The Hope of a New Dawn
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
AN: Well, following some promising feedback on my first chapter, I've decided to give this a go and run with it. For those who did give me feedback, thank you very much. I hope that I can live up to my own expectations with regards to this story, but you can't succeed without trying first, I guess.
Even if I fall, at least I put my heart into it.
Another thing I would like to point out upfront, just so no-one can complain later, is that the first few chapters (probably up to chapter five max) will be a bit slow at first relative to the rest of the story, because there are a lot of details I have to address and a lot of early character development I have to get underway. I just need to make sure the groundwork is done thoroughly so there are no holes in my plot later on, so it may be more dialogue heavy from time to time.
After that, the pace pics up considerably, so please just be a bit patient in the beginning.
P.S. Sorry for the long wait for the update. I have been really sick and I needed to update "Eyes" first. T__T
Chapter 2 - Crossroads
"Leaving so soon are we? I think if you wish to go, it would be in your interests to take me with you... hmmm."
Konan and Itachi both turned to face the unexpected near whisper of a voice that addressed them, with even Naruto himself jumping slightly in fright following the sudden interruption. Luckily, the woman carrying him had a firm hold on his body, although it helped that the boy was hardly a burden to her with his current size and stature.
Soon, all of their eyes had fallen over the nearby shadow that hid their newest 'guest', with Itachi's own eyes narrowing dangerously as he regarded the incoherent form with a cold and threatening glare.
"I would suggest that you show yourself quickly." He hissed darkly. "If your intentions hold no malice towards us, you may yet remain unharmed."
At that, the figure slowly moved forward into the soft haze of moonlight that had already enveloped the others waiting, only to reveal the long, bright blond hair that covered half of his face and the mischievous grin that easily identified their owner.
"Good to see you're as bright and cheery as ever Itachi." Deidara smirked, approaching the three would-be escapees with an air of exuberance. "I'm sure the others would be thrilled to learn that you've decided to leave them, and with their prize in hand no less, hmmm?"
Naruto, who had been listening cautiously to the exchange, simply looked back up to Konan with a nervous and somewhat fearful expression. Although he was young, it was clear that he understood that Deidara was referring to him when he mentioned their 'prize' and it only caused him to become that much more anxious.
"I... I don't want to go back..." He whispered weakly. "Please don't make me go back in there..."
In response, the kunoichi simply squeezed him reassuringly, although her gaze did not waver from the figure that had addressed them. Itachi noticed the odd exchange between the two and let out a deep breath, before finally addressing their visitor once more.
"Your threats are a meaningless waste of time." The young Uchiha retorted. "If you had any incentive to inform the others, you would have done so already. Now, tell us what it is that you really want so that we may be on our way."
The young shinobi across from them simply grinned, although his expression bore some hint of a lingering and bitter resentment.
"Observant as ever..." He finally replied. "Although I'm sure those eyes of yours have a lot to do with that, hmmm." The blond then shrugged his shoulders in a careless gesture, as if to shake off the uneasy tension that had since befallen them.
"Actually, to be completely honest with you, I have no intention of telling anyone anything. In fact, I think I'll accompany you instead, yeah."
"You want to come with us?" Konan inquired curiously, somewhat surprised by the suggestion. "Why would you want to leave Akatsuki now? And why with us?"
Deidara simply remained silent for a moment, with the grin that enhanced his features only moments before quickly falling away again. The young shinobi quickly glanced over towards Itachi, with a brief flash of resentment catching in the glimmer of his eyes, before turning back to face Konan once more.
"In case neither of you recall, I didn't exactly join Akatsuki by my own free will. I never wanted to be a part of that ridiculous organization in the first place and I couldn't give a damn about their goals either. I have always done whatever I wanted regardless of what anyone else wishes of me, but being there has taken away that freedom that I craved so much, yeah."
The young man's expression then lifted somewhat, regaining some of the mischievous cheer that had been momentarily absent.
"Actually, I have been meaning to leave for a while now, but as you know, Akatsuki doesn't take kindly to deserters hmmm. So I knew that I would only be hunted just the same way other deserters have been and the exact same way you guys will probably be pursued as well. However, this is different now. If I leave with you guys, the focus isn't solely on me alone and traveling as a group means we stand a better chance of survival."
Itachi and Konan both took a moment to glance over at one another, as if silently exchanging their thoughts on the matter through a simple gesture shared through eye contact. As much as either of them may have disliked the idea of having extra company, they couldn't disagree with the logic presented. Moments later, they both turned their attention back to Deidara again, who was now waiting impatiently for their response to his suggestion.
"How can we be sure that you won't compromise us?" Konan began, speaking up first. "For all we know, you could have been sent to observe us and to follow our movements."
"That's true yeah." Deidara retorted. "But it's like Itachi said, if I wanted the others to know that you were leaving, I would have told them already. Why simply follow you when we could stop you right now before any problems can occur, hm? Besides, I think it would be in your interests to have me along as well. I am quite strong myself and my art is more powerful than you take for granted. With more of us together, the possibility of successfully escaping is far more likely, don't you think?"
After considering his fellow shinobi's offer for a moment, Itachi finally let out a deep and somewhat heavy sigh, before nodding his head begrudgingly.
"Very well then, we will tolerate your company until the situation deems otherwise, after all, what you say is true. In addition to that, denying your request may be problematic for us as well, so we really have little choice in the matter if we wish to avoid conflict. Either way, we have wasted enough time on this matter as it is, moments that could have been spent covering more ground. It's time to leave."
The young Uchiha had already turned to leave when Konan spoke up once more thereafter, addressing their new companion with a somber, yet stern expression.
"I just have one thing to add if you're going to be traveling with us." She announced firmly, looking down to the somewhat nervous boy in her arms, whom had barely spoken at all during the entire scene. "If you do anything to try and hurt this boy, I am going to simply kill you, is that understood?"
The young blond across from her just took a deep gulp, before nodding his head briskly. Even Naruto himself seemed to shuffle uncomfortably in the wake of her words. Having received her desired response, Konan allowed for a deceptively sweet smile, although the danger hidden behind such a gesture could easily be seen by anyone witnessing it.
"Good, I'm glad to see we have an understanding. It will make things a lot easier for all of us. Now lets get going."
With that, the four of them made their way into shadows of the nearby forest, beginning their journey into an unknown future with Naruto under the protection of their care.
They would have a long way to travel if they wished to be safe and the night was still young.
Hours later, the first soft golden rays of morning sunlight finally began to peak over the mountains that hid its glorious gaze, breaking through the last remnants of shadow and darkness as night was swept away by the welcomed embrace of a peaceful warmth.
Much ground had been covered by the three former Akatsuki and their young charge in the time of their travels, however fatigue had finally started to settle into their aching muscles, and the chance of rest had become an enticing offer, as the warmth of a new day met their cold skin.
In fact, Naruto, whose battered form was still carried carefully by the stoic kunoichi that held him in her arms, had already long since fallen asleep hours earlier, seemingly at rest in the comfort of Konan's firm hold whose own body heat had kept his exposed form warm through the icy cold of night.
Konan took a brief moment to look over her young charge as the soft rays of sunlight brushed against his golden blond hair, noting with a great deal of relief that his condition seemed to have improved somewhat given his time of rest. The young woman then set her gaze upright again, only to meet Itachi's own darkened stare, who had since come to an abrupt halt just in front of her.
Deidara had also taken note of the sudden pause, and quickly settled besides them. Once they had all come to attention, the young Uchiha nodded his head, before speaking up softly.
"I think we should take this opportunity to rest for now." He suggested. "We have covered a sufficient amount of ground as it is and the others no doubt still have yet to discover our absence, or the absence of their captive. Besides that, we also need to plan our next move if we want to avoid wandering around aimlessly."
"I agree." Konan concurred. "Actually, I think we could all use some time to relax. I know you boys like to act as tough as possible, but even you need your rest from time to time."
The young woman then looked down to the smaller boy in her arms again before smiling softly, gaining curious stares from both her present company.
"Besides..." she continued in a softer tone, nearing a whisper. "... this little one may be light to carry, but my arms are starting to numb from holding him for so long. I need to check if I still have fingers attached to the ends of my hands." At that, Deidara allowed for a brief giggle, having obviously found the remark somewhat amusing.
"Hahahaha!!! Fingers still attached, hahahaha!!! Get it Itachi?" The blond then elbowed his stoic companion in jest, only to receive a dark hiss in return, causing him to jump back in an exaggerated mock fright, before holding his fingers up in a cross.
"Woah!!! Creature of the night!!! Stay back I tell thee... thy.... thou... whatever you are!!! Oh the humanity!!!!!"
In return to the overly dramatized display, Itachi simply rolled his eyes, his expression clearly lacking any amusement even though Konan herself was trying her best not to laugh if she could help it. After all, she didn't want to wake the boy in her arms from his peaceful slumber or cause him any discomfort.
"Alright you two, let's settle down before someone ends up dead. It's bad enough that I had to deal with Kakuzu killing off his partners all the time, so I would like to avoid that kind of scenario as much as possible from now onwards, if I can help it."
After completing their exchange, all three of them went about their business, finally allowing themselves the opportunity to rest for the first time in hours.
It was only a few minutes later when the three shinobi had already set up a camp, while simultaneously creating a decently sized fire between them and setting Naruto down to sleep nearby. They had little in the way of supplies, not excluding a lack of any form of shelter, but Konan had made a point of bringing sleeping bags if nothing else, knowing that the youngster they were bringing with them would at least need one if no-one else did.
Anything in addition to that they could find on their own, after all they were trained shinobi.
And so the boy had been wrapped up safely, with the warmth of the nearby fire to help keep his body temperature within reasonable and comfortable parameters. Konan herself simply opted to remain nearby him, seated on the earth only a few inches away, while she waited patiently for her two newest traveling companions to return with what would hopefully be a decent dinner.
The young woman couldn't help it as her eyes continued to run over the face of the small body at her side, first traveling over the fine whisker marks that lined the side of his otherwise bruised cheeks, before traveling down to his lips, where she could make out the faint signs of breathing however soft they were.
'At least he's still alive...'
The kunoichi quickly shook off her wandering thoughts, before staring back into the fireplace and allowing her eyes to become lost in the dancing flames that flickered in the wake of her gaze.
'Dammit Konan, pull yourself together.' She berated herself mentally. 'If you allow yourself to become too attached to this boy, you're just going to end up getting hurt again. Just like with Yahiko...'
Konan didn't know why she felt this way, why she felt so compelled to protect the small blond at her side or what made her care for him so much. She didn't even know what had moved her into risking her own life in order to free him in the first place. She was sure she had killed all her emotions after Yahiko died, that she would no longer be hurt or ruled by them ever again, and yet here she was, watching over another young boy as though she were his own mother.
"Is it you Yahiko?" The young woman sighed disdainfully to herself. "Is it because I see so much of you inside him?"
She then let out another deep sigh, before raising her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them, while settling her head down to rest for a brief moment.
She had to admit, as much as it pained her, the boy they had rescued did have startling resemblances to the friend she once knew. Although their hair and eye colours were different, they weren't too dissimilar in features, barring the whisker marks that the young Jinchuuriki bore on his cheeks.
It hurt her, even just the mere act of looking at him, but it was also the reason she felt such an unlikely attachment to the young host. Luckily, before her thoughts could wade too far into such painfully deep and dark waters, a voice suddenly called out to her, interrupting her self-induced trance.
"I see he still hasn't woken up yet."
Konan quickly raised her head up to meet the one addressing her, only to see Itachi and Deidara stepping into view from behind the nearby trees. Realizing whom it was that the young Uchiha was referring to, she simply nodded her head, before allowing for another empty sigh, confirming his suspicions.
"I think this whole ordeal has exhausted him outright, not to mention the fact that he hasn't been fed since the time we had claimed him. You guys did find something to eat, right?"
It was then that Konan noticed what looked like a mess of some incoherent form held in Deidara's hands, causing the kunoichi to raise her eyebrows curiously. Seeing her reaction, the blond simply grinned mischievously before scratching the back of his head.
"Hehehe... well I guess I overdid it a bit with my art..." The teen laughed. Itachi just shook his head despondently following his companion's words.
"Overdid it?" Konan reiterated, her face clearly defining her exasperation. "It looks like you put whatever that... that thing used to be through a meat grinder. I don't even know what species it's supposed to resemble. Just what did you do to it anyway?"
Deidara was about to respond when Itachi cut him off, speaking in a soft monotone as he had always done so before.
"Well, it used to be a hare." The Uchiha began. "However, our 'artist' here decided that using his explosive clay was the best way to catch his prey."
The dark haired shinobi then rolled his eyes and Konan could swear that she saw what looked like the signs of a faint and somewhat aggravated sigh.
"This is what we found in the crater." He finally finished, a hint of annoyance catching within his voice. Deidara simply pouted at what he perceived to be an undermining gesture on Itachi's part.
"Well, it's not like you did much better." The blond retorted. "I mean you also only caught one hare and at least mine is already cooked." Itachi simply held up his own catch in response, before speaking up again.
"At least mine is intact and more likely to be edible. However, I would have been far more successful if your attempt had not already scared away most of the local fauna. In any case, arguing over this matter is a waste of time and I have no inclination to spend such a commodity for your sake."
Deidara simply huffed angrily following that, before storming over to the fireplace and promptly landing on his rear end with a heavy thud. The faint, disgruntled whisper that left his lips clearly betrayed his aggravation and Konan was somewhat amused by the immature reaction, but even still she couldn't help it as her face fell into a sad frown.
Sometimes it was easy to forget just how young the two of them actually were. They were both only teenagers and yet both of their hearts had already been hardened into adults. They had both seen death and they had both been forced to kill as well and that innocence that once marked them as children had long since been stripped away, replaced by the firm and unforgiving mind of a shinobi.
It was only in these fleeting moments, these subtle exchanges that showed a glimpse of the childlike innocence and temperament that once existed in their hearts, that Konan was reminded of what they really were and it pained her knowing that she had grown from such a similar childhood marked with just as much pain, death and sacrifice.
Moments after Deidara's own begrudging approach, Itachi finally settled himself down as well and began to prepare their meal, suspending their food over the fire with calculated precision and allowing it to cook evenly. Once that task had been completed, he then turned his attention back to his company before addressing them once more.
"I think it's time we discussed our next move. I am almost certain that our absence has been noticed by now, so we should expect to be pursued. If we wish to survive, we will have to seek out a safe haven in which we can reside."
"That's true..." Konan agreed. "Even with the three of us, we won't be able to handle the rest of Akatsuki on our own and Pein..." The woman's expression then sank somewhat, showing her fear at the mere mention of such a name.
"Pein has never been defeated in battle before." She finally continued solemnly. "I've never seen a single person or shinobi who wields as much power as he does. I have witnessed that power firsthand before and I'm not even sure if any of us can stand up to him if he were to decide that we should be eliminated."
"We could always seek allegiance with another hidden village." Deidara offered. "I'm sure there are plenty of villages who would welcome our abilities and as a bonus, they get the kid and gain the power of a Jinchuuriki as well."
Konan's eyes immediately narrowed at that.
"That is completely out of the question." She hissed angrily. "I didn't risk my life to rescue this boy, only to have him fall under the use of someone else's greedy hand. They would strip away everything he is and turn him into nothing more than an emotionless weapon. I won't stand for something like that."
What followed was a brief moment of silence, a stark contrast to the fury displayed only moments before. It was only a while later before any of them spoke again, only this time it was Itachi that broke the peace once more.
"Konan is right...."
Konan and Deidara turned to face the young Uchiha as he offered his words, having both been somewhat surprised by his sudden intervention. Seeing that he had their attention, the young Uchiha continued to explain.
"Aligning ourselves with another village, as promising as it sounds, would be far too troublesome for its worth. If Konoha were to find out that their Jinchuuriki had fallen into the hands of another nation, war could break out as a result and we would be at an even greater risk."
Itachi's expression then narrowed somewhat, falling into what could only be described as an awkward frown.
"However..." He continued. "I also do agree with Deidara in that we will need the shelter of a hidden village if we are to survive. We cannot wander aimlessly forever and it is only a matter of time before we are discovered by either Konoha or Akatsuki. Neither bodes well for us."
"So then what do you suggest?" Konan sighed. "What choice do we have?"
At that, Itachi let out a deep breath, betraying more emotion in that single gesture than any of his company had ever seen him express before. The words that fell from his lips soon afterwards were wrought with the heavy burden of his own anguish, despite any attempt on his part to remain cold and emotionless.
"We should head to Konoha..."
Deidara's and Konan's eyes both widened in complete and stunned surprised following the uneasily offered suggestion, but this time it was the older blond who spoke up in response.
"Are you crazy?!?! That would be like walking into the jaws of death!!! What makes you think Konoha won't just kill us on sight and then take back what is theirs anyway?"
"It is our only option." Itachi retorted.
"Believe me when I say that such a village was the last place I had ever seen myself returning to, but even I know we have little choice in the matter. The Saindaime is a wise ruler, but he is also compassionate and he may be forgiving if we return this boy to him relatively unharmed. If we happen to gain amnesty, we would essentially be eliminating one major threat to our well being while simultaneously defending ourselves against another at the same time. I can't say for certain if we would be accepted without consequence, but it is a risk we will have to take if we wish to survive."
Itachi then looked over to where Naruto was still sleeping peacefully, allowing his eyes to soften somewhat in light of the subject of his view. After a few moments of awkward silence, he finally spoke up again, only this time his voice was far softer than it had been before.
"Besides... as much as those who reside there may hate him, Konoha is that boy's home. It is only correct that we should return him to where he belongs, but if either of you is against this course of action, then I will take him alone. Neither of you need endanger yourselves if you feel you are at risk. It is the least I can do to fulfill this duty I have taken up upon myself and if I should die, I will do so with what little honor I have left."
There was another moment of silence, as both of Itachi's company carefully considered the young man's words. He may have been young relative to most seasoned ninja, but there was no denying his wisdom and it soon became obvious to both of them just why he was considered a genius of the shinobi world, even though Deidara himself would be hard pressed to admit such a notion.
After some thought, Konan finally gave her answer, allowing a sad smile to spread across her lips as she gently stroked Naruto's soft blond hair.
"No... I need to do this as well." She offered gently. "I also took up this task and I also need to see it through to the end. I've decided I am going to protect this boy and if I have to risk Konoha's wrath to do so, then I will accept that consequence. However, believe me when I say I have a bone to pick with the idiots that did this to him."
Itachi nodded his head in silent approval following her words, before turning his attention to Deidara, as if silently prompting him to give his own answer as well. Having noticed that all eyes were now directed to himself, the eccentric blond just shrugged his shoulders.
"What? Of course I'm gonna come with. I may be confident to the point of being dense sometimes, but I am not that stupid to think I can survive on my own, hmmm. Besides, someone has to piss Itachi off, yeah! At least when he's angry, he's showing some emotion, which is far better than that stupid blank stare that irritates the living hell out of me so much."
At that Itachi just glared at the other boy across from him, a gesture that anyone witnessing could have sworn would simply cause the young shinobi to combust on the spot. Konan herself just smiled once more following the exchange. Traveling with the unlikely pair may have been troublesome, but it was definitely not without its interests.
Fortunately, the animosity was short lived and soon the three had settled down once more, all content with their plans for the time being, however dangerous they may have been.
They were just about to see to their awaiting meal, when soft shuffle caught all of their hearing, drawing their attention to the small blond who lay nearby, just as the boy began to rouse from his slumber. Soon, the boy's face began to contort and tighten in an odd display, before two small hands rose from underneath the sleeping bag that wrapped around him, in an effort to wipe his eyes.
Following an exasperated yawn, the hands then lowered themselves away again, revealing in their wake the groggy stare of two tired blue eyes as they peered out into the world around them. At first, they simply stared blankly, as if still unaware of their own surroundings, but soon afterwards they finally found their focus, before moving up to meet Konan's own amused gaze.
"H... hey..." a small whisper of a voice called weakly, following the boy's recognition of the face he looked upon. Konan simply smiled in response, before moving over beside him and petting his soft blond hair.
"Hey there kid. You feeling a bit better now?" Naruto allowed for a small nod, before letting out a deep breath.
"Yeah, but I feel so tired. It's like my body doesn't wanna move and I feel so..." Just then, a small rumbling permeated the air, causing Naruto to scratch the side of his face sheepishly as his cheeks began to turn red in embarrassment.
"I see..." Konan grinned in response. "It looks like your stomach is demanding some much needed attention. How about we give it a little something to keep it from complaining, hm?"
Naruto just nodded his head enthusiastically, realizing immediately what he was being offered. Moments later, Konan helped him to sit in an upright position, with his own muscles causing him too much pain to move alone, before handing him a small stick with drivels of meat skewered across its length.
"Here, it isn't much, but I guess it's better than nothing."
Naruto simply reached out with a shaky hand, before taking hold of one end of the stick and holding it firmly in his grasp. The boy then looked up again, before shifting his focus between his present company with a troubled expression, as if he were still reluctant to act on his own hunger. It was almost as though he was too afraid to eat in front of them, as if the mere act would bring about some sort of painful reprisal.
Noticing his reluctance, Deidara just raised an eyebrow inquisitively, before letting out a deep, exasperated breath.
"You know, it isn't going to eat itself." The young shinobi announced bluntly. "Go ahead, no-one here is going to stop you."
Naruto took that as his cue to begin, and promptly sank his teeth into the warm flesh that met his lips. After chewing the small morsel a few times, he then swallowed it with a deep gulp, before letting out a breath of air he didn't know he had been holding.
The three shinobi watching over him simply continued to watch with interest as he slowly devoured his meal with a reluctant enthusiasm, taking his time to allow each bite to emulsify his taste buds, almost as if he were savoring the drop of every flavor.
A few moments later, Konan noticed a soft haze forming in the boy's eyes, but the moment was short lived as Naruto quickly lifted a hand to wipe his face, before sniffing sharply while his body was embraced by a momentary shiver.
"Hey kid, are you alright?" The young woman inquired nervously. "You look like you're really upset. I'm sorry if the food isn't what you had hoped for. I know you must be really..."
"No..." The boy cut her off. "I... it's just... it tastes so good. I've never tasted anything this good before."
Both Konan and Deidara simply stared at the boy in awe, and even Itachi's eyebrows rose curiously. However, before anyone could ask the boy what he had meant by such a notion, Konan spoke up again.
"When... when exactly was the last time you ate anyway?"
Naruto just looked up at her with saddened blue eyes, before allowing his shoulders to sink precariously.
"I don't remember." He sighed bluntly. "All I remember was that I was trying to find something to eat, when I walked into this house... I think it was a food store. The man at the counter got angry when he saw me though and he chased me out. I thought I got away, but then... but then..."
"He decided to invite some of his friends to chase you down." Itachi interrupted, causing Naruto to flinch slightly at the mere mention of his words.
"That's why you were being chased that night and it's also why they decided to teach you a 'lesson', am I correct?"
The young blond nodded his head sadly, and even Konan couldn't help the frown that marred her expression. However, before she could even think any further on it, Naruto's eyes suddenly widened in surprise, as he regarded the young Uchiha across from him with sudden recognition.
"Hey, I remember you." The boy croaked out. "You were that guy who found me after all the villagers went away. Did you... did you save me?"
"I am afraid it is not that simple." Itachi answered honestly, causing the boy's face to twist in confusion. "However, circumstances did call for my intervention before your death, so I suppose you could say that, indirectly, I did save you from harm. Suffice to say, you do not need fear any harm from either of us three here."
Naruto was even more confused by the Uchiha's use of words than he had been before, having little understanding for such a formal use of speech. However, even despite that, he still understood the implications behind such an explanation and so he quickly bowed his head in silent gratitude.
"Thanks for saving me..." He whispered softly.
Following the quiet that remained after Naruto's last words, everyone finished their meals in awkward silence, neither one feeling any inclination to speak after what they had just heard. Even Deidara seemed to respect the mood, although that might have been attributed to Konan's earlier warning to him regarding Naruto, rather than his own inclination.
About an hour had passed as the small group of travelers allowed themselves to rest and rejuvenate from the stresses of their journey. They had all since finished their meals, including Naruto, and were now in the process of clearing the campsite of any evidence of their presence.
Soon, only the fire in the center of the clearing remained, its form still burning strongly with the soft breeze fueling the embers of its life.
Konan herself was just about to move over to where Naruto was still seated on the forest floor, to see if he was ready to leave again, when the sound of crackling sparks coupled with the smell of burnt fabric caught her attention. The young woman quickly turned to the source of the commotion, only to see Itachi staring longingly into the deep red flames that fell into his view, his form now absent of the Akatsuki cloak he had only just previously adorned.
Following the young Uchiha's own gaze further down, her eyes soon fell upon the source of his attention, where the dark fabric she recognized all too well was quickly consumed in fire, leaving only ash and smoke as any evidence of its prior existence.
"To keep such a thing, is to do nothing more than hold onto a painful memory that I would sooner wish to forget."
Konan looked back up to Itachi again as the dark haired shinobi spoke in a soft monotone, only to note that his gaze had now shifted to her. Realizing what it was that he was suggesting, as well as the meaning of his words, she simply nodded her head in silent understanding, before walking over to the fire and staring softly into its radiant and ever changing form.
"I... I guess I should have done this a long time ago. Just what was it that I was holding onto for so long?"
The woman then slowly removed the cloak that covered her body, before folding it into her arms and holding it closely to her chest. Her gaze quickly became lost into nothingness, with not even the flames before her to draw her focus, as her thoughts wandered over the memories of her past.
Memories she would soon let go of as sure as she would be releasing the cloth from her grip.
Shaky hands began to squeeze tightly around the fabric that met their fingertips, as if to dare to hold onto a thought one last time, before finally releasing themselves once more, allowing themselves to let go of such a painful past and to free their owner's heart of the burden that was now lifting away.
'Goodbye... Nagato... Yahiko... I will always love you both.'
Konan then allowed the cloak to fall from her hands and into the fire set before her, its existence rapidly being consumed in light and fire. Once it was gone, the blue-haired kunoichi then looked over to her stoic companion, before smiling sadly.
"That cloak... it was a heavy weight to bear on my shoulders, far heavier than one would imagine looking at it."
Itachi simply nodded, as if to silently confirm his understanding of her words. Moments later, Deidara had also made his way over to them, having seen the actions both of them had partaken in, before removing his own wares in a similar manner.
"Here's to freedom, yeah." He offered nonchalantly. "At least, in the end, this stupid robe will become a form of art in its own way when it goes up in a cloud of smoke."
The young shinobi then discarded the mass of fabric without so much as a hint of hesitation. He didn't even bother to watch as it burned, instead opting to quickly turn away in order to tend to own devices once more.
Naruto, who was still sitting silently nearby, simply continued to watch as the strange ritual took place before his eyes. He didn't understand what was happening, but he could still sense the importance behind such an action despite his young age.
Once it was complete, Konan moved over to where he was waiting once more, before kneeling down in front of him and allowing for a soft, warmhearted smile.
Naruto didn't know why, but her expression appeared lighter and more sincere than it had before. Her smile was different and it no longer looked as sad. It was almost as though a heavy burden had been lifted off of her heart and the boy silently wondered if the mere act of burning clothes was the cause of such a change.
Seeing his obvious confusion, Konan just patted him affectionately on the head, before addressing him once more.
"So, kid, are you ready to go? We still have a long way to travel."
"Hey, I have a name, you know!" The youngster pouted in response. "It's Naruto. My name is Uzumaki Naruto."
"So, it's Naruto then?" Konan confirmed, receiving a sharp nod in response. "It's a cute name, I think I like that. Very well then... Naruto, are you ready to leave?"
Naruto's cheeks seemed to turn a soft shade of red at the mention of the word 'cute' but even that did little to rid him of his childlike pout. However, even despite that, he still nodded his head in response to her inquiry. The boy then moved his arms to his sides, before pushing his hands against the floor in an effort to lift his body upright, even managing to go as far as standing, albeit very shakily.
"See? I'm ready." The boy boasted proudly.
However, Konan seemed a little less than convinced following his claim. She could almost swear he was going to topple over any moment with the way his body continued to quiver so violently and she could tell, just by looking at him, that he was still in a lot of pain.
And, true to her thoughts, as soon as Naruto tried to take a single step forward, he was no sooner doubling over in agony as the pain of his previously suffered injuries brought him crashing to the ground, with him announcing his own plight with a sharp cry of pain.
Luckily, Konan was there to catch him mid-fall before he could hurt himself any further than his body had already endured at the hands of others. Once she had secured him in her arms, she quickly stroked his back in an effort to ease his aching, before speaking up softly.
"Hey, are you alright there little guy?" Naruto just shook his head, with any previous show of bravery quickly vanishing in light of his ordeal.
"It hurts." Was all the youngster could whimper.
"I guess I'll just have to carry you again." Konan sighed in response. "You're definitely not ready to walk on your own yet and I doubt you will be any time soon."
"I could always carry him, if you want."
Both Konan and Naruto turned their heads to the voice that had addressed them, to see Deidara standing nearby. The young blond seemed to act sincerely in his offer, which definitely threw Konan off, but despite that, she decided it was best to allow Naruto to consider his options on his own.
The young blond himself, however, simply regarded the young man with a great deal of indecision, before frowning softly despite himself.
"I dunno if I should." He finally responded. "I mean, I don't really know you and you look kinda freaky."
"Oh, come on. It will be fun, yeah." Deidara huffed in reply. "Just us boys having a good time, if ya catch my drift."
The blond shinobi then held out his hands as if to extenuate his offer, while simultaneously allowing the mouths that inhabited the centre of his palms to stick out their tongues playfully.
"Ewww!!! Gross!!! There's no way I'm gonna let you carry me with those!!!" Naruto shouted indignantly.
Konan let out a deep sigh following the boy's response before standing up to her feet, while simultaneously lifting Naruto up with her and securing him in her hold. She then turned to Deidara, who was currently acting in mock hurt, before shaking her head in a manner she could have sworn she saw Itachi doing many times in the few hours they had traveled together.
"Sorry Deidara, but I think it would be best if you left this task to me. Besides, I don't want Naruto to have nightmares about your... your tongue thingies any time soon."
"Well, it's his loss." Deidara shrugged in response. "And we could have annoyed Itachi so much as well. What a missed opportunity that is, hmmm."
"Alright, that's enough." This time it was Itachi who had intervened, once again drawing all attention to himself with the silent authority of his voice.
"We are wasting time again. Lets leave now." With that, the Uchiha made his way off once more, quickly prompting the others to follow shortly behind him.
"Man, he's starting to sound like Sasori-senpai." Deidara grumbled to himself, before quickly falling into pace.
There were a few minutes of awkward silence that followed, as all four of them once again set out for a new destination, their journey set out by the light of a new day and the hopeful wishes in each of their hearts. The radiant sunlight that bathed their every step almost seemed to offer some solace in the path they had taken and it was almost as though a new part of their life had begun in that very moment.
A new story that would forever shape their futures and destinies in a way none of them could ever imagine, as their lives were brought together by the plight of one single boy.
Naruto was almost all too happy to simply embrace the comfort of the arms that had wrapped around him and even he could feel his emotions stir as his heart was exposed to a feeling he had never felt before, but one that he knew could only be good.
The boy only paused in his hopeful dreams to look up at Konan one last time, speaking to address the only thought that was left harboring in his young mind.
"So, lady, where are we going now anyway?"
"You can call me Konan." The kunoichi responded. "And as for where we are going.... well, we are taking you back home now, back home to Konoha."
AN: Yes, I know, this may not be what most of you expected and I know it's risky treading on such thin ice regarding the direction I have taken, however I have seen other stories where Naruto is rescued and then taken out of the village, etc...
The thing is, I still wanted him to have that same interaction with the other kids in his age group. Having him isolated away from his village with three adult figures watching over him isn't quite the same and wouldn't give me as much opportunity to show all the interesting scenarios and ideas I have in mind. I still wanted to keep that interaction, because I have a lot of fun and interesting plans for the future.
I also want to assure everyone that I have thought about this carefully, so before anyone starts sending PMs or reviews asking about this or that, or how a certain situation is not possible, etc, you need to understand that the answers WILL come soon enough. I will address all of those points in the upcoming chapter and I will make sure I explain very thoroughly so that everyone understands.
You will just have to be patient and see what happens, but please just give me a chance to lay out the situation clearly before you start pulling it apart. I have thought things through very carefully and I only went ahead once I was sure of my own ability to justify what I am doing, so I need my readers to just trust me for now.
If you still don't like it after that, then that is fine.
In any case, I put up a poll regarding the matter of everyone going back to Konoha just to see what people think. The results of the poll will not necessarily sway my decision, (in fact, it would take a landslide to do that) so don't vote thinking it will. I just put it up to get an idea of where I stand.
Writer - TenraiSenshi!!! XD
Beta - FantomoDrako