Title: A Squid Boat
Genres: Friendship, Drama, Romance
Summary: In a fit of frustration and loneliness, Naruto runs away, and subsequently meets someone he wasn't supposed to for a long while... ItaNaruSasu
[1.] An Outstretched Hand
Naruto wasn't really sure what had caused him to flee his team so quickly—now, of all times. It wasn't as if it were a uncommon thing for Sasuke to ignore him, or for Sakura to belittle him, or for Kakashi to stand on the sidelines with his porn as both an apathetic and unnervingly perverted passerby. No, that was an everyday thing...
So, why today?
He asks himself this over and over as he runs through the thick foliage of Fire Country, swallowing hard so as to help fight his rapidly watering cerulean blue eyes.
'It's just the wind,' he tells himself, and the combination of that and the velocity he was traveling at to get away from Sakura's cry of alarm and Kakashi's rather blasé yell for him to return...
(It does not surprise him that Sasuke merely grunts out a faint 'hnn' and says nothing)
He was loathe to admit it—even privately, even mentally—but perhaps his frustration with being looked down upon all the time had finally hit a boiling point.
He was lonely.
And he was doubtful.
That maybe... Team 7 did not even see him as a ninja, as a teammate. All he had ever gotten from them were comments about his inadequacy; for little did he know, that all the praises he did receive stayed silent within each member's head...
'Maybe...' Naruto thinks miserably. '...I'm just a mascot to them.'
It makes sense if that were the case. He is loud and boisterous and brave to the point of stupidity—and that makes the perfect shining model for team morale, doesn't it? Even if, deep down, he didn't always feel that way?
It wasn't fully an act. It was his true personality.
But Naruto's personality, as well as anyone else's for that matter, had multiple facets, and he chose only to put select sides of it up on a pedestal: the strongest, seemingly infallible ones...
Too bad that they had finally shattered today.
There was only so much that he could take.
Naruto comes to a quick stop once he reaches his limit, collapsing face-down onto the grass and panting hard as little white dots dance across his vision.
He doesn't doubt Kakashi's ability to follow the chakra trail that he had left behind, so his knows that his time alone will be brief. Naruto lolls his head to one side and gazes apathetically at a splayed hand on the ground with glass eyes. He twitches it a bit, then brings it up to his face in a slow and agonizing motion.
Part of him is sorry that he is putting his team through so much unnecessary trouble. But part of him isn't. Part of him believes that they deserve it, that he deserves it—this small, insignificant and juvenile piece of harmless revenge for the harm that they had inadvertently inflicted on him over time...
If nothing else, Naruto has this.
This thought sobers him more than he would have liked.
'How am I going to face them?' he thinks miserably.
This was embarrassing, to say the least. He was sure that Sasuke (that bastard) had seen the glittering sheen in his eyes before he turned tail and ran away. What was he going to say to them (him) once they all caught up?
'Haha, did you guys have fun running after me?'
'Crying? Bastard, that wasn't fucking crying!'
'Just kidding! God! I was only fooling around, you saps! No need to worry...'
But if they hadn't been worried at all...? Only exasperated?
Deep down, Naruto knows that this is the most probable case. It makes his heart ache and his jaw clench a little tighter.
Unbeknownst to him, however, someone nearby makes a similar physical motion upon seeing him, and it isn't someone from Team 7.
Itachi Uchiha watches rigidly as the fox jinchuuriki lays silent on the forest floor, lost in his own little world of loneliness and sorrow. His crimson-red eyes flicker a bit before darkening to black, and he steps out of the shadows at last to approach the demon container he had been assigned to hunt down in the upcoming months...
Naruto Uzumaki was here, right now...
So vulnerable, so easy to capture.
And Itachi was alone.
And he was a pacifist at heart, so maybe he could get the blonde boy to come with him willingly, if only he played his cards right...
"What are you doing?" he asks gently, and Naruto sits up abruptly and whips his body around to sputter some half-hearted insult meant for someone else:
"T-teme! Mind your own fucking business! What took you so long to catch—"
He stops there, realizing then that this is not his teme and that he is yelling like an idiot in front of a complete stranger... who, also so happens to look eerily like the person whom Naruto initially thought he was?
"Who are you?" he asks cautiously, eying a red-and-black clad Itachi up and down.
'Pity.' thinks the missing-nin 'That you do not recognize the infamous Akatsuki cloak.'
"Uchiha Itachi." he replies simply, seeing no need to hide his true identity, because Naruto will not escape to tell.
Blue orbs widen with a child-like bewilderment.
Foot in mouth.
"Uchiha...? You mean...I mean...a-are you related to—"
"—Sasuke?" Itachi finishes for him. "I am. And I know how hard he is to deal with."
"You got that right!" Naruto's expression turns fierce: weeks of bottled up frustration and feelings of inferiority finally bubbling up onto the surface. "What a freakin' bastard! You know what he said to me? He said I was a useless idiot, and that the only use I would have is as kunai fodder on the front lines...!"
"And no one defended you?" he asks softly.
Hook, line, and sinker.
The jinchuuriki deflates. If Naruto had fox ears to at least partially manifest the demon inside him (because he always looked so human and innocent...so, so innocent) they'd be flattened against his unruly sunflower hair with shame.
Naruto's response is small and almost inaudible:
Now Itachi knows that children's hearts are easily malleable—just as his own had been forged long long ago into cold, hard steel. Whoever got their hands onto Naruto's first was free to mold it into whatever they wished: and as it was, it seemed that fate had presented Itachi with the high honor...
This was almost too easy.
Then again, the fox jinchuurki is only twelve years old.
"Would you like to come with me then?"
Naruto looks up from his sandals, confusion evident in his chubby young features.
"Would you like to come with me?" Itachi repeats.
"I don't know you." Naruto replies, uneasy. He shifts his feet, inching backwards as if Itachi might strike at any moment.
He won't. Not unless he runs, but Naruto doesn't need to know that.
So the missing-nin makes no move, and chooses to let his monotone yet melodic voice carry across to the boy instead.
"You could. I'm not going to hurt you. You are my little brother's teammate, after all."
Naruto didn't know that Sasuke had an older brother. That... explained the resemblance. That girly-looking jawline, and that same smoldering dark gaze. Only this shinobi's gaze was...calmer, and more refined. Naruto didn't feel as if he were being judged and scrutinized under these eyes: merely observed.
...and not even as a curiosity!
"Then how come Sasuke's never talked about you before, huh?" he asks suspiciously, almost pouting. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knows that the strange newcomer is telling the truth—Itachi looks far too similar to his irritable teammate to be lying—but innate precaution doesn't allow him to accept this fact just yet.
"You can ask him yourself." he says. "Though I'm guessing that you don't much want to right now, do you?"
Naruto shakes his head and pouts for real this time. The older Uchiha's ability (and blood relation to someone all-too-familiar) to guess his true emotions helps lull him into a false sense of security, though he knows it shouldn't...
But it is his childish and naïve belief (or hope), that if someone knows how you are really feeling, then they wouldn't try and make you feel any worse.
"They are probably chasing after you right now. What do you plan to say to them?"
"I dunno..." Naruto mumbles.
"You're embarrassed of your reaction to Sasuke's comment—or rather, ashamed. Am I right?"
His target refuses to look at him and shifts backwards once more.
But this move is subtle and barely there: an indication that the boy does not yet suspect him enough to retreat completely.
Itachi allows a faint ghost of a smile to grace his pale and thin lips.
"But you have no reason to be shamed by that at all, Naruto-kun."
Naruto's mouth runs dry upon hearing the affectionate suffix. He gulps.
No one has ever...called him -kun before.
"Because it's not true." Itachi continues. "I've heard about you. You've got great potential as a shinobi. So would you like to see it grow?"
Itachi extends a hand to the village outcast and waits for him to take it. He rarely ever allows physical contact between himself and other people, but for Naruto he will make the exception. In order to get him to come without any struggle, it is necessary to gain his trust.
Why not instill some false faith too, while he was at it? It would certainly make things easier for him in the long run...
Itachi thinks that, perhaps he should be thankful that the fox jinchuuriki was deprived enough to crave any small semblance of compassion.
Naruto's eyes widen, and this makes him look even younger than he already is. They flicker back and forth between himself and the older Uchiha before slowly, hesitantly, then with firm gusto; he grabs Itachi's cold and strong hand.
"Okay. But you better teach me something worthwhile," he warns. "So I can go shove it in your brother's face once I come back."
"Hnn." the missing-nin responds, before whisking him away in a well-practiced body flicker.
As Naruto travels through air, he thinks that Itachi's near-identical response to his rival's is a good enough substitute...
A/N: Th idea for this story just randomly popped into my head today...please, tell me what you think! :)