"The Choices We Made"

Chapter 9

"I think you're only making your friends uncomfortable by eating here." Naruto commented as he idly wiped the table Ichigo's leaning on, bowing his head in order to hide his grin as he purposely pushed the arm of the carrot top off of the table.

"Watch it." The orange haired teen growled unhappily. "Besides, Inoue's been adamant about going here anyway. They couldn't say no to her and I just put in my two cents." He swerved his hand into a dismissive gesture.

"Yeah, sure." The blonde easily agreed as he nodded absentmindedly.

Ichigo's eyebrow twitched.

"Isn't this fun? We get to eat with everybody else!" Orihime gushed as she ate the tuna sandwich she bought, dipping it every now and then to the mango jelly she had brought with her.

The rest sweatdropped at the sight.

"Why are you bringing mango jelly in the first place?" Tatsuki asked dryly, crossing her arms.

"Oh! I was planning to eat it with some fries but the line was too long and you know that I hate wasting food, Tatsuki-chan." She nodded to herself resolutely, taking a huge bite out of the seasoned sandwich vigorously.

"That's…good, Orihime-san." Mizuiro laughed uneasily, cringing as slimy jelly dripped from the edge of the sandwich. Then his gaze shifted to the hunched figure of Keigo, tears dramatically dripping down his cheeks as he grumpily ate the spaghetti in front of him. "Now, what's with you, Keigo-san? You've been acting strangely for a while now."

"It's that – that blonde devil, Mizuiro!" The brunette comically pointed his fork at Naruto who was blinking back at him bewilderedly. "He keeps hogging all the girls!" As if to prove his point, the girls from the senior year (who were settled on the table adjacent to theirs) giggled and waved at the blonde boy who blushed. "See, see! Mizuiro, it's not fair! He must've used some love potion or something or maybe he's hypnotising them!" He suddenly stood up as he eyed the sweatdropping blonde wildly.

Naruto turned to Ichigo who sighed and looked away.

"Don't bother." The teen simply said.

The blonde boy scoffed under his breath and grinned up at the silent Mexican teen.

"You're not bothered by this Sado-kun?" He asked curiously, large blue eyes blinking at the giant with interest. He rarely used honorifics with anyone but he made an exception for Chad, Naruto liked him.

While said teen shifted uncomfortably, not really used to mingling with people much younger than him (in appearances).

"I'm not, do not worry." Chad answered almost formally, his voice silent amongst the murmurings of the crowd around them.

Naruto clapped his hands delightedly.

"That's good! I don't mind you and Inoue-san coming here at all." Naruto ignored the twitch of Ichigo's hand and the blonde could imagine that hand wishing to strangle him. "You should come back again tomorrow, I managed to 'persuade' the head to finally include ramen for the school's menu! You should try it!" The boy endorsed with a straight face despite the smug and cheery vibes of his tone.

"Persuade?" Ichigo asked skeptically, narrowing his brown eyes at the blonde who attempted to look innocent.

"Of course! I have my ways, strawberry!" The blonde grinned toothily, wagging his eyebrows in a suggestive gesture.

The orange haired teen's face reddened in anger.

"You manipulative, conniving brat–" He grumbled under his breath as he stood up to smack the boy's head, making his friends looked on in amusement.

Oh, Ichigo was willing to bet his entire wardrobe that Naruto's persuading method had been in the form of that contraption he used to alter people's memories.

"Now, now, teme, be nice." But Naruto then leaned in to whisper. "I was planning to teach you Shunpō later." Then the boy feigned disappointment. "But since you're so mean, that means you're not interested then." He stated dramatically, sighing exaggeratedly as Ichigo froze in mid-air.

Eyebrow twitching, Ichigo mechanically forced himself to sit down. Damn that brat. It had been a week since the accident with Orihime's brother (though the boy still limped in walking, he no longer needed a crutch) and the teen had asked the little devil earlier about that strange flashing move he used when Ichigo's house was attacked by that hollow. At first, the blonde was hesitant since both knew that the orange haired teen would only be a temporary replacement. But Ichigo had convinced him that why not teach him while he's still the one performing the boy's duties.

It was trade knowledge stuff. Ichigo got to learn more about Shinigamis and their power. Naruto then wouldn't have to worry since it will make the teen much capable of carrying out his duties.

Ichigo later learned that it was called Shunpō. Apparently, it was a speed technique. And that would be incredibly useful for evading attacks and in case he needed to be somewhere else quickly. Naruto just hadn't promised when and the little rascal had dangled that opportunity out of his grasp every time Ichigo made a move to do something he didn't like.

But he couldn't stop the smirk from appearing on his face, finally, a bubble of excitement grew within him.

"Stop being such a violent little strawberry, Ichi!" Naruto exclaimed cheerfully as he patted the orange spikes almost mockingly. "And I'll even teach you how to fly."

A large hand swatted Naruto's small one irately. But as soon as the blonde's words registered fully, chocolate brown eyes widened furthermore with intrigue and maybe with a little bit of disbelief. The taller teen leaned closer to the grinning blonde and eyed him suspiciously.

"What the hell do you mean by fly, you insufferable fishcake?" Ichigo smirked as the boy twitched.

"Exactly as I said, you moronic bastard." The blonde rolled his eyes before scurrying away from the teen who attempted to grapple him into a strangle hold.

"They're so cute, aren't they, Tatsuki-chan?" Orihime smiled to her best friend who grinned ruthlessly.

"Don't compare me to that brat/teme!" Both yelled at the same time, as soon as it sunk in that they yelled the exact words, they glared at each other balefully.

"Yes, Orihime. They are." The dark haired girl smirked at the two.

"Hot! Hot!" All of their attentions swerved to Keigo who was running around with tears streaming down his face, clutching his throat with both hands all the while. They noticed that his face was very red, almost purple.

Naruto couldn't stop the grin from spreading on his face. He hadn't lost his touch. The boy had been annoying him for some time now, accusing him of things he had no idea in the first place. Though he wondered, Keigo had been eating that spaghetti for a while now. Late reaction, maybe?

Ichigo had been the only one to notice the blonde's rather malicious expression.

"Do you have something to do with this?"

Naruto blinked innocently.

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

He really loved pranks.

"So, it's true." Sarutobi Hiruzen breathed out, words sad and pained with guilt.

Jiraiya leaned on the window sill, not really facing his former teacher and current Hokage. Even he couldn't believe it at first. He had arrived at this village to finally grasp the opportunity to see his former student's son and his godson again. It was not to be, however.

The boy had gone missing for five years before. He had poured everything on his spy network into finding the little blonde but it had proven to be fruitless. He had almost died of shock when it was mentioned that Kyuubi's chakra was felt before the boy had disappeared. During those gruelling five years, the white haired man had concentrated on his spy network, squeezing as much information for anything about a blonde boy with blue eyes. And when empty-handed, those hopeless quests would be dedicated to drinking sake.

Hiruzen had almost declared the boy dead if it wasn't for Jiraiya's insistence that he would find him.

Jiraiya almost became consumed by guilt. Naruto was his godson, he should have been the one taking care of him. But since he left the village, despite his outside support, he hadn't been able to protect the boy.

Then after five years, imagine his relief and disbelief when the ANBU patrol came across a blonde boy with blue eyes that was identical to Minato's–wandering the forest at the edge of Fire Country's border. Blood tests, the seal, and even the joy on the boy's face upon seeing the Sandaime had been the proof of his identity. They had interrogated the boy (upon the council's orders) for suspicious moves. It came up with nothing.

But the Sannin was worried. He was there when the boy first came back, the blue eyes was too intelligent. Old even. And it unnerved him because the boy knows too much. But there was no hostility, just resigned sadness at the village's unwavering determination to hate him even at his long term absence.

Jiraiya had considered taking Naruto with him out of the village to make sure that it won't happen again. But then, he felt it.

Since he was a kid, he had been a spiritually aware person. He could see spirits, that's why he had been a slightly religious person. Upon his travels, there wasn't a time he hadn't offered a prayer in temples when he passed by one. It was actually at those expeditions that he had earned the Toad Summoning Contract–a temple near Water Country and Wind Country when he had been still a mere chuunin.

And when he had mastered Senjutsu and became the Toad Sage, he began to see Hollows. Actually, he didn't know what the heck they were in the first place if it wasn't for Minato's father.

Though Jiraiya and he never got along (their mutual ground being Minato, Jiraiya's student and the man's son), the bastard was too stuck-up for his taste. Though the white haired man couldn't fault him through, the man was raised that way.

The day he discovered the existence of Minato's father was the day Jiraiya learned of the existence of Shinigamis. Apparently, there were more of them out there and the main head was called the Spirit King or something.

They couldn't alter or erase his memories, his reiatsu or spiritual power was too much for them to work on. And since he was the mentor of Minato, he had been entrusted with the knowledge under the promise of retribution should a soul discovers it from Jiraiya. The man had said that once Minato dies, he would become a full-fledged Shinigami under their system. The Sannin had accepted that fact a long time ago.

Though Minato carried a certain dislike for his father, it was only made evident with his distaste of the clan the man was from. Growing up as an orphan for some time, the blonde had developed a particular pity for those of noble stature who kept thinking they were above everyone else. But Jiraiya couldn't deny the gleam and need to please the man in his student's cerulean blue eyes.

But Minato fell in love with Kushina. A human. A Jinchuuriki–of the Kyuubi no Yoko no less.

Of course, the bastard hadn't approved. Despite containing the creature of endless chakra, Kushina didn't have enough reiatsu to even become an unseated officer. The Clan, it seemed, was on their way in planning to marry the blonde off to someone else.

Ties had been cut and whatever family blood relation Minato had connected to him was severed.

Kushina didn't know that and seriously, Jiraiya rather that she didn't.

Then the Kyuubi Attack happened. Jiraiya hadn't been there specifically but he knew that Minato had sacrificed everything–his freedom, his love, his family, and even his own self–just to save the village by using the dreaded Shiki Fuuin. A seal that would summon a Shinigami to seal off some of the Kyuubi's powers but that would also mean requiring their help and that means surrendering himself to their wishes, to his clan's wishes.

It was a year after his 'death' that Minato had visited him as a Shinigami. It seemed that it had been twenty years in their realm compared to the lone year in the shinobi realm.

And Jiraiya was happy to know that his student had been doing well back there. His clan refused to acknowledge his family back here in the Shinobi realm and tried to engage him to a woman from another clan. Though Minato told him that his supposed fiancée had been understanding and had made sure to make her point that she did not want to ruin a family. And that his student was friends with said woman.

The blonde had also mentioned that it was hard to visit Kushina since she wasn't a Shinigami and was located in a Rukongai district called Junrinan. After some fierce argument with the elders, his father had allowed his marriage with the redhead to be fully noted and be taken as authentic. Though the clan had refused to welcome her into their grounds.

Stuck-up bastards.

And Minato's father had been married to someone else after the death of his mother (Minato's mother had been human) and Minato currently had a younger half-brother. And a stepmother who was kind to him. So the reason the man had helped Minato in getting out of his predicament became apparent. Jiraiya was surprised but he laughed loudly when his student had mentioned about corrupting his sibling.

Minato had then visited his son and Naruto had only been a year old at the orphanage. What shocked the two was that the boy could see Minato. Yet it was discovered that the boy has reiatsu within him, strong enough to see a Shinigami.

The blonde man never visited after that, afraid that his clan would claim his son before the boy's death.

Minato would visit the Sannin occasionally but that stopped after Minato's father and stepmother had died – so that only left the blonde, his clan, and his brother. After sometime, his student opted to just mail him but then those stopped too after a last letter from Minato that said he wouldn't be in contact with him for long time and that to look out for his son.

By then, Jiraiya had already learned to differentiate the feeling of a normal soul's reiatsu from a Hollow and a Shinigami.

There were even times that the Sannin had finished off hollows when the Shinigami on duty arrived too late. And when Naruto had reappeared, he felt the boy's reiatsu. To be specific, what he felt was the spiritual power of a Shinigami.

Jiraiya knew then that he had lost the boy.

He had no idea how Naruto became a Shinigami and how others were able to see Naruto but the boy was a Shinigami. Jiraiya wasn't able to tell the boy's purpose but he was secretly hoping that it didn't go against his village or he would be forced to fight the brat. Something he wouldn't be able to carry out.

So he ventured outside the village again.

According to Hiruzen, the boy had acted normal. Jiraiya didn't know whether to be relieved or suspicious.

When he came back, he had felt Naruto's reiatsu flaring wildly and he had almost dreaded what would happen. But then, he happened to get a hold of that redheaded Shinigami. He wasn't able to get the specifics of the mission but the Abarai guy had assured him that it will not bring harm to the village. But what saddened him was that, they would be due to depart as soon as it was over.

After that, he had joined the young man in lounging on the roof, talking about everything he could recall of his adventures and his connection to Naruto. Though Jiraiya took pleasure in making the guy squirm who looked horribly uncomfortable.

Since that day, their reiatsu had disappeared from this realm. Replaced by another batch of patrolling Shinigamis. But what unnerved him was the sudden presence of Orochimaru's reiatsu–a hollow's reiatsu.

And now, he had just confirmed it to Sarutobi that Naruto was 'dead'. He didn't want the boy to be labelled as a traitor so this was the least that he could do.

"Yes, as much as it saddens me. My informant was sure that the child those ninjas killed was a blonde boy with whisker marks on his cheeks." A lie, but Jiraiya was willing to do this for failing his godson the first time. He wasn't about to add a second.

Hiruzen dipped his hat.

"You better watch your words next time, Jiraiya, I might not be as inclined to shield you if you don't." The old man uttered softly under his breath.

Jiraiya chuckled throatily.

"Is that a threat, sensei?" He challenged but he already knew Sarutobi would see through the lie.

"No, merely a warning." Hiruzen stated as he sighed. "We're on our way to war, I can't afford to run in circles. Danzo had been hysterical since the supposed disappearance of our village's Jinchuuriki, I bet he's had his troops lurking in Suna just to make sure."

The Sannin grunted at that.

"Sensei, how he died was the lie but Naruto is dead." The white haired man declared grimly, his lips pulled down into a frown.

"And you're so sure?"

"Yes, please don't go there." There was genuine plead in the man's statement that it startled the elder momentarily into silence.

Sarutobi sighed.

"For now, only for now, my dear student."

"Hey, Kakashi." Asuma idly waved as he entered the bar.

"Over here my youthful friend! We've diligently waited for you!" Gai bellowed back with a toothy grin to which made Asuma inwardly roll his eyes.

The bearded man acknowledged the other Jounin or Special Jounin with a nod who returned it in kind. They were hanging out in a bar called "The Deadly Kunai" and were now situated in their reserved and usual spot. A round table at the far corner to avoid the inconspicuous eyes of possible eavesdroppers. It wouldn't be the first time if someone tried to spy on them, after all, a gathering of Jounin like this was a chance for them.

His eyes shifted the hunched figure of his comrade. He and Gai, mainly, worried for Kakashi. Since the disappearance of his student, the man had taken to always drinking during evenings. It perturbed him that the powerful Jounin was wallowing in sullen depression. Sure, a teacher loses their students once in a while but this was just out of character if Asuma had anything to say.

Frankly, Asuma just didn't understand Kakashi's strong attachment to the blonde boy. The man had sometimes even slacked in his duties regarding his two remaining students. What was it about Uzumaki Naruto that had the silver haired man drowning himself in sorrow? Kakashi had lost a fair share of his friends–a feat already in itself since the Hatake was pretty guarded and slightly introverted but the man continued on. But what made the boy different?

Kakashi just raised his hand in a weak wave.

"So, how's your team doing Kurenai?" The Sarutobi instead turned to his other colleague.

The woman in question just sighed as she took a sip of her sake.

"They're doing… fine. As fine as they could be. They're already training for the finals but Hinata… I don't know whether to be proud or sad for her. She has a major crush on the Uzumaki boy, I wouldn't call it love yet but she extremely admires him. Since the news of his disappearance–" Her eyes momentarily shifted to Kakashi, but the man just poured himself some more sake and ignored them.

Kurenai continued, "She had become more determined to get stronger. She says that she'll do it in his place–the Uzumaki was known for his will to never give up. I'm slightly glad that she found her confidence and foundation to fight but she's bottling up her sorrow to appear resilient… I don't think it's wise. Especially the pressure put on her by the Hyuuga, she'll be facing against Neji in the finals." The others winced in sympathy, it was quite well-known in their circle about the prodigy's–Hyuuga Neji–abhorrence towards the main house.

Asuma shrugged as he lit up a cigarette.

"Well, my team are training with their clans. But I couldn't help but notice Shikamaru's fidgety since the mention of Naruto's disappearance." When he received curious looks, he frowned a little. "That kid is too smart for his own good. The questions he asks sometimes…" Asuma shook his head wryly.

"So what, did the brat come close to the–" Anko sneered for a bit before grinning. "Secret?" She whispered mockingly that had Hayate chuckling.

That made the bearded Jounin pause. He looked at his hands idly before facing his comrades with a blank look.

"As far as I know, he already knew that for some time."

Gai and Kurenai stood up in shock while others froze with their eyes wide. He even had Kakashi's attention by now who was eyeing him intensely. There was a squawk of surprise and outrage from Anko as she narrowed her eyes at him.

"Who broke the law?" Gai asked seriously, his normally loud and obnoxious voice absent.

"No one." It wasn't Asuma who answered but Kakashi who already turned back to his drink.

Anko glared at him as she crossed her arms.

"Get to the fucking point already, Hatake." She growled irately as she watched the silver haired man tilt his head to the side and give her his usual smiles that made his visible eye crinkle. She cringed though at the condescending picture it imaged.

Kurenai took her seat once again but Gai remained standing as he looked at Kakashi almost calculatingly that made others uncomfortable.

"Does it need to be said in words?" Kakashi asked hollowly, his voice devoid of any emotion. "You just need to look at Naruto and this village to know it. Civilians aren't exactly as subtle as our Shinobi to try and hide that fact. It's the only possible loophole, any normal person with a common sense would have discovered it by now."

The other Jounin recoiled a little at that. Even Anko seemed a little taken aback before the purple haired woman's face shifted into indifference.

"Kakashi…" Kurenai hesitated.

But the man just snorted.

"There are so many what ifs. Sensei would be disappointed in me." Kakashi murmured under his breath.

"So your student knows, he hasn't spread words, did he?" Yugao asked carefully as she regarded Asuma–threat in her eyes that one wrong word and she'll carry the punishment herself.

Asuma returned her glare for glare.

"No, he didn't. As far as I could tell, he's still searching for something… I don't really understand him sometimes but it's almost like it's just the tip of the iceberg, like he's expecting there's supposed to be something deeper into it." The man couldn't exactly describe it in words but that was how it appeared to him.

Kakashi tensed subtly. Heritage. It came to his mind.

"What more could there be aside from the simple words of "contained" and "seal"? Is the kid applying for intelligence?" Anko inquired flippantly as she tilted her chair back, ignoring the sharp glances she received for her words.

"All I'm saying is that he's expecting something more… sinister or more otherworldly thing." Asuma shook his head.

"But what more could there be?" Gai settled himself on his seat. It wasn't the first time his comrades saw him this serious but it was still kind of weird to associate him with the loud, 'youthful' individual they knew outside.

Anko got fed up and grunted.

"Ah, forget about it. You've already heard about the damn incident at the borders?" She shifted the topic with ease as she plopped her elbow on the table as her chin rested at the palm of her hand.

"Yes, a patrol had been… massacred for the lack of better word." Kurenai answered tightly. "Could it be that Oto is moving?"

Asuma snorted.

"I doubt that. You hadn't been on that mission."

"And you have?" Yugao retorted shortly.

He nodded slightly earning intrigued looks from the others even Kakashi, but especially Anko.

"Yes, I have. It was gruesome, more like they've been attack by an animal. The broken body parts didn't look like they've been hacked, more like… eaten." He stated with disgust as his lips curled in displeasure.

Anko's face wrinkled with distaste.

"What the hell, Sarutobi?"

"Tch, one survived for five minutes to relay what happened. A miracle already since he's nothing but an upper body without a left arm." None of them cringed at the words, they were used to bloodshed by now. "Told us that they couldn't see what attack them… but it was some kind of monster and began sorting through them."

"Now that's some fuck-up shit." Anko whistled.

"I believe it is."

"Damnit!" Ichigo cursed as he nursed his aching nose then he looked over his shoulder sharply. "Stop laughing, damn you!" He shouted angrily at the guffawing blonde.

Like Naruto had promised, they had trained in regards to Shunpō after class. And since the blonde didn't want to risk it, they had retreated to the outskirts of the city, void of any living souls. They had made sure that there were no hollows before proceeding here.

Shunpō, in the smaller boy's explanation, was fairly simple. Or at least, it was supposed to be.

It was determined by how fast he could move from point A to point B. Simple. The lower the number of steps there was, the faster he was. He found out that when in his spirit or Shinigami form, he was more agile and felt no resistance in his last second movements. And the blonde had made him run laps and do light stretches so he wouldn't accidentally jerk his body painfully which was obviously still not use to the quick movements.

So, they had mark point A – the rock beside Naruto – and point B – the tree ten feet in front of him. It was simple. Not.

Apparently, he couldn't control his momentum and ended up going forward while unable to stop himself. Causing him his current predicament, bumping into the tree quite hard. His nose had paid the price. It hurt, damnit!

"So, how's that for easy?" Naruto teased with a sly grin on his face.

"Well, you made it sound easy!" Ichigo retorted as he sat down at the base of the tree, wincing as his sensitive nose throbbed painfully. "Point A to point B, fast movement and low number of steps. You purposely forgot to tell me about how to brace myself, didn't you?" The orange haired teen accused fiercely.

"Eh?" The blonde boy crossed his arms over his chest with a frown. "I can only provide enough theory but you're supposed to figure the rest out for yourself. Take it as another form of training, the enemy might provide you enough information about themselves but it will be up to you in the end how to figure them out so you could defeat them. Fighting isn't just about brute force, you dolt. I learned that the hard way." Naruto stated, a little flustered as he remembered his former vice captain.

"You could've warned me at least." Ichigo grumbled under his breath as he stood up, ready to try again.

"That and it was amusing." The boy admitted unabashedly.

"Why you…!" Ichigo raised a trembling fist, clenching it so hard to control his temper.

"Again, Ichigo." Naruto instructed with a harsh and low tone, his blue eyes narrowed.

The teen would never get used to it. It was like, the kid had some bipolar disorder or something synonymous to it. Earlier, the blonde had been teasing him, then teaching him a lesson next, then making fun of him, and then ordering him like how a commander would do.

It got confusing after a while.

So the teen took a deep breath as he bent his knees a little. He concentrated on the rock beside Naruto. Closing his eyes, he raised a foot and took a step. Another and another. He forced the muscles of his legs to cease any movements (though he winced at the sudden strain, he instantly understood the purpose of those warm-ups earlier) as he opened his eyes again and saw that he was standing less than an inch from the rock beside the boy.

While said boy beamed at him proudly.

"Wow! five seconds! On your second try too!" Naruto gushed excitedly as he appraised Ichigo. "And with only three steps! Something tells me that you'll be a natural at this. It took me five steps and eight seconds on my second try." The blonde murmured thoughtfully under his breath.

"So, that's good?" Ichigo asked nonchalantly. 'I don't know whether to be proud, his short legs might have stumped his second try.' He thought dryly to himself but was smart enough to keep the thought to himself.

Suddenly, Naruto looked up at him seriously.

"Bring out your zanpakutō, I want to see something." He instructed as he crossed his arms.

Although perplexed, the teenager did as he was told. He never understood why Naruto's eyes would widen every time he saw his weapon. The boy had said that it was really unnatural for a human (even turned Shinigami) to have so much reiatsu like he did. And at times, the boy would complain how more badass it was compared to the blonde's sword.

"May I?" Naruto asked as he held out his palm.

"Right." Ichigo nodded as he handed his zanpakutō to the blonde.

Naruto grunted as he hefted the large sword, then swung it experimentally a few times. Though he hissed a little at the large weight, but it was not enough to actually give him grief. He then tossed it to the surprised teen who clumsily caught it.

"Is it heavy?" He asked the orange haired teen.

Ichigo blinked at the inquiry. Now that he lifted it carefully, it actually weighed a lot lighter than he expected a weapon of this size. He then did some basic frontal slashes and was rather unprepared for the quick movement of his sword, probably unused to its lightness that he never realized before. It flew from his hand unexpectedly and landed a few feet in front.

"The hell?" The teen grunted as he walked to pick up his large sword.

That never happened before but maybe it had something to do with instantly hacking hollows without second thought, he blushed a little as he remembered the blonde's explanation about zanpakutōs being sentient beings. What would his say then?

Naruto grimaced.

"Just as I thought." The blonde observed as he approached the teen who hefted the large sword.

"What do you mean? Just get to the point already." Ichigo asked impatiently.

"You don't have control over your spiritual power. Sure, you have a lot of it but it just fluctuates wildly around you. Your current blade is weak." Naruto held up a hand to stop the teen's protests. "It was just manifested as representation of your immense power but without control, it was created with little amount of reiryōku."

"So what are you trying to say?" Ichigo questioned, a little disgruntled.

"You'll be having a tough time fighting with it. If under enough pressure and strength or those with high concentration, control, and power in regards to reiryōku, they could break your blade. Simple as that." Naruto stated matter-of-factly as he eyed the deeper scowl on Ichigo's face. "You couldn't fight at your full potential with an unstable sword, it will hinder you. Not to mention your wild reiatsu still attracts hollows to you like bees to honey. And when I saw you do Shunpō, you actually managed to restrain some of your power subconsciously. Controlling your movements may have something to do with it."

"Again, what are you trying to say?" Ichigo was starting to lose more patience here.

"Simple you dumbass, we will train in containing that reiatsu better." Naruto stated so casually as if that alone solved the problem.

"And how the hell are we supposed to do that?" The teen raised an eyebrow but eager to take on whatever training this particular subject required. After all, if he didn't attract any hollows to his person then he wouldn't be putting anyone in danger.

"Training." The blonde answered, not really giving anything away. "But that's for tomorrow."

Though Ichigo was disappointed, he could still do well with his Shunpō. He suddenly remembered something as he bent down to stare at the blonde boy directly in the eyes.

"Wait, what do you mean by teaching me how to fly of all things?"

Naruto grinned that innocent smile.

"Again, exactly as it says. Being in Shinigami form is also considered being a spirit. It's actually easier than Shunpō. Like levitation and letting go, then standing on your own solid ground." He nodded to himself.

"Flying?" Ichigo sputtered with disbelief as he straightened, unable to get the idea to wrap around his head.

"Yes, teme. What does your dumbass brain couldn't–"

What the…?

The boys jumped away from each other as the ground between them exploded. Naruto had caught the sight of the attack, a Hadō and Shakkahō no less.

Kidō. A Shinigami.

His eyes snapped up to a tree behind them where a figure stood at a low branch. Where he expected someone wearing Shihakushō or something similar to the Onmitsukidō's outfit (to arrest him), all he saw was someone dressed in what seemed to be dark pants and boots–it was the only thing visible since the figure had a black cloak draped over its form–with a hood obscuring his head and face from view.

"Who the hell are you?" Ichigo questioned gruffly as he glared, gripping his zanpakutō with both hands and conveniently forgetting the earlier discussion about it.

The person didn't say anything. It was obviously a man from the tall stature and broad shoulders. The cloaked figure disappeared in a blaze of reiatsu and was upon the orange haired teen before Ichigo could react. A punch went to Ichigo's face but the teen ducked and swung his blade outwardly, cursing as the figure deftly evaded his attack.

Ichigo was also cursing himself for letting the man get inside his guard that fast. That was too close for comfort.

"Ye lord! Mask of flesh and bone, flutter of wings, ye who bears the name of Man! Truth and temperance, upon this sinless wall of dreams unleash but slightly the wrath of your claws. Hadō #33: Sōkatsui!" Naruto recited the incantation as he held out his palm to the figure who dodged the small burst of blue reiryōku (way too small for his liking). He released a shaky breath as pain flared in his chest.

'Damn it all, why are my powers still this weak?' He questioned for the umpteenth time. Something was seriously off with him, he had to question Urahara-san.

This wasn't the first time he had lost his powers after all.

Why was it suddenly so hard for him now?

Not to mention, he couldn't get any access to Arashi. That fact bothered him more than anything else. After all, they were…

Ichigo, meanwhile, was getting angrier as the figure proved to be too good at playing chase and dodge. He jumped and raised his zanpakutō in a downward slash and the man just shifted to the left and spun, delivering the heel of his foot to kick the orange haired teen on the gut which sent him skidding away on the ground. The man then had to bend his trunk backwards to avoid the kick that Naruto had delivered and grabbed the boy's ankle.

But he wasn't ready for the blonde to take advantage of it as some kind of leverage, hefted himself up and brought down a hand to grab his hood and reveal his identity. His reflexes though were honed well and he tipped his head back enough to only let the small fingers grazed against the fabric, letting go of the ankle as he did so.

'And that was that, too close!' Naruto thought with disappointment as he landed roughly on his feet.

But he did manage to get a glimpse of the tanned angular jaw and grinning mouth of the man. Just who was he? He was a Shinigami. But he wasn't from Soul Society. Or at least, Naruto deduced to himself.

"Get away from him, you jerk!" Ichigo hollered as he appeared in a burst of Shunpō between Naruto and their opponent. The blonde stared at him in amazement and maybe a little bit of fear. Ichigo had landed at least twenty feet away from them and had managed to speed his way here on his third try at that distance? In no less than five seconds too.

Naruto marvelled at how Ichigo was a natural at being a Shinigami. The boy's sudden progress and potential were frightening.

Ichigo slashed at the man, not even having time to be proud at his accomplishment. The only thing that had been on his mind was to get to Naruto faster… he wouldn't let anyone get in danger under his watch.

"Who the hell are you? And why are you attacking us? What do you want?" The teen asked in quick succession as he avoided a roundhouse kick and lashed out with his foot for a change.

It seemed to have caught the man off guard since the kick connected with his left hip. But not strong enough to hinder him and leave lasting damage. He went back to Naruto's side as both jumped at the sudden chuckle that permeated the air.

"So it's true then…" When the man uttered those words softly, for some reason, Naruto could feel the man's eyes upon himself.

For some unidentifiable reason, he felt like he knew this person and it didn't help that there was no ill intent surrounding the man. He didn't like this feeling of familiarity at all. Not one bit. Before he could contemplate deeper into it, the man had made that decision for him.

"Hadō #54: Haien."

Naruto's eyes widened into the size of saucers as condensed purple energy went their way. He felt himself being picked up by Ichigo (though he was chagrined at being carried under his arm) and the teen barely managed to use Shunpō to dodge it. The area they had been previously standing on exploded loudly and spectacularly, the force of it sending them rolling on the ground quite painfully–earning themselves scratches and bruises in the process.

The blonde was relieved that they had hidden Ichigo's body in an abandoned warehouse near here. Or else they would've been worrying about that too. He really needed that Gikongan…

Naruto pushed himself away from Ichigo who groaned and glared at their attacker.

"Those attacks are seriously getting on my nerves." Ichigo growled as he shakily stood up. "You will have to teach me those spells too. They've proven to be useful." He admitted as he blushed lightly, remembering that he had brushed off Naruto's advice to learn some Kidō. The long incantations had driven him crazy when he had asked about it.

"Now that's something to seriously think about. I have to consider first if a dumbass teme like you could handle it." Naruto muttered distractedly, not taking his eyes off the man who just stood there.

Ichigo bristled at the insult.

"Not now, Ichigo." Naruto stated back gravely.

Ichigo just scowled as he readied his stance and braced himself for an attack.

Then the man made his move, darting to them speedily and Naruto was reminded of a Shinobi. Of all places, the Human World seemed to be the last place to see them. But he couldn't take his eyes off of the cloaked man.

But the ground between them exploded and the blonde wondered why people were becoming keen in explosions and destroying earthly grounds. The boy idly noticed their attacker who jump back and shift his posture defensively.

What caught his attention though was the long blue arrow-shaped reiryōku that struck the earth. For some reason, that too was familiar to him. He had heard of that somehow, maybe in the Academy? His question was answered when he sensed the reiatsu of someone he knew, just a few meters away from them.

Glasses glinted under the darkening sky and Ichigo gaped at the white clad figure who scowled at him.

"What trouble have you gotten in now, Kurosaki?" The newcomer sneered at the shell-shocked teen who was eyeing the large glowing bow on the figure's hands quite dubiously. Even Ichigo wasn't that stupid enough to not tell that it was spiritual power.

"I – Ishida?" Ichigo said incredulously.

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