She can't stay. She had a feeling where this was all going to lead, the second she saw Aizen-taichou appear and then disappear in front of her eyes, but now it's not even an option anymore. The longer she stays, the more chance she will be killed. And there's no point of even trying to tell anyone. No one would believe her, and she knows deep in her gut that she would most likely end up dead in some sort of "unfortunate accident" before the day was out.

So Rukia leaves.

It's surprisingly easy. She didn't really have any friends, now that Kaien-dono was gone. Kiyone-san and Sentarou-san aren't the same and they're busier more than ever now that the Thirteenth Division no longer has a vice-captain. Renji hasn't spoken to her in almost twenty years. She regrets the trouble her disappearance will cause Ukitake-taichou and Nii-sama, but in the end she knows they will be better off without her. She was always a burden on both of them, especially on Nii-sama, who deserved better than a weak, unseated officer.

It takes her two years to find Urahara Kisuke in the human world, but she never gives up, never falters. She has nothing left but this, no other purpose to keep on living.

It's a humid day in midsummer when she finds him in a town called Karakura with unusually high spiritual pressure. He's set himself up in some kind of traditional candy shop, but his name is on the sign and Rukia hovers outside uncertainly, even as it starts pouring rain, for almost an hour.

Finally she musters the courage to enter the dingy building and an extremely tall man doing inventory takes one look at her and shouts "Boss!" before she even has a chance to say anything.

"I-" Rukia starts, voice hoarse from disuse, but the screen door at the back of the room opens and cuts her off before she has a chance to finish.

"Well, well, what do we have here?" a man wearing a green and white striped hat and a worn haori says, looking at her with cold eyes from under his brim. "Shinigami?"

"A-are you Urahara Kisuke?" Rukia says, barely managing not to choke on her words.

A dark-skinned woman enters the room after him, looking at Rukia suspiciously. The man exchanges glances with both his companions and lifts his cane up to the back of his neck casually.

"Yes, that would be me!" he says cheerfully, with a grin that send shivers down Rukia's spine. "Welcome to Urahara Shop! What can I get for you?"

Emotion so strong floods through Rukia in a wave and it's more out of relief than anything else that she falls to her knees on the dirty ground floor.

"Please excuse my intrusion, Urahara-sama," she says hoarsely, wet forehead touching the floor as she bows deeply, water dripping from her hair down her face. "I have a question."

"About?" Urahara asks and if he is surprised, it doesn't change his voice.

"Aizen Sousuke."

There is a long pause and Rukia shuts her eyes and prays he will not kill her before he answers.

"Who is he?" she asks, hands shaking against the floor. "What does he want? And why-" She chokes, barely managing to recover her composure. "And why did he kill my vice-captain?"

The woman swears softly and Rukia hears Urahara sigh.

"Raise your head, shinigami-san," he says wearily and Rukia does, though she still remains seated on the floor. "Tessai, get some towels, she's soaking wet!"

Rukia blinks in confusion. "Please do not troubl-"

"Nonsense, you look freezing," Urahara says and despite her protests, Rukia finds herself bundled up in towels in the back room, horribly embarrassed as she drips water onto the tatami.

But embarrassment is soon put out of her mind as Urahara and the woman Rukia finds out is Shihouin Yoruichi tell her of the full extent of Aizen's treachery.

"So we're waiting," Shihouin finishes in her strange, masculine way of speaking. "Until Aizen reveals his true motives to the Soul Society, there's not much we can do. It'll be soon though. It's already been eighty years. He's not going to want to wait much longer."

"I see," Rukia says softly. She stares down at the tatami blankly. It's worse than she thought. Not just Aizen, but Ichimaru-taichou and Tousen-taichou as well?

Well. There's only one path to take then. There's no other option here and that would scare her, how few choices she has left in her existence, but in the moment she's just relieved at how easy it is.

"I-" she starts, bowing her head again. "I am not very strong, but if there is any way I can be of use to you, I would gladly give my life to-"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Shihouin says, cutting her off. "Slow down, now. No one said anything about giving lives."

Rukia raises her head uncertainly. "I would be honored to-"

"Don't be so serious, shini..." Urahara trails off. "What did you say your name was again?"

Rukia hesitates. She wants to lie and immediately feels ashamed. It's just that even exiles will know of the Kuchiki clan.

"Kuchiki Rukia," she says, bowing again. "I am honored to make your acquaintance."

It has been years that she's had this name. Strange how she should barely recognize it.

"Kuchiki?" Urahara says predictably.

"Huh, there's more of you?" Shihouin says in surprise. "I wasn't aware that Byakuya had a...sister?"

"I was adopted," Rukia mumbles, not really wanting to go into the specifics.

"I see," Urahara says thoughtful, scratching his stubble-covered chin. "Kuchiki-san, huh? Well, I'm sure we can find a place for you here. I was thinking of hiring an assistant anyway."

So that's how things are. Rukia runs odd errands for Urahara-sama and takes care of the oddly high number of Hollows in Karakura, which the Soul Society's representative is always mysteriously unable to handle. She even meets the group of former shinigami Aizen experimented upon eighty years ago who call themselves "Vizards," though only once in a while to relay messages from Urahara-sama. It's just as well, as they don't seem to really like her. They never ask her name, only referring to her as "shinigami," but Rukia doesn't mind all that much as she cringes to think of what Sarugaki would say if she found out she (technically) used to be a noble.

It's...not really all that different from what things were like for her at the Soul Society. It's been so long since Rukia's had friends that she's mostly gotten used to the loneliness, barely noticing it anymore. Urahara-sama,Yoruichi-sama, Tsukabishi-san, and eventually Jinta-san and Ururu-san are nice enough, though she never becomes particularly close to them. She tries so hard to do her best and not to be a burden that when she's forced to give her shinigami powers to that stupid human kid twenty years later, she's horrifically ashamed when Urahara-sama shows up to witness her foolishness. He doesn't seem to mind though, and kindly offers her a use of a gigai until her powers return.

But he can never quite meet her eyes after that and part of Rukia is not all that surprised when Aizen sticks his hand through her chest two months later, Ichigo bleeding out helplessly on the pavement. She learns that betrayal is just as normal as anything else in the path she has cut out for herself, and does not have to hurt.

A/N: Why am I writing another Bleach fic you ask? BECAUSE I CAN! Anyway, as you can probably tell, this is an AU, which I have creatively titled: Exiles-verse. Because I have a million other stories to be writing right now I'm just going to drabble it. I've already written more than 15k, but I'm going to have to wait for more about the current arc in the manga to be revealed before I can write any more. So in the beginning I'll probably post pretty regularly, but then this will join the ranks of all the fics I take forever to update. Surprise!

Please review and let me know what you think!