The engine of the school bus sounded in Nikki's ear, rain beat at the glass. Streetlights passed. She let out a breath she didn't know she'd been keeping.
They'd made it.
Five minutes ago, the gates to Fujimi Academy fell, engulfed by Them, a swarm so massive that she thought for sure it was the end. The dead climbed over one another, leaping and pouncing on all fours like animals. What made it worse? 'Those people...dead.' Her eyes settled on the blonde sitting across from her, eyes shut and arms folded over a bloodstained shirt. They moved to the person next to him. 'You too...if not for him.'
It was a fog. Nikki didn't know what led up to this, but it didn't take long after she'd made it inside the bus for her to realize that Misuzu was not among them. At that point, any feelings of self-preservation went out the window. She rushed for the exit but never made it. Kicked and screamed, all the while, Fujimi grew further away. When the bus rocked as if a tremor hit it, everyone feared the worst. Then, he saunters in, soaked from head to toe. Misuzu asleep in his arms. He muttered something inaudible to Marikawa-sensei, but otherwise, Naruto didn't say anything to anyone. Cryptic blue found her in a flash. A crowd of faces parted for him. He set Misuzu down with a kind of concern she'd never thought possible of him and took a seat next to her. They hadn't spoken since.
"Is she...?" The first words she'd uttered since the departure she couldn't bear to finish.
Naruto's vacant gaze flew the glass and settled on her. He looked the same—blood coated his hair and face. Dirt and grime clung to his sodden uniform. He remained unbothered.
It was strange. For so long, it had just been Misuzu and herself. In time he joined her daily routine. Naruto became as much a part of her day as Misuzu did. Sitting here, all three of them—it brought her some semblance of peace.
Nikki didn't get it. She understood even less now.
"Misuzu is fine."
Nikki felt a weight flee her shoulders. She'd wrestled with asking him for minutes on end till it was too much to take. With his piece said, he went back to staring.
She broke the spell and searched the bus to avoid it again. Low chatter began to saturate the vehicle. Much to her surprise, it was packed, the seats taken. People stood in-between the rows, but none looked bothered by it, thankful to be alive. She could only recognize the same faces among the crowd. Nikki kept following the flow picking up bits of everyone's conversations until she came upon the last person she wanted to see—Tsunoda. Her heart skipped a beat, a familiar feeling coursing through her.
Why?! Why is he here too!? I don't want to see him! I don't want to think about him! He'll do something to me! He'll hurt Misuzu! I don't want him here! I wish he would disappear! I wish he would've just d— ' She stopped herself, a hand coming up to cover her mouth. 'I...I wish he...' Nikki couldn't do it. Not even in her thoughts.
How?! It didn't make any sense! What did he do to survive? What awful actions did he take in the chaos? Nikki ate the lump caught in her throat. 'C-Calm down. I need to calm down.' Tsunoda didn't notice her, and who's to say he even cared at this point? Who's to say Tsunoda did anything in the first place? She's jumping to conclusions. 'He got lucky, like the rest of us.'
Dark blue eyes kept her. She didn't realize she'd looked.
Was it luck?'
Something is off. Nikki could see it written on that dim face like an open book. Naruto barely spoke to or even looked at her, more so than before. As if he couldn't stand the sight of her. 'Is he upset with me?' Tokonosu burned in the background. Flames rocked in the night, bright and blazing despite the downpour. Things will never be the same. Even she knew that much. 'What happens now...?'
The honeyed din of her voice drew Nikki back.
He was stuck.
Voices in his head screamed. They tortured him.
Naruto responded with an unsure nod. He didn't know what to say now. He had no idea where they stood. 'Me?' She smiled at Nikki before she turned to him. The bow in her hair was long gone. Raven tresses framed her lovely face falling to her shoulders. 'I'm the first person you call for?'
"Enjoy your nap, princess? Would you like breakfast?"
Misuzu's brow furrowed, she leveled him with a glare. It didn't last. "Actually. That sounds amazing." She said with a grin. The blood on her jaw made it difficult to concentrate. '"You're one to talk. You've done enough napping for two lifetimes."
"M-Misuzu. Don't push yourself, please!"
"Oh, please don't cry. I'm okay, look, see!"
Nikki loved her—they loved each other. The best of friends. Sisters in everything but blood. She would do anything for Misuzu and vice versa.
"You came back."
Where did he fit into the picture? Why did he come back? It felt like the right thing to do, but was it? 'I wish that for one moment, one stupid second, I knew what to do. What to say.' She expected something. Three times she stole a glance. What was it she anticipated? On a bus full of people? 'What the hell do you want from me?'
Was it Fate? Chance? Purely coincidental? He asked himself over and over. Either way, he was getting the short end of the stick with each draw.
'I am alone.'
"Naruto! Hey! Are you listening? We need to think of a plan."
"I-I don't think he is. M-Maybe we should let him rest?"
'I deserve to be alone.'
Voices in his head raged. They tortured him still.
"I heard you. Whatever you two decide has nothing to do with me. As soon as you're safe, I'm leaving."
Naruto snubbed the slightest prick in his chest at her downcast expression. It didn't mean anything. 'There's no reason to pretend anymore.' The act ended the moment her life was on the line. That's all that it was—a show. 'I'll admit. I've never had a problem saying it. I owe you a debt. That's as far as it goes.'
If Misuzu were going to say something, she never got the chance.
A scream so guttural cut through the talking. The bus jerked to a stop as another student fell to the ground writhing in agony, his veins protruding from his skin, black and blue. "H-Help...m-me...it hurts! It hurts! It hurts! It hurts!" He shrieked, his eyes rolling. Blood trickled from every open hole in his head. He tore at himself, ripping his shirt, exposing the bite on his back.
"Shit!" Takashi cursed.
"Get away from It!" Rei stood next to him, damp mop in her hands at the ready. Most clambered to safety, pressing against each other to make as much space between them and It. The center of the bus was now barren save for the wounded Toma retching. Within moments he was dead. Face first in his blood and vomit. Everyone knew what came next.
Toma's leg kicked once. Twice. Pastel and bloody fingers came too, stretching out in the gore seeking their surround like a newborn. The dins of muffled sobbing drove It to lift its head, showcasing a crimson maw with dampened eyes. What looked back at them was no longer human.
A wooden blade stabbed through the skull. Skin and bone broke, cracked open. Saeko stood over the body, a sullen expression on her face. "This is unacceptable. How many of us have died because of cowards like this?" The girl who yelled Toma's name prepared to defend him, but an avid glare cut her off. "He was afraid. I'm sure. You were both very scared. I understand that. Anyone in your shoes would be. However, that's not an excuse. If you are bitten, your life is already over. There's no way you'll get help in time with things the way they are. So then, I ask you, all of you, why condemn the innocents around you? Are you murderers? Cold-blooded killers? If you truly understand, then you'll come clean now. We won't kill you. We do not kill the living."
No one dared speak for a moment. The sound of sobbing echoed.
"Mikoto?" Her friends tried to comfort her, but deep down, she knew the truth. That Toma was doomed.
"I...I..." She fell to her knees and cried rivers over the corpse of her younger brother. "I'm so sorry, Toma!"
Naruto felt a pair of slender fingers coil around his own. His eyes met hers. He followed her hand and saw Nikki's bound in the other. He felt her gently squeeze as if to reassure them and wondered why it felt like she was gripping his heart.
"I couldn't agree more!" A middle-aged man stood up, lips set into a thin line. He fixed his tie and walked toward the sobbing girl, taking her place next to Kyoko. The man offered a short prayer then turned to the frightened crowd of students. "Busujima-san. You are a remarkable case. An example of what we should aspire to be in times of crisis. I'm sure that you feel uneasy about what just happened here, so please, sit and rest. You've more than just earned it. I'd like to speak to the students, including yourself. Not as your respected teacher but as your fellow survivor! Please, hear me! I don't want anyone else to die today!"
Saeko smiled. With a grateful nod, she took a seat next to Nikki.
"Hayashi-san, take the girl. She needs her friends. She needs you." He gestured to the people behind Kyoko, hurling anxious stares at a broken Mikoto with a kind smile. He spared the corpse at his feet one final glance and then spoke. "Many of you might know who I am. I, however, know you. I've known you for years now and watched you grow into fine young adults. I've even helped some of you along that troublesome path called life. And if you do not know me personally, please allow me to introduce myself. For now, more than ever, must we remember ourselves. My name is Koichi Shido, and I am asking you! Please! If we're going to make it out of this alive. We must do it together! We have to be able to trust one another! This!" Shido pointed to Toma's unmoving form, "This brutality! We can't allow it to break us! If you have been bit, I beg of you, speak up! Leave now! You're here knowing that any minute you can turn on the people next to you! People that trust you! You'll kill them! Eat them! Please! Don't do this to yourself! You don't want to hurt anyone! You don't want to die a criminal!" He was in tears by the end.
No one uttered a word for what felt like an eternity, till one by one, they stepped forward. With tears in their eyes, those that grasped that they had no hope said their goodbyes to friends they'd known for ages and walked off of the bus. The engine came to life, and a reluctant Shizuka drove away. That was the end of it.
Rei wanted to vomit at the sight of that snake. 'You piece of shit, flaunting around like some hero. You made four people kill themselves. Those guys might have had a chance! We didn't even check their wounds!' Her grip tightened on the weapon in her hands. She grit her teeth, a fire in her belly. 'Not to mention...this past year, it's all your fault.'
"You're going to explode at this rate."
She heard Takashi's remark, her blood boiled in response. What did he know about it?! About anything?! It must have been easy for him to play the victim! There were more important things on the line. Father's reputation was at stake! Her reputation! She couldn't wait for him anymore! Igou was there. He helped her! Stood by her side through thick and thin!
"Shut up, Taka."
Rei didn't know how it ended up this way, trapped with the three men she resented most. Takashi. Shido. '...and you.' She watched him and his two companions for a while. 'Friends...I can't tell if you're the lesser of three evils.' The sight of that blood-soaked hallway adorned with bodies filled her with dread.
"So, what's the plan now?"
It was Subaru who voiced his same concern. His question cut through the chatter. Stillness met him. The truth is, no one knew.
Rei glanced down at the phone in her hands. The dozenth outgoing call to her parent's blinking back at her. She came from a police family, and they did their job well. Her mother and father were out there right now, risking their lives. She wanted to go to them! To help as many people as she could along the way! Instead, she is here—hiding.
"Didn't you hear me the last time? I don't care what any of you do! I'm going to find my family. I won't run away and crawl into some hole! I won't die a coward!" Rei's scowl met Shido's conditional facade. "Not like the rest of you."
"I told you to shut up, Takashi!" She cast the nickname aside. 'This piece of shit...he's smirking at me!'
"Miyamoto-san. Always with a strong sense of justice. All thanks to your mother and father, I'm sure, who I'm sure the rest of you know are world-class police officers." He sighed. "I understand your concerns, Miyamoto-san, but with parents like yours, you don't have to worry. Not like the rest of us, whose families lack training and access to firearms! Not to mention, it would be selfish for you to leave! You were a fundamental instrument in leading your group to safety from what I've recently heard!"
"Instrument?" Rei sneered, "Is that what I am? Is that what people are to you? Is it what that fat, slimeball dad of yours showed you? Cut the crap. You're a horrible actor." She aimed a finger at the well-groomed man. "This guy is a creep. I don't know what he's up to or what he wants, but he wouldn't hesitate to throw you under the bus for it. I wouldn't listen to a word he says."
"How crude. I understand now more than ever. The horrors of what we've all seen have gotten to you. Don't you see, Miyamoto-san? It doesn't matter if I decided to hold you back now. That was a decision I made as a teacher in regards to your poor academic performance and your fixation on petty relationships."
"You fucking lying—"
Takashi grabbed her the moment he saw that look in her eyes. "—Rei! Don't! Stop it!" He cried as he struggled to withhold her.
Shido fixed his glasses, the smile gone, superseded by a stoic grimace. "Do you see how you displace that anger, even now? How petty. It hurts me to talk to a child like this, but do I need to remind you that this is life or death, Miyamoto-san? Treat it as such!"
She'd had enough.
"Stop the bus! Stop the bus, or I jump out!"
At that, Shizuka brought the vehicle to a slow halt, anxious energy bubbling up inside her. The sensation of running over Them fresh. She could almost feel every damp crunch echo throughout her body.
Maybe a break would be good.
"This is stupid. We're sitting ducks.
Misuzu fought back a tired sigh. "Naruto. I'm not leaving anyone behind. Unless you can carry this whole bus on your back, I'm not going anywhere." She watched his brow knit, "Don't give me that look."
Naruto hadn't left her side since she'd woken up.
"You're stupid too."
Misuzu blinked once.
"Who's the one failing all of their classes?"
He answered accordingly. "Fujimi is gone. That doesn't matter anymore."
They settled at a junction leading into a deep tunnel. The entrance blocked by an overturned truck, and there was no way through, so the bus sat parked facing the empty oncoming traffic roads that drove further into the city. The other side littered with the cars of people who ran for safety.
"Please, don't remind me." She ran a finger through her hair and watched the stars, "You know. You didn't have to come out here with me. I just wanted some fresh air."
Naruto wasn't sure what she expected. "How many times have I saved your life?" He leveled her with a scrutinizing frown. "You're more prone to danger than I am."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
A cool breeze swept past them. He didn't bother answering her question.
"Seems you're fine." Naruto observed the rest of the survivors gathering close to the bus, "Your shadow keeps gawking. I think she misses you." He waved at the fixed Nikki, doing her best to peek at them from the window despite the dark. She noticed him and promptly retreated behind the seats.
"Fine. I'll stop."
"That's not it. I...That is to say. I..."
Their eyes met.
It's not like Naruto would tell. It's not like Misuzu would even believe him. It's not like he could blame her for wanting to know in the first place.
'I'm so stupid.'
"Uzumaki! Get away from her!"
For once, Naruto was happy to see her. Rei advanced to them with Takashi. She was angry, then again, when wasn't she? The teen at her back looked like he'd sooner be anywhere else. Naruto couldn't say he didn't feel the same. "Here we go." He muttered, dismissing Misuzu's bewildered glare.
"I've had enough of you assholes walking around doing whatever it is that you please while the rest of us are barely hanging on! You! That fucking pig Shido! I'm sick of it! You tell me right now what your intentions are with this girl!"
"His intentions...with me?" Misuzu parroted.
"Rei, this is getting ridiculous! You're picking fights with the wrong people!"
Takashi begged her to stop.
"Listen to him and relax a bit. I'm not doing anything wrong. Quit being such a bitch."
Misuzu smacked his arm, "Naruto!"
"What? She is a bitch."
"Shit..." Takashi continued.
If looks could kill, Naruto is sure he'd be dead right about now. Rei's shoulders shook. She bit her lip hard enough to draw blood and opened her mouth to say something, paused, then turned her back on him—wiping the blood on her sleeve. "You're not worth it." She walked away with Takashi in tow.
He whistled once. "That girl has a temper. Come on, that's enough fresh air. Smells awful." The blonde turned to Misuzu and came face to face with the infamous beaten scowl.
"You need to go and say sorry, right now!"
"You called her a bitch, Naruto! That's not right! We've all been through a lot today. Give her a break."
"No. I'm not apologizing."
"Naruto! She's been through a lot!"
"And? Who cares? Let me get this straight. You don't bat an eye when I mangle human bodies, but you care when I call someone a bitch? Is that it?" Maybe he'd gone too far. She stiffened at the mention. Shut down completely. She couldn't look him in the eye anymore. 'Should have kept my mouth shut.'
'I'm sure that for a moment you thought it was all okay.'
"...I'm going to apologize...for you."
Her hair obscured her eyes from him. Misuzu lifted and steadily made her way over toward Rei and Takashi, who chose to sit in the furthest spot away from the bus. He watched her go wondering why for the thousandth time.
'I ruin you every time.'
"Uh. Hey. Naruto? You busy?" He acknowledged Kouta with a nod but never once tore his eyes away. "I'm telling everyone that we're about ready to go. I'm not sure if Miyamoto-san still wants to stay behind, but I hope not."
Oh! By the way, that truck over there. I don't know if you're aware, but Takagi-san says that's a petroleum truck. It got smashed open when it fell. Please don't use any lighters or matchsticks or anything around here. We're planning on pushing the bus away. The slightest spark could set this whole place off."
That's what that smell is.
"R-Right...See you on the bus?"
When he didn't outright respond, Kouta offered a wave goodbye and jogged away to deliver the same news to the other groups spread around. Naruto didn't care for him. He saw Misuzu bow in front of a sheepish Rei and allowed himself a quiet sigh.
'I didn't ask for any of this.'
His ear twitched.
His retreat is over. Naruto searched the darkened night. 'What is that? It's getting closer. I don't see anything! Where is it?' The act didn't go unseen. 'Left? Is it coming from my left? There's nothing there. Then it has to be—wait, no!' Blue eyes shot up. He witnessed a transport bus twice the size of theirs, a ball of fire, come crashing through the steel roadblocks. Its passenger's screaming, their bodies smoking alongside the vehicle.
At that moment, his body acted on its own.
There was an enormous explosion. It was as though a dragon made entirely of flames was determined to swallow them alive. Thousands of pieces of glass and steel chased them. Smoke and fire rushed out. She held on tight to him and prayed to every God she'd ever known that this wasn't the end. He ran through that burnished tunnel quicker than the flames, but just barely, she could still feel the fire singing hair and flesh.
They blasted out of the hole. Naruto hit the ground hard. She heard something snap and knew it wasn't her. A flood of flames erupted after them. He dropped to his knees and slid along the grass to lessen the impact. It only did so much. His knee cracked against an overturned stone. Rei fell, rolling off onto the grass head spinning. A single thought crossed her mind as she lay on the wet grass, throbbing, gawking at a star-struck sky.
'I'm alive?' Her hands combed the Earth underneath her. They touched her flesh and blood and wondered if it was real. 'I'm...I'm alive!' She searched the singed field and found Naruto struggling to stand. "Naruto!" She cried, hurrying to his side. It was only when those sharp blue eyes settled on her that she questioned her efforts. "A-Are you alright?"
"My ankle is fractured. I shattered my kneecap.
She fought back the urge to wince at the sight of his bloody leg. "You saved me..." She began, averting her gaze.
Naruto nodded. "You saved her."
The moment that bus came crashing overhead, Rei dropped her weapon and plucked a shocked Misuzu bridal style. The girl wouldn't budge, so she took matters into her own hands. She ran alongside Takashi, but Misuzu proved too heavy. She took a hard spill and hurt herself. Misuzu wouldn't leave her behind, but Rei screamed for Takashi to take Misuzu and run—he did just that.
"Well, uh, thank you...for saving me."
"Yeah, whatever. We're even." He shifted his attention to the firey hole behind them. "Can't go back the way we came. I can't walk on the walls and carry you with my leg the way it is." The way he phrased that made him sound like he could under normal circumstances. "Any ideas?"
Rei wasn't sure how quickly they'd been running, but to beat an explosion, you had to be moving very fast. "We're on the residential side of the city." She explained, eyeing the riverbank. "The others shouldn't be far. It won't be fun getting to them. I'll try and call Takashi. We can decide where to meet up. In the meantime, we need a ride." After surveying the area she found an overturned bike among the wreckage. "Perfect! Let's hope the key's in."
Naruto followed her closely as she hobbled to it. 'You're his granddaughter. No doubt about that.' Old fool. That's one person he didn't see dying anytime soon. The noise of an engine coming to life brought him out of his musings. A triumphant Rei sat on the working bike, patting the seat behind her with a smug grin.
"Come on. Let's get out of here. The less time we spend together, the better."
Naruto watched Rei play with the phone in her hand while concurrently going fifty miles per hour on the highway—weaving through stranded cars with unusual agility. "Don't you know not to text and drive? Do you want to die?" He yelled over the wind while tightening his hold around Rei's abdomen. Pushing his chest against her back. He wouldn't survive the crash. Not only that, but it would hurt a lot. Avoiding any potential unpleasant events was a priority.
Rei couldn't help but redden at the contact. She swiftly channeled the discomfort she felt as a result of their proximity to wrath. "Oh, shut up! Do you ever stop complaining? You're going too fast! You're going too slow! Blah blah blah! I'm trying to get a hold of Takashi, but he's not picking up!"
Why? Why wasn't he picking up?
Why was it so easy for him to leave her behind?
She told him too, but—
"Hey! Focus! You're swerving."
"I said shut up, whiskers!"
Naruto frowned at the insult but didn't bother reacting. No use in riling her up even more. Not that his silence helped much. Moments later and the girl let out another long frustrated cry.
"What is it?" Rei gestured with her hand to the fuel tank. Naruto let out a sigh when he noticed that it seemed painfully close to empty. They'd been running with the light on for the past fifteen minutes. "Can't we siphon fuel?" He asked her.
"Not without the right tools. Are you going to suck it in your big fat mouth and spit back out into our tank?"
"No would have been fine."
Rei felt like banging her head on the dash.
"We passed a gas station a little while back. If we turn around, we might make it."
"It's better than being stranded."
"Hold on tight. We're going to need to get there fast at this rate." She revved the engine once they took off. A thin trail of smoke fading away into the wind.
"Where did you learn to drive this thing?" Naruto asked. She didn't seem the type.
"My grandfather taught me a few years ago. He taught me a lot of things. Always said it would be good for me to know." Rei told, seeing no harm in it. He was already an acquaintance of Hayate.
"The old man, huh?" Naruto echoed. "I figured. Crazy coot."
"How is it that you know him?"
Naruto's lips fell into a thin line at the question. Old wounds bleeding.
"He's my boss. I work for him at the Wind and Sail."
"You work there? At that shabby old place? I'm surprised he makes enough to pay you anything. Why would you ever take a job there?"
"...Two years ago. I was in a tough spot. He helped me.
Your grandfather, he's a good person."
Rei wasn't sure what to think of him anymore. Whenever she looked at him, all that she could see were the bodies hanging from the ceiling and the mounds of heads rolling about the bloodstained tile...
Naruto's grip on her loosed as they neared the gas station. 'You'd better be alive.' Hayate could be an irritating pervert a good portion of the time, but he was the sole reason why Naruto's life so far had the very least been a peaceful one.
"I think grandad talked about you a bit," Rei said after a moment, keeping her eyes fixated on the dark road ahead. "I can't remember what he said, but I think...he wanted us to be friends." She heard him laugh, but before he could say anything, Rei pressed on. "Yeah. I thought the same. I don't think that will ever happen. You're too different. I can't agree with what you've done or how you live your life and treat others. I don't think we can be friends, but for now...I think I don't hate you, Naruto Uzumaki."
I think I'm okay with that."
The abandoned station was a mere moments away. Naruto could see the cracked doors and trashed inside. Rei brought them to a stop by one of the pumps and then promptly turned the engine off and jumped from the seat, kicking the stand out and releasing her hold on the banged-up bike while Naruto hobbled off, refusing her help.
"Do you have any money on you?' He shook his head. "Okay, well, do you know how to use a self-service pump?" He shook his head again. "Useless. That mean's I'm going to have to go inside and make a purchase. I know how to work the register and I have cash on me."
Go do that."
"You're so useless."
Naruto shrugged his shoulders. It wasn't his fault he'd been living in debt. He watched her walk away, long hair bouncing behind with each step. He thought about how bad this was probably affecting her. Rei could try and hide it behind bravado all she wanted, but it was easy to see she was tired. Her uniform, once faultless and clean, is now stained with muck and gore. This girl was loud. Her heart was etched onto her sleeve wherever she went for the world to see. What she felt, she would say without thinking of the consequences.
'You're related, alright.'
Naruto let out another sigh. He'd been doing that a lot lately. 'My leg will heal...but it will take time. I could use Jutsu, but is it worth it?' He eyed the bike and spotted the bag strapped to the side. He tore it open and found a wallet among a few other things. 'More money?' The blonde opened the wallet and promptly noticed the photo of a man and his family in a plastic opening—each smiling happily. He closed it the moment a loud, dry pop sounded in his ears.
Saeko narrowed her eyes at the party who'd following behind them this whole time. 'It would seem Shido thinks I'll provide some form of protection if he stays close. Trash. I'd sooner let him die.' She thought to herself, blue orbs trailing around her. 'What's even worse is these fools are falling for his act.'
The group had long abandoned the bus after the explosion. Their numbers cut down from the blast. After thirty minutes of walking, they'd come up onto a main and heavily populated street. It was almost shocking to see other people. They were everywhere, shrieking from the open windows of their cars, angry and trapped within a traffic jam. Families ushered each other along. Sirens and flashing lights were all that lit the night. Authorities tried desperately to keep the peace. Everyone wanted the same thing.
These people were all but dead.
The noise level alone would bring Them here within the hour, of that she was sure. They were digging their own graves.
Let them. It made little difference. If the fools couldn't figure it out, that simply meant that they didn't deserve the right to live.
"Don't worry." Saeko smiled at the one person she hated most in this world. "He's fine. He'll come back to us."
Misuzu nodded and hugged Nikki closer, her eyes puffy and red.
'Is that all you can do? Cry? Disgusting.
I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.
I want to kill you.
You're an eyesore.
Disappear. Vanish. Die.'
Saeko blinked once, broken out of her musing by meek Saya. "Ara? How may I help you, Takagi-san?" She responded, offering a polite smile to the shorter girl.
Saya fought down a stutter, naturally awed at how even she felt nervous around the Busujima heiress. Saeko was otherworldly. She remembered when her father, a man who never spoke highly of anyone, sung praises of the violet-haired girl for weeks after witnessing the at the time fifteen-year-old demolish all competition at a tournament that crossed the entire nation.
If memory served her correct the longest match Saeko fought in lasted twenty seconds.
"D-Don't you think we should do something about him?" Saya cursed herself. She gestured to the seemingly oblivious Shido, who was too busy chatting up a visibly annoyed Yukki. "Everyone else seems to trust him, but I feel like we can't. I've heard some things..."
Saeko beamed. So the resident prodigy noticed too. That was good. She'd settle for no less from someone with her reputation. That worm was just like his father, dreams of desire, and an appetite for control—a joke. They were swine that happily rolled in its filth.
"I agree, Takagi-san, but I can't help but wonder what exactly it is that he's up to?"
Saya nodded along, wishing that she knew the answer to that question herself.
"Don't move a muscle, pretty boy."
Naruto could, unfortunately, smell his attacker's putrid breath even from where he stood.
"You try pulling any funny shit, I'll fill you with lead! Don't think I'm bluffing either! I killed my entire family! Cut them up real good too! My mom! Dad! Sister! Everyone got to feel my long fucking blade cut them real nice and slow like from the outside and the inside! Oh, man! Thinking about it, if I'm honest, it turns me on! My friends and I, we were hiding out to see if anyone showed up! And guess what, you did! From the looks of you, I can tell you're broke! Then again, I saw a pretty looking girl go in there! Where the rest of my gang is waiting! Is she your girlfriend!?" He grinned. "Do you mind if I borrow her?"
Naruto eyed the gun in his hand. A trail of smoke blowing out the barrel.
"Oh? I see you eyeing my piece! Do you like it? I'm the only one with a gun right now, seeing as I'm supposed to do the hold-up and lead the suckers inside! This baby has a lot of rounds, and I've had a lot of practice!"
"How many of you are there?"
"Huh? What the hell? Are you kidding me? What's with that look!" The man stalked closer, "I see your leg is pretty fucked up. You want to make the other one match?" He shot off another round laughing like a maniac. "Here's some great advice for you! Don't try anything! There's too many of us for you to take! Even if you weren't such a fucking mess! Now! About that girl. She got a name!? See...the thing is, I have got a problem and only she can help me! If you know what I mean!" He grabbed at his crotch while grinning and fired off another round, this one flying dangerously close to Naruto's head. "Oops! Sorry friend! Oh, man! I hope those bastards don't start without me! I hate sloppy seconds—"
Naruto flicked his wrist. A straightedge razor hidden in his palm cut through the air. It lodged itself into the mans skull, piercing his brain. The thug fell onto with a loud thump. The blonde shuffled over to the body and knelt to inspect it, eyeing the wide-eyed stare of the would-be butcher.
"Don't call her a bitch."
He pocketed what he could and stumbled toward the gas station with a handful of blades.
We caught us a dime!"
Rei shook, the much bigger man behind her holding onto her struggling form tight, peering over the trapped girl and licking her earlobe. A shudder of displeasure ran through her back. Tears welled up in her eyes. The man's rough hands moved underneath her tattered shirt and roughly cupped her breast.
"Oh yeah! You scream! I'll make this fun!" The giant simpered while fondling her. Unconcerned with tears spilling from her trembling eyes. "That look! Yes! That look is perfect! Stay like this! We'll treat you well forever! We'll bring you food and talk to you, and fuck you every day and night!"
She was screaming.
"That's enough! Quit struggling, you little bitch! You're just going to make things harder on yourself!" Another man who was endeavoring to rip off her skirt spat. "Hey! Help me out here!"
With a pleasant smile, the fourth attack swaggered up to Rei and struck her stomach with enough force to make the brunette vomit "Eh!? You fucking spit on me!?" Rei didn't even manage to catch her breath before another fist hits aching gut. She tasted blood.
"Oi! That's enough! You're going put her to sleep!" The man holding the limp Rei voiced. "We got some fun things to do before that."
Rei couldn't register the dull throb emanating from her stomach anymore. She could faintly hear their mocking laughter, and all that she could feel was anger at her helplessness.
"Yo! You guys think Shibasaki killed that blonde guy yet? I heard like three shots go off."
"That sick fuck. I bet he emptied the clip and is already carving him up with that knife. That freak can't seem to control himself—"
Whatever came next was interrupted by the multitude of razor-blades lodged into his eyes. None of the others dared make a move, watching as their leader reached up and gently tapped the pointed blades stabbing into his face. "What...the...?" Blood spluttered out of the wounds, and the vile man sank lifelessly onto the ground without a sound.
The man who hit Rei found he didn't have the time to react before his entire perspective flipped. Face to face with the icy glare of his killer before everything went black.
"How unsightly." Naruto mumbled to himself.
"You fucking piece of shit!"
Click! Click! Click!
Naruto eyed the revolver in his left hand. "That's it? Your friend can't count." Two bullets to the head. He tossed the gun aside. The lone survivor holding onto a petrified Rei bobbed his head back and forth between his dead accomplices and their apparent killer.
"Use your head. My leg hurts. I'm in a bad mood.
Let her go, I promise it won't be painful. Make this difficult, I'll rip your head off of your fat fucking body.
Naruto's words couldn't have been above a whisper but carried the weight the force of thunder itself clapping in the panicking man's ears. He took an involuntary step back and shuddered, trying to harden his resolve in the face of those eyes that looked to glow in the dark. The blonde tilted his head. His gaze flickered, lingering on Rei's disheveled form with an unreadable stare before he spoke up.
She listened on with misty eyes.
"Here I thought you were tougher than this. What happened to that do or die attitude?" Rei hated the way his tone never changed from that flat, undermining tone. "Can't fight back?" She felt a rage she'd never felt before. She ducked her head and angrily bit her lips, grinding her teeth in utter contempt. What the hell did he know!? There were more of them, and they had weapons, and they were going to...they were going to.
She choked back another sob.
"If you're angry at me, prove me wrong." He continued, almost gently. "If you're angry, fight back."
Her breath hitched.
"You fucking bastard! You think you can just ignore me after what you did to my friends!? I'm going to crush you! Break your arms! Your legs! Then I'm going to make you watch while I violate every fucking hole this bitch has—" He was cut off from his rant when the same girl reared the back of her skull onto his jaw. Rei didn't let up there. She screamed and clamped down hard on his exposed forearm, teeth tearing through soft flesh, carmine painting what were once opaline white. She clenched her jaw and ripped a chunk of the skin.
There's no way!'
No way she'd let him talk down to her like that! No way she would ever feel this helpless again! She snarled like a tiger ignoring the bitter taste of metal running over her tongue and the shrieks of distress coming from her captor. Pain erupted in the back of her head. It didn't matter.
He let go.
The instant Rei hit the ground. A terrible sound resounded behind her. Her attackers' howls ceased, and Rei wondered just how Naruto did it. When a headless body fell next to her, the stump of a neck spitting blood—she knew. Rei didn't know what possessed her to turn back and look at him, but she regretted the decision.
Naruto was absentmindedly inspecting the decapitated head. He was holding it by the hairs with an inclusive indifference before tossing it away to the side.
Rei paled and looked to the other corpses surrounding them for a split second. Suddenly, as if all at once, it hit her. Losing what little of her control remained, she quickly leaned over and emptied the contents of her stomach. The blond took a knee before her downed form, wordlessly drinking her appearance.
"Can you stand?" He inquired after a brief silence.
She didn't respond. Sighing, Naruto reached over to the blue shirt the headless brute wore and tore a clean patch of fabric from it.
Rei found herself at a loss for words, entirely unable to speak, when he almost dubiously brought the cloth up to her chin and started to clean the trail of spit. He did this while never once making eye contact with her.
For a while, neither of them spoke.
"Why?" Rei demanded, "Why did you kill them?"
Naruto's lips formed into a thin line. The cloth resting at her lip as he thought on how to answer. "Because they were going to rape you. Dying is easy. I've found that there are several fates worse than death." He finished cleaning her face flicking the now dirty makeshift rag away, and stood to his full height. "Contrary to what you probably think, I'm not heartless enough to let anyone suffer a fate worse than death."
Rei blinked up at the extended hand a few inches away from her. Hesitantly, she reached out and took it, idly noting how his palms were rough and callused but warm.
"You could have knocked them unconscious or done something else. Something that wasn't this."
Rei gestured to the mangled bodies as he helped her to stand.
He shook his head. "Then what? They would've woken up sooner and either chased us down or found someone else to torture. Would you have let the same thing happen to someone else? Why? Your moral code? That's cheap."
"It's not cheap! It's certainly not fair!"
Rei tried to fight it. Killing was wrong, no matter what. Life is precious. It should be protected, not violated! Who was he to take it from another? They weren't gods.
"Life is unfair. Right and wrong, they're concepts.
There's only survival and what you're willing to do to achieve it."
"Rei...there's a new student at your school. Have you met him yet?"
"Gramps. It's Fujimi Academy. The biggest school in the city. We get a new student every day! Why should I keep track of that?"
"Bahaha! You're right! Sorry. It's just this one...he's a little different. I know him. Think of it as a favor. I'll even treat you! If you can, I'd like for you to show him around. I don't know, maybe introduce him to some of your friends? He's a little rough around the edges...but, and I'm sure he'd gut me for saying so, I think deep down...
He's just lonely."
For the first time, Rei Miyamoto couldn't help but wonder as she watched the blond wipe the blood from a stolen knife off his pant leg with practiced ease.
Who exactly is Naruto Uzumaki?
He winced with each weak breath drawn. His ribs were crushed the left side of his body burnt to a crisp. Charred pieces of flesh came off with the slightest pass of the wind.
"Can you hear me, boy? Are you still conscious?"
His body wouldn't listen to any command. There wasn't a single bit of strength left in it. No matter how frantic his efforts or how hard he fought, there wasn't enough to move a single muscle, not even a twitch of the finger. The slow rise and fall of his chest is everything he could gather.
"You fought well, but you are a candle compared to me. The truth is, you never stood a chance right from the start.
This is meant to be.
It's necessary for a better world."
Anger coursed through him. He smoldered with resentment. Choked on it. None directed at the man who held his life by a string. A boot planted itself atop his head, beating his bleeding and burnt face into the earth. He stiffened, more blood filled his mouth.
"Stand down, boy. Your courage has earned you my admiration. Submit to me. I will let you into paradise. Is this not the better choice? You know well the corrupt nature of the Shinobi world. It's parasitic. A system that breeds violence and suffering, it should have its pillars ripped from underneath and be left to crumble atop itself. Don't you agree? Do you understand? I bring salvation!"
He couldn't see.
Their faces flickered within the darkness of his mind.
"You've lost. You have no more allies. Your village burns. Why prolong your suffering? Sleep, boy, and dream of a life liberated from strife. There, in that world, your family and friends await! Your hands washed of the blood! You will never know failure! There will be no pain!
Is this not heaven!?"
He tried to form the words, but nothing came out.
"It breaks my heart to see you hurting. I take no pleasure in dominating the weak. But, you came here intending to kill me, did you not? Yet, here you are. Defeated. Somehow, I'm sure those fools will still look to you. You are a beacon. Pitiful.
If you were strong, we wouldn't be having this conversation, would we?"
He was helpless. Fear writhed up and down his spine. He'd always said he wasn't afraid to die, but not like this. Not here, pressed under the weight of a thousand disappointments. Buried alongside the rest.
"You've lost this battle, but I will not take you. Instead, I want you to do something for me."
Please, not like this...
I want you to live."
The madman grasped a clump of his hair and lifted his head. Those ardent red eyes bore into his skull. Whirling like a spinner top.
When your allies find you here, shaking at the mention of my name, tell them I let you go. That I wanted you to live. Survive. Endure. Cling to this doomed world. Fight tooth and nail. Fortify what's left of your defense. Scramble like the rodents you are. Attempt to defy fate, but know this. Fate is inevitable.
I am inevitable."