Bleach is the property of Tite Kubo. Not me. All material is his. I'm borrowing it for my amusement.

The Lesson He Forgot

A Bleach short story.

The swords clashed and danced, sounds of metal and ice echoing across the training area of the Tenth Division of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads. The occasional shout came from the much shorter of the figures, his voice high and immature. To the members watching, his presence, the very reiatsu of his being, was enough to make even the higher seats brace themselves.

Only a curvy strawberry blonde woman stood, and she was one of the few that had not broken out in cold sweat. The sparring match was black and white; literally, the Captain's energetic and controlled pressure that felt like a hunting shark, waiting to strike, and the Third Seat's barely contained blizzard, intense with a touch of rage, parried back and forth.

Third Seat Toshiro Hitsugaya, brilliant but unseasoned officer, tried desperately to clamp down on his power and distance himself from the anger he had held since childhood. No father, raised by a grandmother he was slowly killing, and unable to connect with other people at the Academy, except Matsumoto. All his emotion bubbling underneath, and there was his Captain, stone-faced and unrelenting.

He glanced away a clumsy strike from the black-haired man, knowing it was a diversion. Ducking under the backhand he knew was coming, Toshiro was caught wholly unprepared for the blow to turn into a reverse elbow smash, putting him face down in the dirt with a throbbing skull and stars dancing in his eyes. Damn that man! It's absurd he is that flexible! Rolling away from the downward crescent kick, he kipped-up and executed a backwards slash, sending icy spears at his Captain.

Not even in shikai, Isshin Shiba blew them away with a wide-area swipe of his sword backed by a weak Shō spell. There was no smirk behind it, no haughtiness or defiance. Isshin just pushed them away and threw himself into a forward flip, coming down into a single-fist hammer blow. At the last second, he infused it with another Shō.

Though he dodged, Toshiro was sent tumbling from the shockwave. Hyōrinmaru chastised him for being so careless. With a mental voice too slight to be adult, he told the dragon to kindly shut the hell up.

"Hitsugaya-kun, you're being lazy."

A verbal smack if there ever was one.

Silently, he slid into shunpo and came up behind him, stepping into another flash step even as his Captain swung around. In the midst of one step to the next, he pointed a finger and began to gather his own chant-less bakudo. His spell backfired when Captain Shiba actually shunpo'ed into his flash step, a small explosion of kido and spiritual particles blasting the oxygen out of their lungs.

Being prepared for it, Isshin was inside the prodigy's defenses before he could reorient himself, and Engetsu, the abnormally powerful piece of his soul shaped into a weapon, scored his Third Seat from armpit to waist. A shallow hit, but a good mark, nonetheless.

"Don't-" Isshin panted. "-...teach you that at the Academy, eh, Third Seat?! Ha! Favorite trick."

Coughing, the white-haired boy got up. "How'd you do that?! Teach me."

"Stop holdin' back." Engetsu was leveled at Hitsugaya. "Fighting like you are is useless."

"What are you ta-gah!" He touched his side, registering the blood. "... flesh wound. What are you talking about, Shiba-taichou?"

"You're not reigning yourself in, boy!" A smile crept onto Isshin's face. "Little Toshiro-chan and his little problems!"

Teeth began to clench. "Don't call me that."

"Why? All the ladies do. Hitsu-playa!"

Brow furrowed. "ESPECIALLY NOT THAT... taicho."

"Are you going to kill me? Can I ask Hinamori-chan out on a date fir-"

The sword came towards his neck in mid-flash step, and when he stepped out of shunpo, Isshin could almost drown in how angry the boy's blizzard of a power felt. It lashed at him even as he sidestepped, jabbing his Third Seat in the injured ribs. It faltered him for a moment, but he screamed, too high to not be mocked later, and launched into a frenzy.

Amidst parry and deflections, the older man grabbed his officer's wrist and headbutted him, causing just enough of a jolt to focus his eyes. "Violently attacking an enemy is no way to battle, Hitsu-playa."

Toshiro screamed, pushing another bakudo through his head and into his hands.

One giant paw of a limb clamped down on his, and the kido fizzled out, counteracted by his opponent's own pressure. "How can you protect anything like that, Toshiro-chan?"

The palm strike launched him upwards and it hurt, but the Third Seat rode with the attack and back-flipped down into ready position. His feet barely touched the ground before he vanished back into shunpo.

Impossibly, Captain Shiba snatched his collar right out of flash step and flung him to the ground. "No opoonent, Hitsu-playa, is worth losing your temper at. There is no evil-" He grabbed a punch aimed at his head and squeezed the fist until his officer growled in pain. "...capable of reaching your heart but the one you let."

White, hot energy rose from his soul, so unlike the power of Hyōrinmaru. It blinded his senses.

Letting go, Isshin sheathed Engetsu. "The rage to kill, Hitsugaya, is worthless. Worthless. Only protecting what you love, your world, can you hope to overcome a superior fighter."

Toshiro got up slowly. "Anger can help, emotions are not useless. Evil is real, taichou. Hollows are evil, they teach us that at the Academy. They eat us."

"A rock is not evil," and at this, he turned to the other members and spoke loudly, "...a rock is not evil because you stubbed your toe, is it? Tenth Division! Why do we fight!" It was not a question, but a command. "What do we fight for!"

An echo of a hundred voices called back: "For the Gotei! For our comrades and friends!"

"To lose yourself in emotion, even if protecting the innocent, is to lose the battle, and fail them. Dismissed."

Matsumoto and the members began to disperse, even as Toshiro came ambling up, holding his side as the bleeding stopped. "What about honor, and peace, and justice?"

Captain Shiba smiled. "Oi, Toshiro. Kind of pointless if you lose your head and watch the ones you are supposed to help die, eh?"

"...that's... there are sides in wars, taichou! There is good and bad! Righteousness and anarchy!"

Isshin drew his brow, a moment of frustration quickly replaced by some odd glance of pity. "The man who taught me the art of killing told me that once you draw swords, it doesn't matter who is right and wrong, holy or unholy. Both sides have failed. Both sides are wrong."

A huge spiritual presence dropped into the area. A quick look, and Captain Shiba nodded his head. "One moment, Shunsui." He looked down on the boy-soldier with all the authority he could muster for the moment. "Remember that, Hitsugaya-kun. One day, it will be the difference between abysmal defeat or complete victory. Dismissed, Third Seat. Unless you want to come with us?"

Hitsugaya stared at Captain Kyouraku Shunsui. ", taichou, I have paperwork to do. Good day." He flash stepped away.

"I taught you how to kill, mighty Isshin-taichou?" The Captain of the Eighth chuckled loudly.

"Among other things, Shunsui." He drew Engetsu. "Sake or the training grounds, my friend?"

He drew the shorter wakizashi that made up Katen Kyokotsu while sipping from a jug that just seemed to appear from his pink robe. "It'd be a shame, wouldn't it, Isshin-kun, to not do both." A long stare as Shunsui breathed. "Isshin, why are you so hard on him in training?"

It was a rare sight to see Isshin Shiba in a philosophical way, and the elder Captain let the surprise somewhat show.

"I feel a storm, coming, Shunsui. I know you do, too. Jushiro, as well."

All the Eighth Division head could do was nod and charge solemnly.

In the distance, using a subtle kido to listen to his comrades, Sosuke Aizen took a mental note: Captain Shiba is not suitable; could be a problem. Powerful. Remove.

He underestimated Urahara Kisuke. He would not make the same mistake twice.

Author's Note: Thanks for reading! I had this idea after seeing the most recent Bleach manga (chapter 529, at this point) and thinking on the relationship between Isshin and Toshiro, and how they actually have some similarities at their core. In fact, I could easily see Toshiro growing up to be a lot like Isshin, minus the theatrics; compare Isshin before and after he fought Grand Fisher and Hitsu-playa. Plus, he IS a Captain of the Gotei. Seriously.

I double-dare someone to try and tell me that Toshiro would have fought better against Isshin. /I dare you./

Anyway, the scene where Toshiro blindly charges Aizen was incredibly out of character (as far as the manga goes) relative to what we had seen so far, so there must have been a core of that anger in there, somewhere.

Finally, looking at how he treats Matsumoto, flirtatious but capable of instantly shifting gears into serious (even if that, hilariously, was a joke, too) just shouts "SHUNSUI!" If I had to peg one Captain as his teacher, it'd be him. Or, naturally, Jushiro, but, dirty talk aside, Shunsui and Jushiro are two sides of the same old guy coin.

I wrote this over about a hour and a half while watching "Outbreak" in a house I just built; no furniture or anything. Hopefully, I wasn't too distracted and missed something important.