Title: Light of the Sunrise
Fandom: Naruto (by Masashi Kishimoto)
Character(s): Naruto, Itachi, and Sasuke
Word Count: 4, 080
Notes: Akatsuki, the way the kanji is written in the manga, means "dawn." The story is meant to show some basic characterization, foreshadowing of the coming of Akatsuki, and the feelings shared that will prevent them from winning.
Summary: Sunrise in Konoha. Meetings and premonitions of things to come. Naruto meets Sasuke and Itachi for the first time.
Light of the Sunrise
From the edge of the horizon, a muted glow. Through the barred window of the dilapidated shack, a sliver of light crept inside. He could hear them laughing still. Some were awkward pre-pubescent voices and others were mature - resonating deeply in the afternoon air.
They were the worst, those boys.
All of them were dark featured – black, black eyes and even blacker hair – with fair skin to offset the darkness. The bands on the arms of the older ones bore the crest of the Konoha police, but he would never – could never – rely on them for protection, that much he knew. Whenever he tried to run from them, pulling out every sneaky trick from his vast arsenal of pranks, they always managed to find him. Some stared down at him with red, red eyes that made him whimper.
But they just laughed. Locked him in here.
Holding back a sniffle, he sent a violent kick towards the locked door. It rattled but didn't open. He slammed his fists, knees, and feet against the wood again, but all he gained for his efforts was pain. Time passed, and his struggles grew weaker. He wasn't sure how late it was by the time he stopped pounding, but the moonlight bathing the window hinted that it was past the time he had promised to meet the old man for a ramen outing.
"Ramen..." he whined forlornly, rubbing his hungry belly.
He hugged his knees close to his chest and pulled a small box supported by sticks and netting from the inside of his shirt. Clenching the string that was attached to the top and letting the makeshift cage dangle in front of his face, he grinned falsely. The wings inside of the box fluttered, beating ferociously against the restraints. Idly, he let the cage swing back and forth, weighing his decision carefully. Finally, after a bone-sagging sigh, he opened it.
The wings lifted, dancing in the moonlight and casting a shadow on his face, before disappearing through the barred window to the freedom outside. Well, he thought. He had no right to force anything to be his friend, even if he was lonely. He scratched his nails against the floor distractedly, wondering how long it was going to take before anyone found him, and then, depending on the unlucky would-be-rescuer, if they would even consider letting him out. Pondering this only made him more agitated, and so, grudgingly, he resorted to his usual bedtime ritual – counting imaginary bowls of hot steaming ramen. He could almost see them drifting one by one in front of him, rivulets of steam climbing higher and higher until disappearing somewhere near the window. His eyelashes fluttered once – twice – and closed.
When he awoke, the door was banging in the doorway, creaking as it swung backwards and forwards in the wind. The puddle that flooded the floor and soaked his clothes alerted him to the fact that it had been raining. The wind roared through the trees and whistled shrilly through the rickety cracks of the small building. His attention was drawn back to the door suddenly at the realization that it was open and unlocked.
There was a brief surge of relief and freedom, but that was quickly replaced by a sense of dread and fear. He pressed his back flat against the wall, shuddering and curling into a terrified ball. Thunder boomed, vibrating through the wall to shake his back. He tucked his head between his knees and took several deep, rattling breaths before beginning to sniffle like the five-year-old he truly was. He was exhausted, frightened, drenched, and miserable.
The door shut soundly. The storm raged to the peak of intensity, but eventually, the wind died to a gentle breeze, and before long, a faint glow filtered in through the glassless window. Feeling suddenly foolish for being afraid of a mere storm, he sprang to his feet and tugged defiantly on the door, half-afraid that it had been sealed closed again when it slammed. When it flew open, he gave a little shout of surprise. He had not expected it, and the force of his efforts slung him backwards to fall on his rear.
It turned out to be a blessing as something small went whizzing over his head. Letting out a sharp cry of dismay, he raised his arms over his head, waiting for more weapons to come whistling through the air – malicious wielders hell-bent on cutting him up at last.
Cautiously and ever-so-slowly, he moved, crawling on hands and knees until he rested in the open doorway. Along the edges of the frame, he noted the presence of several weapons embedded in the rotting wood, most of then kunai. Each was centered directly on what looked like shredded remnants of scraps of paper – most likely the seals that the boys had posted earlier to keep the door from opening. He licked his lips nervously, peeking outside.
The dark ominous clouds had moved off to the east, hovering heavily in the distance as the sun began to rise. The horizon was rapidly bleeding blood-red from the bottom up, and something inside him wavered, trembling like a current beneath calm waters. Pushing the inexplicable fear to the back of his mind and unconsciously grasping the fabric over his navel, he shuffled outside, the one sandal he had salvaged from the encounter with the older boys squelching messily on the grass.
A small hill rolled upward in the distance, stretching towards the clouds but not quite reaching them. A moment later, he saw a shadow crouched directly on top of it. It was a boy – older than him but possessing an air of distinguished maturity that somehow managed to give a disturbing impression of wrongness. The cast-off shade of clouds fell down on him, making him a black figurine against a backdrop of blood, and his shadow stretched out grotesquely. It was a demon rising from Hell to taint the Heavens.
At the sight, he had the sudden urge to tuck his tail between his legs, despite that fact that he didn't have one. He contemplated rushing back inside the confinement of the shack.
The demon tilted its head at him, and a show of teeth flashed before the lips molded into a smile. Then, the shadow glided forward, silent even in the mud. It floated closer until it was looming over him. There was a momentary silence, and all the trees stopped shifting and all of nature quieted. It was hard to acknowledge the overwhelming presence as something human.
"It doesn't matter."
The older boy's voice was unexpectedly soft and the pitch was low and smooth. But the words were confusing. His shadowed face watched intensely as he waited for the effect of his speech. But the younger boy only stared back, entranced and horrified and shy. The older boy's look softened, and the younger one tilted his head to the side, still afraid, but wanting to understand.
The taller boy closed his eyes calmly, waving a hand at the torn seals in the doorframe.
"Extremes. Being at the bottom or the top – there's no difference."
The wind began to blow again, nearly masking the next sentence.
"Being talented doesn't change things. Disgust towards scum or resentment for being a prodigy – it's the same. It doesn't matter what you do. In the end you're alone, and there is only power."
The clouds finally dissipated, and the full light of the horizon fell down on the both of them. The older boy who had at first seemed nothing more than a shadow was suddenly illuminated from behind and ruby red struck his skin, turning it from snow to blood. The younger boy stumbled back, slipping in the mud. Narrow eyes squinted down at him, spinning and redder than the sunrise.
As he writhed amidst the puddles, the younger boy's heart rate quadrupled. Hypnotized by rotating irises, he fisted a tiny hand in his shirt, pulling it just slightly to reveal the barest hint of an exotic marking. At that, the older boy's eyes widened, settling on the edge of skin with interest.
As the wind swept his ponytail sideways, he blinked once – twice – and then his eyes were a fathomless black.
The red in the sky faded to orange – an orange that matched the small symbol in the middle of the younger boy's shirt. The world turned right-side-up again, and the demon of the dawn was just a boy – older than him – but a boy nonetheless.
The younger boy got to his feet sloppily, breaking the quiet with clumsy movements. His lower lip jutted out as he fixed the older boy with a pointed glare. He had no idea how to deal with the odd sense of being both recognized and shunned at the same time; he was terrified and pleased and more than a little disturbed by the other's words.
So he kicked him – hard – in the shin.
Not waiting around to see if this had caused any damage, he rushed in the opposite direction, bounding over twigs scattered by the storm and splashing through water in a not-so-stealthy manner.
The older boy did not follow.
Naruto ran and ran and ran – faster than he ever had in his life. When he reached the bridge, he cast a half-haphazard glance over his shoulder, almost expecting to see something scary, black, and red giving chase. It was in this moment that he collided with something violently. The force of the hit sent them both toppling over, rolling over one another like sparring kittens until they finally stopped, mere centimeters from falling over the edge of the bridge.
Naruto was laid out flat on his back, and part of his head was hanging dangerously over the ledge. Suddenly, a threatening elbow pressed against his collar, and he sputtered angrily, hissing and writhing against his victim-turned-captor. He opened his eyes and glared defiantly into equally irked black orbs. For a moment, a spike of fear shot through his spine, but then he realized that, though there was a strong resemblance, this boy was much younger than the shadowy one. He wrinkled his nose.
"Get off me!" he piped, shoving unsuccessfully at the other's restrictive arms.
"No," the boy replied haughtily. "You pushed me down first."
The hands slid higher and pinned Naruto's flailing arms to the ground. Naruto decided right then that this new boy with dark eyes and ridiculous hair that stuck up in the back was very annoying.
"You ran straight into me, you stupid idiot," the boy continued, tightening his grip.
Naruto growled in his throat and shoved against him, nearly gaining control but losing it at the last second.
"It was an accident!" he bit out, blue eyes blazing.
"You're still a clumsy idiot," black eyes touted.
With a mighty push, one of Naruto's hands was free. He reached up, grabbing hold of whatever he could – incidentally, the other boy's cheek. He yanked, revealing pink gums and feral teeth that were bared in animal-fashion.
The next minutes entailed a battle of dominance – of growling and scuffling and grappling and shouting. The fight no longer existed as something of personal effrontery but of something else entirely – rivalry and perhaps a bit of childish amusement. In the end, each held a fistful of the other's hair, and both were holding back satisfied smiles. Naruto had successfully turned the other's already messy hair into a tangle of knots. Likewise, the boy had reduced his hair to a ruffled mass of fuzz.
They panted, staring rebelliously into one another's eyes. Then, as if reaching a mutual agreement, they released each other. The dark-haired one rolled off of Naruto and got to his feet, but pointedly didn't offer to help him up. Naruto stuck out his tongue and jumped up, raking his fingers through his disheveled hair in vain. Uncaring of the dark, annoyed eyes that had settled on him, he teetered over the edge of the bridge, staring at his reflection. The sight of his bright-blond locks sent him into a whooping fit of laughter.
A moment later, he felt the strangest sensation. To others, it might have immediately been recognized as a friendly hand, but to Naruto, it was an invasion of personal space. He tensed up and immediately cut his laughter short, snapping his eyes to the other boy. The other kept on dusting dirt from Naruto's back, a faint blush sweeping over his displeased expression when Naruto stared at him incredulously.
"What?" he grumbled, withdrawing and crossing his arms.
Naruto shook his head and stared back at the water, fighting the hope in his heart. This boy, no matter how annoying he was, didn't have the look in his eyes – the look that made him feel inferior and subhuman. Sniffling, he blasted a full grin at the sky, and the other boy gave him an incredulous look.
"You're insane, aren't you?"
Naruto laughed heartily at the question, throwing his head back and wrapping his arms around his stomach. The sun had risen a bit higher now, and the whole sky glowed hues of peach and yellow. The light turned the other boy's pale skin completely yellow, something that sent Naruto into another flurry of high-pitched, childish giggles. He felt a heavy glare settle on him.
"What're you doing out here so early anyway?" the boy asked, taking in Naruto's shabby soaked clothes, missing shoe, and dirt-caked skin for the first time.
The blond boy stretched the painfully wide, fake grin that had become second nature to him.
"I was playing," he exclaimed over-exuberantly, bouncing on his heels.
The dark-featured boy sighed in an exaggerated way, the motion seeming almost comical coming from a five-year-old boy.
"Uchiha Sasuke," he offered gruffly, looking away.
"Huh?" Naruto stuttered unintelligently.
"That's my name, stupid. And yours?"
There was a stunned silence as Naruto stared at Sasuke, his mouth hanging open as if to catch flies.
"Well?" Sasuke pressed, thoroughly annoyed.
Naruto's bangs settled over his eyes and he didn't move.
"Are you...crying?" Sasuke murmured, curiously watching a stream of water gliding down one of Naruto's oddly marked cheeks.
"No," Naruto grumbled, swiping the back of his fist across his cheek. "No way! And I'm Uzumaki Naruto, and if you ever push me down again, I'll kick your butt!"
Sasuke rolled his eyes and turned his back on him.
"You're such a baby," he huffed, taking a step forward. "Besides, you're the one who pushed me first."
Naruto wanted nothing more than to rush at him and thrust a fist into his gut, but the overwhelming surge of happiness in his chest was preventing him from doing so.
"Wh-where're you going?" he called out, shy excitement seeping into his voice.
"Over that hill," Sasuke huffed indignantly, gesturing in the distance as if there were no other explanation in the world.
"Why?" Naruto asked, wide eyes unblinking.
"To find my brother," Sasuke muttered, face scrunching itself into a pout. "He left me behind again."
"Oh." Naruto shuffled his feet nervously and wrung his hands together. He'd asked this question many times, and each time it had ended badly. What if Sasuke didn't like slides or tunnels or swings? Naruto didn't know many games, and the ones he played were usually stupid...hopscotch in the sand or rock-paper-scissors by the lake as he warred with his own reflection. "D...do you want to play with me?"
When Sasuke failed to answer, Naruto's face drooped like a dying flower, but he quickly schooled it into a practiced, sun-shattering grin.
"N-Nevermind..." he trailed off, feeling at once supremely stupid and overwhelmingly lonely. Before Sasuke got the chance to turn around and stare at him with what would surely be hateful eyes, he sprinted in the opposite direction, one bare foot slapping against the floor of the bridge loudly.
Five minutes later found him sagging listlessly in the seat of a swing. The playground was deserted this early, and so the danger of getting kicked off was low. He dangled his feet above the ground, staring at the dirty wriggling toes on his left foot and the slightly cleaner ones on his right. Where was his other shoe anyway? Had the boys taken it home – fed it to an animal – torn it to shreds?
He was lapping at fresh blood before it registered that he was biting his lip too hard. Idiot, his mind whispered in a voice that was identical to Uchiha Sasuke's. Naruto scowled. He had decided that he really hated Sasuke...so what had possessed him to invite him to play?
Knitting his brows together, he crossed his arms. He knew by now that he was different from others. It was not as if he was obviously different from the other children, other than the fact that he did not have parents or anyone waiting at home for his safe return. Perhaps he had a funny-shaped nose or maybe it was the marks on his cheeks? But the kid from the dog family had red marks, so why should it matter?
He gripped the chains of the swing so hard that his knuckles turned white. Sometimes, their faces – those of the villagers – made him so angry. So angry that he bit his tongue and tasted metal. Abruptly, his thoughts rushed back to the older boy he had seen on the hill, and he wondered if maybe he sometimes felt the same. Felt like hurting the ones who looked at him with such malice.
Something solid shoved at the tense muscles of his back and he swung forward. If he had not been hanging onto the chains so tightly, he was sure he would have flown off. His instincts flared in his chest, and the rest of his muscles coiled to escape. Certainly, an angry parent was coming to remove him from what should be a "safe" place for little children. When he swung back, he winced, waiting for something more than a push this time – a thinly disguised slap or punch. But the hands simply pushed him again, and he swung forward in a sense of disbelief.
"If you sat in the low swings instead, you could kick off the ground to push yourself."
The voice startled him, and he craned around in his seat to sputter and choke like a strangled chicken.
Naruto's numb shock turned to fury. Fuming, he jabbed his finger in the other boy's face.
"What are you doing here?"
Sasuke rolled his eyes and walked around in front, stilling the swinging motion by grabbing Naruto's shoulders. Naruto tried to squirm away from him and ended up nearly falling backwards. He stopped struggling when something wet and smelly was dangled in front of his face. But before he could say anything, the other boy had knelt on the ground and grabbed his bare and very filthy foot.
He contemplated kicking him, but then something unexpected happened.
Sasuke was sliding the wet and smelly thing onto his foot. He gaped in stupor.
"My shoe!" he exclaimed, winding his fingers around the chains of the swing for balance. "Wh-wha?"
Sasuke was silent as he finished securing the sandal. He brushed the mud that Naruto's foot had transferred to his hands on his shorts, leaving dark spots on the white fabric. Naruto noticed the traces of mud up to his ankles and shins, as if he had been wading in dirty water.
"What?" he grumbled, dark eyes fixating on Naruto's blue ones.
"Nothing," Naruto pouted, scratching at a scab on his elbow nervously.
There was an uncomfortable silence and then Naruto blurted, "Where'd you find my shoe?"
More silence and then lowly, "In the river."
Naruto stared for a long second, and grinned – a real smile this time.
"Wanna sit beside me?"
Sasuke cocked an eyebrow. "Only if we move to the lower swings so I don't have to push you."
The wind began to blow a few minutes later as the two boys energetically propelled themselves backwards and forwards. Impishly, Naruto kicked so that he swung sideways, bumping playfully into Sasuke's side.
Within seconds, it was an all-out war. It ended on the ground with scraped knees and one laughing blonde boy. Sasuke glared at him for a while, but the look softened as the laughter persisted. He even felt himself start to chuckle. They both quieted eventually, falling back on the gravel to watch the sky.
"Those clouds over there still look kinda red," Naruto pointed. "And that one looks like a giant ramen bowl."
There was no reply from Sasuke, but there was the faintest twitch at the corner of his mouth. Naruto wished he would talk.
"What's it like having a brother?" he asked spontaneously.
Sasuke paused, furrowing his brows cutely. Then, his eyes light up and he actually looked for once to be the same age as Naruto.
"He's the best," he said simply, eyes shimmering with adoration.
Naruto's throat clenched a little. He wished he had a brother.
"He's already better at throwing shuriken than my parents," Sasuke went on, cheeks dimpling as he smiled up at the sky. "He said he'd teach me sometime."
Naruto, like Sasuke, though this was very cool and had intended to say so, but his mouth ran away from him.
"I'm gonna be better than your brother someday," he bragged decisively, voice going up in pitch and becoming quite annoying. He saw Sasuke close up and scowl. "I'm gonna be able to beat him up, even if he is super perfect!"
Sasuke stared at him darkly. Then, instead of getting mad and hitting him, he said something that surprised Naruto.
The wind took over the conversation again after that, rustling the trees as the boys stared quietly at the clouds. After a while, Naruto grew restless and uncomfortable, afraid others would arrive on the playground - angry parents that would magically make Sasuke hate him.
"You should go find your brother now," he said simply, getting to his feet. He had barely slept and he was soaked and spotted with grime. And after meeting with creepy, shadowy guy, he was a little confused and he didn't know why. Something about the older boy's words had made the faintest feeling of hot fire stir beneath his belly. The fire screamed and simmered in the darkness, and not for the first time, Naruto felt a sense of foreboding.
"Where're you going?" Sasuke asked, scrunching up his nose in displeasure. He hadn't said Naruto could leave, after all.
"Swimming," Naruto crowed, gesturing to his dirty clothes by way of explanation. He waved exuberantly. "Bye!"
Sasuke grabbed the edge of Naruto's pants, sending him to the ground when he tried to run.
"What is your problem?" Naruto howled, holding his nose, which had smacked against the ground painfully.
"Wait on me," Sasuke commanded, twitching when Naruto began to flail in outrage.
"Why should I?" he squealed in protest, jabbing his finger at Sasuke's face.
"Because I'm coming swimming, too," Sasuke sighed in annoyance, standing up.
"Wh-at?" Naruto whispered, losing the goofy expression for a moment. He stopped thrashing and seemed to recoil, pulling all of his limbs in tight to his body. "With me?" he squeaked, almost not daring to hope.
Sasuke smirked haughtily.
"What about your brother?"
"He can wait," Sasuke said defiantly. His brother was always forgetting to train with him, and Sasuke, for one, was not going to wait up on him when faced with the prospect of going swimming – even if the person he was going with was a loud, obnoxious, blonde-haired twerp.
Naruto searched Sasuke's face for signs of mockery and trickery, and when he found none, his entire face lit up. Sasuke thought for a moment that the clouds had parted to reveal an extra sun or perhaps someone had shone a flashlight in the other boy's face.
Naruto almost leaked a waterfall of tears, but the impulse vanished when Sasuke called him an idiot. He replied with a "Hmph!" and poked out his lower lip. And when Sasuke told him to follow him because he knew where the best place to swim was, he decided yet again that he hated Sasuke.
But he didn't. Not really.
As he followed Sasuke through the brush, he glanced at the fading vividness of the sunrise. He remembered the older boy and his words. Naruto was not perfect. He sometimes got mad at others because they treated him badly...and he caught himself thinking evil thoughts of returning the hate ten-fold every now and then... But ultimately, he had decided that he would become strong in order to be acknowledged, not seek revenge. But...
In the end you're alone, and there is only power.
Naruto was by no means a genius, and he had only turned five last October. But maybe, he thought as he glanced at the decorative fan on the back of Sasuke's shirt, maybe there was more to being acknowledged than being powerful.