This story was kind of a failure. I should have dragged it out longer than I have. -sigh- Gomenasai. No, really. But I thank all of you for reading this far! It's been fun, despite what I said a few seconds ago, and I really enjoyed writing it, even if I could've done a better job than I did.
"Naruto...what's wrong with you?"
Weary, feverish blue eyes traveled slowly upward to meet more concerned ones. He hitched a smile into place, closing his eyes and tilting his head weakly to one side. "It would take so long for me to explain..." Another coughing fit racked through him, leaving him gasping hoarsely and puking up more light-purple chakra.
Arashi was helpless, panicked; he tried to keep himself calm, but his son--his beloved, precious son--was coughing up chakra. Blood would have been--while, more gruesome--a little more manageable; it was normal. But to see the younger blonde grope at the front of his jacket, wheezing and trying not to cry, it was hard not to try to do something; which led to the hasty questioning of well-being, even though an idiot could tell that Naruto was anything but well.
"Can't you try?" the Yondaime pleaded softly.
Naruto's eyes had widened at the Hokage's tone, and then his entire expression softened into an expression of nothing but forgiveness and regret...and love. All at once the ghost of his smile came back, more sincere this time than it had been before, and he exhaled, closing his eyes, closing himself, sealing off any outward emotion for as long as it would take him to get through his narrative, without collapsing or something of the like.
"Right now...the Kyuubi in me is dying--" He winced, recieving a sharp correction that only he could hear, and ammended "--er, that is...fading from existence. The Kyuubi attacking the village right now is his past self--since I come from another time--a time years after this one--then that means here I don't exist." He through a glance at his mother--who'd fallen asleep from exhaustion--and then quickly averted his gaze again. 'Easier than the truth,' he thought to himself bleakly, before continuing, "So the same fate is befalling me." From the expression of his father, the latter didn't understand. Naruto tried to gather the last bits of his fleeting consciousness as he mumbled, "The Kyuubi are battling for the right to exist. One can't live while the other does; out with the old, in with the new, right?" A bitter smile; a deep breath. "So when the time comes for the two to reach the climax of their battle, one's gonna fall short, and the other's gonna triumph. And you can guess which one that will be."
Arashi was silent, watching his son--his son--close his eyes again and lay his head back. 'How can he be so strong about this...How can he be so strong? I feel like I've missed out on something...Which is probably the most ironic understatement in the world...' "Isn't there...isn't there something that can be done?" Arashi was clutching at straws and he knew it, but anything was better than the notion Naruto was suggesting. "The...What...Ah!" The Yondaime looked up with a painfully hopeful smile on his face. "The s--I could seal--"
Something shattered; blood dripped from Naruto's knuckles, and the broken glass of the vase that had been sitting on the bedside table lay scattered about the floor.
"Do. Not. Finish. That. Sentence," Naruto managed to gasp. "If you try it...if you try..."
Arms were around him, comforting hands soothing hair back from his face, cool on his fevered skin. "Sshh..." Naruto let himself be rocked slightly, eyes sliding a little further shut. "It has to be done by someone Naruto..."
"Not by you."
"Then who?" The Fourth smiled grimly into the younger blond's hair.
"I'm here now."
There was another pause, this one short and very tense. "Like hell!" the Yondaime snarled yanking away with enough abruptness that Naruto swayed dangerously. Immediately his anger softened and he pressed Naruto back against the pillows gently. "No way."
"That baby...Looks a lot like me...Doesn't he...?" Naruto's eyes fell over to where the sleeping baby lay nestled in his mother's arms. "Take care of it...Promise?"
"Naruto, stop it," Arashi said swiftly, "it's not going to happen."
"It has to, Dad," Naruto said, smiling. "I'm going to be gone soon, anyway. And believe it or not, Kyuubi knows enough about the seal that he'll be able to walk me through it. We've got enough strength combined to take care of it all. You don't have to worry about Mom, or the baby, or the village...I'll take care of it."
"I'm worried about you, you idiot," the Fourth snapped. "I don't think I could bear it if...I..."
"Dad...will you do me a favor?"
"...Depends what the favor is."
"How did I know he'd ask that," the younger blond muttered, before saying louder, "Make sure I eat ramen when I'm younger; that way I'll have developed an obsession as big as yours."
Arashi blinked. "Naru--"
"And be sure you teach me Rasengan...I'll definitely have to know Kage Bunshin, that's, like, my technique."
"What are you--"
"And do NOT forget to teach me my nindo," these words were firm, severe, "and 'dattebayo'."
"Shut up!" Arashi winced when his shout made Nasake shift in her unwilling sleep. "Naruto...I don't understand what you're saying...But...you aren't going to die...You can't die." He was grasping at straws here, and he knew it. "What about your dream? You have to become Hokage! You swore, didn't you?! I thought you always kept your word!"
Naruto chuckled, like what the Yondaime had said was just amazingly funny. "I'm dying. I'm just...fading. But you won't have time to miss me." A bittersweet smile. "No...you'll have a whole lot more time this go around. I promise." He smiled again, hugely and more sincerely. "I guess...my dream...doesn't matter to me anymore..."
The words sounded hollow; they rang untrue in Arashi's ears. "Liar."
"Heh! Caught me." Finally, Naruto couldn't speak anymore. He drew in a haggard breath and then let it out with a sigh. "It's been...nice...dad." Arashi opened his mouth, but Naruto threw him a pleading glance; "Please, let me say this before...Please." When silence followed, Naruto tried again; "I...really...can't tell you how...happy I was to...get to know you...You've always been idol." A warm, adoring smile. "Always, always. And you always will be, I can swear to you that. I...may be troublesome at times...but you put up with me...and you seemed glad to...That was new for me...no one's ever been that way around me, 'cept for Iruka-sensei...and...it...meant a lot." The words were harder, now. "I know you'll look after me...I know you'll give me as much of your time as I call for, even if it's ridiculously unreasonable...but don't let me slack off, ever. Tell me..." He smiled faintly. "Tell me...
"About a blonde dobe you found one day, half-dead and bleeding everywhere. Tell me how fast he healed up, and got back to living again...and how his dream was to be Hokage, to protect all of the ones important to him, to keep safe his unique nindo...Tell me about the demon sealed in him, and make sure I know you aren't lying; tell me all about how Kyuubi helped him through the rough times, how the bastard-fox wasn't so bad once the boy proved himself to him. Tell me...about living alone, without a friend in the world--about going hungry for days, and training himself to physical exhaustion, just to prove he had what it takes...and tell me how he didn't let that drag him down--or, at least, he didn't let anyone know it dragged him down.
"...Tell me...about the best friends in the world; the ones who accepted him, protected him, fought beside him, with him, for him...The ones who...he believed...wouldn't turn their backs if they learned of his possession. Make sure I understand how valuable they were, how utterly and completely precious they were to him, how he would throw himself in front of any one of them, take any blow for them...
"Tell me how long he fought for his dream--how hard he worked to acheive it...
"But most importantly..." Naruto smiled again, eyes sliding shut. "Tell me about the greatest father in the world." He settled back slightly, and muttered, "I hope you've been writing this down."
There was a very long pause; tears were streaming down the Fourth's face, but he really didn't notice them. His eyes were wide, transfixed upon the somber youth only inches away. He couldn't think of anything to say...And then he found the right words:
"Naruto. I want you...I want you to be the Rokudaime."
He could've slapped the boy, for the reaction he got was roughly the equivalent; two electric blue eyes snapped open, focusing in on with deadly accuracy the Fourth.
"I don't have any other choices." The Yondiame's voice was firm, unyeilding. No way in hell would he let his son...would he let his son part from him without at least giving him the greatest thing he could.
When Naruto spoke his voice was hollow; "How could...you...I'm going to be gone. I can't be the Hokage."
"Yes--yes, you can." He was speaking through gritted teeth. "I say you're the next Hokage, and dammit, what I say goes! You're face is going up next to the other Hokages, and it's going to be just as official as they were!"
He again felt the full force of Naruto's alien gaze boring into his own; and then the fierce look softened and the blue misted over with moisture. "Thank...thank you..." Naruto clenched his eyes shut and grinned hugely; his eyebrows were arched, brow slanting upward in the middle. "But...I can't..." He looked ready to cry again, even with the smile on his face. "But...I can't. I'll be useless to the village. I want to be remembered as the greatest Hokage--not as one who lasted a few hours."
His eyes flashed dark purple, then red; his hand flew out before the Yondaime could register he'd moved. When the older blond crumpled to the floor, Naruto's smile faded. "Sorry, dad." He hopped down, stumbled, swayed and then straightened. He pulled the Fourth into his bed, and then stood back, getting one last look at him. He tried to memorize his every feature, carving them into his memory.
Yeah. Yeah, I know.
He stared a few seconds longer at the unconscious man, before stepping back up to the bed and leaning over him, resting his head on his shoulder so the two blondes were cheek to cheek.
He was blind, deaf to the chaos around him, as Med-nin rushed about and families tried to find shinobi relatives. He heard people calling out to him, several people reach out to him, but he didn't feel it. The only thing he saw--the only thing his eyes would take in--was the small orange bundle laying in the middle of the scorched clearing. His breath caught, and suddenly his legs wouldn't support him. Dropping to his knees, he stared at the unconscious infant, eyes widening, darkening in horror.
The voice sparked something in the blond kage's mind; he blinked slowly, not registering the hand on his shoulder. And then someone gasped.
"...Naruto..." A platinum-haired masked ANBU was crouched next to the baby, reaching out to it but unwilling to touch it. Instead, Kakashi brushed his fingertips against the orange cloth wrapped around it. "This is his jacket."
"...I...He...he died, didn't he..." Kakashi voice was oddly choked, expression hidden behind his dog mask. The nin-dogs gathered around him whined softly. The Fourth realized somewhere that his only student was crying. "I wasn't...I...Just like Obito..."
And when Arashi pulled him into an embrace, he was a little surprised to feel Kakashi hug him back; the gesture was small, the silver-haired boy simply clenching the back of his shirt, but it was there.
The night passed slowly. Several ninja were gathered around him, speaking to him, but their voices all slurred together in a kind of sound-haze. He stumbled back in the general direction of the hospital, hugging the seemingly lifeless infant close to him, inhaling the painfully familiar scent on the jacket.
When he glanced at the baby, really looked at it, he saw familiar whisker-scars cut into each cheek.
The Fourth stopped walking abruptly, vision gone blurry, eyes stinging. It wasn't until the tears hit his child's face that he realized he was crying.
"He looks...just like...me, doesn't...he?"
He hugged the little thing closer. Naruto...you knew...
"And do NOT forget to teach me my nindo, and 'dattebayo'."
They stood together at the funeral, closed casket for there was no body recovered, watching the entire village mourn their loss of the blonde little shinobi that they'd known only for less than a year. Iruka was sobbing shamelessly, both his parents at his side; his mother was crying heavily, and his father stood with an arm around each of them. The Uchiha Clan was there as well, Itachi's mother rocking him, trying to explain to him in a choked voice what was happening; he looked on with wide, dark eyes, not understanding why everyone around him was so upset. When it was their turn to walk forward, he smiled upon seeing Naruto's picture (curtesy of the Yondaime), and burbled happily, reaching out to it with tiny fingers.
Kakashi had a very empty expression on his face; for this occasion, he'd lowered both his ANBU and cloth mask, but no one really noticed; everyone's attention was transfixed on the table where various pictures of the happy-go-lucky dobe sat, along with the tattered orange jacket.
At the end of the service, Arashi--who had taken the whole thing strangely well, surprising his village immensely--lifted the jacket off of the table and wrapped it around the newborn he carried with him everywhere. "See this, Naruto?" he said quietly, letting the baby rub his face in the cloth. "This is your favorite jacket."
Nasake joined him, taking his hand and lacing her fingers through his, and they turned to glance at the monument; already, work had begun on the stretch of rock that would bear the face of none other than Uzumaki Naruto.
He raced down the street with palpable elation, orange jacket flapping out around him. "I PASSED, I PASSED! DAD! DAD, I PASSED!" His sensei watching him go running to the Yondaime (who was waiting just down the street for him), affectionately and proudly, standing in the doorway of the Academy. He continued to watch as the little boy tackled the Hokage, who chuckled and ruffled his hair lovingly. Villagers passing by smiled tenderly at the sight and waved hello.
He reminds me so much of...The brunette man stopped, and glanced at the monument, seeing nothing but the whisker-scarred face beaming down on him.
"G'bye, nii-san!" Sasuke called, waving enthusiastically over his shoulder as he raced to his team. Itachi smiled back, nodding; watching as Sasuke tackled his best friend, said blonde laughing cheerfully with no argument at all.
"Good luck on your first mission, Sasuke," the older Uchiha said kindly, even though Sasuke was by far out of earshot, before dissapearing in a poof.
"Are you ready to go?" their platinum-haired leader asked suddenly, smiling at them through his mask.
"Hai, Kaka-niichan!" Naruto shouted enthusiastically. "I've been ready since that old guy--" he pointed at their client, the bridgebuilder from Wave "--asked us for a mission." Team Seven as a whole ignored the drunken man's grumbling response, and started out the gates. Naruto and Sasuke grinned at one another, while Sakura giggled happily. It had worked out so well for them, the three of them being chosen as a team together; and to make things better, Kakashi was their leader. Arashi swore he had nothing to do with it, so Naruto suspected Iruka-sensei was the culprit. Either way, he was happy--incredibly so--with the way things turned out.
Shut up, kit.
He stopped at the gates to Wave abruptly, and his team glanced back at him with some concern. Naruto's eyes were narrowed as he stared past them, as though trying to discern something that wasn't there. His bandaged hand was clenched into a fist.
"What's wrong, Naruto?" Kakashi asked at once, stepping towards him (Arashi briefed a select few on what had happened with Naruto--Kakashi was one of those people while, sadly, Iruka was not).
"I...dunno..." Blue eyes shimmered though there was no light, taking on a hint of some emotion Kakashi hadn't seen since the day Arashi found a dying boy in the training fields so many years ago..."This place...seems...familiar somehow...but I've never been here before...
"It's like...like...a memory from a dream..."