Naruto ate a spider for the second time that morning. She wasn't sure why. Wasn't sure how she'd stomached the feel of it bursting between her teeth either. But the urge had come, and it was a compulsion so strong Naruto plucked the fat thing from its web and crunched down, chewed, swallowed. The taste hung in her mouth like smoke; acrid and tangy. And there was a bit of a leg stuck on the back of her tongue like a renegade popcorn kernel.
No one saw, she was thankful for that. Just as no one saw her take a bite from that bird so many years back, or that mantis, or that beetle. Or that worm, or grasshopper… and that dog would be just fine. No one noticed how weak she'd been getting recently, and how pale; and no one had come from the academy to check on her in her absence, she was bitterly thankful for that. It had only been two days, she thought. The third; that was the line.
There were times when Naruto's stomach turned and brought her to her knees, and she felt something real and tangible squirming inside her. But Naruto was sure she was imagining it. Just nerves. Just a vitamin deficiency. She held to that thought until the following night when pain shook her again, and something thick and wet wormed up her throat.
There wasn't time to go for a bucket, and it didn't go back down no matter how hard she swallowed. Naruto curled into herself and gurgled a pile of meat onto her floor. The blood of the stuff clung to her lips and dribbled down her chin. Every coherent thought fled from her, and Naruto could only look. The stuff was thick. It looked like muscle, it had that texture; the stringy, veined look.
And then the pile twitched, and it spread like an octopus pulling along the ground.
Naruto scuttled back. Then nausea struck her again, but Naruto fought it. She panted in exertion. She was too warm, too cold, too weak, too nauseous. Terrified out of her mind. She pressed her hand to her mouth. Pressure built and built in her gut, and then as she tried to hold it down the stuff squirted out her nostrils and through her fingers.
Naruto fell back, knocking her couch over with her shoulder. Then she clung to her nightstand for support, and the thing toppled. Still the stuff gushed from her, more than could possibly fit in her stomach. She could only wait, try and breathe, try not to pass out. When she could finally rest she was weeping, and gasping and coughing and trying to blow the stuff out of her nostrils because she could feel it moving.
"Fuck." Naruto said. "what the fuck what the fuck-" So that was what it was like to die. What sort of disease did she have? Something horrible. There was so much of it. Already her floor was covered but for a few patches by the doorway, and it was moving all of it, pulses and twitches shook the stuff like the surface of a pond, like the inside of a stomach. Naruto didn't know what to think, what to do. Cover it up, burn it. The hospital would take her but it would be bitter about it. Like she was wasting their time.
Naruto laid there and panted while her mind raced, and she cleared her throat as she did, and spat out something that was stuck in there. She didn't pay the dime-sized blob mind as it slapped to the floor; and it sunk into the creeping mess before she could get a good look.
There came a knocking at her door, and suddenly she was out of time. Her first impulse was to hide. Hide it, hide herself. Naruto went to her dresser, drew out what clothes she could from the overturned thing and strewed them around. Whoever that would possibly fool it was still better than nothing. More knocking, and more insistent this time.
"Naruto?" It was the Hokage. It would be, she thought. Of course. No use hiding. "I know you're here. Are you still mad?"
About you not visiting for a month? Of course not don't be ridiculous. Naruto pulled off her shirt and scrubbed the purplish goop from her face. She slid another on as she started to the door. She just needed to say hello, send him on his way. Then she would have time to think. Time to panic. Right now there wasn't time for that.
Naruto steeled herself and opened the door; and leaned against the thing to keep steady. The casual demeanor was a pleasant side effect.
Sarutobi looked at her. "You're sick."
"May I come in?"
Sarutobi slid past her at no resistance; she tried to bar his way but a bout of lightheadedness nearly knocked her over.
Her apartment looked like the aftermath of a tragic furniture store explosion; the couch on its side near the doorway, desk a few feet from the bed, clothes everywhere. The sink was cluttered with plates and plastic containers with peel-back tops.
"I was worried about you." Sarutobi trudged through the mess, heading for the kitchen. He didn't comment on anything, but he had to have noticed the smell, Naruto thought. And the feel of that stuff beneath his feet. "Am worried about you. You don't get sick."
"I'm not sick," Naruto said from the doorway, "I'm just tired. I need some sleep, so you can leave, go do old people things, whatever. I'll be fine here."
Sarutobi didn't need to see her tremble, he could hear it in her voice. "No you won't. Now get in bed, I'll make you some tea and clean up a bit."
"I can take care of myself." Naruto closed the door and stumbled over to the couch. It was hard to stay standing, her head kept lolling; darkness crept in from the corners of her eyes. "I'm a big girl, you don't need to baby me."
"There's nothing wrong with needing help."
"I know." Said Naruto; her voice sounded foreign to her, distant. "If I need help I'll be sure to ask for it."
"No you won't." Sarutobi set a kettle to boil and started on the tower of dishes and empty ramen cups in the sink. "You're too stubborn. But that's the best part of having family. You don't need to ask-"
"-Or even want their help. They'll just walk in, uninvited." Naruto found herself at the edge of the overturned couch, arms shaking, and her bed out of reach. She was so tired.
"Do you need help getting to your bed?"
Naruto said, "touch me and I cough down your throat."
"If you aren't in bed in ten seconds I'm carrying you there, throat cough be damned."
"I'll scream rape," Naruto said, the weight of her own voice nearly knocking her over, "I'll rip my shirt and cram dust in my vagina."
Sarutobi laughed hoarsely; glad to fall into the old swing of things. "Who are they going to believe? Six seconds."
"I can be very convincing. Help officer! This old man has fallen in me and can't get out! And he won't shut up about his grandson!"
Sarutobi smiled. "You have your mother's mouth."
"Now he said I have pretty lips!"
Jiraiya would love her, unfortunately. "Time's up." He tossed the last of the ramen cups and lids into the trash and turned. "Hold still."
Naruto reared back and launched herself onto her bed in a nauseating display of ragdoll physics. Then she groaned as a wave of nausea swept over her, and hurriedly gulped down the warmth surging up her throat.
"Now you just need to get under the covers." Sarutobi said. "Think you can manage?"
"Yes." She said. 'Just leave.' He heard. Naruto flopped around for a bit. Sarutobi watched with a grimace.
"Naruto, please. There's a difference between self-reliance and being unreasonable."
The kettle started making ominous noises. Naruto flapped at the stove. "Go make the tea. I can take care of myself." She got up to all fours, wobbling like a newborn calf. She still couldn't get a grip on the comforter, all her strength slowly siphoning from her extremities; instead of her fingers it was her stomach that clenched until her spine arched up, every vertebra visible through the fabric of her shirt.
"Naruto, really. Let me help you."
"Don't touch me." Please just leave.
Sarutobi sighed. She was mad. Clearly sick. Very much like her mother. "Here." He reached under her arms to help her up.
The kettle whistled.
"Get away!" It was the very real desperation in her voice that gave him pause. Even as he dropped his hands she wouldn't look in his direction, shoulders shaking, hands still trying to grip the corner of the sheets. She adjusted her hands and lost her balance, teetering forwards and catching herself on her elbows, then fought back up to her palms. She looked so small. He didn't know what to say. Apologize. Laugh. Anything to break the tension somehow. The kettle screamed on from the stove, louder than before.
"Go make the tea." Naruto said. "I'll be fi-" a fistful of blood and what looked like ground beef gushed out of her mouth and pooled between her hands. "Don't worry," she assured Sarutobi as he stood there, struck dumb, "I do that all the time. It helps cleanse... toxins-" another mouthful. "Ulg. I feel so much better. Fresh, like a spring breeze." Another mouthful. The mess spread on her sheets, the edges reaching out and grabbing hold of the fabric.
"Oh my god." Sarutobi immediately regretted his choice of words. The kettle went up an octave, he pinned it to the wall with a kunai. He left the burner on. It could wait.
Naruto lurched one last time, hacked and spit up a glob of meat before clearing her throat. She didn't speak yet; face burning.
"Naruto…" He began uncertainly, "This isn't something you can keep to yourself. Talk to me."
Naruto shuddered, shoulders folding in until she all but vanished into the folds of her shirt. "I don't know. I'm afraid." she said in the smallest voice Sarutobi had ever heard, and he hated few things more than seeing Naruto cry. He remembered why he took his job. "And I can't... I..."
The mess on her bed continued spreading like a spilled bucket of paint, falling over the fabric in a gentle wave of grasping threads. It reached the edge of the bed; covering the sheets, mattress, frame; then it oozed down and vanished beneath the sea of clothing.
"It will be alright." Sarutobi said even though he felt it wouldn't. "I'll help you up."
"Don't touch me!" Naruto couldn't have seen his hands reaching for her, eyes focused on the way the purple mess crept over her bed but left space around her hands. Just looking at it made her sick to her stomach and she didn't want to throw up again. Still she couldn't look away, there was something magnetic in the way the stuff pulsed; the unmistakable throb of veins and blood and life, she lusted for it and was disgusted with herself. "Something is wrong with me," she said, "I don't know what… If it can be caught..."
Sarutobi didn't need to think. He said, "I am willing to take that risk," grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her from the bed; her handprints vanishing all too quickly under the spreading sheet of purple; still pulsing, growing, edges clawing up the walls. Now he knew why Naruto hadn't been to the academy in days. He knew why every article of clothing she owned was laid down from wall to wall. He knew, but it only made him bitter with himself – but he knew better than to blame himself. Still he snapped how he should have known even though he couldn't have, how he should have prioritized even though he had. He had done everything he could. Everything wasn't enough.
He turned off the stove and shut the door behind him. He made two steps before Naruto went limp.
Voices, sounds, colors. A bitter sort of hospitality as Sarutobi's forced smile passed across her field of vision like the sun across the sky. Naruto told him not to worry, but her lips were dry, her voice shaky; by the time her mouth moved he was already gone, and even if he had stayed to listen her voice would have been too soft to hear.
A man shook his head and drew back pale and wordless, the flesh of his neck wrinkling around the collar of his white coat. Naruto tried to open her eyes and pair a face to the dull scratch of hospital-issue scrubs. She made to ask how long she was out, but instead of words a slick warmth spilled from her lips and down her neck and-
Too much noise. Naruto cracked her eyes. Faces skittered about overhead. She could hear them talking but the words came too fast. She asked them to talk slower, but when she spoke something rattled deep in her throat. Naruto dragged a probing hand up, across the scratchy fabric of her gown to her face and clawed at the plastic tube she found there. Loud again; a hand, cold and weathered pressed to her wrist as Sarutobi's pained smile circled overhead once again. She asked him to stop looking at her like that, that pinched, crinkly-infuriatingly-concerned expression, but he only shook his head.
Naruto's eyes suddenly grew heavy, and she rested them for a moment. When she opened them again the faces were gone. Something beeped steadily. It was remarkable just how much it annoyed her. Naruto made to reach out and claw the snooze button but swiped through open air, and her arm came down to rest against the aluminum rails of the gurney. It wasn't enough to strain, because try as she might Naruto could not lift her arm back to her side. Her strength slowly drained away and Naruto slept.
It was the following night, with a half-moon circling overhead, that Naruto woke. She felt odd: none of the queasiness, none of the shaking hands, stomach clawing up her throat and splitting pains in her sides. Instead everything was muffled, as if a sheet was drawn over her head. The crickets that every night called to her from the village walls were muted. In their place her own breath rang in her ears, and though she felt calm it was labored, heaving.
Naruto felt good. That pressure that had every day built and built behind her eyes was gone, and in its place a deep calm. The thin hospital bedsheet rolled down off her, and the gurney shrunk, the floor moved beneath her feet as if of its own volition. Then Naruto was out, outside beneath the moon, toes curling in the dirt. Something was calling her.
Her legs took her forward, to her apartment complex, up the stairs to her door.
Naruto stepped inside. Purple flesh covered everything; the floor, wall, ceiling; and the place was sunken in as though it were being eaten, like the stuff covered was being eaten. In the center where her bed once rested a mass the size of a fridge rose up; round and pulsing-white like the chrysalis of an insect. Then it split open like a flower, and the innards were covered in cruel teeth and whipping tendrils.
Something inside her called out; her eyes glazed over; her head spinning in the sweet smell of sulfur and iron.
Naruto moved on, feet sinking into the floor. Her mind crept back. Slowly. She only knew it was bad, at first. The vaguest sense of fear washed down her spine and she slowed, but didn't stop. She couldn't stop. The flower-thing was closer now, and she could see it twitching; could see the spot in the middle where she would stand, and spikes poked up from there too.
Naruto didn't want to go there. But she couldn't stop. She stepped into the center; the spikes bloomed from the tops of her feet. The petals began to close. Naruto blinked. A gasp of air came from her as she tried to speak. Scream, shout, anything to release the terror building to an unbearable crescendo. Her mind raced, her thoughts grew clearer; then the thing closed over her head.
Naruto wasn't done when Sarutobi found her the following morning. It was something she knew. She couldn't feel her body, couldn't form a thought. Still she knew whatever was being done to her, whatever was being changed or bled or eaten; it needed a little longer.
The instant Sarutobi first took a kunai to the flesh of her cocoon Naruto screamed. There was no soothing veil of darkness, no floating outside her body. She crashed down and felt everything. As he peeled the cocoon back and pulled her out it was her voice in his ears. For every stab, every strip of meat removed, every ounce of fluid drained her voice rose a decibel like he was killing her, and it tore him up inside.
When he finally reached Naruto he was crying. He didn't feel the chitinous spikes driving into his palms as he grabbed hold of her, nor the heat of the fluid raising smoke from his arms. He had never felt so useless as he did then, and as he grit his teeth and squared his shoulders and pulled for all he was worth he swore he would never let her cry again.
But he would break that promise, to himself and to her, because as Naruto slid out piece by piece into the light of the open door at his back Sarutobi realized that he was out of his depth. He pulled his left hand from the spikes on her shoulder, his right from the spikes that rose from her forearm. The purple material beneath his feet absorbed his blood like a sponge, but Sarutobi didn't notice. He looked at what Naruto had become.
What skin remained covered her face, though darker, dirtied. Her hair that had reminded him so much of Minato was brown; the strands thick and segmented like the legs of a spider. All else was bared musculature and the cruel spikes and plates of an insectile exoskeleton. On her back were wings with no feathers or skin, only a framework of thick jointed bone.
She was still screaming, he realized. But what could he possibly say.
Slowly the light returned to her eyes. She looked down and saw the bone coating her chest. She raised her hands to her eyes, and told her fingers to curl and found angry claws balling up instead.
Sarutobi shook from his daze. "Naruto."
She snapped to him; the sclera of her eyes black as tar, the pupil a burning red. Her chest was still heaving, lips forming words with no sound.
"You're safe." He said.
Naruto shoved him off her, ten gouges sprouting in Sarutobi's chest as the man stumbled. She shuffled back and worked herself up the wall, her eyes focused on her left hand as she clenched and unclenched her fingers. "Wha… I…" Even her voice had changed, two tones now, the first her own, the other deeper, warbling - and she knew it too for the way she jerked back with a hand to her throat. "What is – happened – to me. My. My – I…"
She was walking the fine line between fury and hysteria. Sarutobi had one chance to get his tone correct. "Calm down."
"No!" He failed. "I! I – I need…"
Round two. "Calm down, Naruto. It will all be okay."
"S - Shut up!" Something hit him, forced him to take a step back. Cracks grew up the walls, a bit of dust crumbled down from the ceiling where the purple stuff hadn't covered. "Don't talk like – Get out!"
He took a step towards her and she pressed back.
"No get out get out GET OUT!"
The walls peeled back. The ceiling reeled up as though yanked by a giant. Sarutobi realized he was flying, the sky and village spun again and again, wind howled in his ears, and then suddenly he felt cool dirt at his back. He clawed himself up and stood, dazed; ears ringing, patches of red blooming on his clothes. He started down the street.
His mouth wasn't working. Neither were his eyes, they kept going out of focus. Sarutobi lurched over and steadied himself on the window of a flowershop, blood smearing in the shape of his palms as he went further, fighting to keep his head up. He marked his progress by the texture of the wall; first glass, then plaster, then cheap paint that crackled and flaked under his fingernails. He recognized a voice then, and found himself honing in on it in a trance.
Kakashi seemed like he always did. Bored, laidback, and just a little tired. He was also painfully hungover but it was difficult for someone who wasn't familiar with him to tell. Across from him sat Anko, and Anko looked just like she always did as well; half-nude, insane and a little pissed off. They had yet to say a single word to each other, their mutual friends had gone to the bathroom and left them at their table, staring at each other vacantly, painfully aware that they'd yet to speak to or interact with each other even once.
"They've been gone a long time." Kakashi said.
"... yeah." Anko said.
Quiet again. Still Kakashi didn't want to give any ground, felt like he'd be losing something if he left. Some contest someone hadn't told him about. At another table a few patrons went up cheering about something. They both groaned.
"Oh my head." He said.
Anko made a face. "Hangover buddies?"
Kakashi raised his tall glass of water, she matched the gesture and they both cringed as the glasses clinked in the center of the table.
"Down the hatch." Kakashi drank the whole glass through his mask.
Anko watched. "Don't it taste like shirt if you do that?"
"Everything tastes like shirt." Kakashi said. Anko snorted at how serious the scratch of his voice sounded, then downed her own glass.
"...They've been gone a really long time." Anko said.
Kakashi caught himself nodding off, and he gently shook himself awake. "Got up at seven for this."
"Kurenai got me up at six."
"Nn." Kakashi paled at the thought, but only slightly. Most of his blood was busy duking it out in his eyeballs. "Sorry."
"Yeah... Shit, me too." Anko flagged down two more glasses of water from a passing waitress. "Was havin' a good dream."
"So..." Kakashi began. "You and Kurenai. Friends, huh?"
"The bestest." Anko said, and going by the tone of her voice she was moments from vomiting. "and... Asuma. You. Friends?"
"Ah. Well." Kakashi counted down from five, watching a wave of nausea crash down over Anko. She weathered it well. "Hell. I guess. You know how it is. Don't want to be the one to..."
Anko nodded. "The one to say 'hey we're friends.' But maybe y'er not. Not really."
Kakashi drank another glass. Shook his head. "Too early."
Kurenai came back and took her seat. Kakashi and Anko gave her wide-awake demeanor various degrees of stinkeye.
"Damn normals." Anko said.
"Hn." Kakashi made a noncommittal noise.
Then Asuma was back, and he took his seat next to Kurenai. He read the air, shot a glance at Kurenai that she returned.
"So." Asuma said. "We..."
"Have." Kurenai picked up, "something to say. Uh..."
Kurenai trailed off as the Hokage of all people staggered over into a spare seat and plopped down, then stared ahead blankly; not as if he were looking at something in the distance, but more as if the part of his brain that synchronized eye movement was missing, and his moving parts had reverted to factory presets by default. The front of his ceremonial robes were stained deep red, his palms dripping.
"Holy shit." Anko said. "Am I still drunk?"
"I don't know." Kakashi said, blinking exaggeratedly. If he'd been given an indication that something horrible had happened from any of his other senses he would have taken it more seriously.
Asuma jerked to life. He stood and went to Sarutobi's side. "What happened? Dad?"
Sarutobi's mouth opened, he gurgled something.
A swath of destruction five feet wide carved through Anko's favorite restaurant, courtesy of a chunk of roof that had appeared as if fired from a railgun. Anko would remember those three men at the table by the door, because until that point she had never seen a person reduced to a mist of flailing limbs before; even more unsettling than that were the oblivious looks on their faces. Adrenaline shot through Anko and Kakashi like a bolt of lightning.
Already Kakashi was up with the Hokage in a fireman's carry, "Kurenai, help whoever you can here! Asuma, I'll get him somewhere safe, you and Anko move out."
Asuma didn't question him. Then they were out in the open air to the rooftops. Asuma saw a plume of dust in the distance, near the residential district. Along the way there were holes in structures left and right, pieces of drywall protruding like shafts of great arrows. It was a warzone when they arrived. The top two stories of an apartment complex were gone, the surrounding houses in various states of devastation; and in the center of that destruction a pile of flesh that Anko knew was never a person: no clothes, no bones. Just a bunch of purplish meat. It couldn't have been a person.
Another plume of dust rose up at the village wall north of their position. The found a hole in the wall eight six wide, the ground clear of any shrapnel, and a man near the impromptu exit. At least probably a man, the body was slumped over in the dirt, looking like it had fallen through barbed wire until there was not a piece of skin left - and Anko had to admit, it was one thing to know the average man had slightly more than a gallon of blood in his body; it was quite another to see it. Already a circle around the body five feet wide had crusted over with a dark brown grit.
Asuma knew the procedure well. He sort of wished he didn't. He could see huge chunks of the village wall out there in the forest.
"Anko." he called to her, "cordon off the body."
"Oh god don't yell."
"I'll wait for reinforcements and move out."
"No one's coming." Kakashi said as he arrived on the scene. "Hokage's at the hospital with a bare bones guard. AnBu are all over the place. Couldn't find another tracker and we're running out of time."
He tossed Anko a large pill and she crammed it into her mouth the moment she caught its color scheme. "I love you."
"Asuma, you're staying back. Try and clean up this mess."
"Yeah, fine." Thanks.
"Anko." He glanced at her. "You ready?"
The pill was working. Anko couldn't nod hard enough.
an: hmm... yeah. edit(3/19/13): True. I need to pick a tone. Fixed, more or less. I'll try and reign in the fart jokes.