agreed. "Monocles and top hats; they're stupider than you are for not having noticed us."
"I was talking about them getting together and excluding Ichigo!"
"I wasn't. What do I care? Looks like Uryuu has plenty of friends that are not shinigami. I'm going home." He half-rose before half-catching Isshin's eye. The look in them gave him pause, and then he said:
"Well, maybe I'll wait. No telling what fresh idiocy you'll indulge in without me to restrain you."
Isshin smiled at him with glistening eyes and said, "I always knew you cared."
Ryuuken, uncomfortable whenever anyone implied he was capable of warm feelings, nearly vomited. Isshin, unwilling to be caught by the treacherous reprobates signing away his son's social life, grabbed him by the arm and goose-stepped out of the franchise. Their departure attracted nearly everybody's attention, but the conspirators did not make the connection between two middle-aged men and the fathers of Uryuu and Ichigo. After all, what would two respectable doctors be doing in a heart-attack dispensing restaurant, wearing incongruous props and acting like that? Uryuu sat brooding with his back to the exit, thinking again over all the petty incidents and decisions that had brought him to this moment.
In retrospect, he had only himself to blame.
With logic, he could see that his feelings had formed a gateway for everyone else's. He had made it acceptable to not always like Ichigo, or at least be envious of his effortless charm sometimes. Acceptability, however, had turned into a fad. Uryuu still was not sure what Mizuiro, Chizuru, Keigo, and Tatsuki were upset about, and it upset him that it upset him that he didn't know. But he would always be a latecomer to that particular circle. He had no other-worldly adventures to tie him to the ordinary human side of the old high school gang of which Ichigo and Tatsuki formed the core. While the normal folk had attended fireworks festivals and gone on mixer trips to the beach, Uryuu had studied the school syllabus, the Quincy arts, and sewing.
It was to a long-overdue sewing club meeting he had been going to when he had been waylaid by Tatsuki's wacky plan. After being confused into going to KFC and signing the strange declamation, Uryuu excused himself to arrive tardily to the meeting. His fellow club members had changed and he was no longer the president, but the sewing club still gave him a sense of satisfaction. The sewing club was the only sphere of life he shared with Orihime without being invaded by any other member of her social circle, but more than that…sewing was a skill his grandfather had taught him. It just felt like meditation, or home.
"Uryuu-kun, can you pass me that spool of teal, please?" Orihime asked him with a smile on her face, and Uryuu thought to himself of how much she loved Ichigo and the pains she'd gone through for him. He thought of Hueco Mundo and reacquainted himself with that burning resentment of his shinigami rival and came to a startling realization.
He had started resenting Ichigo because whenever Uryuu thought of Ichigo he used to think of Orihime. Now he was thinking of Ichigo when he thought of Orihime. The girl he loved was talking to him in the place that gave him peace, and Ichigo still managed to ruin it. Uryuu himself had given him that power.
Orihime gave up and got the teal spool herself. The newest members of the club frowned in disappointment at the dazed and careless attitude of the once-legendary prince of embroidery and delicate handwork. Uryuu dropped a stitch and never picked it back up. He finished the meeting and hurried back home, and wished Renji was there.
Shortly thereafter, Renji was.
"This fucking sucks."
"Tell me about it," Uryuu said hollowly. They sat together at the low table with sake bottles in front of them. Underage drinking, frankly, was the least of Uryuu's concerns.
"Did we…were we wrong to even just bring it up? Or were we wrong to let it get out of our hands?"
The brunet shook his head, "It wasn't our fault it got so big. We started it, but if we hadn't someone else would. Everybody had a problem with him. And…and…talking about it gave me a friend. It gave me relief."
Renji, who had had more of the sake than he had planned to, blushed. He grabbed Uryuu's hand and held it to his heart.
"It gave me a friend, too. I don't regret it, but I think it's time to stop."
"No kidding," Uryuu agreed, "Should we tell him together?"
"Oh god. This may be the hardest thing we'll ever do. I can't face it sober, but we really can't do it drunk."
"Can't we?" the Quincy cocked an eyebrow, "Can't we?"
Renji looked at him, looked at his cup, looked at the clock, and laughed.
"Yeah. I think this is how it was going to happen all along anyway."
Isshin woke up and put his head out the window. Above him, his daughters and son were already staring at the spectacle on the street.
Renji and Uryuu had an arm over each other's shoulder, a paradoxical support in their mutual fog of inebriation. They stared up with unnerving focus at the orange-haired boy staring back at them from the top floor of Isshin's house and pointed at his sleepy face.
"Hey," Uryuu said, "Kurosaki. Get your head on straight."
Ichigo shouted, "Get your heads on straight! What the fuck are you doing down there you idiots? Are you… are you drunk?"
"Hell yeah!" Renji roared back, "We are men, and men drink away their sadness!"
"You're both lunatics! Ishida is like a hundred years too young to drink, Renji! This is the opposite of legal, you twat. You're going to get arrested if you don't go home!"
Isshin said, "Son, keep it down before the neighbors realize the truth of that statement and call the cops."
But judging from the sirens, it was already too late. The officers were very nice about it because everyone knew kind old single-father Dr. Kurosaki who was struggling to pay his bills because he was always giving free healthcare to his patients, but they also thoroughly arrested Ishida Uryuu for underage drinking, and Abarai Renji for general weirdness. Isshin put his daughters to bed with a song, put Ichigo's temper to rest with a kick to the head, put pants on, and puttered behind the police car in his old Toyota. On the way to the slammer he called Ishida Ryuuken, because despite Uryuu's protests, he absolutely still did have at least one parent.
This one parent was not at all happy at the state his college-bound son had deteriorated to.
"He was going to go to Tokyo University with a scholarship," he hissed at Isshin, "And now he has a criminal record. This just goes to prove no good can ever come of associating with shinigami."
"Stop being racist, Ryuuken," Isshin said tiredly, "Bail your kid so I can go back to my babies."
"I can't do that," Ryuuken looked legitimately frustrated, "He'll be angry. He'll want to pay me back. He'll ask how I knew. He'll…"
He would hurt his father. With rejection and cold words and refusal to understand, Ishida Uryuu always cut his father's heart, but Ryuuken never liked to talk about it. Ryuuken never liked to talk about a lot of things. Isshin groaned and said,
"Then go home. I'll stay here to watch over them, and you can go babysit my kids."
Ryuuken looked legitimately frightened. "That is so inappropriate. Your children have never seen me. Your daughters…how do I explain anything to your daughters?"
"What are you talking about? All my kids know you're my best friend. Now pick a direction to fuck off in: bail, or babysitting?"
"Hey. Hey, kids, wake up."
Ishida Uryuu woke up in Abarai Renji's arms, and thought to himself that this was a habit that had best be cut in its bud. He smelled morning breath and sat up—and shrieked to see that he was not only not in his home, but in a holding cell in a police station with Kurosaki Isshin waving coffee and a greasy bag of what looked like breakfast at him through the bars.
"Oh my god," Uryuu blurted out, "I'm a criminal."
And just like daddy, he thought of his Tokyo scholarship flying away to another candidate and nearly cried.
"Relax," Isshin told him, "I greased a few palms, pulled in a few favors. None of this is going on your record. Get up and walk out and don't do any more stupid shit. Oh, and wake that ape next to you."
But Renji was already stirring, and suddenly leaped to attention and shouted, "Captain yes sir! Ranks ready for inspection!"
"Dedicated, isn't he?" admired Isshin, but Uryuu was absolutely beside himself.
"I have to get out," he said nervously, "I can't be in jail."
"Eh," Renji said, noting their circumstances, "You get used to it."
Fortunately, the officer on duty let them out without much further ado and so saved Uryuu an apoplectic fit. Shuffling shamefully out behind Isshin, coffee in one hand and a waffle in the other, Uryuu thanked his benefactor. Renji echoed his sentiments. Isshin stopped and turned to look at them.
"If you're really thankful," he said quietly, "You'll do me a favor."
"Anything," Renji nodded thoughtlessly. Uryuu, who knew better than to promise himself away, cautiously asked what the favor was.
"I know you're in some weird group that wants to pick on Ichigo. Don't ask any details. But act as spies for me—let me know what they're planning so I can protect my boy."
Renji and Uryuu gaped at him, and then at each other. Isshin gazed coolly back at them.
"Of course, if you can't, I understand. You'll understand too, of course, why I won't be willing to convince the neighborhood to drop charges against you. What was it they called it? Disturbing the peace or something. Nuisance in a residential area. Underage abuse of substances."
"Okay," Uryuu said, "We'll spy for you."
"Brilliant," Isshin said brightly, "I'll give you your mission details as soon as you send me some information. Now I'm going to go back home. You have a nice day boys."
Renji waited until the man was around the corner, and then pinched his friend.
"Are you crazy?"
Uryuu snapped, "What? You said you'd do anything, didn't you? We couldn't tell him last night, could we? So we owe it to him to do this, at least. And I certainly can't jeopardize my college career any further."
Renji followed him sullenly. "I know that. Sorry I nearly ruined your life. But spying? On who? For what? I have no idea what you just signed us up to do."
The Quincy sighed, and began to explain…
No, I'm serious. I definitely will finish this story.