"Whore," thought people in the street as she passed.
"Whore," thought her past five landlords when they first met.
"Whore," thought the doctors, even the one who helped with the delivery.
"Whore," thought the married women as she passed them in the grocery store.
"Whore," thought the business men on their way to work.
"Whore," thought the college students with upturned noses.
"Whore," thought the children who were old enough to know what the word meant.
And to make matters worse, Rukia knew they were right.
Velveteen Rabbits and Studded Belts-
Kuchiki Rukia leaned against the window of the train and tried to feign sleep, all too aware of the stares she was receiving. She shifted restlessly and adjusted her baby into a more comfortable position, gently brushing soft black locks of hair out of his closed eyes. She closed her eyes again and the whispers started once more.
This would be the seventh time she had moved in her life. The first time had been more than fifteen years ago and the last six times had all been in the past year. Most of the time it had been to find a better job, but some of the time it had been because she felt she could no longer stay.
She had run away more than a year and a half ago, but somehow she didn't regret it. Sure, she missed all her old friends -the only one she kept in contact with was Renji- but it felt good to get away. It was certainly harder than living as nicely as she used to, but…
She was going to Karakura now, a relatively small town in northern Kyushu. It was just small enough to escape the average person's notice, but large enough to entertain the possibility of finding a decent paying job. Its distance from Osaka was also a factor.
The train stopped and the doors opened, a mechanical voice calling out the name of Karakura. Rukia adjusted her dress, grabbed her backpack and bag, and hoisted her still sleeping baby into her arms. She exited the train and walked quickly into the train station. Rukia made her way to the downtown area and spent the next few hours looking for a cheap apartment. She looked at five, took a lunch break, and then looked at another two. Just when panic was starting to set in, she came across a rundown looking complex.
"How much is rent?" she asked the clerk at the front desk.
He stared at her, eyes going automatically between her face and her child who had grabbed onto her hair and was giggling.
"Shh, Kito," she said.
"Well…We have different sizes, but…" he said and named the lowest price range she had come across in a while.
"May I see the cheapest apartment?" she demanded, not bothering to mince her words.
The man nodded, still slightly dazed.
The apartment was, well…decent. It had two and a half small rooms; a kitchen, bedroom and a bathroom with a shower. The floor was made out of cheap, dust-covered wood and it had a slightly moldy scent to it, but it was good enough. It was still close to the downtown area and there was an outpatient clinic across from it, which Rukia liked.
"I'll take it," she said decisively.
"Er…may I see an I.D.?" he asked and Rukia scowled.
She really shouldn't have. She should be used to people thinking that she was underage because of her height.
After all the formalities were through, Rukia dropped her things in her new apartment and slide down against the wall into the dust.
Kito let out a sneeze, and the corners of her lips twitched. She took out her worn cell phone and sighed.
"Rukia! Did you find an apartment?" was what Renji answered his phone with.
"Yeah, though I'll probably be cleaning it for the next two years," she replied, absentmindedly rubbing the dusty floor with her fingers, "Though at least it has a fridge."
She heard Renji sigh at the other end, "Are you sure you don't need any help?" he asked hesitantly, "I mean, I would be happy to send you something, if you-"
"I'm fine," she said, "Really, Renji. I just have to find a job and I'll be okay. This apartment is cheaper than I calculated for, so I might even have extra money."
He snorted, and Rukia almost smiled.
"Howabout, Kito?" he asked next, "Is he…"
"No," Rukia said, tiredly, "He makes noises, but he hasn't said a word yet."
It was a subject that plagued her constantly.
"I'm sure it's all right," Renji assured her, "Maybe he's just a late bloomer."
"He should be talking by now," she muttered, more to herself than anything, "Should have been talking months ago."
"He walks though," Renji said, "That's a good sign, eh?"
"Yeah," she said, trying to be optimistic, "It is."
There was a pause and Rukia opened her mouth to say goodbye.
"He's worried about you, you know," Renji said quietly.
"Renji, I don't want to talk about thi-"
"Rukia, he'll find out eventually! What's the point of prolonging it?"
"He wouldn't be worried, if he knew," Rukia said angrily, causing Kito to look up quizzically at her, "He'd be ashamed of me," she let out a laugh, "More ashamed of me, really, though that hardly seems possible."
"You know that's not true," Renji replied, "He's your brother, why would-"
'Brother-in-law," she corrected, "And my sister's been dead for years. Why should he care?"
"Rukia, if you don't tell him-"
"Don't you dare!" she hissed, tensing up, "You promised, Renji, you promised that you wouldn't say a wor-"
"I know!" he said, cutting her off, "I won't tell him! I was going to say that you're going to make things harder than they already are!"
"Oh, joy," she said sarcastically, "Just what I need."
"Rukia…" he said exasperatedly.
"Renji, it's no good," she said, "I've always been too wild for him. You know how he is. He'd be furious if he knew I've had pre-martial sex, much less had a child out of wedlock. I've told you this before, Renji," she said almost sadly, "I don't even know who Kito's father is. There's no way I can face him after that."
"He's not all that bad, Rukia! Give him a chance. He'll forgive you eventua-"
"Look, Renji, I need to go," she said coldly, "I have to find a job."
She hung up.
"We don't need him," she said bringing Kito up to her face so that they touched noses, "Hmm? You don't want to meet nasty old Byakuya anyway, do you?"
Kito blinked solemnly at her.
"Oh, not you too," she muttered.
She stretched and rotated her neck until it cracked. She opened all the cabinets and found a phonebook.
"Alright," she said putting it down on the counter, "Babysitting services…"
She jotted a few numbers and addresses down and set on calling a few places. The first woman sounded nice, but admitted that she already had five children that she was looking after. That wouldn't do. The second turned out to be fourteen and though she had recently been one herself, Rukia would rather not have a teenager looking after her only child. The third was a middle-aged woman with no children of her own who seemed quite happy at the prospect of taking care of Kito. Rukia asked tentatively if the woman was busy at the moment and if she could drop Kito off now. She excitedly replied that she'd be happy to have him. Rukia smiled and after a brief look at a map of the city, took a bus to the closest stop to her house.
The woman, who introduced herself as Kotetsu Isane, stared at her at first, and then seemed to remember her manners and introduced herself. Her small house was immaculately clean to the point that Rukia was worried how she would react if Kito made a mess. After twenty minutes and a cup of coffee, however, Rukia was convinced that she meant well and made to leave.
"Are you sure he'll be alright?" Kotetsu asked worriedly, "Does he tend to cry if you leave him alone with someone he doesn't know?"
Rukia turned and looked down at her small child whom she was secretly glad looked so much like her.
"Oh, no!" she replied with a fake smile, "He'll be fine!"
After all, he was used to it by now.
Rukia went back to her new apartment and spent the next few hours sweeping and scrubbing the floor. She unpacked some worn sheets and a blanket and fitted them onto the western style bed that had been left in the bedroom. Then, with the money she had obtained by selling her previous furniture, she bought a rickety table, two mismatched chairs and a booster seat for Kito. She scrubbed the plastic dishes she had brought with her and then went grocery shopping, buying a large bag of white rice, some white miso, a few packages of udon and curry, and as much fresh fruit and vegetables as she could afford.
Exhausted, Rukia scouted out jobs. Restaurants, particularly sit-down ones, were where she had the best luck. Her boss couldn't breathe down her neck and the pay was usually decent. She found a slightly ragged looking café only a stop away from her apartment on the bus that had a sign that stated 'Servers Wanted.' She smiled and applied, only slightly taken aback by the manager/owner who was unshaven and wore a haori, geta, and a strange green and white hat.
Rukia knew that she should probably apply to other places, knowing her luck with such things, but she was too tired. Instead, she picked Kito up and made dinner in her newly cleaned apartment.
Kito dug in eagerly to his share of rice and curry, making soft sounds of delight. Rukia smiled faintly and she scrubbed his cheeks and hands clean afterwards.
"Such a dirty child," she muttered fondly and gave him a bath in the kitchen sink, despite his loud protests.
Rukia put him to bed at about nine and reluctantly called Renji again. She would have to apologize. She was being a stubborn fool and it wouldn't do to alienate the only friend she had left.
"Rukia?" he began hesitantly.
"I'm sorry," she began, "I shouldn't have hung up on you. I was just mad and…I took it out on you…"
"It's fine," he said, "I shouldn't have pried, I guess."
She gave an un-amused laugh, "I feel like such an idiot."
"How've you been?" he asked seriously, and almost sadly.
"I'm okay," she answered only a bit untruthfully, "Just…tired, really."
"That reminds me," Renji said, "I got a lot of stuff of yours in the mail. It's all…well, bills…"
"Oh, could you send them over, then?" she asked, "My current address is-"
"Look, Rukia, why don't you let me pay them for you. Please."
"What?! No, Renji, I couldn't possibly ask you to-"
"Please, Rukia. A gift, for your birthday or something?"
"My birthday was in January. It's almost July."
"I didn't get you a present."
"Well, to be fair, I didn't get you a present for your birthday either."
"Look, Rukia, please, just this once," he begged and she gave up at the weakness in his voice,
"Alright," she said, "Fine. But on the condition, you let me pay you back."
"Oh, c'mon, that's bull-"
"I pay you back or no deal."
"Fine, fine, you drive a hard bargain, boss."
"Don't call me that."
"You know you like it," he teased.
"Renji," she said softly, sinking down into one of the rickety chairs, "You know you're more of a brother to me than Byakuya ever could be, right?"
She heard him swallow on the other end, "I know."
The next few days, Rukia spent in total anxiety; waiting for a call from one of the places she applied to. She didn't get much sleep, though she wouldn't have even if she were relaxed. She had found out why her apartment was as cheap as it was. The clinic outside had ambulances constantly driving up to the front and Rukia was debating whether to actually spend money on some decent curtains. The ratty ones that covered the bedroom at the moment let light come through and she was sick of waking up to flashing red and blue lights.
Fortunately, she got a call from the first café she applied to and was set to work in a week. Her money was running out, so it was a welcome relief. It was good that she had gotten it so soon, because only two weeks later, summer began and all the stores were filled with wide-eyed high school students that tended to be more of a hindrance than a help.
Despite its obvious setbacks, Rukia was quite pleased with Karakura. It was much better than she ever expected. Maybe there was something to be said about small towns.
"Waitress!" a man called, signaling her over.
"What can I do for you?" Rukia said over the din. It was a Friday afternoon and there were a lot of businessmen in.
"Can we have five coffees, please?"
"Alright," Rukia said, scribbling the order on a pad of paper, "Anything else?"
"Can you join us?"
Rukia's head shot up and they all laughed. The suited men elbowed the one who had spoken jokingly. She hesitated.
"I'm sorry," Rukia said, "I'm not allowed to-"
"Oh, c'mon! Please!"
"I'm sorry," Rukia said, sincerely, "I'll go get your coffees."
She had almost forgot herself there. It scared her, how easy it would have been to go back to the person she once was. The person who wore cute clothes and makeup, and made eyes at boys as they walked past. Had she learned nothing? She left work that night disturbed, though she felt better changing out of her short skirted waitress uniform and into a loose sundress. She couldn't afford anything else and it was best she didn't attract any of that kind of attention again, or at least until Kito was grown.
It was six by the time she picked Kito up and she was halfway home before she realized that she needed to buy groceries. With no choice, she turned around and walked to a local supermarket store.
She hated shopping with Kito. Staying in any public place for an extended period of time, really. She hated the stares that people gave her. She found that the looks older women gave her were the worst. They turned their noses up at her and gave her disgusted looks as they stalked past her with their loaded shopping carts. She had grabbed package of the cheapest ramen and a bottle of juice when it happened.
Kito squirmed out of her grip and tottered over to a large assortment of candy on one of the shelves. He giggled and jabbed his finger with his limited motor skills.
"Shh…Kito," she said softly, "Maybe next time."
He made a whiny noise, grabbed onto a box and spilled its contents over the floor. Rukia swore, set him aside, and got on her hands and knees and began to place the candy bars back into the box.
"…can't even control her child…"
"…what a joke…"
Rukia clenched her teeth, but said nothing. She picked him up, and was about to leave, when she hesitated. One bar couldn't hurt. She could save it and give him a little piece every day…
Making her decision, Rukia grabbed a chocolate bar and purchased their food quickly. Walking back along the edge of the one-way street, she held Kito's hand tightly and straightened her back. She would not be ashamed. This was her life and how dare they judge her. She smiled down at her son and he opened his mouth and shrieked with delight.
"Shhh," Rukia said, laughing a little, "Not so loud!"
He broke free of her grip and ran around in a circle in front of her playfully.
"Kito," she said, "C'mon now, hold my hand again."
He pouted and crossed his hands in front of his chest.
She raised an eyebrow.
"Kito…" she said ominously.
He shook his head vigorously.
She signed, crouched down next to him, and held out her hand.
"Will you hold my hand?" she said softly.
He smiled all of the sudden and grabbed onto it, giggling again.
Rukia stared. It was almost depressing that she didn't really understand him.
"Let's go a bit faster, okay?" she said. In order to hold onto him, she carried all the grocery bags in one hand and they were getting heavy.
Her apartment building was a mere block, of course, when the bags broke.
"Shit!" Rukia exclaimed, trying to stop some cans from rolling away. She righted the bottle of juice and wiped off an apple with the hem of her dress.
Kito began to cry, fat tears rolling down his round cheeks.
"Oh, Kito, don't. It'll be fine, I promise, just please, please don't cry…"
She snatched at more bruised vegetables and began throwing them back into an unbroken bag. Kito did not stop crying. Rukia was about to tear out her hair, when she was interrupted.
"Uh…do you want any help?"
She looked up to see a boy with the most convincing dye job she had ever set eyes upon. His hair was a stark orange -eyebrows too?- and he wore jeans and a tee-shirt with the local high school's logo on it. He was much taller than she was, but she could tell by one look that he was several years younger.
"Oh, the bags broke…and he just won't stop crying!"
The boy slung his bag over his shoulder, looking at her like she was crazy.
"Here," Rukia said without thinking, "You hold him."
"Wha- hey, lady, I-" he said as she picked her crying son up and practically shoved him in his arms.
He held Kito in front of him and looked at him if he were a small nuclear bomb.
"Fuck, why does this always happen to me?" Rukia muttered, still trying to clean up her groceries.
"Er…" the boy said conversationally.
Kito, who had quieted the second he had been thrust into the boy's arm, began to wail loudly again.
"Hey, lady, your kid's…"
"I'm not deaf!" she snapped, grabbing at a packet of ramen, "Try talking to him or something."
The orange haired boy muttered something unintelligible.
"Kito," she cut in.
"Fine, Kito…umm…don't cry…?" he paused and then frowned, "Look, kid, hate to break it to you, but your crying isn't the nicest thing to listen to, so I'd quit while you're ahead."
Rukia was about to yell at him, when Kito actually stopped crying and tilted his head to the side cutely.
Oh, that was so unfair.
She stuffed the last of the food back into an unbroken bag.
"Thanks," she muttered grudgingly, as he let Kito down, looking dazed. Probably that he had managed to do something worthwhile, she though acidly.
There was a pause.
"Are you, like, new around here or something?" he asked.
"Yes…" Rukia said defensively.
"You don't have to be so suspicious. I was just asking," he said, scowling at her.
"Hmph," said Rukia, who was starting the develop a slight grudge against the boy.
"Er…well, I better be going," he said, making toward the outpatient clinic.
"You're the owners of that clinic?" she asked before she could stop herself.
"Well, yeah, my dad is…" his eyes narrowed suspiciously, "What about it?"
"It's so noisy all the time. All those ambulances."
"Hey, lady, try living under it."
"Don't call me lady," Rukia said in annoyance.
He snorted, "What am I supposed to call you, then?"
"Kuchiki Rukia," she said in a disdainful manner that she'd learned from the master, "And you?"
Rukia blinked, and looked down at her shopping bag, in which, under a bunch of chives, sat a box of strawberries.
She began to laugh.
A/N: Wow, this is my first Bleach fic! It's exciting, isn't it? Anyway, to clear a few things up:
One, I am not a single mother. So, please don't yell at me if I mess stuff up. In fact, do yell at me so I can fix it. Just bear that in mind while you're reading this.
Two, yes, Ichigo is underage. If that bothers you, then I suggest you don't read any further.
Three, Kito's father will not be part of this story. At all.
Four, I will not be writing any lemons. Sorry, if that disappoints you, but I'm really not comfortable writing them, and they would, well, suck. (There probably will be limes, though, if that makes you feel better…)
Five, for those of you who've never read any of my other stuff, I tend to update pretty slow, so please don't pester me about updating.
Also, I have a poll and a thing called Fic Status on my profile page that basically tells you how far I am along on the next chapter.
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to review!