A/N: The when it rains, it pours, as the saying goes, and it holds true for inspiration as well as precipitation (sometimes, anyway). Be thankful to my muse and my fingers. I hardly even had to do anything except proofread it.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who took the time to review and favorite and follow this story. It really warms the cockles of my withered heart.

For anyone who's worried I'm going to give Naruto the abilities of a shinigami, you can rest easy knowing that I will never give any shinigami powers to Naruto (although I'm trying to figure out a reasonable way for Ichigo and Naruto to come up with a way to use Fuuton: Rasengan like a Cero blast; fuckin' sweet!). Neither will I give Ichigo any shinobi skills. The reasoning behind this is that I've made chakra and reiryoku fundamentally different types of energy. Therefore, what will work for one won't necessarily do the same for the other.

Also, to the wonderful anonymous reviewer KO, who commented about Ichigo and Itachi's first meeting...well, let's just say that when Sasuke's nii-sama and Naruto's nii-san encounter one another, Itachi's gonna have some 'splaining to do.

Disclaimer and Warning still apply from first chapter.

Ichigo couldn't really believe he'd actually volunteered for this. Somehow, some way, Sarutobi Hiruzen had managed to get Ichigo to agree to taking a quick examination in order to make him a 'Special Jonin' so he could get paid to watch over Naruto. Honestly, Ichigo didn't know what was worse: that he'd officially be in the employ of Konoha's government, or that he'd have to take a damn test.

He didn't even really remember the last time he'd had to take a test. Vaguely, Ichigo remembered Calculus class and a pop quiz, but his mind had been on Tekken combos he could use to beat the pants off of Tatsuki later that day, and after that, well...Wandenreich attacks could derail a guy's plans something fierce.

"So, what kind of test is this gonna be?" Ichigo decided to ask.

"Trial by combat," came the languid reply, and Ichigo shot a dirty look at his 'proctor,' whom the Hokage had introduced as Jonin Commander Nara Shikaku. The grizzled man, who was lounging idly on a folding chair on the edge of one of Konoha's training grounds, reminded Ichigo heavily of Shunsui, lazy demeanor draped haphazardly over a ridiculously sharp mind. "We're just waiting for your answer sheet."

"Answer sheet?" Ichigo parroted blankly. He almost began to ask what Shikaku meant by that when his instinct kicked him in the shin and told him to dodge. Moving his head slightly to the right, he caught a gleam of steel as it sliced the air next to his cheek, and reflex tightened his grip around the kunai that he'd snatched up.

Turning, and sensing that weird chakra energy the shinobi wielded, Ichigo found himself glaring into the porcelain mask of a mongoose's grinning face.

"Nara-hancho," the ANBU woman said neutrally. "You requested my presence?"

"Ah, Mongoose, always a pleasure," Shikaku said mildly. "Sandaime-sama figured that you'd be an excellent candidate to test Kurosaki-san's skills."

"You want me to engage in a sparring match with this guy?" Mongoose practically sputtered. Ichigo raised an eyebrow at the slip-up, and obviously, the ANBU knew she'd screwed up. "I mean...um...I understand?"

Shikaku hid a grin, and took pity on her. "This won't be a simple sparring match, Mongoose. Sandaime-sama's orders were to come at this man with intent to kill."

"What!?" two voices exclaimed, although one was filled with sadistic glee, while the other had incredulous note to it.

Ichigo and Mongoose sized each other up, and Ichigo couldn't help the shiver that thrilled down his spine in anticipation of a life-or-death battle. He hadn't truly fought since he'd arrived here (the bastard shinobi he beat down could hardly be counted as 'fights', after all). There were others to face down the real threats in this world; sure, he protected Naruto, but that was more against the venomous sting of painful words than actual physical harm. He had no one else he'd formed any sort of attachment to, and so he'd lost some of that edge he'd honed against all those high-level opponents back in his own reality.

Still, if this ANBU lady though she could pose a serious threat to a guy who'd faced down gods and monsters and mad emperors alike, then she had another thing-

"Jesus Christ!" Ichigo yelped, forcing his body to dodge and weave through the lightning-quick attacks Mongoose was utilizing. "He didn't say to start!"

"There are no rules in a lethal fight," Mongoose practically crooned as she hurled several shuriken to his right.

Trying to herd me to my left, huh? Ichigo threw himself into the path of the ninja stars, then contorted his spine so they all whizzed past him. Snatching a single one out of the air, he slipped it up his sleeve and turned back to face Mongoose.

"So how do I pass this test?" Ichigo asked Shikaku, who had begun to doze off.

"Live," was the scarred man's flippant response.

Aw, fuck...

Mongoose surged forward, a hail of senbon preceding her charge. Only a bit of fancy footwork and a quick shuriken-aided block on his part prevented Ichigo from becoming a walking pincushion, but even as he avoided the last of the steel needles, a sharp edge dug into his hip. Hissing as he pressed his hand against the new wound, Ichigo looked down and caught an eyeful of the sole of Mongoose's sandals before it smacked into his face with enough force to launch him into the air.

The ANBU kunoichi flew up after him, leading with a knee aimed for his chin, but Ichigo gritted his teeth and blocked with a forearm, following almost immediately with a stomping kick that both pushed his assailant down and boosted him up higher.

Shunting some reiatsu into the sky to create a stepping stone, Ichigo pushed off toward the still-falling Mongoose and lashed out with a heavy palm thrust. She impressed him by taking the blow on her shin, then cushioning her landing with her hands and springing backward in a single fluid motion.

Hitting the ground in a crouch, Ichigo slowly straightened up, rubbing the foot-shaped mark on his face. "Not bad," he quipped, spitting a glob of blood from his split lip.

"Funny, I was just thinking the opposite about you," Mongoose shot back, flicking her arms. From within the voluminous sleeves of her dark cloak darted a pair of strange punch dagger weapons of some type. Their blades were triangular, and the handles themselves were H-shaped with a horizontal grip.

Then she darted forward again, stabbing several times in quick succession and forcing Ichigo back, lest he end up being ripped a few new ones. His hand strayed to Trench's hilt, and he drew it just in time to ward off a blade aimed for his left lung.

Circling low and around, Ichigo managed to sweep up behind the ANBU and cut deep into her back, slicing through cloth and armor and muscle.

Give her some credit, Ichigo thought approvingly as no sound escaped Mongoose's lips, and she hopped away with barely any indication that she was injured at all. Only a slight waver in her shoulders betrayed her pain.

Unfortunately, Mongoose began to...snarl. There was honestly no other word for it. With a low, ragged rumble coming from her chest, she pressed her hands together, interlacing her fingers in an almost prayer-like pose. They separated, then came together again in the same way, except her index fingers were pointing straight up. She finished by crossing the first two fingers of each hand in the shape of a crucifix.

A wave of smoke flew outward, obscuring Ichigo's view of his opponent, whose chakra inexplicably split and flew off in three different directions.

Shadow Clones, Ichigo surmised quickly, keeping his body loose and ready to counter. He didn't know very many ninja techniques, but he'd have to be a dumb ass if he couldn't even recognize his own foster brother's signature move.

"Sen'eijashu!" chorused three Mongooses as they flew in from either side and behind him, thrusting out their left arms.

Rookie mistake, he thought with a frown. She left me an escape route up, and she's definitely no newbie. So...

Ichigo shot skyward as half a dozen large, fanged serpents darted out of the Mongooses' sleeves. True to form, a fourth Mongoose blurred into his line of sight directly above him, flashing four more hand signs before tossing a dozen senbon at him and bringing her hand to her mouth hole.

"Katon: Ryuka no Jutsu!" Mongoose shouted triumphantly, blowing gustily. Too late, Ichigo noticed the glint of steel wire that went from the senbon to Mongoose's raised hand, and he suddenly found twelve lines of flame racing toward him at frightening speed.

Sure, it wasn't as powerful as a Sokatsui from Nanao, but it was still damn quick, and he figured he needed to act just as rapidly. So with a lightning-fast horizontal strike and a clang of steel, Trench redirected the needles back to Mongoose, and the flames followed their trajectory.

With an undignified yelp, Mongoose cut off the flames and vanished in a swirl of leaves. But she probably didn't count on the fact that Ichigo had been fighting against opponents far faster and more agile than her for years, and when she dismounted from her Shunshin, it was to find a grinning Ichigo three-quarters of the way through the motions of a jab of stiff fingers into her solar plexus.

Doubling over, Mongoose gave Ichigo to perfect opportunity to land a rabbit punch to the nerve bundle at the back of her neck, dropping her instantly.

Turning back to Shikaku, he found the Jonin Commander looking halfway between dreams. At least until he noticed the curious glint in his half-lidded eyes. "So do I pass, or what?"

"You're probably gonna wanna run now while you have the chance," Shikaku said matter-of-fact. "Mongoose doesn't take lightly to people who work her into the ground without buying drinks first."

"Duly noted," Ichigo acknowledged, sheathing Trench and prepared for a few quick shunpo back to his home.

"Oh, and you passed," came the commander's voice a split-second before he took off. "Congratulations, Tokubetsu Jonin Kurosaki-san."

Groaning, Ichigo departed before Mongoose woke up.

Nara Shikaku watched the new guy with narrowed eyes and a mind full of half-formed ideas. He hadn't been able to really get a read on the kid, at least personality-wise, and he figured that Ichigo had been holding back significantly for Mongoose's sake. However, Shikaku had noticed that the young man certainly knew his way around a battlefield for a civilian.

There were too many unknown factors for Shikaku to form any sort of impression or theories as to where he'd come from or who he was. One thing was certain, though.

The kid hadn't used a drop of chakra during that fight, not even when he bounced off thin air halfway through. It was a credit to Mongoose that she'd been able to block that strike; at his age, Shikaku knew for a fact that he would have been hard-pressed to react quickly enough.

Nor had he even put a significant portion of his power into that swing with his trench knife; Shikaku was fairly certain that if he'd used just half of his full might, Ichigo would have cleaved Mongoose in half. It made for a strange picture that was coming together in his mind's eye.

Here was a foreigner without an ounce of readable chakra, not even from the sensors who had inspected him the first time he'd arrived in Konoha. He worked as a simple civilian, helping out wherever manual labor was needed, and yet he had the skill to take down not only fifteen mid-level Chunin like mere nuisances (simultaneously!), but also a highly-respected ANBU kunoichi with only a bit off effort.

Granted, she was still only Tokujo, but she had been trained by a highly-dangerous S-class missing-nin. It made Shikaku want to see how Ichigo held his own against the likes of Hatake or Gai.

A frustrated groan drew Shikaku's attention back to Mongoose, who was rising from the boneless heap she'd been left in, rubbing the spot on her neck where Ichigo had landed the finishing blow. Agitated, Mongoose pulled off her mask, revealing a very irate Mitarashi Anko.

"Where is that little punk?" she snapped, pale brown eyes readjusting to consciousness. She shook her head to banish the lingering daze and started looking around. "Ooh, when I get my hands on him...his entrails will become his extrails, I'll hook his liver up where his heart should go, I'm gonna-" She seemed to struggle for a moment, as though unable to put into words the depraved things she would inflict upon the poor boy. "...pain," Anko finally concluded. "Lots of pain."

"I doubt Hokage-sama would want you to kill his newest Tokujo, Anko-chan," Shikaku pointed out. "Besides, I'm sure Kurosaki-san isn't so bad. I'll bet he's every bit as sweet as his name suggests."

"Who even names their kid 'Strawberry' anyway?" Anko scoffed condescendingly. "That's like calling a child 'Banana' or something."

"It's written as 'First Guardian', actually," Shikaku informed her helpfully. "But regardless of that, I'd like to request that you don't go hunting after poor Kurosaki-san. He's got enough on his plate looking after Naruto-kun."

Anko eyed the commander warily. "He's taking care of the fox-brat?" she asked, grudgingly curious.

"Oh, I forgot you aren't on Naruto-kun's guard duty rotation," Shikaku smack himself in the forehead, feigning forgetfulness. "It's a funny story, actually. Naruto-kun smashed through Kurosaki-san's front window after a prank gone wrong, and Kurosaki-san has grown rather attached to Naruto-kun."

"And the jinchuriki?" Anko prodded.

"Heh," Shikaku smirked inwardly. Hook, line, and sinker... "Shikamaru tells me that Naruto-kun won't stop talking about his 'Ichi-ni-san'. Completely and utterly adores Kurosaki-san. Though it's not exactly surprising, is it?"

Anko shook her head somberly. Virtually every Konoha-nin who had been over the age of twelve during the Kyuubi attack knew about Naruto, and it wasn't like everyone was ignorant to the boy's alienation. Anko herself could probably relate to the jinchuriki, having lived much of her adolescence with the shadow of Orochimaru's training hanging over her head.

"So Sandaime-sama's really entrusting Uzumaki with a foreign civilian?" Anko finally muttered.

"Well, technically he's neither foreign nor civilian anymore," Shikaku amended carefully. "As soon as he knocked you out, he officially became a Tokubetsu Jonin of Konohagakure no Sato. The only thing left to do is sign the paperwork and hand him a hitai-ate."

Shikaku saw Anko's eye twitch, and suddenly he didn't feel so pacific anymore. Folding up his chair and dashing off with the speed of a younger man, the Nara clan head waved goodbye to a fuming Anko

"Sorry, Anko-chan, but I just remembered Yoshino telling me to be back soon, so I need to get going. It was nice to see you again!"

A few minutes later, as he strode into the Nara compound, he noticed Shikamaru shuffling to the kitchen.

"Hey, Shikamaru," he called out. "How was your mission today?"

"Troublesome," was the grumbled reply. Shikaku sighed; he would've told his son off for stealing his catchphrase, but the damn boy would probably just tell him that coming up with an original one would be 'too troublesome.' That kid took after him way too much for his liking.

On the other hand, he could have taken after Yoshino. With a shudder, Shikaku sent up a prayer of thankfulness to whichever god was in charge of genetic inheritance.

"Tou-san, you look like you found a good puzzle," Shikamaru said, almost masking his interest with such a casual tone as he pulled out the beginnings of a sandwich.

Smiling, Shikaku followed his son into the kitchen and took out some bread of his own. "You know your friend Naruto-kun's nii-san?"


"He was just promoted to Tokujo today. After beating an ANBU," Shikaku said in that off-handed voice he knew his son envied and tried to emulate. To his credit, Shikamaru only let a single twitch of his lips betray him. "Without chakra."

"Bull crap," Shikamaru answered as he spread butter and pulled out some ham. "Naruto's brother's a civilian. You can't just skip two ranks without-"

"-proper consent from the Hokage and a demonstration of skill," finished Shikaku with a smug grin. "And guess what Kurosaki-san just did today?"

"...that's not fair," Shikamaru grumbled, squirting some mustard onto his sandwich and taking a sullen bite.

"Ah, my son, I thought you already learned that lesson," Shikaku gently reprimanded. "Life is many things, but fair isn't one of them."

The two of them ate in thoughtful silence shared only by a pair of Nara men. At least, until a bit of Shikaku's mustard-slathered ham fell out of his sandwich and onto the immaculately cleaned kitchen floor with a wet slap.

Father and son glanced at each other with deer-in-the-headlight expressions just seconds before a shriek erupted from down the hall. "WHO SULLIED MY FLOOR!?"

Shikaku flinched, then looked toward his son, only to find a Shikamaru-shaped dust cloud and a faint, "You're on your own, Tou-san!" floating in the air.

"Rotten son," grumbled Shikaku as he prepared for the tongue-lashing his wife would no doubt cut him down with. It was times like these he sort of wished he wasn't so cool as to attract a strong-willed woman like Yoshino.

After-Action Report: Le gasp! Mongoose was Anko the whole time! Who would have thought? Other than anyone who knew that mongooses like to kill snakes (i.e. Orochimaru) of course. And Shikaku will be a recurring character in this fic, if not a major player on the board. I liked the scarred bastard since he showed up during the Chunin Invasion, which is why I had to take a feels-trip when he got blasted by a Biju Bomb. Gah! Damn you Kishimoto!

Anyway, Anko used her Hidden Shadow Snake Hands (Sen'eijashu) technique and the Katon: Ryuka no Jutsu (Fire Release: Dragon's Fire Technique) during the fight, if you didn't know, as well as the Body Flicker (Shunshin). Ichigo mentions the Blue Fire Crash Down (Sokatsui) destructive spell in the dialogue, too.

Tokubetsu Jonin (Special High Ninja), sometimes called 'Tokujo' for short, are shinobi who, rather than being all-around elite ninja, have specialized skills in only a few or even a single area at Jonin level. Two examples are Morino Ibiki and Ebisu. Ichigo doesn't exactly have specialized skills in the same sense as the Hokage would like, but he's got insane skills with those blades of his and he just needs a high enough rank to have certain privileges, so it all works out.

Review if you want, favorite if you like, follow if you must. And have a great day!