Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any related characters or properties.
Turn Over an Old Leaf
Something warm dripped on his nose, and an acrid metallic smell filled his nostrils. Blood...
Battle-honed instincts forced him to his feet, leaping off of his bed and reaching for a weapon that wasn't even there. His groggy eyes frantically searched his vicinity, trying to figure out why his sword wasn't already in his hands, swinging toward the neck of an enemy. His hands almost itched to feel the weapon rend flesh, and when he realized his hand was actually twitching, he gritted his teeth before gasping.
Panic steeped within him, the unfamiliar sights and smells around him grating on his nerves. His stomach lurched and only through his own good graces did he manage to make it to the waste bin in the corner. His vomit was pathetically watery, the smell of too many noodles reaching him. Part of him wanted to grin in the memory of his old habits, but the other part of him never wanted to taste ramen again.
When he was finished retching, he touched his forehead and realized that he wasn't actually bleeding. He ran his fingers through his hair and looked toward his bed; the smell had come from the orange paint dripping down from the wall. A look in the mirror revealed a patch of orange paint threatening to drip off his nose, and it took him several scrubs of warm water to finally get the stain off.
Naruto grimaced at the horrible paint job on the ceiling of the small apartment. It smelled of lead, and not even the open window made a difference. He figured some bastard merchant had given him lead-lined paint in the dashed hope it would kill him. The orange paint had dripped and ruined the floor and his other meager possessions. He frowned when he realized he couldn't actually remember that he had this many possessions; he'd been on the run for so long, it actually felt uncomfortable to be standing in a room that could be considered his.
Details flooded back to him when his sleep-addled mind finally resurfaced with clarity. He stretched his fingers and clutched them into a fist, wondering if the feeling of invading his own body would ever fade. The digits both were and weren't his own; he wondered if this was how Yamanaka ninjutsu felt all the time?
He cleared his lungs several times before getting dressed, a black t-shirt and gray shorts with his usual blue open-toed sandals. He pushed off of the balcony with his chakra, to jump toward the next roof, but he'd misjudged the difference. That's what I get for shrinking several feet, he realized as he grabbed onto the ledge before him, pulling himself back toward the roof. He'd have to learn to compensate, because going from the body of a middle-aged man to a six-year-old overnight had its challenges.
It didn't take long, and as Naruto jumped from building to building, his arms held out behind him in typical shinobi fashion, he tried to remind himself that there was no one chasing him. The people below weren't going to betray him; sure, he'd get awful looks and people would treat the child of the fox like worse than trash. But logically, he didn't have to watch his back around them yet. Every awful word or rejection that they could throw at him paled in comparison to the ninjutsu that would be flying his way in the future.
They were all the same though. They treated him as a scapegoat, a free target for aiming all of their hatred. Given the opportunity and a kunai, they'd slit his throat without a second thought. Could he really blame them? Probably not.
He could blame the system in place. He could blame Obito. He could blame Madara. He could blame Minato and Kushina.
He shook his head, stopping on the edge of a roof and sitting down, watching the park below him. If he focused, he could see a mop of pink hair running around with her father, playing childish games; the last time he had seen her, she had been pumping chakra into her sensei's body, trying to keep the frail old woman alive. Another kid was napping under a tree nearby, probably escaping the chores he hated so much while planning out thousands of ways to avoid them; Shikamaru was the second to last of his former classmates to die.
He wasn't jealous of them. He had long-since accepted the fact that he would never have a childhood; his own father and mother had taken that chance away from him. He chuckled lightly, realizing that he had a second chance to do it all over again, if he really wanted to. He could forget all about what could happen. Surely his presence in this timeline alone would change the outcome, if only minutely; small rocks dropped in a pond eventually make big waves. If he wanted to be selfish and lazy, "small rocks" could be enough to change everything.
But that's the point, he reminded himself. None of that would ever happen; the most trying years of his life would never come to pass. He'd never lose everyone he loved. He would do everything in his power to make sure that they survived, no matter the cost.
He stood up, stretching. He overlooked the city before him, realizing that there was a disconnect, a distance that separated him from it. Even if he knew any of them, like Sakura and Shikamaru, he didn't recognize them anymore. They were too far removed from his struggles. Not one of them would ever know what was coming until it was too late. And he just couldn't bring himself to care and tell them.
His head ached from understanding that this world's future was his past, but he pushed it away. His former life was his former life. He had a do-over, a chance to ensure that everything changed for the better. Naruto had a several step plan in mind, and he needed to begin implementing it as soon as possible.
The three members of the Detection Division were admittedly bored, and the current leader of the division inwardly repeated his almost daily mantra that he was important to the defense of the village and to its citizens. It was just an impossible job to not be incredibly exhausted of nothing of interest happening.
The leader chewed his nails, staring at the globule of liquid hovering in the room and casting everything in a slightly blue-green light. It was almost sad to admit that he did not truly know how the powerful sensory ninjutsu worked in connection to the great barrier surrounding the village; Mito Uzumaki had been a fuuinjutsu genius.
He was just about ready to fall asleep again, no amount of coffee or tea to keep him awake. But the sudden rupture in the chakra field shocked him out of his trance, and as quickly as it had come, it disappeared.
"Get me a status report!" he shouted to one of the others, who quickly printed the results from the printer in the corner. "Let me know what the hell that was!"
After a few moments of frantic activity, the flustered specialist had the report in her hand. "The foreign presence entered the village a moment ago near the west side of the North District. Readings indicate a similar reading to entering via space-time ninjutsu, but it matches none of the jutsu in our records. The barrier was breached only momentarily, and we are unable to track the intruder's chakra signature because the reading had none."
"Are you positive that there even is an intruder?" asked the leader to be safe.
The woman shook her head. "I'm afraid not, sir."
He shook his head in annoyance and frustration. "Alert the Hokage at once!"
Naruto pulled himself inward, awakening on the inside of an industrial basement, pipes running along the ceiling in both directions. An odd water dripped from them at strange intervals, but the floors were only filled with puddles, rather than the ankle-high pool he was used to. He knew that it was symbolic to the amount of chakra at his disposal, and that it would increase with time and use.
He remembered all of his training, all of his techniques and abilities. He even knew of ways to increase his abilities, he just had to adjust for them. His chakra network had gone virtually unused at this point of his life, because even though his mind was old, his body wasn't. He would train his weaknesses easily.
He followed the winding tunnels, heading toward the familiar ominous darkness. When the huge room opened to him, he grinned that it really had not changed. The incredibly tall cage door rose before him, and he had to admit that it was odd looking at everything from a different perspective, so much lower to the ground. He was starting to wonder if he'd ever get used to his lack of height and musculature. It would take years for him to return to that form.
At his presence, the walls of the room seemed to shift, displaying eight small square seals of black ink running around the length of the room, like portholes in the cargo bay of a large ship. If he looked into each of them, he could sense things from each of the seals, images and scents and sounds that weren't his own. It took him a second to remember what they were for, and it just showed the extreme and daunting task he had ahead of him.
The figure behind the cage was gigantic, its body shadowed by the darkness of the room. Only the tips of its snout and claws were visible, and the sight was still slightly intimidating to Naruto after all this time. The creature seemed to be asleep, judging from its rate of breathing, but he had his doubts.
The fox did not move or react, but he was sure he could see one of the monster's tails flicker.
"Kyuubi. If I'm speaking, I expect to be listened to."
The creature suddenly lifted up and roared, its entire body preparing to pounce. "You insolent little ape! Who do you think you're addressing?"
"You're the Kyuubi no Youko," Naruto explained simply. "A being made of pure chakra, descended from the Juubi, and the strongest of the nine. 'Your tails crumble mountains and cause tsunamis,' or so the legends go. I've done quite a bit more than that on a few occasions with you." Images of Bijuudama ran through his mind, destroying entire landscapes and destabilizing nations.
Another growl tore through the mindscape, to the echoing corners of his thoughts. But before it could say anything else, the boy interrupted. "I have to say, I expected that you'd come back with me. This certainly makes things more difficult."
The creature's anger was obvious, the kind of powerful rage that is only experienced after decades or centuries of unjust treatment. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"I don't even know if I should explain it to you," Naruto said, earning the creature's glare from one red eye. "But I guess I should practice explaining it to someone; I've gotta convince some people of the truth, and it would sound like total bullshit if I don't figure out the wording."
The claws grated against the floor, leaving long scratches that almost instantly repaired themselves, which only further angered it.
"My mind is from thirty years in the future," Naruto explained. "You don't need to know the details right now, but I've come back to change it. To stop that timeline from happening and to protect those who are burdened alongside me."
The fox regarded him for a few seconds before it genuinely laughed and snarled at the same time, something that only the Kyuubi could truly pull off. "Ridiculous and impossible! If you're playing one of your asinine pranks, you will wake up without entrails!"
Naruto ignored the threat, not that it really was one. The fox was the one behind the cage, after all, and he was used to hearing far worse. "I used to think it was impossible. But now I'm here," he answered. "You obviously still won't believe me, and I'm fine with that. But you'll come to realize, through your sporadic visions of the outside world, that I did not wake up the same boy I was yesterday. You're going to see me practice things I shouldn't know how to do, without scrolls or prior training. You're going to see my behavior change, and you'll feel my maturity with every step I make. Kyuubi, can you really sit there and tell me that you don't notice anything different about me?" He gestured to the world around him. "Isn't the fact that I know how to enter the seal voluntarily enough to prove that something has changed?"
All he got in return was a growl, which he took as progress. The Kyuubi did not stop staring at him, teeth as long as his body glimmering in the darkness.
"Fine. You don't have to acknowledge me yet. I wouldn't expect you to suddenly accept me right away." Naruto grinned and crossed his arms. "I was hoping that I could get you to at least respect me, as you once did."
"I would never respect you."
"If you say so," he turned to walk away, ready to pull himself out of his mindscape, "Kurama."
The fox's entire body flared with anger, the mindscape began to tear itself apart from his ferocity. Naruto smirked and made a single ram seal, instantly repairing the space created by the seal, and the Bijuu responded with another enraged cry.
The market area of the village was buzzing in the early morning, not even an hour after dawn. It always was at that time of year, incredibly busy all the time. Naruto had watched this same place blown away by powerful, otherworldly ninjutsu, but they would never know that. It almost amazed him that they could fool themselves into believing they are safe and that nothing would ever happen to them. After all, the so-called "God of Shinobi" was protecting them.
He passed several shops that might have once been interesting. The merchants were trying to sell their wares to people of all kinds. A little girl, probably only a year or two into the Academy, bought a package of blunted shuriken from a small shinobi tool shop to add to her stores; it took him a second to realize that that was Tenten, but she didn't even notice him.
She paused, her panda-like hair buns looking somewhat ridiculous. She stared at him expectantly when he didn't say anything. "Who are you? And how do you know my name?" He was acutely aware of the merchant watching their interaction, probably terrified for Tenten's sake that she was communicating with him, the jinchuuriki.
"Naruto Uzumaki," he answered, already toying with the ideas in his mind on how he could take advantage of the situation. "And how could I not know about the Academy's up-and-coming weapons specialist? I have a question for you."
She looked at him a little differently, trying to analyze him with her eyes. Apparently, he didn't pass her evaluation. "Cut the crap, kid. I've got to get back to the Academy."
Naruto rolled his eyes at the use of the word 'kid'. "Yeah, sure. I understand that you're extremely busy. But I just need a moment of your time. I'll make it worth your while."
Tenten looked at him expectantly. "Fine. What do you want?"
He gestured for her to follow him, probably worrying the merchant even more. Any of the passersby knew all about avoiding the kid with the whiskers, and he was already making a scene among the adults.
As soon as he was several yards away, Naruto grinned at the girl in front of him. He raised his voice and gestured to the sign on the far end of the marketplace, lining vertically at the end to advertise the different shops on this street. "I bet you can't hit that from this distance, and I bet that I can."
She just laughed. "Yeah, right. Like I have to prove anything to a snot-nosed brat. Why don't you go home?"
"What? Are you scared you'll lose or something? Or are you scared you'll hit someone on the street with a stray shuriken? Surely the best weapons-specialist the Academy has seen in years would be able to handle a simple request like this."
The gleam in her brown eyes told him everything, and when she took out a few shuriken from her bag, she was already getting ready to throw. "What do I get when you lose?"
Naruto smiled. "Why don't you win and find out?" When he was sure he had her attention and consent to the bet, he pointed to the sign again. "You don't have to hit a specific point on the sign, because of how far away it is and all the people in the way. Try to do it quietly and quickly though; I don't want to attract attention." The last bit was an obvious lie, but he didn't need her to know that. "Let me show you how it's done first."
He took one of the shuriken from her hands, frustrating her slightly. In a single effortless moment, he stepped toward the wall immediately to his left and walked up it, standing parallel to the ground. He waved to her from the ground. "Before you say anything, this isn't cheating. I'm still at the same spot, just higher up."
Naruto knew she was really more upset about the fact that he knew the wall-climbing exercise a long time before she did, but when he launched the shuriken and pegged the sign, she stomped her feet in anger. "That's no fair!" She shouted. "I can't walk up walls!"
"Oh come on, you're at an obvious advantage over me. I'm just an untrained Academy kid," he said, dropping to the ground and watching the crowd watch him. Some of them were so terrified at seeing the display that they were nearly running away from him. "Surely you can still hit the sign, you just have to aim a little higher at the start and make a good arc."
When she finally nodded in fierce determination and anger, she took a stance. Naruto marveled at it, even from her age. It was a slightly augmented form of the Academy teachings on how to properly throw shuriken. Naruto was looking forward to seeing the seven-year-old do her thing, and he almost wanted her to succeed.
She waited a few more seconds, sticking out a tongue to analyze the wind, before finally throwing the shuriken in a lobbing arc. It spun in mid-air before angling downward again, and to Naruto's excitement and Tenten's frustration, it missed by several feet. The shuriken, however, shallowly-sliced into the back of the neck of the shinobi tools shopkeeper, the same man that she had bought shuriken from just a moment ago. It landed in the ground near a group of children, shocking them and their parents. Naruto was very briefly aware of a familiar face, one he hadn't seen in almost twenty years; Iruka Umino's horrified face.
"Oh no!" she shouted, and after a few seconds of silence, the market launched into a careful uproar when the shopkeeper marched towards the two of them in absolute fury, while covering the cut with one hand.
"You little twerps!" Naruto had to hope that none of the Konoha Military Police Force were nearby; he didn't want to mess with the Sharingan. The merchant ran over and tried to grab the two of them, but Naruto grabbed Tenten's wrist and pulled her away, running toward the other end of the street.
"Kid, what are you doing? I need to go back and apologize!"
When Naruto was sure he had the attention of every person on the street, the weapons dealer running after him, he formed a hand-seal and made the switch. A single shadow-clone switched places with him in a small puff of smoke. "Kawarimi no Jutsu (Substitution Technique)!"
The cloud of smoke from the technique was enough to shock Tenten and the other dwellers, but the clone continued the charade and ran away, yelling and screaming as loudly as possible to get the attention of everyone. He heard the girl shout something about smoke pellets being illegal in public areas, but he just laughed at her immaturity.
Naruto watched the ordeal from around the corner and had to be proud of himself that the diversion worked. The real Naruto performed a quick Henge, transforming into a random merchant on the street, before rounding the corner and heading toward the shinobi tools shop. Of all the basic skills taught at the Academy, his ability to use the Henge no Jutsu (Transformation Technique) was unparalleled. His ability to infiltrate enemy camps was something he took pride in, and only the most skilled of the Hyuuga clan could see through his multi-layered transformations; a combination of a Henge and the distraction he'd created with a shadow-clone and Tenten would be foolproof even for Hiashi or Neji.
The shop was completely empty of patrons, and the bloody shopkeeper was still chasing Tenten and his clone. He quickly found the section of the store he was looking for. That wall was covered with swords of various lengths and types, some of them practical and some of them technical. Naruto grinned when he found something that he was used to, a tanto with a black sheathe and a midnight blue hilt. He grabbed some other assorted tools, like blank sealing paper, the finest kunai in the store, and steel shinobi wire.
Naruto hurried outside, blending into the crowd and dispelling his clone, and not a moment too soon; based on his clone's memories, he could see Fugaku Uchiha, the chief of the Konoha Military Police Force, running toward the scene. Naruto, in his near-perfect Henge, disappeared and walked away calmly.
He smiled at his genius and tried to ignore the fact that he was overextending his chakra coils, a bit of pain rising in his torso and abdomen from overuse. He figured it would take a few weeks of extensive training to really pull it back to the way it needs to be.
The chaotic marketplace was starting to calm down, but Naruto had to admire his handiwork. All he had to do was use an irate weapons' dealer who already had a grudge against the Kyuubi to take care of it, although he hadn't intended for him to actually be injured. He imagined that Tenten would blame it all on him, even if she didn't know who he was. He had to upgrade his time table now, and he was ready. He'd already had a large meal from Ichiraku Ramen, for old times' sake, but now it was time to leave.
Iruka visibly shook, unable to keep his hands from twitching. It's impossible!
On particularly awful days filled with small reminders of the fact that he was an orphan, what little he could remember before his parents' deaths seemed to run through his mind again and again. He always pictured the face of the fox itself as the culprit, smashing buildings with its tails and eventually killing his parents brutally and without remorse. The blame was easy there because the monster was responsible for what it had done!
When Iruka witnessed the boy walk on walls and use an actual jutsu, a kinjutsu no less, his mental image of the culprit shifted to feature the boy instead. Maybe it was irrational to expect a six year old to be capable of that kind of devastation, but the monster inside the boy was primordial evil incarnate! Even holy men agreed to that, and it gave Iruka a small comfort that the priests and monks collectively believed that the gods would intervene and save them all from the demons that plague the earth. He'd never put much faith in deities, but rather the Sandaime Hokage who was considered a "God of Shinobi" himself; he had never failed them before, and why would he start now?
When he arrived at the Hokage's office, the door was already open. He explained his situation to the attendant outside the door and was allowed inside, where Hayate Gekko and Mizuki Toji were already gathered. He bowed to the village's leader.
"Hokage-sama, I have something to contribute!" Iruka had to wonder what it sounded like for him to be so eager to give information to the Hokage; he wondered if the man still viewed him as the genin he used to be, because he had not been a chunin for more than a few weeks.
"Iruka-san! Unless it is urgent, perhaps you should wait?" The old man's voice sounded weathered and almost exhausted. Mizuki frowned at him and Hayate remained neutral; they probably thought it wasn't something important, but Iruka knew it was extremely important.
"No, this has to do with what occurred in the market district," explained Iruka. "Naruto Uzumaki was behind all of it."
The Uchiha nodded, moving his dark hair out of his eyes. "I know he created a ruckus, but are you suggesting that he stole from the shop as well? He couldn't have done that. The young Academy student who was part of what we assumed was just another of Uzumaki's pranks gone awry said he was there the whole time with her."
"No, you don't understand," explained Iruka. "My sensor skills are nowhere near as precise as your own Sharingan, Fugaku-san, because I only use it in quick bursts, but I distinctly saw him walking on walls and using the Kage Bunshin no Jutsu."
The tension in the room was palpable, and even the assembled chunin understood the true implications of this. The Hokage's face was pale and it looked like he had started to sweat. "It... it can't be true. He's only six! There's no way that he has any formal training. And who could have taught him a kinjutsu, much less the ability to use chakra itself?"
"Maybe the demon taught it to him," Mizuki said, his face all too serious.
Fugaku closed his mouth and swallowed. "Hokage-sama, what implications do you think this has for the earlier intrusion? Is an outsider somehow controlling the boy? Forcing him to do his bidding?"
When an ANBU Black Ops member suddenly appeared, who was not in the Hokage's normal guard force, almost everyone jumped. Only the Hokage remained perfectly still, and Iruka had to calm himself down from the sudden rush of adrenaline. Having someone appear that close behind you was never an easy task.
"Hokage-sama, someone unauthorized just left the village, but the guards were unable to decipher who it was. They apparently used a combination of the Kawarimi no Jutsu, the Kage Bunshin no Jutsu, and a multi-layered Henge disguise that a Byakugan of the Hyuuga stationed outside the gates was unable to decipher in time. It's suspected that it could be related to the security leak from earlier." Iruka's eyes widened in shock, catching Mizuki's eye.
The leader of the village sighed outwardly. "I'm getting too old for all of this." He hurriedly pulled something from his desk, revealing a crystal ball that could focus on any place in the village that the Hokage willed. Iruka thought it was fitting of his title that the man could watch over all of his people from the shadows. It took only a few moments for him to confirm what everyone was thinking.
The Hokage turned to the three chunin, Hayate in particular. "Go bring him back. If you leave immediately, he will not get very far."
Fugaku cleared his throat before they could leave. "Hokage-sama, should we not send more capable people? This is the jinchuuriki of the village at risk here, and if he is under the control of someone else, then perhaps a Sharingan can break that control."
The Hokage shook his head, surprising Iruka. Sending one of the Uchiha would be very helpful, and Iruka himself could use the help. "No, I'm afraid that can't happen. Chunin will be enough to take care of an untrained six-year-old, and Hayate-san is going to be promoted to Tokubetsu Jonin very soon. He's one of our brightest up-and-comers. You three need to leave now; if we can afford to spend the manpower, we will send another squad for backup." The seventeen-year-old grew flustered at the praise, before the three of them nodded and headed out immediately.
"Can you track him?" asked Hayate when they finally left the Hokage Tower and sprinted toward the gate.
"Maybe. My jutsu works like chakra echolocation, but in infrequent bursts. We'll have to figure out a way to follow his trail and catch up to him," explained Iruka, before turning to the de facto squad leader. "You're really going to be promoted?"
"That's the first I've heard of it. Must be why I was summoned to the Hokage's office," explained Hayate, pulling ahead of the rest of them. "Don't get left behind."
"Ooh, maybe that's why I was summoned as well! Tokubetsu jonin... I like it!" Mizuki grinned. Hayate just stared ahead and didn't engage, and Iruka knew what he was thinking. Mizuki didn't deserve a promotion, so it would have to have been something else.
Nevertheless, Mizuki was oblivious. "Don't worry, Gekko, I wouldn't dream of getting left behind! Let's find the fox!"
"He's not the fox," Hayate argued, his level voice tempered with a passion Iruka didn't think he had ever heard from him before. "He's a person, just like you and me. The Kyuubi is sealed away inside him."
Mizuki shrugged as the gate appeared in front of them, jumping toward the next building. "Same difference."
Iruka stared at the two of them, surprised at their individual thoughts of the fox and the boy. The white-haired chunin seemed much closer to his own beliefs, but it seemed harsh to act like he was the Kyuubi. And yet, Iruka couldn't see the clear separation between the two like Hayate did. Was Naruto the reincarnation of the demon itself, or was he just a boy with unfair circumstances?
Naruto was currently using wind chakra to put his tanto in top condition after using it to kill a rather large boar; he'd be eating off of roasted boar for several meals, but he was careful to only use slightly more than small embers while cooking it. More likely than not, the Sandaime Hokage had noticed his absence and would look for any possible way to find him. They couldn't lose their precious weapon after all.
He was heading northwest, and by all rights, he was making good time. He had a range of a few weeks to get the first step of his plan out of the way, but he needed to get to his destination in a very timely manner. At his top speed, he could probably get there in three to five days, depending on how well his body's endurance really was.
Naruto estimated that within another day, he'd pass the border of Hi no Kuni. And he was glad for it; being in foreign lands not directly associated with his background would help him blend in because they wouldn't know his face. His plan involved infiltrating shinobi villages after all, and anonymity was key.
His age served that purpose extremely well. He was just a kid and far below the age where they would expect him to be a spy or even a shinobi. He was virtually indifferent when he thought about certain people in Konohagakure who didn't mind creating soldiers that young, as long as it fit a certain purpose for the general good.
Naruto couldn't stand that term, however. The "general good." There was no such thing; he'd never seen it in his first life, and he would never see it in his second. It was a universal constant that humanity did not know its own common agendas, so he had given up on trying to understand that. Jiraiya had been naive, and in some ways, Nagato had been right. The methods he used were wrong, but could Naruto really judge them when the same people Pain attacked eventually attacked others? Others that were close to him, that shared his burden and were just as unjustly thrown into a political system they shouldn't have to be a part of?
There was no point in trying to keep a moral high ground. Naruto was the same as everyone else, and he had no expectation to change himself to be better than other people. He would only judge others who negatively impacted the lives of his friends, and they would get to taste their own blood in their throat for doing it.
He looked up and closed his eyes, reliving the memory of a recently dispelled clone. The clone had witnessed a three-man squad of chunin heading his way, made up of Mizuki Toji, Hayate Gekko, and Iruka Umino. He had instructed his clones to dispel when they caught glimpse of a pursuer, and it seemed that Iruka had spotted him somehow. It took him a moment to remember that Iruka had been a sensor-type shinobi before becoming a full-time Academy instructor, so it made sense that he would be able to find him.
His heart ached at the thought of Iruka being one of the pursuing him. He dreaded the idea of fighting him, because even if he hated most of the people in that village, Iruka had never been on that list and he never would.
Iruka created a ram seal and pulsed his chakra again, trying to decipher the location of any more clones. The quick "sixth sense" faded as soon as it started, but he confirmed that there were no more around them. "I've got nothing; trail goes cold here. If we're lucky, we'll find him before nightfall. Maybe we can defeat whoever's controlling him and bring him back."
Hayate continued to look at several possible clues, but Mizuki balked.
"Yeah, right. Let's just call a spade a spade here. There's no one controlling him but the demonic fox itself," Mizuki argued.
"Does it matter?" Gekko asked, lining up his sight to a possible trail. "What both of you are saying is irrelevant until we know more. Now, we need to go that way." He pointed in a northwest direction. "Trail lines up that way and is the same kind of footprint we tracked before. Umino, you got another-?"
Iruka nodded and pulsed his chakra again, and just in time too. In that bit of extra sight, he saw Mizuki trip over the shinobi trip-line. "Down! Now!" Iruka hurled a kunai to try to divert the explosive tag attached to a kunai heading for them. It clanged against Iruka's projectile, but it felt far too close to Iruka's left side and immediately exploded. The chunin flew, literally, into a tree branch that shattered from the force of the shock-wave. He barely fought for consciousness before slipping into the blackness of pain and misery.
Naruto winced at the thought of Iruka getting hurt by the trap he had set, but it was necessary. He and his group of clones converged on the site, and this was the perfect way to send a message to the Hokage.
When he finally arrived, he and the clones hid just outside of their ability to detect, and for what it's worth, Hayate and Mizuki were busy trying to make sure Iruka was going to be all right. Hayate ordered the other chunin to watch over Iruka, before the man drew his sword and gestured to the edge of the clearing.
"Come out. I know you're there." Naruto had to appreciate the man's directness.
The blonde jumped out of the tree and landed in front of Hayate. "Yep, here I am."
"What is going on? Why are you deserting the village?"
He smiled. "The people of that village deserted me a long time ago. I don't want to live under the thumb of the Sandaime Hokage and the Council of Elders anymore."
Hayate pondered it for a moment. "Explain to me what's happening, Uzumaki. If you come back with us, everything can be forgiven."
"I'm leaving," he answered automatically. "That's the simplest truth I can offer. If you don't want to accept it, that's your prerogative. But just know that this will be over very quickly, and I'm sure you want to return home to see Yugao again, don't you?"
Naruto had barely known the purple-haired future ANBU member, but he did remember that she had been an important person in Hayate's life. As expected, Hayate's grip on his sword tightened in anger.
Mizuki laughed, hands itching to grab the giant shuriken on his back. "This is just rich. A six-year-old threatening us? You haven't even joined the Academy! Whatever jutsu you think you know how to use, it's all a fluke!" The chunin pointed to himself and the other two. "We are real shinobi, and we will fight with deadly force to defeat you!"
Naruto raised an eyebrow. "Really? Deadly force? I highly doubt that. The balance of power among the nations is too strict, and I wonder how fast the Council would call for your execution if you actually did manage to kill me. Hell, the Hokage would probably publicly endorse the decision so he doesn't get the nobles on his back. I'm too important for your deadly force."
Realization hit Hayate's eyes. "He knows?"
"Of course I do. How hard do you really think it is to hear the whispering behind your back? My birthday is the Memorial Day of the attack on the village, for crying out loud." The lying was thick, but Naruto was enjoying this a bit too much. Seeing Mizuki's shock was ironic in an almost hilarious way. "I am the Kyuubi jinchuuriki, and I'm going to leave here regardless of whether you try to fight me or not." To emphasize his point, the clones saw that as their signal and descended on the clearing. There had to be twenty of them surrounding the chunin. "The choice is in your hands."
Naruto watched the shock and fear creep into the two lucid chunin, and when Hayate lowered his sword as if to give up, Mizuki grabbed the weapon off of his back and immediately prepared to throw it. "Die, fox!"
"Mizuki!" Hayate yelled as a warning, but it was too late. The second the shuriken left his hands, spinning toward what he thought was the main Naruto, it collided with the body and immediately dispelled.
The white-haired chunin caught the shuriken as it returned to him, still upset that it had been a shadow-clone. But in the next instant, the clearing burst into chaos. Clones drew their tantos and began expertly wielding them, mimicking Naruto's own style he had perfected a long time ago. Mizuki backtracked and tried to avoid their strikes, using the shuriken like a shield to deflect blows and swinging it to dish out his own. He had managed to dispel two clones before three suddenly jumped on him at the same time, all shouting taunts to confuse him.
The real Naruto dashed toward Hayate, remembering hearing of his skills during the Chunin Exams. It had taken the kenjutsu specialist only a few moments to catch onto Naruto's style, parrying and taking on several opponents at once. He dispelled two clones and then made a hand-seal of his own. "Bunshin no Jutsu (Clone Technique)!"
Two illusory copies appeared, and immediately moved into an almost mystifying display of speed that created after-images of chakra. "Mikazuki no Mai (Dance of the Crescent Moon)!" Naruto recognized it as a precursor to the kenjutsu form that Hayate was famous for inventing. Naruto was able to follow the movements, however, to Gekko's surprise, parrying blows and breaking the illusions with a stab through the chest and a sweeping kick.
"You should really develop that further," the blonde said as they collided and locked blades, pushing off of each other. Naruto hated the fact that his height was a disadvantage here, but he'd never been a particularly tall guy. "Maybe use shadow clones instead of illusions? It's a fascinating technique though, but it could be a lot better." To accentuate his point, three clones suddenly converged on the chunin in coordinated strikes.
Naruto's opponent leaped into the air and managed to avoid the clones, and to confuse him, Naruto dispelled all three of them the moment they came close to each other, creating a cloud of smoke. When Hayate landed, the blonde burst through the smoke with a speed he had yet to test, holding his weapon with his right arm across his body for speed.
In a single horizontal slash, accentuated by accelerated chakra flow in Naruto's muscles, Gekko blocked the blow but was forced to the ground from the power behind it. He heard an oddly satisfying scream and turned to see that there was a blade in Mizuki's chest, probably slipping through a rib and destroying a lung. The clone holding it grit his teeth and channeled wind chakra through it, and even Naruto was slightly surprised by the brutality of that move. With the clone's memories, the blonde knew he would never forget the upward motion that nearly tore Mizuki's body in half with wind chakra, exiting his right shoulder.
Hayate stared in terrified awe as all the clones in the area dissipated. Mizuki's lifeless body fell to the ground, and Naruto turned to Hayate. It would be relatively easy to finish him off, with the usually calm and collected chunin completely horrified.
"Tell the Hokage that I'm done playing his game. Bring Iruka and the corpse home and don't come after me. I assure you that I'm not under the control of anyone else, and you should believe me because I'm sparing your life." He walked toward Hayate and practically dared him to attack, before leaning down and looking him straight in the eye. Naruto mentally concentrated on the second source of chakra, the Kyuubi, and for a single instant, the whisker marks thickened and his eyes changed into the red slits of the fox. Hayate balked at the sight of it, physically trying to move away. "Try to enjoy yourself, Hayate." He pointed to Mizuki's dead body. "You never know how much time you have left."
Naruto let the fox fade from his chakra network and then disappeared in a Shunshin, fast enough that they would not know which direction he had gone.
Hiruzen Sarutobi slammed his fist on the table in frustration, the wizened lines on his face growing deeper and his sunken eyes looking darker. After a single event, he could no longer ensure the safety of the village and it terrified him. He had to get Naruto back.
He'd been in the office all day, non-stop and trying to work through the dilemma in the best way that he could. He received several visits from Fugaku and his men, who did a wide sweep of the village's security and confirmed that no one had physically entered the village and took control of Naruto. After learning that, he'd called for Inoichi Yamanaka about a possible mental intrusion of sorts, which was actually possible.
"So you can't confirm that's what happened?" the Hokage had asked.
"No. However, it does match up to what the Detection Division of the Barrier Corps found," the blonde man had explained. "But I know of no mental ninjutsu, foreign or domestic, that are so instantaneous that the intruding mind would only be detected for a split-second. The range and speed would be too much for the human mind to comprehend, and the barrier should have picked up a chakra signature for a person."
The Hokage had not ruled it out completely, because none of this added up. No other possibilities were ringing a bell, so if this was a mental ninjutsu, it would have to be a brand new one performed by a very strong someone outside of the walls of the village.
The political implications for this were far-reaching, but he was confident that the chunin would return with him in tow and they could sort out whatever had happened to Naruto.
"Hokage-sama!" A familiar ANBU member with flowing dark purple hair behind a feline mask suddenly appeared in the room; he recognized her as Yugao Uzuki, newly-promoted. "The chunin squad sent after the jinchuuriki have returned. Iruka Umino had to be admitted into the hospital for severe injuries, and Hayate is shaken up and I couldn't get him to leave Iruka's side. Mizuki Toji is dead." Her voice sounded uneven.
The Hokage stood up, prepared to head to the hospital immediately. He gulped, fingers clenching into a fist over the death of one of their own. "And Naruto?"
"Gone, sir. He left no visible trail to follow."
He wanted to shout in anger but suppressed the urge, before turning to the commander of his own guard force. "I want all available men to scout the bordering nations for any trace of the jinch- no, Naruto Uzumaki. Use whatever means necessary."
The man nodded and disappeared. Hiruzen was prepared to make a visit to the hospital, but when the black-haired old man appeared, half of his face covered with bandages, he stopped. "Danzo-san. Can this wait?"
"I'm afraid that the safety and security of our village cannot wait." He practically spat the words at the man. "This is disastrous. If something is not done immediately, there will be international repercussions!"
Hiruzen wanted to hit the man for speaking to him with such disrespect. "Of course, I am aware of this! I am doing everything in my power to ensure the well-being of Konohagakure. Now, I have to go."
The Hokage hurried out the door as fast as his old legs would take him, leaving Danzo Shimura outside the door to the office, staring inside with his one good eye.
The first thing he was aware of was the comfort of a mattress and pillows, and then the sharp pain on his entire left side. He couldn't quite open his eyes, but as he moved to touch his face, he learned that he couldn't move his left arm and that his whole head was covered in bandages, with only the eyes uncovered.
"He's awake," a familiar voice cut through his groggy, sleeping fog. He opened his eyes and tried to crane his neck, but couldn't do it without stretching the charred skin, and he cried out in pain. "Are you all right?"
The room spun into view, the dizziness making him want to vomit and then scream again.
"I guess that's a no. Nurse!"
He vaguely looked around the room, moving his head as little as possible. Standing over him was Hayate, and everything suddenly came back to him.
He had lost consciousness for a few moments after deflecting the explosive tag. He only had flashes after that point, but the grisly scene of a six-year-old boy cutting a man nearly in half forced his stomach to churn. The sweat and hysteria suddenly all hit him at the same time, and everything was just wrong for a few moments.
Flashes of his mother, his father, the giant fox towering over the village. A tail destroying their home, his school, a giant clawed fist raking through the hospital. Naruto's smirking grin, wild eyes as red as blood, fingernails itching into claws.
He was vaguely aware of a shinobi nurse running into the room and saying, "...panic attack!" before he started seizing. The pain was incredibly excruciating.
"Can't you do something?!" Hayate screamed at the nurse. In the next few moments, a needle injected into his neck, and the first image that came to mind was Naruto biting through his trachea with vicious teeth.
It took several minutes and several male nurses holding him down to finally catch on, but the combination of drugs was keeping him numb, but conscious.
"What h-happened? After Mizuki," he vaguely asked, his voice slurring. The head nurse stayed behind to watch over him, and Hayate stood over the bed, distantly and absently.
Hayate shook his head, swallowing hard. "I don't want to talk about it yet. I'm lucky to be alive, you're lucky to be alive, and that's all that matters."
He tried to move his arm again to give a small thumb-up in agreement, but once again, his arm wouldn't move. He used his right arm to check it out, and it was still there, just completely limp and numb.
The nurse seemed to notice and walked over. "There was nerve damage, Iruka, in your left shoulder. We were able to save your arm, but you've lost ninety-five percent of all feeling."
"Amputate it," he muttered, a stray tear running down his right eye. He ignored it and tried not to think about the pain and the trauma he was going to go through.
Hayate cleared his throat. "Are you sure? Maybe we could call in a better medic, or a specialist for you." The nurse looked like she was going to argue against that but thought better of it.
"Maybe. Pr-probably not."
"We'll schedule it for after you've recovered well enough to go into another major surgery," explained the nurse sadly, and Iruka agreed with a thumbs-up from his good arm.
The door opened to reveal the Sandaime Hokage himself, and it took all of Iruka's willpower not to try to bow to him, even if he could. It made Iruka slightly proud that the man would come this far to check on him, even if it was really to get the whole story from Hayate.
"Oh, Iruka-san. Are you all right?"
Iruka swallowed, his words a little bit clearer despite the sedative running through his veins. He forced himself not to think about the Kyuubi or about Naruto. "I'm okay, Hokage-sama. Just disappointed."
The man shook his head. "No, there's no reason to be disappointed! From what I hear, you saved Hayate and gave Mizuki a few more minutes. You should be proud."
The words hit Iruka hard, but the chunin eventually disagreed. "No. Not about that. I can't be a shinobi anymore. It's what gave my life meaning; I was able to contribute to the well-being of others." He closed his eyes. "I was able to help other kids from becoming orphans. It's all I've ever wanted to do."
The man paced for a second, looking out the window at the night sky. "You need to come up with another goal, son. Something new to live for."
"I don't know," the man said truthfully. "I don't always have all the answers, Iruka. I'm facing that kind of situation right now, and I just don't know. We have to figure this out for ourselves."
Hayate had a thoughtful look on his face before he finally looked up in surprise. "Iruka, you're always telling the rest of us how to do something, reminding us to go back to our basics and look for new ways of thinking or interpreting. You're a bookworm and you really appreciate learning new things. You don't even use kenjutsu, and you helped me figure out my style to use when teaching Yugao!" The man was as excited as he had ever seen him. "You can teach at the Academy! Not having an arm won't affect that."
The village leader smiled. "He's right. I think it's an excellent idea. The future generations would be in good hands. Even if you'll only have one."
Iruka laughed, and it truly felt good to laugh about it. "I'll have to think about it. I don't know if I'll even be worth it; the kids will look down on me, and they'll know I lost my arm on one of my first missions as a chunin."
The Hokage shook his head, but ultimately grinned. "It's your decision, of course. But I think teaching would be a good fit for you, and I hope you'll consider it." He cleared his throat. "I also want to apologize for my arrogance. Fugaku Uchiha was right, and that was a mistake that cost you the life of a friend and a chance at the future that you wanted, Iruka."
The two of them agreed, but Hayate answered for the two of them. "We forgive you. This is part of the job; you couldn't have known what to expect. For all intents and purposes, you weren't wrong with the information that you had; he's only six, it should have been enough."
The Hokage looked down for a minute before stroking his chin. "I still think things could have gone much differently if there had been another person there, or another team sent close behind you."
"What's done is done," Iruka finally said. "You can't go back and change it now." The other two laughed at the insinuation, but it was still true.
There was a moment of hesitation before the older man shooed the nurse from the room. "Now. I want details. Any details you two can provide. The medical examination team is performing an autopsy on Mizuki's body in case it holds anything worthy of note. But I need you two to tell me everything you know about Naruto Uzumaki." Hayate flinched at the sudden use of the name, and Iruka wondered if the other chunin still felt that clear line of separation between Bijuu and human.
That's all for now. I hope this has plenty of emotion and in-character interaction. If Naruto seems off, it's intentional but you'll see his more general persona emerge in sporadic moments. This Naruto has gone through two and a half decades of war and conflict, and you'll know more about what happened in that time period as the fic continues.
Leave a review and let me know your general thoughts. I'd love to hear anything at all! If you think something is wrong or needs work, please let me know (constructively, if possible) so I can correct it going forward.