The other person grunted and, with a monumental effort, dragged Naruto out of the fissure. Naruto tried to help himself by moving his legs and trying to climb out, but the other person had already gotten him onto solid ground.
Naruto felt himself being cradled and held upright. He gasped, trying to catch his breath. A hand rubbed gently over his back. He half expected his clothes to be covered in muck from the quicksand-like feeling, but they were only splattered with blood, leaves and burn marks. Finally, he got his breath back and turned to see who had saved his life.
His heart stuttered in his chest. Not again. Naruto tried to bring his fist up to the other's face, only to have it blocked.
The blond swung his leg forward, to have that grabbed and used to flip him onto his stomach. The other man pinned him. "What the hell are you doing?"
"I thought I killed you!" Naruto snarled, struggling to escape the other man's grip.
Minato pressed Naruto's forehead into the ground. "Calm down! What are you talking about?"
"You're an illusion! Some trick to stop me! Get off!" With a roar of rage that the monster would dare to come back, Naruto bucked hard and threw the other off him.
He shoved himself to his feet, to come face-to-face with a long-handled kunai dangled on Minato's finger. He frowned, noticing that the yellow seal on it was gone.
"Do you recognize this?" Minato asked.
Naruto took a step back, eyes wary and on the other blond. "It used to have a yellow seal on it."
"Exactly," Minato said, lowering it. "Did you ever hear of my Flying Thunder God Technique?"
Naruto nodded slowly. "Yeah, but no one explained it to me."
"It's a complicated jutsu, but basically, that yellow seal alerted me to when you threw it," Minato continued. "It's also called the Flying Thunder God Technique because I use the seal as a lightning rod of sorts. I hone in on it and can transport myself to any seal instantly. That's why I gave it to you. If you threw it, I'd know and be able to come help you."
The taller blond eyed the kunai. "When the missing ninjas kidnapped Raidon and you fought them, I didn't see you use any kunai," he said, daring a challenge.
"I don't need them anymore over short distances," he explained. "I have been doing this for twenty-five years."
Naruto considered the kunai, then the man holding it. Keeping an eye on both of them, he stepped back to look through the door. He saw the pile of ashes on the floor from when he'd destroyed the impostor. He glanced back to the man who'd pulled him out.
". . . Dad?"
Minato nodded. "Yeah, it's me."
Naruto relaxed, letting the fear flow out of him. Unfortunately, the adrenaline had been keeping him standing, so as soon as he let that go, he started to collapse. Fortunately, Minato was there, again, to catch him.
"Come on," he muttered. "Did you remember to put at least some medical supplies in your pack?"
Naruto nodded, allowing his father to lower him to the ground. "Yeah, some bandages, a few pills, that stuff," he grunted.
Minato began rummaging through the pack, finding some blood replenishment pills and stuffing them into Naruto's mouth. "Chew," he ordered.
Naruto obeyed, forcing his jaw to move up and down, crunching against the pills. He swallowed with some effort; his throat was dry due to the high amount of fire-breathing jutsus he'd performed that day. His eyelids drifted shut and he took in his father's presence. After the day he'd just had, Naruto was glad for the comfort.
"What the hell is this?" Minato snapped, cleaning out the wound on his shoulder. "Did something try to . . . eat you?"
"More or less," Naruto murmured. He could just hear his father's heartbeat and its rhythm was putting it to sleep. That or he was passing out. Pain jolted him awake as his wrist was set and wrapped. He hissed at it.
Minato snorted. "Not a word of complaint," he commanded. "Not a word."
Naruto closed his mouth for a moment. "Were you back in Konoha?"
He seems pretty angry for some . . . oh. "Did you talk to Mom?"
There was a pause. Then, a softer "Yes."
Silence reigned in the room as Minato bandaged up his wounds. He eventually finished with the big ones and sat back, wiping his hands on a nearby tablecloth. "Well, you're all taken care of," he commented. "Not that it matters, from what your mother told me."
Naruto's brow knit. "I actually don't know if it would."
"What are you talking about?" Minato sighed, rubbing his eyes. "Use your brain. If this is a suicide mission, it wouldn't matter how injured you were."
"I'm not going to die on this mission."
Though Naruto wasn't looking at his father, he knew that the electric blue eyes had focused on him with burning intensity. "What does that mean? Meara said that you said—"
"I know what I said," Naruto interrupted. "She took it the wrong way. I'm not dying on this mission."
Minato stayed quiet, trying to find a solution that made sense. Naruto decided to help him out. "What I'm here to do . . . will change the world."
"And I don't mean figuratively or meta—metaphoni—anything like that, it will change the world literally. When it changes," Naruto took a deep breath. "She won't be there."
The Hokage considered this, his throat working as he swallowed several times. "How do you know she won't?"
"I lived in that changed world," he answered, his heart pounding. "That's where I really grew up. Then, someone changed that world and sent me here. I need to fix it."
"Why?" Minato's voice was oh-so-slightly hoarse.
Naruto closed his eyes. "So many of the people I love are better in the old world," he said. "Sasuke, Sakura, Kakashi, Jiraya, Tsunade, Ino, Shikamaru, Iruka, Lee, Gai, Gaara, Neji. They are all so much better in that world."
"But your mother isn't," Minato concluded.
"Neither are you," Naruto admitted.
"Your mother and I are both . . ." Minato didn't finish it.
Naruto nodded. "Dead."
" . . . What about your sister?"
Naruto shrugged. "I didn't know I had one until I came here."
Minato sat back, digesting all of this information. Naruto stared into the middle distance, praying desperately that his father would react well. Would understand. Anything but the dream.
"You said, you said you needed to do this," he responded after an eternity. "Do you want to?"
Naruto turned his head and met Minato's eyes. They looked like something he'd see in the mirror: bright, vibrant, full of unbearable sadness. His own, he knew, were burning with tears that wanted to fall. Naruto felt his resolve, his shinobi reserve faltering. Damn. Why couldn't I just lock away my emotions, like I'm supposed to? Why can't I do that now? Why do I always have to lose control?
"No." Naruto knew that continuing would break the tenuous grip he had on his emotions, but he had to get it out, he had to tell someone. He'd been living with the secrets and the worries for so long that he was full to the brim of them and they were all bursting to get out. Still, he tried. He tried to pull himself back together.
His father's hand landed on his uninjured shoulder. "Naruto, it sounds like in that world, even if your mother and I aren't around, you have plenty of people that you love and love you."
Naruto nodded, reminding himself of all the things he had in the other world.
"So, why don't you want to go back?"
Naruto squeezed his eyes shut. "In that world, you and Mom died on the day I was born," he whispered.
He heard a sharp intake of breath, the shinobi version of a gasp. "Who raised you?"
"For the most part, I raised myself," Naruto answered. "The Old Man sent me money for food and rent, but I took care of myself."
Naruto made himself sound strong and capable, both to reassure his father and himself.
"Why didn't one of the villagers help you? They should have been glad to help, even though I was dead," Minato questioned.
Naruto lowered his head so that his bangs covered his eyes, before answering. "They hate me. Because I'm a Jinchuuriki."
He cringed and looked up, waiting to see the hatred and rejection, not daring to hope it wouldn't be there. Instead, he saw anger, sadness and another thing that he didn't recognize.
"Naruto," Minato forced out, his voice oddly strangled and tight. "What kind of life have you led?"
The worst kind.Naruto had the urge to tell his father everything. To tell him of the scorn and drunken beatings; of wrapping himself in the blankets at night so he wouldn't feel alone; of going days without food because the landlord jacked up the rent; of walking home alone from the park every night.; of every cold shoulder and blank stare; of the fear that without acknowledgement, he would fade and fade until he was just a ghost, then disappear. Instead, he clamped down on his lower lip and pressed his chin into his chest, willing himself not to cry.
He wished he could. He wanted to act like a child, and throw himself into another's arms for comfort and help. But he'd never been a child, not the kind of child that can rely on another for relief and aid. He'd been the child to clean his own cuts and wipe his own tears.
No reason to stop now. Naruto took a single deep breath, steeling his heart and his mind.
Minato watched him stand, confused, but he looked at Naruto's face and followed suit a second later. Naruto saw, looking in the Hokage's eyes, that he wanted to hold his son, to offer that comfort, but didn't. He was glad, extremely so, that his father understood. Unfortunately, it only made Naruto more depressed that he was leaving.
"What are we looking for?" Minato asked. He was a shinobi now, not a father. They had a mission to complete.
"I'm not sure what it looks like," Naruto admitted. "But I do have a few tracking spells from GG up my sleeve."
Naruto closed his eyes and drew on his spirit energy. "Wahreuahreyeare Areah opuea."He opened his eyes and saw a door, trimmed in light wood, open to a grassy training field with a cheery garden to the left.
"The backyard," he muttered, setting off through the house.
"Is that where the . . . uh . . ." Minato trailed off.
"Box From Hell," Naruto supplied. "That's what I call it."
"I see," Minato chuckled. "Is that where the Box From Hell is?"
Naruto shook his head. "No, that spell just sends me to the next spot I need to go to. When I get there, I'll see the next step. It's a simple spell, and I need to save some energy for destroying the Box."
Minato nodded and followed Naruto through the house and to the door to the backyard. As soon as the younger blond stepped across the threshold, he got another image. It was of two rose bushes, one red and one yellow, growing up around a trellis and intertwining at the top. "Dad?"
"Is there a rose garden anywhere on the property?" Naruto asked. "With two rose bushes, one red and one yellow?"
Minato was silent for a moment. "Yes, it's this way."
It was Naruto's turn to follow as his father led him around the vegetable garden and around a few tall bushes. Naruto involuntarily shuddered as he passed them. He looked ahead and saw the trellis approaching. Once he stepped through it, he didn't need another vision, as on the little stone table just beyond it sat a box.
Naruto stepped up to it, held his hand out above it.
"Is that it?" Minato asked.
Naruto felt it, the energy he'd sensed weeks ago, coming from the box. He nodded. "Yeah, this is the Box From Hell."
It didn't look like what he'd expected. Naruto wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but a plain, scarred wooden box with a knot the size of his fist in the top wasn't it. He figured it made sense, the mage had lived ages ago, before modern technology had come along, but it was rather . . . underwhelming.
"So," Minato cleared his throat. "How are you planning on destroying that thing?"
Naruto didn't say anything, he was intending to show him, but as he held his hands up to make the shadow clone, he hesitated. It was selfish to put his own happiness above that of his friends. He knew that, but a part of him wanted to stay, to rest in the comfort of family so that every day wasn't a battle. He had everything here, love, acceptance, respect. But the price he bought it at was too high. Too high, he reminded himself.
The teen turned to face his father. "Yeah?"
"Is something wrong?"
"Yeah," he answered honestly. "But there's nothing for it. I just wanna show you something."
Before Minato could say something else, Naruto created a shadow clone. When Minato reminded Naruto that he knew that he could do clones, the Narutos grinned. "Just watch." The original held out his right hand and the clone stepped forward, adding the spirit energy and rotation.
Just then, the trellis they'd entered through was ripped away by a gust of wind. The blondes spun, trying to identify the source of the wind. "That wasn't natural!" Naruto shouted as the wind picked up speed and clouds began to roll in.
"I know," Minato bellowed back. "You keep working on that. I'll figure out what's going on."
Naruto nodded and turned back to the half-formed Rasengan in his palm. Just as it was completed, an explosion rocked the ground. Naruto spun to see huge chunks of the house flying at him.
Damn, I can't make the Wind Shuriken fast enough, Naruto thought, preparing to run, but then he saw a series of yellow flashes in front of him an the pieces that were bent on breaking him exploded in swirls of blue.
"Naruto! I'll protect you! Destroy it!" Minato shouted, using his Hiraishin to fly among the debris, getting rid of them before they could hurt Naruto.
The teen nodded, but took a moment to admire the Yellow Flash in action. He looked like he was several places at once, a blur of yellow hair and blue clothes, not letting a single thing get by him.
That's my Dad.
Pride swelled in him and he grinned.
That's what I come from.
"It'll only get worse the longer you wait!" Minato's angry voice snapped Naruto out of his daze. "Destroy that damn thing now!"
The clone followed Minato's order and started to add the wind element. In under a minute, Naruto had contained the Wind Shuriken. The clone stepped back and dissipated.
"Rasengan: Wind Shuriken!" He roared. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Minato stop his frantic flying for half a second to stare at it in wonder. Naruto just caught the grin of pride and amazement on his father's face before he slammed the jutsu into the small wooden box.
He squeezed his eyes shut as the spirit energy swirled around him in the familiar pattern. He knew that it was growing in size, carving a hole into the ground beneath it. His arm felt like it had fallen asleep, with thousands of tiny pins and needles jabbing at it. Still, he kept pushing, pushing with all his might into the God-damned Box From Hell.
Then, he felt it, that moment that indicated he'd succeeded. It was as though all of the energy spinning around him suddenly froze, then realigned itself and sped inwards, toward the Box. It happened too fast for Naruto to pull his arm out of the way, and he hissed as the Areah Broah hit his arm.
The earth shook, again and for a second, Naruto feared that his Wind Shuriken hadn't been enough. He opened his eyes to glare at the Box From Hell, only to find it encased in green energy. The technique had clearly worked, but Naruto realized he hadn't thought about what would happen when the Box was destroyed.
The Box, and the earth he was standing on for that matter, began to shake again. Naruto took several steps back, eyes glued on the box that was getting ripped apart by his Wind Shuriken. With a deafening roar, green energy exploded outward, followed by the energy that Naruto had felt coming from it that day in the forest.
Naruto threw his arms up to shield his eyes, tensing as he felt the energy pass through him and over him. He shuddered and fell to his knees, but managed not to pass out this time, just holding onto his consciousness as the energy receded and shaking stopped. He was still on his knees, arms in front of his face, breathing heavy.
Silence and stillness settled over Naruto, wherever he was.
Naruto kept his eyes closed, closed against the world and against the idea that his family was no longer there. But it still managed to seep in past his eyelids. His fingers curled into fists and he lowered his head until his forehead was resting on them.
Dad . . . and Mom . . . Memories of his family ran through his head. Sparring with his father, his mother performing spells and jutsus, Tama raising a single eyebrow at some stunt he'd just pulled, Kenji making impromptu constellations in the Churaeah valley, Raidon puffing out his cheeks at the indignance of being held upside down. They continued to run through his head at the speed of light and Naruto desperately tried to hold onto them, afraid they would be erased like the people who'd created them.
"No," he whispered. "That's all I have left now."
All I have left . . .
Wet drops began to hit his fists and Naruto opened his eyes with a start, realizing what he was doing.
He was crying.
Oh, I'm evil. So truly evil. Muahahahaha! That is a clever plot device to make you read and review the sequel/Part 2: "Belly of the Beast" The idea for this is really, really off-the-wall. Please bear with me. Give it a chance. Pwease?
Some of you will notice an instant difference in perspectives. That is a hint, as was the 'Dallas' reference. Anyway! Read on:
Preview: Belly of the Beast
Uzumaki Naruto was on his knees, tears falling from his eyes, his heart in more pain than he'd known. He'd just given up the one thing he always wanted: a family. He didn't even bother to wipe the tears off his face, just sat and let them fall, hitting his hands, his legs, the floor. He didn't care anymore.
Why does this have to be so hard? He thought. Why can't I just . . .
He was so lost in his own pain that he didn't even realize there were other people around him. Some were watching with pride, others with amazement, and more than one with annoyance.
One person in the room was sitting next to Naruto and was more confused than anything. The last thing he remembered, he'd been fading into the black, unable to communicate with his kit anymore. Now, he was sitting in a throne room of some kind with at least a dozen glowy people staring at him and Naruto was hunched over, crying.
Kyuubi frowned at the blond. He hasn't cried like that since Shukaku's container died.
The fox sighed and reached out a paw—wait! A hand. Kyuubi pulled the appendage back and stared at it in confusion. Since when do I have hands?"That doesn't make sense," he muttered.
Naruto snapped his head up at the sound of Kyuubi's voice. "Hey, furbaaaAAH-what the hell?" Naruto scuttled back on his hands and heels, staring at the man that was sitting next to him.
Kyuubi turned to face Naruto. "Damn it, why are you always so loud?"
"No way," Naruto breathed, staring at the face before him. Red hair, gold eyes, three whisker marks on his face, fangs just poking out of his mouth. Perpetual annoyance and arrogance with a hint of mischief thrown in.
"Yes way," Kyuubi snapped, thinking Naruto was denying his volume. "You are loud. Didn't that ramen man teach you what an inside voice means?"
Naruto didn't even hear him. "Hi—hideharu?"
Kyuubi stared blankly at the blond, then raised an eyebrow. "Are you talking to me? Because I'm Kyuubi, the nine-tailed demon fox, remember? What, did the alternate universe addle your brains or something?" He reached up and gave a couple of knocks on Naruto's forehead. "Helloooo? Anybody home?"
Naruto still didn't pay any attention to the fox. He was too busy staring at the chains wrapped around Kyuubi/Hideharu. How could he move so easily with all of those chains? Suddenly, a couple of hard taps to his forehead brought him back. "Huh?"
"So, you aren't brain dead," Kyuubi commented. "Well, more than you already were, at least."
"Hey!" Naruto protested, folding his arms. He would have gone on, but a short laugh from behind interrupted him. Quite irked, he turned to face the insulter, but was given the second shock of the day at who he saw. "Sen?"
"Ah, I see you remember me," the man said, unusually happy over this fact. "I'm quite honored."
Naruto tried to form words, but only ended up looking like a fish out of water until Kyuubi gave him a hard whack to the back of his head. He found his voice. "What are you doing here? Wait, where am I?"
Sen laughed, his face much more carefree than when Naruto had met him in the astral plane. "Let me first congratulate you, Naruto."
Naruto was confused. "Congratulate me? For what?"
Sen grinned and leaned down so that they were eye-to-eye. "You passed."