Melody of the Wanderers
The Valley of the End…
Naruto and Sasuke stood, glaring killing intent across at each other from under the shadows of the great statues of Madara Uchiha and Hashirama Senju, bloodied, battered and bruised. They were both slumped over and exhausted, bearing wounds and injuries that would have rendered a normal shinobi unconscious or dead. However, their sheer will-power and determination kept them conscious, stretching their abilities and stamina to the limit.
The grand landmark they stood before, served as the grounds for their greatest and toughest battle yet, and from the conditions of the canyons around them, the statues, and from the states of two combatants themselves, the two Genin have really been giving it their all. With Naruto standing beside the First Hokage and Sasuke standing alongside Madara, they both looked as though they had just endured the worst kinds of torture.
Yet still, they remained, standing, glaring defiantly at one another, and bleeding all over the place.
Naruto had cut himself off from the Kyuubi's chakra and was now standing under his own power, a gaping hole in his chest from where Sasuke had hit him with his final chidori, and was quickly healing itself. Sasuke on the other hand, looked as though his stomach had just been hit by a mini vortex; the skin burned and torn away with muscle showing underneath, and was bleeding gallons. The Rasengan that had hit him just barely managed to get through, in Naruto's last ditch effort to take him down.
Both their final attacks had been devastating on the two young shinobi, and now, no longer using the chakra provided by the Cursed Seal Level 2 or the Kyuubi's One-Tailed Cloak, they stood as equals.
Sasuke hunched over and coughed out blood, staggering back a bit, with Naruto also retching on his own fluids. After heaving on air and all sorts of crap, they then looked back up at one another, resuming the staring contest.
At first, when they felt small, cold drops of water hit their faces, they just shrugged it off as spray from the waterfall beside them. However, those single drops of water soon transformed into a massive downpour, and began soaking them from head to toe. Disregarded by either of them, a dark storm pulled in overhead, and in its effort to cleanse the battlefield, began washing away their split blood.
As it started to rain, Sasuke's headband lost slack and fell from his forehead.
It hit the ground with a loud clang and a large diagonal gash carved across it. The boy ignored it, and left it forgotten in the mud.
Sasuke snarled as he stared back at his equally determined friend, who was glaring defiantly back at him.
"Why… Naruto…" Sasuke hissed, staggering forward, and unintentionally stepping on his headband, crunching it between his foot and the earth. "Why do you stand in my way? Tell me… TELL ME WHY?"
Naruto coughed out some, a spray of blood patterning the ground in front of him, before smiling weakly up towards the Uchiha.
They were both on their last legs, and they weren't feeling so good. But despite the pain, they still managed to keep a clear head.
"Because… we're friends…" Naruto replied simply, his voice hoarse from the internal damages he had suffered. "I thought I made it… perfectly clear to you… that I was going to bring you back, no matter what. I made a promise… to Sakura-chan and to everyone else… and I intend to keep it…"
The shaken Uchiha growled at that statement. To him, that didn't seem like a good enough reason. It was something he couldn't bring himself to understand. All it did was make him angrier and more eager on stomping on his friend's good intentions. With whatever strength he could spare, he converted all of his pent up rage into words, seeing as he was no longer able to turn them into fists.
This was plainly evident from the results of their battle.
"Don't you understand how much this means to me?" Sasuke roared, his body trembling as he let loose. "I need to do this! Not for you, not for Sakura, not for Kakashi, or anyone else! This doesn't concern any of you! This is between me… and HIM!"
Naruto flinched at his words.
"You may have made a promise to Sakura, to yourself, and to the rest of your friends to bring me back, but I swore to myself years ago that one day… I would kill my brother, for everything he has done to me and my family. I will kill him; if not to avenge my mum and dad, but to satisfy my own soul!" Sasuke clutched his chest, while at the same time, pressing his arm against the spiral wound in his stomach, that was still bleeding and shooting bolts of pain through his body. "It's not something you can reason with! It has nothing to do with our shared history, our friendship, or our team! I'm driven by my inability to forgive him! My soul is screaming at me, demanding… begging me to kill him! It's screaming at me so much it hurts!"
The blonde watched as the Uchiha staggered forward some more, till he was standing on the very edge of the lake. His blood mixed in with the water, as it was hammered away by the pouring rain. Through blood, rain and tears, Sasuke glared across at his friend, who was doing nothing but listening.
"The losses and pain I have suffered, and my hatred for him, are more then enough to keep me going," Sasuke stated, straightening up, with the downpour streaming down his face. "Besides… this is my problem… you should stay out of it…"
Naruto knew Sasuke was referring to his older brother, his closest kin, who butchered his entire family and clan. It was a fact that the jinchuriki was well aware of, but of course, not knowing what it was like to lose a family, let alone have much of one to begin with, made him feel more useless in his position, as he was unable to convince his friend otherwise. True, Naruto didn't understand what it was like to lose something so close to him, and Sasuke was making it absolutely clear that he wasn't going to stop, no matter what he said. However, the blonde did understand one thing…
"You really need this… don't you?" Naruto muttered, closing his eyes and lowering his head.
Sasuke simply glared at him, blinking when he suddenly saw his opponent's shoulders drop and head lower.
Clutching the wound in his chest, Naruto's eyes became overshadowed.
"Okay…I get the picture now, Sasuke," the Genin murmured, slumping a bit when he felt some of his strength leave him. "I mean… I don't completely understand what you're going through… but… I can hear what you're saying… loud and clear…"
The Uchiha remained quiet, as he listened with open ears to what the boy was saying. Even though they had both passed the point of ever trying to understand each other in this situation, this was something he felt he needed to hear. The usually loud-mouthed blonde was making that clear by the way he was talking.
"But that doesn't mean I'm going to sit back and watch either," Naruto stated, scowling back up towards the raven haired ninja. "Your brother is after me for the burden I carry, not just you… and that's something I can't let you carry by yourself…"
Naruto tried his best to comprehend what Sasuke was going through, and he did this while speaking at the same time, piecing together his next few words appropriately, little by little. With his teammate's pain, as well as Naruto's heavy burden, from looking at what they had in common, it all seemed to revolve around the same person; Itachi Uchiha.
However, with what Naruto had to say, he wasn't at all sure if it was going to get through to Sasuke. But, if it was to keep them both alive, as well as preserve whatever bond they still shared between each other, then he was going to pull out whatever cards he had left in order to better his chances of fulfilling his promise to Sakura.
"I made a promise… to bring you back, even if I had to break your arms and legs to do it," Naruto smiled slightly, earning a raised eyebrow from his opponent. "But… you're making fulfilling my promise… very difficult for me…"
Sasuke frowned, wondering where he was going with this. Eventually, Naruto got straight to the point of the matter, concluding his small speech with a light chuckle, and stepping aside. Above the pain, the blonde came up with the only sensible answer he could think of.
He couldn't beat his friend…
He couldn't convince him to return to Konoha…
So he came up with the next best alternative…
"Alright then… go…"
"I won't stop you," Naruto panted, taking a few steps back with a smirk, making room for Sasuke to walk through, as behind him was the only path out of the valley, and he would have to get through him to get to it.
The spiky haired jinchuriki wasn't going to stand in his way though, not now. "Heck, I'll give you a ten minute head start. Go on… before I change my mind…"
Sasuke just stood where he was, staring baffled at the now reluctant, yet seemingly willing shinobi and his good natured acceptance of the situation. Naruto waved a hand at him in feigned frustration.
"What are you waiting for? A personal escort? Get out of here…"
Still suspicious as to Naruto's true motives, Sasuke slowly, but surely, began trudging across the lake. The moment he reached the other side, he staggered onto shore and past the blonde, who simply turned his back on him and allowed him through.
When the Uchiha passed him, he stopped and spared a glance back, to see Naruto smirking as he stared off in a different direction, not looking him in the eyes.
"What's your game, dobe?"
"You're not just going to let me go… I know it…"
"What? I can't stop you, and you sure as hell can't stop me," Naruto glanced over his right shoulder, at the boy who was glaring back at him. Both their eyes showed their exhaustion, and that neither one of them were backing down. "That's why… I'm going to give you a chance…"
"I can see that you need this… more then anything else, and you're going to stop at nothing to accomplish your goal. Even if I was to drag you back, you would just run away again, on crutches if you had to," Naruto murmured, turning full-body towards the Uchiha, who also turned towards him, not willing to take a sneak attack if the blonde were to pull a fast one on him. "Hell, I'm not going to stop trying to accomplish my goal. That's why I'm letting you go… so that once you succeed in killing your brother… I can come after you then… and fulfill my promise, while letting you accomplish yours…"
Naruto and Sasuke just stared at each other through the rain, ignoring everything else around them. As they glared at one another, the blonde shrugged his shoulders and gestured the Uchiha to go on his way, while staggering back into a puddle behind him.
"Just promise me when you're done… we will meet up with each other and settle this thing once and for all…" Naruto said, smirking. "And when we do meet again, I will beat you… and I will bring you back to Konoha…"
For a minute or so, the pair stood in silence. After considering his friend's words, as well as his reasoning over a time span of a minute, Sasuke just smirked as well, and turned his head, looking away while clutching his wound, just as his friend was.
"You're such an idiot," Sasuke mused. With that said, he turned heel and began to walk away, shaking his head. "Just get stronger… would yah… so you won't bore me next time…"
"Why don't you get stronger teme, so that we can face each other fair and square… no Kyuubi or Cursed Seal involved…"
Sasuke just smiled and kept on walking, his footsteps sloshing in mud and his blood dripping down the join it, only to be washed away. Just before he was out of ear shot, and just before he disappeared into the mists beyond the rain, Naruto was able to hear one last thing from the Uchiha.
With that, Sasuke's silhouette disappeared into the dark of the rain, leaving only Naruto standing in the middle of their battlefield. Letting out a sigh, the blonde staggered back and slumped up against the side of the giant statue of the First Hokage. The fatigue finally hitting him, he looked up towards the sky, the water cascading down his face as it hit him over and over again.
As he stood there, he began rethinking his decision to let Sasuke go, wondering whether it was a good one or a bad one. After a few seconds of deliberation, he settled on in-between, and allowed a small smile to cross his face. Of course, there was more to his plan then what he had let on earlier, and though he had his doubts, he reasoned with himself that he needed this more then ever.
His resolve was strengthened by his promise.
'The others may be pissed at me for letting him go…' Naruto picked himself off of the stone surface of the FirstHoka. When he did, he reached up and yanked off his headband. Tying it at the end, he then pulled out a piece of paper and thumbed about for a pencil.
When he couldn't find a pencil or pen, he instead settled with his own blood, dabbing it on his finger and writing on it as best as he could in the rain. Satisfied with the few words he wrote on it, he then placed the headband underneath the statue of Hashirama Senju, and as fast as he could, staggered out of the area.
Within minutes, like Sasuke, he left the valley and everything else behind him.
All the while, a smile remained plastered on his face.
"It's about time… I walked on my own two feet, for once in my life…"
When Kakashi eventually arrived on the scene about twenty minutes later, all he found to his dismay was a trail of scent that ended, and both Naruto and Sasuke's headbands placed conspicuously here and there beside the great lake. The moment he reached the metaphorical dead-end, he couldn't find either of his students anywhere in sight, and his spirits fell at that revelation.
When he pulled the first forehead protector from the mud and brushed the dirt away, he immediately recognized it to be Sasuke's.
Looking at it, he deduced right then and there that the Uchiha was gone for good, as indicated by the gash across the Hidden Leaf symbol. This further caused any hope he had for the boy to plummet.
However, when he went over to pluck Naruto's hitai-ate from the wall, he was surprised when a little piece of paper fell out.
Picking it up off of the soaked floor that was still being hammered away by rain, the silver haired Jonin looked down at it, with Pakkun blinking up at him curiously as the man unfolded the note and read it.
"Well, what does it say, Kakashi?" the little dog asked curiously.
Kakashi blinked incredulously, his eyes scanning over the five, simple, yet confidently, written words on the paper.
"I'll be back for this…"
The Jonin sighed in relief, knowing his two students were still alive. But with both of them gone he didn't know what to think beyond that. A mixture of emotions filled him; the disappointment at losing Sasuke to Orochimaru, which was replaced by relief that Naruto was still alive and walking. This was then followed by the mixed feeling of dread and delight that both of his students were alive, but nowhere to be seen.
The only clear thought that crossed his mind however, was the knowledge that his most unpredictable student, Naruto, was gone as well, but had the definite intention of returning some time in the future, and that was something he knew his knucklehead of a student would do.
How long he would be gone, Kakashi wasn't sure.
However, he knew Naruto had a plan. If this was a part of it, he would probably be seeing him sooner then he thought.
'I bet you will…' Kakashi thought, chuckling.
"Well?" Pakkun pressured his master for an answer.
The silver haired Jonin, folding up the piece of paper, pocketing it, and with both head-bands in hand, eye-smiled down at his summon.
"Come on. We've got a report to make…"
TO BE CONTINUED…
Author's Note: It's a story I'm experimenting with and am hoping will go well. Hope you enjoyed the prologue.