Thrust and Parry
Everything Rukia knew, everything Rukia was, she had learned from him.
Not this one. This one was not him. It might look like him, it might even sound like him, but she knew it wasn't.
The first rule is to always know your strength and that of your enemy. If you are that much weaker, nothing short of a miracle will save you.
Rukia was weaker, but she knew there were no more miracles in store for her. She had used them all up in Seiretei; she could only rely on herself here.
Thrust and parry, attack and retreat; it was nothing more than a dance, and dance was what she and Sode no Shirayuki did best.
"First dance, Tsukishiro."
"That looks like a cool move!" Kaien laughed at his own joke under Rukia's un-amused stare, "cool, ice--forget it, Kuchiki, you have no sense of humour. As befit to your status."
"Kaien-dono," she growled warningly before attacking again. He dodged, still smiling and Rukia felt her annoyance fading. There was no way she could be angry for long, not with him.
They exchanged blows for a while, Kaien always giving instructions, correcting her moves, encouraging her.
"Grab your sword and try again, and again, and again," his voice was sharp but his eyes were gentle and Rukia couldn't help but feel happy for his help, for his attention.
This thing--this travesty, she couldn't think of it in any other way--was only mocking her pain, her guilt. She couldn't stand it, she wouldn't stand it.
But no matter what she did, it was not going down.
"Next dance, Hakuren."
"Wow, you have improved, Kuchiki." Kaien was smiling proudly and she felt warmth spread through her body. Not even the scraps of attention her brother bestowed on her made her feel like that.
Rukia smiled, "It's all thanks to you, Kaien-dono, and your training."
"You're making me blush!" he waved a hand on front of his face, his smile turning mischievous.
She was actually the one blushing but that was ok, that was normal when Kaien was involved. She was happy just to be with him like that.
He looked at her seriously then, "You are improving, but you rely on your zanpakutou too much," he said, looking Rukia in the eye, "don't misunderstand me, it's good to have a good relationship with them and we need to perfect their techniques in order to become stronger. But you still have to work on your swordsmanship."
He was right. Rukia was good at kidou and knew that Sode no Shirayuki and she were in perfect harmony. But that still wasn't enough.
She took her stance.
It was not enough. It might not be Kaien-dono but it knew everything he had. He had known her moves; he had known her stances and techniques. And that thing was using all that knowledge against her.
She had to think of something, and think fast before it had the chance to strike again.
"Suiten Sakamate, Nejibana."
And there it was the trident spear she remembered so well.
But it wasn't him. It wasn't. It couldn't be.
"It's not fair, Kaien-dono!" Rukia said staring at the long spear he had just released.
Kaien smirked, "Fair, Kuchiki? Do you think a Hollow will fight fair against you?"
"But your reach is longer, and you are already taller than me," she realized her mistake the moment the words escaped her lips. Shit.
He patted her head condescendingly, chuckling. "Poor Kuchiki, poor little Kuchiki," she narrowed her eyes, ready to strike.
He was faster.
She barely blocked him, groaning at the force of the blow and the unfairness of it all. "Hollows will also be bigger, Kuchiki. You want to survive? You want to become a worthy member of the Gotei 13? Fight. Learn. Dance!"
She spun, and jumped, and ducked--always moving, always dancing.
"Thrust and parry, Kuchiki," he said, never stopping; pushing, always pushing, "fight, move, thrust, parry, attack, retreat!" he stopped, and her momentum carried her in front of him.
She landed on top of him, and for a moment they were a tangled mess rolling and laughing on top of the grass. She remained on top, and Kaien smiled up at her.
That fight was hers. She smiled back, relaxing.
And then the world shifted, never to be the same again. Kaien sat up suddenly, his face mere inches from Rukia's. She was frozen, unable to move as his smile changed and his eyes approached until they were out of focus and nothing more than two blurs of colour.
She felt the breath on her lips, the warmth almost touching her and then--then nothing, just cold earth at her back and the pain of the landing.
"Thrust and parry, Rukia, and play as dirty as you can," he said, lifting himself up from her paralyzed body and leaving.
She stood there staring into empty space, a grim determination entering her eyes.
She couldn't, she wasn't strong enough. She had killed him once, how could anyone expect her to do it again? Even if she knew it wasn't him, even if she knew that thing was nothing more than a monster. She couldn't, she wasn't ready.
Rukia heard Sode no Shirayuki's cry before the piercing pain ripped her apart. It was a fit ending for her, Nejibana thrust into her as her own zanpakutou had been into him.
She saw him then, not the one in front of her, but the one always inside her memories, the one who always smiled and had time for her. Heart, he had called it. Part of his heart was with her. It was a good deal since her heart had been always with him.
Play as dirty as you can.
She knew what she had to do. She might be weak, but she wasn't going to die alone.
"Third dance, Shirafune."