Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or Fruits Basket and this fic is non-profitable.
Naruto stood in his study, leaning against the windowsill and admiring the magnificent view of Konoha's forests that his window provided. The slight morning breeze ruffled his blond locks as he continued to contemplate on Sasuke's words.
"You have no idea what it's like to be like us, unable to experience human contact!" "Stop pretending that you understand how we feel!"
Sasuke's words seemed to have embedded themselves into his mind, and they kept repeating themselves over and over again in his thoughts. Running a hand through his hair, he closed his sapphire-like eyes and heaved a sigh. Sasuke was right. What kind of Hokage was he, if he couldn't even understand what his knights were going through? He had no right to be their leader, he had no right to be their friend. Kami-sama, was he really so arrogant as to assume that he could relate to them? Naruto's eyes narrowed as he made his decision. He would make himself understand. He would find out what his ANBU were going through. His resolve hardened the more he thought about it. Yes, it was the only way he could be a worthy king.
Meanwhile, back in the dining room, Itachi was still glaring harshly at Sasuke. His foolish little brother had hurt his Hokage, again. Itachi knew that Sasuke was jealous of Naruto. He was jealous of how Naruto could control his transformations, but more importantly, he was jealous of how Itachi obviously preferred to spend time with Naruto rather than himself. As such, Sasuke had retaliated in the only way he knew how. He channelled his jealously into anger and hatred, and took out his frustrations on the poor blond. However, this time Sasuke had gone too far. Itachi had seen how Naruto practically flinched at Sasuke's words. It seemed Sasuke had hit a raw nerve.
"Don't forget your place, Little Brother. Naruto-kun has suffered more than you can ever imagine. Or have you forgotten that he bears the Core of the curse?" Itachi turned to Kakashi and the other older ANBU. "I think it's time they know what it means to be the Hokage, and what it means to bear the Core of the curse."
Kakashi nodded solemnly as he started to explain to the younger generation of knights. He, as well as Rin, Obito, Iruka, Anko and Itachi were aware of this as they had served other Hokages before Naruto. The younger ANBU, however, were left in the dark. "As you all know, Naruto, too, can turn into an animal – a fox, to be exact, though he is able to control when he transforms. However, that is not the extent of the curse he bears. Have you all noticed how all the Hokages never lived to a ripe old age? In fact, the Yondaime, who has lived the longest out of all the Hokages, only lived to the age of 37. This is because the bearer of the Core cannot live past his or her prime. Can you imagine, Sasuke, being told that you were going to die the day you were born?" Gasps were heard around the room as the young knights digested this information. "But Naruto's always smiling! How could he keep being so cheerful knowing that he is going to die soon?" Sakura shook her head in denial. She might not like Naruto all that much as he always made Sasuke angry, but Naruto was still her Hokage and she did care for him. Shikamaru sighed, "Troublesome". Naruto was always trying to bear all his burdens by himself. It was no wonder that even he, with his IQ of over 200 was completely oblivious to Naruto's plight. Neji closed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest, opting to remain silent as he contemplated over what he has just been told. Hinata's and Ino's eyes were filled with tears as they thought about what Naruto had had to go through. "Naruto-kun is so strong!" Ino exclaimed, as Hinata nodded in agreement. Sasuke, on the other hand, merely turned his head away and refused to admit his mistake. Itachi looked over Sasuke in disappointment before leaving as well. He had to repair the damage his foolish little brother had caused.
Naruto was jolted out of his reverie at the soft knocks on the door. With a soft "Come in", the door opened and Itachi glided into the room. He quickly sank to one knee. "I apologise for Sasuke's show of disrespect, Naruto-sama, please do not mind his thoughtless words." When Itachi had kneeled, Naruto instinctively took a step forward, but he stopped himself in time and took two steps back instead. "There's nothing to apologise for Itachi. And haven't I told you not to kneel or call me Naruto-sama?" Before Itachi could reply, Naruto continued. "I have a lot of work to do Itachi." With that, Naruto sat behind his desk and started to look through one of the documents there. Recognising the clear dismissal, Itachi could only bow and excuse himself quietly from the room. It appeared that Naruto had taken offense and was now bearing a grudge against him. Usually, whever one of the ANBU kneeled to Naruto, the young Rokudaime would immediately pull them to their feet and chastise them for kneeling unnecessarily. Itachi had not missed the instinctive step Naruto had taken towards him, but the fact that Naruto had stopped himself showed just how displeased Naruto was with him. Not for the first time, he cursed his little brother for making a mess that he would have to clean up. He was starting to think that Sasuke would never grow up and think more maturely. Oh well, Naruto could never hold grudges for long. He was sure that everything would blow over soon. After all, for all that they were of the same age, Naruto was far more mature than his foolish little brother.
Itachi stood corrected as he observed the Rokudaime from afar. Naruto never ceased to surprise him. It seemed his initial assumption of Naruto bearing a grudge against him was wrong. He should have known better. Naruto could never be truly angry at his ANBU. He cared for them too much. After observing Naruto for a week, Itachi realised that Naruto was purposefully avoiding all human contact. It wasn't very obvious to those who didn't know what to look for, but for someone as observant as Itachi, it was blatant. It showed in the way Naruto would lean back slightly if someone got too close to him, or when Naruto took an extra step to the side to avoid accidentally brushing shoulders with anyone. Naruto had taken Sasuke's words to heart. He had decided to deny himself any and all forms of human contact so that he may understand what his knights went through. "Naruto's still doing it isn't he? Doesn't he know that we do experience human contact? We just can't hug someone of the opposite gender. Sometimes, despite how mature Naruto might be, he can be rather dense as well." Itachi turned to Kakashi who had spoke up from beside him and absently acknowledged him. Then he turned back to watching Naruto. He was starting to get worried. It wasn't healthy to abstain completely from human contact for a prolonged period of time. However, he knew Naruto well enough to know that confronting him wouldn't work either. He would just have to wait and watched how things played out for awhile. If the situation still did not improve, then he would have to find a way to fix it. For now, he would just stick to the shadows.
Naruto shivered as he huddled into the corner of his bedroom, wrapping his arms around himself. It had already been two months since he had made the decision to completely refrain from all human contact. The two months had been horrible. He was unable to eat and sleep properly and he always felt so empty on the inside. Was this what his ANBU went through their whole lives? He couldn't imagine how they had held out for so long. However, Naruto didn't regret his decision. This experience had shown him to true extent of his knights' suffering and his determination to lift their curse had only increased tenfold. He threw himself into his research, working himself to the bone as he tried to find a way to reverse the curse's effects. He had already let his precious people suffer for too long, and he'll be damned if he didn't do his best to end their suffering. Sighing, he stood up and resigned himself to another sleepless night. He opted to go to the library and continue his research instead of wasting time trying to sleep. With that thought in mind, he left his bedroom and headed towards the library. It was already around 2 am in the morning, but the guards on patrol weren't surprised when they saw the young Rokudaime pouring over thick tomes in the library. It had become a common occurrence these two months for their king to work even in the wee hours of the morning, and when the blond wasn't attending to his Hokage's duties, he could, more often than not, be found in the library. Naruto had even cut down on the time spent with his ANBU, figuring that no amount of time spent with them could compare to the lifting of their curse.
The ANBU were having a conference in the training hall. It had not escaped their notice that their leader was not eating or sleeping well. He had also started visiting them less and less, choosing to stay holed up in the Namikaze library instead.
"Naruto-kun just had his monthly medical check-up. He has lost weight and shows sign of extreme physical exhaustion. I'm afraid he won't be able to last much longer before he blacks out." Hinata reported, worry and concern showing clearly in her eyes. Almost everyone turned to Sasuke, the accusation clear in their glares. It was, doubtlessly, his careless words that got Naruto into such a state. Sasuke merely sipped his tea and pointedly ignored the glares. Finally, Obito snapped and was about 'pound the little brat into dust' when Rin restrained Obito and spoke up. "Just go and apologise to him, Sasuke. Your little speech must have hit him hard. Treat it as a mission if you have to. It is your duty to protect the Hokage, after all." Sakura, ever-ready to defend her idol, protested immediately, "Why should Sasuke-kun have to apologise? It's that idiot's fault for being so overly-sensitive. I mean, he can't even take hearing a few words!" It seemed after the shock of knowing the true extent of Naruto's curse had died down, Sakura had reverted to her old ways of supporting Sasuke under all circumstances. Predictably, she had taken his side in this situation as well. Ino sent Sakura a death glare, "Who exactly are you loyal to, you cow? Our Hokage or Sasuke?"
"What are you insinuating, Ino-pig?"
"I'd have thought that'd be obvious." Just as Sakura opened her mouth to retort, Itachi cut in. "Enough." Anko spoke up as well, "Itachi is right. We're veering off-topic. The issue at hand is what to do about the little brat. If this keeps up, he might very well blackout from exhaustion. Furthermore, he shouldn't be placing any stress on his body, what with the curse's effects and all." Iruka nodded sadly. "I tried talking to him, but he would just change the topic. But I must admit that I'm quite puzzled. Naruto isn't the type to mope around, he believes in taking action rather than wasting time being depressed. Surely he wouldn't lose sleep and starve himself over Sasuke's words?" This sentiment was echoed by most of the ANBU. Kakashi glanced at Itachi, and seeing that the latter planned on remaining silent, sighed and took it upon himself to explain the situation. "Naruto is forcing himself to completely refrain from any and all human contact. It seems he somehow got it into his head that in order to understand our 'suffering', he has to put himself through what he believes we go through everyday." Predictably, his words caused an uproar.
"He is doing what? This is all your fault Uchiha! You said that he didn't know what it's like to be unable to experience the human touch. Well, what do you have to say now? Naruto knows exactly what it's like, more so than you, I might add!" Neji exclaimed hotly.
"But that is very damaging to one's mental psyche! Are you saying that he has been going without human contact for 2 whole months? That's practically unthinkable!" Hinata lost her cool as well.
"This is bad. Even for someone like Naruto, being cut off completely from human contact would take its toil." Shikamaru.
Similar protests were made all around the table as the ANBU struggled to take in this new piece of information. To think that their leader had been suffering alone for so long and they didn't do anything about it. However, one individual had a considerably different reaction.
"So what? You all are making too much of a fuss. We have gone though the same our whole lives and we're still here aren't we?" Sasuke drawled arrogantly. Honestly, the dobe pulled a stupid stunt and suddenly everyone panics. It wasn't even that big a deal!
Itachi finally spoke up. "In case you have forgotten, little brother, the ANBU are still able to have contact with each other and those of the same gender. In fact, we are able to experience any sort of human contact apart from a hug by someone of the opposite gender. Naruto, on the other hand, has denied himself so much as an accidental brush of the hands."
"Che. It still isn't as bad as you all make it out to be. I could do it too. If you don't believe me, you could place one of your force fields around me. I bet I would last longer than the dobe."
"Fine. I'll let you understand the meaning of true loneliness." With a flick of his finger, a force field was erected around Sasuke like a second skin. Sasuke would still be able to feel and pick up inanimate objects or animals, but no human would be able to get past his force field. (Author's Note: The ability to create force fields came with Itachi's ability to manipulate the dark and light elements.) "Let's see how long you can last, little brother."