Project Tatterdemalion

A/N: Bleach sci-fi AU, heavily influenced by Species and DOOM (the movie). I own nothing but the odd machinations of plot. Tropes have been liberally scattered through here; tvtropes(dot)org is a wonderful source for those curious about what makes stories tick. (Be warned: if you are interested in such story-building neatness, TVtropes will eat your brain.) M Warning for gore, geekery, and levels of biological squick. Oh, and cuddling.

Chapter 1: Late to the Party

Death, Juushirou Ukitake thought fuzzily, tasted oddly like sweat, hot acid, and burnt hair.

I always though death would be cold….

The chill of the grave. Of the leaden weight of oxygen, flowing into failing lungs. Of knowing he'd done the right thing; his coworkers in the Project's Data Analysis and Statistics division would never get out in time if they had to drag him, too-

But god, he didn't want to die alone.

Hope that is the worst that happens, Juushirou told himself firmly. Tetsu's old enough now, he can keep our younger siblings together. But if these things get to the Western Continent-

There was just something painfully ironic about this whole mess. He'd spent years beating the odds on a fatal disease, knowing he couldn't beat it much longer - only to die at the teeth of an alien-infested monster.

And claws, and tentacles….

Only why did death feel like being caught in something hot, hard, and sticky?

Sounds like one of Major Kyouraku's bad jokes… do they have bad jokes in Heaven, or am I in worse trouble than I thought?

Not that he would mind either way, Juushirou admitted guiltily, if the Project's second in command of security just happened to be there with him. Never mind that he barely knew the man, beyond lunch in the cafeteria and some late-night ninja MMORPGs. His coworkers knew him, and pitied him. Shunsui's reaction to the whole dying thing was, "Sucks. Hey, think we can take these guys? Lousy excuse for a tiger trap…."

Something massive nudged against the walls holding him. Backed off, hissing.


Light-flash and prying fingers and hunger-

I'm not here! What was that? Why did it seem to echo in his head, pulling his lips back into a snarl? Oh god, I'm not here, go away….

He'd only heard that hiss from a distance, crackled with static over an intercom, mixed with screams. Even now it was distorted, off; twisted by the hardness around him, the scrape of claws against the floor. But he knew what it was.

A Hollow. A Hollow's here. Hunting me.

Which - shouldn't be a problem. If he were dead.

He wasn't breathing oxygen. He couldn't feel his own heartbeat. And he should, when he was this frightened. Shouldn't he?

Yet he could feel his blood pulsing through his veins - cold, then burning hot. He could taste, and hear, and :feel.:

:Transparent shell. Hard metal cabinets he'd piled as a barricade, tumbled away from the gaping opening of the office door. Flexing flow of muscle and nerves, stalking around him….:

Not sight. Though it built images in Juushirou's head, oddly like the graphics from a sonar mapping program he'd checked the tolerances of a year or two back. It felt more like listening, somehow; like dropping a coin in a darkened room, its silvery rattle flashing light over every shape and solidity.

:Hunger! Hate! Lonely - oh, so lonely….:

Juushirou sucked in an acid-tainted breath, fighting that crushing, terrible aloneness. God, it was worse than he'd ever imagined. Bad enough to think of the Hollows as mindless victims, rabid animals driven to hunt and infect and kill. This… this was conscious. Aware. The Hollow knew it was a monster, and knew he wasn't, and it was drowning in the horrible aloneness, and it wanted to not-be-alone, even if-

It… wants… me.



:Mine!: lashed at him. :Mine - or prey-:


Hardness cracked, and Juushirou lunged into light. The base's emergency LEDs flickered over mottled skin stretched taut over a distorted, fanged skull; cast horrifying glints along whiplashes of slick, razor-edged tentacles.

So slow. Why is it so slow?

And why, in the name of everything holy and little green apples, was he jumping toward the monster?

But the world was fangs and snarls and blood, razored coils of muscle straining, :pulses: hammering against each other like a thunderstorm in his spine-

:Worry,: came an oddly softer touch in the bloody whirlwind. :Ally-near, ally-coming. Hang on!:

The Hollow flinched, attention split.

Strike! something in his soul commanded. Now!

A long-unused Aikido throw let Juushirou knock the beast from its feet. Wrapping a twist of will around his hands, he clawed back muscle and ribs like cardboard, and-

Reached without his hands, two coils of muscle holding back the Hollow's tentacles. Another lashed like a razor whip, strangling its spine. The last dug in deep, shredding its hearts.

Juushirou fell to his knees in the spreading pool of blood, breathing hard, watching the Hollow spasm and twitch. He could feel his heartbeat now, he realized… no. Hearts beat. I'm not like that… I'm not a monster… but I- oh god….

"Way to go, Ukitake," came a familiar chuckle of a voice. A long katana slashed out, stilling the twitching. "But these things patch up real fast. You've got to kill it a little more thoroughly-"

"Shunsui?" Juushirou whispered, shivering. Odd; he hadn't noticed until now that he was naked. And cold. "You've got to stay back. I'm-" a monster, oh god…. "It slashed me, I'm infected-"

"No." Hands caught his, careless of the blood. Juushirou stared at them, mesmerized by their familiar-and-not shapes; those were Shunsui's hands, but where were all his hard-earned calluses, from guns and military training and the major's quiet, lone practice of iaido? And - was that a bathrobe? "No, you're not. Juushirou. 'Shirou. Look at me."

Bathrobe, definitely, Juushirou noted, raising his gaze inch by trembling inch. Over a pair of pink-camo sweatpants from somewhere, but a bathrobe just the same. Sheath in his belt. Some kind of pack thrown over his shoulder. Familiar handsome face, familiar brown eyes that for one moment glinted odd, alien silver-

"Easy," Shunsui murmured, tightening his grip before Juushirou could jerk back. "Easy…."

He's not eating me. He came to help. Juushirou blinked, finally placing what was off about his friend's face. "Why is your hair moving?"

"Let you know when I figure that out." Shunsui grinned tiredly at him. :Friend. Kin. Not-alone.:

:Not-alone,: Juushirou echoed back in a knee-weakening rush of relief, wrapping himself around that warm sense of :kin.:

"Urk. 'Shirou. Air."

"Sorry." Juushirou pulled back - and stopped, halted by the oddest of tugs. "Ah…."

"Wonderful. We're tangled." But Shunsui was - snickering?

Definitely snickering, Juushirou decided, what he knew should be soul-shaking horror somehow losing out to… well, embarrassment. Here he was doing his level best to gibber in a corner, while Shunsui was radiating :worry: and :relief: and :other Hollows near, we have to get moving.: "I feel them too," the analyst admitted, sensing wrongness - not too near, but far too close for comfort. "Er. How do we…?"

"Well," Shunsui gave him a wry grin, and gestured to their knot of limbs, "the white furry ones are yours, and the brown furry ones are mine."

Furry. He… really wasn't going to think about that right now. "Um…."

"Kind of helps if you think about it like moving your tongue," Shunsui offered. At Juushirou's dubious look, a brown eyebrow shot up. "C'mon, a sweet guy like you must have had to beat the ladies off with a stick in college. You never got creative with your tongue?"

Juushirou reddened. He'd been a little too busy battling classes and his own limitations to have much energy for… creativity. And contrary to popular belief, most young ladies weren't that interested in a boyfriend who wasn't supposed to survive long enough to graduate. "Well…."

"Ah!" Shunsui mourned. "Another young life, sucked in by computers, tragically isolated from the delights and inexplicable furies of the fairer sex. We get out of this, I am so getting you laid. You, me, some wine and pretty girls…."

Obviously, death by monster instead of Strickland's Disease wasn't nearly ironic enough for the universe. He was going to drop dead of sheer embarrassment, right here, naked in a splatter of monster guts. Ick.

Only Shunsui was right about something, darn it, because the knots of alien muscle had loosened enough that they could slip free of each other. Emphasis on slip, as Shunsui caught his hand again before he hit the floor. "There's an emergency shower-pull in the bathroom down the hall," the major pointed out. "It'll be cold, but we can at least get you cleaned up." He shifted the pack on his shoulder. "And I've got something I think should fit you."

"Pink camo?" Juushirou asked warily.

"You think I'd have a pink camo bathrobe?"

Not going to think about it, Juushirou decided. He was naked, sticky, and itchy, with blood and who-knew-what splattered various unpleasant places, and any kind of running water sounded like heaven.

Even if they might have to walk through monsters to get to it.

He's holding it together. I'm not going to slow him down. "Let's go," Juushirou said decisively. "But - what happened?"

"Tell you in the shower," Shunsui nodded, heading for the door. "I'm going to need a drink for this. Guess I'm going to have to settle for water…."


Leaning against a sink safely up-slope from the shower-pull, Shunsui forced a grin, watching as Juushirou scrubbed off under the sheeting spray. "Hey, they made 'em for rinsing, not fun." He could still :feel: at least five Hollows in the vicinity, but only one had deliberately charged them. It hadn't lasted long - and it'd howled when it died, in a way that still set his teeth on edge.

The other Hollows had felt quieter after that. He didn't like it.

"Never would have guessed," Juushirou got out between chattering teeth, squelching barefoot across wet tiles to grab handfuls of paper towels. "Why do they h-have these here, anyway? We're not near the labs."

"Safety precaution." The major shrugged. "In case somebody got careless."

"Is that what you think happened?" Juushirou turned away to pull on urban gray-and-white sweatpants, frowning. "Someone got careless?"

"Honestly? No clue whatsoever." Shunsui watched his friend's back, literally; pale skin blending into a dusting of silver hairs at each tentacle's base, alien muscle shivering off beads of moisture. Evidently 'Shirou's fur was just as sleekly water-repellent as his own. "Urahara, Shihouin, the Shibas - they might be a little flaky outside the lab, sure. But inside? Nothing but business. Even that visiting RIH guy, Ishida; he seemed solid. I wouldn't swear all the techs were a hundred percent careful all of the time, but-" A thought occurred to him. "How much do you know about the Hollows?"

Juushirou turned back toward him, raising a silvery brow. "Data analysis, remember?"

Shunsui snorted, letting one of his own tentacles uncoil. Didn't quite feel as weird now as it had waking up. Which was scary all by itself. "I think we can safely throw out clearances for anybody still alive in this mess." Casually, alert for any sign of panic in the younger man's stance, he approached, bathrobe over his arm. "Here. Let me give you a hand with this."

Juushirou tensed. Forced himself to relax. "Fruit bats?"

"What? They were cute."

Rolling his eyes, the data analyst put one arm into a sleeve - and froze, as Shunsui latched onto a tentacle. Swallowed dryly, and let the officer guide it through the slits he'd cut in black terrycloth. "That…."

"I'm not hurting you, am I?"


Interesting. As was what he was seeing - or not seeing - on Juushirou's chest. "Where are your scars?"

His friend stood still as Shunsui laid a hand on pale skin, feeling for any trace of the thick ropes of keloid tissue. These days drugs could contain the station-bred fungus that caused Strickland's, and researchers were making noises about having finally found something that would kill an ongoing infection, but years ago when Ukitake had been diagnosed, the only option was surgery. Juushirou didn't know it, but he'd been on Major Kyouraku's watch list from the moment he'd set foot in Project Tatterdemalion's labs. Not because he was a security risk - the man could keep his mouth closed better than some officers Shunsui could name - but because he was missing two-thirds of his lungs. And what was left didn't work so well. Any security plan that didn't take into account his supplemental oxygen would kill him by default.

There'd been no plan for this. There'd been no time.

Warm skin under his hands. Muscle, bone, and air moving under both of them. "Deep breath?"

No mistake. Along with that odd flutter that had to be one of the extra hearts… Juushirou was breathing. Easily. With lungs that shouldn't be there. Add to that his own creaky knees that weren't creaking, and the banged-up-by-gunfire shoulder that hadn't complained once since he woke up… Shunsui stored that thought for later, and helped Juushirou get everything else tucked through the right holes. Waited until he was tying the belt, and caught that same tentacle again. "Mind if I take a look?"

A shiver. "How can you be so calm?"

Training, should have been the official answer. But Juushirou was fighting to strangle his fear in a situation no data analyst had ever trained for, and both their chances would be better if he kept that grip. "Half an hour ago, I wasn't," Shunsui said honestly. "I was just starting to break out when a Hollow found me, and I found a pretty solid chair, and - well, I've been in knife fights before. Adrenaline covereth a multitude of 'what the hell's." He shrugged. "After that… I keep a stack of mental note-cards for 'what to do when the situation goes FUBAR'. None of them exactly covered this, but - I got back to my office, got some supplies, and started looking for anybody else. And here we are." He gave Juushirou a sober look, still stroking white fur. Thick, and luxuriously soft; reminded him of a seal's pelt. "Think you can help me talk down other survivors?"

Another breath, and Juushirou nodded. "You think there will be more of us?"

Us. The word tugged oddly at his attention, warm and full of promise. "Definitely. If what Urahara put over the intercom was right-"

"Urahara was on the intercom?"

The white-furred coil was melting into his strokes, a wide area near the tip unrolling to reveal an underside spiky with fanglike barbs. Wow. We're better armed than I thought. "Yeah," Shunsui said. "He- what's the last thing you remember?"

"Telling the stragglers in my office to stop being stupid and get to the shelters," Juushirou said honestly. "I saw one of the video clips from the lab. They're so fast."

And you knew you'd never make it, Shunsui finished silently. Damn. That had taken guts.

"I meant to barricade myself in," Juushirou went on. "The way the cabinets were - I must have. But I don't remember it."

"I'm going to take a wild guess, and say the vaccine hit you faster than it did me," Shunsui stated. "Things started getting fuzzy right about the time Colonel Hughes tossed me out of the safe rooms. I woke up almost at my office, so I must have been still moving for a while-"

"He what?"

Yipe, nearly got nicked there. Note to self: Toothed side of tentacles is sharp. "Long story short," Shunsui said wryly, stroking away like he would an aggravated cat, "and bear in mind Urahara was talking very fast - our friendly neighborhood mad scientist said he and the Shibas had something that ought to work for a vaccine. Worked in the mice, at least. They wanted more time to test it. General Yamamoto said we didn't have more time. So they put their concoction under pressure and pumped it through the whole base. Things got a little misty in the room, I started feeling feverish…." And like things had literally been crawling under his skin, but he really didn't want to think about that. Especially since it probably hadn't been his imagination.

'Shirou gave him a definite fishy look. "Totally ignoring how they managed to break into what's supposed to be a multiply-sealed, self-contained ventilation system-"

"I'm getting the feeling Urahara and secure should not be used in the same sentence, true," Shunsui admitted.

"-Mass exposure of a substance untested in humans to the whole base without their consent-"

"They were going to nuke us, 'Shirou."

Juushirou blanched.

"I know it sounds extreme, but Yamamoto's bosses have to think about the whole planet. Not to mention, if this stuff got off-world-"

"Are they insane?" Juushirou tapped the black cloth over his ribs. "Strickland's sporulates, Shunsui. That's why they cut it out. Heat and radiation kill a lot of things, but that's if you keep them contained. An explosion might just spread little bits right up into the jetstream, and then where would we be?"

Oh. So that's why Urahara and the Shibas - and even that ordinarily cool Ishida - had been all but clawing their way through the intercom to get Yamamoto-Genryuusai to change his mind. He could see it now: bits of Hollow wafted up into the upper atmosphere, raining down on an unsuspecting populace and spaceport, carried off-world with the next departing freighters…. Oh, shit.

Then again…. "Madsen's Hollow's a retrovirus, not a fungus."

"It's an alien. It came out of an asteroid. Do you know it doesn't form spores? And - Madsen's Hollow?" Juushirou glanced roughly eastward. "Isn't that-"

"It was a prospectors' patch about twenty klicks that way, yeah," Shunsui acknowledged, thinking of the little almost-town that wasn't there anymore. Thank god the place was, like the Project's base, smack in the middle of dry nowhere. "Colonel Hughes thermited the place."

"And brought samples back here? Oh, hurray," Juushirou said faintly.

"Closest lab with bio-containment facilities," the major shrugged.

A silver brow arched, and Juushirou wriggled an unheld tentacle. "Oh yes. Very contained."

Shunsui gave him a sheepish grin, and deliberately held up his free hand in plain view. Clenched and unclenched his fingers, razor-sharp claws sliding in and out, white as bone. "Found these yet?"


"But we are contained, or we'd be smoking rubble right now," Shunsui said seriously. "Problem is, no one knows how the infection got loose in the base. Maybe a lab mouse bit somebody. Maybe somebody cut their clean suit and, like an idiot, didn't report it. Maybe one of my guys who went with the colonel got careless. Maybe a piece of the goddamned asteroid got washed down the drain. I don't know, and it sure as hell sounded like the bio team didn't know. But if we can walk uninfected people out of here, we can pull out and do whatever it takes to wipe the place clean the right way."

"Uninfected," Juushirou said numbly.

"We're vaccinated, 'Shirou. Scout's honor."

"You were never a Scout," Juushirou accused him.

True. How had 'Shirou known? "We're still alive, right? They must think it worked."

"For a certain twisted definition of worked, maybe… would you stop that? You make me feel like- like- Oh, damn it!"

Whoof. All-over hug. Again. Too bad 'Shirou wasn't part of the female half of the human race, or this would be even more comfy-

Newly-silver hair met brown, and the world whited out.

:Mine? Kin? Not-alone?:

:Agreement. Mine. Pack.:

:Dissent. Pack is more-than-two. Is others. Young. Territory.:

:Others, will find. Young, will seek. Territory….

:We take.:

The pulse blazed through their nerves, raced away through walls and corridors. Echoed oddly, flickers of here and here and here-

:You dare! Weaklings! We eat you!:

"Hollows," Shunsui growled into Juushirou's shoulder, feeling fine brown prickle free of silver-white. So that's why it moves. It's not really hair.

"Never would have guessed," his partner quipped, letting their tentacles slip free of each other. Stepping over to Shunsui's pack, he pushed aside juice packs and chocolate bars, dug out the other katana, and thrust it through his belt in one smooth motion.

"How did you-?"

"Know it was there?" Juushirou blinked. "I… you knew."

"…Right." His turn to swallow dryly. "'Shirou? Know how I said I was handling this?"

Juushirou crossed the space between them in blurred swift strides, cupped the side of his face in clawed fingers. "We're alive. We're going to stay alive. Someone else is out there; you felt them, just like I did. They need us." He stepped back, shoulders straight. "And nothing does what the Hollows did, and gets away with it."

Yeah. Yeah, he could work with that. "We need a plan."

"Kill them all?" Juushirou offered.

And he'd thought his ninja gaming partner was such a sweet, naïve, quiet soul. Damn. This was going to be fun. "Not bad for starting tactics, but your strategy could use a little work." Shunsui grinned at him, plotting out a path in his head to that nearest touch of :kin: as he strode toward the bathroom door. Outside were Hollows. They could both feel it.

But Juushirou was only steps behind him. Precise steps behind him; just the distance one of his old teachers had said was right, to cover a partner with another sword.

Or to reach out with a tentacle….

"First lesson," Shunsui breathed, lifting a foot to kick the door. "Follow me - and don't die."

Horror movies lied, Toushirou Hitsugaya thought furiously, tasting dust and blood. The twelve-year-old dug his fingers into smooth metal, kicking furiously at the barbed rope of muscle that had whipped around his knee, slammed him into the air duct's walls, and was now trying to yank him out like a particularly stubborn cork from a fragile bottle.

In the movies, this would never happen. The monster was either tiny and numerous and all through the air ducts, or far too large to do more than claw at a grate. The computer he knew was still hooked up in the office on the other side of the wall would be up and running, not shut down by automatic safety protocols; and it'd be hackable by someone his age, and attached not to a mundane printer and internet line, but to some kind of improbable equipment that could actually do something to swat the monster.

Most of all, in movies, the victims all somehow deserved what they got. The doting wife and mother was actually cheating on her husband, or plotting to sacrifice her firstborn to evil. The stern but likeable father was a closet abuser, or plotting to sell the insane science to an enemy government, or had a Dark Secret in his past, or something.

This didn't happen. This couldn't happen.

:Come here, boy!:

A blast of loneliness, and longing, and why was what-belonged-to-him trying to get away-

The flesh wrapped around him rippled. Stung, like a thousand jellyfish tentacles; hot agony lancing into the artery running up his leg. A pulse of :triumph:-

One breath. Two.


Toushirou kept breathing as the pain faded, something black and noxious dripping out from under the tentacle's grip on his skin.

:Fury! Not-mine, should-be-mine, not changing, why-:

"Go to hell!" Toushirou spat, adding a few choice insults that would have had his mother washing his mouth out with soap. Only his mother was-

He wouldn't think about the screams. The splash of red he'd glimpsed through the ductwork before darkness had rolled over him. The crunch and slurp of decaying flesh that had been his wake-up call. He would not think about it.

Breathe. Dig fingers in harder, feeling and hearing the screech as metal tore under his fingertips. Which wasn't right. Fingernails didn't shred steel, no matter how desperate you were. Not even in movies.

-And damn it, the corpse-eating bastard was trying to shred his leg, and he could :feel: another tentacle whipping through the vent toward him-

He will not kill me!

A chill within his soul; a soothing cold that reached out, and braced coils against the duct walls to send him hurtling backward. Toushirou felt bony barbs loosen, :felt: alien hearts and lungs quicken, preparing to strike, as his fa-

My enemy!

It was him. And it wasn't. He wanted to-






Die, like the rest of his family had died….

Winter's child, listen.

An endless solitude of snow stretched within his mind; the chill beauty he'd lost when his parents followed their hush-hush physics work to this awful, dry, dusty place. The crispness of chill air, the clean, clear winter light glinting off ice-sheathed trees….

Blizzard howled from his hands, sent enemy tentacles writhing back with an ear-piercing shriek.

Shaking, Toushirou caught himself on cold steel. He was panting as if he'd run a mile; the gray tones of the duct swam in front of his eyes. What… was that?

I live! something exulted in him. I strike the enemy!

You're… not me….

No? Snow, and coiling scales, and a sense of strength endless as cloud-strewn sky. Then we live. My-Toushirou- move!

:Rage: battered him, shattering wall and duct and protective ice in a screech of cutting heat.

Bleeding, Toushirou realized, air whoofing out of his lungs as the blast flung him against the inside of a wall. It didn't touch me. How am I bleeding?

Distantly he heard his skull crack against concrete, and knew that was bad. The floor reared up and hit him, and the monster was hissing toward him, and he couldn't move-

"Stay down!"

A voice. A human voice.

:Help here: whispered over his skin like a blanket. :Hang on.:

But crashing over it all was a spine-hammering :bloodlust: and :our territory!: and :away from our young one!:

Steel flashed and :flashed: in his senses as they harried the monster through the office. Toushirou blinked, trying to reconcile two visions of the world. The chill whisper in his soul drank in swordplay like water in the desert, seeing blades as longer claws, yes! Want!

And they were better than claws, because the steel :felt: like- like-

Metal let us flow, let us focus, the dragon-whisper noted. Metal claws would guide our strike. Make it reach, make it stronger….

Heat tingled his senses as the monster brought two tentacles together over its back. Toushirou gasped for breath. "Look out!"

Red blazed out at one of his rescuers, scorching sword-arm and shoulder like a laser before the brown-haired man could dodge.

"Hai!" His paler partner leapt up and over, slashed down-

Blue-white fury struck with the blade, lashing like miniature lightning.

Two bodies hit the floor. The monster's ever-shifting skin stilled, blanched to leaden gray. Smoke rose from its spine, twisted from the end of each seared, crumbling tentacle.

Quietly, Toushirou began to cry.

"'Shirou." The brown-haired man in the spattered bathrobe and pink sweatpants stumbled over to the dead beast, free hand pressed to his healing shoulder. "What. The. Hell?"

"I… don't know." The white-haired man sounded as exhausted as Toushirou felt. "It was hurting him, and then it hurt you, and I wanted to stop it, and… there was a whisper…."

"I want to live." Toushirou got out, swiping at tears with the back of his hand. "I w-won't let him kill me… but that I isn't me, it's not, and it's in my head and I can't get it out-"

My-Toushirou doesn't want me? Confusion. Sadness, in the pulse of protective bloodlust. Want you. Protect you. My-Toushirou brings the pack, makes us not-alone.

And there were arms and fur wrapping around him, quelling that awful sense of alone. But the fur was tentacles, he had to get away-!


Safe, insisted the dragon in his head, urging him to go boneless in 'Shirou's grip. Safe, enemy dead, adults here.

And it was warm, and that purr felt so good in his bones, and there was cloth he could cry into. He leaned into the man's shoulder, hearing a higher-pitched purr join in. Like a kitten, Toushirou realized, almost giggling.

Oh god. That's me.

"I thought it was my imagination," 'Shirou murmured between purrs. "I needed to fight the Hollows to stay alive. Why shouldn't I imagine something else in my head? Something that wants to fight."

"That explains a lot," his friend muttered. Stood there a moment, as if listening. "Huh. I can feel it. It's pretty quiet… then again, I'm used to running on survival instincts. And I'm betting you two aren't. So they have to be louder."

"Is that what you think this is?" 'Shirou asked. "Some kind of - amplified survival reflex?"

"Dunno. Dr. Shiba said something about the virus going after higher brain functions… then again, he also said he was stomping that in the vaccine." The brunet flexed his sword hand, grimacing. "What do you know, looks like we patch up quick too."

"That, is not survival instinct." 'Shirou nodded toward charcoaled flesh.

"No, I don't think so," the brunet agreed dryly. "I'd say that's psychokinesis."


"Specifically, electrokinesis." The brunet pointed into the gaping hole in the wall, where ice still glinted. "And that, would be cryokinesis."

"That's not funny," 'Shirou said blankly, tentacles clutching Toushirou close as his shaking hands unwrapped a chocolate bar. He broke it in half, and offered the boy the piece he wasn't munching on.

I'm not a baby, I don't need- His stomach growled. Oh, fine.

Odd. Usually he didn't like chocolate. This actually tasted good.

"Not joking." The brunet slammed through various file cabinet drawers, stopped and pulled out a folded blue dress shirt. "Don't think Dr. Hitsugaya's going to miss this." He held it out to them. "Shunsui Kyouraku. The sweetheart sharing his candy is Juushirou Ukitake. Not sure I've met you, which makes me wonder exactly how you got onto this base-"

"Through the front gate, like anybody else!" Toushirou burst out. "You think I'd be here if my parents let me be anywhere else?" He winced, and shrank back against Juushirou's shoulder. "…Toushirou Hitsugaya."

"You're- Oh, shit." Draping the cotton over him, Shunsui looked at the still-smoking monster, the bits of Hollow cocoon glued to the wall Toushirou hadn't come out of, the… remnants… still rotting in the corner, painted nails gleaming scarlet. "Damn, kid. And I thought my day sucked."

"I thought you knew everyone here," Juushirou said wryly, stroking the boy's head.

"Hey, last time I saw him, he had black hair and brown eyes," Shunsui said defensively. "It's not like you match your ID anymore."

Toushirou blinked, peering sideways at the wild white tendrils drifting under Juushirou's clawed fingers. Glanced a question upward.

"They're green," Juushirou smiled back. "You look like a pixie."

"I do not!"

"A really pissed off pixie," Shunsui chuckled. "Kind of fits. 'Magic' and all."

"Psychokinesis?" Juushirou let a white brow climb. "We're not Quincys."

"You never know. I've heard there's a fair amount of people who could be, that the program never finds." Shunsui shrugged. "Sometimes adrenaline can kick it off. You needed it, you did it, you headed straight for the chocolate afterwards – couple of days ago, I could've shown you my scars from getting between a Quincy and chocolate - and it looks like you both used metal to amplify and direct it." He prodded at the raw wound on his shoulder; winced, and tapped his wrist. "Quincys usually use a little cross. Easy to hide until they get in range of their target. We're lucky that Hollow didn't have the brains to grab onto something metal; that was definitely destructive telekinesis it hit me with…."

The adults stared at each other. "That's how it got out," Juushirou whispered.

Shunsui was shaking his head, not wanting to believe. "I saw the living samples, 'Shirou. None of the animals-"

"None of the animals. Probably not even most of the humans. But if it infected someone who could have been a Quincy? Even one?"

"I thought they were working on physics here," Toushirou objected, puzzled. "Not biotech."

A sidelong adult glance. "So, you think we're working on Quincy physics here, huh?" Shunsui said casually.

Oh, please. Toushirou gave the man a look. "My parents had to talk about something over dinner."

"I'm somewhat more concerned with Hollow physics," Juushirou said grimly. "You say the base is contained?"

"No question. Or they'd have-"

Juushirou pointed to the hole in the wall.

"…Oh, this day just keeps getting better." Grim-faced, Shunsui swiped bits of wall and slime off the hardened computer keyboard, tapped a key to bring up the opening screen.

Toushirou rolled his eyes. "That's not going to work. It's user-locked."

"Uh-huh. I've been working security longer than you've been alive. There's always a way in. If you've got the right clearance." Ostentatiously stretching his fingers, Shunsui clattered away on the keyboard.

Invalid user logon.

"Clearance," Toushirou smirked. "Right." He squirmed loose to stand on wobbly feet; straightened his shoulders, cracked his own knuckles, and moved in.

Shunsui was shaking his head. "You don't have the kind of clearance we need to-"

"I've got an account," Toushirou pointed out. "Just for schoolwork, but it'll get me on here. If you're such a hot-shot security guy, you don't need any more than that, right?"

Shunsui eyed him, then grinned, and ruffled short white tendrils. "I like the way you think."

Huh. At least somebody did. Was it his fault his parents were physics geeks, but he'd rather be painting snowscapes on the computer? "Just give me a minute…."

Invalid user logon.

"That should have worked," Toushirou said numbly. He didn't get computers wrong. For this one to slam that in his face, was like - like being dead….

"I think I see a pattern," Juushirou murmured. "Toushirou? If you did know someone else's password to log on with, I doubt you'll get in trouble for it now."

Shunsui's eyebrows bounced, but he shrugged, and ostentatiously turned away to watch the door.

Biting his lip, Toushirou entered his father's username and password. He was the one who'd used this computer last, it should unlock-

Invalid user logon.

"Didn't work?" Shunsui shook his head, not turning around. "How'd you know?"

"I didn't," Juushirou said practically. "Data analyst, remember? It's my job to find patterns." Breath hissed between his teeth. "Look, you said something about there not being any security plan that covered this, right?"

"Alien infectious DNA?" Shunsui snorted. "No, I don't think so-"

"So, what does the closest plan you can think of do to base computer access?"

The brunet frowned. "Infectious outbreak, personnel possibly compromised due to delirium, panic, you name it-" He slapped a hand to his forehead, and started cursing with imagination and at length, using words a wide-eyed Toushirou was sure dated back to pre-space Earth. "Argh. You don't want compromised personnel in the computer system. Security locks the place down, and you do a headcount. Anybody outside a secure area gets their access yanked. Damn it."

"We need to find another way," Juushirou said intently. "We need to find more people. We need to get word out, somehow. Before we run out of luck. So far, the Hollows have only attacked us one at a time; if they decided to mob us-"

Toushirou swallowed dryly. "Um. Think the phones still work?"

The pair looked at each other. Looked at him.

Ack! What is it with these guys and hugging?