A/n: There are plenty of great Naruto/Bleach stories out there, but hardly any of them is past the Invasion of Soul Society Arc. So… I got impatient, and wrote this rather condensed version of 'what would happen if Naruto became a shinigami'. It obviously won't be as good as the well developed and thought out plots, but hopefully it will satisfy those looking for a quick reprieve from Naruto/Bleach addiction, and those who want to read cute parts which are rather lacking in most fics. So to all those impatient people like me… hope you enjoy! : )

House of Uzumaki

The ravaged plains spread before out before him, attesting to the fierce battle that had taken place. Burnt trees littered the once beautiful forest, sand draping down and around the branches. In a clearing, lay a blond haired figure, the one so loved by his precious people, and had loved his precious people. His future had been bright, but now all that lay within his decaying body was the shattered dream of reality. Carried on his sister's shoulder, the son of the Kazekage frowned as he contemplated the blond's last words to him, and tried to understand their meaning. Off in a distance, a pink haired ninja wailed, and the stern sole survivor of the Uchiha massacre for once let a female cry on his shoulder. Even farther away, silver haired jounin stood stiffly by a gravestone, reminiscing about the last legacy of his mentor. His head was bowed with the weight of guilt and grief, reflected by all who knew the ever-happy blond. They would all miss him, feel that something was irreplaceable for the next few months, but they would eventually forget and move on. Such is the way of humans.

A figure drifted down, his simple black clothes fluttering out behind him. He descended from the sky, his face intense and eyes sorrowful as he took in the scene that was Konoha. Letting out a soft sigh, he sank to the ground on one foot, landing gracefully.

Naruto snorted, and, carefully avoiding the chain poking out of his chest, crossed his arms. He had figured out the hard way that those chain thingies were not to be messed with, having tried to tug it out and feeling an extreme sense of pain rivalled only by… well, nothing he had ever experienced, actually. He eyed the black-clothed newcomer critically; seriously, did the black guy have a flair for dramatics or something? He could have just landed normally, like any normal person would have done.

Naruto wisely ignored the voice in his head that was telling him that he would have done the exact same thing.

The stranger let out a groan, bringing Naruto out of his thoughts. "Ah, it looks like the ninja have had another war. No wonder there's a sudden influx of souls. How bothersome. Oh well, might as well… start with this one then."

The stranger suddenly turned to Naruto, his hand on the hilt of his sword. His black clothes ruffled slightly, giving him a much more sinister look. Eyes widening, the blond took a few steps back, uncrossing his arms and getting into a fighting stance. How had he not noticed the sword before?! Er… well… it was true that he didn't notice a lot of things, but still!

The black clothed figure noted Naruto's reaction. He sighed again, "Ninja… so bothersome." Shaking his head as if to clear his thoughts, the stranger raised his hands in a gesture of surrender, "Hey look kid, I'm not here to kill you… the fact of the matter is, you're already dead."

Naruto stiffened, narrowing his eyes, "Are you threatening me, bastard?"

The stranger palmed his face, "Ah, that came out wrong. No I mean, I'm a shinigami- someone who's here to help your soul pass on. You're already dead. Surely you have realized this by now? I've heard ninjas are observant by nurture, and most know they're dead before we even come to collect them."

"But I'm not de-" Naruto stopped himself, feeling torn. Well no, he knew he was dead, knew it the moment he felt the essence of life drain away from him. Still, he hadn't wanted to accept it. Because… because well, chakra exhaustion was such a lame way to die. But the body below him attested to the real facts of the matter. Naruto bit his lip, feeling defeated, "So I'm really dead then?"

The shinigami nodded, "Good, you accept it. This'll make things easier. So I'll perform soul burial on you, and you'll get to live in a nice place called Rukongai (Wandering Soul City). Erm… you haven't killed anyone right?"

Naruto shook his head furiously, appalled, "Of course not!"

The shinigami bobbed his head, looking satisfied, "Good, that means that you won't go through the Gates of Hell. Any ninja who's already… erm, eh-he, please forget what I just said. Any last words kid?"

This time, Naruto ignored the shinigami pulling out his sword. He was too busy contemplating his final words. It was a satisfactory death; nothing like he thought it would be like (after all, he didn't die a Hokage), but he had protected his friends. Frankly, that's what he felt was more important, and he was glad he died this way. So… what to say?

"Well?" The shinigami asked with a bored tone, sword hilt held directly above Naruto's forehead, "Hurry up. I won't hold this here forever you know."

Naruto nodded, a brilliant idea coming to him. Grinning, he turned to where he knew his friends were. He knew they couldn't hear him, 'cause he had already tried to contact him, but it gave him some ease to obtain an promise from them nonetheless. "Well! I'm off to a better place! Don't you guys dare follow me until I can learn enough stuff about the afterlife to run circles around your heads! You'd better keep away for at least another 100 years! I haven't made Hokage, but I'll still be the best ninja in the afterlife! That's Uzumaki Naruto's promise of a lifetime!"

"Done? Good?" The shinigami slammed the sword down, and Naruto closed his eyes in anticipation of the reaction. He wondered how it would feel to move on. Would it feel light, rejuvenating? Would all the loneliness disappear? He wondered if Rukongai had ramen…

Imagine his surprise when he opened his eyes and found he was still in the same place. The shinigami was still standing above him with the sword inches above his forehead, a shocked expression on his face.

"Hey, what's wrong with you?" Naruto whined, "I want to get to the afterlife sometime soon you know. I just made this great speech, and now you go and ruin it by not giving me a grand exit."

The shinigami seemed to ignore him. His mouth opened and closed, and when he finally spoke, his voice came out rather weak, "U-Uzumaki did you say?"

"Yeah, got a problem with that?"

"No- no! It's just…" The shinigami ran a hand through his hair, muttering, "Uzumaki? Impossible… but, that's not exactly a common last name is it? I guess I'll have to leave the rest of the soul burials. This takes priority!"

In that instant, the shinigami seemed to snap back to himself. Deftly removing the sword from above Naruto, the shinigami re-sheathed it and gave the blond a hard look, "If I perform soul burial on you who knows where the heck you'll end up? You'd better come with me."

Um… what? This was getting more and more confusing. Naruto couldn't keep up.

The shinigami shifted through his pockets, and an instant later a black hued butterfly popped out. Grasping Naruto's arm in an almost painful manner, the shinigami flung his other arm out and shouted 'To the Court of Pure Souls!"

"What do you-" Suddenly, Naruto was lifted by the armpits and slung over the shinigami's shoulder like a sac of potatoes. "He-hey! What are you doing? Let me down!"

"I am sorry Uzumaki-sama," The shinigami muttered as a large white gate appeared in front of them, "But this is the only way to get there quickly."

"Wha-" Naruto didn't even get to finish his word before the shinigami took off at lightning speed. Naruto immediately snapped his mouth shut, feeling sick. This speed, was heck of a lot faster than any speed he'd ever travelled at, and it was making his stomach churn.

Finally, they came to a stop, and the sickening sensation abated. Naruto took in a deep breath, his voice coming out weaker than he intended it to, "What did you do?"

"Shunpo," The shinigami said as if it explained everything, setting Nartuo down. "Sorry about that, but this is phenomenon you understand, and I couldn't wait around just to explain."

"What in the world, are you talking about?!"

"Ah, right, right," The shinigami muttered, putting his hands on Naruto's shoulders and spinning the blond around, "But I don't thing I'd be the best one to explain that to you. It'd have to be them…"

Naruto's eyes widened. In front of him, was a large villa encompassed by silver gates and high walls, with one humongous center house in the middle. It was done feudal-lord style, with the paper walls and everything!

"Wow…" Naruto breathed, turning to face the black clothed shinigami, "Wow, wow, woow! This is so cool! Awesome Mister! Real awesome!"

The shinigami ignored him, gazing at something in the distance. Frowning, Naruto followed the shinigami's gaze, and spotted a person cloaked in blue strolling slowly towards them.

"Who's that?" Naruto asked.

The shinigami didn't reply.

Naruto puffed out his cheeks. Gah! He hated being ignored! Running up to the silver gates, Naruto fisted his hands around the bars, and pressed his cheeks onto the cool, hard metal. "Hey! Who're you?!"

The stranger was close enough now that Naruto could see his eyes twitch. Crossing his arms, the blue clothed stranger came to a stop directly in front of the blond. Narrowing his eyes at Naruto as if in warning, the brown haired stranger turned his head away abruptly, facing the shinigami, "I thought I felt the presence of a seated officer. Tell me Iba, why have you come here? And with a brat."

The shinigami -Iba, Naruto supposed- chuckled, "I heard a piece of interesting news. Hey Naruto, why don't' you introduce yourself?"

"Why should I?" Naruto huffed, "He hasn't introduced himself yet."

The shinigami sighed, giving the stranger a pleading look, "Please Masato, just introduce yourself."

"Brat…" The stranger muttered, glaring at the blond, "Honestly, no manners at all. And Iba, it's Ihara to you; we're not familiar with each other. As for you little brat, I'll show you how one should behave. I am Masato Ihara, and it's Ihara-sama to you."

"Tch, whatever," Naruto sneered, "Now here's a proper introduction! I'm Uzumaki Naruto, future Ho- er, best ninja to have ever lived!"

Naruto flushed slightly, casting his eyes downward and feeling embarrassed about his sudden change in introduction. He desperately hoped that Masa-whatever hadn't caught it, it was dead embarrassing. But hey, he should be cut some slack. Naruto hadn't even been dead for over an hour yet, so it was perfectly alright to make some mistakes right? Right?

Filled with new determination, he raised his head again, ready to punch Masato if the guy dared laugh. Masato looked stunned. Naruto blinked; he hadn't been expecting that reaction. The blond felt a grin creep up on his face as all his earlier doubts disappeared. So he was this awesome hun? He had totally stunned Masato with his awesomeness! Inwardly, Naruto cooed in victory, doing a dance for his success.

Masato's strained voice broke the broke the blond out of his celebration, "Uzumaki Naruto did you say?"

Naruto bobbed his head with a large grin, "Yep, yep, that's my name! Fu- er, best ninja to have ever lived!"

Masato put a hand to his face, his expression weary, "This is impossible but… the age is about right, and he does act a lot like Mistress did…"

Suddenly, Masato's face changed, morphing into cold hard professionalism. He snapped his fingers, and the silver gates slowly started to open, forcing Naruto to jump back in able to avoid getting crushed. Turning to face the shinigami, Masato bowed, ever so slightly. "Tetsuzaemon, thank you fro brining Naruto here, you may expect a reward soon. As for now, please leave, it is clan business now."

The shinigami rolled his eyes, turning to leave, "Yeah, yeah, whatever. I didn't do it for a reward, but anyway, see ya."

And just like that, the shinigami disappeared, leaving Naruto with the cold Masato. Naruto shot Masato a wary look, not too sure how he was supposed to react. To his surprise, Masato replied with an oddly soft smile, a smile Naruto had seldom seen in all his life. Almost subconsciously, Naruto found himself smiling back. It was just then, that the gates fully opened.

"Please," Masato gestured towards the mansion, "Follow me."

Instantly, all of Naruto's previous misgivings came flooding back. HE may have smiled, but that didn't mean he trusted the guy. Appearances could be deceiving- Mizuki and Haku had taught him that. "What do you want with me?"

Ah… okay, maybe not the best thing to say to get someone to reveal their intentions, but Naruto had never been one for trickery. He'd much rather just pound the answer out of an enemy actually… hey, he should do just that! He was a ninja wasn't he?

Grinning savagely, Naruto sprang forward… only to land face first on the ground, hacking.

"Ah, just like Mistress after all," Masato sighed, taking a step forward and extending a hand to help Nartuo up, "You're a new soul in Soul Society- the atmosphere here's different. It'll take a while for you to adjust, and think about anything harder than a walk."

"What are you, talking about?" Naruto huffed, slapping Masato's hand away and struggling to get up, "This atmosphere, ain't so hard to move in."

Masato snatched his hand back, an amused expression on his face, "Just like… tell me Naruto, did your mother tell you to never accept help?"

"My mother's dead," Naruto growled, finally getting to his feet and glaring at the blue-clothed figure.

Masato took a step back, his expression changing into shock, "Kushina's dead?!"

"What did you think I just said you bas-" Naruto paused, Masato's words replaying themselves in his mind. No way… but then, it would make a strange, sickening form of sense."You knew my mother?"

"Knew?" Masato laughed, his voice sounding odd from unshed grief, "You could say that. But there is someone who knew here better than I. I want to… talk to you, but my lord will get mad at me if I keep this from him. Naruto, it's time for you to meet your grandfather."

"I have a-" Naruto choked, "Real grandfather?"

Masato nodded, extending a hand yet again, "Yes you do, the lord of this area in fact; one of the four great noble clans of Soul Society. Come now, it will be much faster if I carry you with Shunpo- that's the technique Iba used to carry you here."

"No way am I getting carried!" Naruto protested automatically, but then actually stopped to think about the dizzying speed at which the shinigami had carried him. "And what is Shunpo anyway? Can't you just teach it to me? I'm a ninja, I'm sure I'll adjust quick!"

Masato gave a little chuckle, "Well actually, most ninja have a harder time with shinigami techniques. They use completely different concepts, and most ninja cannot adjust."

Naruto blinked at this, then threw his head back in a loud laugh.

"What's so funny?"

"It's just that," Naruto snorted, "I've never been very good at ninja techniques anyway."

Large, dark, and oppressive, were the only words Naruto could think of to describe the room. Tiny water droplets fell from the various pipes, making a faint plop plopping sound as they joined with the rest of their kin. Naruto waded through the hallways determinedly, ignoring the acrid stench of sewer. Finally, he came upon the large, ornate gate, something he had just recently became familiar with, and just recently was enough. Huffing, Naruto raised a hand, and rattled the bars.

The sleeping denizen cracked one eyelid open, "What are you doing here, brat?"

"I'm looking for my Zanpakuto (Soul Cutter)," Naruto said irritably, standing in front of Kyuubi's cage with his arms crossed. He was not in a good mood, and he didn't need the fox to make it worse. Meditation, meditation, bah! He wasn't made for meditation! And now that he had finally achieved it, he not only didn't find his Zanpakuto, but had to resort to coming to the fox after one hour of solid searching! "You wouldn't have happened to have seen it, would you?"

"You," The Kyuubi uncurled from his resting position, stalking forwards until he was directly in front of Nartuo. He was close enough that Naruto could feel the hot breaths from the creature as he talked, and the burning rage beneath the fox's skin, "Are disturbing my rest, and it is bad enough that I have to live in this damp cage. So I suggest you do not use that insolent tone with me, or you shall feel my wrath. Now leave."

Naruto simply rolled his eyes, not in the least bit intimidated, "Sheesh, someone's not a morning person. No, I won't leave, I'm looking for my Zanpakuto, and who knows when I'll be able to get into my mindscape again. Although…" Here, he winced, "My mindscape's kinda creepy isn't it?"

The Kyuubi snorted, "As if an undeveloped mind like yours can make something this complex. No brat, this is the design left by your Yondaime to trap me, though I'm sure you could change the setting if you really wanted to."


"Sure," The Kyuubi purred, "Why don't you try it?"

Naruto immediately narrowed his eyes at this, "Wait a minute… me changing the setting won't set you free, will it?"

"What makes you think that?"

"My grandfather's been teaching me all sorts of things these past few months," Naruto warned, wagging a finger, "So don't you try to trick me. Gramps wouldn't stand for it when I didn't get the answer for a question right, and he made me study all sorts of politics. He said it was 'unbecoming for the heir of one of the four greatest clans in Soul Society to not know the difference between Senkimon and Reishihenkanki', or something along those lines. He wouldn't even allow me to learn how to fight until I learned some history! Grr… who does he think he is? I mean, yeah he's my grandpa but…"

"Are you feeling like getting to the point anytime soon?" The Kyuubi asked dryly.

"So as I was saying," Naruto had quickly changed his words inside his head, but the Kyuubi didn't need to know that, "He's taught me a lot of politics. I can recognize trickery now."

The Kyuubi raised a brow, then snorted, then started to laugh.

"What?" Naruto demanded, "What's so funny?!"

"You, brat. Do you think the Yondaime so incompetent that if a child were to suddenly wish for another scene within their head, I would be set free? And what's more, you don't have to worry about accidently setting me free, because you will purposefully set me free."

"I would never do that!" Naruto denied immediately, glaring at the infuriating fox. Did the fox know what he was suggesting? Naruto would never willingly betray the Yondaime, or Konoha, willingly.

"Really?" The Kyuubi's eyes glittered, and not in a pleasant way either. "What if I told you I was your Zanpakuto spirit?"


"Yes," The Kyuubi said lazily, "I am your Zanpakuto spirit, and over these past few months I have learned all there is to know about being a Soul Cutter from the other spirits. When you died you see, since you already had a spirit within you, other spirits could not get in, and therefore you're consequently stuck with me. You want to be a shinigami don't you? The only way to become powerful, brat, is to use me. To free me."

This… this was his worst nightmare. Naruto stumbled back, falling with a soft plop on his behind. His legs felt too weak to support him. The Kyuubi? The nine tailed demon was his Zanpakuto? He squeezed his eyes shut, his hands fisting beside him.

"So brat," The Kyuubi's voice was piercing, mocking, "What do you say? Let me out, and I'll make you powerful. That's what you want, isn't it? That's what you always come here for. Just call my name."

"No," Naruto whispered, shaking, "No…"

A loud hiss echoed around the room, "Why not brat? If you don't release me, you'll never become powerful in this realm. Come on, admit it, I'm all your power here. I've heard your grandpa, even he admits that a Zanpakuto is a shinigami's power. If you don't have me, what can you be?"

"I still can't… I still can't…" Naruto suddenly stood, his eyes snapping open to reveal electric blue orbs. "I'll never release you! I'll just become a master in everything else! I don't need you! I said I'm never going to release a malevolent spirit, and I don't go back on my word!"

Without giving the Kyuubi a chance to reply, Naruto quickly turned away, running away from the terrifying gate.

"Brat!" The Kyuubi snarled, "Get back here! You know that you can't ignore me for- eh? What's this?"

Naruto paused in his run, giving a single look back. A white tingle caught up to him, and suddenly the ground he was standing on was no longer a sewer, but a rich, green field. Kyuubi sat inside a large glass dome, still trapped, but within a grassy field this time.

The fox swished its tails, its face a picture of shock. "You did- why did-"

If it weren't for the disappointment that was curled within Naruto's stomach, he was sure he would have laughed at the millennium old demon's surprised splutters. As it was, he was sure his voice came out flat. "Judging by the amount of energy you used to convince me to free you, I decided that changing the setting wouldn't release you. Since you're going to be trapped here forever, I thought you'd rather be in an open field."

With that, he turned on his heel and left.

"Remember," Kuchiki Ginrei warned, "Be on your best behaviour. This means, don't let your temper get the best of you, no matter what the circumstance. We cannot afford to make ourselves look like fools in front of the Uzumakis, then we'd be laughingstocks."

Byakuya nearly rolled his eyes, but refrained at the last minute. Yes, yes, he knew all this already, so why was his grandfather telling him yet again? He wasn't an idiot, and he wouldn't make a scene. He was after all, a Kuchiki.

"We are after all, going just so you can meet their kid," Ginrei went on, "Which is a huge sign of respect towards us. They've never shown their heir to anyone else before, and you'll be the first one who'll see them. Therefore, we also need to be respectful."

"Why does this matter?" Byakuya asked uncaringly, "We're Kuchiki, so why do we need to bow to another family?"

"We're not bowing to them!" Ginrei said in frustration, "But all four noble families have equal standing, you have to realize that! Our ancestors made an alliance to keep the peace, and we as descendants are charged with that responsibility. Us being Kuchiki is no better than them being Uzumaki. Plus, they're in charge of Soul Society's economy, so we literally can't afford to offend them. I'm not saying grovel, I'm saying be polite. I have no doubt that the Uzumaki kid is getting this same lecture."

"Hm." Byakuya supposed that this was the same theory that applied to Yoruichi; someone not necessarily superior, but they couldn't afford to offend. Still, he wished Yoruichi actually acted like a clan head, and not like some… some… well, kid.

It was just then, that they reached the large, silver doors that marked the entrance to the Uzumaki residence. The metal gates swung open, and the pair continued their walk. Soon, they found themselves on the footsteps of the main manor, which if Byakuya were to admit to himself, was even bigger than the Kuchiki Palace. But then, he supposed, the people in charge of the money would have more of it to spend.

The door was smoothly opened, and a butler of some sort quickly showed the pair to the living room. There, they were greeted with two Uzumakis, if the symbol on their cloaks were any indication. There was the elderly one, whom Byakuya had seen on many other occasions before, laugh lines between his wrinkles and hair crystal white. Then, there was the one Byakuya hadn't seen before.

A boy -around the same age as Byakuya himself-, whom the Kuchiki heir could only assume to be Uzumaki Naruto. He had blue eyes, and shockingly yellow hair, which was odd, considering the red haired nature of the Uzumaki clan. But… there was definitely that resemblance to the elder Uzumaki; the set of jaw, the nose. Naruto was a legitimate heir, that much was certain.

The two elder folks exchanged pleasantries, and left to allow the two boys to get acquainted. Personally, Byakuya didn't want to get acquainted, as he felt his time was better spent training, but he supposed he had to get used to the politics of things. Twisting his lips, Byakuya stepped forwards in preparation to introduce himself when…

"I don't believe this," Uzumaki muttered, adjusting the strange metal headband on his forehead , "I was just about to complete this awesome Kido, but then I find out I have to entertain some guests or something."

Byakuya froze. It wasn't as if Uzumaki was the only one who didn't want to be here, but at least Byakuya had the decency not to express it. Feeling anger bubble up within him, Byakuya turned a chilly gaze on the Uzumaki, "Are we that horrible to meet?"

"Eh?" Uzumaki shot Byakuya a look of surprise, then jumped off his seat with a sunny grin and took a step towards the Kuchiki. "You heard that? Whoops, sorry. Don't really mean anything by it, but you know… social parties just aren't my thing. Well anyway, I'm Uzumaki Naruto! How 'bout you?"

"I know who you are," Byakuya replied coldly, feeling scorn rise like a poisonous snake. It was unbecoming of a future clan head to so easily express his true thoughts and his lack of knowledge. Yes, he'd admit that the elder Uzumaki was competent, but this kid? Ha. "And if you'd paid any attention, you'd know who I am too."

Uzumaki's face twitched, "I know who you are damn it! I was just trying to be polite!"

"Hm? Polite? Really? I've seen commoners more polite than you."

"You got something against commoners you bastard?"

"Such language. It's unbecoming of one of your station. Both your language and your concern."

"I'll have you know that I was-" Uzumaki suddenly stopped, clenching his fists in anger. Byakuya raised an eyebrow in curiosity, wondering what could have made the undignified clan heir pause in his rant. Maybe it had something to do with… why the Uzumaki heir was never permitted to meet anyone until now? Did the House of Uzumaki have such a dark secret?

It really… was none of his business, but Byakuya found himself intrigued nonetheless, "You were…?"

Uzumaki snorted, crossing his arms and glared hard at the black haired boy, "I don't understand how you can hope to be the future of your clan if you can't even care about your people. What's the point of a king? Isn't it to protect? If you view so called 'commoners' so badly, then you really don't deserve my manners."

What the Uzumaki said… actually made sense. Byakuya felt his heart clench, as Uzumaki's words hit a sore spot in his core. Hadn't Byakuya been wondering the exact same things? Over and over again? What good were the clans, if they did nothing? But… but he could not let Uzumaki know that. Besides, one good point didn't make everything else the blond said forgivable.

Didn't deserve the Uzumaki's manners? Ha. "If that earlier were your 'manners', then I'd hate to see what sort of barbaric behaviour you normally display. Perhaps that is why you are so admant on defending any soul even if they are a commoner, because you actually see them as your superior?"

Uzumaki bared his teeth, shaking with suppressed anger. "You want to fight? 'Cause if you do I'll pound you to the ground."

Byakuya felt a barely perceptible grin spread across his face. This was what he had been waiting for. The idiot Uzumaki had it coming to him, that was for sure, but Byakuya couldn't act until Uzumaki had given an invitation. His grandfather would kill him otherwise. Byakuya let his hand drift to his trusty Senbonzakura, always present by his side.

It was then that he noticed Uzumaki's sword, and the weird form it was in. Well no, the form itself wasn't odd; it was what was on it. An intricate seal was stuck haphazardly onto the sheath, just blocking the sword from being pulled out. Byakuya's eyebrows furrowed; did the Uzumaki intend to fight without his sword? He had pegged Uzumaki for the type that didn't care about cuts, but perhaps he was wrong after all. Who knew that Uzumaki was such a coward? Giving a slight snort, Byakuya removed his hand from Senbonzakura and shifted into a combatant stance.

"Use your sword," Uzumaki grunted, "I can still beat you bare handed."

Byakuya gritted his teeth, and charged. How dare that brat look down on him?! He was the Kuchiki heir! There was no doubt in his mind that Uzumaki would lose, and lose badly. So imagine his surprise when Uzumaki not only deflected his punch, but countered with a kick. Surprised, Byakuya flipped backwards, landing almost exactly where he was before.

"How did you like that?" Uzumaki grinned, thumping his chest as if he had won a grand award, "I totally beat you back didn't you? Don't ever underestimate the great Uzumaki Naruto!"

The black haired boy felt his eyebrow twitch; was this guy serious? No matter, Byakuya had simply been caught by surprise. It would not happen a second time. Taking a small breath, Byakuya allowed his reiatsu to fill his senses. It was stupid of him to underestimate the Uzumaki; he could see that now. Like grandfather had said, Byakuya too often allowed his emotions to cloud his judgement. Uzumaki was after all, also one of the four great houses, so of course the blond brat in front of him would have some fighting ability.

Not enough against a Kuchiki's true powers, though. Without giving any warning, Byakuya disappeared from sight, appearing a split instant later behind Uzumaki. Uzumaki's eyes didn't even have time to widen before Byakuya delivered a swift chop to the back of the blond's head, effectively knocking the boy out.

Uzumaki tumbled forwards, falling with a loud thud to the ground. Byakuya stood over his opponent, allowing a small, pleased smile to spread across his face. No one got away with insulting a Kuchiki, no one. And here, he had just proven that the Uzumaki clan wasn't so great after all.

And then suddenly, the Uzumaki rolled around, face towards Byakuya and hand already in cast position, "Hado (Way of Destruction) #42-"

Byakuya's eyes widened; no, impossible, how was Uzumaki conscious? How did the blond already master a level 40 spell? Biting his lip, he quickly flash-stepped…

"-Razor Wind!"

A serious of wind blades tore at the area in around Uzumaki, marking the room with cuts and tares. Byakuya stood on the opposite side of the room, feeling his eyes widen despite himself. The high destructive power of the Hado had proven that its power had not diminished much by Uzumaki's pass over of the chanting; proving that Uzumaki was truly a Kido expert. He may have escaped the gist of it but… he glanced down at the shredded edge of his cloak; though it was a small tare, it was still a testimony to how fast Uzumaki's reaction time was. The blond's Hado was impressive, and he wasn't even in the Hayashida clan, which specialized in Kido (Demon Arts).

"I can't… see you at all," Uzumaki coughed out, struggling to get up. He spore a crazy grin on his face, body shaking like mad, "I haven't had a good fight like this in a long time. But I won't lose!"

Byakuya shifted, narrowing his eyes. Just what was Uzumaki thinking? Obviously, Uzumaki was already tired, if his panting was any indication. That Kido had clearly taken a lot out of the blond. Now, he'd just gone and revealed his weakness- speed. Was this a trap? But no… Uzumaki didn't look smart enough to make a trap…

Well, it didn't really matter in the end, did it? Byakuya would just have to beat the Uzumaki, and that was all. Not moving a muscle, the Kuchiki once again readied himself for Shunpo when-

"Ah! You made a new friend before I did!"

Both boys spun around, Uzumaki's eyes widening, and Byakuya's eyes narrowing at their new arrival.

"Demon-cat," Byakuya hissed, his fingers suddenly itching for Senbonzakura.

Yoruichi threw a cat-like grin at him, swinging her legs cheerily from her seat on the rafters. Jumping down from Uzumaki's rooftops, she let out a low, long whistle.

"Wow," She said way too cheerily, sticking her hands into her pockets as she slowly made her way towards them, "You guys sure did a number on the Uzumaki house. Of course, I don't suppose it'll matter, considering you guys have like, 50 other rooms, but still… quite a lot of damage for a pair of kids."

"Don't call me a kid!" Uzumaki shouted at the same time Byakuya did. The Kuchiki paused, whipping around and glaring at the Uzumaki. How dare the blond copy him?! He was met with an equally menacing glower.

Yoruichi burst out laughing, "Oh ha! You children are so funny! Of course you're still kids. Naru-chan, that Kido was impressive, but almost completely out of control. Bya-chan, you're still not fast enough I'm afraid. Did you ever want to catch me, or did you want to wait until I died of old age first?"

Instantly, two identical scowls turned to the Shihoin heir. Yoruichi clicked her, and in a flash she was gone. The moment Byakuya felt the wind rush beside him, Yoruichi was back to her original spot, a smug grin on her lips. On her index finger, she twirled a familiar blue string, though this time she had the added collection of Uzumaki's metal headband. Byakuya resisted the urge to feel the back of his head; he already knew that his hairband was gone.

Behind him, Uzumaki stomped his feet. Yes, actually stomped his feet, "Give that back Witch! Give it back!!!"

"Hehe…" Yoruichi pocketed the items, poking out her tongue at the two male heirs, "I'll give it back if you can take it back."

"Truce until we catch whoever the hell she is?" Uzumaki growled, stepping up beside Byakuya.

Narrowing his eyes, Byakuya nodded almost imperceptibly, "Fine."

Yoruichi snorted, crossing her arms as she gave them a mocking look. "Pa-lease, even if you kiddies team up you still have no chance of catching me. I'm the Goddess of the Flash; hey Naru-chan, if you thought Bya-chan was fast, you're aiming for a whole 'nother level when facing me."

It was true. As much as Byakuya hated to admit it, Yoruichi was still faster than him at this point. That wasn't to say of course, that he wouldn't best her eventually, but as of now she was better. It made sense of course; after all, she was in the Shihoin clan, which specialized in sheath and speed. Just as the Kuchiki clan specialized in history and swordsmanship, the Uzumaki clan specialized in economics and combat, and the Hayashida clan specialized in Kido.

Uzumaki of course, didn't know this, and stupidly launched himself at her. Laughing, Yoruichi danced out of the way, jumping to a rooftop just out of reach. Sticking out her tongue at the blond, Yoruichi gave one last mocking salute before disappearing from sight.

"I'll get you!" Uzumaki shouted, shaking his fists at the empty air, "Just you wait! I'll get you!"

Byakuya rolled his eyes, "You won't get her, even I know I can't. Just be glad she's gone for now."

"What? Giving up so soon?"

"I know I'll be able to beat her in the future," Byakuya replied calmly, "But as of now my training's not complete. It's also strength to know your limits."

Uzumaki was silent for a long moment, as if he were contemplating something very important. Then- "I just thought of a great idea, is all. It seems that someone with her personality… hey, can you, cast a light binding spell?"

Byakuya turned an annoyed eye on the blond, "Of course I can, but why do you need to know?"

Uzumaki scratched his head, looking embarrassed, "'Cause I can't?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Byakuya snorted, "You cast a level 40 destructive Kido with no incantation, and you expect me to believe that you can't do a simple level 10 binding spell?"

"Well the thing is… I'm only good with spells that are above level 30 in power."

Byakuya could barely refrain from goggling at the blond. Was he serious? That was… that was… Byakuya felt his lips curl. Did he even want to hear the blond's idea anymore.

As if sensing Byakuya's train of thought, Uzumaki shook his head frantically, "Hey no listen. Come on, it won't take more than a minute to explain…"

Byakuya had no intention of listening, but as the blond continued to babble on about his 'great idea' even without Byakuya's consent, the Kuchiki heir found himself drawn in despite himself. Yes… yes it could work. Feeling an evil grin spread across his face as the plans for the trap steadily progressed, Byakuya wondered why he had not listened to the blond sooner. Naruto was a genius.

"Kit, isn't it time to leave?"

Naruto shot the fox a look of surprise, rolling over on the grass so that his head was propped up by his elbows, "Is it?"

From behind the glass wall, the Kyuubi nodded sagely, "Yes Kit, your black haired pest is almost here."

"Stop calling him that," Naruto whined, moving to a sitting position. "It was funny the first time, until I couldn't get that nickname out of my head. When I accidently called Byakuya that, he wouldn't train with me for a week! And grandpa was pissed too. If you keep calling him that, I'll stop coming here."

"No you won't," The Kyuubi said amusedly, swishing its tails in silent laughter, "You should really come up with better threats, and believable ones at that."

Naruto huffed, jumping up to his feet as he turned away, "Ha! I only come here because sleeping is really boring, and a huge waste of time, but it's needed. So, it's better to come to my mindscapey thing and maybe learn some stuff from you, then just sleep. Anyway, I don't need to explain myself to you! I'm going to go now!"

"Wait, Kit!"

Naruto turned his head around, giving the Kyuubi a startled look. The ancient fox demon had never sounded so… anxious before.

"You are going to the human world."

Naruto nodded slowly, wondering what the big deal was. Yes, he and Byakuya were going to the human world, to test their skills as shinigami. After all, being heirs, they had never graduated from the academy. They had been planning this trip for years. The Kyuubi knew this, so why bring it up now?

"I would-" For once, the nine-tailed demon sounded hesitant, "I would like you to release me."

Instantly, all of Naruto's defences went up. Yes, he had been visiting the Kyuubi for years, and yes, now he would even consider the fox a friend, but… but there was one thing he still could not do. Releasing the Kyuubi would be betraying his village, his friends! Naruto venomously shook his head, turning away once again, "Never."

"Must you be so cold, Naruto?" The Kyuubi's voice sent chills down Naruto's spine; it was a weary voice, a concerned voice. It was a voice Naruto couldn't refuse for very long. "I'm simply worried Kit. You're a magnet for trouble, but at least with me there I can help. When I'm trapped like this though…"

"I can't," Naruto chocked out, putting one foot in front of the other and walking away from the scene, "You know I can't…"

Slowly, Naruto opened his eyes as the scenery dissolved away, and once again, he was back in his black and orange room, paper thin and filled with books. Sighing, he sat up; he didn't like to refuse his Zanpakuto, but he seriously couldn't release a demon! He and wouldn't! Never! Pursing his lips in determination, Naruto pushed the Kyuubi from his mind and started to look for his pack when-"Ack! When did you get here?!"

Byakuya's eyes sparkled with laughter as he put down the book he was reading, "Still just as bad at sensing spiritual presences I see…"

Naruto stuck his tongue out, and threw his pillow at the smirking brunette. Of course, the bastard had to be too fast to hit. In an instant, the black haired boy was in front of Naruto, a hand outstretched uncaringly towards the blond, "Get up, I thought you were looking forward to this day. If we don't leave soon, Masato's going to go without us."

Naruto made a face, and jumped up himself. Rolling his eyes, Byakuya retracted the hand, and strolled gracefully towards the exit. Huffing, Naruto quickly grabbed the bag he had packed the night before, and followed after the black haired boy.

And it had all started from that day… After finally capturing Yoruichi, they had resumed their fight and the stupid Kuchiki had won -though it was all due to luck, according to Naruto- so of course Naruto had to go back for a rematch. It had progressed from there, really. After their fights, they would cool down, and they always found something to argue about. Arguments had turned into discussions, which had slowly turned into conversations. Slowly. If Naruto could have a civil conversation with anyone, then he counted them as reliable. For someone with a childhood as deprived as the blond's, it was really just that simple. They still had arguments the most, though.

And then they came the biggest argument of all- who was stronger? Oh sure they had their spars, but they could hardly go all out on each other when both were the single heirs to one of the noble clans, now could they? So, they had devised a way to settle this once and for all: go into the real world and see who could get the most Hollows.

So now here they were. Masato Ihara nodded to them as they finally made it to the gates of Uzumaki manor, a hell butterfly dancing lightly on his fingers. "Ready?"

The two nodded, and in a flash they were gone. Disoriented, Naruto stumbled, and fell flat on his face. An amused snort escaped Byakuya, causing Naruto to glare up at him. Byakuya only smirked, "I'll get more Hollows then you."

Without waiting for a reply, the black haired noble turned and Shunpoed away.

Naruto shot up, spluttering, "He-hey! No fair! You get a head start!"

"Only because of your stupidity," Byakuya's voice was faint now, almost too far away to be heard, "It's perfectly fair…"

Growling, Naruto took off, chasing after his wayward friend. Oh unfair! That stupid Byakuya! He knew Byakuya was faster than him, and could sense reiatsu a whole lot better than him too. The only way Naruto could possibly win this is if he somehow…

Naruto paused in his chase, a fox-like grin spreading across his face. It was perfect! Stopping his chase completely, Naruto plopped down onto the ground, taking a meditative stance. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on his reiatsu, and slowly started to release it. Little by little, energy rolled through him, and through the atmosphere. Now, if Naruto listened closely, he could hear the growls of Hollows…

Blue eyes shot open, and an excited grin spread across his features. Naruto jumped to his feet, just in time to avoid an incoming Hollow.

"Hoho," Naruto teased, jumping out of the way yet again as the enraged Hollow swiped at him, "You won't be able to get me that easily."

Spinning in midair, Naruto lashed out with his leg, landing a decisive hit on the Hollow's mask. The Hollow roared, stumbling back as a piece of his mask flaked off. Naruto's grin slipped from his face, "Ah… this is almost too easy. I have more fun sparring with Byakuya than this, and we're not even allowed to use any super-destructive moves on each other! I guess it's time to end this… Hado #31- Red Flame Cannon!"

It was over in a second. With a sigh, Naruto walked up to the smoking carcass, fishing out his sword and sheath. This was the second part to defeating Hollows, and Naruto just knew he wouldn't like it. Surreptitiously, he glanced at his Zanpakuto, wondering if he could even purify souls. The seal stuck on it prevented him from drawing his sword, and he just knew that if he took it off, it would be the same as releasing the Kyuubi. So… how was he going to purify this soul?

Suddenly, Naruto felt an all too familiar heat on his face, jumping away only fast enough to avoid getting turned into a pile of smothering ash. Gritting his teeth, Naruto turned quickly to the Hollow who had surprised him, who had interrupted his thoughts.

"Kekeke," The Hollow snickered, its right arm still smoking from firing off its special ability, "I'll eat you, I'll eat you!"

Oh yeah? Narrowing his eyes, Naruto lunged towards the beast, intent on taking it down a notch. How dare the Hollow surprise-attack him?! He charged straight at the Fire Hollow, but at the last second, his battle instincts kicked in. He may suck at sensing reiatsu, but in a battle, no one could beat Uzumaki Naruto! He spun, twisting to the side just as a sharp metal hook flew by him. Naruto's mouth dropped open as his eyes followed the source of the skewer to yet another Hollow, this one with nasty looking metal hooks all over its body.

"You won't get him," The new Hollow jeered, "I will! I haven't smelt something this nice in a while, and I want it now!"

Two…? Well, it didn't matter. Naruto felt his familiar confident grin stretch across his face; he could take down two no problem, and then he'd show Byakuya who was stronger! That was… until he saw the others. Slowly, his grin began to fade, as he began to lose count of the Hollows that had gathered.

They didn't give him time to dwell on it. Immediately, one attacked, setting a blaze of lightning towards the blond. Naruto dodged that easily, until he felt the attacks of the other Hollows closing in on him. Naruto only just got out of the way.

Gritting his teeth, Naruto put his hands up in a quick seal. He couldn't just stand by and watch them attack him, after all. "Hado #33- Blue Lightning, Crash Down!"

That got some of them, but others just quickly swarmed in their place. Another attack. Twist. Turn. Kido. Was there no end to these Hollows? After about 10 Kidos, even Naruto was starting to feel the after affects. Another group of Hollows closed in around him yet again, but this time Naruto knew he couldn't fend them off with a spell. Exhaling, the blond shifted into a combative stance; ah well, the good 'ld ways always worked…

"Scatter; Senbonzakura."

The Hollows around him exploded in a shower of light. Naruto blinked, head whipping around to the source of the voice. Byakuya walked calmly towards him, an annoyed expression on his face, "You idiot, why did you have to release your reiatsu and attract every Hollow in the vacancy? Are you trying to get yourself killed?"

Well, maybe it was a little stupid, but… "At least I killed more Hollows than you!"

Byakuya's calm instantly turned into aggravation, "No you didn't! You won't believe how many Hollows I had to fight to get to you, and Senbonzakura only leaves corpses!"

"Sure, sure," Naruto jeered, eyeing the black haired boy with a bit of annoyance. Grr… why couldn't the Kuchiki just get his own Hollows? Why did he have to come and steal Naruto's? Nevermind the fact that Naruto was just about to go down before Byakuya showed up. Just then, Naruto noticed something behind Byakuya; a large looming figure that was about to- "Hey! Wat-"

Byakuya disappeared. The Hollow behind him exploded in a shower of blood, and Byakuya instantly reappeared in front of Naruto, "Please, my reiatsu sensing abilities aren't nearly as pathetic as yours. Nor is my common sense, for that matter. I suppose I'll have to take care of your mess now, as always…"

With an infuriating, challenging smirk, Byakuya turned away, calling his Zanpakuto to him. In an instant, he was gone, and Hollows came raining down like snowflakes. Naruto growled, and also dashed forwards. He was not going to be beaten by that over-confident flea-bitten jerk!

It was over in an instant. Or, that's how it felt to Naruto, at least. Hollows weren't so tough to beat when they weren't swarming, especially not for an heir who had trained his whole life for the duties of a shinigami. Byakuya's Zanpakuto was a huge help, though Naruto would never admit it. It made him a bit sad though, to think that he could never unlock his own Zanpakuto, though it was all by choice, really. Still, even after finding out that the Kyuubi wasn't so bad, Naruto felt that he still couldn't really trust the fox. After all, why had the Kyuubi attacked Konoha? In a tiny part of him, a part that couldn't be released, Naruto still bore his suspicions.

But that was neither here nor there. He wouldn't ever release the Kyuubi, and that was that. Who really cared about why? As he sat down, panting, he briefly wondered where the Uzumaki's head servant had gone.

"Naruto? Thinking? Well this is new."

"Shut up," Naruto grumbled as Byakuya took a seat next to him, "I was just wondering where Ihara disappeared to."

"Hm, yes," Byakuya frowned, fingering the charred grass around him, "It's odd that Masato didn't show up to defend you. It's his duty after all."

"Hey don't-"

Suddenly, a large spiritual pressure descended upon them. Naruto's eyes widened as his head shot up, wondering what in the world could have caused such a reaction. There, in the sky, was a Menos!

The giant opened its mouth, and sent a large beam of light towards them. Naruto was too shocked too move, and he felt Byakuya likewise freeze up beside him. Inside his chest, his heart pounded wildly; they couldn't die here, not now!

"Bakudo (Way of Binding) #56- Shield of Light!"

The world exploded in a sea of white light. Ihara stood in front of them, his face twisted into a painful grimace. In front of his hands the light shield glowed, redirecting the cero to either side of it.

"Where did you… how did you…?"

"I used to be in the Kido corps." Ihara with a strained voice, "That's the reason why Uzumaki-sama trusted me to take care of you out here. I foolishly decided that you should learn a lesson for your recklessness, and when you accidently summoned all those Hollows I decided not to help. If you were close to dying, of course I'd step in, but I idiotically decided that otherwise, you'd be fine. I didn't expect a Menos… Naruto, you have to get out of here! Kuchiki-san as well!"

"No way!" Naruto shouted as the cero's light slowly dispersed, and the world became colourful again. "We're not leaving you!"

"Do it!" Ihara grunted, panting heavily as his hands formed another seal, "You don't have a chance against this thing! This is a Menos, and you don't even have a Zanpakuto!"

Naruto felt a pang go through his heart; that's right, he didn't have a Zanpakuto, and it was all by his choice. He had heard stories about the terrifying power of a Menos, and he didn't even have a Zanpakuto to defend himself. His Kido was shot, his swordsmanship sucked, and Shunpo could only do so much against a giant Hollow. Truly, what could he do? Still… Still…

"So you're saying," Byakuya said calmly, drawing his sword out once again, "That if I have a Zanpakuto, then we stand a chance?"

"That's not it!" Ihara shouted, his face going red. He pointed towards the Menos, which was slowly advancing towards them. "You two are very important heirs. If anything happens to you, then you'll be greatly missed. If anything happens to me-!"

"We'll miss you!" Naruto shouted back, ignoring the way Ihara's face transformed into shock, "And you don't have a Zanpakuto, I know that, so are you just trying to throw your life away?! I won't let you! We won't leave you!"

"You-" Ihara's words were cut off, as yet another cero blasted towards them. Point blank. They didn't have time to avoid it.

The shield of light came up once again, but this time, before the cero had fully ended, it started to falter.

"Um…" Naruto backed away a step, "That can't be goo-"

The Bakudo shattered into a million shards of white glass. Naruto covered his head with his arms as he blasted backwards with the force of the reduced cero, skidding on the ground. Groaning, the blond sat back up, eyes widening as he saw the Menos directly above of now unconscious Ihara. Byakuya stood beside the fallen servant, his stance one of concentration, a shield of metal pieces the only thing blocking the Menos from crushing them. But rapidly, the metal shards were starting to disintegrate, and Naruto knew it was only a matter of time before the Menos crushed them.

Naruto gritted his teeth, and started Shunpoing towards them, though he knew he would never make it. He had been blasted too far away. Oh why had he taken a step back? Why had he called the Hollows here? Why had he even suggested this stupid trip in the first place?! Tears stung his eyes, and the scene in front of him turned blurry. Now his friends were going to die, and there was nothing he could do about it!

You could do something…

Eh? What was that?

Release me Kit; I'll help you.

No... no he couldn't! He had promised the village, promised the Hokage!

Please Kit, it's the only way to save your friends. Trust me.


Stopping in his mad dash, Naruto ripped the sword from his sheath, "Come Forth the King of Demons; Ninetails!"

A looming heaviness descended upon the air, and even the Menos stopped in its attack to look for the source of the feeling. Naruto's Zanpakuto glowed a dark red, morphing and shifting from sword form into a thick, whip-like weapon with a hook at the end. In the back of his mind, Naruto couldn't help but think that it really suited him; he sucked at swordsmanship, but this type of wildly whacking was perfect for him.

But, there was no time to think about that. His lips set into a thin line, Naruto whipped his weapon towards the ground, somehow instinctively knowing what he had to do. Perhaps the Kyuubi was supplying him with information, but whatever the reason was, it didn't really matter. "First Release; Devil's Flames!"

A straight line of fire spiked up from the ground, heading at a frightening speed towards the Menos. The giant Hollow roared when the fire struck, stumbling backwards and allowing Byakuya to carry the injured Ihara to Naruto.

"So you finally decided to release your Zanpakuto?" Byakuya said uncaringly, dumping Ihara onto the ground, "Took you long enough."

"Hm! That's what I get for saving your butt?"

Byakuya gave him a flat look.

Naruto laughed nervously, ruffling his hair in embarrassment, "Oh yeah… right. Anyway, do you think we can double-team this thing?"

Byakuya snorted, upturning his head in a mildly arrogant gesture, "I could have taken care of it myself if I wasn't busying trying to save Masato."

"Right then," Naruto rolled his eyes, "Let's go."

"Hm." Byakuya shot towards the creature, scratching its foot as he flew past it. The Menos roared, whipping around and trying to outstamp the Kuchiki. Byakuya ran circles around it, looking as if he were hardly breaking a sweat.

Naruto on the other hand, was doing something completely different. His hands were in a seal, muttering the incantations for a spell. He had enough reiatsu left for this. "Carriage of Thunder. Bridge of a spinning wheel. With light, divide this into six…" Naruto dashed towards the Menos, jumping up as he did so, "Bakudo #61; Six Rod Prison of Light!"

Six walls of light surrounded the Meno's center, immobilizing it completely. It roared, but otherwise could do nothing. Naruto landed with a crouch as the roar was suddenly cut off, and he knew Byakuya had finished the job. He stumbled towards the Kuchiki, who was looking upwards as his Senbonzakura slowly flittered down to him from the Meno's neck, and reformed into his sword.

"We did it!" Naruto cheered, racing towards Byakuya with a raised hand, "We defeated a Menos! The two of us! No one will ever underestimate us now! We really defeated it!"

"Ha… ha…" Byakuya panted, and finally Naruto realized how tired the Kuchiki must be. They high-fived, and Byakuya allowed a small smile to spread across his face, "As expected…"

"Yeah…" Naruto suddenly felt his own limbs turn leaden, as his adrenaline slowly wore off. His eyes dropped, and he distantly registered Byakuya's Zanpakuto falling with a clang to the ground, "Nothing less…"

And then they finally collapsed.

It was snowing outside. A soft, pretty snowfall, which covered the ugliness of the world: gentle, harmless, dancing snowflakes, drifting ever so softly to the ground. The sun could be seen peeking through the clouds, melting the snow as soon as they touched the earth. Wet with dew and melted snow, the grass gleamed like jade, giving the whole scene a fairytale look.

It contrasted his mood.

Byakuya walked up to his wide wide window, and harshly drew the curtains shut. His room was once again drenched in darkness. There, that suited his mood better. How could the world possibly be so bright, when… when…

With a sigh, Byakuya sat back down on his bed, burying his face in his hands. He hated how he was feeling, yet he couldn't seem to stop it. This emptiness, this betrayal… he had never wanted to feel this way. It was weak, it was stupid, it was unbecoming of a Kuchiki.

Just then, a loud knock sounded on his door.

Byakuya tensed; was it grandfather again? He could not deal with the old man, especially not now. Byakuya had managed to avoid Ginrei yesterday, but if the old man meant business, Byakuya knew he couldn't avoid him today as well. Was he going to get a lecture? Byakuya felt both dread and relief about that. On one hand, he really did not need a lecture right now. On the other hand… he did. A lecture would help him set his mind straight, tell him what he should do. A lecture meant he had rules to follow, a set standard and guide, so he wouldn't have to think painfully on this like he had for the past 24 hours.

The knocking turned to a pounding, followed by a loud, obnoxious voice, "Hey Byakuya! When're you going to open this thing?!"

It was Naruto. Byakuya sighed; that was one person he didn't need to talk to. He raised his voice, hoping that the blond would just give up, though it wasn't likely. "I don't feel like training today."

"I don't care about training damn it!" Naruto shouted back, his voice muffled through the door, but his words distinguishable nonetheless, "I'm worried about you!"

"Well you don't need to be," Byakuya replied tersely, annoyed that the blond hadn't understood that he was not wanted, "So please, leave."


"This is my house, I'll call my guards!"

"Ha! I can outrun all of them, you know that! It'd be embarrassing if I couldn't, with all the things you and Yoru-" Naruto suddenly chocked, and Byakuya felt his own breath hitch. There was a pause, before Naruto continued again, and this time in a much quieter voice, "Besides, your gramps gave me permission."

His meddling grandfather… With a sigh, Byakuya got up and slowly made his way towards the door. Of course, he could still refuse to let the blond in, but that would be a waste of both their times. He knew Naruto well enough to know that the blond would never give up, and would sit outside his door forever if he had to. It wouldn't matter if Naruto were going to die from starvation, cold, whatever; the blond would stay there.

And Byakuya seriously didn't need another person to die.

He opened the door, raising a brow as he saw Naruto poised in mid-knock, mouth opened to shout another string of unintelligible things, no doubt.

As soon as Naruto realized Byakuya hadn't actually tried to resist, the blond put down his hand, grinning sheepishly. "You look a mess."

Byakuya stared blankly into his best friend's blue eyes, trying to discern his current looks. Distantly, the black haired boy registering the baggy eyes, the ruffled, untied hair, and the rumpled clothes. Yes, he did look like a mess, and if anyone other than Naruto saw him, he'd have brunt shame to the Kuchiki house. As it was… "You don't look much better."

"Hm," Naruto gave a tired grin, forcing himself into Byakuya's room. He plopped down on the bed, on the spot Byakuya had been only seconds before. Distinctly ignoring Byakuya's comment, the blond glanced around the room, smirking slightly, "Wow, this is pretty emo. Didn't know you were the type. Wait… I did know but…"

"Stop it," Byakuya muttered, letting the door swing gently shut behind him. He leaned against the cool hard wall, allowing the back of his head to rest on the gentle wood, "Please, stop it."

Naruto's smirk fell from his face. Sighing, Naruto fell backwards with a soft plop on the bed, spreading his arms out as he stared listlessly at Byakuya's ceiling. He flung one arm over his eyes as if even the darkness was too bright for him, his voice muffled, "Geez. I was just trying to lighten up the mood, man."

"You're so transparent." Byakuya sighed, sliding down to the ground, "Just like I thought she was."

"Hey! I'm not transparent!" Byakuya could practically hear the frown in Naruto's voice, "This is just 'cause you know me so well! And she… and she…" There was a long pause, and when Naruto's voice drifted out again, it sounded hesitant, "Hey Byakuya, why do you think Yoruichi betrayed us?"

There went the idiot again, depending on Byakuya whenever the blond didn't know the answer. Except this time… Byakuya didn't know the answer. He sighed, closing his eyes as he wrapped his arms around his knees, "I don't… I don't know."

Here, they were not two heirs to the most powerful clans in all of soul society. Here, they were just two confused, insecure boys. This was what Yoruichi had done to them. That damned demon-cat.

"Do you think it was for a good reason?" Naruto started again, "It had to be for a good reason right? She had to have done it because she was forced to or something right? She wouldn't save a big criminal unless she had to right? She's not like that. She wouldn't-"

"You're rambling," Byakuya cut off, not able to bear listening to any more of these comments. If Naruto said anything more, he might… he might raise Byakuya's hopes, and Byakuya had already spent the last 24 hours crushing those. He didn't know if he could go through that again.

There was another long silence, and then… "You're right."

Naruto's voice sounded weak, defeated; not like him at all. Byakuya shifted uncomfortably, wondering if that voice really belonged to his friend, and wondering if he had caused it. There was nothing he could do about Yoruichi the damn traitor, but… "I'll never betray you."

What had prompted him to say that? But he had said it, and he couldn't take it back now.

"Then let's promise." There was a short pause, then Naruto suddenly shot up from the bed, light once again sparkling in those cerulean blue eyes, "Yes, let's promise! I'll never betray you: I give you my word!"

Byakuya couldn't help the shock that raced through his body. Naruto's word? As far as Byakuya knew, Naruto never went back on his word, and in this context… this was a huge deal. Did Naruto know what he was saying? Never betraying him? Naruto was an Uzumaki, and Byakuya a Kuchiki. If the four noble clans ever went to war with each other, whether it be political or physical, this meant Naruto couldn't oppose Byakuya.

But looking into those honest blue eyes, Byakuya instantly knew that Naruto knew all this, and more. The blond didn't want his friend to slip into darkness, didn't want his friend to never be able to trust again. The price, Naruto was willing to ignore, all for the chance that Byakuya wouldn't turn cold to warmth, wouldn't see betray every time he even thought about trusting. It was such a Naruto thing to do, to sacrifice himself for others.

Byakuya closed his eyes, feeling a sigh escape him. This was giving him a headache, but he found this strangely better than the lonely dwelling he had been doing not too long before. "Very well, then that is also my promise."

Naruto let out a blissful sigh, knitting his hands behind his head as he strolled daintily down the streets of Junrin'an- the first district of Rukongai. The various scents of vendors drifted to his sensitive nose, and he could vividly make out the rich aromas of dumplings, ribs, and baked sweet potato. His stomach rumbled happily in memory, recalling the helpings of mixed ramen he had so zealously bought.

Beside him, Byakuya made a face, "I thought you were full?"

"It's because I'm full that my tummy's rumbling," Naruto grinned, patting his stomach, "It's happy! Man, if I knew Rukongai's food was so good I'd have come out long ago."

Byakuya rolled his eyes, "I'd say our cooks are better. And the clothes we have to wear are ridiculous; they're scruffy, ichy,

"Sounds a lot like you're complaining," Naruto teased.

"Kuchiki do not complain, they state facts."

Naruto laughed, long and deep, but his laughter was sharply cut.

"They're shinigami!" A random woman suddenly shouted, pointing an accusing finger at them.

Byakuya and Naruto froze, turning as one to face the crowd that had somehow gathered. Wide-eyed, the crowd glanced at each other, then ran, deserting the streets. There was a mad dash; carts were overturned as people scrambled to get away, and dust filled the morning air. Byakuya held a cloth over his nose, and handed Naruto another one. Coughing, Naruto held the handkerchief over his nose, and his hacking slowly subsided.

"Who knew your girly tendencies would sometime come in handy?" Naruto wasn't able to resist, his voice coming out slightly muffled under the handkerchief.

Byakuya glared at him.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, the dust subsided, leaving not a single person in sight.

"Why do you suppose they ran away?" Naruto asked sadly, letting the handkerchief fall to the ground. His earlier good mood had all but disappeared now; and suddenly he felt too tired even to continue his argument with Byakuya. Besides, that argument never went anywhere.

"I don't…" It was one of the few moments, that Kuchiki Byakuya actually sounded hesitant, "It sounds like they're afraid of shinigami."

Naruto glanced at the sword around his waist, delicately carved and seal nowhere in sight. After he had released the Kyuubi, the seal had never come back, in either the physical world or the dream world. And Kyuubi hadn't wreaked havoc. "So they mistook us for shinigami? Well, we are… sort of. I mean, we have Zanpakuto; but why would they be afraid us? Shouldn't shinigami be celebrated?"

"That's what I'm trying to figure out," Byakuya muttered, walking delicately around the area. Suddenly, he paused beside a stand displaying beautiful fans, his voice cold, "You can come out now, I can sense you."

Naruto was instantly on alert, his hand going to his Zanpakuto in preparation. Despite their arguments, Naruto still trusted Byakuya with his life, and if the Kuchiki said someone was there… Just then, a black head poked out from underneath the stand, and slowly a woman emerged from behind the white sheets covering the carts. She held no weapons, no Zanpakuto in sight, and moved like a beginner inexperienced in combat.

Naruto felt his jaw slacken in surprise; a commoner? How in the world had Byakuya felt that? Commoners literally had close to no spiritual energy, yet the Kuchiki could still detect that? This made Naruto feel rather dispirited about his own sensing capacities, and he resolved there and then that he would get better. Eventually.

"Why did all the commoners run away?" Byakuya asked coldly.

The girl shook with fright, looking like she wanted to be anywhere but there. "I don't- I don't know."

Byakuya narrowed his eyes, about to ask another question when Naruto suddenly decided it was time to intervene. He bounced up to the pair, smiling cheerily at the girl, "Don't worry, we won't hurt you. Don't mind Byakuya here, he's not nearly as scary as he makes himself out to be. He's as soft as tofu on the inside."

Byakuya's eye twitched, but his facial expression didn't change much. Still, Naruto had known Byakuya for a few decades now, and with the Kuchiki, looks could be deceiving. There was the slight clenching of the fists, the slight tightening of the jaw, that promised Naruto he'd regret what had just passed through his lips.

It was worth it for the hesitant smile the girl gave, though.

"Anyway," Naruto continued, acting as if he were oblivious to his best friend's silent anger, "My name's Naruto, and you already know Byakuya here. What's your name?"


"Why's everyone so afraid of us? Don't be afraid to tell us, 'cause we won't hurt you. That's Uzumaki Naruto's promise! And I don't break my promises!"

For a long moment, Hisana only stared at Naruto, looking unsure. "You- you truly don't know?"

Naruto shook his head.

Hisana sighed, and started fidgeting with her skirt, clearly uncomfortable, "Well… it's a long story. Why don't we go back to my place for it? If we stay out here then no one's going to come out and…"

She trailed off, but Naruto got her meaning. Perhaps a few decades ago he wouldn't have, but now he was the heir to the Uzumaki household, and they were in charge of Soul Society's economics. Naruto had practically had the lesson pounded into him. "They won't be able to continue with their market. Yes, I understand. Alright! Let's go then."

Hisana smiled; a soft smile which lit up her face completely. Turning, she lifted a leg to take a step, when suddenly she let out a loud cry and tumbled towards the floor. Before Naruto could even react, Byakuya moved, catching the girl gently just before she touched the ground.

"Th-thanks," Hisana said breathlessly.

"Hm, your ankle's broken."

Hisana blushed a deep red, "Ah, I'm sorry. I must have broken it during…"

"That mad scramble," Byakuya stated. The Kuchiki heir looked at Hisana with a frown, then suddenly scooped her up in his arms, carrying her bridal style. Hisana squeaked, but Byakuya ignored her, "So, which way to your house?

Naruto grinned, clicking his tongue, "My, my, that's no way to treat a lady."

"What would you know?" Byakuya asked, cocking a brow, "You've never had to deal with girls either."

Naruto flushed, "Yea but- arg never mind, I can never win arguments with you! Let's just go already!"

Byakuya let out a laugh, and for some reason Hisana blushed.

"Do it like this," Naruto commanded, causing Byakuya to snort. Naruto set his eyes on Hisana, and gave an extravagant bow, "Would you please give us the direction to your home my lady?"

"Well, um, um…" Hisana trailed off, looking helplessly at her cart, "The thing is…"

Naruto scratched his head, confused, but Byakuya seemed to instantly guess what she was thinking.

"You don't want to leave your things here," Byakuya said flatly, eyeing the cart. "That is reasonable. Naruto, make yourself useful and carry her cart for her."

"Aww…" Naruto grumbled, "Why am I being treated like a horse? Fine, fine whatever. For the lady."

"Th-thank you," Hisana said softly, "I spent a very long time making those fans, and…"

"Wait-" Byakuya cut in, sounding surprised, which was unlike him, "You made those fans?"

"Ye-yes," The black haired girl stuttered, "A nice old lady taught me how to write and I had always loved making fans. And since I need the money, I decided to sell them."

"They're beautiful," Byakuya muttered, too softly for a human to hear. Naruto's head jerked in surprise, having only heard the phrase because of his enhanced hearing. What?!

"Excuse me?" Hisana asked hesitantly.

"Let's go," Byakuya said, his voice softer. That ended the conversation, right there. Byakuya wasn't the talkative type in general, and Hisana was too shy to initiate conversation. As for Naruto… his mind was whirling with what he had heard. He couldn't get his best friend's words out of his head as he pushed the cart onwards. Did Byakuya just comment that Hisana's fans were beautiful? A craft made by commoners and something he could easily get for better quality at one of the Kuchiki stores? Just what in the world was happening?

Finally, they arrived, and Naruto was glad for it. He didn't like it when his head was filled with confusing thoughts. He rather thought it made him too broody and conflicted, like Byakuya. Instead, he focused on his surroundings. They were in the middle of nowhere; there were literally no other people in sight. Hisana's 'house' wasn't much of a house at all. It was a beaten down muddy hut, with barely enough room for one person.

"Ah, sorry," Hisana blushed, "I know you're probably used to much better than this, but I thought it would be better than staying at the marketplace. There's no one here, so we can speak in peace."

"This isn't a place where a lady should live," Byakuya muttered, glancing around with thinly veiled distaste.

"Yes well," Hisana's voice turned soft, "It's the only place I could afford. All my money goes to travelling you see, so I can't afford to buy a nice, comfortable house."

"Why do you travel?" Naruto quipped, feeling curious. Now he didn't want to judge by looks, but Hisana seriously didn't look like she was the type of girl who would travel for the 'adventure' of it.

"It's because… it's because…" Hisana's eyes suddenly teared up, "I'm looking for my sister. I don't know what district she's in, or even what area. So I can only travel and hope… and hope that one day I'll meet her…"

… "I'm sorry."


"For this system," Naruto explained, feeling unusually down, "But it's needed. I know it seems cruel to separate families as soon as they enter Rukongai, but it's needed. Gramps explained that one to me. Reincarnations you see, they make things so complicated. If families were allowed to stay together, what would you do after you've been reincarnated?"


"What he means to say is," Byakuya continued softly, "After reincarnation, one has more than one family. Then, they must choose between the two, which would only end in sorrow. Especially if it's the case with all members of the families. Separating the souls at the gates is the only way Soul Society can ensure that all its members will be happy, and can live in a carefree manner by forgetting their earthly families. We do not wish to burden common souls; so please stop looking for your sister and start to live your life for yourself."

"N-no!" Hisana protested, turning a deep scarlet. "That's not what I meant. I… I… Can we please just talk about why everyone is afraid of shinigami?"

Naruto furrowed his brows, confused about Hisana's answer. What did she mean when she said it wasn't what she meant? He opened his mouth to ask her, but a sharp look from Byakuya cut him off.

"Alright," Byakuya gently set her down on the field outside of her house, leaning her against the walls, "Please explain. And please, do not feel the need to hold anything back; we won't hurt you."

Hisana took a deep breath, looking relieved, "Well you see, the thing is, shinigami do not treat us commoners all that well. They're always vandalizing stores, and punishing whomever offends them. Since they have authority and weapons, we cannot refuse them. So that is why everyone ran away once they saw your swords; because they didn't want to get beaten up."

"What!" Naruto shouted, hopping with anger, "Those bastards! I wanted to be a shinigami before but now…!"

"Don't be so hasty Naruto," Byakuya frowned, "I think it's just the unseated shinigami. They don't have enough to do. I'll talk to grandpa about them."

"Still!" Naruto fumed, "How dare those bastards! Power isn't supposed to be used to hurt people! Grr… I want to do something about this."

Hisana blinked, then smiled, tears in her eyes. "Thank you, your words are enough. It's nice to know that someone cares. I'll inform the others, and I'm sure that they'll be grateful. The fact that you're indignant on our behalf is already enough; you don't have to do anything."

"I'll do something for sure," Naruto growled, "I'm not sure what, yet exactly, but I will!"

"Really, thank you," Hisana sniffled, wiping at her eyes. "There's no glory like those who save their country."

"Ah?" Byakuya raised a brow, "Tennyson?"

It started from there, really. Soon the two were in a full-blown discussion about writing and literature. It wasn't that Naruto couldn't follow- because after grandfather, he was pretty sure he could follow anything- but well… he found it boring. Who really cared? His best friend and this new girl, apparently.

"I'm going to find some ramen," Naruto suddenly cut in, after what had to be at least an hour of literature talk.

Byakuya rolled his eyes, giving Naruto a single glance from his more comfortable position beside Hisana, "You're always thinking with your stomach."

Hisana giggled.

"Tch, I just don't need to be here while you two are acting lovey-dovey."

The two immediately blushed, causing Naruto's eyebrows to rise. Woah, Byakuya actually was in love? Or why else would he blush, and not snap back some smart comment. Inwardly, Naruto felt an evil chuckle bubble up. Oh-ho, when the lady wasn't around, Byakuya was going to get it.

As if seeming to sense his thoughts, Byakuya quickly stood, "Naruto, I am going to be staying here for a while. It is our fault that Hisana is hurt, and she cannot go anywhere with that ankle of hers. You can still explore the rest of Rukongai; after all, you only have a month, and I know how much you've been wanting to see the place…"

Well, they could easily call in a medical team, but Naruto had the feeling Byakuya would kill him if he suggested that. But, Naruto had seriously been wanting to see Rukongai together with Byakuya, his best friend, and he knew that Byakuya wanted it too. Still, if the Kuchiki was willing to give that up to spend time with his girl…

"You must really love her, hun?" Naruto sighed, causing the two to blush again. "Alright Byakuya, I'll leave you alone for two weeks, but you'd better be ready come third week, 'cause I'm dragging you around Rukongai whether you like it or not. I need someone to pay for all my ramen bills…"

Catching Byakuya's grateful smile, Naruto smirked, and quickly departed the scene. He made his way back to the first district, this time making sure to use his cloak to cover his Zanpakuto. After all, he didn't want to create another scene. He was just eating at another ramen stand, when he saw the white haired boy.

Carrying a bag of groceries far too large for his body, the boy stumbled, falling. His food spilled out before him, rolling down the sidewalk. Chopstick halfway to his mouth, Naruto watched in morbid fascination as the white haired boy stood up again, with a face even blanker than Byakuya's. And here Naruto had thought that wasn't possible!

Naruto put down his chopsticks, waiting for someone to go help mini-Byakuya, and wondering what the white haired boy's reaction would be. But nobody went. Furrowing his brows, Naruto dug out some money automatically, throwing it onto the counter, and made his way towards the boy. Why was nobody helping him? Was the Byakuya look that scary?

That kid… there's something about him…

Naruto ignored the Kyuubi; seriously, the demon fox couldn't be interested in some six year old right? Unless… unless Kyuubi was seeing the similarities between this kid's life and… Naruto made his way over, and started helping mini-Byakuya pick up the apples.

The white haired boy frowned, stopping in his task to give Naruto a funny look, "Why are you helping me?"

Naruto shrugged, dropping the apples into the boy's brown bag, "Are people not allowed to help others anymore?"

The white haired boy furrowed his brows, "But… tch, nevermind."

Wow, a lot like Byakuya then. Rolling his eyes, Naruto dumped the rest of his gathered items into the brown bag. Without a word, the white haired boy picked up the bag again, wobbling forwards as he struggled to see ahead of himself. Naruto crossed his arms, watching the boy go with pleasure. Served the boy right for being so arrogant!

Just when the boy was almost out of sight though, he turned back with a nod, "Thank you."

For a moment, Naruto was left gaping as the boy turned back around and started disappearing from sight. But no, that wouldn't do! Now that the kid had actually been decent, Naruto would feel bad about leaving him all by himself! Sprinting, Naruto caught up to the kid in no time.

Smirking slightly, Naruto plucked the bag from the boy's hands, before the boy could even sense his presence. The boy took another step before he seemed to notice the bag was gone, and then his eyes turned as wide as saucers.

Naruto chuckled, falling into step beside the boy with the bag hefted lightly in one hand, "You look like you're going to fall any moment; I'll carry the bag."

The boy glared at him again, "Why?"

Sheesh, couldn't this kid just accept kindness? Though Naruto had to admit, he'd find it awfully suspicious too if some random stranger just decided to pop up and help him. Well no actually… Naruto would find it nice, but he knew for a fact that Byakuya would find it creepy.

And really, this kid was frighteningly similar to Byakuya. So, Naruto decided to charm him the same way he had with Bya- be himself! "I couldn't bear to see all that food take a pounding again."

The white haired boy shot Naruto a funny look, but didn't ask anymore questions, seeming to finally accept the blond's presence. Mentally, Naruto pumped a fist into the air. Victory! Now… for a second? Naruto tried to initiate conversation about a thousand times, but this white haired kid had the conversation skills of a rock. Even worse than Naruto's old teammate.

"You know," The white haired boy finally said, "You're really annoying."

"So I've been told," Naruto replied cheerily, "You know mini-By- hey wait a minute, I don't even know your name yet! I'm Uz- er, Naruto! How 'bout you?"

"That sounds sketchy," The white haired boy said suspiciously, "I'm not giving my name to you. Hey- we're here; you can go now. I give you my thanks for carrying the bag… though I could have carried it myself."

They had arrived at a nice, spread out field, with a fence enclosing what Naruto could only assume to be houses. Nodding, Naruto was just about to hand over the bag -really, he had had enough of this kid; at least Byakuya could fight and was funny sometimes- when he was interrupted by a high shriek.

"Toshiro!" A small girl slammed the gates open, running towards the white haired boy happily. She threw herself at the boy, engulfing him in a hug, "Toshiro! I thought something had happened to you! You were gone for so long and even though Granny said not to worry I couldn't help but worry about my best friend because you know that I really care about you and-"

"Momo, stop." The white haired boy pushed the girl off him, but for the first time, Naruto glimpsed a tender look in the icy green eyes. It seemed that the boy wasn't bad after all. Naruto grinned; looked like his instincts won every time.

It was just then, that the girl -Momo, it seemed- noticed Naruto. Her eyes widened, and she quickly curtsied, "Ah Mister! Hello! Toshiro, why didn't you tell me you brought a guest?"

"Because he isn't-"

"He's too embarrassed," Naruto felt a wicked grin spread across his face as he interrupted the white haired boy. This was a perfect time for revenge, "He's too short you see, and tripped because he couldn't see over the top of this bag. So, I helped him carry it back."

Toshiro's face twisted into an angry expression, "I could've-"

He was cut off again, this time by Momo's shrieking laughter. "Haha! Really Mister? Shiro-chan, I been telling ya you were too short, now this proves it! Mister, thanks for helping. Wanna stay for dinner?"

All of Grandpa's lessons in courtesy caught up with him. Naruto bent down, placing a delicate kiss on Momo's hand, "That'd be lovely."

Lightly blushing, Momo suddenly shut up, and quickly led them towards her house. Toshiro sent a glare cold enough to freeze hell.

Unfortunately for him, Naruto's inner demon was hotter than hell. Naruto deliberately slowed, until he was in step with the white haired six year old. He dropped his voice, so Momo wouldn't hear, "Don't worry, you don't have any competition. I'm just being courteous. I have no interest in her. She's six, and believe it or not, I'm about 70 years old. Besides, I think she likes you too much already."

Toshiro's eyes widened, looking shocked. Naruto laughed, and sped towards Momo, not wanting to wait around for the shock to wear off. They hadn't made it five steps, before two other kids crashed into Momo.

"Hinamori!" One of the kids shouted, "Where did you go?"

"Tatsukichi! Ayumi!" Momo giggled, and pointed towards Toshiro and Naruto, "I was getting them."

Instantly, the two kids tensed, and Naruto wondered if he really looked that scary. But no, the looks of fear they were sending were to… Toshiro? Naruto shot the white haired boy a surprised look, wondering what he could have done to warrant their wariness, but Toshiro simply looked blank and... a little sad.

"Well, um," The boy, Tatsukichi Naruto could only assume, stuttered, "Well if you're entertaining guests, I guess we'd better go."

"Aw," Momo pouted, "But I invite you guys too!"

Tatsukichi quickly shook his head, and Ayumi joined in a moment later. Naruto narrowed his eyes, and in that split instant, decided to test out his theory. Putting on his sunniest grin, Naruto walked up to the two, slinging his arms around his shoulders, "Aw come on, I'm not that scary am I? Don't worry, I won't eat you… though I can't say the same for the food."

Ayumi laughed. In that instant, they relaxed under him completely. When he asked about the invitation to dinner though, they tensed again, glancing at Toshiro. Naruto was right then; they were scared of the six year old.

"What's wrong with Toshiro?" Naruto wondered aloud.

Toshiro tensed, as did the three other children. Naruto blinked, then laughed nervously, ruffling his hair, "Oops, did I say that aloud?"

"Nothing!" Momo yelled, "There's nothing wrong with Shiro-chan!"

"Erm," Naruto scratched his head helplessly, "I didn't mean to suggest anything was. I was just wondering about your friends- mph!"

Toshiro had jumped on Naruto's shoulders and clamped a hand over Naruto's mouth, though how he had done it without the noble noticing was anyone's guess.

"Don't say anything more," Toshiro hissed in Naruto's ear, "I promise to tell you later."

Naruto nodded, trying his best not to gag as the little boy's grubby palm slid off his mouth. Ugh! His mouth was meant for eating delicious food, not for tasting dirt! Grr… he was going to get Toshiro back for this! As Toshiro started to slide off Naruto's back, the blond instead clamped down on Toshiro's leg, forcing the white haired boy to stay in place.

"Well, well," Naruto said cheerily, giving Momo and friends a winning grin, "Little Shiro has just asked me to give him a piggy-back ride, but was too embarrassed to say it out loud. So… off we go!"

Naruto leaned his head back, savouring the shocked look on Toshiro's face. Before it wore off, he Shunpoed out of sight, saluted by Momo's shrieking laughter. When he finally stopped not too far from the house, he decided Toshiro looked decisively green.

He settled Toshiro down on the grass with an evil smirk, "So, want to tell me what happened back there?"

Toshiro glared at him, "You- you- ugh! Alright; I'm not well liked."

Naruto sat down, giving the message that he waited for more, and wouldn't let Toshiro go until he was satisfied.

The white haired boy sighed, fiddling with the grass, "I… I don't know why they don't like me. I've never done anything- at least, not that I can think of. Ever since Day 1 though… it's only Momo and Granny who have stood by me."

Naruto blinked; that story sounded scarily familiar. Images of his own childhood on Earth flashed through his mind- the hate, and the same cold cold eyes. The want for love, the need for acknowledgement… Blue eyes hardened; he would not let Toshiro experience the same thing.

Toshiro seemed to sense his thoughts. He glared at the blond, green eyes ablaze with inner fire, "I don't want your pity."

Naruto snorted; pity was the last thing from his mind. "Please. I've had worse. If you think your little sob story's going to stop me from torturing you, you've got it all wrong. Nothing will stop me now that you've angered the supreme Grand Master Naruto!"

"You're so full of it," Toshiro grumbled, but he looked pleased all the same.

The dinner they ate was delicious, and the Granny even more so. Supremely kind, Granny made Naruto feel at ease the moment he stepped into the door. Conversation was a funny thing though. Momo was shrieking about everything, Toshiro insulted Momo, Naruto insulted Toshiro, and Toshiro obviously retaliated. Granny tried to keep the peace whenever possible, but it wasn't always possible. There was even a time when Toshiro threw some sauce at Naruto, and stained his shirt. Naruto had then retaliated with equal vigour, and soon the kitchen area had been turned into a war zone.

It was chaos- just the type of environment Naruto thrived in. Of course, Naruto had promised to pay for all the food, and cleaning supplies, but Granny had waved him off. He was still going to pay it of course; she just didn't have to know. Then, they all had to change, and Naruto had to take off his outer shirt, but still kept his inner shirt because it was comfortable. When they had finally finished, Granny ordered Toshiro to wash the dishes, and Momo to help him.

As soon as they were gone, Granny rose from her seat, stepped to the side, and bowed. "Thank you for taking care of my children."

"Hey wait!" Naruto exclaimed, quickly moving forwards to help the Granny back to a straight position, "What're you thanking me for? I haven't done anything!"

"They do not see it," Granny murmured, leaning into Naruto's support and looking up to him with wise eyes, "But I know you're an Uzumaki- one of the four noble families. The crest on your undershirt gives you away. Thank you, for even though you're a noble, you help such a poor family like us."

"Don't talk like that," Naruto admonished, "Nobles, commoners, horses even, I don't care! This whole system is pretty screwed, and actually, I'm kinda mad that it's like this. People shouldn't be so poor they have to wear rags! Gramps is really cool, but he doesn't see the problem with the current system. I promise that when I'm head, I'll change things."

"Thank you, thank you," Granny closed her eyes, "And especially for accepting Toshiro. That kid likes you, but not many like him."

"That's ridiculous," Naruto snorted, helping Granny to a seat, "I don't understand why nobody likes him. I mean, yeah he's a cold fish, but so is my best friend. Once you get past all that 'hm' and 'nm', then you can get a real conversation going! I don't believe that nobody has ever tried. Besides, Momo likes him, doesn't she?"

"Well, Momo is a special case," Granny smiled, "As is Toshiro. Nonetheless, I thank you. But… I have one more favour to ask, if it's not too much."

"You haven't asked me any favours so far… but, fire away."

"I haven't long to live- no, don't make that expression, you must admit that I'm old. So please Uzumaki-san, take care of my children should I ever be unable to do so."

Naruto pretended to think about this for a moment, studying the anxious expression on Granny's wrinkled face. Finally, he nodded, "Alright, but on two conditions."

"What are they?" The Granny asked, looking relieved yet determined. Briefly, Naruto wondered what the Granny thought Naruto was going to ask.

"First of all… stop calling me Uzumaki-san; it makes me feel like Gramps. Secondly… well you see, my best friend is staying at his girl's place, and all they do is talk about literature. It's not that I don't understand literature; it's just that I don't find it particularly appealing. So… Could I crash at your place for two weeks?"

Naruto ran across the rooftops, skipping each house as he raced towards Gotei 13 (Thirteen Court Guard Squads). Byakuya had said he had important news, but Naruto didn't get to hear what it was before Ginrei Kuchiki had whisked Byakuya off to Gotei 13, determined to show the younger Kuchiki the ropes before passing the title of Captain of the 6th Division on. And now Naruto had waited for three hours, which he deemed enough time for Byakuya to 'learn the ropes', so now he was going to get Byakuya back! He needed to hear this news!

Shunpoing at an extraordinary speed, Naruto landed delicately at the entrance, and hurried in. Shinigami were scrambling about, trying to get who knows what done. Some sent him funny looks, but as soon as they saw the prominent Uzumaki symbol displayed on his chest, they looked away. Naruto sighed slightly; man, he hated that, but he supposed he had gotten used to it. He looked around, wondering where Byakuya could be, then he saw it…

The large, prominent 7 painted on the wall; displaying exactly where he was. Somehow, Naruto had taken a wrong turn, and instead of going to the 6th Division like he was supposed to, he had ended up at the 7th Division rooms!

He almost smacked himself on the head for his stupidity. But, if one could look on the bright side to things, there was always a solution! Grinning almost evilly, Naruto walked up to a random shinigami, and tugged on the back of their collar. The shinigami stumbled, falling down on his butt.

Leaning over the mousy haired boy, Naruto grinned and stuck out his hand, "Hey, wanna help me out?"

"You- you-" The mousy haired boy stuttered, his eyes drifting to Naruto's chest, "Uzumaki-san. I have things- things to do. I ca-can't possibly help-"

"Nonsense!" Naruto dismissed, "Whatever important job you have can be delayed by a few minutes right? Now I need to find Byakuya, won't you help?"

"I-I'd love to U-Uzumaki-san, but I re-really got an im-im-important job."

"Well then…" Naruto frowned thoughtfully, then shook his head with a grin, "How 'bout this? I'll help you finish your job after you help me find Byakuya. That way, you'll be finished in no time!"

"B-but, you're n-nobility Uzumaki-san, you don't need to h-he-help-"

"Baloney!" Naruto waved away the shinigami's concerns, "I don't care about all that nobility stuff. What's the difference between you and me? Well, other than the fact that I'm so much more awesome of course- but that's due to training, not birth! Look, I don't care if your mother was a slug; if you can help me, I'll help you!"

"Yo-you-" The shinigami scrambled to his feet, eyes suspiciously shiny, "I-I- I'll help you Uzumaki-sama!"

"Great!" Naruto beamed, "And please stop calling me Uzumaki this, Uzumaki that. I'm Naruto; remember it!"

"Right!" The shinigami bobbed his head, "Alright Uzu- Naruto-sama. I'm Chiba Aki, 15th seat of 7th Division!"

"15th?" Naruto frowned, "Wow that's a long way from being first. Don't worry though, you can show them all with hard effort!"

"Um, erm, I don't really want to be much higher."

"What? Why not? From what I hear, all the exciting jobs go to the higher seats!"

"Well um, that's kind of the reason why. I'm scared that I'll- that I'll-"

Naruto put his hands on his hips, glaring at his newfound friend despite himself, "What kind of attitude is that?! How do you expect to get anywhere with those kinds of feelings?! Aren't you in the 7th Division, who's symbol is courage? Why in the world did you become a shinigami? Well?!"

"I-I-I-" Aki couldn't meet Naruto's eyes, his face shamed.

Naruto sighed; he desperately wanted Aki to realize that life couldn't be lived in cowardice, but he supposed now was not the right time to push it. Aki needed time to think, obviously; even Naruto could pick up on that. "You can give me the answer later, let's go find Byakuya first."

Aki nodded hesitantly, and took a step forwards, when he suddenly froze. Naruto frowned, opening his mouth to ask why Aki had stopped, when he suddenly felt the spiritual pressure. It was so high that even Naruto could feel it, despite the fact that he seemed to have deadened reiatsu sensing abilities.

"Chiba Aki," A high, nasally voice called out, "Why are you skipping duties?"

Aki slowly turned around, and Naruto turned with him, wondering who the newcomer was. There, stood a thin, weedy man, a captain's hatori on his shoulders. Naruto's mouth dropped into an 'O'. His face twisted as if he smelt something unpleasant, the captain walked until he was right in front of Aki, and slapped hard.

Aki fell to the ground, his cheek immediately turning purple with the force of the slap. The captain slid a foot to Aki's throat, pinning the poor boy there, "Worthless idiot; couldn't even get a simple delivery job done. You made me wait 5 extra minutes for my skin cream! How dare you! You know Captain-Commander Yamamoto is supposed to be coming today!"

"He-hey!" Naruto protested, "This is a misunderstanding! Aki was only late because I forced him to help me! Don't blame him!"

The captain whipped to face Naruto, his eyes narrowing, "Please Uzumaki-san, do not get yourself involved in squad matters. Chiba should have been more insistent; it was his fault entirely. You needn't concern yourself."

"Sure I do," Naruto insisted, "So can you please not punish him? I'll take responsibility."

"Naruto, don-" Aki's voice was cut off as the captain stepped harshly unto his windpipe, causing Aki to choke.

"Don't speak when you're not spoken to," The captain's nasally voice rang out, and he stomped again at Aki, this time aiming for the nose. Aki closed his eyes, looking resigned to the beating.

Well, Naruto wasn't going to let that happen; this was too unfair. He moved his foot quickly, blocking the captain's hit. There was a long silence, in which the world around them seemed to go still. Aki slowly pried his eyes open, confusion written on his face.

The captain let out deep, heavy breaths. He looked again at Naruto, this time glaring, "Uzumaki-san, would you kindly remove your foot?"

"Are you planning to hurt him again?" Naruto asked quietly.

"No less than he deserves."

"Then I'm afraid I can't."

The captain wheeled back, withdrawing his foot as he jumped two feet clear of Naruto. He put a hand on his sword, his voice high with anger, "Uzumaki-san, it is my decision how I discipline my subordinates! The fact of the matter is, you have nothing to do with it!"

For a long moment, Naruto was silent. Then… "Are you angry with me?"

"It's too late to apologize!" The captain sneered.

Naruto shook his head, "That's not what I meant, but you've answered my question anyways. Alright, I have a proposal for you. Let's have a battle; I win, and you can't touch your subordinates. Frankly, it looks like the things you punish them for is ridiculous. You win… and I'll take Aki's place. You can do anything you want with me, and I won't tell. Heck, if there's a case about it, I'll even support you."

The captain narrowed his eyes, "This sounds too good to be true. How do I know you're telling the truth?"

"I swear…" Naruto hesitated. What could he swear on that the captain would absolutely believe? "I swear on my Zanpakuto."

The captain blinked, the let out a long, high pitched laugh. "So, it's either become my whipping boy or never become a shinigami eh? Hahaha! You've sure dug your own grave kid! You've got courage kid, I'll give you that. Hey, if you survive this I'll even let you join my squad!"

"No need," Naruto let a savage grin dance across his features, "I won't lose."

"Arrogant," The captain sneered, "I'm a captain for a reason; all the more so since I'm not nice. Do you know what this means? It means Gotei 13 is so desperate to have me that they'll put up with my manners. I'm that strong."

"The ones with the loudest mouths always have the least skill to show." Naruto didn't know where the words came from, but they just seemed to come to him automatically. Though… if he remembered correctly, last time they were directed at him. Well, he had changed. Shrugging the thought out of his mind, Naruto shifted into a fighting stance, then glanced at his friend still helpless on the floor, "Aki, get away; this might get messy."

"It won't," The nasally voice of the captain interrupted as Aki quickly scrambled out of the way, "Because it'll be over in a minute, but since I have company over today, I don't want even the slightest speck of dirt on my floors. If you drip blood on my clean floors, that won't be good at all, would it? Let's go to a training ground."

"We'll see who'll be the one bleeding," Naruto growled, "But lead the way."

Throwing Naruto a vaguely superior look, the Captain of the 7th Division jumped away. Naruto easily was able to keep up. He didn't know if the captain was just pretending or not, but boy his Shunpo skills sucked. Finally, they made it to a wide field, its grounds undisturbed.

The captain turned to Naruto, a bored look on his face, "I suppose I'll oblige you with the formal introductions. I'm Erizawa Naoki, Captain of the 7th Division, and the one who will make you regret the day you were born."

"Only because you're so ugly." Naruto grinned at the slow shade of purple the captain was taking, "I'm Uzuamki Naruto, Heir to the Noble House of Uzumaki, and the one who will beat you!"

"We'll see about that!" Erizawa screeched, drawing out his Zanpakuto, "Destroy my Enemies: Hecate!"

The earth rumbled. Erizawa's blade glowed yellow, and suddenly it transformed into large, hulking mace that was nearly half the size of Erizawa himself. Naruto couldn't help his jaw dropping open.

"This is my Hecate," Erizawa gloated, whirling the mace in a decisively arrogant gesture. "Are you scared now? Well well, how about releasing your Shikai? You might -just might- not get completely pulverized then."

"Tch, are you kidding me? Kyubbi will kill me if I call him out for something as insignificant as this. I was just surprised that you could hold onto it, that's all."

"Why you little-!" Erizawa swung his mace, sending the large spiked ball towards Naruto at lightning speed.

It was too bad Naruto was faster than lightning. Truly, he was one of the best Shunpo user in Soul Society for a reason, and he had only ever lost to Byakuya and… the traitor. He jumped out of the way, letting the mace lodge into the ground beside him. It sent up a spray of shrapnel, creating a small crater on the ground. Naruto stuck out his tongue, "Too slow!"

"Oh really?" A disturbing grin spread across Erizawa's face, and Naruto suddenly got a very bad feeling. The captain shifted, that disquieting grin still present, "Were you fast enough to dodge all the broken ground pieces as well?"

Naruto looked down at his arm uncomfortably, where a small cement chip was lodged. Still, what could it do? It didn't even hurt. Naruto took it out, frowning. Was Erizawa trying to bluff him? Suddenly, the mace started to shake…

"You've been hit!" Erizawa cooed, and tugged hard at his Zanpakuto. However, his mace didn't go flying back to him; the rope detached. "Here's the actual ability of my Zanpakuto… it's a homing ability! Now that it's got a taste of you blood, it won't stop!"

Naruto's eyes widened as the severed spiky ball suddenly flew towards him, as if it had a mind of its own. He ducked, rolling out of the way, but the ball just as quickly changed direction and took off after him yet again. Erizawa let out a loud cackled, and snapped his newly made whip straight at Naruto. Naruto quickly dodged out of the way of the whip, but in doing so was nearly skewered by the mace. Gritting his teeth, he skipped a few steps to the side, clutching his now bleeding arm. It was a light scratch, but losing blood in any battle was dangerous. He had to end this quickly.

And he had just the right plan to do it. Naruto swerved as the mace came at him again, this time making his movements seem slower, as if he were desperate. With only the mace really, running away was no problem; it was when added in Erizawa into the equation that things got messy for Naruto. He was getting more slashes on his body than he cared to. Naruto's orange robe was being butchered, and it was his favourite one! He had to take care of one of them; preferably both.

Dodging this way and that, Naruto steadily made his way towards Erizawa, making it seem as if he were the one being driven to do so. Erizawa just stood there smirking, probably thinking that Naruto couldn't keep up his original speed for very long at all. Inwardly, Naruto grinned; that would be the eunuch's undoing.

In a split second, he jumped directly in front of Erizawa, blocking the captain's view. When he timed the mace to be a few centimetres from his back, he jumped out of the way… only to be thrown forwards by a heavy weight. He felt spikes penetrate the back of his flesh, but Naruto was quick to dig them out. Heavily breathing, and blood dribbling out at an alarming rate, Naruto ran, barely escaping the mace as it came for him again. Somehow, the world seemed to be speeding up to him… getting blurry.

Erizawa's cackle rang through the air, "Did you really think setting my own Zanpakuto on me would work? Greater man have tried it, and died because of it. I'm surprised you're still conscious after getting hit by my Hecate though. Let me tell you, it has some poison, but I bet you're already feeling the effects of it now!"

That was true; Naruto knew if he continued like this he wouldn't be able to keep up. But… but he couldn't give up yet. Naruto sped up, his hand finally landed on the hilt of his sword, "Come Forth the King of Demons: Ninetails!"

His whip-like weapon was free in a minute. Naruto slashed the whip at the ground behind him, creating a long, thin line, "Third Release: Barrier of Fire!"

Instantly, the air behind him flared, creating a huge wall of shadowy flames. Naruto looked back, just in time to see the mace bounce off completely. Naruto let out a breath of relief; he had been counting on his Zanpakuto's ability holding up against the captain's weapon.

Naruto formed a quick handseal, and he spun around quickly to face Erizawa. Now he finally had enough time to cast, and this was his specialty. "Bakudo #74: A Thousand Chains!"

Immediately, the ground around Erizawa erupted with metal chains, striking at the captain like snakes on the scent of prey. Naruto grinned; he had done it! Now he could take care of the Zanpakuto and…

"So…" Erizawa's voice sounded humoured, "You've finally decided to release your Shiki hun? It's impressive, as is expected from the Uzumaki house. Coupled with your ability with Kido, I might actually have a challenge. It's such a shame that I need to meet my guests soon, so I can't stay around to play with you. Bankai: Goddess of Magic!"

Naruto sucked in a loud breath: no, not Ban Release! Swearing, Naruto dodged out of the way, and just in time too, when a twenty maces lodged themselves where he had just been just seconds before. And then, the shrapnel came flying. Nartuo watched in horror as one of the metal pieces skimmed past him, creating a small cut. Now the maces were homed.

Immediately, all twenty maces flew towards him, and Naruto quickly let down his fire barrier so he could jump away. Besides, it seemed that a simple Shiki technique did nothing against the awesome power of Bankai. The chains his Kido had created were long melted, by another hidden technique of Erizawa's no doubt. Maybe it was by the four maces flying around the captain; they seemed to be making a shield…

Nartuo gritted his teeth; with Erizawa's spiritual energy increased five to ten times, there was no way Naruto could win with his current ability. That meant… Naruto released his weapon as he watched it slowly become consumed with flames, "Bankai: Will of Fire."

The air around him erupted in fire. The twenty maces chasing him disintegrated into nothing as the shadowy figure of the six-tailed fox demon devoured them, roaring in pleasure. Instantly, Naruto's wounds started to knit themselves back together, under the burning presence of his Bankai. The Kyuubi, -which didn't have nine tails quite yet-, pranced around Naruto, glaring at the Captain of the 7th Division with a smothering hatred.

Erizawa backed away a step, "Y-You- You achieved Bankai?!"

"Yeah, a while ago. But it's not stable yet, so that's why I didn't want to release it. Still, the regenerative properties that I gain when it's released are a huge plus. But… hey, you should be proud; I think this is the only way I can defeat you."

Erizawa turned red with anger, his fists clenching. The maces around him danced with his emotions, forming a diamond-like pattern in front of his chest. Slowly, it started to glow a dark purple. He raised his voice, tone pitched high with irritation, "You think you can defeat me with an incomplete Bankai?! In your dreams! Hecate!"

"Kyuubi!" Naruto bent his elbows, shifting sideways. He pulled back his right arm, fisting his whole hand except for three fingers. Slowly, the dark fiery air started to condense at his fingers in wisps, creating a small, triangular weapon. Naruto grinned at the familiar shape, and threw the weapon with all his might, "Fifth Release: Shadow Shot!"

The kunai spun towards Erizawa, almost too fast for the eye to follow. At the same time a brilliant purple beam blasted from Erizawa's diamond, consuming anything within a one meter radius around him. But the bigger things were, the more energy had to be spread out; Naruto had learned this lesson from Byakuya long ago, when he had shown the Kuchiki his Fourth Release.

His hand already in the seal, and the energy already gathered, Naruto quickly formed the words. "Bakudo #81: Splitting Void!"

The violet beam parted as it collided with Naruto's shield, spewing out across the fields. Distantly, Naruto thought he registered screams, but he couldn't imagine why. And he didn't have time to. He was too busy keeping up the Kido, and slowly beads of sweat were starting to formulate on his brow. Level 81 Bakudo or not; standing up against a captain's Bankai ability was tough. Plus, it was hard to maintain. Just when Naruto was about to decide to chance facing the beam without Kido, the barrage finally stopped.

Naruto sighed in relief, finally letting down his Bakudo. On the other side of the field, Erizawa lay frothing at the mouth, the shadowy kunai imbedded deep within his chest. Slowly, the strands were starting to come apart, entering into Erizawa's body. Naruto couldn't let that process complete.

Quickly, he shunpoed to Erizawa's side, and yanked out the kunai before it wholly disintegrated. Naruto had meant what he said about his Bankai not being completely controllable; if Naruto let the kunai stay in Erizawa's chest he didn't know if even he could reverse the effects. And as much as Erizawa was a jerk, he was also a captain and therefore needed. But as of now, Erizawa should be fine as long as he got rest.

"But still," Naruto muttered, letting his Bankai dissolve back into his regular sword, "Glad that's over. Boy I'm beat."

He turned away from Erizawa's body; and his eyes widened. All around him, were hundreds of people. They had gathered in a crowd around the field; all silent, all looking like they were in various states of shock. Naruto blinked; man he sucked at sensing!

Smiling sheepishly, Naruto raised a hand in a wave, "Uh… hello?"

Then the air burst out into cheers. The crowd stomped and screamed, shouting their congratulations at Naruto. Naruto beamed back, his mood lifting despite his fatigue. This was really nice! He hadn't had an ovation like this in… well, he'd never had a greeting like this! For a long moment, all he did was bask in the cheers. And then… he noticed that they were all shinigami.


"W-wait! What's going on?" Naruto cried, but no one heard him over the cheers of the crowd. Or so he thought. Slowly, three figures walked towards him, obviously haven heard his shout- or at least, saw his confusion. Naruto was just about to breathe a sigh of relief when he noticed something about them- they were all wearing hatoris.

Naruto froze; captains. Were they mad at him for his battle against Erizawa? Though the idiot had it coming to him, Naruto supposed Gotei 13 wouldn't want others to know that one of their captains had been defeated by somebody else- even if that somebody else was part of the Four Noble Houses. Granpa had taught him enough for him to come to that conclusion by himself. And to make it worse, now it wasn't just a private battle; hundreds of shinigami had witnessed it.

The three captains stopped right in front of him, and that was when Naruto was able to make out their symbols. Chrysanthemum, Bird of Paradise, and Summer Snowflake… Naruto's eyes widened, and he immediately bowed, "Captain-Commander Yamamoto, 8th Division Captain Kyoraku, 13th Division Captain Ukitake… greetings."

Kyoraku laughed, patting Naruto on the head, and apparently not noticing Naruto's eye twitch, "No need to be so formal. After all, you are the heir to one of the Four Noble Houses… Captain Uzumaki."

Naruto's head shot up, knocking Kyoraku's hand away, "What?"

"You heard what he said," Yamamoto's eyes narrowed, "You are the new captain of the 7th division. Though this method is unorthodox, it can be used. By challenging a captain of a division and winning, with at least 200 witnesses from that division, you can obtain the title of 'Captain'. Surely you knew this?"

"Wha- no!" Naruto shook his head wildly, "I never knew that! Er… well, maybe I've heard of it somewhere, but I've never even thought about it! Honestly, I thought this was a private battle! We came all the way out here in the middle of nowhere for that reason! I suck at sensing reiatsus, and I didn't even notice the crowd was here until I spotted them! Honest! I don't want to take the position of Captain from Erizawa!"

"Did you really think you could release Bankai and not attract attention?" Yamamoto asked coldly, "It was only because of one of your friends that I did not immediately put Soul Society into battle mode. I had thought there was an invasion. Thankfully for you, I was on my way to visiting Erizawa, along with Shunsui and Jushiro, and overheard that Chiba Aki yelling about your battle with Erizawa. He's the reason everyone's here I bet; they all wanted to see the outcome of your 'bet'."

Egad! Almost military mode? Just because of him?! Gramps was going to kill him when he got home! And Aki! Grr… that guy was ruining Naruto's life! Naruto had wanted to help him, but then Aki goes and does this!

Ukitake must have seen Naruto's conflicted emotions, because his eyes suddenly took a much softer gaze, "Hey, it's not all that bad to be a captain is it? I mean, sure it's a lot of paperwork, but you've already won the respect of everyone in your division, so you don't need to worry about that. In fact, I don't even think anyone will look down on you, once they hear your reasons."

"B-but," Naruto shrugged helplessly, "I didn't even want to be a captain in the first place."

"Well now you are," Yamamoto snapped, turning away. "Let this be a lesson to you that there are consequences to each one of your actions; you'd better not repeat this mistake again when you are under my command."

Naruto gaped at the old man's retreating back; this was so unfair! He couldn't believe- he couldn't believe- but then, the old man looked back, and sent Naruto a small wink, "By the way, very nice Bankai and Kido. Someone needed to bring Erizawa down a peg."

Humming a small tune, the Captain-Commander continued on his way. Naruto spluttered after him, unable to believe what he had just heard. Kyoraku grinned like a chemise cat, thumping Naruto's back in a friendly manner, "Haha, don't worry about the old man, he's hard to understand. He is impressed by your Bankai though. He's got the strongest fire spirit though, so maybe he sees himself in you, since you two use the same types of Zanpakuto."

Bah, strongest fire spirit. I'm no fire spirit; I'm the Demon King.

Naruto ignored the moping fox, and instead turned a wide-eyed gaze on the Captain of the 8th Division, "Does he really mean it? Do I have to be the captain?"

Ukitake shifted uncomfortably, shaking his head, "Well no, you don't have to. We can't really force you to do anything, more so because you're the heir to one of the Four Noble Houses. Captain-Commander Yamamoto is just saying that because he really wants you to join us. You're already well-versed in politics because you're an Uzumaki, and your skills are truly impressive. You'll have no trouble winning the respect of everyone else. We'd really like to have you, Uzumaki-san."

"Besides," Kyoraku grinned, gesturing towards the cheering crowd, "Do you really want to let them down? I've heard about your bet. Even if Erizawa doesn't directly punish his subordinates, he could still make their lives miserable. Do you really want that?"

"Well, no," Naruto murmured, clenching his fists, "But… But I really wanted to be the Captain of the 2nd Division you know!"

Kyoraku shot him a surprised look, "What? Woah really?! That was unexpected! I thought it'd be because you didn't want to work or something… that'd be my reason…"

"Not everyone is like you Shunsui," Ukitake sighed, then gave Naruto a curious look, "But why do you want to be the Captain of the 2nd Division? Is it because they have the secret police? You know you can actually form anything under a division as long as the Captain-Commander approves it. Or is it because…"

"Well," Naruto blushed, "The real reason is… the 2nd Division Captain's hatori is orange!"

There was a long moment of silence, and then both the captain's mouths dropped open.

Naruto laughed nervously, rubbing his head, "It's not that ridiculous is it? Orange is my favourite colour, and the Captain of the 2nd Division is the only squad that has an orange backside for their hatori. 7th Division's is brown- brown! What a boring colour! I want something that stands out!"

Kyoraku rubbed his eyes disbelievingly, as if trying to confirm what he was seeing was real. Then, he burst out into a loud, wide laughter, slapping his friend's back, "Haha! Jushiro, I like this kid, I really do!"

"Is… is that so?" Ukitake asked weakly, giving Naruto a funny look, "Well, you'll be glad to know that you can customise your hatoris then, as long as they're recognizable. Most captains don't do it because they like their hatoris the way they are, and you can't mix back colours, but perhaps you can add a spot of orange to the outside."

"Really?" Naruto's eyes lit up, and the whole world seemed suddenly brighter, "Yatta! This is awesome! Wait… you said something about 'captains can form whatever groups they want', right?"

Ukitake blinked at the sudden mood change, but he nodded nonetheless, "Yes, as long as Captain-Commander Yamamoto approves. And Central 43 of course, but they usually stay out of the business of the Four Noble Houses, so I don't think you even need to go through that hoop."

"Perfect," Naruto grinned, "I've been wanting to form a police force for a long time now, but I couldn't get enough people."

"A police force, for what?"

"For the people of Rukongai," Naruto said seriously. The conversation about orange had been light-hearted, but that really was put up as a way for Naruto to get his head wrapped around the fact that he was a captain now. Part of him still couldn't believe it, but part of him was already planning what he could do with his new power. "Some shinigami abuse their power on the regular citizens, and I want to stop that."

"How do you know that your police-force members won't be corrupt," Kyoraku asked shrewdly, also turning serious.

"I'll screen them myself. I won't make the same mistakes that my ancestors did; and even if I did, I promise to learn from them."

"Hm," Kyoraku nodded approvingly, tipping his straw hat as a gesture of respect, "I really do like you kid. I'll be taking you up on that promise, and in the meantime, I'll help you convince Yamamoto that a police force is needed. It'll be the 7th Division's specialty."

Ukitake smiled warmly, "I will help as well, Uzumaki-san."

Naruto felt his throat close, and he had to swallow several times before he could speak again. Finally, he was able to choke a few words out, "Don't call me that, it makes me sound like gramps."

"Alright then, Naruto," Ukitake smiled, "Then you must think of me as Jushiro."

"And I'm Shunsui," Kyoraku smirked, "Come to me if you ever want a drink…"

"Shunsui!" Jushiro cut in, looking shocked, "He's a kid! Don't start influencing him like this!"

"Pst, kid!" Shunsui snorted, "I must have started drinking when I was in diapers. Don't be so uptight, you'll end up just like Kuchiki!"

Kuchiki… Kuchiki… why did Naruto get the feeling he was forgetting something important? Suddenly, it came to him. Eyes widening, Naruto swore, dragging the two captain's attention to him.

"I have to go!" Naruto said quickly, and Shunpoed away, before they could even say their goodbyes. "Damn, Byakuya's going to kill me!"

Finally, he made it to the 6th Division building, panting and out of breath. Leaning against one of the doorframes, Naruto sucked in a deep breath, trying not to appear as if he had just remembered. Nodding to himself, Naruto went in, hoping that Byakuya wouldn't be too mad. His friend hated tardiness, and had managed over the years to instil some sense of time into Naruto. Now, when he had important news, Byakuya would no doubt not be pleased with Naruto's lateness.

Surprisingly, Byakuya wasn't mad at all. His face glowing, his friend's face split into a smile the moment Naruto stepped into his room. Naruto almost doubled back- it wasn't exactly a rarity to see Byakuya smile, but he hardly did so that readily. Just what was going on?

And then, those fateful words had slipped from Byakuya's tongue, so sweet it seemed at the time, so deadly poisonous later on. If Naruto had known the effects of Byakuya's revelation, he would have taped his friend's mouth shut, and shouted Byakuya down until the Kuchiki finally agreed.

As it was, all Naruto did was listen when Byakuya stood, a wide grin on his face, a peaceful sparkle in his eye, "Naruto… I'm getting married!"

Interlude: A life in the day…

Naruto dashed across the rooftops, running his fastest speed. Darn, he was going to be late! And then Toshiro would kill him of course, and Momo would give him one of her 'dissapointed' looks. Truthfully, those looks were even more scary then Toshiro's silent death threats. Passing by Byakuya's house, he only had a quick second to wave to Rukia, but he did catch her pout. Ah man, he was going to get it when he visited the spirited Kuchiki again.

The blond raced across Soul Society, hoping against hope that he'd be there on time. Actually, considering that his Shunpo was second to only Byakuya's, he should be able to get there on time, but with his luck…

"Captian Uzumaki! Captain Uzumaki!"

Naruto sighed, pausing in his mad dash, though he still kept his legs moving in a rhythmatic upwards motion. He turned to his wolf-faced vice-captain, a sinking feeling in his chest. Usually, Sajin Komamura could handle anything thrown his way; that was partially the reason Naruto had chosen him for vice-captain.

Sajin doubled over, panting, "I've been looking all over for you Captain! There's been a riot in District 94, and the citizens have taken weapons! Central 43 is going to see this as an issue soon and enforce harsh action if we don't do something. Our police corps can't stop them without force, but it's your excess wish that we do not use force. What should we do?"

Naruto nearly palmed his face. Karma! But… but… "How urgent is this issue? Could it wait a few hours?"

Sajin hesitated, "I guess…"

Naruto nodded, giving an apologetic grin to his vice-captain, "I want more information about this issue, and why the district is revolting. I want a way to compromise; don't worry, in a few hours, I'm sure I'll have solved this!"

Sajin blinked, then nodded, looking reassured. He saluted, "Thank you Captain Uzumaki! I'll do all I can!"

With a nod, Naruto took off again. Ah, he wished Sajin wouldn't be so formal, but ever since that day… heh, even Naruto had given up on getting Sajin to call the blond by his given name. Ah well, whatever. Finally, he made it to the examination room. Panting slightly, Naruto shoved open the door.

"You're late," Gin sniggered, clasping his hands behind his back. The lavender haired boy took a step forwards, separating himself from the two other shinigami.

Naruto closed the door behind him, sticking out his tongue at his friend, "Some of us actually have responsibilites."

Gin cocked his head, a wide smirk spreading across his fox-like face, "Since when do you ever do them? Don't you always delegate your paperwork to your vice-captain?"

"You two," Yamamoto cut in, his deep voice rumbling like thunder, "Cut it out. Naruto, since you are finally here, we can begin. I was debating whether or not to get a new captain."

Naruto rolled his eyes, unfazed. In reality, Yamamoto wasn't nearly as harsh as he acted, and Naruto knew that all too well. The blond turned to face the last shinigami, letting a wide grin spread across his face, "Well, well, let's see what you're made out of."

Toshiro glared, but obediently took out his Zanpakuto. "Bankai: Grand Crimson Lotus Ice Ring!"

The ice dragon materialized out of thin air, the temperature around them suddenly becoming much cooler. With a look of concentration on his face, Toshiro spun, performing a variety of tricks with his Bankai.

Hehehe… told ya this kid was special…

Gin skipped over to Naruto's side, his voice no higher than a whisper, "That's Toshiro Hitsugaya, a child genius. Apparantly, he finished the academy in one year, and now he's already achieved Bankai. His Kido, Shunpo, Combat, and Swordsmanship marks are all top of the academy, and…"

"I know," Naruto cut in, a grin on his face; for once, he knew something ahead of the ever resourceful Gin. "I've known Toshiro for years, so when he entered the academy, I've kept an eye on him."

Gin's eyes actually flew open in surprise, before they quickly closed again. Naruto laughed at that. Frowning, Gin crossed his arms, "How come I didn't know about this?"

"You can't possibly expect to know all the going ons of the world," Naruto teased, "That's too much like- agh!"

He jumped out of the way, just in time to avoid being impaled by a giant ice spike. Another one flying towards him, Naruto quickly Shunpoed again, following the direction of the attacks to find the enemy… "Hey! Shiro-chan! What's the big idea?"

"You!" Toshiro fumed, narrowing his eyes as he sent another ice block flying towards Naruto, "First you don't regonize that I'm a shinigami, then you're late for my Captain Exam, now you have the nerve not to pay attention!"

"Hey hey hey!" Naruto defended, spinning out of the way of yet another ice spike. Slowly but surely, they were getting faster, and Naruto knew he was going to be in trouble soon if he didn't convince Toshiro to stop attacking him, "I suck at sensing reiatsu, I have responsibilities, and… and… Gin started it!"

"Not good enough!" Toshiro growled, sending a huge burst of ice towards the blond.

Naruto swore, and quickly pulled out his own Zanpakuto, "Come Forth the King of Demons: Kyuubi! Third Release: Barrier of Fire!"

The shield barely held up; the tips of Naruto's nose slowly frosted over with ice.

"Hm…" Yamamoto's voice came from the side, "Looks like he still hasn't got enough control, but with some practice Hitsugaya could make a valuable contribution to our ranks."

"I agree," Gin snickered, "This is a very interesting exam. I'm glad I decided to come."

"Hey!" Naruto cried, barely avoiding another blast of ice as he looked at his superior pleadingly, "Aren't you going to help me here?!"

Yamamoto shrugged, his eyes twinkling, "What can I say Naruto? You really bring these things onto yourself."

Gin's laughter rang throughout the building.

Rukia was running, running desperately. In her artificial, her movements were slow, clumsy, completely unlike the grace she usually displayed. Her dress flapping out behind her, Rukia bit her lip, a heart-wrenching expression on her face, "Am I… getting too attached to this world?"

"Yeeeessss!" Renji jumped down before Byakuya could stop him, being too absorbed in his own thoughts to control his hot-headed vice-captain, "So you knew after all?!"

Rukia whirled, her eyes wide.

Byakuya felt his heart clench, and his hands fisted by his sides almost automatically. No, he should not be thinking of her as a sorrowful victim, definitely not. She was an offender of the law, and he had promised to uphold the law. Byakuya had to do this with no regrets. Renji rattled on, oblivious to his superior's inner thoughts, "Because you've been enjoying this world for too long… You can only live for just a lit-tle longer, Rukia!"

"Renji! Could that be you… Abarai Renji?"

In response, Renji shot down from his perch, slashing his Zanpakuto towards Rukia's body. Rukia just barely dodged. Byakuya almost moved, but refrained at the last moment. The attack Renji gave wasn't a serious one; just what in the world was the redhead trying to do?

And then, Renji answered Byakuya's question. He went off on a long speech about humans and their lack of merits, yelling about how Rukia should not act so human. Beside him, Naruto rolled his eyes, obviously not buying into the speech. Byakuya could not blame him; he knew his best friend cared more about commoners more than he could ever understand. Still… Byakuya held a rather different opinion.

"You should not be holding that human-like expression!" Renji yelled, ending off his speech, "Don't you agree, Kuchiki-sama?"

He did; at least, partially. Still, that was not the point. What he wanted to do, was talk to Rukia, demand how she could possibly abandon them and live with these humans. He wanted to do that yet… Byakuya appeared behind Rukia, causing her to gasp in surprise as she spun around, "Byakuya Elder Brother…!"

Byakuya's face was blank, because he had long forgotten how to express his emotions. "Rukia…"

And then, Renji jumped in. He slashed at Rukia, sending her flying back, blood spewing out of her false body. Byakuya's lips tightened, but he didn't do anything. For a split second, he had wanted to kill his vice-captain, but he had already decided not to interfere with Rukia's sentencing. If that meant facing Renji's judgment, then so be it.

His partner obviously felt differently, though. Byakuya let a brief smile flitter across his face as Naruto stepped in, grabbing onto Renji's arm and cutting off his assault. Even though Rukia was Byakuya's adopted sister, Naruto came to visit so often and actually played with her, that sometimes it seemed as if Naruto were the older brother instead. Byakuya didn't mind it; in fact, he encouraged it. He wished to make Rukia's life comfortable, but her every expression was so reminiscent of Hisana's that Byakuya could hardly stand being around her.

"Hold on," The blond said cheerily as he made his presence known, "Sorry Rukia, Renji's the new vice-captain, so he sometimes gets confused and can't get his facts straight. We won't be killing the human."


Naruto frowned, "What's with the formality? I thought we had gotten over that."

"B-Bu-But," Rukia seemed to struggle with her words, "In the light of recent events…"

"Do you really think your punishment will be that serious?" Naruto grinned, then inclined his head towards the gaping Renji, "Don't listen to this guy here. He's new, and he's probably never done anything remotely political in his life. Now who do you trust, one of the members of the Four Noble Houses, or someone who's got a grudge against you?"

"But then why would two captains and- and-"

"Is it that hard to believe we were worried? Although I admit with Byakuya's look, it might actually be hard to believe. Still, we really missed ya…" Naruto moved forwards, reaching out to give Rukia a hug… when suddenly an arrow shot in front Naruto's arms, causing him to pull back hurriedly.

"A man doing unthinkable things to an unarmed woman...? This isn't a good scene to walk in on… I really dislike, this sort of thing."

Byakuya narrowed his eyes as Naruto whirled around, his mouth dropping open at the sight of a guy carrying a bag of sunflowers. "Who the heck are you?"

The new boy adjusted his glasses with a bandaged hand, a controlled look on his face, "Just… a friend in her class, who hates shinigami."

"Rukia," Byakuya's voice was cold, cold enough to freeze Naruto in his tracks. "Do you really know this boy?"

Rukia's eyes slowly opened, and she glanced at the boy in question, "Uryuu… why are you here?"

Byakuya felt his heart stop, and distantly he noticed Naruto's face plummet. Then, he forced himself to harden his thoughts; he could not afford to feel so wishy-washy. It was enough that Naruto was going to let his emotions interfere; Byakuya could not do the same. One of them had to uphold their duties. As for Rukia… she really wished to be with shingami haters rather than them, hm?

Renji must have felt the same, because he jumped at the newcomer, interrupting the shinigami-hater's explanation. Renji growled, shouldering his sword, "Stop saying nonsense, Four-Eyes. Captain Uzumaki's already asked you before! I repeat: who the heck are you?! Well… if you can't reply it's alright. I'll first… finish you off then!"

"Hold on!" Rukia screamed, her voice in twisted anguish. "Renji! This guy has nothing to do with…!"

"What are you talking about?" The boy with glasses asked, "I already told you. I'm just a classmate of Kuchiki Rukia's… and I hate shinigami."

Things only escaladed. Naruto didn't even interfere in the battle that followed, showing just how disturbed he was by Rukia's revelation. Well, it only made sense. Naruto's little 'adopted' sister, Byakuya's ward and the sister of his wife, would rather be with… It was over in a second, as Byakuya would have expected it to be. Renji didn't even have to Shiki. The red haired boy stood over the fallen Ishida, a sneer on his lips, "Look at this. I told you so."

"I guess I should end this now," Renji continued, stepping closer to Ishida as he raised his sword, but then Naruto was there, having Shunpoed within a second to Renji's side. The area around Rukia remained untouched, as if the blond had never been there, with Rukia herself looking as stiff as a rock.

"Rem-wha?" Renji glanced at Naruto in surprise, not able to move his sword arm because the blond was holding on tightly to it. Naruto let out a sly grin, dropping his hand. Renji still held his sword aloft, but Byakuya knew he wouldn't do anything with it now. No vice-captain would dare disobey their superior, especially if said superior was a member of one of the Four Noble Houses. And Naruto had made his point clear by stopping Renji's finishing blow. So it seemed that no matter how mad Naruto was at the Quincy, he still would not allow a death.

Just then, the earth broke around them, and Naruto quickly jumped out of the way. Renji did too, abet at a slower reaction speed. The redhead turned, swearing, "Who… who the hell…?!"

An orange-haired boy stood at the center of the rubble, a determined look on his face, "Kurosaki Ichigo! The one who will defeat you! Remember it well!"

"Kurosaki?" Naruto's mouth dropped open as Byakuya's eyes narrowed. Could it be..? But, what were the chances? If it was only twenty years ago… and the jaw, the eyes, the sharp nose…

"It's possible," Byakuya murmured, appearing at Naruto's side as the newcomer and Renji started to fight, "He's about the right age, if he's Isshin's son."

"But he doesn't even know to avoid captains, and even challenged a seated member!" Naruto protested, having heard the latest bit of information Renji extracted, "Isshin wouldn't keep his son so ignorant!"

"…unless he didn't want his son to be a shinigami in the first place."

"So how…?"

"That's what I want to find out."

Naruto blinked, then sighed, "And the only way to actually find this out is if we…"

Byakuya nodded, then turned to Renji, "You were too careless… Renji."

Renji turned around, his eyes wide in surprise as he tried to cover his wound, "Kuchiki-sama! What are you talking about? This is nothing to a guy like this…! That kid who says he's Kurosaki Ichigo…"

"I knew he looked familiar," Byakuya stated calmly, remembering yet another fact about the orange-harried boy. Although, admittingly he hadn't known it was the orange-haired boy at the time. It was simply the name Kurosaki that had caught his attention. He couldn't risk telling Renji something he and Naruto were only speculating on, but he was almost positive that… "33 hours ago, using our undercover forces, we were able to see the image. We sent Menos Grande to the void due to the scar… he gave him."

Renji's eyes widened in surprise, but a second later, his vice-captain burst out laughing. "The quality of our undercover forces must be dropping! A guy like him gave Menose a scar? Are you expecting me to believe that bullshit?!"

"Renji…" A trace of anger had leaked into his voice, but he couldn't help it. Perhaps it was due to being around Naruto -who always expressed his emotions- so much, but Byakuya could not control his emotions as well as he would have liked.

"But just look at this guy's sword boss! It's big, but it has no strength to back it up! It's obvious he's not capable exterminating evil spirits!" Renji shouted, then turned to Kurosaki the junior, "What's the name of your Zanpakuto?!"

"Hun? The name?! I don't do that kind of thing! Do you actually go around naming your swords?!"

Naruto's jaw dropped open, "Wha…? Isshin's kid doesn't know the name of his Zanpakuto? I don't believe this!"

Byakuya felt his eyebrows raise ever so slightly; barely detectable, but they still rose nonetheless, "I… did not expect this either."

"Figures…" Renji sneered, "Didn't even ask his own sword it's name! To think he came to fight as my equal…! Come back after you train for 2 000 more years! Roar: Hebiojoumaru!"

"He's released it," Naruto muttered, "Man, what a drama queen."

"Look in front of you!" Renji jumped into the air, his snake-like weapon extended, "In front of your eyes…! There's your food for you! This is the end rookie! You will lose to me, Arabari Renji! You will die here!"

Blood spurted out like a fountain of tomatoes. Byakuya looked at the scene with hooded eyes, not exactly disapproving, but he couldn't bring himself to approve. Renji's methods had always been a little too blood thirsty for Byakuya, who thought them barbaric, but inwardly he knew it was a good balance to his quick and proficient assassin techniques. It was the reason he had picked Renji to be his vice-captain, after all.

"Sorry rookie," Renji pulled back his Zanpakuto as Kurosaki dropped, "This is due to the difference in our strengths. A Zanpakuto can change size and shape depending on the spiritual strength of the owner. Thi is... my true strength. See ya... rookie. I don't have a personal grudge against you… but you're not fit for this world. I'll slowly finish you… and then I'll be returning."

Byakuya turned slightly, getting ready to leave… but then, Rukia did something that almost caused Byakuya to drop his sword. She jumped onto Renji's arm, temporarily immobilizing him.

"What the…!" Renji struggled in Rukia's determined grasp, "Rukia, what the hell are you doing?! Hey! Let go! Are you trying to make this into a bigger grime, you idiot?"

"R-run Ichigo!" Rukia yelled, hanging on desperately to Renji's arm, "Stand up! Hurry, get up and run away!"

But Kurosaki didn't run. Instead, he stood up. Byakuya couldn't help the slight narrowing of his eyes; he was tiring of this orange-haired imposer, and quickly. What did the human want to accomplish here? Wasn't it enough that he had stolen Rukia's powers, and practically sentenced Rukia to jail?

"…the hell?" Renji's voice was shocked, "You still have enough strength to move around? Well, that's good actually. Giving the last blow to somebody who's almost dead is boring..."

And then, Ichigo surprised them all. Or maybe it wasn't so surprising, if he were really Isshin's son… Ichigo, a person who had only been a shimigami for a few months, defeated a vice-captain.

"Are you sure you've picked the right person, Byakuya?" Naruto teased.

Byakuya didn't answer, and disappeared in a flash. He flashed past Kurosaki's side, lightly breaking off the sharp metal sword from the hilt. A moment later, Kurosaki finally realized. He stared at Byakuya with shocked, brown eyes, and Byakuya couldn't help the slight feeling of pleasure he derived from that.

Good. The human didn't deserve to hold such a precious blade. Byakuya applied a slight pressure, mixing reiatsu into his grip, and shattered the blade into a million pieces. It split apart easily, the individual parts glittering in the evening light like cherry blossoms. It was not nearly as developed as his Senbonzakura, though. Fingertips on his sword this time, Byakuya moved towards Kurosaki the junior yet again.

Kurosaki's chest split open, blood spraying out. He fell slowly, sluggishly, so ugly and unrefined. Byakuya did not understand what Rukia saw in this creature. Yes, there was a certain degree of determination in him that was rather admirable, but there were plenty of people in the Court of Pure Souls equally as determined.

"You're slow," Byakuya observed as if he were simply recognizing a fact, "Even when you're toppling down."

Naruto cursed, and glared at the Kuchiki. Byakuya looked away, not liking the look in his friend's eyes. It clearly stated that Byakuya was in the wrong. And perhaps, he was, but he was beyond caring at this point. This orange-haired boy was the one who had forced Rukia into her current situation, and Byakuya could not help but hate him for it.

Instead of focusing on Naruto's accusing eyes, Byakuya turned to his subordinate, "Is something wrong, Renji?"

Renji startled, "No sir… It's just that there was no point for you, the Captain, to directly attack him. I could've finished him myself."

Byakuya stayed silent; so, Renji hadn't guessed it then. Across from him, Naruto growled, obviously having have guessed Byakuya's motives. And he had expected Naruto to, really, though he didn't wish for it. The blond always seemed to know what Byakuya was thinking, and in instances like this it was dreary. Naruto opened his mouth, obviously about to go into a lecture, when-

"Ichigo!" Rukia shouted, dashing towards the orange haired boy. Byakuya's mouth tightened; was Rukia never going to learn? Even at a time like this…!

"That little…!" Renji growled, and slammed into Rukia, holding her back, "What the hell is wrong with you?! Look! That rookie's dead! There's no point in getting into more trouble over a dead guy! Get it?! If you go near him, another 20 years will be added to your sentence!"

"So what?! I… I was the one who dragged him into this! It's my fault he died! Since it's my fault he died…! Is it so wrong to go to him?!"

"This boy." It all made sense now; horrifying sense, "I see now Rukia. Resembles him, a lot."

Just then, he felt something grab onto his robe. Kurosaki looked up, a bloody grin on his face, "What do you mean, 'already dead'…? And resembling somebody… Don't talk about me without my say in it!"

"Ichi…" Rukia's face instantly broke out into a brilliant smile, a smile that Byakuya could never bring out in a million years. Occasionally, she had shown that smile to Naruto, but Byakuya hadn't cared then. After all, it was his best friend. But to give it so easily to a mere human…

Byakuya looked at the sky, "Let go, rookie…"

"Can't hear you…" Kurosaki jeered defiantly, "Look at me if you wanna say something."

"Really?" Byakuya asked, then glared down coldly at the pathetic, clingy shinigami, "You won't have that arm for long."

"Eh-he," His best friend's voice cut in, "Hey Byakuya, you don't really want to kill him do you? Don't you think he's a little bit interesting?"

Byakuya stayed silent, and moved forwards, dragging his robes out of Kurosaki's weak grasp. He had denied Naruto enough for today; he would let the orange-haired boy live. "You are lucky Kurosaki, that Naruto has found some interest in you. But if you dare follow us, I will not spare you next time, whether my best friend requests it or not."

He could practically feel the shock radiating from behind him, and the egotism that came after it, "I won't-"

"Hey kid!" Naruto was really serious about saving Kurosaki then, if he was purposefully trying to keep the orange-haired brat from offending Byakuya, "Don't ever make promises that you can't keep! I make sure that no one in my presence does that! So… if you wanna come back and kick Byakuya's butt one day, you have to live first!"

Inwardly, Byakuya snorted; as if the kid could ever defeat him. Still, maybe this was the way Naruto was to make sure Kurosaki didn't die. Then, he heard a plop of something falling to the floor. Narrowing his eyes, Byakuya spun around, to see Naruto grinning innocently at him. That smile couldn't mean anything good.

But Byakuya could find out, easily. He hadn't said they were best friends for no reason. They had known each other for over a century, and could predict each other's moods better than they could predict their own. It would have been foolish to deny that. So, when reading Naruto's body language, and his subtle way of favouring the sky, Byakuya instantly knew something was up… or in this case, down.

Byakuya glanced to the ground. A few inches in front of Kurosaki, lay a white pill, the shape of a crescent moon. It was a recovery pill.

They were deathly expensive, and extremely hard to create. Once eaten, rapid recovery was possible, with the only exception of fatal wounds. Still, it was helpful in battle, and against a large number of injuries that could kill due to blood loss. It was not surprising that an Uzumaki would own one, but to give it to such an insignificant person…!

Rukia must have recognized it too, for she turned to Kurosaki one last time, before she was fully ushered through the gate Renji had set up, "I-Ichigo! If you try to follow me, I'll… I'll never forgive you!"

Then, she was pushed through the door, fated to never see the earth again. But she did have the chance, the ever so slightest chance. Byakuya knew Naruto was not thinking of Kurosaki when he had dropped the pill- he was thinking of Rukia. Perhaps Naruto was even operating under some mistaken impression that he would be helping Byakuya in the long run if the blond did this.

The pill was a few inches in front of Kurosaki, a position too far away for Kurosaki to get. The orange-haired boy would have to drag himself across the floor to get to the pill, and in Kurosaki's condition it would be an impossible task. Kurosaki's body shouldn't hold up, he shouldn't be able to bare the pain. But if he did…

Throwing a grin at him, Naruto linked his arm with Byakuya's, and dragged the dark haired boy to the gate.

"Hey don't worry about it," Naruto assured as they passed through, greeting Rukia and Renji on the other side, "I'm sure that since she's your sister, she'll get off with a light punishment."

But Byakuya's mind wasn't on that right now; or at least, not directly on that. If Kurosaki could truly beat all the odds, and achieve the impossible, it would give him confidence, and Naruto confidence, that Kurosaki could truly do anything. Like retrieve Rukia. Byakuya couldn't let that happen. Or at least, couldn't let Naruto continue letting this happen. Byakuya was sure, that individually Kurosaki could do little harm, but with the help of the resourceful Uzumaki…

He hated to ask this of his friend, when he knew what impact it would have on the blond, but… but… this was the only way of keeping his promise.

Byakuya's eyes shuttered closed, "Naruto, these matters concerning Rukia… could you please not interfere?"

It had been 49 years.

49 years until Hisana had died, and everything changed. Naruto was his best friend, yet he could do nothing. Byakuya rarely smiled anymore, and when he did, it always seemed to have a pained edge in it. There were a few times, when Byakuya was truly happy, and the only one he ever showed a side that was not the perfect Kuchiki to was Naruto.

Naruto was trying his best. Slowly, slowly Byakuya was getting better; smiling more, laughing more, breaking into his temper more even, but then this had happened. Kuchiki Rukia, sister of Kuchiki Hisana, was missing in the human world. Worse, she had become a criminal.

Naruto rubbed his eyes, sitting back with a sigh, imagining the cold faced but gentle hearted young girl. Why had she done this? Why had she given her shinigami powers to a human? Surely, she must have known the consequences. For anyone else, Naruto wouldn't have cared; because a few years in jail wouldn't really kill anyone, but it wasn't just anyone else.

Byakuya must know that Rukia's punishment wouldn't be all that severe, especially since she was a Kuchiki, but Naruto knew his friend well enough to know that it wasn't the punishment Byakuya was worrying about. The questions racing across Byakuya's brain, only Naruto could guess.

Why had she abandoned them? Why is she staying in the human world? Does she like them better than us? Does she hate her brother? Does she think the human world is better…?

The wind blew gently through the open window, causing Naruto's eyes to droop in weariness. Naruto had been that afraid Byakuya would act irrationally with those thoughts. They were almost driving Naruto insane, and he wasn't even going to be affected by this; not really. Then, Byakuya had done the unreasonable.

He had requested Naruto not to interfere with Rukia's trial, saying that he wanted it to be fair.

Naruto had agreed, abet reluctantly, because well, he had thought it would be over soon. Like really, after they had retrieved Rukia from the human world, what other possible trouble could await them? So, he had not really thought about it, and thoughtlessly delivered his little sister to the grubby hands of the court.

And then, that had happened.

Rukia's sentence.

Death! Really?! It didn't make any sense at all! Naruto had raged, disputed, wanted to take it up with Central 43 himself… then he remembered his promise to Byakuya. It wasn't fair; when he had made that promise, he hadn't expected this! Still, it was a promise all the same, and it was his code not to break promises.

As well as… the pact he had made with Byakuya all those years ago. "I won't betray you."

He couldn't break that: couldn't. No matter what. Naruto had a feeling that was the only thing still allowing Byakuya to trust. If Naruto broke that promise, after what Yoruichi had done… He didn't even want to think about how Byakuya would feel.

Besides, it should be fine, right? All those kids from Earth were invading. Naruto was glad Gin hadn't killed them, and he secretly wondered if it was because Naruto had told him all about the 'awesome carrot-head'. It warmed Naruto's heart to think that his friend would take the chance of receiving punishment just for Naruto; though he had to tell Gin not to do that next time- if it didn't involve lives, that is.

But the point was, Rukia stood a chance. Naruto felt so useless though; he couldn't do anything! This was the last time he agreed to one of Byakuya's unreasonable requests, no matter how insignificant they seemed! That Byakuya, he was going to…!


Naruto startled, nearly flipping over his chair. He jumped up, his head turning towards the direction of the voice. It was near the East Great Holy Wall, the direction of the 5th Division Headquarters and Barracks… Momo!

Cursing, Naruto jumped out of his window, Shunpoing at his fasted speed. No, nothing could have happened to Momo! The invaders weren't that stupid were they?! If they dared touch Momo, no matter what Rukia's chances were, Naruto would rip them apart limb from limb! He dashed across rooftops, blurring past the daily shinigami, this time not even pausing to wave.

Naruto arrived at the scene just in time to see Hinamori Momo charge at Gin, the intent to murder in her eyes. What in the world… was going on?! Gin just stood there grinning, like he didn't have a care in the world; it was not as if Momo could really hope to kill a captain, after all. Still, standing there grinning could only infuriate… At that moment, Naruto found that he couldn't read Ichimaru Gin.

But he didn't have time to figure it out. Momo was reaching to draw her sword, and he had to stop her before she got herself into serious trouble. Using a quick Shunpo, Naruto immediately appeared in front of the black haired girl, one hand shooting out to tightly grasp her wrist.

She gasped, "Naru-kun? Naru-kun what are you doing? Quickly get out of my way!"

Naruto frowned, "Momo… just why are you attacking your captain?"

My friend, he wanted to add, but knew that would just rile Momo up even further. It would seem too much like he were favouring Gin, if Naruto added in a statement like that.

"He's not my captain!" Momo cried, tears brimming, "He murdered my captain! It's all Ichimaru Gin's fault that Captain Aizen is dead!"

What?! Glasses was dead?! Naruto felt his jaw slacken, not even noticing Momo tugging out of his grip as he finally registered the odorous smell. Blood. Slowly, Naruto turned his head, eyes widening to see the once respected Captain Aizen, pined like a piñata ontop of the clock tower. Glasses… was dead. Really, dead. Momo's captain, her idol, her life.

All of the sudden, Momo's actions seemed to make sense. But… but that still left the fact of… why was she attacking Gin?

A loud boom cut off his thoughts. He focused back into reality just in time to see Izuru Kira in the midst of releasing his Shiki. Naruto's eyes widened; what the heck, how had it progressed to this?! "Bakudo #63: Air Draft Immobilization!"

Instantly, both Izuru and Momo froze in motion, still in their respective positions. Izuru was bearing down, his arm held aloft in a slash, and Momo was paralyzed in a forward position, as if she were in the midst of running forwards. The Air Draft Immobilization used the air itself as an ally; it was amazing for multiple enemies. Naruto just wished he wouldn't have to think of Momo as an 'enemy'.

"Let me go!" Momo yelled, "Let me go and kill that traitor! Naruto-kun!"

"Momo, please calm down," Naruto said weakly, "Just why in the world are you attacking Gin? Think about it logically, Aizen was a captain for a reason; Gin couldn't have possibly killed him without anyone noticing."

"But-but-" Momo protested, tears in her eyes, "Toshiro-kun even said that-"

"Momo I suggest you calm down," Toshiro walked out from the corner of the clock tower, his eyes fixed steadily on Aizen. "Matsumoto, Hisagi, take Momo and Izuru and lock them up!"

"Hey wait a minute!" Naruto called, causing Hisagi and Matsumoto to both stop in their advancements, looking confused. After all, it wasn't often captains opposed each other. "Before doing something drastic… like locking them up, can't we just… I dunno, talk this over or something?"

"That might work for your diplomacy, but this is a different matter!" Toshiro snapped in annoyance, "Jail time will give them both time to cool down!"

"Yeah!" Naruto gritted back, "But it'll also give them time to dwell on misconceptions! It's better to clear things up first! I've been doing this 'captain' thing longer than you, I think I know what I'm talking about."

Toshiro shot him a slightly hurt look, and Naruto immediately regretted what he had just said. Naruto sighed, running a hand through his hair, "Okay, okay, take them to their cells."

Naruto watched the two vice-captains being taken away with a critical eye. He'd talk to them later then; definitely.

Toshiro sighed in frustration, glaring at the blond haired teen, "For a captain, you sure are clueless."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing," Toshiro muttered, walking away. Just before he was out of sight though, he turned a deadly glare at Gin, "Ichimaru… I'm warning you; if you make Momo shed even one drop of blood… I'll kill you."

With that, Toshiro shunpoed out of sight, leaving Naruto completely confused. He turned to Gin, cocking his head, "Hey, what's Toshiro mean?"

"Hehe," Gin grinned in a rather creepy manner, but Naruto could interpret it as amused, "He didn't tell you? Maybe it's 'cause we're friends… hehe, I can't believe he suspects you…"


"You'll find out," Gin waved Naruto's concerns away, also turning to walk away, "...one way or another."

"Captains, vice-captains, and temporary vice-captains of Gotei 13, and… the drifters. This is the vice-captain Kotetsu Isane of the 4th Division speaking. Can everyone hear me? An emergency situation has occurred. This emergency transmission is under the authority of Captain Unohana Retsu of the 4th Division and myself, Kotetsu Insane. Please listen carefully, everything I am about to say… is all true."

Impossible. Impossible, impossible, impossible. Impossible.

Naruto raced across the rooftops, his fists clenching in suppressed anger. This just couldn't be! There was no way Aizen and Tousen would betray Soul Society; they were the gentlest people Naruto knew! Plus, despite Toshiro's Bankai being underdeveloped, there was no way he could have lost that easily! He was made a captain at that age for a reason after all! This complete illusion thing sounded sketchy, and Gin…! Gin couldn't possibly have…

The booming pressure of Bankais increased Naruto's pace. He had to get to the Hill of Seiritu, and fast! Naruto arrived at the destination just in time to see Ichigo charge at Aizen, Rukia and Renji both on the ground behind him. Idiot! Naruto scowled, pulling his hand up in a seal just as Aizen blocked Ichigo's attack, "Bakudo #56: Body Armour!"

Aizen stuck, but no cut was made on Ichigo's body. Aizen's eyebrows shot up in surprise, but then he turned to Naruto with a pleasant grin, "Ah, Captain Uzumaki, I was wondering when you'd show up."

"You… Glasses, why…?"

Aizen chuckled, then threw back his head, and gave a full blown laugh, "Glasses… you have always had the most amusing nicknames, Naruto. At Soul Society, I must say you were one of my prime sources of entertainment. I don't know what we would have done without you."

"Don't listen to anything he says!" Renji yelled, struggling to get up, "Captain Naruto, you have to stop him! I know… I know we were no match, but you are! Aizen is… Aizen is trying to kill Rukia!"

Naruto sucked in a harsh breath, glancing at his brother's adopted sister, "What…?"

"My, my," Aizen's voice was amused, "You were always slow on things, weren't you Naruto? It is true; why else would I stage this girl's punishment, and assassinate the whole of Central 43?

"But Rukia's never done anything to you!"

"Why Naruto," Aizen tsked, "Are you even considering what's beyond the obvious? I'd have expected better from you. Like your friend Hitsugaya for instance, who's mind followed every path I wanted to take. Can't you be more like him? But then, I suppose child geniuses are hard to come by."

"You bastard!" Naruto launched himself at Aizen, feeling something he hadn't felt for a long time; the intent to kill. Reaching for his sword, he slashed at Aizen, despite the fact that his swordsmanship was poor. But Aizen was definitely not one he could defeat with only fists.

Caught by surprise, Aizen's front ripped open, his blood staining Naruto's sword a terrible colour. In that instant, Naruto's eyes widened, and he quickly jumped out of sight. He barely avoided being skewered. The body he cut slowly dissolved, revealing its true form once again.

Aizen smiled as Naruto skipped two steps back, casting the real figure a wary look, "When did you switch?"

"Ah, so you caught on," Aizen congratulated, clapping his hands in a mocking manner, "Or should I say, you're Flash Step is as impressive as always, Captain Uzumaki. Almost as impressive as Yoruichi's was."

Naruto growled, "Don't mention her."

"Why not?" Aizen smiled, flashing white teeth, "She is after all, the reason I'm trying to kill dear Rukia here… her and Urahara Kisuke, that is. Oh Naruto, why do you look so tense?"

"Shut. Up." Naruto gritted out.

"Oh my, looks like I forgot that you had issues about betrayal. My bad. That's why you couldn't do anything about Kuchiki Rukia's execution right, because that'd be 'betraying' Byakuya? I had thought it was weird; you, who even disgustingly helped little critters, wouldn't stand up for your own surrogate sister…"

"Shut up!"

"My, my Naruto," Aizen tsked, "If you want answers, why don't you stop interrupting me? Don't you want to know why Yoruichi left you two? Why I'm targeting dear dear Rukia? You were always a curious kid; I know you're dying to know. So what do you say, Naruto? Why don't we all sit down and have a chat?"

Naruto clenched his fists, teeth grinding together in frustration. This was his one weakness, and Aizen knew that. The bastard! How dare he use that against Naruto! Still… still… could Naruto refuse? Here Aizen was, offering the answers he had been seeking for the past century. But… but… Aizen was obviously stalling for time. For what, Naruto didn't know, but could he really let Aizen get what he wanted?

Aizen must have took Naruto's silence for consent. An oily grin sliding up his face, Aizen crossed his arms behind him as if he were about to give a lecture, "Well you see, Uhara-"

"I don't care!"

Aizen blinked, a look of genuine shock crossing his face for an instant. Then, it was gone, "Excuse me?"

"I don't care," Naruto said again, breathing heavily as if saying the words took a lot of effort out of him. In fact, they did; he desperately wanted to know what Aizen was suggesting, but he couldn't let the enemy get what they wanted! Naruto's hand slid to his Zanpakuto, "The fact is, you betrayed us. I don't need to hear the lies of a traitor."

Aizen's eyes hooded at those words, "My, that's a shame. I had thought you were smarter than that Naruto. Very well, if you are so eager to die, I will be glad to oblige you."

"Like hell," Naruto growled, "Come Forth the King of Demons: Kyuubi!"

His sword rippled out, creating the whip-like weapon it was always meant to be. He may suck at swordsmanship, but this weapon he did not stink at using. He leaped forwards, sweeping his Zanpakuto in a wide arc, forcing Aizen to jump out of the way. As soon as Aizen jumped, Naruto released his gathered reiatsu, "Hado #76: Lightning, Render!"

Aizen's eyes widened ever so slightly, but his response was just as quick, "Bakudo #72: Condense Shield!"

The two Kidos clashed, temporarily blinding everybody on the field with their light.

"I'm impressed," Aizen smiled, touching down on the ground gently with one foot as he landed, "You are quite ruthless in battle, Captain Uzumaki. Waiting for me to jump so I couldn't avoid being hit… and a flawless level 70 Hado to boot; no wonder you were made captain."

"Same could be said to you," Naruto spat, "So please don't give me compliments that are so double-edged. It's unbecoming. First Release; Devi's Fire."

The trail of fire shot towards Aizen, but again, Aizen simply dodged with a smile. This time though, Naruto was ready for him. The moment of the released, Naruto had dashed forwards, and the moment Aizen had moved, Naruto also moved. Having only just dodged the spiritual fire, Aizen didn't have time to avoid the spiked whip. Blood spewed out from his back.

Aizen dissolved.

Just then, Naruto stiffened; a cold metal blade pressed itself tightly to Naruto's neck, daring him to move. He could practically hear the smirk in Aizen's voice, "Checkmate. My, you were always horrible at chess. Didn't you remember that this is my ability?"

Naruto closed his eyes, and let out a loud continuous scream of frustration; so loud that it almost made his ears bleed. He felt Aizen jerk in surprise, probably wondering about this new development. Well, he would find out soon enough.

Just then, the ground beneath them flushed a brilliant violet. Aizen's eyes widened, but he was too late. With a smirk, the blond haired boy in Aizen's capture poofed out of existence.

Aizen clutched his stomach, eyes narrowing as he turned his head to his left, "How?"

"So you don't know everything, eh?" Naruto grinned, allowing the Bakudo that allowed him to remain invisible to dissolve. He fingered the Zanpakuto at his side, now two whips extending from the handle.

Aizen stayed silent for a moment, then- "That was your Second Release, wasn't it? The one that you never showed anyone? Quite clever. I wonder what it is? It can't be the same effect as mine, surely; you're not an illusion type. Also, your reiatsu is half of what it was before. Your clone had your other half, and that is the reason I could not detect anything wrong, is that correct?"

Naruto's jaw dropped open, "You figured all that out…? Eh, I guess since you know, it ain't a big deal. Yeah, it's my Second Release, and I haven't showed anyone 'cause it's helped me out of loads of trouble. Unlike your illusions, my clones are the real thing, created with my reiatsu. It's the most awesome trick ever, one of Kyuubi's best, if I do say so myself. Foxes you see, are good tricksters, and they-"

Aizen smiled, though it didn't look quite as carefree as it did before. "Are you trying to stall for time, Naruto? That isn't like you. Then again, with the Hado you cast on me, it isn't surprising that you want to wait a little bit longer. After all, the decay of the internal organs takes time, right?"

"Eh? You know about that too?"

Aizen spat out a mouthful of blood, and wiped at his face with one white sleeve, smearing the clothing with a brilliant red. He let out a pained smile, still somehow managing to look amused, "Of course I do; I am also a Kido user, and I can recognize the telltale violet glow that comes with Decaying Innards, the Hado #93. It first requires a setup; you must have done that while the light was still blinding everyone, as well as switch yourself. Of course, you attacked my illusion with your clone, luring me to the place where you set up the Hado. Then, while your clone was screaming, you cast the spell. As impressive as always, Captain Uzumaki. I should really start to take you seriously…"

"Fine with me bastard," Naruto growled, a little peeved that Aizen had figured out his whole plan in a matter of seconds, "Kyuubi's just dying to get out. Bankai: Will of-"

A splitting pain lanced through his side, causing Naruto to stumbled and lose grip on his Zanpakuto. Coughing, he watched as a sword slowly slid out of his stomach through blurry vision, its blade stained with red. Naruto clutched at his side, falling to his knees as his vitality left him, compounded by the wounds he had gained earlier from Aizen.

"Damn," Naruto muttered, turning his head as his hazy eyes focussing on the grinning form of Gin. Why…? And then the darkness consumed him.

"I apologize."

"Why're you apologizing? You came through in the end. Besides, I didn't come here to here apologies; I came here to see if you were alright."

"I should not have made you make that promise about Rukia."

Naruto twirled in his chair, stopping to facing his friend with a wide grin, "Yeah, that was a pretty idiotic move; glad Ichigo could convince you otherwise. I think you've changed for the better, Byakuya."

Byakuya sniffed, sitting upright on his hospital bed. He sent a glared at Naruto, which Naruto only returned with a challenging grin. Slowly, Byakuya's gaze softened, "How are you?"

Naruto shrugged, "What do you mean? I'm as good as I'll ever be."

"You," Byakuya hesitated, "You took the exact same hit as I did."

Naruto's eyes dimmed. He looked away from his best friend's face, not able to meet Byakuya's eyes, "What can I say? You've always known that I have a fast healing rate."

"That is not what I meant and you know it," Byakuya said with a tinge of frustration in his voice, his hands fisting on his hospital sheets.

There was a long moment of silence, in which Naruto couldn't bring himself to say anything. But this was Byakuya, his best friend, the one he could always count on. "He… he was my friend, you know. And not like how Glas- Aizen was my 'friend'. We hung out. You know that. We did a lot of stuff together that was beyond a captain's relationship. It's like… how I view Toshiro, except I don't feel the need to protect Gin. I still can't... I keep on thinking that I'll wake up and find that it's all a bad dream, and that Gin will be there to take me to ramen…"


"Yeah," Naruto's voice cracked; he couldn't help it, "Yeah I know it's stupid, but still. I can't help but think… there's a part of me that thinks that Gin's only doing this to benefit us somehow; that he's not really betraying Soul Society. He's only fooling us right now you see! He's really good at that! He's just pretending to go along with Aizen's plans, so he could-"

"Naruto," Byakuya's voice cut in, harsh and cold, but somehow also soft and understanding. "That… that isn't happening. Gin… Gin really believes in Aizen's plans, that much is evident. But… But I believe that he didn't really intend to harm you."

"How can you say that!" Naruto yelled, squeezing his eyes shut. He could remember the last few days as clearly as water; that horrible grin on Gin's face as he shot the blond down. "He… he… He smiled when…"

"That's what's been destroying you the most isn't it?" Byakuya asked quietly, "Not that Gin betrayed you; that he never considered you as a friend in the first place? I know you; and I know your thought process. But… but listen Naruto, I think that Gin was trying to make sure Aizen didn't kill you. Aizen is probably at Captain-Commander's level, and even I admit I wouldn't be able to defeat him alone, let alone with a supporter such as Tousen. Gin I believe, only shot you down so you wouldn't get yourself killed."

"… you're not just saying that, are you?"

"You know me well enough to determine whether or not I am telling the truth."

Naruto slung an arm over his eyes, leaning back on his chair with a sigh, "So Gin… okay, I've decided."

Byakuya perked up, instantly alert, "Decided what?"

Slowly, a grin stretched across Naruto's face. Throwing down his arm, Naruto jumped off his chair and struck a determined pose, "I'm going to bring Gin back to The Court of Pure Souls!"

And for the first time in 50 years, Naruto had the pleasure of seeing Byakuya's jaw drop wide open, dignity completely abandoned. The Kuchiki blinked, then quickly closed his jaw, but the look of surprise was on his face nonetheless, "You don't mean…"

"Yeah," Naruto nodded seriously, once again seating himself as his abdomen gave a painful protest, "I want to convince Gin that Aizen's views ain't right, and that he's got to come back. Captain-Commander Yamamoto likes me, and I'm pretty sure I can convince him. Plus, I'm an Uzumaki, and it's about time that I used that influence for something selfish -well, other than getting free ramen, that is- so I'm pretty sure I can convince The Court of Pure Souls to take Gin back, especially since he didn't do anything all that damaging during the invasion.

"As for Gin himself… well, I don't know what I'll do, but I've been his friend for 50 years, so I'm sure I'll think of something. Do you think I'm an idiot for doing this, Byakuya? 'Cause I don't care this time; I'll do it no matter what."

"…You're not an idiot."

Naruto opened his mouth to automatically argue his point, but then paused as Byakuya's words actually registered, "…hun?"

"You're not an idiot," Byakuya said again, this time looking out his window, "If anyone could do it, it would have to be you."

Naruto blinked, and then slowly, a wide grin spread across his face, "Hey thanks Byakuya! Who knew you could be so sweet? Do I get a hug too?"

Byakuya turned back to Naruto, his eyebrow twitching. "Don't push it."

"Aw, you don't have to-"

"RENJI!" Ichigo burst through the door, a crazed look on his face. Naruto stopped, gaping, and even Byakuya had a slightly stunned look on his face. Ichigo opened his mouth, then closed it again, looking sheepish, "Eh? Sorry, I heard that Renji came to this room and…"

"He's outside," Byakuya said shortly, inclining his head towards the door.

Naruto blinked; what? Renji had been waiting outside all this time? He turned his head as Ichigo tore through the room, hurling the door open. Sure enough, the redhead stood there, an unsure look on his face. As soon as he saw Ichigo though, his face changed.

They got into an argument within seconds.

"Hun," Naruto snorted, "They get along even better than we did at first. By the way, has Renji been out there the whole time?"

Byakuya shrugged lightly, "I felt him a while back, but he didn't come in."

"I think he wants to talk to you," Naruto said thoughtfully.

"Hm…" Byakuya glanced away, but Naruto noticed the slight tightening of the sheets.

"Well!" Ichigo stomped back into the room, huffing. He climbed back onto the window ledge, and seeing Byakuya's and Naruto's raised brows, shot them a grin, "Sorry to bother you Byakuya, Naruto! I'm out of here!"

Without another word, Ichigo jumped out of the window, landing on the ground with a soft thump and racing across the hospital fields.

"Is he…" Byakuya's voice sounded strained, "Going to address me by first name now?"

Naruto threw back his head, and laughed. "He has the right to. You like him well enough to let him win."

"…I didn't let him win."

Naruto snorted, "Sure you didn't. If you'd wanted to, you couldn't beaten him easily. Ichigo may have captain-level reiatsu, but he certainly doesn't have captain-level control. Plus, your speed's way faster than his, if you put your mind to it. Come on, you only lost because you wanted to lose. Deep down, you cared too much for Rukia in the end."


Still," Naruto grinned, deciding he needed to take the topic off of Byakuya's good heartedness before the Kuchiki died of embarrassment, "That kid's pretty amazing."

Byakuya blinked owlishly, and slowly nodded. "Yes, I agree. You're a lot alike, that kid and you; there's that same determination to win."

Naruto shot Byakuya a surprised look, "Who? Ichigo? Nah, we're completely different. I have victory against seemingly impossible odds because of strategy mixed with a healthy does of underestimation, but I don't always end up winning. My death attests to that. Ichigo? As soon as you tell that kid 'you have to win', he pulls stunts that… I don't know where he'll be in a few years."

Just then, Naruto's sensitive ears picked up a shuffle. He turned quickly, just in time to see a blushing Renji, who was hurrying to close the door. Naruto didn't let him. Using a quick Shunpo to get to the door, Naruto stuck his foot out, preventing the door from being able to close.

"Hey," The blond haired boy grinned, "Me and Byakuya were just finishing up; you can talk to him if you want. I wanted to visit Momo, anyway."

"I don't want to- I mean- if I'm intruding-" Renji stuttered, uncharacteristically embarrassed.

Naruto rolled his eyes, opening the door fully as he stepped outside, shoving past Renji and pushing the redhead in, "Hey Byakuya, I'm off to visit Momo. Your vice-captain wants to talk to you."

As soon as the door shut, Naruto couldn't hear a thing from the other side. No wonder he hadn't heard Renji when Byakuya felt him; these doors must be coated with sound-blocking pads or something! But that also meant… that Renji hadn't heard anything Naruto had said. Good. Smiling slighlty, Naruto quickly ran off, dashing completely out of sight. Whatever was between Byakuya and his vice-captain, they needed to clear out. And as noisy as Naruto was, it was quite frankly none of his business. Still, he made sure not to go too fast; his wounds still weren't fully healed, after all.

And… he did need to visit Momo. From what he had heard, she had been in critical condition. His first trip had been to Byakuya, and his second trip, would be dedicated to Momo. Following his nose, he picked out Momo's familiar, flowery scent, especially prominent in the starchy hospital. Breaking into a light jog, Naruto made it there in no time. Grinning sadly, Naruto shoved open the door…

Toshiro was already there. The white haired boy turned, probably having sensed the spiritual pressure, "Naruto."

"Toshiro," Naruto nodded, closing the door softly behind him and walking closer to the prone form of Momo. She looked so weak on that bed; not like her normal, lively self at all. A gas mask consumed her face, her chest barely rising with every breath. She looked… even more pathetic than he was feeling.

The two of them stood there for a long moment, both watching the girl who had become a central part of their lives. Her life seemed so faint then, and Naruto knew that they were both thinking the same thing; they had to protect Momo.

"You do know…" Toshiro's voice was quiet, as if he were afraid to disturb Momo if he talked too loudly, "I never suspected you. I just didn't tell you about my suspicious regarding Gin because I didn't want you to feel conflicted. You always felt too much for your own good."

Naruto snorted, "Don't be silly, I'm not an idiot. I wouldn't have told you either, if our situations were reversed."

Toshiro shot him a Look, and then finally grinned slightly, the smile taking away all the stress lines that had been created these past few days. The three of them just stayed there for another long moment, just enjoying each other's company, like they had before any of them had become shinigami; the simple days.

Finally though, the memories had to end, and the two captains had to be brought back to the present. Naruto's stomach growled. Rubbing his head, Naruto grinned sheepishly, "Hehe… I guess being unconscious for a few days certainly makes ya hungry."

Toshiro shrugged uncaringly, eyeing Naruto a little oddly, "I've already eaten. What have you been doing since you woke up?"

"Went to visit Byakuya," Naruto said bluntly, "Wanted to see how he was doing. Then… I came here."

Toshiro sighed, "Figures. Why don't you go grab something to eat? It's not like Momo's going anywhere. Besides, I have the feeling that there's more people you want to visit. You know way too many people, I swear. I heard your vice-captain's also in the hospital, though I don't think he'll stay vice-captain for long…"

"Right then," Naruto grinned, turning to leave, "See ya Shiro-chan."

"It's Captain Hitsugaya!"

Naruto let out a light chuckle, and bounced away. Right into-


"Hey, sorry kid, but you should watch where you're going."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Naruto grumbled, pulling himself up as he turned a glare on the person who bumped into him, "And I'm not a kid! I'm…"

He trailed off, his voice seeming to abandon him. The jet black hair, the skin-tight clothing, and the dark, chocolate skin… it had been 100 years, but she still looked the same. Yoruichi.

"Hey ki- oh! It's Naru-chan!" The familiar wide, cat-like grin beamed down on him, "Hey, you've grown taller, shorty."

His automatic response was that he was not a shorty, but he quickly bit back his reply. No, this was not the same Yoruichi he had known; this was someone completely different. Naruto turned away, preparing to leave.

A hand closed around his arm, "Hey Naru-chan, where are you going?"

"Away," Naruto bit out, trying to tug his arm away from her strong grasp, "Unhand me please, I am a captain of Gotei 13."

"Hey," Yoruichi's voice was easy, teasing, as it always had been with her, "Since when did Naru-chan turn into Bya-chan? You weren't nearly this grumpy when I left."

Naruto whipped around, his eyes ablaze. He didn't even bother trying to keep the anger out of his voice, "But that's it; you left. You can't possibly claim to know us anymore Yoruichi; can't possibly expect to pick off where things left off!"

"But-but-" The cat-like woman protested, backing away a step, "Now you know why I did it. It was all Aizen's plan, and I couldn't let an innocent man get executed."

"I don't care about the reasons why," Naruto bit out, "I know this is unreasonable, but I really can't care. All I can remember is Byakuya's face when we found out you left; when we thought you betrayed us. I really think, that a little part of us both died that day."

"Naruto…" Yoruichi moved forwards, enveloping the blond in a hug. She pulled him close to her, snuggling her cheek up against the top of his head, "I'm sorry. I'm really, very sorry."

They stayed like that for a long moment, both allowing their thoughts to meet back 100 years ago, when things between the three houses had turned sour. Finally, Yoruichi pulled back, letting Naruto go completely.

"I still haven't forgiven you," Naruto told her bluntly, watching as her eyes grew dim, "But… but I suppose it wouldn't hurt if you treated me to some ramen."

Instantly, Yoruichi's face brightened, and she nodded enthusiastically. Naruto couldn't help the little grin that made its way up his face; no, not everything was perfect, but they were on their way to healing.

Naruto dodged yet another blast, mind racing. The eight-tailed figure of his Bankai followed after him, burning any stray shrapnel that landed within the fiery body. Yammy bore down on him at an incredible speed, something that shouldn't have been possible for the Arrancar. But… this was the Espada Numero Cero after all, so he should have expected this to be difficult.

Twisting out of the way of another slam, Naruto quickly ran through all the possibilities in his head. There was no way his Forth Release would be effective on an Espada, as it had for the Arrancar he had faced on Earth. As it was, he was using Bankai and still having trouble. The problem was, this Yammy guy just didn't go down. Naruto had tried close to all his techniques, and none of them could seem to stop the Espada Zero for more than a few moments. It was a good thing no one was here to see his embarrassing fight. Byakuya would never let him live it down; especially since the Kuchiki had easily defeated his Espada.

"Grr! Stop moving you little bug!"

Hun, pleasant. It wasn't even creative. Naruto jumped out of the way of another blast, fingers rapidly forming a handseal, "Hado #84: Razer Wind, Cut Through!"

The air in front of him rendered open. Alight, combo time! Naruto focused on the eight-tailed beast beside him, narrowing his eyes at Yammy, "Seventh Release: Purging Flames!"

The tongues of intense black flame shot through the pathway of air, concentrated at Yammy's neck. They hit dead center, just as Naruto had planned it. Yammy stumbled. The blond haired boy watched with baited breath, hoping that his plan had worked.

"That's it!" Yammy bit his thumb, then lashed out in Naruto's general direction, "Gran Rey Cero!"

Naruto's eyes widened; shit! He dashed to the left, pushing his legs to the highest possible speed. Mixing blood with any sort of attack was dangerous, and with a Cero…? He didn't want to get hit by that. It was unfortunate, that he hadn't factored in the speed of the thing.

The Cero skimmed past his side, leaving a huge burn trail in its wake. Damn… Naruto gritted his teeth, falling to one knee as the pain registered. Almost not daring, he snuck a glance at his side, only to find his whole right side almost completely burned off, the smell of burnt flesh assaulting his nostrils. Seriously damn…

"How do you like that?" Yammy gloated, trudging towards him with a smug grin, "That was my Gran Rey Cero. It's faster and deadlier than a normal Cero; especially for someone with a spiritual pressure like mine. Tehehe, now you're on fire just like your sword!"

Beside him, the Kyuubi growled, pawing the ground but ultimately unable to do anything. They had tried every attack in their arsenal, and none of them seemed to work. Yammy just got stronger and stronger with every attack. There was only one option left… really. Naruto struggled to get up, feeling distinctly off center. Still, he didn't really need to be on center for this technique. He held his left hand up, calling to his Zanpakuto.

Kit, are you sure…?

Naruto nodded, and turned to the big Espada, "You should be proud, you've forced me to come to this. Unfortunately, it'll end here."

Yammy guffawed, "What are you talking about? Crazy, that's what!"

"I've had this idea for a long time," Naruto continued, this time letting a slight, excited grin spread across his face, "But I've never been able to perform it. That's 'cause, I was afraid it'd cause too much damage… oh and, I've been afraid it wouldn't work of course. But now… you've practically convinced me that this is my only chance. So thank you, for allowing me to perform this."

Now, Yammy was starting to look a little nervous, "What are you talking-"

"Ninth Release: Will of the Devil!"

The earth around them trembled; and Naruto felt reiatsu pour out of him like a dam that had just been released. His sight flickered, edges of darkness creeping up in his vision. He clenched his fists, willing himself to stay awake. He had to see this through, he had to see this through! But his body just wouldn't cooperate. Damn it… he wasn't ready after all. Naruto fell forwards; the last thing he saw of the world was Yammy's terrified face.

He awoke to chaos.

"What's going on?" Naruto muttered groggily, sitting up in the war torn grounds. He looked around, gasping in shock as he registered the burning grass, the red-tinged sky. Gulping, Naruto pushed himself up with his arms, taking a hesitant step forwards. Wait a moment… he wasn't feeling any pain? He looked down, and was surprised to see that although the fields were damaged, his body evidently was not. How…?

"Good, you've come," Kyuubi's voice purred out from behind him, and Naruto spun to see the ninetailed fox demon in all his glory, fur sparkling with a splendour Naruto had never witnessed before. The Kyuubi's eyes sparkled, looking like black opals instead of the normal obsidian.

"What is… where is…?"

"Don't you recognize it?" The demon fox hummed, "This kit, is your mindscape."

"What?! But it's-"

"Worry not, it will go back to normal," The Kyuubi's eyes sparkled with an unearthly light, "As for now… let me tell you a story. The Yondaime was a genius of his time- he would have had to been, to seal me successfully. He knew he couldn't completely kill me, because demons do not die, but he did find a way to split up my power. And so, he sealed half of me within you- the Ying so to speak, and took the other half with himself. However, there is a flaw in every technique…

"He probably never expected you to release me fully, never had thought that we would reach some sort of cooperation. He never expected you to release me willingly. But you did, and in doing so, the flaw to the Yondaime's sealing technique becomes prominent. You held the Yang power within another part of you, a part that was never to be revealed until you had completely mastered my power. By using the Ninth Release; the last technique of your Bankai, you have proven yourself worthy. Of course, the Yondaime probably imagined that I wouldn't be around by this time.

"Nonetheless, the point is that I had half of my power sealed, and now it is returned. Your mindscape is simply adjusting to the sudden influx of demonic power, which is why it seems to burning. It is fine; but since my power is in shadow and fire, your mindscape is trying to reflect that."

Naruto stayed silent for a moment, trying to process this. "….so, you're saying that I'm fine and we're twice as powerful now?"

"Yes," The Kyuubi nodded, "But now that I have my complete power back, I can grow once again. These Arrancar are nothing compared to the ancient race of Demon."

"Wow," Naruto whistled, "This isn't a bad deal at all. I can totally wipe the floor with Byakuya now…!"

"Kit… just because we are powerful, does not mean you can control that power quite yet. If you try to fight your friend with unstable powers, you will end up killing him."

"What?! But I just mastered my Bankai!"

The long silence couldn't have meant anything good. Finally, the Kyuubi sighed, "You knew how to handle my Ying. The combination of my Ying and my Yang… you have never tried to control before."

"…" It took a moment for those words to sink in, "YOU MEAN I HAVE TO MASTER EVERTYHING AGAIN?!?!"

"It will be easier the second time. Now kit, it is time to go back to the world of the waking. Your friends await you…"

"Wai-" Naruto didn't get to finish. Forcibly, and with no small amount of indignation, Naruto was thrust backwards, plummeting from the depths of his mind core. He fell, down down down…

Naruto's eyes shot open, but then had to quickly squeeze shut again as the bright light assaulted his poor retinas. With a groan, the blond haired boy sat up, clutching his head in an attempt to sooth his assailing headache. His side he noticed, was healed though; probably the courtesy of the Kyuubi.

Kotetsu Isane's familiar voice greeted him, "I don't know what's wrong with him, I've never seen anything like it! I've- oh!"

"Naruto?" Rukia's welcome voice met Naruto's ears, though he knew he'd be regretting it very soon, "Naruto, what did you do?"

"Whatever it was," Renji's excited voice broke out, "It was awesome! That Espada was totally disintegrated! When we came here, all we saw was a puddle of bubbling monster and-"

"You." Unlike his sister's, Byakuya's voice was dry. Still, Naruto could detect the hint of concern in the low tones, "Pray tell, did you have to go so overboard? We could have felt your spiritual pressure from halfway around the world."

"It couldn't have been helped," Naruto replied, his voice raspy. Immediately, someone handed him a water bottle, and Naruto quickly gulped down the relinquishing liquid, feeling his head become slightly clearer. He tried opening his eyes again, this time blinking them open slowly so that they could adjust to the light. It worked.

Rukia's concerned face hovered above him, as well as Renji's grin. Byakuya sat to his side, his face blank. But by now, Naruto could see the tell-tale clench of his fists, the slight tenseness in his neck, that signalled the Kuchiki's anxiety. Isane sat another couple of meters away, the half empty water bottle still in her grasp.

As soon as they saw his blue eyes open, Renji and Rukia sat back, allowing him room to get up. Naruto didn't disappoint. Shifting his right arm to his side, Naruto pushed himself up, shifting to a sitting position. His pounding headache gave a loud protest at the movement, despite the snail pace at which Naruto had sat up. Naruto couldn't help the grimace, but quickly covered it with a grin, "So, what'd I miss?"

"Just Ichigo, Chad, Captian Unohana, and Captain Zaraki," Rukia said helpfully.

Naruto looked at her, confused.

Byakuya sighed, treading his fingers through the desert sands, "While you were unconscious, those four left through a tunnel Captain Kurotsuchi Mayuri created. See that black hole over there? They're heading to Karakura Town. We've decided to stay because…"

"We were worried about you!" Renji grinned, "You just wouldn't wake up! But now you're awake, let's go kick some butt!"

Naruto shifted guiltily; he hadn't meant to take up everybody's time like this…

Byakuya glanced at Naruto, and then turned to Isane, inclining his head, "Yes, we can make our leave. Thank you Miss Kotetsu, for healing my injuries."

"Oh yeah!" Rukia shouted, turning bright red as she quickly spun faced the healer, "I'm very thankful, Miss Isane! Thank you very much for healing my near fatal wounds!"

"Mine as well," Renji nodded, rolling up his shirt, "There's hardly a scar, even, and I thought I was dead for sure! Thanks a lot!"

Isane's face turned a bright cherry colour, "Do-don't mention it…"

Naruto felt a smile make its way up his face; that damn manipulative bastard… He shot Byakuya a grateful look, which the Kuchiki simply replied to with a raised brow. Hehe… Byakuya always knew how to make him feel better.

"And now," Byakuya cleared his throat, catching the attention of all the shimigami present, "On the issue of how to get to Karakura Town… I for one, would not want to go through Kurotsuchi Mayuri's gate. I do not mind waiting for Urahara Kisuke. The only reason Kurotsuchi is letting Kurosaki pass through unharmed I believe, is because he wants to personally torture Kurosaki in the future. That is not a pleasant prospect."

Renji, Isane, and Rukia shuddered as one. Naruto only grinned, "Don't worry! I have the perfect plan!"

They all shot him wary looks; too used to his 'plans' not to be. They knew that all of Naruto's plans involved something crazy, and although could be genius at times, they could also be very very painful. Well, Naruto couldn't say they were wrong, exactly…

"So…" Naruto ventured, "Where's Kurotsuchi?"

"Right here," Kurotsuchi stood on a cliff overhead, grinning a rather oily grin, "Am I that bad? Come now; I won't purposefully push you into a cross between dimensions just to observe what would happen. If that were to happen accidently… well, then it's your bad luck."

There was a pregnant pause.


Even Byakuya looked wary.

A sudden grin split across Naruto's face; hey, if you couldn't beat them… well, just find an unconventional way to beat them! Naruto flashed across the sands, landing at Kurotsuchi's side. Kurotsuchi backed away a step, looking suddenly cautious. Naruto simply smiled, "Hey, what are we waiting for? Let's go!"

Without waiting for a reply, Naruto grabbed onto Kurotsuchi's arm, and dashed towards the gate. On his way, he also snatched Byakuya. An insane scientist on one arm, and a haughty aristocrat on the other, Naruto bounded through the gate, laughing madly.

"Hey… hey!" Kurotsuchi's protesting voice drifted through the tunnel, "I want to stay in Hueco Mundo to conduct research! I'll close the gate on you! I will! Let me gooooo…."

The remaining shinigami of Hueco Mundo all glanced at each other, and hurriedly jumped into the gate.

A flurry of activity surrounded him; people were running around with heavy coats, ornaments, and various accessories needed for the assembly. People were shouting, calling, shunpoing everywhere; forgetting something here, misunderstanding something there. It was pure chaos.

Momo adjusted his cloak, pulling the two ends together as she smiled brilliantly up at him, "Ichigo's coming too."

"What? Seriously?"

"Yeah well…" Toshiro rolled his eyes, chin resting within the crossed arms on the top of the back of his chair, "It has been quite a long time; it's about time that carrothead died."

"Shiro-chan!" Momo gasped, tugging on Naruto's collar a little too hard, and nearly causing him to choke. Muttering an apology, Momo once again started adjusting Naruto's outerwear, throwing the occasional glare at Toshiro.

Naruto laughed, "Tough luck."

"Better than you," Toshiro muttered, shooting Naruto a slightly smug look, "At least I don't have to get all dressed up. Captain's robes will do."

Naruto smacked his head, and immediately dropped his arm again as Momo shot him a glare for moving. Naruto groaned, "I thought I had finished with all this stuff when I inherited the title as Head of the Uzumaki household."

Toshiro shrugged, a sparkle in his eye, "Hey, I warned you not to do this."

"Tch," Naruto finally stepped off the stand, feeling the full weight of the clothes on him. Keck, what was with this outfit, anyway? Were they trying to kill their captain before he even made an appearance? Sheesh. Naruto took an experimental step forward, and found with some relief that he could in fact- walk straight. Heck, it would be too embarrassing if he couldn't.

"Well I guess…" Toshiro's voice trailed off, and when Naruto turned to him, he found that the white haired boy wasn't looking his way, "Congratulations… I guess. You'd better not let the power go to your head."

"Wouldn't dream of it," Naruto smirked, turning to leave as he decided to let Toshiro deal with Momo's sniffles. He hadn't walked a few steps, before he was greeted by another light haired boy, this one just in a passing.

"So, this is it," Gin grinned, smiling in that special way of his, "Don't mess up."

"I won't," Naruto snorted, turning with a swirl of his robes to continue on his path. As he walked out of sight, Naruto couldn't help the smile that made its way up his face. Even though it had been nearly a century, he still couldn't get over the fact that Gin had never betrayed them at all; he really had been spying on Aizen! The Captain-Commander Yamamoto had ordered it.

As he turned down the corner, he was met with another familiar face.

"Naruto!" Yoruichi greeted, her face split into a wide grin. Beside her, Urahara Kisuke grinned as well, inclining his head in acknowledgement. Yoruichi stepped forwards, and before Naruto could stop her -she was still, the Goddess of the Flash after all- swept him up into a hug. She fake sniffled, "Ah, look at little Naru-chan, all grown up. First Bya-chan, now you… but you'll both have special places in my heart."

"I don't think he can breath anymore," Kisuke said in amusement, and thankfully Yoruichi finally let Naruto go. "Now come, we must leave dear Naruto alone; we have our own places to get to, after all."

"Ah yes, that's right. Ah well then, good luck Naruto. Don't get too nervous about the speech!" Yoruichi threw a wink at Naruto, and then disappeared with the genius scientist.

Feeling just a little disoriented from his meeting, Naruto once again continued on his way. Finally, he made it to the heavy double doors, and the one whom greeted him there. Byakuya stood beside the doors, in his own elegant robes, and a haughty look at the tardy blond.

"You're almost late," Byakuya stated disdainfully, helping Naruto up the slight flight of stairs to the gate. Slowly, the gate opened, and Byakuya shot Naruto one last look; this one, encouraging, "Wow us."

Naruto grinned, lights flooding the room as the gates fully opened. Trumpets blared, and instantly, the balcony was showered with flowers. Personally, Naruto felt it was a bit over the top, but who was he to complain when it was all directed towards him?

"Introducing! The Head of Central 46!"

Byakuya walked forwards, leading Naruto to the edge of the balcony. Masses of people were below them; all looking up eagerly at their new leader. Byakuya cast a calm gaze at the crowd, shuffling his sleeves together in an aristocratic manner, "Here, is your new militant leader; Uzumaki Naruto. Captian-Commander Yamamoto has appointed his heir on his death bed, and Uzumaki Naruto has gracefully accepted. Now, please welcome your new leader!"

The cheers shook the earth.

Kuchiki Byakuya, head of the Kuchiki Household, and Head of the new Central 46, gave Naruto one last confident look, and walked away. It was Naruto's platform now.

Naruto rested his hands on the railings, waiting for the people to calm. It was funny how these last years had passed; Aizen had been defeated, and though the lives lost were many, they were eventually able to come back and rebuild. Now, everyone wanted to forget about the dark times, but Naruto knew that could not happen, unless…

The crowd finally calmed down, and Naruto began his speech.

"It has been a hard time for all of us, a dark time…" The crowd stilled immediately, not even a whisper present among them. "Recently, as you all know well, we've had a war between Soul Society and an overconfident upstart- former Captain Aizen Sosuke. We've won, but that is not the issue I want to address. Not many of you know, but I've recently discovered that there was another person who tried to overthrow the Spirit King before; and it was for this person that Gotei 13 was formed. Former Captain-Commander Yamamoto formed this military group in hopes of preventing another take-over for power, and it has succeeded… for the most part.

"It hasn't though, stopped the rise of another 'traitor'. And Aizen himself… was not exactly evil. He had plenty of opportunity to kill many future obstacles in his path, and he was certainly smart enough to see it. Instead, he let us live, and for what purpose? For fun? I doubt it. I think, deep in his heart, there were also those he could not bare to kill. Aizen was not evil; he was simply a product of the neglect of Soul Society's system.

"You've all heard Aizen's life story the day that he died, and what he had been through as a child. Aizen has shown us what could happen to those we neglect, to those we deem inferior. That slow, festering hate, will only grow if Soul Society continues the way it is, and centuries from now, we might very well have another Aizen on our hands…

"I don't want to decree this only out of fear, because I sincerely want to help those who are in such situations. Nobody deserves to live a life of poverty; because after death, aren't we all supposed to be equal? And what did we die for? Wasn't it so that our afterlives could be better than whatever hateful lives we experienced on Earth? So why then, is our afterlife no better?! Why then, do we still have the poor, the weak, the rich, the strong? Why do we still have the abuse of power?!

"Aizen's ideals were wrong, but he had one thing right. This place is not perfect; and I want to make Soul Society… a real heaven. Who will join me?!"

The cheers split through the air.

A/n: Well, that has satisfied my bleach addiction for a while. If it comes back, I might decide to do a companion fic/chapter featuring the other character's POV, including Yoruichi's trap/capture, Toshiro's trip with Naruto, and Gin's mission with the Captain of the 7th Division. But that is a BIG might.

Man… that part where the Kyuubi was released… if I were doing a multi-chapter fic, I'd so make the Kyuubi take advantage of the added power and become a major problem for Soul Society and Naruto. As it is… I know he seems soft, but I seriously don't have the time (or space, I guess) to make it more realistic. Sorry. And ooohh… I'd have so had a love-triangle between Hisana, Naruto and Byakuya- it would have been so angsty…

Still, this was waaaaay fun to write, and it really polished my battle writing skills. How many have I written? 5? 6? I've lost count… My favourite one was with Aizen though : )

As for Naruto's speech at the end… well he is the heir to one of the Noble Houses, and though I didn't explicitly put the training sessions in there, I hope I implied it enough that Naruto was forced to learn how to act like the proper heir. He just doesn't want to display it all the time, but he knows how to act like a leader when he needs to. Well, hope that explained everything…

Anyways, hope you enjoyed, 'cause I enjoyed writing this. : ) And… HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!