When Gin stumbled across the elegant woman, with her long hair and her silks and her wine, he thought that he was dreaming. This was the middle of a forest, not some noble's private garden, and it wasn't even a very nice forest. There were no huge and shady trees, no deep green leaves, no lovely mossy banks or gentle streams; only scraggly slumped trees with leafless branches, tattered bits of shrub, and stagnant ponds.

"Going somewhere?" she enquired. Two page boys were waiting on her: one of them was filling her cup, while the other sat at her feet and arranged papers for her. Neither of them bothered to look at Gin.

Gin was suspicious. It was his natural state of being, and what he'd just seen them do to Rangiku-chan - his Rangiku-chan – made it that much harsher. "What's a lady like ya want with a brat like me?" he demanded, mouth curled into his nastiest smirk.

"Do you believe in coincidence?" she asked. Her inflections and choice of words were pure upper-class.

"Naah," Gin said without a second thought.


"Course not."

She looked him up and down. "Do you believe in anything, boy?"

"I believe that life's out to screw us over," Gin said, then blinked at the surprising honesty of his answer. He'd probably have done better feeding her some line about how he believed in the gods and then going through her stuff once she'd turned her back.

"Ah." She took a sip of her wine, but didn't offer him any. "So I suppose that in the event, oh, some convenient good fairy happened to drop out of the sky and offer you a favour . . ."

"I'd ask what's in it for her," Gin said, and watched her from under his eyelashes.

"Fair exchange," the woman said. "You get something, I get something, we're both – well, we both get what we agreed upon."

Gin's hands balled into fists as he looked at her, sitting there so calmly, so prettily. But he didn't curse. Instead, he smiled. "Well, ma'am, that's real generous of ya, but I don't see that I really believe any of that."

"You don't?" she said, and she sounded genuinely surprised, lifting her high arched eyebrows like an actress at the theatre pantomiming shock.

"No." He took a small step towards her, and gave her his most appealing smile. "Ma'am, I don't believe in any of that stuff. I mean, sure, if ya wanna to take me into your service, I can work hard, and perhaps in time you'll give me some sort of reward –"

"You're lying, little boy," she said, her eyes like crystal and looking right through him. "Lying in your teeth. You were more honest when you said earlier that you didn't believe me. But I hold no malice. I'm offering you a deal. Isn't there something you want?"

Revenge. They hurt my Rangiku-chan and I'm going to make them pay for it.He gave her the smile again, tilting his head winsomely. "Can't think of anything that I'd ask a noble lady like you for, ma'am. Noble ladies like ya don't make deals with boys from the gutter like me."

The woman tossed her hands in the air and swore. Wine flew from her cup to spatter on the dry ground. Gin watched the dark liquid soak into the dust, and wondered if blood would do the same, and be so quick to vanish. "For pity's sake! Boy, I'm trying to help you here. Give me a little trust, if you please!"

"Sorry, ma'am," Gin said, the words quick and light and worthless. "I'm very hurt that ya don't think much of a boy like me. I hope that someday you'll think better."

She leaned forward, her long hair slipping in coils and loops over her robes. "Let's try this a third time. I can give you what you want. I might even be able to find a way that will make you happy. But to do that, you have to trust me enough to tell me what it is, Ichimaru-kun."

He flinched back. "Ya know my name."

"I know a lot of things," she said, and she curled her red lips into a smile of private amusement. "They call me a witch, you know."

"I don't trust witches," Gin said, poised to run.

"Trust me enough to tell me what you want." She held out a thin hand to him, long red nails glittering on the ends of long pale fingers. "It's an option, you see. There are options. Some cost more than others. Lying's an option. Trust is an option. And every choice costs, but some of them are going to cost more than others."

Gin looked at her – at that outstretched hand, those dark crystal eyes, those painted lips – and he made his choice, drawing it like a knife between her and himself.

He didn't trust anyone.

He wouldn't trust anyone.

"Sorry, ma'am," he said again, the words like butter in his mouth. They oozed out smoothly. "I can't think of anything I'd ask a nice lady like yourself. I'm sure I can manage anything that needs to be done all on my own."

Yes. He'd manage it. He'd manage that bastard Aizen Sousuke into a hole in the ground and hear him beg for mercy first.

"Is that your final choice?" the woman – no, the witch – asked.

He shrugged, a quick jerk of his shoulders. He didn't see it as any sort of choice. It was just how things were. "Wouldn't want to take up any more of your time, ma'am –"

"It's going to cost more than you think," she said. For a moment she caught his eye, and he couldn't move. Her gaze was like a knife going through him, as clear and painful as the moment when he'd found Rangiku-chan lying there.

And then he shook it off. "Just as you say, ma'am," he replied meaninglessly, edging further and further back until he could run for it, leaving her lounging there in her silks and with her servants.

As soon as he was out of sight, he turned and ran, pelting across the dusty forest floor, dodging low branches and brambles, trying to get as far away from the witch as he could. He still felt unsettled.

It was the way she'd expected him to trust her. To tell her stuff. To ask her for a bargain.

She might have known his name, but she clearly didn't know anything about him. He didn't do stuff like that.

He was going to get revenge, and he'd get it his own way, and anyone who got in the way of that revenge – well, they just didn't matter.

That was how life was. It wasn't fair. Nor was he.

And anyone who thought otherwise was going to get screwed over. That was life. And that was death, too.

He smiled, and opened his eyes wide to watch the sunset.