Chapter 18 – Fourteen

The tip of his index finger trailed down her bandaged arm with a touch as light as a feather, the sticky and damp fabric rough compared to the soft skin that lay beneath. Eventually his hand reached hers, he continued his ministrations without hesitation. One finger turned to four as the tips trailed onto her palm and splayed her fingers, entwining them like a vice with his own.

Kakashi was surprised to find the pressure of his other hand against his lips, his mind replaying the incident from four days ago. The images and feelings replayed in his mind; the sealing and his fear over losing Naruto, seeing her chest rise and fall and the elation that rushed with it. However he felt almost childish and scatterbrained as his mind kept replaying that split second when Naruto's lips had pressed onto his. The Sharingan playing it back to him with perfect clarity.

He could almost feel the heat rush up his neck and warm his face, he refused to ever let Guy know. If Guy knew, everyone would know. He cocked an eyebrow at his own thoughts, turning over the thought that he actually kind of wanted people to know. Kakashi wanted people to assume they were more, but they weren't together. He was only fourteen which was young to the civilians, but for shinobi life could be fleeting.

His whole life has thus far been completely consumed with his duty as a ninja of Konoha. He didn't have a normal childhood, the closest thing to it would have to be when the Hokage had shoved him with a Genin team. Then again, in this time of war, what child of this age really had a childhood anyway?

Kakashi smiled under his mask as he thought that, soon every child would have a childhood, some kind of innocence to latch onto. Minato Namikaze the Yondaime Hokage of Konohagakure, Konoha's Yellow Flash, had ended the Third Shinobi War.

"Not skipping out on your ANBU duties are you?" Kakashi didn't outwardly react to the intruder of this thoughts, trained to keep his emotions hidden.

"You know I never would," Kakashi replied, removing his hand from Naruto's and letting it hang limply by his side. He almost felt like he'd been caught doing something wrong, the tense stride of his mentor putting him on edge, body ready for action.

"At ease Kakashi, relax," he didn't –couldn't–relax and follow Minato's advice. Kakashi's mind raced with thoughts and emotions that were hard to keep in check. A maelstrom of thoughts raged through his mind, crashing and churning inside his skull.

Breathing in a deep breath he let his–no, Obito's–Sharingan take over, replaying crystal clear memories in his mind to calm his ever firing nerves. The memory that sprang to his mind caused a heavy blush to creep up his neck. He could feel Naruto's chapped lips as they pressed into his forehead, then his scarred eyelid, finishing with a soft peck to his left cheek where the scar ended. This memory, from just before they left Uzushiogakure, right before they returned to the mayhem of Konoha.

Kakashi cringed at the thought, the hot flush turning into a burn as Obito's Sharingan recalled the searing hot chakra of the Kyūbi as it erupted from Naruto. Kakashi gasped and suddenly stood, his chair crashing to the ground behind him.

Minato whirled and moved to his apprentice's side, hands on the silver boy's shoulders. Kakashi's palms were kneading his eye sockets, teeth bared and nose scrunched in pain. Minato knew what was happening, he'd seen it happen to the boy before. He could see the pain that passed across Kakashi's face every time the Sharingan made him relive a memory he didn't want to see again. The flashes happened occasionally every couple of weeks, however in the last few days with Obito back, the episodes had increased tenfold.

"Kakashi," Minato barked firmly, forcing Kakashi's grey orb to focus on his face. The boy automatically lifted the hitai-ate and focused on the man in front of him.

"Record me now Kakashi, occupy the Sharingan," Minato took a deep breath and Kakashi mimicked. The boy was growing taller, he was still considerably shorter than Minato, but within the next few years the man could see the height that threatened to burst forth.

"I'm proud of you Kakashi," Minato finally said after Kakashi calmed. The boys eyes widened at the praise, watching as Minato's face softened into what he could only picture a fathers face would be like in this instance. His eyebrows drew together and the boy averted his eyes to Minato's shoes, unknowing how to take such a look.

"Yeah well, one so young doesn't just get into ANBU every day," Minato frowned and dropped his hands from Kakashi's shoulders. The boy instantly felt the disappearance and loss of heat, his shoulders cold after the loss of contact. Minato sighed and turned around, hand scratching the 5 o'clock shadow on his chin. It had been a few days since he had shaved and at times like these, he was glad that he had a poor excuse of a beared that never really grew.

"No I supposed you're right, kids your age rarely survive ANBU. Kakashi, that is not why I am proud of you. I'm proud of you for staying strong through these tough times, and for just being…you," Minato waved his hands a little before settling on 'you', unable to think of a better way to tell the boy that he was glad he stayed sane despite how much he lost in the war.

Kakashi looked to his sensei in confusion, unsure as to how to take those words. He would always be him, how is that anything to be thanked for? Minato sighed and just smiled a tired grin, heavily falling into a chair by Naruto's bed and dropping his head to rest against the wall with a light 'thump'.

Minato reached up and graced a thumb across Naruto's forehead where a faint scar, already healed, shone above her eyebrow. The silvery skin was barely noticeable despite how thick of a cut it had been.

Kakashi looked away from the pair as if he had intruded on a personal moment, Minato's soft eyes almost too much for the boy to handle.

"Well as you said, I have some ANBU duties to catch up on. Best get that done before the sun rises any more than it has," Kakashi always loved the suns rise and set, ever since he made the Kyūbi sculpture in the centre of Konoha's main shopping district. The beautiful reds and oranges lit up the square with life, sparkling with energy and vigour.

He turned to leave the room without another word, only with a drawn glance at his teammate did he finally go. He felt like whenever she was out of his sight, she would never return, that all of this never happened. It was child-like and naïve and he knew this, but he couldn't stop the thought from occurring. There was something about his sensei too that made him feel the older man had a similar feeling.

It was now the 14th of October, 61 AKF. Four days had passed since the Kyūbi incident, since the return of both Obito and Naruto. The return of some of his closest friends, his only family.

Obito's Sharingan burned in his socket once again at the thought of the black haired boy. Kakashi cringed and straightened his back, refusing for the emotions from the Sharingan to cripple him again. Flashes of darkness and the feeling of complete fear and loathing, not of others but of himself suddenly washed over him. Kakashi shuddered and pushed away the feeling. Confusion replaced the emotions, however his skin still trembled and raised with goose-flesh from the memory of the intense fear and loathing.

'What in the five nations was that?' he thought as he continued his venture to the main shopping square. That had not been a memory, at least not one of his memories. A headache began to throb behind his left eye, the pulse beating in time with his heart.

Kakashi dealt with the uncomfortable feeling as he pushed aside the thought, telling himself he would analyse the anomaly at a later time. In the back of his mind however he knew that he was going to pretend it never happened and instead run from that terrible feeling.

Kakashi stopped short when he reached the square. Looking up to the sun that had begun to rise up over the horizon, he noted that it couldn't be 6 o'clock yet. Yet despite the early morning, a child of about four or five years old stood with an old battered book clutched to his chest in front of the great Kyūbi monument. The child had jet black hair and relatively pale skin, matched with a completely black outfit that was obviously designed for the life of a shinobi.

Kakashi glared at where the child stood, anger flaring inside his chest. The war was over, he was supposed to be one of the last children to graduate at such a young age. No matter how talented the children were, by graduating so early the child was shut off from others their own age. They were practically outcast due to their abilities, coupled with older Genins that generally didn't want anything to do with the younger teammate due to jealousy or prejudice. They were shied away from, they heard people whisper about them behind their backs, ostracising them into impossible beings that couldn't be conversed with. It was a lonely life.

So for the life of him, Kakashi couldn't fathom how Minato could allow a child to graduate so young. The older boy walked forward quietly, unknowingly easing into the light steps of a trained ANBU stalking his target. Kakashi was only a few feet from the boy now, allowing him to see the high quality ninja clothes that the boy donned. The fabric was thick and reinforced with traces of fire chakra, his shoes hardy yet scuffed from what could only be from hours of training.

Kakashi looked up to the Kyūbi's serene yet threatening stare, it's eyes swirling with molten chakra and an intelligence that he felt shouldn't be there.

"You're out early," Kakashi finally said, announcing his presence. The boy flinched greatly but otherwise didn't vocalise his surprise, a trait attained no doubt from his years of Shinobi training. When the boy slowly turned, Kakashi recognised a few of the boy's features. He'd seen the youngster before, Uchiha Itachi he recalled his name was, one of Obito's young cousins. Kakashi thought back and realised the boy was five years old, very young to be a Shinobi. The few similarities he saw in the two boys was painful, the pain behind Kakashi's left eye suddenly increasing from a dull throb to a powerful ache.

Itachi looked to the older boy and took in all of his features, just as his father had told him to do. 'Observe, memorise, learn,' his father had said, teaching him from the day he first walked to be a powerful Shinobi.

"I wanted to borrow a book," he said in reply, holding up the large book he had clutched to his chest, trying to divert the Shinobi's yes from himself, a tactic a Shinobi would have used in a battle situation. He noticed as the older boy quickly glanced at the book, observed and memorised every feature of it within a few seconds, then turned back to him. It was then that Itachi realised how weathered and wise the older boy looked. He couldn't pick his age, all Itachi knew was that he was older, most likely a teenager, and that he was very experienced as a Shinobi.

Looking down the length of his body, Itachi took in the worn attire, the scars that graced his hands, the calluses that raised from his fingers. The noticed the hitai-ate that no doubt hid a lost or damaged eye. This boy was a war veteran, this boy was very, very dangerous.

"'The History of the Five Nations', that isn't very light reading. Why would you need to borrow it so early in the morning?" Itachi blinked a few times at the boys observations. He thought of how to reply.

'Small truths are the easiest lies to maintain and deceive,' the voice of his father played in the back of his mind constantly, always guiding his every word and movement.

"It is not a section of the library that I am supposed to be in, but I really wanted this book," Kakashi nodded and Itachi's chest inflated slightly, the boy felt successful that the war veteran was going to accept his explanation.

"Why not just ask someone of more rank to get it for you?" Itachi crinkled his nose in annoyance, wishing the boy would just drop the subject.

"I don't need someone else's help, I wanted to do it myself," it was the truth in all regards, however he also just didn't want word of this getting back to his father. To ask someone older to get the book for him, the action would no doubt get around. Word is not something that Itachi wanted to spread.

"That's fair enough. Though next time, you can ask me. I won't tell anyone," Itachi's eyes widened at the offer, he hadn't had many interactions with other people, his father made sure that he was busy training for most of his life. The younger boy squinted then, staring at Kakashi with questioning eyes.

"I have seen you before, in a photo," nothing changed in Kakashi's body language or expression, the older and war-weathered boy had much more experience than he did. Itachi couldn't underestimate him, and he couldn't overestimate himself. This boy was dangerous, and he would see through anything Itachi threw at him, he would never have the upper hand.

"Yes I suppose you have, your cousin Obito and I are teammates in team Minato together," Itachi's eyebrows drew together in confusion, his curiosity peaking.

"How are you teammates still, if cousin Obito is dead and team Minato is no longer active?" Kakashi hummed at the question and moved around the boy to look at the two memorial plates resting at the Kyūbi's feet.

'Those who break the rules are trash, but those who abandon their comrades are worse than trash! If I'm going to be called trash either way, I'd rather break the rules! And if that somehow makes me anything less than a real shinobi, then I'll crush all of the so-called "real" shinobi!'

- Uchiha Obito

'I see a brighter future, I will fight for the future generations to live a better life than what I have lived. I will find peace if there is such a thing. I'm not going to run away from this, and I never go back on my word, that is my nindō!'

- Uzumi Naruto

"No matter what, your Genin teammates are your family. Not by blood, but by something much thicker–bonds. Even if Obito went MIA, there is no doubt that he will forever be my teammate, my family," Itachi listened, noticing that the boy seemed to choose his words carefully, though he couldn't figure out why he was being careful. Obviously the older boy wasn't underestimating him, making Itachi realise that despite already knowing how experienced Kakashi was, he had still managed to underestimate him.

"What's your name?" Itachi eventually asked, not remembering, though he was sure he had heard it before.

"Hatake Kakashi, Nin-registration code: 009720. And you are?" Kakashi already knew who the boy was, but by introducing himself with his ninja registration code, like most shinobi or to-be-Shinobi sometimes do, he could hopefully gain the trust for the boy to reply the same way and find out whether or not he had already graduated from the academy.

"Uchiha Itachi, academy registration number: 38110," the sound of an academy code made Kakashi almost sigh with relief. The number was high compared to the ninja registration code that Itachi will no doubt receive when he graduated. Many more students went through the academy than the number of students that actually graduated to become fully Registered Shinobi. The final exam did generally have about a 60% fail rate, so it wasn't anything to be surprised about.

"It is nice to meet you Itachi. So, what brings you to the monument?" Kakashi changed the subject, allowing the boy to be more relaxed with him. He knew Obito cared deeply for his little cousin despite the crap he had always spoken about him. Therefore, he too would care for the young Shinobi-to-be in Obito's place, just until he was well enough to be back in action.

Kakashi started to think about his teammate, still unsure as to where he was being held. The thought annoyed him immensely, however he couldn't demand the information from his mentor…yet. The pain behind Obito's eye still throbbed, the ache painful, however it had practically become background noise to Kakashi now.

"I don't know. It is peaceful but also powerful, it shows authority but is unmoving, it doesn't feel like it is pushing you to be scared. It feels like it has all the qualities a good Shinobi should possess, a bit of the dark and a bit of the light all mixed into harmony," Kakashi said nothing as he listened to the boy, thoughts wise beyond his years. Kakashi could already tell that there was the making of a fantastic Hokage in this boy, a Hokage that would be a marvellous ruler of Konoha.

"I like your description, it is very insightful. Most people would just say it is pretty," Itachi looked up to Kakashi with a small blush on his pale cheeks, unused to hearing praise. A warmth spread through his belly and a flutter beat within his chest. He liked Kakashi a lot, we wanted to learn from Kakashi, be his apprentice or subordinate in the future. Itachi made up his mind to work hard, not so he could make his father proud, but so he could one day stand on equal ground with this older boy. He wanted to be like him, yet he had only known him for such a small period of time, he already knew he would rather be a Shinobi like this one before him, over a Shinobi like his father seemed to become after Itachi's grandfather died.

"I got this book because I want to study the history outside of my clans, I want to hear all sides of the story. I want to know the history of the world. I want to gain a broader appreciation of what is important, to understand how the events of the past came to happen and learn from them…But I want to also apply this knowledge to the future so as I can calculate what may be the outcome of certain situations," Kakashi looked down and studied the young boy, thoughts raging with curiosity.

"You are much more wise than I was at your age," Itachi looked up to him with a look of disbelief, not believing that such a young–and what could only be an extremely accomplished–Shinobi could not have been even more 'wise' than himself.

"Maybe I should put a plate for you as well, I feel like those are words some people should hear," the two boys looked down to the plates, reading over the quotes and memorising them. It occurred then to Obito that this was the Shinobi that had made this sculpture, it had been the talk of the whole of Konoha when it had suddenly been erected overnight. Itachi felt slow and dim-witted, definitely not believing that Kakashi hadn't been a wiser child than he.

"I thought these were for the people that died, like the memorial stone? Didn't they die?" Kakashi hummed and looked down to his young companion, obviously disagreeing with the boy's statement.

"Now whoever said they were dead?" Itachi felt like his face had been in a constant state of confusion for this whole conversation. However he didn't care, he liked this conversation, he didn't feel like he was being tested or trained, he felt like he was finally having a normal conversation. As normal a conversation with an experienced Shinobi could be anyway. He was well aware that nearly all Shinobi above the rank of Chūnin were a little odd.

"Oh, Uzumi Naruto. Isn't she the Kyūbi Jinchūriki? I heard she was missing and presumed dead, but a few nights ago she had been found and even sealed the Kyūbi back inside her after it had been ripped out? We learned about her in class a while ago after she went missing, but now everyone is talking about what she did on the 10th," Kakashi smiled slightly, though it was hard to tell under the mask he wore. At the ripe age of thirteen, Uzumi Naruto had already made a name for herself in the ninja world, a name big enough to be taught about in the ninja academy it seemed.

"Indeed, after having a Bijū ripped out from a seal, the Jinchūriki generally dies from the strain. However Naruto is a very, very powerful Shinobi, after all that she managed to fight and seal the Kyūbi back within herself. She did all of this after being near dead and held captive for a long time," Itachi's eyes were wide, he wanted to meet Uzumi Naruto, she was another Shinobi that he wanted to learn from. Kakashi spoke highly of her, so obviously she was a person worth knowing.

"She was being held captive? By who?" Kakashi smiled, his eyes almost closing as he laughed, 'of course he picked up on that'.

"Now that is an S-class secret, so I don't think I should divulge that kind of information to an academy student. Right Itachi?" Itachi instantly nodded, revelling at the idea of an S-class secret. If the teen in front of him knew of an S-class secret, then that meant that he was either in a very important position, or had been involved in a very important mission. Bringing Itachi to the assumption that he would have to be either a Jōnin or ANBU.

"What class are you?" Itachi blurted out, his face turning red with embarrassment and flashing quickly with fear for asking such a personal question. If he indeed was an ANBU, Kakashi wouldn't be able to say anyway.

"Jōnin since I was thirteen. Whenever you need anything Itachi, you can generally find me here at sunrise and again at sunset. Don't be scared to drop by for a friendly look at the monument, it is indeed a beautiful sight," Kakashi turned then and walked away with a wave over his shoulder, prompting Itachi to wave back almost shyly, watching the teens strong back as he left.

Itachi smiled then, he liked Kakashi. It was also then that he decided that the Kyūbi monument seemed like a nice place to go for walks, the village did indeed look beautiful in the morning light. He finally had someone to that could teach him a lot without the fear of being condemned for making mistakes, and it was nice to talk to people that weren't caught up in matters of the Uchiha clan.

Or so he thought.

"Oi Itachi! What are you doing out here?" another boy with dark hair walked into the square, the brilliant reds and orange light reflecting off his skin. He walked with three other kids around the same age, all of them carrying their backpacks for another day at the academy.

"Ah Shisui, I am enjoying the monument. Why are you up so early? Class doesn't start for two hours," quickly drawing the attention away from himself and the parcel in his hands, Itachi began to walk towards the small group of boys and away from the Kyūbi statue.

"Our class has a trip to the stadium to see jōnin training, I would ask you to come but it is a school thing," Itachi smiled at Shisui's care, unfazed by not being able to go.

"That's okay Shisui, I am sure I will have a class that goes on the same trip," Shisui smiled and tapped Itachi's forehead, waving once before turning away and heading to the academy. Without further delay, Itachi ran back to the Uchiha estate, ready to study to become the best Shinobi he could be.

XxXxX

You should kill her.

Obito shook his head, his Sharingan eye involuntarily activated as he blindly stared at the energy of a young woman guarding his cell. He couldn't cast any genjutsu or ninjutsu, as seals were adorned across his skin, the black lines snaking around and keeping him away from harming innocents.

You're a monster, kill her.

"I can't," he said quietly, watching as the woman's energy turned around and stared at him, he could only picture the look on her face, though he couldn't be sure.

Can't or won't? Monsters shouldn't have such specifications.

"I won't! I won't kill her," the energy suddenly flared as chakra gathered and coiled within the woman's body, tensing at the boy's words.

You're a disgusting vermin that kills innocent people anyway.

"I'm not I swear, I never meant to hurt anyone," Obito rocked back and forth on his shins, his hands secured by his sides.

You are a frightening and ugly creature, no control, always killing without even knowing you're doing it.

Obito flinched at each description of himself, the voices a chorus within his skull. He knew he was despicable, he killed people, innocent Shinobi. He never meant to do it, we always woke up after the fact, always lying in a pool of blood and waking to the frozen cry of terror filled faces. And he was ugly, he could feel the foreign half of his body, the scarred and marred skin that wrapped around limbs that weren't his own.

His right eye burned in its socket, flashes of memories that weren't his were sporadically racing through his mind. He saw skinny and beaten Naruto staring at him, a look of adoration on her face as she stroked the left side of mine. He could feel her fingers as they slide across his skin, the feel of his own tears as they escaped his left eye.

'Ah, I am crying. But I don't remember this memory,' no-one else cried more than him. He was a weak and despicable excuse of a Shinobi. He was worthless.

He then saw a flash of Rin, beautiful Rin, staring at him with an odd look. Her eyes seemed more lifeless, their beautiful honey irises not shining as much as usual. He was in so much pain as his heart ached, he felt someone else's pain wash over him, doubling his own.

You did that.

"No," Obito's eyes were wide as he stared into the blackness of the seal across his eyes.

She knows what you have done.

"No, please no," he cried as the voices taunted him, their choir loud in his mind, their voices causing his brain to throb painfully.

You killed her Obito, you killed her spirit. Everything she was is dead, all because of you!

"NO!" he jumped to his feet and flung himself forward into the chakra reinforced bars. He could see the immense energy that radiated from them via his Sharingan, the charka pulsing, promising pain he oh so deserved.

"We have an emergency! Contact the Yondaime now!" he barely registered the happenings of the outside world, the voices within his cranium too loud and taunting for him to think clearly. The maniacal laughter in his skull was loud and mocking, prompting him forward into the shock of the bars.

Obito's body convulsed at each hit, blood dripping into and following the crevasses that marked his fake skin. He deserved this, he was a frightening and ugly creature indeed. To resort Rin to such a state, he could be nothing but.

Obito didn't realise when his sensei burst into his cell, too preoccupied with his own thoughts and the choir of voices that intruded them. He felt dizzy all of a sudden after a blow to a pressure point he couldn't discern in his stupor. He fell, legs too weak to keep his body going. He was weak, always so weak.

Minato caught the falling boy in his arms and cradled Obito's head into his shoulder. He could feel the boy's tears as they streamed down his cheeks, he could feel the despair that rolled from his student. He was so far into the darkness that he could see that Obito was drowning, unable to escape the clutches of his mind as it destroyed him from the inside.

Minato felt helpless, he didn't know what to do.

He didn't know how to save him.

XxXxX

Rin woke with a creaking neck and a back that refused to move. She'd slept poorly, as one does when they sleep upright. She leaned back and looked over the mattress, a skinny and fragile form lay beneath the covers, unmoving.

"Mum?" Rin got up from her place on the floor quickly, climbing onto the side of the bed. Her adrenaline beat through her veins, her heart racing with urgency. When her deteriorating mother moved at the sound of her voice, Rin sighed with relief and sat back, her back arching forward as her body sagged.

"Hey sweetie, what's up?" her voice was shaking and small, nothing like the powerful tenor it used to be. A sweat broke out across her mother's forehead, the thin white strands of her hair matting together.

"Nothing Mum, it's nothing. Go back to sleep and I will make you some porridge okay? I'll put honey on it and a few banana slices, just how you like it," her mother grinned as her eyes slowly closed.

"Yeah, sounds good," her words were slightly slurred as she drifted off to sleep, her sickness taking over what was left of her body. Rin stayed by the bed and didn't move for a while, making sure her mother's chest still rose and fell.

Eventually she rose from the bed and walked downstairs to prepare a small meal. She knew not to prepare a normal serving side, over half was always left uneaten anyway. While drizzling the honey over the meagre meal, the front door opened and she heard the soft thud and felt the thunder of her father's footsteps. The tall and broad man walked into the room with slumped shoulders and tired eyes, exhausted from caring for his sickly wife, working and the worry from his daughter being thrown onto the front lines of a world war. He seemed to have aged ten years in only one, his hair beginning to show the salting of grey.

"I made you some breakfast," she said as she placed a steaming bowl on the table, heaped with food. Her father smiled and leaned down to kiss her forehead, the skin around his lips rough and prickling.

"Thank you honey, I'll change clothes and come right back down. Is that one for your mum?" she nodded and handed him the small bowl in silence, sitting down at the table to dig into her own food. It was practically tasteless, a meal she used to love so much felt like nothing now as she listen to her mother's hacking coughs from above her.

She had been mindlessly mixing the food without eating when she heard her father's footsteps descend the stairs. Rin looked up briefly to see his sullen face, aware that his wife wasn't going to last much longer. She smiled faintly as he sat in front of her with a sigh, his large hand running across his face and through his hair. They chatted softly as they ate, each of them forcing the food down their throats, neither seemed to have an appetite anymore.

"Dad, please don't work yourself so hard," Rin said as she cleaned, her father raising sluggishly from his chair.

"I know sweetie, don't worry about me," he said as he looked up the stairs, the silence both relieving and terrifying. Rin knew the implication in that stare, 'don't worry about me, worry about her'.

"I'm going to the hospital today to see how Naruto is, and I also have a shift so I won't be home until late. Don't wait up for me okay?" her father looked to her with bleary eyes, seeming to only half register what she was saying in his tiredness.

"Hospital for Naruto, work until late. Right," it was a ritual for them now to recite back what they were doing. It was better than missing it and causing panic. It had happened too many times: Rin coming home to her furious father who'd been too tired the night before to know she had work, her father not telling her when he would be back, and vice versa.

It was better this way.

XxXxX

She opened her eyes to blinding sunlight and a spectacular array of warm reds and oranges dancing about her room. She breathed in once, her deep breath stretching her aching ribs. She felt her presence before she saw her, a smile stretching across her cheeks.

"It's nice to see you awake," Rin's voice was tired, dark circles bruising beneath her honey eyes. The smile slipped from Naruto's face, her own eyes shadowed and weary.

"I'm so sorry Rin," Naruto couldn't quite place what it was she was saying sorry for. Was she sorry for not saving Obito, for not knowing her history exactly to know when he was supposed to 'die'? Was she sorry for not telling her teammates who she really was? She didn't know what she was sorry for, but she felt a pain in her chest, telling her that she needed to tell his girl how sorry she was.

Rin blinked and looked to Naruto with confusion and defeat, she shook her head and fell heavily into the chair by her bed. The chair was old, worn from the many people falling into its seat.

"You're an idiot Naruto," Rin lent her head back until it 'thumped' into the wall behind her, "I am the one that is supposed to apologise, I haven't exactly been nice as of late," Naruto laughed and sat up, she was sore, but she was very ready to leave. Naruto could see Rin's stern look out of the corner of her eye, knowing that Rin was onto her.

"I won't run I swear," Naruto's only reply was a raised eyebrow, her teammate not believing that she wouldn't try to escape later. She knew her so well.

"We've been through a lot Rin, war does things to people," the two girls didn't look at each other, neither wanting to meet the others eyes. Long seconds of silence passed between the two, the awkwardness felt tangible.

"I knew the attack was going to happen, I admit that, but I wasn't trying to hurt Konoha. I was going to try and stop it Rin, I swear," Rin's nosed scrunched up as tears began to pool in her eyes. She blinked and looked up to the ceiling, attempting keep the tears from falling. Everything was coming back to her in flashes, all her pain and misery these past few years as the war raged on. Her heart ached for Obito's death, then proceeded to tear itself open at the thought of Obito coming back to destroy Konoha.

"How long have you known? How did you know Obito was going to try and destroy us?" Naruto stared at her, unsure how to answer her question.

"I won't lie to you Rin, so all I can say is right now, I can't give you an answer," Naruto stopped when Rin's head suddenly snapped down, anger flashing in her red rimmed eyes, the tears finally falling onto her cheeks.

"Why?"

"Please, it is a matter for the Hokage. I can't just say it to anyone," Naruto cringed at her choice of words. Rin wasn't just anyone to her and she wished she could take it back. Regardless, Rin's eyes softened as she wiped the tears from her cheeks.

"Please don't hold his actions against him, he is being manipulated Rin. He doesn't know what he is doing," Rin's hatred filled eyes faded, her tears falling from her lashes.

"I really wish I could be strong like you Naruto, you push through everything with a smile on your face. Me on the other hand, I get angry and cry and complain and I just…I feel so lost all the time," Naruto slid from her bed, crashing into her teammate. She wrapped her arms around Rin's neck, squeezing the girl's shoulders as she pressed the side of her face into Rin's head.

"Rin, form the very beginning of my life I was shunned. I was angry, I cried a lot, I caused trouble for everyone just for a little bit of attention. I have been through war and fighting before, I have seen people I love die right in front of me, I have seen them spiral into madness and despair.

Rin please don't wish you were me, because I am only as strong as I make people think I am, through a façade that helps me soldier on, I am not as strong as you think I am. Please Rin, you are you and that should be enough. We have all been through a lot, and you go through more every day. You help people every day at the hospital, something I have never been able to do. I am bad at this I don't know what to say," Naruto growled in annoyance at herself and scratched her head as if trying to force a good thing to say into her mind.

She stopped when she felt Rin shaking beneath her, Naruto sat back on her heels, readying herself for more tears. However what she saw brought a smile to her face. Rin laughed, tears streaming down her face as she opened her honey eyes to stare at Naruto.

"We are ridiculous," Naruto smiled and breathed out a long sigh.

"I'm sorry, I could have said something a little better," Rin shook her head and just hugged Naruto briefly before standing.

"My break is nearly up, I should probably get myself together and get back to treating children with splinters," Naruto stood and turned to walk her friend out, both stopping when they saw the tall figure of their sensei-turned-Hokage standing just inside the doorway, a small and sad smile on his face.

"Good morning ladies," Rin rolled her eyes as her sensei walked into the room, unaware of Naruto as she froze and stared at the blonde man in front of her.

"Good morning sensei," Rin replied with a watery smile, her cheeks red as embarrassment flared through her body.

"Hey, I am Hokage now," Minato walked into the room, a small black seal edged into the doorway loomed behind him. Rin rolled her eyes and crossed her arms as she moved to pass her sensei.

"You will always be sensei, we can't let you be getting a big head or anything. I'll talk to you later Naruto," Rin smiled as she left the room, Minato ruffling her hair, the girl not fast enough to dodge the affection. As soon as Rin stepped out the door, a rush of sound hit her ears. She stopped and looked back into the small room, unable to hear a single whisper.

It was then she noticed the seal of silence on the door frame, Naruto's words rushing back to her at the sight. 'Please, it is a matter for the Hokage. I can't just say it to anyone,' a look of concern flashed through her eyes as she stared at her friend for a second longer, turning away slowly to leave them to their long awaited conversation. A conversation she didn't realise just how long Naruto has waited to have.

XxXxX

She didn't know what to expect, she called Minato her Dad and didn't recall him being surprised when she did it. Though now, nerves suddenly were alight around her body, her heart fluttering at the idea of him being uncomfortable with her and her history. She knew Minato wasn't one to turn her away, but she also knew that even he got uncomfortable with certain situations. The problem was, this wasn't just any normal situation.

He smiled a small, awkward smile again before moving and sitting on the bed, pulling his legs up beneath him. It made him seem younger and more naïve, as if he weren't a war veteran and leader of Konohagakure.

He patted the bed before his knees, indicating for Naruto to join him. The patting though sounded like thunder in her ears, the 'pat, pat, pat,' reverberating around her head like a warning. She took slow steps as she hopped up onto the squeaking mattress, the bed hard and almost unwelcoming beneath her.

"I couldn't really see it before, but now that I look…Dear Sannin you look just like your mother," her eyes widened, filling with tears. She'd never heard anything like that before, she'd been told she looked like her mother in the past, but never like that. Her heart tugged, the muscles straining with the emotions that threatened to tear it open.

Minato's arms opened as he leaned forward, forcing her to him. He needed this contact, he needed to reassure himself that she would be okay. Her memories were still carved into his own, the images flashing beneath his closed lids.

It haunted him, every single day it haunted him. Knowing that he had left his daughter to such a world, the village exiling her and taunting her. On instinct his arms contracted and tensed, squeezing his daughter–his daughter–to his chest, her tears soaking into his shirt and through to his skin.

"I'm sorry you got stuck with my hair, though you do wear it better than I do," his hair, his eyes, his ears, he could see him in so many small parts of her. Even the faint freckles on her nose, the same he used to have before they faded. Seeing himself in his daughter, he couldn't believe the happiness to spread through his body.

The smile across his face stretched into a cheek splitting grin when Naruto giggled and shook her head, leaning back so as she could turn her head up and stare into his eyes. Sky blue meeting sky blue, his eyes.

"You're literally known for your hair, how could anyone wear it better?" she reached up and pulled on a lock of hair hanging by his cheek, his eyes crinkling in discomfort and amusement. He reached up and placed one of his hands on top of her head, her own eyes widening with distrust before he violently tussled her hair, forcing the unkempt locks into an odd array atop her head.

She squealed and grabbed his wrist, twisting herself into his arms and stretching the offending hand out in front of them. Minato replied with a laugh, wrapping his free hand around her waist before falling forward and toppling the two over, Naruto pinned beneath his weight. She struggled half-heartedly as he flopped on top of her, hitting his back and announcing she couldn't breathe. Both of them knew the shortness of breath was from her laughter and not his weight, considering he was making sure not to disturb any of her injuries.

"Okay, okay, you win," he got up smiling and stared down at his daughter, the love and affection he felt for his students was no secret, but he still couldn't get over the fact that the girl before him was his own flesh and blood. He cupped Naruto's face in his hands and just looked at her, drinking in all the features he could see that just reminded his so much of himself and his wife.

They'd barely spoken about anything that had transpired, neither wanting to bring up any painful memories. Instead it was all just accepted, as if Naruto had been his daughter since the very beginning, as if everything about her since she came back hadn't been clouded in secrecy. Thought they weren't naïve, both knew they would have to talk about it eventually.

"Naruto, I want you to come meet someone," she looked confused, staring at his outstretched hand.

"Who?" Minato just smiled and grabbed her hand in his, the small and slender fingers much like his own.

"Just trust me,"

"You know I always will,"

XxXxX

Kushina felt weak, her whole body aching with pain from having the Kyūbi wrenched from within her. Her chakra coils were on fire, the sluggish movement of her power was uncomfortable and irritating. She felt her flattening belly, an empty feeling washing through her. She didn't know if it was the absence of her baby or the Kyūbi, but either way it was both uncomfortable and relieving.

She sighed as Tsunade hovered her hands across her chest and abdomen, her pale fingers washed in a green glow. Kushina refused to look at the blonde woman, she didn't want to see the pity on her face, she had felt it the night she had given birth. Menma would be the first and last baby her womb would carry, he would be the only child she would be able to bear.

She had felt her insides rip apart when the Kyūbi had been removed through the seal. It hadn't been coaxed out of her abdomen–calm and controlled–like she'd seen when it was removed from Uzumaki Mito, no, the beast had been ripped through her. The Kyūbi had been internally forced through her body and to the seal within Naruto.

Kushina felt tears fall from her eyes for what was probably the third time that day, she was a strong konouichi, but it didn't stop the pain of knowing she wouldn't have more children. She jumped slightly at the 'wump´ sound as Minato arrived downstairs, Tsunade's eyes widening as she stopped her ministrations.

"We have a guest," Kushina began to smile as her husband stepped into the room, soon fading into shock at the small shadow at his side. Naruto looked gangly and gaunt, dark circles bruised under her bright blue eyes, eyes that were dulled with fatigue and pain.

Her blue eyes wandered around the room slowly before landing on the white cradle in the corner, a small bundle wrapped in purple sheets shuffling around inside quietly. She reached out and grabbed onto her father's sleave, the fabric bunching between her fingers.

"Is that…?" she trailed off, eyes wide as all her thoughts escaped her mind. Minato smiled at his wife, his face alight with such overwhelming joy that his happiness seemed almost palpable from where Kushina lay on the other side of the room. He moved forward, a hand resting on Naruto's back as he led her forward. She hadn't grown much, perhaps an inch or two optimistically, but nowhere near how much he thought she should have. He could feel the lumps and bumps of her spine beneath his fingers, forcing his arm to instinctively wrap around her shoulders.

She stepped forward, hesitantly resting her fingers on the railing of the baby's cradle. She was frozen with fear and uncertainty, what would she see under that blanket? Would it be a baby version of herself? Would it be completely different? What would happen if it was her under there? So many questions ran through her head at a mile a second, body frozen in place.

Minato smiled a soft, encouraging smile and reached his arm out, pulling back the blanket and rolling the baby on its back. The baby boy's face scrunched up in distaste, crying out in annoyance and most likely hunger. Naruto jumped back at the screeching, eyes wide and uncertain as Minato picked up the child with soothing laughter.

He whispered encouragement and soothed the baby, rocking his body to a rhythm she couldn't hear. Eventually the baby stopped crying, Naruto not having moved the entire time as she stared at the little bundle, picking out its features that didn't really look like anyone at such a young stage of life.

"Naruto, I would like you to meet your baby brother, Menma," tears sprung into her eyes at the words. She looked over as Kushina rose from the bed, her heavy and laboured steps loud as she slowly moved towards her.

Without a word, Kushina fell to her knees in exhaustion, reaching out and wrapping her arms around Naruto's waist in the tightest grip she could manage. Naruto instantly moved, her own arms wrapping around her mother's shoulders, her body hunching over as sobs racked through her.

"To the great Sannin himself, I am so glad you are alive," Kushina cried, her heartache pouring out of her in waves of overwhelming grief and relief. Minato appeared by their side then, crouching down and still cradling Menma in his arms. Naruto paused and reached out to the small bundle, Minato smiling as the little baby's fingers wrapped around one of her own.

"How are you love?" Minato asked as he sat beside his wife, their thighs brushing against one another. Kushina's eyes suddenly fell to the floor, her arms falling from around Naruto's waist to wrap around her own torso, shaking her head.

Naruto could feel the cold air from the lack of contact, her baby brother dropping her finger as he fell into an oblivious slumber. Minato's eyebrows knot together as he mulled over the news, leaning forward he placed his hand on the back of Kushina's neck, bringing her in to kiss the top of her head.

"It'll be okay," Kushina drew in a stuttering breath, her chest aflame with heartache.

"What will be okay? What happened?" she took a step back, the distance between the trio and her growing, a cold feeling of dread drenching her being. She looked down to her mother, the woman's hands still clutched her belly, the knuckles white as her face began to drain of its colour to match her hands.

"Naruto I'll be fine, just a few complications," Naruto shook her head, she knew that wasn't the whole truth, she knew they were hiding something from her. She looked between Kushina's torso to the baby in front of her, thinking of Tsunade as she ran her hands across her mother's belly. Something was wrong with Kushina.

"Please just tell me," she pleaded, her arms snaking around her ribs, the bones like a washboard against her forearms.

"There were complications with Menma's birth, Kushina won't be able to have any more children unless she uses a surrogate," Tsunade stood by the bed at the other end of the room, her hands clasped in front of her as she stared at the family before her.

"Was it because of the Kyūbi?" No-one replied, but Kushina's averting gaze was all the answer that Naruto needed.

"Oh Sannin, I'm so sorry. I tried, I really did. I'm so sorry," Kushina shook her head, her eyes snapping up to her daughter as she collapsed within herself.

"No, please Naruto don't blame yourself, this isn't your fault at all,"

"I was meant to stop all of this! I was meant to stop Obito from being captured, I was meant to stop all these bad things from happening! But I just can't figure out what is going to happen, I just don't know enough so everything keeps falling apart," she fell backwards, her shoulders banging into the wall behind her as she slid to the ground.

"Kakashi wasn't supposed to lose his teammates, I wasn't supposed to let his heart be broken. He wasn't supposed to go through that, no-one was supposed to go through this," Kushina crawled forward on her hands and knees, gingerly placing her hands on either side of her daughters face.

"It isn't your fault Naruto, you couldn't have known this would happen. You tried, you have been trying so hard to change things, but not everything can be changed Naruto. But no matter what, you have made a huge difference in our lives. Look at us, Minato and I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you,"

"You can't have any more children, I know it was your dream to have a big family. If I had just stopped all of this, then you would have been able to have more children," Kushina smiled and wiped her thumb across Naruto's cheek.

"Naruto, if you didn't stop anything, I would be dead. But I am not dead, I have two beautiful children and that is all I need," Naruto's eyes widened, 'two beautiful children', those words reverberated through her mind, joy beginning to overwhelm her senses.

"I'm sorry," she whispered as her mother brought her again into her arms, soothing her in a way similar to what she'd seen Minato do with Menma. She sat in her mother's arms, her head resting on the woman's shoulder.

She would protect these people with her life, she'd finally found her family and she refused to let it go.

XxXxX

She walked slowly down the streets, the sun beginning to set as brilliant reds danced across the city. She could feel a powerful chakra as it washed across the city walls, she knew that chakra, she felt that chakra beating against her chest every day. Her father was by her side, walking her back to the hospital to gather her things when the sun's rays suddenly amplified the chakra.

"What is that?" Minato smiled, looking to where Naruto's eyes were fixated, towards the centre of the shopping district.

"Would you like to see?" she looked forward in confusion, her arms wrapping the blanket tighter around her shoulders. It was surprisingly large and a soft blue colour, apparently it was the only possession of Minato's that could link him back to his parents. It had been dropped off at the orphanage, a crying bundle squirming within it. It felt fitting to her, not only did she feel like she could turn into a blubbering mess at any given time, she also felt as if the discovery of her family was a new beginning for her, just like it had been for her father.

"Kakashi's chakra is everywhere,"

"It is," Minato replied simply, not giving her any other explanation. The two let the soothing chakra wash over them, the warmth it brought fighting against the cooling night air. She could feel the village people's eyes on her, though it wasn't the same as what she was used to back in her time. Everyone watched her, but not with scorn, they watched her with awe. She heard people whisper as they pointed, 'she stopped the Kyūbi', 'she saved us all', 'she's alive'.

Minato kept walking, encouraging her to move forward. She couldn't help but look at the people on the streets, their eager eyes following her as she moved. They had knowing looks in their eyes, a look she didn't understand. "What did everyone seem to know that she didn't?"

When they finally reached the square, her breath left her. In the middle of the square stood a giant, looming Kyūbi sculpture made out of glass. Its shining body glittered in the afternoon light, the sun setting behind its imposing tails. In front of the sculpture stood Kakashi, his form dwarfed by the regal figure.

Kakashi turned when he felt her arrive, the chakra in his necklace reacting to her presence. He stopped when he saw her, she looked so small and thin, but there was something about her that would always draw him to her, something about the strength that lay within. She slowly walked toward him, eyes roaming over Kakashi and the figure behind him.

When she reached him, he watched as she gazed at the daunting figure.

"Did you make this?" she asked, her wide blue eyes captivating his own dark grey.

"I needed everyone to know that you and Obito were heroes, I wouldn't–couldn't let you two disappear," again that day, tears began to fall from her eyes. This time however she wasn't crying from sorrow, she cried from happiness. The elation that flooded her chest bubbled up into her throat, choking off a sob that threatened to escape her.

Kakashi placed a hand on her shoulder, his visible eye widened when he saw her tears.

"Naruto why are you crying?" she smiled in response, falling forward and wrapping her arms around his chest, her head leaning into the crook of his neck. He quickly wrapped his arms around her, pulling her small body into his, her warmth seeping into his skin.

"I can't believe you would do this for us," her voice vibrated into his chest, she could feel his heart beating with a loud 'lub-dub'. Everything was beginning to come together, she finally felt as though she would be able to fix the damage that has occurred. She felt warm, her body awash with Kakashi's chakra.

Naruto leaned her head back, staring up into Kakashi's eyes as the necklace's thread around their necks warmed at being in their creator's presence. Kakashi leaned forward, Naruto closing her eyes as his lips came to rest on her forehead.

She felt like this is where she was meant to be.

She felt at home.

XxXxX

"They were ready for us, they knew who he was," the monsters voice was gravelling, his half white and black body half blending into the shadows. A decrepit man stood before him, his back hunched over a makeshift cane.

"I wonder how they did that, can you still manipulate the boy?" Zetsu paused, looking over his options.

"Where he is now? No, after he gets out of where ever they are keeping him? Yes," he finished with an amused grin, his mismatched colouring ominous as he moved.

"Well then, I wish him a fast recovery,"

XxXxX

I am so sorry for the long hiatus, this semester of uni was really hard and I have a total of 17 exams and assignments to complete so I am pretty pooped, and then straight after the semester ended I went to the UK to do placement for uni and some backpacking around Scotland, England, France and Italy. But I am back in Australia now…And currently doing horse placement, with beef and dairy still to come (as I currently write this authors note anyway). No such thing as holidays for a vet student.

Merry Christmas/Happy holidays/Happy New Year/Happy Valentine's Day! (To the people with partners, as well as the single people like me that use it to abuse chocolate sales)

I want to also say thank you to all the people following this story, everyone that has added it to your favourites list and also all the people that have reviewed. Seriously guys, some of you write me paragraphs and it is beautiful and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Oh! And the fact that people have actually added me as a favourite author! What?! That is whaaaaaaaaat?!, thank you! You guys all rock. If I could send you all cookies I would.

Just on another note, I had written a lot of this chapter when my laptop suddenly spazzed out and crashed, so I lost all of it bar 500 words. But to be honest, I love this copy of the chapter SO MUCH MORE than the original one. It was absolutely terrible and I have never been happier to lose my work. Unfortunately that meant that I suddenly got super pissy with my own chapter making it take so much longer to come out.