Son of the Yondaime Hokage.
Bearer of the Kyuubi no Kitsune.
The Child of Prophesy
who would either save the world,
or bring about its destruction.
It was his destiny to do great things.
To save the world from a dark power hidden within Akatsuki.
To lead his village as the strongest shinobi of the age.
To bring peace to the Elemental Nations.
But Naruto refuses to be defined by a fate not of his choosing.
He insists on forging his own way;
turning off the perceived "correct path" at a critical juncture.
What follows is his life when things do not go as others plan.
Buried in Obscurity
Chapter One: Born With Regret
He awoke to a flash of red and pain. An unfathomable soul searing pain that threatened to finish his fragile hold on his sanity. He couldn't focus. There was nothing beyond the burning and the feel of his life's blood soaking his skin. No sound except his tortured gasps and the slowing beats of his heart – both of which sounded preternaturally loud in his head, in the absence of any coherent thought. It seemed an eternity before the dark haze of nothingness began to descend, once again, upon his consciousness.
"Finally, release..." his only thought before succumbing to what he was certain was his end. A deep shuddering breath, dark fluid filling his mouth with a metallic tang, and then, Naruto knew no more.
"Don't you dare, Naruto. Don't you dare give up." Sakura growled, attempting to swallow her panic as her best friend and team mate bled out in front of her. She pushed her own pain and discomfort to the back of her mind as she forced the last of her chakra into the dying boy's body. She needed all of her focus and control. She couldn't lose him. Not when they were so close to keeping their oath to bring Sasuke home. Not when she was just beginning to...
For the first time since she gained skill as the Hokage's apprentice, Sakura began to doubt herself. She didn't know if she could save him, and what good was she if she couldn't save one of the people for whom she grew strong to protect? Despair clutched at her heart as she realized the extent of the trauma Kyuubi's chakra had wrought upon Naruto's body. For it was the Kyuubi, and not Orochimaru, who had laid Naruto low. Orochimaru had fled at the sight of Naruto's four tailed state without ever landing a hit on the boy.
Her tears fell upon Naruto's chest, mixing well with his blood, as she frantically struggled to keep his heart pumping and his lungs breathing whilst healing his extensive internal injuries. As she worked she mentally cataloged the damage. Extended exposure to the Kyuubi's chakra had all but fried his organs. Blood was filling his body cavity faster than she could patch the ruptures to his circulatory system. It might as well be a sieve and for every hole she plugged, she found two more.
His slight frame was racked with chills as his body temperature dropped, a result of shock and blood loss. Third degree burns covered his naked torso, but they would have to wait until he was stabilized. In some places, it looked as if his skin had melted off leaving adipose tissue and muscle exposed. No doubt there would be crippling nerve damage. A normal person would be dead already. Even if Naruto survived this, he may never fully recover.
"Yamato-taichou," Sakura gasped, "I need a soldier pill. My chakra is nearly depleted." It was Sai who gestured for her to open her mouth so that he could place a little brown pellet on her tongue. She thanked him with a nod and increased the flow of green chakra to her hands as the pill took affect. But soldier pills are used for a quick boost in an emergency. They are not a true replacement for time and rest. She knew that it would not be enough for her to stabilize Naruto on her own. He needed the help of a full medical team and access to hospital resources. They were over a day's travel from Konoha, even at a steady run. At this point Naruto would not survive the trip home.
Yamato's grave face appeared in her peripheral vision. "How is he, Sakura?" She explained her fears as she worked; her face showing signs of weariness and her hands beginning to tremble.
"Why is the Kyuubi not helping him heal?"
"It can't. Overexposure to it's chakra is the problem. Naruto is already suffering from chakra poisoning and burns. Any more unfiltered youki in his system will kill him."
"Perhaps I may be of some assistance."
Startled, Yamato and Sai turned to face the intruder - their guards immediately raised. They had not sensed anyone approaching.
Behind them, Sakura stiffened ever so slightly but forced herself to focus on Naruto and to trust her team mates to protect her back. She recognized that cool sounding voice...
For a moment there was silence. The tension in the air grew palatable as both sides eyed each other warily.
"Why have you returned, Yakushi Kabuto?" Yamato's eyes narrowed and he quickly ran through a set of hand seals in preparation of unleashing one of his Mokuton jutsu upon the traitor.
Kabuto raised his hands in the universal sign of non-hostile intent. "I am here to help."
At this Yamato snorted in disbelief and Sai interjected with an inquisitive tilt of his head, "It is not customary to aid your enemy."
"After witnessing so much of the Kyuubi's chakra enveloping Naruto-kun's body, Lord Orochimaru realized the damage to Naruto-kun would be quite extensive; perhaps even life threatening." Kabuto paused and nonchalantly adjusted his glasses. "He requested that I return and offer my considerable skills as a healer."
Yamato's eyes narrowed as he tried to read Kabuto's true intent from the traitor's body language. "That still does not tell us why Orochimaru wants Naruto alive."
"I can understand your suspicion..." This time it was Sakura who snorted. Kabuto continued as if uninterrupted. "Our reasons are quite simple really. This is a case of the enemy of our enemy is our friend."
At this a look of comprehension began to form upon Yamato's face. "Akatsuki."
"Quite. You see, Lord Orochimaru is in a rather delicate position at the moment. He left Akatsuki on, let's say, less than favorable terms, in order to pursue his own interests. Currently, Akatsuki has chosen to ignore his little indiscretion in favor of chasing the Bijuu. However, if something were to happen to dear Naruto-kun and it got back to Akatsuki that Orochimaru-sama was involved..."
"They would be forced to deal with Orochimaru."
"Quite right. We're also hoping that Naruto-kun will take a few of them down with him when it comes time for Akatsuki to capture him and seal his Bijuu. But, that would merely be an added benefit. At the moment we need him to live so that he keeps the Akatsuki distracted from Orochimaru-sama's plans."
Yamato and Sai remained singularly unconvinced of Kabuto's sudden altruistic streak, if their defensive stance was anything to go by. Yamato was not powering down the jutsu he had prepared. Sai's right hand still hovered above his ninjato.
Kabuto sighed condescendingly. "...Yamato-san, Sakura-chan is obviously low on chakra and injured. While her skill in ijutsu is impressive, she will not be able to save him on her own. If you do not allow me to assist her, your team mate will die. You have very little time left. Minutes at most. I suggest you make a decision quickly."
As if to confirm the veracity of Kabuto's statement, Naruto's body seized up in one last violent spasm. His head flew back as he took a deep breath; his exhalation sounding with the finality of a death rattle. Then a gush of blood flowed forth from his mouth, staining his cheeks and the ground beneath his head. But he did not choke upon it - and the lack of an automatic gag reflex, more than anything else, told Sakura that their time was out.
"No. No. No." Sakura moaned from her position hunched over the prone form of her team mate; still furiously pushing her chakra into an unresponsive body; refusing to allow him to die there in the dirt and leave her to face the world alone.
Seeing the situation move well beyond desperate, Yamato stepped aside and allowed Kabuto to approach his downed subordinate. The ANBU captain sent Kabuto a silent, hard eyed warning, 'Harm my team mates and I'll eviscerate you.'
He had to fight against all of his instincts, which demanded that he end this threat to his comrades, as he watched the traitor approach Naruto's still body with chakra laden hands – hands that were used more often to harm, than to heal.
From the dark nothingness came awareness. Not in the normal everyday sense of the word, because the nothingness remained. It was as if a sleeper had awakened from a dreamless slumber into a place where no light or sound could hope to penetrate. For surely there can be no light or sound if there is no medium for the waves to travel through. There can be no smell, taste, or touch, when all that is corporeal has passed away.
No, this was an awareness of self - of thoughts and beliefs, of hopes and dreams once striven for, of personal successes and painful failures, of memories treasured and memories buried and forgotten till this moment. What awakened in the nothingness was an awareness of all the facets of the personality that made this soul unique; that gave this soul identity.
And as this soul found awareness, the nothingness slowly became something. Well, not really something. There was still nothing anywhere, after all. But now he was aware of it, and suddenly the dark emptiness did not feel as heavy and the memory of the deathly coldness that had settled into his limbs finally dissipated; replaced by a loving warmth. But it would be wrong to say his body felt warm. He didn't need to see to know he had left his body far behind.
Yet he was unable to feel any fear for the dark void in which he now lingered, surrounded as he was in this warm nurturing embrace.
If he had to describe it, he would say that it felt as he had always imagined a mother's loving hug would feel. Not how it would feel physically, but spiritually. If he were still in his body, no doubt his face would be beaming with joyful contentment. His spirit practically vibrated with it.
The warm something seemed to be guiding him, though he could sense no movement nor could he discern direction. Time seemed irrelevant in this space. He had no concept of how much had passed before he saw something. Something bright and welcoming. He wanted to hurry towards it, towards all that the light promised him – peace, true happiness, unconditional love and acceptance. All the things he dreamed of in life awaited him and he was nearly there; nearly home.
The light was a bright beacon leading him out of the endless dark. So bright, yet it did not hurt to gaze directly into it; so he did. And in the light he saw two forms waiting for him. Waiting to welcome him. But the light was too bright. It obscured their features, coloring, and gender; only their shapes were somewhat discernible. He was left with the impression that they were humanoid, that they were happy to see him, but little else. He felt as if they were trying to say something to him; something incredibly important. He could not hear them though. Maybe if he were able to join them in the light... but no sound crossed the threshold into the nothingness through which he still traveled.
He was determined to hurry; eager as he was to meet these two who shared this ghostly space.
Naruto knew that whatever they could tell him would change him profoundly, and for the better. His worldly cares seemed so very far behind him now, as his new sole desire was to join with those in the light.
Almost there. He was almost there. Now he could sense, more than see, that the taller of the two was male. The smaller being, who radiated maternal affection, was definitely female. He felt that he could almost understand what the male spirit was trying to tell him. The smaller being held out her arms to him, ready to draw him into her embrace. What was once a speck of red lost in the bright yellow light now became recognizable as the female's hair. As he drew closer still, her flaming red hair stood out in great contrast to the yellow glow. Just a little further, and he would finally see their faces clearly and hear their words. He would find out who these beings were and why they waited for him. They felt so familiar, though Naruto knew he had never met them in life.
Then the something once again changed.
The warmth began to fade and Naruto noticed that he was no longer moving towards the light, but away from it. He began to panic, but his silent pleas for help went unheard; swallowed up in the dark nothingness that separated him from the two who he was beginning to cherish without even meeting.
Confusion set in. Why was he being denied entrance? Was he not a good enough person? He had tried to be loyal, kind, and forgiving in life. Was that not enough? Maybe he was too tainted from mixing with the Kyuubi...
A bitterness deeper than he had ever known filled him. It devastated him to think that another place where he so longed to belong was rejecting him for something that was not his fault.
And then he felt it. Something intangible was pulling him from behind, taking him away from the light and back into the dark emptiness. Something that he instinctively knew had nothing to do with the spirits waiting for him within the light.
In a way he felt relieved. The light wasn't rejecting him after all. He wasn't being pushed away. It wasn't his fault. Maybe someday, he would be allowed to return to this place. Still, Naruto grieved as the two beings began to fade into the distance. He felt more than saw their disappointment and their resignation. There would be no reunion.
'Wait, reunion? Have we met before?' - his last thought before the darkness swallowed him once more.
Awareness found him again. But it was different this time. The nothingness he had existed in for so long was gone. He could feel the air brush against his skin.
He had forgotten about it, but now it returned with a vengeance. The harsh smell of disinfectants told him where he most likely lay.
The quiet voices chatting nearby unknowingly confirmed for him his condition.
He didn't want this. He didn't want to return to the world. More than anything, Naruto did not want to wake up. The burdens of his life fell down upon his shoulders once more; a great weight that he now knew only death would remove.
Slowly, regretfully, sleep encrusted eyelids cracked open to reveal blue eyes that were, once again, full of life.
AN: And so begins my new story.
In case you didn't catch it, this story is post time-skip. It begins directly after the confrontation with Kabuto and Orochimaru at the bridge. After this point, the story becomes completely AU. For obvious reasons, Team Kakashi will not follow Orochimaru to his hidden base, nor will they see Sasuke.
I'm a bit concerned that this chapter comes across as angsty. That's not what I'm going for at all. This Naruto will in no way, shape, or form, be emo. This chapter was merely to show why Naruto's mindset is about to change so drastically from canon. Nothing changes one's outlook on life like a near death experience. Trust me, I've been there. o.O
Let me know what you think.