It started with Haku.
- - -
"You're supposed to be dead, right?" Naruto stared numbly at the figure before him. He had been shocked at first when Haku appeared to him, looking as if nothing had ever happened. He wasn't covered in blood like Naruto remembered, not like the image burned into his brain. His eyes weren't dull, sightless orbs anymore. And the hole in his chest had been replaced by a long, yet broken, chain.
Haku looked nervous. "Y-yes." he said. "But you can see me."
Naruto considered the chance that the stress from seeing his first death was getting to him. Maybe the immense guilt he was feeling over the older boy's death was causing him to hallucinate. "Right." he said, noticing his voice break half way through. The shock had worn off, of course, leaving behind a vague sense of horror.
There were some things he just couldn't handle and this was one of them.
Haku visibly relaxed, though Naruto knew he remained on guard. "No one else can see me." he said, sounding somewhat happy. "Ever since I... died... it's been like this." He gestured toward the chain in his chest which jingled ominously from the movement. "I've been looking for Zabuza-sama but I have been unsuccessful so far." His faint happiness faded into sadness.
"Zabuza is like this too?" asked Naruto, aware that he should be rather panicked at this situation.
"I suppose so," said Haku. "Unless he has passed on already."
They both went silent for a few minutes, letting the silence stretch between them. Naruto broke the silence.
"Why haven't you... passed?" he asked, convincing himself he was merely entertaining his stressed brain. If he was imagining this whole thing he didn't see why he couldn't enjoy his 'final moments' with his friend.
Haku lowered his head and spoke in a strained whisper. "I can't. Not yet." he look up at Naruto with a pained expression. "Not until I am sure Zabuza-sama is okay."
The chain dangling from Haku's chest jingled in the silence that followed. Naruto watched in morbid fascination as it grew small mouths and began to eat itself. Haku cried out.
"Haku!" Naruto rushed to the boy's side as he fell. "What's happening?"
"It h-hurts..." he forced out and the chains continued to eat. "Whenever I... become e-emotional... the chain feasts."
Said chains slowed and then stopped, now significantly shorter. Naruto felt it, he felt that this was not some self-induced illusion. Haku was really here in death, and he was hurting. "Haku..." his mind decided not to pay attention as he helped Haku to his feet. After all, it would be rather stressful to realize you were touching a ghost as if they still had a physical form.
"What can I do?"
The deceased boy gave his friend a strained smile. "I just... wanted to talk, Naruto-kun." He gestured at the quiet forest in which they stood and Naruto looked up at the moon. It was full, shining pale light down on them both. "Though I fear I haven't much time." he added, finally having regained his breath.
"Did you want to tell me something?"
Haku smiled warmly, a smile that was comforting to the blond but left him with a sense of sadness. It was as if Haku was saying 'good bye'.
"I merely wanted to tell you that I admire you."
Naruto looked startled. "M-me?" He pointed to himself. He himself had admired Haku for his strength and devotion to his precious person. To hear that he returned the admiration was surprising to someone who was rarely complimented on anything. "Really?"
"Of course," said Haku, nodding. "I admire your sheer determination in the face of incredible odds." he said, turning to look at the moon overhead. "I admire your total conviction toward your dreams. Your understanding and your kindness." Haku turned back to Naruto, pale cheeks flushed, and he seemed otherworldly. "I admire you, Naruto-kun."
"W-well... I..." Naruto felt his cheeks heat up and felt utterly confused. "The way you say that... it's as if you like me or something. Even though your a-" The ghost giggled girlishly.
"A guy?" Haku supplied helpfully. Naruto nodded, even more confused. "Naruto-kun, what is a ninja's ultimate tool?"
"Your teacher taught you this, did he not?"
Naruto frowned at the sudden diversion from the conversation and thought hard. "I think... it was "deception", right?"
Haku nodded. "Yes, deception is a ninja's ultimate tool. And I have decived you, Naruto-kun." Naruto started at that but Haku held up a hand. "The shinobi world isn't the most beautiful place. It is dark, merciless, and unforgiving. For a woman in this world, there are many things worse than death. Do you understand?"
"For a woman?" Naruto frowned. He immediately thought of Sakura. If the shinobi world was so dangerous, he would have to work harder to protect her. And things worse than death? What could be worse than that? He slowly went over Haku's words, though three words stood out. In the shinobi world there were many things worse than death... for a woman. A memory flitted across his mind.
He remembered when he saved Inari's mother from those samurai. He remembered the looks on their faced when they looked at the woman. The blatant hunger in their eyes had pissed him off so much that he attacked without thinking. Naruto realized, now, one of the things that could have happened to Tsunami that was worse than death. He looked up at Haku who looked back expectantly.
"So then, when you said you were a boy?"
Haku nodded. "Members of my bloodline were well known for being beautiful to both sexes. Males were easily confused for females and vice versa. Zabuza-sama knew this and instructed me to pretend to be a boy. Most people were willing to believe the story." Haku sighed softly and Naruto saw that it wasn't a lie. "In death, there is no more reason for me to pretend."
"I see." Naruto nodded and was silent. It was a full five minutes before Haku's earlier words registered in his mind. "W-wait, does that mean?"
Haku smiled coyly. "Naruto-kun..." she said, leaning toward the shorter boy. "I must leave."
Naruto blinked slowly. "Leave? But-"
"I have to find Zabuza-sama." she stated simply. "Thank you for allowing me to express my feelings." Haku placed a chaste kiss on Naruto's whiskered cheek. "Farewell, Naruto-kun."
Naruto touched the spot she had kissed as he watched her retreating form. She kissed him. The guilt he had felt earlier faded along with the wave of depressing sadness. Haku didn't resent him for how things had happened and had instead come to admire him. He smiled as he forgot about the chain that ate itself and the way he could almost see through the girl. He would, sadly, forget the whole event by morn when he would write it off as a dream.
But for now he allowed himself to feel happy.
"Naruto!" a voice called from behind him. "There you are. Kakashi-sensei said to come back to Tazuna-san's house. We have to pack and be ready to return to Konoha in the morning."
He smiled at his pink haired teammate. "Sure thing, Sakura-chan."
- - -
Haku was the first ghost Naruto had seen, but she certainly wasn't the last. He saw many different ghosts as time passed and he knew he couldn't pretend they weren't there anymore. Over time he came to accept his abilities.
He was changing, whether this was bad or good remained unknown.
It was some time before the Chuunin Exams that things changed drastically.
- - -
With the knowledge of ghosts came the knowledge of something else. As there were ghosts, there were monsters that hunted these ghosts. These beast came in many different sizes and shapes, but one thing remained constant: A white mask. Each monster wore a mask and, though some varied, this was how Naruto recognized them.
He had first met one after meeting a ghost in the abandoned Uchiha District. He had wanted a secluded area to think when he came across the ghost of a young girl. Naruto actually recognized her from multiple 'Missing' posters all around Konoha. She told him that she was kidnapped and, when she put up resistance, was murdered here. Naruto attempted to console the girl, something he had gotten used to doing. He learned that when a ghost couldn't pass on, they were anchoring themselves to the living world because they were scared and confused. He helped them resolve problems they couldn't themselves and would usually pass overnight.
He didn't get the chance this time.
They both started as a horrific roar echoed off the ghost district. Naruto felt a sense of dread and watched his surroundings carefully.
"W-what was that?" The girl hid behind him. "A monster?"
Naruto frowned. "I don't know..." he admitted.
They didn't have to wait long as a dark form revealed itself from within an alley. It was, Naruto guessed, a giant snake by it's appearance. It slithered across the ground on it's belly and hissed, a forked tongue flicking out to taste the air. The snake wore a bone white mask with markings adorning it.
"What do we have here?" it hissed, eying the two with glowing yellow eyes. "Two delisciousss brats?" it dragged out the 's', it's tongue flicking out hurriedly.
Naruto stood in front of the girl protectively. "W-what are you?" he asked, silently cursing the fear in his voice. The snake let out a hissing laugh and slithered around them lazily. Naruto never let him have a clear view of the girl. He didn't know why, but he somehow knew that she was what the monster was after.
"I'm surprisssed," said the snake. "You can see me. That meansss you must have some tasssty reiatsu."
"What? Reiatsu?" Naruto raised one eyebrow. "The hell is that?"
The snake seemed to ignore his question. "Thisss village... seemsss to be full of those with strong reiatsu. I'm glad I am one of the first here." it said. "I'll get first dibsss on all the tasssty humans."
"So, you're going to eat us?" growled Naruto, silently grabbing a kunai from his pouch. "I don't think so."
The snake laughed another hissing laugh and jabbed it's tail at the boy. "Foolissh boy! You have no hope of defeating me!" The snake lashed out, it's fangs glistening in the moonlight. Naruto grabbed the ghost girl and jumped away, the snake shattering the earth where they stood.
"Ah, an agile one!" the snake hissed loudly. "Keep me entertained, boy!"
It swing it's tail at the boy's neck, intent on severing his head. "Shit!" Naruto cursed, pushing the girl away as his dodged in the opposite direction. The snake had already forgotten the girl in favor of the more entertaining prey, striking rapidly with it's pointed tail that Naruto was hardpressed to avoid. 'Damn,' he thought, rolling away from another strike. 'This thing is strong! But...' Naruto leaped atop a nearby building, taking two kunai from his leg pouch. 'I have to be stronger!'
He threw the kunai hard but the snake merely slithered around them. "You're beginning to bore me!" it hissed, it's fangs shining as it attacked in a blur.
Naruto used chakra to jump as high as possible and threw more kunai. "Damn it!" he cried as the beast avoided them easily, leaving him wide open.
"I've got you now!" it cackled, it's jaws slamming down and catching nothing but air. "What!?"
"Pathetic..." a voice intoned. A figure dressed in black threw Naruto aside after having save his life. "I would expect... a village full of such beings to be able to handle one lowly Hollow."
The snake hissed viciously. "A Shinigami!? Why are you here?" it asked, before the figure burst with power. It cowered away as it realized just who it was dealing with. "It can't be..."
"I am Captain Kuchiki Byakuya. Did you really think you Hollows would be the only ones to notice these villages?" the figure, now named Byakuya, unsheathed his katana. "This is merely the last stop on you mission of purging these lands."
"Purging? I see, so you Shinigami are as heartless as alwaysss. Aren't you supposed to be protecting humansss?" questioned the snake, it's hiss holding less venom.
"I do not have to explain myself to a Hollow." said Byakuya just as his vanished.
Naruto watched as the snake's masked face was cleaved in two, the blood splattering across his face. He had never seen anyone but Jounin move that fast and he somehow knew even they were slow compared to this man. It was then that he noticed the immense force the drove the oxygen from his lungs.
Byakuya paid him no mind and approached the girl, raising his katana. Naruto tried to cry out when the dark haired man pressed the opposite end against the girl's forehead. The young girl looked oddly at peace as she glowed and slowly vanished, a single butterfly fluttering away.
"Now," said Byakuya, turning to the grounded Naruto. "I must deal with you." he raised his blade.
"W-what!? Wait, why are you-"
"Your village is an anomaly." cut in the Shinigami. He approached Naruto with slow careful steps. "An entire village of spiritually aware beings, most using Reiatsu on a daily basis. You "shinobi" and your villages must be destroyed to keep the worlds in balance."
Naruto flinched at his cold tone. "Reiatsu? I don't even know what that is!" he growled, struggling to move.
Byakuya merely stared at him for a moment, his eyes far off as if he was recalling something. "I believe you beings... refer to it as "Chakra"."
"...What?" Naruto was shocked. "Chakra... is Reiatsu?" Byakuya nodded.
"I see no reason not to tell you." He lowered his sword. "You humans have done an admirable job in keeping off Seireitai's radar until now. Quietly growing in power. You were so good that even the Hollows couldn't pinpoint your location. It has taken a long time... but we have found you."
"So you're going to kill us!?" Naruto could faintly heard the cries of his follow villagers and he could smell smoke. These "Shinigami" were really killing them all!
"Yes... especially you."
"Huh? Me?" Naruto suddenly felt nervous.
"You... humans that hold the Bijuu. Those "demons" as you call them are physical manifestations of Reiatsu. When one was sealed inside of you, your fate was sealed. We couldn't let something like you roam the living realm free. That was the main reason behind this purge." Byakuya raised his blade once more. "You will be killed and your soul sent to Soul Society. From there, it will be simple to keep an eye on you all."
"Y-you bastard!" Naruto struggled fiercely under the oppressive Reiatsu.
Byakukya poised to cleave off the boy's head. "I am simply following orders."
Naruto died along with the Shinobi Nations as a whole.
- - -
Soul Society sent out every captian and used their destructive force to destroy every Shinobi village in a single night. Konoha was the last to fall.
As the hundreds of thousands of souls flooded Soul Society, they forgot. It was a usual occurance that new souls forget their previous lives and how they die. This was something those in Seireitei were counting on. As the souls would begin to live their afterlifes in Rukongai, unaware of everything that had occurred that night, Seireitei would keep tabs on them.
Put every plan has it's flaw.
Byakuya wasn't the only one to tell the doomed their fate. A handful of Konoha's shinobi learned of "The Purge" prior to their deaths.
The Sandaime managed to get the information from the captain he fought, the bloodthirsty Kenpachi deeming him worthy thanks to the fight he put up.
Kakashi got his information from Soi-fon, playing mind games witht he woman.
Jiraiya managed to defeat many low-ranking Shinigami who willing spoke of the plan.
Tsunade was told by Kurotsuchi Mayuri who couldn't stop talking about experimenting on "such people worthy of mass genocide".
Those told held such rage and hatred that they simply couldn't forget the crime committed against them. For as long as they lived, they would hate the Shinigami. They wanted revenge for their people and constantly planned and plotted.
But their lack of power was a constant factor.
- - -
Sarutobi had always known it was a good idea to keep Naruto out of group discussions. The boy hated the Shinigami as much as any of them, but something told the old man that it would be better to keep him out of the plots. He had instructed the boy to keep his hatred as secret as possible. Naruto had reluctantly agreed. Sarutobi was probably the only one Naruto would listen to nowadays.
But the reason he had instructed Naruto to do so was beyond him... until now.
So many had forgotten "The Purge", and so many had grown accustom to the way things were run in Soul Society. They had grown to revere and admire the Shinigami who murdered them. Just like with Konoha, so many of their generation were even trying to become that which scorned them.
Many of their plans had less than a one percent chance of success.
The plan to send Naruto in to become Shinigami, to gain power to destroy it from the inside, had a two percent chance. But they were ninja, the average B-rank mission had less than that. A Coup was their best chance.
Even still, Sarutobi was reluctant to get him involved. Even with the Kyuubi backing him.
He looked at him and saw the rage in his eyes... and the confidence that he would succeed.
"Are you truly willing... to take this mission?" he suddenly felt as if he was handing out missions again. Suddenly Konoha wasn't burn to the ground and it's people still flourished. He felt white hot rage burning in his heart.
"Yes." he answered. Even now Naruto still held him in such high regard.
"Then you will enter the Academy... remember your mission. No one is to know. Become strong so that we might avenge our village. And if you can, bring our fellow shinobi to our side."
Naruto nodded, clenching his fist.
The Jounin and Hokage's had, at first, wished to infiltrate Seireitei themselves. But the Shinigami were cautious enough about them. If so many who were so powerful in life suddenly decided to become Shinigami, Seireitei would become suspicious. They had to resort to using the younger generation, one of the reasons why most of their plans failed.
"Dismissed." he said.
Soon he was alone in the empty room, praying that the boy would be okay.
In this crossover, Chakra = Reiatsu. Much like with the Quincy, Seireitei feels that entire villages of spiritually aware and powerful beings is a threat that needs to be destroyed. So they kill them all, wiping out the entirety of the Shinobi Nations. Only a handful remember, thanks to the loss of memory when death occurs, and plan a coup. Sadly, the only one they can risk is Naruto. He is the only one his age that remembers. He is sent to the Academy to become a Shinigami to gain strength.
The other Rookie 9 and Team Gai are also entering the academy (Team Gai has already been in for a year), but they don't hate Shinigami. And on the whole ghost thing; As a ninja in an entire village of spiritually aware people, seeing ghost is a regular occurrence. As such, it is a regular practice to pretend you don't see a thing. With so many people "not seeing" a person who sees would think they are crazy and wouldn't tell anyone. Thus, they do all see ghosts, they just don't tell anyone so everyone thought they were the only ones to see. I seriously hope that makes sense.
Anyway, on the subject of hatred. Quite frankly, don't expect it to last. This is a good 50 or so years before Ichigo. 50 years is a long time to hold a grudge, even for someone as stubborn as Naruto. The grudge and The Purge is merely the beginning plot device to get the characters from one universe to the next. And for what I have planned for the story, having Naruto hate Shinigami would seriously get in the way.
Also, I'm not quite sure if I'll go through the Academy or skip it. Doesn't seem too important...
Thanks for reading and, please, review. Happy Thanksgiving!