Disclaimer: Bleach and all affiliated characters and settings are the property of brilliant Kubo Tite/Taito. Used and abused without permission for no profit.


For my dear friend Kellen, who requested a Histu-whumping fic. I hope you enjoy it, hon.


Endurance
Bleach

Part I

When the paperwork got tough, the tough… went on a walk.

At least, that's what Soul Society's tenth division captain, Hitsugaya Toushiro, firmly believed. Despite his insane work ethic, he too often became weary with the massive amount of paperwork each captain was required to keep up with. Even though he was Earth-side for the time being – after Aizen's treachery, there had been a lot of spiritual imbalance – the paperwork never ceased to find its way to him. A small attack by a pack of Hollows on members of his division earlier that week hadn't helped stem the tide of related forms and reports, especially since many Division Ten shinigami were injured in the incident. He wondered briefly if the other earth-bound captains were required to complete school-related homework on top of the average load coming in from Soul Society. And it didn't help that he was still just getting over the horrific wounds dealt to him by the Arrancar Shawlong Qu Fong. That drifter – Orihime – was an excellent healer, but she only had so much energy, and he hadn't been the only one injured in that fight.

With a loud, blatant yawn, he stretched the sore muscles of his gigai and shot his buxom vice-captain, Matsumoto Rangiku, a plea-filled stare. She looked a bit surprised for a mere moment before she nodded, offering a pitying smile. I'll take care of it.

Thank you, his eyes said in reply as he trudged toward the door, snatching up his own soul candy dispenser and stuffing it into his pocket on the way out. Matsumoto offered another small nod, this time of approval. He smirked.

Once outside, he breathed a sigh of relief and allowed himself a very small, self-satisfied smile. He deserved this short break, he decided as his stiff muscles creaked in protest. Tomorrow's homework was done, and the daily paperwork was well on its way to completion. Of course, he hadn't had much time for sleep since then, and his gigai mournfully reminded him of that fact as he felt the grit gathering at the corners of his temporary eyes. For a moment, he wondered if he should have flopped down for a nap instead, but the fresh air sure did feel nice.

With a quick check around him, he set off towards the school with the knowledge that there was a small park along that route. It wasn't much of a park, but it was nearby, and it was far enough removed from bustling Tokyo city life that it sounded like a veritable oasis to him. Part of what he disliked so much about the mortal realm was the fact that human air wasn't clean, and that his gigai was especially sensitive to it. The human sense of smell was so much more intense than that of a shinigami, and it took some getting used to. He briefly wondered how humans could stand to live in their own planet.

The park was mostly empty, save for a handful of children playing soccer off to the side, shouting and laughing as they kicked the ball around. Hitsugaya grinned in spite of himself, the child in him wishing he could join in the fun. But when one of the children happened to look his way, he wiped the grin off his face and pretended he was looking elsewhere. He was an adult, and really didn't have time to play.

Suddenly, he felt the heavy weight of a change in spirit-pressure around him, and in his gigai, it nearly sent him to his knees. Eyes widening, he realized that there was more than one presence near the park, and he recognized none of them as shinigami reiatsu signatures. Hollows, closing in quickly. Gritting his teeth, he shot another look at the children playing soccer before he noticed one of them looking around in confusion; he'd noticed the difference as well.

Shit, he noted. So that's what they're after.

Slipping one hand into his pocket, he deftly coaxed a pill out of the Dragon-head dispenser nestled there and pulled it out, glaring at it briefly before he popped it in his mouth. The tingling sensation of separating from the gigai left him blinking for a moment as he waited for the soul to take over his gigai. It didn't take long; soon, he saw his own face blinking eerily back at him as if mocking his expression.

"Get the kids out of here, then go back to Matsumoto and tell her we've got trouble," he instructed. The gigai said nothing as it nodded, then turned and ran towards the kids.

Satisfied, Hitsugaya turned his gaze back towards the direction from which the spirit pressure was the strongest. Now that he could see the spiritual signatures more clearly, he picked out three red threads. Damn, he hoped that his gigai would be able to get help sooner rather than later. With a sigh, he stretched his arms out in front of him and rolled his neck, working out a few cracks in the vertebrae there. The heavy weight of Hyourinmaru at his back reassured him as he stood calmly, waiting for the trouble to find him first.

He didn't have to wait long; now all three of his targets were within his range of vision. Two were ambling along – one almost reminded him of Jidanbou in terms of stature, and the other didn't seem to have a solid shape to it. The third took on the appearance of the beastly crows he'd seen flying around the city. That one wouldn't be fun to deal with, but he had speed to his advantage.

The captain tossed back a glance over his shoulder to make sure his gigai was taking care of the task he'd appointed for it. Kids, check. Gigai, check. Turning back to the approaching Hollows, he suddenly realized what he'd just seen and whirled back around with eyes wide – the gigai was being tackled by the group of children.

Oh, shit.

As he turned to save his gigai from the throes of a pack of wild children, he felt the familiar heavy spirit pressure of the Hollows reach the edge of the park. Another muttered curse, and he turned back to his current enemies, crouching with one hand on the pommel of Hyourinmaru. The gigai would just have to find a way to get out of the children's clutches and on to safety. This fight could get messy.

"Hoho, little Shinigami," the shapeless Hollow greeted. Its blurred figure forced Hitsugaya to squint as he regarded it, the lack of focus disconcerting. "We came for a soul, and ended up with you as well. What a pleasant surprise!"

"One you'll regret," Hitsugaya spat back, pulling his zanpakutou out an inch in warning.

The harsh cackle of the Hollow sent a light shiver down the captain's spine. For some reason, these Hollows, which should have been child's play to a captain of the Gotei 13, gave off a really disturbing aura. Something was unusually wrong in this situation, and part of him – Hyourinmaru, perhaps – yelled that he silence the three Hollows before he found out what that was. The dragon-sword was most likely wise, but as a captain, he wanted information first.

"You're amusing, young one," the Hollow sneered. "Come, let us play a bit before we finish you off."

"Tch." Hitsugaya withdrew Hyourinmaru from its sheath in one smooth motion, swinging it decisively to the side.

With an icy glare, he charged at the shapeless Hollow. However, as he swung at the Hollow's mask, Hyourimaru struck the Jidanbou-sized Hollow instead, the blade cutting deeply into what looked like an upper arm. Jidanbou-Hollow shrieked, and Hitsugaya tugged at his sword to get it free before it was flung from his grasp by the writhing ghost. Hyourinmaru didn't budge, and was nearly wrenched from his hands as Jidanbou-Hollow flung its arm out to the side. The captain gritted his teeth; he felt the strain on his wrists as he was tossed around in the air like a rag doll, but he refused to let go of the sword's hilt. He hissed when he felt one of his wrists twist in the wrong direction. With a frustrated growl, he planted his feet into the beast's arm, using his body weight to wrench the blade out of the Hollow's supernatural flesh. Using the momentum from the flailing Hollow, he flipped backwards and landed a small distance away in a crouch. A quick adjustment on his grip on Hyourinmaru's hilt, and he charged at it again with a short shout, ducking a wild swing from the Hollow's arm as he drove the tip of the blade upward, piercing into the white mask and shattering it with one blow. Jidanbou-Hollow's shriek faded as it disintegrated into the wind.

"Not bad, little Shinigami," the shapeless Hollow commented from behind the white-haired captain. Hitsugaya whirled with wide eyes; he hadn't even sensed the Hollow move. "But will it be enough?"

Just beyond the Hollow, he saw his gigai still struggling to herd the playing children from the yard. The one with the insightful supernatural sense looked straight at him with wide eyes, questioning and frightened.

"… Onii-san?" the boy said uncertainly.

Then Hitsugaya saw the shadow covering the group; the flying Hollow circled above the group of children, eyeing them as a predator on the hunt. With a muttered curse, he flew at the shapeless Hollow and took a swing at it. As expected, it dodged, leaving a path open to the group of children. His gigai hadn't yet noticed it was being targeted by the flying Hollow.

"Run, damn you!" he shouted at the gigai, which finally looked up with widened eyes and started screaming at the children with exaggerated gestures, as if he planned to chase them away. Caught up in the sense of a game, several kids shrieked in delight and took off in the opposite direction. Only the perceptive kid stayed behind, frozen as he watched the Hollow from above. The Hollow paused, preparing to dive. Hitsugaya put on more speed.

Shit!

He lunged the last few meters with the help of a shunpo, tackling the kid to the ground as he felt the talons of the Hollow scrape against his back. Hissing again in annoyance, he twisted mid-air to avoid landing on the boy in his arms, and ended up landing painfully on his back. A skinny elbow found his gut during the fall, knocking the wind out of him. Blinking rapidly to clear his vision, he nearly missed catching a glimpse of the flying Hollow's next dive, and rolled to the side just as sharp talons dug into the earth where he once lay. Pulling himself to his feet, he helped the boy up with his good hand. His left wrist was throbbing now; he'd probably sprained it, and the roll didn't help it any.

"Get out of here," he said in a low warning voice.

The boy stared at him wide-eyed. "But… what about you?"

Hitsugaya looked at the boy with some surprise. "I'll be fine; you need to get home, though. Stay out of trouble, and follow the guy that looks like me over there."

The boy nodded before running off, and Hitsugaya turned his attention back to the problems at hand. Rolling his shoulders to get himself to relax, he gripped Hyourinmaru tighter, holding it out in front of him. Casting a cold glare above him, he decided to take the flying Hollow down first, and then he would worry about the shapeless one.

"How noble of you," the shapeless one sneered as it watched the boy run off with an amused grin.

"You're noisy," Hitsugaya grunted as he crouched, and then launched himself into the air. The flying Hollow screeched as it saw him approach, but it didn't move fast enough before Hyourinmaru's singing blade sliced cleanly through its mask. It too disintegrated into the wind, leaving just the shapeless one facing the small captain. Hitsugaya wasted no time in his attack as he charged, Hyourinmaru glinting in the fading sunlight.

"You're feisty, small one," the Hollow taunted, unmoving.

Hitsugaya swung down at the mask, but was surprised to see it move to another portion of the Hollow's body before he could cut it. He was even more surprised when his blade met no resistance as it sliced down through the body, and he hadn't been prepared to hit the ground quite so hard. Stumbling a step, he also noticed – with a grimace – that the Hollow seemed unaffected by the blow. The Hollow flew at him, and he quickly gained his footing and darted to the side, allowing the shapeless mass to pass by him.

"Captain Hitsugaya!"

Part of him was immensely relieved to hear the voice of his vice-captain, but he still had a problem at hand. This Hollow was troublesome, and if he – a Gotei 13 captain, damn it – couldn't handle it, there would be hell to pay. He had to think, and ignore the pounding feet as Matsumoto came to his aid along with several other seated shinigami. His gigai had done its job, and for that he was thankful. But this time, he felt uncertain tension coming from his officers as they approached.

"Oh shit," he heard one of them – Yamamori, he was certain – whisper, accompanied by the grating sound of several zanpakutou being drawn from their sheaths.

"Long time no see," the Hollow greeted the incoming group.

What the hell?

The Hollow charged again, and Hitsugaya took a swing at the mask out of reflex. Again, the mask seemed to disappear under the swing, and he felt the blade cut through air. This time, however, he was prepared for it, and this time realized that there had to be a catch. Focusing on the soul threads in the air, he tried to pick out anything that might be amiss.

"That won't work, Captain!" he heard Yamamori call out from behind him as he took another unsuccessful swing. So he had encountered this Hollow previously. He'd have to get a report from Yamamori about the incident. Later.

For now,he glanced back at the seated officer with a scowl. Just trust me. The officer backed off, then nodded in sudden understanding. He was looking, buying himself some time. The red thread seemed typical… and as he looked along the length of it, this Hollow should – in all rights – be normal. But it wasn't. He was missing something. Taking another swing, he watched the thread instead of the Hollow as it dodged. Then he smirked.

There it is!

The thread took a moment longer to move after the Hollow dodged; so this wasn't actually the Hollow he was up against. It was simply a puppet, controlled by the real thing from some distance. And as he got a better look at the thread, he realized that it extended beyond where the puppet-Hollow stood. Quickly, he shot after the thread, this time charging directly at the puppet-Hollow. This time, he didn't attack; instead, he passed through the Hollow, and on to where he hoped the thread originated.

"Captain, don't…!"

Even as he heard the warning and saw the puppeteer Hollow, he felt a brief instance of heavy reiatsu before he was slammed into the ground. Damn, but it was fast… but now that he knew about it, he knew he was faster. Staggering to his feet, he snarled as he faced off with the real Hollow, the shapeless one gone now that its ruse had been revealed. The puppeteer looked more humanoid than its puppet, though it was slightly smaller and had a decorated mask. And unlike its puppet, it said nothing as it danced about the captain. After a short stand-off, Hitsugaya finally tossed a quick, flashy kidou at the Hollow. As he expected, it fell for the feint and dodged directly into Hitsugaya's next attack.

The mask split, and the Hollow screamed furiously as it began to disintegrate. "You haven't beaten me yet, boy!" it howled, voice echoing in the stilled air as the body shattered.

Hitsugaya glared at the spot where the Hollow previously stood as he calmly placed Hyourinmaru back into its sheath. He felt the excitement bubbling off his officers as they approached, especially from Yamamori.

"Captain! That was amazing – we weren't able to lay a finger on him during the last attack, and you just flattened him like that!"

"Yamamori," Hitsugaya stated, not turning around. "This was the Hollow you met the last time?"

Yamamori paused for a moment. "Uh, yes, sir… I believe it was. We were able to discover the puppet, but by then we were torn apart. I was able to get away unhurt, but all the Shinigami that were injured in that attack came down sick with something really weird… Didn't you read my report?"

So Yamamori had filed the report. It must have been one of the ones he'd planned on tackling that evening once he got back from his walk. Hitsugaya turned to face the officer, but perhaps he'd whirled too quickly – he swayed, his balance off, and the ground began rushing up at him at an alarmingly fast rate. He didn't hit the ground, which might have been preferable, since he suddenly found his face in a massive mound of flesh. Matsumoto. But he didn't have the strength to reprimand her.

"Captain!"

Shut up, your voice hurts my ears, he wanted to say, but the world wavered uncertainly. Matsumoto's concerned face blurred before his eyes, and in the back of his mind, a voice screamed at him that something was horribly wrong. It took far too long for him to realize it. No shit! Wh-What the hell…? Darkness came and swallowed him in his confusion.


.to be continued.


Originally posted at LiveJournal, initially intended to be a one-shot gift/request fic for Kellen. Please forgive any mistakes, as this has not been beta read. Comments, reviews, etc. - general feedback is always greatly appreciated.