A Naruto Fan fiction

By Systatic

Chapter Seven

He choked on the thick, dusty atmosphere. The coppery scent of blood invaded his nostrils and he fought the urge to sneeze. Naruto struggled to keep his face impassive while he frantically searched for his loved ones and comrades.

Fires burned and buildings collapsed; broken pipes flung great fountains of water into the sky as bodies were crushed under the rubble. A mixture of water, mud, concrete, and blood drenched the street, crunching underneath his sandals with every step. Naruto suppressed a sob. Konoha was in shambles.

He ran, shadowed by his summons, to where he sensed Tsunade-baa-chan's weak chakra signature. The Godaime Hokage's genjutsu had failed, and she was being supported by her apprentice and his teammate, Sakura. He dashed to her and wrapped her in a hug, overjoyed that she had survived the initial attack.

"What's going on?"he asked. His voice was rough and scratchy in the dry, dirt-clogged air. Tsunade's head lolled and her eyelids fluttered. He laid a concerned hand on her pulse before turning to Sakura, who was feeding chakra to her mentor. "Sakura?" he implored. He needed answers.

"T-they—it's Akatsuki," the pink-haired nin whispered exhaustedly. Her eyes were overflowing with tears and her face, everyone's face, was streaked with sweat and grime. "An explosion—they came and there was a huge explosion—so many people died—I don't—Tsunade-shishou summoned Katsuyu to help heal people—they were too strong—and she, she used so much chakra—"

Sakura's hysterical rambling cut off with a sob. Naruto's eyes closed sadly and he laid a strong hand on her shoulder. He stilled and searched again for any chakra that he recognized, breath hitching when he couldn't find one of the ones he was looking for.

"S-Sakura," he breathed, worried eyes opening, "please tell me that Kakashi-sensei is out on a mission. Please—" His voice cracked on the word. When Sakura turned her haunted eyes to meet his in an unspoken answer, he gritted his teeth and tried to hold back the tears. Fukasaku stood behind him in silent support.

Kakashi-sensei was dead, gone, murdered by the same people that had killed Ero-sennin. Not again, he pleaded. Please, don't make me lose someone else.

Naruto squeezed Sakura's shoulder and stood from his crouch. "Stay here," he ordered. His eyes were cold, determined. His teammate could only nod as he walked away to save what was left of his village, even as Tsunade's heart started to fail.

Thump-thump. Thump… thump. Thump… thump… thump… thu—

Naruto jerked awake with a gasp. His chest heaved and his small hands were fisted in his sheets, knuckles white as they clenched in remembered horror. He trembled in the aftermath of his memories of Konoha's devastation. He would never forget the sheer hatred he had felt upon meeting Nagato, the man that had destroyed Konoha—destroyed his home and the people in it.

Hate was such an ugly emotion—his insides twisted just thinking about it.

The last week was hard for him. After his brief run-in, if it could be called that, with Sasuke, Naruto had been quietly contemplative. His family—Minato, Naiko, Kakashi, and even Jiraiya—had made it their mission to see him smile, a rare sight after Sasuke's presence brought reality crashing down around his head. Naruto found it hard to accept that the people he grew up with were, essentially, dead to him. The recollections he had of them—memories of his own time, a life that was much, much harder than his effortless existence as the Hokage's heir—were only reminders of what he once had. They were the "what if" that was no longer possible; a future that was lost to him. He was unable to share those memories, and these new figures in his life couldn't relate. For all their similarities, for the identical faces and voices, the people he knew and loved were going to be different.

He wasn't sure he would be able to cope with the change.

He finally had all that he wanted—a family and the acknowledgement of the village—but it was a bitter consolation. He didn't consider it a fair exchange, one life for another, but he realized that fairness had no part it in; he was doing this for Konoha, for the people he loved—past, present, and future, dead or alive. It wasn't entirely about him, and he'd finally come to realize that.

Naruto sighed, pulling the covers over his head and relaxing into his bed's soft cushioning, and resolved to think on it tomorrow. Perhaps these feelings would dull with time, he mused, before drifting off into an uneasy sleep.

In the darkened corner of his room, Hato watched the toddler worriedly, her expression hidden behind the smooth curves of her dove mask. Absently, she deactivated the technique she had used to wake Naruto from his nightmare.

The Hokage would have to hear of this; Naruto shouldn't have to suffer from such awful dreams.

It was a pathetic attempt at flattery. Minato grimaced as he watched the man in front of him stumble over his words. He was dressed in a plain pin-striped kimono, the Uchiha fan clearly embroidered on the left breast. He had the dark ebony hair typical of his family, though his eyes were a lighter shade of grey than Minato was used to seeing on Uchihas. Maybe he wasn't full-blooded; it didn't matter to him.

"The Uchiha clan would be grateful if our esteemed Hokage would consent to allowing his honorable heir to attend the proceedings."

Minato leaned forward over the desk, chin in his hand, as his bored gaze pinned the man in his spot. "So what you're trying to tell me," the Kage summarized, an almost invisible glint of amusement in his eyes, "is that Uchiha Sasuke is having a birthday party, and you want my son there?"

The man seemed to shift on his feet a bit, but he nodded quickly.

Minato rolled his eyes. Clans and their ridiculous formality, he grumbled to himself. It would have been easier to simply ask me straight out; I don't have time for this crap.

"Send an invitation with the date and time," Minato informed the representative, eager for the man to depart and leave him in peace. He made no promises about attending, but he doubted he'd pass up an opportunity to get Naruto out of the house.

At the rate that Naruto was developing, something that he had been striving to keep a secret—and one of many that he seemed to be keeping from his beloved village—Minato was worried that Naruto would never be able to form true bonds with his peers. It was a well-known fact that, ninja or not, all geniuses had a common denominator: they think. And, for some, they consider and dissect and discover so much that they eventually stop caring about anything other than their own intellect, opinions, and conclusions.

In the ninja world, where power decided who was on top, the connections, whether they be father-to-son, mentor-to-student, or comrade-to-comrade, that anchored shinobi to their village were essential to the continued existence of the elemental countries and humanity in general.

On a more instinctual level, Minato didn't like the isolation that Naruto was forced into. He knew it was partly his fault. Naiko was a good person, but she was an adult and, if he was honest, slightly unhinged. Kakashi, as much as he loved Naruto, had never been a normal child, nor did he know how to interact with them.

Minato wanted Naruto to find friends before they learned of the importance of social status, to have those emotional bonds in place before they learned about the target painted on his back—and now, when the young were only concerned about their lives ten minutes from now instead of twenty years and the only connections that existed were those of friendship and family, was the perfect time for Naruto to discover that companionship.

And so, nearly a year after Naruto first laid eyes on toddler-Sasuke, Minato chose to accept the Uchiha's standing invitation at the last minute, having received the request nearly two weeks before. His lack of decision had been more out of absentmindedness than an actual attempt at aggravation; he'd simply been so busy that sending an RSVP had been the last thing on his mind.

After receiving the news, Naruto had been defiant at first, even going as far to throw a small tantrum. Though the fit didn't consist of flying fists, tears, and screaming, Minato had still been relieved to see the boy acting his age, silent treatment and surly glare included. But, in the end, the Yondaime had been adamant: Naruto needed to interact with children his own age. He didn't want his son to suffer the alienation that came with his status as the heir of a Kage from early childhood.

Naruto gazed dully at the intimidating structure. Their arrival was marked by numerous bowing torsos and empty smiles, and after which they were promptly escorted to what looked like the largest home in the Uchiha complex. It was a place that was filled with bittersweet memories for the blond.

He remembered visiting Sasuke here only weeks before the then-teen defected. He couldn't quite recall why he had shown up on the last Uchiha's doorstep, but it had been dark and he had brought two Styrofoam bowls of Ichiraku's ramen.

He could almost feel the sting on the palms of his hands—the broth had been steaming hot, and the bag he'd received had split half-way there. It was perhaps the most vibrant part of the night, barring the surprise that had been written over Sasuke's features when he'd opened his door to find his teammate standing there, sheepish grin in place.

Sasuke had been reluctant to let him in. He knew why; the sable-haired teen's home had been a shrine and prison to him, a place of memories both bitter and sweet. Naruto's presence must have contaminated that feeling. For someone who has so focused on vengeance, it must have been hard to let someone into the place of his suffering, and also the place where his most treasured memories had occurred.

There was none of that looming aura of death and torment clinging to the well-maintained building in front of him. In fact, the contrast was so great Naruto was almost tempted to ask whether or not they were in the right place.

Minato pulled him forward by the hand. He'd put up a fight to get here; Naruto hadn't wanted to reopen the wounds on his past so soon. He was partially ashamed that he'd fallen into depression so quickly, just by seeing Sasuke—as a child, of all things.

He smiled vaguely at the woman who opened the door—Sasuke's mother—while his gaze roved over the entrance hall, drinking in the changes wrought by the passage of time. Not much was different. Perhaps a few items, a few pictures, were missing, but only because they had yet to be acquired.

"Sasuke is right down the hall," Mikoto said, her voice gentle and quiet. It took a moment for Naruto to realize that she was speaking to him.

His father nudged him forward and he turned to follow the woman to the aforementioned room after handing her a neatly wrapped present. A wave of doom washed over him as he neared the open sliding door.

The room looked devoid of life at first. Naruto noticed a low pair of sofas pushed against the wall, leaving an empty space probably intended to be a play area. Against the far wall was a buffet table, where an array of impressive looking snacks for both adults and children were laid out. A banner hung above it, the bright, bold Kanji reading, "Happy Third Birthday, Sasuke!"

His eyes were caught by a flash of black, joined, seconds later, by one eye and one pale cheek. Sasuke, the birthday boy, was hidden behind the arm of one of the sofas, peeking out at him with anxious eyes. He looked to have grown since the last time Naruto had seen him.

After a moment, Mikoto spoke. "Sasuke-kun, don't hide. He's here for your party. Come and meet him." The boy looked reluctant, but he slowly emerged from behind the couch and approached the two people lurking in the doorway.

Naruto stared at Sasuke perplexedly, a bit baffled—and frankly, though secretly, quite amused—at the strange personality split, at the absolute dissimilarity between his Sasuke's attitude and that of this timid child. Who knew that Sasuke was a shy kid? If he were honest, he was expecting a stuck-up little bastard, even at his age; being proven wrong was both refreshing and rattling. "Hello," he greeted, Minato having drilled him in how to greet strangers—and that was who Sasuke was, after all, to both the Naruto known to these people and by his former life's standards. "My name is Naruto."

Mikoto looked surprised at the easy way he pronounced his words. It was a look he no longer received from his family, and he'd almost forgotten that the way he spoke and acted were strange, almost alien, to other people when compared to others of the same physical age.

"Hi," Sasuke whispered, stopping in front of him. He was a fraction taller than Naruto, but the way he nervously ducked his head made Naruto seem inches taller. He shifted nervously for a second, before he almost vaulted forward, the movement so sudden that it startled Naruto, and latched onto the blond's arm.

Uh, what? The younger boy stared at Sasuke uncomprehendingly. Why in the word was this child holding onto him like he'd disappear? He looked up at Mikoto for guidance but the woman had wandered away, like most useful adults did in such situations, leaving him with a quiet child that was quite determinedly hugging his arm to his chest.

What in the word did Dad get me into?

It seemed like hours, hours of being led around by a leech that was quite effectively sucking all the joy out of his life, before the rest of the partygoers arrived.

And why, Naruto wondered, did a three-year-old need a birthday party with guests other than family, anyway? It wasn't like he'd remember it later in life. Heaven forbid some child turn three without a giant birthday bash! They'd be ruined for life; completely traumatized.

He grimaced as he yanked his hand away from the child before him. Small, sticky, spit-covered hands reached for him anxiously, the determined gaze of their owner fixed on the toy—which belonged to Sasuke—in his hands. They were a drooling, snotty, blue-haired (blue? Really?) monstrosity and Sasuke, mouse-boy extraordinaire, was glaring at the kid so intensely that Naruto feared he would catch fire. He could almost see the thought crossing the toddler's mind: give! It was nearly a complete antithesis to Sasuke's, whose face very clearly read: die, scum!

Or maybe Sasuke's Sharingan would activate early, mangekyou-style, and send the toddler into a mental pit of doom. He shouldn't have been so amused by that image; really, he shouldn't.

He sighed and thrust the toy into the grubby hands, gave a soothing pat to Sasuke's head, and settled back into the brightly-colored cushion occupying one corner of the room.

His father was a mastermind, he had to admit; an evil one, but a mastermind all the same. Had Naruto known that this gathering was not a gathering so much as a birthday party for one Uchiha Sasuke, he would have found a way to vanish from the face of the earth, away from his father's quest to get him socialized. His grimace deepened at the thought.

From what the adults were saying, most of the heirs to the greater and lesser clans in Konoha were there. Minato, though, simply had to be early, being Hokage and all that. He'd already been there for hours, and the party was, in reality, just beginning.

Naruto knew that somewhere, deep inside the man, his father loved to torture Naruto with this type of thing. He just hoped it was a temporary fascination…

Because, in the end, Naruto really, really, really didn't need to know that Sasuke was a dribbler. Ever. No amount of blackmail was worth this torture.

He looked at his ruined shirt in despair, hoping that Naiko wouldn't think the drying spot of drool, already crusting white at the edges, was his. He couldn't even wipe it off, since Sasuke had commandeered one of his arms and nestled his face into Naruto's shoulder.

He was going to heaven for this, definitely.

Minato, who had entered the room after exchanging words with the guards assigned to this even, was thoroughly enjoying the expressions that Naruto's face shifted through. One would think he was being tortured, and the expression of resigned suffering that crossed his face as he gazed out at the squealing toddlers had Minato sniggering into his palm.

Not to mention the way the youngest Uchiha had attached himself to his son was utterly adorable. The sight filled him with a quiet hope that Naruto would actually gain something from this besides a healthy fear of unruly children. The boy would be a good friend to his son; Uchiha were bred loyal—though to whom was always up for debate—and strong.

He suppressed another laugh when he saw the look of revulsion as Sasuke drooled on Naruto's shirt; he felt for his son, he honestly did, but he wasn't above milking the humor out of the situation.

He knew that Naruto wasn't actually all that annoyed—he wouldn't keep his son here if he wasn't enjoying himself even a little. Looking out at the events around him made him thankful for Naruto's even temper and calm demeanor. Being a single father was hard even when he had people like Naiko, Kakashi, and Jiraiya helping; he didn't want to imagine what it would be like if Naruto had the attention span and disposition of a rambunctious puppy.

His eyes slid, almost unconsciously, over the room's new occupants—mostly the adults—analyzing them and their threat level, before settling on the approaching figure of Fugaku, the Uchiha clan's current Head.

The sable-haired man bowed respectfully, the gesture only a slight fraction of what he received from the nin under his command. Minato wasn't expecting anything more, of course, the Uchiha were prideful—all clans were—and Minato wasn't one to fret over proper greetings. Fugaku showed his respect where it counted, and he was just fine with that.

"Hokage-sama," he greeted.

Minato nodded at him in reply, "Fugaku-dono." He took in the strained features of the Uchiha head, his own visage softening in concern for the loyal member of his village. "Is everything alright, Fugaku?" he asked, his voice almost inaudible.

Fugaku grimaced, his eyes lingering on the pile of children that his youngest son was sitting on top of, before his gaze returned to Minato. He shook his head minutely. "I would like to speak to you about important matters," he said, his words implying that it was a subject that should be breached at a later date. Minato agreed—a child's birthday party was no place for matters serious enough to worry a man he'd thought nearly unflappable.

"Come to my office tomorrow," the Hokage murmured, turning back to the proceedings, his hands laced behind his back. "We will discuss your worries then."

Fugaku bowed shallowly and then walked away.

Minato watched him wander off, his sharp eyes taking in the sagging line of his shoulders and the deep lines of exhaustion at the corners of his eyes. He had no doubt that the entire reason Naruto had been invited to Uchiha Sasuke's party was for Fugaku to get his attention, and he wondered just what had the man so shaken.


1. Bit of a time skip between scenes one and two, but hopefully it's not too confusing.

Speaking of time-skips, it's been a long while (understatement) since my last update. I apologize for that, and hope that you'll bear with me as I get back into the swing of writing Concessions once more. I lost interest in this story—and Naruto in general—for a long while, something not at all helped by Kishimoto's utter decimation of the series with the latest manga chapters. But after reading it over and really thinking about what I want to do—which is stick it to Kishimoto, you ruining berk!—I rediscovered my love for this story. And so, here I am.

If you're interested in when I'll update next, view the update schedule posted at my blog (the link is in my profile). I was very sick this week and thought that I might not actually get this chapter out, but I knew that I owed you after holding out on you for so long. I stayed up 'til four in the morning finishing it! Yes, my remorse is real!

So, bronchitis and all, here's the utterly unimpressive chapter seven—raw, unbeta'd, half of it written while hacking up one of my lungs (the other half having sat on my computer for... over a year). Please excuse the excess phlegm. I'd hoped to write more, but they were scenes that were better placed later in the timeline. Chapter eight is due out soon (and might actually come earlier than mentioned, because I'm on a roll!).

And hey, Concessions will hit 1,000 reviews with this chapter (average of 161 reviews per chapter—348 reviews for chapter six, yeesh!). Huzzah! I feel so loved and appreciated. Yeah, chapter eight is definitely coming out early.


Reviews are very appreciated.
Like, really, really, really appreciated.

Sorry about the double alert. I made a mistake with the chapter and it was just easier to delete it and repost it.