A/N: WARNING! You MUST watch the fourth bleach movie, Hell Chapter, to understand what is going on! Also, know that some rules have been bent somewhat in order to allow such a chance meeting between two of the greatest (if not strangest) heroes in anime. That is all. Again, if you have not seen, or at least heard of, the fourth bleach movie, you are doomed to languish within the depths of your own confusion. Otherwise...
His footfalls ceased, sliding over the ashen plains that comprised one of the many lower levels of hell. Beside him, Kokuto paused as well, his lone eye shifting toward Kurosaki as the vizard shifted; chestnut brown orbs sweeping across the lifeless horizon to find the source of the sound. The urge to find his sister, to rescue Yuzu, till burned like a fire in the back of his mind and he was about to dismiss it as his imagination when-
The voice was coming from just over the nearest hillock. It was faint, soft, little more than a broken whisper; a pained hiss, a stammered stuttering of sound so marginal that, were it not for the wind, they never would have heard it at all. Before his better judgement could tell him otherwise, Kurosaki had crested the hill in a single leap. Perhaps his sister was on the other side of this rise! Perhaps...
What Kurosaki Ichigo found there, was not his sister. Instead, hanging just over that hill of deadened, ashen plants, the sight of it left him breathless.
There, chained to a pillar of wrought iron in the midst of the ashen field, was a young man.
He lay prone on the floor, facing away from them with his arms raised above his head and chained to the wall. The prisoner's head hung down limply, and the back of his robe was ripped open from so many whiplashes across his back that his skin was red with blood. Ichigo would have thought him dead; were it not for the quivering of his shoulders and the soft, racking gasp that escaped those chapped lips:
"Come closer, shinigami."
Mute, Ichigo complied. He could sense Kokuto's displeasure, the warrior's silent urge that they needed to press onward-a desire that he shared-but he simply could not bear to ignore the plight of this poor wretch who called out to him so. And so, he approached. And as he drew near, he was able to make out the features of this stranger who called a strange call to him; he who knew that he was a shinigami,
He was a handsome fellow, if intense. His blond hair was disheveled, his blue eyes intelligent, his features balanced. Whisker marks tripled each cheek, cheeks that had once dimpled with a constantly bright and enthused grin; no matter the situation or mission. Now, he was intense. His face had hardened, his visage freed of the baby fat that had plagued him in his younger years. Chiseled and nigh but expressionless, that face bore a series of thin red lines from left ear to right, drooping down his chin and neck and lips lips that remained pursed in a perpetual grimace as the vizard drew nearer.
And as he drew nearer, Kurosaki Ichigo found his breath stolen away. The "robe" was in fact, not a robe at all. Tattered though it was, he could make out the remnants of that which looked to be a badge-perhaps some sort of insignia-tied across the man's arm. And there, pitted and scarred, little more than a shell of its former self, was a sword. The blade had likely seen better days, he supposed, as he gazed upon the weathered blue-clothed hilt, and the strange tsubasa that had the etchings of flowing waves emblazoned into its hilt.
The shinigami who wielded it, had likely seen better days as well.
Because the "robe" was a shihakusho. Because this "badge" strongly resembled that of a-former-lietuenant and the "sword" tucked into his sash was not a sword at all but the weapon which all soul reapers wielded, a zanpakuto. The question remained however, how had he gotten her. Unable to help himself, Ichigo stretched out his hand, reaching a few yars to touch one of the chains that bound the man's neck.
"He's still breathing-
Without warning, the chained body lurched upright. Sapphire eyes burned with feverish delight, shining with a light that seemed almost demonic in origin and nature. His gaze flickered briefly, glancing upon Kokuto as one would a fly, then fixating upon Kurosaki Ichigo with a mind-numbing intensity. So great was this suddern fervor, that the vizard, great warrior that he was, drew back in revulsion.
"I knew it." The prisoner hissed through clenched teeth. "I knew that one of you had come here." Scouring him for any sign of identification, and, finding none, they clouded, a deep, murkish gold in annoyance. "Wait, you're not from-ah." His eyes brightened knowingly, gleaming a strange mixture of saffron and sapphire and scarlet. "I know you you yes, I know you quite well." He tittered softly to himself. "Shuren was speaking of you while he flogged me, gloating actually. So, you must be Kurosaki Ichigo then, I take it?"
"You know me?" Ichigo blinked.
"Not really, no. Not personally." The blond stranger shook his head, speaking rapidly, and incoherently. Had he gone mad from lying here so long, devoid of any contact save that of his tormentors? Was his mind so fragmented that he was utterly incapable of answering any of their questions?
"Here to save your sister, are you?" He asked, the words cutting through all the glib and guile. "How noble. Yes, very noble indeed. It's a shame that you're going to fail."
Fury washed Ichigo to his toes.
"What the hell was that?"
The chained shinigami laughed; it was a soft, raspy sound and devoid of mirth. Apparently, he wasn't completely mad after all.
Not yet, at least.
"You heard me, dumbass. You think your sisters the only one Shuren dragged down here?" He shook his head, his eyes hardening into blackened specks of scarlet. "If so, then you'd be wrong. Dead wrong. See, I was once human too, much like yourself. I had a life, I had happiness, hell, I almost had some semblance of purose before all of this." He gestured mutely to the world around them, his shackles rattling harshly from the movement. "Ah, but that was before. That was before the love of my life was taken from me, kidnapped, dragged down to the very depths which you now so foolishly trample, unknowing, uncaring, unbecoming."
He spat, the spittle falling just short of the young ryoka's feet before it smoldered away into nothingness.
"I came after them, of course." The stranger sighed, wistfully in his delusion. "Like a fool, I chased them down to the depths of hell. Just as they had planned." He inclined his head a fraction of an inch his eyes pained, his features somber. "You see, I have certain...powers. They'd hoped to use those powers of mine to wrench open the Hell Gate and reclaim their fractured existence."
"And?" Ichigo found himself asking, despite Kokuto's indignant sound of offense.
"And he let her die." Kokuto's words were ice, his words harsh, his visage glacial as he stepped back into view. Ichigo gawped; he'd been so immersed in the boy's tale that he had forgotten all about his stoic guide into the underbelly of the underworld. A pained cry of desperation and disbelief drew his attention back to the boy; his features frozen in a rictus of fury.
Kokuto had spoken truly.
"And you let her die?" Ichigo growled softly, and on a sudden, he felt anger. It welled up in him with such force that it almost staggered him, like it had been there for so long biding its time, a fury he had nursed and hidden away but never acknowledged. The sudden realization that he was even considering this man's words brought a wave of rage to his mind with the ferocity of a great and dark tempest. Despite his wounds, Kurosaki Ichigo lurched; despite the look in those eyes, pleading for him to stop, the anger won over him and he yanked Tensa Zangetsu out of Kokuto's gentle grip.
"Just like that?" He repeated harshly, his words gravel, his features flint. "And you let someone important to you...die?"
"And I refused!" The shinigami snapped back, his words little more than a feral snarl. "What else could I do? Unleash the power of the underworld upon the spirit realm, all for what, the one I loved! I could not! I will not! They may think that they have broken me, but I will remain strong! I shall stand steadfast! For her sake, as well as my own, I will not yield to their demands, as she demanded of me!"
His head drooped suddenly, at that, his voice breaking, his eyes forlorn.
"For her sake," He whispered softly, repeating the words as if they were a mantra. "For her sake, I refused. And I fought them." His visage twisted, his features scrunching up, as if he were trying his utmost not to show weakiness, his weariness, his exhaustion. "I fought them, and I did not prevail. I fell, and they held me and I watched them slit her throat and I felt my heart break into a thousand pieces, and still I did, and still I do, as she asked. I. Do. Not. Yield."
He glared up at Kurosaki and Kokuto, daring them to protest. Daring them, to say that they too, would deny the final wish of one important to them, if they would sacrifice the world, if they would cast it all aside in order to save a single soul, a soul who would rather perish, than allow such a reality to exist. The pair exchanged a glance, but whatever their thoughts were, they were their own.
"Set me free, substitute." The chained reaper begged at last twin orbs of soulful cerulean fixating upon Kurosaki Ichigo. "If it is within your power, release me from my chains, and free me from this bondage so that I might seek an end." At the strawberry's questioning stare, he chuckled hoarsely. "I am already dying a slow death; dying of a broken heart. Their is nothing for me here. Perhaps in the Soul Society but...no." He shook his head slowly, rattling his chains with each passing sweep. "Time has passed me by, and I have not aged a day since I first came here. It is best that I die, here, forgotten and unmourned by my comrades rather than-
His body jerked upright as Tensa Zangetsu rapped against one of the cufflings on his wrist, showering him with sparks as the sword struck steel. It cracked, but nothing more, and remained otherwise intact. A fleeting, sputtering hope shone in those eys for the briefest instant, only to flicker out when he realized that his chains had not been broken, only damaged. Instead, he regarded Ichigo, then Kokuto with a quizzical stare.
"Just like that?" He asked, dumbfounded. "You believe me?"
"You're certainly a strange one." He murmurred softly. "Isn't he, Kyuubi?" The air rustled between them, and for a moment, his eyes glazed over. It happened so quickly that Ichigo thought he might have imagined it-did his features seem rougher now somehow-and then the blond boy was peering at him once more, nodding softly to himself. Why, it looked like he was even smiling, somewhat forlornly, but smiling nonetheless.
"Kyuubi?" Ichigo blinked rapidly, impatience souring his features. "Who the hell is-
The blond shook his head tersely-discussion closed-and frowned.
"Trust me, you don't want to know."
"Anyway, the name's Naruto." The scarred shinigami introduced himself amiacably enough. "Uzumaki Naruto, lieutenant, ah, I mean, former lieutenant of Thirteenth Division, at your service. Now, if you wouldn't mind stepping back and trying again, Kurosaki-san?" He tested the shackle of his left arm and it rattled weakly. "If you can just crack this one, I might be able to-
"Wait, how do we even know he's actually who he says he is?" Kokuto demanded turning toward Ichigo. "We're wasting time here, Ichigo! Or have you forgotten, that its your sister we've come here to save, not him?" He let the statement hand, unadorned between the two of them and the scarred shinigami. There was something strange about the man known as Kokuto in that instant, something desperate, almost frantic, sinister even...
But no, not Ichigo, and certainly not Kokuto, expected what came next.
"Very well then." The blond nodded. "We're running short on time, so I suppose a demonstration is in order."The blond shinigami laughed; it was a soft, whispery sound. Then his muscles bulged, his eyes grew narrow; his entire being straining against the chains that bound him. Sweat beaded forth from his face from the strain, from the exertion as he pushed his frail body to its limits and beyond, just to move the fingers of his right hand, just for a moment...
...they brushed the hilt of his zanpakuto.
"Sweep across the seas and sunder the skies." He hissed, eyes widening as the dim glow from the battered blade pulsed, building into a blinding hue of safforn, sapphire, and scarlet. Sweeping across the hilt, devouring the blade, it erupted into a blazing cylinder of brilliance that spread across the chains and scoured the hilt clean of wear and tear, as it gave birth to something magnificent.
A/N: Hope you liked! And don't forget to review! Yes, this fic will most likely be a NarutoxHarem fic, and it will take place during and after the movie, which may, or may not include the Fake Karakura Town Arc (Not sure where the movie fits in the timeline here, if anyone knows, please tell me) But while it might include the recent filler arc, WILL include the current Fullbring arc and will extend far and beyond as the manga progresses. Thanks again to Hollow Schutte for giving me this idea!