We stole our new lives
through blood and pain
-30 Seconds to Mars, "Kings and Queens"
In stark contrast to her sword-fighting style, Rukia's hand-to-hand lacked finesse; there was no hint of the smoothed edges of refinement and poise she moved with when delivering blows with her zanpakuto. It was jagged, quick, striking out like a serpent. Though Ichigo was clearly the more skilled of the two, having been formally trained in karate since he was young, she was too fast, too unyielding in her attacks. Each unrelenting hit was a lightning bolt to his skin, as she arced a jab here, a swift kick there.
The only moments she wasn't in full survival mode, hardened and destructive, were her airborne ones. She flew with the grace he expected of her, that he was used to. Still, recognizing her flying kicks only went so far. Already, Rukia had broken his nose, promising meekly she would heal it later with kidou before launching another attack.
Parry, block, sidestep. It was barely ever enough, he was always on the defensive. When Rukia had suddenly challenged him, Ichigo's original intent was to hold back (she had only just fully recovered from her injuries inflicted by the Vandenreich, and though he knew she could throw a punch or two, he had no way to gauge how she'd do in a sparring match), but he had underestimated her—a dangerous mistake.
It had been a while since either of them went mano-a-mano on anyone, so she suggested an exercise in testing their abilities against each other. No weapons, no kidou, just their bare hands and fistfuls of instincts. She explained it was to dust off the rust, limber up, prepare their bodies for the oncoming war. Ichigo wasn't convinced, however, especially now that he saw what she could do, but he agreed. He understood she just wanted an excuse to blow off some steam. After her fall against the Quincies, as well as Renji's and Byakuya's, she had been nothing but vengeful since. He couldn't rightly blame her when he felt the same way. So, it was decided they would take advantage of the palace's large, expansive rooms, two pairs of sweatpants and tank tops (Zero Division didn't skimp), and duke it out.
"Where..." he asked after they had been at it for little over an hour, chancing a swing at her head, which she ducked with ease, "did you learn to fight like this?"
With her head still down, she struck out with the sole of her foot, connecting brutally with his kneecap. With a yell, he was down for the count. He groaned on the floor, clutching at his bruising knee. He'd add this to the collection of new wounds their "sparring" session had piled on.
"Got into loads of scuffles growing up," she answered breathlessly, pushing back the sweaty hair sticking to her forehead and resetting herself into a fighting stance. "Renji taught me some."
With a defiance unparalleled, Ichigo took a swipe at her legs—literally sweeping her off her feet. Not expecting him to recover so quickly, Rukia fell without time to stop herself, the breath knocked out of her. Without wasting any time, Ichigo swung a leg over, trapping her waist with his thighs, despite his aching knee planted to the floor. As he straddled her, she yet still fought. One of her fists caught his chin before he grabbed it and the other, crossing them above her and pinning her wrists with one hand. He smirked triumphantly as she squirmed beneath him, her legs kicking fruitlessly.
He leaned closer, breath hot against her slick skin. "Ready to surrender?" he murmured cheekily.
Rukia's legs stilled and a dark smile reached her lips. "Not quite," she answered before surging forward and headbutting him. Crying out, he fell back, his sweaty hands slipping on her wrists, giving her wiggle room to free herself, grab him by the shoulders, and shift her weight enough to use his against him: before Ichigo could utter an incredulous sound of disbelief, they had switched places.
"Fuck!" he shouted, slamming the back of his head on the floor in frustration. How did he not see that coming? He had gotten cocky. Next time she would not be so lucky.
At this point, however, he was so exhausted he didn't even try to fight the tightened grip on his wrists that stayed pinned on either side of him. He knew if he continued his assault, he would have pushed her off easily—he wouldn't be surprised if she weighed less thanZangetsu—but he was so, so tired. "I yield," he surrendered, utterly defeated.
"What was that?" she asked coolly, tilting her head to the side in mock confusion. "I didn't quite catch that."
"I yield," he growled testily.
Suddenly gleeful, Rukia smiled, releasing his wrists—then all but collapsed atop him; she caught herself with both hands on his chest.
"Whoa!" he interjected, steadying her by taking hold of her waist.
"Guess my stamina's not what it used to be." She shrugged, but Ichigo could tell it bothered her. Her body wasn't back to its old self yet.
"Your stamina? I just got my ass handed to me by a girl half my size—"
"And don't you forget it!"
"—and I feel like I could sleep for weeks," he chuckled.
"That didn't end so well last time you did that, remember?" commented Rukia softly, hands involuntarily slipping over his chest, over the scar she had made fresh with their last reunion.
"No, I remember that ending just fine," he countered, holding her hand to his chest. They stayed still like that for a few moments, the air thick with their still-labored breathing. Rukia rose and fell with his lungs. She could feel his heartbeat slow beneath her fingers, his sweat beneath the cloth of his shirt; she could feel her own heartbeat quicken even more.
"Rukia..." breathed Ichigo, flushing.
"I should heal your nose," she muttered hastily, pulling her hand from his and cupping his cheek with it, the other poised in front of his face.
Giving in, Ichigo closed his eyes and smiled as Rukia began the incantation. "We should do this again some time," he suggested.
Rukia didn't disagree, only grinned.