Walk with me

Naruto, in his own subtle way, pushed everyone to do their best. To do better than they thought they could. To accomplish the seemingly impossible. Only afterwards did Tayuya realize this.

In hindsight, it was pretty obvious. Had always been obvious. She wanted to slap herself, it was so glaringly obvious. Why hadn't she seen it before?

When a group of genin, and a just-promoted chuunin were sent after Orochimaru's elite, they were doomed. Doomed. They had no chance. These were the warriors who had helped their master slay the Hokage. Who were appointed his personal bodyguards, and bore his special seal. They were better than jounin. The Sound Five were the best in Oto, next to Orochimaru himself. And maybe Kabuto and Kimmimaro, those smug bastards.

But that cheeky blonde idiot just shouted stuff about how they were gonna kick ass and take names. When they left a single genin behind to fight Jiribou, surely they realized that the stocky elite Oto-nin would rip that fatso to pieces and then take them from behind? But the stupid blonde knew, and somehow convinced the others, that the little ball of lard would be alright.

And fuck it all if he wasn't right. What the fuck?! A genin, a genin for crying out loud, took out one of Orochimaru's elite. Even back then, before I knew for sure, I had a sneaking suspicion. How had they caught up to us to quickly? Why hadn't Jiribou taken care of them?

So we decided that Kidomaru could take care of them. Again the blonde punk convinces the group to leave behind a single genin to fight him. And, as I found out later, this genin also beat one of the elite. What the heck was going on? Fancy bloodline or not, I mean...

And again with Sakon and Ukon and the dog-boy. I don't care if they say the twins were about to win. For them to get annihilated in a single attack, not even a surprise attack, from that makeup wearing fag, the kid had to have done some serious damage.

And myself, heh. I had that lazy bastard. I had him. Even if he had given me way more trouble than he should have. Even if he had forced me to activate the seal that I was only supposed to use against jounin or better. Even if he had almost killed me several times. But I, too, was wiped out in a single attack from that blonde bitch, and left to die in a heap of fallen trees.

And Kimmimaro died in a fight with yet another genin, and the newly appointed Kazekage, who was really just an over-promoted chuunin, at best.

And Sasuke, complete with his Sharingan and the full power of the curse seal, escaped from Naruto. He didn't beat Naruto. He didn't defeat Naruto. He didn't even win out. Naruto let him go. I heard about that scratch on the hitai-ate. A little higher, and Sasuke's brains would have been blended like a smoothie. A little lower, and his face and upper spine would have met the same fate. Naruto let him go, because he had promised to get him back alive.

God damn it. What the fuck had happened? As I dragged my sorry carcass through the woods, moving myself with my hands, as my leg bones were shattered beyond my very basic first-aid skills, I ran into some ANBU from Konoha, who were kind enough to tell me the fate of my team while debating what to do with me.

Orochimaru's elite. The best of the best. Pretty much wiped out by genin. God damn it, I know we were good. I knew that there was something funny about those guys. Were they on some sorta special drugs or something?

After the ANBU took me back to Konoha for interrogation, I learned a little more from overhearing various conversations. No drugs, aside from the fatso using some sorta special metabolic boost pill. I wanted to think that Jiribou was better, and just got killed because the kid used drugs. But I know it was that fatso's strategy from the beginning. Why on earth would a ninja let themselves get fat, unless it was for that very purpose?

The guys in Konoha told me to spill whatever I knew, or they would hurt me and give me back to Orochimaru, who they said would do all sorts of terrible things to me. I knew they were lying. Orochimaru would do way worse than the stuff they mentioned. I didn't need to be told twice.

And then, for a very long time, I sat in a cell, in my wheelchair. By the time I had gotten back, my legs were already set wrong, and the civilian medics couldn't do anything about it. The ninja medics were too good to waste of POW's, obviously, and so my legs were just useless sacks of flesh hanging off my torso. I could move them a little, enough to dress myself while seated or laying on my back, but that about it. The medics told me that this was all that I would ever be able to do.

I got the reputation as a good prisoner, because I never tried to escape or hurt the guards or anything. As if I could do anything to them. What was I going to do? I was pretty much screwed. The prison wasn't all the handicap-accessible, and I wouldn't be able to roll myself out in a million years. And crawling would take so long that an Academy student would catch me.

Despite the guards' constant comments on my language, they talked to me sometimes. It was boring in there, and I was no threat. I listened to random shit about their lives, their girlfriends (as if I gave a shit), and other crap.

But what really interested me was what they had to say about Oto, and about the team who had crushed the Sound Five.

Obviously, they had little say about Sound, since they didn't want to give me any ideas, and they didn't know all that much, anyway. But I heard a lot about those stupid genin, because they were pretty much the most awesome ninja who had ever lived, apparently.

I mean, seriously. I listened to the stuff they did, heard it from the guards. Even if the guards were exaggerating, these kids were incredible. Holy fucking shit. I wasn't even a little surprised to learn they had all passed the next Chuunin Exam, and the Jounin Exam immediately after that.

Well, everyone except that blonde bastard, whom the guards almost never talked about. I would sometimes ask, but they would just glare at me. I managed to find out that he was some sort of problem kid and that he was off on some trip for years. The guards speculated that he was being re-educated.

And it went on like this, until the chick with the huge rack said that they were gonna let me out of prison, on certain conditions. Of course there would be conditions, but I was pretty ready to agree to anything short of death to have a little fresh air now and then. I was to have some sort of parole officer assigned to me, and would have to check in with him every so often. And I would have special seals placed on me to prevent me from using chakra ever again.

Pretty standard for releasing a possibly dangerous enemy. I knew that the offer wasn't going to get better, and that it might not be made again, if I refused. I agreed.

Then that smug bitch asked me to pick from some ninja to choose my officer. I didn't care, since I didn't really know anyone, and so I told her to pick for me.

I knew the moment I saw her Cheshire grin that I had made a mistake. There was no way that sort of menacing smirk meant anything good for me. She told me that my officer would be Uzumaki Naruto, who would be returning from a mission within the week.

I wasn't quite sure what to think. I mean, I didn't know him, and I didn't know much about him. But based on the guards descriptions...

But the busty blonde moved right along and sent in the people to apply the seal.

I met Naruto for the first time on a Monday morning. Even at that hour, barely after dawn, the kid was more alive than I could hope to be after several cups of coffee. He was bright and cheerful, and always smiling.

I rolled my wheelchair over to the table to sign a few agreements finalizing the deal, and Naruto scribbled his signature wherever the Hokage told him to. Pretty soon, it was all done, and he was supposed to escort me to the apartment I had been assigned to live in.

I wheeled myself down the street (I refused to let myself be pushed like some helpless damsel), while the blonde walked along beside me, chattering about places to buy food, and toiletries and other stuff. He walked slowly, and I had no trouble keeping up.

Nevertheless, after a few blocks, I was tired, and the apartment was on the other side of town. I hadn't gotten to exercise in prison, and this was more than twice as far as I had ever wheeled myself before. My arms burned with every turn, but I didn't want to look weak in front of this guy. And I didn't want to look silly by asking for help when I had turned down his offer just minutes before.

"Ah, just a minute Tayuya. I'm gonna grab something to eat," he motioned toward a dango stall nearby. "You want something?"

I was about to say no, when my stomach gurgled loudly, apparently hearing the mention of food. My face flushed, and I glanced down at the ground.

Naruto just grinned, but did not laugh at me. "I'll get you some, too, alright?" And not waiting for my answer, he jogged over the stall.

While he was waiting in line, I slumped in my chair. Damn, my arms were tired. I was going to have to work on this. And all too soon, he was back. I was not sure my arms could take anymore.

As if he knew exactly what was going on, he handed me a stick of dango, and finished off his (which he had eaten walking back, he eats fucking fast). Then he took hold of the handles of my wheelchair and began to push me.

I was about to scream at him about respecting my wishes, when I suddenly realized this was exactly what I wanted. Besides, I couldn't push myself and eat dango at the same time. So I said nothing as he took me to my apartment.

We finally got to the place, and decent little apartment with an easy ground floor entrance. I was grateful, as I had worried that they would 'stick it to me' by assigning me to some third floor apartment. He opened the door of my apartment and pushed me inside.

"Well, what now, blondie?" I winced a little at the harshness in my voice, as he had just helped me here, after all. Much as it annoyed me, being nice would make living here much, much easier, as I no longer had the ability to intimidate others to do what I wanted.

But he didn't even seem to notice. "Well, here's your key," he gave me a small, silver key. "And, I think the fridge and lower cupboards are stocked with some basic food stuff. Um... Oh, and they said there are clothes for you in the lower drawers in the bedroom. So, yeah."

I cleared my throat, uncomfortable brining up the subject. "When do I need to meet you, and where will I meet you?"

Naruto's eyes widened slightly, as if he had just remembered that. "Oh, right! Well, I live right down the hall in 104, so you can just drop by on, uh, I guess Tuesday evenings?"

I rolled my eyes at his forgetfulness, but said nothing about it. What annoyed me most of all was that he was right down the hall. Obviously a set-up so he could monitor me more frequently. I knew better than to say anything that, either. "Anything else?"

He adopted a look of concentration for a moment, before he shook his head. "Nope, can't think of anything right now. If you need anything, just drop by my room. I'll be there when I'm not doing stuff, so probably most evenings, and maybe some times during the day."

No doubt the times he was gone would be when he was covertly spying on me. But I guess this was preferable to life in prison. "Alright. Thanks for your help." I couldn't help how forced my thanks sounded.

"No problem. I'll see you tomorrow night."

Despite my best efforts, I could not sense him anywhere around me. I knew that Naruto was somewhere, watching me. But without my chakra, all I had to go on were my senses. I quickly gave up. Again. Maybe he wasn't even there, and was actually waiting in his room for me to show up. Five o'clock was technically evening, after all.

Having nothing better to do than sit here watching crappy soap operas, I decided I would go ahead and roll myself over there. Worse case scenario was that he wasn't there, right?

I grabbed my key and carefully maneuvered myself out the door, locking it behind me. Rolling up the hallway, I knocked on Naruto's door. No answer. Sighing, I had hardly turned around when some large guy appeared in my way. I glanced up, and noticed, with a start, his angry glare, and his leaf hitai-ate.

"You stupid bitch, getting special treatment just because you're crippled. My friends died when you and your fellow sound freaks attacked." He snatched my key out of my hands. "Too bad you just happened to drop your key somewhere. I'm sure that someone will find it and turn it in to the lost and found... someday."

He walked off behind me toward the entrance, chuckling to himself. I couldn't help the tears, as I realized just how vulnerable I really was. No chakra, in a village of ninja who probably hated me. And now I was going to be locked out of my room until Naruto showed up. If he even felt like helping. I realized that I really didn't know anything about him. Maybe this was all a set-up, to get back at me without feeling bad about injuring a cripple.

A loud crack from behind me drew my attention. I spun the wheels opposite ways to turn the chair around, and saw Naruto standing over the guy, who had slumped to the ground against the wall, cradling his nose.

Naruto smiled, but unlike his smiles before, this one was darker. Angry. "Too bad you just happened to walk into my fist. I'm sure your nose will get better... someday." Then he grabbed the ninja and lifted him up by his collar as if the man weighed nothing. "This is the first and only warning for you and your friends," Naruto whispered harshly, so quiet that I could barely hear. Perhaps he didn't want me to know about this. "If she should lose her key, or misplace her hairbrush, or if anything other than a pleasant surprise should ever happen to her, I will hold all of you responsible. And I will do things to you that will make you beg for death." The man was trembling, not even attempting to fight back, even though he was significantly bigger. Obviously the man knew something about Naruto that I did not.

Naruto whispered again. "Did you miss the meeting where this was discussed? You are to leave her alone if you can't control yourself. Understand?"

The man nodded frantically, and Naruto dropped him onto the ground. He started to move my way, when he glanced at something behind me, as if startled.

I jerked my hear around to look but saw nothing. While I was turned, I heard a loud thud-whack, and I whirled back around to see the door to the outside swing shut quickly, as if it had been slammed wide open. The man from before was nowhere to be seen.

I had just pieced together what had happened when Naruto flipped a small, sparkling object to me. I snatched my key out of the air, pleased that my reflexes had not deteriorated too badly. Naruto unlocked the door to his apartment, and motioned for me to enter. I wheeled in, pleasantly surprised to see a relatively clean living area.

Naruto shut the door behind himself. "Sorry about that. We made it very clear that you are no longer part of Sound, or associated with Sound, but some people learn best from experience, you know?"

I nodded, the feeling of helplessness returning full force.

"So anyway, how's the apartment working out? I know it's only been a day, but is it alright so far? Need anything changed, or whatever?"

I shook my head. "No, it's..." Damn it, my voice was quavering. I'm supposed to be strong.

Naruto frowned. "Don't worry about him. It won't happen again. He's just a jerk."

I cleared my throat, trying to get control of my feelings. "Yes, well. My apartment is fine. The shower was very nice, thank you for getting one that I can use while seated."

"Ah, well I wasn't in charge of that, but I'm glad you like it."

And it continued like that. It was during these weekly visits that I finally learned about the last man on the team that had changed my life. It seemed that everywhere he went, miracles happened. He wasn't always the one, but he or someone with him would do the impossible and save the day in whatever adventure he told me about.

But I never realized that it was him that caused all this, until one day. It was months after I had been allowed to live in the apartment. Our weekly meetings had turned into meeting up almost every evening he was in town. We would go eat somewhere and then he would take me to visit a place he thought was interesting in Konoha. He never coddled me, or acted like I was somehow less than him because of my legs. He always acted like I was his equal, even though I knew I was not. Not anymore, anyways.

I was on a day like this that we were sitting in a park talking about some mission he'd been on recently. He was sprawled back on a bench, and I was sitting in my wheelchair next to him. After finishing the narration, he got up and stretched for a bit, then offered me a hand.

"Walk with me."

There was something in the way he said it, something in the way he looked at me, that prevented me from doubting that I was able to walk. My injuries, my wheelchair, my poor, shattered bones never occurred to me as I stood up and began to walk with him.

It was only a few seconds later, after we had covered about five feet, that I began to wonder my my legs were so, so tired.

Then I remembered. I froze in amazement. I was standing. I was walking. I wasn't supposed to be able to do either. Forgetting about everything else, I turned to Naruto, my only real friend, and burst out, "Naruto, I can walk!"

Naruto just smiled at me like I was being silly. "Of course you can, Tayuya-chan." And for some reason the suffix didn't bother me this time.

It was then, right then, that everything made sense. Naruto inspired people, because Naruto believed in people. Believed that they were far better than they really were, and everyone who came to know him rose to the challenge.

We still meet for our 'evening adventures,' as he calls them. And every time he offers me his hand to help me stand, I remember that day, long ago. And just like then, I rise, and walk with him.

Like it? Hate it? Too little? Too much? Too dull? Too exciting? Too many questions? Let me know.