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Monsters are made (Not Born) (Under Revision)

Chapter Text

 

 

The man felt like he was floating.

 

His body felt weightless and detached.

 

An innumerable amount of memories were flying by him.

 

The memories created a cacophony of noise and there was a distant sound of crying echoing around him.

 

The images continued to flash by. They were overlapping one another, becoming more distorted and the sounds growing more incoherent.

 

The sounds of terrified screams and explosions permeated through the dark space. The dissonance of sounds echoed from the memories.

 

He heard a name being spoken again and again. Sometimes in a fond tone, other times in an exasperated intonation.

 

Eren.

 

The images shifted and the name was followed by screams.

 

Anger and heightened grief.

 

Eren!

 

Eren Eren Eren.

 

He gazed upon the vague memories and saw a young child with green eyes and thick sandy hair.

 

A young boy who woke up alarmed crying from a nightmare.

 

His sister, a young girl with dark hair and overly mature eyes, peered down at him in concern.

 

He tried to reach forward to grasp the memory it but it slipped away like streaming water.

 

The sounds of the girl's voice was drifting away.

 

He held onto her name desperately.

 

Mikasa.

 

He watched solemnly as the memories began shifting more rapidly, memories of who he was drifting by him. He knew deep down that those memories belonged to him. He saw himself as a young boy, standing in the cold, outside an old rundown cottage. His small form was bloodied and he was glaring angrily at his father as the man stared back at him with wide eyes.

 

Eyes that conveyed concern and held an inkling of fear.

 

He heard the distorted sound of his own voice, rebuking his father's claims that he had killed men.

 

I disposed of some dangerous beasts. Mere animals that just happened to resemble humans.

 

The memory slipped away before he could grasp it.

 

The image of his father disappeared like quicksand.

 

He did not get his name.

 

What was his father's name?

 

He felt sick with loss.

 

He did not get to say goodbye; he never got to thank him for raising him.

 

Everything around him grew darker.

 

The memories moved at a quicker speed, the years passing away in a flurry of unclear scenes as he watched himself grow older, always accompanied by his sister and a friend. More memories became imbedded into his mind. He saw a young boy with inquisitive eyes and hair like the shining sun.

 

Armin.

 

He held onto the name.

 

Armin, Armin, Armin.

 

He watched as the years passed by and he grew older, faced many terrors and became hardened by an ugly and cruel world.

 

He watched as he grew into something hated, something vile that garnered fear in those around him.

 

A monster, a demon, a titan.

 

He watched the memories of people running in fear, of him being chained and shackled, of his humanity being questioned.

 

What are you?

 

I'm human!

 

He watched his two companions changed, hardened through battle, grief and loss.

 

He watched them turn from young children to hardened soldiers, their gazes growing dark and weary from long battles. 

 

His best friend's voice echoed wearily. 

 

A person who cannot sacrifice everything, cannot change anything.

 

More names became clear to him.

 

More memories sped by him.

 

Jean, Sasha, Connie, Erwin, Hanji, Levi.

 

Comrades of a life lost to him.

 

The voices became more and more unclear and the images grew more distorted,fragmented into small pieces as everything came to a close.

 

His life slipped away and everything descended into darkness.

 

He felt himself falling and falling into the darkness.

 

He closed his eyes in acceptance, accepting his death, accepting that his life had ended.

 

He did everything he could.

 

The rest was up to them.

 

His fight was over.

 


 

The sounds of the distant cries became louder and louder, more forefront and he frowned to himself, searching the darkness for the cause of the distressed sounds. The infantile cries continued around him, becoming more shrill and anxious as the moments passed.

 

He frowned.

 

The sound was very grating to his dulled senses.

 

The loud cries continued, coming from everywhere in the dark vicinity.

 

The sound grew tiresome and irritating very quickly.

 

He wanted the noise to stop, feeling it grating on his peaceful state.

 

Wasn't death supposed to be peaceful?

 

Quiet?

 

Silent?

 

Death was the absence of life and yet...he was surrounded by the sound of the living.

 

The cries of a newborn.

 

He looked around him in alarm, trying to pinpoint the sound. Everything was dark. The darkness seemed to stretch on and on. He was suspended in a space with no end or beginning. He frowned to himself as the cries grew louder and louder, drawing closer and closer to him. The cries were desperately trying to reach out to him, latching onto his suspended airy form and taking a tight hold of him.

 

Where was the noise coming from? He thought in distress and annoyance.

 

He couldn't see a damn thing.

 

Everything was dark and he began feeling unbearably hot.

 

His entire body was burning and he could not move his limbs.

 

The last thing he remembered was closing his eyes as he accepted the final blow that ended his life. Did he live through it? He felt sick to his stomach. The heat was familiar. His entire body was burning. It felt like he was back in his titan form.

 

The heat surrounded him from all sides. He felt his awareness slowly come back to him, his senses grew sharper and more alert as his body grew heavier and heavier.

 

The darkness began to recede and he saw the rays of light break through the vast, empty space.

 

He blinked his eyes open tiredly.

 

His eyelids felt so heavy and he winced in discomfort, slipping his eyes shut as they were assaulted by the sharpness of the bright lights.

 

He tried again, opening his eyes more slowly and carefully, looking away from the bright lights on the ceiling. He blinked at his surroundings, confusion filling him as he attempted to move his body.

 

He was alive.

 

Why was he alive?

 

He died.

 

He felt a sense of dread fill him at the possibility that he somehow had survived... How? It was all supposed to end with him. The shrill crying continued and he tilted his head to the side in confusion, looking around for the source of the noise. He blinked slowly, avoiding the bright lights on the ceiling, as he titled his head away from the lights. His head felt heavy. Wait...why was his head intact?! The cries stopped abruptly and he felt his heart rate pick up as he looked around him.

 

There was no one.

 

He was alone.

 

The cries.T

 

hey came from him.

 

He moved his head to the side, a strange sound omitting from his mouth. It sounded infantile. He found that he couldn't move around much. He could only tilt his head from side to side very slowly. Where did his motor skills go? He frowned and tried to move his limbs.

 

It took a while before he was able to clumsily move his arms. He moved his tiny arms upward in a slow, careful motion and blinked at the small limbs in confusion. He gazed at his clenched fists with a confused gaze. He felt his stomach drop at the sight of the tiny, pale, pudgy hands that were held in front of his face.

 

He blinked at the sight, trying to flex the tiny fingers but was unable to move them. They were clenched tightly but he felt the muscles of the tiny fingers shake in response as he tried to will them to move. His eyes widened...they were his hands.

 

He was an infant again.

 

He blinked slowly at the realization, lowering his hands to his sides and looked around. His head felt quite heavy and he moved so slowly, tilting his head to the side warily. The room was entirely bare. He was in a wooden crib with nothing on him, not even a baby blanket to cover his tiny body. He frowned to himself, letting out another infantile sound of distress.

 

Why wasn't anyone coming?

 

Where was his mother?

 

Did he have a mother?

 

He vaguely remembered a kind woman with warm eyes who pulled on his ears when he was a young boy. She wouldn't leave him wailing for a long time...the cries from earlier had been from him. He had been crying and no one had come. Why? He frowned heavily to himself. His body felt so hot, feverish and he could begin feeling the pangs of hunger he did not notice earlier.

 

He was hungry. He had been crying earlier in distress because he was hungry. He closed his eyes tightly. Nothing made sense. Where was his mother? Where was his father? Where was his sister? Where was his best friend? Did he go back in time? He felt his heart clench in longing. Would he see them again?

 

He made another sound of distress, it sounded like a small whine. Why wasn't anyone coming? He opened his eyes and wiggled in his wooden cot, looking in between the tiny bars towards the closed door. He stared at the door unblinkingly for a long moment.

 

He gazed back around the room, frowning heavily at the bareness of it. Where were the toys? The room felt so terribly impersonal and...so desolate. It was so unfitting for a growing infant. The walls were peeling, old and there was a heavy case of mold growing on the ceiling.

 

He titled his head to the side, gazing at the open window. He couldn't make out much from the current view. Clear blue skies greeted him and he could hear the faint sound of children screaming and playing in the background. There was a hot breeze coming through the window. It was summer. 

 

He gazed up at the blue skies in contemplative silence. He waited and waited in distress and hunger. His infantile whines were ignored as the door to his room remained sealed shut.

 

As the bright skies began darkening, he felt a feeling of trepidation settle in his stomach. He could hear movements, murmurs and shuffling outside his room throughout the day. There were people nearby but he was being ignored. He had been crying and whining for the better part of the day but he had been ignored. He was being neglected for reasons unknown to him.

 

The sun was beginning to set and the infant closed his eyes tightly, the pangs of hunger were unbearable but there was nothing he could do.

 

He ceased his whining as he watched the sun begin to sink into the horizon. If they ignored his shrill wails earlier, his tiny whines would not make any difference. Nothing was making sense to him. He was not back in his home, all his memories were vague and he felt an anger begin to build inside him as the night grew closer. The anger felt familiar and it offered him a small semblance of comfort.

 

He felt unsettled by the bare and decrepit room that was unfamiliar. His parents were not around. His mother would have never ignored the cries of an infant. He remembered a loving and kind woman. His father...he couldn't remember much... but from the memories he gleamed he knew that the man genuinely cared for him.

 

He needed answers.

 

Where was he?

 

Who was he?

 

Did he have a name here?

 

Why was he left alone?

 

The skies began darkening and he felt his eyelids grow heavy in fatigue. He pressed his tiny curled hands against his stomach, scowling to himself darkly, refusing to whine against the pangs of hunger.

 

He was being ignored.

 

He was being neglected.

 

He was being starved.

 

Something was seriously wrong.

 

He felt his anger spike at the people outside his door, the people willfully ignoring him, ignoring a tiny infant who needed care and love.

 

He cursed them in his head, his eyes darkening in a hot, simmering rage.

 

 


 

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

 

Time passed on in a slow and agonizing way. Everyday was slow and muddled with the banality of everyday life. The months stretched, summer drifted away slowly and in its place the icy chills of winter gave its greetings. The mundane and monotonous happenings of daily life continued on as the infant lay helplessly in his wooden crib. He was a small silent form, his cerulean gaze reproachful and intelligent beyond his years. No tears were shed from the infant and no distressed whines were heard much to the dismay of the orphanage caretakers who found comfort in his sufferings. The small infant took everything silently, not wincing at the rough handling of the caretakers. His small, cherubic face was eerily passive. His cerulean eyes were sharp and calculating as if they were cataloguing every encounter, every moment and every bruise he received from the maltreatment.

 

The moon waned and waned and the seasons changed. Snow fell onto barren windowsills and the howling, icy winds rattled the weak, decrepit structures of the orphanage. The small blond infant lay quiet, his tiny form shivering from the cold draft but he remained very silent; not a single cry or whine or sound of protest was heard from his mouth. The seasons passed and the years moved forward, a year passing and then two and then three years since he came to live in the old and inhospitable place.

 

The small orphan studied his surroundings thoughtfully, moving very quietly as he stepped carefully on the creaky wooden floors of the orphanage corridors. He was careful not to awaken the sleeping occupants of children and caretakers as he made his way down the stairs for small scraps of food. He quickly reached the empty kitchen and grabbed a few dried pieces of bread and made his way back hurriedly to his room, his stomach grumbling loudly from hunger.

 

As time moved forward, the young orphan discovered that the hatred and mistreatment geared towards him was not only in the orphanage but extended to the streets, shops, vendors and everywhere he went. He was scorned, despised, spat at and attacked by children and adults alike for merely existing.

 

It took him an entire year to learn his name and not for the lack of trying but no one ever addressed him with his name. He was always referred to as a monster, a demon and never with a name. After his first year in the orphanage, being neglected and barely fed, he found out his name from his only visitor. An old, withered man who was treated respectfully and regaled by the staff of the orphanage. The man was the leader. He was a man of great importance and they called him Hokage-sama.

 

The Hokage began his visits after a year had passed. He visited him on a monthly basis and treated him with rare kindness. The old man treated him gently and with affection but his company was short and inconsistent and he found himself bitter that the only kindness he was given was an ephemeral one. He couldn't rely on the old man. He was a busy leader and his rare visits did nothing to stop the mistreatment. Through those rare and short meetings, he finally learned his name.

 

His name was Uzumaki Naruto.

 

He still retained fragmented memories from his past life but they were fading with each passing month. He was determined not to lose everything and began recording everything obsessively. He began recording his previous memories at the age of two when he could finally use his hands for an extended period of time. The small child recorded the old memories and names of the people he loved and lost desperately. He had no possessions of his own and he stole an empty journal from one of the older children in the orphanage to narrate his tale.

 

His penmanship was messy. His small hands shook and he experienced difficulty writing the letters of his old language but he was determined to not lose his bittersweet memories. Very determined. He would commit the memories of his old life to these papers. He would not forget it. It took him a long time but he felt comforted by writing in his old language. He wrote his name a number of times on the first page to solidify the memory of his old self.

 

Eren, Eren, Eren.

 

He made a detailed sketch of his titan form and different scenes from his old life. He drew a large, red colossal form of a monstrous figure standing over a long and sturdy wall. He drew his mother from his memory, the edges of her face were soft and he took a long time to sketch the details in her eyes and gentle smile. Sketching his past and old family offered him a sense of peace that was so rare in his turbulent life. He spent many nights awake, writing and writing, drawing and drawing. His hands cramped and his small fingers grew sore from the many hours he spent documenting his old life. He noticed that the language and letters used in this life were different than his own and he felt comforted that his old tongue was only known to him; that his story would only be known to him. His secrets were kept close and guarded. Even if anyone tried to read his journal, they would not comprehend a single word. The images and depictions he drew would appear fantastical and surreal; the products of an overactive imagination and not memories of a past life.

 

He sketched his sister, her raven locks flowing in the wind. A red scarf was wrapped around her neck securely as she stood fiercely on the roof of a desecrated building, her dark eyes hard and fearless.

 

Mikasa, Mikasa, Mikasa.

 

He sketched a vast glittering ocean with calm tides that stretched on and on. He drew grainy brown sand and a blond boy standing knee deep in the water, holding a sparkling shell delicately in his open palms, gazing out at the open seas with an expression of wonder. His blue eyes were bright and his smile soft.

 

Armin, Armin, Armin.

 

He sketched a large forest with trees that stretched to the skies. He sketched men and women standing on the thick tree branches wearing dark green cloaks, swords held in their hands, their faces fierce and battle-worn.

 

He drew a dark haired man with an expressionless face and tired eyes late into the night, hearing his voice echo in his mind as he committed his memory to the page. He sketched the details on his stern face with a concentrated look. His deeply entrenched admiration and respect for his captain never fading even as he moved on.

 

No one ever knows how it will turn out. So choose for yourself, whichever decision you will regret the least.

 

Levi, Levi, Levi.

 

He drew an image of his old house and populated town. The whispers of a name - a place he once called home - echoed in his mind as his hand moved across the page. Shiganshina. His hands were sore as he drew his small family -mother, father, sister- gathered around the dinner table peacefully. He committed the memories to the pages in the dark of the night. He turned the pages and continued writing everything down, everything he could remember, every memory. Painful and happy, cruel and compassionate, tragic and hopeful. He wrote it all down, never wanting to forget where he came from, the choices he made, the lives he sacrificed. He hid the journal under his creaky bed and kept it away from the inquisitive eyes of the caretakers and the cruel hands of the other orphans.

 

He learned the new and unfamiliar language quickly. His adult mind helped him adapt and learn to read and write the letters, characters and phonetic sounds. No one was there to teach him. None of the staff wanted anything to do with him. He learned through observing the lessons the children had with the orphanage caretakers. He stole their practice books as the children slept and mimicked the letters in the books late at night by himself. He spoke the words and phrases repeatedly, softly whispering to himself to test the unfamiliar jargon on his tongue. He practiced the nuances of the new vernacular quietly every night.

 

The small child learned the different types of speech. He learned the colloquial form of speech that was used among friends and close relations and the formal speech that was used among strangers and authority figures. He found comfort in the formality of the latter form of speech. It created distance between the speakers and he doubted he'd ever use the colloquial speech that indicated a sense of closeness, camaraderie and kinship. He had no friends here, no close relations and no kin.

 

He doubted he'd allow anyone close enough to become Naruto to them, he'd always be Uzumaki. He learned that first names were used among close relations and kin. To allow someone to call him by his first name indicated trust and comradeship. He had none of that. He trusted no one here, children and adults alike viewed him as their enemy. He accepted the distance. He embraced the reality that he would go through the motions of his life alone.

 

He practiced writing on his own and he had a difficult time forming the unfamiliar letters on the pages with his small, weak hands. His motor skills were not where he wanted them to be but only growing and patience would help him. He practiced every night, patient and diligent in his studies.

 

As the first two years passed, he noticed a lot of things. He did not leave the orphanage grounds until he was fluent in both reading and writing so he spent his time carefully observing everyone around him, cataloguing microscopic details that most people missed. Being confined in the orphanage for the first two years, he noticed the vast difference in the treatment he received in relation to other orphans.

 

He was treated differently than the rest of the children in the orphanage. He noticed when the caretakers left the door to his room open on rare occasions that the children who ran by or curiously peeked into his room were better dressed than him. The quality of their clothing was still secondhand but it wasn't as shabby as his. It wasn't the lack of resources that kept him in rags unfit for the weather. It was deliberately done by the caretakers of the orphanage. The other orphans were dressed warmly for the impeding cold weather but he was in thin, inadequate rags.

 

The children were also treated with affection and care. They were hugged by the caretakers, doted on. They had their small injuries treated gently and dressed carefully in bandages. They were also fed regularly as the children ran inside from the large playground for their three consecutive meals while he only had one meal for the entirety of the day.

 

It confused him greatly and it also made his anger grow. Why? Why was he treated so differently? Why was he treated so terribly? What did he do wrong? He was only a child- a literal toddler- why was he treated with such scorn? He couldn't fathom any excusable reason for the treatment he faced. He was a defenceless child and even though he had a fully developed adult mind and a horrid past, it didn't make the blatant hate and discrimination any less painful. He knew there had to be a reason. Nobody treated anyone with so much hate for no reason.

 

He couldn't find any answers and the maltreatment continued and he was helpless to it all in his small, vulnerable form. The words and actions of those around him were legitimately abusive. With every bruise he received, his ire grew and his rage simmered but he held it all in, cataloguing every person who hurt him, committing their words and actions to his memory so he would make them pay. He would give it all back when he was stronger. He would make them pay for hurting him. He was not the type to let bygones be bygones.

 

He grew more bitter and resentful with each passing day. He had nothing to look forward too. No friends and no kin. He had nothing. He did not want to form any relations. Everyone despised him and he was too hardened from his last life. He had no want for any of it. When he grew strong enough, he would leave this wretched place.

 

He began to roam the premises outside the orphanage when he became three years of age. His legs were strong enough that he could run away from his attackers. He was finally able to command his limbs to respond quickly; to run away from the older children who chased him down to hurt and belittle him. He was much smaller than the other children, being the permanently starved one. He was a very small child for three years of age and he was able to slip into small spaces and hide, waiting for the children to grow bored. The caretakers never stopped the attacks. They ignored it and turned away as he was shoved, pushed, and attacked by the older children in the orphanage.

 

He always retaliated but he wasn't strong enough. He felt an old rage surfacing, remembering a small boy with sea blue eyes and bright blond hair being beaten down again and again as he fought for what he believed in, his blue eyes stormy and unrelenting in the face of his attackers.

 

Armin, Armin, Armin.

 

He clung to the old memories as he fought back, snarling like a wounded animal and clenching his fists in fury as he stood up again and again. The cruel laughs echoed around him as he was shoved and kicked down by those older, stronger and larger than him. The hatred not only stemmed from the orphanage but it was present everywhere. He was hated by everyone.

 

When he stepped outside onto the streets, he found the hatred was even worse. The civilians  and adults were even more cruel in their words and vicious in their treatment. At least with children, they would beat him down or throw around the same insults repeatedly due to their limited vocabulary but adults were much worse. They used more hurtful phrases when they saw him. They glared at him with so much loathing, spitting at him as he walked by them. His small body curled into himself, tight and stiff as he stormed past them. The civilians spoke loudly, uncaring of the pain their words caused. They said that he should die, that he shouldn't be allowed to live, that he should end his wretched life.

 

The small orphan balled his tiny fists in anger and kept walking ahead. He needed to explore this place, map it out, so he could leave when he was stronger. He explored the streets and noticed the people drawing away from him as he walked by, adults pulling their children away in anger and disgust. He heard the whispers, the angry hisses and loud insults and they hurt. He was a child physically and no child deserved such treatment.

 

Demon.

 

Monster.

 

Beast.

 

Fiend.

 

It was too reminiscent of another time when he was treated like a monster by those around him, glaring at him in distrust, fear and animosity.

 

What are you?!

 

I'm human!

 

Back then he had those who loved him stand by him, arguing for his humanity and fighting for him relentlessly, willing to remain by his side even if it resulted in their deaths. His sister stepping out protectively, unsheathing her blades menacingly, her expression feral as she shielded him with her body.

 

My specialty is slicing up flesh. If need be, I'm prepared to display it. Anyone interested in experiencing my skills firsthand, step right up.

 

Mikasa, Mikasa, Mikasa.

 

His best friend stood in defiance in front of the armed soldiers and military commanders, blue eyes determined and relentless as he yelled for his freedom, spreading his arms wide protectively, imploring the masses to listen to him.

 

He is not the enemy of mankind! I shall elaborate on his strategic worth with all the time I have left!

 

Armin, Armin, Armin.

 

Back then he was loved and protected but this time he was alone. Utterly alone.

 

He ignored the glares and whispers and walked around, exploring and taking mental notes of the strange things he witnessed. He noticed figures that appeared and disappeared quickly on the rooftops of the shops and buildings. They moved so fast that he thought it was a figment of his imagination, staring bewildered at the scene as the people around him continued moving and going on with their day.

 

After seeing it happen a number of times, he began to notice certain patterns. The figures were dressed in specific attire, they wore dark vests and dark pants and had pouches fastened to their sides. Occasionally, he would see figures who concealed their faces with masks. The masks depicted certain animals. He found the swift figures at certain spots around the village. Some stood as guards at the entrance of the village and others moved quickly from roof to roof, appearing occupied as they rushed ahead. It was considered normal here.

 

Observing their fast movements, the young orphan felt unsettled and wary. They would surely get in the way of his escape later...They were like the Scouting Legion flying through with their 3D maneuver gears and yet they were so much faster. He would blink and they would be gone. He needed more information. He began sticking around longer in the streets, in the shaded corners, to listen in on conversations and frivolous chatter to understand this place better. 

 


 

The village was called Konohakagure, the village hidden in the leaves. The small orphan gritted his teeth at the thought. Konoha. That was the name of his prison. The village itself was beautiful in an old, quaint way. Traditional shops and wide streets were filled with different vendors and shoppers. Civilians wore traditional long robes that were patterned with colorful  and naturalistic designs. The upperclass wore rich silk robes while the labourers and lower-class dressed in a more simplistic manner. The village was surrounded by vast greenery and thick woods. It had large mountainous monuments that held the faces of previous village leaders. The soldiers of the village were called shinobi. They were soldiers that protected the village.

 

The vendors and shops were not too different from his old home. His memories showed a similarity in shops and local businesses. The people in the streets seemed happy and content until they caught sight of him and their expressions immediately shifted and soured. The small orphan made sure to stay a safe distance from the angry adults when he walked through the village. The furious adults were always too dangerous and too unpredictable.

 

It was late in the evening and he was seated in his vacant room, tired and fatigued from spending the day walking and gathering information from his surroundings. He leaned against the wall adjacent to his small bed, a hand-held mirror in his hand. He had snagged the mirror from one of the older girls at the orphanage. It was one of the few things he owned. He gazed at the unfamiliar face peering back at him and he frowned heavily as he inspected his reflection. He had unkempt blond locks that fell into tired, cerulean eyes. He lifted his small hand and pulled gently at the skin on his cheeks. He had strange whisker-like patterns on his cheeks. He wasn't an unattractive child. In fact, he found the tiny cherubic face peering at him to be very adorable.

 

Naruto.

 

Uzumaki Naruto.

 

He was an adorable child with hair as bright as the sun and eyes as blue as the calm seas but his demeanour was like the darkest nights. He sighed heavily to himself, closing his eyes shut in fatigue. He mouthed the unfamiliar name to himself in the silence of his room.

 

"Uzumaki Naruto," he spoke. His voice was small, scratchy and unfamiliar.

 

He was a very quiet child. The sound of his own voice was unsettling because he rarely ever used it. He never spoke much. He mostly settled for nods or blank stares when he dealt with the orphanage caretakers. No one ever listened to him in the orphanage so he saw no use in projecting his voice. There was no point in wasting his breath.

 

"Naruto, Naruto, Naruto." He whispered quietly.

 

Nobody ever said his name so it became his duty to say, to remember it, to honour it. He tucked his thin legs to his chest and gazed out the dark window. It was night time and he peered at the waning moon from his window despondently. His blue eyes drifted towards the cracked and decaying ceiling. He began to count the cracks silently. It was something he did every night to help him fall asleep.

 

His sleeping pattern was sporadic. He was often interrupted with gruesome and terrifying nightmares. They were mostly memories of previous battles, blood and death. He would remain awake for hours and it would take him a long time to calm down, to come down from his panic attacks. He was no longer there. There were no more titans. He often dreamed that he would fall into the jaws of a monstrous titan, its large teeth gnawing on his limbs slowly as he screamed and thrashed in pure agony. He had woken up screaming a number of times in the middle of the night, distressed and shaking in fear but no one ever came to check on him or offer him comfort.

 


 

The young orphan began using his new name to get use to it. It was his rebirth. It was his second life and he would keep his past - Eren - hidden in the pages of his journal. To be viewed in the silence of the night when he was feeling lost and jaded by living a second time. Forced to endure this difficult existence marked with hatred, pain and loneliness.

 

Uzumaki Naruto began noticing strange things about his body when he became four years of age. He sat alone in his bedroom, gritting his teeth in pain and refusing to let any frustrated tears fall. He had been caught again by the older children who hurt him constantly and he had a significant number of scratches and bruises littering his arms. He sat by himself, wiping down the blood with an old ratty shirt, grimacing in pain and worrying about possible infections. As he wiped the blood, he saw something very strange occur. His cuts were beginning to close, the gashes that were worryingly deep were knitting themselves together, the skin sealing shut right in front of his eyes. He felt his stomach drop as he watched himself heal with wide eyes, tremors overtaking his small form as his cuts closed completely, leaving behind small feint lines.

 

It reminded him so much of his titan form, entire limbs regenerating after being bitten and torn off his body. He released a shaken breath and felt his mind race at his discovery. Accelerated healing was not normal. He had seen other children in the orphanage wearing their bandages for days, some in casts for weeks and months. But his injuries took moments to heal... His small body began to shake at the thought. He wasn't normal. This wasn't normal. No one healed this quickly. Even shinobi were hospitalized for their injuries after dangerous missions.

 

Again and again... He was living a second time as something entirely different than everyone else. He was an outlier. He was an outsider living on the margins. He was different. He was abnormal. Maybe there was a semblance of truth in the cruel words thrown at him. Was he not entirely human? He felt sick at his discovery. He was going to be subjected to a dual identity again where he oscillated between two forms, a human and non-human form.

 

Monster.

 

Demon.

 

Beast.

 

Fiend.

 

What was he? 

 

The young child took a few long breaths to steady his shaking body. He willed himself to remember the breathing exercises the mad scientist taught him when he had panicked again and again, overwhelmed by all the expectations and results demanded from him as Humanity's Last Hope. He breathed and breathed, feeling himself settle down as he rationalized his fears. This wasn't entirely bad. He comforted himself with the thought that his healing could be very beneficial to him. He could use this. Accelerated healing was not a bad thing. It could certainly help him. Sure, it made him different. It alienated him from the rest of the populace. It maybe even made him monstrous but he had lived as a hated monster once. Surely he could do it a second time.

 

Naruto nodded to himself in the quiet of his room, comforted by his thoughts and rationalization of his difference. He could use this. He felt comforted by the fact that he wouldn't be troubled with infections and other ailments normal people suffered from. This realization made him want to understand his body more. He needed more knowledge, perhaps there was information on accelerated healing in the library. He needed to gather more information. He wanted to understand chakra. He needed to learn more about shinobi and Konohakagure.

 


 

The blond child surveyed the dusty, secluded table wedged in the corner behind the stacked shelves at the far end of the room. It was an isolated, barren table and it was perfectly obscured by the large shelves filled with books and scrolls. It was the perfect spot to spend his time away from prying and loathing eyes. The small orphan was in Konoha's General Library and the building was vast and expansive. It had many tiers and floors. The lower floors were archive floors and were heavily guarded by active shinobi. They could only be accessed with a high level clearance. There were a few shinobi manning the shelves on the third floor where the small child stood surveying the titles of the books curiously.

 

It was very early in the morning and the library had just opened its doors to the general public. The small child had wandered the vast floors for a long time before he made it to his section of interest. It took him a long time to find the sections he wanted to purvey but he was adamant on learning about this new world he inhabited. He began his pursuit of knowledge with the history section and moved on to geography and economy, wanting to learn everything he could about the village. He stacked one book after another, using the stool and ladder to reach the higher shelves. The stack of books were so high that he struggled to hold onto it and he walked haphazardly on unsteady legs to his corner table.

 

He gathered many books and scrolls, placing them on the vacant dusty table in the corner, away from the prying eyes of the library staff. He gathered books and scrolls on The Shinobi Wars, The Art of Being A Shinobi, Military Tactics, Clans of Konohagakure, the establishment of the village, geography, medicine, the landscape of the Elemental Nations, economy, and even works of fiction. He eyed the children section curiously and grabbed a few books to study the fiction read to children to have an understanding of what would be expected of him as a child.

 

The small child - fours years of age - sat at the secluded table and grabbed the first book from his pile. His small form was hidden under the large stacks of tomes on the table. He began with the history books, his blue gaze curious as he began studying and learning about the establishment of Konohakagure. 

 

The hours passed in silence as he read quickly, absorbing the dry information without difficulty. The readings he had to do in his previous life were equally as dry. He recalled the boring lectures given by the mad scientist about the anatomy of the titans and the long hours he spent listening to her go on and on for hours about her titan research and experiments with a grimace. His attention span had improved significantly in her company and he had no issue spending his day reading heavy and difficult books. He spent his entire day reading, his small head buried in vast amount of knowledge.

 

The weeks passed and he quickly became a regular patron in the library. The shinobi manning the front desks did not greet him with familiarity despite his constant presence as they did with other patrons. They mostly ignored him or gazed at him with carefully blank faces as he walked past them to his designated corner.

 

He read on and on patiently for many months, covering a substantial amount of topics. He began noticing a pattern in the history books and children literature. Konohakagure used a high level of propaganda and their narrative was completely one-sided. They were portrayed as heroes and they undermined and vilified other villages such as Iwagakure, Kirigakure and Kumogakure. He could see the heavy indoctrination in the children works where the stories galvanized the Senju line greatly as the founders of the village, ignoring and negating the contributions of Uchiha line as part of the foundation of Konohakagure.

 

The career choice of being a shinobi was romanticized as the greatest and most honourable path. The Will of Fire - Hi no Ishi- was held on a pedestal and the books claimed that the village was a large family unit. That Konoha shinobi who displayed Hi no Ishi would love, cherish, and fight to protect the village.

 

Naruto inwardly sneered at the phrase, glaring at the blatant lies. He tapped his finger on the letters 火の意志 as his eyebrows furrowed in thought. The village was not a large and loving family unit. The love the village carried was not unconditional as the books claimed. It was conditional. To be loved by the village, one must serve and give up their life and freedom for the village. The blond boy scoffed at the words. He hadn't seen such revolting hypocrisy in a long time. Konoha would only offer love if one bowed down in complete servitude. 

 

He frowned heavily at the book in his hands, repulsed by the heavy indoctrination in the narrative. The village created child soldiers and idealized the shinobi life. The literature told stories of Senju Hashirama and his great exploits. It praised the powerful Senju Tobirama and depicted the brothers as powerful, courageous, and honorary Konoha-nin who showed Hi no Ishi. Children who were exposed regularly to such a narrative would desire to grow up to be like Senju brothers, yearning to become powerful shinobi whose names would go down in history. All children loved hero stories. He too as a child had wanted to emulate the Scouts, wanting to be a hero like Humanity's Strongest.

 

Servitude was painted as honourable. He felt disgusted at the realization and resisted the urge to throw the vile book at the closest shinobi he could see. There was no honour in servitude, in giving up one's freedom.

 

Konohakagure was a militaristic village that was prideful, manipulative and corrupt. There were too many fragments in the narrative. Certain things did not make sense to him and he could not find further explanations in the books. He found that most information required clearance and he could not get that as a child. The absence of information reminded him of the government in his past life. Speaking about leaving the walls had been taboo and questioning the validity of their history was considered a crime.

 

He was deeply unsettled by the permanency of the shinobi career. A shinobi served for life and was not allowed to leave the village outside a mission. To leave would be a crime. Those who left the village were hunted down and labelled as missing-nin, defectors to the village. To be a shinobi was to be shackled to the village for life. It was a life-sentence to serve until death. He felt his stomach sink at the information. That was pretty much slavery! At least in the Scouting Legion, he had the option to change his division. He could join the Military Police or change to the Stationary Guard. He could even leave completely and live as a civilian. But being a shinobi was a permanent career.

 

Naruto hid his face in the large tome as a nauseous feeling overtook him. He obscured his face within the thick pages of the book as he paled at the information. He wasn't stupid enough to display a meltdown publicly. He knew he was different. His accelerated healing and the monthly visits of the Hokage who did not visit any other orphan set him apart from the rest. He was not a normal child. He was more than that. There was a reason for his mistreatment. There was something being kept from him, a sinister secret. There was a high chance he was under surveillance and he could not risk his revulsion and noncompliance being discovered so soon. He reread the words again and inwardly sneered.

 

To become a shinobi was to sign his life away entirely. Konohagakure liked to portray that serving the village was the greatest honour ever but there was no honour in serving a village that treated him like a monstrosity of evil. He had spent an entire life in servitude as Humanity's Last Hope, fighting for everyone around him. He had only gained his freedom for a short period before his timely death.

 

Ore wa jiyuu da.

 

I am free.

 

He was not going to live a life of servitude again, shackled to a village he despised. He was not about to lose his freedom a second time. Especially to a village that despised and scorned him.

 

Living in Konoha was an utter hellish experience. He was chased out of shops regularly, restaurants refused to serve him and threw him out, adults shoved him and drunkards took an occasional swing at him. The grocery clerks gave him rotten food and charged him double the price. He wasn't blind. The village hated him and he hated them more. He would never serve such a despicable place.

 

At least in his old life he had loved ones to protect.

 

Armin and Mikasa.

 

Jean, Sasha, Connie.

 

He had reasons to fight. He had those who believed in him and fought with him and refused to believe that he was a monster. He had those who looked beyond his titan form and trusted him with their lives.

 

You are all important to me. More than anyone else. That's why...I want you all to live long.

 

But here, in this village, no one looked any further. He was a monster, a demon. He was treated like a wretched creature. He wouldn't give his life away to this village. He did not care for it. He had no love for it. He would watch it crumble and burn. His hatred was immense, his anger simmered and festered each day.

 

He would not give his life away to Konohakagure.   

 

 


 

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

 

Sarutobi Hiruzen - the Sandaime Hokage- made his way through the lively streets of the village, greeting shinobi and civilians alike with a genial smile on his wizened face. It was the first celebratory day marking the beginning of the New Year and the snow fell ceremoniously over Konoha. The streets were lit up with joyous occasions as people gathered to welcome the Shōgatsu festivities. Vendors and clan matriarchs handed out traditional osechi ryori tiered boxes. The assortment of dishes were packed together in an artful array of colours.

 

Children stuffed their faces with sweet delicate mochi and ran around with firecrackers, giggling and chasing after their friends. Shinobi and civilians lined up to eat their soba noodles and wish each other well. The well-wishes and greetings echoed through the streets gregariously among friends and strangers alike. Akemashite omedetou! The people gathered around to let go of the hardships of the previous year and welcomed the New Year with hope and optimism. Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu! Families dressed in matching kimono. The woman styled their hair beautifully in elaborate high knots, their silky locks adorned with colourful hair ornaments. Siblings, parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and families made their way to the shrines to pray for a good and prosperous year.

 

A young Uzumaki orphan was not present in the festivities. The presence of the small child soured the good mood of the crowds and the villagers had demanded that he leave the premises each year. The Sandaime was disheartened by the behaviour of the general populace as they shunned and mistreated the poor orphan again and again but he understood their anger and sorrow. The small orphan would always serve as a reminder of their losses. They had to relive their grief and each time they saw him, they were reminded of the lives they lost because of the Kyuubi attack. 

 

With a heavy heart, the old leader made his way to the cold orphanage to deliver the good news to the last living Uzumaki. He walked through the doors and made his way up the creaky stairs to the small child who was holed up in his barren room, spending his time alone, away from the joyous festivities.

 

He hadn't visited the Uzumaki child in five months. He had been very busy with council meetings and war reparations that still continued on five years after the war. It didn't help that there had been growing tensions within the Uchiha Clan and the council had unanimously agreed to relocate them to the edge of the village. He was also holding meetings with Sunakagure, hoping to build a strong and indissoluble alliance that would remain strong.

 

Rasa - the Yondaime Kazekage - seemed like a very promising Kage and he had high hopes for their upcoming alliance. He was also dealing with the aftermath of the Kumokagure incident. He continued to hold meetings with Kumo delegates to maintain the ceasefire between both villages. The Sandaime had lot of issues to address, meetings to hold, missions to assign as the Kage of Konohakagure. He unfortunately did not have the time to spare to be around the Uzumaki orphan.

 

He knocked on the door of the closed room gently and waited but there was no response. The Uzumaki child was a very quiet child and he seldom spoke, preferring to communicate with the occasional nod and small body gesture. The Hokage opened the door to the room and gazed around with disheartened eyes. The room did not hold any material possessions or drawings that indicated that someone inhabited the place. The bareness and impersonal touch of the room made his heart clench in sadness. It felt like it was the room of a stranger and not the room of a child who lived there for five years. There was nothing there that showed Uzumaki Naruto's presence, personality, likes and dislikes, dreams and hopes. It was completely barren.

 

The room was neat and clean. It always was. The Uzumaki child was clean and orderly. But the room lacked a personal touch. Without the small rickety bed in the corner, the room would be completely empty. Just a desolate space with only a place to sleep. It was like no one lived there.

 

The rooms of the other children in the orphanage always spoke of their occupants. There were personal drawings, books, pictures, toys, haphazardly tossed clothing and trinkets lying around. Each child tried to leave their own personal touch behind in their rooms, as if they desperately wanted their rooms to hold their stories. But this room did not hold any personal touch. It was  entirely lacking, as if the occupant would disappear and no one would believe that someone had occupied the space before.

 

He found the small orphan standing in front of the window, his arms folded over his stomach as he gazed down at the populated and colourful ambiance on the streets of the Konoha as the populace celebrated the Shōgatsu festivities in gregarious excitement. The child was dressed in layers of black clothing. He wore large long sleeved shirts, thick and rumpled on his small form. He wore thick black cotton pants and black socks. The darkness of his attire made him seem like he was in a perpetual state of mourning. He had never seen the child wear bright colours, or any colours for the matter. He was always dressed in black. The only semblance of colour was the Uzushio emblem on his clothes, the red swirl that most of Konoha wore in remembrance of their sister clan.

 

The small child's hair was overgrown and fell to his chin in messy blond waves. His blue gaze was watching the festivities from his window with a forlorn expression on his face. The Sandaime gazed out the window at the packed streets, the loud celebratory noise filtered through the open window. The Hokage did not like the juxtaposition of the village celebrating joyfully while the Uzumaki orphan stood in his cold desolate room, bereft of company and happiness. The old man watched the small child with a heavy heart, his expression grew weary and tired.

 

He stepped into the barren room, greeting the Uzumaki child gently. The boy did not respond verbally to his greeting but gave him a nod of acknowledgement, his cerulean gaze still locked on the window. The Sandaime sighed heavily and gave the child the good news which he hoped would brighten his dour disposition a bit. The boy turned to him with narrowed eyes, his expression marred with disbelief and anger.

 

"What did you say?" The small orphan whispered sharply.

 

His voice was hoarse and scratchy from disuse and he gazed up at Hiruzen in barely concealed anger. The Hokage blinked in confusion at the hostility etched on the child's face. He lowered his smoking pipe from his mouth and repeated his words carefully.

 

"I said that when spring comes, you'll be starting your education in the Shinobi Academy."

 

The blond child stared at him in silence for a long moment, his gaze disbelieving and irritated.

 

"Why?" He rasped, his eyes narrowing at the news.

 

The Hokage stared bewildered at the small child, not understanding his reaction one bit. Most of Konoha's children loved the idea of becoming a shinobi and serving the Leaf. They would have been overjoyed at the news of being enrolled in the Shinobi Academy. It was the greatest honour there was. To serve and live with the Will of Fire was every child's dream. 

 

Why is Naruto-kun so hostile at the idea of becoming a Konoha-nin?

 

"Naruto-kun-"

 

"Uzumaki, Hokage-sama." The child interrupted swiftly. "Please do not address me with familiarity." He spoke sharply, his blue eyes cold and unforgiving.

 

Hiruzen gazed at the cold look on the child's face with a heavy heart, his face falling at the realization that he was complicit in Naruto's pain. He deserved the distance that child was forcing between them. After all, he hadn't visited him or checked up on him in five whole months...but he had been so busy and being a leader was a great responsibility. The hat of the Kage was a heavy weight to bare.

 

He sighed to himself heavily in resigned acceptance. He had really hoped to stop this from happening. Naruto was supposed to be hailed as hero. Minato Namikaze's sacrifice was supposed to allow him to live a loved and cherished life, enamoured and adored by all of Konoha. But the grief was too strong and the loss was too painful and the people of Konoha could not love this child. They could not forgive and forget. The village had done this to the Uzumaki orphan. They had morphed him into a closed off, distrustful and detached child who did not seek out affection, familiarity or friendship with anyone.

 

He hadn't seen such a gaze on a child's face since the warring periods. He didn't like it. This wasn't what was supposed to happen. But his hands were tied. Being the Kage did not make him omnipotent or indestructible. He too was regulated and he could not make decisions on his own without the council's stamp of approval.

 

"Very well Uzumaki-kun. As a ward of the village, you will be enrolled in the Shinobi Academy."

 

"But why? What if I don't want to become a shinobi?" The child asked in a low tone, his eyes narrowing at the information, a deep frown marring his youthful face. "Do I not get a say in my own life?"

 

Hiruzen shook his head slowly, a pensive expression etched on his haggard face. "I'm afraid you cannot chose a civilian life Uzumaki-kun. As a ward of the state, the decision does not fall to you. The village has chosen for you to become a shinobi and this edict cannot be rescinded."

 

The boy turned away from him and gazed out the window silently, his face was obscured from the lingering and watchful gaze of the Hokage.

 

"Another thing Uzumaki-kun." Hiruzen added slowly, making sure that the child was still listening to him.

 

"You will be moved to an apartment covered by the village. You will also be given monthly stipends to cover your living expenses." The old man pulled an envelope out of his robe pockets and held it out.

 

The child turned around and took the envelope silently, not saying a single word. The silence stretched on as the young orphan gazed at the envelope in his small hands with a pensive expression on his cherubic face. The Hokage watched him with heavy sadness and reluctance.

 

I'm sorry Naruto-kun. There's only so much I can do to help you.

 

"When can I leave?" The child asked quietly, his voice low.

 

The Sandaime looked around the barren room sadly. "We can go now. Do you need time to pack?"

 

The boy shook his head quickly and approached his bed, bending down and grabbing a small backpack that held all his belongings. Hiruzen felt his stomach drop at the sight. It was such a small bag and the child was already five years old and everything he owned was so little. The Hokage released a long breath, the sounds of the villagers were loud and boisterous outside, they continued celebrating the New Year with their families and loved ones happily while the small orphan stood in his cold room clutching onto his tiny bag of belongings with a hard look in his eyes.

 

Hiruzen felt so old and defeated gazing at the small child. He had failed the memories of the boy's parents. He had failed the memories of Kushina and Minato. He was supposed to look after Naruto-kun. But there was only so much he could do. He was only just one man. He hoped that the academy would be a place where Naruto would open up and make friends. There was still hope. He would remain optimistic. Perhaps the young children in the academy would not be as hateful and discriminative as their parents. He really hoped that would be the case or else the boy would grow into something dark and hateful.

 

The Hokage had once hoped to show him the real Konoha, his Konoha, one where everyone smiled and lived together in warmth and unconditional love. Watching the small child leave the room without a backward glance, his tiny form curled protectively over his small bag of belongings, his limbs too thin and body malnourished, he realized that his Konoha was not the same Konoha the Uzumaki orphan knew.

 


 

The small orphan looked around the sparsely furnished rundown apartment with a deep scowl etched on his face. The apartment was old, creaky and was located in the heart of the Red Light District. The Hokage had walked him to the apartment, avoiding the crowds of the festival, and had left him at the door after handing him the key. The blond child looked around at his surroundings, setting his small bag down on the wooden floor. He shook his head to himself in disbelief. This village was unbelievable.

 

They were forcing him to become a shinobi. The leader of the village came personally to tell him the good news with a smile on his face like he was expected to respond joyfully, that he should be honoured that his choices -permanent life altering choices- were being made for him. They were signing him up to a life of servitude, taking away his personal autonomy and future from him, making it all seem like they were bestowing upon him a great gift. He didn't want to serve Konohakagure!

 

His rage simmered and intensified. He clenched his teeth bitterly, grinding them in anger, refusing to scream and tare his new apartment to bits. It wasn't fair. This was his life. It belonged to him. They had no right to dictate his path for him. They had no right to take his choices away from him. But there was nothing he could do now. He was too powerless. He was too weak, too vulnerable to fight back. He would be immediately taken down if he showed his resistance. He felt disgusted by his own vulnerability and weakness. He hadn't felt this powerless in a long long time. The orphan stood in the decrepit living room, his body shaking in rage. How dare they? How dare they try to control him? How dare they try to map out his life for him? He wouldn't allow them. He wouldn't live a caged life a second time. He wouldn't.

 

He clenched his fists angrily, his body growing hotter by the second as his ire and hatred grew. An anger old and new surfaced and simmered through his veins. He hissed sharply as he felt a burning sensation move through his veins, a hot feeling that was familiar and unfamiliar began building up as his vision turned red at the edges.

 

He hissed, a low animalistic snarl escaping his throat, as he raged against the village, its people, its rules, its leader. His vision grew red and he saw red coils spread from his body, circling around his small form like ominous wisps of energy. He felt his nails extend into claws, the feral growls rumbling louder and louder in his mind. The heat encompassed his entire form and his mind whirred in a cacophony of angry, hateful and spiteful thoughts. He felt the room fade slowly, the red colours overtaking his vision with each passing second. He frowned to himself in confusion, his mind feeling muddled and heavy. He swayed on his feet as his anger began subsiding slowly as he gazed at the red coils omitting from his body in alarm. His eyes widened as he stared down at his hands in horror.

 

Claws.

 

His fingernails had sharpened into vicious claws in his moment of intense rage. He felt the claws rescind, disappearing as if they were never there as his anger quickly turned into fear. 

 

"What the fuck?" He whispered in a low tone, blinking in bewilderment at the raw power omitting from him.

 

A strong feeling of wrong wrong wrong encompassed his entire form as he began shaking. He stumbled in shock and fell to the ground, his knees slamming to the hard wood harshly as he blinked around him in bewilderment. The red raw power rushed forward towards him and engulfed his body in a wave of oppressive heat, disappearing under his flesh, making him feel winded and out of breath. The orphan sat on the ground stunned, his breathing erratic as he gazed down at his hands in confusion and great alarm.

 

"What the hell was that?" He rasped quietly to himself, his mind spinning in confusion and alarm.

 

He blinked at his tiny hands that were back to their original form. The raw wisps of red power were gone. The animalistic growling that was pounding in his head faded completely. He swallowed dryly. Did he imagine it all?

 

He shook his head roughly, feeling dizzy and nauseous. No. It was too real to be a figment of his imagination. There was something...there was something there...inside him? It didn't make any sense but the growling came from his throat and it was resounding in his head, as it was trying to claw its way out of the deep recesses of his mind. The claws manifested from his own hands, his short nails had elongated into sharp and dangerous animal talons. This was all coming from inside him... In his great moment of colossal anger and indignation, he was able to draw on something powerful and terrifying...

 

The heat had felt strangely familiar... In his vague moments before his rebirth, he had felt the same searing heat like the one he felt...

 

What is happening to me? What the hell is going on?

 

"What am I?" He whispered hoarsely, digging his palms roughly into his eyes as he tried to make sense of the turbulent chaos of his new life. He felt a strong fatigue overtake him and he stumbled in shock and exhaustion and felt his consciousness fade away quickly. Black spots filled his vision as he fell to the ground with a loud thud.

 

 

Everything went black.

 


 

Shōgatsu- Japanese New Year festival.

Osechi ryori- Japanese New Year food.

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu- Happy New Year.

 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Four

 

The sound of dripping resonated through the vicinity and a rancid smell proliferated through the air. The small child opened his eyes in confusion, looking around blearily at his surroundings. Naruto frowned to himself, his blue eyes widening in alarm as he sat up in bewilderment. He eyed his surroundings in confusion, his heartbeat increasing rapidly as he strained his eyes, gazing at the vast open space. He released a startled breath and frowned in confusion, feeling a cold wetness on his skin. He looked down, blinking at the sight of the dark water covering his small hands. He pulled his hands away and stood up warily, looking around. It was dark and he moved slowly, his small steps echoing through the wet space.

 

Splash, splash, splash.

 

He moved forward slowly, his nose wrinkling at the dank and musty smell. The place smelt old and unaired, as if it was kept locked up for a long long time. His eyes widened as he saw long, long bars stretching up to a vast height. He inched closer warily, keeping a safe distance from the bars and peered into the darkness. His eyes widened in shock as he recognized the dark red coils of malignant energy seeping from behind the bars. He stepped back in fear, a terror overtaking his small form. Something insidious was behind the bars. Something old and powerful. He felt it in the air, the ominous chill and the rare power omitting from the closed space.

 

He surveyed the bars as a large, unfamiliar form inched closer into the light. Crimson eyes glared at him vehemently, sharp canines glinted dangerously in the dim light and a low animalistic snarl escaped from the creature’s maws. Naruto fell down to his knees in shock, his blue eyes wide as he stared at the massive red creature.

 

Tails.

 

There were so many tails. The creature was a massive and overwhelming size. He surveyed it warily, his blue eyes lingering at the bars. His heart plummeted as he recognized the bars for what they were.

 

A cage!

 

It was a cage. 

 

“What?” He croaked weakly in bewilderment.

 

What was happening? Where was he? Why is there a cage here?

 

The creature snarled at him. Its speech was coherent and lucid but its voice was grainy and scratchy like that of one so ancient and powerful.

 

“Get out.” It snarled.

 

Its voice echoed through the vast space and its miasmic energy expanded from behind the bars. Naruto’s head spun at the sight, his breath leaving his body in startled and terrified gasps. A feeling of fear, revulsion and confusion ran through him all at once.

 

Bars, bars, bars.

 

Cage, cage, cage.

 

Wrong, wrong, wrong. 

 

He felt his body being pulled away from behind by an invisible force. The red coils lunged forward at a neck-breaking speed, slamming into his small form and sending him ricocheting through the darkness.

 

Away and away and away.

 


Naruto woke up with a sharp gasp, his small body shivering and shaking in confusion and alarm. His mind raced with innumerable thoughts as he tried to make sense of what happened. He let out a low groan of distress as he thought of the monstrous form and dank space. The child shuddered in fear and wrapped his arms around himself. A feeling of wrong wrong wrong encompassed his shaking form.

 

"What the hell was that?" He rasped weakly.

 

He sat up slowly, feeling dazed and sickly as he looked towards the open window blearily. It was dark outside. The moon was full and there were large clouds floating in the sky. The night was oddly quiet and his window was wide open. The cold, icy air drifted through the open window and chilled his small body.

 

Naruto frowned to himself as he shivered, gazing at the open window in thought. Had it been open earlier? His brows furrowed in thought, his hot breaths creating small puffs of air in front of him. No... He was sure the window was closed when he came in. How? He felt a shiver run down his back in alarm. 

 

The feeling of being watched always trailed him wherever he went and he felt it greatly increase as he remained frozen, seated on the cold floor. He always felt lingering eyes on his form as he moved through the streets and he always made sure to close his bedroom curtains in the orphanage. The feeling of being under constant surveillance made him feel nauseous. The lack of privacy and intrusiveness of the village grated him immensely. 

 

He gazed at the dark skies in bewilderment as he remained on the ground, his mind finally taking note of how much time had passed since he lost consciousness. It had been morning earlier... He had passed out for the entirety of the day.

 

Naruto gazed around at his surroundings warily. His anger had receded and he was left feeling numb, weary and incredibly discombobulated. He titled his head up and gazed at the ceiling in thought, recalling the words of the Sandaime earlier. 

 

As a ward of the state, the decision does not fall to you. The village has chosen for you to become a shinobi and this edict cannot be rescinded.

 

Naruto scowled to himself in irritation and took a few calming breaths to center himself as he felt his anger rise a second time. He breathed deeply, taking long moments to settle himself and clear his mind, compartmentalizing his anger as he tried to figure out what to do with the news. He needed to be smart about this. He needed to be patient, to bide his time, to grow powerful, and wait for the right moment to leave the wretched village. 

 

Konohagakure never ceased to make him feel repulsed by their actions. 

 

They took a young boy who was five years old and made him live alone in an apartment and left him to his own devices with no supervision or guidance. Like he would miraculously know how to cook, clean and do laundry at the tender age of five. He was expected to live by himself.

 

It was unbelievable.

 

He shook his head, repulsed by their actions. If he didn't have a fully matured adult brain and experience from the past, he doubted he'd live very long. He'd probably accidentally start a fire or give himself food poisoning or starve to death. His apartment was located in the Red Light District. His neighbours and the locals around him would be drunkards, prostitutes, thieves, scammers and organized groups of criminals. The dregs of society. 

 

Naruto groaned in distress and picked himself up from the ground, making his towards the bare kitchen. He began opening the drawers one by one, his frown deepening as he surveyed the empty contents. There were a few sets of bowls and sparse cutlery in the drawers. He climbed the countertop, hoisting his small body up with shaky arms. He opened each cupboard and scowled at the empty content. There was no dried or packaged food for him to eat. He'd have to attempt to grocery shop... He sighed heavily at the thought. The shop clerks always chased him out or charged him double and gave him rotten fruits and vegetables.

 

"Fucking hell," he hissed to himself in anger, slamming the cupboards shut. 

 

He slid off the countertop and stomped to the open window angrily and slammed it shut, cutting off the grating noise of the drunkards on the streets. He secured the lock on tightly, ensuring that it wouldn't be opened by anyone. He drew all the curtains back on his window, obscuring himself from view. Naruto walked around inspecting the rest of his apartment, looking for anything odd or out of the ordinary.

 

He was paranoid and he was certain that he was under constant surveillance. He was certain his window was closed when he first entered the apartment. It wouldn't make sense to leave it open in mid-winter and he would have noticed the cold that permeated through the space when he first entered his new abode. Naruto moved slowly around his apartment, his eyes critical and assessing. His search showed nothing out of the ordinary -no hidden seals- and he felt comforted that at least in this apartment, he had a semblance of genuine privacy. 

 

The blond sat on the couch wearily, his face in his hands as he thought of the dark, rancid space. What was that? How did he even get there? Was it a dream? He shook his head at the thought. Everything felt too real - too tangible - to be a dream. Naruto dug his fingernails into his arms, releasing a long breath. Whatever it was...it was terrifying and it did not want him there.

 

Naruto sighed heavily to himself, shaking the discomforting thoughts away. He needed to focus on the now. He took a deep breath, compartmentalizing his fears and anxieties. He stood up and walked to his small bag of possessions and pulled his journal and writing utensils out of his bag. The blond sat on the couch and opened the journal to a clear page. He tapped his pencil thoughtfully against the surface of the page as he contemplated his next course of action.

 

He needed to plan.

 

He was now forced to become a shinobi, to become a solider. He needed to alter his plans. He still planned to leave because fuck you Konoha! His sentiments towards the village would never change. He hated it. He had no love for it. He despised it and he still planned to leave. But he needed to create specific alterations to his plans now that he would be forced to spend years in the Shinobi Academy and train to become a Konoha-nin.

 

Naruto opened the journal to a new page, writing the changes in his old language.

 

Train.

 

He needed to train and get stronger. He still retained his previous memories of his military training when he was a cadet and then a scout in the Survey Corps. He knew how to fight. He had endured years of long and rigorous training in the Training Corps as Eren. He had withstood long practice sessions in all kinds of harsh weather from thunderstorms to snow blizzards. He learned how to use the 3D maneuver gear which required great physical strength and honed his spatial awareness to battle successfully in the air. He learned to stabilize himself in the face of great horrors and danger, strengthening his mental aptitude and not wavering amidst chaos and colossal destruction.

 

He was also efficient in swordsmanship. All military cadets were trained in using dual swords, cutting through the flesh of the titans while flying in the sky with their 3D-maneuver gear. Cadets could battle mid-air, propelling their bodies forward with their iron wires. Flying, twisting and rolling their forms at an impressible speed. He remembered the impossible ways Corporeal Levi's body would bend and move in battle. Bending, whirling, rolling, ricocheting and slicing through his enemies at an inhuman speed. 

 

He was not worried about having to kill as a shinobi. He and Mikasa had killed when they were nine years of age. They had taken down three experienced and dangerous human-traffickers with their blunt weapons. He remembered his father's horrified expression when he found the bodies of grown men taken down by two small children. He had been so angry and he had mutilated the men, stabbing and skewering their bodies in a fit of rage.

 

I disposed of some dangerous beasts. Mere animals that just happened to resemble humans.

 

He had killed for far less later in his life and he would do it again in a heartbeat if anyone tried to threaten him or enslave him forever. He had orchestrated a revolution and instigated a war, killing many innocents who were caught in the crossfire. He had led an entire genocide as a one-man army on the rest of humanity. He had killed thousands and thousands of men, women and children. He had lots of blood on his hands and he wouldn't hesitate to shed more if Konohakagure dared to shackle his freedom permanently. 

 

He did not have any issues with becoming a monster. He was not ruled by morality, by right and wrong, by do's and dont's. He did not operate within the confines of the general consensus. He had his own moral compass and although it was very skewed, it worked for him and it served him well. No one before him had ever led a one-man genocide on the rest of humanity for the sake of freedom. He operated on a different level from everyone else. 

 

I don’t have time to worry if it’s right or wrong, you can’t hope for a horror story with a happy ending. It's a cruel world out there. 

 

Naruto flipped through his sketches, gazing at one detailed sketch of his old squad, flying in battle, cutting down titans. His eyes narrowed on the sketches of the iron wires of the 3D maneuver gear. If he could recreate that... He could create a fighting style suitable for him. Like a puppeteer, he could create wires or strings that could latch onto his enemies or penetrate through hard surfaces to propel him forward or away from an attack.

 

He tapped his finger on the page thoughtfully, his mind racing with possibilities. He knew chakra could be manipulated to take on any form. Perhaps he could create thin chakra strings like the 3D-manoeuvre gear wires to aid him in battle. They would need to be thin, impossible to see, and they would help him catch his opponents off guard. He would make it work. He would need to hone his chakra control impeccably.

 

Naruto made detailed notes carefully. He would need to get more books on chakra manipulation and begin practicing thoroughly. He had done the rudimentary exercise in the orphanage and discovered that his element was wind. He released a small huff of amusement at the thought. Wind. How fitting. He was truly a free spirit that wouldn't be shackled down by anyone. His element was so fitting. He wrote down more ideas hurriedly, his mind racing with innumerable possibilities.

 

Dual swordsmanship.  Kenjutsu. 

 

He turned the page and wrote down his next concern. 

 

Shinobi Academy.

 

Naruto circled the words carefully, tapping his pencil against his lips in deep thought. He needed to be careful with himself when he attended the academy. He knew his adult perception made him mature beyond his years and he doubted training in the academy would be difficult for him as a war veteran, as Humanity's Last Hope, and as a figure of the revolution in his old life. But he didn't want to stand out too much. He didn't want to be under more scrutiny. There was still so much he needed to learn and understand about himself before he brought on further attention.

 

Mediocre.

 

He nodded to himself circling the words slowly as he solidified his plans. He would keep himself in the middle in terms of performance. He would never show his real strength. He would keep his strength hidden until he was strong enough to leave, to defect from this wretched village. He wouldn't become the top student and his pride wouldn't let him be at the bottom. He refused to be last in his class. He had too much pride for that. He would perform adequately, keeping himself in the middle and away from the spotlight. 

 

Naruto closed his journal tiredly, his head spinning from all the thoughts and planning. He needed a hot shower to get rid of the grim and sweat off his body and then succumb to a deep, long slumber.

 


Naruto made his way through the populated streets and entered a grocery chain store. The owner scowled at him from behind the counter but he made no attempt to kick him out. The blond made his way through the shelves, eyeing the produce carefully. He took a few items off the shelves and made his way to the counter, his eyes cold as he set the items down.

 

The store owner sneered at him rudely and glanced down at the fresh vegetables and box of dried noodles dismissively. The rotund man tapped away on the cash register with a mean scowl on his face. He doubled the price of the items and glared down at the child expectantly.

 

Naruto clenched his fists angrily. "That's too much," he hissed quietly, glaring at the store clerk.

 

"That's it or nothing demon!" The clerk spat, his spit flying out of his mouth and hitting the boy in the face.

 

Naruto scowled and wiped his face in disgust. He pointed a finger towards the price tags.

 

"The pricing doesn't match." The blond hissed lowly.

 

The clerk's face turned red in anger as he glared down at the small child. He picked up the box of dried noodles and threw it at him. Naruto's eyes widened and he shifted to the side but the box cut his forehead, its sharp edges breaking through his soft skin.

 

"Get out!" The man yelled. "I was being generous and you dare complain! Get out you demon!"

 

Naruto held a hand to his bleeding forehead and glared at the man in seething anger. He knelt down and picked up the box of dried noodles, tucking it under his arm securely. He opened his coin purse hurriedly, scowling deeply at the clerk. He pulled out the correct amount of ryo and slammed it down on the counter with a low snarl. The clerk jumped back in fear as Naruto glared at him, his cerulean eyes enraged as the blood gushed down his face. He reached forward and grabbed the fresh vegetables off the counter and spun on his heel, ignoring the sputters and indignant yells of the store clerk.

 

"Stop you thief!" The man yelled after him.

 

Naruto whirled around, his expression livid and the man stopped short in fear and alarm, gulping at the sight of his thunderous face.

 

"I paid the right amount as indicated by the price tags." The blond hissed, glaring one final time  in revulsion and exited the store with a deep scowl on his face.

 

The child walked through the village, his gait fast and angry as he made his way through the villagers who sneered and glared at him. He wiped the blood that continued to gush from his forehead and rushed forward on fast small feet, his arms struggling to hold all his groceries without a bag. He turned a corner moving fast and slammed into a solid body sending him and his belongings to the ground.

 

He hissed in pain at the impact and he fell to the ground roughly. His bangs were matted to his face from his injury and they obscured his vision.

 

"Oh Kami! Kid are you okay?" A feminine voice spoke.

 

Naruto pushed his bloodied bangs away, hissing at the sharp pain omitting from his forehead and glared up at the person in front of him. His blue eyes widened in apprehension as he saw a group of shinobi gazing down at him in alarm. The woman had long straight purple hair and brown eyes that gazed at him in shock and concern as she surveyed his injury.

 

Naruto looked behind the female shinobi and counted three other male shinobi. One was wearing a mask covering the lower part of his face and he had a head of spiky silver hair. He was tall and had his hands tucked into his pockets. He was watching him with one wide grey eye, his other eye was obscured with his forehead protector. The other shinobi had plain facial features and short brown hair. His face was carefully blank as he regarded Naruto silently. No emotions seeped through his expression. The final shinobi appeared very young. He was shorter than the rest of his group and he was very pale. He had straight raven hair tied in a low ponytail and dark black eyes.

 

The female shinobi knelt down in front of him and extended a hand towards his forehead. Naruto flinched from her touch and scampered backwards quickly, his blue eyes guarded and uneasy. She was a shinobi. She wore a dark green vest and there was a long katana secured to her back. She could really hurt him. The woman paused, her hand outstretched towards him. Her eyes grew wider in alarm as she stared down at him.

 

"Hey kid, I'm not going to hurt you." She spoke softly, her expression gentling.

 

Naruto scowled at her, not believing a word coming out of her mouth. His form was tight and poised to run. His blue eyes slid towards his scattered groceries and then back to the group of shinobi warily.

 

"What's your name?" The woman asked gently.

 

Naruto glared at her and at the other shinobi watching the scene unfold in silence. Why does it matter? He scrambled to his feet and pushed his bloodied bangs away in annoyance.

 

"Uzumaki Naruto," he spoke in a quiet tone. He eyed his scattered groceries and began picking them up hurriedly, his eyes sliding to the shinobi uneasily.

 

"Naruto-kun, you should go to the hospital." The woman spoke gently.

 

Naruto bent down, ignoring the woman and hoisted the box of dried noodles in his arms with a grunt. He blinked rapidly against the pain thudding through his head and shifted the package in his arms.

 

"Naruto-kun, you need to go to the hospital." The woman repeated softly. "The village cares for its people, you can get treatment-"

 

"Right, people." Naruto cut her off with a sardonic look. "The village cares for people, not monsters." He rasped lowly, his blue eyes cold.

 

The woman froze, her eyes blown wide in shock. "Naruto-kun-"

 

"Uzumaki." Naruto snarled, his thin patience dissipating completely.

 

"Don't address me with familiarity. I don't know you." He hissed, turning on his feet and moving away from the group of shinobi, his shoulders tight and posture tense.

 

"You need to get healed. That looks very bad!" She called out after him.

 

Naruto looked over his shoulder with a cold and hostile glare. "I'll heal, I always do. It's not like this is a first." He spat, turning around and rushing away, leaving a group of stunned Konoha-nin behind him.

 


Yūgao Uzuki watched the angry and bitter child rush through the crowds, his blood soaked bangs clinging to his forehead and his thin arms filled with groceries as he avoided the bodies of the villagers as he moved quickly. She watched with wide alarmed eyes, her entire form shaken at her heart-breaking encounter with the son of Namikaze Minato.

 

She turned to her teammates and exchanged glances with the youngest member of Team Ro. Young Uchiha Itachi appeared troubled, a deep frown marred his usually expressionless face as he watched the blond child disappear entirely from sight. She knew Itachi had a little brother the same age as Uzumaki Naruto and the encounter unsettled him as he thought of little Sasuke.

 

Yugao had never seen such a distrustful and bitter child before. His gaze, the gaze of Uzumaki Naruto, was that of a tired, weary veteran, one who lived through hell and despised the world for showing him such ugliness. She frowned at her thoughts. He was hurt and injured and he refused help, eyeing her in suspicion and apprehension, his small body tense and taut.

 

He was a broken child.

 

The kunoichi sighed heavily to herself, feeling so torn and disheartened at the encounter. There was nothing she could do. There was nothing any of them could do. They could not involve themselves with the Jinchuruki.

 

None of them could do anything. 

 

Uzumaki Naruto was on his own.

 


 

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

 

The skies were a dark grey and the silence resonated through the quiet village as the early hours of dawn continued to pass by peacefully. Naruto was dressed in thick layers of dark clothing, his overgrown golden locks hung loosely to his chin in messy waves. He was running laps around the village, his breath fogging in front of him from the cold chills of the departing winter season. The small child continued his third lap around the village quietly; the melted snow and ice crunched underneath his feet as he jogged at a steady pace.

 

Naruto's body was getting accustomed to taking runs every morning in the early hours of dawn. It had been months of diligent exercise and he was seeing a great difference in his stamina, agility and physical strength. The peaceful silence of the early morning allowed him to sort through his thoughts and plan ahead for the day. Naruto had snuck into the woods at the edge of the village continuously and spent a few hours each week stocking on fish from the streaming river. He found that hunting for food was easier and less hazardous than grocery shopping although it was more time consuming.

 

Naruto ended his daily run by reaching the village gates. Konoha was a very large village and his current stamina only allowed him to cycle the village three times in total. He paused, resting his hands on his knees as he took deep long breaths, wiping the sweat from his forehead. He eyed the looming gates of the village with cold eyes silently, vowing under his breath that he would walk through them one day and never look back.

 


 

The blond child set down his book on Chakra Manipulation, depositing it on his bag and stood up with a determined expression. He stretched his arms and legs slowly as he prepared himself for his tree walking exercise. He was in the thick woods at the edge of Konoha, standing away from the streaming river. The small blond closed his eyes and breathed deeply, sensing the tendrils of chakra respond to him as he put his hands together in a quick seal.

 

Naruto took a deep breath and stepped towards the tall trees, channeling his chakra to his feet and stepped onto the tree trunk. He took two steps before sliding off the surface and falling down. Naruto landed on his back with an omph and stared up at the tree in confusion. He hissed in irritation and stood up, channeling his chakra to the bottom of his feet again. He rushed forwards, running at a quick speed. He took five steps, climbing further up the surface before he began falling down again. The blond turned his body mid-air and landed on his feet, crouched down to his knees. He gazed up at the damaged bark with a frown.

 

The blond took a deep calming breath and drew back, trying again. He stuck to the surface longer, taking more measured steps before he began sliding down again. Naruto gritted his teeth and tried again, and again, and again. The hours passed by and the sun began sinking into the horizon, painting the skies in shades of orange, red and a hue of purple. The small boy kept practicing relentlessly, ignoring the sheer exhaustion in his muscles and body.

 


 

Naruto felt a rare smile spread on his lips. His facial muscles twitched under the unfamiliar sensation of smiling as he stood upside down, his feet infused to the bottom of the thick tree branch. It was a rigorous and exhaustive practice and it took him three full days to master tree walking. The small orphan hung upside down, feeling a sense of accomplishment course through his body as he gazed at the woods from a different altitude.

 

Naruto hung upside down, his arms crossed over his chest, a rare sense of serenity spread through him and he closed his eyes, cherishing the quiet space and gratifying sense of achievement. He enjoyed the cool breeze against his hair and released a content sigh.

 

The blond froze as he heard a crack of a branch further down and he opened his eyes immediately, cerulean gaze sharp and searching. He narrowed his eyes as he gazed at the stranger who stood a few feet away, standing on the ground and gazing up at him curiously.

 

Naruto moved quickly, running down the length of the tree and falling into a defensive crouch as he reached the ground. He stood cautiously and eyed the stranger, trying to gauge the level of danger he was in. The stranger was an adolescent shinobi.

 

The shinobi had dark wavy hair, thick curls fell over pale and gentle features. He was attractive. His eyes were a dark black colour and they were framed with thick long lashes. He was quite tall and lean. His posture was laid back and carefree. He was dressed entirely in black; a long katana was strapped to his back and his dark eyes held none of the animosity he was accustomed too. He appeared mostly curious and a tad bit amused.

 

"I have been wondering who kept trespassing into our woods and hunting on our grounds. I didn't expect a tiny kozō." The stranger spoke, his lips lifting into a faint smile.

 

Naruto bristled silently, his brows furrowing in confusion. Trespassing?

 

The teen arched an eyebrow, picking up on his confusion.

 

"Ah, you didn't know. This is private property but that's alright, you're not really causing any harm." He said as he eyed the damaged trees with amusement.

 

Naruto's eyes widened. Private property?

 

He had been training and hunting...on private grounds? He felt his stomach drop. Shit! Konohagakure clans were extremely territorial and rigid. They would definitely categorize him hunting down their animals as theft. The small child took a wary step back from the teen, his gaze searching possible exits desperately. He was entirely alone in these woods and if the shinobi wanted to carry out punishment for damaging private property, he would be screwed. He'd definitely put up a fight but this was a seasoned shinobi and he wasn't...yet. His chances of winning were incredibly slim.

 

Shit shit shit! He had let himself fall into a vulnerable position, venturing deeper and deeper into the woods for each training session. He had checked though. He didn't enter through any compound gates and these woods were towards the edge of the village... They should have been free space, not owned land.

 

Naruto took another step back, his eyes sliding to his bag which was closer to the teen. He would leave it behind. His safety meant more than a few books and rusted kunai.

 

"Easy there kozō, I'm not going to do anything." The shinobi spoke, raising his hands placatingly, his expression gentle.

 

Naruto's eyes narrowed, an angry scowl overtaking his face. Yeah right. He was hated by everyone. This shinobi would be no exception. He wouldn't take any chances, with anyone. He would find another place to train. He wouldn't come here again.

 

The teen crouched down and Naruto paused, watching him warily, his eyes tracking every microscopic motion with sharp eyes. The shinobi grabbed his bag and tossed it to him. Naruto caught the bag and stared at the teen in confusion. The shinobi took a few steps forwards and knelt down a few meters away from him.

 

"Say kozō, how old are you?"

 

"Five." Naruto rasped quietly, his blue eyes narrowed in suspicion.

 

The teen's eyebrows rose. "And you're hunting here, why?"

 

Naruto scowled at him angrily. Because he had no choice! Why else would a five year old spend hours every week fishing? For fun? Hah! It was because no one would let him buy food peacefully and they wanted him to die of starvation. He didn't want to receive anymore injuries at the grocery shops when the clerks chased him out or whipped the store products at his face. He had no choice but to hunt. He was reduced to catching prey in the wilderness like an animal because the populace of Konohakagure did not want him around.

 

He spent his days away from the streets and alleys, away from the businesses and shops because the only place he could find peace and feel a sense of safety was alone in the woods. He spent more time in the woods then he did in his own apartment. The woods were his safe haven. There was the occasional fox and stag but animals were very transparent in their intentions and he never felt endangered around them. The real monsters were always parading around under human flesh. In this life and his old life, humans always turned out to be the real monsters hiding under a veneer of civility. He had seen them revert back to feral beasts when their comforts were taken or jeopardized, killing one another like animals. They were mere beasts in human form.

 

"To eat." Naruto hissed quietly, glaring at the teen angrily, raising his chin high.

 

I hunt to eat! I hunt to live! I hunt to survive!

 

Naruto clung tightly to his backpack, scowling ahead at the pale teen. The only way out of the woods was past the shinobi. Behind him was the streaming river and he did not fancy a dive in the dangerous waters. Fucking hell, I fucked up. His body tensed as the teen gazed at him with a troubled expression. He was stuck. The small orphan grit his teeth angrily and braced himself for the scorn, for the violence, for the inevitable pain.

 

The teen's troubled expression softened and he stood up quickly. He appeared in front of him in a flash. Naruto froze and raised his arms up to protect himself, his body tense, expecting the violent blows to hit him. The teen reached forward and rested a large hand on his head, ruffling his hair gently. Naruto's eyes widened in confusion at the touch, his body freezing in alarm.

 

What?

 

"What?" He rasped, his eyes wide and bewildered.

 

The teen reached into his vest pockets and drew out a small box. He held it out to the boy with a soft smile.

 

"It's not much but it's all I grabbed on the way home." He said with a small smile.

 

Naruto stared at him in confusion and suspicion, refusing to lower his arms. The teen settled the box down by his feet and stepped back, putting space between them.

 

"You can keep coming here kozō. I usually patrol this area and I don't mind." He said with an easy smile before he turned around and shunshined away. Naruto gazed at the empty spot in stunned silence. He blinked in confusion, his eyes widening as he recognized the insignia emblazoned on the shinobi's back.

 

The Uchiha Crest.

 

That was an Uchiha clan member.  

 

Naruto eyed the box warily and hurriedly took shelter behind a large boulder. He threw a pebble towards the small box, crouching down quickly, his hands covering his ears. When nothing happened and no explosion followed, he made his way back warily, his small feet trotting on the forest ground. He sat down and wedged the box open, blinking at the sight of the round, colorful rice cakes.

 

Naruto blinked at the sight and closed the box, feeling confused and wary. Why? He didn't think the Uchiha were considered friendly folks. The strange shinobi was kind. He didn't reprimand him for trespassing onto their private property. He approached him with curiosity and appeared troubled that he was hunting for his personal sustenance.

 

Why?

 

The first person to treat him with a semblance of normalcy, of kindness, like he was just another human being was an Uchiha. Why? Why does he care? Why should he even care? 

 

Naruto sighed, shaking his head at the idle thoughts. He discarded the box of ricecakes onto the ground, refusing to eat any of its contents in suspicion and made his way out of the woods silently.

 

He didn't need kindness.

 

He didn't need anyone.

 


 

The small orphan made his way through the populated streets of the village towards the Shinobi Academy. He had a small black backpack strapped onto his back and was wearing black shorts with a black t-shirt and black sandals. Everything he owned was black and he liked the absence of colour on his body. He found that his outfits always matched his mood - sombre and grave- they were a reflection of who he was. He found that dark colours suited him. After all, if he was going to be a shinobi for an extended period of time; he needed clothing that did not make him stand out.

 

His sunshine coloured hair was a shining beacon of gold but he could do nothing about it since it was basic biology. The weather was hot and humid. The sun barred down harshly on his tanned skin and he huffed in annoyance as he pushed his sweaty locks from his eyes.

 

It was his first day at the Shinobi Academy

 

As Naruto got closer to the academy grounds, he saw families standing outside in the expansive playgrounds. Parents stood with their children bidding them a good day. The parents that noticed him began whispering among themselves as their children gazed at him curiously.

 

Naruto ignored the whispers and walked with his head held high, his steps even and demeanour unbothered.

 

Don't sit near him.

 

Don't play with him.

 

He's bad.

 

Stay away from him.

 

The whispers continued and he clenched his teeth, keeping his face carefully blank as he made his way through the crowds. Naruto entered the shinobi academy and made his way through the corridors where older students were lingering with their friends, chatting eagerly among themselves. He located his classroom and pulled the door open, ignoring the curious stares of the children -his classmates and peers- as he made his way towards the back row.

 

Naruto chose the back row so he could keep an eye on everyone in the room. He didn't like the idea of having his back open and sitting up front made him feel vulnerable. He took a seat in the corner adjacent to the window and opened his bag, taking out a treatise on military tactics and read quietly as he waited for class to start. 

 

Naruto sneered at the content of the book. Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. This village held the notion of teamwork on a pedestal and he despised the collaborative notion of working with others. He had no desire to work with anyone. He had managed alone in the past, using his own powers, relying only on himself till the bitter end. He did not need a team to achieve his goals.

 

A team of loyal, indoctrinated Konoha-nin. How nauseating.

 

The blond closed the book in irritation and surveyed his chatty peers with an indifferent face, cataloguing their interactions, noting students grouped together based on familiarity.

 

It appeared that a large portion of his classmates knew each other prior to the academy. Naruto rested his chin in his palm and watched as an overweight, pudgy child munching through a bag of chips greeted another boy with spiky locks in familiarity as he entered the classroom. The familiarity and camaraderie between his classmates made sense since Konoha children played with each other in the public parks and spent time together in the village. It was an activity he did not partake in - play with others - even though he was a child again. He simply did not have the privilege of companionship as the hated demon of the village.

 

The noise picked up around him as their sensei walked in. He was a tall man with blond hair and a thick scar that ran across his cheek to his chin. He had light teal eyes and a sharp voice. He barked at the children to settle down and take their seats, taking out the attendance sheet and began to call the names of the students. There were a significant number of clan children in his class.

 

Nara, Akimichi, Yamanaka, Aburame, Uchiha, Inuzuka and Hyuga.

 

The sensei's introduced himself as Yukino Eichiro. He did not belong to any of the big clans.

 

Civilian born? Naruto wondered silently.

 

Eichiro sensei paused on his name and searched the classroom, locking eyes with the blond child in the corner. His open expression hardened and he continued down the attendance sheet with a scowl. Naruto sighed heavily. Great. His academy experience would be no different than his experience with the rest of the village. It was hate, hate, hate everywhere he went. This place was no exception. The sensei began lecturing them on conduct, classroom rules and expectations.

 

The first lesson was a historical lesson on the foundation of Konohakagure and the geography of the Elemental Nations. Naruto zoned out of the lecture, gazing out the window in boredom. He knew all that information from his extensive reading. Nothing the sensei was sharing was new knowledge to him.

 

"Uzumaki-kun!"

 

Naruto turned his head slowly towards the angry teacher. He gazed at him with a blank look, his chin resting in his palm in boredom as he waited for the man to continue.

 

"Who were the founders of Konoha?" The teacher barked, slapping a hand against the chalk board as he glared at the small boy.

 

Naruto sighed quietly. Eichiro sensei was attempting to humiliate him in front of the whole class on his first day. There was no doubt that the man wanted to make the child appear ignorant and foolish in front of his peers. Picking on a five year old, real mature sensei. The students craned their necks and watched the exchange curiously, their small faces were eager and anticipatory for a spectacle. Too bad for all those gathered, Naruto was prepared for everything.

 

"Senju Hashirama and Uchiha Madara," Naruto drawled in a low tone.

 

The sensei continued to glare at him, appearing very irritated that he knew the correct answer.

 

"Pay attention Uzumaki-kun!" He barked, turning back to his lesson. 

 

Naruto watched the sensei lecture with a disinterested gaze, his mind was occupied with more important matters. He had successfully managed to create chakra strings that were invisible but the process of creation was incredibly time-consuming. He was still in the early stages of application and development and he faced quite a number of issues and barriers.

 

To his dismay, Naruto struggled immensely with his chakra control. Chakra stings required impeccable control and great precision and he found he had too much chakra, too much raw power, and hence his control was abysmal. The strings required honed chakra skills - an impeccable mastery over chakra- and great accuracy was needed for their successful maneuvering.

 

It was frustrating! 

 

Naruto took out his journal and appeared to be taking notes when in fact he was creating diagrams of his chakra strings, outlining their trajectory. His other struggle was to have the strings move more effectively, using them to latch onto objects. He found that when he infused more chakra into the strings, they grew sharper and stronger. They were similar to the wires of his 3D Maneuver Gear. They were able to penetrate through surfaces with enough power and he had been practicing for many months in the woods.

 

Strangely, the more he practiced, the more he discovered that he had lots and lots of chakra. Practicing for long hours, Naruto worried that he would deplete his chakra reserve since he was a small child but he never reached the point of depletion. It was another mystery to add to his list of many mysteries. He briefly wondered if it was his bloodline limit - his kekkei genkai - but he quickly dismissed the idea. Massive chakra reserves did not seem like a bloodline ability.

 

The first three lessons passed by uneventfully. Eichiro sensei had called on him two more times, trying to catch him off guard with his questions but Naruto was able to answer adequately, keeping his answers brief and rudimentary. The bell rang for lunch and the students grabbed their bento boxes and rushed outside. Some stayed behind to eat in the classroom, some already forming groups.

 

There was a large group of girls surrounding the pale Uchiha child like a group of overeager hyenas, shrieking loudly for his attention and the small pale boy looked very uncomfortable and overwhelmed by the commotion.

 

Naruto closed his journal in irritation at the loud noise and tucked it away in his bag. He turned away from the annoying presence of his female classmates who were salivating over their peer and ignoring the Uchiha's obvious discomfort at the attention. Naruto slipped his backpack on, not trusting anyone with his belongings. Some of the students eyed him in distaste as he made his way to the door. He ignored their hostile glares, barely holding back a disgusted scoff.

 

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. They were exactly like their parents.

 

Naruto wasn't going to bother with any of them. They were children. He wasn't going to waste his precious time fighting them. He was well above their level. They were five! Their opinions of him did not matter at all. Spending time with them was literally like hanging out with a bunch of babies and he had no patience for such endeavours. His mind capacity was that of his nineteen year old self. He had died when he was nineteen, decapitated by the one he loved.

 

He was a seasoned war veteran. He use to be called a suicidal bastard but later on he become known as a genocidal monster. The whispers and glares of children did not affect him. He brushed off their loud whispers and exited the room.

 

The blond made his way through the grounds, looking around for a quiet and empty spot. The children ran around, playing a game of ninja where some pretended to be Konoha-nin while the others were enemy-nins. Naruto shook his head at the sight, sneering inwardly in disgust. Even the games children played in Konoha spoke of the deep indoctrination in the village. The poor children had no idea what horrors awaited them when they found themselves forced to kill, bleed and die for the village.

 

Naruto made his way towards the sparse trees by the playground. The area was mostly vacant. There was a boy with a long sleeved jacket that hid half his face and dark glasses that obscured his eyes. He was crouched down by the bushes, watching the insects on the grass with deep concentration. Naruto's cerulean eyes narrowed in thought.

 

Aburame.

 

The Aburame Ichizoku were one of the four noble clans of Konoha. They were known for their insect-based Kekkei Genkai. They were excellent trackers and were reserved and quiet people. He catalogued what he knew about the Aburame clan in his mind silently as he observed the quiet child.

 

Naruto walked past the boy and made his way through the trees. He could see the entire grounds from his vantage point and he moved over an ant hill, taking care not to step on any of the insects. He may abhor humans but he had nothing against insects and animals. They were harmless. They were easy to understand, driven purely by their instincts to eat, sleep and mate. They were never a danger to him. They were predictable.

 

He dropped his bag down and took a seat in the shade, leaning against a thick tree and surveyed the grounds of the academy. Naruto's watched the rowdy children chase each other on the playground with cool, assessing eyes. He sneered in annoyance, irked by the realization that these children would be his future teammates. He would be subjected to a genin team when he graduated from the academy. It was inevitable. He would be stuck with that team doing many missions until he made chuunin, until he was strong enough to leave from his prison.

 

Naruto scowled at the thought. They would slow him down. Having to work alongside children who breathed and lived for the village made him feel incredibly disgusted. It didn't help that all the children around him were so incredibly incompetent, especially the kunoichi population. His female peers were all gushing about cute boys and their desires to look amazing and eye-fetching when they became konoha-nin. The blond shook his head at the ridiculous thoughts.

 

Cute boys...what the actual fuck? They were five! Why were they even thinking of that? 

 

He knew when his team was formed that he'd have no patience if he was stuck with a squealing, dumbstruck teammate. He would snap faster than anyone else if he was stuck with a salivating, screaming hyena like those who circled around the Uchiha child. He released a long sigh and closed his eyes, resting against the tree. The lunch hour passed quickly for him and the bell rang, signifying the end of the lunch period, cutting off Naruto's despondent thoughts.

 

The blond made his way back to the classroom, ignoring the hunger pangs his body felt. He didn't have the time to make food with all the training he was doing and he had no adult figure in his life who ensured that he was well-fed. Making bentos every morning was a very time-consuming activity. Naruto made his way back to the classroom with an drawn sigh. He took a seat at the back row and waited for the hours to pass.

 


 

The blond child watched his peers rush out of the academy into the waiting arms of their families. The children ran forward, greeting their parents excitedly. The older students walked at a more leisurely pace, waving goodbye to their friends as they left the academy.

 

The blond boy blinked at the sight of the small Uchiha in his class running speedily by him as they exited the building. The small child rushed away from the crowd of squealing girls, an annoyed scowl etched on his pale face as he avoided their grabby hands. His small cherubic face brightened up considerably as he looked across the grounds and picked up his pace, a big smile overtaking his irked expression. He threw himself at an attractive, pale preteen who stood a few steps away from the crowd of parents and engulfed him in an enthusiastic, tight hug. The older Uchiha caught the small child easily, a soft smile overtaking his stoic face as he gazed down at the younger.

 

"Nii-san! You came!" The Uchiha child exclaimed loudly. His face brightened significantly as he beamed up at his brother.

 

In class, the small Uchiha was closed off and appeared wary of his peers, mostly the screaming girls who latched onto him and gave him no room to breathe. In that moment he was beaming happily and very brightly, gazing at his older brother like he hung the stars in the sky. Naruto looked away from the warm scene with a despondent expression and picked up his pace as he left the academy grounds. He had no reason to go home immediately. No one was waiting for him at home and the sight of children being welcomed by their parents made him remember his own family with longing.

 

This time he was born an orphan. It was a painful existence. To live without parents and to return to a silent home was hard. Even with an adult mind and perception, it didn't make the loneliness any less bearable. In fact, it made it more potent. He had lived with the warmth of a family before. As Eren, he had a doting and nagging mother, a patient and understanding father, an overprotective and clingy sister. He had a family once - mother, father, sister - in Shiganshina.

 

The silence in his apartment was so crippling and unbearable at times. He would never go home to a warm greeting. He would never say I'm home! as he entered through the door. There would never be a welcome back, a how was your day? or a hot dinner on the table waiting for him.

 

Family

 

He would never have that again. 

 

To have a mother and a father.

 

To have people who would cherish him and treat him with unconditional love. He would never have that. He felt alone and orphaned. The fate of an orphan was a heavy burden to bare. To be an orphan was to experience a loneliness not known to many people. It was to bare a great loneliness -a giant aching chasm in his chest- from his birth and for the rest of his life.

 

The absence of a family was painful.

 

Naruto blew his blond locks out of his eyes dispiritedly and walked past the pair of Uchiha brothers as he left the academy grounds. The orphan made his way through the village, his hands clenched tightly onto his bag straps. He walked slowly, not eager to return to his empty, cold apartment.

 

He walked around aimlessly, ignoring the whispers and glares, gazing at the families and friends gathered together, shopping, eating and socializing. He released a long breath and kept walking, picking up his pace as he made his way through the crowded streets. He shook his head, pushing away the disheartening, gloomy thoughts and compartmentalizing them, shoving them into the deep recesses of his mind.

 

He pushed his priorities to the forefront of his mind as his expression hardened into resolve. He needed to train. That was all that mattered. He would train to get stronger. He would make training and growing in strength his sole purpose for now.

 


 

Kozō- brat, kid, youngster.

Ichizoku- clan.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

 

The blond child swung his bag over his shoulder and locked his apartment door with a soft click. He made his way down the stairs of his decrepit apartment building and walked through the Red Light District with a blank face, his hands shoved deep into his pockets. The afternoon sun bared down on the rambunctious streets and made the air heavy and unpleasant.

 

The streets were filled with the dregs of society. Prostitutes wearing heavy layers of cosmetics lingered outside the brothels hoping to catch patrons for the day. Men adorned in worn-out rags sat on the curbs, their gaze sunken and shrivelled bodies eyeing the people who passed by them hungrily. Young teenagers with haggard expressions raced ahead in ripped and thin clothing, their nimble fingers sliding into pedestrian purses and money pouches. Naruto kept to the corners of the alleyways, ignoring the calls and hollers of his neighbours and walked ahead with a hurried pace.

 

He kept to the corners and made his way through the crowded streets, reaching the more affluent areas of Konoha. He avoided the irritating and spiteful civilians who glowered at him as he walked by. He made his way to the thick woods at the edge of the village, climbing over high stone boulders and jumping over green shrubs as he delved deeper and deeper into the woods.

 

Naruto made his way towards the streaming river and set his bag down by the water bank. He made his way towards the clearing of trees and rolled his shoulders silently, stretching his arms slowly and diligently. The blond carried out a series of slow stretches and listened to the satisfying pop of his bones, working on stretching out his muscles slowly and meticulously.

 

Naruto bent his knees and rolled his ankles a number of times, making sure to stretch every part of his body. He released a long breath and closed his eyes, focusing on manifesting his chakra to his fingertips. He opened his eyes, gazing at the thin strings in concentration and wiggled his fingers experimentally, infusing more chakra into each string, watching as they grew longer and longer. He directed the stings to his discarded bag and concentrated, wrapping them on his few rusty kunai. He had collected the rusty blades from abandoned training grounds. The blades and knives were old and rusty and he had no other means to secure weaponry. The clerks of the weapon shops refused to sell him any products so he had to collect discarded and used items instead.

 

Naruto wrapped his chakra strings around the handles of his knives and flexed his fingers sharply, pulling the blades towards him at a fast pace. He leaped backwards and moved his fingers quickly, changing the trajectory of the blades and aiming towards the trees, watching in sharp concentration as they penetrated the wood. He tsked to himself, a heavy frown on his cherubic face as he eyed his work in dissatisfaction.

 

His aim was still inadequate.

 

Naruto sighed heavily, flexing his fingers upwards, pulling the blades out of the wood with a grunt. The dull weapons sailed through the air and he moved away quickly, crouching down and angling all his fingers simultaneously to the right, propelling the blades into another direction. They sailed past him and sunk into the wood.

 

Naruto kept practicing diligently, tsking to himself quietly every time his mark was off. He moved his fingers quickly, picking up his speed as he leaped backwards and forwards, ducking, spinning, bending and crouching downwards hurriedly. His fingers moved at an erratic pace and the blades sailed and whisked through the air in a crazed frenzy of fast movement. Their trajectory was non-linear and impossible to track. Naruto pivoted on his feet, bending his fingers and moving from one spot to another. The sound of the blades cutting through the air and his frenzied movement made him look like a deranged orchestrator caught in a hypnotic crazed trance; the sharp wisps of the blades cutting through the air was his deadly symphony.

 

The blond's crazed feverish movement seized immediately as he felt a presence behind him. Naruto whirled around and flexed his fingers minutely, launching his blades at the intruder in a quick, fluid motion. He watched with wide eyes as the familiar figure dodged the attack easily with a single fluid motion.

 

Naruto pulled his knives back and gazed warily at the adolescent Uchiha. The dark haired teen gazed at the rusty weapons curiously as they remained floating in the air, suspended and poised for attack, hovering protectively in front of the small orphan. His eyebrows rose in wonder and his dark eyes lit up in excitement as he stepped forward. Naruto took a step back warily and the teen froze, his brows furrowing at the cautious behaviour.

 

The teen surveyed him for a few silent moments, his dark eyes flicking to his tense form before he smiled disarmingly.

 

"Hey kozō. Not fishing today?" He asked with a cheeky grin.

 

Naruto narrowed his eyes and watched the friendly shinobi in apprehension. The teen stepped forward slowly, bending down to his level and appraising the floating knives curiously. He poked the floating blades and whistled appreciatively.

 

"I never thought I'd see a Suna technique here in Konoha. Although it's very different..." He commented with a smile as he gazed at the small child appraisingly.

 

Suna? Ah, right. Sunagakure shinobi were known for using puppets in battle. They used chakra strings to maneuver their puppets expertly, sending the inanimate dolls flying towards their enemies. Naruto didn't need puppets to make his chakra strings lethal. He had hardened them with enough chakra and they could slice through hard surfaces and latch onto objects relentlessly. He was still in the early stages of development and testing his uncommon techniques.

 

The blond withdrew his chakra strings with narrowed steely eyes. The rusted blades clattered loudly to the ground with nothing to hold them up. Naruto collected them warily, eyeing the stranger occasionally as he gathered his assortment of dulled weaponry.

 

"I think it's neat. You'd definitely take everyone by surprise. Although you looked like a mad dancer." The teen said with a playful smirk. "Did you think of the style all by yourself?"

 

Naruto glared at the shinobi and nodded slowly, unsurely and hesitantly. The teen beamed in response, wide and bright.

 

"That's impressive kozō!" He reached forward and ruffled his hair, ignoring the tensing of the small child's body.

 

The teen lowered his bag from his shoulder and sat down on the grass, his legs crossed at the ankles. He shuffled through his bag and pulled out a wrapped box. He grinned up at the child and patted the spot in front of him. Naruto remained standing and eyed the Uchiha shinobi warily.

 

What the hell did this shinobi want?

 

"Do you like dango? I bought too many earlier for my cousin but it turns out he's not home yet."

 

The teen opened the box and there were rows of dango dumplings, shining with syrup, pink, green and white in colour. The teen held out a stick of dango but Naruto did not reach out for it. He remained standing, watching the teen in suspicion. The shinobi chuckled and popped the dango in his mouth, chewing and arching an eyebrow at him.

 

"Not poisoned, I promise."

 

Naruto glared at him in irritation.

 

"Why?" He rasped in a low tone.

 

This was the second time the Uchiha offered him food. His behaviour made no sense at all. What did he want? He had nothing to offer him. He was a five year old orphan with nothing to his name. His possessions were meagre. All his belongings were secondhand and old. He couldn't think of a single thing he could offer to the shinobi. Why was he here?

 

The teen blinked at him in confusion. "Why people eat dango? Hmm...the many mysteries of life I suppose."

 

Naruto glared at him in irritation. "Why are you here? Sitting here offering me snacks?"

 

The shinobi continued chewing. He tilted his head to the side and eyed him curiously. He hummed under his breath for a moment and then shrugged carelessly.

 

"Well the woods belong to the Uchiha Clan although this area is outside our compound parameters, it still belongs to the clan. I was on patrol duty and I noticed a chakra signature and then saw it was you. Also the dango...hmm..." He appeared to be thinking to himself for a moment. He shrugged a second time.

 

"I don't know. Don't most children like dango?"

 

"You said it was for your cousin." Naruto accused with a glare.

 

The Uchiha smiled. "Aha! You caught me kozō! No, it's not for Itachi-kun. He's not due home for another week or so."

 

"But why?"

 

"Well..." The teen cleared his throat and smiled at him gently. "Food tastes better when you eat it together."

 

Naruto remained silent. The Uchiha continued gazing at him, his expression open and friendly. The blond child continued to scowl at him, his arms crossed over his chest in a defensive manner. Naruto's frown deepened as his stomach began to growl at the sweet smell of the dough pastries. The teen chuckled in amusement and held out a stick of dango in a friendly offering.

 

"Well kozō. Will you stand all day or will you sit?"

 

Naruto shook his head with a fierce scowl and walked away from the shinobi, grabbing his bag and slinging it over his shoulder. The teen made a small sound of disappointment that was  ignored by the blond. Naruto sent him another cold glare before he trudged away from the Uchiha and out of the thick woods. He had no desire in becoming friendly with anyone, especially a shinobi who lived and served this vile village.

 


 

Much to his great dismay, Naruto ended up learning more about the adolescent shinobi who refused to leave him alone. The irritatingly friendly teenager showed up a number of times in the woods each month, barring boxes and boxes of pastries, his dark eyes amused and his lips lifted in a delighted grin. He was a parasitic presence, one that would inhabit a place and refuse to leave, constantly latching onto its person of interest. It was irritating and very annoying.

 

The teen refused to leave him alone! He was like a bad infection, one that started off slow and harmless but eventually grew into something harder to ignore.

 

It was a month after their second encounter that Naruto learned his name.

 

Uchiha Shisui.

 

Shunshin no Shisui.

 

He was a renowned genius among Konoha-nin, a favorite among the Uchiha Clan and was known for his friendly and amiable personality. For reasons beyond his comprehension, the Uchiha sought him out whenever he was training in the woods. He always came with a snack of freshly baked goods and attempted to share it with the Uzumaki child. Naruto remained adamant in his refusal, glaring at the teen in suspicion and keeping his distance warily. He occasionally cut his practice short when the teen showed up, leaving with an annoyed scowl on his face when the other dropped by to chat and hang out.

 

Eventually Naruto stopped leaving the woods since he was losing precious training time and suffered the teen's company with an annoyed scowl. He continued his training, moving around in a frenzied dance as he whipped his blades around from left to right, up and down, in a linear and non-linear trajectory. He ignored the Uchiha who watched him curiously, making constructive comments once in a while about his performance and trying to entice him close with snacks. Naruto wanted nothing to do with him. He wanted nothing to do with anyone in this awful village.

 

He wanted Uchiha Shisui to leave him alone.

 


 

The months passed and the seasons changed, the snow melted away into the bright buds of spring. The weather grew warmer and the sweltering heat of summer gave its greeting. Naruto continued training diligently - relentlessly - for hours and hours in all types of weather, be it rain or shine. His first year in the academy passed by, each day was monotonous and incredibly dull. He remained under the radar, hiding his potential and intelligence from his peers and instructors, slipping into the background unnoticed more and more with each passing day. Naruto continued training in the woods, upgrading his techniques and trying out new methods of unprecedented, unconventional manoeuvres. He was very innovative and his ideas were boundless.   

 

Unfortunately Uchiha Shusui remained a fixture in his life, an irritating friendly presence that refused to leave him alone whenever he showed up to hunt or train in the woods. The teen was not there every time but he was there often enough that it was impossible not to grow familiar to his presence.

 

It was a chilly autumn day and Naruto was practicing with his chakra strings, flexing his fingers sharply and infusing more chakra as the strings hit the tree, splitting the bark under the impact. Naruto's eyes gleamed at the success, his blue eyes bright and satisfied at his progress.

 

He heard an exuberant yell, followed by the sound of someone leaping to the ground. He rolled his eyes, not having to turn around to identify the voice.

 

"The great Uchiha Shisui is here!"

 

"Nuisance." Naruto hissed under his breath.

 

"You wound me kozō."

 

"And?" Naruto rasped in irritation.

 

The Uchiha laughed in utter delight.

 

"Anyways! To celebrate our friendship anniversary, I have decided-"

 

"We are not friends." Naruto snapped in irritation.

 

Shisui's grin widened, his dark eyes sparkling in mirth.

 

"I decided to celebrate our friendship by imparting great wisdom and knowledge onto my young pupil."

 

Naruto glared at him. Pupil? What the fuck? Since when?

 

"Lame." He spat.

 

"Kozō! My heart splinters at your coldness and lack of enthusiasm! Anyways you ungrateful brat, today I will teach you the basics of taijutsu... hmm maybe even the great art of shunshin as well."

 

"Hmph."

 

"Where is your enthusiasm? I will eat all the dango I brought today!" The pale teen threatened.

 

Naruto gazed at him in silence. Shisui crossed his arms over his chest and pouted at him like he wasn't the adult one here. Naruto blinked slowly, his eyebrows furrowed at the harmless threat.

 

"...You..." He began slowly, his blue eyes narrowed and expression deadpan.

 

"...You always eat all the dango Uchiha."

 

Shisui's eyes widened and he dropped his offended stance. He chuckled in amusement as he rubbed a hand over the back of his neck in an embarrassed motion.

 

"Aha... That's...unfortunately true..."

 

Naruto sighed heavily and withdrew his chakra strings. He rolled his shoulders and turned to the pale teen expectantly. If Shisui wanted to impart knowledge onto him - knowledge that would make him grow stronger - he was not about to turn him away. His sentiments towards the Uchiha didn't change. He was annoying - he was irritatingly friendly - and he smiled way too much. Naruto didn't like him. He found his carefree demeanour and bright presence very grating but he wouldn't turn away the opportunity to grow and learn from a famed genius.

 

Shisui grinned brightly, his pout disappearing completely in the face of Naruto's acquiescence. The Uchiha leapt back in a flash, putting a few meters of distance between them and spread his legs apart, raising his arms up in a defensive stance. He beckoned the small blond forward with a finger and a maniacal grin.

 

"Let's see what you got first kozō."  He grinned wide. "Fight me."

 

Naruto scowled angrily and lunged.

 


 

The blond glared up at the orange hues of the setting sky from where he lay sprawled out on the grass, heaving and coughing from heavy exertion. Shisui stood above him grinning wickedly at his expense, not a single curl of his dark locks were out of place. The bastard was not even sweating while Naruto's clothes clung to him like second skin from all the sweat and grim on his body.

 

"Fuck you!" Naruto rasped in anger, groaning as he rolled onto his stomach.

 

Every single part of his body was in pure agony. His bruises had bruises. His clothes were rumpled and torn, mud and dirt caked his hair and covered most parts of his body. He was sure if he didn't have fast accelerated healing abilities, he would have to crawl to his apartment because his legs were on fire. His entire body felt like it was on fire. Every part of his body was burning from exhaustion and pain. His head was pounding and he was wheezing pathetically from fatigue and discomfort.

 

Uchiha Shisui was a monster and he was utterly ruthless. He was incredibly fast, almost impossible to track. He moved fluidly and every single attack was precise and lethal. If he wanted to kill Naruto, the blond would be long dead. The Uchiha did not hold back. He did not handle him like a child even though he was a five year old physically. The pale Uchiha had pummelled him to the ground, ruthlessly correcting his form and mistakes through attacking him in his open, vulnerable spots.

 

Oho, you left your stomach open - Hard kick.

 

Tsk tsk, there's an artery here kozō - Harsh punch.

 

Aha! Your jugular is unguarded - Sharp jab.

 

Shisui laughed in utter delight as Naruto glared up at him in anger. The blond pulled himself to his feet with a loud groan, his world spinning and frame shaking. Shisui clapped him on the shoulder, grounding him before he tripped over his own feet. Naruto hissed in anger and pain but he was secretly grateful Shisui was tough on him when correcting all his mistakes.

 

Naruto didn't actually want to be treated like a delicate child who needed to be coddled. He wasn't a child. He needed to get strong and time was precious. But the pain...oh the pain... It was pure agony. It felt like Shisui had rearranged his insides by beating him down brutally. Shisui remained next to him until he was sure he wouldn't fall over. A few moments passed in silence where Naruto focused on catching his breath. Shisui clapped him on the shoulder with a grin and leapt back a few steps.

 

Naruto gazed at the Uchiha who stood a few meters away, stretching his arms and legs in preparation.

 

Shisui grinned widely. "Now since we've completed our warmup, let's start our lesson kozō."

 

Naruto's brain screeched to a stop, his blue eyes bulging in utter shock.

 

"What?!" He screeched in an uncharacteristic scream of disbelief, anger and shock.

 

The crazy Uchiha sniggered. "You get five seconds of rest and then we officially start."

 

"What?!"

 

"Five."

 

"That's not-"

 

"Four."

 

"How is this even-"

 

"Three."

 

"Stop counting!"

 

"Two."

 

"Fuck you Uchiha!"

 

"One."

 

Uzumaki Naruto snarled in anger as Uchiha Shisui cackled wickedly.

 

They both lunged forward.

 


 

One Year Later

 

The colourful leaves crunched under his feet and the chilly wind of autumn blew through his golden locks as the blond moved his small hands in a quick seal, swapping his body -Kawarimi no Jutsu- with a wooden log as the kunai embedded into the wood sharply. Naruto ran up a tree speedily and leapt towards a thick branch, ducking and avoiding the slew of blades sailing towards him. He glared ahead at the pale Uchiha who grinned widely at him before sending a storm of weapons hurtling towards him. Naruto leapt from the branch and put his hands together in a fast seal, creating five impeccable clones.

 

Six small darkly clad bodies charged towards the Uchiha who moved his hands in a fast seal. Shisui took a deep inhale of air and breathed fire - Katon Gōkakyū no Jutsu -  Naruto leapt away from the massive bout of flames and scowled as his other clones disappeared under the searing heat.

 

The pale Uchiha moved in a flash, appearing behind him and attacking in a flurry of kicks and punches. Naruto blocked, dodged and retaliated fiercely. His body took a smaller amount of damage in comparison to a year ago. Naruto sneered and blocked a punch aimed to his face, blocking with his forearm and moving in with a kunai in his other hand, aiming for the Uchiha's torso. Shisui blocked the blade, grabbing his thin wrist and hurling him over his shoulder, sending him flying towards the trees.

 

Naruto twisted in the air and used the momentum to push against the tree, sending his body sailing back towards the pale Uchiha. With a blade between each finger, he threw the knives towards the shinobi. Shisui blocked each knife with a single kunai, moving like a whirlwind of intense speed. He rushed forward, a blade held in his hand and cornered the small blond.

 

Naruto's eyes gleamed in a calculating manner as the Uchiha rushed right into his intricate web of chakra strings laying dormant on the forest ground. Naruto flexed his fingers upward and the invisible strings sailed forward, wrapping around the Uchiha's ankles in a vice-like grip. Shisui's eyes widened in shock as the strings tightened around him. He grunted in annoyance as they latched tightly on his legs, winding up and up, digging into his flesh painfully.

 

Naruto vindictively imbued malignant chakra into his strings, hardening them into steel and began moving his fingers slowly in a downwards motion, his fingers slowly curling to form a lethal fist. Shisui looked towards his enclosing fingers and he released a startled laugh as the strings began to cut through his skin. The red drops of blood began to paint the grounds of the woods.

 

"Really kozō? We both know what will happen if you form a fist." The Uchiha said with a feral grin.

 

Naruto shrugged uncaringly. "You said to fight with all I got. Pity you'll lose your legs Uchiha"

 

Shisui laughed a loud delighted laugh, not bothered that he was about to be dismembered by the blond child. He grinned wide and reached behind him with gleaming dark eyes. Naruto's eyes widened as Shisui grabbed his sword and pulled it off his back. The pale shinobi smirked and waved his sword forward in a large arch. The raw power omitting from his sword made Naruto ground his feet with loaded chakra, breaking through the cold grounds as he tried to keep his body from ricocheting against the powerful impact. His hissed in anger as his chakra strings broke at the swing of Shisui's sword.

 

"I guess I'll become serious too kozō."

 

 

Shisui grinned wildly as his eyes bled into an ominous red.

 


 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven

 

It was a chilly autumn day in October, the trees were an array of multiple colours of yellow, orange, red and brown. The wind was crisp and the smell of the cool season filled the woods. Naruto was seated on the grass of the woods, the soft blades of greenery brushed against his thin legs as he sat cross-legged on the cool ground. A journal was open in his lap and a pencil was flying across the page in quick efficient strokes. Naruto's small cherubic face was tight in concentration and his blue eyes were critical and thoughtful as he mapped out new techniques.

 

An enthusiastic greeting broke through the silence of the woods and the blond huffed under his breath in annoyance, pausing in his sketch. He didn't have to turn around to know who was there. A shadow obscured the afternoon rays of the sun and he heard a familiar voice speak close to him.

 

"Oi kozō, is that a new deathly technique?" The Uchiha inquired with a grin as he crouched down next to him, eyeing his latest sketch with curious and eager eyes.

 

Naruto huffed under his breath, turning back to his sketch, ignoring the exuberant Uchiha.

 

Shisui took a seat next to him and made a thoughtful sound, eyeing the diagram with dark curious eyes.

 

"How do you even come up with such terrifying ideas?" The Uchiha wondered curiously.

 

Naruto shrugged, jotting down a few details in his journal. He took to bringing his notebook to the woods and when he was resting on break, he jotted down new innovative ideas he wanted to explore. It wasn't his secret journal that hid his story as Eren but it was one of his other journals that detailed rough ideas and sketches of new techniques he wanted to try out.

 

"If that technique works and you can expel the precise amount of chakra and control all the strings at once... damn." Shisui whistled appreciatively.

 

"You have to let me see it!" The Uchiha cried out, turning to him with large pleading eyes.

 

Naruto rolled his eyes and closed his notebook with a definite smack. Shisui continued pouting and whining childishly until Naruto relented with an annoyed scowl.

 

"Okay! Just shut up Uchiha!" He hissed in an exasperated tone.

 

The Uchiha cheered in triumph and pulled out a basket from his side.

 

Naruto glanced over at the teen and frowned at the sight of a large basket in the arms of the shinobi. Shisui beamed as he noticed his lingering questioning gaze. Naruto frowned in confusion at the scene of Uchiha Shisui taking multiple items out of the basket, laying down a thick blanket on the grass. He pulled out a significant number of packaged food and...a cake?

 

The Uchiha rummaged through his backpack and pulled out a long box, wrapped tightly in black cloth. He held it out to the small child with a grin. Naruto stared at him in confusion and suspicion. The teenage shinobi pursued his lips, huffing under his breath and shoved the package gently into the blond's arms.

 

"What?" Naruto questioned, staring down at the box and display of food suspiciously.

 

Was Uchiha Shisui throwing a picnic? Why?

 

"Aha always so suspicious kozō. I promise I come with only peaceful intentions today." The Uchiha spoke with a soft smile.

 

He waved his hand towards the assortment of food- harumaki rolls, gyoza, onigiri, dango, mochi-  and looked the child in the eyes, leaning forward eagerly.

 

"Happy birthday Uzumaki Naruto!" He beamed brightly, his dark eyes proud and excited.

 

Naruto stared at him frozen, his cerulean eyes wide in shock. His birthday... He had a birthday?

 

"You should open your present." Shisui prodded him gently in the side and grinned widely.

 

A birthday? The blond shook his head at the thought. Of course he had a birthday! He just...never knew the day. No one ever celebrated it or even mentioned it to him and he had no way of knowing it. He had a birthday. Today was his birthday. He was born in the month of October. He had no idea. He never celebrated it before, instead counting his age with every Shōgatsu festival happening in the New Year. He had never been wished a happy birthday before.

 

Uchiha Shisui found out his birthday and wanted to celebrate it, preparing a picnic for him and getting him a gift. Why? Naruto had never been kind to him. He was always scowling at him, ignoring him, insulting him, avoiding his friendly attempts to socialize. They spent most of their time sparring and training. Shisui often called him his pupil but Naruto mostly ignored him when he said that. The adolescent shinobi had prepared all this for him. Naruto bit onto his bottom lip harshly, feeling overwhelmed and discombobulated by the act of genuine and pure selfless kindness.

 

"Open it, open it, open it," Shisui chanted eagerly, his dark eyes bright and anticipatory.

 

Naruto slid onto the picnic towel carefully and gazed at the box unsurely. He looked back at the Uchiha who smiled brightly at him. He looked down at the tightly wrapped box and released a shaken breath, small hands pulling at the silky cloth gently. He unwrapped the box and found a sealed wooden box. He unclipped the lock and opened the box and his eyes widened in shock and wonder.

 

"I figured you'd want your own since you're always glancing at mine," the teen explained with a cheeky grin.

 

Naruto's hands slid into the box and he touched the dual swords gently, his eyes wide in disbelief. The blades were entirely black; carvings of red flames stretched from the handles, deep swirls wrapped around the blades from the hilt to the top in an intricate pattern and ended in a small inferno of exploding fire.

 

They were beautiful.

 

They looked very expensive. Naruto swallowed, his mouth feeling dry. He had been troubled for a while about his inability to practice his swordsmanship because the weapon shop clerks refused to sell him any weaponry and he couldn't scavenge any discarded swords in the training grounds. Swords were rare and kenjutsu wielders always kept their katanas close, never parting with them even if they were heavily damaged. He had been eyeing Shisui's sword enviously from time to time but he thought the other didn't notice his lingering gaze.

 

"Do you like it?" Shisui asked softly, his expression gentle and dark eyes warm.

 

Naruto nodded silently, not trusting his ability to form the correct words. He couldn't articulate how he felt at the moment. It was too much. Shisui beamed brightly at his silent response.

 

"I got the two swords forged by my clan blacksmiths, they're the best in the village. These swords will not fail you kozō. Kenjutsu masters usually train with one sword but I noticed you always use both your hands for most of your techniques, chakra strings and all. So I figured you could manage two." He explained excitedly.

 

"As my protege, I expect great things kozō."

 

Naruto gazed at the teen silently for a long moment.

 

"Thank you," he whispered quietly.

 

He meant it.

 

He meant the two words but he felt like they were inadequate to express his gratitude.

 

"Thank you Shisui-san." He spoke quietly.

 

Shisui grinned brightly and reached into the basket, pulling out cutlery and small plates. He cut the cake with a happy smile and handed the small child a generous serving. Naruto accepted the dessert hesitantly.

 

Shisui grinned brightly. "Ah, I will need to think of something cooler to gift you for your next birthday." He said with a chuckle.

 

Naruto's head snapped up in shock. Next birthday?

 

Shisui smiled at him gently, his eyes warm and understanding.

 

"Of course, we'll celebrate your next birthday and every birthday after that." He vowed in a genuine tone, extending a hand to the blond to solidify the promise.

 

Naruto gazed at him in silence for a long moment before nodding hesitantly, a unfamiliar feeling of hopefulness spreading through him like a warm flame.

 

Uzumaki Naruto clasped hands with Uchiha Shisui and shook the warm, callused hand gently, his tilting lips into a ghost of a hopeful smile.

 

Shisui beamed at the child brightly. The Uchiha shinobi was elated to see the scowling child smile hesitantly for the first time in his company. Shisui's dark eyes light up brightly and he felt a sense of pride and accomplishment surge through him as he eyed the small hopeful-looking boy.

 

"Yatta!" Shisui cheered. "We will celebrate so many birthdays together kozō!" He promised.

 

 

Uchiha Shisui did not keep his promise.

 


 

The blond child trained alone in the woods for many months and Uchiha Shisui did not show again. His birthday celebration was the last time he had seen the adolescent shinobi. The blond found himself feeling uncharacteristically worried at the absence of the friendly Uchiha. The time they had spent together made him grow reluctantly fond of bright and amiable shinobi. Shisui was incredibly carefree and his company offered him a rare sense of comfort and comradeship. He had grown to care despite not wanting too. Uchiha Shisui had made a place for himself in his cold, hardened heart.

 

Naruto raised his dual swords infusing them with chakra and swung at the trees in a wide arch. The bark split under the impact but the tree remained firmly rooted to the ground. His swings were still too weak. He huffed in exertion and lowered his katanas, gazing at the damage with a critical eye. He was steadily growing stronger with each day. He continued to perform adequately in the academy with no one aware of his physical prowess and honed chakra manipulation skills.

 

Naruto kept the swords hidden in the woods and did not take them back to his apartment, worried that someone might steal them from him. He did not want those who surveilled him aware that he was knowledgeable in kenjutsu.

 

He really liked the dual swords. He cherished them greatly and took great care of them, polishing them and sharpening them every week, never wanting the blades to dull. They were his valued possession -his most treasured possession- aside from his journal containing his story as Eren and the dual swords, he had nothing else of value.

 

Shisui had taught him the kenjutsu katas and helped him hone his duelling skills, teaching him the trick of infusing his swords with chakra and making his swings more destructive. He had lots of malignant chakra and his attacks were powerful but fusing his overpowered chakra to the thin blades using the adequate amount was a great challenge. He had too much chakra. 

 

The feeling of an unfamiliar presence behind him cut his thoughts off abruptly. Naruto whirled around and swung his blades towards the stranger. The teen stepped back from his attack, blocking his swords with a single kunai. Naruto froze, seeing the familiar and unfamiliar features. The teen had dark hair; it was long and tied in a low ponytail and his eyes were onyx and entirely black. The stranger was pale, dressed entirely in black attire and his eyes were pained and saturated with palpable grief.

 

Naruto gazed at the unfamiliar teen warily. He noted his dark clothing and tired expression, his dark eyes resigned and weary. His quick movement and finesse in blocking his attack spoke of his occupation as a seasoned shinobi even though he was not dressed to fight. The blond's eyes gazed silently at his outfit, a silence filtered through his mind as a feeling trepidation began to grow in the pit of his stomach as he eyed his outfit. He knew those clothes... the dark long black kimono with no designs or patterns. They were specifically worn in... funerals. Naruto released a startled breath as he took in the solemn gaze of the shinobi. It was the appearance of a mourner.

 

Naruto's breath hitched as he took in the teen's facial features critically. He was pale, with delicate, regal features and his eyes were familiar in their dark colour. Naruto could recognize the family resemblance immediately.

 

He was an Uchiha.

 

Naruto took a step back, the trepidation growing into a feeling of denial. Shisui! His mind supplied immediately. It had been months... No no no. The blond licked his dry lips and opened his mouth but he couldn't elicit any sounds. The question was stuck at the tip of his tongue but he could not form it. The reality... the truth... would become solidified if he inquired... He knew... he knew why the other Uchiha was here.

 

The small prickling of pain grew into a gaping chasm in his chest and it became difficult to breathe. He saw the Uchiha's eyes slide to the blades held in his hands and his expression hardened, his eyes growing more mournful. The blades slipped from Naruto's grip at the silent confirmation.

 

Uchiha Shisui was gone.

 

The blond opened his mouth to ask but he found himself unable to voice the question. He found himself unable speak at all. The shock and growing grief encompassed his entire form and he felt small tremors overtake his body. He latched onto his shirt tightly, his small fists curling into the fabric right above his heart where the pain grew stronger and stronger in every passing second.

 

Naruto beat a fist against his aching heart again and again, trying to shut off the growing pain. His vision grew blearily and he clenched his eyes tightly, refusing to let the pain and grief overtake him completely. He needed to remain lucid. He wanted to know the reasons; he wanted to know what happened but he was losing control of his faculties. He heard the Uchiha speak but his voice was distant, a far away echo, his words were unclear due to the dissonance of sounds warping in his incoherent mind.

 

His mind raced.

 

How? Shisui? Why? Shisui? When? Shisui? Dead? Shisui? Mission? Shisui? What happened?

 

A dreaded statement filtered through the soft spoken words from the pale teen.

 

I'm sorry.

 

Naruto shook his head against the words, refusing to acknowledge them. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. What good was an apology? An apology would not bring the dead back... An apology would not bring Uchiha Shisui to life. An apology was nothing but empty words and he hated apologies more than anything.

 

An apology was the Hokage ignoring his sufferings and offering those flimsy words as comfort instead of changing his situation. I'm sorry. An apology was everyone around him ignoring the abuse from the villagers. I'm sorry. An apology was his less hostile peers ignoring their academy teachers and fellow classmates signalling him out unfairly again and again in attempts to humiliate him and demean him. I'm sorry. An apology was the random female shinobi gazing at him in guilt and urging him to go to the hospital as he bled from his forehead. I'm sorry. An apology was the Uchiha standing before him telling him that the only person he grown to care for was gone. I'm sorry. What good were apologies? What good were they?!

 

He hated them. He despised them. He loathed them. He abhorred them.

 

I'm sorry.

 

They were the most wretched words ever given to him.

 

Naruto glared at the Uchiha, his blue eyes enraged. He opened his mouth, a million questions on the tip of his tongue but he couldn't get the words out. They were lodged into his throat and they refused to be vocalized. To vocalize them, he would hear the end, it would make it definite. He couldn't do it. Naruto grit his teeth and hissed angrily to himself. His tremors grew stronger as the reality of the situation set in. Gone. Gone. Gone.

 

Uchiha Shisui was gone.

 

Gone. Gone. Gone.

 

How?!  Naruto screamed silently. Tell me!

 

Gone. Gone. Gone.

 

The Uchiha spoke softly, his words unclear and distant but Naruto grasped onto them desperately. He shook his head in disbelief and anger, glaring ahead at the pale teen. The teen responded with a resigned sigh and turned around, leaping to the trees and leaving him alone in his insurmountable grief.

 

Naruto slipped down to his knees, his fists curling into the wet grass. The skies above mourned with him as they began to rumble and thunder, a raucous storm began approaching. The rain fell down on his small form but he felt nothing. He did not feel the cold nor the wetness of the rain. He remained rooted to his spot, his mind spinning and his body shaking. He couldn't see clearly, his vision was obscured, bleary and wet. He couldn't differentiate whether it was his own tears or the rain sliding down his cheeks. Both were one of the same, the heavens and the boy were both grieving for their loss.

 

His body shook and his teeth chattered, his mind raced and the chasm in his chest grew and expanded relentlessly, engulfing his entire heart in a vice grip. It hurt. It hurt. It hurt. Everything hurt. Breathing hurt. Thinking hurt. Being alive hurt. Being without Shisui hurt. Naruto broke out in choked gasps and he felt the tightness spread in his throat and his vision grew darker. The words echoed in his mind and he felt his stomach turn.

 

Suicide.Suicide.Suicide.

 

He hacked out air, his stomach heaving its empty contents and nothing came out as he retched and retched. He laid his head on the cold wet grass and closed his eyes tightly, slamming his fists against the ground.

 

Suicide.Suicide.Suicide.

 

The anger began building up inside him, trying to take over and wrestling with his tumultuous grief, aiming to dominate entirely. Naruto heaved again and again, gasping and clutching onto his chest as he tried to will himself to calm down but he couldn't. He just couldn't do it.

 

Why? Why? Why?

 

Suicide.Suicide.Suicide.

 

Uchiha Shisui had killed himself.

 

Why?! He screamed silently.

 

Shisui had been greater than life with big dreams of peace and a great appreciation for living. He was akin to a bright star in a dark sky; he was the only light in his cold and dark wretched existence. The light was snuffed out so early - too early - and it made no sense at all. He had promised him more celebrated birthdays, shared his hopeful dreams of creating a peaceful world in a quiet evening where they both rested on the grass of the woods, staring out at the large expansive skies. Shisui's dark eyes had been so bright and hopeful as he was gazed up at the twinkling stars.

 

I dream of peace kozō. I want to create a world that you can grow to love one day. A world where children are not hurting and a world where children are not alone in their sorrow.

 

One day kozō, I will show you such a world.

 

Naruto gasped as the memories raced by him, memories of his training sessions, memories of his time with the only person he cared for, an outstretched offer of dango, a fond hair ruffle, a wild maniacal grin, two dark eyes bleeding into an ominous sharingan, an exuberant cheer and a proud, fond gaze and a bright laugh that rang through the quiet woods.

 

Kozō!

 

Food tastes better when you eat it together.

 

The great Shisui is here!

 

Happy Birthday kozō!

 

As my protege, I expect great things kozō.

 

Naruto groaned in grief. The warm memories raced through his mind and he choked out pained gasps as the images continued to race by him, fleeting and moving fast, leaving him behind feeling so bereft and so incredibly alone.

 

The soft smiles, the cheshire grins, the bright laughter, the fond hair ruffles, the ruthless training sessions, the overly sweet dango. The blond dug his nails into his head, digging his claws into his scalp, drawing out blood and hissing out against the pain in his chest. The giant chasm of grief solidified its place in his heart and made a permanent home in his chest.

 

Naruto shook his head, wiping his tears as a cold rage simmered and boiled, slowly rising to the surface. It wasn't right. Something was off... Uchiha Shisui would never kill himself. Uchiha Shisui was not suicidal. It wasn't right. It wasn't like him. He was as big as life and had big dreams and displayed a great zeal for life. He often talked of the future and was always looking ahead.

 

Someone did this.

 

Naruto was not blind and he was not stupid. There was a reason for all of this. Konohakagure was corrupt and vile. Uchiha Shisui did not wake up one day and decide to end his life. He would never do that. Someone drove Uchiha Shisui over the edge, someone who was stronger than Shunshin no Shisui. Someone more powerful and capable enough to touch the revered Uchiha prodigy was culpable for this. Someone with enough influence to murder an Uchiha and get away with it. There was a sinister and vile undercurrent behind this tragedy.

 

Naruto raged, his anger simmering deeper and deeper and he growled in grief and intense hatred for the village who took away his only friend.  Shisui was the only bright thing in his wretched life and the bright light was now gone... snuffed out completely, sending him hurtling back into the lonely oppressive darkness. He snarled a low animalistic growl in rage, red hot chakra pulsing forward from his body, rising and rising as a malevolent storm of wrath and pure hatred.

 

His eyes grew crimson in rage. He was so incredibly wrathful and grieving. He had never felt this angry before, not even when he was forced to attend the shinobi academy. This was an anger like no other. It was burning hot and intensifying with each second. Hotter and hotter, sweltering and sweltering. It was unprecedented. It was the rage and agony of a man who lost everything. He felt a deep part of himself crack within him, a part that would never ever be repaired again. 

 

The red chakra surfaced like a raging monstrous miasmic storm, a deafening sound of animalistic screeching followed the explosion of chakra. Naruto released a deafening terrifying, animalistic shrill cry of pure unadulterated resentment, rage and pure hatred.

 

The pained animalistic howl cloaked the entirety of the woods and spread, spread, spread farther and farther till it engulfed everything in its path. The red chakra exploded from him, pulsing through the entire vicinity and shrouded the entire village of Konoha in a miasmic terrifying bout of rage.

 

Naruto slipped into a state of unconsciousness, his small body hitting the ground as the red miasmic chakra pulsed around him in a fit of terrifying and overpowering wrath.


 

The small child's cerulean eyes opened tiredly and he gazed around in confusion. Naruto lifted himself from the wet ground shakily, the sound of dripping resonated around him and created a vague sense of familiarity. Drip, drip, drip.

 

Naruto stood up warily and gazed around slowly, peering around curiously. He was back. He recognized the wet and dank space. Somehow... he was back to this place. It wasn't a dream... In his rage, he had fallen into darkness and... Naruto released a broken groan as he remembered the death of his best friend.

 

He pressed his hands to his mouth roughly, digging into his flesh harshly. His clenched his wet eyes shut, taking long, long, long breaths against the choking and oppressive grief. He lifted his gaze and looked down the long, dark pathway. His face hardened in grim determination and he stalked forward quickly, his small steps creating a cacophony of loud splashes and stomps as his feet slammed against the ground in his haste.

 

Naruto raced forward, his anger wrapped around him like an impenetrable armour. His raging eyes were hard and alit in madness as he stepped towards the bars desperately and glared up at the massive creature in the cage.

 

He wouldn't be pushed away this time. He would get answers.

 

"Speak to me," he snarled glaring at the caged fox. "What are you?"

 

The fox stepped forward, its miasmic energy foul and oppressive. Naruto gritted his teeth at the overwhelming power omitting from the cage, refusing to move back as the monster neared closer, peering down at him with vehement crimson eyes. It opened its large maw menacingly, its breath hot and searing as it gazed down at him in pure hatred and loathing.

 

"Go back human." It ordered in a grainy sound.

 

Naruto shook his head resolutely.

 

"No."

 

The fox glared down at him hatefully, its teeth razor sharp and expression feral.

 

"No one gives me any answers." Naruto rasped hatefully.

 

"I'm hated by this wretched village and I'm caged by the Hokage." He spat hatefully. "I'm forced to serve and become a shinobi to this village I loathe."

 

The fox's eyes appeared intrigued as it gazed down at him with sentient intelligence.

 

"You... are hateful." It spoke slowly.

 

Naruto gritted his teeth. "I am. I have no love for Konohakagure. The only person I cared for is now gone. I only have hate left." He hissed lowly, his eyes pained and angry.

 

The fox gazed at him with dark, crimson eyes. It moved closer, eyeing him scrutinizingly.

 

"Tell me human. What is your goal?"

 

Naruto's eyes narrowed. He had no idea who this creature was but he didn't hide his hatred for Konoha from it. He wouldn't hide his future ambitions either. Fuck. This. Village.

 

Naruto raised his head, his cerulean eyes enraged and determined. "To be free."

 

The fox narrowed its eyes at his words, snarling deeply, its growls guttural and enraged.

 

" You wish to be free? Foolish human!" It growled in rage as its miasmic energy shoved him down to his knees.

 

Naruto grunted under the oppressive power but kept his head levelled, gazing up at the fox and refusing to back down. The fox paced its large cell, its nine tails swishing and slamming against the metal bars in a fit of rage.

 

"Foolish human! You are free! Do you not wander freely?! Do you not move freely?! You are not CAGED!" It bellowed fiercely, the bars shaking at the deafening sound.

 

Naruto grit his teeth at the painful volume of the enraged bellows of the fox. He glared up at it, his expression livid. Freedom?! The fox thought he was free? He was not free at all!

 

“I am not free!" He spat angrily, struggling to get up to his feet.

 

He growled in anger as the fox released more malicious energy that kept him pinned to the ground. Naruto lifted his head and glared at the massive and ancient beast vehemently with fiery eyes.

 

"There is no freedom in being a shinobi!” The boy spat, his cerulean gaze enraged as he glared ahead. “I am no different than cattle, following orders, forced to serve, tethered to this village I despise. Tell me, how is this freedom?”

 

The fox remained silent, gazing at him with narrowed crimson eyes. Naruto refused to look away from the terrifying being, his expression was feral and pained.

 

"I'm not free," Naruto whispered brokenly. "I'm shackled to this hateful, spiteful and wretched place. I'm too weak. I can't even escape. I'm not free."

 

The silence stretched for a long, long moment.

 

The two imprisoned -boy and beast- stared at each other in heavy silence.

 

Naruto raised his arms, spreading them wide as he gazed imploringly at the monster in the cage.

 

"Talk to me. Who are you? What are you? Who am I? Who is Uzumaki Naruto? And...why... Why are you caged?" He spoke, his blue eyes gazing at the bars with a disturbed expression.

 

His cerulean eyes darkened as he stared at the bars.

 

"Why are you caged?" He repeated lowly, his voice a raspy distressed whisper as he inched forward, his gaze unrelenting as he looked up at the colossal powerful creature unflinchingly.

 

The beast gazed at him in silence, its dark crimson eyes calculating and measuring at it stared at the small hateful child. It inched closer to the bars and its maw opened, its teeth razor sharp and energy hateful and wrathful. It stared at the blond child for a long moment of contemplative silence, watching carefully as the Uzumaki boy remained rooted to his spot, posture unrelenting, refusing to leave, his cerulean gaze locked on the bars in confusion and anger.

 

The red beast lowered itself, its massive form inching forward, its piercing blood-red eyes looking directly at the child's familiar gaze. He recognized the hot anger and colossal hatred, it was an anger and hatred that mirrored his own.

 

The child's gaze reflected his own.

 

"I am the Kyūbi no Yōko."

 


 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

 

Sarutobi Hiruzen gazed tiredly at the ceasefire contract from Sunakagure with a drawn sigh. He lowered the document on his desk, taking a deep inhale from his pipe. He froze in his chair as he felt the familiar and terrifying bout of miasmic chakra of the Kyūbi implode and cover the entirety of the village. His eyes widened in shock and horror, his pipe dropping from his mouth in alarm and clattering loudly on his desk. The screams of terror and mayhem echoed distantly outside the Hokage Tower, civilians panicking as they felt the familiar explosion of deathly chakra from seven years ago.

 

The ANBU operatives immediately appeared in his office, their postures tense and waiting for instructions. Hiruzen stood up hurriedly, his wide eyes looking over the gathered shinobi.

 

"Find Uzumaki Naruto immediately." He ordered.

 

The ANBU operatives bowed deeply and vanished. Hiruzen sat down quickly, taking out his crystal ball from his drawer and focusing his chakra to locate the Uzumaki child. He released a startled breath as he found the small child laying unconscious in the woods by the Uchiha compounds, red coils of miasmic chakra were swirling around his dormant form and creating a protective and impenetrable barrier.

 

He watched as the ANBU operatives made it onto the scene but froze upon seeing the malignant chakra. They circled around Uzumaki Naruto but kept a safe distance from the chakra vessel. They watched helplessly, unable to approach closer until the barrier receded. The masked shinobi crouched down on nearby branches and made a restrictive parameter around the unconscious Jinchūriki.

 

There was nothing they could do until Uzumaki Naruto dispelled the barrier. Hiruzen pursed his lips in concern and fear, his wrinkled hands held tightly onto his crystal ball as he watched the unconscious child with bated breath.

 


 

The Sandaime Hokage watched the sleeping child with a tired and exhausted gaze. Uzumaki Naruto was surrounded by ANBU operatives and he lay sleeping in a private room in Konoha's General Hospital. Sarutobi Hiruzen sighed heavily, his shoulders slumping in tiredness as he gazed upon the golden haired child who did not move since they brought him in.

 

He wasn't waking up.

 

It had been three days since the incident. Daytime fell to night. The moon waned and the days passed and the child was not waking up. He was hooked up to fluids to ensure he would remain hydrated but he was not gaining his consciousness. His eyelids fluttered occasionally and his fingers twitched but he did not wake up. His miasmic chakra had receded and it took a long time for the shinobi dispatched to calm down the distraught villagers.

 

The Kyūbi was not released.

 

Uzumaki Naruto was unharmed.

 

Hiruzen looked out the window, eyeing the cloudy dark skies, his pipe hanging from his lips unlit. What happened? What caused the Kyūbi's chakra to unleash itself? The Sandaime sighed heavily and turned back to the sleeping child, watching the small boy's chest rise and fall with every breath. The Hokage rubbed his temples tiredly. The council was on his case wanting answers but he had none. He had questioned the ANBU operatives but they all reported no known cause to Uzumaki's outburst.

 

They had no idea why the Kyūbi's chakra leaked out. They had no idea what set off Uzumaki Naruto into a fit of unprecedented rage. Hiruzen doubted the child would even tell him; they barely had a functioning relationship. He saw Uzumaki-kun once a month to give him his monthly allowance and every visit was short and saturated with heavy silence. The child barely spoke any words to him, choosing to observe him with a silent and watchful gaze.

 

What a mess.

 

There was also the suicide of Uchiha Shisui a few months back. There was no body retrieved from the Naka River but Uchiha Itachi's solid testament and the note left behind by Shisui was enough to warrant a funeral for Shunshin no Shisui.

 

Shimura Danzo was even more adamant on suppressing the Uchiha Clan for good. He had to do something. He had to protect his village. He couldn't afford to let them grow weak through civil unrest. If he allowed them to fight amongst themselves, the other villages would take advantage of their internal strife and attack.

 

The Hokage stood up wearily. There was lots to do and he didn't have the time to watch the child sleep. He turned to the ANBU operatives, leaving them with direct orders to inform him immediately when Uzumaki-kun woke up.

 

The Hokage made his way through the distraught village, taking long inhales from his pipe to center himself as he solidified his mind on the best course of action. He entered his office in the Hokage Tower and pressed two fingers with his chakra signature to his sealed drawer, opening it and taking out a sealed mission scroll. He unsealed the scroll and read it over solemnly. He took a seat, picking up his pen and signed his name on the scroll with a heavy heart.

 

The Sandaime rolled up the scroll and waved his hand, summoning the ANBU operative guarding his office.

 

"Summon the ANBU Weasel."

 


 

Uchiha Itachi stood alone with his thoughts as he gazed around at the thick foliage of the woods by the Uchiha compound. His dark gaze was solemn and exhausted as he lowered the dual swords gently into the black box. He traced the intricate red patterns with a light touch. The gift Shisui had given the Uzumaki child was not an ordinary gift. To offer katana blades that were forged for the person specifically was a rite of passage in the Uchiha clan. Parents gave their children swords when they accepted their growth and development proudly. It was an act that signified kinship and love. It was a sign of affection and great pride.

 

Itachi clasped his own sword tightly, gazing down at the long black katana wistfully, recalling the day his father handed it to him, his dark eyes brimming with pride and affection for his heir. Uzumaki Naruto would not know the significance of Shisui's final gift and he would never know the truth. The truth that Uchiha Shisui cared for him like his own kin, that he gave him swords that he would have given to his future children but instead he chose to grant them to the orphaned child.

 

Itachi tore his gaze from the dual swords and closed the box gently, lowering it down on the ground. He stepped forward and fused his hands with chakra and lifted up the boulder tiredly, eyeing the dug out spot for the swords with dark eyes. He knelt down and rested the box in its hiding spot gently, resting the heavy boulder back on top. He pulled back and gazed around the silent woods with a forlorn gaze. A final goodbye resonated through his chest as he leapt up to the trees. He took a deep breath and slipped away from the woods that his cousin and best friend had loved so dearly.

 

He returned home to find direct summons from the Hokage.

 


 

Itachi entered his clan compound and walked towards his house with a slow and steady gait, greeting his neighbours and clan members with a polite nod and quiet tone. He stepped inside his warm home, greeting his parents politely as he slid the door closed behind him.

 

His mother- Uchiha Mikoto- greeted him with a warm smile and stepped forward, inquiring about his preferences for dessert. His father- Uchiha Fugaku- sat at the dinner table, sipping his green tea quietly and reading over a scroll. Itachi spoke with his mother softly and his father began complaining about dinner being late. The married couple began bickering with each other, their voices light and not unkind.

 

The thirteen year old smiled at his parents fondly and took off his shoes, aligning them neatly next to his little brother's sandals. He heard the speedy steps echo through the large house, followed by a loud excitable shout and he was soon engulfed in a warm hug.

 

"Nii-san! Okaeri!" Sasuke beamed at him happily, his dark eyes bright and adoring.

 

Itachi smiled and bent down, poking his little brother's forehead gently.

 

"Tadaima." Itachi spoke softly, ruffling his little brother's unruly locks.

 

"Nii-san, can we practice throwing shuriken tonight?" Sasuke asked, latching onto his brother's waist with his tiny arms.

 

"Hora Sasuke! Dinner is soon! Let your brother rest!" His mother chastised.

 

Sasuke's happy expression fell and his cherubic face scrunched up in sadness. His small hands curled into his brother's shirt and he grumbled unhappily to himself, hugging his brother's waist tightly for comfort. Itachi gazed at his little brother with a soft, fond smile and bent down, picking up the small child in his arms. Sasuke wrapped his small arms around his neck and Itachi walked into the living room.

 

"How was the academy today otouto?" He asked in a gentle tone as he took a seat at the table.

 

His father lowered his scroll and turned his gaze to his two sons, his expression attentive. Sasuke slid his eyes hesitantly towards their father, his expression uncertain.

 

"Go ahead Sasuke. Surely you learned something useful today." His father commented.

 

Sasuke settled against his brother's chest and beamed at the rare attention from their father.

 

"Today we learned-"

 

Sasuke began recounting his day at the academy and Itachi listened to his little brother's excited chatter with an aching heart. His mother brought over a steaming pot of ojiya and an assortment of side dishes. The family gathered for dinner, listening to their youngest member share his stories with indulging smiles. Itachi thanked his mother as she doubled his portions, chiding him about eating more. The thirteen year old chuckled as Sasuke frowned at their mother and told her to not pick on his nii-san. Itachi retaliated by flicking his little brother on the forehead sharply and the younger cried out, pouting and sulking. Their father shook his head at their familiar antics and turned to his wife to ask for second servings.

 

Itachi watched his family with a heavy heart, his gaze warm and expression gentle but his heart was tumultuous with grief and impeding loss. His gaze lingered on his chattering, smiling little brother and he felt his appetite recede entirely but he held on desperately, smiling through the pain and acting normal, forcing one spoonful after another of the warm rice porridge into his mouth. He lowered his shaking hands under the table and curled his hands tightly into fists, watching his parents bicker lightly and playfully. His little brother poked him in the side and he turned to him, carefully maintaining a neutral expression.

 

"Ne nii-san, can we practice throwing shuriken tomorrow?"

 

Itachi felt himself pale at the words, his heart dropping to his stomach.

 

Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.    

 

Tomorrow everything would end.

 

Tomorrow his little brother would never smile upon him again.

 

Tomorrow... he slid his eyes to his laughing parents... Tomorrow okaa-san and otousan-san will be dead.

 

Itachi returned his gaze to his little brother who was beaming at him, his gaze happy and expectant.

 

Tomorrow... tomorrow...tomorrow... Sasuke you will hate me.

 

Sasuke's brows furrowed at his uncharacteristic silence and he outstretched a small hand forward, holding onto his brother's arm gently.

 

"Nii-san? Is tomorrow not good?" He asked in a worried tone, his small cherubic face concerned.

 

Itachi plastered a weak smile on his face and he reached forward, tapping his brother on the forehead gently with two fingers.

 

"Later Sasuke."

 

I'm sorry Sasuke.

 


The village of Konohakagure was shaken at the news.

 

The Uchiha Clan was massacred in one night.

 

Uchiha Itachi was the perpetrator.

 

Uchiha Sasuke was the sole survivor.

 


 

Uchiha Sasuke woke up with a terrified guttural scream. The image of his brother's cold and hateful eyes resonated through his mind as his eyes snapped open in fear. He breathed heavily, looking up at the white sterile ceiling of Konoha's General Hospital in alarm. He sat up slowly, the hot tears streaming down his pale face as the shivers racked through his small form. He gazed out the window and saw the orange and red hues of the sun setting distantly. The seven year old whimpered to himself as he thought of his lost warmth, his lost family, and what awaited him at the empty Uchiha compound.

 

He didn't want to go back.

 

All the corpses... all the blood... but the Hokage informed him that he would be released tonight. It was only a matter of time and he couldn't delay the inevitable. He had to carry out the vigil for his family, clansmen, and clanswomen.

 

Sasuke slid off his bed, his small form shaking and his tiny feet trotting against the surface of the cool floors. He whimpered quietly to himself as he wiped the hot tears off his face with small, shaking hands. He slid his feet into his sandals robotically and crept out of the hospital quietly. He felt the stares on his back as he hurried his way through the village to the Uchiha compound. The whispers followed him and the disingenuous condolences slid off his back as he picked up his pace refusing to acknowledge the words.

 

I'm sorry.

 

I'm sorry for your loss.

 

I'm sorry.

 

He hated those meaningless words. The Hokage had patted him on the shoulder and told him that he was sorry. I'm sorry for your loss Sasuke-kun. Apologies were meaningless. Apologies would not bring back the dead. Sasuke gritted his teeth angrily and rushed to the edge of the village. He slowed down his brisk pace and eyed the desolate landscape. The compound was truly isolated from the rest of the village and he had never noticed it until now. There were no more people milling about, it was eerily quiet and now that his clan was gone, he could sense the deep isolation in living on the outskirts of the village. He was going to live in complete isolation, tossed off to the side in his secluded compound.

 

Sasuke took a deep fortifying breath and stepped into his compound, his small fists clenched tightly to his sides and his heart began racing as the metallic smell of blood engulfed his senses. The bodies had been cleared out but the smell of blood and death still lingered in the air.

 

Sasuke bit back a heartbreaking sob and moved forward, his small steps shaky and slow. He paused as he saw the dried blood on the floor- sections that were hurriedly cleaned- there were still the marks of the dead left behind. He gasped in horror and pain as the images of the corpses assaulted his mind, the dead bodies falling limply to the ground with dark and unseeing eyes. Their wounds open and gaping, oozing blood as he screamed and ran ahead, his small feet splashing and splashing and splashing in rivers of blood.

 

Sasuke retched and fell down to his knees shakily. The memories were an onslaught of pain and agony. He shivered in fear and terror as the ominous and painful words thudded through his mind.

 

Foolish little brother.

 

He felt his vision begin to blur. His throat was burning and constricting and it was so hard to breathe. Sasuke clutched his shirt tightly, gasping and gasping for air, the hot tears sliding down his pale cheeks as he sobbed in pain and panic. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't breathe, he couldn't breathe. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt. His heart thudded rapidly in his chest and everything hurt.

 

Sasuke's world began to spin and he rasped and gasped for air. He felt a tight sudden sensation on his shoulders, a hard grip of small hands pressed down tightly onto his body and grounded him. He heard a vague and unfamiliar voice through the panic and pain and he tried to focus on the words. Everything hurt and his mind was spinning with painful memories and a potent sense of fear but there was a sharp voice calling out to him from the dark abyss.

 

Uchiha breathe, Uchiha breathe, Uchiha breathe.

 

Sasuke whimpered as the fear overcame him. The voice of his brother dominated his thoughts in a perpetual cycle of damnation and hatred -foolish little brother, foolish little brother, foolish little brother- Sasuke struggled against the unrelenting hold, pure terror overtaking his small form at the thought of his older brother.

 

He heard angry curses in a raspy voice and an irked snarl and then he felt a sharp pain on his forehead. Sasuke cried out and looked up in alarm, his vision clearing and mind dulling at the sudden sharp feeling of pain. He looked up and his dark eyes widened in confusion and alarm, his small hands shooting up to his forehead where he was... head-butted.

 

Sasuke's tears continued to spill and he rubbed his hands against his swollen eyelids, looking up at the stranger in confusion. A tan, thin blond boy stood over him dressed entirely in black, his sharp blue eyes were angry and he was cursing up a storm as he looked around at the empty compound. Sasuke blinked in confusion and the boy knelt in front of him, his cerulean gaze was hard and narrowed as he looked him over.

 

"Why the fuck are you here?" The blond rasped glaring at Sasuke.

 

Sasuke frowned in confusion. What? 

 

"I..." He cleared his throat and wiped his tears. "I live here." He spoke in confusion, frowning at the other boy who continued glaring at him.

 

The blond hissed in irritation. "I know that Uchiha but surely you're not going to live here after... after..." He took a deep breath, his steely eyes sliding to the spot where Sasuke knew the dried blood lingered.

 

Sasuke frowned. It's not like he was given other options. He didn't want to be here. It was scary. It was downright terrifying. It was painful. It was haunted. He could see the shadows of his brother and his fallen kin everywhere. But... this was his home... this was his legacy... as an Uchiha he had to be here... There was nowhere else he could go... he had to be here... there was no other place... He was bereft of his warm home and only the caresses remained, only the cold shell of his warm home remained and it was his duty to inhabit the cold empty space.

 

...He had nowhere else to go...

 

"I have to be here... as the..." Sasuke whispered and he felt the tears begin again.

 

"As the last Uchiha...I..." He felt his breath quicken at the thought.

 

He was the last Uchiha.

 

Everyone was gone.

 

Gone, gone, gone.

 

Okaa-san and Otousan-san were gone. Shisui-san was gone. Nii-san was... Nii-san was... Nii-san was... Nii-san was... Nii-san was... Nii-san was... Nii-san was... Nii-san was... Nii-san was...

 

"Fuck!" He heard the blond snarl and he was grabbed roughly by the shoulders.

 

"Uchiha, breathe. You need to breathe. Uchiha, breathe."

 

Sasuke couldn't focus on the blond's voice, it was quickly fading away as other thoughts dominated his mind. Nii-san was...nii-san was...nii-san... nii-san...nii-san...nii-san... nii-san... 

 

Foolish little brother, foolish little brother, foolish little brother, foolish little brother.

 

Sasuke began shaking in fear and his vision began filling with dark spots. He swayed on the spot and his eyes rolled to the back of his head.

 

Everything went black.

 


 

The morning sun filtered through the bedroom window and painted the quiet space in warm colours and offered a feint comforting sense of warmth. Uchiha Sasuke's eyelids fluttered open tiredly and he sat up slowly, his body aching and his throat dry. He slipped out of his bed slowly and in confusion, wrapping his arms protectively around his stomach as he moved through his silent house.

 

He opened the door to the living room with trepidation racing through his small form. He blinked at the sight of the sterile and clean room. The furniture was perfectly in place and there was not a single drop of blood. The room smelt fresh and clean. He released a startled breath and made his way out of his house silently, robotically sliding his sandals on and walking through his large, empty compound. It was entirely clean, no signs of the dead, and not one speck of blood in sight.

 

Sasuke frowned to himself and wrapped his arms around himself as the silence permeated through the air. He felt like he was forgetting something... There were vague fragments slipping away - a harsh voice, a reprimand, enraged cerulean eyes, and a command to breathe Uchiha. The raven haired child whimpered quietly as the wind howled through the empty vicinity.

 

The compound felt so eerie and incredibly haunted. The seven year old shivered and rushed back into his home and threw the door open as his breath quickened in fear. He shut the door behind him and raced inside, stopping upon seeing the dinner table. He froze at the sight of the empty table and his eyes grew moist. A broken heart-wrenching sob cut through the silent Uchiha home.

 

Ne nii-san, can we practice throwing shuriken tomorrow?

 

Later Sasuke.

 

The small child fell to his knees and the sobs racked his small body, hiccups and guttural cries of pain and lament echoed through the vacant home and empty compound as the last Uchiha grieved and raged for all that was lost and gone.

 


 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

 

Haruno Sakura made her way into the loud classroom excitedly, her quick steps were eager and a pleased and hopeful smile adorned her youthful face. Today was the day Iruka-sensei would announce their genin teams and she had her hopes and eyes set on a certain Uchiha. The pink-haired genin walked into the classroom, her jade eyes landing immediately on the pale and sombre Uchiha Sasuke. She skipped happily towards him, her gleeful expression souring immediately as her childhood nemesis and love rival blocked her path, scowling back at her meanly.

 

"Where do you think you're going forehead girl?" Ino Yamanaka taunted, flipping her platinum hair over her shoulder in an exaggerated motion.

 

Sakura glared at Ino in irritation, trying to make her way past the blonde and the group of fan girls that circled around them eagerly. The girls in the academy were all her competition in gaining Sasuke's affections and she was determined not to lose to any of them.

 

"Move Ino-pig! I will be sitting next to Sasuke-kun today!" Sakura scowled, her hand resting on her hips dramatically as she glared angrily at the blonde.

 

"You had your turn yesterday! Now its mine!"

 

Ino continued glaring and the two began arguing loudly, the other fan girls circling around them eagerly, cheering them on as they watched their daily spectacle. Sakura and Ino were the heads of Uchiha Sasuke's fanclub. They were both the indisputable leaders and it was always a fiery competition between the blonde and pink haired girls.

 

"Settle down everyone!" Iruka sensei snapped at the students as he walked into the classroom.

 

The girls glared at each other and Sakura shoved past Ino, making her way to the vacant seat next to Sasuke. She beamed at him cheerfully and greeted the pale Uchiha with a wide smile. Sasuke ignored her presence - as usual - his dark eyes locked on the window in boredom as he refused to acknowledge her and the other fangirls who sat around him.

 

Iruka sensei looked around at his gathered students and smiled softly like a proud parent.

 

"Today I will be announcing your genin teams. Make sure to sit with your new teammates after your names are called out. Okay so Team 1...."

 

Iruka sensei began listing off the teams and Sakura held her breath in anticipation, her hands clasped together in a silent prayer.

 

Please give me Sasuke-kun, please give me Sasuke-kun, please give me Sasuke-kun.

 

“Now for Team 7. Uzumaki Naruto, Haruno Sakura...”

 

Sakura sat up straight in her seat, frowning to herself at the unfamiliar name.

 

 “Who?” She whispered quietly, her brows furrowed in confusion. 

 

She looked around the classroom to see if there were any students making their way towards her but no one was even looking her way. Huh… who was this Uzumaki Naruto? Sakura was not very familiar with her male peers but she prided herself on knowing the majority of their names. Her attention was always on Sasuke-kun but she prided herself on her ability in committing the correct names with the correct faces. Strangely she didn't know who her new teammate was. Somehow he had slipped completely under her radar.

 

Weird.

 

“-and Uchiha Sasuke.”

 

Sakura’s eyes widened and she stood up, throwing her arms in the air in an excited cheer.

 

“Yatta!”

 

She turned to the silent Uchiha sitting next to her who made no move or sound of acknowledgement. He kept his gaze locked on the window. She heard Ino-pig groan from her seat and she sent her a vindictive smirk. Sakura turned to Sasuke and smiled brightly.

 

“Sasuke-kun! We’re together! Isn’t this great?!” She squealed happily, sitting back down.

 

"Hn." The Uchiha spoke dismissively.

 

Sakura grinned brightly. "Now...as for the other member of our team..." She trailed off unsurely, looking around as Iruka sensei continued listing off the rest of the genin teams.

 

Strange.

 

No one was coming forward. She shrugged uncaringly, turning her attention back to Sasuke. Her other teammate could find her when they needed too. For now she had Sasuke-kun! How perfect was that! The teams were listed off and the bell rang for lunch. Iruka-sensei advised them to have lunch with their newly formed team and get to know each other, informing them that their Jounin instructors would be here to pick them up in the afternoon.

 

Sakura turned to Sasuke, pulling out her pink bento box. Sasuke stood up without sparing her a glance and made his way out of the classroom. The pink-haired girl chased after him, her voice loud and eager as she trailed after him.

 

"Ne ne Sasuke-kun! Let's go eat together! We can get to know each other now!" She spoke hurriedly, trailing after the pale Uchiha and followed him out of the classroom.

 


 

The blond haired genin lifted his gaze from his journal, his cerulean eyes sliding to his two teammates, watching them leave the room disinterestedly. He sighed heavily to himself, his lips morphing into an irritated scowl. His luck was unbelievable. He had hoped to be paired with teammates who would slip into the background, unnoticed and unassuming. Two civilian teammates with no talent and would garner no attention whatsoever. But he had been given a team with a student that garnered the most attention among all his peers.

 

Uzumaki Naruto was teammates with Uchiha Sasuke. The Number One Rookie. He had not interacted with the last Uchiha Clan member outside their brief encounter five years ago after the Uchiha Massacre. Uchiha Sasuke never approached him after that day and Naruto kept to the background. It also helped that Uchiha was top of the class so he was never his sparring partner during their sparring sessions in the academy. Naruto was often partnered up with a weak, frail civilian classmate since he kept his sparring abilities hidden, coming off as weak and feeble.

 

Naruto never sparred with any of the clan students and he was very glad for that arrangement. He wanted nothing to do with the clan children. They were the backbone of this vile village and he despised them on principle. They were the foundations of Konohakagure. They would undoubtedly fight for the village; they would die for it. They had unwavering loyalty for the Leaf and were the most indoctrinated, regaling themselves with the Will of Fire and sharing tales of their clans exploits. Naruto kept away from them entirely.

 

He diligently kept himself in the middle, silent and careful with his abilities. He made sure to pass every test but he never scored high. He carried himself out in a plain, forgettable manner in terms of talent, physical prowess and academic performance. His quiet presence and unnerving silence made his peers forget that he was in the room. He remained in the back row in the corner, never speaking, silent and expressionless.

 

It had been a long time since he had last spoken to anyone. He had lost count... He couldn't remember the last time he had a verbal exchange with another human being. The Hokage came by every month to drop off his monthly stipends and attempted to talk to him but he never vocalized any words. He had nothing left to say to this village. It wasn't worth his breath. The wizened leader had given up after an entire year of silence, choosing to leave his monthly spendings on the table, retreating quickly from the stifling silence.

 

After... after the death of his mentor and best friend -his only friend- he had shut down completely. He didn't bother speaking to others anymore. No one was worth it and his peers were not lining up to talk to him either. He didn't care if they thought he was weird or strange in his silence. He didn't care for their opinions. None of them mattered to him.

 

Fuck. This. Village. And. All. Its. Inhabitants. 

 

As the years passed, the academy instructors began ignoring his presence. The hostility was still present but they didn't call on him to humiliate him. His silence angered them but they could do nothing as he refused to utter a single word in response to their asinine questions.

 

Naruto rubbed at his temples tiredly. His weary gaze drifted to the windows, watching the fresh genin gather around in newly formed trios eagerly. He sneered to himself, watching the group of fangirls search the premises for the Uchiha. Everyone was always fixated on Uchiha Sasuke and he brought too much attention. This wasn't ideal. His other teammate - he forgot her name already - was one of the screeching fangirls he desperately wanted to avoid. She was also a civilian genin so he was not sure of her skill level.

 

He sighed heavily to himself. He had no intentions to sit with his team and play house. He wasn't going to eat with them and get to know them either. He was only going to be with them for a few months until the Chuunin exams which he intended to take on his first year. After he made Chuunin, he would leave. He had no desire to form bonds or subject himself to the presence of children any longer than necessary. 

 

Naruto was looking forward to the Chuunin exams. It was his opportunity to learn about other villages and assess their fighting styles and abilities. He had spent the past years carefully surveying his peers and learning about their clan styles, gathering intel and information.

 

One must always know their enemies.

 

He was glad he was not partnered up with an Aburame or Inuzaka; he had dodged a bullet with those two. They were excellent trackers and spending months going on missions with them would be dangerous. They would learn about his abilities, become familiar with his chakra and habits.

 

Naruto flipped through his journal and eyed an enclosed section in silent contemplation. He gazed around him, ensuring that he was alone before he pressed his chakra signature to the pages of his journal carefully. A quick moment later, the old writing of his previous life showed up on the page. He narrowed his eyes at the words, reading his notes and personal reflections carefully. He gazed at the red swirls of the circular emblem that signified a forgotten and hidden history. The history of his ancestors, the history of his clan, the history of his people.

 

He pondered on the desecrated village that was sealed away in its destruction, hidden from everyone except those who had Uzumaki blood. He gently and slowly traced the symbol of Uzushiokagure - his personal legacy - and his blue eyes grew dark and resentful. The blond spent his lunch hour sitting in the classroom corner alone in silent reflection.

 


 

The blond genin remained in his quiet corner, reading through a dry political treatise disinterestedly and ignoring everyone around him as the students filtered out of the classroom as their Jounin instructors arrived to pick them up. The hours ticked by and the classroom emptied out. The only remaining students were his two teammates, Uchiha and the female civilian. The civilian sat by Uchiha, complaining loudly about their late Jounin sensei. Her gaze occasionally slid to the silent blond in the very back of the classroom and he refused to acknowledge her curiosity.

 

Naruto was seated in the back row, his blue eyes locked on his thick book. He was dressed entirely in black. His messy sunshine hair fell to his chin and framed his youthful face, the locks at his nape were tied in a low, short ponytail. His arms were covered in tight black long sleeves. He wore a thick black vest and black shorts. The inside pockets of his vest hid enhanced weights and his legs were covered in black tights to his ankles, the thick mesh fabric over his calves hid his ankle weights from sight.

 

Naruto had seen the weights being used as tools to increase and enhance speed. He had happened upon a jolly loud Jounin instructor in spandex green instructing his jolly loud student in spandex green a few years back. Naruto had happened upon them in the early hours of dawn, both pairs had been completing speed exercises with added weights. Naruto had immediately borrowed the idea and began adding weights as part of his training. He hid the weights under his mesh and thick vest, using them to increase his speed and strengthen his muscles.

 

The blond had his forehead protector tied around his neck. He chose his neck because it served as a daily reminder for him. The symbol of his servitude was worn over his neck because it reminded him of a slave collar. He was not free. The presence of the hitai-ate around his neck felt suffocating and it reminded him everyday that his life was not his; that Konoha had its claws wrapped around his neck in a choking grip, that he could never breathe freely until he left for good. It served as a reminder everyday and it made him work harder, push himself further until his muscles burnt, his fingers bled and he retched from exertion, all to achieve his goals. 

 

Naruto flipped through the dry book with a disinterested gaze, ignoring the complaints of the pink haired genin as she kept groaning about the tardiness of their instructor. The blond's eyes slid to the clock silently. He gritted his teeth in irritation. Two hours. Their Jounin sensei was two hours late. The blond narrowed his eyes at the thought. Two hours was an significant amount of time wasted. He could have used the time to enhance his training regimen or practice his katas.

 

The door to the classroom slid open and Naruto turned his bored gaze to the door. The Jounin instructor was a tall man with a head of gravity-defying silver hair and a sole bored grey eye that stared at the three children in the room silently. The lower-half of his face was covered with a cloth mask and his forehead protector was angled over his other eye. He took in the sight of the silent Uchiha who gazed back at him intently, the shocked civilian student who gaped at him and the unimpressed Uzumaki who turned back to his book dismissively. 

 

"Hmm...my first impression of you three is..." The Jounin paused dramatically. "You're all boring."

 

The civilian genin sputtered in offence. The Jounin ignored her and jerked his thumb to the door.

 

"Get to the rooftop. You got a minute." He ordered before he shunshined away.

 

The civilian girl squeaked in horror and Uchiha leaped out of his seat hurriedly, both rushing out of the room. Naruto watched them with an unimpressed gaze. The Jounin instructor was two hours late and he had the audacity to give them a minute to get to the rooftop. Well... He was their superior in rank but Naruto didn't care to get there on time. He didn't care about the opinion of the Jounin shinobi. He didn't care about making a good first impression. He had no desire to win the stamp of approval from anyone in Konoha.

 

He closed his book and tucked it into his bag, hoisting his bag over his shoulder. He pushed his chair in and made his way out of the classroom, pulling the door shut behind him. He moved down the corridors and walked up the stairs at a leisurely pace. The Jounin instructor made him wait so he could afford to wait on him.

 

Payback bitch.

 

Naruto made his way to the rooftop and eyed his old rusted watch with a brief gaze. It took him a total of five minutes at his leisurely, relaxed pace. He opened the door to the rooftop and saw his teammates and Jounin instructor waiting on him. Good.

 

The civilian girl was openly scowling at him and Uchiha appeared completely unimpressed and impatient. The Jounin instructor raised his hand, wiggling all five fingers.

 

"It took you five minutes." He drawled lazily.

 

Naruto did not deign him with a verbal response and made his way forward with an indifferent expression. He stood by the door, leaning against the wall and looked off to the side in boredom, his hands in his pockets. His two teammates sat closer to the Jounin, turning their gaze back to him expectantly.

 

The Jounin clapped his hands together. "Maa, let's get started. Let's do introductions. Who wants to go first?"

 

"Ano sensei... Maybe you should go first, like show us an example?" The girl spoke hesitantly.

 

The Jounin hummed quietly, turning a very theatrical eye-smile to his prospective students.

 

"Okay, I'm Kakashi sensei. I like many things, I dislike other things. Hmm...my dream for the future, I don't particularly care to share. As for hobbies, I have some." He turned to his students expectantly, his hands shoved in his pockets and he slouched carelessly.

 

"That was useless." The girl muttered under her breath in irritation.

 

"So basically, we have to list off our likes, dislikes, future dream and hobbies. Things like that." She elaborated.

 

"Aright, I'll go first!" The girl continued. "I'm Haruno Sakura. What I like is... I mean who I like is..."

 

She turned to the Uchiha with a dreamy smile. She giggled and wrung her hands together, fluttering her lashes at the pale genin who refused to look her way.

 

"And my hobby is..." She giggled again. "My dream is..." She stared at Uchiha again.

 

"And your dislikes?" Kakashi sensei drawled, interrupting her giggling.

 

She frowned to herself for a moment and then scowled. "Ino-pig!"

 

"Well, that was enlightening." Kakashi sensei drawled, smiling a one-eye smile.

 

He turned to Uchiha and gazed at him expectantly. Uchiha laced his fingers together seriously and stared ahead intently, his expression cold.

 

"My name is Uchiha Sasuke. I hate a lot of things and I don't particularly like anything."

 

The girl - Haruno Sakura - gasped in alarmed.

 

"I don't feel like summing up my ambition as just a dream but I do have an ambition. The ambition to restore my clan and without fail kill a certain man."

 

Naruto slid his eyes to the Uchiha briefly. Kill a certain man... He must mean his brother.  The blond gazed ahead and saw the Jounin instructor waiting for him to begin his introductions expectantly. His teammates were eyeing him curiously. Haruno looked curious and Uchiha looked bored and impatient. Naruto sighed heavily in irritation. He didn't want to waste his breath but he knew they would badger him for holding his silence during the useless and asinine introductions.

 

"Uzumaki Naruto." He rasped in a low tone, his expression cold and closed off as he gazed at the three on the rooftop.

 

He winced internally at the discomfort of speaking again after many months of silence. It was like his throat was parched and completely dried up on the inside and the action of speaking hurt. His voice sounded odd to his ears. It was completely unfamiliar. It sounded very low and scratchy from disuse. It was like the voice of a man who lived in a dark dank cave and spent years in solitude with no human interaction.

 

"I hate everything. I like nothing. Dreams are foolish and I have none." He rasped lowly in a curt tone, gazing at his teammates with an expressionless face.

 

The silence descended on the rooftop and the three stared at him in shock. Uchiha narrowed his eyes, his expression thoughtful. The girl - Haruno Sakura - was openly gaping, her jade eyes wide. Hatake sensei had his one eye narrowed and his posture was tense. Naruto gazed at them unbothered, his expression blank.

 

"Maa, what a lovely team I have!" The sensei drawled, breaking the tension in the air.

 

"Well, let's get to it. We shall be having a survival test tomorrow morning. If you fail the test, you cannot become genin."

 

Naruto's eyes narrowed at the information. Haruno squawked in offence and Uchiha tensed. The Jounin instructor looked very pleased with himself.

 

"The test will be a measure of your success as an aspiring shinobi. If you pass, you will become genin. If you fail, you'll be back at the academy. Meet at training ground five at 6am tomorrow. Don't eat any breakfast, you'll hurl if you do." He spoke, his eye narrowing in warning.

 

He left with those ominous words and shunshined off the rooftop, leaving the three children standing in silence.

 

Naruto turned on his heel, ignoring his two teammates and made his way down the stairs.

 

"Hey wait! Shouldn't we discuss what Kakashi sensei said?" Haruno called after him.

 

Naruto ignored her and made his way down the stairs, his mind trying to figure out the sensei's cryptic words. He couldn't fail the test tomorrow. His time at the academy was incredibly boring and stifling. It took all his willpower to get through it without blowing his cover. He could not handle doing it again.

 

He sighed to himself, running an agitated hand through his messy locks. He quickly made his way through the village, rushing to his secluded training spot. He had a night of long training to undergo. He couldn't be wasting any more time. The Chuunin exams were held every six months. That meant he had six months of training to do. He had no time to spare to play nice with his teammates.

 

Naruto made it to the woods and delved in deeper and deeper through the thicket of trees and shrubs. He crouched down and infused his hands with chakra, lifting the boulder off the ground and pushing it the side. He pulled out the dark, long box from the dugout hole and opened it with a wistful gaze. His dual swords gleamed under the scorching sun and he traced their red swirls with delicate fingers. Naruto released a long breath and lowered the box gently on the ground, beginning to do his stretches. The sound of the rushing water and the rustle of the wilderness were his only companion as he trained for hours and hours into the night.

 


 

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

 

The silence permeated through the sleeping village and the air was damp with early morning dew. Naruto slid the key into his apartment lock and secured it shut with a soft click. The blond took a deep breath and made his way through the quiet village. He reached training ground five with steady and unhurried steps. His two teammates stood waiting. Haruno was chatting away, her posture leaning forward towards the indifferent Uchiha. Naruto glanced at his watch briefly; he was right on time. He made his way past the two genin and took a seat in the shade, his back resting against a thick tree. He opened his political treatise and began reading quietly.

 

The sun rose in the horizon and the Jounin instructor did not appear. Naruto was not surprised. He continued reading silently ignoring the grumbling Haruno and the silent Uchiha who stood a few meters away. After two hours, Kakashi sensei appeared silently with an alarm clock and two bells hocked to his side. He explained the test rules with an eye-smile, setting the alarm for two hours.

 

They had two hours to retrieve the bells or fail the test. The alarm went off and the three genin took off into the woods in different directions. Naruto had no intentions to attack forefront recklessly. He planned to observe and formulate a successful stratagem. Naruto sped through the trees, moving fast and masking his chakra. He crouched on a thick branch, watching the Jounin who took out an orange book and began reading, standing under the shade of the tree, his posture laid-back.

 

Naruto frowned to himself, his eyes locking on the two bells perched on the Jounin's hip. The nature of the test felt off. Two would pass, one would fail. The blond narrowed his eyes at the thought, crossing his arms over his chest as he gazed at the bells contemplatively. There were two bells and yet they were in a team of three... All genin teams operated in groups of three.

 

What am I missing here? He thought silently.

 

Naruto narrowed his eyes at the Jounin instructor. Teams of three, two bells, a process of elimination. The nature of the test felt paradoxical. To enter the Chuunin exam, Naruto needed to be in a genin team of three members. He had checked the information obsessively and read all the books thoroughly to ensure he qualified for the Chuunin Exams.

 

The village operated in teams. They worked in cohesive units, trusting their teammates with their backs. Shinobi rarely took missions alone; it was taboo. Naruto's steely eyes widened as he remembered the military treaties he read in the past. That was it. The thing he hated the most. Fucking hell! Teamwork! The blond scowled at the thought, running a hand through his golden locks in agitation. That was the hidden meaning behind the test.

 

Teamwork, how nauseating.

 

There was no process of elimination. The two bells were used as a trap to set them against each other. The Jounin instructor was setting them up to fail. Naruto hissed angrily at the thought.  Had he not been best friends with a manipulative mastermind -Armin Arlert - and undergone an entire lifetime moulding his mind and looking for hidden truths as Eren Yeagar; he would have missed the underlying nature of the test.

 

Naruto scowled at the subterfuge. With his developed adult mind and superior intelligence as a revolutionist, the figurehead of the Yeagarist rebel faction, and his experience with toppling entire governments and nations as Eren, tests like this one were child's play.

 

Naruto frowned to himself as he thought of the other two genin who would view the bell test on a surface level. Surely, the other two genin would have no idea that this test was rigged. The blond sighed heavily, his blue eyes narrowed as he contemplated his options. He didn't want to work with the other two but he absolutely refused to fail.

 

He needed to take the Chuunin Exams. He needed to learn about other villages and evaluate their fighting skills and kekkai genkei abilities. He couldn't afford to waste anymore time. Failing the bell test would set him back significantly. He needed to experience the Chuunin Exams. The exams were the best opportunity to research, learn and assess others adequately. He didn't particularly care about becoming Chuunin himself; the title meant nothing to him. He wanted to use the test to amass knowledge while remaining under the radar. Naruto grit his teeth angrily as he made up his mind. He had to choose the lesser evil.

 

Redo my time in the shinobi academy or work with these children once.

 

There wasn't really much of a choice there. The answer was obvious and as clear as day.

 

Just this once. He promised himself.

 


 

The blond genin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He needed to locate his teammates and share his findings. He groaned in annoyance, hating the idea of having to talk to a bunch of children. He had grown accustomed to the silence and the idea of speaking and arguing with another was exhausting. He hoped his vocal chords could handle the pressure well. He doubted he'd be able to articulate himself coherently with the discomfort in his throat as he talked to the other two genin.

 

Naruto gazed at the woods thoughtfully. The other two would be hidden in strategic spots where they could watch their sensei. They would be hidden with clear vantage views. Naruto leapt from tree to tree, moving through the woods searchingly and silently. He paused as he found the pink-haired genin crouched down in the bushes. He gritted his teeth, annoyed that he would have to work with her, even if it was for a short time. He took a deep breath and approached her silently.

 

Just this once. He reminded himself as he leapt down silently behind her.

 

"Haruno," he rasped.

 

The girl whirled around, her jade eyes wide and alarmed. "Uzuma-"

 

Naruto held a finger to his mouth.

 

"Where is Uchiha?" He questioned curtly.

 

The girl eyed him suspiciously and pulled herself out of the bushes. She rested her hands on her hips haughtily and stared at him with narrowed eyes.

 

"Why should I tell you where Sasuke-kun is?" She asked. 

 

Naruto gritted his teeth in annoyance.

 

"We need to find Uchiha." He rasped, inclining his head to the side and turned on his heel briskly.

 

He took off to the trees without a backward glance. The kunoichi squawked in offence and followed him on the ground running after him. Naruto gazed through the trees, his eyes pinpointing the Uchiha high up in the trees, shrouded by the leaves and branches. Naruto shunshined to his branch and the pale genin startled, pulling out a kunai swiftly and holding it in alarm. Naruto held a finger to his mouth in a silent gesture and inclined his head down where Haruno was staring up at the pair with wide eyes. Naruto leaped down from the tree and looked up at Uchiha expectantly.

 

Uchiha moved down silently, tucking his kunai away as he gazed at the two in silent confusion and wariness.

 

"Sasuke-kun!" Haruno smiled hesitantly, looking unsure. "Uh... Uzumaki-kun wanted to talk?"

 

Uchiha turned to regard him silently, his dark gaze narrowed and suspicious.

 

Naruto beckoned the two children closer with a finger. "The test is a trap," he rasped, his expression impatient.

 

The two opened their mouths to interrupt him but he glared at them in irritation, raising a hand.

 

"No interruptions." He spoke in a low tone.

 

Uchiha glared at him in irritation and Haruno seemed hesitant but they didn't interrupt him.

 

"There are two bells and we are a team of three." Naruto spoke, wincing inwardly at the discomfort in his throat as he continued his curt explanation. "Allegedly the test is made to pass only two, the third member will fail."

 

The two nodded hesitantly.

 

"That's a lie. The formation of genin teams are in groups of three. There is no such thing as a genin team made up of two people." Naruto spoke, licking his dry lips.

 

Haruno's eyes widened. "You're right! All genin teams are in groups of threes!"

 

Naruto nodded. "Two cannot pass, its three or none. The true objective of the test is not to retrieve the bells." He elaborated in a quiet tone.

 

"And?" Uchiha asked impatiently. "What did you discover?"

 

"Teamwork." Naruto deadpanned in irritation, his patience wearing thin. "Konoha is built on teamwork."

 

Haruno's eyes widened, understanding taking over her features. "That's right! The village was built through the efforts of two clans, Senju and Uchiha. The backbone of every successful genin team according to all the treatises I have read is teamwork."

 

"But what about there being two bells?" Uchiha questioned with narrowed eyes.

 

"It's a trap, I'm sure." Naruto spoke with a scowl.

 

"I think...you may be right Uzumaki-kun." Haruno began hesitantly. "I also read lots of books and he's right Sasuke-kun. Teams of two genin don't exist. The possibility of him passing two and failing one seems...odd. We can't be a team of two; they just don't exist."

 

"Hn."

 

"So... Uzumaki-kun. Uh...what do you suggest? Do you have a plan?" Haruno asked hesitantly, turning to him for guidance.

 

Naruto gazed at her in silence, his expression indifferent. Are you kidding me? I have no intention of playing the leadership role here. The pink-haired genin stared at him expectantly and Uchiha glared at him, his arms crossed over his chest in annoyance. Naruto heaved a long sigh and bent down, taking a fallen branch from the ground and began sketching a rough outline. He drew a rudimentary sketch of their landscape and marked an x as the symbol for the Jounin sensei.

 

Naruto spoke quickly, his words clipped and curt. His throat burned as he outlined the tactics, roles and strategic moves they would utilize in their battle. He gazed at the two genins with cool eyes and they nodded at his instructions. Haruno looked nervous but determined while Uchiha looked assessing and curious as he eyed the blond with dark narrowed eyes.

 

Naruto stood up, running his foot over the shoddy drawing. He gave them a brief nod and they returned it before the three took off in different directions.

 


Hatake Kakashi closed his book, eyeing the alarm clock with a brief glance. He looked towards the woods. It was time. He expanded his senses carefully, sensing Uzumaki Naruto's chakra deep in the woods. He frowned to himself. Naruto was not hiding his presence at all. That was disappointing. He had read his file thoroughly and he was shocked by his level of mediocrity. His performance was minimal at best, significantly lower than he expected as the son of Namikaze Minato and Uzumaki Kushina.

 

He supposed his poor performance was fair since Naruto had no guidance or support in his life.  He couldn't fault him for that. Kakashi sighed heavily to himself and tucked his book away, his grey eye gazing towards the thick trees.

 

First rule of being a shinobi. Hide your presence.

 

Kakashi tsked under his breath and took off to the trees, rushing forward towards the blond genin. He found him leaning against a tree in boredom, his blue eyes snapped up to him and regarded him with a cool gaze.

 

He straightened up and took a defensive stance.

 

Kakashi gave him a bland smile, his single eye crinkling. "I can't say I'm very impressed now Naruto-kun. You did not hide your presence."

 

"Uzumaki." The genin rasped.

 

Kakashi tilted his head to the side in confusion. "Hmm?"

 

"Call me Uzumaki," the genin spoke, his eyes cold.

 

Kakashi blinked slowly and assessed the tanned darkly clad genin.

 

Uzumaki Naruto was a very dour child. He was closed off and incredibly cold. Kakashi had no idea how to even go about approaching him. His self-introduction was incredibly alarming and anxiety-inducing. Naruto was incredibly bitter and surly for one so young. He was even worse than Uchiha Sasuke who had every right to be angry and hateful towards everything and everyone.

 

I hate everything. I like nothing. Dreams are foolish and I have none.

 

Naruto's voice was strange. It was scratchy and like that of a chain smoker. He wondered if Asuma's voice would sound like that eventually. Kakashi genuinely had no idea what to do. He really was not prepared for this genin. At least if he had a dream, he could help him accomplish it. If he knew what he liked he could start conversations on his topic of interest to build a rapport between them. If he knew his dislikes, he could tease him about them or embarrass him with it.

 

But the brat gave him nothing. I hate everything. I like nothing. There was literally nothing he could gleam from that. Nothing at all. At least with Uchiha Sasuke's introduction he could safely assume that the genin was out for revenge and he wanted to restore his clan. With Haruno Sakura, he learned that she carried a strong infatuation for her pale teammate and she envisioned a future with him and her hobbies and dreams... somehow... revolved around Uchiha Sasuke.

 

Oh and that she hated a... pig? He didn't quite understand the last one.

 

But with Uzumaki Naruto... He got nothing. Also to hate everything... The child was incredibly cantankerous. He felt tired just thinking about it. He had no idea whatsoever where to go from here... He wished there was an instructive manual on teaching young, angry children because his team was filled with them... He wished there was someone he could turn too for help.

 

He had approached Iruka-sensei but he was not much help. The file he provided on Naruto was sparse and thin and his own thoughts were unhelpful. Uzumaki Naruto? Ah... I'm afraid I don't have much to say... He's mediocre... very quiet... No, I have not seen him interact with anyone...  I don't think he has any friends... I'm sorry Kakashi, I really don't have a lot to say....

 

Iruka-sensei, despite teaching Naruto for years, had no relationship with the blond child. It seemed that no one in the village did. That fact unnerved the Jounin significantly... children needed friendship, bonds, and comrades. Being entirely alone was... dangerous.

 

Kakashi watched as the blond genin slid his hands into his weapons pouch, pulling out a number of kunai, sliding the handles of each blade between his fingers. He threw them at Kakashi and the Jounin moved fast in retaliation, substituting his body -Kawarimi no Jutsu - with a log. The knives embedded into the wood and he appeared behind the blond. The genin whirled around and leapt back, throwing more knives at him. Kakashi dodged easily as he cornered the student. Naruto leapt to the left and Kakashi followed relentlessly.

 

Naruto ducked suddenly, falling to the ground immediately. Kakashi's eye widened as a rope snapped, a wooden log came flying towards him. He leapt away and side stepped as blades flew directly at his back. He whirled around in shock to see Uchiha Sasuke leap towards him in a flurry of fast kicks and punches. He ducked and blocked, retaliating swiftly. Naruto leapt into the fray with a flurry of fast movements.

 

Kakashi blocked both genin and grabbed Naruto's arm and threw him off to the side. The blond twisted in the air and broke his fall, landing silently on a nearby branch. Sasuke moved his hands quickly in a practiced motion and took a large inhale of air- Katon goukakyuu no Jutsu - and breathed fire.

 

Kakashi's eye widened in surprise. The flames flew forward and he leapt back from the searing heat, his vision obscured with the large flames of fire.

 

"Sakura now!" Sasuke yelled.

 

Kakashi whirled around at the sound and stumbled when he felt a strong grip encase his ankle. He looked down in shock and then his world tipped upside down. Sakura leapt from the trees, a rope held in her hands as she dangled from a thick branch, using her full body weight to lift him up. Kakashi grabbed a kunai and twisted, slashing at the rope in one fluid motion.

 

He twisted his body to break his fall and hit the ground silently only to find himself surrounded by all three genin of Team Seven. Sakura kept her distance and launched her blades haphazardly towards him. Sasuke was a blur of fast taijutsu moves and Naruto was a flurry of sharp, precise hits. Naruto leapt back as Sasuke moved in closer, his hands flying into another Katon seal.

 

Kakashi moved forward, grabbing onto Sasuke's wrist and pivoting on his foot, intending to send him flying towards the trees. Naruto leapt forward, grabbing onto Sasuke's collar, pulling the Uchiha backwards and sent a round-kick to Kakashi's wrist. Kakashi relented his grip and stepped back, sending a hard kick towards the pair. His leg connected and they were sent flying into the tree trunks. He smirked down at them as they fell to the ground with hisses of pain. The Jounin stood tall, gazing at the two scowling children.

 

"Maa, maa you tried." He said, smiling at them in amusement.

 

He watched as their frustrated expressions melted into satisfaction as they looked behind him. Sasuke was smirking and Naruto was nodding.

 

"Yatta we won!" A bright voice chirped behind him in delight.


Kakashi whirled around in shock and his sole eye widened. Well... I was not expecting this outcome. There stood Haruno Sakura with a cheshire grin on her face, holding up the two bells in her hand proudly. When did she-? Kakashi's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Haruno Sakura was quite stealthily. That information was not provided in her file.

 

"Maa, maa. What a turn of events. But correction, only you won, not these two." Kakashi spoke, gesturing to the two genin on the ground.

 

Sakura smirked at him. "Kakashi-sensei, I believe we all passed though."

 

Kakashi stared at her in silence. Naruto and Sasuke stood up and made their way to the female genin.

 

"You see Kakashi-sensei," Sakura explained, her eyes bright and vindictive. "It was a joint effort. Uzumaki-kun was bait and backup for Sasuke-kun. Sasuke-kun was the forefront attacker and I was the stealth element. You see Uzumaki-kun brought to our attention that we need to work together to pass the test. In other words, two bells and a team of two is impossible. Two people aren't a team in Konoha. We are only are a team when we are united as three." She beamed brightly, jingling the bells in her hand tauntingly.

 

Kakashi's eye slid to the strategic mastermind of the plan. The blond was back to looking bored as he eyed the jingling bells with a disinterested, bored expression. Kakashi was impressed and also very shocked. He heard nothing of Uzumaki Naruto being... intelligent. There was nothing in his test scores or personal file that gave any indication of his wit and mental aptitude.

 

Kakashi had never passed a team before. Not once. All the previous genin never saw through his ruse but Naruto had seen through it and convinced his two teammates to work with him and formulated a strategic plan. This was a perfect execution of teamwork.

 

"Maa, maa Sakura-chan, there's only two bells though. I'm afraid someone has to fail."

 

Sasuke scoffed. "There's no such thing as a team of two. We are a team of three so you have to pass us all. We worked together for this."

 

"You mean you won't try for the bells. I mean you both can easily overwhelm Sakura-chan and ensure that you both pass." Kakashi taunted.

 

Sakura's eyes widened and she looked at her two teammates nervously, her hands still holding onto the bells. Naruto shook his head dismissively, pushing his hair out of eyes, not even glancing at the bells. He gazed ahead with an impatient look on his face, running a hand through his messy locks.

 

Sasuke hesitated for a moment but then nodded, crossing his arms over his chest and staring at his sensei with a challenging gaze.

 

"No." Sasuke spoke, his tone low and uncompromising.

 

The shrill sound of the alarm echoed through the large vicinity. The three children gazed at their Jounin sensei expectantly. Kakashi slouched forward in defeat, his eye crinkling in his first genuine smile.

 

"You all pass," he spoke.

 

"Yatta!" Sakura cried out as she jumped up and down in sheer excitement.

 

"Hn." Sasuke appeared satisfied.

 

Naruto looked indifferent, his expression blank.

 

"Ne Kakashi sensei, say we... say we didn't work together and all attacked you know... separately? What would have happened?" Sakura asked curiously.

 

Kakashi smiled. "Ah, you'd have failed of course."

 


 

Uchiha Sasuke hoisted his bag over his shoulder and turned away from his chattering female teammate with an expression of disinterest. Haruno Sakura was chatting next to him eagerly, something about grabbing dinner and bonding together as a team. She was bouncing on her heels excitedly, waving the bells around in her hands. She had refused to return the bells to their sensei, stating that she wanted to keep it as a form of memorabilia.

 

Kakashi sensei had his head in his book, walking behind the group silently. Sasuke slid his dark gaze to his blond teammate who was walking up ahead silently. Sasuke eyed his darkly clad form curiously. He knew next to nothing about Uzumaki Naruto. He honestly didn't even know he existed until the formation of their team. He too -like Sakura- wondered who? when he heard his name called out as his teammate.

 

The blond was incredibly quiet. Sasuke jogged his memory, trying to recall the blond's performance at the academy but he came up blank. He really had no idea who he was. He never sparred with him. He never interacted with him and he had never spoken a word to him until today. Why? With his quick wit, intelligence and strategic planning, the blond should have definitely made an impression in the academy but he was literally a ghost. He couldn't recall a single memory of a blond, blue-eyed classmate with an expressionless face.

 

None!

 

It was frustrating. Contrary to popular belief, Uchiha Sasuke was not stuck in his own head. He paid attention to his peers because he was always ready to uproot any challengers.

 

He wanted to be the strongest. He had to be the strongest. He was the Number One Rookie. He had earned that title through hard work and sheer will, through years and years of brutal and rigorous training. 

 

He didn't understand how he never heard of Uzumaki Naruto before. The blond was intelligent. He was a strategist. He had seen through Kakashi sensei's subterfuge immediately, concocted a successful and strategic plan that utilized all their individual strengths and skills - his physical aptitude and Sakura's stealth - and ensured that they all passed the test.

 

Sasuke was loathe to admit it but without him they would have failed today. Sasuke would have never imagined the test was a ruse to gauge their ability for teamwork. He really believed that it was a process of elimination. Sasuke grit his teeth in annoyance, annoyed that Uzumaki was able to decipher the faultiness of the bell test while he had failed completely.

 

The blond was walking ahead, his hands deep in his pockets, staring straight ahead. The way he had moved during the test was fast. His punches and kicks matched him in speed. He had caught on Kakashi's attack immediately and stepped in, pulling him back. He was incredibly observant and quick on his feet. Sasuke narrowed his eyes. Uzumaki clearly never showed his potential in the academy, not once.

 

Sasuke was annoyed. He couldn't measure his abilities. He couldn't tell how strong the other genin was.

 

The blond was a total mystery.

 

"Ne ne Sasuke-kun! Let's get dinner tonight! Team bonding ne?" Sakura chirped next to him.

 

"Maa, that's not a bad idea." Kakashi drawled behind them.

 

"Hn."

 

"Yes, let's all go!" Sakura cried out excitedly. "Uzumaki-kun! Let's go eat and celebrate our success!"

 

The blond turned and regarded them with an indifferent expression. He tilted his head to the side, his blond locks falling over cool blue eyes. He shook his head silently, refusing the invite nonverbally. He turned around dismissively and kept walking ahead.

 

Sasuke narrowed his eyes at the aloof behaviour. Sakura scowled at the silent rejection, her face turning into a defensive hot-tempered look.

 

"Maa, maa don't be like that Naruto-kun. When a lovely girl invites you to dinner, you should kindly accept."

 

The blond kept walking ahead, not deigning their sensei with a response. Sasuke watched him in silence. The blond hurried his steps, putting a distance between himself and their group. Sakura rushed ahead with a determined expression on her face. She rushed after the blond and pulled onto his arm roughly. Sasuke's eyes widened as Uzumaki disappeared with a pop as Sakura grabbed him.

 

"What?! A clone?!" Sakura squawked in shock.

 

"Maa, it seems he's already gone." Kakashi sensei drawled, turning back to his book in disinterest.

 

Sasuke grit his teeth. He didn't even notice! Uzumaki Naruto had substituted himself with a clone and he hadn't even noticed! The blond was much smarter and more talented than he appeared. He wanted to challenge him to a spar and gauge his abilities for himself.

 

Sasuke walked away from his remaining teammate, his mind spinning in thought. If Uzumaki Naruto was hiding his abilities, were there others? Were there others that did not care to position themselves as the strongest genin? The Uchiha scowled to himself at the deprecating thought. 

 


 

Naruto paused in his writing, his head lifting curiously as he felt his clone's memories flow into his mind. He eyed the clock curiously and calculated the amount of time it took for his teammates to discover the clone. He sneered, completely unimpressed by their abilities. It took them a solid thirty minutes to realize that he had left a clone behind, leaving immediately after they passed their test, seeing no point in lingering to eat and chat after his objective was completed.

 

Naruto sighed heavily to himself, lowering his journal and walking to his kitchen. He heated his stew and gazed out his window in thought. He scowled at the memories of his clown, scoffing under his breath.

 

A dinner invite.

 

As if he'd waste his time with such useless endeavours. He helped the other two pass the test as a necessity, not because he wanted to form bonds and play house. It was a one time act. He wouldn't be helping them out again. He only needed Haruno and Uchiha safe until the Chuunin Exams. After that he did not care what happened to them. He didn't... He had no love left in his heart. After the death of Uchiha Shisui, his heart had shrivelled up completely.

 

All he had left in his heart was hatred and cold anger. He held his anger in check when dealing with the other two genin because he needed them to listen to him. Just once. Naruto took his hot dinner of thick savoury stew to the couch, lifting his journal up and eyeing the diagrams and sketches of his new technique. He was concocting new tactics and he planned for an arsenal of unconventional techniques to utilize. He eyed the intricate cage design - Torikago no jutsu- and smirked to himself, his blue eyes lighting up vindictively.

 


 

The blond genin looked out his window at the dark skies, his lips pursing tightly in thought. His eyes flicked towards the shadows of the adjacent rooftop briefly where his ANBU guard was perched, watching him dutifully. He turned around, feigning ignorance at the invasive presence and opened his balcony door, stepping out in the cool night air. Naruto leaned on the rusty railing, watching the crowds of the Red Light District with an indifferent gaze. His neighbourhood was loud and the streets were heavily populated with the impoverished outliers of Konoha. The air was crisp and cool; the moon was full in the dark sky. 

 

Naruto felt his clones move quietly in his dark apartment. They were obscured from view and slipped out into the night. His ANBU guard remained unaware. The blond genin stood on the balcony, keeping the attention on him as his clones left the apartment complex and slid through the shadows and alleyways, hidden from sight. The clones slipped past the walls of the village, undetected and disappeared into the night.

 

Naruto gazed at the pedestrians with an expression of boredom. The streets were rundown and his neighbours were heavily inebriated. The blond sighed and pulled away from the railing, rubbing his eyes in an appearance of fatigue and sleepiness. He slipped back inside, closing his balcony door and pulling his curtains back.

 

His tired expression dropped immediately and he turned on his heel, making his way into his bedroom. He closed his bedroom door and activated his rudimentary self-made privacy and noise-cancelling seals, his eyes turning sharp as he looked around his sparse belongings. He made his way to his closet and opened the door, pulling out his dark clothing and setting them down on the ground. He looked at the bare walls and pressed two fingers infused with his chakra to the white space. The blank space lit up with a large detailed map with intricate elaborate lines.

 

Naruto gazed at the details critically. He sat down on the ground, taking out one of his journals. He pulled out an old worn out copy and tracked the alternative pathways, making alterations, noting the populated merchant villages and different ports. His eyes lingered on the bolded x on the map and he tapped his finger on the page thoughtfully. He eyed the calendar on the wall, his eyes narrowing in thought. Five months and three weeks until the Chuunin Exams. 

 

He continued tapping his finger on the page thoughtfully, his mind running through multiple scenarios. His eyes lit up and he smirked to himself. The final part of the Chuunin Exams were always a large spectatorship. The entire village would have their eyes on the performers - the final Chuunin contestants.

 

Naruto pressed a finger to his lips in thought. The Chuunin Exams were the best opportunity to disappear. With everyone paying attention to the final contesters he could easily slip away undetected. He couldn't afford to be one of the final contesters and publicly reveal his hidden abilities. He would leave the glory of representing Konoha in the Chuunin Exams to others.

 

Naruto closed his journal and looked back towards the intricate and detailed map, his eyes lingering at the focal point - his destination - his forgotten history, his desecrated home, the oceanic landscape, and his eyes hardened in a steely resolve.

 


 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven

 

The genin's blue eyes narrowed at the content of the D-rank mission scroll in his hands, his teeth gritted angrily as he read it over a second time. His fingers curled tightly on the thin paper and he tossed the scroll to his pale teammate silently, turning on his heel hurriedly. He ignored his female teammate urging him to slow down and he made his way through the village with brisk steps, glaring hatefully at any of the villagers that glanced his way. His anger was rolling off him in waves as he made his way through the familiar streets, his legs leading him to a path he hadn't taken since he was five years old.

 

Naruto stopped in front of the large debilitated building of the orphanage, his cold eyes taking in the sight of the children running around outside in the dried fields. He saw a few matrons and caretakers lounging outside, enjoying the sun and warm weather. His teammates fell into steps behind him and he stalked forward, his fists clenched angrily. The caretakers looked up at their arrival and they did a double take as they saw him.

 

The children looked on as they eyed the team of genin. Naruto ignored the hostile looks and made his way through the building with familiarity. He stepped inside and released a long breath, taking in the old walls, his body bristling at the memories of neglect, hunger and pain. He looked down the hall where he knew the head matron's office was. He made his way down the halls and knocked hurriedly on the door. Her soft voice echoed from behind the door and it swung open.

 

The matron's eyes widened and an expression of horror overtook her wizened face as she saw him. She took a step back as he glared at her hatefully. She had been responsible for so many of his bruises and broken bones. She had watched the older children beat him down as a little child again and again. She had never lifted a finger and watched him suffer with a mean sneer on her face. Her eyes locked on the hitae-ate on his neck and she gulped, raising a finger shakily and pointing at him.

 

"W-why a-are you here demon?" She spat hatefully.

 

Naruto reached behind him and grabbed the mission scroll from the frozen fingers of his teammate's hands. Uchiha and Haruno were staring wide eyed at the matron, their expressions confused and alarmed. Naruto held out the scroll to the matron with icy eyes.

 

"We are here to fulfill our D-rank mission." He rasped hatefully, glaring at her.

 

The matron gazed at the scroll with narrowed eyes, a sneer marring her aged face. "You're here to help with the children?" She intoned in a low tone, glaring down at him with blatant hatred.

 

"Did I fucking stutter?" Naruto hissed lowly, tossing the scroll to the woman carelessly.

 

She stumbled with the scroll and caught it before turning a haughty glare onto him. Naruto glared right back, his fists clenched at his sides. The matron turned to the scroll with a sour face and unrolled it, reading over the content hurriedly. She pursed her lips tightly, glaring at the content. She turned her gaze to his two teammates dismissively and turned to sneer down at him. She tucked the scroll into her robes and pushed past him, slamming her bony shoulder into his body roughly.

 

Naruto clenched his teeth angrily and followed her silently. She made her way through the halls and began explaining their duties. She assigned each of them a separate task, glaring at Naruto the entire way, her voice was tight and spiteful. She sneered at him, her eyes vindictive as she gave him the most demeaning and labour intensive task to complete.

 


 

Naruto closed his eyes tightly, counting backwards to keep himself from lashing out as he took in the familiar surroundings. The blond moved his hands silently in a fast seal, creating an impeccable clone in his spot and he slipped out of the room quietly. He made his way to the rooftop of the orphanage and stared down at the grounds in silent reflection. He watched the small children running around exuberantly, laughing and playing games with each other in a carefree manner. He recalled a frail, small child dressed in torn rags ostracized by other children, a child that everyone refused to play with.

 

He gazed at the open fields and looked towards the stacked boxes off to the side and his heart clenched at the painful memories. He recalled a tiny child who always hid inside the boxes to avoid the older children who hunted him down every single day to belittle and hurt him. Naruto gazed down at the far ledge where his old bedroom was located, high up and in the corner of the large building, isolated and barren.

 

He recalled a small child who was kept away from everyone, locked away in his room for hours and hours, without any food or water, bereft of any company. He remembered a small boy that stood by the window, his small hands pressed to the cool glass, watching festivities of light and merrymaking with a forlorn expression and aching loneliness. He recalled a small boy who huddled in the corner of his barren room, his arms wrapped tightly around his body as he shivered from the cold, his lips turning blue and fingers growing numb.

 

He recalled a tiny child who did not learn his name for an entire year because no one spoke it; he was always labelled with demon, monster, beast, fiend. He remembered a small boy who sat in darkness, whispering his name over and over again in desperation. He remembered a small whining infant, confined to his cradle, gazing at a locked door for hours and hours as his stomach grumbled and ached from hunger pangs.

 

Naruto turned his gaze away from the ledge and took off to the rooftops, pulling himself forcefully from his painful past. He rushed through the village, moving fast. His throat burned and he grit his teeth angrily, resisting the slew of painful memories. He moved aimlessly and wandered for a long time. He found himself in a familiar clearing by a running stream. He looked up at the tall trees and made his way slowly towards the water bank. He located the large boulder and lifted it up, taking out his dual swords gently.

 

The blond genin sat by the water bank, clenching the swords in his hands tightly, feeling exhausted and drained. He tucked his knees to his chest and rested his head on his kneecaps. He focused on taking long breaths - in and out - inhale and exhale, inhale and exhale, inhale and exhale. Naruto clenched his eyes tightly and focused on his breathing pattern, ignoring the growing chasm of pain in his chest. He opened his eyes slowly and stared down at the swords in his hands.

 

"I'm so tired." He whispered lowly.

 

Naruto laid down on the soft grass and crossed the swords over his chest, focusing on the comforting feeling of the cool metal in his hands. He closed his eyes and listened to the soft sounds of nature around him. He focused on the twittering of the birds, the trickling of the stream, and the soft swishing sound of the grass and leaves. His breathing slowed, his mind drifting farther and farther away.

 


 

His eyelids fluttered tiredly and his fingertips twitched in small movements. The blond lay unconscious on the cool grass, his small form shivering as he was plagued by dreams and visions. The sweat gathered on his forehead and it trickled down his face as a soft voice filtered through the oppressive darkness that surrounded him. The voice was soft, young and concerned.

 

Eren, why are you crying?

 

The darkness began fading slowly. There was a large tree with thick green leaves situated above him and a large expansive field of blue flowers stretched out for many miles. A small figure stood over him, dark raven eyes gazed at him in concern and long onyx hair fluttered in the wind. The voice was distant and it called out to him softly, an echo of the past resonated through his mind as he shivered on the ground.

 

Eren, why are you crying?

 

His blue eyes opened tiredly. His vision was bleary and he gazed up at the dark twinkling sky in confusion. He wiped his moist forehead and sat up slowly, blinking at his surroundings in puzzlement. He felt a wet sensation trail down his cheeks and he pressed a hand to his hot skin. He touched his face slowly, tracing the wet path back up to his eyelids. He blinked tiredly; a small frown adorned his face. He rubbed his eyes and pulled his hands back. He stared in confusion at the wet residue on his hands.

 

His breath hitched in his chest and his arms wrapped around his middle, curling into himself in a vulnerable display of pain and grief. He remained rooted to his spot, hunched over for a long time, waiting for the palpable grief in his heart to settle into a distant throbbing pain. The genin heaved a long breath, looking up at the twinkling stars. He recalled an old memory of a time he sat in the same spot, gazing up at the stars with his only friend.

 

I dream of peace kozō. I want to create a world that you can grow to love one day. A world where children are not hurting and a world where children are not alone in their sorrow.

 

One day kozō, I will show you such a world.   

 

Naruto shook his head at the deprecating thoughts, his long locks falling into his moist eyes. He gazed up at the stars tiredly, his expression mournful.

 

"Such a world doesn't exist Shisui," he whispered quietly.

 

Naruto stood up tiredly, picking up the dual swords. He pulled a storage scroll from his vest pocket and stored the swords inside, tucking the scroll back into his thick vest. He looked up at the twinkling stars, his expression weary and drained. He heaved a long sigh and turned on his heel, walking quietly from the woods and into the dark night.

 


 

The blond genin refused to complete anymore D-rank missions after his encounter in the orphanage. He didn't want to face his teammates curious and concerned glances either. He wanted nothing to do with them. He was so incredibly tired and he wondered how he'd even last until the Chuunin Exams. His patience was wearing thin and he was barely holding it together. He had no reprieve. The blond genin slammed his fist on his blaring alarm clock, sitting up tiredly and rubbing his eyes.

 

He got no sleep at all. He was plagued by nightmares and memories of the past. He gazed blankly at the alarm. There was no point in showing up on time when the Jounin instructor would arrive so late. Naruto fell back against his covers. Is there even a point in showing up at all? He was taught nothing and the Jounin instructor spent his time reading his orange book, ignoring his students.

 

Uchiha kept asking him to spar on a daily basis. Haruno spent the time chatting away or glancing at him curiously when he had his back turned. He ignored both of his teammates. Uchiha always bristled angrily when he walked away from him. He had no intention to show his hidden arsenal around his teammates, especially with Hatake Kakashi present.

 

Naruto moved his hands in a quick seal, summoning a clone and he waved his hand tiredly to the clone. The clone gave him a curt nod before it left his apartment. He rolled on his side and pulled himself out of bed. He would have his clones complete the D-rank missions. He had no desire whatsoever to help the civilians with their problems. To hell with them all. He made his way to the kitchen, rolling his neck tiredly. He eyed the calendar curiously, counting down the time left until the Chuunin Exams.

 


 

Uchiha Sasuke glared angrily at Kakashi sensei, his pale arms were crossed over his chest as he scowled up at the older man. Sakura watched him with wide eyes, her hands were pressed to her cheeks and she was fighting back an amused grin. Uzumaki was ignoring them completely. He was sitting a few meters away from their group, leaning against a tree in the shade, reading a dry political treatise.

 

"I'm done." Sasuke spoke in an uncompromising tone. "I'm done with weeding, gardening, painting fences and chasing cats all over the village. We need a real mission." He hissed in irritation.

 

Kakashi sensei raised his hands placatingly. "Maa maa, let's not rush Sasuke-kun. D-ranks are useful. D-rank missions help build bonds between shinobi and the rest of the villagers. They help us foster trust and goodwill."

 

Sasuke heard a noise that sounded suspiciously like an indignant scoff from Uzumaki. Sasuke didn't blame him for his reaction. From what he had witnessed so far, the villagers demonized his blond teammate and vilified him for merely existing. It was mind-boggling. He didn't understand their actions at all.

 

There was definitely no goodwill being fostered between the villagers of Konoha and his cantankerous blond teammate. Sasuke personally didn't care at all about goodwill and fostering bonds with the villagers and those around him. He wanted to get stronger and achieve his ambition. He had no time for goodwill and relationships. They were a complete waste of time.

 

"I can't waste more time like this." Sasuke protested dryly. "I might kill the cat next time if it escapes again." He threatened angrily.

 

Sakura chortled with laughter and pressed her hands to her mouth, trying to muffle her amused snickers while Kakashi sensei arched an eyebrow high. The Jounin and pale genin stared at each other for a long moment. Sasuke kept glaring, refusing to bend. He was done with D-rank missions. Kakashi sensei heaved a heavy sigh and reached a hand out, attempting to ruffle his dark hair. Sasuke scowled and stepped away from the touch.

 

"Fine. Let's go see if we can get a C-rank mission."

 

"Hn."

 

"Yatta!"

 


 

Haruno Sakura skipped happily up the stairs to her bedroom. She rushed inside and began packing her overnight bag, tucking in her dry provisions in her sack and an extra set of clothes. She smiled happily, pressing her hands to her cheeks in excitement. They were finally leaving the village. No more awful D-rank missions. The kunoichi finished her packing and set her bag down next to her cleaned and laundered dress.

 

She hummed softly under her breath. It wasn't a glorious mission; they had to guard a drunken bridge builder. It was a good starter mission. She was worried because she had never left the village before and she had never experienced danger directly. Being a civilian-nin put her at a huge disadvantage. She didn't have the exposure or background training like most of her peers. She frowned to herself at the thought, glancing at the stacked textbooks on the dresser. She had learned everything from her books.

 

No one had ever assisted her. Her parents were civilians; they knew next to nothing about shinobi life. She had made it so far in the academy and achieved her status as a genin through her own efforts.

 

No one had ever helped her.

 

It was disheartening.

 

Their sensei did not teach them anything yet. She didn't really have many strengths like her teammates. She was very good at stealth because she had spent her youth following Sasuke-kun around and it made her quick on her feet and silent in her approach. She had very little chakra so it was easy for her to mask her presence. She had years and years of practice of following Sasuke-kun around but aside from that... Sakura shook her head at the self-deprecating thoughts, slapping her hands to her face roughly.

 

Bad thoughts go away! She ordered resolutely. 

 

She climbed into her bed, pulling the blanket to her chin, her mind spinning in concern. What if we get attacked? Can I defend myself? Can I help Sasuke-kun? She shivered at the thought. She had never been in a dangerous situation before and her home life was filled with warmth and love. She had never experienced any life-threatening situations and she was worried... Sakura shook her head, turning on her side.

 

It's fine, we're just guarding a bridge builder. What's the worse that could happen? It's fine.

 

She turned on her back and closed her eyes, her breaths slowed and she fell into a comfortable sleep.

 


 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve

 

The sound of steady dripping resonated through the dark space and the dank and unaired smell proliferated through the vicinity. The blond genin closed his eyes tightly and imagined a vast idyllic landscape, flourished with greenery and open space. He opened his blue eyes and heaved a relieved sigh as he made his way towards the chakra beast. He looked around the large green field. It was filled with an innumerable amount of blue flowers and green shrubs were shrouded distantly in the background. He leaned back against a familiar tree in the center of the field - a sight that made him ache and smile wanly - and he greeted his ancient friend with a curt nod.

 

"Hello Kurama," He spoke quietly, his voice echoing through the empty field.

 

He took a seat underneath the large tree and the soft green blades tickled his fingertips as he curled his small hands into the grass. He looked up at the large chakra beast who knelt down, his crimson eyes were peering at him closely. Naruto closed his eyes and leaned against the tree, taking comfort in the presence and closeness of his ancient friend.

 

"Your first outside mission is tomorrow." Kurama spoke in an old grainy voice.

 

The blond slid his eyes open slowly and nodded. "Yes, we're guarding an inebriated bridge builder."

 

Kurama hummed silently, a loud thrumming noise that shook the bars of his cell. Naruto gazed at his friend as he rested a hand on the bark of the large tree wistfully. He regarded his friend thoughtfully and his expression turned serious.

 

"I have mapped out multiple alternate routes so far. I will do more reconnaissance on the  guarding mission. I have decided on the Chuunin Exams as the best time to leave." Naruto leaned forward, clasping his hands in front of him intently.

 

"Chuunin Exams." Kurama spoke thoughtfully. "You may encounter another sacrifice such as yourself."

 

Naruto's head snapped up in surprise. "Really?"

 

"Representatives will come from different villages. There is a small chance there will be another vessel present but I cannot be sure until they are nearby. I will be able to sense them within a close proximity."

 

Naruto frowned. "Another like me huh? Interesting... So one of your siblings..." The blond trailed off, his expression grew angry on behalf of his old friend.

 

The fox remained silent in deep reflection. Naruto heaved a long troubled sigh. He never understood the actions of Senju Hashirama. He had sealed all the chakra beasts in human vessels and every vessel was given to different village to create a semblance of power balance. The nature of a power balance was false and mere lip-service. Konoha was the strongest village in all the Elemental Nations and they were in possession of the nine-tailed beast. The strongest Bijuu of them all. The beasts had been free beings who did not interfere or interact with humans. They were spirits that did not care for human affairs.

 

They were distant and ethereal creatures who were morphed into monstrous entities as they were trafficked, captured and enslaved into indissoluble cells within their human hosts. Naruto grit his teeth angrily. He could never accept it. The Bijuu had been free and they were captured, forced to live in human hosts who were treated terribly and when their hosts passed away, they would be sealed again.

 

They were doomed to relive the perpetual cycle of violence, abuse and hatred till the end of time. It wasn't at all shocking that the Bijuu had changed from distant spiritual entities to hateful, wrathful and violent creatures after their long years of captivity and enforced servitude.

 

"The Chuunin Exams aren't far." Naruto spoke with steely eyes. He gazed up at his friend with dark eyes. "We will be free Kurama, I swear it."

 

Kurama's dark eyes gleamed and he gave a shallow nod. "You gave me your word years ago brat and I will hold you to it."

 

Naruto gave him a sharp smile. "I will honour it." He looked to the large tree by his side and he pressed a hand to it gently, his eyes distant and mournful.

 

"The ocean..." He whispered softly. "This time, I will claim my freedom, without fail."

 

Naruto gazed at the tree and he smiled softly at the distant memories of the past. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the warm trunk, recalling a warm old memory of small brunette gazing up at the skies and flying birds in wonder. He was soon joined by a small blond with bright sea-blue inquisitive eyes. The boy ran towards him, holding a thick book tightly in his thin arms. He set the book on the ground and they both looked over it eagerly, sharing promises and solidifying their dreams under the setting skies.

 

Eren, it’d be nice if we could explore the outside world someday. Far, far beyond these walls… To the burning waters and the lands of ice, to the snowfields of sand. One day, let's see it all.

 

The memory shifted and he watched the small frail blond grow into a hardened solider. He ran through a desecrated battlefield, screams of despair and death echoing all around him. He stood bravely and unsheathed his dual swords and struck his titan form and he held on tightly and desperately, screaming his name, pulling him back from the haze of his monstrous transformation.

 

Eren! Eren! Eren! 

 

Eren, weren’t we going to explore the outside world? Far, far beyond these walls… To the burning waters and the lands of ice... to the snowfields of sand...

 

The outside world...

 

Eren, answer me! Even though you knew hell was raging outside the walls… even though we might end up dying horrible deaths like my parents… Why do you want to see the outside world?

 

The memory shifted to soldiers falling all around him, comrades, commanders and teammates being eaten alive and torn apart limb by limb. Monstrous titans grabbed the soldiers around him. His fearless sister and brave best friend were on the ground surrounded by death and destruction as he carried a massive boulder on his shoulders. He looked down to the ground and saw his two loved ones rush forward through the chaos, unrelenting in the face of death.

 

From the moment we're born... we're all free... Some might try to deny that, but it doesn’t matter how strong they are. Frozen water… frozen earth.. I don’t care what it is! The one who sees them will be the freest person in the world! I’d willingly give my life for that! It doesn’t matter how terrifying the world is. It doesn’t matter how cruel the world is! I will fight!

 

Go Eren! His best friend screamed desperately, his scream filtering through all the chaos.

 

The blond's cerulean eyes snapped open, the memory of his best friend pushing him forward - Go Eren! - He needed to move forward. He needed to claim what was rightfully his and fight for his freedom. Uzushiogakure. The village hidden by the whirling tides. Whirlpool. The land built by the oceanic landscape. As Eren and as Naruto, his life circled back inevitably to the ocean.

 

Naruto stood up in determination and gave a curt nod to Kurama who returned it silently, his eyes were sharp and understanding. Naruto closed his eyes and took a long breath, catapulting himself back to his empty apartment. His eyes snapped open and he turned to his maps in determination.

 

He would claim his freedom even if it costed him his life.

 


 

The blond genin gazed up at the bright sky. He ran a hand through his moist locks and scowled at the stifling wave of sweltering heat. As Team 7 stepped out of the gates of Konoha, the blond genin began obsessively cataloguing every microscopic detail with cool, steely eyes. His teammates walked ahead, the bridge builder - Tazuna - walked by their sensei and Haruno. Uchiha was on their other side while Naruto lagged behind a few steps at the rear.

 

He looked towards the tall trees, ignoring the chattering of Haruno and the grumbling of the bridge builder who was upset that he was stuck with a bunch of children as his guards. They kept walking for a while. Haruno chattered with their sensei and the Jounin began a dull geographical and historical lesson on the five nations.

 

Naruto gazed up at the tall trees with narrowed eyes. He forced his body to appear laid-back and unaware as he discretely imbued his chakra strings to his fingertips.

 

"There are no ninja battles in C-rank missions. Don't worry Sakura-chan." Kakashi sensei spoke comfortingly from ahead, his voice resonating through the quiet space.

 

Naruto resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the nativity of his female teammate who deflated immediately, the tension leaving her body as a wide smile adorned her face. In the shinobi world, every mission had the potential to turn deadly. There was never a guarantee; even if it was a simple courier mission, it could result in immediate death. Naruto walked behind the group, his cerulean gaze observant as he looked towards the trees. His eyes flicked momentarily to the ground where there was a large puddle and he kept his face nonchalant as he gazed ahead, spotting another puddle up ahead.

 

It hadn't rained in days.

 

The past days had been hot and sunny.

 

Naruto enhanced his chakra strings, making them hard as steel and kept his gaze vigilant and observant. He watched with narrowed eyes as a darkly clad shinobi emerged from the puddle and flew ahead towards their sensei. Haruno began screaming as Kakashi sensei was wrapped in serrated chains and another shinobi dashed forward with his set of chains, wrapping their sensei in a tight hold and they both pulled their chains in unison. Kakashi sensei imploded under the impact and Haruno screamed in terror.

 

The two shinobi turned and gazed at him with dark intent, rushing towards him. Naruto's eyes slid to where his strings were covering the ground in an intricate web and he waited for them to draw closer into his dormant trap. The two shinobi closed in and Uchiha rushed forward, throwing a kunai towards the chains followed by another blade. The blades pinned the chains to the tree and the two shinobi whirled around, turning their attention to their weapons. The chains broke and they rushed towards the bridge builder. Naruto watched as Haruno ran forward with a single blade, shielding Tazuna with her body.

 

Not bad Haruno, he thought silently.

 

Uchiha rushed into the fray and spread his arms wide, standing in front of his female teammate protectively. Naruto flexed his fingers and his strings moved silently on the ground, wrapping around the two attackers from the ankles and moved higher and higher. He watched as they raised their blades towards the Uchiha and he began to curl his fingers only to pause when he was intercepted by their sensei. Naruto flicked his strings back silently, tucking his hands into his pockets as Kakashi sensei caught the two struggling nin in a choke-hold.

 

Typical, he thought silently.

 

There was no way prodigious Copy-nin Hatake Kakashi would be taken down by amateurs. The puddles were recognizable. He was sure their sensei was aware and he was testing them as he faked his demise with a substitution jutsu. Naruto slid his gaze to the bridge builder and narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. They had targeted him directly... Why?

 

Kakashi sensei praised Uchiha and Haruno for their quick thinking, turning to gaze at him for a quiet moment. Uchiha turned around with a smug gaze, regarding the silent blond with dark eyes.

 

Naruto ignored Uchiha and gazed at the bridge builder who released a heavy sigh of relief. He stepped forward and walked towards the older man, stopping in front of him with his hands tucked into his pockets.

 

"Oi bridge builder," he rasped with a blank face. "Why are they targeting you?"

 

The silence descended on their group and the bridge builder paled as Naruto stared up at him.

 

"W-what nonsense are you sprouting boy?" The builder cried out.

 

"Nonsense?" Naruto rasped, tilting his head to the side thoughtfully, his eyes were cold and critical. He looked over at the two nin who were strapped to the tree dismissively and turned back to the older man and continued.

 

"They eliminated the Jounin instructor as the greatest threat then they went after you immediately. Why would two shinobi go after an innocent bridge builder? Surely there's more you're not telling." Naruto drawled, narrowing his cold eyes at the bridge builder.

 

Kakashi sensei sighed and stepped forward between his student and bridge builder.

 

"That's correct Tazuna-san. This mission is now a B-rank since shinobi are involved. It is not what we signed up for."

 

"That's right," Haruno agreed quickly, her face apologetic. "This is beyond our capabilities. Let's go back."

 

Naruto scrutinized the hunched, resigned form of the older man. He took in his old secondhand clothes that had stitches sewed on to hide the frayed patches. It was a good sewing job and it would be missed by most but Naruto found himself sewing on occasion to keep his clothes intact. He could recognize the poor attempts to hide the poverty.

 

The blond gazed at their surroundings. They were a few miles out of Konoha. He wanted to map out the geography of the land further - maps were insufficient- they did not show the shortcuts, hidden trails and small merchant villages and discrete hideouts. He needed more experience being outside the village and he was running out of time. This was a good opportunity to gather more intel.

 

"You can't afford it, can you?" Naruto inquired quietly.

 

Tazuna's gaze snapped to him and Naruto looked at him steadily. There was no pity in his blue eyes but there was a sense of understanding. The bridge builder clenched his fists tightly and he lowered his head.

 

"Poverty is nothing to be ashamed of." Naruto intoned quietly.

 

He turned on his heel and walked ahead, pausing momentarily as his team remained rooted to the spot. He inclined his head forward and turned around, walking with a steady pace.

 

The bridge builder followed after him and his teammates fell into steps behind him, Haruno was grumbling and Uchiha was silently observing him. Naruto looked at the path in front of him critically and the bridge builder fell into step next to him, quiet and with an expression of gratitude on his face.

 

Naruto remained silent, not bothering to correct any of his teammates who were under the impression that he was helping the bridge builder for altruistic purposes. Naruto's eyes critically took in his surroundings, his mind cataloguing all the pathways and mapping out several contingency plans for his future escape.

 


 

They made camp as the sun began setting. Haruno and Uchiha busied themselves with setting up the tents while Kakashi spoke to the bridge builder quietly, inquiring about the political unrest of his village. Naruto leaped to the trees silently and left his teammates on the ground setting camp. His sharp eyes slid to his sensei who was in a deep discussion, his silver brows were furrowed in concern. Haruno was chattering happily on the ground, her eyes bright as she kept glancing at Uchiha and smiling to herself. Uchiha was blank faced and was ramming the tent rods to the ground in quick movements.

 

Naruto climbed higher up the tree and set his bag on the branch. He had no intentions to sleep on the ground - the position felt too vulnerable for him - and he leaned against the thick trunk. He was very high up and his teammates could not make him out as he was obscured by the thick foliage of leaves and branches.

 

High places never bothered him. He had spent a lifetime flying through the sky with 3D maneuver gear. Sleeping high up in trees was second nature to him. It felt safer. He slid his chakra strings around his torso in a gentle hold and secured them to the tree trunk to ensure he wouldn't fall over in his sleep. Naruto gazed down at the camp and watched as they settled in for a late dinner.

 

Kakashi sensei gazed up at the trees for a moment before sighing heavily and turned back to his camp. The Jounin sat down with Haruno, Uchiha and the bridge builder as they ate their dried provisions. Naruto waited until they were all in their tents fast asleep before he slipped his hands into a quick seal.

 

Ten clones appeared around the thick branches silently, crouched down low and waiting for instructions. Naruto moved his hands in silent gestures, conveying his plan. The clones removed their hitai-ate and slid them in their pockets in a practiced motion. They drew dark cloth masks over the lower-part of their faces. They nodded briefly before dispersing in opposite directions silently.

 

Naruto leaned back against the branch and closed his eyes, letting sleep overtake him.

 

 


 

The attack happened quickly.

 

Haruno was chattering away, grumbling about a pig and Naruto zoned her out as he walked ahead. Uchiha walked next to the female genin, silent and offering zero commentary. They were a few paces behind Naruto while the bridge builder remained next to him, walking silently by his side. Kakashi sensei walked ahead of the group, his gaze locked on a book held in his hand.

 

Naruto felt an ominous chill overtake his body and his honed battle instincts screamed danger! He didn't hesitate and moved immediately. He grabbed the bridge builder and pulled him down roughly, sending them both to the ground. Haruno cried out in confusion and the large blade sailed above their heads a second later. Naruto hissed and pulled himself up, dragging the bridge builder behind him as he unsheathed a blade. Uchiha moved immediately, slipping in next to him with his own blades drawn out. Haruno froze for a moment before she rushed forward, moving in on his other side. The three stood protectively in front of the bridge builder.

 

Naruto released his strings immediately, releasing a surge of chakra to propel them faster; an intricate spiderweb began covering the ground. The missing-nin leaped onto his long blade that was imbedded into the tree and he looked towards their group. He was a masked nin with a large sword and a tanned complexion.

 

"You move fast kid." The nin spoke gazing directly at Naruto.

 

Naruto gazed at him with narrowed eyes and Kakashi sensei moved forward swiftly in front of their group, tucking his book away. The Jounin sensei lifted his hitae-ate, revealing his sole sharingan eye. The missing-nin -Momochi Zabuza - was quite talkative. He began giving them a biographical speech on their sensei's abilities.

 

Zabuza moved quickly, trading blows with Kakashi sensei, swapping his body with a water clone as they both cornered each other. He moved fast, sending Kakashi sensei hurtling towards the body of water and trapping him in a Water Prison Jutsu. He turned his dark eyes towards their small group and he released a dry mirthless laugh. The mist spread farther and farther until it obscured the entirety of the woods.

 

Naruto felt a small ripple of movement across his dormant web of strings and he moved quickly, his hand grabbing his female teammate's arm and he turned on his heel, using his body weight to send her hurtling away from the impeding danger. Haruno cried out in alarm as she was flung into the thick foliage. Uchiha stumbled in alarm as Naruto sent a strong roundabout kick to his stomach, sending him away from the attack.

 

Naruto blocked the incoming attack with a kunai, grunting against the weight of Zabuza's blade. The clone held the massive sword in his hands and he swung viciously, his arch wide and heavy. Naruto grounded his feet with chakra and blocked the attacks, grinding his teeth in frustration as his small frame shook under the weight of the sword. The bridge builder cried out in fear, stumbling behind him. Naruto flexed his strings and they latched onto Tazuna's legs, pulling him away from the attack and sent him deep into the woods.

 

Zabuza's eyes gleamed. "Well... it seems Konoha has some kids with potential." He spoke in an amused tone as he swung his sword mercilessly, aiming to kill.

 

Naruto leaped back, his eyes were hard and steely. Zabuza moved his hands in quick successions, summoning multiple clones and charged towards the blond. Naruto blocked the first clone wielding the massive sword and flexed his strings towards the other clones. The strings moved sharply and sliced through the cloned bodies. The remaining clones ducked and withdrew back into the thick mist. Zabuza swung his massive sword fiercely, sending the kunai hurtling from Naruto's grip.

 

The blond's eyes widened in horror as the sword caught his shoulder and he pulled back before he was torn in half. His strings pulled him away before his arm was severed off entirely. He hissed in pain as his flesh and muscles tore. The hot blood seeped rapidly from the large wound. 

 

He grit his teeth painfully and Zabuza released a dry mirthless chuckle. The blond genin leapt back, hand pressing down onto his bleeding shoulder. His eyes slid briefly towards his sensei where he remained imprisoned in the water prison, his grey eyes were wide and horrified.

 

Naruto felt the ripple of movement on his chakra web and he zoned in on the chakra signature. Uchiha was running through the mist and he heard the sound of the multiple blades hurtling through the mist. The blades flew towards Zabuza who blocked them with a single kunai with ease. Haruno was picking herself up from the ground shakily, her blades held in her hands and she was intercepted by another water clone. Her jade eyes widened in horror and she flung her kunai but missed the clone by a few meters. The clone charged at her, his knives sailing towards her. The kunoichi ducked and leaped back, the blades missing her by a few inches.

 

The water clone charged forward and Haruno cried out in fear, her arms raised above her face protectively in a futile manner. Naruto cursed under his breath and moved his hands in a fast seal. He took a large breath and his chest expanded as he filled his lungs with air. He blew a strong gust of rapid wind from his mouth and slammed the clone into the trees. The blond shunshined in front of his female teammate as another water clone emerged from the mist. Naruto blocked the clone's blades with a kunai and pushed Haruno behind him.

 

Across the field, Uchiha moved his hands in a fast seal and propelled himself forward, breathing a large surge of fire directly in Zabuza's path. The missing-nin leaped back from the searing flames and the water prison broke. Kakashi sensei rose out of the water like a vengeful shinigami, his eyes were enraged and wrathful as he moved forward in a flash.

 

The clones continued their attack and Uchiha ran forward, racing towards his two teammates. He rushed forward and sent a storm of blades hurtling towards the clones. They popped under the assault and Naruto flexed his fingers, his strings sliced through the remaining clones. He exchanged rapid blows with the final water clone. Haruno remained standing shakily, a single kunai held in her hands as she watched them battle with wide terrified eyes.

 

Naruto traded blows with the clone rapidly. The blood seeped from his shoulder in exertion and painted the forest ground. He gritted his teeth in pain and kept moving, his adrenaline coursing hotly through his body. He was joined by Uchiha and the pale genin moved in quickly, his knives raised. Uchiha used his back as stepping stool to propel himself forward and he stabbed the clone in the jugular. The clone dissipated and they turned to watch Kakashi fight across the field in a whirlwind of fast movements, his hands moving in quick seals mimicking the mist-nin's exact movements.

 

He sent a massive tumultuous wave towards the injured mist-nin and sent him hurtling into the trees. He closed in viciously, throwing his blades and they struck the enemy nin in the abdomen. Zabuza cried out in pain and Kakashi moved in for the killing blow.

 

They froze as a whirlwind of cold air swept the plane and a masked nin moved in, sending senbon blades hurtling towards the mist-nin, embedding them lethally into his neck. Zabuza lurched forward, his eyes rolling to the back of his head. Naruto watched with narrowed eyes, gazing at the masked nin who collected Zabuza's body. The nin exchanged a short conversation with Kakashi sensei before taking off, vanishing in a whirl of rapid winds. Their team stood silently, catching their breath.

 

Haruno slid down to her knees, her body was shaking and her eyes were wide. Uchiha released a relieved breath and tucked his blades into his pouch. The pale genin turned and scrutinized his blond teammate with dark critical eyes, his eyes falling to his dripping wound in concern. Naruto pulled his strings back with a blank expression; his hand pressed down onto his shoulder with clenched teeth. The mist slowly began dissipating and the forest began to clear up. Naruto gazed up to his sensei who was gazing at the team of genin silently, his sole sharingan blazing red.

 

Naruto gazed back with an indifferent expression and his eyes widened as the older man swayed, his eyes rolling to the back of his head. Uchiha moved quickly and caught the man as he passed out. Haruno whimpered in fear as she gazed at their unconscious sensei. Uchiha pursued his lips tightly. He set a pale hand on the man's perspiring forehead and narrowed his eyes.

 

"He's burning," Uchiha noted quietly.

 

"What do we do?" Haruno cried out, her jade eyes tearing up rapidly.

 

"Come to my home. He can rest there." Tazuna spoke softly.

 

Naruto grit his teeth and he felt his accelerated healing set in. He sent a silent gratitude to his Bijuu companion and watched silently as Uchiha heaved the body of their sensei onto his back. The pale genin grunted under the added weight and stood up, looking towards Tazuna. The bridge builder nodded and led the way to his home.

 

 


 

 

Link Eren's flashbacks (Spoiler/View at own discretion):

Skip to 1:50

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

 

The sound of the soft chirping of birds filtered through the open window and the air was crisp and cool. The skies were a light pale blue and were adorned with an array of thick moving clouds. It was very early in the morning and the sun was beginning to rise, signifying the start of a new day. The pale mist-nin pursed his lips tightly in concern, watching the unconscious form of his mentor and caretaker.

 

He heaved a long sigh and left the room quietly, entering his sparsely furnished lodging. He grabbed his pack and shuffled through his clothing, picking out a soft colourful sleeveless kimono. He lowered his long brown hair from its loose bun and let it fall down his back in soft waves. He shed his battle clothes and put on the soft fabrics of the pale pink robe. He looked at his reflection and nodded silently to himself. His face was pale, delicate and his features were effeminate. His appearance was soft and his disposition was gentle. His body was lean and lithe. The nin turned on his heel and left the obscured hideout.

 

He made his way through the impoverished and dreary village with a sad solemn gaze, watching the young orphaned children scrambling for scraps and rummaging through the trash with desperation. They reminded him so much of his younger self and the depressing sight made him turn his gaze away sharply.

 

He walked through the village, carrying a thin basket in his pale arms. He activated his sensor mode as he reached the small house, counting three chakra signatures from the bridge builder's humble abode. The Jounin's chakra was feint and very weak. The other two chakra signatures were thrumming lowly. They were still asleep.

 

The mist-nin frowned to himself. A chakra signature is missing...

 

The brunette entered the woods quietly, making his way through the thick foliage while eyeing the plants on the ground. He stretched out his perception, searching for the fourth chakra signature. He cleared his face of any ill intentions as he located the chakra signature. It was strong and whole. He frowned to himself, recalling a large and life threatening injury occurring in the battlefield. He made his way forward curiously, keeping his expression soft and neutral. He hummed a low tune softly, announcing his presence and appearing harmless as he drew closer.

 

He sensed the chakra signature up above in the trees and he bent down to pick up a few herbs, inspecting them curiously. He tucked a loose strand of hair behind his ear and crouched down, beginning to leaf through the shrubs on the forest grounds. The chakra signature landed behind him silently. The mist-nin kept himself occupied with peering at the plants. He was a hidden sensor - a superior one - He possessed a rare and lethal kekkei genkai and he was considered a prodigy for his age. The brunette continued humming softly, focusing in on the chakra behind him.

 

It felt... different.

 

The chakra felt different than any other chakra he sensed before. It felt malignant, imbued with dissonance, and it was enormous. He blinked as a shadow loomed over him and he looked over his shoulder with curious brown eyes. He smiled disarmingly, his expression friendly and open. Many people had fallen prey to his innocent charm and soft demeanour. None assumed he was a lethal assassin upon meeting him.

 

"Hello." He spoke softly. "Ah, sorry. I didn't know anyone was here. Did my humming wake you?"

 

The blond genin narrowed his blue eyes and gazed at him with a blank face. The mist-nin smiled gently and continued picking up his medicinal plants.

 

"What are you doing here?" The shinobi spoke in a low raspy tone.

 

The mist-nin lifted the basket in his hands before setting it down gently, sitting primly on the grass. "I'm gathering herbs. They tend to be on the pricey side in the market and over here, they're free." He explained in a soft tone, smiling up at the shinobi.

 

The blond shinobi narrowed his sharp blue eyes at him. "You couldn't go anywhere else? It had to be these specific woods."

 

The mist-nin's eyes widened momentarily. He hadn't met anyone this suspicious and wary in a long time. No one had gazed at him in such a cold and calculating manner when he was dressed in such a disarming way. Many people assumed he was a young girl on the cusp of womanhood when he wore his hair down and dressed in soft, flowery robes. The brunette regarded the blond in front of him, his brown eyes searching and curious. His eyes locked on the hitae-ate on the blond's neck and he feigned interest.

 

"I apologize for intruding shinobi-san. Are you guarding these woods perhaps?" He asked softly, clutching the basket tightly to his chest in a fake semblance of nervousness.

 

The shinobi lowered his eyes to his clenched hands and snapped his gaze back to his pale face. The blond slowly shook his head silently and walked to the trees, resting his back on the trunk and he gazed at him critically, his blue gaze remained sharp and watchful. The mist-nin smiled and bent down, continuing to pick up more herbs.

 

"Ne shinobi-san, why do you fight?" He asked softly.

 

He looked up towards the blank faced genin who gazed at him in silence. The brown-haired nin looked down at the gathered herbs in his hands and he held onto them tightly, his expression dimming in genuine sadness.

 

"Do you fight to protect someone precious?" He asked softly.

 

The shinobi remained silent. He sighed softly and lowered the plants into the basket gently. He didn't like killing and he preferred to incapacitate his opponents instead. He knew he would have to face the blond shinobi and his teammates when the time came. When his mentor healed, they would attack. He turned his gaze to the silent shinobi to find him staring at the clouds with a distant look in his eyes.

 

He was younger than him, much smaller in size and he had a tanned complexion. Whiskers lines decorated his cheeks and his golden locks were held in a low messy ponytail. He appeared healed. His movements were not awkward or pained. The shinobi's movements were fluid and silent. He was dressed in a dark manner, not one speck of colour on his clothes. His attire made him appear as if he was in a perpetual state of mourning and his eyes... His eyes were incredibly cold and detached from everything around him.

 

"No." The shinobi spoke after a prolonged silence.

 

The mist-nin's brown eyes hardened at the cold response and he lowered his gaze, eyeing the medicinal herbs in the basket. "Then why do you fight?" He asked quietly. "You know shinobi-san...when you have someone you wish to protect, you'll become stronger."

 

The shinobi glared at him. "There is no one." He hissed in a dry tone, his eyes were mournful and his expression was glacial.

 

The mist-nin's eyes widened. So that was it then... This shinobi... He lost everything. The brunette lowered his head, a deep frown marred his youthful face.

 

"I apologize. I didn't intend to bring out any painful memories shinobi-san." He spoke softly.

 

The blond shinobi waved a hand dismissively. "It's fine." He spoke curtly. "He still remains." He said quietly, looking up at the sky with a wistful expression.

 

The mist-nin gazed at the tanned shinobi in wonder and awe. His words were sure and they were laced with unbreakable strength.

 

"What do you mean?" He whispered with wide eyes.

 

The shinobi snapped his sharp blue gaze towards him. "A man only dies if he is forgotten." He spoke resolutely.

 

The mist-nin felt his breath hitch in wonder. His brown eyes were wide as he gazed at the shinobi. He was so young and yet he carried himself with so much strength and wisdom beyond his years. The brown haired nin smiled a sad deprecating smile and clutched his basket tightly in his hands. He gazed at the younger shinobi with sad eyes. He gave a deep bow to the quiet blond.

 

"Thank you shinobi-san, I will remember your words." He spoke honestly.

 

The shinobi watched him silently. The mist-nin gave him a final smile before he made his way out of the woods quietly. He gazed up at the blue skies with deep reflective eyes. He looked back at the thick woods sadly and shook his head, releasing a long troubled breath.

 

If we had met under different circumstances, I would have wanted us to become friends.

 


 

The blond genin moved his hands in a fast seal, creating an impeccable clone in his shared guest room. He gave a curt nod to the clone and moved silently out of the bridge builder's house. He had no interest in undertaking the rudimentary training the Jounin instructor was offering. Tree walking. He scoffed under his breath at the thought. He had learned how to tree walk independently and without guidance at the age of five. He wouldn't waste his time relearning a technique he excelled in. He pulled off his hitae-ate, slipping it into his pocket and slipped silently out of the humble abode. He made his way through the impoverished village, his blue gaze searching.

 

He walked past the destitute adults and children, gazing at the stores and shops critically. He entered a bookstore, speaking to the clerk in a low and respectful tone. The shopkeeper nodded at his request and made his way to the back of the store, coming back with a number of local maps and travel logs. The clerk took a seat behind the counter and spread out the maps - both local and non-local - explaining the different pathways, circling a few neighbouring villages and unpopulated ports.

 

Naruto nodded, slipping the clerk a number of ryo, adding a few extra for his silence. The clerk took the money and the blond slipped the maps into his bag. Naruto gave the clerk a curt nod and the man thanked him for his patronage with a tired voice. The genin exited the shop and made his way to the port, walking by a number of fishing and merchant sea vessels. He watched the fishermen critically, taking in their thin forms and tired, haggard faces. He kept walking steadily, surveying the workers and searching for a suitable target. He studied a middle aged man with a heavily scarred face and a fierce demeanour as he hoisted the nets into his boat.

 

Naruto made his way towards him quietly and gave him a polite low bow. He spoke quietly to the fisherman and inclined his head towards the curious locals eyeing them as they conversed. The scarred fisherman inclined his hand to his boat and led him onto his sturdy sea vessel and away from the curious eyes of the pedestrians. The blond followed him onto the boat and the man opened the door to his small storage room.

 

It was a small space and crammed with lots of dried provisions. Naruto walked towards one of the boxes and took out one of his maps, showing the fisherman the port he intended to reach. The fisherman explained the travel length and the blond nodded, handing him half the payment in advance. The fisherman gazed at him silently for a long moment before a determined expression crossed his face.

 

"It isn't any of my business and we are a tight lipped community around here... But you're leaving behind a trail boy, it's best to go to this port instead." The man tapped a finger on the map. "It's a more populated port but its easier to disappear into." He spoke gruffly, crossing his arms over his chest as he regarded the map with a deep, concerned frown.

 

Naruto nodded silently at the information. He planned to send out a clone to the specified port. He would not move in a linear, trackable way. The fisherman continued to eye him in silence and he heaved a long sigh. The scarred man shrugged and the blond collected his map and bid the man a temporary goodbye. The man waved him off with a solemn and tired gaze. The blond left the port and made his way through the village, eyeing the bridge that was beginning to undergo construction. He stared at the bridge for a moment before shrugged to himself and made his way over to watch the construction.

 


 

The blond genin leaned on the bridge railing, watching the construction occur around him idly. His eyes widened and he stiffened as he felt the mist begin to spread on the bridge. His battle instincts honed in on the threat immediately and he spread his chakra strings on the ground hurriedly as he straightened his posture, slipping a kunai into his hands. He heard the familiar sound of Momochi Zabuza echo through the bridge ominously.

 

The dry mirthless laughter filled the vicinity and the construction crew dropped their oars and beams and began running off the bridge in terror. Naruto looked through the mist as a whirlwind of cool air whipped around a few meters from where he stood. The whirlwind cleared and two shinobi appeared- the infamous mist-nin and a shorter masked nin stood by his side.

 

Naruto swallowed in apprehension and cursed under his breath in disbelief. Momochi Zabuza was alive and the masked nin was his ally. Tazuna- the bridge builder- was not present. His teammates were in the woods practicing their tree walking. Fuck! He hissed in agitation. He was entirely alone. His luck was unbelievable. The two nin locked their gaze on his darkly clad form and Zabuza's dark eyes brightened.

 

"Ah if it isn't the only student of Copy-nin Hatake Kakashi who has actual potential. It's my lucky day!" He released a dry laugh as he pulled his large sword off his back. "Kakashi will be quite sad when I kill his precious genin." He grinned, his eyes crinkling as he lunged forward with his blade.

 

Naruto scowled and leaped back, his hand sliding to his storage scroll in a quick motion. He dropped his kunai and pulled out his dual swords swiftly. He held the katanas tightly and crossed them protectively over his chest, clashing directly with Zabuza's blade. He grunted under the weight and the missing-nin cackled, his eyes alit in madness and excitement.

 

Naruto moved quickly, his arms swinging in masterful kenjutsu moves, meeting the missing-nin's hits, blow by blow. The clash of metal on metal echoed through the bridge as they clashed viscously, both of them moving in a whirlwind of speed. Zabuza laughed in delight as Naruto moved fluidly, meeting his hits evenly. He grunted under the powerful impact of Zabuza's swings and the sweat gathered on his forehead from exertion.

 

"I knew you had potential!" The mist-nin cackled. "Too bad you're a dog for Konoha." He sneered.

 

Naruto scowled at the insult and he leaped back from a lethal swing and the mist-nin moved his hands, creating a water clone. The two rushed into the fray and cornered the genin. Naruto hissed under his breath and ducked, swinging his swords in retaliation. He flexed his fingers and his strings sailed forward, latching onto the clone's form and he curled his fingers downward.

 

The clone snapped into bits and Zabuza's eyes widened momentarily. The mist-nin let out another delighted laugh before he moved his hands in a fast seal - Daibakufu no Jutsu - and a massive wave manifested onto the bridge, rushing towards him. Naruto's eyes widened as the massive torrents rushed towards him and he flexed his strings and grounded himself to the bridge railings as the waterfall dosed him violently. He gasped and hacked out the cold water and the strings held his body upward like a puppet. The mist-nin raced forward, summoning two other clones who sent a slew of blades sailing towards him.

 

Naruto moved his swords hurriedly, blocking the blades expertly. He pushed his wet bangs from his face and his eyes widened as he heard the swish of a flying blade sailing through the mist. Zabuza's sword sailed forward in a spinning arch and the blond ducked, falling to the ground with a gasp. The sword spun back to the mist-nin's hand and the blond genin escaped his decapitation by a few inches. The mist-nin laughed and moved his hands in a fast seal -Suidan no jutsu- The water bullets sailed forward and Naruto blocked with his blades. A few stray bullets caught his healed shoulder, penetrating right through his skin and bones.

 

Naruto gritted his teeth in pain and spun the handles of his dual swords in a practiced move. He moved his fingers through a one-hand seal and took a deep inhale of air - Harikēn no jutsu - He released a strong gust of wind from his mouth and propelled his swords faster. The blades spiralled in the air, spinning and spinning with the strong blow of the wind, slicing through the mist in a fast hurricane. The blades struck the mist-nin and sliced through his torso and the blond flexed his fingers, commanding his swords back into his palms. The water clone dissipated and Naruto grit his teeth angrily at the fast body substitution.

 

Zabuza laughed and created more water clones and he pulled back to watch in amusement, leaning back on the railings as he watched the blond genin battle out with his clones. The clones were a flurry of fast taijutsu moves and sailing knives. Naruto blocked with his strings and attacked with his swords but a few blades broke through his defence, imbedding into his skin. The blond hissed in pain as a few blades caught his legs and torso painfully. He grit his teeth and flexed his fingers, keeping his body upward through sheer will and ferocity.

 

The masked nin watched the battle silently, not interfering. Naruto glared ahead angrily. Zabuza was toying with him. He wasn't even fighting him seriously. The mist-nin moved his hands in a fast seal, his eyes vindictive as he released his technique of water bullets -Suidan no jutsu - The bullets sailed forth at a neck-breaking speed. Naruto leapt backwards, blocking a number of bullets with his swords and dodging the attacks of the remaining clones simultaneously. He caught a number of clones in his spiderweb, curling his fingers downward and snapped them to bits.

 

The blond rushed forward, moving his hands in a fast seal and he took a large inhale of air. His chest expanded and he blew a strong gust of wind forward. The clones slammed into the railing and dissipated. The genin gazed through the mist with wide eyes, his hands shock in exertion and his skin glistened in sweat. He heard dark laugher omitting from all sides and he felt multiple ripples of movement through his spiderweb. He hissed angrily and leaped backwards, moving away from the blades that hit the ground. He blocked the swing of the massive sword with a grunt and glared up at the mist-nin who grinned down at him. He felt another ripple across the chakra web and his eyes widened as multiple swishing sounds broke through the fog. A storm of water bullets cut through the water clone in front of him and penetrated his chest.

 

Naruto hacked out blood and his chest seared in agony. The water bullets tore through his muscles and bones, imbedding deeply into his body. He swayed on his feet and he leaned forward. His body was suspended with his strings like a broken marionette. The blood seeped from his chest rapidly and his multiple wounds ached in excruciating pain. His body shook in exertion and agony. His vision spun from blood loss and the strings snapped. Naruto fell down to his knees, his body shaking in exhaustion and he felt his distant clones dispel. His chest rose rapidly and each inhale sent a searing pain through his chest. He glanced through his sweaty bangs at the two mist-nin on the bridge and his vision swam.

 

Is this it? He thought in pain and bewilderment. Will I die enslaved to Konoha? 

 

Zabuza moved his hands in a final seal, gazing at him with dark eyes. "I will send you off with a worthwhile jutsu brat. You did well, holding out on your own."

 

The blond genin gazed ahead weakly as the mist-nin finished his seal and a massive wave lurched forward, taking on the form of a monstrous water dragon - Suiryūdan no Jutsu - The dragon crashed onto the bridge, destroying the ground beneath it and it lurched forward, engulfing his small form violently. Naruto clenched onto his swords tightly. His strings attached to the opposite side of the bridge and kept him from being engulfed entirely by the destructive water currents.

 

The water filled his lungs and his eyes watered in pain and his throat burned. His vision swam and he heard dark laughter filter through the crashing currents. His body felt crushed by the waves and rubble and he couldn't breathe. He felt a sense of despair overtake him.

 

Everything hurt tremendously.

 

I'm going to die. He thought solemnly.

 

The dual swords slipped from his grip and clattered noisily to the ground and he swayed. His vision swam and black dots filtered through his eyes. Everything was blearily and distorted. He fell backwards and he hit the ground roughly. The blood seeped from his wounds and everything hurt. The darkness grew closer and closer, wrapping around him as he felt himself begin to drift away.

 

I'm dying. He thought tiredly. I can finally rest.

 

A distant voice echoed through the agonizing pain and grabbed ahold of his fading consciousness. He blinked his eyes open tiredly - his vision was bleary and his body was flaming in pain - and he found himself on desecrated landscape. His wounds were seeping blood and his chest was rising and falling slowly in laboured, wheezing breaths. The despair heightened as his body grew weaker and his awareness faded, faded, faded. His eyelids slid shut, closing with a sense of finality.

 

Eren!

 

A memory filtered through the pain. A distant echo of his past stretched out before him in the vast darkness. He was wearing his green cloak with the wings of freedom emblazoned on his back. His hands were bloodied with teeth marks and his eyes were wide and terrified as he fell down to his knees in defeat and despair. The destruction echoed around him and the ground shook from the rumbling of the battlefield.

 

The cries and screams of terror were a distant howl. His sister stood next to him solemnly, pulling on her green cloak and his best friend gazed down the dark tunnel, his expression determined as he pulled on his hood, obscuring his face and pointed his sword towards the underground passage. His sister and best friend exchanged determined nods and took off running in separate directions, facing a certain death without fear. He screamed for them to come back as they left him behind. He pleaded for them to return. Why? Why do you fight even though you know you'll die? His sister stopped for a brief moment, looking over her shoulder with dark eyes.

 

We don’t have a choice. The world is cruel. 

 

The memory shifted rapidly as his friends disappeared from his vision. The images shifted to a brown haired solider wearing a green cloak, sitting down on his knees with his bloodied hands clenched tightly in front of him. The ground shook and he screamed as the building collapsed on top of him and he was buried alive. The rubble crashed onto his body, breaking his bones and a large wooden beam impaled his chest and he lay trapped and hopeless.

 

An oppressive feeling of failure permeated through his broken body and his will weakened as he fought to maintain his consciousness. He heard the cries of his comrades and friends fighting in the distance. A swish of the 3D manoeuvre gear sliced through the air and his best friend landed next to him, yelling out his name desperately.  

 

Eren! Eren! Eren!

 

Eren… A person who cannot sacrifice everything cannot change anything.

 

To defeat monsters, you have to be willing to throw aside your humanity.

 

The memory shifted and the solider's emerald eyes snapped open and he pulled himself upwards with a scream of rage and agony. The wooden beam impaled his chest deeper and deeper and the blood gushed all around him, slipping down his face and chest. He pushed against the agonizing pain and pulled himself upward from the rubble and debris. His torn and bloodied body gave him the appearance of a vengeful madman rising from the dead. He screamed against the pain and cruel memories, listening to the sounds of his friends battle and fall to their demise.

 

A person who cannot sacrifice everything cannot change anything! 

 

I’ll wipe you out. I’ll kill you. There’s no time to figure out if this is the right thing to do! Just move… Don’t try to keep your hands clean. That’s right… The world is cruel! 

 

The blond's cerulean eyes shot open and he gazed up at the mist surrounding him weakly. His vision was bleary and his body ached and burnt.

 

Eren!

 

The voice was urgent, frantic and desperate. It was a voice he cherished and held dear, a voice that pushed him through again and again; a voice that never gave up on him even in the bitter end.

 

Eren!

 

It called him back and his vision slowly cleared and he coughed, hacking out blood and his limbs shook and his body trembled from strain and agony.

 

Kozō!

 

The voice was angry and it caught his attention. He coughed again, more blood slipping past his lips as the blood pooled from all his wounds.

 

Go Eren!

 

The genin's hands clenched tightly and he grit his bloodied teeth angrily. His palpable rage manifested in low simmering waves of heat. The metallic taste and smell of his blood flooded all his senses. He drew in a laboured breath and reached out to the chakra beast sealed inside him.

 

 

Kurama, lend me your strength.

 


 

 

Eren's Flashback (Viewer Discretion Advised

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen

 

Hatake Kakashi lifted his gaze from his book as he heard the distant rumble from the village. His grey eye snapped towards the sound of a clone dissipating and his heart raced in apprehension. Sasuke stumbled in alarm, staring at the spot where his blond teammate was tree-walking in confusion. Sakura gaped from where she was perched onto a high branch.

 

"Aha! Another clone! Seriously Uzumaki-kun!" She huffed, crossing her arms over her chest.

 

Kakashi slipped his book shut and tucked it into his vest pocket hurriedly. He turned to the distant sounds and gazed ahead.

 

"We need to go. Now!" He ordered sharply.

 

He turned briskly on his heel and moved quickly through the trees. His students rushed after him. Kakashi raced through the impoverished village. His eyes widened as he saw half of the bridge begin to collapse. The Jounin pulled back as a massive water dragon rose from the currents and slammed through the rubble. Sakura cried out in alarm behind him and he picked up his speed.

 

He leaped through the fallen debris and made his way through the mist. His team of two genin followed closely behind him. A shrill scream tore through the mist and he turned to regard a shaken Sakura and a pale faced Sasuke in alarm. The kunoichi pointed a shaking finger forward and Kakashi looked through the mist. His eyes widened in horror and his heart sank at the sight.

 

No.

 

Uzumaki Naruto laid in a pool of blood, unconscious and unmoving.

 

"No." He breathed in shock.

 

Kakashi turned to the Mist nin and rushed forward. His killing intent rose like a malevolent storm of rage and vengeance.

 


Haruno Sakura released a scream of terror and anguish as she saw the body of her teammate on the ground. She ran ahead on shaky legs and she fell to her knees immediately next to the dormant and soaked form of the blond genin. Her jade eyes grew moist at the gruesome and heart-wrenching sight.

 

She rested her shaky hands on Uzumaki's chest, pressing down on his gaping wounds and her wide eyes trailed over his battered body in fear. She felt sick at the smell of blood that permeated through the air. She pressed down her hands harder in desperation, her mind racing with the rudimentary first aid she knew. Her body shook in fear and the hot tears slid down her cheeks as the blood kept seeping through her teammate's torn clothes.

 

She turned to Sasuke with wide eyes. "Sasuke-kun, t-there's too much b-blood."

 

The kunoichi turned to her wounded teammate and pressed down harder, her eyes falling to his torso and she blanched at the sight. There were deeper wounds on his abdomen. She could see the torn muscles and gaping holes that tore through his flesh and she grew faint at the gruesome and horrific sight. She gazed at his perspiring face. His skin was ashen and his golden wet locks were matted to his cheeks. Sakura pulled her hands back shakily, hanging her head in heightened grief.

 

"He's n-not going to m-make it." She whispered brokenly. She lifted her head and gazed at her pale faced teammate in despair, her eyes were wide and fearful.

 

"Sasuke-kun! He's dying!" She cried out.

 

Sasuke clenched his fists and he surveyed the scene critically. His eyes widened as he regarded the discarded swords on the ground. Sakura gazed at her pale teammate in alarm as his expression paled at the sight of the dual swords. His breath hitched in alarm as he eyed the black katanas with decorative red swirls. Sakura eyed the discarded blades by Uzumaki's unresponsive body in confusion and bewilderment.

 

Sasuke remained frozen, his gaze locked on the blades. He stared at the swords in shock and his expression slowly turned thunderous. He tore his livid gaze away from the blades and he turned around on his heel. He pulled out his knives and rushed towards the masked nin. Sakura watched with terrified eyes as they exchanged rapid blows at a neck-breaking speed. She gazed through the mist and she could faintly make out Kakashi sensei exchanging blows with Momochi Zabuza, both of them moving through a whirlwind of feral attacks.

 

She turned to her bleeding teammate and she pressed her hands down on his abdomen in a futile attempt to stop the bleeding. She flinched, pulling her hands away from the burning touch. She frowned to herself, watching with wide eyes as her teammate's body began steaming.

 

She watched in puzzlement and fear as waves of red hot chakra began pulsing from her teammate's body - a monstrous killing intent rose from his dormant form - and she froze at the sight of his wounds closing. The wounds stitched closed, skin knitted together completely, turning clear and unblemished without any scars. Sakura heard a pained scream and she turned towards the sound in alarm. She stood up shakily, her heart dropped to her stomach at the sound of anguish.

 

"Sasuke-kun!" She cried out, running towards the sound.

 

Her eyes widened in horror at the sight. The masked nin had trapped her teammate in a circle of mirrors - an impenetrable barrier - and she ran towards him in desperation, pulling out her blades shakily. She threw the blades at the walls and they clattered to the ground. Her attack had no impact and zero effect on the walls. She watched with tearful eyes as Sasuke screamed as a storm of senbon tore through his body. He fell to his knees and his body contorted in pain as a hail of thin ice blades rained down on him.

 

The mist nin caught sight of her and sent a storm of numerous senbon raining down on her. She cried out as the blades sliced through her body, embedding themselves painfully into her skin. She fell to the ground in pain. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt so much. The hot tears slipped down her face and she sobbed as the pained screams of her cherished teammate resonated through the mist. Sakura lay on the ground, her body writhing in pain, gasping and crying in agony.

 

The academy did not prepare them for this. They were not prepared for this at all. Sasuke-kun was going to die and she wasn't able to help him at all. She wasn't able to help any of them. She had been proud of herself for learning tree-walking very quickly but now... now she couldn't do anything. She shivered, fearing for her teammate's life. She sobbed, thinking of her own doomed mortality. She was going to die in an unknown land, far from home, away from her friends and family.

 

Sasuke's agonized screams cut off abruptly and Sakura lifted her head in terror. She sobbed brokenly when she saw his unconscious form on the ground. He was bleeding from his wounds, senbons sticking out from his pale body. He was deathly pale and his eyes were sealed shut. His skin was perspiring heavily and glistening from exertion. The masked nin lifted a kunai blade and raised it high.

 

"No!" Sakura screamed in anguish.

 

Sakura watched the blade sail towards her teammate in slow motion. Her body was frozen in fear. The blade sailed towards her unconscious teammate and Sasuke's dormant body moved and the glass shattered under an invisible force. Sakura froze and she blinked at the sight in bewilderment. Sasuke's unconscious body sailed from the debris and she turned around in terror, sensing a massive killing intent behind her. Her jaw dropped at the sight that greeted her.

 

Uzumaki stood with an unconscious Sasuke in his arms, waves and waves of red chakra pulsed around him as he stood entirely whole and healed. His eyes were a dark crimson and the whiskers on his face stretched and adorned his tanned face in deep dark lines. His canines glinted sharply and he gazed ahead with a narrowed gaze. His expression was livid and feral, his pupils dilated in an animalistic madness. Sakura shivered in fear at the sight. She barely recognized her teammate. He stepped forward, setting the unconscious Sasuke down gently next to her.

 

He turned to her and she shivered at the sight of his monstrous form.

 

"Take care of him Haruno." He rasped.

 

Sakura nodded mutely and watched as the masked nin erected the mirrors as a barrier. She gasped as Uzumaki broke through them easily and sent a punch towards the masked nin, sending him sailing to the other side of the bridge. He rushed after him and the kunoichi lost sight of them. The mist and debris obscured her view of the battle. She turned her worried eyes to her unconscious teammate and rushed to inspect his injuries with a racing heart.

 


 

Naruto slammed his fist into the mist-nin's masked face and he took off as the nin's body catapulted to the other side of the bridge. He jumped over the debris and piles of rubble, closing in on the mist-nin who stood up shakily, moving his hand in a one-hand seal. He summoned a slew of ice blades and hurtled them towards him. Naruto evaded the ice blades, flexing his fingers and he latched his strings onto the nin's body. The nin substituted his body with a boulder and it broke into bits as Naruto's curled his fingers into a lethal fist.

 

The mist-nin was fast and he ducked and evaded his attacks. His hands moved to conjure the vortex of mirrors. He moved his hands in a fast seal and a slew of senbon rained down on him. Naruto moved his hands quickly- Kumonosu no jutsu- and his spiderweb shot out of his palm, situated above him as an impenetrable barrier. Naruto snarled and gazed towards the mirrors, eyeing the multiple reflections of the mist-nin.

 

The blond genin moved his hands in a sharp seal - Jūdan no jutsu - He hissed silently as the thin strings broke off into sharp short threads and shot forward in a rain of bullets towards the glass. The nin moved from mirror to mirror and the bullets chased after him, catching the hem of his clothing and tarring through the flesh of his ankles.

 

Naruto willed his miasmic chakra forward. It surged forth and he grit his teeth as he felt his body shift slowly. The stray senbons expelled from his body forcefully. The power exploded from within him, shattering all the mirrors and rising above like a malevolent storm of wrathful energy. His body heat rose and his canines elongated. His nails extended into claws and he turned his crimson eyes onto the masked nin, locating him among the numerous reflections immediately. He rushed towards the masked shinobi in a flash of speed, slamming into his body and sending him to the ground.

 

The ground broke under the impact and the masked nin hacked out blood at the painful impact. His ribs cracked and he wheezed a pained breath. The snap of bones resonated through the vortex of mirrors. Naruto slashed his clawed hand against the mask, tarring it in half. The mask clattered noisily to the ground. The two halves slid off the mist nin's face.

 

The blond genin paused in shock. The shinobi was young and familiar. The pale teen with effeminate features struggled against his hold, his brown eyes were wide and terrified. Naruto dug his knees into the nin's stomach and held him down. He snarled and slashed his clawed hand through the nin's shoulder, breaking through the skin and bone. The mist-nin screamed in pain and pushed against him as he bled out. The vortex of mirrors shattered completely and rained down on them in broken fragments of ice.

 

"You can't win." Naruto hissed in a scratchy tone. "Yield or I will kill you." He snarled viciously.

 

The teen hissed in pain and he continued to struggle weakly. A loud powerful crackle broke through the vicinity and they both snapped their gaze ahead. Kakashi sensei tore through Zabuza's chest, his hand impaling him lethally. His entire body was rippling with lightening and he was shaking heavily. The mist-nin collapsed from the fatal attack. His eyes rolled back and he fell backwards off the bridge and into the water with a definite splash.

 

The teen released a guttural and agonized scream as he watched his teacher and mentor fall to his death. Naruto held him down and gazed through the mist at the sight. Kakashi sensei was heavily wounded and his eyes were enraged as he turned to the group of ruffians that began to emerge on the broken bridge. A short man wearing dark spectacles and an impeccable black suit stood in front of the ruffians, smirking vindictively as he ordered the men to attack. The ruffians unsheathed their numerous weapons, laughing in delight as they eyed the injured Jounin. The blond watched with wide eyes as Kakashi sensei moved his hands through a rapid seal, summoning a dozen of shadow clones. The Jounin ran forward, moving speedily. His entire body crackled with lightening as he tore through the men, beginning his attack by eviscerating their pompous leader.

 

The mist-nin stopped struggling against him and laid down on the ground defeated. Hot tears raced down his pale face as he lay motionless, his face was pale and his thin body trembled. Naruto turned to the defeated nin and withdrew his claws slowly. He sat down on the ground, keeping a firm hand on the nin's chest. He eyed him carefully as his fangs and claws receded. The mist-nin looked up at him and he appeared so small and lost.

 

"Kill me." He whispered. "I have nothing left."

 

Naruto remained quiet, eyeing the nin who lost everything. He recognized his look of insurmountable grief. He understood it. The mist-nin grasped his hand tightly, his grip was shaky and unrelenting and his brown eyes were pleading.

 

"Please..."

 

Naruto gazed down at him thoughtfully. His eyes receded back to a cool blue. "No kin?"

 

The teen's expression turned sour. His brown eyes darkened at the question. "My own father killed my mother in front of my eyes when I was a child and he tried to kill me because of my kekkei genkai. The villagers turned against me. My own Kage had people with my abilities hunted down like animals. Z-Zabuza-san was all I had... He took me in as an o-orphan. He saved me from the c-cold and hunger... and n-now he's gone. I have no one."

 

Naruto's eyes narrowed as he gazed at the teen's agonized face and he recalled the horrible memories of his own tormented childhood. The villagers turned against me. I have no one. An orphan - with a rare and powerful kekkei genkai - hated by his own people for merely existing. An orphan that was taken in by a ruthless man and was used as a weapon - a dispensable tool - for his mentor's personal gain and selfish desires. He gazed down at the broken teen who was bleeding out on the desecrated bridge; a wrecked expression marred his pale youthful face.

 

It's a cruel world.

 

Naruto shook his head from the despairing thoughts and knelt down, heaving the thin nin up into a sitting position. His mind was made up. He had no grudge against the mist-nin. He was not an agent of Konoha who he held a personal vendetta against. He was just a kid trying to live in a cruel world.

 

"Go." Naruto spoke, his tone was tired and he shoved the teen lightly mindful of his bleeding shoulder and broken ribs.

 

The teen shook his head. "I have nowhere to go." He paused for a long moment before he glanced at his hitae-ate with hesitant eyes.

 

"Will Konoha give me amnesty if-"

 

"Fuck Konoha," The blond hissed vehemently. The teen snapped his head up, gazing at him with wide eyes and an alarmed expression. He looked startled by the blatant hatred in his voice. 

 

“Listen to me....” Naruto turned to him, his expression was grim and serious.

 

"Haku." The nin whispered. "My name is Haku."

 

Naruto nodded. "Listen Haku, you now have an opportunity to live, to be free. Don’t shackle yourself to a corrupted village that will feed you lies and use you for your Kekkei genkai. Don’t sign up to a life of slavery."

 

Haku paled at his vehement words. Naruto continued fervently.

 

"Go out there. Find your own path with your own strength.”

 

Haku shook his head. “I can’t, I-"

 

Naruto grabbed him by the shoulders roughly and looked him directly in the eyes. His blue eyes were burning and understanding. Haku winced in pain and gazed at him with wide eyes.

 

"Momochi Zabuza is dead. I know it feels like hell right now but this is an opportunity. Keep his memory close, don’t let his memory die. He’s important to you."

 

Naruto released a long breath and loosened his tight grip. "I don't know him so I can't judge him and its not like we can choose who is good and who is bad when we're fucking hired mercenaries. It's not a black and white world; you cannot split the world into a perfect dichotomy of good and evil. He’s important to you so you should hold on to his memory.”

 

“He’s gone.”

 

Naruto shook his head. “He’s not. Listen to me!”

 

“A man does not die when his heart stops or when he bleeds out or when he takes a lightning jutsu though his chest. A man truly dies when he is forgotten. As long as you live, you can keep him alive. If you die, who will remember him?” Naruto spoke quietly.

 

Haku’s eyes widened. “He's still with me...”

 

The blond took a deep breath. “You have to go.” The genin stood up, dragging the teen up with him. He shoved him away, his expression resolute.

 

“Go live.”

 

Haku gazed at him in disbelief. He was shocked and bewildered but there was determination slowly building on his pale face. He nodded.

 

"I... I never got your name," Haku whispered hesitantly.

 

"Uzumaki Naruto."

 

Haku offered him a small pained smile. “I hope we meet again Uzumaki Naruto … as friends.”

 

Naruto pushed him away hurriedly. “Go."

 

A whirl of wind cascaded around them and the mist-nin disappeared, leaving behind a pool of blood and scattered blades. The silence descended on the genin and the blond took a seat on the ground, his expression was exhausted and weary. The sounds of the battle continued. The clashing of weapons and crackles of lightening occurred on the other side of the bridge. Naruto flexed his strings tiredly and lifted a large boulder, hurtling it into the water discretely.

 

It created a loud splash and he leaned back on the fallen debris as the mist began clearing up. The battle reached its conclusion with Kakashi sensei summoning a second storm of shadow clones, having them chase after the escaped ruffians. Naruto looked around at the mess of weapons and blood coating the destroyed bridge. Kakashi sensei appeared next to him in a flash, eyeing him with critical and concerned eyes. He looked over at the fallen mask and blood coating the ground.

 

"Where is the other shinobi?" He inquired.

 

Naruto looked towards the destroyed railings and inclined his head.

 

"He's dead." He spoke quietly. "He fell into the river."

 

Kakashi sensei heaved a relieved sigh and body flickered to the other two genin of his team.  Uchiha was unconscious and Haruno was crying over his dormant body. Kakashi sensei leaned down next to the pale genin and he pressed his hands to his pulse. His shoulders slumped forward in relief. He stood up, collecting the pale Uchiha in his arms and spoke to Haruno quietly and he flickered away in a flash. Haruno took off hurriedly, leaping over the rubble and chased after her pale teammate without a backward glance. The blond genin watched them disappear off the bridge silently and he pulled himself up slowly. He flexed his fingers and the dual swords sailed into his open palms.

 

Naruto gazed at the swords in his hands and he sat down on the rubble. He stared at the intricate patterns and gripped the swords tightly. He leaned forward, resting his head in his hands and heaved a long, drawn sigh. The wind blew through his golden locks and it caressed his bloodied clothes gently. The sun began to sink in the horizon and he remained rooted to his spot. The tanned genin lifted his head and surveyed the destruction around him with a weary gaze. He looked towards the fallen mask, his expression was wistful and his cerulean eyes were dim. He turned his gaze to the orange skies and watched a flock of birds fly past him. He sent a silent wish to the mist-nin, watching the birds disappear into the distance.

 

Be free.

 


 

Speech inspired by One Piece

 

“When do you think people die? When they are shot through the heart by the bullet of a pistol? No. When they are ravaged by an incurable disease? No. When they drink a soup made from a poisonous mushroom!? No! It’s when… they are forgotten.”

 

― Dr. Hiriluk One Piece

Chapter Text

Chapter 15

 

The skies were dark and the sound of crickets and cicadas filtered through the quiet vicinity. The pale genin ran his third lap around the village. His hot breath fanned in front of him and he stopped briefly at the village gates to catch his breath. He paused as he eyed the unfamiliar shinobi entering through the gates. Uchiha Sasuke narrowed his dark eyes, cataloguing the kiri-genin who walked through the gates. He turned on his heel, his mind spinning in thought.

 

The Chuunin Exams were here.

 

Sasuke gritted his teeth angrily and picked up his pace. He had failed entirely on their Wave mission. He had been unable to defeat the masked mist-nin and he was beaten unconscious. He had awoken in an familiar camp sight with Kakashi sensei and Sakura sitting next to his body.

 

Uzumaki was nowhere to be seen.

 

Sasuke had tried to interrogate his teammate about the dual swords when they returned to the village but the blond employed clones whenever he got too close. Sasuke grit his teeth angrily at the thought. Uzumaki was a master of evasion. He was impossible to track down and he never engaged with him directly. He always vanished with a pop and ignored his presence entirely.

 

The dual katanas were Uchiha blades and he recognized those distinctive patterns. They belonged to the Uchiha Clan's golden resident and genius Uchiha Shisui. He had no idea why Uzumaki had them. Was it theft or was he given the swords? He needed answers but he didn't want to broach the topic around Sakura. It was clan business and Sakura was an outsider. Sasuke tsked under his breath in irritation and ran back to his compound, rushing through the open gates.

 

He would find out.

 

Uzumaki Naruto could not avoid him forever.

 


 

It was very early in the morning and Team 7 stood in the empty, unoccupied training fields. Haruno Sakura twirled a lock of pink hair between her fingertips idly as she listened quietly to the argument between her pale teammate and Kakashi sensei. She pursed her lips tightly, her gaze sliding to the silent blond genin. Uzumaki was leaning against the tree. His arms were crossed over his chest and his sharp eyes were watching the argument unfold passively.

 

"I am telling you Sasuke-kun. None of you are ready." Kakashi sensei spoke, his arms were crossed over his chest as he stared down at the pale genin in exasperation.

 

"Other teams are going for it!" Sasuke argued. "Team 10, Team 8, Team 9! You can't let us be the only rookie team to not participate in the exams!"

 

"You're not ready. Do I need to remind you that you all nearly died in Wave?" Kakashi sensei  intoned lowly. "I saw Naruto-kun on the ground, bleeding out and unconscious. Sasuke-kun, you were out for an entire day. Sakura-chan, you couldn't do anything either. In the Chuunin Exams, you could die. It was only six months ago that you left the academy. I refuse, you're not going to participate in the Chuunin Exams."

 

Sakura flinched at her sensei's rebuking words. Sakura-chan, you couldn't do anything. Kakashi sensei was right. She had been unable to do anything. She had been dead weight during the entire mission.

 

"But the other teams-" Sasuke protested weakly.

 

"The other teams should not even be participating. We are the only team who went on an A-rank mission and it ended with nearly all of you dying. The only team who has a right to be in the Chuunin Exams is Gai's team because they have been training and undergoing missions for an entire year and a half." Kakashi sensei intoned with a serious expression.

 

The Jounin ran a hand through his gravity-defying silver locks and looked at his team of genin tiredly. He shook his head, his sole eye lingered on them wearily. Sasuke bristled angrily; he crossed his arms over his chest and scowled down at the ground. Kakashi sensei looked at his team slowly, eyeing each of them carefully.

 

"I understand." The Jounin intoned quietly, shoving his hands into his pockets. "I understand the desire to want to grow stronger but you three have to understand the risks. Chuunin Exams carry out battles that are fought to the death. I am not sending my team off to die. It's my fault this happened... I..."

 

He took a deep breath. "I didn't train any of you properly and the Wave mission... Wave turned out to be an A-rank. We should have turned back. I should have not risked all your lives for a mission we were completely unprepared for. Instead of doing the Chuunin Exams, we will start training seriously. All of you will train with me and when we're ready, we will sign up for the Chuunin Exams."

 

Sakura heaved a relieved sigh. Her body slumped forward at the reassuring words. She gave her sensei a small grateful smile and he returned it, his grey eye crinkling. Sasuke growled in irritation and kicked at the ground with a huff. Uzumaki remained silent, his expression was passive. He was impossible to read. Kakashi sensei clapped his hands together, beckoning them all closer. He spoke with a soft voice, outlining a rudimentary training program to gauge their skills and abilities separately.

 

Sakura felt a genuine smile overtake her face. She felt relieved that she would learn and undertake lessons that would enable her to grow stronger. Her jade eyes hardened in a steely resolve as she gazed at her two teammates in determination. She wouldn't hold anyone back.

 

This time she would protect their backs. 

 


 

Hatake Kakashi watched his genin students leave the training premises with a long sigh. He eyed their small forms as they disappeared into the distance. He leaned back on the tree, gazing up at the sky tiredly.

 

Team 7 were not ready.

 

He would not allow them to undertake the Chuunin Exams and have them die prematurely. It wasn't worth it. He had wasted so much time, not caring to train them adequately, and it had costed him greatly on their mission in Wave. Their injuries, their pain, and their sufferings could have been prevented if he trained them properly. The guilt settled into his stomach like a heavy stone.

 

He hadn't even wanted a team. He wasn't fit to teach and had no idea how to care for a team of young troubled genin. He had never taught anyone before. He was unprepared and it showed greatly.

 

The Jounin straightened his posture as an ANBU nin landed in front of him silently with summons from the Hokage. Kakashi frowned to himself and nodded curtly, taking off to the Hokage Tower with brisk steps.

 

The Jounin stared ahead as he moved through the rooftops. His mind raced as he thought of his quiet genin. Uzumaki Naruto was an anomaly. He was extremely skilled and there were so many discrepancies in his file. He never bothered to spar with any of his teammates and he appeared non-confrontational and inexperienced.

 

On their mission, the genin had sensed the danger immediately and he had body flickered when fighting the water clones. He had wielded Fuuton techniques - wind release - releasing an strong air jutsu and saved his teammate's life.  Kakashi frowned. How did he become strong? He sighed heavily, making his way through the village at a fast speed. Even with Naruto's skills, the risks of enrolling his genin in the Chuunin Exams were too high. The Chuunin Exams resulted in high deaths. He had not been exaggerating when he told his genin students of the irrefutable fact. Many genin died during the Chuunin Exams because they were unprepared and the tests were brutal and life-threatening.

 

The copy-nin sighed to himself and walked into the Hokage Tower, reaching the Sandaime's office. He knocked a few times and entered. He masked his surprise as he saw the other Jounin instructors standing in the room. Kakashi clenched his teeth tightly, his mind raced at the implications of the other instructors present in the room.

 

He bowed deeply. "Hokage-sama."

 

The Sandaime took a long inhale from his pipe. "Everyone gathered here has signed up their teams for the Chuunin Exams." He began curtly. "All but your team Kakashi-san."

 

Kakashi lifted his head, clasping his hands tightly behind his back. "My team is not ready Hokage-sama. They need more training. On our last mission outside the village we-"

 

The Hokage waved a dismissive hand.  "I'm aware Kakashi-san, I have read your report. It was a very unfortunate turn of events but the people of Konoha, the council, the daimyo and even the village of Sunakagure have expressed their interest in seeing the last Uchiha participate in the Chuunin Exams. I'm afraid your team will need to participate."

 

Kakashi's heart thudded in his chest and he gazed at the Hokage silently in disbelief. He clenched his teeth tightly and he gazed steadily at the leader of Konohakagure.

 

They aren't ready. They need more time. Please don't make me do this. I can't lose them.

 

"Hokage-sama." He intoned respectfully. "My team has suffered a lot on their last mission. The Chuunin Exams are in a week and I believe-"

 

"Kakashi-san." The Hokage cut him off abruptly, his eyes narrowing. "The decision is final."

 

Kakashi gritted his teeth, his shoulders slumped in defeat. He clenched his hands tightly behind his back and gazed at the leader of the village with a sinking heart. He gave a deep bow, concealing his anger by lowering his face in respect and subservience.

 

"Understood Hokage-sama."

 


 

Haruno Sakura awoke with a sharp gasp, her entire body was shaking and the screams of anguish rang in her ears painfully as she pulled herself away from the remnants of her nightmare. The kunoichi whimpered in fear as she sat up in bed. She wrapped her arms around her middle, pulling her knees up to her chest. She took long calming breaths, closing her eyes tightly against the gruesome images. The Wave mission had been so frightening; seeing the form of both her teammates unconscious and bleeding out had been...

 

It had been so terrifying and it had induced many nightmares. Sakura had been unable to sleep peacefully since their return to the village. She stayed up for hours and hours, staring blankly at the white ceiling of her bedroom as the images ran through her mind viciously. It was an endless cycle of traumatic memories. Sakura was plagued with cruel nightmares where she stood on the desecrated bridge, gazing down at a dead and unresponsive Uzumaki; his body was torn and battered beyond recognition. His blood was warm on her hands and she had awoken many nights, racing to the bathroom to retch her and heave the contents of her stomach.

 

Sakura pulled herself out of bed, wiping the hot tears streaming down her face with shaking hands. She rushed to her bathroom shakily, turning on the facet with heavy breaths. She washed her hands with hot scalding water, scrubbing and scrubbing desperately. The blood never seemed to disappear. She gasped as her hands turned red and raw from the hot streaming water. She turned off her facet and stared at her shaking hands.

 

Sasuke-kun, t-there's too much b-blood. He's n-not going to m-make it.

 

Sasuke-kun! He's dying!

 

Sasuke-kun!

 

No!

 

Her throat seized painfully and it was difficult to breathe. The kunoichi lowered herself to the cold bathroom floor shakily and tucked her knees to her chest. She rested her forehead on her kneecaps and rocked herself back and forth, waiting for her panic attack to subside. She slammed a fist to her chest repeatedly, thudding it harshly against her heart as she tried to pull herself away from the painful images. It's okay, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay. They're alive, they're alive, they're alive. She inhaled sharply and waited for the flashes to recede. She sat on the bathroom floor for a long time, listening to the sound of her wheezing breaths as the sun began to rise. The morning light filtered through her bathroom window and she lifted her head, squinting at the bright skies.

 

The kunoichi pulled herself up shakily and smacked her face a few times. She washed her face with cold water and looked at her reflection. Her complexion was pale and sickly. She looked away from her ghostly appearance and made her way to her closet. She grabbed a new dress and put it on hurriedly, her movements were slow and robotic. She needed air. Her bedroom was stifling and she didn't want to be around her parents. She left her house hurriedly, ignoring her mother's concerned calls for her to eat breakfast. It was futile. She had no appetite. She put on her sandals hurriedly and stepped out the door of her home.

 


 

Haruno Sakura wandered through the village with her head down. Her mind raced and her heart thudded in a bout of anxiousness. They were going to participate in the Chuunin Exams. The Hokage wanted them to participate. He had taken away their free choice and made their participation mandatory. Sakura twisted a lock of pink hair in her fingers absently as she walked slowly through the streets. Why? Why was it the Hokage's business? Why does he get to decide the fate of our team?

 

They were not ready.

 

Chuunin Exams carry out battles that are fought to the death.

 

Sakura shivered at the thought, her hands shaking in fear. She didn't want to die. She wanted to train slowly and get stronger. She had no confidence that she would pass the exam. They were entering the Chuunin Exams with little to no preparation. Sakura continued walking slowly, her mind was occupied with fearful and anxious thoughts. She slammed into a solid mass and fell down to the ground in shock. She looked up in confusion and her eyes widened as an unfamiliar nin glared down at her.

 

"What the hell?!" The nin hissed angrily.

 

"I wasn't looking where I was going." Sakura grumbled quietly as she stood up.

 

The shinobi had a Suna hitae-ate on his forehead. He was dressed entirely in black and his face was tattooed heavily with dark purple streaks. He had a large bandaged object strapped to his back. A sandy blonde kunoichi stood behind him, gazing at her curiously.

 

"Well hurry up and apologize," the nin spat impatiently.

 

Sakura narrowed her eyes at his blatant rudeness. It wasn't even that big of a deal. She crossed her arms over her chest and she glared up at him. "Don't you think you're blowing this out of proportions? I just bumped into you by mistake." She spoke with a scowl.

 

The sand-nin's eyes narrowed and he stepped into her personal space menacingly. He was taller and broader than her. She held back her fear and raised her chin defiantly, glaring right back at him. He grabbed her collar roughly and hauled her body up with one hand. Her eyes widened in fear and she grabbed his hands, trying to pry him off. He was strong and his grip was unrelenting. He sneered at her.

 

"Are all Konoha genin as ill-mannered as you? You can't even offer a simple apology."

 

Sakura scowled at him angrily. Today was just her lucky day. First, she finds out she needs to participate in the Chuunin Exams involuntarily. Second, she had to deal with this rude asshole.

 

"Let me go you asshole!" She yelled angrily.

 

The kunoichi behind the genin sighed heavily. "Kankuro. Seriously you're being too much. Just let her go."

 

The sand-nin continued glaring at her, shaking her roughly by the collar. "Not until she apologizes."

 

The blonde kunoichi threw her hands up in exasperation. "Seriously, I'm done. This has nothing to do with me. You can reap the consequences of your own action alone."

 

"I will give you five seconds to apologize pinky. If you don't, you will regret it."

 

Sakura glared at him. "Screw you!" She spat.

 

"Five."

 

"Four."

 

"Three."

 

"Two."

 

"On-"

 

The attack occurred from two separate sides in a sharp flash. A small stone collided with the sand-nin's hand from one side and a strong gust of wind sent him hurtling into the walls of the village from the other side. Sakura fell to the ground in a heap and she looked at her surroundings in shock.

 

Sasuke stood up on a high branch. A livid expression marred his pale face as he crushed a small stone in his hand. Uzumaki appeared in front of her in a flash of black. His expression was stone cold as he gazed down at the sand-nin. Wisps of cold wind bristled underneath his fingertips and circled in his palms warningly.

 

"What the hell do you think you're doing to our teammate?" Sasuke hissed angrily, leaping down from the tree and flanked Uzumaki's side, shielding his female teammate protectively.

 

The sand-nin stood up with an angry expression. "You bastards!" He yelled, grabbing the large object strapped to his back. "How dare you? Don't you know who I am?"

 

Uzumaki inclined his head to the side. "You're nothing but a pathetic worm that preys on those weaker than him."

 

"Haah? What did you say you bastard?"

 

"Did I fucking stutter?" Uzumaki spoke in a cold tone.

 

The sand nin's face grew red in rage. The blonde kunoichi behind him watched the two male genin with curious eyes.

 

"You will pay for this, you-" The sand-nin froze as a wave of sand hurtled forwards and slammed him into the wall.

 

He remained on the ground, his eyes were wide and terrified. Sakura's eyes widened as a whirlwind of sand manifested a few meters from them. The sand cleared up and a figure stepped forward. The blonde kunoichi immediately stepped back from them, giving the newcomer a wide berth. He was smaller than the other two sand-nin. He had a slight build and a pale complexion. His sharp jade eyes narrowed as he gazed down at the sand-nin on the ground. The nin lifted his cold gaze towards their group and it lingered. His dark red hair fluttered in the wind as he gazed at them silently. His large gourd was strapped to his back and he had the crimson word of love etched on his forehead. 

 

"Kankuro." He spoke.

 

His voice was low and it commanded attention.

 

The sand-nin picked himself up from the ground shakily. "G-Gaara." He spoke nervously.

 

The sand nin snapped his gaze towards the older nin and the genin shrank back from his gaze.

 

"You're an embarrassment to our village." He intoned lowly.

 

He turned his jade eyes to their group and his gaze lingered on Uzumaki and Sasuke. Uzumaki stiffened momentarily and vanished his spheres of wind. The nin inclined his head towards their group and turned on his heel.

 

"Wait!" Uzumaki called out.

 

Uzumaki-kun's voice sounded strange. There was an inflection of emotion in his voice the kunoichi couldn't identify. Sakura and Sasuke both turned to their teammate in surprise. The blond genin had never expressed interest in another person and he had never raised his voice before. His behaviour was unprecedented. This was the first time he appeared intrigued and his eyes lacked their indifferent coldness. They appeared curious and... something else. 

 

The sand-nin stopped and turned around, gazing at the blond with a blank face. "Yes?"

 

Uzumaki stepped forward, moving away from their group and towards the red-head. He stopped a few steps from him. "What's your name?" He spoke in a low tone.

 

Sakura watched the scene in bewilderment. What was happening? She exchanged confused glances with Sasuke-kun who shrugged and they both turned to regard the unexpected exchange. The sand-nin remained quiet for a moment, gazing at the blond genin with an indifferent expression. The other two sand-nins appeared apprehensive as they watched the red-head with wary glances.

 

"Sabaku no Gaara." He spoke lowly, tilting his head to the side as he regarded the blond curiously.

 

"Gaara," Uzumaki repeated lowly. "I've been wanting to meet you."

 

The red head narrowed his eyes at the cryptic words. He gazed at him silently for a long moment. The silence stretched between them and Sakura shuffled anxiously next to Sasuke-kun in concern and puzzlement.

 

"I see." Gaara spoke with a blank face.

 

The blond genin gave the red head a curt nod. "I'm Uzumaki Naruto. I look forward to our future interactions... Gaara."

 

Uzumaki turned on his heel and walked away from the sand-nin. Sakura gazed at the red haired shinobi and his jade eyes trailed after her blond teammate. She shivered at his cold gaze and took off after her teammate. Sasuke-kun fell into step on the other side of her quiet teammate. They walked in silence, both of them gazing at the blond curiously.

 

"What was that about?" Sasuke-kun asked, eyeing Uzumaki with curious eyes. "Do you know him or something?"

 

Uzumaki remained quiet as they made their way through the village, walking silently to the Hokage Tower to submit their papers for the Chuunin Exams. Sakura released a long sigh, not expecting Uzumaki-kun to deign them with a verbal response. He was so incredibly secretive and quiet. He never shared anything with them even when they expressed their concern for his well-being again and again.

 

"He's..." Uzumaki began in a low tone.

 

Sakura's eyes widened. She hadn't expected a response to their inquiries and she turned to her blond teammate eagerly. Sasuke-kun mirrored her eagerness and he tried to maintain a nonchalant facade but he failed as he wore his curiosity plainly.

 

"He's someone I've been wanting to meet for a long time." Uzumaki spoke cryptically, his cerulean eyes were anticipative.

 

Team 7 reached the Hokage Tower and the blond genin walked ahead of his teammates, stepping inside with quick steps. Sakura exchanged confused and bewildered glances with Sasuke-kun and they both shrugged simultaneously as they trailed after their mysterious teammate.

 

The more she learned about her blond teammate, the more the mystery grew. She sighed to herself, shaking her head at the idle thoughts and she followed him to the administrative floor. She braced herself, her body was tense and nervous as she handed over her paperwork to the secretary with a pounding heart.

 

The Chuunin Exams were here.

 


 

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen

 

Hyūga Neji stood in front of his bedroom mirror, gazing at his pale reflection in contemplative silence. His pale eyes darkened as he looked at the seal mark on his forehead. He turned his gaze away in anger and picked up his hitae-ate, tying it tightly over his mark of suffering and forced servitude. He gazed towards the clock and took a deep breath, leaving his bedroom quietly.

 

He walked through the First Branch compound with an indifferent expression, making his way to the study of the clan head. He kept his gaze ahead and his face fell into a state of neutrality as he knocked on the office door and entered. He gazed at the killer of his father and head of the Hyūga Clan - Hyūga Hiashi - His expression was carefully blank and he hid his animosity and burning hatred under a guise of indifference.

 

Neji lowered his pale gaze in respect and bowed deeply at the waist as he greeted the head of the Hyūga Clan. His cousin and heiress to the clan stood in the expansive office. She was shaking and twiddling her thumbs anxiously. Hyūga Hiashi's voice echoed through the large room, droning on in a monotonous tone about clan expectations and clan pride.

 

Neji grit his teeth in anger. His hands were clasped tightly behind his back in subservience and his fingers tightened around his wrists in concealed hatred. The clan head moved forward and set a heavy hand on the older genin's shoulder, pressing down tightly. His pale gaze bore into his head.

 

"Remember, both of you are representing the Hyūga clan in the Chuunin Exams." Hiashi spoke lowly and without affection. His tone was crisp and dry.

 

He stepped back from Neji and regarded his daughter silently, his expression blank. "You must bring honour to the clan."

 

Hyūga Hinata shivered and lowered her head. "H-hai, o-otou-sama."

 

Hiashi dismissed them silently with a wave of his hand. Neji waited for his shaking cousin to move forward and he bowed deeply to the clan head in a false semblance of respect. Hiashi closed the door to his study and the two Hyūga cousins walked through the compound in silence. As they exited the compound, Neji turned on his heel and moved away from his cousin's stifling presence.

 

He moved through the village hurriedly and headed towards the examination hall. He met up with his exuberant teammates as he approached the building. Rock Lee grinned brightly upon seeing him. The green spandex-clad genin rushed towards him in a cheerful manner and bounced excitedly on his toes. Tenten shook her head fondly at their excitable teammate and regarded him with a kind smile. They fell into step next to him as they entered the examination hall.

 

The halls were crowded with genin from different villages. A group of genin loitered in a loose circle, gazing at the door of the examination room. Lee raced ahead excitedly, heading towards Room 301. He was blocked by two genin who appeared at the door and they shoved him back roughly. Neji watched the two genin with narrowed eyes. Tenten knelt down next to their fallen teammate and helped him up with a gentle hand. She glared up at the two nin who blocked the door. They were eyeing their group in blatant amusement.

 

"The Chuunin Exams are very difficult. You'll need more than a push to get past us." One of the nin's spoke as he smirked down at them.

 

"We have seen plenty of shinobi give up on becoming ninjas and many became seriously injured in the exams." His partner drawled with a smirk.

 

Neji heard a scoff behind their group and he turned around. He narrowed his eyes as a pale, dark haired genin stepped forward in confidence. His hands were shoved in his pockets and his expression was condescending as he stared down at the two nin blocking the door. He had the Uchiha Clan emblem emblazoned on his back.

 

"That's a sound argument but I will pass." The pale genin drawled.

 

"Keep moving Uchiha," a sharp voice intoned quietly.

 

Neji flicked his gaze behind the Uchiha and watched as a darkly clad genin with icy blue eyes walked past their group dismissively. His hands were in his pockets and he had dual swords crossed over his back. The swords were covered with white bandages and he moved with confidence and ease. He flicked his cold cerulean gaze towards him momentarily before he turned away in disinterest. He made his way through the crowd, a pink-haired kunoichi walked on his other side. The pale Uchiha rolled his eyes and turned on his heel, falling into step next to the blond genin.

 

"Oh? Are you too afraid to enter the examination room?" The nin called out to the group.

 

The blond stopped in his tracks, sparing them a brief glance over his shoulder. "Undo your pathetic illusion." He rasped before he turned on his heel and kept walking ahead.

 

"This is the second floor, the examination room is on the third floor." The kunoichi spoke with an unimpressed gaze, her jade eyes narrowed at the two nin. "That room is not the examination room, you're using an illusion technique. Besides, there are alternate routes to the third floor." The pink haired genin spoke with an eye roll as she walked away with a huff.

 

"Hn."

 

Neji stared after them with narrowed eyes. He watched them disappear down the corridor. Uchiha Sasuke. The Number One Rookie. He grimaced as Rock Lee began sprouting hearts from his wide eyes as he gazed down the hall with a dreamy gaze. Tenten sighed heavily, smacking a hand to her forehead and she gazed up at the ceiling imploringly as if she was asking for divine intervention.

 

"Did you see her?!" Lee cried out, hopping on his feet excitedly. "I'm in love! I shall go and profess my affections immediately!" He declared animatedly before he took off in a flash.

 

Neji watched him disappear with an unimpressed gaze.

 


 

Haruno Sakura walked next to her blond teammate as Team 7 made their way towards the third floor. Sasuke-kun walked on Uzumaki's other side. The pale genin was smirking and his dark eyes were bright in anticipation. Uzumaki was blank faced and gazed ahead indifferently as they moved up the stairs in an unhurried fashion.

 

"Ne, I heard the first part is a written exam." Sakura intoned quietly. "Any advice Uzumaki-kun?" She asked quietly, turning an anxious gaze onto her teammate.

 

Her blond teammate regarded her with cool eyes. "The tests will always be a process of elimination." He explained in a dry monotonous tone. "They will decrease our numbers in more than one way. Remember the bell test?"

 

Sakura nodded and Sasuke-kun made an affirmative sound. They reached the top of the stairs and made their way down the corridors. Uzumaki narrowed his eyes as he gazed ahead. "The bell test appeared one way on a surface level. These tests won't be any different."

 

Sakura hummed thoughtfully. "So in other words, when they say one thing, they could be assessing us for something else entirely. So we shouldn't take their words at face-value."

 

Uzumaki nodded. "Precisely."

 

A loud excitable voice cut through their quiet conversation and they paused, looking behind them. A whirl of green shot forward in an impressive speed and Sakura blinked in bewilderment at the sight. The genin was so... green. He had very thick eyebrows and large expressive eyes and he gazed at her openly while he bounced on his toes excitedly, moving up and down.

 

"Hello my fair maiden! May I be bestowed with the honour of knowing your name?" He spoke, gazing at her eagerly.

 

"Uh... Haruno Sakura." The kunoichi supplied unsurely.

 

The genin's eyes sparkled and he grinned a bright grin. "Such a beautiful name worthy of such a beautiful being!"

 

Sasuke-kun released a surprised snort of amusement. The kunoichi gaped openly at the green genin. What in the world? Sakura levelled an unimpressed glare at her amused teammate and he looked away from her angry glare with an infuriating smirk. Uzumaki arched an eyebrow high and gazed at the green-clad genin passively. The genin bounced up and down and proceeded to bow deeply at the waist. He straightened up his posture and his eyes were shining brightly as he regarded her affectionately.

 

"I am Rock Lee. I will protect you until I die! Let's go out with each other!" He declared loudly.

 

Sakura sputtered. Her mouth dropped open in shock. What in the world?! Sasuke-kun snorted loudly and he pressed a hand to his mouth to muffle his snickers.

 

"Uhm... I'm sorry... but I don't know you..." Sakura spoke, taking a step back from the eager genin.

 

The genin bounced up and down. "That's okay Sakura-chan! May I call you Sakura-chan? I would very much like to call you Sakura-chan! Please grant me the honour to call you Sakura-chan! We can get to know each other! I'm a total gentleman! My lady has nothing to fear! I will protect you from all the evil in this world!"

 

"Right." Sakura spoke dryly.

 

She reached over and smacked Sasuke-kun on the shoulder as his body began to shake from muffled snickers. Uzumaki appeared impatient; his blue eyes slid down to the examination room. He turned away from the mind-boggling spectacle and reached a hand out, grasping onto his teammate's arm and dragged him down the hall forcibly and away from the pair. Sakura gaped at her blond teammate as he abandoned her. That traitor! She turned back to the genin - Rock Lee - and gave him a small hesitant smile.

 

"Look uh Rock Lee right? I appreciate your uh... kind sentiments and bravery at confessing you feelings but I don't have the time to date with training and all and uhm... Its also the Chuunin Exams. I think we should be focusing on passing the exams instead."

 

Rock Lee deflated for a moment, appearing like a kicked puppy. Sakura bit her lower lip at the pitiful sight. He immediately straightened up, throwing an enthusiastic fist in the air. His wide eyes were gleaming brightly and there was fire sprouting from his eyes in determination.

 

"Yosh! I will grow stronger and pass the Chuunin Exams for my lady!" He bowed deeply and turned on his heel, disappearing in a whirl of green.

 

Sakura blinked in bewilderment and she shook her head slowly. She turned around and found her teammates further down the hall. She scowled and raced after them, glaring at the boys on her team. Sasuke-kun was smirking to himself while Uzumaki-kun kept dragging him along with an impatient look on his face.

 

"Hora! You should have waited for me Uzumaki-kun!" She wagged a finger in his face.

 

Sasuke smirked at her from next to Uzumaki. "So when is the wedding Sakura?"

 

Sakura scowled and raised a fist threateningly. Sasuke-kun stepped back and hid behind their blond teammate as she glared at him threateningly. Her pale teammate poked his head from behind the blond and he gazed at her with a small smirk, his dark eyes were dancing in mirth.

 

"You know the children you'd have together would be quite the sight." Sasuke-kun commented with a smirk. "Pink haired and with very intense eyebrows."

 

Uzumaki released a small choked cough, a hand covered his mouth in surprise and his blue eyes were wide. Sasuke smirked, his dark eyes lit up as he regarded his blond teammate. Sakura stared at her blond teammate in shock and bewilderment. Emotion! Uzumaki Naruto showed emotion. It felt like a great accomplishment. She snapped her head to Sasuke and recalled his words. Her face grew red in anger.

 

"Uchiha Sasuke! You take back those words!" She yelled, rounding around Uzumaki to reach her pale teammate.

 

Sasuke-kun ducked behind their blond teammate and evaded her easily, using Uzumaki as a shield between them. They circled around each other. Sakura snarled threateningly as Sasuke continued to smirk infuriatingly. The tanned genin glared at both of them with an impatient expression and hissed lowly.

 

"Enough." He snarled.

 

They both quieted down as they saw his fierce glare. Sakura mumbled her apologies with a sheepish expression, falling back into step next to him. Sasuke-kun sniffed haughtily and resumed walking.

 

Sakura sighed and gazed at the examination door with a determined expression. She gave her teammates a wide smile and pumped her fist in the air. "Yosh! Let's go ace the first part team!"

 

Sasuke-kun nodded and she beamed back at him brightly. Uzumaki slid the door open to the examination room and they followed him inside. Sakura took a deep breath, gazing at her blond teammate's back and she drew strength from his silent confidence. She smiled and stepped forward.

 


 

Uchiha Sasuke raced after the neurotic exam proctor - Anko Mitarashi - and they reached the large clearing. The other genin teams who made it past the first phase of the exam reached the clearing and began looking around curiously. Uzumaki landed silently next to him and Sakura joined them a few moments later, huffing in exertion.

 

Anko began explaining the second phase. Her dark eyes glinted vindictively as she pointed a finger towards the fenced Forest of Death. Sasuke's dark eyes gazed at the wide, thick landscape and he bit back an excited smirk. His heart was thrumming in excitement and he looked around at the other contestants. The exam proctors began calling the teams over to the tent to receive their scrolls.

 

Sasuke watched the sand team disappear behind the tent and he gazed at them curiously, his dark eyes lingered on the blank-faced red head. The sand team surfaced from behind the tent with their scroll. The red head tucked the scroll openly into his side with a bored expression. Sasuke's eyes narrowed at the action. The sand team were not hiding their scroll and all the other contestants could see who held the scroll. Sabaku no Gaara was confident that no one could touch his scroll. Sharp jade eyes snapped towards him from across the clearing and Sasuke stared right back in silence. The red head gazed at him for lingering moment before he turned away.

 

The other teams were called one by one and the genin huddled together, hiding their scrolls away hurriedly, looking over their shoulders anxiously. Team 7 was called forward and Uzumaki accepted the scroll and they stepped away from the tent, walking back to the field with all the other teams. The blond genin slipped the scroll into his belt and turned to regard his teammates silently. Sakura gaped at the public action and began hissing at their blond teammate.

 

"Uzumaki-kun! Everyone can see what you did! You should hide the scroll!" Sakura hissed, glaring at her teammate.

 

Uzumaki titled his head to the side and gazed back at his teammate with an indifferent gaze. "Do you think someone can take it from me?" He asked lowly.

 

Sakura's breath hitched and she fell silent, gazing at her teammate with wide terrified eyes. Sasuke looked between them in confusion. He was missing something. Sakura released a long breath and nodded silently, looking down at the scroll.

 

"Fine. But don't lose it." She whispered lowly.

 

Uzumaki nodded and turned to regard him silently. "Any objections Uchiha?" He rasped in a low tone.

 

Sasuke gazed at his blond teammate for a contemplative moment. Uzumaki Naruto was strong. He was certain of that much. He had taken care of the mist-nin when he had been rendered unconscious. He had killed him and according to Sakura, he had destroyed the vortex of mirrors with a single frontier attack. He had saved his life and he had faced Momochi Zabuza alone.

 

Uzumaki Naruto was not weak.

 

Sasuke shook his head slowly. "Hn."

 

Anko clapped her hands together, grinning widely at the gathered genin. Sasuke straightened up and turned his dark gaze to the terrifying kunoichi. Anko's smile sharpened and her eyes glinted wickedly.

 

"It's time brats! Go wild!"

 


 

Team 7 moved through the thick foliage at a fast pace. They leaped through the trees quickly, masking their presence and chakra as they moved deeper and deeper into the woods. Naruto took in his surroundings critically. His teammates followed closely behind and they moved without rest for a while. Naruto paused and listened quietly to the sounds of a running stream up ahead. He turned to his teammates silently and they stopped abruptly, landing on the thick branches. He flicked his hand in a silent motion and they nodded at his signal.

 

They took off to the trees, moving higher and higher up the branches. They sat in a loose circle on a thick branch and regarded each other silently.

 

"No one is around." Naruto confirmed and his teammates relaxed their rigid forms.

 

"We need a code. If someone uses a clone to impersonate one of us, we need to be able to tell each other apart." Haruno whispered quietly.

 

Uchiha nodded. "We are here for a while. The possibility of us separating should be taken into consideration."

 

The pale genin crossed his ankles together and he gazed down at their surroundings thoughtfully. "We could use a key word or phrase."

 

Haruno shook her head. "No, let's actually ask a question that only one of us can answer. There's no knowing if anyone would overhear our word or secret phrase. It's too risky. We can ask something about our D-rank missions or Wave, nothing generic. Something only we could answer."

 

Uchiha nodded. "That's a good idea."

 

"So..." Haruno asked quietly. "Are we camping up in the trees? Please say no Uzumaki-kun," she said with a groan.

 

Naruto gazed at the kunoichi with a flat expression. "The ground is too open."

 

"I'll fall over in my sleep!" She hissed quietly.

 

Uchiha rolled his eyes. "Tie yourself to the branches." He suggested with a deadpan expression.

 

Haruno sputtered in offence and smacked his shoulder lightly. Uchiha smirked in amusement and she glared at him. Naruto stood up, raising a hand to silence his teammates. He gazed through the thick foliage, locating a team of Earth-nin on the ground, making their towards the stream. They sped past them and moved through the thick trees. They watched them pass silently and Naruto felt a lingering stare on his face. He turned to his two teammates to find them curiously gazing at him.

 

"What?" He rasped.

 

Haruno cleared her throat. "You picked this spot because teams will go by to get water, correct?"

 

"They'll hunt for food around here as well." Uchiha noted thoughtfully. "Animals need water and there are fish to catch in the stream."

 

"We need to get our second scroll." Naruto intoned quietly, watching the pathway that led to the stream. He lowered his bag off his shoulders and tossed it to Uchiha. The pale genin caught it in surprise.

 

"I will go gather information on them and we can formulate a plan. Wait here." Naruto spoke lowly.

 

"Wait." Haruno hissed. "I don't think we should separate."

 

"Why?" Naruto drawled. "You can't handle yourselves for ten minutes alone?"

 

Uchiha bristled and glared at him. "We'll be fine."

 

"But-"

 

"Sakura."

 

"Fine! Ten minutes and if you're not back, we're coming after you." Haruno spoke, wagging a finger at him.

 

Naruto gave a curt nod and took off from the branches, shunshining away in a flash. He moved quickly and silently, leaping from branch to branch and he reached the stream in record time. He crouched down on the branches, eyeing the group of Earth-nin filling their flasks with water. They were speaking in low voices. Two of them bickered by the water bank while another dove into the rushing waters. Naruto eyed their discarded packs set by the water bank and he moved his strings hurriedly.

 

His strings launched forward silently and he inspected their belongings from a distance, feeling the objects through his chakra strings. His eyes lit up as they wrapped around a scroll and he flexed his fingers upward. The strings slithered across the field silently and the scroll sailed towards him. The Earth-nin continued bickering and the scroll sailed into his open palm. He eyed the etching on the scroll and he scowled in irritation. It was a Heaven scroll. He didn't need a Heaven scroll. They needed an Earth scroll. He tucked the scroll onto his belt and slipped away silently. The Earth-nin were not worth his time. He had stolen their scroll easily and they hadn't noticed his presence.

 

Naruto leapt through the trees silently and he paused as he felt a violent tremor of movement echo through the woods. A loud explosion erupted up ahead and his eyes narrowed at the direction of the attack. Haruno and Uchiha. They were under attack. Naruto cursed under his breath and he rushed ahead, moving hurriedly through the thick foliage. He paused as he reached the tall trees, rushing up the branches for a clear vantage view.

 

Uchiha and Haruno were on the ground on their knees, their small bodies were frozen and their eyes were wide in blatant terror. An androgynous nin stood a few meters from them, his hair was long and dark and his skin was very pale. He was eyeing his frozen teammates in amusement, a sly smile stretched on his thin lips. He released a low sibilant laugh and paused in his approach. His dark eyes snapped to the trees where the blond remained hidden. Naruto froze as the nin pinpointed his exact location with terrifying precision.

 

The nin turned back to the two genin on the ground and he released a miasmic bout of killing intent. Naruto felt an ominous chill overtake his body. The nin was strong. He was ridiculously strong. They couldn't fight him. They would all die if they engaged him directly. The nin's body leaked immense power in massive waves. He was very dangerous. The blond gritted his teeth in agitation. Team 7 had the worst luck ever. The nin lifted the sharp blades in his hand, speaking in a low voice. Uchiha pulled out a blade shakily and stabbed his thigh as the nin released the knives towards the frozen Haruno.

 

Uchiha moved quickly and grabbed Haruno, leaping up to the trees and took off hurriedly. The pale nin let out a delighted laugh and began his chase, taking off after his teammates. Naruto closed his eyes tightly and he slammed his head against the tree bark in agitation. Fucking unbelievable. He released an irritated sigh and took off after his teammates. He reached the clearing of trees and found Uchiha battling the enemy-nin.

 

Uchiha threw a slew of knives towards the nin and substituted his body with a log. The pale genin moved his hands in a fast seal and blew fire from his lips. He scowled as the enemy-nin evaded his attack easily, his body moved in fast fluid movements. Haruno remained frozen on the branches and she held a blade in her hand shakily. Naruto moved his strings forward, latching them onto Uchiha's shirt and he pulled him back as the nin's neck extended and he attempted to bite his teammate.

 

"What the fuck?" Naruto rasped as he landed next to his pale teammate.

 

Uchiha turned to him with wide eyes. "You're here. He's... he's really strong. We shouldn't be fighting him but... he keeps chasing us." He breathed, wiping the sweat from his forehead.

 

"He swallowed his scroll earlier." Haruno croaked from her place in the branches, her jade eyes were wide and terrified.

 

Naruto scowled. "If you want a scroll, I have it. Take it and leave us." He spoke to the pale nin, tossing the extra scroll to him.

 

The blond genin watched the nin catch the scroll with a smirk, his dark eyes gleamed. "Ah but that's too boring and easy." He drawled in a low voice.

 

Naruto watched with wide eyes as the nin titled his head back and began swallowing the Heaven scroll. He licked his lips and turned to regard them with a sinister gaze. Naruto tensed and the hair on the back of his neck stood as the nin regarded them silently. His dark eyes lingered on Uchiha, flashing with blatant desire; like he wished to covet the pale genin for himself. Naruto's eyes widened in alarm and he raised an arm in front of Uchiha, shielding him. His body moved with an instinctive impulse.

 

"You..." He began with a low voice, his blue eyes were wide and terrified.  "Who are you?"

 

The nin titled his head to the side and his smirk widened. His dark eyes glinted ominously as he eyed them in amusement. 

 

 

"My name is Orochimaru."

 


 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen

 

The silence that permeated through the Forest of Death was deafening. The absence of noise filtered through the open space ominously. The tiny chittering of nature critters and chirping of the birds was entirely absent. Everything was eerily frozen and suspended in a stagnated stillness. The blond genin's eyes widened in horror at the nin's proclamation and he took a step back in fear. His arm remained outstretched in front of his pale teammate. Naruto gazed at the androgynous nin and he swallowed nervously.

 

"You're Orochimaru of the Sannin." He breathed in alarm.

 

His teammates stared at him in alarm and confusion. They were unused to seeing the blatant fear in his gaze. Orochimaru grinned a slow delighted grin. His dark eyes light up in interest.


"Oh?" He drawled in a low voice. "I'm surprised you know of me. Not many your age do." He spoke with a light chuckle.

 

Naruto's eyes narrowed. He had been information gathering for years and listening in on civilians and shinobi speak in shrouded alleyways and in drunken stupor. His clones circled in and out of Konoha day and night. They were his network of spies and informants. His numerous clones kept to the narrow alleyways and hidden crevices within the village and they listened in all matters from asinine chatter to secretive conversations and clandestine affairs. He had heard of the Snake Sannin. He was remarkably powerful and dangerous. He was a deserter to the village and he never wanted to encounter him. Fucking unbelievable.

 

"It's rude that you know my name and I don't know yours," Orochimaru commented with a thin smile.

 

Naruto schooled his expression into a blank neutral gaze, refusing to give his name to the snake sannin. The enemy-nin tsked under his breath, eyeing him with knowledgeable eyes. "Let's see... Blue eyes, blond hair, whisker marks... Ah, the son of Namikaze Minato and Uzumaki Kushina." He spoke with a satisfied smirk.

 

The deafening silence descended upon the clearing.

 

"Namikaze... isn't that...the Yondaime Hokage?" Haruno spoke with wide eyes.

 

"What?" Uchiha hissed in alarm.

 

Orochimaru titled his head to the side curiously. "You don't look very surprised Uzumaki Naruto. Ah, perhaps you knew. I see, you're very well-informed indeed. How's your dear godfather by the way? Ah let me guess, he's absent." The nin released a low sibilant laugh.

 

Naruto's eyes widened at the information. Godfather?

 

"Ah, you didn't know? Well let me tell you for the cost of the scroll that you so kindly gave to me. Your godfather is the Toad Sannin, Jiraiya. You see, your father, the precious Yondaime, told his sensei - Jiraiya - to look after you in case anything happened to him. I wonder... Did he look after you? Judging by your facial expression, he did not. He does have a tendency to abandon those around him." Orochimaru released an amused laugh as he regarded the blond genin.

 

Naruto schooled his expression immediately, compartmentalizing his anger and he focused on the dangerous nin in front of him. He couldn't lose himself to anger right now. They were in a precarious situation and Orochimaru coveted Uchiha for reasons unknown to him. He glared at the snake sannin, flexing his fingers minutely.

 

"What do you want?" Naruto spoke, moving his strings through the open field.

 

Orochimaru grinned and lunged forward. The blond genin cursed under his breath and he flexed his fingers hurriedly, sending Uchiha hurtling away from the branch.

 

"Uchiha! He's after you! RUN!" He yelled out, blocking the knives sent his way.

 

Uchiha landed on a high branch and Naruto engaged the sannin in fast taijutsu moves. Orochimaru laughed a low sibilant laugh and slammed his palms onto the tree trunk, sending an earth jutsu rippling through the surface of the tree, morphing it into thick muddy slime. Naruto cursed under his breath as he began sinking into the surface. He moved his hands through a fast seal and slammed his hands on the ground, sending a powerful surge of air to the trunk and sent himself flying upwards. His strings latched onto his back and kept him elevated in the air. He reached behind him, pulling off his dual swords and the white bandages fell off the black katanas in waves.

 

He gripped the swords tightly and twisted in the air. His strings catapulted him forward and he twisted at a fast speed, ricocheting his form in a spinning arch. His body was a flash of black, spinning in a roll and he clashed with the snake sannin who blocked his swings with a single kunai. Orochimaru grinned and they traded fast blows. The snake sannin ducked, twisted and retaliated. His body moved fluidly and he kept manipulating the landscape, slamming his hands against the surface.

 

Naruto moved his hands in a fast seal and shot a strong gust of air from his mouth, sending the sannin into a tree. The earth clone dissipated and Naruto's neck prickled in warning and he swung his swords over his back immediately. He gazed behind him and the knives clattered to the ground.

 

Naruto felt a tremor through his spiderweb and he leapt backwards immediately. A massive snake broke through the surface; its large maw missed him by a few inches. Orochimaru stood on the head of the snake, grinning widely. The blond genin glared ahead as the snake moved towards him. He moved his hands through a fast seal- his hands shot out in front of him- and he morphed a spiderweb of strings from his palms. He imbued the strings with the Kyūbi's chakra and hardened them with gritted teeth. The snake slammed its head against barrier and it screeched in pain as the strings sliced through its thick skin. Orochimaru leapt off the snake, landing on the surface of the tree. He gazed at his dead snake with curious eyes.

 

"Interesting, very interesting." He intoned quietly.

 

Orochimaru moved his hands in a fast seal and two massive snakes broke through the trees. One snake rushed towards the blond genin and he created his spiderweb a second time. He cut down the snake and the sannin grinned, his dark eyes analyzed his technique curiously. Naruto's head shot up as he heard a terrified scream and he heard Uchiha curse angrily. He looked towards one of the massive snakes and it began to rush away from the clearing. The snake sannin chuckled lowly and he dove after Uchiha, blocking his way and engaged him in a taijutsu battle, both of them exchanged rapid kicks and punches. Naruto cursed angrily and looked through the thick woods, searching for Haruno.

 

"Uzumaki! Sakura got swallowed by the snake!" Uchiha cried out as he ducked and retaliated.

 

"Go!" Uchiha cried out. "I can hold him off for a bit!"

 

"Don't you fucking die Uchiha!" Naruto snarled angrily before he took off reluctantly.

 

He rushed after the snake that slithered away at an impressive speed. It was a few meters ahead and he shot out his strings, catching its long tail. He curled his fingers and sliced off its tail but the snake kept moving ahead. He snarled in rage and chased after it hurriedly. Any longer and the acid in the reptiles stomach would liquify Haruno completely. She faced an imminent death.

 

The sounds of the battle echoed distantly and he heard Uchiha release a fire katon. Naruto turned away from the sound and rushed after the snake. He cursed and tore his vest off his chest - the added weights slowed him down - and he picked up his speed, moving in a flash of black flickers. He caught up with the snake and eyed its massive form with critical eyes.

 

Naruto pursed his lips tightly. He could accidentally slice Haruno in half. He moved fast, cutting the snake's head off immediately. The snake fell to the ground and he landed on its long form, listening in carefully. He eyed the reptile's body and sliced vertically. He rushed forward and manifested his claws immediately, tarring through the wet organs out with sharp talons. The blond hissed angrily as the acid and fluids burnt through his skin. He paused momentarily as he saw a flash of pink hair.

 

He sliced through the thick organs with his sharpened claws and pulled the unconscious kunoichi out. He cursed under his breath and receded his claws, pressing a finger to her pulse. It was weak and very faint. She was covered entirely in stomach acid and her skin was red and blistering. Her condition was dire. Naruto's head shot up as he heard an agonized scream cut through the clearing. He clenched his teeth tightly and hoisted Haruno onto his back and he rushed through the thick foliage.

 

Naruto reached the open clearing and his breath hitched in alarm as he found Uchiha's unconscious form lying dormant on the forest ground. He gazed around him with wide eyes. The snake sannin was gone. He shunshined to his unconscious teammate immediately, lowering Haruno on the ground. Naruto rushed to Uchiha in a flash. He heaved up his dormant form gently and inspected his body carefully.

 

Uchiha was not outwardly injured. His complexion was pale and his skin was perspiring heavily. He was burning up. Naruto's eyes darkened as he eyed the three circular swirls on the genin's pale neck. He pressed a finger carefully to the spot and Uchiha writhed in his arms at the touch. Naruto pulled his hand back immediately, cursing under his breath.

 

A seal.

 

Orochimaru had left a seal on Uchiha's neck. Naruto's slid his cerulean gaze to the unconscious kunoichi who was covered in fluids from the snake's stomach. Her breaths were uneven and laboured. He looked down at the perspiring and unconscious Uchiha and he ran a hand through his golden locks in agitation. The genin heaved Uchiha on his back and flexed his fingers to Haruno's inert form.

 

His strings wrapped around her body carefully. He flexed his fingers and gathered their discarded bags and his dual swords. Naruto took a deep breath and moved through the trees, carrying his unconscious teammates through the woods and he gazed around him critically, searching for a place to make camp.

 


 

Naruto rested his palm on Uchiha's forehead and he frowned to himself at the hot temperature omitting from the genin's pale skin. He laid a wet cloth on his teammate's forehead and turned to regard Haruno. She laid next to Uchiha and her breaths were low and faint. Her skin was severely red and blotchy. He had washed the stomach acids off her skin but the damage was severe. He pursed his lips tightly in thought, gazing at her blistering skin. The damage covered her face, arms and legs. The blond changed her moist towel and substituted it with a fresher one.

 

Naruto sighed heavily and rested his back against the walls of the cave. He had no medical expertise and he had no idea what to do to help the kunoichi. He had no way to reduce the swelling of her skin. As Eren, he had always healed from all his wounds. As Naruto, his situation was exactly the same. He had no reason to learn medicine due to his accelerated healing.

 

Naruto stood up tiredly and made his way out of the cave. He looked up at the grey skies and eyed his surroundings. An entire day had passed. Dawn filtered through and signified the beginning of their second day in the Forest of Death. His web of strings surrounded the area and no one could sneak up on them without him knowing.

 

Naruto frowned to himself. The defence wasn't enough. He was one genin and they could reach behind him or catch him unaware and attack his unconscious teammates. The blond genin clenched his teeth at the thought, his gaze slid into the cave where Uchiha lay unconscious, his chest was rising and falling with laboured breaths. Naruto turned his gaze away from the pale genin in determination and his eyes bled into a livid crimson and he expelled a massive killing intent from his body.

 

The birds perched on the trees flew off in fear and the branches swayed from the sharp gust of power that exploded from him. His miasmic chakra surged forward and covered the vicinity. Naruto took a deep fortifying breath and moved his hands in a new seal. He shot his hands upwards - Torikago no jutsu - The strings imbued with the Kyūbi's chakra sailed directly from his palms, moving upward to the skies. They covered a large cloud, painting it in an ominous red and the strings shot down into the ground around them, embedding deeply into the landscape. The strings dug into the layers of earth and they circled around the vicinity, moving underground and coated their designated area entirely.

 

Naruto clenched his teeth as the strings continued shooting from his palms upwards to the sky. They sailed downwards in an arch, hundreds and hundreds of strings coated the area in an impenetrable birdcage, surrounding the open field and cave entirely. Naruto released a long, laboured breath and lowered his arms shakily. He eyed his impenetrable birdcage and took a seat outside the cave, leaning against the cool walls. He crossed his arms over his chest and his crimson eyes surveyed his work in satisfaction.

 

No one would reach them from above or below ground. His teammates were safe. Any genin who tried to break through his defence would find their body sliced into bits by the strings. Naruto gazed through the bars of his cage and looked into the clearing with narrowed red eyes. He felt the presence of three chakra signatures nearby and he zoned in on it.

 

His canines elongated sharply and he released a low animalistic snarl of rage. His claws extended and he cracked his fingers threateningly. The blond looked directly at the nin hiding in the bushes. He allowed the Kyūbi's killing intent to mix in with his chakra and he sent a powerful surge forward. He spoke lowly, his voice was cold and it held no ounce of sympathy.

 

"I suggest you turn right around." He spoke lowly. His voice sounded distorted and menacing.

 

"Or I will tear you apart, rip you slowly to shreds, mince you into tiny pieces and eat you." He rasped, his eyes alit in feral madness.

 

He felt the three chakra signatures recede immediately and he remained seated by the cave entrance. His body was alert and his gaze was vigilant. His eyes remained a crimson red and he sat guard without moving from his spot.

 


 

A far distant away from the birdcage, three figures stood in the thick foliage, bickering among themselves quietly. The sound-nin exchanged terrified glances with each other and they looked ahead from the high branches at the impenetrable cage surrounding the clearing.

 

"I know we have orders but doesn't this just seem impossible?" Zaku whispered, eyeing the cage with surging red chakra in apprehension.

 

Dosu heaved a long sigh and gazed at his two teammates. "We have orders to follow though."

 

Kin scoffed, tossing her long dark locks over her shoulders. "Yes, I know that but we can't get to Uchiha Sasuke without confronting that monster! I don't want to die. He will kill us with zero hesitation! You heard him!" She hissed, her face paled in pure terror.

 

"Maybe..." Zaku began hesitantly. "Maybe we can wait until he falls asleep?" He whispered with a hopeful look.

 

Kin pursed her lips tightly. "He'll need to move eventually to get their scrolls, right?" She spoke anxiously.

 

Zaku released a small sound of distress as he gazed at the darkly clad figure with crimson eyes and clawed hands. The malevolent killing intent rose steadily from his form in large bouts. "I don't think he's going to fall asleep...like at all. He looks like he's waiting for us..." He whispered, his voice growing more panicked and alarmed.

 

"Nope. I can't do this." Kin spoke, shaking her head rapidly. She wrapped her arms around her shaking form in fear. "Please Dosu! I don't want to die!"

 

They both turned to the leader of their group with terrified faces. Dosu gazed ahead, blinking with wide eyes at the sight of the cage in utter awe. He looked up, gazing at the red strings that stretched high up into the skies and followed their trail downwards where they dug into the ground. He frowned heavily to himself. He had never seen anything like it before. It appeared entirely impenetrable and he had no desire to try and test it out for its weakness. He had no intentions to die today.

 

I will tear you apart, rip you slowly to shreds, mince you into tiny pieces and eat you.

 

Dosu shivered in fear, his hands shook as the tremors overtook his body. He shook his head and withdrew slowly, his body receded in slow hesitant steps. He turned to his two teammates who gazed at him with blatant fear.

 

"I think..." He licked his dry lips. "I think we should report this to Orochimaru-sama. Let's focus on making it to the next round for now and wait for another opportunity to complete our objective."

 

His teammates slumped forward in relief. They pulled away silently from the massive birdcage and slipped away hurriedly, putting a distant between themselves and the terrifying monster that guarded Uchiha Sasuke.

 


Torikago no jutsu- Birdcage technique inspired by One Piece villain Donquixote Doflamingo.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen

 

Deep in the Forest of Death, a sand-nin turned on his heel, his jade eyes sought out the three chakra signatures hidden in the bushes. He stepped forward slowly, his killing intent rose like a menacing storm. The sand bristled underneath his fingertips and he commanded it with ease. The sand sailed towards the bushes and the three chakra signatures moved out of their hiding spot. Three genin of Konoha stood in fear, their bodies trembled as he moved towards them with slow and measured steps. The two shinobi moved immediately, rushing to the trees and Gaara's eyes gleamed wickedly.

 

The kunoichi remained frozen on the ground. Her body was shaking in terror and her pale lavender eyes were wide. Gaara moved his hands in a practiced seal and joined his fingertips together. He bent his fingers and the sand lunged forward - Desert Coffin - The sand shot towards the kunoichi and it engulfed her form entirely. She cried out in terror and he curled his fist slowly. Gaara relished in her teammates screams of terror and anguish.

 

"Hinata!"

 

"Run!"

 

Gaara's hands curled into a lethal fist -Desert funeral- and the sand crushed her form entirely. The screams of despair filled the forest as he released his clenched fist. Her mangled and crushed form fell limply to the ground in a dead disfigured heap. Gaara turned his blood-thirsty gaze towards the other two genin in the trees. His bloodlust seeped from his body in oppressive waves and he lunged forward.

 


 

The blond genin's eyes slid open tiredly and he stood up, cracking his stiff limbs and neck as he rolled them slowly. He pulled away from the cave wall and stepped inside with slow steps. Naruto knelt down next to his two unconscious teammates and changed their dried towels with cool wet ones. He pressed a palm to Uchiha's forehead and his frown deepened. Uchiha was growing hotter and hotter with each passing hour. His condition was dire.

 

He slid his tired gaze to Haruno and watched her chest rise and fall in small, laboured breaths. He scrutinized her swollen and blistering skin and his eyes narrowed. She was in pain. He had no way to alleviate her suffering. Naruto heaved a long sigh and turned on his heel. His sharp eyes slid down to the Heaven scroll tied to his belt and his brows furrowed in thought. He took off his retrieved vest and dropped it carelessly to the ground. Naruto bent down and removed the added weights on his ankles, sliding his hands under the woollen mesh. The weights clattered noisily to the ground and created a small crater in the cave.

 

Naruto rolled his ankles a few times and hopped on his feet, adjusting to the lightness in his body. He nodded to himself and stepped out of the cave. He reached the tall walls of his birdcage with a concentrated frown. The genin pressed a tanned hand against the hot pulsing strings and focused on shifting them. The strings bent to his touch and they morphed into a malleable form. The blond stepped through the cage opening and turned around to regard his hideout. He pressed his hand to the strings and returned them to their original position. Naruto eyed his impenetrable jutsu and his gaze lingered at the darkened cave where his teammates lay unconscious. He turned on his heel and leaped to the trees at a rapid speed.

 

The blond moved in a black blur and his senses reached out, searching for the chakra signatures close by. He honed in on a group of genin further ahead. Naruto rushed forward, his killing intent rose and he flexed his fingers rapidly. His strings launched ahead, slicing through the trees and thick foliage destructively. He broke into the clearing and the Kiri genin screamed in fright. Naruto flexed his fingers and trapped the genin in an intricate web of strings. He curled his hands downward slowly and the strings began to cut through their skin. They screamed in pain and terror. They were a group of young genin with remnants of baby fat on their cheeks.

 

"What scroll do you have?" Naruto rasped impatiently as he walked towards them.

 

The genins eyes were glistening with unshed tears. The smaller one whimpered, his green eyes were terrified. He was a small preteen, appearing very young for his age.

 

"E-earth," he whispered brokenly.

 

"P-please spare us," another intoned desperately. He was a thin genin with lankly limbs and a youthful face of freckles. He appeared to be on the threshold of puberty. 

 

Naruto's eyes slid back to a calm blue and he flexed his fingers upwards, loosening his merciless grip on the Kiri nin. They fell to the ground in a heap as relief coursed through their bodies. The blond genin kept his killing intent pulsing forward and the smallest genin rushed to his bags hurriedly. He rummaged through it and lifted the scroll with shaking fingers. Naruto flexed his strings and they latched onto the scroll. He inspected it silently, making sure it was authentic while the Kiri genin backed away from him slowly. The blond snapped his gaze to the trio and they froze in fear.

 

"W-we gave you w-what you want." The kunoichi spoke in a cracking squeaky voice. "P-please j-just let us go."

 

Naruto gazed at them in silence for a long contemplative moment. He inclined his head in a curt nod and they shuffled away hurriedly, glancing over their shoulders in fear as he watched them disappear. The blond genin strapped the Earth scroll to his belt and turned on his heel. He moved hurriedly through the trees and withdrew his killing intent. He masked his chakra and made his way back to the clearing.

 


 

Uzumaki Naruto reached the cave in record speed and he heaved a relieved sigh as he saw the clearing up ahead. He rushed forward, stopping in front of the large birdcage. He took a deep breath and withdrew his impenetrable jutsu. The birdcage dissipated slowly and he made his way into the cave. The genin moved his strings hurriedly and hauled up his teammates bags. 

 

Naruto reached forward and heaved Uchiha's unconscious body on his back. He flexed his strings carefully and they wrapped around Haruno's form in a gentle grip, mindful of her injuries. He eyed his added weights that were discarded on the ground and he turned his gaze away dismissively. He didn't need them anymore and he needed the extra speed to make it to the tower.

 

Naruto took a deep breath, tucking away his exhaustion and turned on his heel. He moved hurriedly through the trees and woods. He released his malicious killing intent, moving hurriedly as the red chakra pulsed around him. He made it through the landscape in record speed. No one stepped forward to confront him and he saw the tower up ahead. Naruto picked up his pace, moving forward in an unidentifiable black blur. 

 

Naruto reached the tower in record time. His breaths rattled in fatigue and he withdrew his killing intent. His eyes were a calm blue and his body was back to its deceptive, unassuming form. He released the strings around Haruno's form and carried her unconscious body under his arm. He stepped through the large doors silently. His Heaven and Earth scroll were strapped to his belt as he made it through the gates.

 

Uzumaki Naruto entered the tower three days before the second phase concluded and handed his scrolls to the exam proctor. The exam proctor eyed his unconscious teammates warily and accepted the scrolls, giving him a curt nod and a brief congratulations. 

 

Team 7 passed the second phase of the Chuunin Exams.

 


 

Haruno Sakura's eyelids fluttered open tiredly and she groaned in pain and discomfort. Her entire body ached and she felt incredibly itchy. She sat up slowly with a pained whine. Her jade eyes widened as she looked around the unfamiliar infirmary. Sasuke-kun was asleep on the bed adjacent to her, his chest was rising and falling in slow breaths. His complexion was pale and his skin was perspiring heavily. The kunoichi looked around the barren room in confusion and she shivered in alarm. 

 

Sakura recalled the oppressive walls of the snake's stomach closing in on her and she remembered her inability to breathe openly as her oxygen supply withered away. Her airways seized tightly and she leaned forward and retched the contents of her stomach. Sakura groaned and wiped her mouth as the tremors ran through her body. She wheezed painfully, her breath hitched in alarm as the memories of being trapped resonated through her mind.

 

The hot tears slid down her cheeks and she wiped her face in frustration. She paused, feeling the texture of unexpected bandages on her skin. She pulled her hands away, blinking at the sight of the white bandages on her fingers, arms and legs. She touched her face gingerly with shaking hands. Sakura felt her stomach drop and she hurriedly pulled herself out of bed and made her way to the bathroom. 

 

The kunoichi opened the door softly and entered the darkened bathroom. Sakura slid the door shut with a racing heart and flicked on the lights. She paled at the sight of her reflection. The bandages covered most of her body and face. Her breathing quickened rapidly and she stepped forward. She pressed a hand to her reflection and she felt herself sway in shock. Her entire body was covered in bandages. Sakura looked mummified. She frowned heavily and grimaced at the sight. She took a few long calming breaths. It's okay, it's okay, it's okay. You'll heal just fine. It's okay.

 

Konoha medics were remarkably talented. She should heal with minimal scarring. Sakura tore her gaze from her reflection and peered down at her bandaged fingers. She flexed them lightly and winced at the sharp pain. She took a deep centring breath and made her way out of the bathroom. Her eyes landed immediately on her unconscious teammate and she rushed towards him. She sat on the edge of his bed and took his pale hand in her hold gently.

 

"Sasuke-kun," she whispered softly. Please be okay.

 

Sakura heaved a relieved sigh as her teammate's long lashes fluttered slowly and his dark eyes opened. The kunoichi smiled a watery smile and clasped his hand tightly. His bleary vision cleared slowly and he blinked up at her for a confused moment.

 

"Sakura? Where is Uz-" He whispered hoarsely.

 

"Sasuke-kun!" She cried out, wiping her moist eyes. "I'm so glad you're alright!"

 

Sakura beamed at him brightly and ignored the pain as her facial muscles spasmed. Her teammate sat up with a groan and he pulled his hand away from her grasp. He looked around him in confusion and concern and she felt her heart settle at seeing him healthy and whole. Everything would be okay. They were okay. She didn't know what spiralled after she was attacked by the snake but seeing Sasuke intact and unharmed settled her fears and concerns.

 

Everything would be okay.

 


 

The tanned genin sat on the rooftop of the tower overlooking the wide expansive forest. The wind fluttered gently through his golden locks and he closed his eyes tiredly, listening to the sounds of the chirping birds and movement of wildlife. Naruto opened his blue eyes slowly and he gazed up at the moving clouds. He flexed his sore muscles tiredly and heaved a drawn sigh. He heard the faint sounds from the infirmary window and he blocked out the words of his two teammates conversing quietly. They were awake. They were fine. Naruto stood up tiredly and gazed down at the expansive forest.

 

He blinked down at the pathway to the tower. The suna team walked through the thick foliage quietly. The stoic red head walked ahead of his two teammates, his pace was steady and his expression was blank. His two teammates followed behind with a wide berth between them. The sand-nin paused in his steps and his jade eyes snapped up to the rooftops. Naruto gazed back steadily and the genin stared back at him for a lingering moment. The red head inclined his head to the side and turned to his two teammates to dismiss them. The pair bristled and hesitated but shuffled away into the tower as he glared at them menacingly.

 

Naruto watched as the red head inclined a finger to the thick woods and took off without a backward glance. The blond paused for a moment - the voices of his two teammates drifted close by- and he gazed at the pathway where the sand-nin disappeared. He turned away from his teammates and took off after the suna genin.

 

His mind was made up.

 


 

Naruto reached the thick trees and gazed around him critically. A whirl of sand manifested a meter away from him and he remained rooted to his spot on the high branches. His hands were tucked in his pockets and he regarded the sand-nin with curious eyes. The expressionless red head stared at him silently for a long moment and they both regarded each other calculatingly.

 

"Uzumaki Naruto." The sand nin intoned in a low voice.

 

Naruto inclined his head. "Gaara."

 

The silence stretched between them as they stared at each other. Naruto turned his gaze away from the sand-nin and he stared up at the thick clouds. His eyes lingered on a flock of birds flying ahead. The blond lowered his gaze from the setting skies and turned to regard the silent nin. Gaara's face gave nothing away. Naruto lowered himself on the branch and took a seat, his posture was non-threatening and his demeanour was neutral. The blond clasped his hand on his Konoha hitae-ate and his eyes hardened.

 

"I hope you don't think I'm being presumptuous but I believe you and I are similar." Naruto began in a low tone.

 

The blond lowered his hand and curled his aching fingers tiredly. He did not release his chakra strings. Naruto was not here to fight or make an enemy of Sabaku no Gaara. The suna-nin remained silent but he tilted his head in acknowledgement of his words. His jade eyes were curious and his posture was neutral. Gaara crossed his arms over his chest and stared down at him scrutinizingly. Naruto gazed back with solemn eyes. The bright blue of his gaze dimmed significantly as he stared at the other chakra vessel in rare understanding. The blond heaved a long sigh and turned his gaze upward to the flock of birds.

 

"I'm a monster treated with scorn and hated by everyone in the village for something entirely out of my control. My greatest sin was being born." Naruto confessed quietly. 

 

The sand-nin remained quiet for a long contemplative moment. "You have a demon sealed inside you." Gaara confirmed. His voice was low and definite.

 

Naruto nodded in confirmation. "Since the day I opened my eyes into this world, all I saw was hatred and I was vilified for existing. I don't have a single ally or friend in the village. All I have ever relied on was myself. All I have is myself."

 

The silence stretched between them but it did not feel awkward or stifled. The sand-nin gazed ahead at the thick foliage. His expression was closed off but his jade eyes were thoughtful.

 

"What do you desire Uzumaki Naruto?" He tilted his head to the side and regarded him with curious jade eyes.  

 

The blond genin looked at the sand nin curiously and he outstretched a hand, pointing to the flock of birds flying overhead. "I want to be free," he spoke quietly. Naruto lowered his hand and clasped the hitae-ate around his neck tightly. His fingers pressed down on the cold metal and his eyes burned with a hateful ferocity. "I want to live for myself. I want to claim my own freedom." 

 

"I live for myself." Gaara spoke in a low tone. "To kill is my sole purpose, that is my only desire. When I kill, I feel alive. My strength is solidified as my sand drinks the blood of my prey." He intoned quietly, gazing down at the forest grounds with dark eyes. 

 

The blond gazed at the sand-nin for a long moment, his brows furrowed deeply in thought. Naruto turned back to the clouds and he frowned. "Gaara, you say you live for yourself. Do you truly live for yourself when you're undertaking missions on behalf of your village? Are you truly living when you're following the orders of the Kazekage? I think you're not living for yourself, you've only convinced yourself of such lies." 

 

Naruto turned to the sand-nin and he pulled himself up. His eyes hardened and he stared at the genin unflinchingly. "You're nothing but a slave to your village, following orders and answering to the whims of your superiors."

 

Gaara's eyes hardened and the sand underneath his fingertips bristled at the offensive words. His sand drew forth and it lunged towards the blond with murderous intent. The blond flickered from sight and he appeared silently on the branches a few meters away. He looked at him with steely blue eyes that held no fear or disdain of him. Naruto's eyes were patient and understanding. He maintained his calm in the face of Sabaku no Gaara's murderous rage.

 

"Is that what you truly want, Sabaku no Gaara? To live serving those who shun you and despise you?"

 

Gaara glared at him angrily. "What other choice is there?" He hissed as the sand rose around him in large, hostile waves.

 

Naruto's eyes gleamed and he tapped his finger to his hitae-ate in rapid successions. "There is always a choice Gaara. All of us, from the moment we are born, we are free. This..." He tapped his hitae-ate. "...denies us our freedom. This is a sign of our servitude. I would rather die than spend my whole life tethered to a village I despise."

 

The blond turned back to the clouds and he reached a hand out to the flying birds, gazing at them wistfully. Gaara watched him with narrowed eyes and he turned his dark gaze to the birds sailing above. He held his sand in check minutely and it hovered near the blond genin threateningly. It was an inch from engulfing his tanned form entirely.

 

"Choose the decision you'd regret the least Gaara." The blond whispered, moving his hands in a fast seal. He met the angry jade eyes directly. "I have chosen freedom over a life of forced servitude." 

 

Naruto vanished in a spiral of fast winds. 

 


 

 

Note: Author has started a new Naruto crossover. It is Hyuga Clan centric with MC, Neji, Shisui and Itachi as the focus.

All support is very much appreciated.

A True King

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen

 

The genin contesters followed the exam proctors to the next phase of the Chuunin Exams. The rounds began immediately and the injured and exhausted genin despaired silently at the arrangement. The arena was filled with teams who made it through the Forest of Death. Naruto recognized a few of members of Rookie Nine who made it through. The blond counted the number of teams silently. Team 8 was missing. Naruto turned away in disinterest and gazed down at his hands idly as the Hokage stepped forward to deliver his inspirational speech.

 

The Sandaime droned on and on about the Will of Fire and the pride in serving the village of the Leaf. Naruto wiggled his aching fingers in boredom and examined his cuticles in disinterest. He sighed and picked his fingernails idly. The rest of the assembled genin stood tall listening in rapt attention, their gaze locked on the wizened leader of Konohakagure.

 

The monotonous speech concluded and the contesters turned their attention to the large screen. The names of the contesters raced ahead on the screen and the screen paused in bolded red. Naruto's calculating gaze turned to the large screen, peering curiously at the names of the next match up.

 

Naruto blinked up at the screen tiredly and his lips parted in shock. He stared at the screen in disbelief and the murmurs ran through the assembled genin. Naruto released a resigned sigh and turned on his heel sharply. The blond genin's face was lowered as his mind raced in thought. He made his way to the centre of the arena and he ignored the whispers that spread around him. The students began making their way up the stairs to watch the upcoming match. Naruto clenched his fists angrily as the arena cleared up.

 

Uzumaki Naruto vs Uchiha Sasuke.

 

The village had matched him up in a way that would ensure his failure. The Hokage had claimed that the matches were randomized but he did not believe his false claims. The match selections were deliberate. He looked ahead at his pale teammate who gazed back at him with a hard determined gaze.

 

"I’m an avenger. This is not just a mere exam for me Uzumaki." Uchiha spoke in a low tone. "I will defeat you and move on to the next round."

 

Naruto turned his speculative gaze to the spectators in the stands. He eyed the Hokage and the wizened man stared back at him with an indifferent gaze. He took long inhales from his pipe and watched the one-sided verbal exchange with little interest. Naruto grit his teeth angrily and he tore his gaze away from the leader of the village. If he had been a normal genin with no battle preparation and fighting expertise, he would have been at a huge disadvantage. Uchiha Sasuke was a trained clan nin and The Number One Rookie. If Naruto had been a normal genin, he would have been decimated in the match.

 

The village did not want him to pass. They had deliberately pinned him up against a powerful opponent. They pinned him up against his own teammate who would be privy to his strengths and weaknesses. They pinned him up against a dōjutsu user, a well-known prodigy. Naruto resisted the urge to snarl in anger and he took a deep calming breath. To hell with them. He was done. It wasn't enough that they ostracized him his entire life but now they were setting him up for failure. They were unaware of Naruto's hidden strengths; they believed in the mediocre results in his genin files. They believed him to be a weak and inept shinobi. They wanted to keep him weak and malleable - perpetually stagnated in the rank of genin

 

Naruto lifted his tired gaze and stared wearily at Uchiha. He was done. He didn't care anymore. He was leaving. Let them connive and plot against him. This was the final straw. He didn't need any more incentive to disappear for good. Nothing would change if he remained.

 

Nothing.

 

The exam proctor lowered his hand, signifying the beginning of the match. Uchiha leaped back, putting a few meters of space between them. His expression was wary and his dark eyes were cautious as he gazed at him in a calculating manner. Naruto regarded him with a blank gaze, giving nothing away. His posture remained nonchalant and indifferent. His hands were shoved in his pockets as he gazed back at Uchiha in a deceptively calm manner.

 

The blond genin did not care to win. Uchiha could have this round; he could bask in the glory of serving this treacherous village. Naruto participated in the exams to gather intel. He was unable to gather information in the second phase; his teammates had been a liability and he had wasted precious time guarding their unconscious bodies. He was done protecting them. Their lives were their own to protect and he was cutting off his ties with a sense of definite finality.

 

He was done. He had protected them and his efforts were never acknowledged. They never once looked back. They never once expressed their gratitude. He was left behind on the destroyed bridge in the Land of Waves. Naruto was left alone in blood soaked clothing and an exhausted, battered disposition. They did not care. A few moments of sparse half-hearted concern did not erase years and years of abuse, neglect and hatred. He was leaving. He would cut his ties off completely. Keeping them alive was one thing but risking his escape - his one shot at freedom - was not worth it. They had to take care of themselves now. He was done with toxicity of everyone around him. He had no reason to stay behind at all. 

 

None.

 

Naruto gazed ahead with a cold gaze as he eyed the determined Uchiha. A bone deep weariness spread through his small form and his heart solidified in a final resolve. Team 7 was not his team. He was a lone fighter and his battles alongside the two genin were finally over. He could finally rest. He was exhausted and drained from carrying their weights again and again. He had allowed himself to grow complacent. No more. They had to fight their own battles now. Without him. Haruno was Haruno. Uchiha was Uchiha. They would become nothing more, nothing less. They would remain a figment of his past.   

 

He wanted to be alone.

 

The blond genin lifted his arm up in a tired and slow motion, shocking everyone in the stands. His voice rang clear through the arena as he stared at his opponent with an indifferent expression and cold cerulean eyes.

 

"I forfeit."

 


 

The silence that permeated through the arena was deafening. Uchiha Sasuke reeled back in shock and his dark eyes widened in disbelief. The words ran through his mind in an endless cyclical loop - I forfeit, I forfeit, I forfeit, I forfeit, I forfeit - and he blinked in utter bewilderment. What? Sasuke glared at his blond teammate in confusion and betrayal. What the hell? Uzumaki's eyes were hard and glacial. He was gazing at him with a sense of finality. His expression was resolute and resigned.

 

The blond looked different. He was standing a few meters from him but he felt so far away. Sasuke scowled angrily, ignoring the hurt feeling building up in his chest at the rejection. He had been excited when he was matched up with his enigmatic teammate. He had always wanted to spar with him but Uzumaki had ignored his attempts and now he was forfeiting. Does he think I'm not worth a fight? The exam proctor cleared his throat awkwardly and released a rattled cough. He pronounced Sasuke as the winner and the pale genin ignored his announcement.

 

"What the hell Uzumaki?" Sasuke spat angrily.

 

Uzumaki moved his hands in a fast seal and created an impeccable clone. The clone materialized next to him and it turned on its heel and leaped up to the stands. It stood in the corner away from all the contestants and leaned back against the wall with an air of indifference. Uzumaki turned away from his enraged gaze dismissively. He moved through the wide arena and made his way to the exit doors. He paused in his steps and looked over his shoulder with a detached gaze.

 

"I don't owe you an explanation Uchiha." He spoke in a lifeless tone. "I don't owe you anything."

 

Sasuke stared at him in shocked silence. The cold words hurt. He scowled angrily and hissed at the tanned genin to fight. Why? Why are you doing this? Why? You're not a coward... Why? Uzumaki ignored his calls and he turned on his heel. He left the silent arena in angry brisk steps. Sasuke watched him depart with wide eyes. He was stunned. The pale genin remained rooted to the spot as he watched his teammate walk away from him.

 

Uzumaki Naruto walking away felt final.

 

"Wait!" He cried out.

 

Sasuke felt his heart plummet and he took a step forward after his teammate. He reached out a pale hand imploringly and he froze at his unexpected actions. Sasuke's dark eyes fell to his outstretched hand and he blinked in confusion. His body had moved impulsively. His hand had reached after his teammate instinctively. Sasuke scowled angrily and he lowered his hand, curling it into an angry fist. He watched with a hurt gaze as his teammate pushed the doors open and left the arena.

 

The doors slammed shut behind him, loud and final. 

 


 

Hatake Kakashi's sole grey eye widened in shock as the voice of his blond genin ran through the stands. I forfeit. He leaned forward, clasping the railings tightly in disbelief. He heard the sound of disbelief and bewilderment echo from the students and nin gathered in the audience.

 

Uzumaki Naruto had completed the second phase of the exam unscathed. He had no scars on his body and his dark attire was intact and undamaged. Other teams were haggard and they suffered losses in their numbers. Yūhi Kurenai's team was absent and the kunoichi instructor was away.

 

Naruto had battled with the snake sannin and he had survived the encounter. He had completed the second phase three days earlier, carrying his unconscious teammates alone through the Forest of Death and he collected the required scrolls without assistance. Uzumaki Naruto was not weak. What reason does he have to not fight? Does he perhaps not want to fight Sasuke? Is he against fighting his own teammate?

 

Kakashi watched in alarm as his genin student created a clone and sent him to the stands silently. The clone remained far from the rest of the gathered nin and leaned back against the wall to watch the remaining matches. Naruto turned on his heel and made his way to the doors. He paused in his steps and spoke lowly to Sasuke. His tanned face was neutral and it gave nothing away. The blond genin ignored his teammate's calls and walked away dismissively with his hands shoved in his pockets. The doors slammed shut behind him, loud and definite. Sasuke scowled angrily and made his way back to the stands. He leaned back on the wall and closed his eyes, ignoring the inquiries of his female teammate.

 

Kakashi gazed at his pale genin in concealed anxiousness and he felt his stomach churn in concern and discomfort. There was something seriously wrong with Uzumaki Naruto. He couldn't understand his actions one bit and it unsettled him greatly. The Jounin sensei sighed heavily, turning back to the screen as the names of the second contesters appeared.

 

Gaara vs Rock Lee.

 


 

Hyūga Neji pursed his lips tightly in concern as his teammate lost his match. Rock Lee fell to the ground in an unconscious bloodied heap. Neji watched with troubled eyes as his unconscious teammate was rushed out of the arena on a stretcher. The sand-nin lifted himself from his destroyed sand sphere and stood up on shaky legs. His pale skin was cracking and morphing itself anew. Neji grimaced at the gruesome sight and the sand-nin moved his hands in a fast seal. The sand around him whirred and he disappeared within the sphere.

 

He materialized on the railing next to his two teammates who immediately rushed to help him remain upright. He slapped their hands away harshly with a cold menacing glare and they backed away in fear, giving the red head a wide berth. Neji looked up at the screen as the next contesters names appeared and he scoffed at the name displayed.

 

Hyūga Neji vs Haruno Sakura.

 

What a waste of time.

 

Neji ignored the encouragement of Tenten and his Jounin sensei and turned on his heel, moving down the stairs at a steady pace. The two contesters made their way into the arena. Neji met the pink haired kunoichi in the centre and she gazed at him with wide, terrified eyes. He gazed back at her with a cold, hard gaze. The genin faced each other and waited for the exam proctor to lower his hand.

 

The proctor announced the start of the match and lowered his hand with a rattled cough. The man stepped back and the kunoichi's eyes widened in terror as Neji's eyes morphed into his Byakugan. He lunged forward with intense speed and the kunoichi pulled out a blade shakily. Too slow. His hands moved forward with practiced ease and he wasted no time in decimating his opponent completely.

 


 

Uzumaki Naruto raced through the village rooftops hurriedly. His mind raced with tumultuous thoughts and he grit his teeth as he reached the Hokage monument. He paused as he reached the top. He eyed the four monuments with dark eyes and his gaze lingered on the carved head of the Yondaime of Konohakagure. He stepped forward and he stood on the fixed monument. His cold eyes stared down at the etchings of stone. Naruto infused his soles with chakra and moved downward, gazing at the details of his deceased father's face. He pressed a hand to the cold stone and he gazed ahead mournfully.

 

"You've made your choice." He spoke quietly.

 

The wind ruffled his golden locks and dark clothing gently. The sun began setting in the horizon and the genin stood for a long moment gazing at the cold unresponsive statue reflectively. It had no remnants of his father. The memory of the Yondaime had been reduced to mere cold stone. The statue was meant to memorialize his sacrifice and heroic actions but his sacrifice was never spoken of. It was never acknowledged by the masses. His legacy was forgotten and tossed aside. It was another truth hidden from him. It was another lie spewed to him.

 

An unloved orphan.

 

A demon.

 

A monster.

 

A outlier with no legacy.

 

Naruto pressed both his palms against the cold monument and his shoulders shook in suppressed grief and anger. He pressed his forehead against the cold lifeless stone and he closed his eyes tightly. He heaved a long breath and pulled back, gazing at the monument in determination.

 

"You've made your choice and I've made mine." He spoke resolutely.

 

Naruto tore his gaze away from the cold lifeless stone. The goodbye resonated through him and he took off into the night.

 

Farewell, father.


 

The blond genin lifted his head as the memories of his clone filtered through his mind. He lowered his journal gently on the bed. Naruto gazed away from the sketches of his childhood and stood up, making his way to his closet. He opened the double doors and pressed his chakra signature to the pale walls. He began pulling down the maps slowly, his expression was pinched and determined. Naruto folded the maps carefully, eyeing his barren walls. There were no traces left behind. He flicked his fingers downward and his strings retrieved his bag from underneath his bed. He set the maps into a storage scroll carefully and put them in his travel pack. The blond shuffled through his closet, packing a specific amount of clothes and weaponry. He paused as a photo of Team 7 dropped from the shelves, falling to his feet.

 

Naruto picked up the photo and he released a sardonic scoff. Uchiha was blank faced, his arms were crossed over his chest and he appeared bored as he stood in front of the camera. Haruno was smiling wide, she held up a two-fingered victory sign and Kakashi sensei was smiling a one-eyed smile as he stood behind the three genin. The photo had been taken after they passed the bell test in celebration of their success and the establishment of their team. Naruto gazed at the blond clone in the photo. He was absent for the commemorative event. He snorted at the thought. It wasn't even him in the photo. His eyes darkened and he tore the picture in half ruthlessly. Naruto stood up and tossed the torn photo in the trash bin and turned away dismissively.   

 

His time in Konohakagure was up.

 


 

Hyūga Neji entered the first branch compound with a foreboding feeling in his chest. The compound was eerily silent. He had won his match easily and it had not been a difficult fight. He walked through the compound warily and made his way to the study room of the clan head.  Hinata Hyūga had not been in the third phase of the exam. Team 8 was not present and their Jounin instructor was absent from the spectators. Neji entered the quiet compound and made his way to the study of the clan head. He knocked politely and waited. He entered as the cold voice of Hiashi-sama rang through the walls. 

 

Neji bowed immediately upon entry and lifted his pale gaze. He peered around curiously. His cousin was nowhere to be seen. The clan head sat at his large desk, his hands were clasped together tightly and he stared at him with cold clinical eyes. Neji bit back a confused frown and stood tall. Hiashi-sama tapped his fingers on the desk slowly, his eyes narrowed as he eyed the pale genin.

 

"Neji, what is your purpose?" He intoned lowly. 

 

Neji blinked in confusion and answered robotically. His purpose had been drilled into him since his childhood.

 

"To protect and serve the first branch Hyūga-sama." 

 

Hiashi-sama continued his tapping rhythmically. "Exactly. You are meant to serve and protect the first branch. That is your purpose. That is why you are alive. You have failed to uphold your purpose."

 

Neji paled at the words. What? 

 

Hiashi-sama stood up abruptly and made his way towards him. Neji refused to cower in front of imposing man and he kept his gaze lowered as his mind spun. How did I fail? He felt a sharp pain on his cheek and he stumbled to the ground from the force of the harsh slap. He blinked up at the clan head in bewilderment and touched his sore cheek. Hiashi-sama gazed down at him with cold hard eyes. The clan head glared down at him; his face was apoplectic in rage. Neji felt a cold ominous shiver run down his back and his body trembled in fear.  

 

"Your cousin and master is dead." Hiashi-sama hissed. 

 

Neji's eyes widened in horror. "Wha-"

 

"While you were prancing around flaunting your superiority in the Forest of Death, Hinata Hyūga died at the hands of another team."

 

Neji paled in terror. What? That wasn't true! He clenched his fists angrily at the false accusations. He had been busy in the Forest of Death, guarding his scroll and fighting other genin teams for their Earth scrolls. He had been busy keeping his own teammates safe. He had been busy keeping Tenten and Rock Lee alive. Hinata Hyūga's death was not his fault. He had his own team to worry about. The accusations were not fair. Neji curled his fingers in rage and his eyes prickled in angry tears. He gritted his teeth tightly and resisted the urge to cry.

 

"You have shamed the entire second clan." The clan head spat vehemently. "You had one duty and you failed completely. You're a shame to all Hyūgas." 

 

Neji trembled in fear and he lowered his head. The clan head paced in front of him, spitting hurtful and cruel words as the young genin trembled in terror. His fingernails dug into his palms harshly and he drew blood. The clan head paused in his cruel speech and glared down at him. Neji's eyes widened in horror as Hiashi-sama moved his fingers in a familiar seal. He had seen the exact seal many years ago. It was used on his father and his father's body had spasmed in pain and agony. Neji grit his teeth in preparation and watched as the clan head moved his fingers together in a tight seal. The pain exploded in his head and an agonized scream tore through his throat as he writhed on the ground.

 

Hyūga Neji's screams ran through the compound and the night was filled with his agonized cries of pain. 

 


 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty

 

The blond genin gazed up at the dark skies and his cerulean eyes hardened in determination. The moon illuminated the bustling streets of the Red Light District and the loud noises filtered through the gregarious crowds. Uzumaki Naruto pulled away from the balcony railings and made his way into his apartment silently. He slid the lock on his windows, fastening it shut and tugged his black curtains forward. He obscured his apartment in darkness and turned on his heel. The genin made his way into his bedroom with quiet steps.

 

Naruto opened his closet door and eyed the pale, empty walls. He had carefully removed all traces of his maps. The blond leaned forward and fixed the appearance of his closet space. He shuffled through his collection of black attire meticulously. He kept his remaining clothing and rusty weaponry untouched to give off a false illusion. Naruto gazed around at his desolate apartment and his eyes darkened. 

 

He stored his dual katana in his storage scroll and secured it on his belt. He heaved a long sigh and sat on the creaky bed, crossing his legs. Naruto moved his hands in a fast seal, summoning a number of clones with ease. He ordered them with a curt nod and they took off, slipping through the shadows and obscured alleyways. The clones snuck out of the village, each one moved down a different route and preplanned location.

 

The blond genin gazed around at his worn down apartment. He gazed at his prison with steely eyes and his lips quirked upward in anticipation.

 

"It's time."

 


 

The blond genin removed his hitae-ate off his neck and he released a long breath. Naruto slid a dark mask over the lower-half of his face and he moved his hands in a fast seal, creating an impeccable clone to leave behind in his apartment. He tucked his hitae-ate in his bag, intending to discard of it in a designated location. He heaved his bag on and slipped out of his apartment silently. His clone remained on the balcony, watching the streets in idle boredom. The blond genin kept to the shadows, moving expertly and undetected through the night.

 

Naruto slipped past the guards and leaped over the village walls. He landed in a silent crouch outside the walls and he moved quickly into the thick trees. Naruto paused in his trek and he gazed up at the bright twinkling stars with dim cerulean eyes. The air ruffled his golden locks gently and his heart thudded in his chest in heightened nerves. He clenched his teeth angrily and his fingers curled into tight fists. He had decided. There was no going back. He needed to move onwards. Naruto willed his feet to move but he found a slight hesitation in his heart. No, I already decided.

 

The blond grimaced as a sharp sudden pain trickled through his mind. He clenched his eyes tightly as a voice filtered through his consciousness. It was a voice he hadn't heard in a long time and the memory urged him to move.

 

Eren, you must reach your destination!

 

He froze in his spot as he watched the memory play in vivid images. A small brunette child gazed up at his father and the man grabbed his small arms in desperation as he gazed down at his son brokenly. The tears slid down the man's wrecked face and his expression was marred in despair. Eren! You must seek out the truth. The genin hissed and dug his fingernails into his scalp roughly as the memories played out in fast images.

 

His father - Grisha Yeagar - had never curbed his inquisitive nature and he never rebuked him for his desire to leave the oppressive walls. He encouraged him to seek out the truths and find his own answers about the world. He urged him to move forward and his encouraging words echoed in his mind.

 

It will be a hard and merciless road but you must walk it!

 

He recalled an old memory of his expressionless and weary captain - Levi, Levi, Levi - The pale man rode ahead and he gazed at him with steely grey eyes as he screamed at him in confusion and bewilderment. Captain! What do I do? The man looked behind him briefly, his dark gaze lingered on the fallen bodies of his comrades and he turned to Humanity's Last Hope.

 

No one ever knows how it will turn out.

 

So choose for yourself Eren. Whichever decision you'll regret the least.

 

He recalled a distant memory of a powerful commander - Erwin, Erwin, Erwin - leading his troops valiantly into battle. His expression was fearless and his strong voice rang through the chaos and destruction. His presence commanded attention - His aura reverberated with sheer willpower and tenacity - He unsheathed his swords, pointing ahead and he bellowed in a deep voice - Advance!  

 

Naruto's eyes snapped open and he moved. He did not spare a single backward glance to the village of lies. It was time to seek out the truth - His ancestral ruins awaited him - He did not look back as he moved away from the abhorrent place.

 

He did not offer any goodbyes or explanations and left with a sense of finality.

 

Naruto shunshined silently to the trees. His body flickered from sight and he slipped through the thick foliage undetected. He made his way through an unpopulated trail, heading to a nondescript merchant village. He moved hurriedly, leaving behind a number of false trails. Each clone went in a different direction and headed to different ports. The blond moved restlessly with a determined heart and a fast gait.

 

Unknown to all the inhabitants of Konohakagure, Uzumaki Naruto left the village for good.

 


 

Uchiha Sasuke gazed up at the spectators and his dark eyes weaved through the large masses searchingly. His gaze honed on his blond teammate who stood far off from the crowd. Uzumaki Naruto was leaning on the railings and inspecting his fingernails idly. Sasuke gritted his teeth in irritation and turned away with an irked huff. He hadn't seen the blond in an entire month. Kakashi sensei had taken to training him personally and left Sakura and Uzumaki with a set of D-rank missions to complete during his absence.

 

Uzumaki Naruto remained a silent enigma. He often disappeared after the completion of the missions. Sasuke curled his fists and gazed ahead at the exam contestants. He needed answers. Something was off with the whole picture. Uzumaki was the son of the Yondaime - the son of the village hero - and he was treated as a social pariah. He was labelled as a demon and treated deplorably by everyone around him.

 

Why?

 

Sasuke gazed at the exam proctor as the man began discussing the match details. His mouth moved lazily around a senbon blade wedged between his thin lips. The man turned to the remaining contestants and ordered the rest of the genin to move to the stands. The audience held their breath as they watched the legendary battle commence.

 

Two powerful dojutsu users were pinned against each other.

 

Hyuga Neji vs Uchiha Sasuke.

 

Sasuke leaped backwards as the exam proctor lowered his hand, signifying the start of the match. Hyuga Neji glared at him hatefully and the nerves pulsed around his pale eyelids rapidly. He manifested his byakugan and lunged forward. Sasuke evaded his hits and the older genin chased after him relentlessly. Hyuga Neji was adamant on winning. His pale face was unforgiving and his stance was poised to eviscerate him completely.

 

Sasuke gritted his teeth angrily and ducked, tossing a slew of blades towards the Hyuga prodigy. Neji substituted his body with a clone and appeared behind him in a sudden instance. He rammed his fingers in his tenketsu points viciously. Sasuke cursed in irritation as one of his arms fell limply to his side uselessly. Careless, too careless. He admonished himself silently as he leapt backwards.

 

Sasuke took a deep breath and pumped his chakra to his palm. His body crackled with lightening and his chidori rippled from his open hand. Sasuke lunged at Neji with an angry snarl and took his aim. He smirked as his chidori tore through Neji's unguarded body; it ripped right through his chest. His victorious smirk fell as the body dispelled and he cursed angrily at being caught unaware by a clone. He could not use his sharingan freely. The seal on his neck caused him great pain and he had to rely on his taijutsu skills. Neji moved in with terrifyingly fast moves and caught his other arm with harsh jabs.

 

Sasuke grunted in pain and he leapt back from the frontier attack. Both his arms flopped uselessly to his sides. His dark eyes widened as Neji closed in rapidly. Crap! Sasuke whirled on his foot and sent a roundabout kick towards his opponent. Neji grabbed his ankle and rammed his open palm into his kneecap. The pain exploded in Sasuke's joints and the sickening crack of bones resonated through the arena. Sasuke released a guttural scream of pain as his kneecap shattered and he crumpled to the ground. He curled his body inward and he grabbed a kunai blade with his teeth. He reeled his head backwards and threw the blade with accurate precision.

 

Neji leapt back and regarded him with a hateful sneer. Sasuke grabbed another blade with his teeth as his chest rose and fell rapidly in exertion. I'm not done yet, you bastard. I'm not giving up here.

 

Neji was the more experienced fighter. He was trained by Hyuga clansmen and was supported in his daily regimen. Sasuke was orphaned at seven. He was alone. He had no one to train him and he relied solely on himself since childhood. He trained alone, desperately for years and years without guidance in his desolate compound. He had worked day and night, bleeding and sweating, to earn the title of The Number One Rookie

 

The gap between their skill set was too wide. Neji was trained by the Green Beast of Konoha for years. He had more experience carrying out outside missions. Sasuke stared ahead bitterly. Kakashi sensei had only started training him recently. He had lost so much time. The gap was despairingly large. He was at a great disadvantage but he was not going to run away again.

 

Run and run and cling to your life. 

 

Sasuke shook his head at the loathsome memories and he clenched his teeth on the blade angrily. Neji glared at him and he spread his arms wide. Sasuke's eyes widened as the genin began moving in a fast circular motion and he spun on the spot at a neck-breaking speed. The power of his spin sent a strong gust of wind towards him. Sasuke cried out in alarm as the wind sent him catapulting into the arena walls. His head hit the wall with a sickening crack and his vision blurred. His knee burnt at the agonizing impact and his sides seared. He heard a number of cracks from his ribcage and he wheezed painfully. The blood seeped from his head and he willed himself to remain conscious. Sasuke grit his teeth and he pulled himself up shakily on his good leg.

 

He glared hatefully at Neji. "I'm not done yet," he spat angrily against the hot searing pain. "I won't go down here!"

 

Foolish little brother. If you wish to kill me, hate me, detest me, and survive in an unsightly way.

 

Run and run and cling to your life. 

 

"I'm done running!" Sasuke yelled as his eyes bled into his sharingan. He ignored the hot pain that ignited on his neck as the curse mark began encroaching on his skin.

 

Neji narrowed his eyes and he altered his stance. His arms stretched out and his knees bent. He moved his fingers together tightly - Gentle Fist Art Sixty-Four Palms - and he lunged forward. Sasuke's eyes widened in alarm at the increase in speed and Neji closed in on him ruthlessly.

 

I can't move, he thought weakly. Shit...is this it?

 

Neji's closed in and he rammed into each chakra point rapidly. He tore through him, hitting the broken and bruised bones uncaringly. Sasuke reeled from the piercing agony and his body slammed into the hard walls. Neji was relentless as he impaled the tenkutsu points with lethal precision. There was a sinister force driving the Hyuga genius forward; something cruel and dark.

 

Sasuke lost function of all his limbs and Neji closed in for the final hit, ramming his palm into his chest viciously with a vindictive loathsome gaze. The pale genin hacked out blood and he fell forward in a defeated slump. His body burnt in throes of pain and he grit his teeth as the bitter taste of defeat filled his mouth. Defeat tasted of copper and blood. Everything hurt tremendously. Sasuke retched and heaved more blood as he laid trembling on the ground. His body shook with painful tremors and his opponent stood over him glaring at him hatefully.

 

Hyuga Neji was victorious.

 

"You were destined to lose the second you were matched up against me Uchiha Sasuke. I have shut down all 64 chakra points in your body. You won't be able to move." Neji spoke over him.

 

Sasuke clenched his teeth angrily as the dark spots filled his vision. He lifted his head dizzily and glared up at Neji. "Destiny?" He spat weakly as the blood seeped from his mouth and ran down his pale face.

 

"Yes." Neji continued in a dry and condescending tone as he stared down at his defeated opponent. "You think working hard will allow you to defeat me, you think hard work can change anything. That’s just an illusion; you're destined to be a failure."

 

"You are foolish, Uchiha Sasuke." Neji condemned.

 

Foolish little brother.

 

Sasuke glared at the genin hatefully. "I don't believe in destiny." He wheezed spitefully. "Nothing is destined, we choose our own paths."

 

Neji remained silent. The pale genin gazed up at the Hyuga through his dark moist locks and they both glared at each other hatefully. Neji looked angry at his words - very angry - His pale eyes were saturated with extreme pain and grief.

 

"Everything is set in stone." Neji spat. "Our destiny is predetermined. You can’t change what is meant to happen. There are currents that cannot be denied."

 

Sasuke frowned in confusion, gazing up at him as his vision swam. "What do you mean?"

 

Neji glared at him angrily. He moved his hands upward to his hitae-ate and tore it off angrily.

 

"I’ll tell you Uchiha Sasuke." Neji spat. His eyes were sorrowful and brimming with an old rage.

 

"The Hyuga's destiny of hatred.”

 

Sasuke blinked at the sight of the seal - The light green marks were etched permanently on Hyuga Neji's forehead and he felt his stomach drop in revulsion at the unexpected sight. It was branding.

 

Hyuga Neji was branded on his face.

 

The pale genin listened as Neji shared his tragic tale. His voice was bitter and his pale eyes grew mournful as he recounted the festering wounds - the tale of his father who was sacrificed for his older brother's folly. My father was killed by the head family! The Curse Mark Arts - a mark of those who are bound to a destiny they can't escape - and the slavery of the Second Branch to the First Branch till the end of time. The torture of his father at the hands of his older twin, the deterioration of their cerebral nerves if they dared to show any disobedience - other than dying there’s no other way to escape this accursed curse mark - and existing for the sole purpose to serve and protect the Main Branch.

 

Neji stood tall and Sasuke remained on the ground defeated, rooted to the spot in shock as he listened to the horrors of Hyuga Neji's life.

 

"My life isn't my own and it will never be. I can never be free. I can never be free of my cage." He finished solemnly in resigned acceptance. His pale eyes were enraged and bitter and his hands were clenched tightly to his sides.

 

Sasuke eyed the Leaf hitae-ate in his hand. Neji's hands were shaking and they were clenching onto the forehead protector tightly. The exam proctor raised his hand and announced Hyuga Neiji as the winner. Sasuke stared at his opponent with wide eyes and the black dots encompassed his vision completely. His head hit the ground and a glum thought ran through his mind as the darkness enveloped him.

 

Despite his epic victory, Hyuga Neji looked nothing like a victor.

 


 

The blond genin winced as the onslaught of memories slammed into his mind forcefully as his clones dissipated and he leaned forward with a groan. He stopped abruptly on a high branch and leaned against the tree shakily. Dispelling multiple clones made the recollection of numerous memories painful. Naruto closed his eyes tightly, focusing on the innumerable information rushing through his mind. His eyes shot open in shock as the images and words filtered through his mind at a slow pace, one memory passing through, one after the other.

 

Naruto's sneered in disgust at the recollection. Destiny? He didn't believe in destiny. Destiny was for fools and those too weak and pathetic to take their lives into their own hands. His life was his to own, to lead, and choose. Destiny dictated that things cannot be changed and they were set in stone but he didn't believe in fate or destiny.

 

Destiny had dictated that he was to live within the walls his entire life as stagnated cattle but he had spat at destiny and clawed his way out, fighting relentlessly as Humanity's Last Hope. Destiny dictated that he would never be free as the cursed child of Paradis but he had grinned madly in the face of destiny and set the world ablaze in flames. Destiny dictated that he wasn't powerful enough to claim his freedom but he had spat blood - the word Fight! resonating through him fiercely - as he channeled his rage and bitterness and crushed the rest of the world under his feet, killing hundreds and thousands who dared to shackle him to his destiny.

 

He always lived by his rules - fuck destiny - and nothing would stop him, not even fate.

 

The second memory filtered through his consciousness and his stomach twisted in disgust. Naruto's mind spun at the image of the seal - The light green marks were etched permanently on Hyuga's forehead. His stomach dropped in revulsion and he felt sick. It was branding.

 

Hyuga Neji was branded on his face.

 

Naruto felt an old anger grow inside him; an anger he hadn't felt for a long time as he recalled the image of the resigned Hyuga. He was enslaved at the age of four and would remained as such until his death. Naruto felt his mind spin at the thought of the seal on Hyuga's forehead and his eyes darkened in palpable rage. His anger was not directed at Hyuga but at his deplorable circumstances.

 

Hyuga Neji was a slave.

 

He was born to serve and would be disposed of as livestock when he served his purpose. His father was disposed of due to his birth order. The village allowed the sacrifice. The Hokage signed away another life. The wretched village enabled slavery to proliferate among its own people. Hyuga Neji's words ran through his mind in a cyclical devastating loop.

 

I can never be free I can never be free I can never be free I can never be free I can never be free.

 

The red hot chakra pulsed forward and his rage wrapped around him as an impenetrable armour. Naruto leaned forward like a vengeful shinigami. His eyes bled into an ominous crimson. He clung to the tree trunk with an angry grip and the wood snapped underneath his tanned fingertips. Naruto took a deep breath, reining in his anger. He closed his eyes and released his grip on the destroyed tree. His eyes receded to a calm blue and he pursed his lips tightly in thought.

 

A seal.

 

A seal can be broken.

 

A seal could be broken and undone by a seals master. A Fūinjutsu master can unravel the intricacies of the slave seal. The legacy of Uzushio can bring about Hyuga Neji's freedom and bring an end to his wretched servitude.

 

He would free Hyuga Neji. He would become a useful ally. The Hyuga prodigy was hateful. He had no love for his circumstances that were perpetuated and enabled by the village of the Leaf. He could use his circumstances to turn him against Konohakagure. Naruto nodded to himself in silent resolve. He needed to master sealing and when the time was right, he would reach out to Hyuga Neji and offer him a chance at freedom.

 

Naruto heaved a long sigh and moved his hands in a fast seal, expelling more clones hurriedly. The clones took off in different directions and they erased his trail. The genin lifted his head to the bright skies and continued moving at a fast pace.

 


 

Night time fell on the village of Konohakagure. The villagers celebrated the victories of their genin who made it through the rounds. The contestants who passed would be participating the following day in the final matches. Hyuga Neji was up against Sabaku no Gaara. Nara Shikamaru was up against Kankuro. The villagers of the Leaf were excited to see the Hyuga and Nara prodigies battle against the Suna shinobi. They had high expectations for the Konoha nin. The streets were filled with gregarious laughter and inebriated civilians and nin.

 

A sand nin stood on the rooftop of a tall building, eyeing the celebratory villagers with a dark and loathsome gaze.

 

The invaders moved silently within the shadows, infiltrating the village of the Leaf soundlessly. Gaara lifted his dark gaze to the full moon and he gritted his teeth in pain. He leaned forward and he gripped his head as the demon sealed inside him demanded blood and death. His chest heaved in exertion as he tried to hold back the sealed chakra beast. Gaara lifted his head as his Jounin instructor appeared on the rooftop. The genin gazed at him questioningly as Baki sensei gave him a curt nod.

 

"We begin now Gaara." He ordered briskly.

 

A voice filtered through the pain in his mind and the sand nin clenched his teeth angrily. Is that what you truly want, Sabaku no Gaara? To live serving those who shun you and despise you? The sand nin ignored the voice in his head and he turned away from his sensei's expectant gaze. He closed his eyes and heaved a long breath, allowing his consciousness to slip away.

 

I don't know what I want Uzumaki Naruto. He thought solemnly as the beast moved forward and took control.

 

Gaara released a feral animalistic shriek of pain and everything faded to darkness.

 


 

A powerful genjutsu fell on the populated streets of Konohagakure and the civilians and genin fell to the ground. The bodies dropped throughout the village in unconscious heaps. The sand-nin's small body began to morph into a monstrous form as a massive entity rose forth malevolently.

 

Loud crashes and massive explosions rumbled throughout the village. Massive snake summons began razing through the village, crashing into buildings and structures. The dormant and unconscious bodies of the civilians and nins were crushed under the rubble and debris. Screams of terror and pain filtered through the streets of the village and Konoha nin assembled hurriedly, engaging with the invaders ruthlessly.

 

The streets were painted with blood, death and despair.

 


 

A black crow watched the battle occur through the village of the Leaf passively. She watched the bodies fall and she turned away in disinterest, moving away from the village of lies. She fluttered her large wings and flew rapidly into the night. She moved for a long time, flying over the dark sky in a high altitude. Her onyx eyes tracked the golden-haired darkly clad clones that took off in multiple directions with dark, intelligent eyes. She moved seamlessly through the large clouds. The light of the full moon illuminated her path. The female crow returned to her solemn summoner.

 

She found him sitting on a high branch. His long legs were swinging back and forth idly as he gazed up at the twinkling stars with a distant gaze. His dark curly locks fluttered softly in the wind and they adorned his regal features gently. He was dressed entirely in black and his kitsune mask was perched on the branch next to him. The crow cawed in greeting, announcing her presence and a sole dark eye turned to regard the ravenous bird curiously.

 

Pale fingertips outstretched towards the crow and she landed on the scarred hand gently, peering intently at the quiet nin. She shared her findings and the bird summons watched intently as a rare smile adorned the nin's pale face. It had been years since she had last seen him smile and she felt the excitement coarse through her small body as she regarded her summoner. The pale nin turned back to regard the twinkling stars, his sole dark eye lit up in anticipation.

 

He stood up, stretching his lithe and lean figure in slow, unhurried motions. He placed the kitsune mask over his face, shrouding his pale features from sight. The nin picked up his long katana and strapped it to his back in determination. He turned his gaze ahead and stared through the thicket of tall trees.

 

 

"It's time." He whispered lowly. "Kozō."

 

 


 

End of Part I

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One

 

 

Six years ago

 

A callused hand broke through the surface of the rushing waters and a soaked teen slammed against the ragged stone with a sharp gasp. The fifteen year old coughed and wheezed in pain as his body hit the large boulder. The nin’s lean form trembled in excruciating pain and his vision spun from the harsh impact. He gripped the edge of the large stone weakly and heaved himself upward with a cry of pain. The blood seeped from his hollow right eye socket and he stared around him in bewilderment. 

 

He was alive. 

 

Uchiha Shisui rolled on his back with a pained groan and he gazed up at the dark skies in disbelief. His vision was blurry and distorted. His dark locks were matted to his pale face and his fingertips felt numb. The nin lifted his head weakly and gazed around him. It was dark. The landscape was unfamiliar. Shisui raised a shaking hand and pressed it to his rapidly beating heart. The shinobi felt his sole eye well up in frustrated tears. Why? He had jumped to his death. He had bid his best friend a permanent farewell. He had failed. Why? He should have not survived the fall. 

 

Shisui stood up shakily and his entire form seared in agony. The blood trickled from his numerous injuries and he gritted his teeth as he took a shaking step forward. He peered around him in bewilderment. Where the hell am I? Tall, tall trees surrounded the rushing waters and thick greenery encompassed him from all sides. The Uchiha prodigy peered at the bright constellations in the sky and he felt his heart sink in realization. He was far. He was very far from the village. The pale nin felt his vision blur and he swayed on his feet unsteadily. Shisui fell forward and hit the ground with a loud resonating thud. 

 

He lay on the ground shakily. The shivers wracked through his darkly clad form and he stared up at the stars helplessly. Everything was burning. Shisui lifted his shaking hands upwards and he peered at his trembling fingers. The poison coursed through his body lethally and his heart pulsed rapidly. His veins were darkening and there was a purple hue to his fingernails. He was dying. Shisui rolled on his back as a wave of agony overcame him sharply. He pressed a hand to his mouth as a wet rattled cough broke past his blue lips. He pulled back his moist hand and his eye widened in horror as he gazed at the blood painting his palm. 

 

Internal damage. 

 

Shisui fell back on the muddied ground and he released a dry mirthless chuckle. He survived the fall but he was going to meet his end from the administered poison. Fuck Root. Fuck Shimura Danzo. Fuck everything. It was over. The Uchiha gazed up at the bright skies with a broken gaze. The stars were bright and the moon was full. It was a beautiful sight. Shisui raised a shaking hand upwards as the tears fell down his pale cheeks. 

 

“Kozo,” he whispered weakly. “I’m sorry.” I couldn’t keep my promise. 

 

The darkness enveloped his vision and he lowered his hand, pressing it weakly against his beating heart. His pulse was faint and it was gradually slowing down. I’m sorry. 

 


 

The fever ran its course through the nin’s body as he lay through a long state of unconsciousness. An old lonesome man fretted over the slumbering and mortally injured teen in his small obscure cottage. The teen remained unconscious for many many months. His grave wounds and extensive injuries confined him to the bed and he was trapped in the dark recesses of his mind. Nightmares ran through his slumbering state in cyclical loops. Dark reminders of his failure and weakness plagued him every night. The seasons changed and on the night of the full moon, the nin regained his wakefulness. 

 

Uchiha Shisui opened his sole eye and he blinked rapidly against the soft flickering lights of the candles. He stiffened in alarm as he peered at the unfamiliar place. He pulled himself upwards noiselessly and mentally catalogued the small inner structures of the quaint cottage. The nin blinked down in bewilderment aat his healed and rejuvenated body. Shisui pressed a callused hand to his face and felt the bandages covering his right eye. He pressed a hand to his beating heart and his breath quickened in alarm. 

 

He was alive. 

 

Shisui made his way through the cottage warily. His dark gaze was assessing and he felt the presence nearby. It was faint and old. He peered into an open bedroom and gazed at the dosing senior man with a confused frown. The nin turned on his heel and rummaged through the kitchen for supplies. He needed to get back.

 

Don’t stop me Itachi… If you’re my friend.

 

Shisui!

 

The Uchiha prodigy grit his teeth and moved hurriedly, throwing the provisions in a discarded basket hurriedly. Shisui slipped on the large boots at the entrance mat and paused at the door, peering at the thick fur coat on the hanger. He grabbed the extra clothing and threw on the large coat. He threw the hood on, obscuring his features and he pulled the door open silently. He stepped out of the old cottage and disappeared into the night. 

 

Shisui moved for a long time. He remained in the shadows, flickering in and out of sight like a ghostly apparition. He travelled for an entire day without rest, moving hurriedly through the unpopulated landscapes. Shisui reached a merchant village and he heaved a relieved sigh. He rushed through the crowds, keeping a thick scarf wrapped on the lower-half of his face. 

 

The fifteen year old nin eyed the ports and mentally calculated his remaining travel time to Konoha. He pursed his lips tightly in thought as his mind ran through his limited options. A middle aged woman stood closely with a number of locals and the group gaped over the contents of a bingo book. Shisui gazed towards them curiously and he heard a few earth-shattering words that made his stomach sink.

 

Uchiha Itachi.

 

Kin Slayer. 

 

The thin figure broke through the group of civilians and he ripped the bingo book out of the startled woman’s hands. He ignored the indignant yells around him and he peered at the image of his cousin on the front page. He read over the content with shaking hands and he felt the bile rise from his stomach. The pale figure disappeared in a body flicker, leaving behind an array of dried leaves and alarmed locals. 

 

Uchiha Shisui reached the woods in record speed. He dropped down to his knees and the bingo book fell from his grasp. His vision swam and his eye grew moist. He retched the contents of his stomach and his body trembled with heightened emotion. The Uchiha nin gazed down at the picture of his best friend in bewilderment and disbelief. His pale hands curled into the dirt and a feeling of wrath and betrayal burnt hotly through his veins. He slammed his hands into the dirt repeatedly as the hot tears fell down his cheeks. The skin of his fists broke and the blood trickled down his torn knuckles. Uchiha Shisui curled his body forward and he released a broken scream of rage and pain.   

 


 

Six Years Later

 

The pale nin moved at a neck-breaking speed as he raced after his crow summons. The small bird flew ahead, illuminating his path as he moved ahead relentlessly. His long katana was strapped to his back and he donned a kitsune mask over his pale regal features. Uchiha Shisui flickered in and out of sight hurriedly as he weaved through the thick trees. The twenty-one year old nin reflected on his memories of the dour cantankerous child he left behind and his lips quirked upward as he broke through the thick foliage. It had been so long. Far too long. Six whole years. 

 

He had been unable to reach out to Uzumaki Naruto - The risk was too high - He would have endangered them both. Uchiha Shisui had to remain dead. Danzo sought to eliminate him immediately and he had no allies left. Itachi was gone. Hidden in the depths of a dark sinister organization. His best friend was gone. 

 

Shisui had lost everything. All he had left was the kozo and he had a promise to fulfill. He was not going to lose the brat as well. He was not going to take the easy way out. Never again. Shisui pushed forward and picked up his pace, rushing ahead with clear intent. 

 


 

The sand nin looked at the desecrated battlefield with a weary gaze. He was tired. His sand cracked around him and he glared ahead hatefully. His chest rose and fell in exertion and pain. Sabaku no Gaara snarled in rage as he formed his hand into a lethal fist, crushing his final opponent in the deathly embrace of his sand coffin. He leaned forward weakly and his vision spun as the Leaf nin’s body fell to the ground in a bloodied mangled heap. The Suna genin grimaced at the sickly feeling of his own blood dripping down his cracked face and he moved forward shakily. Gaara ran a hand through his moist locks and he stared at the hoards of the dead on the ground.

 

His jade eyes fell on the form of his sensei and he stared at the corpse silently. He felt nothing. He had spent years under the man’s tutelage and he felt nothing at his death. Gaara turned away from the corpse dismissively and moved through the thick trees. He gazed ahead at the smoke filling the sky. The screams of terror and agony were silenced. It was eerily quiet. The sand nin moved through the tall trees and stared at the desecrated village walls with a hateful sneer. 

 

So much for the most powerful village. Konoha was decimated. Gaara turned from the destruction and moved away slowly. He scowled angrily as two nin manifested in front of him. He glared at them, staring at them with a loathsome gaze. His two siblings paled drastically and they stepped away in fear.

 

“Gaara, we need to report back to-”

 

“Our next mission-”

 

Gaara ignored the asinine ramblings of his incompetent siblings and turned away from them. Next mission. He had no time to rest. Unleashing the beast always costed him greatly. He had no control over his body and mental faculties when the chakra demon took over. He hated it. His body was not his own to command. Gaara was heavily injured and they had new orders for him to follow. The sand-nin gazed upwards to the blue skies and eyed the white clouds with a frown. A voice ran through his mind and his frown deepened as he recalled the damning words. 

 

You're nothing but a slave to your village, following orders and answering to the whims of your superiors. Is that what you truly want, Sabaku no Gaara? To live serving those who shun you and despise you?

 

Gaara gazed down at the sand hitae-ate that was wrapped securely around his bicep. He eyed the carved etchings - The symbol of Sunagakure - The village he despised. Monster, demon, wretch. He didn’t want to go back. He couldn’t go back. He needed…he needed…to be anywhere else. 

 

There is always a choice Gaara. All of us, from the moment we are born, we are free. I would rather die than spend my whole life tethered to a village I despise.

 

Gaara glared at the hitae-ate wrapped on his arm and he curled his trembling fingers around it. This denies us our freedom. This is a sign of our servitude. Gaara’s eyes hardened in resolve and he tore the hitae-ate off his arm and threw it violently at his siblings. The imbecilic duo gaped at him in utter bewilderment at it clattered loudly at their feet. Gaara stared at them hatefully. He didn’t need them. It was too late for them to start caring for him. Far too late. 

 

They had ostracized him his entire life. They were never there when he needed them the most. They shunned him when he was a small lonesome child. He was only a tool to them - A vessel - A dispensable tool to be discarded of when he was no longer useful. Choose the decision you regret the least Gaara. The red haired nin turned on his heel and he moved away from his siblings with finality. He would not regret his choice. 

 

“Gaara?” Temari whispered with wide and terrified eyes.

 

“G-Gaara? What-” Kankuro stuttered fearfully. 

 

Gaara gazed over his shoulder briefly. “I’m done.”

 

“What? What are you talking about?”

 

“Gaara…this isn’t funny, please come back.”

 

Gaara turned around and stared at the two sand nin. He shook his head slowly. His dark red locks fell over his hard steely eyes and he moved his hands in a fast seal. 

 

“I have chosen freedom over a life of servitude.” 

 

The crisp wisps of sand whirred to life around him and it engulfed his form entirely. His siblings yelled in alarm and reached out towards him futilely. Sabaku no Gaara vanished in a rapid sphere of sand and left behind a discarded hitae-ate. 

 


 

The golden haired genin closed his eyes and slipped into the dark recesses of his mind. His cerulean gaze snapped open and he willed the mental landscape to shift. The dank and rancid sewer changed into a vast green field of blue flowers. Uzumaki Naruto stepped forward and made his way to the large tree in the expansive clearing. He turned his gaze towards his caged friend and inclined his head towards the ancient beast respectfully.

 

“Hello Kurama,” he intoned lowly. “It has been a while.”

 

The blond took a seat on the soft blades of grass and leaned against the large tree. The nine tailed fox stepped towards the bars of his cage and he stared at him with an unblinking crimson gaze.

 

“It has been a while. I commend you on leaving the village undetected.”

 

Naruto’s lips quirked upward in a satisfied smirk. “Yes, you’d think for a hidden village they would have better security but their system is abysmal.” 

 

“It seems they have been attacked.” The beast commented in a low drawl.

 

Naruto arched an eyebrow at the news. He had not known. He leaned forward curiously. Kurama released a sharp vindictive grin as he shared his findings. 

 

“Their numbers were decimated. The damage was extensive. Sound and Sand have laid waste to the village. They have lost half their fighting force.” 

 

Naruto nodded silently at the news and he leaned back against the tree. He drummed his fingers against the warm ground as his mind raced with the new information. Konoha had lost half its fighting force. The tanned genin closed his eyes and he pondered silently. Uchiha and Haruno. Naruto heaved a heavy sigh and he opened his eyes slowly. He stared at the blue flowers thoughtfully. Uchiha and Haruno were no longer his concern. Dead or alive. They had nothing to do with him. He had moved on. The blond genin leaned forward and touched the petals of the azure flowers with gentle fingers. They were blue like the ocean waves. They were the colour of home. 

 

“What happens to Konoha no longer concerns me.” Naruto spoke resolutely as he stared up at the ancient beast with glacial eyes. “I have much greater things to concern myself with than the petty squabbles of halfwitted villages.”

 

Kurama grinned wide and anticipatory. Naruto smirked at his ancient friend and he gazed determinedly at the blue flowers. He closed his eyes and listened to the sound of the distant waves crashing against the jagged rocks. It was his fresh start - his new beginning - and nothing would stop him from reclaiming his ancestral land.

 


 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Two

 

The landscape changed as the twelve year old trekked across the Land of Fire. Tall Hashirama trees became sparse and wide fields overtook the woods. The green fields drifted and changed to deserted, uninhabited spaces. The land bespoke of a history forgotten. The pedestrian paths were filled with weeds and shrubs. They were untravelled, untouched by people for a long time. Abandoned. The blond genin had been on the road for an entire month, taking nondescript and unpopulated pathways to ensure his anonymity. 

 

The wind shifted and grew more crisp. The small woods he trailed through were empty. The blond genin halted his travels and gazed up at the setting sun. Uzumaki Naruto’s lips quirked upwards in anticipation. The air tasted different. He was close to his destination. Very close. Naruto moved to set up camp in the low trees. He flexed his fingers and his strings sailed upwards. He latched onto the trees and propelled his body into the air.

 

He whirled at a high altitude and landed silently on the branches. Naruto gazed at the greenery and stretched out his palms, creating a barrier of an intricate spiderweb on the ground. The genin pulled off his bag and leaned against the thick trunk. He gazed up at the setting skies and ate through his dinner of bland dried provisions. The sun sank further in the horizon and he felt a sense of serenity surround him. 

 

His journey was starting. His road had been a long and tiresome one. Naruto peered up at the skies with a weary gaze. He was tired. In his past and in his current life, he had to journey alone. The burden was always a heavy one. Naruto pulled away from his deprecating thoughts abruptly as a crack of a branch resonated through the quiet space. He stiffened in alarm and held his breath, his eyes searching through the thick trees. 

 

No one should be here. 

 

He was far too deep in the woods for travellers or bandits. He was far from civilization. Wildlife should be his only companion. Naruto flexed his fingers silently, hardening the strings of his web. His blue eyes narrowed as a figure broke through the clearing. He was tall, lean and darkly clad in layers of black. Naruto frowned at the sight of the kitsune mask. It was unprecedented. The figure paused at the foot of the clearing, tilting his head to the side curiously. His gaze locked on the invisible web and he looked upwards to the trees knowingly.

 

Naruto felt his heartbeat speed up rapidly. He knew. He was aware. How? The man had a long katana strapped to his back and his belt held a number of blades. He was a shinobi. The blond gritted his teeth and he cursed in his head at his terrible luck. He was so close to reaching Uzushiogakure. Naruto masked his chakra and moved his strings towards the nin silently, watching them slither towards him with lethal intent. 

 

The nin leaped away with practiced ease and he body flickered to the trees in a flash of black. Naruto cursed and broke out of his hiding spot. His strings attached to his back and he pulled his dual swords off in a fluid move. 

 

He whirled in the air at heightened speed and met the nin with a strong blow. The nin blocked his swords with his long katana and he moved in rapidly. Naruto held up his swords defensively and they traded rapid hits. The clash of metal on metal filled the woods and Naruto grunted in irritation. The bastard was strong. Naruto flexed his fingers and his strings lunged forward. His eyes widened in alarm as the nin evaded his attack with a low chuckle. The blond furrowed his brows in confusion. The nin had expected his attack. There was something off.

 

“Who the hell are you?” He rasped impatiently as he blocked a kick and sent back a hard punch.

 

The nin caught his wrist and pivoted on his foot, throwing him over his shoulder. Naruto twisted in the air and landed on his feet. He raised his swords defensively in front of him and glared vehemently at the enemy nin. The nin released an airy chuckle and shook his head. Dark curly locks fell over his painted mask. 

 

“It’s good to see your skills didn’t grow rusty.” He spoke with a low tone.

 

Naruto frowned.

 

“Kozō.”

 

He stiffened.

 

There was only one person who addressed him in such a manner. No. It was impossible. He glared ahead in rage. A fucking imposter. How dare he?! The genin moved his hands in a rapid seal and sent a slew of wind bullets towards the nin. He wanted to eviscerate him. Tear him apart in a million pieces for acting a part that meant the world to him. He was going to mince him and pull out his innards while he screamed in agony.

 

“I will kill you.” He hissed vehemently. 

 

“Oho? That’s a new one!” The nin chuckled and jumped backwards, evading the air bullets.

 

Naruto gritted his teeth and moved through a fast one-handed seal. He spread his palms open and aimed - String Net - and his nets flew forward to catch its prey. The nin laughed and substituted his body with a fallen log. 

 

“I forgot how annoying your attacks are.” The nin spoke from behind him.

 

Naruto whirled around and blocked a blade to his throat. 

 

“Tsk tsk, there’s an artery here kozō.”

 

Naruto grunted and flexed his fingers. The nin laughed and moved backwards. He moved his hands through a familiar seal and the blond’s eyes widened at the impossibility of his situation. It couldn’t be. The nin ripped off his kitsune mask in a quick fluid motion and he took a large inhale of air. 

 

Naruto felt his entire world stop. 

 

The nin grinned a wide Cheshire grin that was achingly familiar and he launched flames from his lips.

 

Naruto’s eyes widened in horror as the massive wall of flames surged forward. It was immense in size. He had never seen anything like it. It was incredibly destructive. Naruto willed his body to move and he threw himself to the ground shakily as the flames flew over him. The heat lingered and it filled the air with the stench of ashes. The genin lifted his head and stared in disbelief at the desecrated grounds. 

 

It was entirely charred.

 

The nin was smirking a familiar infuriating smirk and he sunk his sword into the blackened ground. Naruto gazed towards the blade and he eyed the white bandages wrapped on the handle with a thudding heart. The impossible was beginning to seem possible. He flexed his strings hurriedly and he tore off the coverings. The bandages fell into the ashes and Naruto’s breath hitched in alarm. Intricate artful red swirls adorned the black steel in traditional Uchiha patterns.

 

Uchiha. 

 

Naruto’s mind spun at the implications and he stood up shakily. His heart pounded loudly in his chest and he gazed ahead, taking in the familiar regal features of his best friend and mentor. Dark curly locks that were longer in length adorned a familiar pale face. The nin had a dark eyepatch over his right eye and he looked older - more hardened - His sole crimson eye regarded him with warmth and sorrow. 

 

Six whole years. 

 

Naruto felt his swords slip from his weakened grasp and the blades clattered loudly to the ground. He raised his shaking hands into a seal, expelling the genjutsu. 

 

“Kai,” he whispered brokenly.

 

This couldn’t be real. 

 

He desperately wanted it to be real. 

 

He needed it to be real.

 

Naruto felt his eyes grow moist in tentative hope and fear ensnared his heart as he stared ahead. He was terrified the image would dispel before his eyes. He couldn’t bare it. Not a second time. 

 

Please be real.

 

“Kai.” He croaked weakly as he fought back the onslaught of tears.

 

He was tired.

 

He couldn’t handle another devastating heartbreak.

 

Please be real.

 

Naruto lowered his hands shakily and the tears slipped past his cheeks freely. He was alive. The illusion did not dissipate. Uchiha Shisui smiled a small tentative smile and he stepped forward.

 

“It’s been a while, kozō.”

 

Naruto stared ahead mutely. Six whole years. Six fucking years. He was going to kill him. Naruto felt the anger and hope build inside him, creating a disequilibrium of stormy emotions. His heart ached and yearned. His stomach churned and twisted. His throat ached and clogged up. He was alive. Uchiha Shisui was alive. Naruto wanted to break something. He wanted to break the bastard’s face but he also wanted to run towards him and ensure he wasn’t a manifestation of his tired, discombobulated mind. Naruto curled his fists angrily and he lunged forward with a cry of rage. 

 

“You fucker!” He screamed as his fist met his best friend’s face, sending him catapulting into a tree.

 

Shisui slammed into the tree painfully and he leaned forward with a groan. He placed a scarred hand over his aching jaw and winced. 

 

“I deserved that.”

 

Naruto snarled and grabbed the older nin by the collar roughly. He wanted to throttle the bastard. The tears slipped on his tan cheeks rapidly and he shook his friend angrily as he tried to formulate the words. There were no words. There were no words in any vernacular to describe his tumultuous emotions. His mind was an utter mess. Shisui reached forward slowly and rested his scarred hands on his smaller fists. Naruto blinked slowly at the pale large hands. 

 

They were warm. 

 

The blond’s breath hitched in alarm and he tightened his hold on his friend’s collar desperately, not wanting to let him go. Uchiha Shisui was back. The blood pumped through his veins. His chest rose and fell in steady breaths. His skin was warm. His body was not cold and dead. His dark eye was alit with grief and joy; a stormy black that bespoke of a long period of waiting. His gaze was not dead and unseeing. He was alive and whole. Naruto released a broken sound of distress and confusion. Shisui gazed up at him with a sense of understanding. 

 

“Hey kozō,” he said with a wan smile. “Won’t you listen to my story?”

 

Naruto listened.

 


 

The dark haired nin rested his back against the charred tree tiredly. The sun had set in the horizon and his throat was hoarse. Uchiha Shisui gazed around him at the desecrated battlefield and he shook his head sadly, pulling himself away from the painful memories forcefully. His dark curly locks fell over his pale face and he lowered his gaze despairingly.  

 

“The village had forsaken us kozō,” Shisui spoke lowly. 

 

His voice was a small hushed whisper in the empty landscape. The pale Uchiha prodigy stared down at his callused hands and his gaze darkened in rage and hatred. He lifted his dark simmering gaze and peered at the genin who gazed back at him with a wrathful expression. His anger was emanating from his small form in massive, hateful waves.

 

“We fought in the war.” He continued tiredly. “We lost so many loved ones, we were in the front lines. We were one of the founders and yet…” He gritted his teeth and he clenched his fists angrily. “They turned on us. They faulted us, laid the blame on us and then…” He swallowed past the lump lodged in his throat. He took a deep centring breath and gazed ahead angrily. 

 

“They killed us all.”

 

The silence descended on the clearing. 

 

Shisui gazed down at his hands. His skin was littered in numerous scars. Small slashes from his training sessions, spars and battles. The scars signified the blood and tears he spent on the village. Shisui pressed a shaky hand to his forehead where his hitae-ate had resided many years ago. It was gone. Buried in the depths of the rushing waters - gone - like everything else he cherished. 

 

Gone, like Itachi. Gone, like his clan. Gone, like his home. 

 

“Konoha…” The blond rasped with narrowed eyes. “How do you perceive it? Is your allegiance to it?” The genin slowly. “Do you view it as your home?

 

Shisui sneered at the word. Home. He had been so blind. He had tried desperately to preserve the peace but there was no peace in a world ruled by shinobi. Peace was an illusion in the Elemental Nations. Shisui shook his head and glared ahead hatefully. 

 

“No.” He hissed darkly. “Konoha is merely structures, buildings, alleyways. It’s an empty carcass. A home is not a place but it’s the people.” 

 

Shisui stood up and he stretched out a hand to the blond genin. His eyes were determined and honest. No lies. No half-truths. No barriers. Everything was bare for his friend to see. 

 

“A home is its people and my people are gone.” 

 

His hand hovered between them and the blond gazed at it silently. His expression was closed off. There was tension in his small form and a tightness to his jaw. Shisui smiled a weak, tired smile.

 

“My people are gone and you’re the only one I have left. I’m with you, Uzumaki Naruto.”

 

The wind blew harshly through the charred woods at his declaration and Shisui heard the distant crashing of the stormy waves. He waited and waited and waited. His trust was well-placed and he knew where he stood. His heart was solidified. His resolve was immovable. Nothing would change his mind. No one would change his mind. There was no going back. 

 

Shisui released a wet chuckle as the blond clasped his hand tightly in a firm, unrelenting grip. Sharp cerulean met hardened onyx. The genin repeated his words solemnly and renewed their promise.

 

“I’m with you, Shisui.”

 


 

The landscape shifted from flat planes to mountainous hills and ragged cliffs. Two forms made their trek through the early hours of dawn. Naruto moved down the steep hill eagerly. His strings stabilized him and his friend as he leaped from boulder to boulder. They reached the sandy grounds, peering ahead at the crashing waves in silence. The sight was magnificent. Blue skies met massive blue waves that stretched on for miles and miles. Birds flew ahead and the sun peeked through the horizon, signifying the start of a new journey. 

 

The blond closed his eyes, listening to the peaceful sounds of nature and he felt a sense of serenity overtake him. There was a gentle pull - a call to come home - a warm and sad greeting in the air. 

 

The land recognized her heir. 

 

Naruto opened his eyes slowly and he took a deep inhale of the sharp, salty air. He gazed at the waves reflectively and his heart settled after years and years of rage and silenced grief. The land calmed him down and it welcomed him. He felt a warmth settle in his bones and his heart soared. Naruto stretched a steady hand forward and he turned to his friend with a rare small smile. 

 

“There, past the waters, is Uzushio.”

 

Shisui stepped forward and he stood next to him. His body emanated heat and warmth. For the first time in a long time, Naruto did not feel alone. Shisui smiled and he gazed ahead with an anticipatory gleam. Naruto felt the chakra beast stir inside him, curious and eager. The blond felt his smile stretch and he pressed a hand to his seal with a promise. 

 

Uzushio was calling him forth and he would answer her call. 

 

He was home. 

 


 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Three

 

Three days ago

 

Uchiha Sasuke’s eyes shot open as the sound of explosions echoed in the vicinity. The heavily injured genin gazed up at the white ceiling in confusion. He raised a shaky hand upwards, latching onto the oxygen mask instilled on his face. He ripped the mask off with trembling hands and sat up in the bed with a pained wheeze. Sasuke peered around him in bewilderment. The memories flashed before him rapidly. His body falling to the ground, the Hyuga prodigy standing over him, and the bewildered and surprised cheers of the spectators in the stands. 

 

The Chuunin Exam. 

 

Hyuga Neji. 

 

He had lost.

 

Sasuke pulled himself out of the bed shakily and his entire body seared in agony. The pale Uchiha felt the room spin and he weakly trudged to the wide windows. He peered down at the village and his breath hitched in alarm at the destruction. 

 

Sasuke pressed a hand to the cool glass and he took in the sight in bewilderment and confusion. Screams echoed all around him. The ground of the hospital shook beneath his bare feet. The genin stepped back in horror as he saw the massive snake summons ravaging through the structures of the village. Bodies were crushed beneath the rubble. Shinobi were running around desperately. Unconscious bodies lay unmoving. Sasuke felt the bile rise in his throat and he pressed a shaking hand to his mouth as he eyed the massive snakes.

 

Orochimaru.

 

The genin gazed around desperately as the panic ensnared his heart. He was dressed in white hospital robes and he had no weapons on his body. He was vulnerable. Sasuke rushed to his bedside, grunting in pain as his stomach turned in protest. He slipped his feet into his sandals and pushed the door to his infirmary room open. The preteen walked slowly through the halls. He supported his body on the walls and his chest rose and fell in exertion. 

 

The damage to his body was extensive. Sasuke closed his eyes tightly as the room swayed and he slid down the pale walls weakly. He couldn’t move. The Uchiha genin stared down at his callused hands and he thumped his head against the wall in anger.

 

He was pathetic. 

 

He was weak.

 

-Foolish little brother-

 

Sasuke groaned and pressed his hands against his eyelids roughly. He took multiple breaths.

 

-If you wish to kill me, hate me, detest me and survive in an unsightly way-

 

-Run- 

 

-Run and cling to your life- 

 

-And then someday, when you have the same eyes as me, come before me-

 

Sasuke took a deep centring breath and he gazed down the empty halls with a broken expression. The screams continued. The ceiling fractured and the pieces of cement began falling all around him. The genin stayed rooted to his spot helplessly as the building began collapsing. 

 

-Foolish little brother-

 

Sasuke closed his eyes tightly. He was going to die a dog’s death, buried in the rubble, unable to move an inch. Itachi would have never been in such a pathetic state. Sasuke felt his vision blur in frustration and he rubbed his eyes angrily as the stones pillars fell around him.

 

“Oh,” a voice drawled casually. “Aren’t you quite the sad sight, Uchiha Sasuke.”

 

Sasuke froze in terror. 

 

He knew that voice. 

 

His curse mark responded to the nin’s presence and the pale genin pressed back against the wall helplessly as he stared up at the Snake Sannin. Orochimaru smiled and stepped out of the shadows. He gazed down at him with scrutinizing yellow eyes and chuckled lowly.

 

“Konoha left a number of ANBU to guard you.” The nin drawled with an innocent smile. He swatted a large pillar with an open palm effortlessly. “But…” He shrugged carelessly. “They’ve all perished.”

 

Orochimaru walked forward and knelt down in front of the frozen genin. He clicked his tongue and gazed at his damaged body with a drawn sigh.

 

“You know for an Uchiha, you’re quite weak.”

 

Sasuke bristled angrily and he glared at the Sannin. Orochimaru released a low amused laugh.

 

“Unlike your brother. Now Itachi was quite the challenge. Even at thirteen, I had a hard time with him.”

 

Sasuke’s breath hitched in disbelief. What? His fear of the missing-nin was replaced by desperate curiosity and the need to know. 

 

Orochimaru knew his brother.

 

The missing-nin’s eyes twinkled in mirth and he smirked slowly as he stood up. 

 

“I was part of a criminal organization.” He drawled conversationally as the hospital fell apart around them. “S rank missing-nins, an organization powerful beyond your imagination. Now they only recruit the strongest and your brother made the cut despite being so young.”

 

Sasuke’s chest rose and fell rapidly. The blood rushed through his head and his eyes widened in disbelief. He had no idea what Itachi had been up too after disappearing many years ago. Sasuke gulped loudly and stared at the missing-nin with attentive rapture. Orochimaru continued nonchalantly.

 

“I wanted to…” He chuckled. “…test the new recruit’s abilities. He was young, 13, I believe. He had murdered his entire clan and I was curious.” He smiled. “My curiosity costed me a little.” He waved his hand theatrically with an expression of amusement.

 

Orochimaru turned to him and looked him directly in the eyes. 

 

“He was strong. I’m sure by now, after all these years, he’s much stronger.”

 

The silence descended in the hall. 

 

Sasuke no longer heard the screams and he paid no mind to the chaos around him. Orochimaru - the notorious Snake Sannin - acknowledged his brother’s strength. Sasuke stared helplessly at the nin. Itachi was always remarkable as a child - the Uchiha prodigy - The prized son. 

 

Sasuke glared ahead angrily. 

 

He was too weak. 

 

Foolish little brother. If you wish to kill me…

 

…when you have the same eyes as me…

 

Sasuke clenched his fists angrily. The gap was despairingly large. He had been beaten within an inch from his life by the Hyuga prodigy. His blond teammate was stronger than him. Sasuke bit back a frustrated scream. All his efforts were in vain. He was never the Number One Rookie. He had prided himself in his strength but it was all a lie. 

 

The truth was painful. 

 

He was weak.

 

Itachi was growing stronger with each day. Sasuke could only learn so much on his own. He had been isolated as a child since the massacre. His sensei was unreliable. Sasuke couldn’t trust the Jounin’s word to help him. He couldn’t waste anymore time. 

 

Orochimaru grinned and offered him a pale hand. 

 

Sasuke blinked in bewilderment. 

 

“I will train you Uchiha Sasuke. You can become stronger than your brother.”

 

Sasuke’s breath hitched in alarm. “Why?” He questioned hoarsely.

 

Orochimaru’s grin widened. “Let’s just say I’m not fond of Konoha keeping their last valuable asset close.”

 

Sasuke blinked in confusion. Last valuable asset? Did the village lose something else of importance? He shook his head. It didn’t concern him. He needed strength. He didn’t care about Orochimaru's motives and his personal vendetta against the village. His only purpose was to kill his brother. He couldn’t stay here. The village meant nothing to him. His family was gone. He lived in a haunted compound filled with the stains of blood and the echoes of a long nightmare.

 

“Come with me, Sasuke.”

 

There was no other choice.

 

This was his only option.

 

Sasuke reached a shaking hand forward and clasped the Sannin’s cold hand with a glare. 

 

Orochimaru grinned victoriously and he moved his left hand in a fast seal. 

 

Sasuke’s eyes widened as he felt the room spin. 

 

His body lurched forward and the darkness enveloped him. 

 


 

Three days later

 

The rain fell on the quiet village and the man stood unmoving as his clothes were soaked entirely. The tall Jounin stood in front of the memorial stone silently. He remained still for many hours, staring despairingly at the names etched on the hard stone. Hatake Kakashi heaved a heavy sigh and he knelt down in the grass, pressing a shaking hand to the names of the dead. 

 

“Sensei,” he spoke softly. “I…” His voice cracked and he pulled his hand away brokenly.

 

The Jounin closed his eyes tightly. His stomach churned in guilt and he blinked his eyes rapidly. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He had not envisioned this future when he had accepted the three children as his team of genin students. He didn’t envision such a painful future for all three of them. He was meant to help them, to protect them, to guide them. 

 

He had failed.

 

Missing in action. 

 

Presumably dead. 

 

Heavily injured. 

 

He had lost his students. 

 

The last Uchiha and Uzumaki heir had disappeared in the invasion. Kakashi stood up weakly and he bit back a pained groan. The chakra exhaustion from fighting tirelessly weakened him significantly. The Jounin tilted his head to the side as he heard the sound of a shinobi dropping to the ground behind him. He turned with wary eyes, gazing behind him with an exhausted disposition. 

 

“Kakashi,” Gai intoned sombrely as he landed on the grass. “It’s time.” 

 

The Jounin nodded and glanced back at the names briefly. He turned on his heel and shunshined away. The two Jounin moved on the rooftops hurriedly, making their way to the large procession. They were silent. They had no words to exchange with one another. Condolences were not wanted. The grief was heavy and palpable in the air. All Jounin instructors suffered losses. Many genin died in the battle. Kakashi gritted his teeth angrily as he rushed ahead.

 

Sound.

 

Sand.

 

The Jinchūriki of Suna. 

 

The Snake Sannin.

 

He would kill them all. 

 

The copy-nin landed silently on his feet and joined the shinobi on the rooftops guarding the funeral processions. Gai landed next to him silently and they gazed ahead at the large banners. Civilians and clan men and women walked in a large procession - nothing separated them - All were mourning their losses. Kakashi lifted his head as another nin landed next to him. He exchanged nods with the kunoichi and she nodded curtly with a tense jaw. 

 

Yūhi Kurenai stared ahead unblinkingly. Her eyes were swollen and she stiffened as the clan heads marched ahead with the memorial photos of her genin students.

 

Aburame.

 

Hyuga.

 

Inuzaka.

 

Gai nodded stiffly to his teammates and he joined the march. He lifted the image of his deceased student Rock Lee with a tense jaw. The genin had been crushed as the hospital building collapsed. His injuries did not allow him to escape. He was buried alive, suffocated under all the rubble. Kakashi stared ahead and he turned away as his friend’s face scrunched in pain and loss. 

 

Maito Gai was crying. 

 

The Hokage of Konoha led the procession. Sarutobi Hiruzen’s face was hardened. His eyes were tired and grieving. Kakashi clenched his fists tightly as he watched the silent march. The heavens mourned with the village. The rain poured heavily. The civilians and shinobi marched around the village for hours. Kakashi gazed up at the monuments despairingly. His silver gaze lingered on the memorial stone of the Yondaime of Konohagakure.

 

Sensei.

 

I’m sorry.

 

There was no trace of Uzumaki Naruto. 

 

Kakshi didn’t know if he was taken forcefully or if he was buried under the destruction. The villagers and shinobi were still digging up the corpses. Kakashi shook his head desperately. Naruto had to be alive. He needed him to be alive. The nin tore his gaze away from the monument and he turned back to the funeral march. 

 

Sand and Sound will pay. 

 


 

The blond genin entered the vault of hidden knowledge and sealed histories with a wide gaze. His breath hitched in alarm as he eyed the massive bookshelves and tall walls. The hidden passages had been locked for many many years. Unknown to the rest of the Elemental Nations, Uzushio’s wealth of knowledge persisted in secrecy.

 

Uzumaki Naruto ignored his friend’s inquiries and rushed forward with brisk steps. He moved through the hidden rooms with desperation. His cerulean gaze took in the different texts and he moved in deeper and deeper.

 

The genin paused and he released a surprised breath as he eyed the centre of the vault. It was a massive red seal, painted on a large crystal pillar. It was a magnificent sight. Thick swirls of red and black intertwined together and met in a large circle. The blond preteen felt a tug in his core, an old song in his blood, urging him forward.

 

He stepped forward, one step and another, slowly in wonder.

 

Naruto gazed at the large seal inquisitively and he felt the land thrum underneath his feet in anticipation. A pulse reverberated from the massive seal and it urged him closer. The blond stared wide-eyed as he felt a pulse of energy move through the entire land, spreading farther and farther, enclosing the village of whirlpool entirely. 

 

Naruto’s breath hitched in understanding. It was an ancient seal. A seal to call their people home. The genin shook his head in disbelief and he turned on his heel - he had a weapon - a way to communicate secretly with Uzushio survivors and descendants. Naruto’s lips quirked upwards in anticipation and he weaved through the shelves and stacks curiously.

 

 


 

The expressionless nin entered the expansive meeting room with an impatient air. His partner moved behind him, chattering eagerly about his latest artistic creation - It’s great, yeah? The perimeter of the explosion is bigger, yeah? - The nin moved past the bodies of the organization, making his way directly to his designated seat. 

 

Akasuna No Sasori took his seat at the long table silently and his gaze lingered on the nin sitting across from him. Uchiha Itachi was silent. He was gazing at the wall with an expression of neutrality. His partner sat next to him watching the chaos unfold in the meeting room with an amused smirk. Kakuzu entered the meeting room with his partner’s decapitated head. He kicked the screeching head forward into the room with a heated glare and it sailed in the air, cursing and screaming absolute murder. 

 

Hidan hissed as his decapitated head landed on the centre of the table. Sasori watched in irritation as Tobi screeched in alarm, falling off his chair in surprise. Deidara clapped his hands at the sight and threw his head back, laughing obnoxiously at the sight. Sasori itched to try his new poisonous concoctions on the gathered imbeciles. 

 

The yells of irritation and exchange of murder threats lowered as their leader entered the room with his expressionless partner. Leader was a silent and commanding presence. Sasori leaned forward in his seat as the silence descended in the room. Leader lifted his gaze and it lingered on him. 

 

It was a silent order to start speaking.

 

Sasori turned his gaze to the quiet Uchiha and shared his findings with a low drawl.

 

“Konoha has been attacked.”

 

Itachi blinked slowly.

 

Itachi’s partner leaned forward with an amused smirk. “Oh? That’s wonderful news. Wouldn’t that make our job easier Itachi?” Kisame commented, nudging his partner with an elbow.

 

Itachi titled his head to the side thoughtfully. “Yes,” he commented passively. He turned to Sasori with an unbothered air. “How much damage?”

 

Sasori turned to Leader. “Half.”

 

Leader leaned forward. “Itachi, Kisame." He intoned. "Proceed.”

 

“Capture the Jinchūriki of Konoha.” 

 


 

The sound of scratching and the shuffling of paper filled the dimly lit room. The expansive space housed a neurotic nin, flipping desperately through old scrolls and books. The blond genin spent sleepless nights for many days, buried deep in the works of his ancestors. His friend wandered the hidden village curiously, exploring the nooks and crannies. 

 

Naruto picked up a thick withered scroll distractedly and he paused momentarily at the content. His eyes were bloodshot and he was tired. He blinked at the intricate seal and he rubbed his hands against his eyes in disbelief. 

 

His breath hitched in alarm. 

 

This can’t be real.

 

Naruto’s fingers curled on the old pages and his stomach churned in disgust. 

 

This can’t be real.

 

On the scroll was Juinjutsu. 

 

The Cursed Arts Mark.

 

The birdcage seal.

 

- other than dying there’s no other way to escape this accursed curse mark - 

 

Naruto dropped the scroll in disgust and he gazed around him in bewilderment. He gazed at the large shelves and thick books. His cerulean gaze widened as the truth dawned on him. The genin hissed in rage and he stood up abruptly with unhinged eyes. 

 

Seals. Seals. Seals. 

 

Seals!

 

He understood.

 

The truth was painful. 

 

Uzushiogakure was not a warm haven. It was not a home. It was a weapon of mass destruction. It was a village with sinister secrets and it perpetuated slavery. It had taken away the freedom of beasts and man. It had enabled the slavery of entire clans. It had caged the chakra beasts. It had allowed human beings to become vessels unwillingly. Naruto pressed a hand to his seal and his hands shook in rage. Uzushio had brought forth seals and traded with them. It had traded with the lives of others. It was a tool of servitude. The freedom of others was its currency. 

 

The genin gazed down at the scroll and his mind spun at the implications.

 

Seals were made to trap, to ensnare, to capture.

 

To enslave.

 

-Foolish human! Do you not wander freely?! Do you not move freely?! You are not CAGED!- 

 

Uzushiogakure was the beginning.

 

It was the start. 

 

It propelled the proliferation of all shinobi villages.

 

Seals. Seals. Seals.

 

- A person who cannot sacrifice everything cannot change anything! To defeat monsters, you have to be willing to throw aside your humanity! - 

 

- Tell me human. What is your goal?-

 

- To be free -

 

He had only one choice.

 

There was only one answer.

 

Naruto glared ahead and his eyes darkened in resolve. 

 

Uzushiogakure was the beginning.

 

It would become the end of everything. 

 

He vowed solemnly. 

 


 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Four

 

The blond genin gazed up at the bright skies and he flexed his fingers experimentally. He grounded his feet in the soft sand and he raised his palms upwards. Naruto willed the miasmic chakra forward and manifested the strings out of his open hands - Torikage no jutsu - His blue eyes narrowed thoughtfully as his strings sailed forward rapidly. A large red cloud manifested in the skies and the strings moved downwards, tearing into the landscape. 

 

Naruto gazed around him with narrowed intensity. The perimeter of his cage was increasing with continued training. The tanned genin moved his hands, rotating his wrists experimentally. He grunted in exertion as he pushed more strings out of his palms. His chest rose and fell in fatigue. Naruto lowered his hands as the large cage covered the premises. The nin heard a low whistle of appreciation and he turned to face his friend. Shisui sat on a boulder, lounging with his long legs swinging back and forth.

 

The Uchiha grinned wide. “That’s fucking terrifying kozo.” He reached a pale finger out and hissed as his skin was sliced cleanly. 

 

The nin pulled back with a scowl and glared at him accusingly as he held his bleeding finger to his chest. Naruto rolled his eyes and turned back to his cage walls. He flexed his fingers and expanded the perimeter of the jutsu, pushing the strings backwards. He gazed up at the red cloud and circled around his cage with attentive eyes.

 

The genin paused in his steps and he lurched forward suddenly. Naruto ignored his friend’s concerned cries of alarm and he clutched his head desperately with a pained groan as the memories assaulted him rapidly.

 

“Fucking clones,” he hissed angrily. 

 

Shisui placed a warm hand on his shoulder and he knelt in front of him inquiringly. Naruto’s eyes widened as the memories filtered through. His breath hitched in alarm and his lips quirked upwards in surprise. He hadn’t expected the nin to reach out to him so soon. The genin accepted his friend’s hand and stood up with a satisfied smirk. 

 

“Oi, why the happy face? It’s totally creepy.” Shisui commented with judgement.

 

Naruto scowled and flexed his fingers, dispelling the cage. He turned and aimed a sharp kick at his mentor’s leg. Shisui laughed and stepped away easily. Naruto ignored the irritating Jounin and made his way off the sandy grounds. He trudged ahead, scowling as his friend raced after him with half-hearted insincere apologies. Naruto whirled around and Shisui squawked in alarm. 

 

The genin’s blue eyes lit up and he smirked sharply. 

 

“Someone important is here.”

 

“Who?” Shisui called out.

 

Naruto moved through the destroyed landscape and made his way to the hidden entrance. He weaved down the long stairs and rushed forward eagerly. He pressed a hand to the sealed doors and they opened slowly. The passage was dark and it lit up as he channeled his chakra forth. It was an underground pathway, under the deep waters.

 

Long intricate tunnels weaved and intertwined into a complex labyrinth. The passages were dangerous to travel in without prior knowledge of the blueprints. Death traps were hidden in the corners and crevices, waiting to be activated.

 

Naruto moved ahead confidently. Shisui followed behind him, grumbling about rude impolite children who didn’t respect their elders. Naruto huffed under his breath and reached the final door. He bit into his hand and broke through his skin. He used his blood to draw the seal, pressing his palm to the door. It opened with a loud jarring sound. The nins exited the tunnels and moved through the large boulders. The door was hidden between the ragged stones and wide boulders. The waves crashed at their feet and the large stones obscured them from view.

 

Naruto circled around the area and reached the shallow waters. A figure stood in front of the crashing waves, peering at the ocean with a pensive expression. The blond gazed at him and the nin turned to regard him silently. The nin’s hair whipped around his pale face as the wind blew sharply around them. His locks were longer and his gaze was contemplative. 

 

Cold jade met assessing cerulean.

 

“Gaara,” Naruto intoned as he stepped forward.

 

The sand nin gazed at him with a blank expression. “I’ve come, Uzumaki Naruto.”

 

Naruto’s lips quirked upwards and he outstretched a hand to the nin. Gaara gazed down at his hand for a long silent moment. Naruto peered at the genin’s figure thoughtfully. He noticed his bare arm - His hitae-ate was absent - The blond bit back a proud smirk. He had made his choice. Gaara stepped forward and clasped his hand firmly. His sharp eyes gazed behind him and Naruto turned to his companion with a small smile.

 

“Shisui, meet Gaara, my friend from the Chuunin Exams.” 

 

Shisui gave an unsure wave.

 

“Gaara, this is Shisui. My mentor and old friend.”

 

Gaara narrowed his eyes.

 

Naruto looked between them. “Well…” He cleared his throat. “I’ll let you both introduce yourselves.”

 

“Sabaku no Gaara.” The sand nin intoned as he glared at the Uchiha prodigy.

 

Shisui grinned sharply, all teeth. “Uchiha Shisui.”

 

Gaara’s glare intensified. He raised his chin haughtily. “Jinchūriki of Suna.”

 

Shisui smirked. “Shunshin no Shisui.”

 

Gaara clenched his fists. “Weapon of mass destruction.”

 

Shisui snorted. “Jounin at ten years old.”

 

Naruto ran a hand through his hair in frustration. He looked imploringly to the heavens for patience. He needed a buffer for the two imbeciles who listed their accolades while scowling at each other for reasons unknown to him. 

 


 

Gaara tilted his head curiously as he eyed the large crystal pillars and tall shelves that stretched up high. Books, scrolls and loose papers were laid on a large wooden table. The nin made his way curiously towards the stacks, eyeing the intricate patterns of Fuinjutsu. 

 

The blond genin sat in front of the large table. His blue eyes were narrowed and he held a withered scroll in his hands. Naruto’s head snapped upwards and he gazed at him for a moment before lowering the scroll gently on the thick pile.

 

“Gaara,” he intoned lowly as he picked up another scroll distractedly.

 

Gaara gave him a curt nod in greeting and moved around the room curiously. His fingers trailed over the thick books. He picked out a random book - it was old and withered - he flipped it open curiously. 

 

“Uzushio was a hidden shinobi village.” Naruto spoke in a low tone. 

 

Gaara held the book in his hand and walked towards the nin.

 

“They were the ones who created seals and traded with them with other shinobi villages. Uzushio was the sister village of Konoha. Its nin were powerful and they had lots of chakra reserves. All the other villages in the Elemental Nations banded together to attack them. They were decimated and this is all that’s left.”

 

Gaara frowned. “And Konoha?”

 

Naruto’s lips quirked upwards. “They abandoned them.” He opened another scroll and looked towards him expectantly.  “Gaara, come look at this.”

 

Gaara walked over to the desk. The blond unfurled the old scroll and the red head’s breath hitched in alarm. Naruto gazed at him with tired weary eyes. 

 

“How?” Gaara breathed in disbelief.

 

Naruto sighed and passed him the sealing scroll. “Mito Uzumaki created the seal to trap the Bijuu in living vessels. The Uzumaki clan were the ones who started the cycle of suffering for the human vessels and chakra beasts.”

 

Gaara lowered the scroll and his eyes narrowed darkly. “Why are you telling me all this?”

 

Naruto ran a hand through his long locks. He tugged on his messy ponytail and gazed at the scroll with a deep frown. “My policy is no lies. The villages are built on lies. All of them. This one as well is no exception. I…” He took a deep breath. 

 

The blond leaned forward and met his gaze intently. “I will not establish a village on lies. I won’t lie to you by omission or by misleading you.” 

 

The blond leaned over the table and grabbed another scroll. He handed it to him. Gaara took it hesitantly and he peered at the unfamiliar patterns and the thick strokes of paint with a wary disposition. 

 

“What is this?”

 

“The way to break the seal to free the Bijuu.”

 

Gaara’s eyes widened. 

 

“Right now, this would kill the vessel. I’m looking for ways to alter it without causing harm to the carriers of the chakra beasts.”

 

Gaara lowered the scroll warily. “You mean to unseal them?”

 

“Yes. All of them.”

 

The sand-nin’s mind spun at the casual declaration.

 

“Why?” He whispered with wide eyes.

 

Naruto’s eyes hardened. “I made a promise to Kyubi. I will free all of his siblings.”

 

Gaara frowned. He didn’t see the logic in the blond’s plan. “They’ll be sealed again, by someone else, by another village. All the vessels are hated, where would they go?”

 

Naruto smirked and waved his arms around, gesticulating to the wide room. “We have room don’t we?”

 

Gaara scowled. The imbecilic Uchiha was already too much for him. He couldn’t imagine being around more people. The blond continued nonchalantly, flipping through his journal with a frown.

 

“I’m working on an unprecedented seal - one that will kill the person attempting to seal the Bijuu again. They die or they get sealed themselves, as a countermeasure.” He scratched his cheek. “It’s quite complex though and I have no way of testing it until I unseal them. I’m pretty sure Kyuubi won’t mind luring some morons in so we can test it out.”

 

Human sealing. 

 

Uzumaki Naruto was speaking of sealing humans as a countermeasure to protect the spiritual beings. The red head stared at the blond silently. He didn’t understand why he would go to such extent to ensure that the chakra beasts were protected from entrapment. Gaara ran a hand through his hair. It was all too much information. The sand-nin believed the blond genin could do it. He was talented. He was in communication with his chakra beast. He had a relationship with the Bijuu-

 

The sand nin blinked in surprise. “You speak to your chakra beast?”

 

Naruto’s lips quirked upwards and his dark gaze brightened. “Yes, he’s my dear friend.”

 

Gaara pulled a chair out and sat across the leaf-nin. He gazed at him curiously and the blond leaned forward, clasping his hands in front of him.

 

“We met when I was five.” He began with a distant gaze. “We didn’t really communicate until the day I learned that Shisui-”

 

The sun sank in the horizon as the two genin spoke for a long time, trading stories and bad memories quietly. Gaara shared his experiences with a heavy scowl. The blond listened silently, nodding in understanding. It was the first time the sand-nin had spoken so freely. It was strange and unprecedented. No one had ever listened to him before, until today. 

 

It wasn’t a bad feeling. 

 


 

Uchiha Itachi gazed down at the populated village from the rooftop of the unstable building. He barely recognized his old home. The village was entirely desecrated. Structures were uprooted, fallen debris and debilitated shops filled the streets. Villagers and nin wore black. The colour of mourning. Itachi moved through the empty structures and he made his way to the Uchiha Compound. He landed silently on his feet and he entered the empty space. 

 

His partner - Kisame - was gathering intel by sitting in tea shops and listening in on the local gossip and complaints of the civilians and nin. Itachi rushed into the compound desperately. His dark eyes searched every nook and cranny for any clues on the whereabouts of his brother. He had heard the whispers from the rooftops. His crow summons had picked up on the conversation between the weary and tired Jounin instructors.

 

Uchiha Sasuke was gone.

 

Itachi’s breath hitched in alarm as he eyed the familiar setting. He froze in his steps and his heart thudded rapidly in his chest. He had stood in this exact narrow alleyway, six years ago, and told his brother to hate him, to despise him, and to come and kill him. Foolish little brother. 

 

Itachi tore his gaze away from the painful memories and rushed to his old home. He pushed the door open and gazed around with a mournful gaze. He went up the stairs and went into his little brother’s bedroom. 

 

It was empty.

 

The bed was cold.

 

Everything was left untouched.

 

Itachi narrowed his eyes. Sasuke didn’t pack his bags. Itachi opened the closet door and peered into his brother’s belongings. Everything was intact. The Uchiha prodigy leaned back and he stared around him in desperation.

 

Gone.

 

His little brother was gone.

 

“Sasuke,” he breathed with a low whisper, gazing down at his brother’s stash of weaponry with troubled eyes. “Where did you go?”

 

The teen made his way to the meeting point outside the village and waited for his partner. Kisame landed next to him silently. He frowned at the village walls and turned to him with a troubled gaze. 

 

“The Bijuu is gone.” 

 

Itachi’s eyes narrowed. “What information did you get?”

 

Kisame sighed and rested a hand against his massive sword. 

 

“Not much. His sensei has been tracking him with his dog summons but with no progress. It seems he’s been gone awhile since they can’t find his scent anywhere. They’re suspecting Sound or Sand to be the cause. They may have used a clone and pretended to be him during the exams. Word is he was acting oddly and forfeited unexpectedly in the third match. We should leave, Itachi. They are bringing in the Toad Sannin to track him down.”

 

Itachi remained silent.

 

“Itachi, we have to search elsewhere. Let’s go.”

 

Itachi gazed up at the walls. His heart clenched in longing and he wondered about the plight of his little brother. He nodded silently to his partner and turned on his heel, disappearing into the thick Hashirama trees. 

 


 

“I want to learn sealing.”

 

Naruto raised his head and he stared at his friend in confusion. He lowered his scroll and peered at the sand-nin with a curious look. 

 

“Why?”

 

Gaara scowled. “So nothing can be sealed inside me again without my consent. I had no say in the matter as a failed experiment.”

 

Naruto gazed at him contemplatively. He eyed the stacks of books and scrolls. It was a labyrinth of knowledge. Seals were a double edged sword. They could be used for both good and evil. He was creating a seal to ensure the protection of the Bijuu which was a necessary good. He was also making the seal deathly if anyone attempted to seal the chakra beings again, it was a necessary evil. 

 

Naruto understood his friend’s determination to learn the craft. They were both sealed without their consent, unwillingly, made into weapons for villages that loathed them. They were both stripped of their freewill, they never got to decide their path in life. They were forced to uphold the teachings of their villages and wore enslavement brands as forehead protectors. 

 

“I don’t want to be enslaved again.” Gaara spat.

 

Naruto nodded. 

 

He understood. 

 

The blond gazed down at his journals. He picked up his withered old copy with his old memories. He flipped through it idly. Freedom had costed him greatly. It had costed him everything. His family, his friends, his home, his very own life. He had died for it. Naruto gazed at the red head. He didn’t know how his path would end. He didn’t want to leave any of his friends vulnerable in the case of his premature death.

 

“Very well, I will pass on the legacy of my people to you Gaara but promise me, promise me you will not use it for your selfish whims.”

 

Gaara nodded. “I give you my word.”

 

Naruto nodded. He grabbed a rudimentary Uzushio book on sealing for beginners and handed it to his friend silently. Gaara nodded and took it with a determined gaze. 

 

“Can I learn too?” A voice drawled from the door.

 

Naruto rolled his eyes and glared half-heartedly at his friend. Gaara bristled angrily and he growled lowly at the intruder.

 

“Eavesdropping is rude.” Naruto commented lightly.

 

Shisui grinned unapologetically. “Hey, you don’t want a man to eavesdrop then close the door little girls.”

 

The genin glared at the older nin who laughed cheekily as he joined them at the large study table. Shisui poked and prodded at the books curiously. 

 

“Why do you want to learn Shisui?” Naruto asked tiredly.

 

Shisui smiled a small sad smile. He stared at him with thoughtful eyes and he heaved a long sigh. The nin straddled a chair and turned to face the two occupants of the vault. 

 

“Honestly, I remembered meeting you as kid. Kami, you were such an angry bitter boy and I can’t blame you. The way they treated you…and the fact that there was a gag order by the Kage to keep you ignorant of your heritage and parentage…”

 

Naruto scoffed. 

 

Shisui smiled tiredly. 

 

“We clansmen and women had to steer clear lest we influence you. I remember thinking its all seven levels of messed up but orders were orders and then…” He licked his lips and he smiled a fond smile. 

 

“Then I saw you, fishing. You were so tiny too. Just fishing with this angry scowl on your face and then I reached out and talked to you and… Hell kozo, it was messed up. Why is a kid fishing? Why is a five year searching the bushes for wild berries to eat? And then I picked up a few things here and there and it was all because you were the vessel. And that’s not okay. They told me to stay away, because you were the demon of the village, but I couldn’t because you were just a kid. Just a kid trying to eat and live.”

 

Shisui took a deep breath and he stared at the genin. “I know they see you as vessels but…” He frowned heavily. “You’re human too. Vessels are humans with feelings and thoughts and they feel everything. I…” He ran a hand through his curly hair. “I don’t want any child to become a vessel ever again. I don’t know if you have a solution, I know you’re working on something. Children should never be abhorred by an entire village, that’s fucked up brats.”

 

The silence descended on the group. 

 

Naruto peered at Gaara and found the sand nin gazing at Shisui with a thoughtful expression. He was no longer glaring at him as he did whenever the older nin entered the room. There was a rare inkling of approval in his jade eyes. Naruto felt his lips quirk upwards. Uchiha Shisui was a total pest. He persisted and persisted until those around him accepted him fully. It was like that in the beginning, he pushed and pushed him away but the Uchiha kept showing up again and again stubbornly. 

 

Naruto wouldn’t deny him. 

 

He trusted him entirely.

 

He trusted them both.

 

He trusted Shisui because he was the closest person to having a family.

 

He trusted Gaara because the sand-nin understood him. Their experiences and childhoods mirrored each other. They were two sides of the same coin. Naruto slid his gaze to his personal journal, the hidden secrets of his past life. The story of Eren. He gazed up at the two nin thoughtfully. It was strange. He thought he would wander through his life alone - without anyone by his side - but his friend returned from the dead and his abrupt encounter in the Chuunin Exams unfolded into something much greater and rarer than a regular relationship.

 

Haruno and Uchiha had meant very little to him. Gaara and Shisui meant so much more to him.  Naruto reached over to his drawer and he pulled out a dark green cloak. He laid it out on the table and unfolded it gently with a small smile. The etched emblem he sewed on greeted him and he felt the longing and sense of purpose encompass his entire form. 

 

His companions gazed at the cloak with unconcealed curiosity. 

 

Naruto raised his gaze and stared at them intently. 

 

“This will be our symbol,” he spoke quietly. 

 

The blond genin traced a hand on the over the dual coloured wings and he gazed at his companions determinedly.

 

“The Wings of Freedom.”

 

The silence stretched and Shisui grinned approvingly. Gaara smirked and leaned back in his chair. They stared at the green cloak - the symbol of their new path - They didn’t need words. 

 

They all knew where they stood.

 

Naruto raised his head with wide eyes as the alarm went off in the vault abruptly, cutting through the peaceful moment. The genin stood up hurriedly and pressed a hand to the seal, shutting down the alarm.

 

“Someone is here.”

 

Gaara stood up hurriedly, his sand bristling underneath his fingertips. “How? I covered my tracks.”

 

“No one is blaming you kid.” Shisui intoned as he stood up with narrowed eyes. 

 

Naruto grabbed his dual blades and threw on his cloak. He locked the vault securely, sealing it with his blood and he turned on his heel. The three rushed down the long, twirling stairs and made their way through the complex labyrinth. Naruto gritted his teeth angrily. His path was just beginning. He was not going to go back to the wretched village. If they came for him, they would bring him back a mutilated corpse. They would not take him back alive. 

 

Naruto pushed the door open and he knelt down behind the large boulders. His companions joined him. Shisui drew out his long sword and held a finger to his lips. Naruto eyed the expansive landscape and he turned to Gaara who nodded in understanding. The Suna nin stepped out from behind the boulder and flexed his fingers silently, commanding the acres and acres of sand on the beach. 

 

Naruto’s eyes widened as he honed in on the slim figure standing in front of the crashing waves. Long brown hair fluttered in the wind and a pink flowery kimono flowed around the newcomer’s lean frame. The blond pressed a hand to the sand-nin's shoulder and he stepped out of his hiding spot with wide eyes.

 

“Haku?”

 

The mist-nin turned around and he smiled softly.

 

“Hi Naruto-kun, it’s good to see you again.” 

 

 

 


 

The wind blew against the nins standing in front of the crashing waves. The green cloaks fluttered against the raucous air. The emblem of dual coloured patterns - black and white - intertwined in the centre. The leader stepped forward, eyeing the rubble and desecrated landscape with a determined gaze. His cloak fluttered behind him and he turned to his companions, his cerulean gaze lighting up in anticipation.

 

“It’s time to rebuild.”

 

Uzumaki Naruto watched as each nin moved their hands in a practiced seal, each summoning their own element expertly. A massive wall of fire surged forward and burnt through the discarded rusted weaponry. A whirl storm of sand uplifted the destroyed buildings and homes. Pillars of ice shot forth and pushed the destroyed rubble into the ocean. The blond stepped forward and shot his strings forward, latching onto the debilitated structures and he whisked them away with fluid motions. 

 

His gaze honed in on the green cloaks of his companions and he felt a genuine smile overtake his face.

 

The Wings of Freedom have arisen. 

 


 

Chapter Text

Twenty-Five

 

The masked nin landed on the thick branch and he tilted his head to the side calculatingly, sensing the landscape around him. He meandered through the thick trees, pausing at the edge of the familiar grounds. He surveyed the Land of Water silently. The mist-nin gazed at the large gates of Kirigakure and he raised a hand to his partner, signalling him forward silently. The kitsune masked shinobi flashed next to him silently. He crouched down on the branch and stared down at the thick mist. He turned to him in silent inquiry and the nin shook his head, indicating the absence of their target.

 

Haku landed silently on the ground and he moved his hands in a fast seal, pulling on a perfect henge. The sensation of his features shifting drew a grimace from him and he pulled off his mask. The nin took off his green cloak and folded it carefully. He donned his disguise - a floral kimono that gave him a harmless appearance and he fastened his long locks in a loose braid. Shisui moved his hands in a fast seal and he took on the appearance of a nondescript brown haired, senior merchant. He tucked his mask and robe in his bag and winked at his partner with a wrinkled visage. Haku shook his head in amusement and the pair made their way towards the gates of Kirigakure no sato. 

 

The pair slipped past the guards undetected and meandered through the village, information gathering expertly. The rogue nin split up and covered separate grounds. Haku headed to the local pub frequented by shinobi and he took a seat in the corner, smiling harmlessly at the patrons. He flagged the waitress and ordered a hot cup of sake, listening in on latest news and intel. 

 

The sun sank in the horizon and the men grew more inebriated. Their tongues loosened and they shared information with their colleagues carelessly. Haku mentally catalogued the information and he slipped out of the pub undetected, leaving behind a few coins on the table. He made his way to his meeting location and waited for his partner under the light of the moon. Shisui landed next to him silently. The Uchiha’s disguise unravelled and he ran a callused hand through his curly locks. 

 

“He’s not here.” Shisui noted.

 

Haku smiled. His brown eyes lit up in anticipation. “I’ll do you one better. He’s gone rogue.”

 

Shisui’s eye widened in shock and he turned to him with an expression of disbelief. 

 

“Seriously?!” He whispered.

 

Haku nodded. 

 

Shisui smirked. “That makes our job much easier. Now, where do we go from here?”

 

The mist-nin smiled. “I’m not one of the best trackers for nothing. I may have an idea where he might have retreated. Most rogue nin share the same networks.”

 

They flashed away from mist, moving through the fog to fulfill their objective.

 


 

Two months.

 

Uzumaki Naruto raised his cerulean gaze and he eyed the calendar on the wall in concern. Shisui and Haku had been gone for two months. The genin sighed and ran a hand through his golden locks. He pursed his lips and lowered the scroll in his hands. He had sent out his best trackers on their first retrieval mission for Six Tails. Haku was his best sensor and tracker and he had lived in Kiri for years. He knew the village and layout of the landscape by heart. Shisui had spent years on the road, remaining secretly hidden and information gathering expertly. 


They were the best scouts for the mission. 

 

The blond raised his head as the door was pushed open. Gaara walked into the office with a stack of books in his arms. He lowered them on the large desk and he stared at him with a resolute expression. 

 

Naruto arched an eyebrow inquiringly.

 

Gaara sighed and pulled out a chair. “I was thinking… since we still have a long way to go before we unseal the chakra beasts if… if you can look at my seal.”

 

Naruto’s eyes lit in interest. “What for?”

 

Gaara scowled. “My seal is unstable. I haven’t…” He sighed and ran an agitated hand through his hair. “Look, I don’t sleep. There is something wrong with my seal and I cannot risk sleep because of it.”

 

Naruto frowned at the unprecedented information. “What?”

 

The red head waved a hand to his stomach, pointing to the location of his seal. “There are cracks in it, based on what I’ve read from the fuinjutsu scrolls. It’s a weak seal. When the moon is full, the chakra beast can take control of me. I want to stop him from doing that, until we figure things out in the long run.”

 

Naruto nodded slowly. He stood up and made his way towards his friend. “Show me.”

 

Gaara wrinkled his nose in distaste and he stood up. He lifted his shirt, showcasing his stomach. The sand-nin moved his hand over his seal and pressed his chakra energy against his skin, activating it. The seal lit up in dark black lines. Naruto hissed in anger at the sight of the incomplete seal. It was a weak and pathetic work. He narrowed his eyes and leaned forward, inspecting the lines with assessing eyes. 

 

“Fuck.” He spat in irritation.

 

The seal was faulty. Naruto leaned back and grabbed a sheet of loose paper, sketching the lines of the seal hurriedly on the paper. He made his way back to his seat and laid the drawing on the centre of the desk, comparing it to his research notes. Gaara lowered his shirt and stepped forward, eyeing the seal with angry eyes. The silence descended on the pair as they studied the nuances of the fuinjutsu, each taking notes and identifying areas of error.

 


 

The pale thin nin twirled the pipe in his hands with a quiet sigh. He blew a small bubble idly into the air and he watched it sail forward with pale golden eyes. The nin had straight brown hair that fell to his shoulders and he wore an open pale blue kimono that fell down to his ankles. The Kiri-nin leaned back on the tree trunk and he swung his long legs back and forth as he blew the bubbles into the vicinity. He watched as his water release jutsu moved seamlessly through the thick foliage. Bubbles landed in bushes and shrubs undetected.

 

The reputable sensor narrowed his eyes as the chakra signatures moved in closer to his location. He remained unmoving, sitting at ease on the branch, as he counted the bodies moving towards him at heightened speed. He closed his eyes, sensing out the energies. 

 

Clinical, crisp and silent. 

 

He opened his golden eyes sharply - Eight ANBU operatives - and he released an agitated sigh. The twenty-year old missing-nin gazed ahead with a neutral expression as the Kirigakure ANBU broke through the clearing. They moved hurriedly, searching the premises for their missing chakra vessel. 

 

Utakata watched the nin with a neutral expression. His demeanour was calm and collected. He blinked slowly as they located him high up in the trees. The ANBU wasted no time and lunged forward, their blades and swords unsheathed. The nin snapped his fingers and released his dormant water bubbles with a cool gaze. The water bubbles sailed forward, latching onto the unsuspecting bodies, popping simultaneously. The explosions erupted and the ANBU screamed in pain.  The remaining operatives leapt back, dodging the attack.

 

Utakata raised his pipe and blocked a blade to his neck. He tsked under his breath and shunshined to another branch. The ANBU moved in, running up the tree to intercept him. The kiri-nin leaped away, landing on the ground soundlessly. He sighed as he found himself surrounded by six bodies. He lifted his pipe to his mouth and breathed a slew of drowning bubbles. The ANBU ducked and moved backwards as the bubbles flowed around his body in a protective barrier. 

 

The operatives hissed and cursed - speaking rapidly to each other in distress - A shinobi lunged forward and the bubbles intercepted his attack, encasing his body in a large sphere of air molecules. The ANBU thrashed helplessly as his oxygen supply was cut. The kiri-nin watched him with cool eyes as he was suffocated to death. 

 

Utakata shunshined away hurriedly and he furrowed his brows as the kiri-nin chased after him. He dodged an explosive tag as it sailed past his head. The explosion erupted and he ducked as the debris fell around him. He blew into his pipe and released his water jutsu. The ANBU evaded his attack, sending in a number of clones to corner him. 

 

The missing-nin ducked and flipped his body backwards as he was cornered to the edge of a steep cliff. He eyed the large waterfall behind him and cursed silently in his head. He eyed the remaining assailants - five in total - and he moved his hand in a fast seal, propelling a slew of water bullets. The ANBU nin moved his hands in a fast seal and slammed his hands against the ground, creating a large dirt wall. The shinobi closed in, trading blows and sharp hits. Utakata met their attacks with his pipe, blocking the knives and swords. His chest rose and fell in exertion and the sweat ran down his pale complexion. 

 

He grunted under the impact of the swords, gritting his teeth as he was pushed further towards the cliff. The ANBU manifested a wall of dirt behind him and it slammed into him violently. He sailed into the trees and his body seared in agony. He heard the sickening crack of his ribs and he wheezed painfully. Utakata fell to the ground shakily and his vision reeled from the impact. He lifted his pipe shakily to his lips and he weakly blew out his chakra release. The nin evaded his attack and they closed in on his injured form. 

 

No. He didn’t want to go back. No. There was nothing left for him in Kirigakure. No. The mist-nin cried out as a few blades caught his skin. His arm fell limply to his side and the blood spilled rapidly from his abdomen. The ANBU pinned his hands to the tree trunk, imbedding the kunai knives into his palms, crucifying him to the tree. ANBU stood around him, white masks void of expressions and emotion. The nin glared ahead defiantly as they taunted him, laughing and jeering at his weakness. 

 

Utakata grit his teeth and his pipe fell to the ground. No. He couldn’t go back. He wanted nothing to do with the village of traitors and liars. He held his head up high, refusing to bow down to Kiri. The sadistic ANBU moved forward and grabbed the kunai blades in his hands, turning them slowly with a cackle of delight. Utakata closed his eyes and he gritted his teeth determinedly, holding back his cries of pain and anguish. 

 

Monsters.

 

He closed his eyes as the ANBU took another kunai off his belt, moving towards his face with a laugh. The laughter continued around him and he felt the blade press against forehead tauntingly. 

 

“This is what happens to rats when they run from Kiri.” The ANBU hissed. 

 

He pressed the blade against his skin and the missing-nin hissed in pain as the blood trickled down his face. He opened his eyes and glared ahead angrily. He wouldn’t let them see his weakness. He wouldn’t grant them the satisfaction of hearing his cries. He didn’t need mercy. There was no mercy in Kiri. There was only death.

 

“Rats who run get caught and they get crucified. Now now, it’s not too bad we-”

 

A flash of black slammed the nin into the trees. Utakata watched with wide eyes as the ANBU’s neck was snapped. The black figure moved on - weaving through the remaining bodies seamlessly, cutting them down effortlessly with a long sword. The nin felt a shiver run down his spine at the sight. 

 

The newcomer was strong. 

 

Powerful.

 

Utakata stared ahead with wide eyes as another nin broke through the trees. The nin wore a long green cloak and a white kitsune mask. He moved his hand in a fast seal - Thousand needles of death - and he rained his thin needles on the ANBU. The screams filled the woods as the senbon cut through the shinobi with terrifying accuracy, hitting critical areas and unguarded weak points. 

 

The silence descended on the clearing and Utakata stared ahead with wide terrified eyes. He weakened. He was pinned to the tree with the kunai knives. He was vulnerable. The nin moved forward and the taller one tsked under his breath at the sight of his gruesome injuries. 

 

“Is it a Kiri thing to play with your prey?” The darkly clad one wondered conversationally. 

 

He was tall with dark curly hair that fell around his kitsune mask. The second nin landed in front of him and his hands glowed a healing green, moving over his abdomen intently. Utakata held still and he held back a cry of pain as the taller nin moved forward, ripping the blades out of palms with no warning. His knees buckled and he reeled forward with a spinning vision. He felt a steady hold on his body and he was lowered gently to the ground. A soft reprimanding voice filtered through his consciousness and the black dots filled his vision steadily.

 

- …not how … a little warning… you impatient … more bleeding… -

 

-… relax … heal… head out… two months too long… -

 

Utakata stared weakly at the kitsune mask and his eyelids slid shut unwillingly. 

 

Darkness enveloped him.

 


 

Uchiha Shisui stared into the fire with a dark eye. He lifted his gaze as Haku entered their camp, holding a basket of herbs in his arms. The mist-nin took a seat on the ground and began grinding the herbs together in a ceramic bowl. Shisui gazed at their newly acquired recruit. The nin was fast asleep on the ground. His chest was rising and falling in slow breaths. Bandages adorned his thin frame, covering his head, arms and abdomen. Shisui stared at the nin’s wrapped hands and he held back a disgusted grimace. 

 

The nin was crucified by his own people. Shisui did not understand the purpose of prolonging one’s death. He always killed his opponents with a clean cut, fast and swift. Kirigakure shinobi were a different story. Their actions were deplorable. Shisui watched Haku as he prepared his medicinal herbs. The nin remained dressed in his flowery kimono and gave the appearance of a harmless teen out on a trip. Haku moved towards the six-tails vessel, taking a seat next to his dormant body. His hands glowed green and he checked his serious injuries with worried eyes. 

 

Shisui watched the fifteen year old curiously. Haku had a kind and patient disposition. He did not give off the feeling of a mercenary. It was unusual that the chose such a profession. Shisui saw echoes of his cousin in the teen’s gentle nature. Shisui shook his head at the unwelcome thoughts. 

 

He didn’t want to think of Itachi. 

 

“Haku, why did you decide to become a shinobi?” He asked curiously to distract himself.

 

Haku smiled sadly as he unwrapped the bandages from the nin’s head with gentle hands. “It wasn’t really a choice, it was because of my dire circumstances.” The mist-nin sighed and he pressed the medicinal herbs to the nin’s cuts. 

 

“In Mist, a few years back the Mizukage issued an order- a kill on sight - for all wielders of kekkei genkai that participated in the war. It was said that they were too powerful, seen as a threat. Fear was great after all the destruction.” His voice was a soft whisper mingled with heightened grief. 

 

“I was the son of poor farmers, we didn’t have much but we were happy, content with what little we had. Our village was far away from the capital, in the rural parts of Mist. My mother…” He took a deep breath. “She had a rare kekkei genkai and she never told anyone. I think… she did it to survive.” He shrugged. “I… I didn’t know really the political side of things… I was just a kid… and I showed her my water release… I did it outside of our home - a water bubble - and my father… He saw… and he was terrified.”

 

The nin paused and he inspected the mist-nin’s arms with careful hands. “My father… he…” He sighed audibly, his expression turned mournful. “He killed my mother and he came after me… He kept saying he was sorry and well… my defensive mechanism kicked in. I didn’t mean it but… I killed him. And then I ran. I ran and ran for so long. I was homeless for a long time, fighting the dogs for scraps. Then I met Momochi Zabuza. He took me in and… well I’m here now, with my friends.”

 

The silence stretched in the clearing. 

 

Shisui turned his gaze to the fire, watching the flames lick away at the logs. “I was killed by my own village.” He offered with a sardonic smile. 

 

He felt Haku’s gaze on him. 

 

Shisui shrugged in a facade of nonchalance. “I just… I wanted peace and I wanted to save my clan from civil war. I had a plan - to prevent war within the village - but the council found out and well… they came after me. They took my eye.” He pressed a hand against his eyepatch bitterly. “And poisoned me… I jumped to my death because there was no way out and then I woke up… months later to find out that they massacred all my people in cold blood. Every single child, man, woman and newborn was murdered by my own village.”

 

“That’s awful.” Haku whispered softly.

 

Shisui laughed bitterly. “Yeah, welcome to shinobi villages where they preach to you about honour and loyalty when all they do is lie and stab you in the back.”

 

Haku continued treating his patient’s wounds with careful ministrations. Shisui stared into the flames with a bitter gaze. He had wanted peace. He desired to protect everyone - his clan and the village - He tried, and tried and tried. Desperation led him to -

 

“Do you plan to get up now or will you continue to pretend to be asleep?” Haku asked with amusement in his tone.

 

Shisui turned around in surprise. Haku was addressing the unconscious nin. The Kiri-nin’s eyes opened and he sat up with a guarded expression. His eyes widened as he stared down at his bandaged hands and he searched his surroundings with a critical golden gaze. He blinked at the two shinobi with a confused expression.

 

“Why did you help me?” He asked in a low voice.

 

Shisui snorted and turned back to the fire, leaving the explanation to Haku. He was the nicer one out of their group. He was from Kiri which connected him the rogue chakra vessel. They shared a history - a land - and both had a desire to leave and escape their bad circumstances. Shisui stared into the fire and he leaned forward, assessing the cooking meat with a curious eye. He plucked the cooked rabbit and held the wooden sticks in his hands carefully. 

 

He stood up and moved towards his partner, taking a seat next to him. They sat in a loose circle and he offered each nin their share of food. He smirked at the missing-nin who eyed the offer with a wary gaze.

 

“Relax, it’s not poisoned. Plus why would we go through the effort to save you only to kill you later?” He reasoned with a cheshire grin.

 

The nin accepted the food hesitantly and he turned to Haku, listening to him explain their reasoning. Shisui chewed on his bland dinner with disinterest and admired Haku’s eloquent articulation. 

 

- We share the same history - I know a place where you can rest, a place to rebuild your life - You won’t have to run your entire life - I left as well because there was no place for me in Kirigakure - Forget the village, don’t shackle yourself to a corrupted village that will feed you lies - Why subject yourself to slavery when there is another choice -

 

“Another choice?” The nin echoed quietly. 

 

He appeared tired.

 

Weary.

 

Shisui recognized the look. He wore it often Before. He wore it less now. 

 

Haku smiled. “The freedom to live by your own choices - the choice to be free - Will you come with us?”

 

The silence was long. 

 

Haku reached into his robe and he pressed the pipe into the nin’s bandaged hands with a gentle smile. The nin’s eyes widened and he stared at him in disbelief as he was handed back his weapon. He was given a choice - to leave or stay. Shisui continued stuffing his face uncaringly and he blinked in surprise as the nin turned his sharp golden gaze onto him. 

 

The kiri-nin stared at him silently, taking in his eyepatch and scars with hard eyes. Ah. He had heard their exchange earlier. He knew their reasons for leaving their villages behind. Shisui gazed back steadily, his posture laidback and non-threatening. He recognized a tiredness in the kiri-nin’s gaze - a bone deep weariness that came from pain and betrayal. His village had betrayed him. They shared a similar past. The mist- nin nodded slowly and he extended a wounded hand to both of them. 

 

“Utakata, my name is Utakata.”

 


 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Six

 

The air was crisp and cool. A sense of quiet serenity permeated through the thick forest. The absence of noise alluded to the unconscious state of the village inhabitants. The group of rogue shinobi moved silently through the early hours of dawn. They crossed the borders, entering Waterfall Country undetected. The shinobi meandered through the thick greenery for long hours, reaching their destination. 

 

The large structures of Takigakure greeted them. The massive tree stood tall in the centre. The structures were situated around it in a picturesque image. The blond genin paused abruptly on the thick tree branch and he surveyed the village gates from his high vantage view. 

 

Naruto lifted a hand and he signalled to his partners. Haku landed next to him and he tilted his head to the side calculatingly, sensing out the chakra signatures nearby. Naruto smirked under his kitsune mask as Haku lifted his fingers, indicating the number of surveillance teams.

 

Four guards.

 

The blond genin nodded and signalled to his right. Shisui landed next to him in a flash of black. The Jounin saluted him cheekily and he shunshined to the edge of the village walls. Shisui disappeared in a flash of black as he leapt over the walls soundlessly. Naruto watched with sharp blue eyes and he turned to the remaining scouts. The group raised their hoods, obscuring themselves with their thick, green cloaks. Naruto nodded to his friends. He increased the number of scouts for their retrieval missions. Two months for his best trackers was too much time wasted. 

 

Naruto lifted his hand and signalled his teammates forward. The blond genin closed his eyes and reached out to the chakra beast within him. He listened. His blue eyes shot open and his lips stretched into a sharp anticipatory smirk. 

 

The seven tailed vessel was close. 

 

Naruto flexed his fingers and laid out his trap, setting out an intricate and invisible web of strings. Gaara landed silently next to him and he stared down at the village. The Suna-nin made his way to the front gates and he propelled his sand forward, entrapping the unsuspecting guards in an impenetrable prison of sand, engulfing their cries of alarm. Haku made his way towards the village walls and he moved his hands in a rapid seal. A heavy thick mist spread forth and coated the sleeping village.

 

Naruto’s strings reached over the village walls, moving into the streets and alleyways. The strings wrapped around the structures and vacant shops. The blond moved silently, leaping over the walls and he crouched down behind a tall building. He raised his hands and curled his fingers into tight fists. The explosions erupted around him and the structures collapsed.

 

The alarmed screams and shouts rang through Takigakure. Loud denotations ran through the other side of the village as multiple explosive tags went off simultaneously. Haku landed silently next to him - The mist-nin wore a kitsune mask that obscured his soft features and his green cloak flowed around him - He crouched down next to him and sensed out the bodies moving around the village.

 

“The target has taken chase after Shisui with other shinobi.” He spoke. “It’s the vessel. The chakra level is abnormal.” 

 

Naruto hummed thoughtfully. “We will remain here until the target has moved further from the village. Where is Gaara?”

 

Haku paused and sensed the energies around him. “He is going after Shisui to offer backup.”

 

Naruto smirked under his kitsune mask. “Perfect. Now let’s buy some time.” The blond moved his hands in a fast seal and created a number of shadow clones. 

 

The masked clones rushed through the mist, throwing blades and creating chaos and mayhem. Naruto sat back and flexed his fingers, misleading the shinobi and keeping them occupied. Haku moved his hands in a fast seal and created a number of water clones. He rained showers of senbon blades on the nin of Taki. Screams and chaos drifted behind them as the pair retreated into the shadows. Naruto leapt over the village walls, making his way out of the destruction.

 

The genin rushed forward, flashing through the landscape at neck breaking speed. Naruto stopped abruptly as a green flare lit up in the sky. He smirked under his mask and he rushed forward. The genin landed silently on his feet and he eyed their unconscious target. Haku landed next to him, sensing out their surroundings. He signalled - CLEAR - and the blond moved into the clearing. 

 

Shisui stood over the unconscious kunoichi. He had his mask positioned on his belt and his chest rose and fell in exertion. Gaara stood off to the side, glaring at their target with an irked expression. Shisui blinked at their entrance and he grinned wolfishly. 

 

Naruto snorted at his dishevelled appearance. “Any trouble Shisui?”

 

Shisui scowled at his comment, gesturing to their tied up target. “You didn’t tell me she flies kozo.” The Jounin moved forward and grabbed the unconscious Jinchūriki of Taki. He heaved her body over his shoulder with a grunt.  

 

“How did you subdue her so quickly?” Haku asked curiously. 

 

“Eh?” Shisui scratched his cheek and he grinned unapologetically. “I used Kotoamatsukami. She didn’t see it coming hah. Get it?”

 

The silence descended on the group. 

 

Haku snorted in surprise while Gaara glared unimpressed at the Uchiha Jounin. Shisui huffed with a childish frown and he pulled on his kitsune mask. He lifted his green hood and turned to their leader expectantly.

 

Naruto shook his head at the Uchiha’s antics. “Let’s head out.” 

 

The nin nodded and they disappeared into the landscape of Waterfall Country.

 

 


 

The pale S-rank missing-nin entered the meeting room with a blank gaze. He moved towards his seat and his partner followed him with an impatient air. They sat in their designated seats and waited for the rest of the members of the organization to enter. 

 

Uchiha Itachi watched with dead eyes as the members of the Akatsuki filtered through the open door. Leader entered silently followed by his trusty partner, Konan. Itachi watched with disinterest as the pairs walked through the door. The noise picked up around him as the members gathered around the long table.

 

“Itachi, report.” Leader ordered tonelessly.

 

Itachi inclined his head forward and he relayed his information. The Jinchūriki of Konoha was gone. They had searched and gathered intel for months - Nothing - Uzumaki Naruto had vanished into thin air. Leader narrowed his eyes at the news and he turned to the next pair expectantly. 

 

Sasori stared ahead with an expressionless face. “The Ichibi is not Suna.” 

 

Itachi’s mind spun at the implications. 

 

“Not only that.” Sasori continued in a low drawl. “My sources cannot locate six-tails and seven tails has disappeared from Takigakure.”

 

Leader stared ahead with a blank expression. “I see. That is four chakra beasts unaccounted for.”

 

The silence descended in the meeting room. Itachi felt an ominous shiver run down his back. The disappearance of four chakra vessels was not good. Leader steepled his fingers together and he stared ahead intently. 

 

“All teams will move out immediately. Capture the remaining vessels at any cost.”

 

“One more thing Danna-sama.” Sasori intoned soullessly. “There are whispers of another organization.” 

 

The sand-nin ignored the murmurs of the shinobi gathered. Remarks of surprise (Kisame), bewilderment (Tobi), anger (Kakazu), and excitement (Hidan) thrummed through the large meeting hall. 

 

“They wear kitsune masks and green cloaks.” Sasori continued. “They appear and disappear at random. I do not think they are affiliated with any of the villages. Their objective is unknown.”

 

Itachi blinked slowly. Another criminal organization with nefarious intentions was hardly good news. The Uchiha had spent years gathering intel on the Akatsuki and reported their actions to his village regularly. A secondary organization with unknown intentions was concerning. He needed to report the information to Konoha immediately.  

 

“Continue to monitor their appearances and activities Sasori. Everyone is dismissed.”

 

Itachi inclined his head forward. He stood up and followed his partner out of the meeting room. He waited until nightfall, until surveillance was decreased and he summoned his crow. He gazed at his dark companion with a weary gaze, handing him a sealed scroll. 

 

“To Konoha,” he whispered. 

 

He watched the crow take flight and his gaze landed on the twinkling stars. He closed his eyes tiredly and a faint distant memory of his childhood played before him. A pale curly haired boy grinned wolfishly at him and he pointed to the dark skies with an excitable expression - Tachi! Look, look its another star! - The missing-nin sighed heavily and he opened his eyes wearily. 

 

It had been years since he had given thought of his deceased best friend - Don’t stop me Itachi - The Uchiha shook his head to dispel the bittersweet memories and he took a seat on the cold boulders, watching the stars twinkle silently. 

 


 

The masked nin landed on the branch silently. He crouched down and eyed the large armoured shinobi standing in the open camp sight. The nin gazed upwards - noting his presence immediately - Curious brown eyes stared at him from behind a thick red mask. The Iwa-nin was entirely armoured, layered heavily, not a single part of his skin showed. The blond took off his kitsune mask and he stared down at the five-tails vessel. 

 

He eyed his armour critically. He had heard the whispers and his scouts had gathered intel. The five-tails vessel had no love for his village. He remained within Iwagakure for practicality, not for love and blind devotion. 

 

“Steam shinobi, Han.” The tanned genin drawled.

 

The shinobi gave him an unenthusiastic wave. “And you are?”

 

“Uzumaki Naruto. The nine-tailed Jinchūriki. I’ve come here to talk.”

 

The Iwa-nin stared at him for a silent moment. He shrugged his large armoured shoulders and turned to his dinner. He inclined his head forward and the genin shunshined to the ground soundlessly. 

 

“What do you want Uzumaki?” 

 

Naruto stared up at the tall nin. “I have a proposition for you.”

 

Han turned to him with interested eyes. “I’m listening.”

 


 

The kunoichi wandered through the village with wide eyes. Uzushiogakure was beautiful. The structures were tall and rustic. The large landscape was surrounded by whirlpools and sand. The buildings were vacant and the village was empty of inhabitants. Fū frowned as she eyed the stacked houses. She had never heard of Uzushiogakure. The kunoichi turned to the nin accompanying her on her walk curiously. He was friendly - He was also the bastard that put her under a powerful genjutsu. 

 

“And here we have … Actually I have no idea what this building will be used for.” Shisui commented with a chuckle. “Another empty building!” He waved dramatically at the structure and continued with his tour.

 

Fū was confused. 

 

She was very confused. 

 

The rouge shinobis’ treatment of her was not that of a prisoner. Prisoners were held in underground cells. They were hardly fed. They were mistreated and tortured in the shinobi world by T&I divisions. The rogue nin did none of that. They offered her an apartment - in the same building as them - and gave her the freedom to move around the village with a guide. The chakra suppressing cuffs remained on her wrists. They were the only negative aspect of her abduction. 

 

“And here is… Uh… What is that?” The nin wondered, tilting his head to the side in confusion. 

 

He turned to her with a wide eye. 

 

Fū stifled a laugh. 

 

She shrugged at his inquiry, suppressing a smile. “This is your village, shouldn’t you know Uchiha?”

 

The nin laughed. “Ah yes, but it's all pretty new.”

 

Fū frowned. “Aren’t you a little forthcoming with information? What if I escape and share everything with Taki? Also why am I not in a cell?!”

 

The nin smirked. “Do you want to be in a cell? I’m sure I can arrange that.”

 

Fū sputtered. “What?! No! I mean… None of this is making sense!” 

 

Shisui sighed. “Look, we want the seven tailed beast. But its too risky to extract him now hence you’re here on a longterm stay until we finalize the seals. We have no reason to kill you. It’d be nice to have you here, as a teammate but if you chose to leave after, that’s fine too. Now let’s head back, it's time for dinner.”

 

Fū followed after the Uchiha with a sense of bewilderment. They made their way to the headquarters. She entered the tall building with the pale nin. Shisui led the way whistling uncaringly. The building housed their living quarters and held a kitchen and training arena. Each of the shinobi had their own apartment. Each unit was held in one long hall for security purposes. Her neighbour was the cantankerous red head and she hated the arrangement. Sabaku no Gaara was a rude unfriendly individual. 

 

Fū entered the kitchen and she blinked at the unexpected sight. The red haired menace - Gaara - was cooking dinner with Haku. Shisui walked in silently and he held a finger to his lips conspiratorially. Gaara was stirring a large pot and he was speaking quietly with the ice wielder. The mist-nin wore a flowery apron and he had his long hair tied up in a high ponytail, giving him a homely appearance. Haku leaned forward with a spoon and he tasted the stew. He smiled and nodded in approval.

 

“It's really good Gaara. I honestly didn’t think you can cook.”

 

Gaara scowled. “It’s my uncle’s recipe. I’ve been cooking for myself since he died. The servants always poisoned my food.” 

 

Haku frowned. “Oh that’s awful. Did he die on a mission?”

 

Gaara shook his head. “I killed him.”

 

Fū’s eyes widened.

 

Haku smiled in understanding.

 

“I killed my father.” He spoke as he rummaged through the cupboards. “It was in self-defence though. I was eight. He killed my mother after finding out she had a kekkei genkai and then he came after me with a number of the villagers. I defended with my ice. They all got impaled.” He spoke conversationally. 

 

“Good.”

 

Haku turned around and he smiled sweetly. “Ah so nice of you to join us Fū-san. Please, take a seat.” 

 

Shisui rummaged through the drawers and he laid down the cutlery. “Where is kozo?”

 

“He went on a recruitment mission alone. He should be back by tonight, we’re fixing the seal then.” Gaara informed him as he filled up the bowls.

 

“Is it the one for you?”

 

Gaara nodded. 

 

“Nice! You’ll be able to sleep like the rest of us normal folks! No more of you creepily eyeing the moon like you’re some hotshot poet.” Shisui taunted with a sharp grin.

 

Gaara bristled and he glared at the Uchiha angrily. Shisui cackled and dug into his food. Fū hovered awkwardly by the door. Haku pulled a chair and waved her over with a soft smile. She stepped forward and took her seat warily. The mist-nin offered her a bowl of hot dinner and she accepted with a soft thank you. 

 

Fū lifted her head and she blinked at the unfamiliar nin as he entered the kitchen. He was wearing a light blue kimono and he took a seat at the table silently. Haku spoke to him quietly, enquiring about his injuries and the nin brushed him off with a dismissive hand. Fū turned back to her food and she took a hesitant bite. Her bright eyes widened at the explosion of rich flavours. She lifted her head and met the suna-nin’s cold jade eyes.

 

He glared at her. “Kunoichi.”

 

Fū glared back. “I have a name.”

 

“And I do not care for it.”

 

“You’re insufferable Gaara, you know that?!” She yelled.

 

“So loud,” the newcomer intoned tiredly.

 

“Now now children. Do not fight at the table.” Shisui taunted.

 

“I will gouge your other eye out, Uchiha.” Gaara threatened.

 

“Call me a child again, Shisui. I dare you.” Fu hissed.

 

“I mean… you’re all twelve.”

 

“Twenty,” the tired nin added softly.

 

“Fifteen.” Haku corrected with a serene smile. 

 

He was completely unbothered by the miasmic killing intent coming off Gaara in massive waves. 

 

“And I’m old enough to have children.” Shisui continued uncaringly. “So the rest of you are total infants to m-”

 

A wall of sand shot forth abruptly and the Uchiha yelped in alarm as he leapt away from the attack. He held his bowl to his chest and ran off cackling. Gaara cracked his knuckles ominously and took off after the nin. Fu hissed angrily and she rushed out of the building. She ran down the steps and stepped out into the empty village. Her eyes searched the vacant premises for the insufferable Uchiha. She heard the screams and saw the explosions of sand. Her eyes lit up vindictively and she rushed forward.

 


 

The nin laid on the sandy beach heaving and groaning in exertion. Gaara stood by the waves, cursing lowly as he dusted off his clothes. Shisui landed on his back, chest rising and falling in exhaustion. Fū leaned forward and vomited the contents of her stomach. The two shinobi gazed at her with unimpressed looks.

 

“You’re disgusting.” Gaara drawled from his spot by the waves.

 

Fū lifted her head and she glared at him angrily. “Shut up. Not everyone has endless sand to command around them.”

 

Shisui laughed and kicked the sand towards her obnoxiously. He walked over and offered her a hand with an amused smile. She took his hand shakily and wiped her sweaty face. The kunoichi gazed out at the crashing waves and lifted her eyes to the bright twinkling stars. 

 

It was quiet. 

 

The moment was strangely peaceful. 

 

Fū closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of nature around her. She felt comforted. It was unprecedented. She had a very good time with the rogue nin. Fū opened her eyes and gazed ahead at the dark seas.

 

She had a choice. 

 

For the first time, she didn’t feel alone. 

 

She had very little to go back too. No friends, no family. She didn’t want to return to the silence of her apartment, to the quiet lonely dinners, to the dark mornings. She had been only in Uzushio for a month but it felt like a lifetime. She grew accustomed to the sound of Gaara cursing in his apartment as he moved around his private space. She took comfort in Haku’s gentle and soothing presence. She enjoyed the company of Uchiha Shisui - all idiosyncrasies aside. She wanted to know the unfamiliar nin with golden eyes and a neutral gaze. She wanted to know more about the reclusive leader. 

 

Uzumaki Naruto was an enigma. 

 

She wanted to spend more time with him to understand him better. 

 

It’d be nice to have you here, as a teammate.

 

She didn’t want to leave. 

 

You can remain here, as a member of this village.

 

She wanted to stay. 

 

She smiled and turned to the rogue nin with a hopeful expression. 

 

“I’d like to stay, if you’ll have me.”

 


 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven

 

The genin pushed her glasses up her face and she rushed through the dimly lit halls of Orochimaru’s hideout. She turned the corner and paused in front of the door. Uzumaki Karin took a deep breath and knocked lightly. She heard the low voice from inside and she pushed the door open, stepping in with light steps. Her red eyes fell on the newest recruit and she felt her breath hitch in surprise. 

 

Pale skin, black locks, onyx eyes.

 

She recognized him from the Chuunin Exams.

 

Uchiha Sasuke.

 

“Who?” He arched a dark eyebrow, stepping away from his desk.

 

His room was like hers. Small, barely furnished, clean and impersonal. Karin stared at him silently. She knew enough about the Snake Sannin - she had been around far longer than the others - nearly as long as Kimimaro.

 

Orochimaru had been in Kusagakure for a long time. His hideout remained undiscovered by Grass Country and he had met her in her childhood. Report to me on Kusagakure’s affairs. The orders were always simple but prior to the Konoha Chuunin Exams, he sent her a different scroll - a different mission: Uchiha Sasuke.

 

Karin was a formidable sensor - all she needed was to familiarize herself with the chakra signature and she would be able to locate the shinobi anywhere in the Elemental Nations. Keep your eyes and ears open - keep track of Uchiha Sasuke.

 

Sasuke was important. 

 

He was Orochimaru’s latest asset. 

 

Karin swallowed her revulsion. 

 

She hated the snake, she wasn’t like the others - bright eyed and enamoured by him. 

 

She wasn’t like Kimimaro, ready to sacrifice his body for him. She wasn’t like Dosu, or Kin, or Zaku, ready to obey his orders unquestioningly. She hid her hatred with a perfectly crafted smile and obeyed with deep regret. She had no choice but to follow orders, to live, to survive. 

 

Karin stared at the genin - He was her age - She felt tired. She felt old for a twelve year old. She wasn’t blind, she wasn’t unaware. Uchiha Sasuke was going to die. The foolish moron had walked into a trap unknowingly, believing a false offer of power. Karin blinked rapidly at the thought. All Orochimaru’s previous takeovers had failed but she had a feeling with this one…

 

This one would succeed. If she didn’t interfere, Uchiha Sasuke would die. 

 

“Oi,” Sasuke spoke impatiently, crossing his arms over his chest. “I asked you a question, who are you?”

 

Karin sighed and ran a hand through her hair in agitation. Uchiha Sasuke was a rude little shit. 

 

“Uzumaki Karin,” she spoke.

 

She watched in confusion as Sasuke’s eyes widened and he stared at her with a surprised expression. He stepped forward with a disbelieving gaze.

 

“Uzumaki?” He repeated. “You’re an Uzumaki?”

 

Karin frowned. “Yes?”

 

Sasuke stared. “I thought…wait there’s…more Uzumakis’ out there?”

 

Karin’s eyes widened. Wait…was he? 

 

She stepped forward and met the Uchiha in the centre of the room with wide, hopeful eyes. 

 

“Is…is there another Uzumaki alive? I…” She swallowed thickly. “I…have family?” She whispered.

 

Sasuke stared at her with a complicated expression. He looked away and nodded slowly. 

 

“Yes, my…” He paused. “My…teammate… He’s an Uzumaki.”

 

Karin pressed a trembling hand to her mouth. There was another Uzumaki. She wasn’t alone. She had spent a bitter childhood running from one place to another, used and abused for her lineage. She had wished desperately for family, for anyone, a distant cousin, a lost relative, anyone - a place to call home. Karin clasped Sasuke’s shoulders tightly and she stared at him in desperation.

 

“You’re going to die,” she blurted.

 

Sasuke’s eyes widened and he stared at her in disbelief. “What?”

 

Karin leaned closer and whispered softly. There were no chakra signatures nearby. Orochimaru trusted her to follow his commands. Foolish snake - she was not loyally blind like the rest. She had family - she wanted out.

 

“The Snake… He wants to take over your body. It’s what he does, with strong young hosts.”

 

Sasuke’s eyes widened in horror. “But…but he said…”

 

Karin tightened her hold. “I know him, he has no intention to train you. You need to leave, if you don’t you’re a dead man.”

 

Sasuke glared at her. “And go where? I deserted my village! If they catch me, they’ll kill me. You know what happens to missing-nin.”

 

Karin frowned. “I know, look I’ll come with you. I know you don’t trust me, you’d be stupid to trust me but I…I can’t stay here. I hate it here and I hate the Snake. Let’s just…leave and figure things out.”

 

Sasuke nodded slowly. 

 

He gazed at her with a troubled expression. “I…I have a seal.”

 

Karin swore colourfully. Of course Orochimaru would be thorough. They would need a seals master. She felt her heart clench at the thought - if only her people had lived and flourished - if only Konoha had helped her sister tribe in their time of need. Uzushiogakure. The lost lands. It was a foolish thought and she was homesick for a home. She’d never been but she knew from her grandmother’s tales that Uzushiogakure was near Wave Country. 

 

The village was decimated entirely but there may be records - a lost scroll hidden in the rubble. 

 

She stared at the pale genin. 

 

There was a chance.

 

However impossible it seemed. 

 

She would reunite with the other Uzumaki (wherever he was) but first they needed to leave. Karin grabbed Sasuke’s hand and tugged him towards the door. She was on guard duty tonight. Now was her only chance. The snake and his silver-haired pupil were currently out. 

 

It had be now.

 

“I have a plan, let’s go.”

 

Karin rushed through the halls, sensing the vicinity around her. She grabbed her bag from under her bed - she always had it ready - and she tossed Sasuke the extra pack. The genin had come with no equipment, dressed in hospital robes. He was heavily injured, in the process of healing - it was a small reprieve. Orochimaru wanted him fully healed before he took over his body. 

 

Karin took a deep breath and led the Uchiha through the dark tunnels.

 


 

“Uchiha Sasuke is gone.” Zaku snarled as he entered his teammate’s room. 

 

Kin lowered her book and she turned to him with wide eyes. “What?”

 

Dosu stood up hurriedly, grabbing his pack of weapons. “How? He was guarded.”

 

“Karin is gone too.” Zaku supplied hurriedly as Team Dosu rushed out of the hideout.

 

“That bitch!” Kin cried out. “She always acted high and mighty because Orochimaru-sama relied on her more than us. How dare she betray Orochimaru-sama’s good will?!”

 

“Silence!” Dosu snarled. “Orochimaru-sama is gone, so is Kabuto-sama. And Kimimaro-sama is on-going a resting period, we cannot bother him. It’s up to us to bring them back.”

 

Zaku glared. “Fucking hell, we are in so much shit if we fail.”

 

“We will not fail. I will kill Karin myself!”

 

“Uchiha Sasuke is still heavily injured from the match. It won’t be difficult to take him down.”

 

The three nodded and rushed out of Sound village. They surveyed the grounds and searched desperately for the traces of the two runaways. Zaku smirked and waved his teammates over - there was a trail, it was faint and hardly noticeable. 

 

Uchiha got careless. He was either afraid or more injured than he let on. 

 

It worked greatly in their favour.

 


 

Fuck.

 

Fuck. 

 

Fuck.

 

His entire body hurt like hell. It burned. His chest felt tight and he wanted to hurl. He couldn’t stop moving. Uchiha Sasuke gritted his teeth and pushed forward, leaping from tree to tree. He had messed up. 

 

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

 

He had walked straight into a trap. Orochimaru - the Snake Sannin - wanted his body for a hostile takeover. Sasuke had taken his hand willingly like a fool. He would have died, alone and battered without claiming his revenge. Sasuke felt his eyes sting and he swallowed the bitter feeling of hopelessness. 

 

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

 

He had been blinded by his failure - his bitter defeat by the Hyuga - that he made a careless mistake. Orochimaru had targeted him from the beginning, in the Forest of Death. He had claimed his body and flesh by imprinting him with his foul seal. Sasuke stared ahead at the red haired kunoichi. 

 

An Uzumaki.  

 

It was always an Uzumaki who saved him and covered his back. It was always an Uzumaki that picked him up when he had fallen. It was always an Uzumaki who stepped forward and assisted him when he was backed up against a corner.

 

Uchiha! He's after you! RUN! 

 

Sasuke rubbed his eyes agitatedly. It was also an Uzumaki who turned his back on him and left him alone in the match. 

 

I don’t owe you an explanation Uchiha. 

 

I don’t owe you anything. 

 

Sasuke glared ahead angrily. Uzumaki Naruto wasn’t wrong. He owed him nothing. They were barely teammates. He didn’t really know him. He knew very little about him - he only knew his parentage (which he discovered in a life-threatening situation) and that he was hated by the entire village. Uzumaki wasn’t wrong. Sasuke hadn’t tried - he hadn’t reached out. 

 

Camaraderie was a reciprocal relationship. He had failed spectacularly.

 

Uzumaki Naruto was not wrong to turn his back on him and he hated himself for the realization.

 

It was too late.

 

He stared ahead at the kunoichi. 

 

He would reunite her with her family and move on. It was the least he could do for her. He didn’t want any debts. He understood her plight. His family was gone. His brother was a raging madman consumed by his desire for power. He wished there was someone out there for him to anchor him but there wasn’t. He was the last of his line - the Last Uchiha.

 

His fate was an avenger’s fate. 

 

To kill and walk his path alone. 

 

The pair moved restlessly for two days and two nights. Sasuke leaped to another branch and he lost his footing. He cursed as he stumbled and fell down to the ground. He wheezed in pain and turned over on his side. He pressed a hand to his mouth shakily and he hacked out a wet cough. Sasuke pulled his hand away and stared at the blood in alarm. 

 

Shit, shit, shit. 

 

His injuries were far worse than he imagined. 

 

Karin landed next to him and she rushed towards him with a concerned expression. 

 

“Oh no…Are you-” She pressed a hand to his shoulder gently. 

 

The kunoichi paused and stared ahead with wide eyes. She cursed softly and turned to him with an alarmed expression. 

 

“I hate to say this but we need to keep moving.”

 

Sasuke nodded and he stood up shakily. Karin stepped forward and she pulled back her sleeve with a thoughtful gaze. She stared at him with a troubled expression. 

 

“Look Sasuke, I can heal you with-”

 

She paused and whirled around, whipping out a kunai. She blocked a blade and glared ahead at the thick trees. 

 

“Team Dosu,” she hissed as she bent her knees. 

 

Three genin broke through the trees and they landed in front of them. Karin hissed angrily and Sasuke glared ahead. He pulled out his knife and held it in his bloody palm. His chest rose and fell in fatigue. Team Dosu laughed as they eyed their haggard bodies.

 

“Karin, Karin, Karin, so nice to see you,” a raven haired kunoichi chirped. 

 

She held a number of senbon blades in between her fingers and she grinned sharply at them. Her two teammates flanked her side and they wore matching grins. Sasuke narrowed his eyes and he raised his knife. The bandaged genin arched an eyebrow in challenge and he moved his hand minutely. 

 

Sasuke gasped as an ear-splitting wave caught the side of his face and he stumbled to the ground. Blood gushed from his ear and his vision spun. He heard distant yelling - Karin - and the sound of knives clashing. It all sounded so far away. He couldn’t hear clearly. His senses were muted. 

 

A gust of wind sent him catapulting into the trees and he hit the trunk with a pained wheeze - crack. He fell down to his knees and grabbed his aching ribs. Sasuke gritted his teeth and he raised his kunai shakily. 

 

He couldn’t go back to Sound. 

 

He wouldn’t go back.

 

He’d rather die. 

 

The two shinobi lunged forward and Sasuke raised his blade. He froze in shock as a gust of steam shot forth through the clearing, obscuring his vision. He blinked his wet eyes and he heard the sound of startled screams. He watched with wide eyes as the steam slowly dissipated and a voice drifted through - dry and raspy - It was achingly familiar. 

 

Sasuke’s breath rattled as a forgotten memory played through his consciousness. 

 

A small, scruffy blond boy stood over him glaring at him as he stood in his desecrated compound.

 

Why the fuck are you here?!

 

I live here.

 

I know that Uchiha but surely you’re not going to live here after… after…

 

I have to be here… as the… As the last Uchiha… I…

 

Uchiha, breathe. You need to breathe. Uchiha, breathe. 

 

Sasuke stared ahead with disbelieving eyes. They had met - in their childhood - after the massacre. The Uchiha stared unblinkingly as the steam revealed a familiar silhouette. 

 

The voice grew clearer. 

 

It was him. 

 

“I told you last time, that I will tear you apart.” He snarled, voice low and menacing. 

 

Sasuke’s eyes widened at the sight. Uzumaki Naruto stood in front of him - his back to him - clad entirely in black. The sound-nin were elevated, swinging in the air screaming and bleeding as the invisible strings held them up. 

 

“Rip you slowly to shreds,” Uzumaki continued and the screams grew louder. 

 

His hands were curling into fists. 

 

“Mince you into tiny pieces.”

 

Sasuke watched in horror as their limbs were sliced off cleanly.

 

“-and eat you.” Uzumaki finished as he curled his hands tightly.

 

The screams cut off abruptly as the sound-nin were ripped apart. Sasuke leaned forward and hurled. He wiped his mouth and he wheezed in pain. The sound of steps grew closer to him and he lifted his gaze with cautious eyes. He stared into familiar blue and he remained still as his teammate knelt down in front of him, inspecting him silently with his cerulean gaze.

 

“We meet again Uchiha.”

 

“Uzumaki.” Sasuke rasped weakly. 

 

Uzumaki stared at him silently and his brows furrowed. He pressed a hand to his perspiring forehead and pulled back with a tsk. Sasuke glared at him - he didn’t ask for those injuries - Uzumaki sighed and he pulled his arm forward carefully, hoisting him onto his back. Sasuke froze as he was manhandled.

 

“Where…where are you taking me?” He asked weakly. 

 

Uzumaki huffed and he tightened his hold on his body. “To get you healed. And to get that disgusting seal off you.” He moved and turned to his companion.

 

Sasuke’s eyes widened as he saw the large armoured man. He was huge. The man was staring at the bodies thoughtfully. He turned to their group and pointed to the carcasses.

 

“So you won’t eat them? I’m pretty sure I heard you say you’ll eat them.” 

 

Uzumaki growled. “No.”

 

The man shrugged his large shoulders. “Way to confuse a man.”

 

Sasuke felt his fatigue and confusion double. Why was Uzumaki here? The genin leaned forward tiredly and rested his head against his teammate’s shoulder. He didn’t feel threatened with him here. He wanted to feel angry for his weakness but he was tired. So tired. Uzumaki moved carefully, speaking to Karin in a low tone. 

 

Sasuke closed his eyes and he felt the darkness draw closer. He grunted as Uzumaki called his name, speaking to him quietly - There’s someone I’d like you to meet Uchiha - Sasuke nodded absently and passed out from exhaustion. 

 


 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight

 

Uzumaki Naruto moved hurriedly through the trees. Uchiha was warm against his back. His hot uneven breaths brushed against his neck and he clenched his teeth. His breathing pattern was irregular - internal damage - broken ribs. Naruto frowned at the thought. Why was Uchiha so far away from Konoha? He should have been safe inside the village walls, resting in the hospital. 

 

What happened?

 

The group moved hurriedly and the blond looked curiously towards the red haired kunoichi. She kept glancing his way with undisguised hope and blatant longing. It was a weird expression - one he’d never seen geared towards him. He arched an eyebrow questioningly as he moved hurriedly. The girl smiled a small hesitant smile and mouthed later. 

 

Naruto nodded and turned back to the trees. He weaved through the landscape, moving at a quick pace. He listened to the steady heartbeat of his old teammate. Uchiha was back in his life. Naruto didn’t know how to feel about that. It was pure chance that he stumbled upon him. He didn’t hate his old teammate. He was dealt an awful card in life. He was kin to his best friend. He couldn’t leave him, outnumbered and heavily injured. 

 

He wouldn’t do that to Shisui. Shisui deserved to have at least one family member alive, one who wasn’t an unhinged madman. The blond moved quickly and he signalled to Han silently. The shinobi nodded and he released a gust of steam, shrouding them entirely from sight. He took the rear and covered their backs. 

 

“There is no one,” the kunoichi spoke in a low tone. “I’m a strong sensor, there aren’t any chakra signatures for miles.”

 

Naruto nodded. 

 

“What’s your name?” He asked.

 

The kunoichi paused. 

 

She stared at him for a long contemplative moment. 

 

“Karin.”

 

Naruto nodded.

 

She took a deep breath and joined his side, eyeing the unconscious Sasuke with unmasked concern. 

 

“My full name…” She hesitated for a beat.

 

Naruto frowned.

 

“My full name is Uzumaki Karin.” She spoke softly.

 

Naruto stopped abruptly on the branch and he cursed as he jostled the unconscious Uchiha. He tightened his hold on the genin and released a relieved sigh as his teammate continued sleeping. He turned to the kunoichi with narrowed eyes. He took in the red hair, red crimson eyes and honest hope and anxiety on her face. 

 

“I’m Uzumaki Naruto.” He supplied.

 

Karin smiled and nodded. “Sasuke-kun’s teammate? He talked about you.”

 

Naruto nodded. “So…” He cleared his throat. “That makes us cousins…I suppose.”

 

Karin chuckled softly. “Yes…”

 

“Mm…” Naruto stared at her. “This is strange.”

 

Karin laughed - her laugh was bright and it sounded like gentle bells. She pressed a hand to her swollen cheek and her eyes crinkled up warmly. “Yes, this is very weird for me too but…” 

 

She smiled softly and stepped forward, resting a hand on his shoulder for a gentle squeeze. “I’m happy, truly, to meet you.”

 

Naruto nodded. “Will you come with us?” He asked. 

 

Karin nodded immediately. “I have nowhere else to go and…” She sighed and wrinkled her nose. 

 

“The Snake will kill me if he catches me.”

 

Naruto narrowed his eyes and he peered at the unconscious Uchiha. He picked up his pace and continued moving.

 

“Why are you with Uchiha? Shouldn’t he be in Konoha?”

 

Karin frowned. “Orochimaru…” 

 

She stared at the unconscious genin. 

 

“Orochimaru kidnapped him during the invasion. He plans to take over his body. Sasuke-kun had no idea. I knew since…well…” She shrugged. “Ive been a spy for him since I was a kid and I just…” She frowned. “I couldn’t do it anymore. Sasuke-kun would have died but his body would have remained intact. It wouldn’t be his own though, it would be Orochimaru wearing his skin.”

 

Naruto released a slew of imprecations and he tightened his hold on his best friend’s cousin. Sasuke would have been reduced to a lifeless puppet, controlled and enslaved to the will of a cruel man until his flesh deteriorated. The blond swallowed thickly. He wouldn’t wish that fate upon his greatest enemies, let alone his young teammate. 

 

“Where are we going Uzumaki-kun?” Karin asked.

 

Naruto shook his head. “It’s Naruto. It’s weird calling me Uzumaki when you’re also an Uzumaki.”

 

Karin chuckled. “Alright, please call me Karin.”

 

Naruto turned to her and he nodded. He felt the shift in the air, the smell of the salt, the sound of crashing waves and he landed silently on one of the large boulders. He turned to his clan survivor.

 

“We’re going home.”

 


 

Uchiha Shisui threw his head back and released an airy chuckle as he watched Gaara’s face turn red in apoplectic rage. The genins were on the beach, training and sparring. The red head was partnered with Fuu and he was cursing up a storm of expletives as the kunoichi kept evading his hits by flying away. 

 

“Get down here! You filthy insect!” Gaara hissed in rage as he sent a wave of sand upwards.

 

Fuu cackled and she stuck out her tongue immaturely from her high altitude. She flew away easily from the sand and sent a gust of wind towards the sand-nin. Shisui stared at her wings curiously. The genin was not the only flyer in the group. 

 

He turned to survey the other team. Haku was frowning at a large bubble suspended high in the air. Utakata sat in his bubble reading a poetry book leisurely. The older Jounin pressed the pipe to his lips and blew more bubbles forward. Explosions resonated around the landscape. Haku moved his hands in a fast seal and sent massive ice pillars towards the bubble. Utakata moved away from the attack. He closed his poetry book and stared down calmly at the young Kiri-nin. 

 

Fuu did a body flip in the air and grinned down cheekily. 

 

Shisui rolled his eyes and clapped his hands. “Alright Fuu, that’s enough. Come down here or else Gaara might pop a blood vessel.”

 

“Eh? It’s not my fault his attack range is limited.”

 

“What did you say, you vermin?!”

 

“Who the hell is a vermin?!”

 

Shisui shook his head in amusement. He lifted his head as he felt the tremors through the sand. The underground doors were shifting. The rogues paused in their training. Shisui grinned brightly. 

 

Kozō was back. 

 

Fuu landed on her feet next to Gaara, anger forgotten.

 

“Oh, do you think he got another recruit?” She asked curiously.

 

Gaara frowned and crossed his arms over his chest. “Who knows. The steam shinobi is not someone we have a lot of information on.”

 

Shisui smiled. “I believe in kozō. He brought us all together.”

 

Gaara grumbled and glared down at the sand. Fuu laughed and ran forward eagerly. 

 

“Well?” She turned to the group expectantly. “Let’s go greet him!”

 

Utakata sighed and he tucked his book into his kimono. Haku smiled and went after them. Shisui watched the younger shinobi move ahead. They had all grown on him in the short time they were together. He thought he only cared for kozo but the brats meant a lot to him. Haku was his partner in information-gathering. He was kind and he always had his back on their retrieval missions. He had confided to him about his clan’s demise. He trusted him. 

 

Gaara was impatient and quick to anger - He reminded him of kozō. Abused and used. The Suna-nin was slowly healing. Utakata was mature and quiet. His company was peaceful and he brought forth calm to their eccentric group. Fuu was a breath of fresh air; she was always smiling and laughing. Aside from her daily hostile interactions with Gaara, she was a delight to be around. 

 

Shisui hoped kozō was successful in his endeavour. Uzushiogakure needed to grow in numbers. The village was becoming a home for the lost and abandoned. Uzushio was his to protect, his to cherish. The group walked through the underground tunnels and secret pathways. Fuu chatted eagerly, leading the group. Shisui pressed his hand to the seal and he pushed the door open with a smile. 

 

He paused at the sight in surprise. He stared up at the large armoured man and he took in his appearance warily. He was huge! He stepped forward, pushing the genin behind him. Utakata stepped forward and Haku flanked his side. Shisui ignored Gaara’s insulted grunt and he walked forward, waving to Naruto.

 

“Yo! Welcome back kozō!” He grinned. 

 

Naruto grunted and he nodded to the red haired kunoichi standing next to him. She stared at their group with curious eyes. Shisui stared at her for a moment and he blinked in confusion. 

 

Who? 

 

“Let’s do the pleasantries another time. Everyone is dismissed except Haku and Shisui. Fuu, show the new recruits around.” Naruto ordered.

 

The group nodded and dispersed. Shisui turned to the blond with a concerned gaze. Naruto sounded…off. He was gazing at him with a troubled expression. Shisui blinked as he saw the extra body, another unaccounted individual. He was pale, dark haired and unconscious. His face was resting on kozō's shoulder, unmoving. 

 

Naruto turned to Haku.

 

“Haku, I need your medical expertise. Now.”

 

Haku nodded and he moved forward hurriedly. He helped Naruto move the body off his back, laying the kid gently on the sand.

 

“Oh,” Haku breathed softly.

 

He turned and stared at Shisui with wide eyes. 

 

Shisui frowned. He couldn’t see the kid’s face. His face was turned away. He was small - the same size as kozo - His chest was rising and falling in laboured breaths. Naruto knelt down next to the unconscious boy and he pressed a hand to his pale neck. Shisui stepped forward and he knelt down, eyeing him curiously. 

 

Who? 

 

“Shisui,” Naruto spoke. 

 

Shisui stared at him and he frowned. “Okay, why are you being so weird?”

 

Naruto pursed his lips and he pressed a hand to the unconscious’s kid’s temple. He tilted his head to the side gently and Shisui stared into a pale face. The Uchiha blinked slowly and his brain short-circuited as he catalogued the familiar dark locks, long eyelashes and narrow nose. His breath hitched in disbelief and he raised a trembling hand to the kid’s face. No way. That was impossible. Shisui fell down on his backside and he stared at the pale boy with unblinking eyes.

 

“Sasuke?” He whispered weakly.

 

Sasuke was alive.

 

Itachi…hadn’t killed him?

 

The Uchiha reached forward and he pressed a hand to the his cousin’s pulse. He gasped and his eyes grew wet. What. The. Fuck. Uchiha Sasuke was alive. What was going on? What did this mean? He stared at his little cousin - his family - and his entire body began trembling. His little cousin was alive. His precious dear cousin was breathing and his heart thudded in his chest. 

 

Shisui-san! Ne ne, can you show me how to throw a shuriken? Nii-san is being silly and he doesn’t want too! 

 

Shisui-san! Ne, ne, can you stay for dinner? Okaa-san made your favourite dish! I’ll give you some of my special tomatoes!

 

Silly Shisui-san! Nii-san is stronger than you! He is the best and strongest shinobi ever! Hn.

 

“Uchiha Sasuke was my teammate.” Naruto spoke quietly. 

 

Shisui’s head snapped upwards and he blinked at the blond with a wide eye. What? He rubbed his wet eye and he watched as Haku moved his glowing hands over his cousin’s body. Naruto lowered his gaze and he looked away from him. 

 

“I thought he was still in Konoha.” He said quietly. "I didn’t know he was in danger…as the last Uchiha, I thought the village would take care of him…”

 

“You knew?” Shisui whispered with a hurt tone. 

 

“You knew?” He repeated in bewilderment. "Why..." He walked towards his friend. "Why didn't you say anything?"

 

He didn’t say anything.

 

Shisui chuckled brokenly.

 

Unbelievable. 

 

The blond remained unresponsive. The Jounin reached forward and he grabbed his friend's collar tightly. He stared down at the brat - his family - with a wet lost gaze.

 

“Why?” He croaked. “Why would you keep this from me?”

 

“Why?” He whispered. 

 

Naruto clenched his fists. “I was meaning to tell you but I kept pushing it back...You...would have left.” He spoke tiredly. 

 

Shisui stared. What?

 

The silence descended on the beach. The sound of the waves drifted around them. Shisui wanted to break the brat’s face. He wouldn't abandon him. The brat was family - even with Sasuke. He would have figured an alternative, a way to keep them both safe without choosing one over the other.

 

Uzumaki Naruto was so stupid. 

 

Shisui buried his face in his hands. 

 

“You’re an idiot kozō." He groaned. "I wouldn’t have left. I need to remain dead. Danzo will legit go batshit crazy if he finds out I’m still alive. What? You thought I’d run blindly into Konoha and grab Sasuke, announcing that I’m alive and never reach out to you again? Not all family is blood. Do you not have those swords?”

 

Naruto frowned and he glanced down at the swords on his waist. 

 

Shisui stared at him.

 

“You don’t know?”

 

“Know what?”

 

Shisui laughed and he shook his head. He was angry. He wanted to throttle his brat but he understood where he was coming from. All the years of abuse and mistreatment would make him doubt even those closest to him. His scars were too great, deeply embedded in his heart. He couldn’t fault the genin for his trauma. It was the village’s fault he was so distrustful. 

 

“The swords.” Shisui spoke tiredly, stepping forward. 

 

He tapped the blades hanging on the kid’s waist. 

 

“Each head of the family in the Uchiha Clan passes down their family swords to their next kin. They pass it down to their own children or siblings. To me, that’s what you are, my brother. I am the head of my household - my parents died during the Kyuubi Attack - which makes me the head of my family. Those swords were reforged. They were my grandfather’s and my father’s and then mine.”

 

Naruto’s eyes widened and he stared down at the swords in disbelief. 

 

“I thought you said you got them made by a blacksmith.”

 

Shisui shook his head and he smiled. “No. Those are a family heirloom. You are carrying swords of an Uchiha legend, Uchiha Kagami.”

 

Shisui laid a hand on the brat’s shoulder and he squeezed reassuringly. 

 

“Never say we’re not family kozō. To me you and Sasuke are equal. I care about you both.”

 

Naruto nodded in acceptance.

 

Shisui turned back to his unconscious cousin. His expression hardened. 

 

“Sasuke is alive. This changes everything. I thought Itachi killed him.”

 

“What do you mean Shisui?” Haku asked as he wrapped Sasuke’s injuries gently. 

 

“If Itachi had killed Sasuke, it means he was lost forever. But he kept him alive. That can only mean one thing.” 

 

The silence descended onto the group.

 

“Fuck.” Naruto snarled.

 

“That…you’re not suggesting…” Haku broke off hesitantly. “But…that’s awful.”

 

“Uchiha Sasuke was used against Itachi to make him commit the massacre, to stop your clan’s uprising.” Naruto explained. 

 

He stepped forward and eyed Shisui with a troubled gaze. “Isn’t that correct?”

 

“It’s the only explanation.” Shisui seethed. “Itachi loved the clan and his family. Sasuke was his world, his centre, his everything. Nothing else makes sense.”

 

“And here I thought Kiri was the worst village.” Haku commented softly. 

 

The Uchiha knelt down and he pressed a hand to his cousin’s hair. What had Konoha done to them? They had killed him. They had used his best friend as a scapegoat and they had fed his little cousin lies and had him serve them after murdering his family in cold blood. Shisui’s shoulders shook in rage and the tears fell down his face. 

 

“I…I c-can’t…” He spoke brokenly. “I can’t h-handle t-this.”

 

“You won’t handle it alone,” Haku spoke, resting a hand on his shoulder.

 

“You won’t.” Naruto spoke resolutely. “Shisui, you are of Uzushio. You are one of us, this is your home.”

 

“I-Itachi, S-Sasuke, everyone. H-how could they? How could t-they do this t-to us?”

 

Shisui broke down and he pressed his hands to his wet face. Haku moved towards him and he wrapped his arms around him tightly. Naruto pressed a hand to his shoulder and he stood by him. The grief ensnared his heart and he abandoned all his teachings from the Shinobi Code of Conduct. 

 

Shinobi don’t cry. 

 

Shinobi don’t show their emotions. 

 

Shinobi don’t show their weakness. 

 

Shisui abandoned all his teachings and allowed himself to be human - to grieve - and he broke down. 

 


 

Uchiha Sasuke blinked his eyes open tiredly and he stared up at sterile white ceiling. He groaned weakly and eyed his surroundings in confusion. He blinked at the unfamiliar man and he stiffened in shock. The shinobi had his head rested on his bed and his face was buried in his toned arms. He held onto his hand with a gentle grip. Sasuke stared down at him in confusion and he tugged his hand away warily. He pulled his body into a seated position and stared at the unfamiliar nin.

 

Who? 

 

The man had curly hair - unruly locks - and he was pale. The man stiffened and Sasuke froze as he sat up abruptly. He stared at the dark eyepatch curiously and he took in the man’s features. His lips parted in shock and his eyes widened.

What? 

 

The man’s lips quirked upwards into a gentle smile and he sat up, taking a seat on his bed. 

 

“Hi Sasuke, it’s been a very long time.”

 

Sasuke’s breath hitched in alarm and he reached a trembling hand forward, latching onto the shinobi’s wrist. He felt the pulse underneath his fingertips and his eyes prickled with hot tears. 

 

How was this possible?

 

He had heard about the incident. He had heard the whispers of his clan who accused his brother of killing his best friend for his Mangyakou. He remembered the day vividly. His brother stood outside their home angrily arguing with his clansmen who threatened him - You all suspect me, right? His father had arrived disappointed and angry at his brother who threatened the clan members. He recalled his older brother’s eyes turning red in cold rage and Itachi had stepped forward with lethal intent. He had cried for him - Nii-san! Please stop! - and his brother had frozen, his rage subsided into fatigue. 

 

He recalled Itachi falling to his knees weakly in front of his father, bowing his head in defeat as he whispered in grief and weariness - The one who killed Shisui wasn’t me. 

 

Shisui had died. 

 

“You died.” Sasuke whispered brokenly. “Is this a genjutsu?”

 

The genin pulled his hand away reluctantly and he pressed his fingertips together in a practiced seal - Kai! - He looked up in desperation and hope with shining eyes. Kai! He wasn’t alone. Kai! He wasn’t dreaming. Kai! Uchiha Shisui was alive. Kai! His entire body shook and the tears slipped freely down his pale cheeks. Kai! He wasn’t the Last Uchiha. He had family. He wasn’t alone anymore.

 

Shisui pulled his hands away gently and he tightened his hold on his fingers. “It’s a long story little cousin and it's not a pretty one but you must listen to it.”

 

Sasuke stared at him with wide eyes. He was alive. Uchiha Shisui was alive! The genin’s lips trembled and he leaned forward, latching onto his cousin’s warm body tightly. 

 

Sasuke broke down in his arms and cried. 

 


 

End of Part II.