Hi everyone! This is my first non-crossover Bleach fic, and I hope you'll like it!

Disclaimer: I don't own Bleach or any Bleach characters. This fanfiction is for entertainment purposes only and no profit is being made.

Warnings: This fic will contain violence, gore, bad language, sex, a relationship that's abusive on both sides, and other mature themes. The main pairings are Rukia/Ichigo and Rukia/Byakuya.

….

Chapter 1:

The first time someone died in her arms, Rukia Kuchiki was nine years old.

In the dead of night, the enemy had set fire to her brother's encampment. The tents were ablaze and people were running and screaming.

The air was hot and dry. The smoke stung Rukia's eyes, but she forced herself not to cry. She wanted to be brave.

The Warlord, Byakuya Kuchiki, was nowhere to be found. Hisana, her sister, was nowhere to be found. Her nurse had fled. Her tent, with the perfumed linens and wooden toys, had gone up in flames.

The enemies were among them, bellowing and baying like dogs. Their horses shrieked as they rode through the camp, and they slashed with swords that glinted a dull red.

The Soldier, one of her brother's, was lying wounded on the ground. Rukia could tell that it was a girl who had dressed up as a boy, though the sandy hair was cropped short and the armor hid any feminine curves. Women were forbidden to fight in her brother's army, so the Soldier must have disguised herself and snuck her way in. A runaway, probably.

"My sword… my sword," rasped the Soldier. She coughed up a mouthful of blood that trickled down her cheek in a dark stream. She was groping for a sword that wasn't there anymore.

Rukia, terrified though she was, knelt down next to the Soldier and tried to cradle the lolling head in her lap. The Soldier had a gushing stomach wound that was staining the ground red. Rukia knew she should put pressure on the wound, but was too scared to touch it.

The Soldier was dying and Rukia was terrified.

"M-mother, mother," wept the dying Soldier.

"Soldier, don't die!" cried Rukia. She jumped when the Soldier reached up and grabbed her arm in a trembling hand.

"My name is Kuh… Kiyone Kotetsu. P-please tell my mother that I…I-"

The Soldier stopped moving. The bloodied mouth slowly closed, the unfinished words swallowed back into a dying throat.

"Oh, no."

Rukia was frozen. She stared and stared into those blank, lifeless eyes, and thought that the entire world was burning down around her. At that moment, she saw nothing but dust, blood, and Kiyone Kotetsu.

She whispered the name, tasting it on her tongue, the name of the girl who had impersonated a boy. The girl who died in her arms.

Her sister calling her broke her out of the trance.

"Rukia! Rukia!" came Hisana's voice, shrill and frantic over the roaring fires.

The little girl turned her head and saw her sister. Hisana had a cut above her left eyebrow, and her robe was torn, but she was safe. One of their personal guards was with Hisana, holding her frail body upright with an arm around her shoulder.

It was Hisana who had insisted on them riding out with Byakuya, so she could be closer to her husband while he made war. Rukia could see the guilt in her sister's eyes, painful and clear.

"I'm here!" shouted Rukia, as loud as she could. She stood and dropped Kiyone Kotetsu's body to the dusty ground.

And though she tried so hard not to cry, because brave children didn't cry, Rukia ran straight into the arms of her sister-mother and sobbed.

"Oh, Rukia!" sighed Hisana, voice heavy with relief. Rukia clutched at Hisana as if her life depended on it. She cried and cried until she was nearly sick, and Hisana held her close, whispering words of comfort.

"We will be safe. Byakuya has gone to rally the men. We will be safe! They'll come to help us."

Then, their own men were riding out, the horses' hoof beats thundering against the ground. Their swords flashed and they bellowed just as loudly as their enemies. Like a raging river, they crashed into their opponents, driving those damned barbarians back.

Among them rode Lord Byakuya himself, his famous sword held high, like a beacon in the dark.

Yes! Yes! Kill them all! Rukia thought, even as she trembled in Hisana's arms.

When it was over, when their enemies either ran or lay groaning on the ground, Byakuya dropped his elaborate war helm into the dust and came for them.

"Are you hurt?" he asked simply. He towered over both sisters and to nine-year-old Rukia, Brother was the tallest and most beautiful man in the world.

"No, my husband," Hisana replied in her soft voice. "We are safe. You have kept us safe." She shook her head slightly so that her bangs hid the cut on her forehead.

"Good," sighed Byakuya. Without another word, he stepped forward and gathered both of them up into a tight embrace. Rukia felt crushed, and her brother's armor was digging into her skin. But as she buried her face in his chest and took strands of his hair into her small hands, she was comforted at last.

X

Rukia Kuchiki was older now, and braver.

Kiyone Kotetsu was long dead. Hisana was long dead.

In the end, Byakuya had been unable to keep his wife safe from the disease. Rukia missed her sister terribly.

She had been very young when Hisana married into the Kuchiki family, and couldn't recall much of their life from before.

Rukia remembered that she and Hisana had no parents, and that they were poor. She remembered the paper fans that her sister sold on the streets. Their home had a dirty floor and the stink of the gutter.

She remembered bowls of bland noodles and the rare taste of cheap candy. She remembered soft kisses on the cheek, and how the other children were dirty and half-naked as they played in the streets.

Then, there was that ugly memory of the man that came to their house. Hisana had shooed her out, but Rukia peeked in through the window and saw her sister lift her skirts for the man. That night, they had money for noodles and eggs and even candy, and Rukia had been too young to make the connection.

Everything had changed when her sister married the ruler's heir, Byakuya Kuchiki. Hisana had become Lady Hisana, and they had left their dirty little home to live in Byakuya's manor. For the first time, Rukia had toys. They had meat and candy and nice clothes.

Rukia had quickly fattened into a healthy size, but Hisana remained thin until the day she died.

When Byakuya later replaced his father as the Warlord, he became Lord Byakuya in public but remained Brother in private. He was home less and less, and Hisana longed for him whenever he was gone.

She and Rukia used to ride out with Byakuya and camped where he camped. But after that night, with the fire and the screams and the clash of swords, Byakuya forbade Hisana to ride with him again. So, she had pined and sat up entire nights, longing for him.

Rukia was older now, and far, far braver. The war had been going on for as long as she could remember, but it no longer frightened her. Other people might whisper that the new ruler of their enemies was the most powerful and terrifying man in the world, but Rukia wasn't frightened. Even as her brother's side suffered loss after loss, she remained brave, trusting her brother's strength.

The war between their two lands had lasted for generations, and each new generation was fighting for the honor of the previous one. If anyone asked Rukia why the fighting was still going on, she would say aloud that it was because her brother was fighting an honorable war and that it was only right that he should fight until he won. He deserved to win. But, in her heart, she knew that that it was because the war had been going on forever, and that's just the way it was. It was as much a part of her as her blood.

To surrender was unthinkable. Indeed, each side had made it impossible for the other to surrender, with threats of violence, execution, and complete domination.

The common people suffered because of it, but the war was a part of their blood too, and they had as much pride as anyone else. So, the war raged on and they suffered, gnashed their teeth, and cheered in the streets whenever news came of a victory.

There had been a too-brief period of peace when Isshin Kurosaki became the ruler of the Northern provinces. He had proposed a treaty, and Byakuya had agreed. But the uneasy truce died when Isshin did, and now they were back at war.

Isshin's son and heir, Ichigo Kurosaki, was the new ruler of the North. They said that he was young, but was an extraordinary warrior. His sword was even more famous than Byakuya's, and it was said to possess some power that only Ichigo knew how to unleash. This secret power made him almost unstoppable on the battlefield.

Rukia had only seen it once, when she rode to the front lines with her brother. Surrounded by her brother's guards, cocooned in her armor, she was forced to only watch from the sidelines as the men battled. She saw it with her own eyes as the orange-haired warlord raised his sword up high and swung it down.

It was as if an invisible force was released when he swung that blade. Though it seemed that Ichigo's sword barely touched them, his nearest enemies recoiled and fell down dead.

It didn't matter how skilled the warriors were, or how powerful the weapons they wielded. Ichigo Kurosaki had carved her brother's men down like they were nothing but livestock, ready for slaughter. Even Byakuya couldn't stand against him, and had to call a retreat.

With her own eyes, Rukia had witnessed the power of Ichigo Kurosaki's sword, and she had to convince herself that she didn't feel the bite of terror. But unlike everyone else, she didn't quite fear the man himself. She had watched him fight, and knew that it was a human's face beneath that helm.

He covered himself in armor and had his trusted men riding behind him, surrounding his blind spots. He was like anyone else who was afraid of being hurt, hence the precautions. He wielded a massive, powerful weapon, but he could be hurt, could be killed.

After that battle, Byakuya had come to her and demanded that she return home. She had stamped her foot and refused, and Byakuya had disapproved of her rudeness.

"Hisana may not be here to watch over you anymore, but that doesn't mean you can do whatever you like," he said, quiet in his anger. "Go home, Rukia. I have been lenient with you so far, but the battlefield is no place for a noblewoman. Or any woman."

Rukia gritted her teeth. She thought of poor, ailing Hisana, who had insisted on riding to the frontlines with her husband, even though her hands were pale and shaking when she held the reins. She thought of Kiyone Kotetsu, who had cut her hair and dressed in boys' clothes, who had, even in the last minutes of her life, struggled to lift her sword and fight.

"This isn't up for discussion," he said. "You're going home tomorrow." He turned and left her without another word.

Rukia sighed. War hadn't made Brother an unhappy man, but Hisana's death had.

Though truthfully, her brother had always indulged her as best as he could. He never liked that she preferred sword fighting, riding, and archery to dancing and tea ceremonies. But he still hired swordsmen, horse handlers, and archers to be her instructors. He still had a set of armor made for her, and a sword as well.

She knew he only enforced his rules if he felt like he had no other choice.

X

"Rukia, what are you doing?" called Renji, startling her so that she jumped.

He had caught her sneaking around in the stables. The fact that it was the middle of the night made her look even more suspicious.

"What's it look like I'm doing?" she huffed, hefting the saddle up so she could buckle it to her horse. "I'm running away."

Renji laughed.

"It's not a joke!" Rukia snapped. "I'm serious about this, you idiot."

"Hah, sure you are. Sneaking out for some fun, eh? If you're going drinking, don't mind if I come with you."

He was her brother's lieutenant and her close friend, but he was utterly infuriating sometimes.

"This isn't supposed to be fun! I'm running away tonight because Brother's having me sent back home tomorrow."

Somewhat taken aback at her tone, Renji lifted his lantern up so he could look into her face. He was a bit surprised to see her bundled up in a man's clothes. Her black hair, usually left loose to fall down to her waist, was tied in a bun and wrapped in a scarf. Her sword was at her side.

"And just where are you planning to run away to?"

Rukia lowered her eyes and turned away from him. She patted the neck of her horse so that it stopped fidgeting.

"You know where I'm going. I've told you about it before, remember?"

"What? You aren't serious, are you? I thought you were joking at the time."

"I'm plenty serious."

"But sneaking into the enemy's camp? Impersonating a soldier? Infiltrating their headquarters and leaking information to-"

"Shh! Don't talk so loud, idiot! I'm trying sneak out, if you haven't noticed."

"You can't, Rukia! It's way too dangerous."

"I know, I know. I wish I had more time to plan this out, but he's making me go home in the morning! This is the only chance I'll have."

She grabbed a fistful of her cloak, frustrated.

"You know what they say, Renji," she whispered. "They say that Kurosaki's sword is the strongest weapon in the world and that as long as he wields it, he can't be beaten. But you know what I think? All objects were made and can be unmade. Nothing under Heaven is infallible, and that includes that blasted barbarian and his sword.

"I don't care much for battle strategies and military secrets. I haven't the interest or the talent for those things. But I want to know what power is behind Kurosaki's Zangetsu. If it can be replicated, I will steal that secret. If it can be broken, I will break it. And if it can be stolen, then I will steal it from him with my own hands."

"You're crazy, Rukia. Crazy and suicidal. I'll summon the guards and have them take you away."

"Traitor! You know that Brother will keep me under lock and key if you do."

"Better you be locked up than killed."

"Summon the guards and I'll never forgive you!"

They glared at each other, fists clenched tightly, ready to fight. Renji gnashed his teeth, hating that she was so stubborn, so naïve.

"Listen to reason, stupid girl. Even if you do manage to get there and sneak your way into their army, what if you were caught while playing spy? You'll never come home again. They'll have you tortured until you tell them about our secrets. They'll have your head on a spike! You don't even know what it's like to be in the military. Have you ever fought for your life before? Ever killed anyone?"

"No, but I've watched them die, and I've watched for far too long. I need to do something, even if Brother won't let me. Don't lecture me, Renji. My mind is made up."

He sighed. "You never listen to me. I'm supposed to be your betrothed, but you never listen to me."

"Hah! Half of Byakuya's court have been betrothed to me at one time or another and I'm still only seventeen. Before you, it was Commander Ukitake and before him, it was that brat they call a prodigy. Maybe tomorrow, it'll be someone else again."

Angered, he walked up close to her so that they were almost touching. He shone the lantern into her face so he could see the brightness of her eyes.

"But you don't want any of them, do you?" he challenged. "Byakuya could offer you the best man in the world and you wouldn't be happy, because you love him. He's the only one you want to marry. In fact, that's why you're doing this, right? So you can bring back something valuable for him and maybe he'll love you for it?"

Rukia stiffened, but didn't back down. She stared back at Renji, unflinching. It was true, of course. As soon as she had been old enough to love and lust at the same time, Rukia had fallen for her Warlord brother. The brother who was still heartbroken over Hisana's death.

"So what?" she shot back. "I've already made my decision. Questioning my motives won't get me to change my mind."

She took the horse's reins and pushed past him. She led the animal towards the stable door, but paused at the threshold.

"Goodbye, Renji," she said softly. Her voice tugged at his heartstrings and he knew he couldn't let her go, just like that. She was a fool, and she would soon be a dead fool if she wasn't careful. He couldn't stand it if she died.

"Wait," he called, and was relieved when she turned around. He stooped down and took a small handful of dirt and dust.

He walked over to her and took her hands, dirtying them.

"You need some dirt under your nails," he said. "Your hands are too dainty and clean for a soldier boy. Here, your face too."

He smudged her cheek with his thumb, and rearranged her scarf so that it wasn't so neat. He even tugged a few strands of her hair loose, so she looked a bit messier, less of a noblewoman.

"Thanks,' she said, blushing a bit.

"You will be careful, won't you?"

"Of course I will. I know what's at stake."

"Don't reveal your kido no matter what, or they'll know exactly who you are."

She knew that well enough. Knowledge of kido spells was a Kuchiki family skill, and the spells were only taught within the family, passed down from generation to generation. Strictly speaking, Rukia shouldn't have been taught this skill, as she was not born into the family. But Byakuya relented after she had begged him, much like he had relented to the sword fighting lessons and the armor.

"I won't," she replied. "Don't worry so much. I can take care of myself, promise. I'll be gone and back in no time."

How utterly innocent.

"Oh, and… one more thing," he said, and hesitated for a while, as if he wasn't sure whether to tell her or not. "If you ever get into trouble over there, big trouble that you can't get out of, the codeword is 'Suzumebachi.' Remember it."

She raised an eyebrow, confused. "Codeword? What for? What're you talking about?"

"Never mind! Just… you'll understand if you ever need it." He groaned and rubbed the back of his neck. "Great. If Lord Byakuya ever finds out that I leaked confidential military information to you, he'd have me hanged."

"Well, I guess I won't tell him, then," she replied, and smiled up at him. "Thanks. You're a good friend, Renji Abarai."

Despite the dirt on her face, she looked pretty in the dim light. Her smile was so endearing. He thought of her falling into enemy hands and his heart ached.

Impulsively, he leaned down to kiss her, but she pushed him back.

"Stop that. I'm going, now."

X

The Warlord of the Northern provinces, Ichigo Kurosaki, had his own set of rooms at the center of his encampment. He had his own furniture set up there, his own rugs, his own wall hangings. He had servants to keep his living quarters in shape, and his own chef, though he often dined with the rest of his men anyway.

He was sitting up late that night, with some of his most loyal warriors keeping him company. They lounged in chairs, drinking wine and listening to music.

There were three girls, dancing abreast to the pipe music. They wore thin clothes and their jewelry chimed merrily as they spun. The one in the middle had large eyes and pretty hair. Some of the drunker men were leering, faces flushed.

"Mr. Strategist," Ichigo called, and a man to his left quickly stood and approached the throne-like seat. The Warlord looked bored as he toyed with his wine cup. "Is everything going according to plan?"

"Yes, sir," replied the man. "All the preparations have been made for our next attack. The men are ready."

"Good." Ichigo slammed his cup down onto the table with a thump. "We'll push them further and further until there's nowhere left for them to run. I won't stop until Byakuya Kuchiki and his pitiful allies surrender to me on bended knee."

"Very good, sir," said the man, and bowed.

"You may go, Mr. Strategist. Oh, Commander Kyoraku?"

"Hmm?" said a man to Ichigo's right. He was lazy from the drink and didn't bother to get up, only turning his head to look at the young man.

"Who is the woman dancing in the middle?"

"I believe her name is Orihime Inoue," drawled Kyoraku. "She's the daughter of a tattoo artist, and has been traveling with us for quite some time now. Nice face, eh? Interested?"

"Quite. Tell her… no, ask her if she would like to come to my bedroom after she finishes the last dance."

Kyoraku chuckled and pulled his straw hat over his eyes.

Ichigo left them then, escaping from the cloying music and the warm air. He made his way to his private bedchamber and threw open the windows once he got there.

The breeze was cool against his flushed skin. He looked out at the land before him and felt such a desire for it that it burned him from within.

The moonlight was bright, and illuminated a painting that hung on the wall. Ichigo walked towards the pretty picture, hand outstretched as if to touch.

It was a painting of a young woman. Her slender body was wrapped in a violet, flower-patterned kimono. She held a flower in a slim, white hand. Her hair was long and black, reaching down to her waist. Her neck was long and white, her lips were painted pink, and her eyes were soft and pretty. She was a tall, thin, beautiful young woman.

"Rukia Kuchiki," Ichigo whispered, his fingertips skimming the painted lady's face.

He had only met her once, many years ago. She was Isshin's price for that short-lived peace treaty, a bride for his son. In return, Ichigo had been offered up in the same way to Byakuya, a groom for his adopted sister. The both of them had been betrothed before they had reached their teens.

He remembered seeing the child, Rukia. He was little more than a child himself at the time, but he remembered that she was lovely and sweet. Rukia had held tightly to Lady Hisana's hand, and stared at Ichigo with wide, curious eyes. She was wearing a little purple kimono with a flower print.

"Greet your future wife, Ichigo, my boy!" his father had chuckled, and slapped his back so hard he nearly stumbled.

"H-hello," Ichigo had muttered, and Rukia pulled two fingers from her mouth and smiled at him.

"Oh, 'ello," she had replied. Her smile had a hole in it, as some of her baby teeth had fallen out.

Byakuya had watched the entire exchange with an icy stare, while Hisana had looked sad.

"Rukia Kuchiki," Ichigo repeated. He stared at the painting, as he was used to doing whenever his mind was buzzing with thoughts. She had been promised to him, all those years ago, and he didn't like broken promises. "When I win this war, I will take you home with me."

Did she even remember him? After all these years, did she even resemble the painting that now hung from his wall?

"Your Highness," came a soft, sweet voice from outside his door. He turned and saw the dancing girl, standing with her head bowed and her hands folded demurely in front of her.

"Oh, it's you. Come on in, Miss Inoue."

X

Notes: Thank you all so much for reading! Please, please review and let me know what you think!