Ito Hiroshi had not adjusted well. Not so long ago (ten years, or was it fifteen? So hard to keep track in this stupid place) he had been a successful bank manager, just reaching his prime. He had the car, the reputation, the twenty year old secretary to keep him company on the nights he "worked late". He had the eye of several important people in the financial world, too; people who could make the ceiling he'd been staring at for the last decade his new floor. He had friends. He had prospects.
He had a little too much sake.
He'd woken up invisible, and that made him angry. Hiroshi liked to be seen. What was the point of the Italian suits otherwise? (Not that you could find an Italian suit in this place. No taste, these people had no taste. Backwards little backwater hicks…) No one could hear him, either; no one listened. His secretary smiled at the new manager like Ito had never been born. It was all very vexing.
Only one thing was as it should be. The bank itself, the source of his prior good fortune and the thing he could use to turn this mess around, was still connected to him. A long chain tied it straight into his heart. How's that for reminding everyone who was in charge?! The bank was his, and when he moved on he'd take it with him. That would show them. They'd have to listen to him, to see him then. "Oh, manager, sir!" they'd cry. "What do we do?" And he'd throw that tramp and that smirking idiot out of his office (there was a new girl in the loan department, she looked like she could type…) and sit down at his desk and get things rolling again. A little thing like dying was not going to stop him.
There was just one flaw in his plan: the bank was heavy.
He'd been close to figuring it out, right on the verge of pulling the building up by its very foundations when that punk kid in black had whacked him on the head with a sword. Who did that kind of thing? Ito'd charge him with assault, if this dump had any proper sort of legal system. Sauntered up and smacked him, in broad daylight on a crowded street, smiling like an idiot the whole time. No respect. And so Ito had ended up here without the bank.
There weren't any banks here, and no cars. Half the population ran around with a sword strapped on their back or hanging from their belt. Idiots. He'd landed in the middle of some inane historical drama, the kind that runs in black and white late at night for twenty years. Someone should put the whole place out of its collective misery. At least he still had sake.
He might have a wife around here, too; Junko always depended on him. He was the center of her whole world. She'd probably died of grief a few weeks after the funeral. He wasn't the sort of man who could spare time to go look for her- any moment someone was going to notice his raw talent and find a better use for his genius than running a store. He couldn't waste time and energy tromping around in the mud hunting some woman. But he kept his eyes open just in case she passed by. It would be silly for her to go on worrying about him in a situation like that. And then maybe she could mind the store for him while he devoted himself to cultivating his contacts. Besides, the girls here weren't as friendly as the ones in the living world.
He was working contacts close to the wall. He'd never been inside, but it was clear that that was the place to be. The big houses, the better food (they said "you don't have to eat" like it was a good thing, fah!), the nicer clothes (still like some damn reenactment, but at least silk was silk)… they were all up close to the wall. So he walked the first district every day, smiling and bowing and learning names, learning faces. Someone here would be his key. Ito Hiroshi did not belong on the outside.
He was momentarily distracted on today's stroll as an amazing pair of breasts passed by. He'd never seen those around here before. Long, curvy legs, soft hair, and full lips to go with 'em, too. Not bad at all. He turned to look a little longer, barely noticing when the motion carried him into some white-haired brat on the street. He shoved at the kid. "Hey, watch where you're going!"
And then he was on his back, looking up at the cloud streaked sky. His head already ached like he was coming off a three day night out. What the hell happened? He raised a hand to wipe his face and found that it was covered in frost.
"You're lucky," a woman's voice giggled. Usually he liked that kind of voice, but he had the feeling this one was actually laughing at him. He blinked and turned toward the voice, found it was coming from the chest he'd noticed earlier. "Other men might have killed you for that." Men? What man? And then Hiroshi realized she was talking about the boy, the one staring at him right now with hard green eyes.
"If he lays a hand on me again, I will." Deep voice, and cold. Didn't seem natural in a kid that size.
"You wouldn't do it to defend my honor?"
"You hardly need me for that."
"True," the woman replied, fingering her sword. Everywhere the damn swords. "But you could still volunteer." Her voice was a pout, a teasing one. If he hadn't just been knocked flat on his ass in the street, Ito would be offering to buy her a drink right now.
The kid sighed and rubbed his temple like he had a headache. "Matsumoto, would you like me to bash this guy's face in for you?"
"No, thanks, but it's sweet of you to offer, Captain." She gave the brat's shoulder an affectionate squeeze.
And then he noticed what he should probably have noticed first. Black uniforms, on the kid and the woman both. Black uniforms and swords. Damn. Shinigami. High and mighty bastards. And the kid wore a sleeveless white coat. There was a crowd of idiots circled around, staring at the three of them, but they were all standing well back. Ito's pride warred briefly with his instinct for advancement.
The kid was still glaring. "He should at least apologize."
"Hey, now, what do you think-"
He froze, literally, halfway through the act of pushing himself off the ground. Ice glued his legs together, coated his sleeve, even frosted his hair. It finally occurred to him to wonder what he'd gotten himself into.
The bombshell whose fault this was shook her head at him. The kid hadn't moved. "Apologize."
"I-I am most sorry, honored Captain, ma'am." He nodded to each of them, as close as he could come to a bow with his limbs being frozen off. "Please forgive any offense I have caused." The words were bitter in his mouth; he just refrained from spitting them.
Apparently that was enough. The white-haired junior captain stalked off without another word, his tantalizing associate close on his heels. When the crowd had closed thoroughly behind them Ito began trying to work the ice off his clothes enough to stand and walk, muttering curses the whole time. Pompous brat. Attacking responsible business men for walking down the street. And that bimbo with him; a woman like that was trouble, all trouble.
Ito Hiroshi had no idea.
"So, Ito-san, is everything to your liking?"
Was it ever. All his suffering was finally nearing its end, his patience being rewarded. He blessed the day this man had sauntered into his store. "Indeed, Captain. I think this arrangement will suit us both very well." A room in the inner city. A place in a captain's staff, subordinates to manage. It was about time.
"I certainly look forward to it." The silver-haired captain's broad smile grew even broader. Ichimaru was such a pleasant man. Great sort to work with, even if he did carry a sword. At least he didn't swing it around like most of these idiots did. "Why don't we have a drink to celebrate?" Ichimaru waved him through the door.
Better and better. Hiroshi followed his soon-to-be employer across the Division's grounds. Everywhere black-clad shinigami loitered; they hailed the captain respectfully as he passed, and it felt to Hiroshi they saluted him as well. He was the captain's guest, after all. The man who would soon be handling the civilian affairs for the division. Some of these soul reapers might even work for him from time to time, running errands and such. Hiroshi smiled.
Captain Ichimaru stopped in a pretty little grove, well away from the bustle of the Division headquarters. Ito wasn't much for staring at nature, but the higher-ups around here seemed to be fond of it, so he dutifully complimented the view.
"It's not bad," the Captain's tone turned suddenly sly, conspiratorial, coaxing Ito into a grin, "but I've seen better."
Hiroshi spent a fond moment thinking of the better he'd seen.
"I'm glad you were willing to meet with me, Ito-san." Captain Ichimaru produced a bottle from some pocket of his uniform and poured his companion a drink. "I heard that not all of your interactions with the captains of the Gotei 13 have been pleasant."
Hiroshi's right hand flared with remembered pain. It shouldn't be possible to get frostbite when you're dead. "Not everyone handles authority well, sir. I'm just fortunate to be of service to someone of a higher character."
Captain Ichimaru chuckled, no doubt appreciating Ito's sly joke about the child captain's diminutive stature.
"The kid does have some growing to do. His vice-captain, on the other hand…"
That must be the woman. She certainly didn't need to grow. Ito winked knowingly and laughed. "Just the right size - a perfect armful."
The captain raised his drink, and Ito followed suit. "Well, better luck next time, Ito-san," he offered, downing the sake with an appreciative sigh.
Hiroshi was halfway through his when the meaning of the captain's words reached him. "Next time, sir?" That was not what the captain was supposed to say. A swell of panic washed over him. Surely this wasn't going wrong…
And suddenly the captain's hand was around his throat and there was no air. Why did he need to breathe when he was dead? The grin hadn't left Ichimaru's face. He hadn't drawn his sword. Ito could just see the hilt at the captain's waist.
"Oh, that?" the captain asked cheerfully, following his victim's gaze. "I don't need that for you. What you should understand, Hiroshi, is that I'm offering you a second chance. In this life, you've been kind of a pig. Maybe now you can be reborn as a man! One hint for that: try to learn respect for your betters, especially the ladies."
The last thing Ito saw was Ichimaru's pleasant smile.