AlexandriteSky: Hi guys, I'm terribly sorry for the late update and the short chapter. Originally, I was only going to post an author's note, but I thought it would be nice to at least post what I already had written. Unfortunately, there was a death in my family, and I have been unable to find the time or heart to write. Thank you to everybody for their understanding, and once I have come to terms with this I will be back to updating my fanfics.
AlexandriteSky: On a lighter note, I do genuinely hope that you enjoy this chapter. I have been looking forward to posting it for a while
Iruka stared at the shorter male, speechless. After his declaration Naruto stood with his eyes lowered to the ground, his hands clenched tightly at his side as if bracing himself.
The older male swallowed, his tail swaying anxiously from side to the side.
"You…you're sure?" his voice cracked.
"Nn." Naruto affirmed.
"You'll be hunted down." Iruka's hands fidgeted anxiously. "Naruto, this village will never let you go."
And he did. Cerulean eyes spoke volumes of poorly masked apprehension, yet amidst the fear hesitation was amiss. The blonde in front of him had already resigned himself to what he knew must be done, even if his shoulders trembled under its weight.
"Why?" Iruka asked. "You couldn't possibly be…?"
The words stuck in his throat. Even if this was their first meeting, Iruka knew of the blonde as did all other Anima of the village. He was the last of the Nine; the only one to still be willingly bound to humankind. If he were to shed his bonds, like all of the rest…
That delicate thread that still remained...
It would be cut.
Naruto was quick to assuage his fears.
"No!" he shook his head adamantly. "Never."
Iruka breathed a sigh of relief. "Then why?" he questioned. "Why go to such an extreme?"
The smaller male's ears pressed against his head.
"Because in the end, no matter how our beliefs and paths differ, the Eight and I are still One." He replied quietly. "One entity, one fate. Now there are those whom desire our power – I can't let that happen."
The blonde shivered, and Iruka didn't miss the way his hands fluttered above his stomach where his wound lay.
"Something's gone wrong with this world." He spoke. "Too many know our secrets. The Eight look down on humans and believe them inferior; they'll make the same mistake I did, and underestimate their opponent. If that happens, and they fall into Akatsuki's hands…"
Naruto grit his teeth.
"Sasuke's life, my master's village – I'll protect it all." He asserted. "I won't let Sasuke get hurt because of me again."
Iruka understood without being told.
In the end, it was all for one person.
"And Sasuke?" he had to ask.
The blonde's face fell.
"I can't tell him. He'd never let me go, and I can't take him with me."
"Can't, or won't?"
"Both." Naruto's mouth quivered. "Neither. The Eight will do anything to have me return to them. Sasuke must never go near them."
The blonde looked very small.
"He's my most precious person, ya know?"
There was nothing Iruka could say. He, too, knew of the feelings that Naruto spoke of, rendering him unable to pass judgment. If Kakashi's life was the one in question, he would have come to the same decision without fail.
Still, his inability to help the anguished male frustrated him.
"I do plan on returning. When this has all been settled." The blonde continued, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Whether or not the village accepts me back is another matter."
His nose twitched ever so slightly. "…And Sasuke."
"I'm sure that-" Iruka protested, only to be silenced by an even side-long gaze. Naruto neither wanted nor needed false assurances; cerulean eyes encompassed acceptance and complete understanding of the possible consequences of his decision.
Even so, there was no doubt.
Iruka exhaled loudly.
"This is a heavy burden." His face was grim.
"It's one I've accepted as inevitable since my creation." Naruto shook his head, his tails wrapping around him in an almost protective gesture. "But I never meant for Sasuke suffer it as well."
Cerulean eyes pierced through warm chocolate ones.
"I'm leaving Sasuke to Kakashi while I'm gone. Look after him, will ya?"
"Of course." Iruka nodded. "But perhaps you should rethink-"
"It's done." The blonde asserted, leaving no room for further protest.
The brown-haired male sighed gravely, biting his bottom lip in contemplation. "If it must be so, you will have to leave tonight. The gates are opening for a brief moment to welcome the ambassadors from Sand; I do not know when the next opportunity will be."
Naruto swallowed. "T-tonight?"
The blonde drew back. "…I thought I'd have more time."
We always do Iruka thought, glancing upwards sadly at the vast azure sky.
Obsidian eyes challenged Kakashi's as they bore into his own.
"You already know, don't you." Sasuke accused. "Why Itachi came to Konoha."
For a moment, the silver-haired man contemplated feigning ignorance. Sasuke's hardened gaze warned against it, however, and at last Kakashi acquiesced with a sigh.
"It seems as though you already know the answer to your own question as well." he smiled apologetically.
His ward breathed out through gritted teeth, escaping as a low whistle.
"So what Itachi told me was true." Sasuke ground out.
"What did he tell you?"
"Don't be coy, Kakashi." The raven-haired male snapped. "He spoke of the Jubi. And that the Council knows it as well."
Kakashi grimaced. So he knew everything.
"I was informed of the situation shortly after you formed your bond." He sighed. "The Council asked that I watch over you two, as your guardian."
Sasuke's glare was unforgiving.
"So you've been spying on us?" he sneered. "Figures. You've always had a shifty personality. You adopted me under orders as well, right? To make sure a poor traumatized little kid didn't turn out like his brother?"
"Don't be childish."
Sasuke flinched as Kakashi straightened, his figure emitting an authoritative aura.
"I only had one reason for taking you under my care."
The older male's expression softened.
"And that was to protect you. I was worried that Itachi would return to finish what he had started."
"…Tch." Sasuke sounded, though he didn't press the matter further. For a moment Kakashi was reminded of many years past, when the male in front of him could barely reach his knees. Back then, Sasuke had been just as untrusting and twice as hard to convince.
"Who are you?" the small child demanded, his arms crossed tightly. "That stupid old man sent you to watch over me, didn't he?"
Kakashi fought not to shrink back under the young boy's harsh gaze.
He was a child, for heaven's sake.
No reason to fear…right?
"Nonsense." He squatted down, attempting a gentle smile. "I'm a family friend. Won't you let me look after you?"
Sasuke's eyes bore into his own before he turned with a snort.
"I don't believe you. Do not appear me ever again." He declared, and before Kakashi could speak the boy dashed away.
Kakashi was brought back to the present by the subtle shifting of Sasuke's weight.
"Naruto was under the impression that the existence of the Jubi was well kept from humans." The younger male stated, frowning. "Why is that?"
The silver-haired male sighed. "I'm not sure of all of the details. But the Council has been well aware of the entity known as the Jubi for over a hundred years; obviously unbeknownst to Naruto, as you have now made clear. I do have some idea of how it was leaked, however."
"Who was it?" Sasuke questioned. "Who betrayed him?"
Kakashi closed his eyes briefly, and when he spoke his voice was flat and merciless.
"There was only one man who knew of Naruto's secret. It is the same man who released it to Council, to be safeguarded and carefully kept."
The older man gazed at Sasuke.
"That man was Naruto's first master, Hashirama Senju; mostly commonly referred to as the First Hokage."
AlexandriteSky: I love you all! I wish I could have made this chapter as amazing as I had planned, but it will have to do. Thank you for understanding and support!