"Seventeen bowls ... "
This is the worst thing Rukia's ever done.
"Twenty-two cups ... "
Worse than the time she accidentally kicked the puppy in the ribs when she was running away from that stupid fat man in the marketplace, who hadn't really had candy anyway -- and not much money. Worse than the time she ran away from the old lady who gave her food, because she was nice but she smelled like old person, and Rukia likes the sky better than roofs over her head.
"Three plates, and the cook's left knee. And ... " The Lord Byakuya doesn't exactly raise an eyebrow, but he looks like he's definitely thinking about it. "The ornamental fish pond?"
"Yes, Brother," says Rukia. She wants to say I'm sorry and get it all over with, but she's learnt that in this house there's a time for everything, and sorry only comes after the list of sins.
"How, precisely, do you break an ornamental fish pond?"
Rukia doesn't cower, doesn't.
"I didn't think it would work," she says. Worse than anything she's ever done, because her sister twitches at that and raises her hand to hide her mouth and Rukia's not supposed to make her sister ashamed of her. Lord Byakuya told her so, and she had been going to listen. But being good isn't easy when you're six and left all alone with a pond full of fish right there.
"Six dead koi in the bath -- "
"I wanted to keep them," says Rukia sadly. They would have been easier to get at that way. She gets lots of food now -- three times a day, as long as she sits with her back straight and doesn't talk with her mouth full -- but it's always a good thing to have extra. She's sure she could have figured out how to cook them.
"Strange. I do not recall asking for your reasons for wreaking mayhem on my property," says Lord Byakuya. This means shut up, and is worse, somehow, than every shouted curse she's ever had hurled at her from enraged grown-ups. Rukia shuts up.
"And ... ah. A vase."
That's all this time. The second kitchenmaid sprained her ankle as well, but that isn't important enough for her brother to mention it.
"I'm so -- "
"The age and value of the vase has been impressed upon you, I believe," says Lord Byakuya.
Now Rukia does cower a bit, but not on purpose. The servant was very loud, which Rukia's used to, but -- it was an important vase.
It's still an important vase, of course. It's just smaller now.
"My deepest apologies," she says miserably.
There is a horrible silence.
"The usual punishment, then," says Lord Byakuya finally. "I will speak to your nurse." He doesn't look up from the list. "You may leave."
She should go. This is the worst part, anyway -- the extra chores and lessons are boring, but the whippings Rukia's nurse gives wouldn't make a baby cry, and none of it is as bad as her sister's face when Rukia's been naughty.
But she looks at her sister, sitting quietly beside Lord Byakuya, and she doesn't go.
She gets up and she bows, low and respectful, the way her sister's taught her.
("Courtesy costs nothing," the Lady Hisana had said. "Hisana has always found it an aid in interpersonal relations. And an empty courtesy is equal to none at all -- one bows with true politeness, with sincere humility."
"And then you bite them?" said Rukia.
"If necessary," said her sister. "Hisana prefers the elbow -- but that is for another lesson.")
Rukia keeps her head low, the way she was taught, and says, quickly, before the fear can swallow her voice,
"If I could ask. Sis -- my lady -- "
She straightens up and holds out her arms, closing her eyes tight so she doesn't have to see the Lady Hisana's face.
This is the bravest thing Rukia's ever done.
The silence is worse now, and she flinches at the presence coming closer, but she doesn't open her eyes until big, warm hands pick her up.
Then her eyes are open. Her face is half-buried in the white scarf, but she sees her sister's expression anyway, from over the broad shoulder. And then she knows (though she doesn't know why) -- she couldn't have done anything worse than this.
"Come," her brother says. "To bed with you."
She nods against his shoulder. Doesn't look to her sister anymore, doesn't speak, doesn't cry because that would mess her brother's scarf up and messing things up is bad. She will be good.
She says this, very soft against his neck, when they're out of the room. There's no point if her sister can't hear her, but she says it anyway, and she feels a little better when Lord Byakuya says, "Hn."
"I promise," she insists.
"You will have to keep it," says her brother. It sounds a little like a threat, but Rukia nods. She learnt that long ago, ages and ages ago, when her sister first found her and said she'd take care of her.
"I know," she says.
The Kuchiki keep their promises. Rukia'll learn how to do that too.