Ami felt good in putting Sakura down to her place in the ground. She was the one who had been chosen to go with Sasuke-kun's team, and she was the one who got him most of the day. The only things Sakura had were the nearly dead-last and some freak guy she hadn't even heard about. Plus they had been team thirteen: didn't they know that said team had never passed once in the last years? That was the team for the failures, the not dead-last but average civilian folks who would end up being sent back home or to repeat the academy.
She smirked as she saw the girl wince. It felt good to prove one's own superiority against another.
"Sasuke," a dark haired boy spoke next to the pink-haired girl, acknowledging her Sasuke-kun with a light nod.
"Naruto," Sasuke answered back with his usual, very cool of course, dark and throaty tone. She narrowed her eyes at that. Sasuke never talked to her and had yet to even say her name. The most she got out of him were grunts, and even if she could keep on taking for a long while, eventually grunts didn't give much conversational material.
"Changed your hair, Naruto? Did you become a fan of the all-mighty Uchiha too!?" Kiba yelled next to her, nearly busting her eardrums with that. The Inuzuka always had to rant and yell about her Sasuke-kun, never keeping quiet.
"Kiba," Naruto nodded to him. He didn't say another word, and Kiba's crest lowered a second later. The Inuzuka had known Naruto for as long as they had gone to the academy, but once Teuchi had died, he had stopped rising to the baits of the dog user. That actually ended the discussions between the two.
"Sasuke-kun must be tired to hear your screeching voice every day," Sakura retorted hotly.
Naruto looked towards Sasuke with amusement. This was the usual and very familiar scene he had grown accustomed to in the academy. Girls fought over him, and he looked away. He knew of course why the boy didn't simply say no.
He had already tried once, and that had just brought the girls to try harder. Hard to get heirs of a noble clan like the Uchiha just added more spice to an already rich plate. Sometimes he wondered why nobody had already raped the Uchiha. Probably because they never got him alone in a dark corner.
"Anyway, where is your sensei? Do you even have one or are you in the Genin pool like all the losers?" Ami's sharp voice made Naruto wince slightly, as Sakura hotly defended herself.
"Of course we have a sensei! We passed the exam! I'm sure Sasuke-kun had to help you all the way!" to those words, the other girl just smiled devilishly.
"He did carry me like a princess… Aren't you jealous?"
"Dream on," Sakura scoffed. Her arms crossed over her chest as she puffed her cheeks and turned her head to the side.
"Dickless, Cherry: you are early." Sai's voice droned in, as the raven haired and pale boy appeared from a nearby street. Kiba guffawed at the nickname.
"Dickless? Naruto, really?"
"It's a nickname like any other," he shrugged. "I had worse."
The two girls kept on their bickering for a few more minutes, before silence finally descended once more between the two groups.
"What was your test?" Naruto finally asked, looking at Sasuke. The other boy looked back at him, before replying.
"We had to get two bells from our sensei."
Kiba's eyes actually widened. The prick answered to what Naruto was asking? What the hell! He had tried for days, and all he had gotten was just words like 'dog-breath' or 'waste of space' and similar. It had to be some sort of brood-bond. As long as you brooded, you could talk to one another with ease.
"What the fu—"
"Kiba! Language in front of a lady!" Ami chided the Inuzuka, who just winced slightly.
"You?" Sasuke asked back, his thoughts held to himself. He didn't dislike the blond —raven actually— now. The first years of academy, the boy had been a nuisance, a troublemaker and frankly he had been something of a dobe. One day then, it had all changed. He had been absent for a week, and the day he had come back to class he had practically missed him. Hadn't it been for Iruka-sensei calling his name, he would never have compared the dull colored boy that was sitting in the back rows with the same Naruto Uzumaki of the week before.
That had interested him long enough to see his eyes…and he knew that gaze. He had known that gaze for a long time, always looking back at him in the mirror. It was the same pain as him. The boy had lost somebody dear to him, and he had known that. He barely felt it, but with his silence and his keen desire to work there had been some sort of…kinship, if such could be the word.
He hadn't approached him, and he hadn't approached back. There had just been an understanding somewhere along the years. That understanding had morphed in, if not respect, at least not annoyance.
"Infiltration of bandit camp and retrieval of fake-wounded sensei," Naruto droned, his eyes glazing over. "After leaving us in the middle of nowhere."
"Killed anyone?" Sasuke asked, and in that moment a look of hurt did not pass by unnoticed on the once-blond boy.
"I thought I had," his whisper was barely hearable by the Uchiha, but he did hear it nevertheless. Just like the gulped down anxiousness of the Uzumaki. He didn't pry any more. He knew when an argument was a sore topic, differently from the Inuzuka who seemed to be intent on plowing through.
It was the hurt look on the pink-haired banshee, was it Sakura her name? That made Sasuke perplexed. Hadn't he told his teammates? He probably hadn't, judging by how stricken the girl looked.
Naruto just winced slightly, his eyes upwards now to stare at the clouds. He didn't even know why he had told Sasuke. Probably because the boy knew to keep quiet? Yet he had told within the earshot of the others, and frankly, he didn't like it one bit. He had felt it so real…
The coppery scent of blood as his kunai sliced through the throat of the bandit. It had been an accident. He had infiltrated from the side of the camp. The bandit had been just there, beneath him. He hadn't had much of a choice. He had swallowed his anxiety and stress, and then he had silently made his way down. He had the signs of the handle of the kunai on his hand, by the time he was close enough to whip the ninja wire around the man's throat and constrict it.
He had pulled him down and then pierced with his kunai the man's throat. Blood had gushed out, literally drenching him in the crimson liquid. He had felt it. He had smelled the liquid that tasted like copper and had seen the corpse lose control of its bowels. He had seen it all and he had felt the need to retch.
He hadn't. He had taken the wire back and he had moved on, feeling dirty for all the blood sprayed on him. He had settled the wire, the explosive tags, and the smoke bombs that Sai somehow had in his backpack. He had generated enough chaos to attract most of the camp, and just like that he had managed the most difficult part of the ploy.
Sakura couldn't see him act, since there was the large wooden barrack between her point of lookout and his. He could have died any moment, or so he had believed at the time, and that had actually brought him to slice that throat...it had been ruthless.
He had dreamed of it for nights, even when he kept repeating to himself that it had all been a dream. He didn't know how to work his mess out, because really, how could he go to the Hokage and tell him…
Tell him he didn't want to be a ninja at all?
He didn't want to kill, he didn't want to die. It wasn't cowardice, just…why did he have to defend the people of Konoha, when they had rather a bad word for him than a good one? Why did he have to bleed for them, when all he got were stares and glares?
He was the Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi, he had the demon beast sealed within him, couldn't they just…give him a stipend for being a jailer and let him be? He couldn't enter the civilian life: people would just never give him a chance. He was a shinobi to pay his bills and food, and now he had people who actually wanted to teach him.
He had cried of joy when Danzo had helped him, the old man was probably one of the few who knew and didn't resent him. The bandaged shinobi had even offered to teach him, of all people, about Kenjutsu. He was going to learn from a retired shinobi who had fought in the war, and the man had entrusted him with his own sword!
How could he just go and say he didn't want that? He couldn't. He would have liked to, but he could not. People had expectations for him, and he had to satisfy them. He didn't have much of a choice on the matter. With his luck, even if he did try to make a runner, someone would find him the split-second he took a step outside the village.
He sighed in relief at the sight of their sensei arriving, preventing any type of inquisition on his feelings. The man was honest at least. He didn't know whether he hated him or not, but one thing he was happy about was the honesty he held.
Aoba-sensei didn't lie, or if he did, he hid it well.
"You three waiting for Kakashi?" Aoba asked eying the three Genins that didn't belong to his group. As Kiba answered with a boisterous 'yeah' their Jounin-sensei grimaced slightly before adding, "Good luck with that."
As they stepped inside the Hokage tower, heading for the Mission Office, Naruto spoke.
"Sensei? I found a Kenjutsu teacher and a sword."
Aoba just nodded, before replying.
"Who is he? And what weapon did you choose?"
"Shimura Danzo, sensei. I will learn how to use a Tanto."
"Dickless can spar with me then, once he learns something." Sai's words came the next second, as their sensei just brought his right hand to his chin for a moment, before nodding.
"Well, I suppose it will do."
Silently, they entered the Mission Office, and as one of the Chuunins assigned handed over another D-rank, Sakura felt there was something wrong. She couldn't pinpoint it. She couldn't even understand what it was, but there was something extremely wrong going on. Was it the fact that her sensei hadn't asked for more? Or the fact that Naruto, of all people, had found a teacher?
He was the Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi. That didn't change anything to her, but the rest of the village? She knew how they glared at him…so how could he find a teacher so quickly, and so easily?
He couldn't. Sakura was sure that it wasn't just a coincidence that he had begun training with a Tanto, the same weapon as Sai. Why her sensei wasn't saying anything was puzzling, but it wasn't what truly bothered Sakura.
She had to know how Naruto managed to talk with Sasuke. If she managed that, then Ami-bitch wouldn't even be a bother at all. She would ask him during their current D-rank mission. What was it, anyway?
"Today's duty is street sweeping and garbage division near the market." She mentally winced. Really? That had to be one of the most horrible jobs ever. It would give her enough time to talk with Naruto, she supposed.
Truth be told, it didn't.
Naruto was more of a ghost than a living being all throughout the morning. He was jittery and nervous, and somehow his eyes refused to even stare in a corner of the market. There was a grocery store that held the sigils of closure on them, and while the others were all opening up in the early hours, that one remained close.
She was wondering what the deal was, when finally a man limped with his cane towards the metallic grate of his shop. His face was covered in heavy bandages, and half his left arm had been removed. She didn't know why that man traumatized Naruto, but it was clear there had to be a story, especially since the now raven boy had stopped gazing at the store as soon as the man had entered it.
Naruto held a mystery, and she was going to find out what it was. Once she did, she'd hopefully find out what had he able to speak with Sasuke-kun.
The moment their D-rank was finished, she was about to open her mouth to call Naruto, when the boy all but dashed away.
She stood there with her mouth half-open, before a nervous tick-mark formed on her forehead.
"Sensei?" she asked sweetly, her gaze falling on her Jounin who was still lingering close by.
"Where does Naruto live? I have to drop off something of his," it was a little white lie. She doubted it would be much of a problem for her sensei to tell her, and yet she saw him frown for a moment.
"Sakura, are you and Naruto together?"
Her mouth widened in shock as she paled.
"What!? No! I love Sasuke-kun! There's no way I'd fall in love with—"
"It's not a matter of love or not," Aoba remarked calmly. "It's a matter of the team's inner working. Couples cannot be on three member teams nor can they be assigned to the same missions or to missions in the same areas. Relationships within a team must be made manifest immediately. Do you know why?"
She blinked. She didn't actually think about that.
"Because…it poses a safety risk?"
"Indeed. A couple tends to naturally worry about one another, thus failing to take into account the other members of the team. Chuunin squads composed of four or more individuals can easily overcome this problem, but Genin teams or Chuunin-led teams of three cannot. It also makes it more difficult to train a team when there's a working couple within it, since it distracts both from achieving their full potential."
She actually smiled at that.
That meant that if Ami-bitch managed to make Sasuke-kun fall for her, they'd have to swap the team's kunoichi? Then she would end up with Sasuke-kun! Or maybe they could swap Sai with Sasuke-kun. Then she would use Naruto's help to get Sasuke to talk to her, and finally she would conquer his heart. They would then go on Chuunin missions together, and finally have many babies!
She was actually chuckling with glee and a maniacal glee in her eyes, as a slight nosebleed fell from her nose.
"Sensei, Cherry is scaring me." Sai remarked with his usual monotone, albeit he was inching a bit further away from the girl.
Somehow, while Aoba didn't voice out loud the same thought of his student, he believed it too.
Naruto meanwhile settled himself on his usual seat on the corner of Ichiraku's. He eyed with a hesitant gaze Ayame, but it was Ayame's boyfriend who served him.
"Naruto! What can I get you?"
Mizuki smiled at him, and he hesitantly smiled back.
"Pork noodles?" he asked more than ordering it.
"Coming right up!" Ayame's voice came from the other side of the stall.
"So, enjoying your D-ranks?" Mizuki asked him, his face still plastering a smile.
"Oh yeah Mizuki-sensei," he answered back with a nod while splitting the chopsticks. The man had actually made him pass his exam, so he supposed he should be thankful about it. "They're all right."
"Just you wait until your first C-rank," the man said with a knowing nod. "The kiddie gloves come off for those."
"I suppose they do," Naruto squirmed on his seat, his gaze down on the wooden counter. A few minutes passed by in meaningless chatter, before his order came to him. He began to eat in silence. The taste of the pork buns was slightly spicy, as if somebody had placed something else on it rather than just pork. The noodles tasted a bit thickly too, but maybe it was just the type of plate?
He drank from the provided bottle of water, and frowned for a second. It had probably been poorly washed since it still tasted of the cleaning soap. He didn't bother with asking another. The spiciness was burning away at his tongue already, and with that there was no way he would keep on tasting the water any differently.
He paid after his meal and began to walk away, feeling slightly unsatisfied but not wanting to linger any longer. He hated going around the civilian sector, and that morning reminded him too much of that night. It was meant to be a harmless prank. Why did he have to play pranks? They hurt people. No wonder people hated him.
If only he could go back and change…
But he couldn't, and so he had no choice but to go forth with what he had. He missed a step and stuttered along the road, holding his stomach a second later. He felt woozy and cold, yet at the same time his throat was parched and his eyes dry. He blinked, realizing he was losing focus of the road ahead of him. There was a bench nearby. He could lie down in there, just for a minute.
Maybe it would be just a minute.
He hoped he wouldn't be late for Shimura-sensei's first lesson. It wouldn't do.
Naruto closes his eyes as he fell on the bench, rather than just lay down on it. His breathing grew uneven for a moment, before it finally settled down to a near halt.
In his mind, Naruto Uzumaki opened his eyes to giant bars and a humongous fox, which seemed to be standing down with its paws on the ground used to lift its head.
The fox spoke clearly. Its voice didn't boom, or resound across the sewer as if it came from a titanic creature. It seemed more like the soft-spoken voice of a kind creature, some sort of sage-like entity or god. It eyed him with its crimson orbs, and seemed to be giving him an awry smile.
"Ah," he muttered back. He had to blink. He didn't actually expect this. He frowned as he realized the gates were held close by a paper sigil holding a complex seal on it. "You're the Kyuubi?"
"My name is Kurama," the fox spoke calmly. "And yes, I do have nine tails."
Naruto blinked again.
"Are you surprised?" the fox asked. "Did you not come here to meet me?"
"Well…no," Naruto frowned. "You didn't call me here? I felt like hell before, but now I feel fine…" the boy opened and closed his right hand, while staring at it. Puzzlement was clearly etched on his face.
"We are in your mind," Kurama said. "Here, nothing can hurt you...except memories."
Naruto winced, but then settled for looking around. "Why is it a sewer?"
"It is dark, cramped, and easily forgotten," the fox replied. "And the fact that I may know fire affinity might have contributed to this. Earth and Water are both strong against my element."
"The Fourth Hokage did all this in my mind?"
"No, he didn't," Kurama chuckled. "The Shinigami did, and in exchange the Hokage is forced to battle for all eternity my Yin half."
Naruto grimaced, before finally settling his eyes once more on the fox.
"You don't seem evil."
"I never said I was, did I?" Kurama moved its head to the side, "but sometimes, intentions are misinterpreted."
"What do you mean with that?"
"I can sense evil intent wherever it is," the fox murmured. "I know where evil gathers and lurks. So I drift towards it in an effort to battle it. However to the outsider, I am just a giant monster who relishes in destroying cities and villages, no matter the coves of evil that lurk within them…and when I try and talk then they attack me first." The fox shook its head, one of its paws scratching the back of her ear like a dog would. "You are the first who let me talk this much, and for that, I thank you."
"What do you mean?"
The fox looked at him with curiosity. "You were not told?"
"Your mother didn't tell you anything?"
"My…my mother's dead," Naruto whispered, his eyes down on the water surface.
"Ah, I see." The Kyuubi actually nodded slowly, before adding. "Would you like to meet your father, then?"
"Uh?" Naruto's eyes widened at that.
"I said: would you like to meet your father, then?"
"My father's dead!" he hotly exclaimed, "There's no way I could meet him without dying!"
"Normally that would be the case," the Kyuubi acknowledged. Somehow, Naruto couldn't see the giant fox as something hostile. Maybe it was just the complete look of disinterest, or maybe it was the fact that its voice seemed more 'old' than 'menacing'…or maybe it was just a combination of all of it, but it just…the Kyuubi didn't look at all how he had been portrayed.
"But he placed a counterseal, right on the seal." The fox wistfully replied, its snout pointed towards it. "You don't have to take my words at face value. Study the seal carefully and then see if these symbols here are for a counter. If they are, I told you the truth. Trying to remove the seal will free a chakra-transposition of your father, who apparently wanted to tell you something in the event I was about to break free."
"Why are you telling me this?" Naruto finally whispered. "You're the Kyuubi! I mean, aren't you meant to be evil and all 'destroy Konoha!' and be a demon and so on?"
Kurama merely put up a sad face. The fox then took a deep breath and sighed.
The hot breath actually caused ripples in the water, as it reached him and went by.
"When I was first sealed, the fault lay in Madara Uchiha," the Kyuubi's voice was thick as it seemed to be remembering far away thoughts. "Mito Uzumaki, the first Jinchuuriki, did not believe my own pleads of innocence." The fox's eyes grew softer as it spoke. "The second Jinchuuriki, she was your mother. She too did not believe my innocence, nor did she even allow me to speak. Do you know the most horrible feeling in the world, Naruto Uzumaki? It is to scream your innocence against an empty room, while you stand chained and bound in a cage from which there is no exit, forever entrapped and forever forced to be nothing more than a slave to the whims of another. Would you know how that feels, Naruto? It feels like hell. I will forever remember the words of those two. 'It is better if you stay down here, forever forgotten' was always their message." The fox slowly stood on its legs.
"Do I not have the right of freedom!? Am I always forced down, shackled as a slave!? Answer me this, Naruto! Do I not have the right to be free? To roam the worlds as I did in the past? I was sworn to my duty by the sage of the sixth paths! The shinobi should aid me, not try and capture me for their purposes!" the voice than lowered itself a moment after, the fox shaking its head as it stared at him.
"I do not ask you to free me. Your answer will be the same as that of those before you. 'I cannot, the village needs you' or 'your power will only bring hatred in the world' or 'with you at bay, no war will ever be unleashed'. I am nothing more than a weapon now, Naruto Uzumaki. And by that extension…" the Kyuubi smiled bitterly.
"You are one too. For I am shackled to Konoha, and so are you. For I am shackled to you…as you are to me. You are no longer a person, Naruto…as I never was considered a real being. Only a mass of chakra, incomplete, was what I was referred as…" the Kyuubi shook its head.
"Pathetical." It growled before he returned down in his rest position. "If it can be of any help, Naruto…you will die because of poisons in the next hours, unless you reach a hospital and are treated. I do not care about your death should you choose to linger on the bench. Eventually I will reform. It is painful, I must admit, but it is better than this."
And then Naruto blinked as he looked around the sewer.
"Ehm…how do I get out?" he asked wearily.
"That is for you to find out," the Kyuubi remarked calmly, closing its eyes. "Time here stretches for a while, not much, but enough to give you a little bit of leeway. You will die if you don't find a way out of course, but that isn't exactly my problem, is it?"
Naruto spun around, clenching his fists as he began to walk away from the fox. He had taken a few steps into the darkness that he suddenly found himself staring, once more, at the giant bars of the fox.
"Back again?" the fox was actually taunting him now.
"I want to leave."
"Why?" the fox asked. "Is there something outside waiting for you? Someone who cherishes you? You know you have been poisoned right? You ate in only one place today," the Kyuubi was snickering as it spoke. "Ah, the wonders of human malice. For all the monsters that hide in the darkness, the most dangerous one lurks in the sun. Humanity, such a cradle of hatred and evil I have never seen before."
"I…" Naruto closed his eyes as a silent tear trickled down his chin. "I don't want to die."
"I want to live."
"Because I want to!" he screamed hotly at the fox. "I want to eat ramen! I want to make friends! I want to fall in love! I want to laugh and to smile!"
"And will you obtain this in Konoha?" the fox asked him, a small smile settling on its giant lips.
"I don't know!" Naruto screamed, "I only know I don't want to die yet. I…things are getting better. Shimura-san is teaching me, Sai doesn't hate me and neither does Sakura. I can work with them, we can be a team!"
"Oh?" the Kyuubi chuckled. "Are those bonds you are thinking of…or shackles and chains? Do they clink as you look at them? Remember my words, Naruto Uzumaki. One day, you will wake up and see the truth as I see it. That day, you will realize that my words are the only truth in the world. That moment, that precise instant, you will come to me again and you will ask me 'set me free' and I will answer you, rest assured, that to set you free you will have to pay me."
Then the Kyuubi turned around, curling into itself as its nine giant tails surrounded him. Finally, it closed its eyes. The next instant, Naruto was assaulted by pain as his entire body was wracked by the poisons he had ingested.
He tumbled out of the bench and on the ground, before a vile feeling settled on the back of his throat. He retched out in the corner of the bench, throwing out the sickening remains of his lunch as his stomach's spasms made him wince. The pain reached him as pinpricks piercing through his skin to unload molten metal within. He was shuddering as he barely got to his feet. He wasn't that far from the hospital, he could make it. He trembled slightly as he took a few more steps, before finally falling down face-first on the ground.
The moment he opened his eyes again, he was in the hospital room.
He turned his head to the side, holding down his throat a moan of pain for his stiff neck. There was no-one in the white walled room. He turned his gaze again towards the ceiling, and then began to count the cracks. He felt as if somebody had pounded his head with a sledgehammer, but the feeling of vomit on his tongue was an all too clear sensation for him. He understood what had happened then…he just didn't want to believe it.
Had Ayame poisoned him? Was that it? Did the price he paid regularly not amount to enough? Was his life what the girl wanted? He clenched his fists against the sheets of the bed. He couldn't believe that. He didn't want to believe that.
He groaned as he tried to lick his lips back into some sort of wetness. He felt thirsty, and at the same time bloated.
"Naruto," it was his name. He blinked as he tried to focus on who was the blurry figure next to him. It was dressed in white and red, so either it was a priestess, or it was the Hokage.
"Hokage-sama?" he hesitantly said, his voice coming out coarse and throaty.
"Who poisoned you?"
It wasn't a 'how are you feeling?' or similar health-related question. It was a honest, angry, question that demanded answering.
Naruto, for all the pain he felt in that moment, didn't want to answer that question. What need was there to answer? It wasn't as if there was proof, and Ayame had been kind to him. If she had changed recently, who was he to deny her the justice she deserved?
It had been his fault all along.
"You ate at Ichiraku's for lunch," the Hokage commented. "Soon afterwards you fell ill after resting on a bench for a while."
Naruto winced. Of course there probably was some sort of shinobi assigned to keep an eye out on him. It was the only thing that made sense of the entire ordeal.
"Who poisoned you, Naruto?"
"If you already know, why are you asking?" he mumbled calmly, closing his eyes.
"I did not wish to inflict more pain on you, Naruto." The man spoke with a tired voice, a loud sigh escaping the shinobi's lips. "But if there is no doubt…I will have Ayame checked by Yamanaka-san."
And then the Hokage left, because in the hospital bed, tears were slowly falling down Naruto's face.
And the Kyuubi, deep within his seal, just softly chuckled as he swished his tails around. Freedom would be his, and when that time would come…revenge, sweet revenge, would be ripe for plucking.
And we have me the Kyuubi.
It's a Smart-Kyuubi. Naruto is so, so fucked. Ayame is a little poison-girl. Tsk, tsk. Mizuki is Ayame's boyfriend apparently?
And Sakura has doubts. Naruto's real desires are laid bare, but of course Freedom is figurative.