Changing of the Guard

Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach. That honor belongs to Tite Kubo.

Warnings: Spoilers for Soul Society Arc and beyond, Language, Dubious humor

AN: For the Bleach_contest on LJ. Theme was "Tease." I think it fell rather flat with that.

Hitsugaya Toushirou often prayed for an aneurysm. For a mental meltdown. An ulcer. A psychotic episode. Anything. Anything at all that would get him out of his duties. That would force them to relieve him of command. That would free him from this mess. This insanity.

But the gods simply weren't that kind. Or perhaps they were punishing him for several lifetimes' worth of misdeeds. Maybe he'd destroyed a few civilizations in a past incarnation. Honestly, that was the only reason he could possibly deserve this.

Duty in Karakura. Duty in the most spiritual active area in the living world. The Hollows' favorite vacation destination. Practically Arrancar central. An Espada on every street corner. And traitors having tea at their favorite bistro.

But that wasn't the worst part. No, not by a long shot.

Kurosaki, he could live with. Kurosaki's friends, he could also survive. Urahara and his shouten full of weirdos, they were fine, too. It was his own subordinates who were the goddamn problem.

Matsumoto? Madarame? Ayasegawa? Abarai?

It was like the old man wanted him to fail. Had picked the least inconspicuous people for this assignment. The ones most likely to commit a felony and end up in jail. Or to incite a riot. Or just be their normal selves. Which quite possibly was the worst of those three options.

His own lieutenant was like the ringleader of this little escapade. Matsumoto couldn't be more obvious! More outrageous! More outlandish! He was the surprised that the students didn't know. How could they possibly miss this? Miss her? Miss any of them?

And come on, Abarai? Madarame? They didn't have a subtle bone between them. Not to mention that they looked more like yakuza than high school students. He was surprised that they'd yet to be arrested on that suspicion alone.

At least Ayasegawa knew how to keep a low profile. Not that he was or anything. It wouldn't be beautiful, after all.

The only decent one was Kuchiki. And that was only when she wasn't elbowing Kurosaki in the head. Or a thousand similar things.

Soifon would've blended in better. Hell, anyone short of Kurotsuchi – or possibly Komamura – would've done better. Even Toushirou himself stood out. His hair was white for kami's sake. And he was a good foot shorter than everyone else. Why was he on this mission in the first place?

He was a captain dammit! Not some flunky. A captain!

"Hey, Toushirou," a male voice called out to him then.

The boy-captain instantly felt his left eye twitch and turned his head. "It's Hitsugaya-tai-"

Only it wasn't Kurosaki. But someone else.

Hirako. Hirako Shinji. Some new kid in their year, who'd only been there a day. He wasn't much to look at, thin and gangly. Other than his blond hair, he was utterly ordinary. And Toushirou was willing to bet that it was dyed anyway.

"It's Hitsugaya," he corrected lamely. Mentally lashing himself for his near slip. Honestly, he was getting as bad as the others.

"Right," Hirako drawled, giving him a pointed look. "Just Hitsugaya? No 'san' or 'kun?'" He made some vague gesture that Toushirou assumed he was supposed to understand but actually didn't. "Any other special additions?"

Toushirou wasn't sure he liked the sound of that. He eyed Hirako, his every sense tingling with warning. There was something about this guy. Something almost familiar. Though Toushirou swore that they'd never met before. He was positive of that fact. He would've remembered someone with such a retarded looking face.

"No, just Hitsugaya." To the humans anyway.

"Tai… Tou-chan!"

He turned without thinking, distracted by this blond human, and came face to face with breasts. Familiar breasts at that. Round, firm, and jiggly in a way that couldn't possibly be natural.

Toushirou groaned.

Matsumoto. Great. Like his day couldn't get any worse. Give him an Arrancar attack any time. Really, that would only make things better.

"What do you want?" he asked in a tired, tired voice. Then scowled. Felt a muscle twitch. Narrowed his eyes. Certain he now cultivated a migraine.

She giggled demurely. Except that Matsumoto didn't do anything demurely, so it came off supremely suspicious.

"Me and the girls are going shopping, okay? Don't wait up for us!"

Shopping? What the hell! They had work to do! Hollows to track. Espada to defeat. Aizen to find. Strange and nosy humans to avoid. Shopping was nowhere in their orders!

Toushirou planned to say just that.

However, Matsumoto threw her arms around him before he could even think to protest, effectively muffling his mouth with her chest. She held on for a moment, squeezing as tightly as she could, before setting him down and stepping back. She then waved and blew a kiss before scampering off with Kuchiki and Inoue.

Toushirou felt his head throb. Which went nicely with the mortified redness of his face. He hated when she did that in front of witnesses.

"You know her?" Hirako questioned a few seconds later, tone nonchalant. As if strange women randomly assaulted children in front of him all the time.

"She's my fuku-" Toushirou abruptly coughed. "She… ah… knows my grandmother."

Which was true. Sort of.

The blond smirked at him. As though he not only caught the slip but knew what Toushirou had been about to say. But that was completely impossible. Supposedly at any rate. Knowing Toushirou's luck this guy was spiritually sensitive, too. Probably some long-lost Quincy lovechild or something. Maybe Kurosaki's half-brother. Or Urahara-san's son.

Stranger things had happened. Especially in Karakura.

"What's it to you anyway?" Toushirou redirected, arms automatically crossing his chest, face sullen. And no, he wasn't pouting dammit!

Hirako shrugged. "Just makin' casual conversation."

"Whatever," the boy-captain turned away; the fact that this guy reminded him of Ichimaru wasn't helping matters. "Was there something you wanted?"

"Just wanted to talk to ya was all." Hirako made a casual gesture.

"Fine. We talked. I'm leaving." Toushirou started to walk off, but Hirako followed.

"Well, that's not friendly at all," the blond commented as they entered the hallway.

It was seemingly deserted, but something prickled at Toushirou's ears the closer they drew to the exit. Voices. Feet sliding over grass and dirt. Grunts. Cheers. The sound of flesh smacking flesh and quite possibly drawing blood.

A fight then.

Toushirou had the distinct sensation of a chill shooting down his spine in that moment. Almost a cosmic warning as Hirako and he walked outside and stared at the growing crowd. Then, Toushirou saw it. A flicker of red and a flash of a bald head in the dead center. The two idiots pummeling each other.

He should've known.

"Give it back!"

"It's mine dammit!"

"Fuckin' liar, Ikkaku!"

"I'll get you for that!"

Toushirou sighed. Contemplated working his way through the crush of bodies and stopping this madness. But it was a brief thought. Very brief. Lasting less than a second.

Instead, he just kept walking. Pretending like he didn't know either of them. Trying to figure out how to keep this out of his report lest they fire him for incompetence. Or perhaps he should put it in his report then. He wasn't one to let such an opportunity go to waste, and besides, not being a captain wasn't so bad. He'd heard that the severance pay was almost worth it.

"Let me guess," Hirako's voice cut through his musings. "You know them too, don't cha?"

Toushirou tried not to fidget. "No, I don't. They're just a bunch of idiots who like to hang around Matsumoto."

That was true. If he squinted.

Hirako again smiled. Like he was once more reading Toushirou's mind. Was this boy related to Unohana or something?

"For such a grumpy guy, you sure have a lot of friends," he observed carelessly.

"I'm not grumpy," Toushirou retorted without thinking. Resolutely still walking.

He vaguely noticed how big Hirako's teeth were as the blond grinned widely. The better to eat him with or however the damn story went. Like a hollow consuming souls. Which couldn't be that bad, could it? People got better from that, right? But then, they'd make him go back to work.

Toushirou shuddered at the thought. And kept walking. There was a strangled cry in the background. Toushirou thought that it sounded like Abarai, but he really didn't care. Maybe if the two idiots managed to kill themselves – or each other – he could get some descent replacements.

Hirako gave another shrug, still following him. "Least they're better than this one guy I used ta know. He was a bit of a backstabber ya could say. And always hid behind these retarded glasses. But he'll get his in the end. They always do." He lifted his head to look at the sky. "I suppose that the universe punishes us all, doesn't it?" he asked rhetorically.

Toushirou didn't have an answer for that. Not that it was expected. They just tromped through the streets in silence. Hirako with his hands behind his head. And Toushirou wondering if he could put in a petition for subordinates to be transferred. For himself to be transferred. For early retirement. Rukongai was nice this time of year, and his grandmother did seem to miss him.

But both his thoughts and Toushirou himself came to a dead halt as they came to a side-street. One that turned a blind corner and immediately went out of sight. He blinked, trying to figure out why Hirako had stopped them here of all places. The closest to the ass end of nowhere they could get in the middle of this town.

"This is where I'll leave ya, kid," the blond said then, and his face was oddly serious. Almost sympathetic and concerned.

Toushirou fought the urge to roll his eyes. He didn't think for a moment that Hirako was either of those things. Ever.

But Hirako merely smiled at him in return, face and gaze all too knowing. "Look," he said after a second. "I don't know you, and you don't know me. But ya really do need to relax." He paused but simply shrugged at Toushirou's mulish expression. "Just some advice. Only two words," the blond offered. "I only have two words of advice. And they'll take you far."

Toushirou arched an eyebrow. Some small part of him both dreaded and needed to hear this. Almost like this was of some importance and not the normally moronic spiel he heard on a regular basis from just about everyone.

"Go on," he prompted very slowly.

Hirako just smirked. As if imparting to him the secret of life. The trick to the perfect captaincy. Or possibly the recipe for watermelon-filled donuts.

"Two words, kid. Two words." He ticked off his fingers. "Justifiable. Homicide."

AN: It occurred to me that Shinji was totally at the school the same time Hitsugaya and the others were. You know that he couldn't resist messing with them. And Shinji is all about giving advice to the new captains.

Ever Hopeful,