Summary:AU, feudal era tale. Disguising herself as her brother, Rukia finds herself plunged into a whole new world: The world of the samurai. With the war looming ever closer, she didn't expect love and friendship to be part of the deal. IchixRuki, RenxOC
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach
"War. A disease that affects both the highest members of aristocracy and the lowest forms of peasants. There is no cure. Either wait it out or fight back."
It's nearing the end of the 11th century in North Kyoto, Japan. The feudal era is now coming to a halt as power struggles are resolved and bonds are established between the major families so now a calming blanket of peace has begun to descend upon the country, the normalcy that its citizens crave with it. Trade has started to pick up once again and people are no longer afraid to walk the streets.
A new sense of hope has sprouted in the heart of the japanese people and - despite continuing threats from the west countries - both the noble and the poor were determined to nurse Japan from its knees.
Young children wove through the throng of people in the market, laughing with joy as they swept around the sea of feet. A group of five or six boys and girls ran through the dirt streets barefoot, a clear sign of poverty yet their beaming grins said otherwise as they played, care-free, down the road.
Distracted by euphoria and excitement, one of the younger girls stumbled over a rut in the path and toppled into a curtain of expensive-looking silk being worn by a bystander, before falling to the ground and raising a small cloud of dust in her wake. She rubbed her small fists over her eyes to rid them of the tears, but found herself pressed forcefully to the floor by her wrists, dirt grinding under her exposed skin as her blue eyes stared up at a young man in dark clothing with a fearsome look on his face. The cold kiss of steel upon the girl's throat restrained her from talking as he held a katana poised above the delicate skin of her neck.
Craning his own towards the lady who was standing next to him, wearing the same fabric that the girl had run into, he asked her with polite formality, "Miss, what should be done with this child?"
A soft voice sounded from out of the child's eyesight, beyond the glare the sun cast upon the katana.
"Leave her Kenshin, she didn't do anything wrong. Besides, she's only a child."
The pressure against her wrists and the sword on her throat dissipated as quickly as it had appeared and the terrified girl gazed up at the woman in front of her. She wore a purple, heavily embroidered silk kimono along with several items of jewellery that looked like it would cost an entire army per each piece. Her raven-coloured hair shimmered as she crouched down before the girl, ignoring the dirt settling on her, and her amethyst-coloured eyes surveyed the child.
Smiling kindly, she spoke to the sniffling blue-eyed girl.
"Hello, I'm sorry if my bodyguard scared you. He's just a bit overprotective, that's all."
Pausing, she gauged the child's reaction. The small, brown-haired girl seemed to be transfixed on her appearance more than anything else.
I suppose she has never seen a noble before… Oh, I know what to do.
Slipping one of the thinner bracelets off of her wrist, she handed it to the child with another smile, and folded her hands over the delicate gold circlet.
"Here," she exclaimed gently, "Have this bracelet. It shows I'm sorry. Do you like it?"
Still dumbfounded, the girl managed to nod whilst staring adoringly at the bracelet she held in her chubby hands.
"Good." The woman straightened up and, ignoring the stares of the crowd that had started to accumulate, began to walk away with Kenshin shadowing her footsteps in his normal way. Just as she went to turn the corner of the street, a voice behind her cried "Wait!"
Looking over her shoulder, her eyes met the little girl's. She had the bracelet strapped loosely on her skinny wrists and her face, previously scared, now held a happy smile. Dipping low to the floor, she bowed, albeit a little clumsily.
"Thank you very much, missus!"
"You're welcome. And it's not missus, my name is Kuchiki Rukia." She replied, before turning away and blending into the crowd with a quick gesture for Kenshin to follow.
Sluggishly, Rukia trudged through the corridors in her tabi socks, headed towards her sister's study. Her trip to the private hot springs in town had been more draining than she thought it would be. First, the incident on the street, followed by the sheer amount of inane chatter she had endured from the woman elders of the clan whilst at the springs themselves, the place of supposed relaxation. It was enough to tire anyone out, not to mention a sixteen year old girl.
Even if that girl happens to be a noble.
Rukia sighed and knocked on the frame of the sliding door before she heard Hisana's voice beckon her in.
She was sitting cross-legged at her desk, surrounded by books and pieces of paper and reading a rather long piece of script diligently. Her ever-familiar dark silver eyes glanced at Rukia as she came in before returning to the writing before her.
"Hello Rukia. How were the springs today?" she asked with a light-hearted undertone.
"Ugh…" was her only reply as she wandered into the room and collapsed onto the floor beside her older sister, silently cursing the uncomfortable kimono that she was forced to wear that day. "I can't stand those women. They're so condescending!" She buried her head in her arms in frustration, hair pins falling out onto the polished wooden floorboards.
She felt a hand rest on the top of head. Lifting her gaze to Hisana, she found her hand patting the top of her head lovingly.
"It'll get better soon. I promise. As soon as you find a suitable husband, then they'll quiet down."
"Pfft," Rukia scoffed, "Like THAT'S going to happen anytime soon. I have no interest in men…"
Retreating towards the door, she got up to leave. Her hand hesitated on the smooth paper of the sliding partition, before she withdrew it again.
"How is Sota today?" she asked, her eyebrows furrowed in concern.
And her concern was well-instated.
Sighing, Hisana ran a hand through her long, dark hair. The bags under her eyes seemed to worsen in the light from the doorway and she looked even more tired than she usually did these days.
Rukia's heart sunk.
Of course he's not any better. I shouldn't expect any less.
Leaving her sister in the study, Rukia walked towards his room through the expansive corridors. "I'm going to go see Sota…" she muttered more to herself than for anyone else's benefit.
Sota is the second youngest of the four Kuchiki siblings, now aged 17. Since he was young, his very existence has been kept secret from most of the noble population. Only closely related clans and family friends know about the 'Sickly Child' as he was labelled, as the family did not want to show weakness; In these times of feuding and social unstability, weakness is something that has no place in the life of a noble.
At the age of 8, Sota was diagnosed with a specific disease that weakens the muscle cores, loosening the fibres and proteins that construct them. This meant that he was mostly bedridden, only occasionally finding enough strength to walk to the veranda and sit by the oriental garden that the family had built.
But, up until very recently, Sota's health had been getting increasingly better by the day. This went to the extent that he began his sword training once again, the thing that he loved to do the most in the entire world. The prestigious Kuchiki samurai blood that thumped his veins beckoned him to the sword and he was more than willing to answer its call after many years of sickness and waiting. However, this small triumph was short lived as he succumbed to the disease soon after and lapsed into ill-health once again.
Almost everyone in the family had given up on Sota. As his muscles began to deteriorate and his life shortened, only three stood by his bedside.
His brother and his sisters.
Like Rukia did now.
She knelt beside his luxurious four-post bed on a small cushion and swept his long hair out of his closed eyes with gentle fingers.
"Sota, you can stop pretending… I know you're awake, fool." Rukia stated, poking him on the cheek…
Sota's face creased on contact with her extremely pointy finger and his eyes snapped open. His glare turned to her and deep onyx met smug amethyst.
Sitting up from underneath thick silk covers, he propped himself up on shaky elbows and flicked hair from his face. For someone who didn't know any better, both he and Rukia could be twins; the similarity of their faces was uncanny and their hair was the same hue, as with almost all of the Kuchiki family. One of the very few differences between them was the eye colour, the year difference in age and Rukia's lack of height. The latter of which making a rather fine topic for Sota to tease her on, which he tended to do often.
He grumbled "You didn't have to do that so hard, y'know…."
Narrowing his eyes at the way she stuck her tongue out in response, he twisted himself into a more comfortable position.
"So," Sota said offhandedly, "What brings you to these parts…of the house?" he added with a chuckle.
Sighing in mock exasperation, Rukia flicked him lightly in the forehead. "Because I felt like it, that's why."
"Rukia. You should know by now that you can't lie to me. What's up?"
Looking up into her brother's eyes, she was surprised to find them deadly serious. Blowing a stray bang out of her face (and failing miserably), she began. The two stayed there until the last rays of the sun had long disappeared late in the evening before Sota announced he was too tired to talk for much longer.
Retiring to her own room, Rukia quickly changed and flopped onto her bed, being totally exhausted too. Being a young woman in those times was tiring, but at least she could talk and joke about it with Sota; sometimes, he was more like a friend than a brother to her, and she loved him dearly.
People seemed to think that, just because his muscles have deteriorated, he's utterly useless and merely a burden to their family. Well, he's more than useless.
He is still a human being. I know he hates being cooped up in that room all day, every day, but the most I can do for him is to keep him company… I just wish I could do something more for him. Something more worthwhile…
She sighed deeply and pulled the covers under her chin.
…But the worst things always happen to good people. It always works out like that, and there's nothing I can do about it.
A solitary tear slid down her cheek and fell onto her pillow as the feelings of helplessness washed over her, pulling at her resolve, and teasing it at the seams. As it slowly began to subside and retreat, the haze of sleep descended on her weary mind and she welcomed it with arms wide open.
Just as she was about to drift into unconsciousness, a very flustered Hisana burst through the doorway, breathing fast and brandishing a piece of paper in her hand. Her eyes flashed with urgency, her cheeks flushed as she swept over to Rukia.
"It's from Byakuya!"
Eyes wide, Rukia took the crumpled paper from her sister's outstretched hand and unfolded it, eyes flitting over the elegant script fluidly scrawled across the page.
To Hisana, Sota and Rukia,
I received your many letters, and thank you for thinking of me. However, I was unable to send many back, due to tight security, hence why you may not have heard from me in a while. For that I am sorry. I am doing well and I have, without much difficulty, ascended to the rank of captain within the 13 squads of the army.
However, from this point onwards of this letter, these things do not matter as the information being given to you now is of the utmost importance.
An army of Caucasians from the west - calling themselves 'Brittanians' - have waged war on Japan. Their attack is estimated to be around two or three months from now. In that time, we must gather as many warriors as possible in Tokyo before they arrive. Along with this message, I sent several soldiers who have probably already began to round up all of the able-bodied men in the city.
Before I left for the frontline a year ago, Sota, you were well enough to handle a sword. I hope that, since then, your health has only gotten better. This means that you must also come and fight. The family name is riding on you, and the entire clan will be disgraced if you refuse to come so I'm afraid that it is mandatory that you fight, regardless of whether you want to. I've instructed the soldiers who accompanied this letter to fetch you the evening after you receive this, so prepare yourself.
Japan is now officially at war. Hisana and Rukia, I want you to stay in Kyoto. Away from the fighting, where you're safe.
Sota, I expect to see you when the time comes. We MUST protect this country.
I love you all.
As a multitude of emotions raged around inside of her, Rukia's grip over the letter tightened.
Shock… Dread… Anger… Fear…
She turned towards her older sister and placed the letter on the floor between them.
Her hands were shaking.
Slowly, she swallowed the lump in her throat as best as possible before stammering "W-what are we going to do? Sota can't go! N-no way!"
"I know, Rukia! But…" Hisana's voice cracked and she cradled her head in her hands, "…it looks like we have no choice but to shame the clan. Sota is more important than that."
Rukia's breathing became erratic. The clan name is all they have. Both their parents died when they were merely children so the small fortune left to them must be used sparingly over the years, and they own nothing much else apart from the house they lived in.
But the prestigious Kuchiki name is worth more than all of their possessions put together. Their name classes them as nobles, puts them aside from the families of peasants, and (much to Rukia's chagrin) made them further eligible for marriage into a rich family.
What would happen if that name was gone?
Dirtied and disgraced.
They would have nothing. Nothing!
Except the whispers of memories from before their mother and father went to war. They had both been samurai, the best of their time. Including their mother. One of the first female samurai ever to be allowed into the army, purely based on her skill with a katana…
Something inside Rukia's brain clicked.
Yes…Yes, that's the answer… I go and join the war, INSTEAD of Sota! That's it!
Somewhere within her soul, a flame began to flicker.
The more she thought about it, the more it made sense. She began to think through what would happen if she went through with it, and soon she had convinced herself that this was the right way to do it.
That fire began to grow and soon she was ablaze with determination. She could feel it pounding through her veins, invigorating every cell in her body, heightening her senses and she could almost feel her mind focusing. She noticed that Hisana had already left and had taken the light with her so now Rukia sat alone in the darkness, but that didn't matter.
So there she sat, planning what will pan out over the next twenty four hours, her mind whirring in frenzied anticipation. The only question was…
Could she pull it off?
Today was the day. THE day. And Rukia could not be more excited.
The concept of war is a frightening and gruesome prospect to most, but it just sparked Rukia's anticipation like adding a match to kindling. The speed, the heat and the ferocity of battle she yearned for; she could practically feel her samurai blood pulsing through her body.
And so she put her plan into action.
In the early hours of the morning, as the sun began to peek over the stone wall of the garden, she stole like a shadow across the courtyard, eyes darting from side to side. Her bare feet made no sound as she stepped lithely onto the wooden veranda, the hard wood cold beneath her toes.
Trying to be as quiet as possible, she tentatively peeled back the sliding partition and tip-toed into Sota's room. She crept over towards the grand bed and the mound of silk laying on it, and peered at his face.
Fast asleep. Good.
Everything was going smoothly.
Walking over to the ornamental wardrobe in the corner of the room, she grasped the ornate gold handles and pulled. They opened to reveal a menagerie of glorious clothes, from vibrant reds to cool violets, yukata to haori. She marvelled over the fabrics and the hues; she had never even seen Sota wear any of these beautiful clothes.
She shook her head to clear her mind. Focus, She told herself.
Reaching through the sea of material, she pulled out the first thing she could grab hold of and surveyed them quickly. First she pulled out a black mens kimono with matching hakama with a pale green obi belt in the family's colours, followed by a white hakama and a white obi belt. Just as she was peering into the back of the wardrobe for a top half, a grumble emerged from behind her.
Rukia's breath hitched and she froze. The sounds of someone moving behind her filled her eardrums and she slowly turned her head and looked over her shoulder.
The lump on the bed began to stir.
He's going to see me!
Panic rose in Rukia's throat, threatening to swallow her. If anyone finds me now, then the plan is ruined.
Hastily, Rukia reached into the closet once more, pulled out whatever her hand touched first before shutting the door as quietly as she could, gathering the clothing into her arms and bolting out of the door; back towards the safety of her room.
Flying through the house, she made it there in little time and slid the door shut behind her.
She went over to her bed and dropped the stolen clothing onto it, before falling to her knees in relief.
She let out a breath she didn't even know she was holding.
It really was beautiful. Turns out that, whilst in an utter panic, she had grabbed the perfect item of clothing. It was a top to match the white hakama she found earlier. Again, it was pale green, plain, and made of a light material, yet it felt warm beneath her fingertips as she caressed the fabric.
It was the perfect choice for a soldier that was on the move.
Almost like… like it was meant for me…
She held it up by the shoulders, admiring the handiwork of the craftsmen who made it.
She was surprised when she heard a small clatter sound from the floor: something had fallen out of the pocket.
Rukia turned her gaze downwards, and gasped when she saw what lay there, white and crystalline on the wooden boards.
Identical to the ones Byakuya is constantly wearing.
Oh, I can't BELIEVE my luck today!
Breakfast was a silent affair, as was lunch. Neither Rukia nor Hisana had much to say, and silence reigned over the table as both at their meal. Rukia noted that Hisana was seemingly despondent as she poked grains of rice round her bowl with her chopsticks; however, she was sure that if she were to comfort her, then she would give it all away. It was taking all of the will power she possessed to not tell Hisana of her plan, for she would try to stop her.
But it was still difficult. She always told Hisana everything. So it was all she could do to just bite her tongue to stop herself from saying anything stupid.
Sighing, Rukia excused herself. Almost everything was falling into place. And she just couldn't afford to mess things up now.
But she couldn't help but almost skip to her room as she walked through the familiar corridors.
And as evening began to fall, her excitement only intensified. She could almost taste it.
The preparations had all been made. Lying under her bed-sheets was a medium sized bag that could be slung over one shoulder. Inside it was the pale green top with the white hakama trousers and obi belt along with an extra pair of tabi socks and some sturdy sandals. Also, there were several lengths of thick bandages along with a small ornamental (but nonetheless dangerous) dagger that she had stolen from the dining room and a small bag of money.
You have to be prepared if you're going to war, right?
Rukia stood in front of her mirror. She had just finished wrapping her chest tightly with bandages and - despite struggling to draw air – it worked rather well. Her chest was now practically flat. She was never very… big to begin with so it was not as much of a problem as it would be to most women her age. Shrugging her arms through the sleeves of the men's kimono and tying on the pants and obi belt, she admired her appearance.
From the neck down, she looked totally like a man. The black kimono was loose fitting yet the length and size were perfect for her small stature meaning that it would easily disguise the fact that she was, in fact, a girl.
But as for neck upwards, that was a different story. Her hair was still too long.
She had already considered cutting it off with the dagger, yet hadn't the heart when it came down to it.
Regardless, she attached the kenseikan in the way she had watched Byakuya do many times, twisting her hair delicately into the porcelain semi-tubes and then letting the resulting bangs hang over her right eye.
Absentmindedly, she scanned the room.
This may be the last time I see this place…
Her gaze caught on something. A white ribbon dangling out of her dressing table.
Quickly, she rushed over and grabbed the thin strand of silk before pulling back the longer parts of her hair into a low ponytail and tying with the ribbon securely. Without tying a bow; that would be too woman-like.
The more simple the better.
Glancing once more in the mirror, she was again impressed. She looked rather like a younger version of Byakuya, albeit more pretty rather than handsome, but definitely more boyish than before. Satisfied, she turned away for the last time and lifted the cloth bag from its hiding place, heaving it onto her shoulder. One last stop, then she would be gone.
She cast one more longing look at the room before flitting out through the door and closing it quietly behind her.
There was a small rustling as the small wind she caused disturbed a piece of paper in the room: a letter that had been placed on her pillow.
It was labelled…
Dear Hisana… x
Stepping through the musty family dojo, Rukia felt a distinct chill run down her spine as she got closer and closer to her objective.
On the wall before her bear the names of her ancestors that had practiced in this ancient and prestigious dojo, pinned to the wall on wooden planks that lined the white plaster. Wooden kendo swords were stacked against one of the walls and there was half of a demolished straw dummy in another corner.
She sighed. So many memories…
The waves of nostalgia seemed to roll over her with every step she took.
That creaky floorboard, the loose door, and the good wooden sword…
That time I and Sota were training…
"Come on Rukia! Keep going!" shouted a sixteen year old Sota from the sidelines as Rukia brought down her wooden sword relentlessly on Byakuya's. He swept it expertly away like it was nothing and countered, which Rukia just managed to dodge and leap backwards out of its path.
She was breathing hard, sweating and her face was flushed.
But she was happy. Byakuya had come back from the army camp for a week, and had agreed to train both her and Sota during his stay. Now, the entire remains of the family were together again. Like it should be.
But she wasn't sure she could keep this up. They'd been going at it for almost half an hour now and her muscles screamed with exhaustion. The hands holding her wooden sword were shaking and she could almost feel the blood pulsing through her head to the rhythm of her frantic heartbeat.
"Just one last shot! C'mon, give him all you've got Rukia!" Sota punched the air, cheering her on, and her body felt just that little bit lighter. Turning to face Byakuya, who was standing in a relaxed battle stance, she readjusted the grip on her sword.
Taking deep breaths, she blinked her eyes shut.
Right, she thought, this is it. One last hit. And I WILL hit!
Opening her eyes, everything seemed to disappear. The only things that remained were Byakuya and his practice sword. Her eyes roamed over him, taking in any dips in defence, feet position, everything. She was ready.
Sword raised high, she summoned what was left of her stamina and leapt for him.
She had reached the far side of the dojo. In front of her, on the crumbling wall, stood two katana.
Reaching out her hand, she took a sheathed sword from its stand on the wall. She marvelled at the battered wooden cover, the blue enamel chipped and scarred in some places from the strain of battle. She ran her hands over the weathered hilt, fingers skimming over snowflake-like indents in the steel before reaching the silk criss-crossed handle and the small, white ribbon that dangled from it. She could almost feel its history underneath her fingertips.
Being careful to ensure it was done up tightly, she added the katana inside her obi belt.
She gazed at the name scratched and painted onto the wall.
Sode no Shirayuki
She almost smiled at the familiar name.
She bowed down before standing upright and placing her hands over her racing heart.
"I'll make you proud mother, father. Just you watch."
And she ran out into the night.
Before I say anything else, thank you VERY much for reading, especially if you read all the way to the end. It's my first ever fanfiction so I'm rather anxious to say the least!
I would like to say sorry for any mistakes I may have made. I would also like to say, at this point, that most of the historical content I put in this fanfiction is NOT ACCURATE. Therefore, I also apologize if I have misused any Japanese terms incorrectly as, being English, I don't know much about Japanese culture. Oh and as for the RenjixOC pairing, I usually don't like using OC's in pairings but the OC I plan to use has been created by carrietheninja in one of her Bleach stories, The College Experience. I recommend you go check it out. It's absolutely awesome and so is she!
I sincerely hope you liked the chapter, and if you didn't then... (shrugs) that's okay too. In fact, it would be nice if you told me what you thought of it. Anything is welcome. Criticism, things you like, things you didn't like, suggestions, absolutely everything. So click that shiny little review button and let me know. I will reply to all reviews personally, so be reassured, your opinion is not going to waste. :)