Note: Alternate universe. Fluffy friendship. You have been warned.
Down The Untrodden Path
"IRUKA-SENSEI! I'M GOING OUT FOR A WHILE!"
Even though he was on the first storey, tucked away in the deep recesses of the kitchen on the far edge of the room when Naruto had made that loud announcement from the second storey, the older man known as Iruka could not help but wince.
"All right, Naruto, I heard that!" He shouted back, knowing that he was unable to reach the boy's volume, but trying it anyway. "You don't have to shout the house down!"
"SORRY!" Came the apology, louder this time.
Iruka turned around from watching the soup boil just in time to see a ball of blond, blue and orange flash by the kitchen doorway. He wiped his oily hands absently on his apron while shouting, "Don't get into trouble, Naruto!" after the blond, blue and orange flash.
"OKAY!" The reply was fast, furious, and as loud as the previous declarations - even though Naruto was already halfway out of the door. Iruka shook his head, turning back to the soup. He tried to count the time before the city wardens marched through the front doors of this little inn he was tending to, to complain about another one of Naruto's harmless but utterly impish antics. Sometimes he wondered whether Naruto really listened to him or not.
Another flash of movement atop the rafters soon drew Iruka's attention away. He felt his eye twitch slightly at the familiar aura, though he did not make an attempt to speak up first. He waited.
And was soon rewarded.
"The clock has finally ticked to the end, Iruka-sensei," the low, dark voice of the shadowy figure held a slightly accusatory tone, "There's no more sand to spill from the upper chamber anymore."
"I know," Iruka's reply was firm, but even. He eyed the rafter, unflinching. "I'm glad."
The shadowy figure remained silent, as if hoping to read more from Iruka's expression. A slight shuffling sound, seconds after Iruka's answer, saw that the figure knew he could read no more, and had made that known by his speedy disappearance.
The oppressive aura gone, Iruka slumped, his palms pressing against the tabletop. Subconsciously, one hand reached upwards to cradle the pendant that was resting behind his work clothes, a flood of memories immediately invading his senses. He sat down on a chair, and put a hand upon his forehead.
"My King," he mumbled, fingers clasping the cloth-covered pendant tighter. "I'm sorry..."
"Watch out, watch out! Uzumaki Naruto coming through!" A blur of gold zipped rapidly across street after street, hooting his warning to anyone who would pay heed. Many indeed did, as could be seen by the increased number of people scowling and quickly ducking out of harm's way. Naruto wedged through all of them, grin brighter than the glorious sun in the sky. He loved being paid attention to. Smile or scowl, he took it all in his stride.
It was just another normal day on the immediate outskirts of Konoha Capital.
After hurtling through the whole distance he had wanted to travel, Naruto skidded to a sandy stop in the middle of the city's public square. He shifted directions and charged straight towards the centre of the square, spewing out warnings to make way at the top of his voice. The crowd gathered there obediently stepped aside, just so that they would not be bowled over by the impact. Most of them had had that experience at one point of time or another, and verily agreed that it was not something they wanted to go through again.
Thus, this left Naruto to grin widely at all of them - as he finally arrived at his destination - the city bulletin board. Behind him, the crowd that had parted to admit him started to clamour back, their suspended discussions back in full swing. Amidst loud murmuring and soft whispers, Naruto scanned the bulletin for the latest news.
He was soon disappointed to see that there were no new posters of wanted criminals. That had been his intention in the first place. The last one had been posted at least a couple of months ago, and the case itself was resolved within the week. This meant that Naruto had no chance to show the people his skills yet again. He pouted. He had trained really hard, too! Turning, he was almost ready to leave the area when he noticed the warden putting up one last poster.
Immediately after the warden left, a burst of excited murmurings flowed through the people. The low whispering became high, flurried debates. Naruto found himself slightly affected by the crowd atmosphere, as he read the headlines with mild interest.
"Coronation of the new monarch of the people in Konoha," he read out loud, and all around him those who had heard his voice nodded with deep agreement, "within seven days of this notice. All are invited to attend..."
"I won't be missing it!" Someone suddenly shouted out from the crowd.
"Yeah!" Another agreed. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing! You don't ever get to see the face of the monarch except on coronation day!"
Lively discussion soon ensued, everybody trading thoughts and bantering ideas about the poster. Naruto, though, remained silently staring at the board.
Finally, he wrinkled his nose, and tossed a question to the person nearest to him. "Oji-san, oji-san," he tugged at the sleeve of the person on his right - a stoic, bored-looking man with dark hair and darker eyes. Said man immediately snapped about to glare at the blond, who blinked in surprise. He was sure he had never seen this man before, less say pull tricks on him that would make him the target of such a vehement glare. He waited for the explanation that was sure to come.
"I'm not that old," the man informed Naruto tersely. And Naruto scowled.
"Sorry mister, you don't exactly walk around with your age stamped on your forehead, ya'know," he stuck a tongue out at the - in his opinion, rude, stranger. "Your huge, massive frown kindda makes you look like some grumpy guy who just got sacked from his job, in case you haven't noticed!"
The taller person looked like he was about to rebut, but settled for an incredulous, scolding look instead. "Yeah, whatever," he grumbled, pushing a few stray strands of hair aside. "What do you want, idiot?"
The blond bristled. Practically everybody in this town had called him an idiot at one point of time in his seventeen years of life or another, but for some reason, hearing the rude stranger say it hackled Naruto up more aggressively than anything. "You... you... bastard!" He screeched, adding to the noise that the crowd was already making. "Nevermind! I'm gonna go ask someone else who actually has /manners/! Jerk!" The blond mock spat on the ground and spun around huffily.
He would have walked away, had not the smug voice of the stranger teased him with, "What? Forgot your question already? Stupid."
The blond paused only for a split second. He turned and immediately tottered his way back to the stranger.
"You... are... very... VERY... irritating!" He growled in the boy's face. "You're not from around here are you? Huh?" He leered and pointed a thumb at himself. "Nobody messes with the great Uzumaki Naruto and gets away with it, so stay back and mind your own business!"
In response to that, the stranger eyed him with an unbelieving quirk of eyebrows. "You're right," he nodded solemnly, a while later. "It'd be a waste of time to be bothered with someone like you." The stranger lifted a hand, "Bye." and walked away, his parched, tattered cloak billowing about behind him.
It was only at this point of time that Naruto noticed how dirty and unkempt the stranger really was.
"Who the hell was that?" Naruto blinked, but the stranger had already dissolved into the mass of people. Shaking his head, Naruto settled on heading home, since his original purpose had been fruitless and he now needed to ask Iruka about something. Sighing, he moped away. Why couldn't life in this town be just that little bit more exciting?
As if on cue, a loud, piercing scream broke the eardrums of everybody gathered in the square. Immediately there was an obligatory silence, as everybody attempted to pinpoint the source of the sound. Nobody had to wait long, for the screech came again, louder than ever before. "THIEF! THIEF! STOP HIM! HE STOLE MY MONEY!!"
A flash of dark amusement immediately touched Naruto's eyes when he heard the word 'thief'. Glancing about himself, he soon found the lady who was crying out loud. The lady was on the ground, evidently having been pushed there by the thief. She was wailing and pointing down in a direction, where a man in plain, pastel clothes was running away in. As it was rather chaotic, no one had yet moved to help. Naruto quickly bounded after the man, snickering to himself. This was a chance in a lifetime for him to show his skill and make himself a hero! He nimbly squeezed past the throng of people and was soon hot on the heels of the flustered mugger.
"Give it up, pal, you're not getting away from the great Uzumaki Naruto!" Naruto yelled after the man, who panicked and tried to run faster. It proved to be his undoing, for by then they were zig-zagging around a strip of narrow side alley, where trash and litter of all sorts abounded. The man tripped dramatically over an obtuse trash bin and crash landed in a pile of plastic rubbish. The other people who were looking out through their windows or walking along adjacent alleys stopped to look, surprise written on their faces. None, however, stepped out to help.
"Hahah!" Naruto was unconcerned. He held his hand over where his scabbard usually was poised. "Don't move, buddy! Unless you want to face the wrath of the-...!"
The moment of triumph rapidly descended into embarrassed despair. Naruto groped the thin air by his side, where his sword was supposed to be, and realised belatedly that in his rush to go out this morning, he had forgotten to bring his weapon along. The colour drained spectacularly from his face.
There were many people staring at the scene now, and if he didn't do something /smart/ soon, he was going to leave the alley a dishonoured boy. The man was still struggling to distangle himself from the rubbish, so he had a bit of time, although not much. He glanced about himself frantically. There had got to be /something/ he could use to subdue the thief with!
He took great care to scan for inanimate objects, so he skipped the faces of people who were staring. Soon he chanced upon a lifesaver. A sturdy, wrapped hilt resting within a jewelled sheath, hanging upon the waist of one of the persons nearby. He dove.
"Sorry buddy! Lend me your sword for a while!" He managed to say, pulling the medium-length broadsword out of the sheath before the owner could protest. He whistled lowly at the gleaming blade that came out from the sheath, marvelling at how it was translucent yet still swirled with so many beautiful colours.
But since it was not the time to be getting needlessly obsessed with a blade, Naruto swung expertly at the thief, who had just barely managed to poke his head out from among the huge amount of rubbish. He positioned the sharp tip of the sword at a vital part of the thief's neck. "Don't move," Naruto grinned, much too happily for someone who had another at sword-point, "if you don't want to get hurt!"
From behind Naruto, the stomping of boots of the city wardens could be heard. The thief tried to glare Naruto into submission, but Naruto only grinned wider. Knowing his fate was sealed, the thief then gulped and resigned himself. Some of the wardens were already in clear sight, having finally caught up with the criminal.
Within the next few seconds, the thief was rounded up, arrested, and had to surrender his stolen ware. Naruto grinned even wider, happy to see justice done. The chief warden - a lazy looking man with half his face hidden in a black mask, approached him and smiled at him. It wasn't obvious with his mask that he was smiling, but when someone's visible eye crinkled like that, it was almost for sure that he was smiling. "Naruto. You again." He said, voice surprisingly clear despite a cloth covered mouth. "Very soon you can stand in front of the station and become our official mascot for fast crime-busting."
"Thanks, Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto rubbed his nose with a thumb once, flushed with pride. "But if you haven't given me those extra lessons on how to wave a sword properly, I wouldn't have been able to get him right where I wanted!"
Kakashi nodded amicably. "Glad to see that I haven't been putting my energy to the wrong use."
Naruto nodded, then pouted at a sudden remembrance. "Although Iruka-sensei still doesn't like to see me swinging a sword around." He complained. "He doesn't say it but I can see it in his eye! He thinks I'll cut my hand and bleed to death or something!" His head turned upwards in a deft show of defiance. Coupled with his protruding lower lip, Kakashi could only scratch his head sheepishly, wondering how a late-teenager boy could make himself look so utterly childish.
"He'll understand one day," Kakashi promised, having heard this same complaint for many years. "Until then, Naruto-kun, I'm afraid I'll have to rejoin my comrades. I'll see you around," he waved, then jogged towards where the rest of the wardens were deep in discussion. "Nice sword, by the way!" He shouted back at Naruto after going a small distance. Naruto nodded in instinctive acknowledgement, allowing his glance to trail after the wardens wistfully.
He turned, about to move away, when the heavy weight in his right hand and Kakashi's final words startled him back from the daze. He gave an gasp when he looked at the sword he was holding. This was certainly not /his/ sword. Suddenly remembering what he had done, he jerked his head upwards to try to locate the person he had borrowed the weapon from.
It was not hard, for everybody else had begun to move back slowly into their routine walking. Only one person stood rooted to the spot, staring at Naruto like he had grown fangs, claws and nine tails. Naruto ran up to him and brandished the sword. "Sorry 'bout that!" He tilted his head and smiled. "No offence, okay? It was an emergency, as you could see, and... OH HEY!" He leapt backwards suddenly, releasing his hold on the sword, which fell to the ground with several loud metallic clangs. "You're that stupid jerk from just now!"
At the address, the dark-haired boy from just now snapped out of his stare. He frowned, scrutinising Naruto with alarming intensity. "Idiot." He huffed under his breath. In a louder voice, he continued, "My name is Uchiha Sasuke..."
"I told you to stop calling me an idiot!" Naruto screeched. The name Uchiha sounded rather familiar, though he could not presently remember where he had heard it from. Sasuke ignored him, choosing to bend down and pick up the abandoned sword. He calmly held it, staring at it with great fascination; turning it about here and there, testing its sharpness with his fingers and swinging it a couple of times. There was a glint of curiosity in Sasuke's eyes, and Naruto could not understand why.
"What the heck are you doing?" The blond frowned. "If I didn't know any better, I would've thought this is the first time you've ever seen the sword."
Sasuke regarded him seriously. He calmly sheathed the sword and walked towards the boy, aura blazing. Naruto gulped and wanted to step back, but that would mean he was afraid, so he stood his ground. It was a relief therefore, when Sasuke stopped three steps away from him. "Naruto..." the boy pronounced carefully. "...Naruto, is your name, right?"
Something in Naruto's sixth sense tingled, and now he /really/ felt like running away. "Ye-Yeah!" He tried to put up a brave front. "So what if it is?"
Sasuke flipped his cape aside and was down on one knee faster than Naruto could blink and run away.
"These five years of wandering have not been in vain," said the Uchiha, head bowed and one hand across his chest in a show of respect Naruto wondered when he had earned. The jewelled sword was thrust under Naruto's nose, and Sasuke continued, "Please accept the Sword of Jewels and be restored to your original position upon the throne, my Prince. The nation awaits your ascension."
Later, when Naruto looked back at that particular moment in time, he would realise that it was the first, and only time, that someone managed to shock him into such a long period of silence and inactivity.
tougenkyou . net / xd
I swear, by the moon and the stars in the sky, by the shadow that's by your side (especially yours, Halig), that this fic has not been completed yet. :D Therefore, you shall feel the full throttle of my procrastination. Oh, and maybe have a bit of fun reading on. ...I hope. XD