Chapter 1: After Life
1. After Life
Naruto remembered once, when he was a very small boy, a caretaker at Konoha’s orphanage gathered all the children around to tell a story. He had kept to the back of the room, hoping the shadows would hide his tear stained cheeks and trembling lip. Why he was distraught, he couldn’t remember, as there had been many similar instances, and in his old age, memory had begun to fade and blur together.
“Sometimes, in the wind of change, we find our true direction.”
He remembered how he hadn’t wanted to listen to the story. He’d only wanted to find some secluded place where he could be alone with his misery and his scorn. As always, Naruto was defiant to authority and adamant about his wants and feelings, and rightly so.
But slowly, word by word, the story pulled him in. It influenced him so much that even in his final moments, decades later, it was a story the legendary Rokudaime Hokage of Konohagakure remembered as clearly as if he’d heard it yesterday.
They said one day, many years ago, a piece of sun fell to earth. Blinded by its radiance and threatened by the unknown, all the world tried its hardest to tame it. The rain did its best to drown it, the dirt and stone attempted to bury it, and the cold strived for its demise. One thing, and one thing alone, became the piece of sun’s salvation. They called it the wind.
Bound to neither earth nor sky and answerable to no one and nothing, with just a few words, the wind fed the piece of sun to a roaring flame. It burned so brightly that no amount of rain could ever drown it. No amount of dirt or stone could ever bury it. No amount of ice and cold could ever bring about its demise. As a child of the wind, it became everything it had ever wished to be, and more.
The world said, “You are beneath me.”
The rain wailed, “You will be nothing.”
The dirt and stone shouted, “You will always fail.”
The cold hissed, “You will be your own undoing.”
The wind whispered, “You are far more than they think you are.”
And the wind alone was right.
Naruto could not remember the exact moment of his passing. One moment, he lay in his bed, surrounded by his children, grandchildren, friends and loved ones. The next, nothing.
There had been many faces missing from the crowd around him. He had outlived many from his generation, and was the last of the Konoha Eleven. It was because he was a Jinchuuriki, he knew, but even Gaara had let go just a few days prior, Shukaku with him. The rest of the Jinchuuriki were gone, and so were their Bijuu.
Kurama, too, had chosen to die with Naruto, the one host he’d grown to love more than any other. As Naruto’s body and mind had slowed and grown weary with age, the retired Hokage had insisted the stubborn fox take a new host or be set free, but time and time again, Kurama refused. The days where such decisions were forced upon him were long past, so eventually, Naruto relented.
When he died, there would be no tailed beasts left in the world. Memory of them would fade and become stories, myths, then legends. None would remember. None would know the truths they had fought so hard to bring to light. And, strangely, they were okay with this. The time for useless violence was over, and after their passing, the Bijuu would never again be made to suffer in quite the same way as Naruto and the others had done.
Naruto himself would likely fade away into legend. The last great Jinchuuriki, just another face in the stone. But his will would live on. That was what was important, he knew. Uzumaki Naruto would be no more, but in a way, he would always be remembered.
Children of the wind always are.
Naruto surveyed his surroundings with a clarity found only after death. He sat on a high cliffside overlooking a vast forest, cross legged and relaxed as he watched the goings on of life below him. He felt the wind as it brushed past him, given power with height and distance, and reveled in the feeling of freedom he had so long been denied, confined to his bed as he was.
All his life, he had loved high places. At first it had been because childhood bullies and hateful adults could rarely follow if he decided to wait them out on the roof of a building, from the top of a tree, or even from the highest point on the Hokage Mountain.
After he had heard the story of the wind and the piece of sun, his appreciation of high places became an obsession. Whether it be from a rooftop, tree, or mountain - whether he be committing acts of vandalism or trying to get people to just acknowledge him as they passed - Naruto felt like the higher up he was, the closer he was to the wind, and the closer he was to acceptance. Finding out later that his Nature Affinity was wind made it all the better.
It made sense that his afterlife would start on the top of a cliff, he supposed. A bit… unexpected, sure, but he wasn’t going to complain.
He felt weightless, as if no one could touch him. Though, this was likely because they really couldn’t, him being invisible and all. His body had no solid substance. When he looked down at himself, he could see straight through the faint outline of his body to the earthen terrain beneath him. He wondered if he had truly passed on yet, or if showing up on a cliff wearing clothes he hadn’t worn since the war and translucent was some sort of in-between stage.
Out of the corner of his eye, Naruto glimpsed movement, and smiled at its familiarity. A much larger, warmer body curled around him, the tip of a huge glossy black nose sniffing the air beside him. On his other side, nine russet colored tails - just as transparent as himself - spilled over the side of the cliff, swaying slowly in the wind as one. Naruto greeted his once-enemy-now-long-time-friend with a fond smile.
"Been awhile since you were free from a seal, huh? Really free?” He asked the Kyuubi, who was gazing at the world around him with a look awe and nostalgia.
Kurama flicked his ear in his direction as he responded, voice quieter than his former host was used to now that it was no longer echoing in his head. “The only times I’ve been outside the seal in the past two centuries were when I was under the direct control of one dictator or another. Earlier on in life, the other Bijuu and I were raised by the Sage of Six Paths, who gave us freedom over thought and action, and we were left alone for many years after his passing.” He lowered his massive head to the ground with a huff, eyes cracked open like those of a sleepy cat. “It wasn’t until you shinobi started sprouting up and thought to use us for power over others that we last our freedom.”
Naruto blinked. “Didn’t ask for a history lesson, but alright. Take it all in, Kurama. This is our eternity!” He said, making use of Kurama’s shoulder as a back rest as he turned his gaze skyward. Has it always been this blue?
Kurama snorted, the deep throaty sound succeeding in jarring his human friend rather forcefully from his comfortable position, earning loud protests in response. “I’m merely taking advantage of your sudden ability to remember the things I say for more than five minutes at a time-”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“-and my ability to speak to you without having to repeat myself multiple times, because apparently I was ‘speaking too quietly’ for you to hear.”
“You were!” Naruto insisted.
“I was in your mind, old man. There was no volume control.” Naruto swore the fox was smirking at him, though with that full mouth of sharp teeth, it was difficult to tell. “You were going senile, admit it.”
“Technically, you were in my stomach,” Naruto said indignantly, crossing his arms in defense. “And who are you calling an old man? You were centuries older than I ever was!”
“I’m immortal, I don’t count,” Kurama grumbled, deep voice taking on a weary tone. “Death has made you annoying again, brat.”
“Were immortal,” Naruto corrected, then chuckled sheepishly. “And yeah, sorry... I guess that’s the side effect to dying and waking up in a younger version of yourself. My voice went back in time, too.”
Kurama grumbled again, but otherwise didn’t respond. He shifted a bit, folding his legs and laying his head on his paws, and Naruto took the opportunity to use him as a pillow once more. For a while, the only sounds were the chirping of the birds, the wind across the clifftop, and the large fox’s deep rhythmic breathing. The former Hokage closed his eyes and sighed softly, reveling in the serenity that came with having no danger, responsibility, or expectations every moment of every day. Now he had until the end of time to feel the sun on his face and the wind in his hair.
It was Kurama who finally broke the silence. “Naruto.”
Naruto raised one eyebrow questioningly, cracking one eye open to glance at his friend. “Yeah?
Kurama let out a long breath, flattening the grass around them. Then, after several long moments, “... Eternity is dull.”
Chapter 2: 2. Standing Still
Apologies for the long wait. If There's Life steals much of my attention. Either way, I hope you enjoy this small peace offering as consolation and promise of more to come.
“Standing still is the fastest way of moving backwards in a rapidly changing world.”
- Lauren Bacall.
Days seemed never ending in the afterlife. Never once had the sun moved even an inch towards the horizon. It was fixed in the center of the sky perpetually. There were no seasons other than summer. Naruto wasn’t sure how much time had passed since his death, though it felt like years had gone by, and Kurama shared these sentiments. Both the fox and the man-turned-boy had grown used to something always going on, and now that there was nothing, both had started to grow a bit uncomfortable with the world’s frozen state.
They never became tired, hungry, or thirsty. When staying in one spot for any length of time, they never grew sore or stiff. The few times they ventured from the cliffs, they always felt the inexplicable need to return again.
Eventually, Naruto and Kurama ran out of things to discuss concerning their new situation that wasn’t a complaint or abstract comment and began to reflect on times long passed.
“Hey, do you remember that time I beat you up and stole your chakra?”
Kurama made a low rumbling noise in the back of his throat, and Naruto could’ve sworn he saw the fox roll his eyes. “We’re talking about this now? Really? I forgave you decades ago, old man.”
Naruto reached over to playfully swat the Kyuubi’s ear, earning a halfhearted growl in return. “No, just bear with me for a minute, okay? It won’t kill you.”
“Famous last words.”
“Quit being dramatic. Anyway, I beat you up and stole your chakra with the power mom gave me to help me out,” Naruto continued, “And it worked. And then I altered the seal to be more oppressive. I pinned you down until you could barely move… and I just left you there. I stole chakra from you whenever I needed it, and I left you.” Naruto reached up to rub the back of his neck, a nervous habit he’d never quite gotten over, and averted his gaze from the fox to the ground. “I don’t know… I think I just realized I never said sorry, is all. I’m sorry, Kurama, for being just like everyone else.”
The fox let out a long sigh, breath flattening the grass in front of him. He was silent for a long moment. Finally, he said, “It’s not your fault, Naruto,” in about as quiet as voice as you could get out of a tailed beast, which still rumbled through the ground like the beating of drums.
“Have you gone senile, too?” Naruto asked, raising an eyebrow questioningly at his friend. “Of course it’s my fault. I’m the one who did it!”
Kurama grimaced, his large ears flattening against his head. “...You did it again, brat,” he muttered, sending the boy a sideways glare.
Naruto’s defiance dropped from his face, replaced with a guilty half smile. “Sorry ‘bout that,” he said in a tone that was lower and softer than before. “I’m not used to having a higher pitched voice.” Then his stubbornness returned full force. “But it’s true either way. I was in the wrong, so just accept that I’m trying to apologize here so we can move on with our li- er, afterlives!”
“Have you forgotten that I killed your parents? You had every right to do what you did, so your apology is unnecessary. Just drop it, kit,” Kurama growled, firm voice leaving no room for argument. He shifted to rest his large head over his dark auburn paws and added, “The afterlife is supposed to be peaceful.”
Then Kurama saw it. The all too familiar way his former host sat up a little straighter, the way his shoulders became a little more squared, the tense set of his jaw and the fierce flame of defiance coming alight in his eyes. Kurama huffed and sat up, readying himself for the fight to come, tails beginning to twitch in irritation. There was no way he was going to get a peaceful nap now.
“That was before you even knew me!” Naruto fired back, pointing an accusatory finger at the fox. “You can’t use that!”
“So is what you’re referring to,” Kurama growled, ears pinned straight back as his tails swished in wider, more agitated arcs. “You’d think me having killed your parents would be a valid reason why you shouldn’t apologize for “beating me up”, as you put it!”
“I’m not mad about that anymore!” Naruto’s voice had risen to a shout, the heavy glare and bared teeth providing an almost comical contrast to his words.
“And neither am I!”
“Why didn’t we talk about this when we were alive?!”
“I don’t know!” Kurama roared, jaws snapping shut just inches from Naruto’s face. He had leapt up, enormous claws gauging deep trenches into the earth, russet fur bristling and red eyes narrowed to slits. His voice was so loud it sent every bird as far as the eye could see into a frenzied flight, the sheer power of it ripping leaves from their branches and flattening every blade of grass in the area around them.
Naruto went completely still, his hair blown back in spikes away from his face. His blue eyes had gone wide and his mouth hung open in dumbfounded awe. Slowly, he brought his hands up in surrender. “Okay… okay. I get it. We’re both terrible to each other. The past is in the past and all that shit. We’re dead. It’s all good.”
Kurama stared at him for a moment, then sighed defeatedly, releasing the tension in his muscles and allowing his fur to lie flat and smooth once more.
“Truce?” Naruto offered, holding out a steady hand.
The fox looked woefully resigned to his surrender, if a bit guilty for his outburst, as he pushed the tip of his inky black nose into the blond’s palm. “... Yeah, brat,” he mumbled. “Truce.”
Kurama had always wondered how a simple smile could resemble the sun so closely.
Naruto lounged leisurely under the warmth of the ever-present sun, nestled comfortably in the soft fur between the Kyuubi’s ears. Beneath him, Kurama dozed peacefully, his dark rust colored ears twitching every so often. The feel of the large rise and fall of his deep breaths was calming, almost causing Naruto to fall asleep himself. They may not have really needed sleep, but sometimes it was nice to just allow themselves the indulgence.
But just as the blonde’s light doze was beginning to sink into something deeper, Kurama’s head jerked upwards suddenly. For a moment, the world tilted, and the next thing Naruto knew, he was on the ground staring up at the fox in shock. Though their bodies seemed to hold no substance, his spine’s impact with the ground had stung just as much as it would have when he was alive.
He was about to give his former tenant a piece of his mind when he noticed Kurama had dropped into a state of high alert, complete with hunched shoulders, bristling fur, narrowed red eyes and nine powerful tails whipping into an agitated frenzy. Immediately, Naruto froze, casting his gaze warily around them. He felt incredibly vulnerable, splayed out on his back in the grass as he was.
“Kurama,” he whispered, watching the fox’s ears twitch in acknowledgement. “Hey. What’s going on? What's wrong?”
Kurama’s bright red eyes flicked down briefly before returning to the trees behind them, the wind from the cliff on the other side moving his fur back the wrong way. “Get up,” he growled, his deep voice sending vibrations through the ground.
Naruto scrambled up, backing against Kurama’s leg until he felt the coarse fur against his palms, tickling the back of his neck. “What is it?” He asked again, scanning the trees.
“Something’s off,” Kurama responded, ears pinned flat against his head. “You don't feel it?”
“No, I…” Naruto trailed off. The hair on the back of his neck stood up as a full body shiver made it's way down his spine.
The moment of silence which passed between them felt like hours. Steadily the wind behind them slowed and ceased. There was no bird song. The leaves on the trees froze in place like a picture.
All was still.
All was quiet.
A cold feeling of dread settled in the pit of his stomach. Something was wrong. Something was about to happen. He could feel it.
Swallowing thickly, he tilted his head up, another question on the tip of his tongue. That was when he felt it. He stumbled forward, spots swimming in his vision, dark and brightly colored alike. “Ku-Kura…” he gasped, hardly registering the impact of the ground beneath his head. “Kurama…?”
Had the sun always looked so big? Naruto didn’t think so. He was fairly certain it wasn’t supposed to cover the rest of the sky like that. It looked like it was bleeding. Like it was crying. Why was it so red? There should be blue somewhere, shouldn’t there? Was he breathing? He couldn’t tell.
Red. Red and black.
… Eyes? Eyes. They were eyes.
A fox. A fox’s eyes. And ears. The fearsome, worried face of a dear friend framing a bleeding, crying sun.
Did suns cry? Did people befriend red eyed foxes?
These were the questions running through Naruto’s mind as he fell into darkness, the frantic shout of his name echoing faintly in his ears. It was like dying all over again, only this time, he felt hopelessly, completely alone.
When Naruto woke, it was to darkness and silence, and Kurama was gone.