A loud snarl ripped through the leafy forest, causing a grip of panic in the heart of an eighteen-year-old. He raced forward, the direction he hoped was opposite of the growl, although his hope in vain as two bright red eyes leaped at him and tore him out of his nightmare.
"A dream," he rasped, his chest heaving in harsh shallow breaths, "just a dream."
He pushed his sweat soaked blanket off himself and sighed exasperatedly at the monotonous nightmare. Sitting up, he looked around his apartment, the white paint on the walls chipped and peeling in various places, the furniture splintered. The blue eyed boy laced a tan hand through his yellow bedhead, eyeing the small fridge at the other side of the room as his stomach grumbled. Practically jumping from his position on the bed, he was in front of the fridge in seconds. He opened it, threaded through his limited food supply, pulled out a cup ramen and poured a glass of hot water into it. As hot as the water warmed up, anyways.
"Breakfast," Naruto mused contently with a smile as he walked to the window, sat down and began enjoying his favorite food.
The sun rose slowly, casting a net of pale shades of blue, orange and pink on Konohagakure. Blue eyes watched as Konoha came to life under him. The streets slowly began to fill with people, kids heading to the academy, all was right with the world. As soon as he finished his cup ramen, he threw the container away and took his time slipping out of his somewhat dryer pajamas and put on one of his orange and black jumpsuits. He leapt from his window as soon as the zipper was zipped. Naruto passed over rooftops in long lunges, his legs carrying him as fast he could go.
Naruto reached the tower and headed to Tsunade's office that also doubled as the mission desk. Although he was still a Genin, after helping to end The 4th Great Ninja War, he was entrusted with more missions, therefore not really having the time to take the chūnin Exams. He believed that the 5 Kage saw him more as a jōnin, even though it wasn't on an official level.
He opened the door with a bright grin and was in the middle of a greeting when a scroll was thrown at his face and said scroll hit said face.
He rubbed his nose, "What the hell was that for?!"
Shizune was standing next to Tsunade, holding a snorting Tonton and doing her best to stifle a giggle but failing. Tsunade, on the other hand, was not amused as she looked at him pointedly, "You're late!"
Naruto bent down and snatched up the scroll that had plodded at his feet, "I've been late before!"
She glared at him, "And have I been happy every single time this happens?"
His anger faltered and he rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, "I guess not."
Tsunade gave a heavy sigh and pointed at the scroll in his hands, "Just read it!"
He unfurled the scroll and did a quick scan over the details. An 'A' class mission, something about a well-hidden spy, a mission request from the Mizukage of Kirigakure to the Hokage of Konohagakure, and the part that caught his eye.
He looked up with hopeful eyes, "Really?!"
Shizune seemed confused about what part he was talking about but then realized, "Yes, you'll be working with Kakashi-san on this mission."
Naruto pumped his fists, "Yeah! I haven't talked to Kakashi-sensei in ages, ya know!"
"Pipe down, Naruto this is a serious mission! We’re counting on Kakashi, and you, to bring back the spy alive so we can question them.”
“You hesitated on my name!” The blonde Shinobi accused with a shout.
“Naruto! I swear ! Do not make me throw another scroll!” Tsunade went to grab one of the nearest mini weapons as Naruto yelped and scrambled out of the room.
He peeked his head back into the room with caution, “Where exactly is th-“
He yelped again when a scroll hit his forehead, this time sure to leave a bruise, “Go ask Kakashi! Out!”
Naruto raced out of the building, fearful of another scroll somehow hitting him yet another time. Slowing down as he felt he was safe, he rubbed his forehead, “Wait. Where did I? Oh, shit.”
He raced home as fast he could, “I can’t believe I forgot it!”
Jumping through the window once again, he speed-walked to his dresser and snatched up his hitai-ate. “And this is why you don’t forget these things,” he muttered as he secured it in place.
He had never forgotten his forehead protector before, it was given to him by his brother, by anything but blood, after all. He grinned as he remembered when Iruka presented it to him with a beaming smile of pride, and Naruto took it with an equally as large grin. He frowned, though, as he realized that the nightmare might be the cause of his forgetfulness. It was an odd dream. A beast with red eyes, ones that resembled the Sharingan, attacked him. Over and over. There was no reason for it. His friend was back in the village, safe and sound. Although they didn’t talk as much as he hoped they did, it was better than nothing. Nothing being Sasuke still in willing captivation of a psycho.
He shook it off, nightmares were bound to a ninja as much as their Chakra was. Humph, a voice resonated in his head, don’t think much of it, kit. It’s just a dream.
Kurama! There you are, I was starting to wonder where you were! Naruto exclaimed as he retreated into his mind to greet his ‘closest’ friend.
Kurama looked at him with a deadpan, or what he guessed was a deadpan. The huge Fox had a permanent evil grin, after all. I’m right where I’ve been for the past 18 years.
Naruto stuck his tongue out, you know what I meant!
The fox demon gave a chuckle, I’ve been sleeping.
You’re always sleeping!
I only sleep so much because you do.
What?! Naruto exclaimed, that is so a lie! You're sleeping when I’m awake too!
Oh, Kurama tilted his head a bit, that? That’s cause you’re boring.
You! Naruto raged, that’s a lie, too, ya know! I’ll have you know I’m quite interesting, baka!
Yeah, yeah, whatever. Don’t you have to go meet up with Kakashi or something?
Hmm, yeah I gue- Hey! You heard that? Then you weren't sleeping!?
Kurama replied with a snort and the Fox pushed Naruto out of his own head. Naruto harrumphed, “I’ll get you for that,” Naruto mumbled out loud, knowing the Ninetails was listening.
He traced the leaf symbol on his hitai-ate with a finger and grinned, “Let’s get going!”
He passed the window for the third time that day and jumped toward his sensei's house. It was out of place, a bit farther from the rest of the village houses but still inside its walls. Kakashi had claimed he didn’t want to listen to his, “neighbor’s racket”.
Naruto snorted, his sensei acted so old but he knew that he wasn’t. Or, at least, that old. He stopped in front of the door to Kakashi’s home and walked around the exterior. It was very… Small, but he guess that was to be expected, Kakashi didn’t own much. Just his porn novels. Knuckles hovering a couple inches from the door, he wondered if Kakashi was even home. “Hmm, Kakashi-sensei! Are you there?!”
The door immediately flew open, “What the fuck? Naruto? What the hell are you doing?”
Naruto smiled and practically shoved the scroll into his sensei’s face, hoping to catch a finger on the mask and pull it off. Just as he hoped, his finger got caught and he started to pull down the mask with wide eyes and his nose crinkled in concentration. Kakashi had his hands full of partially opened scroll as he opened his eyes equally as wide as Naruto, although in a different manner. He lifted his leg and kicked his student in the stomach, sending the jinchūriki flying, his back hitting the ground quite harshly. Kakashi, on the other hand, turned around, pulled up what little of his mask that had been pulled down and turned back to face Naruto. “Again! What the hell are you doing?!”
“I just wanted to see under your mask.” Naruto pouted, curled up on the ground and clutching his stomach.
So nothing new, Kurama laughed in his head.
Zip it Kurama, I thought you said I was boring!
His sensei started to look over the scroll, Naruto watching as Kakashi’s eye scanned over a few of mission details. “Naruto, we should get going,” Kakashi said nonchalantly, his eyes peeking over the scroll.
The blonde struggled off the grass, “Yeah, yeah, just give me a second.”
Kakashi, who had started to walk away, looked over his shoulder at the pained blonde, “Curiosity killed the cat.”
“But I’m a fox?”
The jōnin shook his head, “Dense as ever.”
“Hey, that’s not true!”
“Hmm, okay, sure. Well, let’s get going. A spy right? Did Hokage-sama tell you where?”
“What!? You don’t know either?!” Naruto raged, forgetting the pain in his stomach, “she told me you knew!”
“Oh, this must be what she told me about yesterday. Okay, I know where we’re going. Let’s go.” Kakashi continued his walking through the village, heading for the gates.
Naruto caught up to him, " So where exactly are we going?”
“To a small village in the Land of the Sea. It’s right off the coast of the Land of Tea. It’s called Jiro Island.”
“Jiro Island? Isn’t that-?”
“Yeah, it’s one of Orochimaru’s bases. It was where he did experiments on the curse marks. A group of Anbu actually went there to save Anko.”
“Oh, Anko? That wasn’t what I was thinking,” he shuddered at the prospect of Sasuke's former teacher, “but why are we heading there? Didn’t Orochimaru say he wasn’t going to do anything drastic?”
Kakashi laughed, “He might’ve agreed but everyone knows he was lying. As for why we’re going, on the island is a small town. The entire Land of Sea relies on Shinobi from Kirigakure for protection and the Shinobi on Jiro Island have reported missing citizens. They’ve placed who the disappearances are being caused by, a group of thugs, but they have no idea why people are being targeted or where they’re being taken.”
Naruto still looked confused, “but the scroll said there was a spy?”
“What I just told you is all Hokage-sama told me yesterday, but if I had to guess, there was an infiltration of the Shinobi on that island. It’s probably messing up the search for the thugs”
“OK, I guess. One more question. Why me?”
The question stopped Kakashi in his tracks. He asked himself the same thing earlier, 'why Naruto?' but he had dismissed it. Now that Naruto brought it back up, he began to think about it deeper. Everyone knew Naruto wasn’t cut out to be a spy. Especially a spy looking for a spy. The boy was loud if what he did when he got to Kakashi’s house was any indication. His ears still rang a bit. The fact that Naruto knew this weakness and accepted it, must mean he’s matured, at least a little.
“Hokage-sama must have her reasons. We don’t even know the full details of the mission, after all.”
They passed the entrance to Konoha as they continued their conversation, although picking up the pace a bit. “The real part that confuses me,” Naruto started,” why didn’t Baa-Chan give us all the details of this mission? I mean, she even threw scrolls at me this morning.”
Kakashi looked at him, not surprised in the least, “Well, we’re you late?”
He didn’t even have to ask the question to know the answer, his tardiness had rubbed on the jinchūriki, without a doubt. Naruto had the decency to blush, “Is it that obvious? It was just a bit, though, not nearly enough to throw scrolls at me!”
“It was all those late days added together, I’m sure of it.”
“Nah,” Naruto closed his eyes and shook his head as they leaped from tree branch to tree branch, “I’m sure it was Baa-Chan being Baa-cha-“
Kakashi heard a yelp and Naruto disappeared. His initial reaction was fearfully looking around for the Hokage, hoping she hadn’t somehow overheard their conversation about her. He then realized Naruto tripped on a branch and fell. He shook his head and stopped, “This is why you pay attention to your surroundings, don’t close your eyes while your jumping. I’m pretty sure I’ve taught you these things, Naruto.”
“Shut up! I was thinking!”
“Oh, so descriptive.”
“Shut it!” Naruto ears were tinted pink in embarrassment and anger, “Let’s just go!”
“Kakashi! Seriously, stop!” Naruto raged, jumping to the nearest branch and leaving his sensei in the dust.
Kakashi stood there a little dazed. Naruto forgot the honorific in his fit of rage, and the former anbu found himself surprised. He started to chuckle, it was kind of funny, making Naruto that angry. This, he decided, would be a fun game on their mission.
He caught up to Naruto quickly, the blonde waiting for him just a bit farther up ahead. Naruto leaned against the trunk, tapping his foot impatiently, the sandals making a dull, monotonous thunking sound against the wood. Kakashi doubted Naruto even noticed his own slip of the tongue. “About time, now which way are we going?”
The jōnin snorted, “Can’t live without me, eh sensei?”
The blonde blushed, “Stop calling me that!”
“Why, sensei? Is there something wrong, Sensei?”
“Kakashi-sensei! Which way?!”
Kakashi continued his jumping, going faster than what they had been going earlier. “It’s this way, sensei.”
Naruto was right behind, catching up to jump next to him. "Stop calling me that!”
“Okay, okay,” Kakashi chuckled, “you remember how to get to the Land of Tea, right?”
“No, why do you think I waited for you?”
“So, if you did know you wouldn’t wait for me?”
“Of course, not!” Naruto shouted, “you're being annoying!”
Kakashi sniffed, “Rude.”
“I know you are, but what am I?”
“Apparently still a kid.”
“No, I’m not! I stopped a war!”
“With help from yours truly. And Gai. And the Kage. And the entire Allied Shinobi Forces. Oh and don’t forget all the tailed beasts.”
“Okay, yeah. But still!”
“Uh huh, ‘still’. Says the Genin.”
“I am practically jōnin!”
“You? Wait are we still talking about Uzumaki Naruto?”
“Haha, so funny, Kakashi-sensei.”
Kakashi wrapped a hand around his chest and tilted his head as if to bow, “In the flesh.”
“You wear your mask more than your skin,” Naruto mumbled.
“How does that make any sense?”
“It’s not supposed to.”
“How does that make any sense?”
“I don’t know.”
Kakashi snorted, and it stayed like that for a while. Just them bickering back and forth. The jōnin had trained his emotions to stay under control, the anbu suppressing them even more. However, when Naruto was around, his emotions were no longer held back. They came through like water through a broken dam. Naruto had that effect on people, making them feel like nothing was wrong. Like they were originally before everything horrible happened. He got rid of the block people put on themselves, and he had no idea he was doing it. Kakashi found himself at ease around his student, especially when it was just the two of them, although that never happened often. Before he knew it, the sun was setting, its bright golden hues giving away to the dark of night.
“Okay, let’s stop for the night.”
Kakashi stopped and jumped to the ground, but Naruto stayed up in the trees. “You tired Kakashi-sensei? I could go all night, ya know. Come on, come on.”
The blonde started jumping and stretching his arms, his lips curled up into a smug smile. “Yeah, yeah, Naruto. We still have a good distance to go, so we should get some sleep.”
“Do we have to? I mean we could sleep when we get there.”
Kakashi raised his eyebrow, “You do realize that getting there means walking across the ocean, right?”
“Sleep it is!”
Naruto jumped down while Kakashi gathered a bunch of firewood, “What do you want me to do, Kakashi-sensei?”
Kakashi slipped off the small bag he had packed when Tsunade told him about Jiro Island. He pretended not to know what Naruto was talking about this morning partly because he wanted to see if Naruto noticed his pretense but also because he didn’t know he was working with the jinchūriki of all people. Not that he had anything against the jōnin in everything but name, he just didn’t think Naruto was cut out for missions like this. Besides Kakashi was used to working alone.
He shook his head, no point in thinking about it now, he thought to himself before throwing Naruto the bag. “The tent, pitch it.”
Naruto threaded through the bag, searching for the tent, as Kakashi went back to working on his fire. “Seriously? You brought this?”
Kakashi looked up at Naruto from his small pyramid of logs, “Um, duh, of course, I did.”
Naruto held the bag in one hand to his side, the other hand held one of Karachi’s porn novels. “Can’t go anywhere without them can you?”
“As a matter of fact, no, no I can’t. Now if you wouldn’t mind, put up the tent already.”
Kakashi went back to his pyramid, moving the sticks in various places before satisfied. There was a loud thump about a couple feet away from him and Naruto yelling, “Ah! Kakashi-sensei! Help!”
The jōnin 's instincts kicked in and he grabbed a kunai from his back tool pocket, kicked his leg out, sprang from his kneeling position and held out the kunai, poised to strike. His eye widened in disbelief at what he saw and he tried to stifle a chuckle but miserably failed, “How the hell did you manage that?”
Naruto had somehow got tangled up in the half-pitched tent, his body wrapped in said tent and two of the metal poles suspending him off the ground by his feet. “I don’t know!” his face reddened in embarrassment and anger, “JUST HELP ME!”
Kakashi couldn’t himself as he laughed harder. The sight was just so ridiculous, that again, Naruto snatched up his emotions and threw them right out the window. His laughing slowly ceased as he walked over to the tent, careful not to get caught up in Naruto’s wild struggling. Or, what was supposed to be a tent. Kakashi couldn’t stop himself from chuckling again as he struggled to untie Naruto from his prison. “How the hell? Did you knot this or something? You're stuck pretty good.”
Naruto flailed in the water resistant cloth, his arms waving around wildly. “Naruto, calm down, your gonna get stuck even more!’
“Get me out of here, ya know!”
“Naruto, shut it! I'm trying! Your screaming isn’t helping!”
The trapped blonde ignored him and kept yelling at his sensei as said sensei finally loosened the tent. From there it was easy. Kakashi pulled one side of the tent and it unraveled, dropping Naruto on his head. The silver-haired Shinobi backed up as Naruto fell flat on the rocky floor. Cerulean eyes looked up at his sensei from the ground and Kakashi couldn’t help himself. The usual serious attitude Kakashi held on missions was forgotten for the time being as the jōnin laughed for the umpteenth time. Naruto got up and kicked him in the stomach, “IT'S NOT FUNNY!”
Kakashi grunted on the ground, still laughing lightly but holding his stomach for a different reason. “Your right, your right,” he gasped, from lack of air.
Naruto looked at the pile of sticks and logs, his face still red in the silver light of the moon. “Are you going to start that or not?”
Kakashi grunted again and got off the ground, dusted off his pants and shook his head. He didn’t even try to hide the smile he wore, somehow evident even through his mask. “Ungrateful brat.” He formed a couple of seals and faced the soon to be fire, “Fire Style: Fireball Jutsu!”
He blew fire onto the formerly safe sticks until they caught then faced the tent. “And you wonder why you’re still a Genin.”
Naruto sat down next to the fire, pulled a book out of his pocket and turned around to face Kakashi, his face not so bright red anymore, “I’m still a Genin cause I haven’t had time to take the exams!”
The book startled Kakashi for a second before the jōnin made a mental note to ask Naruto what it was. He started to set up the tent, “if you don’t have a team, you know you can become a chūnin without the exams, right?”
Naruto's head snapped up from the book, “What?! You can?”
“Yeah, you just have to ask Hokage-sama and she’ll give you a couple of trials. Of course, you have to be recommended to her and approved first, but I’m sure you’re a small exception.”
“I am so doing that when we get home!”
Kakashi stepped back from the tent and admired his handy work. He looked back at Naruto, who had flipped to a random page in the book and began reading, “Look, that wasn’t so hard, now was it?”
Naruto's face flushed, “Shut up!”
“Hai sensei.” Kakashi teased before sitting down next to Naruto, “Whatcha reading?”
The blonde held the book up to Kakashi, without closing it and kept reading. “'The Tales of a Gutsy Ninja’? Isn’t that-?”
“Yeah, it’s Pervy Sage’s first book.”
They sat in silence, the fire crackling and shifting, shooting sparks into the moonlit night sky. Before long, Kakashi pulled out his own book and began reading. Naruto looked up from his reading, “Is that the book from your bag?”
“Wait so you brought more than one book?”
“Of course. I knew your entertainment would last only for a little while.”
“Humph, Kurama said the same thing this morning. You guys are so rude.”
“Oh. Speaking of Kurama, what happened to the other tailed beasts?”
“Gyuki went back with Killer Bee. As for the others, no idea. They went their separate ways.”
“Oh. Okay then.”
They sat in silence again, reading their respective books with equal interest. “We should get some sleep or you should anyways, I’ll be look out.”
“One more chapter.”
Kakashi turned to look at Naruto in surprise, “Who the hell are you and what have you done with Naruto?”
“Haha, so very funny.”
Kakashi got up nonchalantly and hauled Naruto up with him. He pushed Naruto up against the nearest tree and held a kunai to his throat, “Who are you?” he growled.
Naruto looked up at him with fearful eyes, “What are you talking about? It’s me Kakashi-sensei, Naruto.”
“I should’ve known from the second you pulled out the book. Where is Naruto?”
Naruto started to struggle against Kakashi’s hold, scared for his life, “Kakashi-sensei! It’s me!”
Kakashi eyed him suspiciously, “Are you sure?”
“YES! PUT ME DOWN.”
Kakashi lowered the kunai, backed away and rubbed his ears, “owe.”
Naruto kicked him in the stomach once again, sending him flying into another tree. “Again, owe.”
Naruto pointed at his sensei, his face red in anger, “That’s what you get!”
Kakashi rubbed the back of his head where he hit the tree, “I was joking.”
“Not a funny joke. I thought you were gonna kill me.”
“All part of my plan, “ Kakashi said maliciously, rubbing his hands together as if to sell his point.
“Oh shut it. You wanted first watch right?” Naruto lied down next to the fire and began reading his book again.
“Are you gonna sleep in the tent?”
Naruto wrinkled his nose in disgust and looked over at said tent, “That thing? Never again.”
“So we’re not even gonna use it. Why’d I waste that time putting it up?”
“Don’t ask me.” Naruto scoffed and went back to reading.
Kakashi walked over to the fire and sat down, placing his feet on Naruto’s outstretched back. He pulled out his book again and looked at it absently. This was given to him by Naruto, courtesy of Jiraiya. He had reread the entire series over and over and over but never read any of the other books the Sannin had written. He kind of felt bad, although he had no idea why. He very much enjoyed his books so he figured it was fine.
“Did something happen?” Kakashi asked, breaking their uncomfortable silence.
Naruto looked up at him surprised, “No, why?”
The jōnin shrugged, “You seem a bit distanced today. Also, very disrespectful with the scoffing, hmm?”
“Oh. Sorry, Kakashi-sensei…”
“It’s fine, I was just teasing.”
“Okay, fine stop pressuring me, yes something happened. I’ve been having nightmares for a while now.”
Kakashi laughed to himself when Naruto cracked but looked genuinely concerned when Naruto mentioned nightmares. He had to remind himself that his student wasn’t all fun and games, the way he seemed. The teen had a horrible childhood and equal, if not worse, burdens to carry now. The expectations that everyone had of him. The war. Bringing Sasuke back. He still vividly remembered the day Naruto hyperventilated and collapsed in the snow. He had been so surprised. The fact that the burdens that Naruto carried weighed so much on his shoulders reminded Kakashi that said blonde was still only a kid. He shouldn’t have to deal with as many problems as he did. His innocence shouldn’t have been taken away from him so early on. It reminded him of the many flaws of they’re Shinobi world. He cursed himself. He should have protected his students better.
“Nightmares? What about?”
Naruto hummed in thought, “So I’m in a forest, and I hear this growl. I run away from the growl and I get attacked by a beast with red eyes.”
“Red eyes, like the Sharingan?”
Nodding, Naruto replied, “But I already brought Sasuke back so the dream doesn’t make sense.”
“You said you run away, but get attacked anyways right?”
Naruto nodded again, this time keeping silent. “Weird.”
“I’ll say. I’m the one having them and I don’t know what they mean.”
“Did you ask Kyuubi?”
“Yeah. He lives in your consciousness, right? Have you asked him about the nightmare?”
“I think he’s sleeping right now, that final fight in the war drained him a lot more than he’ll admit. Although, he did say not to worry about it this morning.”
“Then don’t worry about it.”
“But I’m curious! I want to know what it means!”
“Again,” Kakashi thought back to this morning, “curiosity killed the cat.”
Naruto threw Kakashi a smug grin, “satisfaction brought it back.”
The jōnin laughed, “Yeah, okay, sure.”
Closing the book, Naruto yawned. Kakashi raised his eyebrow, “Tired?”
“Yup,” Naruto admitted, laid his head down on his book and looked up at his sensei, “keep me safe, ‘kay?”
The question surprised Kakashi but he smiled none the less, “Okay.”
Naruto’s eyes closed and his tone became sleepy, “Promise?”
Kakashi stared at his student, stunned again, this time into silence. His feet still lied on the blonde’s back. Before long, Naruto’s breathing deepened and evened and Kakashi’s surprise softened into a light smile. “Yeah” he whispered to himself, “I promise. This time, I will. I have to.”
He had to make up for breaking his past promise. He not only owed it to Obito, he owed it to Rin.
The next morning, Naruto woke up to the sound of a small fire being put out by a mini water style Jutsu. The water sizzled in the air before extinguishing the fire. Naruto rubbed his eyes and looked up, Kakashi standing above him, “Rise and shine, sleepy head.”
Sitting up, the first thing Naruto realized was that he had no nightmare, but he set that matter aside for later. The second was that he had not been woken in the night, “Hey! Why didn’t I have watch?”
Kakashi shrugged sluggishly, “I wasn’t tired so I watched all night. You owe me now.”
“What? No! It wasn’t my fault you weren’t tired and didn’t wake me up!”
“Ungrateful brat, you get to watch tomorrow night. The entire night.”
“But we’ll be there by then, right?”
“That depends,” Kakashi raised his eyebrow, “how fast are you?”
Naruto stood up and grinned, Hey, Kurama, I’m going to borrow some Chakra, ‘Kay?
Kurama cracked open one eye from his laying position, Again, you don’t have to warn me, but okay.
Ever since the battle that had revealed all the Tailed Beasts, their names, and their jinchūriki, Naruto had made it his personal mission to be the friendliest to his own Bijū. The jinchūriki focused the borrowed Chakra throughout his body and the cloak he discovered during the war materialized. “Try to keep up!” Naruto stuck out his tongue and took off.
Kakashi watched stunned as the cloak had appeared in seconds but regained his composure when he realized Naruto was no longer in front of him. The copy-nin cupped his gloved hands to his mask, “Naruto! You’re going the wrong way!”
There was a second of delay when Kakashi doubted the blonde heard him, but a flash of golden light appeared and passed through the trees above him, going in the opposite direction. Kakashi shook his head, Naruto’s senses may have majorly enhanced over the years, but he was still the dense kid he had always been. Just a little more common sense from when they started. “Naruto! You’re still going the wrong way!”
The jōnin blinked as Naruto appeared before him, a doubtful look in his eyes. The blonde pointed behind himself, “This way, right?”
Kakashi chuckled, “Try this way.” He jabbed the air over his shoulder with his thumb in one abrupt motion.
“Okay, I got it this time. Forget what just happened.” He stuck out his tongue again as if it was the first time he did it that day, “Try to keep up.”
This time he took off in the right direction, easily putting immeasurable space between himself and his sensei. Kakashi gave a light chuckle, barely audible in his own ears. The jinchūriki would easily get lost without the jōnin so he chased his current mission partner, catching up to him without much effort. The look Naruto gave Kakashi was priceless as the sensei passed his student.
“Try to keep up,” Kakashi mocked with his signature eye-smile.
Naruto gave him a confident smile, “I’m only at ten percent! I’m just getting started!”
The blonde, true to his word, as it was his nindo, sped up. Kakashi and his current pace were left in the dust as he watched the bright golden dot that was Naruto disappear into the trees far ahead of him. Kakashi could go a lot faster than he was at that moment but he knew he’d never be able to keep up with Naruto at his max speed. The blonde had inherited his father’s speed, after all. Along with his mother’s strength, confidence and boisterous attitude. The rest from his father included his compassion and appearance.
Every time Kakashi looked at Naruto, he was reminded of the boy’s father. Reminded of his past. Reminded of his failure. Reminded that his tardiness had gotten his sensei killed. Reminded that his lack of strength had ended his closest comrades lives. Reminded of every little thing that had gone wrong. Reminded that it was all his fault.
But, as conflicting as it was, Naruto also gave him hope. The blonde carried a cheerfulness that no one else possessed. A cheerfulness that was infectious even in enemies. There were times when Kakashi could bear the brute emotional attack of his past that Naruto’s appearance brought up, because of the blonde himself. But other times, Kakashi would have to put up a blockade. Another mask, an emotional one. A casual smile seemed to do the trick for most people but a select few saw through it. The list included Gai, Sakura, Tenzo, and Naruto. Tsunade, too, but he rarely saw her outside of missions.
Each took their own approach to dealing with the mask. Gai took his time to cheer up Kakashi, distracting him with their friendly rivalry. Sakura took a more calm route, comforting him although she had no idea what the problem actually was. Tenzo, or Yamato as he insisted his new name was, noticed it almost immediately and assumed it was related to his time as an anbu. The wood-style user wasn’t entirely wrong, but not entirely correct either. Yamato would quick-fire horrible jokes and pun. It was so ridiculous that Kakashi couldn’t help but forget his burdens for the time being.
Naruto was a different matter altogether. He noticed it immediately, giving him a startled look each and every time. It was as if he sensed the emotional mask and was unsettled by it. The blonde turned away after the strange look, as he knew what his sensei was thinking about. Maybe even better than the jōnin himself. Obito's memories had been shared with Naruto and it wasn’t that he refused to talk about it, the topic had just never come up. They both felt uncomfortable when the topic edged itself to the surface and an awkward silence settled around them. Naruto tried to avoid the topic, so as time moved past the war, Kakashi had started to avoid the blonde altogether. It was a vicious circle and if Kakashi was being totally honest, he kind of missed Naruto.
“Kakashi-sensei,” the blonde Kakashi was thinking about ripped him out of his thoughts, “are we still going the right way?”
The jōnin pondered for a moment, “Yeah.”
Naruto nodded, “Okay. What time do you think we’ll get there?”
“We were already close to shore last night, and we’re about to reach it,” Kakashi tilted his head back real quick to check the position of the sky through the forest’s canopy. “It’s late morning so I’d guess around night. Just enough time to book a room at an inn.”
“Food too, right?” As if on cue, Naruto’s stomach growled and his cheeks tinted pink in embarrassment, “I’m hungry, ya know! I didn’t eat at all yesterday!”
Kakashi chuckled in amusement, he didn’t even know the blonde could blush in the Kyuubi cloak. “You didn’t even have breakfast? Who knew you could survive a day without food? Or, could you even consider that cup ramen of yours food?”
Naruto ducked his head, “Just for your information, I can survive very long without food. Plus, I did have breakfast! And it was very good!”
The jōnin raised his eyebrow, “Yeah? What was it?”
“Umm. Cup ramen. But you can’t insult it! Insult me all you want, but never my food!”
“Isn’t it supposed to be, 'insult me all you want, but never my friends'?”
“Oh yeah,” Naruto nodded, “them too.”
Kakashi laughed at the joke and Naruto threw him a grin. The copy-nin could almost see why everyone in the village had started to fall for him. Almost. He wasn’t gay himself if his choice in reading material was anything to by, but he wasn’t against it. In fact, he supported it. He suspected Gai sometimes but he never had the chance, or determination, to bring it up. He didn’t want to sound accusing, or put his friend on the spot.
“What was it like being an Anbu?”
The question surprised Kakashi and he stumbled as much as one could in midair. He regained his balance before hitting the next tree branch. They jumped down and ran across pale, glistening sand in sync; the chakra focus had become a reflex after years of walking on water. "Why the sudden interest?"
Naruto shook his head, "No reason, just curious."
"Are you thinking about being an anbu?"
"What?!" Naruto laughed awkwardly, giving away the truth he refused to speak, "No! Of course not!"
"You know you have a bunch of people who love you and absolutely forbid you from becoming an anbu, right? Shikamaru, Ino, Sakura, Hokage-sama, Choji, Shino, Kiba, Hinata."
Naruto sighed in surrender, "Yeah, I know. It's just... Sometimes? I rethink aiming for Hokage."
Kakashi almost fell into the water they ran across, "What? That's been your dream since forever!"
"Yeah, but everyone makes it seem like a big deal. I just want to protect my friends. The village. Nothing else."
"Being an anbu doesn't necessarily guarantee that you know. At most you'll be protecting the Hokage."
"Baa-chan protects the village, right? She's doing a hell of a job, too. So, if I protected her, I'd be protecting everyone else too, right?"
"You're okay with giving up your dream, just to protect the village that used to despise you not so long ago?"
Naruto chuckled, "Oh, that? I'm over it. Plus, why wouldn't I? My friends are much more important than me."
"When did you grow up so fast?"
"Me? I think it was when Pervy-Sage took me on that trip." Naruto sighed wistfully, a sound Kakashi thought he'd never hear, "That was fun. I miss him."
"I'm sure everyone does Naruto."
"Yeah, I'm sure they do."
The silence stretched on for a while before Kakashi began to feel uncomfortable. His student had surpassed him long ago in strength. Now? Maybe even in maturity. He never expected for Naruto to actually sound wistful. It just felt... Wrong. The emotion didn't fit the blonde well. Naruto was supposed to be cheerful, optimistic, and, well, happy.
"Are you really aiming to become an anbu?"
"Maybe, I don't know yet. Would you help me if I said yes?"
A conversation between Kakashi and Jiraiya from a year before popped into his head. "Kakashi?"
"If anything happens to me, promise you'll take care of Naruto?"
Kakashi shifted, a little uncomfortable, "What makes you say that?"
Jiraiya gave him a pointed look, “We live in a world where death practically stalks us. If I die, which could be any time now, you and Tsunade are the only ones to have a connection to Naruto’s family. Tsunade already has her hands full with Hokage duty, and you’re his sensei. It makes sense.”
Kakashi looked down at the mention of his teacher. The Sannin placed a hand on his back, “Stop beating yourself up over this. It’s not your fault. You had no idea where he was or what was happening. You protected the village as best you could.”
The jōnin kept silent, causing Jiraiya to sigh, “Awe, look what you did! You got me all depressed! Just promise you’ll take care of Naruto?”
“Yes. I’ll do my best.” The copy-nin nodded.
“There!” Jiraiya laughed, “That’s more like it!”
Kakashi had not officially promised, but Jiraiya hadn’t minded. The jōnin was not fully confident in his ability to keep promises, but he had been compelled to agree anyway. Last night, when Naruto had asked for his word, he knew he was ready to take on new responsibilities and promises. He had met Obito one last time during the war and his former comrade reminded him of his failures. Yet, Obito also reminded him that he was stronger, now. He would be capable of making a new promise and fulfilling it. Even if it meant dying himself, he would do it. He had to.
Kakashi hesitated before finally answering Naruto's question, unsure if he was absolutely prepared to help the blonde become an anbu. He didn't want the blonde to become an anbu. “If that's what you absolutely want… Sure.”
Damn all! He didn't want to say that. He had wanted to reject the request. “Really?!” Naruto smiled from ear to ear, “Thanks, Kakashi-sensei!”
Kakashi sighed in defeat, his path already chosen, “Don’t mention it.”
They ran across the ocean in silence, nothing but the sound of slight waves rolling and the splashes of water their feet kicked up.
Yes, Kurama? Naruto retreated to his mind as he left his legs on autopilot.
The beasts want to have a meeting.
“What?! Right now?!”
Kakashi’s head snapped over to stare at Naruto in question as the blonde crudely broke their silence, “What the hell?”
Naruto rubbed the back of his head and apologized, “Talking to Kurama.”
But I'm busy, ya know!
Ask your beloved sensei to take a break or something.
Yeah, whatever you like to call him.
Kakashi squinted in Naruto’s direction, “Why does your face look like it's about to be burned off?”
“N-nothing! No reason! Can we take a break?”
Don’t call him that! He's not my beloved! Sakura-Chan is!
Kurama snorted, yeah, whatever.
“A break? Here? Why now?”
“The Bijū want to talk.”
“What?” Kakashi's eye widened, “they can do that?”
“Well, all of their Chakra is in me so, yeah.”
Naruto sat on the shifting water, “Be right back.”
Kakashi snorted and shook his head, “Didn’t even wait for me to reply. Brat.”
Naruto fell into the sanctum of the tailed beasts, past the sewers where he and Kurama conversed. The floor looked a bit brighter than the last time he was there. “What do you want? Bakayaro Konoyaro.”
Naruto ran up to his former sensei and current friend and the two fist-bumped. “What are you doing here?”
Kurama and Gyuki sat behind the two, looking down at them with curious eyes. "Gyuki said you wanted me, so from the fight, I had to flee. Bro might be mad, so hurry up before my life becomes a tad. Yo!"
One by one, the other tailed beasts appeared. First Shukaku, then Saiken, Isobu, Matatabi, Kokuo, Son Goku and last Chomei. “I didn’t say that. Kurama told me that they wanted to see me.”
“Yup, Yup, we do, we do.” Saiken was the first to speak, his childish voice breaking the silence.
“Let’s cut to the chase,” Matatabi purred, “we want new jinchūriki.”
Kurama lifted one of his huge claws and tapped Naruto lightly on the head, “Calm down and just listen.”
Matatabi cleared her throat, the sound kind of like a crackling fire, “Anyways, we've been watching you and Kurama and Bee and Gyuki.”
Son Goku growled and continued her thought, “We want new jinchūriki. We're kind of…”
“Lonely.” Shukaku finished, “we're kind of lonely.”
“Yup, Yup, we are, we are.” Saiken interrupted.
Kokuo, as silent as his previous jinchūriki, nodded in agreement.
“Anyways,” Matatabi made a low noise in her throat, “seeing you guys work as comrades has reminded us that not all humans are like that fool who tried to enslave us.”
“Hey, he was being controlled, you can't blame him,” Naruto argued.
Shukaku grumbled, his voice like shifting sand dunes, “You dare defend him?”
“He was once my sensei friend, so he couldn’t have been that bad.” Naruto glared, “Plus, you know well enough what Madara is capable of.”
Kurama nodded, “He has a point.”
Slowly, they all agreed, “Valid point Uzumaki Naruto, you are indeed a strange one.” Matatabi sighed.
Kurama chuckled quietly, “Just accept it.”
Son Goku grunted, “Back to the matter at hand, please.”
“Oh! Yeah! Bee, what do you think?”
The eight-tails jinchūriki had been listening in but talking to Gyuki quietly. Probably in rhymes. “We’re both on a mission, so I’ll shed some light on this quission. We’ll keep an eye out for strong Shinobi, so you guys will no longer be lonely.”
“Kurama, can he just make up a word like that?” Naruto whispered.
“You mean ‘quission’? No idea. Why are you asking me?”
“Because I don’t want to be rude to him. He’ll shut me out again.”
“Just face it, he’s really bad at rapping.”
“Shush, he’ll hear you!” Naruto stifled a laugh.
“He means that we will keep an eye out for suitable Shinobi.” Gyuki translated.
Matatabi purred again, “I’m okay with that. Anybody object?”
They all agreed to the proposal immediately. “OK, cool! I’ve got to go. I'm In the middle of the sea and I don't want to drown. Bye!”
And just like that, Naruto disappeared, along with everyone else.
When Naruto came back to his senses and opened his eyes, he realized Kakashi was poking him. ”Water you doing?”
Kakashi took a step back in surprise and shook his head at the horrible pun, “Really?”
“Sorry,” Naruto laughed, “I couldn’t help myself. Now, why were you poking me?”
The copy-nin shrugged, “Your Chakra flared to immense levels so I was gonna tell you but you weren’t answering. To anything. You were completely unresponsive. At first, I thought you were sleeping but you weren’t moving at all. I thought you were dead, but then I heard you breathing”
Naruto snorted, “Is that all?”
Kakashi pointed east nonchalantly, “There was that, too.”
Naruto looked the way his sensei pointed and almost fell into the water from where he sat. Dark gray clouds, almost pitch black, threw lightning in various places. Thunder rumbled and huge waves had started to form. “Well,” Naruto stood up, “let’s get out of here!”
Kakashi chuckled, “I couldn’t agree with you more.”
They took off in sync, running from the brewing storm. “So what did the Bijū want?”
“Did you just say what I think you said?”
“I know right! That’s what I thought at first but Kurama told me to listen. At first, I thought he meant to the conversation but then I realized he meant to their voices. So I did listen, and they sounded lonely.”
“Lonely? Really? Aren’t they ancient beasts? Shouldn’t they be used to that?”
“They did just have awesome jinchūriki before the war. Maybe they got used to the company.”
“Could be. Makes sense.”
“Bee said he was on a mission but he’d keep an eye out for suitable ninja.”
“Wait. Killer Bee was there?”
“Well, yeah, he’s a jinchūriki, duh.”
“But I thought that their Chakra was in you and that’s how you could talk to each other. His Chakra is in you too?”
“No. It’s… A little complicated. Hrmmm. It’s kind of like Pain.”
“No, Pain. Remember the rinnegan?”
“Oh that guy that destroyed the village, killed countless people, brought them back to life again after realizing he had done the classic cliché of doing the wrong thing for the right reason and that last act just killing him, causing him to be a hero but also a bad guy?”
Naruto snorted, “Nagato turned out to be the good guy. Anyways, you know how they shared their sight because they were all part of one person?”
“Oh, I see where you're going with this. Because all tailed beasts come from the Ten-Tails, they have similar Chakra. And since they share their Chakra with their jinchūriki, all the jinchūriki and tailed beasts are connected.”
“Um, sure, I guess.”
Kakashi looked at Naruto in confusion, “That’s wrong?”
Naruto shook his head, “That sounds right, but I actually had no idea. I was just trying to sound smart and hoping you’d take over.”
Kakashi laughed, “Manipulative.”
Naruto frowned, “I don’t know how I feel about that.”
“Well if you're truly aiming for anbu, that’s a nice skill to have.”
Dammit! Why did he keep bringing that up? “Really? Thanks for the tip!”
Naruto’s frown turned into a bright smile, making Kakashi think it was worth it. At least a little bit. “Before you decide on being an anbu, make sure you're sure, okay? I just don’t want you making any decisions you’ll regret.”
“Hmm, okay. When we get back to Konoha, I’ll ask people what I should do.”
“You know they’ll say Hokage, right?”
“I don’t think so.”
“What makes you say that?”
Please Naruto, don’t be an anbu. You have no idea what you're in for.
“They will say Hokage at first, that much I know, but I can probably change their minds.”
You’re too loud for anbu, not secretive enough. Even your jutsu is loud and flashy. People could tell it’s you from miles away.
Naruto! Wasn’t your dream to become Hokage?
“I’m manipulative right?” The blonde gave him a mischievous grin.
Naruto, you’re too happy to be an anbu! Too optimistic! Your ability to cheer anybody up with a few simple words and actions? That’s a Hokage skill only you possess!
Kakashi laughed, “Sure.”
Naruto, where did I go wrong?
A shadow fell over the jinchūriki’s face. Kakashi blinked and it was replaced with the usual beaming smile. The jōnin thought he was seeing things but then he realized he had seen that look before. That was not the first time Naruto had worn that expression. Kakashi had seen that face on Naruto many times during the war. Even before the war, when he was focused on trying to find Sasuke. At first, he thought that face had been reserved solely for the missing friend. He had been right at the time… But now?
Naruto… What are you hiding? What did I miss?
“Tsunade-sama? Shizune held a snorting Tonton as her teacher and master looked out the window of the Hokage office. The sun had started to set on Konohagakure, the buildings shown in a golden light. “Why did you send Naruto on a mission to catch a spy?”
Tsunade’s face spread into a mischievous smile, “It’s been a day since they left, almost two. I think it’s time I let you in on some secrets.”
Tonton snorted again, this time in confusion. Shizune made a similar sounding hum, “You haven’t told us everything yet?”
“This might take a while, there’s a lot of information I’ve been keeping to myself. I didn’t tell those two everything about the mission but knowing Kakashi, he’ll figure out why I sent Naruto when the Mist Shinobi tell him everything. The spy isn’t just a spy, he’s a scouter. He works for a human trafficking circle.”
Shizune gasped, “Naruto’s Sexy Jutsu! The plan is to use him as bait?”
“It’s nothing he can’t handle, but anyways, there are some things you don’t know about those two. Ever since the War, Naruto’s been quieter than usual. Not anything very noticeable, but worrisome none the less. Just after I noticed that, I noticed Kakashi avoiding Naruto. I’m not sure if it’s related. It probably is, but I can’t know for certain.”
“Okay, but why didn’t you tell them everything about the mission?”
“I didn’t want Kakashi avoiding actual conversation with Naruto by calculating some plan for the mission. Knowing Naruto and his cheerfulness, though, Kakashi won’t be able to keep his mission persona. He knows the openness Naruto is capable of bringing out of people, but that doesn’t mean he is immune to it himself.”
Shizune nodded and thought out loud, “I think I know why Kakashi is lost in thought and pushing away others more than he used to. It has something to do with meeting Obito, right?”
Tsunade hummed in agreement, “Most likely, and although I don’t know everything about his past, I’m certain he’ll need Naruto’s help through it. Just like how Naruto will need Kakashi’s help going through whatever he’s hiding.”
Shizune yawned as the last light of the sun disappeared behind the horizon, officially declaring that night had started. “Those two should be there by now. I wonder how they’re faring.”