Chapter 15 - Us
Naruto was having an awkward week. He scowled inwardly as he allowed Sakura to dress him up in the gayest tuxes he'd ever seen. Seriously. White tux with a pink tie and kerchief? Was she going senile or something? The only thing keeping him from snarling was Sasuke's words. Put on a smile and you fucking like it, got it? Naruto did get it. Didn't mean he liked it any more when flower girl smiled at him and told him that pink and white looked quite good on him. The formal apparel store wasn't used to snotty teenagers like him, he supposed. The stuffy old ladies that ran the place kept shooting him dirty looks. He glared right back, but only when flower girl wasn't looking. He didn't want to get in trouble with her and have her yell at Sasuke about it. The only thing that was stuffier than the old crones was the air in the store. Add a stiflingly hot tux with a collar that chafed against his neck and Naruto was sweating far too much while wearing clothes he didn't own. Naruto tried to hint at this to flower girl but she wasn't getting the clue or didn't care. Either one was likely; especially since sleepy kissy face man was there.
When Naruto was first introduced to sleepy face man he wasn't quite sure what to make of him. Well, he knew off the bat that he didn't like him. This was because the sod was dating flower girl, and this was automatically a bad thing. Naruto knew it was likely some sort of crazy frustration because flower girl was the closest thing he had to a sister, or a mom. Seeing her dating, or engaged was really weird. He didn't like it, especially when it was sleepy face man. There was just something about him that made Naruto want to neuter him and brutally, slowly murder him. He didn't really know what it was. But every time he blinked at him in that fatigued way, and smiled tiredly at flower girl, Naruto saw red. The worst part of all of this was that the man hadn't really done anything to Naruto to earn such hatred. Sasuke alluded to some sort of event that involved him that happened before Naruto's accident. Of course he never said anything directly or explained it, but he mentioned once that something that happened that involved sleepy face man. It made the whole village very angry, and sad. Mostly the village was over it, but that might explain some of his feelings.
"C'mon Naruto, Itachi and I are gonna put that tux on reserve for you for the day of the wedding. You can change out of it now." Sakura chirped.
Naruto held in a growl. She was happy. She was happy with him, Naruto; he had made her not angry with him. So therefore he should smile and change out of the tux, and go sit through a lunch with her and her fiancée. He gagged. Just as he was rounding the corner to join flower girl again, changed out of the tux back into his normal clothes, he stopped himself. Sleepy face man and flower girl were talking in hushed voices, and they were talking about him. But the conversation didn't make any sense to him.
"So, the plan is definitely going to work?" That was sleepy face man.
"Yes, if Naruto says it'll work, it will. Besides…I miss my best friend, I want the real Naruto back." That was flower girl. What was she talking about? The real him? He didn't remember telling her about any plan.
"I know Sasuke is going nearly crazy without him. It's been three months…"
"If Naruto says it'll work, as you say, it will probably work. I've seen his determination firsthand you know."
"Hmm, you're right. I'm sure it will be fine."
Then there were sounds that indicated they were kissing. Naruto rounded the corner and cleared his throat to get their attention. They stopped to turn their attention back onto him. Sakura looked a little embarrassed but Itachi apparently couldn't care less. Naruto decided that he really didn't need to say anything to them in order to express his distaste for their face sucking; a glare would do just fine. In fact, it was more than fine. Sakura looked downright ashamed of herself on the walk home. Itachi seemed resentful of him for causing his fiancée such distress, and Naruto couldn't be bothered to look remorseful. With one glare he had ruined the rest of their afternoon. Instead of going for lunch as had been planned, Itachi curtly bid him farewell and sent him back to the estate. Naruto was quite proud of himself. He couldn't wait to tell Sasuke of this triumph.
He entered the house and slipped off his shoes. It was quiet and impeccably clean, as was usual for them. So, Naruto thought nothing of it as he maneuvered through the halls. He checked all the rooms Sasuke usually inhabited, the living room, the kitchen, the office. But he wasn't in any of them, so Naruto dared to knock on the door to his room, the one that Naruto used to share with him. No response. Naruto tried again. Again he was met with silence. He was sure that if he tried hard enough, he could hear dust motes drifting through the air. Finally, in exasperation Naruto through the door open. It hit the wall with a resounding BANG that was thoroughly unsettling. Such a sharp contrast to the silence it was that Naruto felt a bit of adrenalin course through his veins. But the sight that greeted him was so shocking his newfound energy plummeted down from its buzzing twitch to a low thrum. The room was empty, it was not just empty of the person he was looking for. The dresser's drawers were yanked open and were barren. The armoire's doors were shut, but Naruto was sure, now, that if he opened them they would reveal that it was free of clothing. The rest of the room was immaculate. The hastily left open drawers the only sign of something wrong.
Naruto shuffled into the room, each step making him more nauseous. By the time he got to the bed Naruto felt the strength slowly seep out of his limbs. He collapsed onto the bed. A discreet noise beneath him caused him to shift. A note! Sasuke had left him a note! Naruto brightened; maybe it wasn't what he thought. Maybe Sasuke had merely taken his clothes out for dry cleaning. But no…no…NO! Naruto stared forlornly down at the small wrinkled piece of paper. It wasn't even addressed to him, it was to Sakura. Sasuke had left?! Why?! He read all the way to the bottom of the page, still confused as ever. Sasuke wrote that he couldn't do it anymore, he couldn't be everything to the different person Naruto had become. He wanted the real Naruto back, and he wasn't going to sit around and spend time with some retarded parody of his old friend. Naruto dropped the note, reeling back as though he'd been slapped. This couldn't be happening. It couldn't be. This would all just be a joke (a very sick joke, but a joke), right?
Naruto fell back onto the bed, curling up on his side. Shallow breaths managed to fill his lungs before he would gasp again. He couldn't…get his breathing…under control. It was just so quiet. No one was there. No one knew what was going on; except maybe Sakura, his flower girl, his person. She was there before all the others, after his accident. How could she know about all of this and not tell him? The silence was overpowering. A constant downpour of this noiseless void was threatening to eat away at him. He wanted sound! Naruto catapulted off the bed, storming over to the door. He grabbed the handle and slammed it shut with as much force as possible. BANG! There, sound. It echoed throughout the house, and the door itself rattled for a few minutes after. But then there was silence again. Impossibly quiet, all but for the static, the low whistling in his ears. That sound that fills your sense of hearing when there is nothing else to be heard. It's a comfort to your psyche, because without any sound at all everything else is magnified. The senses are meant to be equal in their assessment of the world you live in. They create your world for you, really. When one is gone, or not able to absorb, it creates. What it spawns could be anywhere from minimally uncomfortable to horrifying. Naruto was, for the moment, merely antsy.
Who was this real Naruto? Why wasn't he real? What did he do?! He crumpled against the wall, sliding into a heap of despair. Then, he felt the world around him mutating and warping until everything went to black. Then…then there was nothing, and for all that he knew, he had merely drifted off to sleep.
"YOU!" Naruto glanced up from the water at his feet.
Younger him. He was storming down the corridor straight at him. Despite the growling, hateful demon fox behind the bars that Naruto was leaning up against. An impressive show of bravery… Or reckless disregard and fury, Naruto mused. In a moment the child was right in front of him, face red and indignant. Naruto waited. He knew what this was about. He could feel the status quo shifting in his favor, but this wasn't really what it was about. He knew now, Naruto had wizened some (a shocking thought for all), and he had gained some perspective on this 'infection' living in his mind. In fact, younger him was not an infection at all. He was just another facet of Naruto's personality, all of his flaws wrapped into a hateful bundle of monstrous intentions coiled like a spring and waiting to pounce. Of course, everyone has this side of them. A one sided concept is rather bland. Naruto realized that in his day to day life, there quite a few traits in younger him that he was familiar with. Something that Orochimaru had shown him those few years ago had been the last straw. Frightened, defeated, weak, he had withdrawn and healed, allowing this stronger part of him to take over. But now, now Naruto was better. But this other part wouldn't let go, and that wasn't going to work. They needed to work out an agreement.
"Me?" Naruto questioned neutrally.
"You, you…you did this!"
"While I was knocked out, you made him leave! You convinced him to go! After all this work I've done, you make him leave us! How could you?!" Younger him growled.
"I didn't do anything. Maybe I wanted to stretch my legs for a while? Have a breath of real air? Did that ever occur to you?" Naruto snorted, "Straight to the evil conspiracies, I'm starting to think this is a pattern with you that I'm going to have to get used to."
"Stop it! Listen to me!"
"Oh yes, listening." Naruto brought his eyes up to meet his younger self's. He waited.
As though confused about what to do with this new found attention younger him paused; suddenly silent. When he opened his mouth to speak again Naruto wasn't surprised to have the same accusation (while true, though younger him for all intents and purposes was not allowed to know that) spat back at him. Naruto refused to answer the questions, dodging and weaving around them, nodding, and patiently eyeing the younger him. Finally, the other side of his personality fell to his knees in the water and crawled over to the bars. He settled down next to Naruto, leaning up against the gate much like Naruto was. Together they shared a silence that was neither charged with heated animosity, prickly and uncomfortable, or overly familiar. It was somewhere in between any sort of strong emotion.
"I can't stop him from leaving us. He's going to leave…he did leave…" Younger him sighed. Naruto glanced at him and found that tears were leaking out of his eyes.
"Us…" Naruto murmured. Facing his younger self, Naruto came to a decision, "You couldn't stop him from leaving…and neither could I. Not by ourselves. When apart we achieve nothing, we do nothing but arrive at the fate we were running away from."
His younger self gazed imploringly up at him. "So we…?"
"Work together." Naruto offered his hand, his younger self taking it eagerly. Very suddenly there was a blindingly bright light, and there Naruto sat. There was no more 'younger him'. A smattering of emotions, and memories filled him to the brim. Fit to burst he stared around at this empty corridor. He felt quite…quite tired, and old. A combination of two lifetimes better give him the wisdom to keep Sasuke. He was ready.
He opened his eyes. He was back. He was smarter, wiser, and most importantly he was in control. Naruto sat up and pushed himself up off the bed. He walked calmly out of the room and across the hall into the kitchen. Deftly, he picked up the phone and punched in Sakura's number. He would tell them that the infection was dead. Everything had gone according to plan. And then…and then, Sasuke and he would have a perfectly normal life. Everything would be fine….