Cries of the Forest @shiro1sora
Chapter 12

It had been far too long since Naruto had visited King. Having proclaimed him to be his father, it made him feel a bit guilty and realize that despite the excuses of stress and socializing, he still should have visited at least once or twice.

Thus, he was nearly apprehensive of when he would arrive at the river, (and his internal compass told him it would be too soon for his liking.)

Nevertheless, he didn't dawdle when he saw the tree break.

As always, the shoreline was littered with animals, both large and small, all resting peacefully. There were a few daring individuals assisting in grooming or exchanging small gifts of nuts or fruits. And at the center of it all, was King. The clouds always seemed to break apart to illuminate him in the sun's rays despite how dark and cold they normally were, an ethereal sight when most of his scales reflected gold or copper.

A few small birds were perched on his antlers, and he looked down to see a shoal of fish swimming under his resting form.

It looked to be a hunter's dream, but violence was absolutely forbidden, and you'd do well to remember that or suffer the point of a horn. King was overall very gentle, but he also had a very rigid moral code as The Forest's protector.

And while this picturesque scene might have captivated others, Naruto was used to it by now. Not to say that it was any less beautiful, but there was nothing stopping him from continuing on his own business, going to the river as he'd intended.

While he could feel the stares of King and his subjects, he squatted down and began the process of washing his pelts.

One had to be a bit delicate in their handling, as the base of it was simply dried skin. (He'd, unfortunately, learned that through trial and error, and lost a few good skins because of his carelessness.)

The process was a little slow going with how large they were combined with his hands shaking from nervousness, but there wasn't much for him to do other than let the water run its course and gently scrub the fur to loosen any dirt or grime. Slowly, one after the other, he made his way through his little pile, gently hanging them on the lower branches of various trees to dry. Then he set about washing himself.

This was much easier, (if colder,) than caring for his pelts. At least his skin wasn't constantly at risk of tearing. His favorite part was always washing his hair, by diving under the water and scrubbing at the light strands.

Most times he would keep his eyes open and just enjoy the lives of the fish.

There would always be the occasional bout of envy at the fluid movements of those swarms of fish, how easily they seem to move through the currents without a care in the world. But then he remembers when he tried to imitate them before he could simply walk upon the water, and that swimming was even more taxing than running. Then he was perfectly content with swinging through the canopy. Didn't mean he didn't sometimes swim for the sake of swimming or to cool off, just that he enjoyed his way of life as it was.

And that's okay, isn't it? To have no desire for more than what you have? It's not a common behavior he's seen thus far in The People, but it's also always been them and him. He'd always been different.

Thinking of it this way made him more apprehensive of Shikamaru's plans, and confused him even more. He wanted to stay with his closest friend but didn't want to leave his forest. And being constantly surrounded by People sounded unpleasant, their presence and customs suffocating.

Maybe he should talk to Father about this? He'd always been the wisest, always willing to lead him to a new path of thought and teach him new things.

So he did just that. Rather than lying in the sun to dry off, he focused chakra to his hands, pulled himself out of the water, then focused the energy to his feet to stay atop the river. Dripping bullets the whole way, he plodded to the spot King had claimed since before he could fathom and promptly sat down to lean against his father.

They sat in silence for a few calm moments, before Naruto spoke up.

'I apologize for not visiting before now.' King chuckled at the unique tone: mostly repentant, but still said like he'd swallowed a bad lemon.

'You had much to think of, and even more to learn. There is no need to apologize for a small absence from the river. After all, you came back, yes?' The blond's mouth quirked at the odd bit of logic but accepted the reasoning of a timeless being nonetheless.

'You're right, I learned so much.' He bit back the thought of 'but is it enough?' He wouldn't burden his father with his doubts, wouldn't sour this calm peacefulness that surrounded them. 'Did you know that the female People wear colorful layers of clothes to attract the males? It's completely backward! And it didn't really seem like those courtships ever went well. . .

'And I guess they trade to get what they want or need. Instead of going hunting, they just have someone else do it for them, then give something in return for the work!' He never really understood why they couldn't just do it themselves, but maybe they were just incapable with all those fabrics slowing them down.

He could've said more, let the time flow by as he regaled King with the horrible eccentricities that came from society. But lately, he'd been feeling. . . like he was running out of time, if that made sense.

'It seems that you've been exploring,' King said gently, sensing the boy's hesitance in continuing. He didn't reply, so King took that as a sign that Naruto was done with that thread of conversation. 'Perhaps it is time to step further out of your comfort zone.

'Soon, you will be officially registered as a citizen of The Village, and you've established yourself as a friend of that boy Shikamaru. Why not make more friends? You never had many here in The Forest.'

'I've had plenty!' the blond protested. 'I've had you, and my tree, and the hoofed ones who let me play with them sometimes. I even had the howlers!' None like Shikamaru, but he wouldn't open that can of worms right now.

King took these claims in stride, calmly continuing as if he'd read his mind.

'Even so, there is a limit to the level of closeness you can achieve with someone unlike you. I'm sure Shikamaru can introduce you to his other friends, and you can learn to enjoy what all The Village has to offer.'

'But The Village doesn't have you!' By now, tears were threatening to gather in Aoime's eyes. King heaved a sigh, having sensed they'd reached the crux of the issue.

'You've known that there would come a time where our paths must part.' And he had known, probably since he'd been ousted from the pack all those years ago. Known that he didn't quite belong and that nothing good ever lasts forever.

'That time is not now,' King soothed, aware of his distress. 'Not now, but soon.'

"That doesn't make it better!" Tears were flowing and his cry had startled the few small birds from their perch on his father's antlers. He couldn't bring himself to feel bad about it, panicked as he was. "You've always been my father, and if I can't see you by being a part of The Village, then I don't want to be there!"

King looked at him lovingly, though disapproval shone clearly in his eye.

'You know that's untrue. You have already experienced what The Village has to offer; already made connections and nurtured a small love for Konoha. You are grown, and I feel that you are ready.' Well, no one had asked if he thought he was ready, but there was no arguing with The King.

He stewed in silence, buried in thoughts of 'why me, why now?' He couldn't stop the tears of frustration, so they tracked down his reddened face to plop in the water, swept away by the current. When he had calmed somewhat, the sun was nearly touching the tips of the trees, and his furs had surely dried by now.

"Why would you leave me?"

King seemed to deliberate for a moment but eventually gave a slow reply: 'I would not normally if it were avoidable. I would not want to, but everything is inevitable.' In that sentence, he sounded so tired; truly the age of the centuries he'd lived through. And that alone was more frightening than any ominous premonition The King could have given him.

Soon, his father, the aged dragon he was, would die. This revelation shocked him, having never thought that his father, having lived since the beginning of chakra, even could die.

And it was terrifying thinking that there was something in this world that could kill such a powerful being.

His dilemma of whether he should join The People in their village seemed so insignificant now, his complicated thoughts pointless in the face of this unknown thing that was to kill his father in the near future.

'I know you came here to ask for another opinion, and I say it now: go, and prepare yourself. This forest needs more than my protection, and I fear The People do as well.

'You are my son. Do as I know you do best: protect. That is all you must do.'

Oof, I almost cried rereading this.

Edited 12/18/2019

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