She doesn't know what to think when she opens the door to find him standing there.

They have met before, if only briefly, and he is not an easy person to forget. The starkly-silver hair, the long pointed face, the smile that had sliced through Jidanbou-san's arm and severed it so completely that it took her hours to put him back together, the smile that had choked the air from her lungs and forced her helplessly to her knees while Kurosaki-kun bled and Kuchiki-san went horribly limp because that man, Aizen-san, Aizen-sama, had put his hand right through her chest--

The smile that he wears now, as he bows with a little flourish and introduces himself cheerfully. It is a name she remembers hearing only in Jidanbou-san's frightened whisper. "Ichimaru Gin. I don't think we've been introduced?"

He does not seem especially expectant when he looks at her; patient, and polite, and a million other things he can't possibly really be if he's a part of something like this.

Orihime hesitates, and shakes her head. "No," she agrees. "Not properly. I'm..." Her brother did a good job of raising her, she is a good girl, and responding in kind to an introduction is too deeply ingrained to ignore. Even when she knows he must already know her name. "I'm Inoue Orihime. It's... it's nice to meet you."

His smile does not really change, but there is a new tightness in his face as he cocks his head at her, and she has gotten very good at reading someone much more expressionless than him. She knows that he is interested in her reply, even a little bit surprised by it. She wonders what he was expecting. "It is," he returns warmly, and straightens, moving deeper into her room and looking around at its walls like a tourist. "Very nice indeed."

It's nothing like the way Ulquiorra looks at her room, scanning it for threats and then apparently losing interest. It makes her feel as if she's back at home, curled up on her bed, and he is examining photographs of her friends and family. Intimate, somehow. Orihime isn't entirely sure that she likes it, and watches him very closely.

Finally he seems to feel her eyes on him, and he turns, still smiling, still pleasant. "You've been a good girl, you know that? Aizen-sama's pleased."

She is as surprised to hear him use the honorific as she was when Tousen-san did. Somehow, she keeps forgetting that Aizen-sama is their king, that Arrancar and Shinigami alike are his subjects, and not his friends. It strikes her as a little bit lonely, and she thinks she might almost feel bad for him.

(if only he stopped trying to kill all her friends)

"Is he?" she asks, a bit belated, and the smile stretches across his face.

"Oh, yes. Very pleased." Here, Ichimaru-san moves towards her, reaching out as if for her hand, although surely he couldn't expect her to take it. "He said you'd earned a little fresh air for a while. Would you like to come on a field trip with me?"

Her head jerks up before she can stop it, and she knows she must look eager, more eager than she'd like. She searches his face for some hint of the catch, the trap, that must be here, but he just raises his eyebrows and widens his smile and waits patiently.

She takes the hand.


They do not venture far from Los Noches, but she doesn't mind because for the first time in months she can see more than just the moon through a hole high above her head. She can see the sky, and the horizon, and the strange sandy wasteland of Hueco Mundo. The air is cold on her skin, and every now and then a breeze will make that worse, but she doesn't mind that, either. It feels good.

Ichimaru-san has been almost kind to her. He has seen to it that she has a warm cup of some type of tea (its flavor is spicy and unfamiliar), and when she really starts to shiver, he slips out of his coat and sets it on her shoulders. Orihime finds that she knows less what to think of him now than she did when he first appeared on her doorstep, and she doesn't like that. She doesn't like any of this.

To distract herself, she peers around at their surroundings, and asks him lots of questions he doesn't really answer, and tries to get a tiny Hollow insect to crawl along a branch she's found.

"Is everything dead here?" she tries again, because the branch has that feel to it, smooth and soft, like petrified wood.

"Shouldn't it be?" he asks in turn, which is pretty much what he's said to everything else, too.

Orihime scowls at him, she can't help it. "The Soul Society is a place where dead people live, too," she points out, "but the grass still grows, and the birds still sing."

There's that tightness in his face again, and again he cocks his head as if he's thinking. "Do you really miss those things?"

She blinks. "I miss more than just those things, Ichimaru-san," she tells him, slow and careful.

If anything, the tightness only increases. Then he grins at her, really at her instead of just in general, and steps closer, kneeling so that he can take the branch from her. He spreads out his palm and then tips the tiny Hollow into it, letting the branch fall away. "I'm sure you do," he says, but if he's looking anywhere with his eyes cinched shut like that, she's sure it's not at her. "Still, you're doing what you've got to, right? And they're safer like this."

Safer not trying to rescue her.

She puts on a very brave smile for him, one that isn't much more sincere, she suspects, than the ten he's given her so far. But these words, too, are a sort of kindness. "I guess so. It doesn't stop me from missing them."

"No, of course not. But," Ichimaru-san goes on, a bit more cheerfully, "you've got important work to do here now. Important work is always nicely distracting."

Orihime almost asks him, And what sort of work is that? Rejecting the damage done to the Hougyoku every time it breaks until your leader has his army? "That's true," she says instead. "And it's interesting here, seeing all the different types of Hollows."

He glances at her, and again it's just a smile, but she sees something different there this time. Something that isn't only interest. "Exactly~. You'll never be bored here. Aizen-sama's princess. He would probably even sing you to sleep at night, if you asked very nicely."

She laughs despite herself, and feels some of the constant, constant tension draining out of her. Retrieving the branch he discarded, she begins to trace idle shapes in the sand, watching the lines as she makes them like it's someone else moving her hand. "He doesn't seem the type to sing," she offers.

"You'd be surprised," he says carelessly. Then, more helpful than anything else so far, "That's the type of man he is."

"Oh," she says, automatic. "Good."

Ichimaru-san tilts his head a little further, and she thinks he might be amused. "Ohh? You think so?"

The truth is that it's easier to hate the man if he has at least one friend, that even the tiny part she tries to crush won't have to pity him then, and that, as the weeks turn to months and the months slowly, slowly turn to years, she has to keep hating him or she thinks she'll die.

Orihime doesn't really want to say that. But if she lies, she's sure he'll know.

"Everyone should have people who know them," she says finally, every word precise. "People who aren't just soldiers."

He actually laughs a little at that, and flicks his wrist so that the tiny Hollow goes flying, catching the air on its wings and zipping dizzily away. "What a good answer," he murmurs warmly. "So carefully noncommittal. I like you, princess." And here he stretches his smile even further, so that it curves deeply into his face like a river cutting granite. "You can call me Gin."

She feels herself flushing hotly, and this time she really wishes her brother hadn't raised her quite so well. "I... I don't think I can..."

Ichimaru-san gazes at her for a moment more, then says, "Your little branch isn't petrified. It's just made of sand, like everything else out here."

It feels like a concession; a real answer, with none of his dodging or twisting away. More tension drains out of her, and even though it isn't exactly useful information, she still looks at him hopefully. "Really? It doesn't look or, well, feel like sand, really."

His lips curve, and there is such pleasure in his voice, like he enjoys his response and thinks it's very, very funny. "Things aren't always what they seem, are they?"

And that could mean so many different things that all she can do is nod wordlessly.

Gin watches her a beat more, then climbs to his feet and brushes off his white clothes. "Now, come on. Let's go back. It's getting late, and we can't have you catching cold. My coat isn't all that thick."

This time, she takes his outstretched hand without so much as a second thought.

She'll wonder later what he stood to gain from all of this, answering questions and never asking them, but she won't remember that moment, or the way his smile widened then, just a fraction of an inch.