Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. All characters and settings are property of Masa-why do I need to tell you this? Isn't it a bit obvious? Would anyone even be LOOKING at this if they didn't already know it was based on a manga by Masashi Kishimoto? Of COURSE I don't own Naruto!


Chapter 1: The Song of Lost Souls.

It was a small, sad procession which returned to the hidden village of Konoha- smaller than it had been when it had departed. Hatake Kakashi and Uzumaki Naruto walked slowly, bearing between them a loaded stretcher covered by a blanket. Haruno Sakura walked behind them, her eyes red and fixed on the ground directly in front of her.

Uchiha Sasuke did not walk with them.

Kakashi was in turmoil as he turned over in his mind the report he would be forced to submit. It would be the most difficult of his long and varied career. The facts were simple enough: the team was returning from what should have been a simple C-ranked mission to escort a man back to his home in the Country of the Wave. The mission had not gone at all according to plan. The client Tazuna-san had misrepresented the dangers posed by the mission, which included a pair of highly lethal rogue ninja. In clashes between his team and the Mist renegade Momochi Zabuza, Kakashi and his students had protected Tazuna-san; Zabuza and his follower Haku were both dead, as was one member from Kakashi's team. A dangerous criminal syndicate had been smashed with the death of the crime boss Gato and there had been a noteworthy incident involving Uzumaki Naruto- reporting the facts of the mission would be simple.

Technically the mission, which by any reasonable standard should have been A-ranked, had been an impressive success for a single jounin and three genin, but this was of small consolation to the ninja master. Kakashi had lost ninja under his command before. He had even lost close friends. But the loss of one of his first ever students gnawed at him more than any other because he couldn't shake the feeling it could have -should have- turned out better.

Naruto's eyes were dull as he trudged behind his sensei, carrying the other end of the stretcher. His gaze was fixed on the spiral design on the back of Kakashi's jacket, tracing it from the outside to the center and back, over and over again. His eyes had traced the pattern continuously ever since they had left the Country of the Wave- whenever he stopped he found himself unable to keep them from dropping to the covered body lying on the stretcher between them. Each time he did an agonising wave of guilt rushed through him. He was still alive and Sasuke was dead.

Because of him.

Because he had been too weak, Sasuke had given up his life to save Naruto and the young ninja knew that he would carry this burden for the rest of his life.

Sakura did not cry. Her eyes had run dry when she had wept over Sasuke's body on the bridge, leaving her with only a sick hollow feeling. What tormented her almost as much as her loss was her total ignorance of the circumstances of Sasuke's death. Sasuke and Naruto had been fighting Zabuza's masked protege when Zabuza had summoned a cloud of mist and Sakura had lost sight of them. When the mist cleared the masked boy had died at Kakashi's hands, Naruto had returned on the verge of tears and Sasuke's cold body had been left lying on the ground, pierced by countless numbers of the enemy's senbon.

She had not dared ask Naruto what had transpired between the three of them, or how he emerged virtually uninjured from the battle which had claimed Sasuke's life. She was afraid to ask, afraid of what his answer might be, if he would even give her one.

The three walked in silence, united in their grief yet each choosing to suffer alone.


The team arrived at the gates of Konoha in the early evening. The two ninja standing out the front on guard ran out to meet them, coming to a sudden halt when they saw the stretcher. Pulling themselves together, they saluted Kakashi as he and his team stopped in front of them.

"Welcome back, Kakashi-san," the elder of the two greeted them. His eyes flicked to Naruto, Sakura and the stretcher before returning to the senior ninja. "Do you need us to call a medical team?"

There was a slight pause before Kakashi spoke. "No. Please inform Hokage-sama of our return. I'll report to him directly as soon as we've dealt with our business." The two ninja briefly hesitated, looked at each other, then saluted again, one of them taking off for the Hokage's office as Kakashi's team proceeded through the gates.

Once the three of them were on the other side of the gate, Kakashi stopped and lowered his end of the stretcher to the ground, Naruto following his lead. Turning to face his two remaining students, the teacher studied their faces for a moment before speaking. "Sakura, you should go home from here. Naruto, I'll need your help for just a bit longer, then you can go as well. You should both go and get some rest. We'll probably be given a couple of days off while Hokage-sama decides what to do about-" he hesitated, searching for words before simply settling on "-us. Take it easy while you can. Alright?"

Naruto silently nodded, while Sakura stood unmoving, staring at Sasuke's shrouded body. Sighing quietly, Kakashi leaned down and positioned himself right in front of the young kunoichi's face, staring into her eyes with his own uncovered one. "Go home, Sakura. That's an order." She nodded robotically and turned towards her home without a word.

As they watched her go, Naruto stepped closer to his teacher. "Is Sakura-chan gonna be OK, Kakashi-sensei?" he asked. "She's barely spoken since we left the Country of the Wave. I'm… kinda worried about her."

Kakashi glanced down at Naruto thoughtfully. He'd wondered the same thing himself, not only about Sakura but also about this young ninja who worried for her. His concern was a good sign. Although Naruto had been quiet and depressed since Sasuke's death, Kakashi had seen many ninja lose their friends before, as well as losing them himself. His reaction was both understandable and normal. Kakashi hoped he would have recovered sufficiently in a couple of days- already he was able to think of things other than his grief.

On the other hand, he could just be putting up a brave front. Ultimately, the most important thing was that he didn't start blaming himself for what happened; if he could avoid this then the young ninja would emerge from the ordeal stronger than before. Kakashi wasn't sure about Naruto's feelings in this regard, but he had strong hopes that it would turn out all right.

Sakura, on the other hand... Kakashi could see that she had been very deeply hurt by the loss of Sasuke. Her feelings had clearly gone beyond a girlish crush into genuine love and having Sasuke stolen from her so suddenly and brutally had shaken her to the core. With Sasuke gone, the master ninja knew he had to care for his two remaining students and he couldn't allow Sakura to be ruined by this. She might also recover, but it would probably take some help. Kakashi suspected he couldn't be the one to help her, but hopefully her family or friends could provide the necessary impetus for her to pull herself together.

He realised he had been silent for too long to be reassuring and placed his hand on top of Naruto's head with a smile, ruffling the spiky blond hair. "Don't worry about Sakura, Naruto. She's a strong girl. I'm sure she'll be fine." He bent down to pick up his end of the stretcher. "We have to take Sasuke to have his body prepared for his funeral, then I need to report to Hokage-sama."

"Won't I be needed to report too, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asked as he lifted his end. "I mean, I fought too and I was with Sasuke when-" he paused, took a deep breath and forced the words out. "-when he... died." Naruto was torn between wanting to let everything inside him out in a rush and wanting to forget everything for the rest of his life, and his head was starting to ache.

Kakashi started walking again. "Naruto, if you're needed for anything then you'll be summoned. In the meantime, you WILL get some rest." The boy started to say something, then paused and Kakashi looked back to give him a reassuring smile. "Don't worry, I can guarantee you're not going to be disciplined. Now let's go. I musn't keep Hokage-sama waiting."


The funeral service for Uchiha Sasuke was held in the afternoon the next day. The weather was almost disturbingly sunny, but a cloud of sadness hung over all present. It was not a large event, but for a young man with no remaining family there was a considerable turnout.

As well as his two teammates, all of Sasuke's former classmates came to pay their respects to the first of their number to die in the line of duty; Inuzuka Kiba, Aburame Shino, Nara Shikamaru and Akimichi Chouji were among those who stood beside Naruto in respectful silence. Yamanaka Ino and the other girls from the class wept openly; Sakura remained silent with a single tear tracing down her cheek and her eyes as lifeless as those of a corpse. Hyuuga Hinata stood with her two teammates, her white eyes damp, but also filled with concern for Naruto, who had not raised his head or spoken a word since arriving for the service.

The jounin team leaders were also present- Kakashi, Kurenai-sensei, Asuma-sensei and a tall jounin in green with a bowl-cut who the genin did not recognise. He stood next to Kakashi, apparently trying desperately to keep himself from crying. Iruka-sensei was there as well, looking years older than he had only a few days before. Even the third Hokage attended to deliver a brief memorial oration. Although this duty tore at the old ninja's heart, he spoke calmly of the nobility of Uchiha Sasuke's sacrifice and the heroism in dying for the success of his mission. The Third Hokage had delivered many similar eulogies in his long time as the leader of Konoha, including at the funerals of his predecessor the Second and his own intended successor the Fourth, but rarely had he felt the weight of his words so strongly as he did now.

After all assembled had laid their flowers before their dead comrade's picture, the ninja dispersed slowly, in groups or on their own. Kakashi began talking to the jounin in green, while Asuma led his genin team off towards the school. Naruto and Sakura both headed off in different directions, Naruto towards the training grounds and Sakura towards her home, neither speaking to anyone.

Hinata watched Naruto's departure with trepidation. She could see the sorrow in his step, totally lacking its usual energy. The young kunoichi took a few faltering paces after Naruto, struggling to find the courage to go and offer him comfort in his grief. Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself and was just about to start after him when a hand fell on her shoulder, causing her to jump. She turned, reflexively straightening up when she saw who was behind her. "Sorry Hinata, I didn't mean to startle you," Iruka-sensei apologised to her. "I just wanted to ask if you'd seen where Naruto went? I wanted to talk to him, but when I looked around he was already gone."

Hinata stared at him, feeling her resolve melting like a cube of sugar in the rain. "Umm, I think he was going to the training grounds." she mumbled, pointing in the direction Naruto had departed. Iruka-sensei thanked her briefly and took off after him. The young girl gave a small resigned sigh and went to join her teammates.


Before the funeral, Haruno Sakura hadn't left her room since the return to Konoha. On arriving back home she had resisted the urge to throw herself weeping into her mother's arms, instead giving a brief greeting and retiring up the stairs to her bedroom. Her mother had brought her meals up to her -Sakura had picked at them without much appetite- but couldn't coax her into talking about what was bothering her. No matter what she asked, her daughter had denied that anything had happened, even as she spent all day curled up on her bed.

Then the notification for the funeral had been delivered and her mother had stopped asking questions. Sakura had roused herself from her stupor to attend, refusing her mother's offer to accompany her. Mrs Haruno was becoming frantic with worry about her daughter's state, but had no idea what she could do to snap her out of it.

Sakura had stood silently during the memorial service. She deliberately kept herself apart from both Naruto and Kakashi-sensei, unable to deal with them right now. Although she appeared unmoved, her heart had frozen in her chest as Konoha said its final farewell to the one she loved. Only the tear on her cheek had betrayed her grief. After the service ended she had started for home, nothing in her mind except returning to her solitude. She spoke to no-one, didn't even look them as she trudged through the streets of Konoha.

She didn't even react to the sound of running footsteps behind her, but suddenly she was grabbed violently by the shoulder and spun around so fast she nearly fell over. Sakura's eyes widened as they stared into the angry, opaque eyes of Yamanaka Ino. The two had been friends since they were children, as well as rivals ever since Sakura had told Ino of her feelings for Sasuke, but now Sakura quailed at the sight of the rage on Ino's face.

There was a tenuous moment of stillness, then Ino released her hold on Sakura and slapped her across the face, hard enough to knock her to the ground. Too shocked to be angry, Sakura held her hand to her throbbing cheek as she shakily pushed herself into a sitting position and looked up at Ino. The other kunoichi was clenching her fist and visibly trembling with anger as fresh tears formed in her eyes. The tension filled the air as Ino gathered herself to speak.

"Why?!" she yelled at Sakura. "Why did you get to be with him? Why did you let him die? Why, when you had what I wanted so badly, did you let it go so easily?" Now shaking with unsupressed fury, Ino grabbed Sakura by her collar and hauled her to her feet, the damp blue eyes boring accusingly into hers.

Sakura stared back, the accusations ringing in her ears and echoing through her head. Why HAD she let Sasuke go so easily? During the fight on the bridge, she had done nothing to help him in his battle. In fact, throughout the entire mission she'd done virtually nothing at all, always relying on Sasuke, Naruto and Kakashi-sensei. Certainly she'd been ordered by Kakashi-sensei to protect Tazuna-san during the mission, but this had ultimately amounted to nothing more than keeping out of the way.

She had let Sasuke die.

She'd been a naive little girl. She'd believed that if she just sat and waited, Sasuke could defeat anyone and come back to her and they'd be able to stay together. Tears filled Sakura's eyes as she realized the true extent of her helplessness and she sagged in Ino's grip. The other kunoichi released her and Sakura fell to her knees, burying her face in her hands, her body wracked with sobs. Ino stood over the weeping girl, her anger twisting towards contempt.

"So that's it? You don't have any explanation? No excuses?" Ino asked, her voice heavy with condemnation. When Sakura still did not reply, the other girl spoke again. "Now that I think of it, I really shouldn't blame you for letting Sasuke die." She bent down and gripped Sakura by the chin, forcing her head up to make eye contact. A note of pure malice entered her tone. "You're too weak to be a ninja. You always have been."

She let go of Sakura, but the other girl was frozen in place, staring up at Ino in shock. "Even when we were kids, you've always needed me to look out for you, so I should have expected you'd let Sasuke down when he needed it. I hope you've learned your lesson now. So I don't suppose you'll be needing THIS anymore."

Ino's hand closed around Sakura's Konoha forehead protector, tied as always across the top of her head. Before the stunned girl could protest, Ino ripped it off, throwing Sakura's hair into disarray. She studied it for a moment, holding it up to inspect it closely. "Not a mark on it." Ino smirked. "I suppose I'll just return this to Iruka-sensei. He can probably give it to some other kid in the acadamy, one who's actually capable of becoming a ninja." She watched Sakura for a moment, waiting for a reaction, but Sakura didn't move. Ino sighed inwardly and turned her back on the other girl.

Sakura's entire body trembled with shock and shame, tears overflowing her eyes and spilling onto the ground as memories of her weakness continued to assail her. She remembered when the two ninja had attacked shortly after they'd left Konoha and Sasuke had unhesitatingly jumped between her and them. She remembered how Sasuke had been trapped in the circle of ice mirrors and she hadn't moved from Tazuna's side to help him, leaving Naruto to go to his aid. She remembered how Sasuke had teamed up with Naruto to free Kakashi-sensei from Momochi Zabuza's hydro prison, while she had only been able to watch in awe at their strength.

She remembered how Naruto had suicidally charged at Zabuza -a man who could kill him with a blow- just so he could recover his forehead protector. Naruto hadn't given up. He hadn't let anyone trample on his pride.

The attack came with no warning. Ino had just started to walk away when she was swept off her feet. Sakura's sweeping kick scythed the blonde's legs from under her and as she completed the spinning motion she launched herself at the other girl. Even before her opponent's body had hit the ground, Sakura was already on her. She tackled Ino in mid-air, pinning the shocked girl's arms behind her and bearing her to the ground. Although taken by surprise Ino recovered quickly, but it was too late to escape Sakura's grip. It might have ended there, but Sakura wasn't interested in maintaining the pin; she desperately scrabbled for her protector, still clenched in her opponent's fist and Ino used the momentary lapse to break free, kicking her attacker away as she rolled to her feet.

The two kunoichi faced each other. Sakura's eyes were still wet with tears but burned with a fighting fury Ino had never seen in them before. Those burning eyes were fixed on the Konoha forehead protector Ino held in her right hand. Sakura tensed as she prepared to attack again and Ino smiled to herself. "You want this back, forehead-girl?" she taunted Sakura, using the insult she'd always hated so much. "Come and get it." Tucking the cloth-bound plate into her belt, Ino dropped into a combat stance and prepared to fight.


Naruto stood in front of the memorial stone in the middle of training area three, staring at the long list of names- the names of ninjas who had died in the line of duty. He recalled the time only a matter of weeks earlier when he, Sasuke and Sakura had come out here with Kakashi-sensei on their first training exercise. Kakashi had told them about this stone, which bore the names of the dead heroes of Konoha.

Newly carved at the bottom of the long list of names was 'Uchiha Sasuke'. Naruto stared at the name, his feelings boiling and burning inside of him, as if he'd swallowed molten lead.

The young ninja sensed somebody coming up behind him. Turning to see who it was, he saw Iruka-sensei and felt shame wash over him. The scar-faced chuunin had been devastated when he had heard of the death of one of his students and Naruto could only lay the blame for his mentor's pain on himself. Just as he started to slink off, his old teacher called out to him and reluctantly turned back to face him.

"Naruto," Iruka forced a smile onto his face as he greeted his former student. The best the boy could generate in return was a weak half-smile before he was forced to look away, unable to meet the man's gaze. Discouraged, Iruka pressed on regardless. "I was just coming to make sure you were OK."

Now Naruto did look at Iruka and the smile on his face was unmistakably bitter. "Oh sure, Iruka-sensei, I'm OK. Perfectly alive and breathing and not at all dead in the ground from giving my life to protect some weakling."

Iruka flinched at the boy's harsh words. The self-loathing in Naruto's voice was painful to hear from the boy who had always brimmed with self-confidence. Taking a deep breath he walked up to stand next to Naruto, looking down at the memorial. This was going to be difficult. One poorly-chosen word could ruin everything.

"Naruto." The boy looked up at him, his expression pained. Iruka met his gaze steadily. "Why are you blaming yourself for Sasuke's death? I know you must have fought with everything you had. Could you have done any more?"

Naruto looked away again and there was a long pause before he answered. "I… I don't know, Iruka-sensei," he said in a voice that seemed on the edge of breaking. Iruka started in surprise; that wasn't the answer he'd been expecting. "I thought I'd done everything I could, but… it wasn't enough. It wasn't enough…" His voice choked off as tears began to appear in the corners of his eyes. Naruto swallowed and continued shakily. "But then, after Sasuke…" he hesitated again briefly, "…then after that I somehow beat that guy Haku on my own and I don't even know how I did it! So why… why did Sasuke have to die to protect me?"

For a moment Iruka didn't know what to say. He could understand what Naruto was going through, the pain of loss and the guilt of survival. It was something almost all ninja went through sooner or later, but these days it rarely happened when they were still this young. He also understood what really ate at the boy, the feeling that, by surviving where a stronger ninja had died, he had failed not only Sasuke but also himself.

"Naruto." The chuunin spoke in a firm level voice and his student turned to look at him with eyes brimming with tears. "Would you have died to save Sasuke if the positions had been reversed?"

Naruto immediately opened his mouth to answer, then hesitated. Iruka continued to look at him, encouraging him to take his time. "I…" The boy started to speak, then stopped and lowered his head to stare at the ground. There was a long silence as he lifted his face again, raising his gaze to the memorial stone in front of him, then he turned back to Iruka and swallowed. "Yes. I would have."

Iruka nodded evenly. He'd expected as much from Naruto, but he was glad the boy had taken the time to think about it carefully, giving the question the weight it deserved, rather than answering hastily out of indignation. "Why?"

This time Naruto's answer was indignant. "'Why'?" he spluttered furiously. "What do you mean 'why'? Obviously because I… it's… I…"

He stammered to a halt again as he considered the question more seriously. Iruka decided it would be OK to prod him towards the right answer. "Would you have died to save him because you think he was stronger and deserved to live more than you?" he asked softly.

The boy gave him a shocked look. "What? No, that's not…" he protested. "I mean, I know I said… but I would have died for him because-"

"Because he was your teammate and your friend, is that right Naruto?" the older man supplied. "Because it would have been the right thing to do." There was another pause before Naruto nodded slowly. Iruka smiled slightly. "So to go back to your earlier question: why did Sasuke die to save you?"

Confusion, grief and understanding warred on Naruto's face as he mulled his sensei's words. His eyes turned back to the memorial stone and locked onto his dead teammate's name. Then, unable to take any more, his blue eyes overflowed with tears which dropped to the ground and great wrenching sobs began to wrack his body. Iruka was ready. He laid a comforting hand on the cry boy's shoulder and when Naruto spun towards him and buried his face in his chest Iruka wrapped his arms around him and hugged him, letting the young ninja work out the last of his grief.

Iruka spoke quietly but reassuringly into Naruto's ear as the boy's sobs subsided. "It's OK to mourn Naruto, but not to give up. Sasuke's death was a tragedy, but you mustn't think of your own survival as a mistake. Sasuke wanted you to survive. He made the choice to save you, so it's up to you to acknowledge that and live on to give his sacrifice meaning."

As the last of Naruto's tears finished falling, the boy stepped back and rubbed his eyes with his sleeve. Looking up at Iruka he managed to give him a somewhat shaky smile. "Y- you're right, Iruka-sensei. I-" He swallowed. "I hadn't thought about why Sasuke did what he did. And you're right, it wasn't meaningless. I can't allow it to be meaningless." Naruto raised his head up proudly and his smile widened, regaining some of its old confidence. "I'm going to make Sasuke the hero who saved the life of the greatest Hokage Konoha has ever seen. Wherever he is now, he'll be able to be proud of what he died for and I'll make up for all the things he never got to do."

Greatly relieved, Iruka returned his old student's smile and patted him on the head, ruffling his hair affectionately. "That's the spirit, Naruto! When you become Hokage that'll make him –and me- proud of you!" He chuckled. "I tell you what, I'll buy you a bowl of Ichiraku for lunch and you tell me all about your heroic mission."

Naruto's face lit up like the sun. "All right!" he yelled excitedly, punching the air. "You're the best, Iruka-sensei!"

Genin and chuunin started walking together in the direction of Naruto's favourite eating place, Naruto a few steps behind Iruka, but just as he was about to leave the training grounds he turned back to cast one final glance at the memorial stone sitting in the middle of the area. He clenched his fist, but now his expression was one of steely determination.

"I will never forget, Sasuke. Thank you."


Yamanaka Ino lay sprawled on the ground, swimming in and out of consciousness. She was barely aware of her victorious opponent dragging the forehead protector from her belt and tying it back in its rightful place atop a head of pink hair. The fight had been so short and brutal that Ino was wondering if she hadn't been tricked by a jounin in disguise. She didn't know if Sakura had been training behind her back, or if it was just the strength of pure fury, but Sakura had overcome her within seconds, smashing any fight from her body with brutal taijutsu that made a mockery of her defense. The few blows she'd managed to land hadn't even made her opponent flinch. Suddenly the dazed kunoichi was hauled off the ground by her collar and she looked muzzily up into the angry face of Haruno Sakura.

"I got it back, Ino-pig," Sakura hissed furiously. "If you're going to lecture me about who's worthy of being a ninja, make sure you're stronger than me first!" She dropped Ino again, the back of her head striking the ground painfully. Sakura straightened up, clenching her fist so tightly Ino swore she could hear the bones starting to pop. "If I was weak or I made a mistake, I'll atone for it. I'll make up for it by not failing again. And you won't ever be able to talk down to me like that again! So remember that." Adjusting the protector on her head slightly, the victorious kunoichi turned and stalked away, leaving her defeated opponent in a crumpled heap.

Ino was just pushing herself up into a sitting position when Asuma-sensei, Nara Shikamaru and Akimichi Chouji dropped down to land in front of her. Shikamaru squatted down beside her and rolled his eyes. "You said you were just going to talk to Sakura for a minute, Ino. Instead she beat the living hell out of you. Handled that one well, didn't you?"

The blonde scowled as she rubbed her aching head. "You guys were watching, weren't you? I told you I was only going to be a few minutes, why didn't you mind your own business?" She started to get up when a sudden wave of dizziness made her stumble. Chouji caught her by the elbow and steadied her. "Come to think of it, if you were watching then why didn't you help me?" she complained.

"We would have," Chouji muttered apologetically, "but Asuma-sensei told us to wait. I don't know why." Asuma just grinned. "Although it was over so fast I don't think we could have done anything anyway."

"I know why," Shikamaru put in, offhandedly. "So, things went exactly according to plan, right Ino?" There was a pause as Ino stared at her teammate in mute astonishment. Then she smiled and looked down the road in the direction Sakura had departed. While she certainly hadn't planned on things going exactly as they did, the kunoichi knew her old friend was going to be alright now.

"Yeah, you're right. That was absolutely perfect."


Naruto was just starting his second bowl of Ichiraku's peerless ramen when to both his and Iruka-sensei's surprise they were joined by, of all people, Kakashi-sensei. Sitting down beside Naruto and ordering a bowl of his own, the jounin seemed to be his usual easygoing self, but Naruto found it hard to find the words to say to his master.

"Naruto, are you okay now?" The young ninja looked up from his bowl at the sound of Kakashi's voice and saw, for the first time, the concern in his expression. It was a simple question, but Naruto understood fully what Kakashi meant by it and managed a grin.

"I'm okay, Kakashi-sensei. Iruka-sensei talked to me about it and I feel a lot better now." Pulling noodles into his mouth with his chopsticks, Naruto chewed, swallowed and went on. "I know what I need to do now. You don't have to worry about me."

Kakashi smiled with relief. "That's good to hear. Naruto, tomorrow I need you and Sakura to meet me down at training area three again at eight in the morning. I've got some important news for the two of you." He looked at Iruka over the top of Naruto's head and gave him a single nod. Iruka smiled and acknowledged the senior ninja's gratitude with a casual salute.

Kakashi's order had just been put in front of him as Naruto finished his second. Draining the broth from the bottom, Naruto put the bowl down and narrowed his eyes as he remembered something important. "Kakashi-sensei, I need to ask you something," he asked, his voice dead-serious. Kakashi was just reaching for his chopsticks, but the tone of his student's voice made him pause. Naruto took a deep breath and looked directly into his master's single eye.

"Tell me... about Sasuke's brother."




This is my second published fanfic (after my one-shot 'The Dream Wedding') but it's actually the first one I ever wrote. Believe it or not, I actually wrote this chapter in 2007. At the time I was hoping to write a few chapters in advance before publishing any to try and reduce the delay between chapter releases and give me some breathing room to allow for writer's block and other delays, but I actually hit a big one right after I started chapter 2 and stalled completely. About 4 years later, at Christmas 2011, I randomly started writing again just to kill some time, working on a later chapter I'd really been looking forward to writing (chapter 3 in fact). It basically flowed from my pen (keyboard, whatever) and motivated me to go back and redo this first chapter. Although I think my writing style has drastically improved since I wrote this chapter it's basically the same story- I just cleaned it up and reedited it a bit. The one exception was the scene between Naruto and Iruka- I wasn't at all happy with the initial version of that and deleted and rewrote the entire thing. I nearly stalled out again, getting stuck for AGES on exactly how Iruka should talk Naruto through his grief, but I eventually had a "eureka!" moment and knocked it over in a rush. Unfortunately, I planned to get several chapters done at once before releasing the first one- then I got stalled on chapter 2. Damn it.

Originally, the story was going to be called 'The Seven Songs of the Ninja', both for the Added Alliterative Appeal and because that was how long my original story concept was. Later I revised this up to 10 chapters, then 12. Then when I revised the concept completely and wrote a new draft I realised this was going to go WAY over 12 chapters, so I changed it. After several iterations, I eventually settled on "the Secret Songs of the Ninja", again for the alliteration.

To get it out of the way now, a few notes about my usage of Japanese: there's nothing I despise more in fanfiction than writers throwing in Gratuitous Japanese just for the hell of it when there are perfectly serviceable english words that do the job a whole lot better (don't say "baka", say "idiot", and "–teme" is NOT a recognised suffix). I use Japanese only where there is no direct english translation, or where I feel the accurate translation sounds clunky. That's why I use suffixes; because there is NO direct translation that properly conveys the subtleties implied by –san, -kun, -chan, -sama etc. I also tend to use the Japanese names for the more commonly used jutsu ("kage bunshin no jutsu", for example) because it's well-known and understood enough that having Naruto shout "shadow clone technique" feels awkward. Original jutsu, however, will usually be in english because having to explain what they mean would be just needless busywork, although I do stick to the word "jutsu" (as you may have already noticed) because it feels more ninja-ish.

In case you were wondering why this fanfic has no character tags, that was a deliberate choice because I feel character tags are somewhat restricting. Naruto and Sakura are the main CHARACTERS, but tagging them would lead people to think they're going to be a couple, which is not the impression I want people to get. I'm not saying there won't BE any romance in this story, but it's not the main focus of the plot- 'Secret Songs' is first and foremost an action adventure drama story, like the original manga so I don't want people reading just because they think it's going to have their favourite pairing in it. I WAS thinking of just tagging it with 'Naruto U." but felt that was kind of redundant, so I just left them blank.

In the original draft of this chapter I had several expanded scenes, including Hinata secretly following Naruto and Iruka to the memorial stone and a full fight scene for Sakura and Ino. Both were eliminated for taking up too much time and not really adding anything to the story.

Every time I write about Naruto going to Ichiraku it gives me a craving for ramen…


An important meeting, a damaged bond renewed, an opportunity missed, a possible new threat and an urgent mission? Looks forward to Naruto: The Secret Songs of the Ninja chapter 2- The Song of the New Path.

- Arcane Azmadi