In the Praise of Demons
“Dad…?” Boruto whimpered. He opened his eyes and was greeted by nothing but white. He shut his eyes with a moan and rolled over. There was no pain in his chest. He coughed and looked beneath him, but the ground was white as well. He looked around, but there was no difference between the wall and the floor. There was nothing. “Am I… dead…?”
“Yes,” a voice answered. It echoed. Boruto jumped and sat up, but he didn’t see the one who had spoken to him. “You have caused a lot of problems, child.”
Boruto scoffed and crossed his arms. “This isn’t a very funny joke.”
“No, it’s not. But you did die, child. You have… disrupted the balance of this world.”
Boruto stood and looked around. “I can’t be dead,” he growled.
“Oh? And why is that? Are you too important to die?”
“I’m still talking,” Boruto retorted.
“Yes, well, death has no bearings to those who are already dead. The afterlife is an odd place, child.”
Boruto narrowed his eyes. “I can’t be dead! I have to save Ansei! I have to see my dad again! Let me go home!”
“That is quite impossible,” the voice answered sadly. An elderly man stepped out of the white background. Boruto blinked at the man. “You have died, and that is all there is to say of that matter.”
“Then why am I here?” Boruto growled. “Where’s the rest of the afterlife? Why do I get to see you? Are you the gatekeeper of heaven or something?”
The elder smiled warmly at the child, but Boruto glared harder. The smile was sad. “You pose an interesting challenge for the ‘gatekeeper of heaven’,” he admitted slowly. “You are not of this world, therefore your spirit does not belong to this afterlife… but you died in our world.”
“I don’t see the problem,” Boruto muttered, “other than being dead!”
The man sighed and sat down on nothing, but he still remained afloat. “This would not be a problem, but you have seemed to have caused a shift in the balance. You were not part of the plan.” Boruto cocked his head and the man sighed. “The world, child, is an interesting place, full of checks and balances to prevent it from staying the same.”
Boruto sat down and crossed his arms. “I don’t get it,” he grumbled.
The man sighed. “Of course you do not, child. Think of it like a balance, with peace on one side and chaos on the other side. When the balance is in favor of peace, then most people are happy; but the world is never static. It is always changing. The scale is slowly tilted until the world reaches an equilibrium of peace and chaos. Those who live in peace are under the illusion that the world itself is at peace. It stays in this for quite some time, sometimes shifting more towards one or the other, but not enough for the people of the world to want to change their circumstances.”
Boruto frowned and looked up, annoyed. He thought death would be different, but it was just like being in school again.
“In order to restore peace, there must be an event that completely throws the world in to chaos,” the elder continued. “This event is meant to give the world a common enemy and then the world will work together to restore peace. Your friend, Ansei, was meant to be that event.”
Boruto narrowed his eyes. “What?”
“It is merely his destiny; to be raised in hate and then to rise up to destroy the world. However, we did not plan on you showing up and changing this…”
Boruto scoffed. “So much for an all-knowing god,” he grumbled.
“I never said I was a god, child,” the man retorted. “Now, there is a matter of what to do about your spirit. Unfortunately, the dimensions of the afterlife are not connected. Your spirit will remain here, it seems, as you have no place in this world’s afterlife.”
Boruto blinked. “You’re just going to leave me here?” he snapped. “Alone?!”
“I have no choice, child. I am sorry but something must be done to make sure the world finds balance.”
The man stood and started walking away. “Wait a second!” Boruto shouted. “Who’s to decide what he becomes?! Do we not have free will?”
The elder sighed. “That is a loaded question, child… but everything happens for a reason. We do not deny this, but we also do not make apologies for what must be done. Humanity is a cursed race that must be reminded periodically of the suffering they cause other people. My descendants have created what Ansei will become. I am ashamed of their treatment of that boy, but I can do nothing to stop what has already been set in motion.”
Boruto glared at the old man. “Do you not care about them?” he growled. “About anything that goes on there?! Do you just watch?”
“I observe, yes,” he answered, “but I try not to interfere… not until I am needed.”
“Where were you when he needed someone to save him?”
“Alone… as you will be for all of eternity.”
“You can’t just leave me here!” Boruto screamed, but the man disappeared, leaving the child alone in the white room. Boruto ran after him, but quickly found that running got him nowhere. No matter where he ran, he got nowhere. Nothing changed. Boruto sat down and curled up in a ball.
No, death was not complicated… “It’s just lonely.” Boruto whimpered as his voice cracked.
“We did all we could, but the damage to his heart and lung was too extensive and he had lost too much blood due to internal bleeding. He died on the table.”
Naruto hardly heard the doctor as he went on to explain what had happened. Naruto pushed passed the doctor before he finished his mini-speech and he went to where his son was, lying dead on a table. Naruto stared down at the child, his eyes brimming with tears, but they did not fall. Naruto reached down and shook Boruto’s shoulder, but there was no movement and his son’s skin was cold to the touch.
Naruto slowly stroked Boruto’s hair. He felt like throwing up. “I let this happen…” he whispered. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you! I shouldn’t have ignored you! I should have been the father I never got to have! I’m so sorry, Boruto!” His voice cracked and tears fell down his face.
“Naruto…” Sasuke muttered from the door. Naruto didn’t even move to acknowledge the other presence. Sasuke rested his hand on Naruto’s shoulder, rubbing it gently. Naruto knew the boy had no words for this. He could say that at least Naruto still had a family waiting for him on the other side of that portal, but that wouldn’t make the man feel any better. Nothing could make this okay.
"U-um…" a voice whimpered from the door way. Sasuke gasped and gripped Naruto's shoulder. Naruto looked up and he growled. Ansei stood in the doorway. His suicide attempt this time had been thwarted by the Kyuubi and medical professionals.
"You!" Naruto shouted. He ran at the young Hyuuga and slammed him against the wall.
"Naruto!" Sasuke shouted, but Naruto didn't hear him. He squeezed the child's throat.
"You killed my son!" Naruto screamed. Ansei struggled against the man. Naruto had an amazing capacity to forgive, but there was only so much a man could take. Killing his child was beyond even his ability. "You murdered him!"
"I-I know," Ansei gasped, clawing at Naruto's arm to try and get away. "Pl-please! I didn't mean it!"
"How do you accidently kill someone?" Naruto retorted. Sasuke opened his mouth, but wisely decided not to bring up Kakashi and Rin in this situation.
Naruto dropped Ansei and went to punch him, but Sasuke grabbed his arm. "What will that do, Naruto?" he snapped. "Will killing that kid bring Boruto back?"
"You're one to talk," Naruto snapped at Sasuke.
"I just wanted to say good-bye," Ansei whimpered softly. "And to apologize."
"Apologizing won't bring him back either," Naruto snapped.
"No, it won't," Ansei admitted sadly. "I can't fix this, Naruto-sen—Naruto-san… But he believed in my capacity to be a good person." Naruto looked up as the Naruto from that world and Hinata came into the room. "Mom… Sensei…" Ansei whimpered. Hinata moved to her son and hugged him and the two orange clad ninja watched; one sadly, one with anger and hatred in his eyes. Naruto turned back to his own son and sat down on the chair beside the bed.
Ansei moved to the bed and placed a hand on Boruto's arm. Naruto gave the boy a warning glance, but was ignored. The two Jinchuuriki could go toe-to-toe if the time came, though Ansei wouldn't last long in a fight. Ansei closed his eyes, but didn't speak. He had no words anymore. Naruto watched the child angrily. His body shook. "Get out," he growled. He stood and put his hands on his son's chest. He refused to believe that Boruto would die like this.
"I'd listen to him if I were you," Sasuke muttered. Ansei nodded and backed away from the bed. "Naruto... He's gone," the Uchiha grumbled.
"Shut up," Naruto snapped. His body began to glow. He wasn't a medical ninja, but Kurama could heal. He had shared the fox before. If he could just get Boruto's heart beating, then Sakura could do the rest. "Come...on!" he hissed "I hope you're all happy," he snapped. "You let it get this bad! How did you all let it get this bad?! You have your own villagers killing each other in the streets!" Again, Sasuke decided to keep his mouth shut about their world not being the picture of peace and serenity either.
Ansei bowed his head in shame and walked out, too shaken to care. Hinata followed after her son to comfort him. They had let it get this bad and they had no one to blame but themselves.
"Come back...!" Naruto hissed, pumping more and more chakra in as he did.
"Help me, or shut up!"
Sasuke sighed and came over, his hand sparking. He'd do anything to let Naruto feel he'd tried everything. Naruto lifted his hand as Sasuke placed the sparking hand over the boy's damaged heart. Electricity coursed through his body. His muscles tightened, then fell limp. Naruto added more of the fox into the body, and they repeated the process. For a brief moment, all was still as Naruto held his breath, praying that it would work... Just this once.
The boy gasped. "D-dad...?" Boruto whimpered weakly. "T-the old man..." He coughed. "Said I could come home..."
Naruto hugged his son, ignoring his words, and turned to Sasuke. "Let's go. We don't have a lot of time..."
The Uchiha nodded. He turned to the other Naruto and offered him a soft smile before they left. "Our version of this world isn't perfect either," he whispered. Naruto scoffed. Sasuke turned to Naruto and the two vanished.
Naruto opened his eyes to find himself standing in the room where they had left. He looked at Sakura, pleading as he offered her his child. Sakura was by their side in a moment. Naruto laid the child on the ground so that Sakura could work to finish what the doctors in the other world had started. Naruto stood with Hinata and held her hand.
"Will he be okay…?" Hinata asked quietly.
"The damage is extensive," Sakura reported, "but if he's still breathing, then I should be able to reverse the damage."
Naruto bit his lip. The old man said he could come home. "What old man…?" Naruto asked, but not loud enough to be heard by anyone. He turned to the inventor. "I want you to destroy that Sharingan."
"What?" the man said.
"I don't want this world to collide with that one again." He clenched his fists.
"Of course… As you wish," the inventor said. He dropped the metal Sharingan on the ground and stomped it, cutting off all connections with that world.
As they days after their return went by, Boruto continued to recover. When Naruto asked him about the old man that had sent him back, but Boruto claimed the old man didn't give his name. All he could say about it was the man possessed the Byakugan and he had let Boruto come back because he had unfinished business to take care of...
"Dad," Boruto muttered. It had been almost a week and he would be ready to go home the next day. "Did Ansei die?" Naruto bowed his head. In his rage, he had wanted to kill the young Hyuuga that had hurt his son. He was ashamed of himself now, and even more so now that he knew he couldn't go back and try to make things right in that world.
"No," he said finally. "I'm pretty sure he was alive when we left."
"Can I go back?" Boruto asked.
Naruto smiled softly. "No, Boruto. We destroyed the pathway from that world to this one."
"To keep you safe," Naruto whispered. He stroked his son's hair. "I know what it means to drive yourself near mad trying to save someone who doesn't want to be saved. You did well, Boruto. He was back in the village when we left and seemed to have been accepted by his mother and sensei." He missed the child on the forehead. "I'm sure things will start to look up in that world…"
Ansei stared at the wall, his eyes narrowed. Naruto’s words haunted him… they rang in his head, making him want to scream. The Hyuuga had locked him up. He was deemed “too dangerous” and needed to be “rehabilitated” and “socialized.” They talked about him like he was an animal. He was their last bargaining chip with the village. They still “owned” him. He was still “there’s” and as long as they had him, the village let the Hyuuga Clan live without much punishment. Hiashi was dead, as was the High Elder, but that didn’t stop the other elders from keeping their claim in the Jinchuuriki. Hanabi fought with the elders about releasing Ansei, but the boy had murdered Hiashi, and he needed to be punished… disciplined… caged.
There were claw marks on the wooden wall. Ansei’s fingers were bloodied, but the blood had long since dried. They weren’t feeding him and any attempt to escape the room left him writhing in pain as they used the mark on him. There was a process happening outside. Obito and many others were negotiating his release. Obito had even tried to suggest that the punishment for his crimes would be handled by the village. Anywhere was better than the hole they had put him in. The Hyuuga refused, of course. The Jinchuuriki, according to the agreement they had created when he was given the fox, was there’s. He was, literally, their property and the village wasn’t allowed to interfere with any internal problems that arose due to the fox. It was long way of saying that if Ansei killed a Hyuuga, the Hyuuga dealt with it. Since he had killed Hiashi, he had initiated that contract and now he wasn’t allowed to leave the compound. He was the Hyuuga’s problem and no one else had a say in what he did.
He grabbed his hair. That was his life! Everyone tried to control him! He pulled at his hair until he let out a yelp of pain.
“Leave me alone!” Ansei growled, but there was no one there.
There was a laugh. “You’re pathetic, Ansei! You want change, yet you do nothing but cry!” Ansei pulled at his hair harder, ripping out fine strands.
“Why should I? You have no control on your life. All you do is complain and whine about your circumstances! You’re nothing, Ansei! And you will never be anything if you continue to sit in the cage you’ve built yourself!”
Ansei cried out, swinging at the entity that didn’t exist. Boruto was dead and he had been the one to kill the blonde. He slammed his fist into the wall, growling at the pain.
“That’s it! Be the animal they all believe you are!” the voice taunted. Ansei clawed at the wall with a loud snarl. “I overestimated you! I was actually worried you could let someone in your life! You destroy everything you touch, Ansei! You killed that boy when all he wanted to do was help you!” The voice laughed at Ansei, fueling his rage. “You will only hurt people! That’s all you’re good for!”
Ansei spun and punched the wall. It shattered. He blinked and looked at the moonlit courtyard outside his prison. “Free…?” he whimpered.
“So it seems,” the voice whispered. Ansei looked around him. No one was there. They didn’t bother. Their little pet had been relatively compliant after the entire incident. “What will you do with this freedom, nii-san?”
Ansei reached to his head and removed his headband and the bandages that hid the curse mark on his head. “I won’t hurt people anymore,” he vowed.
“A wise choice. Where will we go?”
“As far away from here as possible.” He dropped the headband and was gone before it hit the ground. His feet didn’t stop as he ran out of the village and as far away from it as possible. The days went by, but he still never stopped. He stopped running after a while, but kept walking until his feet could carry him no more.
With an exhausted gasp, he dropped to his knees, gripping the grass. He was outside the Land of Fire, but beyond that, he had no idea where he had ended up. It was all blind fleeing. “Good job, Ansei… You’re lost,” he grumbled. He paused for a moment, waiting for his sarcastic alter ego to agree with him, but he was only met with silence. Ansei groaned and stood on his shaky legs. He pulled energy from the Bijuu inside of him and continued walking.
He wasn’t sure how long his silent walk lasted, but eventually not even the fox within him could combat his hunger and exhaustion. He dropped to his hands and knees, coughing softly. He reached to his side where he was keeping a homemade canteen and dumped what was left of the water in his mouth, but that did little to quench his thirst.
“Maybe this is better,” he grumbled. He pulled out a kunai from his pouch, one he had found along the way. It was rusted and old, but it would do its job. He stared at the weapon and bit his lip. If only he hadn’t been stopped all those years ago after he tried to kill his cousin… “All this could have been avoided.” Ansei whimpered. He hugged himself and let the tears he had been holding in come. He had murdered too many people for this to be okay. He gripped the weapon tightly. He wouldn’t fail this time.
“Why do you weep, child?”
Ansei stiffened. The voice wasn’t familiar. It wasn’t his voice. It was someone else. He wiped his eyes quickly. “G-go away,” he whimpered.
“I merely am asking your well-being,” the voice said. Ansei deduced that whoever was talking was male. “Why do you weep?”
Ansei shook his head. “It’s nothing,” he muttered.
“One who is about to plunge a kunai in their chest is often not weeping for simple reasons,” the man commented in a matter-of-fact tone. “And is often not fine.”
“Well, I’m fine,” Ansei snapped.
“I do not believe that. Why do you wish to kill yourself? Surely there are better ways.”
Maybe he’ll kill me if he learns the truth, Ansei reasoned. “My village has forsaken me… Or I have forsaken them. I am an animal… a monster.”
“I see. Do you believe their words, child?”
“I do,” Ansei admitted. “I am nothing more than a monster.”
“Is that such a bad thing, then?” Ansei’s eyes widened. “You say you are a monster, and they call you one. Why do you wish to deny what you truly are?”
“I don’t want to be a monster,” Ansei growled.
“Why ever not?”
Ansei blinked. He had never been asked that question before. Whenever he used that argument, the person he was talking to reassured him. They told him that he wasn’t a monster, but this man had asked him an interesting question… One he had never considered.
“Monsters are powerful creatures that are respected and fear by humanity. Why would you want to deny what you are, especially when what you are inspires awe in those who are weaker?”
Ansei began to shake. He had never thought of it like that. He had been trying his whole life to avoid becoming a monster. “I just want to be normal.”
“Normal is boring,” the man answered. “Normal gets nothing done. You said your village had forsaken you… Why do you not make them suffer?”
Ansei shook his head and stared at the weapon in his hand. “I don’t want anyone to suffer anymore,” he answered. “I wanted to make the world a better place.”
The man moved to stand in front of Ansei. The boy looked up at him. He was wearing a long, hooded brown and red cloak with a faceless mask. “A better place, you say?” Ansei could almost hear the grin the man had donned. “Pray tell, how did you plan on doing that?”
Ansei bowed his head. “I… don’t know,” he admitted.
“At least you can admit your failures.”
“Yeah,” Ansei grumbled.
“You lack focus. Even in your weakened state, I can tell that you are indeed a monster with power that is unimaginable… but whoever trained you had no respect for the raw talent within you.” Ansei nodded slowly. “What is your goal, child?”
Ansei sighed deeply. “To make the world better,” he muttered.
“You lack focus,” the man repeated. “Tell me again. What is your goal?”
Ansei closed his eyes and gripped the grass beneath him. What was his goal? He had told Boruto that he wanted a world where children didn’t have to suffer for the mistakes of their parents. “I want to create a world where kids like me won’t exist,” he said after a moment. “A world where people don’t have to suffer… where monsters aren’t created.”
The man chuckled softly. “Good,” he said. Ansei noted the change in his voice. “I will train you.” Ansei blinked. “You have the talent to achieve you goal. I can give you the power and focus. I will help make your dream a reality.” Ansei’s eyes widened. No one had ever told him they would help him. They had only ever told him what he would do. He looked up at the man, his eyes full of hope. “Together, we will create a world where people do not have to kneel alone to contemplate their own suicide. We will end all pain in this world. No one will ever suffer as you have, child—no one.”
Ansei nodded, practically mesmerized by the man’s words. The man squatted before the child reached a black hand to wipe the tears from Ansei’s face. Ansei felt a shiver from the touch. The man wasn’t natural. His flesh was cold. The man stood and reached down. Ansei reached up and took the man’s hand. The stood together for a moment.
“What is your name, child?”
“Ansei… Well, that’s not the name I was born with…”
“I like it,” the man interrupted. “’Tranquil government.’ It is fitting.” He turned and started walking away. Ansei followed like a lamb would follow his shepherd—to the slaughter—blindly and without the foresight needed to understand what was actually happening.
“What is your name?” Ansei asked after a few moments.The man stopped and turned to his new lamb. He removed his faceless mask, revealing dead yellow eyes and dark flesh. He smiled. “My name is Zetsu.”
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