Disclaimer: All HP characters are the property of JKR, the WB, and respective publishing companies and all Naruto characters are the property of Masashi Kishimoto. This is nothing more than a simple FanFiction that I have written. I have made no money from this or any of the other stories I have posted on this or other sites.
Warnings: Mild to moderate violence, character death, some mild to moderate character bashing where unavoidable (mostly Dumbledore & Danzou with some Sakura & potentially lots of Sasuke), alternate universe (i.e. kiss canon goodbye), OCC behaviors and personalities, a number of original characters and obscure canon characters to flesh out family trees, random chosen last names to give a number of characters surnames, and who knows what else.
AN1: Partial credit for the Story Prompt/Challenge used to create this story goes to the Guru of Challenges; Challenge King. For details, see the first author's note at the top of the first chapter.
AN2: This story is self-beta'd; so there may be occasional grammatical or spelling errors that crop up every now and then and for those I apologize in advance.
Chapter Thirty-Nine: Stress Assessment
May 23, 1990, 08:15 AM
Konohagakure no Sato, Hi no Kuni
Inoichi suppressed a snort of exasperated amusement as he watched Haruo push Naruto into the trap field, so to speak, when the younger boy volunteered the twelve year old to speak to Inoichi first. Haruo normally didn't mind talking to him or letting him view his memories but the nine year old had been rather moody and recalcitrant ever since he'd come back from Nami. Inoichi actually wasn't surprised by Haruo's behavior; the young Genin had been put through a rather traumatic experience during that mission.
And that was without adding in the complications of an unstable and stressed magical core.
Naruto offered up a few halfhearted complaints about being 'volunteered' to go first but it was quite obvious to Inoichi that the pre-teen didn't really mind. Naruto's mock whining also served to amuse Haruo and Inoichi suspected that was the only reason Naruto had done it in the first place; to cheer his best friend up. That was actually typical behavior for both boys; neither one of them liked it when their friend was unhappy and they would both go out of their way to cheer the other one up unless they were both feeling miserable and that rarely ever happened.
Of course, the reason it was so rare for both boys to be unhappy was because one or the other of them usually proposed a large scale prank to cheer themselves up and they were currently banned from pranking; meaning that their usual form self-therapy was currently unavailable for them. Though, based on what Kuma had shown him, the ANBU Captain had turned a blind eye to the two boys pranking Black during the time they'd spent with the unstable Trueborn due to how unsettled Haruo had been upon learning about Black and Lupin's relationship to him and that they were now in Konoha.
If not for that little bit of indulgence from his father, Inoichi was quite certain that Haruo would be quite a bit moodier than he was right that moment and that Naruto's temper would be on a slow boil as a result of Haruo's moodiness.
"Go ahead and have a seat on the couch, Naruto-kun," Inoichi instructed as he sat down at his desk and pulled out the half-filled scroll that held the notes he'd taken during his previous counseling sessions with Naruto. As soon as he saw that Naruto had made himself comfortable, Inoichi opened his ink well, snagged his pen, and dipped the nub of the pen in the ink before he inquired, "How have you been since we last spoke back on the seventeenth?"
"Okay, I guess," Naruto replied as he scrunched his face up in thought.
"I'd be a lot better if Haruo and I weren't still grounded. It's been far too long since I last had any ramen that if I don't get to have some soon, I'm gonna forget what it tastes like, dattebayo! And not being allowed to wear orange sucks."
"Do you feel that the punishments you were given were too harsh?"
"No, I just don't see why Kakashi-sensei and Koneko-chan had to ground us on top of the punishments that jijii gave us."
Inoichi hummed an acknowledgement before he asked, "Why do you think they decided to ground you two on top of the other punishments you were given?"
"I don't know!"
"Try again; I know for a fact that you were told exactly why you were being grounded."
Naruto glared mutinously at him for all of thirteen seconds before he defensively crossed his arms over his chest and grumbled, "Sensei said it was because we were fighting on a mission but I still don't know why he had to take away our favorite things, dattebayo."
"Let's look at the restrictions he gave you one at a time and see if we can't come up with a few potential reasons as to why those specific restrictions were picked, shall we? We'll start with his decision to ban you from eating your favorite food. What can you tell me about ramen?"
"Well, it's only the best food ever!"
"And how often do you usually eat ramen?"
"At least once a day! Sometimes twice a day; if we have enough money to buy some Ichiraku's Ramen!"
"Would you say that you think about ramen a lot when you're not eating it?" Inoichi inquired without blinking at the overly large amount of ramen the two boys consumed; he'd have been far more concerned about Naruto's and Haruo's health due to them regularly consuming an unhealthy amount of sodium if he wasn't already aware that the boys also ate a large amount of fresh fruits and vegetables from Haruo's garden and took daily supplements for those vitamins and minerals they didn't obtain through their diet.
"How do you feel when you're eating ramen?"
"Happy and warm."
"How have you felt since you've not been allowed to eat any ramen?"
"Grumpy and sad."
"And what are you thinking about while you're grumpy and sad that you aren't eating ramen?"
"How much I wish I had a bowl of ramen."
"That's the only thing you think about?"
"Yes. Well, mostly. I also sometimes wish Sasuke wasn't such a jerk because if he wasn't always picking on us, then we'd never have a reason to fight with him."
Inoichi let out another soft hum as he made a note on the scroll that Naruto was still focusing most of the blame on Sasuke's behavior but not Sasuke personally. He also commented on the fact that Naruto had, in a round about way, admitted that fighting with his teammate was not a good thing; though few others would have picked up on that simply because of the way that Naruto had worded his answer. Lastly, the only 'reason' that Naruto had given for him and Haruo fighting with Sasuke was due to Sasuke borderline bullying the two boys.
"So, would you say that your current lack of ramen made you think more or less about your interactions with Sasuke?"
"A little bit more, I guess. Though not much because I don't really like thinking about Sasuke-teme."
"Have you also given any thought about the way you react to the things that Sasuke says or does?"
"What do you mean?" Naruto asked as he scrunched his face up in confusion.
"When Sasuke insults you by calling you a derogatory name; what do you do?"
"I call him names back."
"Does calling him names in return make him stop insulting you? Or does that just make him insult you more?"
"It makes him insult me more."
"Would you say that insulting Sasuke in return solves anything?"
"No," Naruto grudgingly admitted as he crossed his arms over his chest once more.
"Since you know that insulting him back doesn't solve anything; why do you keep insulting him back?"
"Because the things he calls me and Haruo make me mad."
"What happens when you get mad?"
"It makes me want to punch the jerk just to get him to shut up."
"Would hitting him make him stop insulting you any more than calling him names in return would?"
"So, since neither insulting nor hitting Sasuke will change how Sasuke treats you; what does that tell you about the way you react to his insults?"
"That it's only making things worse," Naruto quietly replied as he scowled at the floor.
"Can you think of a response you could give to Sasuke each time he insults you that would not end up escalating things into another fight between the two of you?"
"I could slap a blank seal tag over his mouth and then I wouldn't have to hear him."
Inoichi very carefully didn't show the amusement he felt over Naruto's response; it wouldn't do to give the gaki any encouragement. Instead, he arched an eyebrow at the younger blond and asked, "And do you really think that is going to make him stop insulting you in the future?"
"No, but it'd shut him up for a little bit."
"Maybe the next time you're sad about your lack of ramen, you could stop and think about a more appropriate response to Sasuke's behavior instead of dwelling on the fact that he keeps insulting you."
Naruto wrinkled his nose in distaste before he huffed, "I guess I can try."
"Good, that's all I ask."
Seeing that he'd helped Naruto see a potential reason for his Jounin sensei for depriving him of his favorite food, Inoichi moved onto the next restriction; banning the Genin from wearing his favorite color. This time, Inoichi guided Naruto into seeing his uniform as a reflection of his professionalism; since how he presents himself to a client determines whether or not that client continues to use Konoha's services or chooses to approach a different hidden village instead. Once Naruto grasped that concept, he tied it back to his mostly negative interactions with Sasuke.
Naruto was far more contemplative and less defensive by that point and Inoichi moved on to address the pranking ban that Kakashi had implemented. This time, he carefully coaxed Naruto into realizing that the constant pranks that he and Haruo played on Sasuke were no different than Sasuke insulting the boys first. That was especially true when it came to those pranks that Sasuke knew the two had played on them. That was a particularly difficult conversation because Naruto had grown rather distraught upon realizing that his and Haruo's pranks could be seen as bullying.
Inoichi talked Naruto through his distress before he suggested that he take the time to think about what the pranks that he played on people were supposed to achieve. The one thing he didn't do was make any attempts to get the blond to swear off pranking entirely; both Naruto and Haruo needed that outlet to help them cope with the negativity that was directed at both boys on a regular basis (most of which was directed at Naruto). The last thing the village needed was for either boy to start bottling up their negative emotions until one or both of them snapped.
As long as they had that unconventional outlet to burn off stress and show the more aggressive bullies they encountered that they weren't defenseless targets, then the chances that either of the boys would turn on the villagers if they snapped would be significantly lower.
Naruto had already proven that he was capable of killing in certain circumstances. Inoichi had no doubt that Haruo was just as capable and he knew the only reason the younger boy hadn't already taken a life was because he'd been far too close to exhausted when he'd 'snapped' during the previous mission. Inoichi had seen the damage the little Trueborn had done to the Hyouton user first hand and the teen was lucky to be alive even if death would have been more merciful in light of the sheer number of injuries (half of them potentially crippling) that Haruo had inflicted upon him in his rage.
So, no; he wasn't going to discourage the mostly harmless (some of their targets did suffer a measure of mental anguish) outlet the two boys had turned to in order bleed off the stress they accrued.
After exhausting Naruto's patience when it came to the extra punishments he'd been assigned for fighting while on a mission, Inoichi gently questioned the blond to determine how he was handling the knowledge that he'd taken his second life while in Nami. He knew Gato's death hadn't affected the preteen as much as Mizuki's had but that was only to be expected; Gato was a stranger while Mizuki had been his teacher for years, Gato was only ever seen by him as the 'bad guy' while Mizuki had betrayed Naruto's trust, and Gato's death had been 'hands off' while Mizuki's had not.
Once he'd made certain that Naruto wasn't stressing over the tyrant's death or bottling up any guilt he felt, Inoichi broached the next sensitive topic; the Kyuubi. Specifically, he carefully probed Naruto to determine whether or not the incident during the fight that had taken on the newly completed bridge connecting Nami to the mainland had awakened the fox. He also subtlety interrogated the Genin to determine if there'd been any other times where he'd drawn on the demon's chakra or if he'd made any attempts to experiment with the fox's chakra on his own.
He was relieved when all of the answers Naruto gave him regarding that particular subject all turned out to be negative.
The last subject he addressed was Naruto's feelings regarding the arrival of Haruo's godfather and family friend in Konoha; the Jounin checking to make certain that Naruto wasn't inordinately envious of the fact that Haruo had had more family crawl out of the woodwork so soon after Tenzou's relationship had been revealed. Naruto actually admitted that he was a touch jealous but mostly just happy for Haruo. He was also more than a little fearful that Haruo wouldn't need him any longer because he had a proper family.
Inoichi couldn't see that ever happening; Haruo was far too attached to the bewhiskered blond. It would take time for Naruto to fully accept that though. The young Jinchuuriki still had a number of long held insecurities though and the numerous upheavals that Naruto had experienced over the past six months had stirred up those insecurities. Sadly, there would be very little time for Naruto to recover from the latest disruption in his life before the next one hit him between the eyes without any warning later that night.
Inoichi would have loved to have warned the twelve year old about the exploding tag flying towards him but it wasn't his place to discuss Shikaku's plan to adopt Haruo into the Nara Clan with the boys. Not only was his teammate's little plot considered Clan Business, Black had demanded to be present when Haruo first learned about the offer before he agreed to allow Shikaku to carry out his insane plan. And, if Inoichi warned Naruto, then Naruto would warn Haruo and thereby break the verbal agreement that had been made at the time Shikaku had first come up with his latest brainchild.
The plan was brilliant in its simplicity and it would give Haruo a considerable amount of protection. At the same time, it was the height of idiocy when it came to the timing because of how much stress both boys were experiencing in the wake of the Nami mission. Two years ago… a year ago… hell just six months ago, adopting Haruo into the Nara Clan would have been sheer genius and far more effective; if only because Haruo hadn't had any family or family connections that he'd been aware of as little as six months ago.
Now he had family practically falling out of the trees and there was a significantly higher chance that Haruo would spurn the offer in favor of his actual family.
Then again, if Shikaku wisely included Naruto in that offer, Haruo would likely agree faster than Naruto could inhale a fresh bowl of ramen. The ready access to the deer herd would also be a huge incentive given how much the little gaki loved animals and the deer in particular. On top of that, Haruo's fear of being taken away from Konoha by his godfather and his godfather's friend could see Haruo blindly grasping at the potential shield that the Nara Clan could provide him against such an eventuality.
On the flip side, Haruo could potentially reject the idea entirely if it in any way looked like an attempt to separate him from Naruto. The offer could also potentially see the nine year old snapping under the pressure of too many changes happening over too a short period of time with little to no chance to find his feet between changes.
There was also a good chance that Naruto would snap instead if Haruo agreed to go along with the 'adoption'; if only because the blond might see his friend's agreement as Haruo pulling away from him. That possibility would probably see Inoichi pulling both boys in for another counseling session after Shikaku had presented his idea to them whether or not the younger boy agreed. He'd probably have to pull Black in for an extra session as well since the unstable Trueborn would likely have issues dealing with the situation based on the revelations about Black's damaged core.
Inoichi set his concerns about the future aside for the moment and refocused instead on his current discussion with the antsy Genin in front of him as he wrapped up the subject of Naruto's feelings regarding the two adult Trueborns before he asked, "Do you have any questions about any of the things we talked about today?"
"Do you have any questions on any topics that we didn't talk about today?"
Naruto hesitated for a moment before he tentatively asked, "Do… do you think I could have family out there too?"
"Is it possible? Yes, it's theoretically possible. Is it likely? My first inclination is to say no; if only because it's been over twelve years and no one has come forward."
Inoichi watched the blond deflate in response to his discouraging answer and tried not to feel guilty about all but crushing Naruto's hopes that he'd one day find a long-lost family member. Before the child could grow too despondent, Inoichi gently added, "You would do well to remember that family isn't just about having a blood connection and that it is possible for you to make your own family. I have no doubt that Haruo would be more than happy to be part of your family and that he most likely already sees you as part of his family."
"Thanks, Ino's-tousan," Naruto sincerely replied before he shot a small smirk at Inoichi when the older blond let out a soft snort of amusement in response to the gaki still insisting on addressing him on a nickname based on his relationship with his daughter.
"You're welcome, Naruto-kun. Now, if there's nothing else you wish to talk with me about, why don't you go swap places with your usual partner in crime?"
Naruto didn't need to be told twice and the word 'swap' had barely left his mouth before the younger blond was at the door in his hurry to vacate Inoichi's office. The Jounin refrained from laughing, though an amused smile did play about his lips; Naruto's inability to sit still for any length of time was well known. The kid hadn't really stopped shifting and twitching for more than a second or two at a time from the moment he'd sat down. At least he hadn't been bouncing around the office for the entire session like he had the first time Inoichi had seen him in his professional capacity.
He also hadn't attempted to leave a prank in the room this time.
Though, Inoichi chalked that up to Naruto for once going first instead of Haruo (and therefore denying the gaki an extra forty-five minutes to prepare a prank) and for the current prank ban that was part of his punishment.
He was sure the suspected president of the KPA would make up for the lack at the first opportunity presented.
Unless the suspected vice-president beat him to it; Haruo technically wasn't banned from planning pranks – just from playing them for the duration of his grounding. And Inoichi knew the two boys had only been placed on restriction for a total of seven days, five of which had already passed; meaning that there was less than forty-eight hours left before the two of them were free to prank again. Inoichi almost pitied their first target on the day after their grounding was over. At least he'd done what he could to curb Naruto's vindictiveness during the blond's session.
Now, he just had to see if he could do the same with Haruo.
Speaking of Haruo, the gaki should have already been inside of his office; Naruto had left two full minutes ago. Inoichi was just climbing to his feet to see what was taking the younger boy so long when the door was opened from the other side and Naruto pushed Haruo into the room before he pulled the door shut again. That was unexpected. Then again, maybe not; Naruto had just spent forty-five minutes out of Haruo's sight and the nine year old probably hadn't wanted to let him out of his sight again for even a minute after that.
"Go ahead and have a seat, Haruo-kun," Inoichi patiently instructed when Haruo didn't immediately step away from the door before he swapped out the scroll holding his notes on Naruto's sessions to the current one he was using for Haruo's sessions as he retook his seat. "The sooner we get started, the sooner we'll be done."
The nine year old sighed and slunk over to the couch where he promptly curled himself up onto the corner furthest from Inoichi's desk so he was half facing away from Inoichi without actually putting his back to him. The child's position clearly told Inoichi that Haruo was uncomfortable; he just didn't know if that was because Haruo was mad at him for some reason, if Haruo was scared he was going to be punished further, or if Haruo was simply that nervous about the topics that Inoichi needed to discuss with him.
Instead of just straight out asking the nine year old why he was so uncomfortable (since there was no guarantee that he would answer due to his current moodiness), Inoichi started with the same opening questions he'd asked Naruto, "Haruo-kun, how have you been since we last spoke back on the seventeenth?"
All he got in return was a shrug before Haruo tried to make himself even smaller; a reaction that told him Haruo wasn't mad at him (there was no accompanying glare) and that the child most likely didn't want to talk about whatever it was that was currently bothering him. Inoichi knew there were at least three, possibly four, potential topics that would drive Haruo into himself like that; his life prior to Konoha, his former guardians, or the mess that was Team Seven's mission to Nami with the potential fourth topic being the two adult Trueborns and their relationship to him.
He just couldn't narrow down which one (or ones) was the culprit. He also couldn't rule out the recent revelations about Haruo's magical core being unstable being partially responsible since once of the symptoms of an unstable core was an abrupt change in personality and Haruo was currently not his usual bubbly self.
Inoichi let out an absent hum and dropped his pen on his desk before he climbed back to his feet, rounded the desk, and joined Haruo on the couch. Through the years he'd known the gaki, Inoichi had found that the best way to get a moody Haruo to open up was to drop the professional mindset he usually adopted when questioning his patients in order to maintain his impartiality and approach the child with a parental mindset; Haruo always responded more favorably to stern and caring than he did with cold and clinical when he was unhappy.
"Are you still feeling under the weather physically or are you just stressing about everything?" Inoichi pointedly inquired the moment Haruo snapped his head up in response to his weight settling on the couch.
Haruo let out a soft huff before he muttered, "Both."
"I see, in that case; we'll address your physical health first. Why don't you start by telling me what's wrong?"
"I'm still tired all the time because I feel like I'm exhausted again and it's annoying because I'm always falling asleep at the stupidest times," Haruo immediately complained. "The stupid nightmares don't help. And… and my chest feels all achy and itchy but not; like there's a bunch of stupid invisible ants crawling around inside of me and biting me."
"Have you told anyone else about the way your chest feels?" Inoichi sternly demanded as Haruo's revelation regarding the discomfort he felt in his chest immediately raised flags in light of the recent diagnosis pertaining to the damage that Haruo's magical core had sustained due to a partial binding that had been placed on him years earlier.
"Yeah, I told sensei-nii and sensei-nii told the two men that are like me."
"What did Lupin-san and Black-san have to say when they heard about the way you felt?"
"They said it was normal and that what I feeling was my core healing the spots where the bindings were pulled out. They said the reason why I keep falling asleep all the time is because of the healing too because my core is eating up all of my magic to heal itself."
"Have you asked either man if there was anything they could do to ease the discomfort you feel?"
"Yeah, they said they couldn't do anything because it would make things worse."
"Were they able to give you an idea of how much longer it would take for your core to heal?"
"No, but they said the not-itchiness and the not-achiness should go away soon because the worst of the damage from me breaking the bindings should've healed while I was recovering from the fight with the stupid ice-teme."
Inoichi let out a quiet hum of acknowledgment before he asked, "Does the odd feeling in your chest interfere with your sleep at all?"
"Not really. I don't feel it when I'm asleep."
"Are there any other times when the discomfort in your chest doesn't bother you?"
"No, just when I'm sleeping."
"Has the discomfort you feel in your chest ever grown worse as a result of any activities you've participated in while you were awake?"
"No, but the man that's supposed to be my daifu said that the not-itchiness and the not-achiness would become a not-stabbing and not-burning almost pain if I used any magic at all while my chest was still all achy and itchy but not."
That pretty much meshed with the warning not to allow Haruo to get stressed to the point where he had an accidental outburst of magic that Lupin and Black had given to Kuma after they'd discovered the current state of Haruo's core. It also set off warning bells in Inoichi's mind in regards to Haruo's current moodiness; since a moody and irritable Haruo was far more likely to unconsciously lash out with his magic than a happy and content Haruo. A split second later, Inoichi made the decision to order Shikaku to postpone the presentation of his offer for a couple of days.
Adding to Haruo's current stress while he was in as much discomfort as he was would be a very bad idea.
After making a mental note to see Shikaku directly after Haruo's session was over, Inoichi moved the conversation with the nine year old along as he asked, "What is it about your current physical discomfort and constant state of exhaustion that bothers you the most, Haruo-kun?"
"Everything," Haruo dramatically declared as a rather adorable pouting scowl formed on the kid's face. "I'm always tired. I'm not allowed to do anything. I keep falling asleep at the stupidest times. People keep carrying me around after I fall asleep instead of waking me up. I hate feeling miserable all the time. And it's been days since I was allowed to work in my garden!"
"Who banned you from working in your garden?"
"No one. Everyone just keeps dragging me off for other things. Well, Shikamaru didn't drag me off and it was fun visiting with the deer again but sensei-nii dragged me off to spend time with those two guys like me on Monday and Tuesday and today I had to see you and by the time you're done with me, I'll be too tired and cranky to work in my garden before lunch and we have to spend the afternoon at the Academy again."
"You could always take a nap and eat lunch in your garden once we're done."
"No, I can't; sensei-nii won't let me show the two Outsiders my garden and Naruto promised them that we'd have lunch with them again today while I was sleeping again yesterday."
"In that case, why not camp out in your garden for a couple of nights?" Inoichi suggested since he knew just how much it bothered Haruo to be kept from his garden for any length of time.
Haruo immediately perked up in response to the suggestion; a clear indication that the nine year old hadn't thought to spend the nights in his garden if he couldn't spend any time in it during the day. Though, it was also possible that he'd just been too exhausted to think of a solution or that Kuma had been keeping the boy on a short leash in the hopes that it would keep the green-eyed Genin out of trouble while he was still on medical restriction.
"Now that we've established that you have alternate options for visiting your garden, I'd like for you to explain what you meant earlier about not being allowed to do anything."
"I'm not allowed to use any chakra until Tokage gives me permission because of what happened in Nami. I can't do any training at all because it might make things worse. I can't do any cooking because sensei-nii keeps hovering. Iruka-sensei won't let me help with taijutsu practice at the Academy any more because of the no training thing. I can't regrow all of the plants that died in my garden until Tokage says I can use chakra again. And I'm not allowed to prank the jerks that have been glaring at Naruto again."
"So, basically, you're growing bored and frustrated because you've been ordered to rest until you've fully recovered."
"And I'm sick of being treated like a baby," Haruo added as his mood abruptly turned black with a volatile mixture of frustration, anger, and disgust that alarmed Inoichi. "I'm not a baby."
"No one thinks you're a baby, Haruo," Inoichi calmly assured Haruo in the hopes that he could draw the preteen out of his darkening mood before his volatile emotions triggered an accidental outburst of magic. "We're just concerned about your health and what to make certain that you don't push yourself too hard while you're still healing."
"Sasuke-teme thinks I'm a baby. He's always picking on me because I'm the youngest. He's always calling me a cry-baby too. And now we're not even allowed to prank the douche bag for being an asshat after he was such a prick during the mission. He's even meaner to Naruto than he is to me. I hate him. I wish we were never put on the same team as the jerk. I'd rather be on a team with my stupid cousin and Dudley was a stupid jerk."
Kuso, Inoichi mentally cursed as he quickly reached the conclusion that the animosity between Haruo and Sasuke was far more serious than he originally thought it to be if Haruo felt his cousin was the lesser of two evils. He grew pensive a split second later as it occurred to him that the imbalance Haruo's unstable core was potentially causing in his magic was acerbating the situation. As soon as that thought passed through his mind, Inoichi suspected there was only one way to calm Haruo down enough to dispel the child's dark mood.
The solution he had in mind was more than a little unorthodox and something he'd never consider doing with any other patient of his but the current situation isn't exactly something that he'd have to worry about facing when dealing with any other patient under his care. Climbing to his feet, Inoichi walked to the door, stuck his head out of his office, and ordered, "Naruto-kun, get in here, please; I need you to calm Haruo down before he hurts himself."
The blond was quick to obey and less than fifteen seconds later, Haruo was firmly attached to Naruto's side with his face buried in Naruto's stomach; the little Trueborn holding onto his friend for dear life. The way the most of the tension bled right out of the preteen the moment he was touching Naruto was an indication that part of the problem had been core related based on the way Naruto's proximity had helped settle the Trueborn so quickly. And while Inoichi felt nothing but relief over averting the pending disaster that was Haruo's temper, he was still concerned about Haruo's mental state.
"Haruo-kun…?" Inoichi prompted as he reseated himself at his desk.
"Nani, Inoichi-sensei?" Haruo asked in response to hearing his name called; the boy's voice slightly muffled since he hadn't bothered to lift his face away from Naruto's stomach.
"I will allow Naruto to stay in the room for the rest of today's session on the condition that you don't encourage him to answer any of my questions in your place."
"Okay," Haruo readily agreed as the last of the tension left his small frame.
"And, Naruto-kun, that means you need to resist the temptation to answer for Haruo and not jump to Haruo's defense in response to any of the questions I ask."
"Good, now that we've gotten that out of the way; Haruo-kun, will you please tell me if you've always hated Sasuke or if it's only recently that you've started to hate him?"
"I don't know. I never really liked him and the way he constantly picks on Naruto has always annoyed me. I don't think I ever wanted to break his face like I do right now when we were all still in the Academy though. The only person I hate more than him right now is the ice-teme. And that no-brow-teme, Zabuza."
"Do you know why you are angrier with Sasuke now than you were before?"
"Everyone keeps treating me like a baby. And Sasuke's is always calling me a cry-baby. So, when he finds out everyone has been treating me like a baby, he's gonna be a bigger douche bag about it than he was before."
"You believe that the way various people have been fussing over you due to your current less than perfect health is going to give Sasuke more ammunition to use against you," Inoichi quickly deduced once he'd filtered out Haruo's insults and interpreted the hidden meaning behind Haruo's complaints. He then addressed Haruo's language now that he didn't need to worry about Haruo's temper snapping and sternly demanded, "Do you really think calling your teammate such foul insults is going to help matters any?"
"No," Haruo mulishly replied before he added a petulant, "but it makes me feel better when his face turns all red and constipated each time I call him those things to his face."
Inoichi heaved a heavy mental sigh in response to that little admission before he verbally walked Haruo through the process of realizing that the way he was treating Sasuke was no different than the way Sasuke treated him. Haruo took the news that he was bullying a bully just as poorly as Naruto had taken it earlier and Inoichi suspected the only reason Haruo's magic hadn't acted up was due to Naruto being close at hand. Talking the nine year old through his distress over that realization took a little longer than it had for him to talk Naruto through his.
That didn't surprise Inoichi though; Haruo was far more sensitive than Naruto when it came to bullies because of the way he'd been treated by his former guardians.
It was probably a subject that should have been addressed with both boys years earlier when they first began retaliating against those that picked on them but their behavior had seemed to be far less of an issue when they had a much wider range of targets to grab their attention whereas they'd been intently focused on Sasuke (and to a lesser extent, Sakura) since the day they'd been assigned to the same team as the Uchiha. The fact that the amount of time the boys spent in each other's company had significantly multiplied the issue as well; since they didn't have the presence of other children to buffer them now.
Still, better late than never and Inoichi believed that Haruo and Naruto would make an honest effort to tone down their habit of responding negatively to Sasuke's attempts to instigate a fight with either boy. He also suspected that the two friends would go out of their way not to start any fights with their least favorite teammate.
By the time he'd wrapped up that discussion with Haruo, Inoichi noted that he wasn't going to have enough time to cover any of the other topics he'd wanted to discuss with Haruo if he wanted to leave himself enough time to view the nine year old's memories of the time he'd spent in the company of the two adult Trueborns. It normally wouldn't be a big deal if their session ran a little over their scheduled appointment time but given the amount of stress that Haruo was under at the moment, it would be better not to drag things out right now.
He would just have to meet with Haruo again sooner rather than later in order to discuss those topics that he felt needed to be addressed before Shikaku dropped his little exploding tag into Haruo's life.
With that in mind, Inoichi got up to approach the couch once more as he instructed Haruo to roll over and sit up so that he could view his memories. Less than a minute later, Inoichi was once again stepping into the unique mindscape of the young Trueborn. Instead of stopping to examine the latest changes to Haruo's mindscape (Haruo's mind constantly evolving as he grew older and matured), Inoichi made his way through the dense maze of vegetation that had gradually encroached on the clearing that had been Haruo's original mindscape through the years.
It wouldn't take him long to reach the heart of Haruo's mindscape thanks to his familiarity with the child's mind and Inoichi studiously ignored the way Haruo's ever-changing mental avatar hid behind the holly tree instead of coming to greet him like he usually would. To Inoichi, the sudden moment of shyness just emphasized how unsettled and stressed the little Genin was at the moment. So, rather than waste time trying to draw the mental avatar out and risk upsetting him, he approached the pond holding Haruo's memories.
Less than eight minutes later, Inoichi dropped out of Haruo's mind and dismissed the two boys roughly ten minutes early before he locked up his office so that he could hunt down Shikaku and inform his teammate about putting his plans on hold for a couple of days. After he browbeat Shikaku into seeing things his way, Inoichi dropped by Kasai's office to warn the old bear about the change in plans before he sought out Kuma to give him a heads up as well. He then returned to his office to fill out reports on his morning sessions with Naruto and Haruo before he took an hour for lunch.
Once he'd finished his meal, he would return to his office to prepare for his afternoon appointment with Sasuke.
Translations: English to Japanese
Aa – yes
Kuso – a swear word
Nani – what
Wakatta – I understand/understood
Sayings/Idioms – Saying that some is pushing someone else into a trap field would be the shinobi equivalent of throwing someone under the bus; basically, it's offering up a sacrifice in order to save yourself. I couldn't very well have Inoichi say 'throw him under the bus' because there aren't any buses in Konoha.
Assigned Punishments – here is the full list of assigned punishments for all three Genin for review purposes:
Docked Mission Pay – Naruto, Haruo & Sasuke were each docked on 1 full rank's pay (I.E. they performed an A Rank Mission but only got paid for a B Rank Mission); assigned by Hokage
Mission Restrictions – Team 7 limited to D Ranks only until they improve their teamwork; assigned by Hokage
Community Service – all 3 boys are required to work at the Academy for 4 hours per day for one week; assigned by Kakashi
Ramen Ban – 7 day ban on all ramen for Naruto & Haruo (Poor Naruto); assigned by Tenzou
Garden Restrictions – Haruo not allowed to add new plants or revive dead plants in his garden; assigned by Tenzou
Orange Ban – 7 day ban on all orange for Naruto; assigned by Kakashi
Prank Restriction – Naruto is not allowed to plan any pranks for 7 days; assigned by Kakashi
Prank Reduction – Naruto & Haruo are no longer allowed to prank Sasuke outside of spars or seed the obstacle course w/ their pranks; assigned by Kakashi
Training Restrictions – Sasuke is not allowed to train unsupervised for 7 days; assigned by Kakashi
House Arrest – Sasuke was ordered to stay home & rest when not performing community service (for his health); assigned by Kakashi
Tomato Ban – 7 day ban on all tomatoes for Sasuke; assigned by Kakashi
Mandatory Counseling – Sasuke has to attend regular counseling sessions w/ Inoichi; assigned by Hokage
AN: Well, I didn't actually get to cover everything that I'd intended to cover in this chapter but it was close enough since I was able to show that both Haruo/Harry and Naruto both still have issues they need to work out instead of it seeming like it's just Haruo that is floundering. This also showed some parallels between Sirius's unstable core and Haruo's unstable core in that both of them had chosen a single individual to focus all of their irritation on when they were feel off balance (Sirius targeting Snape when he was younger and Haruo targeting Sasuke for pretty much the same reasons - their chosen targets being the prime rivals of their best friends and anchors).
And for those who think Haruo's reaction was a little extreme here, you should know I toned it way down from the original draft I wrote where I'd actually had Haruo having an outburst of accidental magic. I figured that would have been too extreme and felt it was just too much to dump on Haruo on top of all of the other things going on and so cut it.
Anywho, there's only four, possibly five (depending on how wordy I get) chapters left in this arc with the next chap featuring a glimpse of Sakura's home life, further insight into Sasuke's psyche, and a quick look at the fallout from Sirius's 'death' back in the wizarding world. I have all three sections outlined but haven't actually written them yet, so it might be a while before I can post again unless inspiration strikes like it did for this chapter.
On the upside, I finally finished the next chapter for Magic Online this week; it just needs to be edited. You can expect to see that story updated the weekend after next since I'd already committed to posting the next chapter of Rise of the Archer next weekend. That will also give me plenty of time to edit the monster of a chapter that the next chapter of MO turned out to be (just under 10,000 words NOT including any AN's).
ANYway, I hope you enjoyed the chapter. ~ Jenn