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.
Chapter 1: Going with the Flow
She was going to be in such deep shit.
Peeking through the heavy traffic before her, Rukia poked her fingers through the cold, metal bars separating herself and the cab driver, "How much longer?"
"Thirty minutes?" he grunted. They were moving at 30 kilometers per hour, what did she expect?
Rukia was going to be late for work. Not by much, but still late. That wouldn't do.
"I'm getting out. Now." Rukia threw some crumpled bills at the driver and dashed out, hopping between cars, deaf to the stream of curses trailing her footsteps.
I hope no one hits me, no one better fucking hit me. Rukia didn't want to lose her job, you see. Maybe someone should hit me. Then I'd have an excuse for being late.
Breaks were screeching, and Rukia pushed uselessly on the hood of a cab as it forced her to stumble to the left. "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?"
Rukia sped off without a second glance. Either hit me or don't, quit half assing it, you prick. Don't waste my fucking time!
Rukia slowed her pace as she entered the building. It wouldn't do to look like a madman flying through the financial district. She straightened her blouse and ran a hand through her hair. A tall, blond foreigner walked past her and smiled kindly. Motherly. Rukia grimaced. At a ripe seventeen years of age, she was still barely a meter and a half tall, with no breasts, no hips, no ass. Not that she ever hoped to be a model or anything, but she wanted attention and power, and though she hoped that she wouldn't need voluptuous breasts for that, in the depth of her mind, she knew that some volume and curvature helped.
After all, Rukia only wanted power to spend it well. She was born during the war and has seen nothing but corruption and selfishness and, perhaps, at the root of it all, a lack of respect for humanity. Well, you see, Rukia just wasn't the type to stand by and live the consequences.
She had reached the other end of the building, and upon stepping outside, sprinted across the next street, again barely avoiding breaking a bone or three until she stepped on the next sidewalk. Two more blocks. Rukia slowed her pace again inside the next building, a classy restaurant this time. Ducking her head to avoid the pretty hostess in a Chinese qi pao, Rukia pointed inside, indicating her party's presence. Once in, she proceeded to sneak through the kitchen and out the back. Hopping down the loading dock, Rukia took an alley to the dumpster of a coffee shop. Just a little bit longer...
Five minutes later, Rukia briskly walked into her office building. Swiping a badge with a terrible caricature of her face on it, Rukia hopped in the elevator and shot up to the sixteenth floor. Only 3 minutes late... maybe he won't notice. Rukia tapped her foot impatiently, missing the look of distaste in the eyes of her elevator companion. When the doors opened on floor sixteen, Rukia duly noted that she should have paid more attention to the businessman standing next to her if he worked on a floor above her own. Or if he were on friendly terms with those on floors above her own. As a lowly intern, Rukia wasn't exactly high-status, or even noticed, really, but she usually tried to put herself out there, be recognized, play the business game.
"Afternoon," she nodded on her way out, missing the odd glint that briefly crossed the man's eyes before the door closed.
Power walk down the corridor. Key in. Time. 4:05pm.
She was surprised when the CEO of her company walked past her with a hint of recognition in his step. He nodded at her.
Rukia wasn't sure what to think of him. She's only been working for the company for one month, but she had somehow nicked her way as working for the CEO's secretary. He seemed wise and intelligent, and above all else, extraordinarily capable, but deep inside, Rukia had always wondered how he had gotten so far in life.
"Hello, Mr. Tousen," she smiled politely.
Life, after all, isn't easy for the blind.
"I hate that this is your last week of vacation."
Ichigo's head snapped to attention at the pretty face in front of him. He smiled, reaching a hand to scratch at his hair, "Yeah, well. At least now we'll have money to spend."
Orihime put a gentle hand on top of his own, as their waitress floated over to their table with the processed check. Ichigo thanked the woman, and the periphery of his vision recognized curious surprise as a small, almost invisible, girl sneaked across the restaurant floor to the kitchen. He'd seen that face before, that gait...
"-glad we met up again."
Ichigo ripped the edges of his mind, grasping at the dreams of a child, to focus around his girlfriend. "Yeah, me too."
The couple stood to take their leave. Ichigo had meant what he said, even given his lack of attention for Orihime at the moment. They had practically grown up together until...
It was funny, really, that they had rekindled their friendship? Relationship?
Ichigo remembered growing up together, in a camp, until something happened. His memory of what happened was always a little unclear as he was mainly focused on helping his father raise his two baby sisters. He remembered a girl, small and scared, with fists of fury and a kick to bruise… But one day, his father had decided it was safe to leave camp, and everyone had just… disbanded? Orihime had been adopted by a nice elderly couple whose child had also died in the war, and Isshin had taken his children and built a small clinic in Tokyo where he worked as a doctor and Karin learned about running a business and Yuzu learned to be a caretaker to a family. Isshin spent a year training Ichigo in medicine before kind of just losing it in the head. The old man would cry about Masaki, and Ichigo would look around awkwardly, barely remembering the mother he had before she was killed in the war. Ichigo secretly believed that Isshin was hiding from Sereitei or Hueco Mundo, perhaps both, because of her death.
Ichigo had then spent his father's life savings in getting a medical apprentice in a hospital, since the education system in Japan still hasn't recovered from the war. School was finally over, and Ichigo had his first residency job starting next week.
He had run into Orihime by chance, years later. She was a nurse in the hospital at which he was being trained, and when he lost his first patient, she was assigned to talk to him. The shock of meeting Orihime again atop how absolutely atrocious he felt after killing a person had scorned his normally focused mind. They had gone out for a drink, which turned into multiple drinks, which turned into...
"Call me Orihime."
They had stumbled out of the cab into the front of Orihime's door. Ichigo couldn't remember his address, and Orihime couldn't hold her keys still enough to open her door. Ichigo had to do it for her and collapsed on her leather couch after almost tripping on a coat-hanger.
He was surprised when Orihime crumpled at his feet, warm, soft hands on his thighs. Ichigo had wondered for a brief second how he was going to move her to her own bed, assuming she had passed out as well, but Orihime had pushed herself up, murky brown eyes heavy with alcohol. A burst of energy had hit Ichigo, particularly in his groin, and after remembering his childhood lust, he had closed his mind and welcomed Orihime's shaky hands as she pulled off his jeans. She had such a hot, breathy tongue, and Ichigo was so tired of being lonely.
They hadn't even kissed yet.
The next morning, Ichigo had considered slipping out unnoticed. He really wasn't that type of guy, really, it was just all a mistake, and Ichigo would get in touch with Inoue-san later that day, or maybe later that week, and if they can't be friends, they'll at least have to maintain a professional relationship, but that wouldn't happen, would it? It was all just a very bad mistake...
"Uh, good morning?" Ichigo said, awkwardly.
He'd never done this before, after all. He had dated girls before, sure, but he had a family to support and take care of and he just honestly didn't really have the time for sex.
"Good morning," Orihime's smile had turned into a grimace, and she rubbed her eyes, further smearing her already messy make up.
"Sorry about that," Ichigo had coughed out. "I don't do this, I promise."
"Then show me."
And show her he did. For three years.
Ichigo had often wondered what would have happened if he had been successful in sneaking out that morning. Sometimes he wondered if he should feel more mournful if that had been the case, since he wouldn't have such a wonderfully beautiful girlfriend who was also just a generally good person. Rarely, Ichigo wondered if he would be happier with someone else.
Rukia felt like she was over-qualified for her internship at Tousen Corp. Sure, she was young, but she could balance five accounts with ease while maintaining an intriguing conversation and maybe even kick a little ass, all this at once, and she was stuck making schedules and calling clients and just doing general bitch work. It would have all been fine though, Rukia believed, if this internship were more significant than a stepping stone to get her name out to the top dogs in a bleak economy. Even as a teenager, Rukia knew the importance of networking, and she knew that when she would finally run for office, when there was a stable government to have an officer position to run for, she would need the support of the financial industry backing her up.
Tousen Corp was almost perfect for the job as it was a weapons manufacturer. The industry was the only industry to show growth throughout the long and drawn out war, and its many divisions, particularly the biological and chemical warfare segment, were now reaping the rewards of repurposing military technology to everyday life.
"Still here, Rukia-san?" Rangiku strolled in, hair perfectly mussed and hips sashaying all over the place.
"I just finalized Mr. Tousen's schedule for tomorrow. I wrote notes in for high priority meetings so he can prioritize which ones are acceptable to run late to," Rukia spoke briskly.
Rangiku nodded her approval, "You're a godsend."
Of course I am. Rukia hated feeling like a child. It reminded her of a sister she couldn't remember and certain blue haired teacher she didn't want to remember.
"Thanks, Rangiku-san. You have a good night," Rukia strode out of the office.
Rukia met Renji in the lobby of Tousen Corp for their daily commute home from via subway. He acknowledged her with a nod, and the two headed out. Rukia smiled, genuinely, and as was the case every day, she was eternally thankful for this boy, this man, who was probably her best friend in the world if she stopped to think about it. She knew she wasn't the most personable girl in the world, who didn't appreciate high fashion and hairspray, who could destroy most men in a fist fight, who was unimaginably efficient and just plain intelligent when it came to, well, most things.
It didn't help that Rukia spent the majority of her childhood training to control herself, to manage her... Rukia still didn't know what to call it. Her power? Her coldness? But it always burned...
"Good day at work?" Renji said on their way to the subway station. "Lots of homework left?"
Rukia shrugged. "I just wish I were doing more."
She remembered meeting him at her apartment complex when she moved in after they deemed her fit for society a mere two years prior. Rukia was almost sure that there was someone watching her at all times, and was positive that Renji was one of them, but he had slowly eased his way into her heart. It's hard to refuse Renji's open offer of friendship, and maybe more, when she had no other friends. Having been trapped at a concentration camp, of sorts, for her entire childhood didn't help either.
Rukia dully noted how lucky she was to have some sort of business or politically minded brain. It wasn't that she couldn't make friends or other people didn't like her, Rukia just didn't know how to laugh with them.
Ichigo could tell something was off with Orihime when they got home. He had moved in with her for financial reasons during medical training, and she was happy to have him. It made sense, anyway, as they spent practically every night together anyway.
No, it's not like that. Ichigo would reprimand himself. It's just sleeping!
He wondered often how often other couples had sex, and if he were an anomaly. After the first month or so with Orihime, he had almost lost his desire for her completely, which lead him to believe he was maturing to a romantic type of love with her rather than what a typical teenager felt for a woman as well endowed as she was. Ichigo was only eighteen years old when they first hooked up and there was no way he could have predicted the relationship to last so long. Since moving in together, they've probably had sex once a month, at the most, usually at Orihime's initiative, and Ichigo was starting to wonder where his libido had gone.
Orihime had tried to talk to him about it once, but Ichigo brushed it off. No man wanted to have this talk. Especially not with a woman who had a body like Orihime's.
They sat down on a couch, and Orihime snuggled up to him, "Ano, Ichigo..." She blushed.
Ichigo looked at her, and tried to wipe the ever-present scowl off his face, "What's up?"
"I..." she withdrew and stared him in the eye, her own beautiful brown eyes shining with determination. "I think we should get married."
Ichigo stared as his jaw, slowly but surely, dropped open.
But he was speechless, and there were no thoughts in his head.
The determination in Orihime's eyes was wavering. "Ichigo? What are you thinking?"
The thing was, Ichigo finally thought, she should know what I'm thinking. After all, we've been together for three years...
It was a long time. It was a long time together, and Orihime was really more of a friend, rather than more-than-friends. Though Ichigo no longer knew where the bounds were.
"Ichigo..." there were tears were pooling in her eyes. Ichigo briefly thought about how beautiful she was, and how unfortunate it was that she was crying.
He never felt like these past three years were in vain, and he doubted he ever would.
More importantly, he also doubted, and he thinks he should have realized this sooner, that he would have liked another three years with Orihime, beautiful and wonderful and patient as she had been with him.
He sighed, eyes closed, scowling, and Orihime's tears flowed out.
The massive TV flicked on as soon as Rukia entered Renji's apartment. There was a press conference tonight, and a member of Sereitei was to make a "state of the union" speech, of sorts. Though not one to fall for propaganda, Rukia was well aware of the benefits of swallowing information like a sponge.
"I wish you would stop obsessing over these things," Renji scowled from the couch.
Rukia had retrieved an impossibly oversized backpack from her own apartment across the hall. She whipped out a calculus text and sat down at Renji's dining table. She was enrolled in a finance and business training program geared toward intelligent teenagers who would otherwise be wasting away in school.
"What are you talking about?" Rukia had never understood this. "You've been working for Sereitei for six months now."
Renji frowned further, and opened his mouth to say something when the station returned from commercial.
Rukia had her full attention on the television, a nimble hand scribbling down the limit definition of a derivative and mechanically drawing graphs of trigonometric functions.
"Good evening citizens of Japan," a calm, pale, beautiful man spoke. Rukia thought he looked familiar; she always thought Kuchiki Byakuya looked familiar. And sounded familiar.
It's because you have the same last name, Renji would always say to her whenever she brought it up. And you could probably pass for siblings. Why wouldn't he seem familiar?
And it made sense. Kuchiki's smooth, long hair, like Rukia's, was dark enough to blend into the night, and their hazy, half lidded eyes spoke of primness and power. Rukia often wondered if Kuchiki was as foul mouthed as she was off-screen.
"-education system back in place. It's been eight wonderful years of finally being able to educate our nation's children again."
Rukia rolled her eyes. The education system was a mess. It was hastily put in place as a measure of Censusing the population. Want a job? Give us your name, parents' names, grandparents' names. Who knew how many unreasonable arrests of Sereitei "dissentors" came about that way? Who knew how many children could not receive schooling because of their parents?
"Furthermore, crime rate has decreased 30% since one year ago. Our infrastructure is back up and running, and our economy beginning to bloom once again."
"Psht, crime rate has only decreased since you bastards stopped reporting political assassinations as crime," Rukia snorted.
Renji made a noncommital noise.
Rukia finished her math homework and moved on to a macroeconomics text. She kept half an ear on the channel as Kuchiki spewed on about how even the poor were getting richer, and all of Sereitei's efforts in social reform. At least that's better than Hueco Mundo's plans to leave the poor to rot while focusing on big business and the state of the market.
Kuchiki was urging the Japanese citizens to work together, "We need support from our citizens to bring our country back together. The devastations of World War Three still linger in the air as Japan's first civil war in its history is still wreaking distress on our nation's name."
"Then stop fucking killing each other," Rukia drawled.
"It's not all as bad as you say, you know," Renji said. "There's hope for Sereitei."
Rukia rolled her eyes. She never told Renji of her past interactions with the party, of a kind, lively Kaien-dono she had loved before he was murdered before her very eyes. She never told Renji that she had killed a man, once, as a child, and that she had felt nothing but contempt for the party who spent more time killing than protecting.
Kaien-dono... I've learned from you.
She was snapped out of her thoughts when Renji's cell phone rang.
"Yeah," he answered coolly as Rukia rolled her eyes. Men. "Oh... yeah, sure, as long as you need, Ichigo, I've got plenty of space... see you soon." Click. Turning to Rukia, he only shrugged, "Friend needs a place to stay."
Rukia's unspoken questions were answered when a scowling man opened the door a minute after Renji ended the call. His hair... Rukia racked her brain. That color...
"This is Ichigo, Rukia," Renji motioned. "He'll be staying with me for a while."
"What," Rukia said stupidly, "happened to your hair?"
Ichigo hadn't been to Renji's apartment in years. He and Renji had been gym buddies for a few years, and Ichigo didn't know Renji all that well, not really, but Renji did owe him a huge favor from the time Ichigo pulled some major strings to get Renji out of jail for being a belligerant drunk. He was already at Renji's building before he called, knowing that Renji would pick up the phone and accept his sorry ass. He knew Renji wouldn't be surprised when he showed up mere minutes after speaking to him, but he didn't know that opening Renji's door at that particular point in time would forever change his life.
It's that girl from earlier! His mind screamed. Ichigo would be lying if he said that he was a ladies man, as he rarely noticed or remembered girls. But this one... She was staring at him, head slightly cocked to the side, tiny as hell, with a laptop in front of her. Sitting at Renji's dining room table. Why is she so familiar?
Ichigo remembered to feel guilty on Orihime's behalf as some... some random child, really, intrigued him more than anything she'd done in the past God knows how long.
"This is Ichigo, Rukia," Renji's voice drew Ichigo's attention back to the present. "He'll be staying with me for a while."
Rukia. Was that her name? She blinked at him. Were her eyes purprle?
"What happened to your hair?" she said deafly.
Ichigo's scowling face contorted more. "Nothing," he spat. "It's always like that."
The sense of deja vu was broken with Renji's howl of laughter.
Notes: I'm happy to have received the reviews I did, so please keep them coming!
I also want everyone to know that eventually, this will be IchiRuki, but that will take time.