Bearing our Burdens
Chapter Two: Journeys
"A 'no' uttered in the deepest conviction is better than a 'yes' merely uttered to please or worse, to avoid trouble."
It is said that man walks a fine line between sanity and insanity and most of the time that line can never be seen. Where one teeters on the brink of madness, the other remains quite normal in terms of a standard thought process. In normalcy, the mind has a way in interpreting its thoughts in good organization. It's a sign that a person thinks and decides clearly. It's the opposite when facing people with psychological problems. They have no concrete thought patterns, they have peculiar mannerisms, they look as if they're lost, helpless, and incoherent and they tend to react randomly in situations that should be mundane. Paranoia, delusions and panic attacks are all just a taste of what Psychosis can do to people. It changes their perspective, their thought process and ultimately, become dissociated with even reality itself.
Morino Ibiki, head of the Torture and Interrogation Department, had more than once had a chance to do his job with the subject being psychotic. Mind probing them, as he had learned from past experiences, would have been utterly worthless as any Yamanaka would be unable to sort the subject's thoughts out.
The scarred man looked at the folder that the ANBU had presented him. It was the file of their currently missing child, Uzumaki Naruto. It told him in explicit detail just what the blonde had been doing on the day that he left before he had actually done the deed.
'Panicked at the sight of his reflection, that's a sign for hallucinations alright.' Ibiki thought with a frown as he went through another page.
'Began mumbling in public about keeping something a secret and people dying…' The head of the T and I department somewhat shook his head at that. The more he read, the worse it becomes for the young boy's psyche.
As Ibiki read through the report submitted to him by one of the members of the ANBU to give a psychological evaluation, the man could only close his eyes in dismay.
He had seen the boy only once outside the department and he had seen him look so unaffected by the scorn that most people put him through. He had thought the boy was strong, in both a physical and mental aspect, but Ibiki guessed that he thought wrong.
Then again, Naruto was a boy. But he was a boy with a demon sealed inside his person. He half-expected that Naruto wouldn't live through the expectations that the Sandaime had seen in the boy because of one thing, that Naruto had no familial support. He had no one to turn to. The profound effect on the boy's mind would have most likely driven the boy into a state of paranoia and eventually a mental disorder that would have triggered sooner or later. He didn't know who to trust and who to turn to in case something arises. The Sandaime, for all his visits to the blonde, did not count. He was a frequent absentee. There was no constant source for assurance on Naruto that everything was alright. No adult supervision and no one to trust, now that was something Ibiki would call a personal hell. Because not only was it a slow and self-destructive path that leads to a lot of problems, it could become far too obvious on the person who is observant enough to these changes but does not rectify them for fear of losing what little sense of reality he has on the subject.
A sigh escaped his lips as he slunk back to his chair. Ibiki called one of his subordinates and wrote on a small piece of paper before sneaking it into Uzumaki Naruto's profile.
The man looked back at the piece of paper and could feel a sense of guilt etching its way to his stomach. Being a ninja meant that they had blurred views on morals, but even so, he could feel that it was wrong for him to do this. But this was his job. And the village, his comrades, come first before the life of one child.
He snuck it in the folder as he said to his subordinate, "Tell Hokage-sama that the Jinchuuriki program concerning Uzumaki Naruto is a failure based on my assessment."
It only meant one thing, there would now be a discussion about the authorization of not only retrieving Naruto, but also the possibility of extracting the Kyuubi within Naruto because of his current state of mind and a possibility of putting it within another child.
It had been almost a week and Itachi was growing more and more frustrated with the new task that his father had given him.
'Never would I have thought that a boy with no training prior to his escape would cost me so many headaches.' Itachi thought as he stood up from the edge of the wooden floor of their house after putting on his sandals.
It was another round of searching and this time, the search would take him to less accommodating territories and at a much longer time. They were going outside the border for the possibility of Naruto going past Fire Country and into the arms of one of the minor countries, particularly, River Country because it seemed by far, the closest minor country that could be crossed by foot.
The voice of his brother brought Itachi out of his thoughts and looked back at Sasuke, who was looking at him expectantly with a smile.
"I was wondering if you could teach me today some techniques I could use on my shuriken practice." The boy said, looking giddy and quite expected Itachi to comply at his request. The older boy gestured for Sasuke to come closer and Sasuke followed but was suddenly stopped when Itachi poked his forehead.
"I'm sorry Sasuke, but I have a mission today and I won't be back until next month. Naruto is very difficult to find if he doesn't want to be found."
Sasuke looked a little disappointed at his older brother and gave a pout and maybe showed a little contempt. But not at his brother, no, the contempt was more focused on Naruto than anything else.
"Why is this Naruto kid so important, nii-san? I heard father mention his name to mother last night before they went to bed. Why is he so important that father has decided to put his attention on him?"
Itachi smiled and poked Sasuke's forehead once more, "Why Naruto is important, of the exact answer, I can't tell. Maybe someday when you're older, when you realize the importance of politics and figureheads, you'll understand eventually. Although I can't tell why he is important, I can tell you at least, why he is significant that he has to be here."
Sasuke looked downtrodden at Itachi's answer, but the last part was at least something that his brother was willing to share, "Why is he significant, nii-san?"
"Because without him, everybody would have died, Sasuke, of that, I can say." Itachi said this as he walked out the door, leaving behind a young boy who was more confused than enlightened.
'Let him figure out the answer himself. His ignorance about Naruto's existence would have been lost anyway as time passes.' Itachi thought of this and saw his cousin Shisui waiting for him outside the entrance of the compound.
"Shisui, have you been waiting long?" Itachi asked, a way to start a conversation. Shisui shook his head indicating a 'no' for his answer.
"No, but the others are ready to go. They said that we'll be meeting our informant halfway through Fire Country. What's so surprising of our informant, however, is that it is Jiraiya-sama." Shisui answered and saw Itachi putting on his mask as he did so. They were sneaking into territory not theirs so their masks were a requirement along with leaving behind their forehead protectors. This wasn't a mission meant for normal Jounin now that the affairs had the possibility to reach outside Fire Country. This was a job for the ANBU and its agents along with the Hunter Nin.
"Interesting, why is Jiraiya-sama not part of the search?" Itachi asked and Shisui shrugged.
"He said that something came up and he has other matters to attend to of equal importance." Shisui answered once more as Itachi commented, "You would think that he would be concerned about his student's own son."
Shisui smirked at this beneath his mask, "Jiraiya-sama has a lot of responsibilities tied to this village and not just to Naruto, Itachi. Although it is wrong not to have that sort of responsibility taken into Jiraiya-sama's account, he had a choice between the boy and the village and he chose the village. Wouldn't you have done the same?"
Itachi couldn't deny that. He was ready to kill his clan more than a week ago because of the planned coup, after all.
Naruto cursed as he took shelter during a fierce Sandstorm. He leaned on to a small rocky terrain and began locating a site for shelter. A few minutes later, he succeeded and entered the small cave, taking note of the presence of any snakes or scorpions that may have taken shelter inside as well. Finding none, Naruto leaned down and patiently began to wait for the storm to subside.
Sitting down, Naruto could only stare at the entrance of the small cave and watching the dust clouds scatter about outside. His thoughts drifted once more. He had been travelling for three days with no sleep and stopping at nothing. He could feel his stomach grumbling from hunger as he held it within him. During his march to Suna, he had eaten nothing at all, he had been enduring the harsh winds both hot and cold for the past three days since his arrival at the border of Kaze no Kuni. He only had several canteens of water that he had been using sparingly and used to slightly quell his stomach.
He gritted his teeth and thought that he had endured harsher things than this. Three days of hunger is incomparable to a week without food. He could already smell the scent of his breath as fruity and thought he was hallucinating (1) once more. He shook his head at this, focusing on other important matters, such as how he was going to sneak into the Village Hidden in the Sands.
Not long after, he began nodding off, the sweet embrace of slumber slowly gripping him and lulling him to sleep.
Here he was again, in the battlefield littered with dead bodies. Desolate and full of blood, the once lush green fields were now barren, empty and devoid of any signs of life. The only thing that could cause a reaction to his senses was the howling of the cold winds as it touched his skin. He looked down and saw the bodies of the fallen. Among them, Naruto could see the bodies some of his friends.
He saw the said boy's body charred to a crisp, to his side was the body of his partner and loyal companion Akamaru, ribs sticking out and lying on a pool of his own blood. Vultures were already eating of the remains of Kiba's dog and Naruto could only watch in horror.
Naruto turned to his right and saw the Hyuuga Prodigy impaled to a rock. He died while pinned to the wall, his own blood dripping from the rock and falling to the ground below with his eyes gouged out and head drooping down.
He could feel himself hyperventilate as he could hear the sound of a scream coming from the background. He turned his back and saw one of his friends, now an unrecognizable puddle of flesh and blood.
Another laugh, another maniacal set of laughs echoed through his head and saw his friend turned rival, Uchiha Sasuke, laughing with glee with his demented eyes turning to the blonde.
"So you survived the attack that Tobi had done in the second division. You were unfortunate enough, that you couldn't see Neji and Kiba's deaths when you were knocked back. I could have killed you back then or Tobi could have taken you, but they put up a fight. That last one however, showed more resilience than I thought so I just had to show her just what she was up against. Susanoo's hand didn't take long to finish the job at all."
He said this with a smirk, a smirk that Naruto swore that he would completely wipe away. He bit his lower lip in contempt. He was giving in to his own hatred as Sasuke had. He knew he shouldn't. He knew it wasn't right. But just this once, just this once, he wanted to give in!
He'll beat Sasuke, alright, but not before he suffers an agony that he'd wish he'll die!
Naruto woke up with a startle, cold sweat dripping from his brow as he began breathing very hard. He looked around and saw that he was still in the small cave that he had been staying at to let the sandstorm come to pass. He turned his eyes towards the entrance of the small cave and saw that the sandstorm was now gone. Naruto had to remind himself that this was something that was still to happen, it could still change and he WILL change it. If it was for the sake of his friends and loved ones, he would do anything to keep them safe.
'I have to go, I still have to go to Suna and meet up with Gaara.'
Konoha, Shinobi Academy:
Sarutobi didn't feel like going to the Academy today to greet the new enrolees. It was tradition that the Hokage meets the future of their village every year on the first day of school and to give out a speech to them. But now, Hiruzen didn't feel like he wanted to come. For what was the point if this generation's most important piece was not with them?
Hiruzen acted like Naruto's grandfather from time to time, and although he as absent most of the time in the young boy's life for he had a village to run, he still felt like a grandfather to Naruto, who had come to treat him as such but also, remained distant from him.
'How could I have not noticed?' Hiruzen kept asking that question to himself over and over as Ibiki's subordinate handed to him the man's initial assessment on the boy. He couldn't help but feel the failure of himself to Naruto as the boy slipped away from his grasp.
To the classroom of new students, he could hear the children talk about. They were excited, they talked loudly and they were already beginning to form their little groups. Hiruzen could see Naruto joining one of them. That's because even though Naruto had no familial upbringing, the boy was sociable, he could talk to anyone and give a smile. But Hiruzen thought that he was probably deluding himself into thinking that the boy would be alright due to Naruto's presumably strong will despite his awful upbringing.
'Perhaps' he thought, he should have known better.
He saw one of the newer teachers, Umino Iruka; enter the classroom as he told them all to quiet down when he mentioned that the Hokage was making an appearance today.
As if on cue, Sarutobi Hiruzen, donning the robes of the Hokage, entered the classroom, wearing the traditional red hat. Every child around the classroom all looked at him in awe and respect. Sarutobi smiled at that. It was difficult not to smile at these children who were enthusiastic in being ninjas that would serve their glorious village.
"Woah! He's the real deal, alright! It really is THE Hokage!" One boy shouted, the Sandaime looked at the boy for a moment and noticed the facial markings on his face.
'An Inuzuka, well no surprise there.' Sarutobi thought as the other children all looked at him intently.
"I'm sure you all know me as the Sandaime Hokage?" To this, all the children nodded and the Hokage smiled.
"But I'm sure you don't know anything about my exploits as being a ninja and those that I have thought, yes?"
The children all shook their heads. The Sandaime's smile grew even further, "Well then, let me tell you when I was younger."
The old Hokage then told them about his most memorable journeys being a ninja and to finally being Hokage. Many of the children were enthralled, they were leaning in closely to the stories that Sarutobi told. They were mystified with the legendary Professor, the God of Shinobi, as he told them his exploits, his life and his work without giving the gruesome details. He was there to enthral the children into being part of the shinobi force after all, no need to give out any specifics that would cause the children to quit the shinobi program altogether.
As the boys grew excited to each of the fights that the Sandaime had faced, including fighting for a time, the Sandaime Raikage, the girls were all listening intently to how Hiruzen met the love of his life and eventual wife, Biwako.
They listened to Sarutobi, hoping that their tale as ninjas would be as grand and as beautiful as that of the Hokage, hoping that their names would be worth selling a story to the world, the most beautiful romance that any person would have asked for.
As Hiruzen's tale drew to a close, the aged Hokage looked at this generation before finally giving his speech, "Being a shinobi of Konoha is not as grand as what you may seem."
The children leaned back as the Sandaime spoke with authority and sincerity, "Every single one of you, even though you barely know each other now, will one day know the significance of each other. You will be relying on each other not just as friends and acquaintances, but also as Shinobi of Konoha. You will all be there, to carry each other shoulder to shoulder and you will see that every ninja that you see that wears our forehead protectors, are as important as any leader, any Kage and any clan."
To this, one arm was raised. Sarutobi had a brow raised up in curiosity; he looked at the owner of the hand and noticed it was a boy with dark eyes and dark hair, asking the old Hokage, "I have a question, Hokage-sama!"
'So this is Itachi's little brother.' Hiruzen nodded to the young Uchiha's question.
"I overheard my parents the other night talking about some kid called Naruto and I was wondering why he is so significant that my father loses sleep over him. I tried asking my older brother, but all he said that if it weren't for Naruto, we would all be dead."
To this, another boy looked curious at this and said, "Yeah, I heard my dad talk about it to my mom last night when he was drunk. Mom beat him up, though, so I couldn't get anything other than think it was one of dad's excuses just to get drunk and avoid the troublesome chores."
Hiruzen shook his head at this, quickly noting that the boy who gave the side comment must have been Shikaku's child.
Soon, many of the children began agreeing with Sasuke. Seeing as the boy came from a powerful clan, the children looked at the Uchiha with a lot of respect and possibly admiration coming from the girls.
Hiruzen sighed at this, the moment when he had to forget about this crisis for a while and the children brought back something he wished they didn't.
"What Itachi said is true. Naruto was the vital key in keeping us all safe. He has done and continues to do what many of my shinobi would have had the honor of doing. However, due to circumstances, the boy was chosen. So please, do not judge him so quickly as of yet as he had no choice in the matter. He is just as old as all of you, but his sacrifice is what kept this village standing."
Kiba, the young Inuzuka, raised his hand too, "But what did he do if they say what they say he is?"
"Um… I heard my parents say that we shouldn't get close to him."
"My mom said that he's dangerous and to ignore him."
To this, many of the girls nodded and answered, "Yeah!"
Hiruzen wanted to refute those statements then and there; he wanted to tell the children that their parents were wrong, that Naruto wasn't like that. But he couldn't. He had no right to reprimand the way parents raise their children.
So Hiruzen only did what he was supposed to do in that situation, let the children think for themselves, "Well then, what do you all think?"
"I-I think it's unfair to see him like that without actually knowing him." Raised a voice, it was meek, quiet and even though Sarutobi didn't glance at the child, he nodded nonetheless. It was probably the Hyuuga heiress, Sarutobi had thought. Hiashi often told him how dismayed he was sometimes with his own daughter.
"A shinobi must learn to trust their comrades. For in times of trouble, it is your comrades who will save you, it is them who you shall rely on and will rely on you. As shinobi, but more importantly, as a ninja of Konoha, you will see that the greatest ninjas, are those who would willingly sacrifice everything for another."
"So then, why did he leave?" Sasuke asked. If this Naruto kid did something as noble as that, why did he leave the village?
Sarutobi couldn't give an answer at the boy's question but only a simple, "That is what I'd like to find out."
After that, more questions were asked to Sarutobi, this time, it didn't concern the young blonde and for that, Sarutobi was thankful. Sarutobi answered the questions as well as he did and soon, it was almost time to go home. The aged Hokage was somewhat delighted with the experience even though Naruto was not with them. The old man exited the room, now filled with more hope that this generation would become much more than the previous one.
Later that day, the children would discuss many things that they learned from the Hokage himself and they would discuss certain topics that involved the mysterious kid named Naruto. Particularly, the group of clan heirs ranging from Aburame to Uchiha (more so, the boys) would speak about the boy.
"You really believe what the Hokage said?" Sasuke asked, looking at Kiba who simply shrugged.
"Couldn't care less, actually. I mean sure, I see the whole ninja community going nuts because of some kid gone missing, but isn't he just some kid even though he's done something? What's the point?"
Shikamaru didn't want to discuss any of that, "I don't like discussing ninja things when we're not even ninja yet, so I won't poke my nose in that business until I wear that troublesome forehead protector."
Chouji had to ask his best friend, "Yeah, but aren't you the least bit curious, Shikamaru?"
The Nara heir simply scratched the back of his head and told Chouji it was a drag, "No. That's because it still doesn't concern me."
Shino voice out his opinion at this, "Maybe for you, yet, Nara-san. But I am very much concerned."
Sasuke nodded at the Aburame's opinion, "Well at least one of you feels like he should know."
"That is because most of my clansmen are out there searching for Naruto, whoever he is. They come back tired, disheartened as if that they look like they've been outsmarted by someone our age." Shino commented at this as Sasuke nodded once more.
"Precisely the point, guys. How can a kid our age manage to outsmart an entire army of ninjas and why is he so important that without him, we'd all be dead?"
Shikamaru groaned at this as he Chouji changed directions when they were about to go home.
"Whatever. I'm not going to fret over this throughout my entire life. I don't need a mystery to make it anymore troublesome."
"Lazy bastard. That guy would most likely be the first to get killed on a mission with that attitude." Kiba commented as he went with Sasuke and Shino.
"I'm surprised that you are already aware of such things, Kiba-san." Shino commented while Kiba answered back, "'Course I do. My mom frequently tells me that as we rank up, missions get more difficult. You can only imagine just how hard missions get when you're close to being a Kage. Plus my mom is kind of clear cut when she tells some of her missions."
"So what are your ideas as to why this Naruto kid is important?" Sasuke asked.
Shino was the one who answered first, "The most that I could think off without being outlandish is that he is the last of his clan."
Sasuke nodded at this, "I can live with that idea. I mean, if you're the last of your clan that has to suck for the village."
"So what's Naruto's clan that it has the entire ninja force waving on his hand and foot?" Kiba asked. Both Sasuke and Shino had never given him an answer.
Sneaking into Sunagakure had been easier than he thought. Or, he was just that lucky. He had gotten the chance to get into the village itself when on the way to Suna, Naruto crossed paths with a caravan of merchants. Instead of stealing from them, Naruto snuck into one of the horse drawn carriages and made sure he was completely unseen by the people. It didn't take long for the guards at Sunagakure's gate to do their routine inspection before Naruto finally got in and snuck out, along the ride, Naruto helped himself with some apples before he was out.
A sense of accomplishment welled up inside Naruto. He was now within the gates of the village that had stored his first target, the Jinchuuriki of the One-Tailed Shukaku, Sabaku no Gaara.
"Now that I'm here, I need to find Gaara first before I can locate the others."
Fortunately, it was in the afternoon, close to nightfall. Unfortunately for him, however, he didn't know when and where the Kazekage would trigger his plan for Gaara or if it already happened. Naruto sighed at this. He wished that he had planned for this better.
His stomach grumbled in hunger once more. He knew what he ate wasn't enough for his new lifestyle. But right now, he needed to find Gaara first and see how he was doing.
He thought about where someone like Gaara would be at this point in his life. He shrugged, a kid like Gaara, no matter how isolated he was from the rest of the village, would have most likely watched other kids play, just like he did.
He nodded once more, preparing himself to face the boy if given the chance that he would be too late to stop the Kazekage's attempt.
Naruto could recall what Gaara had told him about the man from the visions he received and Naruto couldn't help but feel disgusted with the man. To treat his own son like a piece on the board and discarding his life as if it was expendable, Naruto wanted to punch the man for being such a dick. Perhaps now that he had a chance to change things, he might have a chance.
He had wished that he gained all of his future self's access to his abilities, but that would be asking too much, he supposed. Being able to use Kage Bunshin and some form of his combat instinct would be enough. Besides, people wouldn't expect for a six year kid to kick a Jounin level ninja's ass.
He looked at the pouch he had stolen from that ANBU member that was supposed to guard him and noted just how ill equipped he was in this whole trip.
'This would have to do during the whole thing until I can steal more. I don't have much of a choice right now.'
Sabaku no Gaara silently watched while he carried his teddy bear to the children playing out in front. A sense of longing and envy etched across his mind. But he couldn't approach them. The other kids kept rejecting him since then even though he didn't do anything wrong. He looked down to his teddy bear, as if he was trying to find answers to an already obvious question.
'Can I go play with them?'
There was no answer and Gaara looked more sullen. Nobody would even give him the chance to talk to that even his family isolated him out of fear. His father was the reason for it, he knew, but he kept quiet about it. He already knew how his father would react. His father would ignore his voice and send him out. He knew that he couldn't do a thing to Gaara, so the only thing he could do was to ignore his voice and send him out of the office when he would talk to Yashamaru.
Gaara, being submissive to his father, would just obey. He couldn't just say no. His father was the Kazekage after all, the strongest of the village.
A ball had suddenly made its way to near his place. Gaara looked up and saw the ball resting on top of the wall that was designated to be the training grounds for genin for their wall climbing. A reasonable sound of hope filled the red head.
If he was nice enough and return the ball, then surely they would allow him to join their game!
Conjuring the sand to grab the ball above, Gaara lifted his arms expectantly as the ball landed in his arms. The feeling of leather made Gaara smile a little. This was his chance!
"… Umm… Here's your ball." Gaara said in a polite and unsure tone. The person to his front, a boy simply scowled at the red head and flicked the ball from his hand away.
"I don't want to touch a ball that came from a monster!"
Another rejection, another moment where he felt that he wouldn't be accepted by everyone. Frustration welled within him as the kids kept staring at the red head, the sand very discretely moved around him, following the emotions that welled inside Gaara.
He felt so rejected, so underappreciated!
'Make them suffer! Kill them! Make them bleed! Make the pain go away!'
It was so tempting, so very tempting to let the pain leave him. It would have, until someone tapped him over the right shoulder, surprising Gaara all of a sudden.
"Hey, you alright?"
Gaara saw the boy about as short as he was, look at him with concern as the boy grinned and then laughed, "You look like you got scared there for a moment."
"W-Who are you?" Gaara had to ask because for once, the sand couldn't react to this boy's touch. The blonde's grin grew as if it was even possible and said to the red head, "Just a friend."
"What happened to the others?" Gaara asked the boy with blonde hair balanced at the small beam to his front who simply shrugged.
"Scared the pants right off them, I'd say. That and I punched that jerk that yelled at you."
For once in his life, Gaara felt something that made him happy. He found someone very interesting.
"What's your name?" Gaara asked and Naruto looked at him while grinning, "You shouldn't ask for someone's name without giving yours first, you know."
Gaara seemed to be flustered at this so he apologized, "I-I'm sorry, I'm… My name is Gaara and…"
Naruto burst out laughing at the boy's antics and said to him, "Nah, if I was the one to care for manners, I would have demanded an apology. The name's Naruto, by the way."
As Naruto said this, his stomach grumbled and he fell flat on the ground. Gaara walked up to him and leaned down, concerned that this fellow might have suddenly curled up and died.
"Are you alright?"
Naruto waved his hand out while his face was still on the ground.
"I'm okay. I just hadn't had a decent meal for the past three days."
"Um, if it's alright with you, my uncle can cook us some food for dinner. That is if you want to."
Naruto's eyes looked up and felt like a part of his suffering had been alleviated that day. The boy quickly got up and said, "Oh, man! Why didn't you say so earlier? Come on let's go, I'm starving!"
To the shadows, a person watched with a smile on his face as he saw the son of his sister interacting with some boy he had never seen before. Perhaps, this would be something that would life Gaara's spirits up.
To the Hyuuga, the disappearance of the Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi was an issued challenge for them coming from the Hokage. They could see the point in why the blonde is such a vital part in their shinobi forces. Even though they knew of the boy's significance, they would still rather not have anyone associating with the boy due to the fact of his status in the village as the outcast. And Hiashi would daresay that once the boy was caught, it would only get worse from there.
It was why they were lending many of their branch members to the search but not as much as they would have needed. Hiashi, for a man of few words, made it perfectly clear to everyone that the search for the Jinchuuriki would be more of a matter of Hyuuga pride than anything else. Something superficial as that needs not his concern greatly unlike that half-wit, Fugaku who most likely saw it as a political gain if he were to gain the child first.
The head of the Hyuuga Clan watched as her first born tirelessly trained in their arts. He could see in her, the eyes that bore something that made her want to do more. Something inside her motivated her and just now, after entering the academy, he could see his daughter's eyes so filled with focus.
Did something happen to his child while in the academy?
To Hinata, she knew that the act of saving her counted something to her, and Naruto, who she had soon learned of the boy's name the day after her tormentors came and bullied her, was that person who had saved her. In her short years of life, she had never known anyone who would have done that to her as young as he was even though they had mistaken the boy as someone who would just beat people up just to prove his worth. She was grateful, really, she was. For she saw something in the boy that she found lacking in herself.
Her own self worth.
Of that, she had learned. And then, she had heard news of the boy running away that day. It made her sad for the boy, sad that she couldn't have said a proper 'thank you' to him just because she had no confidence.
Well, she'll have none of that now that the person she had a chance to understand was gone and left the village due to something unclear. She had finally understood, on what her little mind could come up, that the strongest shall always be at the top, that they are allowed to speak their minds BECAUSE of their strength. The powerful step on those that do not deserve their power because they flaunt it oh so callously. She was sure, that in order to become what she wanted; she would have to discard one thing from her nature and dedicate her life for another. A sacrifice, just like what Naruto had done and just like what the Hokage had taught them, she was willing to sacrifice something in her to become strong.
What she wanted now, was to become strong. Strong enough that she could trample on all of those that looked down on her. Strong enough that her father would grovel at her feet that the entire Hyuuga Clan would become subservient only to her.
And by then, when she had attained the peak of her abilities, she would be more than enough to crush those that preyed on people like her, and more than enough to prove her worth to the person that had changed her for the better.
All because now she knew that only people who value themselves would be the people that will be valued by the world.
The Kazekage looked at his best ninja to date with something close to apathy. He knew the man well being the sibling of his departed wife. He knew how the man hated him with a passion due to what he did by forcing to seal the Ichibi to an unborn Gaara forcing the mother at a premature birth and dying because of his decisions.
Frankly, he couldn't care less. He was doing it for the sake of their village and he knew that Yashamaru knew it as well. Yet the man's contempt can never be shadowed from him. That much, was understandable but he simply ignored that.
Gaara, for him, even though he was the father of the child, was untested, unprovoked. He needed something to test Gaara's mettle and pitting Yashamaru to force Gaara's mind into a state of disarray would be his ultimate test.
Yet somehow, a nuisance had managed to sneak into his plans.
This boy, who Yashamaru described as cheerful if not clumsy, was hindering him from seeing Gaara's mental limits. He looked Yashamaru who was staring at him in apathy.
The Kazekage shook his head.
"Kill the boy." Was his simple command. Yashamaru suddenly seemed ready to protest.
"What are you saying? You're willing to sacrifice an innocent just to see Gaara's limits? Haven't you tormented your son enough?" The man asked rather incredulously at their leader while the leader simply restated his order.
"Kill. The. Boy." The Kazekage made it clear to him. Yashamaru growled at the man and left the room.
But not before throwing one last insult at the Kage, "So by your word, you tyrant."
As Naruto talked to Gaara a lot of things, Gaara shared with Naruto many of the toys stored in his room. Naruto called them off saying he didn't need them and brought out ninja tools that he had acquired earlier as he made his way here.
"Those things are for babies, Gaara. Now THIS. This is a toy." Naruto stated as he grabbed a smoke bomb from the pouch and tossed it over the window of his room, they watched as the round object hit the other house with its window open.
"Fire in the hole!" Naruto shouted playfully and the smoke bomb exploded from the other side. A few seconds later, a set of people were running outside coughing and holding their breaths while Naruto had to laugh so hard that Gaara was sure that Naruto busted his gut somehow.
Then, Gaara watched the group, struggling to catch their breath as they thought there was a fire inside the house, a twitch made its way to Gaara's lips that gave way to a small chuckle.
"Oh man, did you see their faces, Gaara? That was freakin' hilarious!" Naruto muttered between laughs as Gaara's smiled a little. He had to wonder though. Why was someone like Naruto hanging out with him? Wasn't he scared?
"Aren't you scared of me, Naruto?" The red head asked and Naruto tilted his head, "Why should I be scared of you? You look pretty harmless to me."
Gaara held his right elbow with his left hand and looked down, "I've got a monster sealed inside me before I was born and ever since then, and people have been avoiding me and telling me that I'm too dangerous."
Naruto simply put his hands beside his head and said, "Gaara, I wouldn't hang out with you if you'd ruin my fun. But since I got a chance to see that you're just a shy guy, I can see that you're pretty cool too."
Gaara smiled at that once more. For most of his life, today was definitely the best day he ever had.
"Ah, I see that after meeting a new friend, you two would cause quite the trouble." Yashamaru suddenly voiced out, earning a chill from Naruto's spine.
Gaara however, was just too happy right now to be scared. He had finally made a friend. A weird trouble making one, but a friend nonetheless.
"I-It isn't all that bad, Yashamaru. Naruto was the one who helped me from those kids earlier." Gaara said this as Yashamaru noticed Gaara's gesture.
'Not even friends for half a day yet and he's already defending the boy. You really were desperate, weren't you, Gaara-sama?'
Yashamaru could feel his composure drop a little. If he had killed Naruto now, it would have broken Gaara's trust and the boy would possibly go on the deep end.
His thoughts darkened at the man who had tormented Gaara all his life. If he could have the ability to kill the man right now, he would have done so. He hated the man with a passion. He, after all, forced his hand upon her in order for Gaara to carry the Ichibi no Shukaku at the cost of her life. He had not seen the man cry for remorse on the day she died nor did he show signs of regret at what he did. Not only that, his nephew, the last remaining relative he had, was tormented endlessly by his ministrations in order to see just how far he could go. And he couldn't do anything about it! He was ninja first, born to serve his village, as such, the weight of the village carried more than the weight of the Kazekage's son, as awful as it was to admit for him.
As he watched Gaara interact with this boy that seemed so full of charisma and life, Yashamaru could only feel helpless at the situation. As he cooked a meal for the two children, Yashamaru hid his tears from the two children as he bit his lower lip in trying to stop them.
'I'm sorry, Gaara-sama.'
Later that night:
Naruto excused himself that night as he felt like he shouldn't bother Gaara and his uncle any further. Gaara, although disappointment could be seen in his eyes, reluctantly waved a goodbye with Yashamaru by his side. Naruto really wanted to settle down at a nice comfortable house since the desert wind at night was colder than it was back in Konoha, but he knew he'd be imposing.
He knew his cloak wouldn't be enough to keep him warm tonight as he had experienced days prior coming to Suna.
Seeing Gaara's depressed look when Naruto was about to wave a goodbye, Yashamaru couldn't help but invite over the blonde to stay. Good thing too, for when Yashamaru had asked the boy to where his parents lived, the boy replied he had no parents and that he was practically a homeless boy.
Yashamaru then forced Naruto inside and was also forced to take a bath while he did so. Although he could tell that the boy was reeking with sweat, he hadn't noticed since somehow, the amount wasn't much.
Yashamaru shoved Naruto inside the bathroom to take a bath, to which the blonde grumbled in annoyance. Sure, he hadn't had a bath for a while but he tried his best to smell okay! The last time he had a bath was when he was in River Country! Where he had to literally cross rivers and bathe in them just for his scent to remain hidden!
Naruto raised his arm and smelled his armpit and retched.
He really did need a bath.
Once he was done, he looked at Gaara who made his way upwards to look up into the night once more. Gaara once told him that the effect of Shukaku was that he could never sleep for fear of the demon taking over. He wondered if it was in the seal's faulty design or was just part of the consequences of holding a bijuu.
Kyuubi had never tried to take over him while he was asleep so it was probably a faulty sealing pattern. Jiraiya said to him once his seal was the best seal that the Uzumaki had crafted just for them so, he had thought, the seal used on Gaara wasn't as good.
He rested his head on the sofa as he looked up in the ceiling wondering if he had somehow stopped the attempt on Gaara's life today or was he just too early?
He sighed. There was no point in dwelling to such things now. He was here and he had to make sure that he brought Gaara along with this crazy plan that he had.
As sleep slowly made its presence known, Naruto could suddenly feel the grip on his life. He stared up, and squinting at the roof.
He saw a person, dressed in the standard uniform of Suna's ninjas and wearing bandages around his face. In his hand were several kunai, already poised to take him out.
Naruto cursed. He thought Gaara would be the target!
He suddenly jumped away from his makeshift bed as a hail of kunai rained down on the couch, the pouch he had earlier was nowhere to be seen. He cursed.
He had left the darn thing inside Gaara's room earlier!
The blonde looked up and looked sideways. Cold sweat running from his brow as his assailant danced within the shadows of the living room.
"Yashamaru, right?" Naruto had to confirm, but the only thing that he received was another hail of kunai coming straight at him. This time, it was going to the back of his head.
Naruto grabbed the nearest thing he could find which was fortunately, a wooden chair, and used it as a shield to the rain of steel. The blonde lost his balance as he fell to the tiled floor, wincing in pain as his back slammed down first.
The blonde cursed and shouted to the perpetrator amidst the pain that he was experiencing, "Why are you targeting me? Is it because I'm a danger to Gaara's progress?"
Naruto ducked once more when this time, a set of shuriken flew from his right. The blonde rolled backwards and as the shuriken passed by him.
Naruto then grabbed a vase from the nearby table and threw it towards where he thought that the assailant would be. He heard the ceramic break as Naruto got back to his feet.
By this time, Gaara had come down when he heard something break. The red head was going to enter the living room as he asked, "Is everything alright there, Naruto?"
Naruto, concerned of what the red head may see, shouted to Gaara in a commanding voice, "DON'T GO IN!"
Gaara jumped back when he heard Naruto shout. The assailant remained motionless as Naruto turned around.
"You can stop this! It's pointless, what's the use if you kill me anyway?" Naruto shouted to his assailant as if he was talking to the man's front. Naruto continued, "I don't want him to see you like this! I don't want him to break just because your superior said so!" Naruto continued and then, just as he could feel the floor beneath him shifted a little, Naruto jumped to where he had heard the shuffling of feet and tackled the man full force despite his body.
The result was what one might have expected. Naruto received a gash to his shoulder for his trouble, but not before the blonde smacking the assailant with the nearest thing he could find, fortunately, it was a leg from the chair that just broke.
Blood dripped from Naruto's shoulders as he panted. He had never expected to be the target of the Kazekage's wrath. Naruto was sure he had meddled with their affairs one way or another.
Naruto got up, holding his bleeding shoulder and a broken chair leg with a nail on its head on the arm that was bleeding. His assailant had then appeared to the blonde's front and punched Naruto in the gut sending him careening outside the living room and into the hallway, just near the door separating their home from the outside world. Gaara watched in horror as the assailant made its way to his friend who was looking helpless judging from the horrible bleeding that he had just gotten.
Naruto looked at the man, his face hidden by the mask except for his eyes. The man's eyes were looking at him, pleading him to take Gaara out of this place.
"Go, take Gaara-sama with you and never look back. Run. Run and don't stop. Escape this country, take anything that you can and go." His assailant whispered to his ear, ignoring the fact that the man who had just tried to kill him, just offered for him and Gaara to escape. Naruto's response?
He mustered as much speed as possible into his legs and grabbed Gaara and took him up to the rooftop. He secretly vowed to keep Gaara's father away from them as best as he could.
Naruto then went and grabbed his pouch bag and cloak from Gaara's room and both of them reached at the top.
It was there that Naruto explained to Gaara what was going on, "We need to run. Your old man's friends would be searching for you to most likely try to kill me."
"Why would they…?"
"I'll explain later! Can your sand carry us all the way to across the border?" Naruto asked and Gaara shook his head.
"I don't know. I've never tried to do it before. But I think I can."
A platform of sand, enough for two small kids formed in mid air as they both rode it to get away.
Gaara could only look back at his home. He could see his house until it faded from his view and saw something horrifying that it would scar Gaara forever.
His house collapsed from the ensuing flames that followed.
"YASHAMARU!" Gaara shouted in mortification as he wanted to go back but Naruto stopped him.
"We can't go back! Your dad's men would try to find you first!"
"I know… I know we have to go back, damn it! But I promised your uncle to take you away from your father!" Naruto shouted and soon noticed Gaara was now close to tears.
Naruto felt the sting on his wound by the cold air, the blood was slowly coagulating and the wound was already closing. The blood stain on his vest would remain there until he could get it cleaned but more to that, he would have to watch over Gaara now as the boy was crying while the sand carried them away.
Gaara was hurting and he didn't know exactly what to say.
What could he say? That everything is alright when it obviously isn't? He was quiet as the ride hovered past Suna's walls and its guards who were too busy looking at the site of the explosion, the desert wind brought a lot of cold between the two of them, but Naruto and Gaara couldn't give a care about it. Naruto adjusted his sitting position for a while and looked down on his damaged vest. He noticed a small paper slipped into it. Naruto had wondered how it had gotten there until he remembered Yashamaru punching him in the gut that sent him into the hallway.
He grabbed the paper in his vest and looked down on the words inscribed at the front. It was a letter for Gaara.
It was then that Naruto gave Gaara the said letter. The red head wiped his eyes away cleared away from tears and read it. It was a few minutes later that Gaara started crying once more.
Naruto grabbed the letter from the red head and read it.
How I wish that things were different, Gaara-sama, but to me, that is wishful thinking. I had wished that my sister, your mother, never died, that your father wouldn't have forced your mother to seal the Shukaku into you. How I wished you could have friends close to you as how you would trust me.
I've had many wishes, but only so few of them came true. Then young Naruto came to our lives and many of what I wished for you, it came true in just a day, all because of one boy that stood up for you. As you read this letter, you will know just what the Kazekage had planned for you.
He wanted to test your limits, see where they lie, punish you to the point that you might break and I fear it would only come to pass sooner or later. That man has made it his mission to see your progress shine, to torment you at the cost of your sanity. I can never truly forgive him for that. It is because you are my sister's son that I have come to love like my own that I could never forgive myself if I was to push through with your father's plans. But I had no choice, he had forced me to choose between you or the village but I chose neither. The Kazekage would forever hold me in contempt if I had failed my mission, but failing it would be my only option left if I wanted you safe. So here it is, I chose this and I would gladly do so again, if only to see you happy and to spite your father.
But please, don't hate me for what I had to do. I only did this, because it is for the best. It is my burden to bear, not yours. Please remember, Gaara-sama that Karura loved you from the day you were born and she would have never stopped loving you till then. Just like how I would.
Naruto closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, the piece of paper crumpling in his hands as he muttered to himself while the cold winds howled within that night, "You idiot…"
To be continued…
Well here's the second chapter and I have to apologize for my first chapter blunder. I was too tired when I uploaded the whole thing to the site and I thought it was finished when I rechecked it with my preview, I would not have noticed until Armor of Geddon pointed it out to me!
You see, I keep two separate files upon upload with the same names. I keep a 2003 version of the MS WORD document and also a 2010 version. When I upload files, they always stick with one another because they had the same names. I always, always upload the 2010 version first since that thing has the most edited work that I do and for all intents in purposes, I didn't know what the hell came over me when I uploaded the older version! So now I rechecked the thing once again and I noticed that indeed, I uploaded the draft rather than the final product!
Well, now that I got that off my chest, here's what I had finished. Let's just hope that this is the right one.
(rereads again) yep, this is the one.
(1) For those of you who don't know Biochemistry, the fruity smell that Naruto had with his mouth is a result of Ketogenesis, or the production of ketone bodies. This happens when the body depletes its glucose levels and and the liver's stored glycogen. The body compensates by cleaving stored fatty acids in the body and converting them to Acetyl Coa that would be used in the Citric Acid Cycle to form ATP for the body to have energy. Acetone (another ketone) is a byproduct of Ketogenesis and it usually ends up in the lungs to be excreted, thus the fruity smell when people who are in ketosis are actually breathing acetone out. Well, at least that's the most basic as you can get.