Hell on Earth
Part 2: Homecoming
Disclaimer: Neither Naruto nor Disgaea belong to me, but I'll still have a blast mashing them together, like a little kid with his toy trucks, for no profit whatsoever. Got that? Good.
Heaven or Hell. Let's rock!
With Flonne off to find Laharl, Etna wished her the best.
It hadn't been an intentional thing, but Flonne had slowly wormed her way into her heart over time. The magenta-haired demon girl would loathe admitting it out loud, but they had become the best of friends. Flonne sort of grew on you, much like a flesh-eating virus or a horribly infectious pop song. All it took was persistence over the course of decades.
Etna wasn't the only one affected by Flonne's presence in the Netherworld.
While much of the old guard, including various members of the senate, remained sour, old, imperfectly-wiped assholes, it wasn't uncommon amongst the younger demons to overhear terms that were once anathema such as "please" (not in the context of begging for one's life) and even "thank you."
Apart from the younger demons, the prinnies absolutely adored her. Flonne was always unfailingly polite towards them and even took the time to learn their names.
Who bothered with crap like that?
Aside from some rare variations in color, prinnies all kinda looked the same to Etna.
In day-to-day operations, the fallen angel even helped to manage these peg legged, penguin-like beings who made up the bulk of the Netherworld's labor force. While whistling nameless tunes, Flonne regularly whipped up large batches of iced tea and lemonade as refreshments for the overworked creatures.
She had even successfully lobbied for a Prinny work holiday from the very same senators who had blocked Etna's own efforts at almost every turn. It had probably helped that the perky girl had baked some homemade triple fudge chocolate cake for the assembly of old demons and had asked nicely.
Etna knew that, despite Flonne championing the values of love and friendship, there were times where the blonde girl was profoundly unhappy due to Laharl's absence. Etna could occasionally overhear muffled sobs coming from Flonne's room as night.
The fallen angel's guilt was a frustrating concept for the Overlord to comprehend. Why did Flonne blame herself for something that was so obviously not her fault? It was disturbing for Etna to silently witness the angel girl's bone-deep sorrow.
During her tenure as his vassal, Etna herself bore no great affection for Prince Laharl, but instead served him out of a sense of duty towards the late King Krichevskoy. She had mostly written him off as a self-absorbed, spoiled brat who was generally unworthy of his title and position. With his final act though, Laharl had changed everyone's perception of him.
Etna let out a rare sigh.
It was a shame he had to leave just as he was getting to be interesting.
In hopes to cheer the angel's spirits, Etna had devoted a number of resources, including a dedicated team of galaxy mages, to help locate a reincarnated Laharl.
Immediately after the prince had passed on, it was a fairly easy task to capture his unique energy signature from the everyday items he had left his imprint upon, such as his cloak and favorite sword. It was imperative that they did so before the faint traces of his energy lingering on his possessions degraded over time.
Although armed with the unique signature from Laharl's soul., there were various obstacles hindering the search. For one, the methods they had at hand could only differentiate a unique signature from a strong energy signal, meaning that the reborn Laharl would have to output a massive amount of energy whilst a scan was looking in his direction.
There were also a small number of false alarms in recent memory where a faint energy spike close to Laharl's would be detected and upon further inspection turn out to be the work of a completely different creature, something old and malevolent in nature.
It was a frustrating and, up until now, fruitless process that Etna nevertheless continued in hopes of never hearing that muffled crying from Flonne ever again. For the beautiful leader of the Netherworld, there was just something intrinsically wrong with seeing the usually happy-go-lucky girl wearing a smile that did not quite reach her eyes.
If Flonne successfully located Laharl, one problem remained. If the prince thought he could just waltz in and reclaim his throne just like that, he had another thing coming. If he wanted to be the Overlord again, he would have to go through her first and wrench it from her grasp.
With her spear Longinus in hand, she would like to see him try.
Nara Shikamaru had expected to reconvene with the rest of his team in a fairly somber manner after avenging Asuma-sensei's death.
As it was, the dark-haired chuunin was nicely blindsided as he was introduced to a new acquaintance on the way back to the Hokage's tower.
Chouji seemed privately amused, and Ino appeared to be stewing in her own juices, torn between disbelief, confusion, and a possible twinge of jealousy.
It was possible, although unlikely, that this "Flonne" was an Akatsuki plant with the way she was unabashedly interested in Uzumaki Naruto. That in itself was highly suspicious considering the timing of it all.
As a member of the Niju Shotai, the group the Godaime Hokage had created to combat the Akatsuki threat, Shikamaru was well aware of the existence of the nine-tailed fox demon sealed within the whiskered blond.
The modus operandi of the Akatsuki did not allow for a sleeper agent to be blatantly suspicious. They were a group of extremes with little variation in between. Their agents, like those who conspired against Suna to capture the Kazekage, acted in complete secrecy and their full-fledged members fought with impunity, boldly and arrogantly achieving their objectives heedless of collateral damage and operational discretion.
Troublesome wasn't the proper word for them. Without question, Nara Shikamaru loathed the group of merciless S-ranked nins.
While Flonne was friendly and approachable, he still had his doubts about her. When the chuunin had voiced his concerns to his immediate superior, Hatake Kakashi merely smirked, his voice giving away insights gleamed over a lifetime of field operations.
"Shikamaru, this isn't the first time I've wished that life would just imitate Icha Icha Paradise, and stop being so stupidly complicated."
The masked man gestured towards blond couple with a motion of his chin.
"Look at their body language together."
Shikamaru complied and did so casually, as if they were two clouds in a clear sky.
"Flonne is either a highly accomplished actress or she has some sort of significant attachment to Naruto, right? I agree that it bears looking into to find out her true intentions, but you and I have been around enough lovesick girls to know whether someone is faking it or not. Does that look fake to you?"
From some distance away, Shikamaru quietly observed Flonne and Naruto enjoying each other's company.
It was odd.
Between the two of them, there was none of the pettiness, fawning hero-worship, or constant one-upmanship Shikamaru had come to associate with the male-female interactions among his peers in the village.
Naruto and the mystery girl just seemed to click together with an unconscious ease like jigsaw pieces finding their tabs interlocking. In being so playful and carefree with each other, they seemed oddly mature together. It was a sentiment that he had never thought to associate with Naruto, but this girl seemed to bring it out of him.
Then it hit him.
Shikamaru understood what was different about Uzumaki Naruto. In the academy, Naruto had fought for every little bit of recognition from his peers and the people of Konohagakure, and it was a constant uphill battle. Things had improved somewhat when Naruto had returned from his training trip with Jiraiya, but here he was not at all trying to prove anything to anyone.
Not his skill. Not his dreams. Not his self-worth.
He simply didn't need to.
It seemed that Naruto had someone who would listen, and not scoff, or laugh, or belittle.
Seeing them together reminded Nara Shikamaru of his own dream of marrying and settling down with a family and just how shaken his faith in that had become now.
All the chuunin had to do was recall the fate of Kurenai and Asuma-sensei to see how happy endings often get cut short.
Shikamaru knew that all true stories ended in death, and that not even the clouds could drift along without a care forever.
He watched as Flonne laughed at one of Naruto's anecdotes. She did so, not in the polite manner of someone not understanding the punchline and still playing along, but in a way entirely unrelated to way a trained kunoichi would. She was unselfconscious, unguarded and boisterous.
Despite the recent tragedy, he cracked a crooked grin.
Even though clouds could not float on forever, Shikamaru still liked watching them.
Tsunade waded impatiently through piles of paperwork waiting for Shikamaru's team to arrive.
To be honest, she was worried about Naruto most of all. Knowing the blonde brat, he would throw himself into the thick of things and attempt to pull something truly spectacular out of his ass at the last minute.
In a way, his incredible luck was one of his most formidable skills. Luck was a largely overlooked, but vital element in a shinobi's life. Without it, despite rank, preparation, or perspiration, you and your loved ones could end up dead, or even worse.
There was a knock at the door signaling the arrival of the people she had been waiting for, and thankfully all of them steady on their feet.
"Report," Tsunade calmly commanded.
Nara Shikamaru stepped forward, handing a small scroll containing a mission summary report to the seated Hokage.
"Both targets were neutralized. One body is not recoverable, and the other has been taken intact by our hunter-nin, for your disposal," intoned Shikamaru matter-of-factly as the Hokage glanced over the information.
Tsunade looked up from the report giving a small smile to all her soldiers.
"Good work, all of you," praised the slug summoner. "Does anyone have anything else to add?"
Oddly enough, Naruto raised his hand instead of interrupting.
At that moment, a rather striking blond girl poked her head from behind the doorway and waved, before entering the room.
Naruto turned his head to smile at the stunning girl who now stood at his side. His head turned to meet the Hokage's brown eyes with his mirthful blue ones.
"There are some things we should talk to you about…in private."
What the hell?
Tsunade had been dreading and bracing for a tale of violence, heartbreak, and tragedy in the wait before her troops had reported in this afternoon. Their tale of the supernatural was so far beyond her realm of imagining that it encroached upon the realm of bullshit.
"How can you honestly believe a word of this, Naruto?! She could be an enemy kunoichi for all we know!" exclaimed Tsunade, feeling sorely tempted to crack into her "Break in Case of Absolute Madness"-stash of alcohol.
"That's just silly," Flonne piped up. "I'm not a ninja, I'm an angel. That's what we've been explaining to you for the past few minutes."
The red-eyed girl cutely fluttered her wings again to reinforce her point.
Tsunade looked again at the lack of chakra strings used in maneuvering the conspicuous protrusions on her back.
Flonne stopped fluttering, holding a finger to her lips in thought.
"Well…I guess I'm technically a fallen angel since I live in the netherworld, and all my friends are demons. That's why I have a tail, and my wings are now this cool shade of red. Neat, right?"
Flonne giggled and fluttered her wings again.
Tsunade just stared at her as if Flonne were standing atop a small pile of children's severed heads.
"Demons…" remarked the Hokage, her voice almost squeaking.
"In this previous life where you knew this 'Laharl,' did he happen to be a 50 foot tall nine-tailed demonic fox?"
Flonne shook her head, and Tsunade breathed a sigh of relief, outrageous story or not.
"Not at all…He was thin, with blue hair, and about this tall."
The winged girl measured a height with her hand that was a few inches below her own, reaching right below her ears.
Tsunade folded her arms, still skeptical.
"Despite your claims, I haven't seen any definitive proof. Your wings and tail may be real, but I've seen a lot of weird shit in my years as a medic-nin. I've treated people with gills and flippers. I've fished out numerous objects out of orifices that even experts would be hard pressed to place into storage seals. I've even seen a man, with the aid of kinjutsu and on account of a bet, create a human/sheep hybrid in a disturbingly traditional manner."
Tsunade paused in the middle of her rant to catch her breath.
"I can believe a lot of things as long as I can witness them firsthand. I can't accept this at all on blind faith."
"Aha!" proclaimed Flonne, pointing a finger skywards indicating the presence of a viable idea. "I can give you proof that I'm from the Netherworld!"
With a snap of her fingers, a poof of smoke appeared in front of her indicating the presence of a summoned creature. Tsunade carefully directed chakra to her limbs to prepare for whatever hellish being appeared when the smoke dispersed.
It was purple.
It was short.
It was a penguin…?
Well…more accurately, it was penguin-like, as it looked as if it were lovingly stitched together by hand, and had little wooden pegs for legs, and these adorable little wings poking out of its back. A worn brown leather pack was strapped to its front completing its odd little appearance.
"Why is this stuffed animal proof of the netherworld?" thought Tsunade to herself.
While it was rakishly adorable to the point that the leader of the village wanted to hug it against her chest all the while giggling like a little girl, its presence was hardly mind-blowing.
Then it spoke.
"Hey, dood!" said the creature waving a flipper at Flonne.
"Hi Roland!" greeted the winged girl back.
"What the hell is that?!" yelled the Hokage, pointing.
That didn't look like any puppetry or ventriloquism technique Tsunade had ever heard of.
Flonne grinned at Tsunade.
"You wanted proof of the Netherworld, right? Roland's a prinny," said Flonne extending her hands out as if she were a magician wanting to say "Ta-daa!"
The fallen angel nodded to herself, happy with her incontrovertible evidence.
Naruto and Tsunade looked at each other, not understanding Flonne's conclusion.
At this moment, Uzumaki Naruto asked the question that had plagued both of their minds.
"Um…Flonne? What's a prinny?"
Flonne looked at the two confused Konoha ninjas and laughed softly.
"Oh, yeah. Heh. When people die and go to the Netherworld, they take the form of prinnies to work off their karmic debt before reincarnating again. Also for some reason, they tend to explode when thrown."
Tsunade slapped her palm to her forehead.
"That's one of the stupidest things I've ever heard!"
Flonne put her hands on her hips, cutely indignant.
"Hey! I didn't make the rules, but that's how things work in Etna's Netherworld."
"Etna's Netherworld? Are there others?" asked Naruto genuinely curious.
"Sure, but I haven't visited them," shrugged Flonne. "Ooh. That reminds me."
The fallen angel turned to the penguin-like Roland.
"Could you please tell Etna that I've found what I'm looking for," requested Flonne sweetly.
The Prinny nodded and enthusiastically extended a flipper out. The gesture gave Tsunade the damnedest impression of a thumbs-up, which was an insane idea, as the "prinny" had no opposable thumbs.
The beautiful Hokage just threw up her hands in frustration.
"Fuck it, I give up."
At this point with the talking, and possibly explosive, stuffed penguin, things had gone nuttier than squirrel shit.
Tsunade's hands snapped into quick seals and her palm slammed onto her desk, firmly but carefully as to not split the expensive piece of furniture in half, as she summoned a large locked trunk. She snapped its lock as if it were a rice cracker and rustled through the collection of bottles, locating a particularly expensive type of sake. The Hokage tossed the serving dishes behind her, letting the ceramic shatter spectacularly against the wall, and chugged straight from the bottle.
After draining the bottle to about half its contents and ignoring the prinny who made puppy-dog eyes at her liquor supply, she stated, "At this point I don't really care where you're from, as long as you don't intend to harm Naruto or anyone else in this village."
"Because if you do," Tsunade warned, "I'll break you in half."
"Never," promised Flonne. "I'd protect him with my life."
Naruto inhaled sharply.
Flonne's eyes seemed aglow with an enthusiastic, passionate fire that, strangely, would not be out of place on either Maito Gai or his protégé, noted the medic-nin who read her face like an open book. That type of enthusiasm was impossible to fake.
Tsunade nodded approvingly at Flonne's proclamation. This was finally something she could believe.
"Welcome to Konoha, then."
Naruto gave Flonne the grand tour of his home, taking streets, rooftops, walls, and rails for transportation. The whiskered blond cared not for boundary lines, privacy, or even the concept of private property as he dashed through the town as if he owned the place, or at least would one day.
He ran along the top of one of the walls encircling the Hyuuga estate, with Flonne in tow, pointing out, "This is where the Hyuuga live. They've got this cool eye thingie that let's them see through people's clothes and stuff."
Apparently Naruto's description had been overheard as he heard a distinct growl belonging to a stuffy, older Hyuuga clansman.
Not being one to pass up a golden opportunity like his one, Naruto waved, "Hey old man! Here's one on the house. You don't even need your Byakugan for it."
With that, Naruto spun around and swiftly mooned the Hyuuga Elder, who instead of furiously sputtering, unexpectedly passed out after a violent and instantaneous nosebleed.
"Uh…Not the effect I was going for, but it'll do," offered Naruto apologetically.
"What were you actually trying to do, Naruto?" asked Flonne, stifling her giggles.
"Well when I was little, I've learned that one of the best ways to see Konohagakure no Sato is while being chased by an angry mob. The excitement makes everything look better, sound better, and even makes the air taste sweeter," shared the whiskered blonde conspiratorially.
"Besides, the Hyuugas are proud people, and are always up for a chase."
"That we are," interrupted a newcomer.
"Hi, Neji," greeted Naruto, not missing a beat.
"Hello, Naruto. Nice to see you again, but just what exactly did you do to Elder Hitami?"
The blond genin smiled at the longhaired jounin.
"To be honest…I believe he was overcome by the sight of my well-formed ass," offered the blond, straight-faced before cracking a cheeky grin and patting his aforementioned backside.
Neji being quite skilled, a genius even, at reading people found this to be the truth and shuddered.
"I…Let us never speak of this again. Ever."
"Agreed," replied Naruto. "I should take Flonne here to see the rest of Konoha."
"To do so swiftly would be wise," suggested Neji dryly.
Naruto grabbed the smiling blonde girl by the hand and did just that.
That was how it went with Naruto's tour, with him unabashedly showing Flonne Konoha, warts and all.
Because of this, Flonne was privy to a few rare sights such as seeing a normally stoic Aburame crack a small smile after hearing their clan being described as "really cool, quiet people with these awesome bug techniques," and coming across a very well-behaved Sarutobi Konohamaru.
The scarf-wearing genin had apparently taken a shine to the charming fallen angel, and he even respectfully shook Naruto's hand with a wink, exclaiming, "Well done, Boss. Well done."
As with many of Naruto's excursions within Konohagakure, all roads led to Ichiraku's.
"This just might be my favorite place in the entire village," remarked Uzumaki Naruto, parting the curtain before entering and sitting at the counter his favorite eatery.
Flonne followed and took the spot next to him on his right.
Teuchi, the owner of the eatery, along with his daughter greeted their most loyal customer warmly.
"Hello there, Naruto. I see you've brought a brand new face to my humble stand. A new girlfriend perhaps?" ventured the kind restaurateur.
Naruto almost reflexively flinched, not being able to help it much as he had been trained by his past experiences to expect a customary denial. The reassuring hand on his shoulder and the shy smile he received from the girl next to him banished away any of his darker thoughts.
"This is Flonne," gestured Naruto towards the girl beside him. "Flonne this is Old Man Teuchi and his daughter Ayame."
"It's a pleasure to meet you," beamed Flonne sincerely.
"The pleasure is all ours," replied the owner of Ichiraku's.
The ramen chef and his daughter exchanged knowing glances.
"Does this mean that my little Ayame has some competition now?" teased Teuchi.
"Daaad," remarked Ayame being a good sport. "You know that our future Hokage should choose whoever'll make him happiest in the end."
Naruto simply blushed at all the attention.
"So Flonne, since you're Naruto's friend, you get the special discount," offered the middle-aged man. "Your first bowl'll be on the house. What'll it be?"
The winged girl looked to her companion.
"Let's go with your favorite. Miso pork, right?"
Naruto nodded, happy and surprised to see that she had remembered.
"You have good taste," winked Ayame, not referencing Flonne's choice of entrée.
"I'd like to think so," blushed Flonne.
The food came swiftly, and Flonne could taste the care and affection in it. She could see why this was one of Naruto's favorite places in the entire village. Ayame and her father Teuchi were good people.
Uzumaki Naruto felt more than a tiny bit perverted leading Flonne back to his apartment.
It wasn't that he was planning to put the moves on her, or use the gifts of crates of alcoholic beverages Ero-sennin had given him as, "…weapons to strike back at the conspiracy against your cock."
No, it simpler than that. He had never had anyone sleep over at his apartment, much less a girl.
He resigned himself to crashing on the beaten up, yet comfy couch he had picked up before his training trip, and giving up his bed for Flonne. She was an angel, or a fallen angel whatever, and deserved the best comforts he could muster.
Flonne surveyed Naruto's apartment. It was neater than she had expected, and cozy. A stack of unopened wooden crates loomed in one corner, and a shelf across on corner held a decent amount of books and scrolls.
There was a central table with two mismatched chairs in the center of the living room/kitchen and a tiny couch along one side.
What caught Flonne's eye was the collection of very healthy houseplants.
"I had no idea you had such a green thumb," remarked Flonne touching one of the well-maintained plants. "They must love it here."
Flonne hummed a little tune to herself, as she took in the psychic feel of Naruto's home. It was comfortable place, but there was something else there.
It was something small and tiny and dark, like finding a cockroach in your breakfast cereal.
She stopped humming immediately, as if doused with cold water. It just didn't feel right.
It was a nagging undercurrent of past loneliness.
It was odd to associate Laharl with any kind of loneliness, as he had been royalty and surrounded since birth. Although he had been guarded and not in touch with his feelings, he had a family of sorts that cared for him back in the Netherworld. This was disturbingly different. The more she tried to pin down that thread of loneliness, the smaller and more helpless she felt.
Flonne looked at the few pictures on the walls that were from friends and teammates, all ninjas.
Naruto's new friend was sobbing now, and he was quite confused as to what he could do to help her.
It started off with a quiet question from Flonne, who was looking at his tiny collection of photos.
"Do you have any pictures of your family?"
Naruto shook his head.
"Nope. I never knew 'em, growing up an orphan and all."
The winged girl turned away from him and seemed to sink into herself.
"I grew up in an orphanage, and then later started to look after myself when I turned…I dunno six, maybe?" continued Naruto nonchalantly.
That's when Flonne's tears started to fall.
Naruto quickly noticed after that and tried to reassure her that he had long since gotten used to it, which just made her cry even harder.
He just held the upset fallen angel in his arms for a long while.
"I should have been there for you," she whispered. "You deserved better than that."
"You're a good person, but it wasn't your fault. Messed-up shit like that happens all the time, and we just gotta learn to deal with it."
Flonne finally nodded in agreement and yawned.
It had been a draining, but satisfying day.
Despite his intentions not to, Naruto ended up sharing the bed with Flonne.
After they both cleaned up and after showing her to his bed and announcing that he would take the couch, her slim arms encircled his chest as he turned around to make his way to the living room.
"I promise won't bite, Naruto," said Flonne molding herself to his back, her thin slip of a sleeping gown and his t-shirt preventing skin to skin contact.
She nibbled playfully at the juncture between his shoulder and his neck through his shirt causing him to blush fiercely, but then made a deep growling sound not unlike a full-grown Inuzuka hound tearing into a steak.
Naruto freaked out a little bit as he escaped from the grasp of the now laughing winged girl.
"That was evil," said the whiskered boy, mock scowling.
"I guess your love of pranks has rubbed off on me a little bit," stated Flonne with a sly smile.
"Well done, though," noted Naruto appraisingly.
As they innocently drifted off to sleep, Flonne cuddled closer to Naruto for warmth.
Never did he think that his tiny apartment could be like this.
End Part 2