NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE

CHAPTER ONE

"Look," Rukia said with weary patience, "vampires don't exist. They are merely a cultural metaphor for the existence of Hollows, attempting to put a human face on an inhuman hunger --"

"She's right," Renji agreed.

"And besides, I was reading that book of Inoue's and it says it's all about a cultural metaphor for sex. All that sucking and licking and exchanging bodily fluids and ripping open bodices and dark cruel splendour and --"

"What book?" Renji asked with interest.

Rukia kicked him in the side of the head. "Will you kindly stop interrupting! Anyhow. There are no vampires, Ichigo. Right?"

"So when the very human-looking Hollow started groaning, "Blood! Blood!" and tried to bite you in the neck?" Ichigo inquired. "That was just --"

"Weird Hollow behaviour," Rukia stated through gritted teeth. "It happens."

---

Grimmjow congratulated himself on his intelligence and charm. He had easily won over the little human girl. She'd never be able to call her powers in time before he ripped open her throat and feasted upon her blood. "Why," he said with a smirk, "of course I'd be glad to taste your special cookery."

Orihime bounced on her toes. "It's my Ultra-Chocolate-Garlic Tempura -- er, is there some reason why you're screaming and running away?"

"He probably doesn't like chocolate," Chad said tactfully.

---

"And furthermore," Rukia added, "there is no way in which vampires can get to Soul Society. If they existed. Which they don't. Because you can't convert a human body to a spiritual one without something like the thing that Urahara set up. And you'd need someone like Urahara to set up something on that scale."

"And thank God there's only one of him," Ichigo said with a sigh of relief.

"Amen," Renji agreed.

---

Yoruichi ignored the saucers of milk which Urahara was trying to distract her with. "What part of your brain -- what futile, demented, syphilitic part of your brain -- thought it would be a good idea to build something that would let vampires get into Soul Society?"

"Should we help the Manager?" Ururu asked plaintively.

"No," Jinta recommended, digging deeper for cover into his improvised foxhole. Several white flags floated above.

"I just wanted to see if it could be done!" Urahara protested. "The advancement of knowledge! The joy of discovery! The wonders of argh!"

Yoruichi licked her claws. "We're going to have to notify Soul Society." She turned to observe the suddenly empty room. "Well, someone's going to have to notify Soul Society. Hm."

---

"So you see," Rukia said firmly, "that there is absolutely no reason to be worrying about vampires."

"Oh, good," said Ichigo. "So mind telling us why you're carrying that pointed wooden stick as well as your zanpakutou?"

"Freelance rabbit roasting."

"Right."

---

That night, an eerie darkness covered the moon. Strange noises drifted through the streets of Karakura. Padding feet chased Uryuu Ishida through the darkness, growing ever closer as he stumbled down the shadowed streets.

I'll never make it, he thought, and then, I must.

Glass shattered. He scrambled through the broken window into the school gym, and collapsed next to the sports supplies.

A lean figure leapt through the window gracefully after him, and paused, one hip tilted menacingly. Moonlight glittered on a smirking face and pointed teeth. "Finished running yet, Quincy?"

Ishida's hand closed around a shaft of wood, and he took a long breath. "I don't need to run from the likes of you," he said. "Who are you?"

"Me? I'm Grimmjow Jagger Jack. I'm the right hand of Aizen-sama. He says kill, I kill. He says rip apart messily, I rip apart messily. He says bite someone and turn them into your vampire slave for eternity . . ." Grimmjow licked his fangs. "I bite."

"And you think you can just bite me?" Ishida sneered. "You think I'm just going to bare my neck for you and go weak at the knees as your fangs pierce my pale skin?"

"Well, yeah." Grimmjow sauntered forward. "See, we know that you lost your Quincy powers. I figure you'll make a nice little appetiser. I go for the glasses, you know?"

Ishida brought his hands up. One hand was already round the bowshaft, the other was nocking the arrow. He fired in a single motion.

"Oh, fuck," Grimmjow said, and exploded in a cloud of dust.

Ishida sighed. He supposed he was now going to have to go and save everyone else. Still, saving Kurosaki Ichigo from the drooling fangs of a vampire -- or saving a very grateful Inoue Orihime -- both had points to recommend them.

---

"Awww." Rukia clasped her hands together and sighed deeply. "Just look."

A plump white bunny rabbit sat on the edge of the sidewalk, the end of a pale leaf of undefined vegetation dangling limply from the corner of its mouth. It looked up at the three shinigami, and the streetlamps tinted its eyes red.

"Tasty," Renji commented, licking his lips. "What you do is, you rub it all over with rock salt and then wrap it in leaves and bury it under the fire till --"

"Bah." Rukia kicked him. "You are not eating this tender little bunny! Look at its eyes. Look at its ears." She walked across. The bunny didn't try to move. "See how tame it is! The poor thing must have escaped from someone. We need to take care of it."

Ichigo performed a tactical movement that he had become quite adept in, known as the Silent Withdrawal To Let Renji Get Shouted At.

"Rukia," Renji said, fulfilling Ichigo's expectations, "you can't walk off with someone else's bunny rabbit like that. They might want to eat it."

"Philistine," Rukia hissed. "Cad. Bunny-hater."

The bunny whiffled its nose.

"Don't touch that bunny!" came a scream. All three turned to see Orihime and Chad running towards them, waving their arms.

"Don't worry," Rukia said reassuringly. She bent down to pick up the bunny, holding it against her chest. It cuddled up against her, blinking softly.

"No!" Orihime's bosom heaved as she hyperventilated. "My carrots! My spinach! My radishes! That bunny -- is a vampire bunny!"

"It's -- what?" Ichigo asked in the sudden silence.

"It's a vampire bunny!" Orihime pointed an accusing finger at the snow-white lapine. "Just look at it! Those beady eyes! Those curved fangs! I caught it sucking at my beetroots, and I chased it round the kitchen with Tsubaki, but it escaped!"

Renji leaned over to mutter in Ichigo's ear, "Is "sucking at my beetroots" modern slang that I ought to know?"

"No," Ichigo muttered back. "Thug."

"Moron."

"Stray dog."

"Dandelion."

Chad pulled them apart.

"If you two have quite finished," Orihime said, folding her arms, "we need to rescue Kuchiki-san from the evil mesmerising gaze of the bunny!"

Rukia didn't seem to have noticed. She was cuddling the bunny happily, and had sat down on the kerb in order to fondle it better. "Aren't you a sweet lovely bunny," she murmured. "Aren't you a cute itsy bitsy fluffy wuffy bunny. Awww, you're nuzzling my neck and everything."

"See!" Orihime declared. "She's clearly hypnotised by its evil powers."

"She'll kill us," Renji pointed out.

"Yes, but you're dead already," Orihime said with unassailable logic.

"Oh, get out of my way." Ichigo stalked forward, grabbed the rabbit by the scruff of its neck, and dragged it out of the screaming Rukia's clutches. "Look, it's just a --"

The bunny shimmered in midair, and warped to the form of a pale young man with a half-mask helmet, heavy eye makeup, and bared fangs. "Curse you, Kurosaki!" he hissed. "Before I could taste her blood!"

Ichigo's jaw sagged open. He stood there blankly.

"And let go of my collar!" the vampire added, dragging himself loose. "This is all so inexpressibly depressing. When Master Ichimaru told me that I would have a suitable animal form in which to stalk the night, he didn't say what it was going to be."

"Master Ichimaru?" Renji snarled.

"Yes!" the vampire hissed. "Servant of the great Lord Aizen whose shoes I, the humble Arrankar Ulquiorra, am not worthy to lick --"

"Have you tried shoe polish?" Orihime asked helpfully. "I mean, licking totally destroys good leather boots. What you need to do is --"

"And you!" the vampire hissed at her. "Prepare to receive the Dark Embrace and to join the ranks of those who must stalk the night eternally, thirsting for the rich sexual thrill of blood --"

A screaming mass of shinigami robes and wooden stake hit him mid-back, knocking him to the ground. "MY BUNNY!" Rukia shrieked, pounding her stake into him. "WHERE DID YOU TAKE MY BUNNY!"

"Er." Renji had to clear his throat several times. "Rukia, you're stabbing a pile of dust, did you notice?"

Rukia stood up slowly, dusting the ex-vampire off her hands and sleeves and knees with the air of a cat trying to pretend that the unfortunate incident involving the cream and the top shelf had never happened. "All right," she said coldly. "I am prepared to concede that vampires may possibly exist."

"Indeed they do." All turned to see Yoruichi standing there in human form, her arms folded. "And they may have reached Soul Society. We must act now, or all Seireitai may be lost!"

---

They had assembled at Urahara's shop. Ishida had joined them, carrying bow and arrows and looking rather disappointed at the lack of nearby vampires.

"Well," Urahara said, rubbing at a surprising number of bandages, "I clearly need to send an urgent warning to Soul Society."

"Hey, wait," Ichigo interrupted. "Why do we need to warn them?"

"Because," Yoruichi said coldly, back in her cat form, "some moron, who might by chance be sitting a few inches away from my claws, happened to create a way for vampires to get there."

Ishida snorted. "Can't they look after themselves? Thousands of shinigami -- what do they need us for? They're a disciplined fighting force."

Yoruichi studied the ceiling. "Well, yes, one could argue that. One could also argue that they're an argumentative, divisive, oversexed bunch of overconfident fools who easily got penetrated last time by four teenagers and a cat."

Chad sighed. "We go now?"

Ichigo started to speak, then hastily rephrased as he saw how Yoruichi was studying her claws. "But what about the whole gate thing?"

"Oh, that." Urahara shrugged. "I can have it up and running in ten minutes."

"Didn't it take you days last time?" Orihime asked innocently.

Urahara waved his fan desperately. "Couldn't possibly explain the spiritual principles involved. Far too complex."

"Lot of fresh blood on the cat's claws," Renji commented sotto voce to Ichigo.

"It's the bandages we can't see that worry me," Ichigo muttered back.

Renji crossed his legs nervously.

"So," Rukia said firmly, "we just get there, pass the alert, and take any necessary steps?"

"Precisely!" Urahara declared with an air of relief. "Shouldn't take more than a few minutes. Just remember; stick together, don't do anything stupid, don't split up, and don't go off with any vampires, whatever they say to you. Remember that vampirism is very contagious, and it'd only take a few moments of intense passionate blood-filled sensual contact to argh."

Yoruichi withdrew her claws. "We are leaving in fifteen minutes. Everyone get ready."

---