BONUS #27: Sealing Languages

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Jiraiya's House

Kakashi's face looked like a cross between a kicked puppy and a stranded fish. It was too much for Jiraiya, who burst out into hysterical guffaws.

"Is this…is this the Hiraishin no Jutsu?" Kakashi whispered.

Jiraiya was bent over, wheezing.

"You had it this entire time?"

Jiraiya nodded, still laughing.

Fine, so perhaps Jiraiya should have given it to him sooner instead of waiting for the Saindaime to remind him about it. But he couldn't have let Kakashi get his hands on it right after Minato died. Jiraiya wasn't that irresponsible. Letting an emotionally compromised teenager with a chakra-parasite eye attempt dimensional jumps was just asking for trouble.

And then Jiraiya's world travels happened, and Orochimaru happened, and Akatsuki happened, and he was busy, okay?

Whatever. Seeing Kakashi shocked into speechlessness was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and all of the stalling had been so worth it.

Kakashi gently hugged the package to his chest like it was going to fall apart if he even jostled it a tiny bit. Which was, to be fair, true. To call it unwieldy was an understatement – a chaotic conglomerate of faded parchment held together with hope and prayer was a better description. Jiraiya himself had dropped it multiple times, and he'dd given up on putting it back together long ago, having opted for cramming the pages back in any haphazard order he could manage and keeping it in one relative mass with various combinations of tape and string.

He didn't think Tobirama had ever learned to number his pages, and he was pretty sure that Minato, for all of his organizational prowness, hadn't, either.

If there was anyone who deserved the arduous task of putting the thing back together in the right order, it was Kakashi.

The really funny thing was watching him revere a dog-eared bundle of papers more than he respected most people on the planet. "You should see your face!" Jiraiya gasped.

"Oh, yeah?" Kakashi retorted, never one to be the butt of a joke for long. "If you've had it for all this time, how come I've never heard any stories of a teleporting Sannin?"

Jiraiya shut his mouth petulantly. "I'd like to see you decipher something that isn't even in the standard script."

That had been the genius of the Yondaime. He'd invented his own goddamn custom sealing language from scratch for the sole purpose of improving one of the Nidaime's curiosities.

Because that was what the Hiraishin originally was. A barely functional curiosity. Tobirama's experiment in a fuinjutsu-based equivalent to the Shunshin. That was the version the Hokage guard platoon learned, and since it was slower and clunkier and more complicated than even Kawarimi, it was simply regarded at yet another theoretical exercise in fuinjutsu application rather than a useful technique.

"Like what?" Kakashi asked, crossing his arms.

But Minato had recognized its potential, dubbed the Uzushiogakure standard script as completely useless for these purposes (even though it had been created by the greatest sealing masters of history and worked perfectly well for basically every other application for centuries, the arrogant little shite), and invented an entirely new, perfectly self-contained, system of sealing. All of that, to improve the speed and efficiency of ONE technique.

And then he up and died without teaching anyone what exactly he meant by all his numerical mumbo-jumbo.

Except for maybe one person.

"Like those rows of numbers and letters that don't even have any operations. They're not even labeled. What purpose do they even serve, huh?" Jiraiya asked, pointing to a random page.

Kakashi lifted an eyebrow, and then, two seconds later, answered, "That's just him being too lazy to write down a hundred different variables for five different dimensions twenty times."

Jiraiya threw a scroll at Kakashi's smug little face.

"Get out, smartass."

Kakashi ducked the flying scroll, and his grin sobered when he glanced a second time at Minato's masterpiece. "When are you going to tell him?" he asked.

Oh, gods, this again. "That's your job. You're his sensei, and he was yours," Jiraiya said, staring pointedly at the secret code to the Hiraishin.

"You're his godfather," Kakashi shot back.

Jiraiya buried his face in his hands. "Oh, don't remind me…"

"You should tell him," Kakashi repeated.

"And what exactly do I tell him?" Jiraiya hissed. "'Hey Naruto, you remember those years you spent alone with a crappy childhood? That could have been avoided if I decided to man up and take care of you like I was supposed to instead of gallivanting across the world, boozing and whoring! But that didn't happen, because I was selfish and irresponsible enough to think my own pain was greater than yours, the legacy of my student and Konoha's greatest hero, which we all left to trample in the dirt!"

Kakashi shrugged. "That sounds about right."

Jiraiya looked down and fiddled with the clasps on his pack. "I'll tell him everything when he masters the ninth tail," Jiraiya promised.

Kakashi looked out the window. "That might be sooner than you think."

The Front Gate

For once, it was Kakashi-sensei who was waiting for us, rather than the other way around – most likely because this was a meeting he hadn't been invited to, and thus had no personal obligation to waste anyone else's time.

Though I was excited to be leading my first mission, doubly so since we were returning to Tanyu to meet the Daimyo in person, I was also extremely nervous.

I wished Kakashi-sensei could come with us. I had nothing against Jiraiya; he was a Sannin, after all, and I trusted Naruto's judgment of his character. But I had gotten used to my old team.

As a Chunin in all but name, I knew that I supposed to be adaptable, able to work with teams of strangers chosen for a skill set pertaining to the mission rather than personality. One couldn't expect to remain in the comfort zone of familiar classmates forever, after all, not when life and death was so unpredictable. But most people were allowed several years of this peace before ranking up, and a part of me wanted to be like them – the average, the unsuspecting, and thus the blissfully ignorant and unworried.

Smart or stupid, we were all puppets on strings. And I wasn't sure if being knowledgeable enough to wantto change that was any better than being unaware of those chains. Was a simple bird in its nest unhappy, just because it neither had awareness nor interest in the philosophies of how it came to be, same as the subatomic particles in the ground and the stars in space? Was a mouse in its burrow not content, even if it had no control over its environment, only subject to the whims of Mother Nature on whether or not it should freeze or drown or starve?

They knew nothing else; that's why. A wild animal had no need for either books or the secrets of the universe. The majority of the world knew nothing except the desires right in front of their noses, completely unaware of all that occurred beneath their feet. You could not miss what you never had; you could not want what you never imagined.

"You sure you'll be okay without us, sensei?" Ino asked, half in jest, and half seriously.

"I'll be fine. Sort of," he admitted, and there did seem to be a new spark of hope in his eye that wasn't there before. "But – here. I got something for you three." He held out three packages, wrapped in plain brown paper, one for each of us.

"What's this, sensei?" I asked, grabbing one and feeling around the edges. "Seems like a book."

Naruto grinned. "It's not one of your perverted books, is it?"

Kakashi-sensei at least had the decency to look affronted at that accusation. "What? No! Why would I ever do something like that?"

We all gave him the look.

He rolled his eyes. "Well, if you're just going to be so ungrateful, then I'll take them back – "

"Nope, that's okay," Ino said quickly, and tore the paper off her package. Naruto and I did the same to ours, although it hadn't really been necessary, since we had all been given the same book anyway – and thank goodness it wasn't Icha Icha.

Names, faces, ranks, known jutsu and skills, village of affiliation or former village of affiliation if they were a missing-nin, villages issuing or accepting bounties, bounty value for dead or alive, flee on sight commands…

"Sensei," I asked, "is that a Bingo Book?"

"The latest updated version," he grinned. "I even got you guys each your own platinum limited-issue personalized copy."

That turned out to mean, he had simply written our names on the inside cover…in pencil. Not even something vaguely permanent. Pencil.

"Consider it a gift from me for surviving the Chunin exams on your first try as rookies."

Naruto, Ino, and I all bit back groans. That basically translated to, "memorize this thing by heart from cover to cover; I'll test you when you get back from your Tanyu mission" in Kakashese. Yamato had a mixed expression of pity and internalized glee hidden in the corners of his mouth, as if he had been forced to do something similar before and was now relieved that it was someone else instead of him this time around. I had seen the same grin on Naruto's face before, every time Kiba got into trouble for a prank in his place.

"Why is it so thick?" Ino asked. "I've seen my dad carry a few copies around before. They're not supposed to be this fat."

"That's because it's my personal compilation of all the other villages' Bingo Books," Kakashi-sensei explained. "It's important that you know who other villages are targeting or otherwise looking for on top of who we want targeted. I don't expect you three to go around claiming bounties anytime soon, but it's always good to be aware of dangerous foreign nin. I tried to organize them by bounty amount, because those are usually a good indicator of skill level, although sometimes I will switch them around if I disagree with common opinion – usually because the ninja with the smaller bounty is more dangerous in some other way. Anyway, the last few pages are an alphabetically ordered index, and the first few pages are a table of contents, so there isn't as much as it looks."

For such a disorganized person, Kakashi-sensei could be really organized sometimes. I took a peek at the book again. Sure enough, there were marked colors at the top of every page, showing each village that listed a bounty for a particular ninja. Very powerful ninja were usually wanted by all other villages except their own. Very powerful missing-nin were wanted by all villages including their own.

Ino was not as impressed as I was. "Is this crayon?" she asked, pointing to the colored tabs.


"You're twenty-six. You live in a ninja village. Where did you even get crayons?"

"Hey, who's this guy with the big-ass meat cleaver? He has a mask, too. Is he your secret cousin or something?" Naruto asked, pointing to a random page.

"That's Zabuza Momochi. The guy who killed Gato, and the reason why there's that mess in Wave, remember?" I said.

"Oh, yeah."

"And…I think that's it. I don't like long goodbyes. So – try your best, don't screw up, and hope you have better luck than me," Kakashi-sensei said. "Don't forget to brush your teeth. If something goes wrong just spam clones and run like a bat out of hell. And Jiraiya – "

"What, brat?"

"Make sure they don't die. That's important."

"Gee, thanks, sensei," Naruto called after him.

"Since when could Naruto use sarcasm?" Ino mouthed to me.

"He's on a team with you, me, and Kakashi-sensei. He would have learned sooner or later," I whispered back.

"I heard that!" Naruto yelled.

The Hyuga Clan Compound


Hinata winced and stared down at her knuckles, which were wrapped up in bandages. She knew what was coming. "Yes, Father." Just apologize. Bow politely and agree with everything he says and maybe, just maybe, he'll dismiss you before he starts that lecture about being a disappointment to the clan again. First a weakling, and now a little barbarian who would rather use her knuckles like an Inuzuka than a proper Hyuga –

"…Nonetheless, strength is strength, and I am not so unjust to overlook it when I see it."

On the other hand, do I have to?

Hinata gulped. She didn't quite remember what happened to the little tree, but it was gone now – and her father seemed more interested in how she demolished the tree (had she really done that?) rather than the property damage associated with it. Then again, it had been a stunted little thing, anyway, and Hiashi Hyuga had probably been wanting to get rid of it for ages.

"I want you to spar Hanabi again. Do not hold back."

Oh, no. No no no no. If I lose – but if I win, then Hanabi will definitely get the seal –

Hinata stared back out the window to where the servants in the clan were digging up what remained of the destroyed tree to cart away.

Not Hanabi. No.

Oh, I am so dead.

Konoha – Somewhere

"Fancy meeting you here," the Sandaime said. "I haven't seen you out in the sunlight in quite some time." Then, he paused, considered their surroundings – an underground bunker guarded on all sides by various ANBU operatives of questionable loyalty – and had himself a good chuckle at the irony.

Danzo Shimura looked around at the barren concrete walls. "Well, what can I say. Sometimes I like a change of scenery."

The two of them shared a quick smile. The Sandaime knew they were just that – smiles, and nothing more. But Hiruzen Sarutobi longed for the days when friendship was still good and true, when the two of them could legitimately tell each other jokes without having them carry any meaning any subtler than expressing a sense of humor.

This wasn't supposed to be his job, damn it. They were supposed to be on the Fourth Hokage, not the Third. The persona of the Sandaime Hokage had been supposed to die when he had nominated the Yondaime Hokage. If only that noble idiot hadn't gone and gotten himself killed. Things might have turned out so differently then.

Hiruzen Sarutobi should have died the night of the Kyuubi attack, and would have, had he been fast enough. He would have gladly given up his own, aging self to keep the village prosperous. There was no use crying over spilled milk, but the regret would always be there.

They should have had Minato Namikaze. Instead, there was him, and Danzo, two old men long past their primes.

Minato Namikaze had been a very special man to him. Not because he had been the Yellow Flash. Not because he had been a sealing expert. Not because he had been an amazing fighter. But because he had been a man capable of surviving the viper's nest that surrounded every position of power, without having to fake kindness. He could cry at the funeral of a man he had murdered in cold blood and no one would doubt his sincerity, not even a little.

No, every bit of his love and happiness had been completely real, even when surrounded by traitors on all four sides, and for all of his life Hiruzen Sarutobi never figured out how he managed to do it.

"Please," Danzo said. "Sit." He gestured to the lone set of furniture in the room – a pair of rickety wooden stools around an equally rickety table. "I apologize I don't have better accomodations for you. I know it doesn't look like much, but they were carved from one of the Shodaime's trees, and hold great sentimental value to me. I hope their interesting history makes up for their lack of comfort."

"Ah, well, thank you. How interesting indeed," the Sandaime returned.

"Of course, when I say 'interesting history', I meant this was the attempt at a wooden horse from two Genin drunk off stolen cooking wine," Danzo added. "See, the two chairs were supposed to be the legs, and we were planning to attach it later – "

"Oh, gods above," Hiruzen sighed. "The body wouldn't stand up straight so it just ended up looking like a sideways crab – "

" – Tobirama was furious that we had destroyed one of his brother's trees, but Hashirama was laughing his ass off – "

"That's not even a table; you've just turned it upside down and seated it upon its tail and unfinished head!"

Danzo shrugged. "Waste not, want not?"

Hiruzen sunk into the "chair" and tried not to laugh. Every single goddamn time he went to talk to Danzo, this always happened. If he had been any stupider, he would have forgotten the fact that Danzo Shimura was responsible for the forced indoctrination of who knew how many children.

Oh, but that was "completely fine", because he hadn't kidnapped a single child for years (what a thing to be proud of), on the account that the ranks of ROOT were already full enough, and all those forsaken orphans were already grown up and beyond help by now.

The Village this, The Village that. All in a days' work for Danzo Don't-Worry-Hiruzen-I'll-Gladly-Sacrifice-My-Own-Dignity-for-the-Village-So-You-Don't-Have-To-Because-I'm-Just-That-Nice Shimura. And now he was pouring him tea and apologizing over the lack of proper carpeting. "Would you like any sugar?"

The Sandaime pursed his lips. "No, thank you."

"Good, because I actually don't have any."

"You know I dislike sugar."

"I have saltine crackers, if you would prefer that to tea biscuits. You can dip it in the brew and call it soup; I wouldn't mind." He looked down at the poorly-made tea self-deprecatingly. "Probably no difference anyway."

The scariest part? He wasn't acting. Danzo Shimura was a genuinely…not nice, because he wasn't nice…but he was a distinctly well-mannered person. Reminiscent of the Fourth Hokage, almost, except Minato Namikaze hadn't kidnapped children. He had, however, been directly responsible for more deaths in one battle than Danzo in his whole life.

(Indirect, of course, Danzo still took the lead, by far.)

Well, he wasn't going to get anywhere, comparing Danzo Shimura to the Fourth Hokage. Minato legitimately despised war and regretted every single kill he made. Danzo, on the other hand, wasn't averse to war if it helped him achieve his goals. Being polite and being kind were two completely unrelated things.

They sat there in silence for a moment longer, before the Sandaime spoke again, absolutely determined not to let himself get distracted. Danzo had invited him here; he was going to make the most of it. "If this is about your little spat with Shikaku Nara again, I'm leaving."

"Oh, no, no," Danzo said. "Shikaku Nara? Why would I ever concern myself with him?"

Lie. Blatant lie.

Danzo hadn't spent the past several years hiding underground, surrounded by his bodyguards, completely inaccessible to the rest of the world, for no reason. It wasn't hard to guess the source of their enmity – ROOT, child prodigies, and the unholy product of Shikaku's marriage to Yoshino only added up to one thing − but exactly what had gone down during that conflict was a mystery even to him.

It seemed the two of them were determined to keep their private war private, something the Hokage was eternally grateful for. No need to drag the rest of Konoha into their mess.

The first option would be that they danced around each other forever. Sadly, the second, more likely, outcome dictated that one of them would have to go eventually, offed by the other.

It wouldn't happen for a long time. On Danzo's end, even the Uchiha at the height of their power would be hard-pressed to find their way past his defenses and hiding-holes, let alone a tiny family like the Nara.

And on Shikaku Nara's end…well, the Hokage wasn't quite sure what hewas doing to keep ROOT at bay, but seeing as he hadn't gone the way of the Uchiha yet, it was working.

Eventually, one of them is going to get the upper hand over the other, the Sandaime observed.

Over my dead body, Hiruzen retorted.

Exactly, said the Sandaime. You realize we're the only thing keeping everything from going to hell, right? Shikaku hasn't directly tried to destroy Danzo yet because you protect him, and Danzo hasn't directly tried to destroy the Nara clan because he's afraid of pissing you off.

Neither of these options suited him very much. Despite everything, Konoha was his to protect, and to think that two fellow shinobi would turn against each other like this disgusted him. It was his duty to keep as many people as he could alive.

He hated being stuck in the middle like this.

"Look, I don't know what happened between you two, but don't try to bullshit me, Danzo. It obviously has something to do with his son – "

"…Oh, that? That was years ago. A silly mistake on my part, I'll admit." Danzo shrugged. "The Yamanaka didn't say no. The Aburame, one of the noble clans, didn't say no. How was I supposed to know that Sleepy Shikaku was the only one among them who had any balls?" He took a sip of his tea, still smiling at his little joke. "Anyone would have come to the same erroneous conclusion. But I haven't tried anything since, so don't try to lecture me, Hiruzen. It's Shikaku-dono who refuses to let it go."

"I wonder why," the Sandaime said sarcastically.

"I mean, all I did was somewhat forcefully offer to personally train his son; I don't see what the fuss is all about," Danzo said.

"Can you at least keep the collateral damage down to a minimum?" the Sandaime sighed, rolling his eyes. "Or do I have to remind you that Konoha comes before any of your private issues?"

All this hullaballoo over a mere child, really.

Eh, as long as they were both loyal to him, and didn't burn down Konoha in the process, he didn't give a damn what either of them thought of each other.

Danzo shook his head. "Come now, Hiruzen. What do you take me for? I have my standards. The Uchiha were obviously guilty, and that was quite unfortunate, but I would never kill a loyal, skilled, shinobi without reason. That would hurt Konoha, and we can hardly afford to lose any manpower, not with war looming over the horizon."

But if Danzo Shimura was Hokage, and Shikaku Nara opposed him, that would be considered insubordination and treason. Of course.

The Sandaime set his teacup down and sighed. "Look, is there a reason you wished to speak to me? I don't have time for your games."

"Maybe I just wanted to talk to an old friend."

The Sandaime snorted.

Danzo placed a hand over his heart. "What, you don't consider me a friend? I'm wounded. My whole life, I've spent cleaning up your messes for you – "

" – and I yours – " the Sandaime interjected.

" – we clean up each other's messes," Danzo amended. "Is that not what friends do?"

"Friends also get to the point, instead of wasting their friends' time."

"Killjoy." Danzo leaned in, and smiled again. "Fun fact, Hiruzen, I had never intended to try anything against your precious graduating class of clan heirs in the first place."

The Sandaime's grips on the armrests of his chair tightened. "You lie."

"I speak the truth. I had better things to do, than to chase after a bunch of children. Talented or not, they're already too old. Twelve and still Genin. Too many years wasted in the Academy."

"I would not call it waste – "

" − Imagine my surprise, when I was told you had a hand in the massive Rookie turnout this year," Danzo plowed on smugly. "There was no purpose in you entering them into those exams, putting them into that maze with Orochimaru. You endangered all of their lives for nothing."

Surprise. What surprise? Danzo had known what he was implying when he had expressed interest in the training of that newest batch of Academy graduates. And when he didn't get his way, he had shrugged and took advantage of the situation to go off and do something else.

Now he's rubbing it in my face. He's already accomplished whatever he was planning while I was distracted by Orochimaru and Suna and now he's gloating in front of me.

The Hokage didn't know what to say to that, so he remained resolutely silen.

Danzo finished his tea and set the cup down. "Nice talking to you again, Hiruzen. I haven't had this much fun in years."

The Sandaime did nothing. Danzo took his moment of hesitation to stand up and leave. And he could only sit there, nursing his cooling tea and gouging imaginary holes in the Shodaime's table with his fingers.

"You're supposed to be retired," Hiruzen Sarutobi called after him.

"As are you, Hokage-sama," Danzo's voice floated down from the hallway. "As are you."

That, he couldn't argue with.

A/N: Even though they're both antagonists to Shikamaru, I see Danzo as a completely different flavor of person from Orochimaru or Akatsuki.

What do you think of him?