Summary: With loving parents and plenty of friends, unease is the last thing that Naruto should be feeling. But it lingers in the back of his mind, clouding his sight with suspicion and paranoia. Why do his dreams feel so real? Why does he remember things that never were?
Disclaimer: The Naruto franchise is owned by Masashi Kishimoto, Shueisha, Studio Pierrot, TV Tokyo, and Viz collectively. Please support the official release.
People live their lives bound by what they accept as correct and true. That's how they define "reality". But what does it mean to be "correct" or "true"? Merely vague concepts . . . Their "reality" may all be a mirage. Can we consider them to simply be living in their own world, shaped by their beliefs? — Itachi Uchiha
The sheets were sinfully soft as they cocooned him, sheltering him from the outside world. It was like sleeping in a giant bowl of ramen, with the broth warming him up and the noodles cushioning his body. Somehow, the thought wormed its way into his dream, and Naruto believed with all his heart that he actually was sleeping in his favorite food.
It just couldn't get any better than this. It didn't even matter that someone somewhere in RamenLand wouldn't stop calling his name. Naruto wasn't about to answer, though. They could go find their own ramen.
"Naruto!" The annoying voice that kept calling him was slightly strained now, increasing in volume and pitch.
Naturally, it went ignored.
"Mmmm . . . Miso . . ." The boy sprawled haphazardly in the ramen-broth pool, licking his lips at the thought of his favorite flavor. The way it coated his tongue, the tang against his taste buds, the satisfying slurp.
His door slammed open with an almighty kick.
To say that Naruto jumped out of bed wouldn't even come close. An impala couldn't have topped what he did in his moment of panic, as he ended up on the ceiling in the far corner like some crazed bat.
Kushina looked on with a satisfied gleam in her eyes. "Oh, look at that. You're already awake! Silly me." She chuckled to herself as her son glared daggers at her, his chest heaving and his eyes wide in absolute panic.
With a flip of her long, red hair, she turned and exited the room, not even bothering with the door she'd kicked open.
"Breakfast is ready," she called over her shoulder. "Come down and eat while it's still hot."
Grumbling obscenities under his breath, Naruto dropped down from the ceiling and began stumbling towards the stairs before skidding to a stop at his mother's sudden shout.
"And don't you dare come downstairs without brushing your teeth!" It wasn't a warning so much as it was a death-threat.
Naruto blanched and immediately changed course, heading straight for his bathroom.
Several minutes later, teeth brushed and face scrubbed clean (just in case his mom told him to do that too), he plopped down in his usual seat at the breakfast table.
"'Morning," he moaned in greeting, looking for all the world like a walking corpse.
Minato barely even looked up from his newspaper and coffee, snorting, "What'd she do this time?"
"Kicked my door open," was the muttered response. "Scared the crap out of me."
"That's it?" Minato remarked, turning the page as his eyes took apart the crossword puzzles on the fly. "That's pretty tame for your mother."
"Not tame enough if you ask me . . ."
Minato scoffed at his sixteen-year-old's complaining before returning to his newspaper's puzzles.
I really wish they wouldn't make these so easy. I mean, third fire-shadow, eight letters? Come on!
Naruto was too busy despairing over the loss of his sleep to notice his dad's frustration with whoever was making the crossword puzzles. His head was placed firmly between his arms, only lifting as a heavenly scent lazily drifted in through the kitchen entrance.
Kushina waltzed into the dining room, her hands laden with pancakes and strawberries. "And how are my two lovely men this fine, wonderful morning?" Her answer was a dazed groan and an absent-minded 'good, good'.
She set the food down in the middle of the table, not quite able to hide her smile at the way her husband and son were suddenly drooling over her cooking.
At an unspoken signal, they both pounced on their breakfast, letting out identical whimpers of satisfaction at the rich, delectable fluffiness of the pancakes and the cool sweetness of the maple syrup.
"So," Kushina began, "what are the two of you planning for today?" She proceeded to take a bite of her own as she waited for an answer. She couldn't help but close her eyes and moan at the taste.
Naruto drowned his mouthful of food with some of the orange juice already at the table before answering. "I'm supposed to meet Sakura-chan at the hospital so we can go visit Kakashi-sensei."
Minato sighed at that and picked up his newspaper again, turning to the sports section. "That man never did know how to hold back in a mission. On his first D-rank, he tried to use kunai to herd a runaway cat. Can you believe it?"
Kushina burst out laughing, but Naruto paled, knowing exactly why Kakashi-sensei would have used those kunai. He had his suspicions that Kakashi-sensei wasn't 'herding' that cat at all.
"Tora was alive back then?!"
Minato merely flipped another page, stopping to read a report on Konoha's budding banking system. "I believe so," he remarked absently.
"But that was ten years ago!" Naruto exclaimed, eyes wide with disbelief.
"So?" Kushina interjected, spearing a strawberry with a fork before popping it into her mouth and speaking between chews. "Maybe he's just a really healthy cat."
Now Naruto was just embarrassed. He and the rest of Team Seven had been shown up repeatedly by a cat that was supposed to be on its last legs.
Shaking the thought out of his head, he wolfed down the rest of his pancakes, chugged his glass of orange juice (freshly squeezed, because his mom wouldn't settle for anything less), popped a few strawberries into his mouth, then headed out the door.
"I'm heading out," he called over his shoulder.
"I just wish . . . that someone would be there to tell me 'work hard at school' and 'have a nice day'. I hate being alone, Iruka-sensei."
"I know exactly what you mean, Naruto. It's tough."
Naruto stood shock-still at the doorway.
"Have a nice day!" Kushina said, jarring him from his stillness. "And tell Sakura-chan and Kakashi we say hi!"
He breathed in long and deep, a chill running down his spine.
Kushina tilted her head with a small confused frown as she looked on from her seat at the table. "What are you standing there for? You're going to be late, and you know Sakura-chan hates it when you keep her waiting."
Naruto's eyes widened before he sprinted out the door. It was probably nothing anyway.