-The Fox and the Wolf-
-Chapter one: Legato-
Itachi Uchiha was said to be the most persuasive man alive, and it was debated whether he was a man at all. It seemed with his stoic, pallid face (always dangerously vacant of any sensation) and his poised walk (that made many wonder if there were really two feet hobbling beneath that dark cloak) that he was hardly an awkward human like the rest of the world . However, it was his profound garnet eyes that had most deliberating his orientation. The few whom had been close enough to catch a glimpse of the elusive ruler had said they’d made sure to avoid eye contact at all costs. Only two men residing in his domain were known to have stared Itachi directly in the eye. Only one voiced the encounter.
The man had been a philosopher whose sturdy ideals had countered those of the Great Book. He was at first like an aggravating, but humble, pest droning on and on in his aged cracked voice about radical nonsense on street corners. Slowly, however, he molded into a terrible liability as he gathered several angry followers weary of the Great Book’s severe doctrine. They rallied and shouted in the villages, burning copies of the sacred book, all filed behind the fiery-eyed philosopher. Those not involved huddled anxious in their homes, fearing that the believers of the Great Book would be next in the fire. Itachi took swift and silent action.
It was the night after a particularly boisterous meeting that every man, woman, and child that had participated in any of the man’s teachings went missing. Uchiha’s people awoke to barren houses; whole families missing as if they simply had faded away. Upon closer inspection, plates could still be seen set on tables, the food spread out on them collecting flies. Wives went to sleep with the tepid comfort of their husbands beside them, only to awaken to the cold, emptiness of the other side of the bed. There were no indications of a struggle, no blood to suggest murder—not a thing was out of place but the people themselves.
At midday, a mangled man stumbled down from the Uchiha mansion, which rested upon an imperious hill, and fell flat into the village before it. A crowd swarmed the figure and gaped at the state of the once magnificent philosopher, his stately clothes plastered repulsively in crusting, brown blood. In response to a query regarding his well-being, he shouted in a strained voice that sounded as if it was shredded by his very vocal chords.
“I killed! I killed! Those ruby eyes held me and killed them, through me—with me—not me, but me. Not me, not me, not me!” He raved, clawing at his flesh as if it were putrid. “He was under me—no, in me—in me! He was me! I was—I was—I was just a puppet! Please, just a puppet, nothing more—Please, please, please—I didn’t…Did I?”
He then proceeded to shout maniacally, tearing at his skin more fiercely until he was finally restrained by a few sturdy villagers. He instantly slumped into their arms. His eyes turned slowly to a vacant house with the candle on the kitchen table still burning from last night, left to be put out by the draft. He sputtered, eyes watering, “Itachi Uchiha really is—the most persuasive man alive.” Then he fainted and died hours later lying in the bed of a generous villager, just as silently as he was taken.
After that day, no man dared to look into Itachi’s eyes.
There had been only one other person to witness the wrath of the formidable ruler’s eyes and live to tell the tale and that lone person was currently in route to encounter them for the second time that day. Sasuke Uchiha was definitely not thrilled in the least bit to be called on by his older brother. It always meant some sort of outside disturbance was pestering the man and Sasuke was to bring what ever the irritation was to the mansion so Itachi could massacre it as he saw fit. Inside, no man could know what Itachi really did to his victims; he could’ve been drowning them in a vat of chocolate pudding for all his people knew, but that was the key to the supercilious man’s power: mystery and ignorance. All his anxious subjects knew for sure was that he had only killed two people with his own two hands: his parents. The rest of those whom had vanished into the mansion and had never come back out again, were presumed missing—however doubtful it may be that they would turn up again.
Sasuke softly knocked at the black oak doors of his brother’s study and pushed his way through into the ominously pleasant space. This room was reserved for private meetings with diplomats and was thusly sculpted to appear cozy and inviting. However, his older brother was anything but a ‘cozy’ and ‘inviting’ person, and just like everything else in the cold, cold mansion, the room darkened with just his presence. The walls were painted dim turquoise colliding with the fierce scarlet carpet almost distastefully. A few regal book cases were erected magnificently in the corner, but the dusty books’ spines were as stiff as the day they were first authored. A glorious black marble fireplace dominated the back wall under a portrait in an opulent, gold picture-frame. In the center of the room, an ostentatious round table stood with three chairs pulled up to it—in them sat his ever-commanding brother, a portly man with glossy, overly-tanned skin and a triple chin, and a lanky guy with a trimly cut gray and black beard. Both were dressed too frayed to be any diplomats Sasuke had ever met.
“Sasuke,” Itachi hummed in his silky baritone and motioned to the two men, whom by their calm statures, were unaware of the monster sitting so close beside them. “We have two friends who have found us a person of interest.”
Sasuke frowned. Itachi delighted in playing inane mind games with his little brother and Sasuke despised him all the more for it. This was a display of power, illustrating the fact that Itachi held all the knowledge of this ‘person of interest’ and the only way to find out who it was, was to ask.
“Who?” Sasuke gave in, but had long since perfected his facial expressions and vocal pitch to not portray it.
“A demon spirit.” The flaxen firelight emanating from the guttering fire behind the table seemed to have affixed itself to the side of Itachi’s wan face, making his eyes dazzle like hot embers.
“Where?” Sasuke queried evenly, disregarding his brother’s wicked little mind games briefly. A demon spirit… They’re so extraordinary! He processed. With just one at our side, we could claim the entire eastern territories and respond to the threats from the north but…It would also give Itachi more power then he should be allowed.
“In the village hiding in the leaves!” Piped the plump man, clearly ecstatic at the prospect of having valuable news, or possibly the prospect of the value of his news. Sasuke’s eyes narrowed on the man.
“Konoha,” corrected the taller man sternly.
“Yeah, whatever, it’s the same thing.” The round one said, miffed. “Anyway, we was in Konoha just a few weeks back and we was just selling some stuff, you know, ‘cause we is traveling salesmen.” Sasuke winced at the grammar being hacked and marred right in front of him. He’d supposed he was spoiled by typically receiving eloquent and quite educated diplomats and not—well, two wandering idiots whom probably sold faulty cleaning supplies.
“Well, anyways, we was trying to sell this ol’ man some cheap and durable cleaning supplies when all of a sudden, there’s this big ‘boom’ like somethin’ blown up or somethin’. So, we, me and Terrance that is, goes out to see this—well, I’ll be dammed if I isn’t tellin’ the truth, but we saw this kid in the middle of the streets, which were all busted apart ‘cause they is wood and all—but this kid was glowing red. Glowing, I mean glowing! And just as I am about to go catch a good look at em’ when all of a sudden there’s another explosion ‘cept this one didn’t shake the ground. Some idiot had gone and thrown a smoke bomb.”
“What did the child look like?” Itachi asked, his voice soft and potent.
“Well,” The stout man scratched absently at his balding spot. “I isn’t so sure ‘cause they was glowing red and all and I couldn’t really figure out what color it had and I’m not even sure if it was a boy or a girl. Pretty sure it isn’t an adult though… I caught a glimpse of a woman holding it though, trying to take it away and all, and she had the biggest knockers I’ve ever--”
“It had a scar.” The sudden emergence of the lean man’s quiet voice almost made Sasuke jump. “On its right palm, a long scar stretching from its thumb to its pinkie. The hands were small and weak looking and it made me think of a girl. A blonde woman carried her—or he—away before the smoke cleared.”
Sasuke was astonished by the articulate diction of the thin man’s sentences that contrasted his partners. He was almost compelled to shake the man’s hand heartily and give him a good pat on the back to encourage him to teach his friend a little bit about language and its functional rules.
“I eh—”The chubby man’s face faltered slightly. “I didn’t sees that but—I sees it was a kid and that woman could’ve been his momma.”
“Did you not question anyone after the event to see who it was?” Sasuke inquired mockingly, miffed at the stupidity of the pair. Really, who wouldn’t ask about something as bizarre as that?
“Of course so!” exclaimed the fat man, clearly offended. “But they acted as if nothing happened. They blamed it all on a fire jutsu gones wrong, but I knows better then to believe that shit. They’s lying.”
Sasuke looked to his brother but knew better then to find any reaction to what the man just said on his face. His head was resting on his knuckles and Sasuke knew behind those emotionless red eyes, a plan was being fabricated.
“Are you two the only souls not residing in the village whom know of this incident?” Itachi questioned.
“Yep! I thinks so!” The plump one chimed. Sasuke almost flinched at his eagerness. He knew the perilous connotation behind that seemingly innocent query.
“Good,” Itachi purred, as if praising a small child. “Sasuke, will you kindly show them to the people who will properly reward them? Then you should prepare for your long trip.”
Both men stood up hastily, their eyes alight with an enthusiasm. Sasuke felt as if something in his stomach had erupted and all his insides were melting as he watched the men smile cheerfully. They were probably just desperately poor and looking for anything to pay for food. They had probably thought that tonight was going to be the first time in a long time their stomach wouldn’t grumble before they laid down to sleep. They had probably thought they were going to escape rich men—They had probably thought they were going to get out of it all alive and well. No one would miss them…No one at all.
“Of course.” Sasuke replied, feeling his insides relapse to ice as he marched these men to their death.
“How are you feeling?”
“Come on—sometime you’re going to have to talk to me.”
“What? No nasty little retort? No ‘old hag’? No ‘grandma’?”
“I do have to admit—you’re at your best when you’re silent.”
Tsunade smiled softly at the boy sitting in front of her. He had untidy but glossy blonde hair and a petite, cute mouth and nose. His eyes were wide and a brilliant, clear shade of blue with a slight feral look to them. His adorable face currently, however, was scrunched into a pout which was made complete with his arms, bandaged from his forearm to his hand, folded across his blinding orange t-shirt.
“Is that anyway to speak to the generous and magnificently beautiful woman who just patched up your arms? Hmm Naruto?” Tsunade said, leaning forward across her desk to peer directly into his eyes. Naruto unconsciously rubbed the white fabric swaddled around both his arms.
“I didn’t need your help.” Naruto huffed, thrusting his chin upwards. “I fall out of trees all the time!—And it only takes a day or two for all my scratches to heal.”
“Is that so?” Tsunade said in a subdued voice as she lowered her eyes onto her clasped hands. . Honestly, she didn’t want to go into this, not now anyway--not just two fresh months after the incident.
It’s probably still healing itself, she thought, looking solicitously at his bound arms. It took a great deal of power to just revert to it’s original form, let alone—
“It was really weird this time though.” Naruto’s boisterous voice hacked her ordered thoughts to pieces. His presence often did this as well. “I was climbing that really tall one just to the right of that fat geezer’s store—and I was almost halfway up it too—when I sort just got, I dunno—tired I guess.”
Tsunade sighed. “Maybe you should take it easy.”
A precarious flash dashed across her face as she regarded him sternly. “You know why.”
There was a pause as Tsunade’s words drenched him and she figured his little brain was slowly churning and fitting pieces together.
“I could climb trees before.” Naruto declared, his voice betraying an unstable emotion that he was blatantly attempting to hide—seemingly as if it were made of small jagged mountains that began crumbling with every pressing word. Tsunade watched him sadly, her forsaken maternal instincts beseeching her to gather him into her arms and hug away his troubles. Who else would?
“And the villagers didn’t look at me like they do now.” He persisted, staring fixedly at his hands.
Tsunade’s eyes narrowed slightly, but she continued to gaze on at her calm hands. “Let’s not get into this.”
The blonde boy jolted up suddenly. “Why? I don’t understand why you won’t tell me anything!”
“It is my responsibility,” she said solemnly, but with the frame of impatience, “to protect everyone in this village. That is not only limited to the hundreds of mild-mannered villagers, but also expands to fit in your rambunctious self. If I told you what happened that night, you could not only become a terrible hazard to this village but also to yourself and anyone directly affiliated with you at all.” For some reason, she couldn’t find it in her to look up and shift the awful glower she currently was directing at her hands to him.
“But why?!” He howled, outraged. “Why? Why? Why? It doesn’t make any sense! How can I protect myself if I don’t know what’s going on?”
“You don’t.” She stated resolutely, glancing up to meet his eyes. “You let us take care of that.”
Naruto growled and glared fiercely at her; his bright blue eyes becoming sharp thin diamonds. “I don’t give a damn anyway!” He hollered furiously. “I don’t need any of you assholes to protect me! I can do just fine by myself!” And in an angry frenzy, he stormed to the door and hurled it open violently, its hinges wailing as it slapped viciously against the wall.
“Wait.” Tsunade insisted softly, her eyes falling back to her laced fingers. She couldn’t look him in the face. Why?
“What?” Naruto demanded crossly, pausing in the threshold of the office.
“Please,” Tsunade pleaded quietly, “just be careful.”
The stillness following her concerned words drowned out the heated haze that had consumed the office so suddenly. Tsunade and Naruto had both frozen in their respected spots, but the world outside the grand window behind her kept living and moving. The radiant midday sunlight spilled in and composed small flaxen ponds upon the carpet; blue birds dashed by and landed elegantly on the arms of the trees. Things were as they always were…but not.
Naruto twisted his head over his shoulder, pocketing his hands in the process, and flashed Tsunade a great, amiable grin.
“Don’t worry. If worst comes to worst, I’ll just slug the assholes and climb up a tree.” He left, shutting the door behind him and locking all the static emotions that had been shed in the room with her. She sighed.
Truth be told, Naruto bewildered Tsunade to no end. He seemed so impendent, as if he had stood alone for so long that it was only natural that he did for himself with out the aid of others. But, he released such a perplexing aura, like that of a lost child searching frantically for their parents—like someone so needed, but not necessarily wanted, they required the protection. Also, he was just so plain na´ve and clumsy. He was constantly falling out of trees and calling the wrong people ‘asshole’ and just seriously pissing off half of the village until they needed the protection themselves. Naruto never willingly accepted help; Tsunade had literally been compelled to drag him in by the scruff of his bright orange collar just to patch up his marred hands and arms.
She felt herself smiling as she returned to the forgotten work on her desk. Naruto is truly a breathing paradox, she mused. Something that can’t fall into any one category---Something wild and undefined. She put her pen to the paper, but her hand remained still. She set it back down with a sigh and turned around in her chair to watch the vibrant green summer living and guarding Konoha against the austere winter.
Something that shouldn’t exist.
Naruto was currently huffing--a verb that here means he was shooting air through his nostrils audibly and that his face was crumpled into a tight pout , so he seemed like a goaded bull as he stomped through the streets of Konoha. The villagers darted this way and that, desperately avoiding his furious path, which wasn’t completely out of the ordinary, but was further amplified by his vicious appearance. His huff lessened slightly as he watched their frail attempt to evade him inconspicuously. Once, they had ignored him completely, too caught up in the rushing bustle of their own every day lives to acknowledge his. But ever since that incident two months ago, one which he couldn’t remember at all, they had urgently skirted away from him, like fish skimming away from the slightest disturbance in their water. Damn them for not telling me, He thought fiercely, remembering Tsunade’s silence. He stared into the frightened eyes …Damn them for running… (Cursing had always helped to ease the intensity of situations for him. One good ‘shit’ made many things seem less threatening. )
He had once simply desired their attention and respect to fill the small void in his chest he had lugged all his life. When someone praised him, he felt---well, he couldn’t really find the word for it. He had always just called it warm. Now, however, he would do anything to retrieve their indifferent attitudes, because where their constant ignorance made him feel bad, their new frightened stares made him cold, as if the very hole he had wished to fill with warmth were freezing over.
He felt a chill scuttle down his arms as he passed three old women sitting on a bench in front of a store. They were whispering loudly and their narrowed eyes were fastened to his every movement.
“—Shouldn’t be here—”
“---Take it away---”
Everything was calm and warm in the forest and that’s what had drawn Naruto in ever since he was a small child. Sometimes he would train, throwing kunais at the tree to correct his terrible problem with accuracy (which he would never admit he had in the first place) and exercise, trying to generate large, ripping muscles on his thin arms(which he would never admit weren’t there in the first place). Usually, animals padded out from the greenery to watch him with wide, curious eyes. They had always seemed to like him or consider him great entertainment, particularly the smaller ones like cats and foxes. He loved the feeling of their attention and he’d often talk to them, something he would do even with a wall if there was something to discuss. Lately, he didn’t train. That didn’t modify the animal’s ritual of watching him, however, and they still lined up to gaze at him inquiringly. Some of the animals had even taken cautious steps towards him to sit near him, but they never got too close. Naruto figured he must smell terrible for everyone to not want to be near him.
He also enjoyed climbing trees but as to why he never fully examined. Sometimes he did realize that when he lounged in their thick spindly branches that he felt hot all over. Not the heated hot that he endured after severe training, but a different hot—one that brewed in his stomach and raced through his arms and legs. He remembered thinking once that the arms of the tree resembled a person, and it was almost as if he was being embraced. He had suddenly felt all the blood rush to his cheeks with the wayward embarrassing thought, and he denied any other awkward ponderings on what the trees seemed like. (Except for the one time he had found a branch that had looked like a fat naked man clad in a thong. That had been the one and only exception.)
Today, he concluded on climbing the tall tree he had initially fell out of. So, with an attentive audience of furry creatures, he waddled up the bark and made it to the highest branch by sunset. He lazed against the trunk, his feet hanging idly on either sides of the arm. From this elevation, he could clearly see the long pink yarn clouds that mantled the sky and the dark orange sun that slowly melted away into the grass below, secreting its last dying traces over Naruto’s village.
Konoha was made entirely out of wood, everything from the main public building, which was erected magnificently in the center of town, to the streets people trod on every day. Every structure was also built to resemble extended cylinders which were employed to create the illusion of massive tree stumps. It was an ancient technique the original builders used to protect the feeble village because Konoha was too small to engage in war and claim its own independence. Its existence was known to everyone now, but no one seemed to desire a diminutive village that had quite a few powerful allies. Its secret power lay in its devious politics. Naruto and the other children had been taught that crucial lesson since they could first talk: Power didn’t lie in the size, but the size of the friends.
Naruto began his descent, realizing that he needed to use the last flaxen threads of the day to guide his way out of the mystifying forest. He was just below the green canopy of the other trees when he suddenly heard the hushed sound of voices resonating softly against the trunks.
“We will stay outside the village tonight. Tomorrow we’ll begin our search. Sleep in stealth until dawn. Understood?”
Silently, Naruto crept lower until he spotted the tops of a dozen or so men—or rather, boys about his age. He leaned forward eagerly, hoping that this was some secret meeting dealing with some secret political contacts that he could save Konoha from and become a gloriously respected, and definitely not feared, hero. But before he could observe these men’s faces more closely in the fading sunlight they suddenly---vanished. He blinked his eyes several times vigorously and then rubbed them for good measure. But sure enough, they were gone.
--It was about this time when Naruto realized he had let go of the tree branch he’d currently been clutching. His balance difficulty swiftly caught up with him and he teetered perilously a few times until finally toppling over the side. He plummeted downwards, all the while delicately thinking ‘shit shit shit.’ He blacked out on impact.
He awoke moments later, his tender head throbbing. He lifted his hand to clasp his aching temple, but found his head face first into something warm and hard. He bound up immediately and discovered he was sitting on the torso of a man.
“This is a highly debatable position.” A reflective tenor rumbled beneath him and Naruto looked straight into two smirking, black eyes.
Chapter notes: Eee! Please review--My self-esteem sucks now that I just burned my cake. I know some of the grammar is a little off but eh-- ^^' I suck at it. I pray for a beta, if one will exist and bring me hope. Everytime my cellphone goes off, my computer makes waves. I hope you'll forgive me but I hate the word Merchant so it will not exist inside this story at all, nor will -chan or -san because i'm Japanese and I just don't feel right using something that I could seriously screw up and just piss everyone off. I love you, really.