Recap of the last chapter: Madara and Danzo's plan to throw Konoha into a civil war and force the elimination of the Uchiha Clan is thwarted at the last moment by Uchiha Itachi who prevents the coup by assassinating the Clan Council. Meanwhile, Madara pursued Hatake Kakashi and Uzumaki Naruto into the depths of the Konoha Forest and managed to draw out the Nine-Tails Demon from the weakened seal. Only the timely arrivals of the toad hermit Jiraiya and Uchiha Itachi prevents Madara from taking Uzumaki Naruto and Uchiha Sasuke as he leaves, unaware that his plans have not come to pass …
Plumes of smoke spiraled into the air, curling into the clouds and shadowing the light of the rising sun. The Fly picked it out first, her breath catching at the sight. Her mission was to find Uchiha Itachi and Uchiha Sasuke but this was her forest. This was home and some disaster had befallen it.
Common sense whispered coolly that others would arrive to investigate. Surely, the patrol squads would have noticed. They might even be on the scene, it might be pointless to race to rescue and abandon her mission. She lifted a hand and closed her aged eyes for a moment, ignoring the confusion spreading through her squad. There was an easier way to find out if aid was required.
The average shinobi could sense clusters of chakra and determine when a jutsu was being cast in the vicinity. The Fly was no average shinobi. She could pick out individual signatures over vast distances, and the more familiar a signature was to her senses, the easier she could detect it out. Young Itachi had only run a single mission with her but that had been enough for the Sandaime to hand her command of the search.
She held her fingers up in a familiar seal, opening her chakra pathways and bracing for the brief, initial moment of agony that was the tariff for her ability; the ensuing cacophony of sensations threatened to engulf her shields before it subsided to a dull background roar, allowing her to get to work. North-east, the smoke was north-east, and she picked out the threads around it, locating a knot of strong signatures with ease. She identified the Wolf immediately despite his ailing chakra levels. The White Fang's son had partnered her on many missions and she had known him since he was a fresh academy graduate, no taller than her knee.
The presence next to him startled her. Jiraiya-sama. Her control faltered as she doubted herself; the Sannin had not been seen in the Leaf since the Yondaime's passing.
Then, rage swept through her – the roiling miasma of brimstone and fire that sent her stomach into contortions could only be the Nine-tails monster, its signature was unmistakable. Once again, the Demon was at the center of the chaos afflicting her village. Her hatred threatened to overwhelm her, but then she spotted them, the softly flickering fire-element natures of the Uchiha. The Demon shadowed their presence but she focused harder, ignoring the way her senses screeched, blocking out the paraphernalia hammering at her from all directions until she could make out three individual signatures. One was small enough to be the child, Uchiha Sasuke. The second was too pale to be the Weasel. The third flickered elusively, trying to hide from her, but a brief lock was all she required. It was the Uchiha Clan Heir, Itachi.
She motioned to the squad, both boys had been found. As the jutsu dispelled, she started in surprise. "Fly-sama?"
She ignored the query. It was foolish … but for the briefest of instants, she had thought she sensed the Yondaime-Hokage. The very Yondaime that the Demon had stolen from them all.
A soft brush against his senses was enough to alert him and his attention snapped to the dense copse of trees behind him, watching as a crow winged its way to the horizon. The ANBU would soon be here.
For a moment, Itachi allowed himself to fantasize. He could go back. He would teach Sasuke and Naruto how to throw shuriken, he would finally get to know his cousin Ryuuga, he would change things. He raised a hand to unbuckle his armor and step out from the shadows. The shoulder buckle slipped beneath his fingers and his hand came away covered in blood. He had acquired a shoulder wound and it was bleeding into the drying splatter sprawled over his left breastplate. Chizue had not gone down easy.
There could be no salvation for a kin-slayer. He had hoped to have some time yet with his brother, time to train him and mould him. It had been the hope of a fool.
With reluctance, Itachi ended his ministrations and turned around to face the man bent over Naruto. The sheer power thrumming through the clearing was heady and intoxicating, he knew it was wise to tread softly.
"Help is on the way. I'm going after him," he uttered the words and made to leave, his gaze skittering past the still form of his younger brother. Capture was not on the agenda and he was reluctant to take more lives this night.
"Wait," Jiraiya lifted his hands from Naruto and locked gazes with the young Uchiha. Whispers had reached him of Uchiha Itachi. Underneath the underneath was the rule and he knew it all too well – Sarutobi Hiruzen had been his mentor and Orochimaru his rival, but the young Uchiha still intrigued him. Jiraiya knew he wasn't the best judge of character; he looked too deep and often only found goodness. Sarutobi-sensei had reprimanded him time and again that shinobi were never what they seemed. The goodness of one's heart meant nothing, could mean nothing, when shinobi were trained to disregard it. But he could tell that somewhere beneath the blood-splattered armor and the cold façade of an Uchiha, somewhere underneath, lay a heart.
"You're Itachi?" Jiraiya was standing so close to him that Itachi was suddenly aware of his own vulnerability. He nodded. In another life, he would have been pleased that even Jiraiya knew his name. In this life, he would rather have had another name.
"The boy?" Jiraiya was not sure why there was another Uchiha child lying slumped in the clearing but the resemblance was clear.
"It's too dangerous to bring him along," Itachi decided not to lie. Here was a man who could be a terrifying foe; this was a legend he had grown up hearing about. He dared not try.
"I will stay until the ANBU arrive. The Third will want to know where you've gone." Jiraiya turned back to the blonde child lying on the forest floor. Itachi nodded sharply and unbuckled his left armguard, dropping it to the floor beside Sasuke. It was a peace offering – it would be easier to track him with a fresh scent.
Sasuke … we'll meet again someday. I promise.
Konoha was the fresh scent of spring, blooming fauna and earthy, moist soil. Konoha was not cloying wet clay and pungent overtones of oily fish that stifled the senses, and he drifted to consciousness with a growing sense of alarm, fighting to place the sequence of events that had delivered him to here and now.
"Relax, brat," the voice was familiar and his nose agreed that he wasn't mistaken. Despite their differences and estrangement, this man was no enemy. He forced back the growing sense of panic and opened his eyes calmly.
Naruto? His fingers curled around the boy before he thought to ask. The child breathed steadily, a hand thrown around Kakashi's waist, but that really told him nothing.
"Jiraiya-sama,'' he greeted the Sannin with a questioning glance, wincing as his dry vocal chords cracked, protesting the sudden use. He never relaxed. The last time he had dared, he had forgotten about Naruto.
"Good morning to you too, brat." Jiraiya grinned at Kakashi's discomfort with the title.
"I don't know. I'm just here watching my charge." The man shrugged. Kakashi raised an eyebrow coolly; even at eight and newly orphaned, Hatake Kakashi had refused to be anyone's charge.
"Not you. The boy refused to leave your side, although he kept asking after Uchiha Sasuke. Who would have thought that Fugaku's son would end up friends with an Uzumaki?"
Jiraiya threw him an unreadable look before breaking out in a wide smile. "I can't believe he's staying with you." Hands dipped into his hair and messed up the already unruly silver strands in affection. Kakashi settled for a faint imitation of a scowl that Jiraiya could decipher easily. They had not spoken much in the years since Minato had died. Both preferred solitude to the reminder of the ghosts that bound them together – dead men who had loved too hard and left too early – but it was easy to slip back into routine.
"We aren't in Konoha," Kakashi muttered at last, breaking the comfortable silence.
"Uchiha Ryuuga filled me in before the ANBU arrived. The ANBU only had orders to retrieve the Clan Heirs," Jiraiya said lightly. "The scroll your summon passed me had orders for us to spirit Naruto to a hideaway." Jiraiya's expression sobered. "It wasn't easy to convince the ANBU that you didn't need a trip to the Konoha infirmary. You could have died, brat."
"And Naruto?" He ignored the reprimand. Death would never bother him.
"I've undone most of it, the kid will be fine. How much do you know about seals?"
"Just a little," Minato-sensei had never had the time – life – to show him more than that.
Jiraiya grunted, "We'll have to remedy that. I'm not about to stick around forever. Still have the snake bastard to hunt down."
"Even Hokage-sama couldn't undo the damage," Kakashi pointed out.
"I doubt that. He knew I was in the forest," Jiraiya smirked faintly as realization dawned in Kakashi's eyes. Somehow the Third had orchestrated this series of events but why would he expose Naruto to …
"Itachi?" he grasped at the fleeting memory.
"The boy went after Madara." Alarm gripped Kakashi and he lifted himself out of the bed, gritting his teeth as pain exploded through him.
"He arrived on your heels and I assumed he had orders," Jiraiya shrugged. "Besides, the kid had motive. The ANBU told me that Madara killed the Uchiha clan elders and destroyed the compound. Itachi must have wanted revenge."
Kakashi felt bile rise in throat and he closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the sluggish manner in which viscous droplets of blood had dripped off Itachi's armor in the forest glade. The blood had been not more than an hour old.
What did they make you do?
Abruptly, he opened his eyes. "Only the clan elders?"
Jiraiya's gaze sharpened. "As far as the ANBU knew, only the elders and those manning the security outposts were killed. Why?"
Kakashi shook his head slowly, remembering the betrayal he'd read in Itachi's stance when he'd obeyed the Sandaime and left with Naruto. The execution must have been the Village Council's callous solution to the threat of mutiny. "The Uchiha were planning a coup. Madara's execution was timely," he spit out the words, surprised at the vehement edge to his own voice. Jiraiya's sharp intake told him that the elder knew what he was driving at.
"The Third –" Jiraiya fell silent. The Third would do what was required to protect Konoha.
"The ANBU had orders for Itachi, I passed them on with a summon," Jiraiya offered at last, his own mind working to process this new information. Kakashi sagged back against the headboard at the words. Whatever the Weasel had done, he was no missing-nin.
Nausea gripped him again and he forced his eyes shut, struggling to remain impassive. He wanted his mask, damn it. Shinobi were tools. Shinobi were nothing more than a means to an end and he knew it, had known it since his first C-rank when his sword had plunged deep into an enemy-nin's heart and he'd watched the man's eyes dull even before he slid the blade back out. He'd been comforted then, by the knowledge that they were all tools, just willing pawns whose death mattered not at all.
Fourteen years on, it shouldn't matter that his village had ordered a boy to assassinate members of his own clan. How had Itachi felt as he stood over his own father's corpse? Kakashi could sense Jiraiya's hand hovering over his left shoulder, and he inhaled deeply, trying to wipe the memory of a pale-haired man lying on the floor bleeding to death, an arm flung out to his one and only son.
Don't think about it.
The dizzying vertigo passed quickly and he receded back under the covers of his bed but Jiraiya gripped his shoulder tight anyway. It was almost as if the man knew his thoughts.
"Kakashi-nii!" The loud cry gave him just enough warning and he braced himself as arms flung themselves around his neck and squeezed.
"Naruto," he gasped out, reaching up to loosen the death-grip on his neck before bringing his arms around the small, fragile form clinging to him. Warmth spread through him, melting away the knot of anxieties that had been growing since he woke. Kakashi had not forgotten Naruto's refusal to return home with him.
The child clung to him and sniffled, small fists stubbornly worrying away at his eyes. Then he scowled at Kakashi petulantly. "I thought you were going to sleep forever and ever! The old guy said – "
"I told you brat, I'm not old!"
"You have white-hair."
"He has silver hair!" Jiraiya stuck a finger out at Kakashi.
"Kakashi-nii is younger than you! And he's cooler than you!"
"How do you know, brat? He could be really, really old under that mask of his! Besides, I'm more handsome than him," Jiraiya puffed his chest out.
"I'm smarter than you so I know what aniki looks like!"
"Oh ho, don't lie dwarf! You can't possibly know!"
"Am not little! And I do too know! He doesn't wear a mask at home and, and, 'sides he's not wearing one now, see!" Naruto tugged at the covers and they slid to the floor. Kakashi yelped, the smile he had been wearing disappeared as his bandaged chest and his face were exposed to the world.
"Naruto!" He glanced nervously at the door, a hand flashing up to cover his face as he scrambled for the sheets. To his dismay, his muscles quivered and surrendered to gravity's pull the moment he stressed them, sending him in an ungraceful arc toward the floor until Jiraiya gently pulled him back onto the bed.
"Kakashi, take it easy," the words were lost on him as he fought to stay conscious. A sob caught his attention and he forced his head to turn. Naruto. The world was blurry and unfocused and he had to squint before he could place the blonde and flail out an arm in his direction. For a terrifying moment, he saw the Kyuubi's image imposed upon Naruto and his arm fell. Red, Naruto was wearing a red shirt. It wasn't the Kyuubi. Just Naruto. No malicious chakra, no overpowering killer intent. His hands shook too much but Jiraiya soon picked up on his intention and shepherded the boy into Kakashi's arms.
"Shh, Naruto," he didn't know what else to say, couldn't even begin to guess at why the boy was crying. There were too many reasons. They were in a foreign place and the last thing Naruto probably remembered was the explosion at Ryuuga's apartment. Kakashi's jaw tightened and he pulled the boy even closer. He could only hoped that Naruto had no memory of waking in the forest and going berserk with the Nine-Tails' power.
"I didn't mean it! I forgot you don't like it," Naruto cried out against him. Kakashi would have smiled but Naruto had wound his arms around him in another death-grip and the boy was shaking like a Genin after his first kill.
Jiraiya had gone out sometime during the outburst and returned now, balancing three steaming bowls in his large hands. He laughed at Naruto's apology.
"Don't worry, kid. You aren't the first blonde to unmask Kakashi against his wishes," he ruffled Naruto's hair. Kakashi glared at Jiraiya. There had been a year, so long ago now, when Minato and Jiraiya had made a game out of trying to unmask him at every opportunity. Kakashi still had nightmares.
The bowls were filled with spicy soup and noodles, and they used the food to distract Naruto. Ramen was always the answer. Or at least it used to be. Teary blue eyes darted from the bowls to Kakashi.
"I thought you liked ramen?"
"Naruto, do you need me to feed you?" Kakashi drawled. The boy yelped at that and jumped off the bed.
"I'm not a baby!" He snatched up the nearest bowl and inhaled the broth before beginning to devour the meal noisily, ignoring the amused glances that were shared over his head. Jiraiya took the cue to break open his own chopsticks before he paused and raked a glance over the lethargic form in the bed.
"Brat, it looks like you're the one who needs feeding," Jiraiya chortled. It had been decades since he'd gotten a Hatake in such a vulnerable position.
"I'd rather die."
Naruto looked up at that. "Does that mean I can have your bowl?"
"Not a chance." Kakashi watched Naruto furtively for a few seconds more, waiting for the boy to set down the empty bowl to broach the subject. "Naruto, do you remember what happened?"
"I - was with Sasuke and then the explosion, and then - " the boy looked down and away. "The old man told me Sasuke's fine, right?" Kakashi had no way of being certain but he nodded anyway, there was nothing else he could do when faced with a trembling Naruto.
"And we've come here… to keep me safe?" Kakashi nodded again, relieved that Jiraiya had explained the situation. "I – I won't ask to see Sasuke again," Naruto declared firmly.
"Did you have a fight?" Kakashi frowned. He had expected to be dealing with a sulky Naruto or worse, an angry Naruto who'd demand to return home and prank Kakashi to try and have his way. He hadn't been prepared for this disconsolate, somber child.
"No. I can't – I'm dangerous!" The ramen bowl clattered to the floor as Naruto fled the room.
Kakashi would have followed if his limbs had obeyed him. He was forced to shiver against the bed frame, cursing his limitations.
"Naruto seems to remember more than he let on," Jiraiya frowned.
"Aren't you going after him?"
Jiraiya shook his head. "He has to learn to deal with it alone."
"He's just a boy, and he hates being alone," Kakashi gritted out.
"Kakashi, he's never been just a boy. He'll never be treated as just a boy," Jiraiya locked gazes with the injured shinobi.
A lesser shinobi, one with no personal experience with Jiraiya, would have called the man cold, for his mouth was set in a grim, unshakeable line, his eyes dark and nonchalant. Kakashi knew better, could read the grief in those eyes. Naruto's fate had been sealed soon after his birth. It had been so easy, for a time, to pretend that Naruto was just the orphan son of the Hokage. A boy with a remarkable parentage, and the genetic potential to grow into a powerful shinobi, and just that.
"He has to be told, doesn't he?" Kakashi reached painful conclusion. No matter how much Naruto remembered of the Fox's takeover, he would have questions that only one tale could solve. And now with Madara looking for him, he needed to know, if only for his own protection.
Jiraiya nodded sharply.
"What about sensei - " Kakashi faltered, his throat catching around the words. It seemed ludicrous to be asking if an orphan deserved to know about his parentage. But could he handle it? Would he be able to understand why the Yondaime had chosen to make his own son into a vessel and a weapon?
Kakashi could not bear to entertain the suggestion that Namikaze Minato might be hated by his own flesh and blood, but the possibility was entirely too real.
Jiraiya had no answer.
A/N: Wrote too many different drafts of the Itachi-Anbu-Jiraiya scene and multiple versions of Kakashi waking up before this was acceptable. Still feel this chapter could have been better but ... thought I'd better get it out before I forget/misplace this chapter again. It's a light update, not as intriguing as the previous chapters, but I hope it's enjoyable anyway.
Also yay, woas has crossed the thousand review milestone! Thank you :'D