Appearances Can Deceive

Chapter 14

'Sickness Revealed'

SR- Alright chapter 14!!

Naruto – This had better be good!

Hinata – Naruto don't be so mean to SR-Chan…

Naruto - *sigh* I'm sorry Hinata-chan.

SR - *whispers* you big softy..Hehe

Naruto – I heard that! SR-teme doesn't own ME or Hinata-chan! Believe it!

SR - *sweatdrop* nice disclaimer…oh well…I also do not own any of the Naruto characters….ENJOY!

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Ino was shaking all over. Her coat was heavy and would keep even a hypothermic patient warm, but it wasn't working for her! No matter how hard she tried she couldn't stop shaking from the cold. Okito was even sleeping soundly on her lap, sharing his warmth, but it did little to help. She was freezing.

Blinking her eyes open she looked around the area. Naruto sat alone on the same rock Hinata had been on previously, staring silently up at the night sky. As if he were deep in thought. Turning to her right she found Hinata slumped against another tree sleeping, a good bit of space between them. Content and comfortable.

'Maybe it isn't as cold as I thought'

Something stirred in her lap and she looked down to find a concerned Okito starring up at her.

"Ino-Chan your shaking are you ok?" The little otter asked

She didn't know how else to answer so she just decided to nod. After all if she spoke and said she was fine he would know she was lying.

Ino had felt relatively safe with her nod, but apparently it didn't hide anything from her company.

"That is not true Ino-chan!" Okito's voice was stern, but soft so as not to attract attention. "I know you're sick. You can hide it from Hinata-chan and Naruto-kun, but not me. You shake as if it's freezing, but it's warm. You only speak when necessary and we both know that's not like you."

Ino was scared now. What if he told! Her team would hate her! They would go to Anko and tell her they quit because there teammate wasn't able to continue! She couldn't let them do that. Not now, not just for her own benefit, but because she knew how hard both Naruto and Hinata had worked for this. She couldn't ruin that now!

Okito could feel her uneasiness. "Don't worry so much Ino-chan. I will not tell Hinata-chan or Naruto-kun. I wish for them to succeed just as much as you do….but promise me one thing."

"W-ha-at?" Ino's voice was very shaky, unstable, and very gruff a sure sign of her illness.

"You will not push yourself to hard. You are one of Hinata-chan's close friends, and mine. I do not wish to see you hurt."

Smiling to herself Ino nodded.

Okito once again curled up into a ball and began to fall asleep satisfied with Ino's answer.

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Naruto sat on the rock, staring up at the sky as the sun slowly started to creep up behind the trees. It had been a long night for him. Instead of a good night of rest, he sat and went over everything Hinata had said to him. It made him question himself, everything he thought he believed, and that only angered him. So instead of focusing on that he decided to focus on their 'incompetent' and sick teammate.

That's right Naruto had known for a while now that Ino was sick. In fact he knew even before he had over heard Okito and Ino talking. However the way he thought of it, it wasn't his problem. If she wanted to kill her self then that was her issue not his. But she would not drag him down!

"You're not even the slightest bit concerned?"

Naruto snarled at Kyuubi's smirk. Of course he wasn't concerned! Why would he care what happened to her! She was always mean to him, calling him names, and beating him up because of her precious Sasuke! Just like Sakura…

"If I'm correct, and I am, both Ino and Sakura had repented for such actions."

Clenching his fist Naruto punched at the rock he sat on. Not hard but enough to draw blood. 'Shut up! Why do you even care! You're the one who told me how stupid I was for being so blind! For not seeing how much they all hated me! Why are you defending them?"

Kyuubi only sighed. "Naruto calm down. I've realized something on our return…"

'Ha and what would that be?' Naruto crossed his arms over his chest.

"I've realized that your mind is slowly slipping into chaos."

The blonde's chest tightened. Chaos? No! No that couldn't be! He was seeing things clearly now. More than he had ever before!

"Your wrong kit. You think your perspective is clear, but it's clouding up in here fast. Your emotions are running wild. Would you like to know why?"

Naruto scoffed 'Sure why not.'

Kyuubi caught the snide attitude but let it pass. "Because you're fighting with yourself! You're fighting against your nature to remain what you are now!"

'So what!' Naruto shot back 'Like I said you were the one who made me see things this way! If I'm loosing my mind then it's your entire fault!'

"You're right." Naruto was shocked, the Kyuubi had just agreed with him. "It is my fault. When I had offered to teach you, show you how blind you had been, I was under the impression that I really was helping you. All those years of torment you went through. I thought if I could harden you; make you not feel the hurt or pain anymore. That I would be helping. It's not until now that I realize all I did was take away your true self."

'That….That's not true! You're lying to me! I'm better than I've ever been! And you have never cared for me!!' Naruto refused to listen, refused to hear anything the demon said. The Kyuubi had always hated him. Even when he trained him, he would constantly remind the container of how worthless he was!

Not wanting to hear anymore Naruto cut the connection between them. Deciding it was best they started toward the tower. Hopefully on the way they would run into one of their targets, and get the heaven scroll. Besides he really needed to get his anger out.

'Oh but it is true boy. You're slowly starting to lose your mind. I hope for your sake that your vixen can fix what I have so foolishly broken' Kyuubi thought to him self sadly

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Hinata stretched her limbs and yawned before slowly opening her eyes. What greeted her was a wobbly Ino trying to stand, and a very pissed off Naruto stalking toward the two. This wasn't going to be good.

"Good morning Ino-chan, Naruto-kun, Okito-kun." Hinata smiled, thinking she would make the best of this situation even if Naruto seemed to be thinking differently.

Okito jumped up onto Hinata's shoulder nuzzling against her cheek. Ino resigned herself to merely wave at her friend. While Naruto could only flinch at her cheerfulness.

"It's about time you two woke up! It's getting late and we need to get the hell out of this damn forest!" he was seething with anger. True it was neither Ino nor Hinata's fault, but he didn't care, he just wanted to scream, yell, anything!

Trying to take a step forward, Ino stumbled slightly and caught her balance. She prayed neither of them had seen it. However luck was not on her side, she knew they had seen by Hinata's concerned face, and the glare Naruto sent her way.

"Gah! How did I get stuck with such a useless teammate!?" Naruto screamed to the heavens.

She didn't know what to say or do. Ino was scared, and hurt deeply by his words. Hinata on the other hand was furious. How dare he say such a thing! And to Ino of all people. She may not have been the kindest person to her Naruto-kun, but she had apologized. Ino had told her all about it, so why was he acting so cold.

'Because his mask is cracking' Hinata could only shake her head in regret. She had been right from the start. The happy-go-lucky Naruto wasn't as close as she had originally thought. The way he had been acting toward everyone for the past months was a mask. A mask she knew he wore only for her benefit. To make her happy by thinking he was back to his happy ways.

Still he hadn't fooled her. Hinata could see past all the facades he was putting up. She knew her Naruto-kun was in there somewhere. Fighting him self, what he had become….and it seemed he was losing. She wouldn't give up though. He may have only worn a mask to fool her, but she knew he would come back to her.

"Naruto!" Hinata's voice was soft, but anyone could hear the commanding tone lying underneath. "There is absolutely NO need to be so cruel!"

To say he was shocked would be an understatement. But he soon recovered and retaliated. "Of course there is! She's sick and no use to us! She knows it and so do you!"

"You're right." Hinata said

'Ha second time I heard that today.' Naruto thought confident he had won the argument

Ino felt just horrible. She knew what he said was true, but to hear Hinata say it hurt more.

"You're right about one thing, Ino is sick. We all knew it. But you're wrong about something else. She is not in any way useless. She is our teammate, and more importantly she is our friend, and precious person. Ino may be sick, but that is of little importance right now. What is important is that we all stay strong, look out for each other, and make it out of here with two scrolls."

The tears fell from her eyes freely, though neither could see behind her glasses and scarf. Hinata had always been there for her, and she was so lucky to call her a friend. "T-th-hank-k y…you"

Naruto didn't know what to say. He was speechless. What she said had struck him hard, because she was right. She was right and he knew it…but…but…No! That was just mindless drabble! Friends! Precious people! It was all non-sense! He knew that now…

'But they are precious to me…' Naruto fought against his own thoughts. This couldn't be happening! The fox was wrong! He wouldn't fight with himself!!

Both girls gasped as Naruto fell to the ground cradling his head in his hands. Screaming out in agony.

"Naruto-kun!" Hinata ran to his side. Trying her best to help him.

'protect' 'precious people' 'friends' 'Hokage' 'Sasuke…my brother…'

Images were running rapidly through his head. Reminding him of everything he used to cherish and believe. Reminding him of who he used to be!

No! No! NO! I will not listen!

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Sakura watched silently from above. He looked so helpless, so tortured. She couldn't stand to see him like that. She had heard everything, the whole conversation. Initially she had intended to take them by surprise, but with the way things were going she just couldn't bring herself to move.

What he had said about Ino had made her so angry! She was about to jump down and show him a thing or two, but Hinata had beat her to it. Sakura was sure what she said would make Naruto realize how arrogant and rude he was being. Now though….it only seemed to make it worse….he was struggling with him self.

'Please pull through Naruto-kun'

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Yugao sat at the kitchen table, a cup of hot tea nestled in her hands. Steam was no longer coming from the cup, it had cooled long ago, and Yugao still had not taken a sip. Her mind was with her imouto-chan. How was she? Was she ok?

~Flashback~

"Seems they're pretty cunning." Kakashi smiled under his mask.

Yugao laughed. "Seems so. Well how is my little imouto-chan doing then?"

"As of now we can't be sure." Tsunade had long ago forgotten about the game and was now staring off into nothing a sad look on her face. "We can only hope that by the end of the Chunnin exams we have Naruto back."

Yugao held in her surprise. "The end of the Chunnin exams….so soon?"

Jiraya nodded. "If he doesn't get better soon, I'm afraid we might lose him forever."

Yugao looked down at her lap. Her hands clasped tightly to her pants. What would happen if it didn't work? She knew of Hinata's feelings for the little knuckle-head. If he never got better, she would certainly fall into depression. Blaming her self for everything!

Kakashi had taken note of the somber atmosphere that surrounded the room. "You all worry too much."

He said simply earning the attention of the three other occupants. "Naruto has never failed us before. He'll come back Hinata will make sure of that. I have faith in her, as should all of you. Besides The Forest of Death although dangerous, has always been a sort of sacred place."

No one knew just exactly Kakashi was getting at so he continued. "It has a way of changing people for better or for worse. The Forest of Death is when Sasuke's life changed forever, when he first met Orichimaru. Sakura had taken her biggest step in becoming the strong kunoichi she is now also, cutting her hair to show she no longer cared about her vanity, instead wanting to become stronger. Naruto will change as well, I just know it. We can only hope that it's for the better."

~flashback end~

Of course she believed in Hinata. But that didn't mean she could stop worrying.

"Be safe imouto-chan."

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"Naruto please….please…" Hinata couldn't get any further. Seeing him like this was tearing her apart. She didn't know what to say, so instead she did the one thing she could think of. She hugged him, as tight as possible, as if she'd never let go. "Please Naruto…."

It was cold and dark. He couldn't see in any direction, no matter where he turned. He could however hear himself screaming, and something else. Something so soft…..Hinata!

"That's right! Hinata is crying over what you've made us become! Not only are you torturing us, your torturing Hinata! How could you!"

What! Us? Who was this? It wasn't Kyuubi, it…it sounded like him self…

'Show yourself!'

A spot-light flickered on above Naruto. Every so slowly someone else came into the light. A scowl of pure hatred etched across their face. It was him! It was himself!

'Stop impersonating me and show your real self!'

The 'imposter' let out a snort. "You've let us become a monster! Just like everyone had said, everything they ever said….ever called us…..you're just proving them all right!" he hung his head sadly "We are now just the demon they had always known we were..."

Naruto was baring his teeth, scowling with everything he had tears glistening on his face. 'NO! You imposter! I am not a monster! I am everything that I could ever dream of being! I'm not the same idiot I used to be! I'm smarter, stronger…..'

"And feeling lonelier than you have ever felt in your life!" The imposter cut him off getting fed up with his idiocy. "Pushing everyone who cared for us away! Treating them as if they're nothing! You think we're better like this?! It sickens me to see what we've become! Smarter? Hardly! A 'smart' person wouldn't do the things you've made us do. Treat the ones he loves so horribly, and think it's for the best! Stronger? Ha don't make me laugh! We've become the weakest thing imaginable! A self-conceited monster that cares nothing for anyone but himself!"

Naruto was staring down at his bloodied hands. His nails ripping into his skin like butter. The scowl from his face had been long gone. He rushed through so many feelings sadness, hurt, but most of all regret. He had felt this once before, when Sakura had cried and rushed out her feelings. He had even decided to make things right again….but look at him now. How could he say that again, that he would make things right….knowing….knowing it may not happen?

The darkness started to fade. He could still hear himself screaming, but he didn't care. Slowly the Kyuubi's prison started to fade into perspective.

"Now do you see boy?" Kyuubi spoke unnaturally soft.

Naruto hadn't looked up. 'D-did you do that?'

The fox shook his head "No. That was you. All your past feelings and emotions formed into the figure of what you used to be."

'S-so I really am fighting with myself. The only one refusing to change…is me…' He dug his nails deeper tears falling onto his clenched hands.

Kyuubi said nothing. He held no satisfaction in seeing the boy so distraught.

'But how can I change! I-I can't, I tried…I tried to change and it did nothing. I want to believe I can get better but I can't! I've changed too much, I can never be the way I used to be!....I-I'm a monster….'

"How can you be so sure kit? You've gone through worse things and come out the victor…"

'But I tried! It got me nowhere! Look at me I'm falling apart!' He shouted finally looking the Kyuubi in the eyes.

The demon smiled, his eyes full of sadness but at the same time hope. "Believe in yourself boy. You're the next Hokage after all, surely if you can protect the villagers from my wrath, then you can protect you from yourself….I believe you can….and so does your vixen….'

Kyuubi started to fade into nothing along with the prison and everything that surrounded Naruto. That's when he heard it again. That soft sweet voice. The voice of an angel…his angel…

"Please…please Naruto-kun please come back to me…."

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The screaming stopped, Naruto's thrashing had ceased. If not for the faint breathing Hinata would have thought him dead. Still she held on, she wouldn't let him go…not till he came back to her!

"Please…please Naruto-kun please come back to me…."

Ino stood a few feet behind. Okito sitting on top of her head. Both of them hoping for Naruto to pull through.

The blonde stirred in her arms and Hinata let a sigh of relief slip through her lips, a smile blooming on her face. "Naruto-kun…I knew you would be ok…I knew it"

Naruto felt the gentle embrace of his angel. As quick as lightning he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her as close as he could. "I'm sorry Hinata…..I'm so sorry. I-I don't know if I can change…but I will try…I promise you"

Pulling away Hinata caressed the side of his face, rubbing the whisker marks on his cheeks. "It's ok Naruto-kun. I know you'll win this fight. I don't pretend to know how hard this is for you. But I want you to know I have faith in you, and I know you can do it."

He was amazed. Hinata truly was an angel. To forgive him so easily. He stood up and helped his angel to her feet a very sincere smile gracing his lips.

"A-a-ar-re yo-ou o-ok?"

Hinata and Naruto turned their attention to Ino who seemed truly concerned.

"Yes Ino-chan I'm fine. And I want to apologize for the things I said…I-I didn't mean it."

Ino smiled behind her scarf. "I-it-t's o-ok"

Everything rushed through him at once. It was almost too much to bear. He was happy, happy that they had forgiven him so easily. Still he couldn't seem to forgive himself, and in the darkest part of his mind the voice of what he had become was screaming at his idiocy. He didn't care though; this would all have to wait. Right now they had to concentrate and get through this….together.

"I'm sorry to break up the moment kit, but we have company!" Kyuubi's voice boomed

Naruto snapped to attention immediately, scanning the area till he found their visitor.

"Hinata! Ino! Get ready to fight!"

Ino was on the alert. She might be sick but she would try her best to win!

Hinata gasped and immediately activated her Byakugan. Sitting high in a tree above them was one of the ANBU. It was time to get serious. Hinata pushed all her thoughts about Naruto and questions to the back of her mind. She had to focus now. To protect her friends!

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SR – OOOOO cliff hanger! Mwahahaha

Naruto – You evil son of a bi…Ack

SR - *gag's Naruto with an apple* I have a few important things to say! This chapter was a very emotional one…and I like it that way. If you must flame then so be it! Anyway NO before you all get on my case Naruto is not suddenly 'changed' back to himself entirely. He has a long way to go! He may have realized what was wrong with him, and want to fix it, but it's not going to be just that easy! He has to work through this slowly, apologizing for what he said and did is a start, but like I said he has a long way to go. NOW he is definitely going to change, that is the only thing I will tell you, and I repeat this only once more he is not suddenly changing, it will be a slow but steady process. Remember that before you review  and thanks for reading!

Chouji – Finally now's my chance! NEXT TIME ON APPEARANCES CAN DECIEVE! THE GANG IS GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS AND KICKIN ASS! JOIN US AS NARUTO BATTLES FOR HIS VERY BEING AGAINST HIS WORST OPPONENT YET! HIM SELF!

SR – Very nicely done Chouji-kun! Byez!