OK, this chapter has violence and bad language and some ..umm.. unpleasantness. You have been warned. Nothing graphic or sexual, just ... disturbing. Think of it as the "horror" part of the genre label.

I tried to write it out or tone it down, but then the story didn't work. Opened up this plot hole, and when you plugged that one up, another one pops up, etc, etc But I promise things get much nicer next chapter.

Thanks again for the reviews! Feel free to criticize, by the way, I'm tough.

Do not own.

Chapter 4

The Hunt

Interesting, Zaraki thought, as he jumped back. He had expected the brat to attack directly. Instead Hitsugaya dove through the broken glass, scratching himself up something fierce, rolled, and instantly bolted down the corridor. By the time Zaraki recovered from the shock and gave chase, the prodigy had made it out into the open air.

The massive captain stood on division four's rooftops, frowning in concentration. He wasn't good enough at this sensory shit, not to find a spirit that weak. Hitsugaya hadn't just escaped, though. Anyone could sense that much.

Anyone, that is, who had ever been on the hunt. Zaraki ginned, wolf-like. Kid was watching him.

He remembered Hitsugaya's funeral like it was yesterday. Everyone acting all stoic, making stupid speeches about heroism and what not. Everybody but Jidanbou, of course. Damned giant retard had sobbed throughout the ceremony. Would'a thought it was raining. "He … he taught me the rules of the city," he'd wailed, cutting off Yamamoto. "He taught me how to fight civilized! To fight fair! He... he …" Then he'd collapsed, blubbering. Wounded two shinigami in the process.

Zaraki scanned the horizon. A thousand hiding places, a thousand set-ups for a nice blood-thirsty ambush. Looks like our boy finally realized the truth, over there.

Ain't no such thing as a fair fight.

oooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Aizen looked down on his sleeping wife, one hand playing in her hair. He supposed there was no reason to keep her, was there? That had been the agreement, after all. As long as Hitsugaya remained, alive, in the Hueco Mundo, she would be safe. Safe and happy.

Of course, he doubted whether the boy even remembered the arrangement, these last few years. And it was not like he had deliberately escaped…

Aizen brought himself up short. He was rationalizing. He never rationalized.

Angrily he jumped out of bed, throwing his robe around himself. He reached for his sword, and pulled it savagely out of its scabbard. The blade glowed dully in the firelight.

Hinamori shifted, murmured, cradling an imaginary baby in her womb. She was truly beautiful, he realized with a pang. He did not love her – he would not, even if he were capable of love. But he had grown used to her. She comforted him.

He remembered Hitsugaya's eyes as she had walked away from him that last time. "There, there, Captain" Aizen had mocked, his blood still high. It had been a long time since anyone had actually attacked him, not his shadow. "I'll take good care of your sister-lover."

"She's not my sister or my lover," the child had answered quietly, not moving, hardly breathing. "She is home to me."

Home. Ridiculous. Aizen sheathed his sword with an irritated snort. The girl could still be useful to him, he supposed. At least, he should wait to kill her – he would like Hitsugaya to watch.

oooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Zaraki fell heavily, surprised even in his state of readiness. He had expected an attack from any side, from above, even from below. He had not expected the ground to give way.

Son of a bitch! Kid had lured him here, showing his mop of white hair just above the rooftop. And like a sucker, he'd hauled his ass over to stand on a patch of weak tiles. $# shoddy workmanship.

The teenager, heavier than he had been five years ago, had jumped down from a taller building, and landed with a cracking thud a few feet above Zaraki. The two had fallen two stories together, caught in a landslide of mortar and ceramic. Zaraki landed first, on his back; the impact knocked the wind out of him for just a second. Hitsugaya, on the other hand, managed to break most of his fall on the heavier body. Gasping, he reared back, one fist wrapped around a long piece of glass. Zaraki's eyebrows lifted, impressed - must have grabbed it from the observation window.

His head clearing, he watched impassively as the brat drove the wedge into his chest. Ow! That probably sank in a good three inches, dammit!

Poor Hitsu, the big man thought, seeing the green eyes widen in alarm. He had aimed square at the heart – that would have killed most anyone else.

Before the boy could react, a massive fist closed around his throat. In one motion, Zaraki slammed him against the ground, taking his wind in turn. "Sorry, kid," he chuckled dryly, pulling the shard from his chest. "I have killing intent AND spirit power."

"Now," he said darkly, removing his eye patch. "Let's talk."

oooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Matsumoto Rangiku, Captain of the Ninth Division, made her way wearily up the Seireitei's streets. She was just returning from a long mission – skirmishes with arrancars on the outskirts of the Rukongai. It felt like they got closer every day.

She touched her shoulder tentatively, and was answered with a spike of pain. Tch. Unohana would scold her for this. "Honestly, Matsumoto-taichou," the healer had sighed, just last month, "you get more and more reckless. What am I going to do with you?"

Matsumoto's face hardened when she remembered what had come next. "Remember that we still need you," Unohana had said softly, propelling her colleague out the door, "and that nothing will bring back the dead."

She knew that. She just …

Don't think about it, she told herself savagely. Don't weaken. These aren't the times for ditzy, overemotional blondes. She could hear Hitsugaya's voice, deep in her subconscious. Just do your damned job, he told her.

At least her job meant killing as many of Aizen's filthy little minions as possible. She smiled savagely, her blue eyes flashing fire. Today had been a bloodbath. Apparently she had earned quite the reputation with the arrancar army – some of them actually tried to run when they saw her.

The fighting also got her out of these god-awful, tedious captains' meetings. Matsumoto had never been one for bureaucracy. Her vice-captain had just emerged, frazzled, from a mountain of paperwork, to inform her that she had missed one yesterday. Oh well. Them's the breaks.

In a happier mood, she shunpo'ed up the street and turned up the hill towards the central offices. Maybe it was her speed, or maybe he was just too occupied, but Zaraki never saw her coming.

oooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Hitsugaya thrashed desperately. He was flat on his back, pinned by Zaraki's monstrous spirit force. But no matter how he squirmed, his fingers clawing the ground for purchase, he couldn't break free.

"Don't like it when you can't move, do ya?" The giant had removed his first from the younger man's neck. But he still sat alongside, one arm draped across his raised knee.

To his surprise, the brat suddenly stopped struggling. He just lay there - eyes closed, fists tight, jaw clenched. Giving up? Feh, Zaraki thought, disgusted. Sure, he's got no chance. But me and my boys, we fight to the end. Figured he'd be the same.

He watched Hitsugaya's chest jerk in short, panicked breaths. Kid was trembling like a leaf. Zaraki wanted to shake him, to force some pride into him, to make him fight. But then, whether from pity, or some zanpakutou-born understanding, he paused.

You keep fighting, even when there's no hope: that's the Eleventh Squad way. You fight for a glorious death. You fight out of respect for your opponent. You fight for the sheer fuckin' joy of it. But …if your enemies are a bunch of nasty cowardly … if they have you, but they won't kill you … if they just get off on watching you twist …well, then, I guess you don't give 'em the satisfaction.

Zaraki sighed, suddenly depressed. "I ain't gonnna hurt you, kid," he growled, "not unless I have to. But I ain't letting you go, either. There's a part of you that remembers who you are." He poked the protruding ribs with one huge finger. "You don't want to, and who can blame you? No animal likes to think on when it was human."

He shifted his weight into a squat. "Tell you what. I'll let you up when you can say your name. Tourshirou'll do, for now. Just say it. Tou. Shi. Rou."

The small frame shuddered, and the white head turned away from him. Never a patient man, Zaraki upped his reiatsu slightly. Hitsugaya whimpered as his shoulder were forced deeper into the mud. "Tell me your name."

The big captain swore at him. "They never brought you jack-all for a 'diet', did they?" he spat. He couldn't say why he was so angry. "Made you eat what you killed. Arrancar meat – high-power, livin' spirit particles – that's a balanced breakfast. No wonder you grew so fast."

He put one huge hand in the white hair and tried to make Hitsugaya look at him. "Stop hiding from it, you brainwashed pansy! You do what you have to do. Hell, if I were your old man, I'd be proud!" Zakari was yelling now. "Tell me your goddamned name!"

It was only by dumb luck that Zaraki Kenpachi didn't lose an arm that day. He withdrew it, frustrated, just as Haineko swung down. Before he knew what was happening, Matsumoto stood between him and the prone figure before him. Her sword and her eyes were blazing with fury. "What … the HELL…are you doing?!"

oooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Ichimaru Gin stepped into the chamber, humming to himself. It was a sprawling ruin of barracks, pillars, and catwalks. In the center, one open street stretched the length of the mansion-sized space. He wondered, fleetingly, if the place used to be an old training ground. Or, could be that it was designed exactly like this, broken stone and everything. Hueco Mundo was a strange place.

It didn't take him long to find what he was looking for. He sat hunched in the corner of an open-roofed hut, as far from the entrance as he could manage. On the other side of room, Ichimaru could see two bodies piled neatly against the wall. His smile grew even wider. That's Hitsugaya Toushirou for you. In the midst of all this desolation, he would still try to be orderly.

It was raining outside. It was a rare event in the Hueco Mundo; the desert only saw precipitation six or seven times a year. The patter of water on the vast roof echoed through the silent space.

Ichimaru's invisible eyebrows lifted. Ah. So that's why he's in the same room as the dead arrancar. A slow drip of water was falling into the center of the hut. There must be a tiny crack above them. Ichimaru craned his neck upward, but the chamber was too tall; the ceiling disappeared totally into the shadows.

Hitsugaya ignored his visitor totally. Instead, his eyes were fixed on the puddle on the floor. Over the millennium, the leak must have worn away the stone, leaving a small depression. It was about the size of a rice bowl.

Drip. Drip.

"Yo, Tenth-Captain-san!" the tall man greeted cheerfully, not really expecting a response. "I brought dinner."

The kid didn't even look up. Gin smiled ruefully. Guess he knows me too well, he thought.

"OK, just joking. But seriously, you should eat." He glanced at the corpses across the way. "They won't keep forever, not in this heat."

The boy shuddered, and his face sunk deeper into his arms.

Gin folded his hands behind his back and leaned forward condescendingly. "Could I pat your cute li'l head," he wondered aloud, with a nasty grin, "without gettin' my hand bitten off?"

This was rewarded with a low growl.

"Aya, that's not nice."

Gin straightened and sauntered towards the door. He found that he almost felt bad about this. "Hinamori's doing fine, by the way. Thanks for asking. Soul Society helped her kill me. You come and visit time to time. Oh! And she 'n Captain Aizen, they're gonna get married, retire to the country. Happily ever after."

He paused at the shattered doorway, staring out at the ghost city. "If you don't eat," he said softly, "we'll just force ya, y'know. You won't like that. But you're no use to us weak. And if you die, well…. Hinamori's likely to get a lot less happy." He waved happily, "Ja, ne? Oh, and I'd save that, if I were you. Don't happen too often."

After he had gone, Hitsugaya shifted slightly. He couldn't take it any more. He reached forward and dipped his first two fingers into the rainwater. Then he lifted his hand, shaking, to his mouth.

oooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Zaraki backed off, annoyed. He was NOT in the mood to deal with hysterical females.

"Bastard … what … you …" Matsumoto actually stuttered, incoherent with rage.

Zaraki heaved a sigh and shrugged. With a short jerk of the head, he indicated the young man behind her.

Shaking, Matsumoto turned slowly. Hitsugaya had scrambled to his feet the moment the reiatsu had been lifted. Now he stood trapped between the blonde woman and the wall. He backed up hastily, almost tripping on the broken roof tiles at his feet.

"Captain…" Matsumoto whispered, frozen. It wasn't possible. She had thought, when she'd first seen him … she didn't know what she had thought. He was wearing white hospital robes. With his hair and sickly pale skin, he looked more like a ghost than anything else. A hideous scar ran across his forehead, and another down his neck

Looking at his former vice-captain, Hitsugaya's expression changed. His death-glare wavered, replaced by wide-eyed shock. Shock and fear. When he could back up no further, he bent a little, one hand against the wall. His gaze never left her face.

Forgetting Zakari altogether, Matsumoto moved forward slowly. Instinctively, she approached him as she would a cornered animal, one arm outstretched in a soothing motion. When she was close enough, she reached a trembling hand to his cheek.

For a split second he accepted her touch. Then, as if electrified, he broke and ran. Even without shunpo, he had disappeared in a matter of seconds.

"Tch," Zaraki grunted. "Now I have to chase him down again."

"Zaraki-taichou." Her voice was soft, and she did not look at him. But he could feel the energy build around her rigid body. The buildings around them began to vibrate slightly; all of the dust in the alleyway seemed to lift a little off the ground. "I believe that you and I need to fight."

TBC

So, yeah… unpleasant. Sorry. But it's kind of tangentially necessary to the plot, …

(yes, there is a plot. Of sorts.)

Next chapter is the last one! Yay!

Flames accepted and well-merited, at this point.