He doesn't laugh, isn't smiling, just stares at her with that one covered eye.
It's a calculative, evaluating, analytical gaze, almost as if he's seeing her for the first time.
He probably is.
"You," he bites out, blunt but sharp and to the point.
"Yes," her eyes don't close, there is no sweet, placating smile.
He looks around them, takes in the bare earth and the tufts of grass peeking out in the distance, eyes the pebbles and cracks of dryness.
It is not a syllable of disregard, nor one of contempt. Just acceptance, of what, she doesn't know.
He moves his right hand, her stance shifts fractionally, and his eye glints almost predatory in the early morning sun.
She almost closes her eyes. Almost, swaying slightly out of the way of his blade. Almost despairs for a moment.
What is this? A game?
He swings again, mouth pressed flat, the slightest look of annoyance bubbling onto his face.
She steps aside once more, heart sinking as it begins to burn with disappointment.
This is what I emerged for?
He swings a third time, and she suspects that he must be either quite baffled, annoyed, or some ungodly, fiery, unstable combination of both.
Because Zaraki Kenpachi is not a slow man by any metric, and what she's doing is, probably, borderline disrespect.
No, I will not clash blades with you. No, you cannot touch me.
And while both of them are true, the way she is approaching this situation is probably not the way that would have been recommended. You do not toy with Zaraki.
But the corresponding, "Because he will not toy with you," goes unsaid, and unfulfilled.
For what is he doing, swinging this sword through the air like one would a piece of sporting equipment, all determination and dedication but no real intent.
She sways a fourth time, and closes her eyes.
She can feel him move, can feel him twitch in annoyance, feel the muscles and the spirit leap into action, can feel everything but the one thing she's waiting for.
She agreed to do this, gently acquiesced, but she knows as Shunsui knows that there are some things that cannot be taught, only polished, and if it just isn't present in Zaraki Kenpachi, then there isn't much else she can do about it.
He swings, almost like a child at a piñata, ferocious and focused in his intensity, and she can see all the raw materials, some less raw than others, that she can begin to shape into something truly frightful.
But the spark, that very essence at the heart of this fight is just missing.
And who would have guessed?
Who would have guessed that for all the fight-loving, battle-thirsty, combat-hungry bones in his body, that Zaraki Kenpachi simply had no killing intent?
The thought seems preposterous, perhaps is preposterous, but nonetheless true. She feels none of it in this haphazard, almost child-like display that is being put forth in front of her.
It isn't child-like, of course. There is nothing child-like about Zaraki Kenpachi swinging his massive zanpakutou around trying to slash you to ribbons.
But that's just it.
There is no killing intent. There is an intent to strike, to hit, to connect, but the aim of harming, the aim of putting someone to death, that critical air is just simply not there.
Or even if it is, and by the gods she is hoping it is, then it has just been buried under decades of lack of use and has been forgotten, because Zaraki Kenpachi has never really needed to think about killing his opponents - if they died, that was a consequence of him attempting to strike them, less about him actually trying to kill them and more about them failing to keep themselves alive.
There is a subtle difference there, not one that many notice, since Zaraki Kenpachi is a sledgehammer of power to be reckoned with, and the number of people who wield weapons more dangerous than he now number on one hand, but there is a difference.
She almost cannot believe it, almost did not believe it, but Shunsui is often right when it comes to things like this, and she is, right now, discovering exactly how right that man is.
She weaves in and out, not seeing but feeling. Zaraki isn't predictable by any count, but there is a certain sureness to each stroke that doesn't have her second-guessing, doesn't have her needing to second-guess.
This is an almost nostalgic throwback to her days when…
She feels it first on the hairs on the back of her neck. The same prickling, almost shudder that Shunsui immediately evokes when he draws, just milder now.
But it's there.
There is hope yet, in this man.
Her eyes snap open and for the first time that morning, metal meets metal in a sharp, clear ringing that has his lip curl.
He has to admit that he is quite confused, and maybe a little frustrated.
He wasn't expecting her. Kyouraku, maybe, since that guy has a thousand hidden sides, and surely one of them is lethal, but not her.
And he definitely wasn't expecting this. She doesn't seem like the type that would waste time.
Never mind that she doesn't seem like the type that would even be here doing this, but really? She's just going to stand there and let him hit her?
Or try to hit her, his brain sneers, it's not like you're doing a fantastic job of actually hitting her.
Well, that's because I'm not trying to.
Hmph. Waste of my time if you ask me.
So yeah, maybe he's getting a little frustrated.
He swings again, and again, slicing and chopping at places where she is and places where he thinks she's going to be but she's dodging.
And it's not that he's slow, because by goodness he's not, he knows that.
And it's not that she's reading him, because he sure as hell isn't predictable or anything.
He's just… Goddamn the woman has her eyes closed.
Something bubbles up from within that he hasn't felt in a long time. He rarely gets angry in fights, and this isn't anger, he tells himself.
This isn't anger. It's frustration. It's indignation. It's like he can't possibly imagine why anyone would do this and it just isn't right.
It isn't right in the sense that it is the kind of not very right that would be a little more right with the blade of his sword sticking through her neck, with it different and her ending and death.
That kind of right.
And he slashes his blade down, to make it a little more right, and her eyes snap open, by goodness were they ever that color?
He doesn't have time to pursue that thought though, because suddenly the air is thick and heavy and it isn't reiatsu, because trying to out-reiatsu him is like trying to out-wet the sea.
Not that it's impossible for her, because at this point he feels like this is a person he doesn't know at all anymore.
He doesn't shiver, he tells himself.
He doesn't flinch, doesn't shake, but the hairs on the back of his neck are crawling and there is something in him that wants to either stand and fight or throw down his zanpakutou and run.
He is Zaraki Kenpachi, so that choice is not really a choice, but that it appeared for a moment scares him.
He bares his teeth, meeting this challenge head on in the only way he really knows how, and doesn't wince when her blade flicks his away easily and dives into his ribcage.
Her blade finds its way back to her sheath, and they stand, his sword drawn, hers sheathed, a predator circling its prey, watching the blood trickle slowly out.
The air shifts and he can feel it in every stroke of her blade.
This isn't a joke.
This isn't a waste of time.
She's going to kill him if he doesn't do anything.
He is going to die.
No. A stubborn growl as something awakes inside that he might have either kept hidden or forgotten.
There is a rush, of not quite adrenaline, but something far more primal and sinister, possessive, selfish and sharp in its intensity.
His grin is cold, wide, almost a sneer of derision.
You think you're going to kill me? Hah.
His blade sharpens, his movements tighten and every stroke draws blood.
In response, her eyelids flit closer to each other, and on that one balmy afternoon in a field in the far flung edges of Rukongai, Zaraki Kenpachi learns what it is like to kill or be killed.
He tries very hard not to wince, after it is all over, when she heals him with a little more force than is necessary.
That attempt fails miserably and he watches her hide a laugh away.
A\N: I really wanted to see KT write about Unohana and Zaraki. So I uh, wrote it.