Well, here I am again, after a long break, releasing the sequel to Embrace of Solitude. Please note that this IS a sequel and should NOT be read before reading Embrace, as it will probably be un-comprehendible without the background Embrace gives you. To remind you all what happened last, Naruto and family was asked to leave, a fact that was accepted readily by them as they needed to seek out assistance for Mina's health problem. After a couple days Sasuke decided to follow. Kentaar, Naruto's evil brother, is no more, but his body lives on in the form of a small baby named Moab, who is currently in Naruto's care.
Sigh, I hope that catches everyone back up to point A… If not, you may want to re-read the last chapter or two of Embrace of Solitude. I hope this chapter finds all of you in good spirits! Please Review!
Quick edit: I changed all the thinking parts to italics, 'cause the other way wasn't showing up… I've also changed the section breaks, I HOPE they actually show up now, but if not, I'll continue working on it…
Naruto sighed as the familiar scents of Konoha faded completely from range. It took three days of travel, going consistently slower than he would have liked, but he was now completely away from home. Feelings that he didn't have time to think about, let alone actually deal with were beginning to well up inside him. Puffing angrily at a stray strand of blond hair that kept managing to fall into his eyes, Naruto trudged forward, each step becoming more and more difficult to take. His right foot paused completely mid-step as Naruto remembered the dark look on Sasuke's almost completely hidden face as he left only two days earlier. The boy had looked pissed. Not that Naruto could really bring himself to blame Sasuke for his anger. There were just… bad circumstances surrounding his departure; bad timing. He supposed that by the time he got back Sasuke would be married, maybe to Sakura, maybe to some other girl. He certainly had his pick of them. Naruto sighed once more, right foot still dangling precariously above the ground.
Tenmar and Uzu exchanged concerned glances as they once again paused to wait for their father, who was currently standing immobile. To say he'd been out of it since they started their journey only two days before would be an understatement. The fact of the matter was that almost as often as they were stopped because of one of Mina's fits they were also stopped by their father's sudden halt. Any attempt to make him move was ignored along with any question of what was bothering him, not that his sons really felt they needed to ask; the list of things that were wrong with the blonde man was long and seemed to be growing with the passage of time.
"Do you think he's worrying about Konoha or Mina this time?" Uzu asked, dropping to the ground with a grunt. They'd been walking for almost ten hours strait, half of which he was forced to carry the most hateful creature in the whole world. He glared down at the person in question, who was happily gurgling and making little spit bubbles. Despite Naruto's insistence that there remained no traced of Kentaar in the child, Uzu was still wary. Moab might not have Kentaar's soul, but his look, his scent, his blood… All belonged to the man that Uzu had spent the whole of his life attempting to kill. To now be forced to take care of a baby form of him was almost more than he could bear.
Ganten slunk to the ground beside his brother after gently laying his burden, a young brown haired man named Rin, prompted up against a tree. "Can't you tell?" The white haired boy asked with a slight hint of mocking in his tone. "His disposition isn't dark or uncertain, it's a light anxiety. He's probably thinking about Sasuke."
Uzu took another doubtful glance at Naruto, admitting mentally that his younger brother was probably right, but unwilling to concede that fact out loud. In Uzu's mind he was nothing if not stubborn. "You think so? Maybe he's thinking about ramen."
"Why would he freeze like that for ramen?" Ganten replied, eyebrows arching and right corner of his mouth turned up.
Uzu's eyes narrowed as he stared at his brother's face; the face that Ganten put on when he was mocking the red head; and opened his mouth, sharp retort on the tip of his tongue.
"Maybe we should just set up camp now." Tenmar broke in, sending warning glares to both his younger brothers. It had been a long day, a long few days to be honest, and he was in no mood to listen to his brothers bickering. "It's a little early, but by the time Father snaps out of it it'll probably be near dark anyway."
"Should we at least move Mina?"
Uzu's question drew all eyes towards the cot that Naruto was pulling behind him. Earlier they had tried to carry Mina piggyback, thinking that the warm human contact would be comforting to her, but her fits came frequently and she had a tendency to claw at Naruto as often as she clawed at herself, so they used the cot, a large plastic and metal contraption that somehow minimized the bumps that Mina had to suffer through and was easy to drag through the forest, so that only one of them had to have their hands full with the girl. The fits came less frequently after that, although she still had them two or three times a day. For the three boys, looking at their father and sister, both hauntingly unmoving and a very drawn, tired look in both their faces, was almost too painful to bear.
"Let her be." Ganten replied at length, turning his eyes away from the scene and moving to gather some wood that lay nearby. "She's fine where she's at and Father won't notice either way."
Tenmar nodded and began pulling ramen out of one of the packs along with a pot. "We passed near a stream a while back. Come on, Uzu, let's fill the containers. Who knows how long it'll be before we pass another clean water source." Uzu nodded and grabbed the empty water containers from his pack, laying Moab on the ground near Rin.
"Keep your eye on him, eh? I don't wanna get blamed if he finds a pine cone to choke on." Uzu ended in an almost hopeful tone. He couldn't stop himself from turning back towards camp, just to check that some god of luck hadn't decided to shine down on him and actually have Moab choke on a pine cone. When he looked back he did not see Moab choking, but he did notice that Ganten was bent down low over Rin and it looked like they were talking in low tones. "Something bugs me about him…"
"Uzu…" Tenmar sighed, "We're all a little disturbed by his existence, but if Father says that he's not Kentaar then-"
"No!" Uzu cut in to his older brother's talk before he could go into full lecture mode, "I wasn't talking about the demon baby, although if you want the honest to God truth, I'm pretty frickin' disturbed about him all 'round. I was talking about Ganten's new boyfriend, Rin."
"Rin?" Tenmar glanced back towards camp, making sure that they were well out of earshot. "To be honest, he makes me a bit uneasy, too… He never talks, except to Ganten and even then, not frequently when we're around and his eyes look like he's piercing strait through to my soul."
Uzu was nodding. "Yeah… Have you ever noticed how he avoids being touched by anyone but Ganten, too? I get the feeling that he doesn't trust us." Uzu let out a humorless laugh. "HE worked for Kentaar and he's the one that doesn't trust US? What a joke."
Tenmar shook his head. It was rare that he and Uzu were on the same page mentally, which meant that it wasn't only his own mind seeing the suspicious behavior their new companion exhibited. "I talked to Father about it last night."
Tenmar shook his blonde head, missing momentarily the feel of his long hair swinging across his back as he did so. "He knows something but he said it wasn't the time to talk about it."
Uzu relaxed slightly. "Well, if Daddy knows something about it than it can't be too bad, he woulda told us right away if he thought it was something we needed to know."
Back at camp Ganten already had the fire going strong. After grabbing a few more pieces of wood to have near by, just in case the fire started going down, he turned his attention to Rin, wondering if there was anything the brown haired boy needed.
Rin shook his head in reply to Ganten's thoughts. "I'm fine but… I think your brothers are starting to suspect something about me."
"What do you mean?" Ganten demanded, wondering how they had figured out Rin's mind reading secret before Father had a chance to tell them in a family discussion setting. As he thought about it he leaned down and picked Moab up off the ground. It was amazing how quiet the baby was most of the time, rarely crying unless something was very wrong.
"No, they haven't figured out about my 'gift' but they know something's wrong." Rin once again replied to Ganten's unspoken thoughts.
Ganten sighed, wondering why he spoke out loud at all.
"I don't know, you'd think someone as smart as you would be able to get the hang of silent communication. And yes, the reason I know that your brother's are suspicious of me is because I heard their thoughts on their way to gather water." Rin added in reply to Ganten's question as it formed in his mind.
"What?" Naruto's voice broke into their conversation, causing both boys to turn their heads towards him in surprise. He was no longer standing frozen at the edge of camp, but was rather crouched down over Mina, apparently finishing up preparing the girl for rest. "I guess we should break down and tell them tonight, then, eh?"
Rin shifted uncomfortably, unused to being taken by surprise. There was only one other person in his entire life that Rin had met whose mind was impossible for him to enter unless they were touching and that person had been Kentaar. It made him a little nervous to be around Naruto. Actually, it made him a lot nervous, especially considering his few brief looks into Kentaar's mind had been less than pleasant. "I guess. Tonight…"
"Come on, don't look like that." Naruto said, small laugh on his lips. "No matter what, we won't throw you out to fend for yourself. Not while you're injured!"
Ganten glanced at Rin, his face a blank mask, but his head was moving a mile a minute. His injuries…? But he's almost healed. He's hidden it pretty well from Tenmar and Uzu, but I'm sure Father's aware…
Rin glanced at Ganten as the boy stomped towards the fire, making a pretense at working on it. The white haired boy's mind was filled with concern about what would happen to Rin after the family talk tonight. The boy's thoughts gave some comfort to Rin, it was nice to have someone worried about you every once in a while.
The arrival of Tenmar and Uzu to camp caused Rin's thoughts to shift quickly and he stared in a frightened manner at Naruto as the blonde man happily prepared large quantities of instant ramen. It was only moments away, the moment his secret would be revealed. Although he couldn't read Naruto's mind, Rin had a sinking feeling that after exposing his secret he would then be asked to share his story. He dreaded more than anything talking about his time working for Kentaar, a man that these people held so much hate for.
"Yay!" Uzu pounced down near the fire, foxish grin on his face, holding his chopsticks like shovel as he inhaled mouthful after mouthful of ramen. "Daddy, you make the best instant ramen ever!"
"Don't I? Don't I?" Naruto replied, an identical grin appearing on his own face as he followed his son's suit. "Instant ramen cooked over an outdoor fire is the best."
Lumpy, hard spots won't go away… Tenmar thought sadly as he attacked his own ramen halfheartedly. Rin knew from his mind that Tenmar hadn't had much of an appetite since he left his beloved, a man by the name of Iruka-sensei, behind in Konoha. Apparently it was a one sided love which left Tenmar even more miserable when he thought about it.
Uzu also lamented the absence of a boy that had managed to catch his interest. A boy. And Rin knew from everyone else's mind that Naruto was pinning after a boy as well. Not just a boy, but someone younger than his YOUNGEST child, that meant at least that Naruto was more than old enough to be the boy's father. Ganten was the only one that seemed oblivious to the whole love idea, a fact that relieved and bothered Rin at the same time. He understood what Ganten's brothers thought about the two of them, but was confused when it came to his own mind. Ganten, of course, was probably the most strait forward of the Uzumaki boys, if he made up his mind that he was in love with Rin than Rin could only guess what his actions would involve in order to acquire his affections.
When the eating and joking dimmed down Naruto stood, handing Moab, whom he had been feeding, to Ganten. Ganten was the one that complained the least about the baby and as a result whenever he was not taking care of Rin he was often forced to take care of the child. "OK, I know you guys have had things weighing on your mind since we set out. Since we set camp so early I figured tonight was as good a night as any to get some of it out and on the table." Naruto glanced at Rin, eyes asking for permission to start with his issues.
Rin glanced around, eyes wide as every eye in the camp turned to him. He could hear the same old questions begin to surface in Tenmar and Uzu's minds and after a moment he squinted his eyes closed, trying to force his mind to focus on the local wildlife minds, the squirrels, the owl nearby, the pack of wolves that naturally began following them as soon as they came within a certain distance of Moab, the pack of fox that did the same for Naruto. "…I…"
"I'll start." Tenmar stepped in. Poor guy looks like he thinks we're gonna pounce on him.
Rin sagged in relief. Thank the gods for Tenmar's kind streak.
"I want to know strait out, Father, do you plan on returning to Konoha once you've found your brothers?" Tenmar's words caused all eyes to shift back to Naruto.
The patriarch sighed, crossing his arms. "I think, at least, that it will take us a while to find them, and then there's Mina's health to worry about… I estimate that it'll be at least until the given time of five years until I'll be ready to even think about returning. Whether or not I actually do go back and if I take any of you with me will be decided then, don't ya think?" Naruto looked down, as if in deep concentration. "Of course, if you're already lonely without Iruka than maybe we'll have to come up with something…"
Rin thought he could see a dark smile lighting Naruto's lips and then the man disappeared in a puff of smoke. The smoke cleared to reveal not Naruto but a blushing Iruka with Naruto style scars across his cheeks.
When Naruto coyed out, "Oh, Tenmar…" Uzu fell off the rock he was sitting on, holding his sides in laughter.
Faster than anyone would have believed possible Tenmar's arm snaked out, smacking his practical-joke making father across the head and causing the blonde to shift back to his original form. "Die!" Tenmar hollered as he once again smacked his father for good measure.
"Heh hehe." Naruto's grin was from ear to ear as he accepted his son's good natured beating. "Sorry, sorry. It was just a joke."
Tenmar backed away, realizing suddenly that it was not Uzu, but his father that he was whacking in frustration. Sometimes it was easy to forget that his father was his father. Not that he was prepared to apologize. What Naruto had done was simply cruel… Especially considering Tenmar's current state of loneliness and the unrequited love situation he found himself in.
"Ahem…" Naruto cleared his throat, making a mental note to make a proper apology later. "Anyone else?"
"Yeah." Uzu replied, leaning forward, for once a serious look across his face. "Why don't you explain where exactly we're traveling?"
Naruto looked at his middle son in surprise; that was a good, serious question. He'd been expecting it from Tenmar or Ganten. "We're heading East. I have reason to believe that if we travel strait East, across the ocean we'll hit an unknown continent. Once there, continuing East, we cross and forest, some mountains and a desert and we'll find your Uncle Tagen."
"And… you think this will happen why?" Ganten interrupted, eyebrow rising quizzically.
Naruto grinned at his youngest son. "Somehow Tagen managed to connect Sasuke to us and sent him a dream while he was passed out." He leaned back as he watched looks of uncertainty cross his children's face. "Look, I know it's a long shot, but it's the only lead we have. I firmly believe that Tagen is the only person that can help Mina, so even if it's unlikely I'm gonna follow it; it is the only lead we have after all."
"Why would he send the dream to Sasuke, why not directly to one of us?" Tenmar asked.
"Because," Ganten replied, eyes' gleaming like a long-thought about puzzle was finally falling into place, "Because we've barred our dreams to avoid Kentaar, and Daddy was sealed, so he couldn't find him. He could have contacted Mina, but she would have ignored any such dream because Kentaar was controlling her… It's not that they deserted us, it's that they couldn't find us!"
Naruto blushed proudly as his youngest son referred to him as 'daddy.' Up until now Uzu was the only one that refereed to him so intimately. He knew that the chances of the ever serious Tenmar calling him Daddy were slim, so it was nice to have his youngest say it. "Ganten's right. I'm not sure how he found Sasuke, but the most convincing piece of evidence for believing that it was a true message from Tagen is the healing of Sasuke's wounds, don't you think?"
Rin smiled as the minds of each of Naruto's son's suddenly was lit with excited thoughts of finding their long-lost uncles Tagen and Aki. Ganten seemed especially excited, like he was finding out that he wasn't really deserted as a child for the first time. After a moment his eyes contacted with Naruto's and he nodded. "I have a question." The camp fell silent as all heads turned to stare at Rin. "I want to know… How long," Rin closed his eyes, trying desperately to focus his mind on the forest rather than listening to the minds of those he was surrounded by currently. "How long am I going to be able to stay?"
Naruto looked at Tenmar and Uzu after Rin finished asking his question. "There are a few things you need to know about Rin before we can make the decision as a family on how long we will give him to recuperate and remain with us."
"Of course we're not gonna throw him into the wild before he's able to defend himself!" Tenmar interjected, indignantly. "We've take care of him up until this point, we couldn't just leave him, it doesn't matter what he's done at this point."
"I want to know what it is that we don't know about him before I make that judgment." Uzu growled in reply, eyes darkening as he glared at Rin. "Don't forget he is one of Kentaar's lackeys. You may be able to forgive and forget, but I…"
Rin looked down as unthinkingly he read the hate filled thoughts of Kentaar pouring through Uzu's mind. This was not going to be an easy road, it would have been made easier if he was willing to use his powers to manipulate his words to appease everyone, but the thought of hearing their hate was too much. Not from these people that he'd grown to care about over the last few days.
Naruto nodded at his youngest son. "I agree. We all deserve to know what exactly the circumstances were to your discipleship of Kentaar."
Rin sighed, once again attempting to focus his mind on the forest outside the camp. "It all started about twelve years ago, when I was a child."
OK, well, that's the end of the first chapter of the Embrace of Solitude sequel, and there was no Sasuke/Shikamaru action… (Not that there's going to be any ACTION action, just appearances… get your minds out of the gutter). Don't worry; next chapter should have a decent start of their adventure and the telling of poor Rin's story, which this whole chapter was leading to and never quite reached…
You may have noticed that I have changed my format from what it was before, ie, the Psychic King talk time has been cut out. Well, to be honest, I decided it was slowing my chapters down, so for now, I've ridded myself of it. It may come back if I get complaints. Another major change that will be implemented at least NEXT chapter is this; any questions I get in the form of a review will be responded to at the end of the next chapter. Of course this is only good in two circumstances, the first is that I actually GET questions reviewed to me and the second is that the list of questions is not overly long and therefore annoying to people that just want to read through the story. If the latter happens than I will make a point out of either only replying to questions that I feel are relevant OR e-mailing replies to people that provide me with their e-mail address. Anyway, Please review and if you have ay questions or comments, please either leave them in your review or e-mail them to me.