Disclaimer: Naruto and all its characters are the properties of Masashi Kishimoto. No profit is made off of this fan-fiction story. Any additional original characters located in this story are designated at such and belong to the author, Jae (Dirtyangel).
A/N: Had a long winter break before this sucker could make its debut. Also had to chop it up just to make an update. Hope you all enjoy and don't forget to let me know what you think.
When The Time Comes
His pounding feet and thundering pulse had mixed into one dissonant sound, filling his ears as he raced through the tunnel. He was fueled by fear, adrenaline, and a palpable amount of panic. This was the worst case scenario he'd dreaded—the one that the fox had taunted him endlessly about. Even now, its rumbling howls of laughter were chasing after him as he forced his legs to move faster.
Naruto careened around a dark corner, stumbling over his feet but not daring to slow down. What could have triggered his black out? He only remembered walking home from hanging out with the guys. That was harmless enough, wasn't it? But here he was, tearing down this passage, praying it wasn't too late. He thought he had had this under control.
The tunnel drew back and the teenager found himself in an alley. His progress was suddenly stopped when an unseen force pushed back against him. It took him by surprise, but for the briefest moment. He pressed forward, determined to make it through. As he moved the force stretched around him, then flung him back and solidified into a wall. Naruto shoved at the barrier, running his hands over its surface, frantically searching for any type of give. His heart sank when he realized he couldn't go further. All he could do was watch the three figures cloaked in shadow on the other side of the alleyway.
One of them lay immobile on the ground while another was pinned to the wall, around his throat, by the third. The second man was pleading to be let go. He kept saying that he was sorry for what he'd said and that he hadn't meant it. His desperate whimpers sent an icy chill down Naruto's spine. Every fiber in his being was screaming at him to stop what was happening.
"Stop!" Naruto banged his fist against the invisible wall, hysteria creeping into his voice. He couldn't stand here and watch this. The very thought of what could happen terrified him; but he still couldn't regain control.
He slammed his shoulder violently into the barrier, pushing and clawing at it for all he was worth. There was no way he would let this go on. This wasn't him. Hot tears began to pour down his face and he rammed his body into the wall again.
"Do you hear me, asshole? Stop it!"
There was a faint snap and the struggling man's pleas abruptly stopped. His form went limp, all signs of life completely erased. Naruto froze in horror as the man's body was flung callously toward him.
"You're a selfish prick, you know that?" the third figure reprimanded. He stepped out of the shadows to fix an accusing glare on the teen. Naruto found himself staring back at a pair of deep blue eyes, half hidden by a mass of messy blond bangs.
"They deserve all the suffering I'm gonna bring 'em. So don't you pretend that you don't feel the same way."
These words hit him like a punch in the gut and plunged deep down to his very core. His knees trembled and buckled; and he found himself collapsing to the trash ridden ground, beside two prone bodies. He stared at them both, horror-struck. There was no one else in the alley. His fingers still tingled from having snapped both their necks.
Breathing soon became harder to do, and his vision dimmed around the edges, until all he could see were the two dead men. He clawed at his hair, shaking his head frantically. Why was this happening?
Because I want it to.
A scream bubbled up from his throat and jarred him awake. Instinctively, one hand sprang up to his chest, clutching the area over his heart. Its fevered rhythm was so intense that he feared it would burst right out of his ribcage. Naruto gripped the front of his shirt tighter, struggling to breathe normally. He took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds until his heart rate slowed. After the shock passed, he realized that the cold sweat drenching his skin was quickly drying in crisp outdoor air. Confused, his eyes finally focused on the overcast sky above him and then on the rest of his surroundings.
Naruto shifted onto his side. He was at the edge of a wood, on an outcropping of rock that overlooked a gorge. It was desolate. There were no buildings or animals, not even the chirping of crickets or the rattling of cicadas. The only sounds around came from his slowed breath and the rambling of moving water from somewhere far below in the gorge.
He had no idea where he was.
"Nonsense, you know exactly where you are," a voice said from behind him.
His eyes shot over in its direction to catch a glimpse of a long white cloak approaching him. When his gaze traveled up it settled on a tall male figure with a familiar pair of vermillion-colored eyes.
"Kurama," Naruto blurted out without thinking. The name jumped out at him as if it was the most obvious thing to say. In fact, he didn't know why he hadn't remembered it before.
The man-like creature stopped its advance and looked at the teenager curiously. It scrutinized him with an unblinking stare that felt uncomfortably invasive. Naruto began to feel awkward about what he'd said and averted his eyes sheepishly.
"That's your name…" he stated, feeling the need to defend himself.
Kurama raised its brows and gave a sharp laugh. "Are you informing me of that helpful tidbit?" it asked with no lack of sarcasm.
Naruto flushed, embarrassed. "Don't be a smart-ass, teme. I was only saying it, okay? Besides, I just remembered it."
Kurama chuckled in its deep reverberating voice and grinned slyly. It continued its progress over to the blond, staring down at him, amused. The humanoid body it manifested in was still unnatural to look at with its blazing red hair and sharpened canines. When it grinned the way it did, the expression came off as more feral than jovial.
"You mortals and your strange psyches," Kurama said. "You remember certain things and not others."
It glanced over its shoulder toward the line of trees behind them. There was an unusual darkness threaded between the tree trunks. No light filtering through the branches could penetrate it, and its presence seemed to emphasize the eerie silence around them. Kurama shook its head dismissively before looking back down at Naruto.
"And then there are the things you try so desperately to forget but can't. No matter how hard you try."
This last sentence was punctuated with a pointed leer that baffled him. Naruto eyed Kurama suspiciously before pushing himself up onto his feet. Unwittingly, his gaze wandered over to the wood and the mysterious darkness caged by the trees. It filled him with an uncanny amount of foreboding that made him tremble slightly. He was curious to know what was in it but was also unwilling to find out.
Kurama stepped into his line of sight, stealing his attention away from the trees.
"We need to speak," it said.
"About what?" he asked, eager to move on to something else.
The fox scowled, crossing its arms. "About the idiocy you're currently employing. What are you still doing in Konoha?"
Naruto bristled at the harsh tone and sudden insult thrown at him.
"What the hell are you going on about? I live in Konoha, asshole. Why else would I be there?"
Kurama sneered in annoyance then rolled its eyes impatiently. Its behavior was strange.
The Kyuubi was never the most congenial creature but this random aspersion was quite abrupt. Leery, he watched as it stalked off a few feet to his left. Naruto's suspicion grew even more when it whirled back around to give him an impetuous glare.
"This would have been much easier if you hadn't kicked me out of your surface thoughts days ago," Kurama growled, "Then I wouldn't have to drudge around through your dreams and deal with this ridiculously wistful shadow of you."
"I don't get what—"
"You are dreaming, you fool. You don't live in Konoha anymore and you haven't done so in over a decade. Now, I need the rest of your consciousness here so we can speak properly."
They both fell silent. A growing tension overpowered the space between them; it pushed down on Naruto with each second that passed. He stood grimacing at Kurama; his face twisting and converging through an array of expressions, unsure of how he wanted to feel. In the end, it was sullenness that won and what caused him to look defiantly down at his feet.
Damn the fox to whatever hell it spawned from!
But it was right; he was being too nostalgic. He didn't live in Konoha anymore, and he was making a bad habit of forgetting that.
A hand touched his shoulder. When Naruto looked up, he found himself staring at an older reflection of his own face. The man standing beside him smiled apologetically and gave him a gentle squeeze. Resignation ploughed through him with that gesture, its meaning not lost on him. Slumping his shoulders dejectedly, he focused on the steady weight that remained there and allowed his body to fray into nonexistence.
"It's about time you showed up," Kurama growled. It paced back over to Naruto after the apparition of his teenage self disappeared.
The blond had yet to turn away from the spot where his other self had been. A line of worry was etched across his brow and the corners of his mouth were drawn tight. It perturbed him the way his subconscious fixated on how things were when he was seventeen. He had spent the better part of the last decade trying to move past that point in his life; and yet, when he slept, he found himself trapped in a strange time loop of half remembered memories that he wasn't sure were real.
In truth, he couldn't remember much of anything from when he was seventeen. And that was where most of his anxiety about being back in Konoha originated. How could he think to answer all these questions of why he left when he could barely remember the months leading up to it, or even the year after? All he had to go by were horrible, surreal dreams that made him shy away from trying to find anything out.
"Enough with the self-pity."
Kurama's voice shook Naruto from his thoughts, earning it a displeased glance in its direction.
"Now that I have your full attention: What are you still doing in that godsforsaken inn?" it commanded, getting straight to the point.
Naruto sighed irritably and opted to ignore its inquiry so he could look back over the gorge. Kurama had said that he knew exactly where this place was, and he did. It was one of the few locations he could clearly recall from the unusual gap in his memory. No matter what he dreamt about, he always ended up here, at the edge of a mysterious wood overlooking a vast chasm. Curious still was the fact that Kurama was the only thing he ever saw here. The fox never acknowledged this bizarre coincidence but it didn't hide the fact that it knew something he didn't.
"If you haven't noticed, I'm being held there under house-arrest," Naruto finally decided to answer.
Kurama scoffed at his remark, "Don't be annoying, brat. House-arrest is for weaker individuals than yourself. You're there because you want to be."
That wrangled Naruto's attention completely. "Because I want to be?" he gawked at the fox indignantly. "Why exactly would I want to be locked up for days under surveillance with my son, no less?"
"Because of guilt."
A clawed finger jabbed him unsympathetically in the chest. The blond swatted it away angrily, scowling at the Kyuubi. Before he could return a nasty retort, it cut him off.
"It's always been about your guilt, boy. It's the reason why you pretend to be a farmer and tell yourself that you're no longer a shinobi. It's also the reason why you let that Uchiha drag you back," Kurama's words were abrasive.
"You can leave at any time you like. You already have access to some of my power, and if you asked, I would give you more—enough to level this damn building with the snap of your finger. So don't tell me you're 'under house-arrest'."
Its red eyes glowed with a tenuously restrained power. Naruto's skin flushed with the intense heat that began to radiate off of its humanoid form. There was no attempt by the fox to try to contain it; and behind them, the screen of darkness trapped within the wood began to quiver. Its collective mass slowly swelled outward, straining its way up through the branches and causing the tree trunks to bow and creak under its pressure. He watched the scene with a mounting dread that had his heated skin breaking out into a cold sweat.
The darkness worried him more than Kurama's blatant show of dominance. Staring into it like this made him feel as if something inside him was about to break.
"STOP IT!" he shouted. His words echoed out around them, amplified by the emptiness that saturated the atmosphere. Everything ceased with his command; Kurama's flexing, the pulsing blackness within the tree. He breathed heavily through his nose, barely able to contain his escalated anxiety. Fists balled tightly at his side, he stared the Kyuubi down with a wild look in his eyes.
"What do you want from me? What do you expect me to do?" Naruto demanded, "I'll admit it, I'm scared. And perhaps you're right, I am a fucking coward. But burning this entire place to the ground is not going to help me or my son."
Kurama regarded him with a detached expression. It cocked its head to the side and folded its arms. It replied: "I'd advise against asking me what I want, but what I expect is for you to stop running away, Naruto. How long do you intend to go on like this, a broken man without conviction?"
The blond flinched at the accusation, his grimace deepening. "That's not true—"
"Quiet!" the fox admonished. "It is, true. And that boy, Kanaye, does not deserve to call a man like that father. It's simply unforgivable."
The mention of his son arrested Naruto, stealing away his advantage of anger. Kanaye was one of the few topics that could throw him into a state of insecurity, and being labeled as an inadequate father was the worst. There was also the memory of Sasuke's recriminating glare and disavowing of their friendship. Naruto felt himself wilting from the shame it filled him with.
"Whether you stay in this village or not doesn't matter. Your past was bound to catch up with you no matter what. But for God's sake, don't continue to wallow in that resignation you hide behind. It sickens me," Kurama spat these last words out as if they were a foul-tasting meal.
His shoulders slumped further under the fox's criticism. Was he really that pathetic? All he had wanted to do was make up for the transgression he figured he had done and even the ones he couldn't remember clearly. He'd promised Kaiya that he would start over, leave his past behind. But had he lost his integrity in the process?
The ramblings of the water below morphed into the sound of rainfall for an instant. In that moment, Naruto thought he felt it on his skin; and when he looked down at his hands, he caught sight of a rain-sodden boy sitting in front of him. The child looked no older than twelve with a mess of blond hair and an ostentatiously orange jumpsuit flaunting a simple red spiral. His back was turned to Naruto but all his attention focused on the other drenched child sitting beside him. It was the most honest moment he had ever shared with anyone.
Where had that boy gone?
Naruto allowed the vision to fade back into his dreamscape and glanced up at the Kyuubi.
"I'm sorry, Kurama. I guess I'm just trying to figure out who I am, really," his voice was soft, humbled.
The fox frowned, seemingly bemused with what to do with this apology. Pressing its lips into a thin line, Kurama tsked, irked.
"You are so annoying."
This declaration hung in the air for a few moments before an amused chuckle wormed its way past Naruto's lips. His heart felt lighter with each joyful exhale and tears began to stream down his cheeks from the building emotion.
"That's me, dattebayo. That's me," he half sobbed, wiping the tears from his face.
Kurama rolled its eyes a second time then leveled him with an unimpressed stare.
"As long as you understand that, brat."
It crossed the few feet between them to place a hand over Naruto's heart. The action startled him into silence with how human the gesture was. He stared at Kurama, fascinated.
"It will help you move past your fear," it said cryptically.
Not moving its hand, the fox also added; "Now stop pretending. You are a ninja, so handle your business like one."
The powerful shove he received after Kurama spoke launched Naruto backwards a foot off the ground. He swore as he was sent plummeting over the ledge down into the gorge, a spike a panic hitting him when he realized he couldn't move. A booming drumbeat flooded his ears, reminding him of a beating heart.
That's when he noticed them; tiny drops of blood that flew away from him as he fell. His eyes followed their trail down to the hilt of a tanto knife embedded in his chest, precisely where Kurama's hand had been.
An overwhelming sense of déjà vu washed over him when he hit the water and everything faded to black.
There was no slow transition from being asleep to waking up. Naruto was simply awake, eyes open and body lacking in the lethargy that came from a deep sleep. The feeling was accompanied by a strange sense of calm that he didn't expect, considering the last vision of his dream was of him dying. He didn't know what Kurama had done but it seemed the fox was coming to know (if not already knew) his mind better than he did. It always seemed privy to the right thing to do to jumpstart some of his memory. He was convinced that it knew something about why he couldn't remember almost a year of his life.
Through all his contemplating, Naruto noticed that the ceiling he was staring at wasn't the soft cream color of his inn room. Also, the cot he was laying on was a far cry from the bed he had fallen asleep in. He sat up and looked around, surprised to find his son nowhere in sight but that he wasn't alone.
"Why am I here and what happened to Kanaye?" he asked the silver-haired ninja standing by the foot of his cot.
Kakashi raised both brows in greeting and moved his elbows casually, hands remaining in his pockets. "Ah, Naruto, glad to see that you're awake!" he said, pleasantly. Behind the older jounin, by the only door, was a watchful Sasuke. His arms were crossed, and he planted Naruto with a fairly aggressive glare. The blond shot him an equally challenging look. There was no way he was going to allow himself to be discouraged by Sasuke any longer.
"We had a slight change of plans this morning, but Kanaye-kun is safe and sound back at the inn. Sakura is with him as we speak," Kakashi continued.
Naruto frowned at his oblique answer.
"Exactly what do you mean by change of plans, Kakashi? I thought I was being held there until the Godaime saw me before my interrogation."
"He means you blew out all my surveillance tags on the upper floor of the inn. So you were moved at my discretion," Sasuke interjected. He hadn't taken his eyes off of the other man. "The chakra burst nearly knocked the walls of your room out."
A spark of annoyance lit up inside Naruto. Sometimes that damn Kurama was more troublesome than it was worth. For all the chastising he'd received for acting idiotic, that creature did some superbly stupid things. Hadn't the thought crossed its mind that it might have collapsed the building on top of both him and Kanaye while they slept? Not to mention the variety of other people also staying there. This was his fault for not paying enough attention to the full extent of their new internal setup. He hadn't needed to while in their quiet farming village; the fox never brandished power the way it did tonight.
Handle my business like a ninja. Just you watch me.
"Sasuke's right," Naruto heard Kakashi say, "So now you're currently in the lower levels of the Hokage Tower."
His former teacher analyzed him closely. "I'll have to admit, Naruto. I wasn't expecting that kind of behavior from you. You've seemed pretty level headed, if not guarded, since you've been back. That was a reckless move."
Kakashi watch the blond sigh and swing his legs over the side of the cot.
"What time is it?"
He and Sasuke exchanged glances at this redirect. It was obvious that there was much more going on than Naruto let on.
Under his mask, Kakashi frowned. Preferably, he liked keep things light-hearted, as he found it threw many of his opponents off and encouraged people to talk when they were reluctant to do so otherwise. However, there were times when he had to change tactics and use intimidation to get what he wanted. But this wasn't the place for that, and it wasn't his responsibility at the moment. He hoped that Naruto would come to reveal what he hiding on his own. From what he had observed, over the past week, Kakashi knew the man was tittering on the edge of something. It was only a matter of time before he finally burst at the seams.
He felt sorry for Naruto.
Kakashi sighed. "It's about time for you to see Hokage-sama," he indulged.
A gloved hand emerged from his pocket to point toward a pile of clothes sitting on a bench by the door.
"Change, then Sasuke and I will escort you up."
Tsunade took a long swig of the lukewarm coffee that had been sitting idly on her desk. The stuff tasted horrible, courtesy of her assistant, but it served its purpose. She needed something to take the edge off of the fatigue she was experiencing and also preempt the headache she expected by the end of the hour. When she placed the cup back down, a pair of large hands planted themselves on each of her shoulders.
"Come on, Tsunade. You can't fall apart so early in the game. You're too tense," the man behind her said while kneading her shoulders.
A nerve above her eye twitched with her increased annoyance.
"Fuck you, Jiraiya. You're not the one who's had Utatane and Mitokado up their ass for the past week about when this interrogation would happen," she shrugged his hands off and began massaging her own stiff muscles. "It was hard enough convincing them that there was no need to use someone from Ibiki's team or establish a formal inquiry. They think I'm being sentimental about this whole thing and might push to have a second interrogation if they think it's warranted. Why the hell did it take you so long to come?"
Jiraiya held his hands up appeasably, letting Tsunade dress him down. He knew she only did it because she was stressed and probably overworked. The pitfalls of a job he was unwilling to accept.
"Now, now, Tsunade. Take it easy on an old man, I'm not as spritely as I was forty years ago," he joked. The Sannin leaned back against the solid oak desk and smiled down at his old teammate. "When I got your message I was doing some investigating in Waterfall country. I rushed back as fast as I could."
Tsunade glared at him from the corner of her eye, but huffed in assent. She stopped her self massage and sat there expectantly. Jiraiya smirked, placing his hands back on her shoulders to finish the job. He considered this to be the best skill in his repertoire; relaxing a woman to better prepare her for the task at hand.
As he pressed both his thumbs along the line of muscle at the base of the kunoichi's neck, he asked: "So, do I get a quick titty grab before this all starts?"
"No, you perverted old fool!" Tsunade said in quick response. Her hand gripped a nearby pair of scissors to emphasize her point.
"You're so stingy, woman."
Their repartee soon fell to the wayside when their attention came back to the file sitting in the middle of Tsunade's desk. Jiraiya's expression turned serious as he reached down to pick it up. He flipped it open with on hand, keeping the other firmly on the Godaime's shoulder.
"How is he?"
A part of him was startled by the picture clipped to the upper left corner of the first page in the folder. It was like seeing an exact replica of Minato with the same long, spiky blond hair and deep blue eyes. The only problem was the look on the man's face; it was unsure and closed off. In the biographical information of the report it stated that Naruto was currently twenty-seven years-old.
"Frustrating. He's frustrating, which is no big surprise. But he's been very tight-lipped about what he's been up to during his absence," Tsunade answered. She placed her chin in her palm. "Like I mentioned in my message, we happened to catch him here while he tried to escape the village again. It's almost unbelievable, ten years of searching and all it took was him strolling back in unannounced."
Jiraiya moved to the other side of her desk and sat down in one of the chairs in front of it. He flipped through a few more pages before stopping on another picture.
"And he has a kid."
"It would seem so. Uzumaki Kanaye: Age seven, only child of Naruto and his deceased wife Uzumaki Kaiya. The woman was the daughter of a rice farmer named Yoshida Hotaka and his wife Ayako. Naruto and the boy live with them in their farming village."
"That doesn't narrow down where he's been by too much. Fire's riddled with farming villages, some of them rather remote. That's if the place is even in Fire Country," the frog hermit, pointed out. Tsunade grimaced and gestured to the file.
"I don't need reminding of that. Most of this report is piecemealed information from what Sakura's been able to wheedle out of Naruto's son and what Sai has gathered on his investigation while you headed here. It's not much but we at least have a framework to go off of," she said. "He's not the same kid you remember, Jiraiya. He's broody and secretive, and he doesn't even consider himself a ninja anymore."
Tsunade watched her comrade raise a questioning eyebrow that statement. Jiraiya finished skimming through the report and handed it back to her. She took it from him, peering intently at his features as she did so. He looked thoughtful as he rubbed his chin absently. She could guess at what he was thinking about. From the moment Naruto's disappearance was discovered Jiraiya had been looking for him, faithfully, for the past eleven years. His devotion to finding him could only be compared to that of a father's devotion to his son. Tsunade was glad he made it back.
When he returned her gaze the man smiled that cheeky little smile he was prone to.
"Don't worry, old woman," Jiraiya reached for her free hand and held it between both of his. It was still young and delicate looking compared to his large, rough ones. "I'll set the kid straight."
She smiled back at him, letting go of the folder and placing her other hand of top of his. "I know you will. That's why I wanted you to talk to him instead of the Council."
Jiraiya nodded resolutely.
There as was a firm knock on one of the office doors before a slight woman dressed in a chuunin uniform stepped in. "Hokage-sama, Hatake-san and Uchicha-san say that Uzumaki is ready for your appointment," she informed Tsunade.
The Godaime thanked her assistant and dismissed her. She took her hands back from Jiraiya.
"It seems I'm up," he said, standing up from his seat. Tsunade smirked as she pushed the discarded report further to the side.
"You know he's expecting to see me first."
Jiraiya placed his hands confidently on his hips; "That makes it all the more perfect." He strode out the office without another word.