Snow Casts Shadows
Growing Up With Dreams
Chapter Two – Snow Casts Shadows
"Naruto, you can't keep doing this! You know it's wrong!" Iruka tried desperately to reason with the blonde seven year old. It was close to February 14th and Naruto always acted out more so than usual this time of year. It had been two years now since his parents were killed and Naruto had turned from the sweet, innocent and caring child into the monster under his bed. It was constant trouble with this boy and Iruka, with very little parenting skills at his back, was reaching his breaking point. No matter what he tried with the boy, Naruto just wouldn't listen.
"I'll do what I want! It's not like anyone will stop me!" the boy yelled back, a dark fire lit behind those summer blue eyes.
"Naruto, I'm stopping you! It isn't nice to pull pranks on people! You have to stop, ok? If you keep this up I won't take you to the Sapporo Snow Festival," this was something Iruka knew wouldn't work. Naruto loved festivals but his school district always held their own festival for those who couldn't leave the island to get to Sapporo or Hokkaido. Things like this really made the poor Grade School teacher feel hopeless. He sincerely wished that Minato and Kushina hadn't passed away in that tunnel. Naruto never behaved like this when his parents were alive!
With a sigh, Iruka watched as Naruto ran to his room and slammed the door. Iruka really couldn't be mad with Minato and Kushina. They were murdered. They were cruelly punished for something they didn't do and now Naruto was being punished by being ripped away from his loving family. No, Iruka just couldn't be mad at all. He couldn't place blame on anyone.
He only wished he had someone here to help him deal with the stress of being a single, stand-in parent. He loved Naruto, he really did, but sometimes dealing with the hellion was more than the poor man could deal with. Iruka decided he needed to find a woman with child experience... or boot camp credentials to whip that boy into shape.
No... Iruka knew Naruto was hurting. Hurt was understandable; Iruka himself still hurt with the deep loss of his dear friends. But he knew Minato and Kushina would yell at him for not being patient with their son. He mentally apologized to them as he moved to the kitchen to make dinner for the two of them. Hurt... loss... confusion... all very painful things to feel, especially when you are only 7. Patience is something Iruka would conquer. He would learn and show all the patience he could... just for Naruto.
This wasn't fair at all. If even this little red-headed seven-year old could tell that this was unfair, then it was unfair. Even Gaara could tell when things were wrong but the only problem was; he didn't know what to do about it. He knew his parents never did this. His parents thought it was wrong too, to hit a child. They even taught him in school that hitting children was wrong and it was called 'abuse'. But he was sure that if he told anyone about it, nothing would happen. Orochimaru was a scary man and many social workers who had come to check on Gaara and his two older siblings were all shooed away without a second thought.
What could a boy do against his Guardian? The beatings happened often enough that Gaara was rarely seen without bruises or Band-Aids over the areas that were split open. Gaara did his best to deal with it but his fragile, developing body couldn't hold pain that well. Though nothing was as bad as that first time, but it still hurt.
And it got so confusing most days that Gaara just didn't know what to do with himself. It was bad enough getting pulled out of his school and away from the few friends he had made and put into a new school district. On good days, he was Orochimaru's' favourite. The man would shower the 7-year-old with praise and compliments and even bring the boy to his work to show him all the cool lab stuff he did. Gaara would feel overjoyed at the feeling of belonging. Then the next day it would all come crashing down and Orochimaru would be so upset that the second he stepped inside his home, he would scream for Gaara and Kankuro.
The boys eventually gave up fighting and hiding...
It was inevitable, their fate.
Now whenever they heard their name called, they would resign themselves to a heavy sigh and trudge their way down with their little feet making no noise on the stairs. Because Orochimaru always said 'Children are meant to be seen, not heard'.
Gaara had noticed though that Temari, his older sibling and oldest of the three, never got called. Not once had Temari ever been beaten or touched or yelled at... this frustrated Gaara and he often asked Kankuro about it. Kankuro would shrug his shoulders. He didn't understand any of this any more than Gaara did. How would they understand it? It was a mental instability and a 7 year-old, an 11 year-old, and 15 year-old wouldn't know much about mental problems or what to do about them.
Maybe one day... one day when his sister, Temari, was old enough, she would take them away from here. Far away where he wouldn't have to endure the beatings. Where he wouldn't have to cry into Kankuro's lap and feel lost and hopeless; disconnected.
Even though Kankuro and Temari were there for him, he felt so alone. No one really knew him and no one really cared. His teachers at school tried to connect with him and ask where his bruises came from. What was there to say? 'I fell down', 'I tripped', 'I was wrestling with my brother'?
There were only so many times you could use any excuse so eventually Gaara stopped answering the teachers. He stopped going to see the guidance counsellor at school, he even stopped talking to the kids in his grade. It was hard to talk to anybody when they just wouldn't understand or do anything about it. Gaara had a hard enough time just being in school. He kept getting strange looks and glances. He was the orphan being looked after by Orochimaru... Orochimaru was just about as popular and scary as the Royal Family and the Emperor.
And all Gaara could do was stay sane enough till Temari could take him away. It was the least she could do... she didn't get beaten, she didn't get yelled at, she got all the best grades, she had so many friends... she was the perfect one and Orochimaru didn't bother her... because Gaara and Kankuro couldn't measure up to her...
With a sigh, Gaara stood up from his small bed and opened his bedroom door to the angry knocking on the other side. Just looking at the sock covered feet, Gaara knew it was his Guardian. As he was flung a few feet back by a mean back-hand, he couldn't help but resent adults. Adults, men, women, people in general. Why would they do this and let this happen?
But when Gaara started resenting his parents for leaving him at the mercy of this biting snake Gaara shut down to find a happier place.
Sasuke was a smart kid. There was no doubt about it. He was the top of his class, best grades in the entire town. He didn't have any friends though not for lack of trying. Every time he thought he had a friend he could be close to, besides Naruto whom he rarely saw these days, he would bring them home only to find the next day they wanted nothing to do with him.
Sasuke was beginning to give up. Why wasn't he allowed to make friends? It was like he was cursed to be alone! First his parents leave him alone to grow up with Itachi and friends of his family. Then Naruto started backing off and accusing Sasuke of changing when Naruto was clearly the one changing. Now no matter the friends Sasuke tried to make, they were leaving him left, right and center. There was something out there cursing Sasuke. He was sure of it.
And whenever the poor boy felt so confused and alone, he always went to his older brother. Itachi was constantly there for Sasuke. Always showed his support and always made time in his day to sit down and chat with Sasuke like he was the most important person in the world. This made Sasuke feel so much better some days. Knowing that someone cared for him, that someone wasn't giving up on him or leaving him to be completely alone.
Today was one of those days where he could really use Itachi's love. Sasuke had just fought with Naruto again, the only friend he really had that hadn't been scared away. So Sasuke sought out his older sibling, looking for someone to listen to him.
Sasuke found his 11-year-old brother in the small library upstairs, sitting comfortably in the large leather chair with his legs slung over the arm of the chair and a book in his lap. His black eyes moved seamlessly over the page as he eagerly read all the lines and processed the information. Something Sasuke greatly admired. Itachi was always so perfect, so good at everything he did. The boy was reading chapter books and novels by the time he was 6. He was always so far ahead and Sasuke liked that.
It was nice having such an intelligent older brother to rely on. In a way, it was infuriating though. Sasuke could never quite catch up with Itachi. He didn't reach all the milestones his brother did and was never as smart or logical and his teachers always compared him to his brother. They were big shoes to fill. But Sasuke didn't let it bother him too much. He thought it was a fantastic way to keep him on his toes and make himself better and stronger.
"Itachi?" Sasuke asked softly as he approached his silent brother. Those black eyes so much like his own moved fluidly from the paper to Sasuke.
"What is it, otouto?" Itachi replied with that smooth, patient voice that Sasuke had come to love. Sasuke scuffed his sock-covered foot against the carpet and hung his head so his black bangs hid his childish pout.
"Ani, may I sit with you?"
"Of course," Itachi pressed his bookmark between the pages and set it on the black table beside his chair before swinging his legs to the floor and moving over to make room for Sasuke. The boy smiled and crawled into the comfy leather chair next to his brother and leaned his head on the warm shoulder. "What's on your mind, Sasuke?" Itachi asked softly, wrapping his arm around his sibling and pulling him closer.
Sasuke closed his black eyes and sighed into the warmth of his brother before answering. "I fought with Naruto again today at school... he says I'm changing into a bad person and that I'm being stupid..." Sasuke refused to let hurt tears fall from his eyes. He didn't want Itachi to think little of him. But he pressed his cheek against his brothers' chest and took deep breaths to calm himself. He wasn't going to let Naruto get to him.
Itachi took a moment before saying anything, like he always did. "Do you think you are changing, Sasuke?"
Sasuke thought for a moment too. Was he changing? He knew that since his parents died, things definitely weren't the same but he wasn't sure if he had changed or not. "Do you think I have, Ani?"
Itachi smiled softly, a smile Sasuke knew was reserved only for him, and rubbed Sasuke's shoulder affectionately. "No matter what happens, Sasuke, I'll always love you for who you are."
The 7-year-olds' heart swelled with pride as he grinned up at his older brother. To him, only Itachi mattered. If Itachi loved him and never left him, everything was ok. Naruto was stupid anyway, what did he know? The little monster was probably just jealous or something... stupid kid. Sasuke would show him! "Ani... read to me?"
Itachi smirked and leaned back in the chair, pulling Sasuke with him to rest on his chest and in his lap as he picked up his book and started reading it from the beginning. His voice, though young, was soft and sultry and Sasuke closed his eyes, listening to every lilt and pronunciation. He enjoyed Itachi's voice so much that he fell peacefully asleep to it. Nothing was as perfect as his Itachi. Nightmares and sadness didn't exist when he was with Itachi. Everything was ok...
"Ah! Sasuke-kun! How are you today? Feeling better after Naruto yesterday?" the bubblegum noise bounded up to Sasuke the next day in school. There was no describing the Uchiha's hatred for her. There was no describing the depths of his hatred for a lot of kids in his Grade School but he had to put up with them all. The fools. They were all useless, pathetic children. None of them could measure up to be as perfect as Itachi so why would they try?
"Yeah, I'm ok," he answered shortly as he took off his outdoor footwear and slipped on his school slippers. He headed quietly to his next class as the girl flitted about and chattered his ears off. He politely excused himself from her as he went into his first class of the day, ignoring the blonde boy sitting in the back.
Some friend he was. What a joke! That kid wasn't even smart yet he was always in Sasuke's class. It might help, he supposed, to have his Guardian as one of the teachers here in the school. Iruka was a good teacher and Sasuke always enjoyed his classes. Sasuke felt sorry for the man for having to put up with Naruto's snotty, holier-than-thou attitude and his constant pranks and phone calls home.
Naruto always got a kick out of humiliating other people. What a jerk! Naruto was the stupid one... Sasuke huffed and turned away when he realized he had been staring at his childhood friend. The class was called to attention so Sasuke had no choice but to pay attention but there was a look on Naruto's face. A look of sadness, loss, that Sasuke didn't understand. What would make his friend sad?
'You're being stupid, Sasuke! It's like you aren't even you anymore! I'm losing my Sasuke!'
Naruto's tear stained face flashed into Sasuke's mind. Is that what Naruto was thinking about? Did he still think Sasuke had changed enough to make him feel like he was losing him? Sasuke swallowed the sudden lump in his throat and glanced back again at the bright eyed boy. Naruto was looking at him too. Sapphire met onyx. Sad met confused. Forgiving met lost.
Naruto smiled back.
"What's this?" the woman looked with hard amber eyes at the transfer script in her hands with contempt.
The School Board Rep frowned from his seat in front of her desk. "It's a transfer that we would like you to sign..."
"Yes, I can see that it's a transfer," she snapped, her blonde head moving up to glare at the business-suit-desk jockey, "I guess a more appropriate question would be 'Why the Hell is it here in my office' or 'What kind of drugs are you on?'" she spat. Despite the fact that he was a representative of the School Board and that they were her bosses, she still didn't take crap from any one. Today was no exception.
No one ordered Tsunade around! She would put those self-righteous, arrogant assholes in their place! Transfer! Hah!
"Well, Tsunade-San, as you know the Headmaster of Mihoshi High has retired. The School Board has big shoes to fill, trying to replace him and they felt that no one other than you could do it," he replied calmly, already knowing of Tsunade and her history of bad temper tantrums.
"I like teaching Elementary. I'm here for a reason," she growled, setting the transfer aside on her desk.
The School Board Rep cleared his throat, "Well, we understand that you are here on your request but you are needed elsewhere. The greater good outweighs personal preference, I'm afraid."
The glare she sent at him nearly made him fall out of his chair but he remained as calm as he could under her gaze as she silently fumed, "I hope you realize what you're doing... this is a mistake but I'll let you figure that out on your own," she growled out her dismissal.
Not wanting to push his luck, he stood, bowed respectfully and left her office. Hopefully, she would remember to sign the transfer. The man just really didn't want to go back for it...
Iruka sighed heavily when Tsunade phoned him that same day, telling him the news. It was upsetting to say the least. Tsunade has been at that Elementary for years and keeping an eye on Naruto for him. Now with her gone, it's only going to get out of hand. The new principle won't know how to handle Naruto at all and that was a big problem.
Tsunade apologized profusely, cursing the School Board all the while, and Iruka could do nothing but assure the woman that it was alright. There was nothing else to be done. This was something Naruto had to pull out of on his own really. If only the kid had more friends... that Sasuke boy was really dragging Naruto down but he was the only boy he ever talked about... Naruto wasn't interested in making any other friends other than the ones he had.
Naruto wasn't a lost cause... he was a lost boy. Tsunade had promised to do what she could for Naruto before she left but it didn't sound promising. Iruka supposed that only time would tell what would happen with his lost boy.
That weekend was the Snow Festival. While the main festival was held in Sapporo or Hokkaido on the main island, Yumenoshima had its own mini Snow festival in each of the cities. While each city had its own little festival, the best one was near Naruto's school because it was a huge area shared between Kaigen on the West Coast and Shi Yume, the big city. The two main cities on the island always combined their funds and put together a huge festival just outside Shi Yume.
And because his school was relatively between the two cities, Naruto could easily navigate his own way to the festival... without Iruka.
Naruto never took the trains so he took his bike outside when he knew Iruka was away for dinner. He rode his usual bike path that he took to school, following the memorized route. It wasn't too long before he passed his school and he grinned widely as he saw it was dark up on the hill with no lights or people inhabiting it.
He continued on the winding path, up and down the small rises, turning where necessary till he found the Festival lights. They weren't hard to find. Naruto stashed his bike where it wouldn't be stolen and slipped between the fences, sneaking his way past the Security patrolling the area. That was the hard part and it wasn't even all that hard.
Before he knew it, Naruto was strolling casually like he belonged through the throngs of crowds. The world didn't exist anymore...
The years he spent without his parents didn't exist anymore... the fights with Sasuke, the kids ridiculing him, teachers hating him, Iruka berating him... none of it was real. It was just the Festival of Snow and the thousands of people, the hundreds of booths, the performers, the dancers, the singers...
Handing over the few hundred yen he had, Naruto bought a dumpling skewer and munched happily as he walked without a care in the world. This was his world... the world he loved... so bright, free, airy, entertaining, filled with food and happy people.
Happy people. Happy couples. Happy families.
Naruto looked away from a family cheering on their son as he attempted to catch a fish with that stupid rice paper that dissolves in water.
He did that once...
There was a redheaded boy at a booth just in front of him that caught his attention. He must have been about the same age as Naruto but he was traveling booth to booth with a taller, dark haired boy and an older blonde girl. They looked like they were having so much fun together but that wasn't what caught Naruto's blue eyes.
It was the redhead. He looked so familiar. But why? Naruto wasn't going to school with any redheads... he would remember if he met someone with hair like that. And eyes. That boy had the most beautiful sea foam green eyes Naruto had ever seen.
And they looked right at him.
Their eyes locked for a split second and recognition lit in those green eyes. Naruto started moving forward to talk to the boy, to ask where he had met him before.
Unfortunately, before he could take another step, Naruto was pushed to the ground and the redhead was swallowed by the crowd. Feeling unsatisfied, the blonde boy looked up to see who knocked him over only to find the smug look on that pale face he knew so well.
"Sasuke! That was mean!" Naruto pushed himself back up and brushed off his clothes.
"What are you doing here without supervision?" the young Uchiha asked with his arms crossed over his tiny chest.
"It's none of your business!"
Sasuke rolled his eyes and shook his head, turning away. He didn't want to deal with Naruto's childishness. The kid would never grow up!
"Don't walk away! What's wrong with you?" the offended Uzumaki grabbed the dark shirt of his best friend and pulled him back.
Only to get brushed off carelessly, "Don't touch me! You're dirty!"
"Sasuke... you used to be my best friend... you used to be so cool and fun... now look at you. You're acting like you own the world! Guess what Sasuke! The world doesn't revolve around you!" Naruto shouted at the disappearing Uchiha crest adorning the back of the dark blue shirt.
How he hated Sasuke...
With a heavy heart, Naruto left the Festival, not able to stand all the happy people and happy families moving about without a care in the world...