A Deal with the Devil
An XXXholic/Bleach Xover
Note: This is set in the "Butterfly's Web" universe, to be co-written with Sophia Prester, but is also a standalone fic. Other stories include "Je Chante Pour Passer Le Temps," "Cat's Paw" and "Site Unseen."
There were times Yuuko enjoyed being "in the business" but this wasn't going to be one of them. She was a good businesswoman, though, and knew it wasn't her place to judge her clientèle. As long as he was willing to pay the price, she was duty bound to sell him what he wanted.
Though Yuuko was considering making an exception in this case.
There was nothing wrong on the outside with this man. He was handsome, in a subdued kind of way. He moved precisely, and spoke thoughtfully, but she could recognize the power he commanded. Like called to like, and she could feel the air filled with a faint static electricity that was anything but natural making the hair on the back of her neck stand on end.
He knelt across from her, his positioning perfect seiza. She knew her own sprawled limbs looked careless in contrast, but every one of her senses was tuned into him. "Tell me, captain, what brings a man of your station to my humble shop?" she asked.
She took a drag of her pipe, deliberately blowing the sweetly-scented smoke ring toward him. She had seen and liked The Lord of the Rings and wished she could make a ship like the movie Gandalf. She had to get by with her limitations.
The Dimension Witch must sell items to exist. There was never anything she couldn't grant, providing the price was right. It was the magic written upon the very foundations of her shop, the idea that anything was possible as long as people understood – or at least suffered – the consequences.
"Right to business?" he asked. "I thought perhaps we could have a drink to relax."
He reached up his sleeve and produced a bottle, and she smirked as she recognized it. He had brought a good vintage of Soul Society sake with him, offering it to her as a gesture of goodwill and a price for taking up her time. She turned to Moro and made a quiet request to have cups brought, handing Maru her pipe to be put away. The servants did their assigned tasks quickly, before returning to their place standing on either side of their mistress.
Drinking alcohol with this man wouldn't be a good idea, but like a true alcoholic, she felt the need for the fiery burn to steady her. She needed her wits about her, but one drink might take the edge off her nerves.
She poured for them both, then raised her cup in a salute before downing her portion in two gulps. She barely tasted it, but the heavy alcohol content hit her like a kick to the gut. A warm, pleasurable feeling went through her. Anyone who brought sake this good couldn't be entirely evil.
"You have taste in your spirits," she complimented, unable to resist the pun.
"It's always better when poured by a beautiful woman," he replied, before taking a sip of his own drink. "Don't feel obligated to wait for me to finish," he added, gesturing that she should refill her cup.
She was tempted to for more than a moment, but sake from the Soul Society was nearly 150 proof. She saw the smile on his face, and that made the decision a bit easier. Regretfully she corked the bottle, pushing it back toward him. "We should conclude our business before indulging in pleasure."
He nodded his agreement, quickly throwing back the rest of his drink before tucking his hands in the sleeves of his robe. He looked serious, and for a second the light reflected off his glasses just right, and suddenly Yuuko was seeing another powerful, condescending son-of-a-bitch. She kept her face blank, but felt a surge of irritation and relief as she recognized how to control this situation.
"Tell me, captain, what is it that you seek? It's rare that a man of your abilities needs to make a purchase in my humble shop," she said. "Men such as yourself usually have no need of my services."
"There comes a time when we reach the limit of what we can do under our own limits," he said. His voice was soft and pleasant, but she was wise enough to recognize his discontent.
"Have you reached such a limit?" she asked.
"Perhaps," he said. "Or perhaps I'm merely forging a new direction, but could use help to take that road."
She was quiet for a long moment. "And what do you seek from me?"
"I seek the means to remove an item from a soul," he said.
"An item?" she echoed.
"Someone once hid something of great value within the soul of a common girl. I wish to retrieve that item," he replied.
"Do you care to tell me what this item is?" she asked. "It would help me determine the best method."
"Is there more than one method?" he replied. "As far as I'm aware, there's only one technique to remove anything from a soul safely."
"There's no technique like that," she returned. "Removing something from a soul destroys the soul."
"I was referring to the safety of the item." He gave her a soft, gentle smile, and she felt her blood run cold.
It was not her responsibility to play moral judge. Morals were subjective things, anyway, and she knew there were no absolutes – although destroying a soul was one of the most evil actions a person could take, in her opinion.
Every item she traded had the potential to be sought by another. She often felt like a storehouse, collecting items that would eventually fulfill the wish of someone else. She didn't always know how she knew, but she was able to extract items that would later prove important.
She had already prepared for this shinigami captain's wish. Over a century before she had retrieved the information from another shinigami captain – and now it was time to sell it. Nothing ever truly belonged to the Dimension Witch – she was just a caretaker.
"I might be able to help you," she returned. She looked at Moro. "Get me the item for the third shelf, the one wrapped in rice paper and red ribbon," she ordered, and her servant went to fulfill her desires.
They listened to the soft sounds of retreating footsteps, their eyes locked on each other.
"What will the price be?" he asked to break the silence, his voice pleasant even though he must have heard stories about the high costs she demanded. Value must be given for every value received.
She tapped her chin thoughtfully. The man was like a wishing mirror, reflecting only what the viewer wanted to see. It was only because she knew what he was that she was able to look past the sparkle to the truth within.
Yuuko didn't believe in good and evil, in absolute right and wrong. She believed in power and infinite possibilities. This man, despite his handsome appearance, was both old and powerful. He might be one of the few that could understand what her role really was, but that made him more dangerous than any man she had met since him.
She did not know this captain's name, nor did she want to. He was the kind of man who people would follow to their deaths, because they believed in him even as he stabbed them in the back. He was illusion personified, just like that other bastard had been. It would be better if she didn't forge too many ties between them.
"I want your glasses," she said finally, knowing that was the right price for the item she was to sell. She always knew how to charge dearly, even if the individual didn't know it at the time.
He raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. "My glasses?" he asked.
"You don't really need them to see, so it seems like more than a fair deal to me." She smiled, feeling the prickle on the back of her neck. She was walking a fine line here.
"I need them to be seen," he replied affably, and he was smart enough to realize what the price she was asking really was.
There would be no going back if he took another step down this road. She needed to know his commitment, know that he was willing to give up everything he'd earned in pursuit of his goals. His face remained idle, but she imaged the gears of his highly tuned mind churned through the cost, the benefits, the sacrifice. She knew even before he announced his decision that he'd buy it.
The word hung in the air between them, and then he moved, untucking his right hand and removing the glasses from his face. He didn't bother to fold them, instead simply holding them out for her to claim.
She took them carefully by the frames, using both hands. Elegantly she spun them around, holding them up to her face so she could look through the lenses. The glass was non-prescription, she noted immediately, but she slid them onto her face immediately, wanting to see the world the way he had. Using glasses was one way to look through another person's eyes.
He sat patiently, right hand resting on his knee. Without the frames of his glasses to soften the sharp lines of his face, he suddenly blazed sensuality. She could feel his pull, which he'd carefully concealed under a veneer of gentility. The smile he wore could have been kind, but she was inclined to think it mocking.
He was beautiful, she thought, because he was powerful. She had known another man who had been the same, although his power had been a gentler sort. Both of them were all hidden eyes and sweet smiles that knew more than they would ever admit.
It was the sound of Moro's return that snapped her attention back. The girl-shaped servant stopped in front of Yuuko, holding out a sheaf of paper to her mistress. Yuuko waved a hand, casually using magic to unwrap the package and detach the one sheet she needed. Without looking at it, she flicked her fingers toward the shinigami captain, sending the paper on a telekinetic journey to land in front of him.
"You can bring the rest back, Moro," she murmured, sending the collection of invaluable research back to the dust of her storage rooms. "This is the information you seek, captain."
To his credit, he didn't bother to check before rolling the paper up, placing it up his sleeve. "I thank you, Dimension Witch," he said, bowing to her.
It was his courtesy that undid her. That and the alcohol. She pulled the glasses off her face, murmuring a spell before handing them back to him. He took them, a slight frown of puzzlement lining his smooth forehead.
"They will come to me after you use the information," she told him. "If you never use the knowledge, then it's not fair for me to take a price," she told him.
"I didn't know the Dimension Witch believed in escape clauses," he replied after a long moment, still holding the glasses in his hand.
She picked up the bottle of alcohol, which was still half-full. "Consider it a gesture of appreciation for your fine taste in spirits," she said. She pulled the cork out with her teeth, and drank without the benefit of the cup.
He studied her thoughtfully before rising to his feet. "I appreciate your generosity, though it's unnecessary. I've already chosen my path." There was amusement in his voice, like he had read how much he bothered her.
But he put the glasses on. With an elegant bow, he murmured a farewell, and behind him a door opened, directly to the world of shinigami.
She watched him go, relieved that the alcohol was so potent. Now was one of those days she needed to get thoroughly drunk, and hopefully forget about the customer. He reminded her of that other man, the one she hadn't been able to save from his own destiny. It was for his memory that she'd tried to offer the shinigami captain a way out, if he recognized in time that the road he was walking only led to his own destruction...
...but she knew someday soon, she'd enter her storeroom and find those glasses lying on a shelf, abandoned.