This story has some of Masashi Kishimoto's characters from Naruto in a universe of my own devising. I do not own Naruto. I do not make any money from these writings.
Warning: This story features male/male relationships. If you are uncomfortable reading about gay male relationships do not read this story.
I am very grateful to those who have reviewed, particularly those who have done so more than once. If you have left a review THANK YOU. Specifically, thanks to xxShadowheartxx, Mosho, kaname-luvr, WTFflyingmonkeys123, I Am The Pumpkin King, Fate Survivor, Kylecxx, Coco, TanuKyle, Athena Keating-Thomas, Calwyn Evenstar, NaruHina143, Just Some Guy, embagshot, melissen, donalgraeme and LadySaturnGirl who have reviewed Iteration.
Apologies if the characters have grown differently in their new environment.
Many thanks to 'Small Fox' for beta-ing. For this story he had also been my muse, helping me develop many of the ideas and plot developments.
Chapter one hundred and five: Needed
Tales in Tarrasade, tale 16, 'Princess' is set between chapter 104 and this chapter, 105, of Iteration.
Despite the stink of the regen gel and other scents of the infirmary, Naruto could smell Sasuke.
He was very close. Naruto took a deep breath, savouring the familiar aroma.
"Dobe?" Sasuke's voice. Like his scent, it was laced with anxiety. Naruto felt the familiar touch on his face and through his fur.
"Teme?" he croaked. There was a straw between his lips. He sucked and a rush of cool water washed away the sticky dryness from his mouth and throat.
He tried to open his eyes. The lids stuck together momentarily but then they gave and Sasuke's pinched, white face came into view.
Naruto had never seen him look so sad.
"Not good," Naruto suggested. He did not know what wasn't good but he was guessing there was a lot of it. He could tell that his body wasn't right and he remembered every moment of the attack. People must have died.
He had been so sure that he was going to be one of them.
Sasuke's eyes filled with tears. "Not good," he echoed.
"The children?" Naruto asked.
"Perfect," Sasuke assured him. "The babies are still podded. The children have missed you so much. So have I."
"How long?" Naruto asked.
"Forty-two days," Sasuke admitted.
He tried moving. He was immobilised, or immobile, from the bottom of his ribcage down. Looking down, he could see a large mass under the bed cover.
Rin could not mend him. Otherwise the first words out of Sasuke's mouth would have been reassurance.
For all he knew, he had been cut in half.
"Sasuke, let me speak to Rin," he suggested and immediately saw how Sasuke was hurt by the idea. "Please, teme. I know how hard it will be for you to tell me. Let Rin do it. It's her job."
Sasuke scowled at him. "I'm staying," he insisted.
Naruto acquiesced; he did not want them to argue.
He listened to what Rin had to say, judging the severity of what she was telling him by how hard Sasuke was squeezing his hand.
Finally she stopped. "Do you have any questions, Naruto-san?"
Naruto decided to check if had grasped the situation or not. "Everything has mended except my kidneys and my spinal cord. Those need to be regenerated or transplanted in. Trouble is, my body is rejecting both my own regenerated tissue and any other tissue you transplant in." He scowled at Sasuke. "You didn't make embryos to get the bits to transplant?"
"We used stem cells from one of the kits' umbilical cords," Rin assured him. "It was Shizune's idea. We're managing to grow two fully-functional kidneys and the nerve fibres you need, but all the tests say your body will kill them if we transplant them in. We're still working on ways around the problem. We won't give up, Naruto-san," she insisted.
Naruto knew she wouldn't. Rin was like that. That was why he had nanobots and age retard. It was why Lee was alive and Sumaru could use his symbiote. It was why Haku had not died on the blade of Itachi's knife.
He brought Sasuke's hand to his mouth and kissed it.
"Best scenario, you find a solution, transplant the tissue and everything works," Naruto summarised. "And the worst?"
"You remain as you are now, paralysed from the waist down and with no kidney function," Rin replied promptly.
Hearing it stated so starkly was a shock. Naruto hoped he covered it well.
"We can go down the implant route," Rin insisted. "There is a good chance we could give you control over your bladder and bowels and get you walking. Some of the artificial kidneys are excellent."
Naruto had not thought about being incontinent. He was as helpless as a purebred baby. Even more so; a baby could kick.
"But..." Rin continued.
Naruto wasn't sure if he could take a 'but'. He steeled himself.
"Some of the most effective implants would require us to take away a lot of healthy tissue. That would make it harder to do the transplants if we solve the rejection problem," she warned him.
He stroked the back of Sasuke's hand with his thumb. "Not the kind of decision to make in a hurry," he suggested.
"No," Rin agreed.
"We will not rush it then," Naruto decided. "Will we?" he checked, looking at Sasuke.
"No," Sasuke agreed. He looked, smelt and sounded so sad.
"We would like to be on our own for a bit," Naruto decided.
Rin took the hint immediately, taking her leave and closing the door to the recovery room behind her.
Naruto pulled Sasuke to him and held him. At least his arms worked; he could hug people. He buried his nose in Sasuke's hair and inhaled.
"I love you," he murmured.
Sasuke's breathing hitched and Naruto knew he was going to cry.
Slowly, bit by bit, between the sobs, Sasuke described what had happened since the bombing; the deaths and the grief and the misunderstandings while Naruto held him and comforted him.
The more he learned the more determined Naruto became. His family needed him and, crippled or not, he was going to be there for them.
After considerable time Sasuke stopped talking and finished crying. Naruto continued stroking his back, grooming his hair and making small foxy noises of reassurance.
"What next?" Sasuke asked finally.
Naruto was determined to be positive. "We both have stuff to do, teme. First on my list is asking Rin how much of this stuff..." He knocked on the contraption beneath the cover. "...I can dispense with before I see the children."
"They are used to seeing Iruka," Sasuke pointed out. "He is still in supergens from the waist down."
Naruto made a sound he hoped that Sasuke would interpret as agreement. He had other ideas than for his children to see him lying in a bed trapped by a machine.
"Is there anything you should be doing, teme?" he asked.
"I have a meeting," Sasuke admitted.
"Does it involve, Rin, Dan or Shino?" Naruto asked.
Sasuke looked at him with suspicion. "No," he admitted.
"You go to your meeting and I'll see you later," Naruto insisted.
Sasuke left and Naruto asked if he could speak to the medical team and Shino. Once they were all there, Naruto had Rin scowling within seconds.
"Rin-san, you said that there wasn't any more mending happening," he pointed out. "Why do I need a full set of supergens if there isn't any regeneration?"
"He has a point," Dan agreed.
Rin favoured him with a laser-look. "We have to protect the spinal cord from any further injury," she insisted.
"The spinal column has mended perfectly. There is no danger of more damage," Shizune volunteered and Naruto was pleased that she had turned up with Dan. "You have given him extra nanobots to clean his blood. That means he can have more time away from the dialysis machine."
Once they moved away from Rin's 'everything you could possibly need' approach to Naruto's 'just the minimum to stop me messing myself in public' approach they made real progress.
"We can use the same adaptive technology we use for your gun turret in a buggy," Shino suggested.
"Can you cobble something together immediately?" Naruto asked. "Something I could make do with while you and Shi-chan come up with the all-singing, all-dancing, racing model?"
"It must be run past me," Rin insisted. "I will not have you damaging yourself. We need to keep you in excellent condition for whichever treatment option you select."
Dan considered. "It will work. You could be in the buggy for most of the day. You could have a cut down model for use in your room. One that is waterproof so you could use it in the shower."
Being able to wash himself sounded good.
"You would need to come to the infirmary for dialysis and a full check up every three days," Rin insisted. "I'll tank you if there is any damage," she warned.
Shizune brought out a tablet. "I've been thinking about this for a while. Even if we had been able to transplant the nerve fibres they would have taken a while to connect properly." The projector activated. "I found these."
There appeared a three dimensional image of some tight-fitting pants with feet and a high waist.
"They look like an ordinary garment but they are loaded with technology," Shizune continued. "I imagine Shino-san and Shikamaru-san could adapt them very closely to your needs, Naruto-san. Even in their standard form, they would address one of your greatest concerns, Naruto-san, as they deal with incontinence issues. They would also make it a lot less likely that you would damage the parts of your body with no sensation, which is what Rin-san is most worried about." She smiled. "I knew that Sasuke-sama would want you to have the best so I ordered seven custom-made pairs, four for you to use and three for Shino-san and Shika-san to play with."
Naruto saw Rin blanch. "They aren't coming out of my budget," she muttered darkly. "Who approved the purchase?"
"Iruka-san," Shizune said with a small smile. "We decided that they were clothes, not medical equipment. The custom-made ones are on their way by courier but I bought one standard pair when I was first looking into them and they have arrived." She whipped out what looked like shorts chopped out of a combat suit. "They are only knee length because they didn't do a footed pair with long enough legs butI bought long socks and knee-guards made of the same stuff to go with them."
A small thought germinated in Naruto's mind and started to grow. "Could you get me into those, into a chair and the chair onto a hover platform?" he asked. "Now?"
"Out of the question," Rin replied.
"Yes," Dan and Shizune chorused. "Rin-chan, think what a positive effect it would have on everyone," Dan added.
Naruto could see that Rin was yielding. "Very well," she conceded.
Shino jumped to his feet. "I'll go and start on the chair and platform." He gave a small smile. "Would you like to surprise Shika-san?" he asked. "If so, I'll go to Izumo-san's shop."
"That would be great," Naruto admitted. He gave Rin his best smile. "Thank you for being such a good sport, Rin-san."
Naruto was soon very glad that it was all about the excitement of the surprise and his anticipation of seeing the children. Otherwise he might have dwelt on how it felt to have no sensation at all from his lower body. He watched it flopping about as he moved; it was most disconcerting.
No fucking; probably no fucking ever again. Naruto paled at the thought but was quick to smile and assure Dan all was well.
He could not afford to think like that. He had to concentrate on being there for Sasuke and the children.
Dan was great. He helped Naruto wash himself repeatedly to rid his skin and fur of the smell of regen gel. His jokey attitude towards the 'super-shorts' made it easier to talk about their important but embarrassing functions.
The shorts, socks and knee-guards were good bits of kit, Naruto could see that. As well as dealing with any accidents, they stopped the flopping; once he had everything in place he could increase the rigidity, so that he was held in that position.
"They have electro-stimulation built in," Dan told him, "which means that they will help keep the muscles healthy and prevent circulation problems. If you see any twitching, it will be that."
Naruto was glad Dan had mentioned it, otherwise he might have hoped that he was moving the muscles himself.
Once the pants were in place Shizune arrived with clothes she had managed to sneak out of the closet without anyone noticing. They got him dressed and then nicked Rin's chair out of her office for him to sit in while they waited for Shino.
Naruto heard them coming long before they arrived. He could hear Konohamaru and Shino and someone else. He concentrated; it was Akemi. There was much sniggering and shuffling in the corridor outside.
Then the door slid open and in came a chair floating just above the floor. Naruto recognised a stripped down version of his gunner's chair. He wondered if it was a spare or whether they had taken it from the Sakura.
"Come in, you three," Naruto called and was rewarded by three faces looking around the doorjambs. "This looks great," he declared.
"We haven't worked out how to make it go fast yet, Naruto-san," Akemi told him, "but it steers well."
"Maybe that is a good thing for now," Dan suggested. "Let's get you into it."
Naruto allowed Dan and Konohamaru to help him. He was pretty sure he would be able to make the move by himself, but he did not want to get Dan into trouble with Rin.
Between the super-shorts and the adaptive fit of his chair, he was soon held snugly.
They had used the controls built into the chair to direct the movement of the platform. Akemi explained and Naruto practiced. Once he had the basics he settled the chair close to Akemi and took the youngster's hand.
"Thank you, Akemi-kun, I am very grateful that you can think of me when things are so hard. Your mother was a wonderful person. She lives on in you as well as all our memories."
Akemi's eyes filled with sudden tears that he blinked away. He nodded but did not speak. Naruto squeezed his hand gently before releasing it.
"Let's move then," he announced, "or I won't be there before the children's midday meal."
"I'll go ahead and make sure that Sasuke-sama is in the playroom rather than hiding in his office," Konohamaru volunteered. "Don't worry, I won't ruin the surprise."
Naruto nodded and turned the hoverchair towards the door.
"Naruto-san," Shizune called and held out a small tray. On it were his plaque on its leather collar and his ring.
Naruto lowered the chair. "Thank you, Shizune-san," he acknowledged.
Then, with collar and ring in place, they were off.
The chair could not move faster than a slow walk. Naruto reminded himself that it was much, much better than lying in a bed with his lower half in a machine.
"Long-term, you might be better off with large wheels," Dan observed. "You would get exercise pushing them and the buggy could be much lighter weight without a hover platform or motor. Luckily the part of the household we use is all on one level."
Naruto was thankful that the two nurseries were on the same level, rather than one above the other as on the Oak.
"There are many designs," Shizune added. "Sadly, all you have to do is look for societies with moderate levels of technology where there has been a war."
Naruto realised that Shizune had done a lot of research. He wondered how long it had taken her to find the super-pants. "Thank you, Shizune-san," he acknowledged.
She flushed slightly. "You are welcome, Naruto-san. I am confident that Rin-san, Shikamaru-san and Kotohime-san will come up with a way to restore function to your spinal cord. However, you have a life to lead until that happens."
Naruto liked that way of looking at it; practicality about the present and optimism for the future.
He asked the others to hang back and was very quiet as he approached the playroom, hoping that the unfamiliar sound of the hoverchair would confuse the kits and Ryuu. As he opened the door he could see Kazuki with his ears pricked; scenting the air.
He just had time to land the platform before Kazuki was on him. Ryuu was next, followed by the other kits and then Kiba, who plucked the children off one by one while begging them to be careful.
Naruto was glad for the snug fit of the chair. He hoped that the protective gear was doing its job.
It was weird to be able to see Yuki on his lap but not be able to feel him. Hugging him and being hugged back helped Naruto thrust the thought aside.
Then Sasuke was there; leaning close, his eyes shining.
"Dobe," he whispered.
"Teme," Naruto replied.
Sasuke lifted Yuki from his lap. "Let your To-chan come properly into the room," he ordered.
By the time he had given each child a hug and a kiss, Naruto was fighting exhaustion. The morning had taken far more out of him than he had anticipated.
"I suggest that Naruto-san has a rest in the snug while we all go for our midmeal," Kiba suggested. "Then you can all have a group cuddle when you come back."
Kazuki twitched his whiskers. "Won't you be hungry, To-chan?" he asked.
Naruto smiled at him. "No, Ka-chan. You don't get hungry in a tank. Maybe I will be hungry by this evening."
"Come on children," Kiba encouraged. "Your Papa and Shika-san will make sure your To-chan is comfortable in the snug. Give your onii-san a kiss, Sumiko-chan."
Naruto watched him take Sumiko from Shikamaru. He had not even registered Shi-chan's presence. He must be even wearier than he thought.
Sumiko looked about. Then her face crumpled and her mouth opened.
"Sumiko-chan!" he called.
The yell was aborted as she looked at him. Naruto put his hands out for her. Kiba gave him a look that said, "Good luck, she's a handful," as he passed her to him.
Naruto gave her his best smile. "Do you remember me, Su-chan?" he asked.
"Naru-san," she admitted.
"That's right. I am Shi-chan's best friend. Shi-chan is staying with me while you go to the kitchen." He turned his chair and started towards the door. "If you are very good, maybe Shi-chan will tell you one of his special stories when you get back."
Sumiko shook her head. "Play dollies," she insisted.
Naruto recognised a negotiation when he was in one. He gave another smile and twitched his whiskers to distract her. "Tell a story about dollies," he suggested. "But only if you are good."
"What if not good?" she asked.
"Haku-san," Haru threatened darkly and Sumiko's eyes widened.
"Haru-chan!" Kiba chided, but Naruto could tell that the reprimand was half-hearted.
"Go to kitchen. Get story about dollies," Sumiko decided.
Kiba took her from him. "Going to kitchen," he confirmed. "Off we go, children."
Naruto waved them off. Biwako left with them and Naruto felt guilty that he had yet to even greet her. With the exception of Dan, his escort from the infirmary had vanished.
His attention went back to Shikamaru. He was far too thin. He smelled wrong.
"Shi-chan," he acknowledged proffering a hand.
Shikamaru hesitated but came over and took it. Naruto pulled him in for a hug.
"So sorry about your Pa and your Ma," he whispered and felt the thin body in his arms tense before it relaxed. Naruto hugged again and then released him. He caught Sasuke's eye and Sasuke nodded; he agreed that talking to Shikamaru was the priority.
Dan gave him a quick health-check and then stepped back to supervise him moving from chair to bed. Naruto raised the hoverchair to the best level only to discover that there was nowhere convenient for him to grasp and lift.
"We'll need to add in handles and stuff," he told Sasuke.
Sasuke hesitated but nodded. Then he stepped forward and lifted Naruto from the chair, pushed it out of the way and stepped forward to place him on the bed.
Naruto concentrated on unlocking the knee-guards so that his legs would straighten at the right moment; just as Sasuke placed him on the bed. He then pushed himself into what felt like the right position before relaxing and relocking the super-shorts.
Sasuke raised a brow, asking what he was doing.
"I'll explain later," Naruto whispered in reply. "Need to talk to Shi-chan now."
Sasuke nodded. He and Dan checked Naruto's position, moving some of the pillows to support him properly. Naruto then made some fine adjustments to the super-shorts and knee-guards.
"I have to get back to the infirmary," Dan told him. "You call me if you need me."
Naruto nodded. "Thanks, Dan-san. Thank Shizune-san for me."
Dan raised a hand to confirm that he would as he left.
"I'm going to join the children. They may have questions," Sasuke announced. "Shika!" He waited until Shikamaru appeared in the doorway. "Could you look after Naruto for me?"
Shikamaru hesitated but nodded. Sasuke kissed Naruto and left.
Naruto patted the bed beside him. Shikamaru slipped off his sandals and approached the other side of the bed. Naruto waited. Finally Shikamaru crawled onto the bed and sat beside him. The bed was so large that there was a considerable distance between them.
Studying Shikamaru confirmed the clues that Naruto had gathered while listening to Sasuke; Shi-chan was blaming himself.
"None of this is your fault," he stated.
Shi-chan's head went down. "I looked back. Na-chan, I missed something. I should have known that Deidara worked for Orochimaru. I should have anticipated a bomb."
Naruto sighed. "It is Deidara's fault. He planted the bomb. It is Orochimaru's fault. He ordered Deidara to do it. Shi-chan, you have to stop doing this to yourself. You are not responsible."
"But..." Shikamaru began.
Naruto cut him off. "Doing stuff like this is what sends typed-seven geniuses insane. It's hindsight. You are looking back along one path. When you were looking forward there were millions of paths. Even you cannot analyse all of them. Even if you could, you are not responsible for other people's actions."
Shi-chan looked at him. "Are you telling me off, Na-chan?" he asked.
"Yes. You have to stop with the blame thing. It's destructive. It chews you up inside. I am your best friend. I am trying to stop you doing it because I love you."
"Tough love," Shikamaru observed. "Haku would approve. He has me dumping Sumiko in punishment corners and walking away when all I want to do is get Ma and Pa back for her."
Naruto's throat threatened to close up. He reached for Shikamaru's hand and squeezed it. "Is it working?" he asked.
Shikamaru considered. "It's made it much better for everyone else and, yes, I think it is helping her. It's hard though. I'm not good at tough."
Naruto smiled at him. "It is hard," he agreed. "Particularly when all you want to do is comfort someone." He yanked and Shikamaru was sprawled across his chest. Naruto gathered him up into a hug. "That's better."
Shikamaru only resisted for a moment before he relaxed. "This is nice," he admitted. "I have missed it. We all have. We need you Na-chan."
Naruto knew they did. That was why it was so much better to be here crippled than not here at all.