The full moon hung low in the dark sky, illuminating the remnants of a forest glade. Hiruzen faltered at its periphery, awed in spite of himself.
Blood painted the grass red, pooling in deep furrows left by the Kyuubi's claws. Hashirama trees the width of ten men lay scattered around the clearing like twigs. The clearing itself had grown, from a small patch barely enough to fit a camping site, to a field that spanned the length of one of these great trees.
He had seen some truly devastating battlefields in his long life. Few matched this one.
The silence was absolute, the kind of emptiness only strife could leave. Not even the faint wind and the cry of a fearful child could break the weight of it.
Two bodies lay dying in the grass.
Only when he approached did the silence shift—a hoarse voice, quieter than a whisper, piercing the emptiness with an old lullaby.
"As the seasons… turn… and the whirl… pools… churn…"
Immediately, he was at her side. Kushina sprawled across the ground, trembling down to the finger to reach the crying baby mere feet away. Her long, indomitable red hair merged with the blood spilling from her stomach, curled around the body behind her.
Minato didn't stir.
"If… you've gone a… stray… and miss the… ocean spray…"
"Enough, Kushina-chan." Hiruzen knelt down and rested his hand on hers. "Save your strength. The medics will be here at any moment."
She twitched at the touch. "Hiruzen… sama?" Her eyes, known for their brightness and cheer, were now dulled, dark oceans set in a pale face. She gave him a sad echo of her mischievous smile. "Too late. Kyuubi… sealed. Minato… the Shiki Fuujin…"
Hiruzen closed his eyes. There was no going back from the Dead Demon Consuming Seal.
The baby's cries grew louder. Her breath caught. Tear tracks carved ravines through the blood on her cheeks.
He released her hand. A moment later, he returned, carrying the blond, wailing child, and the silent red-haired one in both arms. With a heavy heart, he set them down next to their mother, then helped her turn on her side so she could see them.
Her answering sob was more blood than tears.
"I'll look after them," he said.
"Don't let… anyone know," she whispered. "Like me. Let them… let them grow, loved…"
Hiruzen bowed his head. "I will."
Kushina smiled, one last, grateful smile. She rested her hand on her babies' feet. Her eyes closed.
"Take care of your sister… Naruto."
They called them the Demon Twins.
When the moon closed its eye, and the stars disappeared from the night, and the people hunkered down in their homes, they spoke of them. Wayward children would be hushed with tales of the Kyuubi; how it, with its last dregs of power, cursed Konoha as it breathed its final breath. Adults spoke with fear, wondering if the demon the Yondaime had given his life to defeat wasn't as gone as the Sandaime had assured them it was.
No secret stays hidden forever. Hiruzen knew that. He had hidden the twins among the many, many orphans from that day, and swore the orphanage matrons to secrecy. Their existence was a need-to-know. Only his council and the founding clans were privy to it; the rest had to make do with knowing that the Kyuubi was safely sealed away. He thought he had years to keep them safe.
But the children were too much like their parents. No matter how much he tried, there was no telling where the rumors came from, and no stopping their spread.
It all came to a head on the night of the Kyuubi attack's third anniversary.
One moment, he was giving a sombre speech. The next, the crowd erupted into screams of panic and rage. ANBU darted to the rescue, only to falter as an all-too-familiar chakra permeated the air.
And with it, the wails of a child.
Hiruzen rested his chin on his clasped hands, letting no sign of his weariness escape him. Thin trails of smoke still rose beyond the windows of his office, remnants of the fires from the night before. The police had managed to restore order, but not before a few festival stalls and an apartment building went up in flames. Soon enough, Koharu would be bringing him the problems of the merchants from the festival and demanding he do something about it. But right now, he had greater concerns.
"How are the children?" he asked.
Across his desk, an ANBU agent stood to attention. "Their injuries have been seen to," Bear reported. "And Yamanaka-sama has been called in, as you asked. Inu, Tora, and Uma are guarding them while we wait."
Hiruzen gave a nod of approval. Hound, Tiger and Horse were shinobi he knew well, and could trust with the children. "Continue."
"Uzumaki Naruto has been very… impatient."
Hiruzen's eyebrow rose.
"He began asking question after question when they were brought into the safe house," Bear elaborated. "Inu managed to put them to sleep for a while, but when they woke up he started all over again."
So Naruto had inherited the hyperactivity of his Uzumaki heritage. "And his sister?"
"Uzumaki Minako spent most of their time answering her brother's questions and staring out the window. She acted much calmer, even if she sustained more injuries."
Hiruzen's eyes fluttered, anger and regret a slow fire in his chest. "Thank you, Kuma. Please have Inu bring them here."
Bear bowed, baring his neck to his superior in the expected sign of trust, then disappeared in a puff of shunshin.
Hiruzen sighed. In the privacy of his office, he allowed himself to rub the bridge of his nose. An S rank secret cracked open, and a riot instigated, all by two mischievous children sneaking out of the orphanage on their birthday. Frog hadn't been able to ascertain whether they had escaped due to negligence or ingenuity; the matrons had been terrified enough as it was.
He will have to rework their S rank secret. Their safety depended on their anonymity. Konoha was still hard-pressed from the Kyuubi attack. They did not have the manpower to protect the children if any of the other nations got an inkling of how vulnerable Konoha's jinchuuriki was.
And preventing people from speaking about the topic could have other benefits. Those who lived through the attack might fear the twins on sight, but perhaps there was still hope for the children…
A flare of chakra alerted him to approaching ninja. Wind whipped through the room as first Hound, then Tiger arrived, carrying a child each. Horse did not appear, though Hiruzen sensed him take position on the roof of the building.
"Oh yeah! That was so cool, dattebayo! Again, again, again, again!" Naruto yelled from Hound's shoulders, tugging on the poor boy's wild hair like reins. His own hair was the habitual blond mess of his father's, while his whiskered cheeks painted his joy with mischief.
Hiruzen hid a smile behind one hand. It was good to see Hound getting along with his sensei's children, even if only peripherally.
Compared to her brother, Minako looked quite pale as Tiger slowly set her down. "Thank you," she told her escort. Tiger replied with a silent nod.
Her sallow face only served to emphasize the dark markings around her eyes, stunted versions of the black lines that extended from the Kyuubi's snout into its ears. Combined with the blood red hair she had inherited from her mother, it was no wonder the crowd had panicked at the sight.
It was also sheer luck that their injuries had been easy enough to heal.
"Naruto-kun," he said at last. "Please stop pulling Inu-san's hair. I don't think he appreciates it very much."
"But! It's so spiky, dattebayo! It's weird! It gets up even when I squish it!" The boy demonstrated, patting Hound's hair. True to form, it sprung back into position the moment his fingers left the strands. Once again, Hiruzen had to hide a smile at Hound's obvious discomfort. Certainly Tiger and Bear were having the struggle of their lives hiding their amusement at their teammate's predicament.
"Naruto, stop it." Minako craned her neck to look up at her brother. He pouted, but obeyed. Hound reached up and grabbed him by the torso, finally setting him down beside his sister.
Without pause, she grabbed Naruto by his own spiky hair and pulled, hard enough to bring tears to his eyes.
"Owowowow! Min'ko-chan, that hurts!" he cried, grabbing her arm and hopping in place, all in an effort to alleviate the pain.
She twitched. "One, it's Minako. Two, this is what you've been doing to Inu-san all day. Now say sorry."
Naruto pouted. Minako glared back. It was, quite frankly, adorable. Hiruzen could no longer hide his smile as Naruto grumbled an apology to Hound, who could only nod in reply.
Minako showed a surprising level of maturity for a three-year-old. Where Naruto was loud, she was quiet. Where Naruto was rude, she was polite and diplomatic. Where Naruto was wild, she was restrai—
"I'm not a killjoy, dattebana!" she screeched, stamping her foot against the wooden floor. She turned red just as fast, shrinking in her embarrassment. Naruto stuck out his tongue in reply.
Hiruzen winced. Or he could just be thinking too much. "That's enough fighting, you two."
The children jumped to attention, each muttering their own apologies. He gave the ANBU a nod. They bowed, and disappeared in a puff of chakra smoke.
Naruto went back to yelling in awe, while his sister covered her face in exasperation. Free from an obvious audience, Hiruzen relaxed, allowing more of his grandfatherly side to peek through. "How have you been?" he asked, taking off his hat. "Was the safe house comfortable?"
Twin sets of blue focused on him. With more age and knowledge behind them, those two would make for a forbidding stare.
"We're okay, thank you," Minako replied, enunciating every word with care. "The safe house was big. Everyone was quiet, but it was nice."
"It was super boring. Tora-san didn't do anything. But Inu-san was nice. Ne, Jiji," Naruto continued, jumping from topic to topic with nary a care. "Why did all those people get so mad? —Ow!"
Minako pulled her elbow back. "Naruto, manners!" she hissed. "You can't call the Hokage 'Jiji!'"
"Why not?" he retorted, rubbing his sore arm. "He's old, isn't he?"
Hiruzen quickly intervened. "It's alright, Minako-kun." He had seen that furious expression before. This was not the time for the second coming of the Red Hot-Blooded Habanero. "I don't mind at all."
Ah well. Tsunade would say it would keep him humble.
He was rewarded with Naruto's delighted look in his direction, before the kid shot another raspberry at his sister. She rolled her eyes.
"So why'd they get so mad?" Naruto insisted. For the first time since they had met the previous night, his sunny excitability was overcome by doubt and anxiety. He clutched his left elbow.
There had been a bruise there, just hours ago.
Hiruzen's lips thinned. "That's not something I can explain to you right now," he said. "Sometimes people fear what they don't understand."
"Fear what they…" Naruto's nose scrunched up, as he tried to process the concept. "But, why?"
Ah. The inevitable rush of 'why's. Hiruzen chuckled, in spite of himself. "You'll understand better when you're older."
"Does it have something to do with the Kyuubi?"
His gaze snapped to the quiet sister. There was a wariness to her gaze, sharpened by a light he tended to see in young Nara eyes. Her exotic facial markings only served to emphasize it, turning what could be a blank gaze into something more intent.
Now that expression was familiar. Hiruzen pushed back the nostalgia of blue eyes narrowed in determination and framed with golden hair.
"And what makes you think that?" he asked, letting no sign of his surprise rise to the surface.
She bit her lip as she thought over her answer. "Well… it was the anniversary of the Kyuubi attack yesterday, right? Miyagawa-san at the orphanage is always talking about it. So, I thought…" Her fingers played with her loose hair.
"I see." He paused, glancing over the two children once more. So young and already causing an uproar. Inheritors of the legacies of two great shinobi… one of the twins a container of the strongest bijuu in the world…
"Perhaps," he allowed. "Like I said, it's something you'll understand when you're older."
"But—That's not an answer, dattebayo!" Naruto flailed in outrage.
"There are some questions that cannot be answered." He took pity on the boy's utterly befuddled look. "Tell me, Naruto-kun. Do you want to become a shinobi?"
Naruto beamed. "Yeah! I'm gonna be a shinobi, just like Inu-san, dattebayo!"
Just like a sunflower—changing moods in a flip of a coin, but always turning back to the sun the moment he was able. Hiruzen smiled. "Well, here is your first lesson. A true shinobi knows how to be patient. Your prey will not appear to you if you run around noisily because of your inability to wait."
"So… the answer… is my prey?" Naruto squinted down his nose.
Hiruzen bit back a laugh. "I suppose… yes, you could say that."
"Then I'll definitely wait! I'll become the best shinobi ever, dattebayo!" Naruto grinned, smacking his chest for emphasis. Then his face fell. "But I hate waiting!"
Minako sighed. "So dramatic…"
"If that's all?" He allowed them time to consider, before nodding. "Then, I think it's time for you to head back to the orphanage."
Both children groaned. He smiled, warmth building in his heart.
"Can I ride on Inu-san again?" Naruto asked, blue eyes wide and pleading.
Hiruzen sighed. "I think you've bothered Inu-san enough for today," he said.
"Aww." Naruto wilted. Hiruzen ignored the tiny glare Minako shot him.
Kakashi's team would not have been his first choice to guard the children, but they had been the most competent team available. And they had certainly delivered above and beyond what had been asked of them, in Kakashi's case especially.
No, he'd already asked too much of Kakashi. If he could see echoes of Minato and Kushina in the twins, he could only imagine what the poor boy saw.
"Why don't you go outside and wait for Minoru-san there? You could say good-bye to Inu-san if you see him."
That made Naruto light up again. "Really? Really, really? Alright!" He threw up his hands with a cheer. "Min'ko-chan, c'mon! If we go outside now, we'll have more time to find Inu-san!" He grabbed her arm and pulled.
"Naruto, wait!" Minako yelped. She stumbled a few steps, before finally managing to halt her whirlwind of a brother. She planted her feet and bowed to Hiruzen, tugging on Naruto to do the same. "Thank you, Hokage-sama," she said.
"Please, Minako-kun. Sarutobi is fine." He gifted her with a kind smile. It was good to see children making such an effort to be polite.
"Then…" A mischievous light entered her eyes. "Thank you very much… Sarutobi-jiji."
He winced. Ah, so the impish behavior was not restricted to just one twin.
"Go on, then." He pretended to sigh, flapping his hand at the two to leave. They giggled, darting out the door to wreak havoc in someone else's life.
As the door swung shut, so did the grandfatherly expression on Hiruzen's face. He twined his fingers together, eyes lit with the spark that had led to him being granted his title as 'Professor.'
That intelligent, calculating light in Minako's eyes… and if Naruto's rambunctiousness was any indication…
He lit his pipe and brought it to his lips. Outside, Naruto's voice rose over his sister's, bringing life to the building's quiet halls.
Will the children someday surpass the legends that were their parents?
A/N: Edited 09.23.2020 because apparently I can stomach my writing mistakes from six years ago, but I draw the line at head hopping.
And, yes, this fic is at least 6 years old. I've pretty much used it as a playground to experiment with as I grew as a writer, so please be patient with my earlier chapters.
Enjoy the fic!
One last note: I researched all the possible Japanese suffixes that put emphasis on the sentence that comes before it (ex. -yo, -ne, though -ne has a different connotation). -na is the one I found most acceptable, which indicates a "casual emphasis on a decision, suggestion, or opinion". Men can also use it as a very emphatic "Don't do this!". (thank you, japanese. about .com). Hence, we get Minako's customized dattebana.