Summary:A 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
A quick thanks to anyone who added this to their favourites or alerts list, along with my trusty reviewers: None93 ; pAnda143 ; carrietheninja along with Chappy9 (I'm really glad you liked the first chapter, I hope you're not disappointed by this one!) andMikazuki Mitsukai (Thanks for reading, and I'm happy you liked what you read!)
Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach
UPDATE: Bit of proof-reading in order to eliminate any errors I made, and to gain a little inspiration for the next chapter which is half written at this point in time. Please be patient!
The soldiers arrived exactly as the last rays of the sun disappeared over the horizon.
And Rukia was there to greet them.
Ready dressed in her men's clothing, with her bag secured tightly on her shoulder, she was leaning casually against the ornate wooden doors that allowed entrance to the Kuchiki compound with one watchful eye on the men approaching her.
One was younger, maybe mid-twenties, with long dark hair. The other was a gargoyle of a man, scars littering his sun-darkened skin until it was almost just a mesh of raised pink skin. He had an eye patch over one eye, obviously lost in a viscous battle. A seasoned warrior, through and through.
As they reached her, the first to speak was the younger of the two. He cleared his throat.
"Good evening sir. We were sent to accompany Ku-" he began, but was quickly interrupted.
Dear Lord, PLEASE let this work. Here goes…
"Yes, yes I know. Kuchiki Sota right? Well…" she swept her arms, gesturing to herself, "Here I am." Rukia stated impatiently in deep voice, that she had practiced whilst waiting for the soldiers' arrival.
She needed to get as far away from the house as possible. The prospect of her being found out this early in the game was not something that was particularly… appealing to her and the closer to the house they were, the more chance of Hisana coming to drag her back.
And when I say drag, I mean that literally. By the ear if she had to.
Surprised, they faltered momentarily before bowing and the young man stammered an apology.
"Please, whilst you are in my company, you do not have to bow or address me any more formally than you would to your fellows. Now, shall we go?" Rukia began to peel herself off of the door and took a step towards the men but stopped in her tracks when the old man spoke.
"I don't mean to sound impudent, but surely you wish to say goodbye to your family… Aren't you in a bit of a hurry?" the man said, in a sort of knarled voice that practically emanated age and overuse. The questioning undertone of his voice was evident: he suspected her already.
Her anger flared.
Suspicious old coot…
Then again, he does have a point… But fortunately, Rukia had already thought of this and replied in a very calm and ,again, previously-rehearsed manner.
"I have already said my goodbyes to my family members, and I do not want to prolong them, as it will only cause my sisters pain."
It felt very peculiar to say sisters rather than sister, Rukia noted semi-consciously.
Nonetheless, the old man just raised a scarred eyebrow and didn't say another word after that, merely turning around and gesturing for both of them to follow him. Suppressing the urge to kick him in his bony old behind, she followed along with the other man who merely seemed content to walk alongside her.
She was very careful to not walk in the elegant shuffle she had been taught. At first she attempted to slouch, but almost winced as the already tight bindings over her chest became so constricting that she struggled to draw oxygen. So instead she settled for taking long, loping strides.
Or as long and loping as her short legs could do.
As she continued to walk through the almost empty streets alongside the two soldiers, she found herself thinking how difficult things were, pretending to be a guy. She had barely even left the confines of her house and she had already had to constantly think about what she was doing: Any lapse in concentration could lead to her discovery. A mere flicker of doubt crossed her mind.
I really didn't think about this…It's going to be a lot tougher than I thought it would be.
The orange light of the sunset had long disappeared over the horizon, leaving only a purple haze in its wake and the stars had just begun to shine in the clear evening sky. The temperature soon began to drop and Rukia found it strange that she almost missed the stifling layers of heavy material that her own kimono and yukata were made of…almost. But, even in the cold, she felt more comfortable in men's clothing, as much as that thought disturbed her.
The evening's brisk air didn't seem to affect the two men walking alongside her. They didn't shiver as she did; being the coveted little sister of the Kuchiki clan had its downside. No resistance against the elements at all.
She glared at the back of the old warrior in its thick, black cotton haori. She really should have thought this out better.
Soon, they entered an unpleasant part of the city that Rukia hadn't encountered before. The smell of unclean people lingered in the air, and the ramshackle houses on either side of the street leaned on one another, unable to support their own weight. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as she felt the burning of eyes focused upon her, spying from the gaping doorways, around corners, from everywhere.
Some part of her wanted to run. To scream and run. She felt too vulnerable, too open with those prying eyes taking her apart, analytically studying her, piece by piece. Heart thumping hard in her chest, she tried to stop her feet from making that inevitable first running stride, the one that would show her for what she really is.
A scared little girl.
Is that what I really am? I thought I was better than that.
Her confidence waned. Her sure-fire attitude had long dissipated into the gloomy recesses of the humdrum little town. She was afraid.
Slowly, she bought her hand over to her katana and rested her hand on the hilt. The weathered silk underneath her palm was almost soothing, yet she felt a strange surge in power, a sort of self assurance that resonated through her entire body, buzzing through her veins. The fear was gone and the sensation of being watched disappeared along with it.
She let out a small sigh of relief, not enough to be heard by the two men.
Hand still poised on the reassuring solidness of her sword, she continued down the street, insecurity forgotten.
Before long, the horrible stench began to recede from her nostrils as they entered the very northern edge of Kyoto, leaving the decrepit village behind them and entering the outskirts of a forest.
The peaceful chirping of cicadas amongst the trees was the only sound that could be heard besides her own soft breathing and the stones that clicked under her sandals. It was such a beautiful night, as well as her first proper excursion outside the city.
The young man broke the silence.
"We're nearly to the camp."
Looking up ahead, upon the ridge of the hill they were ascending was a strange orange glow, and now that he mentioned it, she could smell the faint smell of campfire smoke in the breeze.
Her heart skipped a beat.
She was this close to truly having begun her journey.
And the sense of thrill that ran through her body was staggering.
They reached the top of the hill and Rukia gazed down in awe at the sight before her. A huge congregation of people were smattered around in clumps, surrounding small fires set up at random intervals. The hum of voices travelled from the mile-wide camp below her and she shivered in anticipation.
Inhaling, she took a step forward.
That was all Rukia could see as she attempted to wade through the enormous sea of people.
The smell of musk surrounded her, and the heat from both the multitude of bodies and the fires was stifling. Squeezing through gaps in the crowd she managed to make it to a relatively empty part of the camp where she leaned up against a weathered tree to rest.
The two soldiers who had accompanied her earlier had long disappeared into the dense crowd, and in an offhand thought, Rukia realised she never found out their names. It would have been nice to at least know one person amongst this rabble of egotistical, testosterone-filled idiots. Even if it was just the old guy, although the younger one would have been preferable.
The less intelligent, the better.
She traced patterns in the knarred tree's trunk, absently blowing the three strands of hair that the kenseikan housed out of her vision, just to let them fall back again. The hazy warmth of the nearest campfire heated her face pleasantly, and she found herself starting to nod off.
Sliding down the length of the tree and nestling comfortably in between the raised network of roots, she began to succumb to the fog of sleep, when she was quickly awoken by a harsh voice booming over the entire campsite.
"Alright men! Listen up!"
Rukia peered over the heads of many before her gaze settled on a beast of a man standing on a crudely made platform in the centre of the field. The light emanating from the surrounding fires that was previously comforting and restful became almost menacing as it flickered over the man's face, casting ghastly looking shadows. Wearing a pure white haori over nothing but bandages and a black hakama, she got a view of a large portion of his body; he had obviously trained obsessively and was packed with tightly wound muscles.
He stood at least six and a half foot tall, and held a large, unsheathed sword in his right hand, which he rested casually on his massive shoulder.
"Now that I've got your attention," he started, "You just need to shut up and listen. Now, I don't really care about who you are, but I'm Kenpachi. Zaraki Kenpachi. And I'm going to lead you to Tokyo, where the war is going to start. All you have to do is do exactly as either me or my subordinates tell you."
For the first time, Rukia noticed that there were actually people standing behind the behemoth Kenpachi. Her brain clinched with recognition as she saw the old man from earlier. There was also a bald guy and next to him was a man with seemingly orange hair. For a second, her brain registered it as a sort of trick of the light or maybe just the glow from the fires.
Nevertheless, Kenpachi began to talk again, and she found herself fearful to look away as she drew her eyes to the intimidating figure.
"I hope you're as pumped as I am about this fight!"
A huge chorus of cheers and woops emerged from the crowd as many got to their feet and hollered in agreement, fists pumping the air.
Rukia almost felt inclined to join them.
"So rest up, and tomorrow we move out. And I'm warning you," the man bellowed, a strange toothy grin splashed over his face, "…do what we say or I'll kill you."
For some strange reason that Rukia couldn't comprehend, some of the men began to laugh, as if he were merely bluffing. Kenpachi apparently joined in with the guffawing fools down below him before stopping abruptly and adding,
"I wasn't joking."
Immediately, the laughter wheedled out.
Ha, thought Rukia, serves them right.
Frustrated, Rukia turned over once again.
This had to be one of the worst places to sleep. Although, between sleeping on the dirty floor or sleeping on the branch of a tree, there wasn't a lot of choice. The stiff wood didn't offer much in the comfort department, and the constant brushing of the leaves against her felt like icy fingers gliding over the surface of her skin: It sent a shiver down her spine every time.
But at least it was better than sleeping amongst the sweaty, heaving mass of male life forms on the ground, by a long shot.
And to top it all off, she was extremely hungry. The meagre meal of salmon and rice issued by the camp cooks hadn't satiated her desire for food and now, just over two hours later, her stomach was growling for more. She almost felt like she could eat an entire pig.
This was not what she had in mind at all.
As much as she felt like cursing this stupid war with its stupid food portions and stupid uncomfortable trees, she couldn't deny the fact that somewhere deep inside of her was enjoying all of this.
Never knowing what will happen next, no boundaries, and no limitations.
Yes, she was uncomfortable, hungry and extremely irritable. But Rukia's long time craving for adventure had finally begun to be satisfied.
She breathed in a lungful of the fresh almost-morning air.
The sky had already begun its transition from midnight blue to a lighter shade, a clear sign that the sun was about to rise. Climbing down from her perch amongst the trees, Rukia jumped the last bit of distance to the ground. Her knees shuddered when she impacted with the hard ground, and she almost stumbled flat on her face.
Luckily, nobody was awake to see her.
Note to self: Wake up your body BEFORE jumping out of trees.
The cheerful chirping of birds reached her ears as she walked through wave after wave of sleeping bodies, stepping over and around arms and legs, slowly weaving her way towards one of the several burnt out fires. Dew had already begun to accumulate on the grass and soak through her tabi socks and the very end of her hakama, leaving her with cold and wet feet by the time she actually reached the small pile of embers, which were glowing faintly orange underneath the pile of soot and ash.
Sitting on a conveniently placed log, she picked up a stick and prodded the fire, stirring the embers to bring it back to life. She placed a few sticks of kindling on top of the renewed flame, nursing the tiny flicker. Eventually, the wood reluctantly caught fire, the orange flames licking away, and Rukia just threw on a couple of logs and left it at that.
Reviving the fire had passed the time at least.
She heaved herself from the log, and caught a whiff of roasted meat on the wind; the camp cooks had started making breakfast. Her eyes practically lit up at the prospect.
But, first things first.
Heading towards the dense forest, she went to find a river to wash in. As much as the very thought repulsed her, it may be the last time in a while that she would be able to freshen up. She took her bag of things with her, still strapped over her shoulder, along with a small water gourd to fill up for the journey.
It doesn't hurt to be prepared.
This was really it. She was finally doing it.
They had set off from the camp roughly an hour ago and the army was on its way to Tokyo, where the war would commence.
Where the war begins…
She had given no thought about the war itself and now, as she walked along a long and gravelly road in a long train of men, her mind wandered hopelessly to what would become of her. She had next-to-none sword fighting experience and absolutely no experience actually using a real sword, one that can be used to kill rather than just bruise or maim, like the useless kendo swords she had used in the past. She swallowed.
This was going to be unbelievably hard. And she had to do it on her own.
Well… not quite.
Placing her hand on Sode no Shirayuki, she felt the reassuring buzz rush through her hand and up her arm.
She had her mother and father cheering her on from above.
It was late afternoon and the weather had taken a turn for the worst. Rukia's heart dropped as she saw a large black cloud looming on the horizon, dampening her already foul temperament.
They had been travelling along the same road all day and her entire body was screaming for rest. Hour after hour of rocky, uneven roads had taken its toll on her feet, giving her aching blisters where her sandals were. Her legs were filled with exhaustion and a stitch was searing through her midsection and had been for the past hour or so.
I swear my bag never used to be this heavy…
She sighed between her quick breathing and rolled her stiff shoulders.
Just think, it's all for Sota. And Hisana. For the entire Kuchiki clan. You're finally being useful for once in your life Rukia. Don't mess this up.
She was beginning to lag behind the rest of the men now, and even the most elderly of them had long passed her slow-moving form. It wasn't long before she found herself watching everybody from the very back. She felt even more alone than she did earlier now that she was separated from the rest of the group; she was her own one-man, solitary march.
She was so mixed up in her own thoughts that she failed to notice a dip in the road. Her foot slipped awkwardly down into it and set her off balance, wobbling precariously with arms waving, before she fell towards the floor face first.
She shut her eyes, awaiting the inevitable pain of impact and was surprised when it never came.
There was a sharp tug on the neck of her kimono as someone grabbed the thick material and pulled. Rukia's face stopped inches from the floor, her body almost cradled in the fabric as she hung inside it, all her weight falling forwards against the black material. It barely gave her enough time for her to register what was going on before she was yanked harshly away from the ground again by her kimono, the fabric cutting painfully into her underarms as it took her weight.
Disorientated, she was placed on her own wobbly feet and her head span in circles. Making sure that she had found her balance, she turned.
Before her stood a man. He was almost a head taller than her, if more. His face looked a year or two older than her own, with a defined jaw line and straight nose. Brown eyes, she noted. His hair sat in disorderly, orange spikes on the top of his head, but his features were twisted into a sort of smug grin.
"When they said they were sending me to 'pick up the stragglers', I didn't think they actually meant that literally!" he chuckled.
A spark of recognition sounded in her brain. It was the same orange haired man from yesterday, the one who was standing behind Kenpachi as one of his subordinates; there weren't exactly an abundance of people with that definitive hair colour. It had to be him.
"So, kid, you got anything to say?"
He looked at her expectantly, and cocked his head to one side.
Rukia opened her mouth to speak, but quickly shut it again. One wrong word and it was game over. If anyone in high up in authority sussed her real gender, the results would be disastrous. She would have to think this out carefully.
Clearing her throat and lowering her voice by a margin, she muttered "Thanks."
She turned rapidly on one heel and started to march towards the group again, which by now was a good quarter of a mile away. Cursing her clumsy feet, she stepped up the pace.
"Hey," yelled a voice from behind, "Where do you think you're going, you little…"
A hand on the back of her obi belt pulled her backwards, the soft green fabric acting as a restraint in the grasp of the angry orange-haired man.
"You can't just walk away. Is this the way you talk to your superiors, huh?! Little punk!"
That was it. She snapped.
Wheeling round, Rukia swung her elbow round her side to make contact with his wrist, effectively making him drop the fistful of fabric in his hand and, slowly, his arm fell back to his side. She turned her furious gaze to his, unleashing the full power of her glare upon his own scowling face.
Why could he not just leave me ALONE?!
Anger bubbled ominously behind her eyes and she yelled.
"I said thanks! What more do you want?! For me to bow and grovel at your feet?!"
She pressed her lips into a thin line and her nostrils flared as both her and the obnoxious man glowered at each other, neither saying a word.
But he was the first to break their fierce staring competition and the tense silence that had fallen between them.
Leaning into his heels, he scratched the back of his head. He tilted his chin upwards, surveying her from underneath his lowered eyelids.
"You move pretty quickly kid. I didn't even see your arm coming. You'll make a good fighter. But, in the future, make sure you respect your higher-ups. Or, you're gunna get yourself killed someday."
His words caught her off guard; the strangely wise, kind words made her double-take. Her eyes widened a fraction. Yet, the anger did not subside.
Still teeming with annoyance, she managed to hiss, "I'll keep that in mind" before she ran off down the road, dust flying. She ignored her protesting muscles and just let the fury that stirred in her take control, allowing the red haze to cover her eyes.
She was at the makeshift camp in no time.
Another uncomfortable night, and yet another tiring trek.
Except for this time, it was raining.
Rukia's hair lay plastered wetly to her forehead, and a tiny rain drop fell off of her nose. She was shivering in her soaking wet kimono, and the sopping material was exceedingly heavy now that it was laden with the water that poured down from the heavens. Tiny rivulets ran down her quivering hands as she tried to shield her eyes from the fierce wind that whipped the rain into her face, and the slap of the raindrops against her skin was like the sting of a thousand tiny lightning bolts.
Once again, she found herself at the back of the group, or platoon as some of the other men liked to call it. Her short legs coupled with her lack of long-distance stamina were her downfall; raw determination and pluckiness will only get you so far. And with the rain constantly pelting her from all angles, her resolve was starting to dwindle.
She sighed again for what seemed like the hundredth time that day, but the sound was lost to the wind.
At the next town, she was definitely buying a travelling cloak. Hopefully, that would keep the worst of the rain at bay for a while.
But as she continued to tread down the water-logged track, her mind wandered. Pleasant images of her home flitted in and out of focus: Hisana sitting at her desk, Sota fallen asleep on the veranda, Kenshin's reassuring presence shadowing her, her room, the dojo… A pang of yearning blossomed in her heart. She missed them dearly but she tried to push the feelings down, and swallowed the lump in her throat.
Getting upset wouldn't help anything.
The rain continued to pound her relentlessly as she trudged on, trying to keep the hazy memories of home out of her mind. However, walking only preoccupies the body, not the mind and didn't serve to take her mind off of the painful reminiscences.
A solitary tear rolled down her cheek and mingled with the rainwater before running off her chin.
Suddenly, someone came up behind her and placed a straw hat on her head, resting their hand on top. The wide-brimmed straw hat shielded her face from the unyielding rain, and the mesh of tightly wound wicker creaked in the wind but nonetheless held.
She turned around and peered through the torrents of rainfall.
The same man who had helped her yesterday was standing behind her. Although he seemed mainly dry due a thick haori he wore, his hair lay flat against his dripping face in thin orange tendrils.
"Hey kid. You look wet." He said.
"Yeah, you don't say…" she retorted haughtily, peering from underneath the hats brim.
He merely stood there and folded his arms across his chest, as if waiting for something. He raised one eyebrow.
There was something about this guy that got on her nerves, she quickly deduced as her felt her breathing heighten and her anger inflame. Glaring, she tore the hat off and held it out, almost wincing at the renewed harshness of the rain against her cold skin.
"I don't need your hat." Rukia said.
Abruptly, an itch in her nose suddenly gave way to a sneeze. She blinked in surprise.
"I think you do. You don't want to get sick now, do you?"
The edge of concern under the seemingly condescending comment caught her off guard once again.
He stepped towards her, taking the straw hat easily from her grasp and putting it back on her head.
"Do the straps up or it'll fly off."
Bewildered, Rukia fingered the small lengths of string that hung down from either side. Not wanting to look foolish, she awkwardly attempted to do up the straps, but only succeeded in getting them caught round her ears. She grunted.
"I've never done one of these before..."
He raised a quizzical eyebrow.
"You've got to be kidding me right?" he laughed.
A furious blush began to shine in her cheeks so she turned away, hoping the downpour of rain would cover her embarrassment. Crossing her arms stubbornly, she mumbled "No."
She could almost hear him rolling his eyes.
He sighed. "Fine then," he said, "I'll just have to do it."
Kneeling on the ground, he adjusted the hat on her head before reaching underneath for the thin straps.
Rukia's breath hitched as his hands reached for the strings round both sides of her face, heart pounding strangely fast in her chest; She was surprised he couldn't hear its frantic hammering, even through the intense rain.
He pulled the thin strands of string over her chin with gentle hands. Rukia marvelled as his large and calloused hands danced across her skin, ensuring it was on properly, before retreating. A shiver ran down her spine. Whether it was from the cold or not, she wasn't sure.
Standing back to admire his handiwork, he nodded, as if satisfied.
Now, even as the intense rain continued to fall, at least part of Rukia was dry and warm, which she was extremely happy for. Her dull mood began to improve slowly and soon it was all she could do to stop a smile from creeping onto her face.
She bowed to him.
"Thank you. I really appreciate it."
"Good to hear it, kid. Now we need to catch up with the others."
"It's not 'kid'. I'm only a year or so younger than you!" Rukia replied, pointing a finger at him.
"Well, that is right…" He placed a hand on his chin, "But that doesn't make you any less of one. Besides, whose the one her who is acting like a child?" With a grin, he gestured to her.
Looking down, Rukia quickly unfolded her arm, and then withdrew her finger.
She hated when she was wrong.
"Fine then. Well, call me by my name then. Not 'kid'."
He raised a quizzical eyebrow. "What is your name?"
"I'm Kurosaki Ichigo. I'm sure you might recognise me from Kenpachi's speech the other day." Puffing out his chest proudly, he smirked down at her. It soon disappeared when he heard what she had to say…
"Yeah. I'd recognise the hair colour anywhere."
The scowl returned… with a vengeance.
"Look Kuchiki, we'll be reaching the next town soon where we'll wait out the storm. I suggest you catch everyone up. Oh and keep an eye out for bandits. This area is renowned for 'em." He added, before storming off ahead, leaving Rukia to scurry after him.
Hey again, thanks for reading chapter two of Substitute Samurai. So, this chapter showed the appearance of Ichigo! Yes, IchikRuki fanatics, the Ichigo Rukia love is on its way. But I apologize if the story is a little slow. There is so much going on that I need to convey that it's going to take a little while but, NOT TO FEAR! It'll come in its own time. Besides, next chapter everything is beginning to heat up so look forward to it! I know I am :D The update should be soon! Although, college term has started now so it's a lot harder toget time just to sit down and write but, I assure you, I'll keep trying!
Oh and in your reviews, I got a couple of references about the film Mulan. As soon as I read that, I was like... OH YEAH! I just realised it. I only ever watched the film once, and the most I can remember was that there was a little red lizard/dragon... that didnt like being called lizard... Yes, I have a short attention span.
Feel free to ask me questions, give advice or review. It would be extremely helpful if you told me what you thought!
Thanks for reading again, and have a nice week!