I do not own Naruto and his friends. This chapter is beta-ed by Erugenel on 4th December 2007.
Chapter Twelve: Nightmares of the Past
When he woke up to a familiar murky and watery place, Naruto panicked.
For the first time in many years, he felt fear again. It was an emotion he was used to and he had almost forgotten that the feeling was so cold, so painful. It was so overwhelming that he felt himself drowning in it. Attempting to regain his composure, he shivered violently when he was gripped with feelings of hatred and anger.
"Brat, calm down. Don't let your other chakra take control of you," the demon lord warned in a low hiss as he watched the blond struggling futilely against the black, hand-like chakra clawing at his body. The demon narrowed his eyes as he saw the blond panting and emitting small whimpers of pain. Kyuubi had never seen the blonde display such vulnerability, including Itachi and the demon himself. He watched as the Naruto slowly fought off the callous chakra with sluggish movements, indicating his exhaustion and his waning determination.
When the last of the black wisps left the blonde's small frame and glided to the darkest corner of his mindscape, Naruto fell to his knees and panted heavily. Perspiration allowed his hair that defied gravity to stick to his forehead in clumps. He was about to reprimand the blonde's recklessness and seeming lack of willpower when Naruto inquired wearily, "What happened, Kyuubi-sama?" It was such a tone of despair and pathetic defeat, but then, Kyuubi remembered that Naruto was human, unlike him.
"That black chakra of yours didn't take the snakeman's gift kindly. Evidently, it saw the seal's effects as a potent adversary. I will find a way to disable the chakra temporarily and then we will launch the training exercise I have in mind," Kyuubi let his nine tails swish behind him pompously as he recalled what he had planned for Naruto. Oh boy, Naruto would be so traumatized after the demon revealed what he had in store for the brat.
Instead of listening intently to what Kyuubi was saying, Naruto was inspecting his hands that were decorated with black, wave-like wisps. Kyuubi stared at the boy for a moment before deciding that Naruto should return to the outside before he began his quest to effectively immobilize the black chakra. "Return to the outside, brat."
"A gift to prolong my life?" Kyuubi nearly smacked himself with his own tails when he discovered that Naruto did not seem to take notice of him. Naruto had a strange glint in his eyes as he spoke quietly, "I wish the Yondaime had killed me back then." Kyuubi looked down at the blond boy who looked extremely forlorn at that moment. The demon lord sighed exaggeratedly and chided softly, without a hint of malice in his words, "Grow up, brat. Life isn't all sunshine and flowers."
When Naruto did not appear to heed his words, Kyuubi continued sternly, "Life is all about power, and the route you take to achieve the ultimate success. You must understand that, certainly. You must be strong in order to overcome all the obstacles in your way and to conquer all the humans out there. You must have a heart of stone."
"A heart of stone…" Naruto muttered under his breath, still staring at his hands as though they were unwanted parasites. Recent events had taken a toll on his mind and body, leaving him drained in body and mind. He just wanted everything to end—what he deemed as the 'ultimate success'. He was so tired, and not to mention that he had royally messed up his identity when Kabuto almost told all the genin about him. Naruto would not let that man off easily after that dangerous disclosure of his identity.
"Of course, with power and a heart of stone, carnage and chaos will follow. It is inevitable, to say the least," Kyuubi almost purred as he said those words with mock solemnity. As the nine-tailed demon groomed himself leisurely, he noticed the slight quiver in Naruto's body and his maw turned into a frown. "Brat?"
When the demon vessel did not respond to the demon's call, Kyuubi tried again, "Naruto?" The next thing Kyuubi know was that his dark surroundings faded and the setting of the village came into his view. Despite being an almighty demon lord, Kyuubi knew that at times like these, Naruto would become extremely vulnerable and may submit to his own memory-induced 'movie'.
"Naruto? Naruto, snap out of it!"
He could feel the impact of a rock-hard boot crashing into his jaw, breaking it in the process, as he skidded across the alley. Naruto stood up wearily and eyed his attackers, all of whom were normal civilians and blatantly drunk. He held his broken jaw with one hand and felt the usual red chakra fixing it up within seconds. Disgusted with the blonde's 'demonic' healing act, the drunkards approached Naruto and waved their threatening fists.
"Stupid demon, why can't he just die and never wake up again?" A solid punch, despite the drunkard's lowered accuracy, was aimed towards the five-year-old and he made no move to dodge. He took it in order to please the three villagers so that they would leave him alone, like they always did when Naruto did not retaliate after a while. They always thought that perhaps, the demon would die if they just leave him there, bleeding profusely. Of course, the villagers were always livid when they discovered the demon vessel walking through the village, unscathed, the next day.
"Just die, demon." Naruto felt another kick to his ribs. A sharp pain flared at his side and Naruto realized groggily that one of his ribs might have been broken. After what seemed an eternity in hell where pain and insults were a daily occurrence, the drunkards decided to leave Naruto to bleed himself out as they laughed and joked.
The blonde hissed in agony as he tried to sit up in order to examine his injuries. His healing factor was already kicking in and that was what comforted him the most after all these dramatic episodes. However, as he attempted to stand up when his body was only healed about fifteen percent, his vision wavered and Naruto coughed slightly into his hand.
Pulling away, Naruto noticed the tinge of crimson in his tiny palm when the world turned black.
Naruto woke up to a comfortable environment, with a soft feather bed underneath his healing body. 'I don't ever recall owning such a soft bed…' was the first thing that came to Naruto's young mind. He scanned his surroundings warily and immediately, a figure with almost zero chakra dashed into him and started ranting. "Naruto-chan never tells me when he's hurting! Imagine what will happen to him if mama and I did not find him while traveling to the market?"
Naruto blinked once, twice, then, "Kagura-chan?" He rubbed his eyes sleepily and then came to a conclusion that he was in no danger, since he happened to be found by his neighbour and her mother. He remembered the first time he had known Kagura—when he was only four. He had been chased by a mob of villagers and Kagura had extended a helping hand and helped him escape. However, Naruto had never once considered her as a friend. He was too afraid to have one.
"Aa, Naruto-kun, you're awake! We were so worried!" A lady who looked no more than thirty stepped in with a bowl of congee, her kind features etched onto the young and petite face. Kagura nodded vigorously and exclaimed, "Mama, what's that you got in the bowl?" The demon vessel noticed a strange, and yet, almost sad glint in her beautiful gray orbs.
"This is for Naruto-kun, dear," Kagura's mother chided quietly. "For swift recovery, Naruto-kun! You must have it warm, I say. Cold food will go to waste." Being trained in a cruel world he was born into, Naruto could detect an undertone in the young woman's demeanor. Naruto backed away slowly, his back to the fluffy pillows he was propped up in, fear coursing through his veins. "I-I d-don't feel h-hungry, Asura-san…"
"But you must eat, dear. It will help with your injuries," Asura insisted, her face almost twisted into a sneer. However, when Naruto refused again and again, a pair of muscular arms grabbed him and forced his mouth open.
'The pillows… Kagura's father had used the transformation technique to change himself into pillows…' Naruto thought as he flailed wildly, but to no avail. Hot, white substance was shoved into his mouth and Naruto nearly choked but was 'saved' when minute fingers smoothed over his throat to allow the congee go down the boy's gullet. Naruto widened his eyes in pain at the revelation that the only person he might have considered as a friend betrayed him.
And the only thing Kagura said was, "You can never bring my grandpa back. So, the only option for you is to go to hell and repay for your sins."
Cold, it was snowing.
He was drowning.
What was pain?
He could only feel numbness.
"OI! Brat! Snap out of it! You idiot! How did you land your mind in such a mess?" Kyuubi hollered, as he witnessed Naruto's mind taking him on a very nasty trip to his past. Imagine having the entire village already landing his vessel in such a state, and yet, Naruto's own mind seemed to take a liking to mistreat him as well. Ah, the joy.
The scene faded again. Naruto had been so scared all the time but yet, his spirit was still unbroken. To say the truth, Naruto was the strongest person Kyuubi had ever known, as he only knew Naruto. Besides that, the demon lord found his vessel's unyielding courage to be his greatest strength, until Itachi found it all too bothersome and took it away.
Naruto was experiencing the day when Itachi left him at that very moment. Kyuubi thought that perhaps he had jinxed Naruto's mind somehow, or maybe it was just his imagination. He watched on as the Uchiha landed almost fatal blows on the blonde, all the time with Naruto trying to dodge the hits feebly. Itachi knew that Naruto was still weak and injured from the previous day—his birthday episode, when the villagers decided it was finally time to eliminate the demon once and for all.
Naruto could not feel, after that episode. Itachi's betrayal made him feel so hollow, so empty. His whole life had been a lie. It seemed that all the days before had been a lie—when Itachi trained him, helped him and healed him—all a lie.
"Why, Itachi-sensei, why?" Naruto inquired, tears welling up in his eyes. Itachi looked at the demon vessel indifferently as he continued his powerful assaults and replied coldly, "You had been assigned to me as a mission by the Hokage. However, I am leaving. This pathetic farce of a relationship we have, it has to end."
Instead of crying like Itachi expected Naruto to, like always, Naruto laughed hollowly, an ugly sound to be made by a young child. "Is this so fun? To give me hope and crush it again, like everyone else in the village?" Naruto switched from defensive to offensive as he rained blows on Itachi, with the other dodging them swiftly. Naruto could never ever believe what Itachi said next.
"You are merely a tool in order to test my skills. A mission assigned to me, no more, no less."
Naruto faltered in his attacks and instead, tilted his head up to reveal his neck, giving Itachi an opening. "If that is so, then kill me." His blue eyes looked worn and old as he scrutinized Itachi's demeanor, finding no emotions whatsoever on Itachi's face. "You're the same as the others. The villagers. I am too naïve to think that someone would come to accept me for who I am…" Naruto closed his eyes and smiled, a sad smile lingering on his face. "I will remember to haunt you and the village when I'm dead."
"No," Itachi pulled back and relaxed from his stance, his onyx eyes observing Naruto's every move. "I will allow you to live."
"What—" Naruto stared at his ex-teacher, dumbfounded. His head lowered and he clenched his fists in rage, his blue chakra cackling along with his fury. "What do you mean by letting me live? If you're going to leave the village, at least grant me this wish!"
"No. I shall let you live. I want you to feel the pain of living in this village, with all these weaklings," Itachi spun around and turned to walk away. "Perhaps one day we will meet again and I will see how you have grown. Or maybe I will learn that you killed yourself, smothered by the fear of this village. Weakness gives in to fear. Fear gives into anger. And anger, leads to destruction."
Naruto was absolutely stunned by Itachi's words. Every single word that fell out of that man—the man he once called sensei—felt like a stab to his still raw wounds. Then, hurt was turned into anger, and anger was turned into hatred. Hatred, something that Naruto felt everyday but something that he could never attempt to use against someone. He had been so scared—that this hatred of his would someday swallow him whole.
And it definitely felt like it at that moment.
"You can't leave me like this, Itachi!" Naruto ran towards the man, the man he came to trust, the man who gave him hope, with his right hand outstretched. Naruto narrowed his eyes as his hand was aiming for Itachi's throat, hoping that it would end Itachi's life once and for all—
Ino watched as Naruto thrashed around in his bed, perspiration constantly teasing Naruto. His hospital gown was drenched with sweat and his hair that once defied gravity stuck in clumps to his forehead. The blond girl sighed as she wondered what nightmare would cause Naruto to be so… vulnerable at that moment.
When the boy before her had emitted soft moans that held so much pain and sadness, Ino had wanted to use her technique and forcefully barge into the other's mind in order to free Naruto from his nightmare. However, Ino knew that this would be considered invasion of privacy, thus, she started to hum a short little tune instead. The tune had always soothed her when her mother hummed it to her while she had awful dreams.
Abruptly, Naruto's body went all rigid and Ino let out a sigh of relief. Allowing herself to think that perhaps her mother's tune did work for Naruto as well, and that Naruto's nightmare episode had ended, Ino reached out and swept Naruto's hair gently with one hand. She allowed a smile to adorn her face when—
"'Eave me like 'tis, 'tachi!" Ino gasped in shock as Naruto's hand found her neck and tightened its grip forcefully. Ino struggled futilely and watched as Naruto sat up and opened his eyes—they were obsidian black. Black wisp-like substances grew onto Naruto's hands and Ino looked on in horror as Naruto tightened even further, cutting off her oxygen supply instantaneously.
"Na-a-ru-to…" Ino wheezed, her hands clawing at the air and Naruto's hand blindly. She shut her eyes and prayed that either Naruto would come to his senses or someone would step into the room and rescue her. "He-he-help…"
"For the last time, Anko, this is a hospital, so keep your voice down!" the Hokage scolded, his voice barely a whisper. Anko had been going on and on about how Naruto should not have participated in the preliminary round since he had been knocked around previously. Anko knew that something like that would happen—when Ino informed them about Naruto's fainting—because Naruto was known for not telling anyone if he felt any discomforts and would keep up a façade that everything was all right, when they were not.
"Well, then tell Naruto that he should stop acting like he's fine!" Anko yelled disrespectfully to the door of the room where Naruto was admitted to when she heard an almost inaudible voice that sounded—oddly enough—to be the blond girl they met previously. "He-he-help…"
Astonished, Anko threw open the door and the scene before her left her dumbstruck. However, she quickly regained her composure—like every ninja out there would—and ran to Ino's side, releasing her from Naruto's grip. The blow that Anko landed on Naruto, although rather weak since Anko was afraid that she might hurt Naruto, allowed the blonde's body to slide out of the bed and hit the wall beside the door.
The Hokage jumped into action and proceeded to hold Naruto in his surprisingly firm grip. Inspecting the blonde's condition, Sarutobi told Naruto, "Naruto, you don't want to do this. You don't want to harm Yamanaka-san nor fight any of us." Anko stared at the Hokage and her ex-captain, wide-eyed as the blond girl beside her was leaning against the wall and panting heavily.
"Naruto—" Anko started, but was silenced by the demonic-looking blonde, "No. I shall kill all of you, like the demon that I am. Is this not what everyone wants?" The demon vessel had stopped struggling and the Hokage could no longer sense his killing intent, thus the old man released Naruto. Instead of turning back to his original form, which was not this other-chakra-induced form, Naruto's completely black eyes stared at Anko and Ino before advancing on them calmly.
"Naruto! Wake up! This is not you!" Anko cried, her hands reaching out to caress the brother she had came to love but Naruto took a step back warily. He bared his canines, cautioning her not to get any closer. The demon-like Naruto narrowed his eyes and murmured, "Am I not the monster every villager made me out to be?"
"You are not a monster, Naruto! I don't know what you've been through, but you're stronger than this! Snap out of it!" Ino shouted as she stood up unsteadily as her legs would take her and walked towards Naruto. A resounding slap could be heard in the room as Anko and the Hokage watched in disbelief when Ino slapped Naruto vehemently.
"I-I'm stronger t-than this…?" Naruto asked himself as his black eyes faded to become blue and the black wisps on his body were disappeared. He then realized finally that he was in a hospital ward with Anko, the Hokage and Ino. Ino…? Oh, he remembered that he had fainted when Ino was talking with him. That was a plausible reason that Ino was in the ward.
As if he discovered what he had done during the last few minutes at last, Naruto turned to face all of the others in the ward and gave an ANBU-like formal bow, "I apologize for my impertinence, Hokage-sama, Ino-san and Anko-san. I was trapped in a nightmare and that was why I was unable to control my actions. Forgive my violence." And there he was again, shut off to everybody in the world. Anko thought Naruto would become a crying, sniffling mess, but it seemed that she was wrong, again.
The Hokage, on the other hand, merely waved the apology away. "There is nothing to be sorry or forgive for, Naruto-kun. As long as Yamanaka-san and you are all right, everything is fine." Anko seemed as if she was going to protest—because clearly, Naruto was not fine as the Hokage put it—but the Third gave Anko a silencing gaze and shook his head slightly. Anko gave the Third a seething glare, but reduced its intensity when she saw Naruto gave a small smile and turned to the other girl in the room.
"Thanks, Ino-san, for assisting me in waking up," Naruto said quietly but as he noticed the obtrusive purple bruise on Ino's neck, he gave a formal bow again and excused himself politely, saying that he needed to go to the washroom. Ino could not help but notice how despondent the back of Naruto seemed when he walked out of the room and proceeded to the washroom.
'It's not just a nightmare, is it, Naruto?'
"What a monster." Somebody sneered.
"Look at him! See, that unkempt boy who looked like he rolled in mud a few times? Mummy told me not to be near him… Perhaps you shouldn't too!" A little boy said to his friend.
"Pathetic, you can barely withstand this small amount of pain? And to think we called you a demon… You are such a lousy one too!" A villager commented.
I shall let you live. I want you to feel the pain of living in this village, with all these weaklings," Itachi spun around and turned to walk away. "Perhaps one day we will meet again and I will see how you have grown. Or maybe I will learn that you killed yourself, smothered by the fear of this village. Weakness gives in to fear. Fear gives into anger. And anger, leads to destruction." Itachi-sensei had told him this.
Naruto turned the tap promptly in an attempt to shut all the voices out. The sound of running water cleared his mind instantly and he proceeded to wash his face vigorously. He had often told himself not to lose it. Never to lose his cool, and to regain his composure as quickly as he could if he did. It appeared that he was disobedient to his own objective already, only when he had spent a few months with a bunch of kids around his age. He had never actually lost it before when he was still in ANBU—so why? He could never understand his own mind and much less control it.
He looked into the mirror and saw his reflection, just like before—after the 'Ino incident'. He definitely needed more sleep—Naruto figured that he must have miscalculated about the hours he had slept while the Chuunin exam was in progress. The eye bags were showing more than they usually should, a sign of weakness, exhaustion. After the trick his mind seemed to play on him, Naruto felt more exhausted than he could ever be. He took every ounce of his effort not to think about the past anymore and put everything behind him, again, like he always did. So why did it seem more difficult this day?
Naruto took a deep breath and spoke under his breath, "Everything is in the past. I have nothing to look forward to, but at least, I must live in order to kill Orochimaru." He permitted his legs to buckle beneath him and he leaned against the cold, tiled wall, feeling very empty. There were many times when he asked himself, "What's the purpose of living?" And his answer would always be the same, "I will live, so that shows that I'm strong. If I want to die, that shows that everybody else who wanted me dead would have won. And that will show how weak I truly am."
Naruto pulled his knees to his chest and rested his head on them. He could still remember all the times when he was this miserable. There were nobody to talk to and he could never think that someone would ever comfort him. Times like these always made him want to give up and the only thing stopping him was his pride. He wanted to win and he would never allow the villagers to gloat over his dead body. No, he was much stronger than this.
"You are not a monster, Naruto! I don't know what you've been through, but you're stronger than this!" Ino had shouted this to him. She said he was stronger than this. His soul, which was nearly swallowed by the overwhelming darkness, allowed a sparkle of light as the words rang in his mind. "You're stronger than this!"
Alas, the light was snuffed out by the blonde's own depressed thoughts and the words seemed to ridicule him instead. "You're wrong, Ino-san. I am weak, just like how Itachi-sensei thought I was." As he attended to his own thoughts, an image of a smiling Ino came to him, her melodious voice humming a short little tune that he found very comforting.