Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, its characters and/or ideas. All rights belong to Masashi Kishimoto.
Warnings: Listings are available in the first chapter.
Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future. – Paul Boese
The weeks following Naruto's return to school were unexpectedly constructive. Having Iruka-sensei as his primary after school teacher was a beneficial factor for him; the said older man didn't ridicule him like some of the other educators tended to do, and the basis of his school work had begun to improve steadily yet efficiently. Before running away, Naruto hadn't given much thought to the accuracy of his lessons, and since a majority of his peers and teachers hadn't been willing to help him, the boy had just sort of disregarded his assignments.
Without having meant to, Naruto had started to grow fond of Iruka. The brown haired man, he felt, was the one person whom most understood him. The two had unintentionally gotten closer, and Iruka had found himself conversing with the youth about certain things when the both of them were alone in detention.
The two males had a lot in common, after all – they both lost their parents at a young age, they both were outcasts in one fashion or another, and they both hid their sorrow through varying expressions. The fact that Naruto now knew it wasn't just him against the world, that he at least had one positive being on his side made attending middle school all the more easier. That wasn't to say, however, that the boy still didn't have his troubles.
He and Tsunade were still at odds with each other, most of his classmates were still mean to him, and Kakashi was still trying to mollify him. Why the silver haired male was going through such lengths to reach him again, Naruto didn't know. Ever since the roof incident, the Hatake had intensified his interest in him, going as far as to seek the younger out during lunch period.
Naruto in actuality had indulged the perverted man a couple of times; the student and teacher duo had met up at the same roof twice. Their minimal chatter as they ate side by side in the autumn weather had been curt and tense with the blonde chewing on his food greedily and Kakashi multitasking, taking out his usual erotic material to read as he munched as well. Naruto discerned that, despite his consent to eat with Kakashi, he wasn't entirely over the betrayal. It would be a long while before the blue eyed teen would be keen on trusting his eccentric sensei once more.
More often than not, Naruto was found in the cafeteria, seated near the farthest table from the crowded body of students. Sasuke and Hinata had taken to sitting with him, the three of them typically staying quiet throughout their break. Initially, the tanned boy had been reluctant to have either one of the dark haired teens being close to him, but he eventually let it slide.
Things are certainly changing, the Uzumaki boy often mused to himself during those weeks. Unbeknownst to the blonde, the changes in his life were only just beginning...
"For those of you whom haven't turned in your field trip permission slips, I suggest you do so by tomorrow," Kakashi Hatake announced to his students impassively, the bell ringing to signal the end of the first class. It was an average Thursday morning, and the one eyed teacher was eager for the day to already be over and done with.
A number of his pupils stopped by his desk to drop off a sheet of a singular paper prior to exiting the room. Kakashi concluded, as he shuffled the mentioned papers in a pile, that all of his students had thus turned in their permission slips throughout the last three days, all but one...
"Uzumaki, a word please?"
Naruto halted his steps at the older male's voice, expertly ignoring the vicious whispers and looks sent his way as he stood beside the entryway. "Yeah, sensei?" he asked, not turning back around straight away.
Kakashi waited for the last of the occupants to depart before he evenly stated, "I see you're the only student who hasn't turn in their permission slip in my first period."
Naruto remained tight lipped for several seconds, brooding. He then finally spun to face his teacher as he answered with a blank face, "I don't want to go to the stupid aquarium."
"That makes two of us. I certainly don't want to chaperone," Kakashi quipped, his exposed eye closing in a familiar arch. "Why are you so opposed to going?"
The blonde was just about to ask him why he even had to chaperone, but decided against it. Disregarding his teacher's query, he instead uttered. "You're making me late for my next class."
"I'll give you a late slip," the masked adult said with a dismissive tone, beckoning his precocious student over with a wave of his hand. Once a reluctant Naruto was in front of his small table, Kakashi inquired. "Does your guardian even know about the upcoming field trip?"
"Yeah, she knows because of some of the other kids in the orphanage. I just haven't given her my permission slip, and I don't want to."
"And why is that?" He tried again with questioning the boy.
"...I don't want to talk about it."
Kakashi hummed in consideration, lowering his hand to open his desk's drawer and rummage inside its interior. The educator afterward brought out a laminated slip, handing the note over to the seemingly uncaring boy. Naruto's right hand moved outward to grasp the slip, but Kakashi kept it out of reach temporarily, looking pointedly into the blonde's cerulean orbs.
"I'm not going to say that you have to go to the aquarium," the man relented. "But I think it'll be good for you. I know Principal Sarutobi would appreciate it," and as an afterthought he included. "And so would I. Sleep on it and see how you feel tomorrow. Fair enough?"
Naruto bowed his head, feeling waves of unwanted emotions surfacing to his psyche. He really, really didn't want to have to go on a school field trip where most of his peers would be joyful and full of excitement. It would just bring forth nostalgic memories of the trips he had taken with his father to the aquarium before the man had gotten sick.
"We'll see." Naruto replied after a whole minute. "Can I go now?" His teacher nodded in a rather dejected manner. Naruto didn't give him a chance to say anything else; the teen was quick in leaving the classroom after snatching the late slip in his clutches.
The blonde then sprinted down the hallway since there weren't that many students inclined to be late to their next class. Circling passed another hall, Naruto was so tangled in his thoughts that he collided with a body walking from the opposite way. Naruto braced himself for a scolding or even a beating until Iruka's kind voice reverberated in the nearly empty hallway.
"Hey, are you alright? You've got to be more careful, Naruto."
"Sorry, Iruka-sensei," the young teen answered, his bangs covering his eyes.
Recognizing the unemotional quality of the boy's voice, Iruka said in concerned. "Are you okay? Has someone been bothering you?"
"No...no...it's just...Kaka-Hatake-sensei made me feel bad about not turning in my permission slip for the field trip."
"How did he make you feel bad?"
Lowering his head even more, Naruto said almost icily. "I don't want to go to the aquarium."
Iruka stayed quiet for an undetermined amount of time, more than likely being merely a few long intervals before he said the one thing that made everything seem so simple.
"Then don't go."
Naruto's head snapped upward quickly in surprise. The brunette educator offered him a warm smile before patting his shoulder. "We both need to get to class, and I'm late enough as it is. I'll see you later." And with that, Iruka resumed his trek onward.
The man left Naruto standing there in the hall, lost in his own contemplations. Iruka had basically told him that he didn't have to go to the aquarium if he didn't want to. This staggered him a little; he was sure Iruka would've objected to his pessimism. Still, the look in his eye had the same gleam Kakashi-sensei's had when the other man made the proposal for him to sleep on his decision. Naruto wasn't aware until many minutes afterward that the tardy bell had chimed.
The public aquarium within the middle school's locality was a large constructed dome which housed various species of fish, dolphins, whales, sharks, seals and smaller aquatic animals. The 20,000 square foot building had been made five decades before hand, and the structure was one of the most visited places in the city. It was the subsequent Monday morning (the day of the scheduled field trip), and numbers of teenage students were gazing upon the acrylic windows of the sea creatures in groups of twenty.
Naruto was literally dragging his feet, treading along with his group as he tuned out the tour guide's booming voice. The blonde was starting to regret giving the old hag his permission slip the previous Thursday afternoon. In all honesty, Naruto wasn't even sure why he had done it.
After Tsunade had picked him up from school that day, he had had in inner battle with himself, weighing the pros and the cons of handing her the slip. In the end, he had finally relinquished the paper. Tsunade had just smirked at him, signing the sheet of paper as though it were an everyday thing, the stupid old wench. The next day, he had turned in the slip to Kakashi-sensei. The man had given him a secretive smile behind that fabric mask of his and it had made Naruto slightly aggravated. It was like he was being plotted against or something!
Walking beside the railing that separated the tanks from the visitors, Naruto stopped gradually as the tour guide finished his descriptions and his female chaperone allowed the students to wander around after telling them to meet back in the front of the aquarium in a half an hour. Naruto didn't have to be told twice; he ambled in the other direction of his peers, being extra careful in side-stepping Kiba Inuzuka, whom was too busy worrying over a huge bag he had brought with him. Why the hell did he bring that bag, anyway? The whisker marked male thought before pushing the reflection out of his mind. Why should he care about anything that had to do with the dog-breath?
The tanned teen glanced at the colorful masses of watery wildlife uninterestingly as he roamed, wishing internally for the field trip to come to a close sooner than was expected. Gliding his hand on the metal barrier, Naruto ceased his movements a few minutes later as he came to the end of the stretched corridor. A figure suddenly appeared next to him, their shadow outlining the blonde's form. Naruto at first thought the person was Kakashi-sensei, but he was surprised to find the Uchiha standing alongside him.
"We came here once," the black headed boy said coolly as he stared ahead. "I remember your dad took us," he seemed to clarify as Naruto tensed beside him. "It was a year before you disappeared."
Naruto squeezed his eyes shut briefly, feeling the sting of tears wanting to emerge. He didn't want to think about it, he didn't want to remember. Why was Sasuke attempting to be friends with him again? Couldn't he see that Naruto wasn't the same Naruto he had known as a younger child? Why couldn't Sasuke just leave him alone?
Schooling his features to remain detached, the lighter haired boy feigned with a flat tone. "I don't know what you mean. You and I never came to this aquarium with my...father."
Sasuke heard the other's hesitation with the word 'father', but choose to not address Naruto's tension. "Not only are you lying to me, you're lying to yourself," he responded calmly, his pitch stunning the blonde. Naruto thought the older teen was going to react more heatedly.
"What is it you want me to say?" The blonde teen asked following a long pause between the two.
"Whatever it is that is needed to be said," was the last suggestion the Uchiha gave him prior to turning the other direction and making his way to the front of the aquarium.
Naruto watched him stalk away, bewilderment and irritation crossing his countenance. What was that all about? Rotating his head in a forefront position, the Uzumaki peered at the massive clear container right in his sight, three dolphins swimming around in a harmonized sequence of a dance. Naruto gazed at the magnificent mammals for several more seconds before strolling down the same path Sasuke had walked.
Passing a throng of teens gaping amazingly at a cluster of blowfish, Naruto flinched a bit when he heard whimpering and panting coming from a restricted area outside of the aquarium. The blue eyed male told himself to ignore the noises, yet curiosity got the best of him, and before he knew it, he was ambling toward the unidentified sounds. Peeking around a corner, Naruto's eyebrows rose upward as white fur and brown streaked ears met his line of vision. A...A dog...?
The dog's – or rather puppy's from the looks of it – whimpering ceased abruptly, it's cute tail wagging happily as Naruto stepped closer. The canine hopped toward him gaily, ostensibly glad that it was no longer alone. Naruto bent down on one knee as the puppy stood on its hind legs to greet the blonde with a flick of its tongue.
"Where did you come from?" Naruto questioned himself more than the pup, his hand petting the pastel coat in a gentle rhythm.
Footsteps from the other side alerted Naruto and the puppy, prompting the human boy to stand up and seize the pup in his arms. Naruto knew he would be in a lot of trouble if anybody caught him with the canine in his arms. Holding his breath, Naruto's stomach dropped as the last person he wanted to deal with poked his head into the vacant corridor as though he were searching for something.
Kiba, in all his roughness, scowled as soon as his auburn eyes took in the younger teen. Kiba was just about to stomp over to his foe and asked what the hell he was up to when he blinked his eyelids in astonishment as the puppy in the blonde's arms yipped in excitement.
"Akamaru, there you are," Kiba breathed a sigh of relief.
"Oh, this is your dog," Naruto deadpanned.
Kiba appeared to get over his shock, and he once again was scowling. "Yeah, what are you doing with him? Trying to steal him or what?"
"I wasn't trying to steal him. I found him wandering around," the younger muttered, "here," he said, wanting to hand the pup over to the Inuzuka. The older teen was astounded to see his pet acting so loving with the other, his pup licking and rubbing on Naruto's hands. Akamaru had never acted so friendly with a stranger before.
Grabbing his puppy in his own arms, Kiba couldn't stop himself as he spun around to face the now retreating blonde. "How'd you get my dog to respond to you? He never warms up to strangers."
"How should I know? He's your dog." Naruto said, stopping his feet with his back to the brown headed male.
The scowl that had left Kiba's face after his question returned. "You have quite a mouth on ya, don't ya?" Naruto shrugged, still not wanting to turn around. "Are you going to tell the teachers on me?"
"Are you going to beat me up if I do?" Naruto countered, rather tiredly. He so didn't need this right now. Looking over his shoulder to see Kiba glaring, the younger conceded with, "No, I'm not going to tell on you. It's not any of my business, anyway."
Naruto proceeded to walk forward, ready to meet with his chaperone and the group of students. What he didn't count on was Kiba running to catch up with him, planting himself in front of him to halt his pace.
"I wasn't finished talking," Kiba said in an almost haughty fashion previous to softening his voice to add, "I guess I should be thanking you for finding Akamaru. I didn't mean to bring him with me; he kinda invited himself, hiding in my bag this morning. He...he seems to really like you."
Naruto couldn't believe what was transpiring. The one and only Kiba Inuzuka was thanking him? What happened to the guy that just a few weeks ago was calling him a freak and a homo? Was Kiba really being cordial enough with him just because his dog supposedly liked him? If anyone's a freak around here, it's Inuzuka...
"Don't mention it." The younger teen replied impersonally, unwilling to forget all of the brunette's injustices against him. Kiba frowned at Naruto's tone, but made no qualms about the attitude like he normally would've. The pair of males walked diagonally from each other as they headed toward the mass of visitors up front, thankful that they hadn't been noticed by security.
Striding beside a bulk of his classmates, Naruto was unsurprised to see Kakashi leaning against one of the railings behind him, the man indifferent to his own group of students. The blonde haired teen was torn between wishing and not wishing he were in the silver headed male's group.
"How's the field trip for you so far?" Kakashi asked Naruto as the masses of students and teachers moved along to tour another sector of the aquarium.
"It's been..." Naruto took a moment to glance in back of him, watching as Kiba clutched the huge bag to his side. "...different." He finished, unable to understand how none of the adults had discovered the squirming puppy inside Kiba's carrier.
Naruto entered his first period class the ensuing Tuesday morning exactly twenty seconds before the tardy bell rung throughout the school. The room was absent of Kakashi-sensei's presence, which meant that the man was naturally late. Since he was the last student to arrive, only one desk was available, coincidentally in back of Kiba's own seat.
Making his way through the aisles, Naruto then listlessly sat himself down, his head and elbows coming to rest on the wooden surface. He fidgeted in his chair as his conventional attire stuck to the more itching parts of his skin. The blonde was unprepared as Kiba revolved around in his seat to acknowledge him.
"Hey, Uzumaki," he said as though he had been saying it for years, turning back around without waiting for a reply. Naruto, along with many of his peers, were shocked into silence following the unforeseen greeting.
Twelfth chapter complete. I apologize for taking almost a year to update and for the short chapter, but I've had a major writer's block with this story. And sadly the future updates are probably going to be irregular as well. The good news is that I know how I want this fic to end, and there are five or six (I hope) chapters left.