Last ficlet thing, yay! Now we're around the start of Teamwork. Thanks to everyone! I'm going back to the main fic now, and hoping that Sasuke will actually talk to me. I'm only halfway done and I already have about fifteen pages. -sighs-

Beta: still my lovely Windshades. -kidnaps and doesn't let go-

It's weird how difficult it is to recognize streets he thought he knew by heart, even though he's now a few floors over the ground. And yet--Konoha. The Konoha that he knows and doesn't, and people he recognizes because they're similar to people he knows and yet aren't.

It's a collection of snippets and flashes and bursts of scents -- things burning, blood and guts bared to the air, charred flesh. He flits from one to the other, a jumble of moments that don't follow any kind of linear progression.

And then something snaps into place.

He's face to face with an older version of himself, and he has never felt more hate than he does at this instant.

The fire in the streets dances with the fire in his soul. There is beauty in destruction, or so he has been told; but unless beautiful and entertaining are exactly synonymous, he isn't doing this for the sake of Art.

No, he's doing it because he wants to, and that's the only reason he needs. He could find excuses in the fact that he was born this way, that he does it because it is in his nature to destroy and disperse, but the fact is--who the hell cares about excuses. Not him.

Not the man with his face. Not the man who watches him with determination and sadness and a sort of heavy finality that vaguely puzzles him. And he wonders, even as he roars and lashes out, testing his bonds with the disdain of a dragon for a lizard, he wonders why this man feels that way and why the hell he even fucking cares about a human's feelings. It's just one more human.

A human who's come closer to stopping him than dozens of his peers put together. Fool of a human, he's going to regret hurting him dearly -- just wait until he gets free. And he will get free -- he never gives up. He will -- any second now...

The world fades out, and he screams as something is ripped out of him. Or he's ripped out of something. He doesn't care which -- it's red pain, and then black -- not the soothing oblivion kind. It's the kind that's full of monsters, the kind that eats you alive.

Even a nine-tailed fox can't do much against a God of Death. He rages, and prepares to abandon a tail in exchange for his life, like he did the last two times the stupid humans managed to press him this far. It's not as if he can't gain it back later.

... Except... he's not dying. He has never had to endure such pain, but he's not dying. He's not dying, so he can't trade -- and the God of Death laughs at him and doesn't say a word, and then -- and then...

And then he's screaming, because he doesn't understand -- cold, and afraid, and hungry, and alone, his sole company a crumpled, cooling body curled around him. And he's alone in the cold, threatening dark with no way out. And he's just been torn from the safe dark warm place, from his mother -- he screams and screams, unable to cope with the pain in his stomach, the pain in his soul...

And then he's torn apart again.

Ages in the dark -- small eternities. The next flash of light comes only a few years, a few centuries later. He's not yet crazy. But he's at his breaking point -- he howls and rages against nothing; and then the sickly green light comes and he can almost catch a glimpse -- angry voices, insults he can't understand, although the tone is clear enough. He's going to kill them -- he's going to tear them into pieces and piss on their remains, hunt down their wives and children...

Darkness again.

But at least he has something to hope for, now.

Naruto wakes up with the taste of blood in his mouth, a tenacious memory. He knows he's going to wait a few hours before he joins his team; he can still feel the echoes of that crazy, obsessive hate the fox has clung to for so long. He's already forgetting the details, though -- besides that face, the only things that stay are a feeling of powerless outrage and the memory of endless dark. He opens his blinds wide, and then curls up at the foot of his bed, basking in the morning sun.

Well, at least now he knows that he's going to grow up to be reasonably hot, even if he doesn't have those narrow, piercing eyes.

He thinks of asking Jiraiya what he is, really, in regards to the Fourth Hokage. But in the end, it doesn't matter. Some people see him as the Fourth's legacy, but he's himself. He received his own legacy from the man, and now he makes his life with it, that's all. It doesn't matter when or why. These are the facts, as they are now. He has enough on his plate without trying to shoulder the past as well.

He's here and now, with his fox and his team, and the people he loves and those who hate him. It doesn't matter what a dead guy was thinking, and what a herd of morons is still thinking matters even less.

He's here. He's now. That's enough for him.