'Come on... Reach for it... Reach for it... Almost got it-'
"Naruto. There is an emergency vice-captains meeting. We have to go."
'-Crap! So close!'
The second Naruto had made it back to the HQ, he had begun training.
The ramen bowl was closer then ever, and Amagumo was cheering him on in his head.
And after only about 10 minutes, Nanao comes barging in.
"Aw, man! I was almost there, Nanao-chan!"
Just as Naruto almost reached that stupid floating Ramen Bowl.
"Well, we have to go. It's apparently important."
"All right, all right... But after that, we come back and train!"
"... Captain Aizen is... dead?"
"Yes... He was found, stabbed by his own Zanpakuto."
"... He committed suicide?"
"He was found, stabbed by his own Zanpakuto... About twenty feet up, attached to the side of a building."
"Oh. How is Momo taking it?"
"Not... Not so good."
The two walked back to their Division Headquarters in near silence. When they did speak, it was in hushed whispers.
Both were in shock. Who among the Ryouka had the power to kill a captain?
"Is one of the Ryouka that strong? I mean... The Blonde one, Ichigo... He was the strongest. And he was with us. The cat... Yoruichi... She was watching the fight too, I think. There were what, 3 others that we saw fly through the sky?"
"Make that two. I talked with our captain... While we were gone, one of the Ryouka attempted to run through our Headquarters. He took down Enjoji with ease, and was stopped by Shunsui-taicho. Apparently, the Ryouka was actually a pretty nice guy, if determined."
"So, there were two left?"
"Shunsui-taicho also made mention that one of the Ryouka was actually a Quincy, and engaged Kurotsuchi-taicho."
"A Quincy? And he fought that creep? Did he kill him? Please say he killed him!"
"... No. The Quincy did defeat Kurotsuchi-taicho, but was then later captured by Tousen-taicho... Right about the time that we left the scene of Kenpachi's fight."
"So... It must have been the last one left who did it..."
"If it was one of the Ryouka, that is..."
Neither wanted to contemplate the idea of treason among the ranks.
The obvious choice- Ichimaru Gin- was something that neither wanted to believe.
Gin WAS Aizen's fukutaicho for a good amount of time... But still, he'd be the only one among the captains that they could suspect.
And even then... it didn't make much sense.
Or so they hoped.
The two arrived back at their HQ, and immediately went to train.
"Pawn to B7."
"Rook to B7."
The game was intense.
"Knight to C5."
"Queen to D3."
Well, Nanao looked intense... No one else could see her opponent.
So, to most, watching her seemingly play a game of chess against herself would have been quite the odd sight.
"Pawn to A6."
"Knight to A4."
She was close.
Oh so close.
She had gotten to this junction many times before... She knew this part of the game was the crux to her win. She had to take down that knight, before it moved in and got her king.
That's what happened every other time that she had made it this far.
'Steady... Stay calm. Ya just have to wait for it to get closer...'
Naruto, on the other hand, would make for a more normal sight.
'Come on... Closer... Closer...'
He looked to be meditating. Those who knew him would not be that surprised to see him meditating holding a pair of chopsticks. You never knew when you were going to happen upon ramen, after all.
Normally Naruto would just be chasing the bowl around.
But this time... He decided to try something different.
He'd wait for the bowl to come to him... And then grab it.
'And then... I'll eat that sonuvabitch!'
She was on game three now.
The first one was close.
The second was a stalemate. Close enough to a victory that she thought it counted… But her sword thought otherwise. She needed the full win.
Now... She knew this one was it.
"Knight to E5."
"Rook to D7."
"Queen to D7."
"Bishop to C3."
She was winning.
All she had to do was seal the deal.
'Ok... It's within range.'
The bowl was floating ever closer to Naruto's still form.
'Slowly... Slowly reach for it.'
Naruto's hand, the one that was chopstick-less, began to lift.
Slowly, ever so slowly... It reached out.
'That Ramen... It smells so good!'
So focused on the bowl... Naruto didn't notice the aura that was starting to form up around him.
And neither did Nanao notice the aura that was starting to form up around her.
"Rook to A5, Check."
"King to B2."
Because she had the game right where she wanted it."
"Bishop to C3, Check."
"King to C2."
The air was beginning to swirl around her...
"Queen to D2... Mate."
... And as her Zanpakuto's king tipped over, the sword itself leapt into Nanao's hand, from where it rested to the side.
And she spoke.
"Defend me from all of my enemies, Kawaru Buogoheki!"
"YES! The Ramen Bowl is mine!"
The bowl was in hand.
The chopsticks were lowered in.
And Naruto... Naruto took a bite.
The second he swallowed that first bite... The bowl disappeared.
In its place, his Zanpakatuo appeared his hand.
It sizzled with energy, with lightening swirling around it.
And even as it changed shape, a phrase came into his head.
"Shock all who oppose me, Raien Amagumo!"
From where Shunsui sat, on the other side of the hall from Naruto and Nanao's rooms, he could only think one thing.
'Perhaps... They WILL be ready for the times to come.'
2 days were left... Until the execution.
"Hmmm... Well, given the abilities our Bankai seem to have... We shouldn't have to modify our old tactics that much. In fact, we'll be able to take advantage of Amagumo's cloud that much more. That's good..."
"... Err, Nanao... You DO remember the pressing issue at hand here, right?"
"Naruto, I've already told you; just because you ate that bowl of ramen, doesn't mean that there's now a gaping hole in your mindscape. If it's worrying you so much, meditate tonight! We have training to do now!"
"... Yes, Nanao-chan."
After achieving Bankai, Nanao felt changed. More at ease... more confident. Like she had found something that was missing, that let her justify her actions.
It gave her... a oneness of purpose.
Her doubts were cast away... She WAS making the right choice. What was going on in Soul Society was wrong, and perhaps what she was doing would help fix it.
But to do nothing, or worse, aide the execution... She couldn't do that.
No, she understood better now.
She would do as she must.
Naruto, on the other hand, was merely given more questions.
He could feel something different in his reishi. And he wasn't sure how he felt about it.
Normally Nanao would be the first to pick up on things like this, so it confused Naruto that Nanao didn't seem troubled in the least.
Before Naruto released his Zanpakuto, their reishis had been a mess, entangled like a knot of yarn. Snarled together, Naruto would end up dragging Nanao wherever he wanted to go.
After achieving Shikai, though... Something changed. Instead of being a gnarled mess... The entanglement became cleaner. Instead of being knotted... It seemed more like Naruto's reishi was just wrapped up around Nanao's. Even he didn't know quite how much of his reishi was tied up in holding Nanao's in place within him, but he knew there had to be a heckuvalot, seeing as one would expect more reishi out of the Kyuubi no Kitsune.
Now, though... Now it was different.
If Naruto had to liken it to anything, after he had achieved Shikai the entanglement would have been like a roll of paper towels, with Naruto's reishi wrapped up in enumerable layers surrounding Nanao's.
Now... Now it felt more like the reishi was... twisted together. Like two flower stems wrapped around each other, or something.
'Gah! Flower-taicho must have gotten to me more then I expected, if I'm making analogies like THAT!'
Regardless, it made him nervous.
Especially because he was starting to feel some of that excess energy, that had been pent up before, beginning to resurface.
"Naruto! I never thought I'd have to say this, but less thinking, more training!"
Yeah... Nanao was acting a lot weirder.
And that didn't help much for his peace of mind.
The day of the execution was at hand.
But much was amiss.
First was the fact that Kenpachi was clearly in a fight with SOMEONE at the moment.
And, if Nanao was guessing correctly, it was Captain Tousen, of the 9th division.
Which made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
The second thing that was amiss was that Nanao and Naruto weren't at the execution site yet.
An unexpected emergency on a hollow-cleansing mission the night before caused a massive amount of paperwork that had to be done.
So Shunsui had left without them.
Now, finished with the work, they discovered the third thing that was amiss...
"HOW THE HELL DID THAT RYOUKA GET EVEN STRONGER!? IT WAS JUST THREE DAYS, FOR GODSSAKE!"
... Apparently Ichigo was causing a ruckus over at the execution, and was putting out an aura that was noticeably stronger then it was a few days ago.
And, while they ran towards the execution grounds... Nanao noticed something else.
"Naruto... There are at least 3 Captain level reishi's heading in this direction..."
"That's... not good."
The tension was palpable, filling the air.
Enormous Reiatsu was being exerted all over Seireitei, most centered on the execution hill.
It made sensing individual reishi hard for Nanao, but still doable.
"The reishi have become more distinct, Naruto... One of them is way far out, but most definitely heading this way. The second just ran past us... I believe that it was Captain Soi Fon. But the third..."
"The third one is right here, Nanao-han."
The two twirled around, to where the voice was located.
Only to see the smiling visage of Ichimaru Gin, holding his zanpakuto loosely in his hand.
Naruto's reishi flared up, stunning Nanao. For the last day or two, he'd been much less himself... More like her, oddly enough. And at the mere site of Ichimaru Gin, Naruto reverted to himself, ready to kick ass and take names.
Nanao started to worry... It was clear that Naruto was going to attack Gin. But then, it was also clear that Gin had shown up to fight them to begin with.
'But do we stand a chance against a Captain?'
Before she could ponder that, Naruto flared up his reishi, recondensed his aura back within him, and rushed towards Gin.
"Cloud the Heavens, Amagumo!"
'How... How is he blocking and dodging everything?'
The fight, if one could call it that, was almost entirely one-sided.
To an outside observer, it may not seem so, as it looked like Naruto was on the offensive the entire time.
But Naruto knew Gin was just toying with him. He could see it in his grin, in the casual way he defended all of his strikes, while occasionally launching some of his own.
'I know he's had a lot of openings... Why hasn't he taken them?'
Naruto was fighting as hard as he could. Gin hadn't even bothered leaving the cloud, giving Naruto all the advantages he could possibly have.
And it still didn't seem to be enough.
Attack after attack, swing after parry after riposte... Nothing penetrated Gin's guard.
And Naruto was getting angrier just looking at Gin's smiling face.
It bothered him, though... Why was Gin just playing with him?
He didn't even look to be trying!
And then... it hit him.
'He's... He's stalling us! Why the hell is he bothering to stall us?'
Naruto's blood ran cold.
'Does that mean he really IS trying to kill Rukia for some reason? That maybe he was the one who killed Aizen, too?'
"Nanao! We can't wait any longer! He's just stalling us... I'll have to use it now..."
Naruto didn't want to risk using his Bankai so early. It was brand spanking new after all... He'd only had a day to train with it!
But it was his only choice.
Naruto, stunned, slumped to his knees, with Gin's extended Zanpakuto stabbing him through his stomach.
"Well don't that beat all? You thought I was about to letcha use Bankai, Naruto-han? I suppose all that's left is to-"
Gin, interrupted, slowly turned around.
Only to have to quickly deflect a Kido blast to the face.
Before him stood Nanao, putting out a reiatsu that had dwarfed anything Gin had expected possible from her.
And she was pissed.
"Mask of blood and flesh, all creation, flutter of wings, ye who bears the name of Man! On the wall of blue flame, inscribe a twin lotus. In the abyss of conflagration, wait at the far heavens. Bakudo #63: Twin Lotus Blue Fire, Crash Down!"
Nanao was in a state of cold rage. She had never been quite as angry in her entire life as she was right now.
And that rage fueled her reishi, making her stronger.
One of the single most satisfying moments of her entire life would be the sight of Ichimaru Gin actually opening his eyes in shock, if even a little, at her initial attack.
This time, it was Nanao who was on the pure offensive, attacking nonstop.
After her initial kido, she rushed in close, Zanpakuto poised to stab.
Purely offensive, with no attempt at any kind of defense.
It made no sense to Gin, who was quite off balance at the moment anyway... So, he decided to do the logical thing, knowing what he did about Nanao's shikai.
After all... In shikai form, she couldn't really use zanjutsu... So if she was engaging him with her sword, it meant her shield wasn't up. Because her shield centered itself around her sword… If she could get close to him while swinging her sword, her shield was probably not there.
So, after twisting to the side to dodge her stab, Gin swung downwards...
... Only to meet complete resistance about a foot away from Nanao's head, causing his sword to bounce away as if blocked.
What was even more disturbing was that he only just now noticed Nanao mumbling out another kido...
"Sprinkled on the bones of the beast! Sharp tower, red crystal, steel ring. Move and become the wind, stop and become the calm. The sound of warring spears fills the empty castle! Bakudo #63: Thunder Roar Cannon!"
... It hit Gin directly, as he hadn't had the time to reposition his sword from his previous strike to block.
With a slight grunt, Gin fell back, stomach a little singed... But nowhere near as damaged as Nanao had hoped.
"Heh... Someone seems upset about lover-boy over there."
Gin's foxy smile infuriated Nanao as much as it did Naruto... And inexplicably, her reishi began to rise some more.
'Where is this girl getting all of that reishi from?'
Invisible to both Gin and Nanao... Something else was taking place. The reishi that linked Nanao to Naruto was intertwined, true... But the setup had changed.
The tangled knot it was at one time was now more like two flowers, with their stems wrapped around each other, or perhaps two ropes, braided together.
And the angrier Nanao got, the more she drew on her reishi... This caused more of her reishi to be pulled from the entwined portions, unraveling reishi that had been tied up for years.
But... it wasn't enough.
Naruto sat on his knees, slumped over.
He could barely watch the fight, because he could tell where it was going.
It looked like Nanao had the upper hand... But that didn't matter.
Gin wasn't trying to win. He wasn't trying to kill them. He was just stalling, just delaying...
For what, Naruto didn't know.
Internally, he had cheered when Nanao first started her end of the battle.
It looked like she had Gin on the ropes!
But slowly... Well, nothing happened. Nanao would launch Kido, or attack, and Gin would block or dodge. He would make periodic attempts to break her shields, which were appearing all over the place just to stop him, but he had ceased to even look like he was concentrating on the fight.
And then... He felt it. Something was changing.
Before, blood had been pouring out of him slowly but steadily, and he could feel his reishi slowly waning. Medical attention would be rather important, but he still had quite a bit of time before it would be too late.
But... the longer the fight drew on... the more reishi he could feel he had.
It was weird... His reishi just started building up, and up, and up...
Naruto stood up.
The wound in his stomach gone.
He could FEEL the power within him... at levels he had never even contemplated. It was as if... something had unlocked within him.
But even as he looked past that... he could feel something missing.
A shriek of pain cut through the air.
Naruto's eyes shot up... and he suddenly realized what exactly had happened.
Somehow... All the reishi that had been tied up with Nanao... Was all his own again.
And even as Naruto looked on in shock, Gin managed to penetrate Nanao's bankai with a swift application of Shinso in the middle of a complicated attack sequence.
Nanao had tired herself out quite a bit, as far as Naruto could see... Apparently it was enough for Gin to break through her bankai's moving shields with his shikai.
But... Naruto wasn't thinking anything like that.
If Nanao had been furious about Naruto being skewered... Naruto was fucking HOMICIDAL!
Even as Gin turned back towards Naruto, just feeling the rising reishi now... He heard something he most definitely did not want to hear.
If Naruto's reishi had been large before... Completely unleashed, it had been like Kenpachi's: Large, overpowering... Seemingly endless.
But after activating his Bankai... It was large, overpowering, and everywhere.
A storm cloud appeared, covering the area.
Whereas before, Amagumo's cloud had always been a fluffy white-grey... Raien Amagumo's cloud was a deadly black.
Gin stood still, waiting for Naruto to make his move. The illusions that he had oh so casually ignored, pictures of his past, pictures of her... Now they were even more real. More life-like. He could probably reach out and touch Rangi-
"The illusions are but the first part of Raien Amagumo's abilities, Ichimaru Gin. But before we're done... you'll have WISHED that you had decided to let yourself be distracted during my shikai!"
The air swirled around Gin, who had finally released some of his own reiatsu, using it to break up the cloud a little bit around him.
Within the cloud... He couldn't sense Naruto. Nothing. Nada...
'He's so lucky he did that!'
... And immediately raised his sword to block Naruto's opening attack.
Naruto and Gin held that pose for a second, Naruto's Bankai held against Gin's sealed Zanpakuto.
If Naruto's shikai caused his sword to shrink to a Kodachi... His bankai completely changed it.
Whereas before Naruto had a single sword... He now had a pair of Katar's, one for each hand.
Gin, in all his years, had never quite seen a weapon like that before. To him, it just looked like a blade attached to a rectangular hilt, with some of the hilt extending past the box-like part.
Though Naruto did look rather fierce, hands curled around the bottom of the hilt, causing the blades to rest on his knuckles, and extend outward from there.
The moment seemed to float by, with Naruto floating mid-air, one Katar being stopped by Shinsou, the other held up in the air. The shriek of metal on metal was ear-piercing, with Naruto's Katar looking ready to cut straight through Shinsou at any moment.
Gin was merely readying himself for when Naruto struck down with his other weapon... He most certainly did NOT expect a bolt of lightning to shoot from the cloud into the raised Katar.
And he definitely did not expect that lightning to channel itself, through Naruto, into him. Happening far too fast for him to react, Gin found himself blasted back into the stormy cloud.
And without even letting up, Naruto was upon him again, attacking ruthlessly. Gin had to block on instinct, letting his reflexes guide him. He couldn't sense the attacks- Hell; he couldn't sense NARUTO- until the very last second before a strike.
Naruto had him backed into a corner.
'Well, never thought I'd quite have to do THIS to anyone any time soon...'
Gin leapt up into the air, baring his sword to strike...
That is, until he felt the approaching reiatsu.
And Gin smirked that insufferable smile he always did.
Even as Raien Amagumo's cloud rushed up to meet Gin, Gin called out.
"Well, Naruto-han... It looks like our playtime is over. Don'tcha think it'd be better to be taking care of your lady friend over there? She's looking a mite out of it, ain't she?"
Naruto growled, and shook his head.
"Nanao's strong! She can take it! But you... We're finishing this!"
Gin leapt back again, still smiling.
"Ah, but Naruto-han... You have a new playmate on the way. I wouldn't want to interfere. That would be rude, after all... See ya!"
Naruto nearly roared in frustration as Gin used a long-distance Shunpo to escape.
And then he had to turn around, to face the person that Nanao had sensed so long back, now finally arriving.
Naruto quickly pulled his cloud back in, leaving his Bankai released, and shunpo'd to Nanao before whoever it was arrived.
Nanao looked to be in rather poor condition, lying on the side of the pathway with a number of minor wounds, culminating in the stab that Gin had gotten in on her side.
Naruto dropped down next to her, lifting her up a bit.
And the second he touched her... He felt his reishi reach out to her.
He felt his reishi reconnect with hers.
He felt it flow back to as it was, with more of his reishi going to support their connection.
He could see the immediate effects... Everything from Nanao's skin-tone to her wounds improved. It was as if her body was using his reishi to heal itself.
Nanao's eyes opened up, from where she had passed out a minute or two before.
And stunned Naruto when her hands reached behind his head, pulling him down into a deep kiss.
And when Naruto managed to pull away a second later, confused as all hell... He noticed the newest arrival onto the scene.
Already dazed, Naruto could only really think of one thing to say.
"Ya know, even seeing you now... I'd still say that Gin has the more fox like face."
Author's Notes: For a clarification on Bankai powers-
Nanao: Kawaru Bougoheki works exactly as it sounds- Moving shields. It has multiple stages, like Byakuya's, and she used only the first one in this fight. Basically, it creates moving multiple shields that can either react consciously or unconsciously. Imagine them looking like the shields that Yosho uses in Tenchi Muyo. It lets her attack with her sword itself, or with kido, or whatever, without having to worry about defense. It can be overwhelmed, but due to it working on its own, and not forcing Nanao to direct it all on her own, it is difficult.
Later stages will just be extrapolations or logical derivatives of that power that Nanao figures out how to use, or thinks up.
Naruto: Raien Amagumo creates a storm cloud with near perfect illusionary distractions. However, it also completely hides Naruto from all sense, and lets him access the storms most powerful weapon- It's Lightning bolts. He doesn't shoot them as a projectile (or rather, he hasn't yet figured out how to... I haven't decided anything on that yet), he channels the lightning through his strikes into explosive bursts. There's some more to it, but Naruto hasn't yet discovered it.
His Bankai also splits into a pair of Katar, which capitalize on his Hakuda skills.
I hope the Gin fight went down realistically... The only times Gin was not in complete control of the fight was when Nanao first unleashed her Bankai, and against Naruto at the very end.
Also... I've been hinting at how Naruto and Nanao are tied together for a while now, with the recent comments getting more and more blatant. Pretty much completely cleared it up here. Though... Yamamoto realized what exactly was going on wayyy long back, right after Naruto reached Shikai. If he had really wanted to, he could have broken the connection forcibly, and had Naruto placed in a different division as vice captain, or something. It wouldn't have been that hard... But, now, well... Things have changed.
Next chapter has their encounter with Komamura, as well as them arriving at the end of the Ichigo/Byakuya fight or a little after that.