Gilded

Kokuo

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?

Gilded

Chapter 5

Kokuo


~o0O0o~


"Hey, mom?"

Kushina looked up from where she'd been inspecting Naruto's pitiful excuse for a meal that had been provided by the hospital's culinary staff, mere moments away from going down to the kitchen to give them a piece of her mind. "Need something, Naruto?"

The teenager fidgeted in his hospital bed. "Can I . . . talk to you about something?" he asked, his stomach in knots and his shoulders tight.

Kushina frowned, and Naruto quailed under her scrutiny. She marched over to his bed and took a seat next to him, staring directly into his eyes. "Alright, spill it, squirt. What's eating you?"

Naruto hesitated for a moment before sighing and looking down at the bleached-white cotton sheets covering his legs. "I think I'm going crazy, mom," he softly confessed.

When silence met his statement, Naruto looked up into his mother's eyes and found no disgust or reproach, only concern. He shook off the shackles of his nervousness and continued. "I keep on hearing these, these things. They're like voices or something, like they're right in front of me." His voice grew shaky towards the end and he faltered. He didn't know why he was feeling emotional, but for whatever reason the voices carried so much pain.

Kushina stared at him for a minute, and Naruto began to wonder what she was thinking. Eventually, she leaned down and pressed a small kiss on his brow.

"Go to sleep, Naruto," she said.

He tried to rise. "But Mom, I—"

She gently held him down with a hand to the center of his chest. "Sleep," she commanded. "Don't worry about the voices anymore. Mom'll take care of it for you."

Naruto frowned, but didn't try to get up again. "How're you gonna do that?"

Kushina just smiled in a way that Naruto could only describe as mysterious. "Don't ya know? Moms are special like that!"


~o0O0o~

The next day after he'd been deemed well enough to leave the hospital, Naruto was taken straight home where he was ambushed by his dad, Sakura-chan, Kakashi-sensei, and Ero-sennin who'd apparently stuck around through all the drama. Even Tsunade-baachan had found it in herself to show up.

They greeted him with snacks and laughter, pulling him almost immediately into their fun.

From further back, Kushina met Minato's gaze with her own for the briefest of moments. At an unspoken message, he nodded, and then it was as though the exchange had never taken place.


~o0O0o~

A few days later, Naruto was waiting for Sakura and Kakashi on the bridge they usually gathered at before team activities. He casually leaned over the edge and stared into the flowing river water, watching as the occasional fish swam by. Given how boisterous and hyperactive he was, standing still for this long really shouldn't have felt natural to him—quite the opposite, really—but for some weird reason it just felt right.

Naruto didn't have time to dwell on the thought, looking up when he saw a flash of silver in the corner of his vision. "Kakashi-sensei!" he called. "You beat Sakura-chan!"

Kakashi nodded with a slightly bored expression, his impossible hair somehow remaining in place with the motion. "It always pays to be early, Naruto."

Something about the phrase didn't sound right, but Naruto couldn't put his finger on what it was. In the end he discarded the concern, deeming it unimportant.

"So, where's Sakura?" Kakashi asked, leaning against the bridge railing as he tilted his head back to stare at the cloudless blue sky.

"Sakura-chan? She's probably still at the hospital. Tsunade-baachan must've put her on extra rounds or something." In the river, a koy fish bobbed to the surface and started a staring contest with Naruto.

Kakashi whistled softly and shook his head with more than a little wonder. "How you get away with calling Tsunade-sama that I'll never understand."

Naruto turned and grinned cheekily at him. "It's 'cause she likes me more!" He looked back to the fish in the river, only to scowl when he discovered it had vanished.

Kakashi deadpanned. "Oh, I'm sure. She must love the hyperactive motormouth calling her old."

"But she is old!"

Naruto's face held such honest sincerity that Kakashi smacked a his palm to his forehead. "You've got the devil's luck to have even survived this long, Naruto. There's no other explanation."

As Naruto was in the middle of trying to decide whether or not to protest that point, Kakashi was distracted by something over Naruto's shoulder. He raised his hand in greeting. "Yo, Sakura!"

'Naruto twisted his torso as he glanced behind him, his face already splitting in a wide grin. "Hi, Sakura-chan!"

"Hey, Naruto! Kakashi-sensei!" Sakura called back, smiling as she approached, and Naruto once again felt his heart race at the gentle curve of her lips.

"So," she said, coming to a stop next to them, "what's the plan for today?"

"Well, you see," Kakashi began enthusiastically, "The daimyo's wife's cat escaped again, so we've all been ordered to track it down."

The blood drained from Naruto and Sakura's faces. "We're not genin anymore, sensei!" Sakura loudly protested.

"Yeah!" Naruto hastily agreed. "The younger shinobi should be forced to go through that hell!"

Kakashi looked from one student to the next with as deadly serious an expression as they'd ever seen, before his only visible eye curved in his version of a smile. "Just kidding!"

Naruto and Sakura stared in disbelief, quickly followed by relief. "Don't scare us like that, sensei!" Sakura complained.

"You stink," Naruto groused. "You have no idea how much I hate that cat."

Kakashi's laughed like the wind whispering through the forest. "Trust me, Naruto, I know exactly how much you hate that cat."

Naruto looked at his teacher with horror dawning on his face. "You mean Tōra really was alive for that long?!" he practically shrieked.

Sakura looked at them both in confusion. "Wait, what's this about Tōra living long?"

Her teammate whirled around to face her and she flinched away from the wild look in his eyes. "Tōra's immortal!"

"What?!" Sakura exclaimed, looking to their sensei for clarification. "Kakashi-sensei, what's Naruto talking about?"

Kakashi scratched the back of his head. "Well, you see, when I was a genin on Minato-sensei's team I also had to go catch Tōra." Then he leaned in close and whispered, "And before that, Minato-sensei had to catch Tōra as a genin as well."

As Naruto went even more pale, Sakura's green eyes narrowed and her eyebrows pinched together before her face went slack with shock. "But, that would mean that—"

The silver-haired jōnin nodded, his expression oddly solemn for once. "That cat's been escaping for more than twenty-seven years."

"Holy crap," Sakura breathed. "That cat really is immortal."

"I told you!" Naruto cried. "It's not natural!"

"It is rather unusual," Kakashi mused. "I'll talk to Minato-sensei about it later. Maybe we can examine the cat the next time it gets loose and determine why it's so active in it's old age."

"It's because it's a demon!" Naruto hissed, unwilling to drop the subject. "There's no way that thing is a regular cat!"

Sakura and Kakashi took one look at the haunted expression on Naruto's face before they burst out laughing.


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