The day was October the tenth, and the time was evening. Uzumaki Naruto ran through the streets of Konohagakure, which were unusually empty; the feast and festival celebrating the Yondaime Hokage's defeat of the Nine-Tailed Fox had just ended, and only a few people were yet filtering out of the great square. Naruto had not attended the feast, because none of the merchants with their booths would give him any food. He had eaten earlier, and now just ran, getting to know the village better and better. The lack of glares and quiet curses was also an advantage; the sort of people who left the feast early were usually in a hurry, and few of them would take time out of their busy schedules just to make life unpleasant for the village pariah. Today had been a good day, reflected Naruto; it was his birthday, and as always the old man had shown up at his apartment to tell him happy birthday and to give him a present. This year, in honor of his entering the Ninja Academy, he had given him a very nice kunai with his name engraved on the handle, below the wrappings, which Naruto had immediately taken to the academy throwing range to practice with. It felt better in the hand than the Academy kunai, even the ones he got when Iruka-sensei handed them out, and while he was still unable to reliably hit anything with it, he hoped to become better quickly. It was definitely a requirement that a Hokage be able to hit things with kunai.
Akiyama Yuma and Tsukuda Hachiro were both battle-blooded chuunin of Konoha. Unfortunately, they had both also had rather too much to drink during the Fourth's festival, and Yuma had lost a brother and Hachiro his father to the Kyuubi. So when the demon brat ran full-tilt into Yuma and fell on his butt, neither were inclined to forgive him.
"Heeey, Yuma-san, look who it is," said Hachiro in a menacing, but slightly slurred voice.
"It's that kid," replied Yuma, his emphasis unpromising.
That kid had just gotten up and was in the process of dusting himself off, when looking up he saw the two shinobi looking at him menacingly. "Oh! Sorry, ninja-san!" he said, looking quickly between the two.
"Sorry, he says," said Yuma. "I wonder if he's really sorry, Hachiro-san?"
"D-" Hachiro seemed to cut himself off. "Brat. I bet he's not."
"Let's see." Yuma leaned close to Naruto. "Are you?"
Naruto jumped backwards, waving his hands in front of him. "I am! I am! Sorry!" He attempted to dodge around Yuma and continue on his way, but the chuunin's extended arm halted him. "I have to go, ninja-san!" he said, a minor note of fear entering his voice.
Yuma pushed a bit of killing intent at the boy, expecting an immediate reaction; seeing none, he increased the level until he was almost sweating, and was finally rewarded with a flinch. "You're going nowhere, brat," he said, in a low voice. "You see, I think there's a good bit of Konoha who wouldn't be too sad to see you dead. And you just ran into me. I think I'm going to call that assault."
Hachiro, who had moved around behind Naruto, spoke from directly behind his ear. "You kill him now, it'll be self-defense, won't it, Yuma-san?"
"I reckon it will, Hachiro-san." Yuma picked Naruto up by the front of his orange jumpsuit. He flailed his limbs about, but to no effect. No one seemed to object to this treatment; if anyone nearby would have stirred themselves to save the demon brat, none of them were ninja powerful enough to take on the two chuunin. He moved into a small alley between the buildings, Hachiro following him.
The beating was quick and brutal. Yuma punched Naruto in the face, hard, while still holding him, then slammed him into the alley wall and hit him again. Naruto was still struggling, but without any real purpose; the Academy training had gone out of his head with the first blow, and even if it hadn't nothing in the Academy taijutsu prepared him for being lifted off the ground one-handed. A flailing kick, without any intent behind it, went towards Yuma's groin; he easily blocked it on one leg, and grinned nastily. "There's another count of assault there. What do you think?"
Hachiro was standing between Naruto and Yuma and the alley entrance, facing them. "So it seems, Yuma-san," he said.
Yuma shifted his grip, gaining a better purchase on the jumpsuit, and hit Naruto knife-handed in the collarbone. It snapped with an audible report, and Naruto screamed. Then Yuma dropped him. His legs folded, and he fell to the ground, shifting the ends of bone against each other and dragging out another scream.
Naruto's shoulder was on fire, and hot pokers were being inserted into it with every breath. His lip had split and his nose was bleeding from the first strikes, and he curled protectively around his shoulder almost on instinct. An indistinct cry of "Die, demon!" came from above as a foot smashed into his arm, both bones breaking, and another wave of pain crashed through his mind. His right leg was next, then his left foot. Then his ribs exploded, pain dwarfing anything he had felt before, and he fell into merciful unconsciousness.
Being unconscious, he did not see the figure, still in formal robes and hat from the Yondaime's festival, appear suddenly at the alley mouth; he did not see the two ninjas who had been beating him turn pale in fright and attempt to run away; he did not see them both caught before they had taken two steps apiece, and knocked out with frightening efficiency.
The Sandaime Hokage, once called the God of Shinobi, could barely rein in his rage enough to only knock the two chuunin out, rather than kill them immediately. He stared at their unconscious bodies for a moment, his hands shaking, then turned to their victim. Naruto had been knocked out a few blows ago, and each blow had broken bones. He bent over him, made as if to lift him up, but stopped after seeing the way his arm twisted, sickeningly, at the motion. Instead, his face weary, he formed a sign and two copies of him appeared by his sides. Without any words, they dashed away over the rooftops, one to bring a medical team with a stretcher, one to bring the ANBU and Ibiki. The original stood still in the alley, watching Naruto and the two chuunin. A glint of metal caught his eye, and he bent over and picked up the kunai he had given Naruto earlier that day. Putting it away, he stood again. At least Naruto would not lose that gift as soon as it was given.
Naruto woke up in a bed in the hospital. He had been here several times before; he seemed to have more accidents than most children, but he had never been this badly injured before. There was no pain in — well, anywhere, when from what he remembered of what the ninja had done to him he should have been hurting all over. In fact, he should have been dead, if they continued. He couldn't imagine why they had stopped.
There was no pain, but the lack of pain was more pronounced in some areas than others. His left foot was particularly not-painful, and the feeling, while not painful, was unpleasant. Keeping his left leg carefully still, he tried to sit up, but there was a burst of not-pain in his ribs, and he hastily lay down again.
He looked around the room. His field of view was limited by the fact that he could not sit up, but he could see the upper half of a wooden door on the wall to his right, and the back of a chair in the small area of room not occupied by the bed. The walls were white, the door was unpainted. Everything was completely unremarkable except for that line on the door. It was irregular and thin, not quite as thick as the gaps between the planks of the door, but more noticeable because it broke their pattern. It traced from a point midway between the top corners of the door in a wobbly curve downwards before leaving his field of view, and another branched off it about halfway up and traced its own line to near the upper hinge.
Naruto turned his head to get the door more fully in sight, trying to discern why the door had that particular pattern on it — was it a flaw, had paint spilled on it at some point? Then he noticed that the wall around the door bore some similar lines, though they did not continue the ones on the door. Then it seemed that they continued all over the walls and ceiling, no square meter of drywall without its wending, mysterious line. Naruto could have sworn that the walls had been blank when he first looked at them, but the lines had certainly not just appeared — the feeling was more like a realization that they had been there all along.
He sat up. There was another burst of not-pain in his ribs, but he ignored it; the feeling, while unpleasant, was not actually pain, and he was too consumed in the mystery of the there-but-not-there lines to care about it. They were all over the walls, branching and rejoining seemingly at random, wending in irregular paths over the drywall. The obvious thing to do would be to examine them closely, but he could not get out of the bed, instead deciding to simply stare at them. They were entirely still and inoffensive, now that they had appeared, but they still gave him an odd feeling. After only a few seconds of closer attention, the odd feeling escalated to creepiness, and he looked away, instead at the wooden chair sitting in front of the door.
The chair was not unusual. It was all wood, with no cushion or arms, only four legs, a planklike seat, and the framed back. It also now had a bunch of lines on it, at least one crossing each rod of the back and an irregular grid of several on the seat. What are these?
He looked next at the floor. It persisted in reassuring sameness for a moment before also manifesting lines, and again the feeling was not that the lines had appeared but that he had noticed that they were there already. With a sinking feeling, he examined the window. There were lines crossing the bar in the middle, and fainter lines on the glass itself. He looked at the table to his side, and felt a momentary, distracting flash of joy as he recognized the kunai the old man had given him sitting on it. Of course, it also had lines on it, as well as the table itself and the lamp above. He looked at the sheets, and there were thin lines running up his covered legs. He looked at his arms, and they were criss-crossed by the same lines — which had certainly not been there when last he looked. He would have guessed that the chuunin had chosen to follow up the beating with a game of scar-the-pariah, had they not obviously been the same thing as on the walls, the ceiling and the door.
The not-pain in his ribs had been becoming steadily more insistently not-painful throughout, but he had ignored it due to first his curiosity and second the creepiness of the situation. Now, the vaguely unpleasant not-pain vanished entirely, replaced by a shipment of emphatic and severe pain. Naruto did not quite scream, but he collapsed, which caused the pain to spike momentarily, then fade. The shock took his mind off the lines, but they remained visible, taunting him with their inexplicable presence on everything he saw.
Steps moved down the hallway towards his door, and it opened. A doctor came in, dressed like a hospital worker in gloves and a white apron, but wearing the hitai-ite of a medic- nin. Doctor, apron and hitai-ite were, by now predictably enough, covered in thin, spidery lines.
"Awake, I see," said the doctor. The line crossing his lips moved normally with his words, as if it was simply painted on. The doctor walked the few steps to Naruto's bedside and moved a hand down his body, glowing with green chakra. "And...trying to sit up already. You would think we made the anesthetic seal unpleasant enough to keep you from doing that. You've got a couple of broken ribs, kid. Don't be putting strain on them." Naruto heard the words, but did not nod or speak; the lapse of whatever had held back the pain in his ribs had also given him wonderful new feelings of pain in his foot and other leg, and any movement would aggravate those or his ribs.
The medic-nin did not seem to be offended by Naruto's lack of response. He waved a hand over Naruto's ribs, glowing again with chakra, and the pain mostly disappeared. "So don't do that again. You'll do more damage. Also, you've got a visitor. I'd say 'wait here' but what else are you going to do?" Chuckling softly at his own joke, the doctor left the room again.
Naruto remained still this time, not moving even his head. Now that he was feeling the pain of his injuries, even without the ribs, he wished rather fervently that he hadn't sat up and triggered its return. He could still see the mysterious lines on the ceiling and on the lamp to the side, and even though he knew it was silly, he could have sworn they were mocking him.
He resolved to ignore the lines for the moment, waiting instead for his visitor, whoever that would be. The only person who would be likely to visit him was the old man, so that was most likely. He was distracted from this train of thought when suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the wall on his left simply fall apart, crumbling in large chunks to the ground. He snapped his head over to look at the wall, and the holes in it and large chunks of plaster on the ground vanished, the wall entirely as it was, including the impossible lines.
What was that? He stared at the wall for several more moments, but nothing happened. He was just about to turn his head back when, again at the corner of his eye, he saw the ceiling, this time, break into pieces and fall — seemingly on him. This time the illusion was broken when the falling pieces failed to actually hit him, and as he turned his head again the ceiling was restored, whole as anything. Naruto gaped up at it in surprise. There had been something about that one...what was it?
There! This time, it was the lamp above him to the right, and as it seemed to fall in pieces Naruto could just discern that the pieces were as if someone had cut the lamp all along the lines for which he still had no explanation.
Is this some sort of messed-up genjutsu or something?
His train of thought was interrupted by the door opening. Naruto turned his head to see his visitor, the lamp snapping back into position as he did so. It was the old man. Naruto gave him a wide grin. "Hey, ojiisan!"
The Hokage smiled back. Naruto did not seem to have been affected too badly mentally by the beating. Physically...he was a mess, and it twisted something inside to see him so incapacitated, but those wounds would heal. "Hello, Naruto. How are you feeling?"
Naruto's face twisted in mock complaint. "It hurts! I sat up and it started hurting again! Usually things don't hurt this much!"
The Hokage sat down in the chair. "You haven't ever been hurt this badly before. I think you've only ever had pretty simple breaks before. They crushed your foot completely, and broke three ribs when that man kicked you." His voice was hard, but he left out that similar wounds in another person might very well have ended their ninja career before it began. Naruto's mysterious healing factor, which could not be proven to be related to the demon fox inside him and so which he had not mentioned to any of the many parties who would have demanded information on any sign of the Kyuubi, had done its work; the nasty wounds would take only a few days to fully heal. "Why did you sit up?" This was delivered in a voice less hard, and more long-sufferingly exasperated. "The anesthetic seal should have warned you not to."
"I felt that, but I had to figure out those lines!" said Naruto. Not sitting up again, he pointed with his uninjured arm at the door. "Ojiisan, do you know what those are?"
"What are you pointing at?" asked the Sandaime. He turned in his chair to look at the door. "Lines? You mean the joins between the planks?"
"No, there are lines! Like, just random lines on everything!" said Naruto. "They're all over the door, and the walls, and on that lamp, and even on my arms. And," he paused, looking at the old man, "on you, too. And I've never seen them before! Do you know what they are?"
"I don't see any lines anywhere," said the Hokage. A genjutsu? But why would there be... "Can you describe where they are?"
"They're all over! But there's one," he squinted at the door, "that starts right in the middle of the top of the door and goes down. It's in the middle of the plank. There!" He pointed as carefully as he could.
The Hokage stood up and examined the door closely. There was no line that he could see. He even used a diagnostic medical jutsu, moving his hand over the door where Naruto had indicated. Nothing was on or inside the wood, except its ordinary grain. "Lines..." He turned around and walked to Naruto's side. "I think that someone might have put a genjutsu on you to see those lines, though I can't imagine why anyone would." It seemed like it wasn't hurting him, after all, and anyone who wished Naruto harm would have done something worse than what seemed like an absurdist prank. "I'm going to try to break it now. Tell me if you see anything." He raised one hand to his face in the half-Tiger seal and pushed a carefully measured amount of chakra, enough to break any illusions on anyone in the room, at least. "Kai!"
Naruto looked around the room. "I still see them. What do you think they are?"
The Hokage sat down again, perturbed. He was confident that the boy wasn't lying; it was unlike Naruto to lie, and the only motive he could have had was, again, some kind of prank. Which, of course, was like Naruto, but his pranks usually involved fewer claims to see networks of lines on everything and more ludicrously oversized graffiti and strategically placed paint traps. And if the boy was, in fact, seeing something no one else could, and it wasn't a genjutsu — and it was an accomplished genjutsu master indeed who could create one that would resist even his first attempt at dispelling it — then it was, by simple common sense, likely to be related to the fox. But jinchuuriki were not unheard of, and while it would hardly be in the interest of any village to release detailed information on their jinchuurikis' abilities, Ibiki and Jiraiya's most excellent intelligence networks would have picked up any hint of a rumor of a dojutsu component to the powers of any jinchuuriki. Was the fox — or Minato's seal — different somehow?
His train of thought was interrupted by Naruto waving his good arm at him. "Hey, ojiisan, what do you think they are? You went all quiet!"
The Sandaime smiled at Naruto. "I was just thinking. I don't know what they are, but if you see anything else that seems related to the lines, let me know."
Naruto replied immediately, with his usual enthusiasm. "Well, I was seeing this stuff right before you came in, where if I looked at the same thing for too long it looks like the stuff in the corner of my eye is falling apart, but then if I look at it it goes back together again, but when it falls apart it looks like it got cut along all the lines. So I thought it might be a genjutsu too, but I guess it's not, right?"
The Hokage frowned. "Things look like they're falling apart...along the lines. That's odd. I've never heard of anything like it. What does it look like?"
Naruto focused on the ceiling above for a moment. Then, suddenly, he flinched to his right and glanced left with a perturbed expression on his face. "It looks like just all of a sudden someone came in here with a saw and cut the wall along all the lines, except really fast, and the pieces are falling to the ground and I can see the other side of the wall. But then when I look at it it goes back to where it was."
"Interesting... Can you tell me what you saw on the other side? Did you get a good look?"
"Not really, but it's a room kind of like this one and it looked like there was someone in the bed."
The Hokage sat back and wondered. Presently, Naruto looked back at him. "Ojiisan, how long is it going to take for this to heal? I don't want to be stuck here forever."
"You should notice improvement just today, if you pay attention. You can walk a little tomorrow, and be out of here by the end of the week."
"Thanks, ojiisan!" This was with a bright smile. "Oh, and thanks for that kunai, too! That's really cool! I'm going to get so I can hit the target with it every time!"
The Hokage smiled. Naruto's brand of enthusiasm was infectious, and a welcome counterpoint to the icy or furious political squabbles that were so many of the rest of his interactions. "That's good, Naruto. But don't take it to the Academy, okay?"
Naruto frowned. "Why not? It feels so much better than the Academy ones!"
The Hokage leaned forwards, as if imparting a secret. "Ah, but Naruto, if you get really, really good with the Academy kunai, how good do you think you'll be with this better one?" Naruto brightened considerably at that.
The Sandaime stood, stretching a little. "I have to go now, Naruto. Good luck, and don't try to move from the bed unless the doctor tells you."
Naruto waved enthusiastically with his uninjured arm. "Bye, ojiisan!"
Naruto lapsed back into the bed as the door closed. Though he would be stuck here for the rest of the day, it seemed to already be afternoon by the light coming in the window.
The foot of the bed, just visible at the bottom of his field of view, seemed suddenly to crack in pieces and fall. Naruto blinked and scowled, the bedframe reappearing as he did so. "Annoying," he said aloud. He closed his eyes — luckily, the inside of his eyelids seemed to be immune to whatever had put mysterious lines on the rest of the world.
It was perhaps an hour later, which Naruto spent alternately with his eyes closed or watching random pieces of his surroundings fall spontaneously to pieces, when he began to notice a gnawing hunger in his midsection. He looked around, and seeing no method of calling a doctor less conspicuously, started shouting. "Hey! Someone! Do I get any food in this place?"
It was about a minute of this before he heard steps down the hallway again, and the door opened. It was the same medic-nin as before, but his expression was annoyed. "Hey. Quiet it down a little, kid, there are other patients here. You missed lunch because you were still asleep. I'll send someone in with food."
Naruto replied at a more reasonable volume. "Thanks, doctor-san. Is there anything to do around here?"
"Not other than lie around. If you get another visit, you can ask whoever it is to bring you something to read."
Naruto pouted. "All right," he muttered. The medic-nin raised an eyebrow at him, then, after a moment, turned for the door.
"If there isn't anything else...?" he asked, managing to make it clear that there had better not, in fact, be anything else. Naruto gulped.
"No, that's all," he said. "Uh, thank you," he went on hurriedly, remembering his manners. He got a nod over the shoulder, and the doctor left.
As the door closed, Naruto flinched and looked up, only to see the ceiling return quickly to its non-broken state. He shivered. That could get... really annoying, after a while. He lay back on the pillow again, and before he could remember to close his eyes the table to his right broke in pieces and collapsed. He shook his head compulsively and closed his eyes.
A nurse came in with food. He opened his eyes, sitting up and trying to keep from looking at any one thing for long enough that he would see the illusions of destruction. She carried a tray with legs, which she extended and placed across his lap, harder than she needed to. A twinge shot through his ribs, and the nurse gave him a nasty look before stepping back. Naruto looked away, reminded of his apparent status in the village. As he looked out the window to avoid her eye, suddenly, deep gashes appeared across her arms, her chest, her face. She fell, blood pouring from the wounds, her arm already separate from her body...
He gave a yell of horror and jerked his head around to look at her. She, of course, was still entirely intact, and glanced at him contemptuously before stepping out of the room.
Naruto panted, trying to slow his heart. He knew that it had been an illusion, just another manifestation of the same thing that had been bugging him since he woke, but that had been much worse than what had happened before. The lines still weaved tauntingly and inexplicably across everything in his field of view, but he now looked at them with deep distrust. He had seen the line running diagonally down the nurse's arm, but thought little of it, ignoring it as he had begun to ignore the others...and then he had looked in the wrong place, and that line had seemed to rip her arm off. He looked at the lines on his own arms and shuddered.
The tray with the food had not been disturbed by his sudden movement, so he tried to sit up to eat it and was reprimanded by a slash of pain across his ribs. He dropped back, wincing, but the pain was less even now than it had been, and he tried again, pushing through it. He was damned if he was going to call back that nurse and ask her nicely to sit him up with pillows. She'd probably be more inclined to smother him with one.
These dark thoughts accompanied him until he got himself sat up, at which point they were displaced by disgust at the quality of the food. There was a thin, stringy and tough cut of some sort of unidentifiable meat, a glass of watery milk that was pale blue around the edges, and a mound of something that might, at some point, have been a salad green, but had been tortured to the point of losing its form entirely. He looked away in disgust, and the plate split in two, dropping its unidentifiable meat and green onto the tray. Looking quickly back, he muttered under his breath and began to reluctantly eat.
He was reluctant to shout again, but it was nearly another hour after he had finished and no one had come to remove the tray. He had lain down again after finishing, and spent the rest of the time, mostly, with his eyes closed, trying to avoid the constant sensation that his surroundings were constructed from carefully arranged toothpicks and twine, and the slightest movement might break them. After sufficient impatience, he again started shouting. "Hey! Hey! Someone come and get this thing off me!"
The medic-nin came in rather more quickly this time, and glared at Naruto. "What did I say about the shouting?"
"Well, no one was coming to take this! And I can't quite sleep with it here!" He pointed at the tray.
"What? The nurse was supposed to... well, of course she didn't. Of course. Blasted unprofessional..." The medic began swearing under his breath and removed the tray. "Listen, kid, don't shout anymore. I'll be right back with something." He left the room, Naruto already having closed his eyes — he didn't want to see anyone else gutted by illusory lines.
The medic returned several minutes later carrying a two-way radio set. Naruto opened his eyes as the door opened, but carefully looked straight at the medic- nin, hoping that that would keep him from being a subject of Naruto's personal Illusion Of Death. The medic left it on the table next to the Hokage's kunai; Naruto could reach it by reaching over with his good arm. "Don't bother talking, just press this button." He indicated a button on the side of the device. "That'll call me, more quietly. Not the nurses, who apparently cannot do their job. No more shouting, okay?"
"Okay." Naruto made as if to bow, forgetting his position; he flinched at the unwise motion, and hurried on. "Thank you, medic-san." The medic made for the door, Naruto keeping his eye on him. As he walked out, the chair just to his left split into pieces and fell. Naruto jumped; that hadn't been the medic, true, but it certainly hadn't been in the corner of his eye, either. He closed his eyes again, hurriedly.
It was not even yet dark, but Naruto, who had nothing better to do than lie still with his eyes closed anyway, decided to try to sleep. It was hard. Even with his eyes closed, he would occasionally flash back to the nurse, cut up, sliced in pieces, rendered dead and mangled by the malevolent lines. Even the knowledge that it was not real, that it had never happened, that he was being frightened by the memories of an illusion, did not make the images stop repeating. He finally slept, but his nightmares were of a grid of lines covering everything and everyone, and it all falling to pieces, everyone he knew reduced to inert piles of bloody meat, Konoha itself broken in pieces and lying on the ground.
He did not scream when he woke, but it was a near thing. The room was dark, so dark that at first he could not even see the window. After his eyes adjusted, he could see it in a faint glow, probably a light down on the street. He was covered in sweat, though he had not moved from his position. An incautious decision to try resulted in a pointed twinge from his ribs and his foot; his broken arm did not pain him. He fell back into the pillow and closed his eyes again, grateful for the darkness that hid the lines of death.
Naruto woke the next morning to bright sunshine. The sun shone in the window and left the room brightly lit, and the environment was cheerful enough, but he still saw the lines on the walls, the ceiling, everything, and they reminded him inescapably of his nightmare. He shuddered violently at the memory, then flinched almost instinctively, expecting pain; but even that relatively drastic motion did not draw any particular feeling from his ribs. He felt his side, where the pain had been, and felt nothing; encouraged, he pushed a little harder, and it twinged, dashing his hopes that he might have been fully cured.
He lay back again, looking up, and saw the chain holding up the lamp above him break in five pieces, the lamp plummeting to the ground to break the illusion. He shook his head violently and tried to sit up. The motion succeeded with no unusual pain, but a lingering sense of fragility about his side and foot warned him not to attempt any gymnastics, even if he could stand. He contented himself, for the moment, with stacking his pillows behind him and leaning back against the head of the bed. Then the door broke in pieces and fell to the ground. He shook his head violently and closed his eyes. The door had been right in the center of his field of view; apparently whatever it was that was affecting him was progressing. The idea was not reassuring.
He sat with his eyes closed, thinking of nothing in particular, until he became aware of a renewed hunger. The thought of more food like the previous day's made him cringe in disgust, but his hunger eventually overcame it. Rather than shouting, he searched out the radio communicator on his bedside table (the lamp broke in pieces and fell, almost on him) and pressed the call button, before noticing that he had unconsciously moved his broken arm. A test wave called forth no pain, and Naruto grinned. This one had healed even faster than the last time he had broken a limb.
The window broke and fell to the ground, its pieces shattering on impact. Naruto closed his eyes again, startled and annoyed. If nothing else, this will drive me insane in another day. The lack of a breeze, a noise or any smell of the outdoors reassured him that the window was, in fact, still intact. He remained there until the door opened and the medic-nin from the day before stepped inside.
"Hello, medic-san!" said Naruto, opening his eyes to look at the doctor. "I wondered if you could tell me — what time is it, and when can I get breakfast?"
"You slept late, Naruto-san," said the ninja. The wooden siding tacked onto the wall in the hallway outside the door split in several pieces and fell, exposing bare plaster behind. Naruto shook his head slightly as the medic-nin continued. "It's almost noon. You'll have to wait for lunch."
Naruto nodded, looking slightly chagrined. "Okay, medic-san. Oh, ojiisan said that I could get out of bed today. Can I?"
The medic looked slightly aghast at Naruto's familiarity, and stepped forward to run a hand over Naruto's ribs. "Hokage-sama is probably right," he said after a moment, emphasizing the title. "You can try it now, but if it hurts you'd better get back in bed."
Naruto threw off the covers only to note that he was wearing nothing but briefs. He contained his momentary startlement and slid his legs off the side of the bed, successfully standing, then asked, "Also, medic-san, is there anything for me to wear?"
The medic-nin nodded (the left wall broke again, exposing another near-identical room) and handed Naruto a hospital gown that had been hanging on the wall. Naruto turned away, not out of modesty so much as a sudden dread that the illusion would catch the medic-nin and he would be subjected to another round of blood and death. He slid into the gown, knotting it as tightly as it would knot, then spoke without turning around. "Thank you, medic-san. Do you know where my other clothes are?"
"They're being taken care of. You should be able to change back into them sometime later today, if you want, but you shouldn't spend too much time out of bed. Is there anything else?" This last was spoken with a slight edge to it; Naruto guessed that the medic did not appreciate the gesture of speaking with his back turned. He turned around, reluctantly, and shook his head. The medic nodded and went out (this time it was the doorframe, tens of little wooden chunks falling to the ground around a ragged hole in the wall). Naruto quickly shut his eyes and sat on the bed.
Feeling more restless now that he could stand, Naruto opened his eyes and looked around. The room was small, and only felt more confining now that he was capable of moving in it. He stood up and moved to the window, looking out. The view was impressive, and the more pleasant for the fact that he could not see any lines on anything. He was unsure whether that was due to distance or if the odd illusions did not extend to things far from him, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Then the question was answered for him as a tree shivered and fell to the ground, not as if it had been cut but collapsing straight downwards, a cloud forming of its leaves in the air. He shook his head compulsively, looking down, but soon looked out again. Keeping his eyes closed was getting painfully boring, and he was tired of looking at the lines.
Two more trees and a small building later, Naruto decided to stop looking out the window. He moved over to the chair and sat in it, keeping his eyes down. His eyes fell on a large, irregular piece of flooring, unobscured by the bed, defined by the eerie, spidery lines that formed its borders. Almost as soon as he saw it, it was cut along the edges and fell into the room below. Shaking his head again, he closed his eyes and moaned in frustration.
The door opened. Naruto looked up and saw the medic-nin stepping through, holding a tray. This time, the tray split in two, a plate and glass falling to the ground and shattering. He shook his head convulsively, trying to clear out his mind, as the medic walked over to him with the entirely intact meal tray. He set it on the ground in front of Naruto, deploying its legs so that it made a passable table. "Here you are, Naruto-san. Also, Hokage-sama," he made a point of the honorific, "is here to see you again. I'll bring him up in three minutes. Be polite." With this admonition he again disappeared out the door. Naruto, who had looked down as soon as he saw the medic, looked up again, and ate. The food was no better than it had been the night before, but he was hungry enough not to care.
The door opened just as Naruto finished eating. He looked up. The doctor was holding the doorknob, and he could see the old man standing behind him. This was as far as he got before he saw the doctor slump suddenly, blood starting unexpectedly from his clothes, then collapse, his body coming apart as he fell.
Without noticing the motion, Naruto was on his feet. The tray clattered to the floor as he yelled in horror, his eyes fixed on the bloody corpse lying in pieces on the threshold. Then it vanished.
The doctor rushed up to him. "Naruto-san! What's wrong?" Naruto was hyperventilating, his mind still occupied by the image of that same doctor in pieces on the floor. "What's wrong?" The Hokage came up behind, pushing the doctor aside with one arm. He knelt in front of Naruto, his hands on the boy's shoulders.
"Naruto! Breathe! Calm!" He reinforced the words with a slight genjutsu, one that would force his words to break the cycle of panic in Naruto's mind. The boy had closed his eyes immediately after screaming, and they remained closed as he calmed down. He took nearly a minute to slow his breathing to normal before he responded.
"Ojiisan, I told you about the lines, and things breaking along the lines, and it's getting worse, and I just saw the doctor get cut up and there was blood and he fell down..." Naruto's words became more and more frantic as he spoke, until the Hokage again applied the genjutsu. The next words were calmer. "I keep seeing everything break, like the chair and that lamp and the wall and the floor...and even a bunch of trees outside...and then there was the doctor, and the same thing happened with a nurse yesterday..."
The Hokage waited until his words ceased and his breathing was even before replying. "It's all right, Naruto. No one is dead. I know it's hard, seeing something like that, but no one is dead. You don't need to worry about it." He was beginning to reconsider this being a genjutsu someone had laid on the boy to hurt him; it had seemed harmless enough the day before, but this was entirely different.
Naruto opened his eyes, having apparently stopped panicking, but his fists were clenched and his voice was tight. "Ojiisan...this is getting bad. It's not so hard when there aren't people around, but I just can't look at people, I guess, because they might, like..." He trailed off.
"Naruto, it's all right. I'm going to try to find out whether it might be a genjutsu that's more subtle than I've usually seen. Can you stay here quietly until I get back?"
Naruto nodded, his fists still clenched. Then he sat down again, looking up, and suddenly screamed again and closed his eyes.
The Hokage sighed, hating to see the boy in pain, and spoke to the medic-nin. "Listen, I think this might be a genjutsu that someone's put on him. I'm going to go look into that. Try to make him comfortable, but don't stay in here unless you need to — it makes it worse for him." The medic nodded, his expression puzzled but resolute, and the Hokage walked out the door, seeking the one person in the village who was probably more skilled with genjutsu than himself.
Naruto sat on the chair, his eyes closed, his head down, his hands shaking in his lap. The images of the dismembered bodies of the nurse from the day before, the medic-nin who had brought him his meals, the Hokage himself, kept running through his head. He heard the medic grab the tray from in front of him and leave the room, but the awareness was second to his near-panic. He didn't know what was happening, and he couldn't leave like this — it would be torture just to walk down the street. He slumped down in the chair, keeping his eyes closed. What's happening? Why is this happening?
The door opened. He looked up, opening his eyes, and suppressed the urge to slam them shut again. The Hokage entered, with someone behind him. (The doorknob split from the door and fell in pieces.) He forced his attention back to the newcomer. It was a woman with long black hair, wearing a Konoha hitai-ite, and as he looked again he noticed that her eyes were distinctly red.
"Kurenai-san, here he is," said the Hokage. He stood to one side, and his face was tired and sad, more so than Naruto had ever seen. (This time it was his hat, showering the Hokage with strips of cloth; Naruto almost laughed.) "I tried a simple dispelling, but it did not react. I cannot think of anything that it could be other than a genjutsu, unless..." Here he gave her a very significant look. She nodded and stepped forwards. Then it happened, just as it had before; the woman suddenly tensed, then slumped, then blood began to show along the lines that had adorned her body. She collapsed in a pile of blood, her limbs separating from her body, her hands and feet mangled, and then the illusion broke. He bit back a scream this time, with great difficulty, but could not hide his tensing up or the sudden look of horror that crossed his face. The woman, Kurenai, stopped, bit her lip, then stepped forward, knelt, and put one hand on his head.
"Try to remain calm, Naruto-san," she said. He slowed his breathing, feeling an odd sensation that he could only describe as pins and needles of the mind. The feeling persisted for some seconds, until Kurenai removed her hand. She frowned, then stood up. "Can you point out where you see one of these lines?"
Naruto pointed to the nearest line, which was on the floor. Kurenai ran a hand over the area, checking it carefully, then raised one hand in a seal and muttered, "Kai!" Nothing seemed to change. (The line that he had just been focusing on to point out its location split, pieces of the floor falling into the room below.) Turning back to Naruto, she put her hand back on his forehead and said again, "Kai!" Again, there was no change.
Kurenai turned to the Hokage, standing. "I'm sorry, Hokage-sama. I can't find any genjutsu here. I don't know what to say..." She looked at Naruto. (Her hitai-ite split in five pieces, two of them falling, the others still held to her headband by the rivets.) "He's obviously seeing something, something that hurts him, but I can't find any external influence. Might it be...?"
The Hokage nodded. "It most likely is. I don't know what to do here...we need Jiraiya, he might be able to tell us if the seal was broken somehow."
This time it was Kurenai again. She collapsed in blood, dying. Then, the illusion broke. Then, the Hokage. The blood was mostly concealed by his long robe of office, but it was painfully obvious that his body was split in pieces. Then the illusion broke.
Naruto shot to his feet, involuntarily, clenching his eyes shut. "NO!" The shout was wild and angry. Opening his eyes again, he looked around, a little wildly, seeing lines, lines, lines. They covered the floor, the walls, the bed, even Kurenai and the Hokage. Looking at the latter two, he flinched away, remembering the sight of their mangled bodies.
His eyes fell on the table at the side of the bed, and he darted over to it, snatching up the kunai the Hokage had given him. "Damned! LINES!" Lifting it over his head, he slammed the point of the knife downwards into the line crossing the tabletop, expecting to embed it in the wood. Instead, it skipped and skittered along the surface, tracing the line almost unintentionally — and the table fell in two pieces.
Naruto waited for the illusion to break, for the table to reform as it already had so many times. It did not. He shook his head wildly, clenching his eyes shut and then opening them. The table was still broken. It had split in half directly along the line he had cut. The pieces still had lines on them. None of the fragments of anything he had seen break still had any lines. Almost curiously, he ran the tip of the knife over another line, this one on the table leg. The leg broke in two. The radio the doctor had given him lay forgotten in the fragments as he did it again, with another leg. It broke in two. The illusion did not break. It was real.
He knelt in the wreckage, almost laughing. It was too much. The nightmares were coming true. "What are they? WHAT ARE THEY?!"
Almost beneath his notice was the Hokage's hand seal, or his spoken word. "Kokuangyo no Jutsu!" What was not beneath his notice was the sudden darkness that engulfed the room — sudden and absolute darkness, with no furniture, no walls, no people, no LINES to torment him. He dropped to his knees in release.
He felt hands on his shoulders, felt a hand gently remove the kunai from his loosened grip. Felt himself lifted up and laid on something soft. He did not care. He shouted, no longer knowing if he spoke in truth or only in his mind. "WHAT ARE THE LINES?!"
A presence filled his mind, oppressive with its power. He saw red all over, even as he still perceived only the blackness of the Hokage's jutsu. A voice spoke, awful in its malice, but somehow tempered — was that amusement?
They are DEATH, whelp.
The churning dread that had taken over Naruto's mind was submerged in a new fear, less panicky, less insane. He did not reply intentionally, but whatever filled his mind took his confusion for an answer.
The LINES are DEATH. You SEE with MY EYES. How do you like it, WHELP? There was a heavy, gloating amusement in the words.
Naruto quailed. He could still perceive the darkness around him, soothing balm after the horror before, but somehow overlaid on it was a fiery red, and he could feel the presence of an enormous power, heavy with malice. He rallied his strength to respond. What are you?
The question brought on a roar of laughter. You do not know? What was the blond idiot doing? Oh, this should be very, very interesting...
The laughter faded slowly, and the presence with it. Only darkness filled his vision now, and Naruto's overtaxed mind let go and slept.
He woke again, and again it was daylight. It had been barely afternoon when he had freaked out the day before, so, he deduced, he must have been sleeping a long time. He was suddenly full of energy and restless, in a way that even his extreme boredom the two days previously had not exceeded; he bounded out of the bed, noticing that he was still wearing the hospital gown. He looked around, and saw a flash of orange on the chair. It was his clothes. He changed into them quickly and looked around. The bed was rumpled with his quick exit, and a cheerful patch of sunlight sat on the floor. It took him a moment to realize why everything looked so... happy. There were no lines.
It took a moment for this development to sink in, and when it did he laughed out loud with delight. No lines. No more of everything he saw falling apart. It had not been real. He could forget about it.
The table beside the bed was sitting on the ground, the top split down the middle, two of its legs sheared in half. The surfaces were eerily smooth — not split down the grain, but simply cut, perfectly, as if by a knife sharper than a hair.
Okay, maybe he couldn't forget about it.
Still in the wreckage of the table was the radio communicator that the doctor had given him two days earlier. Naruto picked it up and pressed the call button. Soon enough, there were steps down the hall and the medic-nin walked in.
He looked startled to see Naruto up and dressed, but maintained a professional attitude. "Hello, Naruto-san. What is it?"
"Hey, medic-san. Do you know the time? And when can I get out of this place?"
"It's nine in the morning — congratulations on getting up early for once. And let's see." The medic-nin approached him. Naruto grinned at being able to maintain eye contact without fear of the man falling apart in front of his eyes.
After a fairly comprehensive chakra-scan, the doctor stood up, shaking his head. "Impressive. Truly impressive. Only three days... Naruto-san, there's no reason why you can't go now. I believe they are holding some of your affairs at the Hokage's office, so you should check there before you go home."
Naruto smiled brightly. "Thanks, medic-san!"
Fifteen minutes later, Naruto was near the Hokage's office door. He ignored the disapproving look of the receptionist to walk straight up to it and listen for a moment. Not hearing any voices, he simply walked in.
The office was as he had seen it before. The old man was sitting at his desk, doing some form of paperwork. He looked up and smiled to see Naruto. "Hello, Naruto. You're here for this, I suppose?" He held up the kunai that had sat at Naruto's bedside the three days before.
"Yeah, thanks!" Naruto took the knife and stowed it in a pocket, making sure to keep the blade away from his skin. "But I had some questions."
"Yes?" said the Hokage, sighing somewhat, as he thought he could guess what the questions were.
"I woke up this morning and it was all gone. The lines, everything," Naruto said. "But yesterday once you had me in that darkness-jutsu-thing," he wiggled his fingers to illustrate, "I saw something kinda weird."
The Hokage tensed. "What was that?"
"It was like, there was this big red aura, and I could see all red even though I still just saw the darkness from the jutsu, right? And then this voice talked to me, when I was going crazy and yelling 'what are the lines?', and it said something like 'the lines are death and you see with my eyes'. And it was just, you know, weird. So do you know anything about that?"
The Hokage sighed further. He had hoped to postpone this revelation until far later, but the demon fox was already, apparently, inside Naruto's mind; it was only fair to tell him what was happening. "You see, Naruto, this is going to take some explanation."
Naruto began to fidget again as the Hokage finished explaining. "The demon fox? Really?"
"Yes, Naruto. You have to understand — the Yondaime had no other option. He did not choose to do this on a whim, and he sacrificed his life to do it."
Naruto nodded. "Yeah, I get that... but, is that why everyone seems to hate me? Because the fox is in me? Why?"
The Sandaime sighed again. "You have to understand, Naruto, that most of the people who hate you for this are civilians. They don't quite understand the idea behind the seal; they simply know that you hold the demon, and they think that they are getting revenge on the demon by attacking you. And because my law prevents them from telling anyone or inciting hatred directly, they just... you know what they do."
Naruto nodded grimly. "I do." He sat quietly for a moment. "But this whole thing with the lines... that wasn't expected, was it?"
"No. The fox said that you were seeing with its eyes, but we don't know why that would happen. It could be..." The Hokage was silent for a moment, then continued. "The fox makes you heal faster than normal people, Naruto. You healed from some very terrible injuries in only three days, and part of that was taken up by your adverse reaction to the lines." This drew a sheepish grin from Naruto. "We don't know, but it may be... pushing its chakra out, to heal you there. Perhaps pushing enough to heal you from such a nasty beating activated you seeing like it does somehow. We don't know."
Naruto sighed. "I..." He shook his head. "Ojiisan, I... I don't want to be a bother, but this... Will it come back? Even now that it's gone, that was..." He shuddered. "I didn't like that at all."
The Hokage gave him a sad smile.
"I don't know, Naruto. I can only speculate. I think that if you avoid such injuries, they should not recur very soon. Your healing is quite remarkable, and to provide such results must take an enormous amount of power. That this power should carry along such an effect... is not surprising, I suppose. It is a demon, after all." He sighed. "Naruto. If you see them again, come to me. Should you begin having such symptoms again, I can place you in darkness. You may find this tedious, but it would be better than the alternative."
Naruto nodded, slowly. "It would. It still bothers me, though, that it happens. I mean, what else don't we know about the," he gestured to his stomach, "seal thing?"
The Sandaime thought about this for a moment.
"Naruto, I would like to make you an offer."
The boy shifted. "What's that, ojiisan?"
"I'm going to give you access to the Konoha archives, like a full ninja would have. Not a genin, either. Usually you need to be chuunin level to get this access. And I'm going to ask in return that you learn as much as you can about fuinjutsu. Okay?"
Naruto frowned at him. "That seems a little boring, ojiisan."
The Hokage's smile became wider, and knowing. "Ah, but little you know. Naruto, which branch of the ninja arts is used to create exploding tags?"
Naruto froze for several seconds. They had seen exploding tags demonstrated, of course, and it was an upcoming lesson to learn to trigger them with their own chakra. However, they were most emphatically not allowed to purchase tags for themselves, and the Academy supplies were kept well hidden away. Then he smiled broadly. "Oh, that sounds fun, ojiisan." And was that a bit of a gleeful smirk hidden under his usual grin?
"I'm sure it does, Naruto. And I think that you might find fuinjutsu to be of use in...shall we say, other ways, that some might consider... a little outside the norm. But." The Hokage had straightened, and his smile was gone. "They may not look it, and you will find some who look down on them. But seals are the most dangerous ninja art. Both to your enemies, and to you. You have my leave to study up to a certain level on your own. You are not to go beyond that level, and whatever you make is to be used safely." He looked down at Naruto, very serious. "The reason I ask you to do this, Naruto, is because of your status. The seal which holds the Fox inside you is the Fourth's masterpiece of fuinjutsu. There are many shinobi in the village who know some of that art, and none of them will stint their help with it, if you need. But you will always have the greatest access to it, and perhaps some insight unavailable from the outside. You will not reach that level for a while, but in the long run, you must learn fuinjutsu to defend yourself against what you hold inside. Do you understand?"
Naruto gulped a bit, but stared back at the Hokage with resolution. "I got it, ojiisan." He took a breath, and his grin began to return. "And... thanks."
Naruto sighed as he left the Academy. It seemed that he did not get time off the Academy for any longer than he was in the hospital for, and he had stayed up most of the previous night reading the first sealing scroll the old man had given him. He had woken up in a panic and dashed out the door, far too late to make his usual lunch. He was starving, and he didn't have enough money right now to go to Ichiraku-san's place for ramen. He walked tiredly home, looking forwards only slightly to eating the mere instant ramen available there.
Hyuuga Hinata walked along some way behind him. She had been worried when Naruto simply disappeared for three days after the Yondaime's festival, but when he came back he seemed healthy — if tired. He seemed less engaged, though, less attentive even than usual, and he would occasionally, when he thought no one was looking, give a sigh and shake his head as if to dislodge something. However, today he had, for the first time, actually forgotten his lunch, and as was usual she had packed double so that, if he did, she could offer him food. She had missed the opportunity to give it to him at lunch, but...
Mustering all her courage, she moved faster and caught up with Naruto. "Ano ...Naruto-ku..un..." She trailed off, losing her nerve as he turned to her.
"Ah? Hello, Hinata-san," he said, giving her his usual broad grin.
She ducked her head and said nothing.
"Hinata-san?" he asked.
"You...youdidn'teatlunchtoday," she said in a rush. "I..I have some food left over, if you want..." She offered him the portion of her lunch that she had not touched.
Naruto looked at her, his expression puzzled. "Ah...thank you, Hinata-san." He took the second bento. "Why...are you offering this to me?"
Hinata ducked her head even further, and blushed. "Ano...you didn't eat lunch...and you looked hungry. And, uh, you looked a little bit tired today, and..." She trailed off.
Naruto was silent for a moment, then smiled at her, and it seemed different then his usual brash grin — more real, somehow. "Thank you, Hinata-san. I should get your bento back to you. Do you mind just waiting here?"
She shook her head quickly. "No! No...that's fine. Whatever you want, Naruto-kun..."
He smiled again, and sat on the rock to eat.
Hoping to post revisions to multiple of the older chapters, and then actually get started with new ones.