AN: This oneshot's hard to follow, I know, but since I could do no more with it, I posted it. This has nothing to do with For the Love of my Friends besides the basic ideas of this oneshot that I may have mentioned once or twice in the story.
As for spoilers, it kinda refers to that whole 'experience connection' between kage bunshin that's revealed around manga chapter 314... ish. And it's after Sasuke leaves, but beyond that, nothing that would be considered a major spoiler.
Disclaimer: Naruto and all rights to Naruto belong to Kishimoto and various other groups, ones that I don't care to research right now but acknowledge their ownership. And NO this is not NaruSaku. Sakura needs to work harder before I would even entertain a thought that she could be with Naruto. No offense to NaruSaku fans.
Death of a Kage
There was a reason why Kage Bunshin no Jutsu was outlawed.
Each poof of nonexistent gas, each identical clone of a ninja.. only the user would know that it was more than some fancy genjutsu or ninjutsu at work. It was real.
"Let me show you death." Seeing it wasn't the same as knowing it. Seeing death was like watching a bad movie, only you knew the actors and you knew that they weren't going to get up after the director said 'cut'.
Orochimaru showed Sasuke and Sakura the horrors of death. Naruto laughed and laughed when he heard this, only to stop when Sasuke angrily smacked him in the back of the head and walked off. Sakura chastised him for his insensitivity and followed the angry Uchiha, trying to sooth the ruffled feathers of the egoistical avenger. Naruto could only shake his head at them.
Even the precious Uchiha didn't know death. He had seen it, he had been surrounded by it, and probably even handed it out like free candy under Orochimaru's orders recently but he sure as hell didn't know it. Not like Naruto did. He knew it like the back of his hand.
He knew that, like most bad things, death was easily given. But, unlike the saying went, receiving it meant much more than giving it. Only when you received death would you really know it. Only when you received death would you really understand how horrible it was to hand out so carelessly.
Kage Bunshin no Jutsu involved making exact copies of the user with the use of a lot of chakra and control. It was fairly difficult for an enemy ninja to be able to pinpoint the exact location of the true ninja amongst all of the copies. Even someone close to the copied ninja wouldn't be able to tell the difference because more than a basic image of the physical attributes of the user was passed along to the clones.
The user's conscience, his mind, and his desire to live was also given to the clones, all through chakra signals and waves in such a way that it was too complex to explain.
So why did Naruto find it so easy to sacrifice himself for his friends? Why didn't Orochimaru scare him as much as he had scared Sasuke? Why did Naruto continue to fight even after all others had stopped for fear of their lives? It wasn't on account of sheer stupidity.
No, Naruto was used to dying.
You see, a very strong connection existed between the clones. Some attributed it to a consciousness controlling them all (like chess pieces) while others theorized that their similarities to even the basic level of chakra made them have a twin like connection, a sort of basic telepathy. One that allowed the user to know exactly what his or her clone had been up to, no matter how far away the clone was.
But the connection, as real as it was, was basically written off by the majority as being too complicated to explain to the masses without people going brain dead from the mind boggling possibilities.
Kage Bunshin was outlawed not because of the difficulty of the jutsu or even because it used up too much chakra too quickly. It was outlawed because it was a perfect technique. It instantly created an army of strong, smart, and, most importantly, easily expendable and replaceable fighters. It was any king's or dictator's fondest desire realized.
Kage Bunshin no Jutsu wasn't flawed in any way or form. But it was still outlawed. The sole reason? Because humans themselves were flawed, making the technique in the hands of an average ninja completely useless.
Instead of fighting like good ninjas, the clones, void of any life but given the false desire of wanting to stay alive, would flee at the sign of too much danger. They would do anything to survive, anything that the user himself would attempt.
And the user, an imperfect and forever flawed human, would do anything and at all costs to keep himself alive. Sometimes, the clone would kill the user by mistake or sheer insanity. The problem with shadow clones were that they were exactly like their user, as scrupulous or unscrupulous as they were in the flesh.
Regular bunshins didn't have this problem. They were mere holograms of the user, a bare two dimensional view of a highly complex person. They were like reflections in a mirror. They looked like the user but they were missing something, the vital mindset that made a human different from a bunshin but blurred the lines between human and kage bunshin. They were also directly and firmly controlled by the user.
Kage bunshins were not reflections. They were, in essence, the person that was being copied, in nearly every way. With all the human's strengths, weaknesses, and imperfections.
Humans, on a general scale, did not want to die. Why would their clone be any different? A human's inability to sacrifice themselves for the good of others was what made Kage Bunshin no Jutsu a useless technique in the hands of an average person.
Even those few who would consciously sacrifice themselves for others were swayed back into self preservation by the knowledge of death that came from Kage Bunshin no Jutsu. The experience passed on by the kage bunshin's 'death' would shake them to the core and upset their morals.
One hard tap to a kage bunshin and the user would suddenly be assaulted by the sheer terror of a swift death in the millisecond before their burst out of existence. It wasn't heroic or epic at all. It was just a slight tap and then burst of smoke and the kage bunshin died.
How easily life could be snuffed out without the world halting in place at the sudden wrongness of it all. You're gone. The world goes on. Eventually, it forgets you were even there. That was what death truly was. And humans, as a whole, hated the idea of leaving without the world acknowledging their disappearance.
How many people had insisted that Naruto did not know what death was? Only those who knew what Kage Bunshin could do to the mindset of a person kept their mouths shut. Because they knew that Naruto knew exactly what death was.
Who would know better than a person who has died countless of times?
Kage Bunshin no Jutsu was a horribly sobering technique in the hands of a child untested by time or by true conflict. It was like having a bucket of ice cold water poured on you on a mildly warm day. It was soul shattering, it was spirit breaking. It nipped idealism in the bud.
After all, death was the one unavoidable fate that everyone shared. But if you were lucky, you only died once. If you weren't, you were probably well acquainted with Kage Bunshin no Jutsu.
Naruto felt the death of each and every kage bunshin he had ever made. The first time he made one, he was so happy. He had a friend, someone who didn't look at him with cold eyes because of who he was. They both had laughed in relief when they had seen each other, pleased at the sight of a kind face.
Naruto didn't know how long he had played with his new friend before the kage bunshin tripped over a root and burst into smoke when he impacted with the ground. The connection he had felt with the clone had severed, the friendly face gone, the knowledge that the clone had actually died on him, he had felt the fleeting feel of life vanishing- he fell to the ground and did not get back up until Iruka arrived.
The fact that he managed to get up at all, let alone summon multiple kage bunshins clones right after, really said something about his character. While he had laid there on the ground, listless, sorrowful, and terrified how easily the clone had died, he had made a promise to himself. He wasn't going to let anyone close to him die. Not if he could help it.
Not even if he had to sacrifice himself a thousand times over. And he kept that promise. Because it was his own way of the ninja.
"Naruto." His voice was said with such sorrow that his head immediately jerked towards the source, his blue eyes questioning. At the doorway of the room (the one that Tsunade had sat him in without explanation or reason), Sakura stood, her hand lingering on the wall and looking so lost and vulnerable that Naruto immediately and wordlessly opened his arms.
She flung herself into his arms, a choked sob escaping her lips. Naruto noticed that her hands were covered in blood. Sakura sniffled in his chest and Naruto held her just a little bit tighter.
"Naruto.." she said again, grasping at his orange jacket. It bunched under her hands much easier than it normally would have, seeing as his jacket was open. Naruto's eyes shot open in surprised at her next words. "Naruto, what is death?"
It was a loaded question with millions of different answers. Naruto knew that Sakura had most likely been through a failed attempt at healing. The victim had died and Sakura blamed herself. How like her to do something like that. But that person's death wasn't her fault. It was, Naruto figured though loathing to sound like Neji, fate in it's most inescapable form.
"The end." Naruto answered finally. Sakura pulled back a little, looking up at him in confusion. He explained a little further, a little unsure how to put it in words. "It's the end of the road. The end of a journey. It's just that. The end. Nothing more." When he could still see the tears in her eyes, he struggled to explain it further. "Death itself really isn't that bad, I guess. The road up to it? Not the same. Life is a hellva lot more scarier. Death is way overrated, if you ask me." He nodded to himself, pleased with his explanation. That was the way that he saw it, after a little less than three years of using Kage Bunshin no Jutsu. It was the only way he could see it.
Sakura pulled away from him a little more. "How can you say that?" she whispered. Her words weren't accusing but they were hushed. "I don't understand.." Naruto frowned, rubbing the back of his head. And it made so much sense to him too..
"Well, you see, it's like this." Naruto said quickly, feeling the need to explain. Sakura was his only team mate and he had to make sure she was okay. Sasuke had decided he hadn't needed any of them (an opinion that Naruto was looking forward to proving wrong) and Kakashi was a jonin. It naturally fell to him to make sure the admittedly strong medic nin didn't crack underneath the stress. But it brought so much confusion when she dropped loaded questions on him like this, even if it was a topic he knew all to well.
"It's like going to sleep at night. It's rest. It's peace." His expression turned a little scolding. "You shouldn't pity the dead, you know. You should be envious of those bastards. They have peace and relaxation while we who are still shuffling along with our mortal coil suffer. It's really not fair, if you think about it." He nodded to himself again. It really wasn't.
Life was brief and fleeting, but it was hard. So hard that so many people have briefly teased with the idea of ending it prematurely. But not Naruto. He had things to do, stupid grown up genius rookies to beat the hell out of, dead Hokages to show off to... He just wasn't ready for death yet. And he strongly believed that none of his friends were either, which was why he threw himself so enthusiastically in conflicts to protect them.
He was pulled out of his thoughts when Sakura let out a broken laugh. She pulled all the way away from him, wiping the tears from her eyes. She looked up, a small smile brightening up her face. Naruto relaxed at the sight, patting the girl awkwardly on the head. He was never sure how to deal with emotional girls anyway. He was sure at one moment or another that she was going to hit him for being too forward. Sakura was odd like that.
"All better?" he asked hopefully, a childlike gleam in his eyes.
Sakura laughed again. "Not quite but I will be." she smiled at him again, still sad but much better than she had been when she had burst through the door. "I don't get it, how do you come up with theories like that?"
"Oh?" Naruto grinned at her easily. He walked over to the door, deciding that Tsunade had made him wait too long. He was going to go see her himself, important meeting or not. He paused briefly by the door, his grin widening as he looked over his shoulder. "It's because I've died a bunch of times, you know!"
He walked out of the door, choosing to not hear her garbled and inaudible reply. She would understand his idea later, he was sure. Sakura wasn't stupid. He smiled to himself. Death was a hard topic psychologically, but life was hard all around.
The only real problem with death was that, by the time it rolled around, most were not ready to let their story end yet. They wanted to continue on. Naruto wanted to continue on. He should have died a hundred time before but, thanks to his desire to live, he was able to put off that inevitable fate for just a little bit more.
Just a little while longer. Then I'll rest.
AN: This wasn't meant to have a plot. This was just something I wanted to explore, even before we learned that whole 'kage bunshin experience' thing in the manga. Admittedly, learning that made this one shot a lot easier to write.