Hot and cold,
bought and sold.
A heart as hard as gold.
Yeah! Are you satisfied?


The noise in the busy village slowly toned down as the hustle and bustle disippated as people's lunch breaks ended and they headed back to work and, finally, some peace for the afternoon came by before those same people would come back to the stores on their way home from work. Amongst the crowds, a familiar sight was seen at the Ichiraku Ramen, a young man with blond hair drinking a can of coke to wash down his meal upon arriving in the town. Crumpling his can, he tossed it in the garbage bin beside him and heaved a heavy sigh before finishing his ramen and slamming the money on the table. He didn't stand up to leave.

"Naruto?" a kind voice asked, concern in their tone.

The addressed blond looked up at her and smiled slightly. "Yeah, Ayame?" he responded, and the brunette's brow furrowed. She wasn't used to how solemn he had grown as he had grown older.

"Looks like you've been troubled since the whole Akatsuki Incident last month... Since then, the Elders set up that... thing... and you're in..." Her face screwed up slightly. She was perplexed; the regular townsfolk not of shinobi occupation were not informed of the goings-on in the higher-up place of work. Shaking off her confusion, she continued, "But I know you well." She scoled. "It's that guy that was with you when it happened, wasn't it?" Ayame asked in the same kind and concerned tone, and yet firm and demanding as she was aware that the blond often refused to speak of things that troubled him, or simply brushed it off. She also knew that things had changed a lot in Naruto ever since the incident involving soul society happened a month prior.

The boy's eyes darkened slightly before he feigned a bright smile. It may not have been real, but it was still bright enough to rival the sun, but Ayame saw the conflicted emotions swirling in those azure orbs, but she didn't comment. Naruto didn't like pity. "Don't worry about me, Ayame," he said in a surprisingly soft tone, "I can take care of myself."

"Alright, but don't get into any trouble out there," came Ayame's reply with a hesitant smile, and she quietly handed the change to him. Naruto thanked her, but truthfully, his mind had been a storm since the whole incident happened, from seeing Sakura recover from her mind control ordeal, to her then disappearing but still remaining in contact (albeit rarely due to both of their demanding occupations), and then Ichigo leaving with Urahara and Yoruichi a week or so after what happened. He knew they had to protect the spirit world, but he couldn't help but feel slightly bitter that Ichigo had left without saying goodbye. Urahara and Yoruichi had both bade him a farewell, but the carrot-top hadn't even left a note or anything. The blond shook his head. 'Don't be selfish,' he berated himself, clenching his fists, 'He's got people to protect, just like you. Get over yourself!' and then shook his head hastily as if to dismiss these pessimistic thoughts.

As Naruto walked through the streets, he was having the occasional flashback of the times he and Ichigo were together for that short period, bitter he was, but at the least it'd be nice to see him again at some point if something was to come up again. However, he was quite dubious of that. The guy had gone back to his own life, to protect his family and friends, whilst Naruto had departed from Konoha not long after Ichigo had left. Sakura had gone, and he just felt so empty. Sasuke had abandoned them, Sakura left for fulfil her dreams and, although he was happy for her, he hated being so alone in a place that withheld so many memories.

Sighing ruefully, the Jinchuuriki entereed a convenience store to pick up another drink as he wandered the streets aimlessly, just waiting for the next boring as hell mission from the Elder Council. Upon entering, he heard the shopkeep talking with someone as he looked through the magazine rack. "Hey, did I see you here before?" the shopkeep asked curiously to the then unknown customer.

"Yeah, I was here about a month ago..." The young man replied as he paid his money. The voice sounded all too familiar for Naruto, and he felt a strange sensation flow through him, a mixture of betrayal and anger, but also relief and happiness. "Here's your change... So, what's bought you here this time? One of your friends going mad again?"

"Nah, classified stuff. You know what those council members are like... Remind me of a guy in the Gotei... Kuchiki, he's called..." he muttered in a bored monotone. "Thanks for the drink," he said, "I'll be around a while." Giving a polite nod to the man behind the counter, the redhead grabbed his item and went to depart from the shop and, upon noticing that, Naruto threw the magazine back in the rack and quickly followed the leaving customer. It irked him, knowing full well whose voice that was. When he exited from the shop, he dashed up to Ichigo and slammed him into the wall behind the newsagents. "What the fuck?" he hissed, rage blazing in his eyes.

Ichigo felt the slam into the wall thrown into. He looked quickly pissed before realising it was Naruto. "Jeez, I'm only back here twenty minutes and I'm getting thrown into walls..." His eyes widened in astonishment. "W-wait a second! Naruto?" Ichigo nearly shouted as he felt the shinobi's presence.

The blond boy's eyes narrowed and he dug his fingers into Ichigo's shoulders before pulling away, glaring at the guy. "You didn't say goodbye," he muttered darkly, blunt and straight to the point as usual. He took a step back and folded his arms tightly, almost hugging himself.

Ichigo stepped back a bit before retorting, was certainly the last thing he expected when arriving. "Considering all the noise we made, how would you feel about it?" he asked in his own blunt way, "You sent that Pain packing and we just about survived that damn rocket blast from Soifon... considering my circumstances, yeah..." Noticing how the blond was still sulking, he sighed, rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, and said, "And I'm sorry. I should've said bye."

Naruto obviously wasn't expecting an apology, at least not that easily. People just didn't tend to say sorry to the container. Unfolding his arms, he shrugged awkwardly and stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Well," he mumbled uncomfortably, cheeks tinged pink. "You could 'a said g'bye or something..."

Ichigo straightened out his shirt before replying again, the two had gone through a closer than you think friendship in the few weeks they knew each other and it came. "I know, by the time I got back to the Shoten I had Hat'n'Clogs ask me why I didn't... I didn't explain to him because of what we have... they're asking for you back at the shop too." He felt kind of relieved when Naruto's previously pouting face brightened into his sunny smile. He swiftly off the weird fluttering sensation. "Though I bet you're wondering why I'm here, right?" Ichigo asked in the almost typical straightforward way of his.

The ramen-lover snorted in an attempt to break the heavy atmosphere, although he was secretly jovial over the fact that people had missed him. "Yeah, I kinda am." He raised his brows. "I mean, you only came to Konoha on business, so I guess this is what this is about, right?" he surmised, cocking his head.

Ichigo smiled in that surefire, cocksure way of his before signalling to him to walk with him to the Council Offices. "Yeah... your friends higher up made some calls to me, they said something of a job for you and I'm your partner, since the both of us seem to have some sort of interconnection with this job."

Naruto froze for a second, stopping dead in his tracks as he stared wide-eyed at his comrade. "Y-ya... What did you say? You serious?" he asked, stunned. 'What the hell? Why would a shinigami and a shinobi be paired up? This ain't been done before, I swear... This is kinda weird...'

Ichigo snorted, taking his time to reply, "Yeah, your buddies said it's pretty in-depth, so I'm here to see what they want us for... thinking back to the Akatsuki incident... I'd say this is pretty big for two guys like us who were directly in it."

The shorter boy's brow furrowed and he frowned at the pavement in thought as he resumed walking beside his second-time partner. "Yeah," he agreed slowly, still perplexed. "But... don't'cha find it kinda... strange... that they'd be doin' this?"

"Stumps me." He shrugged. "We're gonna find out now ain't we?" Ichigo replied with a little grin as the two walked into the building. Naruto couldn't help but grin back brightly. He did it instinctively whenever his friends were happy. When Ichigo looked away, his smile slipped off, and a blank mask replaced it. 'I hate these guys,' he thought as they entered the building.

Ichigo's thoughts ran the same, albeit less positive and more irritable. 'These douches had better have a good reason for this. I'm taking out hollows in the metric fuckton scale and some top-secret bull comes up... Seeing Naruto makes up for this, but they'd better explain everything.'

The automatic doors zipped open as they approached, and they walked up to the reception desk. The woman glanced up from whatever she was writing, and after mutting something into her headset, she returned her gaze to the two men's. "They're waiting for you upstairs," she said quietly and she gestured towards the lift and pointed up as the office was on the top floor, and then carried on with her dull work. Each muttering a thanks that was practically inaudible to the woman (despite Naruto's bright smile and virbant, "Thanks a lot, ma'am!"), they dashed over to the lift, receiving some agitated glares and scowls from the occupants of said lift as they had caught the doors as they had been closing. When another man entered on the second floor, it was quite squashed, and Ichigo and Naruto, who had already been standing next to each other, were pushed further together and now Naruto's face was practically buried in Ichigo's shoulder. Both tried to ignore the heat flaring up to their cheeks, although Ichigo was more annoyed at the crowded lift whilst the blond was just flustered.

Any previous chatter died down, lingering quietly as the people exchanged rude whispers about the two people who had entered the room, particularly the blond occupant. Tightening his fists slightly, Naruto said quietly, "We're here," as a way of introduction, managing to keep up his calm facade, although he knew Danzo would have noticed any movements, including his tense shoulders and fists.

Danzo sure noticed it, but shrugged it off, he knew it was normal for Naruto to react that way; he was the container of a demon. "Alright everyone, let's keep it quiet here... now I'm glad you two could make it, Koharu will be handing you the details about this." he said coldly, gazing deep into both the Shinigami and the carriers eyes.

Ichigo just quirked a brow challengingly in response and, feeling Naruto's trembling fists against his arms, glared at the man before he reluctantly broke the gaze to turn towards the elderly members inquisitively but in annoyance. 'This had better be good...'

Koharu stood up with the file in hand before speaking. "Can you two take a seat as I explain the mission?" she asked quickly, waiting for them to do so before she continued. "There's a lot of suspicious activity going on in a lab in Japan, it's also doubling as a doctor's practice, and the person running it is a world renowned assassin, no more than your age and notable for her work both in medical, psychological and assassination techniques. We want you two to investigate her lab, practice and activity," she explained in a calm, yet cold and bitter way. "Danzo and I went there earlier on today to check the situation before sending you two out," she said with a slight smile on her face, thankful that the mission was a success, although she knew the power plant story was risky. They really needed more preperation next time or they could be found out.

"Wait a second," Ichigo growled, leaning forward and placing his elbows on the table. "Who're we checking out? You can't just send us off without more information," he muttered in aggravation.

"Patience... Kurosaki..." Danzo coldly said in two words as Koharu put the file in front of him with the details.

The fiery orange-haired boy just glowered angrily at him, grabbing the manila folder and pulling out the information. "Juli..." he read aloud. "Never heard of her." He frowned.

"Course you wouldn't have, she's your age and regarded as an assassin equal to your friend in the Gotei 13," Danzo called out, as so taunting Ichigo's inability to recognise notable figures or know of anything of the sort. Naruto flinched slightly at the mention of the person in question, even if Danzo hadn't named who it was.

Ichigo threw the man another dark glare. He was getting more pissed off by the second. 'Fuck off,' he wanted to say, but instead he said, "Right," before replaying that statement in his mind again. "Wait," he said, raising his hands. "Hold up. Equal?"

"You heard me right, read the file for youself," Danzo said calmly, "I think you'll be surprised to see her exploits and what she's capable of." Naruto looked through the details as Danzo told Ichigo what to do, he was stunned into silence due to the amount of achievements carried out.

Swallowing hard, finding his throat incredibly dry, Naruto managed to say, "Hang on... Why are we carrying out this case? If they're of equal acapabilities, and we're just rookies in this field, so why are we gonna deal with these guys?"

"Because our further looks into her work has linked her to Soifon... and you two had more than a run in with her last month," Koharu said in response, biting her lip in annoyance before letting Danzo carry on, completely ignoring the way Naruto tensed up even further when she referred back to that time, although Ichigo had noticed and frowned worriedly. 'Hold on, Naruto. We'll be outta this shit hole soon...'

"Besides," the man drawled, a haughty smirk appearing on his dry lips, "There's someone you know there, Uzumaki..." Naruto stilled and raised his eyes to stare into Danzo's, the the elder man's smirk grew when he saw the recognisation and horror flashing in those eyes. 'He reveals his emotions so easily. It makes this so easy...' "Haruno Sakura, I believe her name is?" he asked, but it sounded more like a statement. "I've been informed she's being used as an experiment as well as working for Juli, alongside one Soifon..."

Ichigo looked up the moment the old man finished his statement, nearly sounding like he was shouting but more in a manner of calling out. "You said what? We dealt with this last month, what would an assassin like her want Sakura for? She's got enough with Soifon as a partner as it is," he called out in a tone that carried agitation and curious thought to it. Danzo was simply smiling in his mind, he knew he got the right people for the right mission.

Naruto's clenched fists tightened further, and he cold feel his nails growing sharper and digging into his flesh and memories flashed through his mind, and he gritted his teeth, trying hard not to blurt anything out that he'd regret. "Who are you to question us?" Homura asked calmly, eyes glinting behind his glasses. "We're the ones in charge here."

"Fine... we'll carry out the job since this is connected with us..." Ichigo bitterly said, much to Danzo's enjoyment. "When do you send us out to Japan to check this Juli out?"

The council members exchanged smirks, save for one black-haired woman who had obtained the information on Juli during the last meeting, who was staring meaningfully at the two newbie agents. "Right away."

This was a bitch to edit, seriously... I (Gosan) edited it once before and it decided not to work when I clicked "save." Ugh, whatever. ¬.¬; I'll copy/paste onto WordPad from now on in case it fucks up on me again. Sorry for the wait!

Bleach belongs to Tite Kubo.
NARUTO belongs to Masashi Kishimoto.