Chapter 2: Secrets
Trees passed by in a blur as the two raced from branch to branch. Ino taking in her surroundings as they hopped from branch to branch in a casual pace. The forest simply left her awe struck.
The trees were as big as the ones in the forest of death and just a thick. The leaves, however, where much bigger than any leaves back home. Even more stranger were their colors. During this time of the year trees would began to shed their leaves as they would change from green to different shades of brown or red. These trees apparently didn't follow that rule, much more, the leaves were either a bright pink or blue, varying from tree to tree.
The animals they had pass had seemed unusual as well. Monkeys, cats, small and large and various types of bird with beautiful color schemes that rivaled rainbows in diversity. While she had seen picture of monkeys and were familiar to the cats and birds back home, all of these were completely alien to her. Naruto probably didn't realize it, but she did. These were most likely creatures never seen by human eyes.
Her eyes drifted down below as she looked and analyzed the grassy floor. It was so strange to her. With the blanket of tree tops covering the sky, she was sure that not enough sunlight reached below for nearly anything to grow. And with all the trees around, they probably soaked up all the rain that touched the ground, much more, their roots should be killing anything that grows around it. Things didn't make sense at this place.
A faint blue glow caught the corner of her eye as she landed on a branch and came to a sudden stop. She wobbled forward from the unchecked moment before she managed to catch her balance. Her pale blue eyes focused on the faint blue as she tried to register what it was. Was that chakra?
Her stop didn't go unnoticed as Naruto came to a stop several branches over and looked at his companion. Naruto cringed when he looked at her eyes, a sight he was all too familiar with. Her eyes sparkled like an eight year old girl who just been told she was getting a pony for her birthday. Something had definitely caught her interested.
"Hey, look!" Ino pointed downward excitedly before leaping off the branch. Naruto groaned in annoyance and followed.
"It's so beautiful." Ino stared at what she considered the most beautiful flower she had ever seen. Her hand lightly stoked the light blue petals, analyzing every detail about it from the texture to the shade of coloring. It reminded her of a tulip in a way, the closer she got to the tips of the petals, the softer the petals became. Each tip was curved outwards similar to that of a rose
"We stopped for a flower?" Naruto shook his head in disapproval. While he did dabble with some gardening in the past, he mostly grew herbs as they seemed more practical than flowers. Plus he found herbs easier to maintain.
"Not just any flower, you idiot. This is called a Larmes. It was thought to be extinct a long time ago." She explained, prideful of her knowledge about numerous types of flowers, ancient or not.
"So?" Naruto shrugged his shoulders. It's just a stupid flower. He noted dully. I'll never understand women.
"You really do lack class, you know that? This flower was used a lot during the first Great Shinobi War. Its' nectar, while harmless, if you mix it with certain enzymes it'll make a powerful muscle relaxant that targets the lungs, causing asphyxiation." Ino said while standing up and brushing the dirt from her knees.
Naruto scratched the back of his head, "As-fix-itation?" He hated big words he wasn't used to. It wasn't that he was dumb, far from it. Just the majority of the teachers during his academy days did their best at making him learn as little as possible. Not that it mattered anyways, he learned best with hands on experience than from a text book.
Ino sighed in defeat, "You really are dense ya know? It means you die from lack of air." She stood up and brushed the dirt and grass from her knees and placed her hands on her hip.
"Oh." Naruto shrugged his shoulders and attempted to play it off, "I knew that."
"Riiiiiiiiiiiiight." Ino didn't even try to cover up the sarcasm. She watched with confused interest as the genin in front of her began to sniff the air similar to that as a dog. He spun various directions, trying to get a lock on where the scent was coming from. He took a few steps to her right, and then looked at her with a smile.
"We're in luck. Think I just found water." Ino watched him take off in a half-paced jog, a slight bounce added to his steps.
"Smell water? What is he, part bloodhound?" A dumbfounded look struck her features before realizing her companion had no intention of waiting on her. "Wait up!" She sprinted as fast as her legs allowed until she managed to catch up, then slowed her pace to match his.
Her eyes drifted to his back, watching it with interest as they moved through the forest. The gash on his back was long, and the bandages she could see through the tear were stained crimson with week old blood. She didn't even realize that he was wounded. No wonder why he had insisted she lead earlier that morning.
"Your wounded." She voiced her concern.
"Ah this? Its nothing." He shrugged it off as if it was old news. "I just got careless around Kisame."
"That Akatsuki guy back on the ship?" She asked. She always found it strange at how he knew things about that vile group when most of Konoha knew nothing about them. Names, styles and what they looked like, information that should've been classified.
He nodded while raising his left arm to move a small branch aside. Their narrow clearing started to get brighter and brighter, alerting the two they were about to exit the tall forest. As soon as they exited the trees they found themselves at the edge of a cliff.
"Now what?" The kunoichi questioned. Naruto looked over the edge and analyzed the steep slope that lead them to their target. The dirt seemed soft with little rocks though it had several tree roots sprouting out.
Ino watched with suspicion as Naruto's lips carried a mischievous smirk. The pit of her stomach groaned as she knew she was about to get dragged into something stupid.
"Jump." Naruto happily chirped.
He grabbed her hand and leaped off the cliff with Ino cursing him at the top of her lungs. They landed on the steep slope with their legs slightly bent to avoid accidentally locking the knee. The momentum, steepness of the slope and gravity was more than enough to pull them down into a wild slide, and regardless how much chakra they pushed to their feet, there was no way they were going to stop.
The slide was fast and with the way the dirt was, Ino struggled to keep her balance. Her arms were held high to her up to the side, as if they were wings, and used them to maintain balance. She looked at Naruto as he seemed to have a much easier time at it than she did. His body was turned so the left leg was forward while the right leg was back, bent much more than the other leg. His right hand was held back with the fingers lightly gracing the slope to help maintain his balance and speed.
In sense, he reminded her of a surfer she seen at the beaches in Wave Country and he was just riding a massive wave. They came to the bottom of the slope and leaned forward with their arms in front. At the last second they jumped and hit the ground in a roll.
"You idiot!" Ino stood up angry. "You could've gotten us killed!"
Naruto held up his hands defensively, "Ah but I didn't." He pointed out matter-of-factly.
"That's beside the point! I've never done anything like that and your in no condition to be jumping around like a monkey in the trees." She scolded and threw up her arms angrily. "Idiot." Ino stormed off.
He squinted his eyes in confusion and stroked his chin. While that may have not been his brightest plan, he didn't agree think she should've gotten that mad at him. It wasn't like they had any alternatives to getting down to begin with.
"Hey… Naruto." He heard Ino, her voice had lost the anger she had previous, and looked in her direction. She was standing still, shaking uncontrollable. Was she still angry with him? He knew he wasn't exactly her favorite person, hell, he figured he was probably on bottom of her list of people she tolerated. Any lower and he figured he'd probably be movedonto her be moved onto her make-life-hell list.
She suddenly spun around and held up two fingers to signal the victory sign. "We found water!" She cheered happily. Sure enough, right behind his long haired companion not too far off was the most beautiful lake he had ever seen.
"Seems like your nose is actually useful." Ino teased and dashed for the lake, jumping in head first clothes and all.
"And that's my report." Shikamaru said as he waited for a response from Tsunade.
Tsunade pressed her fingers together in deep thought as her hard stare rested on the injured jonin before her. His arm was in a cast and sling, a reminder of his failure last week. He was told to consider himself lucky that he escaped with only a broken arm and a couple of broken ribs. Unfortunately he didn't share their same optimism with Ino and Naruto missing.
Tsunade's eyes drifted onto Chouji, who was sporting a brand new pair of crutches for his broken leg. His face was bruised on both cheeks, with black right eye and a bandage over the bridge of his broken nose. As Shikamaru delicately put it, he looked like shit.
"I see." Shikamaru and Chouji were caught off guard from her small response. Her voice was passive and calm yet it lacked the normal 'respect me or else' presence it usually carried.
Something's out of place here. Shikamaru thought.
"Um… Lady Tsunade… errr Hokage ma'am?" Chouji spoke up, nerves threatening to take control of his legs.
Almond eyes rested on the large ninja, "What's on your mind, Akimichi."
"If Akatsuki are after these things," He hesitated nervously. He feared he was about to cross a line of no return, but he and Shikamaru discussed this before coming up here. They had to get the truth if either one of them was planning on getting any sleep. "jinchūrikis. Then why are they after Naruto?"
Tsunade was caught off guard, shocked at the question. For once in her life, she was at a lost for words. Truthfully, she wished for the day when Shikmaru and the rest of his generation was ready for the truth. A day when she believed Naruto could walk out with his head held high and be accepted for what he was instead of hated for what he wasn't.
"There are some things best left unanswered, Akimichi." Inwardly she believed the two in front of here capable with this sort of secret, but she needed to bury any doubt she had about them first. Her hand snaked its way to the first drawer on her right and pulled out a bottle of saki and a shot glass.
"Lady Tsunade, is now a good time to drink?" Shikamaru questioned, his eyes narrowed as if daring Tsunade to tell him yes. He knew the Hokage sometimes drank in her office but she never touched the bottle during a meeting.
"Call it liquid courage." Tsunade twisted the cap and filled up the shot glass. "Fuck it." She brought the bottle to her lips and took a few gulps.
"Troublesome woman. If you want to play games, let's play." Shikamaru thought.
"Come on, Shikamaru. It's close to lunch time anyways." Chouji began to hobble toward the door with his crutches.
"Yeah, I'm beginning to get a lil hungry myself." Shikamaru turned toward Chouji with a mischievous smirk. "I think I eat a fox."
Glass shattered as all eyes reflectively shot toward the source, Tsunade's shattered bottle of saki was in the corner, its content against the wall and floor. "And what are you implying, Nara?" Tsunade's voice thundered around the room.
"Checkmate." Shikamaru knew he struck a nerve. His next move was either going to put him in the grave from severe blunt trauma or get him the information he needed.
"Akatsuki is searching for jinchūrikis, or specifically, the tailed beasts. Naruto happens to be one of their targets." Shikamaru slipped his hands into his pocket and contemplated what to say next. He finally settled on explaining his suspicions first before making any accusations.
"I'm not sure if the others have noticed, but Naruto heals much faster than any human should. Then there's that second chakra he posses. Back then I asked Naruto myself if he has a bloodline limit and he told me no. I figured there was something unnatural about him, but couldn't place my finger on what it was. Before I could talk to him about it again he left on his training with Jiraiya and eventually forgot." He explained as Tsunade picked apart every bit of his word. She searched for any sign, any reason to doubt that Shikamaru would turn against Naruto if he knew the truth. His voice, his body language, his words, none of it carried any sign of hostility.
"When he came back, I watched him closely whenever I could. But he never used that chakra again until Sora came into the picture. During their fight Naruto used it again when Sora turned into that thing. Yamato told us it was some sort of jutsu, and at the distance we were it was believable. But Kiba said he saw Naruto's eyes and nails had change and he hadn't seen Naruto use any hand sequences." Shikamaru said as he fumbled with a cigarette from his pocket and placed it in his mouth. He wasn't about to light one up in the tower, but he had to find a way to calm his nerves.
"I asked him about it after the incident only to have Yamato and Sakura immediately drag him away. What are they hiding? What are they so afraid of?" He stopped and walked over to a calendar. He smiled inwardly at the tenth being circled, remembering how they were going to skip the festival and throw a surprise party for Naruto.
"October the tenth." Shikamaru turned toward Tsunade with a slight smile. "We were planning on holding a surprise party for Naruto. I remember when Sakura came to me about the idea. He always became depressed around that day and disappeared, and it was her way to show him that we were all happy that his was born on that day. Regardless of the circumstances."
"You don't mean…" Chouji spoke up. His knuckles turned white as he gripped the handles on his crutches as hard as he could. He knew Shikamaru thought something was different with Naruto, something that went beyond humanity… but this. It was much grander than what he thought.
"It adds up when you consider his 'gifts' and his date of birth." Shikamaru threw his head back and laughed sardonically. "What a fucking drag. He wants to be Hokage but he doesn't even trust us with something like this"
"This whisker like scars…" Chouji mumbled as he hobbled over to Shikamaru and placed a hand on his shoulders, "Even if its true. It doesn't matter, right? Naruto is Naruto, nothing'll change that, right?"
"No, it changes a lot of things. I just lost respect for half the village. I've seen the way they treat him. I always figured it was because of his pranks that he pulled. But now…" Shikamaru said as he turned toward Tsunade, defeat in his eyes.
Tsunade knew the boy was passionate, as much as he argued other wise, and to see him like that over the light of things. Her decision was made. Shikamaru deserved to know the truth about everything.
"Troublesome." Shikamaru mumbled under his breath.
Tsunade stood up from her desk and walked around to the far wall where her saki bottle landed earlier. She looked at the painting of the first hokage and with both hands grabbed it by the side. The painting slid down with a simple pull revealing its true nature: it was no painting, but a switch.
A doorway opened up to its right as Tsunade hurriedly disappeared through it. Shikamaru and Chouji looked at each other confused, unsure if they should follow or stay put. A minute later Tsunade emerged from the darkened doorway with a manila folder in her hands.
As she made her way back to the desk, her hand bumped the bottom of the painting causing it to slide back to its original position and the secret door to seal back shut. With the grace of a boar, she plopped down into the chair and threw the folder onto the desk. Shikamaru and Chouji approached the desk and stared at the folder, unsure what they should do.
"Only eight people are aware of this folder's existence. Hiashi Hyuga, Shizune, Kakashi Hatake, Anko Mitarashi, Hiruzen Sarutobi, Asuma Sarutobi, Jiraiya and myself. What's in this folder stays in this folder, do we have an understanding?" Tsunade looked them both with an aura of authority around her. It was as if she was daring them to protest.
Shikamaru reached down and picked up the manila folder. He examined the front and noticed the large red letters the spelled out CLASSIFIED covering a good chunk of it. "Why didn't they just hold out a sign with an arrow that said "Here's our secret documents" with a trail of bread crumbs leading to it." Shikamaru noted duly.
He looked at Chouji who gave him a nod to continue. His fingers trembled slightly as he opened the folder and the two began to thumb through the stack of loose papers. Chouji dropped a crutch and placed a hand on Shikamaru's shoulders as to get a better look at the contents.
Seconds turned to minutes and minutes turned into an hour as time seemed to no longer exist as the two delved deeper into one of Konoha's most deadly secret. Birth date, place of residence, what jutsu's he knew, information on his parents, data collected on him from over the years, it virtually had everything. He recognized some past missions he went on with Naruto cataloged in the folder as well.
They came across a page written by Jiraiya detailing the effects of the chakra on Naruto, both negative and positive. Though in Shikamaru's mind, the negative far outweighed the positive. Further down the page was a couple of paragraphs written by Yamato to further add onto his own experience with a transformed Naruto.
He figured a jinchūriki would be strong, but after reading the report on how Naruto not only held his own against Orochimaru, but had him backed into a corner, it would seem his imagination gave them discredit. "The power of the jinchūrikis." He heard Chouji say in a whisper. His voice would've been inaudible if he wasn't so close.
As they finally finished their reading, Shikamaru closed the folder and set it back down on the desk. Two pairs of eyes, both radiating with determination, settled onto a pair of almond brown. "I request you allow us to take Kiba Inuzuka and Hinata Hyuga and search for Naruto and Ino."
Tsunade smirked at the request, proud at Naruto's choice in friends. "Once you two have recovered and you can pass a physical, I'll deem the two of you fit to return to active duty. Then you'll get your team, understand?"
"Yes Hokage-sama." Shikamaru and Chouji said in unison.
"Good, now consider yourselves on the injured list until then and get your asses out of my office." She said with a smirk as two bowed, in Chouji's case he gave a half bow, and turned to exit.
The lake was pure and pristine. He couldn't remember the last time he came across crystal blue water. It took him back to memories of his journey with the perverted sage. Whenever they came across land untouched by human hands it always seemed so… majestic. The sight in front of him was no exception.
It was full of life as fishes were jumping up from the water to unsuspecting bugs, animals of various species were at the lakeshore in packs. Some big, some small, all thirsty. A smile graced his lips as he studied the animals. While it was their nature for the few meat eaters there to not get along with the herbivores, it seemed their thirst for water transcended instincts.
Unbeknownst to him, a tall, slender monkey was eyeing him cautiously from across the lake. His eyes scanned over the boy, analyzing every detail about him. The glint of metal caught his eye as he stared at the forehead protector. He seen the symbol before but couldn't remember where.
"Looks like we're sleeping under the stars tonight." Naruto's voice broke him out of his trance. A slim, much longer haired blonde figure emerged from the water and swam to her companion.
The monkey crossed his index and middle finger and held it between his eyes. A gust of wind surrounded him as leaves began to swirl, covering his body complete and then scattered, revealing the monkey to have vanished.
"Oh man, I'm tired of camping out. I so could use a hot bath and nice comfortable bed." Ino sat beside Naruto, "Whew, I guess a cold dip was better than nothing. I can't believe you were able to smell this from that far away. You related to Kiba?"
Naruto scoffed at her comment. He pulled out a kunai from its holder and reached behind and dug into his pouch. "What are you doing?" Ino asked as Naruto pulled out a metal wire and tied it to his kunai's handle .
He began to spin the kunai from the wire, building momentum with each passing turn and with a flick of his wrist the kunai flew true and pierced the water at deadly speed. "Fishing." he replied nonchalantly.
"Fishing?" Ino cocked an eyebrow. She had never heard or seen anything like this. Her jaw nearly hit the floor as Naruto pulled out a silvery red fish that trumped any basses Chouji ever caught back home. "I never seen anyone fish like that before."
"It's a trick Ero-Sennin taught me. It took me awhile to get the hang of it." He admitted as removed the fish from his kunai and spun it around again once more.
"Pfft, you always did have a learning problem. Doesn't look like there's much to it." Ino stated confidently as she held up a kunai with a wire attached to it. When she did it, Naruto didn't know, then again he was more concerned with the task at hand.
She released her right hand from the wire, her timing completely off as the kunai flew in Naruto's direction. "Hey! Watch where your aiming that thing!" Naruto barely managed to duck the wayward kunai.
"That was just practice." Ino reeled the wire back and began to spin the kunai again in another attempt. "Okay, time to show you why they call me the number one kunoichi!" She released the kunai again.
"Aiiiiieeeeeeeeeee!" Naruto screamed out with a loud thud shortly after.
Ino groaned as her eyes followed the wire to see where the kunai had landed. Ino busted out laughing as Naruto sat on the ground with a horrified look on his face holding a fish in his right hand with both of their kunai in it. "Whoever said you're the number one kunoichi was lying."
"Well, at least we can say I can hit a fish." Ino joked, realizing that Naruto had already caught several fish. "Oh wow, didn't realize you already caught us so many. Now we can eat!"
"What's this 'we' part? I caught this fish, so its mine." Naruto teased her while showing a toothy grin.
"You'll share if you know what's good for you." She threatened him while placing her hands on her hips.
"Or what?" She growled mentally when she heard that. She knew he was testing her patience, but if he wanted to feel her wrath than so be it.
"You want to play? Fine! I can play this game." She eyed her pray with fire in her eyes, as if she could burn his very soul with just a single look. Physical violence was normally her preferred choice, but with that wound she didn't want to risk it, so she decided on the Yamanaka approach.
"I heard Moegi complain about how there's not very many girls her age." Ino stated with a smirk. The baffled look on the genin's face pleased her.
"So?" Naruto said, trying to figure out where Ino was going with it. What did Moegi have to do with this?
A smirk traced her lips that had Naruto never seen before, "I could probably use one of my jutsu's on you when we get back and make you think you're an thirteen year old girl."
"You wouldn't…" Naruto said in disbelief.
"I'd let Moegi braid your hair and dress you in drag." Success. He face became pale white at the mental images flashing in his head. The torment of him skipping around hand in hand with Moegi, hair in pigtails while wearing an orange dress, the word cruel and unusual punishment crossed his mind. He could probably have her arrested for it too.
"You'd enjoy it too, wouldn't you." He narrowed his eyes on her, her smile telling him everything he needed to know. "Pfft fine. But your filleting!"
"Your such a fiddle." Ino teased as she grabbed Naruto's fish and pulled out a shuriken. While not the ideal tool of choice, it was thinner than a kunai and sharp enough to get the job done.
"What's that supposed to mean?" The genin asked as he began to dig a small pit with his hands.
"Nothing much." She let out a giggle, "Just means with the right talent your easy to play."
"Burp!" Naruto let out a loud belch. "Oh man that was good. Can't remember the last time we ate." Naruto patted his belly and leaned back on the tree.
"You ate this morning you goof." Ino threw a stick at him, barely missing his head. She watched him with interest as he relaxed comfortable against a wide tree trunk.
"Doesn't that bother you?" The platinum blonde haired teen asked.
"Huh?" Naruto shot her a confused look.
"Your back. Here, take off your jacket and lets take a look at your wound." Ino stood up and approached Naruto. Her hands grabbed the zipper of his jacket and began to pull it down.
Naruto's right hand shot up and grabbed her wrist, "Shouldn't we at least go on a date before you try to get me naked?" While he normally had no problem with medical treatment, particularly from Sakura, Ino was unaware of his unique condition and that worried him.
Slap! A slender hand shot up and greeted Naruto's cheek. "You pervert, I just want to take a look at your wound."
"Ah that? Kisame managed to get me in the back, that's all. I'll be fine." Naruto said calmly.
"I'm the medic here, I make that call." Ino said as she reached for his jacket's zipper again.
"Hey!" Naruto protested as Ino broke the zipper and ripped the jacket open.
"Hush it you big baby." Ino scolded Naruto as she grabbed the cuffs of his jacket and pulled. "Arms up!" She commanded as he complied to allow her to slid his jacket off.
"You didn't have to break my zipper." Naruto complained.
"If you quit being stubborn then I wouldn't have." Ino grabbed the hem of his shirt, "This too."
"I told you I'm fine." Naruto begrudgingly did as he told and removed the black shirt. Ino placed her hand on the small of his back and pushed forward, signaling for him to scoot up. He shifted his body on the soft grass to give some space for Ino and leaned forward.
Ino carefully removed the bandage, "Did you have a blind man do this?" Naruto scoffed at the comment, "Sakura was right. You do suck as a medic."
"Well sorry Doctor Yamanaka," Naruto emphasized the last part insultingly. "I'll be sure to have Sakura to finish teaching me first aide 101."
"You're a hopeless idiot. Bandaging is something we learned from the academy." Ino scolded the jinchūriki about proper medical skills. Her eyes drifted down to check her handiwork. Something wasn't right here.
Hurried hands removed the rest of the wrapping revealing a long, thin red line that was already beginning to fade. It made no sense to her. Even if he had received stitches, a wound from a weapon as large as the one that tore through Naruto's jacket would've taken a month just to close. Scarring was guaranteed. Yet…
"Eh, good thing Samehade shaves off flesh instead of slicing." Naruto said as Ino gave a small nod. She was lost in her thoughts as she tried to think up anything that'd reasonable explain it.
"What's wrong?" She heard Naruto, but no response could escape her lips. She had confirm her suspicions first.
Ino began to scan over his body with her hands, her chakra flowing from her hands and deep into his body. The chakra bounced off of various parts of his insides and relayed a mental image in her mind. Similar to ultrasound used in the hospital for pregnant women, except it wasn't as accurate and she couldn't hear any sound. Thankfully Naruto wasn't skilled enough with chakra control to alter her reading.
Her hand glided over the back of his ribs and she noticed a small fracture. While it normally would've been enough to get her complete attention, there was another factor around it that she noticed, a detail so small she never noticed it before. A different chakra was flowing through the bone's facture, mending it together at a much faster rate than nature intended.
She focused her chakra some more at the bone an attempt to get an even more accurate reading. The chakra reacted violently to the increased chakra, causing a slight singe of pain on her finger tips. Yet, while it had harmed her finger tips, Naruto was completely unphased. Was this Sage chakra? No, the chakra she felt that one time Naruto showed them all his sage mode was everything but malevolent. "Impossible."
Naruto's enhanced hearing picked up on the word, "What's up?"
"I just… Naruto I've never seen anything like this before." Ino's voice of concern made him chuckle lightly. "Is this some sort of bloodline limit?"
"Bloodline… limit…" Naruto trailed off, unsure if he should tell her the truth. He wasn't particularly close to Ino, much less, know her well enough to share any of his secrets with her. A sudden discomfort shot through his spine; it was time to move away from her and reclaim his personal space.
He slipped on his shirt and smoothly slid closer to the campfire and laid back, his hands fixed together as a pillow behind his head and shifted his gaze toward the twilight in the sky. Unfortunately, Ino was persistent.
"If its' not a bloodline limit then what is it?" she said.
"I wouldn't worry about it." Naruto said hoping that she'd take the hint and drop the subject.
"Is it something only a sage can do?" she queried. He sighed at the nosy blonde, silently wishing they were back in Konoha. He never liked it when topics were about his secrets, even if it was coming from Tsunade or Sakura, but at least there he could come up with a valid excuse to ditch Ino.
"I wish." he spoke dryly.
Ino bit her lip. She knew she was pushing her luck; but she was sitting beside a medical break through and she refused to pass up this chance. Since it wasn't a bloodline limit, it had to be a jutsu she had never heard of. Once he spilled his secret about it, she could in turn use it to dramatically increase active ninja's life expectancies. The bonus of rubbing it in Sakura's face was just icing on the cake. "Then what sort of jutsu is it?" She prodded once more.
"Take a hint. I don't want to talk about it." He snapped at her.
"Well friends talk, Naruto." Ino attempted to put him on a guilt trick. If she wasn't going to get it by asking nicely, then she'd have to do it the Yamanaka way. Mind games always did have a unique charm about them.
"Your right. Friends do talk. Maybe you should be asking Sakura instead of me. I haven't even told Shikamaru about it so why would I tell you?" He shut her strategy down with the bitter truth.
"Jerk. You didn't have to put it like that." She grit her teeth in order to hold her tongue. She agreed with him about the friendship part, it was inexistent between the two. Not that she hated him, she just never found a reason to pursue a friendship with him. They had about as much in common as ninjutsu does with taijutsu.
"Why won't you tell me your jutsu?" She pressed once more. "It's not like I'm asking about your deepest darkest secrets. All I want to know is how your able to heal so quickly. It'll help me prove to Sakura who's really the second rate medical-nin."
"Ino," Naruto broke his eye contact and turned his head away. "your reasoning give me even more of a reason not to tell you."
"Huh? Come on, you know how me and Sakura always compete." Ino grabbed his jacket and scooted beside him. She laid the jacket neatly across her legs, "Oh I get it."
Naruto turned back toward her as she pointed a finger at him and winked, "You don't want Sakura to beat me, do you? Your waiting for the perfect opportunity to tell her about it."
Naruto shook his head. "Shikamaru was right on the money about Ino. Troublesome describes her perfectly." He thought.
"No Ino. Just listen to me, okay?" He turned back toward her and grabbed her hand to assure her he was serious. "If I told you why, I'm afraid you'll tell everyone else about it." He admitted to her truthfully.
"Isn't that the point?" Ino squeezed his jacket and hand. She smiled her usual proud smile to hide the nervousness that was creeping through her body. Her gut was telling her there was far more behind his words than she was aware of.
"Look." He said softly. The emotional mask had dropped and a foreign emotion invaded his features. One she had only seen on him like this once before and that was after he had learned of Jiraiya's demise.
The smile stood out the most. It was smaller than the smile he normally showed to the world, yet it carried far more weight with it. Much more genuine emotions shown through that not even the greatest of actors could imitate. Most prominent ones she recognized was pain and suffering, emotions she never expected to be ingrained into anyone in the Konoha 11, least of all him.
"This is…" Ino thought as Naruto continued. "If people found out about this, I'm scared of what they'll do. I'm scared I'll be alone again. That's why I can't tell you about it."
"I…" Ino's tongue was tied. She wanted to protest, but she found all arguments she had formulated in her mind burned to the ground and their ashes spreading in the wind. She knew Naruto didn't exactly have anyone growing up. A fact she really never thought much about it… until now. "I understand. This never happened."
She smiled brightly and gave his hand another squeeze. "Thank you, Ino."
"Naruto…" Her heart ached at the silent promise. She was more curious than ever about the male beside her. Why would that information alienate him from everyone? What was he so afraid of? More importantly, what had happened to him to cause him so much pain. "I don't know what happened to you, but I swear I'll find out. No one our age should be walking around with that sort of baggage."
A russel of leaves not far behind them caught their attention. The duo leapt to their feet with kunai's in hand shifted to a defense stance. "Who's there?" Naruto demanded.
Ino draped the jacket over her shoulder as she looked at her companion then back toward the bushes. No sane person traveled at night unless they were causing trouble.
A pale man stepped out of the bushes with his hands held up as a sign of surrender. His clothes were dark blue with a swirl on his shirt that Ino recognized, though couldn't remember from where. He wore a blue forehead protector with the amegakure symbol, while on his left forearm was another protector with the same swirl symbol as on his shirt, except it was scratched through three times.
"Who are you?" Naruto demanded.
"What are you kids doing out here at night?" The man ignored Naruto's question. "Don't you know its dangerous at night? They could find you!"
Ino picked up the man's concern and looked at Naruto then turned back toward the man. "Who's they?" She spoke out with a clarity and professionalism, "Sir, we're ninja from Konoha. Whoever it is that worries you we can handle."
The man shook his head, "You don't understand. You have to follow me if you want to live. Ninja or not there's no way you can take on demons."
It didn't take a trained Yamanaka to detect the main's fear. Ino whispered to Naruto, "I think he's telling the truth." She put away her kunai and slipped Naruto his jacket. "We should do as he says."
Naruto nodded in agreement. "Follow me." The man said turned to their right and headed for the trees. The two followed closely as their trained senses tried to detect anything out of the ordinary.
While the man wasn't as silent as the other two, Ino noted at how he expertly navigated the area. He moved as if he was one with nature, his movement virtually unhindered from the foliage, branches and whatever else stood in their way.
"It's not to far from here." The man whispered.
A loud, demonic roar was heard not far off in the distance. "Shit. I think they found your camp." The man said worriedly. "It's only a matter of time until they pick up your scent. Come on."
They increased their pace through forest nearly double its speed, the man seemed unconcerned if they kept up or not. They heard a set of roars, much more feral than the first one except not as blood thirsty. "They picked up our trial. We'll never make it." The man said.
"I'll stall'em." Naruto said as Ino's hand rested on his arm.
"Oh no you don't mister. Your not leaving us." Ino's stern voice told him he had no say in the matter.
"Fine fine." He made a familiar hand signal. "Shadow clone jutsu!" He called out as three clones of himself were running beside them.
"Ok guys, you know what to do." The three clones disappeared into the trees, as Ino shot him a look.
Five shadowed figures moved through the trees at inhuman speeds. Three were crouched down on all fours as they pushed through the forest foliage like a cheetah running down a pray. The two others, though human like in appearing, their movement were anything but. Their hands would grab whatever they came across and push off with super human speed to give themselves even more momentum.
Slowly but surely, they were closing in on their prey. It was three scents, one they recognized and two that were completely alien to them. The largest of the figures, one of the humanoids, licked his lips at the prospect of fresh meat.
"Hey!" They came to a sudden stop as a booming, raspy voice called out.
Regardless, young or old, a healthy flesh bag that had the courage to fight always tasted best. Three humans landed in front of them, all wearing orange and black. Blond spike hair and strange, whisker like scars. Triplets?
"It seems that our meal decided to come to us. Though, I sworn I smelled a female and that coward Ichiro among them." A massive feline spoke up, its body was pitched black with various red markings. Naruto could've sworn those they were symbols.
"Leaf ninjas." The purple cat with black markings spoke. His fangs bared, making him look far more menacing than he appeared. His body was slimmer than the rest of the demons, and from what Naruto could tell just based on looks, was probably the fastest. Two long black barbs were sticking out the back of the creatures head, hovering over the body and wiggling as if they had a mind of their own.
"Who cares. Let's eat!" The smaller of the two humanoids flashed his sharp fangs and leapt forward, claws poised for a lethal strike. The first Naruto ducked the blow and threw out an elbow, catching the demon in the gut.
"Ha ha a feisty one. I'll enjoy gnawing on your bones." The demon laughed unphased from the blow. He brought a claw down onto the first clone, tearing through the clones' shoulder and deep into its body. A sinister smile traced his canine muzzle.
Suddenly the clone exploded into a small puff of smoke, "What?" His smile turned to surprise.
"Rasengan!" The other two Naruto's came from overhead with the left one holding a spinning sphere of pure chakra.
A loud, high pitch whistle echoed in the forest as the two clones suddenly stopped in mid air. Their bodies were suspended by a dozen tentacles that pierces cleanly through their chest. "We've been tricked." The feral black demon snarled as he retracted the tentacles back into his body. The Naruto twins exploded into a puff of smoke.
The largest humanoid turned around and bit through a nearby branch with his birdlike beak, "Kaa, next time when I get my hands on them; kaa, I'll shred them to pieces." The other four demons silently agreed.
"That ninja. His features were not like a normal human. I'm not sure if the others have picked it up, but I smelled a demon among our quarry. Interesting." The purple panther like demon smirked at the thought. Let's see how this plays out.
"Quickly! Over here!" The paled man said as the trio arrived to a temple. They couldn't see much color wise, but the shapes in the dark blueness of the night told them this place had been in ruins for some time.
Vines grew everywhere unchecked. It was if they choked the life out of every inanimate object they wrapped around. Shattered weapons and armor littered the marble floor, the signs of ferocious battle taking place. Up the stairs leading to the temple was a wooden door. Two statues missing their top halves decorated the sides of the doorway.
What caught Ino's attention the most were the claw marks and half eaten skeletons. "Is this the work of those demons he mentioned?" She thought with a sickening feeling in her stomach. Death was a part of the shinobi way of life, but this was just too much.
"This place is awful." Ino commented.
"Save your questions for now." A strong, feminine came from their right. A woman wearing a suit of armor stepped out from behind a statue. Her hands rested on the katana on her side, ready to draw the deadly blade in a fraction of a second. "Fuu-hime has been concerned about you Ichiro-san. You know of the dangers the forest presents at night."
The female's samurai walked with a strong presence, someone neither wanted to cross. Her voice was harsh and stern, a sign that signaled to Ino that the woman expected people to listen when she spoke.
"Sorry Lady Reim. I was on my way back until I noticed a campfire and decided to check it out. While I would love to tell you more, we're currently being pursued." Ichiro spoke as the woman gave a small nod.
They walked around to the side of the temple until they came across a large, stone building. Unlike the temple, the building seemed to be untouched by whatever battle had plagued the place. Curiously as well, there seemed to be no entrance to it. Reim made a tiger sign and focused her chakra. She then held up two fingers and placed them against the wall, "Uzu no Hiraki!"
A familiar swirl on the wall appeared. Ino looked at Naruto's jacket then to the wall, "Can't be. It's the same symbol as the one on Naruto's jacket. What's going on?"
Slowly the wall melted away, revealing a large platform. "In" Reim commandive as she and Ichiro stepped on the platform. Ichiro walked over to the control panel and flipped a few switches. "I won't ask again."
Ino and Naruto hurried onto the platform as the wall behind them reappeared.
Tsunade stretched from her chair as a few bones popped. It had been a long day and she deserved a nights rest. Though, it troubled her that she had been unable to locate Kakashi. It would've helped if he was there when she broke the news to Sakura. It took her nearly an hour to calm the broken hearted girl down.
A knock on the door reminded her that she was still on the clock. "Dammit, can't this wait until tomorrow." Tsunade grumbled to herself. "Come in!"
The door opened as Kotetsu shyly walked in. "Um, Hokaga-sama, it's probably nothing but um…" The man was clearly nervous.
"Spit it out already. I'm tired and I want to get this over with and go home." Tsunade's patience was wearing thin. Her eyes hardened onto the ninja, signaling that his news better be worth her time or he'd be doing D-rank missions for a month.
"Kakashi had left earlier. Said he was taking Pakkun out for a walk and would be back in an hour." He explained to her.
"Kotetsu," Tsunade said his name venomously, fire in her eyes. If it wasn't illegal, the poor ninja would've been killed, "you stopped me for that!"
"I… uh… I felt it was important since Kakashi-san left around noon and hasn't reported back yet." he explained, throwing his hands up defensively and backing toward the door.
All rage for the nervous ninja shifted onto the shoulders of a missing masked jonin, "What!" If it was at noon…
"Shit, I told him to wait until team 8 came back from their current mission." Tsunade vented, "That disrespecting asshole is just like that brat. He just does whatever he wants."
Kotetsu knew who she was referring to as there was only one person Tsunade would ever call brat. Her rant wasn't directed at him, but he feared for his health if he said anything and interrupted her.
"I always thought the brat got it from Jiraiya…" She vented. "Kotetsu, if by chance he does come back, send him to my office immediately. Walk with him to make sure he doesn't take any detours. I don't care if you have to hold his damn hand. Got that?"
"Yes ma'am." Kotetsu bowed. "Do you want me to alert Tsume Inuzuka and her team?"
"No. Kakashi can do whatever he wants. But when he gets back I'm kicking his ass." Tsunade sat back down and opened her drawer. "Shit, forgot I broke my bottle this earlier. Kotetsu, I got a job for you."
"Fetch me a bottle of saki and some dumplings." Kotetsu lost his balance and face planted. How could someone think of drinking at a time like this?!
A silver haired ninja and a small dog bounced from branch to branch. "Are you sure this is where their mission took them?" Pakkun, the small ninja dog, asked.
"Yes, it was an escort mission across the ocean pass Amegakure to the Land of Rainforests. They were supposed to protect a ship as it made a delivery." Kakashi explained, his voice was firm compared to the usual laidback tone he carried.
"And you think they're at this Land of Rainforests?"
"Not quite. According to Shikamaru they were passing the northwestern most island of The Land of Storms."
"You don't mean?" Pakkun glanced over at Kakashi, already knowing the answer.
Kakashi gave a small nod, "Afraid so. If they were to wash ashore then it'll be there at the former Land of Whirlpool."
"Let's hope the poor boy doesn't make any discoveries." said Pakkun.
Kakashi couldn't agree more. "I was hoping to have that talk with him next year when he turned eighteen."
"I sense a 'but' in there." Pakkun picked up the hidden meaning behind Kakashi's words.
"Lately Naruto's been asking me questions about Minato-sensei so I think he already suspects." Kakashi stated.
Pakkun knew how Kakashi felt about the boy. The man didn't always show it, but did consider the boy family. More importantly Naruto was the last link he had to his former team and deceased mentor. In the past he had failed his teammate, Obito. He refused to fail again, especially if it concerned Naruto. He'd protect the boy from the shinigami himself if it ever came to it.
"I have a feeling once you tell him your gut will be the first thing that finds his response." Pakkun said as Kakashi winced. Not that he blamed the boy if he socked him once or twice.
"So…" Pakkun trailed off, thinking at how to approach the question. He ended up deciding to be as blunt as possible. He always did hate beating around the bush, "does the Hokage know that you left?"
Kakashi slipped on the branch he just landed on as the question caught him by complete surprise. "I'm gunna guess that's a no." Pakkun said as Kakashi pulled himself back onto the branch.
"What she doesn't know won't hurt her." Kakashi calmly pushed the fact aside. He knew he was dead when he returned.
"Huh uh. When we get back to Konoha, I'll make sure to order the flowers for your wake. What kind of box do you prefer? Pine or cedar?"
Naruto and Ino meet the inhabitants and learn the tragedies of the land. Ino realizes that she's stumbled on one of Konoha's biggest secrets and is determined to solve it. Just who is this person called Naruto?
Meanwhile, Kakashi discovers that he's being followed and confronts his pursuers. Shikamaru, depressed about his failed leadership, receives a boast of encouragement from the least likely of sources.
Next up Chapter 3: The Lost City: Past Tragedies