Author: Sassy Southpaw

Story Title: Broken Promises

Summary: Ichigo's already in over his head; the arrival of a stranger makes his life even more complicated. Sasuke wasn't sure he wanted redemption, but when he's thrust into a strange new world, he'll need Ichigo's help to get back—before Madara finds him first.

Spoilers: This story contains spoilers for Naruto up to the most recent manga chapters. It also contains spoilers for Bleach up to the Rescue Arc.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or Bleach, nor am I making any profit from this story. The rights belong solely to Masashi Kishimoto and Tite Kubo.

A/N: Hey there! I'm aware that I haven't updated in several months and I'm not going to tell you some sad story or cliche excuse. Sometimes you lose your motivation to write, it happens. I still thoroughly enjoy writing this story and plan to pick up right where I left off! Hope you enjoy the chapter as I had a ton of fun writing it and made sure to make it especially long! My motivation has returned :)

Chapter 6: Disaster

"Ichimaru Gin."

Sasuke sucked in a breath and assessed the situation before him. Ichigo had spoken briefly about Ichimaru to him. He had prevented Ichigo and his friends from entering Soul Society, going as far as to wound the guardian of the gate. Ichigo had made it clear that he was not to be taken lightly. No captain was.

Reactivating his sharingan, Sasuke checked his chakra reserves. His unexpected new technique had drained him about halfway. That didn't leave him a whole lot of options, but it was enough to still put up a good fight. Ichigo was with him, as well, which doubled their chances for a victorious fight.

The two figures that flanked Ichimaru stepped forward into the sunlight. They didn't look quite like shinigami, but both carried what were clearly zanpakutos. And yet, Sasuke noticed, they most certainly possessed qualities that resembled hollows. Both had holes through their bodies—one in his lower abdomen, the other right below his throat. Their faces also bore remnants of what Sasuke recognized as hollow masks.

"Allow me to introduce my company," Ichimaru spoke up again, gesturing to the two next to him, "Ulquiorra Cifer and Grimmjow Jeagerjaques."

Sasuke glanced at Ichigo. "Have you ever seen these guys before?"

"Just Ichimaru," Ichigo replied, voice tense.

"No need to whisper," Ichimaru said. "We've only come for the scroll that Uchiha-san currently possesses. Hand it over now, and no violence will be necessary."

"No violence!" Grimmjow scowled. "That isn't what you told me before I got dragged into this—"

"Silence, Grimmjow," Ulquiorra interrupted, holding up a hand.

Sasuke noted the defiant look in Grimmjow's face after Ulquiorra silenced him. He kept his mouth shut but certainly didn't look like he was happy about it. Clearly he wasn't one for taking orders. Sasuke looked back at Ichimaru, whose face seemed to be permanently stuck in a creepy smile. He showed no other emotion. Hell, he'd spoken to Sasuke as if he were asking for a writing utensil instead of demanding a powerful scroll.

Not wanting to resort to violence just yet, Sasuke decided it was best to keep him talking. "I don't think you thought this plan through."

"Oh?" Ichimaru inquired, smile not slipping an inch.

"You decide to attack us in Soul Society, a place that is crawling with shinigami. I'm sure the captains that have been pursuing us we'll have no trouble catching up and coming to our aid, you being a mutual enemy and all," Sasuke explained, unable to keep the smug look off of his face.

"Sasuke's right," Ichigo said. "You think people won't notice when we start kicking your asses?"

"Maybe we should go easy on them. It's not their fault they're idiot henchmen who have trouble formulating a coherent th—" Sasuke broke off mid-sentence as a large explosion in the distance shook the ground.

When the dust cleared, he could see that one of the larger buildings was in the process of collapsing. Thick, black smoke rose into the air, and piercing wail of alarms could be heard all around. The building next to it suddenly followed suit, and he felt the percussive boom of the delayed shock wave deep in his chest. More smoke rose ominously.

Ichimaru gave a cheerful shrug in the direction of the explosions. "That's why no one will be bothering us while we do business. We have no trouble following through with a plan. The three of us aren't the only ones in Soul Society right now. Everyone will be too busy dealing with that disaster now instead of coming to help you."

Swallowing a nasty curse, Sasuke traded glances with Ichigo. Considering all they'd been doing since arriving in Soul Society was react to Aizen's machinations, it had been stupid to assume his lackeys would come after them without a solid plan. How could these people really be so many steps ahead of them, though? It was Aizen's fault he had been taken to Soul Society, but had he anticipated that Sasuke would have kept the scroll on his person?

Either way, it was clear now that they were on their own for the time being.

"Now, Uchiha-san," Ichimaru said politely, once they'd had time for the situation to sink in, "will you give up the scroll willingly? Or will we have to resort to bloodshed?"

Sasuke leveled his gaze with Ichimaru. The last battle he had gone all out in was against Madara, if you could call that a battle. He hadn't been very successful. Before that, he had encountered his old team. Blinded with rage, he had nearly killed Sakura. Had Naruto not intervened, he was certain he would have forfeited any chance to ever be accepted back to Konoha. Sasuke tensed. Reliving those memories was almost like watching himself in an out of body experience.

"I'm not giving the scroll up, no matter what you throw at me," Sasuke said.

Ichigo drew his zanpakuto and stepped in front of Sasuke. "And you'll have to get through me if you want to get to Sasuke."

"What are you doing?" Sasuke demanded.

"Like you said, they can't get the scroll no matter what." Ichigo settled into guard position. "I'll hold them off. You need to get out of here."

"I'm not going to let you have all the fun," Sasuke retorted. "And I'm not going to let you get yourself killed protecting me or the scroll."

"Pfft. As if I'd let myself get killed. I'll be fine. Just go."

Sasuke shook his head. "If anything, I should be protecting you. With everything you and your family have done for me, I could never face them if I let you die over something that concerns me alone."

"There you go again with that alone crap," Ichigo said, shooting him a frustrated glare. "How many times do I have to tell you? You're not alone anymore. You're my friend. Your business is my business. So stop acting so stubborn, and let me help you!"

"Well, I'm not leaving." Sasuke squared his feet.

"Neither am I." Another long stare, then Ichigo shrugged. "I guess we'll just take them on together."

"All right, fine."

"Fine," Ichigo said.

"Jesus, are you two done bickering?" Grimmjow said disgustedly. "I thought we were here to fight powerful men, not a pair of sissy, emotional little girls."

Sasuke and Ichigo focused their glares on Grimmjow, but Sasuke's quickly turned speculative. To be successful, they had to be quick and efficient. Any misstep could get the both of them killed.

Fortunately, they weren't completely unprepared. During the time Sasuke and Ichigo had been training together, Urahara had pointed out that they spent all their time fighting each other, and no time working together as a team. To remedy this, they had spent more than a couple days fighting two-on-one, Sasuke and Ichigo against Urahara. Now was the time to see if their hard work would pay off.

"All right, you know what to do?" Ichigo asked quietly.

Sasuke nodded, and without skipping a beat, formed a hand seal and muttered some words. Three shadow clones appeared beside him. Barely any time had passed before they all went after their respective targets, one clone per enemy. Sasuke drew his own sword, and after focusing chakra to his hand, prepared to strike with one of his more powerful Chidori attacks.

"Chidori Nagashi!"

Slamming his sword into the ground, Sasuke sent the electrical currents of Chidori towards his opponents, who were still occupied with the shadow clones. Smoke from one of the shadow clones disappearing obscured his vision, and before he could complete his attack, a sword came towards him.

Sasuke narrowly dodged Grimmjow's blade, landing on the roof of a nearby building.

"Looks like you're not just all talk," Grimmjow said, a smile creeping onto his face.

Ichimaru and Ulquiorra joined Grimmjow, and Sasuke wasted no time in preparing his second attack. Grabbing three shuriken from his weapon's pouch, Sasuke threw them at his attackers. The shuriken flew past all three of them.

"You missed!" Grimmjow laughed, taunting Sasuke. "How the hell can you miss when we're right in front of you!"

Sasuke smirked slightly, watching the shuriken serve their true purpose. As the words came out of Grimmjow's mouth, the shuriken began encircling the three of them, and Sasuke closed his fist, tightening the chakra strings he had attached to the shuriken, binding all three together.

"What the—?"

"Now, Ichigo!" Sasuke yelled, jumping back.

Ichigo nodded, his zanpakuto glowing softly. Sasuke had been sufficiently distracting to allow Ichigo enough time to prepare his attack without interruption.

"Getsuga Tensho!"

Ichigo brought his sword down, and Sasuke watched the immense power of Ichigo's technique destroy everything in its path, creating a uniquely shaped crater he had seen plenty of times when training at Urahara's.

Sasuke appeared next to Ichigo, unable to see the damage yet through all of the smoke and dust floating in the air.

"Did we get them?" Sasuke asked.

"I don't know. Seems unlikely. Hopefully we wounded them a bit," Ichigo replied.

That next instant, Sasuke sensed a presence behind them. He grabbed Ichigo, leaping back before either could get pierced by the zanpakuto aimed at them. Still in the air, Sasuke was caught off guard when the sword increased in length and barrelled straight towards him at a rapid pace. Breaking away from Ichigo, Sasuke used his own sword to keep the zanpakuto from piercing him, but the force of it kept driving him back further and further into the air.

Feeling another presence close by, Sasuke turned around but was unable to stop himself from running straight into Ulquiorra. He grabbed Sasuke's arms, immobilizing him.

"You lack technique. Your attacks are rough and aren't powerful enough to do any real damage," Ulquiorra said, using his free hand to stab Sasuke in the chest with his zanpakuto. "You're uninteresting and expendable."

"How about this, then?" Sasuke asked from behind, Chidori activated in his hand. The shadow clone that had been stabbed disappeared, and Sasuke attacked Ulquiorra point blank in the chest, Chidori sending him straight to the ground through one of the buildings.

Sasuke harumphed as he landed on the nearest rooftop. His techniques didn't lack power. He looked over at Ichigo, who was currently fighting a pretty even battle with Grimmjow. Sasuke watched Ichimaru join in, however, and the battle became one-sided pretty quickly. A hard punch from Grimmjow sent Ichigo flying through the air, crashing into the ground.

"Dammit!" Sasuke cursed out loud, rushing to Ichigo's aid.

Before he got there, a figure appeared in the air above the ground where Ichigo had fallen. Sasuke's sharingan barely caught the movement, it was so fast. It didn't take him long to realize that Ichigo had activated his bankai. He appeared next to Sasuke in an instant.

"You all right?" Sasuke asked.

"I'm fine, don't worry," Ichigo said. "Let's end this."

He nodded. "I couldn't agree more."

Ichimaru, Ulquiorra, and Grimmjow appeared across from them. Sasuke was satisfied to see that Ulquiorra looked pretty injured from his attack. He checked his chakra reserves. They needed to end this battle soon, or he'd be out of chakra in no time.

Sasuke raised his sword. "How about we take them on back to back?"

"As long as you can keep up," Ichigo said with a smirk.

"Don't make this a competition," Sasuke shot back. "You know it always ends in me winning."

Their enemies launched a simultaneous attack then, and there was no more time for bickering. By guarding each other's back, they were able to stand their ground against the three-pronged attack. As the fight pressed on, however, an uneasy feeling started to creep over Sasuke. A dark presence seemed to be right there in the thick of it, but it wasn't coming from any of their attackers.

Sasuke noticed Ichigo starting to waver. At first he thought Ichigo had finally detected the presence as well, but the reaction was too strong. What was going on? Ichigo had fought Sasuke numerous times with his bankai and hadn't had any issues.

A swift kick from Ichimaru sent the distracted Ichigo flying through the air, taking Sasuke with him as they crashed onto another rooftop.

"What's wrong with you?" Sasuke asked, lifting himself up. "You never have any trouble when we spar with your bankai activated. You've lasted way longer than this."

The dark energy kept growing, and he realized suddenly that it was coming from Ichigo. What the hell was happening?

"Ichigo? Ichigo! Answer me!" Sasuke said, panicking a little. Ichigo was propped up by his arms, but he couldn't see his face.

"Sas…uke… Run…"

The voice was coming from Ichigo, but it didn't sound like him at all.

"What's going on? Why do you—"

Sasuke was cut off by a sudden flash of movement. He couldn't stop the sword from slashing across his body and sending blood arcing through the air. None of it surprised him more, however, than the fact that the attack had come from none of their enemies, but from Ichigo himself.

Sasuke shook his head through a haze of pain. It wasn't Ichigo. His face was covered by a hollow mask. Ichigo had explained to Sasuke how a darker version of himself resided inside of his being, waiting for Ichigo to slip up so it could take over. He called it his inner hollow. Sasuke didn't know if he'd be of much help right now. This was one battle that Ichigo had to face alone.

"You talk too much," Ichigo said in that alien voice as he brought his sword to bear again, "so why don't you just lie there while I have a little fun!"

"What the hell is going on, Ichimaru!" Grimmjow demanded. "You never told us that we'd be dealing with something like this! Why is his face covered in a hollow mask?"

Ichimaru had no time to respond. Ichigo launched himself at them in a blur of motion, attacking all three with vicious, mindless fury.

Now that his life wasn't in immediate danger, Sasuke took the time to assess his wound. It was deep, starting from his top left shoulder and going across his body to his lower right abdomen. It didn't seem to have hit any major arteries or organs, but when he tried to move it caused him to bleed even more. If he wasn't careful, he could pass out from blood loss. Or worse, die from it.

"Damn," he cursed softly, feeling a little light-headed already.

Thankfully, Ichigo wasn't having any issues right now, aside from the fact that he wasn't himself. Sasuke sat up a bit, wincing when the blood from his wound gushed harder as he shifted. He needed Ichigo to snap out of it, or they'd both be dead in no time.

A figure appeared behind him, knocking Sasuke's sword away before he had a chance to grab it. He placed a foot over Sasuke's stomach and applied slow and deliberate pressure on the open wound. Sasuke gasped at the blinding pain.

"This has gone on long enough," Ulquiorra said, reaching into Sasuke's weapon's pouch and extracting the scroll.

Sasuke reached feebly to stop him, but Ulquiorra made a noise of impatience and pressed his foot harder into Sasuke's stomach. His vision whited out for a second from the extreme pain. A yell in the distance brought Sasuke back to his senses, and he turned his head, looking for the source.

Ichigo was struggling, but not with Grimmjow or Ichimaru. It looked like he was trying to regain control. Sasuke hoped for Ichigo's sake that he would.

Ulquiorra took his foot off of Sasuke's stomach and disappeared, and Sasuke let the pure adrenaline coursing through his body give him the strength to lift himself up. Ulquiorra had the scroll, but if he didn't help Ichigo, who was vulnerable right now, he would probably never forgive himself.

Jumping to the rooftop where the battle was, Sasuke watched Ichigo break the hollow mask that was covering his face, the pieces fading away into nothing. He looked at Sasuke for a brief moment, relief shining on his face, before promptly passing out.

"Wonderful," Sasuke muttered, standing over the unconcious Ichigo.

"I have the scroll," Ulquiorra said, appearing next to Ichimaru.

"Excellent," Ichimaru replied, accepting the scroll from him and tucking it away.

Sasuke didn't know what to do at this point. He was drained of his chakra and dizzy from blood loss. Pretty soon he'd be unconscious, just like Ichigo. He couldn't let that happen. Not until he knew they were both out of harm's way. Maybe now that Ichimaru had what he wanted, they would just leave.

"You know, this would have been so much easier had you just opted to give up the scroll at the beginning," Ichimaru said.

"I've never liked doing things the easy way," Sasuke replied, hands slick with blood as he applied pressure to the worst of his injuries.

Ichimaru shrugged. "Since you're no longer of any use, I don't see why we shouldn't just dispose of you now."

Sasuke narrowed his eyes. Of course the opposite of what he wanted to happen would happen instead. He glanced over at Ichigo. It didn't look like he would be waking up any time soon. Ulquiorra stepped forward, reaching his arm out towards Sasuke and Ichigo.

Sasuke saw a tiny green dot form at the tip of his outstretched index finger and expand at an alarmingly fast pace. He knew, distantly, that if he didn't do something, they would both die right here. Sasuke closed his eyes. Mustering up all that he could in such a short amount of time, he opened his eyes, activating his Mangekyou sharingan and throwing up a defense at the same moment Ulquiorra fired his green energy blast at them.

Sasuke felt the warmth of the blood trailing down both of his eyes as Susanoo stood before him, blocking the blast completely with its shield. Though relieved that he had reacted in time, Sasuke knew he was at his limit. Susanoo would only last for maybe another minute, two maximum. He wouldn't be able to deflect a second attack, if there was one.

"You are certainly an interesting one, Uchiha Sasuke," Ichimaru said. "Unfortunately, the reinforcements that you were counting on earlier are about to arrive. I'm sure we'll cross paths again in due time. Your reflexes are what saved your life. You might not be so lucky the next time."

A portal appeared and they all entered it one by one, with Grimmjow lingering behind. Sasuke hadn't noticed it before, but he looked pretty badly injured. Must have been from when Ichigo's inner hollow had taken over.

"You tell Kurosaki Ichigo that this isn't over," Grimmjow snarled, before entering the portal and disappearing.

Once they were gone, Sasuke deactivated his sharingan completely, and Susanoo disappeared. Sasuke's adrenaline was beginning to die down. His breathing became heavier and the pain of his wounds hit him with fresh intensity. Sasuke glanced down at the ground. He was standing in a pool of his blood. How was he still standing? Better yet, how was he still conscious?

Not for long, though. His vision was starting to go in and out, dimming and brightening in time with the waves of pain. Sasuke looked up. Figures in the distance were approaching, fast. Sasuke hoped that Rukia had been able to convince them that he wasn't Aizen's subordinate, especially since they had come dangerously close to killing him and Ichigo.

Unable to support himself with his legs any longer, Sasuke collapsed to the ground.

His eyes became heavy, and Sasuke's last conscious thought was that it was really annoying, how he kept ending up like this.

The low murmur of voices woke Sasuke from what felt like a deep sleep. Instinctually feeling his eyes and face before opening them, Sasuke deemed it safe to open them and figure out where he was. It looked like a standard room. Was he still in Soul Society? He didn't even know.

"Morning, sunshine," Rukia said with a teasing smile.

Sasuke grunted in reply. He hadn't even noticed her sitting next to the bed he was in. Slightly more alert now, he noted that there were more people in the doorway talking in hushed voices. They looked like shinigami, so he assumed that he really was still in Soul Society. On a positive note, he wasn't behind bars. At least not yet.

"Here, drink some water."

Sasuke accepted the cup of water from Rukia and took a couple sips. He was really getting sick of being injured all the time. It seemed like lately he'd been spending more time in hospital beds than he ever had back in his world.

"Do you have it?" he asked, surprised at how hoarse his voice sounded.

Rukia nodded, and discreetly pulled out a tiny scroll, showing it to him. Sasuke let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding in. It was safe. He didn't know how long it would take for Aizen or Madara or whoever to realize that the scroll they had was a decoy he had created for situations such as the one that had just presented itself. Sasuke was a shinobi. If he wasn't stealthy and sneaky, then he wasn't doing his job. It wasn't just the bad guys who could think ahead more than two or three steps.

Sasuke cleared his throat a little bit. "We'll need to figure out a safe place to put it, but not right now."

Rukia nodded and put it away. The fewer who knew about the real scroll, the better. Sasuke didn't trust many people, if any, in Soul Society. It didn't matter what world he was in, corruption existed everywhere. Aizen could have easily bought or corrupted other shinigami to be his eyes and ears. The question was, how far up the hierarchy did it go? Pretty far, apparently, Sasuke reminded himself, considering Aizen had had not one, but two other captains on his side when he revealed his true self.

Sasuke frowned. "Where's Ichigo?"

"He's around here somewhere. His injuries weren't very severe, so he's been doing a bit of damage control. He was able to convince enough of the captains that you weren't acting as a spy, though it wasn't hard. Apparently, they saw you deflect a cero blast with some sort of shield. Ichimaru escaped just before they arrived."

Sasuke tried to sit up—then winced. There was the pain he was so familiar with these days. He was covered in bandages that stretched over his abdomen and chest. He was also wearing the same outfit that Rukia and Ichigo wore when they went out to fight hollows. In fact, it was what he saw every other shinigami wearing, save for some minor modifications for some. Perhaps it was the only type of clothing the place had available.

Rukia swatted him. "Your wounds, on the other hand, were pretty bad. You had already lost a lot of blood by the time we arrived, but the captain of the Fourth Division was able to fix you up. You're going to have to take it easy for a while, though. There might be some scarring as well. It was a pretty deep wound."

Sasuke started to sit up fully, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and ignoring Rukia's protests.

"Didn't I just tell you to take it easy?"

"It's fine, I know my limits," Sasuke replied.

He wanted to talk to Ichigo. Not to mention he was in yet another foreign world, and he didn't want to appear weak in front of people he didn't know. He gingerly made his way to the door only to find himself face to face with a woman. He recognized her as one of the captains from his brief meeting when he was being accused of being a spy.

She smiled at him. "I'm glad to see you're feeling better. I'm Unohana Retsu, captain of the Fourth Division, and the one who healed your wounds. Would you mind sitting back down so I can examine you?"

"It's okay. I feel fine," Sasuke said.

"Please, sit down," she said pleasantly, gesturing towards the bed.

Sasuke didn't know what had just happened, but the air around them suddenly became charged with tension. Wary now, he sat back down without a word. The tension evaporated almost immediately. This woman, whoever she was, was scary.

After removing the top half of Sasuke's clothing, Unohana began taking off the bandages. Sasuke stared at the wound once all the bandages were gone. It was definitely one of the more severe injuries that he'd received. Rukia had mentioned there might be scarring, but for the most part it had been treated very well.

Unohana began smearing a thick, cool paste with a heavy medicinal smell directly over the gash. It stung as she rubbed it in, but Sasuke didn't voice his discomfort.

"Jeez, who did that?" Ichigo asked, standing in the doorway.

Sasuke was about to crack a smile, thinking Ichigo was joking, but when he looked at him, it became obvious that Ichigo was being dead serious. Did that mean that he didn't remember what happened when his inner hollow took over? The thought was sobering. Sasuke didn't want to have to break the news to Ichigo that it was his fault he had lost so much blood.

"Last time I saw you, you were dead weight," Sasuke said jokingly, trying to change the subject.

"Yeah, I know. Sorry about that. I guess it's thanks to you we're both walking away with minor injuries. Well, my injuries are minor at least. Seriously, which one got you? Ichimaru, right? His zanpakuto can be pretty dangerous, since it can increase in length."

Sasuke looked down. He wasn't sure he wanted to do this in front of other people. He'd rather let Ichigo know privately before anyone else found out the truth. Unohana finished replacing the old bandages with new ones and stood up.

"Everything seems to be healing nicely," she said as she walked over to a sink and began washing her hands. "You're a rather stubborn boy. There were moments where I thought we might lose you, but you hung on. Take a week or two to let the sword wound heal completely. It's what will take the longest."

"All right. Thank you," Sasuke said, making an effort to be polite to the person who had most likely saved his life, though the boy comment made him twitch slightly.

She gave him a smile and nod, and then left the room.

"Hey, Rukia," Sasuke said. "Do you mind if I talk with Ichigo privately for a minute?"

"Sure, I'll be back in a bit," Rukia said, eyeing him strangely.

Once she was gone, Sasuke turned to Ichigo. How was he supposed to say this? It wasn't like he blamed Ichigo for anything. He hadn't been himself at the time, Sasuke understood that. He just hoped Ichigo would be able to move past this without any drama.

"So, you asked me who gave me this injury," Sasuke said, trying to find a way to ease into the truth. "It wasn't Ichimaru."

"You can't expect me to believe it was Grimmjow. That guy's all brute force, no technique. Was it Ulquiorra?" Ichigo asked.

"No, neither of them," Sasuke replied.

Confusion flashed over Ichigo's face; he crossed his arms. "Then who was it? Don't tell me one of those assholes from Eleventh Division took a cheap shot when the rest of Soul Society finally bothered to show up."

"When your inner hollow takes over, do you not remember anything that it does? Any of its actions?" Sasuke asked.

Ichigo's brow furrowed. "No, I—wait a minute. Are you saying that I did this?"

"Well…yeah," Sasuke said. "But listen, I don't blame you or anything. It wasn't your fault."

Ichigo paled. "Not my fault? I'm the reason you nearly died from blood loss, how the hell is that not my fault?" He shook his head. "I just—I can't believe—I'm so sorry."

"Really," Sasuke said quickly, "it's no big deal."

"It is to me!" Ichigo yelled, spinning away to face the wall. His fists were clenched like he wanted to punch through it. "I can't believe I let myself lose control so easily. That it resulted in me harming you. Hell, I nearly killed you, and you're supposed to be able to trust me!"

Ichigo's fist lashed out and hit the wall. Silence stretched out a second too long, and he withdrew his fist without meeting Sasuke's eyes. "Shit. Sorry, I just—look, I can't do this right now. I gotta go take a walk."

Ichigo stormed out of the room, shoulders tense. He obviously needed time to cool off. Sasuke could understand his frustration. Even though he had changed his goals, his motivation, Sasuke still felt the remnants of the hatred inside of him, the temptation of that familiar, almost comforting state of mind which pushed him to stay on the offensive all of the time, because that was the best way never to be hurt again. It would never fully go away, he knew, because in many ways, it was much easier than caring.

The door burst open, snapping Sasuke out of his thoughts, and Rukia entered the room, looking concerned.

"What's wrong with Ichigo? He completely ignored me and looked really upset. What did you guys talk about?"

Sasuke told Rukia about Ichigo's inner hollow taking over at the end of the fight, and that he didn't remember attacking Sasuke. As he explained, her concern turned to understanding. When he was finished, she told Sasuke about a similar incident that had occurred when Ichigo fought her brother, Byakuya.

"I guess the common denominator is that when the situation gets dire, that's when Ichigo becomes most vulnerable in getting taken over by his inner hollow," Sasuke theorized.

"That sounds correct." She chewed her lip, staring out the open door. "He can't let this upset him too much. That will only make it easier for his inner hollow to take control."

"Maybe there's something Urahara knows to help him maintain control of himself," Sasuke said.

"Perhaps," Rukia said. She tore her gaze away from the door and met his eyes. "For now, we should just let him cool off."

Sasuke nodded in agreement. He was surprised at the relief he felt, now that someone else knew about the problem. He stood up, ignoring his body's protests. "Am I allowed to explore? Or will I get apprehended the minute I try to leave this building?"

Rukia laughed softly. "I think you'll be all right. Everyone is too busy fixing what was damaged. Thankfully, no one sustained any major injuries when the buildings collapsed. It seems that Aizen prioritized flash over lethality."

"All right, then," Sasuke said. "I'm tired being cooped up in one place. I'm itching to stretch my legs. I won't cause any more damage, I promise."

"Try to include yourself in that promise, because at this point, I'm more worried about that than you damaging some random building," she said dryly. Then she gave an apologetic shrug. "I'd join you, but I promised my brother that I'd meet him for lunch."

"Okay. See you later, then," Sasuke replied, walking out of the room.

"See you!" Rukia said, taking off in the opposite direction.

Sasuke took a few wrong turns down the unfamiliar hallways before finally locating the entrance. Honestly, he was looking forward to having some time to himself to gather his thoughts and be alone for a little while. Sasuke was a solitary person. Sure, he had had teammates, but he rarely ever participated in events that didn't relate directly to missions or his own personal objectives. His family's murder had taught him the bitter lesson of how to survive on his own. Relying on other people was not something that came naturally to him.

Sasuke sucked in the fresh air as he exited the building. He never took the outdoors, or sunlight, for granted anymore. Being underground for so long could do that to a person.


Sasuke heard someone clear their throat, and turned to the source of the noise. A boy was leaning against the building he was just in. He vaguely remembered seeing him when he and Ichigo had first encountered captains after their failed attempt to escape. That couldn't be right though, he couldn't be a captain. He was a kid.

"Can I help you?" Sasuke asked.

"Doubtful," the kid said in a casually dismissive way that immediately set his teeth on edge. "Did you think you would be allowed to just roam Soul Society after having such serious charges placed on you?"

Sasuke frowned at him. "I was told by Rukia that most captains believe me to be no threat, since I fought with Ichimaru Gin and his subordinates."

"True, but that doesn't mean you're trustworthy. Captain Commander Yamamoto wants you under surveillance. I was the lucky person to get assigned to the job."

Judging by his tone Sasuke could tell he wanted to be anywhere but here.

"Wait, are you telling me that you're here to babysit me?" Sasuke asked incredulously.


"This has to be some joke," Sasuke said. "You're a damn kid, for crying out loud."

The boy fixed him with a laser-sharp glare of concentrated hostility. "I happen to be a captain."

"Bullshit. Did someone put you up to this? Rukia, I bet," Sasuke said.

"My name is Hitsugaya Toushiro, Captain of the Tenth Division. This is not some prank. I may look young to you, but that is hardly the case in a place like Soul Society."

His words were short and concise, and although he didn't actually end his sentence with "you moron," it was more than implied in his tone. Obviously, Sasuke had struck a nerve with the kid, but he wasn't exactly thrilled about this whole situation either. It seemed like the kid was telling the truth, though. Was he really as powerful as the other captains?

"So, what? You're a child prodigy or something?" Sasuke asked.

"I've been called that, yes," Hitsugaya replied.

"And you have to escort me wherever I go?"

"Yes," Hitsugaya said, visibly annoyed. "Are you finished, or do you have more questions you feel the need to ask me twice?"

It was Sasuke's turn to bristle. This kid had some nerve. He was tempted to just make a break for it and not deal with this at all, but the dull pain that throbbed from his injuries forced him to reconsider.

"Fine," Sasuke said, his voice strained. "Where will we be going?"

"Where do you want to go?" Hitsugaya asked impatiently.

"I don't care," Sasuke said stubbornly, crossing his arms.

Hitsugaya studied him for a moment. "Then I know a place we can go."

"Where are we?" Sasuke asked.

They were in room. Actually, it looked more like an office, now that he thought about it. The walk here from the hospital wing had been completely silent. Sasuke was annoyed that he had to be escorted at all times, and he didn't appreciate the implication that he was an idiot for asking a few questions. People like that always got the silent treatment from him, childish as it may sound. Fair's fair—his escort was a kid, after all.

"This is my office," Hitsugaya replied. "Since you had no preference over where we went, I decided I may as well get some paperwork done while I look after you."

Sasuke contemplated his sudden urge to kick the wall. Unfortunately, he'd made that promise to Rukia. "Let me get this straight. I have to stay here while you do paperwork?"

Hitsugaya tilted his head. "Do you have a listening comprehension problem, or do you just like repeating what I say in question form? If the former, then, yes, that's what I said."

Sasuke's fingers twitched for kunai knives that he wasn't carrying. He counted to ten silently, then threw himself down on the only couch that was in the room. Great. He'd traded from being cooped up in a hospital room to being cooped up in an office with a little brat. It was a lateral move, at best. This kid was pushing all of his buttons, and they hadn't even spoken that much.

"Oi! Captain Hitsugaya! Are you in here?"

The door swung open, and a women entered the room. She wore the same outfit as every other shinigami, only hers seemed to be modified in such a way that her enormous breasts were basically about to fall out. Sasuke felt like a pervert, but how could you look at this woman and not have your eyes drawn immediately to her breasts? She was flaunting them in a way that obviously said she wanted people to be looking. Sasuke wasn't sure who had bigger breasts, her or Tsunade. It was a close call.

"Matsumoto!" Hitsugaya said severely. At least he was an equal opportunity brat. "Where have you been? You were supposed to have all of this paperwork filed already!"

"I'm sorry, captain! I was a little preoccupied," Matsumoto apologized.

Hitsugaya sighed. "That's always your excuse."

Sasuke shifted on the couch, attracting Matsumoto's attention. "Oh? Who do we have here?"

"This is Uchiha Sasuke, the boy who was accused of being a spy," Hitsugaya said.

Sasuke stood abruptly, feel himself nearing some limit of self-control. "Boy? Who the hell do you think you are, calling me a boy?"

"Oh, forget about him. He's always grumpy," Matsumoto said with a dismissive wave in Hitsugaya's direction. "It's nice to meet you! I'm Matsumoto Rangiku, Lieutenant of the Tenth Division."

Sasuke shook Matsumoto's hand, and she wasted no time plopping down next to him on the couch. His eyes were drawn inescapably to her chest while she poured some liquid into a cup and proceeded to hand it to him. He looked up guiltily.

"You look like you could use this," she said, placing the cup into his hand.

"What is it?" Sasuke asked.

"A little something to take the edge off," Matsumoto replied.

Sasuke glanced back at the clear liquid. He had taken painkilling medicine earlier that day, but it was true, his chest and stomach still ached with a dull pain when he moved. He'd thought he'd managed to keep if off his face, but apparently not. This looked nothing like the painkillers Unohaha had given him, but nothing was normal in this place.

Enough time had passed that Matsumoto was giving him a quizzical look. He gave an apologetic shrug and downed it in a single gulp.

He fought to keep the surprise off his face when it burned as it went down his throat. He didn't particularly care for the taste, either. Too much sweetener added in an attempt to make it palatable. While he waited for it to kick in, Sasuke looked over at Hitsugaya across the room. He was ignoring them both completely, focusing intently on the stacks of paperwork that covered his desk. Some were so high you couldn't even see his head over them.

"Have another," Matsumoto said, pouring more into his empty cup.

Sasuke raised his eyebrows, but downed it a second time. The liquid went down easier this time. He experienced a moment of pure confusion as he watched Matsumoto drink out of her own cup, since she didn't look injured. Maybe hers just weren't visible to the eye. He caught his eyes this time before they could drop to the part of her anatomy that most certainly was visible, but he still felt a flush creep over his face.

The next few couple minutes seemed to fly by. The dull throbbing pain that Sasuke had been feeling all day had nearly vanished. He was impressed in spite of himself; this stuff was fast-acting. It couldn't be pure medicine, more likely some kind of herb-based tonic, but it definitely did the trick.

When Matsumoto poured the both of them another cup, and he drank without missing a beat. His whole body was kind of hot, and his thoughts felt slow, but the side effects weren't entirely unpleasant. He felt…good. Loose and relaxed. His injuries didn't bother him at all now. Hitsugaya didn't even bother him, anymore.

Every time he looked down at his cup it was filled again. Sasuke had lost count of how he'd had. He looked over at Matsumoto. She looked as relaxed as he was, though her face looked a little flushed.

"This stuff is amazing," Sasuke said, his words sounding strange to him.

"Yeah, it's the best!" Matsumoto exclaimed, sprawling out onto the couch.

Sasuke had the sudden urge to go to the bathroom, and stood up from the couch. Everything felt like it was spinning, though, and he sat back down. Actually, it was more like he fell back down onto the couch.

"Matsumoto," Sasuke said, his words slurred.

"What is it, Sas—Sasuke?" she asked, hiccupping.

"I really need to pee, like really bad."

"I'll take you!" Matsumoto yelled, grabbing Sasuke's arm and pulling him up off of the couch.

Everything was spinning again, and Sasuke had to lean on Matsumoto to stay upright, though she wasn't very sturdy either. They left the office, and Sasuke heard no protests from Hitsugaya.

Matsumoto showed him to the bathroom, and Sasuke went in. After taking care of business, he looked at himself in the mirror, grabbing onto the counter for support. His face looked flushed, like Matsumoto's.

"Sasuke! Come on! I'll give you a tour!"

Sasuke exited the bathroom and was pulled away immediately by Matsumoto. Though his thoughts were sluggish, a part of him was still capable of putting two plus two together and eventually coming up with four.

"Hey, Matsumoto," Sasuke said, "that stuff wasn't medicine, was it?"

She giggled and ruffled his hair, which normally would have annoyed him. "No, silly! It was sake."

Sasuke couldn't bring himself to care that he had somehow mistaken alcohol for medicine. He'd never had it before, so it wasn't like he could have known what it tasted like. Right now he felt too good, and it was like the part of him that rationalized this sort of thing was gone. He just didn't care.

"I've never had alcohol before," Sasuke said.

"You haven't?" Matsumoto sounded indignant on his behalf. "It's soooo good."

"I know, I know. But I'm underage, so don't tell anyone," Sasuke said, putting a finger to his lips.

"I won't tell, I promise! I was drinking before I came and visited you and Hitsugaya, so I'm a little drunk right now," Matsumoto said, giggling again.

"I think I'm drunk, too!" Sasuke replied, a goofy grin forming on his face.

"Wow, you must be a real lightweight, then."

For some reason that struck him as hilarious. He doubled over with laughter, which did hurt a little, so he leaned on her again. "I think I am!"

"Hey." She tugged on his sleeve. "Hey, look over there! You see those two guys walking? They're both captains. The white-haired guy is Ukitake Jushiro, and the other guy is Kyoraku Shunsui. Ukitake is sick almost all the time, and Kyoraku is kind of a pervert. He hits on women all the time."

Sasuke was hit with the urge to volunteer some information himself. "I know a guy who's a pervert. He used to be my old sensei. He always has these dirty books with him and he reads them all the time."

"Let's go over and say hi!" Matsumoto said, pulling on Sasuke's arm.

Sasuke shook his head. "We can't do that."

"Why not?"

"I can't let anyone know I'm drunk. That would be really bad. I've never gotten drunk before," Sasuke explained.

"Just don't say anything, you'll be fine," Matsumoto said.

Matsumoto grabbed his arm again and began to walk towards the two captains. Sasuke was having trouble focusing on either of them. The more they walked around, the more jumbled his thoughts became. He couldn't stop himself from saying stupid things. It's like he lost control of his mouth.

"Hey! Captain Ukitake! Captain Kyoraku!" Matsumoto waved them over.

"Lieutenant Matsumoto, how are you?" Ukitake said.

She flashed a wide smile. "I'm good! Just giving Sasuke here the tour."

"You're that boy—"

"Whoa, whoa, let me cut you off there," Sasuke said. "I'm really sick of people calling me a boy. A boy hasn't seen half the shit that I've seen. A boy didn't have his family murdered in front of him when he was eight years old. I may be sixteen but I'm no boy."

"You contradicted yourself," Kyoraku said, confused.

Sasuke blinked. "I'm sorry, what?"

"Forget about it, Sasuke," Matsumoto said, interrupting the conversation.

"Matsumoto, have the two of you been drinking?" Ukitake asked.

"No, no, no…nope," Sasuke said, popping the 'p' at the end. "Not me. I'm awesome right now."

Ukitake frowned. "Is that so? Matsumoto, let go of Sasuke's arm."

Sasuke pulled away from Matsumoto. "You don't believe me? See? I'm fine."

Unfortunately, he quickly found after losing his support that the spinning was too much, and then he was sitting on his ass all of the sudden.

"I meant to do that," Sasuke said, pulling himself up with great difficulty.

An arm grabbed him and lifted him up. Sasuke looked up at Kyoraku, who looked much more amused than Ukitake did at the moment.

"Matsumoto said you're a pervert. It's all right, though, 'cause my former sensei was one, too," Sasuke blurted out.

"Sasuke, be quiet!" Matsumoto shushed him.

"Why don't we take you back to where you're supposed to be," Kyoraku said. He raised an eyebrow at Matsumoto. "Which is?"

"If you don't know, then I'm not telling you. Just don't take me back to Hitsugaya's office. It was so boring there," Sasuke complained.

And then somehow they were back at the office. How did that happen? Hitsugaya was there, and so were Rukia and Byakuya. Kyoraku still held onto his arm, and he looked over and saw Matsumoto with Ukitake.

"Sasuke!" Rukia exclaimed. "There you are."

"Hey, Rukia! And hey, it's your brother, Byakuya. You know, your brother actually reminds me a lot of my brother. They're both so smug and arrogant. Although I'm not sure how much of it was an act whenever I encountered Itachi." He felt a small frown pull at his face before the good cheer returned. "That's another story, though that I won't bore you with the details."

"What happened to him?" Rukia asked, but she seemed to be talking to someone else.

"It seems as though Matsumoto thought it would be a good idea to offer Sasuke sake," Ukitake replied.

Rukia shot him a startled glance. "Sasuke, are you drunk?"

"It depends on your definition of drunk," he said reasonably. "I'm just expressing my opinions right now, and if that means I'm drunk then, yeah, I'm really drunk. Which is a really funny word when you say it over and over. Drunk, drunk—"

"Matsumoto! What were you thinking?" Hitsugaya yelled.

"What?" Matsomoto said, crossing her arms defensively and nearly setting her breasts free. Sasuke swallowed an inappropriate laugh. "He looked like he could use a drink. It really wasn't that much. He's a lightweight."

The spinning sensation that Sasuke had earlier was getting more and more intense. Sasuke could hear his name being spoken as everyone around him argued. The pleasant feeling remained, but he was really starting to feel nauseous. Everyone needed to stop arguing, fast, because it was making everything worse.

Sasuke gave an unsteady swallow. He was feeling sick now. Sasuke tried to pull away from Kyoraku, but the hold on his arm was too tight. Someone was standing in front of him. He wanted to warn them to get out of the way, but it was too late.

Bile rose from Sasuke's stomach to his throat and onto the floor. It didn't cover just the floor, however, but someone's feet as well. Sasuke looked up at Byakuya, who looked like he wanted to murder Sasuke at that exact moment.

"Oops," Sasuke said apologetically.

He was making a great impression so far.

Sasuke was back in his hospital room. After the incident that could only be politely called a catastrophe, he had been taken back to his room where he was given an IV to help sober him up faster. He almost wished he didn't remember what had happened, or the things he had said to people. Especially when he had thrown up on Byakuya. Not only was it severely embarrassing, how easily he had succumbed to the effects of alcohol, he now had upset quite a few people.

The worst part was that throughout all of this Ichigo had been absent the whole time. Nobody knew where he was.

He had to go find Ichigo. They needed to talk about what had happened. Ichigo had been too upset to listen earlier; Sasuke had to make him understand that he didn't blame Ichigo at all. This wasn't the first time he'd been hurt by a friend who wasn't entirely himself. When he had battled Naruto so long ago, on his way to join Orochimaru, he had seen a glimpse of what happened when the kyuubi took over, fueled by Naruto's emotions. Both were similar in that they were triggered by anger.

Anger. Such a powerful emotion. Sasuke knew that much.

No one had been around to check on Sasuke for some time now. He knew just getting up and leaving wasn't going to go over well with a lot of people, but Sasuke didn't care. He'd never been one to follow the rules.

There was a guard posted at the end of the hall, but he was no match for shinobi stealth. Sasuke evaded him and two more as he made his way to the exit. Once outside, he tried to figure out his next step for locating Ichigo. He could try to find his chakra signature, but Sasuke wasn't sure if Ichigo had one. Spiritual energy was different from chakra. Sasuke was able to feel spiritual energy to some degree, but to single it out specifically for one person was impossible for him right now. He would just have to rely on his tracking skills alone.

"Where do you think you're going?"

Sasuke's back was to the person who spoke, so thankfully they didn't see him cringe painfully, both at his slip in attention and at the identity of the speaker, who was absolutely the last person he wanted to encounter right now. Someone, somewhere must really hate him. Or maybe this was years' worth of bad karma coming due all at once.

"I need to find Ichigo," Sasuke replied, turning around to face Byakuya.

"Are you certain you feel capable of that?" Byakuya asked, voice frosty. "It appears to me that you are too weakened for such an…exhausting endeavor. Though I suppose it's to be expected from someone who can't even hold his own liquor."

Sasuke scowled. He could understand Byakuya's current malice towards him, but to damage his pride further was just plain cruel.

"He's been gone for a long time. I need to speak with him. So if you'll excuse me, I'll be on my way," Sasuke said, preparing to walk past Byakuya.

An outstretched hand kept him from going any further.

"Contrary to what my less attentive peers may have led you to believe, you are not allowed to simply wander whenever and wherever you desire. After your…unfortunate incident this afternoon, I am now in charge of monitoring you and your whereabouts," Byakuya said.

"Well, I'm going this way," Sasuke said, jerking his head in the intended direction. "Feel free to follow me."

Byakuya studied him with an unreadable expression. "And if I informed you that you are not allowed to roam Soul Society at all?"

"Then I'd say too bad, because I'm going this way," Sasuke replied, and without another word, leapt onto the roof of the nearest building.

Sasuke knew that Byakuya wasn't too far behind him as he began leaping from rooftop to rooftop. He had been trying to intimidate Sasuke, but it wasn't going to work on him. Byakuya was too much like Itachi. It made Sasuke uneasy thinking about all the similarities. In his drunken stupor, he was pretty sure that he mentioned it to him, even.

Sasuke winced at the memory. Probably the worst was letting it slip to people he didn't even know how his family was murdered. At least he hadn't mentioned anything vitally important. That was the only consolation.

Sasuke cleared his mind. What's done was done. He couldn't change anything now. What was important was for him to find Ichigo.

Closing his eyes, Sasuke tried to focus on finding some kind of energy signature to link with Ichigo. He had sparred enough times with Ichigo that he had a pretty good feel for his unique spiritual energy. He just wasn't sure he could find it the same way someone might sense chakra.

"You are having trouble locating Kurosaki," Byakuya observed.

Sasuke opened his eyes and shot him an irritated look. "You have a knack for stating the obvious."

"Curious. Hitsugaya says the same of you." Ignoring Sasuke's angry flush, he stared into the distance. "I could tell you where he is."

"I'm sure you could. The real question, however, is would you tell me," Sasuke said.

Byakuya made a sound of approval. "Perhaps you aren't as intellectually stunted as I have been led to assume."

Sasuke chose not to comment. It would do him no good to piss off Byakuya any more than he already had. All of the retorts he had formulated in his head in response to the particular statement would only make the situation worse.

Focus. He needed to focus.

Sasuke might not be able find Ichigo through conventional methods, but that didn't mean he couldn't try other methods. He had a pretty good grasp on Ichigo's personality, what kind of a guy he was. If Ichigo wanted to go somewhere to be alone to think, where would he go?

Sasuke looked at the center of Soul Society, observing the lone mountainous hill amidst all of the tall buildings.

"What is that?" Sasuke said, pointing to the mountain.

"Sokyoku Hill. It's where executions are carried out for the more established members of Soul Society."

Sasuke recognized the name now. Ichigo had mentioned it when he was telling Sasuke about Rukia's halted execution. That was where it had been held. If Ichigo were to go anywhere to blow off some steam or be alone to think, Sasuke thought Sokyoku Hill sounded like an excellent possibility.

Changing direction, Sasuke headed towards the center of Soul Society, hoping that his intuition proved right.