Ugh. Has it really been… like three years? Wow. I promise I have no intention of giving up this story—that said, Kishimoto really threw a wrench into everything I knew about Naruto. Now that I'm more caught up, and have taken like, what, three years to let all that settle, I think I finally have my balance again.
Also; this is my least favorite arc, ever. Not a big fan of Tsunade, but I'll try to give her a legitimate characterization. But yeah, expect less plot and more of… my plot?
I know I've been following things rather textbook, but that's definitely going to change soon.
sharp like the edge of a samurai sword
the metal blade cuts through flesh and bone,
though my minds at piece
the world's out of order
"Step one my ass." Naruto blew a raspberry, head in one palm, the other hand holding out the rapidly spinning water balloon.
Anyway, he had more important things to worry about than some technique created by a dead guy. Albeit, the whole idea of learning an 'ultra-cool' new move had certainly stoked his twelve-year old immaturity, the actual process was slow and—as he was quickly finding out—a bit beneath his level. Though when, exactly, such difficult skills had become mundane was still lost upon him.
I know it's got something to do with you, fox. He thought irritably.
The demon made no reply.
The blonde grew bored of the hotel's rooftop quickly enough, halting the rapid and uncontrollable force of the water balloon and dropping it down onto the street below. It burst with a satisfying smack, quickly accompanied by drunken shrieks from stumbling women below him.
Like he didn't have bigger issues than practicing this stupid technique, or even more foolish, finding some woman who quite obviously doesn't want to be found. Giving up your country—for any purpose—seemed to vex him viciously. Call him patriotic, but he'd been through too much with Konoha to ever just walk away from it.
Kyuubi, He returned his attention to the demon in his head. Do you… know this technique?
I might. The demon responded at length.
Naruto harrumphed. The damn fox never told him anything, and he was starting to think it rather counter productive—or at least, more than usual. He'd been thinking it was counter productive for some time now, but no matter how much he attempted to canoodle the fox into seeing it his way the demon never budged on it. They were… they were supposed to be a team! …Kinda. At the very least, they both had the same end goal of keeping Naruto alive.
You never tell me anything! He scowled fiercely into the sunset.
As usual, the demon had nothing to say in response.
Naruto bit his lip, angrily glaring into the indeterminable horizon. This high, the world seemed to stretch on forever, a vast crawling blanket slithering up into the sky. He felt—he felt stupid. And naïve, and foolish. Because, he had actually started to like the fox, was the thing. And there was no reason to, because clearly the fox didn't like him. But it was just… they were kind of one and the same, right? They shared the same body, the same mind.
And sometimes, when Naruto dreamed, he could feel this immense, drowning sorrow, and know it wasn't his own.
The blonde sighed.
This was his fault, to be sure. What was he even doing—thinking that a great demon king could feel anything for him; that a great demon king could feel anything, at all.
(But he could feel, of this Naruto was sure: how else could he have such sad dreams?)
The sky was falling.
It was always falling in his dreams, Naruto thought, watching it crumble endlessly around him. This was the same dream he'd been having for a while now: the decrepit earth rising against him, the moon limp and broken in the sky—ripped apart by a monster's body.
The scene was the same; it was him who had changed.
Naruto studied his hands—worn, larger, the spread of his palms a different variety than his own. In one hand he held a staff, in the other, something unrecognizable. He was unrecognizable.
Who was he?
He looked up.
In front of him was himself—no, Kyuubi. His eyes weren't slitted and red, but ringed with nine tomoe. However, it was his expression that shocked Naruto; the visceral pain in his eyes, the almost human scrunch to his brow and the downward turn of his lips.
His mouth was moving, but Naruto couldn't hear anything but vague murmurs, as if he was submerged in water. He heard it anyway though, ringing clear:
I am the Juubi.
This made about as much sense to Naruto as everything else in his dreams did. This dream was different though, and not just because he was a different person. His head was clearer, his mind was clearer. He could look around the world and make sense of things, not just see them for how they were. The moon was broken—torn asunder—why? The sky was red, and the world was a wasteland. How did that happen? Was this all some strange, fucked up part of his psyche? If so, his psyche was very, very, fucked up.
"You're not the Juubi." He sighed, the words leaving his mouth with a voice that wasn't his. If possible, Kyuubi looked even more stricken at that. And his voice… it was so kind. No wonder Kyuubi looked ready to crumble at the sound.
He moved closer. Kyuubi took a step back, his strange, Sharingan-like eyes wide and grave in their sockets.
He moved slowly, enveloping Kyuubi. Naruto watched this scene with something akin to hysteria. His brain kept switching back between two thoughts: Why was he hugging Kyuubi? And, Wow, it was really strange to hug yourself.
He turned his face into Kyuubi's hair—his hair—and he felt the demon's arms wrap around his back, clinging to him. Kyuubi made a wounded sound, turning his head into not-Naruto's neck.
"You'll always be Kurama."
Naruto sat up straight so fast he fell out of the bed.
He groaned on the floor, bemoaning his life wherein he always managed to throw himself on the floor upon awakening.
The blonde blinked up at the ceiling, dazed.
He remembered his dream.
The moon, the strange man he was inside of, Kyuubi's poignant face.
"Kurama." He said aloud.
Inside him, he could feel Kyuubi's blooming shock.
"That's your name," He began again. "Kurama."
The demon paused for a long, heavy moment. "And… how did you find that out?"
"I had a dream about it." He said, simply. There was no need to hide or warp the truth.
He thought back onto his dream: Kyuubi—no, Kurama's—crumbling, sorrowful expression. Was Kyuubi capable of emotion? It had sure seemed like it. The more he thought on his dream, the less it seemed like a dream. Had it been… a premonition? He shook his head. That was stupid. He wasn't clairvoyant. And it had been a dream; just, maybe not his dream.
He swallowed. "I think it was your dream."
Kyuubi—Kurama—scoffed. "I don't dream."
Naruto shook his head. "Well, that can't be true. Because it definitely isn't my dream. How could I dream about things I don't know—?
"Things?" Kurama asked, almost eagerly. "What kind of things?"
"A broken moon." Naruto recounted. "And—and you, I think. I mean, you looked like me, but… your eyes. They looked like Sharingan… but different."
Kyuubi was silent for a long time. During the interim, Naruto lolled his head to the side, watching sunlight pattern the floor around him, quietly shifting. He couldn't stop thinking about that moment; when Kyuubi's face crumpled into something not quite tears, and the tangible connection he felt to the demon in that moment.
It was something almost like love.
"Why don't you ever tell me anything?" Naruto sighed, aloud this time, directing this question to the ceiling. Hell, he probably had a better chance of getting a response out of it than Kyuubi.
"Maybe you aren't ready to know." The demon answered, as enigmatic as ever.
Naruto wanted to drop kick him in the face. Unfortunately, that meant drop kicking himself in the face, so he manfully refrained.
He returned his gaze to the ceiling.
"How can you be so sure?" He asked, softly.
Again, no response.
Naruto bit his lip. "You know, I've been thinking on this since we met that guy—Sasuke's older brother, I mean. He, he like just left, y'know? He killed their whole family and left and never told Sasuke why. And… and I think that's why Sasuke's so fucked up about it. Wait, I mean, he'd be fucked up anyway, that was a totally fucked up thing to do, but I think not having an explanation was what really made it worse. Well, y'know, like a real explanation."
He was rambling. He was totally rambling. Dammit Naruto, pull it together.
He took a breath. "Uh, so, what I'm trying to say, is; maybe it would have been better for Sasuke, if he knew? Like, why his brother did that? Not that there's really any way to make it better, but I just, I feel like his revenge would be more… coherent." He thought of Sasuke—how deranged he had looked, gunning towards his brother. How his rage had completely taken over him and made it so easy for his brother to pin him to the wall. If Sasuke had been thinking more logically, maybe he would have actually gotten somewhere.
Naruto shook his head. "Shit. I don't know. I'm not making any sense right now."
"You may not… entirely be barking up the wrong tree." Kyuubi—Kurama—admitted, begrudgingly.
Naruto blinked. "Huh?"
"With the Uchiha." And then he snorted. "As 'eloquent' as your monologue was, you may not be entirely incorrect."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I cannot possibly imagine a way that incident happened without Madara's involvement."
Naruto blinked. Again. "…Who?"
"Who he is doesn't matter. All you need to know is that he is dangerous: if you ever here that name, run."
"Hey!" He protested, on instinct.
"Don't. You aren't strong enough yet to face him—at this point, I doubt anyone is." Naruto could feel the fox moving restlessly in his mind. "Regardless, you may be on to something with that thought. Undoubtedly Madara had something to do with Uchiha Itachi slaying his clan—that story, I suspect, is convoluted and involves many more people than just the Uchiha prodigy. At any rate, if your teammate had known all of this, he certainly wouldn't be as foolish and naïve as he is now."
"So… you agree with me?"
"I concede you have a point." The fox agreed, seeming for all the worlds like the words had to be ripped out of his mouth.
"Wait. So you'll tell me?"
"It depends on what you ask." Kyuubi replied, ambiguous.
"What are you after?" In hindsight, that was rather ambitious of him.
As he expected, Kyuubi snorted and brushed him off.
Time for another tactic. "Can I call you Kurama?"
The demon fox's shock was evident. Naruto worried his bottom lip, waiting for the response. He was going out on a limb, but… he couldn't get Kyuubi's expression out of his face. He'd never seen anything so poignant, so painful, as the lament and regret in the demon's eyes. And he thought, maybe, he could find a way to the boy in his dreams with those eyes of mourning.
"I suppose." The demon bit out, but Naruto could feel his hesitation and confusion, this amalgamation of emotions that stirred in the murky depths of his mind.
"Okay." Naruto smiled, softly. Progress.
"Why does Akatsuki want all the demons? And how many are there?"
"There are nine." Kurama replied. "And that… I do not know."
Naruto scowled. How was that possible? Kyuubi knew everything.
"I don't know everything." The demon scoffed. "However, I do know quite a bit more than anyone else currently alive, so I can conjecture logical outcomes."
"Well, okay." Naruto allowed. "So, what do you 'conjecture' Akatsuki wants with them?"
"There is only one reason I can think of for them to collect the demons together again."
Naruto made a noise of impatience. "…and that is?"
"To merge them all together."
All the breath left him in one, fell swoop. It was like the air had stopped moving and the entire world had slowed into timeless nothing, each shaft of light fragmented in time, every dust mote caught in an invisible grip. Everything but Naruto's eyes, which widened and shook with something inconceivable.
"The Juubi." He breathed aloud, everything coming together. All the bits and pieces of dreams he'd had ever since the seal had broken; everything that hid in the corners of his mind, collecting there into an ominous, unimaginable presence—
"You were the Juubi. Right?" He asked to the room, although he already knew the answer. "You were… you and all the other demons used to be one demon, that's why you knew about Gaara. Not because he was another demon… but because he was a part of you?"
"Something like that." The fox admitted.
Naruto sat up straight. "So Gaara knows, too? Why didn't he say anything?"
"Gaara doesn't know." Kurama refuted. "Because Shukaku—his demon—doesn't know. Shukaku has long forgotten; they all have forgotten, what it was like to be whole. It was… a long time ago."
"Oh." Naruto breathed. "How long?"
"Longer than any human could ever remember." And then, on an almost completely different tangent, "Where did you hear that word?"
"Juubi?" Naruto cocked his head. "In my dream, I think."
"Hmm…" Kyuubi made a noncommittal noise.
"And the Sharingan?" Naruto pressed. "What the hell is that about?"
Kurama sighed. "That… is quite the tale."
Naruto pursed his lips. "Well," He began, hesitating, "I'd like to hear it, if you'll tell me."
Maybe… this whole not yelling thing and trying to be understanding might actually have its merits. Up until now, he and his demon had always been antagonistic and rather hostile towards each other—clearly to the detriment of them both. It felt… a lot better to hold an actual conversation with the fox.
Kurama, if possible, seemed even more put upon. "Fine. The abridged version is this: the Sharingan has always been mine."
"As I said, I am old. Older than you could ever imagine. I come from a time long before shinobi even walked this earth."
Naruto gazed up at the ceiling, mouth open, stunned. "Wow."
"Back then, there were not yet jutsu, or ninja. There was only a man, and his teachings. Jutsu were not categorized as they are now; rather, they were true manipulations of energy within and outside of the self. True masters could wield the energy inside them to manipulate the energy in the surrounding world."
"And there was one true master of this. But that is neither here nor there. During that time, I roamed the earth as the most powerful being of energy to ever live—the Juubi, the ten-tailed demon. I cannot explain to you the power that I had, then, nor the power that existed then. Jutsu and chakra have since been watered down from the powerful bursts of raw energy they once were, now there are handsigns, and words to channel energy."
Naruto balked. "There weren't handsigns then? But… how did you control Jutsu?"
Kyuubi made a frustrated sound. "How do you… I cannot explain it. The way you control your arms, I suppose. An intrinsic, natural instinct."
"Oh." Naruto laid back down on the floor. "That's pretty cool. Can you still do that?"
"Yes." Kurama admitted. "I think that, in part, is why you have improved so exponentially."
"Cool! So I can do it too?"
"No, I can, using your body." And then, reluctantly, "However, it can be learned."
"That is beside the point. You asked me about the Sharingan: but I—and by extension, you—do not have the Sharingan. It is… a more archaic, stronger version of that."
"Huh." Naruto scratched his nose. "So, I have it because… you have it?"
Kurama made another noncommittal noise.
Naruto sputtered. "What the hell does that mean?"
For a long moment, Naruto expected that the fox wouldn't answer, and resigned himself to never knowing. Well, he consoled, at least he'd gotten the fox to open up to him. That in and of itself was progress. Not to mention the fact that he had willingly gotten him to explain a lot of what Naruto had wondered about.
But finally, he did. "I do not know." The fox admitted.
As the door opened, and a half-drunk Jiraiya stumbled in, Naruto wondered on how ominous that sounded.
"Tanzaku town!" Jiraiya cried loudly, scaring all the birds out of the trees.
Naruto scowled. "What?"
"That's where she is—I've found it out!" The old man cackled. "Hah! There's nothing this Toad Sage can't find!"
"It only took you the better part of the week." Naruto grumbled under his breath. Regardless, he dutifully trotted behind the Sannin.
"And how's work with the Rasengan coming along?"
To prove his point, Naruto held up one spinning water balloon in his left hand, and in his right he vindictively exploded the rubber ball in Jiraiya's face. "Does that answer your question?"
The old man blinked rapidly in the face of all the drifting flecks of rubber. "Huh." He surmised, "You mastered that fairly quickly."
Naruto only glared at him coolly. "So what's the third step?"
Jiraiya clapped his hands.
He pulled out a regular balloon, holding it aloft in front of Naruto's face. "The third step, is to maintain a ball of chakra inside this balloon without popping it—this is all about chakra control and precision, just the tiniest bit of carelessness and you'll explode the whole thing!"
Naruto took the balloon from his hands, eying it carefully.
"Why don't you practice that as we walk, huh?"
"Okay." Naruto answered absentmindedly, studying the balloon meticulously.
He was quiet for the rest of the walk, looking for all the world like he was dumbly staring at a balloon in his hands. Jiraiya glanced his way a couple times, but made no comment on the fact that Naruto hadn't even started to try the third technique. He wasn't sure if this was a sign of maturity, or stupidity. Maybe a bit of both?
Maybe Naruto was communicating in depth with the demon in his head.
"So, he defeated you with a Rasengan?" Naruto was asking, retelling the story he'd heard about the fourth Hokage sealing Kurama. He'd thought it might be a touchy subject, but the fox didn't seem all that annoyed at him bringing it up.
"Absolutely not." The demon refuted. "The Yondaime had very little to do with it. Madara was the one who, ultimately, caused the whole thing to go awry."
"What whole thing?"
Kurama sighed. "…Why don't you ask that Toad Sennin of yours?"
"I'd rather stab myself in the foot." Naruto deadpanned, thinking of all the horrible ways Jiraiya would ruin that story.
Kurama sighed again. "At any rate, the Rasengan had nothing to do with it; and you deserve vengeance on Madara for more than you know."
Naruto didn't really like the sound of that.
"Okay, so how do I do this? I just… concentrate my chakra into this ball?"
"Discard all your previous notions of chakra." The fox lectured, as if that was helpful in any sense of the word.
"Try to feel the energy within yourself, and manipulate it into the ball."
That was about as helpful as all his other instructions. Naruto bit his lip and tried to follow what he said, but all he ended up doing was exploding the thing in his face. He scowled, picking out bits of rubber from his hair. Jiraiya chortled in front of him, tossing him another one.
As Naruto filled this one up with air, the fox decided on a different approach.
"How about we try another way?"
And before Naruto could answer, he felt Kurama slipping into his skin. It felt… really disorienting, but not nearly the way it had before. Probably the most surprising thing about it was that Naruto still had control of himself. It was almost like Kurama was enveloping him, guiding him like he was a physical force moving Naruto around.
The ball began to spin alarmingly in his hands, chakra growing rapidly inside of it. Naruto gaped at his own hand—but even more so, the feeling inside of it. Kurama was right… it was nothing like what he thought of chakra and ninjutsu at all. Nothing like what they taught in the academy. Instead, the energy within him felt infinitely more primal, more untamed.
Jiraiya stopped abruptly, turning around to applaud him in what seemed like genuine approval.
"Look at that!" He whistled. "And in record time! Huh, I guess there's a reason you're in ANBU after all."
Naruto glowered at him briefly, before returning to the balloon in his hand. It burst suddenly as fear took a hold of him. His mouth worked, and rocks worked their way into his throat as his eyes flew to Jiraiya, who was now looking somewhat amused.
"Ah, well, maybe I spoke to soon." He grinned, throwing another balloon at Naruto.
The blonde caught it deftly, still staring in shock at the Sannin, who had continued onwards oblivious.
He tore a kunai out of his pocket, holding it up into the sunlight. His eyes were blue.
How could that be?
They were always red when Kyuubi came out—that was the defining feature of the transformation. His whiskers had long stopped elongated at the change, and now, it seemed even the eye color had disappeared. Something about that made his stomach twist.
"What…" Naruto began, with a growing amount of hysteria. "What does that mean?"
"I don't know."
Naruto was quickly beginning to hate when the fox was as confused as he was.
"Dream the fuck on." The woman—Tsunade snorted. "There's no way in hell I'd ever step foot in that village… and not only that, but you want me to be Hokage? Who would ever want that job?"
Naruto bristled, almost involuntarily. She had no idea what she was tossing away. Even now, Naruto would give anything to be Hokage. Well, not now, but someday. When he was stronger, when he had proven himself as a capable leader and a worthy shinobi, he wanted to be Hokage. And he knew he had a long way to go—but so did this woman. Well, she might be strong and a worthy shinobi, but he wasn't all that sure about the capable leader part. Maybe, if she wasn't so adamantly against it.
"Only fools would be Hokage."
Jiraiya's eyes narrowed. "You're calling Sensei a fool? You're saying he died for no reason?"
She looked a bit taken aback—and for a moment, Naruto could see her mask slip away. Something like hurt took its place, briefly, before the embittered look returned. "Maybe."
Jiraiya scoffed. "You're wrong—but I'm pretty sure you already knew that. I don't know who you're trying to convince here, me or you."
It was clear there was much history between them. Naruto looked back from the two, wondering just how deep this strange animosity ran. He was aware that there last teammate was that crazy fucked up guy with the weird tongue, and that at some point Orochimaru had turned rogue. Had it really jaded them this much?
"You have the will of fire." Jiraiya pressed forward. "Why do you keep denying that?"
Tsunade glared at him, furious. "Who's to say I do? Even if I did, that doesn't mean I want to go back—
"You need to stop running from your past—
"Wow, glass fucking houses Jiraiya—
"Look, I'm not saying I don't either." He scowled. "We both do, right? Maybe it's time we both stop running."
Tsunade snorted, again. "Now who's wrong? Nothing will ever keep you from running to the hills, you lazy letch. Don't think I don't know that."
Jiraiya shrugged. "Maybe I want to stop running."
Tsunade looked at him curiously at that.
The blonde turned a cool eye to Naruto. "And what say you, little blondie?"
Naruto didn't bother getting irritated at that.
Naruto shrugged, choosing his next words carefully. "… I think, now more than ever, Konoha will need all the help it can get; including a strong Hokage with the best intentions of the village."
He chanced a glance at the blonde woman in front of him. "If that's not you, I don't think you should take the position." He said, austere.
Her brow scrunched, almost as if she took offense to his words. Well, he wouldn't take them back, it was true.
He leaned forward. "Look, no one ever tells me anything, but from what I can tell, a lot of people have it out for Konoha, and right now, it's like we're at the eye of the storm and we're just waiting for the real shit show to happen. All the people who have it out for us, your sadistic ex-teammate, the Akatsuki—
Madara, he thinks but doesn't say.
"—the other hidden villages. And right now we're at our weakest."
"I think we need you." He ended, and then swallowed and took a chance, "And I think you don't want to see Konoha fall. You seem to project that you don't care about Konoha—but every time Jiraiya's brought it up you look away."
Tsunade didn't refute or deny, only surmised him coolly.
Finally, she turned to Jiraiya. "Where the hell did you pick this one up?"
He grinned, cheeky. "Plucked him out of ANBU."
She turned back to him, appraising him in a new light. "Wow. Another Uchiha Itach, huh?"
"I resent that." Naruto sighed, but they both overlooked him.
Jiraiya swung an arm around him. "This is Naruto." He grinned, like there was a joke in there somewhere. "Uzumaki Naruto."
"Uzumaki?" Now she was really appraising him in a new light.
He looked between the two of them, wondering what that was about.
"Help Tsunade." Naruto barked out.
His sensei sputtered. "Naruto—what?"
"I'll handle Orochimaru."
"You can't possibly think you can." Jiraiya reasoned, incredulous.
"Like you can?" Naruto gestured to him, clearly still drugged to the gills. He shook his head. "She needs your help—I have this."
Something in his tone must have changed Jiraiya's tune—or maybe he really was that drugged—because he nodded solemnly, and with one last lingering look at Orochimaru, ducked off to help his teammate. Naruto breathed a sigh of relief. He didn't want to reveal anything to Jiraiya; something told him it wouldn't necessarily be in his best interests to reveal the true extent of his connection to Kyuubi just yet.
He returned his attention to the snake in front of him.
"Ah, Naruto-kun," Orochimaru greeted. "So we meet again."
"We got cut off last time." Naruto grinned. "Don't expect me to go so easy on you."
"Oh?" The man raised a brow, and gestured to his limp arms. "Even on a cripple like me? Where's your sense of honor?"
Naruto snorted, amused. "You're really going to ask me that? You?"
Naruto doubted that Orochimaru was really as helpless as he projected. He wouldn't have come out all this way, and the stuck around, if he was. The snake was conniving, and wouldn't mind a retreat if it meant another day to live. Anyway, who the hell was this guy to lecture him about honor? Fucking hypocrite.
He shook his head. Either way, he refused to let Orochimaru go this time. He curled his fist, feeling all of his power—his and Kurama's—slowly working its way through his body, a shaking, burning anticipation.
Yeah, not this time.
Naruto crouched, and Orochimaru mimicked the motion.
He saw the glimmer of Kusanagi in the morning sunlight, and struck.
Orochimaru was no skimp with a blade, but neither was he. His equilibrium was a bit thrown from his new synchronicity with Kyuubi, but ultimately the melding of their consciousness only worked to his favor. After all this time inhabiting the same body, the same mind, the transition between the two of them was fluid and didn't break his concentration. Half of the movements were his—ducking around the Sannin's blade, parrying a strike with the flat side of his Wakazashi—and the other half was Kyuubi's, maneuvering himself into position to strike accurately, tossing in kunai and senbon into the fray to keep Orochimaru off balance.
They sprang apart, skidding to a halt on opposite sides of the clearing. Naruto could hear the vague sounds of a battle some ways away, but he focused his attention back to the matter on hand.
Orochimaru whirled through hand signs, and Naruto felt his eyes automatically begin to burn with a feeling he was starting to associate with the Sharingan manifesting. It felt… wrong, in a lot of ways, but also natural.
But he knew Kyuubi was in control, because this awareness of chakra was definitely not his own. Kurama hadn't been joking when he said he was old—ancient, really—because his thoughts melded with Naruto's and he had a really strange approach to understanding ninjutsu. Instead of remembering hand signs and categorizing jutsu by element, he seemed to feel the flow of the energy and decipher what kind of jutsu would become of it. Like this, Naruto could see chakra as it's most basic form; energy.
He leapt out of the way as a large funnel of earth barreled towards him, wondering if it was because of Kyuubi's archaic knowledge of energy and chakra, or his eyes that had allowed him to foresee the attack so easily.
And he could smell the frustration off of Orochimaru's skin—even more repugnant than the man's smell normally—even if he couldn't see it in his expression.
His body moved of it's own accord—or maybe just on Kurama's accord—he leapt into the sky and a jet of fire spewed unannounced from his mouth. Halfway through it's crash course into the ground it veered towards the snake Sannin and took on a life of it's own, a mouth forming out of the burning embers and a shape taking form. The Sannin leapt out of the way, clearly not expecting Kurama to manipulate the dragon to swing back around and come for him again.
"That is so cool." Naruto thought with exhilaration, as Kurama made the jutsu come to life in ways he'd never seen before, as if it had a life of its own. He could feel an amusement that wasn't his own.
He hit the ground in a dead sprint, clashing into Orochimaru and throwing them both into the forest, upending at least a dozen trees in the process. In the interim of dirt that clouted out from the fall, he and Orochimaru engaged again in swordplay, ducking and leaping around the fallen trees.
They broke apart, barreling back into the clearing.
Naruto rolled deftly into the crouch, breaking his fall, while Orochimaru struggled to gain his balance, putting distance between the two, the grip his tongue had on his sword beginning to falter.
"Those eyes," He hissed, spitting and angry. "How?"
Naruto didn't bother with the retort, crashing into the offensive again before the Sannin could completely gain his equilibrium.
There was a brief moment when he feared the Sannin might actually get the upper-hand, as a well timed kick had him flying into the dirt—but he felt something shift around him, and as the snake descended upon him he was caught in some kind of acidic, red chakra, and Naruto used the opportunity to drive his wakazashi into Orochimaru's tongue, slicing it off and getting blood all over his face.
He leapt backwards, sputtering and gagging as he tried to wipe it off. The Sannin howled—in rage or pain, it was hard to say.
Naruto returned his attention back to him, surprised to see half of him covered in burns, the rest of his tongue lying in a heap on the ground, and the part still in his mouth bleeding profusely down his chin and shirt.
He smirked, vindictive. "So, you want these eyes, huh?"
The Sannin turned to him, furious but unable to talk with most of his tongue on the floor. He seemed to realize how much of a disadvantage he was in, without use of his arms or tongue, and narrowed his eyes, crouching and making a move to escape.
Naruto wouldn't give him the chance so easily, moving with him and blocking his path. He struck with his sword again, Orochimaru blocking it with the metallic bottom of his sandal, flipping backwards and leaping out of the way of Naruto's next strike.
"You know, the first step in getting new eyes—"
He chased the snake out of the clearing, spraying kunai in his wake. He wasn't a Sannin for nothing though, and the snake nimbly dodged through the storm of metal.
But in his weakened state Naruto easily overtook him, crashing into the Sannin and in the process sending them both into the bramble. The two struggled as they smashed through the trees, and even without hands the Sannin managed to get a couple good hits on him—but by the time they'd burst out of the trees and into another clearing, Naruto had already taken the upperhand, grabbing Orochimaru by the neck, the other hand raising his kunai—
"—You have to take out the old ones!"
And drove it into his left eye.
The two tumbled out of the air, rolling through the dirt in front of the four other participants of the battle. Orochimaru roared in pain, ramming his knee into Naruto's stomach and the blonde flipped off of him, skidding to a halt next to Tsunade.
The snake got to his feet, blinking furiously at them with one eye, before he motioned to Kabuto, who threw smoke bombs at them. In the ensuing plume of smoke, both managed to disappear.
"Hell." Naruto cursed, using a Fuuton Jutsu to clear up the smoke, only to find them long gone. Or at least, he thought it was a Fuuton Jutsu—he assumed that would be the modern day equivalent.
"I'm impressed, Naruto." Jiraiya blinked. "That was… rather vindictive of you."
Naruto turned to him, grinning outrageously, Sharingan long gone. "You telling me he didn't deserve it?" Well, overkill it may have been, but that wasn't just revenge for him—that was revenge for Sasuke, and Sarutobi, and everyone else that snake had so righteously fucked up.
"Hardly." Tsunade grunted, dusting herself off. "What were you saying about eyes?"
Naruto shrugged nonchalantly. "Oh, just goading him."
She took one look at him, covered in dirt and grime and blood—and probably a lot of Orochimaru's blood, ugh—and went pale. Naruto turned to her curiously, and if possible, she went even more green, catching sight of his face splattered in blood. He wiped absentmindedly at it. Yeah, he doubted it was a pretty sight, but hell, he was the one covered in it. If anyone should be disgusted, it was him.
"What's wrong?" He asked, when even after that she looked halfway into a dead faint.
"I'm afraid of blood." She admitted.
Naruto turned to her, incredulous. "Aren't you the best medic-nin of all time?"
"That's an overstatement." She scoffed, but didn't really answer the question.
Naruto shook his head. How in the hell did that happen?
"Well, don't worry about healing me." He pointed to his arm, which had already healed. "I don't require much."
"I'll say." Tsunade looked appreciatively at the unscarred skin. And then, to him. "I may have underestimated you, kid. I think you're more than I had given you credit for."
Naruto opened his mouth, before closing it quickly. Wait. Was that a compliment? Or a vague insult?
"You've got guts, and talent, and a level head." She continued on. "You know, I had heard stories of you. Most of them made you out to be a moron."
Naruto almost protested, before thinking better of it. He shrugged. Yeah, fair enough. That would have been a fairly accurate assessment a few months ago.
"And there aren't many people who can take Orochimaru on like that—even when he can't use both arms." She looked approvingly at him, before sliding her hair out of the way and producing a necklace from beneath her shirt.
"I want you to have this." She held it out to him, even as both Jiraiya and Shizune sputtered in shock.
He took it, but not without great reproach. "…What is it?"
"It's my necklace." And then, so matter-of-factly he almost face planted into the ground, "Everyone I've tried to give it to has died the next day."
"I don't think you will, though." She stated, confidently. "And just this once, I want to believe."
Naruto scratched the back of his head. "Thanks,… I think."
With that, she turned back to Jiraiya. "I'll come back." She announced, much to his delight. And then, holding up a hand, "But it has nothing to do with you, moron. That being said, I'm holding you to your promise—I'm not running away anymore. And neither are you."
He nodded, seriously.
Naruto looked up at her curiously, tying the necklace around his neck. "So you'll be the fifth Hokage?"
She turned to him, just as austere as Jiraiya. "Yes."
"Oh. Good." Naruto sighed in relief. "Because we could really use you. And also; a lot of people need your medical help."
Naruto had never seen Sasuke look so peaceful.
Even stranger; he couldn't stop thinking about how similar he and Itachi were. They had the same nose, the same chin, the same cut to their cheekbones—but of course they would. Naruto shook his head. They were brothers.
Brothers by blood. Not bothers the way Naruto thought of them.
But maybe it was better; to not be related by blood.
The blonde turned himself away from the boy in the bed, and towards his porn-reading sensei lounging in the open window.
"Kakashi-sensei." His smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "You're up and running already."
Kakashi rolled his shoulers. "Maa, Tsunade is as good as everyone says, I guess." His one eye roved over towards Naruto Naruto wasn't fooled by the indifference he saw in them. "So, I heard you did quite a number on Orochimaru."
Naruto shrugged. "He deserved it."
"That he did." The copy-nin agreed. "Either way, that was good work. And in the sound invasion—defeating Gaara."
Naruto scratched his cheek, wondering why he felt so pleasantly warm at that.
"You've grown a lot, Naruto."
"Thanks," He smiled, a little helplessly, fiddling with the edge of Sasuke's blanket. His smile dimmed a bit. "How are they doing?"
He gestured to Sauske. "Y'know. Sasuke, and Sakura."
Kakashi sighed, snapping his book shut. "As well as you can imagine." He removed himself from his sprawl, sitting upright against the window sill. "Sakura is… a bit unmotivated, after all that's happened. And Sasuke…" He trailed off, glancing at the unmoving figure, still and as pale as the sheets around him. "I'm sure this incident won't bode well."
Naruto's fist involuntarily clenched into the sheets, crumpling them almost until he could feel the fabric give out. His eyes sightlessly trailed over towards Sasuke's bedside table. Predictably, it was filled with flowers from Ino's flower shop—two large bouquets, probably from both the blonde and Sakura. There was his card, that he had sent through the post and asked Kakashi to put there. He was faintly surprised to see another card in Yugao's lacy, prim script.
"It's not fair." He said, strangely frustrated and feeling weaker and more forlorn than he had in a long time.
Kakashi sighed. "It isn't." He agreed, having nothing else to say.
He here was, so close he could reach out and touch Sasuke, and yet between them was a thick, besotted veil, and Naruto didn't know when it had fluttered between them.
But he felt he couldn't cross the distance anymore.
Wow, so I definitely wouldn't be writing this if it wasn't for everyone who reviewed over the years - actually, that was what totally motivated me. I finally got on after so long and went through my stories to read through the reviews (because I can't get them through my email :( I have no idea why) and was so touched I had to keep writing!
Honestly, that's one of my favorite parts about fic; how much your voice means something to the writers. It's the only medium where you can leave a review and actually get a response out of the author, or even change the plot with your suggestions. That would never happen IRL with real authors. Haha, people have definitely changed my plot - and even my opinion on pairings! (shit, now if only I could do that to the teen wolf writers..) anyway, I love hearing from you all, and I most definitely read through everything you say even if I have to go onto the site and manually scroll through my reviews - that being said, if you want to get in contact with me ASAP or want a response / want to PM me there's a link to a contact page in my profile!