Hikaru's sock-clad feet barely made a sound as he padded across the gleaming wooden floors of his still somewhat-new home.
The Hatake Clan Main House- where he and his father had taken up residence- was a single-story home, but the inside was quite a bit larger than the outside suggested. The Clan symbol looked like a tilted square with nine smaller squares neatly outlined on the inside and was prominently displayed on the gates.
"Back before the founding of the Hidden Villages the Hatake Clan were farmers for the most part. That's where our Clan symbol comes from- it's supposed to resemble a patch of tended farmland." Kakashi told his son while they scrubbed down the gate and cleared creeping greenery off the retaining wall at the front of the estate. "But one day a skirmish between two Clans spilled over onto Hatake farmland and Hatake Ichiro defended himself from the victorious shinobi."
"They attacked him?" Hikaru asked curiously, swiping at his forehead and deciding to take a short break before his over-protective father decided that he had 'overtired' himself and cut their project short for the day.
"Aah." Kakashi replied, fingers moving deftly as he cleared away greenery. "He impressed the man- who had not realized that our ancestor was not an enemy, just a man at the wrong place at the wrong time- and our Clan was brought under the protection of a shinobi Clan. It didn't take our patrons long to discover our partiality for battle and so we began to learn the shinobi arts ourselves." Kakashi turned and smiled at his son, ruffling the boy's hair lightly as he finished his storytelling. "Eventually our patron Clan was taken out, but by then we were strong enough to defend our homes and our farmland by ourselves. We were never a large Clan- I think we had about fifty members at our peak- but we were powerful enough to make a name for ourselves and we were among the first of the Clans to be invited in after the Senju and the Uchiha and their allied Clans."
Past the gates the land gently sloped, leading up to the porch. Like most of the older Clan homes the foundation was built up a bit and the west side of house jutted out over a lovely water garden. The front half of the house had sliding doors, while the back half had more modern room designations. The overall color schemes were earthy- though Ino had added quite a few splashes of color; for as young as she was the girl was quite the decorator- and Hikaru quite liked the warm feel of his new home.
There were a few other houses scattered on the land, but it was a mostly open grassy area- with several training posts or targets- until it tapered off into woodlands, which eventually ran into Nara land.
Hikaru was jolted out of his musings by his arrival at the kitchen. Ino had demanded that they paint the upper part of the walls- the cabinets and the bottom half of the room were a dark, stained wood- a cheery yellow color and the pictures she had unearthed from storage broke up the color enough that it was a pleasant aura instead of an overpowering shock of brightness.
The three-and-a-half-year-old thought the yellow stepstool was a little too much, but it had flowers painted onto it and Ino had insisted.
Hikaru hummed happily, enjoying the first rays of sunlight as he carefully pulled down utensils and ingredients.
'Miso soup- oh good we have eggplant still!- and a couple of eggs- maybe some yogurt with bananas?' Hikaru thought as he briskly set the water to boil and cubed some tofu. Miso soup was rather easy- especially since Hikaru bought the miso part instead of fermenting the bean paste himself- but he had recently learned that breakfast was especially important for shinobi. According to the formula inu-tou had taught him, while at home a shinobi's intake should be forty-twenty-forty.
"Truthfully there are formulas for a shinobi's daily caloric intake, but they are all flawed in one way or another." Kakashi explained to his son while they put together a grocery shopping list on afternoon. "But shinobi are far more active than the majority of civilians and even using the smallest amount of chakra takes quite a bit of energy- so I would suggest at least four thousand calories a day. Especially as you are young yet and children tend to pad up a bit before they go through growth spurts." Kakashi reached out and tweaked Hikaru's nose playfully. "So unless you want to be shorter than Ino forever, I suggest eating heartily. And quite frankly a couple extra pounds can come in handy during particularly troublesome missions."
"Morning, Puppy." Kakashi's sleep-roughed voice washed over Hikaru pleasantly.
"Morning, inu-tou!" Hikaru chirped cheerfully, ignoring his father's grunt of displeasure with practiced ease- Sharingan no Kakashi was not a morning person- while he deftly dished up breakfast and set it down on the table. "Am I going to be helping 'Nade-nee again today? You said that you had a mission…?" Hikaru's voice trailed off as he slid into his seat and fixed curious eyes onto his still half-asleep parent.
"I do have a mission, but I don't leave until tonight- well early in the morning, really." Kakashi informed his son with a grin, reaching over to ruffle Hikaru's messy locks just because he could. "Today it's just going to be me and you, but we do have some things to talk about."
"Like what?" Hikaru asked curiously, digging into his apricot-garnished yogurt with delight.
"Well, we have to decide where you're going to stay while I'm gone." Kakashi held up a hand and gave his son a stern glance when the child began to protest the statement. "I know that you and Takeru were living on your own, but what you didn't know was that the apartment you guys chose was under surveillance."
Hikaru- momentarily discarding of his immediate objections- blinked slowly. "What?"
"Did you really think that the Hokage would let Academy students live on their own without any supervision? Even with the accountability classes they require before they allow you access to your pre-gēnin stipends?" Kakashi shook his head lightly and ruffled his son's hair again, ignoring Hikaru's half-hearted protests. "Patrols- especially the nighttime ones- are notified of Academy students who live on their own in their routes. The shinobi- only chūnin and above are assigned to patrols, by the way- routinely check on these students and the Internal Security Force performs a 'wellness check' if the patrols or the Academy notice any problems or struggles." Kakashi took another bite of his breakfast and grinned at his son's grouchy expression. "That is in addition to the monthly inspections-"
"Monthly inspections?" Hikaru piped up with a frown as he swirled his soup around and scrunched up his nose in concentration. "What monthly inspections?"
"Oh, right." Kakashi amended somewhat sheepishly, giving his son a rueful grin. "The monthly inspections of pre-gēnin residences done by the chūnin assigned to the Oversight Commission's Development Detachment. They slip in and inspect the places and write up a report." Kakashi slurped up the last of his soup and moved over to the stove for seconds. "The Academy can assign supplementary classes to students who need extra help as needed."
"Is that why Takeru is missing c lass that Naruto swore up and down that he had to take last year?" Hikaru asked, sudden comprehension causing him to straighten slightly as he leaned forward expectantly, the kitchen window allowing the early morning light to illuminate his attentive expression.
"Most likely." Kakashi admitted to his son, sitting back down and digging into his second pass of breakfast. "If you two hadn't lived so close to Naruto they would have most likely made up excuses for you and Takeru's apartment to be inspected more often, but with Naruto being watched by former operatives of ANBU or retired shinobi, there were enough eyes on you guys that the ISF's Wellness inspectors felt comfortable with the standard arrangement, despite your age."
"Huh." Hikaru muttered, not sure how he felt about that information. On one hand, it made a fair bit of sense, as no matter how smart he was- thinking that they would let a three-year-old and a six-year-old live entirely alone, without supervision- was just stupid. On the other hand- well, he felt sort of ridiculous for not realizing that said system existed.
Kakashi gently ruffled his son's hair again- it was baby soft and ridiculously fluffy!- and smiled, his mask around his neck as usual since it was just the two of them. "Don't stress over it, Puppy. No matter how smart you are- and you're one smart cookie!- you're still just a little guy." Kakashi grinned even more when his cute little son tried to glare at him. "If you had noticed that there were people keeping an eye on you then they wouldn't have been doing their jobs." Kakashi slurped down the last of his soup before setting the bowl back down on the table and mopping up the last few drops of liquid with a scrunched up piece of toast.
Hikaru slouched back in his seat, crossed his arms, and pouted. Mentally, he chided himself for ever thinking that there wouldn't be some sort of oversight, despite the amount of freedom and autonomy granted to Konoha's children.
It was a lesson learned- Don't get complacent. He told himself firmly as his father continued to speak, giving him a cheery eye-smile all the while. Most often it's the details or the overlooked that foils even the most cunning and ambitious of plans.
"The system has been in place since Konoha's founding, puppy." Kakashi informed his cute, pouting puppy with a grin. "It was one of the very few, mind you- things that Uchiha Madara and Senju Tobirama ever agreed on, actually. My tou-san- your jiji- always said that it was a point of pride for the Uchiha Clan to have been entrusted with the safekeeping of Konoha's children. If you go inside the Police Force Headquarters you'll find the 'observation and safeguarding of Konoha's vulnerable assets' as part of the founding mandate of the Police Force. It's in the little side room off the main entryway that talks about the history." Kakashi shrugged and polished off his toast stack. "I vaguely remember going to tour it as an Academy student, but I'm not sure if they still do that or not."
Hikaru muttered a bit more, annoyed, but grudgingly accepted his dad's reasoning. "I'll have to remember that. Maybe I can con Ino into taking me?" Hikaru shook his head and tried to get the conversation back on track. "So what are my options? In terms of who I can stay with while you're gone?" He asked, trying to keep the sulk out of his voice that his dad was going to be gone.
The Hokage had actually been very accommodating in terms of just using his dad for short missions while they were getting to know each other and trying to figure this 'family' thing out, Hikaru knew, but with the still-tense situation with Cloud and other things he wasn't privy to, Hokage-sama still needed Kakashi in the field more than Hikaru liked.
"Well." Kakashi graciously allowed the subject to change, but his grin informed his son that the elder Hatake had caught on to what he was attempting to do. "There's Minami's mother-"
"No." Hikaru breathed in horror, his eyes going wide as he waved his hands around frantically. "No, no- just, nonono!"
"Duly noted." Kakashi drawled dryly, a wry grin twisting at his lips. "Then there's the Yamanaka. I know you and Ino-chan get on pretty well, but she's in the Academy for most of the day and Inoichi-san has been helping out with breaking the conditioning of the former ROOT operatives- among other classified projects- so he's pretty busy."
"Bah." Hikaru huffed grouchily. "Inoichi-oji-san is pretty cool and Ino-chan is a lot of fun- even if she does treat me like a baby- but the rest of the Clan are pretty spread out and busy." Hikaru fluttered his hands around as he floundered for the right words. "Don't get me wrong- they're almost all nice- but they're just…." Hikaru's voice trailed off and he shrugged uncomfortably. "I dunno- indifferent? Disinterested?"
Kakashi flicked Hikaru's nose lightly- causing the boy's guilty expression to change to a mildly disgruntledly one. "It's ok, Hikaru. The members of the Yamanaka Clan tend to spend most of their time helping their allies- the Akimichi and the Nara- when not performing their official duties or oath-bound duties to the Sarutobi Clan; you miss out on most of that as you are more of a Hatake- possibly even Uchiha- than a Yamanaka." Kakashi pushed his plate back a bit and smiled kindly at his son. "Inoichi-san knows about your rather unique mind-link ability, but we're keeping that information to ourselves otherwise. Unfortunately you don't seem to possess the aptitude needed for the Mind-Transfer Jutsu, so that limits a lot of what you can do as a Yamanaka. There's still plenty for you to learn from your relatives, of course, but for the most part you're just another village kid to most of that arm of your family."
"And Inoichi-oji-san is mostly interested in me because my mom was his niece, right?" Hikaru mused somewhat wistfully.
He loved, more than he could ever express, having a living parent. Family that wanted him. And though it was obvious to the portion of him that remembered being Harry- and clung tightly to Harry's memories, so as never to forget how far he'd come to get here- that Kakashi was quite obviously no Arthur and Molly Weasley, in Hikaru's eyes his dad was perfect just because of how hard he tried.
Even when Kakashi was bone-tired and still smelled of blood and battle, he would smile tenderly at Hikaru and ruffle his hair and scoop him up into strong arms and hold onto him as if Hikaru were everything good and right in the world.
And those moments meant….well, everything, really- to both Harry and Hikaru.
"Yes and no." Kakashi replied easily, trying to phrase his words right, but also not sparing any efforts to sugar-coat anything. He had always hated it when people had tried to that to him as a child and he surmised that his son was enough like him to be similar. "Inoichi-san is the Clan Head, so he would have been interested in you anyway. Your unique manifestation of the Mind-Transfer Jutsu and the personal connection just makes that interest a bit more focused."
"I suppose." Hikaru mused thoughtfully, the room plunging into silence for a few moments before Hikaru shrugged. "It is what it is, I guess. Ino-chan's pretty cool, though. Even if she does treat me like a baby."
"Ah, yes. Kami forbid." Kakashi muttered, dry as dust.
"So, next option?"
Hiruzen stood before the large window in his office, contently watching his citizens scurry around in the early morning light on the streets below. Of course, a good portion of his faithful shinobi were also awake, but most of their traffic occurred on the rooftops, nearly too fast for the average civilians to see.
You would be so proud of her, Biwako. He thought with an aching sort of fond sorrow as the sun finally broke free of Konoha's vast, reaching treeline and faithfully spilled her warm gaze onto his wakening village.
Because he knew what to look for, Hiruzen could see the slight, nearly imperceptible wavering in the light as it passed over the dilapidated, largely abandoned, western commercial district. Or, what had been the dilapidated, largely abandoned, western commercial district, and was now the home of Tsunade's newly legitimized Medical Research, Advancement and Iryō-nin Specialized Training Division, or MRT Division, for short.
Hiruzen's wizened eyes traced the layout of his village with an affection only a man who had spent over fifty years and two world-wide shinobi wars as her leader could achieve.
Konoha had been built defensively, and as Senju-Uzumaki Mito had largely been invested in the creation of Konoha's Barrier, a great deal of Uzumaki sealing methodology had been applied to the village's overall design.
Uzushiogakure had been built into and onto the jagged line of an unforgiving mountain range that led to a series of natural harbors that were surrounded by merciless whirlpools. Mito-sama had taken that design- with the blessing of her father and the Uzumaki Elders- and adapted it for use in Konoha, complete with the fūinjutsu needed to make a flexible, clever Barrier to both protect the village from an all-out assault and track unwanted pests. Instead of using the fully spiraling designs of Uzushio, Mito had used half-crescent designs and intricately linked them together to form the full spirals needed for the fūinjutsu to take root.
Hashirama- always willing to assist in any way he could- had carved the heart of the village's design into the bedrock. His Mokuton had safeguarded and supported Mito's complex, exceptional sealing arrays for over a hundred years.
"Chakra is life; chakra is blood; chakra is thought; chakra is action." Biwako had had those words carved into the curve of her spine, just as Mito-sama had before her. The master array to the Barrier that Biwako had faithfully carried in her master's place, once Mito-sama's health had started to wane and the stalwart woman had wanted to give Kushina-chan as much time as possible in Uzushio; loathe to pass on her burden even a single moment earlier than she could manage.
There was a reason as to why Konoha had so many parks. As to why the village's winding roads were made the way they were. Why the training grounds for the youngest and generally clumsiest of Konoha's students were inside the village walls.
Every person inside the village contributed to her defense under the flawless fūinjutsu Barrier of Senju-Uzumaki Mito.
Then the Kyūbi had been unleashed and the demonic fox's corrosive chakra had sunk its unforgiving hold into Konoha's heart and in a single night the Barrier that had been Konoha's secret greatest, most valuable weapon had all but disappeared.
Just like Biwako. Just like Minato. Just like Kushina.
The Barrier Division had done its level best, Hiruzen knew, but the new incarnation of the Barrier that had been cobbled together in the aftermath of that night had been a pale, cheap imitation of the original. Especially with the loss of Mito, Kushina, and Biwako. Jirāiya was a brilliant Seal Master in his own right, but even he could only unravel a smidgen- scarcely a drop- of what they had salvaged from the few intact sections that managed to survive.
But now, with Tsunade having recognized young Takeru's necklace as an Uzumaki Heirloom Cache, the original Barrier was making a comeback.
Starting with the lands that the MRT Division now stood and half of the western Red Light District.
It would take years- decades, even- for the Barrier to become formidable enough to be reasonably compared to the original. But with Tsunade and Jirāiya's formal fūinjutsu training coupled with Takeru- and Naruto's, somewhat surprisingly- natural comprehension for the art of fūinjutsu, there was hope.
Hope that Hiruzen had thought he had buried with his wife and the couple that had been as dear to them as their own Clan members.
And in the aftermath of exposing such a rampant corruption within his own camp, Hiruzen took solace in the knowledge that there was still time for him to make things right.
And that hope was precious. It was worth marshalling his weary bones for yet another long, thankless battle against the monsters that found refuge in the deepest part of the night.
Lend me your strength, my beloved Biwako. Minato-kun. Kushina-chan. Tobirama-sensei. Hashirama-sensei. Mito-sama. Kagami-kun. So that I might see this through to the end.
Orōchimaru's lips twisted into a snarl as his temper snapped and he hurled the table he'd been working over at the wall.
That was the third table he'd wrecked this week, some analytical part of him noted. But most of his mind was focused on the raging maelstrom that was his thoughts. Ever since his encounter with his former teammates and his teacher- and that little brat- he had been unable to relegate himself back into calm detachment with a side of scheming.
Truthfully, he hated it. This. This unwanted emotional turmoil.
From the time he was very young he had relied on the cues of others to gauge what was 'right' and 'wrong'. It wasn't that he didn't feel- because he did, no matter how hard he tried to rid himself of such foolish weakness- but, rather, he didn't understand the constant double standards of most people.
Why was it wrong to cut up one's own people but perfectly fine to cut up prisoners of war?
Both had families. Both had things they would fight and die for. Both felt pain, hunger, and fear.
Yet one was hated and despised, but the other was seen as 'necessary' and 'acceptable', but in the end the results were essentially the same. Bloodlines always made his experiments go awry and thus needed intensive testing beyond the norm for shinobi, but advancements were advancements- and weren't shinobi supposed to suffer for their village? Weren't their bodies property of the kage? The bodies of Clan members were considered 'Clan property' so wasn't it the same principle when applied to the leader of a shinobi village?
Orōchimaru put his hands against the cool stone of the wall and let his dark hair hang like an inky curtain around his face.
In the back of his mind, the chakra impression of the original owner of this body seemed to pity him.
Orōchimaru snarled and lashed out with his own chakra, quieting the impression's weak presence, but the action brought him no feeling of superiority. No smug feeling of accomplishment and victory.
His breathing hitched as a memory- that dammed memory- flitted through his mind's eye.
"Never gonna see them again if you don't greet Death like a friend."
If it had just been the words, Orōchimaru could have filed away the comment and shaken off the foreboding chill the words had sparked within him. He had been a shinobi for nearly his entire life, dancing with foreboding feelings was an old game that meant little to him.
But the image….
As if it had been branded onto his mind by a higher power- which he didn't believe in- there was the image of a Being garbed in black. A rather unassuming figure to someone who had walked into the darkest monster dens and emerged their king, but the power of the Being….
Every time he thought of it- and it was frustratingly often, no matter what techniques he used to suppress the memory- there was a nearly maddening sense of fear followed by an appallingly potent sense of peace.
Orōchimaru could almost see them, his parents, just beyond the Being's shoulder. His mother with her sharp lines and vicious wit and his father with his unnatural grace and light but devastating strikes. He could nearly reach out and stroke the scales of his mother's cherished summons, the one she always left with him whenever she and his father left the village- Kimitsuki-hime, the opalescent snake that glowed like a guardian spirit under the light of the moon, her feathery-looing hood folding gracefully around her head like a veil. She had been Orōchimaru's playmate and caretaker for most of his childhood, as no one had truly cared about the small, weird family of misfits and had been more than happy to pretend that they didn't exist.
Then had come the devastating day when his mother had died while on a mission.
He and Kimitsuki-hime had been playing Snakelings Among the Grass in the garden, a game wherein Orōchimaru would try to hide from her or, alternately, try to find her among the thick foliage of the southern part of their land. Orōchimaru had just snuck up on her left side, intending to herd her away from the water- she had been part fish, he would forever swear- when she had suddenly reared up, her hood flared wide in aggression as her bright blue eyes glared murder at an unseen opponent.
Then she had looked at him for a single, brief moment. Her eyes glazed with pain and her lower body writhing in agony before she simply collapsed, like a puppet whose strings had been careless cut by an unfeeling artist.
Orōchimaru had buried her with his mother.
But after all these years, all this time- to be so close, and yet so far from those who had been his entire world was maddening. He had thought, of course, for a moment, that his team- Jirāiya and Tsunade and Sarutobi-sensei- would be an acceptable alternative, until he could find a way to ensure that he met his parents and Kimitsuki-hime again, but then they had shown- they had all shown- that he was only worth their attention when he was making the conscious effort to be who they thought he was, and when he slipped, when he failed to be that- well, he failed to be relevant. Failed to be important.
(Failed to be wanted. Just like that little boy who had spent nearly three weeks in an empty house with only a dead snake and the crushing certainty that his mother was dead. He had hoped and prayed and pleaded for his father's safe return- had fasted for such a thing, forgoing both food and water for what felt like an eternity- but when the Uchiha Military Police had finally come knocking on his door, he had learned the heartbreak of false hope.)
Orōchimaru grit his teeth in rage as tears gathered in his eyes and dripped down his cheeks while the haunting image stayed fixed in his mind's eye, and with every passing second his tenuous hold on his sanity slipped further and further from his metaphoric grasp.
This is all that brat's fault. A part of him whispered cruelly, the sibilant consonants sliding through his thoughts like a poison through blood. If we could just get to him and cut him open, we could discover-
Down the hall, the occupants of the dingy, dismal cells shuddered in terror as a malevolent laughter cut through the still air.
"It's one of the bad days." A scarred, filthy, nearly skeletal man whispered through cracked, bloody lips. "We should hide the little ones."
One of the more lucid women nodded and began quietly shuffling about the smaller bodies.
In the end, it didn't matter. None of them lived to see another sunrise.
Please leave a review on your way out~!
I hope you enjoyed this! I have plans for Orōchimaru, so no nasty rants about 'cookie cutter' villains, alright?
Harry and Neville have both been touched by Death, and while I've chosen to make that fact unknown to them, there will be times when you can see the 'unseen hand of fate' sort of….tweak things a bit.
I think we all have, at one point, touched someone else's life in a manner that was rather brief, and perhaps seemingly insignificant for us, but was monumental for them.
Orōchimaru's spiraling has a purpose, I swear!