Confession of a Wearied Soul
Ye Olde Preamble: So, fun fact I may or may not have mentioned about my writing method: I get my inspirations and motivations from music, when I wish to write something happy I listen to music that makes me happy, dark chapters get dark musical inspirations (usually dark in sound if not lyrically). So bearing that in mind here is your hint for the upcoming chapter: Eight Melodies – from Earth Bound 0's soundtrack. So as not to spoil anything for those of you who enjoy this, please see my thoughts and the end of the chapter for why this took so long. Hope you all enjoy!
Five weeks, eight days, two hours and 46 seconds had elapsed since Orochimaru had battled Naruto to a standstill and the renegade Sanin found himself in a much better mood then he had been after that disgrace. Kabuto's situation report had finally reached him from the Hidden Leaf. The letter gave the pale Shinobi a detailed list of everything that had been done and was about to be done to the young host, a detailed account of Naruto's rapid reaction to the white scorpion as well as a blow-by-blow description of the attack. All of it gave Orochimaru a very warm feeling in the bottom of his heart. However what had interested Orochimaru the most had been Kabuto's request pertaining to the White Scorpion itself.
The key to the poison was the chakra being channeled through it and into the victim, which suppressed their Chakra network and allowed the toxin's to slowly eat away at the body. Calling it a poison was a almost a misnomer as the toxin's used were, functionally speaking, a distraction from the White Scorpion's true application which was closer to a very sophisticated sealing jutsu. In order to continue suppressing the Chakra network of another person the user had to maintain a constant chakra connection with the poison, in this case Orochimaru had set up a special chakra array in one of his laboratories with a shadow clone at the center of the array to transmit the chakra which he had to replace every three days.
Kabuto's report requested that Orochimaru release the jutsu to allow Naruto to recover to the point of being released from the hospital where he was simply too well protected. Orochimaru crossed his arms over his chest as he weighed the options in his mind. As talented as Kabuto was, Orochimaru knew the boy wouldn't be able to sneak past four ANBU captains, and even if he did Tsunade had taken a strong liking to the blonde boy. If she wasn't there personally then it was safe to assume that people she trusted would be in the room keeping vigil. A direct attack was also out of the question as nobody would be able to kill four ANBU captains silently or quickly, any attempt to fight them would raise the alarms instantly.
Worse yet if Kabuto was discovered Orochimaru would have to worry about Tsunade herself pounding down his door, most likely with Jiraiya in tow. Orochimaru was fairly confident from past experience that in a one-on-one fight between himself and Tsunade or Jiraiya the battle would end in a stalemate, but two on one he would be crushed. He couldn't rely on Sasuke to fight the Sanin, the boy would simply abandon him and being his hunt for Itachi, it was becoming hard enough just to keep the young Uchiha satisfied. It was somewhat amusing to Orochimaru that in his quest to raise the perfect vessel for his soul he had created a vessel that was becoming to strong and intelligent to handle. Sasuke would seize upon any perceived weakness like the predator Orochimaru had trained him to be. An attack from the 5th Hokage and Jiraiya would give the boy more then ample reason to abandon Orochimaru, that situation had to be avoided at all costs.
With a thought Orochimaru's shadow clone disappeared and the chakra began to fade. Orochimaru also felt a great relief as the shadow clone was no longer siphoning chakra from him. He had not expected Naruto to be quite as resilient as he had proven to be, nor had he expected such a prolonged use of a shadow clone in that manner to leave him as drained as it had. In honesty he had no idea how many more days he could have maintained the stamina needed to continue suppressing Naruto's much greater chakra pool. In no more then a day or two the White Scorpion would be a simple toxin that a person that was a demon container, like Naruto, would most likely survive without the need of an antidote. It was a setback, but Orochimaru couldn't help but smile. Kabuto had laid out what Orochimaru considered a very intriguing plan. He only regretted that he couldn't risk seeing it himself.
Four days later back in the Hidden Leaf and Tsunade found herself walking slowly down the halls of the Leaf Hospital carrying a wooden crutch and feeling more uncomfortable with the entire situation then she did when Naruto first stumbled into her office. The last four days had seen an unprecedented turnaround in Naruto's condition; his chakra network had gone from completely blocked to simply unstable in a night. The Kunai wounds that had been life threatening days before had since mended to the point of being flesh wounds. His ribs and lungs had progressed to the point where Tsunade had been able to remove the chest tubes and take Naruto off the ventilator and by the feel of things even his crushed vocal chords were starting to heal.
Kiba, Sakura, Shikamaru and the other members of Naruto's circle of friends were elated by the seemingly miraculous turnaround. However, decades of experience had taught Tsunade to be extremely cynical, particularly when it came to medicine. There had defiantly been poison in Naruto's system, and that poison had been acting almost like a chakra receiver for someone. Ibiki had been working with the few suspects arrested for the attack, but even he couldn't get a shred of information on the identities of the ringleaders. Tsunade planned to ask Naruto about it after he had healed up much more, but she would have been surprised if Naruto could even remember what color shirt he was wearing that day. She paused a moment as she approached the doors to Naruto's room to wipe the errant thoughts from her mind. As a doctor she could never her patients to see her concerns, with a quick breath she pushed the doors open and bit back a snicker as she took in the scene.
Naruto had the look of a man surrounded and forlorn as Sakura, Hinata, Lee, Shikamaru, Choji, Sai, and the ever-present Kiba stood on either side of his bed subtly vying for his attention. The birthday cards, get-well cards, and trinkets that had been decorating the life support equipment were now being all but shoveled upon him as he was trapped in his bed. For his part Naruto was trying his best to smile and be appreciative, but Tsunade was very sure everyone could tell that the boy was going through the motions. His smile was meek and tired, his eyes were dull, and the few words he did use were deliberately chosen and timidly offered. Things nearly got awkward when Sai noticed and attempted to lift Naruto's spirit.
"You look so happy I'd swear they cut your ba-" Sai's sentence was mercifully stopped as Sakura smacked the back of his head. Tsunade took the disruption as her cue to interrupt.
"All right kids, visiting passes are temporarily revoked. Your welcome to wait in the hall until I say you can come back in or, with the exceptions of Kiba and Sakura, the rest of you are free to go about your day." After a few brief goodbye's the gathering left Tsunade alone with Naruto, she waited until she heard the doors click shut before turning her gaze to Naruto. His face was sullen, his blue eyes directed up at the ceiling, though his glaze seemed to be looking past the surface. His lips traced an even line across his mouth showing no interest or emotion.
"How does your throat feel today?" She asked, keeping her tone gentle.
"Tight." Was his simple reply, his voice raw and weak.
"Well you sound better then you did yesterday at least," she smiled lightly as she set her clipboard down on his nightstand. "Think we can get you to sit up?"
Naruto's reaction was expected, but still disheartening to Tsunade. He clenched his eyes shut as his jaw line tensed.
"Just long enough for me to check the wound's on your back Naruto, then you can lay back down." She offered a gentle smile to him as she placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. She had tried to get him to sit up the previous morning, but from his horizontal position they only made it 15 degree's up before Naruto simply couldn't take the pain. Tsunade was confident she could get him up where she needed him if she injected more pain killers into his IV, but the last thing she wanted was for Naruto to develop a dependency on narcotics. Naruto kept his eyes squeezed shut as he nodded his consent. Gently sliding her arm behind Naruto's shoulders while placing her free hand gingerly on his chest she cautiously lifted his back from the mattress. She felt his body getting tense before she heard his barely repressed whimpers of pain.
"Just tell me when things get too bad and we'll stop." She stated as clearly as she could. Naruto's jaw line set as he clenched his teeth, fully intent to work through his pain. Tsunade held her breath as she lifted him higher, taking time to pause every few seconds to let Naruto rest. She only allowed herself a breath once she had propped Naruto into a reclined sitting position. She made a point to get a good look at Naruto's face at that moment, noting a slightly increased perspiration as well as paleness in his skin. He had his eyes and mouth clenched shut as he struggled to contain his suffering.
"If this hurts too much you need to tell me Naruto." She stated with a sympathetic tone.
"I can take it." Was his quiet response, uttered through gritted teeth.
Tsunade frowned as she undid the topknot of Naruto's hospital gown and, careful to work around the caste that enveloped his right had and wrist up to the middle of his forearm let the gown fall forward. Adjusting her grip she carefully peeled off several of the bandages eliciting a soft 'ow' from Naruto as the tape pulled at his skin. Each of the stab wounds had healed to the point of being lines of bright red scar tissue which at the rate he had started to progress would most likely be healed like they had never been there.
"You're healing up very well Naruto, but I'm going to have to take out these stitches before your body heals much further, other wise it could be a problem." She continued removing bandages that covered the remaining scars until his back was free of them. "You still doing all right Naruto?" She asked as she shifted her position to better see his face.
"Sure." He answered, "It doesn't hurt as bad as it did."
"Well that will probably change when we lay you back down, and stretch your muscles out a bit. Before that though I need to lay you on your side so I can get these stitches out before your skin starts healing around them all right?" She waited for Naruto to nod his consent before shifting him to his side. As Naruto's stiff muscles began to make their protestations known he hissed lightly through gritted teeth, which gave Tsunade a moment of pause. As soon as he had settled down she retrieved the needed scissors and pliers and set to work carefully clipping the stitches just below the knot and gently tugging them free of Naruto's pastel flesh.
"That feels really weird." Naruto muttered after Tsunade pulled the last stitch on a stab that had pierced his left lung.
"Sorry," she answered quickly as she placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder for a moment "There are quite a lot of sutures to remove so this will take a bit, but if you start feeling sick or the pain gets too great tell me and we'll stop okay?"
Naruto gave her a sullen nod that Tsunade found herself intrigued by, and as she resumed her work she could not help but contemplate what the teen was thinking. It was obvious enough Naruto was in a complex malaise over something or some combination of things that he wasn't speaking of. From reading his journal she had a suspicion as to where some of his depression was based, but she was positive that those issues were merely the tip of a much larger iceberg.
"Have you looked through all the cards everyone brought you?" she asked gently. Naruto's reply was hesitant.
"Naruto, is something bothering you?" Tsunade asked her concern apparent in her voice, it made Naruto tense slightly.
"Not really." He said again, his tone slightly sharper then before. Tsunade sighed lightly before setting her scissors and pliers down. She walked around the bed and crouched down in front of Naruto, his blue eyes looked down at the sheets as he tried to avoid eye contact or direct communication.
"Naruto," she started as she placed a warm hand on his shoulder "You know I think of you like my little brother, there's nothing you can't talk to me about. I know that you don't want to burden anyone, that you feel like you need to keep your feelings hidden under a mask of blind optimism," she paused as Naruto's gaze melted from cold avoidance to a resounding sadness over something she didn't yet understand "You have more friends then you realize Naruto, people who care deeply for you and want to help you if you would just let us in."
"No they wouldn't" Naruto replied, his voice barely above a whisper, though the weight of the words nearly bowled Tsunade over.
"And why not? I know for a fact Hinata thinks the world of you."
"And just why not Naruto?" Tsunade demanded, keeping her voice soft enough to prevent anyone outside hearing. She expected, and hoped, Naruto would become combatative with her, just like he used to act when someone challenged him. Instead she felt her heart sink as Naruto remained silent, tears welling in his eyes.
"Why shouldn't she? You're the kindest and bravest person in this village, you-"
"No I'm not." He spat back as he brought his had to his eyes, his body starting to tremble with repressed emotions. "I'm a filthy god damned coward who doesn't even have the guts to admit what I am."
Tsunade recoiled slightly, baffled by the assertion. She couldn't help but push a little further though, feeling like she was finally getting a look under that desiccated mask Naruto wore for so long.
"You mean that you're a Jinchuriki?"
"…no…" he replied quietly, his shoulders sagging as though his last reserves of willpower had faded from his body like an ethereal breeze. He let out a shaky sigh as he removed his had from his face, eyes rimmed pink and his jaw set obstinately as he tried to hold back his emotions. "I'll never be more then an outcast, no matter how much I achieve or how strong I get. Even if I were to singlehandedly save the village from an unparalleled catastrophe I'd still be dodging garbage in the streets every day and paying Oji every last cent I earn cleaning grafitti off my door and getting holes in the walls filled. No Shinobi is going to want to be around a Jinchuriki much less one like me."
"And what do you think you are Naruto?" She asked softly. Naruto said nothing for several minutes, those the corners of his mouth fidgeted as though he was struggling to form his words. She placed a hand on his shoulder and leaned closer to look him in the eye. "Well?"
Naruto's stone façade crumbled as he started to weep openly. Tsunade's concern grew as her hand gently rubbed his shoulder in a vain attempt to provide reassurance.
"I…I'm sorry I've lied to you for so long" he whispered through sniffles and quiet sobs.
"Sorry for what Naruto?" she asked softly.
"That I didn't have the guts to tell you that I'm…I'm gay" the last two words were barely a whisper, but hit Tsunade like a train. So many things finally snapped into place logically. She almost laughed at the epiphany she experienced in that moment.
"Naruto," She said with a gentle smile before carefully hugging the boy "You truly do remind me of my little brother."
"What do you mean?" he asked, his voice expressing his emotional exhaustion.
"Just after Nawaki became a Genin, he came to me in tears and begged me not to hate him. When I asked him what I could ever hate him for he told me that he was gay." She explained with the sad smile she usually wore when she thought of her little brother. Naruto stared at her with stunned wide eyes.
"I told him then the same thing that I'll tell you now, that he was my baby brother, and no matter who he fell in love with, man or woman, that I would always be there to love and support him. And I'll be here for you too Naruto, whenever you need to talk about anything or to stand behind you whenever your ready to tell someone else, okay?" she smiled warmly.
Naruto remained silent for several seconds before he flung himself, as best he could from his position, into her arms, crying softly into her shoulder. Tsunade hummed an old song she used to sing for Nawaki when he was little and upset. She could sense this was the first truly cathartic moment of Naruto's life, and she wouldn't dare move away until he could support himself again.
Well, that was different I suppose. As promised this is where I clear the air a bit: For those who didn't know I am a bisexual man who tends to prefer men to women, this scene was particularly difficult to write as coming out of the closet for bi and gay men (and women) is a very personal and difficult subject to broach even with those we love dearly. I wanted to try and show Naruto's desire to be honest with himself as well as his fear of how the truth would alter the relationships he values most. Hopefully it read well to all of you.
It's been my plan for Naruto to come out to Tsunade first since the beginning and while I initially wasn't sure where to put that scene this chapter seemed to fit the best, he chooses to reveal himself to her as in my opinion she is the closest thing to a mother/sisterly for he has in his life. I'm sorry about the Nawaki thing, but his character was minor enough to where I think I can get away with it with only minor damage to plausibility. I almost chose to impose that role on the 2nd hokage, but felt that if I did then I would have resorted to the worst habit of yaoi writers, aka the "everyone 's gay" approach. So that's that, I hope you enjoyed and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Much love to you all (even those of you never comment)