Inventor of the shower? Genius, Kaien decided, rinsing clean. And doing his best not to panic at exactly how much he had to rinse.

:Safe. Kin.:

"Isshin, I'm fine."

"Hell no, you're not." Ostentatiously not facing the shower curtain, his cousin shrugged. "But if you want to push it - hurry up. We want to talk with Sarge about something, and we'd like you there."

Curious, Kaien ducked his head under water one last time, shut off the flow, and started toweling off. Chest, legs, hair- "Ow!"

"Don't try combing it." A rueful chuckle. "Too many nerves."

Kaien blinked, taken aback. "Haircut?" he managed.

A truly evil snicker floated through the curtain. "At last! I have defeated the mighty paladin Crewcut!"

"…Isshin? You're weird."

"Ooo, somebody hasn't looked in a mirror lately. Pot."

"Kettle," Kaien shot back, patting dry the… tendrils. A lot more gently, this time.

Dressed, he followed Isshin, grimacing a little at the fine mist of rain. "We need something better than scrubs."

"We've put in a request." Isshin sounded oddly preoccupied. "Might get farther when Nanao wakes up."

Right. He'd been trying not to dwell on the smaller chrysalis that had been right by his cot. Trying to focus more on the fact that it would be when, not if.

But that's not what really hurts, is it?

No. No, it wasn't.

:Anger: and :sadness: hung in the air, quiet and omnipresent as the misting rain. He'd known what choice Retsu had been forced to even before he'd been really awake. Known, and hated it, as much as the rest of the pack did.

And Isshin's going to do something about it.

He didn't know what. He just knew.

They entered the secondary supply tent, currently stuffed full of one large strike team leader and a bunch of angry biologists. "Kaien?" Sarge asked, one dark brow raised.

"Honestly? I've had better days, Sarge." Kaien shrugged. "But it beats dead. And it definitely beats turning into a monster." He glanced around, taking count. Isshin, Masaki, Kiuske, Yoruichi, and Ryuuken. Oh yeah. This was definitely going to be bad. Or at least, explosive. Right in Yamamoto-Genryuusai's face.

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Sarge didn't have enough tendrils yet to read any of that through pulses, but the guy knew him too well. "What'd you do?" he asked Kisuke dryly.

"Nothing," the blond said honestly. "Yet."

A deliberate nod from the striker. "See, it's that last word that bothers me."

"We might not do anything," Kisuke shrugged. "It's very possible that the general's superiors totally eliminating our personal records from the planetary database was just… overreacting. Momentary panic. They might get over it."

"And if they don't?" Sarge said neutrally.

"Dr. Unohana made a very convincing moral argument," Ryuuken stated. "We won't risk spreading the Hollow virus outside contaminated areas."

"Uh-huh." Sarge folded his arms, evidently waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"But if this is a weapon," Yoruichi observed, "what good will keeping us secret do, when it's used again?"

Sarge started to say something, and bit off a curse.

Masaki nodded, equally sober. "Sweeping us under the rug only works if this is a one-time event. If it's not - then we should be public, so people can have time to get used to the idea."

"Or at least panic before the virus hits, so it does less damage," Isshin said wryly.

"Nice. Moral high ground. Try using it on the general," Sarge said, equally dry. "Think I wouldn't notice? You're talking something that could backfire on all of you, and Juushirou and Shunsui aren't here."

"And they won't be," Ryuuken said plainly. "They told us, they don't want to know."

Oh, Kaien thought, stunned. Uh-oh.

"But they do know, don't they?" Sarge said thoughtfully. "Like I know. Maybe I don't know shinigami, much, but I know strikers. This isn't about viruses, or aliens, or even sticking Yamamoto a good one. Somebody jammed you into a cage, and you want out."

"It's always possible the general could change his mind," Kisuke said levelly.

"Cold day in hell," Sarge shrugged.

"We'll hope for ice skates," Kisuke said sardonically. "But if not…." He raised a brow at Sarge. "I suspect we could use some professional advice."

Isshin, Kaien noted uneasily, was grinning at him.

"Interesting theoretical problem," Sarge said casually. "Sounds like a good way to spend Friday night with a few beers."

"Well, in regards to that…." Masaki sighed. "We've been finding a few unexpected features in shinigami biochemistry."


"You told Shunsui we can't get drunk?" Yoruichi snickered.

Isshin winked. "I sent him a memo."

Kaien was still sputtering from that - god, alien invading genes and Isshin still hadn't changed? - when the world tingled.

:Will not stay here.: Isshin, Kisuke, Yoruichi; even Masaki and Ryuuken, though they were matches to a flame. :Will not be caged.:

:Kin. Coming?:

"I'm in," Kaien said finally. And smirked. "You mad scientists need all the help you can get."