Disclaimer: I do not own any characters, locations, techniques or other fictional aspects of the Naruto universe. Any original material will be noted with the translations at the bottom of the page, and are my property. This disclaimer holds true for the entirety of this work of fiction.

Summery: Naruto faces his death. What lies beyond for the Hidden Leaf Village? My first fanfic, but deeper than you may think. Trying to place the Naruto world within the afterlife.

"Normal speech"

Thoughts/Sound Effects/Emphasis of words

"Flashback dialog/Japanese/Emphasis of words (speech)"

"Demon speak"

Inner Sakura

Seasons Don't Fear

Chapter One:

Death and the Maiden

On the day of October 9th in the 17th year following the razing of Konoha no Sato by the nine tailed fox demon, Naruto Uzumaki woke before dawn, left the village under cover of night, and went into the wilderness to face his final end.

As he coursed through the cool fading twilight of the forest, his mind returned to his past. Thinking of those important to him reinforced his resolve against both his and his sinister companion's fear of the oblivion that was to come. They were too precious for him to do anything else.

Iruka came to mind first, because he was the first. Naruto fully realized his life story didn't have any significance until he learned of the terrible weight resting within his belly. When he learned of the horrible truth that had defined his life from the traitorous Mizuki, he stood upon the precipice of despair. He didn't know what he would have become if he had succumbed, but he was positive that only Iruka's faith in his humanity kept him from that dark and lonely path. He started him down this path, which despite everything, has let him maintain his humanity. He would always love his first true teacher for that gift.

Thinking of his possible decent into despair brought his attention to Sabaku no Gaara. He had not been as fortunate as Naruto in those he trusted and loved. He still remembered the deadpan description of the despair which turned a child into a monster that Gaara gave when they were younger, the betrayal by the one person he though cared about him. It destroyed any vestiges of faith in humanity Gaara had left, for himself and everyone else. With no one to reaffirm his humanity, and no rest of any kind due to the nature of his relationship with the Shukaku, Gaara became that which every jinchuuriki fears they may become. Gaara was a shell of sand surrounding the demented mind of his inhuman host, slowly being eroded from within. A jinchuuriki without acknowledgment as a human being, without any support from those around him could easily be twisted thus.

Naruto was truly grateful that he had met Gaara. It showed ho fortunate he had been, and let him appreciate those close to him. More than that, Gaara was a chance to end a cycle of pain and fear much like the one the village nearly trapped him into. The Kazekage's freedom from his beast and returned humanity were comforting. It showed that there was hope, even for the most hopeless of them, that he and his fellow jinchuuriki didn't have to be monsters after all.

Naruto sincerely hopped that what he was doing went according to plan. If all went well, then he would have some measure of vengeance against the Akatsuki. They had robbed his brothers and sisters in suffering of their lives, and though he had taken some of their lives in return, it was not enough. He would see their plots foiled. Their ambitions would be scattered like dust in the wind. They would never complete whatever damned ritual they were using to bind the other bijuu.

The Kyuubi no kitsune would forever be placed beyond their grasp. He had promised that to himself as he saw the old woman give her life to bring animation back to Gaara's corpse. And he never went back on his word. As he rushed to his death he became aware of a grim satisfaction at this decision, a suicidal glee.

"In death I will always be victorious"

As he approached the point of his rendezvous with destiny he considered why he was allowing himself to die that day. It wasn't a decision he reached lightly. It just seemed that this was the only way. There were too many things on the line which he could keep safe with this final act. He thought of what he was dieing for, who he was dieing for.

With his body cold in the ground the village would be safer. They needed someone like him like a hole in the head. With the Akatsuki crippled with kyuubi's loss it was unlikely they would achieve their megalomaniacal aims. The kyuubi had too much power for them to leave him alone. He was like a lightning rod for those madmen. Naruto didn't know exactly what they intended to use the bijuus' power for, but he was willing to bet not having the strongest of them would hamstring the operation. With him gone the red dawn organization was just a mob of disgruntled freaks with an aggressive corporate strategy instead of a threat of planetary proportions.

What would surprise anyone not there to see the aftermath of his last mission would be that was not all he dreaded he could curse the village with. Naruto Uzumaki, the boy who would be king, now feared above all else what damage he could unleash upon his homeland.

Not the demon. That would be far worse in some terms, but what he really feared was himself.

He was too powerful.

He was a shinobi born into a generation exceptional in the arts of combat, stealth and intelligence. He was trained by two senseis within a sequence going back to the two founding Hokage of the village. He defeated a being which was effectively a demon to save his village within a year of getting a hitai-ate. He had learned techniques at 13 which most shinobi only hear of in legends and old war stories. He had joined in a battle between the three legendary Sannin and lived to tell of it. He had improved upon a method of destruction devised by a man who was possibly the greatest warrior the elemental nations have ever seen.

His stamina is inhuman.

His chakra is supernatural.

His will is unbreakable.

He was brave, kind, dependable in a pinch and charismatic.

He was what every man on a battlefield wanted to see leading him.

He would be Hokage one day. Believe it.

He was too dangerous to live.

Naruto saw that now. With or without the demon he was the kind of person with the potential to topple nations. The methods of takeover with and without the fox might differ, but to those in power the threat was the same. He was a symbol, something for people wishing for change to rally around. He could rise to power, and then do what he pleased to them. And they thought he was a demon, or close enough. They would be fools to let him win.

He now had no doubt the elders, the statesmen of the village,would never follow him, never let him near the office of Hokage. He could hardly blame them. Too many in the village still saw the demon when they looked at him. He had won over many, but not enough. And certainly not nearly enough of those with political power.

And beyond that, he had finally woken to the political implications of his life after that last battle. It was one of the reasons he had decided upon this course. The fall out was considerable from the disaster he had caused. Treaties were weakened, negotiations had broken down. Ambassadors, damiyo, and kage had been jumping through hoops to get back their lost momentum. He had been forced idle for nearly half a year, at a time when the elemental nations were readying for war. A war that he might, if you look at it with a squint, be partially responsible for.

He finally understood how the council saw him. A problem. Too powerful to discard as a weapon and too well connected to exterminate as a pest, while at the same time too ambitious for his own good and unpredictable as the proverbial loose cannon. There was no place in the military of Konoha that would hold him indefinitely without his being a liability.

But that was not the only reason he was a political danger.

He considered Danzo's vendetta and the schism that would result from ROOT seceding from the village, violently. The civil war would leave them open to attack, and would all but certainly scatter or kill everyone in the village.

And he noticed for the first time the danger Tsunade placed herself in when she sent him on any mission but make-work or showed him any unusual support. She was already making the council regret her appointment on the her radical unionist foreign policies and the expensive reorganization of the standard operating procedures in regular operations. Naruto was just the straw to break the camel's back. Assassinations of kage weren't unknown.

His existence could lead to division of the already weakened village. It was sobering to see the possible fallout his dream. How unfortunate to be 17 and know you have such potential to destroy everything you love.

It almost made holding a demon in your bowels look fun.

Finally the forest broke and he took a flying leap over the massive gaping chasm below, floating an infinite instant above the distant stone. The wind pushed his loose blond hair off of his forehead. He loved the feeling of flying.

As he dove with the ballistic grace of a falcon dueling a crane, thought of those people his death would affect the most. The people he most wanted to protect with his sacrifice. His team.

Not the new team, piecemeal as it was, hastily put together to support Sakura and himself and check his demon.

The original team 7. The one that was more like a family than anything else.

Much as he hated to admit it, Kakashi would probably take the news of his death as hard as anyone, harder than he should. With how personally he had taken the team's safety and unity from the beginning, it wouldn't be pretty. His reaction to Sasuke's defection had been bad from what Sakura told him of what had happened while he was healing after the fight. Naruto wasn't sure if he wanted to risk his disappearance or death being the last nail in his coffin. But, he just didn't have other workable options anymore.

This was the only way he could still do some good in the coming war that had been left to him. It was the only way he wouldn't become a liability.

Of course he had done what he could to work damage control. Kakashi and Tsunade were the main reasons he had left the note. He was a little worried that one or the other might go over the edge. But, this needed doing, and he would have to trust them to be strong enough to take the loss. He wrote the note to prevent anyone from thinking they drove him to the grave. They probably couldn't see the simple, if costly, elegance of this method. So, he had left a parting message to try and ease the pain, and offer a little hope.

He used his hitai-ate, pinned to the wall of his apartment opposite the door at eye level, with a kunai driven through the center of the leaf symbol spiral. Tied to the ring of the knife hung the necklace of the First Hokage, given to him by Tsunade. Underneath, in large, neat black calligraphy he wrote his epitaph:

This is no one's fault but mine.

It is what must be done.

I will protect you with my life.

That is my Way of the Ninja.

Hopefully no one would suffer any permanent damage before the understood why this had to be done.

Free falling toward the lowest point in the valley's floor not covered by the river, he suffered a sweet sorrow, the same as ever when he considered Sakura. He loved her. More fool he.

He had loved her before he knew what love looked like. He was aware that people cared for each other, if only barely, not having much chance at observation.He was never held, to his knowledge, except when absolutely necessary. Memories of the antiseptic treatment of his early life were one of the main reasons he disliked hospitals.

So until he was permitted to go off on his own, to see other children and their parents, he had never known what he was missing. He was more confused than anything at how much people interacted. Naruto knew only that children with families were always together, always held close, and he was kept apart. When he saw it, and slowly began to understand the connection that those families shared, he began to long for that unknown intimacy.

Until he met Sakura, he had never felt what could honestly be called love. He didn't understand what it was when he wanted to make her happy, despite his earlier attempts at companionship being disastrous. All he knew when he first saw her was that she was different in the most wonderful way possible. He had no idea from what that meant; only that she was. And he wanted more than anything to see her happy.

At all of six years old he had lost his heart to her on the first day of school. Maybe it was that she looked as scared of everybody around her as he felt. Maybe it was because she seemed to get it almost as bad from bullies and snobs as he did (although she certainly got fewer aggressive or blank stares from adults). Maybe he was just attracted to the color pink. All he knew was she was someone important to him, in that solid, stubborn certainty that anyone under ten has perfected. She was even more important than the certainty that getting close to her was going to hurt like hell, one way or another.

When he finally went up to talk to her at recess after half a day of building himself up, he was excited that he might finally get a friend he was slightly…energetic with is greeting. She nearly jumped out of her skin and, while wildly flailing, accidentally (he thinks) smacked him so hard he fell on his butt.

As he had gotten worse from kids before, and with less provocation, he shook off the assault and loudly announced that it didn't matter because he was Naruto and he wanted to be friends.

She called him an idiot, walked away angry and the die was cast. Damn he hated that die But he did kind of like that she could just pop like a balloon, turning from this frightened little thing into what he could still say scared him more than death itself ever had. It showed she wasn't just a nobody, but a somebody waiting to happen.

He never stopped liking her though, that image of a vulnerable little girl stayed with him. When she finally got a friend in Ino he cheered from the nose bleed section so she didn't notice and start actually hating him like everyone else. When she got a crush on Sasuke he grinned (maybe a little too enthusiastically in retrospect) and declared that he liked her. He took that beating just to stay on her damned radar.

Because behind it all, she still remembered their first meeting too. She never forgot that while he was loud and frustrating and an idiot, he was still a person. He knew it, because she never treated him like the Village Pariah. She did treat him like a hyperactive freak, but that was at least a start. When kids others were staring at him and wondering why their parents avoided him like a plague, she would treat him like an actual human being, if an annoying one. That matters when your 10 and the number of meals you've had that you didn't cook yourself is directly related to your age and the kindness of a certain vendor. She might never have liked him much before they were on a team together, but she did in a way see him and not just the orphan everyone avoided.

When they finally got to know each other, as teammates first and then casually drifting towards friends, he relaxed a little and she saw that he wasn't as stupid as he acted. He was still hopelessly, unashamedly, suicidally smitten with her. He just eventually learned to bury the impulse to shout it from the rooftops until she got past her image of him as a nothing. He could bide his time a little, there was no real rush. Her matching hopeless crush on Sasuke was never in any better shape than his for her.

It never really mattered that she loved someone else to him either. His feelings for her were singular, untainted, pure. It wasn't that he didn't care. It was that she owned his heart. If she was safe, happy, loved, then Naruto had no use for concern for himself. At her request he would tear it out and serve it to her on a silver platter. There was nothing else for it. Nothing else was important. Especially not today.

The most important thing for this day wasn't that he never got her to believe that he meant it when he used to say he loved her. And it wasn't that she may never realize how much sweet agony being near her for so long gave him.

What was important was the promise. His promise. The promise of a lifetime.

When his feet touched feather light against the earth from a fall that should have broken his legs, shinobi or no, he thought of the other player in the last scene of his life story. Uchiha Sasuke. The avenger. The traitor. The closest thing he ever had to a brother.

Sasuke would leap at this opportunity. He had always been heading to a suicidal fight with his brother. There was simply too much of a gap between their skill level to fill so quickly. He could not match him without the mangekyo, even with the curse seal fully activated he would be fighting up hill. Naruto hoped this would help level the playing field.

Vengeance done and the avenger victorious, Sasuke would be free. He may well be the monster his brother wished to pervert him to becoming, but that was a calculated risk. This was not murder, it was seppuku. He hoped that Sasuke appreciated the difference.

If the plan held and Sasuke kept his word, then his promise to her would be kept. To achieve it and her- their safety he would forfeit his life. He would break so many other promises to keep those two that mattered most. The dream that kept him alive, the will to show everyone what he could do, would be extinguished. For her.

And for Sasuke.

And everyone else who was depending on him for protection against the forces no mere mortal could defeat which hunted him.

Dawn came to October 10th, anniversary of the demon fox's sealing and Naruto's birth

Shadows cast by the high walls of the cliff receded, laying the warm countenance of Aurora upon the landscape ruined by two titanic children years before. The Valley of the End. Threshold of the Land of Fire.

A gentle line of instant twilight where light and dark met descended, showing the time and battle worn colossi that frame the river's passage. The valley was forever a place for those holding a last stand. Carved by battle, scarred by battle, almost certain to be destroyed in kind.

Upon the moonscape below, the event horizon past, there stood a single glowing figure facing the dawn. He was at peace. The cracked, cratered, burnt, melted, scoured, powdered, and otherwise decimated terrain was a testament to his fury. He did not speak, or shift his steady posture, and he did not even truly think now that he was finally here. That was a testament to his serenity. With the sun shining on him, almost through him, his eyes closed to the needless destruction around him; he was as grim and composed as an angel of mercy in hell.

He wore orange. If he had a choice he always did. It made him different, special, unique. Anyone could be a ninja in blacks and blues and camouflage, but to be a shinobi wearing bight orange was something else. Only the best could wear a "kill me" orange jumpsuit in an infiltration mission and come back alive. It suited him.

His vest was not a Chunin flack-vest; he had never passed the test and wouldn't really need the protection anyway. It was just an ordinary orange cloth vest made with added pockets for ninja tools. He had the tailors who altered it add a red spiral to the back, strips of navy along the shoulders, and the wooden fetish from his old jumpsuit. He liked the nostalgic look it had. His pants were orange, and tied in the standard way for the ninja tool holsters. He wore a black long sleeved shirt with a stripe of orange along the outside of the sleeve. His hair, iridescent with the dawn's captured glory, fell loose onto his forehead.

He was built solidly but unremarkably, along the lines of a good kunai. He was neither wispy and fast at the expense of strength, nor a dull instrument meant to bludgeon into submission. He was balanced. But even the adaptability of his flesh's utility was misleading. You would underestimate him if you didn't know who he was. He wasn't anyone spectacular until it was too late.

He stood, still as the scarred Goliaths before him waiting for his executioner to arrive.

Smoke coalesced out of nothing a few meters before Naruto, and in an instant Sasuke was standing where the column had stood, in the shadow of the valley wall. He kept his hand on the Kusanagi thrust unsheathed through the black belt at his hip. He had come wearing the simple garb of any Ninja infiltrating an enemy territory. It was black, tightly wrapped with black cord at wrist and ankle, and loose at the joints. He wore no mask or hood, but beyond that was the consummate shinobi. Once again Naruto both envied and pitied that which he could never have been.

Naruto opened his eyes and his steel blue met his depthless black, for several moments neither spoke.

"Sasuke, you decided to come. At least someone can end off better for today." Naruto started, strong and sad, but with an unaccountable jovial undertone. Gallows humor.

Sasuke responded with a characteristic cryptic grunt, but his eyes narrowed, showing the blond has his attention. His posture was at ease, but his hand never left hilt. It was too good to be true, the chance to gain an edge against his brother so easily offered. Suspicious as the situation was, it was also too good to pass up.

"Like the message said, you can have my life today if you want it. Use my death to do some good and finally take that miserable bastard who calls himself an Uchiha's life from him."

Sasuke maintained his stoic silence, his practiced eyes searching Naruto for deception. He could find none. For an instant he was perplexed, wondering at his former rival's supremely uncharacteristic behavior. Could this be an ambush? Was Naruto trying to return him to the village?

"I only ask that you grant me three conditions, and then I can happily allow myself to fall on your blade."

Sasuke eased the tension in his muscles slightly. Not a trap then, but a bargain. He could understand that. What would be the cost for him to receive his ultimate kekkei genkai? To finally be free of his family's specters whispering for vengeance within his memories of the Tsukuyomi, he would pay any price.

"First," Naruto intoned, forcing himself to hold his emotions at bay. He held his voice as slow, deliberate and steady as the heartbeat of the world. "Once your vengeance is complete and your brother is dead by your hand, I would have you return to Konoha. There you will face whatever justice the village has for you. That promise I hope to still fulfill, even if I die today. Will you agree?"

The black figure, featureless due to the angle of the rising sun, dipped its head to show assent. That was no price at all. He expected as much from Naruto anyway.

"I also want your word that you will never reveal what we do here today." His face, set into a serious expression, softened a little "This is my murder, not yours. I called you here for your sake; I would do this anyway without you. I don't want you judged for my death. But know that if you agree, you must never let it be known that you have the mangekyo. After your brother, you would vow never to use it again, except to keep the third promise I will ask."

This condition warranted more consideration. Having spent the greater portion of his life pursuing power, could he give up this strength so soon after gaining it? Of course, the answer came easily on the heels of the question. He would not need it after his lust for vengeance was sated. He grunted a confirmation after a moment.

"Finally, if you are given your freedom in the village, I want you to look after the village for me. I don't want things to fall to pieces after I'm gone." He flashed his usual vulpine grin for an instant, "There may be some things they won't be able to handle. They might need someone like you or me to look after them… She especially might need you. I want you to do this for me. Will you, Teme?" Naruto's voice broke a little as he finished, thinking of those he loved who he would never see again. He closed his eyes and waited for the answer, his head bowing slightly with the weight of his actions.

"Naruto…" The named snapped his head to lock eyes again. "I will." Sasuke finished, kinder than he intended, kinder then he though he was capable of anymore. He had forgotten Naruto could do this to people. He would not forget this time. Someone should remember.

"Good'" Naruto said, gaining his composure again but not managing to sound convincing. "Then we should do this right."

He proceeded to select a flat section of stone among the ruined ground, sinking to his knees when he was satisfied. As he fell, he drew a kunai from his leg sheath and held it with two hands before his navel. He focused all his attention on it.

"So, it's to be hara-kiri then. I am your second?" Sasuke asked, honestly surprised by the gruesome, yet formal seppuku Naruto had chosen.

It was the prostrate blond's turn to wordlessly nod, not taking his eyes from the blade in his hands. Sasuke drew the Kusanagi from his belt as he approached Naruto. He poised the blade above the exposed neck, aligning the slice, and brought the blade over his head with both hands. He would see to it that it was quick.

One final time their eyes met a wealth of meaning in their gaze. The last impression before Naruto broke the contact was that despite everything, he never lost hope for his comrade, and he would have trusted Sasuke to be his kaishakunin over everyone else. No one else deserved to deliver his killing blow.

In the final clarity that had been upon him this mourning, Naruto had decided to make his last words as significant and worthwhile as possible.

"Take care of her"

And he drove the blade home.

Seppuku/ Hara-kiri: Ritual suicide of the Samurai class of Japan. Believed to be an honorable death when all other options are exhausted. Consists of self disembowelment with a relatively short blade as the primary cause of death. The person killing themselves is sometimes attended by a second. (see below)

Kaishakunin: Second in ritual Seppuku. It is these individuals' duty to remove (and sometimes hide) the head of the one performing the ritual suicide, to prevent the pain from being too intense.

A/N) The first chapter has been heavily edited from the original version first posted in September, but a large amount of the core content and prose are still intact. The changes were mostly additions to strengthen the continuity with later chapters, and grammatical refinements

Edited 1/24/2008 for content and accuracy.

Reedited 2/12/2008 for extended cut