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Chapter Six: Origins:
The infection was fast flowing in his veins, already Aizen's skin was becoming clammy and sickly, almost grey with illness; his hair was dishevelled and his breathing raspy. They had been able to stop the bleeding from the bite wound on his shoulder, but he didn't have the same level of resilience to the virus as Grimmjow did. He was weakening with each passing minute, though he refused to show it too much, continuing to smile and laugh whenever someone cracked a half-hearted joke to ease the tension.
Aizen rested his back against the headrest as Ulquiorra drove one of the Jeeps away from the mall, things were a little cramped again considering they had two six seat vehicles but a total of thirteen people travelling with them, still, the brunet didn't really mind have Ichigo sat on his lap.
The strawberry haired male had been quiet since leaving the mall, his eyes almost constantly fixed on Aizen as he remained peacefully straddled over the man, quite comfortable and at ease. He could sense the Infection pumping through the man's system, slowly attacking his blood cells, his DNA and his vital organs. He had been able to sense the Infection inside of Grimmjow as well, though it was less pronounced than with Aizen, the bluenette had at least some natural immunity, even if it wasn't complete.
He was also under no illusions. He carried the Infection, the virus, himself, it had been fed into his system repeatedly by that man... The blue haired scientist.
Ichigo knew nothing about him yet, none of them did as Szayel had point blank refused to discuss his knowledge of the virus or the scientist until they had found somewhere safe to stay. The pink haired man had not even been persuaded in the face of a very angry Grimmjow leering down upon him.
So here they were, once again searching for the safest possible place that they could find to rest and eat after the exhausting battle which had taken place in the shopping centre. No one had yet questioned the sudden arrival of the Infected, they were weary and anxious to be in a safer environment before they even dared to utter the word 'Infected'.
Aizen and Ichigo shared a look, in which they smiled slightly to each other and the brunet was allowed to enjoy the flushed visage which Ichigo treated him too as his cheeks became dusted by a pale pink blush. He had indeed missed the orange haired male, and having him back (and seated snugly on his lap) was more than making up for his absence.
Sighing quietly, the strawberry leaned in closer and dropped his head onto the other man's good shoulder, slipping an arm around him as he closed his eyes and took momentary comfort in the presence of another person being so close after his imprisonment.
They both jumped as the car spluttered before the engine cut out and they looked around at Ulquiorra before realising they had arrived at their destination. The second Jeep was already there and the six people who had been in it were already exploring the small motel to see if it was suitable; the seven people in the Jeep made a quick exit and joined the exploration team.
It was an hour or so later when they gathered in the small cafeteria area, standing chairs and tables up so that they could sit together while Szayel finally explained to them what he had begun in the mall.
The normally boisterous pink haired man was quiet and morose, his eyes shadowed by his glasses and his expression unreadable by even Grimmjow, who knew him better than anyone else present.
Ichigo assisted Aizen in sitting down, as the man's strength was rapidly fading unlike his resolve, before he took to a seat himself between Aizen and Rukia; all eyes were fixed on Szayel who was pacing, the only clear indication that he was stressed.
Nudging his glasses up his nose, Szayel took a breath and swept his hair back off his face in an overly dramatic gesture, "Before the viral outbreak I joined a scientific deployment to Cardiff City, there were over three thousand scientists gathered from all over the world in a laboratory hidden deep underground. There were several different divisions within this laboratory, some of it was dedicated to the manufacture of combat weaponry like improved guns and grenades; some was dedicated to the creation of nuclear power; some was for finding better and purer fuels for our cars and homes to be run on... And there was one division which was dedicated for the sole purpose of viral weaponry and discovery.
"I was a member of the viral division, set with the task of identifying different strands of viruses like influenza and measles... I was lead to believe, as the other viral scientists were, that we were striving to create the ultimate cure of viral diseases. However, six months into the project I became privy to some private documents not to be seen by anyone but the head scientist. His name was Kurotsuchi Mayuri, he was a rouge scientist located by the government and given employment as a means of paying off his debt to society. He had formerly been imprisoned for performing experiments of the homeless of the country. I had met with the man on several occasions, he seemed deeply interested in several of my own theories and was impressed by my scientific knowledge, in fact he made me his second in command and I was given better equipment and all the gifts one could expect with such a position.
"These documents contained a formula which would create, not the miracle cure we had thought, but rather a deadly virus more powerful and potent than anything this planet had ever seen. I will say for certain, that once I discovered the nature of the science I had been set to work on, I abandoned my position and returned home to London where my brother and his partner lived. I moved in with them and eight months later... We were attacked by the Infected in a hospital waiting room and my brother sacrificed himself so that we could escape. So before anyone starts blaming me... Just know that I have lost just as much as the rest of you in this mess!"
"How do we know... You've told us everything?" Rukia asked, "If you've been hiding all of this for so long..."
"I guess you don't. I'm not going to ask for you to trust me because I have no right to do so. But I can only say that I have told you everything." The pink haired man responded as he looked at her.
"You put us all in danger by hiding this!" Renji exclaimed, "All that bullshit about you 'maybe' being able to make a cure and all along you knew the cause, effect and outcome! You know how to make the cure don't you?!"
"There is no cure!" Szayel snapped, "There was never one made! Don't you understand? The only possible reason the virus was created was for the purpose of completely annihilating the human race!"
"How are we supposed to believe you?! You've been lying to all of us all along! We should damn well throw you out to those monsters you created!" the redhead continued, "It's no more than a lying little bastard like you deserves! I bet you never even had a brother! You're just lying more to trick us into feeling sorry for you!"
"ENOUGH!" Grimmjow roared, standing so fast that his chair fell back and clattered, "HIS BROTHER WAS CALLED ILFORD GRANZ AND HE WAS A BETTER MAN THAN YOU WILL EVER BE ABARAI! HIS BROTHER DIED TO PROTECT SZAYEL... AND TO PROTECT ME! BECAUSE WHEN WE WERE TRAPPED ON A HOSPITAL ROOFTOP WITH NO HOPE OF ESCAPE HE CHOSE TO RUN BACK INTO THE HORDE OF MONSTERS COMING AT US SO THAT WE COULD HAVE CHANCE TO ESCAPE!"
Silence fell over the room as Grimmjow's azure eyes flicked to Szayel's golden ones, "Szayel got out of there when he realised things weren't right. None of you have any right to blame him. And if you really want to try you are going to have to go though me first." He told them boldly, "And if any of you try that you best be prepared for a world of pain to come your way!"
Szayel went a little red in the face as Grimmjow defended him so willingly and sighed inwardly as he recalled the days when they had all hung out at their apartment, Grimmjow; Ilford and himself. They spent their weekends watching old television series together and being generally quite nerdy. He remembered one Christmas Ilford had bought them all Star Trek uniforms so they could really get in the mood when watching the old original series. It had been one of the best Christmases he had ever had.
Aizen cleared his throat, "I for one, do not blame Szayel, true enough he should have told us the truth sooner but the blame cannot be laid at his feet for the actions of this... Kurotsuchi Mayuri."
"I agree entirely," Ichigo said, "Szayel's done nothing wrong. None of us are perfect so what right do we have to question him?"
"I too do not blame Granz." Byakuya stated, his eyes closed.
"Well I still hold him responsible for being a jackass..." Renji muttered, "But I'm not gonna throw him to the Infected..."
Szayel looked around the room as they slowly decided whether or not they blamed him for their predicament and was pleased when no one did, he cleared his throat, "If we find a suitable laboratory... With two patients who are suffering the effects of Infection, a sample of the virus and a patient who has had no ill effects from exposure I... I should be able to synthesise a cure. If we head to a laboratory tomorrow morning... I swear I will do everything in my power to make this cure happen."
Aizen smiled faintly, "Sounds like a good plan to me. Anyone disagree?" When no one answered the brunet nodded and coughed dryly, "Well then, if you... Will excuse me, I will be turning in for the night. I will leave Byakuya to sort out the order of night watch, and of course help yourselves to dinner."
Ichigo stood up with Aizen, ignoring the looks he got from several of the other people as he hook his arm under the brunet's and helped him from the cafeteria.
They walked quietly together until they reached the room that Aizen had chosen to stay in; Ichigo pushed the door open for him and finally released him from his grasp with a smile, "You gonna be alright?" he asked.
"I believe so," the brunet smiled, reaching out, and resting a hand on the other's shoulder, "I'm glad you're back."
"I'm glad to be back as well." He respond, "Good night, Aizen."
"Good night, Ichigo."
The strawberry turned away as the door shut and made his way back down the corridor, coming to an abrupt stop as he saw Rukia and Renji were waiting for him; he smiled at them both and headed over to his old friends.
"What's up?" He greeted, leaning against the wall as he stuffed his hands into his pocket.
"You've been back less than a day and you're already all over each other again... Why don't you just admit that you like him and get it over with?" Rukia smirked as she folded her arms and fixed him with a steely gaze.
He raised an eyebrow, "Excuse me? We are not all over each other... I simply helped him back to his room..."
"Don't give us that!" Renji scoffed, "We were both in the same Jeep as you, dumbass, you were very comfy sat there on his lap; snuggling."
"We were not snuggling!" Ichigo hissed, "So what if I was comfortable... Doesn't mean anything..."
"Suuuuuure..." Rukia grinned and slapped his arm, "We're in the middle of hell Ichigo! Any shred of happiness that any of us can have should be treasured!"
Ichigo raised an eyebrow, "And on that note," he turned to Renji, "You told Byakuya yet?"
"W-What?" the redhead spluttered, his face turning the same shade as his hair, "I don't know what you are talking about!"
"Yeah you do!" the strawberry grinned evilly, "Your itty bitty crush on Mr Kuchiki Byakuya hasn't disappeared since I left has it?" he cooed.
Rukia cackled slightly, "No it hasn't! He still practically swoons whenever they are on night patrol alone."
"Hey! No ganging up on me!" Renji pouted, "Geez you two never change!"
'Ichigo slung his arm around Renji's shoulder as the music blared from the stereo in the corner of the people packed room, the party had been going on for half an hour, the lights and the music were vibrant and loud but not insanely so. It was a party, but it had style.
"Awesome party your boyfriend throws Renji."
"B-Byakuya isn't my boyfriend!" the redhead hissed, "I wish you would stop calling him that too, he might hear you!"
"That, my friend, is the damned point! You're such a pussy you can't even tell the guy you like him, you've been his PA since you left university and that was four years ago! You can't expect the man to wait forever!" the strawberry yelled over the music.
"Oh be quiet! I don't see your date here either!" the redhead snorted.
Ichigo rolled his eyes, "That's because I don't have a crush on anyone, whereas you are wasting valuable time! You're the only person apart from Rukia who he even smiles at! You can see he melts a little bit whenever you're in the room... So come on...Just tell him how you feel and in a couple of hours someone might be getting l-a-i-d..."
"Ichigo! You are so childish!" Renji snapped, not really angry with his friend, "I'm not interested in getting laid... Just having him know how I feel would be enough... But, it isn't happening! I am very proud of my position as his personal assistant and I don't want to risk jeopardising it for anything!"
Ichigo sighed and patted his back, "I know, I know..."
The two men fell silent as Rukia came bounding down the huge staircase in a delicate lilac dress, followed slowly, and elegantly by the raven haired; stoic faced Kuchiki Byakuya himself.
Ichigo smirked slightly as he felt Renji go still beside him and guessed that his friend was partially mesmerised by the raven haired male's casual attire: a pair of tight fitting jeans and a cream shirt which was only buttoned to the middle of his breast bone.
Rukia skipped over to them both and smiled at them, clapping her hands together, "I'm glad you both made it!"
"We wouldn't have missed it for the world!" Ichigo grinned back, "Happy birthday by the way."
"Happy birthday Rukia!" Renji agreed.
"Thanks boys." She smiled and accepted a kiss on the cheek from them both before she was handed two wrapped up presents, "Ooh you didn't have to!"
"We wanted to."
"Heh, thanks." She blushed and set Ichigo's down on the table before ripping open the one from Renji, grinning as she pulled out a stuffed white rabbit wearing dungarees.
"I know you love rabbits and I know you didn't have that one in your collection." Renji smiled and ran a hand through his long red hair.
"It's perfect Renji, thank you! I didn't have this one." She beamed and squeezed the toy close to her before she turned to Ichigo's gift and began unwrapping it.
The strawberry folded his arms and smiled as Rukia pulled out a pile of six box sets of her favourite television series and returned the hug he was given, watching as Byakuya made his way over to them with.
"Good evening, Kurosaki... Renji." The man greeted, his eyes lingering momentarily on the redhead before he rested a hand on his sister's shoulder, "Ah, it is a good thing we have more than one television in the house or else I would be forced to suffer at the hands of that series..." he sighed.
"You love it too really!" Rukia teased, "Thanks again for my presents! I'll go and put them somewhere safe!"
The three men watched as the small young woman bounced off again and shook their heads in unison. Rukia was the same age as both Renji and Ichigo, and when it mattered she showed it, but sometimes she could be incredibly young in her way of thinking. But it just made them love her more, as a sister at least.
"It was good of you both to come," Byakuya said suddenly, "Rukia was worried you wouldn't be able to make it."
"Ah we wouldn't let her down for anything." Ichigo responded straight away, "She's like family."
"Absolutely," Renji agreed, "The only family either of us really has."
"Well, I am comforted by the knowledge she has friends like yourselves, since our father's death she had been distant from me, possibly because I cannot provide the comfort she needs... So it is good that she can rely on you both." The steel grey eyed man sighed, closing his eyes for a moment.
"You do a great job." Renji blurted out, "You shouldn't doubt yourself."
Smiling extremely faintly, Byakuya opened his eyes and looked at the redhead, "I suppose you are correct, my thanks. If you will excuse me I must mingle with the other guests, lest they think I am giving you special treatment."
They watched as the man disappeared into the crowd and Ichigo looked at his friend slowly, "Seriously? 'You do a great job Byakuya, you shouldn't doubt yourself Byakuya'... Dear God Renji you need to work on your chatting up skills."
"Ugh, shut up you asshole." The redhead groaned and sank into a chair, grabbing a plate of sausage rolls and munching on them glumly.
Ichigo quirked an eyebrow and chuckled, patting his back and leaving him on his own to mourn over his food; the strawberry haired male sprinted up the staircase and grabbed Rukia's shoulders as they bumped into each other.
"Ah there you are, Shorty!" he grinned, "I was just looking for you. We need to set Renji up with your brother or he is going to eat himself into a sausage roll death."
Rukia, momentarily ready to kill him for calling her short, suddenly grinned wickedly, "I have been thinking the same thing! You wouldn't believe how different Brother has been since Renji started working as his personal assistant..."
"Excellent. So how do you propose that we get them hooked up?"
Rukia opened her mouth to reply when there was a sudden explosion of screaming from outside of the Kuchiki residence. The two looked around sharply as the music cut off downstairs and the lights when out, leaving them engulfed in darkness.
"What's going on?" Rukia whispered as more screams echoed from the streets.
"I don't know..." Ichigo replied, taking her hand and slowly leading her down the stairs, he dragged her into the lounge where the majority of the partygoers were, "Anyone know what the hell is going on?!"
"Shh!" a voice said from his side, Byakuya had appeared there without him realising, "Don't make a sound."
The elder sibling crept over to the other side of the room, remaining ducked down as he slowly nudged the thick velvet curtains open so he could see out onto the driveway.
At the exact same moment the front door was shattered under a great force and without warning a tidal wave of people stormed into the house, blood dripping from their mouths; their eyes golden and hungry. They set upon the party guests like animals, ravaging them and feasting without repentance.
Screams filled the mansion as death rolled through the crowd, followed by contamination and transformation. Ichigo grabbed Rukia and pulled her to the back of the room as the partygoers began to change and become like the very people who had burst into her house.
The strawberry nearly had a heart attack when a firm hand clasped his shoulder; but breathed a sigh of relief as he saw it belonged to an unharmed Renji.
"We have to get out of here." Ichigo said, searching the room for Byakuya before he was forced to move his friends out of the path of several maddened women who had seen them and chosen to run at them, mouths wide and gapping as they sought a fresh meal.
The three of them started running, ducking and diving through the crowd of crazed beings and towards the staircase. They were joined mid escape by Byakuya who grabbed the back of Ichigo's shirt and changed their course, forcing them into the kitchen. The man locked them in and pressed himself against the door to prevent it from being knocked in before he yanked his mobile from his pocket.
"What the hell is going on?!" Ichigo exclaimed as he checked out of the kitchen windows and ran his hands through his hair.
"I-I don't know..." Rukia stuttered, biting her thumb nail in anxiety.
"Quiet," Byakuya hissed as he held his phone to his ear, "Rikichi? Yes it's Byakuya, the virus has been released in the city, I require the helicopter to be brought to the mansion so that Rukia; myself and some of her friends can escape."
Ichigo turned and stared at the raven haired man as he finished his call, "Virus? You... You know what's happening?"
"Of course. Three weeks ago I received a phone call dictating that the virus my father had helped fund would be released on the city in revenge for him having pulled his funds out of the research before his death. And it has now happened." The man responded stoically.
"Father was involved?" Rukia asked.
"Yes," he nodded, "As you know, the company sponsors some small businesses and a month before his death our father sponsored a science business interested in vaccinations and viral cures. So they said. Father was less than impressed with their attitude and eventually withdrew his funding."
"What is this virus?" Renji asked, "Those people out there... They were acting like animals... Like something out of a horror movie!"
"I have no idea what the virus is... But what it does..." Byakuya closed his eyes, "High infectious with no cure and no way of coming back from it, once infect the virus destroys life and reanimates the body with hunger and desire."
"Fuck..." Ichigo breathed, "You mean they are like fucking zombies don't you?"
"Shit!" the strawberry slammed his hands on the island table in the middle of the kitchen, "What do we do?"
"We run as fast as we can and prepare to protect ourselves." Byakuya answered quietly, "Rikichi is the only other person in the company who knew about the virus because my father took him on a walk around of the laboratory he was funding. The boy has been on high alert since I received the warning phone call; he will be here in the helicopter shortly. We should get to the roof."
The four of them lingered for a moment before they watched Byakuya snap a control panel from under the island table open, tapping a few numbers with his long fingers there was a gentle whirring sound and the cherry wood counter clicked and broke in half, separating to reveal an assortment of guns hidden in the counter.
"Bloody hell..." Ichigo breathed before he snuck a hand in and stole two sawn off shot guns and a heap of ammunition which he slung diagonally over his torso before he also pinched a handgun and slotted it into the belt of his jeans.
It only took a few moments for the other three to empty the counter of the weaponry they wanted before they shared a long look and headed for the kitchen door.
Ichigo rested an ear against the wood and closed his eyes, listening carefully and tensing as he heard a low growl. With only two inches of pine wood separating him from a grisly fate the orange haired male pulled the handgun from his side again and made sure it was loaded before he turned the safety off and rested his fingers on the key which was still in the lock.
The sound of helicopter blades spurred him on as he turned the key and yanked the door open, lifting the gun and shooting the formerly pretty blonde woman on the other side between the eyes before he set off down the hallway, the others following him closely.
Gunfire echoed through the mansion, stirring those who remained in the rooms and drawing them to the group of four. Ichigo, Byakuya, Rukia, and Renji fought their way towards the staircase and headed up it. Byakuya and Ichigo shot at anything in their path while Rukia and Renji covered the rear and shot anything they had missed.
They reached the next floor and Byakuya lead the way down towards the hatch to the attic; the raven haired male jumped up, grabbing the end of the ladder and yanking it down before he ushered Ichigo and the other two up. He followed and pulled the ladder up after himself, slamming the hatch shut again before he lead them to the escape hatch which would lead them out onto the roof where they could take the helicopter.
Rukia cried out as she snagged her leg on a sharp piece of wood which cut into her skin as the four of them scrambled out and looked around, seeing the black helicopter above them which was slowly descending, they were also able to glimpse the devastation on the streets below. There was blood and fire, crashed cars and dropped possessions.
"This is... Hell on Earth..." Rukia whispered.
"I can't believe this is real... Any moment I think I'll wake up." Ichigo agreed and watched as Renji lifted the small woman up as her leg failed to fully support her weight, before he looked around as the helicopter landed and Byakuya climbed aboard, "Come on... We should go."
They were about to take off when the roof hatch opened again and several of the 'zombies' from inside the building scrambled up out of it; simultaneously pulling their pilot from the cockpit. Swearing loudly, Byakuya lunged through the helicopter and yanked the controls, forcing them up into the air as he scrambled into the chair Rikichi had just been pulled from.
Ichigo's eyes widened and without any thought for his own safety he grabbed the safety cable and jumped down out of the flying machine, shooting the monsters with deadly accuracy and running towards the young man who had piloted their getaway.
"Take my hand!" he yelled, reaching out to the young man.
He spluttered, "Yes you can! Just reach up and take my hand!"
The young man stood up slowly and looked at him, "You don't understand..." he turned his face and showed him the deep bite mark in his face, "It's too late..."
Ichigo's mouth fell open and he felt his breath hitch, "I... I'm sorry..."
"Don't me... Just... Look after Mr Kuchiki... He was a good boss..." the kid replied with a smile which wavered as blood began pouring from between his lips.
Ichigo faltered slightly and closed his eyes as he was lifted off the roof, still dangling by the cable; he lifted his handgun and fired a single bullet, landing the blow in the centre of the boy's forehead and ending him in an instant, "Pull me up!" he yelled as more of the monsters poured out of the roof like a cloud.
They flew through the night, unsure if it was safe to go anywhere and knowing that there wasn't enough petrol to get them far enough away from the city as to ensure them safety.
As dawn broke the total massacre of the streets and houses was revealed by the scarlet morning light which shone between buildings and reflected off the fresh wet blood which splattered the ground and the walls.
Ichigo leaned against the wall as he replayed Rikichi's end, telling himself that he could have saved him if he had been faster, stronger. That was when he saw a brunet haired man being chased down the corridor of a large pharmaceutical company through the floor to ceiling window.
His eyes sharpened and he grabbed his guns, "Byakuya! Go to the roof of that building!" he yelled before he grabbed the safety cable once again, making sure he was strapped up properly before he took a run and jump, aiming his guns towards the window. If he could help it, he wasn't letting anyone else die!'
Ichigo opened his eyes slowly from a restless sleep and tilted his head as he shuffled in the musty armchair he had taken refuge in. He sat forwards and reached out, resting a hand on Aizen's forehead as he checked his temperature. He sighed softly and ran his fingers through his hair, 'Just hold on Aizen... Grimmjow... We're gonna save you for sure.'