A river cut through directly through the center of the forest. Carved by hundreds of years of erosion, the river's path was curved and winding. Its flow was slow and gentle as it carried its liquid content.
Due to the size of the river, an uncountable amount of object floated through its body. Massive chunks of lumber, numerous animals and even pieces of forgotten trash could be found bobbing up and down on its surface. All these things were natural to the river's ecosystem or would eventually found itself plucked out. What wasn't natural was the blond-haired human laid on his back amongst the flow of the river.
"I failed." That was the boy's thought as he floated down the river. His eyes remained closed as the water carried him, partly because he couldn't find the will to open them and partly because of the splashing water around him. His normally spiky hair had been turned into long, golden locks by the water around him. His orange uniform that he had been known for so well was more red than orange at this point. A massive hole, its size measuring to that of almost two fists, had been burned through his top, revealing newly formed yet scarred flesh. To finish off the boy's unique appearance, three whisker marks adorned both of his cheeks.
"I failed." Once more, the thought echoed through his mind. One would think that at this point in the boy's life, he would be used to failure. He had failed in the academy dozens of time. He had failed to earn the affection or respect of either of his teammates. And, most recently, he had failed to retrieve his teammate.
That fact hurt. It hurt more than the hole that had been pierced through his body only hours prior. The fox had made sure of that. Despite their tumultuous relationship, the boy's tenant had stitched up any damage incurred during his fight rather quickly.
The fight. The thought of the fight made his face scrunch up in a phantom pain. It had been hard fought but, once again, Sasuke managed to best him. The Uchiha had left him with a hole in his chest at the very base of the waterfall at the Valley of the end. He could've died. He should've died. As the force of the waterfall pushed him beneath the surface of the water, he should've drowned. When the force of the water pushed him miles downstream, he still should've drowned. But, he didn't. He couldn't help but question why?
"Because of me, brat." A deep voice rumbled through his mind. His savior was speaking to him yet he didn't want to reply. He couldn't find it within him to do so. He was gracious but the pain of the situation kept him muted. For once in their relationship, the fox seemed to understand and comply with his thoughts and went quiet.
The boy, along with his unseen tenant, continued their silent journey down the river. A part of him spurred him to rise from the river and return to the village. He knew that they were probably searching for him at this point. The fox stuck in his gut made sure of that. Yet, even with this knowledge, he couldn't find the energy to rise up. He couldn't find the energy to swim to shore and return to the valley of the end. His will of fire had been depleted, leaving him numb and motionless.
So, he floated. He did not know for how long he floated. He only knew that it must've been for a while. His only indication of the time was the position of the sun in the sky. Even then, he did not care enough to keep a solid track of the massive orb of heat. Every once in awhile, his mind would focus on to it. He would take a brief note of its changed position before spacing out once again. This was the pattern that he existed in for an unknown amount of time. Simply staring and floating.
"Are you alive?" The soft sound of a voice calling out to him managed to snap the boy out of his trance. He turned his head to the right where he heard the voice and nearly jumped out of the water at the sight that greeted him.
"Are you okay?" She questioned once again. The teen had to use a good portion of his remaining willpower to stop his eyes from sinking down to her breast. Her clothing didn't offer much support to the twins as they pressed heavily against her top. Of course, Naruto never took notice of this as he kept his eyes firmly locked on the girl's face. Nope, his eyes never drifted.
"Are you mute or something?" The girl's final question managed to spur the blond into speaking.
"No," Naruto said while breaking eye contact with her. His attention returned to the sky while the water continued to carry him downstream.
"I'm just tired." His last statement brought forth a curious glance from the unknown female. She remained silent for a few moments, taking the time to observe his face. The twin sets of whisker marks on his cheeks caught her attention for several seconds before her eyes trailed down his body.
"You're hurt." Her face was masked with worry while her eyes stayed locked onto the fist-sized hole that had been burnt through the boy's jacket. She could see patches of blood that had managed to paint the edges of the burn hole. From her elevated position, she also managed to get a good luck of the new soft and pink flesh that sat in the center of the boy's chest.
"Yeah, some jerk stuck his fist through my chest." The strange-looking girl was stuck between looking disgusted and shocked at his words. The concern on her face was clear as she leaned her face down toward Naruto.
"You need help."
"No I don't. I'm already healed." Naruto decided the best way to demonstrate this was by giving his chest a heavy thump with his fist. When a wave of pain spread through his chest on contacted, followed by a large amount of stinging, the blond quickly discovered that that wasn't the best idea. The loud hiss that left his mouth made pain clear to the girl.
"I don't think you're really healed." Naruto turned his head to face the girl once more. The deadpan look on his face clearly displayed his thoughts to her.
"Let me heal you." The girl reached her hand down toward Naruto's chest but was halted in her action when pushed away her hand.
"I don't need healing." The blond raised his voice, hoping that it would be enough to scare away the strange girl. He found his hopes dashed away when the girl reached down with her hands once again. He slapped them away once again but found her hands immediately making their descent once more. The duo entered into a vicious cycle with the girl continuously reaching down toward him while the boy continuously pushed and slapped her hands away.
"Enough!" Naruto shouted while standing up in the chest-height water. Unfortunately for the blond, he didn't take into account the tenderness of his flesh and muscle. The fox hadn't completely made the pain ignorable. The sudden movement agitated his still sore body, making him yell loudly in pain before nearly flopping back into the water. He would've found himself nearly drowning if it wasn't for the girl reaching down and catching him before his head dipped beneath the surface of the water. With his body aching and screaming in protest to any movements, Naruto was basically defenseless as the girl heaved him out of the water with a surprising amount of strength. When the girl began to drag him toward the forest line, the boy decided to give up any hope of fighting her grasp. Instead, he simply enjoyed the fact that he was no longer pruning in the water and let her drag him.
Their journey didn't last for long before Naruto found himself softly deposited on the ground. He vaguely noted that it didn't feel like he was laying on dirt and grass just before his vision was filled with the face of the strange girl.
"If I try to heal you, you won't slap my hands away, right?" The girl received nothing but silence in response to her question, causing her to huff out in agitation. She decided that for the sake of any further agitation, she would take the silence as a yes and got down to work.
Naruto watched cautiously as the girl lowered her hands down to his chest. As she unzipped the remnants of his jacket, he inwardly wondered why he was allowing this interaction to take place. After what had just happened to him, he shouldn't trust anyone, especially a stranger he met in the middle of the forest. But, another part of him rationalized just what the big deal was? He had just survived getting stabbed through the heart by a lightning-covered fist. Whatever harm the girl could do couldn't possibly top that. And, even if it did, the big ol' fox in his stomach would patch him up.
It was with these thoughts that the blond watched the girl's hands get enveloped in a nearly blinding white light. He was forced to squint his eyes in order to see as she began to press her hands against his chest.
As soon as her hands made contact, a warm feeling began to spread through his chest. The blond found himself holding back a moan at the sudden pleasantness. He managed to contain himself, finding strength in the fact that moaning suddenly would most likely scare off the girl.
If she noticed his strange expressions, she said nothing as she continued to hold her hands over his chest. Her face was a mask of concentration as she worked. The longer she worked, the more intense the feeling grew within the blond and before long, Naruto found himself squirming beneath her ministrations.
Just as the sensation reached a point where the blond thought he couldn't contain himself, the girl retracted her hands. With her arms no longer obstructing him, Naruto's upper half shot up. The blonde girl jumped back with a loud yelp at the sudden motion. The intense stare and slight blush on the boy's cheeks perturbed her … a lot.
"What did you just do?" Naruto breathed out heavily as the phantom touch of the pleasant1 feeling radiated within his core. In all of his years of living, he had never experienced anything that was so … pleasant. Inwardly, he was thanking the gods above for allowing him to keep some control of his lower body during the whole process. As flustered as he was now, he wouldn't want to see how he would be acting if a certain part of his body had reacted.
"Ah," The girl tilted her head to the side at the question. A soft hum left her lips as she stared at him for several seconds before raising her hands to her face.
"I healed you." She said the statement as if it was the simplest conclusion ever. She gave a small wave of her hand, sending a shower of white sparkles falling from her skin The sight of the sparkles enraptured the boy. He watched as they floated through the air down toward the ground. When they reached earth, the soil seemed to drink in their presence, causing them to fade almost immediately.
"I've never seen any healing jutsu like that." Naruto muttered before raising his head to look at the elvish girl. The face that met him was one of confusion. It seemed that his statement had been heard but not entirely understood.
"Whats a jutsu?" The girl questioned once more, again with the same tilt in the head she did before. Almost unconsciously, Naruto found himself nearly copying her actions. He managed to snap himself from doing so but found the action required a lot of effort.
"Its … nothing. Just talking to myself." Naruto decided against speaking any further. The excited and pleasant feeling he had been feeling previously had died away, leaving him feeling as hollow and sorrowful as he did before. Even the lack of soreness in his body hadn't managed to dissuade him from his sour mood. His entire body responded to the mood; his eyes dropped to almost closed, his shoulders nearly sagged off his body and his head flopped downward.
The woman watched this transition happen with a frown on her face. It was at this moment that she made the decision that she was going to try her very best to help cheer him up.
"Well, stranger," The girl's voice managed to make Naruto raise his head to look at her. "What's your name?"
The rarely used but very much alive logical side of the boy's brain begged for him to give the girl a false name or not answer her at all. After all, he was recently injured, assumingly a far distance from Konoha and had absolutely no idea where he was. The fact that the one who was asking him this question was a girl who's name he didn't know and had used some ability he had never seen or heard about. Everything he had learned as a ninja, either from the academy or his sensei, screamed at him for him to just stay silent.
"They also told me to trust my teammates." Naruto had to stop himself from rubbing at his chest. A sigh left his lips at the melodramatic thought. This wasn't like him. That was the type of thought he expected from his former teammate. Just because the Uchiha had left the team didn't mean that he needed to fill in for him.
"My name is Naruto." The blond finally mumbled out after an extended silence. The girl looked a little surprised by the name before repeating it out loud. Naruto had to hold back a chuckle as she stumbled over its pronunciation. His name sounded like a cinder block when it left her mouth. It was pretty clear to him that his name was definitely not common from wherever she was from.
He must've not done a really good job in hiding his amusement because the girl quickly began to pout at him. Her cheeks puffed outward in protest as she exhaled loudly through her nose. The look only served to make the boy chuckle more, causing the girl to release the pout in loud huff of air.
"If I had known you would be so rude, I wouldn't have healed you." The girl grumbled out. For a small moment, the blond believed her anger to be genuine. But, when her angry facade melted away into a smile that radiated pure happiness, Naruto knew he couldn't have been any more wrong.
"Well, Naruto, my name is Tiffania." The smile that the girl sent him managed to pierce him deeper than even Sasuke had managed to do. He found himself subconsciously returning it with a smile of his own. Despite his utter being not wanting to smile anytime soon, the blond couldn't fight the urge to smile. There was just something about the girl's gesture that had him smirking like an idiot.
"Nice to meet you," Naruto replied before attempting to calm his facial features. He was supposed to be upset right now, not smirking like an idiot.
"How'd you get that wound?" And just like that, the girl's question sent the blond back to his frowning state. She took notice of the change and started to apologize. Her apologies lasted for several seconds before Naruto halted her by holding you up his hand.
"Don't say sorry. It wasn't your fault." The blond lowered his hand to rub at the hole in his clothing. Tiffania frowned as she watched him dip a finger past the frayed and burned fabric of his clothes to touch his skin. The slight wince at the touch sent a wave of pity through the girl as she raised her eyes to look at the blond's face.
"A jackass who I thought was my friend decided that he no longer wanted to be friends." Out came the blond's vague response as he rubbed at his wound. A part of him still wasn't ready to fully retell the events of Sasuke's betrayal. The feeling of the Uchiha's arm through his chest still haunted his mind, leaving him hesitant to talk.
"I don't have many friends but even I know that a friend wouldn't do something like this to their friend and just leave them there." Naruto raised his head at the tone of the girl's voice and was surprised to see a look of anger on her face. He hadn't expected to receive such a reaction from her, considering they had only met minutes ago.
"Friends are supposed to take care of each other even when they're made at each other. They're not supposed to hurt each other and when they do, they're supposed to apologize." Tiffania continued her tangent in the same angry tone that had originally caught Naruto's attention. The boy watched her speak, his surprise with her growing with each word she uttered. The passion in her words caught him off guard in the most pleasant way possible. It was rare that strangers ever showed him such empathy.
"I say good riddance. You don't need people like that in your life." Tiffania finished her talk with a huff of air before returning her attention back onto Naruto. When she saw the blond staring at her with slack jawed and wide eyed expression, her mind instantly went to the worse. The confidence that had filled her only moments before left her like air out of a balloon as she started to apologize once again.
"I'm so so so sorry. I didn't mean to insult your friend. I did-
"You don't have to apologize." Naruto interrupted the girl again. The fear that had radiated off of her started to fade when she spotted the small smile on his face.
"You're right. He was an asshole before this and I bet he's even more of an asshole now. I'm not too upset he decided to leave." The smile on Naruto's face lasted for a several more seconds before it faded into a frown. "Though … I promised a friend I would bring him back."
"Well, if they're a real friend they will understand that it wasn't your fault. You can't force someone to do something." The confidence came surging back into the girl as the words left her mouth. Naruto could only stare at her determined form as she kept her eyes locked onto his. The shy, demure girl he thought he was interacting was gone once again, leaving him brimming with emotion that he rarely ever felt.
"You're nice." Naruto's words managed to drag the girl's brewing confidence out of her like the receding tide. It was soon replaced by shock as Tiffania searched the boy's face for the meaning of his words.
"You're really nice," Naruto repeated his words, this time much louder. Tiffania found herself startled by the sudden increase of volume. Almost unconsciously, her hand rushed up to her face to hide the reddening of her cheeks as her mind processed Naruto's words.
"I met a lot of people and no one has been as nice to me as you've been." Just like Naruto had been, Tiffania found herself completely caught off guard by his words and the blush on her cheeks showed that. What really cemented the situation was the striking and unblinking stare that the young male was sending her. She felt like she was getting an unrestricted look into the boy's soul and what she was seeing was … nice.
"Thank you." Tiffania stuttered out while dropping her gaze to the ground. By this point, she could practically feel the heat radiating off of her cheeks. She wanted nothing more than for him to not notice yet she could still feel his gaze focused on her.
"Why are you in the forest?" Tiffania nearly leaped out of her skin when Naruto's voice came out a lot closer than she expected. Her head shot up and nearly rebounded off of the boy's forehead due to his proximity. She jerked backward and nearly fell onto her back but was stopped when a pair of arms caught her.
"I didn't mean to scare you! I'm so sorry." Once again, the blond's voice was unnecessarily loud yet Tiffania couldn't find it within herself to care much. She was too focused on not losing her mind over the fact that she was cradled in the blond's arms. The fact that her vision was filled with his concerned-filled face, which was framed by his falling hair, wasn't helping in terms of keeping herself under control. From her position, she could make out all the minute details of his face and she certainly didn't dislike what she saw. The whole situation had quickly become something she couldn't handle.
"It's fine," Tiffania mumbled out while pushing herself upward. With a slow breath, she managed to regain control over her heated body. Thankfully for her, Naruto seemed unaware of her condition. Unfortunately for her, this meant he had absolutely no idea that he was the one causing it.
"I live in the forest because I like it. Nature is really beautiful and I can help the animals just like I helped you." Tiffania responded, hoping that her words would be able to push what had just happened away from the forefront of her mind. For the sake of her embarrassment, she needed it to work.
"You really are nice. Everyone would love you back at Konoha." Just like that, her hopes were dashed as the blood came surging back into her cheeks. The girl found herself unconsciously laughing as her body searched for some relief to the overflow of embarrassment and hidden elation. Her brain quickly latched onto the most interesting thing it could in an attempt to distract itself.
"It's the village I'm from!" Just like that, the blond's decision to remain tight-lipped about his background went right out of the window as he began to describe the village hidden in the leaves. Tiffania hung onto every single one of his words while he described everything from the Hokage monument to all of the training ground.
"And the whole entire village is surrounded by a massive forest. Nothing can get through it." Naruto finished his rant after a full five minutes. Tiffania couldn't help but clap at its conclusion, earning her a cheeky laugh from the boy. The sight of the boy's closed eyes, pronounced and whiskered cheeks, and his bright smile had the elf unconsciously smiling back at him.
"That really sounds amazing." Tiffania responded with the smile stretched across her cheeks. Naruto nodded enthusiastically at her words.
"It is. You should come there sometime! You would love it." Naruto's words managed to shock the girl once again. The smile left her face as a more thoughtful expression migrated to take its place.
"You really think so?" The blonde asked.
"Really! I could show you so much stuff and we can do everything! We could do…" As Naruto began to list off activity after activity, Tiffania found herself falling more and more in love with the idea. She had spent years living in the forest and while she had managed to help a lot due to her location, she had desperately needed some kind of change. Now the blond in front of her was offering it and it sounded so amazing.
The fact that he made sure to say 'we' a lot in his explanation certainly did help her make her decision.
"...I'll go." Her words came out soft but they still managed to stop the blond's talking in her track. As a large grin began to spread across his face, Tiffania knew that she had made the right decision.
"Really?" Naruto questioned. Tiffania gave a small nod of her head as a smile of her own began to grow.
"Yes. I would love to go with you."
"Awesome!" Naruto shouted before unexpectedly reaching down and grabbing the girl off the ground. Tiffania let loose a loud shriek as she was lifted high into the air by the blond. He didn't seem to be the least bit perturbed by her body pressing against his as he kept her lifted into the air for several seconds.
"You're going to love it. I can't wait until everyone meets you. Old man Ichiraku and Ayame are going to cook you the best ramen ever!" As the boy spoke, Tiffania found herself uncontrollably smiling back at him. In the back of the mind, she could tell that THIS was the real Naruto. The husk of a person she had found floating in the river had only been a shell of the boy. The excitable, loud-mouthed, hyperactive boy currently holding her up in the air was Naruto Uzumaki.
She was beginning to really like Naruto Uzumaki.
AN: This fic has been commissioned by RoCu. Like all fics I do through Pat-reon, it has the potential to evolve into a full fic if the demand is large enough. I hope you all enjoyed it. PM or review with any questions, comments, concerns, etc. Have a wonderful rest of the night.
P.S Crazy game, right?