Time had run out.
It was to be expected really. They already waited for the full six years of academy curriculum, plus two years worth of personalized training under the famous Shunshin Shihōin Yoruichi herself. Not activating Shikai meant no memories, and no memories meant no clue as to the source for the burn mark. Yamamoto was not known for being a patient man, and dragging the situation for eight years was likely eight years too long for the hot-tempered man. So, Yoruichi was given an ultimatum; wring the information out of Kajōmaru in the next week or he was going to be experiment material.
The woman conveyed the message to the blond man in its entirety, and professed to Kajōmaru that he was progressing in leaps and bounds as a shinigami, as evidenced by his position as a twelfth seated officer in the division despite being constrained to non-zanpakutō-based abilities. But without regaining his memories, it just wasn’t enough to convince the captain commander that he was an asset and not a threat. Hence, it was time to get drastic.
They had to force Shikai out of the azure-eyed man, and what better way was there than a life-or-death situation? Soifon eagerly agreed to engage in this particular tasking, given that she had the license to attack the man she hated with impunity. Kajōmaru had wondered if the petite woman knew that her mentor was pitting them against each other to promote competition and help each other get stronger, but he supposed Siofon was too engrossed in fighting for Yoruichi’s honor to figure that out.
He was bitterly disappointed when all he could accomplish against Soifon and her Suzumebachi was dodge frantically. There was evidently a huge power gap between them, a gulf he could have bridged had he possessed Shikai. Her Shikai was horribly dangerous too, especially in her hands. So what if she couldn’t maintain each hōmonka for more than fifteen minutes? It was still fifteen minutes too long. He was still her inferior in speed, and getting tagged in multiple places was making it progressively harder to fight the obsessed woman. She never let up on her fast-paced assault, and Kajōmaru was unable to throw out even the simplest of counters. Yoruichi looked on stonily, offering no words of encouragement, as she was prone to doing in many prior spars.
Parrying Soifon’s sloppy stab at a hōmonka with a light tap on her Suzumebachi-wielding wrist, he spun on his heels to deliver a spin kick, denied by Soifon’s deceptively strong hand clamping down on his ankle. Twisting away from another instant-death jab, he tried to calm his nerves while engaging in a deadly battle with his self-proclaimed nemesis. The adrenaline interfered as he ducked under a swipe, attempting to crash an elbow into her gut. All he did was graze her as she tagged him on his neck before he hopped away, still unable to reach his preferred range. Soifon kept dancing past his guard, his zanpakutō long abandoned for a better defence against Suzumebachi. A poor move in retrospect, given our outmatched he was in unarmed combat against Soifon with her Shikai built for close-quarters battle.
What am I doing? He thought, as he desperately dodged another close call. Why am I running? I’m stronger than this, aren’t I?
An outstretched arm, reiryoku building for a simple kidō, was almost severed.
Or is this my limit?
Tagged again, on the calf.
Is this all I’m worth?
Strands of blond hair fluttered to the ground.
All I’ve been through, and I’m about to be defeated by a girl with a fixation?
Another hōmonka blossomed.
My name…I can’t hear my name.
Drenched in sweat.
Do I deserve to?
Do I deserve you?
“Of course you do, my silly, beloved master.”
Jolting awake, Kajōmaru panted heavily as the memory of Soifon’s Shikai slicing cleanly into his body pervaded his senses. Almost immediately, he was smothered into his zanpakutō’s prodigious assets, the woman stroking his wild, untamed hair soothingly. She giggled as his harsh breath slowed, pressing her lips to the crown of his head. The gust around them had died down to almost nothing; a small breeze that would barely ruffle a feather on a swallow in flight.
“Why? Why have you not given up on me?”
The flirtatious woman laughed softly, a tinkling sound that reverberated through his entire body. “Because I’m yours.”
“I can’t…I can’t hear it,” he whimpered brokenly, clutching fistfuls of her robes. “I can’t hear what you wish to say to me. I don’t deserve it.”
“No, beloved master,” she cooed in his ear sensuously. “You can hear it. You just don’t want to.”
“How?” he laughed weakly, gesturing at his scrunched features. “I’m breaking down! At losing a spar with a little girl! What happened to the nameless demon of Zaraki, huh? I’m nothing…nothing. I…I can’t do what you ask of me.”
“You silly man,” she purred, wiping his tears away with a dainty finger. “You don’t understand yourself at all, do you?”
At his questioning glance, she smiled coyly. “Did you know what the tornado that surrounds my hill represents? It represents you, master. You are supposed to be an irrepressible force of nature, an unstoppable wind that topples all and any obstacles in your way. Did you really think that my affections for you are an indicator for how close you are to Shikai? No…the strength of the gale is the true sign of your strength of will to fight. Now, it’s at an all-time low, something you can’t even call a wind. All this time in the Nibantai, have you noticed the storm dying down?”
“I thought…it was a good sign. That the winds represented my chaotic past,” Kajōmaru whispered hoarsely, aghast at the truth. “That I had come to peace with it. Why…didn’t you correct me?”
“Because you had to discover it for yourself,” the white-haired woman murmured gently, placing her warm palm against his chest, above his slow-beating heart. “You were nothing like this before you died, you know? You were bright and cheerful, a veritable storm of happiness and optimism. Zaraki changed you for the worse, casting you out of your own gale and forcing you and I apart. The Nibantai made you suppress your true self, despite the princess bringing you back to my arms in one day. You never belonged in either place. You’re breaking down now because your real self has been fighting for freedom, to break through the shell of a man that you’ve become.”
“Then…what was all that stuff you spoke of before?” Kajōmaru muttered accusingly, sinking into his zanpakutō spirit’s lap, a boneless heap. “All those words about fighting and finding myself again?”
She smiled poignantly, brushing some of his unruly hair off his forehead. “I did mean what I said. You thrive in the heat of battle, my dear master. But when it all becomes routine, when there’s no life on the line, when your opponent is one for whom you care about…you falter. That huge gap in power between the Shihōin and you at the beginning teased your real personality out. Your love for battle, coupled with your desire for the preservation of something important, at that point your life, brought you past your own conjured winds to me. But it was pointless thereafter when all you did was build upon your skills slowly. You were a deadly blade forged in the furnaces of battle, worn down by the needless violence of Zaraki, and sheathed completely in the division you now reside in.”
“So what does this all mean for me now?” Kajōmaru mouthed, feeling extremely exhausted from the revelations about himself.
The woman smiled lovingly, peering deep into his deep azure eyes. “You yearned, but never truly believed that you can hear your name or mine. You were afraid, because I revealed that you have a greater responsibility to uphold with that knowledge. You are a blunt blade that wishes to remain dull, content with what you have. Now, tell me, what do you want?”
“I want to beat Soifon.”
“I want to hear my name and yours.”
“I want to find myself.”
“I want to be me.”
His cerulean orbs, brighter with every word, were ablaze with his ironclad will with his final words. The tiny breeze that was all but gone previously came roaring back with a vengeance, tearing up the landscape with impunity. Unadulterated force carved huge trenches in the ground. Safe in the eye of the storm, the blond man had risen to his feet, his mind clear and his body light. Stretching a hand out to the seated woman, she gratefully placed her small hand in his, standing up daintily. She draped her arms around his neck, allowing him to circle her waist with his. Stretching on her toes, she went nose-to-nose with her lord.
“I’m sorry I can’t grant that last wish, my beloved, but…” she smiled cheekily, pressing her lips to his. “I can return what rightfully belongs to you.”
Welcome back, Naruto-sama.
Yoruichi bit her lip anxiously as she watched her first apprentice total her second. It was quite the beating, which was not at all representative of their respective skill levels. Even with Shikai, he shouldn’t perform so badly. Yoruichi wasn’t sure what was the cause of his dip in form; whether it was a mental block, a lack of focus, or some deep-seated problem, it was clearly affecting his performance. As his body was covered with more and more of Soifon’s hōmonka, his shredded shihakushō drenched in sweat and blood, she felt very much tempted to call the match and find some alternate method to help Kajōmaru.
Then, her decision was made for her when Soifon went for a killing blow despite sharp warnings not to do so. They did want to simulate a life-or-death situation, but actually gunning for his death when he was clearly unable to counter it was contrary to her instructions. She never really thought Soifon would ignore her orders, even if she disliked Kajōmaru. Yoruichi never expected Soifon’s level of adoration for her to be that high, to be so jealous of a man receiving her fake affections that she would kill him against her explicit orders.
But just as she readied her body for a shunpo, she was stymied by a huge eruption of reiatsu from the man she was about to save. The blinding white of his expanding reiatsu forced Yoruichi to shield her eyes with her arm, as well as push Soifon away. Her world was completely white for a moment, and all sound seemed to cease. Then, as her eyes readjusted themselves to the relatively normal brightness of a sunny day, she couldn’t help but gasp at the sight of the devastated training area. It was cratered where Kajōmaru stood, with the walls around them turned to rubble just from the release of reiatsu. She could feel the entirety of her division all sprinting towards their location, and even the reiatsu of another captain bearing down on them.
Surprisingly, both she and Soifon were unharmed. The complete annihilation of structures built to withstand damage upwards of three hundred feet away told her that both of them were extremely lucky not to have been tossed like ragdolls. As shinigami poured into the area, all ready to aid the Shihōin princess and her apprentice, they were stopped by a raised fist from Yoruichi. She gingerly approached the crater, which was still smoking, obscuring her view of Kajōmaru. Before she even made it halfway, she was joined by Kuchiki Ginrei, his sword already drawn. She smirked as she turned her attention to the hazy outline of Kajōmaru once more. To even draw Ginrei out of his barracks…man, you are really something, aren’t ya?
“Yoruichi-san,” the elderly Kuchiki spoke coolly, as if just having a small chat with his fellow captain. “What of the situation?”
“It’s nothing much, I hope,” Yoruichi waved her hand nonchalantly. “Just Shitsumei Kajōmaru gaining Shikai…I think. I certainly didn’t expect that kind of power from him, though he does have quite the considerable reiatsu last I recall.”
“Your reports reflect as much. In such a state, I believe it is unwise to approach,” Ginrei warned, raising his blade a fraction as the air cleared suddenly by a ferocious gust of wind.
Tensing, Yoruichi studied the still form of Kajōmaru carefully. His shihakushō was beyond repair, given that his top was completely gone, with only strands hanging loose from his obi-sash. All his battle scars were revealed, and while not extensive, made for quite the gruesome sight. His hair seemed to have grown substantially over the last minute, tapering down to between his shoulder blades and shadowing his azure orbs. In his hand was his zanpakutō, now returned to his hand despite having dropped it earlier. It was no longer a single blade; rather, it was a double-bladed katana, both blades jostling for space on an expanded, single hilt. What looked like visible wisps of wind surrounded the blades, a faint whistling noise emanating from the weapon. His tattoo, visible on his bare skin, was a pulsing crimson. The armband that Urahara had designed was on the ground, tattered.
“Uzumaki Naruto,” the man spoke, his voice gravelly. Yoruichi knitted her eyebrows. “What?”
“That’s my true name,” he replied softly, though his voice carried itself over to everyone in the vicinity. “I am known as Uzumaki Naruto.”
“So you have regained your memories,” Yoruichi sighed in relief. “That was a very close call.”
“Yea, it was,” he smiled, swinging his blade downwards, across his body. It reformed as a regular katana, which he sheathed immediately. Everyone took that as a sign to return their weapons to their sheaths as well, though Soifon kept Suzumebachi in Shikai form. Yoruichi dismissed all her subordinates, along with Soifon, who looked a little miffed that her target was alive and well. The Shihōin princess watched her apprentice stalk away, making a mental note to talk to the precocious but volatile girl soon. Ginrei took the time to approach the blond man, his steps unhurried.
“May I address you as Uzumaki-san?” Ginrei politely inquired, to which Naruto nodded tersely. “The mark on your body does not look like a regular burn mark at this point, given how it’s pulsing right now. Will you care to explain?”
“It is a remnant of my past, before I died,” Naruto replied somberly. Yoruichi perked her ears, moving beside Ginrei to listen properly. “I was the container of a demon, a beast of unimaginable power. It was put inside me to protect my village from destruction. There was an organization that sought to capture these beasts for their own ends, and I was eventually caught and the beast was torn from my body. I am unaware of the mechanics, but as they ripped Kurama from my body, it pulled me into this world, along with all the other eight beasts and a…wayward friend of mine.”
“So that mark…it represents what exactly?” Yoruichi questioned.
“It is the seal that incarcerated the beast,” Naruto answered. “And now that I have regained my memories, I know that I have a duty to keep the beasts from affecting Soul Society in any manner, positive or negative. They are free now, roaming the world and potentially causing devastation. And my wayward friend…”
He chuckled sadly, gazing at the bright sky wistfully. “Given that he became part of the organization that captured me, I think he’s beyond redemption. But it is my job to prevent him from causing harm to Soul Society as well, since I’m the one to inadvertently bring all of them here with me.”
“That sounds like stuff out of the pages of fantasy,” Yoruichi remarked, before wincing as she caught the gaze of Naruto. It was the look of a man who had seen his fair share of pain and hardship, whose suffering she just made light of. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” the blond man smiled gingerly. “You don’t know the full extent of my story, and I won’t expect you to empathize with me. But rest assured, the mark is nothing more than an elaborate tattoo now.”
“Do you trust his words?” Ginrei asked Yoruichi, never taking his own eyes off Naruto. She nodded and grinned. “Yep.”
“Very well. I trust your judgement,” Ginrei declared, turning around to return to his own duties. “I do not detect any form of deception in his body language or his words either. I will convey my feelings to the sōtaichō, in addition to your own report on the matter.”
“Thanks Ginrei-jisan!” Yoruichi shouted as the Kuchiki disappeared in a shunpo, leaving the two shinigami alone.
The Shihōin princess sighed as she surveyed Naruto from top to bottom, her hands on her hips. “Man, what am I going to do with you?”
“Get me some clothes?” he quirked an eyebrow, a light grin curving the edge of his lips.
“Nah, those can wait,” Yoruichi smirked, pretending to drink in the sight of a topless Naruto. “So…I guess my nickname of Maki-kun doesn’t warrant much of a change, huh? You’re going to have to tell me everything about your past. I bet it’s quite the adventure.”
Rolling his eyes, he started walking in the direction of the barracks, ignoring the division captain. She pouted, before chasing to fall in step beside him. “Hey, wait up! You can’t leave a girl hanging like that!”
Naruto stilled as Yoruichi burst through the doors to his room with all the fury of a woman scorned. A quick look at the crumpled piece of paper in her left fist told him that yes, she had finally gotten news of his imminent transfer away from the Second Division, and no, he had not informed her of this particular development. He raised his arms in the universal sign of surrender as she grabbed the front of his shihakushō, her face contorted in a fearsome scowl. He wondered if he was crazy for getting turned on at that moment by the angry woman, but based on his memories, he was like that in the past too, and he was still considered relatively well-adjusted…sort of.
“Why didn’t you ask me first?” she growled menacingly, shaking the transfer paper wildly. “Why go straight to Yamamoto-sōtaichō?”
Naruto grinned weakly as he tried furiously to think of a way to mitigate the precarious situation. “Actually, Sasakibe-fukutaichō approached me on behalf on Yamamoto-sōtaichō. He felt that given my zanpakutō is a kidō and element-based zanpakutō, the First Division provides the better platform for realizing my potential and becoming an asset to Seireitei. Furthermore, Yamamoto-sōtaichō is worried that I might still pose a threat, and now with Shikai, he feels that it might be necessary for him to step in personally if things go to hell.”
Yoruichi narrowed her eyes at the blond man’s hasty explanation. “You made up the last one, didn’t you?”
“Maybe I did, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong,” Naruto defended himself. “Sasakibe-fukutaichō didn’t explicitly say that out loud, but I understood the intent behind the move. Anyway, you know after all this time together that for all my ability at hakuda and hohō, I still lean towards kidō and zanjutsu. I don’t fit into the Onmitsukidō even as much as Kisuke does, whom, I might add, you’ve been pushing to attain Bankai and leave the Second so he can do better work elsewhere.”
“So you’re just going to ditch me despite everything I’ve done for you?” Yoruichi snarled, her furious eyes boring into Naruto’s.
“Is this what you’re seeing it as?” Naruto asked, gently laying a hand on the distraught woman’s shoulder. “I’m not being ungrateful here. It’s practically a command. I was…highly encouraged to switch over. But I see the merits of the move, and I’m hoping you’ll see things the same way. I don’t know how I can pay you back for all the help you’ve given me since I’ve arrived in Seireitei, but I’ll be willing to do just about anything within reason for you.”
“Do you mean it?” she muttered quietly, loosening her grip on his kosode slightly.
Naruto nodded empathically. She dropped her hands to her side, before crossing her arms under her generous bosom. “In that case, what can you offer a woman like me?”
At that question, Naruto paused to think really hard. Given that Yoruichi was a literal princess of one of the noblest family in Soul Society, there was nothing material that he could get her that she couldn’t procure unless it was handcrafted. And Naruto was pretty sure handcrafting items wasn’t one of his fortes. He was a brute force fighter before he died, after he died, and given that he was just about fitted into Yoruichi’s guard detail as the dumb muscle, it was clear that the azure-eyed man had little to offer in terms of creative, handmade gifts.
His mind wandered through the freshly regained memories, wincing imperceptibly as plenty of them were of light concussions received for doing stupid things in front of volatile, absurdly strong women with a tendency to solve problems with their fists. Then, as the subject in mind was about offering a beautiful woman something she could appreciate, Naruto inevitably found himself reminiscing about his perverted sensei. Or, at least, the most perverted one of all…
Jiraiya smacked the head of Naruto soundly, causing the boy to cringe and clutch his throbbing head. With the most serious look the blond teen had seen on his teacher’s face yet, Jiraiya bent down from his great height to address his exuberant student. “Life is not all about ninjutsu and beating up bad guys, Naruto. There’s a lot more than that.”
“But you said I’m gonna learn how to defend myself from Akatsuki on this trip, so why won’t you teach me jutsu?” Naruto whined, unhappy at his lack of training in favour of Jiraiya’s constant researching.
The elder shinobi shook his head before ruffling the unruly locks of his latest student. “I’m your sensei, which means that I’m not only responsible for teaching you how to be a ninja, I’m also responsible for your growth as a man. And seeing as out of all the Konoha shinobi, I’m the manliest, that makes me the best teacher for you!”
“Stupid pervert,” Naruto grumbled under his breath as he walked away from the legendary man.
“Brat, listen up!” Jiraiya howled, stopping the orange-clad boy in his tracks. “Don’t worry, I’ll teach you your ninjutsu soon enough. But for now, you’re going to learn an essential skill that all men should learn, but few have the privilege of possessing. It has saved my life plenty of times, and has given me the best moments of my life as of yet. And given I have wandered the world and seen many wondrous things, it is of no exaggeration when I say it is the most elite tool in my varied arsenal.”
“What is it then?” Naruto asked excitedly, clutching the pant leg of Jiraiya as he went down on his knees, eyes sparkling at the thought of some awesome skill that would pound Sasuke into the ground.
Jiraiya puffed his chest out proudly as he pointed into the sky in a super-sentai pose. “It is the art of…massage!”
The white-haired man collapsed on the ground clutching his groin as his student stalked off angrily, muttering about useless perverts. Though, if there were casual observers around, they would notice the light blush that tinted the boy’s chubby cheeks…
Naruto giggled perversely as his mind traversed through his experiences learning the great art of massage from his late teacher, only to be rudely interrupted by Yoruichi’s light punch to his arm, who looked quite anxious. Naruto had been daydreaming for a good minute or so, and it both worried and excited the Shihōin heiress. Just what could the man offer her?
“Erm…well, I know how to give a killer massage,” he said, hoping beyond hope that she would accept that. He really didn’t have any other women-pleasing skills.
Yoruichi placed her index finger on her chin, mulling over the offer for a moment. Then, she threw off her haori, allowing it to flutter to the ground. It then became a makeshift resting spot for the purple-haired woman as she lied down on her belly, exposing her unclothed back. “Well then, how about a demonstration? I’ll make a decision after I’ve had a sample.”
Naruto shrugged, kneeling beside her prone form. “As you wish, Yoruichi-hime.”
If he were still that callow youth of years past, he would be a stuttering, nervous wreck by now. Jiraiya would mock him for a bit, then he would muster up all his dogged determination and make the girl (usually a amused prostitute who volunteered to help the cute blond boy) moan. As it was, he had grown up and matured; the sight of a sexy woman lying down in his room, submitting to his tender ministrations was not any tougher a proposition than, say, cracking an egg. Rubbing his hands together to prepare himself mentally, he proceeded to lean down and start kneading away the tight knots all over the Shihōin princess’s body.
“How’s that feel, hime?”
“Oooh, you didn’t lie when you said you were good. Give it to me harder!”
“As you wish, ma’am.”
“Oh yes, that’s the spot! Don’t stop!”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
“There! Right there! Oh ye lord, yes.”
“Gosh, you’re so vocal. Didn’t peg you for a screamer.”
“Shut up and keep workin’!”
Soifon, her ear pressed tightly against the thin paper walls to one Uzumaki Naruto’s room, seethed as she processed the words spoken by her mistress and that blond bastard who dared lay his hands on that perfect, wondrous woman that was Shihōin Yoruichi. Unable to stand it any longer, she burst through the walls with no regard for collateral damage, ready to pull off the man defiling her mistress with his foul methods. The sight that greeted her eyes horrified her.
Yoruichi was moaning up a storm, her haori abandoned in the fervour of their activities. The lecher had his hands all over her uncovered back, his body half-straddling the beautiful woman beneath him. His lustful grin was so very predatory as his eyes roved disgustingly over her mistress’s semi-nude form. Unable to believe her eyes, Soifon tackled Naruto off Yoruichi, her arms squeezing his midriff in a death grip. In an instant, he was secured in a particularly painful triangle chokehold, his face purpling from the lack of oxygen.
“Yoruichi-sama! I will protect your chastity from this perverted monster!” Soifon cried, as she batted away Naruto’s hands, desperately trying to push the slim woman’s legs away from his neck. Hearing her name addressed and no longer feeling Naruto’s hands on her back, Yoruichi blearily opened her eyes to observe the situation. Unable to keep the growing grin off her face, she rolling onto her side, propping her head up with her arm. “Soifon, I didn’t know you wanted a piece of Maki-kun too. I’m not opposed to sharing with my cute apprentice, you know.”
Only then did Soifon realise that the pervert’s mouth was dangerously close to…blushing crimson, she launched the suffocating blond across the room, wrapping her arms around her torso protectively. “PERVERT!”
Yoruichi could only grin maniacally. Ah, all the fun that we could have had. Too bad you’re leaving.
Naruto grinned wildly as he repeatedly clashed blades with Kaien, the two men indulging in a bit of no holds barred training. Away from the confines of either Seireitei or the Shiba compound, they could fight with fewer inhibitions. As their swords met each other midway once more, each man pushed against the other as hard as they could, resulting in a stalemate. Shoving one another back, prompting a cascade of sparks, Kaien allowed himself a small grin of exhilaration at the closely fought battle.
“Man, you’ve gotten massively better at this,” the brunette praised, casually moving his zanpakutō into a reverse grip. “These few months in the First Division made you real strong.”
“Well, Yoruichi-hime isn’t really much for zanjutsu,” Naruto shrugged, twirling his blade nonchalantly. “Yamamoto-sōtaichō, on the other hand, is a dedicated swordsman.”
“Heh, looks like I’ll have to take this up a notch,” Kaien smirked, as he started spinning his sword by its hilt. “Surge, water and heavens…Nejibana!”
At Kaien’s command, his zanpakutō glowed with bright reiatsu as it lengthened considerably, transforming into its Shikai form. Naruto couldn’t help but admire the transformation sequence; some zanpakutō just had cooler ones than others. As the glow dimmed, Kaien’s Shikai was revealed. A trident, it had three deadly tips, and two straight edges blades flanking the main spear. The counterweight was in fact a drill, and a blue tassel hung from the base of the trident head. Water flowed freely from both ends of the weapon, which the Shiba prodigy demonstrated with a few theatrical flicks of Nejibana, allowing the water to twist and flow around the air in a virtuoso display.
“Feh, as if I’ll be intimidated by that,” Naruto taunted, holding out his own zanpakutō. “Sweep away the sorrow of winter, revive the happiness of spring…Harukaze!”
Kaien watched carefully as Naruto performed Shikai before his eyes for the very first time. The blade, a regular katana, glowed brightly as it appeared to split into two. The snow-white hilt lengthened to accommodate the increased weight and affected balance. The circular guard, which had eight square protrusions spaced evenly around it, widened to allow more space for the double blades of the Shikai form. A dense reiatsu emanated from the blade, sheathed as it was with visible wisps of wind. Kaien winced as the soft but harsh tones of the winds were enhanced with every swipe that Naruto made with his blade.
“Man…that’s some scary reiatsu you’re putting out, and with only Shikai,” Kaien complimented, raring to go. “Ready?”
Naruto declined to answer verbally, selecting instead to charge straight at Kaien. The other man responded in kind, spinning his zanpakutō in a mazy whirlwind of water and metal. The two blades clashed loudly, sending shockwaves reverberating around the area. Naruto’s blades held fast against the crushing power of Nejibana; the winds did their work of deflecting the water away from the main blade, which was interlocked with the trident head of Nejibana. Naruto broke the deadlock, spinning on his heels to deliver a horizontal slash. Kaien was equal to that, parrying the move with a quick flick of a wrist, angling Naruto’s blade high up into the sky. The drill tip at the bottom of Nejibana flew towards Naruto’s abdomen, but as Kaien thrust forwards, Naruto slashed down, a blast of gale-force winds blowing the water-wielding shinigami back.
Sliding to a stop, Kaien noted that the front of his shihakushō was shredded. Naruto’s didn’t fare better; a jet of water had blasted from the drill tip, knocking the blond man just as far back as his blast of wind did to Kaien. The two men dove at each other once more, the battle more ferocious than before. Chunks of earth were blown away as wind and water collided with titanic force, each man’s attack perfectly countered by the other. It was pretty clear that they were very evenly matched without possessing the intent to kill.
Pushing off each other, they came to a momentary pause in the mock battle. Panting lightly, both men wore identical grins on their features. Before they could continue their spar, however, they were interrupted by a loud cry. Kaien stiffened, his face paling dramatically in utmost horror. Turning around to see what the Shiba heir saw, Naruto too, paled significantly. At that very moment, Shiba Kūkaku ran towards them in a very feminine manner, crocodile tears streaming down her face. The tomboy even had the tucked elbows and flailing arms, which looked completely wrong to the two men, both utterly used to a violent madwoman who displayed more machismo than plenty of male shinigami.
“Naruto-koi~” she called out using a breathy, falsetto voice. “Please save me~”
The shinigami’s azure orbs widened in shock, blanching as Kūkaku snagged his left arm, deliberately mashing her breasts against it. Tiptoeing, she placed her lips next to his ear, hissing in a tone that Naruto was far more comfortable hearing from her. “I need you to be my pretend boyfriend, now.”
“What’s wrong, Kū-chan?” Naruto intoned deeply, slipping into character just as a plump, middle-aged man stumbled into the area, visibly tired from chasing Kūkaku. “Is this the man who’s harassing you?”
“Mmhmm,” Kūkaku nodded, keeping up her falsetto. Behind them, Kaien gagged.
“Who are you, to touch my fair lady like that?!” the man demanded indignantly, placing his hands on his hips and attempting to hide his wheezing. Naruto faked a frown, before waving Harukaze wildly. “I am Kū-chan’s boyfriend, and a shinigami. Who are you to chase my girlfriend around in such a lecherous manner?”
Taken aback by the announcement, the man bowed deeply, cold sweat breaking out and mixing with the sweat from his run. “I apologise, shinigami-sama, but Kūkaku-chan’s father has arranged for us to meet under these auspicious circumstances. She ran away before we could even start a proper conversation.”
“We are deeply in love,” Naruto declared. “And Kū-chan and I will not separate until death do us part. Do yourself a favour, and find someone who will love you as I have come to love Kū-chan.”
The man looked deeply disappointed, and giving Kūkaku’s massive chest once last longing glance, he bowed hurriedly to Naruto once more before scampering off back to the Shiba compound, no doubt to complain to Kūkaku’s father about the situation. Once the man was out of earshot, Kūkaku sighed in relief, releasing Naruto’s arm. The man proceeded to gag as Kaien had before. The brunette strode over, patting his friend on the back sympathetically. Kūkaku looked slightly miffed at their response.
“Hey, I’m not that bad a catch you know,” she growled, crossing her arms under her voluptuous chest. Kaien grinned weakly. “Do us both a favour, and admit that you need to act like a girl.”
She huffed haughtily. “Humph. You’ll regret say that.”
Before stomping away, no doubt to give her father a good roasting for setting up another omiai kekkon, she winked at Naruto coquettishly. “Looks like I owe you another favour, Maki-kun~”
“You sure that is safe?” Naruto asked skeptically.
Urahara nodded enthusiastically, stroking his newest creation fondly. “Yep. At least, it shouldn’t lead to death or anything like that.”
“Kisuke, you’re a good friend of mine, but seriously, don’t you think you ought to test something like that more rigorously before you actually use it?” Naruto pointed out sensibly. That thought scared him slightly; if he was the one having to use his common sense here, then surely it must be nuts to use that device.
“Well, Yoruichi-san has been pestering me about Bankai for ages, and I can’t stand the punishment anymore,” the light-blond man muttered miserably. Naruto, understanding his friend’s plight, gave him a light pat on the shoulder in empathy. “I guess if you succeed, you’ll get Yoruichi-hime off your back, and if you don’t, you’re probably dead and won’t have to face her anymore.”
“That’s exactly what I thought!” Kisuke grinned, before scratching the back of his head. “I hope Benihime doesn’t hurt me much.”
Naruto rolled his eyes at the nervousness of his fellow blond. “You really need to man up. I’m starting to think Yoruichi is justified in her constant jabbing at you.”
Urahara looked scandalized at those words, to which his friend in (former) misery laughed. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding. So, you ready to try and attain Bankai in the most hardcore way I’ve ever heard of? Because I’m ready to see your sorry butt getting kicked about by your zanpakutō. She is a hot babe, right?”
“Haha, very funny,” Kisuke deadpanned, before taking a deep breath. “Well, here goes nothing.”
He stabbed the Tenshintai.
A thousand voices screaming.
All he could hear was screaming.
But he was strong.
He could endure.
The screaming grew dim.
He drowned it out.
He pushed to the top.
He had a destiny.
He would not be denied.