Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, go figure.
Story Title: The Unforgiven by Metallica
A small boy of five ran through the slightly crooked doorway to where a young woman toiled over a small stove preparing a simple rice dish.
She had heard him come in – his feet pounding loudly on the creaky wooden floorboards of their small home. She would have to speak to her husband about replacing them soon – the mildew was finally eating away at the lumber enough to make them quiver under the weight of her small family's feet. She wouldn't know what to do if her dear boy fell through and injured himself. The drop through the floor was nearly eight feet to the ground below their stilted house during this – the dry season.
Even though his tears were disguised by the streams of water that ran down from the mop of straight, black hair that sat atop the child's head, she could tell from his loud, wet sobs that he was crying. Quickly taking the food off of the stove and setting it on a wet piece of cloth folded on the end of a simple wooden table, she bent down to wrap the soaking child in her arms, holding him tightly to ward away the sobs that wracked his small body. And the cold.
"What's wrong, dear?"
The child held her tightly – his small hands balling into fists in her worn brown dress – as he pressed his small face into her embrace and dried his tears in her warmth. "The other boys and girls… the other boys and girls won't play with me. They say I'm weird. That I look funny."
The woman ran a finger through his damp hair and rubbed small, soothing circles into his back. Children could be so cruel at times, and the other children in their village had latched onto her boy's strangeness almost immediately. She would have to be strong for him. He would get through this eventually – it was a part of growing up after all.
"Shhh. It's all right, dear. They don't really mean those things. Shhh." She slowly rocked him back and forth, feeling his sobs grow less intense and his breathing slow as she made soothing sounds to comfort him. "Soon everyone will know just how special you are. Just wait, dear. Soon everyone will know. You'll just have to be strong and show them."
They stayed there like that for nearly ten minutes before her boy straightened and offered to help her finish cooking dinner.
He would be all right.
The boy, no more than eight years old, quietly stepped out of the shadows and cautiously walked towards the group of men sitting around a blazing fire.
"A kid? What do you want, boy? Shouldn't this be past your bedtime?"
The boy surveyed the men gathered carefully before answering softly. "I was wondering if you were ninja."
One man laughed, and soon the others joined in. "That we are, kid. What of it?"
The boy continued to watch them carefully as he picked his words. "I heard you could use magic. Like disappear into mist and make the waters attack. Is that true?"
The laugher returned, but the boy didn't flinch or shy away. He waited patiently until the boisterous men regained their senses.
"You're talking about ninjutsu, kid, and seeing as we're ninja, you'd be right to assume we can."
"Can you show me some?" The boy's expression hadn't changed, his eyes reflecting the firelight eerily as he watched the men – taking in every nuance, every motion.
"Why should we do that, kid?"
The boy slowly brought a bag from where it had rested on his back and set it before him. He opened it as the ninja watched on, only to pull out a small square-shaped object wrapped in paper. "I've made some food. I'm not great at it, but it's probably better than what ninja carry with them. I was wondering if we could… trade?"
"So you'll give us food if we show you some jutsu, eh? Sounds a bit fishy." The speaker paused for a moment in thought. "Then again, our field rations are pretty shitty." He stood up and walked towards the boy – whose eyes still latched onto his every movement – until he could reach down into the bag himself. He quickly removed another wrapped morsel and held it out to the boy. "Eat it."
The child took the food from the man and unwrapped it before devouring it enthusiastically.
"Looks alright to me, boys. Alright kid, you've got yourself a deal."
The boy nodded stiffly and approached the campfire behind the older man.
He already knew which questions he wanted to ask them while they ate.
"Wh…what the hell?" The man crawled backwards across the ground, cradling his blackened right hand to his chest and as he looked up to the small boy before him.
Around him five of his comrades lay nursing similar burns – a few of them wailing in agony. He watched in horror as the rest of his men – all seven of them – were taken down one by one by a mere child dressed in tattered and frayed old clothes. None of them were killed, luckily, but none of them were still in fighting condition. A few sported broken bones and deep cuts on top of the burns.
"What are ninja doing attacking this village?"
The voice was that of a child, but the menace hidden in it made him feel small and fragile – as though the speaker held nothing but contempt for him.
Coming here had been a mistake.
The small figure's bare heel crashed down on the fingers of his good hand and he gasped in pain, only stopping when he felt the cold steel of the boy's ninja-to against his throat.
He couldn't really call him a boy though. Monster seemed a better choice of word.
Even if he only looked to be ten or eleven.
"W-we're missing ninja. We were just raiding the town for food and valuables. We never meant to hurt…" The heel ground into his hand.
The man looked around at his comrades for help, but they were either too hurt or too cowed to come to his aid. The boy had beaten all thirteen of them without taking a single hit.
The small figure stared down at him for what seemed to stretch out for eternity. He was measuring his life as though it were a simple piece of string just waiting to be cut short. It was horrifying.
"You – all of you – work for me now."
"Wh-what? You can't be serious."
Cold, black eyes stared into his as he gazed up at death.
"Don't spit at my kindness, fool."
"How did you find this place?"
"I went looking."
"They still tell stories after all these years, do they?"
"To those who are willing to listen."
"And what makes you think that you will succeed in earning my loyalties when all of the others died, child?"
"Because, old man of the floods, I will never fail."
A flash of purest white rent the sky in two.
Thunder exploded, shattering the calm patter of raindrops on the muddy ground.
Then the plain was dark again.
"Another assassin? Is this the only way they see fit to end this war?" The figure rose from the soft soil as though it was liquid itself – the earth slipping away from his crimson armor like water off of a duck's back.
"I care nothing for their war, Lord Hokage – only for what they offer in return for my services."
"You're only a child. Why do you seek to throw your life away here?"
"I'm nearly seventeen years old, Lord Hokage. As to why I wish to fight you… I suppose you could say that it's because I admire you more than any other man in the world. I admire you as the strongest warrior – as a powerful leader. I want the things you have. It is my mission. My destiny."
The man's face was stern when he spoke, the disapproval clear in his voice. "Those things you admire are not goals – they are things I aspired to in order to make dreams reality. They are not ends worth devoting a life to – only stations along the journey to a meaningful destination. Regardless, I cannot be defeated here. I beg you, leave. I would rather not have your death weigh on my heart."
"I don't plan on dying, Lord Hokage. I require their reward, and even though they laugh and they doubt, they will give it to me whether they intended to or not. No one will stop me."
"And what is this reward you seek, child? Glory? Power?"
The young man shook his head, his shoulder-length black hair swaying slowly, weighed down by the falling rain. "No, Lord Hokage. Those things I will earn as well, but for your head…"
"For your head they offered me a country."
The man looked up from his position leaning over a large table – maps and field reports spread out to cover its surface completely. "Yes? What is it?"
"The delegation from Iwa has arrived, sir. The Tsuchikage's daughter is anxious to meet you."
A small frown pulled down the corners of his mouth. "Very well. Lead me to them."
The two men moved quickly – with long, quiet strides – out of the room and down a long, unadorned hallway until they reached a concrete staircase that twisted upwards. Nearly a hundred steps and four turns later, the men entered a room filled with ninja – some wearing the dull grays of Ame and others with the earthy browns of Iwa.
A young woman stepped forward, gave a short bow, and spoke, her rich brown hair falling lightly upon her shoulders. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, my Lord."
The man stood silently and appraised her for nearly a minute, the woman fidgeting slightly under his gaze. The silence dragged on until one of the Iwa jounin lifted his head to speak, but was stopped by the hard voice of his host.
"She will do." With that he turned and left the way he had come, not knowing or caring that the woman's face had fallen at his dismissal.
The Iwa jounin placed a hand on her shoulder and gave it a tight squeeze – the sympathy apparent on his face. His comrades gave her similar looks, but they did not offer any comfort to the woman.
The Ame ninja did their best to ignore her sadness as they showed her the way to her new quarters.
No one spoke.
They didn't know what to say.
"Young Takeshi's training is progressing rapidly, my Lord, but he is having some trouble grasping the higher ranked water element ninjutsu. I'm confident that given more time, he'll come to understand their workings, but I wonder, my Lord, if perhaps it wouldn't be better to spend some time training him yourself? The boy looks up to you so."
The jounin was cut off by the penetrating glare leveled on him by the man seated behind a plain but sturdy desk.
The seated man tilted his head back to look up at the subordinate before him, causing his long black hair – now prematurely speckled with strands of silver-gray – to slide off of his shoulders and down his back. "I have more pressing matters to concern myself with than teaching a few trifling jutsu to a boy who cares more for wasting his time running amok about the village than working to better himself. I have entrusted his training to you, Naoki, and I expect you to produce results." He turned back to his desk before flicking his gaze up once again. "Do not let him embarrass me, Naoki. That is all."
Naoki nodded and left silently. He wondered if anyone – let alone Takeshi – could live up to his master's expectations.
Only the master himself, most likely.
"So we meet again, Lord Hokage. A pleasure, as always."
"Sadly, I cannot in good conscience reply likewise. This will be our last battle here. The war is won."
"Indeed, the might of the forces of Fire Country are truly spectacular. I had the pleasure of stumbling upon your dear students not a week ago yet. Don't look so shocked, Lord Hokage. I didn't kill them. No, I don't believe I've seen such potential in any ninja I've fought before – and to think, they're all students of yours. As you've said, this war is drawing to a close – the outcome is obvious. I expect your students to live up to the reputation I've bestowed upon them."
"You seem too pleased with yourself for someone who has lost so thoroughly. I can only say that I regret not being able to see you dead myself."
"Haha! You may be right, Sarutobi. You may be right. But you and I… we persevere. We endure. My allies may have failed to live up to my expectations once again, but I intend to remain here for a good while longer."
"You disgust me."
"And you amuse me. Feared among the Kage you may be, Sarutobi, but we both know that you are not well matched against my powers. If I am to be destroyed as you so hope, it won't be by your hand. My fear, however, is that I accidentally kill you one of these times – that you fail to slip away like the tricky ape you are. What would I do with myself if we were unable to continue these delightful meetings? Don't glare at me so, Sarutobi. Your master looked at me the same way, and where did it lead him? You foolish Leaf ninja continue to stand behind flowery rhetoric and lofty illusions of peace when the reality of this world is that only the strong survive. Power is everything."
"And look what it's earned you. You truly are a monster."
"Maybe so, Sarutobi, but when has your Will of Fire earned you anything?"
"Every day of my life, but I'd never expect you to understand a thing like that."
"Sir! Third and Seventh squads have failed to report in from their latest patrol to the south, and reports confirm that Watanabe Tatsuya has been assassinated."
Cold eyes narrowed in fury. "Rebels again? I want these terrorists found and killed. Hunt them down with whatever resources you require, captain. I want names, locations, operations protocols. I won't allow these criminals to run amok in my own country!"
"Immediately, sir." The man fled.
He'd never seen his Lord so angry in all his time serving under him.
"Fools. You've crossed my borders and broken the terms of our cease-fire. I'm well within my rights to kill you where you stand, and I think I shall."
"I apologize, sir. This was our only recourse. I could not in good faith leave my comrades to die behind enemy lines when there was an alternative."
"An alternative? Wrong, boy! This is your death sentence as well as theirs. This, whelp, is why I despise Leaf shinobi. Your illogical sentimentality… it doesn't make an iota of sense. How those fools managed to brainwash an entire village, I have no idea. Now die with the rest. If you go quietly, I may find it in my heart to send your remains back to your precious forest."
"I'm afraid, sir, that I cannot allow that."
The young man was incredibly good.
Never before had he seen such a vast array of ninjutsu, and it made him furious that he was being held at bay by a single enemy.
His opponent – who must have been in his mid-twenties – moved with incredible skill and power for one so young. His long black hair swung freely as he fought across the field – only restrained by the odd white cloth that wrapped around his head and covered his eyes.
The pouring rain had soaked the cloth through though, and from the way the young man's head followed his movements, he knew that his opponent was not blind and could see through the bandage.
They stood – nearly thirty feet apart – at the edge of a forest into which his personal guardsmen had chased this young man's two compatriots. It had been a route. After years of searching, he'd finally been able to anticipate a high level assassination against one of his staunchest supporters and acted in the hopes that the leaders of this whole rebel movement would show themselves.
Only three ninja had arrived to do the job, as he was elated to find. They must have counted themselves strong if they were to attempt this attack with that number, as their target had a respectable guard detail of his own.
And they were strong. At least this one was.
But not strong enough.
He straightened as footfalls fell like raindrops around him. "Did you succeed?"
"The woman escaped, sir." The calming sound of the rain was broken by a heavy thump as something large hit the soft ground. "But this one did not."
He hadn't taken his eyes off of the young man who had performed so well against him, but sneered menacingly when he saw the figure's shoulders slump and his hands fist up. His opponent was obviously looking at the thing that his men had dropped.
He turned to take in the state of his men. All twelve had returned, he saw, but many showed signs of injury – small cuts and bruised or broken limbs. All three of the rebels had been strong, then.
"Shall we finish this one, sir?"
He looked back to young man, who still hadn't turned his head from the direction of the earlier thump. It was another young ninja – dead – with hair an odd shade of light orange.
"No. We've done enough for today." He turned to look at his opponent one last time. "Tell your leader that this is what happens to those who draw my wrath. I am Ame, boy. Only your own pain can come from opposing me."
Turning, he nodded to his men who proceeded to leap away in groups of four. A member of the last group reached down to pick up the corpse before departing.
"No. Leave the body. Give him something to remember me by."
"Noble of you, but… futile."
"Y-you are the c-criminal."
"Tell me who you are."
"Now I know you."
It was unbelievable. This was unbelievable.
Intellectually, he'd always known that one day he would die. That one day he could be killed.
But he never thought it would happen.
Not like this.
He looked into cold eyes – matte pools that held no sympathy, no hatred, not even any of the elation he would expect to find there. They seemed so indifferent – like he was staring at something dead. Something unfeeling.
And then he realized that he was.
A man that he'd seen as a corpse nearly a decade prior watched without emotion as his life slipped away and the world dimmed to nothingness.
He would have laughed, if he could.
He stared into those eyes until the end – never blinking.
You may kill me. You may erase me.
But you will never forget me.