Chapter 17: Hints and Clues Everywhere
Standard disclaimer issued.
Jiraiya stood at the corner of the assembly hall inside the Hokage Tower. He had no plan in participating but Sarutobi-sensei found out he was back, and ordered him to attend this briefing. Minato was at the Mission Assignment Desk, thus, wasn't included in this, the lucky bastard. He would rather be outside the public baths or at the hot springs, viewing the voluptuous bodies of those fair maidens. Heck, watching Naru-chan train was a lot better. But out of respect to the old man, he presented himself.
Seated on the center of the high table, was the Sandaime Hokage himself, along with the members of the Konoha Advisory Council, Mitokado Homura and Utatane Koharu. The old warmonger was a no-show, however. In front of the Hokage were the active Jōnin, quietly waiting for their Lord to start.
"Yesterday, six of my ANBU were killed," the Hokage began after a while. "Three of them were found at a secluded area near the shinobi apartment complex, and the other three outside the Uchiha Compound."
"It's Orochimaru, I'm sure of it," Anko stated grimly.
"No, it's Yakushi Kabuto," refuted the Hokage. "The three ANBU found near the shinobi residential complex were the ones I ordered to tail him. Hayate arrived at the crime scene but was too late to save the squad."
"And this Kabuto?" the male Konoha Elder inquired to the sickly-looking Jōnin. "Did you not try to apprehend him?"
"My apologies, Honorable Elder. I wasn't able to," Gekko Hayate spoke somberly. "At the time, I thought it prudent to save the lives of the fallen squad first and foremost."
Homura frowned at the, now, silently coughing Jōnin. It seemed the Councilman wanted to grill Hayate for the latter's decision but Hiruzen spoke once more.
"We do not have the full details but this I can say," he said to the gathered soldiers. "Yakushi Kabuto is involved with Orochimaru. On another matter, a Genin from Otogakure, who passed the preliminary exam, was found dead on the roofs of the Kikyō Castle. The rest of his team had gone missing."
Anko disclosed her recent encounter with her former teacher and it garnered divided opinions from the Jōnin force. But in the end, the Sandaime himself chose to play it the way his former student wanted to. It was a calculated risk, Hiruzen's decision of not cancelling the Chūnin Exam. Ironically, Jiraiya understood why the old man chose this direction. Konoha could not be seen as weak, especially now that the Chūnin Exam involved the Shinobi Allied Countries.
"Either way, we don't have enough information right now," their leader declared. "Let's not worry needlessly."
Jiraiya stared at his former squad leader. Of course, they had new information. But Hiruzen didn't divulge said information about Kabuto being in custody for a few reasons. One, the Hokage didn't want to alarm the Snake Sannin and any unknown accomplices of Kabuto that he was apprehended. Two, Inoichi wasn't able to collect much information from the Genin's mind. Yakushi Kabuto had no memories at all, according to Inoichi.
Kabuto's brain was protected by a technique that made it impossible for the Yamanaka to do his job further. Some kind of powerful memory-erasing jutsu, Jiraiya believed. But Minato opposed the theory of Kabuto's memory simply being erased by said technique. Minato, himself, knew a memory erasing seal and Jiraiya's student believed whatever was inside Kabuto's brain was more than what Jiraiya thought.
They had no knowledge on how to remove said jutsu. And even if they had, removing it might cause more problem, like triggering a possible hidden trap. They had to consider that if Yakushi Kabuto was really a seasoned spy, it was highly probable that he knew a self-destruction technique— something he could use at a moment's notice, given his situation. Tampering or removing the unknown technique might cause more trouble than Kabuto's own death. He and Minato still needed to study the technique before they could come up with a solution. So far, all they had was guesswork.
They had, however, obtained an important piece of information, an alarming one at that. The scroll they found inside Kabuto's pouch was evidence to what Orochimaru was planning. Only Jiraiya, Minato and the Sandaime knew what was written inside the scroll, and Hiruzen was still weighing his options.
Minato had removed the cataleptic seal he used to capture Kabuto, in order for Ibiki to interrogate the spy. But Kabuto wasn't talking. The worst thing about the situation was if Kabuto had been someone's spy to the village ever since he was a kid, Konoha was possibly in a much more serious predicament. Who knew what kind of information Kabuto had?
Utatane Koharu, the female elder, addressed the Toad Sannin. "What about you, Jiraiya? Do you bring information?"
"Oh, me? I'm not here for anything," he replied casually and grinned. "I'm just researching for the next volume of my series."
Koharu narrowed her wrinkled eyes at him. "Are you being heedless of your duties?"
Hiruzen intervened before Jiraiya could come up with a snide retort. "Let's not forget our priorities," he said to his soldiers and smirked. "I trust you lot to protect Konoha. If the time comes, we will assemble all our strength and fight."
The gathered shinobi stood simultaneously. "Hai!" they answered collectively.
The assembled people left the room when the Hokage barked his dismissal. But a few stayed, Jiraiya included.
"Hokage-sama," Ibiki began when it was safe to speak. "Is it wise excluding Yakushi Kabuto's capture from the discussion?" he asked in a quiet voice.
The Hokage stood. "Right now, it's better if only a few know about it. It's not that I don't trust my own military force nor the Council. But we are not sure if there are more spies in our ranks. I am merely preventing the information reaching Orochimaru."
"And the one who caught the spy?" Ibiki asked. "Was it really that man, Mimi?"
The spy master couldn't help smirking at the distrustful tone coming from the Commanding Officer of T & I force. When 'Mimi' immigrated to Konoha, he was welcomed by the Hokage without as much as following the protocol for migrants. It was standard procedure that everyone acquiring citizenship, especially a shinobi, would strictly undergo an interview. Ibiki was obviously still sour that one shinobi, possibly a dangerous one, slipped past his judgment. And now that there was the issue of Kabuto's status, the T & I Commander was a little more hostile towards said immigrant.
"Still can't get over it, Ibiki?" Jiraiya asked the interrogator, a wide grin on his face.
The younger Jōnin glared at him.
"Yes, Ibiki. It was Mimi who caught him," the Hokage answered placidly. "Jiraiya, walk with me to the office."
The Sannin snickered and followed his former teacher. And here he was about to annoy Ibiki some more. "You're no fun, sensei," he complained as they walked along the hallway.
"Must you tease the young ones?" the Hokage chided but he was chuckling, as well.
"People like Ibiki need to learn to have some fun," he retorted as they climbed the wide spiral staircases. "He'll grow old fast, otherwise."
Hiruzen hummed. "Tsunade?" he asked.
The Hokage's student sighed. "Hime is on her way here. But you know Tsunade. She doesn't feel the urgency to go back. She'd probably drop by in a few gambling houses along the way."
It was the old man's turn to sigh. "Will she be here before the finals?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. She isn't really looking forward going back but she made a deal, remember?"
Hiruzen took a deep breath and chuckled. "At least, I'll be able to see all of my students before I die."
The statement made Jiraiya frown in concern. "Sensei…"
The Sandaime simply laughed. "I am old, Jiraiya. My days are numbered."
He should be relieved but why did he have a sense of foreboding instead? "Please don't do something foolish, sensei."
The rest of Team Eight was there when Naruto arrived at the hospital. "Hey, guys," she greeted when she entered Hinata's room. The patient was lying on the bed but was awake.
"Shouldn't you be training for the finals?" Kiba asked her with a grin. "You may have beaten me but your next opponent is Hyūga Neji. Don't slack off."
She scoffed. "I'm not slacking off. I'll be meeting my mentor later." Raiya-ji was supposed to train her this morning but he headed off to a briefing with the Hokage.
That did not mean her morning was unproductive, however. Sakura's daily training session started this morning. They spent two hours working on the girl's katas. Sakura didn't complain why they had to meet at six in morning, five days a week. Her teammate was determined to complete the regimen and Naruto believed by the end of the month, there would be a whole new Sakura to rejoin the team.
Kakashi created a well-thought routine apropos to Sakura's current physical capability. They started with a lighter weight on each arm and leg, as per Kakashi's order. They would increase the mass as the weeks progressed and the increment would depend on the girl's improvement.
"Shouldn't you be more concerned about your teammate?" she asked Kiba. "Aburame will be at the finals, too."
It was Kiba's turn to scoff. "Bug boy can take care of himself. That puppet-wielder is no match against Shino," he bragged.
She ignored what Kiba said. Too much confidence and underestimation could kill, didn't he realize that yet? That was the reason why he lost the match against her. But then again, it could just be his personality, being a loudmouth. She turned to Shino and smiled at him. The boy with almost non-existent presence nodded in return. Shino didn't seem the type who underestimated his opponents. From what she saw on his match, he was level-headed and analytical.
"I was telling Hinata what you did before you arrived," Kiba informed her. "You really saved her when you went to heal her after her fight."
She waved her hand dismissively. "Don't give me all the credit. All I did was made sure she wouldn't stop breathing. The medical team did their job, that's why Hinata is recovering now."
"Humility is a good characteristic of a shinobi," Shino suddenly said. "You should learn it, Kiba. Why? Because—"
"You don't need to go lecturing me, Shino!" Kiba barked.
Kurenai-sensei walked towards Naruto. "You really did save her life, Naruto. I sincerely thank you for that. The medics said had you been a few seconds later, Hinata could've suffered far worse." The woman's expression darkened. "Neji really did intend to cause irreparable harm."
"I'm aware," she muttered at the last statement.
Kurenai smiled at her. "I'm glad Hinata found a friend in you, Naruto. She really did change because of you."
Naruto smiled awkwardly at that. Really. She had no idea if she would get used to other people— especially Konoha people— saying good things about her or thanking her. It was pleasing and uncomfortable at the same time. "Thanks but I wasn't the reason why, you know. She's changing because she wants to, not because I asked her to. It was all her."
The woman stared at Naruto for a moment before shaking her head, a small smile on her lips. "No wonder Kakashi is so territorial when it comes to you."
Naruto blinked twice. Kakashi? Territorial?
"Well, we should be heading out," Kurenai said to her team. "We are preparing Shino for the finals."
"Make sure you beat the crap out of Neji, Naruto," Kiba said as he walked towards the door. "That bastard should really be taught some serious lesson."
Naruto chuckled. "I'll do my best."
When Team Eight left, she occupied the chair Kiba vacated. "How are you?" she asked Hinata.
The girl gave her a small smile. "Still weak but I'm feeling better. Thank you for saving my life, Naru."
She laughed lightly. "Will you look at that? You're not stuttering anymore," she teased. "And you're calling me by my nickname now. You're improving, Hinata."
The girl blushed but her smile was still there.
"So, how long are you gonna stay here?" Naruto asked.
"The healers said for a week, maybe more." Hinata took a deep breath. "Kiba-kun told me you were so angry at Neji-niisan."
"What of it?" Naruto asked, her tone flat.
Hinata's expression turned a tad serious. "I know you are strong, Naru," she said in her usual gentle voice. "I know N-Neji-niisan is no match against you. But please, don't do something you'll regret later."
Naruto snorted derisively at that. "You heard Kiba. I'm only going to beat the crap out of your cousin, teach him some serious lessons."
Hinata looked at her, clearly not believing every word she said. The girl sighed. "I don't regret fighting Neji-niisan to the end, Naruto."
"And your cousin didn't regret attempting to kill you," she shot back snidely. She took a deep breath. "Your cousin will get what he deserves."
"What does he deserve?" Hinata asked. Her tone was still gentle but there was sharpness in it.
Naruto knew her expression turned a little darker, her gaze turned colder. But she didn't say anything.
Hinata continued. "You're saying right now he will get what he deserves, but I can tell it's just your anger talking. You're more level-headed than that." The girl took a breath. "Naru, Neji-niisan suffers just as much as I do."
The blonde Genin took a deep breath. Hinata was right, it was her anger talking. After witnessing the battle between the two Hyūga, Naruto felt so angry at Neji. She had no idea of the depth of Neji's misery nor his sufferings being in the Branch Family. But she could read between the lines. It seemed to her that he was putting all the blame to Hinata, when it was obvious that the shy girl held no power over the clan. Hinata was being brought down by the same clan member, a resentful relative, when her only fault was being born in the Main Branch.
To blame someone who wasn't even at fault. To take out one's bitterness and hatred by bringing others down. By spewing demeaning and crushing words…
But Naruto knew Hyūga Neji didn't deserve her wrath like he committed an unforgivable crime. Sasuke was right. Logically speaking, Neji did not do anything wrong during the match. He was just opportunistic enough to use the event to show a member of the Main Family— the heiress at that— what he really felt about the whole thing. Naruto could be angry with him all she wanted for what he did to Hinata— and she still was angry at him. But that didn't mean she had the right to judge Neji without knowing his side of the story. Because if she allowed her anger to rule her, she was no different from the villagers.
"Explain it to me, then. Because as far as I can see, your cousin has a misplaced resentment against you," she negotiated.
The Hyūga heiress turned away and looked at the window. "When I was three, I was almost abducted by a ninja from Kumogakure…"
Naruto listened quietly as Hinata told her about the Hyūga incident nine years ago; from her rescue to the death of her father's twin brother. It was disconcerting to learn that there was such system the Hyūga Clan followed. But that was a clan matter and outsiders couldn't simply meddle with clan affairs. And as Naruto's father had always said, even Konoha had a lot of secrets and skeletons in the closet. Even her father was hiding secrets from the entire village, being alive all this time. Whatever justifiable reasons he had, Namikaze Minato was still deceiving the people.
So, who was she to judge the Hyūgas? Or Neji?
"So, you see, Naru," Hinata continued, her gaze still outside the window. "I can't really blame Neji-niisan for hating me. It wasn't misplaced. He had all the rights to resent me. Because of me, he lost his father."
"How is it your fault when you were a victim, too?" Naruto asked in disbelief. "His father's actions, your father's, your clan elders' decisions weren't yours."
Hinata turned her gaze back to Naruto. "Neji-niisan didn't know any of that. All he knew is his duty as a member of the Branch Family. And that his father was sacrificed for mine." She heaved a sigh. "I only found out the truth about my abduction last year. I accidentally heard the Clan Elders talking about it. I still don't know all the details, but it's not hard to understand that it was Uncle Hizashi's duty to protect the Main House, be it through self-sacrifice or not." She smiled sadly. "And since he's from the Branch House, Neji-niisan has the same fate as his father's. To protect the Main Family at all cost."
Naruto wasn't able to say a thing.
"That's what I want to change, you know," Hinata said when Naruto remained silent. "I want to remove that system from our clan. That's why I'm working really hard to be worthy as the heiress. I want to reunite the clan if I become the head. No Main or Branch Family, just Hyūga Clan. And I want Neji-niisan to be there when I do that. I want him to be free from our clan's cursed fate. It's the least I can do for him."
Naruto stared at her friend for a long moment. She didn't realize that this shy and gentle girl had a grand and significant goal wanting to achieve. Undeterred by her cousin's actions, she moved forward. Always ready to move forward.
And that alone was impressive.
The blonde sagged on her seat and groaned. "You're destroying my motivation."
Hinata smiled and stared at her. "Naruto…" She looked like she wanted to say something but was hesitating. "D-Do you remember s-saving a girl when you were young?"
Her brows furrowed in confusion. "Huh?"
Hinata tried to hide it but Naruto saw the disappointment that coursed through the girl's eyes. "I… When I was five, a group of boys b-bullied me. But a girl my age… she saw what's h-happening and she interfered. She p-protected me, saved me from those boys. She b-beat them."
The blonde girl frowned. A certain memory flashed through her mind. They weren't clear but bits and pieces were coinciding Hinata's tale. Then, she remembered a scared girl, quietly crying. She remembered herself beating a young boy to a pulp…
"It was you…" Naruto concluded with a soft gasp. The details were impossible to recall but she now remembered that day. She laughed loudly. "I punched two boys and the others ran like mad. I think the other one soiled his shorts."
Hinata brightened and smiled. "Y-yes. I've never forgotten about that day, Naru. Y-You've become an inspiration to me." She looked down at her interlaced fingers. "It… saddened me when I found out you left Konoha. But I couldn't find the courage to talk to you when you came back."
Naruto sat frozen, astonished at the revelation. Since Hinata came to her for help in training, a friendship slowly bloomed between them. But to learn Hinata saw her as an inspiration even way before that…
"Thank you…" Naruto said in a small voice. She sniffed. "Don't make me cry, Hinata," she joked but she really was about to burst into tears. If she didn't leave back then, she and Hinata could have become friends.
Friends she longed to have when she was young.
She rose from her seat and paced beside the bed. Geez, was she really this awkward when people became vocal with their sincerity towards her? "Okay, fine," she gave in, smiling at the girl. "But I will still beat the crap out of him. I can't let Kiba down, can I?"
And she wasn't even making any sense.
Hinata laughed lightly. "I understand. Straighten him out all you want."
She grinned. "Now, we're talking."
His former teacher was already there when Minato arrived at the Hatake residence late in the afternoon. The Sannin was drinking sake in the kitchen with a serious expression on his face.
"What's the matter, sensei?" he asked, occupying the seat across Jiraiya.
"Sarutobi-sensei is getting senile," was all the man said before pouring sake into the cup he was holding.
He frowned. "How long have you been drinking?"
"I just started," Jiraiya grunted.
"What about Naru's training?"
The godfather to his daughter smiled. "She's done for the day. She headed back to the hospital when we parted ways. Something about a medic asking her to show his colleagues what she did to prevent the Hyūga heiress from suffering cardiac arrest." The man shook his head with a fond expression. "I can't believe that Hyūga princess was saved by our girl at five, or that someone from Konoha actually admired her."
Minato had to smile at that. He heard the tale from her daughter, just earlier. His daughter went straight to the Mission Assignment Desk after visiting Hinata. There was awe and bashfulness in her tone when she told him the brief history between her and the girl. To think that Naruto saved someone from bullies at the age of five… Kushina would be proud.
"It's slow but it's happening, Minato. Mark my words. One day, Konoha will come to love her." Jiraiya said as he sipped from his cup. "If there's one thing I know about my goddaughter, she draws people towards her. Hell, even the Demon of the Mist became fond of her."
Minato nodded, still smiling. "She's charismatic and she doesn't even realize it."
The Toad Sage grinned. "Just like you, my boy."
He snorted. "Kushina would disagree. She'd insist Naruto got it from her."
Jiraiya laughed. "True, true."
After a minute or two of silence, Minato spoke again. "Sensei, what's bothering you? You mentioned Hiruzen getting senile."
The man took a deep breath. "During the briefing, Sensei withheld the information about the approaching invasion to the shinobi force."
A deep frown marred Minato's face. "Why?"
They knew the contents of the scroll to be delivered to the Kazekage. It was Orochimaru's invasion plan— a joint-force attack as per agreement with the Snake Sannin. The Yondaime Kazekage would depend on Gaara's abilities, having the boy unleash the Ichibi in during his match.
It was a good thing they discovered the plan. At the very least, they would not be groping in the dark. Hiruzen could use the evidence against the Kazekage. While the alliance might have been always considered a pretense between the two villages, such a move from Suna was still an act of betrayal. Farcial alliance or not, both villages signed a treaty. Affiliating with a rouge ninja with the intent of attacking Konoha was not only a violation to the alliance, it was also an unsaid declaration of war. And such a treasonous act was unforgivable.
His former teacher placed the cup on the table. "He said there could still be spies among our ranks and Orochimaru might find out that we are already making our move. As for what our move is..." Jiraiya shook his head and sighed. "When I went back to Hiruzen's office an hour ago, he tasked one of his ANBU to transform into Kabuto and give a scroll to Baki."
"Did Hiruzen explain his actions?"
His mentor snorted derisively. "I wouldn't be drinking here if he did."
Minato frowned. "That's a dangerous game he is playing. Is he really going to let the invasion happen?"
"Sensei wants the invasion to happen," the older Jōnin corrected, grinning wryly. He scratched his left brow. "I could be wrong but I think he wants to stop Orochimaru by himself this time. He thinks it's his duty. He wasn't able to stop Orochi when the man defected years ago. His attachment to my teammate hindered his duty as the Kage. He may have that chance now." He sighed. "As for the invasion, he really trusts his shinobi to thwart it."
"Then, we warn Suna we know their participation," the blond suggested. "Use the evidence to force them to retract their involvement. Force them to comply to our wishes."
"And if they don't?" Jiraiya countered. "Do that and the Kazekage tattles to Orochimaru." He took the bottle of sake and refilled his cup once more. "Our problem is Konoha was Orochimaru's homeland. He knows a lot about the village. Preventing Suna from participating in the invasion may be possible, but Orochimaru still has the upper hand." He drank the alcohol. "And there's the Intel about the Akatsuki being on the move."
Minato's jaw tightened at the mention of the group. It was the first thing Jiraiya told him when the Sannin returned to the village. Itachi-kun relayed the information to the Toad Sage and that was the reason why his sensei returned without Tsunade. It was unfortunate that Itachi did not provide more details, only that every member of the group was an S-rank missing-ninjas. That and the group would be moving to capture the Bijū.
Minato acknowledged the Uchiha heir was tight-lipped about the information because of his status. As a spy, Itachi couldn't send detailed messages since they could be picked-up by other elements. Or worse, by the organization itself.
But that was another matter. He knew Itachi would contact them sooner or later. For the time being, they had to deal with the current threat to Konoha.
He and Jiraiya looked at each other when they sensed the arrival of someone and before long, the kitchen door opened. A low sound of someone clearing their throat came from the doorway and both men turned to find the Sandaime standing there.
"Mind if join?" the old man asked.
"I was telling him about your decisions, sensei," Jiraiya said.
"Do you still want the hat back, Minato?" Hiruzen asked teasingly. "I'm more than willing to return it to you." The current Hokage walked towards them and sat on the chair at the head of the dining table. "I don't really want to face war during my remaining days. I am too old for that."
"What's inside the scroll you sent to Sunagakure, Sandaime-sama?" Minato asked, frowning.
Hiruzen chuckled. "A missive that there would be a Konoha envoy coming to Suna to ask for the Kazekage's audience. Tenzō, disguised as Kabuto, also sent a message that Orochimaru would want to know what I wanted to discuss with the Kage."
Minato and Jiraiya's brows furrowed in confusion. They had no clue where the old man was going.
"Sensei, what are you thinking?" Jiraiya asked. There was obvious frustration in his tone.
"This is getting ridiculous, Hiruzen," Minato cautioned.
"I know. And things are going to get more ridiculous." The old Hokage threw them a commanding stare. "I have a mission for you two."
Naruto didn't know if she would feel bad or not, being left on her own. Her training was put to a halt two days ago because Hokage-jiji gave Raiya-ji and her father a mission. Her father didn't say what the mission was, only that it was an S-rank and would need both his and Jiraiya's skills.
Not that she was complaining being left behind, honestly. It wasn't like the two leaving would restrict her progress, nor that she desperately needed the training. It was just she expected to be under their supervision. It had always been that way. And now that Kakashi was focusing on her teammate, she had no one to guide her.
Her training in accessing— borrowing, as Jiraiya-sensei had put it— Kurama's chakra was put to a halt, on her father's strict orders. And that sucked. The Yondaime didn't trust anyone when it came to her— in anything, except for only a few people. And those few weren't around at the moment. So, she had to wait until they were back to resume her training. But her father promised they would return in a week.
"Oi, you! Blondie!"
The mention of 'Blondie' coming from a loud female voice automatically stopped Naruto from trudging the street on the way to Ichiraku's. She spun around to see the second exam proctor heading towards her direction.
"Need something, sensei?" she inquired when the woman stopped in front of her.
"No, I don't," the older kunoichi replied, waving her hand flippantly. "I saw you walking and was curious."
"Where are you headed?" the woman asked.
Anko grinned and slung her arm around Naruto's shoulders. "Forget ramen. Let Onee-san treat you dango." She then began dragging the blonde by the arms.
"Hey, wait," Naruto protested. "I'm not really fond of sweets."
"Shut up and come with me!" the woman insisted rather forcefully, laughing loudly as she dragged the blonde Genin.
While it was given Naruto wasn't using all her strength to fight off the woman's hold, she couldn't simply push Anko away. The woman was a senior ninja and it would be rude of her if she refused. So, she let the woman drag her towards their destination.
"Uhm…" Naruto hesitated when they stopped in front of the Dangoya. She looked around. There were people looking at them and not all stares she was receiving were of curiosity. She could also tell there were patrons inside the shop. She turned to Anko. "I don't really go to this place."
She really did not want to experience being repulsively driven away by the store owner.
The woman removed her arm from Naruto's shoulders and looked around, before turning her attention back to the blonde. A flash of emotion ran through the Tokujō's eyes before her gaze softened a bit.
"What?" Naruto asked as Anko's expression turned curious.
"Come to think of it, I heard you're living at the Hatake house." The woman grinned. "Yosh, Blondie! I'll order take-out and we'll head to the Scarecrow's childhood abode!"
Say what now?
Naruto's eyes twitched horribly but fifteen minutes later, she found herself inside the Hatake residence, along with the woman. Anko looked around, while a shadow clone of Naruto was in the kitchen, preparing the snack the Tokujō brought.
"Heh… So, this is Kakashi's home, eh… Not bad." Anko muttered flippantly. The woman started looking at the pictures on the wall and froze. "Wait. Does this mean Team Ro was your protection detail?" she inquired when she noticed the people in the pictures.
"If they weren't on missions." There was no point in denying it. And she could understand Anko's curiosity. Team Ro was one of the most elite ANBU unit back in the day.
"Well, shit… Who are you, kid?" was Anko's dry remark. She studiously ignored Itachi's pictures, before eyeing Naruto critically.
"Uh… Uzumaki Naruto," she answered. She blinked when her clone dispersed. "Tea's ready."
They headed to the kitchen and Naruto grimaced at the amount of dumplings on the serving plate.
Anko sat across her and started eating. "So, Blondie, tell me about yourself."
Naruto snorted. "What's this? Team placement introductory meeting?"
"Bah! I believe I said I'm curious about you," the woman said as she chewed. "Obey me. I'm a senior kunoichi."
She heaved a long-suffering sigh. "Fine, sempai. Name's Uzumaki Naruto. Born in Konoha and traveler for six years. Genin of Team Seven under Hatake Kakashi. I like ramen the way you like dango."
Anko grinned wickedly. "See? `Wasn't so hard, was it?" She took her second stick of dango.
"What about you?" Naruto probed. "Shouldn't you be like, doing the same courtesy?"
The woman laughed boisterously, not minding even if her mouth was full. Naruto couldn't tell it off because that would be hypocritical of her. She knew she was like that from time to time.
Anko swallowed the food. "Fine, brat. I'm the sexy Mitarashi Anko, Tokubetsu Jōnin. My specialization is reconnaissance but I can be an all-rounder." She grinned. "And I'm strong."
Naruto sipped her tea. "Seriously, Anko-neesan," she prompted afterwards. "What do you want from me?"
"The truth?" The woman's brass demeanor slowly died down. "I'm just honestly curious about you, kid. I mean, who wouldn't be? You, a mere Genin attempted something not even the Sandaime had the guts to do— kill the snake fucktard."
"It's not as if I wanted to kill him," Naruto claimed. She did not try sealing the Sannin for the sake of glory. "What else I was supposed to do? He was attacking us and at the time, I thought he came for me."
"Kid, no one in Konoha had the guts to do what you tried to do," Anko stated. "Either too afraid of him or overwhelmed by his power. Whatever your reasons are, people, especially the shinobi force will look at you differently now."
Naruto sighed heavily at that. But since the topic was presented, she couldn't help her curiosity. "How did Orochimaru become a criminal?" she asked. "I know bits about him but Ero-Sennin— I mean, Jiraiya-sensei didn't tell me what exactly his crimes were."
"Sorry, kid. You don't have the clearance to know so, I can't simply tell you," Anko said as she munched her fourth stick. "But I'll tell you this— that Ten no Jūin? I was his student and one among the ten children he branded with it. And the only one out of the ten who survived." She gave the blonde a serious gaze. "So, Prince Uchiha is lucky you were around when he received it. He could've died minutes after the cursed seal was placed on him."
Naruto didn't know what to feel as she digested the information. Did that mean Orochimaru could care less if Sasuke died in the process? So long as he obtained the Sharingan, Sasuke was nothing but an experimental guinea pig? Or was he expecting Sasuke would survive it?
She took a long breath and looked at the Tokujō. She witnessed how excruciating the cursed seal was on Sasuke. She could imagine Anko's all the more. It wasn't only painful physically, but also mentally and emotionally. It was the woman's own teacher who gave it to her, after all. Someone Anko trusted.
On the other hand, Naruto had to admire the kunoichi's tenacity and willpower if she was fighting the draw of the seal, on a day-to-day basis. Kakashi and Jiji said that the Ten no Jūin was strong. Anko had been fighting it for years now.
The woman took another stick of dango and continued speaking. "When the news about Orochimaru defecting from Konoha spread throughout the village, I became the subject of the people's scorn— since I was his student. He branded me and I lived. The villagers looked at me and they believed I would follow his footsteps. So, I kinda understand your situation. It was our own citizens who showed the most contempt and they don't even know shit, at all."
Naruto smiled in bittersweet understanding. "`Can't really do something about ignoramuses, can we?"
The older kunoichi snorted loudly. "Ignoramuses, my ass. I don't even know what that shit means. Call them sheep."
Naruto laughed at the jest. Yeah, Mitarashi Anko was a kunoichi to respect. Despite her brazen and, well, sadistic personality, she was one hell of a ninja.
Anko drank her tea before her gaze turned contemplative once more. "I had a confrontation with Orochimaru that same day after your team encountered him, you know," she admitted afterwards. "He used the cursed seal against me. I wasn't able to fight," the woman said with gritted teeth. "I couldn't do a thing against him."
The Genin had to wonder why Anko was telling her this. Rank and age-wise, their gap was clear. But then, maybe Anko simply wanted someone to talk to. Someone who could understand?
"Well, he's one of the Sannin for a reason," she retorted, however. "What do you expect?"
"Shut up, brat!" the woman snarled. "Can't you see I'm having a dramatic moment here? I seldom have this! Read the atmosphere!"
Naruto stifled a soft giggle at the woman's antics. She decided she liked Mitarashi Anko.
The older kunoichi gazed at her. "I don't want to see another one fall into his hands." Anko took a deep breath and looked away. "If only the Yondaime was alive, he would've been dealt with…" She trailed off as she stared at Naruto's face, as though she found an interesting thing to study, and started mumbling, "The Yondaime's legacy… Jiraiya-sama… Kakashi…" And then, she screamed. "You little bitch!"
It was a good thing Naruto had fast reflexes and she managed to Kawarimi herself with the chair she was seated on, because Anko threw the bunch of used dango sticks at her like senbon.
"What the hell?!"
The next moment, Anko was beside her and had her on chokehold. "You're his legacy!" she screamed and laughed maniacally, as she started shaking the girl.
The older kunoichi didn't. She continued to laugh and grinded her knuckles on Naruto's head. "Do you know?"
"Know what? Ow, stop it!"
Anko released Naruto and placed her hands on her hips. She eyed the blonde critically. "I can tell you know you're..." She shook her head in disbelief and went back on her seat. "Damn, kid. I feel so stupid right now. How didn't I see that the first time I saw you? The legend and the legacy."
Naruto neither confirmed nor denied Anko's sudden realizations. She sat back on her chair and rubbed her aching head, glaring at the woman. Chokehold aside, that freaking noogie was annoying and painful!
Anko folded her arms and smirked. "Not gonna say anything, Blondie?" she stressed the last word. "You must know that I had a huge crush on the Yondaime when I was young."
Naruto's face scrunched in utter disgust. "No. Just, no…" She didn't want to hear squealing and giggling.
"I even fantasized having—"
"I don't wanna hear it!" she yelled, cutting the woman off. "Woman, just no!"
Anko simply laughed at that and went back to eating.
"Does the seal hurt you often?" Naruto asked after a while.
"Only when Orochimaru is around or when I'm under extreme duress. Hurts like a bitch."
Naruto thought for a moment. "You know, you can give Sasuke a few words or something when he gets back. It might help him since you share the same predicament."
Anko seemed to consider her suggestion. "Where's the prince, anyway?"
"He's training with Kakashi-sensei."
The older kunoichi twirled the stick as she stated a warning. "You and Scarecrow have to look out for him. I know his story and the cursed seal will work its mindfuck-magic on him. It will corrupt his mind."
Naruto shook her head in disagreement. "I trust Teme," she said with conviction.
"You may be a seal mistress, Blondie, but believe me— the Ten no Jūin is not to be taken lightly. Unless it's fully removed, there's no guarantee it won't work its function," Anko insisted firmly. "As long as Orochimaru is alive, there's no damn guarantee."
"I'm not underestimating it and you're right, we have to watch him," Naruto said. "But I also have to trust Sasuke to be tenacious just like you are."
The Tokujō froze and then, threw the stick at her— which she managed to swat off. "Damn, gaki! You're making me blush!"
Naruto laughed as she dodged another incoming stick. Anko really did blush.
The moment she landed in front of the hospital gates, Naruto instantly sensed something was off. There were always eyes watching her but it felt different this time. She tried to widen her senses but she couldn't pinpoint anything amiss. Was it her imagination?
She made her way inside the hospital but she remained alert. She headed towards Hinata's room, only to find out her friend wasn't alone. The current head of the Hyūga clan, Hinata's father, was there along with her younger sister. They were standing across the bed.
"Good morning, Hyūga-sama," Naruto politely greeted the man. She turned to the young girl. "Little Hyūga."
Hyūga Hiashi only titled his head marginally as a sign of acknowledgment. He had a stoic expression on his face, while Hanabi was giving her a mild look of condescension. She turned to Hinata and greeted the girl.
Hinata gave her a small smile. "Good morning, N-Naru," she greeted back.
Naruto went beside the bed. "How's the health?"
"G-getting better," Hinata said. "I'll probably be d-discharged in two days. H-hopefully."
"Really? That's great." She grinned in delight. "Tell me when you're ready to kick ass. I'll be your first sparring partner."
Hinata smiled. "Aren't you going back to training?" she asked.
"Well, Jiraiya-sensei is coming back in two days so, I still have—" Naruto heard Hyūga-sama clear his throat, making her turn her attention to him.
"I have heard a lot about you from Kurenai-san. And I was told you saved my daughter's life," Hiashi began formally. "You have my gratitude, Uzumaki Naruto. If there's anything you want in return, let me know."
Naruto internally weighed the man's statement. "Really? If I want anything in return?"
Hiashi's eyes narrowed a bit. "Yes. Do you want money, clothes, food?"
"Will you consider dissolving the Main and Branch House system from your clan as sign of your gratitude, then?" Naruto smiled brightly. "That would be awesome."
Hiashi's brows shot up in astonishment, and probably from her insolence. He then glared at Hinata, who was suddenly shocked and seemingly frightened.
"Hey, now. Don't go blaming Hinata-chan," Naruto intervened and tried to weave a white lie. "This is Konoha and the Hyūga Clan is one of the famous clans here. It isn't really a secret the clan practices such system."
"You're one impertinent girl, aren't you?" Hanabi remarked.
Naruto merely grinned at the little girl. "So I'm told. And that I'm loveable."
Hanabi glared at her.
The blonde girl turned to the clan head. "So, will you consider?" she asked in an exaggerated hopeful tone, rocking the balls of her feet while she was at it.
It was her turn to be glared at by Hiashi. "Try to be realistic, young lady," was all he said, but there was no contempt in his voice.
She gave him a cheeky grin. "Just wishful thinking, I guess."
The man stared at her for a long time but Naruto didn't squirm at his observing gaze. If he wanted to intimidate her, he had to try harder. In the end, he turned to his daughter. "We look forward to your discharge, Hinata. Until then." He walked regally towards the door, his youngest child following suit.
"Hyūga-sama," Naruto called out, making the man stop and turn to her. "If I may be more insolent… There are individuals who can no longer consider themselves as members of a clan, because theirs were no longer existing. Please treasure yours and take great care of it. After all, clan is family. What is prestige or social status when your family is suffering from an internal disease?"
The clan head didn't show a reaction and simply stared at her for a long moment. "You really are their child," he said before he made his way out of the room.
Naruto turned to Hinata when the visitors were no longer around. "Sorry," she apologized sheepishly. "I put you in a tough position."
Hinata smiled at her. "No, I think you gave him something to ponder on. No one else would speak so boldly to my father." Then, her smile faded. "Are you talking about Uchiha-san?"
She chuckled drily. "I was talking about the Uzumaki Clan, actually. The Hatake Clan and the Senju. But Sasuke's in the same boat, I guess."
"Uzumaki Clan?" the pearly-eyed Genin repeated, surprised.
Already aware that most populace of Konoha didn't know about the clan, Naruto gave Hinata a brief history of the Uzumakis and the clan's ties to Konoha. Again, she wasn't surprised at the other's reaction upon hearing them.
She didn't know— and she never asked— why the topic about her clan's history wasn't taught in the academy anymore. Perhaps, Hokage-jiji excluded it in the history lessons to protect her. Perhaps, the academy administration members removed said topic when they found out that the demon-child was hailed as an Uzumaki. There could be other more reasons why but they didn't matter now. Her personal thoughts and feelings about this certain subject didn't matter.
"My father seems to know your parents," Hinata noted, curiosity lacing her tone.
So, it seemed. "They're probably in the same generation with your father."
"Do you know who they were?" Hinata asked delicately. Naruto gave her a smile and nodded. Her friend hesitated for a moment before asking another question. "Do… Do you know how they died?"
"They were among the casualties during the Kyūbi incident," was her vague reply.
There seemed to be a realization, or connection, going on inside Hinata's head because Naruto could see it in the other's eyes. Hyūga Hinata knew about Naruto and the Kyūbi, or she had little suspicions that needed confirmation.
She smiled thinly. "Speaking about it is against the law, Hinata," she cautioned when she saw Hinata about to open her mouth.
The girl stared at her quietly, as though trying to see if Naruto was simply making the statement up. "But the villagers were talking about it…" Hinata said with a soft tone when she realized the blonde wasn't.
The Namikaze Genin laughed wryly. Hinata learned it from the villagers. Shocking. "I'm aware they gossip in hushed tones, whisper behind their hands. Maybe they don't fear the law, I don't know. Or maybe, they do it to make themselves feel they are better than the subject of their talks." She let out a long breath. "You're my friend, Hinata. And one day, you'll hear the accurate version from me," she stated, trying to end the current subject.
Hinata nodded with a shy smile and settled in a more comfortable position. "J-just so you know, Naruto," she spoke after a while. "I'm glad I met you."
She gave the girl a warm smile in return.
Naruto ignored the loud cackle of the self-claimed sexy Tokujō as she watched Sakura try to deflect Anko's brutal attack, cursing crisply while at it, too. The older kunoichi seemed to enjoy beating her teammate to a pulp but Sakura was doing everything she could to dodge the attack, while she was wearing the training weights.
Things weren't supposed to happen this way, but when Anko found out Naruto was assisting Sakura every morning, the Tokujō seemingly became a constant presence during the training session. It started yesterday, when the older kunoichi became bored watching Sakura do her katas. The woman decided to add a little flavor to the exercise. Of course, Naruto had to ask Kakashi about that— via Gamakichi— before she could give Anko's impulses a go. Too bad for Sakura, Kakashi allowed it, so long as they follow the amount of weights listed on Sakura's training regime.
And now, her pink-haired teammate looked harried and she seemed to want to forget simply dodging and make a counter-attack. Like, a kill Anko kind of counter-attack.
Time seemed to slow as the days continued to pass for Naruto. And as the day of Jiraiya and her father's return drew near, she was becoming more and more impatient. She could have used the entire week training to tap Kurama's chakra by herself. But she had been practicing discipline half her life. She knew she would disappoint them if she broke her word.
But it wasn't like she was lazing around while she waited. She still did her usual routine and Anko-senpai had become her sparring partner. And when she was not training, she was doing Fūinjutsu.
But yeah, she wasn't as busy as Sakura.
"Oi, Blondie. It's your turn."
When Naruto's gaze focused on the two, she found the Tokujō looking at her, with arms akimbo. Sakura was breathing hard, her hands propped on her knees.
"You okay there, Sakura?" she asked as she jumped from the tree branch she was perched on.
"I… hate… that… woman," the pink-haired Genin grumbled as she continued to catch her breath.
"You have to adapt to different types of attack, Pinkie," Anko stated primly. But there was still the sadistic glint in her eyes.
"You're not… trying to… get me to dodge!" Sakura shrilled, despite her lack of breath. "You're pounding… the crap out of me!"
"Isn't that the point of your current exercises? To see to it that you could avoid every hit from an enemy?" the woman returned. Anko cackled once more when Sakura wasn't able refute the statement, before turning to Naruto. "Ready, Blondie?"
When Sakura trudged towards a safe zone, the blonde took a fighting stance. "Whenever you are."
They both dashed forward and attacked.
Sparring with an older and experienced kunoichi was a whole lot different than as she did with Sakura and Hinata. And Naruto couldn't let this opportunity to pass. While Anko wasn't as good as Kakashi nor her father, fighting the Tokujō was making her and Sakura adapt to different types of attacks— just as the woman had said earlier.
Mitarashi Anko was a good fighter. She had an exceptional grasp of both offensive and defensive maneuvers and she incorporated the use of snakes to her attacks really well.
Naruto was dodging a barrage of shuriken when she sensed her father and Jiraiya entering the secured compound.
She summoned a shadow clone to greet the two while she jumped for an axe kick, aiming for Anko's shoulder. The woman dodged it with a sadistic grin and crouched, before she swept her left foot to topple Naruto's footing when the Genin landed. But the blonde hopped backwards and performed a back handspring.
"Oh-hoh. Graceful as ever, Naru-chi!" came her godfather's voice. "And I see you found a sparring partner."
Naruto raised her hand to Anko, signaling she was yielding, before turning to Jiraiya. Minato was a step behind the Sannin, smiling at her. "Welcome back, Ero-Sennin," she greeted. "Mimi-chan! Miss me?"
"But of course, darling," the man answered indulgently, walking towards the blonde. The Yondaime swooped upon his daughter as though she was still five. And showered her face with butterfly kisses.
"Why, if isn't the over-privileged foreigner," Anko stated bitingly, eyeing the disguised man caustically.
Minato carefully put her daughter down before turning to Anko. "Good morning, Mitarashi-san," he greeted cordially, ignoring the Tokujō's jibe. Turning to the other presence in the backyard, he gave the pink-haired Genin a warm smile. "Hello, Sakura-chan."
Sakura blinked dumbly a couple of times, before she stared at the disguised man. Naruto tensed when Sakura's face slowly turned red. "G-good morning, Mimi-san."
"I hope Naruto is not giving you a hard time."
"N-not at all, Mimi-san!" Sakura stammered, suddenly shy. But there was something in her eyes… "She's really patient with me and she's a good teacher."
"I see," her father said, smiling charmingly. "And what about your training?"
"I'm trying my best, Mimi-san."
Naruto frowned. She heard a lot of stories of how people had become ensnared by her father's charms. Right now, Sakura was displaying a sign of becoming one of those, despite not knowing it was the Yondaime who was in front her. Naruto could see the beginning of something she knew she wouldn't like. This was Sakura they were talking about.
Sakura going gaga over her father? No. Just no.
"Oi, Sakura," Naruto intervened. "You're not going goo-goo eyes with Mimi-chan, are you?"
Her teammate turned to her with a frown, glanced at her father before coughing— or rather, faking a cough. "Well, Mimi-san is quite handsome," she said quietly, the blush still present.
Naruto's eyes widened in disbelief as she heard Jiraiya's booming laughter. "God, no…" she uttered in horror and denial. "You did not just say that, Sakura…"
Anko joined the conversation. "I have to admit, he's eye-candy. If he weren't on Ibiki's hit list, I wouldn't mind seducing him," she said, openly ogling at her father.
Naruto's head whipped towards the Tokujō's direction. And she remembered— verbatim— what Anko said about the Yondaime during her first visit.
"You must know that I had a huge crush on him when I was young."
"You will most certainly not seduce Mimi-chan!" Naruto screeched.
Anko and Sakura looked at each other and suddenly, it felt as though they became best buddies. Both grinned widely as they turned their attention to her.
Oh, God… They were terrifying…
"Why, Naruto… I never thought you have a father-complex," Sakura gibed.
Well, she was currently undergoing the process of realizing it.
"Why, Naru-chi," Anko simpered next, cooing sweetly. "I might become your Momma someday…"
She hissed hostilely at the woman and jumped in front of her tall father, shielding him from the heathens. She took a kunai and took a defensive stance. "Mimi-chan, get inside the house and lock the door. I'll deal with the threat."
The two kunoichi joined Jiraiya's laughter, seemingly finding Naruto's reaction funny. She wasn't trying to be funny! She was about to hiss at them again when she was suddenly scooped once more.
"Aww… My Naru-chan is so protective of me…" her father cooed, twisting her body so he could carry her the way a parent carried a toddler, with his arm under her thighs and her arms around his neck. "I feel so loved."
Naruto would have been embarrassed by her father's action but right now, she couldn't care less. She was assessing if Sakura and Anko would really be a problem or not.
She gave both kunoichi an evil eye. "I'll be watching you two…"
They laughed all the more. Even her father.
When she was being serious.
Merely a month ago, it was the older one. Now, it was the younger sibling. Naruto chuckled to herself and tried to ignore her newest stalker as she headed towards the shopping district. First, it was Hinata. Now, it was Hanabi.
After their encounter at the hospital, Naruto had been noticing the little girl's chakra. Hyūga Hanabi would follow her around from time to time. For whatever reasons, Naruto had no idea. Maybe the little Hyūga was looking for something dirty about her and use it against the impertinent girl. Maybe, Hanabi was just curious about her. So, Naruto paid no attention to her stalking. But Hinata was a better stalker, to be honest.
She was unsettled at first. She never liked the feeling of being watched. She tried to avoid it as much as she could but since she was the village's Jinchūriki, she knew it was impossible not to be scrutinized.
But lately, she had been feeling this somewhat unwelcomed sensation, like there were eyes everywhere, constantly focusing on her. She didn't want to sound suspicious but the gut feeling was there. The problem was she couldn't pinpoint anything. And it wasn't as if she was feeling that sensation every single time she was outside of the safety of their home.
She turned around and smiled when she saw Konohamaru running towards her. Another stalker. Really, what's up with her and stalkers?
"Hey, Kono-kun," she greeted when the boy stopped in front of her. Her smile turned into a wicked grin when she noticed the man with him. The closet-pervert. "Salutations, Ebisu-sama."
The Tokubetsu Jōnin scowled at her, although blushing profusely. "It's been a while, Naruto-kun."
Naruto tried to sense the Tokujō. The first time she met him, his revulsion against her was palpable. Right now, all she could sense from him was extreme annoyance. He was simply annoyed with her. She wondered what changed.
"How's your training going?" she asked Konohamaru.
"Hah! I can do more than a hundred push-ups now!" the boy bragged. "What about you, nee-chan? How's yours going?"
"I just finished my morning training," she said.
It had been more than two weeks since the preliminaries and her training was going well. Her godfather saw to her progress, just as he promised. And from time to time, her father would drop by to watch her. Or snapping pictures.
She was finally able to access Kurama's chakra freely, without so much as exhausting herself to death. It took her eight days to finally tap the bijū's enormous power. But she didn't glow golden yellow like the first time Kurama lent her his chakra. According to the tailed beast, there was something to be done about the Hakke no Fūin Shiki on her before she could freely use his chakra. Kurama, her father and godfather agreed she wasn't ready for that yet.
But she finally managed to summon Gamabunta-sama.
She expected the Toad Boss to give her test of approval like Raiya-ji used to warn her long ago, but the giant toad didn't. Gamabunta simply, imposingly, told Naruto to summon him if she was old enough to drink sake with him— much to Jiraiya's consternation. It seemed her godfather wanted her to suffer like he did.
Her proud father, on the other hand, cried tears of joy. Snapping pictures, while he was at it.
"Where are you headed?" Konohamaru asked.
"To a weapon shop. I need to buy some special kunai for my Bukijutsu training."
"Weapon techniques? But ain't that taught in the academy?"
"Yes, but what I'm trying to learn are some kind of advanced techniques, like coating a kunai with my chakra or something."
"Huh. So, there's that kind of method, kore."
She laughed lightly at his childish curiosity. "Yup."
Konohamaru turned to the Tokujō. "Ebisu-sensei, I'm going with Naruto-neechan to see what kind of kunai she's looking for. You go home."
"No can do, Konohamaru-sama," the man objected sternly. "I will accompany you."
"You're so tense, esteemed sensei," Naruto commented drolly. "You know, I can always leave some Kage Bunshin for you to hang out with."
Ebisu screeched in embarrassment and covered her mouth with his hand. "Naruto-kun," he growled threateningly. "I will accompany Konohamaru-sama accompanying you. I will see to it that you won't teach him any more outrageous techniques!"
She snickered as she pushed his hand away. She took Kono's hand and headed to the shopping district. She didn't go to shop where she first bought her tools. Instead, she went to an old shop at the far end of the block. Her father told her it was the best place for her to find the type of kunai she was looking for.
Entering the small establishment, she found no one around. She surveyed the shop. The place was old, but it was clean and the items were organized. The smaller weapons were neatly displayed inside the glass cabinets. The tanto, katana and other long armaments were meticulously hanged against the wall. But what caught her attention was a personalized glass box behind the cash register. Inside it was the familiar tri-pronged kunai with a Hiraishin seal on the handle. The kunai looked worn, like the weapon had been used until it reached that state.
A burly and heavily-bearded man came out from the backroom. The man narrowed his eyes when he took notice of her. "What can I do for you?" he asked, his deep voice resonated through the shop.
Naruto felt Konohamaru's frightened grip on her jacket at the man's appearance. "Er, are you the shop owner?" she asked.
"Yes, my name is Gorō."
"I'm looking for a chakra kunai, Gorō-ojisan."
The man didn't move. His gaze lingered on her for a moment more before he glanced at the glass box she was staring at earlier. "They're right here," he said and walked towards the glass cabinet on his left. He picked out an item and carefully placed it on the counter. It was a kunai, but unlike the standard ones they used, the one in front of her was single-edged and slightly curved.
"This is a kunai blade, standard size," the man said.
Naruto picked it up with her right hand and weighed it over her palm. Using her left hand, she summoned a kunai.
"Whoa! How'd you do that, nee-chan?" the academy student cried in wonder when her kunai materialized. His initial fear of the shop owner seemed forgotten.
"Wow! You can do sealing arts, too?"
"Uh-huh," she said, weighing both tools. The kunai blade was a lot lighter than the standard kunai. She turned to the shop owner. "What's the difference besides their form and weight?" she asked as she put her own kunai away.
Once more, the man didn't answer right away. He stared at her, his eyes filled with curiosity, familiarity, and nostalgia— much to her confusion. "It won't feel heavy even with chakra infusion. It is made to absorb and hold chakra, unlike the ordinary kunai." He tapped his bearded chin. "Do you know what nature affinity is?"
She nodded. "Mine's wind."
The man chuckled. "A rarity here in Konoha." His gaze turned to Konohamaru. "Just like your Uncle."
"Yes, he buys his tools here. I make and sell mostly special and personalized tools."
"Really?" the boy turned to Naruto. "What's nature affinity, nee-chan?"
"You'll learn it someday, Kono. But I'm sure Ebisu-sensei can explain it to you some other time."
The boy scowled adorably. "Cheapskate."
"Have you tried infusing wind-chakra to a standard kunai?" Gorō asked her.
She nodded. "It's hard keeping a hold of it. I was told I will need these types of kunai if I'm going to pursue creating my own technique," she said, waving the tool she was holding.
"Try infusing your chakra," the man suggested.
Naruto did as told and she found the task easier than usual. Her chakra was still formless and unrefined, as it coated the kunai, but Gorō's explanation proved to be true. She would need a lot more practice but this kunai was a lot better.
"What about maintenance?" she inquired.
"Same as the standard ones." He thought for a moment. "What about swords? I think, wind is better suited for long-bodied weapons."
She grinned sheepishly. "I don't think I'm a sword person. I like the feel of the grip of kunai better. But I'm not opposed to learning kenjutsu."
There was a twinkle in Gorō's eyes as he nodded to himself. "I see, I see."
She placed the kunai back on the counter. "Do you have enough for two sets?" she inquired.
The man chuckled as he headed to the back room to get the items. She looked at the price tag over the glass cabinet and found the kunai set was a lot more expensive than the standard ones. But then again, special was equivalent to pricey.
When the shop owner came back, he was carrying three medium-sized boxes.
She took a storage scroll from her supply pouch and unrolled it, before laying it out on the counter. "Uhm… I ordered two sets," she told the man tentatively when he placed all three boxes over the storage scroll.
Gorō smiled at her. "One set free of charge."
Her eyes bulged in surprise. "Are you kidding? They're an expensive set! I can't accept them!"
He merely waved his hand at her outburst. "An extra set is not enough for what you've been giving the village this entire time," he said in his deep yet unexpectedly soft tone.
She couldn't help frowning in confusion. "What am I giving the village?"
There was a slow yet sudden stinging in the back of her eyes, as she comprehended what he was trying to say. It was heartening to know that there still were villagers who didn't see her like the rest did. She swallowed a lump in her throat, before smiling softly.
"T-thank you, Gorō-ojisan." She sealed the items into the scroll, and paid for the two sets.
"If I may ask, what are you preparing the specialization for?" the man inquired as he put the money into the cash register.
She was about to open her mouth when Ebisu-sensei answered. "Naruto-kun is participating in the final match of the Chūnin Exam." She noted with amused surprise the pride in the voice of the once Naruto-hater.
Her gaze drifted back at the glass box as she rolled the scroll. It wasn't really for the finals but it wouldn't hurt if she managed to get a hang of it before that day. It wasn't as if she badly needed the technique for the upcoming event. But adding another to her repertoire was never a bad thing.
"Fancy kunai, isn't it?" Gorō commented, nodding at the direction of the glass box. "That is a very special kunai."
"How so, oji-san?" Konohamaru inquired while Naruto simply smiled.
Gorō glanced at her first before he answered with amusement. "That kunai, Konohamaru-kun, is the Hiraishin kunai of the late Yondaime Hokage."
"Uwaah…" was the boy's amazed reaction. "But it looks so battered."
The shop owner laughed in agreement. "I found that one eleven years ago, when I was traveling around the Fire Country. I was lucky enough to find such treasure. I wanted to restore it, make it look brand new but I changed my mind."
"Why?" Kono asked in curiosity.
"Because that battered state meant Yondaime-sama once used the kunai," the old man answered. He gazed fondly and meaningfully at her. "He was a great man, that Minato. Despite his choices."
Naruto's eyes widened a bit. This man knew…
He was a great man, your father. Despite his choices.
"I know," she replied with a smile.
I know he's my father. I understand why he did it.
Gorō's eyes slowly widened and they seemed about to water. "I… I see."
The man, it seemed he loved and respected her father. "Thank you, again, Gorō-ojisan."
"Naruto-neechan, let's eat lunch together," Konohamaru invited when she put the scroll back in her pouch.
"Sure," she indulged. She still had an hour or two before her afternoon training.
The boy turned to the Tokujō. "Ebisu-sensei, I'm going to have a lunch date with Naruto-neechan. You go home."
Oddly enough, instead of his usual neurotic attitude, Ebisu gave Konoharamu a small smile. "No can do, Konohamaru-sama. I will accompany you and Naruto-sama." He started walking towards the door. "Now, let's find a good place to eat. My treat."
Konohamaru followed him, yelling his protest.
It was late in the afternoon and most administration workers had already gone home. One of them was Nara Shikaku. Entering the threshold of the Nara Compound, he took his sandals off and headed inside the house. He went straight to the kitchen to find his wife busy cooking. There was a smile plastered on her face and she seemed ecstatic about something.
"You look happy," he noted.
Yoshino turned to him and chuckled. "We have a guest."
His brow rose in question. Their usual guest was Asuma and the man wasn't considered one, anymore. Shikamaru's friends could hardly be called guests, as well. His own friends seldom came here since they usually gathered at the bar.
"Uzumaki Naruto," Yoshino said.
His wife giggled softly at his blank reaction. "She was looking for Asuma, actually. And she found him here. She said she has something to ask about wind affinity and Bukijutsu." She put the spatula down and went to kiss his cheek. "They're in the back with Shika."
He wrapped an arm around her waist and returned the kiss. "You met her?"
Yoshino smiled widely. "She's a charming girl. And loud. She looks so much like them, Shikaku."
He only nodded in agreement. He had seen the girl a few times since her return. And true to Yoshino's words, Naruto uncannily resembled her parents, especially Minato.
"Go see her," she urged.
He let go of his wife and went to the back porch. He found his son playing Shōgi with the girl. Asuma was seated behind Shikamaru, his back leaning against the wooden column. The Jōnin smirked at him and nodded his head towards the kids' direction. Shika was at his usual lazy posture and the girl had a look of concentration on her face.
Shikaku gazed at the little girl version of Minato. Uzumaki Naruto had been the talk of the town since she returned. Many was appalled at her homecoming and Shikaku had to wonder what those foolish people's reaction would be, when they learned that the girl they shunned and hated was their beloved Yondaime's daughter.
"Oyaji," Shikamaru greeted.
That broke Naruto's concentration. She turned her head and smiled when she saw him. "Hello, Nara-sama." And then, went back to the game.
Asuma stood and went beside him, taking out his cigarette pack. The Jōnin lit a stick. "`Girl's got guts to play against Shikamaru."
"I heard from Yoshino. Did you teach her anything about her nature-affinity?"
Asuma chuckled and shook his head. "No, just gave her some pointers. She knows what she's doing, and was just confused about some things."
He only hummed as he continued studying the girl. Until recently, Asuma had no idea who the girl really was. The young Sarutobi was perplexed at the discovery and even more so, because the girl had some serious skills for her age. Asuma told him that the blonde Genin would be a formidable opponent during the finals, and that the preliminaries seemed like a child's play to her. Shikaku heard the same statement from his son and Shikamaru rarely says something like that.
But Shikaku wasn't really surprised. After all, she was Minato and Kushina's daughter. And six years with Jiraiya-sama— No. Six years under the Toad Sannin and that man's tutelage, the outcome was expected.
Shikaku may have been a laidback or simply a lazy person according to many, but he wasn't the Jōnin Commander for nothing. And he was a Nara. The Council may have been somewhat appeased by the Sandaime's claims but Shikaku believed they were crafty-weaved lies, if not the half-truths.
Shikaku was one among the many shinobi who felt that massive burst of chakra that night six year ago. The Council and the Hokage convened about the incident. The village elders believed it was the girl's doing and wanted to contain the Jinchūriki. They thought that the Kyūbi would, once again, be freed and wreak havoc. But Sandaime-sama insisted there was nothing to worry about. However, to alleviate the Council's concern, the Hokage later announced that Jiraiya would be taking Naruto away for a while. Meaning, the seal master would ensure that the nine-tailed fox would still be and properly confined.
It was a valid and convincing reason.
"GAAAH!" Naruto roared and tossed the Shōgi board, sending the pieces flying. She jumped at Shikamaru, steering her body behind him and having him in a chokehold. "You don't challenge a Shōgi beginner to a bet, you energy-saving ass! Repent!"
Shikamaru tapped her arm in surrender when he started turning purple. Shikaku couldn't help smirking at the sight. His son coughed for air when Naruto released him.
Hmm… 'Energy-saver' sounded better than 'lazy,' didn't it? He would have to remember that.
"Now, now, Naruto," Asuma mediated. "You agreed, remember?"
"You deliberately forgot to mention he's the second coming of the God of Shōgi, dattebayo!" Naruto argued frustratingly. "Like hell I'm treating you to Yakiniku-Q!"
Second coming of who now?
The young Sarutobi laughed. "Fine, fine. It's just a joke, anyway."
The girl harrumphed unconvincingly.
Shikaku noticed his wife standing behind them, watching the scene with a nostalgic smile on her face. "So much like Kushina," she mouthed to him. Yoshino stepped forward. "Tidy up, Shika," she told their son, pointing at the scattered pieces.
"Troublesome…" Shikamaru complained droopily but did as asked.
Yoshino turned to the girl. "It's nearing dinner time, Naruto. Would you like to join us?"
"Oh…" The girl drew back, looking somewhat surprised at the invitation. She smiled shyly. "Thank you, but I'll politely decline. I'm expected to be home for dinner."
His wife nodded in understanding. "Next time, then. But oh, you should bring some food home. I made plenty."
Naruto beamed. "That would be awesome, Yoshino-obasan."
Shikaku followed when the Nara matriarch waltzed back inside the house. But instead of heading to the kitchen, he went to the front door, put on his sandals and walked out. A few minutes later, his wife, along with Shikamaru and Asuma, were walking the girl out. Yoshino raised a brow when she saw him.
"I'll walk you home, Naruto-kun," he said. He ignored the surprise on Asuma's face and Shika's inquisitive gaze. His wife simply gave him a minute nod, despite her own curiosity. "I have something to discuss with Jiraiya-sama. I heard he's staying with you."
The girl shrugged and bid his family goodbye, before ambling away. He followed suit, walking in stride with her at a leisured pace. They were a block away from the Nara complex when she spoke. "You're the Jōnin Commander, right, Shikaku-ojisan?"
"I remember you're among the Konoha envoy Jiji sent to Kirigakure."
He almost snorted. Sarutobi-sama ordered him to be part of the envoy. That was his sole purpose, nothing more. After all, sending a foreigner as representative to Konoha was simply not acceptable. The political backlash would not be pretty. But the Council didn't know that and was simply foddered by a pretense that Shikaku was the ambassador. The diplomatic meeting with the Kirigakure Council, the offering of financial assistance, the establishment of an alliance agreement, they were all done by that man. Shikaku may be present during the dialogue but that was it. It wasn't him who presented the proposal and argued with the Kiri Council. Not that he was bothered by it. At the very least, he wasn't the one who used energy for long arguments and discussions. All he did was sit pretty and answer questions when needed.
"I heard you're the one who gave the idea to Hokage-sama," he said to the girl.
She grinned proudly. "Like I told him, Imma be Hokage someday. I have to know those kinds of things." The girl stopped walking and looked up at him with a serious expression. "Do you really have something to discuss with Raiya-ji or you're simply curious about the Jinchūriki?"
He gazed down at her in amusement. This girl was really something. "Both," he answered in half-truth. He really was curious about her. "But I do have some matters to discuss with him."
She hummed in response and continued walking.
Shikaku shook his head in dry amusement. He had been hearing quite a lot about this young lady, especially after the second part of the Chūnin Exam. He also was told about what had transpired back at the Forest of Death. Additionally, he was noticing more and more of his Jōnin force were showing interest in her. And since he was a very curious Nara, he dug information about her. Her file from the admin was interesting enough. But from the stories he heard from Iruka, Anko, from Asuma and Shikamaru… Shikaku was surprised and not surprised at the same time, about what he learned. And he, slowly but surely, had put more pieces of the puzzle— a puzzle that wasn't even supposed to exist, had that man not appeared.
It was curious that Jiraiya-sama brought the man along with them. An acquaintance of his, according to the Sannin. Of course, a sealing arts practitioner— a master at that— would always be welcomed to Konoha. Because like wind users, Fūinjutsu specialists were a rarity. Not to mention he was vouched for by the Toad Sage. Questions about him arose, however; where he was from, his affiliations, his experience at the art, and most of all, why Jiraiya-sama trusted the man with the Kyūbi Jinchūriki's welfare. The Council was suspicious of Mimi, but the Sandaime favored him by proclaiming even he, himself, knew Mimi as a child, and the latter was a budding protégé of an Uzumaki seal master long ago.
Not really a soothing balm to the elders' qualms, another question arose, of course. The unusual close relationship of the unknown seal master with the girl. They were against the Sandaime's decision. But the Hokage finally made an angry demand. To let the girl have some semblance of familial environment, for she endured enough for the sake of the village.
Compassion was something the Konoha Council never adhered to, but they submitted to the Hokage's decision. In exchange, the foreigner wouldn't be an active shinobi even after he completed his probation period.
Shikaku had to admit, the Hokage was good at what he was doing. It looked like he was simply favoring the new guy for the benefit of Konoha. That he was going to make a great use of such talent in due time. He really looked so convincing that the Council couldn't refute his decisions. But the Sandaime was simply downplaying everything— or rather, downplaying something big.
Hiruzen's interactions or Jiraiya's close relationship with Mimi, Shikaku had seen them a long time ago. Those three were trying to be inconspicuous and it was hard to detect, but Shikaku noticed. He could read body language well. Quirks and habits weren't something someone could hide easily even for seasoned shinobi.
And Genma was with the man every time. He was trying to act like Mimi was a colleague but Shikaku could tell otherwise. Genma was acting like a senior ninja when in truth, he was guarding the redhead. Namiashi Raidō and Tatami Iwashi were doing the same whenever they were around the mysterious man.
So, yes, Shikaku had been observing the man whenever he could, especially during their time in Kirikagure. Mimi's awkward smiles, that slight twitch or narrowing of his eyes, that polite manner of speaking and intonation, the body posture… Someone who knew that person real well would notice things the way Shikaku did.
And of all the stupid covers they could come up with, the name. Mimi. Really? Mimi?
But then again, there was a saying, 'the simpler the better.'
He was brought out of his musings when Naruto stopped walking. He noticed they were already in front of the compound. Shikaku had forgotten that the Hatake Compound was only a ten-minute walking distance from the Nara Complex. For a long time, this area had been abandoned. Kakashi had stopped living in here since his old man's death.
"Will you hold this, please?" she asked politely, handing him the container.
He took it with a small smile and watched the girl undo some security seals. She did it with ease. Well, she was Minato's daughter. Not to mention, an Uzumaki.
"Erm… the house doesn't recognize you, so…" the girl explained unsurely and walked on the front yard. "Raiya-ji's inside." She reactivated the seals when they stepped on the doorway.
Taking off their sandals, he followed her inside and when they reached the kitchen, he almost snorted as he was greeted by two suspicious gazes. Jiraiya was seated on the table and Mimi was in front of the stove— wearing a pink apron over a dark blue shinobi uniform.
"I didn't do anything, honest," the girl said defensively, as if the two were expecting she caused yet more trouble. "He said he wants to talk to Raiya-ji."
"She was at the compound earlier and Yoshino cooked something for her," Shikaku explained lamely and placed the food container on the table.
The Toad Sage grinned lecherously. "How's the lovely wife, Shikaku?"
"Troublesome, as always."
Jiraiya gave him a booming laugh. He then, sat straight. "So, what do you want to talk about?"
"Just one question." One that had been nagging him ever since he started putting together those pieces of the puzzle. The rest of his questions could wait. He turned his gaze to the red-head. His old friend. "How are you alive, Minato?"
Looking away from the scroll he was currently studying, Minato tried not to chuckle when he saw Shikaku staring at him. He was seated behind his desk while the man was situated on the visitor's chair in front of him.
It had been a few days since his old friend confronted him and the man still seemed like he was having an encounter with a ghost. Even when Shikaku had a strong suspicion about Mimi's identity, the Jōnin Commander was stunned speechless when Minato removed the seal disguising him. And until now, the man seemed as though he still wasn't able to grasp the reality that Minato was alive.
"Get over it, Shikaku," the blond said as he finished the last rune he was drawing. "I'm real."
"Can you blame me?" the man snorted. "Talking to you while you look like a different person really tires my brain, you troublesome fella."
"It's sad to be you," he remarked absently as he studied the technique placed in Kabuto's brain.
"I admit, it stung that you didn't trust me with this secret—"
Minato raised his hand to cut Shikaku's words. "It's not about trust, Shikaku. My supposed affiliation with Jiraiya and Hiruzen is suspicious enough. I am being watched as it is. I cannot simply be seen becoming associated closely with you without a reasonable excuse." He took a deep breath. "But for whatever its worth, I'm sorry you weren't included."
And it was understandable why Shikaku was a little upset that he wasn't included in this huge secret. They had been friends since their academy days, they fought in a war together, they married their wives the same year, attended each other's weddings.
Even without him looking, Minato knew Shikaku was giving him a critical stare. "Why hide, Minato? I understood why Sarutobi-sama kept your situation highly classified. But why the continued hiding?"
"I'll tell in time," he simply said.
He heard Shikaku drag a breath. "Look, Minato. Whatever your reasons are, I trust you. But sooner or later, you will have to raise the curtain and take your position back. You and I both know the Sandaime is struggling to keep the leadership in his hands, after all this time."
The Yondaime lifted his gaze and regarded the Nara clan head with an unwavering stare. "I know. But we are going to deal with an invasion soon. One problem at a time, Shikaku."
Shikaku heaved another dragging breath before he looked around the room. "So, this will be your sanctuary," he remarked.
Still holding the scroll, Minato briefly ran his gaze around the room. They were inside his office of his own home. The house he requested to be rebuilt had been completed a couple of weeks ago. It was a traditional two-story house with a wrap-around patio on the first floor. It had four bedrooms, study and a basement. It had all the furniture and other fixtures it needed to be livable. He also transported some of his personal things, as well as some of Naruto's. All the house was waiting for was the residents, Kakashi included.
There was also a replica of the Uzumaki Mask Storage Temple built in the far end of the land property. All it was missing were the masks which were still in the original temple. He and Naruto decided it was better to put the temple in the Uzumaki lands instead of having it outside the territory. No one would take care of it other than them, anyway.
Not many were aware of this place. The house was surrounded by trees and was located in the land given to the Uzumaki Clan when the Shodaime Hokage formed an alliance with them. Since the Uzumaki Clan did not settle in Konoha, there were only five houses built in this area. One house for Uzumaki Mito and the rest were used by the other clan members when they visited Konoha.
Uzumaki Mito used this very house for a while until she married the Shodaime. She raised her children and grandchildren in the Senju dwellings but after the Shodai's death, the woman moved back to this house for a time. Kushina also lived here when she immigrated to Konoha but after the death of Mito-sama, the Sandaime decided to not allow Kushina living in an isolated environment. Consequently, the Uzumaki land in Konoha had been abandoned.
Naruto and Kakashi hadn't seen the fully furnished house yet. He was supposed to show it to them but they all had been busy. He decided that moving to this house could wait until after the Chūnin Exam.
"This is where we were supposed to live as a family after Kushina gave birth," he told the Jōnin Commander.
"Far away from the village center. And in the middle of woodland" Shikaku commented, shaking his head in dry amusement. "Always a cautious man."
He smirked. "True."
"It's a big house for you and Naruto."
"There's Kakashi. Jiraiya, as well," he countered. "Besides, this is the original floor-plan. And Kushina wanted to have a big family."
The man's expression turned solemn. "Is it alright talking about her? I mean—"
"Suck it up, Nara," he cut off, grinning wryly. "She's not a sensitive topic."
He was alright now. It had been twelve long years. It didn't hurt so much anymore whenever he thought of his wife. Kushina had always been a constant presence in his mind but the pain of the loss wasn't crippling any longer. He still longed for her, would always long for her. He dreamt of her, would always want to dream of her…
He wouldn't say he moved on because he didn't. Kushina was and would always be the only woman he wanted to be with. But he had accepted that she was gone.
Kushina gave him Naruto, a constant reminder of the blessed years he spent with his wife, a reminder of their love and devotion for one another. And waking up every day, seeing his daughter well and healthy, smiling, being her bright and witty self, were more than enough for Minato.
The seal master turned his attention back to the scroll he was trying to study. It was the technique placed in Kabuto's brain. Jiraiya, with the help of Inoichi, managed to replicate a visual manifestation of the jutsu. From the symbols they have seen, Jiraiya conceded to Minato's theory that the jutsu they discovered wasn't really erasing the user's memories but merely hiding them well. His sensei also considered that the technique might be being used by well-trained sleeper agents.
But looking further into it wasn't as easy as it seemed. Konoha didn't use such techniques, so they had no background about it— they didn't even know the name of it. It would take them time to analyze such a complex technique. Without enough information, all they had were little pieces of theories, and conducting experiments on the jutsu was detrimental at the present time.
On another unfortunate note, Ibiki wasn't able to crack Kabuto. The spy withstood any interrogation methods the T & I Division used. But the division was still positive they would break Kabuto one way or another. Furthermore, the Intelligence Division also believed they might find more secrets and vital information from him, especially if Kabuto had been spying for a long time now. All they needed was time.
"Inoichi sent a copy of that to the Cryptology Division," Shikaku stated, pertaining the scroll he was so engrossed with.
"Yes, I know," he replied, still looking at it. The Konoha Cryptanalysis Organization consisted of people specializing in decoding secret messages and deciphering codes, among many others. They might be able to help even just finding out what the technique was. "But it doesn't hurt to look into this on my own." He frowned when he noticed a certain pattern of scripts.
"What is it?" the other asked.
"Kabuto may really have a self-destruct jutsu on him," he hypothesized. "Whoever put this technique inside his brain is one crafty master." He looked at the Jōnin Commander. "It may be impossible to crack Kabuto's mind."
Shikaku leaned forward, his brows furrowed.
Minato placed the scroll on the table and rotated it for Shikaku to see, and pointed a small symbol. "That may look insignificant against but that is a possible trap."
"A connective rune," the Jōnin Commander defined, a deep frown marring his face. "It may be connected to an explosive ninjutsu," Shikaku cited a feasibility. "Inoichi said there is only one technique he found."
"A second jutsu might be being concealed by this," Minato theorized and Shikaku did not oppose his statement. What he said was highly possible and they both knew it. He propped his elbows on the desk and clasped his fingers, his eyes on the paper. "It will take time to figure this out and we don't have that luxury right now."
The Nara Clan head leaned back on his chair. "Orochimaru sure knows his ways. What a drag…"
Speaking of the Snake Sannin, even with his sensory ability in Sage mode, Minato couldn't find the man anywhere near Konoha. And searching for a rouge ninja who was well-versed in the village's security would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Orochimaru was a very intelligent man. Evading sensors wouldn't be too hard for the Sannin.
Shikaku took a deep breath. "Is the invasion really going to happen during the finals?"
"If Orochimaru didn't change his plans, it will. Hiruzen actually—" He stiffened when a loud pulse rang in his ears. He looked at Shikaku. The man, probably seeing his reaction, was looking at him in confusion.
"You okay?" the Jōnin Commander asked.
"Did you feel that?"
Shikaku frowned. "Feel what?"
Before he could explain, an odd sensation coursed through him.
"Namikaze," came the mental voice of the Yin Kurama. "The other half of me is reacting to something."
He shot up from his seat, grabbed the Jōnin Commander and teleported to where his daughter was. He ignored the effect of the Hiraishin to Shikaku as his attention went to the sight before him. He sucked his breath in shock. There, in front of a clearing was his daughter, cloaked by a red boiling-like shroud of chakra. And it had a tail.
She was in Jinchūriki form... And she was looking at the bloodied man on the ground.
Naruto's face slowly turned to his direction. Her azure eyes were now deep red, with slit-like pupils. "I had to do it," she said, but the voice wasn't hers.
The chakra cloak slowly dissipated until Naruto's eyes turned back to its original color. Before she could fall unconscious on the ground, Minato swiftly caught her.
He frantically checked her condition. Her jacket was torn and she was really pale. Small scratches marred her face and her hair was free from its usual pigtails.
"Kamisama…" he heard Shikaku gasp. "What in the world happened here?"
Minato tore his gaze from his daughter and looked around. Aside from the fallen man beside him, he counted six bodies. He couldn't tell if they were still alive but he was sure this was Naruto's doing.
Oh, darling… What have you done?
To my truly wonderful beta, a heartfelt thank you. Sincerely.