Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
AN: I just thought I'd point out before getting started that Shukaku and Kyuubi may seem slightly out of character, but there is a reason for that. At this point in time both of them are emotionally and psychologically still children, though the tanuki is on the verge of adolescence. They have yet to mature into the demons depicted in the manga/anime. With that in mind, enjoy.
First and Last
The first green sun set beneath the horizon, but the remaining eight still hung in the sky; night was still a ways away. It was a beautiful evening, a perfect end to a perfect day in paradise. But Shukaku had found that he just couldn't be as carefree as his siblings. He hated admitting it but it was true: being the firstborn sucked.
He had situated himself sprawled on a high cliff overlooking the valley where his brothers and sisters played with their mother. He could see the four-tailed monkey yanking on one of the cat's two tails, and could see her swat at him before sulking into the Goddess' lap. He could see the eight-tailed bull struggling to escape the five-tailed dragon's coils, while the six-tailed rat rolled with laugher at his misfortune. Somewhere off to the side he could see the seven-tailed phoenix quietly preening her feathers. He could see the three-tailed kappa wallowing in the little mud-pit he'd been digging all day. Shukaku couldn't help but sigh at their antics: they didn't understand, they'd never been saddled with the responsibilities that came with being the oldest. They could all depend with out being depended upon by another. All he had to depend on was himself, and Mother…
The furry, bony body that suddenly draped itself on top of him did nothing to phase the tanuki. In fact, he'd almost been expecting it.
"Oi! What're you doing up here all by yourself, big brother?" It was Kyuubi, the youngest member of their little family.
"I was thinking," Shukaku answered gruffly, pointedly ignoring the flashes of red fur that invaded his peripheral vision.
"You're always thinking these days," the fox barked in retort. "Why don't you ever want to play with us anymore?"
"Too much on my mind," the tanuki shrugged, only halfheartedly trying to dislodge his burden.
"Why?" Kyuubi continued to cling, determined to hold his ground until his brother relented and rejoined their siblings.
"You wouldn't understand," Shukaku all but growled, tilting his head so that he was looking his way too playful assailant out of the corner of one golden eye.
"What wouldn't I understand?" A flex of paws as the fox leaned in closer, trying to look his brother in both eyes.
"My thoughts aren't something a baby like you can understand," the tanuki sneered, hackles rising slightly.
"I'm not a baby!" Kyuubi hissed, his claws digging into his brother's sand-like skin, his own hackles rising to expose his fangs.
"Don't kid yourself," Shukaku growled as he finally stood, shaking firmly to dislodge the fox from his back. "You'll always be the baby."
Kyuubi squeaked a little as he hit the ground, the surprised sound turning into a growl as he regained his footing and fluffed up in agitation.
"I'm not a baby!" the fox snarled, his tails lashing. "I'll—I'll prove it! I'll take you on, right now!"
"Pft!" the tanuki scoffed, tossing his head. "It has nothing to do with that, but instead has everything to do with what goes on. In. Here."
His last statement was punctuated by one of his blunt claws coming to dig into his little brother's forehead, causing the fox's ears to flatten out reflexively.
"You see, babies like you spend all their time thinking of inane things, like what game they'll play next," Shukaku explained with a broad, condescending sneer.
"Oh, yeah!" Kyuubi ducked out from under the claw. "Well what do you think about, then, huh?!"
"Important, complicated things." The tanuki lowered his paw. "Like what the hell you kids would do without me here to keep you out of trouble."
The fox's eyes widened and his ears folded back, much of his fire drained out. He looked almost scared like that.
"You mean… you're leaving?" Damn those cute little doe-eyes of his. Shukaku swore his brother was doing it deliberately. But instead of giving him the satisfaction of a reaction, he simply shrugged and looked back over the vale where the rest of their family was.
"Anything can happen, kit, and you've got to be ready for the worst." And truly, it was thoughts of the worst that had been plaguing him lately, draining most of the joy out of everything he did.
Funny, he'd never found the fox's laughter irritating until now. So irritating that he couldn't contain his need to glare at the source.
"Don't be silly, Shu'!" Kyuubi got out through his giggles. "Nothing's gonna happen."
The fox's laughter only died down when his brother's expression didn't change. A frightening feeling of wrongness was creeping through his belly: there was something alarmingly different about Shukaku, and growing more unusual by the minute.
"That's exactly what I was talking about," the tanuki sighed. "You can't comprehend the worst, let alone the worst coming to pass. That's the difference between you and me, Kyuubi. I'm ready, but what will you do when your whole world comes crashing down around your head, huh?"
The light dimmed further as the silence settled, only one green sun still visible above the horizon. A cold wind blew, whipping up dust devils off the back of the one-tailed, and stirring the fur of the nine-tailed. Golden eyes sank into their void-black mask as their owner sighed once more.
"I need some time to myself, little brother," he spoke softly, his voice gentle yet tense. "Please don't follow me this time."
And with that, Shukaku leapt from his perch and walked away without sparing the fox another glance. His head was hung, his tail drooped and dragging, but he had made his choice and was resigned to the consequences. It hurt him to do it, but it would hurt him more if he didn't. Kyuubi just remained rooted where his brother had left him, that feeling of dread in his gut consuming his entire psyche. He wanted so badly to be proved wrong, but somehow he knew that that would never happen.
The tanuki paused at the edge of the vale, frozen, before he stole one look back at his family. His other siblings seemed oblivious, but Mother, oh Mother… her eyes looked directly into his. She knew… oh, she knew! But she stayed silent and still, granting him the freedom of his own choice. Like he was an adult and no longer a child. He nodded his gratitude to her, a world of communication contained in that one, small gesture.
The last green sun sank beneath the horizon as the sand spirit turned away and slowly disappeared into the deepening darkness.
The tanuki was the first to be made.
The fox, the last.
Shukaku was the first to disappear.
And Kyuubi, the last.