Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach. That's KT's domain.

A/N: This story may be disturbing to those squicked by violent content and mentions of rape. (Renji isn't the rapist, in case that matters).

I'm a Bya/Ruki fan, but this little oneshot came to me and I thought it was… sad… But I had to get it out on paper.

~*~

They didn't realize how bad their life truly was… When they were still children.

Slowly but surely they came to understand the true scope of their hardships, and with each grave in the potter's field they dug for their friends… Their family… The young orphans became more and more desperate, and less and less innocent.

Still… The shinigami academy still seemed like a far off dream. Like something they would talk about around the campfire, before falling asleep holding each other for warmth, both never believing they would actually rise up to become more than they were.

Recently, Renji noted with a blush, that Rukia and he were getting older… Her kimono no longer fell properly past her knees nor closed to the neckline. His own was in disrepair and it was time once again to scavenge for what they could.

In a strange way, Renji had always felt it was somehow his responsibility to look after Rukia… Even though more often than not her quick wit got them out of more scrapes than his brawn. Still, she was the only person he felt any sort of responsibility to.

"Oi, Rukia… I'm going to steal some new clothes. You see if you can get us somethin' ta eat, okay?"

"You just better not get your dumbass caught!" She gave him a smirk.

"We'll meet at the usual spot by the river?" He cemented their plans and both went off in their separate directions.

Dammit… It was getting cold again… He wanted to surprise her and get them a blanket too.

~*~

The small ramen shop looked empty, and it was dark, but not yet as run down as it would have been if it had been abandoned for any length of time… This could be it!

Rukia crept inside and walked behind the counter to the back. If she was lucky… There may still be unused scraps somewhere around here. If not she'd have to steal directly from the stands at the market, and that was far more dangerous than simply looting.

She crouched low, so no one outside could see her through the shop windows and made her way behind the counter.

Somewhere in the back area of the kitchen, a pot fell, and Rukia froze. "He-hello?" The young girl called out into the darkness, hoping against hope it was only a rat.

No such luck.

A man, stumbling and smelling of alcohol came from the back, and quickly grabbed Rukia by the wrist, shoving her against the back wall; keeping them low to the ground and hidden from outside view.

As she struggled and kicked he clamped one salty damp hand over her mouth. "Shhhh… Ain't no screaming, you understand?" Rukia nodded, but he didn't let up and instead his eyes dipped to the hemline of her kimono, which was showing more than appropriate, by no wish or fault of her own.

"You sure are a pretty one… Even if y'look kinda young…" For a moment the man frowned, and seemed to think better of whatever he had previously been thinking.

Rukia managed to get some of the skin of his pudgy fingers between her teeth and used his distraction to bite down – hard.

She always had been a fighter.

Instead of releasing her the burly man snarled and brought his closed fist against the small girl's face. "Yer gonna pay fer that, wench!"

Rukia's head swam, and his hand pressed so hard against her mouth, and now her nose, that she couldn't breathe.

He pushed her down fully and laid his heavy weight on top of her. There was nothing now… Nothing but the massive weight against her chest and the panic which sets in when one's lungs begin to burn from lack of oxygen.

The last thing that Rukia felt was a hand on her thigh before the world went black.

~*~

Coming too was like coming up from underwater… Slow and agnozing. Her whole body hurt, and the shock was such that she still hadn't realized where most of that pain was localized. She lifted her head to the opening in the bar that led back to eating area of the deserted restaurant, and saw the man's back in silhouette against the door frame. He was dragging her kimono away.

It was only then that she realized she was naked.

"My… Kimono…" She managed to weakly cry out. At the moment, what had happened when she had been unconscious was of less importance than getting back one of her only possessions.

She still hadn't realized what else he'd taken from her…

"Imma give it to my daughter." The man laughed and Rukia felt sick to her stomach.

Curling into an immovable ball she laid there – awake – but not aware of her surroundings. At the moment she was numb, but in so much pain.

Rukia just wanted to disappear.

~*~

Renji waited… and waited… and waited…

He couldn't wait to show Rukia the new kimono he'd managed to steal for her; right out of one of the shops in the 56th district. It was far nicer than anything they had in the 78th, and he'd walked a hell of a long way there and back.

Dammit! Where is that idiot? I'm freaking hungry!

Finally, packing his stolen goods in the blanket he'd also managed to steal, and donning his new blue yukata he finally decided to go and drag her home.

For two hours he searched… and searched…

It was soon becoming apparent that something was very, very wrong.

It wasn't until he noticed a drunk passed out in a doorway holding Rukia's kimono that he panicked.

He smashed the drunk in the face, "Where is she?!" he demanded.

"Huh? Who? Whadda talkin' about?" The man grumbled as he woke up slowly.

"Don't play stupid!" Renji kicked the guy harder to try to wake him, "Where'd ya get that fuckin kimono?"

His bleary eyes cleared for a moment and the drunk finally seemed to register the question. "Some guy said it was for his daughter, but I beat his ass and took it for my kid instead."

"Where?" The man was already drifting off and Renji was forced to shake him awake once more, "Where was that bastard coming from?"

Grunting the man pointed to the abandoned Ramen shop a few doors down and across the street from where they were.

Renji ran to the door and peered in. The place looked empty and he deflated slightly. "Dammit Rukia, Where the fuck are you?" He pounded his hand against the door jamb in frustration.

A moan from inside caught his ear just as he was about to leave.

~*~

That voice… Renji…

Rukia moaned, trying desperately to call his name. Don't go… I'm here… Don't go… please…

~*~

Renji froze at hearing the pained noise from inside the empty shop. It… It couldn't be…

He rushed inside and frantically looked around, spotting a small crouched silhouette on the floor.

Rukia…

Her face was swollen… And…

Oh god… No…

She was naked… There were dark smears of blood on her thighs, all the way down to her knees. Her hips were bruised and there were bite marks on her breasts, her neck…

Not knowing what to do, Renji turned away. He was going to be sick.

"Renji" He heard her call to him and felt his heart clench.

"Dammit, Rukia…" He didn't know what else to say. Something inside of him was… Breaking.

He quickly untied his bundle and covered her with the blanket.

As much as he'd always dreamt of seeing Rukia naked… The sight before him was the furthest thing from erotic he could possible think of.

There was nothing here to be excited about. This wasn't… sex…

This was… brutality.

"Shhhh… Rukia…"

She didn't cry as he wrapped her more carefully and carried her down the street; the new kimono he'd gotten for her over his shoulder and her wrapped in the blanket.

He would not take the chance of smearing that kimono with her blood.

It seemed stupid… But he didn't want to taint that kimono. It was special and he didn't want it fucked up.

He carried her to their campsite, and walked in to the river, dipping her beneath the cool water and watching her shiver. He bathed her as best he could while remaining respectful.

He hung the blanket to dry, started a fire, and wrapped her in his old yukata – still oddly unwilling to clothe her in the nicer, new one he'd gotten for her. The red head curled around her protectively and fell asleep, hunger forgotten.

He doubted he'd be hungry again for a long… Long time.

Before she drifted off, Rukia opened her violet eyes as much as she could around the swelling on her cheek and whispered two words.

"Never again."

He knew exactly what she meant.

It was the academy or death. They would do this thing or die… Because Rukia would never again be so defenseless and weak.

Only after she'd fallen asleep (or passed out, he wasn't sure which) did he allow the tears to fall and the solemn promise of his heart to be whispered in to the night…

"No Rukia… Never again."

~*~

Two weeks later they stumbled up to the gates of the academy together.

"We wanna go here!" He announced. Rukia punched him and turned back politely, "What this idiot means is that we'd like to find out how to enroll?"