Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or Bleach, or any related characters or properties.


.:01:.
Rukongai Blues

Sunlight streamed through the window of the small cabin, caressing the boy's face in its warm embrace. The air was swelteringly hot, almost oppressively so. He brushed the sweaty blonde bangs from his face, not quite sure why he did not want to get up at all.

Lately, he had been having a bout with laziness and overall boredom. He was so bored that he did not want to do something to counteract the laziness, like some kind of vicious cycle. He wondered for a long moment if he had become the laziest thing in existence.

"How troublesome," he muttered under his breath, a flashbulb memory going off in his head. He wanted so badly to remember what that meant, because he was certain it meant something. It had to.

But like the countless other times he had tried to remember something about his past life, he could not. Would not. He could not remember anything about where he grew up, where he was born. He could not remember his parents or his closest friends. He knew nothing about how he died or why, he just knew that he had died and come to Rukongai, to live for the rest of eternity.

That was where the boredom came in. Would he be like this forever, bored and unable to do anything exciting? He had lived in Hokutan, district three of West Rukongai, for as long as he could remember. For all he knew, he was not even sure that he had existed before he found himself here.

He sat up and took a deep breath, sighing as he exhaled. He pulled himself from the small cot and headed toward the cupboard. Yet again, he frowned when he realized that he would have to eat rice and a simple piece of bread.

As he prepared his meals, he let his mind wander to his to-do list for the day.

One: go to work. Two: work. Three: leave from work. Four: eat. Five: sleep. Six: repeat.

Very rarely did the life he was living deviate from that schedule. No wonder he was constantly bored.

The number of marks on the cupboard door caught his attention, his miniature calendar of sorts. "Oh! Today is payday!" he realized aloud, smiling now. He could finally afford something other than pasty dry rice and stale bread. He figured that he would stock up on noodles from the shop to last him a few days of ramen, to celebrate having money before he returned to the endless doldrums of boredom.

He knew it probably would not be endless, when he stopped to consider it. Most souls, when they go to the Soul Society, do not age or go hungry or become sick. He was not sure what made him different, but he had to eat and he had aged only ever so slightly, slow enough that he knew it was not "normal" aging. At some point, somewhere, he knew he would die from old age or sickness or something, but then what happened? What happens when a soul dies?

He guessed that he was probably fourteen or fifteen by now, based on his height and body shape. He had a lean, compact body that had receded slightly due to his meager eating. He kept his hair trimmed and comfortably messy, but his eyes had changed since he first managed to look into his reflection. They were more dull, more lifeless. When he noticed that change, he realized that he was probably driving himself insane.

He ate his small helpings, leaving enough for probably two more meals before he would need to buy more bread and rice. He sat in the quiet, alone and relatively happy. It was too silent, other than the small sounds of nature outside his window and the sounds of his chewing.

He knew it was about time to leave, so he placed his bowl in the sink space. He walked to the other side of the room and threw on a gray tunic, before heading out the front door of the small cabin. He locked the door, although he was not quite sure why. Hardly anyone ever strayed far from town, and that was almost two miles away, at the base of the mountain. Not very many traveled through Hokutan as it was, but when they did, they stayed in town. He was not worried about thieves or bandits, but he could not stop himself from locking the door.

As he strode at a regular pace, he wished that he could move a heck of a lot faster down the mountain. He liked his seclusion fairly well, but sometimes, he wanted to just take up his boss on his offer to move into the inn itself. It would save him a lot of trouble, but at the same time cut him off from the nature that he liked so much. He enjoyed living alone, had always enjoyed it for as long as he could remember. And he was an outdoors type of person, so his situation gave him the best of both worlds.

But there were times when he was seriously tired of wandering down the mountain and climbing back up the mountain, despite his good stamina. It happened day in and day out, again and again.

Hokutan was a mountain town with several tall buildings arranged around a single, convoluted street, and another row or two of smaller buildings behind them. It was not very rich, but it was not exactly poor either. Crime was not common, but not rare either.

The people here were busy, always working or shopping or gossiping or dating. The town elder was an older woman named Kaori, and she was tough as nails. She often ruled with an iron-clad resolve and tried not to deviate from her decisions and her experience.

He crossed the main street and found the inn. They did not get a lot of visitors, but the boy felt like he had a good, steady job and that he was relatively good at it. It was not hard work and it did not give him that excited feeling that he so desperately sought from the afterlife, but it was something necessary. He had had to learn to put up with it.

The inn was relatively large and doubled as a bar of sorts, but the bar attracted a lot more attention than the actual rooms above. That was where he worked most, oddly enough for someone who appeared to be so young, but he had a feeling that he would be working on cleaning or rearranging today. He waved at some of the other workers, who smiled as he walked in.

"Ah! Naruto!" the man who owned the building said, crossing the lobby to bow as he entered. He slipped off his sandals at the door and stepped into the main lobby.

"Tadashi, how are you doing today? Sorry I'm late, I was having some trouble getting up today."

The man raised an eyebrow. "Running out of excuses? You need to break that habit of being a few minutes late, Naruto. It's not befitting of someone so young."

"Hey, I'm not young!" Naruto said, rubbing the back of his neck nervously. "I'll try better next time, okay?"

Tadashi looked at him suspiciously for a moment, before he smiled and clapped the boy on the back. "All right, I believe you. You were not too late anyway, so do not worry too much. Today, you're going to start going through the rooms on each floor above and cleaning each empty room from top to bottom."

He tried to put on a brave face, but cleaning was not his favorite way to spend his time. "Will do, Tadashi. Thank you!"

Tadashi nodded and left Naruto to get himself situated. He found the cleaning supplies in the supply closet and headed to the second floor, which was probably all he could get done in one day as is. He headed into the first unoccupied room and got to work.

It took almost two and a half hours to finish the first two rooms to Tadashi-level standards. He smiled as he realized there were only four more rooms on the second floor, and that one of them was occupied. So he was almost half-way done for today's share of the work. He headed downstairs for a quick bite to eat.

As he entered the bar area, he scouted out the patrons. It was a little bit busier than normal for this time of day, and a few of the regulars were there. But his eyes widened when he saw him.

Daichi Tsubasa, Kaori's "appointed" grandson. Daichi was a nasty piece of work, a truly annoying, spoiled brat who deserved to rot in prison for some of the things he had said to other people. He did not care what he had to do, he would get his way with any type of manipulation imaginable. There were rumors that he was one of the "bad seeds" in Hokutan that brought in crime and illegal activity. It was a strange, ironic twist of fate that he was the adopted grandson of the town elder.

Naruto could not stand him and had no idea why a guy like him could find himself in heaven instead of hell. Nonetheless, Daichi had made it to the Soul Society and was being a general nuisance to everyone.

Daichi was sitting at the bar with a few of his friends, and they were all laughing and cutting up. But Naruto was not focused on them. He was focused on the brunette girl, looking to be a few years older than Naruto, sitting strangely close to Daichi. She did not look very familiar and there was nothing that particularly stood out about her, other than her kind eyes and dark bangs that ringed her face. But the nervous, almost frightened look in her face scared Naruto.

"Hey, Daichi, who's the lady with you?"

The girl locked eyes with him, giving him a pleading look. Now he really did want to know what the hell was going on with Daichi and this girl.

"None of your business, hermit kid," Daichi said with a grimace, laughing and looking positively snide.

"Who are you calling a kid?" Naruto countered, anger showing across his face. "What are you doing with this girl anyway?"

"Doing?" asked Daichi, his friends laughing at his tone, the tone that was making Naruto sick to his stomach. The seedy guy touched the girl's shoulder, and she visibly tensed. "I don't suppose I've done anything yet, but I can't say that won't happen tonight." He and his friends chuckled at the comment, but Naruto could tell that this girl probably would not like his plans for later.

The blond looked at her and offered a hand. "C'mon, let's get you away from these guys." She gulped audibly and stared hesitantly at the hand, but Daichi was not going to let this go.

"No, I don't think she will be going with you. She's going to come back with us and give us a good time." The girl looked positively terrified at the statement.

"She's not going anywhere with you, Daichi. Who do you think you are?" Naruto was positively livid, his body temperature getting higher and higher. He clenched his fist with rage. These thugs were not about to harm this girl.

"Much better than you!" Daichi exclaimed back.

Naruto did not know what came over him, but he immediately lunged at the older kid, surprising even Daichi. Naruto grabbed the thug's shoulders with both arms and yanked him toward the ground. Daichi landed on his back with an impressively loud thud. In that brief moment, Naruto's eyes bugged out at the newly-created crack in the floor, just from his throw.

But he did not have time to question it, because the thug retaliated quickly, giving him a quick underhanded jab to the stomach. Naruto's body convulsed as he lost his breath, his mind trying to comprehend what was happening. He did not let that punch stop him, because he shoved forward with all of his weight and tackled Daichi to the floor again.

They rolled around quite a few times, slinging fists and shoving back again and again, all within the span of a few seconds. The entire bar was probably watching by that point, and both Daichi and Naruto were trading blows back and forth, seemingly evenly matched. Daichi's friends did not intervene, thankfully for Naruto, but the side of him that liked to fight wanted them all to try.

Naruto flipped on top of Daichi one last time and pinned the boy's shoulders with his knees. Immediately, he began to pummel the hell out of Daichi's face. Naruto wanted each punch to leave a fist-shaped bruise. The thud of the thug's head pounding against the floor was music to the blonde's ears.

"Naruto, what are you doing?!" Tadashi shouted, immediately reaching to pull Naruto off of Daichi's body. Naruto nearly pushed his boss away, before he realized that he would have been shoving his boss. Tadashi yanked Naruto away from his opponent, who struggled to get up as his friends ran to help him.

Naruto gave Daichi a threatening look. The annoying brat wiped blood from his jaw and shouted, "You better watch out, hermit kid! I'll get you back!" And with that, the kid and his friends dashed out of the inn, leaving the girl behind. Everyone else in the bar just slowly went back to their business, save for a few strange looks to the blonde employee.

Tadashi had the demanding look in his eyes. "What the hell was that?"

Naruto gulped, knowing that it was going to be extremely hard to explain. "Daichi and his friends were going to hurt her, Tadashi. I couldn't let that happen!"

The manager of the inn did not seem convinced, but he motioned for Naruto and the girl to join him in the stockroom, away from prying ears. "My name is Tadashi, and this is Naruto. What's your name?" he asked, as he turned to the girl in question.

The brunette hesitated for a moment, still very frightened by what could have happened to her. "It's Momo Hinamori, sir."

"What happened to you, Momo? How did you even get with that slug of a bastard?" asked Naruto, still angry by the possibilities.

The girl swallowed, before gesturing to the west with her hand. "I'm from Junrinan. Daichi and a few of his friends ran into me there, in the main town. I was jumped late last night, and no matter how much I struggled, there was nothing that I could do to escape them." Her voice quivered with emotion. "With so many of them, I was too scared to try to run away, and even if I could, they would have caught me."

"They basically kidnapped you?" Tadashi asked, his brow furrowing.

"I'm going to kill him," Naruto said through clenched teeth.

"You'll do no such thing," Tadashi said. "Think about his grandmother, Naruto. You'll be in deep already, but if you were to do something else in this situation, I don't want to know the hell that Kaori could unleash against you." He paused to let Naruto think for a moment and then looked at Momo. "I'll bet you're wanting to get back home, huh?"

Momo nodded longingly, homesick and ready to put this whole nightmare away. "Yes, I definitely do."

"Well, if you would, could I offer you a meal or a bed to stay tonight? I know you must have people back in district one who miss you, but considering the circumstances, I think it might be better for you to wait and leave in the morning."

"Yeah, he's right," Naruto agreed. "If you were to leave now, you might run into those assholes again."

The girl thought for a long moment. "Well, Lil'Shiro is probably worried sick, but I am a bit hungry," Momo said sheepishly, and Naruto just laughed. The blonde dragged the girl over to the kitchen area of the bar and offered to cook her several kinds of ramen, each flavor he claimed to be his favorite.

Tadashi watched him interact with Momo and chuckled, wondering how long it had been since Naruto had spoken to a girl near his age. The old inn owner turned away from the two of them, heading back into the main bar area to hopefully do some damage control from the fight earlier.

When the ramen was finished, he and Momo sat down to eat. "You might be one of the first people I've met who eats because they are hungry," Naruto commented, slurping up a bite of noodles. "A lot of people eat because it's sociable, but you seem to just be really hungry."

She nodded. "Yeah. It's because I have a bit of reiryoku. Not much, but enough that I have to eat to survive. You should see Lil'Shiro, because he eats like a pig!"

"Reiryoku?" asked Naruto, confused. He'd heard the term before, but no one had clarified what it meant before. "What's that?"

"You don't know what spirit energy is, Naruto? How long have you been dead?"

He thought about it. How long had it been, exactly, since he died?

"You know, I... I don't even know," he explained, suddenly realizing that he had absolutely no clue. "But no, I really do not know what that is."

Momo swallowed another bite and took a sip of her milk. "Well, usually souls who come to Soul Society do not have much spirit energy. When they have a substantial amount, they age and have to eat and fight to survive, while a majority of souls are just content. If you have to eat, you probably have some reiryoku of your own." She paused for a moment, collecting her thoughts. "As for what reiryoku actually is, you'd probably have to ask a shinigami. I've never really understood it myself."

He pondered her statement for a while. He had seen the black-clad, sword-carrying guards patrolling the streets of Hokutan on several occasions, but he'd never really ever spoken to one. Maybe he should speak to one now?

Something else she had said caught his attention. "Who's Lil'Shiro? That's a strange name."

The girl giggled. "Lil'Shiro is just a nickname I gave him. Toshiro's a little kid back in Junrinan, probably looks to be ten or eleven. We've been really good friends for years."

Naruto smiled. "I guess you want to get back to him so he won't worry too much, huh?"

She laughed. "Funny thing is that he's not the type of guy who would admit that. He'll probably say, 'I wasn't worried about you at all, Momo. I know you can take care of yourself.'" She looked up from her bowl of ramen, meeting Naruto's glance. "Thank you for what you did. I... don't know what I would do if... if you hadn't saved me." Momo looked like she might cry, but Naruto clapped her on the shoulder.

"It was no big deal. No harm done in the long run, right? The best part is that you're completely safe," the blue-eyed blonde said with a beaming grin. He finished off the bowl of ramen with a loud slurping, and it was enough to make both of them laugh. Hinamori still had half of her bowl left, but Naruto was done already.

"Maybe you'll be giving Lil'Shiro's appetite a run for its money!" Momo said with a small laugh.

As soon as Momo was finished, Naruto headed upstairs to show her to a room where she'd stay the night, before she would leave in the morning to go back to district one. It was only a few hours walk at a good solid pace, but even then, Naruto hated how slow he had to go when he went on delivery or pick-up runs for Tadashi. He may have enjoyed the scenery as he walked through the outdoors, but he wished that there was a quicker way.

When he closed the door for Momo to make herself comfortable, he nearly ran right into Tadashi. "Oh, hey, Tadashi. I just showed Momo her room for the night. Everything calmed down now?"

Naruto noticed how... gaunt that his boss looked right then, but he was not sure why. "Yeah. Everything has calmed down. I was talking with some people outside shortly after the fight, and they... well, let me just give you the message now. You'll need to head to Kaori's later tonight. Probably nine or ten tonight, due to other things going on. Kaori wishes to speak to you about what happened."

The boy's reassuring grin slowly faded when he realized what that could mean. "What do you think she'll say?"

"I don't know, Naruto. But if I were in her situation, I don't think I would be very lenient. After all, you provoking a fight in the middle of the bar was not exactly ideal employee behavior. To be honest, you're lucky I didn't fire you on the spot."

His eyes widened. Tadashi had never made comments like this, never anything this bad. Usually it was all in good fun, but now Naruto really had pissed him off. "But Momo was going to be ra-"

"I know," Tadashi said, cutting the boy off. "I know what was going to happen. I'm extremely glad that it did not happen. But that could have been handled in a better way that did not include getting into a fight in the middle of the bar. Got it? Good."

Naruto nodded nervously. "Yes, sir. I understand." He frowned and headed back to where he left the cleaning supplies, hoping to get the job done that he had intended to finish, all before the trouble with Daichi.

He was about an hour into cleaning one of the largest suites in the inn when there was a knock on the door. Had Tadashi booked this room since he started to clean?

"Coming," he shouted as he sat down the mop and headed to the door. He opened it and was surprised to see Momo. "Hey, how's the room?"

She smiled. "It's fine, thank you. Would you like some help? I could help you finish."

Naruto was going to decline, but the expression on her face made him want to reconsider. "Okay. I don't see why not. I helped you earlier, so I suppose this is you paying me back. You don't have to, though, if you don't want to."

She shook her head. "No, I do want to! I don't have much better to do, and I really do want to help out."

He smiled. "In that case, come on. I cannot stand cleaning, so with you here, maybe it won't be so boring and annoying."

"Happy to oblige," she said with a chuckle, heading into the room to help him.

Naruto was correct. Cleaning was much better with Momo around, as it gave him something to focus on besides the fact that he was cleaning. He was not too sure what Tadashi would think about allowing her to take over some of the work, but he would explain that to his boss later, if the man asked. He just wanted to enjoy this girl's presence, as she was very pleasant to work with. Maybe if he talked to Tadashi, he might could get her a job here in the inn, even though it's in Hokutan.

They shared stories of their adventures in the afterlife. Hinamori telling Naruto all about Jidanbou, the giant who guards the Western Gate into the Seireitei. Naruto shared many stories about some good-natured pranks he pulled on some of the patrons in the bar, like the time he spiked someone's tea with sake just to see what would happen. Both seemed to really enjoy each other's company.

"How would you feel about working here long time?" asked Naruto, curious and a bit hopeful. "I know it's not home, and Toshiro and his grandmother may not like it. But I thought I might offer, you know?"

She frowned as she considered it. Naruto immediately started to berate himself for even suggesting it, because it seemed selfish and misguided.

"Well, the truth is, Naruto, I would miss home far too much to think about staying here. It's not that I wouldn't miss you when I return, because you seem like a kind, funny person. I just don't think I could stay."

He put up a smile to hide his slight disappointment. He knew it was probably a rotten idea, because they barely knew each other anyway. But after protecting her, something seemed to awaken in Naruto, a resolve to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Spirit power or not, Momo did not strike him as someone who could take care of herself if something were to happen.

"It's okay," he said, grinning. "No big deal. I guess I just...," he stopped for a moment, breathing in and out, "I haven't exactly had many friends in my time here, since I live alone up on the mountain. That's how I like it most of the time, but I guess I get lonely some of the time. There aren't many others around my age, and I guess it's hard to get close to people who are younger or older."

Momo nodded, understanding where he was coming from. "Lil'Shiro looks like he's five or six years younger than I do, but we practically grew up together because we were neighbors. He and his grandmother are some of the only people that I'm close to. I can relate to that feeling." With that, they moved on to more pleasant topics, making each other laugh with more storytelling.

"Well you seem to have a lot of stories about Rukongai, but do you have any stories about your past life, Momo?" the boy asked, curious if she remembered anything about where she came from.

Momo shook her head. "No, I... I really don't. Lil'Shiro doesn't either, but his grandmother does. Do you, Naruto?"

The boy shook his head regretfully. "No, I wish I did though. I wish I remembered where I was from and what happened to me when I died." The girl nodded, wishing for the same thing.

"Why do you think we don't remember?" he asked. "Me, you, and Toshiro? Is it because we have reiryoku?"

Hinamori shrugged. "I don't know, but that's the best guess I've come up with. Seems like a pretty great disadvantage, if you ask me."

Naruto and Momo kept up the cleaning for the next few hours, until around eight o'clock that night. They left to eat and enjoyed a meal together while Tadashi watched, before it was time for Naruto to go and meet with the town elder, Kaori.

Momo had kept quiet all during dinner, and there was obviously something on her mind. "Naruto, I'm sorry that you're in this mess because of me." She was sullen and depressed, her head down and seemingly unable to rise.

He smiled sympathetically and said, "No way, Momo. It's not your fault, believe it! It's Daichi's fault, him and his loser lackeys."

She seemed to perk up, but she was still sad. Tadashi put his hand on her shoulder. "Naruto and Daichi have never gotten along before this, and it's been a long time coming. Daichi should never have attempted what he was going to do. Naruto should have attempted to save you without fighting, like finding one of the shinigami on patrol and reporting it. But do not think for a minute that you had any part in the blame."

Hinamori smiled sadly, thinking over his words. "Thank you, sir."

"You're absolutely welcome," Tadashi said. "Naruto, you'd better hurry to the compound. If you don't get there soon, whatever punishment you get could be more severe."

Naruto nodded, standing up from the table. He adjusted his tunic and tied his obi, before bowing slightly to both of them. "See you when I get back."

Tadashi and Momo bowed back to him. "Remember my advice from earlier, Naruto!"

The blonde waved back his acknowledgement as he left the room, leaving Tadashi and Momo alone. The owner of the inn stood and walked out of the room into the main bar, beckoning Momo to follow. "Tell me what you make of this, Miss Hinamori."

She nodded and followed him. He pointed out the obvious crack in the wooden floor, about three inches wide and five feet long. She remembered that that was where Naruto had shoved Daichi, and her eyes widened. She explained that detail to Tadashi, who could only ponder for a moment.

"So Naruto did that with just brute strength?" asked the boss, cursing under his breath as he thought about how expensive it might be to fix or replace. "Broke the solid wood like it was nothing?"

Momo was just as amazed as he was. It was interesting to her that Naruto had so much spiritual power locked inside that he could literally do that much damage, because it had nothing to do with muscle mass. Naruto was by no means scrawny, but he was not built like a brick wall.

"Has he ever showed anything like this before?" asked Momo, entertaining the possibility that it could have been a coincidence.

Tadashi looked away in thought before raising a finger to make a point. "Well, a few years back, I dismissed it. But Naruto may have been the one to snap the entire bar counter in half, because I remember him being angry at something that day." He showed her the wooden counter replacement. "I was able to replace it with an identical one for pretty cheap, but if Naruto has been breaking these things so easily, what does that mean, Miss Hinamori?"

She explained what she knew about reiatsu and reiryoku, thinking that if Naruto had never heard of it, Tadashi probably had not either. If she did not live so close to the Seireitei, she probably would not know that much about it either.

"So Naruto has some powers of his own?" asked Tadashi.

"Yeah, I think so," she explained.

"That could be very dangerous," he muttered, not sure what he thought about this development. Naruto was not the type to let something like this go over his head, but... but he had a temper problem. "With Naruto's tendency to get overexcited, couldn't these powers be a bad thing?"

"I'm not sure if they'd be bad, but I guess they could be," she said. "Back in district one, I've heard that souls with some reiryoku go on to become shinigami, through the Shin'o Academy."

Tadashi pondered that for a moment. "You have to eat as well, don't you, Miss Hinamori? Have you ever experienced any kind of special abilities like Naruto?"

"Not me, no," Momo replied. "But one of my friends from back home, he has this really cold presence. I don't think he notices, and I've never brought it up. But he sometimes makes the room colder without even trying. Is that weird?"

"Weird?" Tadashi asked. "Kind of. Hard to comprehend all this shinigami, spiritual power business."

Momo laughed. "I agree with you there."

"Have you ever considered becoming a shinigami yourself? Or your friend Toshiro?"

Hinamori had to admit that the idea sounded great, but she did not think she could ever be good at it. "Um, no. I don't think that would be... the right fit for me. And Toshiro is blissfully unaware that he even has abilities, if that's even what they are. He's just a kid who doesn't like responsibility too much, whether he denies it or not."

Tadashi just smiled in confirmation. "Well, if that's what you think, that's fine, but don't doubt yourself either. You could turn out to be very capable if you decided to do it." He picked up a clipboard and began running through an inventory list. "Would you like to help me out a little while we wait for Naruto to come back? I've got some things to before we close in a couple of hours, and I need to give him his pay."

Momo just nodded, her mind filled with images of strong battles and swords and tough training. "Sure. I'd love to."


The town elder compound, for as long as Naruto had ever known, had been inhabited by members of Kaori's family. Daichi had died and had been assigned into Kaori's household by sheer luck, but most of the people who live there were direct blood relatives of Kaori herself.

The building was the grandest building in all of Hokutan, located in the direct middle of the town and surrounded completely by a twelve-foot-high wall. It really did scream of wealth, the most expensive building that Naruto had ever seen.

The place had patrol guards, regular souls armed with various weapons like katana or bows or spears. They were all dressed in heavy, almost samurai-like armor, each more ornate than the last. Trees lined the inside of the courtyard, Naruto noticed as soon as the guards let him in. One of them escorted Naruto through the yard and up to the flight of stairs leading to the gate.

"This is Naruto, the boy Kaori needed to see," the escort muttered to the main guard, a stumpy man who looked to be a little too old to be standing guard at a complex like this.

The man simply nodded, probably having heard all about the fight that had taken place. Naruto had been nervous before, but he had never been more nervous than this exact moment, right before the door opened to the main building. As it anciently creaked open, he had to fight the urge not to cringe.

He was ushered inside, just as before. They rounded three hallways before the entrance to Kaori's office appeared. Everything in this place screamed of money, and Naruto could not help but marvel at how Hokutan could ever have this much revenue. He knew that the districts closest to the Seireitei were generally richer, but this was obscene. The luxuries of being in charge, he figured.

The escort did not say a word as he opened the door to the office, introduced Naruto to the village elder, and then left before Naruto even had time to say, "What?"

Kaori was a short, lumpy old woman with a bit of a stomach, but her expensive red and white robes made up for it. She had a sour look on her face, a sure sign that he was in deep trouble.

"Naruto," Kaori began, gesturing for him to sit across the desk from her. "So I've heard an interesting and appalling story about you from my grandson, Daichi."

Remembering Tadashi's warning, he remained silent before he said something that could make him worse off in the end.

Kaori looked him in the eye before clearing her throat. "He claims that you came up to him in Tadashi's Inn, interrupted his good time, and shoved him to the ground. You then proceeded to beat him until Tadashi could pull you off of my poor grandson. Do you have anything to say for yourself?" The woman spat the last question, disgusted at the implications.

He had to fight not to comment, not to directly argue with everything she was saying. "Is that all he said? Did he explain to you why I did this?"

Kaori did not budge, and Naruto started to realize that he may not win this argument. "No, I'm afraid that was all he said. Is there something more?"

Naruto started to rehash his side of the story for the second time that day, including Momo's end of the story as well. Strangely enough, Kaori began to smile half-way through the story, which unnerved him completely.

"What's so funny? I'm telling you the truth!"

The old woman grew upset that Naruto had the audacity to yell at her, and Tadashi's words to be respectful echoed in his mind.

"Quite frankly, Naruto, I simply do not believe your far-fetched tales. I've heard enough of your pranks from many concerned citizens to know that I cannot take what you say with a grain of salt. It's fairly obvious that you are using these falsities to malign the character of the village elder's grandson. Did you think this would be funny, Naruto? Did you think this would bring you enjoyment, trying to make Daichi out to be some kind of common criminal? If that's the case, you're even more broken that I originally imagined."

Naruto was speechless, the office completely silent. Kaori stood from her chair and looked out of the window, watching the crescent moon up above.

"This is just not true! Those pranks were just jokes that never harmed anyone, and Daichi and his friends were going to hurt poor Momo! I could not stand idly by and let her get raped!" Naruto was getting so angry that he gripped the chestnut-colored desk, his knuckles turning white.

Kaori did not turn his gaze. "There's a flaw in your lie, Naruto, a flaw that ensures that I cannot believe a bit of what you are saying." She turned to look at him, placing both of her palms flat on the desk and trying to look intimidating. "Daichi did not leave the compound last night. He was here all night, resting after a long day of chores. I had a few of my guards check up on him.

"What terrifies me more than anything, Naruto, is that you do not live in town. You live all alone, up on the mountain, away from social interaction," she explained. "And what makes matters worse is that boss of yours, Tadashi. He hardly leaves that inn to keep it barely running. It does not offer as much money as he claims, and he's often in debt. I worry that you have no positive relationships in this town, and it has probably affected your mental state."

"My mental state?"

Kaori nodded in confirmation. "Yes. You seem to not know where your lies begin and where the truths end." She walked around the desk and placed her hand on the back of his chair, kneeling down to meet him face to face. "Naruto, did you kidnap a girl from district one last night, hoping to blame it on Daichi?"

"What? No! Not at all!"

Kaori continued as though nothing had ever been said. "I had to admit I was a bit shocked when you mentioned this as part of your story, because Daichi made no mention of it. How noble of him to want to protect you. He was the one who questioned you about this girl, wasn't he? He caught on to your plans, and you fought him to silence him, didn't you? He must have been so scared of your revenge that he did not mention the real reason to me, in hopes that you would go easy on him."

The blonde was just shocked. "Lady Kaori, you are way off-base here! Have you lost touch with reality? Daichi was caught sneaking in illicit drugs earlier this year, but did you punish him? No."

"Lies!" Kaori slammed the arm rest on Naruto's chair, shocking him enough that he reflexively gripped the desk harder. He looked down at his fingers, but he couldn't find them. It looked as though his fingers had submerged into the wood of the desk, so he hurriedly pulled them out in shock, hoping Kaori was distracted enough not to notice. Sure enough, there were five finger-sized indents in the wood, like he had stuck his fingers into a vat of butter.

"Gather what belongings you have in town and just leave. You're banished from Hokutan. Exiled. Whichever term you prefer. Don't ever expect to be able to come back again, and don't think you'll have a home up on the mountain left to come back to."

"Banished? Seriously?" he asked incredulously. "There's no punishment for Daichi at all?"

"He was being brave, something that you could use a bit more nowadays. I expect you to be gone from district three by first light tomorrow."


Naruto was livid, but he had to try to keep his cool. He was not going to be able to return to Tadashi or see the mountain ever again. He headed into the inn one last time and was thankful that it was not closed yet. His shifts usually did not go into nighttime, but now was a different story.

The place was nearly empty, and it made him wonder about the validity of Kaori's statement that Tadashi was always in debt. They seemed busy enough most of the time, but were they really?

He headed behind the counter and into the backroom, hoping to find Tadashi and Momo, and maybe even some supplies to bring along. And food. He had no clue where he was going to go, but he would not be able to return here. That was the only certainty that he had.

"Naruto? You're back!" Momo said, smiling and scanning his face for any idea of what happened. She seemed to slow down when she noticed his not-so-happy face. "What happened?"

He frowned even more, all efforts to pack lost. He sat down at the table, head in his hands and running through his hair. "That bitch banished me. Made me an exile, like some kind of common criminal."

"What?" asked Momo, her face quivering in surprise. "I don't understand. What did she say?"

He turned to her for a moment, studying her face. Then he explained the whole story, with as much detail as possible. He grew angrier and angrier with every single sentence.

Momo was in outrage, and she grabbed Naruto's hand to yank him up and onto his feet. "Come on, Naruto, let's go prove her wrong! I'm your evidence, my story will match up to yours! They'll have to believe you."

The blonde shook his head. "No, she won't change her mind. All the important people in this town have their heads so far up Daichi's asses that they would never believe me. She made me out to be the psycho loner rapist, Momo, and no matter how much I beg and plead, it won't change her opinion of me. Her sentencing has always been final."

Momo huffed, crossing her arms in anger. "I won't give up, Naruto, and you should not give up either. Come with me."

He reluctantly followed her into the hallway, toward Tadashi's office. Tadashi was surprised to see them both, and after explaining the whole story, Momo asked, "Surely there's something we can do."

Tadashi wiped the tear from the corner of his eye, surprising Naruto. He was not exactly an emotional man, so to see that side of him was strange. "Oh, Naruto... I'm afraid, Miss Hinamori, that there's nothing that we can do. Kaori really is a stubborn-old-bat." He walked over to Naruto and wrapped the blonde in a one-armed hug. "Let's get you something packed, kiddo."

Naruto solemnly followed him, leaving Momo there with a complete lack of understanding. She began to cry as she walked behind them, trying to keep a brave face but feeling like this was all her fault.

"Momo, there's nothing to feel sorry about," Naruto said. "What's done is done."

He really did believe that philosophy, that you couldn't change the past. He believed that you could change your future, if you just persisted long enough to see a change. It was one of the many factors of why he never gave up.

Was he giving up though? Was Momo right? Had he accepted his fate as being banished? Was he angry about this, angry enough to try to change it?

The boy sighed.

"I just don't get it, Naruto," Hinamori began. "How can you not blame me? I was the one who got you into this mess in the first place. Daichi... Daichi and his friends. I should have had the power to fight them off. What the heck kind of use is it to have spiritual power if you can't use it to defend yourself?"

Naruto looked at her curiously. "It's not like you've been trained on how to use it though, Momo, if that's even how it works. Stop worrying about it! I'll be fine!"

"No, you won't," she argued, wiping at her eyes. "Where will you go? What will you do?" Before Naruto could even answer, Momo suddenly brightened up. "I know! You could come and live with Toshiro and me, in Junrinan! Oh, it would be great! I could introduce you to Jidanbou, I think you'd get a kick out of him! You'd really like Lil'Shiro's grandmother, and there's a great ram-!"

Naruto shook his head, although he gave it a lot of thought. "No, that's just what Hokutan would expect. They know you came from there, and they may stir up trouble trying to find me there. It's too obvious."

Tadashi, who had kept relatively quiet as he sorted through some light food to pack for both Naruto and Hinamori, finally turned to face them. "Maybe not, Naruto. If they expected you to expect them to find you there, then you could hide there after all. And besides, I don't think they'll be out for blood or something, Naruto. Kaori is not likely to waste the manpower on it, and the shinigami have better things to do than that." He paused, putting a bag of rice into both bags. "You could easily go with Momo, Naruto. All it takes is the first step, and it sure would take some of the worrying off of me, if I knew Miss Hinamori was there to take care of you. And you would be close enough that I could visit, as long as things calmed down on this side."

"Of course I would take care of you!" she said, not exactly sure why that statement made her blush. Naruto did not seem to take notice of it though. "And he's right, Naruto! They aren't that far away, so your former boss could visit you!"

The blue-eyed soul thought for a long moment, curious if this could work. It definitely was better than not having a plan at all, but drifters moved in and out of districts all the time. He wouldn't attract much attention if he went by himself, and he knew how to live off the land for the most part. But Momo and he had been good to each other, and she seemed genuinely excited at the possibility.

He took a deep breath in and out, letting it calm him down. He batted away the stray thought of why souls even needed to breathe, before finally agreeing. "Fine, I'll do it. Where would I stay while I'm there?"

Momo thought for a moment before saying, "With Toshiro's grandmother, of course. You and Lil'Shiro are not that different in age, so you'd get along, I think. And I live really close by, so it'll work out just fine."

"You sure she wouldn't mind?"

Momo shook her head, her brunette bangs swaying as she did. "No, she loves guests, and you have a great personality. She wouldn't mind at all."

"Then it's settled then!" Tadashi said, trying to be chipper but his expression said otherwise. Naruto could tell when he was upset.

They spent the next half hour going through some other supplies for two packs, just in case they needed them between Hokutan and Junrinan. When Tadashi handed them both the bags, they thanked him together.

"All right, so you guys are going to stay here tonight and then head out in the morning, just before dawn, right?" asked Tadashi for the umpteenth time.

They both nodded. "Yes, sir," Naruto said, smiling.

The boss smiled back and hugged both of them quickly, before handing Naruto the last thing on his mind. A bag of coins, the "paycheck."

"No, I won't need it, Tadashi. What if the money doesn't work?"

The older man scoffed. "Naruto, it's only a few hours away. And Kan are acceptable everywhere."

"If you say so," the blonde muttered, taking the bag and putting it in his back pocket.

"I'm off to bed. I'm planning on sleeping in tomorrow, so don't wake me as you head out." He winked, before adding, "I'm not sure if this will work out for you one hundred percent, Naruto, but please be careful. Both of you."

They both nodded and then did a small bow to him. He bowed back, and with that, the goodbye was over. Tadashi left them in the backroom in order to close the bar. Naruto wanted to really thank him properly, to say a good long goodbye. But he reminded himself that Tadashi might could visit him someday.


Naruto awoke to the sound of the alarm going off next to him, about an hour before dawn. He stretched and sighed, opening his eyes wider before getting up. He walked into the bathroom, hoping to get his face washed, do something with his hair.

He stared at his reflection in the mirror, his body looking haggard and tired. Dark circles stretched under his eyes, and his face looked dry and flaky. He reached up with water and splashed his strange, whisker-like cheek marks before taking in another deep breath. He looked at his bare torso and abdomen, wondering why it felt so... empty when he looked at his belly button. Like something was missing, almost.

He washed his hair quickly, throwing on his clothes from yesterday. He wished that he could go back to his place and pack a bit of clothes, or at least change, but this would have to do.

He hurried downstairs, meeting Momo in the kitchen area of the bar. She was already dressed and looked a lot better than he did this morning, but that was not saying much. They ate a quick bite to eat, mostly talking over their plans and more about Ame, Toshiro's grandmother.

"I guess we'd better go," Momo said, standing and grabbing her pack off of the floor. "I wish I could thank Tadashi properly, but I'm sure I'll get to do so eventually."

Naruto nodded. "Of course. Let's get moving."

The two of them left the inn, Naruto locking the door behind him and placing his key on the mat. He did so without much hesitation, but he still felt oddly sad about that.

He walked on with Momo in the relative dark, gray-light just before dawn. He did not run from the only place he had ever really known. He walked out comfortably, Momo at his side. He passed the last building on the left, turned and looked at the convoluted street, almost barren and devoid of people.

"You okay?" asked the girl at his side.

He nodded. "Yeah. I think I'll be okay. Oddly enough, this is kind of... exciting. Refreshing. Like a new start. Maybe it won't get boring so fast this time around."

Hinamori laughed. "Let's hope not."

Naruto and Momo walked past the limits of the district, heading east. He imagined that if he climbed high enough, he would be able to see the walls of Seireitei on the horizon.


Hopefully, that worked well. I know this is a popular crossover idea, but I wanted to take my spin on it. There will be a few more Naruto characters introduced, but not so many it's cramped and overloaded. I hope you enjoyed it and that you'll leave me a review to tell me what you think!

Also, any OCs will pretty much vanish at this point. It's all canon from now on. I know it started a bit slow, but it will catch up in due time.