Naruto, after losing a battle against Kabuto during the Suna-Oto Invasion, collapsed and was brought to Konoha hospital. Shizune, and Tsunade in disguise, have begun to formulate a treatment to save his ability to use jutsu, and his life.
"I don't know." Naruto admitted, head falling back to the pillow as his eyes began to droop shut "It's all a bit blurry."
The plain vase across the room swam into focus. It was full of dainty blue flowers yet none of them had begun to droop or wither brown on their delicate edges. Who had brought them? They were reassuring, even if he couldn't smell them. The coppery taste in his mouth made his head swim and nausea clawed up the back of his throat. Dropping his head back to the pillow, low groan in the back of his throat, he noted how the linen prickled against his skin like a layer of finely crushed glass.
Tsunade pursed her lips, noting his noise of discomfort but questioning him regardless. She would have no pity. "Do you know why you're here?" She asked. It was a little too sharp to be considered kind, but Naruto didn't seem to realise or care when he murmured his reply.
It both confirmed her suspicions and fed her intrigue, but she could tell the boy wasn't going to be able to stay awake much longer. His head was sinking further and further into the soft retreat of its pillow, but she needed more answers before she could let him sleep. There needed to be complete clarity in this situation, it would help quieten the butterflies of discontent which crawled in her stomach.
"Look, do you have any of this jutsu documented? The original creator? A book reference?"
The look of amusement on Naruto's face only served to annoy her, but eventually, after a breathy sigh, the child with the grim, blue eyes had the sense to reveal that he had enough common sense to remember the jutsu he had used. He also seemed to remember exactly where she would be able to locate the desired scroll and she was surprised to learn that the location Naruto was describing was in fact one of Jiraiya's houses in the poorer sectors of Konoha and not the Namikaze estate or the village library as she'd been expecting.
However the description caused her some doubt. The Fuinjutsu seemed far closer to an Uzumaki technique than one Jiraiya would have laying about. Tsunade knew he wasn't that reckless even if he was an idiot.
"This is going to be difficult." Tsunade grumbled noisily, pacing towards the window "You'll just have to wait for me."
By the time she turned back to face the patient, he was asleep. She noted how his chest jolted and spasmed with each breath, the lungs underneath the covering of skin and bone barely able to provide air without their faint trickle of medical chakra provided by one of the whirring machines. It was undeniable that his condition was deteriorating, yet for the moment that process of deterioration had been slowed to give them enough time to fully prepare a cure. It was unsettling, for all her medical knowledge, to see such an illness that appeared to be self-inflicted. What had caused the boy to mangle his own chakra system to the point of death? She was unsure, even if a procedure were successful, how much the boy would regain in terms of chakra power or control. Dragging in a deep breath, Tsunade carefully opened a hospital window and slipped into the darkened foliage below with a soft thud, waiting for her path to become clear before darting across shadowy grass and into the street.
It was still and dark once more, the silence clinging to her skin like a faint sheen of sweat. She tried to focus on her task her head, but the shadows amongst the houses and shops she had known as a child were catching her eye and playing tricks on her imagination. The gates of the Academy rose in the darkness and she found the rise of sudden memories to be suffocating. She remember her grandfather pushing her through the ominous entrance with a kind, gentle yet insistent motion and then when it was her turn to push her younger brother through the same gates with the same firm movement. Memories of her brother meant unbidden swell of her memories of Dan, and she found that the pendant around her throat grew heavy as it jarred painfully against her chest. Suddenly she discovered that she had strayed too close to a squadron of Chunin, who were distributing the mounds of rubble into several trucks ready to be removed or reconstituted. She swore, knowing that she had a split second before one of the Chunin would turn and spot her, but that her mind was too unfocused to perform any difficult or complex jutsu. Without time to raise a hand, she used a rapid substitution jutsu with a larger part of rubble she could see further down the street, far enough to buy her time to get away from the Chunin.
The tumultuous lurch as the ground suddenly disappeared from beneath her feet was as unceremonious as she had expected, and her landing was awkward and heavy. The Chunin were shouting something to one another, rapidly on the defensive as the shudder of the debris came to rest. Tsunade admired their quick reactions, but that brief hesitation was all she needed to escape the area without detection. She would have no patience in being brought to face the Hokage and his question on this night, or any other. She didn't want to have to face up to the disappointment in his eyes as he looked upon her like a scorned child. Perhaps there would be a time for it, but she didn't want to imagine what dire situation would call for such an unhappy reunion.
In the distance she could hear the whine of rusting hinges, and smiled. She had not forgotten the way to Jiraiya's old home as she had begun to fear. The gate, now old, worn and rotting, had once signalled one of the first entrance ways into Konohagakure no Sato, in the first few decades of the villages' existence. Now it was long disused a mingled between houses, shops and streets after the village had rapidly expanded, but Tsunade remembered it with a nostalgic kind of fondness. Not only was it a sign of times long passed but it also acted as a landmark to notify her that JIraiya's house was not minutes away.
Darkness swallowed the gate into inky black once more, but the old gate still swung soothingly in the breeze behind her. She darted into an alcove of a shop window, snarling faces of painted dragons and tigers glaring up at her reproachfully as Anbu flittered past overhead, in the direction of the Hokage tower. A few moments passed as she pressed herself into the window, smooth panes cool against her back as she instinctually quietened her breathing. A few minutes passed before she was completely comfortable about straying from her hiding spot but the cobbled street felt familiar and reassuring through the soles of her shoes and she continued onward. As she darted from shadow to shadow she fell into wondering precisely how long it had been since she had left Konoha. 20 years? Had it been longer? Things hadn't changed too much, a few new buildings, a few gaps were houses once stood. She remembered that tree by that park, although it was much larger now and the gnarled branches were a testament to its impressive lifespan. There were far too many memories for her here in Konoha... and it hurt. As long as she wore the necklace around her neck she wouldn't forget about either of them. Konoha just dredged the worst of her memories to the surface again like fetid rainwater.
But, a voice reasoned, aren't there good memories too?
A hiss escaped her. As soon as she'd found this godforsaken scroll she would leave and find the nearest place which would serve alcohol with no questions.
Kakashi sat in the corner, legs drawn underneath him as his solitary, weary eye was fixed on the sleeping form on the bed. He didn't know if he'd ever seen the boy looking so fragile before... his skin was hanging loose from his face and wrinkled around his eyes and mouth, his breath was uneven and... Kakashi could do nothing about it. Nothing at all. Shizune had supposedly set about creating some kind of healing process but when Kakashi had asked about it all, the details had escaped him and he was still left feeling useless. Doomed to sit at the bedside silently as the nurses fluttered past like anxious butterflies. They rested momentarily, poised and delicate, before disappearing as suddenly as they had arrived, in a daze of charts and medication. It was an anaesthetic half-world of pale corridors and rich, cloying smells, where alarms would ring in the distance and laughter would mingle with the chest-wrenching sobs. It was a place which was all too real for some people and entirely transient to others.
Kakashi had never liked hospitals.
He'd once entertained the idea of helping out there, soon after leaving Anbu and feeling the empty, hungry void where his life was supposed to be. He'd imagined that helping people survive and overcome odds was exactly what he needed, but he couldn't do it, the place set him on edge... even when he was swaddled away in the intensive care unit. The stillness was unnatural and the rooms seemed to be bleached of colour, setting the bunch of vivid blue flowers in strict contrast to the sheets and wall. The man couldn't decide if staring at the flowers made him feel better or worse, but it made him feel something and that was an achievement. So he stared, even if it was to stop himself from tippling over the edge.
He'd never liked hospitals.
But Shizune had never minded them.
She'd like to say there was a single, blinding moment where she'd decided to become a medic-nin, but it had originally been out of necessity rather than any kind of curiosity. Her speciality had once been poison-based justu and as her skills and range of poison attacks had developed, the ability to counter-act the poisons became a requirement. She imagined that it was probably Tsunade had mentioned becoming a fully-fledged medic-nin and that she'd taken the path as it was a goal to work towards to in a currently goal-less life. She worked hard and trained ruthlessly, finding pleasure in helping those who had a slim chance of survival and feeling that stab of regret each time she failed. After the death of her brother did she lose sight of her goals and felt like a boat which had lost its mooring, but she had soon found herself caring for Tsunade and escaping the village in the dead of night. It gave her renewed purpose and they would often visit places where she could still help out in local practices and hospitals. So she never minded hospitals. They let her think.
But this was a different case. It was difficult and it was unknown.
That wasn't to say it was unsolvable, but it would take time she wasn't sure that they had. When she'd explained it to the Hokage she could only explain it as a ball of hopelessly tangled yarn which needed to be untangled without damaging the pathways or the organs through which they were laced. It was a delicate operation and there were no guarantees that the boy would have enough energy to pull through. The Hokage had asked if this was the only option, if the operation would held Naruto's best chance of survival and Shizune had to reluctantly admit that it was - but the survival chances were slim and were shrinking every day. His chakra flow was also brought into question and Shizune was reluctant to admit that even she couldn't estimate how much the boy would be able to wield if he ever recovered.
The Hokage had allowed her immediate access to the files which had been previously withheld and she had, initially, disbelieved what she read. She knew that Naruto had been trained from a young age and participated in missions above his average age range - but certainly not what she had found in the black bound files. She had returned to Naruto's room, with files still in hand, to find Tsunade gone. It didn't surprise her.
Ushering the nurses away with the pretence of extended chakra work which she could not, under any circumstances, be interrupted from, Shizune set the files down on the table and patiently began to wait for her mentor to return.
It didn't take long.
Tsunade appeared at the window with a thunderous expression. The scroll clenched under her arm looked as if it had been the immediate target of her frustration as the creases were too crisp to have been worn through use. The appearance of the scroll piqued her curiosity, but she knew she had to be patient if she wanted an explanation from the woman who was dragging a chair across to the table as if the lifeless piece of furniture had offered her some kind of grave insult. Wiping away the sleep from her tiring eyes, Shizune waited.
"We've been kept in the dark." Tsunade grunted, setting the scroll on the table as she grabbed for the file Shizune had set down less than an hour before, "I'm assuming this is for me?"
Shizune nodded, the file had been intended for Tsunade, before reaching for the brittle leaf of parchment, still held together by a length of pale ribbon tied hastily, no doubt by Tsunade's own hands prior to their current meeting. Shizune used the flower pot to keep the paper from curling into itself and she briefly entertained the notion that it was like a small, captured creature shielding itself from predatory eyes, but she didn't have the luxury of time to consider the thought any longer than a few seconds. The scroll was written in several hues of ink, betraying the fact that the techniques had been revised many times as the myriad of maroon, blue and black crashed against each other like battling waves. She was surprised to note that it wasn't an original scroll, in fact, beneath the layers of hasty scribbles she could see the original figures and diagrams which this new creator had annotated and explored in further, minute details where the original author had neglected to venture. Seals, varying in complexity and intention were splayed across the page without any apparent order. Some of the seals were particularly interesting, as they were seals that she had been looking at not hours before - medical jutsus usually employed to aid the healing of broken or damaged chakra pathways. However these had been altered and Shizune wouldn't have understand the additional accents and conduits had it not been for the chicken-scratch inkings which explained each intent in reassuring detail. Slowly, as she continued to read, she began to comprehend the severity of her patient's situation.
The faint, silvery scars which trailed over every inch of his body were the scars of seals that he must have placed on his body after reading the scroll, or after the recent discoveries she had made, perhaps annotated himself. The moonlike hue had come from the immense energy that the boy had channelled in order to painstakingly fracture the very system which allowed him to perform jutsu. She could only imagine the pain as invisible hands tugged at organs, sinew and flesh to mould the pathways to a new design, but what situation had an ex-Anbu officer to use such a technique which had clearly been labelled 'Danger - Do Not Use' in large, red letters?
It was a conundrum. Of course it was. It was never allowed to be easy.
Except now their job seemed that little bit lighter. A little more possible.
The younger woman looked up from the page.
"We need to talk to the Hokage."
And Shizune dared to hope.
Naruto lay, rigid and unyielding, as the darkened currents lapped at his conscious. He wasn't entirely sure if he was awake or asleep, never certain if the snatches of colour, sound or faces were part of this irreality in which he was trapped. Sometimes he would awake to find a nurse, to ask who had been visiting him in the darkest parts of the night, only to be met with blank stares and confusion in return. He was lost. Had the visitors been his imagination? Or had it been the young nurse? Or was it all his imagination as he hung motionless in this void? He didn't know. He was too tired to find his way out. The ghostly linen prickled his senses like exposed acid and his limbs were like sunken lead. He couldn't and he wouldn't. He was too tired and too worn, rung out until there was nothing left to give.
He felt hands on his own, brushing delicately against his skin and he flinched. Except doubt burrowed in his mind, was it real or was it this endless expanse which had grabbed his hand? Naruto questioned much of his current reality, but that touch had felt so real as it sparked off the relays beneath his skin.
Barely a moment passed before the red, hot spark of intrusion struck him and pain bloomed in his side, as if damp, hot blood was pooling into his clothing even though Naruto had been blissfully unaware of a physical body in the void before that moment. Slowly the poker-like intrusion scraped endingly towards his navel, tracing an intricate pattern - all angles and spirals - which appeared to have no end.
A screaming, scrabbling noise burst free from his throat, as if he were drowning on the very air for which he gasped and he tried to make his mouth form words. 'Stop' He wanted to shout 'Please!' but his mouth couldn't round on the strangle, unfamiliar syllables as they bitterly stagnated on his tongue.
Then the first searing point in his side was joined by the shock of pain in his right thigh, paralyzing current causing him to snap to one side as if he had been struck by lightning. The pain was so intense that it clouded the knife-like incursion sinking it's way to his back and beneath his ribs - 'a killing blow' a part of him registered monotonously 'If this had been a true, physical battle instead of these bodiless assailants in a shadowy limbo'.
His observations were useless to him. They did not stop the stabbing flames or the flood of electric as they travelled across his body, making their way ever closer to his heart. Panic and pain constricted his chest and ribs groaned in creaking protest as those point of furious energy drilled deep inside him and traced those incessant, convoluted patterns.
Then came the blinks. Naruto could only describe them as blinks, as if his whole body shut down in one shuddering moment before being awoken once more by the jagged strikes against his numbing flesh. His head begun to ache as the pressure behind his eyes increased with every blink and the intermittent fury of electricity and flame coursed through his veins like molten lava, spitting static into his deadened limbs like a cornered wild cat, slowly crawling toward his heart. Another two blinks, in quick succession, which drove the last of the air from his lungs and submerged him as he desperately clung on to his semi-consciousness. He was given a brief second before another series of rapid blinks caused his skin to erupt into firey numbness and each movement, each scrape from the unseen attackers, was like ice blossoming beneath his skin, sawing at exposed flesh with glacial teeth.
Slowly, like a sharp knife slowly digging into butter, those sharp points of light and pain began to converge over his chest and sink toward his heart. There was only a moment of fluttering in his chest, a caged butterfly batting its frail wings, before the tension in his temples finally snapped and his body blazed in one final struggle against the unknown. Every inch of skin sharp yet so numb, but he supposed that logic would be difficult to find in his half reality.
He struggled for a breath, but his lungs just took in water. Spluttering he tried to choke for precious air, but there was no surface he could strive for... only the nothingness and the flood of water which drowned his ailing gasps. His limbs began to lose precious strength and he could feel himself being pulled deeper into the darkness, the stabs of pain dulled as oily shadows slid passed him in the dark and he could fight them no longer.
He allowed those transparent arms to drag him deeper into the void.
Thank you for your patience! I've been away working abroad all summer so I couldn't get this out to you until now. Look forward to the next chapter next week!