Narita Akio growled in irritation as he chased a Hollow through the districts of the Rukongai. The Hollow was not that strong, but it was annoyingly quick and agile; it had already led him on a chase through two districts, and he was finally catching up to it.

In all honesty, he really did not want to be out here, but as an unseated officer of the Fifth Division, it was among his many duties to patrol the poorer regions of the Rukongai. The superiors claimed it was to build experience, but Narita knew it was because no one above the rank of Tenth Seat would ever sully their fingers by actually doing work in the poverty-stricken areas.

Finally, he caught up with his target, and raised his wakizashi with his dominant left hand. He charged forward, but the Hollow chose that moment to turn around and attack. Narita managed to react in time to avoid the worst of it, but the creature's claws still managed to slice through his right calf.

Spitting out curses, Narita ignored the pain long enough to jump up and deliver an overhead slice that cut the Hollow in two.

It dissipated into spiritual particles, and Narita fell back against a nearby tree and slowly sat down to the ground. He looked at his leg, and saw that while it was bleeding freely, the wound itself was not that deep.

He groaned as he rubbed his hand along the shaved surface of his head; it looked like he was going to have to limp back to the Seireitei. He was not looking forward to that experience.

"Need help?"

Narita jumped and held his sword in front of him, looking up at the person who had spoken.

He relaxed only slightly when he saw it was just a kid. As a former resident of the outer regions of the Rukongai himself, Narita knew better than to trust anyone at face value, no matter how old (or young) they looked. While the Sixty-Fourth district was not one of the worst parts of the Rukongai, it would be stupid to trust anyone out here. A skinny kid like this wouldn't be a physical threat, but Narita didn't want to return to the Seireitei and suddenly realize his money purse had been snitched.

"What do you want?" he barked.

The kid smiled at him, unfazed by the hostile tone.

"I just wanted to say thanks," he said, "Since ya killed the Hollow that was after me."

"Whatever," Narita scoffed. The kid obviously thought that the Hollow was chasing him, when it was actually running away from its pursuer. After all, the only reason a Hollow would go after this kid was if he had a decent amount of spiritual pressure. Narita had no patience with awestruck children so he gruffly ordered, "Now get outta here."

"Yer bleedin', though," the kid noticed, "Lemme help with that."

Narita was about to repeat his demand for the kid to get lost, but refrained from doing so at the last moment. If the squirt wanted to help so badly, then the wounded warrior would accept the free aid. After all, it wasn't like the kid had enough reiatsu to be a real threat. As long as he kept an eye on potentially filching hands, there should be no problem.

"All right," Narita growled, "But don't try anything funny."

"No problem," the kid agreed, "I'm just gonna tear a piece of yer uniform shirt to make a bandage, 'kay?"

"Fine," Narita allowed. He could always get a new shihakusho from the quartermaster or make someone from the Fourth mend it after he got back.

Despite the kid's claim to help, Narita kept a watchful eye on his benefactor as he tore strips from his shihakusho sleeves and tied them around his wounded leg.

"That should do it," the kid said as he finished tying the knot to the bandage and secured it firmly, "I'll be right back."

Honestly, Narita didn't care if the kid returned or not.

He knew he probably should get a move on back to the Seireitei, but he didn't feel like it. He had just slain a Hollow that led him on a miles-long chase, so he felt like had earned his right to lazy about for a little bit. But a look at the clouds told him he shouldn't loiter too long; it looked like it would start snowing soon.

He only barely noticed it when the kid came back with a small bowl in his hands.

"Here's some medicine from some plants 'round here," he informed the shinigami, giving the bowl to him, "Should keep the pain down an' make sure the cut don't get infected."

Narita took the concoction without thanks and downed it in one quick gulp to prevent picking up the revolting taste he knew was present in all medicines.

"So, what's yer name?" the kid asked curiously.

"Narita Akio, an officer of the Fifth Division," he answered haughtily, deliberately leaving out the fact that he was just an unseated officer. There was no need for the kid to let the kid get any ideas that he was weak (which he wasn't).

Medicine was working quickly; the pain from his leg was dimming, and he now felt like he could handle a walk back to base. But not yet; he'd spend a few more minutes on his self-imposed break before reporting back in. Nobody was expecting him for a few more hours anyway, so he was free to relax.

"Cool," the kid said, "I bet ya slay monsters like that all the time."

"Yeah, but those are small fry," Narita boasted, "They're no match for someone like me; this guy just got a lucky shot in."

That was weird; he was starting to feel a bit nauseous.

"Are ya alright?" asked the kid, probably noticing the grimace.

"Feeling a little bit sick is all," Narita grunted.

"Don't worry 'bout it," the kid assured him, "Probably just the medicine."

"So, to take my mind off the pain in my leg, you give me something that'll make me sick to my stomach?"

The kid shrugged, his smile still in place.

Narita scoffed at the nonverbal response, and shook his head.

"That's a cool sword ya got there," the kid said.

"What, this?" Narita asked in disgust, holding up his nameless wakizashi with his favored hand, "It's pathetic, really. What I really deserve is a full-sized katana, not this dinner knife they forced me to have."

"Ya really shouldn't hate yer weapon like that," the kid scolded lightly, "Ya did manage to kill that Hollow with it."

Narita snorted. "If I had a nodachi or even a tachi in that fight, I wouldn't have been injured in the first place. That's the point of giving swords a long blade: to make sure the enemy is further away from you."

"What if the enemy gets too close?"

"Then you're an idiot who deserves to be killed."

"I guess yer right."

The shinigami groaned as he felt a throbbing pain assault his frontal lobes.

"Look, kid, just shut up for a moment will you," Narita growled, "You're giving me a headache."

He lifted a hand to massage his aching temple. At least, he wanted to. He started to panic as he realized that he had lost all feeling in his arms as well as his legs.

"What did you do to me, you brat?!"

Rage ordered his arms to reach up and wring the little shrimp's neck, but the command was disobeyed; the poison's coup against his body had already ensured that the voluntary muscles were paralyzed. It would only be seconds more before his heart and lungs were relieved of their duties in a similar manner.

As his life slipped away and blackness welcomed him, the last thing Narita saw was a predatory smile on the child's face.

Sato Tarou was in a good mood. Then again, he generally was in a good mood, as he considered himself a fun and friendly person to be around. But today, he was justified in being in an even better mood.

He had finally learned the name of his sword. It had taken him several years, but he had done it.

And more importantly, learning the name of his zanpakuto would finally qualify him for a promotion to a seated officer position.

To celebrate his achievement, he decided to indulge by spending the night drinking sake. He talked with a couple greenhorns new to the division and managed to "persuade" them into donating a bit of change so he could afford a night's celebration. After seizing the appropriate funds, Sato went into a bar and made no effort to hold back. A couple of hours later, he left the establishment after consuming several rounds of alcohol.

He did not leave because he had been thrown out; he had not left because he had been a bit too pushy with one of the womenfolk (who was just playing one of those "hard-to-get" games with him; that was the only explanation why she resisted his advances), and a bouncer had been called to toss him out in a manner that was far rougher than necessary. No sir, Sato left under his own willpower and his own choice.

That was his story, and he was sticking to it.

Sato stumbled through the streets, in the direction that he hoped was the Fifth Division barracks.

He took a step in the wrong place, and lost his balance. He reached his hands forward in futility to keep himself upright, but in the end, his face was rudely introduced to the ground.

Sato groaned and tried to get up, but his arms did not want to cooperate. As he wondered how much he really wanted to get back to his room, he heard someone step by him and say, "Easy there, big fella."

An arm reached around his waist and started lifting him off the ground. Sato accepted the aid eagerly, and placed his feet under him and stood up. He groaned slightly as he went as upright as his inebriated state would allow, and leaned on his yet-unnamed helper.

"Thanks, man," he said, looking to his right, where he felt his human crutch.

He blinked in confusion, and looked down. Not even reaching his chest was a cheerful-looking boy in the uniform of an Academy student.

"What's a kid like you doin' out so late?" Sato slurred.

"Just takin' a walk," the student answered, "I saw ya fall down an' decided to help."

"Thanks, I owe you one," the drunken man grinned in appreciation, "The name's Sato Tarou, and I'm definitely gonna remember you after I get promoted."

"Don't worry 'bout it," the shinigami-to-be chuckled, and then asked, "Now where do ya need to go?"

"Fifth Division barracks," was the slurred answer.

"Fifth? Ain't that Hirako-taicho's division?" the kid asked as he led Sato in the opposite direction the drunk man had been heading.

"The same," Sato confirmed, "He's bit of a weirdo, but he's fine once you get used to him."

"An' that lieutenant o' his…"

"Aizen Sosuke. He's really strong, maybe even the strongest lieutenant in the Gotei 13. I bet ya a whole barrel of sake that Aizen'll make cap'n someday soon."

"I saw 'em when they visited the Academy, an' they looked awful strong," the student said thoughtfully, "Maybe I should join the Fifth when I graduate."

"Good idea," Sato grinned, and pumped up the fist not resting around the kid's shoulders, "We're the best division! Whoa…" It felt like the ground decided to make itself merry in sake too, from the way it was wobbling beneath him. "Slow down there, will you?"

"Sorry," the student apologized, and came to a stop.

"Lemme just rest for a moment," Sato said, letting go of his benefactor and leaning against a nearby wall. He tilted his head back against the wall, feeling the cool stone surface through the thin layer of his brown hair, and attempted to make the world gain a resemblance of stability.

"So, there any particular reason why yer celebratin' tonight?" the kid asked as he waited for the older man to recover, "Or are ya just drinkin' just fer the fun o' it?"

"Lemme tell you something kid," Sato grinned, all too happy to donate wisdom to the student, "When you get older, you'll understand that drinking sake is a good enough reason to drink sake. But tonight, I do have another good reason for drinking."

"Oh, what's that?"

"I'm finally getting a promotion!" the unseated officer grinned, lifting a fist into the air triumphantly.

"Good fer ya," congratulated the kid, and Sato noticed that his new pal had not dropped his smile since they met. His drunken thoughts prompted him to hope that the Fifth did get this nice kid. The friendlier types were always easier to "borrow" money from. His ponderings were cut short when the kid asked, "What seat are ya gettin'?"

"Don't know yet," he admitted, and let his fist fall to his side, "But I finally learned the name of my zanpakuto, so I should be getting something good. At least Fifteenth Seat."

"Really?" the Academy student asked, "Ain't that a coincidence; I just learned the name of my sword, too!"

"Ha ha!" Sato laughed, and placed his hand on top of the student's head, "Nice try, kid, but you can't fool me. No one's ever learned the name of their sword before they left the Academy."

And those were the last words he ever said, because an instant later, a blade had shot forward. The lethal metal pierced through the underside of Sato's chin and impaled the brain. He was dead before the attack registered to his senses.

Third Seat Tanaka Ichirou waited in the gardens of the Fifth Division.

These gardens were a refuge for those who wished to seek privacy, be it for personal solitude for contemplation or want of discreet encounters. Tanaka had no inclinations toward the former, and unfortunately, the latter did not include a woman that night. Business, not pleasure, was on the schedule.

He turned as he heard another person approach, caution leaping to the forefront of his mind. These footsteps were light and the stride shallow, and definitely not belonging to the one he had been expecting to appear.

"Who's there?" Tanaka called out, keeping a prepared hand on his zanpakuto.

"Just me."

Tanaka narrowed his eyes as he vaguely recognized the youthful figure approaching.

"I know you," the Third Seat said, "You're that prodigy that we got not too long ago."

"Seems my reputation precedes me," the rookie drawled, and then asked, "An' who might ya be?"

"Third Seat Tanaka Ichirou," he replied arrogantly, "What are you doing here?"

He had not heard much about this kid, except that he was the youngest and smartest student ever to graduate from the Academy. Tanaka was not impressed by what he saw before him: a scrawny boy who wore an eerie smile that sent shivers down his spine.

It was that last part that truly irked him. He was the Third Seat of the Fifth Division. Admittedly, he was no match for most of the lieutenants, and any captain could squish him without noticing it, but a Third Seat was still no pushover. The level of strength between him and a kid fresh of the Academy, prodigy or not, should be as different as between him and a captain. He should not be getting the shivers just because of this kid's weird smile.

"I'm just out fer a walk," the kid replied easily enough, "Since it's a nice night an' all."

"Whatever," Tanaka grunted, "Now beat it."

"Oh, yer expectin' company?" the kid asked.

"None of your business," Tanaka barked, his patience rapidly waning.

The kid backed up a step, hands raised in surrender. "'Kay, just makin' conversation."

"Make it somewhere else," the Third Seat ordered.

"'Kay, good night, then, Third Seat Tanaka," the kid waved once before turning around and walking away.

Tanaka sighed and looked up at the sky, and his wrath dissipated. It was a good thing the kid had left when he did. The boss told him just the other day that he was getting tired of covering up the bodies Tanaka had made in his losses of temper; if he was going to kill someone, he should do it in a way that helped the plan (whatever it was). Not to mention the fact that it would be even harder to explain the disappearance of a prodigy that everyone was talking about.

"Shoot to kill, Shinso."

Reacting with reflexes honed by years on the battlefield, Tanaka immediately drew his sword and pivoted on his feet to face the threat, but quickly discovered the futility of that action. A steel serpent struck forward and broke the Third Seat's blade in two. He could only blink with incomprehension as he saw his weapon shattered by the enemy's fang, and then continued on to pierce his heart and sever his spine. Death claimed him before he hit the ground.

Lieutenant Aizen Sosuke calculated the situation before him, making adjustments to how this new factor would alter his plans. There was one recently-graduated young man standing over the corpse of the Third Seat of his division, drops of blood falling from the blade that had carried out the deed. The killer looked completely at ease, despite being caught red-handed in the act of slaying a superior officer in cold blood.

Little known to others in the Seireitei was the fact that the recently deceased Third Seat was also one of Aizen's confidants and followers, and one of the few people who knew his true face.

Normally, he would have been mildly annoyed at having one of his subordinates being killed before they outlived their usefulness, but considering this particular scenario, Aizen was more interested in recruiting the boy instead of lamenting the early loss of a pawn.

After all, he had heard about how this boy was a prodigy, graduating from the Academy in just one year. Aizen had also read some of the addendums to the reports by instructors, at the odd and "creepy" behavior of the prodigy. Needless to say, the lieutenant of the Fifth Division had kept an eye on this new potential recruit, as he was always on the lookout for those who could be useful to him, whether they were aware of it or not.

Especially since he had lost two other henchmen in the past couple years.

One had succumbed to poisoning after a battle with a Hollow over a year earlier. By the time other shinigami had arrived and found the body after he had failed to report in, he had been dead long enough for a thin layer of snow to accumulate. And on top of that, some random brigand had already ensured the man's death by stabbing him with his own sword and stolen his uniform. No effort had been made to find the brigand, not only because the difficulty of that task, but also because the deceased had an unpleasant and abusive personality that alienated almost everyone he came in contact with.

The other had been killed by an unknown assailant in an alley shortly after he had achieved Shikai a couple of months ago. The culprit had never been found, but it was suspected that one of the deceased's rivals was responsible. After all, the man was a notorious for cheating people out of their money in order to indulge in more sake, and he had a rather unsavory reputation among women. Someone had obviously decided to use a permanent solution to end his bad habits.

And now, another one lay dead before him. The first two were no more than dumb muscle, easily replaceable. Tanaka had been a little bit more competent and useful, but had a serious problem with his temper. Aizen had been planning a way for Tanaka to make himself useful one last time before meeting an unfortunate and completely accidental end. So in fact, this boy had done him a favor.

But what truly interested the subversive lieutenant the most was the fact that this prodigy had slain a Third Seat, and that meant this boy was more powerful than he had heard from the Academy reports. And best of all, the cold-blooded ruthlessness the boy possessed in order to kill someone he had just met was exactly what Aizen needed.

Aizen had only met the prodigy once before, when he and Captain Hirako personally welcomed the boy into the Fifth Division. When the captain had asked why the prodigy had chosen the Fifth, the boy shrugged and said that it had been highly recommended to him.

Still, even a fool could tell that this boy was not a trustworthy character, and Aizen was no fool. A person who could and would easily kill a superior officer was most certainly a threat to himself. But Aizen could alter his plans to make this shifty personality work in his favor. The ambitious lieutenant was used to having subordinates like Tousen, who obeyed his every command without question. It would be quite refreshing and exciting to have someone who would work for him, but continued to be a potential threat. Such an individual would be a constant reminder to Aizen that he always needed to be on guard.

Out loud, he told the boy, "Wonderful. You're even better than I hoped. Could you tell me your name again?"

"I'm Gin," he answered as he turned his head towards the man who had just witnessed his crime, his smile never shifting, "Ichimaru Gin."

Author's Note: We know that Ichimaru Gin spent a hundred years waiting to kill Aizen because of what happened to Matsumoto. But has anyone ever thought about what happened to the three thugs who actually committed the deed?

Also, to clear things up: Narita's wakizashi was not Shinso. I had him have a wakizashi because I think it would be imprinted on Gin's conscious that the first person he killed in revenge for Rangiku would wield a wakizashi, and be killed by using poison.

This story came to me when I read a fanfic (I forget the title), where the author writes in passing that the Third Seat that Gin killed the night he met Aizen was one of the men who hurt Rangiku. I don't think it's canon, but it would fit.

And the part about shikai being a requirement for seated officer position, that's just a theory of mine based on how captains are required to know Bankai (Kenpachi excluded, of course).