Update time, peeps!
Disclaimer: pain17ification owns nothing
Sackcloth and Ashes
Chapter Nine: Acceptance
"You sure about this?" Naruto asked, raising a brow at Yang as she did some stretches.
Currently, the Uzumaki of Beacon was standing on the battle platform where Glynda taught the combat courses. Across from him was Yang, who had requested a spar with him with the hope of seeing where she stood. She had asked for the spar not long after the class where Naruto singlehandedly dealt with Team CRDL, and he agreed provided she could schedule some time in the arena.
Now, she was cashing in on his acceptance and was excited to get started.
"Hell yes, I'm sure!" she answered, her eagerness shown through both her tone and her bright grin. "I'm gonna take you down, Whiskers!"
Chuckling softly, Naruto took a relaxed stance with his hands in his pockets. Unlike his fight against CRDL, he kept his fake arm in place. Taking a moment, he spotted that Team RWBY, JNPR, and an unknown team that looked to be made of older students were all sitting to spectate the spar.
He recognized the Rabbit Faunus he had helped on his first day at Beacon and gave her a gentle smile when she gave a shy wave with a small blush. By the kami, she reminded him so much of Hinata already.
Just thinking of the woman who had willingly gambled her life for his against Pein made his heart heavy, and his smile strained a little as thoughts of her reminded him of everyone else he had been taken away from.
'What the hell am I doing?'
His and Yang's images and Aura Bars appeared on the screen and Yang took her stance before initiating the spar with an eager charge. With hands still in his pockets, Naruto casually leaned his body out of the range of her punch swings before bowing to avoid a swiping kick. With his smile still in place, Naruto hopped into the air and caught his fellow blonde in the gut with a dropkick that let him push off her, hit a backflip, and land easily a few feet away while Yang skidded back and held her stomach.
'Why am I wasting my time with this?'
He saw her eyes flicker red for a moment, but they stayed their natural lilac shade and she resumed her boxer stance before cautiously shuffling closer to him. His smile became a small smirk at her learning her lesson about rushing so recklessly.
'I need to find a way back… They don't have much time…'
Juking to her left, she hoped to catch him off guard with a feint before she lunged with a heavy jab that evaded by leaning his head away from the blow. However, he was pleasantly surprised when she smoothly transitioned her missed hit into a grapple, opening her fist so that she could clasp the back of his head and pull him into a second punch.
Smirk changing to a grin, Naruto pulled his left hand out of his pocked and smacked her punch away before breaking her hold by knocking his arm against her inner elbow. With her attack and hold broken, he spun in place and hit her with a spin kick, planting his foot once more into her stomach and sending her flying back to a few inches away from the edge of the platform.
'I can't keep getting distracted… But… Can I really just leave…?'
A growl from Yang was heard as she pushed herself back to her feet. Her eyes had stayed red this time, and her hair flickered with golden fire as she had a hand to her stomach.
"Dammit! Stop hitting me here!" she ordered angrily.
"Then stop giving me so many openings," he taunted back, his smile becoming more genuine once again.
His earlier doubts had depressed his heart, but the last question he gave himself had taken a stand against such doubts. Could he simply leave the people he had met, the same people he had so unconsciously let into his heart and befriended?
'No… I don't think I could…'
This was the problem Naruto always had: walking away from people he had grown to care for. Sure, he didn't know his classmates for long; but they had accepted him so easily, despite knowing almost nothing about him.
To a man who had craved such acceptance as a lonely child, their friendship was worth more than any treasure. And he couldn't find it in him to just leave.
Yang came in for a third round, her form getting more streamlined with the activation of her Semblance as she used her weapon to weave her way through her attacks. Naruto had pulled out his other hand and batted away any attacks he didn't dodge. With every block, he praised Yang on the tactic she had used and offered some advice to help her improve.
And by the end of the spar, Yang was smiling in triumph; despite losing in the end. Her reason? She had fun, and she had learned quite a bit from her opponent.
That, and she had gotten a lucky blow against him that knocked off a small – barely notable – level of his Aura. She'd call that a win.
As she went back to her team and listened to Ruby gushing over the fight, Naruto had a distant smile on his face. He knew he shouldn't give up searching for a way home, but he also knew that part of him had finally accepted that he could have a second chance here in Remnant.
Sure, he and Raven had discussed it back in Mountain Glenn; but he didn't truly accept the notion back then. Not nearly as much as he did now, anyway.
And as the Faunus girl and her apparent teammates made their way over to him, Naruto felt as if the weight on his heart had lessened some. He wasn't over the loss, but he had taken a step forward.
And someday, he believed he'd be okay.
Velvet Scarlatina had watched the expressions on Naruto's face throughout his spar. Ever since he had stood up for her and threatened that Cardin boy, she had been meaning to thank him. He had taken a stand for the Faunus at the school, calling out Prof. Glynda on not stepping in earlier and accepting the unjust punishment without argument.
She thought he showed incredible tolerance that day, and when Ozpin himself had offered his apologies on behalf of Beacon, she knew that his actions hadn't been fruitless. He had instigated a change, and she felt inspired to follow his example.
But, seeing the man who had given her such strength attempt to hide some emotional turmoil was hard to watch. Before the fight, his smile was genuine, and she felt an amazing warmth from him when he aimed such a smile at her.
However, it was almost as if her presence reminded Naruto of something painful from his past. The smile had become strained, and his naturally vibrant eyes had become dimmed from sadness and…loss.
Whatever it was he had been thinking of, it had been something, somewhere, or someone that he had lost. Whether the loss was recent or still in the process of being accepted, she couldn't tell.
What she could tell was, as Naruto and Yang sparred, his saddened and conflicted gaze had slowly returned to the warmth she had come to appreciate. It was almost like he had unburdened himself of a spiritual weight that had been pressing down upon him, lightening his heart.
And as the spar ended, she had seen that, like herself, Yang had also become inspired by Naruto. With a smile, she stood up and walked over to him followed by her teammates. She blushed when she felt Coco nudge her side with a smirk, followed by slightly lowering her shades and waggling her brows.
She fought it back down just in time for him to turn and face them, approaching the whiskered blonde with a smile. She didn't want to be shy or reserved anymore. She would face her inspiration with her back straight and her stance tall.
Just like he faced his life…
"Good fight, Blondie," Coco spoke up, kicking off the conversation. "You had control of the match the whole time."
"Thanks… Uh…?" he began, hoping for a name to go with her face.
"Ah, my bad. We're Team CVFY, led by yours truly, Coco Adel."
Coco was a teenage girl with fair skin, short dark-brown hair, and dark-brown eyes. She had wavy locks on one side of her face, dyed with a gradient that starts as dark brown and transitions to caramel. Her clothes consisted of a long, cocoa-colored shirt with an upturned layered frill collar and a black single strapped waist cincher. For her legs, she wore black trousers that had golden lining around the pocket and ribbons attached to the back of a golden zipper seam around her knees. She finished off her look with a black beret with a cocoa brown trim, a black shoulder bag with gold studs, and a pair of black, wire-rimmed aviator sunglasses.
"With me are Fox Alistair," she continued, gesturing to the young man in question.
Fox was a teenage boy with dark skin and messy dark copper hair that had a long fringe and a cowlick. He wore a sleeveless, muted orange zipper vest with black lining and a high collar, a pair of black jeans, and brown laced shoes. His eyes were pure white, showing Naruto and everyone else that he is physically blind. His arms were covered in scars, and Naruto also spotted a vertical scar on his lips. His attire was completed by a pair of long black gloves and has several pouches attached to his belt.
Fox looked to Naruto and nodded with a faint smirk. [Sup?]
Naruto nearly flinched at the unfamiliar voice in his head, but the fact that Fox's smirk had grown showed that the action was done in jest. Appreciating the almost prank, Naruto nodded back to Fox in greeting.
"The big guy is Yatsuhashi Daichi," Coco, after snickering at Fox's greeting, introduced.
Yatsuhashi was a tall and athletic-looking young man with shaved-short black hair and tanned skin, who wore mostly pale-green and brown attire. He had a short-sleeved robe that reached the tops of his knees, which he wore on one shoulder over a black muscle shirt. The robe was fastened at the waist by a leather armored belt with two pouches on it. With this, he wore brown pants and black-and-green boots while his left arm bore a 5-layer sode – or armored sleeve – which extended up past his shoulder. Finishing the outfit was a pair of bracers as well as a pair of black gloves with green plates on the backs.
The tallest member of Team CVFY inclined his head respectfully to Naruto, who returned the sentiment. Both men quickly gained a measure of respect for one another, seeing the other as a commendable warrior with just a glance.
"And lastly," Coco began with a grin, wrapping an arm around the Rabbit Faunus's shoulders and pulling her closer, "is our adorable Velvet Scarlatina!"
Despite hoping to appear confident for their first real interaction, Velvet was struggling with an embarrassed blush as she shyly waved to Naruto once more. To her relief, he gave her the same gentle smile as he had done before, which helped her regain her confidence.
During the exchange, Naruto took a better look at the Rabbit Faunus, just as he had done the rest of her team. Her clothes comprised of a short, long-sleeved brown jacket with a golden zipper, brown shorts with golden detail and black leggings. Beneath the jacket, she sported a black, semi-translucent undershirt, along with golden spaulders and vambraces on both arms. Around was her waist was a similarly styled belt, and her heels and toes were likewise protected by the same brown-gold material.
All-in-all, she was an attractive young woman, and Naruto had no qualms with that thought.
"Nice to meet you all," he greeted back. "In case you didn't know, I'm Naruto Uzumaki of Team FUNS."
Yatsuhashi looked around for the blonde's teammates before asking, "They didn't come to watch the spar?"
"Nah. Cinder and Emerald had things to do, and Neo was running low on ice cream. She went to the city to get some more," the Uzumaki answered, amusement seen on his face.
Like his name was regarding ramen, it seemed Neo was given an apt namesake regarding the frozen dairy treat. She also held a culinary love for the food she was linked to; just like him.
"Neo…?" Coco asked with shared amusement. "She usually get that flavor, or…?"
"Nope. She's mainly a fan of vanilla."
[Do you buy loads of ramen, Narutomaki?] Fox asked mentally, grinning teasingly.
Sheepishly, Naruto rubbed the back of his head and gave an awkward chuckle. This caused Team CVFY to laugh, or giggle in Velvet's case.
"Yo, Naruto!" he heard Yang call out, prompting him to turn and see RWBY and JNPR standing not far from them. "We were gonna hit the cafeteria for lunch. You in?"
Instead of answering, Naruto turned to CVFY and asked, "You guys hungry?"
"I could eat," Coco answered while Fox and Yatsuhashi nodded in agreement.
Velvet was about to answer before her stomach, to her slight mortification, let out a decently loud growl. She blushed and looked down meekly, but her embarrassment turned to pleasant surprise when she felt a warm hand place itself upon her head and gently ruffle her hair right between her ears.
Looking up from her averted gaze, her blush grew when she saw that it was Naruto who had performed the action. She heard him chuckle as he said, "I'll take that as a Yes."
With that, the group of thirteen students left the arena and headed off to lunch. On the way there, the Faunus girl made sure to walk beside the whiskered blonde, enjoying a conversation with him as they traversed through the halls of Beacon.
Unnoticed by her, her fellow Faunus had her eyes watching them the whole way. The bow atop her head also gave an unseen twitch.
After lunch, Naruto returned to his dorm and spotted Neo lounging on her bed. She gave him a short wave upon seeing him, which he returned with a smile.
"Restock the freezer?" he asked teasingly, earning a smirk from her. "Of course, you did."
"I could say the same about the pantry, Ramen Boy," Neo teased back, earning a laugh from him.
"Guilty as charged," Naruto agreed, stepping to the pantry in question and pulling out a cup of instant ramen. As he prepped the water for it on the stove, he asked, "Anything interesting to note during your trip?"
"Not really. More shops have closed, though."
He hummed at that. "Not surprising since Roman and his grunts have stolen so much Dust. I'm not fond of messing with so many people, but I'll keep from talking until I know what exactly Cinder needs all that Dust for."
"Got me. She didn't tell me or Roman much," she explained. "To her, we were just a pair of thieves that could be of use."
"Right, and while she can wipe her hands of everything, Roman takes the fall for her." He chanced a look at his partner. "…You okay with that?"
Neo's eyes changed to brown as she sighed softly and shook her head once. "Not really… Roman was there for me when I was…younger."
Naruto knew what she really meant, having seen her past when he linked his heart to hers. Despite being an annoying, egotistic man, Roman still had some heart. After all, nobody else had approached Neo and offered her a new chance at life.
To Naruto, it was similar to when he had been acknowledged by Iruka as a Leaf Ninja. Such a feeling was indescribable to someone who had been alone and misjudged most of their life.
"If he gets arrested," Neo spoke up again after a moment of silence, "I'll break him out. I won't abandon my friend."
Smiling as he filled the ramen cup with hot water, Naruto replied, "I'm sure he'd do the same if the positions were reversed. He gets on my nerves, but I can tell he cares about you."
"Would you help me…?"
Naruto stopped himself as he was about to take a bite of his food, setting his utensils down to give Neo his full attention. She was staring directly at him, and he graced her with a smile.
"Help you rescue your friend? Sure. Help you with something else that could be bothering you? Absolutely."
She slowly smiled back as her eyes bled from brown to pink. She said nothing and turned away from him before pulling out her sketchpad. Naruto gave a soft chuckle as he returned to his food.
'Yeah… I can't leave them… Not yet…'
Later that evening, Naruto was heading for the roof of the dorm building. He wanted to think over some things and what he was feeling about his situation and the people he had connected with.
To his interest, he saw that the roof already had an occupant in the form of Blake. Her bow wasn't on her head, and one of her ears twitched upon hearing him approach. She looked over her shoulder and gave a faint smile when she saw him.
"Wasn't expecting anyone else to come up here," he noted as he took a seat beside her.
"I come up here some nights to clear my head," she confessed. "I'm still trying to figure out what I should do…"
"About your team and your heritage…?"
She nodded with a soft sigh. "I know I should tell them, but I'm still afraid of how they'd react."
"If you think they'd treat you different because you're a Faunus, I doubt you have much to worry about; except maybe Weiss. But my guess is that you're more worried about how they'll take you hiding who you are from them for so long. Am I right?"
Giving a sigh of his own, Naruto leaned back and supported himself with hand hands on the roof as he looked up to the broken moon of Remnant.
"…I could use some advice…"
He turned to her, seeing that she had been staring at him hopefully. Giving her a small smile, he sat up straight again and surprised her when he reached over and gently pulled her against him.
She blushed at the close contact, unseen by her fellow Faunus as she reveled in the natural warmth he gave off.
"…I'm afraid I can't give you much advice about this, Blake. It's up to you if and when you tell your teammates about yourself."
She looked down at that as her cat ears folded against her head sadly.
Her ears perked up again and she looked up to see him giving a supportive smile.
"If you want me there with you when you're ready to tell them, then I will. You're my friend, Blake. And as a friend, I promise to do what I can to help you. And if the worst happens, I'll always be willing to be an ear to listen, a shoulder for you to cry on, and a hand to help you back on your feet."
Her eyes glistened beneath the moonlight as her cheeks flushed. Feeling both incredible gratitude and relief at his words, she hugged his side and sobbed softly.
He said nothing and just smiled while his hand rubbed the top of her head just like he had done earlier with Velvet. Letting her vent, he sat in silence and kept rubbing her head in support.
She'd be okay. He truly believed that.
After helping her recompose herself – and putting her ribbon back on her head – Naruto accompanied Blake back to her dorm room and stood behind her as she opened the door. When she saw that her friends were looking to her with concern, she swallowed the lump in her throat before she felt the supportive weight of Naruto's hand upon her shoulder.
She gave him a quick smile in thanks before turning back to her team.
"I…have something I need to tell you. I know that I'm usually against talking about myself, but I hope that we can still be friends once I tell you the truth…"
Ruby, Weiss, and Yang were obviously more concerned about what she meant, but they respectfully kept quiet and waited for her to speak again. Ruby even walked up to her and grasped her hand with a supportive smile.
Smiling back, Blake took a breath before reaching up and pulling her ribbon loose. With her cat ears visible once more, she stood up straighter and spoke.
"My name is Blake Belladonna. I'm a Cat Faunus from Menagerie and…an ex-member of the White Fang…"
As Blake and her team crossed this hurdle, Naruto stood behind her in silent support. The whole time, he kept a hand on her shoulder to let her know he was still there. And when he watched her finish, he was proud to see that Ruby was the first to act and pull her friend into a gentle hug while saying something so simple, but incredibly meaningful.
"Thank you, Blake…"
The floodgates opened, and the Faunus gave a teary laugh as she hugged Ruby back. Yang soon joined in and offered her own words of support to her partner and friend.
As for Weiss, she looked conflicted for a moment, which was understandable since she had been a target of the White Fang for years. In fact, she still was a target of them. However, she knew that what Blake had confessed to them took an incredible amount of courage, and the heiress doubted that the black-themed member of RWBY would've had the fortitude to tell them if it hadn't been for the silent support of the whiskered blonde behind her.
Chancing a look, Weiss looked to Naruto and saw him looking to her blankly. There was no judgement or expectancy in his blue eyes; simply patient blankness as he waited for her to make her own decision.
Looking back to her team still hugging one another, she reached her decision and stood up before approaching Blake. Ruby and Yang, understanding the weight of the situation, stepped away from Blake so that she and Weiss could speak uninterrupted.
"…I still hate the White Fang for what they've done to my family and to others," Weiss began, earning a slight wince from Blake. "But I hold no hatred or judgement for you, Blake. You're a valued member of Team RWBY…and someone I would gladly call my friend."
Stunned at first, Blake quickly regained her smile as the two shared a hug. Ruby and Yang joined back in, and Team RWBY stood together in content silence.
Seeing that his part was done, Naruto turned to leave.
He looked over his shoulder at the sound of Blake's voice, seeing her smile beautifully at him.
He smirked and resumed his departure, waving over his shoulder and saying nothing else. And once again, he was left unaware of just what kind of impact he had on the Faunus of Beacon.
For the first time since he had slept at Beacon, Naruto wasn't plagued by bad dreams of his time in the Fourth Great Ninja War. Instead, he dreamed of something many people took for granted; a regular day with his friends.
He was leaning against a large tree, watching as Ruby went over battle formations with her teammates and giving them monikers that he thought fit, though it was also pretty adorable. Ruby was all smiles as she went over the different formations while Yang, ever supportive, listened with interest. Weiss looked like she wasn't interest, but he could tell she was also paying attention and mentally assessing each formation. Even Blake was listening with a beautifully faint smile on her face.
He was pleased to see that she had abandoned her ribbon and was proudly showing her Faunus features.
JNPR was also training, with Pyrrha going over stances with Jaune with that kind smile she always wore and unflinching patience. The aspiring leader of the team was coming into his own, which Naruto was pleased to see. As for Ren and Nora, the two were lazing around at their own tree with Ren lounging on a branch with a book while easily answering Nora's rapid-fire questions and comments.
He chuckled at that, knowing that many would comment on Ren's tolerance. However, he could tell that Ren genuinely cared for his friend. Those two had a bond that had been strong for many years; stronger than many other teams at Beacon.
Team CVFY was also there, though they were all resting against another tree. Coco, being the fashionista that she was, was reading a magazine with designs he couldn't really see. Fox and Yatsuhashi were seen conversing, despite the silent member not speaking. As for Velvet, she was seen napping while leaning against her much larger teammate with a peaceful look on her face.
The girls of Team FUNS were seen sitting on the grass not far from him, looking over a map of Vale and discussing strategies that, despite their close vicinity, he couldn't hear. Mercury was also seen standing behind Emerald while Roman was seated on a larger rock behind Neo.
And finally, sitting beside him was Raven. He looked to her from the corner of his eye and saw that she looked more relaxed than he had ever seen her before, watching her daughter from a distance with a small smile on her face. Pride was seen in her crimson eyes before she turned to him.
"Take care of her…"
That's what he heard her say before she and everyone else faded away like dust in the wind. His gaze was to the ground which had changed from vibrant grassland to scorched earth. A hand with soft features entered his vision, prompting him to look up and spot Hinata being the one to offer it to him; her face holding that same, ever-loving smile.
His eyes watered at the sight of her, as well as the rest of his old friends and comrades. Every one of them was seen giving him a supportive smile that held no accusation; no signs of blaming him for anything.
He turned back to the gentle visage of Hinata before shamefully averting his eyes. The same hand she had offered him reached forward to softly turn his face back to her. She pulled away from his face and kept her hand offered to him.
Shakily, he raised his cybernetic arm and grasped hers, the metal fading away into flecks of light as his arm was restored to skin and bone. Her smile grew as she firmly grasped his hand, pulling him to his feet before embracing him with the touch of an angel.
With tears flowing down his cheeks, her returned her embrace and sobbed out apology after apology before he felt two different hands rest upon his shoulders. Looking back, he choked out another sob at the sight of his parents, who looked upon him with nothing short of love and pride.
He made to apologize again, but he felt Hinata pull away and turn his face back to her.
"Live your life, Naruto-kun… Don't cry for us anymore, for we live on through you. So, keep moving forward and let us experience this future with you."
He felt her hand rest upon his chest, just over his heart as she and everyone else gave a glow as radiant as the Six Paths Chakra that Hagoromo gave him. Warmth spread through him as everyone but her and his parents faded into more flecks of light and gently glided through the air, reaching him and becoming absorbed into his heart.
"You carry all of us in here, Naruto-kun… Never forget that… We are always with you…"
With that, she too faded away and was absorbed into his heart. Turning around, he gave a tearful smile to his parents who pulled him into their own embrace. He held them until they faded, and when he felt them entering his heart, his form became enshrouded in his Six Paths Sage Mode.
However, instead of the brilliant gold it had once been, it was now a pure white while the insignia for Shinobi was seen resting above his heart in gold with a red outline; a symbol of his parents' love for him.
He then looked to his palm, seeing the sun had also changed color. Where before it was white, it was now a pale lavender; a symbol of Hinata's belief in him.
Clenching his hand, he looked up to the skies and saw that, where there were once dark clouds, it was clear and basking him in its light. He felt stronger than ever before, raising his fist to the heavens.
To his death, he would swear he felt the fists of everyone else bump his own in acceptance.
Finished! Yeah, baby!
This chapter was hard to get right… At least, I hope I got it right…
Let me know what you think, would you kindly? I was aiming for the feels in this chapter, and I want to know if I succeeded.
Now, as you probably noticed, Naruto has left an impact on Velvet, on Neo, and on Blake. Does this mean that the two beautiful Faunus ladies will also fall for Naruto?
It's a strong possibility. I'll see how everything plays out as I type future chapters.
I'm also still on the fence about Cinder, so don't set your expectations for her too high or too low. I'll make a decision about her soon.
Until next time:
Stay safe! Stay healthy! And stay positive!
Dreaming of the Future