Disclaimer: I don't own it. Naruto belongs to its respective owners and some other Japanese dudes. Bleh.
Prologue: Taking Leave
Shikamaru stared at the cloud filled sky as he laid on his back, enjoying the evening air after a long day of playing errand boy for the new Hokage of Konoha. He found it troublesome to perform tasks for her but found that it was equally troublesome to complain about it and so settled on the fact that Life was like that. But that didn't mean he would skip out on his relaxing time. After all, it would be too troublesome to rest at home, without being nagged at by his mother.
He stared some more at the sky, half heartedly guessing the shapes of the passing clouds. Then he looked at the greenish grey vest which he wore, a symbol of his rank of Chuunin. To many of his age, it was a honor and a dream come true to be receive such a rank, but to him, it was another troublesome thing which brought even more bothersome things and worst of all, it was a title he didn't want to achieve.
As his thoughts drifted to the comforts of sleep and napping, soft foot steps on the grass interrupted his thoughts. Shikamaru looked up to see Naruto, someone who he came to know as a strange, if not dependable person. There was something off with him but he passed it off as an illusion of light
"You staring at the clouds?" The blonde asked, somehow lacking the drive and passion which was a trademark for him.
"Yeah." The black haired youth replied, content with his one word answer. From the way Naruto shifted his feet about, and Shikamaru knew that he had something to ask him. "You came here to ask about something?" He asked, his eyes not leaving the cerulean skies. "Perhaps." The boy answered, his voice laced with anxiety.
Silence filled the air, but Shikamaru didn't pay any mind it too much; after all, he preferred the quiet in comparison to the noisy racket created whenever Naruto was around. Naruto opened his mouth before closing again, hesitation and conflict clouding his mind. He reached a decision as he turned away from the Chuunin and started to walk away.
Shikamaru sighed with neither relief nor dismay; maybe he would not seek his consul after all. Naruto stopped in his steps, his head turned towards the setting sun.
"Hey, Shikamaru…" Naruto began as the cool evening breeze blew through his hair, the crimson orange rays tinting his blonde hair. "Do you blame me for not being able to stop Sasuke?"
"You tried your best, and it seems like Uchiha wanted to leave anyway so I don't think you should be too hard on yourself." Shikamaru said in a lazy tone, arching his eyebrows in thought. "Why do you ask though?"
Because it was his decision to leave and my fault for not stopping him.
"Because…he was my comrade and…friend." Naruto answered with clenched teeth, his hands balling up into a tight fist.
The blonde remained silent, before walking off in the direction of the village's market area, the village lights already bright. Shikamaru gave a glance to the retreating form of the genin, before returning to his ritual sky gazing in favor than trying to unravel the reasoning behind the boy. After all, Ino was probably hassling enough for him to figure out.
Iruka prepared to retire for the day, but not before passing by the Ichiraku ramen stall on his way. And as expected, he caught sight of the blonde genin sitting there probably inhaling another bowl of Ramen.
Deciding to greet the blonde, Iruka opened his mouth to speak but promptly slammed shut when he saw the dead look Naruto had in his eyes. Never once did he see the boy so down, and now, not even ramen seemed to cheer him up. The Naruto he knew would go onto the next bowl without delay, smiling throughout but the one in front of him merely picked at his food, slowly eating as if devoid of the drive he was well known for.
"Naruto?" Iruka asked , taking a seat next to him. He shivered as Naruto gave an apathetic look, until the corners of the boy's lips curved into a slight smile.
"Hi, Iruka-san." The boy replied as he slurped the ramen up with his mouth. "Have you eaten yet?" At that moment, a rumbling noise came from the chuunin's stomach. Iruka gave a nervous laugh, "Err…actually no. My pay check doesn't come until tomorrow morning, so you see..."
At that, Naruto gave a small laugh before turning to the cook. "One pork favored ramen for him please."
"Thanks." Iruka said as he dug into his freshly made ramen. They ate in silence, with the occasional shout for another bowl on Naruto's part. Finally, Iruka found his voice to speak.
"There is something troubling you." Iruka turned to the unusually quiet boy, his worry creeping onto his face. "Perhaps." Naruto turned back, eating the noodles with less zeal than before. "Tell me, Naruto," Iruka urged, "Anything at all that you think I could help with." Naruto gave him a smile, but this one was bitter.
"No, I'm fine really."
"If you say so…" Iruka said, not really convinced.
There's something wrong him today, but… A tinge of worry flashed through his mind as he was briefly reminded with Naruto's blank stare. I hope you can get over whatever is troubling you, Naruto…
"Well then, I got to get
moving," He said, smiling as he ruffled the boy's hair. "Thanks for the dinner,
Naruto." With that, he departed from stall, not
knowing that it would be the last time he would see Naruto again.
Naruto stared at his bare ceiling. Sleep had eluded him tonight, just like the other nights during the past week since the failing of their mission to retrieve Sasuke. The villagers glared at him even more, if possible, making him feel even worse. They blamed him for it, saying that he influenced the young genius to commit such a treacherous act. But who could blame them? After all, he was just a demon child while Sasuke was hailed as a genius prodigy. Who wouldn't choose the Uchiha over him, the cursed one who bears the Kyuubi? After all, they hated him and adored the Uchiha. Perhaps it could change but he somewhere deep in his heart, he knew it was not possible. The hatred for him will remain until he died.
If only he had more strength, then he could change his destiny. The destiny of the hated.
Anger and despair filled him, allowing unshed tears to flow from his eyes. Despair about the miserable existence that was his life, and anger at the ones responsible for his plight. Soon, anger was the only thing he felt, swirling and swirling within him, the foreign yet familiar feeling of Kyuubi's chakra surging through him until he felt numb.
Soon, blackness was what all he felt.
That was all it was. Locked away in a corner of the mind, stretched and molded into anyone's desire, its design is seemingly infinite in possibilities, shifting and changing with every few moments. The very dimension itself an illusion within the mind, made using Kinjutsu. But in reality, it was void; a beautiful trap which purpose is to hold the huge black prison taking up prominence in the center of this realm within the mind. And it never failed to amaze Naruto every time he assessed this part of his mind.
And there in the cramp dark prison stood his unwilling guest for the rest of his life; Kyuubi, one of the four Lords of Destruction, caged behind the solid seals which held him in place…for now.
-Greetings, boy.- The voice of Kyuubi boomed throughout the dreamscape. –You came to talk, perhaps?-
"You!" He pointed a accusing finger at the encaged demon. "You brought me here!" Kyuubi smiled at that. –So I did, what does it matter to you? I merely wish to talk.-
"If this is some kind of a trick…"Naruto warned.
-I know how you are feeling.- The demon interrupted, blood red chakra leaking out from the demon's body in waves as he got up from the ground, moving back and forth in his prison. –I know how you hate the feeling of being weak. And I wish help you achieve power, if you listen. - But Naruto did not listen to the demon despite his growing bitterness for his limitations, having belief that the demon was using him for his gain.
"You know nothing about me; all you care is how you are going to use me to escape your prison!" Naruto shouted, his mind tore between ingrained doctrines of the evil that was Kyuubi and the temptation of accepting Kyuubi's offer to strength.
-Then tell me, would you believe the words spat at you by those mortals who so loathed your existence? Or those you think helped you to get strong? Remember that you failed in your mission even after all they have 'done'?-
"They are not like that! Ero-sennin and the rest are different!" The time spent with them, the bonds forged, were they all just a lie? Naruto could not fathom it, but it possible now that everything seemed to fall apart in his world.
-Oh really then?- Kyuubi said, its tone taking a more unsubtle turn, making Naruto feel like a cornered prey. –You fear that it was all one big lie, and that they pitied you. And you hated pity. But more than that, you fear feeling helpless; helpless in the fact that you still failed to bring him back, helpless about how there is nothing more you could do.-
"But I could have done better to make him stay! Maybe if I tried harder, this wouldn't have happened at all!" He ranted at the demon, as tears trickled down his face. The burden was too much for him to bear as the reality of his fears was brought to truth.
-Perhaps, you could but what's done cannot be undone. And even if you did succeed, would your friend be so kind as to appreciate what you did?-
Naruto stared at the shrouded form of the demon, the tears subsiding. His thoughts became focused as he pondered the question. Slowly, realization crept upon his mind like a light, lifting him from his illusions for the very first time. The fox's right. Sasuke would have blamed me for stopping him and hate me for all that I have done to help!
-You called him friend and yet he tried to kill you. But remember he never was forced to make his choice, and he did it in his free will.- Kyuubi continued, his low voice booming as the fox stared at Naruto with calculating eyes. -He chose his path and now he shall walk it, regardless of the consequences. Like all the ignorant peasants who despised you.-
-They hate you, and always will.- Kyuubi said, swishing its gigantic tails in large sweeping motions. -All they cared for was that Uchiha boy, who turned his back on the very ones who supported him. And yet even now they hold him in higher regard than they do you.-
Naruto remained silent, remembering the each of the glares and sneers he received from the villagers from earliest moment he could remember. He felt his rage boil higher, his despair fueling the inferno that was his rage. All the sneers, the glares, the gossip about him, outweighed the few happy times he had in his life. He ignored his feelings until now, but there was no more crowds to wear a mask in front of and he felt his emotions threatening to break him down even more, the reminder of Sasuke's betrayal making it even harder to bear.
"What makes you different from them!?" Naruto spat out, years of repressed anger finally surfacing, his eyes narrowing at the caged demon, who laughed at the question in amusement. -What makes me different is that I am the only one you got. The only one who would help you reach into your potential.-
"As if you would help me," Naruto snorted, a little doubt clouding his emotion state of mind, "Demons aren't known for helping. Especially demons like you."
Kyuubiignored the barb. -On the contrary, I will help you gain what you so desire. The one thing which you have always wanted since you were young.- "And what is that?" Naruto asked, a tinge of anticipation filling him. To attain what he has always dreamed about, to be acknowledged and be the strongest ninja around, the title of Hokage. It may not have be a dream anymore, his dream to be acknowledged!
-Simple, you want strength. The strength to forge your own destiny. The power to become Hokage- Kyuubi said, its mouth moving into a sick parody of a smile. Naruto parted his lips, as if to say something and the demon knew he struck a nerve. -Am I right?- Kyuubi noticed with approval when the boy didn't answer. –However, if you do want my help, there is but one condition…-
"What should I do then?" Naruto asked with doubt filled eyes. At this, Kyuubi fixed its amber eyes at the boy with smug satisfaction. –You must follow my instructions, when I say so, or my assistance will be void– It was an idle threat, for the Kyuubi didn't want to perish without a fight and certainly not by a careless mistake on the part of his host. But Naruto did not know this and nodded his acceptance to the condition.
-As your first task, you must…- Kyuubi dragged on the sentence, its canines protruding from its jaws as it grinned at Naruto, who inched closer to hear. -Leave this place you call home.-
Suddenly, Naruto felt the winds passing by, blowing and howling and then there was quiet. He found himself breathing heavily on his bed. Opening his eyes he was staring at the ceiling of his apartment, beads of sweat rolling down his forehead. It was only a dream… He found it impossible that could have happened; for him to have accepted the help of the Kyuubi. It was so surreal that it had to be a dream. Just a dream. He assured himself. He wiped the sweat with his sleeve, catching the symbol of the Nine-tails tattooed on the upside of his right hand. It was a fox with nine long tails. He stared at it in wonder, the mark captivating him with its artistry, the power of Kyuubi calling out to him even as he gazed at it. It wasn't a dream then…
Silently, he continued to stare at the ceiling, his thoughts in turmoil as to what he should do. He held the necklace which the Fifth had given him and then to the tattoo on his hand. They represented to paths: one was to stay helpless to his fate, or to break his shackles and fulfill his dreams.
-An memory of him flashed in his mind, bringing him back into his younger self, surrounded by dozens of hateful villagers as they sneered at him and threw objects at him, watching with delight as he cried and cried... -
And he was back in his room, staring at the broken ceiling of his apartment. He knew that Iruka, Jiraiya and Tsunade and maybe perhaps Kakashi, did not fault him but they were only four people among the endless numbers in Konoha. His destiny was not meant to be spent in here but rather to be a wanderer, free and uncaring to the world.
He got up, his choice made. A few tears trickled down his cheeks as he took off the necklace Tsunade gave him and placed it on the table along with a note of goodbye.
It was morning.
Too early to wake up and work, the current Hokage would say, who was a enemy against the Sun during those warm, cozy days where sleep was a alterative to the never ending horde of paperwork. Despite this, the sunlight peered through the window blinds and into the huge stacks of papers upon the mahogany desk of Fifth Hokage. The only occupant of this imposing room was currently sleeping, oblivious to the events which would shock her soon.
The doors burst open, revealing a frantic chuunin. "Hokage-sama!"
"Hm?" The sleeping woman took a drowsy look at the ninja, a small trail of drool hanging from her mouth. The Chuunin ignored the undignified appearance of the Hokage and quickly continued. "Uzumaki Naruto has been reported to have left the village."
This caught Tsunade's attention and her ire upon the Chuunin, instantly snapping from sleepiness to full alert. "Why weren't the ANBU able to catch him then?!" The Chuunin became nervous. "Er…They said that Uzumaki was already across the Fire country border."
Bullshit! They were still prejugdiced against Naruto, for the demon he kept at bay. He wasn't responsible for those deaths, why can't those people see through that?!
But still, she could not stand such nonsense coming from her own subordinates especially towards one that was not responsible for such an act to occur. She was caught in her anger that she failed to notice the Chunnin calling her.
"Yes?" She snapped at him, finally breaking out of her thoughts. Silently, he handed to her a necklace, the very one she gave to Naruto a few weeks prior. "This was found along with a note in his apartment." She gaped at it, her eyes wide as
"Your orders, Hokage-sama?"
"Dispatch a team to locate and retrieve Uzumaki unharmed." The Chuunin bowed. "As you wish, Hokage-sama." He left the room, leaving Tsunade alone with her thoughts. Why would Naruto leave the village? What reason would he have to do so? And more importantly, why did he leave the necklace? Because he wanted to leave, a voice in her mind told her.
Tsunade stared at the necklace and the letter for a very long time.
-A year later…-
The mission you have so graciously bestowed upon us, the As of today onwards, the task of finding and retrieving the missing-nin, Uzumaki Naruto, will be suspended indefinitely as he has left the boundaries of the Fire country. Warrants for him posted earlier will be cancelled and Hunter-nins are notified of the standard 'Search and destroy' procedure should they encounter Uzumaki. I take responsibility for failing to live up to your expectations and I apologize in the stead of my comrades.
Our sincere apologies,
Mizuke Haruka, ANBU team-06