A/N – I haven't really been happy with the chapters I'm posting but I probably won't for a while. Maybe I'll come back to them one day and say 'Damn, I did a good job, didn't I?' However, until then, I'm just going to shit on my work for a little while longer. I don't mean to be such a downer but the saying goes that a writer's worse critic is the author themselves; true words, really… don't know who said them, probably some nobody like me. I hope you enjoy this chapter, more so than I had writing it.
P.S – I have exams in about week or two and I've got to start cracking down on my studying. Chapters for, well, anything probably won't come around for a while. Sorry for the inconvenience but school comes first… I guess.
It was mid-day, closer to three in the afternoon; dinner would be soon, Hiruzen mused. The office was quiet after Team 7 had left all those hours ago, paperwork done for the day. His heart still felt heavy from his talk with Kakashi, aching uncomfortably in his chest. There was a decision hanging over his head, pulling at his heartstrings and playing with his thought process. It was almost overwhelming, the life of a child in his hands once more… his blood-stained hands.
The Uchiha's deaths all those years ago were as much his fault as they were for the one who murdered them.
The Third Hokage took a shaky breath, staring out the window behind his desk, eyes glassy. There were days when he wished he hadn't been a child with dreams, dreams of following his heroes up the tower of power and strength. He wished that he hadn't been the one to pick up the pieces of a broken village in need of a new leader after the Fourth Hokage's passing that fateful night. Had he not, Danzō would've been running this village into the ground. There were days when the old man wished that people didn't rely so heavily on him, applying pressure to pick between who survived and who's life had to be sacrificed for that cause.
It was one of those days.
Hiruzen glanced down at his wrinkled, calloused hands that quivered without stop. He stopped for a moment, watching them reach into one of the lower drawers for his tobacco pipe. The slid of the creaky wooden drawer sounded off in the silent room as the pipe settled in his palms. The Third Hokage stared at it for a few seconds, turning the old wood around in his hands for a better look. As he continued to look, Naruto starts to come to mind.
The boy's voice of reason filled his ears, calculating eyes piercing his soul, "…there are over 4,800 chemicals inside of a single cigarette, 69 of these chemicals known to cause cancer. Do you seriously want to take that chance? Hm?" It'd only be a puff or two, anything to dispel the shakiness in his hands and the fear in his poor, old heart; he doesn't need this right now. "Hey, if you're going to smoke, then I'm going to tell you all the disadvantages of smoking!" It wouldn't be a big deal, Hiruzen tried, glaring holes into the pipe, turning it over once more.
"You could have a serious illness that you don't even know about, Jiji…" But, the thing is, Hiruzen's been ill for quite some time. "You could have cancer…" It's nothing physical, Naruto, but there is a disease running through the scars embedded in his head. It is the sickness of times, of old age and old age brings forth some wisdom that is left buried in the depths of one's blackened heart. And wisdom pushes one to terrible decisions, for the good of a village and the downfall of a child's heart.
"I'm aware of the risks, Naruto." The older man told his voice of reason, words not carrying the same authority as it might with others in his life.
"Well, apparently not because…" Naruto spoke with a hint of malice, voice deepening into something more related to Kakashi's, "Surely one of them can take his spot." It has never been that simple, it never was. In his head, Hiruzen could almost see the former ANBU member slam his hands on the table in anger and defeat. "There is a good chance that Naruto could have severe chakra exhaustion from creating so many shadow clones that have to use all his chakra healing people." The words of 'he could die' were left unspoken at the time but the Hokage heard it all too well.
Hiruzen's hand twitched again, nostrils flaring at the sudden amount of emotion taking a hold of his elder heart. He gave shaky breaths, trying to will the frustrated tears from spilling over his eyelids. He wants to say that there is another way, that there is something he can do to prevent this but the odds are good. "We really are in a bind, aren't we?" Kakashi voiced out, the choked laughter from before gone with the memory, only filled with a sorrowful cry for his student's fate. The older man held the pipe to his lips, shutting his eyes; he wants to quit so badly.
"Then stop wanting to smoke." The young medic's voice of reason whispered out, the words comforting but filled with dread.
"It's not that simple, Naruto." Hiruzen found himself recalling having said the same thing to the boy.
He could see those piercing blue eyes once more, could see the pain in them and the hurt, "Do you even want to quit?"
"Yes." A choked sob left him, tears sliding down Hiruzen's cheek, the salty liquid making a line down his olden features. The tobacco pipe tumbled on his desk as a hand came to cover his eyes in regret and anguish. He has never wanted to prevent something as big as this, not once in his life. There were moments that had come close but he knew that the consequences were the best course of actions for the village. However, the older man could never bring himself to ask Naruto to save the village because he's the only one who'd be able to help them all, be its last defense in the upcoming war. He could never do it, yet…
"When will Naruto learn that not everyone can be saved." His own thought process came to bite at his already battered mind, drawing another sob out of him.
He could see Kakashi throwing something in his mind, face livid, "Naruto is just a kid; he's young, so very young!" Hiruzen can't do that to him, can't make him save the village. He can't bring himself to sacrifice the village's sun for the darkness that shadows over them as their time runs out.
"He could very well be traumatized…" The medic's teacher shouted at him, "The shock of Konoha being attacked… the cries of injured civilians… Naruto is just a kid." The words followed a repetition of regret and misplaced ideals. "…couldn't Dr. Terra, Dr. Yiruma, or Dr. Chakochi take Naruto's place?" Kakashi whispered harshly at him.
Hiruzen wants to nod his head, say that yes, one of those three can take Naruto's place with a certainty of success.
"I'm telling Dr. Terra… lower the risks… talk to Dr. Chakochi and ask her opinion…" The boy's voice was broken in his head, his once intelligent words just muddied.
There was a knock on his office door, pulling him from his thoughts. The Third Hokage quickly whipped his tears, turning towards the window so no one could see his tear-tracks. "Come in." He called out, loud enough for those outside to hear but just soft enough not to rattle his bruised thought process. The door clicked open, people shuffling in; he could tell who was there from just their chakra.
"Hiruzen?" An older feminine voice questioned, stepping forward, "Are you alright?"
"I am afraid not." There was something in his voice that made his two advisors stiffen, glancing at each other, "I am having a difficult time deciding on a life-or-death situation, Koharu, and I need guidance."
"What is it that you need from Homura and me?" Elder eyes were firm in inquiry, mind scouring for anything that could possibly help her former teammate and long-term friend.
"It's about Naruto," Hiruzen stated turning his seat around to stare at them.
"I see." Homura rolled his eyes, arms crossing over his chest, "What has he gone and done now?"
The Sarutobi man gave him a shocked, curious look. "Naruto hasn't done anything." He hadn't meant for the malice to seep into his voice but it came out that way.
"A first, really." His former teammate mocked.
The Third Hokage gave his advisor a dangerous look, "Homura, when was the last time you heard anything malevolent about Naruto? And what was it?"
His former teammate thought for a few seconds, "He accidentally set fire to a shop from a firework prank."
Hiruzen leveled his eyes, "And how long ago was that?"
"I'm not sure, probably recently though." Homura gave a half-shrug.
"Get out." A single, bony finger pointed towards the door.
He crossed his arms, "Do not make me repeat myself. You are no longer needed in this meeting."
"No, your biased comments towards one of the best medics in this village who has saved thousands of lives in the last few years since he gave up his pranking ideology will no longer be needed." He leaned forward in his seat, "Shall anything come up about Naruto again, I'll call Koharu instead."
Homura gave him an exasperated look, "Sir, if I may-"
"You may not. Now, please leave." Hiruzen waved a hand, "And make sure to shut the door behind you."
Koharu gave her former teammate a look, eyes shifting towards the door. The older man huffed indigently, stalking out of the room without another word. Her eyes followed him out before turning back to the Hokage, "What has happened with Naruto?"
"Nothing has happened to him, it's rather what might happen to him in the future." Hiruzen hadn't meant to be so cryptic but the topic at hand was rather tense, "There has been hushed talk between our officials about a potential attack from Suna and Oto in the coming months sometime around the Chunnin exams."
"Yes, the idea of a war breaking out in our walls is rather scary." She nodded in understanding, "The repercussions from it would be disastrous… the lives that could be lost. But what does Naruto have to do with that?"
He was quiet for a while before sighing, "Do you remember how Naruto saved your life after you had a heart attack a few months ago?"
"How could I forget?" Koharu smiled slightly, fiddling with her dress in memory, "He was the only one around when it happened and I am forever in his debt, especially since he stayed quiet about it; wouldn't want others to think that I'm not capable of my job?"
Hiruzen gave her a pained grin, "Yes, he's rather extraordinary and with his medical prowess… anything is possible."
"Naruto is probably the only one capable of healing hundreds and hundreds of people should the village be attacked during the Chunnin exams." He looked at his desk in shame, "With his multi-shadow clone jutsu, anything is possible…"
"That's why you're asking for my help." Koharu sighed out, taking a seat on the couch to ease her old legs. She thought for a moment, letting the silence between them help her think. "He just turned fourteen, right?" A nod came her way, "That's so young."
"Kakashi said something similar." Hiruzen stated, mind going back to the Jonnin teacher's words, chest clenching down in memory, "Naruto is just a kid; he's young, so very young."
"And you wouldn't be asking for my opinion if there wasn't a single person who could take his place." Koharu mumbled out, "Well, except Tsunade but we both know that she won't ever come back to Konoha. If she did then I'd think the world was ending."
He gave her a grim smile at the poorly placed joke. "I don't want to make him do this, I don't want to have to put the world on his shoulders… he might just crumble under the pressure." Hiruzen leaned back in his chair, "With possible chakra exhaustion, shock, or trauma… I don't want to put Naruto through that."
"You know as well as I do that sometimes you have to sacrifice the little guy for the sake of the village." Koharu said, eyes looking watery; she'd grown attached to the young medic after he saved her life, "It happened with Itachi…" She couldn't finish her sentence.
"But Itachi is still alive, somewhere out there." The old Hokage looked out the windows, eyes looking distance, shoulders tensing, "This could kill Naruto."
"I know but… he's strong a-and… and so smart, I think he'd know his limitations." She suggested, voice wavering, "He has to."
He shook his head, his own olden eyes watering, "No, Naruto loves the village and would die before he let anyone down. If I told him right now that he needed to save the village and heal every single person, he'd do it without a question… a sad thought, really. He would use every ounce of chakra in his body."
Koharu clasped her shaky hands together, "Hiruzen unless you get Tsunade in the village before the Chunnin exams, Naruto will have to be used. I'm sorry..."
Hiruzen gave his advisor a sorrowful look, "I know, but… thank you for your words, however, there are still a few more people I must speak with before I make my verdict."
"Those three are going to give you hell, I hope you know that." Koharu took a deep breath, already standing to leave, "I wish I could say 'take your time' but there isn't much time left."
"I know… I know." He watched her leave before letting his tears fall once more, Naruto's words coming back to haunt him while Kakashi's simply cut into him, piece by piece.
A decision was hanging over his head, a child's life in his hands again.
It had been a little over two hours since Team 7 had left the Demon Brothers after the poisoning incident. They had kept continuing their journey with hope in their heats but things were not looking up for the small group. Sasuke, who was properly secured on the back of their medic's clone, was started to look worse and worse as they walked on. He was starting to sweat but still insisted that he was cold, a clear sign of a fever. Naruto had taken his temperature thirty or so minutes ago and it was only up a degree or two, nothing to worry about… for now. There was a glazed look over the Uchiha's eyes as the energy was slowly being drained from him. It was worrying for everyone, especially their resident medic who continued to rack his almost genius brain as to what his teammate had been poisoned with. He was running through all the possibilities, anything that could help Sasuke out. There were a few theories that seemed plausible but he wasn't going to risk it.
The notebook was back out, words being written down only to be scratched out with a hast and a heavy sigh. The other members of Team 7 did not question as to what Naruto was writing because they didn't want to risk the teenager losing his train of thought. Often throughout the process, the blond-haired gennin would stare at Sasuke who was trying to fight his fatigue, a passing cough on his lips. Naruto tried to gauge the Uchiha's physical symptoms as much as he could before going back to the notebook.
"Boss." The clone hummed out, drawing the attention of their summoner.
"Is there something wrong?" Naruto blinked, pocketing the notebook before catching up with them.
They shook their head, eyes going back to the trail ahead of them, "No, sir. I was just wondering what's going on in your head."
A heavy sigh came from the other, looking down at Sasuke who's eyes had slid shut. Despite his cheeks being fired from his fever, the Uchiha looked pale and sickly. Naruto lowered his voice, "It's not looking good… I can't figure it out."
The clone didn't even need to know what it was, simply nodding his head. They shifted Sasuke up a little more before speaking again, "Need someone to bounce theories off?"
"I doubt it'd do anything as we're kind of the same person." Naruto chuckled half-heartedly.
"Wouldn't hurt to try." They shrugged.
"Fine… where to even start?" He mumbled, more to himself than his clone, "…I'm starting to think that this is more of a snake poisoning rather than a plant one like I had originally suspected."
The clone bobbed their head, "I've kind of been thinking the same thing. People are almost always immune to the first contact with toxic plant substances through skin contact; it's the time after that that people can start to see symptoms of poisoning."
"Exactly." Naruto huffed in exasperation, "And most of those plant species cause an intense stinging pain in that area of contact almost immediately; Sasuke didn't experience that."
"His symptoms have been slow but progressive." The other blond finished, "Other symptoms of plant-based toxins are rashes, itchy skin of the area, contact sniffles or sneezing, and runny eyes, none of which Sasuke have experienced."
He nodded, "Which leaves us with snake venom as the culprit."
The clone beside them heaved a sigh, almost missing the strange looks Sakura was sending them, "Tazuna-san said that the cottonmouth, habu, and mamushi are in the Land of Waves."
"Yeah, some of the deadliest snakes out there." Naruto grumbled out, "We're two or three hours away from reaching the Land of Waves. We'd have to be pretty lucky to even find one of them but Sasuke won't have time if we wait that long."
"Plus, even if you'd find one of those three snakes, it'd at least take you an hour to create an antivenin for it." They stated, giving their summoner a sympathetic look, "Boss."
"What if instead of worrying about an antivenin, how about using the delicate illness extraction technique (1)?" They raised an eyebrow in question.
The medic stiffened, giving the clone a look, "You know as much as I do that that particular extraction technique does not have a very good track record when it comes to minors."
"Yes, I do know, but do you have any other ideas?" They raised their eyebrows, "Look, I understand that the delicate illness extraction technique should only be used on adults as their bodies have finally finished growing but Sasuke will die without the extraction."
Naruto thought for a moment, knowing that his clone was right, "This isn't a safe area; the Demon Brothers proved that."
"Then make it safe." The clone gave their summoner a pointed look, "I'll let you decide on what to do, I'm just here to carry Sasuke and bounce ideas off."
"Yeah, thanks…" He mumbled out, giving his teammate a concerned look. The poison – despite Naruto's efforts to slow it down – was still very much affecting him to the point where the medic might have to cross out MILD from his notebook and replace it with MODERATE; he'd have to do that only after Sasuke started throwing up, which he hadn't… good. However, he knew that Sasuke couldn't continue to go on like this – weak, fragile, fatigued, sickly – forever. If the poison continued to linger in the Uchiha's body, it could be catastrophic.
Sasuke will die if Naruto doesn't do anything about it, like now.
"Stop." His voice was loud and serious, thickened with authority that usually claimed his words when he was giving out orders at the hospital. It was a sound that he was heavily acquainted with, didn't mean he liked it.
Sakura's head was the first to whip around, a worried look crossing her face, "What? Is something wrong with Sasuke?"
Kakashi took one step in their direction, "What is it, Naruto?"
Naruto gave his clone a look, eyebrows furrowing in a silent question. The clone tilted his head before nodding slowly. He heaved a sigh, eyes sliding shut for a moment, "I'm pretty positive that I know what Sasuke's been poisoned with." His words sounded monotone, uncaring but his teammates knew that it was the 'medic voice' coming through, "And it doesn't look very good."
Kakashi walked up to the medic, "Venom-based?"
"Venom-based." He repeated slowly, nodding more to himself than his team.
The kunoichi's shoulders slumped, looking nervous as anxiety seemed to bubble in her eyes, "So, what does this mean for Sasuke?"
"It means that the two of us," Naruto pointed at himself and their unconscious teammate, "aren't going to be moving anytime soon."
The Jonnin in front of him looked stricken, "Excuse me?"
He turned his attention to his teacher, "If we continue to push Sasuke's body, he will die. His body cannot handle the poison in his system for much longer. Even if he's only showing mild symptoms, I don't want to wait for it to get worse."
"Naruto, we've already established that this area is not safe." The Jonnin stated, motioning to the forests around them.
"Then I will make it a safe area." He caught the pointed look his clone sent him as the medic started to fly through seals, summoning about a dozen and a half clones. They saluted to their teacher before spreading themselves out, hiding in the brush buried in the depths of the forests. "Kakashi-sensei, he can't continue to travel in his position and you know that," Naruto said, getting slightly worked up.
"Yes, but I also can't leave two of my students by themselves when we are already so far from Konoha." Kakashi sighed out, not wanting to play 'bad guy' but knowing that he needs to keep his team together.
"Let me put this in medical terms. Toxins change the speed of different body functions, increasing or decreasing them depending on what type it is. It can increase the heart rate, cause sweating or fevers; it can even stop someone's breathing or cause organ failure… which inevitably leads to death without treatment. It can also potentially slow a person's immune system so that their body cannot fight of the poison to the best of its ability." He grounded out firmly, his 'medic voice' coming out as clear as day with maybe a hint of aggravation, "If this venom-based poison is of the habu or mamushi kind then it's going to be fatal for anyone poisoned by it."
"Kakashi-sensei, please, I'm not finished." The blond-haired medic held up a hand, face firm as he spoke once more, "Sasuke is showing mild symptoms: headaches, passing cough, fatigue, as well as severe inflammation surrounding the wound. However, he's already exhibiting moderate symptoms like a fever."
"So that means…" Sakura whispers out, looking hopeless.
Naruto sighed, running a hand through his hair, "While it may not look like it, Sasuke is going to die if I don't treat him soon."
Sakura stepped forward, a frown of determination on her face, "Then let me stay with you in case-"
"No." His eyes hardened, rivaling the fire in his teammate's eyes, "You need to go with Kakashi because - if anything should happen to him - you'd be the only one to protect Tazuna."
"Fine…" Kakashi nodded his head, looking unsure of his decision, "…you can stay but you meet back up with us as soon as you can."
"Wait, he doesn't know the way to the Land of Waves," Tazuna called out frantically, having stayed quiet for the majority of the conversation.
"That's okay, I'll just give you a shadow clone." Naruto smiled, summoning a clone who waved politely at them, "If he gets hit even once he will poof away so be careful with him."
"Think I can seal them away?" Kakashi questioned, giving the new clone a strange look.
"Oh definitely, they're just chakra." Naruto grinned as Kakashi pulled out a scroll, rolling it underneath the clone and sealing it away for if they need it.
Sakura pulled the medic into a quick hug, squeezing him tightly, "You be careful out there okay, be safe."
He smiled slightly, hugging her back, "I'll try my best."
"No, you will be safe." She rolled her eyes, pulling away.
Naruto chuckled, "Yeah, yeah. And you stay out of trouble when you get to the Land of Waves."
"Will do." She grinned weakly.
"You two sound like you're never going to see each other again." Kakashi rolled his eyes but his words didn't have the same sarcastic bite to it. He placed a hand on Naruto's shoulder as Sakura went over to Sasuke, "I trust that you know what you're doing and I pray that you'll be okay."
He nodded his head, "Thanks, Kakashi-sensei."
"You have to come back to us, okay? I don't know what I'd do if you didn't." The man heaved a sigh, "Be careful."
"We should be going. Sakura, you ready?" Kakashi sounded out, already starting to walk away. The kunoichi nodded, giving Sasuke one final worried look before catching up to him. Her eyes lingered on Naruto as they group departed, watching as he and his clone disappeared into the forest.
"He'll be okay." She whispered out, head tilting up to her teacher, "Right?"
"Of course." Kakashi bobbed his head, "Naruto can take care of himself."
If you have any questions, comment them and I will answer them in my Q&A book.
1. "…delicate illness extraction technique?" I'm going to clear this up now, I'm making up a lot of the information on this medical procedure. The only instance that this technique is used is when Sakura uses it on Kankuro after Sasori poisoned him. There isn't much information on it which makes it hard to write for it but I decided to go with the flow for it, use my own research on the technique as well as my current knowledge of poisons and medical procedures to create what you read in this chapter as well as how it'll be used in the future.