Guilty by Association
Disclaimer: It has been brought to my attention that some comments I had made in an earlier speech had come dangerously close to claiming possession of Naruto. I would like to take this moment to declare that I do not own Naruto. Thank you, and good night.
AN: So, yeah, this idea actually came to me a long time ago… probably almost a year now… and I finally decided to finish it up. Originally it was intended as a full story, but I turned it into a one-shot. For now. So, yes, the story was aimed at a future NarutoXAnko pairing, my first foray into that territory, and I'm interested in what you guys think about it. Let me know how it goes, eh?
Warning: So, yeah, got a lot of major angst coming up, along with healthy doses of blood and gore. Not for the queasy of stomachs. ;P
It was yet another fine summer day in the village of Konoha. The birds were singing, flitting from perch to perch as they chirped at each other. The sky was a beautiful light blue, and a few white clouds drifted lazily through the sky, providing occasional relief from the sun's bright rays. Down below, the streets were packed with people, all sorts of people from all kinds of places: from merchants were littered along the sides of the roads, holding out their wares and trying to catch the eyes of passersby, to the village shinobi, dedicated soldiers that were the lifeblood of the village. But, despite the business of the day, it maintained that lethargic quality that comes from the heat of summer, combined with a feeling of satisfaction.
The Sandaime Hokage, the Third Fire Shadow of Leaf Village, gazed out of his tower window, feasting his eyes on the many sights of Konoha. He sighed in contentment as he watched his village, feeling a sense of fulfillment and pride. Yes, it was a beautiful village, and it was a beautiful day. He let a grin steal across his face and looked up at the sky once more. Yes, as far as this old man was concerned, all was right with the world.
"Hokage-sama!" The shout carried clearly to the old man's ears, despite the thick oak door that separated him from the shouter. He turned towards the door with an annoyed expression, glaring at the door as if it had personally affronted him. Damn it all, just when he was trying to relax, they start bugging him again! No doubt it was yet another mound of accursed paperwork for him to read and sign… Blast!
Resigning himself to his fate, he seated himself in his high-backed chair and turned towards the door. He shouted "Enter!" and the door slammed open with tremendous force. But that was not what startled him. No, what made him rise to his feet with a startled gasp and a sensation of horror was not the manner of entry, but rather it was the person who entered.
There, dripping with blood and sweat, stood Hatake Kakashi.
The Hokage leapt over the table with an agility not expected from a man of his age, and was at Kakashi's side in a heartbeat. Seeing that the white-haired man could barely stand, he guided him to one of the chairs at the side of the room and deposited him carefully in it. The Jounin slumped gratefully into the chair, his visible eye half-closed in fatigue as he tried to catch his breath. Before another moment, he seemed to come to himself with a start. His eye slammed open and he stood to his feet quickly. Or, rather, he tried to stand to his feet. His legs buckled and gave way underneath him, and it was only because of the vigilance and agility of the Hokage that he did not fall.
After pushing him gently back into the seat, the Sandaime crouched down next to Kakashi, his face showing great anxiety. "What happened to you, Kakashi? Where's your team?" The white-haired Jounin looked away at the mention of his team, and the Hokage's face grew grim indeed. With a firmness born of many years of leadership, he gently but sternly made Kakashi face him, his eyes staring deep into the Jounin's lone eye, noting that it was glazed over and unfocused due to fatigue. Using a simple genjutsu, he began calming Kakashi's mind, forcing him to think clearly and to concentrate on what had happened. After a half-minute or so, Kakashi's breathing was approaching normal, and his thoughts were less clouded by fatigue.
The Hokage sucked in a breath of apprehension, knowing that something terrible must have happened. "What happened, Kakashi? What about Naruto?"
The white-haired Jounin said nothing for a long moment, and then leaned back in the chair, staring up at the ceiling of the office. From his lone visible eye, a tear trembled and slid down his cheek, but he spoke with no emotion, his voice cold and precise as if he was making a routine report.
"Uzumaki Naruto... has become a traitor to the village."
Time passed. As the sun, which had earlier been high in the sky, cast its last light on the village of Konoha, the Jounin gathered. From all corners of the village, they came, and each with a look of dark purpose and apprehension. The word had been spread among the elite of Konoha: Kakashi had returned, and with dire news. They knew not the exact nature of this summons, but they knew that, whatever it could be, it meant trouble.
As the sun disappeared behind the horizon, they had gathered. All of the available Jounin had gathered, even those who belonged in that elite Black Ops unit, ANBU. They were all in the Jounin meeting room, sitting on the expansive floor or leaning against the hardwood walls. On a dais on the far side of the room, the Sandaime Hokage sat, accompanied by his two former teammates and advisors. With him stood Morino Ibiki from ANBU Interrogations Unit, Hatake Kakashi, who was a former Captain of the ANBU Assassinations Unit, and Kotaru Komui, the doctor at Konoha Medical Hospital who handled emergency cases.
At the appropriate time, the Hokage raised a withered hand, and all talk in the hall ceased. As the Jounin watched in attentive silence, he rose slowly to his feet, looking twice his actual age. The Sandaime, his eyes sad and shadowed, met the eyes of each one of his Jounin, knowing that these gathered before him were the best of the best, but wishing there had been no need to call them. But he steeled himself, knowing that this terrible deed had to be done.
"You have been summoned here today for several reasons. The first of these is that you, my Jounin and Special Jounin, are the elite of this village, and are thus best able to handle this situation, which is too precarious to be entrusted to lesser hands. Secondly, each and every one of you has firsthand knowledge of the issue that we will discuss, and can thus speak with certainty. And thirdly, because I trust your judgment, and desire your counsel. Are there any questions before we begin?" Of course, there were none, as always, and Sarutobi nodded slowly. "Very well. Then, to begin this discussion, I call on Hatake Kakashi."
The white-haired Jounin stepped forward, his face schooled into impassiveness, and his eyes as hard and cold as rock. He spoke slowly and clearly, so that all could understand what he said. "Yes, Hokage-sama. For those of you who do not know, I resigned from the ANBU some time ago, and have become a Jounin sensei. My team consists of Uchiha Sasuke, Haruno Sakura, and Uzumaki Naruto, the vessel for the Kyuubi. Recently, we were assigned a C-rank mission: the basic escort. Our task was simple: get a bridge-builder, named Tazuna, back to his hometown in Wave Country. However, things were not so simple."
The crowd stirred, but Kakashi ignored them, speaking almost mechanically. "Tazuna had deceived us concerning the mission's dangers. We were told that he was frightened of bandits and thieves, which meant a simple C-rank mission. In actuality, he was the target of Gato, the owner of the Gato Shipping Company." Another stir. "This Gato had hired missing ninjas from Kirigakure no Sato. I do not know how many, but we encountered four. In our first encounter, we fought and defeated a pair of C-ranked nuke-nin known only as the Demon Brothers. However, they managed to escape the fight."
Kakashi paused, as if reliving the events in his mind. At a gesture from the Hokage, however, he resumed. "Despite our newfound knowledge that this mission had escalated from a C-rank to a B-rank, possibly even an A-rank, we continued on, deciding that we could handle it. However, not far past the borders of Wave Country, we were attacked once more, except that this time it was four. These were the Demon Brothers from our earlier battle, a young user of the Hyouton Kekkei Genkai, and the Demon of the Bloody Mist, Momochi Zabuza."
There was an outburst from the back of the group, and a lone Jounin stood up, his cheek disfigured by a long and nasty scar. "What! That bastard what gave me this scar? Is he still alive?!"
Kakashi grimaced and shook his head. "Sit down, Junpei, and find out." Once Junpei was seated once more, he continued. "As many of you know doubt know, Zabuza is listed in our Bingo Book as an A-rank Missing-nin, and he was once a member of the Seven Swordsmen. He was obviously in command of this mission, and had challenged me to a fight. I was forced to do combat with him and the Hyouton user simultaneously, while my students battled with the Demon Brothers. From what little I saw of their battle, they performed rather well, but I was being overwhelmed by my opponents, partially because I could not use my Sharingan on two people at the same time. The Hyouton user soon had trapped me within a prison of ice, and Zabuza had moved in to attack my students, who had managed to knock out the Demon Brothers.
"Zabuza had soon defeated them, and was torturing Haruno Sakura for sport, threatening to decapitate her if she screamed. Tazuna, our client, had run away, coward that he was. But… something happened." Kakashi stopped speaking again, and all the Jounin seemed to hang on his every word. "Uzumaki Naruto, although he had been laid low by a blow to the head, began to attack." There was a definite tremble in his voice, and his eyes seemed haunted by visions of the past. "It was terrible. He… transformed, somehow. I felt the Kyuubi's chakra wash over me, and saw him crouched against the ground, his body shifting and moving strangely. Then… he attacked… he attacked.
"It was over so quickly. Within the space of ten seconds, he had killed Zabuza, biting clean through his neck like some crazed animal. Then he turned the Hyouton user. There was a battle, the likes of which I had rarely seen. But it ended within moments, and he ripped the Hyouton user's body to shreds. Then he turned on the fallen Demon Brothers. He had mutilated the body of one of them, worrying it like a dog its kill, and was about to begin on the other one… when Haruno Sakura intervened. She seized him by the arm and tried to stop him, screaming that he had gone too far, that he wasn't acting normal. He… Naruto attacked her."
Cries of outrage and disbelief echoed through the halls, and for a long moment, Kakashi did not speak. He merely stood, head bowed, as the Hokage restored order. Then, once all was quiet again, he took up his narrative once more.
"He wounded her badly in several places, and he looked like he would kill her, when Sasuke intervened. He drove Naruto away from her, but only by suffering many wounds. Naruto, now in a berserk rage, happened to see Tazuna cowering in the trees. He raced over to him and ripped out his throat, killing him in an instant. Then… something happened. I don't know what. Just, suddenly, the chakra fled, as if it had been driven away by something. As the chakra disappeared, I finally managed to break free of my icy prison and go to my students. Only by the use of emergency medical jutsu and blood restoration pills did I manage to save Sasuke's arm, and Sakura's leg will never be quite as strong again. But… they are alive.
"As for Naruto… I found him unconscious on the ground, with not a scratch on his body. By then, Sakura and Sasuke had begun asking questions, questions that I could not answer. I merely bound Naruto securely and we set off towards Konoha. We managed to reach the village within thirty-six hours of my departure, mainly due to the usage of soldier pills. I reported immediately to the Hokage. That is all."
As his voice died away and he resumed his position by the Hokage's table, the Jounin began to converse amongst themselves; some spoke angrily, others in fear, while some merely wondered aloud. The Hokage, taking charge once more, stood up and quieted them once more.
"Thank you for the report, Kakashi. Now, if Morino Ibiki would come forward and make his report…?"
Ibiki nodded and took center stage, his scarred face contorted in a grimace of distaste. "We have the criminal in question safely imprisoned within on of our maximum security cells, with four ANBU guarding it and checks every quarter-hour. Interrogation of the criminal in question is to begin at twenty-one hundred hours. Our goal: To determine the cause of this berserk and animalistic behavior and to discover to what extent the Kyuubi's seal has deteriorated. In addition, we will find out whether the criminal in question released the Kyuubi deliberately or not. However, it must be disclosed now that, even if we find that his usage of the Kyuubi's power was unintentional, he will no longer be allowed to live the life of a shinobi. Pending approval of the Hokage, he must either be terminated, and his threat removed permanently, or he must be kept under twenty-four hour surveillance, preferably in solitary confinement. I would remind you that nothing of this matter is to be said to anyone not currently in this room, and that only the Hokage or myself will disclose any more information concerning the criminal in question. More will be reported as it is discovered. That is all."
"That's it?" asked a female voice from the back of the room. "What are you, fucking stupid?" All heads turned towards a purple-haired special Jounin, leaning against the back wall with her arms folded stubbornly. She wore no uniform; in fact, she wore barely enough to satisfy the demands of modesty, thanks mainly to the large tan trench coat she wore over what little clothing she had. Ibiki frowned darkly at her.
"You have something to say, Special Jounin Mitarashi Anko?" he growled at her, his dislike for her attitude obvious.
"You bet your fat ass I got something to say, Scarface," she growled right back, her eyes narrowed dangerously. "I don't know what the hell you're thinking, but I'm not gonna sit here and let you drop this kid in the shitter just because he made a dumb mistake. I can tell you right now that what happened, any of it, wasn't his fault." Kakashi's head snapped up and he eyed Anko, his eyes showing anger mixed with a strange hope, while Ibiki remained silent, staring at her calculatingly. Anko continued.
"Look, I don't know about you fuckers, but I checked up on this kid. I know what he's like, how he thinks. People hate him. Hell, everybody hates his fucking guts. Why? 'Cuz he got the fucking Kyuubi sealed into him when he was a goddamn baby. Was that his fault? No. But they still hate him, still glare at him, still treat him like fucking shit. But he doesn't hate 'em for it. Despite all logic, the kid actually cares about 'em. Even if he wanted to kill 'em, wanted to release the Kyuubi and destroy the fuckers who made his life hell, he wouldn't. Doesn't have it in him. " She was silent for a moment, letting her words sink in, before turning to Kakashi and looking him dead in the eyes.
"And you, Cyclops, know exactly what I'm talking about. He was on your team. You've trained with him, eaten with him, taught him. You've seen what he's like. And yet you're gonna sit there and pretend that there's nothing you can do about this? Don't feed me that bullshit. You give up on him now, after you've seen what he's like, and you're no better than…" she bit her lip, not letting herself say the name. Kakashi, utterly confused, tried to counter her argument.
"But… he attacked his friends! His teammates, who were just trying to help!"
"That's bullshit, and you know it!" she yelled, unable to repress her emotion. "He was fighting to protect them. He killed the motherfuckers that were attacking you. What do you think he was feeling right then, huh? You trapped in some kinda ice prison, one of his teammates getting tortured by some slimy prick; and the worst part, all of this going on while he was just sitting on his ass, to weak to help? You'd snap too, Kakashi. We've all been there. We've seen it happen."
"He would've done anything to help his friends," she continued, her voice quieter and full of some unspoken feeling. "And I'll bet you my miso that that goddamn demon took advantage of that. I bet you that the fucking fox used his emotions to crack the seal a little, to try and get free. The goddamn Kyuubi used him, like a fucking snake. And he fell for it. Not the first one to fall for shit like that, either." Her voice died away, and she seemed to wrestle with herself silently, trying not to think about… him.
"Kakashi." The gray-haired Jounin was still staring at her, unable to believe his ears as she spoke. "Did Naruto attack Sakura?"
"Of course," replied Kakashi, confused, "I already said that."
"No. He didn't attack Sakura. She got in the way, didn't she?" Kakashi's eyes opened wide, and sudden realization struck him. "You know how stupid that is. We've all felt that kind of desperate bloodlust at one time or another, when the fight is in your blood and blood's all you can see. You're not thinking about your friends, or your enemies; you're not even thinking at all. You're just fighting, trying to survive against impossible odds, and killing any motherfucker that tries to stop ya. And the girl, stupid brat like she is, got in his way.
"I'll bet you he didn't even see her. Not really see her. He just saw somebody grabbin' on to him, just another person trying to kill him. And the old man, Tazu-whatever? Probably stank of fear. Add onto that the fact that the old man wasn't really one of his precious people, the people he was trying to defend. When you're in that mindset, there are only two kinds of people; the ones on your side, and the ones on their side. Tazuna wasn't on his side, so he was automatically an enemy. Think about it."
For a long moment, there was silence. Then the uproar began. Every shinobi in the room began voicing their opinions at once. Many claimed that what Anko was saying was so much bullshit, that the kid had attacked his friends and was therefore a traitor. Some were agreeing that he wasn't to be held completely at fault, but that the Kyuubi was still very much a menace, and so they should sacrifice the boy in order to ensure that the threat of the nine-tailed fox was removed. And a few, only a few, agreed with her.
But she wasn't watching them. She was watching Kakashi, Naruto's trusted teacher. She had to know if he would betray his student, just like what had happened to her all those years ago. She hoped against hope that he wouldn't, that he wouldn't throw his student to the wolves because of just one mistake. None of his students had died; in fact, the only reason any of them were still alive was because of Naruto's actions! Couldn't he see that? It was only because Naruto tried to help that the bastard was standing in this room right now!
But Kakashi said nothing. He was too confused, too unsure. He liked Naruto. He saw a lot of Obito of the lad, so much that it was almost painful at times. But he feared the Kyuubi. He had been in that battle; he remembered its power. And he had felt that same power again, coming from the mischievous blonde boy on his team. Naruto… was he really not at fault? Was it the Kyuubi's doing all along? Did that even matter? He didn't know.
Then Sarutobi slammed the base of his walking stick against the tiled floor, and all the shinobi fell silent. Clearing his throat, the old man spoke slowly and sorrowfully.
"I'm afraid that, at this point, I cannot alter my decisions concerning Naruto's fate. While he may not, in fact, be at fault for his rash behavior, the fact remains that the Kyuubi must have some measure of influence on his mind. Until I discover how much sway the demon has over him, I must insist that Naruto be kept in solitary confinement, visited by no one. Perhaps, after I have settled this matter, we will have this discussion again. But for now, I must treat Naruto as I would any other traitor against Konoha." He sighed sadly, but looked at Anko with glad eyes, delighting in her defense of Naruto.
"I hope you're right, Anko-chan…" he whispered softly.
Naruto awoke slowly, feeling incredibly groggy and tired. The… well, whatever he was sleeping on, it was so cold and hard that it could scarcely be called a bed, was incredibly uncomfortable. He tried to move, but he was bound fast to the slab of steel he lay on, chakra infused ropes constricting his legs and arms. He could feel straps and hoops of steel holding his body in place, binding him, holding him prisoner. Finally, dreading what he would see, he opened his eyes and looked about.
He was in a cell.
Not just any cell. The walls of his prison were a smooth and polished black, with no seams or blemishes on its sturdy surface. There was no window to the outside world, no glimpse of a better and brighter place. There was only stone and steel, cold and unfeeling beyond imagination.
Nor was there a door of any kind, or at least none that he could see. He was enclosed on all four sides, and in his horror he felt as if the room was closing in on him, looming over him. Sweat began to bead on his forehead as he frantically tried to struggle his way out of his bindings. But not only were they far too strong for that, but he felt so weak and helpless that he couldn't have broken his way out of a wet paper bag. He was imprisoned, body and soul, and his mind reeled in shock.
What had happened? How had he gotten here? What had he done to deserve this? Oh, sure, he had pulled a prank every now and then, but it was all in good fun! He had never hurt anyone! He would never...
An unfamiliar scent tickled his nostrils, and though he was unable to move his head more than a fraction of an inch, he still managed to look down his nose at the orange jumpsuit he always wore.
But it was no longer orange. He was covered in blood. Staining the bright fabric, the blood was everywhere, drying, dark, a symbol of death and darkness and demons. Demons... A laugh as old as the mountains and cruel as the sea echoed through his mind, and he began to remember.
The taste of his enemy's lifeblood on his tongue, as he tore the shinobi's larynx out with his bare teeth. It had been sweet.
The smell of death as the crimson liquid flew through the air. Never had such a smell intoxicated him, filled him with glee.
The sight of the ice user, broken, beaten, bloodied beyond recognition. His bloodlust rose again at the mere thought of it.
The sound of the young boy shouting, crying, begging for mercy. He had received none, but the sound of his desperation had been so satisfying.
The feel of his hands, claws fully extended, ripping the boy into shreds. Flaying skin, ripping muscle, severing tendons, piercing arteries, ending life.
He had attacked.
He had killed.
He had slaughtered.
Gone was the promise he had made to himself long ago, swearing to never take a life except in the direst need. Forgotten was his old ninja way, where he would protect and guard, never destroy. No longer was he Uzumaki Naruto, the prank-loving boy of twelve and newly made Genin of Konoha. He would never again have that innocence, never again see life as precious, never again take pride in himself. Never again. Never again.
He was a murderer, a beast, a demon. He could have stopped the demon, stopped the Kyuubi. He could have stood his ground against his enemies, both physical and mental. He could have saved his teammates with his own strength, using his own power and determination. No, not could have.
But it was too late. Far, far too late. The time for deeds was long gone. There was no more time, not for him. There were only memories, and pain, and sadness. Bitter, cold sorrow, ripping at his heart and devouring his mind.
Did it matter that he hadn't been the one to do the deed? Did it matter that he was not the one who had decided to do... what had been done? No. He had stood aside and allowed the Kyuubi to run amok. He had turned the wheel over to the demon, and, in so doing, was fully responsible for everything that had been done. If there was to be punishment, then he would accept it. If there was to be justice, he would submit.
If he had to die for his sins, then so be it.
You'll die. But not yet. First, you will experience hell.
His seal pulsated with heat, burning him as a rush of chakra swept over him. Red tendrils burst from his belly, burning away his clothes, his shackles, even scorching the steel slab he lay on. Fire rushed through the room, tearing at him, burning his body, his mind, his soul.
He saw himself standing over the body of one of the Mist shinobi, covered in blood.
Do you see it?
He saw Sakura-chan scream, run forward, grabbing at him, trying to stop him.
Do you see your sins?
He saw himself turn, crimson eyes glowing.
Do you see what you are?
He saw a clawed hand pulling back, poised in the air.
Do you see what you have become?
He saw the hand come slashing down, cutting through Sakura's leg, her red blood pooling on the ground, streaming in torrents from the awful wounds.
Do you see yourself for what you truly are?
Wounds that he had given her.
He saw Sasuke shouting in horror, rushing forward, trying to drive him away from the wounded girl.
He saw himself attack Sasuke viciously, saw the raven-haired Uchiha struggle futilely against the brutal onslaught.
He saw himself turning away from the boy, who was no longer interesting prey, saw himself spot the old man hiding behind the bushes, reeking of primal fear.
He saw himself rush forward… Pounce… Kill…
Uzumaki Naruto …
The images flashed through his head again and again, the fiery chakra scorching him through and through, his sightless eyes open wide in endless horror, his hands clenched in impotent terror.
YOU ARE A DEMON!
Lost in the physical and mental agony, Naruto screamed.
The Sandaime Hokage walked into the small interrogation building, his head bowed under the force of his sad thoughts. At his right strode Morino Ibiki, impassive as always, letting no emotion show on his scarred visage. To his left was Yamanaka Inoichi, Ibiki's finest psychologist and genjutsu expert. These two would be the ones to determine the extent of the Kyuubi's effect on Naruto. Their results would decide whether the boy lived or died. But even if he lived…
He would never be free.
The sound of a slamming door reached his ears, and he saw that Mitarashi Anko was now among them. Her faced was flushed with anger, but she said nothing, merely running quickly past them, towards the surveillance room. Ibiki moved as if to stop her, but Sarutobi raised a hand and he stopped. The Hokage would let her see with her own eyes if she was right about Naruto; he owed her that much for defending the boy.
Sarutobi entered the surveillance room alone, leaving Ibiki and Inoichi to discuss the interrogation to come; he was supposed to go with them, but didn't feel that he would be able to stomach the fact that it was Naruto they were going to torture. Instead he looked about the room; it was fairly large, but there were so many computer screens and various electronic devises that there was hardly any place to stand. Anko was already there, staring at a screen with a strange look in her eyes. Sarutobi stood beside her, glancing at her before turning his attention to the screen before him. The monitor showed live video feed from one of several hidden cameras in Naruto's cell, allowing Sarutobi to see the full horror of Naruto's position.
It just looked so wrong. He had never imagined that Naruto, one of the kindest and most innocent people he knew, would one day be imprisoned in this room, where only the worst of criminals were interrogated.
It was plain to see that the blonde boy, usually loud and energetic, was feeling the full weight of his deeds. It was also easy to see that the knowledge of what he had done was weighing him down. But it was too late for the boy. He had allowed the Kyuubi to take him over, and had finally justified the council's hatred for him. Sarutobi wasn't sure if he could save Naruto now, not after something like this. If the Kyuubi had really taken over, then he-
Then the chaos began.
Naruto's whole body seemed to tense, and then explode in a tremendous burst of power. Red chakra washed out of him in a wave of energy, pooling around him and tearing at the chakra-enhanced stone with savage swipes. The heat of it obliterated Naruto's clothing, and his shackles were helpless before its strength. Even the interrogation table, which was solid steel, began to glow cherry-red and twist out of shape. This was more than just chakra; this was animosity incarnate, all the rage and power and dreadful majesty of a Demon Lord taken physical shape.
Sarutobi was frozen in primal fear.
The Kyuubi was breaking free.
And then the screaming started.
Even through the thick, chakra-sealed stone walls, Sarutobi could hear the screams, the cries of a tortured soul. He heard the sorrow, the agony, the heart-rending despair, the audible sound of ultimate suffering. It was the sound of Naruto's heart breaking, his soul tearing itself to pieces, his mind breaking under the weight of his guilt.
There was a rush of air and the noise of a slamming door, and Anko was gone. But Sarutobi paid her no mind. All of his focus, all of his being, was riveted on the monitor, on the blonde boy writhing in agony on the cold steel slab.
Sarutobi's heart seemed to die inside him as he watched this boy, whom he had looked upon as a grandson, losing his grasp on his sanity, driven to the brink of madness by the sheer horror of the deeds he had committed. In a way, this sound was even more horrific than the feeling of the Kyuubi; it was the death of innocence, the ending of a dream.
Naruto would never be the same.
The Kyuubi no Yoko, the greatest demon to grace the face of the world, was free. He felt the rush of his power returning, the force and feel of his chakra as exhilarating as ever. No longer would he be bound by that wretched seal, forced to watch as the insect that had contained him walked about in freedom. It was time for his return.
He had used the brat's emotions against him. In times of strong emotion, the seal tended to weaken. The stronger the emotion, the weaker the seal. So, as soon as the chance had come, the Kyuubi had forced the brat's mind to the brink, unleashing a chaos of uncontrollable emotions. And the seal had weakened enough for him to take over. Shunting the human boy's consciousness deep into the recesses of his mind, he wrested his body to his will.
Now that the brat's body was in his power, it was only a matter of time before the Demon Lord found a way to break that accursed seal that bound him.
He took a moment to observe the body he had taken from his container. Incinerating the last shred of those pathetic garments that the boy had draped himself in, he admired the muscles that the boy had acquired in the course of his training. This body was quite formidable, considering his age. It responded quickly to his commands, and he could control it to perfection. The muscles in his arms and chest stood out against his skin, again, well-toned for his age. The Kyuubi felt another rush of exhilaration. All that training the boy had done, all that hard work… And now, the Demon Lord would reap the benefits. It didn't make up for the thirteen years of imprisonment, but it was a start.
Gathering his chakra to him, the Kyuubi turned towards a specific portion of the wall, behind which he could sense a door. The Demon Lord raised a clawed hand and sent a blast of pure chakra towards the door, blasting it apart with ease. As the smoke cleared, he stepped forward, mind pulsing with ecstasy at the thought of his approaching freedom.
There was someone in the broken doorway. As the dust cloud cleared away, the Kyuubi could see that there was another insect standing just beyond the hole in the wall. For some reason, the pathetic human didn't seem to be fleeing, despite the killing intent the Kyuubi emanated.
He stepped forward, reading another blast of power. He had no time for foolish insects, no matter how strange their behavior.
But the human had moved forward as well.
He stepped forward again.
So did the human.
Now the Kyuubi was intrigued. Such a show of fearlessness was worthy of his time. Letting his chakra subside slightly, the Demon Lord studied the human before him. It was apparently a female, given the body shape. That was good. Female blood was much sweeter than that of the males. Having memorized her appearance, he stepped forward again, deciding to grant this female the honor of him, the almighty Kyuubi, devouring her flesh. After all, such fearlessness should be rewarded, and what better reward was there than to become a part of a Demon Lord?
The human did not move. But she did speak.
The Kyuubi stopped for a moment, confused. Then he remembered. Yes, Naruto was the name of his container. He smiled, revealing gleaming fangs. So that was it. This foolish woman thought that this body was still under the control of the brat. He raised a clawed hand, crimson chakra crackling around it.
"I am the Kyuubi no Yoko, Demon Lord and Ruler of the Bijuu. Flee or fight as you will, but you will die either way."
"Ah, shut up, you fucking fox," growled the female, staring him in the eyes, "I'm trying to talk to the kid."
"Insolent, pathetic human. Your stupidity is pitiable, but hardly surprising." The Kyuubi had more than half a mind to crush this woman where she stood, but… at the same time, he couldn't help but wonder what it was she wanted to tell Naruto so desperately. "And what would you tell the boy? That he's nothing more than a demon, doomed to walk the earth alone and forgotten by all? Or perhaps you come to observe the murderer receiving his just deserts, the traitor who was in turn betrayed?" His demonic laughter echoed through the room, but she didn't flinch.
"I told you to shut up, asshole. Naruto!" she yelled the last word loudly, as if that would make any difference. No matter what she said, it would have no affect; the brat was buried deep, entrapped in an endless sea of self-torture. But she kept talking. "Naruto, listen to me, ya damn brat. It wasn't your fault." The Kyuubi couldn't help but laugh again; the idea was so foolish. What, she thought be trying to bring him back from his insanity that he, the Kyuubi, would be repressed once more? Her efforts were all for naught.
"It wasn't your fault," she said again, trying to put as much emphasis in her words as possible, desperately trying to get her point across. "None of this is your fault. Not what happened at the lake, not what happened thirteen years ago, not even what's happening now. The Kyuubi's tricking you! He's trying to get you to give up!"
"And? It is far too late for that, woman. He has sinned, and now he is being punished. Do not attempt to stand in the way of a Demon Lord's justice, mortal."
"You shut the fuck up, you piece of shit. Naruto, listen to me. You didn't do anything wrong. It's okay. Just… come back, okay? Don't do something that you're gonna regret. Don't give up."
The Kyuubi chuckled darkly, flexing its muscles in a bored fashion. "Empty words. As if you could stand a fraction of the suffering I put him through. He really was quite a creature, in his own pathetic way." He flexed his muscles again, admiring their strength, and then brought his crimson eyes to bear on the woman once more. "Are you done wasting my time?"
The female broke eye contact for the first time, closing her eyes and breathing deeply. Then she stepped forward and embraced the Kyuubi, much to his surprise. He was utterly nonplussed, quite possibly for the first time in his exceedingly long life. His chakra died away as his attention waned, and he found that he couldn't move. He tried to break free, to get away from the foul creature who had dared to touch him, but he couldn't move. It was as if something was keeping him rooted to the spot.
The female whispered softly into his ear, "Naruto, I understand. It was hard. It's always been hard. But don't give up. You're not alone. Not even now, when you've driven your friends away. You're never alone. I'm right here, with you. Don't go away and leave me alone, too. Come back, Naruto. Please."
She wants me to come back.
No one wants you.
She says I'm not alone.
You're always alone.
She says it's not my fault.
It's always your fault.
She wants to be my friend!
You have no friends!
I can go back!
Don't come back!
I didn't do anything wrong!
You attacked your friends!
That wasn't me!
You killed four men!
That wasn't me!
You're a DEMON!
THAT'S NOT ME!
YOU'RE A DEMON!
NO! YOU ARE!
It's YOUR fault that all this is happening!
It's YOUR fault that nobody likes me.
I'm not you.
I never was.
"NO!" the Kyuubi roared, breaking away from the woman. "I am a demon! We are both demons! We must kill, we must destroy! There are none worthy of life but us! I WILL NOT FADE AWAY!" He turned back towards the female, claws extended, hand raised, power swirling about him. "I AM ETERNAL!" The red chakra crackled with power, gathered itself together, shot forward with deadly accuracy, tearing through the air as it soared towards the woman's heart…
I will not kill again.
Suddenly, without warning, a mass of blue chakra exploded out from the Kyuubi's body, crackling through the air like lightning. With a swiftness that defied sight, it appeared before the startle body of the woman and gathered itself together, forming a solid wall of glowing power. The red bolt of energy struck it with full force.
Unstoppable force met immovable object.
And time stopped.
Suddenly, the Kyuubi found himself back in that hated mindscape, back in that room where he had spent thirteen years encaged within that accursed seal. Not only that, but he was face to face with that boy, that Naruto. They looked exactly the same, except for the eyes. While the Kyuubi's own eyes were slitted with malice and crimson with bloodlust, the boy's eyes were a vivid azure, pools of sympathy and kindness. His red eyes met Naruto's blue orbs, and they stared deeply into each others eyes.
For a long, timeless moment, they seemed to struggle silently, wills clashing, death striving to overcome life, crimson clashing with azure. But then, all signs of a struggle ceased, and the Kyuubi found himself somehow linked with Naruto, in a way that defied any physical perception. He felt as if he… understood the boy, in some way. As if, although their choices were different, they were still the same person. Two sides of the same coin. It wasn't that they couldn't coexist… but, because of their opposite natures, had to coexist.
Suddenly, the Kyuubi realized that he wasn't alone.
Anko stared in horror as the red bolt of energy shot towards her, saw her death coming on wings of crimson power. She knew that she would die the second she stepped in the room, knew that there was no hope of forcing the Kyuubi to retreat back into the seal, whether by force or otherwise. But she had to try. She had to get the message across to the boy that he wasn't alone! He wasn't the only one who was spurned, not because of what he was, but because of something that he hadn't even known about, much less had a choice in! He was a victim of circumstances, just like her.
They were guilty by association. He, because of the circumstances of his birth and because of the creature that lay dormant within him. She, because of the treachery of her master and because of the mark she bore. They were hated, despised, and feared all at once; a normal life was forbidden to them. They were marked with the symbols of those they hated, and those marks ostracized them from the world. He and she, they knew what true hell was.
She closed her eyes and waited for death to free her from this living hell, this loneliness she endured day to day.
But it didn't come.
She opened her eyes and drew back in astonishment. There, pulsating with power before her, was an enormous mass of chakra. But it wasn't the fierce red that had stricken her with fear; this was blue chakra, gentle and calm, yet subtly powerful, like the deep seas.
Naruto… had come back.
He had protected her.
She wasn't alone anymore!
"NARUTO!" she screamed at the top of her lungs, hoping, praying for an answer.
There was a low, guttural groan from the other side of the chakra wall, the sound of a beast in pain. Then the blue chakra faded into nothingness, revealing the hunched form of Naruto, crouched low to the ground, his body slack and his eyes closed.
She advanced slowly, hesitantly. She was afraid of what she might see, afraid that those eyes would open, revealing the hated red eyes of the Kyuubi. But she had to know. She had to know that Naruto had come back. She stepped forward, hands outstretched, torn between hope and fear. Reaching out, she laid her hands on his bare shoulders, watching, waiting.
His eyes opened slowly.
And shone with crimson light.
"You again…" the Kyuubi growled, his voice harsh and guttural. Anko tried to back away, but his hands shot up with a flash, grabbing her roughly by the wrists. With a fluid motion, he broke her grip on him and seized her by the throat, the force of his killing intent subduing her completely.
But she didn't struggle.
She felt an intense sadness flow over her. She had failed. The Kyuubi was still dominant, and Naruto was still trapped. She was alone now. She bowed her head in sudden sorrow. She might as well let the damn demon kill her. What was the point in living if everyone around her kept dying?
She had had such hopes for Naruto. This kid had somehow gotten to her. She remembered seeing him once, a few years ago, training his ass off in the forest. That had interested her. This was a kid of maybe eight or nine years, and here he was, training like hell. She had been on patrol, and so hadn't stayed there, interested though she was. But when she got done with her beat some four hours later, she had spotted him again on her way back, still training away.
She had been intrigued.
She hadn't had a mission the following day, and so made it her task for the day to follow the kid and see what he did. The kid had gotten up at five o'clock in the morning, about two and a half hours before he was expected at the academy. And what did he do? He trained. Taijutsu, chakra control, weapons accuracy, everything. He hadn't stopped until he had noticed that he was going to be late for class. Grabbing his school supplies, he had raced off to school, munching on some old, dried bread on the way.
On the way there, she had seen all kinds of people glaring at the blonde. Shopkeepers, tradesman, waiters, cart-drivers, pedestrians… In fact, everybody except shinobi and children were glaring at the kid. Once he had nearly been run over by a cart, and instead of the driver apologizing, he had merely cussed out the blonde brat, calling him "Naruto".
Suddenly, it had clicked. That kid was the Kyuubi brat. Suddenly, he had become so much more interesting.
As the day had progressed she had watched as he tried his hardest in school, despite the open animosity of the majority of his teachers, and didn't ever give up, no matter how badly he was laughed at when he failed. He'd simply laugh at himself and then try again, putting everything he had into it. She had seen his attempts to befriend members of the class, and watched as he was turned down each time. At best, he was tolerated. At worst, he was isolated.
This had started to become painfully familiar.
And so she had made a habit out of checking up on him. Once or twice a week, when she wasn't out on a mission, she would follow him around for a few hours at a time. As time had gone on, she had learned more and more about this blonde enigma named Naruto. She looked on him as somebody who could understand, really understand, what Anko's life was really like. Kurenai tried her hardest, but she hadn't ever gone through that amount of raw suffering, never had had to deal with betrayal on such a base level. But Naruto… He could understand.
Maybe she wasn't alone.
But now she was.
She had failed Naruto. And Naruto had failed her.
And now the Kyuubi had won.
The Kyuubi eyed the woman with a tired eye. There she went, jumping to conclusions and making assumptions. It was lucky that the brat was interested in her; otherwise he would've killed her on the spot. But as it was…
"Get up, worm." He snarled, folding his arms with an exasperated snarl. "I would have speech with you." She moved slowly, woodenly, as if she no longer cared if she lived or died. The Demon Lord growled in annoyance; was this the woman who had tried to tell his container not to give up? He could hardly believe that this pathetic piece of trash before him had actually dared to defy him not five minutes ago.
Still, he didn't have long. He had better make this quick.
"By the black breath of Enma, I have no time for this. Arise, woman. Naruto wants to talk to you, though damned if I know why. In this humble Demon Lord's opinion, you're not worth the air you so selfishly breathe." The woman finally moved, rising to her feet with a strange, hopeful look in her eyes. "About damn time. There is one thing I want to make perfectly, absolutely clear. If this boy dies before his time, I will return. If you or your compatriots do anything to worsen his life dramatically, I will not be merciful. I expect you, not some other shinobi, you to be a companion to this boy. Remember that it is only by his will that you are not simply another carcass as of this moment."
He didn't bother to wait for her acknowledgement; he was nearly out of time. Instead, he turned to the hole he had blasted in the wall, having sensed the presence of one other individual he would need to have a word with. "Show yourself, Hokage."
The air shimmered around the doorway, revealing Sarutobi, who had hidden himself with a cleverly placed Genjutsu as he watched the proceedings.
"The Kyuubi no Yoko, I presume?" queried the elderly man, his eyes glimmering strangely. The Demon Lord gave him a mocking half bow.
"And how did you detect me?"
He scoffed at the old man. "Your genjutsu was pathetic. I've endured and overcome the Thirteen Illusions of the Demonic Court, as well as unlocking the Seven Great Mysteries. Such a little thing is child's play to understand." Sarutobi quirked an eyebrow, but a small trace of fear had entered the old man's eyes. Kyuubi smiled bestially; the old man had some knowledge. Interesting. But there was no time for this nonsense.
"Old Hokage, I hold your village ransom. At this moment, I could destroy this place, along with every living soul within ten leagues. I will not do so. Why? Because this boy has requested that I do not. I command you to remember that on this day, at this place, death and travesty on a scale that has never before been seen on this earth was averted only because of this boy, and only him. You would do well to show him the proper gratitude. This makes twice now that he has saved your village from my wrath. There will not be a third time. Do I make myself clear?"
"As crystal," muttered Sarutobi, eyeing the Kyuubi with that same strange expression. "And now what? Do you believe that you will simply go free, to live in that same wild and carefree manner as you once did? Do not be so foolish, Demon Lord."
Fangs gleamed evilly in the dim light.
"He who would attempt to threaten a demon is the true fool, old man. But, no. I do not expect to leave. I will return to whence I came, to the prison crafted by that suicidal blonde peasant who had the audacity to summon Death himself to the battlefield. But remember this; it is a prison no longer. I return by my will, and I have allied myself with Naruto. I may come or go at his will, and he will release me if I so ask." His crimson eyes glowed with a cruel fire, his mind dwelling longingly on the image of freedom, of this thrice-cursed village in flames, of carnage and catastrophe on an impossible scale. "Therefore, it would be wise, old man, to not antagonize me any further. And now, I must go. Fun though this has been, I feel that it is time for a nap…" With one last glare at the woman, he closed his eyes and relinquished his hold on the boy's body.
He fell through the darkness of the mind, through the shadows of thought. Like a crimson star, he fell in a brilliant flare of red light. And below him, steadily rising, an azure glow became visible. Naruto, returned from the recesses of his subconscious, was waking. And he, the Demon Lord, was falling asleep once more.
As the two approached each other, one descending, one ascending, time seemed to slow to a crawl. The Kyuubi, his eyes slowly closing from the immense weariness that was stealing over him, saw through half-lidded eyes the figure of Naruto, the boy who had been his unwilling jailor all through these long years, cradled in a cocoon of azure power.
And Naruto, waking from what seemed an eternity of slumber, opened his eyes slowly. And there, surrounded in a firestorm of crimson chakra, was the Kyuubi no Yoko, his form that of Naruto's own body. His prisoner, his curse, and his constant companion; the demon was all of these and more, yet Naruto found that he could feel no animosity towards the Kyuubi.
Blue eyes sought out red.
Azure met crimson in one final link, a connection forged in that heartbeat that would never entirely fade.
Then the Kyuubi slumbered, and Naruto awoke once more.
As the echo of the Kyuubi's words faded away, Anko stared in awe as Naruto's seemed to hunch in on itself, crumpling wearily to the cold stone floor. Anko stepped forward, catching the boy's body as it fell to the ground and holding him gently in her arms, a strange look in her eyes. Then, slowly, the oppressive aura that had infested the room faded away into nothingness.
The Kyuubi had gone, returned to the prison from whence it came.
But what of Naruto?
The Hokage watched with renewed hope as the boy's naked form stirred a little, as if the boy was awakening from a deep sleep. His arms moved and his hands twitched, and he drew in a long gasping breath of air. And then, slowly, his eyes fluttered open, revealing clear blue eyes without a hint of malice or anger. His tongue licked his dry lips, and he spoke softly, hesitantly.
"Will you… be my friend?"
She didn't know whether to cry or laugh with joy. So she merely nodded silently, holding the boy close to her. A rush of emotions swept over her, feelings that she hadn't allowed herself to have in many years, feelings that had brought back painful memories. But she felt no sorrow right now, no hurt, no betrayal. She didn't think about her destroyed childhood, her stolen innocence, her broken mind. She didn't even think about her one-time teacher, who had betrayed her so cruelly and twisted her mind and soul beyond recognition.
All that she could see was this boy in front of her, blue eyes alight with hope mingled with guilt, as if he wanted her to be his friend, but knew that he didn't deserve friends. Those eyes… They were just like hers. They were alike. They were the same.
She didn't have to be alone anymore.
She began to cry, releasing her emotions, letting herself go. She hadn't cried like this for as long as she could remember. She had never allowed herself to. Only in the shadows of the night, when she was completely and utterly alone, would she let herself break, and the tears would come, flowing silently down her cheeks in cold streams.
But she wasn't alone.
Naruto cried with her, joy mixed with guilt as he let his defenses crumble. His life had been so cold, so dark, so lonely. He had never had anyone to confide in, to be friends with. He had never experienced love, whether it was given or received. He had never had a father, a mother, a brother, a sister. He had never experienced the warm, glowing fire called love, which warmed the soul in times of bitter trials. And often, on the cold, lonely nights, when there was nothing about him but the dirty, dingy walls of his apartment, he would cry himself to sleep, wishing and praying for someone, anyone, to notice him, to befriend him…
To love him.
But he wasn't alone anymore. Neither of them had to be alone anymore. They had each other.
That was enough.
Anko had someone she could care about, someone who would care about her in return. Someone who wouldn't hate her just because she had been involved with that scaly bastard Orochimaru. Someone who would give her a chance to be human, a chance to feel wanted and needed by someone. Someone who she could hold, comfort, empathize with. Someone who really understood what it was like to experience true loneliness.
Uzumaki Naruto had given her a reason to live.
AN: Alright, a quick run-down on this. Although this is a one-shot, it was originally intended to be a full length story. To sum it up, Naruto would have been put under constant surveillance in order to determine just how strong the Kyuubi's hold over him was. The person for the job was Anko; mainly because Sarutobi had strong hopes that the two of them could help each other out. Anko would hate Naruto's guts, not liking being a babysitter, especially to such an annoying brat, and Naruto would hate Anko, deeming her a grade-A bitch. I had a whole plot worked out, as well as a new fighting style for Naruto that I haven't really seen before in any other stories. Just tryin' to be original.
Since I've already got too much on my plate, I figured I'd rewrite this first chapter into a one-shot, so that people could get a feel for what I had in mind. The actual thing, if it was written, would have a harsher and grittier feel to it, and there'd be more anger and guilt trips. The whole thing with the Kyuubi in the prison was not in the original chapter. In fact, most everything in this chapter that came after Naruto's little soliloquy in the interrogation chamber was made specifically for this one-shot. Weird, huh?
So, yeah, let me know if you want me to actually go somewhere with this. I don't mind writing it, but I'd like to know that there was actually some demand for it before I start it up. So… leave a review! ;P
'Til next time,
P.S. Almost ten thousand words… Not bad for a one-shot, eh? ;P