Disclaimer: I own no rights to Naruto, his friends, or the wonderful world in which he lives. Keisuke of the Grave and all things pertaining to him, however, are mine. :D

Prologue: Wounded Hope

Orochimaru grinned as his eyes beheld the massive stone door before him. Old, demonic-looking seals were carved into it. In their time, those seals had represented an impassable barrier to all but the most knowledgeable of souls, and had kept this tomb tightly locked beneath the earth for generations. Apparently, the man—or demon—that had sealed it intended for it to be found only after several eons had passed, if at all. And it seemed that for some time now, his wishes had been granted.

However, the stone upon which the carvings were made was not entirely proof against time, and erosion had sapped the carvings of much of their coherency. Without their original perfection, their forbidding power had begun to fade away. The door was no longer the impenetrable locked gate that it had been made to be. In those old, frayed seals that used to project insurmountable solidity, Orochimaru saw a weakness—and with it, an opportunity.

The Snake Sannin knew that mortals did not lock up and hide away things in such a manner that were small, trivial, or worthless. Only the worst criminals, the most sacred treasures, and the most terrible powers imaginable received such sheltering, solid tombs. The nature of the demonic seals that locked it also said much, for only two kinds of entity knew how to write them: Demons, and those whose job or hobby it was to seal demons. Whatever was kept in this old tomb, Orochimaru knew, had to be something either immensely precious or immensely powerful, and Orochimaru was not one to refuse a chance to obtain power.

His grin remained plastered to his pale, menacing face as he moved forward to shatter the seals. They did not hold for long against the legendary Snake Sannin, and within moments, the door to the tomb was open, its contents exposed for Orochimaru to behold and master. He braced himself against possible attack; he still did not know whether or not the seals were the tombs only defense, or if the contents themselves were in any way dangerous. When no attack came, however, Orochimaru's grin widened, and he stepped into the cold, dark, stone-walled chamber, eager for a power he could seize...

> > > > > >

For a long time, the blind man lay in cold and darkness.

Then, rather suddenly, the door to his prison was heaved open. Moments later, the ice which had bound his form for a time that he failed to measure was shattered, and he felt his body crash to the stone floor amid melting shards. For several minutes, the man with no eyes failed to move, but the faint warmth from the torches carried by the men standing in the tomb slowly seeped into the room and thawed his stiff muscles. After a silence that lasted half of an eternity, he was able to rise to his feet.

"So," drawled a voice from the door, "What is it that I've unearthed here, in this demon-sealed tomb?" The blind one flinched. He could tell after the first word that the owner of this voice was not at all a pleasant person. As it continued it's questioning, he almost felt the cold of his imprisonment return to him, despite the heat of the torches.

"Strange," it went on, "It doesn't seem to be anything worth my time. Are you a demon? A Jinchuuriki, perhaps? The creator of a Jutsu to defy the ravages of time? Or are you simply an eyeless, frozen human who has yet to surrender to death?"

The prisoner tried to find his voice to respond, but to no avail; his larynx was a solid block of frozen human tissue. All he could produce was a frosty breath of air, at which the questioning voice took on a disinterested tone.

"Well, that is quite the shame," it said, "I had hoped for something that I might make great use of. Unfortunately, it seems as though all of my efforts to dig you out have yielded me nothing of true value."

The owner of the voice approached the blind man, leaning down until he was practically breathing in the blind man's ear. The blind one shuddered involuntarily, more from fearful discomfort rather than the cold. Some part of his newly thawed brain was telling him that his frailty resulting from being frozen for countless years was about to earn him a very unpleasant welcome-back-to-life party.

"But, no matter. I am always in need of new test subjects, and you ought to do well. You know, I've always wondered if the human body can feel more pain when they aren't distracted by their vision…"

Although he had no eyes to see, the prisoner was certain that the owner of that malefic voice was smiling.

> > > > > > > > >

Although pain had become the staple of the blind man's diet by this point, he still did not appreciate how much more difficult his escape was because of it. It was bad enough trying to scramble over rocks, climb trees, wade through rapids, and find food without being able to see… Add to that a massive headache, unstaunched blood loss (both internal and external), a complete lack of any sense of direction or location, horrific emaciation, and generally excruciating pain accompanying every movement, and he was in a state that was more than a little sad.

Yet, he continued, because the alternative was to be recaptured and taken back to that hell, where pain that was several thousand times worse awaited him. While he had no idea where he was going, he was sure that it had to be better than what he had left behind.

At least, that's what he hoped.

"Damn you," he gasped out, stopping momentarily to cough up blood, "I swear, if the rest of the world is even a fraction of what that hell was, I will murder you, you sadistic beast. Blind or not."

> > > > > > > > > >

A seven year old boy sat in his favorite swing outside the ninja academy in Konohagakure, pondering—not for the first time—his abnormal existence. Normally on a bright, warm summer day like this, his after-class activities involved the pulling of pranks, eating clean through the Ichiraku Ramen bar's storerooms, or working on learning new (sometimes perverted to annoy Iruka-sensei) variations of ninjutsu to impress Sakura-chan and show the world just how great he was.

But this was not a normal day for the blonde ninja-in-training. This was one of those days when young Uzumaki Naruto spent his afternoon trying to convince himself that he was alive. He had to do this himself, because nobody else seemed to want to do it for him. Naruto had no parents to love him, care for him, and be proud of him. He had no friends to support him or pick him up when he went down. Hell, most people found it too much of an effort to even acknowledge him, and those that did treated him like a nuisance or a speck of dirt, rather than as a living, breathing thing.

And so, Uzumaki Naruto did his utmost to make people acknowledge him. Even if the attention he received from his troublemaking was negative, it still told him what he desperately needed to know: He existed. It was sad, but until he could graduate from the academy and show them a Naruto whose existence could not be denied by anyone, it was the only way he knew to make people look at him.

It hurt him, knowing that the only eyes that he could turn his way were so cold and hateful. Some days, as on this one, Naruto just felt hopeless. And on those days, he sat here, on his swing, trying to find a reason to continue. He got up from his swing and began walking, until his feet found the edge of the forest, a place of solitude where he could let down his prankster mask without fear.

"Sometimes," he said to the summer air, "I wish that someone would look at me without those eyes…"

His emotional reverie was interrupted by the crunching of the forest floor beneath heavy feet. Turning swiftly and drawing an old, chipped kunai, Naruto searched frantically for the source of the noise. If someone was going to attack him out here with those cold eyes, he'd be damned if he didn't beat them to a bloody pulp.

However, the source of the noise was not an assailant. The man who faced Naruto now was the least threatening-looking man that Naruto had ever seen, because he didn't have those hateful eyes—in fact, he had no eyes at all—and he was in such a state of hurt that he couldn't possibly have been a threat to a two-year-old, let alone the blonde Hokage-to-be. Naruto dropped the kunai in shock.

The eyeless man's head turned towards him. He'd heard the knife hit the ground. Taking a step forward, he spoke with a pained, ragged voice. "N-Ninja?"

Naruto fought through his surprise and responded, "I'm Uzumaki Naruto! I'm going to be Hokage one day!"

"Ah," the stranger groaned, "Good… you can… help me…" Then, his energy expended, he collapsed to the forest floor.

"Oi! Nii-chan! Hang on!" The young Naruto ran to the injured, blind stranger, a new determination in his blue eyes. This man had not yelled at him, had not assumed from his loud, boyish voice that he was not just some useless kid, had not scoffed at his ambition to become Hokage; he had immediately put his trust in him, Uzumaki Naruto, and asked for help. Nobody in Konohagakure had ever accepted help from him before.

"Don't worry, nii-chan. I'll get you to the village." This person trusted Naruto willingly, where nobody else had. If he needed help, then Uzumaki Naruto would make sure that he got it.

> > > > > > > > >

When he awoke, the blind man found himself in a clean hospital bed, swathed in several bandages on his arms, left leg, and abdomen. He felt dull aching sensations beneath the wraps, but otherwise his body was completely free of pain. Also, the emaciated feeling had completely vanished, and he was more than ready to believe that his lost blood had been miraculously replenished as well. This was a welcome discovery to him; quite frankly, he'd expected not to wake up.

I'm pleased that I did, though, he thought to himself, a small smile crossing his face, that young ninja must be pretty good if he managed to save my sorry behind. As soon as he moved his hands to feel out his surroundings, said young ninja piped up from a chair across the room.

"Nii-chan! You survived!"

"Thanks to your intervention, yeah… I did." The blind man's smile broadened. "Uzumaki Naruto, was it? You've got my gratitude, boy. It must have been a pain dragging me here, ne?"

"Nothing that a future Hokage couldn't handle." The eyeless one didn't know what a Hokage was, but the boy's energy was infectious, so he didn't question him. When he failed to respond immediately, Naruto asked his own question. "So, nii-chan, what got you so beat up? Was it enemy ninja?"

"I have a name, you know," the man chuckled. "It's Keisuke, not nii-chan. As for what did… that… to me, I couldn't really tell if they were shinobi or not. When they found me, I'd been away from civilization a long time, and it was hard enough just trying to figure out where I was."

"But Keisuke-nii-san, couldn't you have figured it out from their headbands? Or their ninjutsu?"

Keisuke sighed at the kid's continued use of "nii-san" but declined to challenge it again, opting instead to just answer the question. "I can't see anything, so I wouldn't be able to figure it out through an article of clothing, and just because they didn't use any jutsu doesn't mean that they weren't capable of it… especially since they probably wouldn't feel the need to use jutsu on a starved blind man anyway."

Keisuke couldn't see the blonde's face fall in disappointment, but he could feel the kid's aura begin to show signs of frustration. Apparently, the young one had been anticipating some cool ninja story. He smiled again… Kids could be such great entertainment sometimes.

Keisuke said, "I'll tell you this, though: Ninja or not, those guys sure were mean little bastards."

Suddenly, a stern voice interrupted from the doorway. "Alright, you," she said, indicating Naruto, "Out. Bad enough that you dirtied one of our patients by convincing Hokage-sama to have us give him your filthy blood, but I won't have you teaching him how to muck up our village. Out!"

Keisuke sensed anger and a bit of defiance in the kid's aura, the latter of which was quickly suppressed. "Yeah, yeah," Naruto said, "I'm going… Keisuke-nii-chan, I hope you get out of there soon. This woman's a nightmare."

With that, a scuffle began as young Naruto was chased out of the room. Keisuke could only laugh at that. However, he had not expected a hospital nurse to be so hostile to a kid. What could he have done to make her refer to his blood as "filthy?" he wondered. It can't be that bad, especially since the kid was nice enough to let me have some…

"Naruto-kun, I hope you survive. Judging the woman's actions, I think you may be right…" That said, Keisuke relaxed into the bed, letting sleep hasten his recovery.

> > > > > > > > > > > > >

Released from the hospital, Keisuke wandered the village—which, he had learned, was called Konoha—in search of replacements for his worn, ragged garments. This was an urgent need, as he could feel the stares that the villagers were giving him. He wondered briefly whether this was because of his empty eye sockets or because his clothing wasn't covering as much of him as it should have been. He assumed that it was the former, but would not have been surprised if the latter was true; these rags had survived some pretty lavish torture.

Initially, he'd attempted to find a clothing store by heading towards the place where he sensed the most female auras, but this had yielded the rather unpleasant result of him walking into the women's baths. Apparently, morning hot baths were popular in Konoha. Keisuke had been the recipient of several punches, kicks, and bruises before one woman, upon attempting to gouge his eyes out, had discovered that he had no eyes to gouge and therefore could not have been sneaking into the women's bath to peep at naked girls. So now, a half-clothed, battered, and lost Keisuke was trying to come up with a new way to locate a clothing shop.

His salvation turned out to be none other than Uzumaki Naruto. "Oi, Keisuke-nii-chan! You lost?" Keisuke felt himself smiling again. This kid's energy was infectious.

> > > > > > > > > > > >

"Nii-chan, I still think that orange would've looked totally kick-ass on you."

"And I still think that wearing clothes that scream, 'hit me' isn't in my best interest."

Having managed to avoid being clothed entirely in orange (Keisuke had no way of knowing what orange or any other color was, but he did know by word of mouth that it was one of the most annoyingly noticeable colors, and did not want to stand out) by his loud young friend, Keisuke walked out of one store clad in tough black pants, thick-soled boots, a black T-shirt with a red spiral emblem, dark green fingerless gloves which sported metal plates, and a dark green vest, which he chose to leave unzipped. Dark sunglasses hid his eyeless sockets, giving him a look of normalcy in the bright Konoha afternoon. In his hand, he held a bag with three matching sets of clothing, a winter jacket, and some semi-formal wear for special occasions. How his young friend had been able to pay for all of it, Keisuke did not know.

"Ah, don't worry 'bout it, nii-chan," Naruto said, "Old man Hokage gives me money every year for new clothes, but I haven't outgrown most of my stuff this year. You need it more than I do, anyway."

"'Old man Hokage?' So you don't live with your parents?"

"I don't have any parents to live with."

Keisuke's eyebrows arched, showing his surprise. "I'm sorry. That must be tough."

"Don't worry about it. I'm used to it, you know?"

Keisuke smiled. For a kid so small to be so independent and thoughtful, it was a true miracle to Keisuke's worried mind. "You're really something, Naruto-kun. Since I'd been gone from civilization such a long time, I was worried that the world might have become a bad place to live. But since I know that such strong kids like you still exist, I guess I was worried over nothing, eh?"

Naruto was having a similar feeling about things. Not everyone, it seemed, was inclined to automatically ignore him or treat him like pond scum. "Glad I could help, Keisuke-nii-san. I'd better get to the academy and get chewed out by Iruka-sensei. If you're still around later, I'll show you Ichiraku, this awesome ramen bar. You'll love it!"

"I'm looking forward to it, Naruto-kun. Until next time."

> > > > > > > > > > > >

Hyuuga Hinata watched silently from the shadows as Naruto, the boy she admired, went about his youthful life. She tended to do this often during the brief periods after the academy let out and, on occasion, she was capable of losing track of time and earning a sharp rebuke from her father. It was a behavior that she had picked up not long after she had entered the academy, and though she knew that it wasn't quite a normal thing to do, she did not plan on stopping any time soon. After all, this wasn't just any boy that she was—for lack of a more sugar-coated word—stalking; Naruto was the shining example of everything that Hinata wasn't.

As a member of the famed Hyuuga clan, Hinata was expected to meet standards far above those of the average shinobi. However, thus far she had shown no more promise than anyone else among the academy classes, and even though she had been trained in her family's Jyuuken Taijutsu style since she was three years old, her form was far from perfect. As a result, her father, along with many others of the main family, had begun to view her as a weak person. She knew this absolutely; it was plain as day in their eyes, and after going through this treatment for a few years she had started to believe it herself.

Naruto, though, was something else entirely. The boy had borne the weight of those disgusted looks for as long as Hinata had known him, and yet it didn't stop him. It did not even slow him down. Where people expected so much from Hinata, they expected next to nothing from Naruto. In spite of this, Naruto would charge headlong into any challenge set before him—be it the mastery of a jutsu or simply his eternal quest for attention—and seek to overpower it with all his young might. Even when beaten, he never quit, but rose again to throw himself into his task until he either succeeded or collapsed from exhaustion.

He was everything that Hinata wished she could be, and more. Therefore, no sooner had she known him, she had developed a feeling for him very like hero worship. The more she saw him, the stronger the admiration became.

Today's Naruto-stalking was little different from the other days: the academy let them go, Naruto hung around the shuriken practice area for a while before heading off to Ichiraku for lunch. However, today he'd managed to meet up with a tall stranger in rags, who he addressed as "Keisuke-nii-chan." Both men's faces had lit up upon seeing each other, and Naruto didn't hesitate to drag him back into the ramen bar with him.

Hinata's face flushed a little as she watched Naruto dig into his seventh bowl of pork ramen that afternoon. She admired his spirit, but she still wasn't quite used to witnessing this phenomenon yet. The stranger's face expressed little, but the smile on his face widened as he had his first helping. Ichiraku was not, after all, Naruto's only source of lunch because the food was bad. The stranger and Naruto exchanged a few words before parting, and as he walked off, Naruto had one of the biggest smiles on his face that Hinata had ever seen, bigger than the one she usually saw after he ate his ramen. Hinata's face grew slightly red at this. The last few times she had watched this, Naruto's smile seemed to bring a strange heat and light-headedness to her, a feeling completely alien to her young mind. Disturbingly, she had no idea what it was.

"Naruto-kun," she breathed quietly, no other words managing to escape. Those four syllables seemed to express her whole world in these kinds of moments.

"You like him, don't you?" asked a strange voice from behind her.

Hinata jumped. It was the stranger that Naruto had been talking to. She had not seen or heard him approach at all. Before she could begin any other reaction, he spoke again.

"I felt your eyes on us when I sat down at the ramen bar... It's a bit rude to sit there and stare at people, you know, especially without telling them. I believe it's called 'stalking,' actually."

Hinata wasn't very good with speaking to strangers, and her reply was a broken, "G-g-gomen nas-s-ai…"

"Don't worry about it, girl… I could never stay mad at a cute kid like you," he said, ruffling Hinata's hair with one hand as he spoke. "Just don't let me catch you doing that when I'm around again, or I'll turn you in to someone with the authority to discipline you for it. I'm not one for stalking."

His smile returned to his face as he asked again, "So, you must like Naruto-kun quite a bit then, eh?" Hinata was silent, but her redness had intensified somewhat at this. The man seemed to understand, though… he gave her a nod and reassured her, "Don't worry; I won't tell anyone if you don't want me to. That's a promise."

Hinata let out the breath she'd been holding and responded with, "A-arrigatou gozimasu."

"My name is Keisuke, by the way. I'm pleased to meet you, friend of Naruto-kun."

"Ano… I am Hyuuga Hinata…"

"Hyuuga, eh?" Keisuke frowned, for reasons the young Hyuuga girl did not know.

"Yes," she said, then gasped as she remembered, "Oh, no! It's much later than I realized… I should have returned home an hour ago! Father will be angry!" She turned and started toward her clan's property.

Keisuke stopped her with a hand on her shoulder, and said, "Hey now… No need for you to suffer your father's wrath on my account. I'll walk home with you, and explain that I held you up. Besides," he said, his mouth set in a sudden determination, "I should very much like to see how the Hyuuga have fared in these times…"

Hinata was unsure how this Keisuke was connected to her family, but since he was kind enough to offer his protection against a scolding, she accepted.

> > > > > > > > > > >

Keisuke's thoughts raced inside his head at a rate that made a flying shuriken seem like a slowly revolving carousel. Hyuuga… That had been the name that Keisuke's own son had taken after fleeing the house on his sixteenth birthday. As he turned the name over and over in his head, he felt himself becoming anxious. This girl… her father… Could they be…? There was a way to find out: Keisuke's wife had told her about his son's gloriously pale and highly efficient eyes, and Keisuke himself had sensed that his aura was thicker towards the region that enveloped the front of his head. He tuned out his other senses, putting all of his attention on his sense of touch so that he could sense the subtle vibration of Hinata's aura.

What Keisuke felt made him almost groan aloud. The girl had the same heaviness of aura in the front of her head. Though it was remotely possible that he was wrong, Keisuke was fairly sure now that Hyuuga Hinata was, however distantly, related to his runaway son. The knowledge only made his anxiety ten times worse. He could remember his jailor's last words to him: "Though they will strive for purity, their existence was cursed from the moment of your birth. They are, and ever will be, damned. It is my hope that you do not rot here… I would very much like to see your anguished face when you meet them again…

Keisuke shook off the demoness's parting monologue, struggling to drag his nerves back to the surface. The sadistic bitch was wrong, she had to be. Hyuuga Hinata was far from damned, in his eyes. If she was typical of her family, then there should be nothing for him to worry about. These thoughts gave Keisuke confidence as his companion led him through what sounded like a large gate. At once, they were accosted by a man who Keisuke presumed was Hinata's father.

"Hinata," the man began, sternness evident in his deep voice, "You are very late. I told you to return here immediately after the academy had finished with you. Did you forget?"

Hinata bowed her head in shame. "G-gomen…"

"Pardon me, Hyuuga-san," Keisuke interjected, "But the fault is mine. I am a newcomer to this village, and lost my way. Hinata-chan was kind enough to show me where I might obtain food and lodging, though she needn't have bothered. I am sorry that I interfered with your plans."

The man's aura did not change, but remained the stern, seemingly immovable force that it had been since it had appeared. "Because you are a stranger, I forgive you. However, I must ask that you do not interfere again. Hinata's training must be the most important part of her life if she is to gain the strength that she needs to head the Hyuuga clan." Now Keisuke felt something: A flash of something negative in Hinata's direction—disappointment? "Already, she has fallen considerably behind schedule."

At this, Keisuke's perception gave him glimpses of a reality that he had been loathe to see; This Hyuuga was more concerned with Hinata, his heir, rather than Hinata, his daughter. Already, a part of the demoness's prediction was beginning to seem like truth. Desperate to prove otherwise, Keisuke dared to probe a little.

He steeled himself as he spoke again. "I will honor your wishes, Hyuuga…?"


"Hyuuga Hiashi," he repeated. "I'll not bother you a second time, unless I am invited." Keisuke secretly felt that the latter part of his vow was unnecessary; it seemed highly unlikely that Hiashi was the type to welcome visitors. "But, if I may, I'll ask a question before I leave you."

Hiashi did not react. Keisuke interpreted his silence as a lack of rejection rather than lack of permission, and continued. "There is an impurity in your aura, and in the aura of your child, that is reminiscent of an acquaintance of mine. May I know who it was that founded your clan?"

To his dismay, Keisuke's ploy worked as intended; Hiashi's aura became tinged with surprise at the word "impurity," and was quickly replaced by an unmistakable seriousness. "Hinata," he commanded, his severity perceptible in his voice, "Get inside." Hinata hastily obeyed. As soon as she passed out of range of Keisuke's hearing, Hiashi spoke again.

"You… what do you know of the Hyuuga? You say that you are a stranger to Konoha… are you a spy? An assassin? A diplomat? Speak, or I will arrest you and have you interrogated." Keisuke felt words left unspoken in the intensity of his aura: If you survive. Not wanting to take the chance, Keisuke opted to speak.

"I am not a diplomat, nor an assassin, nor a spy. I merely wish to know if you are a relative of my acquaintance, since you share the same impurity, and most likely the same power as a result of that impurity." Said impurity suddenly became much more noticeable in Hiashi's aura. "Ah," Keisuke continued, "So you do have it…"

"The Byakugan is not an impurity. My ancestors purged themselves of impurity long before you or I was born. The power which you name impure is the sacred strength of the Hyuuga clan, and we protect it with all of our considerable will and might."

Keisuke scowled. This Hyuuga Hiashi was proving quite difficult indeed, and the more he spoke, the more Keisuke began to see the demoness's manipulation in him. Insistently, Keisuke asked, "Ah, but my acquaintance…"

"There are no Hyuuga living outside of Konoha that do not bear the Caged Bird curse seal. The seal makes the Byakugan impossible to detect in one's aura unless it is active. Your friend was likely carrying some kind of impurity, but he was not Hyuuga."

Keisuke wailed inwardly. A curse seal! How far will these Hyuuga go to protect their "sacred strength" which they obtained from demonic blood? They are blind! He felt himself losing hope.

"Though they will strive for purity… they are, and ever will be, damned."

Futilely, Keisuke asked, "Your founder…?"

"It is not your place to know!" The Hyuuga's voice had risen considerably, and Keisuke felt him drop into a ready stance. "Who are you, to ask such questions? If you are not a spy, sent to glean the secrets of our power, or an assassin, intending to destroy it, then what are you?"

Keisuke struggled to keep his intense sadness in check. Lifting his head to face Hiashi, he removed his sunglasses, giving the Hyuuga head a clear view of his eyeless face. "I am," he said, voice heavy with grief, "Keisuke of the Grave."

Hiashi's Byakugan deactivated with a snap and his aura become one of lesser shock, but Keisuke wasn't paying attention. He was already headed out of the Hyuuga compound, towards the rapidly setting sun.

> > > > > > > > > > > > >

As Keisuke was heading out of Konoha's walls the next morning, a loud, energetic, and blonde ninja-in-training caught up to him. A look of sadness was on the boy's face.

"Keisuke-nii-chan, you're leaving already?"

Keisuke sighed. "Yeah, Naruto-kun, I'm leaving."

"But you just got here!" Naruto pouted, upset at seeing one of the first friends he ever made confirm that he was heading out. "Why do you have to go now?"

"Naruto-kun…" Keisuke began, pausing to think of what words might work, "I came to Konohagakure hoping that I would be able to meet some very old friends of mine. However, when I saw them, they were completely unlike what I had hoped they would be… They hated me utterly. If I try to stay here, we won't get along, and we may cause a lot of trouble for the village. I don't want to be the cause of everyone's problems."

"But, nii-chan, if they hate you so much, why don't you try to prove that you aren't worth hating? Why don't you try to become something that they can like?"

A sad smile came to Keisuke's lips. Naruto seemed to understand his kind of pain. "Because, Naruto-kun, for me to do that might get a lot of people killed. Do you want me to be a murderer?"

"Of course not, nii-chan! But you shouldn't have to run away from it!"

"It's either run or be a problem to Konoha, for me, and my conscience won't let me live down the second option" Keisuke returned, gently. "Besides, I don't really need to prove that they're stuck-up bastards… I have a big, strong guy like you to stay here and do it for me, Naruto-kun."

"Huh? Me, nii-chan?"

"Yes. I know you'll be one of the best ninja to ever live one day. Your heart's in the right place and you have the kind of spirit that demands respect. I have every confidence that you will prove to be stronger than almost anyone else, not just physically, but morally as well."

Naruto just whined some more. "But, Keisuke-nii-chan…"

"Nothing you can say will make me remain here. Naruto, I want you to forget about me and throw everything you have into becoming stronger, for your sake and for mine."

These words seemed to reach Naruto; this was the kind of thing that he could put his spirit into, even though he was sad to see his new friend leave. "Okay, nii-chan. The next time you see me, I'll be twice the ninja that your bastard friends are!"

"I'll be disappointed if you aren't," Keisuke said, his genuine smile returning. Naruto turned and ran back toward his favorite training ground. Keisuke felt a presence tense up in the nearby shadows, apparently torn between staying where it was and following the blonde boy. Keisuke's smile widened. One Hyuuga, at least, had some morality left.

He called out to the shadows, "Go ahead and follow him, Hinata-chan. You'll learn a more valuable lesson from him than you ever will from your father." There was a pause, and then the presence moved off after Naruto.

Satisfied, Keisuke of the Grave departed from Konoha to seek a new existence in this age, and to—if luck permitted it—take his vengeance upon the monstrosity that had cursed his line…

> > > > > > > > > > > End Prologue> > > > > >

Notes: This is my first time posting on FFnet. All commentary and criticism is welcome, so let me have it!

Also, if anyone knows a better way to divide sections of the chapter than > > > > > , I would greatly appreciate that information. LOL