No sounds. No smells. No breeze, no ground, no trees, no sky, no feeling. No sight. Just black. Darkness. I tried to access the situation. What do I know? A good starting point. I'm Nara Shikamaru, chùnin of Konohagakure, Village Hidden in the Tree Leaves. I am the heir to the Nara Clan…

Too troublesome to go into detail on that. I know whom I am, one issue dealt with. Now how did I get here? …Where is here? I tried to remember the last thing I was doing before this darkness. There was a light and my photographic memory began to play a slideshow of important things for me to remember. Another question answered. I was in my mind, as strange as it sounded. That's right…

Lady Tsunade was giving me a mission. I was paired with Naruto, who had just been promoted to chùnin after Tsunade had woken up. A good tactile move was what I had thought of it and long awaited. Personally, I thought he deserved a promotion well before this, but I kept my opinion to myself. It would cause troublesome situations and possible uproar among some council members and civilians if I added my two cents.

The mission itself wasn't too dangerous. A C-Rank patrolling mission in some of the forests around Konoha. Actually, we were told to search a certain sector of the forest that was closer to the border than Konoha. A group of enemy ninja were said to have set up camp there. The place had already been checked, we were just going to make sure nobody had come back, if they were there at all. The source wasn't as reliable as I'd like to believe. Still, the site was clear last time and for an enemy ninja to go there now would be idiotic, as we were searching for them. Needless to say, I wasn't expecting much. A simple mission, even with Naruto. The Hokage told us to be careful, looking at Naruto more than me.

I should have listened.

War against Uchiha Madara had allied the five nations together but ninja in Konoha were still being spread thin. Still, I wasn't expecting an attack. I figured Madara wasn't that kind of tactician nor did he really have the forces to attack. I was right. Madara himself didn't have the forces but the Sound attacked anyway.

I had been surprised when I saw how alert Naruto was. As soon as we were out of the village and in the trees, he was looking ahead, his face serious. Whenever something other than us made a noise, I noticed his eyes would flicker in the direction of the sound. He was very accurate when he did that, proving he had good hearing and was using it. I could also sense his chakra, as if he were spreading it out looking for something. I didn't think Naruto could do that. Heck, I couldn't even do that. The technique required a lot of chakra control, which was something I distinctly remember Naruto not having. As I said before, I was surprised when I saw Naruto so serious. It was something he rarely ever was and the silence brought with the seriousness could be very unnerving. Like when I planned on a shougi board, several reasons for Naruto's change popped into my head. Half of them made sense but didn't fit the Naruto I knew and the other half… I didn't really want to believe or consider. It was very unlike me, to not consider all the possibilities but I truly believed that nothing would happen. When the Sound attacked, I realised that had been a stupid move.

We were out-numbered. Badly. We had walked into a trap, upon entering the clearing, and had been showered by kunai. All but two missed Naruto but I was slower and less fortunate than him. Then we were surrounded on all sides, no escape. I couldn't get a clear number in my head of how many there were but I heard Naruto counting quietly. I briefly wondered if it was for my benefit or his, as I could hear him clearly. Then I heard him stop somewhere around twenty, twenty-one. That seemed a bit low for the large group standing in front of us, I thought. Then everything stopped. We stood in fighting stances back to back, accessing our enemy. Like they were accessing us.

Naruto whispered, so quietly I almost didn't hear him;

"There's about twenty to one. Think you can handle that?"

Now that number made a lot more sense for the group standing in front of us. While I couldn't see his face, his tone sounded concerned.

"On a good day?"

His snort only held the ghost of humour.

At that moment, I was worried. Sure, I could take on twenty odd people…

If I had time, a plan, a few back-ups, several traps, and the element of surprise. An all out brawl though, that was not my forte and Naruto knew that. I was in trouble. I had been hit by several kunai (some still lodged in me) I was losing blood and I was out numbered with Naruto as my only back-up and he had his own problems.

I couldn't understand why Naruto was concerned though. I knew from experience that Naruto could be his own army on his worst day. Twenty Sound ninja shouldn't be a problem. In fact, I thought he would almost look forward to it. Impossible odds were his favourite kind. What was the problem?! I pushed the blonde enigma form my thoughts as the fight began.

Naruto summoned his clones to even the sides but I noticed it was a few less than he usually created and even then they didn't last long. What was worse, the Sound were aiming to kill, so every time a clone got stabbed Naruto re-lived the experience. Normally, this wouldn't bother him but the vital organs were being hit a lot more than normal.

Fifteen minutes in and I was battered, bruised, bloody and running out of chakra. They still kept coming relentlessly. Naruto was doing no better than me, except of course, when it came to chakra. That was probably ever lasting, I assumed, to some degree.

Time slowed as I fell to the hard ground and darkness began to cloud my vision. I don't know whether I was hit in the head or stabbed in the back first but either way as I descended into darkness I heard the sickening sound of flesh being cut, blood being spilled and… Naruto.

I heard Naruto cry my name…

In sadness?

In rage?

Desperation?

Regret?

Agony?

One thought ran through my head at the sound of my name, as darkness overcame me.

Sorry Naruto…


The slideshow came to an end. I returned to the darkness of my mind.

It was pretty obvious that I was either unconscious or awake with my eyes closed. I could be asleep but even dreaming I never had this much awareness. Besides, I was previously watching memories and unfortunately those weren't made up. Those were logical thoughts.

While it was fairly clear I wasn't dead, I could be dying. Thinking less rationally, I entertained the thought that I could be dying. Unlikely, but as I hadn't actually died in anyway before, I couldn't mark of the possibility.

It didn't really matter to me if I was dying or not. Yeah, I would regret not saying goodbye to some people and leaving Naruto to either die with me (something that was unlikely to happen) or drag my body back home.

There wasn't exactly anything I could do about it though. I just hoped that Naruto wouldn't be stupid and blame himself, as he is prone to doing in situations like this. Idiot.

Naruto cares too much, I think. Then again, I suppose that's one of the things that make him Naruto.

I moved away from thinking about Naruto. He was an unfeasible puzzle to figure out. I lost many nights of sleep thinking about him after he did something unexpected, unpredictable and something that is generally impossible. I know even my dad has tried to figure him out, though he won't admit it because he's had the same amount of luck as I've had. Nara's like a good puzzle. A challenge that doesn't need physical exertion and exercise but, that said, we don't like to be bested by a puzzle… and that's what Naruto has done. The fact in itself is rather irking. Still, much to the disbelief of others, I'm not so much like my dad that the puzzle that is Naruto had to be solved. I could live with the troublesome enigma and that was all that mattered. I also knew I didn't have all the facts. That made the world of difference, until I had facts everything I thought of would be theories; there was no point in trying to figure him out since nothing was definite. I knew I would get those facts when the right time came. Nothing lasts forever and when a Nara was interested, puzzles never stayed unsolved for long.

Again, I pushed the blonde from my mind and thought of a blue sky with drifting, fluffy clouds. Another slideshow began. At least now I would have something to do.

I don't know how long I gazed at my memorized clouds but after what seemed like hours later, my senses came back to me. The memory faded and I was left in the darkness behind closed eyelids once again.

I heard a fire crackling close to me. The heat of it keeping me warm. I could also hear…rain? Yes, rain, I could smell it too. There was a smell of sweat, blood and antiseptic in the air as well, along with something else. A mixture of Konoha forest trees, a summer's morning and spring water invaded my nose. It was weird. Then I heard someone moving and breathing heavily. That someone began to lift my arm, which I found was bare. As the person lifted my arm an electric pain shot through my body and my eyes flew open. I was nearly on my knees when a strong, solid force pushed me agonizingly back on to the hard ground I had been lying on. I began to struggle but froze as another bolt of pain went up my spine.

"Shikamaru, for God's sake, hold still before you before you re-open your wounds" was the irritated growl I heard next.

I took a moment to actually look at my surroundings. The first thing I saw was bright blonde, spiky hair. The force, it seemed, had been Naruto tackling me. He was pressing me to the ground, I assumed, for fear of me trying to move again.

"Naruto, get off me. Your really heavy", though it was meant as a slight joke to get him off me faster, my throat was dry and my voice raspy. I couldn't put the humour into it. "I won't move".

He got off me with an indignant grunt and I knew he got the harmless tease. To be sure I tried to look at his face but he turned away before I could. I settled on examining my surroundings. We were in a cave. It was small but dry and the fire not only warmed the place but brightened it as well, so I wasn't complaining. The entrance caught my attention quickly. The mouth of the cave was blocked by what looked like tree trunks however there was just enough room for a person to slip in and out.

I tried to sit up slowly. Once again, burning electric pain shot through me but I managed. I glanced down and saw that my torso was bare save for the heavily layered bandages that covered it. An unsettling thought, that someone really wanted me to die, ran through my head. I relaxed when I reminded myself it was Naruto who wrapped them and he could've just overdone it to be safe. A mednin was one profession Naruto would never truly master, even if he did get the basics. As my brain slowly processed that Naruto might actually have the basics to be a medical ninja, I realised I was lying on a sleeping bag. It wasn't mine.

Why would Naruto bring a sleeping on this mission? It was supposed to be a C-Rank mission for one day. Not even a night. Not that I wasn't grateful for it but why would he bring a sleeping bag if he didn't need it? I looked over at Naruto, who was leaning over some things he had laid out. All medical supplies such as, antiseptic ointments, bandages, needles and thread for stitches, scissors and what looked like poison antidotes. It was quite the collection. A high level mednin would be very impressed. Which was why my mind was reeling. This was NARUTO. The Naruto I knew wouldn't know what to do with half of this stuff. The other half, he probably shouldn't be allowed to have his hands on. I had a lot of questions, now, I wanted answers and I was going to get them. It was out of character for me to be so determined but all the questions I had asked myself about Naruto over the years, ones I had forced myself to forget because it wasn't my place to ask, were suddenly coming back to me. It was overwhelming. I needed answers, the facts, about the blonde I was now staring at. Rather than demand answers right away, I ignored my need to do so and planned what I was going to say, to ask. I would start with the more recent, less personal questions; like, what happened after I blacked out? How did we escape? Why didn't Naruto bring us back to the village? How did Naruto know what to do? Why did he bring so many supplies? Why was he so alert? Did he know what was going to happen?

While I arranged my questions, I watched his back as he fumbled with the various medical supplies he had. I frowned deeply. His clothes, if you could call the remainder of his jacket that, were ripped in many places and large blotches of blood had spread from them.

I readied my questions when he stood. They died in my mouth once he turned around. While there weren't too many injuries to his legs, evidence the enemy was trying more to kill than incapacitate, his jacket was open to reveal large gashes close to several vital points such as the heart. His shirt was in tatters with smaller, shallower cuts that littered his chest. Several sebon could still be seen wedged in him. His neck scratched and bruised purple. My eyes widened when I saw his face.

His lip was split. His "whiskers" were sliced open. His right eye was bruised and swelling. A gash above his left eye had blood covering half his face. His actual eyes, against all odds, were open. I was mesmerised and didn't know whether to try and run or give up all hope and cower in a corner. Naruto's eyes were glowing a funny shade of indigo/violet. His glowing eyes were trained specifically on my injured arm and were expressing amounts of concentration and irritation I didn't know Naruto was capable of. In that moment, I realised I no longer held a grasp or even a hint of what Naruto was capable of anymore.

It gave me small comfort, when I thought that many people were now probably in the same boat as me.

He walked over to me and kneeled down. That's when I noticed his wounds were still bleeding. Any clear skin I could see was a deathly pale.

He reached out, took my arm amazingly gently for the brash person he was and began to bandage my arm. He was completely obvious to my staring and completely focused on the task at hand. The movement woke me from my stupor. I finally found my voice.

"What the hell are you doing Naruto?" I croaked, "Naruto, I'm fine. Look after yourself…"

"Shikamaru, stop moving. I'm just finished. I'll hold out 'til I'm finished, don't worry so much" he interrupted.

"Don't worry so much? Are you crazy? Naruto, you look a mess. You have several deep wounds that I can see, probably more that I can't, which are all still bleeding by the way, your losing a lot of blood and your…"

"Shut up! This is really hard as it is and I'm not good at multitasking" he barked furiously.

"It's hard because you're about to fall over from blood loss, if not chakra loss as well" I snapped, wondering at his metal health, since he was the one beginning to look like a freshly made walking corpse.

"No. It's hard because I'm trying to bandage you right and keep my chakra contained and plan my next move and be alert for enemy ninja and I'm trying to remember what Shizune and Grandma Tsunade taught me about medical ninjutsu and healing. On top of that, I feel like crap and I'm hungry and I have a headache" he argued.

"No shit" was all I muttered. I saw a hint of humour flash in his eyes. He must have heard me. I would've laughed at his complaints if this were a different situation. Still, I wasn't happy. He was wounded worse than I was at the moment and had had no treatment. He, also, wasn't telling me something. I chose not to push him until he was finished what he was doing. It gave me time to mull over what he'd said. Something that only created more questions, than anything else.

Why would he want to contain his chakra? Wouldn't that be a bad thing for him to do at the moment? And what did the Hokage and her assistant teach him? Naruto wouldn't be able to do medical ninjutsu, would he? That takes a lot of chakra control, something I, again very distinctly, remember Naruto not being good at.

Naruto tied a knot in my bandages. He sighed heavily, stood up and walked slowly to the other side of the cave. While he walked, I noticed he hid a limp with practised accuracy. It was unnoticeable save for a small, painful looking twitch in the leg muscle. I only saw it because I was searching for it and I began to wonder how much pain Naruto was really in. My question was soon answered after he collapsed to his knees, clutching his head in pain.

"NARUTO!" I cried. I tried to move to help him. Pain shot through me and I froze once again, waiting for it to pass so I could help him. In my frozen state, I heard him mutter to himself;

"All right, all right, I know. Just let me sit down".

I watched cautiously, not liking the idea of Naruto talking to himself.

He shed what was left of his jacket and sat cross-legged in front of me. Then slowly, grunting and hissing in pain, began to peel off his black tattered sleeveless. The full extent of his injuries was revealed to me then. With the small cuts that littered his upper body, joined two large slices into his chest. In an "X" shape over an old, deep scar left by the youngest Uchiha traitor, it looked like someone wanted to cut him open. Confirming my theory, a long, deep, diagonal gash from under his ribs on his right side to the hip bone on his left. Someone had definitely wanted to open him up. He then removed any remaining sebon that hadn't come out, some way or another. I was beginning to feel very sick watching him. No ninja of any rank, not even Uchiha Madara I reckon could do what Naruto was doing. Any other ninja would be dead or unconscious by now, while Naruto was still moving, still helping someone else before himself. If that were I with those injuries or any other member of the Konoha Eleven, I'm certain we would be trying to scream in agony at the very thought of moving, only to find that even breathing caused us excruciating pain. Needless to say, at times like this I truly admire Naruto, though I'm not sure if it's his stupidity, his bravery or his loyalty and care for his friends that I admire.

When Naruto had finally settled himself, he surprised me again and did the unthinkable. If the Konoha Eleven were here, they'd say Hell had frozen over. If many of the Sensei's were here, they'd say the world was ending. And if any ANBU were here, they'd probably kill Naruto under the impression he was an impostor. Naruto Uzumaki began to meditate.

He sat stone still, his legs crossed and his eyes closed. His hands were connected in a unique position. Both his index fingers and thumbs were together at the tip and pointing down while the middle phalange of his other three fingers were also connected. I knew from personal experience it was more for concentration and didn't actually do anything other than add focus. That's when I felt it. The dark, hate filled, and raging energy that seemed to come from Naruto. My eyes bulged when I saw the same tainted chakra form some kind of red cloak around Naruto's entire body. It then began to spread out around the cave slowly and I shook with fear at the thought of this chakra near me. Then I felt another type of chakra. This one was equally, if not more, powerful than the red chakra emanating from Naruto. This other chakra was green, peaceful and full of life but it had enough force to reign in the escaping red chakra and form a dome of sorts around a now glowing Naruto.

Visible chakra of any kind was rare, even for the highest trained and chakra charged ninja. To see two opposing chakra forces in one place around the one body was amazing but what actually made my jaw drop was that body it was surrounding. Naruto was still in the same position he was when last I looked. What was different, was the injuries that were healing right before my eyes. After five minutes, nearly all his wounds were healed, except for the "X" slashed into his chest. Even the slash across his stomach was healed, though there was a scar. Finally, a few minutes later, only a scar in the shape of an "X" remained. The green chakra dome began to draw in to Naruto and were absorbed by him, replacing the menacing red chakra.

Naruto meditated for a few more minutes with his head down. He then sighed heavily and looked back up at me revealing his eyes to, once again, be a shining sky blue. They were filled with several emotions I couldn't recognize when together but his expression looked apologetic.

"I sorry you had to feel that, Shikamaru. I should've moved outside and away from you. It was a bit dangerous for me to do that with you around but I just couldn't get that far" he looked me directly in the eyes as he said that. I think that's the first time he's ever looked me in the eyes for more than a glance.

He has soul-seeing eyes that make me want to talk with him about anything and everything I think, I know, I feel, I worry about because I know he will listen, even if he doesn't understand. It makes me appreciate his presence more and I remember how quiet and dull his two-year absence was in Konoha.

Once again, I slowly process what he said. I should've moved outside…It was a bit dangerous… Dangerous? How so? Did he mean that dark red chakra? Does he know what that was? Was it really him?

Before I think about what I'm saying, the question slips off my tongue before I can visualize the number of reactions and prepare for them.

"Who are you, Naruto?"

He sits back against the wall of the cave, an amused expression dancing across his face. A small smile I never seen before forms on his lips and the wisdom of a travelling storyteller and monk fills his eyes. I suddenly feel like I'm three years old again sitting with my grandfather as he patiently waits for me to solve his riddles and explain them when I can't.

Naruto chuckles quietly and he sounds like he's seen one hundred battles of one hundred men. The sound makes me think that he really has been waiting patiently for me.

"I was wondering when you would ask me that. After all, Nara's don't like to be bested by the unknown, do they?"

His answer nearly sent me into shock. He knew we were watching him and he knew what for. I glared at him accusingly for the subtle teasing insult. His amusement only intensified.

"Kidding, I'm sure you have a lot of questions for me. Though summing it up in that one question was very clever"

"Funnily enough, I did that on instinct. But any questions you have for me I'll answer, if you give me the same courtesy" I replied, thinking he would want to know why the Nara's found him so interesting.

"Any questions I had have already been answered, but I will still answer yours, starting with your first question. Who am I?" his eyes saddened and his expression sobered as he began.

"I am Naruto Uzumaki Namikaze and I'm about to tell you an S-Ranked secret".