A/N: Felt this deserved an update, given that its my highest reviewed story.
Sorry for vanishing like that a few years, I've been sick, battered, broken and bruised, but here I am. I'm not beaten; my team and I are determined to bring this story to a close.
Doesn't help that I lost the fist Co-Writer I had for this story back in 2018. May he rest in peace.
Remember, Naruto doesn't know what happened to Kushina and her team yet. He still believes her to be out on a mission; as such, he has no idea of the horrible fate that has befallen her. Once he learns the truth of that...well...someone's going to have a bad time.
REVIEW FOR IT FEEDS THE ENGINE OF CREATION~!
This is rated M for a reason folks!
Its been a pleasure.
"The end approaches...
Shadows Closing In
"There you go! That's the way! Drink up!"
Naruto nearly choked on said drink when Tsunade's hand slapped against his back. It was like getting hit by a ton of bricks. The impact alone threatened to launch him out of his chair and the bar altogether; only a healthy application of chakra kept him glued to his seat. He shot her a baleful glare, only to be meet by a cheeky grin and rosy cheeks. As he looked on, she knocked another bottle back. With a reluctant sigh, the former blond did the same, wincing as the booze burned the back of his throat.
To be fair, he'd forgotten many things since he'd arrived in the past. This? Definitely one of them.
Tsunade was a freakin' heavyweight when it came to drink.
She'd had five bottle to his two now, and while he'd carefully nursed his drinks with the reluctance of someone who rarely partook, the legendary sucker -as she would one day come to be known in a far flung that wouldn't happen now- downed hers with a ferocious fervor. She'd attacked each bottle as though it were her arch-nemesis. Somehow, she was still conscious. Really, it wasn't fair. He'd hardly drunk anything and he was already beginning to feel a bit tipsy.
"I swear, all that drink goes straight to your tits." Naruto groused. That earned him another slap on the back. This one proved less gentle than the last. "Ha! I felt that one!" Naruto laughed despite the pain that blossomed in his shoulder. No doubt he'd have a bruise tomorrow. "What else ya got?!"
Tsunade's arm swung back and for a fleeting moment, he thought she might actually punch him this time.
She settled for a laugh and shove instead. "Gods, you're such an ass!"
"Nope." He declared with a resounding smack of the lips.
"Oi! You can't just "nope" you're way out of this!"
"Nope!" his grin grew a fraction.
"Cheeky little shi-
Tsunade scoffed and swatted him on the arm. "See? You can unwind when you want to. Just takes a bit of sake."
Her sudden change of tune drew a frown from Naruto; made him wonder if she'd intended this from the start. Hmm. Maybe he'd drank too much after all...
In all honesty, Naruto couldn't remember the last time he'd done this. Just...sat, and relaxed with a friend. Oh, how his younger self would've balked at this. Then again, his former self would've chewed him out by now, too. He'd have every right to. He felt like a fake. A fraud. Everything he'd ever spoken against. Granted, he was fraud who'd gone fathered Itachi Uchiha in this timeline, but a fraud nonetheless. Would he ever be able to tell anyone the truth? Would they even believe him? Or was he doomed to hold to silence. If that meant taking the secret to his grave...he wasn't sure he could, knowing everyone thought he was someone he wasn't.
Naruto stole a glance at Tsunade as she knocked back her drink and called for another round, allowing them to drink in companionable silence.
In his last life Tsunade had been his superior and the Fifth Hokage. She'd been older. Tired. Worn away by the horrors of war. Not this grinning girl pressing a fresh bottle into his hand. Looking back on those halcyon days left him a little nostalgic. Things were different here. Here, they'd found and bled together on many a battlefield, forged through fire and flame. Here, in this lifetime, she was his...friend? Something more? Even after all of this time he wasn't sure what to make of her. Theirs was a bond not so easily broken and yet sometimes it felt brittle all the same. As if a strong blow might snap it beyond repair.
The truth would do all that and more.
"Its too late for the truth now, Naruto. You're in too deep." Kaguya reminded him.
Would it really? Not for the first time, he wondered if he should tell her, speak the words he'd been longing to say.
"What truth?" his guest whispered in the back of his head. "That you're a fake? A fraud? A time traveler? She'll never believe you."
"I know." he retorted, grimacing on the inside. "Doesn't make this any less painful. I've done things I'm not proud of. Its starting to make a monster of me."
"Does a monster feel guilt, Naruto? Does a monster experience regret?" he could just imagine the fragment of a goddess shaking her head at him. "Everything you have done thus far, you've done for the sake of peace. Even if you won't admit it, you've done good. You've saved lives. Orochimaru will never fall to darkness now. Pain and the Akatsuki shan't exist thanks to your actions, and because of that, Jiraiya will live as well." She paused, waited for him to challenge her, and when he didn't, barreled on. "The Uchiha will not fall to foolishness and treachery. To say nothing of those you've helped along the way."
"I've screwed up, too. There are still other problems." a fit of melancholy overtook him as he took on another bottle. "Danzo, Hidden Cloud, the mess I made with Minato, the other bijuu, Madara...
"Then we will crush those problems." she declared primly. "Together."
"Just like that?" something in her words almost made him chuckle. It was a bitter one.
"Just like that." he heard the smile in her words. "We'll avenge the past, Naruto. You have my word."
"Gonna hold you to that." He muttered into his drink, the words muffled by the bottle. It wasn't like he took any pleasure in deceiving his friends.
"Sooo~?" An elbow caused him to turn his attention back to Tsunade. He found her smile waiting for him there. "How're things?"
"Loud." he yawned. "Kurotsuchi's settling in and Itachi's finally found his voice. Not to mention Konan and the runts. Everyone's fawning over them." when that wasn't enough to satisfy her, he rested his chin against one hand and blew out a sigh. "Honestly? I've got my hands full. Even with the girls helping. But its worth it."
"Heh." that drew a chuckle from her. "You're a soft touch. Just one big...softie!"
"Bah!" he batted her hand away and laughed when she swayed in her seat. "And you're drunk."
She turned up her nose at him, but there could be no denying her sly, smug smile. "You can't prove anything."
"Now who's being cheeky? Why'd you go through all this today, anyway?" he asked. "It couldn't have been just for my sake."
"Honestly?" The fainest flush colored her pale visage for a fleeting moment before concern chased it away. "I was hoping you had some news about Nawaki." she took a fingernail between her teeth and chewed it absently for a moment before continuing. "He should've returned from his mission by now." she poked his chest for emphasis. "But no one's heard from him. I asked the old man and he told me to ask you." her eyes narrowed and the questing finger against his chest poked harder. "Did you send them out again or something?"
All the blood in Naruto veins turned to sharp, jagged ice and an alarm roared to life in the back of his head.
Looking back, he couldn't explain what made him suspicious in that moment; only that it did. "What're you talking about?"
A distant bell swallowed whatever Tsunade might've said.
"We've got wounded at the gates!"
Naruto bolted upright.
"You won't break me."
An open palm cracked across Kushina's face with explosive force, but she didn't cry out. On the contrary; the young Uzumaki merely lifted her chin in quiet defiance with a selfsame smile. Another blow struck her, and yet again, she refused to give them the satisfaction of of her pain. She rode out the second same as the first, only smirking in the face of it.
...we shall see."
An irritated growl greeted her as her captor paced away; it was a weak, throaty sound, the aching rasp of a man well past his prime.
Kushina watched him like a hawk; willing herself to memorize every facet of him. It would be useful knowledge when she escaped. All told, he wasn't much to look at. He -for this one was certainly of the male persuasion- moved with a limp and favored his right leg when he walked, but his dark robes gave precious little away. His grey hair and wizened arms told another story, however. Whomever he was or might be, her captor was not a young man.
His mask told her another.
It was a strange thing, warped and spiraled like come kind of crest, with only a single eye hold to speak of. Oddly enough, the thought gave her comfort. An old man in a mask. One who refused to come near, knowing full well what she was capable of. Kushina wasn't afraid of him; not when it became apparent that he feared her. She'd seen far more terrifying things in her nightmares.
It also begged another question.
How long had she been held here? Days? Weeks? Time got funny in the dark, and here in this underground labyrinth she had no way of telling time. She'd woken alone ages ago to find herself imprisoned by great lengths chains; hands shackled uselessly against her back, legs bound to the floor to prevent any semblance of movement. That alone should've terrified her. But it didn't. If she was alone, that meant her teammates might still be alive. If they were alive, they could report back to the village. And if one of them managed that.
"He isn't what you think he is." the masked man told her. "He's a fake. A fraud."
Kushina turned her head and spat a bloody glob at their feet.
"Then he's my fraud, dumbass." She bared her teeth at him. "And he'll come for me."
The masked man tilted his head and tittered softly. Kushina had the distinct impression he was smiling behind the mask.
"Of course he will, my dear." A wizened hand reached up, painstakingly prying the facade from his face. "I'm counting on it. Naruto's never been one to leave an ally behind. He's weak. Soft. Even when he's pretending to be something he isn't." When she leaned forward and tried to catch a glimpse of their identity, they stepped back into the shadows with a soft chuckle. "Don't worry. I'm not going to kill you. It would serve no purpose, and you've already proven that you can't be controlled for long."
"Then why capture me at all?" she snapped her teeth at him, eyes burning red. "You know you can't hold me forever. What're you going to do?"
The laughter, when it came, surprised her.
"Something that should've been done a long time ago. I'm going to tell you the truth." pearly white teeth grinned at her in the black when she tilted her head in confusion. "The truth will set you free. The truth will destroy you, and him, more than anything I could ever hope to do."
"Y-You're lying." A thorn of fear pricked at her heart. "Lies!"
"The truth will set you free." her captor repeated. "See for yourself."
Kushina had half an instant to see burning Sharingan eyes before her vision went black.
A/N: Feels good to get back into the groove of things again.
I'm not the sort to give away spoilers, but I'll say once again, this "fragment" of Kaguya isn't a villain. She genuinely wants to help Naruto.
Now it may seem obvious who took Kushina and her team; but as we all know by now, appearances can be deceiving. Sorry for focusing on my crossover fics instead of this, I'll do my best not to let you all down like that again in the future. We're nearing the end here as is, so thanks again for joining me on this journey.
So...in the immortal words of Atlas... Review...would you kindly?
And enjoy the previews! Potential ones, at that!
Five chapters left. Its been a blast.
I own nooooothing!
"Long time no see, Naruto!"
Orochimaru gazed at the hat before him with a baleful eye.
...you cannot be serious."
"WHERE IS SHE?!"
Sorry for the cliffhanger!