Chapter 1

"The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want."
–Ben Stein

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Note: I made some changes to the conversation with Hinata to clarify things that weren't well articulated. (07-26-09)

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Naruto stared up at the bland, off-white ceiling. He hated this place. He looked over at the window, wishing he could climb out of the hospital bed and get back to training. The fight with Gaara had been severe, and he was paying for that battle now, Sasuke was only just conscious, but that wasn't what was bothering him so much.

The old man was dead. The Third Hokage had fought that terrible Orochimaru, and had died.

It's not fair old man, Naruto thought to himself. You left but I'm still here.

Naruto had been lying in the hospital bed for three days now, and he had used the time to think, since there was nothing else he could do. Occasionally the nurses would check on him, but mostly he was alone. Except for when Hinata came in yesterday, he remembered with a smile.

* * *

"Naruto-kun…" Hinata said as she entered the room. He looked so peaceful lying there.

"Yeah?" Naruto said, looking over at his visitor. Hinata yelped in surprise.

"Oh… I just… came by to see how you were." Her face was turning a deep red. Naruto broke into a huge smile.

"Thanks, Hinata! I haven't had many visitors!"

* * *

Naruto chuckled at the memory, before returning to his first line of though.

One of the things that was bothering him was that the Third had looked out for him a lot. Who would the new Hokage be? Would they be as helpful?

"Hey kid." Naruto snapped his eyes back to the window and saw Jiraiya standing on the balcony outside. Both of them smiled.

"Hey ero-sennin!" Jiraiya sighed.

"You ever gonna stop calling me that kid?" Naruto looked at him as if he were crazy.

"Why would I stop? You are a pervert!" Jiraiya looked genuinely hurt.

"That's my life's work!" Naruto looked less than impressed.

"Well your life's work is perverted!"

They stared at each other for a few silent moments before Jiraiya spoke again.

"Sorry to bring more bad news kid, but I came to tell you that you weren't one of the Genin selected to become a Chunin." Naruto scowled and looked down at the blankets. Of course not. Why had he hoped for anything else? "You did real good kid, especially given the circumstances. You should be proud… I'm proud of you."

"Yeah…" Naruto said dejectedly. "I guess…" Jiraiya frowned. He wished he had something to cheer the boy up.

"I'll be back later kid. Once you get out of here, you and me are going to train some more." Naruto just looked at his blankets, not even glancing at the Toad Sage.

"Alright…" Jiraiya jumped out the window, a bit shaken. There was something unsettling about seeing Naruto with such a clear expression of defeat.

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Sasuke was similarly staring at the hospital ceiling, unblinking.

How did Naruto get so strong? He ran over the events again and again. Gaara hadn't even had to particularly try against him, but Naruto had been able to defeat him. This is pathetic… I'm sitting here in the hospital and I didn't even put up a real fight.

Sasuke heard the door open, but didn't look. Either it was a nurse, in which case he didn't care, or it was a fangirl, in which case he didn't want to encourage them.

"I see you're doing better," the voice said. It was male. Sasuke looked over to see an old man with bandages on his head, covering his forehead and right eye.

"Who are you?" Sasuke asked bluntly.

"I am part of Konoha's council," he explained. After a few moments it was obvious that the man felt no obligation to elaborate. "The council is always interested in the progress of the last Uchiha."

"I am not the last," Sasuke said plainly. "Not yet." The man smiled.

"Ah, yes, Itachi." They were both silent for a while, and Sasuke looked back at the ceiling. "Are you curious about Naruto?" Sasuke looked back over at the old man suspiciously.

"Perhaps." Sasuke tried to study the old man's face. "What is there to know?"

"Aren't you curious how such a low-rate ninja could defeat someone like Gaara?" Sasuke was instantly alert. He knew there had to have been a reason for Naruto's sudden change.

"Yes," Sasuke replied simply.

"The truth has to do with a terrible night many years ago. The Kyuubi attacked the village, as you know. But what you do not know is that he did not kill the demon, he sealed it. Into Naruto." Sasuke tried to jump up, but his body was still too fragile, and he gave a hiss of pain as his body relaxed again onto the bed.

Of course! The eyes and the different chakra! His incredible stamina! It all makes sense! Sasuke looked back at the man.

"Why doesn't anyone know?" The old man looked thoughtful.

"Only the kids from your generation don't know. The Third passed a law forbidding anyone to tell you about it." He paused for a moment. "But the Third is gone." Sasuke's mind was racing at this new information. Naruto was dangerous to the village! He needed to tell everyone they knew.

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"Alright, we're all here," Sakura said. She looked around, Naruto and Lee were missing, but neither of them were supposed to be here. Except for them, all the Konoha Genin that had made it through the Forest of Death were in the room, per Sasuke's request. "Why weren't we supposed to tell Naruto to come? I think he could have made it to this room."

"No, this is about him." Everyone looked at Sasuke expectantly. "I was told by a member of the council earlier today that Naruto is the Nine-Tailed Fox Demon that attacked Konoha years ago." Everyone in the room gasped, and an uncomfortable silence fell between all of them.

"How is that possible?" Kiba asked. "I thought the Fourth killed it." Sasuke shook his head.

"No, he sealed it into Naruto." Everyone was quiet for a while.

"I saw it," Neji said quietly. "During our fight, I could see it."

Oh Naruto, Hinata thought. Now it all makes sense… Why everyone treats you so badly.

"I…" Hinata spoke, drawing everyone's eyes. "I don't think… think that's the s—same thing, Sasuke. It's sealed inside him, it isn't him." Neji was quiet, but Sasuke responded immediately.

"Clearly your judgment is clouded by the fact that you've been fawning after him for years."

Hinata squeaked in surprise and saw everyone look at her. They all knew! She could feel tears begin to well up in her eyes. No… she couldn't cry in front of everyone… Hinata turned and ran without looking back.

"That was cold," Kiba said. "You didn't have to say that." Sasuke shook his head dismissively.

"I'm not going to sugar-coat the truth." Another uncomfortable silence spread, until Sakura spoke up.

"What should we do?" Neji looked over at her.

"Why do we need to do anything? We should have heard this from Naruto."

"What?" Kiba declared hotly. "The Kyuubi is running around Konoha! I could have been killed in my match with him! We need to do something." Sasuke nodded.

"When I get out, we'll all meet and figure out what to do. It shouldn't be too long."

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Naruto sighed. After only one more day the hospital had let him go. At least the Kyuubi was good for something.

It had been just in time to go to the Third's funeral. Naruto had gone, as had most of the village, to pay his respects, and he was on his way home right now, still wearing his black outfit. He had hoped that maybe his effort in saving the village would have earned him some respect, but instead it seemed the villages were treating him worse than ever. And on top of that, it seemed like all his friends were acting weird too. Sakura had avoided him completely at the funeral.

He was so lost in thought he almost didn't notice the characteristic pink hair go by.

"Sakura!" Naruto ran to catch up, as the girl slowly turned with an uncomfortable look.

"Oh, er, hi Naruto. I've, um… got to go. Things to do you know. I'll see you later!" And with that she left, Naruto watching her retreating form with mounting confusion. What's going on?

"Get out of here, demon." Naruto whirled around to see Kiba standing there with Akamaru. Naruto's eyes became large. Does he know?

"What do you mean?" Kiba growled.

"Sasuke told us about the Kyuubi." Naruto froze in complete shock. How had Sasuke found out? Then realization hit him: everyone knew. That's why Sakura was avoiding him.

Naruto rushed away, not even caring what Kiba had to say. He ran as fast as his feet could carry him until he was inside his apartment, the shadows filling the small place with gloom.

They all think I'm a demon. Naruto thought. He went over to his bed and laid down. All my friends... Maybe I don't have friends anymore. The thought brought tears to his eyes, and for the first time in years, Naruto cried himself to sleep.

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What's that smell? Naruto thought, slowly waking up. It was awful. He got up and looked around, but the smell seemed to be coming from his front door. He opened it to find a pile of rotten eggs, and sight with the smell cause him to vomit, though he thankfully made it to the bathroom in time.

He cleaned it up without much trouble, but it brought back memories of a time he had hoped would never return, and in an effort to ignore the feelings he was having, Naruto decided simply to go out to a training field and practice the day away.

He took care to avoid anyone he knew along the way. He didn't know if he could stand to see their hateful gazes on him.

When he got to the training field, he found it deserted, which suited him just fine. He walked up to the nearest stump and began to let out his frustration, tears beginning to form in his eyes once more as he punched and kicked, over and over and over.

From not too far away Hinata watched, and she felt hert heart breaking as she saw how hurt he was. He needed someone to be there! But… she couldn't. She hated herself for it. She tried to step out, to go talk to him and comfort him in the way he'd always seemed to comfort her, but she couldn't. Hinata looked down, feeling shame. She truly was a failure.

Hinata watched for an hour before she couldn't bear it anymore, and left. Every tear falling off his face was a shattered dream to her, and she had to leave before her own world began to shatter.

The sun was beginning to fall, and the afternoon was passing, and Naruto's hands were raw. But he didn't care. He kept punching harder, and harder, and harder. How he wished he could get rid of the damn fox and be normal.

However Hinata had not been the only person watching. Jiraiya watched his newest apprentice with genuine sorrow. That was beyond low, Danzo. He gritted his teeth. I'll make sure you pay for this.

Jiraiya jumped off, a plan forming in his head.

Naruto just continued to practice, if you could call it practice. It was much more like taking out aggression and frustration on random forest plants.

But unlike chakra, Naruto's capacity to feel emotion was not limitless, and by late afternoon he simply didn't have the will to continue hitting things. Today was a total loss.

What can I do? he thought. For a few minutes Naruto sat against the stump, running over the same questions in his head. He wasn't sure what he would do, but he would do something. He had to do something. He couldn't live like he did before… not after having people that cared about him… respected him…

Naruto walked slowly back to his apartment, fully expecting there to be some nasty surprise waiting for him like this morning. He stared at the ground in front of him as he walked, ignoring the people around him. It was how he had dealt with people back before… everything.

Walking into his apartment, Naruto's eyes darted around, and his hand grabbed a kunai. Were there any traps? He didn't see any, but that was the point of most traps. Naruto put his kunai away, but noticed a scroll on his table. Suspicious, Naruto approached carefully. No one gave him scrolls at face value…

He opened it, expecting some sort of seal, only to find it was an information scroll. I wonder who left this here?

He began to read.

The Walkabout

A "Walkabout" is a traditional rite of passage for some cultures. The premise involves a spiritual journey of self-realization, in which the person leaves their village to live amongst the far off places. Depending on the culture, a Walkabout often involves retracing places talked about in village myth as a way to honor and communicate with the ancestors that have since passed.

"Huh," Naruto said.

In other cases a Walkabout was a means of finding one-self, or of discovering "how to be". In these cases the focus is much more on self-realization, and often involves wandering without a destination in search of a truth they don't yet know. The idea is that they cannot find the truth where they are, thus they must leave to find the spiritual truth of themselves wherever it may be.

A Walkabout may be as short as a week, but has been known to be as long as six months in some cases. In nearly all cases, the people who go upon the journey say they come back with a level of comfort with who they are. Many say they find a part of themselves on the journey they'd never discover otherwise.

"Hmmm…" Naruto's mind was racing. This was sounding like a pretty good idea.

Usually, a part of a Walkabout is trusting yourself, or sometimes trusting the universe, to provide for your well-being. Often a person on a Walkabout carries little or no money, has no means to be reached, and doesn't carry food or provisions, except water. Everything else is earned through hard work as it is needed, or given by life as fate sees fit.

Naruto paused for a moment, taking in everything he'd read.

"I'll do it," Naruto said confidently. "I'm going on a Walkabout."

Naruto searched his apartment quickly with his eyes. He wasn't going to take much with him… some money for things besides food… maybe a pan or two… his ninja gear… a canteen… a sleeping bag…

Yes, that sounded good.

Everything else would have to be hidden though. He was sure that when he got back everything he left out would be stolen or broken. As soon as the villagers found out he'd left, he would honestly be surprised if they didn't try to burn this place down.

Naruto shook his head. They were all wrong about him. He was going to show them… he'd come back a better person, and then they'd see him for what he was, not for what he contained. He packed his backpack quickly, gathering his other belongings in a second pack. That included his life savings.

Where should I put it? Suddenly he had an idea. A mischevious grin spread across his face, and he darted out of his apartment at top speed. In just a few minutes he arrived at the memorial to those killed by Kyuubi. No one would think to look for his things here.

He counted ten paces south then dug a small hole next to a bush, before stowing the pack there and covering it back up. Using the best of his ninja knowledge, he used the surrounding foliage to make it seem like it wasn't newly disturbed earth.

"There. I guess the only thing left to do is tell ero-sennin." He paused. Jiraiya might try to stop him. In that case he'd deliver a note instead.

Naruto quickly scrawled a succinct note: I've gone on a Walkabout. Be back sometime. –Naruto

He rolled it onto a kunai and headed over to the hot springs Jiraiya often spied on. He wasn't there now, but Naruto was sure he would be before the day was over. He threw the kunai right next to the peeping hole the Toad Sage used and started for the main gate.

I wonder if anyone will miss me? Naruto thought. Iruka-sensei might… he knew about the fox. That's why he's a precious person. Kakashi-sensei knew… Naruto sighed. It couldn't be helped. He truly felt he needed this journey. This experience.

He looked up and realized he was nearing the gate. He'd have to make a run for it once he got out… the guards probably would want to ask him questions.

"W-Where are you go-going, Naruto-kun?" He spun around quickly to see Hinata staring demurely at him. He smiled. She was always nice to him.

"I'm leaving," he said. She looked hurt. "I just have to… find myself."

Hinata was torn by two immediate instincts. One told her to hide and cry. To pretend that there was nothing she could do, and to quietly accept what was happening. But another part of her, a part that had gained confidence fighting Neji, and a part that had become strong watching Naruto in the exams, told her that this was it. If she loved him at all… if she cared about anything that happened to him, he needed her now, and she couldn't afford to hesitate. In a split second, she made up her mind, without actually thinking about it. In the end, her emotions overcame her conditioning when it truly mattered.

"But Naruto-kun, you can't leave!" There was an urgency in her voice that surprised him. "I… I love you…" As soon as she said it her hands flew up to cover her mouth, and her eyes grew wide in surprise. She hadn't meant to say that. Suddenly the strength which had overcome her faded, and she was left bare in front of the boy she'd aspired to for years. She felt… naked in front of him. Like now he could see all of her, and would see all her faults.

Naruto took just a second to realize what she'd said. Could she really mean that?

"Ano… you… you know about… the fox… right?" Naruto was almost afraid to ask. No one who knew about the fox could love him, right? But she nodded her head, and a cool sense of relief washed over him.

If he was honest with himself he'd always liked how friendly Hinata was, but she'd always been a bit weird. Pretty, but weird. But even Naruto could figure out why when faced with a confession like this.

"It's alright if you don't feel the same," Hinata said sadly. She felt horrible at the way he had grown quiet, yet felt a freedom in knowing that she'd finally said it. Naruto looked concerned.

"No!" he shouted. "It's not that! It's just…" He paused. "I have to do this. I need this… for me…" He looked into her eyes, realizing he'd taken a few steps towards her. She was very pretty now that he thought about it. Very. "I… I can't love anyone until I find myself. I don't even know what love is." Hinata nodded sadly. Naruto took the last few steps and placed a hand on her shoulder. "But I think you're awesome Hinata, and I like you a lot."

Hinata smiled brightly. He likes me.

"Can I come with you?" Naruto looked shocked. She must actually love him. She wanted to throw away her friends here to follow him on this… this goose chase.

"No… I have to do this alone." She looked sad, but resigned. As if she'd expected the answer but had been hoping against it all the same. "But… I'll send you letters while I'm away, okay?" She looked at him strangely.

"How?" Naruto gave one of his characteristic smiles. The ones that made her knees melt.

"With my awesome summon technique of course! Gamakichi-kun is always helpful." Hinata smiled fondly. She loved it when he talked like that. A thought suddenly crossed her mind, and after everything that had already been sad, she found it easy to gather the courage to ask it.

"Can… Can I have a kiss before you go?" Naruto looked mortified for a moment. Not because he thought kissing Hinata would be bad, but because he was terrified of doing it really poorly and losing a person who loved him. "I know it's selfish of me," she said. "But… I don't know when you'll be back… and I've wanted to for so long." Her cheeks flared up in a full-scale Hinata blush. Naruto looked lost.

"Er… I don't really know… how…" In spite of all her embaressment, Hinata giggled. He could be so cute sometimes.

"That's okay, neither do I."

Naruto gulped and stared into Hinata's eyes before slowly looking down at her lips. They seemed… alluring almost. He'd never taken the time to actually look at a girl's lips before, but now that he did, he found himself drawn to them and fascinated by them, as if by some unknown internal force. He slowly closed the gap, and just before their lips touched, closed his eyes.

They were the softest things he'd ever felt, Naruto thought. And while strange, and foreign, and terrifying, it was one of the most pleasant experiences of his life so far. Naruto wasn't sure how long they stood there, lips touching, but after a time the magic seemed to pass, and they pulled back to look into each other's eyes once more. He didn't know why, but he felt something pulling at his chest now that he hadn't before. As if leaving Hinata was going to cause him pain.

And as soon as the thought passed through his mind, he knew it was true. Here was one of the only people to ever care for him, and he was leaving. I sure hope I know what I'm doing.

"When I get back…" Naruto started slowly and breathlessly, "would you like to go on a date with me?" Hinata couldn't find her voice and so simply nodded. Naruto looked up at the sky, for he felt like if he didn't look away from her eyes soon he may never be able to do so again. "I better get going."

"Good bye, Naruto-kun." He looked back at her and smiled. Warmly… Genuinely…

"Good bye, Hinata-chan." And without another word, Naruto turned and ran out the front gates, into the forest, until Hinata couldn't see him anymore. He was gone.

Author's Note: Many of you probably are familiar with my continuation of Twice Shy. I started on this fic because I needed a second outlet. A place to be creative on something else. (I actually have a Harry Potter fic for the same purpose, though it isn't published.)

I'm not quite certain how long this fic will be. As opposed to Twice Shy, which I have planned out to the last page, this is a much more free-flowing fic. I have a general outline for the first few chapters, and a general direction I would like to go. I have ideas, and I have things I know I want to include. But the story isn't completely written, because that isn't this story's purpose.

I hope you enjoy this. It's an idea for a Naruto fic I've had for quite some time. In case you are curious, the idea of a "Walkabout" is an Australian Aborigine tradition, very similar to how I described it here. You can check it out on Wikipedia if you like, although the article on it is pretty short.

Anyways, since this is a more free flowing story, reviews are MUCH more helpful with this story to let me know if I'm going to a good or bad direction. So hit the review button and tell me what you think.