Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or Bleach. If I did I would have done more work with the settings in regard to Bleach. I mean, I know later on when single swings of swords can obliterate halves of cities it doesn't really matter what the properties of their settings are since it's all getting turned to rubble anyway, but still I believe my point stands.

Chapter 32: Rules of Nature


In Karakura Town, Shihouin Yoruichi was quite bored. In Naruto's absence she was more or less the next up to run Equilibrium, but there wasn't much of anything for her to do outside of preparing herself and the others for combat.

The other younger members of the group, Uryuu, Chad, and Orihime were training themselves and they really didn't need her help, not that she could help with their respective powers.

She wished that Orihime would focus more on learning practical combat techniques aside from defensive and healing ones, but you couldn't turn a lamb into an aggressive, effective killer. She was making massive strides in that department if nothing else.

Urahara was busy working on… something that was supposed to be important for later along with Tessai and his child helpers Ururu and Jinta, so this left Yoruichi generally all by herself.

Hidan was around, but with him it was kind of better to not think about what he did with his free time. Whatever it was involved a lot of loud death metal.

"…Should've gone to the Seireitei with Naruto and Tatsuki." Yoruichi mused to herself, lounging around in the bed of Naruto's quarters, "At least I could have done something useful involving the Soul Society even though I'm not on this mission."

She was in human form and was of course not wearing clothes. For what reason would she find the need to? She was in her boyfriend's room, where no one else ever went and no one else could really access without his permission.

And she sincerely doubted that Naruto would be averse in the slightest to knowing that she was naked in his room. He was usually rather enthusiastic about it and when they were 'together' they rarely went into her room.

To her surprise a knock came to the main door. Deciding to be silent and see if they would go away, she quit it when another knock came, realizing that most people around the base could sense her Reiatsu since she hadn't been actively hiding it.

With a sigh she got up and went all the way to the front door of Naruto's quarters, opening it up for Uryuu to get a glimpse of her from the other side. She could have sworn that along with his face reddening, his glasses began to fog up. Aww, that was adorable, "Uryuu. What can I do for you?"

"P-Put some clothes on first of all." Trying to maintain his intellectual, unflappable demeanor was simply not in the cards, no matter how hard he tried.

"No." Yoruichi said, quite amused by his reaction. It wasn't as animated as Ichigo's always served to be, but it was something, "I am firmly within the barrier of my lover's living quarters. I wear clothes everywhere else around Mother Base when I'm not in cat form, so you should thank me for that. Now what do you need?"

"It's a legitimately serious conversation."

"Then come in."

"Not while you're like that!"

Rolling her eyes, Yoruichi shapeshifted into her black cat form and spoke to let Uryuu hear her now deeper voice to inform him that she had transformed, "You can stop doing your best impression of a tomato. Now if I have to ask you again I'll assume you want training and my first course of action would be to spar."

In other words, she'd take him down to the training room and subsequently take him to the woodshed.

Adjusting his glasses on his nose to save some face, Uryuu entered the room and watched Yoruichi hop up onto a cushy chair to relax on for the duration of the conversation. The Quincy youth decided that in order to get straight to the point of what he wanted, he had to be direct, "I want to offer resignation from Equilibrium."

Yoruichi was only slightly surprised, if only because Yoruichi knew that it wasn't because of anyone that was actually part of the group. She could guess as to why he felt this way, "You have a problem with being officially attached to us due to the connection to the Seireitei."

"I can't take orders from a group that works at the request of the Shinigami." The bespectacled young man said, "I was willing to let the past be the past in regards to what happened to my race, but it's easier said than done when I have their cloud hanging over my head every day. And I'm grateful for Orihime restoring my powers, but by the pride of the Quincy, I can't defer to the Gotei 13."

Waiting for him to finish, Yoruichi just observed him closely before getting down off of the chair and heading back to Naruto's bedroom again, grumbling to herself. Uryuu felt a great release of spiritual energy from the back and Yoruichi came back out with a robe on so that she didn't fluster Uryuu with her lady parts again, "…Alright, I'm certain we've said this already, but there is no connection between us to the Seireitei."

"Equilibrium is taking missions for them."

"We've taken some missions. Missions that we were going to do anyway." Yoruichi explained, arms crossed over her chest, "Because we have a common enemy, I convinced Naruto to bilk some resources out of the Seireitei. If you paid attention or were present for any meetings, Naruto never said we were with them or for them."

"You, Urahara-san, Tessai-san." Uryuu said, listing names, "And Ichigo. All of you have affiliation with the Gotei 13."

"We used to be affiliated with the Gotei 13, and we were exiled. And if you're talking about Ichigo's Substitute Shinigami status, how many times has that title actually come into play?" One reason Naruto wanted Ichigo to be a member was so Ichigo didn't wean dependence on the Seireitei. If he had his own support group and resources, he wouldn't be put in a position where he'd have to defer to them.

He'd have to defer to Naruto, at least until he could match him blow for blow since Naruto was the kind of boss that was more than willing to fistfight with an employee to assert his alpha status. But if Ichigo wanted to go his own way, Naruto would let him go once he proved that he could.

With that explained, Yoruichi continued, "When this was set up, Naruto truly did mean what he said. Balance. Have you noticed the way he treats the Arrancar as proof? Nel, Dondochakka, and Pesche? Hidan and Gaara? He doesn't destroy Arrancars for the sake of their being Hollows. He fights them because they're agents of Aizen that are looking to destroy existence."

That didn't explain Hidan though. Hidan only fought for the sake of killing, but he was an equal-opportunity killer. It didn't particularly matter to him who he was tearing asunder, so Naruto tended to use that by pointing him in the direction of the enemy.

As well as sending him into the Forest of Menos when he was really spoiling for a fight. There were plenty of feral Hollows willing to give him a free battle to the death.

Yoruichi walked over to Naruto's desk and opened a drawer to pull out and drop at least a dozen files on the table, "Missions sent to us from around the Soul Society, not just the Seireitei, under review for more peaceful moments." The ones that hadn't been flat-out refused and burned on the spot at least, "We don't work for the Seireitei."

"And if the Seireitei ever became an enemy again?"

"If you think he's afraid of fighting the Gotei 13 again, feel free to say that to his face when he gets back. I'm sure he'll only laugh at you for five minutes and maybe kick you through a few walls."

The man had already seen the world as he knew it basically end once. If there was anything that would possibly cause a sequel to that, there probably wasn't any enemy that he couldn't steel himself to fight to the bitter end against, especially an organization of warriors that he'd only known for less than a year.

"So is that settled?" Yoruichi asked, sitting on the front of the desk with one leg crossed over the other, "Would you like to finish reviewing these missions yourself and take one to see that we really don't take any marching orders from anyone else?"

"…How'd you get missions from the Soul Society to here if they didn't come from-?"

"Kuukaku."

"Oh."

"Any other questions or concerns?"

"…No. Thank you."

"Any time Uryuu."

XxX

(Meanwhile – Hueco Mundo)

The feeling of Harribel forcefully releasing her Reiatsu as a show of force buckled Tatsuki's knees in the midst of her retreat from the scene of the battle between her teacher and the 3rd Espada. Her balance momentarily compromised, she slipped and dropped to her knees in the sands of Hueco Mundo.

"Come on." Nel said, standing by Tatsuki as the human girl breathed heavily, eyes looking at the ground, "This isn't far enough to be considered safe for someone like you. If Harribel-san's power affects you this much, we're not far enough away yet."

"No." Tatsuki said, shaking her head as she got back up and wiped the sand from her legs. She pasted a shaky smile on her face to try and emphasize that she was alright, "I was just caught off-guard. I'm used to it now." She turned back in the direction they had left Naruto in, "I-I want to watch. I want to see sensei fight."

She wanted to see him fight? She was only just now able to stand up without her legs giving out underneath the Reiatsu of Naruto's to-be enemy, and she wanted to watch him in the middle of the fray? Why were humans inquisitive like that?

A Hollow would never willingly subject themselves to be within the presence of one, let alone two, figures that utterly dwarfed them in strength. It was instinctual. A survival trait that they carried with them in the kill-or-be-killed world of Hueco Mundo.

Nel figured that fighting an instinct like that was what it meant to be a human with free will and an intellect of one's own. The capacity for reason was diverse amongst people, and apparently Tatsuki's reasoning told her that she needed to watch the fight.

But Naruto had asked Nel to ensure Tatsuki's safety, which would be harder to do in the face of an oppressive battle between an Espada and… whatever Naruto was. She wanted no part in the conflict between the Arrancar and the forces opposing them.

"I wish I knew how to fly…" Tatsuki complained before turning around to run back to get a view of the battle. Nel could have easily intercepted her and kept on moving away from the battle, but she just followed along.

A part of her really wanted to see Naruto fight as well.

XxX

(With Naruto and Harribel)

On this occasion, no messing around would be done. He wasn't going to try and gauge Harribel's capabilities slowly, he was in Sage Mode from the start and he'd be trying to bring her down hard. He couldn't afford not to give her that respect.

"This! Is! Bullshit!" Naruto said, each word emphasized by Harribel missing another close swing of her Zanpakutou at him before using Sonido to try and catch him off-guard to attempt it again. Finally, Naruto managed to block a strike using the Raijin no Ken before shoving her away as hard as he could, sending her sliding across the sky yards and yards away with ease, 'Okay, so I'm physically stronger than her… thank Kami.'

If she had more 'muscle' than him he would have started feeling rather inadequate.

"Your energy makes you seem a lot more certain of yourself now than you were a second ago." Harribel said in the midst of her standoff with Naruto, "What has changed to make you believe you have more of a chance against me?"

"Three things." Naruto said, twisting the Raijin no Ken in his hand with the crackling, whirring sound coming from it being used as a bit of a mind game, "Number one, we're not in Karakura Town anymore. Number two, my adorable little student is out of the way, so she can't get caught in this by mistake."

"And the third?"

Naruto just shrugged as the weapon spawned a second blade covered in electricity on the other end, "I'm fighting someone that can take it." With that he held his sword up in the air while still spinning it, forcing a sound of thunder to emit from the tool, "Raiton: Arashi no Denwa (Lightning Release: Call of the Storm)!"

From the sky, lightning struck down onto Naruto's sword and made him vanish in a flash as Harribel covered her eyes and flew away from it. She had been expecting an actual attack, but he simply used it to disappeared. There was still thunder sounding out in the air though, 'He didn't commit suicide. This is some sort of technique.'

Actually, why were there so many clouds all of a sudden? There hadn't been that many until Naruto got struck by lightning.

Now why were the clouds changing shape into a gigantic version of Uzumaki Naruto's face? And why was it opening its mouth?

An ear-shattering clap of thunder rang out, and then came a massive bolt of lightning, shot straight from the mouth of the gathering of clouds right at the Tres Espada who couldn't believe the sheer manipulation of the weather, 'He's powerful enough to change the very climate conditions in a place such as Hueco Mundo?'

But he was just a human… wasn't he?

Putting the proverbial running shoes on, Harribel utilized Sonido as quickly and as often as she could to avoid the constant stream of massive electric death zapping the desert sands while trying to obliterate her. Her Hierro wasn't as strong as the other Espada, even some of the ones beneath her, so this would definitely have a great chance of destroying her if it made contact.

'I can't stop and block this attack, but how long can he keep it up for?' She had no idea just how much stamina Naruto had, but once again he was just human. He couldn't be that powerful. It was absolutely impossible to even consider a pure human with the power to stand up to and defeat an Espada-level Arrancar.

It wasn't stopping. She'd run away from it for at least two miles and it hadn't slowed or decreased in its intensity and power. He was burning a scar into the ground itself. The places where the lightning hit were literally superheated enough by the power behind it to harden the sand and force it to solidify together in the form of a fairly deep trench.

He had been completely honest. If he'd even dreamed of using that attack in Karakura Town, even if it hit his target quickly after the blast started, it would obliterate several city blocks.

'I don't have a choice. There's one weak point to this technique; the source.' Harribel thought as she charged a Cero with the use of her sword. Forcing herself to dodge the lightning by the thinnest of margins in order to turn around, she swung the blade directly at the cloud itself, "Cero (Hollow Flash)!"

A massive yellow beam, wider than any Cero Naruto had faced in battle thus far was shot up directly at the cloud, destroying it on contact and ending the jutsu… and hopefully Naruto as well.

But it was not to be as she could still feel his dense Reiatsu signature before he reappeared closer to the ground, still holding the Raijin no Ken.

"That was a great move." Naruto admitted, showing her a slightly singed left arm to let her know just how well-aimed her Cero had been, "I didn't know you all fired your Cero in different ways, I just thought they had different colors for different-…" He trailed off upon seeing what his own attack had done to her, "Whoa."

He hadn't dealt any substantial damage before she'd shut down his jutsu, but in making her final move to rid herself of the threat it was evident just how close it had come to truly hitting her.

The female Arrancar's jacket had been destroyed to the point where there was less than half with one sleeve remaining, and that was all. Most of the lower half of her face was her Hollow mask, and it spread down over her neck and down the top of her chest to right at her nipples, covering them. On the inside of her right breast she had the number three tattooed to signify her rank.

To be honest, he barely minded the bone mask covering the bottom portion of her face. Everyone had their quirks, physical and/or psychological.

"How did you survive my Cero?" Harribel asked, not paying the slightest bit of attention to her own state of undress, "I felt your energy centered perfectly in the center of that cloud. That was where you were. I didn't miss."

Naruto just tried to keep his eyes from peering at her breasts as best he could. There was no way he was going to tell her that he replaced himself with a Kage Bunshin that took over controlling the jutsu while he bailed out just in case to set up a secondary attack.

She ruined the plan when she destroyed the jutsu and the clone before he could ever even make his move. Since she could pick out the original's power easily from that point forward, there was no reason to risk an attack that she would see coming.

The output of power from that one jutsu was alarming however. From what she could deduce from that, he wasn't holding back. That was smart.

Well if he was presenting her with that courtesy it was only right to return the favor, especially since she believed she'd need attacks with more kick behind them to corner him and deal him devastating enough damage to register.

Naruto prepared to continue fighting once Harribel held her sword out in front of her own body with the blade pointing down. He then felt the spike of her yellow spiritual energy and literally saw it taking form outside of her body with his Rinnegan eyes before it all seemed to vanish back inside of her, "Fuck!"

He knew what that was for. He'd seen it time and time again when a Shinigami activated their Shikai and Bankai, and again when an Arrancar released its own Zanpakutou, and moved to intercept her before she could finish doing what he figured she was trying to attempt.

But the moment she absorbed all of that vast power inside of her body that she'd been projecting he knew it was too late to stop, even as he activated the just-as-quick abilities of the Asura Path to modify his body into the arm cannon that he aimed and fired a massive blast of chakra from, "Shura no Kou (Asura Attack)!"

"Ute, Tiburon (Destroy, Imperial Shark Princess)."

A powerful cyclone of water enclosed Harribel's entire body and deflected the blast in several directions before she cut her own way out of it with a single slash.

Harribel's Hollow mask now covered none of her face, taking over as a collar around her neck that connected down into an extension that covered her nipples similar to before. Trailing down her stomach from underneath her breasts were several bones, and she gained white shoulder pads on each shoulder like shark fins as well as ribbons connected to the backs of them. She gained a white miniskirt comprised of bone over some darker skirt underneath to cover what was left of her modesty, and a pair of white boots that went to her knees and white gloves that reached her elbows.

Her sword was odd, looking like a gigantic shark's tooth with gill markings, and a hilt that covered her hand protectively. It didn't look particularly sharp, but that didn't mean anything with the way that its edges were gleaming even in the strange light of Hueco Mundo.

'…So fine.' Naruto thought to himself at Harribel's change in attire, 'I can't believe I'm calling a Hollow-girl fine but damn it, it is what it is.'

"With the sacrifice made by Szayel Aporro, I know full well that you have a darker, stronger power hidden within you." Harribel said as she looked down at Naruto with an unforgiving stare, "If this is what you're capable of without even tapping into it I won't be taking my chances. I'll kill you before you find it necessary to bring out in battle."

Hence the use of her Resurrección.

"That's not sacrifice. That jerk didn't make any sacrifices." Naruto said in response, "He made a mistake… to pick on Nel when she couldn't defend herself. And it was the last mistake he ever made. That wasn't a sacrifice because he didn't go into that fight knowing he was gonna suffer, and he died without even giving you anything useful."

"We'll see." From the gill markings on her sword, Harribel started building up a highly-pressurized point of water that took to the end of her sword before firing it at Naruto in a sharp form, "La Gota (War Drop)!"

Naruto got on his horse and dodged the shot, forcing it to miss and explode like a watery shot of artillery that could have demolished a bunker. To hell with this. He wasn't going to stay on the defensive the entire time. That was Gaara's thing.

Four extra arms sprouted from his already existent shoulders via the Asura Path that helped him begin molding the chakra on both sides of his body for a powerful attack that quickly took the form of his go-to heavy-hitter jutsu. Both rang out in the open air like shrieking bells as he let one fly, "Fuuton: Rasenshuriken (Wind Release: Spiraling Shuriken)!"

Two? He made two of them just as easily as one could imagine! It missed however, as Harribel flew right out of its way and let it blow up and form its destructive wind dome off in the distance. She then had to dodge again as Naruto Shunshined right in front of her with Swift Release and swung for her directly with the second Rasenshuriken as a melee attack.

It missed as well, and upon her move to get space between them he threw it her way, resulting in it too missing and fling past her. He was so used to directly fighting his enemies these days, that someone taking a pragmatic wait-and-see approach that they actually had the power to back up and make effective was something different.

'Damn it.' Naruto thought to himself with an annoyed grunt. He really didn't want to have to go where he was anticipating this would. That ill feeling in the pit of his stomach wasn't dread over the course of the battle, it was the knowledge that he was basically poking a dragon in the face if he tapped into the kind of power he needed to take things to the level he'd require to defeat this woman.

Harribel was unrelenting though, as she kept on firing blasts of the quick to build La Gota. Naruto was officially grateful for something. He was grateful that he couldn't see spirits back when he'd been a ninja. He was grateful that no one could see them back when he'd been a ninja.

Because he felt that if someone had, and they saw Shinigami and Hollows, especially the kinds that he had become accustomed to, the age of ninjas would have ended a lot sooner. Even with 2000 years to get ready for it he at this time doubted how wise a decision it was to explore beyond the limits of life and death.

Maybe it was just proportionate with the time that had passed. The next generation was always supposed to outdo the last and whatnot, so technically how many generations after his time was he up to by now?

If he wanted to see another one though, he had to counterattack. There was no earth release technique he could use because there was nothing around but sand, so that left the lightning, but she'd already seen that and managed to avoid an extremely powerful jutsu from that element.

She could feel him building up his chakra with his sword as the source, and she decided to put an end to that, "No. Not again." She fired another shot of La Gota that was well-aimed enough to blow up in the path that Naruto was heading in, disrupting his path. As he changed direction and started moving in another direction, Harribel moved through the sand cloud and attack him directly.

'She got so much faster!' Naruto noted between her avoiding a high-speed Rasenshuriken and pressing the pace against his sword moves, blocking the swings of her Zanpakutou with the Raijin no Ken, 'I'm still the stronger of the two of us though.' He blocked her next swing and started driving her back until he noticed the completely unconcerned look on her face. Why?

"Do you know what one of the taboos of being an Espada in Aizen-sama's army is?" Harribel asked as she slid to a stop in the skies off of the swing of Naruto's sword.

Naruto started twisting the double-bladed Raijin no Ken in his hand again in anticipation, "No." He said before reaching out with his hand and beckoning the blonde Espada toward him, "Banshou Ten'in (Heavenly Attraction of All Creation)!" Naruto's attempt at gravity control barely registered with Harribel who moved several feet in his direction before stopping, 'The only way you can fight that jutsu off is if you've got enough power to break its influence.'

"Too bad. I'll tell you anyway." Harribel said, hiding the amount of effort she had to exude to prevent being reeled in by Naruto's jutsu, "The only two things forbidden by an Espada in Aizen-sama's army are to refrain from utilizing the special Gran Rey Cero within the walls of Las Noches. And the other taboo, is only for an Espada ranked Cuatro and above. Due to the sheer power of these Arrancar, releasing our Zanpakutou in Las Noches is outlawed. But we aren't in Las Noches."

So she didn't have to hold back.

Upon seeing her hold her sword in the air, Naruto saw that as an opening to attack before she made her move and rushed forward to attack her only to find an impossible amount of water appearing out of thin air to surround her and streak upward into the sky.

"What the hell?" Naruto muttered to himself. He'd never seen that much water form from nothing in his entire life, and that wasn't an exaggeration. That much water could flood the majority of Karakura Town entire stories off of the ground. And she was controlling it like it was nothing, moving it around with the speed that he'd fire a baseball-sized water jutsu, "Espada numbers really mean that much?"

Yes. Number 8's Resurrección was absolutely nothing compared to number 3's. It wasn't even close.

"Cascada (Cutting Waterfall)."

XxX

(With Gaara and Kensei)

In a boom of Sonido and Shunpo, Gaara and Kensei respectively stood alone on the sands staring off in the distance. Kensei sneered over at Gaara and punched into his own palm, "And you're sure about this?" He asked, "We left the safehouse and I can sense Uzumaki in one hell of a fight right now."

"Naruto will be fine." Gaara said in his usual monotone, but with a hint of clipped emphasis behind it, "I know what I sensed in this direction. If you feel that I'm incorrect then go back or go on ahead. I'm going to fight this person."

"What are you some kind of idiot?" Kensei asked Gaara as the latter held his Shukaku-claw halberd in one hand, posted on the surface of the sand, "This mission wasn't supposed to have any fighting happen in it."

Gaara just directed a blank stare in his direction that lasted for several seconds before he looked away, "That's a good joke." Them coming all the way to Hueco Mundo and not fighting. Ha. Maybe he figured there wouldn't be any fighting. Gaara had been anticipating a battle the entire time.

"I'm not joking you ring-eyed brat."

"I can guarantee you I'm older than you." No longer looking around, Gaara was looking straight up into the sky at a figure clad in white looking down at the two of them. Pale skin, messy black hair, half of his head covered in a mask fragment that looked like a helmet, green eyes and green marks that looked like tears running down his face, and a Hollow hole in the throat. Yes, Arrancar.

Without sparing the 'conversation' with Kensei another second, Gaara disappeared in a move of Sonido and reappeared in the sky standing across from his alarmingly stoic foe. The two stoic warriors just stared at another until the Arrancar representing Aizen's side of the fence spoke, "Ulquiorra Cifer."

"Gaara."

It was like a meeting of the emotionless. Like if two great walls of silence came together face-to-face at once and introduced themselves out of courtesy.

Ulquiorra just sensed out what he could of Gaara's Reiatsu, and though it didn't show on his face for an instant he was quite intrigued at the desert-dwelling Equilibrium member's sort of energy, "I wonder why an Arrancar like you would side with the Soul Society. They would kill you as soon as look at you." His hands were casually shoved into his pockets as he said this.

"I don't fight for the Soul Society." Gaara said calmly, "There are others that I would care and fight for. I don't owe you and yours any sort of allegiance due to the race we apparently share. A race I might add that subsists off of devouring anything with ample spiritual energy… including one another."

"Care for another. Such a novel human concept." Ulquiorra replied, feeling his interest in coming across such a powerful, unaffiliated Arrancar decline the more he heard him speak, "And yet despite your demeanor I can see that you are serious. A Hollow that wishes to be seen as human. It's almost disgusting. I don't see it."

"There's more to existence than what you can see. What about what you feel?"

"Feelings don't exist. That's all there is to it. It's just a means to justify action."

Gaara closed his dark-ringed eyes and shook his head in pity, "I feel sorry for you. I don't believe I was even so far-gone myself millennia ago. Even I believed in feelings, even if I were convinced that they were bad for me." With a sigh he began to spin his halberd before holding it at the ready, "Either way, I will be your opponent. Prepare yourself."

Ulquiorra removed one hand from his pocket, presumably to draw his Zanpakutou, but instead of reaching for the sword at his waist, he merely lifted his fingers in Gaara's direction with a green glow at the tips of them, "Cero (Hollow Flash)!"

The speed of the green blast could be compared to an old-western quickdraw. The time between the start of his amassing of Reiryoku and the full release of it was as quick as an Arrancar's spiritual projectile could be without being a Bala.

It wasn't that Gaara had been caught flat, it was that he had not been expecting it in the slightest. Instead of being able to move, Gaara used the pole of his halberd to block and deflect what he could, finding himself driven back across the sky a measure.

When the smoke cleared, the sleeves of Gaara's cream-colored desert robes had been burned off at his shoulders from the power of the attack. As he maintained his posture from his initial block, Ulquiorra bolted above his head with Sonido with another Cero prepared to fire down.

This time when he made his move, Gaara was able to escape the attack and fly away to regain his composure. Spinning his halberd Zanpakutou again, Gaara positioned it behind his back with one free hand held up in a technical posture. Seeing Ulquiorra flitter across the sky, trying to confound him with Sonido, Gaara let a red glow gather around his free hand before he started pumping lightning-quick jabs when he saw the necessity, "Bala (Hollow Bullet)! Bala! Bala! Bala!"

Swift yet powerful red circular projectiles flew from his hand with each punch, littering the sky with a laser show for the ages.

"When you're not touching the ground your ability to sense an enemy's Reiatsu is flawed isn't it? Not as complete as it is when you're in contact with a surface." Ulquiorra asked as he steadily closed in on Gaara, "What a grave weakness to have against someone adept in aerial combat."

It was true. Gaara could sense energy all around as if he were able to see everything completely when he was on the ground. In the air, it was just normal.

After closing in, Ulquiorra attempted a rapid-fire series of knife-hand strikes at Gaara's chest that he was able to blurrily avoid in close before allowing Ulquiorra to strike him dead center, piercing straight through his loose attire.

Ulquiorra and Gaara stood off, the former interested in what had just happened, "Either you have the hardest Hierro I've ever seen on an Arrancar…" He said to himself before pulling his hand back, ripping away part of Gaara's robe to show a yellow vest around his torso with blue veins and red markings in it. Looking at Gaara's halberd he noticed that it was now a staff as the odd claw that had been on the end of it was now gone, "I see. You have a very versatile Zanpakutou without even calling upon your Resurrección."

"A smaller-scale, portable, more concentrated version of Saikou Zettai Bougyo: Shukaku no Tate (Ultimately Hard Absolute Defense: Shield of Shukaku)." Gaara explained, knowing that Ulquiorra wasn't very aware of him as an Arrancar, let alone the techniques he utilized in life as a human, "I'm not certain if your Hierro is harder or mine is, but with this it won't matter."

"You act as if impaling you is the only way to kill you." Ulquiorra offered as a rebuttal, "And now you've lost the killing edge to your weapon."

A small smile came to Gaara's face at that observation, "You act as if impaling you is the only way to kill you." And honestly, he needed the extra defense just in case. Ulquiorra was not slow. In the air he was superior, and if Gaara tried to take things to the ground that still wouldn't work because the emotionless Espada would still be airborne.

If push came to shove he could always put the claw back onto the end of the pole at will. It was an extension of his will, as if it were merely another arm or leg. But Gaara had always been more about the defensive side of battle than the offensive, more reactionary as opposed to practicing activism in a fight when it was a serious one.

Ulquiorra just held up his hand in the same knife-handed attack posture that he'd been keeping it in before dashing forward to try and take Gaara's head out. After missing one strike in particular he reached for the katana at his side and drew it for a slash that Gaara had to block with a vertical positioning of his polearm.

So he was finally drawing his sword. Which meant that if this continued to escalate, he was going to use his Resurrección.

"I've noticed something about Arrancar." Gaara said, drifting away from Ulquiorra in the air as their fight lulled, "The same with Shinigami, Visoreds, or whatever you'd like to call yourselves at the time."

"Oh?" Ulquiorra actually paused in his combat to hear what he had to say, "And what would that be exactly?" It might serve to be interesting.

"It seems to be a race to the bottom for the lot of you to utilize your true strength." Reasoned the ring-eyed redhead, "As if the first one that draws upon their Resurrección in an Arrancar's case or upon their Shikai or Bankai in the case of the Shinigami respectively would be deemed weaker than the other. And I say, what does it matter as long as you survive and your enemy dies?"

"What a novel view." Ulquiorra said dryly. Gaara was full of interesting concepts and principles that he found somewhat amusing to venture forth to poke holes in, "It's also rather hypocritical from my view. You've yet to use yours either, in any battle you've fought."

Gaara just shook his head, "I refrain from using my Resurrección because until now my battles have always been fought in places where using it would destroy the immediate area. I suppose I could have used it during my battle with the Bount in the Soul Society, but it wasn't necessary to end things quickly with him and would have drawn far too much attention. That won't be the case here. Here in Hueco Mundo, I doubt anyone will even notice that I've released my Zanpakutou."

Except for Kensei, but that was because he was already down there watching. He and the rest of those Visored really were serious about fighting no one other than Aizen unless necessary. Actually, Gaara could admit to being a little hypocritical, because he still hadn't used his Resurrección yet.

"I see." Ulquiorra said in understanding. Then it was more than likely in his best interest to intercept Gaara before he could draw upon his release, "I also have limitations imposed on me to keep an Espada of my level from releasing my Zanpakutou. But we're currently outside of Las Noches. Thus, Tozase, Murciélago (Enclose, Black-Winged Great Demon)."

A sickly green burst of energy exploded outward from Ulquiorra, subsiding to reveal that his hair had lengthened extensively down his back, his Hollow mask was now a fully-formed horned helmet on top of his head, his clothing became more robe-like, and he grew a pair of large black wings. Even his energy itself created dark green rain that fell down from above.

Of course Gaara only saw him for a split second before he was forced to defend from an attack that he'd barely seen coming.

Alright, so the most dramatic augmentation of Ulquiorra's abilities had been speed. Clearly. He'd been faster to begin with, but now he was absurdly outmatched. Gaara's strength had never been in his quickness. It had always been in his defense.

Gaara lifted his staff as Ulquiorra appeared right in front of him, holding a green energy javelin in his hand, "Simply defending as amicably as you have been, for this attack it will not be enough." If Gaara believed in his own Resurrección that much, he would simply keep him from using it, "Luz de la Luna (Light of the Moon)!"

At point-blank range, instead of stabbing Gaara, Ulquiorra threw it at him, forcing Gaara back through the air from the strength of the throw. But it was the instability of the javelin's energy after it left Ulquiorra's hand that gave Gaara pause.

The weapon exploded in the air on Gaara's form, causing quite the stir in the skies from the blast. But he knew that hadn't killed Gaara. All he would have needed to do to survive it was to protect his head at all costs. The confidence he had in his armored vest wasn't arrogance. Ulquiorra knew that for someone like Gaara that kind of confidence came from something being tested extensively.

From the aftermath of the explosion, Gaara slid through the skies to a stop, but he was not unscathed in the slightest, "I suppose… I was really asking for this with my remarks about your Resurrección." Blood fell freely from a wound at the juncture of Gaara's right shoulder, "Very well then."

"Like I said-." The tip of Ulquiorra's index finger began to glow black and green as he pointed directly at the wounded Arrancar, "-Simply defending yourself against me… will not be enough. Cero Oscuras (Black Hollow Flash)."

XxX

(With Ichigo)

A deadly clashing of blades echoed out across the desert between the two above captain-class adversaries. Kurosaki Ichigo and Tousen Kaname, two Shinigami with Hollow-like abilities, locked in combat with the entire desert as their battlefield.

After pushing each other away from another, Ichigo chose to draw his blade back for a swing of the sword, channeling Reiryoku to the weapon, "Getsuga Ten-!" Before he could let fly with the attack, Tousen grabbed around the Zanpakutou and kept him from attacking with it, "What?"

"It's such a shame when even a blind man such as myself can tell you telegraphed your attacks." Tousen said while holding onto Zangetsu, "You've fought a wide variety of opponents, but you lack-." As he finished his sentence, several large slash wounds opened up and bled freely on Ichigo's body, "-Raw years of experience as a Shinigami."

'I never even felt him get me.' Ichigo thought to himself as he could see his own blood stain the white sands red, 'He never even let me put the force behind the swing.'

"You're an aggressive swordsman." Tousen commented, "Your 'on the job learning' of swordsmanship has one major weakness in it, effective as it has been for you. When you develop your fighting style through battle instead of actual instruction, you're always playing a game of catch-up against warriors that know better. And eventually you'll run into someone that won't allow you to break through the ceiling you always manage to clear in order to win your battles."

Someone like him, was what he was implying.

Instead of falling though, Ichigo swayed groggily in place before clutching his sword tighter than before much to Tousen's surprise, "Getsuga Tenshou (Moon Fang Heaven-Piercer)!" First straight overpowering Tousen with brute strength, Ichigo lashed out with his black spiritual energy, cutting a deep trench through the sands as he sent his enemy flying back off of the end of the blade, "…Thanks for the advice. I'll make sure to keep that in mind."

After his slight blow-up with his dad at hiding the fact that he had Shinigami powers and their subsequent little scrap above their house, Isshin commented on how Ichigo had become an incredibly battle-adept swordsman in a short amount of time.

He then proceeded to demonstrate a move Ichigo had no idea how to use and shouted at him that he still sucked at a lot of things when it came to swordfighting.

Byakuya really would have diced him up and finished him off if it hadn't been for his Inner Hollow taking over, wouldn't he have?

"You seem to be the kind of guy that likes to crash into someone and see if you can stand up afterwards."

Naruto. Back when he had his little trust issues with the would-be sage and they had it out for a bit.

He never really said that particular battle trait was a bad thing. He just pointed out what Ichigo's game was before they proceeded to do just that. But by now he had to know that not every enemy liked to play that game. The people like Naruto, like Kenpachi… people like that would win that way, but then there were others like Tousen, that would try to find the most indirect way to do battle, because trying to overpower another wasn't always practical.

"…I can't imagine how someone as young as you could have this kind of power." Tousen said through the billowing clouds of smoke and dust left in the wake of Ichigo's awesome attack, "Something that was gifted to me for my dedication by Aizen-sama, a blessing. You have it and you act as if having it is a curse. You don't even accept what you are. Of course then again… you have no idea what you really are."

While it was annoying, Ichigo already knew that Tousen was still in one piece. Either that or he regenerated what had been inflicted upon him again the way that he did the first time, "Even if I'm like this it isn't that complicated. I'm still human, even if my soul is a Shinigami with Hollow power."

"Of course you are."

What the hell did that mean? Apparently they knew everything else, so that should have been a foregone conclusion. Sure, maybe at best because of his dad he could be some weird Shinigami/human hybrid, but as long as his soul was in his body (which it was most of the time) that still counted as human.

"You have no idea…" Tousen said, "…Of what an abomination you are. And I'm not even referring to the Shinigami and Hollow power flowing through you. Someone such as yourself with no sense of true purpose or drive. No real overreaching motivation to fight, with so much potential for power. It's a slap in the face to someone like me."

"Well I could just stab you. Would that be better?"

"This isn't a joke." Tousen insisted, turning his Zanpakutou upside-down in his grasp, "You've seen a Resurrección before, haven't you? Something you broken Visoreds find yourselves incapable of achieving."

Oh hell.

"Witness my true power. Suzumushi Hyakushiki: Grillar Grillo (Cricket Hundredth Ceremony: Chirping Cricket)."

After being enveloped in darkness, a large, hunched Hollow emerged, covered in black fur with four clawed hands, two clawed feet, two large horn-like appendages sticking from its back, four insect wings on its back, a long tail, and a bug's head with large bulbous eyes.

Ichigo couldn't help but be caught staring. The Reiatsu signature was warped, but it was still definitely Tousen Kaname. Gross. And why was he chuckling to himself in his now distorted voice? This really wasn't funny.

"So this is what it's like to have sight." Cricket-Tousen said before his chuckles turned to bellowing laughter, "I see you now Hueco Mundo! I see everything! And I can see you Substitute Shinigami Kurosaki Ichigo!"

"Honestly, I wish I didn't have to see you, but I don't really have a choice right now." Ichigo replied before finding Tousen flying right at him, the rapid beating of his wings filling the air with sound, "Damn it!" Sword poised to retaliate, Getsuga Tenshou was the command of the day.

Before coming into contact with Ichigo, Tousen altered his flight pattern and crashed into the sand right in front of Ichigo to obscure his vision, forcing Ichigo to lash out with a Getsuga Tenshou prematurely.

Instead of flying to clash with Ichigo, Tousen had flown right past him and forced him to miss his attack while leaving his back open for a counterattack. From both of his eyes, Tousen charged two green beams of energy before firing them simultaneously and fusing them together mid-blast, "La Mirada (The Gaze)!"

Ichigo turned around just in time to have his vision filled with green, as he didn't have time to try and move his sword into position to try and somewhat fight the Cero-like attack. It landed and blew the teenage warrior away, displacing hundreds of meters of desert.

Tousen could only look at his bestial hands in something of amazement. Before he could begin to marvel over his power too much, he realized that he could still feel Ichigo's energy even though he couldn't see him any longer. His body was too far away, which annoyed him. He'd spent his whole life learning how to sense things to make up for his lack of sight. He had a brand new addition to his five senses that he wanted to use as much as possible.

Either way, the enemy was still present.

Once again, Tousen built up the green energy in front of his eyes and fired La Mirada again, following the path that he saw his first one burned through the sands to finish off Ichigo and stamp out his Reiatsu once and for all.

Only something was wrong.

With the tip of his Zanpakutou held straight out ahead of him, Ichigo flew straight through the middle of Tousen's attack to his horror, separating it into two waves… all the way up to the newly released Hollow himself. An insane course of action yes, but it wasn't really the first thing any enemy would find themselves prepared to counter, so it worked for him.

After all, Ichigo was the kind of guy that liked to crash into his enemies and see who could stand up afterwards. And he was getting really good at being the one that could stand up afterwards.

When dealing with someone more intelligent and with more experience in fighting on a higher precipice, he was better served to drag his enemy down to his level of down and dirty combat and beat him with experience.

And when Tousen found Ichigo's sword buried through his large head, he finally understood it, "H-How?" He managed to choke out through the blood spilling freely from the wound and from his mouth.

"The first time your aim was off." Ichigo told him, the entire front of his Bankai robe was destroyed by Tousen's attack. Both of his hands tightly clutched Zangetsu after he'd run it through his massive enemy.

It was true enough though. Tousen had been slightly off. To go along with that was the fact that Ichigo had blunted as much of La Mirada's initial impact as he could have with his own energy.

Still, if a person like Tousen would have simply relied on more than what he could see he would have noticed it. He thought he was more perceptive than that, but apparently he couldn't keep his usual nature of character with the revelation of sight being bestowed upon him.

"…You saw things better when you were blind." Ichigo told him honestly before moving to bring things to a close, "Getsuga Tenshou (Moon Fang Heaven-Piercer)!"

Ichigo knew that using Getsuga Tenshou while his sword was inside of Tousen would have violent results, but the Hollow driving his power-enhancement simply kept him from caring too much. Still, slicing apart his head with his energy was a brutal method of dispatching his foe.

Extremely brutal. Especially after his body reverted back to its normal Shinigami form upon his death.

Yeah… that wasn't the nicest sight to look at, and the blood and bits of his head were everywhere. His Hollow was extremely into it though.

"Alright." Ichigo said after allowing his Hollow power to recede. His stomach started doing flips after it had left his system and let him know how gross he found the rather barbaric end to the battle, "I guess… I'll go get Koga and Bawabawa and find everyone else now."

Because he needed to get away from there before the urge to throw up became too powerful.

XxX

(Naruto vs. Harribel)

"Okay…" A thoroughly soaked Naruto said to himself, standing on the sands of Hueco Mundo in front of a large newly created body of water, "…Well I just answered the question of, 'How strong is she really?' She just helped me make a river in the middle of a desert."

He'd carved the original gigantic trench and burned the sands into solid ground with the wide-scale lightning attack from earlier, and she'd supplied the ungodly amount of water from thin air that would have made the Nidaime Hokage green with envy.

If he hadn't had experience in avoiding and protecting against large-scale attacks, that one would have had a better-than-average chance of doing him devastating damage. Even with the countermeasures he'd taken to protect against it, it had still hurt like hell. Even with Sage Mode.

"I'm sorry." Harribel said, appearing on the ground directly across from the river that the two of them had just created from the scale of their battle. She didn't see what Naruto had done to survive La Cascada, but she was starting to think that he had more than one life if he managed to avoid that kind of attack, "But I can't let you survive. Someone like you, you would only keep getting in Aizen-sama's way."

"Heh, I'm not really afraid of dying. Not for myself." Naruto responded, running a hand through his wet hair, "Especially now since I know that apparently I'm going to have two shots at it. Just as long as I don't wind up in actual hell for something."

"That's a very careless attitude to have." Harribel said, "What use would your death serve if you didn't lose it for a reason?"

"I said I wasn't afraid of dying for myself. I didn't say that I wasn't afraid to die." Naruto said, looking at his right hand as he clenched a fist, "I'll admit it. There's a big reason that I don't want to die. Do you want to see why?" He put his hand directly on his stomach and turned his wrist clockwise, as if loosening the lock of something, "…Running low on Sage Mode here anyway…"

That simple motion caused the surface of the water between the two combatants to begin pushing toward and away from Naruto at a stronger and stronger rate. Just from what he'd done, a single subtle shockwave radiated from his body with a low hiss.

'That pressure.' Harribel said, looking down and seeing grains of sand at her feet vibrate. 'Vibrate' because neither of them were moving to disturb anything, he wasn't charging energy for any kind of attack, and there was no wind blowing at the moment, 'What is this?' His presence by itself could cause the immediate environment to react.

Her answer came in the form of the blackish chakra that covered Naruto's body, manipulating his attire into a full-sized haori and complete outfit underneath it. It seemed to be constructed of fire, but there was absolutely no heat from it. On his entire body there seemed to be some design running up his arms that was centered right around his stomach.

"The first time I used its chakra against your number eight guy I was forcing it through the completely closed seal." Naruto said, "The further I open it up, the more stable and stronger the chakra flow is, but it's more dangerous than straining it through."

"What happens if you open it all the way?" Harribel asked him, finally feeling his power jump above even her Resurrección's limits. And it wasn't just for show. She didn't even blink her eyes and he seemed to vanish in a dark flourish.

"Nobody wants me to ever do that." Naruto said from right behind her. She didn't disappoint him with the speed and ferocity she turned to strike at him with, but grabbing her right around her forearm he stopped her shark tooth-shaped Zanpakutou from cutting through his neck. He didn't even flinch at how close it was to touching him, just short of reaching his chakra cloak, "I shouldn't even be doing this, but since I'm gonna die if I lose anyway there's no real difference in risk here."

His grip around her arm tightened and the sand beneath them collapsed into a crater that slowly filled itself back up. Tightening the clenching of her teeth with that of Naruto's grip on her arm, Harribel willed a yellow mist of her Reiryoku to form around her Zanpakutou, desiring to send it out at Naruto's neck and finish the job that her sword stroke attempted to begin.

Naruto quickly struck out at her chest and knocked her away. She really was strong. Even as he was, she hadn't lost enough of her nerve to allow him any amenities in battle. She reacted before he could even form a Rasengan to attack her with in their close proximity.

He could feel the intent of that attack. It would have been too fast for him to even consider trying to dodge at that range, so he simply kept her from using it that close to him.

Harribel was knocked back halfway across the wide river before she managed to stop herself. Immediately she lashed out with her attack that had been intended for Naruto up close, quickly swinging her sword, and as she did so she split the water to the bottom with a sword-width slit that reached far past the other shore with no delay behind the motion. Had it been released against Naruto's neck he would have had no time to do anything other than suffer a severe wound to it or lose his head altogether at worst.

But even when he realized what she was going to do, his face never showed a tinge of concern for his own fate. As if he figured he would survive the attack even if it landed. His strike to her body barely landed, but her entire chest cavity throbbed in pain in the aftermath. Hierro be damned.

If he was strong enough to take her on in her Resurrección form, was he really safely containing that kind of power inside of his body? As the 3rd Espada, the power from merely releasing her Zanpakutou could destroy Las Noches from the inside. That wasn't even considering when she began actually fighting. How their battle had warped the landscape of a desert exemplified that much.

The kind of power it would take to match her would have dire effects on the Human World if it was even allowed to so much as leak out from its prison. It would distort the dimensional temperament. It would cause harm to human beings and other mortal creatures without the power to mount a resistance to it.

How could he hide that much strength from the world, compress that much power inside of himself behind a single seal that could be placed on a human's body, and not warp the fabric of his world just from walking around in it?

"My entire culture sacrificed themselves trying to stop the power that I have inside of me from coming out and terrorizing the world, the way it used to thousands of years before I was ever even born." Naruto said, "Because of me it had to be that way. I might as well have killed them myself. I've fucked up tons of times since then, but that's the one I always come back to."

"What are you saying?"

"I've seen actual sacrifice. It's nice to talk about it all nobly like you do, but until you've seen 100,000 people just trying to protect their world die-. Until you've seen every person you've ever cared for dead after trying to stop something that you set into action because of a mistake-…" Naruto just trailed off and shook his head, "…No, I don't ever want you to know what that's like. I wouldn't wish something like that on the worst living creature in existence."

Thoughts of Mila Rose, Sun-Sung, and Apacci being dead in front of her flashed through Harribel's mind for a second, "When I was a Vasto Lorde, Aizen-sama saved me and taught me that sacrifice allows for the impossible to happen."

"Well he's kind of right." Naruto said, gesturing to himself as living proof. A human being should never have the kind of power he had, "But who's gonna be the one to sacrifice what to make it happen? And how much do you need to sacrifice to make it happen? To get the power he needs to reach the Spirit King?" He asked rhetorically before answering his own question, "In his case, at least 100,000 people in Karakura Town. Every single Arrancar or Hollow under his command that's died so far or will die fighting us and the Seireitei. Every soul in the Rukongai that your comrades killed during their raid. Every Shinigami he killed, experimented on, or framed over the last 100 years. Every life he ruined to make himself a God."

Most of that wasn't even sacrifice. Not any noble sort of sacrifice.

Harribel's fortitude was beginning to shake in the face of the hollow look in Naruto's eyes. With his body swathed in black energy, it made his strange ripple-patterned purple eyes stand out all the more. And those eyes couldn't lie. Those eyes expressed the truths that the mouths of most humans would hide at all costs, "You can't measure the amount that it would take to truly change the world."

"…It's funny how people like Aizen, that talk about how important it is to embrace sacrifice, never end up feeling the loss of any of the sacrificing." Even as far away as Ichigo was, Naruto could feel that he'd killed Tousen Kaname. He doubted Aizen would do anything more than play it off as fat being trimmed for the man's failure to defeat his enemy, "…I'm done."

"What?" Harribel lowered her Zanpakutou momentarily out of sheer shock.

"I'm done fighting you." Naruto deadpanned seriously, "Even with your Resurrección you can't beat me, and you're not bad. You just attached yourself to a bad person, and I don't have a reason to take you on. You attacking me isn't enough to make me fight you when I don't want to."

She didn't kill humans. She didn't try to harm a vulnerable Nel in her child form when she had orders to bring her back or kill her. She even just allowed a fully grown, full-powered Nel to leave with Tatsuki to keep his precious little student from possibly being collateral damage in the extremely destructive battle that they'd been fighting.

To emphasize his decision, Naruto turned his back directly on her as if he were going to walk away. In the direction of Las Noches as a matter of fact. As if she were just going to let him go, just like that.

That was so… insulting.

How dare he?

Biting her own lip out of anger hard enough to draw blood, Harribel clutched her sword tightly before deciding to take this slight out on him and show him the error of his ways. Blurring forward in Sonido she had to draw herself to a stop when an extended chakra claw that had emerged from Naruto's back was positioned right in front of her face. In the palm of it was a vibrating black ball of pure energy, smaller than a baseball in size.

She just froze in place.

One of his actual hands was positioned to bring her directly toward him with just a gesture of his fingertips. Even if he couldn't reel her in, he'd have slowed her down enough that there would be no way to avoid what was in his chakra claw.

Did he just kill her?

Instead of attacking her, Naruto just extended his claw to push it past her face and throw it, sending the ball flying over the dunes of the desert, through the air and into the distance, "…Chou Mini Bijudama (Super Mini-Tailed Beast Ball)."

A few seconds later, Harribel felt a ghastly release of energy and turned around to see a blast rise into the air about a half-mile away. After another few seconds a horrid wind blew their way sending tons of smoke, sand, and dust flying past them.

"There wasn't anything over there." Naruto assured her, bringing his chakra claw back to his cloak as he noted the look of shock on her face, "…Really, is it that hard to believe that a human could get this strong?"

That was a miniature version of that attack, which had to mean that there was a bigger one. The smaller one would have blown the whole wall off of most of a single side of Las Noches. What could a bigger one do?

And he still wasn't going as far as he could go with his overall power?

Harribel's chest heaved in and out after having seen her life as a Hollow and an Arrancar flash before her eyes. Why was she anxious? It would have been her sacrifice had she been killed with the Mini Bijudama. A sacrifice for…

…For Aizen's goal.

"That feeling you have." Naruto said to her, pointing at his own head, "I can sense negative emotions. You're so sure about that view on sacrifice you have, and that's fine. What are you sacrificing for though?" Yoruichi told him to ask a question. A question to everyone that he came across, even on the enemy's side, "…Did you see Aizen Sousuke's Kyoka Suigetsu?"

There was no way Aizen could amass such a hodge-podge of people underneath him without something to pull them all together. They fought amongst themselves more often than anything. And while the Espada were fine for keeping him from requiring quality control himself, how did he ever get Hollows of that kind of level of power to follow him, a Shinigami with a shifty demeanor?

The same way he pulled the wool over the eyes of the entire Soul Society before killing the Central 46 and making his great escape with the Hougyoku; Kyoka Suigetsu. For when shows of his force just weren't enough by themselves to net him powerful underlings.

"Do you really care that much about Aizen wanting to kill the Spirit King? Do you even care at all?"

"…No."

"Then tell me why you're fighting for him! Why are you putting those girls that follow you on the line just to fight a war to end the world, when you don't even want to huh?" Naruto shouted at her, littering the area with his own rampant aura. Something was wrong though. Thinking about something like that shouldn't have worn on her mind so heavily, and it was clear it was taking its toll on her psyche.

The hypnosis was that strong? It wasn't like a genjutsu, something he could break another person of. This was something she had to settle within her own head. And what she came up with would determine whether or not this ended fairly well or not.

A flash of ill intent alerted Naruto, but he couldn't see any threat. Not until it passed through Harribel from behind in the form of an extended Zanpakutou. It was close enough that it almost stabbed through him as well, but he was able to catch it between his chakra cloaked hands, protecting him as he slid back across the sand.

He knew that attack.

The sword retracted back from whence it came, and a wide-eyed Harribel dabbed at the bleeding wound on the left side of her chest. The same one that had just pierced her through the back, "…Ichimaru."

"Yare… how'd you know to block that?" The air seemed to shimmer before the silver-haired Ichimaru Gin came into sight, wearing a tattered-looking cloak over his usual outfit, "This cloak is supposed to conceal my Reiatsu. Mix it with a little Kidou, and honestly you never shoulda seen it comin'."

"Your killing intent." Naruto said, moving forward to grab onto Harribel before she collapsed from the mortal wound. He'd hit her somewhere bad. She had been close enough to him that her blood had splashed onto his face, "Even if I can't feel, see, or hear anything else I can always find people from their ill intent."

But even Gin's only lasted for just a split-second. That was serious control, beyond anything that any human Naruto had ever faced could do. He couldn't get a read on the guy. He'd fought him and he still couldn't get a read on him.

You couldn't hide your true nature from Naruto's ability to sense the intentions of others, but Gin could mask it. He could mask it so well that right then Naruto couldn't even feel it from him despite his attack on him through Harribel.

Speaking of whom, she was still breathing, labored as it was, but she wasn't dead. Her blood was now all over him. Gin had hit her heart, either nicked it or gotten it outright. His aim had been too dead center to not have gotten any part of it at all. She'd even dropped her Zanpakutou.

"Why? Would you really go through her to get to me?" Naruto asked rhetorically. He'd already received the answer to that question, and it was bleeding freely in his arms, "He really doesn't care about these guys at all if he let you come out here to do that."

"Well the point of me coming out here was to get a closer look at that power of yours, and she lost to you didn't she? Outright. If she used all of her moves on you, she'd never be as useful to Aizen-san as she was before she fought you when all of her abilities were a mystery to your side." Gin said with a shrug, "I figured, if anyone could understand me going through her to get a shot to kill someone like you, it would be Harribel herself. So I took the chance she gave me. That's sacrifice." He finished, his unsettling grin getting wider as he spoke.

To the surprise of no one, Naruto refrained from attacking Gin. He had a critically wounded person in his grasp, and when Gin pointed his sword in a completely different direction, he knew exactly what the rogue Shinigami was aiming at.

Nel had let Tatsuki wander back close enough to observe the battle. Damn it, he'd told her that he wanted her to study everything she could see on this mission, so this was his fault too, "That thing doesn't have that much range on it." He'd seen how far Gin's Shikai could go, and Tatsuki wasn't close enough to reach with it, "You make a move to go for Tatsuki, I'm going right for your throat. You realize that right?"

"You really don't know the first thing about my Zanpakutou do you?" Gin asked, "So I'm gonna go now… because that fight was cool, and your powers are cool… and I need to tell people about everything I just saw. And I don't want to fight you again, because I'll have to use my Bankai. If you make me use my Bankai, I can guarantee you the first person I use it on won't be you. Make one of your copies to cover Harribel so you can move freely, and I'll take that as the fight starting."

He had a lot of faith in that Bankai that it'd have a fair chance of beating Naruto to Tatsuki.

Gin took a step away and didn't see Naruto make a move, so he perceived the lack of offensive action as his bluff being preserved, "Bye-bye now. Maybe next time I can show you my real power. Or not. You're actually a pretty scary guy." Naruto just glared him down, "Oh don't give me that look. Compared to Aizen-san, I'm a pretty nice guy. You'll see."

Naruto just flipped him off with six chakra claws as he left with Shunpo. He wasn't going to take any chances in moving slow. He'd seen Naruto's Mini Bijudama and he didn't want to be anywhere near where he could aim it or the full-sized version at him.

With Gin's lack of negative emotions and the cloak he wore that hid Reiatsu signatures, Naruto couldn't sense him to target him from a distance like a howitzer, "Sure. Next time. Right." Hand on his stomach, he turned his wrist to the right to close off the loosened seal and return to normal.

And that still left him with a gravely wounded and scantily clad enemy in his grasp. Damn it, he stopped fighting so that he wouldn't have to kill her.

"Damn it. You'd better not die." Naruto told Harribel, not knowing or caring if she could hear him or not, "I didn't pull my punch just to watch you go down like that after the fact."

…So now what?

She was still technically the enemy, so did he continue on with the mission, or did he help someone that had been betrayed by their side just to get an edge. Because he couldn't do that on the spot. He never managed to learn medical jutsu before the end of his age, and even if he'd somehow managed to engineer his own medical techniques, his chakra wasn't suited to healing others. The addition of the Juubi's chakra to his only made it good for destroying things.

Was there something that could be done without having to return? Maybe the resident Arrancar of the team would know if there was something that could be done to fix one of his own race, but he had bugged out earlier and seemed to be in the middle of something quite serious.

"…Hurry up and win already Gaara." Naruto said to himself through gritted teeth, "We're not in Karakura anymore. You don't have any excuse to not use it now."

XxX

(Gaara vs. Ulquiorra)

With a series of coughs, Kensei removed himself from the sand that had covered him after Ulquiorra's pitch-black Cero had been fired on Gaara.

It was as if the damned Arrancar had displaced the entire desert with that one attack.

Wincing just from the shockwave of the blast that hadn't even touched him, Kensei stood up rubbing his head only to stop and stare at the actual zone that had truly been affected by the Cero Oscuras. The sand itself had been burned black where his energy had touched it.

"Looks like I'm not the only one that has trouble holding back." Kensei remarked to himself, looking up into the sky to see Ulquiorra there, now staring down at him, "Well it looks like I'm next up. And I really didn't want to fight."

"No. That… won't be necessary."

Rising from the blacked-to-a-crisp sand, a horrendously wounded Gaara stood as if he were rising from the dead. In fact, he looked the part. The wounds on his body were horrendous. His desert-colored robe was destroyed, as was his entire left arm and left eye. There was no portion of Gaara's form that wasn't covered in his own blood and grime.

"I would hate… to make you go back on your own conditions for accompanying us." Gaara said in a raspy, labored voice, signifying how much damage his throat had taken in addition to the rest of his body, "My friend in the sky… let me tell you, that the desert even in the Human World has a trait about it that sets it apart from any other sort of climate in the world. There is no other environment that can reflect true hopelessness, true despair so completely."

Ulquiorra raised an eyebrow, wondering what Gaara was babbling about, "I do wonder, what the point of all these worthless words of yours happens to be."

"Let me show you the depths of my despair. The despair that I felt walking the afterlife, isolated, after I failed my best friend, my family, my country… and after the entire ninja world came to an end." From the sands, Gaara's halberd shot back into his right hand upside-down, allowing him to stab it into the ground, "Camine Solo, Páramo (Walk Alone, Wasteland)."

The weapon sank into the sand and the entire desert began to rock and wave as if it were the ocean tossing and rolling in the middle of a powerful storm, engulfing Gaara's body and causing him to disappear from sight entirely.

As far as Ulquiorra and Kensei could sense, Gaara's Reiatsu vanished entirely, as if it had never been there at all.

What the hell?

XxX

(With Ichigo – Elsewhere in Hueco Mundo)

Continuing on his way with Koga on the back of Bawabawa, Ichigo felt the sizeable Reiatsu of Gaara vanish into thin air. But that didn't make any sense, "That's impossible. Someone like Gaara's wouldn't just disappear. It would fade into nothing, but it wouldn't disappear like that."

Koga picked up on Ichigo's mutterings and reacted, as he hadn't said much since his battle with Tousen had concluded. To hear him say something like that, it was important, "What was that Ichigo?"

"It's just…" Shaking his head, Ichigo slightly changed the subject, "Did you ever hear Gaara explain why he won't use his Resurrección no matter what?"

"I'm afraid I missed that story while I was getting set up in Equilibrium as a member."

"Well it wasn't a story actually. He didn't really explain anything, and the only people that even heard what he said were me, Naruto, Urahara-san, and Chad." Ichigo explained, "This was back when Chad was training to improve his arm's destructive power. He asked Gaara to show him his Resurrección so he could learn what it was like to fight against an Arrancar's true power. And when he refused and I asked why not, Gaara just said… did we ever stop and wonder why Hueco Mundo was a desert?"

"Why?"

"Because apparently it wasn't like this until after he died as a human and wound up here."


Yeah, sorry it took so insufferably long to put this one out. I don't really have an excuse, it's just that I so completely lacked the slightest amount of motivation to dip back into this story that I didn't want to force anything. If I write something, I want it to be as good as I can make it, so if I'm not feeling the flow I just won't do it, and there's no force on the planet I've come across that can make me. I don't want to backslide just to force out a chapter. I want to keep trying to get better and if it doesn't flow it won't go.

And here I said I wasn't making an excuse…

Oh well. Again, feel free to blame my mind. Despite the fact that I lost it long ago, it still gives me fits quite often.

Now it's 3 a.m. in my part of the world, and I'm going to retire for the night/morning.

Hope you enjoyed, and Kenchi out.