Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
AN: Sorry for the delay. Being in my final year of high school, things can get pretty hectic. I'll try and update more often from now on.
"Ejiko grinned. And it wasn't a pretty sight. The grin itself was your average bad-guy grin, but what really made the difference were the eyes. Ejiko's eyes glinted with a madness that seemingly consumed him. His brown eyes were glazed and bloodshot, adding to his insane appearance. Of course, the old blood stains on his jacket, now a rusty brown colour, did nothing to counter claims of his insanity. His hitai-ate was unmarked but brown stains, highly likely to be blood, all in all made him a figure that Anko Mitarashi would hang a poster of above her bed.
The reason why Ejiko was grinning was a simple one; it would be raining blood today. If one might think that this unhealthy obsession with blood had some logical explanation, think again. Ejiko murdered for the fun of it, and preferred to make it as bloody as possible.
It should be noted that, although Ejiko looked like an insane cold-hearted killer, he could not laugh in the menacing ways that Orochimaru or other truly psychotic madmen can. The lack of ability to evilly cackle is one of Ejiko's larger points of frustration. Other than that, he hated soap, water or stain-removals as it robbed him of his intimidating and morbid looking blood stains.
Ejiko's preferred method of killing people is at night, when they are sleeping soundly. He will sneak up to them as close as possible and then wake you by prodding you with his very sharp sword. The wound will be deep enough to bleed heavily but not deep enough to kill. He will keep you from healing yourself but will not wound you any further. You will slowly bleed to death, every second of it, every breath you take will be sheer agony. And through it all, you will see his grin. The grin of Ejiko. He is therefore also known as, the Grinning Ninja.
Once he has set his eyes upon you, there is no escaping. You will die, and the last thing you will ever see is that horrible grin."
Silence reigned as a smirking Naruto finished his horror story. He had managed to enrapture his audience and they had been hanging on every word he said. Throwing another log on the camp fire, Naruto broke the spell that had seemed to freeze his fellow shinobi.
Asuma took a drag from his smoke, whilst Shikamaru half-audibly mumbled about troublesome stories. Chouji fidgeted slightly as he observed his surroundings, still spooked by the story. Ino, however remained uncharastically silent. When she finally spoke, Naruto could tell it was with a false bravado. "That was quite a good story."
Naruto grinned, and the firelight played shadows across his face, making him look threatening. When he spoke it was with a deadly whisper. "Who said it was a story?"
Naruto inwardly laughed as Chouji nearly yelped out loud, Ino audibly gulped and Shikamaru visibly tensed. He couldn't help but feel deeply amused by their nervous behaviour. "I'll take first watch." He said, leaving a spooked Team 6 behind.
It took him several minutes to cover the perimeter of the camp with trip wire and all kinds of other nasty surprises. His years spent without chakra had taught him many unorthodox yet handy skills. One such was the art of trapmaking.
Remind me again, why exactly we are here? We're wasting time by not training. Growled the Kyuubi.
Although the tone of the sealed demon was the same as always, the lack of insults implied that the Kyuubi was dead-serious.
Sighing slightly, Naruto finished the last trigger to his more elaborate trap and mentally sent to the Kyuubi, Hold on. I'm coming in to talk to you.
They only did this when they had to make difficult decisions that could be detrimental to both their healths, if Naruto came to talk to Kyuubi it signified that the situation was serious and a mistake could have grave consequences. One such an example was whether or not to return to Konoha. Since the Kyuubi would die if Naruto did, and Naruto could gain strength from the Kyuubi, they would co-operate only in the direst of times and ignore each other after that. It was a deal that both participants were highly satisfied with. It was rare for both to co-operate but it was preferable over death.
Making a quick perimeter jutsu that would warn him if anybody approached him, Naruto quickly went through the necessary seals to come face to face with the Kyuubi.
Overcoming the usual bout of vertigo that he got every time he did this, Naruto turned around. He was inside his mind and in front of the cage the held the fearsome Kyuubi. The gloomy surrounding did not bother the young shinobi in the least. Kyuubi was already watching him from behind the unbreakable bars that held him prisoner.
So Kit, explain to me why we are on this mission instead of training at the Mansion. And don't give me this crap about needing a mission, that was just plain nonsense.
Although he would never admit it, Naruto appreciated the way the Youkai always directly got to the point. Making himself comfortable on a squishy chair his mindscape had provided for him, Naruto formulated the best way to explain the situation to the demon in front of him.
"The reason is politics Kyuubi. And it's not surprising that you don't quite grasp that delicate art, after all, demons have no need of subtlety." Naruto mused out loud. After a brief nod of the Nine-tailed fox, Naruto resumed his explanation.
"The power of Konoha lies between the Hokage and the Council of Elders, most of the time shortened to the Council. The Council and the Hokage are supposed to balance each other out, making it impossible for a corrupt Hokage or Council to have limitless control over Konoha."
Hmmm, I where I come from we have the same. The Clan of Foxes are led by me, but I also have the leading foxes of other clans as a council. But I fail to entirely see where this is going.
"I'm getting to that, now about the Council. To pass new laws, declare ninjas as missing-nins and all other forms of policy, the Council must have a majority of three-quarters in order to overrule the Hokage's rules or policies. Since there are many factions within the Council, each with their own agenda and priorities, not to mention vassals or indebted friends, it is a constant shifting political battlefield."
Pausing again to let the Kyuubi in front of him properly assimilate the information he had just told, Naruto focussed on creating a large shogi board in front of him. Seeing expectant red eyes gazing back at him, Naruto nodded once firmly and continued his story.
"So one the one hand we have the Hokage. He's old and therefore not as influential to the Council as he used to be, but influential none the less." At one end of the board a figure in Hokage attire appeared.
"On the other hand, we have the Council with its many Clan Elders; the Hyuuga, Aburame, Uchiha and Uzumaki. And to a lesser degree, the Clan Heads; Haruno, Inuzuka, Nara, Hatake, Yamanaka, Yuuhi and plenty others." On the other end of the board, opposite the Hokage came a figurine with many heads and the crests of the clans Naruto mentioned.
Wait a sec Kit. What's the difference between Clan Elders and Clan Heads?
"In short, the Clan Elders are the original clans that helped found Konoha. The other, Clan Heads, are less prestigious, carry less influence and are considered inferior by those of the founding clans."
I see, carry on with your interesting explanation.
"Right. So the Council is mostly divided and only on few occasions do they all agree on the same subject and overthrow earlier policy set by the Hokage. One such occasion was the massacre of the Uchiha and subsequent branding of Uchiha Itachi as S-class missing nin. And another…"
Was my imprisonment in your body.
"Exactly." A small Naruto-like figureappeared in between the Council and the Hokage. "The Council all rallied around the Hyuuga, who wished to see my, and by extension you, killed in cold blood. The Hokage realised that he would be unable to save me and thus, in an ingenious way, solved the problem. He sent me out of the village with Jiraiya."
I see. Because you were not in the village anymore the Council held no authority over you and because you were not a ninja yet, they could not brand you a missing-nin and send the hunter-nins after you. Not a bad solution.
"Indeed. Yet he might have only delayed the problem. I returned to Konoha, and now Sarutobi is duty bound to inform the Council of my return."
And you are afraid that they will kill you?
"No, that will not happen."
Why not, what is difference between now and twelve years ago?
Grinning wryly, Naruto added a spiral to the Naruto on the board. "Exactly what you said Kyuubi. Twelve years. I am considered old enough to take over from my father as Clan Elder of the Uzumaki. With that political power behind me, the Council will not dare attack me directly.
So we are safe?
Sighing, Naruto added a large crowd of villagers, which surrounded the Naruto figure. "Far from it. I fear that it is only a matter of time before the Council gathers enough support to directly, politically that is, challenge me. And when that happens, I'll either be exiled or dead. And lets not forget the villagers. I highly doubt they will have forgotten about your attack, and many still carry that resentment in their hearts. No doubt they will direct it at me as they have no one else to blame."
That still doesn't explain why we're out here?
"Three hours before we left, Sarutobi informed the Council of my return and of my status. My guess is that within two hours of our departure, almost the entire village knew that the 'Demon-child' had returned and who it was. I felt it would be better if I was not around for so that they could get used to the idea."
So when we come back, everybody is just going to hate you and we're going to get treated like shit? Kyuubi's growl was indignant.
"That pretty much sums it up."
The fox growled angrily and agitatedly started to prowl around in his cave. So why not leave this stinking flee-infested cesspool of hatred and close-mindednes?
Smiling sadly, Naruto stared at the board. "Because I can't keep running for ever, I've got to face this problem or I'll never do it. And I would also like to get to know the Konoha that my Father gave his life for."
I'll accept your decision, although I think it would be just easier to back, leave and never come back. At this, Naruto nodded, his eyes never leaving the board.
So, what are you going to do about it? What's your plan of action?
The sad smile turned into a fox-like grin as the blond shinobi starting to lay out his plans. "The first and most obvious thing to do, is lay low. Here's the deal; the Council is going to do anything within their power to kill us, so we're going to fight back. That means disrupting communication and pranks all-around. Another thing I want to do is get to know the younger generation better, see if they can withstand their parents' influence. But the most important thing I want to do, is restart our mingling of chakras." Ignoring the rather loud and extremely out of character whoop the Demon Fox emitted, Naruto continued to map out his plans.
Asuma Sarutobi was not someone who tended to overly mother the Genin under his command. His style of teaching was more one of passive role-model. If one of his charges had a problem, he would let them try to take care of it and only help when the situation was obviously too much for the Genin to handle. Some would say that he was just being lazy and was not acting like a Jounin-sensei should. Others wouldn't. One way or another, Asuma did not care very much, as long as his team was performing to the best of their abilities.
But something was bothering the chain-smoker. And that something happened to be the Genin that had been added to his team, Uzumaki Naruto. He had manage to unnerve his team from the moment he showed up for their mission.
Ino scowled as she impatiently waited for her good for nothing sensei to give the green light for their mission. The mission was not overly exciting, they had to aid the ceremonial guard of some monastery while the monastery presented the new spiritual leader, their presence added more prestige to the entire thing.
"My apologies if I'm late, I was slightly delayed." Ino whirled around to give the late Genin a tongue-lashing he wouldn't quick forget when she caught sight of his battered appearance. Before the irate blonde could formulate a suitable insult, Asuma spoke up.
"What delayed you, a battlefield?" He asked, slightly curious. A non-committal shrug was his only reply. Figuring he probably wouldn't get a real answer, the bearded Jounin introduced his team. "This is my team, consisting of"
"Yamanaka Ino, Nara Shikamaru and Akimichi Chouji. We met." Naruto cut in. With a small nod to the other Genin, he walked towards the gate, not waiting to see if the others were following him. Shrugging to himself, and ignoring a "how troublesome" from Shikamaru, Asuma motioned his team to follow the brightly dressed blond.
That was all the blond had said to his team, and it wasn't until they had set up camp and Ino had tried to tell a ghost story to spook her fellow Genin that Naruto had spoken. The story had been told so masterful that even he, a Jounin, had trouble to discern is the story was fiction or fact. Quickly dismissing the unpleasant images that popped into his head after the rather colourful description the Uzumaki had given, Asuma decided he should have a small chat with the blond.
Heading towards he guessed the Genin to be, it wasn't long until Asuma came across some truly ingenious and utterly wicked traps. What surprised him even more was perimeter jutsu the bearded Jounin came upon. He broke the perimeter, thus alerting the creator to his approach, and continued onwards.
In his mindscape, Naruto looked up as he felt his perimeter being breached. Taking a last look at the board, which had now been cluttered with all kinds of figures and other half-schemed plots, he then flew through the seals to regain conscious. "Oi, Kyuubi. Give me a call when you're ready to proceed to the second stage."
You got it. And just as Naruto felt himself being pulled towards conscious the Kyuubi growled at him, And stay away this time, you ignorant little brat. Same here furball. Naruto smiled, he and the Fox were down to their usual business, the problem had been solved.
Popping into the small clearing that Naruto currently was sitting in, Asuma took a moment to take a good look at the boy. His bright clothes, blinding orange, and bright, blond hair didn't give him the look of a ninja. Yet something in the way he moved, told the blonde's true colours. This boy could be dangerous when he wished to be so. He was a tightly wound coil, ready to explode at the right time.
"You can come out from behind the tree." Not surprised he had been spotted, Asuma took a seat of a patch of soft moss opposite of Naruto. "Smoke?" he offered.
"No thanks." Naruto declined with a small smile. Settling back, the Kyuubi carrier waited until the Sarutobi was comfortable. "So what brings you here?"
"You" Seeing the raised eyebrow Naruto sent his way, Asuma elaborated. "You seem to have spooked my team. Not only that but your presence is driving a wedge in their teamwork. Ino spent the entire trip fuming at you because you're ignoring her and was late. Because she doesn't know you she can't vent that anger at your and instead takes it out on Shikamaru and Chouji. Both boys, although used to such outbursts, don't appreciate the fact that they're receiving a tongue-lashing because you're not talking to Ino. In short, your presence has dropped morale and teamwork."
"Hold on, I can understand that the guys are irritated at me because they're on the receiving end of something they don't deserve, but why does Ino get so irritated that I ignore her?" A bewildered Naruto asked.
Chuckling, Asuma lit his cigarette and contently puffed away on it. "You may be a good ninja Naruto, but you don't understand people, or women for that matter, very well do you?"
Shrugging helplessly, Naruto rolled onto his back, looking at the stars. "As a kid I didn't have much interaction with other kids my age. It didn't help that we moved around a lot. Understanding girls just didn't come with the package, I suppose."
"The I'll explain Ino to you. Despite her loudmouth, she's actually a tad insecure about her abilities and her team. So one day this mysterious Genin shows up, battered and bloodied, and doesn't even throw a glance her way."
An expression of understanding dawned on Naruto's face. "So that's the reason she is so cranky?" "No. The reason I mentioned greatly contributes to her anger, but there are always more reasons. A person is more complex than the most complex trap ever made. There will always be something underneath the underneath."
Pondering the new wisdom he had received, Naruto stood and brushed some dirt of his pants. "So what do you think I should do to improve my standing with your team?"
Asuma pondered briefly on what kind of advice he could best give. "I would suggest you talk with Ino, get to know her a bit better. As for Shikamaru, perhaps play some shogi with him. As for Chouji, treat him to a bowl of ramen or something that is equally cheap. You go and sleep now, I'll take guard."
Nodding once, Naruto headed towards the camp, pondering the advice Asuma had given him.
Shikamaru was doing what he did best; being lazy. He had perfected the art up to a level that he could feign sleeping if he wished so, and right now that was what the lazy shadow-user was doing. After fifteen minutes or so he could no longer smell the cigar smoke or sense his sensei's chakra. "He's gone."
Soon after the statement, the forms of Ino and Chouji also started to move. "Shika, so what do you think?", Ino asked in an uncharacteristically soft voice.
Knowing what his teammate was talking about, the Nara furrowed his eyebrows slightly before answering. "His name is Uzumaki Naruto. His status is Genin. Prior to his shinobi career he was a merchant that easily interacted with missing-nins. Despite the fact that he cannot mold any chakra, he is proficient enough in the shinobi arts."
Shikamaru paused for a moment to mull over his latest observations, as his hands drifted into his special thinking position. "Despite his somewhat bubbly first impression, it seems as if not used to being around people for along period of time. His lack of communication skills indicate that. Also, I observed that one several occasions Uzumaki Naruto did not truly know how to respond as fart as social interaction is concerned."
Awed by his best friends observation skills, Chouji absentmindedly munched on another handful of his beloved chips. Speaking through a mouth filled with food he asked, "So what can we do about it Shika?"
Wincing slightly at the shortened version of his name, the lazy genius sighed. "I don't know Chouji, I really don't know."
For once, Ejiko was not grinning. Somewhere, far away, someone was talking about him. A massive and rather violent sneezing fit had alerted him to that fact. Grumbling unhappily under his breath, the ninja decided he would try out that instant blood-stains kit a blond merchant had sold him some time ago.
In Konoha, Haruno Sakura was slightly depressed. Her beloved Sasuke-kun had once again declined to have dinner with her. The pink-haired Kunoichi knew that her crush would realise that he loved her if she persisted long enough. Thankfully for her, their other teammate seemed oblivious to the Uchiha's manly charms (author gags). They way his eyes flashed when he was fighting, made Sakura swoon. The only downside to spending as much time as possible around her crush was that she had to train. Because it made her hair dirty and spoiled her appearance, Sakura tried to do as much as possible during training.
Opening the gates that led to the Haruno household, Sakura failed to notice a duo of Hyuuga Branch Members standing guard in the shadows.
"Mother, I'm home." Sakura yelled as she shed her shoes and opened the door of her mother's private chambers. Inside she found her mother in formal attire and a stoic man, also in formal robes, without pupils for eyes. Realising that she had walked into a discussion between Clan leaders, Sakura formally bowed. "Haruno-sama, Hyuuga-sama. Excuse my interruption. I will take my leave."
As Sakura closed the door behind her, Hiashi relaxed into his seat. "You have raised you daughter well. At least she knows her etiquette."
Accepting the compliment, the Haruno matriarch decided the time for small talk was over. "So the fox is back in town. What are we going to do about it?"
If Hiashi wasn't a Hyuuga his eye would have widened slightly at the boldness of the woman in front of him. While she didn't directly violate the law laid down by the Third, she had come very close and people had been known to be punished for less. Nothing of this showed on his face as age old Hyuuga training kicked in.
Folding his hands in front of him, he absentmindedly noted how the eyes of the woman in front of him still displayed a glint of hatred against the Kyuubi. "I think the first and most effective step we can make is to simply spread the word. It will not take long for the village to find out, and perhaps we can hasten the process."
"I agree, but that is not why I have called you here." Seeing the questioning look in Hiashi's eyes, the Haruno matriarch continued. "I wish to evict the boy from Konoha and banish him for life."
Even with all his Hyuuga training, Hiashi could not prevent himself from inhaling sharply. A banishment for life was not something done very often, and was a punishment mostly reserved for disgraces and other sort of people a Hyuuga would never be seen with. Nothing was more shameful than being banished. It was different when a person chose to do so, becoming a missing-nin, but being cast out was such a great shame that many would rather die then face such a fate.
"An admirable plan, but I'm afraid it would fail as you lack the necessary support to rally enough votes. And as much as the other member of the Council despise the boy, even for them banishment will be a step too far. And perhaps, a step too indirect." Hiashi knew very well that the shrewd woman in front of him knew that as well, but he was now in full political mode. The Haruno had stated her goal and now the bartering and negotiating would begin.
"Hmmm, but if the Hyuuga would pledge their support to the cause, I'm sure many would swiftly follow Hiashi-kun." The pink-haired Clan Head stated as she subtly shifted her kimono to show some more skin.
Inwardly, Hiashi smirked. It was always amusing to see how other important people would grovel at his feet to gain his support, and seeing a woman of such a high status lower herself to seduction formed a large source of amusement to him. Outwardly however, he frowned slightly. In an icy voice he said, "You presume that the Hyuuga are at your beck and call?" His words had the desired effect as the woman in front of him momentarily had a panicked look in her eyes before she managed to replace it with a neutral one.
The Haruno matriarch felt like cursing, she could have guessed that Hyuuga Hiashi would not have fallen for her seduction attempt. She briefly toyed with the idea to up the scales before dropping that line of thought. No, seduction would not help her here. "How about this. You help me now, and I help you later."
If anything, the Hyuuga leader seemed to resemble an iceberg even more. "And what would the Hyuuga need your support with?"
Haruno replied quickly before lest the inflame Hiashi even more. "With the young Uchiha. He is the last of his kind, and wields a powerful weapon; the Sharingan. That is why many Clans prey on him. When he will reach an eligible age he will be forced to marry into a clan in order to preserve his bloodline limit. If you support me now, I will support the Hyuuga when the time is there."
Hiashi certainly thought this to be a fair trade, but he knew that agreeing immediately would be a sigh of weakness. And so the two Clan Leaders negotiated and bartered into the night. After five hours of negotiating, the deal had been struck. The Hyuuga would support the call to banish the Kyuubi vessel, Uzumaki Naruto. In turn, the Haruno would support the claim the Hyuuga would lay on Uchiha Sasuke.
And that's it. I originally wanted to write a tad bit more but figured you guys would like to see me update (and truth be told, I wanted to chapter posted). I deeply apologise for the long wait. I hope you enjoy this chapter and I'll try to update soon, can't really promise anything, but I'll try my damned best!
neosildrake, kittypur714: I hadn't really given the idea much thought, but I think a prequel wouldn't be a very bad idea.
All other reviewers: Thank you very, very much for your great reviews.
And please keep any suggestion (on the story or pairings), comments or typos coming. They are all appreaciated. And I'm very curious what y'all think of this chapter