Naruto didn't know whether to be disappointed or not when there weren't any ghosts to be found in the Uzumaki Masked Storage Temple.
After a side glance at Shisui, who had been quite kind and helpful to her during their short friendship, she settled on disappointment. Not all ghosts were frightful figures and she would have quite liked to meet another Uzumaki. "This shrine is a lot bigger than I thought it would be."
"Judging from the architectural style, it's a Main Shrine dating back to the founding of the village," Shisui supplied, looking around with fascination. "There must have been plenty of Uzumaki in Konoha in those days and they would have been responsible for the upkeep of the temple. As it is now…"
"No one's been around to clean it up or make repairs," the blonde surmised. "My ancestor's graves have been neglected for Kami knows how long and Konoha hasn't done anything about it?"
Shisui held his hands up in a gesture of calm. "In all fairness, it's not the village's responsibility to maintain clan heritage sites."
"The Uzumaki helped found the village." Naruto crossed her arms. "They could have assigned a groundskeeper or sent a genin team every now and then or something."
"While it would have been considerate for them to do so, there was at least one Uzumaki adult available before you were born," the Uchiha pointed out. "Your mother."
This drew the Uzumaki up short and she was left to consider the words as they walked the temple's extensive grounds. Naruto didn't really know anything about her mother, other than the fact that she was an Uzumaki and married the Yondaime Hokage. This was two facts more than she'd had before meeting Shisui and something that she appreciated, even if it also led to moments like this. Like many orphans, Naruto venerated the parents that she could have had and wanted to attribute the best qualities to them. However, it was becoming more and more clear that while her parents- or father, at least- had been shinobi of merit, that didn't make them necessarily perfect people. They had their positive and negative traits, most of which she did not know, and a history that didn't involve her. There were childhoods, experiences, friendships, hardships, and triumphs that shaped them into the people they were and Naruto didn't have the context to understand that character, nor, honestly, much knowledge of their character at all.
Even without context, she couldn't help but think that it was irresponsible of her mother to allow the temple to decay to this level.
It was a beautiful estate nonetheless, if one fallen to the hardships of time. There was a walkway from the forest made of dusty white stones etched in faded marks leading directly to the main building. A light fog misted the overgrown grass in a blanket of dewdrops and partially obscured bramble hedges filled to bursting with ripe red and blue berries. The sunlight that broke through here gilded mist silver and berries in ruby and sapphire hues. The building that approached was massive, a grand affair made of sturdy oak wood, teal-stained copper fixtures and corroded iron. The stairs that led up to the door had been built well and remained firm even after all this time. As they walked into the building, Naruto tilted her chin up and admired the Uzumaki Clan Sigil crookedly hanging from the front.
'I can dust and mop, paint the walls and pull the weeds,' the blonde decided, 'But I'll have to hire someone else to do the carpentry work.'
"Shisui, how much does it cost to hire a genin team for a D-rank mission?"
The Uchiha named an estimate and the blonde winced. That would be half of her savings altogether.
The inside of the Temple was thankfully in better shape than the outside, even if the floorboards creaked ominously under her feet. There were white sheets hung on the ceiling and descending partially downwards that were moth-eaten and threadbare, as well as a faded, dirty shade of grey. The fire motifs on the wall were chipped off and the thick black stone had cracks on it. Naruto would need to budget more ryo for a stonemason down the line and-
"Oh!" A startled gasp escaped her as the blonde beheld the massive windows on the other end of the temple. They weren't covered by glass, allowing all manner of debris and leaves to pile on the floor, and rain to wash in and rot the floorboards. However the view from the windows was incredible, sunlight splashing in and lighting the melancholy building into a mood of serenity and peace. Naruto hurried up to it, indifferent to the groans and moans of the wood beneath her, as she peered outside to overgrown dandelions and rows and rows of grave markers. "...My family. They're all here."
'Not all of them. Father would have been buried inside of the Monument with all of the other Hokages.'
As she was reminded of this tidbit of her lessons, the blue-eyed girl shook her head. It was… sad, that her father would be buried alone, without his wife or other family members nearby. In death, he would be as in life, all alone under the shadow of the hat he wore. At least the Shodaime and Nidaime had each other.
"Look over here, Naruto." At her friend's prompting, Naruto turned to the northeast facing wall, letting a startled shriek pass her mouth at the tidy rows of oni masks above the kimon (A/N: demon gate).
"Oni yokai!" The blonde wailed, flailing her arms ineffectually as Shisui looked on in amusement, "Get away from there, Shisui! They'll curse your soul!"
The dark-haired teen snickered. "They only curse the souls of the wicked and unjust, Naruto."
"That's why I'm telling you to get away!"
There was a brief moment of silence and then he floated over to ineffectually swat her head. "Brat!"
While it didn't punish her as the Uchiha hoped, the sudden chill did break Naruto out of her stupor. She kept her eyes focused on the oni masks, throwing her shoulders back, even as her knees trembled and she tried to summon her courage. 'Get a hold of yourself, Naruto! You live with ghosts and hold a demon in your stomach for Kami's sake!'
Shisui bent down and comfortably hovered his intangible form against her shoulder. "Boo."
Naruto shrieked and jumped two feet into the air.
"Shisui, you idiot!"
"I regret nothing!" The ghostly boy jumped out of her reach and did that strange maneuver that was quickly gaining familiarity to her, where he leapt through the air, above the ground and yet appearing to move across a solid surface. Naruto chased behind him, fear burning swiftly within ire, as he seemed to taunt her by staying just out of reach when she knew him capable of moving much faster. His words didn't exactly detract from the assumption. "Na-na-na-naaaa-na! You can't catch me!"
"Get back here, Shisui!" He evaded her grasp and made an abrupt left turn, having to slide across the floor to avoid slipping through the wall. Naruto wasn't as economical in her movements, tripping comically over her own feet, ocean blue eyes widened in horror, as she tried to halt her body's momentum. Naruto failed and face-planted into the oni masks. "Oomph!"
There was a loud clatter as her body's force shook the thin walls and dropped half a dozen masks on her body. The Uzumaki spent a second or two, dazed on the floor, breathing in the musty smell of the wood and the dust that… "Achoo!"
Naruto lifted herself and used both hands to cover her nose. "Achoo! Shisui, I'm gonna- achoo!"
Distracted from his victory, the teen knelt down next to her and worriedly put hands, transparent, intangible, of icy cold water, on her shoulders. "Are you having an allergic reaction?"
She shook her head, rubbing at her nose harshly. 'I don't have any allergies at all. Probably need to thank the Kyuubi for that too.'
Naruto was becoming more indebted to that giant furry foxball than she was strictly comfortable with. Not only was the Kyuubi partially responsible for her rapid healing and potent chakra reserves, though the Uzumaki heritage had contributed its bit, but the Shiki Fujin had been sealed by the Shinigami… it may even be responsible for her friends. "Idiot Shisui."
She received an apologetic look for that, as well as a sheepish smile that softened Shisui's handsome features and made him look more like the lighthearted boy he often was. "Sorry."
The Uzumaki stuck her tongue out in response. Then she stood up, forlornly glanced at her dusty peacoat and started to pick up the oni masks. Most of them were shaped like human faces painted bone white but with additional and frightening aspects. They all had two curved horns and slitted eyes, occasionally sharp teeth, slanted brows and bumpy noses. All had hair as well, one even a mustache and while it looked real, Naruto was far too disturbed to run her hand through and test that theory. There was something strange about them though, that she couldn't quite put her finger on…
"They're in perfect condition," Shisui murmured, "Everything else in this temple has decayed but the masks look brand new."
'He's right,' Naruto thought, finding the first curved hook on the wall, made possibly of yellowish bone, for her to hang the first mask. Despite the sunlight streaming through the room and the warmth of the day, she shivered. Shisui hovered closely beside her and she appreciated that as well. 'Are they even part of the original temple?'
The blonde couldn't imagine anyone sneaking in to hang up creepy masks within her ancestor's temple but how else could they remain in such condition? It couldn't be seals. There wasn't any ink present.
There wasn't any trouble hanging up the first four masks, even if the row of hooks well above her grasp meant that she wasn't attending to those any time soon. It was the fifth one that gave her pause. The second her fingers brushed over it, an old man's face with thick horns curved upwards, heavy brows, thin pupils, a snaggle-toothed grin and large ears, she froze. It felt as though an electric shock had run up her fingers and through her arm. A hiss of pain slid out past her clenched teeth but her hand refused to move.
Naruto's body had been plunged into the icy cold depths. Her entire viewscape fell into darkness. She was floating in the air, above anyone's reach, looking down on body after body holding something to their face. A young man with crimson hair and fierce eyes covering his determination in an oni mask. This oni mask, again and again. Another man, hair streaked grey upon brownish-red and a trimmed beard, donning the mask. A woman this time, a long mane of red behind her like a dash of blood upon the snow she laid, bitterly smiling as she undertook the task. Another and another and another and- there was a shock of hair as yellow as her own, gentle blue eyes closing in acceptance as the mask was placed in his hand.
'Minato Namikaze,' her mind identified, 'Father?'
As though the darkness knew of her inquiry, it lingered on the image and she drank it in, her father, not in the still snapshot of a camera but a moving, breathing, living figure so close to her reach. All she had to do was grasp it, reach out her hand and-
Shisui's voice was frantic as he slapped the mask away from her hand. It flew across the floor, bouncing once and then clattering nearly at the other end of the hall. Naruto stared blankly across it as arms encircled her. They weren't cold- Naruto had been so cold already- but warm, almost solid, more solid than she'd ever felt before. There was a hard, polished surface that felt a little like ANBU armor and thin links of metal pressing into her thighs- had someone pulled her into their lap?!-
"Shisui?" Naruto blinked, looking up at dark eyes peering almost uncomfortably close to her own. She felt rather warm and safe at this moment but one facet still had to be questioned. "How are you touching me?"
When Sakumo Hatake stepped through the door to Naruto's apartment, he was torn between a sense of wonder and disapproval. The latter was evident through the action taking place now, the former that Shisui was able to corrupt his little girl by these means at all. Because, sitting across from one another in the large circular rug laid on her bedroom floor, the two were deeply intent on a game of poker. Or at least Shisui was; Naruto looked politely bemused as she continued to rake in the wrapped peppermints that they were apparently using as chips.
"Agh!" With a strangled sound of frustration deep in his throat, Shisui tossed his cards to the floor. "How did you get four of a kind?! There shouldn't even be a Diamond Jack there! I already stole it!"
Naruto, who had laid out her hand with four Jacks and a seven of spades, looked properly scandalized. "You mean you've been cheating all this time?"
"I had to!" Shisui slammed his hand against the floor, making a dull thud against the carpet. "That's what you're supposed to do in shinobi poker. But you're not doing it all, as far as I can see, and somehow you still managed to win every round!"
The blonde perked up. "I won? Yatta! More candy for me~!"
"You don't even know what the cards mean!" Shisui wept into his hands.
"I would've if you'd told me," Naruto sniffed, raking in the rest of the sweets. She looked up, caught sight of Sakumo and then a handful of white cards fluttered out of her hand, as she scrambled to her feet. The white-haired man stood still in astonishment as sock-clad feet slid across the floor and she ran at him, arms open. "Inu-oji!"
'This isn't going to end well,' Sakumo concluded. His own shinobi training kept his features placid as the little girl predictably fell through his body, a convulsion shaking hers as her momentum brought her straight to the floor.
"Oomph!" Sakumo turned around to see the Uzumaki swiftly straightening herself up, while using one hand to gingerly rub her nose. "Ow… not again."
'Again?' He turned suspicious eyes to the dark-haired teen that was freely snickering now. 'What did those two get up to today?'
"Are you alright, Naruto?"
"Yeah, Shisui, I'm fine." Naruto looked perplexed. "Wonder why that didn't work… oh! Maybe if I try it with the mask."
Looking quite pleased with herself, the blonde neatly stepped around him and headed towards her bed, falling to her knees to look underneath. The Hatake turned a questioning eye on the former ANBU that he'd trusted to look after Naruto today- somehow, he was certain that an error in judgement had been made- but Shisui wasn't looking at him. A soft smile was on his face as he watched the blonde dig out a truly hideous oni mask and then make a disgusted face before putting it on. Now, oni mask secure over her more adorable features, Naruto made for another hug. And this time she succeeded.
All the shock in the world couldn't keep Sakumo from returning the embrace when a small, warm body struggled to wrap her arms around his waist. He was a father by nature. Kakashi had been a tall child and Naruto was a short one and… 'The first time I've been hugged in a long while.'
He took a moment to savour it, before turning another questioning look to the Uchiha. Shisui had turned his face away though, to give the other two some privacy for the moment. Sakumo resorted to gently tugging Naruto away instead, allowing her to take off and drop the oni mask, before slowly mouthing the question he was desperate to know. "How?"
The entire story spilled out in a mix of childish boastfulness and routine complaints over the Uchiha's wrongdoings. There was also a dash of sheepishness as Naruto was fully aware that she shouldn't have been out practicing seals without proper supervision. Technically, Shisui should have been supervision enough but Sakumo was swiftly amending that assumption with the teen.
'He hasn't come to fully accept his death,' Sakumo acknowledged, 'Understandable, considering the elements of betrayal involved, from Danzo and his own kinsmen but compartmentalizing the event merely leads to an increase in risk tolerance. He's purposefully immersing himself in juvenile behavior… is Naruto giving him an escape from contemplating his own end?'
Not that their current condition could be described thusly. They could still contemplate, communicate and carry out their will on the world around them, even if the means to do so were severely limited to one individual. It was akin to death though. They were tied to an in-between, Naruto remaining the sole point of interaction with the living for them and even there, she could merely watch and listen. And now, apparently, she could touch them.
"It doesn't last for very long," Shisui added, a sheepish expression of his own present. He had averted his eyes and the white-haired shinobi hoped this sign of guilt meant that he would amend his future actions. "Naruto and I did some experimenting before this."
"Experimenting." Never had Sakumo willed for a voice this strongly before as lip-reading alone couldn't convey his sheer disapproval over this.
"It wasn't anything dangerous, Inu-oji," Naruto diverted earnestly. Her ocean blue eyes were bright in expectation. She had done something well and expected praise from an adult-figure she liked and trusted for it. "Shisui said that the mask strengthened my powers and well, we couldn't leave it there for any of the genin to find it-"
"Naruto wants to hire a genin team to fix up the Uzumaki Temple," Shisui inserted, filling in the blanks before Sakumo could follow that line of inquiry.
"Right! It'll cost a lot of money but I think it's worth it. Anyway we brought the mask here because it's an Uzumaki family heirloom and I'm the only Uzumaki in the village. That I know of anyway, if the others want it, than they can find me and ask! Not that I'd give it to them, after how broken down the temple was, my family's so lazy, Inu-oji- but I took the mask home with me. Shisui made me wrap it in my jacket, which was all dusty because he's so mean to me, but it kept the mask from giving me any weird dreams-"
"Naruto had a few visions of her other clansmen that wore this mask before her, as well as of Minato Namikaze, that likely used it shortly before his death."
"Shisui thinks it might be related to my seal, cause it's such a powerful artifact and all that, or maybe a secret Uzumaki bloodline because this is the first shrine I saw that didn't have any ghosts at all. Not even the ones that just walk around and don't talk or do anything and that I'm only 'skimming the very top of my potential'. His words, not mine. The mask is connected to my powers somehow because when I touch it, my body gets cold but I'm able to touch ghosts- or at least, Shisui and you. I couldn't find any other ghosts nearby to practice it on."
"Strangely enough, the route back to the apartment did appear to be deserted."
"And people were able to see Shisui! Sort-of. I think some of them knew something was there because their eyes kind of focused on his general area a bit but then looked away. It didn't last for too long, so I had to touch the mask again-"
"The effect of tangibility was limited but touching the mask and then myself, appears to have renewed it. It's lasted longer now than before."
"Then we decided to test if anyone could hear Shisui, so he went over to an apartment two floors down. You know, the one with the crazy armadillo lady that makes those giant hamster tubes for her pets? The lady could definitely hear something but it was probably more like whispery wind noises than words because Shisui complimented her work and she just hid behind her couch, even though she'd rattle on about her 'art' to Iwa missing-nin if she had the chance."
"The obstacle course was honestly quite complex and the armadillo is very talented."
"It's weird and you know it. Anyway, after that, Shisui decided we'd play poker but he didn't teach me any of the rules. I didn't need them though. I'm so awesome that I won the games by accident!"
"One day, you and I are going on a personal vacation to Tanzaku Gai," Shisui promised. He reached out a hand, ostensibly to ruffle the golden locks of the Uzumaki, but his fingers slid through her hair. "Naruto, would you mind…?"
"No problem!" And with a grin that was positively radiant in nature, the sunny-natured child plucked the hideous mask off the floor, treating the undeniably powerful and quite likely ancient artifact without any sort of esteem. She gripped Shisui's sleeve, tossed the mask to the bed and then began to tug him out the bedroom door. "Come on, Inu-oji! We have a board game in the closet and it needs at least three players!"
Sakumo took a second to just stare blankly at the pleased children. Of all the reckless, shortsighted, perilous, incredulous decisions that they could have made…
"Inu-oji?" It was heartbreaking how hopeful Naruto appeared to be over a family bonding activity between herself and the two shinobi.
'I'll take her to task about this… tomorrow.'