MasterFranny: hey everyone here! This is my first try with a Naruto fic, and I decided to choose an uncommon pairing.
You see, there were only a few one–shots with ShikaNaru as a couple, no fics, and I was left unsatisfied. After all, ShikaNaru is one of the three couples I love, with ItaNaru as my OTP and GaaNaru… even though uke!Naruto is what I really like so…
If you like ItaNaru, try out StarsOfYaoi's fics… XD
Note: takes place after the Valley of End. Sasuke was taken back. You will see how things develop as this fic comes along.
Summary: (ShikaNaru) (ShinoKiba, KakaIru, Sandcest KankuGaa) Observing, interacting, developing, caring and healing. When someone you care for is threatened, even the most troublesome matter turns vital. When Shikamaru is appointed to search for Naruto, who's gone training with Jiraiya, to tell him that Akatsuki is moving for him faster than expected, time is all that matters. After the Valley of End.
Warnings: shounen–ai and yaoi. Boy x boy relationships. Don't like, don't read, don't flame.
Disclaimer: I don't own this wonderful manga, or the anime. They belong to Masashi Kishimoto.
–Dreams, Flashbacks, memories–
Chapter 01: Aware
That simple sentence was all Shikamaru needed in his life, period.
Quoting Shikamaru in one of his normal days, everything was troublesome; waking up from his comfortable bed, with an entire day in front of him, was troublesome. Preparing breakfast for himself since his father was usually already out by that time, was troublesome.
Walking down the street, waving at people who greeted him was troublesome. Training with his team was troublesome –more than anything else, really– and walking back towards his house in the evening was troublesome.
That last part was understandable, since his house sounded a little too empty for him.
Shikamaru liked the silence, he cherished it, one of the few things that he really appreciated; but during the week his family was busy with missions for the Hokage, and even though it was a bit troublesome, sometimes he just wished he could see them more often, like when he was still at the academy.
When he was little, he would go back home around three o' clock, after spending some hours gazing lazily at the clouds from his favourite spot (this was his hobby and he liked it), and his mother would greet him, cooking something for him. It didn't matter she was a bit bossy, because she still loved him and Shikamaru liked to see her wave at him with a warm smile, then sit with him at the table, watching him eat.
Not that she didn't smile now, but she was a kunoichi of Konohagakure, and after the problems the village had with Orochimaru and the Chuunin exams, she'd been receiving more missions, coming back home late, or not coming at all.
His father had been receiving more missions too, and though he hadn't been at home that much even before, it was hard for Shikamaru to see him; his last resort was linger outside spending all his free afternoons gazing up at the clouds, thinking (which was his second hobby).
Feeling the grass under his back, staring up at the sky, relaxed and comfortable, allowing his mind to work furiously while the rest of his body was still; and if he felt a bit alone, he could just shift closer to the village, listening half–heartedly to the chit–chat of the people.
Opposite to his house, where he felt alone; there was no sky to look up at without the restraints of the walls, there were no familiar noises except his TV. Silence was way too heavy for him to stand.
He missed his childhood, but he knew how to let go; he was growing up and he was a shinobi, which meant he should not miss something trivial as a family reunited around a table (but even now, with his brains and his intelligence, his heart still ached for that sometimes).
He ignored the feeling pretty well, because he was able to take care of himself; and truth to be told, he really didn't mind spending some time with his team mates…
Or hanging around with his friends.
People used to say he was lazy, and he couldn't but agree with them on this. He was intelligent; his IQ was very high, so high it could put to shame any genius if he wanted. Though, his intelligence permitted him to think in ways few could, and reach conclusions he didn't like…
But he liked to think. Observing around and finding nothing interesting, because he could learn everything so easily he tired himself out, not able to force himself to care. He was aware that intelligence without will was nothing (after all he was labelled a genius for something) but he cared nothing at all.
That was troublesome.
But there was something that clearly put him in the same level of everyone else, and it was his age. He was young and inexperienced, and no intelligence could overrule such thing.
Sure, lately troubles were gathering on Konoha pretty fast, attracting dangers and enemies so strong he had a hard time remaining indifferent on that matter… wishing he could disappear or return a Genin, when everything was so much simpler than now.
Being a Chuunin raised of a notch the probability to fall deeper in the troublesome life he was trying desperately to avoid; he could not forget his first mission, where he had to put aside his laziness or his friends would die.
After all, trying to rescue a wannabe nuke–nin was not an easy feat.
He'd been forced to take life or death decisions, involving people he cared for, protecting them, trying to find the right choice, without knowing if he would fail or succeed. If this was the life he was supposed to do every single day, he didn't want it.
In the end, surprisingly enough, his mission was deemed a success, and not thanks to him; Sasuke was back in Konohagakure, and was being treated by the medic–nins, together with the rest of the team.
Whilst he came out of it almost unscathed. A few scratched, but not enough to quell his guilt.
It wasn't fair.
He was standing outside of the ER, when inside his friends were dealing with their wounds, whilst he was ok.
Chouji ended up consuming almost all his chakra and his reserves, succeeding in winning his personal battle but at a high cost; Shikamaru was sure no one would call him useless anymore, since he'd showed everyone his strength.
Kiba had been injured badly, and his dog Akamaru was in an even worse condition, since both fought fiercely without restraints, giving everything they had, and winning.
Neji… the Hyuuga ended up worst than anyone else, barely alive when the rescuing troops arrived where he'd fought. His healing was the most complicated, and hard to accomplish due to his injuries, and he needed constant care.
They all fought valiantly, managing to win against all odds.
Luckily enough, the medics had reported him his friends were all fine, and would recover if given time, and now what he really wanted was some time for himself to calm down; the news of Uchiha Sasuke's defection hadn't reached the villagers' ears yet, and by what he suspected, they would never spread around, not even within the shinobi.
Naruto had taken him back, just as he'd promised.
Of all the rescuing team, Naruto was the only one Shikamaru knew nothing about; he wasn't there when the blond arrived with Sasuke, and he was still under Tsunade's care. The Hokage was doing wonders for the boy.
Right now Shikamaru was far away from the hospital, gazing up at the cloudy sky effectively ignoring the raging emotions inside him, because he was aware he could not deal with them at the moment. Not before he could see his friends.
Not before he could apologize to them for his carelessness.
He had been a horrible leader, he hadn't helped them. He was weak and useless.
If only the Uchiha could have realized his acting before trying to escape, nothing would have happened, Naruto wouldn't have been hurt, no one would have. Everything would be just as fine as before.
Shikamaru did not know why Sasuke decided to defect to Orochimaru, but whatever it was, it had to be important to have the last Uchiha of Konoha leave his village for one of the strongest shinobi ever lived.
The lazy Nara had never cared to find out why Sasuke was so cold and distant, but right now he had the feeling that he could turn everything around his reasons to leave. Maybe it was time to forget his laziness for a moment and start gathering some information.
'To have friends is so troublesome,' he sighed inwardly.
Blue eyes flickered open, at first seeing nothing but a blurred white, pink, yellow and black, then, they started to focus on a face above him, the world suddenly becoming clearer.
"Naruto… how are you feeling?" a soft voice spoke, and he felt a soft touch on his left cheek. It took him a moment to realize it was a hand. It was warm, and it was soothing, and it felt nice.
Brown eyes looked down at him, "Tsunade… obaa–chan?" he rasped, his voice rough and strained. His throat hurt.
He felt like in a daze… he couldn't remember where he was, or what had happened, but the smiling face of the Godaime looking down at him calmed his raging emotions enough for him to clear his troubled mind.
He remembered… the mission. Parts of his memories flashed in front of him. He had been teamed up with some friends… to rescue Sasuke.
"Sasuke! Where is Sasuke!" he jumped up in a sitting position, eyes wide, breath erratic, and felt a jolt of pain coming from his body, making his cringe and fall forwards with a flinch.
"Calm down, Naruto," Tsunade's voice was still calm and collected as she pushed him back down, causing him to wince from the pain. "It's all ok, Sasuke is here, you did it, you brought him back".
Naruto flopped back on the mattress, sighing as his injuries protested and ached; all the rest was forgotten, he'd brought back Sasuke.
He did it.
Closing his eyes he let the memories from the fight come back to him; he remembered Sasuke transforming into that creepy version of himself with the help of the seal Orochimaru left on his body.
He remembered what he told him –that he considered him a brother.
And he remembered that Sasuke had wanted to kill him.
It was all so clear.
He had failed.
The last attack between full–powered Chidori and Rasengan, had caused an explosion of chakra and power that could be seen in the distance, two fierce attacks clashing against each other with all the strength both boys had in their bodies –one caused by despair and need of vengeance, the other by friendship.
When the clouds of dust dissipated in the air, revealing a bare ground of crumbled rocks, there was a deep silence.
It seemed as if the whole world had been covered with a thick blanket of calm, almost unreal, silence, so heavy even breathing was hard, echoing around like a shout.
In the middle of the Valley of End, two frames were recognizable by standing there –one on his feet, the other on the ground, unmoving.
Clear, deep blue eyes glazed up from the ground to stare into deep, crimson ones, the red colour of blood flickering and moving inside them as if it was a burning flame. His body had changed back from the inhuman shape the curse allowed him to his normal one, his chakra consumed completely with the strain of the last attack leaving him panting and weak. But he wasn't the only one.
Naruto was the one that could not stand again; using so much of Kyuubi's chakra caused his body to collapse, and he was sliding in and out of consciousness. The strange red aura around him was gone, his eyes had returned to his usual blue, the whiskers on his cheeks dimmed to their normal appearance.
Sasuke was still standing.
He was not.
'He can kill me now… I deserve it, I wasn't able to take him back' was what Naruto thought in that moment.
And still, as his blue eyes met with the Sharingan crimson ones, he could not see the same emotion burning in them that he had seen before, when their battle started. Sasuke was just standing, looking at him, and did not speak.
How could he manage to stand up was a mystery to Naruto, who knew he couldn't even move a finger in his current situation.
It was barely a whisper.
So low, the blond wouldn't have heard it if not for his enhanced hearing and the deathly silence around them. But he did, and felt despair inside.
"Why were you so eager to take me back? Why did you keep on fighting back, when all I wanted was kill you?" Sasuke's Sharingan faded away. Black orbs were now boring into ocean ones, probing for an answer, even if it would be the same as before.
"You are… my friend," Naruto replied. His voice was rough and his throat hurt a lot, probably some blow damaged him there… but he didn't care.
"I tried to kill you," Sasuke replied.
Maybe even too quietly, with no coldness nor rage. He simply stated a fact.
"Because that way, I can kill him…" he added in a murmur.
Naruto never looked away from Sasuke, as he let a small bitter smile grace his lips. It didn't matter; he knew Sasuke was referring to Itachi, his brother. He heard Kakashi speak about his clan with others. He knew what the older Uchiha did, simply to test himself.
Sasuke was all that was left of the clan, and all he wanted was revenge. He was left alive because of that revenge. Itachi left him alive because that way, he would create an opponent at his level… or create someone like him.
"Sasuke… I can't let you waste your life…" if something can be said about Naruto, was that he would never give up on something he cared for.
He cared for Sasuke.
And he knew what he was feeling. The burning emotion cursing inside him was proof of that. He would never let him go, not now that the raven haired one admitted Naruto was his best friend.
Not now, that finally, Naruto found a family.
Iruka sensei, Sasuke… like a father, like a brother.
He couldn't renounce to them in the name of a stupid revenge. Call him selfish, but he was not ready to lose something close to him.
"How can you not understand, Sasuke?" his voice was a little steadier, even if he was close to fainting for the loss of blood and chakra.
But he would not give up.
"If you give up on everything you have, what will be left for you when you finally accomplish your vengeance?" he coughed and a trail of blood seeped out if a corner of his mouth. "And if someone else kills Itachi instead of you, what will you become? You would have wasted your life away…"
"How can you understand what I feel? How can you know what it feels like! You have no family, you never had one!" anger filled the charcoal eyes, but not hatred. "All left to me is revenge! He made sure of that!"
"But now you have me, Sasuke. And Sakura–chan… and Kakashi sensei, you are not alone… we can be your family as you can be mine," Naruto smiled a shaky, weak foxy grin up at him. "I never had a family, that's true… but I can understand you better than anyone would".
A moment of silence, not even the wind was blowing.
"I know how it feels to be truly alone, that's why… I can't let you go, not now that I started to feel alone no more," Naruto blinked. He couldn't feel any chakra in him; Kyuubi was nowhere in his mind, he knew the fox was hurt… because merging with his chakra caused a reaction in the seal.
He had no strength left, but he had to find some. If not from the kitsune, then from his own stubbornness.
"Orochimaru will use you, are you up to be controlled only to gain a power that is not your own? A power that you don't have, something that will burn you from the inside, making you his puppet, a power that you can't claim as yours?" Naruto twitched his fingers.
All his body hurt. He could barely keep conscious, but he would never give up. And astonishingly, he started to shift to stand up. Sasuke stared in deep shock as his blond rival, and now admittedly friend, struggled to shift in a sitting position, breathing hard, more blood coming out of his mouth, but he didn't stop.
"It's a curse!" Sasuke stepped back, faltering so only his own will power was keeping him standing. He wanted to ignore Naruto's attempts to stand, he didn't want to look, he didn't want to listen to him at all. "I was cursed! I can't have freedom if I don't kill him and revenge my clan!"
"Then, stay… you don't want to use a power that is not your own to defeat Itachi, don't you?" Naruto smiled again. Warmly. "You would feel unsatisfied… because really, it wouldn't be you the one to defeat Itachi, but someone else's power…"
His voice was low and warm, as if he were speaking about the weather. Almost as if what he was saying was so obvious even a kid could understand.
"Stay away!" Sasuke stepped back again.
Naruto stepped forwards. The smile was still on his lips. Warm smile, his eyes bright and clear. There was no hatred in them, no guilt, no sadness, no regret –Naruto did not hate Sasuke because he had wanted him dead.
Naruto could not hate.
Looking at him, tears pooling from those ocean blue eyes, because he cared.
Naruto really cared.
Sasuke felt something, deep inside him. It was not pity… Naruto did not pity him; it was… acceptance. Understanding.
Naruto had stepped inside his shell, passing all his blocks and his defences, and touched his heart. Because Naruto cared… and for the first time, someone treated him like a real person, not the last Uchiha heir. Someone looked at him and saw the person Sasuke, not the silent, loner Uchiha.
Naruto saw through all his walls, and considered him… family.
A real family.
He couldn't kill him. He knew he couldn't. He already knew, even before starting the fight, that he would never be able to kill Naruto.
And still he had tried.
Because he was blinded by the rage, the hatred, the fury, the desire to revenge his clan… his family. But now, everything was gone. There were no more raging emotions inside him to blind him.
And widened eyes saw that Naruto was right.
He couldn't kill Itachi with Orochimaru's seal.
That would bring no satisfaction. it was Orochimaru's power, not his, he was using.
He needed to be strong in a different way than his brother was. He was not a killer, he was not a genius like Itachi, but he was skilled. And stubborn. He'd been a step from taking away something precious to him, Naruto's life.
He would have turned into a copy of his own brother…
Naruto was shocked when Sasuke's eyes filled with tears. Never in his life he'd seen the Uchiha cry… he was always in control, he was always hiding his emotions.
Sasuke looked at him.
"I'm sorry, Naruto…"
With that, Sasuke fell on the ground, not anymore able to sustain himself up. Naruto stood shaking, eyes widened, but when he realized what Sasuke had said, his eyes brightened up, the shadows covering them disappearing slightly as the smile returned –this time, a satisfied one.
Sun peered from the clouds above them, the silence still unnerving, but this time, slowly, around them the world came back to life.
And Naruto felt someone approaching, calling his name.
'Kakashi sensei…' was his last thought before he let the darkness claim him.
Sasuke was back.
It was all ok then…
"You should rest, Naruto… it seems like your body isn't healing like it should," Tsunade's voice shook him out of his thoughts. "Can you tell me what happened?"
"How are the others?" Naruto looked at the woman with expectant eyes. "Are they ok?"
Tsunade sighed; she knew she would get nothing from Naruto unless he first told him about his friends.
"Chouji, Neji and Kiba are fine, they were in a bad condition but were healed by our best medic–nins… they are up to recover shortly," Tsunade saw Naruto's shoulders relax a little and smiled. He had been worried for them…
"What about Shikamaru?" Naruto asked, wondering why she hadn't mentioned him.
"He was fine, he got away with only a few scratches. Sasuke is also fine, he's now guarded by some ANBU members, in case he decides to try and run away again".
Naruto nodded. He knew it was necessary, but he didn't believe Sasuke would try and leave Konoha again.
A moment of silence greeted them, and then Tsunade slowly brushed away some strands of hair from the young boy's eyes, smiling at him. She had been sickly worried for his safety, still afraid the curse of her necklace would get him if she wasn't careful. It took her brother and her lover away, she didn't want Naruto to die as well… not now that she considered him her little brother.
"What happened? Why isn't Kyuubi healing you like it should?" she asked, pointing to the many bandages that covered his body. Some were already reddish by the blood still coming out, and that was not normal –by that time it should have healed half the damage.
"I used too much of Kyuubi's chakra for the battle… hee hee hee," Naruto would have scratched his head but his arms hurt. Instead he smiled sheepishly at the Godaime and she felt her heart warm up. Despite it all, he was still smiling in the same way… "But I promised Sakura I would bring Sasuke back… I couldn't go back on my promise".
Tsunade looked at him again, searching in his eyes and in the way he was smiling, then she stood up, "I'm going to check on the others… try to rest a little ok?"
Naruto nodded, and then, he was left alone.
All his cheerfulness slowly disappeared from his face, as he forced himself to sit up on the bed, blue eyes looking outside the window at the sight of Konoha. He was glad he could take Sasuke back… but he really didn't believe the raven haired boy would give up on his revenge. Maybe he would train on his own instead of closing his heart away and go to Orochimaru, but Sasuke would always look up to kill Itachi.
"How can you understand what I feel? How can you know what it feels like! You have no family, you never had one! All left to me is revenge! He made sure of that!"
Sasuke's words hurt. He knew Sasuke was just angry and wasn't thinking, and that he said he was sorry afterwards, but… it was true. Naruto would never understand what it felt to have a family and then, have it taken away from you.
Sure, he could have his friends and he could have Iruka sensei, and he would protect them by giving his life away if needed. But how could he understand the pain Sasuke was in? Could it be enough to help him?
He was not strong enough to help Sasuke out.
He had been not strong enough to stop him from going away, and it didn't matter he had taken him back.
He knew of Sasuke's pain, but how could he help him out? He needed to be stronger… but he was so weak…
"I'm sorry…" he sobbed, hiding his face in his arms.
"Your sensei told me I was going to find you here".
Shikamaru was shaken out from his thoughts by the voice of the current Hokage, Tsunade Godaime.
He looked away from the clouds and stared up at her, once again wondering how this woman could be as strong as Naruto assured him she was, and how could she be fifty when she looked this young. Of course he was smart enough to notice she used a medical jutsu to keep this appearance, but still, what was the point of that?
"I wanted to tell you that Naruto is awake… at the time he's the only one of the group you are allowed to visit," she smiled lightly at him, and he groaned before standing up, his stance slouched as he was used to, eyes glancing at her in boredom.
His clothes were still dirty and ruined, he was still covered with scratches and dirt, and still, he looked like he didn't care. Or maybe, he was too lazy to change clothes and clean up, she assumed.
This was the guy whose IQ was the highest of the whole village of Konoha, this was the chuunin that had been appointed to go retrieve Sasuke, and that had succeeded in his mission. Nara, Shikamaru.
"Lead the way," he said.
She did not care he hadn't used any courtesy in asking her, nor if he had plainly ordered her to take him to his friend; she'd seen enough of him in the two brief meetings they had to trace his character down to the minimum detail.
"Tsunade–sama," he spoke quietly as the two of them walked up to the hospital area. "I was thinking, can I ask you something?"
"What is it?" she replied, not looking at him as she lead the way through the corridors.
"For the level of the mission and the members on the team there were different conditions," Shikamaru stared up at her, his usual grimace back in place. "For such a team, shouldn't we… have been assigned at least a medical ninja?"
She expected such a question from him, and had to stifle a smirk, before explaining to the young one that medical ninja were hard to train. He of course understood the general meaning, but her last words left him confused.
"Also it is 'the most important thing' that makes a first–class medical ninja," she then smiled knowingly.
'The most important thing?' Shikamaru grimaced, 'what a troublesome woman,' he thought.
"You go ahead to Naruto's room," Tsunade waved at him and walked away, pointing to the corridor at his left. "I'll come after I pick up the medicine".
He thought of rolling his eyes but found it too troublesome so he just stepped down the corridor and was about to enter the room –the door was open– when he heard sobs coming from inside.
He peered in, and was greeted with the sight of Naruto curled up on the bed, body completely wrapped in bandages, sobbing with his face in his arms, his frame shaking as he could not control his tears.
Shikamaru did not speak, just stood there, quietly observing Naruto as the blond murmured something he could not quite understand, over and over. He was almost sure he heard a 'sorry' and a 'weak' here and there, but he may have been wrong.
Naruto looked really broken now. And alone…
Shikamaru exited and slowly made his way down the corridor again, silently, before turning and making sure he was being noisy he walked again to the room, knowing he had to give Naruto warning that he was coming.
Naruto heard someone was coming his way and hurriedly wiped away the tears, hoping his cheeks would not be red. He cleared his throat when on the door appeared a well known boy, who leaned on the doorframe and looked at him, a bored expression on his face, "well well… you're awake".
Naruto couldn't help but smile happily, the sight of his friend cheering him up.
"Shikamaru!" he yelled, smiling.
Shikamaru walked towards the bed, falling down onto it like he'd walked miles instead of some corridors, sighing as he opened his eyes to look at the blond from above his shoulder. Naruto was smiling at him, completely different from the sight he had witnessed seconds before, but he did not speak about it –it was Naruto's business, not his.
For a moment there was a deep silence, but Naruto didn't like it nonetheless and opened his mouth to break it.
"So… everyone is safe," the blond looked down at his hands. "That's good".
Shikamaru nodded, "and Sasuke…"
"He's fine, Tsunade obaa–chan said he's guarded over".
Silence fell on them again, but it was a comforting silence between friends.
"How are you feeling?" Shikamaru surprised both by asking this. 'I am so troublesome at times' the black haired boy thought.
Naruto smile returned full force, "A little tired, but I am fine! And I see you are too!"
Shikamaru nodded before falling on his back on the bed, groaning. "Mendokusei ne," he grumbled. "But at least, it's done".
"You did great," Naruto assured. "You took the right decisions, without you I think we would have failed".
Shikamaru was kinda surprised to hear such things come out from Naruto's mouth –most of all because the blond was quiet and was not bragging around like usual. Shikamaru felt like he did not know Naruto anymore.
"This mission would have failed if you hadn't been there… Tsunade–sama did the right thing when she suggested me to bring you on" Shikamaru sighed and looked at the ceiling.
Naruto stared at him, and smiled again, this time sadly.
"Thanks," he murmured.
"Mendokusei yo," Shikamaru muttered again.
What would he do without his trademark line?
The scene was quite a déjà–vu to Sakura, as her eyes looked down at Sasuke's sleeping form on the bed.
He was looking even more pale than usual, the mark on his neck contrasting more than usual on the skin, almost taunting her, telling her she hadn't been able to help him, to keep him in Konoha.
When Ino appeared before her on the bridge, tears pooling in her eyes, she had expected bad news… instead she'd been told that Naruto and the others were back, that Sasuke was there, and all was gonna be ok.
The first thing she did was cry, cry of happiness, because Naruto kept his promise. He took Sasuke back… he did it. She believed he would, and he did.
So, not even thinking about going to see Naruto, she went to Sasuke's room, guarded by two ANBU guards, and she was allowed in –mostly because Sasuke was warded to the bed, in case he would try to run away again, and because she was crying when she asked the guards to let her in.
And now, she was looking at his sleeping face, tears falling from her eyes, happiness and sadness mixing together, her only thought was for Sasuke.
He was back. Things were going to be ok, now. Nothing mattered anymore, they had Sasuke back.
'I feared I had lost him,' she thoughts, her fingers slowly brushing against Sasuke's own, looking at his face in wonder –evading the sight of the seal on the neck.
Then, she was shaken out of her reverie by a twitch of Sasuke's eye, and a moment later, black eyes opened.
"Sasuke–kun!" Sakura cried. "You are awake!"
Sasuke groaned. His eyelids felt heavy, and his whole body hurt. He could hear Sakura sobbing and speaking nonsense at his side, but he shut her voice out as he thought back to what had happened.
In a flash, he remembered. And his shoulders slumped in defeat knowing he was back.
Blue eyes flashed in his mind as he closed his eyes again, remembering the words Naruto spoke so passionately to him.
"But now you have me, Sasuke. And Sakura–chan… and Kakashi sensei, you are not alone… we can be your family as you can be mine. I never had a family, that's true… but I can understand you better than anyone would".
Naruto was right, always right. He would never defeat Itachi, his brother, using power that was not his. He knew that he would never be satisfied this way. But he also knew he would never be able to give up with his revenge.
Itachi took away his family once… he would never let him take away his new family. A family that didn't give up on him.
He let his brother control his life even when he wasn't there… by fuelling his anger. He knew that if he wanted to beat his brother, he would need to fight with a clear mind… not by letting his anger think in his place.
That way, he would be really strong.
"Sasuke–kun?" the worried voice of the pink haired girl reached him and he opened his eyes again, focusing his gaze on her; Sakura was smiling at him, tears clear in her eyes, as she was happy he was there; maybe Naruto was right. For how annoying, this was his family. Konoha was his family.
"Sakura," he whispered. His voice was still rough.
Hearing Sasuke speak her name sent Sakura over the edge as she started squealing and blushing, before grabbing a glass of cool water and having Sasuke sip from it –he was still sealed to the bed, so she had to held the glass against his lips.
He never questioned why he was sealed to the bed.
He knew he had lost the trust of almost all the ninjas, apart maybe for Naruto, Sakura and some others… but he was willing to gain it back. He needed to be strong.
'I am sorry I am so weak… but what can I do? I can't wait to become strong, or else I won't be able to protect the ones I care for…'
Naruto looked up at the ceiling, shadows covering the room; outside, the night was hiding Konoha from view, and there was no moon to shine it up. He didn't know why, but he felt a strange sadness pooling up inside him. Like he was supposed to do something… but he couldn't understand what.
Suddenly, the silence was broken by a loud crash, and he stumbled up from his bed to look outside the window, and the sight that met his eyes shocked him.
There was Jiraiya sitting on the head of a really big toad –not as big as Gamabunta, but quite big of his own, in fact big enough to let Jiraiya look Naruto in the eyes even if his room was at the second floor.
"Ero–sennin!" Naruto exclaimed, stunned by the unexpected sight.
"Hey…" the white haired man replied, with a small smile.
Naruto resumed his sitting position on the bed, watching Jiraiya sit down on the windowsill, his back turned to him. The blond waited curiously as to why the ero–sennin would be visiting him, but when Jiraiya spoke, what he said shocked the guts out of him.
"I came to talk to you today about an important matter," he started, still not turning to look at the young boy. "From now on, you're officially my apprentice. I will train you one–on–one for three years".
A trickle of sweat rolled down Naruto's forehead as he looked up at his teacher with wide eyes. He couldn't believe what the old man was saying.
"When I was investigating Orochimaru's 'immortality jutsu'… information concerning Akatsuki came to light".
Naruto's blue eyes passed from wide to narrow in a split second. Akatsuki. The secret –well, not so secret anymore– organization in which Uchiha Itachi, Sasuke's brother, worked. He could remember the tall man, with swirling crimson eyes, the Sharingan… he could remember the effects of his special attack on both Sasuke –back when he and Jiraiya were searching for Tsunade– and Kakashi sensei.
And he remembered the other one as well… the one with a shark face –his sword could absorb chakra.
The Akatsuki wanted him. Well, not him, but the power he was the vessel of. Kyuubi.
"Information…?" he asked tentatively.
Jiraiya finally turned to him.
"They won't be after you… for at least three or four years from now".
The blond lowered his gaze and thought about it for a moment.
"Well… in that case…" he raised his eyes. "I want to get strong!"
The white haired pervert turned again towards him, frowning. There was a flicker in those blue eyes that he couldn't understand.
"I want to be strong," Naruto repeated, determination showing on his face. "I wasn't strong enough… I couldn't be strong enough…" he looked down, blond strands covering his eyes, but his hands were trembling on his lap.
"You took Sasuke back," Jiraiya's voce was soft, unlike his usual loud tone. "You were strong, Naruto".
"No!" blue eyes filled with unshed tears looked up to met his, "I couldn't help Sasuke, I couldn't help him! He can't live without having his revenge, and I can't help that! Orochimaru wanted him, and I couldn't help Sasuke… I couldn't stop him from going away!"
Jiraiya stared at him. Unlike what happened to him many years before, Naruto managed to get Sasuke back. He couldn't help Orochimaru when it came to him. He'd fought, he had tried to convince him… but he hadn't been able to help his friend back.
Orochimaru left, and he couldn't help him. Orochimaru wanted immortality and he didn't care who hurt in the process.
"Kukuku… you'll always be a simple person, Jiraiya… Whatever you're thinking, it won't work… Because you aren't aware of what I was doing… You are pitiful…"
A flicker of sadness passed through Jiraiya's eyes. He had let down his friend.
"What if Orochimaru comes again and tries to take Sasuke away! What if he kills him!" Naruto gritted his teeth.
"He won't. Not in three years, at least," Jiraiya looked at the blond. "Every time Orochimaru performs his immortality jutsu, he's prevented for three years to do it again. While waiting impatiently for Sasuke, he transferred already".
Naruto looked at him, his heart filling with hope. It was strange that both Akatsuki and Orochimaru would not appear for the same amount of time, but… maybe, just maybe… he had time. Time to become strong.
"Are you up to follow me then? It won't be easy, I will train you, and I am one of the three Legendary Sannin… are you sure you can keep up with me?"
Naruto stared at Jiraiya for a moment. There was no need to say anything. The determination in those ocean pools was enough.
The ero–sennin jumped out of the window, landing on top of the toad.
"When you leave the hospital, get ready, you big fool" with that, Jiraiya grinned and left.
Naruto flashed his fox grin, "ossu!"
–Three months later–
Naruto grinned at Iruka, who watched him with a smile.
The two were at the Ichiraku Ramen stand, and the chuunin had offered Naruto some ramen, knowing it would be the last time he would see him, at least for a while.
It was almost heart breaking for the school teacher, because Naruto had always been his favourite student, despite the fact that he was the vessel of Kyuubi. Naruto brought light wherever he went, one of his smiles could warm up just like the sun.
"Watch me Iruka–sensei, when I come back I'll be the stronger ninja of the whole Konoha!"
Iruka smiled even more, knowing that Naruto was not just bragging around. He was going to become strong, because Naruto was determined, and if he promised something, he would do anything to accomplish his promise.
Naruto closed his eyes and flashed his sensei one of his foxy smiles, whilst looking around for the last time, knowing he would not see the village again for a long time. He had already said his goodbyes to his friends, the ones that trusted him and fought with him; the only ones he couldn't find were Shikamaru and Sasuke.
Three months passed since Naruto had taken Sasuke back to Konoha village, and in all those months he never had the chance to meet with the Uchiha heir. Not even once. Being 'blessed' with the Kyuubi inside him, meant his wounds and injuries were healed faster than normally possible, and even if it took him more than usual –because that time, Kyuubi had been injured as well– it was still faster than Sasuke.
By the time all his wounds were healed, his friends had been visiting him for weeks –Kiba, Chouji, Neji, Hinata and Shikamaru, and even Lee. They were all fine. But neither Sasuke nor Sakura came to see him.
Naruto knew this was predictable. Sasuke would be uncomfortable knowing what had happened between them at the Valley of End, and would refuse to come and see him; he was too, for another reason though. How could he face Sasuke, after all? Knowing he still couldn't help him overcome his desire of vengeance?
He was weak, and he promised he would be stronger in order to help those who he cared for –his friends, his family, his village.
He still wanted to become Hokage, he would show them all, that he was strong, and would finally get respected.
Sakura on the other end, he knew she had always been –much to the latter's distaste– at Sasuke's side, helping him recover… or maybe, stressing him even more.
But now that he was going away, he felt a painful twinge in his chest seeing the girl he once had a crush on hadn't even cared enough to come and say goodbye to him. True that she was now under Tsunade obaa–chan's training, since she had showed great skills as medical–nin, but still… she didn't even come visiting him… not even once.
He had known for a long time she was interested in Sasuke and not in him, thus why his crush had diminished until it disappeared completely, but… she was his friend, wasn't she?
Sighing, his smirk piping down ever so lightly, he turned to Jiraiya, who had appeared on the entrance of the ramen shop, waving at him, "it's time to go," he simply said.
Naruto nodded and hugged tightly Iruka, and the man hugged him back. He would miss him so much, miss the boy he had started thinking of as his…
"Bye Iruka–sensei! You'll see just how strong I'll become!"
And with that, he was gone.
Iruka sighed, placing some money on the counter for the meal –cringing slightly seeing just how many bowls Naruto ate– then he stood up and exited the ramen stand.
"So he's gone, huh?"
The voice made Iruka 'eep' as he turned, eyes meeting a single eye, the other hidden under the hitai–ate he wore lower than others did.
"Hai," he answered, sighing sadly. "I know he'll do well, but I'll miss him".
Arms circled his waist as Iruka found himself pulled against Kakashi's chest.
"I know you will" was the whispered reply.
'I will miss this place… no matter how much the people of here despise me, I still think of this place as my home…' Naruto sighed.
He wanted to go train with Jiraiya, but he would miss his home.
Plus, he felt somewhat restless… he hadn't still seen Shikamaru. The others wished him a goodbye, even Shino, Kiba, Konohamaru and Hinata–chan, and he even managed to brush off the displeasure not to have seen Sakura –and Sasuke, too– but…
"Are you ok Naruto?" Jiraiya looked down at him, understanding what the boy was going through. He didn't want to say goodbye to the place he'd lived in for all these years. Even if he had never been welcomed in there, he still loved it. He was just like his father…
"Huh? Oh, Hai, Ero–sennin!" Naruto replied with his trademark grin and a nod. "Anou sa, anou sa, when are we going to start the training?"
Jiraiya's left eye twitched, "don't call me that, disrespectful brat! I am the great Sannin, admired and feared by many! The Mighty Jiraiya!"
"Hai, hai… whatever you say…" Naruto waved his hand dismissively. For how much the white haired man was strong, he still was nothing more than a perverted hermit…
'Damn brat,' Jiraiya thought. But even though he was driving him crazy most of the time, he couldn't but love Naruto and his brightness. It was almost infectious, the way his smile could break through the coldest hearts… hearts that closed themselves many years before.
Naruto followed Jiraiya to the gates of the village, feeling rather excited since he was going to start a new journey. He felt a chill of anticipation as he passed the doors, the guards looking at him with perplexity mixed with disgust, but he ignored them.
"So you are going away, and you don't even say goodbye? How troublesome of you".
Blue eyes turned to the right, sparkling with happiness, as Naruto smiled brightly at the other boy, who was leaning on the wood of the gates, crossed arms, staring at him with a bored but at the same time –if possible– sly face.
"Shikamaru!" Naruto hopped to him, "I couldn't find you anywhere," he pouted cutely.
Shikamaru rolled his eyes, "I was here, that's one of the best places to watch the clouds… besides, that's the only way out of the village, so I knew you would pass from here".
Naruto smiled at him, and then, silence fell. They just looked at each other, but it was a comfortable silence.
"You're too troublesome," Shikamaru glanced up at the sky. "Take care".
With that, he turned his back and walked inside the gates. Naruto blinked, then a smile appeared on his face, as his shoulders relaxed visibly.
"Yeah! You too, you lazy bum!"
With that, Naruto left Konoha.
MasterFranny: this was the first chapter, so I hope you will drop me a review to tell me what you think of this.
Maybe Sasuke was kinda OOC, so I am sorry about this, but I think he's the hardest character to write about… dunno why. And I know Shika's mom is not a kunoichi, but for the sake of this fic, just allow me this small alteration.
Glossary of Japanese words (that someone requested… how troublesome):
Ossu: yes sir!
Anou sa, anou sa: say, say.
ANBU: special troops of killers that carry on only assassination missions or chase down missing–nins, disposing of their bodies for security purposes. They are trained hard and usually move in a three–cell team with a squad leader. They hide their identity with white masks representing animals, and dress in black.