[personal profile] clearandstrong
Title: Pandemonium
Author: [livejournal.com profile] clearandstrong
Fandom: Bleach
Rating: Pg-13
Warning: None
Word Count: 15,025
Summary:When something starts tormenting the city of Paris, some of Gotei’s best operatives move into town to solve the case. However, nothing is as simple as it seems and they will have to work together to discover what is hiding among the rubble of the once prominent city. That is if they can stop arguing with each other long enough to solve the case.

They were hunting. To be more precise, Momo was hunting and they were following her through the streets like a pack of well meaning tourists. Toushirou nodded to the police officer who was watching the corner. He relaxed a bit when he got the nod in return. Last thing they needed was for the man to start following them out of suspicion. Paris was notorious for watching tourists like hawks. There weren’t many of them these days and the more they were able to look like they belonged there the better it would be for them. He could nod a few times to keep them under suspicion of the locals.

Momo weaved through the streets and he glanced over at Shunsui. They needed to work on her focus. She kept tripping on curbs or attempting to run into things because she wasn’t paying attention to what was going on. He reached over, grasped her shoulder in one hand and pulled her to his side. The cart shifted past them and he sighed when Momo never took her eyes off the road. She brought new meaning to the phrase ‘tunnel vision’. He caught Nanao’s glance while shifting Momo around a hole in the asphalt. If her foot landed in that, she was going to twist it and hell if he was carrying her back to the hotel and she would demand to be carried if she injured herself. She was difficult.

“At least it isn’t raining,” Shunsui chimed in from behind them, hands burrowed in his pockets. “She tends to fall down when it rains."

"I am focusing, not deaf.” Momo paused long enough to shoot Shunsui a glare. “And it was once.”


“There were trolls the second time and we were covered in muck.”

"You still need to learn to dodge better," Toushirou said tugging her around a pole. "How do you do this when you’re alone?"

"At night," Momo admitted, glancing at the crowd for a moment. "Less people." Less things for her to run into when it was dark, well there were less people to see her deal with the things she ran into when it was dark.

He stared at her. “Momo..."

“Are you picking up anything?” Nanao took over for Toushirou, grasping Momo’s arm to shift her around the incoming crowd. They needed her to focus, not fight with Toushirou. She shot him a look over Momo’s head. She had a hard enough time focusing on the things around her; if she argued instead of focusing she would lose her concentration.

If she lost her concentration she could lose the trail and if they had to start this day over where they had begun she would strangle both of them.

Momo huffed at the man who almost ran into her and glanced back at Nanao. “It’s faint, but… there is something strange about this trail.” Momo cocked her head. “It is to weak for me to really latch onto though. I keep losing it.” She paused. “Or it is fading in and out like a ghost would.”

“What does it feel like? Besides a ghost-like.”

"Like I stepped in a pile of dog poo with bare feet,” she said. She hadn’t really ever felt something that disgusting before. “I want to throw up.” Toushirou took a pointed step away from her and she shot him a glare. “I wouldn’t throw up on you.” Well she might, but not intentionally.

Nanao sighed. If Momo started throwing up then Toushirou would probably join her. Never let it be said that the man had a strong stomach. “Is it getting stronger or weaker?”

“Stronger,” she paused and closed her eyes, fingers twitching at her side. “More to the right,” she turned and opened her eyes. “Except I am not sure we can go through a building.” She blinked at the building. It was old, old and worn down and had a large sign that, if her French was correct, advertising empty apartments. Did people actually live in buildings like that?

She would not pay rent for a building like that.

“There is probably a back door,” Toushirou said grasping her arm again and pulling her along.

“It could have targeted something in the complex,” Shunsui agreed. The building itself had little to no vegetation growing around it and the windows were barred. He blinked at them a bit. Whether that was to keep the tenants in rather than anything out, he couldn’t say. The back door however, was easy enough to find. “It isn’t locked,” he motioned them into the hallway. "Such a trusting town we are visiting."

“Someone should charge a little more rent and fix the place up,” Momo said glancing up at the ceiling. “That is just ick.” She ran her fingers along the wall and scowled at the scum that came off. She rubbed her fingers over her thigh to clean them. Oh that was double ick. She squinted at the floor. Was that the lighting or was the floor moving on its own? She was going to blame the lighting. Floors didn’t really shift that way naturally.

“It is probably all they can afford,” Nanao pointed out. “We aren’t exactly in the high class section of town.” She brushed at the sleeve of her shirt and sighed. “Although, they could try a little harder.”

“I don’t think that people are going to steal anything from any of the residents here.” Shunsui pointed out. “They probably barricade their doors with spikes and other nefarious weapons of choice.”

Toushirou glanced at the rug at his feet and inched back towards the center of the room. "The health department might need a tip or two about this building." Why did Momo insist on walking through the most disgusting places?

"It's old," Momo agreed. She paused, glancing behind them for a moment before moving down the hallway. Old, creepy, and smelly was what this place was. She wrinkled her nose. She would have to find a laundry mat and wash her shoes when they were done rummaging through this building. Unless the hotel washed shoes.

“You are sure it came through here?” Shunsui tipped his hat in her direction.

Momo nodded. “Yes." She made a vague motion with her hand. "I can almost taste the stench." It was thick and coating the back of her throat. There was enough emotion here to make her dizzy, but the… the thing cut through it all. Which was the only reason she was still able to track it.

Nanao waved her hand in front of her face. “You’re sure it’s not the building?”

“Yes,” Momo shrugged. “The building smells much better.” She rolled her neck. "I claim dibbs on the first shower when we get back to the hotel."

"That bad?" Nanao said.

Momo hesitated. "You’re not picking anything up?"

Nanao shook her head. "Nothing."

Momo nodded, chewing on her bottom lip. This place was old; old enough that a well trained psychic like Nanao should get something out of it. People walked past this day after day, leaving a bit of themselves, leaving a visible residue. She could sense each bit of those memories, shifting past her like little ghosts on the walls and if she closed her eyes and focused she could almost reach out and touch them, grasp onto them, and follow them wherever they would take her. She wasn't looking for those memories. She glanced at the dark blob, slowing moving down the hallway and moved after it. "This way."

She was after whatever it was that was hunting those blobs.

She opened the door at the end of the hall and glanced up. Of course there was a giant staircase in front of them, blocking the way. "Staircase," she motioned upwards. Why were their always staircases?

Toushirou started up the stairs. "How far up are they?" It figured that whatever they were after would be on the top floor or the roof. This building wasn’t that tall. At most there were five or six floors. He brushed his fingers along the brace hidden under the sleeve of his shirt. The hallways had been dark, but the small lights that gave you the steps were… creepy. He shifted the bag off his shoulders and onto his back and glanced at the floor. It was dark enough that they wouldn’t be able to see anything, blood or otherwise until they were on top of it.

"Not sure," Momo said. She hesitated on one of the stairs, staring at them. "Why do they always squeak?"

"Because older buildings have less technology hanging around them." Shunsui stared at the stairs for a moment, planting his foot carefully. "They also have character," he winced when the stair creaked under his weight. “Stairs are preferable in this case. All things considered I certainly wouldn’t want to hop on an elevator in this building.”

"You mean their noisy." Momo muttered, moving past him again. She eased along the edges, testing the weight. If the stair was going to crumble, she was light enough to catch or that was her theory.

"They have character."

"You tend to get where you want to go, when you walk." Toushirou pointed out. "Perhaps we should continue upwards?" He stared at Shunsui.

"It would presumably assist us in finding what were looking for,” Nanao said. She motioned at Momo who was three steps above the rest of them. “We shouldn’t let her get to far ahead of us.” If whatever Momo was after headed back in their direction, Momo might not be paying enough attention to her surroundings to notice until it was right in front of her.

Ducking might not be an option then. That was the problem with having Momo lead. She walked into things that a pre-cog or someone like Toushirou or Shunsui would do their best to avoid. She reached up and brushed her bangs out of her face, eyes narrowing. The building was to clean. Like something had sucked everything out of it that belonged, everything that she could have read to help her understand what was going on here or what was going to happen.

It wasn’t often that she actively looked for something and she found nothing.

"Assume it’s the top and keep on walking?" Shunsui interjected, tipping his hat so he could glance up at them.

"Probably," Momo agreed.

He sighed. "There always at the top."

“It’s the most easily defendable position,” Nanao reminded him. “You can see everything coming at you.” Creepy things always wanted to see everything around them and not just because they wanted to defend something. There were hunters too.

“And everything can see you going down,” Toushirou paused below Momo when she hesitated. “Momo?”

Momo stared at the wall in front of her brows furrowing. She swallowed, hand moving to cover her mouth for a moment before she motioned at the door. “It is getting stronger,” she took a deep breathe through her nose. “Let’s try this floor.”

“Are you all right?” Nanao glanced below them, fingers settling on the gun she kept beneath her jacket. Momo had nightmares about whatever it was she felt and saw on these trips, but it normally didn’t physically manifest.

She wasn’t getting anything.

Shunsui glanced upwards. "Third floor?"

Momo scowled down at him. “Better than the top floor, yes?” She glanced up the stairwell.

“Unless you want to walk to the top of the building,” she tossed her thumb over her shoulder. “If you do, please go right ahead.”

Shunsui sighed. “We need to find you a man sweet-heart; all that aggression cannot be healthy.”

Momo hissed at him, before moving to open the door. Nanao moved in behind her and Toushirou glanced at him, fingers easing over his brace again. “Should you be baiting her right now?”

Shunsui glanced at him mildly. “Should you be speaking to me instead of her?"

Toushirou snorted and moved into the hallway after the girls. This hallway had marginally better lighting than the previous one they had been in, which was somewhat relieving. Light meant that they could see something approaching. Momo stumbled a bit and Nanao leaned close. He couldn’t hear what she said, but Momo shook her firmly. “Everything all right?”

“It is just…” Momo waved her hand.

“It stinks,” Nanao said. “But I can’t see anything.” She glanced at Shunsui. “Are you picking something up?”

Shunsui looked at the hallway, hat tipping to cover his eyes. “I don’t smell anything,” he murmured. “But Momo is more sensitive to these sorts of things. Can you continue?”

“Yes,” Momo pushed off the wall. “I will just need some air in a bit.”
“That can be done. Toushirou, can you take the lead? Momo you direct him, Nanao please take the back. If something doesn’t look right, hit it first and ask questions second.” He moved into position behind Momo. “Stay close, arms length at most from each other.”

Momo nodded, letting Toushirou move into the lead. “You’re not getting anything?”

“No.” Shunsui said.

Nanao eased her gun out of her holster, eyes narrowed. It was quiet in the hallway. Much to quiet, she paused in front of one of the hallway doors and she narrowed her eyes. Nothing. She tried the door handle and relaxed a little to find it locked. If the doors were locked, then whoever lived within the rooms was most likely alive.

She eased forward a few more steps to fall back into place behind Shunsui. There were lights under the door at the end of the hallway, but those were the only lights on within the rooms themselves that she could see. She glanced behind them, eyes narrowing. There was something off here, but she couldn’t quite place exactly what it was.

Momo hesitated at the front of the group. “There is…”

Shunsui lurched forward, arm out as if it catch her and Momo dropped, her whole body convulsing. She twisted, and Shunsui dropped on top of her, arms pinning her to the floor. Her legs jerked under him. “Find it,” he snapped, muscles straining to hold Momo to the floor. “Quickly.”

Nanao motioned Toushirou forward and brought her gun up, sighting along it as she peered down the hallway. “There.” There was something down there, although she couldn’t quite make it out. The chair at the end of the hallway picked itself up and flew toward a shadow moving along the edge of the corridor. There was a deep hiss and Nanao shifted her gun toward the sound.

Momo screamed and the thing appeared for a moment, barely flickering against the shadows. Toushirou's needles flashed through the air and it made a strange noise between a hiss and a howl. Nanao took a few steps toward it, Toushirou on her heels, but it disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.

Momo’s scream cut off abruptly and Nanao risked a glance behind her. Momo was absolutely still and Shunsui had pushed to his knees beside her, hat knocked askew on his head. “Shunsui?” She half-lowered the gun even as she glanced back down the hallway.

“Check on Momo.” Shunsui pushed to his feet, gun appearing in his hand. “Toushirou, head down the hallway, make sure it doesn’t double back.” He absently shoved his hat back into place and sidled past Nanao, following Toushirou down the hallway.

Nanao dropped to her knees, fingers settling against Momo's throat. She was breathing hard and her pulse was rapid, but she didn’t seem to be to in any danger at the moment. Nanao fingered her gun, easing into a defensive stance. There was nothing here, very little light, no sound, nothing for her to use to locate whatever it was that had attacked Momo.

Toushirou circled back first, easing down beside Momo with a soft, short sigh. His fingers slipped under her jaw to her pulse point and he glanced at Nanao. “What happened?”

“Seizures,” Shunsui appeared out of the dark as he holstered his weapon. “We won’t know exactly what happened until she can talk.”

“Seizures?” Nanao took her cue from Shunsui and settled her gun back into her holster. “That hasn’t happened before.”

“No.” Toushirou agreed. “It hasn’t.” His hand moved from her jaw to her shoulder and he looked up at Shunsui with a furrowed brow.

“Can you take her back to the hotel?” Shunsui glanced at the door with the lights. “Whatever that thing was, it came from that end of the apartments. Nanao and I will check out the rooms on that end, but I do not want to leave her on the floor in this place.”

Toushirou adjusted the pack on his back. “I can take her back, easy enough to hail a cab.”

“I would say that she had a bit too much to drink.” Nanao sat back on her heels and glanced down the hallway. “Considering how many bars we passed, any passing police officer should find that rather believable.”

“I’ll take care of it.” He eased an arm under her shoulders and legs before lifting her with a grunt.

“We will meet you back at the hotel.” Shunsui tugged Nanao to her feet. “If she gets worse, call a doctor, tell him whatever you have to make it believable.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Toushirou repeated, his tone sharp. He headed for the stairs, moving slowly.

“She will be fine,” Shunsui squeezed Nanao’s shoulder. “Come on, let’s find whatever thing that was and get rid of it.”

Nanao nodded and moved to the end of the hallway. The door was locked. Nanao eased the lock pick into the door, gently wiggling them into place. Things were always locked when you needed to get into them.

“I never knew you were a lock smith, Nanao.”

She eased the twin to the pick already in the lock beside it and sighed. “I saw no reason to tell you.” She twisted the picks and eyed the door wearily when the lock clicked. All right, it was a dank, dirty, old building with horrible security. At least that made the locks easier to pick.
“Someone needs to request a refund on their down-payment.” She pushed to her feet and gently shoved the door open with her hand. “What do you think that thing was?”

“I am not sure.” He moved past her and into the room. “Something with a taste for blood,” he said, grimacing at the red-stained walls.

Nanao stared at the walls. “All right.” That was a lot of blood. She carefully stepped over the disembodied foot just… sitting in the middle of the floor and stared at the bodies. “The whole floor?”

Shunsui nodded, “probably.”

“The door was locked.” She stared at the foot; brows furrowed, and hunkered down next to it.

“Which means it can move through space somehow.” Shunsui rapped his knuckles against the wall and frowned at it. “Everything here seems solid. Are you picking anything up here?”

“Wrong person.” She eased the foot over with a pen and sighed. “It was eating them.” She glanced at the blood oozing from the one closest to her for a moment. “Recently.” The metallic smell of blood was overpowering. She covered her mouth with her hand for a moment before she spoke. “What is that thing?”

Shunsui tapped against the walls for a few more moments, frowning when nothing seemed out of place. “Most likely a demon.”

Nanao turned sharply, eyes narrowed at him. “Demons don’t exist.”

Shunsui glanced over his shoulder at her, eyebrow arching. “My dear, sweet, Nanao: demons certainly do exist.”

She pushed to her feet and backed away from the bodies, crossing her arms. “You’re sure about that?”

“How else would something move in and out of a locked room without using the door?” He dropped his hand to his side and moved away from the walls. “Doors are not the problem.” He glanced at the bodies. “Beings that move through solids are powerful. Whatever this is, we interrupted its feeding and it’s going to have to find more food, which means it will be on the hunt.”

Nanao covered her mouth again. That smell was awful. “We should leave before someone decides to investigate the noise Toushirou made by slamming that chair into the wall.” She motioned at the bodies. “We can leave an anonymous tip with the police later, let them deal with the bodies.”

“Yes,” Shunsui agreed. “Better to keep Gotei out of this one was long as we can.” He gave her a slight smile. “The police won’t take kindly to our intervention here.”

“Never do,” Nanao muttered, backing out of the room carefully. The last thing she needed to do was to step in all that blood. Bodies seemed to produce far more blood than what should have been possible, all things considered. “We need to check on Momo.”

“Toushirou probably has her back at the hotel by now.”

“I wasn’t worried about that. She is a trained agent, Shunsui. That thing, whatever it is, should not have been able to do that.” She wasn't calling it a demon yet; not without more proof than just Shunsui's word. “She should have been able to block it.” They were trained to prevent things from attacking them that way.

“Demons, my dear, are tricky things. We will work on her shielding once we know exactly what happened.” Shunsui gave her a half-shrug as he fell into step beside her. "And we have to wait for her to wake up before we will know that."

Nanao shut the door behind them, listening to the locks click back into place. She glanced at Shunsui and grunted softly in annoyance. “You could have done that earlier.”

He gently tweaked her nose. “And miss the image of you breaking and entering? Perish the thought.”

* * *

Toushirou ran his hand through his hair and stared at Nanao. “A demon?”

Nanao took a long sip of whatever it was Shunsui had gotten her from downstairs. It was hot and tasted reasonably like tea. “Apparently.”

“They exist?”

“According to Shunsui who apparently called Jyuushirou who agreed.” Nanao shrugged. She glanced at the door behind him. “How is Momo doing?”

Toushirou leaned back in his chair and shrugged. “She has been asleep since she collapsed. I figured that sleep was the best thing for her, so I haven’t tried to wake her.”

“Let her sleep as long as she can,” Shunsui walked through the adjourning door and dropped into the chair next to Nanao. “She took a beating this afternoon, although from what I can tell there shouldn’t be any permanent damage. Although, she will probably have nightmares knowing her.”

Nanao tapped her fingers against her cup. “Do you think it will come after her?”

“Probably, it won’t like that she can track it. Toushirou, you will have to either convince her to give you half the bed or take the couch. Nanao, you may have my bed and I will take the couch. Whatever it is, it will be back although, whether that is tonight or later is anyone’s guess. We upset it and it going to need to find dinner.”

Toushirou winced. “I would rather not end up as its next meal.”

“You had best duck fast them.”

* * *

Shunsui tipped his hat at the sun and frowned at the shadows. They had been searching for the shadow demon for three hours or so and had yet to come up with anything concrete. Whatever it was, it had successfully gone to ground. He would have liked to talk to Momo before heading out this morning, but besides a brief stint to the bathroom and Nanao forcing her to drink some broth, she hadn't been awake long enough for him to do much more than confirm that she had a killer headache and felt sick. Nanao had insisted that they let her sleep and he didn't necessarily disagree with her decision. Getting a coherent statement out of her would be difficult while she was nursing a migraine.

Of course, having Toushirou sitting besides the bed and glowering at anything that moved had been amusing as well.

"Are you getting anything?" Nanao questioned, moving up behind him.

"Not at the moment," Shunsui tugged his hat back into position and glanced down at her. "Are you?"

Nanao frowned. "Nothing."

That was unpleasant news. Either she was being blocked or there was nothing for her to predict. Demons, Jyuushirou had been rather explicit in the information that he had sent over, were hard to predict. There were very few cases on record in Gotei dealing with anything that resembled demons. There was enough information for Jyuushirou to wearily explain that they needed more information, but from what they did have tended to lean towards was that pre-cogs had trouble sensing or seeing anything about the future in relation to them. He wasn't certain if it was because they were always fluctuating and therefore it was near impossible to see what they were going to do or if they resided outside of whatever realm pre-cogs tapped into in order to see the future.

He was hopeful that the being would make its decision quickly and give them something to work with before it went hunting again.

"Are you going to be mad at me forever, Nanao?" If they weren't being productive with their hunt then they could be productive elsewhere.

Nanao faltered, eyes wide. "What?"

Shunsui stopped glancing down at her. "Are you going to stay angry with me forever?" He repeated.

"Should I still be mad at you?" She wasn't certain if she was mad at him. He had deserved her anger although after having the time needed to think her way through everything, she better understood his position. They lived dangerous lives and while nothing was guaranteed she wasn't helpless and there had to be some sort of compromise. She needed to do what she did best without feeling smothered and over protected, he needed to protect. She didn't like it and she certainly did not agree with it, but she understood it.

Still, she wasn’t fully prepared to make it easy on him.

It wouldn't work between them if they couldn't find some sort of middle ground. She chewed on the inside of her cheek for a moment. Momo had asked her if she was ready to give up on him and she wasn't certain that she had a satisfactory answer to that either. Even with analytical side of her brain presenting her the pro's and the con's she couldn't quite decide how she felt about it now that her temper had cooled.

"You certainly were six months ago." He said.

She reached up to push her glasses back onto the bridge of her nose. "You didn't trust me." That was the heart of both of their problems: trust. He didn't trust her to watch his back and she didn't trust him to let her.

He walked beside her quietly. "I trust you Nanao."

"No you don't." She had had a long time to think about what exactly had gone wrong and she was not in the mood for half truths. She wasn't certain if she was prepared for this conversation now or not, but they were having it.

He stopped and she paused beside him.

"Why do you think that Nanao?"

"Because you don't," she stared at him. "You smothered me, Kyouraku." She wasn't going to loose her temper. It would defeat the purpose of the conversationl, but she was tempted. "You blocked my ability to do my job. What exactly about that said ‘I trust you’?"

"I was not keeping you from doing your job." He wasn't going to apologize for keeping her safe.

"You certainly were. I am not going to sit in the back of the car and tell you were to turn, I am going to drive." She jutted her chin out. "If you cannot accept that, then this won't work. You will smother me and I refuse to be tucked in the closet to keep me safe."

He blinked at her, hand straying to the brim of his hat. "What is wrong with keeping you safe?"

"I have been taking care of myself for along time Shunsui." She glanced up at him before turning her attention to the window beside her. She knew, on an intellectual level why he had reacted the way that he had, but she couldn't quite make herself see it as anything less than his refusal to let her do what she had trained to do.

She glanced at the people sitting around the radio and hesitated. "Something is going on," she interrupted Shunsui, moving into the small room. Paris had lost its TV's with the war and had never quite gotten the infrastructure back up in order. Only a small percentage of the worlds cities had gotten things back in order to where they had been before the war destroyed the worlds communication systems.

She glanced at Shunsui. There was only one way the police could have found those bodies. She nodded at the bar tender and glanced back at the radio. "Police are currently looking for a gang of people and recommend that you report any suspicious activity." The radio was clear and crisp and she smiled a little at that. It had been a long time since she had heard a clear radio. Even the apparatus that Gotei used wasn’t quite that clear. Still, they would be looking for strangers.

Shunsui might be able to fake the accent and blend in, but there was no way Toushirou or Momo would be able to do so.

"So what is good here?" Shunsui questioned, moving to the bar tender and eying the selection behind the bar. "My wife and I are visiting on the recommendation of a friend, but I have to admit I haven't found anything yet worth drinking."

Nanao kept an eye on the man out of the corner of her eye and felt the muscles in her neck relax when the lines in his shoulder settled. She turned her attention to the radio. Shunsui would keep the man's attention, make sure that 'any suspicious activity' headed in their direction would be on how the cute couple managed to deal with each other.

"Your wife huh?"

"Yes, married ten years." Shunsui winked at her. "Cute as the day I meet her to be honest," he motioned towards one of the old, expensive looking bottles. "Scotch on the rocks please."

"Ah, nice choice." The bar tender said before moving to pour his drink. “Good to the last drop this stuff is.”

"Glenmorangie is always a good choice," Shunsui agreed. "Although I am surprised to see it here," he sipped at it carefully. "And in such fine condition."

"You recognize it then," the bar tender offered him a slight smile. "My cousin imported it before the war took things apart. I have a case, we mostly keep it off the shelves but with the festivities coming we always pull a bottle out in remembrance of the good times."

Shunsui raised his glass. "And a fine gentleman your cousin is."

Nanao moved over. "Stop harassing the nice man, honey." She glanced over at the bar-tender. "I thought we were here to see the sights, not drink the scotch."

Shunsui glanced up at her. "Now sweetie, you know I can never turn down a good scotch."

She frowned at him. "I can blame your Uncle Mitch for that I imagine."

He tipped the glass in his direction. "You can certainly thank home for several things, my dear. My drinking is the least of them."

She stared at him, eyebrow arching. "So you say."

He tipped back the scotch and sighed, glancing over at the bar tender. "She holds the purse strings," he explained, tipping his hat back. "Be right glad to visit again."

"Our doors are open until midnight," the bar tender moved the glance out of his way. "Come by anytime."

Shunsui glanced down at Nanao when she tensed under the hand he settled on her shoulder. He shifted, draping his arm around her shoulders. "We will stop by," he promised. "Thank you for your kind service." A few bills on the table and he was ushering Nanao out of the bar.

"What did you see?" he tugged her down one of the side streets, mouth close to her ear.

"Hotel," she gasped, stumbling a bit. "He knows where Momo is."

* * *

Toushirou rubbed the towel through his hair and glanced at the bed. Momo was asleep again. His lips quirked up at the edges and he glanced at the door, dropping his towel onto the edge of the couch. He had negotiated the furniture into a more defensible position. The large armchair that had resided in the corner was settled against the main door to keep anything from just barging in and everything else had been maneuvered for maximum cover.

Being able to move things effortlessly around the room made for easy preparations. Shunsui and Nanao were right in their assumption that whatever it was, it would come back after Momo. Nothing liked being hunted successfully and Momo was a good hunter. A little addle brained sometimes, but she knew what she was doing.


Momo sat up suddenly and stared at him, eyes half awake. "Good morning," he told her, settling on the couch with the paper. "Sleep well?"

He watched her blink at him out of the corner of her eye and turned to stare at her when she finally caught on. The blush was cute.

"Yes," Momo said, tugging the blanket up to her shoulders. "You?" He had apparently been up for a while, since that was freshly washed hair poking out in various directions.

"I slept well," he folded the paper and settled it beside him. "If you are hungry, we can order from room service. Although if you eat I suggest something light."

She nodded. "I am not hungry." Not yet anyway, she made a slight face. She wouldn't be hungry another half hour or so. She stared at the floor before carefully easing the covers off. Maybe that was why he had abandoned the bed earlier, to much heat.

Mr. I Hate Sunshine and Heat.

She got her feet on the floor and carefully pushed to her feet. She still felt a little wobbly, although her headache was gone. The lack of headache was good. She needed to brush her teeth. She needed to wash her face and hair to.

She smelled like sweat and other things, which meant she needed a shower.

She made it past the bed before she faultered, feet tripping on themselves. She froze, somewhere between the floor and on her face and glanced up at Toushirou who had one eyebrow cocked in her direction. "All right"?

"Yes," she wasn't going to sound startled or if she did it was because she had fully been expecting to fall on her face. She glanced at the floor. She forgot, because he didn't use it often, that he could do that. The world tilted again and her weight settled onto the balls of her feet.

No pressure. No indication at all that he was exerting his rather different gift on her. She had the rather funny feeling that that was what a puppet felt like. Not that she would tell him that, ever.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome." He shifted to his feet. "Let me give you a hand."

She nodded. "All right," he shifted an arm over her shoulders and she reminded herself not to blush or look at him when she settled her arm over his hips. "Thank you."

Toushirou tilted his head to glance down at her when the door imploded forwards, pushing the chairs with it. Three flashes of light slipped towards them and Momo rocked forward about the same time that the pressure from the explosion hit them. He hit the floor back first and managed to slow them down enough that Momo landed on top of him. He flinched at the breathy whimper and pulled the hand that held her to him up, eyes widening at the blood.

Something shifted and he grabbed the nearest chair, slamming it towards the movement. There was a scream and the light above him and Momo popped, little sparks falling from the ceiling. Another chair exploded and he grabbed the shards, wrapping them into the air around them as vicious little spears ready to move at a moments notice. He sat up carefully, pulling Momo with him. She gasped and hissed, but he had a firm grip on the knives in her back.

“Don’t move,” he said softly, watching the shadow pace in front of them. “I have them right now, but those knives will cut through you if you’re not careful.” He wasn't certain he could hold the knives, Momo, and keep the demon off of them. He glanced at the door between Momo's and Nanao's room and then back at the creature emerging from the shadows. It was ugly, the skin around its face was hanging in clumps and he could see the teeth and bones that made up his jawline.

“Won’t.” She whispered. “What is it?”She glanced at the corner of the room where the lights had blown and tried to make out the shape and then decided she didn't need to look at it. Bad enough that she could taste it in the back of her mouth.

“The demon.” Since it was here and not wherever Shunsui and Nanao were, he was going to guess that they had not been able to find it. He hoped that they hadn't run into it anyway.

“Oh.” Demon. He had said something about a demon last night, she forced herself to blink at his shoulder, trying to focus. She needed to get her breathing under control before she would be able to do anything to help him. "Can you stop it?"

It snarled and he grabbed the couch and flung it at him. The wall cracked under the impact and he winced a little. He was going to have to pay for that. The thing shoved the couch back at him and he caught it halfway across the room, sending two of his shards at it. It flickered briefly and the pieces of wood buried themselves into the wall behind it.

"Were going to find out." It snarled and he bared his teeth in its direction. Now that it was moving, slowly circuling them across the room, he could see that it was mostly bone. Bone and flesh. How lovely.

"Give me the girl," it had a gravely voice and Momo flinched against his chest.He flung the couch back at it in answer and this time the thing caught it with one hand, licking its is half formed lips. “She will taste delicious.”

“God it stinks,” Momo muttered.The smell of it was coating the back of her throat and she couldn't quite breathe without feeling like she was going to throw up. She fought down the nausea that was crawling up her throat. If she threw up on Toushirou he would be distracted and if he was distracted, that thing would get them.

She did not want the thing to get them.

He didn’t dare take his eyes off of where it was standing, dripping something onto the floor, to see what she was making a fuss over. “What smells, Momo.”

“That thing,” she muttered, she tensed a little. "It smells like..."

The couch was flung across the room as well as part of the walls and both chairs. It was all he could do to catch the furniture when claws ripped through the couch and went for their faces. He lurched backwards, catching the couch and flinging it backwards. Momo screamed and the thing howled.

Shunsui flung open the door between them and Nanao’s gun fired twice. It screamed again and Shunsui pulled something out of his pocket. Toushioru had the vaguest sense of power and then the room exploded. He leaned over Momo, shielding her with his body as best he could with the knives sticking out of her back and glanced up when Shunsui settled in front of them.

"Momo? Toushirou?"

Momo cracked an eye open, panting against his shoulder. "Next time," she told him wearily, "get here earlier."

Nanao glanced at the knives in her back and hissed and slowly eased Momo away from Toushirou and onto her stomach.

"If nothing major was hit, I can stitch these. Otherwise she needs to go straight to the doctor."

Shunsui glanced at the room. "We also need to do something about this room." He rubbed his cheek. "No doctor, Ise if you can get her to the bathroom, and those knives out. I can close those wounds enough that you can stitch them." He motioned towards the bathroom. "We are going to need to move camp and quickly, Toushirou give Nanao a hand."

"I can pull them out cleanly," he told Nanao glancing at her back. She was bleeding steadily and he was not going to look at the pools on the carpet. "There in pretty deep."

"Pull them out." He knelt beside them. "Nanao, get your kit out of your room" He nodded to
Toushirou. "Deep breathes Momo." He told her. "We will move fast."

"All right." She nodded, breathing slowly.

Toushirou took a deep breathe and focused on the knives. He made sure he had a tight grip on the knives before yanking them out quickly. Momo made a noise somewhere between a whine and a grunt and he just managed to get them out before he flinched himself. Fresh blood pushed out of her shirt and Shunsui settled his hands just over her back.

Toushirou glanced at Momo's face and wasn't entirely certain that she was still conscious. That was probably for the best.

"Cut off her shirt when Shunsui is done," Nanao instructed, handing Toushirou a pair of scissors.

"I will stitch those."

Shunsui leaned back, eyes closing for a moment. "That is all I can do. She shouldn't bleed out now."

Toushirou leaned forward and eased the scissors along her back while Nanao pulled out a needle and thread. "We are going to need to move."

"I will take care of it," Shunsui said. "You two get Momo taken care of."

Nanao wiped at her back with a disinfectant. "How are you going to explain this?"

Shunsui quirked a smile in her direction. "Creatively."

"How did you know that it was here?" Toushirou leaned back against the wall so that Nanao could work on Momo's back without him being in the way.

Shunsui glanced at her back. "Nanao was able to get a read on what it was doing next once it made up its mind on what it was going to do. We came here as fast as we could." He glanced at the empty room. "As for how I got rid of it... well that was one of Jyuushirou's tricks."

A standing miracle, if he did say so himself.

* * *

Nanao stared at the wall, exhaustion creeping up on her. She reached up and brushed her hair out of her face and glanced over at Shunsui. He had hogged the shower, but she was willing to let him have first crack at getting clean since he was covered in Momo's blood. She glanced down at her hands, she had scrubbed the blood out from under her fingernails so she could wait a few minutes.

Toushirou had stopped by earlier and let them know that Momo had briefly woken up and managed to get a few swallows of broth down before she had collapsed again. She was relieved that she had woken up so quickly, the last time Shunsui had healed someone they had slept for a week before creeping out of the coma he had stuck them into.

"That went well," Shunsui said, dropping onto the couch beside her.

"If by well," she rolled her neck in his direction and blinked at him. "You mean, we all survived, then yes. It went well." He had managed to somehow sweet talk to the manager at their previous hotel into believing that some muggers had followed them into the hotel and attacked them.

Apparently they had destroyed the furniture with some sort of ax, hammer, combination thing that had the manager pale with worry and apologiese. Then he had convinced the new hotel to give them two rooms for the next few nights and gotten room service to deliver food two hours before they were scheduled to open for them.he had cheated.

"Demons," he said, "are rather troublesome."

"Was it even a demon?"

"I don't know." He shrugged, eyes closing. "Shadow something, twisted by all the magic and the hatred it kept inside. Folk lore would have called it a demon and I am inclined to agree with them." He tugged her wrist across his body, pulling her against his side. "Momo did well."

She snorted. "She tracked it well. The after wards could use a little work."

"Yes," he agreed. "Taking three knives to the back was a little extreme." He opened his yes and shifted to glance at her. "You're not mad."

She sighed, leaning back so that her neck rested against the back of the couch. "No," she
admitted. "I am not mad. I haven't been for a while." She could feel the weight of stare. Nanao sighed and shifted her head to glance at him.

He brushed his knuckles against her cheek. "Making me work for it?"

She snorted. "You were an idiot."

"Yes." He agreed. "I was, but I will be an idiot again Nanao."

She glanced over at him. "I will get mad at you," she said.

"I will always be over protective," he tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "It is how I operate."

She shot him a droll look. "I will yell at you." She wouldn't let him run her life the way he did everyone else who worked for him.

"I would expect nothing less," he agreed, grasping her wrist and tugging her against him so that he could bury his nose in her hair. "You wouldn't be my Nanao if you didn't argue with me."

"Keep you in line is more like it," she muttered, relaxing against his side.

"Someone needs to," he leaned back and shot her a shrewd look. "Do you think our little Momo can handle Toushirou?"

"Toushirou might be a good fit for her." She settled her head against his shoulder, fingers curling around his. His clothes were still bloody, although the jacket he was wearing did a good job hiding the worst of it. "Although, I think the question is if can he handle her."

"Well, he ducks well," he tugged on a strand of hair. "Certainly, having someone who can duck and throw knives at the same time is beneficial when hunting things that go bump in the night."

Nanao nodded and sighed. "That still didn’t go as planned." Perhaps they could convince Toushirou to give Momo a little more hand to hand training or at least work on her reflexes. He could throw straws at her or something, anything was better than her current abilities.

"It never does." He agreed, which was probably why he didn't plan to many things. General outlines were good, but if you planned to often you ended up disappointing someone or yourself. He glanced at the top of Nanao's head. Of course, she was an avid planner and would most likely make him write lists or worse get a day planner.

"Normally we do better than that," she turned her head to stare at his jaw line. "For instance, Momo doesn't normally end up with knives in her back the same day she has seizures."

Shunsui winced a little. "Well, yes."

"I think they are both going to have nightmares for a while," she admitted. "He could have stopped those knives, possibly. She should have ducked. I am going to have nightmares to I imagine. We could have gotten here earlier or not left them alone at all."

"Probably," he agreed. "We will work on her ducking skills." Shunsui hesitated. "He likes her."

Nanao paused. "Like like?" She glanced in his direction. Things had been awkward between the two of them, but she hadn't quite seen anything that indicated interest, unless their little spats were some sort of flirting. She thought about that for a moment and blinked at him. Toushirou had the emotional maturity of a twelve-year old sometimes. He would flirt by picking at her.

Shunsui turned and quirked a brow in her direction. "You know I don't peak."

She scowled at him. "Yes you do, all the time." He shifted his head his head and rested his lips against her brow for a moment.

"I do not."

"All the time." She retorted, shifting her head to tuck under his chin. "In fact your cheating right now." She told him.He had known she wasn't angry with him. Since she hadn't told him and had kept her hands to herself, he had to have looked.

"I could," he agreed, "but I already know what you’re thinking." He smiled down at her, watching for her reaction. She was expressive, his Nanao. He liked that about her.

She rolled her eyes up at him, one eye-brow quirking upwards. "Come again?" Cheating again.

He shifted them down the couch until he had her pressed into the back of the couch. "You are thinking how incredibly good looking I am," he smiled at her. "And how glad you are that Momo requires Toushirou's complete attention so that I can ravish you."

"Ravish? Ravish?" Both brows shot up. "Have you been reading romance novels again?" She was going to have words with Jyuushirou about cutting him off from those things. The traitor.

He pouted. "I could."

"With your teeth I take it?" She wasn't certain if she was amused, annoyed, or turned on by the idea.

"If you like," he waggled his brows in her direction and she smothered a giggle. It would only encourage him. She was not going to encourage this. Ravish? How did he come up with these things?

"And what if I have dibbs on the shower and don't particularly care to be ravished?"

"I am an accomplished back-washer." He shot her a hurt look before deepening his voice suggestively. "As you should know."

Nanao patted his shoulder awkwardly. "Of course." He was... being ridiculous and she was exhausted. She had the urge to just relax into the couch and let the warmth of his body lull her to sleep, suggestive whispers or not. It had been a particularly long day and she never liked the end of the hunt. Too much danger and to many people had the potential to get hurt. She closed her eyes for a moment before blinking at him when he kissed her nose.

"You can shower," he told her softly, eyes dark and she shivered. "Now or later." He paused. "Or both."

She laughed, shifting her hand over to push into his hair. "So now I have options." His hair was tangled from all the running they had done earlier, so it was a bit of a challenge to push her fingers through his curls.

"You can have whatever you want so long as you keep that up."

Her lips twitched. "How about I shower and you go check on Momo and Toushirou."

His eyes opened and he huffed. "What if the kid is getting some? I can't interrupt that."

"Momo had three knives shoved into her back; I doubt she is going to feel like giving him any." She stared at him suspiciously. Momo was not the sort to just... put out, so if he was making cracks about it then something had happened and he had peeked.

"There are ways."

Nanao stared at him. "Go check on them." It would serve him right if Toushirou threw something at him for interrupting a moment between them. He probably safe however, since she doubted that Momo would be conscious long enough to do anything. Even if she wanted to.

He sighed dramatically and sat up, pulling her with him. "Will you warm up the bed while you wait for my return."

"I am locking the door and soaking in the tub," she reminded him, pushing at his chest until he got off the couch and headed for their room. "Warm the bed yourself.

He glanced at her over his shoulder, lips twisting into a pout. "So cruel, my Nanao is."

Throwing the pillow out him was most likely a little juvenile, but it made her feel better.
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