A Fox's Prey

Chapter 1

Recruitment Time



Matsumoto pressed her chin into an open palm. Good God, this was not how she planned her Thursday nights. In fact, she wasn't sure Thursday nights were even in her jurisdiction anymore.

"In new…news, we lost two members this week." Nanao thumbed a piece of paper. "And one more this morning."

Week 62 of the Shinigami Women's Association was about as boring as Week 1 had been. Quite frankly, female issues were enthusiastically diverting for about ten minutes before the gossip started and the magazines came out. At times, the Association was more a slumber party than an organization, and who could expect anything else? Yachiru was their president.

Nanao, a bit bored herself, drummed a set of fingers against the podium she stood behind. "The fact of the matter is, ladies, our turnover rate is worse this month than last, and it's spiraling downward, I'm afraid."

No one else was very afraid, though. Losing members just meant you got a better seat.

"We should make attendance mandatory, then," Soi Fong suggested, yawning.

Matsumoto slid a heavy look in her direction. Soi Fong, devoted, slightly scary Soi Fong, skipped out on meetings twice a month and rarely did anything to suggest she actually wanted to be there.

Nanao looked annoyed. "We can't force people to join a club."

"Oh, I can."

"…Great." Nanao paused, reaching beneath the podium and pulling out several sheets of paper. "For those of us interested in less aggressive tactics, I've compiled some scouting papers for new recruits."

Matsumoto raised an eyebrow. Don't tell me she actually expects us to find new members…

"I expect you all to find new members."

Matsumoto slouched lower in her seat, checking the clock hanging from the east wall. The meeting wasn't even twenty minutes in, and they were already being handed an assignment?

"It'll be easiest if you direct your efforts to your own squad," Nanao continued, passing the papers out one by one. "When you find a willing volunteer, have them sign these sheets for the roster."

The sheet had twenty individual blank spaces with general demographic questions—age, rank, sex, blah, blah, blah. Matsumoto snorted. Why the hell was sex of all things on there? Unless the Association had decided to let Yumichika join after all, Matsumoto was pretty sure most applicants would be female.

"As for the squads unrepresented in the Shinigami Women's Association, I've assigned extra divisions to the best suited members," Nanao finished.

Matsumoto looked around. As far as she knew, every division of the Gotei 13 had at least one member designated in the Association. If Mayuri of all people allowed Nemu a smidge of freedom for meeting attendance, every other squad should have no problem doing the same, right?

Wrong.

Nanao pressed a finger to her glasses. "And it seems Division Three remains the only squad without representation."

This was hardly surprising. The shinigami of Division Three were so equally coldhearted differentiating between male and female was like trying to the tell the difference between Hitsugaya's and Ukitake's hair colors. The day a Squad Three female joined the Association was so utterly unbelievable recruiting them wasn't even an option until now.

"And no, ladies, Vice-Captain Kira does not count as female."

Unidentified snickers hit the ceiling.

Nanao sighed. "Matsumoto, you're assigned to Division Three."

Matsumoto groaned. She was getting twice as much work as everyone else? She threw out a lazy and unmotivated response, "That's unfair—why do I have to go to Division Three?"

Soi Fong snorted. "And here I thought stupid questions didn't exist."

Matsumoto ignored the captain in exchange for a more palpable response.

Instead, Nanao only shrugged. "We appreciate it, Vice-Captain Matsumoto. And seeing as our member count is half of what it used to be, I'll end the meeting here. Good luck, everyone!"

Matsumoto narrowed her eyes in Nanao's direction, singling her out as the sole reason she'd have to deal with the unmentionables of Division Three. People knew—oh, yes, they knew—something was inherently wrong with the gals of Squad Three, and then again, maybe they'd have to be if they had a captain like Gin Ichimaru. Gin's female shinigami, although looked at with fear and a bit of disgust, were also pitied to a towering degree.

"Don't look at me like that," Nanao warned, gathering her papers and bee lining for the door.

"Why?" Matsumoto complained, shoving the papers in Nanao's face. "The girls on that squad are evil-incarnate, Ise."

Nanao deadpanned, "You know the captain." And she sure as daylight wasn't going anywhere near Gin Ichimaru without her will filled out.

"No, I sleep with the captain, there's a difference," Matsumoto chided, and despite the sarcastic air of her reply, she wasn't necessarily avoiding the truth. She and Gin prioritized their time with enough quick breathes and closed doors that they rarely even talked anymore.

"If you can get one recruit, I'll consider that an astounding success."

Matsumoto pouted. "We don't even need any of them."

"You're making too much out of this—just think, Yachiru has to recruit women from Squad Eleven."

…Ugh. Even on the most excruciating of days, Matsumoto knew Division Three forever beat Division Eleven, even if the girls were as cold and unappealing as a blizzard.

"Just one?"

"Yes."

As easy as it sounded, 'just one' from Division Three was like 'just twenty' from any other squad. In the sixty-two weeks the Association had existed, Gin's Squad avoided it like the plague or didn't know about it, and for most part, people believed the former.

When Matsumoto finally consented, she found herself stuck in a much detested predicament. Recruit the girls, or talk to Gin?

For all efficient purposes, she chose Gin.



Division Three wasn't particularly known for its posh design—mostly because it didn't have one. The division, though loads better than the decrepit and very destroyed Squad Eleven, was old, and you could tell. The overhangs were a dull gray, versus the sharp black they'd been fifty years ago, and the wooden decks needed a rebuffing so badly you got splinters just by looking at them. The entire Gotei 13 was momentarily going through a revamp of colossal proportions, and it was clearly the Third's turn.

When Matsumoto arrived near the Division Three entrance, the sun was setting and construction was positivelyeverywhere.

Ladders, saws, hammers, paint—the entire front loft bore home to so many tools she almost didn't recognize the division she was in. Decks were tapered off for repair, and rooftops were half open, with piles and piles of slates discarded in the dirt and alleyways. The division looked more a mess than she'd ever seen it.

Virtually no one was outside, but who would be in this crap? Matsumoto pulled out the sheet of paper and carefully walked around a pile of disemboweled boxes.

Gin's office sat stark against the backdrop of construction (it was the only untouched building in a mile). Voices echoed softly from the windows, evidence of Gin's company.

Matsumoto, curious, opened the door and stepped inside.

Various shinigami stood erect, arms at sides as they recited the day's results to a very sly looking Captain Ichimaru. The four seats announced their information coldly across the shafts of the room, awaiting an order, any order, from their superior.

They looked not unlike very obedient dogs.

Matsumoto smirked before raising a hand in the air. "Hey, Gin! Wanna join the Shinigami Women's Association?"

The expected reaction was a room full of craning necks and wide eyes, which it more or less was. The four seats looked utterly lost: acknowledging a Vice-Captain was one thing—ignoring their actual captain was another. Obviously, they disregarded Matsumoto in hopes of keeping Captain Ichimaru's good graces.

"Rangiku? I didn't expect ya here," Gin said, forgetting his subordinates with humiliating easiness.

Matsumoto waved a limp hand in his direction. "I didn't mean to interrupt," she started, and what a lie that was.

Most low ranking shinigami were either completely shocked or utterly disgusted by Matsumoto's informality with Captain Ichimaru, but Squad Three had seen her enough to know she could call Gin whatever she wanted with little consequence. It was not a good recipe for making out-of-work friends.

Gin, suddenly remembering the shinigami in front of him, gave them an uninterested glance before saying, "Yer dismissed now."

The group of subordinates left the room in such a mechanical manner—sir, bow, sir, turn, disappear—Matsumoto felt generally bad for them. Although she didn't know Gin's captaincy well, she did know him with shocking accuracy. And it took only a smile to be absolutely devastating

Matsumoto watched the robots leave before turning heel, her arms crossed. "I'm surprised you're still working," she admitted, knowing the Third, and most of the Gotei, retired around six.

Gin smiled. "Construction."

"Figures. Anyway, I need a favor."

Gin looked beguilingly alert. "Mm, a favor? Ya mean ya didn't stop by ta see me?"

"Not in the way I know you're thinking," Matsumoto said, pursing her lips. "I need help getting your female officers to join the Shinigami Women's Association by next week."

"I can force 'em if ya'd like."

"No, and why is that a reoccurring theme among captains?" Matsumoto murmured, thinking back to Soi Fong's earlier suggestion. She slouched into Gin's desk and mourned her failure. "I just need one!"

This was obviously going in the wrong direction, and as hopeful as Matsumoto was, she knew Gin wasn't helping much.

"Ya ain't even friends with the girls in my division," Gin said out of no where, which was his way of relaying he didn't want anyone on his squad joining Yachiru's club. Matsumoto couldn't blame him, either. The Association took up more time than any captain actually supported—except for Shunsui, who was a well known advocate for women's rights (while simultaneously ignoring them, something he called 'flattery'.)

Matsumoto sighed loudly. "We just need one rep from your division, and she can seriously not show up, ever, just as long as she's on the roster. Please?"

Gin slithered, "If I can't force 'em, yer on yer own."

Great.

"You're not being very helpful, Ichimaru," Matsumoto sulked, her plan nose-diving into the cruel and unforgiving floor. She pushed back from Gin's desk and stuffed the loose sheet of paper into the tie of her uniform.

"Have ya eaten dinner yet?" he asked, and for a shocking moment, it seemed rather chivalrous.

Matsumoto sent him a suspicious look. "No, and if you're giving me an invite, it's going to take more than that."

"Oh, yeah?" Gin said, standing from his desk and maneuvering around it.

"Yeah, and by that, I mean a possible recruit," Matsumoto replied, eyeing him wearily. If she needed to act like something of a tease to get a recruit, she sure as hell would do it (and it certainly didn't take a rocket scientist to diagnose the look on Gin's face).

He took her hand and brought it to his lips, his smile filled with all too many implications. "Then we'll have ta find ya one at dinner, won't we?"

Matsumoto's look was positively predatory as she pushed a strand of hair behind an ear. "If you can find me one, you'll get more than dinner, I can promise you that."

Gin grinned.



A/N: Where in the world is this going, you ask? What does this have to do with anything, you ask? Well, you'll just have to wait and see. Also, I'm aware more than Division Three goes unrepresented in the Shinigami Women's Association, but for the purposes of this story, I'm assuming more than the main girls are in the club.