Floating in an endless darkness gave Naruto plenty of time to think…too plenty. At first he appreciated the quiet, the stillness. His war torn body and soul appreciated the brief rest, the time to just let himself relax and not have to put on a brave and happy front. It was weak of him to admit it, but he was dead so why did it matter, it was weak…and unlike him at all…but he was just so tired, tired of all the forced happiness, tired of all the promises, tired of all the battles, tired of all the hate…
If he had to admit something, it would be that he didn't break when he had to battle against the two madmen of the Uchiha clan, he didn't break when he heard of Jiraiya's death, he didn't break when the village was destroyed, he didn't break when he ran into Sasuke so many times and heard his harsh words, he didn't break when Sasuke defected…putting a hole into his chest, he didn't break when Haku had died and Zabuza had followed the kind boy into death, and contrary to what people might think…he didn't break when he found out about his status as a Jinchuuriki. The truth behind his solid resolve was that…he had been broken a long time ago and was poorly put back together into a crude model of what people wanted him to be…
So for a while, Naruto allowed himself to just close his eyes and let himself float…to not worry about picking up not only his own broken pieces but the broken pieces of those around him…and while it was too late for his shattered mind and soul to be put back together…he tiredly worked to put the broken pieces of others back together…piece by piece, ignoring how the sharp edges would cut into him, scratching at his already fragile mask, ignoring how each time he fixed someone else he would break a little more
But thinking back on it…a small part of himself was glad that he had been broken a long time ago…happy that when he finally shattered…it had been painless
And for the first time in a long time since he had entered this floating darkness he called his own personal Hell…Naruto allowed the memories to wash over him
He expected a wave of remorse, a wave of regret, a wave of guilt, a wave of happiness, love, joy…
What he did not expect was the absolute nothingness of it all
His body, mind, and soul knew the memories were there, they knew of the experience…but there was no recall, there was no image…there weren't even names to go with blurry faces…
And for one terrifying moment, he could not even recall his own name…
He concentrated and in the back of his mind he duly noted a throbbing sensation before a blinding flash of pain overwhelmed him and the memories burst through…
The early years of his childhood filled with fear and confusion as he wondered why people hated him and the adults never let their children play with him…he recalled sitting at the swing watching as happy families made their way home ready to enjoy a handmade meal while he grimaced at the thought of another bowl of instant ramen
The years in his academy as his teachers sent out of the classroom, gave him rigged tests, and as his classmates laughed at him filled his head. He recalled the way he felt frustrated at never being able to control his chakra and not knowing the reason why…
Then the memories of Iruka filled his thoughts. The first kind teacher who refused to give up on him and encouraged him…even if it was at the pushing of the Sandaime at first…
He remembered his friends…the arguments, the pranks, the rivalry…
Naruto especially remembered the night of his graduation and the weight of new knowledge that came with it…he also remembered curling into his bed and letting out a few silent tears, he didn't cry…but he did let out tears of aching sadness as he finally realized why so many people hated and feared him
Then the memories came faster…
He remembered his team placement, and how happy he was to be placed into a team, ignoring the sadness at Sakura and Sasuke's cold treatment
He remembered their suffering at the hands of the evil cat Tora
He remembered Nami no Kuni and how he learned the true meaning behind the strength of the greatest Shinobi from Haku and the meaning of sacrifice from him and from Zabuza…
He shuddered when the memories of the Chuunin Exams filled his thoughts and with it the death of the Sandaime and the overwhelming sorrow that followed
He felt fear and respect when he met Tsunande, and shuddered at the memories of being flicked with her fingers
He nearly cried when he remembered the feeling of having his best friend shove his hand through his chest
He let out a sigh of content when he remembered his training trip with Jiraiya…
The concern as Gaara was kidnapped and killed and the relief when he was brought back
The determination of his Sage training
Anger at seeing his village destroyed beyond recognition
Understanding at having met Nagato and Konan
Comradeship at having made an understanding with Kurama
And the final battle…
Naruto brought a hand up to cover his eyes in a habitual attempt to hide his tears…
"Why did you make yourself remember…why did you allow yourself to be filled with sorrow…why couldn't you forget and move on like all the others?"
Naruto let out a bitter laugh that held no real malice
"Because…if I allowed myself to forget than I wouldn't be me anymore, would I? All these experiences, all the tears I shed and refused to shed, all the blood I shed and spilled, all the laughter I caused and joined in on…these are the experiences that molded me into me…not my name, not fate, but me and my experiences…"
"But even if you were reincarnated into another life…you would still be you…your soul would be the same and you would have a better life, a family…"
"It's just as you said…my soul would be the same and it would remember the pain I have gone through and there would always be a part of me that would question the new life…"
"But why did you want to remember?"
"So I wouldn't have to change myself…so I wouldn't allow someone else to mold me…this is who I am…I was born a Jinchuuriki and I will die one…and this cycle will continue until time itself ends"
The voice seemed to think for a moment, the long silence somewhat unsettling but not totally uncomfortable
"If by chance…you were given a chance to live in a world where there is to be similar trouble brewing…would you chose to live in that world?"
"You know my answer…"
"Of course you are only human-"
"I would choose to live in that world…I couldn't stand to look at myself in the mirror if I let a world crumble all because of my selfishness…"
"You…you continue to amaze me"
"Very well…you have made your choice…I wish you good luck and hope that you will find your rest soon…and find some semblance of happiness in the world you are about to be sent into…"
"Yeah…so do I"
A bright white light filled the space, chasing away the endless darkness and leaving a blinding glare in its aftermath
Naruto was gone and the Voice was left to its own thoughts
"Even in death you are unpredictable Uzumaki-Namikaze Naruto…well I guess I should give you a small gift"
Another bright light filled the room followed by another, only to disappear from sight
When Naruto opened his eyes, the first thing he noticed was that it was no longer dark, and that he was staring into a campfire
The next thing he noticed was the he felt smaller…weaker…and the energy in his body was different yet similar at the same time
And the final thing he noticed was the man beside him staring into the fire, his head nodding as he slept
Looking closely he noticed that the man was actually a boy, probably no older than eighteen…
He was pale, with dark hair and if Naruto had to guess…dark eyes. He had dark bags under his eyes, indicating that he did not get much sleep. His clothing was odd, it consisted of almost all black. However, the feeling that drew Naruto closer to the man was the same feeling he always tried to hide from his friends…
It was the feeling of reaching out to someone, anyone to understand him, to not fear him…to love him
It was this feeling that had Naruto draw closer to the man and touch his cheek
When Zeref felt the hand on his cheek he released a burst of energy and opened his eyes expecting to see a bloody mess on the ground, another dead body…
What he didn't expect was to see the bright blue eyes of the boy he saved, a boy no older than five staring back at him through the torrent of his dark magic
He was so shocked that his magic died down instantly…causing the torrent to disappear along with it
"Who are you…? No, the proper question should be, what are you…? No one should be able to survive that…"
The child looked at him with eyes that held no fear, no pity, but understanding
And it scared him…it scared Zeref that a child that had met him not even five minutes ago could have those kind of eyes toward him
So in his fear, Zeref did what he always did when threatened or uncertain…he sent a blast of pure magic at the young child in front of him…
It only took a minute for him to realize what he had just done and with that realization, Zeref once again stopped the flow of magic expecting to see a horrid mess of a body, what he didn't expect was to see the child perfectly safe and still staring at him with the same unwavering eyes of someone who has gone through the same pain he has
"Tch…so you survived that you little brat…"
That's not what I wanted to say…
Zeref received no answer
"I guess you aren't a complete waste of space after all…so in my kindness I shall allow you to live…leave my presence at once you brat!"
No…I don't want him to leave me…he is the only one who didn't run in fear
Zeref waited for the sound of running feet to reach his ears, and when it didn't he opened his eyes and saw that the blue eyes were boring into his soul
"You know mister…if you don't say what you really want to say…you'll forget how to say it at all…believe me, I speak from experience"
"What does a little brat like you know about suffering, about hiding who you really are because the people won't see pass the image they created…the image you are forced to uphold"
"I may not know about your life, but I know what it is like to be labeled a monster, to be feared for something you have no control over, and to constantly maintain an image that others have created for the sake of protecting what little of yourself you have"
Zeref stood up and left, intending to leave the child behind…
Naruto sighed as he saw the black haired man walk away and internally smirked to himself
That man has never dealt with Uzumaki-Namikaze Naruto…the most stubborn and knuckleheaded ninja in existence…
Standing up and dusting himself off, Naruto packed up the campsite, as a favor to the black haired man, and followed the man, making no effort in hiding his presence
The man was either too distracted to notice, did not care, or worry at all
It took half a day's time for Zeref to finally acknowledge that he was not alone in his travels and that he had picked up a stray of some sorts
By this time, the constant footsteps behind him were unable to be ignored. There was also the constant chatter in the background, but that was easy to tune out…if sticking his head through the nearest tree was justified as tuning out…
Now, Zeref finally understood the saying 'if you ever give a stray attention, it will follow you around for more'…and what a stray it was
"Hey, can we stop for some food"
"You can stop, but I am going to keep going…"
"Cooooome oooooon…please Mister?"
"No…will you please shut up!"
30 seconds later…
"I'm bored, let's play a game"
"FINE…we can stop for food"
"No, that's okay…I got some while you were talking to yourself…now I'm bored and I want to play a game"
"…I'm going to KILL you…SLOWLY and PAINFULLY!"
"Sooo…is that a yes?"
"Let's stop for some ice cream…"
"What the hell is ice cream? I mean who the heck want frozen cream?"
"…Ice cream hasn't been invented?!"
"No…whatever this thing called ice cream is…it doesn't exist!"
"…is…is he gone?"
"He's gone! I'm free…free…fr-"
"Hey Mister…I found some Ice cream!"
"Kami-sama…you just hate me…don't you?"
It took five days, but Zeref finally cracked
It was a long hard battle of wits, will, and determination…but in the end, Zeref's mighty power stood no chance against the sheer might of-
"Who the hell are you talking to?! There is no one there!"
The two sat in front of a campfire, warming their hands in the heat while they waited for the food to finish cooking
"Alright, since you have decided to follow me, I need a name to call you by"
"…Naruto…my name is Naruto"
"What kind of name is that?"
"It's my name…Uzumaki-Namikaze Naruto…in the language of my homeland it translates: Uzumaki-it means whirlpool, the name of the land of my mother…a land literally hidden by the whirlpools. Namikaze-water and wind…torrent, and Naruto- fishcake, but it literally is used as Maelstrom…so in total my name means whirlpool torrent Maelstrom, a name of destruction because I will be the one to destroy this current world of hatred and from the mass of destruction, a world of peace will be born…that is why my name is the 'whirling torrent Maelstrom'"
"…that's bull shit"
"Why should you be the only one tasked with that responsibility…why should you be the only one to suffer in silence while others live on in ignorance…why should you have to pretend for them, live for them, die for them…be their hero, when no one did that for you?"
"…That's where you're wrong…there were people who lived and died for me…"
"And I know that you want someone to understand you…someone to love you…someone to tell that they care for you"
"No, I'm not…I can hear it, and it is so painful…your heart is crying out…somewhere in that dark abyss is the child that you had to abandon being in order to be this powerful person you are now"
"Just think on it mister…when we first met you tried to kill me twice…but since we have been travelling together…you have not released a single amount of malicious intent towards me…"
When that realization came to Zeref, his eyes widened
"Maybe you aren't ready to accept it yet…but you will…you will understand the value of love, friendship, kindness…the value a human life can hold"
There was a moment of silence
"Then…will you help me understand?"
"…My name is Zeref…I am called the dark mage, the evil one…because of the type of magic that I use and the fear I instill into people. In truth, I don't really want to hurt others but when I use my magic it seems like I am being consumed…"
"I'll help you…so you don't have to worry about being consumed anymore. I'll be here to pull you out of that abyss"
While they travelled, Zeref slowly gained an understanding of Naruto; he understood that Naruto would hide his pain, he understood that Naruto would always try to help others, and he understood that it was useless to try and resist
With the understanding, Zeref slowly gained a small amount of affection towards the small blonde, not that he'll admit it…not that he intended to admit it
It was supposed to be a routine training. Naruto and Zeref were supposed to go into the mountains to battle the ice apes that lived there and Zeref was supposed to use his magic to subdue and not kill the apes and Naruto was supposed to monitor the magic output
They weren't prepared for the Lizard Men that also lived there…
With their horrid humanoid figure covered in sickly green scales, their poisonous fangs and claws, and their mastery over the dark and poison magic…they weren't prepared at all
"Hurry! They're coming faster…we have to get away!"
"Why won't you let me kill them? I could easily wipe away their existence!"
Naruto turned to stare back at Zeref before grabbing Zeref's hand again and running. Naruto didn't answer for a while, but when he did, he didn't bother turning around to look at the man behind him…a man he began to see as his brother and father figure
"Because…you've come so far…don't let your hard work be wasted in the face of danger. One of the key things to remember is that even in the face of danger…even if it seems like all hope is lost…you must never give in to the darkness"
Spotting a cave, Naruto pulled Zeref one final time and ducked into it, chest heaving from exhaustion and lack of oxygen. They waited like that for a few minutes, just sitting and trying to catch their breath. Since the cave was cold, they decided to sit close to each other to conserve body heat.
"Naruto…why do you insist on helping me? Why do you insist on caring for a monster like me when you can be having fun and be a child…"
"Because…I want to help someone in the way no one ever really helped me…"
"But you are just a little kid…you should be having fun, making friends, learning different types of magic instead of the one I know…"
"…I was never really a kid in the beginning anyway. Always…Always…It's always been about helping others, making sure they're okay and worrying about myself last…I don't even remember how to be selfish anymore, but that's alright, because just this once…for the first time, I am choosing my own path, my way…not the way people expect me take, not the way my sensei wanted me to take…but the way I choose"
Zeref fell silent, contemplating the words of a child wise beyond his years…and it made him sick. It made him sick that the world was cruel enough to turn what should be an innocent child into a tired and weary martyr
The screeching of the Lizard Men broke the quiet of the cave and both occupants immediately acted upon battle ready reflexes. While Zeref made smooth movements, Naruto was a bit clumsy in his movements, his adult memories not quite used to the new feeling of a child's body.
Zeref immediately set up a barrier around the cave, hoping to stave off the attacks for a moment. Glancing around the cave, he found another small passage hidden among the boulders. Grabbing Naruto and throwing him over his shoulders, Zeref ran towards the passage, ignoring Naruto's protests all the way
A sharp pain in his back forced Zeref to drop Naruto
"I told you I can walk on my own!"
"You little brat! I was trying to help you!"
"…but I can walk on my own…"
"Why don't you let someone carry you for once…why don't you let someone help you…if you don't want to share the burden then at least let someone carry you when you can't carry yourself!"
With those words, Zeref lifted Naruto once more and ran off
"Why do you care…you didn't seem to care so much before"
"Well that was before…but meeting you made me want to change…it made me want to put an end to this hateful world and create a new one, a peaceful one where everyone can use magic without fear, without having to worry about prejudice"
"Yeah, I do"
Naruto smiled, a blinding and sincere smile that made Zeref's breath catch at the happiness and innocence of it all
Finally…finally I don't have to carry on alone
"Then I want to help you! I want to help create this new world!"
"It should be me helping you. It was you who made me realize this, and it was you who told me that you would put an end to this hatred…so if you'll let me, I want to join you in your mission"
Before Naruto could reply, the walls of the cave burst apart, revealing pissed off Lizard Men.
Then they ran
Naruto called out to Zeref just as the dark mage was about to send out a blast of death wave towards the Lizard Men
While it did succeed in stopping the dark mage, the shout caused Zeref to release a huge amount of energy that drained him completely…leaving the two stranded on the top of a mountain with more Lizard Men coming up the mountain
"Why did you stop me?!"
"I already told you before…never give in to the darkness"
"Then what about power? I need the power right now!"
Naruto walked up to Zeref, gave him a hug and walked pass him
"A person can become truly strong when he is protecting someone precious to him"
The dark mage was in awe of the child in front of him, so in awe that he didn't notice the Lizard Men charging up on a spell
That was why Zeref didn't see the attack
Before he noticed there was an explosion, a pained scream, and a body slammed into a body
When the dust cleared, Zeref held a bloodied and nearly unconscious Naruto in his arms
"I told you, if you want to protect somebody, you can become strong…human lives are so precious because they are so fragile…I want you to understand that"
"But why did you protect me? Now you will die!"
"No I won't…I trust in you Zeref. I trust in you to find that light within the darkness. Darkness cannot exist without light, and light doesn't exist without darkness. You just have to find that light and help it shine"
"But I don't have enough strength or magic left"
"You do, it is deep within you, let go of the lock that is keeping your true potential"
With those words, Naruto fell unconscious…
Gently laying down the child, Zeref stood to face the creatures
He didn't notice Naruto open one of his eyes and smile softly
There is always light Zeref…always
Zeref was panting, he was running so low on energy that he should be dead
It's the brat's fault…get rid of him
Zeref slowly raised his hands, but something made him stop
"Zeref, let's go get some ice-cream!"
"Zeref, come play with me!"
"I'm scared Zeref, I'm scared of the dark…I'm scared that I won't be able to see the light anymore"
"You know Zeref, even though we haven't known each other that long…I think of you as my older brother and father! You are the first person to say that they wanted to help carry my burden with me…thank you"
Zeref slowly lowered his hand and got in a protective stance in front of Naruto, his magic humming to life
"Damned brat…making me care for you…"
Looking deep within himself, Zeref searched and searched, but all he saw was darkness, an endless and cold darkness
The Lizard Men got closer and closer, their breath reeked of death
But in the darkness, Zeref could see the outline of a ball of light, it was warm and felt so good, but he could see a lock surrounding it, a lock that seemed to try and smother the light. With the last of his strength, he blasted open the lock and let the energy flood him
The Lizard Men froze as a wave of energy washed over them, Zeref open his eyes to reveal dark eyes, brimming with power
In that moment all the Lizard Men knew they were dealing with something more than a normal mage, but before they could do anything, they were blasted away…but not killed
Looking down at the brat, Zeref muttered a few words
Naruto opened his eyes lazily and saw the worried face of Zeref staring down at him
"…You seem different…but a good kind of different"
Zeref let out a weak smile and chuckle at that comment, it was light and airy, no longer burdened by the opressing darkness now that it had some light
"You were right; I guess that I can become stronger by caring for others and wanting to protect them"
Naruto let a smile grace his features
"Yeah…you can, that was something someone told me a long, long time ago"
A few years later…
Naruto had tears running down his face as he looked into the cold, dead eyes of the dark mage in front of him
"Because I can…because this is true power"
The screams of the people echoed around him as the building turned to ash. Mages of all kind were running around trying to help as many as they could. Others were trying to get closer to the dark mage but were stopped by an invisible force
"I don't want to stop"
Zeref bared his teeth in a feral grin, his dark eyes glinting with insanity…but underneath that insanity, there was a fight, a fight for control
"Don't let the darkness consume you…don't let it eat away at your heart!"
Zeref raised his arms, a dark spell gathering at his fingertips
Naruto stared into the dark eyes, and nodded in understanding. He knew what was going to happen, and he knew he had to trust that the Zeref he knew was fighting. So Naruto closed his eyes and let the dark light wash over him
"I'm sorry Zeref…I thought I could help you more. I'm sorry for letting you down…good-bye"
The black light flooded the area, revealing nothing when it cleared
Zeref turned away, a tear trailing down his face
"I'm sorry…so, sorry"
Naruto opened his eyes to see electric blue orbs staring back at him…It took him a minute to realize the giant orbs were actually eyes, and those eyes belonged to the creature in front of him
"Hey Kid…you awake?"
I DO NOT OWN NARUTO OR FAIRY TAIL