"No, really," the Doctor said. He dodged (astonishing speed this body had), holding up his empty hands. "I know this may be a little hard to believe, but I'm not who you think I am."
The white-haired young man facing him brandished his sword menacingly. The ambient temperature dropped by several degrees. "You aren't going to be able to talk your way out of this one."
"Take him alive, Captain!" a blonde woman called from the roof. Several people were standing up there. Including Tegan. Now how was it that Tegan always managed to end up in situations like this? "We need information!"
A complicated mixture of emotions played across the young man's face. "Is this some sort of gambit where you try to fool us into thinking you're betraying Aizen Sousuke?"
"No no no," the Doctor said. "Absolutely not. I'm not trying to betray him, I just currently need to get something sorted out which doesn't involve him but that I think he'd like to be involved in." He smiled as warmly as possible.
"Does he always leer like that?" Tegan muttered to the girl standing next to her.
"Ah, Tegan!" the Doctor said with a cheerful wave. "You can vouch for me, can't you?"
The young man and woman standing next to Tegan both drew their swords and pointed them at Tegan. "You know Ichimaru-taichou?" the young woman demanded.
"Never met him before in my life," Tegan said.
Yoruichi pricked up her ears. There were strangers in the next room. One of them had enough control over his reiatsu to have suppressed it enough that she hadn't noticed him, and the other had only human-normal. Human-normal-ish. A cat's whisker of a difference either way.
Gloomily, she wondered if the police were visiting again. Memory wipes would only work so many times in dealing with accusations about explosions, odd late night visitors, and smuggling crates of illegal substances.
She stretched, rose from her cushion, stretched again, and sauntered to the door to peer around the corner.
The man and the boy in the room next door were both strangers. They certainly weren't Arrancar (unless Aizen had suddenly developed a way of getting the Arrancar to dress in colours other than white) or shinigami.
The boy turned, saw her, and jumped. "Doctor! It's a cat!"
"Well, of course it's a cat," the blond man said calmly. He gave her a charming smile that had, when Yoruichi considered it carefully, just a shadow of edginess around the corners. "Go back to sleep, pussy. Ain't nobody here but us visitors."
"What visitors?" Yoruichi demanded. (After all, if they were just normal visitors who'd somehow managed to wander in, either (a) Kisuke would remove their memories, or (b) nobody would believe their stories about a talking cat anyhow.)
"It talks!" the boy yelped, and hid behind the blond man.
"Do you know what this is?" the man said, pulling a small metal contraption about the size of a screwdriver from his pocket.
"No," Yoruichi said. She twitched her whiskers at it. It didn't smell like a zanpakutou.
"Oh." The man put it back again. "Well, that's a problem, 'cause I was wanting to ask Urahara Kisuke about it. Guess he's not here. I don't suppose I could wait a while?"
Yoruichi scratched her left shoulder with her right hind leg thoughtfully. Part of being Captain of Second Division and Covert Operations of the Gotei 13, et patati, et patata, was the ability to spot the obvious when it turned up in front of her. And at the moment, the obvious was that this bland stranger, while not betraying anything of Ichimaru Gin's reiatsu, looks, or smirking, had his speech pattern in spades. Her keen sense for the suspicious was firing on all cylinders.
She was distracted by a noise from upstairs that sounded remarkably like a fridge door being blown off its hinges. The smell of spilled milk wafted to her nostrils, and she sniffed appreciatively before she could stop herself.
"Oops," the boy said, looking very guilty.
It was a choice between investigating an immediate catastrophe, or sitting here and watching these intruders. With a mental curse at Kisuke's ability to always be unavailable when he was most needed, Yoruichi pounced out of the room and flashed up the stairs like a black streak of lightning.
Gin would have spent longer looking for Urahara's secret laboratories (he was sure that Urahara must have secret laboratories, everyone had secret laboratories) but running into Shihouin Yoruichi put a damper on things. He'd hoped that she'd been out and about with Urahara Kisuke. Wasn't getting involved in fights together one of the things that made a couple a couple?
The important thing about plans of attack, he had decided long ago, was knowing when to drop them when things started going pear-shaped, and when to fight again another day. "C'mon," he said, grasping Adric's arm. "Time to relocate."
"But, Doctor," the boy protested. "Who was that cat and why was it able to talk? Is it helping the Master? Shouldn't we explore deeper -"
"The time for asking all these questions," Gin said, dragging him along, "is when there ain't explosions going off upstairs."
He still had hopes of turning Adric into a useful subordinate, but the boy simply had to learn the proper time for asking questions.
It was at that moment that Tsukabishi Tessai flew past them and down another flight of stairs, crashing on the landing and sliding to hit the opposite wall.
Adric gasped, broke free of Gin's grip, and scrambled down to check that the man was still breathing. With a inward sigh about the need for a lot of training on timing, Gin followed him.
Tessai blinked several times. One of the lenses of his glasses was cracked across. "It was the fridge," he said dazedly.
"Lie still," Adric told him. "You may have hurt something. Doctor, is he okay?"
Gin knew it'd take a lot more than that to seriously injure someone of Tessai's level of power, but he wanted to keep his cover, so he knelt down by the man and checked his pulse. "What was the fridge?" he asked curiously.
"Someone put her in the fridge," Tessai said. He blinked again. "Subzero intracerebral pinpoint haemorrhaging cross-flow kidou intersection inter-utilisation pathway dysfunctional communication. The fridge is bad."
Adric looked at Gin, mouth open.
"Brain freeze go boom," Gin translated. What a fascinating discovery! Now could he arrange to perhaps have Urahara Kisuke stuffed in a freezer, along with all his fellow annoyances . . . wait, that was a thought for later, and this was a moment for decisive action. "We're here looking for Urahara Kisuke," he said. "Can we do anything to help?"
"This may not be quite the time, good customer," Tessai said, managing to raise himself half upright. "I'm afraid the proprietor is currently not in the shop, but I'll be glad to tell him that you called." There was another crash from upstairs. "If you'll excuse me just a moment, please."
"Of course," Gin said, and let Tessai head towards the commotion.
"That wasn't our fault, Doctor, was it?" Adric asked nervously.
"Adric," Gin said, hauling the boy towards the exit, "if you're going to be my second in command, you're going to have to start worrying less about the whole fault thing and more about when to run."
"Look," the Doctor said, trying not to sigh, "I'm not this Ichimaru Gin person. I am actually someone else accidentally possessing his body. People call me the Doctor."
"And I can prove it."
More dead silence.
"Tegan, you keep on wanting me to take you to Heathrow and displaying a quite unwarranted hostility to discovering more about the universe."
"That sounds like the Doctor," Tegan said, "but . . ." She hesitated. "There is this other person who knows that about me too."
"No," the Doctor said, with a certain amount of irritation. "I am not the Master. I have never been the Master. I do not intend to ever be the Master. If I were the Master, I would have come up with a much more effective plot, even if it would no doubt be machiavellian, complicated, and besides, while the Master may know about Heathrow, I don't believe he's ever heard you complaining about educational travel elsewhere in the universe."
"It doesn't sound like Gin," the blonde woman said. She hopped down from the roof to stand next to the white-haired young man.
"It's some sort of attempt to confuse us," the young man said, but his heart clearly wasn't in it.
NOW! Shinsou demanded. DRAW ME AND STRIKE THEM BOTH DOWN WHILE THEY'RE DISTRACTED! THEN . . . It trailed off as it became aware of the Doctor's growing rejection. THEN YOU'LL HAVE THE UPPER HAND WHEN IT COMES TO NEGOTIATING FOR SWAPPING BODIES, it offered hopefully.
The Doctor folded his arms meaningfully, partly to demonstrate his harmlessness, and partly to make sure that Shinsou didn't try anything. "While I haven't met this Ichimaru Gin person, I realise that he doesn't seem to have a very good reputation round here -"
"He's - that is, you're a damn traitor and murderer and we'd have to be a fool to trust you just because you're claiming to be someone else!" the red-haired man with tattoos shouted.
"I'm sure this sort of thing can be tested," said the lounging man with the hat and sandals. "In fact -"
"Not a problem," the blonde woman said. She sashayed forward in a single movement and slammed the Doctor to the ground, landing on top of him and sealing his mouth with the sort of kiss that was lethal in ten planets, illegal in many more, and the sort of thing that the Doctor just knew Tegan was going to be bringing up in future conversations as often as possible.
"This is really very generous of you," the Doctor said when she released him. Thank heavens that he had a respiratory bypass system. "And I don't want to seem at all rude, but I'd rather like to find this Ichimaru Gin person and arrange for a body exchange. You see -"
"I don't believe it," the white-haired young man said.
"Nor do I," the redhead said. "Holy shit. He's still able to talk and his eyes aren't crossing."
"I was referring to Matsumoto's behaviour," the young man snapped. "Matsumoto, how you could -"
"It's not Gin, Captain," the blonde said hastily, clambering off the Doctor. "I know. Believe me."
"Tegan, you have got this Gin person in my body subdued, I hope?" the Doctor demanded. "I realise that you might have had some problems, but between you and Adric and Nyssa . . ." He trailed off as he saw the expression on her face. "You did notice that something was wrong, didn't you?"
Tegan put her balled fists on her hips. "He acted just like you! Mostly. We figured it was just another of those post-regeneration trauma things! He didn't go round trying to stab anyone or kill anyone or even act that unusual, he just said that he wanted to investigate things and that his memory was a little hazy and could we tell him who we were and what was going on!"
"Oh, Tegan," the Doctor sighed.
"Of course, if you want us to go round knocking you out and chaining you up whenever you act a bit weird, just give the word." She sniffed.
The white-haired young man sighed. "Look - if you are really this Doctor person, and not Ichimaru Gin, I'll compromise. Give us that zanpakutou you're carrying and we'll hold onto it."
NOOOOOOO! Shinsou shrieked at the back of the Doctor's head. YOU CAN'T DO THIS TO ME!
The Doctor ran his hand through his hair. "Would you settle for binding it in the sheath so that I can't draw it?" he asked. "I don't think it'll cooperate if I give it to you, but it does have a vested interest in getting its proper user back, and it could be useful."
The blonde glanced at the white-haired young man, waited till he gave a reluctant nod, and pulled off her pink scarf and tossed it to the Doctor. "There you go."
"Most kind," the Doctor said, knotting it firmly round Shinsou's hilt and scabbard. "Thank you. Now, Tegan, where exactly is everyone?"
"Well, Nyssa went off to look round town, and Adric's with . . ." Tegan trailed off. "With you," she finished lamely.
"What? You let him go off with a devious mass murderer -"
"He's not a mass murderer," the blonde woman said wearily. "I mean, how many people does it take to make a mass murderer?"
"Excuse me," the man with the feathers stuck to his eyebrow said.
"Look," the redheaded man with tattoos said, "if this Nyssa person of yours is innocent, besides being -" The girl standing next to him kicked his ankle. He coughed. "Last time I saw her, she was with Tousen Kaname."
The Doctor took a deep breath. "This would be the Tousen who is right-hand-man to the villainous Aizen, currently on a mission to this town, and you let Nyssa go off with him?"
"," the redhead muttered.
"Excuse me," the man with the feathered eyebrow repeated again. "Leaving aside any reasonable complaints that my duel, my very own duel, was interrupted, I have to point out that the Arrancar who got away is probably reporting all these goings-on, including his arrival," he gestured at the Doctor, "to Aizen Sousuke any minute now."
"That's a good point," the man in the hat and clogs said cheerfully. "I suggest we take this discussion to my shop."
"Where's your shop?" the Doctor asked.
There was an explosion in the distance. Huge clouds of billowing smoke rose above the rooftops.
"Three guesses," the blonde woman said.
Tousen's arrival at Urahara's shop was coincidental with Ulquiorra, Grimmjow, and a battered-looking Il Forte all turning up from different directions, no doubt drawn by the explosions. He gestured Nyssa to stand back while he debriefed his men.
"The town is full of trash," Ulquiorra reported.
"Total fucking trash," Grimmjow agreed. He flipped a thumb at Nyssa. "And where did you get the piece of skirt?"
"Ichimaru Gin's gone insane," Il Forte said. Smoke rose in coils from parts of his clothing that were still smouldering. "He came jumping out of nowhere when I was fighting a shinigami, and then he stood there talking to the other shinigami who were there. He's turned traitor, Tousen-sama." There was more than a hint of smugness to his voice. No doubt he was already envisaging his ascent to the newly-available place at Aizen-sama's side.
Tousen frowned. It could be a scheme of Aizen-sama that he didn't know about. But would Aizen-sama really do something this complex? More to the point, would Aizen-sama even bother with trying to get Ichimaru accepted back into Soul Society? The odds on anyone believing it were slim to none. "Did you hear what they said?" he asked.
Il Forte shrugged. "Something with Ichimaru claiming he wasn't really Ichimaru."
Ah, the classic brainwashing defense. Tousen considered. "Perhaps if we -" he began.
Another explosion from the shop interrupted him. Two people came running out, a man in pale clothing dragging a boy. With a snort, Grimmjow raised his hand to level the two with a casual cero.
"No!" Nyssa screamed. She threw herself at Grimmjow, and he swatted her to the ground. "Tousen-san, please -"
"Hold fire," Tousen said to Grimmjow. He ignored the Espada's insubordinate mutter of wimps never give me any fun, bending to lift Nyssa to her feet. "Nyssa, what is it?"
"That's the Doctor!" Nyssa gasped. "My friend! And that's Adric! Please don't kill them!"
"Your friends?" Tousen said. He surveyed the man and boy thoughtfully. Perhaps, if they shared Nyssa's sensitivity, they could also be of use to Aizen-sama. And if not - well, one didn't actually have to execute the pair in front of her. "What are they doing in Urahara Kisuke's shop?"
"Um." Nyssa hesitated. "The Doctor was probably investigating. If this Urahara person is in league with the corrupt Soul Society people you told me about, then that'd explain why he's been blowing the place up!"
Tousen couldn't find anything to argue with in that statement. "Stay here," he told her, and flash stepped across to the man and boy. "You. Doctor?"
"Uh huh," the Doctor said. "Kaname, we need to talk real fast."
Adric was beginning to be a little uncomfortable. It wasn't that he didn't trust the Doctor. He trusted the Doctor absolutely. Mostly. Almost all the time. And it wasn't as if the Doctor didn't have moments when he was incomprehensible to everyone else (including other Time Lords and robot dogs). So really, Adric shouldn't get quite so worried. Even though the Doctor had waved him off in order to talk to this Kaname person in private. Perhaps they were old friends.
Just like the Doctor's other old friends, maybe. Like the Master.
And maybe the way everyone was wearing swords was just a local fashion.
And maybe they were in trouble.
"What's going on?" he asked Nyssa.
Nyssa had the little crease between her brows which meant that she was very worried but trying not to show it. "Shouldn't I be asking you that?" she demanded. "What were all those explosions?"
"Oh." Adric flushed. "We locked this girl in the fridge but it's okay because she was actually more of an antipersonnel device, except then she blew up and we had to leave. And there's a talking cat in there."
"Cats don't talk, Adric," Nyssa said patronisingly.
"Statistical evidence shows that at least one does," Adric snapped back. "Because I met him. And who's he?" He pointed at the Kaname person.
"Tousen-san is this person I met in town," Nyssa said. She gave him a very hard look. "We've been talking about things and I'm sure I couldn't possibly disagree with him."
Adric was fairly sure that he should be picking up a hint of some sort from this, but he wasn't sure whether it was the man's a dangerous lunatic, agree with everything he says then run when his back's turned or I've been convinced that he's a wonderful man and don't you dare argue with me. All things considered, he suspected the first was more likely.
"Oh," he said, and looked around for exits. The three sword-wearing men who'd been reporting to Tousen were uncomfortably near.
"Do you really expect me to believe a ridiculous story like that?" Tousen demanded, raising his voice.
The Doctor made soothing motions with his hands, and then leaned in to murmur something very softly. His eyes were half-slitted shut. It made him look oddly untrustworthy.
Air rushed past him and cracked like thunder. There was a new group of people standing at the other side of the street: all of them were in black and white, wearing swords. And Tegan was with them.
The Doctor assessed the situation in a glance. Good. Everyone who was involved in the problem was here. Hopefully a bit of talk could sort things out, and he could get his own body back, and then maybe find out a little more about precisely what was going on here, and maybe -
"There he is!" one of the half-masked men in white yelled, pointing at him. "I told you he'd turned traitor!"
IF WE STRIKE NOW WITH TOUSEN'S AID, Shinsou suggested, WE CAN WIPE OUT THE SEIREITAI PRESENCE IN KARAKURA AND PLEASE AIZEN-SAMA. I'M SURE THIS WOULD BE HELPFUL IN GETTING YOUR BODY BACK.
The Doctor ignored Shinsou firmly, and stepped forward, ignoring Rangiku's (she'd introduced herself and all the others) attempt to haul him back. "Ichimaru Gin," he said.
"Speaking as an interested party," the man in his body answered, "I'd like to know what you've been up to. Ichimaru Gin."
It was strange, looking at his own face in this way. The slight changes in posture, the curve of the shoulders and the droop of a hand to hover near a sword hilt that wasn't there, the balanced stance, the lowered eyelids . . . all of it together was so different from the reincarnation that he'd got to know in his mirror. "Both of us know which of us is which," he said. "Now I'm as anxious for a resolution as you are, so if we can just work out a way to get us back into our own bodies . . ."
Adric and Nyssa were looking at him, then at his possessed body, then at him again. He could see the dawning realisation in their faces.
"Well, now," the man in his body answered, "I wouldn't have any objection to that. So if you come along with us -"
"Absolutely out of the question," Hitsugaya snapped. "Ichimaru Gin's body stays in our custody."
"Excuse me," the Doctor said. "I am in this body, you know."
"I'm sure that we'll be able to work out a way to get you out of it," Hitsugaya said calmly. "Won't you, Urahara Kisuke?"
Urahara shrugged. "Probably, given time - and assuming my shop's still standing after this."
Another boom, surprisingly deep and hollow, came from the interior of the shop.
"Now wait just one minute." The Doctor stepped forward and pointed a finger at Hitsugaya. "I absolutely refuse to let you play games with my body and my friends' safety just because I happen to have become involved in some petty war of yours."
Hitsugaya nodded, once. "Madarame," he said.
The Doctor felt the rush of air from behind, and sidestepped it with an unexpected fluidity and speed. Madarame Ikkaku's staff cracked into the ground where he'd been standing. "And having me knocked out and carried away for my own safety is hardly appropriate behaviour -" he began, then had to dodge a blow from Ayasegawa Yumichika. "Not to mention that I am trying to conduct some rather difficult negotiations here -" He dodged again. "Look, can you please stop trying to hit me!"
"Captain," Rangiku said softly, "he does have Gin's reflexes. But he hasn't tried to draw his zanpakutou."
A sizzling, tearing sound cut the fight short. Tousen had raised one hand, and a great dark rip was forming in the air behind him, as gaping and menacing as a giant pair of open jaws. "I have heard enough," he said. "Ulquiorra, Grimmjow, Il Forte. Retreat."
Nyssa and Adric glanced at each other again, and began to sidle backwards and away in a truly impressive display of simultaneous separate evasion.
"Wait a moment," Gin protested. "We ain't finished negotiating."
Tousen nodded to the bone-masked man he'd addressed as Ulquiorra. Ulquiorra grabbed Gin by the shoulder, and dragged him through the air rip in a single motion, vanishing into darkness with him.
"No!" the Doctor shouted. "Bring me back here!"
"You will be contacted," Tousen said. Without looking round, he stepped sideways in a flash of motion, and caught Nyssa up under one arm. One of his other subordinates grabbed Adric. "Don't try to follow us."
The Doctor could follow their motions; just as they were moving faster than the normal eye could follow, so his perception (this Ichimaru Gin's perception, rather) was quick enough to match them. He saw Nyssa's mouth beginning to open in a scream, saw Adric starting to kick and bite, saw them both dragged through the closing rip and into the shadows before he could turn that speed into decision and go after them.
Air clanged and rippled as the hole closed, trembling like the aftershock of thunder.
"Doctor?" Tegan said tentatively.
"Damn it," Hitsugaya said. "He got away. Again." His brows were knotted in furious thought. "Maybe if we lay an ambush for when he comes back - oh, don't worry," he added hastily in an attempt at reassuring afterthought, "I'm sure we'll find a way to get your body back."
"And my friends," the Doctor said through gritted teeth.
"Well, it's not as if they could be any real use to Aizen, could they? So he'll just keep them as hostages."
Renji nodded. "He's sneaky that way."
The Doctor decided that this was not the best time to go into details on how a galactically trained biochemist or a particularly gifted (if somewhat adolescent) mathematical genius could be useful to Aizen Sousuke. "How do we get after them?" he demanded.
Urahara pulled thoughtfully at the brim of his hat. "Well. I might be able to create an opening into Hueco Mundo, but it'll take a few days to create, and of course there are certain political and military disadvantages to attempting an unsupported expedition down there."
The shinigami were looking at each other. "I appreciate your concern for your friends, Doctor," Rukia said, "but strategically speaking, they'd be expecting you."
"I have to get down there somewhere," the Doctor said. He began to pace. "I can't use the TARDIS: the key's in my pocket and currently my pocket's on my coat and my coat's on my body and my body's on Ichimaru Gin and in Hueco Mundo. Maybe if I could see your laboratory?" He gave his most charming, friendly smile to Urahara Kisuke, and regretted it as everyone flinched.
"Doctor," Tegan said.
"No, Tegan," the Doctor said, "you can't come."
"That's not it." She was frowning. "I think - yes, I'm fairly sure . . ."
Tegan was smirking in a way that made the Doctor fear for her future passengers. (He was going to get her to Heathrow any day now. Really.) "I think that when we all left the TARDIS earlier, that Ichimaru Gin person wasn't used to being you."
"Why?" the Doctor demanded.
"Because," Tegan said, "he forgot to lock the door."