DISCLAIMER:

Bleach in this world belongs to Tite Kubo. I like that guy—he even got our names right. That thing about my mask, though? Yeah, he was exaggerating… big time…

OTHER DISCLAIMER:

This story is AU. And when I say AU, I mean it in the most dire sense of the word. For Aizen's sake, Mila Rose is a hooker in this story, and Bleach: Shattered Blade fans will weep. I can't really be much more blunt here: if you don't like AU, leave.

NOTES:

For bleedzblackwalz. Merry Christmas—sorry it's so late. It would have been up on the 19th, at about three in the morning, but our Internet connection messed up… we've really got to set up those outlet covers in Yammy's room…

Cowritten in part by the awesome Rayna Lissesul. Go on, check out her profile. I can wait. Thank you, Senpai! By the way: Stark, naked…

Beta: Qianyun. Thank you so much!! Wish I could say more, but know this: 99.9% of your revisions were kept. Great job!

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"Hey there."

She looked up from her drink—long past the stage of being startled over something like that—to see a man sitting down beside her at the bar. He smiled, showing white teeth. "You seem unaccompanied. Allow me."

And with that, he sat right down, smiling, and there was more than a hint of "predator" to his expression. He definitely acted like he owned the place- dressed like it too. A diamond ring flashed on the wrong finger for him to be married, his hair cut expensively, and his suit the rare Korean silk that cost double or triple the less-fine stuff from other places: the distinct cobalt-blue color and delicate, precise fit was unmistakable.

She noticed his skin—an inherently tan, smooth shade—and his trace of an accent. Along with his expensive suit and manner, he was easy to recognize. He was the leader of a prominent liquor ring in this town; she'd never seen him before in her life, but she knew him already. Lean and sleek, definitely not addicted to the whiskey he smuggled, as some had been so unlucky as to become over the years. His hair was a soft, yet striking, shade of turquoise blue, accenting his smoothly narrow gold-topaz eyes. For a half second, she was pleasantly distracted by his good looks- until the moment he caught her staring, captured her gaze and laughed. She blushed.

"You're very pretty yourself," he smiled. His natural charm was honed to a fine touch; it seemed normal to allow his gaze to hold her spellbound, tell her stories about him. His voice was a sensual murmur, and she blinked at him, embarrassed, when she realized that she'd missed his question.

"What?"

"I said, what's your name?" He smiled disarmingly, eyes warming to a gentle amber. She abruptly remembered what he was—scum like her, but better scum than she—and mustered a glare, turning her body away. It seemed that old habits, indeed, died hard. But she couldn't help it.

"My mother told me not to talk to strangers," she replied disdainfully. His eyebrows rose slightly, as if to say, what room do you have to say that? You who does much more than talk to them. But she wouldn't admit it out loud. Not to the likes of him. And certainly not on her first night, before she'd turned a single trick, when it didn't count. But maybe she should let her guard down, her more logical side admonished. Begin to bait him. He looked rich, after all.

He gave an exasperated shake of his head and smiled that smile again. "My name," he said evenly, "is Arturo. Arturo Plateado. And now I'm not a stranger, so you can tell me yours."

She looked back at him almost hesitantly, decided that he was rich and it was all that mattered.

"I'm Mila Rose," she said, trying to make her voice sound husky like the others'. It didn't work; her voice had just dropped a few months ago, and she still sounded a little like a child when she spoke, no matter what. "It's a nice night, don't you think?"

He smirked. "You're suddenly much more talkative, little lady. I wonder why. But anyway," he continued, holding her gaze again, "Yes, it is a nice night. New Year's Eve."

She nodded and tried to half-open her eyes. She suddenly felt silly playing this part, as if any moment the persona would shatter into pieces and fall away, lying on the polished wood floor in this music-filled speakeasy like colored glass from one of the bottles at the bar. But he didn't seem to notice, and she gained a little confidence, leaning forward and placing her hand over his.

Arturo blinked once, then looked up at her and smirked. "You've certainly made me curious. What is it now?" His eyes made it clear that he knew exactly what it was- that he was testing her to see how well she knew her part, and how well she could play it. Mila Rose made sure she held his gaze as he'd kept hers, fought desperately to keep her face from turning red.

"Nothing at all," she purred, and it sounded false. "What about you? Any plans for New Year's?" It was a time-honored trick: Steer the conversation toward plans about later that night, anything that would offer them a seemingly normal way to ask for service. Because they liked to maintain some semblance of normalcy, for whatever reason, liked you to play along. He shrugged and leaned towards her.

"Not as of yet," he replied, sounding extremely nonchalant. "Why? Would you like to be a part of them, little lady?"

She adopted the same airy manner, leaning back on her barstool. "Maybe," she said easily, batting her eyes. "It is New Year's, after all. Time to get a little wild; maybe… try some new things?" It had been that moment that she turned back to him, grinning suggestively.

He smirked. "I doubt there's much you could show me."

She could have glared. "Oh?" Mila Rose crossed her arms under her chest and leaned against the bar. Her breasts, already emphasized by the low-cut dress she was wearing, came close to spilling out of the top. She let a tinge of smugness cross into her tone when Arturo's eyes focused completely on her chest. "You sure about that?" she purred.

"Completely." His answer came so quickly and surely that Mila Rose sat back in her seat and stared. Arturo stared at her chest a moment longer, then met her eyes again and smirked, "You're new here, aren't you?"

"Wh… what makes you say that?"

Arturo shrugged, looking around at the bar, "The other girls here have a particular 'style' to their work that you haven't picked up yet. They sit in the back and study the men, talk amongst each other, pick their 'suitor'…" He turned back to her and smirked, "Buy them a drink, then take them to the back…" He chuckled when she tensed, "You, however, have been sitting here all evening doing nothing."

Mila Rose clenched her jaw and turned away, staring down into her drink.

"More than that," he continued, "You're pretty obviously from back east."

"What?" she glanced back; he now officially had her attention.

"You seem very closed, and very proper," replied Arturo. "The girls out here… well, they just aren't brought up that way. Let me guess… you ran away? For a life of adventure like in the dime novels, maybe? And now you're here—more than a little emaciated, since you ran out of money halfway here. Your clothes are… nice enough, but they're worn, since you didn't pack for walking. And your shoes have been resoled in the wrong color…"

Mila Rose barely contained the urge to throw her drink on him, instead gritting her teeth together and turning her back on him. Arturo's smirk widened. He was obviously having fun playing with her.

"So, now you're just going to ignore me completely?"

She didn't answer him; what was the point? She wasn't going to get anything out of him. From the way he spoke, he came to this speakeasy frequently or at least often enough to know how the girls worked. And knowing how rich he was, he had probably been with all of them at one point or another…

She, however, was new, inexperienced, and had nothing to offer.

If he was talking to her for any reason, it was only to get a rise out of her. And Mila Rose hadn't fallen that far yet. She had resigned herself to the fact that she eventually would, but it had not happened yet.

Arturo sighed, "Can you be any more juven—"

"Sir, I am sorry, but I'm not working tonight." Mila Rose cut him off, sitting straight and taking a sip of her drink, "You might want to take your money elsewhere."

"…Is that so?" There was a certain tone in his voice, as if he had become even more interested in her by her rejection, that made her turn back to him.

Just as she did, though—

"Oh, Artie, baby!"

Mila Rose barely contained a wince as Cirucci, a petite young woman with purple hair and lavender eyes, glided up and slid onto Arturo's lap as he turned to meet her. She did, though, wrinkle her nose when Cirucci wrapped her arms around Arturo's neck and nuzzled him.

"There you are," Cirucci purred sensually, "I've been waiting all evening…"

Gritting her teeth and sighing loudly, Mila Rose turned back to her drink and took a rather large sip, stifling a wince when the whiskey burned her throat. Cirucci wasn't much older than Mila Rose, but she'd been here longer, and was in what the others called 'high demand'. Frankly, it made Mila Rose sick.

"Not tonight, Ci," Arturo said smoothly, unwrapping the smaller woman's slender arms from his neck and setting her on the ground, "I'm spending time with Mila Rose, here."

"Her?!" Cirucci glanced at Mila Rose, then laughed, "Are you kidding?!"

And suddenly—though she barely caught it—his gaze sobered just a bit. Instead of the soft amber they'd turned to when he spoke to her, they were now that initial cool, almost icy golden topaz. "Quite," he said shortly, and Cirucci blinked, embarrassed, before slipping away to the back in a huff.

As she watched the girl's hips sway while she walked, Mila Rose contemplated why Arturo had chosen her. She was obviously atypical. He'd said as much himself. She was still slightly sunburnt, unused to the western sun, and her clothes were more lacy than they should be. Her hair was never fixed atop her head, since she didn't know how: it always hung loose. Her makeup wasn't the heavy, richly colorful shades of the other girls': it was very light.

She quickly concluded that it must just be his pride: he only truly wanted what he couldn't have. Turning back to Arturo, she leaned forward again, trying to remember her guile.

"So, I take it this makes me a part of your plans…?"

He smiled. "Yes, I believe it does." Arturo got up from the table and motioned for her to follow, smiling. "This way," he said smoothly. She tensed. They were supposed to take their suitors to the back… but he was rich. She supposed exceptions were okay now and then, and followed him.

The night air was freezing-cold, but at the same time soft and thick with fine red silt from the road. She looked up at the sky, before hurrying across the street with him, not wanting to lose her way.

But she never failed to notice how many more stars there were, how blue the night sky was out here. There was no snow to cloud her vision, as there would have been back home. That had been one of the things that she'd thought she would miss, but never had.

She was careful to make sure her boots connected with the wooden sidewalk before stepping up, and the rhythm of them against the planks reminded her of her heartbeat as she followed him to a reasonably-sized house on the outskirts of town, near the river. The sidewalk ended a hundred or so yards hence, leaving her walking on hard-packed dirt part of the way; all the while a few paces behind him with his sure, swinging gait.

The house was tall and surrounded by a small yard, though the place wasn't fenced. In the daylight, the siding would have been plain age-gray wood, but in the night, it seemed to glow and shine silver. She smiled; this was everything she had hoped for- the rugged beauty, the freedom, the companionship of strangers. Everything good about the West.

The only problem tugged at her stomach: the stranger—Arturo—wasn't really a companion. It bothered her to be following him into his house when she knew what he'd do; the anticipation felt similar to sitting in the waiting-room at a doctor's office. They both knew what would happen; the only difference was the obvious lack of butterflies in his stomach, as opposed to hers, which was full of the darned things. But then, he'd probably done this before. He'd definitely done this before.

Her heart fluttered as they crossed the threshold and climbed the stairs to his bedroom. Mila Rose tried to keep up the façade. She tried to seem calm. But she was shaking when he shut the door behind them and took off his jacket. He beckoned her close, had her sit down on the bed. She complied, her pulse speeding up by the moment.

He handed her a pair of breeches and a man's shirt. Mila Rose blinked at him, totally confused. What did he mean by this…?

In response, he gestured to a kettle on the small claw-footed iron stove in one corner of the room. Beside it, on a small table, there was a shallow terra-cotta basin, a bar of soap, a rag and an worn-soft towel.

"The water's hot," he said gently, as if speaking to a small child. "You're to wash up, dry off and come over here and get dressed so that we can go out to the river. You can't be going out there in those clothes," he explained. "They'll be ruined. And your perfume, if that's what you girls call it, will poison the water…"

She nodded dumbly and began to unbutton her blouse, glancing over at him every few seconds. He was watching her closely, eyes moving slowly over her body as she undressed. Her face grew hot; it was humiliating, the way he openly stared, but she supposed if he paid her, he was entitled. After a moment, he got up and batted her hands away from her bodice, taking the straps and undoing them quickly. He smirked.

"You're definitely new here," he said, and moved to her skirt. She started and almost took a step back, but reminded herself what she was doing and forcibly became as still as a statue. He sighed, "That just won't do."

"Huh…?"

Arturo reached out and braced her jaw in one hand, the other running down from her shoulder and flicking across one nipple before undoing her skirts the rest of the way, and then returning to give more attention.

She gasped, her eyes widening but never leaving his. He continued until the nipple he'd been tweaking became hard and very dark before cupping her other breast and starting again. She whimpered, a strange pull starting between her legs.

"Hmm… so, can I let go of you now…?" Mila Rose put a little more downward pressure behind her jaw, as if to nod, and felt his other hand slip down to join the right one. Arturo was careful, gentle. He knew no one had ever touched her like this.

She shuddered under his touch as he stroked and petted her, working his way down to her hips. He leaned forward and kissed her, playing his tongue along her lips. When she gasped, he pulled her close, slipping his tongue into her mouth and exploring.

At the same time, he let his hands wander lower until they found what he also wanted to explore, and in a particularly heated moment of their kiss, slipped one finger deep inside. She nearly bit him at that, her voice rising in her throat as a shocked whimper and a chokingly murmured no. She'd been raised constrained, laced up and covered well; her training was telling her that this was wrong.

But Arturo wouldn't remove them to soothe her; she was already wet for him whether she knew it or not, and the feeling of her—slick and silky, burning-hot—was exhilarating. He deepened their kiss even further, finally coming up for air and smirking at her. With his eyes opened, he could see that hers were wide and panicked… but he could also see the telltale blush just across her cheeks, the way her breath was still unsteady, but now a little more ragged, a little less shallow.

"How does this feel?" As he asked, he backed her into the bed, letting the mattress against the backs of her knees take care of getting her onto her back, and slid the finger back and forth, going a little deeper each time, stroking her inside. "Well?"

"It… ah…" Mila Rose gulped, afraid to continue speaking.

"Hmmm?" He paused and drew out and up, until she shuddered under him again, and began to gently stroke back and forth before going in circles. "Does it feel good?"

Her response was a nod and, after one particularly sweet stroke, a breathy and genuine moan. Arturo smiled and withdrew, pulling her up as he did so. She blinked at him, shocked.

"What? You thought I'd take you now?" he shook his head. "Far too simple. I just wanted to give you a taste… something to look forward to." Then he smirked and led her over to the basin.

"You still have to wash up," he reminded her, picking up the soap and rag and beginning for her. After a moment, her sense returned and she pushed his hands away, taking the rag and finishing the washing herself. He sat back on the bed and watched, and when she was finished, he washed up himself and put on old clothes that she would never have imagined him in after the cobalt suit.

"Now what?" she asked, surprised. Arturo smiled.

"Now we go to the river," he said, continuing to smile and taking her hand. "We watch the New Years' fireworks. And after that…" he smirked. "We can come back here and finish what we started."

    

Outside, with most of the town's lights off since it was so late, the sky was beautiful. There were so many stars—swathing the entire sky, from horizon to horizon—that the normal black color was lost, and the only bare patches seemed a deep blue at the very darkest. The fine dust of the roads was freezing-cold in the winter air, and when they kicked it up as they walked, it stuck to their damp skin in cakes, smudging their clothes.

Mila Rose glanced around surreptitiously as they left the city limits, unsure now of where they were or how they were going to get back, because from the way he kept stumbling over and walking into trees, bushes, and discarded wagon parts, Arturo didn't seem to know, either.

Another crash and the accompanying stream of curses alerted her to the fact that she was straying too far behind, and she sped up so that she wouldn't get lost. Not that Arturo wasn't easy to follow; he wasn't at all quiet, and every once in a while he would stop completely and wait, making sure she'd caught up before blundering on. Eventually, the debris gave way to a wide stretch of cool, pale sand, leading to a wide river. She gave a small gasp; the entire scene was breathtakingly beautiful.

The sand was perfectly smooth, glistening in the starlight. In the late-night winter monochrome, it seemed to be pure white, though she knew it would be a dull reddish-brown in the morning. Along the far edge of the bank was the river. Clear at the shallows, it revealed current-beveled sand and deep, endless black underneath. Around the edges, in the puddles of still water, ice had formed, thick and glass-clear. The wind whistled softly through the infinite natural lacework of tree branches, swishing along the exposed sand, a fresh but frigid breeze that sent pleasurable shivers coursing up and down her spine.

The perfect winter stillness was shattered by Arturo's voice and the feeling of his hand around hers. She noticed immediately that he'd stripped to the waist. He had a very, very nice chest, though the thought made her face redden a little. "Come on," he said, leading her forward. "We'll miss it."

She nodded and followed him, at a loss for words. They crossed the sand and splashed into the water, and Mila Rose lost her breath at the intense cold. The water was as clear, soft, and dark as the sky, although the cold felt like sharp pinpricks to her skin. At the shallows, it came halfway to their knees. Arturo smiled and pulled her further in when she paused, first to the knees, then to the waist, and even further in until they were standing with their shoulders submerged in the icy water. Waves of pure cold lapped the sensitive nape of her neck, and she gave an involuntary shudder.

The current was strong enough to make Mila Rose lose her balance; she stumbled forward, flinching as the water splashed onto her face, soaking her hair when her knees buckled on instinct. She winced and gritted her teeth, the shock taking her breath away completely—

Then, suddenly, she was above the water again, the cold air shimmering and smooth, crystal-clear. She blinked water from her eyes and met those of Arturo, carefully wrapping her arms around his neck and pressing close to keep from falling. She was shivering in the cold, and the small warmth he could provide drew her in, made her press as close as she could, even though she was fully aware of her thin white shirt and not-so-flat chest. He smiled and held her, making special note of the way her curves fit perfectly against his. Then he smirked and locked eyes with her.

"Hold your breath, Mila Rose."

"What—" he held her tighter, kneeling in the sand on the river's bottom and letting the water course around them, leaning in close to kiss her. When he stood back up, they were both shivering, shivering hard, and the breeze running over the river was much more intensely cold than before. The water actually hurt a little. But even so, Mila Rose looked up at him with a little smile.

"Let me guess," he whispered. "You wouldn't be allowed to do this where you come from."

She shook her head, eyes focused on his. He smiled at that as well: it was the first time she'd met anyone's eyes all evening, quite possibly all year. His thoughts were interrupted, however, by a loud explosion somewhere downstream.

"Look," he whispered. "The fireworks…"

Mila Rose leaned into him, laying her head against his chest and watching. "They're beautiful," she whispered. "And the night sky…"

He nodded. "Happy New Year, Mila Rose."

"Happy New Year, Arturo." He pulled her closer, kissing her temple.

"That's the first time you've called me by name…" the fireworks ended and he picked her up, giving a low chuckle when she yelped in surprise. "Hmm? What's wrong?"

She gave a small shudder. "It's… cold…"

Arturo nodded. "Well, then, let's get you home and warmed up. And after that…" he leaned in and kissed her softly on the lips, smirking. "We finish what we started before we left."