It was a cold day in February, towards what would be the end of a harsh winter, when Matsumoto Rangiku and Ichimaru Gin met for the first time. He was the young son of a Daimyo, she an orphan gifted with brilliant skills in thievery. Up until that day, she had been wandering the countryside, alone, always being careful not to steal from someone who could catch her. Careful to stay alive.
But it had been a hard winter for everyone, and Rangiku was getting desperate. Desperate enough to steal from a lord's son.
When she grabbed his purse and ran, he didn't even turn around, but called one of his lackeys to catch her for him - he couldn't be bothered to do it himself – then sat on a patch of bare ground to wait as she was dragged, struggling, back up the street.
When his guard held the girl in front of the young boy, she spat in his face. Gin just kept smiling.
"I hope ya realize who you're stealing from." He wiped the spit off, watching her interestedly.
"Yes, actually, I do. You're a pompous ass of a noble, with too much money for your own good and not enough heart to actually help the people you're supposed to be ruling." Her eyes burned with anger, and he couldn't help but notice the hunger in her face, the layers of dirt that coated her blonde hair. His expression never faltered.
"That's quite an accusation ta be making towards the person who decides if ya live or die, isn't it?"
"Are you threatening to kill a woman? I knew you were low, but I never knew you were that much of a worm." Not even the threat of death seemed to phase her. He liked that.
Gin's guard tightened his grip on the girl by way of punishment – no one had ever spoken to the young lord like that – but Gin put up a hand to stop him, for precisely that same reason.
"What's your name?"
She blinked and gave him a wary look, unsure of the reason for his sudden curiosity.
"Matsumoto Rangiku. Why do you want to know?"
"I like ya, Rangiku. Want t' come work in my house?" Gin could see that his guard was not happy, but that didn't bother him in the slightest. He motioned to let the girl go.
She blinked again as she found her arms released, and her feet back on the ground.
"…I try to steal your purse, and you give me a job? Are you mentally deficient?"
"Somethin' like that."
She couldn't help but start laughing.
"You know what, I like you too."
The story spread throughout the village, and people wondered if Ichimaru Gin was kinder than they had given him credit for. After no change in his behavior, save for his new blonde partner-in-crime, they decided that he was just as bad as they had thought. And they were right.
It wasn't his kindness of heart that had made him save the life of that girl. She was fiery, she was resilient. Unbreakable. She talked to him as if he was a real person and not some kind of god. With her, there were no impetuous airs, no faked nobility. People were who they were and that was that.
In short, she fascinated him. He knew that nothing he could do would hurt her, and that meant the world to him.
Years later, she would prove her resilience time and time again. If she hadn't, he wouldn't have kept coming back.
Not so very long afterwards, when the two friends were no longer children but not yet adults, the Bakumatsu began. Gin's father, his only caretaker, died in the service of the Shogunate, and the two went their separate ways – out of necessity rather than desire.
Gin joined the Patriots for a short year before the Tokugawa crumbled. It was there, amidst the blood and chaos that was creating a new age, that he met Aizen Sousuke.
Gin let out a small laugh as he and his mentor finally escaped from the overlarge throne room. He had paid his respects to the Emperor Meiji, faked obeisance as was expected, smiling ceaselessly in a way that he knew both fascinated and repulsed those around him. In return for a job in the government, he pledged his undying devotion to the supposed god on earth.
But only one man would ever earn his undying devotion, and that man was not the Emperor Meiji.
"You find that amusing?" he asked, but clearly he did as well. He smiled at Gin, kindly, in the way he did when someone was watching. As soon as the last guard was out of hearing range, Gin responded.
"Yeah, actually. The Emp'ror's something of a egotistic ass, isn't he?" The "Let's take'm down a few notches" was implied.
"So he is." Aizen's eyes gleamed with anticipation – the beginning preparations were being made, allies created and found. His position as advisor to the throne, awarded for distinguished service during the Revolution, made it much easier to infiltrate lower ranks with lackeys. And no one suspected.
"Gin, you finally have the time and the power to do whatever you choose."
His grin was almost childlike in its enthusiasm – bur around the edges, there lingered a tinge of darkness. Malevolance.
"Ne, ne, Aizen-taichou! Can I play tonight?"
Aizen smiled fondly at Gin's exuberance.
Gin's first stop that night was to the wife of the Minister of Internal Affairs.
Women liked Gin. He invaded their personal space, touched them constantly, smiled incessantly. He insisted on talking to them as if they were his equals – a novelty many women had never experienced, and many craved.
This woman was educated – intelligent, a scholar of sorts. The day she and Gin met, during a meeting with her husband, he asked her opinion on affairs of the state – and she fell in love. Each time they met after that, her need for him only deepened.
Gin found her blind adoration exhilarating. He loved her neediness, and she loved the way his hand on her shoulder held so many breathy promises.
In the end, however, she was only a toy. He would break her, like he had so many others before.
For now, he offered her a smile that promised wonders, and a chaste kiss that left her burning. But he wouldn't sate her – there was work to be done tonight.
Not long after, he found himself in the pleasure district of West Tokyo. He found a place that looked clean and wealthy – a sure sign of quality in this business – and entered, asking the madam for her best lay. A few minutes later, she led him to a door covered with gold paint and blue glass meant to look like jewels, then bowed and left.
As he quietly opened the door, he had a strange feeling about this girl – she had not looked up, so he couldn't see her face, but the mass of blonde hair seemed extremely familiar. Too familiar for comfort.
"…Rangiku?" He paused, partaking of the view – she was sprawled on the bed, entirely and gloriously naked. Her head shot up, and he was sure.
"Izzat you, Ran-chan?" Her surprise at hearing her name turned to shock at realizing who had spoken. She slowly smiled, which turned into a hearty grin within seconds. She sat up quickly, evidently forgetting that she was naked despite the fact that his eyes were quite clearly planted on her recently acquired and rather large assets.
"Gin, you sly bastard. What are you doing in the capital?"
"I think the better question ta ask is, whatcha doin' in a place like this?"
Suddenly, she remembered the situation, and she looked away from him in shame, though she made no move to cover up. The palpable silence was broken by a sigh, leaving a certain awkwardness instead.
"I'm working. I didn't have the option of joining the Patriots like you did. I needed the money. What kind of jobs do you think there are for a woman like me?
"Here, at least, I don't have a husband or a father or a brother dominating my life, telling me what to do. I can do what I want, live the way I want. And I have food."
There was another awkward silence.
"Well, I guess you're doin' what's best for ya, Ran-chan." His smile betrayed no change in emotion. He paused.
"I think I should get 'nother girl, ne?" Sleeping with her would be awkward; she was too much a man. Too much a friend.
At this, she smiled, expression slowly turning seductive. She had been through worse things in her life than being paid to have sex with Ichimaru Gin.
"That won't be necessary. I think you'll like some of the things I've learned while you were away."
"Did you find anything last night?" Aizen asked upon Gin's return to their shared quarters.
Aizen sincerely hoped that this was the last time Gin would ever lie to him.
Gin didn't come to work that day.
Aizen smiled and made vague excuses. No one thought twice.
The next day, Gin staked out the new university, right by the capitol building. These students were on their own for the first time, unsure of the world, tentative. Naïve.
His heart raced in anticipation.
He asked the head of the school if he could sit in on classes. The man fell over himself to grant Gin permission, on account of Ichimaru being a government official, though no one knew quite what he did.
He found a target during the first class. He was a young boy, pretty enough and shy – his insecurity only made him more appealing. Gin offered him playful smiles, stood too close to be strictly proper, and touched the boy's hands in ways that made him swoon.
They continued to meet for days, a week, afterwards, Gin became his best friend, a furtive lover, the mentor he needed so much in this new place.
Two weeks later, the boy disappeared, and no one thought to ask the young official who sat in on classes.
He visited Rangiku again that night.
"I got one last night, Aizen-taichou. He's where he's s'posed to be."
"Excellent work. I knew I could trust you."
Gin's smile grew. Praise meant rewards later.
Rangiku confronted him about it not long afterwards.
They had been walking together at dusk – he could use his paid time with her however he chose – when she took a deep breath and spoke.
"Gin, did you hear about that boy who disappeared last week?"
"Sure didn't." They paused. Rangiku was not fooled.
"I had one of his professors in here not long ago. He mentioned that the two of you had become very… friendly."
"Oh, that boy? He was cute. Such a shame." He didn't stop smiling.
She turned to him, eyes accusing.
"That was you, wasn't it?"
"Maa, why would ya ever say such a thing? You're so mean t' me, Ran-chan."
"Don't lie to me, Gin."
For once, he sobered.
"'m not lyin', Ran-chan. Kid's fine."
"What'd you do with him." She knew his habits, his vices. Young, naïve kids just adored him, and he loved every moment of it.
"He's with the American ambassador. He was only too happy t' help me out."
"You sold him."
"Such a vulgar way to say't. He helps me. 'Ts what I want, so 'ts what he wants. I reward'm every so often."
Rangiku frowned, vaguely disgusted.
"What do you get from it? Other than the massive power trip."
"It's politics. I get the ambassadors what they want, an' they're loyal."
"So you give them sex slaves." She paused, realizing that that was rather rich coming from a prostitute, then cleared her throat forcefully.
"Loyal to who? Gin, you've never had a drop of ambition in your life. You're working for someone, aren't you?"
Gin, by way of a response, put his smile back on.
"This isn't the sort of thing you'd do on your own. You like to leave them hanging. You find it amusing." She had found it amusing too, once, when they were young and Gin's targets were the weepy noble women who cried for days when he left.
One rumor said that there had been suicides. Gin had found that entirely too amusing.
"Ran-chan knows me too well, huh?"
"'m not gonna tell, though. He doesn' like ya."
She decided not to ask how that man knew her enough to like or dislike her.
"Why is that."
"'Cause I like ya."
She couldn't help but smile – he had that effect on her. That, and the fact that this powerful man would consider a prostitute to be a threat was profoundly amusing.
"You're not going to give me away to some rich French man, are you?"
"Nah. Ya'd never go anyway." All of his acquisitions had been given away of their own free will.
Rangiku sobered again.
"Those kids you charm, Gin. They had lives in front of them."
There was a silence.
"So'd I. But I like this one so much better."
After all, he, too had been "acquired." Gin only hoped his conquests liked it half as much as he had.
Later that evening, as she sat half-naked on the floor with a bottle of sake, she laughed as she finished hours worth of musing. Her earlier conversation with Gin had been enough to make her want to get stupendously drunk, a feat at which she happily succeeded. But, through the haze of alcohol, she could still think.
She had realized with a kind of pride, that that conversation proved that he trusted her – trusted her enough to unguard himself. Enough to tell her these horrible things he did. All because she wouldn't blink twice. Wouldn't hold it aguanst him.
Because he knew that nothing he did, no matter how horrible, would make her leave him.
He, despite everything, was still her only friend. Because although he had his faults, he was still the only man she had ever met who honestly treated her as an equal.
Thirteen more boys disappeared from the university within the next several months.
Gin began to provide signed documents to worried families, signed by an advisor to the emperor, that their sons – and occasionally daughters – were working for the government. The men worked at top-secret jobs, the women served and cared for those men. All were under an oath to keep silent about all proceedings.
Some of the parents looked like they might cry from joy when Gin told them how well their children were serving the nation.
He liked to think that it wasn't all a lie.
Not long afterwards, another young boy caught Ichimaru Gin's eye.
This one wasn't just pretty – he was gorgeous. The top of his class. Smart. Overconfident.
After another few days, Gin decided to break his pattern of conquests and approach the boy.
He cheerfully pulled the boy out of class, on a Thursday afternoon sometime during the Tokyo summer. He approached the professor nonchalantly, as if he hadn't just interrupted the lecture.
" 'scuze me. Can I borrow the blondie?" he asked with a pleasant smile. The professor fell over himself accepting, hurriedly pushing the rather flushed boy towards Gin, who thanked him insincerely, bowed, and left, pulling the boy out by his hand.
The boy flushed even more at the contact.
Once outside, Gin quite happily pulled him off to a quiet, secluded area in some trees, only then stopping to look at his catch.
"Nice ta finally meetcha, Izuru-chan. I know all about ya so no need to introduce yourself."
Kira was a bit taken aback by the man's informality, but that feeling was overcome by a sense of pride at being picked by Ichimaru Gin. It had become something of an honor, a status symbol, to be picked, as all his charges were rewarded with jobs within the government.
"Thank you very much for your interest, Ichimaru-san." The way he said it made it apparent that he didn't think the interest undeserved.
Gin's smile grew.
"Cocky little thing, aintcha? All the better though."
There was a pause, but not long enough for Izuru to get a word in.
"Yer a pretty little thing, mm? Whatcha say we go out'n do somethin'?" Kira breathed sharply as Gin's hand ran slowly through his hair.
"I hardly think… I wouldn't want to miss class." His hesitation showed clearly that they had left his comfort zone. Gin was glad he had made the decision to pick this one – the boy's awkwardness was just so adorable.
"Maa, but my way's so much more fun."
The blonde sighed.
"Alright, but just this once."
He would never be able to say no to that man.
Gin was back the next day with a gift. A piece of string, actually, that he had picked up on a whim.
"Na, Izuru-chan, isn't it so very pretty if you knot it like so?"
This man, who played with string and skipped work – more importantly, encouraged others to skip as well – was not what Kira had been expecting. Ichimaru had to be some kind of genius to have those particular quirks and still have the position he did, so the boy decided that he would smile and act interested – even though with every passing moment he was unknowingly charmed.
"It's very nice, Ichimaru-san." He watched as Gin made a bracelet of it and put it on Izuru's wrist.
"Will ya keep it on for me?"
"…Alright." For the sake of his future career.
The next day, Kira pleaded to stay in class. Gin agreed, under the condition that he be allowed to stay with Izuru. Reluctantly, the boy agreed.
Izuru soon found that it was very difficult to concentrate on lessons when Gin's fingers were playing with the hair at the nape of his neck. He dismissed it as another of the man's strange quirks.
"Ichimaru-san… would you please stop that? It's very difficult to concentrate."
"Maa, don't ya like it?" Kira blushed in response.
"Th… That's entirely beside the point. I can't keep focused."
Gin grinned and petted Kira again, eliciting a shiver.
"So ya can't think when I touch ya, 's that it?"
The boy sighed, but didn't deny it.
"I thought you picked me because of my grades. I can't keep them up if you keep distracting me."
"Nah. I picked ya 'cause you're jus' so cute. I couldn' resist."
Izuru had no response for that.
Later that night, as he lay, sated, on his shared futon, Gin asked Sousuke for a favor.
"Ne, Aizen-taichou… can I keep this one?"
Aizen smiled indulgently.
"Just this one, and only if you promise to take care of him."
"'m sure he'll be useful t' ya, Aizen-taichou."