A/N - This is important, please read it:
AU Fanfiction Warning: I will be changing things (concepts, workings of affinities, major plot points etc.) This story is not a retelling of the canon story! If you want to read yet another everything-happens-as-it-always-does fanfiction, this is not the right place for you to be.
If you decide that the story is not for you at any point of time - cool, no hard feelings, but please don't go off ranting about "Things not being canon." I don't need lectures on the source material, I know it. I just want to write an AU.
What you can expect: Lots of bonding, fluffy and sad moments, no romance to take away the main focus, and an engaging plot.
Depending on the the story's development, the rating might be upped to M later.
ARC I - The Nidaime Hokage
Nobody knew why it happened. Nobody knew how it happened. But sometimes it just did. Maybe because it was of the energy saturating the world. Perhaps it was the will of a higher power. But sometimes, once upon a blue moon, it happened. A soul managed to escape death's cold grip and descended back onto the mortal plane. Forever chained between worlds they remained. Cursed to walk the thin border between this world and the Beyond, reduced to mere shadows of their former selves. Ghosts, In-Betweeners, Linewalkers, unseen by all.
Until the very day a desperate father called for Death itself - and received an answer.
The translucent figure stood motionless on top of the Shodai's head, looking down at the village below; vigilant and tall, as if standing guard over it.
Naruto could not see its expression from his place on the Fourth's memorial, but he could almost feel the sad pride surrounding the strong frame and he found himself eerily reminded of his jiji. He had seen the Third standing at the window of the Hokage tower doing the exactly same thing more than once.
The young boy was curious. What was this apparition, and why did it look so sad? Slowly he rose from his seated position and walked towards the strange figure. It seemed to have sensed his approach and turned its head into Naruto's direction and the child realized that the human-shaped apparition was actually a middle-aged man. Grey eyes rested on him and Naruto could see the tightly leashed emotions in the man's insubstantial gaze. Pride. Longing. Sadness - and another one Naruto was most familiar with. Loneliness.
The child immediately decided that he would help the man get rid of that particular feeling, because he knew firsthand just how bad that one felt.
There was a strange apathy in the man's gaze, as if he was looking at Naruto but not actually seeing him. The child did not like that. Nobody should look that empty.
The man turned his head back and wordlessly resumed his silent sentry. Naruto's gaze followed his, and he smiled involuntarily.
Konoha. His home. His village. His to watch, to love and one day - his to protect. Perhaps then people would finally respect him. Acknowledge him.
"It's a nice view," he commented lightly and sat down on the warm stone next to the man.
The man stilled and his posture became more rigid as he slowly looked at the boy seated next to him. "What did you say?"
Naruto tilted his head and met the man's gaze with his own. "It's a nice view."
Grey eyes widened slightly in surprise, and the man stepped closer, completely alert now. "You can see me?" he asked, his voice tinted with a strange mixture of amazement, authority and hope.
"Um, yes?" Naruto answered confusedly. The man was right here. A bit translucent perhaps, but he was there. So why should he not be able to see him?
For several moments the man just stared at him, and Naruto had to suppress the sudden urge to fidget under his scrutiny. There was just so much presence in this man that he felt somewhat intimidated.
But then the stranger smiled slightly and Naruto felt himself relax again. "How...unexpected," the man mused, "I did not expect this possibility."
"Uh, why?" Naruto asked in a puzzled voice. "You're here."
"Ghosts are normally invisible, child," the man answered calmly.
"What...Ghosts?!" Naruto instinctively jumped backwards, completely forgetting that he was currently sitting on the floor. So instead of making a nice strategic withdrawal, his evasive maneuver only resulted in a rather ungraceful fall onto his back and he found himself staring at the man - ghost? from a reclined position.
Who eyed the child with a distinctively amused expression. "Yes, child. Ghosts."
"They are real?!" Naruto exclaimed, equally surprised and horrified at that notion and so overwhelmed by that discovery, that he did not even think about standing up again.
"Not many, but a few," the man confirmed and gave the child in front of him a rather pointed look.
"How long do you intend to stay like this?" he asked drily.
Naruto jumped hastily to his feet and rubbed his neck in embarrassment. "So ehm...I am Naruto Uzumaki and who are you?"
The man smirked slightly, "You are standing on my brother's head, child."
"Your brother's...," Naruto repeated and stared down at the stone beneath him.
Feeling a jot of sudden realization, his head whipped up again and he stared at the still smirking man.
The man's smirk became even more pronounced. "Indeed."
Tobirama Senju had never expected to end up like this. When he had found himself suddenly floating in the middle of Konoha he had first thought that he was dreaming and he would have believed it, too. If there was not one tiny reason that made it impossible. Dead people did not dream, and they could not be captured in a genjutsu, either.
So whatever this was, it was real. At a complete loss on what to do, Tobirama had floated aimlessly around the village, trying to talk to people. But nobody seemed to see him or even hear him. Despondent about being completely alone, Tobirama had visited the Hokage's office and had spent many hours watching his pupil going about his business.
He was not too happy with the things he saw. Konoha had changed after his death and not for the better - and on top of that the Uchiha clan seemed to be rather restless.
So Tobirama was worried, but there was nothing he could do. He was for all intents and purposes, dead.
Sad, worried and tired as he was, he had retreated into the outskirts of the village, resigned to be unheard and unseen until time ended or death reclaimed his wandering soul.
But then, unexpectedly, he had met him. Uzumaki Naruto - and the child could see him. Talk with him - and suddenly Tobirama did not feel so lonely anymore.
"Just what is that atrocity supposed to be? Your left side is completely open."
Naruto jumped in surprise and whirled around. He had known the Nidaime for two months now, but he was still not used to the ghost's random appearances. "Ah, you scared me!" he complained loudly, waving his arms around to empathize his point.
The Second simply raised an unimpressed eyebrow at the boy's antics."And you did not answer my question."
Naruto grumbled and turned to face the ghost "Sensei taught me. What's wrong with that style?"
Tobirama furrowed his brows. "Your sensei? Are you sure he taught it to you like this?"
"Yeah," Naruto agreed, "He said it was important to keep the angle."
"I see," the Nidaime answered slowly, "I shall accompany you to class tomorrow. I want to see just what they teach you there."
Naruto suddenly seemed very nervous. "Eh...don't you have anything better to do?"
Grey eyes studied the fidgeting child in front of him with sharp interest. "No," he answered simply, "I don't."
"Are you really sure that you want to come?" Naruto asked again as he grabbed his backpack. "It will probably be very boring for you."
"Yes. I am sure," the Second replied firmly. Naruto sighed and stopped protesting. He knew what that tone meant, the former Hokage had made up his mind and would not be dissuaded.
Carefully locking his door behind him, Naruto left for the academy, a ghostly figure walking right next to him.
There was definitely something going on. It was evident in the way the passers-by interacted with his young companion or - more precisely - in the complete lack of interaction. It was as if there was an invisible wall separating the child from the rest of the citizens. It was nothing really obvious. Just simple things. Like people giving him way more space than others, turned backs when he passed by or the occasional cold or disapproving look. But Tobirama's sharp gaze missed nothing. He glanced at the boy next him. He was still showing his cheerful grin, but it seemed somewhat strained and did not really reach his eyes. 'A mask', the ghost thought quietly. A well-crafted one, but not well enough to fool him. The child was hurting. He could see it clearly.
Uzumaki Naruto. Uzumaki. The same clan as his brother's wife. Could it be? Was he related to his brother? To him? Was he carrying her burden? Judging by the people's reactions, he had a strong inkling that at least the last question could be answered with a yes. Why else would they shun him?
Tobirama frowned in displeasure and was secretly rather relieved that his brother was not here to witness this. He would have been incensed at such behavior - and Tobirama himself was less than pleased, as well.
Making the one person carrying enormous military power unhappy with his own village was not a wise strategy and practically screamed for trouble.
'And no child deserves to be treated like this,' his brother's quiet voice added in his head and Tobirama found himself unconsciously agreeing with him.
The academy gates were now appearing in front of him and Tobirama's attention returned to the current happenings. Everything else could wait.
The kunai missed its target by at least six inches. Naruto narrowed his eyes in determination and tried again.
Someone behind him giggled. The teacher remained quiet. "Next!" he ordered sharply. Sighing quietly Naruto picked the tools up and made way for the next child.
"You need to bend your wrist more, Akira," Sumio-sensei told the boy who had almost managed to hit bulls-eye, "but good job."
Naruto flopped down on the grass and leaned against the wall. It was always the same thing. His peers got a nice evaluation, a tip to get better and he got stony silence. Something flickered next to him and he turned his head slightly to see the Nidaime standing next to him. There was a slight displeased frown on the man's face as he watched the proceedings.
"Uzumaki!" his teacher snapped sharply, "If you don't want to participate, you can wait inside."
"Yes sensei," Naruto answered automatically and stood up, grumbling silently at the unfairness. It was not like he was the only one sitting down.
Several snickers followed him as he returned to his classroom where he immediately climbed on the windowsill. At least he could watch the training ground from this position.
"That was uncalled for." The Nidaime's intangible form appeared behind him.
Naruto shrugged. "I'm used to it."
"This is a regular occurrence?"
"Yes," Naruto answered matter-of-factly, eyes firmly fixed on the scene behind the glassy wall. "I always do something wrong," he added quietly.
"Have you told someone about this?" the Nidaime inquired sharply, trying to meet the child's evasive eyes on the transparent reflection.
"They don't listen," Naruto replied after a moment of silence and it sounded like he was talking about so much more than just his problems at school. "But it's okay. I'll get stronger and protect them all and then they will want to listen. "
'People rarely listen, brother. You have to make them. But never through violence. Guide them, protect them and they will lent you their ear.'
Tobirama stared at the child who reminded him so much of his brother and he could have sworn that he had just seen Hashirama's face looking back at him from the stainless window.
Naruto glanced over his cup of ramen to the man standing at the window. His companion was strangely quiet. Not that he usually talked much. The ghost did not have a habit of indulging in useless conversations. But this complete silence was new to him. He had hardly spoken since the moment in the classroom - and that had been three days ago. Instead, the ghost had been watching him as he went about his day, measuring him with strange looks, as if trying to figure out a puzzle.
Somehow it made him feel like he was being judged. It was unnerving. He had tried his best to ignore the man's new-found hobby, but it was practically impossible to overlook the Nidaime's imposing presence. It just demanded attention.
Naruto anxiously bit his lips, torn between asking if everything was right and not wanting to disturb the man's clearly deep thoughts.
But before he could make up his mind, the man's shoulders suddenly straightened and he turned around, catching Naruto's uneasy gaze with stern eyes.
"Your lack of education is unacceptable, and I refuse to spend an indefinite amount of time with an uneducated child."
Naruto swallowed and unconsciously lowered his head, staring at the bottom of the empty ramen cup.
"Get your gear," the ghost ordered sharply. "I want to see just how much damage-control I will have to do."
Naruto's head whipped up and for several seconds he just stared in stunned disbelief as his mind refused to process the man's words, before he jumped up and scrambled to follow the order.
The ghost eyed the panting child with critical eyes. It was not as bad as he had feared, but the child had only been attending the academy for several months. Still, the lack of correct instruction was visible. It was good that he had decided to interfere now, a bit later and the wrong stances would have been integrated too deeply to easily correct.
Naruto clearly had talent, but his inability to remain focused on things that did not interest him was somewhat irritating. He would have to teach him patience and discipline.
Nodding slightly to himself, Tobirama addressed his newest student. "We will stop here for today. You still have homework to do. Go and clean yourself up. You have fifteen minutes."
He watched as the child straightened himself and obediently scampered into the direction of the bathroom, grumbling silently about annoying homework.
"Being a shinobi means being deceptive," the Nidaime lectured as Naruto carefully guided the brush over his paper, trying to write the kanji for moon. "Shinobi do not follow the samurai's code of honor, although we generally have our own set of morals, even if they sometimes tend to be somewhat...flexible."
Naruto shifted slightly and glanced at the man walking up and down in front of him. "Shinobi are usually not upfront about their skills and while they strive to appear competent, they will always keep a hidden ace up their sleeves. Never let an enemy know everything you can do, or he will find a way to counter you and you will become vulnerable."
The Nidaime stopped and fixed Naruto with a stern glance. "Do you understand what I am trying to say?"
"I think so," Naruto answered slowly, using his free hand to rub his neck. "You want me to hide some of the things I can do, but not everything."
He tilted his head. "Where are you going with this, sensei?"
The ghost smirked slightly. "Good, you are learning." He stepped closer to his student and placed both of his hands on the tabletop. Naruto distantly wondered why they were not passing right through it.
"I want you to continue keeping me a secret. If someone finds out about this ability of yours, you might be in danger."
"In danger, sensei?" Naruto was confused. Why would people knowing about his sensei be dangerous?
"Yes, Naruto, danger," the Nidaime answered, subtly moving into the child's personal space. "We do not know where this ability of yours comes from. We do not know if you can see anyone but me. But there are people out there - bad people - who would not hesitate to hurt you just to figure this out."
Naruto shrank into his seat, staring wide-eyed at the man in front of him. Hurt him? They would hurt him? He swallowed and nodded rapidly. "I won't tell." He wouldn't.
The Nidaime studied the child's expression and obviously satisfied with whatever he had found, he easily stepped back and allowed Naruto some breathing room. "Good. Now get down and meditate."
Naruto obeyed immediately, more than eager to escape the man's scrutiny. His teacher was really intense.
He settled down on the floor and closed his eyes, trying to keep still. But suddenly his right foot started to itch and he found himself shuffling around.
"Don't fidget," the Second reprimanded him and Naruto felt something cold passing through his shoulders. He shuddered and for a second he wished that his teacher's hands were real. He really would have preferred being held down to this cold sensation. As if sensing his discomfort, the Nidaime stepped back and started to talk him through a breathing exercise.
Naruto's body felt very warm and his fingers prickled pleasantly. He tried to latch onto the warm feeling and attempted to follow it as it coursed through his veins in a gentle, yet powerful flow. He submerged himself into and as he sank deeper and deeper, the soft warm trickle slowly turned into an endlessly wide yellow stream.
Tobirama felt an unexpected surge of pride as his student started to glow in a soft yellow light. Yes, Naruto was definitely talented.
Naruto sighed in relief and looked at the small stone pendant sitting innocently on the table-top. The surface was littered with thin, intricate brush-lines, connecting and intersecting until they formed one single complex seal.
"And this is really going to help with my chakra control, sensei?" Naruto asked in disbelief.
"Try focusing chakra into it," the Nidaime instructed and walked closer.
Naruto concentrated on the warm feeling and guided it towards the pendant. It started to glow in a somewhat murky, almost black, yellow.
Curiously he looked at his teacher.
"Depending on the amount of chakra you push into it the pendant will glow in a different color. It is almost black now, because your chakra is completely uncontrolled and unrefined. The better your control gets, the clearer and brighter the color will become. I want you to practice until you manage to turn it bright yellow."
Naruto slumped down slightly. "That's so boring. Do I really have to?"
The Nidaime pinned him with a very stern look. "Yes." Then he paused and considered the displeased child in front of him. "But I suppose focusing for so long will be rather difficult for you. Perhaps you need an incentive..."
"Incentive?" Naruto repeated warily, suddenly getting a huge feeling of foreboding.
"Yes," the ghost smirked slightly. "Until you have mastered this task, you will not be allowed any ramen."
"WHAT?" Naruto screamed, jumping up in outrage. "Sensei, you can't! That's too mean!"
"I can and I will," the ghost replied calmly, looking decidedly unimpressed at the young boy's outburst. "Now get working."
"Oh, and Naruto?" the ghost added as the child sunk despondently on the floor. "For this little tantrum of yours, you will be copying rule fifteen down one hundred times. Do not let your emotions rule your actions."
Naruto whimpered. Why did his teacher have to be so cruel?
On updates: I have a very tight and constantly changing schedule. So expect very infrequent updates. I write when I can and when I want. This fic is part of a therapy developed for me to destress. So please respect my updating pace.
Feel free to point out any major grammatical mistakes you find, I am not a native speaker and always eager to improve my writing. I was also taught British English, but I mostly read American - so there might be inconsistencies in my spelling. ;-)
To anyone interested, I actually have the habit of creating pictures and omakes / cut-scenes during and after the writing process, because I like being able to explore certain points a bit more.
I don't want to leave them catching dust on my hard drive, so I will be collecting everything I accumulate here: linewalkers. tumblr. com