A/N: OKAY. I'm so very sorry for this recent hiatus! I've been addicted to my ZoNa fic. xD But also, as anyone with a brain can tell, there's a lot going on in the manga right now. And I mean A LOT. However, fear not! This story is now 4 years old, and I'm finishing it, dammit! … Eventually.

Disclaimer: Still Kishi's. Uh huh, uh huh, I like it.

Chapter Thirteen

Paradise Island. It sure appeared that way.

Yet, people could be fooled by appearances.

Iruka and his team headed further inland and discovered the beautiful and lush forest behind the nickname of the island. However, there was no time to stop and admire. Tsunade had issued the order. Naruto was about to venture outside the island.

The plan was to send Shibi Aburame and the other team members just beyond the waterfall to keep Naruto inside. Iruka lingered outside, eavesdropping on the conversation. Shibi's attempt to convince Naruto to go back obviously wasn't working. It would take someone that Naruto trusted completely for him to believe that all was well. And that's where Iruka came in.

"Shibi-san, I'll talk to him."

Iruka entered and moved to the very front of the group. He watched Naruto's face as the young genin responded in surprise.

"I-Iruka-sensei! What're you doing on this island?" Naruto asked. Iruka smirked and chuckled a little.

"We now have a secondary mission on this island." Iruka explained. "And we're here to back you up. We heard this place is dangerous." He said it as though he were reading it off a piece of paper. As though it was all scripted.

"So why can't I go outside?" Naruto pressed.

"There's an unidentified creature that we're trying to confirm." Iruka continued. "That's because—"

"I sensed the Kyuubi's chakra!" Naruto interrupted. "Is that related somehow?" Iruka paused, but only for a moment. He couldn't falter now.

"O-Oh, yeah. The creature seems to possess the Kyuubi's chakra. I guess there were others like the Kyuubi here. We can't afford to let you out and rile up the Kyuubi inside you. That's why we want you to stay inside and lay low."

Naruto had a puzzled look on his face, but it disappeared before he spoke.

"Is that why Yamato-taichou hasn't come back?"

Shibi explained to Naruto how Yamato's mokuton would, of course, be the best method of suppressing this "creature." Yet, Iruka blocked it all out. He was solely focused on the smile on his own face. How it was so fake, so insincere. He was tormented inside. Once again, he was spoonfeeding Naruto all of these lies. He had stopped trying to tell himself that all of this would keep Naruto safe. He was still lying. He was still betraying Naruto's trust.

Once Shibi had finished speaking, Iruka swallowed dryly and raised one arm.

"Come on. Let's go back inside." Iruka said to Naruto.

The genin had a serious look on his face and didn't respond. When he did, he took a fighting stance and activated Sage Mode. Iruka frowned.

"If those animals are running amuck, I'll suppress them. Let me check them out!" Naruto declared.

Naruto sprang forward, causing two of the guards to run toward him. Instead of just pushing them out of his way, Naruto pushing them straight ahead… and out from behind the waterfall. Iruka clenched his teeth as the rest of the team joined the action. Once they were outside again, Naruto had been restrained by the Shadow Possession jutsu. By then, it was too late.

Naruto's expression was one of horror. His entire body was shaking visibly. "W-What's going on?" he asked slowly.

Iruka feared the worst. He sensed it all with Sage Mode, he thought.

"Why is this happening?!" Naruto demanded. Iruka felt that there was nothing more he could do. Naruto knew that things were terribly wrong, and no story in the world could convince Naruto that everything was alright. Because everything definitely wasn't. Iruka had no choice.

"It's war…" Iruka answered. "Madara is waging war on us." Naruto's eyes widened. Shibi took a step toward Iruka.

"Iruka, you—!"

"Shibi-san, let's stop lying." Iruka told him. "Naruto isn't stupid. We should tell him the truth and try to make him see where we're coming from."

In spite of the whole situation, Iruka felt a slight weight come off of his shoulders. This is what he had wanted all along. He wanted Naruto to know everything. He didn't want to keep all of this a secret from Naruto. Even if it risked Naruto's safety, Iruka couldn't bear to keep the truth from his former student any longer. Even if it made Naruto very angry.

"My comrades are fighting and going through hell… Why are you keeping all of this from me?!" Naruto demanded again.

"This is a war to protect you." Iruka said as calmly as he could. "Madara launched a full-scale assault. In order to capture the Kyuubi and Hachibi inside you and Killer Bee. If he succeeds in getting both Bijuu, his jutsu will be complete, and this world will end! Protecting you means protecting the future, and protecting everyone. Everyone is putting their lives on the line. They are fighting to protect you." Iruka could hear that his voice now had a sharp edge to it. "Naruto, your battle is with yourself. This is where you must endure it. Now, let's go back in."

Naruto's eyes were closed. And when he opened them again, his golden eyes stared at Iruka with determination.

"I'll stop this war by myself." Naruto explained. "I'll take on all the hatred and the pain. This is my duty!"

"Haven't you been listening?!" Iruka finally snapped. "You have the Kyuubi inside you! This isn't only about you, Naruto!" Naruto's hands were clenched into fists.

"You were the very first teacher who recognized me, yet you're only concerned about the Kyuubi! Why can't you have faith in me?!" Naruto yelled.

"Don't act like a spoiled brat!" Iruka shouted. "To me, you are…!"

Iruka then remembered so long ago, during that dark night, when Mizuki had given Naruto the forbidden scroll. Iruka remembered sitting up against a tree, feeling so weak and defeated. Yet, even now, he stood by those words. That Naruto wasn't just a demon fox or a monster. Naruto was a ninja of Konoha. Iruka never stopped believing that. Iruka never stopped caring about Naruto because of that.

Iruka looked at the ground as his mind returned to the present.

"To me, you are… an important student." Iruka said. "And I think of you as my little brother."

Naruto looked at Iruka with wide eyes, and the eery glow of gold faded back to Naruto's natural blue.

"The enemy leader is targeting you with everything he's got." Iruka continued. "How can we allow you to face such danger? And besides, there is no reason for you to shoulder that burden alone."

"I'm different from before." Naruto assured Iruka. "I've become stronger! And Sensei, you're the one who gave me that headband."

Iruka didn't speak. He glanced down at the ground where the headband had landed. Wordlessly, he walked over to it, bent down and picked it up. He then headed toward Naruto.

"Iruka." Shibi seethed.

As Iruka crossed the water, he never broke eye contact with Naruto. He was amazed at just how much Naruto had grown. From that goofy Academy student to the young man he had become, Naruto had really matured. Iruka stopped in front of Naruto and offered the headband. They both looked down at it briefly before meeting each other's eyes once more. Naruto placed his hand on top of the headband. The two men stayed that way for a moment before Iruka let Naruto take the headband. However, the second it left his hand, Iruka spoke.

"No!"

Naruto gasped as Iruka trapped him within a barrier.

"I still can't let you go!" Iruka told him. Naruto looked to the ground, a sad expression on his face.

"Sensei, didn't I tell you I'm stronger now?" Naruto asked. "A barrier like this…"

Suddenly, Naruto's entire body was engulfed in what appeared to be flames. Iruka inhaled sharply, astonished. Luckily, it wasn't fire. It was chakra. Bright red and orange chakra. Iruka could feel the power emanating from Naruto. The shadow that had its hold on Naruto now receded. From out of nowhere, Naruto was then swarmed by insects. Iruka had no doubt that Shibi had acted. However, Iruka's eyes widened in shock. Naruto easily escaped the bugs and leaped into the air. Naruto rushed off, his headband in his right hand.

Shibi yelled orders to the other team members. They were soon heading after Naruto. Iruka remained where he was, gazing off in the direction they had left. That Naruto had left.

Iruka then confirmed that Naruto would find his letter, the one he had managed to tuck into the headband before giving it to Naruto. He recalled sitting at his desk, writing it. He asked countless questions and read it aloud several times to make sure that the letter was perfect. It had to say everything that Iruka felt on just a small piece of paper. He wanted to get it right.

His peer reviewer, Kakashi, appeared from the kitchen and moved behind Iruka. He folded his hands across Iruka's chest and nuzzled his masked face into Iruka's hair. Iruka sighed and leaned back in his chair, placing his own arms over Kakashi's. Iruka felt Kakashi kiss the top of his head.

"I don't think there are any words to keep Naruto from leaving." Iruka said dismally. Kakashi chuckled a little.

"No, there aren't." he agreed softly. "Let him go, Iruka. He's going to enter this war whether any of us like it or not. But, I think you've made it clear as to why you're doing this."

Iruka moved his hand away from Kakashi to pick up the letter and scan over it once more. He had looked at it so many times that he probably had it memorized by now. A small smile came to Iruka's lips as he turned his head and looked at Kakashi.

"You're right. Once he makes his escape… this is all I can say to him."

Iruka's thoughts once more returned to the present as he continued to stand there. Just then, he started reciting the letter in a quiet voice.

"Knowing you, you will rush to the battlefield. That's how determined you are. If you are reading this letter… it means I wasn't able to stop you. Ever since Tsunade-sama ordered me to detain you on Kumogakure's secret hidden island, I've had this letter ready, just for this purpose. I'm disappointed in myself for failing my mission. I don't know if I'll even be able to get you this note, but there's something you need to hear from me. You've gone off, so this is the only thing left to say: Come back alive, no matter what."

Iruka's lips pressed into a firm line.

I'm sorry, Naruto… he thought glumly. I'm weak. I act like your older brother, but I've never been able to protect you.

Suddenly, the water splashed from behind Iruka. He looked over his shoulder to find a dark-skinned, very musclur man who wore sunglasses. The man had a headband with the mark of Kumogakure.

"So, he's gone… fool, that fool." Killer Bee said. Iruka turned around to face Killer Bee and spoke very shyly.

"Killer… Bee-san, right? I need to ask you a favor." Iruka then bowed, closing his eyes. "Please protect Naruto!" There was a moment of silence before Bee responded.

"That's not the way to appeal, you see." Bee explained. "You have to raise your fist at me."

Iruka returned to an upright position, widening his eyes a little. However, as he had been instructed, he raised his right arm and made his hand into a fist.

"L-Like this?" Iruka asked. Bee took a step forward, his fist raised as well, and their knuckles touched. Bee smiled widely.

"Gotcha! Fool, ya fool!" Then, Bee's smile fell a little bit, but only because he had realized where he had seen Iruka before.

"It's you…" Bee commented. "You're always in Naruto's heart. You are his state of mind." Iruka's eyes widened, and he could swear he felt tears threatening to form.

"Me? In Naruto…?" Iruka said in surprise. Bee dropped his fist.

"I don't know what you did to Naruto." Bee explained. "But to him, you are something special. Even though my rap is scornful. Naruto listens to all you say. Naruto's kept it securely inside him, to this day. What has protected Naruto all this time… were your words to him."

Suddenly, Bee took off and ran through the woods after Naruto. Iruka bowed once more, not just out of immense respect, but also because tears freely flowed down his face. When he stood up again, he sniffled and tried to wipe his eyes with his sleeve. Yet, after a minute or two, Iruka stopped trying. These were tears of absolute happiness. Why would he want to stop them?

All along, Iruka had worried and fretted that he was fading out of Naruto's life, that he didn't even really have the biggest place in Naruto's life to begin with. He was just Naruto's Academy instructor after all. Kakashi was Naruto's sensei, and Yamato was Naruto's team leader, even if only briefly. Jiraiya was Naruto's master. They were the ones that truly impacted Naruto's life.

Iruka had never been so wrong.

He was now crying, smiling and laughing. So Naruto really did take everything he had to say to heart. Iruka couldn't believe it. He felt silly for worrying that he was no longer a big part of Naruto's life. After hearing what Bee had said, Iruka knew that he was actually one of the biggest parts of Naruto's life. And he always had been. He was always in Naruto's heart, just as Naruto was in his.

Iruka finally took a deep breath and let it out again. He looked up to the sky. His smile fell, but only a little.

Alright, Kakashiit's your turn. Naruto's headed your way!

A/N: So, I'm still wickedly behind from where the manga is, but I'm going to try and fix that with the next chapter! Try being the key word. xD Anyway, it's been a long time coming, but thanks to everyone who's decided to keep up with this story! Hopefully we'll see its end just as we see the series end!