The Fox and the Strawberry

WARNING: WILL CONTAIN YAOI IN LATER CHAPTERS!

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or Bleach

Summary: Uzumaki Naruto has been wandering the Earth alone, guilt and sadness resting heavily on his shoulders, for many years, since Akatsuki destroyed Konoha. However, the blonde-haired shinobi is unable to pass on, because the Kyuubi refuses to let him die.

But when Naruto discovers the existence, of one fifteen-year-old Substitute Shinigami, his world is once again turned upside down. Surely things couldn't get any worse? Well … if only Kurosaki Ichigo wasn't so annoying …

Pairing(s): Naruto x Ichigo

Author's Note: This story is one of Inumaru12's challenges - they're brilliant so take a look at them!

I hope you enjoy the story, Inumaru12 ^_^

Chapter One - Leaving The Past Behind

With cold eyes, Naruto Uzumaki stared down into the crater that was once Konoha, the light breeze ruffling his unkempt hair slightly.

"How long has it been?" He muttered under his breath.

"A while," a flat voice replied within the confines of his mind.

"I wasn't talking to you," snapped Naruto.

"Aren't we cheerful today," the flat voice retorted.

"Leave me alone," Naruto said through gritted teeth.

"You know I can't do that," the flat voice replied with a sigh. "So, what are we doing today?"

Naruto hesitated a moment, and then shrugged.

"We aren't going down … there … again, are we?" Asked the flat voice.

"Probably," Naruto replied simply.

"You know, if you'd given …"

"Don't say another word," growled Naruto, his eyes narrowing slightly.

"Still touchy about that, are we?" Asked the flat voice amusedly.

Naruto bit his bottom lip. Of course he was still touchy about that subject. But perhaps the Kyuubi was right. If he had given … Naruto shook his head. No, if he had let that stupid fox control him, he'd have been the one who destroyed Konoha. He shuddered at the thought, of how close he had come to being a monster.

"So, are we going down … there … or not?" The Kyuubi asked impatiently. However, Naruto remained silent and surveyed the crater before him. "Are we just going to stand here all day, then?"

Naruto gritted his teeth. He wished that, that stupid fox would just shut up, but unfortunately that was another wish that would never come true. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly before mumbling "no" under his breath.

"Then …"

"No, we're not going down there either," Naruto replied before the Kyuubi could finish his sentence.

"I'm glad we're not going down … there," the Kyuubi replied hesitantly, "but what are we going to do?"

"Does it matter?!" Naruto exclaimed.

"Well …"

"Oh be quiet," and Naruto quickly turned his back on the crater and walked away.

It was late when Naruto finally decided to settle down for the night. With a sigh, the blonde-haired shinobi sprawled himself out on the hard ground and stared up at the night sky. If he hadn't been so alone he would have enjoyed lying out here. It was, after all peaceful. But how many times had he thought that to himself? He would always be alone and that was just something he was going to have to get used to. In fact, he was surprised he hadn't got used to it by now. Perhaps, because he knew he wasn't completely alone. He had to admit that having that stupid fox around gave him some comfort, despite the fact that they really didn't get along.

With a weary sigh he closed his eyes. He felt himself slipping into a hopefully dreamless sleep, when he felt a huge chakra surge. He leapt to his feet in an instant and cautiously scanned the area. It was impossible to think that someone had survived, but where was this immense chakra coming from? Naruto's heart began to pound erratically against his chest.

"Something wrong?" The Kyuubi asked curiously.

"Can't you feel that?" Hissed Naruto.

The Kyuubi was silent for a moment, and then replied, "yes."

"Who is it?" Naruto asked, a mixture of emotions coursing through him.

"I don't know," replied the Kyuubi simply. "But whoever it is isn't anywhere near here, so why don't you get some sleep?"

"It certainly feels like they're close." Naruto replied softly, his eyes still scanning the surrounding area.

"They're not. Go to sleep."

Naruto frowned slightly. "You're hiding something from me. What is it?"

"Why would I hide anything from you?" Asked the Kyuubi.

"I don't know," Naruto replied truthfully. "But you are, so what is it?"

"You're mistaken," the Kyuubi replied defensively.

"What are you hiding?" Naruto asked through clenched teeth.

The Kyuubi hesitated a moment, and then replied reluctantly. "Whoever is releasing that immense chakra isn't here."

"What do you mean?" Naruto asked softly.

"Did you know that this world is actually connected to another?"

Naruto's eyes widened. "What?"

"It's true. They're separated by some sort of barrier."

"Why didn't you tell me before!" Shouted Naruto.

"For two important reasons," the Kyuubi replied simply. "First of all, I don't actually know where the opening in the barrier is, so it's impossible for us to get across. And secondly, if we managed to get across would you fit in? After all, you are immortal and that's not something you hide easily."

Naruto thought about that for a moment, and then sighed. "So I'm stuck here," he muttered solemnly under his breath.

"Yes."

At that moment, whoever had released that incredible amount of chakra stopped the flow of energy. Naruto sighed.

"I'm sorry."

"No you're not," the blonde-haired shinobi replied bitterly. "Because if you were, you'd let me die."

"Naruto …"

"I know," sighed Naruto. "Never mind, let's just get some sleep." And he sprawled himself out on the hard ground once more, and was unfortunately ensnared by a chilling nightmare that haunted him almost every night.

The first rays of golden sunlight had just crept over the horizon, when Naruto awoke. His eyes were bloodshot and he ached just like he did every morning. What he wouldn't give for a nice, comfy bed and a peaceful night's sleep.

And then his eyes widened, and his heart skipped a beat. He recalled sensing an immense chakra last night, a chakra that had been released by someone on a world connected to this one. He sat bolt upright and was about to spring to his feet, when he remembered what the Kyuubi had said. With a sigh, he led back down and stared up at the clear sky.

"Just another day in paradise," he muttered solemnly under his breath.

"So, what are we doing today?" Asked the Kyuubi.

Normally, the blonde-haired shinobi would have argued with that stupid fox for disturbing his peace so early however, he wasn't in the mood today so he exhaled slowly and then replied. "We're going to Konoha."

"Why?"

Naruto gritted his teeth. "Because I'm going to pay my respects to everyone." He replied irritably.

"Fine," the Kyuubi said reluctantly. "But just to warn you, I'm going to complain all the way there."

"You complain all the time anyway," sighed Naruto.

"I don't!" Exclaimed the Kyuubi.

Naruto smiled slightly, and then with a groan got to his feet. He wearily stretched his aching limbs and then strode towards what used to be Konoha, the images of his friends fixed firmly in his mind.

True to his word, the Kyuubi complained all the way there. However, Naruto paid him little attention. On his way there, the blonde-haired shinobi painfully, but determinedly recalled all of his friends one-by-one. And then when he reached the crater that had once upon a time been his home, he started to wonder what his life would have been like if he had defeated Akatsuki, and remained himself. Would he have finally told the one he loved how he felt?

"Stop daydreaming and get this over with already," snapped the Kyuubi.

"Hmm …" Naruto mumbled under his breath. And he slowly made his way down towards the rubble.

However, he hadn't gone far when he spotted a shining light where the Hokage faces had once been carved into the mountain side.

"What's that?" The blonde-haired shinobi asked softly.

"Naruto-kun, do I look like a library?" Asked the Kyuubi pointedly.

"Sorry, it's just you've been around longer than I have. I thought you might know something about it."

"Sorry to disappoint you, but I don't know."

"Want to check it out?" Naruto asked casually.

"Not really, but you're going to investigate anyway aren't you?"

"Of course I am," replied Naruto with a smile.

"Well then, hurry up and investigate. I don't want to be here any longer than I have to."

"I know," and still smiling the blonde-haired shinobi quickened his pace.

As Naruto drew closer, he noticed that the light was shimmering. Frowning slightly, he slowed.

"Why is it shimmering like that?" He asked softly.

"Why do I have to get stuck with the idiot with the short memory?" The Kyuubi growled irritably.

Naruto gritted his teeth, but kept quiet. He didn't want to argue with that stupid fox now, after all his mind was completely focused on the strange light ahead of him. His heart beat quickened, and beads of sweat trickled down his face. Why was he nervous? Naruto swallowed hard and shakily pressed forward, his heart now pounding against his chest.

"What's wrong, Naruto?" The Kyuubi asked curiously.

But the blonde-haired shinobi remained silent. His eyes were wide, his teeth chattered together and his breath came in quick gasps. Somehow he knew what that light was and it scared him. But, he had to do it …

"Naruto!"

Naruto stopped, just a few steps away from the light.

"Sorry," the blonde-haired shinobi muttered under his breath.

"What are you talking about?!" Snapped the Kyuubi. "What's …" And then he felt it. An echo of the immense chakra they had felt last night was leaking through the light.

"Don't even think about it!" Shouted the Kyuubi.

"Kyuubi," Naruto replied softly, "you refuse to let me die. You refuse to end my suffering. However, yesterday you said you were sorry. So please, let me escape from this hell! I want to … I want to move on, but I can't!" And tears that he thought had long since dried up, now flowed freely down his cheeks. "I'm haunted," he struggled on, "every night by the images of my friends. And I've coped for all this time … somehow … so don't you think I deserve this chance to leave my past behind me?!"

"Naruto-kun, you know I can't stop you from leaving this place, so if you want to move on go forward and don't look back."

"Kyuubi …" Naruto muttered under his breath, as his last tear trickled down his cheek.

"Well, are you just going to stand here all day or are we going?"

Naruto quickly dried his eyes, then sighed. "Goodbye … everyone …" He mumbled solemnly under his breath before stepping into the light.

Ok, I hope you enjoyed the first chapter. Please review, and as always constructive criticism is appreciated ^_^