Author Note: See? I've gotten better in my post times. Just a month apart, and will more than likely stay that way. (I do have more than just this one story to work on). But I will better my efforts to at least two weeks between each chapter.
Though, I am amazed and slightly amused at the sudden conclusions some of you immediately jumped to after reading last chapter.
Thank you to all of you that added The Darkness That Binds Him to their Alerts and Favorites.
And a humongous "Thank You" to: CharegerBoiFlash, AnimeRocker 469, emilbootanimefreak, ncpfan, rollicking skater, || Kairi ||, KamilahKalioe, solitare 1, Mystolon, Psudocode Samurai, CGxZeus, fullhouses, BloodyDragon05, Patriot-112, ndavid, McCabeRz, Impstar, NapalmInTheRain, xdevil-child, rivereagles999, festa1984, killendell, LanaLegolas, HousesMD93, Sabriilyn, WillTCastle, Sleepless Demon, insaneclouwn, Rialga, Zakura Koi, Sammywolfstar, AnotherFanfictionFailure, Sanz0girl, bankai777, Elemental-OverLord, Kazukimi, roboguy45, Shining-Dreamer, crystaltyger, Thomas, Ezra Scarlet, satako-san, SowTime, cools325, NandoXFiles, GreenEggsN'Ham, SteelLark. , iamtehg, laxyfoxy, Aurora Lopez, Gaiseric, those unnamed guest, and anyone that I missed for reviewing!
They stood like that for what felt like years, each staring intently into the other's eyes. Kakashi's uncovered eye expressed his sudden surprise and unease while Naruto's emotions were hidden behind his bright blue eyes. It was the first time Kakashi had ever seen the blonde by himself since his release from the hospital—Iruka had always been hovering nearby. Not a word was spoken between the two men. After a while, it was Naruto that made the first move, turning around slowly to head back to the comfort of his room.
"Naruto," Kakashi's uncertain voice broke through the silence that was weighing down the air in the narrow hallway.
Naruto didn't halt in his shaky steps, his left leg wavering slightly from the constant pressure of moving around too much that day. He never made a sign that he had heard the older man. A sudden wave of panic and raw fear shot through Kakashi like nothing he had felt since the death of his sensei and his teammates. Running on poorly based instincts, Kakashi took the necessary steps forward, until he had closed the space between them, and grabbed Naruto's lower arm.
"Naruto! Wait!" His voice was just a fraction higher this time.
The reaction was instant. Naruto's body jerked away from the foreign touch, shying away from Kakashi altogether. Kakashi flinched inwardly when he realized that he had grabbed the younger man and quickly released the limb from his hold. Reigning in control of his runaway emotions, Kakashi exhaled softly and tried again.
"Please…just listen." When Naruto didn't make another move, he continued. "I know that it's too late for forgiveness, nor do I expect to ever earn it." He paused and swallowed roughly. "I was a fool. It was foolish of me to doubt you. To have, even for a second, given into the thought that you could have done such a vile thing to Sakura is unforgivable. I should have known better." Underneath his mask, Kakashi pulled his lips into a tight line and directed his eyes to the floor. "Your father would be disappointed in me. He would flay me alive for the wrongs that I've done against you…I should have stood by my sensei's son."
There, the cat was out of the bag. Kakashi couldn't help but feel like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. But when he looked up, it wasn't surprise or astonishment at the implications of the truth about one of Naruto's parents that he saw in those blue eyes but anger. Purely contained anger at him, if as even mentioning his father was a sin all in itself.
Kakashi watched as Naruto turned his head back around and continued his walk back towards his room. The limp in his step was barely noticeable but it only served to tear another rip into Kakashi's consciousness. He watched as Naruto finally made it in front of his room, entered the room before closing the door. Kakashi stood alone in that hallway for a little while longer before heaving a heavy sigh and heading to his own room for the night.
When Iruka woke, the first thing that caught his eyes was the condition of his bedroom. The room was clean, with not one thing out of place. There should have been things littering the floor. It should have been a mess, but it wasn't.
The next thing he noticed was that he was incredibly warm. He looked down at the blanket covering the lower part of his body. A confused frown made its way onto his face before his eyes narrowed in anger.
Kakashi. That man had been in his room. Who else could it have been?
Throwing the blanket aside, Iruka fumed silently. How dare he? Entering into his room after he had told—threatened—the older man for his entire stay that he was to never come near him unless it was absolutely necessary, especially to enter his room!
He stood, his bare feet hitting the wooden floor harshly, and made his way to the door. Before he could even make it to the second step, there was a knock on his door. He paused in his movement, his anger flaring up again.
"Go away, Hatake!"
There was a pause on the other side of the door before the handle began to jiggle a little. When the door began to open, Iruka instinctively shoved his hand into the lower pants pocket, took grip of a kunai and sent it flying. The hit the wall near the door, just where he intended as a warning but the door continued to open anyway. His eyes widen in alarm and his feet closed the space when he realized that it was Naruto dressed in a different set of clothing.
"Oh! I'm so sorry Naruto, I didn't mean too!" He engulfed the blonde in an awkward hug, his arms wrapped tightly a little above Naruto's middle while Naruto's left arm was raised bent in the air. He sent apology after apology. Naruto said nothing, lowering his arm and showing Iruka the plate in his hand. Iruka blinked at the plate twice before he looked up at Naruto.
"You made this?" He asked, his voice cautious, but excited. Naruto gave a short nod in answer. Iruka smiled happily, grabbing Naruto's other hand and leading him towards the bed, always mindful of the blonde's left leg. Ignoring that his door was still open, he had Naruto sit at the edge of the bed before he took a seat next to him.
Iruka opened his mouth to apologize again, but Naruto only gave a shake of his head and pointed to the plate still in his hand. Iruka closed his mouth but the smile stayed.
"Thank you." Iruka took only a few bites of his breakfast before he looked up at Naruto and frowned. "Have you eaten?"
Naruto looked reluctantly at Iruka but shook his head once in a negative.
"Are you hungry? I don't know if you made anymore but I could always—" Iruka was cut off by another shake of the head. Hesitantly Iruka sighed slightly and continued eating. When he was done, Naruto grabbed his plate and headed out of the room, Iruka not far behind him. They entered the kitchen, Naruto depositing the plate into the sink before washing it. Iruka picked up a towel, taking the plate from Naruto when he was done and drying it.
Kakashi watched them from the doorway. Leaning against the wall, he stared, a childish feeling of jealousy rising through him. He wished that he was more like Iruka. Then maybe, just maybe, it could be him standing next to Naruto without the image of those blue eyes burning with rage and directed at him.
He watched for a few seconds longer before he spoke, interrupting the scene in front of him.
"We need to leave soon."
Naruto didn't stop his movements across the kitchen but Iruka sent him a glare that was common these days.
"I haven't forgotten," he said through clenched teeth.
Kakashi gave a short nod of his head and turned to head back to his room. Once he was gone, Iruka put the towel back down.
"I'll be back shortly," he told Naruto. "Then we have to leave, to go see one of the Yamanaka's, okay?" Naruto glanced at him from the corner of his eye but continued his cleaning.
Iruka left from the kitchen to get prepared. When he left from his room again, Naruto and Kakashi were standing near the door, both looking ready and standing as far away from each other as possible.
Together they left the house and, just like yesterday, Iruka took his spot beside Naruto while Kakashi stayed in the rear. The villagers were just the same as yesterday, close enough to look but far away enough to avoid Iruka's glare.
"Where are we supposed to meet Inoichi?" Iruka mumbled as they entered the hospital through the main doors. He was really getting tired of seeing this place.
Kakashi walked from his place behind them to stand directly in front of Iruka. "Seventh floor, the last room on the left," was the older man's answer.
Iruka let Kakashi lead the way, choosing instead to help Naruto to the elevator. When they reached the seventh floor, Inoichi was waiting for them. The blonde man's lips twitched in a failed attempt at a smile.
"So glad you could make it." the sarcasm in his voice evident to everyone. None of them really wanted to be there. His blue eyes roamed over the three of them, finally landing on Naruto. They locked eyes for a few seconds, Inoichi staring intently into Naruto's blank eyes, before he broke contact and turned. "Follow me."
Iruka looked at Naruto briefly and followed after the other man slowly so he could keep pace with Naruto. Kakashi returned to his place at the rear. Sure enough, Inoichi led them to the last door on the left, pausing to look at them.
"From this point on, only Naruto and I can be in the room. You two must remain here until we are finished," he stated.
Kakashi leaned against the wall in response, giving Inoichi a pointed look that the other man ignored completely. Iruka's look on the other hand was a bit harder to ignore, but he knew that he had more leeway with the brown haired man than Kakashi did.
He gave a small smile. "I'll try not to take too long."
Iruka huffed and let the man lead Naruto inside, shutting the door behind them.
Naruto sat in a chair directly in the center of the room. The room itself was practically empty save for the identical chair placed not 3 feet in front of him, where Inoichi was seated. Finally both of them sat.
First it was the questions. Simple at first, such as his name, birthday, how he liked the weather today. They became more personal after a while, asking how he felt about the last few months, what he thought about the people around him. His ninja status, the Kyuubi, the questions were almost never ending. Strangely enough, Inoichi never attempted to look into Naruto's mind. He just kept asking questions.
Of course, Naruto said nothing to all of the questions, his face impassive and eyes vacant. His body was relaxed in his chair, almost as if he hadn't a care in the world.
Inoichi spent a few minutes just staring directly into Naruto's eyes, mentally comparing them to how they looked when he last saw the younger man in the hospital. They still held that absent look to them, but he could see that there was something there.
"I know that you understand me, Naruto." Naruto didn't react. "I don't need to look into your psyche to know that you are more aware than what you're letting others see."
Still no reaction.
Inoichi sat back in his seat, his eyes never leaving the blonde in front of him. "You act as if you aren't really here, as if you don't really understand what's really going on here, but you do. I'm not even sure if Iruka really knows how alert you are." There. An almost invisible movement of his eyes. "But that would be insulting, wouldn't it? To say that you are deceiving that man outside."
Inoichi wanted to know why. Why Naruto was acting as of he wasn't really there. There were so many possible reasons but he didn't know which one was the right one. And he would never know either, because he valued every piece of the blonde's privacy that he could spare. His only purpose here was to see just where Naruto stood as far as his mental capacities, nothing more.
He began to speculate, sprouting off random possibilities at every turn in an attempt to get a more obvious reaction from the younger man. After so long, he began to hold more of a one-sided conversation about anything that he could think of. It wasn't until he mentioned Minato and Kushina that Inoichi truly understood how aware Naruto really was.
"I knew a couple when I was growing up. They had a kid, a son, would be about your age. They were friends of mine. Died a while back though. Sometimes I wonder, what they would ever do if they hadn't died and been here during all this mess. Kushina was rowdy woman but kind-hearted, and her husband Mina—"
He hadn't expected it. He was only sprouting off a stream of facts in no real order, to finish up his assessment. He had wanted a reaction, a good solid reaction to wrap up this section and he had gotten one, but to what and how he got it wasn't what he was expecting. Had he known that Naruto knew who his parents were, he probably never would have brought them up.
At the mention of the blonde's parents, the temperature in the room spiked by several degrees. Inoichi froze in the middle of his undirected ramble, his body rigid in surprise when an aura swept over him.
Inoichi looked directly into Naruto's face. It still held that impassive look but his eyes were narrowed in anger. But it was that aura that sent all kind of warnings though his head. It was sickeningly familiar, a presence that he prayed he would never encounter again in his lifetime.
Inoichi waited, barely refraining from jumping as far back as he could get from the blonde. He sat stiffly in his seat, his fingers itching to grab something for protection, and waited. Just as suddenly as it had appeared, the aura disappeared. Inoichi realized suddenly that he had been holding his breath.
Releasing a shacking breath, he leaned backwards into his chair. He looked up at the ceiling above them. "You may go."
Naruto looked at Inoichi and stood, his eyes not as vacant as before his visit. On uneasy footing, Naruto made his way to the door. Before he could place his hand on the handle, Inoichi stopped him.
"I will have to report…this, to Tsunade." He paused, and stood up. His eyes finding the back of Naruto's head. "I know it won't mean much coming from someone like me…but be careful. The council has been wanting to know about your physical and mental condition since you left from the hospital, but Tsunade has held them off. I will try my best to get to her before they can inquire about it." Inoichi's eyes roamed around the room, as if he was looking for something to give him away. Or better yet, for someone to burst through the door after that small display of chakra. "Avoid them if you can."
Naruto grabbed the handle and opened the door. As he was leaving, he looked directly at Inoichi, taking in the man's exhausted appearance. He stared at the man for a second longer before he left the room and closed the door behind him.
Iruka was the first to greet him, a worried smile on his face as he asked about how the visit went. Kakashi pushed himself from the wall, announcing that he would meet them back at the house later before he was gone in a swirl of leaves. Iruka shot the departure spot an irritated look.
"Let's go, Naruto," Iruka said gently, helping the blonde out of the building. Once again, they left through the hospital doors and Iruka hoped that they would never have to come back. They headed towards the streets, anxious to get back home. Not long into their walk, a woman made a hesitant attempt to approach them but Iruka chased her off, not wanting to listen to whatever she had to say. No one else tried to approach them. When they were half way to the house, Iruka stopped walking, a thought having crossed his mind.
"There's something I've been meaning to show you, Naruto. I think you should see it," was all he said before they switched directions. Soon enough, they were standing in front of the Memorial Stone. Iruka stood to the side of Naruto, his hand on Naruto's shoulder in silent support.
Naruto's eyes raked over the stone, from the top and stopping a few names from the end. His eyes stayed fixed on that spot.
"We found out shortly after you were imprisoned. I wanted to tell you but I couldn't get down there to…" Iruka paused, his voice tight with pain.
Naruto looked away from the stone to Iruka, his eyes questioning. Iruka understood.
"It was against the leader of Akatsuki. His body was lost in the waters of Ame."
Naruto dragged his eyes back towards the stone.
Iruka squeezed his shoulder in silent comfort before moving behind him to give him space. Naruto stared at the stone for a little while longer before he sat down, crossed his legs and closed his eyes. His posture was vaguely familiar to Iruka, who remembered seeing Naruto in that same position almost everyday. Naruto sat like that, never moving out of place while Iruka continued to stand back.
Footsteps sounded almost silently around the empty plain that held the giant stone, stopping momentarily by Iruka before continuing next to Naruto. A rustle of clothing and a familiar warmth next to him announced another presence to Naruto. Never opening his eyes, Naruto inclined his head forward.
"It's good to see you too." The man beside him said, voice oddlysoft. "I would have been here sooner."
Naruto gave a twitch of his fingers and a twitch of his lips, his head still inclined forward. The man was quiet for a moment before speaking again.
"For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
Naruto opened his eyes and raised his head, turning it to face the man sitting next to him. He had never heard such words from the man before…
Gaara could only give a ghost of a smile in return.
Author Note: There you go. Gaara has finally shown up after about two years (sorry about that, again).
Thank you for reading. Review.