[NB: Nemu does not know the pilots’ usual numbering. In her notes, Subject 1 is Duo; 2 is Quatre; 3 is Heero; 4 is Wufei; 5 is Trowa.]
“Well, you’re healing nicely, as usual,” Sally told Duo, re-wrapping the bandages around his torso. “You were ridiculously lucky--”
“Also as usual,” Duo grinned.
“--and the bullet didn’t hit anything important. The leg is going to take longer to heal thanks to the amount of muscle damage you took, it’s going to leave an impressive scar, and are you going to tell me what really happened?”
“Dogs,” he said solemnly. “Really, really big dogs.”
“That is not a dog bite.”
“Unless you can come up with a more plausible theory, it’s a dog bite.”
Sally glared at him. He smiled cheerfully back.
“Trust me, Sally,” he said eventually when she didn’t look away. “Just go with the dog bite story. For the sake of your own sanity.”
“I’m going to find out eventually,” she threatened, starting to pack up.
“Not in my lifetime!”
As she tucked the last unused roll of bandages into her bag and swept trimmed ends and used swabs into the bin, Heero leaned in the door. “All done? How is he?”
“Irritatingly uncommunicative,” she grumbled.
The Japanese pilot blinked. “Uncommunicative? Duo? Does he have a fever?”
Sally blinked back at him. “Maybe I should check you for a fever; you’re developing a sense of humour.”
“I don’t know whether to cheer him on or groan at his choice of joke,” Duo snickered.
“If my jokes are bad, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself. Everything I know about humour, I learned from you,” Heero pointed out, smirking.
“He’s got you there.”
“Kill me now,” Duo groaned, flopping back against his pillows with a carefully hidden wince. “He’s using bad jokes as an offensive weapon!”
“We’re Gundam pilots,” Heero said dryly. “Everything is a potential weapon.”
“Says the man with the laser glare. Now buzz off and entertain Sally with your wonderful line in jokes, I wanna nap.”
Laser glare. Ha, Heero thought a little later, walking out to escort Sally back to her clinic. It’s some sort of weapon all right, and I’m getting a lot of practice…
In the week since Duo had been injured -- and he still hadn’t told Heero what had happened, any more than he’d told Sally -- Heero had encountered at least two of the strange hostile shimmers a day. Nobody else reacted to them; none of the civilians on the street seemed to feel or see them; but as soon as he headed out of the safe house to reprovision, patrol, anything, they were there, lurking around corners or hovering half-way up a wall.
The other feeling kept recurring, too. As he reached the car he paused, looking up and sideways at the next building over. Up there on the roof, something was watching him.
For a moment, he thought he saw a dark shimmer of movement.
“--Heero? What’s the matter?” Sally’s voice was sharp with controlled alarm, and when he turned back towards her she had one hand in her bag, on the gun she always carried.
“Nothing,” he said flatly, opening the door. “I was just checking the area.”
Observational notes, day eight:
While the wards on subjects 1 and 2 are effective at camouflaging their reiatsu, it appears that prolonged residence in one spot allows faint traces to seep out into their immediate surroundings. This has attracted a larger than normal population of minor Hollows to the area; due to its high population density and the low socio-economic status of many residents, leading to a lack of concern should persons go missing, the local Hollow population was already substantial.
Subject 1 is still restricted to the shared dwelling by his injuries. Subjects 2 and 5 frequently patrol the local area together, actively tracking and confronting Hollows; subject 2 appears to be teaching subject 5 basic anti-Hollow techniques, using various small knives as their primary weapons. Subject 4 leaves the dwelling less frequently, possibly acting as subject 1’s main caretaker, and seems to be unable to clearly locate the resident Hollows; on the occasions when he encounters one at close range, he retreats or evades rather than confronting it.
Subject 3 is still the main focus of my observations. He continues to use a low-level reiatsu flare to drive Hollows away, and is developing its strength and focus with notable speed. He has yet to encounter a Hollow powerful enough to regard this as an inducement to attack rather than a reason to retreat; however, my readings indicate that at least two Hollows at this power level have recently arrived in the area. I shall continue to observe.
- Kurotsuchi Nemu, personal files.
Something’s following me.
On his way back from dropping Sally off at her clinic, Heero kept checking his mirrors and glancing up at the buildings he passed. He was driving through a bad neighbourhood, though it was better than where the pilots had established their current safe house. The buildings were getting dingier, old paint flaking off their facades, broken windows boarded over here and there, fewer people on the sidewalks… and something was watching him. Something hostile.
Some things, plural, he thought, turning down a side alley. His first instinct was to lead pursuit away from the other pilots; the second was to get away from witnesses, and he turned again, heading away from the safe house.
Dust puffed up in front of the car as something landed hard, a flickering shimmer like heat waves or Deathscythe’s visual cloak outlining a bulky shape. Heero stamped on the brake pedal, knuckles white on the steering wheel as he controlled a skid, and wrenched the car into reverse, only to have to brake again as another barely-visible thing thudded to the ground behind him, cracking the pavement under its weight. He could feel their attention on him, gloating, purposeful.
Something made him look back at the first barely-there shape. The shimmer moved, drawing upwards -- an arm? there was a blurred area at the end that might be a fist -- and Heero dove out of the car, rolling to his feet and backing away as he drew his gun. The maybe-fist slammed down between him and the car, and the two shimmers lurched slowly after him.
He lifted his gun to point at one of the indistinct forms, but didn’t fire. Too loud. Too many windows. Too many places for witnesses to come out of… and I might not need to… There was a faint tickle of unease at the back of his mind, and he hesitated for a moment. These things, whatever they were, felt worse than usual. Darker. Denser, perhaps. Stronger? Will it work?
Heero backed up further, heading for an alleyway between two buildings, breathing a little easier as he stepped into the narrow space. He had enough room to manoeuvre, but the shimmer-things would be cramped, only able to reach him one at a time -- and they might not follow him at all. He took a deep breath, narrowed his eyes, concentrated, and glared.
It was easier every time he did it, like clenching an unfamiliar set of muscles. He felt whatever it was happen, some part of him reaching out and pushing at the shimmers, warning them. Stop. Go away. This is not prey.
They paused, and for a moment he thought it had worked.
Nemu’s tracker beeped, updating the map with the latest location information for the several Hollows it was registering. A few of the weakest ones had vanished, slipping back into Hueco Mundo; probably the ones that had seen or sensed her presence, and been self-aware enough to realise their luck. She wasn’t hunting. She had, however, made a note to recommend extra patrols in the area in future. Whichever squad was assigned to this patrol, they weren’t doing the job properly.
The tracker beeped again, registering a flare of reiatsu, and Nemu blinked as she felt it herself. Fairly close, a little clumsy, using determination and willpower to make up for a lack of technique, very familiar-- and answered by a chilling howl.
There was a second howl as she flash-stepped across rooftops towards the fading reiatsu signature, and then the sound of gunshots. Subject 3 was backing down an alley away from two mid-level Hollows, firing precise, spaced shots, eyes narrowed in concentration. The bullets were having no effect; as Nemu arrived, Subject 3 changed magazines and continued to fire without breaking his rhythm. The sense of his reiatsu didn’t change, unwavering, showing no fear or panic even as one of the Hollows laughed in a gravely voice and clambered up the wall, jumping from crumbling bricks to a rusted fire escape to get above him; he merely continued backing up and changed targets, shell casings tinkling to the ground around his feet.
Nemu dropped from the building parapet, landing with both feet on the back of the grounded Hollow’s skull and driving its head into the pavement hard enough to crack its mask. It collapsed, keening in pain, and she leapt for the fire escape, swinging around the railing to kick the second Hollow in the side. She hit it harder than she’d intended to, snapping it across the alleyway hard enough to leave a crater in the wall where it hit, and followed through with a bare-handed strike that shattered its mask in midair. It dissipated, streaming away into nothingness before hitting the ground.
She made a mental note that she seemed to have developed an emotional investment in Subject 3’s well-being, leading to slight misjudgements during combat. It would have to be allowed for in future.
Nemu landed lightly on the stained pavement, turned to check Subject 3’s physical condition, and was confronted by a blue-eyed glare backed up with threatening reiatsu pressure and a snub-nosed automatic pointed unwaveringly at her forehead.
“Who are you?” he snapped, squinting as if he couldn’t properly focus. “What are you? And what was that?”
Considering the strength of the sealing kidou hiding her own reiatsu, it was surprising that he could see her at all. Nemu folded her hands in front of her waist in a non-threatening posture, and released the kidou; the subject blinked as she (presumably) came into full view, but didn’t relax.
“Kurotsuchi Nemu,” she said politely. “Vice-Captain of the Twelfth Squad of the Gotei Thirteen. I am a Shinigami. That was a Hollow.”
He blinked again, eyes widening for a moment, and she felt his reiatsu waver slightly -- in surprise, perhaps? -- before firming again. His mouth opened as if to speak, then snapped shut, and the gun jerked to one side and fired over her shoulder. Behind her, the first Hollow sagged back to the ground, mask cracking the rest of the way through and falling away.
It appears that he can focus his energy into a bullet to deliver an effective ranged strike, Nemu noted, hand twitching towards the tiny voice recorder tucked into her obi. An entirely new technique, developed during this fight. Fascinating.
The subject hesitated again, then tucked the gun away beneath his clothing. “I don’t know what that means,” he said bluntly. “What’s a Hollow? What ‘squads’ are you talking about? And what are you using ‘Shinigami’ to mean? I know it translates as ‘Death God’, but that’s…” he paused, eyeing her. “Perhaps unlikely.”
It was Nemu’s turn to hesitate. If she offered a data exchange, she could advance her personal research project immensely, but… “Disseminating information to ordinary mortals is a serious crime according to our laws,” she said regretfully. “Goodbye.”
“Wait!” He put out one hand to stop her, not quite making contact. “What do you mean, ‘ordinary’ mortals? What’s the definition?”
“Those who are unaware of the existence of Soul Society,” she told him. “Unaware of us.”
“Well, I’m aware now,” he pointed out. “So, technically…” He trailed off, one eyebrow lifting as he waited for her to continue the thought herself.
“…you do not precisely qualify as ‘ordinary’,” she agreed, smiling faintly when he snorted.
“I haven’t qualified as ordinary since I was about two,” he muttered, finally relaxing a little. “Heero Yui,” he added, nodding brusquely but politely. “Pleased to meet you, I guess… and thanks.”
“You’re late,” Wufei pointed out as Heero let himself in the front door.
“Ran into a delay on the way back,” the Japanese pilot muttered, seeming slightly distracted.
“Anything we need to be concerned about?”
Heero paused for a moment, looking thoughtful, then shook his head. “…No. No, I’ve got it under control, I think.”
Wufei’s eyebrows rose. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Bankai Wing 4
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