It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

Tonight the bar was women-free.

There weren't usually many women here anyhow, but there were always a few, which cut down on the language one could use among friends, the amount of zanpakutou-size-comparing that could take place, and the equally vigorous if not as on-the-spot-feasible comparison of certain female shinigami's bosoms.

Shiba Kaien breathed a deep sigh of relief, leaned back against his chair, and scratched his right buttock. All was well with the world.

"You're looking in a good mood, Kaien," his Captain commented. Ukitake-taichou was nursing a cup of hot tea. Next to him, robes and sleeves sprawled out over two chairs and a good part of the table, Kyouraku-taichou was nursing a jug of hot wine, and apparently also enjoying the experience of non-women-in-the-locality. Ichimaru-taichou, newly ascended to his rank and gravitating to the best alcohol and company in the room, had somehow slid in to occupy the remaining chair and listen to the conversation. Even if Kaien did have problems remembering that the guy was a Captain now. Difficult to think that about someone who you'd known as a scrappy little psychotic teenager who still had that sweet little serial killer smile.

"Oh." Kaien shrugged cheerfully. "I just feel that I've done everyone a little service today. That I've done my bit to make the world a better place, small as my efforts are."

For some reason, this made Ukitake-taichou sit up and fix him with a suspicious glare. "Kaien, what precisely have you done?"

"Well." Kaien couldn't help smirking. "You know the Shinigami Women's Association's having their Christmas get-together tonight?"

"Ah yes," Ukitake-taichou said. "That would be where a lot of our friends are. Your wife, little Kuchiki-kun, Ise-kun . . ."

"I am deprived of her presence," Kyouraku-taichou said, refilling his cup, and Kaien's too, "but the sudden lack of disapproval is strangely refreshing. Perhaps I should send her to parties more often."

"Or you could sign off your paperwork," Ukitake-taichou suggested.

Kyouraku-taichou thought about that. "No," he decided. "Sending her to more parties is a much better idea."

"Anyhow," Kaien said, before the conversation could wander any further, "I sneaked in before things really got started, and I added . . . just a little extra alcohol . . . to the jugs on the table of drinks. Tonight our female colleagues are going to be so happy that we won't have to worry about any sort of arguments, or criticism, or anything except how they're going to be feeling in the morning."

Ichimaru froze in his chair. It was like watching a rattlesnake wake up and then get something in its tail mid-rattle. "Excuse me," he said. "Shiba-kun, did you just tell me that you added maybe a tiny bit of extra booze to their drinks?"

Kaien remembered that Ichimaru was supposed to be quite close to Matsumoto-fukutaichou. "Nothing too much," he said quickly. "Certainly nothing that'd make it a dangerous level."

Ukitake-taichou cocked an eyebrow curiously.

"Well, y'know how these things can go," Ichimaru said, slithering down in his chair. "Might be that I'd also added a spot of extra to the wine, just to make things a little more fun for Rangiku-chan."

Kyouraku-taichou was staring up at a spot on the ceiling. "Indeed I know," he agreed. "Which would be why the wine I gave my lovely Nanao-chan to take along and share might have been just a tiny little bit stronger than I mentioned to her at the time."

Ukitake-taichou looked at the three of them, then sighed.

The door crashed open. A horrific figure, surely a Hollow, loomed in the entrance -- no, on closer inspection it was actually Kurotsuchi-taichou, encrusted with blowing snow, leering like a particularly cannibalistic ogre. "Success!" he screeched, his voice cutting through the bar like a rusty knife. "At last! Finally my efforts shall be crowned with glory!"

"Do come and have a drink, old chap," Ukitake-taichou said. "Pull up a chair. Pull up several."

Kurotsuchi-taichou stomped across, glaring at everyone. "Tonight I have succeeded in securing a test of my new combat drug."

Kaien frowned. He'd heard a few of the reports about that one. "Wasn't that the drug which caused berserk massacres, sir?"

"Teething problems," Kurotsuchi-taichou said with a wave of his hand.

"Uh huh," Ichimaru said. "I heard that teeth were kinda involved, yeah."

"I have everything totally under control!" Kurotsuchi-taichou declared. "The tactical and strategic planning state and the physical boosts are now completely under the sane and rational judgment of the user! The psychotic breaks and the homicidal mania are a thing of the past! Why, the only thing that could possibly cause any problems would be if the user were to have a heavy dose of alcohol at the same time -- which of course will be forbidden to front line combatants!"

"Shocking," Kyouraku-taichou said, looking at his jug mournfully.

"But how precisely are you testing it?" Ukitake-taichou asked, brows drawn together in concern.

Kurotsuchi-taichou shrugged. His shoulders didn't move in a normal human way, Kaien noticed. "Nemu has finally proven herself of worth. She has promised that she will be interacting with a large experimental population this evening, quite sufficient for a thoroughly randomised trial . . ."

He broke off. "Why are you all looking at each other like that? And how is it that I suddenly sense a surge of blood-maddened reiatsu surrounding this building?"

The lights flickered. Outside the wind howled.

Kyouraku-taichou slid down further in his chair and pulled his hat over his face. "If I just ignore it," he asked hopefully, "will it go away?"

"For shame!" Ukitake-taichou declared. "This requires action!"

"It does?" Ichimaru said. "Personally, I was kinda thinking it required going home and having a nice quiet cup of something with good company . . ."

Ukitake-taichou rose to his feet and shook his hair back dramatically. "Come now, gentlemen. Are we really going to leave the Shinigami Women's Association to a fate of blood-maddened homicidal mania --"

"You've never seen my wife shopping," Kaien muttered.

"-- when with a small effort we can save the women we care about, gather fascinating experimental data --"

"You may have a point there, "Kurotsuchi-taichou said thoughtfully.

"-- and most of all, prevent this ever coming to the formal attention of Yamamoto-soutaichou," Ukitake-taichou finished.

There was a brief silence.

"I am heartened by your words!" Kyouraku-taichou declared, springing up in a ruffle of robes. "To action!"

"What he said," Ichimaru agreed. "But I get to save Rangiku-chan."

"Yes sir!" Kaien said. "Especially the last bit about Yamamoto-soutaichou."

Ukitake-taichou nodded crisply. "Now firstly, someone will have to go outside to see what's happening."

"That's what the gods made enlisted men for," Ichimaru said. He looked around. The room was empty except for the bartender, who was polishing cups with the attitude of someone who intended to be very deaf to any requests for assistance. "Well, damn. All right, that's what the gods made vice-captains for."

"Doesn't Kurotsuchi-taichou have any robot scouts that he can send out there?" Kaien said hopefully.

Kurotsuchi-taichou shook out his sleeves. "Left them in my other robes," he explained. "If they do mutilate you, try to get back while you are still alive so that you can provide a full report."

"Stick to the roofs," Kyouraku-taichou recommended. "They never look up."

Kaien flattened himself against the snowy roof, looking down at the mass of black-robed figures that prowled the streets below.

(It was true. They never did look up. Some day he'd have to ask Kyouraku-taichou how he knew about that one.)

"Now remember," Unohana-taichou said in sweet motherly tones, "hamstring, then disembowel."

Nanao adjusted her glasses. "Unohana-taichou . . . I'm not used to all these strange feelings. Are we really doing the right thing?"

"Of course we are," Unohana-taichou said. She turned to look at the others following her. "Soi Fong-taichou, Isane-kun, Matsumoto-kun, Shiba-kun, Yachiru-chan, everyone -- don't you all agree that we should mercilessly slaughter everyone except for the few that we'll save for our pleasure afterwards? Raise your hands if you agree, please."

A forest of waving hands rose in response.

"There you are, Ise-kun," Unohana-taichou said. "Everything's perfectly normal. You'll get used to the feeling of wanting to soak your hands to the wrists in blood, so don't worry about it. Why, I have that feeling myself several times a day!"

"Oh, thank you, Unohana-taichou," Nanao said. "I feel so much better now that you've explained it."

Kaien's beloved wife patted Nanao on the shoulder. "Don't worry, dear," she said. "This is all new to me as well, but I intend to approach it with a forthright and confident spirit, just as Ukitake-taichou always tells us. He didn't mention the bit about ripping out the vital organs, but even Captains can forget the little details."

Nanao nodded with growing confidence. "That's true. Kyouraku-taichou always leaves out little details. Usually the ones about numbers."

"I plan to dip some bits in molten copper and make earrings out of them," Rangiku said cheerfully.

"Such things hinder a covert operative's secrecy," Soi Fong-taichou hissed. "Personally, I intend to beat my record for the number of slaughters in one day."

"Shouldn't that be kills?" Isane asked tentatively.

"No," Soi Fong-taichou hissed. "Slaughters."

"Kill! Maim! Mutilate!" little Yachiru-chan cheered, bouncing up and down. "Lots of blood! Rip off their limbs and whack them with the soggy bits!"

Kaien slid back over the rooftops with extreme care and silence.

"So nothing too worrying, then," Ichimaru said. "We just stroll out there and subdue them. Figure that if you two gentlemen," he nodded to Ukitake-taichou and Kyouraku-taichou, "can take care of Unohana-taichou, we can handle the rest of them . . ."

Kyouraku-taichou and Ukitake-taichou exchanged glances.

"Us take care of Retsu-chan," Kyouraku-taichou said, with a noticeable lack of his usual enthusiasm.

Ukitake-taichou coughed heroically. "While I would like to volunteer, I seem to be having a flare-up of my problem . . ."

Kurotsuchi-taichou had oozed backwards into the shadow. "I have never been accused of a death wish," he grated. "I therefore will not be 'tackling' Unohana-taichou."

"Could we distract her?" Kaien said hopefully.

"Sure we can!" Ichimaru said. "We'll give her a nice medical emergency to deal with. I'm guessing that her professional instincts'll take over, right, Kurotsuchi-taichou? The moment she sees that blood flowing . . ."

Kaien twitched. "That wasn't the way she was talking about it, sir." He was also getting certain ideas about who Ichimaru might be about to 'volunteer' as the medical emergency, and he damn well wanted to head off any ideas on that point before they could even be suggested. There was something about the way that Ichimaru looked at people which suggested he was working out how many points in the back he could stab them in simultaneously.

The conversation was interrupted by a knock on the bar door. It was a dainty knock, almost by definition a feminine knock, rather than the sort of masculine knock which normally slammed the door open and left it whimpering for mercy.

Everyone turned to look at the door. Kaien had locked and bolted it firmly after returning from his scouting mission. It showed no sign of bursting open.

Another knock.

"You answer," Kyouraku-taichou semaphored at Ukitake-taichou.

"Why me?" Ukitake-taichou semaphored back.

Ichimaru rolled his eyes -- well, admittedly Kaien couldn't see the eyes, due to Ichimaru having his customary expression, but there was a general impression of exasperation -- and took a breath. "Hello?" he called. "Who's there?"

"Gin honey!" It was the full, rich, alcohol-soaked tones of Matsumoto Rangiku. "I've been looking for you!"

"Have ya," Ichimaru said flatly. "Don't suppose it can wait till tomorrow?"

"But Gin!" There was the sound of someone plastering herself against the other side of the door, a full-on bosom attack. "I want you! I've been looking for you all over Seireitai!"

"Sounds like the drug ain't working too well," Ichimaru whispered smugly to Kurotsuchi-taichou.

"There's nobody else I'd rather rip apart!" Rangiku concluded.

"We did have this minor problem with fixation and directed carnage," Kurotsuchi-taichou muttered, shrugging.

Ichimaru twitched. "I'll be out in just a moment!" he called chirpily. "Just gotta have a word with all my friends in here --"

"Oooh!" Rangiku squealed. "You've got friends in there! I've got lots of friends out here! We'd love to meet your friends!"

Ichimaru apparently became conscious of the stares boring into him from the other people in the room. He shrugged elaborately. "Sorry," he whispered unconvincingly. "You can't go expecting complex devious stuff from me, ya know?"

"Let us escape through the window!" Kurotsuchi-taichou grated. "We can throw a minion to them to keep them busy if needed . . ." He caught Ukitake-taichou's eye. "Or then again, we may have greater safety in numbers," he added hastily.

"To the window!" Kyouraku-taichou declared in a dramatic whisper, leaping up to the inner balcony and rushing across to the first floor window. With great caution he eased it open.

He reeled back in horror.

Kaien crawled up and peered out of the window, taking care to keep his head down.

A dozen smiling female faces looked up at him. Their faces were white in the lamplight, and their eyes glittered darkly. There was Unohana-taichou, and there was Nanao, and Isane, and there was Miyako, blowing him the sweetest little demure kiss as she showed her teeth --

Kaien scrambled back frantically. "This is like my worst nightmare," he informed the room, "except that I'm not naked and tied to the bed."

"Really?" Ichimaru said. "Don't you ever get the one where it's all kinda bright lights on you and they're telling you that they've found out about it and all is known and --"

Ukitake-taichou coughed: not a consumptive cough, nor even an apologetic cough, but a cough that suggested everyone get to the point and stop babbling. "We could hide in the cellar," he suggested.

"They'd break in," Kyouraku-taichou said gloomily. "Rangiku-chan knows exactly where it is."

"I have it!" Kurotsuchi-taichou husked. "They have tracked us here by our reiatsu. If we muffle it and suppress it, then we can escape while they are confused! Then we can strike them down while they are unaware and --"

"And cure them," Ukitake-taichou said firmly.

"Well. Yes. Theoretically," the Lunatic Captain of the Lunatic Division of Lunatic Scientists (as Kaien generally thought of him) said. "At some point in the future. Possibly. After due study and research."

"Oh, Gin!" Rangiku crooned from outside. "Are you coming out? Or do I have to come in and get you?"

"We rush out towards her," Ichimaru said, "then we all lower our reiatsu and scatter while they're confused. Then we gang up on them from behind."

"You restore my faith in the new Captains," Kyouraku-taichou said approvingly. "On the count of three. Everyone ready? One, two --"

It had been, Kaien decided, a great mistake to move on "three". The speed that all the Captains had vanished at meant that he was left behind. He should probably have moved on the "two".

However, he had managed to avoid Rangiku's grasping arms, and was now hiding down a dark alley. This whole thing was hugely embarrassing. He wasn't supposed to be hiding in back alleys from the cute Shinigami Women's Association.

This was all someone's fault and it wasn't his. He was going to make this very plain to his wife as soon as they got her un-brainwashed.

Stealthily, as silently as a tiger on the prowl, as menacingly as a wolf in the night, as invisible as a single flake of snow, he crept forward to peer out at the street ahead of him. Nobody there. No trace of reiatsu. Good. Now if he kept on going --

A huge gush of reiatsu came bursting from directly behind him. He spun round and skidded on the ice underfood, landing flat on his ass. (Another point which he'd be leaving out of the eventual report.) Isane from Fourth Division stood there, her lips peeled back from her teeth in a blood-maddened frenzy, brandishing an axe above her head.

A thousand thoughts flashed through his head as he looked up at that gleaming edge, rotating like wheels and suddenly clicking into a jackpot at Ichimaru's suggestion. "Look!" he exclaimed, pointing off to his right. "A patient needing urgent attention!"

Isane lowered the axe and raised one hand to shield her eyes as she peered in that direction. "Where?" she asked.

He really regretted punching her in the stomach, but he would have regretted getting hit by that axe even more. Leaving her curled up and gasping in the snow, he ran in the direction that he thought the Captains had been going in.

He collided with Kuchiki Byakuya.

"What are you doing here?" Kuchiki asked. (It was hard to think of the man as a Captain when he'd known him since he was a brat with loose hair. Same problem as with Ichimaru. Some day he'd have to ask Ukitake-taichou if he ever had that problem with pretty much all the other Captains.) "And what precisely is going on?"

"The Shinigami Women's Association have gone mad and are hunting us down to kill us," Kaien reported factually.

Kuchiki blinked at him. He managed to blink in such a way that it not only conveyed incomprehension and disbelief, but it suggested that Kaien's sandals were untied. "Come now," he said. "What is this ridiculous story?"

"Can't you smell it on the air?" Kaien demanded.

Kuchiki sniffed. His nostrils flared. "No doubt a few of the juniors have drunk a little too much," he said. "Clearly they should not serve alcohol at their meetings. In fact, I believe the whole of the Gotei 13 should consider abstaining --"

Kaien could hear the shrieking on the wind. "Get out of here!" he urged. "They'll go for you next!"

"Bah." Kuchiki shrugged. "A superior man can surpass this. You may seek cover if you feel yourself incapable --"

Kaien was already running. He glanced back and saw Kuchiki Byakuya going down under the tide of women ripping at his clothing, and looking very surprised indeed.

He wasn't sure whether or not he was pleased to have avoided his wife by the time he stumbled over the Captains. Stumbled literally: they had stopped for drinks.

"You got a real efficient vice-captain there, Ukitake-taichou," Ichimaru commented. "He can track you anywhere."

"It was the steam," Kaien said through gritted teeth. "Ukitake-taichou, I know that Yamamoto-taichou likes his tea, but was this really the time --"

Ukitake-taichou coughed heart-rendingly, and Kaien had to spend the next few minutes apologising. He mentally vowed to get his revenge later. Somehow.

"Ahhhhh," Kurotsuchi-taichou hissed through his teeth. "Surely nothing is as stimulating as watching an experiment like this. Listening to the --" Again, he became conscious of people listening to him. "The informative and painfree comments of the experimental subjects," he muttered.

Kaien lost control. He grabbed the lapels of Kurotsuchi-taichou's robe and shook him by them. The Captain wobbled like a sack of jelly. "There must be a way to stop this!" he shouted in the man's face. "I just had to punch Isane! Isane, for heaven's sake! She's even sweeter and nicer than my wife is, and I had to hit her! You must be able to cure them somehow?"

Kurotsuchi-taichou looked over Kaien's shoulder and towards Ukitake-taichou. "If you want your vice-captain in one piece and with a functioning nervous system," he hissed, "you will instruct him to put me down at once."

Ukitake-taichou sipped his tea. "Of course I'll be glad to do that? After all, I am sure that you're going to give us information on the cure. Aren't you."

"You think I build cures into my battlefield drugs?" Kurotsuchi-taichou demanded. "Why on earth should I do a weak-minded thing like that?"

"Well, speaking purely from a newbie's point of view and all that," Ichimaru drawled, "I figure you need to dose Nemu with something to get her back to normal after experimenting on her, right? So there's no way you haven't tried this on her, hm? So what did ya give her?"

There was a long silence, broken only by the harsh rasping of Kurotsuchi-taichou's breath. Finally he said, "There was one substance which provided a slight ameliatory effort. I would have mentioned it earlier, but it hardly seemed worth bringing up . . ."

"Yes?" Kaien demanded.

"The alkaloid theobromine," Kurotsuchi-taichou muttered. "I had to force it down her throat. Of course, the only supply is in my laboratory, and it will take us a while to make our way across the Divisions to reach it --"

"Wait a moment," Kyouraku-taichou said, pushing himself upright from where he had been lounging in the snow. He left a pretty angel imprint behind. "Theobromine. I know I've heard that name somewhere. My lovely Nanao-chan was studying up on her chemistry. Isn't that one of the things you get in chocolate?"

Kurotsuchi-taichou looked as though he was about to faint at the idea that Kyouraku-taichou might know something relevant to science. "It is," he grudgingly admitted.

Kyouraku-taichou turned to Ukitake-taichou. "Hand them over," he said bluntly.

Ukitake-taichou glanced around in an unconvincing attempt at innocence. "Hand what over?" he asked.

"Excuse us one moment," Kyouraku-taichou said. "Don't go away." He seized Ukitake-taichou by the collar of his robe and dragged him round the corner of a nearby building, leaving Kaien standing there still holding Kurotsuchi-taichou's lapels.

Kurotsuchi-taichou coughed meaningfully. "Let me down," he snarled, "or suffer a bilateral orchidectomy without anaesthetic."

"Kyouraku-taichou's the one with all the flowers," Kaien said, confused.

Ichimaru strolled across, and whispered an explanation in Kaien's ear.

"Oh," Kaien said, and put Kurotsuchi-taichou down very quickly indeed.

Kyouraku-taichou strolled back round the corner, followed by Ukitake-taichou, who was smoothing down his robes and adjusting his hair. Kyouraku-taichou had several bags of chocolate in his hands. "Look what I found just lying in the snow," he said.

Ukitake-taichou sniffed.

"Oh." Kaien remembered something that he should really have reported earlier. "They caught Kuchiki-taichou, sir. I tried to warn him, but he didn't manage to escape in time."

Kyouraku-taichou extended a finger and caught a snowflake on it. "Well, this isn't a cherry blossom, so they can't have pushed him too far yet."

"This is valuable data!" Kurotsuchi-taichou said gleefully. "Tell me, what did you see them doing to him when they caught him?"

"I'm not sure, sir," Kaien said. "I was too busy running in the opposite direction."

"I'm kinda curious, Kurotsuchi-taichou," Ichimaru said. "How exactly did you find out 'bout the non-homicidal effects of the drug, mm?"

"At first there was no sign of it at all," Kurotsuchi-taichou muttered, "but that was because I naturally ran the experiments in double-blind groups separated by age, gender, reiatsu factors, and other possible differences. Then one of my subordinates, that Akon fellow, wandered in while I was dosing Nemu. The results were immediate."

"Haven't seen him round for a while," Ukitake-taichou commented.

"He is projected to enter the ambulatory rehabilitation state in two point five weeks," Kurotsuchi-taichou said. "I will be glad to present him to you at that time. Crutches and all. In the meantime, I believe that some people were expressing an overly emotional desire to rehabilitate the experimental subjects?"

"Right," Kyouraku-taichou said. He tossed a bag of candy to each of them. "Select your target and persuade them to take it. Show a bit of ankle if necessary."

"Ankle?" Ukitake-taichou said, looking pained.

"Those of us who haven't been the top of the Shinigami Women's Association league tables for the last ten years may need to show a bit more," Kyouraku-taichou said briskly. "Now --"

"Excuse me, sir," Kaien said. He crossed his fingers behind his back. "Wouldn't it be better to try this on a single person first? To see if it actually works?"

"Barring the slur on my accuracy," Kurotsuchi-taichou muttered, "this shows a grasp of scientific methodology which I had not expected to find outside Twelfth Division. Are you interested in a transfer?"

"It's bad manners to try to poach my vice-captain right in front of me," Ukitake-taichou said mildly, thus sparing Kaien from his intended declaration of I'd rather be eaten alive by cockroaches. "I'm afraid Shiba-kun is staying in Thirteenth. But this sounds like a very sensible idea. Have you anyone in mind, Shiba-kun?"

"Yes, sir," Kaien said. "After all, if Kurotsuchi Nemu is involved, I don't see why we can't test it on her --"

"Wait!" Kurotsuchi-taichou hissed. "Firstly, she is not involved, and anything suggesting that she is involved is no more than circumstantial evidence. Secondly, she was instructed not to partake. Thirdly, she was never there in the first place, and is in fact at home. Practicing her vivisection. Like a good girl."

"Riiiiight," Ichimaru said.

"The basic idea is sound, however," Kurotsuchi-taichou said. "Perhaps we should consider testing someone more expendable, such as the Matsumoto woman --"

"Any sort of testing happening on Matsumoto is about as likely as ya walking into a flamethrower down a dark alley sometime," Ichimaru said, with his most homicidal smile yet. "Theoretically speaking. Naah, what we need is someone who isn't into sex or violence at all, like that Ise girl --"

"Both inaccurate and unlikely," Kyouraku-taichou said, in an amiable way that suggested sudden and extreme violence was waiting round the corner with a loaded bludgeon. "I would actually suggest that we try it on the most powerful person present. That would be Retsu-chan."

"Kyouraku, are you out of your mind?" Ukitake-taichou enquired.

"No, no. Think about it. After all, if we get close to them and try it on someone and it doesn't work, then Retsu-chan is going to have our guts for garters anyhow. Not to mention other possible body parts of choice."

Ukitake-taichou considered it. "I don't think this is a very good idea," he said mournfully.

"I shall watch with interest," Kurotsuchi-taichou said.

"I've always wanted to see a real senior Captain at work," Ichimaru agreed.

"It'll be quite easy," Kyouraku-taichou said, adjusting his hat. Kaien remembered having heard Nanao say something about that to his wife when they were talking once -- now, what was it? Oh yes -- 'You can tell when Kyouraku-taichou's avoiding a question or trying to edge round a subject, he starts fiddling with his hat, and then he looks you right in the eye in the most honest and straightforward way imaginable, and then he says something --'

"Ukitake here will distract her," Kyouraku-taichou said, "and --"

"Excuse me one moment," Ukitake-taichou said. "I think you made a small but definite mistake."

"No, not at all," Kyouraku-taichou said with a determinedly winning smile. "While you distract her --"

"Why me?"

Kyouraku-taichou looked at the night sky. "Now which of the many, many reasons should I mention first?"

"Bah," Kurotsuchi-taichou said. "It's simple enough. You will excite her medical reflexes by coughing. While she is distracted, Kyouraku-taichou will force chocolate down her throat and deal with her amorous propensities. The rest of us will disable -- ah, will cure," he seemed to have difficulty with the word, "the other experimental subjects. Simplicity itself!"

Kaien had actually thought of the whole 'distract her by coughing' idea, but really, really hadn't wanted to be the one who suggested it to Ukitake-taichou. So he just nodded in keen agreement and tried to avoid Ukitake-taichou's deeply-hurt-but-aware-of-my-responsibilities gaze.

Ichimaru suddenly melted into the shadows. "I can hear them coming," he whispered.

Kyouraku-taichou leapt up to the rooftops, somehow managing to conceal his billowing silhouette behind a chimney stack. Kurotsuchi-taichou oozed down a side alley (and possibly down the drain). Kaien tried to slink into the shadows like Ichimaru, but he didn't have the natural talent that the other man did. He could feel all the captains forcing their reiatsu down and suppressing it, and he tried to do the same.

Ukitake stood there alone in the middle of the street, snow fluttering down to lie in sparkles on his hair and catch in the folds of his haori and robes. He looked dreadfully noble and, Kaien had to admit in a way that didn't impugn his absolute adoration for his wife, really rather heartbreakingly handsome and soulfully attractive. It was a good thing, Kaien reminded himself firmly, that he didn't have any thoughts like that about Ukitake-taichou.

The onrushing mob of female shinigami slowed in the face of that solitary nobility and cool courage.

Ukitake coughed.

Then they mobbed him with undignified squeals. For a moment a single white-sleeved hand reached above the heaving surface, a bag of chocolate clutched in it, then vanished again.

Without a moment's thought, desperate to save his Captain from a dreadful fate, Kaien threw himself into the scrum. He was promptly trampled underfoot, kicked several times, jumped up and down on by someone that sounded remarkably like Kuchiki-kun (it was the little squeaks that gave her away), and finally thrown out of the mob to land with a thud in the snow.

"Now, see," Ichimaru said, stepping out of the shadows to stand above him. "This is how you do it." He popped one of the chocolates into his mouth.

"I thought we were supposed to feed them to the women," Kaien said, trying to get his breath back.

"Watch and learn." With a flourish Ichimaru drew his zanpakutou, extending it to several yards long, and used it to hook Rangiku out of the squealing throng by her sash. He swung her across, clasped her against him, and delivered the chocolate via mouth-to-mouth.

Rangiku stiffened, then clamped onto Ichimaru like a vampire squid. (Ukitake-taichou had some weird critters in his personal lake.) Ichimaru toppled over, flailing for breath.

"One down," Kaien said cheerfully. "Thank you for the lesson, Ichimaru-taichou!" He looked for his wife in the flailing mob.

He didn't expect her to come looking for him. His beloved wife arrived in a cold gust of wind, homicidal mania glittering in her eyes. (Kuchiki Rukia also attached herself to his ankle with a maddened squeal, but that was less important.)

"My love!" Kaien said warmly, trying to ignore the sword point half an inch below his chin. "I've been looking for you."

She bared her teeth. The sword point dug into his flesh.

"I've got chocolates," he said, showing the bag in his hand.

In the background, Kyouraku-taichou had skimmed across the battlefield in a wide sweep of robes, tossing chocolates with uncanny aim into the open mouths of female shinigami snarling at him, and Kurotsuchi-taichou was using gas bombs. There was no sign of Unohana-taichou. Or Ukitake-taichou.

(Kuchiki Rukia had reached his knee.)

His wife's eyes flicked to the chocolates. Then back to his throat again. Chocolates. Throat. Chocolates. Throat. Chocolates. Throat.

(Kuchiki Rukia was ripping his hakama leg open, growling something about blood blood fresh blood.)

A blast of hot reiatsu came ripping out of the centre of the mob centred on where Ukitake-taichou had last been seen standing, somewhat like the eruption of a minor volcano, throwing black-clad bodies in all directions. Kyouraku-taichou took advantage of it to swoop down, grab his vice-captain, and hold her nose while forcing a chocolate down her throat.

Kaien himself seized the moment, batting aside his wife's blade with his hand and throwing himself on her, ignoring the ravening Kuchiki who was clutching his bare thigh. As they went sprawling in the snow together, he opened the bag of candy and simply tipped it into her open mouth, trusting in the shock of surprise to make sure that she swallowed one.

Her throat worked. She looked up at him.

Her eyes hazed over. With a ferocious growl and redoubled strength, she rolled the two of them over and forced him down in the snow, chest heaving as she looked down at him with a burning lust in her eyes.

"Mine," Kuchiki Rukia complained.

Kaien's wife reached down, pulled Kuchiki Rukia off Kaien's leg by the scruff of her neck, and threw her into the wall. Kuchiki Rukia hit with a thump and didn't try moving again.

Kaien's wife looked down at him. Vaguely in the background he was aware of Kyouraku-taichou fleeing with a chocolate-maddened horde of lustful female shinigami at his heels, of flashes of lightning coming from the new volcano crater in oddly specific rhythm, and of Kurotsuchi-taichou talking into a Hell butterfly and saying something about news blackouts, contamination screening, blocking off the area, and taking blood samples from everyone, but none of it mattered when compared to his wife sitting on top of him and giving him that look.

And who cared about a bit of snow at such a moment?

Kaien woke up to feel the prickle of Yamamoto-soutaichou's reiatsu scorching his senses. His wife was sprawled on top of him. As Kaien pulled himself upright, he could see bodies collapsed everywhere.

Yamamoto-soutaichou's mood could be gauged by the amount of snow that had melted in a wide radius around him. He pulled thoughtfully at his beard as he looked around.

Kaien tried to drag the remains of his clothing together enough to prevent charges for public exposure, and staggered to his feet. His wife's hand clamped round his ankle in a manner that suggested that even if she was still unconscious, she wasn't letting him get away.

Yamamoto-soutaichou raised a tufted white eyebrow.

"Huge Hollow attack, sir," Kaien invented wildly. "Heroically resisted by Shinigami Women's Association who'd come out to sing folk songs and paint pictures by moonlight."

Yamamoto-soutaichou raised the other eyebrow.

"Truly vicious Hollows," Kaien went on hopefully. "Great big nasty things. Fortunately I was out here with some of the Captains and --" He gestured round at the scene and hoped that would get him out of having to explain what had actually happened.

"And the Hollows are all defeated?" Yamamoto-soutaichou said, with great weariness.

"Well, um, clearly, sir! Because they're not here any more! All cleansed and gone!"

"Put up the riot shields here," Kurotsuchi-taichou said briskly, directing a mob of Twelfth Division researchers who had clearly been dragged out of their beds for the job, since they were wearing lab coats, night robes, and fluffy slippers. "Not to worry, Yamamoto-soutaichou, the radiation leak is totally under control and I think we'll have the dangerous eruption from the sewers plugged by the morning. I blame it all on Fourth Division, you know."

"Is something going on?" Ichimaru said, appearing out of nowhere and looking nonchalant. He clearly hadn't realised that his Captain's haori was on back to front. "Gee, can't a fellow get an innocent night's sleep in peace?"

Kyouraku-taichou passed overhead, face set in lines of grim determination, vice-captain pinned under one arm, a screaming mob of female shinigami still on his heels.

"Oh," Ukitake-taichou groaned, crawling out of the crater. He shoved tangled white hair back from his face and looked around. "Oh," he said with more clarity and a great deal more invention. "I see Kyouraku-taichou's still doing that sponsored hare-and-hounds run for charity with the Shinigami Women's Association. It's always nice to see him do something charitable --"

Something huge and vaguely manta-ray-shaped dragged him back down into the crater. He vanished with a despairing cry of, "Fly, you fools!"

It was at that moment that Yamamoto-soutaichou demonstrated the command and strategic genius which had made him the Captain Commander of the Gotei 13 and had kept him there for two thousand years.

"Give me a full report tomorrow," he said, and turned around and walked away.

Kaien sighed. He knew who was going to be writing the report for Thirteenth Division, and it wasn't going to be Ukitake-taichou.

Some days it just wasn't worth trying to make the world a better place.