Remnants of a Forgotten Dream

By: FastForward and Poisson d'Avril

Summary: A chess match to rival all chess matches has begun. A new soul arrives at Seireitei with reiatsu rivaling even that of their strongest. When forces appear to use this person for their own means, those closest to him must help keep him safe, or have him disappear altogether.

Uzumaki Naruto was a shinobi brought to Seireitei for use in a devious scheme, helped and befriended by Hitsugaya Toushiro. Due to his reiatsu, he moves up in the ranks at a remarkable speed until one fateful encounter with Kurosaki Ichigo leads him to lose his power altogether, finally explaining the reason for Ichigo's amazing reiatsu. It doesn't belong to him. It was stolen from another. The thing is … Ichigo has his own story just waiting to be told.

Disclaimer: We own nothing, therefore you cannot sue us. So there.

Rating: T, with some cuss words … hn, we don't use they excessively, but we do have them. Read at your own risk.

Warning: Insanity may follow. ;P

Chapter One - Soul Society, Shinobi Style

It was bound to happen. He knew it would inevitably come down to this, but he hadn't expected it to be so soon. Running and running from Akatsuki had, in the end, gotten him nowhere. He had prepared for this very moment countless times with Jiraiya and Kakashi, but it still wasn't enough. They had caught up to him in no time. His techniques, his power—they weren't enough to go up against such a strong enemy. And now, he found himself captured, defeated and alone. Although Naruto realized his situation, he couldn't bring himself to care. He had failed to protect his team, that's what hurt the most. It had started out as a simple back-up mission to support Shikamaru, but it had turned out horribly wrong. The last thing he remembered before falling unconscious was Ino's scream and Sakura's shout of outrage.

Regaining consciousness with a throbbing temple wasn't the most pleasant experience, but he figured it was nothing compared to the pain that was about to be inflicted on him by the entire Akatsuki. Despite that, he stared blankly up at the rocky ceiling of the seemingly underground lair. If there was one thing he could do before he died, it would be to accept his death for what it was and what it would bring. Peace? Destruction? He really couldn't say what would happen once the bijuu was removed, but the least he could do was pass with no regrets and maybe, someday, he'd get that second chance to right any of his previous wrongs. It was a small hope, but it brought comfort to him.

"Let's begin."

He assumed it was the leader who gave the order, though he could hardly bring himself to look. Even when he felt intense pain spread throughout his entire body as if ripping him apart, his gaze did not waver. Slowly, blue eyes dulled and finally closed with one last breath, the feeling of something missing being his final memory before the world went dark for a second time.


He could hear a roaring fire in the distance, and the sounds of screams. A groan escaped him and he tried to sit up, immediately falling back down and hitting the ground hard. The commotion seemed far off, but he wasn't sure. Naruto, regaining his senses, wondered where he had landed himself now. This couldn't possibly be heaven, could it?

A boy who couldn't be any older than Naruto dodged a burning rafter as it split and fell to the ground. He ducked out of the way so it wouldn't fall on him, and then jumped over it as the laughter of the crazy men who had lit the place on fire echoed behind him. He stumbled and almost fell, but regained his balance enough to turn and see what he had tripped over. A human form.

"Oi!" He kneeled down and slapped the cheek of the semi-conscious form. "Oi, wake up!" He grabbed the boy's arm and tugged. "Come on, don't lie in the middle of the street; it's dangerous!" He grunted slightly as he pulled the blond to his feet.

Naruto blinked a few times at the stranger who had appeared. "Er… where the hell am I? And who the hell are you?" He glanced around him with more than a little bewilderment. "And what is going on here?" He was thankful for the support but things were getting more confusing by the minute. Not to mention, why was he in a yukata—of all things—that looked like a good, strong wind could whisk it away?

"What do you mean what's going on? There a fire, obviously, idiot!" the boy hollered back as he pulled Naruto along, hurrying around a corner and continuing to run. "You're in District 80 of Rukongai. And right now, we need to get as far away from here as possible." He jumped over another fallen form, wincing. He would've stopped to help, but he had enough to deal with. Without a doubt, Naruto was a new arrival.

"How come?" Naruto asked, exasperated. "And you're walking too fast." He was used to running and leaping through trees, but for some reason, his body wasn't cooperating as swiftly as it once had. Death really did things to the body, he supposed, and then left his clouded thoughts at that. He was having a pretty difficult time just concentrating on what was happening; he didn't need to distract himself.

"Because the adults in this district are crazy, that's why," he grumbled as he threw open a door that was practically falling of its hinges. He rushed inside and pulled Naruto in as well, closing the door and breathing hard as he peeked out the cracks. As long as the house didn't catch fire, they could escape for the moment. He narrowed his eyes as he saw someone walk by with a sword, blood dripping off the blade. He tensed, but the person continued walking, and he let out an almost inaudible breath of relief. They were safe… for now.

Naruto's eyes widened when he saw the blood-stained sword. He tensed as well and looked to the boy beside him for the answers he desperately wanted know. "Wh – who are you?" He settled on that simple question for now. His mind was still in shock and his body was tired from the short jog; he didn't think he had the energy to exhaust himself with mere inquires. "I don't—get what's going on. I thought… I was killed. But, this can't be heaven. Hell, this can't be hell!"

The boy slammed his hand on Naruto's mouth as his heart jack-hammered in his throat. "Shush," he hissed as he waited for the figure to disappear. He didn't want to risk being caught. Once he was sure they were safe, he sighed and removed his hand, turning to Naruto. "You're not too bright, are you?" he grumbled out. "You're in Soul Society. This is where souls go once they've detached from their bodies," he said by way of explanation as he sank to the ground and reached into his old, worn yukata, pulling out a small bread roll and biting into it.

"Soul… Society? How did I get here, though? Detached from my body? I remember… missing something, and then it was gone… and then so was I." He looked over at the platinum blond boy munching on his bread, wondering if any of his questions would really be answered. He didn't expect too much at the moment. He just wanted to sleep. A sigh passed through his lips and he leaned his head back against the wall. "What's going to happen now?"

The other boy chewed his bread slowly as he regarded the new arrival, contemplating how much he should tell him and how much he should let the other find out for himself. After all, he hadn't had anyone telling him how Soul Society worked. He decided to be nice and swallowed what was in his mouth before replying. He had manners, after all.

"Well, if you're in Soul Society, obviously, you died," he informed dryly, as if it were the most logical thing ever—which it was. "So that answers how you got here. Detaching from your body is when your soul breaks off from your human body; in other words, you die." He ran a hand through his spiky hair. "And as for what's going to happen now, I don't know. Figure it out yourself. I just saved you because I felt like it." He took another bite from his bread; all that talking was impeding on his mealtime.

Letting out a huff, Naruto crossed his arms over his chest and considered his newest unwanted companion. "Geez, it's not enough to have a Sasuke-teme in life, I have to get one in death, too! Is the world made up of freakin' bastards like this? Do you have to be so cruel to someone who's just died, for god's sake? Did I mention you're a bastard?"

"Twice." The boy bit into his bread again. "Or, if you count the Sasuke-teme, then three times. And life hasn't been all that great for me, either, you know?" He frowned. "Death… you know what I mean." He sighed. "It's just how things are here. If you're in this district, it's not going to get better. Might as well get used to 'bastards' because we're better than the other people—idiot," he added for good measure.

A muscle twitched above his eye. "Don't call me an idiot, bastard. You never did answer the first question I asked." He turned his head to the side to watch a spider crawl along the floor, the building probably abandoned if the thick layer of dust was anything to go by. "Do all souls need food? Because I'm starving, too, you know. You could offer me some, you pig." He gave the boy his best impressionable puppy dog-like eyes for effect, staring at him as if begging for scraps.

The bread froze halfway to the boy's mouth as he stared at Naruto before lowering it slightly. "You're… hungry?" He had to admit, that was a shocker. "You mean, you're actually hungry? You need food?" It was almost unfathomable. This—this idiot needed food? That wasn't possible!

"What's so shocking? I'm hungry, therefore I think I'll take some of this." He reached over and snapped off the bottom section of the bread, biting into it without a care. "You're going to keep using excuses so you don't have to tell me your name, aren't you?"

"Hey!" the boy hollered. "I needed that damn food!" He stood up, clenching his fists. "It's not like you need as much as me! And why are you calling me on not having given my name when you haven't either? Where did you learn your manners, you dumbass? You don't just snap off the end of someone's food and then demand to know their name! I understand why you belong in this district, though I continue to wonder what I'm doing here!"

Naruto stood up, too, feeling threatened. He wiped the crumbs from his mouth, sheepishly admitting to himself that maybe stealing food hadn't been the smartest move. "Don't start yelling at me all of a sudden!" he shouted right back, growling slightly as he stared at the boy. "I don't understand anything that's happening! If you had told me why you needed the food, I wouldn't have touched it! It's your damn fault, bastard! Why did you say I don't need as much as you, anyway? Where do you get off saying that? I just got here! I want to know what the hell you meant by half the things you said! And don't bitch at me about manners, buddy! I'll soc you one before you start preaching that shit!"

"Not everyone here needs food." The boy glared. "Only those with high spiritual energy need food which is why when I find food I like to eat it. You should've stolen your own if you needed it! When you get hungry, you're on your own because barely anyone needs food here. Those who do live in Seireitei." He crossed his arms, annoyed, scowling. "And I knew less than you did when I got here, and I managed just fine. You're just a spoiled brat who needs to learn that things are different now that you're in Soul Society." He sniffed. "Besides, how was I meant to tell you not to stuff your face when you ripped off the end of my bread and shoved it into your mouth? When did I have time to protest?" he asked dryly.

Naruto grumbled something under his breath and clenched his hands into fists forcefully. "Shut the fuck up, kid. You don't know anything about me, and the last thing I need is your help. I would have been just fine if you had left me where I was! I could have gathered information on this stupid place on my fucking own, but you went and helped me! I just thought a person should live through their obligations! And so you should have just left me alone if you weren't going to help me! Bastard!" He spun on his heel and faced the opposite wall, still mumbling under his breath about bastard brats who need to have the stick removed from their asses.

"I could tell you were doing real well lying on the ground, about to be trampled on and covered with wooden beams engulfed in flames. Next time, I'll let you die all over again, how does that sound?" The boy examined the last bit of bread in his hand and sighed. "Here, take it," he grumbled, holding it out to Naruto who had turned back around. "Hurry up, before I change my mind."

"You're kidding, right? You were just shouting at me… and now you're offering me food? Damn, I knew it. You're just like Sasuke-teme." He glared slightly at the offered bit of bread, but his stomach grumbling in protest decided for him just what it wanted. "Well, thanks." He snatched the bread quickly before the boy actually did change his mind and nibbled on it, his manners a bit more civil to appease the other boy.

"So, I'm guessing you're a recently deceased." The boy leaned back against the wall before changing his mind when the wood creaked ominously. He settled for just standing. "What's you're name, anyway? Since I saved your life, and you keep calling me a bastard, seems only fitting you should tell me your name first."

"Oh, yeah, that. I'm Uzumaki Naruto." He finished off the bread, dusted off his palms, and then offered the boy a hand to shake. "So, what's yours, oh mysterious bastard one?"

The boy just blinked, clearly not amused. "Hitsugaya Toushiro. I've been living here about eight years." He shook Naruto's hand briefly before letting it go and looking around. "It seems things have quieted down outside. I should head back to my other shelter. It's safer, not so close to all the fires."

"Where's that?" Naruto asked off-handedly, not really caring either way. He wasn't going to go with some stranger just because they happened to 'save' his life. He would just have to make do and find his own shelter. "And you're leaving now?"

The boy, Toushiro, turned to Naruto. "Somewhere safer, like I just said." He rolled his eyes. "You're not too good with listening, are you?" He opened the door. "And yes, I'm leaving now." He paused. "Don't follow me," he added, glaring pointedly at Naruto.

Raising an eyebrow, Naruto stared at Toushiro like he had just accused him of something foolish. "Excuse me; did I say I was going to follow you? I think I'm just fine here, you bastard."

"Excuse me? Oh, you do have manners. Fancy that." Toushiro turned and left the small, decrepit house, slamming the door behind him for effect. It was ruined by the door falling to the ground in a pile of rotting wood. He should've known better, but he didn't care.

Honestly, it really didn't matter whether the blond, Naruto, followed him or not. He was just sick of hearing the other complain. If he followed silently—as doubtful as that was—then he wouldn't really mind. Who am I kidding? He groaned and rubbed his face. He's going to follow, and follow loudly. Great… just great …

Waiting until Toushiro's footsteps were well down the street outside, he snuck out of the abandoned building and kept to the shadows, making sure to put a good distance between him and the person he was following—only out of curiosity, of course. Being a ninja in his previous life did come in handy. At least he knew the basics of keeping quiet, though he didn't know how long he could keep that up. It just wasn't in his nature.

Toushiro stopped at the end of the street before turning and scanning the area. He couldn't hear Naruto, or see him. Weird, I guess he didn't follow me after all. Not what I would've expected from such an idiot. He turned back and continued walking, heading further into the maze of District 80 until he reached another abandoned house that wasn't in quite as bad a condition as the others. He creaked open the door and stepped inside, stretching slightly before rubbing his stomach, which growled loudly. He was still hungry.

Pausing in his quick but silent footsteps, Naruto watched Toushiro enter the house, thinking of reasons why he would go in there. It didn't look any better than some of the other houses they had passed, so why had he stopped? Was this that safe place the boy was talking about? Sure, it was far enough away from the mayhem and fire, but in all honesty, Naruto doubted it could be. Even idiots had their moments, and the place really didn't look all that safe.

Toushiro sighed as he fell back onto an old, worn out mattress, staring at the ceiling as he rubbed his aching belly. He was considering moving up in the districts the following day, but he didn't know if his roommate would be up for it.

He had met another girl who was just like him a while back; one who needed food. Her name was Hinamori Momo. She was nice, and she seemed to care a lot about him, but he didn't know if she'd be able to move out of District 80. It was tough moving up the line, and he knew it would take its toll on her. If only he had more help, an easier way to keep her safe.

When the boy had yet to exit the house that Naruto had been staring at for the past five minutes, he decided enough was enough. That, and his curiosity had gotten the better of him. Stepping out of the shadows, he made his way quietly to the front door of the building and cracked it open slightly to see where Toushiro currently occupied the room. Easy as pie, he thought, smiling as he saw the boy barely paying any attention to his surroundings. And that's when something unexpected happened. His ankle gave out on him and he ended up stumbling into the room like a weak little girl who had just seen her crush. Naruto was beyond embarrassed. He was spread-eagle on the floor, looking for the entire world like the idiot people claimed he was.

Toushiro sat bolt upright at the loud sound and his eyes fixed on the blond lying in front of him, turning beet red. The platinum haired boy himself just stared wide-eyed. There is no way he got all the way in here without me knowing! He thought to himself, absolutely horrified. There was no way the other had escaped detection for this long! He was loud, and obviously very clumsy, so how had he missed him?

"Oh, God, I've hit a new low." Toushiro buried his face in his hands. "I can't even tell when idiots are following me anymore. What am I going to do with myself? I can't sink any lower. I may as well move to the last district and hope I don't trip on my own two feet." He let out a groan.

"You think you've hit a low? I'm a ninja. Ninjas don't have weak ankles. What the hell is going on with my body?" Naruto looked up from his sprawled position and then hit his head repeatedly against the hard wood floor. "Man, this sucks. I just wanted to spy on you, not end up here." He glared at a crack he found right under his nose. "We've both reached new lows, you bastard."

"Hey, hey, don't compare my low to yours!" Toushiro insisted, pointing his index finger at Naruto. "Being outwitted by a fool like you clearly requires me to have hit a lower low than you! If I sank any lower, I would be you! This is horrendous! I don't even know what I should do to rectify this! I don't care what's wrong with your damn ankles, what about my new non-existent pride? You snuck up on me!"

"What the hell? I just told you my body's failing me, and you're being a bastard and getting bitchy about your pride. Like it ever existed in the first place!" He pushed himself back up, standing properly and dusting off his yukata with disgust. "I hate you, I hate this place, I just want to sleep somewhere! Just curl up in a corner and die! I'd rather die again than be here with you! Bastard!" He clenched his hands tightly at his sides, fists shaking slightly—from what, he didn't know.

"You want to die again? That can be arranged!" Toushiro stood up angrily, his own yukata hanging haphazardly on his slim frame. The material had slipped off his right shoulder as he glared hatefully at the blond ninja. "I can help end your suffering, but it won't bring my damn pride back! For someone like you to sneak up on me! You! Gah, come on! At least disposing of you will begin to heal my wounded pride." The boy held up his fists.

Naruto titled his head a bit. "You have to be kidding me. I mean, you just challenged me… the best ninja in my village. I'll kill you before you even lay a hand on me. So, come on." He raised his own fists, dropping easily into his usual fighting stance, but it felt… off, for some reason.

Laughter escaped Toushiro. "Are you kidding me? I've been here eight years. I know how to control my spirit body better than you, which is why you tripped, oh best ninja of your village." He shook his head. "What, how many people were there in your village? Two? Three? There's no way you were the best in a larger village. Don't flatter yourself." He didn't even bother getting into a fighting stance. He would be able to avoid Naruto's blows easily.

Letting out a growl of rage, he lunged for Toushiro immediately, directing a fist toward the boy's stomach right off the bat. It was blocked, causing Naruto to loose balance and shift slightly so when he fell he could at least take the other down with him, grabbing Toushiro's legs and yanking the boy to the floor none too gently.

Toushiro cried out as his head connected painfully into the wooden floor and then grunted, kicking the other away and getting back to his feet quickly. He loomed over Naruto and then slammed his foot into the blond's face, pressing it into the floor. "You should choose your fights more wisely, Naruto," he snapped. "Your body hasn't adjusted to this world yet, and you think you can fight someone like me? I've been here so long that even if I left for two years and came back my body wouldn't be affected."

"You son of a—" He cut himself off and punched Toushiro's leg with a bit more force than originally intended. At least it allowed him the ability to move more freely and get back up on his feet to face the other boy again. "You must think highly of yourself, too, you prideless bastard." He smirked, wiped the dirt from his face, and straightened into a fighting stance once more. "That was just a warm-up. Let's go."

"A warm-up?" Toushiro rolled his eyes. "Please, it hurts to watch you. You're going to end up with your face against the ground again. If you want to die again, like you said, just stand still and I'll make it—well, not quick and painless, but you know, I'll try and limit the suffering." He got into his own stance, feeling slightly awkward. He wasn't all that good with hand-to-hand combat, to be honest. He preferred to have a weapon.

"You call that a fighting stance? Ha. It makes me sick just looking at it. There are so many openings," Naruto stated with a confidence he really didn't feel at the moment, but he couldn't let the boy get away with bad mouthing him. If it came down to it, he'd just keep punching until he hit him at least once. Just once and he would be happy. "Well, are you coming? I don't have all day, bastard."

"Why do I have to waste my time lunging at you?" insisted Toushiro. "You're the one who'll fall flat on your face if you move, so I'm going to stand here and wait for you to hit the ground again because your 'ankles are weak' or whatever." He grinned. "Come on, Naruto. I haven't got all day. I'd like to get more food before moving up one district. You're kind of limiting the time before nightfall."

"Don't. Get. Cocky." He narrowed his eyes, concentrating all his effort into making his limbs cooperate properly this time. "You say you don't have all day. Fine. I'll pound you into the ground." He lunged just like his opening attack before, but this time, with the strength he lacked previously, he feinted to the right and then threw a kick into one of Toushiro's blind spots on the left.

The blow barely hit the other boy, but it still clipped him, causing him to stumble slightly to regain his balance. He hurriedly righted himself and turned back to Naruto, swinging his fist toward the center of the blond's abdomen. Because the other's reflexes were still slow, even if he managed to avoid it, it would still hit him in the side at the very least. It was all Toushiro needed right now. He just required Naruto back on the ground so he could kick him.

Naruto took the punch square in the gut, causing him to double-over, though he did not fall. He straightened himself bit by bit, not allowing himself to show weakness in front of such an opponent as Toushiro. He coughed, winded from everything he had recently been doing, but refusing to give up. "That… all… you got, bastard?"

"Tch." Toushiro frowned. Damn, I was hoping that would take him down, he thought as he shifted and went to punch the blond again. He was surprisingly tough for someone who had just entered Soul Society, and the other's body was starting to adapt much faster than Toushiro's had. He didn't understand. When he had arrived at Soul Society, it had taken him nearly two months to move properly, and here this kid was, adapting at almost three times the speed as everyone else. What the hell is he?

Naruto coughed one last time and then fixed his posture completely, dropping his arms back to his sides instead of using them as a protective shield around his stomach. He glared at Toushiro spitefully after avoiding the oncoming punch, egging the boy on. "Well, what are you waiting for? Another cheap shot?"

"I don't need to hear this from you!" Toushiro insisted angrily. "You're like a little kid! So annoying!" He let out an angered cry as he lunged at Naruto, slamming into his stomach and sending him crashing to the ground, wrestling with him when the other tried to scramble free. "You're so stupid! What is your problem?"

"I don't have a problem, you bastard brat! You started this stupid fist fight!" Naruto growled back just as angrily, struggling to break free from the white-haired boy. He lashed out with his legs, even bucking to make Toushiro get off him. "Get the hell away!" He felt more than saw the punch directed at his face, his cheek stinging with the impact. "Ouch! Another damn cheap shot!" He continued to strike out at the other, trying his best to free himself. "And you call me an idiot! At least I know how to fight, which is obvious you know nothing!"

"I know how to fight!" Toushiro hollered. "I just need a weapon! Unlike you, I don't resort to barbarianism!" Toushiro hit him in the face again before driving another fist into the blond's stomach. He was getting tired, and he wasn't even getting hit. How much energy does this guy have? And how high is his damn pain threshold? Why won't he just pass out or something? He was getting frustrated, by now.


Hinamori Momo was surprised to hear noises coming from the shelter Toushiro had made for them both. She approached the building cautiously, shifting the small basket of various fruits under her arm so she had at least had one free hand. When she pulled open the door to the house, the last thing she expected to see was her white-haired friend punching another blond boy without pause. The only thing she considered the person could be was an intruder. Fear washed over her. She dropped the basket she carried and hurried into the building, hastily making her way to Toushiro's side. "W-What's going on, Hitsugaya-kun?"

Toushiro looked up, pausing in his punching. "Hinamori." He pulled away from Naruto. "It's nothing. He was just—he followed me home, and he's annoying. He just arrived at Soul Society, his name is Naruto." Toushiro crossed his arms, irritated. "He might be like us, because he stole some of my bread, but I don't think it'd be safe to keep him with us. He's loud and brash, and very annoying." He paused. "And dangerous," he added in, just to help his case. He really didn't like the vibes he got from Naruto. He couldn't explain what they were, but he just… didn't like them.

Momo looked from the battered blond boy to her friend and then back to the intruder, wondering what was truly going on. Admittedly, she was wary of any new arrivals since their actions were unpredictable after learning they were dead, but that was no reason to kick them out on the streets. "You punched him because… he followed you, Hitsugaya-kun? But he's like us… maybe… maybe we could help him?" She glanced up at Toushiro for a moment before directing her gaze to her feet. "It's just a thought… but with three of us… wouldn't it be easier to protect each other?"

From the floor, Naruto listened in silence, panting and trying to regain his breath. That brat sure was persistent, if nothing else. Even now, he was making it clear he wanted Naruto nowhere near him. What, did his forehead read 'avoid at any costs'? And then, the girl who had just appeared, what was she thinking in asking the brat to reconsider? Didn't she understand they wouldn't get along no matter the circumstances? Naruto sighed, tilting his head away from the talking duo. That girl, strangely enough, reminded him of Hinata. So, in a way, he felt he could at least trust her. Unlike the white-haired jerk, who was just a bastard…

Toushiro opened his mouth to object, but then snapped it shut with a sigh. Hinamori wanted to trust him—but he could be dangerous! After all, he really was unpredictable… Toushiro sighed again. He supposed he shouldn't be that much of a jerk. Naruto had just died. Considering that, he was taking his death pretty well. Much better than Toushiro had, at any rate. And what the girl had said was true. With three of them, it would be easier to gather food and protect one another. Plus, since he and Momo would be trying to go up to the other districts, it would be nice knowing someone like Naruto had his back. Especially since the other didn't seem to know when to stay down. He was pretty good at fighting, too, and Toushiro suspected he would be fantastic once he got used to his spirit body.

With another explosive sigh, he nodded. "Fine, he can stay, but he makes one wrong move and he's out of here."

Smiling in appreciation of her friend's answer, she walked over to Naruto and offered him a hand up. "Well, there you have it," Momo said softly. "Welcome, Naruto-kun, to Rukongai." She looked away shyly as the blond accepted her hand and pulled himself up. "I'm Hinamori Momo, by the way." Suddenly her eyes widened, startling Naruto who thought he might have done something wrong already. "Oh, I almost forgot about the…" She dropped his hand and rushed to the doorway to retrieve the fruit she had brought back home with her.

"Er… is she always like that?" Naruto questioned Toushiro, scratching the back of his neck. "She reminds me a lot of a certain someone I met a while back… when I was alive, that is." He chuckled. "I guess if this is the afterlife, it isn't so bad. Not boring at all like I thought it would be."

Toushiro rolled his eyes. "Yes, she's always like that." He headed for the door to help Momo pick up the rest of the fruits. "I told you that you didn't have to get any food, Hinamori. I got us some bread, but then someone stole half of it." He turned his head to glare at Naruto. "I was going to save some for you, but he got greedy. Sorry." He put the fruits he had gathered back into the basket and waited for his friend to stand before following suit.

"Forgive me." Naruto held up his hands defensively. "From now on I won't touch your food, all right?" He huffed and crossed his arms. "Sheesh, you're so mean, Hitsugaya."

Momo giggled as she stood back up, carrying the basket into the house and shutting the door. "Well, you can have some of this then, Naruto-kun. I don't mind. I usually eat less than Hitsugaya-kun, anyway."

"What, are you saying I eat too much?" Toushiro was embarrassed, poking at his stomach. "Sorry, it's just—I get so hungry, and I don't even know why. I'm sorry, Hinamori." He smiled sheepishly at Momo. "How about you, Naruto? Are you still really hungry? Cause if so, you must be like me." Toushiro leaned back against the door, knowing at least that this one was certainly sturdier than the one in the other house.

Naruto flushed under Momo's inquisitive stare at the question. Now that Toushiro mentioned it, he still was rather hungry, but he wasn't going to steal any more food even if Momo had insisted. Being scolded once was plenty for him. "Yeah, sort of. But… I'll go look for my own. I think there's only enough for the two of you."

"It's fine. Hitsugaya-kun can stand to loose a few pounds, he is starting to get a bit chubby," she teased her friend, setting the basket on a shaky table that looked like it could barely support the weight. "Here." She tossed the resistant blond an apple and then threw a plum toward Toushiro. "And there you go, too."

"Hinamori," Toushiro said, embarrassed, as he caught the plum. "I'm not that chubby. I just—I must have more spiritual energy, is all," he muttered as he took a bite. "And don't worry about eating our food, you'll just have to make sure you pull your weight, too." Toushiro shrugged noncommittally.

His head then snapped to the side as he heard noises outside. He ducked and motioned for the other two to do so, as well. He pressed his back against the wall beside the door, narrowing his eyes as he listened. He hoped whoever was out there was a friend, or at the very least, not someone dangerous.

Naruto took his cue from Toushiro, pulling Momo with him to the other side of the door so they could look outside through the cracks and still remain hidden from whoever it was that had arrived. He looked over at Toushiro, hoping that maybe he knew the person out there. Loosening his grip on Momo's arm, he glanced down at her, worried since she seemed to be shaking. She was frightened? That didn't bode well with Naruto.

Toushiro tensed as the door knob turned and the door creaked open. All he needed to see was the beefy build of the man on the other side and he knew the person was bad news. He let out a short, angry cry and lunged, knowing there was no way they would be able to hide now that the door was open.

The man laughed and knocked Toushiro away easily with one hand, slamming him into the opposite wall. The boy cried out as his head struck the wall and he fell to the ground. He grunted as he tried to stand once more but was kicked in the face, instead. Pain exploded across his cheekbone and he felt blood trickling down the side of his face from near his hairline.

"What have we got here?" The man grinned as he turned around and scanned the area. His eyes fell on the barely concealed forms of Naruto and Momo on the other side of the door, which was still ajar. "Hey there, pretty lady, how about coming with me?" His grin became more lecherous as he approached the dark haired girl and Naruto.

"Run!" Toushiro insisted as he struggled to his feet, unable to see straight. Dammit, if he had some kind of weapon, this wouldn't even be a problem!

Ignoring Toushiro's shout, Naruto stood in front of Momo protectively. If the boy wanted him to pull his weight from now on, he would start now. He wasn't going to run away with her and just leave the other behind. Instead, he would protect them both, even if he had to die again. "Momo," he whispered, staring at the hulking figure calling out to the girl behind him. The man's language was disgustingly crude. "I'll make an opening. In that moment, take Hitsugaya and run. Got it?" He turned his head just enough to see her nod in understanding. "Good."

"Come on, sweetheart, let's go." The man licked his lips as he got closer, his arm reaching out to knock Naruto aside.

"Fool, run!" Toushiro shouted. He knew Naruto wasn't too bad at fighting, but he was still new to Soul Society, he couldn't have mastered how to move yet! And Momo—God, why wasn't she trying to get away? They were both going to be useless while that man went off with Momo one way or another. No, no, no! Toushiro thought as he stumbled forward, rubbing the blood out of his eyes.

The man just laughed as he reached out, grabbing the front of Naruto's yukata and preparing to throw him away.

Naruto didn't even flinch, driving a fist into the man's pudgy stomach. The man, caught off guard, let go of Naruto's yukata. Mistake number one for the trespasser who dared barrage in and act like he owned the place. He knew his height hardly compared to the behemoth before him, but all he needed to do was create an opening for the other two and then he could escape himself. So, with that idea in mind, he crouched and jumped at the man, fist pulled back ready to slam into the face of the intruder.

The man let out a grunt as the wind was knocked out of him and then cried out as a fist slammed into his face, causing him to lose his balance and fall to the ground, landing hard.

Toushiro just stared, stunned. Naruto was… winning. Sure, he'd known the other was decent at hand-to-hand, but this good? He'd obviously been holding back when they had fought, because the blond was showing strength and agility and—damn, Toushiro was jealous. This guy, this idiot, was better at protecting Momo than he was. Ow, my pride, he pouted slightly.

Naruto didn't stop in his assault, relentlessly knocking the man upside the head with a swift kick. And then another. And another. It was almost too easy. But as they say, when giants fall, they fall hard. He felt Momo walk around the scene and over to Toushiro, but he paid no attention, focusing solely on maiming the man who had dared to come in and try to harm them. The guy deserved it.

"Are you all right, Hitsugaya-kun?" Momo asked worriedly, tentatively touching the wound on Toushiro's head.

"I'm fine. I think you should be more worried about him." He motioned in Naruto's direction. "And I'm not talking about Naruto…"

The man grunted as he finally lost consciousness, blood leaking from the corner of his mouth and his eyes rolling back in their sockets. He barely understood what had just happened as he fell into oblivion.

Toushiro stared, taken aback, as Naruto continued to kick the man. He's that powerful? Who was he when he was alive? He thought to himself as he watched the blond. Maybe he really was the strongest ninja in his village, and maybe being stupid was all for show.

Done with attacking the man, having lost interest now that he realized he was unconscious, Naruto turned to the other two watching him, grinning. "Well, how's that? Good, right? Yeah, told you I was the top ninja in my village." He started walking forward to inspect Toushiro's wound himself, if only to laugh in the boy's face in the process, but something tripped him up and he ended up sprawled out on the floor once again. "Ah, I wondered what happened to my apple," he said, voice a bit weak as he turned to see what he'd stumbled on. He must have dropped it without noticing when he had grabbed Momo's arm. "Hey, look at all the pretty stars." His grin widened and he ended up fainting right there from exhaustion.

Momo could only stare in incredulity at the boy passed out on the floor. What a guy…

Toushiro blinked before sighing and covering his face with his hands. Or he's just an idiot. I can't believe I was praising him. He shook his head.

"What should we do with him, Hinamori?" he asked as he headed toward the fallen blond. "And we should probably leave. This guy will wake up and not be happy." He bent down beside Naruto and pulled him up into a sitting position before grunting and hauling him to his feet. "Can you get the food? It's time to leave. We can try and get into the 79th District. Might as well, since we can't hang around here anymore."

Nodding, Momo collected the food and followed her friend out into the street. "Are you sure, though? We could just camp somewhere for the night and try in the morning…" she suggested lightly, the slumped form of Naruto concerning her just as much as Toushiro's head wound. She didn't want anything bad to happen to the two in their current states.

Toushiro grunted again as he shifted his hold on Naruto. "I guess you're right. No point in going in there like this, we'll be asking to be hurt." He looked around the abandoned area. "We need to find a new shelter, then. We should head back towards the border to District 81. No one lives down there, it'll be safer for us." He turned and started walking in another direction. His stomach growled loudly, but he ignored it as he continued to drag Naruto. He's kind of heavy, he thought to himself with a sigh. This wasn't how he had planned on spending his day.

Walking alongside her friend, Momo beamed, happy to have Toushiro as a companion. He always seemed to make the most logical choices, and he even protected her from the dangers that the lower districts had to offer. It would be an hour and a half walk to the border, she remembered, glancing over at Toushiro with a hint of worry. Would he be able to carry Naruto that far for so long? She didn't know, but it wasn't like they had any other choice besides dumping the blond somewhere and leaving him to his own devices. And she definitely wasn't about to do that.

Toushiro shifted for a second time, trying to even out the blond's weight. "Wait." He stopped, hoping Momo would, too. He put Naruto down and rolled his shoulders before bending down and maneuvering Naruto onto his back so that he was carrying him piggy-back style. He stood with a small grunt and stumbled slightly under the other's weight. It wasn't that Naruto was huge or anything, but Toushiro was a little person.

"Okay, let's go." He tightened his hold on Naruto's legs as he stayed leaning forward so the blond wouldn't slide off backwards. They got to the end of the street and Toushiro almost walked into someone who'd just rounded the corner. "Shit!" He looked up, panicked. Black robes. Oh God, it was a Shinigami.

He looked down at Toushiro, expressionless, as the younger boy looked up at him with wide eyes. He then looked at the unconscious Naruto before looking at Momo, too. He frowned and reached down.

Alarmed, thinking the Shinigami was reaching for his sword, Toushiro stumbled backwards, almost losing his hold on Naruto. He started to fall when the Shinigami reached out and grabbed his arm, straightening him and keeping him on his feet as the other hand brought a device closer to the boy. Toushiro didn't move as the Shinigami inspected the piece of equipment in his hand.

Momo, as well, was surprised at the sudden appearance of a Shinigami. He was much taller than any of them, looming over Toushiro and the unconscious blond. When he pulled out some kind of device and pointed it at the two, she was even more horrified. "H-Hey! What are you doing?" she demanded, steadying her voice so she at least didn't sound weak to the black-robed death god. She wasn't going to stand for having her friends' lives in jeopardy.

"Oi, relax!" the Shinigami snapped. "Is he screaming in agony yet? No. So calm down." He hit a button on the side and watched as the bar on the gadget rose. It did so slowly at first, and then began to raise much, much faster until it hit the top, and threatened to try and go higher. He looked at Toushiro before pulling it back and staring at it. Interesting… He turned it off and leaned in closer to hold it near Naruto. "Don't move," he ordered the platinum haired boy who still had Naruto in his grasp. Toushiro obeyed as the Shinigami turned the device back on. This time, it didn't start out slowly. The bar went to the top at rapid-speed before the contraption broke from the overload.

He brought the device back in front of himself with a frown before shrugging and tossing it over his shoulder, reaching into his robes and pulling out another, motioning for the dark haired girl to come closer. The fact that Naruto had broken his other device didn't seem to bother him. In fact, he was actually quite pleased. The first boy's results were perfect, and the other's were simply amazing. He wondered about the girl.

Shyly, Momo walked forward, not fully understanding the situation. What was that thing? And why had the Shinigami so casually discarded the first? She looked at Toushiro curiously, thinking he might know the answer. He seemed fine, at least, so it couldn't be anything harmful, could it?

The Shinigami brought the device closer to her and watched the bar rise. It didn't even go half-way, so she was nowhere near as impressive as the other two, but that was to be expected. People like Toushiro and Naruto were pretty rare. "Hn, I should've known. You always travel in packs." He put the gadget away as he put his hands on his hips and stared at the three of them. "You guys residents of this district?"

"You could say that," Toushiro replied uneasily. If he found out Hinamori and himself were from District 87, not only would they be separated from Naruto, but the months they'd spent trying to move up would've been for nothing.

"I'm sure you know you have high spiritual energy. Get hungry often?"

"Always." Toushiro shifted Naruto on his back.

"Want me to take him?" He took a step forward and Toushiro moved back.

"I'm fine." The boy glared.

"Hey, don't be a brat," the Shinigami snapped before putting his hand on Toushiro's head. "I'm just being nice." He messed up the kid's hair before pulling away, leaving Toushiro to blink, confused.

"Who are you?" Momo stepped closer to Toushiro, wary of the Shinigami just as much as her friend was. Everything they had worked so hard to achieve would mean nothing if this man found out where they really came from and ordered them back. It would all fall apart. The behavior of the Shinigami was strange, however. She had never seen one show kindness before. They were enforcers who kept the world balanced. In her mind, they were warriors, not gentle or sympathetic in any way. "What do you want?" she added as an afterthought, tensing as she stood by Toushiro's side.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Calm down, you're acting like I'm a monster." He grinned and brought his hands up. "Boo!" He laughed heartily afterward, shaking his head. "I'm Shiba Kaien, fifth seat in the 13th Division. I was just doing rounds, and I noticed there was high spiritual energy around here. Did you know that only good Shinigami have high spiritual energy?"

"What's your point?"

"No interruptions!" Kaien punched Toushiro in the arm, causing him to wince. "My point is that you guys could become good Shinigami." He smirked.

If Momo didn't feel an ounce of dignity, her jaw would have dropped in utter disbelief. Here was this man, sprouting things like "you guys could become good Shinigami". What does he mean by it? She wondered. Or is he just humoring us? She glanced at Toushiro, unsure of herself. A groan could be heard from the slumped form of Naruto, and Momo was a bit surprised he had enough strength to wake up now.

"What's going on?" he mumbled, his voice slightly muffled against Toushiro's yukata.

"Oh good. You awake, fatso?" Toushiro asked, his eyes still on Kaien, who just stared back at them. He didn't trust the Shinigami, but he couldn't very well run away with Naruto on his back. He put him down slowly, muttering out of the corner of his mouth, "We're going to run."

Kaien kicked out with his leg, hitting Toushiro in the face and causing him to cry out as he clutched at his nose, bent forward and holding it tightly. "No whispering! I can hear you anyway! And who's going to be running with that empty belly of yours?" He pulled his zanpakutou out and nudged Toushiro's stomach with the sheathed edge. "Relax, this is my job, I'm not trying to con you or anything." He grinned.

Naruto stared at the darkly clad man like he was a strange being from a far off world. Hell, to him, he was a strange being from a far off world. "Who the hell are you, buddy? And why did you kick him? Not that he doesn't deserve a good kick every once in a while…" His stomach growled. "And speaking of empty stomachs." He looked sheepishly over at Momo. "Can I have that apple now, Momo-chan?"

"Quiet!" The Shinigami leapt over Toushiro and his foot slammed into Naruto's face, the blond toppling over and landing on his ass. "I liked you better unconscious." He turned to Momo. "Well, what do you say? You seem to be the only civilized person here, so how about it? Are you going to come with me to the Shinigami school, or not?" He crossed his arms and waited.

"Hold on!" Toushiro rebutted, his voice coming out funny because of his injured nose. "You can't just expect us to believe you'd pick a bunch of kids up off the street in the 80th District and put them in the Shinigami academy!"

"Actually, I'm picking up two District 87 kids." Kaien grinned impishly at Toushiro, who paled. "We've been following your movements for a while now. I knew you were from 87, but it wasn't until I got closer that I realized you had high spiritual energy. You're just lucky, or else you'd be back in 87 faster than you can blink."

"Bastard," Toushiro growled.

Naruto rubbed his sore cheek, having turned his head just in time to make sure he wasn't kicked directly in the face, like Toushiro. His nose was still intact and thankfully not broken. He rather doubted the other boy had that small justice. The whole situation was confusing him, so he had pretty much tuned the man's voice out. However, he wasn't just going to sit on the ground and wait patiently for an explanation. "You can't just go around kicking random people!" he shouted right off the bat as he stood up.

Sighing, Momo stopped Naruto with a hand on his arm. "Let's just consider his offer, all right?"

"Why?" Naruto replied with irritation. "He's an even worse bastard than Hitsugaya probably."

"But, if we don't… we'll be separated," she explained softly, sadness evident in her tone.

Toushiro discounted the bastard comment aimed at him, gritting his teeth angrily. Kaien just grinned at them. Obviously, the Shinigami had them and he knew it, which pissed the boy off. The bastard was being so damn smug.

"And by the way, brat," Kaien said to Naruto before bopping him painfully on the head with the hilt of his sword. "I can kick whoever I want when I want. It's good practice." He grinned as he brought his sword back, resting it over his shoulder as he inspected them.

"We can't go to this school, we have no money," Toushiro snapped.

"It's paid for. Well, the basic things, anyway. And wouldn't you like to wear real clothes instead of that yukata?"

Naruto eagerly nodded. "Yeah! White really doesn't look good on me…" He trailed off, most of the conversation going right over his head. He didn't understand half of what was going on, or what was going to happen. He was the type to just go with the flow given the circumstances he found himself in. Momo was being exceptionally quiet, though. He glanced at her with interest, but she seemed to be seriously considering the situation instead of jumping in blindly like him.

Just like Toushiro, she knew the man had the three of them on a technicality, but was it the right choice? "I guess we can go… Hitsugaya-kun, what do you think?" she asked the last part a bit softer than the rest, disregarding the Shinigami for the moment.

"Why are you asking him?" Kaien put his hand on Momo's head and rocked it slightly from side to side. "You're a big girl, he's just a twerp."

Toushiro's eye twitched and he silently fumed, not daring to say anything out loud in case he got punched or kicked again. The guy certainly was violent, but he wasn't violent in a mean way. It was hard to explain, but this particular Shinigami… he was actually pretty kind compared to all the others. "Are you telling me that lodging, books, clothes, and classes are all paid for?"

"Yup." Kaien turned and smiled—actually smiled—at Toushiro. "Usually, you'd have to pay for certain things, but because you and your friend there," he motioned Naruto, "have spiritual power off the charts, you'll probably be provided for. As for you," he looked at Momo with a smile as she bashfully tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, "I guess I can help you out for a little bit, but not forever. And you'll have to pay me back eventually." He patted her head before pulling away. "So, what do you say?"

Toushiro looked at Momo as he frowned, thinking it over. Staying off the streets for free? Learning how to be a Shinigami? It sounded almost surreal.

Momo blushed and looked down. It sounded too good to be true. This man was willing to pay her way into Shinigami school, granted she would have to pay him back, but she would have insisted on that anyway. Having a secure place to stay, learning to fight so she wasn't a burden; it all was too idealistic to imagine. And here was this man saying he would give it all to them. "I—I accept." She kept her head down so she didn't have to see Toushiro's expression.

"If she's going, then so am I," agreed Toushiro. He wasn't leaving Momo by herself. They'd been together some time now and he wasn't willing to lose her. "But… can we leave him behind?" He gestured to Naruto. He was joking, of course—well, for the most part.

Kaien laughed, messing up Toushiro's spiky hair. "You're a funny one. He's already said yes, it's too late. What are your names?"

"Toushiro. Hitsugaya Toushiro."

"Hitsugaya, huh? Got a nice ring to it for a Shinigami." He grinned as he rubbed his nose before looking at Momo and Naruto. "What about you two?"

"Naruto. Uzumaki Naruto. And what are you talking about, Hitsugaya? If anyone should be left behind, it's you!" He stuck his tongue out childishly at Toushiro.

Momo laughed a little before introducing herself. "Hinamori Momo. And I'm definitely the more civilized one." She smiled for the first time in the Shinigami's presence.

"I can tell. Oi, brat, shut up!" He hit Naruto across the head again. "Seeing as how you were unconscious when I met you, and Hitsugaya here was carrying you, I fail to see how you're any better than him." Of course, Kaien knew Naruto was better—spiritually, at least—but he wasn't going to inform him of that fact. He would just let the blond stew in knowing that a Shinigami had made fun of him.

Toushiro grinned at Naruto, clearly showing the blond that he had made a fool of himself.

Kaien noticed the look and smiled deviously in his mind as he steeled his expression and tapped his chin. "Well, if you really don't want this Naruto to come with us, I guess we can leave him here."

Toushiro's grin disappeared as he turned to Kaien, startled. "Eh? Why?"

"Well, he was unconscious with you carrying him. He can't be that great."

"I was just kidding!" Toushiro insisted. If Naruto got left behind because of his joke, he would feel terrible.

Naruto blinked, and then blinked again. Was Toushiro sticking up for him now? Damn that brat's confusing. Makes my head hurt. He rubbed his temples and turned to Momo. "I believe I've just been insulted and now I'm about to get disqualified for this Shinigami thing… and I don't even know the half of it. Where's the justice in that?"

"You're funny, Naruto-kun; not as serious as Hitsugaya-kun, but it's not bad." She smiled at him and he grinned in return before they turned back to watch Toushiro argue with the Shinigami.

"Well, I might overlook this and let him in, but only under one condition." He smiled at Toushiro.

"Of course, what is it?" Toushiro demanded.

Kaien's hand came crashing down again and Toushiro clenched his eyes shut as he waited for the hand to smash into his head. Instead, it just fell lightly on top of his messy white hair. He opened his eyes, confused, and saw Kaien bending down slightly so they were at eye-level. He was smiling again.

"Keep that loyalty to your friends." He stood straight again, removing his hand. "And don't take things so seriously. Life is too short to give up on a bunch of laughs." He turned and started walking, motioning for them to follow.

Toushiro felt a blush creep onto his face before he turned to Naruto and glared. "We're not friends," he informed. "I just felt guilty." He nodded, as if to convince himself, too, and then followed Kaien. "Come on, Hinamori."

Momo brought a hand to her mouth, hiding a smile. It appeared Naruto was worming his way into both their hearts. There was just something about the blond. She couldn't put her finger on it, but she liked him. "Sure, Hitsugaya-kun." She followed after her first real friend, her smile still tugging at her lips.

"I never said we were either, Hitsu-teme." Naruto smirked, proud of his newfound nickname for the brat.

Authors' Notes:

Avril – Well, here you have it. Another joint project between me and Sarge. This one, however, is more of the Bleach variety. We're rather proud of this one. Just wait until some of the other characters get introduced. Not that we're mentioning any names. You'll just have to wait and see, dear readers, wait and see.

And since this is another rp-styled joint fic… we have another character list for you guys. We're putting them at the end this time (so we don't spoil anything) for your convenience and viewing pleasure. Enjoy! Anything to add, Sarge?

Sarge – Other than the fact that this was bloody hilarious and insanely fun to write, not really. We hope y'all enjoy this, and even if it seems like it's a little slow sometimes, bear with it, it'll be worth it :P And some of our characters are a little insane, but y'all know that's how I like 'em, haha.

Stick around for more, and hopefully, you won't be disappointed.

Character List:

Avril – Naruto, Hinamori

Sarge – Toushiro, Kaien, a random guy from District 80

Happy New Year's, Everyone!

Wishing you the best of luck for the upcoming year.