Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or Bleach.

Chapter 27: Strike

Karakura Town

Staring at Rukia's smirking visage, Ichigo blinked owlishly. Then, he asked, "Why the hell are you over there?! You could've just entered through the door like normal people!"

Caught off-guard by his response, she stumbled from the window and to the floor. She jumped to her feet, a vein popping on her head in annoyance. "Seriously?! I went through all that trouble and that's the first thing you ask?!"

"Of course that's the first thing I'm going to ask!" replied Ichigo hotly. "Did you seriously split up from them just to set yourself up on the window and wait for the opportunity to answer me?!"

Rukia blushed indignantly. "Sh-shut up! It's not my fault you can't appreciate my entrances!"

"'Appreciate your entrances'?" he asked incredulously. "This is the third floor! You hung outside the window of the third floor waiting for me!" He winced when Ochi-sensei smacked him on the head with her folder. "Ow!"

"Alright, you two," she scolded, returning to the front desk. "That's enough flirting. Ichigo, I know you're excited to see your friend and all but do it after class. And Rukia, I know you want to make an impression but you need to be careful. Staying out the window is not the best way to do it!"

Ichigo and Rukia immediately turned red and exclaimed, "WE'RE NOT FLIRTING!"

The class laughed at the byplay. Rangiku joined them and laughed as she hung an arm around Ichigo's shoulder. "Don't worry, Ichigo-kun! We won't judge!" She grinned at his spluttering face.

"Enough, Matsumoto," Toshiro hissed, pulling her back by the arm. "We are not here to bully Kurosaki and Kuchiki."

"But, taicho," she whined, pouting at him and making a few boys swoon, "I'm not bullying them at all!"

"Whatever it is," he replied, "do it later."

"Fine." She huffed and crossed her arms, making her breasts lift up slightly, catching plenty of eyes.

Ochi-sensei smacked her book in her hand. "Alright, alright, take a seat, everyone! You lot will have to take the seats by the back over there!"

Kurosaki Residence

"NEE-SAN!" Kon shouted joyfully, leaping to Rukia, who came home with Ichigo.

"Oh, hello to you too, Kon," Rukia idly replied, retaliating quickly by blocking him with her foot and pinning him to the floor.

"It really is you, Nee-san!" he exclaimed, his voice muffled by her foot.

"Of course it's her, Kon," Ichigo said irritably, closing the door behind him, as he entered his room. He took a seat on his bed and looked at Rukia. "Are you staying here again, Rukia?"

The Shinigami shrugged, taking her foot off of Kon, and jabbed a thumb at his closet. "Yup! I'll be commandeering this place again!"

Ichigo sighed and waved his hand dismissively. "Fine. I'm sure Yuzu will be delighted to have you back again."

She looked around the room, commenting, "It's been a long time... Has it always been this small?"

A tick mark formed on his head. "Coming from the girl who stayed in my closet, which is smaller than my room, you don't have room to talk, midget!"

"Well, excuse me, your Highness!" she replied with a smirk. "Forgive me for my poorly-chosen words!"

"Oh, shut up! Jeez, you come back after so long and you're already back to being a pain in my ass," grumbled Ichigo. He then crossed his arms. "So what brings you guys here? Is it about that group that came here a few days ago?"

Rukia turned serious and nodded. "Yes. Kurotsuchi-taichou sensed their arrival a few days ago, along with the battle that followed. Soutaichou decided to send some Shinigami here to further reinforce the defences in Karakura Town.

"And that's where we come in!" Renji exclaimed as he, and the other Shinigami, dropped down from his ceiling from the light fixture.

"OI!" Ichigo shouted irately. "You guys better fix it before you leave my house!"

"Calm down, Ichigo," he replied, grabbing Ichigo's chair from his desk and sitting on it. "Your family won't even notice anything wrong when we leave."

Huffing, he said, "Whatever. So, the old man sent you guys here?"

"You should treat the soutaichou with more respect, Kurosaki," grounded out Toshiro, glaring at him from his perch on his bedroom window. "It's because of him that we're here, after all."

Ichigo shrugged. "Sure," he said. "So, you guys are the backup then?"

Scowling at him, Toshiro exhaled before replying, "Yes. He assigned Kuchiki because she has a history here. That, and soutaichou wants Urahara Kisuke to remove that Hogyoku from her as soon as possible."

He raised a brow. "Can't that other captain do it? That Kurotsuchi Mayuri guy?"

"Kurotsuchi-taichou is...skilled at what he does," said Toshiro carefully. "But he is not the gentlest or the most patient of captains when he works. He also tends to get very...ill-tempered when it comes to Urahara Kisuke; some had concerns about his professionalism when handling something his predecessor had done. Kuchiki-taichou, in particular, doesn't trust Kurotsuchi-taichou to not go beyond his assignment in an attempt to one-up his former mentor."

Rukia shuddered. "Yeah. Onii-sama really doesn't approve of his methods."

With good reason, Ichigo thought to himself. Naruto's stories were enough information about the clown-faced captain.

Toshiro continued, "Aside from Kuchiki, Abarai is our most capable lieutenant. That fact that you were somewhat acquainted with him before helped his case."

Renji grinned at him, saluting him. "Besides, I gotta make sure Rukia doesn't get into more trouble like last time. OW!" he suddenly shouted when Rukia kicked him in the shins.

"Abarai then suggested Madarame, stating that he trusts him on this mission," said Toshiro, gesturing to the bald Shinigami leaning by the wall.

"Yo, Ichigo," Ikkaku greeted. "I guess we're on the same side now."

Ichigo grinned and nodded. "Yeah. Looking forward to it."

"Ayasegawa over there," Toshiro added, pointedly looking at the effeminate Shinigami standing beside Ikkaku, "is attached to the hip to Madarame and offered. Soutaichou had no reason to refuse so here he is now."

Yumichika gave a small nod.

This was where Toshiro grimaced. "Then, there's Matsumoto-"

"I didn't want to stay away from the action, you know!" she exclaimed, winking at Ichigo. "Things are always interesting down in the Human World."

"You just wanted to get out of paperwork, Matsumoto," he growled. "And since there's no changing her mind, I, as her captain, was sent with her."

Ichigo whistled, "Damn. Well, glad to know we've got some more people here to protect the town. Is this all you guys?"

At that, everyone, except for Rangiku, scowled.

"Gin also came with us," Rangiku piped up cheerily. "But he decided to not join us in that school and go straight to Urahara-san's shop."

"That guy came with you?" he asked incredulously. "I thought he's under house arrest or something."

"He is," Toshiro confirmed. "But Matsumoto convinced the soutaichou to let her be in charge of said arrest. And so, since she came with us to the Human World..." he trailed off.

Ichigo concluded, "Then, that guy came with you. He won't do anything...drastic, will he?"

Rangiku huffed and crossed her arms under her breasts. "I'll make sure of it. Gin will behave himself, Ichigo-kun." She winked at him. "You can trust me, can't you?"

Blushing, he sputtered and looked away. "J-Just making sure, Rangiku-san."

"Let Urahara deal with Ichimaru," Toshiro said. "We need to debrief before we get anything done."

"Debrief?" Ichigo asked, furrowing his brows.

"Yes. We only detected the entrance to Karakura Town. We don't know anything about their motives."

He shrugged. "Well, we're all out of luck on that one because they didn't say what they were here for when Naruko stopped them."

Toshiro exhaled, his head dropping in disappointment. "I see. That's unfortunate. Nonetheless, since they failed in their first attempt, we assume that they will try again. To that end, we will stay here until such a time that Aizen's threat is ended here, whether he is defeated or he turns his eyes somewhere else."

Ichigo nodded. "Got it. Thanks, Toshiro."

"It's Hitsugaya-taichou, Kurosaki," he gruffly said. His irritation only grew when Ichigo ignored him. "In any case, Kurosaki, what is Uzumaki up to?"

"Which one? Naruto or Naruko?" he asked, turning to him. "Naruko's here. She's manning the Hisui Uzu Ryu while Naruto's back in his home dimension, preparing the villages for Aizen and Madara."

"Will he be coming back to Karakura some time soon?"

"I don't know. That dimension has its own fair share of problems."

"I see. Then, we will make do with what we have. Since you and Uzumaki have some way of communicating with each other, we will have you be the liaison between him and us. I assume that doppelganger of his can also communicate with him so we'll approach her later. For now, we will set up some lodgings for ourselves."

Rangiku perked up. "Oh! I know just the person! Orihime-chan and I can be bunk buddies!" Without waiting for an answer, she leapt out of his Ichigo's window and to the street before rushing in the direction of Orihime's home.

Sighing, Toshiro said, "I'm going to join her to make sure she doesn't do anything stupid." With his piece said, he leapt off after her.

Ichigo turned to Renji, Ikkaku, and Yumichika. "How about you three?"

Renji shrugged as he stood up and went to his window. "I'll stay at Urahara Kisuke's. I'll see you later, Ichigo."

Ikkaku grunted after Renji left the room. "Yumichika and I will bunk outside. We're used to staying outdoors anyway. See ya, Ichigo."

And as the last two members of the Shinigami reinforcements left the house, Rukia grinned wide as she opened his closet and patted the shelf. "I'm sure your sisters would love having me over again!"

Ichigo scowled at her before sighing, sitting down on the chair. "Fine. It's not like I can stop you anyway." Then, he shouted, "Or they aren't listening to us from outside the door right now!"

There was a squeak from outside the door, from a young girl and an old man.

"Oi, Oyaji," he called out. "Rukia's staying, so get her sleeping bag!"

"Got it, son!" a loud and proud voice came from the door. "OH, MASAKI! YOUR SON IS NO LONGER HOPELESS! HE CAN GIVE US SOME MORE GRANDBABIES TO SPOIL!"

A vein popping on his head, he stomped to the front door and shouted out, "YOU WON'T GET ANY GRANDCHILDREN IF YOU'RE GOING TO BE CREEPY LIKE THAT!"

As another Kurosaki scuffle broke out, Rukia gave a smile. "Some things never change," she said, watching Ichigo and Isshin duke it out while Yuzu tried to separate them and Karin stood to the side, watching exasperatedly.


"Only you, Naruto, would get banished and come back all fancy and with the knowledge of another world," said Shikamaru.

Naruto laughed. "What can I say? I'm just that good!"

"The implications, though, of another world is...astounding," concluded Shino. "Why? Because that means there is life after death and Naruto has the means of crossing over there."

"That's understandable," Neji said. "If people knew that the dead go to another world and that Naruto knows how to go there, it won't be pretty."

"True, but such knowledge is dangerous," Haku replied. "To be honest, we aren't supposed to be mingling with any of you but extenuating circumstances necessitated this meeting."

"Indeed," Urahara finished. "Which is why Naruto-san is most wise to limit the knowledge of the technique to go there to a small group of people with certain stipulations."

"And I'm assuming he's said the same to your people in the other world?" he asked.

"Oh, he has, yes. Most understood his reasoning, especially as we Shinigami hold the power to open doors between our human world and Soul Society at our fingertips and understand the dangers of giving such power to someone unauthorized."

"Most?" Shikaku asked, raising a brow. "What about the few that didn't understand?"

Urahara frowned, covering his face with his fan. "I know of one Shinigami in particular who didn't like Naruto-san's decision and wouldn't put it past him to go to any heights to travel to this world."

"And would this person be able to do so? Find a way to get into our world?"

Naruto answered for him, "As of right now, he doesn't have the knowledge on how to travel here. Travelling between dimensions is not easy since one needs to know where exactly to end up." He then scowled, chakra slowly leaking from his body. "However, if he does, I will make sure he doesn't overstep his bounds."

Everyone widened their eyes as they watched Naruto's subtle display of power.

As quickly as it came, Naruto relaxed and exhaled. "And I will make sure he knows how serious it is." He turned to Urahara. "I know he was once your subordinate but I will not show any mercy if he causes problems."

Urahara grimly nodded. "I understand, Naruto-san. You don't have to explain. He is now responsible for his own actions after I was exiled and he took over my old position. His actions are his own and I won't protect him from the consequences."

Naruto nodded before turning to the ninjas with a wide grin. "But you don't have to worry about the Shinigami!" he exclaimed. "All you guys need to know is that I got it taken care of!"

"N-Naruto-kun," Hinata asked, uncertainly, "c-can we ask if you can take us to this Soul Society place?"

He blinked at her before smiling. "Of course you can, Hinata! Just ask and I'll try to have you guys with me when I get there! Oh! It'll be like a field trip! I'll be the sensei and you guys can be the loud and noisy kids!"

"Hell no!" Kiba shouted, crossing his hands in front of him, before exclaiming in pain from the fist on his head. "OW! What the hell?!"

She grounded out, "Behave yourself! He may be the same age as you but he's still an official Kage!"

Naruto laughed as he waved his hand dismissively. "Don't worry about it, Tsume-san. I'm just joking." He grinned at them. "But the offer is there. If you want to visit, let me know and I'll start planning. I'll only take a few people at a time, though, just to make things simpler."

They all nodded as they slowly left the stadium. Most went their ways. The civilian council glared at him as they left, so too did the elders, especially Danzo. Anko and Ibiki also left, giving their goodbyes to the group to return to their work (Anko gave Naruto a parting wink as she left).

"So, what now, Naruto?" Sasuke asked.

"I'll be heading back to Uzushio soon. I will need to start preparing for Aizen and Akatsuki since I've finished letting the villages know of them." He frowned. "I was told by a friend of mine that they already attacked Karakura Town but was pushed back. So, I will need to look into fortifying the town's defences with my seals." He turned to Tsunade with a nod. "I'll leave Konoha's to you, Baa-chan. If you need some help, let me know. I'll provide as much help as I can."

She nodded. "We should be fine, Naruto, but I'll keep that in mind. Jiraiya and I still have the files you left for us. We'll use that to prepare."

He returned the nod. "Alright." He turned to his escorts and the Shinigami. "We're leaving tomorrow. Finish your business by tonight."

Temujin and Kuroma bowed their heads and chorused, "Yes, sir!"

Zabuza grunted his response while Haku smiled and nodded.

Urahara gave his own nod underneath his hat and behind his fan.

Naruto turned back to the group and said, "I'll start setting up Uzushio's defences when I come back but I'll eventually head back to the other villages – Konoha included. They should've had enough time to suggest some trusted people to share my Jikukan ninjutsu with."

"What about Konoha?" Ino asked, furrowing her brows. "Which of us would you share that jutsu with?"

Glancing at Tsunade and Jiraiya, he replied, "Tsunade-baa-chan and Ero-Sennin are going to be your chosen wielders. They're the strongest in the village and I trust them a lot." He then frowned at the group gathered in front of him. "Don't start pestering them to bring you to the Shinigami realm after I'm gone. It's their choice whether you get to go or not and I trust them to choose wisely."

"Ehh?" she said, looking affronted. "What does that mean?!" She choked when she saw Temujin and Kuroma narrow their eyes at her.

"This won't be just some mission to another land outside of Konoha. This is another world entirely, with a different civilization, human and supernatural. Any training you may have won't prepare you for it. If you aren't careful, you will catch the attention of people you don't want the attention of." He sighed. "There is also the threat of someone crossing over and putting a toe out of line. Whether it's a Shinigami coming to our world or a ninja crossing over to theirs, I'm not so stupid as to tip the balance any more than it already has. That's why I am very restrictive about this."

"That's a wise choice, Naruto," concluded Shino. "You have truly matured in your banishment."

He grinned at Shino, blushing awkwardly. "Thanks, Shino!" The Aburame nodded back.

Ino sighed. "I see your point, Naruto."

Naruto smiled at her. "As long as you agree and obey the restrictions I shared with them, you'll be fine, Ino." He put his hands behind his head and started walking. "Now, I'm hungry! Ichiraku's, here I come!"

Temujin and Kuroma immediately followed after him, letting out soft sighs and slumping their shoulders.

Zabuza joined them, quietly grumbling, while Haku giggled behind him.

Urahara, however, remained behind. Turning to the group, he said, "Might I have a moment of your time to ask some questions about your land?" Tsunade narrowed her eyes, making him raise a hand to placate her. "Oh, please don't worry yourself, Hokage-san. I won't ask any secrets of the sort. I just want to know how different your usage of chakra is to Naruto-san's."

Jiraiya raised a brow. "Different?"

He nodded. "Indeed. His fight with Jiraiya-san showed me the difference in their styles. Jiraiya-san prefers to take the slow but strong approach while Naruto-san focuses on quicker movements." He paused, shrugging. "Given his notoriety among your people as a – what was it? - SS-Rank, I don't doubt that he can be just as powerful as he is quick. But, for his fight here, he forwent his powerful techniques in favor of his speed. I also noticed that Jiraiya-san tends to use his rather large mane of hair in his fights while Naruto-san uses those seals of his."

"I see."

"He also spoke highly of you, Hokage-san," Urahara continued. "He told me of your tremendous strength, boosted by chakra, and your skill in the medical arts."

Tsunade blinked. "He has?"

Urahara smiled. "Yes. He said that some of his techniques and seals were inspired by you."

She couldn't help the small smile on her face. "That brat," she chuckled. "Well, as long as you keep your questions to non-secrets, I will indulge your questions." She gestured down the path. "Shall we talk in my office?"

Nodding, he covered his face with his fan and said, "After you, Hokage-san."

Karakura Town – Hisui Uzu Ryu

"Oh, so you want me to speak to Naruto-kun for you guys?" asked Naruko, blinking owlishly at Toshiro. "Why don't I give you guys some of Naruto's Transmission Seals so you can do it yourselves? It would be way faster!"

"Thank you," Toshiro thanked her with a nod of his head. "That would be greatly appreciated." He reached out and took the paper seals she offered to him. "How does one use these things?"

"That's easy!" she piped up cheerfully. "Just put one of them to your head and channel your energy through it. It should respond to your reiryoku and allow you to communicate with Naruto-kun."

"Got it." He stowed the seals in his pocket and turned to leave. "I'll go join Matsumoto at the human Inoue's place to make sure she behaves; I gave them enough time to get reacquainted."

"Oh, I'm sure she'll be fine! You don't have to go so soon! Do you want a cup of hot chocolate before you go?" She smiled wide. "I also have some cookies to go with that."

Toshiro stopped halfway across the cafe and turned to her, a pensive look on his face. Thinking deeply, he sighed softly and turned back to the counter. "I suppose I can spare a few moments." Sitting on a stool, he ordered, "I'll take a cup and some of those cookies."

"Coming right up!" she exclaimed, rushing to the back to get started. She finished in minutes, returning with a cup of hot chocolate and a plate of cookies. "Here you go! An Uzumaki special!"

The captain nodded, taking a cookie in one hand and the cup in the other. "Thank you." He took a small bite and swallowed before asking, "If you don't mind my asking, what made Naruto-san jump to this dimension after discovering how to do it? According to Kurotsuchi-taicho, crossing dimensions is not a simple matter – even we Shinigami and the Hollows only have limited abilities to do so, and it's between this Human world, Soul Society, and Hueco Mundo."

Naruko shrugged. "To be fair, he wasn't the first person to cross dimensions. He was just the most important, given his power and his connections."

"Or the most prominent," Toshiro added. "Even if it was true and there were others who did the same as Naruto-san did, he was different in that he actually made lot of changes in this dimension and made us and the Royal Guard aware of his existence here."

"That's true," she conceded. "But he – and I, by extension – was never one for staying still for too long. Rukia-chan's rescue was simply an excuse for him to actually step up and get back into the thick of things."

"Oh, I don't doubt it.," he snorted, sipping his chocolate. "He caused quite a stir when he destroyed the Sokyoku. The Soutaichou is still not completely over the invasion and Naruto-san's involvement. And now, apparently, with the Arrancar Arturo Plateado released with the Sokyoku's destruction, he's even more frustrated."

She blinked. "Arturo Plateado? Who's that?"

He was about to reply when they both stiffened; a heavy pressure suddenly forming around them. Both looked up at the ceiling, seeing past it.

"They're here again!" he exclaimed, putting the cup down and popping a Gikongan in his mouth. His Shinigami form was expelled from his body and he rushed out the door.

Naruko's face was set in a steely frown as she leapt over the counter and followed Toshiro out the door.

However, they both barely made it out when their path was blocked by the dark-haired visage of Ulquiorra.

Minutes earlier

High above Karakura Town, a Garganta formed and opened wide, letting a number of white-robed figures out into the Human world.

An Arrancar with a jawbone attached to his right cheek and bright cyan hair grinned madly as he peered down at the town below. "Finally," he said. "I was getting restless!"

"Calm yourself, Grimmjow," Tosen said chidingly, stepping in front of him. "We have our orders. Don't overstep your bounds."

Grimmjow sneered at him and walked up to the Shinigami's face. "You don't tell me what to do, Shinigami! You may be content by being Aizen's footstool but that doesn't mean all of us are going to wait on him hand and foot!"

Tosen didn't step back or even change his facial expression. He simply said, "Disobey Aizen-sama, Grimmjow, and you will suffer. Whether it's from the forces in this town or from Aizen-sama himself, you will lose one of the things you hold dear."

He clicked his tongue and turned away. "It doesn't matter if I follow that bastard's plans then! Shawlong, Edrad, Yylfordt, Di Roy, Nakeem!" he called out. "Find all those Shinigami bastards!" He cackled madly. "And kill them!"

After a shout of confirmation, his subordinates leapt into action, spreading outward, with Grimmjow soon leaping off.

Tosen sighed. "How Aizen-sama hasn't killed him yet is baffling. He constantly tries my patience."

"Even trash has its uses," Ulquiorra replied. "Grimmjow will be useful for keeping them occupied while we accomplish our main objective." He glanced over his shoulder. "However, I don't understand why Akatsuki gave us this fool."

"Oh, Espada-san, Tobi is not a fool! Tobi is a good boy!" the masked Akatsuki member nodded vigorously at his own words. "You just need to give me a chance!"

Ulquiorra narrowed his eyes in disgust. "This is the chance offered to you, Akatsuki. Follow Aizen-sama's plan."

Tobi saluted eagerly. "Yes, sir!" He crouched and then jumped away. "Karakura, here I COME!"

Tosen let out a soft disgruntled sound from his throat before he snapped his fingers. A Garganta opened beside him. Then, he pulled out a cloak from it and put it on, pulling the hood over his head. "Make sure Uzumaki or his clone doesn't interfere," he said as he slowly turned invisible, vanishing from sight.

Ulquiorra simply replied, "Yes," and disappeared in a burst of speed, reappearing in front of Hisui Uzu Ryu. "Uzumaki Naruto," he greeted before glancing at Naruko's companion, "and 10th Division Captain, Hitsugaya Toshiro. You will not get past me."

Toshiro gritted his teeth as he pulled out his zanpakuto. "You guys sure work quick. Your last invasion was barely a week ago."

"An accomplice of mine expressed impatience and Aizen-sama decided to take advantage of it," he replied.

"And what's Aizen planning? Make another attempt at draining this town of its souls?"

"You don't need to know." Then, suddenly after a red burst of energy shot out and towards Toshiro.

His eyes widening, he leapt to the side, avoiding the red projectile. Then, he dashed forward, zanpakuto raised high.

Ulquiorra raised his hand, barely flinching the blade hit his arm. He then flung his arm aside, pushing Toshiro away and fired another red projectile from his hand.

Toshiro blocked it with his blade and sent it up into the sky. "Bala," he murmured. "Its speed isn't an exaggeration, after all." He then made another attempt at Ulquiorra.

The Espada moved in retaliation, blocking his strikes with ease with his bare hand. He ducked under a strike before planting a fist at Toshiro's torso, sending him flying away.

Gasping out at the punch and as his back hit the wall of Hisui Uzu Ryu, he slowly recovered and readied his stance again. "Soten ni naze, Hyorinmaru!" he called out, ice immediately forming around his sword. He flung his sword and the ice dragon flew towards Ulquiorra.

He vanished from his spot to avoid the dragon crashing down on him. Reappearing a few feet to the side, he fired a barrage of Bala at Toshiro.

Naruko intervened and stepped in front of the captain. She held a hand up to her mouth and spat out balls of air that collided with the Bala, causing small explosions around them. Then, without removing her hand from her mouth, she spat out a large fireball towards Ulquiorra.

He jumped over the flames, an arm raised high. Then, Ulquiorra brought it down on Naruko.

Toshiro stepped forward and blocked it with his zanpakuto.

She followed through by uppercutting him in the torso with a chakra-enhanced fist. As Ulquiorra was sent high, she appeared above him, Rasengan in her hand. "Rasengan!" she shouted, slamming her attack on his stomach, sending him back down to the ground. She landed beside Toshiro and waited with baited breath.

Rubble and dust cleared and revealed Ulquiorra standing from his kneeling position. Dusting himself off, he said, "Aizen-sama spoke highly of your combat prowess, Uzumaki Naruto. Where is such strength now? As you are right now, it feels like trash."

Naruko smirked. "I'm not going to show an enemy my full power, Ulquiorra Cifer. Like hell I'm giving you or that bastard Aizen any information about me that easily."

Whether he took offence to her insult towards his master, he didn't show. Instead, he pointed a finger at her. "Very well." Then, black energy outlined in green gathered on his finger before it fired a beam at him.

A Cero! Toshiro realized, about to counter the incoming beam.

Naruko held out her palm and absorbed the beam with it, her seal lightly smoking afterwards. "Uzumakigaeshi," she called out, firing back the beam to Ulquiorra.

Narrowing his eyes, he swatted the beam aside. As it erupted in an explosion behind him, he dashed forward, stopping in front of Naruko, a backhand strike incoming.

She raised her arm to block the blow, pushed it aside, and spun around, planting a solid kick to his solar plexus. The chakra enhancing her feet pushed him backwards to a wall, reducing it to rubble. Then, finishing her spin, she threw a bolt of lightning towards Ulquiorra. "Raiton," she called out, "Jinraisen!"

As an explosion rocked the street, Toshiro followed her example and spun around, summoning his ice dragon that slammed down on Ulquiorra's position.

He emerged from the destruction high into the air, his clothes lightly signed and burnt at the edges. Then, he stopped in midair, his feet standing on an invisible platform. He put his hand to his hip, where his zanpakuto was attached, and pulled his blade out. He appeared above the two once again, zanpakuto raised high.

Toshiro gritted his teeth and raised his zanpakuto above his head to block the blow.

Beside him, Naruko bit her thumb and smeared her blood on her other palm. Her palm let out a small cloud of smoke and she pulled out a katana made of bone and moved to join Ulquiorra and Toshiro in their bout.

Karakura Clinic

Rukia and Ichigo stood out in the street, both already in their Shinigami forms, looking up into the sky.

"They're going to be here soon," said Rukia, frowning.

Ichigo glanced backwards, looking up at his bedroom window, where his father stood grim-faced. Seeing him nod, Ichigo nodded back and turned back. "They might be here for the Hogyoku. We need to get you to Urahara-san as quick as possible."

She nodded firmly and was about to run to the store but stopped as her path was barred by Grimmjow.

"Finally got you, Shinigami!" he exclaimed, grinning wide.

"Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez." Rukia said, putting a hand to her zanpakuto. "The Sexta Espada, according to Gin."

"Good!" Grimmjow shouted. "You know who I am! That makes this way easier!" He charged at them, his hands flexed into claws.

Rukia's eyes flashed and pulled out her blade, blocking his claws with it. She pushed him away and pointed her free palm at him. "Hado no San-juu-ichi," she chanted, "Shakkaho!" The red energy blast burst from her palm and towards Grimmjow.

With a mocking laugh, the Espada grabbed it with his bare hand and crushed it. "Too weak, Shinigami!" He resumed his attack, moving to kick Rukia in the torso.

Ichigo pulled Zangetsu off his back and blocked the kick, grunting on impact. He staggered a few feet backwards before it finally sent him flying. His back hit the wall and he gasped out in pain.

"Ichigo!" Rukia shouted, turning at him in alarm, and stiffened when she felt Grimmjow about to attack her. She jumped over his strike and brought her zanpakuto up to slash downward.

Grimmjow looked up with a sneer as he swung his arm at her.

She let out a cry as his attack disrupted hers and sent her higher into the air.

He laughed loudly, pointing his palm at her, red energy gathering on him. "CERO!" he shouted, shooting the beam upwards.

"Mai, Sode no Shirayuki!" came the chant in response. A bright white light erupted from Rukia before descending towards the Cero. To Grimmjow's surprise, his Cero froze instantaneously, forcing him to cut it off before it could reach his arm and jump away before the beam slammed down on him.

Ichigo was wide-eyed as Rukia slowly floated to the ground, in her grasp a white zanpakuto with a long, white ribbon tied to the pommel. When he spoke, he noticed the mist in his breath. "Rukia, is that...is that your zanpakuto?"

Rukia nodded, smiling softly at him over her shoulder. "Yeah." She turned back to Grimmjow, twirling Sode no Shirayuki. "Come, Espada."

Grimmjow cackled before rushing at her. He brought his hand down, making Rukia parry it aside.

She spun around and aimed a slash at his back. Sode no Shirayuki, however, only collided with his back, barely cutting through his skin. What?! Then, she leapt back to avoid the second claw bearing down on her.

"You aren't going to cut through an Arrancar's Hierro that easily, Shinigami!" he said, slashing a third time at her.

Rukia gritted her teeth as she blocked the slash, pointing a palm at him. "Hado no Ichi," she said, "Sho!" The Kido knocked him back, which gave her enough time to puncture the ground in front of her. As it formed an ice semi-circle, she crouched into a stance and called out her next attack, "Tsugi no Mai: Hakuren!" Energy coalesced on her zanpakuto's tip and fired a pure white beam towards Grimmjow.

He clicked his tongue in annoyance as he fired a Cero in response, creating an explosion on collision.

Ichigo covered his face as heat and cold washed over his body. Lowering his hands, he frowned and stood up, grabbing onto his zanpakuto firmly. "Zangetsu," he softly said, releasing his blade from its seal.

Grimmjow burst through the smoke, grinning wide and his right hand flexed into a claw.

Rukia was about to defend herself when an arc of reiryoku cut between them, stopping them both.

"What the hell?!" Grimmjow exclaimed, looking at the source.

Ichigo raised Zangetsu from the ground, glaring at the Espada. "I'll be your opponent. Rukia," he addressed the surprised Shinigami, "you should get to Urahara-san. I'll deal with this guy."

"But-" she started but faltered when Ichigo gave her a small smile.

"Go," he said. "I'll be right behind you."

She blinked before nodding. "You had better be, Ichigo." She then rushed off, leaving the two alone.

"What are you getting between us for, Shinigami?!" Grimmjow spat angrily. "It was just getting good!"

"Rukia has an appointment that she can't afford to be late for," he replied, putting both hands on Zangetsu. "That's why I'm taking over her." Narrowing his eyes, he said, "Come!"

Snarling, he leapt towards Ichigo, roaring, "FINE BY ME, SHINIGAMI!"

They started to duel in the streets, Grimmjow's agility letting him leap over Ichigo.

Ichigo grunted as he blocked the attack on his back. Pushing him away, he turned around and fired a Getsuga Tensho at Grimmjow.

Grimmjow crossed his arms and then spread them outward when the attack came close, splitting it in two and flinging them aside. Then, he pulled a fist back and brought it down on Ichigo.

Narrowing his eyes, he held out his left fist, gathering reiryoku around it. It glowed light blue before he punched back. On impact, great gusts of wind gathered around them.

When they broke, Ichigo swung Zangetsu towards Grimmjow.

Grimmjow raised his arm to block the blow. It didn't break the skin but the strength of the blow sent him flying.

Pulling Zangetsu back, he pointed it at Grimmjow and put his free hand on his wrist. Moving his wrist up his arm, he shouted, "Yari no Shin'ya Kuro!" Black reiatsu shot from Zangetsu and towards Grimmjow, erupting in a large explosion. Ichigo lowered Zangetsu and watched the smoke with baited breath.

When it cleared, Grimmjow was stood tall, his clothes unkempt from the blast, and was grinning at him. Then, with a roar, he charged once more towards Ichigo.

As he raised Zangetsu to defend himself, he froze and raised a hand to his face, leaving him open to the upcoming attack. "GAH!" he cried out as he was punched by Grimmjow to a house wall.

"Hah! What the hell was that, Shinigami?!" Grimmjow shouted cockily. "Don't tell me you're slipping already!"

"Shut up," Ichigo growled back, getting to his feet and readying his stance. Not now, you stupid Hollow!

Stop holding back and crush that weakling to the curb!

Over my dead body! He snarled internally as he blocked Grimmjow's slash.

At the rate you're going, that guy will do just that!

He gritted his teeth, pushing Grimmjow aside and firing a Getsuga Tensho at him. Then, he pointed a palm at him, shouting, "Hado no San-juu-san: Sokatsui!" Blue flames crashed down on Grimmjow, joining the black energy that exploded on him. "Gck!" he exclaimed in pain, putting a hand to his face, the sclera of his right eye already turning black. Get back, damn you!

You can't keep me down forever, Ichigo! You'll slip up eventually!

He growled under his breath, spinning around to parry Grimmjow's charge. He raised his hand high, causing light blue spears of energy to materialize above him. Then, he brought his hand towards Grimmjow. "Reiton: Senyaribuyo!" he called out, sending the spears down towards his opponent. Raising Zangetsu high, he brought it down and fired a Getsuga Tensho to follow up.

Grimmjow snarled as he dashed through the rain of spears, dodging each one easily, and grasped the arcing attack with his hands, crushing it easily.

Ichigo's eyes widened. What?! He then jumped back to avoid Grimmjow slamming down on him.

"Come on, Shinigami!" Grimmjow taunted, standing straight and leering at him. "You're boring me! At this rate, I might go after that girl you let run off!" He cackled. "She certainly put up more of a fight!"

"Leave her alone, Espada!" Ichigo shouted back.

Raising a brow at him, he grinned wide. "Make me."

"BANKAI!" roared Ichigo, quickly assuming his Bankai stance and unleashing it. He sliced through the cloud his transformation caused and dashed towards Grimmjow.

"THAT'S MORE LIKE IT!" Grimmjow charged to meet him, clashing claw with blade once more.

Urahara Shoten

Rukia landed in front of the small store, panting heavily. She took one deep breath and called out, "Urahara-san, are you there? It's important."

"Unfortunately, Rukia," Yoruichi said, opening the door to the shop and looking at her seriously. "Naruto came by some time ago and brought him to their dimension."

Her eyes widened. "What?! This is not a good time for him to be away!"

"I told him that!" she replied, exasperatedly. "But he's a stubborn fool, that one. He left me to take care of this place and that's what I'm doing. I'm protecting these kids from taking part of the fight out there, before they do something too drastic."

"And I'm here too."

Yoruichi's face darkened, turning briefly over her shoulder. The silver-haired ex-captain poked his head from behind the speedster and waved at Rukia.

"Hello, Rukia-chan! Fancy seeing you again!" he said cheerily.

Rukia pursed her lips and nodded. "Anyway, it's...unfortunate that Urahara-san is not here. We'll just have to push these guys back. I'll need to get back to Ichigo then."

"Or," Gin suggested with a grin, "you stay here and let all of them fight it out."

"What?!" Rukia shouted. "How can you say that, Ichimaru?!"

"It's really quite simple, Rukia-chan," he replied. "They are not here for any of them. They are here for the Hogyoku, which just so happens to be stuck in your body. Why should we make it easy for them to get by letting you get out there?"

"I can't just let them fight and not help out!"

"I hate to say this but I agree with him, Rukia," said Yoruichi, frowning and crossing her arms. "You – and the Hogyoku, by extension – are safe here. Besides, Toshiro-bo and the others aren't pushovers. They know what's at stake and they can handle themselves."

"I-I can't just stay here! I'm a member of the Gotei 13! It's my duty!"

Gin wagged his finger. "Then you should know your primary objective takes priority, Rukia-chan. Toshiro-chan himself said that removing and protecting the Hogyoku is top priority right now. That means that you are going to stay here, where it's safest, until they're gone."

Rukia pursed her lips as she struggled to argue against him.

"Besides," he suddenly said, his grin widening, "I doubt Tosen-taicho will let you leave." As both women tensed and sharply turned to him, he looked further down the street and said, "Isn't that right, Tosen-taicho?"

Rukia immediately leapt towards Yoruichi's side, drawing her zanpakuto, while Yoruichi crouched into her stance.

"I shouldn't be surprised Soul Society let you run free, Ichimaru," Tosen's voice echoed from the barren street. "They have always been an unjust and complacent lot."

"Now, now, Tosen-taicho," Gin taunted, standing and walking to the front of the shop, "let's not get hasty here. Is it not a necessity to ally with another to defeat a common enemy? Isn't that why you allied with that Madara fellow and his band of merry ninjas? If Soul Society is unjust and complacent for using me against you, what does that make you, hmm?"

"Your words are meaningless to me. You are now just an obstacle to true peace, to true justice."

Gin gave a small cackle. "You were always a riot, Tosen-taicho. Your jokes are always a laugh!"

The air shimmered before Tosen appeared out of thin air, pulling back his hood, scowling at him. "You were always so impudent, Ichimaru." He pulled out his zanpakuto from within his cloak and pointed it at him. "I will say this just once: step away from Kuchiki."

Gin made a show of thinking with a hand on his chin. Then, he shook his head. "Nah!"

"So be it," replied Tosen, raising his blade. "Nake, Suzu-" He immediately brought his blade above his head.


Gin suddenly appeared above him, his own zanpakuto clashing with his.

"Ah-ah!" Gin exclaimed, smirking. "I can't let you do that, Tosen-taicho!"

"You-" Tosen started before Gin broke the lock and stepped back.

"I rather like hearing things, you know," he explained, idly twirling his sealed Shinso. "I don't want to have to hear your sword's bad sense in music."

Tosen scowled again as he readied his zanpakuto. "Then, let me make sure you leave this world with your hearing intact!" He charged at Gin, who simply smirked and swung his zanpakuto in kind.

Their blades were blurs as they clashed with each other over and over, flurries of blows parried and blocked in their bout.

Tosen lowered his blade and pointed a palm at Gin, saying, "Hado no Go-ju-yon: Haien!" Purple energy burst from his palm and shot towards Gin.

Chuckling softly, Gin held out his free hand. "Bakudo no Kyuu," he chanted, "Horin." An orange tendril appeared in his hand, which he used as a lasso to hold onto the Kido. Then, he spun it around and flung it back at Tosen.

He clicked his tongue, dodging the redirected projectile.

"My turn!" Gin sang, releasing his previous Kido to prepare for his next one. "Bakudo no Ni: Senko (Flash)!" He snapped his fingers, creating a blinding flash of light. When it subsided, Gin was covering his agape mouth with his free hand. "Oh!" he exclaimed unconvincingly. "My bad! I forgot that doesn't work on you!"

Tosen gritted his teeth in anger before he resumed his charge once again.

Visored Warehouse

"Well, they're certainly quite rowdy out there, huh?" Shinji commented, idly looking out the window of their solitary warehouse. "It's almost tough to get some sleep."

"Then go do something about it, Baka Shinji!" Hiryo exclaimed from her sleeping position by a wall. "Now, shut up and let the rest of us sleep!"

Mashiro hummed in thought. "Shouldn't we help them? Aren't Ichi and Naru-chan out there fighting too?"

"If those two are fighting," Shinji replied, "then, there's no need for us to get involved. They can handle those Espada easily. If not, well, that's when we'll get out and deal with the rest. Why waste that much energy when we can stay back and be the clean-up?"

"Oh, that's a good idea!" Tobi's voice suddenly echoed in the warehouse. "You guys should totally do that!"

As one, all Visored stood at attention, their blades already drawn. Their gazes were pointed towards the masked Akatsuki member by the warehouse gate.

"Yaaaah!" Tobi exclaimed, covering his face with his arms. "So scary!"

"We know you," Shinji said lowly, his face forming a deep frown. "You're a member of Akatsuki. You're that Madara guy that helped Aizen escape Soul Society."

"Madara?!" he said, pointing at himself. "Who?! Me?! Oh, no, no, no, no! That can't be right! Madara should be dead by now! Besides, he's a really scary guy! Why should I be like him?"

"Quit the act, Madara," Shinji commanded. "Naruto already told us about you. That isn't fooling anyone."

Tobi raised his hands in placation. "Oho! So serious! It's almost like" – then, his voice turned deep and serious – "you don't want to play." He lowered his hands and looked up at the Visoreds. "So, you are the ones called Visoreds. Aizen was more than willing to share what he knew about you all."

Hiyori snarled at the mention of Aizen's name but Madara ignored it.

"So, what are you doing here then?" Lisa demanded.

He spread his arms. "Well, I came to see what became of his...'failed experiments,' as he called you." He shrugged. "Well, even weaklings have their uses, why wouldn't any of you?"

"Over our dead bodies," said Kensei.

Madara let out loud, deep laughter. "Oh, that's the idea." He flung his hand behind him, a sealing array flying from his hand, through the air, and to the door, where it proceeded to spread. "Now, I'd rather not let any of you escape to any of those people out there." Beneath his mask, the Sharingan slowly glowed bright red. "So, for now, let's just play, you and I."

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