A.N.: Hello dear readers, 'tis AppleCore here. Please forgive me for taking for freaking ever to actually getting around to helping Angel with the chapter. I've been super busy with multiple things and have had very little time to write. So…please forgive me and go praise Angel for getting my butt in gear!! Oh and another note! You all might notice the fact that there are now poems/song excerpts at the beginning and end the (now) two existing chapters…please go check them out, for they are quite cool.
Now close the windows and hush all the fields:
If the trees must, let them silently toss;
No bird is singing now, and if there is,
Be it my loss. It will be long ere the marshes resume,
I will be long ere the earliest bird:
So close the windows and not hear the wind,
But see all wind-stirred.
I wanted to stay holed up in my apartment forever…or at least until hell freezes over, which ever happened first. Maybe then reality would stop knocking at my door, pounding on my windows, asking 'May I come in and make you face the sad facts in your life?'. Because quite honestly, reality is, simply put, a skanky bitch.
It had to have been about a month since we (the Rookie Nine and Team Gai) had received the news, and it had showed its effects on us. Every day we seemed to get more irritable, slowly and sadly counting down the days to when The Immortal…would become mortal.
No logic. No logic. No logic. There was still no logic here.
How can someone like me, who has thrived- no, strike that: lived- around logic, accept something that is so illogical?
I say it every hour of every day of every week I've locked myself up. No logic. There was still no logic here. Something has to be impossible if it does not make sense. That's what I've lived believing.
Until now that is.
But if I didn't look at the calendar, there would be nothing to count down…no days to mark off. If I smashed every clock that I own, then there wouldn't be any time to be passed, the minute hand will forever stand still.
If I made it so that Uzumaki Naruto didn't exist in my heart or mind, he couldn't die…right?
I felt that familiar, uncomfortable twinge of irritation in my lungs. I searched around my Chuunin vest pockets for that comforting square lump, but my search turned up fruitless. I was quite comfortable in my chair, allowing myself to be drowned in perpetual confusion. I strongly considered the option of ignoring the twinge, but my lungs demanded that they be filled with smoke, and they wanted to be filled promptly.
I let a tired groan escape my lips as I leaned forward in the hopes of falling out of my chair, for using my muscles to stand was far too troublesome at this time. And, not surprisingly, I did fall out of my chair. Deciding the pain was a small price to pay for remaining a lazy bum I struggled to my feet and plodded over to a drawer that Ino had oh-so-affectionately named "Junk Drawer-kun." I flung it open and begin sorting through the said 'junk', an animal like growl soon erupting from my chest. Still no smokes.
The twinge returned, now with a vengeance.
Shutting Junk Drawer-kun, I plodded into the kitchen and flung open the fridge. Various smells instantly informed me that having mackerel and kelp, my favorite dish (and the only thing that could substitute for a good cigarette) was out of the question. I once again grumpily pawed through the items, throwing food that was beyond its time onto the dining table to deal with later. When that was finished, I sunk into the table chair and slumped forward, staring intently at the molding food. I found myself seriously considering using a destructive jutsu to disintegrate the pile of use-to-be-edible-food to avoid the hassle of taking it to the dumpster. But the now slightly painful reminder of the need for food and cigarettes was enough to push even my lazy ass up.
The calendar haughtily informed me that I had been holed in for around three weeks, give or take a day. The mocking stare it gave me encouraged me to tear it off the wall and rip it to pieces to shut it up. Then of course I realized that when anyone (including me) starts getting mad at furniture, you needed to get out and about.
I knew why though, why I didn't want to step outside my apartment. Going outside meant that I had to face the fact that time had passed. I would have to face the fact that some of the prescious time Naruto had left had passed, and I had not been there to witness it with him. And why was that? What was the reason I had practically abandoned him? Because I didn't want him to die, I didn't want to see him sick. If I didn't see him die…if I didn't see him sick…than he had to be somewhere else in the world; healthy and still Immortal as the day I met him. That was logical.
Or, at least to me it was.
I felt around my vest for a wallet, and when I was assured that I had one, I remembered to shut the door behind me and grab a jacket on the way out.
A sharp pain stung my heart as soon as I stepped outside. It quickly dawned upon me that the foggy November weather had turned into the cold, fluttering December snow. I had let a month fly by without even noticing it, all because I didn't want reality to be accurate.
All because I didn't want to face the facts, not yet anyways.
I breathed a sigh of relief as the food and cigarettes were slowly but surely creating a nice weight in the basket looped around my arm. A quick survey of the basket revealed that instant ramen had borrowed most of my mind the entire shopping trip, covering the other contents of my basket with a nice thick layer of paper cups. It was a big enough hint from my unconscious that I would need to visit Naruto soon, least I go crazy.
Cursing quite profoundly, I began pushing aside the ramen, taking count of the food I had and estimating how long it would last if I ate two meals a day. I surmised that I'd last about another month on those rations and it would only cost me about twenty-five bucks to boot!
"Sh-Shikamaru-s-san?" A voice stuttered.
I turned to see the delicate face of Hinata peering at me. She was doing the regular gesture of poking her two index fingers into each other. However, when she realized that it was indeed me, she stopped and tilted her head in relief. "Oh...good, it is you," she said quietly, dropping the stutter completely. "I was worried I had the wrong person. You look different...Shikamaru-san."
I willed my fairly sleepy eyes to open wider. "Do I really look that tired?" She nodded slowly in answer. "Yeah…it's catching up with us, isn't it?" I continued, noticing her change of appearance as well.
She had the same bleak, light gray circles under her eyes that Naruto had all that time ago at the cafe. Her skin was dull and didn't have the usual shine that was once always present. Her face was one of a person who had spent much of their time crying, slightly red-eyed, flushed, and paler than usual. But her lips were set in a small, shy grin. Her eyes betrayed her true well-being, however, for though tired, they shone with a simple happiness and a gleam of hope.
She, for lack of better wording, looked like someone who was waiting for something that would never happen; hope the only thing she had to keep herself from truly breaking down. A false hope (but hope it still was) that kept her tethered to the world.
With another nod, Hinata raised her delicate finger and pointed across the street, to a small building. It was nestled between a boutique and a candy shop. The wood was old and tired, but painted a brilliant scarlet so that it shone in the midday sun. The window revealed the inner atmosphere; delicately woven pillows sat on a polished wooden floor, clean enough to eat off of. A clean stone table rose about a foot off the ground. Small cork saucers, along with porcelain tea cups and a large silver teapot with a bamboo-woven handle, sat in the middle of the table.
"Would you like to get some tea with me?" She asked quietly.
The "This is a smoke-free establishment" sign aside, the small tea house had a distinct air of welcoming tranquility. The deer scarer in the corner of the shop would hold my attention, filling up the hollow bamboo stick and plunking into the barrel to release the water. I found myself listening to the water trickle into the tube, then slosh quietly to signal its topple. The teahouse was quiet and small. The perfect place to think.
Hinata seemed to think so too. She had quite comfortably made our tea, not stopping to chatter like my troublesome mother. She spent time staring out of the window as she waited for the tea to heat. Her eyes were rather vacant and she didn't even seem to breathe. She was a delicate, pretty little thing, asked to face difficulties well beyond what should have been offered to her.
Hinata reached for the tea and gently poured it into two porcelain cups, pushing one in my cold hands. The aroma made my mouth water, and I sipped the liquid. Hinata did the same, but after a few sips she lost interest, choosing to stare at her tiny reflection in the cup.
"Naruto-kun…he's getting...worse." she mumbled quietly.
"...What?" the plastic grocery bags making a noise as I shifted myself, my legs bumping up against them.
She looked up from her tea and stared right at me, her bleak eyes filling with an immense sadness. It was a sadness that had been bubbling up from the inside out for some time…that much I could tell. "Shikamaru-san, Naruto-kun...he's...worse. He's getting sicker and weaker and he really wants you to visit, Shikamaru-san. Everyone else has visited at least once, except you. He says he doesn't blame you for it, but he wants to see you at least once, because...he's afraid that something may go wrong. He told me, that he wants to see everyone as much as possible before…before…" she trailed off, her eyes becoming glazed for a moment before she swallowed, the water in her eyes disappearing.
I stopped and put the teacup on the little cork saucer. My mind was flooded with excuses, answers, questions, ways to get out, possible escape routes, anything, everything possible to avoid that looming sentence.
"I--have a lot of--missions," I spat out painfully. "And--I need--food, and--cigarettes...and...weapons..."
Quite suddenly, Hinata's chakra gave a surprisingly violent spike, the power behind the action making me almost tip over. Her eyes were devoid of anything but anger, her cheeks flushing. She set her teacup down hard, a loud thunk announcing the impact. I could tell her stress, her anger, frustrations, at being able to do close to nothing to help the one she loved had built up for too long, and I had now become a vent for it. I could tell I had defiantly struck a nerve with in her that I shouldn't have.
"So you're telling me that missions, weapons, and cigarettes are more important than your friend?" She hissed quietly and deadly, so unlike the girl I had grown to know. The shy, petite girl- no, she was undoubtedly a woman now- that was our normal Hinata was suddenly gone. She shamelessly reached over the table and into my vest pockets, pulling out my cigarette pack and crunching it in her hand as she waved it in front of my face.
"Shikamaru, if you think that these things are more important than Naruto, then I'll inform you right now that by the time you're thirty, you'll be in the hospital for lung Cancer! And you know what? Naruto would visit you no matter what happened! He'd drag himself back from a mission with two arms and a leg missing if he had to!" She piled the crushed pack onto the table and stared at me, the anger beginning to fade. "Can you say the same?" she said, voice calmer with each word.
And as her words dwindled into a trickle, she looked down at her lap, her rage towards me fading entirely. My heart pounded in my throat as I drew a shaky breath. Of course Naruto was more important than my cigarettes. It wasn't that, I knew it, she knew it, practically everyone in Konoha knew it. I didn't want to see Naruto because...
He wasn't Immortal anymore.
I didn't want to see Naruto so weak and helpless. To me and countless others, he was a pillar of absolute strength, a beacon of hope in a world that was far darker than given granted for. To see him so sick and brittle would...break me. He's taught me to live, Neji to accept, Gaara to love, Hinata to grow, Tsunade to protect, Sai to express…
A Teacher, a Student, a Friend, a Foe, a Taker, a Giver, a Winner, a Loser. He had helped us all. No matter who we were, where we had come from in life; no matter how crude or kind we were or weren't to him, he had helped (in some cases had saved) us all from falling into our own darkness.
We had a staring contest; guilty, pained eyes against shy tired ones. Her eyes trailed to the ground and she bit her lip. I raised the tea to my mouth, but the once sweet and rich flavor was now bitter and sour in my mouth. No sound was prominent but the simple tick of the clock as it hung from the wall and the quiet chatter from the other customers in the tea shop.
I opened my mouth to say something, but a shrill beep halted me. Hinata's eyes widened and she thrust her hand into her pockets, yanking out a very, small black box that wasn't even as big as a pack of cigarettes. A small, red light was beeping urgently, accompanied by the same shrill screech. I wanted to cover my ears, but Hinata opened her mouth to talk.
"N-Naruto-kun...!" She whispered fiercely. She looked up, eyes full of panic and face twisted into an expression of fear as she pushed a button on the machine, silencing its shrill cry.
"Naruto…Naruto what? Hinata, what's going on?" I said slowly, trying to calm the girl down with merely my voice. It had no effect. She grabbed my wrist and bolted up, not bothering to smooth down her robes.
"Shikamaru-san!" She said urgently as she shoved the small beeping thing into my face, "The hospital gave me this beeper incase something bad happens to Naruto. Something's wrong!" She turned to leave, but my hand shout out on its own accord and grabbed her arm, pulling her into my gaze.
"I'll come with you."
It wasn't until we were half way to the hospital that I noticed I had forgotten my groceries at the tea shop.
Trust, you said
Who put the words in your head
Oh how wrong we were to think
That immortality meant never dying
"Get away from me! Please! I want a little more time! A little more! Get away!"
Frantic screams echoed down the hallways of the hospital as Hinata and I weaved our way through the mess. Nurses and Doctors rushed by us, medicines, carts, stretchers, and tranquilizers piled in their arms. As we neared the screeches, a sinking pit fell to my stomach and added another twenty pounds to my run. There was no doubt in my mind.
That voice was Naruto's.
We skidded to a halt as we saw at least seven nurses crowded around a doorway. Some had medication, but the majority had tranquilizers as they tried to push through.
"What happened?" A man (yes, a male nurse) near the rear asked, shoving aside the others to try and peek into the chaos. A nurse in front of him turned her head to shout back.
"He's reacting badly to the medication we gave him. He's broken out in fever and he's delusional. We think he thinks something's here to kill him!"
"Crap..." All thoughts of cigarettes and mackerel disappeared.
Forgetting entirely about Hinata (who was rushing to the aid of several nurses and a newly arrived doctor), I tore through the crowd, snapping and growling the entire way at these people. A few nurses shoved their clipboards in my nose and shouted something like, "If you can't see the fucking situation we have on our hands, this isn't a time for visitors!" I would always grab the clipboard and fling it to the floor, answering, "Get, the fuck, out of my way, now." No way in hell was I letting some pompous, know-it-all nurse tell me what to do. She was use to people listening to her, use to having power over people here in this hospital with her words. Always "The doctors say this" and "I'd advise that you…". Well fuck that! If I wanted to see my friend, I damn well would I pushed and snarled until I was standing in the doorway.
And the sight that greeted me it…it was...
Naruto was strapped to the bed by leather belts. He was kicking and twisting, flailing his pinned-down arms, and shrieking. Medics surrounded him and tried to stick tranquilizer needles into his skin, but a powerful flare of red chakra would lash out and the needle would burst into pieces each time. Nurses ran to and from his sink with wet rags and masks dabbed with a sleeping drug, but whenever they were touched to his face, he would writhe and shriek, "One more chance! A little more time! Don't get that thing near me! No! A little more time! Please!"
It was a nightmare…a horrible, heart breaking nightmare.
My feet moved forward. I wasn't aware of this until I was halfway across the room, and though I willed them to stop, they continued to carry me. As I neared his bed, several medics and nurses glared at me, but presented no resistance otherwise.
He was quiet and still for a moment, his head on his pillow. His face was flushed with fever as sweat trickled down his brow and into his hospital gown. His chest heaved up and down beneath the leather belt, each breath creating a painful, wheezing groan in his throat. His hands twitched. For a moment, he was at peace...until he turned his head slowly, painfully to his left, feeling an extra presence in his room.
As soon as those cerulean eyes hit my face, they widened in implacable panic. He wrenched under the belts as his shoulders heaved upwards awkwardly, gritting his teeth against the pain of straining such a sick body. Red chakra surged beneath his body as he pulled. With one final yank, his arms were free of their prison. He turned to me and reached out painfully, closing around thin air, dizzily trying to grab my shoulders or arm. When he did, he yanked me closer until I could feel his hot breath on my face.
His face was stricken with a look of an animalistic panic and horror. His pupils were dilated and tired, not focused on any one part of my face, or even me for that matter. I could tell his throat was dry as he tried to form words, as he tried to speak. Sweat coated his brow and cheeks, glistening against his flushed face, feverish face. But none of that disturbed me quite like what he said.
"Shikamaru!" He croaked, his hands trembling against my collar. "Please don't let her in! I don't want to leave! Get her away from me! Please…" He was sobbing now, falling out of his bed and into my open and ready arms. His arms encircled me tightly, my own settling on holding loosely onto his shaking form.
"Don't let her get me. Not yet. Not my time." He sobbed into my shoulder, his disturbingly hot forehead touching my neck and coating it in sweat.
My hands automatically found themselves making circles along his back in a soothing manner, slightly shaking in fear when I realized I could distinctly feel the bumps of his spinal cord. To my horror, I found that he was much skinnier than when I last saw him. The bones of his wrists and knuckles poked into my back as he clutched onto me, his now distinct ribs rubbing up against the inner part of my upper arms, and the bones of his ankles were sharp as they peeked out from the hospital gown.
"Naruto…who is this 'she' you're talking about?" I heard myself ask, the room now very quiet, minus Naruto's small sobs.
"M-Mother War. I can see her, can't you?" he said, looking up at me, eyes full of delusion and uncertainty.
Now that I looked more closely, his face had also changed since the last time I had seen him. The light gray under his eyes had become much darker bags; the skin of his face and arms were pale and had a sick, yellow tint to it. His eyes were now slightly blood shot, lips chapped, cracking, and he smelled strongly of vomit mixed with heavy lilac soap. Like someone had tried but had poorly covered up the smell of the bile and stomach content.
"I have no clue who you're talking about." I said truthfully. His head plopped back onto my shoulder, a sigh making him shake. His forehead was burning up.
Out of the corner of my eyes, I could see several nurses make their way slowly towards me, needles poised and ready.
"Get away." I growled, my anger spiking as they drew even closer.
"We're just trying to help…" one of the nurses said, taking the cap off of her syringe, the clear liquid in it sloshing before she pushed a small amount of it out, assuring that there were no air bubbles in it.
"How is drugging him going to do any good?!" I stated loudly as the nurses silenced at that, my ears not missing the mumbling that was coming from my friend.
"A little longer please…I promise I'll do it, ok? Just…please…" He said to himself, leaning more heavily onto me as his body began to exhaust.
"Naruto…who is this 'Mother War', who is she?"
He was quiet for a moment or too, clutching onto me tighter as he began to speak.
"She's the one who's going to take me away when I die…Kyuubi- he said so. She has to, because she has to come for him because she's his Mother and all this other stuff about how he has to become one with her again or something like that. She's waiting outside already and keeps looking at me through my window." He looked up at me suddenly, eyes filled with panic again. "She said-she said to me, 'If you don't immortalize me, I'll take away what time you have left!' she said that and she means it! Shikamaru, how do you immortalize someone? How?" he asked, his voice reaching a crescendo, it becoming raspier and more strained as it did.
Grabbing his face, I held it still so that he was looking me straight in the eyes.
"Naruto!" I said sternly "There is no such thing as 'Mother War'! She doesn't exist, it's not logical."
He grabbed my hands harshly and, with surprising strength, pulled both of us to our feet, stumbling as he did and ended up falling partially back onto his bed. It took him a moment or two of deep breathing and a rub to the temples before he was able to stand back up again. My eyes did not miss the fact that his legs were shaking slightly from his own weight. As he grabbed my hand and led me to the window, he stubbornly said,
"She's right there…right outside there. Why can't you see her?" He jabbed his finger at the window accusingly, though nothing was there. He twisted his head to glare at me. "Just because something's not logical, that doesn't make it any less real! It's not logical that they shoved a ten-story beast into a child, but they did. It's not logical that the kid was beaten senseless as a child, but he was. It's not logical that he lasted for eighteen years without Cancer striking him down, but he has. Shikamaru, I'll tell you what's not logical. How you fling around logic as some sort of excuse when you don't want to understand something! That's so illogical that it makes me want to shit myself!"
"Naruto-" I began, before a even greater wave of panic filled his eye and he cut me off.
"She's waiting! Can't you see her? Don't let her get me! Ah--Shikamaru, she's coming! No no no no no! Shikamaru, forget what I just said! Get out, get out, get out! She'll get you too if you stay, Mother War will get you too! Leave!"He yelled, pushing me away from him as he huddled himself on the floor in the nook his bed created against the wall.
And then the nurses swarmed him, holding him down as one stuck him cleanly, his crying still persistent until his body went limp with exhaustion and medication.
"I...suppose you should be thanked," She said tiredly as she tilted her head back and closed her eyes. She let out a drawn-out sigh and gazed at me. "You managed to distract him long enough to get the tranquilizer in..."
But I wasn't listening. I burst from the room, his howling echoing in my head. Echoing much more loudly than Hinata's pleas for me to stay there, echoing much more loudly than my own pounding heart.
She's waiting! Can't you see her? Don't let her get me!
The feel of a bony body caused goose bumps to run up my arms, a shiver following them. I could see my breath come out in big puff of white steam, looking oh so much like my precious smoke. I ran dead on into someone, nearly losing my balance as I did.
"I'm sor-I'm sor…" I heard myself try to choke out, my breathing harsh and ragged.
"Shikamaru, what's wrong?" the voice was familiar. I let my eyes travel to the face of the person I had run into, a different set of blue eyes and a head of yellow hair met my sight.
"Shikamaru…" Ino said; a tone I had never heard in her voice before "Shikamaru, why are you crying, what happened?"
My fingers instantly raised to my eyes, the wetness there telling me she was speaking the truth.
Her hands grabbed my wrist gently, her eyes asking the question again.
"I can't- I can't-he…Naruto, he's- he's dying. Isn't he? Ino, he's really going to die, isn't he?" I hear myself ask, my voice trembling.
Her eyes suddenly well up with tears and I vaguely realize that she's nodding. I bolt from the spot to my apartment, quickly locking the doors. It's hard to see through my tears, but I can still see the calendar, that god damned calendar, gleaming at me with a smug and mocking look.
You can't stop it you know. He'll die, no matter how much you ignore me or your clocks.
It seemed to say.
Running to it, I ripped it right off the walls, tearing it to pieces. Watching as the paper fell to the floor, I couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness and hopelessness overwhelm me. My tears had dried for the moment and all I was filled with was frustration and pain, disgusted at the injustice of fate and chance.
Opening the window to my apartment, I angrily flung the rotting foods that still lay on my table out of it, ignoring the cries of annoyance from the people passing by below. The few clocks that I owned soon found their way out of the window as well, a satisfying sound of breaking gears and metal soothing me each time one would hit the ground below.
I soon found myself sitting on one of my kitchen table's chairs, staring out the open window, the cold air and snow somehow not making my skin feel cold in the slightest. I felt water start to slide down my cheeks once more, and my body soon wracked with the sobs that followed it.
He was sick. I had seen his frail and dying body for myself. He was dying…he was really dying.
My face buried its self into my hands and I cried like I had not cried since I was little. I could feel my heart smolder in pure grief and emptiness, the idea of a world without Naruto finally sinking in. That single thought, of a world without our epitome of hope in it set shivers through my heart and kicked the bottom out of my stomach. And from the solitude behind my closed and tearing eyes, I could see a deeper and engulfing darkness spread at that one thought. Like a giant, black mouth, it began to open, threatening to consume me
God…I needed a smoke.
I soon found myself in a dream, my awareness being brought on years of practicing lucid dreaming. A field of lush, green grass and a sky full with fat fluffy clouds was my surroundings. I lounged there, enjoying the peaceful place brought on by sleep. So calming, pure, un tainted…a mini paradise.
And then something chilling happened. The fluffy clouds became dark and stretched themselves thin, the blue of the sky turning a dark, reddish-purple, the grass withered and died, and the crisp air became thick with the smell of smog and smoke. A movement to my right alerted me to the oddest looking person I had ever seen, in and out of my dreams.
Her hair was held up into two large, brown buns on either side of her head, an antique looking gas mask covered the entirety of her face (somewhere along the line it eventually dawned onto me that the mask was her face) a long nozzle attached to it where her nose and mouth would be. Her dirtied silk and gray dress had a high collar to it that wrapped around her thin neck, sleeves and skirt tattered and splattered every now and then with what looked like old and dried blood. Barbed wire threaded its self throughout her outfit, it its self dirty with rust ad what looked like bits of flesh stuck to a barb or two. The skin of her hands were white like alabaster stone, minus the parts of her fingers that were covered in dried grease, blacked to the core, nails bitten down to the blackened flesh of the finger tips. And all I could wonder was what she might represent in my mind.
"Who are you?" I asked, almost immediately regretting it.
She turned her face towards mine, her body shifting slightly where she sat. Something cold swam its way through me, making me wish she hadn't looked my way.
Your friend…the sick one, he has a full seventy-six days, twenty-two hours, fifty-eight minutes, and ten seconds left to live before I'm to come get my child back from him. He said he'd immortalize me-promised me he did-so I let him keep what time he has left. I don't usually do that for others you know…
She had the most beautiful voice I had ever heard, its sweet and liquid smoothness making me groggy for a second or two; thick with an ancient accent I'd never heard otherwise. That was before a realization dawned upon me. The words had not been spoken out loud, but seemed to have come from inside of me, from somewhere I hadn't known existed. A deep fear suddenly bubbled in my chest as I felt that cold something swarm through me again and at quite an alarming rate too.
"W-who are you?" I yelled, demanding from her even as I slowly backed away from her, on all fours too.
Her head cocked sideways for a moment, studying me from behind the black glass covered holes that were her eyes.
Mother War, my dear boy. They call me Mother War.
The fear bubbled again, and this time it exploded violently. Like a reactor.
I nearly flung myself out of the still opened window in my kitchen when I bolted awake from the chair, my body slick with sweat. Breathing in the cold December air, I calmed myself until I was able to finally stop worrying about the fact I might possibly have a heart attack. Shutting the windows, I regretted throwing the clocks out, for the simple fact I had no real clue as to what time it was. The hustle and bustle of the streets below though told me that I must have actually slept through the night and into the next day. I swallowed and was disgusted by the taste of morning in my mouth, and making my way to the bathroom, I tried to remember my dream.
Washing my face, I tried my hardest to figure out what might have woken me up in such a way, so violently. There was a field that had died, that much I could remember…but there was something else, something that put a heavy weight on my heart.
---Your friend- seventy-six days- get my child back- call me Mother War---
The words, if only fragments of sentences, sent a wave of pure terror through me. Mother War…Mother War…
Where had I heard…?
And as soon as it hit me, I bolted out of my apartment, not even bothering with a coat.
When she embraces
Your heart turns to stone
She comes at night when you are all alone
And when she whispers
Your blood shall run cold
You better hide before she finds you
Whenever she is raging
She takes all life away
Haven't you seen?
Haven't you seen?
The ruins of our world
Excerpt from Ice Queen, Within Temptation
The words of the dream echoed in my mind as I came closer and closer to his room. Stumbling upon two of the nurses I recognized from the day before, I hid as what they were saying caught my attention.
"Can you believe him? Day after such a bad reaction and he's persisting on drawing when he should be asleep!"
"Do you think he might still be delusional? I mean, he's still going on about this 'Mother War' person."
"Who knows…Hokage-sama said to let him do as he pleases, so there's really no argument in the matter."
"Yeah, but don't you think he's lost it a little?"
A moment of silence before,
"Maybe a little, but who wouldn't go a little nuts when you know your days are numbered like his?"
It was at that moment that I decided I had heard enough gossip about my friend. Turning the corner, I acted like I hadn't heard a thing, nodding to the women as I passed them and made my way into his room.
And there he was, propped up in bed by at least half a dozen pillows, an ice pack tied to his head with some gauze and medical tape, and a sketchbook was sitting on his lap. A pencil brushed across the surface of the book as Naruto flicked his wrist back and forth. His face was set into a mask of concentration, his tongue poking out of the side of his mouth whenever his brows furrowed in a supposedly difficult part of the drawing. Sometimes he would make a mistake, let out an annoyed grunt, and began erasing the error with more force than was necessary. He'd occasionally lift a hand up to scratch his head…not that the ice pack would really let him anyway.
He was a complete picture of calmness, the foundation of what a Jounin should be. Not the screaming, raving, feverish, delusional figure that he was yesterday. Not the obnoxious, loud, boisterous, ear-splitting child that he was for many years.
He was a calm, dedicated Jounin, wrapped up in the endless cycle of life and death.
And he had accepted it.
I moved cautiously over the floor. He appeared so restless and yet calm, I didn't want him to see me and become startled. The fact that he was no longer screaming about Mother War helped a lot. Mustering up enough courage to break such a trance of concentration, I discreetly cleared my throat, nice and loud. He jumped slightly at the sound, eyes taking a panicked edge to them (akin to what they had looked the other day) before relaxing openly, scratching his nose as he gave me what I now knew to be one of his true smiles.
"Shikamaru, you finally came to visit! How you been?" he said, motioning to the chair that was set beside his bed.
I let out a little sigh as I settled into the chair, yawning as well.
"I've been better…but don't you remember me visiting yesterday?" I asked, truly curious to see if he remembered what had happened the day before.
A small frown formed on his face, his hand stopping its motion across the paper to come up and let the eraser of the pencil tap against his chin; he was trying to recall yesterday. After a moment, in which several small noises of frustration formed in his throat, it became apparent he had no memory of the day before.
"I can't really remember to tell the truth…Tsunade told me I had a really bad fever though and she said I was really delusional and what not." He finally answered, letting the pencil drop back down to the page, the subtle movements of his hand and wrist continuing quietly.
There was a slightly awkward silence that hung in the air, soon broken by his voice again.
"Was I bad off? Did I say something that made you come back…did I say something to scare you?"
I was quiet for a moment.
"You kept talking about a woman named 'Mother War'…you told me she was waiting outside for you. For when you die, you said."
My eyes stayed glued to his face, his hand stopping again as soon as I mentioned her-this thing he had become so scared of- and his eyes widening slightly in fear. He turned to me after a pregnant pause and said,
"I know you must think I'm completely nuts, but trust me when I say this-she's as real as you or me. Mother War is as real as the very breath in my body, as real as the sun or gravity."
"But-" he held up a firm hand, shutting me up instantaneously as he turned back to the sketch book in his lap, looking at what had been drawn there intently. The icepack slide forward on his head slightly, his left hand automatically righting it.
"Kyuubi told me about her. He told me about how Mother War is literally his mother. Demons aren't usually born in the way we're familiar with."
I knew that much. Demons usually were spawned from huge concentrations of negative emotions, auras, energies. You name it, and in enough quantity, negative things could form into a demon.
"But he, Kyuubi, he's different from other demons. All of the nine beasts are different from other demons. Mother War…she created them all by herself and in her image too. She took small parts of herself and gave birth to them in the form of those demons. She's their mother, literally. Kyuubi told me all this a long while ago, when the mutations started to get worse and worse and harder to even try and fix…when he started realizing that I really might actually die sooner than later. He told me that when I die, he'll die too. The part of him that Mother War used to make him has to go back to her, that's why he says Mother War is the one that has to come get me. You'll believe the words of a thousands plus year old demon, won't you?"
I swallowed numbly…I knew a demon wouldn't lie about something like that, since it had to do with its own well being as well as its container's. At this point, I couldn't help but thinking that throwing logic out the window would actually be a good idea…
"I believe you…it doesn't make a whole bunch of sense, but I believe you." I said, watching as the corners of his mouth turned upward slightly.
Standing up, I walked the few short steps or two over to his bed, trying to get a good look at what he was drawing. He closed the book slightly though as soon as he felt me looking over his shoulder.
"No peeking! It's not done yet!"
"Come on…you're the least likely person in my mind to be able to sit long enough to draw something. Let me see the work in progress." I said, playfully mocking him.
He stuck out his tongue at me, saying,
"As long as you don't laugh or anything."
I put my hands up in defense.
"Would I laugh at something I wanted to see?"
He pouted for a moment or two before he wrenched the book open and let me look over his shoulder, his eyes glued to my face.
What I saw wasn't an extravagantly bad picture; in fact it was quite well drawn, a slight surprise in its self. But what made me freeze for a moment, what made my breath hitch, was what the picture was of. Brown buns wound tightly on top of a woman's head, face that of an ancient nozzled gas mask, head cocked sideways, with glass covered black holes for eyes staring at me. A tight and high collared dress made of dirtied and disgusting looking silk, barbed wire laced throughout the material, and what looked like bits of flesh hung dryly to some of the barbs. The fingers that were laced together and sat in her lap looked black, the nails bitten down as far as they could go to the flesh.
It took me a moment for me to get the feeling back into my legs, but once I did, I found myself walking back to the chair, lowering myself into it quite heavily and shakily.
"Shikamaru…" Naruto tilted his head worriedly.
"That…that's her isn't it?" I asked, my heart thumping loudly in my head.
Naruto's mouth opened a little bit in shock as he nodded his head, closing the book fully with a small slapping noise.
He stared at me and I stared back, my heart still pumping away.
"Shikamaru...where have you seen her before?" he asked me.
"In a dream. Last night she was in my dream. She said…she said…" Something cold wormed its way around my heart and throat, making it a little hard to breathe.
"Kyuubi said that this might happen. The longer she stands waiting for me to die, the more people are going to be able to start seeing her."
I sighed shakily, and nearly jumped two feet into the air as a knock on the open door sounded.
"Baa-chan!" Naruto cried happily, placing the sketchbook and pencil on the floor as Tsunade enveloped him in a great hug.
"I see you're still drawing, even though I told you to rest." She said, smacking him playfully over the head.
"Ouch. You know why I had to do it Baa-chan! She said she'd take my remaining time if I didn't immortalize her in some way!" Naruto responded, rubbing the place she had lightly smacked him.
She sighed a heavy sigh, a sigh of someone who still really couldn't believe what was being said.
"Well I know why you did it, but didn't I tell you earlier that if you reacted poorly to that medication, we'd have to start chemo therapy right after? You need your rest so your body's strong enough to deal with the strain."
Chemo…hadn't Naruto, oh-so-long-ago, said that they had wanted to save chemo and radiation as a last resort?
"Chemo…you're starting chemo therapy?" I said out loud, well aware of the fact that Tsunade seemed to be giving me the cold shoulder. I didn't blame her. It all but seemed that I had abandoned Naruto when he had really needed as much support as he could get, including mine.
Naruto gave me a small, sad grin as an answer.
"Nara-san, I'll have to ask you to leave. Naruto needs to rest before he starts the treatments." Tsunade said, rather curtly.
I stood, and bowing to Tsunade (uttering a simple "Hokage-sama" as I did) I waved to Naruto and forced my lips to curl into a smile, to tell him I'd be by to see him again as soon as I could. I saw him grin as I closed the door to his room.
As I walked out of the hospital, I turned to the window that I knew belonged to Naruto, waving to him as I spotted him staring out of it. But when he did not respond to my wave, that was when I noticed something peculiar. His eyes were half lidded, mouth slightly open, staring at a spot that didn't look very far away. Following his line of view, I spotted something I would never forget.
In the midst of the busy crowd stood Mother War herself, she staring intently up at the window. Quite suddenly and in a fashion that made it look like her was some how broken, she turned her head sharply so her face (if you could call a gas mask a face) was staring at me, the dark holes boring into my eyes, making me shiver as a series of cold waves of panic and horror washed over me. She lifted one slender, alabaster hand, its digits black as charcoal and waved at me.
Hello, my dear boy. Did you have pleasant dreams?
I could hear the mocking tone in her heavily accented voice as it drifted forth from the part inside of me that I hadn't known existed, fear bubbling in my chest again at its sweet sound.
"Shikamaru! Shikamaru, did you even hear me? Hey, are you listening?" another voice broke the spell the Mother of War seemed to have placed me under and I was able to look away from those right down bottomless, dark holes in her face. I turned and was met with a much more comforting set of light blue eyes.
"Shikamaru, didn't you hear me ask you why you don't have a jacket? It's freezing out and you'll catch a cold!" Ino said, oblivious to the spell she had just broken me from.
Turning back to the spot where I'd seen her, I found that Mother War no longer stood where I'd seen her. I looked back to the window to find Naruto staring at me, his eyes asking the question 'Did you see her too?'
I nodded solemnly to me, his face setting its self into a frown as I did.
"Did…did something happen that I missed?" Ino asked me quietly, grasping my sleeve gently.
"No, I was just saying 'hi' to Naruto." I lied, waving up to the window to prove my lie.
Naruto waved back to both of us, what we both recognized now as a fake smile forming on his face.
No…no wonder he treated death as if it were a person. For all I knew, death did have a physical form now. And it was that of Mother War.
Heaven help us now
Home crashing down
We'll hear the sound
As you're falling down
Excerpt from Heaven Help Us by My Chemical Romance