Well,this storyseems to have gotten a positive response! Or, at least enough of a positive response that I decided to continue! I really enjoyed this chapter, although it took a but longer to get out than I expected… Well, either way, here it is, and I want to give a BIG thank you to all of you that reviewed and encouraged me to continue writing this! It's good to know that I've at least peaked some people's interest.
Beauty and the Beast, a Yaoi Fairy Tale
Morning broke over the Haruno estate at a pace that Naruto could only describe as slower than most. He'd been up for hours after only a small amount of sleep and was now pacing around his room restlessly. This would have been acceptable if it were not for a certain spiky haired stable hand that happened to share quarters with him.
"Naruto…" Shikamaru groaned as he finally gave up on attempting to roll over and pretend the anxious blonde was not there. "If you can't sleep why don't you muck out the stalls or something."
Naruto stared incredulously at his friend. "WHAT? In THESE clothes?" He looked down at himself. He was wearing his away clothing; a bright orange coat with matching orange pants, on both arms of his coat was a symbol of a circle with a spiral within it. The color displayed his status as an apprentice body-guard to a member of the wealthy class and the symbol was that of the Haruno family. When this mission was over, if all went well, he would be given a green uniform, marking him as a fully trained body-guard for the wealthy class. If the Haruno family had been royalty Naruto would have been given a navy uniform as an apprentice and would graduate to a black one. Secretly, Naruto always wished he could have worn the more appealing black uniform, but he wouldn't have traded his master for anything – and especially not his master's daughter.
Naruto had dressed in his traveling clothes over an hour ago, hoping that the action would cause the time to hurry, or at the very least distract him from the waiting. It hadn't worked very well; if anything, changing into his travel ware only served to heighten the anticipation. Today was the day. If he proved himself well enough he would be given the honor of protecting his beloved Sakura; they would be together from morning to night. The thought made him giddy. The giddiness was accompanied with the slight terror of braving the forest without the assistance of Gai-sensei or Rock Lee. This would be a first for him and he was determined not to let the master down. His future depended on this. His future with Sakura-chan-
Naruto's thoughts came to an abrupt halt as a pillow smacked him squarely in the face. He glanced at the offending object inquisitively before raising his eyes to the boy across the room who was sitting up strait in his bed, which was suspiciously pillow-less. "Bastard! What was THAT for?"
"Perhaps I didn't make myself clear? Stop moving or GET OUT!" With that Shikamaru sank back down to his bed, only to sit up a moment later. "And gimme back my pillow. Bastard." After which he went into a fit of mumbling that Naruto could not quite make out, but had grown to realize over many painful years, that when Shikamaru snapped like that it was best to simply leave him alone.
"Hai…" Naruto replied slipping the other boy his pillow as he walked out of the room, feeling slightly abashed.
Once in the hallway, Naruto was struck once again with a need to find something to do, somewhere to go. Pacing the hallway was out of the question, not only would Shikamaru still be able to hear him, but also the cook, Iruka-sensei, the man servant and Shikamaru's master. They all had rooms in this branch of the estate. Naruto grinned widely, when he was raised to Sakura-chan's personal bodyguard he would given a small room directly next to hers so he could listen for trouble through the night. "Hee hee!" He let out a small laugh, silly look across his face, before coming to his senses and slamming both hands over his mouth. He could hear the cook rolling in his sleep, the next sound Naruto made might very well wake the man up. The cook was cranky when woken before the break of dawn, and known to take out his frustrations on the meal he served you.
Attempting to move silently, and for the most part succeeding, Naruto walked to the door. As Naruto's hand reached the doorknob, as if of its own will, the door swung open and Naruto felt his body tip forward as, the knob that should have been there was yanked from him. "Ahhh!" Naruto cried, trying desperately to regain his balance. "Aaargh!" He continued as his body lost the fight to remain standing and he tipped forward, landing with a thud on top something warm and softer than the ground. The warm object grunted as Naruto landed and the blonde looked down to find himself staring into the impossibly cool eyes of Neji.
"You…" Neji started softly, reaching a hand up towards Naruto's face. Then there was the sound of footsteps and the slamming of doors and Neji looked around Naruto to see the cook, Iruka-sensei and Asuno staring down at them with sleepy, yet obviously annoyed eyes. Seeing the others, Neji regained his composure, using the hand that had been inches away from gently caressing Naruto's face, to instead push at the blonde. "Get off."
Naruto grunted at the force of the push, quickly pulling himself off the young master and offering him a hand up, teeth clenched. Mentally he was thinking /Damn bastard! Making me look an ass on my big day. One day I'm gonna…/ But he managed to control his reply, stating only, "Sorry, sir."
"Vat is ze meaning of all thees?" The cook demanded in an accent thicker than normal from being still sleepy, not caring one bit that it was the master's apprentice that stood before him.
"Haruno-san sent me to wake this idiot. He wants to leave before sun up. You have ten minutes." Neji directed towards Naruto, not phased one bit by the cook's outrage. Having delivered his message, Neji turned and walked away, leaving Naruto to deal with three rater irate men.
"Ehhe…" The blonde shifted nervously glancing from face to face. "You see, I was trying to go out, when I tripped and-"
"Ze next time you trip," the cook said, wagging a finger under Naruto's nose, "do it zilently. Even if you are dying." With that he marched back to his room, door slamming behind him. Mutters of phrases like, "inzufferable brat!" and "just vait vor dinner!" could be heard from the far side of the door.
Naruto returned his attention, wide-eyed to the other two men. Asuno scratched the back of his head, shaking it slightly. "Shikamaru's gonna slack off twice as had thanks to this. I hope you're prepared to pick up the slack when you get back." With that he turned heel and marched to his own room, stifling a yawn as he closed the door gently.
Naruto groaned, but turned to look at Iruka-sensei, apprehension building. What would the tutor make him do? When he misbehaved during lessons he was forced to copy sections of books or write essays. A mental image of coming back in the evening only to be food poisoned by dinner, spend until long after dark doing Shikamaru's chores and THEN be forced to write a long essay on the importance of dexterity or some such ridiculous thing was slowly filling Naruto's mind.
To the blonde's surprise, however, the teacher did not yell or storm away with promise of future punishment. Instead he laid a comforting hand on the blonde's shoulder, and said with a shake of his head, "Today's the day, huh?"
Naruto felt a surge of warmth flow through him in thanks to Iruka's kindness. He'd always felt closer to the man than just a student-teacher relationship, almost like they were friends or even brothers. A wide grin spread across his tanned face at Iruka's words. "Yeah! It's gonna be gre-"
Iruka quickly covered the boy's mouth as his voice grew louder with each passing syllable. "Shuush."
"-great." Naruto finished in a quieter tone, moving farther away from the sleeping quarters. "After this it's just gonna be me and Sakura-chan."
Iruka looked down at the boy with obvious affection, slight smile playing on his features. "It's amazing you've come this far from the boy you were when you arrived here."
Naruto's grin widened at the praise. He glanced out the window, eyes catching the beginning rays of light from the morning sun. "Crap! I gotta go, I'm gonna be late!"
Iruka smiled at the boyish way Naruto turned, rushing towards the main house, stopping to wave before disappearing behind a cluster of trees. "Good luck!" Iruka called to the retreating figure, "And be safe!"
Naruto grinned as he drove the carriage home. Things had gone well. Very well. They had gotten to the city in one piece, without so much as a MINOR problem surfacing to face them. Through the city things had been fine, once or twice some thugs looked like they were moving a little too close for comforts sake, but when Naruto moved closer to the master, all seedy characters had disappeared. It was amazing. He didn't think he'd ever had a trip go so smoothly, even one with Gai-sensei in lead. After this kind of day, he didn't even mind the idea of coming back to a possible poisoned dinner and piles of Shikamaru's chores, because by night time tomorrow he would be lying in the room next to Sakura's and all would be right with the world.
Naruto snapped his mind back to reality when Haruno-san stuck his head out of the window of the carriage and called to him, "Naruto, I say! Naruto!"
"Yes, sir?" Naruto replied, pulling gently on the reigns to slow the horse a bit so he could hear his master better.
"We're coming up on a stream ahead, what do you say we give the horses, and ourselves, a little breather?" The master replied, smile on his face.
Naruto blushed with pride as the master's question sunk in. It meant that the master was going to leave the decision to HIS judgment, that the master was looking to him to decide whether or not it was safe to stop. It also meant that the master trusted Naruto to protect him if something should come up. Remembering his duty, Naruto glanced at the sky, there was still a few hours before night fall, and, if pushed, the horses could be home in an hour's time. "Sounds good to me, sir!"
"Splendid!" The master replied, ducking his head back into the carriage. Moments later they were at the stream, and Naruto jumped from the carriage, moving immediately to assist the master down. "I have a basket in the cabin, be a good man and fetch it, Naruto."
The blonde did as he was asked, although he noticed the horses beginning to pull at their harness a bit, eager to be freed from the carriage, even if just for a moment. He pulled the basked down and laid the blanket that was on top of it out quickly as he could, then immediately turned to the horses. After freeing them he tied them loosely to a tree, giving them free reign to either drink the water or chew on the grass. Then he took a moment to quickly brush them down to relieve a bit of their sweat and dirt from travel before returning his attention to the master. "Is there anything else you require, sir?"
Haruno-san smiled up at the boy from his cross-legged position on the blanket, "Sit with me for a while, son."
Surprised, but not unhappy, Naruto plopped himself down next to the master, rejecting a glass of wine the older man attempted to press upon him.
"No?" The master asked as he pulled the cup back. He then offered some bread and cheese, which Naruto took. "I've been meaning to talk to you for some time now."
"Yes, sir?" Naruto replied between mouthfuls of bread.
"Naruto, when you appeared five years ago many thought I was insane for taking you in. A boy with no memories, wandering through the dark wood, unscathed… I admit, I feared I would regret the decision."
Naruto looked at his master silently, wondering where this conversation was heading. He knew the risk that had been involved with taking him in and was eternally grateful that the master had braved the consequences.
After a long silence, during which the master regarded the blonde he continued, "And I tell you now, Naruto, you have not always been the easiest to look after. All of the pranks, the mischief, the hiding behind the barn with Shikamaru –yes, I saw you both out there, shirking your work- not to mention breaching the servant-master gap by befriending my daughter…"
The master trailed off and Naruto hung his head, the master was right, Naruto had not been the easiest of servants. He filled with shame at all the trouble he caused the Haruno household throughout the five years he'd been in their care.
"However, along with you came a laughter and light to all of us. A light that hadn't been there since my beloved wife had died. And then, three years ago, when you saved Sakura from those dogs." The master shook his head, his eyes seemed to be misting. When he had composed himself he continued. "I am eternally in your debt for that. I fear we have chosen a poor way to repay you."
Naruto, who had glanced away when the master's eyes had watered, snapped his head back in the master's direction. "What do you mean?" He demanded, forgetting to add 'sir' or 'master' in his surprise. He wasn't sure that life could get much better than it was at the Haruno household. A kind master, dear friends, a job that he loved, a girl that he loved… How was this not a wonderful way to repay him?
"The life of a body guard is not an easy one, Naruto. Always in the shadows, always blamed if something should happen, even a minor injury, to the one you have been chosen to protect… All the watching, all the guarding, all the fighting. It is not an easy life." He repeated, shaking his head. Then, catching the look in Naruto's eye he continued. "I tell you this, not because I doubt you, but because I want you to understand that this life-"
"This life is what I want!" Naruto replied, interrupting his master. "To protect someone precious, to be the eyes, ears and strength of someone unable to do so themselves…" Naruto grabbed his master's hand, kissing the ring which lay on his middle finger, a sign of an unbreakable vow. "Master, I swear that whomever you have me protect in your household, be it yourself or the horses, no harm will come of them while I watch over them. I would give my life first."
The master looked at the young man in front of him with a mixture of approval and regret on his face, "If you are sure than I give you my blessing. When we return you will have your green uniform."
"Thank you, sir! You won't regret it!" Naruto replied, once more breaking the barrier between master and servant by throwing his arms around his master's neck and squeezing him into a quick, tight hug. When he let go he jumped to his feet, moving to the horses. "We should start heading back; it will be dark within the next two hours.
"As you say." The master replied, blushing slightly from the sudden hug. "You are, after all, the body guard."
No sooner had the words been said than did a terrible howl sound from not too far in the distance. The horses jumped, eyes rolling in terror. Naruto immediately went to calm them, but as he approached the larger of the two bucked into the air, leg trashing out and kicking wildly.
"Whoa! Calm down!" Naruto called soothingly to the creatures as he approached, hands raised.
The horses started to calm as Naruto touched them, their breathing beginning to slow, their prancing more sedated. "That's right…" Naruto soothed, laying a hand on the larger of the horses nose. "They're far away, you're alright." A second howl pierced the air, this time closer. The horses reared, knocking an unprepared Naruto to the ground. There was a sickening cracking sound as the reigns snapped in two and then the horses were gone.
"Shit!" Naruto swore, as he rose to his feet. His chest stung from where the horse kicked him, but beyond that he was OK. He glanced around. He could hear in the not so distant forest the sound of the wolves prowling closer and closer to the area they stood. Running towards his master he picked the man up, pushing him into the carriage. "Sorry sir, you'll be safer in there."
"But the horses!" The master protested, unaware of the approaching wolves.
"They can take care of themselves," Naruto responded, slamming the door to the carriage shut. "Please stay put." He turned as the first of the wolves reached them. He stared at it. Large and gaunt, wild look in his eyes. That explained why it was out this early, why it was attacking humans; they were starving to death and desperate. From the sounds and smells of the area he was far from alone, too. There were dozens of them approaching. The carriage wouldn't remain safe for long.
The master gasped as four more wolves stalked into vision, each as desperate looking as the first. The wolves moved around the carriage in slow deliberate circles, teeth barred, hungry growl on their lips.
"Sir." Naruto said softly, not looking away from the creatures. "In a few moments the whole pack will be upon us, and then they'll attack. When that happens I'm gonna open a pathway, strait ahead."
"That will take us deeper in the forest!" The master protested, feeling suddenly eager to leave the darkening forest behind.
"It will take us across the stream, which may slow them. When I open a path to the stream I want you to run. Don't look back to see what happens to me, just go. I'll catch up to you shortly. If you find ANY covering, like a house or a tree you could climb quickly, I want you to take advantage of it, even if it will only hold you. Do you understand?"
The authoritative sound in Naruto's voice left no room for complaint and the master found himself nodding his head slowly. "Y-yes."
Satisfied, Naruto moved a few steps away from the carriage. There were about twenty wolves circling now, they couldn't all attack at once. Naruto waited, eyes locked on the biggest one; that one was the alpha, it would be the one that gave the signal to attack.
The alpha stopped pacing, eyes locking on Naruto. As it stopped so did the others. They stood, mouths open greedily, waiting. And then the alpha jumped. Naruto was prepared for it, his hands quickly grabbed at the gigantic wolf's neck. The other wolves jumped at him as he grabbed onto the large creature. Swinging it like a weapon, Naruto threw the alpha in the direction the wolves were thickest, knocking many over. They were back on their feet in seconds, but Naruto had little time to pay them heed as the wolves from the other directions jumped forward, attacking.
One managed to sink its teeth around his left arm and Naruto grunted in pain even as he pulled out the large knife he kept for protection. If he managed to hit any of the wolves with it, it would be the knife's first blood. The wolves back instinctively from him as he brandished it around wildly. The alpha was standing again by this point, and advancing slowly. It jumped on Naruto, and the others followed suit, more quickly this time.
The master gasped in surprise and fear as Naruto disappeared from his sight, more and more of the wolves piling onto heap, where at the bottom lay Naruto. He felt hope fail him as the moments dragged on, there was no way the blonde could have survived by this point. What should he do? If he ran now, while the creatures were distracted, he may have a chance-
Suddenly there was a sound of a ferocious growl, followed by a yelp. Then it looked as if something had exploded beneath the pile of wolves, they did not just fall, but flew away from the center of the pile, where suddenly stood Naruto, blood dripping down his face and arms. In one had was his knife, covered with blood, in the other, held by the scruff, was the alpha wolf, blood gushing from a large gapping wound across his neck.
"Now Master!" Naruto hollered.
Not waiting to be told twice, the Haruno threw himself from the carriage, dashing towards the stream. A couple of the wolves attempted to follow him, but Naruto held them off, growling more viciously than any animal could. Only when he was across the stream did Haruno turn to glace back at Naruto. The wolves seemed to be getting over the loss of the alpha, and were renewing their attacks. Many would probably have gone after Haruno, but Naruto had once again placed himself between the creatures and his master. Unwilling to let the boy's probable sacrifice be in vain, Haruno turned once more to the unknown parts of the forest, running as far and fast as his legs would carry him.
It seemed like hours, if not days that Haruno ran, not pausing for fear of being caught up to. When at last he could feel his legs about to buckle underneath him, Haruno collapsed, face down in the dirt. /Is this the end for me/ He wondered, eyes searching for something, anything in which he could find shelter, or at the very least use for defense. That's when he spotted it, in the distance, a large dark gate, beyond which laid a castle, almost in ruin, but it was something.
Mustering all his will power, Haruno forced himself to his feet, legs almost buckling under his own weight, but he managed to push onward. He didn't notice the handkerchief that fell from his breast pocket as he rose; his only focus was on reaching that castle. He pushed onward until he reached the black fence, made of rock and iron pillars. There was a swinging door to the gate not far form where he stood and he trotted towards it, disparity in his eyes. The gate was closed, but surly if he pushed he would be allowed entrance. He MUST be allowed entrance.
His hand closed around the handle to the rusted gate and he pushed with all his might. It resisted at first, but then, making a sound that would wake the dead, it swung open. Haruno stepped through, slamming it shut behind him. He looked ahead to the castle, wondering why it stood here, in the middle of the forest and wondering who it had belonged to. There was a long walkway from the gate to the castle, made out of the same dark colored rocks as the stone pillars of the gate had been. Haruno managed a few steps towards the castle before he fell to the ground, unable to move any further.
He laid there, eyes closed as sleep overtook him. After what seemed an eternity he became vaguely aware of an unfamiliar voice asking softly, "What do we have here?" Then a pair of arms wrapped around him and he was lifted off the ground, after that there was only darkness.
After killing the alpha wolf the others became less organized; it was only a matter of perseverance before the remainder scattered. Naruto watched them disperse into the forest, torn between finishing them off and going to look for his master. If he left them alone they would only re-group and attack again, perhaps the next travelers would not be so lucky as to defeat them. Naruto shook his head, protecting the master had to be his first priority. Now that the creatures had run off, it was even more important to find the master.
At least, as Naruto suspected, none of the creatures had crossed the stream when they ran from him. None in his view, at any rate. Resisting the urge to clean the blood off his arms and face, Naruto jumped easily to the other side of the stream, following the half hour old tracks of the master. He had gone about a mile when he saw signs of the master having slowed. Slowing his own pace, Naruto moved slowly forward until his eyes caught on bright piece of cloth on the forest floor. After picking it up and sniffing it, Naruto was quite certain it belonged to the master.
Naruto crouched down, laying his hands on the ground. The master had fallen here, but… Moving forward a bit he noticed the master's tracks continue on. He must have seen something that made him get up. Looking up, squinting his eyes in the approaching darkness, Naruto saw in the distance an abandoned castle, as dark and uninviting as the approaching night. "Haruno-sama must have gone in that direction…" Moving quicker now, Naruto headed towards the castle, praying that his master was well.
Haruno woke in a dark room only moments, it felt, since he had fallen asleep, and indeed he would have been near right. Only an hour had passed since he was carried into the castle. He was not certain where he was, but knew beyond certainty that he was not in his own room, laying on his own bed. His own bed was never this hard or uncomfortable or… smelly. It took only a moment for him to realize that he was lying on some straw laid across a hard stone floor. A raged blanket had been thrown over his body. Beyond the straw, blanket and himself, the room was quite empty. There were three solid stone walls along with the stone floor and ceiling. The fourth wall was made of iron bars. A tiny amount of light crept in through a hole near the top of one of the walls, if he peered into the hole he could see a large room filled with many torches. "I wonder if that boy is alright…"
"Worry about yourself, old man." A low growl replied.
Haruno jumped, suddenly aware that he was not alone. He could not make out the features of the one who had him imprisoned, but he could hear low, heavy breath on the other side of the bars. It almost sounded like an animal panting. "Who are you? Why have you imprisoned me?"
A low growl was given in answer to his questions. "I could ask the same. What are you doing in MY castle? Who sent you?" The voice was no longer a growl, but a roar as the question boomed and reverberated throughout the castle.
"N-no. No one sent me!" Haruno replied, attempting to remain calm, as the figure paced before him. His eyes were beginning to accustom themselves to the darkness and what he could see of the shadowy figure terrified him, for it was no man. It was large, humongous, really, standing taller than any man, and there were horns- great goat-like horns, circling up and around its dark head. Beyond that it was like the creature was made of shadow, no, something darker than the shadow. "We were attacked by wolves on our way home, my companion told me to run and find shelter. I didn't know this place belonged to anybody!"
"LIES!" The roar came again, the creature moved closer, Haruno could feel its hot breath upon his face as he clutched onto the bars of his cell. "Lies!" It repeated again, slightly more composed. "You can rot in here until you are ready to speak the truth!"
And with that the creature was gone. Haruno wasn't certain if he should be relieved at its absence or disappointed at not being heard through. Whichever the choice, he fell to the ground, hopelessness filling his being. His mind flashed to Naruto. If the boy survived fighting the wolves, he would be coming to look for him. Haruno wished he could send some message, telling Naruto not to come. Why should both of them be imprisoned in this place? Perhaps if Naruto went free he could bring back help. But even as he thought about it, Haruno realized the uselessness of it. Naruto would not head back to the estate without first retrieving him. They would both be imprisoned here until someone worried about their absence, and that would be days. By then they could already be food for the beast.
Well, that's the chapter, I do hope you all enjoyed it. If you did, or if you have any questions or complaints, please review! I will be most appreciative!
Er, as a side note, I got a few questions that I thought I should address, just because I think they ,might have bugged a lot of people.
Itoshii-chan asked how getting warrior training might soften a person's heart (remember I mentioned that the King and Queen sent their first born to be trained in hopes of softening his heart). My only response to that is that what happens to a person during training (whether they become hardened or learn to care more) is completely reliant on the training itself. Back in the dark ages they not only trained someone to fight but also a romantic ideal of what fighting was about (ie, don't hurt peasants, treat your opponents with respect, place your kingdom above all else, etc). Also, the King and Queen were desperate, they didn't know how else to reach their son, at the very least, they hoped that this would make him less distant. Anyway… I hope that helped, good question!
And then a large number of you asked if this was NejiNaru or SasuNaru. Rest assured, I plan of keeping to my normal pairings (SasuNaru) with POSSIBLE others not involving Naruto or Sasuke (I don't like three ways or cheating). Any NejiNaru that appears will be purely on Neji's part (the poor boy). Although, if Sakura gets her way, there'll be some NejiSaku… (not likely).