Sakura ran through the streets of Konoha, dodging the movements of people as they dealt with their own business. She was but a blur to them, as much as her mind was awhirl with thoughts. Jiraiya had returned to Konoha, but Naruto was not with him. Almost thirty months ago the two left for special training, but only the master returned and Sakura wanted to know why.
"No running here!" boomed the commanding voice of Tsunade, leader or Konoha and the most powerful female ninja to have ever lived.
Sakura skidded to a stop in front of Konoha's hospital. "Sorry, master." She sheepishly smiled, quickly brushing her short pink hair back into place. "I heard Jiraiya had returned and I guess I was in a bit of a rush. I was wondering where Naruto was."
Tsunade folded her arms, pushing up her oversized breasts as if they were a sign of her power. "I'm afraid the answer to that isn't simple."
Sakura frowned. "You already know where Naruto is?"
Tsunade nodded gravely. "In the very place I put him."
Sakura blinked in confusion, uncertainly how to phrase what she wanted to ask.
"Your questions will be answered soon." Tsunade opened the door to the hospital. "But first I'd like to hear Jiraiya's report without interruptions."
Sakura sagged and followed her mentor inside. She almost giggled at the nervous greeting Jiraiya gave Tsunade inside the hospital lobby, but then burst out laughing as the legendary frog-summoning sannin was dragged away by his hair by his ex-teammate. She quickly forced herself to stop, mostly due to the harsh glares the medical staff cast her way.
Composing herself, Sakura moved to the reception desk and walked behind it. Nothing was said of it as she had both clearance as a ninja and as a qualified doctor. Looking over the incoming patients' sheets, she failed to find what she was looking for. "Do you have the files on the people Jiraiya brought with him?"
"I'm afraid those have been classified. Only senior medical staff and Konoha council may view those," replied a young teenaged girl sitting at the desk. "I wonder what the fuss is with them. Chief Yakushi seemed rather disturbed about them for some reason."
Sakura mused in thought over what she heard. Something did seem to be up with this situation. However, it wasn't the most important thing on her mind. She would like to talk to them to see if they knew where Naruto was, but if their files were classified then talking to them would be forbidden as well.
The elderly chief medical officer Yakushi walked into the reception area with a slight dazed expression. One of his assistants followed behind with oddly unsettled movements.
"With that level of chakra AND a potential bloodline limit..." The assistant shuddered. "Jiraiya found a monster!"
"Jiraiya found what?" Sakura questioned in surprise.
"Yakumo..." Yakushi hissed.
"Sorry, Chief Yakushi," Yakumo cowered.
Yakushi cast an even look at the girl. "You should know we can not answer that. It's classified above your rank."
Sakura blinked. "What is with everything suddenly being classified over me?"
Tsunade strode into the room, managing to hear her student's question. "There are reasons for all things. Sakura, come with me. Yakushi, send... Jiraiya's two main guests to meet with me when they're ready." Without waiting for a reply, Tsunade whirled around and returned to the meeting room that she had just used to talk with Jiraiya.
Sakura felt nervous for some reason. Everything she had just heard didn't fully add up and she hoped she would be hearing the answers now. She sat down in the chair her mentor pointed to. "What's going on?"
"Well, it's probably best to tell you the whole story from the beginning." Tsunade sighed. She opened her mouth a few times, but kept changing her mind as to what to say. "I guess I should really begin at the beginning. At the time you were born, Konoha was beset by the Kyuubi. A nine-tailed demon that attacked our homes and killed our best ninja."
Sakura nodded. "I've heard this story. Yondaime managed to kill the Kyuubi, but at the cost of his life."
"I'm afraid that's only a half-truth. You see, the Kyuubi is a force of nature. It can no more be killed than a thunderstorm," Tsunade corrected.
"If it can't be killed, how did Yondaime defeat it?" Sakura wondered.
"He trapped the soul and power of the Kyuubi inside the body of an infant," Tsunade told her in a deadly serious voice.
Sakura blinked a few times before her eyes widened in shock. "Are you saying...?"
"Naruto is the living prison of the Kyuubi," Tsunade confirmed.
Sakura slumped back in her chair. "No wonder all our parents seemed so frightened of him."
"Yondaime wanted him to be seen as the hero of Konoha, but Naruto was instead seen as a living reminder of what the Kyuubi took or, worse, as being the demon himself." Tsunade held her hands together. "And it is because of the Kyuubi that Naruto is one of the targets Itachi's group, the Akatsuki, seeks. They want to use the demon's powers for their own ends."
Sakura paled. "Don't tell me that they got Naruto?"
Tsunade shook her head. "While the Akatsuki have managed to track down a few of the demons, the Kyuubi still eludes them."
Sakura didn't feel reassured as her mentor didn't say that Naruto was safe. "What happened to Naruto then?"
Tsunade didn't immediately reply. "I'll get to where Naruto is in due time. First I need to explain how the situation began. And it started after I heard the Akatsuki killed their first demon almost twenty months ago. I knew Naruto was going to be targeted, so I devised a plan that would help hide him from the Akatsuki. But first I had needed approval for the plan as it involved a forbidden jutsu..."
Between Deception and Truth
Chapter 1 - Mission of the Lost
By: Lord Archive
Naruto belongs to and was created by Kishimoto, all rights reserved. I'm only borrowing them.
Tsunade stood before the collected leaders of Konoha. Village elders and heads of clans surrounded her as she had to make a special request. One that she could not do even as the Hokage without suffering legal action against her. At the moment, she saw no way around the situation without resorting to the use of one of the most forbidden jutsu ever devised. It was not the most powerful technique. In fact the only person at risk of death was the user, and that was only in a figurative sense. Though she personally knew the technique, being the one who made it, she had never used it to the level she was about to suggest. This was no time for second thoughts.
"The Akatsuki are on the move. They have begun hunting and killing those who possess the tailed demons within them. Their goal and reason for this is yet to be fully known, but there is one thing we can be certain of: the powers of the demons would be used against Konoha and our allies," Tsunade began in earnest.
"And what news is this?" barked a senile old ninja. "We have been aware of the Akatsuki for some time now."
"They are tightening their actions around the known demons. It would be in our best interests to hide the Kyuubi-vessel to keep him further out of their grasps," Tsunade growled in reply, hating the interruption.
"Let them dispose of the Kyuubi and let's be rid of that blight from our village," one of the younger clan heads barked out.
Tsunade's glare threatened death. "The Akatsuki do not seek to destroy the Kyuubi but to harness its power. Naruto is the hero the fourth Hokage selected to save Konoha. He is a citizen of our land, and an excellent ninja who has surpassed the skill level of his rank. He would die for Konoha to save it. And you would sacrifice him, the living prison of a demon, and give that power to our enemy? Do not speak such treason to me again or I shall deal with you appropriately!"
The young clan head shrank back.
Elder Utatane stomped her foot, causing the room to shake. "Let's not rehash old worries, nor question the work of the Fourth. What plan have you devised that requires our approval, Tsunade?"
"Thank you." Tsunade straightened herself. "The Akatsuki know what Naruto looks like and are able to track him. What I request of you is to allow him access to the forbidden technique I devised."
"You would give such an ability to that... _boy_?" cried out one man, choosing his final words carefully to not offend.
"He already abuses the techniques he does know with shameless displays. The ability would be too much in his hands," another protested.
"And when was the last time he has done such things?" Tsunade questioned. "I am aware of the pranks he pulled before becoming a genin, but I have yet to witness such acts in all the time I have known him. Do not judge the ninja for his crimes as child, but the merit of his works now."
"And what of his work now? He is the student of Jiraiya. The technique in the boy's hands is worrisome, but in Jiraiya's hands..." Utatane shuddered. "I fear for the maidens of our world."
"None of you know the technique to the degree that I do. What I would give Naruto is a scroll that would only allow for a single use. Even if Jiraiya was to analyze the scroll, it would be missing key elements in the creation process that would make it nearly impossible for him to reproduce," Tsunade informed them with seeming assuring confidence.
"Accomplishing the 'nearly impossible' is something the legendary sannin excel at," Utatane retorted.
Tsunade smirked. "I'm all too aware of that. We can include orders for the ninja who delivers the scroll to observe Jiraiya for a period of time to ensure he does not attempt to use the scroll for his own ends."
"And what should be made of Naruto after he uses this technique?" the elderly Mitokado asked. "He could not remain with Jiraiya, or the entire point of him using the technique becomes pointless. We will not allow that man to use it."
Tsunade frowned. "True, we will need to come up with something for Naruto."
"And what about guarding the Kyuubi? If Jiraiya is no longer around to protect him, how can we be sure the Akatsuki won't use this as a chance to capture him?" Mitokado pressed.
When Tsunade didn't immediately reply, Hyuga Hiashi spoke up, "The messenger could become the guard. A ninja of skill who would also be subjected to Tsunade's technique to work with Naruto in setting up a reasonable cover."
"There are few ninja of suitable skill that we can afford to lose. And this mission would go beyond the realms of duty for most," Utatane pointed out.
Tsunade rubbed her chin in thought. That wasn't quite what she had in mind, but a secondary guard could suit the purpose just as well. "Yet there would be candidates. If we can get all affected individuals, including the messenger's family to agree, we can go with that route. Or we can go with the alternate plan I've been working on, but you would find that less agreeable as it would have the technique applied to Jiraiya with certain restrictions."
"If you can find a suitable ninja for this role, your plan may have some merit. I will hold my vote until the details have been dealt with," Mitokado stated firmly.
Tsunade smiled slightly seeing the assembled leaders nod to the elder ninja's words. This plan was functionally approved. Writing up the full mission briefing would only face opposition if a fault was found within it. And she would be sure there was nothing wrong with one of her plans.
Winds blew through the streets of Konoha, ruffling the robes that most of the heads of clan and village elders wore as they made their ways to their homes and places of work. While many of them quickly left the council area, a few still strangled behind.
"I would speak with you," Hiashi spoke cold, yet firmly. He hated waiting for any one, especially a woman.
Tsunade scowled, yet another distraction from getting her plans and work accomplished. She turned toward the head of the Hyuga clan, failing to hide her annoyance. "Is there something you wanted?"
"I have a candidate in mind for your mission," Hiashi stated evenly.
Tsunade frowned. "I should have figured as much since it was your idea. Who would you send on this task?" She had a rather good guess, especially since the Hyuga clan head might know the possible side-effect that her technique could do to a bloodline ability.
"I believe my daughter, Hinata, would both be willing and, as newly promoted to Chuunin, suitably skilled for this," Hiashi recommended, a faint quiver in his voice betraying some emotion in his words.
That had not been Tsunade's guess. "Hyuga, you know what I am suggesting to be done. Once the technique is used, she would no longer be considered YOUR daughter."
"I am well aware of that. I also know there's a risk she might lose the abilities of our family." Hiashi let out a strange sigh. "I love my daughter, but Hinata is not a pillar that can support the Hyuga clan. She may have proven herself a capable ninja, but her temperament ill suits the heir of the clan. I firmly believe she would be happier without the burden of leading the family weighing over her."
"You would be placing all your hopes onto Hanabi. Do you believe she will do any better than her elder sister?" Tsunade questioned skeptically.
"Whether Hanabi does better or worse, this would allow me to save her from being relegated to the branch family," Hiashi admitted.
"You would disown one daughter to save the other?" Tsunade asked incredulously.
Hiashi gave a shallow nod. "Do not think this is an easy decision for me. I do not wish to lose either daughter. However, this mission would be exactly what Hinata would dream of."
"She would be partnered with Naruto, likely with a cover story of them being runaway lovers or something similar," Tsunade pointed out.
Hiashi looked away. "Exactly. Hinata admires and... likes Naruto. While the Kyuubi does worry me, the boy showed his worth to me when he defeated Neji at the Chuunin exam."
Tsunade almost ordered him to tell Hinata everything then send the girl to her, but then thought better of it. "Send Hinata to me after dinner tonight. Do not speak of the mission or Naruto to her."
"I was hoping to warn her of her mission," Hiashi requested.
Tsunade shook her head. "Coming from you, it would hurt her, making her feel as if she was being disowned completely. From me, it is a high ranking mission that she can reject."
Hiashi contemplated her words. "I see your point. By you telling her, she would have to ask me to be disowned rather than having me ask her if she wants to be. I shall leave it to you then."
Hinata stared at the Hokage Mountain, her eyes almost pleading with the stone faces of the past hokage to answer the questions in her mind. The sun had set a long time ago, but she hardly noticed. The mission Tsunade asked her to undertake was unlike any mission she had ever expected to have. In fact, while similar tasks had been assigned to others in the past, she would be the first to take the job to the degree requested. There could be no half-measures in this.
"There you are."
Hinata spun around quickly, but did not fully relax at the sight of her cousin. "Was there something you wanted, Neji-niisan?"
"Your father is worried about you. Do you know what time it is?" Neji grumbled.
"Sorry." Hinata turned away from him, but her eyes never left him thanks the ability granted to her by her bloodline. "Tsunade-sama briefed me on a mission that she wants me to take, and I don't know whether or not I should accept it."
Neji looked puzzled. "What sort of mission allows you to refuse it?"
Hinata didn't immediately reply. "You remember how you used to say your destiny is predetermined at birth? That you cannot change your lot in life?"
Neji frowned. "Of course. Naruto proved how wrong those words were."
"There was some truth in them, Neji-niisan." Hinata sighed. "No matter what I do, I could not escape being the first born daughter of the head of the Hyuga clan."
Neji blinked in confusion. "I don't follow you."
"If I was to take this mission, I would be changing my destiny. I would have to forsake the Hyuga clan and forge a completely new path," Hinata admitted.
"That isn't possible. You can't just stop being a Hyuga. The clan is your blood," Neji asserted.
Hinata shook her head. "I can't tell you the details, but in a way I won't even have the Hyuga blood."
"Assuming there was a way to do as you suggest, why would you accept such a thing?" Neji questioned harshly.
Hinata fidgeted, her pale face turning a deep red. "To protect Naruto-kun. There is... something special with Naruto-kun. He has been targeted by S-ranked criminals, and I would need to leave the Hyuga clan, at least for a time, in order to help keep him safe."
Neji folded his arms. He had a guess what the something 'special' might be. While he had never heard anything, few things could escape his eyes. And if S-ranked criminals wanted Naruto, it only served to support his hunch on just how the lowest ranked student could have beaten him during the chuunin-exams. "Do you know why these criminals want him?"
Hinata nodded. "Don't ask me to tell you what it is. I can't tell you. I'm still trying to accept it myself. But it answers so many questions. Why he was such an outcast."
"Knowing this you still want to protect him?" Neji questioned.
Hinata eyed her cousin, his tone suggesting he knew the secret. "I... Yes, I want to protect him... but I don't want to lose my family either."
"What happens if you decline?" Neji wondered.
Hinata's hands gripped the observation fence railing tightly. "Someone else would be given the mission. Probably Sakura-san."
"Why not let her take your place? She would certainly protect him," Neji advised firmly.
"I don't want her to do that. I don't want to her to take my place. I want to be the one with Naruto-kun, not her," Hinata protested on the verge of tears.
"And what about your family? Your duty to the clan?" Neji shot at her. "Would you really throw away everything I can never achieve just for Naruto?"
"Father wishes I was not heir to the clan, nor do I wish to take control of it. There's no way I can do anything that would be required of me. No matter what you've said to me or done to me, I have never activated your seal. Even when we fought each other during the prelims of our first Chuunin exam, one move would have defeated you, but I couldn't do it." Hinata collapsed to the ground sobbing. "If I can't even assert myself over someone in the branch family, how I can expect to make anyone in the main family follow me? I'm willing to sacrifice myself, but I can't hurt those I care about."
Neji scowled at the girl. "Living is about hurting and healing. Destiny or not, you can't escape that. Throughout life you make decisions that will help some and hurt others. When you took up your blade as a ninja to protect Konoha, you made a decision to physically hurt those who would seek to harm our city. This decision is no different. Someone will be hurt with your answer, regardless of your choice. And you must make it as no answer is the same as saying, 'no.'"
"I know that!" Hinata cried out. "But this is my life! How can I answer a question like this one?"
"Do you really want to change, Hinata?" Neji chided the girl. "Or do you want to play it safe? You can decide to accept this mission and take control of your destiny, or you can stay at home and let your life remain as it is. I can't make this decision for you, nor can your father. You have to decide."
"Do you think I should take it?" Hinata asked with a touch of hope in her voice.
Neji walked up to the girl. "My eyes can see a lot of things." He tapped her chest. "But I can't see inside a person's heart. All the reason in the world won't help you with this question, only your heart holds the answer. Listen to your feelings. I believe your heart has already decided, but your head isn't ready to accept everything that goes with it." He took a few steps away from her. "I'll let your father know where you are." He then leapt away, jumping from rooftops to speed him towards the Hyuga clan residence.
"I'm sorry, Neji-niisan." Hinata choked backed her tears. "I'm sorry... father."
Sakura sighed as she entered the Hokage's office. The never-ending pile of paperwork always seemed to get worse, and her teacher of medical ninjutsu was not exactly a sterling example of an efficient worker. There were so many stacks of paper cluttering the desk, tables and floor, she had to look around before confirming that Tsunade was not in the room.
As student and assistant to the Hokage, Sakura found herself at the receiving end of filing the lesser paper work. She didn't worry about looking at the files sitting on top of the desk. Rarely was there anything above her rank left around in the office, and the few things she had seen above her rank she was given retroactive approval to see it. Of course, being able to see something didn't mean understanding it. In this case, the files were of a handful of children, all deceased.
Almost against her will, Sakura picked up one of the files. Looking upon the picture, she whispered, "Ami."
"You knew her?" Tsunade questioned, stomping irritably toward her desk.
Sakura jumped, having failed to realize her master had returned. She composed herself quickly. "All too well. She bullied me when I started the academy."
Tsunade plopped down into her chair. "I see."
"I can't help but remember her funeral. There was only ten people there, none of whom were her so-called 'friends.'" Sakura smirked sadly. "Now that I think of her and what she did, I understand now she wasn't being mean to me because she hated me, but because I had been an easy target for her. She wanted to make herself look important, to be recognized."
"Getting herself killed attempting a jounin level skill when she was barely a student certainly suggests she was screaming for attention," Tsunade commented blandly.
"And of her groupies, not one of them moved to save her. They goaded her on and it wasn't until she was dead that one of them went to find a teacher," Sakura remembered somberly.
"I take it you don't hate her for what she did to you," Tsunade noted.
Sakura shook her head. "Not at all. In fact if I was to see her today, I'd tell her, 'Thank you.'" She smirked a little. "Ami was my first adversary. While Ino largely helped me to 'defeat' her, Ami still ended up pushing me to become stronger."
"I guess I shouldn't be surprised at hearing this. She didn't exactly have a happy childhood; orphaned on the day she was born. Her father in battle, and her mother from lack of attention during her troubled delivery as most of the medic-nin were on the battlefield." Tsunade tapped her finger on her desk. "It could've easily been her."
Sakura blinked in confusion. "Huh?"
"Don't mind me. Just thinking about all the children made orphans that day." Tsunade picked up a file on her desk and read into it. "Know anything about Nara Kuro?"
Sakura paused in thought. "Never really met him. He died of some disease, right?"
"Yes." Tsunade scrunched her eyebrows as she read the file.
"Why are you looking at these files?" Sakura wondered.
"They're part of a special project of mine. I'm afraid I can't let you know any more about it," Tsunade answered offhandedly.
"That top secret, huh?" Sakura guessed.
Tsunade nodded. "If I could tell you the reason, you'd understand and accept it."
Sakura huffed in annoyance, not sure if she should believe her teacher.
Tsunade was more than a little tempted to tell the girl. However, it was because the girl was so involved in the situation that telling her would be too great a risk. When the Akatsuki lose track of Naruto, they will try to find him by any means necessary. And Sakura would be a potential target for them to capture and interrogate, having been Naruto's former teammate. If she didn't know where he was or anything about the jutsu, they wouldn't be able to find out anything from her.
"Uchiha Tatewaki, huh?" Sakura picked up another file. "I sort of remember him. He had some sort of beef with Sasuke-kun before... you know..."
Tsunade snatched the file from the girl. "Ah, yes. He was Sasuke's third cousin. According to the file his parents were both of the Uchiha clan and that their marriage was arranged. Probably as insurance in case Sasuke's father failed to produce a legitimate heir to the clan. According to the Anbu, Itachi was particularly vicious in murdering Tatewaki."
"Hearing about the fuss the Hyuga and Uchiha clans go through, I'm kind of glad mine doesn't have a bloodline ability." Sakura then huffed. "Would've been nice if my family had something that helped give me some sort of edge, though."
"A loving family may be the strongest asset they could've ever given you," Tsunade told her sagely. "That's something Ami, Sasuke and Naruto probably would've traded all their skills away for."
"I guess, though it's hard for me to consider their position. I wouldn't mind being on my own, and not hearing my mother nagging me." Sakura sighed. "But I don't know how I'd cope if I knew I'd never hear her voice again."
"Well, I guess it's good I get to go through with this on my first choice," Tsunade whispered to herself.
Sakura looked at her teacher. "Huh? I didn't hear you."
"It's nothing. I'm going to have my hands full with this project today. I'm going to need you to run a few of my errands for me." Tsunade held up a list of jobs.
Sakura took the list and groaned while reading it. "This is going to take all day at least."
"Then I suggest you get started," Tsunade ordered. She slumped back into her seat after the girl left. For the range and suitable material, she didn't have a lot of choices. In fact, she was pretty sure of the nine that she could use, which two were going to be selected. There was one distinct problem, that the choices seemed to be good matches for the wrong candidates. She morbidly wished that there was a Hyuga or Uchiha girl of the appropriate age to have died.
Tsunade realized she was merely delaying herself with her thoughts. "I should follow my own suggestions and get started."
In the early morning hours, Tsunade stood before a small number of the Hyuga clan holding out a canvas sack. "You are to keep as low a profile you can until you find Jiraiya and Naruto. Give these scrolls to Jiraiya, and he'll know how to use them."
"I understand." Hinata nervously took the bag, and carefully put it inside her backpack.
"Remember to keep an eye on Jiraiya while he has these scrolls and for some time after that. If he does something prohibited, you are to send a message to me as soon as you can without revealing your position," Tsunade reminded.
"Yes, ma'am." Hinata nodded.
"This is your last chance to back out of this mission," Tsunade warned.
"I've been fighting to change myself. This will give me a blank slate to work from," Hinata asserted weakly.
"Do Konoha proud," Tsunade wished.
"I will," Hinata promised. She then walked over to her family. "I guess this is good-bye. Neji-niisan, I've always felt like you were my brother. I know you'll do well for Konoha and the Hyuga clan." Her eyes moved from her cousin to her little sister. "Hanabi, I'm afraid I'm leaving you with all the responsibilities I should've had, but never forget this is your life. You can forge your own path." She then gulped looking up at her father. "I'm sorry I have to leave you. I... I love you, Father."
Hiashi stepped forward stiffly and awkwardly gave his eldest daughter a hug. "I feel as if I'm the one who should be sorry that you would decide to choose this path. No matter what, you are my daughter and you will have a home to return to no matter what the outcome."
Hinata fought the urge to cry. She was leaving as a proud ninja of Konoha, and ninja do not cry. "Goodbye, everyone." Her family and Tsunade returned her farewell, before the girl vanished into the night.
Sakura appraised the young woman that had joined them. It had been a long time since she had seen Hinata, and she had hardly recognized the girl. Her posture was straight and full of confidence, so unlike the shy girl that watched Naruto from afar. When Hinata left, all anyone could get about where she went was that the girl was on a mission. And apparently her job was to act as a guard for Naruto, something Sakura believed Hinata would've enjoyed very much. The girl even left her clan for him. But Sakura still had so many questions. "If Hinata was supposed to be Naruto's guardian, where is he now?"
Tsunade glared at her student. "As I've told you several times before, we'll be explaining that in due time. Don't ask that again. You will find out soon enough."
Sakura huffed, hating how they seemed to be beating around the bush. Why couldn't they just tell her? "When did you get here, Hinata? The guards at the gate didn't mention you had arrived as well."
"There is a reason for that," Hinata replied in a steady voice. "I'm technically 'not here.'"
"I don't follow. And what does this have to do with bringing up the files of dead children Tsunade was looking at?" Sakura persisted.
"Everything, Sakura-san. Everything," Hinata stated firmly.
Chapter 2: Jutsu Revealed The secrets are revealed as Sakura learns what happened to Naruto.
Blame Canis Black for this. He passed me the idea and it was so up my alley. I try to avoid writing for a series that is incomplete, but in this case it's such a thorough divergence that I can work with it.