Disclaimer: see first chapter
AN: I really don't like this chapter, because it seems…I dunno, rushed. But it took forever and just about killed me to write, and I am not going to rewrite it again. So yeah. Enjoy.
Also, I'm going to go to a summer camp (yay!) for the next…three weeks. I'm sorry! But I'll be stuck without a computer or internet for most of that time, so I probably won't update for a looong while now. D:
Chapter Seven: Breaking the News
When Naruto woke up, the first thing he noticed was that he was not in the forest. The light was too bright for the gloomy ambiance of the trees; it was almost blinding, even with its full radiance blocked by the curtains. He had seen rooms before, but it had been such a long time ago he could barely remember (just the outlines of bare walls and blank faces), and those rooms were nothing like this one (they were neat to a fault and glaringly empty of everything except people who avoided him, but this room was messy, strewn with things he did and did not recognize, full of scents that he had never smelled before).
The second thing was that he was alone (no silver-haired stranger-who-was-not, no comforting dark, lonely eyes, no softly spoken words to show that he was still wanted).
Panic welled up inside him almost immediately, like a silent yet terrifying shadow that threatened to swallow him up into oblivion in this strange and foreign world (alone like the day he was driven away, alone like he had always been). His breath shortened, coming out in panicked gasps, his pupils dilated as he looked around wildly, searching for that wasn't there.
In his alarm, he did not notice as he shuffled backwards as if he could escape the loneliness, towards the edge of the sofa. The fall came suddenly, when he felt the edge of his hand slip off the cushion, and he suddenly found that his hand was supported only by air.
He fell (tumbled backwards, breath leaving his lungs, world spinning in blurred hues), and landed with a soft thump on the carpeted ground.
The sound, though quiet, woke the other occupant of the room. Pakkun blinked open his brown eyes sleepily, sniffing around for something. The curiosity in his eyes quickly became alarm, because the scent of fear had filled the room like miasma. Its source was the small bundle of blond and torn clothes on the floor, emanating waves of panic and desperation.
"Naruto?" the pug prodded, leaning over the sofa. Surely a mere fall could not have caused such a fearful reaction?
His gaze was met with a wide eyes full of confusion and terror. The two of them maintained eye contact for a few seconds, neither daring to breath, before the wide eyes disappeared, hidden behind skinny arms outstretched to fend off something, but the fear remained palpable in the air.
The pug was starting to worry. This was not normal behavior for, well, anything, let alone a four-year-old boy. He opened his mouth to call out once more, when—
The boy let out a pitiful sound (it reminded Pakkun eerily of the whimpering of wolves who have lost their packs, desolate and despairing), then stopped moving, as if he had frozen in panic, but that was not the thing that had distracted the nin-dog. Instead, it was the murderous, red aura coming from the boy, a killing intent that seemed to have a mind of its own, that drew his attention.
Pakkun had stood by his master against missing-nins and enemy shinobi with all levels of power, but he had never seen anything like this (it made his hackles rise, his tail quiver, his breath quicken, his whole body shake with primal fear of something vastly more powerful than he). Except…
Four years ago, during the Kyuubi attack, Pakkun realized with a feeling of dread. He remembered all too well the overwhelming aura of the Kyuubi no Youko, and the destruction that it had wrought (he had woken up to nightmares of it for a long time afterwards).
The aura that the boy was now giving off was unmistakably the Kyuubi's chakra, albeit an extremely watered-down version of it.
I have to tell Kakashi about this! The thought was the first to run through Pakkun's head once he recovered from the initial shock. The pug stood up immediately, heading towards the open window. And, with a final reluctant glance at the still immobile boy, he disappeared through the window, in search of his master.
Kakashi ran, leaping across rooftops and skimming by walls, as fast as he could towards his apartment. Pakkun's words were burned in his mind, urging him on, pounding through his head like a heartbeat. He…needs you.
The silver-haired teenager stopped suddenly when he reached his window, balancing on the windowsill with his body halfway in. His visible eye widened as he realized just what was wrong with Naruto. Though he could not see the boy from where he stood, he could still feel the raging red aura (diluted, but still murderous, and still very demonic) that lashed out towards him, in response to his presence.
He dodged it easily, launching himself fully into the room as the demonic chakra missed the edge of his vest by mere inches. Out of instinct, he rolled to his feet and assumed a defensive position.
"Naruto!" he called out, hoping that the boy was still lucid enough to respond. He didn't know what exactly had caused the boy's panic, but he hoped that the boy still had some vestige of control over the demon inside him. What the hell happened here?
And to his relief, the sound of his voice was like a bucket of cold water on the flames, and the red chakra immediately lessened, withdrawing towards the boy's body, unwillingly, it seemed, forced back into its confinement.
Kakashi stayed crouched defensively for a few seconds, just in case, but when the Kyuubi's chakra didn't come again, he slowly relaxed his stance.
His thoughts instantly went to the boy, who lay on the ground, still unmoving, his eyes squeezed shut. "Naruto?" Kakashi murmured, kneeling down beside the boy and placing a hand on his small shoulder.
Naruto was shuddered slightly at his touch, but he opened his eyes. Kakashi was immediately struck by the boy's gaze; his sky-colored eyes were dull and lifeless, his gaze seemed to look through things instead of at them. A feeling of sympathy rose in the silver-haired teen; he had seen the same look in a reflection of mismatched eyes not so long ago, the look of someone who has lost more than he can take, who has been given hope only to have it taken away in an instant (and he of all people should know what the boy feels like).
Blue eyes slowly focused again, alighting on the silver-haired teenager. As if waking from a dream (a nightmare) the boy sat up, his eyes not leaving Kakashi's dark orb. Then, with a sudden burst of speed, the boy leapt up and, before Kakashi could react, threw his arms around the teen's neck in a hug.
Kakashi blinked in surprise; even in his crouched position, his body stiffened instinctively to the foreign feeling of close contact (when was the last time someone had hugged him? he wondered, probably not since Rin…). But the boy didn't let go, as if Kakashi might disappear again if he let go.
Gradually, Kakashi let his body relax and awkwardly returned the hug as the boy buried his face in the teen's shoulder. "I won't leave again." he murmured, not knowing what else to say.
But apparently the boy understood, because he released his grip on Kakashi's neck, and backed up enough to stare into Kakashi's neck, with a very serious expression for such a young face. Promise? His eyes seemed to request.
Naruto nodded, his face lighting up with another radiant smile. He would definitely hold the teen to his promise.
Afterwards, when Pakkun had arrived and been assured that everything was fine, Kakashi decided that the best thing to do was to go to the Hokage and tell him about the slight incident that morning, just in case. But first, he had to get Naruto some decent clothes and a bath. The boy's current garments were practically shredded from half a year of continued use, and what was left could barely be recognized as a once-white t-shirt and shorts. And the skin that was exposed was mostly covered in dirt, grime, and even what smelled like dried blood (specifically, Kakashi's blood).
The bath was easily taken care of, especially since Kakashi had plenty of experience washing his nin-dogs (they always needed baths after particularly dirty missions). Naruto seemed to have no problem with getting wet, and, after the initial shock, he watched the bubbles of soap suds with wide-eyed awe, causing Kakashi to wonder sadly if he had ever been washed with soap before.
The clothes, however, were not so easily handled. The ANBU flipped through his own meager closet (black shinobi clothes, black masks, dark sweaters, etc), searched through the rest of his apartment and came up blank. It was not a surprise; he had thrown out all his childhood clothes, partly because he had no room for them and partly because they were mostly worn out and brought back unpleasant memories (a tear from a graze with a kunai, a strip torn off to bandage the gash).
And though he would liked to have given Naruto something that actually fit after six months of wearing the same shirt as it grew smaller and smaller, but there was not enough time. Finally, he compromised and gave the boy one of his t-shirts (plain black, like most of his things), which was long enough to reach past Naruto's knee.
Kakashi frowned, glancing at Naruto thoughtfully as the boy hugged his teddy bear—still dirty and faded—to his chest while picking at the hem of his shirt with his other hand. He had noticed that throughout the whole time, and even since he had found the boy the night before, Naruto had not said one word. This observation worried him, because he knew that children Naruto's age should be talking non-stop, not this…taciturn.
The boy seemed to feel his gaze, and turned to look at him with wide, blue eyes, slightly fearful as if he had done something wrong. Kakashi quickly turned his frown into a sort-of smile, something he hoped was comforting. Evidently, it was enough to reassure Naruto, and the boy went back to picking at the edge of his shirt.
"Come on, Naruto. We need to go see the Hokage-sama." Kakashi said quietly. Naruto tilted his head, looking confused. Hokage…sama…?
"The old man," Kakashi clarified, knowing that Naruto must have seen the Sandaime before, "With the big red hat and white robes."
A flash of recognition passed through the boy's eyes, accompanied by some unease, as if he didn't quite recall completely (the only thing he remembered was a kind smile and a smoky scent). But he nodded anyways, a sharp, surprisingly quick incline of his head hiding nervous eagerness to meet another familiar stranger.
Kakashi took that as a good sign, but, he thought with disappointment, still no words.
"Let's go." He said, opting to use the door this time. He took a step out, then paused as Naruto did not follow. Looking back inquisitively and wondering with a bit of dread if the boy had some innate fear of meeting strangers as well, he was taken by surprise when Naruto's small hand slipped into, or rather grabbed onto, his own.
The boy's eyes were filled with a determination (he would go out, he was not scared) and well-hidden apprehension (there was nothing to fear, if he was with the silver-haired person, right?). He tightened his grip on Kakashi's hand and started out the door.
Hidden by his mask, another small smile surfaced on Kakashi's face. It was a good start.
In the Hokage tower, the Sandaime Hokage flipped through the mission reports, not really seeing the words. The few times his assistants came in, he listened patiently to their complaints which he had heard countless times before (Hatake was still missing from the hospital, Maito Gai was acting stranger than usual, a suspicious man with long white hair was seen around the women's bathhouse…), and dismissed them with a careless wave of his hand. It was all in a day's work, along with the piles of paperwork and mission reports he had somehow accumulated.
Really, he was getting too old for this.
A knock on his door drew his attention away from the paperwork. It was a welcome sound, indicating anther break from the tedious task of reading print that was truly too small for his aging eyes. Even listening to another useless complaint was better than the strain that paperwork was on his eyesight. "Come in." he intoned, putting down his pen.
To his surprise, it was not the chunin assistant of his, but, of all people, Hatake Kakashi. The teen opened the door with his shoulder, his broken arm was unusable, and his other hand seemed to be occupied, though how the Sandaime couldn't see, as it was hidden behind the threshold.
"Kakashi-kun," he greeted, feeling a sense of déjà-vu. He came here the other day as well, didn't he? "Shouldn't you be in the hospital?"
Kakashi shrugged, seemingly nonchalant, but there was a rigidity to his posture that implied he had something important to say. The Sandaime raised his eyebrows, "Do you need to talk again?" he asked kindly.
This seemed to get a response from the teen. His eye flicked down guiltily in a decidedly un-Kakashi-like way, and he mumbled something inaudibly. The Hokage blinked, and took it as an affirmative. "Come inside then." He invited the teen, still stuck halfway inside the room and halfway out.
"I'm sorry," Kakashi muttered, this time loud enough for the Hokage to hear, "I've been holding out on you."
This time, the Sandaime was very confused. "Holding out on me? Kakashi, what are you-" His next words, however, were caught in his throat, as Kakashi moved fully into the room, gently trailing the reason his left arm was occupied.
He was thinner than the Sandaime remembered, and dressed in what appeared to be one of Kakashi's dark-colored t-shirts, which was long enough to reach his knee. And his hair was longer, as if it had not been cut in a long time, and slightly tangled as well. But the blue eyes and whisker marked cheeks were unmistakable.
The Sandaime felt suddenly as if he had knocked a few years of his current age. After all, what was paperwork and small print and even the monotony of listening to the same complaints, when he had suddenly presented with something he thought he had lost (and maybe, just maybe, he could save this generation, starting with this child)?