A/N: Ugh, I feel like crap. Can barely breathe with all this coughing. In all honesty, I'm a little scared. Alright, really scared.
EDIT: Yeah, cough's gotten a lot worse. Might be headed to the hospital.
*Head meets desk* Well, I tried to resist posting this.
As per the "Embers" rule, this will be DELETED if folks don't like it. So by all means, speak up in your reviews.
In hindsight, I shouldn't have mentioned that story request to the community because I had people BEATING DOWN MY INBOX to see it written. Now that we've got PM notifications back...good lord. Just opened me mail to find a wall of the bloody buggers.
Fifty yesterday off the top of my head, and about forty today. Good lord!
To clarify, this'll be a more humorous take on what I usually do. Not a parody or the same level of my Not Going Home shenanigans, but something close. This'll have a plot of course, but its meant to make you smile. And by the end of this chapter? You will be. I guarantee it.
As ever, I own no references, themes, or memes. Not a wit or a one!
So sit back, grab some popcorn, and get ready to smile.
If you thought Little!Cinder was adorable...well.
Little!Salem is gonna surprise you.
"Grant my wish. Please. That's all I ask.
Daddy's Little Devil
Salem hated her tower.
She loathed it with the singular passion only a child could possibly possess.
It was lonely, cold and miserable stone, with only the most basic of furnishings. And yet it was her life. her first memories were of these walls. Her first thoughts, of these high and vaunted ceilings. She'd never left this room. She would never leave this tower. If she had a father, she'd never met him. If there was a mother who gave birth to her, she knew them not. She had been born here and so she would die here.
It seemed a silly thought for one so young, but there it was.
She didn't even know why she was here. One of the maids who brought her food said she'd been cursed; possessed of a magic so powerful that it had changed the very core of her being. She had to be locked away for her own good. Others called her a demon, one only spared by the king's mercy. Demon, devil, spawn of the blackest pit, forsaken by the gods.
Salem didn't feel like a demon.
She might look a little different from most girls, but it wasn't her fault. What did her appearance matter? Her pallid skin, pulsing veins, blood red eyes and ashen hair...none of it was her fault. She hadn't wished to be born like this. She didn't want this. It was the inside that counted, surely. She'd read that in a book, once.
And really, her magic wasn't that dangerous...well, not anymore!
She practiced every day now, careful to contain her surges lest she be beaten again. They were rare, her power only ever slipping when she lost her temper. So long as kept herself under control, her power seldom slipped its leash. And yet still, they did not allow her to leave. That heavy iron door stood fast every day, denying her freedom.
She began to wonder why, as any child might. What if it wasn't her fault? What if they were lying to her?
Occasionally she would see children playing in the courtyard below. Tiny specks of color and skin, barely visible from the window of her high tower. How she longed to be among them; to laugh and play as a normal girl might. She wanted that-no, she needed that. More than anything she wanted a mother and a father. A family. She tried calling out to them, but they never answered. As if they were ignoring her. Nay. Surely not. They couldn't be that cruel.
Day after day, they paid her no mind. No one heard her pleas.
And so like many a child before her, she turned to wishing instead. Seeking an escape in hopeful fantasy, she wished on the stars, she wished on the sun, she wished on the full moon itself. She wished and wished and wished but nothing ever came of it.
In time, she turned to prayer.
Every morning noon and night she would beseech the Brother Gods. But the gods were silent. Her prayers went unanswered, like her wishes and cries.
And so at the tender age of nine, Salem took matters into her own hands.
She could not climb down the walls, and the door was too thick for her to have any hope of breaching before the guards brought her down. And so she turned her focus elsewhere. Magic was her sole companion in this isolation, and so in her desperation she turned to her spells instead. But she could not create life. No one could. It was a Lost Art for a reason. It didn't stop her from trying.
Why, she wondered? Why must I be alone? Why me? What have I done wrong?
This world was wrong, she decided. Nay. This world was wretched.
I'm sorry. Whatever I did, I'm sorry. Forgive me. I'll be good.
A world like this...it should be destroyed.
Let me out. Please! Just let me out.
And then quite suddenly, without any word or warning, something changed.
Looking back, little Salem wasn't sure what she did to bring it about such change; she could scarcely even remember what she did at the time. One day, she lost her temper. In a fit of fury she let her magic surge and pushed. She kept pushing until her nose bled red and her world blurred. She didn't stop. The walls burned black. She didn't stop. The floor cracked underfoot. Salem didn't stop. She pushed, pushed, and pushed, lashing out at the unfairness of it all. The tower shook and the air rippled, the very fabric of reality tearing itself asunder in the midst of her tantrum.
Something came hurtling through.
An almighty crash caught her ears as something struck the stone floor and fractured it, kicking up a cloud of dust. Salem coughed into the smoke.
"Owww!" An angry voice groaned somewhere out of sight. "What the hell happened? Sasuke?! Where are ya?! What kind of jutsu is this?! Where am I?!"
Salem panicked and skittered backwards like a drunken crab trying to make it to the ocean. She kept crawling until her dark dress bunched at her ankles and her back slammed against a wall. She would've climbed up it if she could. She certainly tried. What else could she do when faced with a stranger in her Tower? Stranger danger! Fire flickered in her hands, ready to lash out at the slightest provocation.
As the haze cleared she beheld her guest for the first time. He looked...rough, all things considered.
Fair of face with blue eyes and startling spiky blond hair, his tanned-yet-whiskered cheeks pinched in a confused scowl. His garments weren't much better; his vest lay in tatters around his shoulders an orange-back mess of a jumpsuit tattered and torn, open at the front to expose a scarred chest. He looked like he'd come fresh from a fight. His right arm was battered and bloodied, yet still somehow whole.
Oh, dear. He was getting blood all over her carpet.
"Is this a tower?" he looked around, noted the window, and the terrifying drop below. "Huh. Guess it is. Brings back memories." Yet despite his injuries, or perhaps in spite of them, he looked to her next. "Hey...are you alright?" though he asked the words of her, he yet stood his ground. "Did you bring me here? D'ya need help?"
He clearly needed it more than her!
Salem looked left. Salem looked right. Salem touched a finger to her chin. "Are you talking to me...?"
He frowned at her. "Of course I am. You're crying."
Was she? Startled, she touched a hand to her face, alarmed to find dark tears running down her cheeks. Even her tears weren't normal. She hated them. Scowling, she scrubbed furiously at her face with the back of her knuckles until it was dry. Even then she felt the stranger's pitying gaze upon her. It should've burned. Instead, it left her with a different feeling. One she didn't recognize. The tears came on again and she dashed them away with a snarl. No! No crying! No weakness!
They wouldn't stop falling.
"I don't understand." she hissed angrily. "I'm not sad...or even that frightened. Why am I crying?"
The stranger shrugged, uncaring of his injuries. "Dunno. Maybe its because you're happy? Not sure why you would be, though...
Salem planted one hand on her hip and tried to look imposing as she'd seen her maids be. She failed spectacularly and faltered beneath his bemused stare. Happiness? What was that? She'd not heard of the like before. Was it something you could eat? She'd only ever felt sad or lonely, hopeful at best, but happy...? No. Not that. Never. And yet this odd ache in her chest persisted. Was it because she had a visitor...?
Perhaps sensing her disquiet, the stranger dared to step forward.
"Look, I'm gonna ask again, just in case." he raised both hands to show himself unarmed. How kind of him. "Are you alright?"
Salem climbed back to her feet and silenced her spell, uncertain of what to say. What to speak. What to do. At a loss, her gaze flicked to his wounded arm. Before her very eyes, the mangled limb began to heal; scarred flesh receding into healthy pink skin. Regeneration? That was a tier of magic she'd not mastered yet, nor ever hoped to. Was he a wizard then? He didn't act like one. She'd read about them. Wizards were mighty, cruel and cold. Powerful and arrogant, too. This man was nothing like them.
"Oh, jeez. You're like a skittish cat. Calm down...
His hand came down on her head, gently tousling her pale hair. She froze and looked up. Red eyes met blue.
"I'm not gonna hurt you." his gaze pierced hers, rooting her where she stood. "But you're giving off a lotta negative emotions right now." he turned his head, blond bangs swaying. "Wanna tell me whats wrong?"
Her lower lip trembled.
Yes! A tiny voice kicked up a clamor in Salem's heart. Everything! Help me! Save me! Take me away from this place before the guards come! Her hands balled into fists at her sides, dark nails biting into pale palms. I want to leave! Leave, leave, LEAVE!
But she couldn't find the words.
Help. She'd never been offered such a thing before. The maids never spoke with her unless it was absolutely necessary. Yet this stranger -this man!- had taken one look at her, seen her tears, and his first instinct was to offer his aid. Knights did that. Was he a knight? He wasn't wearing any armor. A hedge knight, then? No, even the ones in her books looked better than this. Not a wizard. Not a knight. What was he, then? Did it matter?
Tears spilled from her eyes. "Can you take me outside?"
A pall of silence fell over the two of them as the question echoed into the air. The traveler frowned down at her.
"Well, alright then." when his hand went away, Salem nearly reached for it before she caught herself. "I'm guessin' you're not in this tower by choice, are ya?"
She shook her head in the negative, not trust herself to speak.
He looked past her, noting the wrought iron door. "Where's your old man?"
"If you mean a father? I don't have one, sir."
"Sir?!" The blond wrinkled his nose and squinted at her. It reminded her of a fox. "C'mon, don't call me that. I'm only eighteen, ya know."
Yet again, Salem found herself dithering. "Then...what do I call you?"
"Um...my name?" he shrugged. "Well, s'ppose it doesn't matter. I'm Naruto, for what its worth. And you...?"
No one had ever asked her name. She only knew it because she'd heard a guard mutter it once.
"Great! Now what's this about you not havin' parents?" His brow furrowed anew, and she could've sworn the last word emerged as a growl. "Someone must be taking care of you...right? They gotta be. You woulds starved by now if no one was feeding ya."
She beheld the concern burning bright in those bright blue eyes and didn't know what to do. It seared away the last of her fears regardless. If he meant to harm her, he was doing a rather poor job of it. Did he truly mean to help her? It was almost too much to hope for, yet she still clung to that ember of hope in vain. A stiff breeze blew through the window and she shivered, clutching both arms to herself. Her magic flared up in response to her distress. Salem reached across herself and gripped her right wrist until it creaked. The pain centered her.
"I don't have anyone." she whispered. "The tower is empty save for me, and a guard. It will be until the maids bring my evening meal. I'm not allowed to go outside."
"Is that so?" Oddly enough, that made him angrier. "Then you're saying you've been kept here against your will."
Her head bobbed, pale hair swaying.
"Why didn't you say so?! That makes this easy." With that said, he turned and hunched down, presenting his back to her. When she didn't immediately respond, he looked over his shoulder. "What're you waiting for?" He patted his spine once. "Hop on. We're getting you out of here."
Salem blinked rapidly, little lashes fluttering in confusion. "Hweh?" she squeaked out the sound. "We?"
He shrugged. "Meh. Kurama agrees with me, of course. C'mon! Lets go already!"
What was a Kurama? Nevermind that! "Aren't you afraid of me?"
She was monstrous. Hideous. Cursed.
His laughter, when it came, surprised her. It was a rich, indulgent sound; the roaring guffaw of a man who laughed often. His shoulders shook with the sound and if he hadn't been doubled over already, she suspected he would've been clutching his ribs right about now. He still looked like he was fit to fall down at any moment.
"Why would I be?" he grinned and thumbed his nose, still snickering to himself. "I've seen way scarier things. You? You're just a kid. How old are you?"
Salem kicked one foot against the stone floor. "Nine and a half."
"And you've never set foot outside. Lets change that."
A tiny sob fled from her lips. He was being so nice to her. No one was ever nice to her. No one. No one at all. Salem's fractured mind latched onto that. Latched hard. Her spell must've worked somehow. She'd not created life, but she'd summoned someone. That was the only explanation her addled mind could conjure up. Her wish had been granted! She'd found one who cared! A parent! Maybe that wasn't how magic worked, but still! Who else would ask if she needed help? Not a wizard! Not a knight! Not even the gods themselves!
For all her trials and tribulations, the Brothers had not answered her. Not once. Piss on the gods!
Naruto had answered here when no one else would. He'd heard her miserable pleas across space and time and come racing to her side. At least, she liked to imagine that was the reason. Maybe he'd fallen through a portal or something. It didn't matter. He was here now, offering her a way out of this lonely life. Looking at him now, there was but one response she could think to give.
Her mind seized upon it. 'Forward ho!'
She flung herself onto his back and held tight. "Papa!"
"Pa-?!" Naruto coughed, eyes bulging wide "I take it back! You can call me sir! I'll even settle for big brother! Just don't call me dad! I'm too young to be a parent, damnit!"
"No! Salem buried her pale visage into his neck. "You're papa! No take-backs!"
He gazed at her over his shoulder. "Such a demanding little girl...
Paranoia reared its ugly heard in Salem's heart. He'd throw her off. Curse her for her foolishness and walk away. Leave her alone. Her very being tensed. Fear took root in her heart. No. No, no, no! She couldn't bear the thought of it. Her arms tightened around him, prepared to cling on tight. Red eyes squeezed shut, dreading what was to come. Any moment now he'd rid himself of her and she would be alone again. Her heart would fall apart, hit the floor and shatter into a thousand pieces-
"Alright! Make sure you hold on. This'll be a bumpy ride."
Naruto did no such thing. Staggering to his feet, he fixed the window firmly in his sights. Much to her dismay, he stomped down once, gathering his strength.
The door rattled before he could take another step.
"What's all that noise?! Who goes there?!"
Naruto grinned. "None of your damn business! Time to run!"
Hollering a wild whoop, he flung himself -and her with him!- out the window with nary a care in the world. Salem had just enough forethought to lock her legs around his ribs and hold tight to his neck, but that didn't stop the panicked yelp that fled from her lips as they hurtled into oblivion. The wind stole her first shriek away as they hurtled toward the ground. Her hair flew up to smack her in the face. It did nothing for her terror. She cried out, wind wiping fresh, terrified tears from her eyes.
"What are you doooiiing?!"
That same, sunny smile flashed over his shoulder.
Naruto didn't answer her with words, but actions. His body shone like the sun, bathing her pale body in warm afterglow. She was still screaming when his feet hit the wall. Said scream cut off when said feet found traction, then kept going, racing down it like it was a flat surface and not a vertical drop that would render them a pretty red stain in the courtyard below. Huh. Apparently she had a fear of heights. Good to know-nevermind! Bad to know! VERY BAD TO KNOW!
She clung onto his back, pale face gone paler still. "How are you doing this?!"
Her savior clapped his hands together harshly and a strange series of ebony spheres materialized above his head, well out of Salem's reach.
Before she could even think to ask what they were -or what eldritch purpose they served!- those strange missiles arrowed away to strike at the tower. Rather than be rebuffed by solid steel and stone, they slammed headlong into it, causing the hideous thing to crumble behind them as they ran. An awful crack swelled through the air as the once mighty spire yawned away to the south. Naruto waved a hand and three of the eerie orbs howled past them yet again; this time striking the foundations and further hastening the spire's demise.
"Down she goes!" a pleased hum reached her over the wind. "Good riddance to that place!"
Salem looked back, eyes wide as their footing fell away. "We're going to fall!"
"Nope!" His laughter redoubled. "We won't!"
Firm feet kicked off sinking stone and launched them high into the air. All the world fell away below them, revealing rolling green hills and a distant forest beneath a sunny sky. Higher now. She saw an army running itself through drills below them. Highest. A clear expanse of glittering blue water stretching out as far as the eye could see. The sight took her breath away.
Beautiful didn't even begin to describe such a vision. Was it a lake? Or an ocean? She'd never gone swimming before.
Salem marveled at it for a moment; until the fear came back. She tensed against Naruto's shoulders, expecting gravity to sink its cruel claws into them at any moment and render them a mess against the earth. It never did. Was this what flight felt like? It ended all too soon. She didn't see Papa hit the ground, but she certainly felt it all the same; for the shock raced up his legs and hit her like a horse drawn carriage.
"Oomph!" Naruto grunted, knees bending and alighting in a pointed crouch. "Really felt that one." Enough to look around and check on her. "You okay?"
She groaned against his back, eyes rolling in her head. "I...just a moment...can't breathe...
It was not to be. Naruto stood again. "Hang on! Gonna kick things up a notch!"
Her eyes bulged. Wide. Wider. Widest.
"Wait, wait, waaaaaaaa~!"
His body flashed gold again and just like that they were off, racing forward at breakneck speed. The wind tore at them anew, harsher than ever before. And yet, despite that, there was no fear in Salem's heart. Not a bit. She didn't feel any. Nay, she felt something else. A strange noise escaped her. It took her a moment to realize what it was. Laughter.
She was laughing.
Naruto heard and chortled softly. "Feels good to be out of that stuffy tower, doesn't it?"
It truly did. More than she could ever hope to describe. Salem smiled and settled into for the ride, content to watch the world blur around around them. She didn't look back at her crumbling Tower or the kingdom within. Perhaps had she done so, she might have glimpsed an angry monarch howling at her from his castle. She didn't care. King? What king? The king had locked her away for reasons she didn't understand. Because of her magic? Her appearance? Some other mitigating factor she didn't understand? No. She wasn't going back. Not ever. He could go jump in a well for all she cared.
She liked this. It felt like freedom.
"Where are we going?" she raised her voice, struggling to make herself heard over the wind as he continued to carry her.
A fresh peal of Naruto's laughter greeted her ears, rising loud and clear over the horizon. "Wherever we want!"
Wherever they wanted? Salem rather liked the sound of such a thing.
Some might call her a devil. Maybe she was. Perhaps she wouldn't be. Maybe she would destroy the world. Perhaps she would save it. That was neither here nor there. For now, Salem was but a child. And this child didn't care. If a devil she must be, then she was his devil. Forever and ever and ever. She burrowed a bit closer into Naruto's jacket and closed her eyes, trusting in him to hold onto her. A single stray thought bloomed behind her closed lids as she surrendered to sleep and the sweet comfort it offered. In that moment, before she drifted off, Salem spoke.
It was but a word; the tiniest of whisper of a once forlorn hope made manifest. Pale fingers fisted against his torn jacket. "Mine."
"For cryin' out loud." His laughter redoubled. "I'm not some toy you can claaaand she's asleep. Jeez. What a kid...
Little did she know this young man would carry her into safety and well beyond that.
Remnant was not prepared for the chaos that was to come.
A/N: Good girl, Salem. Must protecc.
Go on. Guess which time period this Naruto's from. I DARE ya.
So here we have an adorable Little!Salem who looks very much like her Grimm self from birth. I'm not one to twist canon or lore, but folks were begging for that little tidbit, and it lined up nicely with what I intended from the beginning. Of course, Ozma's still a kid at this point in the story.
As per the "Embers" rule, this will be DELETED in two days if folks don't like it. So by all means, speak up in your reviews.
Reviews help keep me going, despite being sick and in isolation. Every bit helps.
So In the Immortal Words of Altas...
...Review, Would You Kindly?
"Salem, no! Bad girl! No smiting!"
"But daaaddy! The mortals earned my wraaaath!"
"What's a prank?"
"Happy birthday to youuuu!"
Naruto wasn't the best singer. But he'd gotten her a scarf.
It was bright and red and warm and Salem swore she'd wear it forever.
"Do you like it?" a calloused hand tousled her hair. "I'll wrap it around you as many times as you want."
"If the world would do this to a little girl, then the world needs to be changed. Or destroyed."
"Light? Dark? Don't care! I'll kick both your asses! Come down here and fight me!"
"Monster, am I? Perhaps you should speak more softly to me, then...