The World is but a Stage

Heya! Orpheus here!

So, I've been working really hard on Shattered Pieces, but I've actually wanted to do a Naruto/Bleach crossover for quite some time. I was stuck between two different ideas and the good people of my Discord server helped me decide which one to pick (and also helped with some plot-relevant aspects of this chapter, thanks guys!). With that in mind, let's get started, alright?

Chapter I: The End is Just Another Beginning

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or Bleach.

Calm.

The pain finally receded as azure eyes looked up into the foliage above him. He felt… numb to the agony that had been there previously. He couldn't even feel the pool of his own blood that soaked his back.

Naruto Uzumaki smiled a true smile for the first time in his life. The pure happiness behind it gave pause to the individuals who had done this with their blades and bludgeons, with their bloodied knuckles and wood sandals. His screaming had suddenly stopped and it was only this relief that he showed, relief from reality.

Even as he felt this, in the back of his head he couldn't help but notice a slight burning sensation. He chose to ignore it as his vision faded to black. For the first time… he was truly happy. Closing his eyes, Naruto felt that numbness overtake him. He knew what this was, and it was better than staying where he was. I wonder what it's like, in the afterlife?Will I meet my parents? I hope they aren't disappointed I only lasted eight years...

That thought trailed off as he felt any semblance of weight that was left in his body dissipate. His eyes remained closed, however he could hear again. Opening his eyes, he noted that they were talking, though what they were saying didn't really matter. After some time, they left. Surprised that he didn't feel any pain, he stood up and looked around. As he did so, he noted some sort of... chain sticking out from his chest. Grabbing it, he pulled it until it was taut, noticing that it was connected to...

"Is that... me?" Naruto wondered as he saw what those people had done to the form that was once his body. Kneeling next to it, he saw that his usually sun-golden hair was dyed red with blood. Bruises covered his body, and where they didn't cuts interlaced over his skin. On his chest, or the mass of purple and blue he thought was probably his chest, he found the other end of the chain. As he looked at it, the link connecting the chain to his former body... snapped. He didn't know what that meant, but it couldn't be good.

"Well, that sucks." Turning quickly at the voice, Naruto found himself face to face with someone that looked an awful like himself, except his hair was black and his eyes were brown. "Oh, did I startle ya? My bad. Or is it your bad? Oh well."

"Do you know what that is?" Naruto asked, pointing at the end of his chain that still laid on his former body. As he looked, he noted that his chain was actually lying next to another broken chain. Following the trail, it was connected to his doppelganger's chest. Before the red-eyed Naruto could speak, the chains moved closer and linked up to each other.

"No idea. I'm just as lost as you are, Naruto. Oh, I'm Menma, by the way. We haven't actually met, I guess." Naruto seemed a bit hesitant to respond to Menma's offered hand. "I bet you're wondering how I know who you are? That's fair. Well, truth is that I'm part of you."

"I'm... dead and talking to myself?" Naruto wondered. "I mean, it's not like this day could get much stranger..." Menma had this smirk on his face that told the blonde he was probably going to be proven wrong.

"Well, not exactly talking to yourself. You remember how ever since you can remember you've hated how others treated you, how everyone either ignored you, abused you or treated you like you didn't know what you were doing as if you were some kind of idiot?" Naruto nodded. "And you remember how you couldn't sleep, because you were so afraid of someone breaking into your room, until everything became so much that you broke down and cried yourself to sleep?" The next nod didn't come as instantly, but Naruto still confessed to that one. "And you remember how you tried to make yourself stop feeling that way so you could prove everyone wrong, so you just tricked yourself into thinking you were going to be okay?" That last one puzzled the blonde, but Menma continued. "Well, maybe that one was more my doing. Anyways, every time someone mistreated you, or you felt sad, any time you pushed your negative feelings away so you didn't drown in them, they had to go somewhere. And so, I was born a little after you joined the Academy. I'm here so you never have to feel angry, or sad, or abused ever again."

Naruto frowned. "But that isn't fair. That means that you can't feel happy. I don't want to push those things on you if it means that you'll only feel all the shitty emotions." Menma smiled at that but shook off his other half's concern.

"I'm happy enough to do it for my brother. If you become happy, then that's enough for me. Still, I didn't think that we'd die so soon. I didn't even think I had a soul, but maybe this is that Fox's doing. Based on the fact that those guys didn't react, I'd say that they couldn't see us. I wonder what ghosts like us can actually do?"

Looking back at what was formerly his body, Naruto shrugged his shoulders. "Are we allowed to go somewhere else? I... don't want to look at myself anymore."Menma nodded and guided the blonde away, towards another section of the forest. It didn't matter where they went, it's not like they had to worry about dangers and risks, after all. After some time, the two came upon a strange man lying beneath a tree.

He was obviously asleep, and the bottle next to him left very little to the imagination about how he ended up that way. On the floor next to him was a conical, straw hat – which was probably atop his head at one point – and would've covered his wavy, black hair had it been worn. His face had some stubble on it, but no other facial hair to speak of. His outfit was the strangest bit of all, though. He wore a black haori and hakama pants, with a white obi around that, a white jacket over that and then a pink, floral-themed kimono over that, though it was left opened. Leaning against the tree were a pair of katana that he likely would've worn on his waist had he not been passed out.

As the boys looked at the man, he suddenly opened his black eyes and stood, nearly drawing his katana. Upon seeing that the thing that woke him was a pair of eight year old boys, the man couldn't help but chuckle. "I think I must be getting a bit too paranoid." Seemingly deciding that his nap was over, he placed the scabbards of his two blades through his obi and regarded what he probably imagined were a pair of twins. Glancing at the chains protruding from their chests, he tried to ascertain their length but only frowned when he noticed that the chains connected to each other. "So, who are you two? My name is Shunsui Kyoraku."

The boys shared a glance. "You can see us?" Naruto wondered. When Shunsui nodded, the blonde had to ask. "Are you dead too? Those guys who attacked me couldn't see me after I got like this. That must mean that you're dead, just like us. You don't have a chain though. Oh, I'm Uzumaki Naruto and this is Menma, my... brother. Yeah, we're brothers." He paused a moment before using the word, but the blonde had a big grin on his face when he finally found a word to refer to Menma by. The black-haired boy smiled as well, though his was more reserved.

"Yeah, I can see you." Shunsui replied. "I'm a Soul, just like you two. Well, to be semantic you're a Plus, I'm a Soul, but that's neither here nor there. Did you say Uzumaki?" The man shook his head as he let a low whistle ring through the air. "There's just no end to you guys, is there? And that Reiatsu... you two shouldn't have something that strong as young as you are. People from this world do tend to have great potential though."

"Are you not from this world?" Menma wondered as he glanced at the strange man once more. He tried figuring out what the difference between Soul and Plus might be, and figured it had something to do with the chain. Why didn't this man have one?

"Oh, no, I'm from the Seireitei. I'm a Shinigami, you see. I'm actually one of the strongest Shinigami, and one of the oldest, despite my looks. Your Chain looks to be in good shape, even if I've never seen a Chain connect to another one before, so we have some time to talk if you'd like. I can see the curiosity in your eyes."

"You have time to talk, eh?" A feminine voice piped in as a woman walked towards the trio. She wore slim glasses, had short, black hair tied in a bun and looked at Shunsui with such sterness that Naruto couldn't help but be reminded of the librarians at the Academy. She wore a similar ensemble to him, minus the kimono and jacket, and with only one katana. "What about time to work?"

"Oh... hey... Nana, how's it going?" Shunsui flashed her a smile, but she only looked at him harder. "You see, I was... the thing is... boys, why don't you introduce yourself to my lovely assistant, Nanao Ise?" Seeking to use the brothers as a distraction of sorts, he gave them a light push forward. "These brothers are Naruto and Menma, another pair of Uzumaki." Nanao looked from him, to the boys, and back to him.

"It's very nice to meet you, Naruto and Menma. If I might trouble you, can I ask how you met the Captain?" Naruto smiled and nodded, glad to have people talking to him while Menma looked at the woman with more than an air of distrust.

"We were walking away from my body and found him on the floor, passed out with a bottle of alcohol lying next to his body." Nana smiled and ruffled the blonde's hair with a short thank you before shooting Shunsui a look. The man deflated as he saw no way out of this.

"Still, you two have a lot of power..." She muttered, looking from the innocent-looking and easy to read Naruto to the distrusting and closed-off Menma, not sure a more different pair of twins existed. With the similarities in age, looks and the conjoined chain, there didn't seem to be anything else they could be but twins. "I think the Captain-Commander might be interested in meeting them before we perform a konso. Would you mind coming with us back to the Seireitei to meet our Captain-Commander? Your chain structure is odd enough that that alone would warrant the attention of our Fourth Captain."

"Go with you? Would it be far away from here, apart from the people that hurt Naruto?" Menma wondered. Nanao looked at him, then to Shunsui who shrugged. He didn't know any more than she did. Looking at the cheery boy, she couldn't imagine anyone trying to hurt such an innocent boy. Finally, returning her gaze to Menma she nodded.

"Either way, you couldn't stay here in this world, that chain of yours would eventually start eating itself. If it ate itself completely... well, you would become a Hollow. They are large creatures, devoid of any logic and reason who simply seek to consume other souls in an effort to grow stronger. They're basically rabid beasts who prey on spirits. As Shinigami, it's our job to perform konso on spirits like you, to pass them on to the afterlife, and to cleanse Hollows so that they can go to the afterlife."

"I think it could be fun, Menma." Naruto commented. The blonde looked at the incarnation of his negative memories who sighed before nodding.

"Okay, Nanao-san, Shunsui-san, we'll go along with you and meet this... Captain-Commander of yours. Lead on."

And that's it!

So, obviously I've made some... adjustments to canon to fit the Elemental Nations in, but you'll have to wait to see them!

Make sure to let me know what you thought via review, PM or on my Discord server at Discord – dot – gg – slash – PWDD44v.

Orpheus out! Ja ne!