The House of Cards

Series disclaimer: I don't own anything I write about.

A/N: This is a rather drastic A/U, with some of the characters changed greatly. This is not intended to be entirely accurate to the characters in Kubo Tite's Bleach, but rather a piece in which the core of the character is more or less intact. Moreover, I cannot guarantee that the intended ending will be a happy one (or rather, that everyone will be happy with it), and due to the sake of my disinclination to reveal the plot this series is rated 'M' for safety. Also, this is not in ANY way related to "The Cat and The Bee."

Chapter 1: Thursday

The dark haired woman slid her hand into the new stack of mail, flipping through the endless bunches of catalogues and junk mail to find a small pamphlet. She was careful to pull it out, taking a quick glance around to make sure she was alone before opening it and looking at the information, careful to memorize the Admissions Office telephone number. In the middle of her memorization there a tug on the hem of her kimono, making her jump out of instinct more than anything else, instictively driving her to put the paper back where she'd found it. But to her relief upon turning around it was only her little boy, bright red hair still jutting outward at odd angles no matter how often she combed it.

"Mommy, what are you doing?"

"...Oh, nothing honey," Yoruichi responded quickly, smiling as brightly as she could to throw the seven-year-old off her trail. "I was just getting ready to make something for Ururu when she gets back from school. Wanna help?"

"Okay!" the boy answered quickly, smiling brightly at the prospect of a snack. "Can I have some too?"

"Of course. And I'll make you a nice glass of milk with it, too!" the dark-skinned woman answered cheerfully, pulling a few loose strands of hair back into the ponytail that hung down to her shoulders.

"Can I have a Coke instead?"

"You KNOW better than that in the afternoon, Jinta," his mother answered sternly. To her satisfaction the boy gave a disappointed-sounding grumble before clambering atop a nearby stool to the counter, watching intently as she set down a small jar of peanut butter, a container of jelly and a small loaf of bread.

"Can I do the peanut butter?"

His mother only smiled as she slid a plate and the container with a spoon in his direction, urging him to be careful with how much he put on.

"Mom? Mom, I'm back!"

"we're in the kitchen, pumpkin! How was school?" Yoruichi called from the other room, just beyond sight. Ururu gave a slight grunt as she pulled her shoes off, using the nearby wall as a support.

"It was okay... a lotta homework."

"How was your club? Getting along with the others?"

"It's fun-- today I struck out THREE people!"

"Well then, it sounds like you're hungry! Jinta and I made your favorite!" As Ururu entered the kitchen with a smile and carefully bit into one of the rather sloppy peanut-butter sandwiches, her mother glanced over the head of almost-lavender pigtails to locate the remaining member of the family.

"Where's your father? He said he'd be able to pick you up today." The big-eyed girl looked almost downcast for a moment at the mention of the Urahara family patriarch, but it disappeared automatically as she answered.

"I dunno. Yuzu's dad picked me up-- said that he was doing Dad a favor." Yoruichi's smile didn't waver at what she now knew was going on; she'd gotten more than used to her husband's erratic work hours at the hospital. After all, as her mother liked to remind her, a wealthy doctor does have a lifestyle to maintain.

"Mom?" Jinta called as he tugged urgently of the sleeve of Yoruichi's robe, "...are you okay?"

"Of course, honey," Yoruichi answered with a smile, effectively dismissing the innocent observation. "Why don't you go play a game with your sister before she needs to get started on her homework? I need to get dinner ready."

Kisuke sighed as he shut the door unceremoniously behind him, slipping his shoes off even as he fought to escape the confines of his waist-length leather jacket. After he hung the coat on the nearby rack the blonde proceeded through to the next room, smiling as he caught sight of a plate filled with rice and chicken with teriyaki vegetables. He winced as he touched the still-hot dish, but quickly overcame the mild discomfort as he grabbed a waiting pair of chopsticks and scooped a bit of the meal up into his mouth.

"You know me too well," Kisuke chuckled to the empty room as he formally sat down before the low table to eat, savoring his favorite meal as much as his grumbling stomach would allow. The florescent orange light of a nearby streetlamp filtered into the room by means of a pair of half-shut blinds, providing his only illumination in the near pitch-black darkness. Once he was done, the doctor set his dirty dish in the sink, then grabbed the stack of new mail on his way to the bedroom, peeking in on his already sound-asleep children as he walked past their cracked-open doors.

"Welcome home," Yoruichi said sweetly as Kisuke walked in, as if she'd been waiting for him for hours. Her husband smiled back at her, planting a light kiss on her forehead as he passed her to change out of his scrub.

"How was your day, Kitten? Quiet, I hope."

"Um..." Yoruichi fumbled for a moment, "...Yes, not a lot going on. I cleaned out the attic and most of the living room today." Kisuke nodded distractedly -- not that Yoruichi had expected such things to interest him-- or even herself, for that matter. She wanted to bring up the matter of his failure to pick his daughter up himself, but decided that it wouldn't do to get into an argument. Not when their marriage had been such smooth sailing for so long. Meanwhile Kisuke was mumbling absently as he flipped briefly through the mail, coming to a stop as he found a brochure for the local community college.

"That's weird," the blonde said quietly as he opened it up, finding a brief overview of the flexible class scheduling inside. Once he'd tired of glancing at the packet he tore it in half and promptly tossed it into the nearby bathroom trashcan. "I keep telling these people to take us off the damn mailing list." Yoruichi spared a glance as the pieces of the brochure fluttered weakly in the air on their path to the wastebasket, but when Kisuke was done overviewing the stack of bills she looked up attentively. "By the way, your parents called me today-- said they were dropping in for a visit the day after tomorrow."

"Oh...That's great," Yoruichi smiled once she'd recovered from her brief look of aggravation. "...I guess I'll have to put in an extra effort on the dining room, then."

"Don't be like that," her husband said reassuringly, wrapping an arm about Yoruichi as he settled into bed in his plain white kimono. "You always worry too much when they come over. I'm sure they'll love whatever you do."

"...You're right, Kisuke," Yoruichi said gratefully-- though she doubted it.

"Now, don't worry Kitten," Kisuke whispered huskily as he flicked off the nearby lamp and sending the whole bedroom into twilight. "...I know a way to help you relax." He heard Yoruichi sigh as he pressed strong lips to her throat, felt her gasp a broad hand slipped beneath her robe to play with one of her nipples while the other slowly freed her of the troublesome clothing. As much as he was already enjoying the wonderfully familiar map of his wife's body, his own arousal doubled when he felt a pair of arms wrap around his back, the slight chill of the gold ring on her finger causing a slightly stronger pressure as she pressed her palms deeper into his skin.

It always occured to Kisuke how lucky he was to have ended up in this marriage-- a pair of beautiful children, a job that challenged him, a wife whose buttons he still seemed to be able to press. As far as he was concerned, life was perfect.

At least, it was until Thursday.


At the sound of his son's voice Isshin looked away from his clipboard, surprised to find that instead of a head full of vibrant vermilion hair there was a stack of wide boxes, supported by hands and legs attached to an unseen torso. As the odd sight got closer the body behind the boxes became a little clearer; he was lean and lanky-- would've been scrawny but for the strong build hidden behind a navy sweater and slightly baggy jeans.

"Ah, Ichigo! So you found them all right?"

"It would've been nice if you'd told me where to put them FIRST, ya old fossil!"

"How dare you," the square-jawed man responded with mock indignance, rolling up the left sleeve of his long white coat to reveal that age hadn't yet restricted his vitality. "I don't want to have to disipline you in a place like this but so help me--!"

"Just tell me where I need to go with all this gauze!" Ichigo responded gruffly, in no mood for a sparring match with his father here, of all places. He wasn't about to lose an internship here just because of his old man's eccentricity-- or the mind-numbingly dull entry work. Isshin seemed to calm at once, gesturing to a storage closet a little ways down the hall, grinning as the teen headed off grumbling.

"I see Ichigo's still charming as ever," Kisuke teased as he popped out of his office, his jacket slung over one raised arm. Isshin chuckled at his longtime friend's comment, leaning against the wall as he pretended to list off the things still remaining on his clipboard.

"Well, he's no great charmer, but I'll make a doctor out of the boy yet. We're not all uber-geniuses like you, so... kid's gotta find some way to get experience."

"Well, hopefully not from running supplies up and down floors all day," the blonde responded with a grin. Isshin scratched his head nonchalantly, an eyebrow quirking as he noticed Kisuke's jacket.

"Ah... heading back early tonight?"

"Yeah, got all my appointments done-- not that there were many today, plus Ryuuken's covering for me. I'm gettin' a looong weekend starting tomorrow."

"Lucky bastard," Isshin grumbled. "Well, see you tomorrow-- and tell Ururu that I'll drive Yuzu over on Sunday." Kisuke only waved to show that he'd heard, then turned the corner to the elevator.

Normally Kisuke didn't mind the rain, but today it was unbearable. Despite the knowledge that his convertible was more than capable of handling the weather, the torrent of cold water pouring down with thunderous abandon succeeded in making him feel a little wary. Even with his wipers on at full speed the blonde could barely make out the stoplight before him, let alone the curb to his right. He let out a sigh, wondering if it ever intended to subside when he caught an odd sort of blur moving past his rain-soaked window along the sidewalk. He didn't pay it any mind at first, focusing on the unchanging red light until he looked over again.

It looked like a person, but then it occured to Kisuke how foolish that notion was, that anyone with a lick of sense would be out in this unpleasantness without so much as an umbrella. The slowly-more discernable form of a human being became clearer as he stared harder, pondering silently to himself as he watched it huddle over, as if struggling to preserve warmth. The light was green now but Kisuke ignored it, following an innate instinct and rolling the window down to see a girl with long ratty black hair, her clothes soaked but otherwise not terribly soiled.

"Excuse me-- ma'am?" She didn't seem to hear but Kisuke endured the typhoon now already soaking him through his open window, leaning out to be heard over the impatient horns blaring behind him. "Ma'am, are you all ri..."

He stopped in mid-sentence as she suddenly collapsed, like a puppet with its strings cut, to the ground.

At once Kisuke jumped out of his car, not caring about the line of irritable drivers forming behind him, not bothering to pull up the collar of his coat now that he was out in the downpour. Upon getting closer to the girl he noticed that she was merely very petite, probably much older than he'd thought, but despite the tangled and dirty hair concealing her features she was undoubtedly youthful. Pressing an experimenting hand to the girl's forehead he pulled it away; she was burning up despite the frigid chill of the air and precipitation. Her eyes were a bit unfocused and her mouth was moving slightly as if talking in her sleep, whispered nonsense coming from between her lips.

Though the girl was undoubtedly an urchin Kisuke knew he couldn't leave her here to die of fever-- his Hippocratic oath, coupled with his own strong sense of morality, wouldn't allow it. But with the hospital too far back in the other direction and her forehead seeming to get warmer, there was only one option left to him. Exercising as much care as time would allow, he gathered her surprisingly light weight into his arms, sliding her into the passenger seat once he'd gotten around to the other side of his car. Even in his haste he felt a bit relieved that the other drivers had gotten fed up and passed him.

Ururu glanced up from her Math homework at the sound of the front door opening and quickly slamming shut, followed by the dull thud of footsteps that could only be her father's. Smiling, leapt of the kitchen stool she was sitting atop and headed to the entryway, her twin pigtails bobbing in time with her as she walked.

"Dad, you're home earl--"

"Ururu! Where's your mother?"

"...She's, um... she's out getting groceries with Jinta..."

"Damnit," Kisuke muttered under his breath. "Go get me a blanket and lay it on the couch, okay?"

It took the girl a second to comprehend what was before her; her father soaked with rain as he stood in the doorway, and cradled in his arms was a girl shuddering silently with hair that hung over Kisuke's arm like a damp towel.

"Ururu, NOW PLEASE!"

At her father's second and barely patient request the nine-year-old jumped, then scurried off to the closet. Once he'd gotten the girl into a fairly secure hold, Kisuke ran into the kitchen and awkwardly grabbed a dishtowel, tossing it into the sink and flipping on the cold water, being careful the whole time not to accidentally knock his charge in the head on the nearby countertop. He didn't look up as surprisingly strong fingers gripped onto his jacket, a mumbled and barely coherent request of what was going on drifting lazily to his ears from her pale and chapped mouth.

"You're fine, understand?" the surgeon said calmly as he reached for the wet towel in the sink, wringing it out as best as his free hand would allow. Pressing the cool cloth to the stranger's forehead, her shaking seemed to subside a bit. "...You're going to be all right."

"Be careful with that, okay honey?" Yoruichi said patiently as Jinta fumbled with the jug of milk held awkwardly in his hands. "Mommy doesn't want to have to ride the bus again tonight."

"Yeah," her son exclaimed as he finally succeeded in getting a better grip on his bundle, while Yoruichi did her best to keep her twin overflowing grocery bags from spilling onto the front lawn. "That one guy behind us smelled so weird!"

"Now you know that's not nice to say that sort of thing, Jinta."

"Sorry," the boy muttered solemnly in response to his mother's admonishing tone. Looking over the spinach that was slightly blocking her line of sight, the cocoa-toned woman noticed her husband's car, the streaks of water still running down its forest green paneling a marker of the recently passed downpour. A smile passed her lips at the prospect of his actually sharing a dinner with the rest of them, but said nothing.

"Mommy's got her arms full. Can you open the door, Jinta?" the boy nodded as he headed for the threshold, but instead of holding the door simply headed straight through, elliciting a tired sigh from Yoruichi. Pushing it ajar with her shoulder the slender woman entered, carefully slipping off her sandals and grateful that the hem of her kimono hadn't been ruined by the elements.

"Kisuke? Kisuke, I'm glad you're home early-- I bought us some fish for sushi toni... Jinta!" Looking down when she felt her foot suddenly become damp, Yoruichi frowned at the sight of a plastic jug of milk lying on the hardwood, its contents slowly spreading like oil on the slickened surface. "Jinta, I told you to be careful! Jinta--"

Yoruichi's voice didn't suddenly die in her throat because she realized that her son was standing a few feet before her in confusion, staring into the kitchen. It was when she witnessed what he was staring at that made her feel suddenly and utterly disjointed. For a moment she simply stared blankly herself, not even blinking as her husband placed a damp cloth to the forehead of a girl nestled into a futon on the living room floor. After a moment Kisuke got up, but gently whispered for Ururu to make sure the bedridden woman's forehead stayed cool.

"Daddy, who is--?"

"Shh, Jinta," his father said while pressing a finger urgently to his lips. He spoke to Jinta, but his eyes went up to Yoruichi's every now and then as if explaining the situation to her as well. "This lady passed out in the rain, and she's very sick right now. I couldn't take her to work because it was too far, so... She's going to stay here until she gets better, okay?"

"Daddy, she smells funny," Jinta muttered frankly, his face curling into a look of innocent distaste as the smell of the dirty man on the bus seemed to hit him again.

"I know kiddo, but once her fever starts to cool, then I'll take her to the hospital, okay? She should be a little better tomorrow." His son looked doubtful for a moment, but finally nodded his head and turned about in an attempt to salvage what milk remained. Once Jinta was out of earshot, Kisuke stood up to speak to his wife, staring at his 'patient' from the entryway.

"...I know this is a little strange, Kitten," he sighed while leaning slightly against the wall, "...But I couldn't just... are you all right?" Looking down at his wife's visible hand he saw fingernails digging into the bag in her arm so tightly that it was starting to tear. Yoruichi's grip loosened at his inquiry, but when she spoke her voice was surprisingly cold.

"...You brought someone you literally picked up off the street home?" It took Kisuke a moment to think as Yoruichi headed straight into the kitchen, setting down her bags on the counter but not bothering to turn around and look at him. Not once in the time they'd been together had he ever seen her like this. She was always so pleasant and geteel...almost to the point of artificiality.

"Kitten, you would have done the same thing in my position..."

"What? Bring in a... a stranger who could rob us or, God forbid, hurt Ururu or Jinta? Besides, one more dead homeless girl isn't going to be missed by ANYONE." Yoruichi gasped as she felt a strong hand on her wrist suddenly, forcing her to turn around and stare into the face of a rather indignant Kisuke.

"What's wrong with you? I've NEVER heard you say anything like that! Now listen here-- I'm not going to throw out someone who needs medical attention just because it makes YOU uncomfortable!"

It was at that moment that he caught the strangest glint in Yoruichi's eyes as she glanced into the other room toward their uninvited guest. It was there for barely a moment-- an indescribable look of rage melded with an emotion he didn't recognize-- but was gone once Yoruichi turned back to him, her oddly perturbed expression considerably more subdued.

"I know," Yoruichi said quietly, mindful once again of her children's presence. "I just... I don't want anything to happen to them."

"...So you won't give this poor woman a hard time?"

Yoruichi wanted to laugh at the cruel irony of that statement, but instead only stared at the floor, giving a sigh before nodding her reluctant approval. "There's my Kitten again," her husband announced with a smile, pecking her lightly on the forehead, relieved when she smiled but didn't look up from the tatami her eyes were seemingly glued to. "Now, I couldn't find any identification on her, but I figured we could talk to her once she gets fed tomorrow."

Yoruichi said nothing as she began to put a few boxes of cereal away, but even with the young woman's frighteningly long hair and sunken eyes she knew exactly who it was. Her topaz eyes drifted back to the drifter as she shifted in her sleep, and once again her hand involuntarily clenched into a fist that Kisuke didn't see.