For - Nightly Halo -. It was a gradual change, one that came with a question and ended with an answer. Guarding the sole survivor of a 'tragic' massacre was one thing but being able to free yourself of your restraints was another. ItaNaru.
- Nightly Halo -
Aside from a cliché plot line that is probably over used yet one I had to do... nothing really :D
As Uzumaki Naruto sat at the back of the classroom, successfully ignoring the droning lecture that the teacher was putting on, his eyes focused solely on the black haired child a few seats in front of him. Uchiha Sasuke, number one rookie in the Academy and favoured child in the village. Naruto should know; he had been watching the boy on orders from his former Captain and the Sandaime Hokage.
While the remainder of the class were eleven and twelve, Naruto was fifteen that year. At the age of four he had started specialised training from elite members of Konoha's backbone. The Kyuubi's Jinchuuriki was to be loyal to Konoha, and Konoha only, and the way forwards from his birth had been to turn him into a weapon of sorts. Konoha had secretly trained the boy to be unstoppable, even without the Kyuubi. He was ruthless, cold-hearted when need be and, most importantly, loyal to Konoha.
Within three years of this training – at the age of seven – Naruto had qualified to be a Chuunin. The information never went public; in fact Naruto used many aliases before he entered the Academy and adopted his mother's name. One name, and the most famous he had used, had been Namikaze Kitsune. To Konoha, it had been an odd choice yet the – at the time – eight year old had insisted upon it once learning both about the Kyuubi no Kitsune and his father, the Yondaime Hokage.
When he reached the age of ten, Naruto was admitted into Uchiha Itachi's ANBU team. With the two young males, the team thrived and became one of the most efficient and deadly Squadrons in Konohagakure's history. Every mission, no matter what rank, came back successful, each with little casualties.
Of course, the team had to have its breaks and Naruto watched Itachi carefully. He knew something was wrong with his Captain when he had turned thirteen and it had nothing to do with becoming a teenager.
Unknown to even Itachi himself, Naruto watched because he was, for the first time in his life, curious. Before, even training had been a chore, something that he had done because he was told to. Naruto was never one to refuse; if the master said jump, you asked how high. It wasn't installed into the blond; the word 'no' meant very little to him.
Yet this man – this teenager – had managed to captivate the ten year olds' attention and he began to notice the children of his age; they certainly were not in the ANBU ranks, they played out in the parks or trained together. It was then that Uzumaki Naruto realised isolation, discovered loneliness.
Naturally the only person he could talk to was someone similar to himself; Itachi.
"Why are we the only ones?" The question came when the pair was cleaning the team's weaponry after a particularly gory encounter. Itachi had looked over to Naruto with unguarded shock in his eyes and Naruto realised then that Itachi was capable of emotions; he still had a chance.
"We were given these abilities. To stop others from becoming like us we have to bear the burden alone."
Naruto had accepted that; it sounded so final and truthful that he could do nothing but believe it.
The night after that was the night that the ANBU team fell apart and Naruto was assigned his new mission. It was also the night that Uchiha Itachi singlehandedly executed his clan excepting his brother. Naruto did not know all the details of the mission except that Itachi was ordered to massacre the Uchihas rather than it being a choice of free will.
As Uchiha Itachi begged the Sandaime to protect Sasuke from his deeds, the Sandaime called upon the Captain's closest team member to take upon the mission of watching over Uchiha Sasuke as Itachi left Konoha to join the Akatsuki. Itachi had been satisfied with the deal, as had Naruto and they left the village together.
Their farewell was brief and Naruto remembered the sheer emotion in Itachi's eyes as he wished him luck whilst watching over Sasuke. Naruto was the only one in Konohagakure who could undertake the mission for, although he was ten, he would be able to alter the contours of his face, the shape of his body, with the influence of demonic chakra and the disguise would be impenetrable.
Sarutobi and Naruto spent a whole day discussing the mission and its details; Naruto would pretend that he had only shown interest in Shinobi arts at this age and would be granted Hokage's permission to join Sasuke's graduating class. To ensure that he would be on the same team as Sasuke – for he was the one out of all with the highest potential – Naruto would act as a failing student, never listening and never working.
It was true that he never listened but Naruto was a very efficient worker. His mind collected thousands of little details on Sasuke, from the way his left hand twitched when he knew the answer to a question yet acted indifferent, to the dull gleam in his eyes whenever he looked out of the window, obviously remembering the trauma Itachi had put him through.
The day they graduated, Naruto failed for the first time in his life. The Bunshin he had been asked to form had taken up too little chakra and as he would have normally created a Kage Bunshin, covering the finger crossed with a simple Genjutsu, the illusion he had been maintaining around his fifteen year old body had been too great. Simply put, even with the Kyuubi's huge store of chakra, Naruto didn't have enough to pull of the complexity of the Kage Bunshin and then Genjutsu in enough time for it to look like a simple Bunshin.
So when Mizuki approached, Naruto saw it as a chance to kill two birds with one stone. He hadn't even bothered stealing the scroll, however, and merely stood in the clearing, watching Mizuki. When he was satisfied that the man was caught in his Genjutsu, Naruto alerted the Hokage and Iruka congratulated the 'twelve' year old on the technique. Naruto had passed it off, saying that it was the only skill he had worked at.
When Team 7 had met with their team leader, Hatake Kakashi had looked at Naruto oddly before dismissing it. They went through the introductions and, before Kakashi had left, Naruto asked to speak to him. Kakashi obliged and Naruto had revealed the fifteen year old he really was.
"I am on an undercover mission to observe Uchiha Sasuke, Hatake-san. I would like it very much if I could continue in this team but I'll obviously need your permission to do this."
Kakashi had readily agreed and understood why Naruto would not give out any information on his mission. He had, however, commented on the teen's likeliness to the Yondaime and Naruto had explained that he was Minato's son. Kakashi had been shocked to learn that his teacher had sealed the Kyuubi within his own son, that he didn't even know Naruto had existed, and had taken the teen into a bear hug.
"If I had known, Naruto, I would have asked if I could look after you."
Brief images of children playing flitted through Naruto's mind and as much as he wanted to be jealous, he remembered Itachi's words.
"Thank you, Kakashi, but I have taken the burden upon myself and it is only fair that I continue in this way."
Naruto had then gone on to explain that he wanted Kakashi to pay particular attention to Sasuke, not just because he was the only other person in Konohagakure with the Sharingan and able to use it spectacularly, but the fact that if Sasuke received specialised training – or at least thought he did – then he would seek that in effort to defeat Itachi. There was always the threat that Sasuke would leave the village and Naruto would be damned if he let his charge slip away.
They trained slowly; Sasuke became frustrated at the lack of his Sharingan and Sakura struggled to grasp the finer concepts of a Shinobi's duty. They did bloom, under Kakashi's strict yet subtle tutelage and Naruto's supposed lack of. Behind the scenes, however, Naruto discussed his observations on Sasuke – and, just for the advancement of his charge, Sakura – so Kakashi could alter his plans ever so slightly if needed. Konoha needed the Uchiha to remain inside of the village; loosing such an important bloodline would have catastrophic effects upon both moral and strength.
桃地 再不斬, 白
Their first C-ranked mission as a team brought Sasuke's frustrations to an end and Naruto was revealed to know more than he let on. Things had been running smoothly until the Demon brothers had attacked and Kakashi had taken care of them. Naruto had been pleased that the Jounin pointed out his purposeful mistake; it had shown that the Jounin thought that he did well yet could do better. Which they both knew he could; after all Naruto probably ranked the same as Hatake Kakashi when he had been in the ultimate prime, ANBU Captain.
Zabuza had been defeated and Naruto was only slightly disappointed to see Kakashi faint after the extensive use of the Sharingan. He remembered Itachi mentioning that the Sharingan wore down the user's sight but had never seen Itachi collapse and the man had always kept his bloodline on when on duty. Naruto realised that the Uchiha clan bodies really were exceptional and, like his was solely suited for the Kyuubi; the Uchiha's were solely suited for the Sharingan.
The final battle with Zabuza and Haku had been an eye opener for Sakura and Sasuke. When Sasuke had deflected the senbon that were supposed to be used to kill Naruto, the elder of the pair felt anger course through his veins. He could tell that it was merely a pseudo death yet still, this 'hunter-nin' had the audacity to attempt to kill Namikaze Naruto's charge.
The ice ring had smashed fairly easily and Naruto had seen fear in the wielder's eye as red chakra pooled around him, revealing his true features to the world. Naruto had paused as he saw Haku look behind him and nodded; Haku vanished to where Zabuza was and Naruto heard the sickening crunch of an arm being impaled through someone's body.
Gatou and his band of rogue Nin had been easy meat for the three men and Kakashi, Zabuza and Naruto spent little time on them, Zabuza taking Gatou for his own. If it had not been for the huge slash in his chest then Naruto believed the man could have made it, and even with the slash, Naruto knew enough medical procedures – as did Kakashi – that would have healed him up.
Yet there was something in his eyes that startled Naruto for probably the first time in his life; a shard of loneliness and depression that gave his eyes a lifeless quality. Naruto recognised it; he had seen those eyes in the mirror every day since his mission to watch over Uchiha Sasuke yet couldn't fathom why.
Haku and Zabuza were buried side by side and Naruto spent the most time by their graves, watching the sunlight glint off of Zabuza's sword. He thought about life the, how it was fleeing and never constant, much like the sun. Of course the sun was always there but sometimes it would vanish suddenly behind a cloud – like the passing of a person – before birthing again to the world in a slightly different place. It set, like all life did, but was never truly gone; like life, people would always remember the sun that towered above them.
Meeting the container to the Ichibi no Tanuki was an odd experience for Naruto. He had never come into personal contact with a fellow Jinchuuriki before and the red haired male had snapped his eyes up to look at him, a deep growl forming in his throat. The siblings to the Jinchuuriki looked at Naruto in alarm; apparently no one got such a reaction out of the sand's weapon. Even Sasuke and Sakura – watching from behind – had looked on in slight alarm, for Naruto was merely an idiot and to get such a blood thirsty reaction from such a scary person was… strange.
"I want to fight you."
Naruto smiled grimly at that and drew closer to the boy, wrapping an arm round his shoulder and ignoring the sand that automatically crept up as a barrier.
"Grow up a little, shorty, and maybe then you'll have luck with nine."
The kid's eyes had widened at that and a grin spread of his face. He walked off without a word, knowing that his challenge had been accepted and the remainder of both teams looked on in puzzlement.
"Hey, kid… you do know that Gaara's a monster?"
It had been his sister, the boy's sister, who had called him that and Naruto snapped round, feeling something snap inside of him. Ever since he had been forced back to watch Sasuke, he had been aware of the world's prejudice against him. Before he could hide behind a porcelain mask and ignore everything but now… now he was sick of being a 'monster'.
"You call him a monster for something he had no control over… surely it is you who are truly the monster for calling him as such."
As Naruto said those words he felt different, almost as if something had changed within him from that meeting. He had always wanted to say that he wasn't a monster – that Jinchuuriki were always human – but nothing had allowed him to.
Without looking up at Sasuke, and passing straight by Sakura, he walked off with looks of incredulity following him. They were probably wondering why he had spoken up for the monster, the feared person of the Wind country, but Temari shook her head to Kankuro and pointed in the direction Naruto was walking; Naruto was walking swiftly past a group of people who were glaring and they understood,
"So it's like that here huh?"
Temari shook her head in slight fear, sadness clouding up her eyes and she glanced at the blonde's remaining team member, Sakura.
"Don't let him lose his way."
Sakura frowned at that and turned to look thoughtfully where Naruto had been. He was gone now, of course, but she wondered exactly what they had meant and if she would ever find out.
The Chuunin exams would have passed in a breeze if it had not been for Orochimaru. Naruto had been wary ever since they had stepped into the forest and he noticed the concealed movements of other ANBU teams preparing for something. Naruto had managed to slip away from Team 7 under the pretence that he needed the toilet and sought out the nearest ANBU he could.
"Excuse me ANBU-san."
The ANBU turned at the voice, preparing to attack yet turned his movements into a bow as he saw the whisker marks of Naruto. Naruto was known throughout the ANBU to be the official caretaker of Uchiha Sasuke – it was even written down in the official documents of the village; following the death of the Uchiha clan, Namikaze Naruto and Uchiha Itachi took full responsibility of Uchiha Sasuke. Though no one saw this book aside from the Hokage – so no one knew Itachi was considered a guardian – and so the duty fell on Naruto's shoulders.
So it was no surprise that the ANBU was respectful to the man powerful enough to have guarded Sasuke for this amount of time – clocking off at one in the morning and waking up at four to continue his careful watching – especially considering that he was supposed to be protecting the sole Uchiha left in Konoha not only from Itachi but people like Orochimaru who wanted the bloodline.
"We believe that an invasion may occur; there have been signs of Orochimaru's work around here."
Naruto nodded, thanked the man and headed back to his team. Apparently someone had tried to impersonate him and Naruto was thankful that Sasuke had been able to handle it.
The real challenge was when Orochimaru himself appeared. Naruto would never have expected the Sannin to reveal who he was directly; he had always preferred to use others that play the game himself but, Naruto mused, he had realised that that approach wasn't going to work.
Naruto stood quietly, hidden by the shadows of a tree above him, ad watched as Orochimaru made Sasuke an offer for the scrolls. Sasuke prepared to hand over the scroll and it was then that Naruto took his time to strike, knocking the scroll that the Sannin was about to take from the air and into his own pocket.
Around him, Naruto could feel the tense alert of the ANBU but he warned them back with a hand signal; if they were to interrupt now then Team 7 would fail the exam. While Naruto wanted to keep Sasuke safe, he knew that he had to experience battles and to do that, he had to allow Sasuke to grow and then take over the protection of himself.
Orochimaru's eyes flitted from Sasuke to Naruto and he smiled in glee.
"My, my, my, fancy seeing you here Naruto-kun."
Naruto had always hated the way Orochimaru spoke – even if he had only met the man once before on a long mission where Orochimaru had decided to cause a lot of grief on Itachi's team – and he gritted his teeth, attempting to ignore the jibes the man made to him.
"I could almost say the same thing about you; obviously you don't understand Konoha's policy upon traitors."
They launched themselves at each other then, Orochimaru snaking his body around the tree towards Naruto and Naruto leaning down on all fours, allowing the Kyuubi's influence on his body to take a hold. Although Naruto had adopted the position the fox's shroud would have offered – and, in hard times, would even allow the chakra to reveal itself – he had a deal with the Kyuubi that the fox would get it's blood as long as it didn't take control. It was a deal forged on bravery, stupidity and guts but Naruto was inclined to give the fox his deal and the fox had given his word.
Naruto jumped, fingernails growing to claws and hands curling up slightly. His legs bent to a position that would have been uncomfortable for just a human yet was natural for Naruto. His eyes bled red and he watched Orochimaru, tracking the man as he zigzagged through the foliage and tree canopies.
Their battle was brief; Orochimaru had noticed the waiting ANBU teams and glared bloody murder at Naruto before grinning and catching the man off guard and hitting Naruto to the side. That slip had been Naruto's downfall as Orochimaru – as quick as anything – clamped his teeth down on the Uchiha's neck before vanishing, dragging the ANBU entourage after him.
Naruto stood shakily from where he had fallen and cursed his existence; he had been too out of practice, too weak and too arrogant that he would succeed, that he had failed. Itachi would be ashamed of him and Naruto sat on the forest floor, feeling like complete and utter crap for the first time in his whole life.
Naruto dropped the Kyuubi's chakra that maintained his façade and revealed his full fifteen years wearily. He was taller, far more muscular, and far more tired. He was tired of his life, tired of being the burden, tired of guarding, tired of living.
As tired as he was, Naruto had an ongoing mission to carry out and he walked towards the area where Sasuke and Sakura had been. Suddenly everything felt pointless; what had he been doing for a decade and a half? Nothing for himself, that was for sure.
Since birth all he had done was train and be trained into an emotionless – or supposedly emotionless – weapon and Naruto realised that… he didn't want that.
He wanted to live and experience life rather than just watch someone else live theirs.
Sakura was tending to the wound on Sasuke's neck and the fever that came with it. Once, during ANBU training, they had been instructed on the basics on seals and Naruto had expressed interest, claiming that he already knew a lot about most things but very little on seals. He was currently only one of the people in Konohagakure who would be able to counter the cursed seal singlehandedly and quickly. Given that this form was still in its early stages, Naruto reckoned that he would have a good chance of blocking it off and destroying the fundamental points to it.
"Sakura, would you stand back please."
Sakura looked up with slight shock to Naruto's deeper voice and he noticed confusion upon the Haruno's face. She shook it off though and did as he said. Naruto focused on Sasuke's shoulder and inspected the mark as well as the slight puncture wounds. He frowned; this would be a long job and he hoped that the training he had undertaken with Anko and her seal would be enough to counter this form.
Slowly, Naruto ran a line of green chakra across the mark, allowing it to heal. Once he was satisfied that the skin was unblemished aside from the seal, Naruto crossed his legs so that he was sitting comfortably with Sasuke's head in his lap. A sudden idea formed in his head and he glanced back to Sakura who was watching from the sidelines.
"You can come and watch from the other side if you wish. I may need you to do some errands for me and it would be a great help."
Before this cock-up, Naruto would never have even thought about seeking help but now he realised what it was that Kakashi had meant about teamwork; before Naruto had mimicked it, passing it off as teamwork when it was anything but. He smiled at Sakura as she sat down the other side of Sasuke and began his work.
It would take a long time but Naruto had an advantage; the Kyuubi. Of course it meant visiting the fox and it would take a while to bargain for usage but if he secured that then it would be easier in the long run.
Naruto closed his eyes and tilted his head forwards onto his chest, allowing the lull at the back of his head to call him in. One hand was resting on Sasuke's marked shoulder and Naruto found himself carrying the Uchiha's body into the Kyuubi's resting place. The fox glanced at the Uchiha and then at Naruto before tilting his head.
Naruto placed the body on the floor so that the Kyuubi could see the cursed seal.
"It is Orochimaru's work and I need to remove the seal."
The Kyuubi sighed heavily before sending chakra out to Naruto.
"Just learn to live kid."
Naruto frowned at the comment but allowed his body to vanish from the place – taking Sasuke with him. He was surprised that the Kyuubi had put up no fight but he realised that the fox just wanted him to live, to be able to do so much more than he was now.
As Naruto worked, pumping crimson chakra into the skin around the mark and forcibly pulling out the essence of Orochimaru from Sasuke, he took note of Sasuke's body structure, his skin, his face shape, even his hair line. He was so similar and yet so different from Itachi that Naruto felt a pang in his heart. Never had he felt anything like that before and he attributed it to his newly realised feelings concerning freedom and his life.
The truth was though that Naruto admired and respected Itachi, found him so interesting that he supposed it had formed an attraction, after all, no one makes friends with someone they do not hold a slight attraction to. Everyone had things about them that they liked and could talk about with others yet if there was no similarity between you and a friend then how could you truly get along?
Itachi and Naruto were the same; they had been raised in a way that made them value missions over their lives. They both sacrificed so much – Itachi even more so than Naruto – and gained nothing in return.
Naruto would remove Orochimaru's influence from Sasuke's body before retiring from this mission. He had been watching over someone for too long and Naruto wanted to experience all the things that Itachi hadn't, the things that he hadn't. Although he had no family, Naruto would treat Konoha as his family, his team as his family, and remember the people who accepted him for who he was rather than the level he was.
The chakra finally stopped and Naruto felt fatigue seep in. It had taken at least half a day to contain the seal, pull the tainted chakra out with his own tainted chakra and allow the Kyuubi's chakra to dilute itself into Sasuke's in order to heal him. He would be ill for a few hours, at least, before returning to a hopefully normal state.
"I'm done Sakura."
Sakura nodded and glanced at the weariness on Naruto's face.
"You look older."
She spoke as if addressing a stranger and Naruto realised that that was exactly what he was to her; he was her senior by three years and she knew nothing of his life. Everything she had seen was a carefully constructed façade, something that Naruto had allowed her to see.
"I'm going to sleep now, wake me up if we have any trouble."
Naruto's eyes kept darting over to Sasuke as he walked forwards to face his first opponent. They were to have preliminary matches against each other – Naruto had already beaten Kiba and Sakura had only just won against Ino when she remembered Naruto's face when he was working on Sasuke's shoulder – and Sasuke was the last to fight. His fight was against some random person from a random village that Naruto decided not to take interest into.
What he was interested in, however, was if the cursed seal would play up.
He noticed Anko sitting by the Hokage and she looked at him, gesturing that she wanted to speak to him and Sasuke after the match. Naruto inclined his head slightly and Anko smiled grimly back.
By now, Naruto had made up his mind. He had decided to cut all ties and search for the answer to a question that had formed from such a long time ago. It was growing steadily stronger by each day and Naruto needed to know exactly what 'it' was.
Predictably, Sasuke won and Anko joined the two males of Team 7, followed by an equally grim Kakashi. The Sandaime spoke a few words about the upcoming month and what he expected of everyone before dismissing them. Sakura took her leave and wished Naruto good luck, simply smiling at Sasuke.
Sasuke had looked in confusion at Naruto and the two adults before following the group to what Naruto knew to be the ANBU sealing room. Naruto knew that they would check the cursed seal here and its short and long term effects on Sasuke. They needed to be one hundred per cent sure that Sasuke would stay within the walls of Konoha.
"Could you show us the seal please Sasuke? Naruto go on with the briefing."
Sasuke frowned at that; he had no idea that Naruto had worked on the seal. Sakura had remained silent for the duration of the time in the forest and Naruto too had been silent. Sasuke had just put it down to the appearance of that man and hadn't spoken a further word nor asked a question about it.
"Well you probably know that it was Orochimaru, but he managed to land a hit on me and he used that to get through to Sasuke."
Kakashi nodded thoughtfully and Anko poked the skin around the dark grey marks on the skin.
"Well I have to say that we'll get Jiraiya-sama to confirm this when he comes to Konoha, but I think you did a fine job. I can't detect any power from it and usually my own seal would twinge at the close contact to another bearer… I wish you'd been there when I got mine. It wouldn't be such a bother then."
Naruto nodded and sighed,
"So it was done alright then? I did have a few worries considering the amount of chakra I had to bargain for and all… you may want to check him over to make sure I didn't cause harm to his body."
Kakashi and Anko knew exactly what Naruto meant by the harm 'he' could have caused and understood why Naruto didn't say it aloud; to reveal that it had partially been the Kyuubi that had helped with the mark sealing to Sasuke wouldn't be a very smart thing to do.
"Also, I need to talk to my superiors as well as the Sandaime so I will leave him in your charge. I'll know when you're done but do get him checked over just in case."
Neither of the Jounin questioned Naruto upon what he was going to do and Sasuke remained silent in his curiosity. Naruto walked from the room and sighed; it was time to inform the Sandaime of his decision.
Naruto walked calmly into the Sandaime's office and bowed to the Hokage as any ANBU would. Sarutobi looked slightly disturbed by the sudden motion and questioned Naruto upon it.
"I have decided to resign from my mission."
Shock was clear on the old Hokage's face as he realised that Naruto meant the Sasuke-guarding mission.
"I wish to answer a question that had been bothering me for some time and I wish to leave Konoha for the time until the exam."
The Hokage nodded and almost, almost, smiled. It was nice to know that Naruto was capable of questions; he had often asked himself whether the teen was really alive.
"Granted, Naruto. Good luck with the answers."
Naruto rose from the floor and smiled at the old man, the first proper smile that the Hokage had ever seen.
"If I see the old pervert, you want me to bring him back?"
The Sandaime nodded grimly before shaking Naruto off with a wave of his hand,
"Get going; you're wasting your precious youth in the company of an old fellow like me."
Naruto walked from the office, his chuckles bouncing off of the walls and the Hokage tilted his head back in his chair; contemplating what would have happened if Itachi had stayed in Konoha.
The rain was cool yet soothing as it trickled down Naruto's back and he walked into the nearby bathhouse town. It didn't take long to locate the Sannin Jiraiya and Naruto didn't even bother to announce himself, instead just sitting by the man and helping himself to the drink of tea by the man's side.
"What is it with people and asking these days?"
The telescope snapped shut and Jiraiya turned to look at Naruto.
"You look different kid. Well… you're not really a kid anymore are you? What are you now… sixteen?"
Naruto nodded; he practically was anyway.
"Aah. Well, in that case what are you doing out here? An ANBU like you, I thought Sensei would have wanted to keep all available Shinobi within Konoha's borders in case of an attack."
Naruto looked out to the dark streets as Jiraiya packed up his research materials and slung the pack onto his back. He began to walk off yet stopped when he realised Naruto was still sitting, looking as lost as an abandoned puppy. Whatever was bothering the kid was something huge and it unsettled Jiraiya.
"You coming kid? Something's obviously on your mind and you look as if you could do with a night's rest with the greatest man in the world." Jiraiya let out a loud chuckle and smiled properly as he noticed Naruto's eyes crinkle slightly. Was that what all of this was about? Had the teen finally realised that he didn't have to be the weapon the elders of Konoha wanted him to be?
Jiraiya hoped so because he didn't know if he could bear to see Naruto look so out of place, so lost, ever again.
A month passed quickly for Naruto and he spent the time relaxing with Jiraiya. No work or training was done for either and they spent their days, afternoons and evenings lounging around the bathhouses, discussing Jiraiya's recent journeys and what they would eat for dinner that night.
It was during this month that Naruto realised that being human didn't necessarily walk hand in hand with being a Shinobi. Jiraiya was a Shinobi but if you didn't know who exactly he was (and not just the pervert title he had earned) then he would be content to walk around as a civilian. Naruto had never even considered such measures but now… now he was learning that the chains that held him exclusively to Konoha were nothing more than fraying ropes destined to snap if Naruto so much as tugged on them.
"I'm going back to Konoha tomorrow, Jiraiya-sensei. Hokage-sama wanted you to come and double check a sealing I performed upon Uchiha Sasuke."
Jiraiya hummed as he sipped leisurely at his sake and dipped his head.
"Your charge? Speaking of which, where is he? I know it's about time you took a holiday and all but to just drop him… I never would have thought-"Jiraiya stopped himself before he could say more and merely looked at Naruto with a wise look in his eyes.
"Yes, Orochimaru placed the cursed seal on him when we took the first part of the Chuunin exam and I managed to contain it. Anko and Kakashi couldn't see anything wrong with the sealing but they still wanted to check it over with you, seeing as you're the only one who can really counter any creation of Orochimaru's."
Jiraiya dusted his hands after setting the white dish on the table and stood up slowly, nodding towards Naruto.
"If we're to travel to Konoha then I suggest a good night's rest. I know it's not a long journey but I think Sarutobi will have a few words to say to me and we all know how he likes to drag things out…" Jiraiya paused and looked Naruto in the eye, "You know what… whatever happened to you recently, I'm glad of it. You've become Naruto now, not just some machine with a name."
With that, Jiraiya headed off back to his room and Naruto frowned, contemplating the Sannin's words.
Naruto had never understood tears until the day when the Sandaime was buried. The rain fell down heavily that day, ironic and grey as Naruto watched Konohamaru cry next to him. Iruka had offered a hand to the boy, smiling slightly at Naruto before patting the teen's shoulder, telling him that even if it hurt now, things could only get better.
So it was with surprise that Naruto crouched down and pushed Iruka's hand from Konohamaru's shoulder, pulling the young boy into a full out hug; his first.
He had never really talked to the kid before but Sakura had been on somewhat talking terms with the brat and what he said wasn't that bad, most of the time. Naruto knew that Konohamaru would make a fine Shinobi one day, even if that concept seemed odd to the temporary Genin.
"I'm sorry for ignoring you."
Naruto felt the younger boy's arms wrap around him as he realised that his words were true; Naruto had always ignored the younger boy when they hung around the team, ignored him as he tried to find out more about Naruto and almost ignored him when he was about to crack like the sky above.
The cleanup of Orochimaru's botched invasion would be a long process but Naruto knew that it would be okay. Gaara and Naruto had fought in the round before the invasion – after Sasuke and Neji had almost drawn a tie, Sasuke wining by a fraction upon pure stamina – and Gaara had fought all out, to begin with.
Gaara had noticed a change within Naruto and a slip in Naruto's concentration was all it took for him to set up a ball of sand to contain both Naruto and himself inside. Naruto had been shocked to see Gaara sitting quietly in the darkness before he had spoken one word;
It was not an easy question and yet held so many answers, so much potential, that Naruto had sat down and answered.
"Even if there is something so small, like a single grain of sand, that you believe is worth saving or protecting then you should throw yourself into it. We are so similar, Gaara, and yet I don't want to be who they created. I want to be Naruto, me, someone who I can go home to and be happy with what I did in the day… don't you want that?"
Gaara was silent for a long period of time and Naruto leant against the sand. He saw a brief flash of teeth as Gaara smiled and they both stood, Gaara taking Naruto's hand between his own.
"Thank you Naruto. I feel indebted to you… meeting someone who carries the same burden yet is able to push all that aside… you are truly one of a kind and I feel sorry to tell you that the Sand plan to invade Konoha soon. Knock me out here – I will offer no resistance – and the sand will fall, allowing you the victory."
Although many would consider this a cheated victory, Naruto took it and punched Gaara hard on the jaw. The boy had held back the sand as best as he could and the hit managed to land, knocking him unconscious with the sand crumbling around him.
A few days later, Naruto found himself on the road with Jiraiya, on their way to look for Tsunade. Naruto had questioned the Sannin on his choice of travelling partner but the Toad Sannin had merely shrugged it off and put it down to Naruto being a good drinking partner.
Naruto's world changed from the moment he opened the cheap wooden door and meeting the scarlet eyes of one Uchiha Itachi. For his part, Itachi looked deeper into the room and, upon seeing no one else within the room, walked in as if it belonged to him.
As soon as Naruto shut the door, Itachi deactivated the Sharingan and sat on one of the beds, waiting for something to happen. Naruto could only look at the Uchiha before his eyes darted down to the cloak he wore.
"You joined Akatsuki then?"
Of course Naruto knew about the organisation that was rumoured to be tracking down Jinchuuriki; Jiraiya had composed a report especially for Naruto a while ago and the blond had read it many times. What he did not expect, however, was for Itachi to be a part of it.
"Hm, my partner should technically be here but I convinced him that I could do this alone."
Naruto's eyes narrowed and he tilted his head.
"Do what alone Itachi?"
Itachi rose a hand to unbutton the cloak he wore and it was on the floor in an instant, the former wearer laying on the bed and looking up at the ceiling.
"I heard Orochimaru managed to get to Sasuke."
Naruto winced; of course Itachi would know that.
"I'm sorry I-"Naruto stopped as Itachi cut him up.
"Naruto, thank you. You have guarded Sasuke long enough and it took me ages to realise it but… but the village isn't suited for us, at least not that lifestyle. Even though I am part of a criminal organisation I know more things than I ever did back there. It will always be my home and if I could visit someday I would but… but I'm finally free."
Naruto eyes snapped upwards and he looked at Itachi in almost desperation,
He edged closer to the Uchiha and kneeled between his legs and looked into dark eyes, as if searching for an answer. Itachi pushed his body upwards so that their nosed touched and Naruto could look deeper into dark orbs.
"You could be too."
With that sentence, Naruto realised the answer to his question and allowed his body to react impulsively, selfishly, for the first time in his life, brushing his lips to Itachi's in a kiss of acceptance. He pulled back not a second later and rested his head against the elder's locking eyes once more and not even blinking as Itachi reconnected their lips, this time for a longer and more fluid kiss.
"I will watch Konoha every Friday, if you ever want to free yourself then just leave. I'll be there."
With one final kiss, Itachi stood up and replaced the cloak. He headed to the door and Naruto recognised the ruby glint in his eyes. The door clicked shut and Itachi was gone, with only Naruto to decide how long it would be before they met again.
Tsunade was relatively easy to coax into being Hokage and Naruto found himself actually liking the woman. The necklace she had given him for winning her out of her debts at the local casinos and arguing the points of being a Hokage to her bounced against his neck and Naruto smiled as he felt its weight against his chest. It felt like an official tie to Konoha to match the hitae-ate he had received so long ago.
"I don't know why the kid just doesn't become Hokage. He has it in him after all."
Jiraiya just shook his head and smiled at Tsunade, full aware that Naruto was in listening range and probably was eavesdropping, despite his conversation with Shizune and spoke,
"He doesn't belong somewhere like Konoha. I believe if he was offered a chance to leave, a chance to live a life without the pressure the bastards that trained him put upon his shoulders he should take it. People do not do well locked up and he has been locked up for so long, controlled to extents no one should be."
Jiraiya seemed to pause for effect,
"Besides, if one Uchiha Itachi can beg the Hokage to cover up a high ranked mission from his only remaining family member then Namikaze Naruto can do whatever he bloody well likes."
Naruto's eyes widened at the statement and he stopped in his tracks.
"You think that Sarutobi-sensei was a fool? He had a system; he was old and worried he may die before things could be explained and… well… it allowed Tsunade and myself to be informed on certain matters in the event of his death. I guess we'll have to thank those monkeys if we ever see them again eh Tsunade?"
Tsunade was smiling softly at Naruto as he frowned and she nodded slowly.
"We all have a time to run from what other people want us to be, Naruto, and you deserve it more than anyone. Straighten ends out in Konoha and we'll tell Uchiha Sasuke the truth to what happened. It may destroy his faith in the village but he needs to know."
Naruto nodded and Shizune smiled at him as they walked onwards to Konoha.
Naruto watched as Sasuke glanced around the room nervously. He looked between Tsunade and Jiraiya before frowning at Naruto's presence, taking little comfort in his team mate being here, and then almost glaring at the two Hokage Advisors.
"I still think this is a stupid idea Tsunade."
The Hokage frowned and shook her head to Koharu.
"Well then maybe you should have told the truth in the first place." She shook her head and took a deep breath.
"I am sorry that it has to be this way Sasuke but I feel that you need to know the truth. We considered you too young before now to handle this yet we – Jiraiya, Naruto and I – feel that you are mature enough to cope with such a revelation."
Sasuke's frown deepened and Tsunade began.
"At the age of seven, Uzumaki Naruto was admitted into your Genin class under specific orders from the Hokage. His orders were to watch over the brother of his Captain in fear of threat to the sole survivor of the Clan massacre."
Sasuke's eyes widened and he looked at Naruto.
"I will answer questions at the end Sasuke, let me explain. Uchiha Itachi and Uzumaki Naruto were part of ANBU squadron C, one of the most efficient squads because they were trained to be so from the youngest of ages. Naruto was able to take upon the mission of guardian because he has a special chakra inside of him that allowed him to alter his features accordingly… Naruto?"
Upon request, Naruto returned the Kyuubi's chakra from his system into his seal and revealed his older self. Sasuke's eyes widened again and he glanced from the older Naruto to the Hokage.
"The Uchiha massacre, Sasuke, was ordered by the Sandaime Hokage and three higher individuals. Itachi acted as a spy between Konoha and the Uchiha, revealing that they planned to overthrow the village for their own."
Sasuke was silent as he digested this and Naruto closed his eyes, wishing he could offer comfort as he had done with Konohamaru. There were some things, however, that you were just meant to do alone and this was one of them.
It took a long week, hundreds of visits from Naruto, a box of tissues and a muscular shoulder before Naruto coaxed the once stoic Uchiha from his apartment. It had taken a long time for Sasuke to realise that the Hokage's words – and full explanation to the massacre that Sasuke had listened to the day after the bombshell had first been dropped – were true. He remembered things that had happened after the discovery of Itachi's crime; Itachi crying and being unable to deflect a kunai the seven year old had thrown.
In other words, Sasuke realised it was true.
While Naruto had been afraid that the Uchiha would go on a rampage and demand the deaths of the Advisors, Sasuke had merely smiled wearily at Naruto before thanking him and hugging him tightly.
"You may be older and stronger than me but you'll never be anyone else's best friend. I've taken that position and I plan to stay there."
Naruto smiled brightly at that and punched Sasuke lightly on the arm before asking what day it was. The Uchiha had responded that it was Friday and Naruto's eyes had lightened.
"Do you want to see him?"
Sasuke had been shocked at first, after all who wouldn't? He was given the chance to see the brother he thought of as a murderer for so long and should leap at the prospect and yet… could it be too soon?
"It's one meeting and if you find it too much I'll take you home."
Naruto managed to convince Sasuke and they left quietly, heading for the village gates and walking to the place where Naruto had left Itachi so long ago. To Sasuke's surprise and Naruto's expectations, Itachi sat at the base of a tree with his eyes closed. A twig snapped as Sasuke stepped away from Naruto, pain evident across his face, and Itachi's eyes opened in disbelief.
Naruto stepped back from the scene with a soft smile as Itachi tentatively approached his brother, eyes searching the younger Uchiha's face.
"I know everything Itachi…"
Itachi's face dropped at those words and he crumpled to the floor, head bowed down. Sasuke followed him downwards in worry and Naruto hid the smile that crept upon his features at the scene; it was obvious that they both still cared for each other but they were too damn caught up in their pasts.
"I forgive you."
And although it was merely a start, Itachi looked into Sasuke's eyes and thanked him sincerely. Although it was unlikely they would be brothers ever again, there was an acceptance between them that they both allowed and it was good enough for them.
The day that Naruto decided to leave was a wet day. It was cold, the wind was howling and yet people still gathered to bid the man goodbye. The group he had spent time at the academy with smiled as the teen waved them away in embarrassment ad Tsunade hugged him tightly, almost suffocating him in her large assets.
Sasuke and Sakura smiled at Naruto and Kakashi drew the trio into a team hug, saying that Naruto needed to come back so they could have reunion lunches together.
Jiraiya clamped a hand down on Naruto's shoulder and threw a salute up to the Hokage monuments. Naruto copied the gesture, chuckling with the gathered people as he walked off after Jiraiya on the road that would lead to his life.
Naruto looked up at Jiraiya.
"Sarutobi once told me you had a question that you were looking for the answer to… did you find it?"
Naruto smiled as his and Itachi's meeting place came into view and Itachi stood there, void of red clouds and a soft smile on his face.
"I think I did Jiraiya-sensei."
Jiraiya nodded once at Itachi before ruffling up Naruto's hair and smiling at him.
"If you ever need a drinking buddy, send a frog to get me and I'm all yours. And you," he spoke to the Uchiha, "better look after Naruto or else. I don't care if you have your Sharingan, I have the duty as a godfather and I plan to carry it out."
Itachi nodded with sincerity and the Sannin smiled. The pair watched as the white haired man walked off and chuckled as he waved to them, slipping as he did so.
There would always be troubled to overcome in the future, what with the Akatsuki and Orochimaru on the prowl, but now that Naruto had an almost answer to the question that bothered him since Itachi had left, he felt as though nothing would take the happiness away. The rope was truly broken now and Naruto was free, free with someone else who had shed his duty to death and restrictions.
Itachi looked down at Naruto and sighed;
"Where do you want to start?"
Can I just say that this story was... well, a beastie. The ending may be rushed, scrappy or whatever but if I hadn't done it that way then it would never have ended... I'm not even joking. It just kept going! But anyway, sure it's an over used plot but, hey, I had to do it! :D
And if you were wondering what the characters mean... I'll tell you them in order: Mission, Genin, Hatake Kakashi, Momochi Zabuza/Haku, Monster, Orochimaru, Seal, Uchiha Sasuke, Hokage, Jiraiya, Machine, Konohamaru, Gaara, Akatsuki, Tsunade, Massacre, Brother, Uchiha Itachi and, finally, Uzumaki Naruto.
Reviews are always appreciated whether they be good, bad, flame or... ice. :D So... tell me what you think! I'm not even sure I like it myself in all honesty but yeah. Thank you for reading!
Also, for some reason, the layout messed up when I first posted it so if you see any repeated paragraphs/central text other than the characters please tell me so I can bang my head on the wall.