Summary: [AU] At the end of WW3, the world is in turmoil. Anarchy runs rampant, and Japan's future is a battle between Sereitei and Hueco Mundo, two political parties each with their skeletons to hide. Ichigo finds Rukia and shelters her, but what happens when it becomes painfully clear that she's more danger than she's worth?
Legal: All characters belong to Kubo Tite. Storyline is mine.
If I ever get a pet bunny, Rukia swore, I am never letting him outside.
She gingerly shifted her weight, and the branch she was precariously perched on snapped. Rukia yelped and wrapped her tiny arms and legs around the trunk of the tree and squeezed, hard. When the gravitational force downward was finally balanced by the frictional forces of the rough tree bark against her delicate, 5 year old flesh finally balanced out, Rukia had slid down the tree by almost a meter.
Meep! Peeking down over her bony shoulder, Rukia noted that she was still over ten meters above ground. Luckily for her, there was a thick, healthy-looking branch she could reach if she only extended her leg like so... Rukia spread her right leg over the branch, and willed herself to straddle the branch, all the while hugging the oak as if it were her dear friend.
Her arms burned with pain, and blood was starting to rush out, but Rukia could only wonder when Hisana was going to finally come collect her, and whether they'd be pleased or annoyed that she had done such a great job of hiding. It was late evening already, and the setting sun twinkled about the horizon, making Rukia squint. She was near the edge of the woods, and it was already beginning to be dark enough that she had to strain to see beyond her tree-friend. Rukia did not know how long she had been trying to hide, but she felt her anxiety build as she recollected the strange glint her Hisana's eyes as she told her baby sister to hide.
The two sisters had entered a brand new BMW, sleek and shiny, only earlier that afternoon, escorted by a driver and a man in a black suit. Throwing one small suitcase into the trunk of the car, Hisana had told Rukia that they were going somewhere far away from home to have a better life. Rukia had pouted and frowned, but followed her sister's instructions to behave. She was, after all, a big girl now.
The car stopped for gas; the driver was outside fiddling with the pump and Mr. Suit was taking a potty break.
Hisana gently woke up the slumbering child, who mumbled, eyes still closed, "Are we going to live with Byakuya?"
Hisana helped Rukia into a sitting position and opened her door, "Yes, we are, sweetheart. He has the money and power to protect and feed us."
Rukia had been born toward the conclusion of the destructive war that devastated the planet's historical governments. Like many other countries, Japan was facing a serious population decline. The military was in charge of the government at the time, and wrote an incentive plan for couples to procreate by providing a monthly stipend for families with more than one child. Hisana was already fifteen years old when the new plan was rolled out, and she knew this was the real reason her parents had decided to have another baby. Rukia lived her first two years of life blissfully unaware of the world around her, as babies generally do, in a small shack in the outskirts of Osaka.
On the 23rd day of the first month after Rukia's second birthday, men with sun-ripened hair and olive skin invaded their home. Rukia's mother had given the napping child to her older sister with instructions to run.
Rukia giggled, stifling a yawn, "Plus, he's beautiful."
She missed the light pink that kissed across Hisana's cheeks. Rukia had only ever met Byakuya once in her life, and she was mesmerized by his perfection. Hisana had never had to ask Rukia's respect and good behavior in the presence of this man; she had always felt the obligation to play that role by the way Byakuya looked at her. Rukia's inner voice had whispered about Byakuya's strong silence and commanding presence and just the terrifying way he held his head up high… but she noticed the way he almost smiled when she curtseyed at his feet. She trusted that not-smile.
Hisana straightened her cotton t-shirt and helped Rukia out of the car for a stretch, "Perhaps..."
Rukia hopped away from the car, waking up her body. The corner of her mind registered the one other car in the gas station driving away. Hisana called her name, and Rukia turned to face the woman squatting in front of her.
"Rukia listen," Hisana began. Her voice was calm, but Rukia noticed the tenseness in her brows and neck. "Let's play a game of hide and seek, okay?" Hisana gestured toward the woods near the gas station.
Rukia shrugged. Maybe a good game of hide and seek would calm her sister down. She was probably nervous before meeting Byakuya for the first time in several days. She let Hisana lead her to the edge of the woods, where Hisana stopped her again.
"You hide first," Hisana said in a whisper, "Don't go too far in, but hide well."
Rukia nodded and turned to leave.
Hisana grabbed her baby sister from behind in a tight hug, "I love you."
Rukia giggled dismissively, "I know you do, Onee-chan, don't be weird!"
When night fell, Rukia felt fear for the first time that day. Hisana would not leave her behind, would she? The scrapes on her arms and legs were no longer painful, but throbbed once in a while. She could hear murmurs of wild animals in the forest, and squeaked and a red squirrel scurried down the tree she resided on. Her heart was pounding faster and faster, and Rukia wanted to cry.
"Ahhhrg!" she screeched into the heavens.
Rukia ignored the flutter of wings as the birds inhabiting her tree escaped the wretched human creature dispelling her fears. A second later, she heard a voice from below.
"It's a kid," a boy's disdainful voice floated up to her ears.
Rukia's eyes bulged. ...A kid?
"Little girl, are you okay?" It was another voice, older, softer, deeper.
Glaring downward, Rukia was annoyed that it was too hard for her to see anyone, "I'm a big kid now!"
She heard chuckling and a scoff, which only served to deepen her scowl, and the second voice saying back to her, "Yes you are. Can you come down?"
The child in the tree bristled. Was that a challenge? Of course she could come down – she had gotten herself up there, didn't she?
"Yes, but I won't!" Rukia sniffed. "You are strangers."
More chuckling, "Ahh, yes we are. Well, then, we'll be on our way... Sorry to have bothered you! Come along, Ichigo."
Rukia heard the shuffling of feet and leaves and, quite understandably, panicked as the only humans she's met in hours trekked off into the forest.
Ichigo huffed impatiently as Urahara rushed over to the brat who just jumped out of a tree. In all his life, he had seen the destruction of war, and he was proud to admit that the most important lesson learned was that of caution. While this girl could have simply been a child in danger, he highly doubted that she was there by coincidence. Since the war ended, all sorts of people have been wandering around causing trouble of various degrees of shadiness. This little girl, no doubt young, could very well be part of the coalition to oust members of his village. And even if she weren't, she must be up to no good if she had reason to hide.
He glanced over at Urahara, a commanding General in the war, stripped of his title and left out to die in a coup. Urahara seemed keen on the tree-child, and Ichigo, untrusting as ever, walked in a circle around the two, making sure no other human was around.
"...then I hid, and Onee-chan hasn't found me yet," Ichigo heard the child saying to Urahara as he finished his rounds.
Urahara tilted his head forward, the shade of his hat covering his eyes. "Does your sister have a cell phone?"
Urahara dialed the number and hung up after a few moments of silence. "You can stay with us for the night, Rukia," he then gestured toward Ichigo, who only furrowed his brows closer together. "This is Ichigo." Pause. "Don't let him fool you. He's a nice guy."
"Mm," Ichigo shrugged, though he trusted Urahara's impressions of people. No one survives for twenty years of exile with a bounty on his head without a good sense of people's intentions.
"Hi," Rukia's gaze spoke of wariness, and Ichigo felt a (very) slight sense of kinship with her. "What happened to your hair?"
Ichigo huffed and turned away, "Nothing. It's always been like this."
Urahara hid his bemused expression behind his fan and lead the children toward the village. Ichigo asked Rukia about her story, catching Urahara's eye as Rukia repeated the day's events.
Urahara had taken him out to hunt, and they had found a gruesome scene at a nearby gas station. While crime and murder, even, were not uncommon near the outskirts of the Tokyo area, Ichigo had been shocked at the mess they found. Having seen his fair share of disjointed bodies, Ichigo had never quite realized how much blood a body could hold. Though the gas station was devoid of bodies, it was painted in red, blood dripping from gas pumps. And the smell. Ichigo actually had to empty his stomach contents elsewhere while Urahara searched the godforsaken place.
The taste of bile bubbled in Ichigo's mouth, and he coughed.
"Do you think Onee-chan forgot about me?" Rukia asked quietly. Hopefully.
How is it that a child can believe she's playing hide and seek while her sister was murdering enough people to paint a gas station crimson? Or maybe someone had killed her sister?
Urahara spoke up, "I don't know, Rukia." There would be no mention of the bloody gas station to Rukia. "Maybe she had some urgent errands to run."
The trees in the forest thinned into an opening. Several wooden cabins appeared in view, enough to shelter twenty people comfortably with room to spare. Ichigo had lived there long enough to know the process of introducing new members to the community, and waved Inoue Orihime over. The brunette smiled pleasantly at Ichigo, and he turned his head to gesture toward Rukia. Inoue understood and took Rukia's hand.
"Hello, I'm Orihime," she said brightly. "What's your name?"
Rukia smiled at the friendly face, "Rukia."
Ichigo shuffled closer to Urahara and tried to not pay attention as Rukia stepped forward to chat with Inoue. There would be questions on identity, and most importantly, Inoue would prevent Rukia from meeting anyone high profile in the village for the first few days until she was deemed safe. Unfortunately Rukia had already met Urahara, but there were still Hirako Shinji and the other Visoreds, and, of course, Ichigo's own father, to steer clear of. They were all once high ranking military officials, but with a new government in place, anyone who once held any power at all was overthrown. So now they live here. The village had mainly turned into a habitat for orphans and lost children in the past few years though, and Ichigo had almost come to think of it as home, for the time being.
Inoue tucked a strand of golden hair behind her ears and leaned forward, the v-neck drooping slightly to almost reveal luscious...
Ichigo stalked off toward his cabin. Slowly. Inoue's body had seemingly changed overnight, or maybe Ichigo was just now noticing what a woman's body should look like. Boys, after all, experience these changes sometimes long after girls do.
Inoue straightened and lead Rukia toward the girls' quarters. "Let's get those arms all cleaned up. You'll feel much better after a bath! Oh, and you can meet Karin and Yuzu too!"
Dawn met Rukia with the sound of a gunshot. The young child scrambled out of bed and underneath it faster than Orihime-chan could sit up and wonder what had gone wrong. Screams were heard outside, and the door to the small room burst open revealing a man in a black suit. He silently shut the door behind him and scanned the room.
"Ano... this is the girls' cabin..." Orihime-chan had stuttered, clutching her blanket to her chest.
Rukia peeked out from behind her bedskirts and saw a lopsided smile on the man's face. "Where's the child?"
"W-what child?" Orihime stammered. Rukia gulped. Was she the child they spoke of? She saw the man walk toward Orihime-chan's bed on the opposite side of the room. He threw her blanket off of the golden haired girl, who squeaked in prudence. The man chuckled, and reached toward Orihime, to do what, Rukia could not see.
"No, please..." Rukia heard. Orihime-chan sounded afraid, even to the child's ears untrained for cries of fear. Rukia didn't even have time to blink before her legs launched her tiny body at the attacker's trousers. She grabbed on and bit into his leg, hard.
The door to the cabin burst open the same moment the man in the suit cursed a word Rukia did not understand. Another man in a suit rushed to pick up the little girl, kicking, and screaming, in the air, as Orihime gasped, and finally screamed. One of the men slapped her and shoved her blanket into her mouth, wrapping it around the girl tightly, disabling any movement.
"Fuck!" Rukia had finally landed a kick on her captor's nose, and he unceremoniously dropped her like a sack of potatoes.
Rukia rolled on the ground, and as she was picked up again by one of the men, she saw Ichigo, Urahara, and three unfamiliar faces appear by the doorway.
"Drop her." She couldn't tell who was speaking, but she braced herself anyway. Her heart was pounding, and she felt like she would suffocate in this man's arms. The adrenaline of her surprise attack was dissipating, leaving her full of fear. Who were these men? What did they want with her?
Urahara pulled out a gun, pointing it at Rukia. Or maybe her attackers, Rukia couldn't quite tell.
Time seemed to stop. Rukia wanted to close her eyes and hears and hide under the blankets, but the world, as it usually did, refused her requests for such comforts. She sensed movement from beside her as the man whose nose she had kicked straightened, and two gunshots went off. Rukia flew in the air. Urahara fell. She landed in someone's arms while a third gunshot went off. Rukia scrambled to her feet and looked behind her, meeting the frightened eyes of Orihime for a split second before the older girl passed out, the two men in suits crumpled by her bed, dead.
There had been questions, of course. Rukia knew not who those men were, and as evident by their injuries, she had fought valiantly against them. Urahara also made the immediate effort to teach her self defense, but Rukia was only four years old, and as much as she tried, she couldn't really defend herself well, if at all. So Urahara taught her to run, to bite, and to yell, which he had hoped would be enough, at least for now. He never gave her a real gun but trained her eye with a wooden stick and newly fixed up BB gun he had confiscated from one of the other orphans.
Rukia didn't mind the training so much, to be honest. It kept her mind from her sister and future brother, and as rejected as she felt that Hisana had never come for her or picked up any more phone calls, Rukia always had a childish hope that Hisana just …forgot. She was so confident in it that she had started telling everyone that she was Rukia Kuchiki, sister to Hisana Kuchiki and sister-in-law to Byakuya Kuchiki.
"Byakuya, hm?" Yoruichi Shihouin had once pondered, finger on her elegant chin.
"Do you know my brother?" Rukia's voice was small and hopeful.
Yoruichi blinked, and looked down at the child sadly. "Once upon a time I did," she said truthfully. "But that was years ago, and I'm afraid I no longer know him."
Rukia didn't notice though, that after the first moment she spoke the Kuchiki name, Urahara's training had increased in intensity. She was expected to run longer distances in less time, do more pushups, punch more bags, and yell louder. She was too young to understand a lot of things she saw and heard, for example, a very loud, animated argument between many of the grownups in the camp.
"We have to leave this isn't safe for us!"
"No we just have to get rid of her. She's not safe for us!"
"She's just a kid, goddammit. Are we savage enough to let her die out there?"
"They're not going to kill her."
"How do you know?"
"Is it worth the risk if she takes us all down with her?"
All this, she didn't mind though. She didn't mind because she didn't understand, and it was probably best for her this way. She trusted Urahara and Yoruichi and even that orange haired boy who kept scowling at her. The entire time she stayed at the camp, the only time she cried was when Isshin Kurosaki, a toddler in each arm, tried to convince her to take his name instead of Kuchiki's.
"But how will Hisana find me?" she had wept fearfully.
It was a question no one wanted to answer, and they compromised on guiding her to not speak of Byakuya's name again. Luckily for the adults, a child's mind is fragile and easily shaped. A few months later, and Rukia barely spoke of her would be brother-in-law, and who could really blame her anyway? She had spent a total of four hours with him her whole life, and it had upset the grownups so much to talk about him.
Several months later, when another mystery man found Rukia again, she took out both her assailant's eyes with her little toy gun before someone shot him with a poisoned dart.
Rukia didn't know what happened to that man, but she could hear him screaming "I'D RATHER DIE" into the night before there was silence, ominous silence, for a long, long time.
They picked up and moved camp after that. Many of the adults split up into groups, and a small part of Rukia was unsurprised to find that Urahara and Yoruichi were taking her someplace different, alone. She had said goodbye to Orihime and Ichigo and his baby sisters and his dad, who, of all people, had cried at her departure. She hoped she would have more friends and less yelling in the near future, but even she knew it would be a fruitless hope.
Notes: Attempting to write again after having dropped the pen for the past few years. Review and let me know what you think!