Chapter 20 – A mother's heart
Chapter's music - English cover of Euterpe from Guilty Crown by Amanda Lee (LeeandLie)
She could feel the warm of her powers under her feet, warming her bare legs, while the wild river kept running through miles under her.
The opening to the cave was hidden behind the falling branches of a rotted tree, whose dead limbs made her shiver when it touched her skin. She jumped from her golden platform, touching the rocks in each side of the cave with her fingertips, making sure it was real.
Inside, the walls were humid, the drops of water falling in a continuous song all around her. She could see the fungus growing between the stones, the soft touch of moss under her hands and the smell of iron mixed with the water.
The small corridor ended in a large cave, in which three halls, beside the one Orihime just existed, appeared as suggestions for the next part of the journey. However, she had no doubt, she could feel it better than before… it was like the cave entrance acted as a veil and walking through it made her join the inside world of Aizen's past and her son's present.
While she walked to the hall right at the middle, she saw how two small spots of a red liquid colored the grey floor. She kneeled, touching the blood and knew it belonged to her son. Fisting her hands she mixed the boy's blood with her own from her bleeding wounds and walked forward with a renewed energy.
However, what expected her at the end of the corridor made her stop, her heart beating loudly and pumping the blood through her veins in a rush of adrenaline, her ears filled with the rushing liquid to her brain. When she calmed down, she noticed it wasn't exactly the same place of her old dream, the cliff which she would repeatedly fall from… No, it was different, the floor was not so slippery, the wall had some torches perched in iron stands, but the feeling of doom was exactly the same… Could it mean that Aizen's reiatsu made more than just save her life and her son's? Could it bring some of his memories to her mind? Or was it just a product of her body telling her that something was not right with her son? She probably would never know, however, the coincidence made goosebumps rise in her arms and was with a sense of dread that her feet touched the small passage.
The darkness around her made her think of Las Noches, always evolved by a blanket of sadness, sorrow, regret, death… She didn't belong there, just like she didn't belong here, however, just like all those years ago she walked willingly, not knowing if she would ever see the sun again or her love's face or her children's smiles or her friends' antics… She wasn't a pessimist person, she didn't like to think about her death or how life could go on after she entered Soul Society once and for all, but, seeing how the darkness stretched in front of her, she couldn't stop her mind from wondering through those paths. She knew how Ichigo would react, he would scream and kick, he would fight until he saw that there was no solution and then… he would come to her… she wish he didn't… they had their children… their children… Katsuo… Hanako… crying… begging to have their parents back… like she did with Sora… like he did with Masaki… pain… so much pain brought into those two faces ingrained in her heart…
Stupid, stupid, stupid! How can you think those things when you have those children to take care of? How can you think about dyeing when you know Ichigo would try to follow you… Even if your friends were able of stop him, he will turn into the shell of a man, a ghost inside his own body… How could you think about creating that kind of pain and suffering in those beautiful souls? Fight back, you coward!
Orihime shook her head and slapped herself hard on the face, forgetting where she was for a moment; the darkness no longer looked so doomful and the cold disappeared partially from her skin. She was not going to be defeated by her own insecurities and when she made herself promise that no one was going to take her away from her family, her feet touched another kind of ground and the cliff ended abruptly… staying behind her, just like her fears and personal demons.
"Was it some kind of test?" she asked herself, remembering her dark thoughts while walking through that cliff. "Was Aizen trying to stop someone that tried to come here through their fears? A protective kiddo perhaps…" she wondered out loud, and with a smirk, she said to hole. "I beat you, bastard, and I'm going to do that again by recuing my son! And then… I'm gonna kill you!" and with those words she walked forward, without looking back to make sure the abysm was still there.
It was like her heart was on a flame, pumping hot blood through her system. Her steps were more energetic, until she started running. He was so close, she could almost feel her arms surround his frame and bring him against her chest…
And then… she saw him…
He was there, in front of her…
Sitting on the floor…
"Katsuo…" she whispered, seeing the boy stir and look up.
"Hello mother…" he said and Orihime knew it was not her son answering. She shivered, but kept her stance, determination radiating from every pore of her body.
"Aizen…" she said, no honorific complementing the snare that left her lips.
"Orihime…" he replied, standing up and dusting off his clothes, like it was an everyday occurrence for them to meet.
The woman wanted to step back, the goosebumps rose with each step he took in her direction and her heart beat like a jackhammer inside her chest. Her hairpins were flashing, her powers barely restraining themselves under her fury. She could feel her hair flick and blow away with her reiatsu rising to unknown peaks; it was the first she felt this way in front of an enemy… an enemy using her son's body, face, voice… She felt the power fall like a heavy rain from a dark cloud and her hair stopped moving and her hairpins stopped flashing, leaving her with a heavy feeling on her chest.
"Impressive…" he said, appreciatively. "I knew you were more than a pretty face when I saw you… You really are a gift from the gods…" he said, closing the distance between them and stopping five centimeters away from her.
The woman could see the birthmark of her son, the small signal in his temple normally hidden by his hair, that Ichigo always said looked like one of her hibiscus. She could see his hair, longer than ever before, just like his father's when he appeared after learning the Final Getsuga Tenshou. She could see all of that, however, she couldn't see her son…
"You disgust me!" she said, her heart breaking with those words being said to her son's face.
Aizen smiled and his smile was nothing like Katsuo's, it was cold, menacing, almost deranged. He grabbed her chin with freezing hands, just like he did the first time they meet and she answered with a cold look of her own. He yanked his arm away and a slap resounded in the cave's walls. Orihime felt her head beat against the wall and the sounds and colors mix in a cacophony of sensations; she could feel a warm liquid bubbling from her forehead, the smell of iron right beside her nose and sweetness on her lips. The smell, the taste and the pain of her blood oozing from the wound where making her dizzy and she had to support herself against the wall; she could hear the voices of her fairies in the back of her mind yelling their support to her and she had to smile at those. When the ringing in her ears stopped she looked up to see her son's eyes widen in surprise and fear… Her son's eyes, not Aizen's eyes… She smiled warmly and stepped forward, with her arm stretched in front of her. However, his eyes jumped from her hand to the cave's wall, and then to the passage behind her; his lips were trembling and his hands fisted his orange hair, pulling it with rage.
He hurt her, he hurt the goddess that gave him life! That gave his father love and his sister the best protection she could have. He made that blood… so much blood… ran through her face… he slapped her face… He wounded the skin that always brought him comfort…
He hurt Kaoru too, the woman he always loved, the woman he could see spending her days right beside him… the woman that put her life in danger to save him… How could such a despicable being like him deserve her? How could he expect her to still be waiting for him?
He didn't deserve any of them, he was a monster!
Yes, you are, that's what we are… Monsters… Beings that live only to bring pain and misery and decay to everything we touch… But monsters are powerful beings… they have everything they want… they don't need to wish anything, they already have it all… We will have it all… Just let me reign again and we can do so much more than those pitiful humans… You already felt the immense power I held… Don't you want it? Don't you desire it? You could protect those women with it…
Yes, he could protect them… They would be safe and he could be with them… He could keep his entire family safe… His mother, his father, his sister, Kaoru… He could do it. What was so wrong in wanting some kind of power? His father desired it… he trained to become stronger, so he could protect their family… why couldn't he do the same?
He saw her hand, extended in front of her small body… she was calling him… she wanted him beside her…
Katsuo, he heard her say… Yes, that was his name, not Monster, not Aizen, his name meant hero, victorious child, because he protected his mother from death, just like his father told him when he was old enough to hear that story… He protected her as a baby… when he was weaker than nowadays… then why was he desiring more? His mother loved him all the same… His father was proud of him all the same… His sister held him in a pedestal all the same… Kaoru… Kaoru wanted to live beside him, cherish him, love him, protect him, all the same… He didn't want any more power… He wanted them back, he wanted his normal life back, his human friends messing around, his shinigamis friends laughing, his family waiting for him every day, after school… He wanted that! He was going to get that!
He roared and fell against the cave's wall, writhing from her reach. He opened his mouth and started whispering words that made her arms fell heavy like they had something over them.
And in a moment she was no longer seeing her son in front of her. She was hearing a woman's voice through her mind, brought from the shadows of the past.
When the sky has cleared
And rains have passed
(She could see her: she was singing while lulling a small toddler in her arms.)
I still won't forget the past
You are not alone on your own
(The baby was reaching for her long hair, trying to play with it. His orange hair fell in disarray over his small eyes, while he tried to keep himself awake. The tears' tracks were still noticeable over his rosy cheeks.)
I remember you back then
Trembling in front of me
Crying deep inside silently
(And then the baby was looking at her again, with aged eyes pouring salty water, while his hands fisted his hair and pulled.)
When you see loved ones withering
What do you do with your remaining time
"Katsuo!" she yelled and the boy looked up, no longer her baby. And with that look of lost innocence the last remembrance of the song flew away and she realized the lullaby didn't come solely from her mind; he was singing it all along…
I'll sing in your memory
All the times you've spent with me
We've lost your name but I'll sing for you
"Mom…" he whispered and then fell forward, his arms dead weights beside his trunk.
Orihime ran, her arms extending in front of her to support his body against her own. He was too heavy for her in her still dizzy state and so they fell toward the floor together.
"Orihime!" she heard someone scream in the distance, a voice she knew all too well.
"Ichigo…" she whispered against her son's hair. "Your daddy is here…" she sighed and waited with a smile for her husband's return.
No, this is not going to be this easy... They will suffer a lot in the next chapters, just so you know... Be prepared!