The Swallow and the Crow
A/N: I love Shiba Kaien and always wanted to post more stories with him in it. In fact, I have several one shots I've been juggling in my head for the past two-three years. They just never came to fruition. One came close though so maybe there is hope yet.
Anyway, enough with my blathering. And yes, another crossover. If you follow me, don't act surprised lol. I mean, chances are you might've seen the poll I previously left on my profile…Heh.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or Naruto.
He was surprised to hear his heart beating a jaunty rhythm within his ribcage. After losing so much blood from that fatal – or should he have said almost fatal? – head wound, he expected a quick death. But now…
A voice cut into his idle musing. "So it was you."
"…Me?" His voice rasped horribly as if disused for a long period of time.
He must have blacked out for a short interval then because the words spoken were disjointed in meaning. "-been watching-strange-move on-transcend-are-listening-?"
Blinking to banish the stars in his vision, he strained his body upwards and sat up. He felt…lighter.
A black-haired man, definitely older than him, knelt by his side, placing a rough calloused hand on his shoulder. He was donned in a strange black uniform, which he would much later understand to be a shihakushou. By his hip was a katana.
The man's features were contorted with sympathy. "What's your name, kid?"
Turning his heavy head towards him, he frowned almost belatedly, "I…I'm eighteen."
"…Eighteen? I'm sure that's not your name." There was a soft exhale. He could tell there was an amused air around him. "Trust me when I say you're still a kid stacked next to me. I'm probably older than your great-grandpa!"
He tried to focus. A fairly tanned face, skin tone of a mildly sun-beaten worker, was in his line of sight. He also had an aristocratic facial structure, speaking of wealth and power, but it was at odds with his unkempt hair and rumpled clothing. Faintly noted, the man also had no visible links to other villages and instinct told him he wasn't from Konoha…
"-listening again? Great. A space case."
He snapped his waning attention on the other. "I'm not a space case…Just…"
The man smiled wryly, "Disoriented. I know. I was kidding. Sorry."
It took effort but he managed a glare at the stranger.
"Now, now, you don't need to puff up like that." He laughed. "Let's try this again. What's your name, kid?"
Wiping away the blood covering his forehead with shaking hands, he considered his options. Either he was hallucinating from pain, under an elaborate genjutsu, or this guy was real. The problem was he couldn't decide which to believe and there was no realization sinking in when he stared at his own blood; instead, he turned the question around. "Who are you?"
"Kaien Shiba." It was said without hesitation. "It's nice to meet you…"
He wiped away more blood before picking up his broken ANBU mask. He spoke, monotone, "Karasu. Pleasure."
"Karasu, is it?" Kaien seemed vaguely amused. "Well then, I'm sorry for being the bearer of bad news."
Irony. Karasu tilted his head in question.
Sighing softly, Kaien intoned seriously, "You're dead, Karasu."
The words buzzed strangely in his ears. "…What are you talking about? I can't be-unless-"
"I'm not like you. I'm not a shinobi." Kaien squeezed his shoulder tightly. "I'm a shinigami, boy."
There was no acceptance. "…I'm still breathing."
"So you are."
"I can feel my heart beating."
"Then I'm not dead."
"But you are."
"I can't be." Karasu snarled, "That's not logical!"
Sympathy once again bled into his countenance. "Denial can only get you so far, kid. You aren't seeing."
He sniped back, "I'm seeing you, aren't I?"
"That's not what I meant." Kaien, despite Karasu's harsh growls of bodily amputation, covered his eyes. "Don't struggle and just relax."
Even with those words, he was still as tense as a drawn bowstring. "Why should I trust you?"
"Oh you don't have to trust the guy that's gonna ease your suffering." Kaien asserted again, "But humour me. It won't hurt. You only have to stay calm…"
When there were no further violent protests from Karasu, Kaien released him.
The shinobi gazed at him warily, "What did you do?"
Kaien didn't say a word and guided his sight to his chest. "You see it now?"
Karasu's eyes dilated. "I have a chain coming out of my chest."
"Very good-" That remark elicited a scathing look from Karasu and Kaien soldiered on. "Now what about around you? I know you shinobi have an attention to detail so…"
Steeling himself, Karasu analyzed his surroundings and a cold stone dropped into the pit of his stomach. The sky was midnight dark, sprinkled with stars, when it should have been day; also, he was still in the gloomy forest North-North-West of Konohagakure. Surrounding him were his comrades. With a clinical mind, he realized his entire ANBU team were in the starting states of decomposition, indicating that he must have been unconscious for a very long time. A glance downwards and he saw that the chain attached to his chest was connected to…He was sitting beside his own comatose body.
"Let's not hyperventilate now." Kaien soothed. "The wound you sustained on your head must have knocked you out and without medical attention it festered until…Well…By all means the chain should have broken and you should have crossed over already."
Karasu felt sick, his eyes unwillingly riveted on his own paper pale face splashed with infected blood. Hands shaking, he nearly reached out until he was stopped by a firm grip.
"No, Karasu." Kaien bodily pulled him away. "Normally with your soul connected to your body like this, you can still have your soul realign with flesh and live but…In your case, it's been too long. Even if you re-enter now, you will die as your body can't sustain you."
"But I can re-enter." At Kaien's hesitant nod, Karasu asked, "How long has it been…?"
"What about my teammates?"
"They passed on instantly." Kaien explained, "In this physical plane, souls automatically transcend since they tend to warp – unique side effects if you will – when they stay in this physical realm too long. Something to do with the chakra in the atmosphere…"
"Why you're still here and connected to your body? No absolute answer yet," said Kaien candidly. "It's why I'm here to investigate."
Karasu gripped the ANBU mask in his hand tighter.
"But I think I have an idea." Kaien smiled sadly, "You have unfinished business, don't you?"
"You aren't crazy."
"I'm talking to a shinigami, aren't I?"
"That you are."
"-A laidback shinigami who thinks I have unfinished business." Karasu swept a hand through silver hair. "I just don't want to die. I don't think that's hard to understand."
"You have a lot of denial running around in your head," teased Kaien. "I see you. You're a strong soul. Strong souls can hold onto the physical realm when there is still meaning for them. It's never as simple as pure want."
Karasu stilled. Unnatural eyes peeked through the curtain of hair, gauging his movements and intentions.
Kaien grinned kindly, "I can read your body language quite well, kid. That mask you're holding on to, denoting your identity…The way you're silently mourning for your comrades…I see a lot of loyalty."
He gave ground. "My village…"
"Is your life." Kaien nodded. "But it's time to let go and leave."
"No." Karasu stood up on shaky legs, coming up short to the taller spirit. "Double or nothing."
A tad incredulous at his gall, Kaien asked, "Are you trying to gamble with your life?"
He shrugged. "I do it every day." Karasu inched backwards. "If you can hit me, I'll come with you without a fuss…But if you can't, you'll double my lifespan and I'll die at the end of that contracted time."
"Forget what I said. You are crazy, kid, challenging a shinigami like me. I can't do that. It's illegal."
"I'm only eighteen. It means I'll live to thirty-six. It's enough."
The 'It's enough' rubbed his nerves the wrong way. "Doesn't matter!" Kaien took a step forward, aggravated. "You're not talking me into this."
"I refuse to leave." Karasu stuck his chin out defiantly like a child. The next words solidified that image. "Don't we get last wishes or anything like that before death?"
Kaien exhaled nosily from his nose. "You don't look like a person who believes in things like that."
"I don't but I can admit that I'm desperate." Karasu gripped onto the ANBU mask like a lifeline. "I don't want to die. I can't afford to die."
The shinigami muttered, "No one wants to die, Karasu. And sure you can afford to die – you pay death with one life."
He growled several choice words before the masks slipped, leaking frustration. "Don't take my words out of context." Karasu paused. "The village safety is hanging on this mission. If you don't let me live, several hundred lives are possibly on the line-"
Kaien interrupted him cruelly. "Those lives, that responsibly is not my burden to bear. Don't place the blame of their future demise on me when it was you and your team who failed the mission."
Bitter resentment tinted with shame and guilt seemed to flood his face before the boy regained equilibrium and retorted hotly, "But I haven't failed the mission yet because I'm not dead. You're just not letting me return to my body-"
The fact that he was arguing with a shinigami registered faintly in the back of his traumatized mind.
Kaien, again, interrupted him. "-Trust me kid. You'll only suffer and then really die of a painful death." Grumbling about unappreciative mortals, the shinigami said matter-of-factly, "You won't survive the strain."
"I want to try. It's my choice. I don't want them to die in vain." The 'them' was a reference to his deceased teammates. Very much alone, Karasu seemed to gradually regain calm and in a controlled voice said, "So if they're not here to carry this out, then I have to. I can't die." A strange electrical energy seeped out of the spirit boy and it lashed out angrily at Kaien.
"…I don't like your chakra." Exerting reiatsu for protection in a kneejerk reaction, Kaien remarked, "If you keep doing that, you won't only die but also cease to exist. I suggest you stop."
Karasu didn't look apologetic by the attack but he heeded his words. Reigning in the residual chakra, he appeared exhausted after the stunt.
There was something inspiring about that ferocious loyalty. Kaien watched the mildly fatigued child-soldier slump his shoulders and sighed, "One hit. If I can hit you with one hit…"
"…Then I go with you. But. If you miss then I get the chance to live." Karasu's eyes, one garnet red and the other a slate grey, brightened with guarded hope.
Resigned to humour the determined boy, Kaien signalled him to take several steps away. Karasu had a singular attention focused on the shinigami with his lanky frame and too kind smiles. And although still a spirit, his trained muscles bunched in anticipation while the ruby Sharingan spun in its socket.
"Are you ready?" asked Kaien politely.
A stiff nod was all the answer he received. The shinigami Vice Captain rolled his shoulders and crouched. Faster than Karasu's eyes can track, Kaien used shunpo to land in front of him. One quicksilver hand drew back and was about to knock against his target's shoulder when-
-Karasu dropped onto ground, grunting from pain. Kaien stood over him, zanpakutou drawn and halting the snarling jaws of an angry cat Hollow. Glowing crimson eyes glared at him.
"Can't believe…a hungry Hollow…Must think you're a tasty snack…" grunted the shinigami. He glanced at the bleeding spirit by his feet. "The barrier erected around this area by Soul Society must have finally disintegrated. I can't let you stay like this any longer. You're attracting too much attention."
Karasu grunted and sat up, cradling his arm. It was slashed open by the spiritual monster. "What now?"
"I deal." Kaien smirked confidently and broke the stalemate. He quickly reappeared behind the Hollow and eliminated it.
His expression was unreadable. "…You're fast."
Realizing that Karasu was unhappy, Kaien ruffled his hair. "I have to be, kid, so chin up."
Karasu shied away. "I lost the bet then."
"Not exactly." Karasu looked up at Kaien sharply. The shinigami continued, "Lady Luck must be smiling down on you."
Sensing the hidden confusion, Kaien elaborated, "Hollow, also known as soul eaters, think spirits like you make a very good meal. And they're coming. A crowd of 'em."
"So I'm a sitting duck," muttered Karasu.
"Again, not exactly. You don't have to be." Kaien grimaced and shook his head. "It'll take time to send you to the otherworld since your chain is still connected so…"
Karasu stood up again, eyes drawn back to his body. He murmured, "You're letting me try."
"I am. The survival is up to you and your willpower…If the chain breaks and you really die, there will be no turning back. You will have to cross over."
"No. I'll take this chance."
A roar blasted overhead.
The shinigami pushed the spirit back into his body…
"Good luck, Karasu."
Karasu looked away. "It's Kakashi."
The group of Hollow appeared in the sky and came steadily closer.
"Aah." Kaien laughed again, this time more distantly but happier. "Not an omen but a guardian. How fitting…"
Those last words from Kaien echoed in his headspace before he blacked out.
"I'm such a bleeding heart." A glow of reiatsu controlled by the shinigami surrounded Kakashi's form to try and help realign and heal the body and soul. "How am I supposed to explain this to the Captain…?"
The spirit predators landed swiftly and surrounded Kaien and the prone shinobi. The Vice Captain grinned, "Guess I'll have to deal with that later. For now, it's time to exterminate you ugly beasts."
A/N: I'm trying to explain why Kakashi has such luck in survival. He can't die yet if his contracted time's not up. :P