A/N – PLEASE READ: Exactly one year ago, I posted the prologue as a teaser until I could complete the entirety of this story. I have been working on this behind the scenes, composing the backbone of it, etc. Because I'm on the verge of losing my sanity due to my own brilliant idea of doing my Masters in a language I can only sort-of speak, I will be writing this as a way to stay anchored. This will be about twenty chapters and updates will be every MONDAY. Thank you for your reviews, your time, and your patience.
Chapter One-To Lead Others
They stumble all night over bones of the dead;
And feel - they know not what but care;
And wish to lead others, when they should be led.
-The Voice of the Ancient Bard, William Blake
The ground was damp with moonlit dew and the forest was relatively quiet except for the swaying of sleepy trees. The wolf-dog groggily stirred from her slumber, hesitantly twisting her ears to test the air. She knew it was night without opening her eyes; she knew also that she was alone, and that the forest was not a forest that she knew. This did not immediately disturb her; after all, she was born to the natural elements. She was a part of this nature and, unknown or not, she could find her way.
However, she hesitated, briefly, as smells of a distant city breached the natural odor of the earth and the aroma of humans brought a tug at her mind. Humans.
Something about that word—the existence of these two-legged creatures—brought an unsettling feeling to the forefront of her mind, a combination of fondness and fear. But why?
She perked noticeably at the gentle calling of an owl, its soothing voice nudging a distant memory, though she didn't know what, exactly, to remember. Slowly she lifted her head, opening her eyes to the grim shadows of night. Silver beams of moonlight slivered through openings in the canopy ahead, dotting the forest floor with light.
Though her confusion was evident, the wolf instinctively stood, feeling considerably less vulnerable on her own feet. Hesitantly she took a few steps forward, only to find herself strangely disconcerted. Another breeze rustled the trees and this time she paused to lift her nose once more into the night sky. Danger, she sensed. She took another tentative step and another, though she knew not why. Her fur stood on end, now, though she knew that the danger, whatever it was, was not coming towards her.
In fact, she realized, she was moving towards it.
Her hesitation deepened, but she refused to stop. She was torn between the call at her back—towards the safety of the wilderness—and the call towards humanity. It was not the idea of humans that disgruntled her. It was the strange feeling welling within the wildness of her heart. She did not belong there. She did not belong here. And she could find no answers to settle either question.
In mid-step, she brought herself to an ungainly halt, her paw hovering above the soft night-moistened leaves. Another scent tickled the padding of her nose and she unwittingly licked her mouth in response. Blood, her instincts told her. And after another moment of circumspect wondering, she deduced quickly that it was indeed human blood.
It drew her up and simultaneously dragged her forward—the gravity of blood—and she leapt forward into a swift lope, dodging through the shadows without care for anything but the instinctive understanding that there was a call—a subtle cry—that she was answering.
In the distance, she heard the scampering of a mouse as it escaped to the relative safety of denser ground. From above she knew that the owl was hunting and that it was waiting for its prey to make a mistake. She recognized the croaking bass of frogs, the sweetness of nightingale voices, and the wistful strumming of crickets. But as she plunged further from the solidarity of the forest and quickly approached the far-reaching lights of civilization, the cries of the animals were those of suspicion, as they too recognized the iron-scent of blood.
When she broke from the denser foliage, she was forced to a screeching halt as the evidence of a wall barred her path. Once more, she lifted her head, closing her eyes briefly as she inhaled the world with her other senses. To go through the city would be dangerous, she knew. She would be walled within the confinements of human affairs without an easy escape. But she also knew that she was short on time—though for what, she still did not understand—and that to try to find an alternative route would ultimately result in the failure of her mission.
And so with the cover of night as her only protection, she charged into the city, sticking to the slender pathways between buildings in hopes of remaining largely unseen. It was late and the majority of humans were sleeping, but she could recognize the presence of patrolling forces, hopping above her over the rooftops, and she sensed that it would be wise to avoid them.
Though she was not paying particular attention to the details of this strange, foreign city, she could tell that it was unlike anything she had ever known before. This city, though tainted with blood, exuded a brightness that defied expectations. Even in the depths of night, even with the streaming glow of the taunting moon, the city radiated confidence and peace.
Which begged the question: why, why, was their blood?
And as she drew closer, the smell thickened until it seemed to form a film of latent rusty air just above her nose. So much blood, she sensed. Death, it warned.
Why do they bleed so much? she wondered, as she crossed beneath an arch which read: Uchiha. She didn't have to see the bodies to know they were there, littering the ground with hardly any evidence of their struggle. Unsuspecting, unaware. They did not expect to bleed like this.
But who was the culprit? The haze of blood prevented her from pinpointing the exactness of the perpetrator's location. She wasn't sure what she would do upon finding him either. It had not been her intention to come here at all; it was unsafe.
And still, for reasons unknown, she pressed forward, peering around her cautiously, ears swiveling in every direction, looking for clues.
A discordant scream pierced the air, riven with pain and disbelief that caused every muscle within her to tense with surprising swiftness. Help! the scream resonated, awakening her briefly to a different instinct—a protective one. Her reaction was unexpected—she was a wolf, after all, and a wolf was not a creature which answered to the demands of humans—but she reached out anyway, looking once briefly towards the moon as if seeking affirmation for her deeds, before galloping down a darker ally.
She lurched around the corner, practically skidding across the pathway, and growled viciously as a man and boy came into view. He is but a boy as well, she mentally corrected as she lunged into the air and landed lightly in front of the younger child.
The fur on her neck stretched like a lion's mane and continued to rise along the base of her spine. Another growl escaped her throat, rumbling in the eerie silence of the dead, and she bared her fangs for good measure. The fresh blood splattered on the man's clothing was not his own and his eyes were a dangerous red. And still the wolf met his gaze with a stare of her own, issuing her challenge.
The boy behind her was speaking, though it was the incomprehensible questionings of a confused child: the screaming of rage and pain, the demanding of answers for a question that simply didn't have them, and the inability to process an unforeseen contingency.
Brother why? he asked. Why, why, why?
The wolf listened briefly, picking up the sounds of his voice. She could understand him, she realized, though she wasn't truly processing his words. She was paying attention to the changes in his scent, using her nose rather than her ears.
However, her concentration fell upon the words of the older boy, who spoke for the first time. "Foolish little brother. If you want to kill me, despise me, hate me, and live a loathsome life. Run away, run away, and cling to life. And then some day, when you have the same eyes as I do, come before me."
The boy collapsed to all fours, weakened by shock and clinging to consciousness with sheer resolve. He could find no more words; he could make no more excuses for the deeds of his brother. The wolf whined lowly, though she refused to move to his aid, fearing that the attacker might choose to take advantage of her divided attention.
However, when something within the man shifted, the wolf became uneasy. Behind his eyes lurked a gathering of power, and they began to turn, to deepen and shift. Immediately, she crouched, prepared to spring in defense.
But the power within the attacker's eyes dissipated, and though the wolf knew he had done something, she could find no evidence of an actual attack. However, when the child could no longer hold himself to reality and fell into the fleeting respite of unconsciousness, she knew the older boy was responsible. Frustrated by her inability to perceive the stranger's eyes, she snarled loudly, threatening him not to try anything with her—and wondering how she would defend herself should he attempt it.
But as the seconds continued to tick, the attack did not come. Upon closer inspection, she could see tears in the older boy's eyes, unbidden and uncontrolled. Why does he cry? she questioned, cocking her head, tasting the air once more to better read him.
Sadness, the air around him said.
Torn between her defense of the child and the strange reactions of the murderer, the wolf whined her confusion. Once more, the stranger met her gaze, holding it through his tears.
"Things are never as they appear to be, even though we are defined by what we do," he said simply, turning to leave. "I am not here to fight you."
Wait! the wolf thought briskly, barking her order. The stranger stopped to glance behind, the red of his eyes fading to a hollow black. She took the opportunity to move towards him, though her steps were cautious. She could not understand the entirety of the situation—why this man had murdered these people, or even who he had killed—but she could feel that something about it was amiss. He is not really the enemy. Then who…?
When she was a mere arms-length away, the wolf halted and looked up at the older brother expectantly, waiting.
"There is power in you," he observed, crouching to one knee so that they were at eye-level. "But some part of it still sleeps."
He reached out slowly, watching patiently as the wolf flattened uncertain ears to her skull and drew away. He didn't withdraw, however, and after some moments of hesitation, she finally brought her muzzle closer to inhale the entirety of his scent. She sensed nothing to fear—no immediate threat—even though the blood of his comrades stained his hands. And when his hand lightly ran along the side of her muzzle and towards the top of her head, she did not shy away.
There was something vaguely familiar about the sensation—a spiraling within her senses that lit her instincts on fire. It felt like something that had happened once before—an awakening of identity—and it rumbled within her, resonating with a past that she could not recall. She was more than mere beast, she knew. More than wolf, more than her meager existence in this world—whatever world this was. All of the unspoken questions wound within her like a tightly coiled spring, but she could not find the means with which to connect them. Who am I? she found herself whimpering in her mind. And why am I here?
"Can you understand me?" the stranger asked suddenly, causing the wolf to abandon her thoughts.
She looked up at him, her blue eyes reflecting the ghastly light of the full moon hanging above them, suddenly unsure. She heard his words—processed them—but was incapable of providing a true answer.
"Can you understand why I did it?"
This time she wasn't sure whether his words were meant for her or for himself, but she provided him with an answer anyway. Without hesitation, she gently began to lick away the blood on his hands.
Humans can understand only what they see with their eyes and what they feel with their hands, she thought, surprised by the coherence of the phrase in her mind. But I am what I am, and I see with more than my eyes.
"I must go," he mumbled sadly; her gesture had not gone unnoticed, nor had the meaning behind it. Uchiha Itachi was not a fool. The wolf was speaking to him in her own way. Yes, she was saying. Yes I understand. And though he was tempted to use his Sharingan to erase her memory, a new idea came to mind. "Can I trust you to do for him what I cannot?"
The wolf cocked her head, questioningly.
"Please," he begged faintly, "please take care of him—take care of Sasuke."
And the echo of his words awoke something within her like the tickling laughter of a growing fire. It was fate, she realized. She had come for this purpose. And as she stretched her mind, clawing desperately at the folds of her memories, she could unearth nothing but that singular notion: this was her mission.
With a strong bounding leap, she moved back to the boy and prostrated herself over his limp form. I will do as you ask, she thought, and to clarify her thoughts, she released a singular howl, letting her voice carry all of her grim determination—letting it say everything that she could not say with words. It climbed over the dead, seeped past the bloodstained walls, and raced towards the moon. I promise.
"Thank you," he whispered, knowing that she could hear him. And this time he turned without looking back.
There was no sound that could parallel the force with which the silence grasped the night after the departure of Uchiha Itachi. To a human, the lingering echo of the dead would have driven anyone to madness, but the wolf was a testament of nature's strength, and though the blood burned her nostrils and ruthlessly penetrated the very depth of her senses, she ignored it. Turning to her new charge, she began to lick the dried blood from the kunai wound on his arm and continued carefully inspecting the rest of him for further injury. When she was satisfied with her ministrations, she curled around the frame of his body, providing him with the comfort of her own warmth, and assured that no more harm would befall him that night.
And though she could piece nothing together of her own existence, she pushed it aside, allowing the knowledge that he needed her to outweigh her own insecurities. Another day she would ponder, another day she would seek answers for herself. Tonight she would stand guard. Tonight she would begin to fulfill the beginnings of her promise. And with that resolution placed firmly in her mind, she closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of the night as they wafted in on the tail of the breeze.
Soon the humans would arrive. Soon the boy—Sasuke—would awaken to the terrible reality of his brother's actions. And soon she would be his anchor. I will not fail him, she decided.
"Did she do this?"
"Should we attack?"
"No. We don't want her to hurt the boy."
"Wait for Hokage-sama's orders."
The murmuring of voices awoke the wolf from a restless slumber and the pieces of recent events filtered back into her mind. Lifting her head, from its place besides Sasuke's shoulder, she warily eyed the armed men. When she realized they wore masks, she felt her hackles rise in suspicion, not liking that she could not meet their eyes. But instead of reacting rashly, she forced a calm that she didn't feel, and sniffed the air, judging their intentions by the scent of their emotions.
They were ill-at-ease with her presence, she deduced, but not rash enough to attack while she stood guard over Sasuke.
Some part of her knew from experience how to appeal to the softer side of a human heart, though she couldn't remember how or when she had learned this. She didn't stand, knowing that her size might only serve to frighten them further, so she lowered her ears in passive obeisance and looked at them with pleading eyes. When her expression seemed to ease some of their tension, she let out a low whine and licked Sasuke's face to show them she meant no harm.
"I think…I think she's protecting him," one whispered.
"Those kunai in the walls certainly weren't thrown by her paws," another reasoned.
"So she's on our side?"
Before anyone could answer that question, the Hokage entered the premises, his expression grave. "Uchiha Itachi," he mumbled knowingly. "Uchiha Itachi has abandoned Konoha."
The others could not hear the resignation in the old man's voice, but it did not go unnoticed by the wolf. He knows, she decided. He knows the truth.
When his eyes met hers, Sandaime's brows quirked in surprise, "What is this?"
"We have not approached to confirm whether Uchiha Sasuke is still alive. We were unsure of the wolf's intentions," admitted one of the ANBU.
"Hmm, the wolf would not guard the dead," the Hokage hummed thoughtfully, his stare narrowing as he further assessed the situation. "Sasuke-kun cannot stay here. Have him taken to the hospital. Allow the wolf to do as she pleases."
"B-but Hokage-sama," one shinobi protested, "what if she is the enemy in disguise? Or a Summon?"
"It is a known fact that Uchiha Itachi does not summon wolves," Sandaime said, closing the subject, "and there are other things to consider tonight. Remove the bodies of the dead and tape this area off from onlookers. The morning threatens to bring the tidings of bad news to all of Konoha. We must be prepared for the repercussions."
"Hai," they acknowledged obediently, bounding off into different sections of the Uchiha compound to retrieve the dead.
The wolf stood when one of the ANBU began to inspect Sasuke's injuries and she watched him with a critical eye. Once he picked the helpless boy up, she whined, nudging the masked man with her nose.
"You may come along," he replied simply, and disappeared into the darkness of the night.
However, before she began to follow the shinobi's departing form, the wolf looked again at the strange old man, studying the sturdiness of his presence that masked the underlying sorrow of his scent. "I imagine that you were not a part of the plan," Sandaime spoke thoughtfully, noting her appraisal, "but I am sure Itachi does not regret your presence."
He did not expound upon his words and the wolf did not attempt to inquire further. If at one time she could speak, she could not now, and to understand fully the meaning of the Hokage's words, she would have to have her own words to use. For a moment, however, she stood in place, watching as Sandaime turned away to walk among the remains of his comrades and the tragedy of the night. He would mourn their deaths—even those who had plotted against his village. But at least death had provided them with a solemn farewell—and at least that farewell would not haunt them. After all, it was not the living who would haunt the dead.
Is this truly what you wanted, Itachi? he wondered sadly, his eyes roaming over the splattered blood and the remnants of battle. If only you could have held on a little longer. I am sorry I failed you.
But before he could admonish himself further, he felt a nudge of soft fur against his hand and looked down to see the wolf watching him cautiously. Sparing him a final glance, she licked his fingers—much as she had done to Itachi—and then turned away towards the direction of Sasuke's lingering scent. I am here Pops, she was saying. I am here for a reason.
As she bounded off towards the hospital, leaving a stunned Hokage to stare after her retreating form, she reconsidered her latest thoughts as a strange feeling dawned on her. Pops? Why did I call him Pops?
When Uchiha Sasuke woke the next day, he determined that he had been subjected to a particularly bad nightmare.
But as he registered another presence in the room—two presences, actually—his dread deepened. Especially since one was Sandaime Hokage himself.
What? Why is he here?
"It wasn't a dream?" he asked dumbly.
"Uchiha Itachi has fled the village," the Hokage confirmed warily. "I am sorry Sasuke."
"Mother? Father?" he choked, "They—they're—but no!"
And once again, he couldn't prevent the tears from falling. Inside he was cursing his weakness. If I was stronger… I could have saved them!
Anger surfaced quickly, replacing the hollow feeling that had invaded his heart. Itachi… brother, he growled mentally, grasping for anything to save him from the depression. And suddenly his brother's last spoken words echoed in his head. Despise me, hate me…
He could not bring himself to reason. He could not figure out how to sort his emotions. He was lost. Hate his brother? His idol?
But before he could ponder the words further, his thoughts were interrupted by the second presence in the room. The wolf had taken the opportunity to creep closer, sensing Sasuke's distress. Without preamble, she licked the salty tears from the boy's face, startling him from his darkening thoughts. "Wh-what?"
"Do you recognize her Sasuke-kun?" the Hokage asked.
At first Sasuke shook his head, but then another memory surfaced. "Wait—she was there. She stood in front of me before I collapsed."
"You've never seen her before?"
The Hokage stood to leave, but paused thoughtfully at the door, "She was lying next to you when we arrived and she came here of her own volition. She has not left your side." And with a significant look, he met the boy's eyes, holding his gaze, "Maybe this is the belief of a senile old man, but I'm under the impression that nothing happens without reason. Take care of her as she has taken care of you."
Sasuke did not move immediately, even after the sound of the Hokage's receding footsteps had long ceased to reach his ears. Too much had happened too quickly. In one night he had lost his family—his friends—his life as he knew it. His brother had made him relive their deaths over and over, torturing him with the loss. Hatred began to well within him because hatred was easier to feel than sorrow—it was easier and it was stronger.
I will kill him for it, he thought, tightening his grip on the blanket. Brother, I will come for you.
And once again, the darkness of his thoughts was interrupted, this time by the wolf's whine.
"What do you want?" he growled, wiping at the remaining tears around his eyes. "I didn't ask for you to be here. Get lost."
But the wolf paid him no heed; instead she curled up in the remaining space at his side and rested her head in his lap. And although he seemed displeased, Sasuke could not prevent himself from automatically reaching out to stroke the softness of her fur. It was both soothing and mindless, and he momentarily welcomed it.
"Do you have a name?" he asked finally. "If you're not going to go away, I might as well call you something."
She lifted her head at the question. My name? she wondered. I don't remember my name.
"Does Wolf work?" he considered.
She snorted, almost shaking her head in distaste.
"Guess not," Sasuke decided. He studied her for another moment, considering, and then huffed, "I'm not good at things like this. I could call you Blackie—you have black fur, after all."
She growled low; it was even worse than being called Wolf.
This time she perked her ears forward; it was an echo from the past—a gruff voice calling her name. Blue.
Sasuke was perceptive; he tested the word again, "Blue?"
She yipped happily, feeling a connection with something—the name—for the first time since her awakening on the forest floor the night before. That's it! she thought excitedly, licking his cheek in acceptance. I'm sure of it.
"Alright, alright, I get it," he said, pushing her away from his face. "Knock it off. That's disgusting."
Clearly pleased, Blue wagged her tail, caring little whether or not he appreciated her affection. Deal with it kid, she thought with a rumbling satisfaction. It won't be the last time.
And with a strange contentment, she settled down against him, allowing him to reach out to her. He didn't think he wanted her there, she knew. But she sensed the comfort she brought him—having someone there beside him when the rest of the world had seemed to have disappeared over night. Though his thoughts had taken a darker turn earlier, Blue was happy to feel the lethargy that seemed to have overcome him. He will sleep soon, she discerned. He needs it.
Within a few minutes, her prediction proved correct and Sasuke drifted off into a light slumber. You're kind of a brat, she thought as she studied his peaceful expression. But I feel more like myself when I'm with you.
I think… Blue paused. What had Itachi said? There is power in you. But some part of it still sleeps. She lingered on the idea, letting it weigh itself in her mind. She was beginning to understand more—about herself and the humans. She had remembered her name. She was no longer a beast following its instincts towards the unknown cry of a child. And as she closed her eyes, striving for the peace of sleep, another thought occurred to her. Am I… am I waking up then?
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