First Name Basis
Something about the vaizard. Something about shinigami becoming hollows. Something about Kurosaki becoming a hollow. Something about learning to control it, finally mastering it, and then…
"Oh ho ho. It's nice to finally meet 'cha, Toushirou. I know you, but you don't know me. Allow me to introduce myself. I'm the little hollow that our mutual, orange-haired friend here thinks he's beaten."
Damn it all. It had been bad enough that once his request to aid Kurosaki had finally been accepted, he had found the substitute shinigami near death yet again. But then seeing him turn away from Noitora's dead body and face him, disintegrating hollow mask and all, had nearly had him ready to take the others and go right back to Seireitei. A great deal of explanation had been in order, and Kurosaki had tried to comply before promptly passing out from exertion. But the cause of his lapse quickly became all the more serious when his eyes opened once again, the eerie, hawk-like eyes of a hollow.
And that pretty much brought him back to the present, staring down a hollow version of Kurosaki Ichigo who was currently cracking his neck experimentally and eyeing Hitsugaya's tense stance with a playful smirk.
"Aw, are ya worried about little Ichigo?" The hollow's smirk only widened as Hitsugaya's eyes narrowed. "Don't. He's just a bit sleepy. I mean, he pushed it a bit much, don't 'cha think? Calling on me so many times in a row. Ha! It's no wonder he couldn't resist. Poor shmuck. Probably feels so guilty too…."
"Inoue, step back," was all Hitsugaya was willing to say on the matter. He didn't know how long it would take for the others to notice Kurosaki's change. Inoue Orihime did not argue with his demand, inching farther and farther away as she tightly clutched the sobbing infant arrancar named Nell.
"Just what I'd expect from little Toushirou, ne? Always so protective of the ladies."
"What do you want?" the young taichou snarled, his hand drifting ever upward toward Hyourinmaru's hilt.
"And Ichigo thinks I'm rude," the hollow huffed. "I'm just trying to have a decent conversation. You don't get much of those when you're stuck in somebody else's head. But if ya want a fight instead, I'd be more than happy to oblige."
Hitsugaya Toushirou was feeling extremely uneasy at this point. If no one had showed up by now, it meant they likely weren't going to show up at all. He was on his own with this one. Biting his lip, he forced his hand back to his side. "Why would a hollow have any interest in talking to me?"
The deranged smirk returned as the hollow rapped his knuckles on Kurosaki's temples. "Why wouldn't I be interested in talking to you, Toushirou? You're one of Ichigo's favorites." The way with which he emphasized the last word did not bode well with Hitsugaya. He was fairly sure this hollow had a very different outlook than Kurosaki on how to treat so-called favorites. When he didn't reply, however, the hollow continued. "Did'ja know he only calls three of the taichou by their first names?"
"What does that have to do with anything?" the white haired shinigami finally hazarded becoming rather impatient despite himself. He had never before met a hollow that was content with a bit of idle chatter. All it would take was an instant. An instant and this could all go to hell. As if it hadn't already.
"Ya know, for a genius you can be pretty dense," the hollow grinned his maniacal grin as he began counting off of his fingers. "There's ol' Kenpachi that Ichigo had a pathetic little brawl with, and suddenly they were the best of friends. And then there's Byakuya who got all sentimental and crap and ended up saving poor, helpless Rukia's life. And then there's little you. Ichigo didn't even meet you 'til after it was all over. You can't tell me you never wondered why he ranked you right up there with his stupid, little posse, can you?"
Hitsugaya decided silence would be the best answer. In all honesty, he had never paid any attention to it. Kurosaki had always just been that type of person. The type of person who would never see him as anything more than a kid. A smart kid, sure. But his minute brain didn't seem capable of handling the fact that Hitsugaya was actually a couple decades older than him. That was what he had dismissed Kurosaki's antics as, nothing more, nothing less. It didn't really matter, did it? To Kurosaki, anyway. It sure as hell got on his nerves. The most overwhelming question soaring through his mind at the moment, though, was why the hollow was bringing it up at all.
The hollow studied him, golden eyes alight with some sort of foreign amusement Hitsugaya could not comprehend. "So serious. C'mon, lighten up a bit. I'm just being friendly, ne?" he smirked. "It's really stupid, ya know. His reason. You're probably too intelligent to understand."
Hitsugaya couldn't stop himself from quirking a brow in curiosity, and the moment he did so, the hollow seized on it. "Little Toushirou's finally interested? Heh. I'll have to tell Ichigo how long it took you to care." Suddenly, he broke into a bout of particularly maniacal laughter, taking a purposeful stride forward. "You really wanna know, don't 'cha, little chicken shit?! You're just itching to hear, but you're just too professional to show it! You're waiting for your little friends who're never gonna come! You wanna know so bad?! I'll tell ya!"
The taichou's eyes widened as the hollow bolted toward him, grabbing for Zangetsu as he ran, and he realized that this was that instant where everything would go downhill. He hastily unsheathed Hyourinmaru and swung down to meet the hollow dead on. Sparks flew as zanpakutou clashed with zanpakutou, but Hitsugaya managed to hold his ground. The hollow rushed his head forward over the blades until their noses were only inches apart.
"It's because you lost too."
Hitsugaya's eyes flashed before he pushed the hollow away with an unexpected rush of adrenaline. "What the hell are you talking about?" That ever-present smirk glinted against Kurosaki's blade before he charged again. Hitsugaya knew he wouldn't be able to pull off another lucky escape and held Hyourinmaru at the ready, brows furrowing dangerously as he hollered, "Set upon the frozen heavens, Hyourinmaru!"
The two shikai stopped each other yet again, and the hollow's grin only grew. It was far too reminiscent of a certain former Third Division taichou for Hitsugaya's comfort. Bearing this thought in mind, he released the stale mate with the hollow and dodged to the side. The hollow's head turned to follow him, but otherwise he didn't move. "Your pretty fukutaichou isn't as tight-lipped as her little taichou," he replied, the amusement never leaving his voice. "Ichigo knows all about your pathetic fight with Aizen. 'I must protect Hinamori! Die!'" he mocked, using sweeping hand motions to make the spectacle all the more obnoxious. "But you know who was really whooped. You know better than anyone, eh, Toushirou?"
Hitsugaya almost missed the next charge, just barely catching Zangetsu with his own zanpakutou, his sandals skidding along the dirt as he was pushed backward into a rock. The impact rushed up his spine as he coughed, a small trickle of blood mixing in with his saliva. He glared up into those crazed, golden orbs from across their clashing blades, daring him to repeat what he had said.
But he didn't. Instead, he continued, the volume of his voice escalating with each passing sentence. "You're both so friggin' pathetic, it hurts! Your chivalry means squat when your enemy's a hundred times stronger than you! You both think you're so damn strong, huh? Huh?! But you're not, are ya?! You're both just losers who can't do anything yourselves! You think you've got problems?! How about me?! I have to live with this obnoxious shit who'd skewer his own friggin' body on a flag pole just to protect some stupid chick who can't hold her own!"
He jumped backward, releasing Hitsugaya from his pressure. The shinigami's frown deepened as he forced himself back up, chancing a quick glance back at Inoue. She looked alright, if rather shocked. She wasn't in any danger anyway, and that was what mattered at this point.
"It's guys like you that annoy me the most."
Hitsugaya forced his attention back to the hollow. Had he just … scowled? A single, white brow rose in interest. But as soon as he had noticed it, it had disappeared, the same, maniacal grin replacing it with ease.
"Maybe if I kill you, Ichigo'll finally see how stupid it is to keep trying to use me like he is."
And it was that moment that he realized he had been wrong. The hollow had just been playing with him up until now, testing him, seeking out responses. The instant when it had all gone to hell. That had been nothing but a game. He had no idea what true hell was like.
But he was about to find out.
Kurosaki's large blade condensed itself into a pure black daitou, and it wasn't hard for Hitsugaya to tell the difference in power. The substitute shinigami's usually wild reiatsu was condensing along with the zanpakutou. The density of the reiatsu that had amassed about Kurosaki's body was most definitely not a good sign. And when those hawk-like eyes locked onto him once again, he knew he had no other choice.
He shouted the command to Hyourinmaru as the hollow charged yet again, and the dragon eagerly obliged. The sturdy ice wrapped itself protectively around Hitsugaya, crystal clear wings and a tail forming icicle by icicle just before the blow was cast. Hyourinmaru blocked Zangetsu yet again, but the power in the blade had increased exponentially, Hitsugaya's hand shaking from the effort it took to hold the hollow back.
And in the blink of an eye, the hollow was gone. A rush of wind in his ear, and Hitsugaya whirled around to block a downward slash to his left. The young shinigami flung Hyourinmaru forward, knocking Zangetsu away and affording him just enough time to turn in a circle and gain momentum enough for a swipe to the hollow's ribs. He had avoided fighting back until now, for Kurosaki's sake, but it was becoming all too clear that he wouldn't stand a chance unless he fought to kill.
The hollow deftly avoided the blow, the glint of his grin the last thing Hitsugaya saw before he felt the piercing pain in his shoulder. Blood splattered from the corner of his vision, raining crimson droplets onto the hollow's smirking face, once again only inches from Hitsugaya's own.
"You really are pathetic, ya chicken shit," he sneered into Hitsugaya's wide eyes. It took a moment for it to register in Hitsugaya's mind that Zangetsu was sinking ever deeper into his shoulder, but when he finally returned to his senses, adrenaline overpowered the pain. He forced Hyourinmaru beneath the hollow's blade and wrenched it upward, biting his lip to keep himself from hollering. The hollow leapt back, his smirk melting into another fit of laughter. "All of you are! You're all nothing more than tiny, swarming gnats! You couldn't save little Momo, and he couldn't save his mommy, and Rukia couldn't save her stupid boyfriend, and Rangiku couldn't save you, and Renji couldn't save Rukia, and none of you are gonna be able to save Orihime! You're all losers!
"But you two! You're the worst of all! You know you're losers! You've been losers your whole, damn lives! You've known it your whole, damn lives! And yet you still keep trying! You won't give up 'til there's nothing left of ya but a pile of blood and guts! It makes me sick! I oughtta…!"
The hollow jerked backward in mid-sentence, and Hitsugaya wasn't about to waste his chance asking why. He flew toward the creature as fast as the icy wings would take him, thrusting Hyourinmaru straight for his shoulder. It seemed appropriately ironic. Even more so when it actually hit its mark. Kurosaki's body soared right along with the blade until they collided with a dirt wall, blood flying from both of the fighters' wounds as the ice that had molded over his shoulder cracked with the pressure of his attack.
The hollow's hand shot to his face, which Hitsugaya thought was rather peculiar, but as soon as the dust settled he understood. His hand gripped the mask, desperately trying to pull it off. One of the eyes he had quickly come to loath had returned to its original almond color and stared at his would-be attacker in confusion. "Toushirou…?"
Hitsugaya hesitated. And before he could even comprehend what had happened, Zangetsu had skewered him through his abdomen. "What'd I tell ya, chicken shit?" the hollow smirked wildly, twisting the blade about the small shinigami's gut. "You're nothing but a pathetic loser!"
It hurt. It hurt, dammit! His right hand still wrapped around Hyourinmaru's hilt, holding the blade to the hollow's shoulder, he shakily moved his left to Zangetsu and grasped the zanpakutou with inhuman determination, losing even more of the precious, crimson fluid as he did so. The hollow was right about one thing. He wasn't giving up until he was so much bodily fluids soaking into the dirt. He yanked the blade from his chest, coughing and hacking up blood as he tumbled backward, taking Hyourinmaru with him.
The hollow stepped forward, an insane sheen in his golden orbs as they took in the blood running down Kurosaki's shihakushou then Hitsugaya, barely able to stand and only just managing to retain bankai. He wasn't sure which vital organ he had hit, but it was obvious he had struck at least one of them. Toushirou was as good as dead. Too easy. The grin only widened.
And then it disappeared. A familiar scowl took its place as a hand once again forced itself jerkily up toward the mask, grasping at its sharp edge. "Stay out of this!" the hollow shrieked as Hitsugaya watched in awe, clutching Hyourinmaru to keep his balance. "You're too weak! There's no way you can stop me! Stay out of it!" The screams became more and more desperate when the misbehaving hand refused to halt its efforts.
And finally, the mask came clear off.
Kurosaki Ichigo flung the offending ceramic as far as he could manage, heaving deep, needy breaths as he stared at the blood soaked shinigami taichou before him.
He nodded, dumb from the effort it had taken to regain his body.
And the boy promptly collapsed, his bankai completely dissipated before he even hit the floor.
"Orihime … er … How is he?"
"I don't know," returned a worried, female voice. "I did my best, but he hasn't woken up yet. I hope I didn't hurt him even more."
"You could hardly hurt him any more than I did," was the cynical reply.
Brows furrowed as Hitsugaya Toushirou grudgingly lifted his eye lids. He would have preferred to rest a little longer, but even if he wasn't entirely awake as of yet, he could tell by the tone of the disembodied voices that now was not the time. Blinking rapidly as he grew used to what little light there was, he tried to focus his vision. Off to his right stood Kurosaki Ichigo, and Inoue Orihime sat next to him, holding the hand of the childish arrancar dubbed Nell.
Oh, right. The hollow.
Hitsugaya allowed a light groan as he slowly sat up, his hand instinctively heading toward the gaping hole in his chest that was no longer there. As soon as the sound left his mouth, all three of the others hastily turned toward him, Kurosaki even going so far as to run right to his side. The substitute shinigami crouched down, cocking his head to look the young taichou in the eye. "You okay?" His voice was so full of concern, Hitsugaya could have killed him for it.
Instead, the shinigami drew his head back, startled by Kurosaki's sudden closeness. A few awkward seconds later, he was finally able to grunt a simple "Fine."
Kurosaki didn't seem quite so ready to accept the concise reply but forced himself to let it go. He reached out a hand to the smaller boy. "Good."
Frowning at the meaningful answer, Hitsugaya sighed and took the ragged teen's hand, allowing him to pull him back to his feet. He grabbed for Hyourinmaru and re-sheathed it, enduring the dragon's prideful chiding with practiced stoicism. Kurosaki refused to take his eyes off of him, and with yet another sigh, he folded his arms across his chest and returned the gaze. "Will that ever happen again?"
Kurosaki clenched his fist, irises alight with familiar determination. "Not if I can help it," he affirmed through tightly ground teeth. "You won't ever see him again, Toushirou."
Hitsugaya paused, eyes narrowing.
"Did'ja know he only calls three of the taichou by their first names?"
"It's because you lost too."
"You couldn't save little Momo, and he couldn't save his mommy, and Rukia couldn't save her stupid boyfriend, and Rangiku couldn't save you, and Renji couldn't save Rukia, and none of you are gonna be able to save Orihime! You're all losers!"
That wasn't it.
"Ichigo knows all about your pathetic fight with Aizen."
It wasn't even close.
"You won't give up 'til there's nothing left of ya but a pile of blood and guts!"
The smallest of smiles crawled its way across Hitsugaya's thin lips.
"I'm sure I won't," he muttered, turning away, "Ichigo."
Kurosaki's jaw dropped clear to the floor, and Hitsugaya could no longer suppress a smirk as he walked toward Inoue and the arrancar. "Did you just…? I mean…? You said … my...? You just called me…?"
"Is something wrong, Kurosaki?" the shinigami taichou turned back, quirking a brow in amusement.
"…No," the redhead finally huffed before jogging up after him.
He'd bring it up later. After Aizen was defeated.
Maybe then they'd both be a little less stubborn.