Something had happened.
Something bad. Not bad enough that the civilians were informed, but bad enough that even they somehow caught a whiff of it, whispering worriedly between themselves on street corners and in the shops.
Naruto wasn’t quite sure what it was. Someone was dead, but that was hardly noteworthy. They had been killed – better, but not that uncommon yet.
Not that he really cared. He was just bored, and trying to eavesdrop on the jounin was always good training. It also provided him with a lot of information and stories he thought might be of use someday, if only to get back at the nastier ones.
Soon he would start the Academy, at long last, and that would at least provide him with some entertainment and a place to be, things to do during the day. There was only so many hours a day he could train on his own in the forest and his pranks demanded less and less time and effort with how he had perfected them over the years. In the Academy he would learn to be a proper ninja, to get stronger, and once he was strong enough he wouldn’t be bothered by anyone anymore. For that, he was willing to sit through any number of boring lessons.
Speaking of the Academy, it was possible that Something had happened there. It was mentioned several times, although… No, not the place. The Someone.
An Academy teacher.
The name Umino Iruka only conjured a very vague image in Naruto’s mind, from passing by the Academy when the classes were done for the day. A man with a vertical scar on the bridge of his nose and a friendly smile. Well, a friendly smile for his students and their parents. Certainly not for Naruto.
The teacher had died. Had been killed.
What seemed to be really important though was the How and the Who. Naruto kept walking quietly the corridors of the Hokage Tower, slow enough that he could catch words of the whispered conversation around him but with enough purpose that he wouldn’t look like he was wandering and draw attention on himself. He still got some nasty looks, but they had to think he was here for a reason, whatever it was. Practicing this move day after day had paid off – half of the shinobi working at the Tower were convinced he had an actual reason to be there so often, instead of him just being nosy.
He had to find some joy somewhere .
He caught the name "Danzo" not far from the Hokage’s office, whispered by two jounin with grave expressions on their face, so low it was barely audible. This one, Naruto knew, and he knew the face to go with it too, even if he had never dealt with the man directly. Naruto avoided him like the plague, partly because he was always looking like he wanted to talk to him when they happened to cross path, and mostly because he was terribly creepy. Not physically – ninjas hiding half or all of their faces and bodies and wearing weird clothes and weird objects were less than a curiosity in Konoha, and Naruto had grown up surrounded by people who looked way scarier than they actually were. But that Danzo guy, oh, he was a creep for real. Naruto hated to feel his eyes on him. It always gave him the urge to hide away, to remove himself from his sight, to get out of reach. The man was supposed to be an elder of the council, from what Naruto had gathered, and also managed a lot of shady things it always felt best left alone.
It wasn’t Danzo who had killed the teacher, but he was responsible somehow.
The Danzo wouldn’t be seen around the village anymore is what Naruto got out of this. Good riddance. If he had caused the death of another shinobi without a good reason, it was understandable. Somehow, it felt like it was more than that though. It wasn’t just about the death of the teacher.
What Danzo did…
Naruto heard that several times. What Danzo did. And it wasn’t about the teacher. It was bigger, in the long run. Things that had been unearthed, either by the teacher or by his death. Or maybe that’s the reason why he was dead? There were a few people looking sad when saying his name. He seemed well known and well loved around the Hokage Tower.
Naruto couldn’t relate.
After a third tour, he started to feel the eyes on him get suspicious, so he decided to finish up his visit by the Hokage’s office, to see if the old man’s mood and company could tell him more about what had happened. And if he could get an extra allowance this month to buy some more kunai at the weapon shop. That was the initial purpose of his visit.
The doors to the office were open, and even if the two jounin standing guard leveled him a disapproving look, they didn’t try to stop him when he stepped into the room.
The old man was sitting at his desk. Naruto’s steps faltered, because the man looked ten years older than the last time Naruto had seen him. The wrinkles on his face were deeper, the weariness in his expression, in his whole posture, heavy enough that Naruto could see them plain as day. The man barely glanced at him, and okay, Naruto had expected him to still be mad about his latest stunt at the fish market the week before, but it was more than that. The old man’s face didn’t budge, didn’t even try for a smile.
Maybe Something was worse than Naruto had thought.
“What is it, Naruto?” the old man asked, his tone clearly conveying now wasn’t a time for being rude or wasting his time. Naruto opened his mouth but was interrupted by a jounin rushing into the office and almost stepping on Naruto in his haste, who sidestepped him just in time with a long practice of avoiding hurried adults for whom he was just too small and unworthy to take notice of.
“Hokage-sama, yet another report. Among the children that were taken, there was…”
The old man raised a hand to silence the jounin and turned a pointed stare at Naruto, who had hoped to be forgotten long enough to catch some more information.
“Naruto. Leave. Don’t come back before…”
The old man got lost in thought for a moment, considering.
“…Before I visit you.”
Both men waited patiently until Naruto had cleared the room. He heard the Hokage extend the command to his guards so that they knew he wasn’t to be allowed in anymore.
Whatever. It didn’t matter. He could find other ways to occupy himself and other shinobi to stalk and spy on. He didn’t care much about those matters anyway. So what if that Danzo was out of the picture? That sounded like good news as far as he was concerned. Especially if there were… kidnapped children involved? He always knew this man was nasty.
As for the Academy teacher…
Well, it was certainly sad. Probably.
Naruto didn’t care much though. He had to go train, to become strong. Strong people didn’t fear death.
Something had happened, of that Sasuke was certain, but he had no idea what and no one would tell him anything.
Just because he was a kid didn’t mean he was an idiot. He caught on some things. Like how stressed his father had been lately, and how Itachi worked more and more and spent less and less time at home, even if he wasn’t on a mission. He caught on things being whispered around in the Uchiha district, how worried the adults looked sometimes.
That was nothing though compared to the chaos of this day. His father had been running around between the Hokage Tower and the Uchiha district since dawn, face screwed up into a worried frown, and his mother, although she hadn’t said it is so many words, had advised him not to get too far from the house.
But the most obvious sign was Itachi. Because Itachi actually looked affected too. For real. He was following their father, which was shocking in and on itself, since their relationship had been strained for months now, and that they hadn’t been seen sharing a space anymore that was strictly necessary – or imposed by their mother who would never stand by either of them eating in another room to avoid the tension of the dinner table.
Sasuke learned that one of the Academy teachers had died in mysterious circumstances. Itachi knew him, but he hadn’t been taught by him when he was at the Academy, and Sasuke doubted that was what made his stoic older brother so shaken up. Not that he looked shaken up. In fact for most people he probably looked as aloof and calm as ever. But Sasuke could see it and judging by the frown on his mother’s face, she could too. Itachi was upset, and Sasuke didn’t know why .
He went to see Shisui, since he was about the only one who didn’t treat Sasuke as a bothersome kid, but even he was surprisingly tight-lipped this time. He looked sad too, and Sasuke couldn’t decide, between him and Itachi, on who the expression felt the most alien.
“You’re too young to be involved in all this,” he said, but when Sasuke started to protest, he got a dark look on his face and said, more serious than Sasuke had ever heard him be, “it’s a lucky thing, Sasuke.”
Frustrated, Sasuke went back home and sulked in his room for a while, until his mother called him down for dinner. Nothing of importance was discussed at the table – nothing was discussed at all, really – and Itachi followed their father in his office once they were done. They closed the door tightly behind them and his mother stopped him from approaching the room. She was apologetic but firm in the command that he was to leave this alone for now. He would be told when the time was right.
From experience, Sasuke knew it could be in literal years, but it’s not like he could do anything about it, so he decided to let it go for now.
Whatever it was that had happened, it didn’t seem inherently bad. There was no immediate danger, no sense of panic. On the contrary, Sasuke was surprised to notice subtle changes in the days and weeks that followed, that didn’t look much, but that he couldn’t help connect for some reasons. He had never realized how truly tense the residents of the Uchiha district were until it started to loosen bit by bit. He started to see more and more Uchiha in the streets outside of their own district, and even more surprising, to see non-Uchiha walking their own. They didn’t discuss it properly with the other kids, but they all got the feeling that an unspoken ban had been lifted. They went to play on the square next to the Academy and the feeling of being unwelcomed that had always clung to him when he was out of the Uchiha district was dimed out by a wild margin.
This was nothing though compared to the biggest change of them all – Itachi and their father started talking to each other again.
Like, talking for real. And spend time together too. Sasuke went back home several times to find them sitting in the garden, deep in conversation, or even, and he had to do a double take on that one, training together. Sasuke wasn’t sure it had ever happened in his lifetime, not since he was old enough to remember anyway.
It was a good thing, really, it was. His mother looked happier too, and she announced one day at dinner that she was going back to the shinobi forces as a jounin sensei. Sasuke had never even known she was one. Itachi took less and less missions outside the village, spending more and more time at the Hokage Tower and with the Intelligence Division. His father too spent a lot more time out, mostly with other clan heads, as far as Sasuke could tell. It was frustrating because he didn’t know what had prompted all those changes, but they weren’t bad changes, so he didn’t want to complain.
Except if his father had been a little more focused on Itachi than Sasuke before, it was nothing compared to how things were now.
Sasuke understood on some level that something bad had happened, or could have happened, and that Itachi had gone through something they needed to work out. And he had always known, always accepted that Itachi was simply better than him, more worthy of attention. It didn’t sting so much because his brother was better than anyone really. It looked like their father didn’t intend to leave him to his own devices anymore. He got involved in his training again, in his life in general.
Sasuke didn’t think his father could be any less involved in his life, but oh, how wrong he was.
Itachi and their father had mended whatever rift there was between them. And Sasuke had all but disappeared from their sight in the process.
They both promised to be there for his first day at the Academy, and made it as far as the gate to the Uchiha district before a chunin hurried toward them, telling them that they were needed urgently at the Hokage’s office. They both apologized before leaving Sasuke alone with his mother.
It was fine. Sasuke knew he had nothing on the village’s politics in their eyes. As it should be, really. They were discussing important matters with important people, Sasuke’s first day at the Academy was meaningless in comparison.
He would have to be Hokage to hope to get their attention.
Huh. Now that was an idea.