Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of its characters.
Warning: Manga spoilers up through Chapter 607.
Notes: "Tenshi" means "angel." O-Bon is a Japanese holiday honoring the spirits of the deceased.
And Things That Go Bump in the Night
"Do you believe in ghosts?"
"Huh?" Sakura looked up from her book to see Naruto crouched in front of her with a curious expression on his face. "Why do you want to know?"
Naruto shrugged. "You're the smartest one in our class, so I figured you'd know."
"Oh," Sakura answered, trying not to show how pleased she was by the compliment. "Um, well, we know that people are made of both matter and energy that we call chakra. And I guess, when their body dies, that chakra has to go somewhere, but nobody really knows where. So maybe if it stays around, but separate from their body, that could make something like a ghost. What about you, Naruto? Do you believe in ghosts?"
Naruto shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I kinda hope they're real, though."
"Really? Why? Wouldn't they be scary?"
"Naw! My mom and dad must've been awesome, since their kid's gonna be the strongest Hokage ever, so I wouldn't be scared of them at all!"
"Eternal Rival! I have a question for you!"
Kakashi sighed. He'd been hoping to finish the latest Icha Icha Paradise book, but apparently it was not to be. "What is it, Gai?"
"Do you believe that the spirits of our dearly departed friends and ancestors watch over us in our youthful exploits?"
"...Are you asking me if I believe in ghosts?"
"Ah, Kakashi, truly you have such a succinct way of putting things!"
"No, Gai, I don't believe in ghosts. That's something only children believe in."
From his hiding place melded into a tree, Kakashi's ghost smirked behind his mask.
"Hey, can I ask you a question?"
"Hn." Itachi adjusted his hat as he and Kisame continued their trek through the hinterlands of Wind Country. The sun beat down on them with a heat that made them both curse the mostly-black Akatsuki coats.
"Do you believe in ghosts?"
"Why do you ask?" Itachi's curiosity was piqued. Kisame was usually a very practical man; it was unlike him to ask such a metaphysical question.
Kisame shrugged. "I can't help noticing all these shrines people have put out for O-Bon. I mean, most of the time commoners are more superstitious than shinobi, but it seems like shinobi celebrate O-Bon even more fervently than regular people."
"That is because we have so many more spirits to honor," Itachi answered.
"Well, yeah, but that's what I'm asking. Is it just honoring their memories, or do you think they're really here? Are they in a position to care whether we remember them or not?"
Itachi thought for a moment. "Such ceremonies are more for the living than for the dead."
Kisame nodded, but it didn't escape him that Itachi hadn't actually answered the question.
"My gods, I thought that meeting would never end," Kankurou complained as they exited the meeting room.
"The elders do like to talk," Gaara agreed.
"I mean, what does Murasaki-san seeing his sensei's ghost have to do with our foreign policy?" Temari was eager to join in the griping.
"It was a creepy story," Kankurou allowed. "As ninja, we're used to dealing with all kinds of scenarios that civilians would find frightening, but I don't think there's any way to really prepare yourself for seeing something that just shouldn't be part of the natural world, you know?"
"Wait, do you really believe all that B.S. he was spouting?" Temari asked in surprise.
"Well, I think it's possible," Kankurou answered. "We all saw Chiyo-baasama bring Gaara back from the dead, which proves that people's souls don't die when their bodies do. Which, in turn, means ghosts could exist."
"...You know, I never thought about it that way before. Obviously what Chiyo-baasama did proved that there's an afterlife, which is a big enough deal itself. But...if it means all those stories we used to scare each other with back when we were kids could be true..." Despite the desert heat, Temari shivered.
"What do you think, Gaara?" Kankurou asked. "You're the one who's actually been dead."
"It's all right," Gaara said in a quiet voice. "It's understandable that you would be...curious." He could see that his siblings were glancing at him furtively from the corners of their eyes. "The truth is, I don't remember much about what happened while I was dead. It's like waking up and remembering a dream you had, but you've only got vague images without much context." He paused. "Not that I have much experience with that."
"So, no ghosts then?" Kankurou asked hopefully.
"I'm not sure," Gaara said. "I got the impression that the place where I was, wasn't the true afterlife. It felt like...almost like a waiting room."
"Waiting for what?"
"I'm not sure, exactly. But there were other people there. If I'm right about it being someplace in between our world and the afterlife, it is possible that the people who were there are what we call ghosts."
Kankurou and Temari walked in silence, digesting this information.
Gaara was grateful that they didn't ask him anything more about it. He supposed it would be all right to tell them that he had seen a man there who looked like Hatake Kakashi, but he wasn't sure how he would have explained that he also thought he had seen their father.
"Tenshi-sama, may I ask you a question?" The ninja kept his head bowed, kneeling humbly before Konan.
"Tenshi-sama, some of the men have seen...strange things. Shades of comrades who've fallen in battle. But because of Hanzou's Genjutsu Corps, they can't be sure if what they're seeing is real. They can't trust their own senses. So...is such a thing possible? Are there really ghosts?"
Konan thought of Yahiko, who was dead and yet walked. He spoke and fought and looked at her the way he used to. But his skin was cold, and if she laid a hand against his wrist, she felt no pulse.
"Yes," she said, and flew away.
"Um, I was wondering...do you guys believe in ghosts?"
Kotetsu and Izumo looked at each other. Iruka had invited them to come to the Academy and talk to the students about what it was really like to be a ninja. They did this every year, and every year the kids asked questions ranging from the simplistic ("How many missions have you been on?") to the profound ("Have you ever killed anybody?").
To an outsider, the question this child had just asked might seem strange, but no ninja would ever have thought so. Shinobi spent their lives surrounded by death: they killed, they faced their own mortality on every mission, and they often saw comardes die. The question of what might happen to those who passed from the mortal world was one that every shinobi had spent some time contemplating.
Izumo gave the student a generic answer, something along the lines of "nobody really knows, but we like to think that the people we've lost continue on in some form." Neither he nor Kotetsu gave an honest answer, because it would have been too difficult.
It was too hard to talk about their old teammate.
It was too hard to talk about the one mission they'd gone on without her, when she had to stay in the village for some kind of important clan meeting. The mission had gone sour when the defenses of the facility they were supposed to be infiltrating turned out to be more sophisticated than they'd expected. They'd found themselves trapped in a shadowy maze, with mold-encrusted stone walls and the ominous sound of monstrous footsteps echoing in the distance, coming ever closer. Their compasses had been no help; some kind of jutsu placed on the maze made the needle spin wildly.
It was too hard to talk about her voice whispering, "Follow me, I'll lead you out," and her hands grabbing theirs and pulling them along. Once outside the maze, they had looked around and she was nowhere to be seen. They'd been surprised that she'd been able to catch up with them so quickly, not to mention that she'd apparently blown off the clan meeting. Their sensei had insisted her presence had been a genjutsu laid on the maze, but why would an enemy illusion have led them out of danger?
It was too hard to talk about the news they'd heard when they got back to Konoha. They were both old enough to remember the Kyuubi attack, so the sight of the entire village in mourning had generated a horrific sense of deja vu.
It was too hard to talk about how cold and clammy her hands had been when she led them out, or the brief glimpses the dim light had afforded them of the red-and-white fan crest on her back.
Tsunade stood with her hands resting on the railing of the balcony, watching the sun sink below the horizon.
"What are you thinking about?" Dan's voice was quiet, but it still made Tsunade jump. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."
"It's okay. I was just...lost in thought."
Dan laughed. "I can see that."
"It's that jutsu you developed, the one that lets you turn yourself into a...a spirit? A ghost?"
"Something like that."
"Do you think real ghosts exist?"
"Hmm...I don't really know. Most of the cases where people claim to have seen them have rational explanations, but there's a whole lot we still don't know about how chakra works. I've proven myself that the physical body can be converted into pure energy. Given that, I think it would be foolish to entirely rule out the possibility. Why do you ask?"
"When Jiraiya, Orochimaru, and I fought Hanzou, I really thought we were going to die. And I couldn't help thinking of all the things I'd never get to say to you." Tsunade turned away from the beautiful sunset and took Dan's hand. "Will you promise me something?"
"Of course, anything you want."
"If you ever..." She swallowed hard, then continued. "If you ever die, and there's some way you can talk to me afterward, will you do it?"
"Well...I mean, I can't control when I die, I can't promise that I'll be able to..."
"But if you can?"
"If I can."
"...Hmm?" Madara had been sitting on the huge wooden chair that Obito thought of as his throne. He had been resting his head against the back of the throne with his eyes closed, and Obito hadn't been sure whether he was actually asleep or just bored.
"Do you believe in ghosts?"
Madara opened his eyes and glared at Obito. "Why are you wasting time with inane questions like that when you should be training?"
"It's O-Bon, isn't it? My cousins always used to tell me these creepy stories about ghosts, and when I got scared, my parents would tell me they weren't true. But Rin said she has an uncle who swears up and down he saw one once. I figure, you're real old, so you must be really wise, and..." Obito trailed off as he saw the look on Madara's face. "Uh, no offense! I didn't mean to say you were old like it was a bad thing, I mean, you've got all this knowledge and I'm sure you're really strong, and..."
Madara levered himself up from the chair and shuffled over to the Gedo Mazou tree. Hashirama's form protruded out from the bark, an expression of serenity eternally frozen on his features. I've outlived him, and yet he still follows me everywhere I go. Madara laid a hand against his old rival's cheek. "I do believe in ghosts," he said, "but I believe that like anything else, ghosts can be killed."
A/N: I meant this to be a(nother) Halloween story, but I was a little late finishing it.