REVISED AGAIN NOV 10TH, 2005!
Timeline has been switched and ages have been adjusted. Naruto returned to Konoha when he was 15 and became ANBU at 16. Konoha was attacked a second time by the Sound when he was 19. Now he is 21.
Title: As the Last Candle Burns
Author: Falling Right Side-Up
Category/Rating: Action Adventure/Romance; PG-13 (May become an R)
Pairing: Kakashi x Naruto
Summary: Things weren't supposed to end up this way…Too much destruction, too much death. In a ravaged future, Naruto watches as his precious people are taken away, one by one. He has one hope, one joy, and it's about to fade.
DISCLAIMERS: No, I do not own Naruto or anything related to the manga and anime.
AN: OH MY GOD! I never knew this fic would be so popular! You guys make me so happy! Anyways, enjoy!
Yes, this is one of those "time-traveling" fics that seem to be popping up everywhere. I liked the idea, so sue me. No, don't. I like my money, thank you very much.
As The Last Candle Burns
By: Falling Right Side-Up
He had to make it.
A lone injured ANBU raced through the forest, exhaustion apparent as his movements became duller and uncoordinated. His uniform had long been torn and drenched with sweat, grime, and blood; it was an unavoidable occurrence with the constant battles he went through. Blood of his enemies. Blood of his comrades. Naruto grimaced bitterly as he continued to leap through the trees, his keen sapphire eyes guiding his path through the destruction in the dark.
He'd been running non-stop for three hours. Three hours since he'd last seen his squad fighting to hold off the enemies so that he could secure the mission. Three hours since he'd left them behind with a silent nod of acknowledgement for his comrades in arms. Three hours since he'd known that he'd never see them alive again.
Two years ago, such a thing would have been incomprehensible to the blond shinobi. But times changed and a lot had happened in six years. There had been too many deaths. Too many sacrifices. Too much…needlessness.
To the side, his eyes caught a glimpse of a large worn down construct. What had been high cement walls was nothing but corroding debris littering the cold ground. Further inwards was a graveyard. The death-bed of Konohakagure. He rushed right past it without a lingering glance.
That place wasn't his home anymore.
Its familiarity and comforting existence had been wiped out two years ago with the Sound's second assault upon the recuperating Village of Konohakagure. Despite the shinobis' best efforts, it hadn't been enough. Despite his nearly three year training journey with Jiraiya, it had been a complete slaughter. Too many had fallen under enemy hands. Where had his boastful strength and supposed invincibility been, then?
'If only I was stronger.'
For as long as he could remember, his outspoken goal as a shinobi had been to become the Hokage and gain the respect and acknowledgement of Konoha. However, trial after trial during his growth caused him to re-prioritize his goals. Then and now, his foremost goal was to protect his precious people.
Yet, as hard as he tried, they kept slipping through his fingers.
Like glittering grains of sand, no matter how tightly he gripped his hands together, there was always some unnoticeable crack or opening from whence the sand trickled out. It started out as one grain, then two, figuratively unnoticeable but tragic as the grains became lost on the dirty ground. Each loss leaving a tremendous emptiness within him, for Naruto had precious few to begin with.
Now, only three remained. And all of them had long lost their glitter. Too much had happened for them to remain unchanged. Battle hardened and weary of the constant look-out for enemies, happiness was a long forgotten commodity.
Naruto's eyes narrowed in pain, both physical and emotional. With the departure of the Kyuubi after an untimely confrontation with the Akatsuki, he no longer had the unlimited supply of chakra he had once been famous for. Having survived the ordeal was a blessing in itself, only made possible by the kitsune's fondness for him. The other Jinchuuriki hadn't been as fortunate, he thought grimly.
Although the Youma had left him a small portion of its monstrous power before returning to the demon realm once more, it simply wasn't enough. It was enough to survive, yes, but not enough to save the people that mattered. Though the blond supposed it was better than allowing the Kyuubi to have been captured by the bastards, he couldn't deny he sorely missed the ancient presence of the kitsune.
But right now, his chakra reserves were dangerously low and his body was nearing its limits. 'Concentrate. You can't afford to be distracted by sentimental thoughts.' Exhaustion was creeping up to his eyes, making his vision hazy and distorted. But he pushed on. They were waiting for him. His precious people.
He glanced down worriedly through the animal mask at the invaluable cargo secured within the pocket of his pants. The scroll, he thought with a hint of desperation, was his last hope. Their last hope.
Failure, the word grated against his mind, was not acceptable. Not then, especially not now. He had given them his word, and had taken to heart the fact that he would never take back his word, no matter the price. After all, that was his nindo.
She hated waiting.
Constant fighting, ambushes, traitors, torture, and death, she could deal with. All of them were nerve-wrecking and painful, but this… Tsunade couldn't stand waiting. Waiting compliantly in a make-shift tent, protected by the last of the remaining ANBU escorts while one of the people she cared for the most was out risking his life just to come back safely to her.
Waiting, unknowing if he was hurt or worse, dead. Dreading the fact that she was to blame for sending him out on such a perilous mission, and hating that it was not the first of its kind she had sent him on.
She sighed, placing her head in her hands with her elbows on her knees as she sat on a small cushion on the ground. Tsunade had tried justifying her actions to herself, knowing that there was just no one else she could have sent. Everyone was either KIA already or they were injured and unable to endure such a high risk mission. But that didn't make her feel any better.
Naruto will come back, she thought fiercely. He always came back, no matter how impossible the situation seemed. He completed mission after mission, never once complaining at the lack of rest or difficulty despite the horror, the pain, and the endless darkness that threatened to consume them. But how long could he keep it up?
Even with the Kyuubi gone, it was undeniable that Naruto was one of the strongest and most durable shinobis to ever live. Even so, she had no desire to offer him as a sacrificial lamb just because he could take more damage; the very thought sickened her. But what could she do when the boy – he would always be a boy to her – himself insisted on it? She bit her lip in frustration.
Lifting her head, her tired eyes gazed listlessly around the tent. The blankets, cushions, and desk were all worn from the constant moves during the last seven years. After the second attack on Konohakagure by the Sound, they had to abandon their once lively home, forced to wander as nomads in the fire country. The opportunity to settle permanently had never come around as the continuous ambushes increased.
Home was no longer a place. It resided amongst the people that were left. And that number was decreasing everyday. Day by day, home became smaller, colder, harsher and…darker.
Six years had taken its toll on the people and shinobi of Konoha. The livelihood that had once been a towering flame began to blow out against the force of a howling and unrelenting wind. They were but a small collection of candles now. And even then, their meager flames were constantly flickering, in danger of being snuffed out.
Tsunade herself was nearing her end. If not mortally in body, than at least in mind and spirit. She knew; she could feel it. Everyday, they were losing ground, losing lives, losing hope… And she just kept sending them to their death, she thought cynically. It didn't matter that the missions were necessary. Didn't the lives of her subordinates matter more, especially since there were so few left?
No, she couldn't doubt herself now, she thought resolutely. It was far too into the game to do that. Now, their lives accounted to an all or nothing gamble of chance, irrational hope and faith. Upon the object of Naruto's mission.
Would he make it? He had to, he had to, he had to. But even the former container of the Kyuubi had his limits; he wasn't invincible. How long would he keep burning, especially when the fuel to his fire was fading away? Had been fading away for a long time.
She glanced mournfully through the flimsy material of her tent to gaze at the shadowed outline of another tent beside hers. It was Naruto's tent, which currently housed another occupant within it. The occupant? None other than her fellow deceased, Toad-Sannin's perverted accomplice, Hatake Kakashi.
Her eyes lit with brief amusement before fading into sorrow once more. The silver-haired jounin had been an unexpected addition to Naruto's love life. With Naruto's constant need to prove that he was the best in everything, she had never imagined that he would seek comfort in the older, wiser, and clearly more dominant male.
In the onslaught of danger and despair, the two had found a peculiar solace within one another. And even in the midst of death and flurry of battles, their love had flared. But now, gone were the happy moments, overshadowed by the unalterable fate that awaited the infamous Copy-Ninja.
Slowly but surely, Kakashi was dying.
He was going to kill the dobe.
Pacing back and forth in the clearing of the make-shift camp site, Uchiha Sasuke swore under his breath. His Sharingan eyes flashed angrily into the foliage before him, trying to pin point any sign of his team-mate's return. His hair was unkempt and his right arm was in a sling, an injury from the previous mission he had accompanied Naruto on.
How dare he, the raven-haired young man fumed. How dare the dobe leave him at the camp-site? Sasuke didn't care that he was injured, he could damn well do a mission whether anyone else thought he could or not. And to add insult to the injury, the blond shinobi had tied him up and tossed him into his tent before rushing off to participate in the latest mission.
He growled, unable to express his frustration and worry in any other way that was not destructive. He should have been allowed to go. His place was in battle beside his last remaining childhood comrade, friend, and brother, not stuck as an invalid going insane with anxiety.
He would have gone after the fool, if not for the express command from his Hokage that he should stay put. Didn't they know he needed to be out there? Out where there was nothing to think about besides the adrenaline and the fear? Out where he wouldn't be able to feel the constant anguish of emptiness in his heart?
His eyes furrowed in pain as he clenched his teeth. Why wouldn't they let him go and exact revenge? Didn't they want vengeance for their comrades? For their loved ones? He clutched his chest in agony at the memory of a certain pink-haired kunoichi. Haruno Sakura, once a silly little girl obsessed with romance that had grown into a formidable kunoichi and medic. His childhood teammate, partner, confidant, lover and wife.
With the help of Sakura and Naruto, he'd been able to draw himself out of the darkness after being ensnared within Orochimaru's influence. When he had finally realized his foolishness, they had been waiting for him with open arms and he had let himself fall into them. Let them support him; let them get him back on his feet.
He had finally accepted Sakura's undying love. He had finally attained something akin to true happiness. And then he had lost it all when she was ripped from his grasp and robbed of life by the one man he hated beyond comprehension.
It hadn't been enough for the bastard to massacre his clan. When it had appeared that Sasuke had let go of his fixation on him, the missing-nin had returned and struck him where it hurt.
Already, Sasuke was nearing the end of his sanity from the simple knowledge that he hadn't been able to protect the one woman he loved. It had happened so fast that he hadn't been able to dwell on it. From her battered and bloodied appearance, the gruesome injuries, and the taunting symbol of the Uchiha clan carved pristinely into her bare chest, it had been piercingly obvious what had happened.
There had been no delayed reaction. There had been no extended period of denial. He had known in that instant that she was dead, and he had known exactly who had caused it.
Sasuke bit out a particularly vicious snarl at the thought of the man. There was more than enough anger for Itachi to go around. As if targeting him and Sakura hadn't been enough, the bastard had selected another victim.
At the end of final battle against the Akatsuki, very few of its members had survived the Kyuubi's wrath. Unfortunately, Uchiha Itachi was one of the few that hadn't had the grace to just die. And to make the matter worse, his near death at the hands of the youma and its container had done nothing to deter his fixation. The only change was that the missing-nin's obsession with the Kyuubi had grown into a sickly infatuation for Naruto instead. A destructive affection that had added to Naruto's unending pain.
After the annihilation of his organization, Itachi had begun to work towards his goal of obtaining the blond shinobi by force. With the failure of several direct attempts to capture Naruto, the bastard had taken an alternate route, which was to kill what he thought was the one obstacle standing in his way: Kakashi.
Sasuke shook his head. He would never forget what had happened.
(…Sasuke sighed tiredly as he passed inspection at the outer perimeter of headquarters after completing yet another espionage mission with his squad. He turned around to debrief his subordinates before dismissing them when a sudden uproar accompanied by frantic shouts distracted him. The raven-haired man paused bemusedly and dismissed his squad, telling them to report to him later and briskly made his way to the source of the commotion.
On his way, he snatched onto the arm of a passing medic, "What's going on?"
"Hatake-san was found just a while ago," the woman responded distractedly.
Sasuke raised an eyebrow. Found? He hadn't even been aware the other jounin had been missing. As if sensing his confusion, the medic explained, "It happened while you were on your mission, Uchiha-san. Hatake-san's squad reported him missing when they returned but found him a couple hours later."
"Hn," the ANBU captain responded. He let go of the medic's arm and turned away at a brisk walk when she spoke up once again.
"You knew him personally, did you not, Uchiha-san?" Sasuke stopped and gave a small nod over his shoulder. The medic frowned. "Then you might want to hurry," her voice was grave. He stared at her blankly.
Her eyes clouded briefly with a far off look before pinning him with sharpened eyes. "I've seen a lot of bad cases..." the medic turned around, heading the opposite direction. "…and he's by far the worst," she finished grimly.
He watched her walk away with a contemplative stare. Though Sasuke felt slightly more urgent, he didn't think Kakashi was in as bad of a state as the woman implied. After all, the man had been his sensei when he was younger. The pervert wasn't a pushover.
Just as he was about to turn away, he heard the medic call out to him again. "He fought against Uchiha Itachi." Sasuke's head snapped back with wide eyes but she had already disappeared.
He snarled and dashed towards the Hokage's tent. With his traitorous brother as part of the equation, the result couldn't have been anything but gruesome. In which case he knew Tsunade was the only one who could even hope to repair the damage. And if Kakashi or Tsunade was involved, Naruto would be as well.
Sure enough, as he tore open the flap of the tent and searched amidst the flurry of activity, he spotted the bright hair of his blond companion off to the side. Quickly, Sasuke made his way over to Naruto from behind and gently grabbed the shorter man's shoulder, squeezing it with concern.
"Naruto?" he questioned softly. The blond didn't respond. Frowning, Sasuke gently turned the other man around to face him. He cringed. "Naruto," he spoke firmly, searching for some semblance of awareness within the blankness of his comrade's usually expressive eyes.
Sighing, he peered over the unresponsive man's shoulder in order to catch a glimpse of his former sensei's condition. The battle hardened Uchiha had to stop himself from recoiling at the sight. He fought against Itachi, my ass, the raven-haired man's thoughts raged. It had been nothing but torture. That much was devastatingly clear.
Sasuke was kept from dwelling on the dark thoughts as Naruto suddenly jerked himself free from his arms. The blond shinobi brushed passed him without a word, ignorant of the shouted insults of those he bumped into as he stalked out of the tent. Shaking the momentary surprise off, the raven-haired man pursued his companion.
Once outside, Sasuke watched in silent concern as Naruto's distraught figure stumbled through the crowd of people and into the vacated field beyond. The Uchiha searched his mind for something – anything – to say, but the words refused to be spoken. Even with the loud sounds of medical jutsus behind him, he felt he had just walked under a blanket of morose and damning silence.
Silence. That alone told Sasuke something was horribly wrong.
Sasuke was not a sentimental man, but considering the circumstances, he partly expected nature to resonate with his companion's pain. The wind should have been howling with fury instead of the gentle caress it was now. It should have been cold to reflect the emotional barrenness. It should have been raining in order to mask the silent tears.
Instead, Naruto stood isolated within the vibrant colors of the blooming field, with his golden hair shining even brighter with the reflection of the sun. Sasuke thought the scenery felt especially cruel; nature's indifference seemed to heighten the sense of loss and abandonment that surrounded the blond shinobi.
And so, Sasuke continued the vigil over his comrade, offering his presence as a small comfort although he was almost sure that Naruto was unaware of anything but his own grief. The raven-haired man even felt a sense of relief when the blond finally broke his eerie silence and continued to express his pain with low keening wails and broken sobs.
When people – people who had callously ignored and belittled Naruto - began to gather at the edges of the field, Sasuke observed them with a sense of smug vengeance as their expressions became marred with guilt and sorrow. 'See?' He wanted to snarl at them. 'Do you finally see the truth? He's no monster. He feels happiness. He feels love. He feels pain. Even more than you do. More than anyone of us will.'
Perhaps what struck everyone the most were not the anguished cries, but that fact that the usually hyperactive ninja had not moved once during his grieving. From the beginning, the blond had remained standing, his arms limp at his side, and his face lifted up towards the heavens with an expression of utter helplessness.
Helplessness. To those who knew him and of his constant struggles against his unfair lot in life, that was a word they would never have thought to be associated with the blond shinobi. What would their fates come to when the one person they had thought unbreakable was suddenly…broken?
And through it all, Naruto remained ensnared within the tumultuous chaos of his emotions, ignorant of the others' mounting fears and doubts. He didn't care that his grieving was undignified for a shinobi of his station. He didn't care that everyone was observing his greatest moment of weakness. He was beyond all thought or reason.
Uzumaki Naruto was afraid.
He had never felt so powerless. It scared him.
And it scared others when they realized he was scared….)
Sasuke chuckled bitterly. When news of Kakashi's recovery had reached their ears, they had been elated…until the recovery was discovered to be only physical.
Itachi had the most malicious sense of humor and retribution. Nothing Tsunade or any other medic-nin had done revived Kakashi from his coma. Yet, as if taunting their unsuccessful efforts, the jounin would periodically awaken with a few spare moments of lucidity before drifting off again. It became a vicious cycle of getting something, and then having it taken away again, and again, and again.
And so Naruto waited, and waited, and waited by the jounin's side when he wasn't completing a mission, desperately awaiting the few moments of his consciousness. Just those few moments where he could smile lovingly and bravely for the jounin's sake, renewing their vows of love over and over.
But recently, Kakashi had been waking up less and less. The periods in between grew longer and the jounin began to rapidly deteriorate before their eyes. He was dying, and there was nothing they could do. For Sasuke, the death of his loved one had happened too fast to plague his mind with "what ifs." But Naruto, with the reminder of his failure right before his eyes, had ample time to do so. Weighed down by the pain, guilt, and regret, Naruto faded away day by day.
Sasuke, who had once believed that Naruto was an ever glowing ball of light, had begun to doubt many things. What was so important about Naruto's latest mission? Would a scroll really help them win the war? What were the chances of them surviving? And if they did, was there anything to go back to? If not, what was all this for?
His furious pacing had slowed down to a sullen trudge back and forth. What was the use of expending such energy when there was nothing to apply it to but anger?
The sound of movement amongst the trees caused Sasuke to stop his train of thought and peer sharply into the forest. Someone was coming. The chakra signals were so weak that he wasn't able to identify who was approaching. He settled into a defensive stance, as did the ANBUs behind him. And with bated breath, they silently awaited the intruder.
A lean battered figure staggered out from the underbrush, collapsing on his knees with ragged breaths before lifting a wounded arm to deliver a mock salute. Something only one person Uchiha knew did to this day.
"Naruto!" Sasuke shouted, rushing to the injured ANBU's side, the others behind him quick to follow. Carefully, he untied the fox mask from the blond's face, supporting him with an arm around his waist. He cursed at the sight of the grievous wounds that were spilling blood.
"You, moron! You should have taken me with you! You're not indestructible anymore! Damn fur-ball is gone!" He shouted fearfully in concern.
"Hehe, sorry, Sasuke. You know how I like the spotlight. Besides," Naruto wheezed, "I'm fine," he trailed off, thinking about his squad that he had left behind.
"Naruto!" A frantic female voice cried from across the clearing. The blond lifted his tired eyes to see an upset Tsunade running towards them. From her expressions, he could tell that she was angry and going frantic between her concern for him and the mission. A sharp feeling of guilt tightened in his chest as he saw her haggard appearance. He hadn't meant to make her worry so much.
"Ano sa, Ano sa, I did it, Obaa-san!" He declared with as much cheer as he could muster, fishing in his pocket for the scroll. He pulled it out and handed it to her with a weary smile.
"You, brat!" She spat with tears in her eyes, tucking the scroll into her robes before lifting a startled Naruto into her arms.
"Ano, Obaa-san, I can still walk! Besides, I'm too big to be carried, I'm twenty-one! Lemme go!" He protested, concerned for the old woman's welfare.
"Shut up, gaki! I may be old but I'm not senile!" Her voice was gruff, but she was smiling. Sasuke allowed a smirk to pull at his lips as he followed the squabbling pair. He gave a sharp nod to the ANBUs, dismissing them before entering the Hokage's tent.
Inside, he found Naruto lying on a cot, eerily silent as Tsunade treated his wounds. Their faces were downcast and pensive. He stiffened at the tense atmosphere. What was going on? Shouldn't they be happy? The mission was a success and Naruto was back. He stood quietly in the corner, waiting for the other two to break the silence. It didn't happen until the last of the blond's wound were treated, and even then, the silence stretched for a few moments more.
It was the Hokage who took the initiative. "Report, Uzumaki Naruto," she commanded in a stern voice, but it was evident that she was worried by the emotion in her eyes. Naruto refused to look up and didn't answer right away.
"Break in, success. Retrieval, success." Naruto spoke without looking up, his voice clipped and bitter. "Position compromised. Engaged enemy. Enemy status, unknown. Squad status, unknown," he paused for a weary breath. "But either way, there's too many fucking casualties."
Tsunade nodded solemnly. "I'm sorry, Naruto." The blond shinobi waved off the apology, getting up from the cot and walking towards the exit.
"It's okay, Tsunade baa-chan. I'm used to it," he shrugged carelessly, even though it was obvious to the two other occupants that he wasn't used to it. He never would be. "I'm gonna go see Kakashi, m'kay?" he left without waiting for their responses.
Naruto stood in front of the cot, staring at its occupant. He made no move to approach the still body within it. He simply stared, watching the man's chest rise and fall, drinking in the pitiful sight of the man he loved after being apart for so long.
"Kakashi," he breathed the name huskily, sorrow and longing pungent in its sound. He slowly knelt by the unconscious jounin's side, stroking his unmasked face tenderly. The silver hair drooped and no longer had its shiny luster. The man's already pale complexion was sickly and his once muscular frame looked fragile. Broken. Naruto wiped the stray tears from his eyes with his forearm. He grasped the man's hand in his own, bringing it to his face to place a soft kiss upon it.
"Ne, Kakashi," the blond called softly, "I completed a really important mission today. We may actually win the war with this. It's our last hope," he paused thoughtfully. "It's a forbidden scroll. It has a kinjutsu in it. Did you know, even though it's really strong, no one's ever tried it?" He glanced curiously at the jounin, almost as if he expected a timely response. Silence.
"It's supposed to allow the user to travel through time. But time is a relative thing. No one knows if it's a tangible. So how can you travel through something that may or may not exist, you know? Not only that, it's super difficult and there's a price to pay."
"They say that its success depends solely upon the user's strength of will. As for the price…it's human lives. I think it's affordable. No one said whose lives they had to be. I'm sure the Orochi-bastard wouldn't mind if I sacrificed a large portion of his shinobi," Naruto smirked mischeviously, knowing that if Kakashi had been awake they would have been sharing a laugh at the Sound's expense.
"But enough of that now," Naruto declared with false cheer, "I'm tired, you know? Long mission and all that. I think it's time for us to get some rest." He cautiously edged onto the cot, sitting up with his back resting against the desk, and carefully pulled Kakashi into his arms. Placing a kiss upon the jounin's brows, he settled himself down to sleep.
Tsunade had been standing a few feet from Naruto's tent, intending to talk with him about the scroll. Instead, she had been frozen to the spot, her heart tearing as she listened to Naruto's banter with the dying man. She brought a hand to her mouth, trying to stifle the anguished sob that erupted from it, as she turned around and raced back to her tent.
Out of all of them, had he not suffered the most? Yes, he had, she concluded, her chest still shaking with her grievous sobs. If there was anyone that deserved a second chance, it was Uzumaki Naruto; for his kindness and loyalty to the people who had once despised him; for his tenacity and courage in the face of opposition and fear.
The scroll would be his to do as he wished. It was the least he deserved.
Naruto suddenly jerked awake, a sense of foreboding in the air, tingling along his skin. He frowned. There was no foreign chakra around, so what was the danger? Unconsciously, he tightened his arms around the jounin lying against his chest. His sapphire eyes widened.
'Cold…so cold.' He thought numbly. Kakashi was frigid and stiff within the confines of his arms. There was no soft fluttering of eyelids or the reassuring up and down motion of his chest. Naruto released a heavy breath.
He closed his eyes, lowering his head to rest his forehead against Kakashi's. 'So, it finally happened,' was his solemn conclusion. There was no denial. There were no tears.
Only the startling knowledge that his worst fear had finally come true.
"I love you, Kakashi, I love you, I love you," he continued to mumble into the man's hair, as if those words were a spell that could weave itself around the man's essence.
Breathing deeply, he climbed out of the cot, never looking away from Kakashi's face. He settled the jounin back underneath the blanket and brushed the stray strands of hair from the man's eyes. He stayed like that, kneeling beside Kakashi's body, recalling the beginning of their tentative romance.
(…"Naruto! You're back! How'd your training go?" Sakura asked joyfully, hugging the fifteen year old blond at the entrance of Konoha.
"As good as it could be with the Ero-sannin teaching me," he responded with an enthusiastic hug of his own. Jiraiya spluttered with indignation.
"Naruto!" His name rang out over and over in greeting as his friends gathered around. The giggling of the girls and loud laughter of the boys washed over him, lulling him into comfort. He was squabbling with Tsunade, when he saw his former jounin instructor ambling his way down the street towards them.
"Yo," the silver-haired man greeted him and was met with loud emphatic yells - "You're late!" - from the assembled people in response. The jounin scratched his head sheepishly before turning to face Naruto. His gaze was startled but the emotion was quickly replaced by thoughtfulness.
The others around them continued with their own conversations and greetings as Naruto fidgeted underneath the intensity of Kakashi's appraising gaze. Finally, the blond snapped.
"What? Is there something wrong with me?" He questioned reproachfully.
"…you've changed," was the ambiguous response.
"Well, yeah, that's what happens with puberty and three years of training," Naruto answered dryly.
Kakashi merely, "Hmmmed," and smiled back…)
Naruto closed his eyes, letting the simple amusement of the memory comfort him. That had been the first time that Kakashi had truly seen him, unhindered by the presence of Sasuke.
(…Naruto was waiting impatiently by the Hokage monument for his squad captain, admiring his new ANBU uniform. He was sixteen and had finally been initiated within the prestigious ranks. He attempted to calm himself and act smooth as befitted the attitude of an ANBU, but he could hardly contain his excitement for his first mission.
Orochimaru had started acting up again and so new teams were being assigned everywhere. Even retired shinobis were being called back into duty. He hoped his superior didn't end up being some old geezer. He wanted someone he could learn and grow from.
A sudden poof caught his immediate attention. He glanced curiously at the cloud, watching it dissipate to reveal another ANBU. He was tall, lean, and muscular with silver hair.
Naruto quirked an eyebrow. 'Silver hair? The guy's was old, darn it!' However, as the unknown ANBU walked towards Naruto, he could detect a stealthy grace in the other man's movements that screamed danger.
"Yo," a low baritone voice greeted him from behind the animal mask. Naruto's eyes widened with incredulity.
He hadn't known it then, but that had been the first time Kakashi had seen him as anything other than a student.
(…"Where's Kakashi?" Naruto screamed above the sound of the battle.
The ANBU beside him responded worriedly, "He's been taken, Uzumaki-san! They want his Sharingan!" The blond snarled. He stabbed the opposing ninja in front of him, dispassionate as he viciously jerked the katana within the Sound-nin's chest. Shoving the body off of his blade, he ran in the opposite direction from Konoha.
"Uzumaki-san, where are you going?" One of the ANBUs questioned frantically.
"Where do you think, dimwit! I'm not leaving Kakashi to those bastards!" He shouted and disappeared from sight…)
Naruto's eyes darkened as he recalled that memory. It hadn't been pleasant to say the least. He could still vividly remember his fury when he finally caught up with Kakashi's captors.
(…"Return him now!" Naruto demanded harshly, only to receive a mocking laugh in response from the seven Sound-nin.
"You mean this pathetic guy?" One of them revealed a bruised and poisoned Kakashi. Naruto snarled in anger. 'How dare they!' He was about to charge and rip the bastards to shreds when he heard Kakashi's weakened voice croak, "Naruto, get out of here…the mission comes first…"
"Don't be such a hypocrite! Weren't you the one who told me that the ninja who puts the mission over the well-being of his comrades is lower than trash? Are you telling me to become lower than trash! I'm going to be the Hokage, god damn it, and I'm not about to let these pathetic losers take you away from me!" Naruto's temper flared at Kakashi's gall to look surprised from his outburst.
With a burst of chakra, Naruto disappeared from the sight of the Sound-nins, appearing merely as a flash of yellow light.
"It's Konoha's Yellow Flash!" One of the ninjas cried fearfully. Naruto suddenly appeared in his original spot, this time holding the battered form of Kakashi beside him.
"No," Naruto replied contemptuously, "that was my father. I'm Uzumaki Naruto, the future Hokage of Konohakagure. And I'm going to be an even worse nightmare for you than he was," he let the Kyuubi's chakra leak out and smirked in satisfaction as the Sound-nins trembled with fear.
He glanced reproachfully at the jounin within his arms, "We, Hatake Kakashi, are going to have a few words when we get home," he hissed.
Setting the silver-haired man down beside a tree trunk, he turned to face his opponents and missed the glazed appearance of the jounin's eyes and the barely perceptible tremor of his body. If Naruto had seen, he would have faltered with the sudden knowledge that something was changing;, an awareness that hadn't been in Kakashi's eyes before…)
That had been the first time Kakashi had seen him as more than just a subordinate, but as a partner. An equal. And that had been the first time Naruto had felt a fierce sense of possessiveness towards the silver-haired jounin. He chuckled, recalling how they had gotten together. The jounin had been such a stubborn man.
(…Naruto was growing increasingly irritated. It had been weeks since their mutual slip-ups of their feelings towards one another. As far as he cared, he loved Kakashi, and Kakashi loved him. So why the hell hadn't they progressed anywhere!
Every time they were together, there was a peculiar awkwardness in the air, and both of them were reluctant to be the first to breach the topic that was at the forefront of their minds. But Naruto had been trying to drop hints here and there to indicate that he wanted what his feelings had told him. But, noooo, either the jounin was incredibly dense or just idiotically stubborn.
Since the older man was an ANBU, the former option was discarded. It had to be number two. Well, if Kakashi wasn't going to do anything, he would! Angrily, he gripped the other man's arm and turned Kakashi around to face him. The jounin looked at Naruto questioningly.
"Damn it, Kakashi! Why are you holding back? Am I not good enough? Have you changed your mind? Why are you denying what we both want?" He exclaimed.
Kakashi raised an elegant eyebrow, "What exactly do we want?" Naruto growled in frustration.
"Don't play around with me! You know exactly what we want!" The blond replied petulantly.
"Really," the silver-haired man drawled. "Well, I know what I want, but that's expected. Tell me, what is it that you want?" Naruto was reaching his limits. No, he had already reached them.
"Fine! I want you, Hatake Kakashi! Why I'm attracted to you, you sorry excuse of a pervert, is beyond me, but I want you! Now kiss me, damn it!" The younger man snapped.
Kakashi complied happily…)
Naruto smiled. What he would give to go back and do that all over again. But he could do without what eventually followed.
(…"Kakashi, please, please don't die," Naruto pleaded with the unconscious jounin. Tsunade was going back and forth, trying to diagnose the cause of Kakashi's unending sleep. Even now, the silver-haired man was starting to fade.
A sudden flicker of movement caught the blond shinobi's attention, and he looked up to gaze at a pair of mismatched eyes.
"Die, koibito? That is that last thing I'll do." The jounin smiled softly, despite his weakened state. Naruto let out a strangled cry of relief, hugging the man desperately…)
Naruto was quiet. His expression carefully blank as he rose from his kneeling position. There really wasn't anything left to say. He had known this moment would arrive for years. It was even expected. He had only to say good-bye. No, he wouldn't. There would be no good-byes between them.
"I will see you again, Kakashi. Maybe not this you, but another you," he spoke resolutely. What he wouldn't do to set things right again…
He walked out of the still tent without a second glance.
"Tsunade," Naruto's solemn voice interrupted the hushed conversation between the Hokage and the Uchiha survivor. The woman was startled at the blond's respectful tone, no playful "obaa-chans" coming forth from him. The two occupants turned towards the entrance of the Hokage's tent, watching Naruto enter slowly.
They waited patiently for the blond to say something. Sasuke narrowed his eyes. There was something wrong, he thought. Naruto looked…resigned. His eyes widened. As gently as possible, he voiced his suspicions. "Naruto, is Kakashi…?"
The blond looked up directly into his eyes. Sasuke recoiled from the eerie blankness of Naruto's sapphire orbs. They for some reason were so much more painful to witness than the sheer anguish and despair the blond rightly should have been displaying. It was as if Naruto was beyond the point where he could feel. Sasuke turned his head away; the blond's expression had been more than enough for an answer.
Tsunade did not cry. She had done her share of mourning last night. Now, she had to be the Hokage. It was her duty. She knew; deep inside she already knew what Naruto would ask her, and she was prepared to give it to him. "Yes, Naruto?" her voice was apprehensive, but steady.
"Hokage-sama, I request that I be the one to use the scroll I retrieved yesterday," Naruto stated without preamble. Sasuke stalked out of the tent.
Taking a deep breath in, Tsunade replied, "Request granted, Uzumaki Naruto. I wish you luck," she stated while handing the scroll to him. He grabbed her hand before she retracted it and they both took comfort in the contact before he gently deposited the necklace she had given him years ago in her hand. Tsunade's vision blurred with tears despite her efforts as she gazed at the sparkling, turquoise ore.
"I'll be expecting it back someday," he spoke gruffly. She stifled a hysterical giggle.
"Sure, but we'll have to bet over something besides the Rasengan this time," she responded.
"Yeah, and this time, I'll make you use more than one finger," he retorted. His shining cerulean eyes locked with her hazel, a playful grin on his face.
"At best, you'll get me to use two fingers," Tsunade sniffed haughtily, earning a soft chuckle from the young man before her. She gave him a trembling smile.
With a cheeky wink, he bowed and left the tent without a good-bye. She wasn't hurt. She knew what he was thinking. They would see each other again, she was sure of it.
She just wouldn't remember.
Naruto walked into the clearing, geared up with new weapons and a fresh ANBU uniform. He looked to the side, seeing that someone was there waiting for him. Sasuke. Languidly, he walked over and looked at his childhood comrade and brother in arms.
The Uchiha's expression displayed the obvious turmoil he felt within him. As if reaching a conclusion, Sasuke looked up with resolute expression upon his face.
"Dead-last, you better not screw up," he spoke with a smirk. Naruto smiled.
"Feh, not a concern, bastard." The blond chuckled as his companion rolled his eyes.
"When you get back there," the raven-haired boy swallowed, "promise me you'll stop me from being stupid." Naruto gave a sharp nod. As if bolstered by Naruto's compliancy, he continued to entreat him.
"Promise me that you'll get stronger than you are now. That you'll protect Konoha. Promise me," he gasped with pain, "that you'll protect her." They both thought of cherry-blossom hair, tainted with a dark crimson, splayed on the cold ground.
"That I won't do," the blond replied. Sasuke looked up sharply, anger simmering in his eyes. "I won't protect her, because I won't need to." The Uchiha was perplexed. "When I get back there, I'll make sure you're strong enough to do it yourself." Sasuke uttered a sharp bark of laughter, earning him a soft smile from Naruto.
"Do that, Naruto, though how you'll get me to listen to you when I was at that pig-headed stage is a mystery," Sasuke commented dryly.
"Oh, so the mighty ice prince finally admits the truth!" The blond punched the other man in the shoulder playfully. "Don't worry, I'll be sure to pound the hell out of you and drill it into your head."
"Ha, as if you could have ever beat me at that age!" The raven haired boy replied loftily. Naruto grinned, an unspoken acceptance of challenge glinting in his eyes. "Hey, if you ever see the fur-ball again, say I owe him an ass-kicking. And…an apology." Sasuke spoke reluctantly, an almost petulant frown upon his lips.
The blond snickered, "Yeah, I'll definitely pass that on to him. If he ever remembers he'll probably laugh his head off, call you an impudent mortal and threaten to bite off your family jewels." Sasuke grimaced.
"Che, forget I said that then," the raven-haired man sneered.
"Uh-uh," Naruto responded in a sing-song voice. "The Kyuubi's definitely gonna hear this," he gave a shit eating grin at his comrade's appalled expression.
A comfortable silence fell upon them. They glanced at each other and then looked towards the forest. Without removing his gaze from the dark depths of the trees, Sasuke spoke to Naruto one last time.
"So, no good-bye's, right?"
Naruto nodded his assent. "No good-bye's." With that, he turned to face the forest completely, and with a mocking salute, he disappeared.
The walls of Orochimaru's compound exploded. "What is going on?" The snake-like man hissed to his subordinates.
"An intruder! It's the de-" the unfortunate man's cry was cut off by a deft slice of a katana. The Sound-nin's body fell to reveal the silhouette of a Leaf ANBU behind him. Orochimaru's eyes narrowed in recognition.
"What a pleasant surprise. How nice of the former Kyuubi container to visit me," he jeered spitefully. "I heard the Akatsuki almost got you, brat. Releasing the Kyuubi of your own volition before they leached it from you…quite ingenious really," Orochimaru complimented mockingly. "It's a pity they didn't succeed," the Snake-sannin hissed.
"Yes, quite a pity," the blond drawled. "It's also a pity that I didn't manage to slaughter all of them that time. I heard there's a stray or two wandering around…" he waved a blood soaked hand idly, an undertone of threat in his voice.
"Oh?" The Otokage raised an eyebrow. "I think Itachi is more than just a stray. After all, he put down your dog of a lover, didn't he?" Orochimaru's thin lips widened into a self-satisfied sneer as Naruto stiffened.
"Don't feel bad, Naruto-kun. Kakashi was just a pitiful imitation of an Uchiha anyhow. He was one eye short of the full-package. But there's always Itachi…why don't you just run along and surrender yourself to him?" The snake-like man spoke patronizingly.
The blond's sapphire eyes flashed with a burning crimson. "Never say his name with your filthy mouth," Naruto spat, trembling with rage.
"Hmm? What name? Itachi?" He smirked as Naruto snarled in frustration. "No? My bad, you must have meant Kakashi." Orochimaru corrected slyly.
"Shut up," the blond spat menacingly.
"Or what, whelp?" the Otokage spoke contemptuously. "I don't know why you came here – alone at that- but you'll find nothing here but your own death." He paused as if with sudden realization. "But then again, that's probably why you came, isn't it? You couldn't live without poor little Kakashi by your side," he snickered. "Well, if it's death you want, I certainly won't withhold it from you," Orochimaru snapped his fingers.
Through his anger, Naruto noted the gathering shadows along the walls, flickering chakras indicating the arrival of the snake-sannin's lackeys. Steeling himself for the battle ahead, he gathered all the chakra he could muster.
The snake-like man's eyes narrowed. "Let's see you survive this time, Uzumaki Naruto."
With each terrified scream he heard from his enemies, Naruto's vengeful rage and indignation grew. Distractedly, his eyes roved over the corpses and fleeing shinobi as he searched for his main target: Orochimaru. 'Damn bastard ran!' he growled.
Naruto stalked through the burning village, wrinkling his nose at the putrid smell of burning flesh. Movement in an alley caught his eye and he lunged for it with a keen sense of blood lust. It was an injured sound-nin.
"Where's Orochimaru?" the blond questioned, a distinct tone of sinister amusement filtering through as he watched the man squirm fearfully under his crimson gaze. The man continued to babble in terror.
"Please, don't kill me! Please, please! I'm sorry! I'm sorry," the shinobi continued to sob at the blond's feet, cradling a snapped arm and dragging his useless leg behind him as he scurried away. Naruto snorted in derision.
"Enough! Tell me where he is or I'll kill you!" The blond roughly shook the sound-nin by the front of his vest. He could see blinding fear reflected in the man's dark eyes before a foreign emotion – was that triumph? – flashed across them.
'Wha-?' Naruto's eyes widened. 'Damn, an ambush!' he threw himself away from the man, narrowly avoiding being skewered by a multitude of poisoned kunai and shuriken. His eyes darted back and forth as the other sound-nin revealed themselves, hardly showing concern for their comrade that had been skewered in the blond's place.
Naruto stood up from his crouch angrily, "I'm getting sick of this. Tell me where Orochimaru is and your death won't be as painful." His enemies only laughed.
The blond closed his eyes, a solemn and almost weary expression upon his face as he announced their fate. "Fine. Remember, you asked for it."
Naruto continued through the barren streets of the Sound Village, the blood soaked kinjutsu scroll clenched tightly within one of his hands. 'They deserved it,' he thought vehemently. 'The damn bastards asked for it, and they got it. It's as simple as that, Uzumaki Naruto!'
He'd slain them. All of them without exception. Then he had unraveled the scroll and nonchalantly smeared a liberal amount of their blood upon it before walking out of the alley. Or at least, he had tried to be nonchalant. He had tried to be unfeeling. But try as he might, he could not ignore the guilt weighing down in his chest.
'This is war,' he lectured himself. 'Killing is necessary. They were your enemies.' He was a shinobi. It was his duty to kill. And kill he did. He killed a lot of people. But what he was doing now…it wasn't just killing. It was extermination.
It saddened and angered him that Orochimaru had managed to force him to become just as vile. Just as despicable. Because right now, he wasn't killing for survival. He wasn't killing in order to protect a precious person. He was killing because he wanted to. Because he enjoyed it.
He wanted them to feel the same pain he and his loved ones had felt. As paradoxical as it seemed, Naruto was glad he was alone. That no one was with him. No one to witness his actions… 'Stop. Don't think about it. You came here to set things right. So do it.'
Pausing in the middle of the street, he popped a soldier pill into his mouth. Naruto grimaced as he felt an explosion of chakra searing through his pathways. 'It's not enough.' Calmly, he swallowed two more soldier pills. Stifling his urge to moan in pain, he waited until his blue chakra was overflowing, dancing like flames across his skin.
Then, he tossed back a handful of experimental soldier pills he had created with the help of Tsunade, specifically made to restore his limited supply of demonic chakra. He gasped in agony as he fell to his knees. The torrent of demonic chakra overwhelmed him. It heightened his senses, his anguish…it inflamed his sorrows and used them as fuel.
Pain. Pain. Hopelessness. Desolation. Why? Why? Why?
He'd thought that he'd accepted the fact that the man he loved had died. He thought he had been past the denial. Lies, all lies.
"KAKASHI!" The name tore through his throat like a battle cry and a curse. He howled with every fiber of his being, the sound echoing eerily through the burning village. With that last utterance, Naruto submerged himself within the blood lust of his rage, one last time.
Orochimaru stood frozen in shock as the blond burst through the walls of his private laboratory. Naruto's crimson chakra manifested itself with menacing extensions, whip-like tendrils lashing out and demolishing everything it its path.
The snake-sannin questioned frantically, "What's the meaning of this? How did you-?"
"Find you? Wouldn't you like to know?" The blond cut off the other man's words. Hurriedly, the Otokage attempted to make an escape, but Naruto was less than willing to let his prey leave. An arm of chakra mimicked the clawed hand that the blond held out before him. Following his will, the chakra enclosed upon Orochimaru's form ruthlessly.
"You're not going anywhere, you bastard!" Naruto tightened his hold on the other man with emphasis, causing the snake-like man to scream in pain. Slowly, he clenched his fist even tighter, delighted as he heard the sound of snapping bones and bursting blood vessels.
"You damn brat!" Orochimaru screamed with fury. The crumbling structure of the compound alerted the leaf-nin to his limited time. Cursing loudly, he lamented the fact that he wouldn't have more time to hurt the scum within his grasp.
Still holding his enemy suspended in the air with chakra, Naruto unraveled the kinjutsu scroll with his other hand. He walked up to Orochimaru and let the man's blood drip down the length of the inscription on the scroll before tossing the wounded shinobi aside.
Even in his pained state, Orochimaru was not one to let a jutsu go unknown. He watched curiously with slight apprehension as the blond callously sliced his own chest open with his claws. "What are you doing?" he wheezed.
"Not much, just going to set everything straight again. I don't think I'll be able to go far back enough to prevent your sorry ass from being born, but I'll take what I can get," Naruto explained cheerily as he bared his canines in a shit-eating grin, demonic eyes flashing gleefully.
Orochimaru stared uncomprehendingly as the blond infused the scroll with all his remaining chakra. The scroll snapped open and Naruto watched like a giddy child as seals began to glow brightly in the air. "Still don't understand?" He clucked his tongue and frowned mockingly at the snake-sannin.
"I'm going back, snake-face. I'm going back home to Konoha," Naruto declared just as the scroll flashed and wrapped around his body, soaking in the blood from his chest in the process. Orochimaru's eyes widened with a semblance of understanding.
Naruto ignored the man's enraged scream of "No!" and gave a put-upon sigh as he muttered under his breath, "This is gonna hurt, I just know it."
There was an explosion of chakra and light, accompanied with a lot of pain, and then everything went dark.
'For all my precious people…for you, Kakashi. I'll do it for you.'
AN: Whew! This chapter was revised as of July 5th! I added about 10 more pages to it. And more details as to what happened to the Akatsuki and the Kyuubi.
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