tale of galant jiraiya
Join Date: Oct 2008
Thanked 107 Times in 62 Posts
Re: The Truth of the Matter
The steady, rhythmic beeping sound of the heart monitor was the first thing to worm its way into Naruto’s consciousness, but his eyelids felt heavy and the rest of him felt like he had run a marathon—twice—after a brawl with a chuunin, so he lay completely still and matched his breathing to the tempo of his heart beat. He had a vague idea where he was. It was that place, the one with the white walls and the funny smell that he didn’t go to very often but when he did he hated it. He knew the name of the place. He knew, but his head felt fuzzy and he was tired and he really didn’t care so he let it go and tried to drift back off to sleep.
Except someone had left the blinds up on the window and the setting sun was perfectly framed so that it shone right on his face and the harder he tried to ignore it, the more aware of it he became. He opened his eyes so that just a slit of light came through to glare at the sun and was surprised to see someone sitting on the sill staring out into the distance. Naruto couldn’t make out the man’s face through his eyelashes and the brightness of the sun, but he could see enough to make out the distinctive set of off-white and red robes and the mess of blond hair that just barely brushed the man’s shoulders.
“Who’re you…?” the boy asked. The words came out as barely more than a whisper, and they were so slurred together that he wondered if he would have to say them again so the stranger could understand.
The man looked over with what Naruto assumed was a smile on his face (was the man smiling at him? When was the last time someone smiled at him?) and said, “Ah, you’re awake.”
His voice was soothing and oddly familiar, as if Naruto had heard it a very long time ago and had been waiting his entire life to hear it again, and somehow it felt so good to hear that sound that the young patient stopped worrying about who the man was and started wondering how long he could convince him to stay.
“Don’t go.” The plea slipped out of his mouth before he realized what he was saying. He cringed and mentally criticized himself for sounding so weak, but the stranger didn’t mock him. Instead, he slipped off his perch in the window and almost glided to the chair beside the bed.
The blond-haired boy tensed, ready for anything the man might try to do to him in his weakened state. Physical abuse was rare from the villagers. More often than not they wanted to avoid everything that had to do with him. Still, it had happened and Naruto tried very hard to make sure he always had a way out if he thought he was being cornered. However, that wasn’t an option this time. Even if he could muster up the energy to rip out the tube in his arm, he wouldn’t have any left to stand, let alone run away.
He needn’t have worried. A large warm hand slipped around one of Naruto’s smaller ones, but it didn’t feel constraining like when an angry villager would grasp his wrist tight enough to keep him from escaping (tight enough to leave a ring of angry bruises). The man gently ran his fingers through Naruto’s hair and it felt so good that his body shivered as he leaned into the touch, felt so good that he closed his eyes to stop himself from crying.
“Don’t go…” he pleaded again, this time not caring how weak he sounded.
“Alright, Little Bit,” the man whispered back, “I’ll stay as long as I can.”
“Who’re you…?” he asked again, not really caring about the answer, just wanting the man to talk.
“Well…” the stranger paused as he seemed to think about it. “Maybe… maybe I’m something like a ghost.”
The stranger chuckled, “You don’t know what a ghost is?”
Naruto tried to scowl but the motion of the hand brushing his hair was making him sleepy and relaxed, so his face didn’t do more than twitch. “ ‘M not stupid… I jus’ don’t know… Can’ know somethin’…if nobody tells me.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry,” the man apologized, and Naruto instantly forgave him. He couldn’t remember anybody ever apologizing to him before. “I didn’t mean to laugh at you, I was just surprised. Do you want to know?”
“Okay, then. Some people believe that when a person…when a person’s done living, sometimes they come back, but you can’t always see them. Sometimes you just here a voice or see objects move.”
Naruto opened one eye, this time a little more than before, to stare incredulously at the blue eyes looking down at him. “Y’mean when they die? People think y’come back…when you die?”
“You don’t believe it?” the man asked.
“No,” he answered. “I once…caught a whole jar of…fireflies, ‘cause I thought they were pretty…‘n they could light up the room at night. But the next mornin’…they were all dead…at the bottom of the jar. If ghosts were real, then…I would have ‘n empty jar…‘n dead bugs flyin’ around… That’s gross… And creepy.”
The stranger looked a little sad at this story and Naruto remembered how one of the girls on his floor had been horrified to discover that he had killed a mass of harmless fireflies by keeping them trapped. Quickly he reassured the man, “Don’t worry, I don’t catch fireflies anymore. I liked ‘em better when they were…flyin’ around outside anyway.”
The man smiled again, although it wasn’t as big a smile as it had first been, which disappointed Naruto a little, and he closed his eyes so he wouldn’t have to see.
“I think it’s okay to catch the fireflies if you want to watch them for a little while. Just remember to let them go,” the stranger advised.
“Are you mad that I killed the fireflies…? Are you gonna leave? Please stay. Please don’t go…”
The stranger gave his hand a squeeze and continued to brush his hand through Naruto’s hair to calm him down. “Don’t be silly, Little Bit. I’m not mad about the fireflies. Didn’t I say I’d stay as long as I could?”
Naruto breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed.
The two of them didn’t say anything more for a while, simply enjoying the others presence. The heart monitor continued to bleep slowly, and every once in a while the young boy would open his eyes a little to make sure the man wasn’t going to leave suddenly. The man always smiled back in reassurance and Naruto’s eyes watered each time he looked at it. He tried to engrave it in his mind, sure that he would never get to see that kind of smile directed at him ever again.
After a while the young boy could feel himself falling into unconsciousness even as he struggled against it.
“You should sleep, Little Bit,” the man suggested in a murmuring voice. “You were very sick and you need to rest up to make sure you’ll get better.”
“But you’ll leave!” Naruto cried out with a raspy voice, somehow knowing with certainty that when he next woke up, the stranger would have disappeared.
“I know you don’t want me to go. I don’t want to leave either, but there’s a very important battle I’m fighting and I need to get back. I won the last time, but the enemy won’t stay down for long and I have to make sure he doesn’t take away the thing I most want to protect. Do you understand, Little Bit?”
He didn’t. He didn’t understand why the stranger, the only person who had accepted him couldn’t stay by his side forever. But in his half-asleep state a memory surfaced of his rival, Sasuke, sitting by himself on the dock at the lake, and somehow Naruto knew he couldn’t keep the man here.
“Will you at least come back? Will I at least get to see you again?”
…I don’t know. It won’t be for a very long time. Just be patient, and be strong…
There was one last thing he had to tell the man, something very important before he was completely gone.
“ ‘M gonna b’come H’kage, someday.”
…I’ll be waiting, then…
Naruto smiled and succumbed to the warmth that enveloped him as he finally drifted off.
The classroom was empty. It was cold too, Naruto thought as he stood shivering with his arms across his stomach and his hands gripping his sleeves, but most importantly it was empty and he couldn’t remember what came after that. There was a line of reasoning, a logical conclusion where ‘if the classroom is empty’ then…
But he couldn’t think of it no matter how hard he tried.
You’re not trying hard enough, Naruto!
This is the kind of third-rate results I’d expect from you.
You don’t know?! You’re so stupid Naruto! What a moron!
I’m disappointed in you.
“No, no, no,” he tried to growl (keep on the mask, don’t let them see) but it came out as more of a moan. He was tired, damn it. He was tired and cold and his head hurt so much. Wasn’t he allowed to be a little tired? His arm was throbbing too, but he’d never tell anyone that, he’d never let them know that he had hurt it again just so they could tie him up in the hospital and ignore him. At least when he was in trouble people looked at him. People talked to him. In the hospital they stuck him in a room behind a curtain and forgot about him.
But there wasn’t anyone here now. He tried again to think where they would be and a wave of exhaustion forced him to stumble to a desk and sit down. At least the laughter had stopped, the haze was gone and his vision was…well it was still blurry when he could get his eyes to open all the way, but it wasn’t orange. That was good. Naruto was pretty sure people didn’t normally see in orange.
Or maybe they did. Maybe people did see in orange, only he had never asked because he didn’t and that’s why they all looked at him like he was a freak. Because he was, because he didn’t see things like normal people did.
More coughing and hacking and gagging drained what little energy he had and suddenly it was a good idea to lay his head down on the desk. Not forever—he still had to figure out where everyone had gone—just enough so that he wasn’t so exhausted.