AN: Just a few more days for the movie…that we won't be able to see in full except for snippets across the internet until next year. I want to fly out to Japan exclusively for the express purpose of seeing the movie. I've been listening to Asian Kungfu Generation as I shamelessly dorked out on the RtN special oneshot and the various trailers and screenshots. There should be a type of insulin shot for this kind of nerdiarrhea.
Warning: This is all just speculation from what info I could gather from the forums and liberal use of imaginations in writing for experimental fun, so there several parts that are rather discombobulating and some scenes are rather disconnected and don't make a lot of sense as they jump around. And it's obviously going to be as far removed from the actual movie as possible, so keep that in mind. This thing could literally go on for a long while with all the possibilities presented, so I had to cut down from getting too carried away.
Rant: What's with some of the anti-Naruhina and anti-Sasusaku sentiments I'm seeing? People sure got fired up over this stuff. Not only that, I am bemusedly annoyed by the fact that apparently people keep photoshopping (?) spliced images of official arts, like the RtN special oneshot colored cover page, to put Sasuke and Hinata together in a pathetic attempt at pushing for their preferred pairing. There's supporting your fan pairing, which I don't really mind (fanfic, fanart, etc that everyone does at some point), then there's stabbing someone's pet cow for the milk and then justifying it by saying you're lactose intolerant. Seriously, did you not see the beautifully glorious middle finger? That's Hinata in your crack pairing fandom, telling you to shut the hell up and suck her c—
Naruto could honestly admit that he didn't know what the hell was going on. He and Sakura were in a Konoha-like place that was so familiar yet also completely different on a subtly variegated level that he couldn't even begin to wrap his head around. It was as if someone whitewashed away the vintage Konoha and replaced it with a cruel replica that reminded him of everything he had and didn't have all at the same time. Well, not just any someone. It was that weird-ass mask wearing freak who was manipulating Sasuke who had apparently decided to reach out to a wider target audience.
First there was Kiba who wasn't treatingAkamaru like the giant dog was his soulmate and purring as if his atrophied brain was finally given humane treatment and replaced with that of a lesser animal. Then there was Shino spraying mosquito repellent on himself every five minutes while treating everyone like they were walking piles of disease contaminants.
But the showstopper, in every sense of the word, was definitely Hinata. If he wasn't so absolutely befuddled at the time he would have listened to the little Jiraiya on his shoulder who was screaming something about 'tap that shit like a hurricane to the face' and committed the image to his long term memory. As it was, though, the long haired girl stared at him and Sakura with wide, unblinking silver eyes as if the very sight before her was sacrilegious. Before he could fathom what was wrong with his friends, Sakura was blue faced with fear and Hinata threatened to initiate mortal combat filled with ripped out intestines with the pinkette right then and there. Over what, he had no idea, but remembered enough about killing intent that he knew the long haired girl was somehow serious enough to back up her challenge. He stopped the impending conflict before dragging Sakura off so they could report the very possible dangers the village could be facing soon with the invader that might be messing with everyone's heads while trying their best to ignore Hinata's rather loud and off-colored word choices to describe 'ripping off Sakura's skanky legs and beating her to death'. He had trouble keeping pace with Sakura at that point.
When they reached the market center, their worries were only compounded when they ran into Team Ten. If he wasn't so sure they were brainwashed he would have seriously considered taking a picture as future blackmail material that was worthy of a week's worth of free ramen. As it were, though, a part of him decided to be traumatized instead when Ino squeaked, actually squeaked while hiding behind her two teammates when he and Sakura approached rather strongly panicked. Shikamaru and Chouji gave Sakura and himself blank looks before the Nara started laughing and commented something about the likelihood of a certain girl starting a murderous rampage for them being on a date. He was momentarily pleased that Shikamaru would make that kind of conjecture, until Chouji rolled his eyes and muttered 'bothersome' while Ino emitted a girly, loud wail before she latched onto Sakura, who once again became rather blue-faced, and started screaming something about being best friends and not wanting said best friend hazardously murdered for inciting the wrath of the great and psychotically powerful Hyuuga-sama.
Before he can ponder what kind of proverbial shit was hitting the kunai-fan, some guy with a silky, beguiling voice called out to them and they turned around. What a mistake.
Sasuke. Just. Sasuke. Showing up basked within the bright paper lantern lights and flashing his pearly white teeth while holding a suspiciously fresh rose in one hand while the other held a gaggle of squealing girls, beautiful eyelashes fluttering in the ethereal glow as he winked. Sasuke was in the village not demanding vengeance and not burning everything down. And smiling, but not in the my-eyes-are-bleeding-while-I-describe-how-to-stab-you kind of way, it was in the I'm-sexy-and-I-show-it kind of way. That was clue enough that the masked bastard had implanted some kind of brain-eating parasite in his head. He was about to ask Sakura to carve out his scalp to staunch the flowing sense of brain-hurt when Sasuke blurred away from his squealing posse and caught the blushing Sakura's gloved hands in his and started sensually reciting poetry. That was when he finally knew how it felt to die a little on the inside.
He did the only logical thing, and kicked the imposter in the shins, twice for good measure, and dragged the dazed Sakura away as fast as possible. Apparently the fake Sasuke's shins were made out of chocolate and babies, because the girly posse suddenly turned into a ferocious pack of wronged females and he had to throw sacrificial shadow clones at them almost all the way to the Hokage's Tower.
When they finally got there, ready to alert Tsunade of the craziness that pervaded throughout the village and they kicked in the door, already running their mouths to explain, and instead found some old guy in the Hokage's office.
"Otou-san! ?" Sakura exclaimed.
Who apparently was Sakura's dad ow his thinker box hurts so much.
He didn't know where to run any more. He was boxed into the last remnants of his wits and coherent thought processes and he was staring at his parents and…and…
They were beautiful.
His mind went blank then. White, vacant, and ready to be sold to the next tenant. He might've called out to them. He might've reached out for them. He couldn't know for sure; couldn't remember. And just when he thought he could work his voice, could move his feet through the tantalizing haze of awareness and reach them, his mother burst into rage about his room being a pigsty and that he forgot to help take out the trash again and punched him.
As his back hit the wall and he slid into a fearful heap, his mind made careful calculations and came to the conclusion that he had saved up enough shinobi creds to safely pass out without losing all self-respect and thus promptly slipped into darkness.
When he woke, he was comfortable and warm, which couldn't have been a good sign at all. Case in point, what he thought was a soft pillow turned out to be a sleeping voluptuous Hinata, who apparently decided her breasts were a much better alternative to the standard hospital fare had somehow slipped into bed with him. Not entirely sure how to feel about that fact that his parents and Sakura could just allow a totally hot girl into his infirmary room and potentially cause him to die from blood loss was beyond him. All he knew was that the little Jiraiya on his shoulder was saying 'honk honk' way too convincingly. And so he slowly and carefully withdrew himself from the rather comfortable position as not to wake the oddly cute murder machine or cause an aneurism in his thinker box and escaped through the window.
Shortly after, he managed to find Sakura, who found her own parents and was experiencing her own version of a mental breakdown by hyperventilating. Both of them quickly decided they needed space and more space and air and so they ran and ran and Tsunade-baachan's face was gone from the Hokage Monument and here they were, taking stock of what had to be some form of a sick genjutsu. But they were both trapped within the same illusion, and according to Sakura's frantic diagnosis, it just didn't make any sense.
Or maybe he did go insane. It was probably only a matter of time in the first place. He wondered how Gaara dealt with the mental struggles all his life, and if this was anything relatable. Wherever here was, or wherever his stupid crazy brain thought it was, it wasn't Konoha, at least not the one he spent most of his life suffering in or suffering for. And, he didn't know how to feel about that. He wasn't home anymore, but he also wasn't a pilgrim in a strange, unforgiving land. He wasn't a stranger to anyone here, actually.
He asked Sakura what they should do, if there was anything that could be done, and even the perceptive pinkette couldn't come up with anything other than wait and observe to find the chance to dispel the illusion and find a way back home. But for now, they had to go back to the homes here, in not-Konoha, and find that chance tomorrow.
So he went back to his apartment and found a house instead. He didn't know why he approached the unfamiliar abode. It could've been anyone's house in not-Konoha. But somehow, he knew, and when he opened the door and the warm light and scent of a home cooked dinner washed over him, he knew he was in the right place, because, because his father smiled at him and his mother welcomed him home.
"Okaeri," Kushina said, smiling so beautifully.
He knew how absurd it was. Everything was wrong here, and he had to find a way out, hopefully sooner rather than later. Just because he wasn't a stranger, didn't mean he was home. But something swelled within him and he held back a sniffle as tears clung to the corners of his eyes. Even if he wasn't home, even if it won't last, even if he had to leave it all behind, he just wanted to try saying it to someone. Just this once. He smiled.
Sakura breathed in the chilly night air. This Konoha even had the same faint smell of pollen, making a genjutsu all the more likely. It was most probable some sort of illusionary technique that used their sensory memories as a template for the vestibular stabilization, otherwise the things they've seen so far should have gone completely off the rail already. Then again, maybe it had. She hadn't experienced such naked, chill-down-the-spine fear since their mission to Wave years ago. She could still feel the goose-bumps that formed everywhere when those few words were muttered right next to her ear. The killing intent was like cold water down the pants. And it was from Hinata no less. The sweet Hinata who, to her knowledge, would never willingly hurt someone without a good reason. And there definitely wasn't a good reason. She and Naruto were teammates and good friends. It's only natural for them to be close to each other, even occasionally hanging out together at weird hours of the night. There…there wasn't anything to get homicidal over! It was just. Just Naruto.
On the subject of romantic ambiguity, her thoughts inevitably drifted to the raven haired boy. The Sasuke here was so utterly not Sasuke that there wasn't even a trace of the real one in the mix. It was more like a random gigolo parading around in Sasuke's skin, given the way he accessorized himself with jewelry and women. She felt insulted, that the genjutsu conjured up such a belittling means of keeping her interests. Even if she did react slightly favorably to the small gestures and charming smile, she wasn't going to let that cloud her judgments. Not anymore. She was twelve no longer and she was through with that after the last time. The real Sasuke would try to strangle her, not recite poetry. She bit down a curse.
She almost regretted asking Naruto about how he felt being in this not-Konoha. He was hesitant to admit, but she knew he found something that could make him happy here. There was a lift in his voice that made it so dreadful to hear, because if they leave, when they leave, it would be painful for him. She herself would probably just feel a pinch at her heart, but for Naruto? The blond may have a large heart to make up for the often comically stunted mental processing, but even she wasn't certain the boy's kind heart had enough chambers to willingly take the hit. Again, she bit down a curse. Because the intended cruelty of their unseen prison probably layed in exactly that.
Hinata traveled down the road at a brisk pace.
She was the type to act in the moment, in the seconds that things needed to happen with no place for hesitations.
So she could admit that she may have overreacted when she saw Naruto and Sakura out alone at night near the Academy. She could profess that a fight to her opponent's timely death was a tad too much. She could say Ino's tearful imploring for mercy made murdering pink haired girls a drastically unseemly outlet for rage. Curse her soft, homicidal heart.
An evasive apology was probably in order. She would never actually apologize outright, but she will convey the general message. The pinkette was Naruto's teammate after all, and having bad blood between them would upset him and could be detrimental for her future ventures. Specifically, her plans to tap that blond ass with the power of the Hyuuga ultimate arts. Better yet, the humanoid scumbag known as Sasuke seemed to have set his sights on the pinkette as his next potential conquest. She would allow it for the time being, since it unintentionally helped with the Goals.
Wait, Goals? What were these—
She refocused. What she meant was that it helped with her goals. And she would allow it temporarily, until the scoundrel tries anything too frisky. She may not exactly see the pink haired girl as a friend, but kunoichi look out for each other, and Ino was very sensitive to emotional tension. And a proper kunoichi should never be just a piece of arm candy.
Finding them was a simple matter with her doujutsu. They were in front of Naruto's house, apparently arguing about something. Whatever it was about, Naruto looked a bit distressed at what Sakura was saying, and she bit down the urge to poke holes in the girl's thorax. She wasn't going to overreact here. She was going to show Naruto that she can be the honey that catches his often fleeting attention. Smiling in practice of what she hoped to be a non-threatening manner, she approached them. Then she noticed that Sakura was waving a rose at Naruto. Her smile audibly cracked.
"He gave me a rose, Naruto!"
The blond blinked. "I don't get it. Isn't that supposed to be a good thing? I thought girls liked flowers and stuff!"
"Maybe if he didn't give them out to every pesky girl like they were confectionaries," she muttered to herself before resuming conversation. "What I mean is that he did it like how I used to fantasize him doing. He dropped in on me early morning while we were on a balcony to give me a rose. I don't think Konoha even has balconies until now but I know I that was how I used to always picture it playing out!"
"Whoa, calm down, Sakura-chan! It's okay, I used to have pretty weird dreams too! Like, there was this one time where I was sliding on a huge noodle in nothing but my—"
"Naruto! What I'm trying to say is that this is definitely a genjutsu! Your parents, my parents, and Sasuke-kun! It's warping all of our secret desires to feed the technique! I don't know how or why, but at least we know what we're dealing with so that we know what to look for to break free!"
Naruto looked uncomfortable. "Sakura-chan…are you sure?"
Sakura blinked. "What?"
"I mean, are you absolutely sure it's an illusion? I mean, maybe it's a space-time jutsu or something and, and we're just stuck somewhere."
"Naruto, that is…! What else could it be? We saw the red orb together, remember? It had the all the signs of an activating genjutsu and…and are you saying you want to stay here?"
"No!" Naruto replied quickly, taking a deep breath. "I just want to know for sure what the situation is before getting ahead of ourselves."
That sounded so. Just. Unbelievably un-Naruto. "I know that it's a little difficult to accept, Naruto, but this isn't Konoha. You're feeling this way because the genjutsu must be designed to keep us wandering is this dream world rather than invoking our fears. I think, I know you don't want to be trapped like this."
"Well, well maybe you don't know everything, Sakura-chan! You could be wrong this time! It wouldn't be the first time!"
"Naruto, listen to me and stop being so stubborn—"
"I'm not! You're the one who doesn't understand! There's no way you could! I actually have a family here!"
"You already have a family, and they're all waiting for us outside of this place just beyond our own senses!"
"No there isn't," Naruto said bitterly. "No one needs me back there. And it's better off that way."
Sakura stumbled back, eyes wide. Her grip slackened, and the rose dropped to the ground between them.
After a beat, her eyes narrowed. "You don't mean that. You can't mean that."
Naruto frowned back, crossing his arms. "What should I mean, then?"
She didn't reply, and the two glared at each other heatedly. Then their eyes widened, because there was a wave of killing intent passing over them that made a trip to the bathroom seem like a very winning idea. Their previous contestation was cast aside in favor of searching for the direction of the source, and both teens found themselves staring at a menacing, full-out byakugan Hinata tearing down the street at murderous speeds.
Sakura was no fool, so after squeaking like a terrified gerbil she immediately ran in the opposing direction for dear life. Naruto was, unfortunately, a bit of a fool, but his natural senses ingrained within him from years of conditioning told him to run like hell whenever someone looked like they were anything above a seven on the often debated rage meter. He gave a conservative estimation of a burning carcass level for the look on Hinata.
Hinata leveled a telephone pole with a knife hand. "GET BACK HERE SO I CAN WEAR YOUR JAWBONE AS A BRACELET YOU BOOBSLESS BITCH!"
Sakura cried. "Now that's just MEAN!"
"Holyeffingshit!" Naruto screamed.
It started when Sasuke slung his arms around Sakura, Ino, Tenten, and Hinata in a much unwanted group hug within pinging teeth.
"Hey, Ladies~. So, I know I just got here, and this is crazy, but I'm totally gorgeous, so harem maybe?"
After Sasuke was healed in five out of seven places where he was grievously injured, the group consisting of all the Konoha Rookies decided once again to have a nice relaxation at the public bath house after training and missions.
Hinata offered amends to Sakura by dismissing the intention of accessorizing herself with bloody body parts from the pinkette, who didn't miss the unsaid insult to her womanly stature. Still, the girl figured not constantly being on edge for her safety was going to have to suffice, since she had an unguarded balcony that led to her room, and sleeping with one eye open was hard work. That was until they got into the bath and she was rather rudely reminded of her relative…inadequacies. Great, it didn't matter that she was in an alternative universe. It only got worse when the Hyuuga girl started grilling her on everything regarding Naruto and might have also subtly encouraged her to accept a certain village heartthrob's advances. She tried playing dumb to deflect all the weird questions and rather creepy suggestions, which turned out to be a grave mistake as she eventually tried drowning out the horror by submerging herself when the other girl started to go into graphic detail. Ino, on the other hand, was suspiciously intrigued by the obscene hand gestures.
On the other side, Naruto wearily observed Sasuke, who recovered rather splendidly with secret bishounen powers, as the dark haired teen tried to strike up conversation with him and kept asking about Sakura as if they were longtime friends, which they were. Here in the place where his parents were alive, he was also friends with Sasuke. Not just rivals with more bitter words unsaid and an inevitable bloody confrontation. And that really was what he wanted, right? But he couldn't shake the unsettling feeling of wrongness, and he wasn't just referring to how Neji was apparently making love to the wall that separated the women's bath from theirs with a face that could gross out even Jiraiya on any given day. Even though Sasuke maintained a friendly attitude, Naruto noticed that there were times when the dark haired teen would alternate between staring vacantly at nothing and studying him with a slight frown. And his suspicions only thickened when the dark haired teen, without context, said, "You shouldn't stay here."
"Wha? But I haven't even gotten into the bath yet!"
"No, I mean, here. You're playing right into their hands if you stay here."
Before Naruto could ask, a loud commotion erupted in the girl's side, again, just like it did in the other world, and the weird conversation was forgotten in the ensuing pandemonium of many screeching half-naked people. It probably wouldn't have gotten so ground breakingly violent if Sasuke hadn't kept insisting he was too sexy for a towel. Sometimes he wondered why the hell they were ever allowed back into public bath houses in the first place.
Afterwards, they all unanimously agreed to convene at Naruto's house, and by unanimous, it meant Hinata suggested it with the underlying threat of buried bodies in the forest if everyone didn't pander to both her and Naruto's wishes, to which everyone's proper social awareness transformed appropriately into agreements that weren't enforced by homicidal peer pressure. Naruto did not protest, naturally, since the visceral threats of mangled limbs went right over his head and he was only too happy at the prospect of all his friends hanging around his would be empty home.
In fact, he was happy enough that he didn't even mind that much when Sasuke bled handsomely into the doormat before Sakura finally deemed a corpse simply too atrocious of a welcome home gift to Naruto's likable parents.
Since his parents were both out on a mission together that precluded Naruto himself, that meant no adults telling them no to a bonfire in the kitchen that was supposed to be some form of teriyaki meal. Awesome and powerful shinobi they all may be, but those talents apparently had no place in the realms of culinary arts, and so they delegated the task to the infallible decision that was takeout.
As they waited for the delivery, Neji suggested they all do something entertaining to pass the time. Upon the round of indifferent to enthusiastic agreements, he giddily nominated a boys-versus-girls game of strip-janken and took out a camera.
After Neji joined Sasuke in the bleeding corner, Naruto and Kiba managed to find several decks of cards which instigated a bout of arguments to what card games they should play, with Kiba's loud demands they play cat's cradle briskly ignored while Ino tried her tearful best at her role of peacekeeper.
Hinata took the chance of the once again escalating commotion to sneak by everyone's notice and headed towards Naruto's room for…ahem, scouting purposes, when she saw Sakura, leafing through a photo album in the living room.
She was about the snatch away the glorious mother-load of moe baby Naruto moments away and maybe smear the wall in a bloody mural when she noticed the despondent shimmering in the girl's eyes and instead merely loomed over her.
Sakura went through the entire album, page by page did she flip through the collection of pictures of happy smiles and swings and birthdays. When she closed the photo album, she cursed with unshed tears.
"He's happy here," she said, gripping the binder with both hands. "He's happier here than he ever was his whole life."
Hinata crossed her arms. His parents weren't here to express their affirmations, so with a heated voice she did it for them, even though she wasn't entirely sure for what reason. "Yes he is."
"If it was just me," Sakura continued, "If I was the only one who had to suffer the feeling of being cheated out of a chance…"
Hinata looked away. She didn't know exactly why but somehow she understood what the other girl was saying.
"…but he's happy here. Dammit, he's supposed to have been happy his whole life. I can't be the one who takes that away from him."
After a moment, Hinata spoke, "Not that you can do shit in the first place, but if that's how you feel, then just leave him alone."
Leaving the words hanging in the tense air, the long haired girl left to reconvene with the others in the living room.
He didn't really notice when or how, but late evening arrived and after everyone had fun and ate they sort of trickled out, and he expected another, if only temporary, lonely night by himself before he almost swallowed his tongue when he realized he was still playing cards with Hinata, who was still sitting next to him, smiling calculatingly.
The Hinata he knew would never keep eye contact with him for long before blushingly stammer and turn way, let alone remain conscious to stay within physical contact distance, so he was surprised when he found himself studying the pearly textures of her eyes and how they seemed to shine under the light like the moon from the sun, and admiring the contours of her cheekbones and how her smirk looked ready to be a weapon all on its own. Also, there was the holy shit that rack of hers little Jiraiya went on nonstop about, and he was fully expecting his eyes to be non-surgically removed for the rather brazen wandering of his focus on her face, breasts, hips, then repeat cycle.
Then she suggested they play a different sort of game, and he cautiously asked what it was, already fearing for the turnout given the girl's previous rather violent predilections.
She smirked and leaned over, and what constituted as clothing fell away from her chest and he was pretty sure his heart skipped too many beats to be a good sign as she shrugged off her jacket, taking her precious time doing so before she began shuffling the cards.
Crouching casually, Naruto stared into the wooden fence before him absentmindedly, blinking rapidly, with a seemingly anemic skin tone. After a few more moments spent in a relatively recent fun memory lane, the boy declared, "Strip poker is awesome."
Next to the blond, Neji stared solemnly before nodding. "Yes. Yes it is. But you know what's even better?"
He took out a tool that looked suspiciously like a corkscrew and started drilling a hole in the thick wooden barrier.
It was a weird day that the blond forged a kinship with the fellow Leaf-nin Neji in the form of the late Jiraiya's favorite pastime. Naruto blinked. "You know, the other Neji would probably commit seppuku on his own groin before doing something like this."
"Just as well, then, since this other Neji you speak of sounds like he's either asexual or hormonally constipated to begin with," Neji said as he finished drilling to reveal steam and a clearer sound of running water through the newly made peep hole.
Wearing an ear to ear grin outlawed by several nations by contemporary philosophized virtue alone, Neji basked in the glorious glory. "Wowzah! We've got a double D-ranker!"
That was an endorsement if there ever was such a thing. Let it not be said Naruto wasn't a hot blooded male and proud heir of the Toad Sage. "Whoa, seriously! ? Move so I can see!"
"Be quiet, idiot! They'll hear us with their womanly wiles!"
"Why do you even need a peep hole, anyway? You have your byakugan."
"It's the principle of the matter, you third-rate amateur. Drill your own hole! This one's mine!"
"Oh, we're going to drill a hole for sure."
"Heheh, that sounds so dirty—wait."
The two boys turned around fearfully to the sight of Sakura, who was cracking her knuckles one by one with the face of a demonic being, Tenten, who was pulling out sharp cooking utensils out from her hair with the look of a morally wronged panda, Ino, who managed a brief visage of righteous feminine fury before she hurriedly hid behind Sakura, and the well-defined femme fatale known as Hinata, who grinned a malicious death sentence as her cranial veins pulsed in tandem with the twitching of her well-manicured fingers.
"The holes that you're going to be tube fed through for all of next week."
Naruto flattened his back against the wall in panic, face drenched with dreaded sweat.
Neji shrugged. "I regret and apologize for nothing."
He changed his mind later.
After Naruto was shortly discharged from the hospital despite his protests as he begged for witness protection, he tried to maintain his awesome ninja skill in constant situational awareness just in case anyone came back to finish the job. So it was kind of disappointing that he screamed like the wussy he tried so hard to conceal when Hinata glomped him out of nowhere.
After Hinata more or less convinced the blond that no she wasn't trying to strangle him and that she wasn't going to carve out his face like a watermelon, he allowed himself to get dragged away for whatever the scary but sexy legs girl had in mind. He really needed to stop listening to the little Jiraiya on his shoulder, what with the dubious looking purple hat and cane and the oddly shaped tire pump that made him very uncomfortable for some reason. Oh, and also because of the impending doom he was about to face at the hands of the girl who either wanted to smex him up, instill a phobia in him, or inflict physical and emotional harm. Most likely all three in no particular order.
So with the resignation of an inmate, Naruto followed the oddly cheerful Hinata to a tea house, where he absentmindedly paid for the weird white tea, dango and cinnamon rolls that were actually pretty tasty as Hinata went on about this and that. Afterwards, they ran into Sai by coincidence and Hinata kindly raised a fist and asked him for a portrait of them together, to which the artist rendered a piece of rather splendid detail. If not for the somewhat flattering but completely embarrassing focus on certain parts of their anatomies, he would have considered paying the pale and dorky looking artist instead of joining Hinata in cuffing him upside the head.
They headed to the market district then, where they went window shopping until they arrived at a clothing boutique and Hinata giddily dragged him inside despite his bewilderment. He had heard horror stories that Shikamaru told him about regarding Ino and clothes shopping so it was a surprise of the pleasant variety when Hinata tried on and modeled for all sorts of clothing; from weirdly cute frilly pink blouses and skirts that made him smile, to cocktail dresses that made him whistle, and even a two piece fluffy cat suit complete with paws and ears that made him somewhat more understanding of the Kiba in this world. The she smirked, in a way very befitting the outfit she adorned, and he knew enough to gulp because one minute later he was wearing the exact same thing and boy did it chafe in all the expected places. He gave a sour look when the girl laughed and pawed at him while nyaa'ing.
It was then that he blinked at the weird girl as his thinker box finally connected the dots.
"Are we on a date?" he asked.
She blinked at him, before raising a teasing eyebrow. "That depends on if you're having fun or not."
He blinked again before considering that. He had essentially put Gama-chan through a liposuction and he was wearing a midriff-showing outfit designed to give him a wedgie and attract furries, which judging by the male clerk's winks, he was well on his way. But he was smiling because she was smiling, or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, they were both dressed in ridiculous outfits and smiling, so that had to count for something.
He grinned cheekily and pointed to a fetish maid outfit. "Maybe if you're wearing that."
And so they were on a date.
It was blank, just like the rest of them.
Hinata scowled, as Ino looked worried and claimed that she never noticed that her family photo albums were empty.
It was the same for Kiba and Shino, though the latter didn't have one to begin with. But all of their friends so far didn't have any material proof to support their recollections of time spent with family and friends whom they braved dangers and missions together. Unlike Naruto. It was as if everything here was tailored for him in some way or another.
It especially rang true when Naruto told her about this other world, this world that he dreamt up where the history and people were different. He told her about this other Hinata, who wore baggy clothes and an unflattering jacket. There was this girl who stuttered and often failed but never stopped trying her best and gave her all in everything she did if only because a boy's smile lent her courage and she decided to return it with interests and her heart. There was this girl who shared with her the same name and the same sanctuary where they found their sunny place, so she began to wonder where her own history came and went.
She came up empty, and thus started her search elsewhere. Naruto was happy here. But she no longer knew where here was anymore. She half-heartedly assured Ino that there wasn't anything to worry about and that she'd find answers, and went searching in the last place she had not already. In the Uchiha district, she found him there, Sasuke, as if he was waiting for her.
"You figured it out then," he said, twirling a rose.
She glared. "How long have you known?"
The dark haired teen clicked his tongue. "Since I saw first saw them, really. Examined a lot of things with the sharingan afterwards. Care to guess what I found out?"
She grimaced. "All of this…the entire world we're in is a genjutsu."
He simpered, grimly. "The world we're a part of, you mean."
She moved to respond when everything quaked and the world went off-balance for the briefest of moments.
A voice boomed through the air like a strong pulse through the heart.
"Snap out of it, you stupid Brat."
Naruto didn't know who the hell the fox masked bastard was, but the sonavabitch hurt his mother so he was going to make the asshat pay.
Distracting the bastard with well-timed coordination with his shadow clones, Naruto descended upon the dark haired figure with the ferocity of nature's force and slammed a Rasengan straight into wherever would hurt the most. But the figure did not even try backing away, and instead slammed its face into the attack, its mask cracking and shattered against the force of the technique before the figure was blasted into the ground and whisking up a cloud of dust.
Naruto landed nearby, panting as his anger and adrenaline coursed through him and readied himself when a voice drifted from the dust cloud.
"Kehehahaha! First is Kaa-chan, second is Tou-chan, who's gonna take the third as my Nii-chan! ?"
The obscured figure tore of its cloak, and Naruto found himself staring at the maniacal face of—
"What?" the blond breathed.
"Hey~, Watashi-chan! It's me! Your bestest best friend in the whole wide world! Give me a hug!"
The dark haired replica of himself speared towards Naruto at incredible speeds, and the teen tried moving out of the way but wasn't fast enough to avoid the hand that managed to grasp his face like a bowling ball and smashed the back of his head straight through a tree.
The dark haired Naruto laughed as the tree snapped and tumbled. "That's for trying to give me the cold shoulder, Watashi-chan! You hurt my feelings! And that means you were mean to yourself! That's no gooooood! So let's play a punishment game!"
Naruto groaned and wobbled on his feet slightly as his head was still ringing.
"You know, the way I see it, you did an awesome job replacing me! Kaa-chan and Tou-chan both like you sooooo much! Don't worry, I'm not mad! In fact, it gave me an awesome idea! Let's make perfect worlds for everyone! That'll be the game! You'll take care of things here, and I'll spice things up in your world! Replacement is a two way street, after all! Just like disembowelment! Or is that communication? Either way, I gotta take your body for a ride. It's okay, I'll give it back." He smiled widely. He had a lot of teeth. "Honest."
The dark replica pounced, not unlike a wild animal, and Naruto quickly realized just how ferocious his counterpart was when his shadow clones were dispersed and his guard was broken through in less than a minute. He tried sensing nature chakra. Nothing. He tried calling the Kyuubi. Nothing. He was on his own, against himself. Iruka-sensei would have something profound to say to that. Iruka-sensei would've…
Naruto found himself slamming into ground and the air knocked out of him from the force of the last kick.
The dark haired Naruto clung to the upper portion of a tree trunk.
"Datte-effing-bayo," he grinned, and a swirling vortex of dark chakra formed in his right hand and condensed into a sphere. "Anything you can do I can do better! I can hug anything better you!"
He propelled himself in a streamline straight towards his slowed target and slammed—
His arm was pulled away, spread to his side as something crashed into his side and he tumbled into a roll onto the ground as the black rasengan blew up the patch of rocks nearby. But the maniacal teen didn't cease his constant motion and leapt backwards into a spider crawl.
Byakugan pulsing and sharingan spinning, Hinata and Sasuke stood between the two Naruto as Sakura rushed to the blond one's side.
The dark haired Naruto grinned madly. "Hey, Sasuke-chan and Hinata-chan~! Did you guys come here to be my bestest best friends, too! ?"
Hinata growled and rushed in first as Sasuke took to the side, doujutsu tracking the movements as he began preparing himself for long range support.
Body twisting and moving as if he wasn't a vertebrate, the dark haired Naruto danced around each thrown projectile and palm strike with startling efficiency. "You're looking gooooood, Hinata-chan! Heyheyhey, why don't you ditch the loser and get with the booger—wait that's not right—"
His smile dropped when the girl slipped out of her jyuuken stance and adopted a much more direct approach that he couldn't read until she had whipped his face with her hair in a spin and had a hold of his own dark locks and took that opportunity to knee him in the stomach.
"Sorry, you're not my type," Hinata spat and moved away, so that Sakura could land a punch full tilt.
Seven trees and counting burst into splinters.
"You okay?" Sasuke asked as he hoisted Naruto to his feet.
The blond blinked rapidly. "Sasuke? But aren't all of you—"
"Part of the genjutsu? Yeah, but all of us have trouble conforming to the norm."
Naruto opened his mouth to speak when the air around them thrummed and dozens upon dozens of red eyes glowed in the distance like poison berries in the darkness, followed by rolls and rolls of grinning teeth.
"Awwww, you guys broke my heart~. Well, you know what? It's okay. I forgive you. Once I rip out all of yours, we'll call it even!"
All four teens slipped into their stances.
"You have to go, Naruto-kun," she said to him, the multitudes of battle raging somewhere within the distant darkness and streets of Konoha. "You have to go put an end to this."
"Why does everyone keep saying that?" the blond yelled. "First Sakura-chan, then both Tou-chan and Kaa-chan! N-now even you're saying the same thing! Why if I don't want to go? What if I don't want this to end?"
She didn't want it to end either. It didn't matter that the world and her very being were probably just chakra and sensory neurons firing through all of the boy's synaptic clefts. She felt real. This ball of ice and fire in her heart. It felt real. But…
"This isn't real," she said back, calmly, even though her heart pounded like thunder. "None of this is real, you know that. You know this better than anyone else. Somewhere out there is the place where you belong, where you need to be. You have to go home!"
"Why can't this be my home! ? I'm happy here! For the first time in my damn life I have a place to go back to at the end of the day where there's someone waiting for me! I can finally say 'tadaima' to someone instead of a stupid, dark and empty apartment! I have a past that fills up so many photo albums and I just want to hold on to that! Is that so selfish! ? Is that so much to ask for! ? Don't I deserve to be a little happy after all this time! ?"
She stared at the frantic blond, and pushed down the urge to give in and keep him here, in the land of the dreams, where he would be happy, because this was supposed to be everything the boy ever wanted and more, and she would hold onto him forever.
But that wouldn't be right. She knew that for certainty. She may not be real, she may only be some form of mirage conjured up for the purpose of a false dream, but she could feel herself, hear herself, in the boy's voice when he regaled the tales of this other world, where things were different but under a sun made of warmth instead of firing neurons. Because, because even though she was probably just a mysterious mix of chakra and sensory memories, she felt she knew the girl named Hyuuga Hinata, and she was the place holder, the understudy stealing the show, but she would never go through with it if it meant a real chance for real smiles beyond a forever dream.
Her eyes hardened like refined steel under the moonlight.
"Is that it? Are you finished whining?" she said, and took a hard step forward while the blond reactively took one step back. "Yeah, it blows. It sucks that your life has more bumps than breaks. It sucks that you lost everything since the moment you were born and it's only natural to want those things back. I understand that. But you didn't crawl out from the bottom on your own. Not everyone treated you like a stranger or nonexistent. You've had people pulling you up and breaking your fall too. Are you telling me they don't mean anything to you?"
"No," he yelled. "They're my precious people! I just…I just…"
"You just want someone to be at home waiting for you. I get it. It's fine to lose yourself in a good dream once in a while. No one's strong enough all the time. I understand more than you know. But…"
Her hands clenched into fists.
"But if you're going to run away…if you're going to hide under a rock and abandon all the people who need you just because you think the grass is a bit greener here…then you're not Naruto-kun. The real Naruto-kun wouldn't shy away from a little hardship. And if you're just a pretender wearing Naruto's skin, then…"
Near the end, her voice rose in concert with the branching of veins across her fierce visage, and the blond audibly cringed when she roughly dragged his face to hers.
"…I'll kill you."
With a heart on fire she watched the play of so many different emotions in the boy's eyes that she worried that he would drown on thin air alone, until eventually those blue eyes settled on desperate bewilderment as he choked out, "Why?"
Slowly, she released him, falling back onto the soles of her feet.
She pointed at him, pointed to him. "Your necklace," she said, simply.
Wordlessly, the blond reached into his shirt, and pulled out the glimmering shard of emerald light.
"Remember what you told me, about that other world? The real world? Do you remember why you were given that necklace?"
He nodded. "I won it off Tsunade-baachan, when I mastered the rasengan in a week."
"You proved you were strong enough to beat her bet, the one she was sure you would lose. You showed her that your bet trumped hers, and that you've got enough guts and sheer dumb luck to do anything you put your mind to. To become the Hokage you want to be; the Hokage that everyone wants to see you become. That's why she gave it to you. She hedged all her bets on you, because she believed in you and your dream. Because you more than anyone knows what joy is and what it means when it's shared. Now the same masked psycho who took everything from you wants to do the same to everyone else too. So, what are you going to do about it?"
For long, silent moments, he stared at the emerald shard in his hand, until he clenched it in a fist and looked back up with focused blue eyes. "I have to go."
She smiled, and her eyes softened.
He tucked the necklace back into his shirt before staring into the lilac eyes of the girl before him. When she looked away first, he took a step forward with words already at his lips silenced.
The look in his eyes made her step forward in synch to his. She was the type to act in the moment, in the seconds that things needed to happen with no place for hesitations.
So, with a silent apology to herself from the other world, she closed the distance between them, placing both her hands on his cheeks to guide herself, and pressed her lips firmly to his.
And for a moment within a moment, she felt the faint sweet odor of real.
Sasuke trekked across the roof tiles dexterously, before sensing a presence in his immediate peripheral and landed in a guarded crouch. His sharingan sprang to life and traced the silhouetted figures with dark cloaks and red clouds.
He blinked. Slowly, he said, "Nii-san?"
Itachi nodded. "Sasuke."
The two brothers maintained eye contact even as they simultaneously performed shunshin onto the next roof to avoid a wayward explosive-clay detonating where they just stood.
After a moment in the raining debris and smoke, Sasuke loosened his guard but did not deactivate his bloodline limit. "I think I'm supposed to hate you."
Itachi remained silent.
"But I think I also don't hate you."
"You must make a choice then," the older Uchiha said.
Sasuke stared for another moment before blinking away his doujutsu and shrugged cheekily. "Too bothersome to think about. I have better things to do."
Itachi quirked an eyebrow.
"What? I totally do! You think chasing you around and trying to extract exposition from you is the only thing I've got going on? Please, I've got someone much prettier to chase."
If Itachi was a lesser illusionary being, he would have rolled his eyes. He gave the younger Uchiha a sardonic look.
"For your information, it's a girl."
"Of course it is," Itachi said and vanished from sight, leaving the words hanging in the air.
Sasuke grumbled as he continued trekking across the rooftops. "Just because you're a bishounen who knows a little about fashion and women everyone just assumes you're secretly playing for the other team, dammit."
The kiss ended when she felt him jolt out of his shock and almost lean in to respond.
Her hands dropped down from his face to his shoulders and she pushed him away.
He stumbled a bit, blushing and staring blinkingly. "H-Hinata-chan?"
She smirked, hands on her waist. "That's Hinata-sama to you, punk. Go find your own Hinata-chan."
He blinked a few more times before his blue eyes steeled and he nodded.
She flipped her hair haughtily and crossed her arms. "Get moving before I make you, Uzumaki. They're all waiting for you."
She watched him until the very last moment as he disappeared into the distance.
Taking a shuddering breath, she roughly rubbed her eyes with her sleeves before laughing to herself and bolting back towards the direction of the fighting.
Shortly, she was back into the fray, and almost gleefully she shouted, "Line up nice and tight! Hyuuga Hinata-sama is on the rebound, bitches! Which one of you wants to be my new boy toy! ?"
Miraculously, everyone stopped trying to kill each other and stared at the source of the outrageous statement.
Instinctually, Sasuke almost raised his hand before he realized who was making the proposition and in his haste to pull the arm down he smacked himself in the thigh. One of the masked figures kept its hand up.
Hinata grinned and cracked her knuckles. "Good then. That just means I can concentrate more on kicking your asses!"
"You must choose…to protect love or to protect to world."
From above the darkness, the masked man stared down through the crimson sharingan and spoke, "Love, is what makes people weak. We fear the pain that is being alone, so we forge bonds with others in hopes of finding comfort in a hopeless world. But where there is light, there is always darkness. Where there is love, on the other side there is always hate. These bonds…so pitiful in their fragility are so easily severed by the other side of the coin. In not resisting their true desires, humans will be caught in them instead. They are blinded by it, and in their blindness people witlessly perpetuate hate by their selfish so-called love. One person's smile is always at the cost of someone's tears. Always. It is the natural rule of this cold world. Time and time again I have witnessed how utterly foolish humanity is in the face of oblivion, from the bonds of love that begets hate that begets pain. It is enough. Humanity can never hope to fully come together in understanding when all they can do is whimper and fear a world where hate outnumbers the tomorrows. So it is enough. I will end the cycle. Humanity has suffered enough. I will end the pain even if I have to oppose Nature, oppose the very world to do so. I will forge a bond between everyone and everything, so that there is no more room for false hope, no place for war, no more need for heroes, no use for hate, no more light for darkness, no more room for any form of a hopeless future. All there will be is a perfect, endless dream."
Staring up at the masked man, this man who showed him a dream where he had a place, had a family, the blond boy took a step forward.
Eyes closed, he focused. Their faces, their smiles, their warmth, their places in his heart. Slowly, gingerly, Naruto touched his lips and smiled.
"Yeah, it was a pretty nice dream," he said, eyes still closed. "I had everything I ever wanted. More than I ever thought possible. I had a family who loved me, a bunch of friends who knew me, and an awesome girl who liked me and knew how to knock sense into people. It wouldn't be too bad to sleep a little longer."
His eyes opened, a bright blue in the shifting dark, and stared at his open palm. "But you know what? I already have parents who loved me, who protected me with all their hearts. I already have friends who know me, who see and acknowledge me. And if I pay a little more attention," he said, smiling widely, "I think I can find that girl who likes me, too."
His eyes steeled, and the open hand clenched into a fist. "So I don't need to dream! You can keep your perfect world and your stupid mumbo jumbo and shove it! Dreams are meant to end, so that we can wake up and face the new tomorrow! And I've got precious people waiting for me back home so we can face it all together! I don't plan on stopping here, not like this. I'm not gonna be a coward like you! I don't need some nobody telling me what to do! I'm gonna be the best damn Hokage the world has ever seen! And I don't go back on my word! You can say it's a hopeless future but I'll never give up! Cuz that's my Nindo, dattebayo!"
Naruto stretched his arms out and suddenly a pristine white cloak brimming at the edges with pulsing waves of flames entrenched him. With the symbols of the Yondaime, Naruto crossed his arms, grinning challengingly. "You say the world doesn't need heroes! ? Well, too effing bad! You want to carry on your dumb plan then you gotta get through me first! You say I have to choose what to protect? Then I choose all of the friggin' above! My nakama, my family, the bonds between us…I'll protect them all no matter what-ttabayo!"
He formed the familiar hand-sign, and soon the entire space was filled with vivacious blue eyes and glowing white coats like an ocean under the starlight sky. In the dark distance, the sounds of thundering, groaning metal whirled forward in one gigantic gust of wind.
The masked man continued to stare down as he slowly descended from the thick, wavering darkness. "I thought you would have understood, from what I've given you, what I've shown you. Only in erasing the sense of the individual can there ever be a chance for an end to the dark winds."
His sharingan glowed, hanging over the legion of blond heroes like a red star, as beneath him countless mask bearing figures sprouted from the darkness. "If you refuse to see the truth, then I will break you with it. After sixteen years, I will finally take the Kyuubi from you. The choice is out of your hands now. In this labyrinth of stone and history, you will fulfill the purpose of your birth, and I will syphon that purpose into power to achieve salvation, even if I have shred your spirit into pieces. That is how this dream will end."
Cocking his head up, the original Naruto only smirked. "Tough talk for a psycho with a toilet seat for a face! Our rebuttal, Kurama!"
With a rumbling quake, the Kyuubi lumbered forward from beyond the darkness, shadowing over the army of white and yellow like the blazing beast of chakra that he was, nine tails of red swishing like waves of solidified fire.
Like an instant bloom of white flowers across a meadow, the legion of blonds spread their cloaks.
The fox roared, with the force of a dragon's typhoon, distorting the very air and darkness around them. With a display of gigantic fangs and ferocious chakra, the Kyuubi grinned darkly.
"BRING IT ON, ASSHAAAAAAAAAAT!"
On three, they moved as one.
The fringes of the horizon flashed and wavered like raining watercolors.
Wiping her cheek with the back of her fist, Sakura exhaled as the very world around them began to crinkle and fade. "Naruto. He did it."
"Of course he did," Hinata said over her shoulder, staring at the whitening sky one more time before leaving.
She turned her head to see the pink haired girl skipping over.
"Thank you," Sakura said.
Moments passed in silence as the two girls studied each other.
"I didn't do it for you," Hinata huffed and walked away, hands in her coat pockets.
"I know," Sakura whispered, smiling. "That's why I thanked you."
"Hey, Sakura-chan," Sasuke called as he landed next to the pinkette and pulled out a small velvet box. "So, I got this for you, and, I don't think I'm doing this right somehow and…" he trailed off and gently pushed the small container into the girl's hands.
A little perplexed, Sakura popped the lid open to reveal a small gold trimmed trinket in the shape of a sakura blossom.
"It's the first official Haruno Sakura fanclub membership pin. Well, that I know of anyway. I know it's kind of clichéd, and technically incorporeal, and I'm actually not sure if it works as a gift but I can wear it instead and find a big box to wrap myself in—"
She interrupted him with a bear hug and burying her face in his shoulder, making him squeak from the bone crushing embrace.
"Idiot," she said, voice muffled.
Smiling despite the restriction in both his arms and in his circulation, Sasuke rested his chin on top of her head. "When you see the other me, break the nose he can't see right under the whole time, okay?"
She hugged a little tighter.
The two of them yelped when Kakashi swooped down out of nowhere and embraced both of them while shedding tears of jubilance.
Team Gai was having its own tearful farewell, which included Neji entangling himself with a dumbfounded Tenten as a conservative means of feeling her up while Gai studiously ignored Lee's insistence on having a youthful group hug like that of Team Seven in favor of finishing his book on apathy lessons.
Shino stood to Hinata's left while Kiba and Akamaru walked up to her right. Together, Team Eight stared at the now rapidly fragmenting world before them.
She blinked when both Kiba and Shino gave comforting pats on her shoulders while Akamaru gave an uplifting, encouraging bark. She gave them an exasperated grin and stepped forward.
Taking a deep breath and cupping a hand around her smile, she yelled, "Daisuki, Naruto-kun~!"
Her only answer was the sense of being washed away, like sand on a beach, but she held on to the images of bright smiles lingering within forefront of her mind as she continued to grin even as everything was blanketed in white and faded.
After all, she was Hyuuga Hinata, and she was born to smirk at the end of the world.