SPECIAL THANKS TO MY WONDERFUL BETA AYTHERIA without whom this chapter would not have been as good, as long, and definitely not out as soon as it is – take a minute to thank her in your reviews folks!
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. Kishimoto does. I only own the plot and original characters (and names). This is called fanfiction for a reason folks…
"Words": normal speech
/ words : unsaid words
words: emphasis /dream / memory
/ words : memory sequence
Chapter 9 – Fortitude
Kakashi launched himself after his student, dodging around chimneys and watertanks across the rooftops of Konoha. But even though he was using a good portion of his jounin speed, the silver-haired man was hard pressed to catch up with the blond, and it only confirmed his suspicions.
He'd started having doubts as to the identity of the other when talking with him that morning, an impression which was reinforced by the later realization that Naruto didn't call him sensei as he usually did, even after all those years. Seeing the blond going around town and using a henge to trick the shopkeepers, something Naruto would never do, had started ringing alarm bells, and Kakashi had grown increasingly suspicious with the various little clues the man had left during the day. His behaviour had been 'off' for the most part, coming across as part-Naruto and part…someone else.
Kakashi knew he should have alerted the Hokage, or even signaled the ANBU, but something had stopped him, an increasing familiarity with the patterns that were emerging in 'Naruto', and so he'd stuck around and observed. The last altercation with Team Gai, and 'Naruto''s reaction had decided him, and Kakashi was now in pursuit, although he was still willing to give the other a chance to explain himself. One chance.
Kakashi caught up with the blond just as he opened the door to his apartment, and he rushed inside, slamming the man face first against the wall and hands held behind his back.
"Who are you?!" he growled.
The man hadn't reacted when Kakashi had attacked him, and even now refused to defend himself. "What the hell Kakashi? What do you mean?"
"You're not Naruto, who are you?" Kakashi repeated.
The man stiffened, before replying, disbelief clear in his voice: "I don't understand."
Kakashi tightened his grip, ready to knock out the other at a moment's notice. "You're a good actor, I'll give you that, but you're not Naruto. You don't act like him, talk like him, you're nothing like him! Now," and Kakashi twisted the arms of the man a bit more, "I'll ask one last time: who are you?"
There was a moment of silence from the blond, and Kakashi tensed, ready for an attack, but it never came. Instead, 'Naruto' chuckled mirthlessly.
"Is that it? Just because I'm not acting like usual you think I'm not…me?" Another mirthless chuckle, slightly hysterical. "Really, Kakashi, are you sure you know me as well as you think you do?"
Kakashi frowned, but the man kept on talking: "If I prove to you that I am who I should be, will you let me go?"
The jounin didn't have the time to reply before the man in his grip flared a bit of very recognizable chakra – the Kyuubi's chakra, which only one person in the world could so use. Kakashi let the blond go, stepping back with his eyes wide. "Naruto?"
Said blond chuckled, massaging his abused wrists. "You know, that's the second time in as many days you've seemed to question my identity. Do try not to make a habit of it, ok?"
Kakashi narrowed his eyes at the other, still suspicious. Even though it apparently was Naruto, his observations were still valid: there was something very strange going on with the blond, and he was determined to find out what. But when he asked his old student straight up, he didn't get much of an answer. Naruto just waved him off, saying it was just some bad milk he'd drunk.
Kakashi knew he'd been lying – something like that hadn't happened since Naruto's early genin days - but admitted defeat anyway, knowing he wouldn't get more out of the blond unless he physically threatened him. And that was a line Kakashi was not willing to cross. 'More questions to add to the list of things to ask I suppose.'
More prodding had revealed nothing, and he'd eventually left Naruto alone. Now, having left Ebisu (who had finally shown up, fifteen minutes late, the irony…) on watch in his stead, Kakashi made his way to the Hokage's office, intent on delivering a most troubling report.
As soon as his old student- sensei- Kakashi had left, Minato closed the door and scowled a bit as he was finally alone in his apartment. He hadn't planned on meeting any of his friends, hadn't wanted to really. But the encounter with the two girls had let him know he could deal with it if necessary, even though his acting skills needed to be improved. If Ino hadn't been there, he was quite certain Sakura would have at least dogged his steps until she found something out; or until he cracked and told her something - anything. At the moment, spilling his secrets wasn't very appealing – he could think of a dozen different reasons why off the top of his head, none of which were pleasant.
Running into Higurashi Tenten, the girl who he'd seen as a tiny baby, held in the palm of his hand even - and who was now 'officially' older than him…well, he wasn't happy with his reaction. It had been more instinct than anything else, and Minato was sure it would raise suspicion, as evidenced by Kakashi's 'interrogation'. Having friends was great, but if he acted even slightly out of character, they noticed, and being noticed was the last thing the ex-Hokage wanted at the moment. For an attention seeker such as Naruto, it was quite the foreign concept.
Setting down his dropped supplies on the nearby table, Minato formed the familiar cross-shaped seal of Kage Bunshin, creating three more clones. One set about making lunch, while the other two cut the paper he'd bought in three by two inches long strips, setting them into neat stacks. Satisfied that the clones would get the job done, Minato sat down and started back on his list, writing things down as they came to him.
2. Find out what happened to Rin
That was something which was really bothering him: not even once in his recent memories as Naruto did he recall spotting a woman matching Rin's description. The thought that she may have died in the aftermath of the Kyuubi's attack settled like a cold stone in his stomach, and Minato felt ill. He'd never liked losing friends, or even people he just knew in passing, and that protective streak had only grown with him becoming Hokage, whereupon he was literally responsible for the whole village, ninja and civilians alike.
Shifting a bit in his seat, he looked briefly out the window at the late-morning sky. 'I'll have to make a stop at the hospital.'
Thinking of the white building reminded him that he had to see Tsunade at some point during all this, and he quickly wrote it down as well, smiling as he added a small note next to it:
3. Talk to Hime-nee – can't avoid it forever
The Godaime was sure to be quite angry with him, and he shuddered at the thought of her temper. He'd have to make sure he didn't see her while Sakura was there too – one angry super-powered kunoichi he could take, but two…Minato sweat-dropped. 'No way in hell am I doing that. I like living, thank you very much.' There was a pause, during which one of his clones got distracted while paper cutting and dispelled itself, and Minato absentmindedly created a new one, sending it as replacement with a mental command.
'Kushina had a temper too…'
Before his thoughts could take a darker path, the blond shook himself, concentrating back onto the scroll in front of him and writing down the next point.
Now, wasn't that interesting. While he didn't like thinking about it, he knew he was bound to encounter some of his old enemies during missions, and once he revealed himself for who he really was, assassination attempts would shoot right up, from both inside and outside.
Oh yes, he may have been the Yondaime Hokage, and could very well be again, but while popular, he wasn't liked by the whole of the population. Danzo was just the most flagrant of examples. Orochimaru was close second, and there were many ninja and civilians alike who held grudges against him – the same way they'd held a grudge against Naruto because of the Kyuubi. And of course, there was Akatsuki to account for, not to mention any other enemies he'd made as Naruto. Minato snorted inwardly. As if that had ever stopped him before.
Nevertheless, it brought to attention an important point, namely his current level of strength: he'd definitely have to get stronger if he wanted to live longer.
"We're done boss."
The clone's words brought him out of his thoughts, and Minato moved his attention to the pile of paper strips on the other side of the table. He grinned.
"Excellent. Start inking the seals, and take your time. It's been too long since I grafted one of those."
One of the clones snorted. "Yeah, well, they aren't exactly that complex. I'm sure we can handle it boss."
Minato fixed his clone with a stern glance, wondering if he was always that pigheaded. "Just be careful. You'll just dispel if you blow this thing up, but me and the apartment don't have that luxury. Capiche?"
The clones saluted, smearing ink onto their faces and hair as they did so. "Hai, boss!"
Minato rolled his eyes again. Sending out a tendril of thought to the third clone, he could tell lunch was almost ready. Good, he'd need his strength for what was coming up next.
Back to the problem at hand: training.
Minato frowned, staring at the fifth item on his list: determining his current level. Which meant training. Lots and lots of it.
He had a fair guess of his abilities at the moment, but then again Naruto had never really bothered measuring his skills. It was mostly sheer stubbornness that had gotten him through most of his battles, and only recently had he started analyzing his actions and thinking ahead more than he usually did. Minato scowled. Jiraiya was not a nice teacher, but he was a good teacher. However, training him to use the fox's chakra was a mistake, especially when it obviously imbalanced the seal. He'd need to have a long talk with his former sensei when he'd cleared up his real identity and all the crap that was sure to come with it.
Going back to his original train of thought, Minato thought of all he needed to do.
Well, until he'd dealt with the seal and Kyuubi in a more permanent manner, genjutsu and most ninjutsu were out. He didn't have enough chakra control right now to even attempt most of the things in his personal library, much less his most famous and powerful technique, the Hiraishin no Jutsu.
Fūinjutsu wasn't a problem, as demonstrated by the clones' usage of it, except he'd rather be sure he could do it properly as opposed to blowing himself up because he'd bypassed one little detail in his haste. There was a reason seal grafters were rare, much less seal masters such as he or Jiraiya. Not many had the gift and patience to master the discipline, and even less were willing to take the risk of being blown up because of a slight mistake in the curve of a character or an out-of-place alignment. The difficulty of the subject deterred many from going any further than the standard exploding tags and storage seals. The area Fūinjutsu was most used in was Hijutsu, the medical arts, and they were mostly stationary arrays or pre-prepared stasis tags, and the use of other types of seals in battle was practically unheard of, barring his own signature move.
'Actually, it's a wonder the Hebi-teme didn't blow me to smithereens the first time he applied that Gogyo Fūjin on me back in the Forest of Death. He must have studied quite a lot to pull that off like he did.' Minato grimaced inwardly, recalling that Jiraiya had called it 'sloppy' when questioned about it later. 'A wonder indeed.'
Just then, the third clone made his way to him, loudly telling him that lunch was ready before setting to check on the work of the other two. His stomach rumbling, Minato nodded and made his way to the dishes on the stoves, glad that there was no need to practice his culinary skills as well. A delicious meal of sizzling beef with strips of red capsicum and broccoli, along with soy bean shoots and white rice was awaiting him, sprinkled lightly with sesame seeds, and he dug into it with gusto, getting seconds and even thirds.
As he ate, the blond Hokage theorized Fūinjutsu was something he could re-train in with his shadow clones – he thanked the Kami again for his abnormally high chakra reserves, as without them he was sure he'd never be able to do what he was planning to do: train back to Kage level in all ninja disciplines in the space of a few months.
Yondaime sometimes wondered if he was a masochist.
Ino brought a finger to her chin, adopting a contemplative expression. "He was acting a bit weird earlier, now that I think about it."
Sakura, sitting to her right as they all drank from the sweet tea Neji had served them, couldn't help but roll her eyes, but bit back the comment of "Gee, you think?" Instead she put down her cup and frowned lightly. "You say he reacted to you, Tenten-san?"
The other kunoichi nodded. "Yes. He looked really freaked out too."
"He also exuded a very strong aura of grief," added Neji.
"NARUTO-KUN'S FLAMES OF YOUTH WEREN'T BURNING AS BRIGHTLY AS USUAL!" Three guesses as to who that was, and the first two don't count.
Smacking her green-clad teammate lightly, Tenten calmly crunched on a cookie that had escaped Chouji. Kiba and Shino were sitting on the porch overlooking the small garden inside the Hyuuga compound, right behind Neji and Hinata.
The shy Hyuuga heiress was fiddling with the hem of her shirt, wondering if her long time crush was alright. "W-what do you think is wrong with him?"
Ino and Kiba shrugged, although most everyone else looked a bit concerned – one could never tell with Shino, and Shikamaru seemed to be sleeping where he'd sat under a tree. The genius yawned. "Mendokuse," he said. "If you girls want to find out so badly, why don't you just ask him?"
The answering (and resounding) "NO" that came from three mouths was enough to make even Lee's ears ring. When the males in the room had regained their hearing, Chouji asked Ino why not. Said blond looked at him as if he'd just not asked her that, before starting to explain. Ten minutes later, and most everyone was wondering what she was talking about, with the exception of her teammates. Maybe.
When she was finished, Neji turned to the lazy genius. "Shikamaru."
Shikamaru would have rolled his eyes, but it really was just too troublesome. He didn't want to explain either, but dealing with another Ino-style explanation would be much more troublesome so…
"She wants to stalk him."
"What, it's true. You want to follow him around and observe everything he does, then analyze it in detail. Troublesome woman."
Ino huffed, but didn't deny it. Then, she got this very scary look in her eyes, and the males of the room shifted uneasily. Neji was more than a little worried when he noticed the same look in Hinata's eyes.
So started "Operation: Discover Naruto's secret" a.k.a stalking. Shikamaru sighed and closed his eyes. 'Mendokuse…'
Having finished his meal, Minato was ready to head to the training grounds to test himself, but before he could even get to his front door an ANBU materialized on his windowsill, summoning him to the Hokage's office – he had to resist the temptation of pointing out that he was the Hokage as well, but then again he wasn't sure the man would have taken him seriously anyway, due to his already frequent claims on becoming Hokage. He sighed, wondering what he was going to tell his adoptive sister, but nonetheless jumped out the window and after the ANBU who was apparently escorting him there. A small smirk appeared on his lips.
'Not trusting me to come on my own, heh?'
When he got to the office, Shizune gave him a little frown, but gestured him through anyway. Minato smiled apologetically at her, and stepped through the door to the Hokage's office. Inside, Tsunade, Jiraiya and Kakashi were waiting, and Minato suppressed the urge to turn and flee once again. He wasn't ready to deal with all three of them at once, not yet. Jiraiya shifted, looking at him intently and Minato averted his eyes. It didn't look like he had a choice.
Hoping his acting skills had improved since that morning, Naruto raised a hand to scratch the back of his neck, his eyes squinting shut as he grinned nervously. "Huh, hey, Obaa-chan…"
Even from where he was standing, Naruto could see the vein pulsing on her forehead and the chronic twitching of her brow. 'Uh-oh. She's pissed.'
Tsunade frowned. "What did I tell you about leaving the hospital without permission?"
Naruto gulped. He remembered that look. "Not to do it…?"
Kakashi and Jiraiya were obviously suppressing snickers, and Minato glared at them for a moment before yelping and ducking the thrown paperweight.
"PAY ATTENTION YOU BRAT!"
Naruto squeaked, snapping to attention and saluting, body rigid with fear. Tsunade wasn't just pissed. Oh no, she was mad. There were a few eyebrows raised at his reaction, but the Godaime mostly smirked, glad she could still have that effect on blond Hokage-wannabes. Then she proceeded to give him The Lecture. Naruto's ears were still ringing for five minutes after she'd finished, and he painfully brought his attention back to the blond woman.
"So, Naruto, any idea what happened to you?" The Godaime's voice had lost all playfulness now, and the other men in the room had straightened slightly as they paid more attention.
Minato really wanted to tell them, but it was too soon, he thought. It was probably stupid of him, but he wanted a bit more time to deal with all this. So he played stupid, something which Naruto had grown extremely good at. "Huh? Whaddaya mean, obaa-chan? All I remember was my birthday party – Kiba was drunk by the way, even started talking to Gaara voluntarily. And hey, where's he by the way? I haven't seen him around the village. Did he and Kankurou go back to Suna? Bet Shikamaru was feeling relieved. I can't believe he started dating Temari of all people, when all he ever says is "mendokuse" and she's as troublesome as they come you know–"
The sudden yell 'startled' him out of his ranting, and he sheepishly rubbed the back of his head, although he had no trouble faking fear of repercussions. "Right, uh, sorry. Um, what was the question again?"
The three other occupants of the room issued a collective sigh. Naruto was Naruto after all. "I said," Tsunade repeated, "what happened to you? Do you remember anything beyond the party?"
Naruto scratched his head, seemingly in deep thought. "Well, I remember being in pain. My face was kinda burning too. Then I woke up in the hospital with Ero-sennin next to me, and then I decided to go out for a stroll. I think it was raining, but I must have been more tired than I thought 'cause I just fell asleep next to all those stones…Hey, you should have someone clear that place out 'baa-chan, it's no good to have all those stones where people can trip on them!"
The tick on Tsunade's forehead was back, and Jiraiya slapped his forehead in exasperation. Kakashi smacked Naruto instead. "Baka. Those were gravestones."
"Eeeh?? You mean…I spent the night in a graveyard? Gah!" Cue the horrified shivers and wailing.
Tsunade rubbed the bridge of her nose in exasperation – she could feel a headache building already. And she'd been worried about him? 'Stupid brat.'
"Right, fine. Naruto. Naruto. Naruto!" the younger blond finally stopped his wailing and terrified babbling, looking at her with a bewildered expression on his face as if he'd forgotten she was even there. Tsunade sighed again. "Right. If you remember anything else, anything at all, you come directly to me, or Jiraiya, or Kakashi. Or even Shizune, got it?" Naruto nodded. "Good. Go home, or whatever."
With a bright smile, Naruto turned around and marched off. Just as he was about to close the door though, Tsunade spoke up again: "Oh, and Naruto?" he turned around, looking at her questioningly. Tsunade smirked. "You're on probation for three weeks." And closed the door with a well thrown extra paperweight. The resounding "NOOOoooooo" could be heard clearly through the five-inch thick door.
Chuckling, Tsunade waited until Jiraiya stepped away from the window, signaling Naruto had just left the building before turning to Kakashi, her eyes serious once again. "You were right, there is something strange going on here. I want you and Ebisu to keep a close eye on him. Report to me and Jiraiya, no one else."
As soon as he was out of sight, a rather out-of-character grin made its way onto 'Naruto's' face. He hadn't fooled them – not completely anyway. But he'd done good enough for the moment, and he even got a bonus out of it – the probation period would allow him to adjust at his own pace.
Jumping to the rooftops, Minato's hands formed a few seals for a crude genjutsu. He'd spotted green spandex at the edge of his vision when he left the Hokage tower, and he could also faintly smell Green Tea perfume.
'Lee and Ino. Huh.'
The genjutsu wouldn't fool the kunoichi for long, but she didn't have very good tracking abilities – he'd be able to loose them easily. His other watcher…not so easily. But that wasn't really important; the man was too arrogant to recognize what he saw for what it was, especially where the 'demon brat' was concerned. Snorting softly, Minato cast the genjutsu and vaulted over another chimney, doubling back and passing ten feet from the two chunin without them even noticing. His situation had its perks after all.
When he finally got to the training grounds twenty minutes later, Minato sighed. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately, but at least he had good reasons to do so. Without the proper chakra control – which he wouldn't get until he'd stabilized the seal – he was left with two fields to work in: Taijutsu, and Kenjutsu, both of which relied heavily on muscle memory, something which he'd definitely lost by being reborn.
It wasn't a well known fact, but Yondaime had been a kenjutsu master in his own right – simply because he was more taijutsu oriented in his more well-known battles didn't mean he never used weapons. By the time he'd been 14 (the first time around), he'd taken to carrying around a curved katana blade, with a slightly longer than usual handle, curved in the opposite direction from the blade's.
Minato wondered what had happened to the weapon – he didn't bring it with him that day he went to face the demon fox, but he was quite sure he hadn't left it at home either. Maybe he'd left it in his office? It was possible, but would it still be there?
'I guess it all depends on what Sarutobi-ojii-san did with it after my 'death'.
No matter, he'd find the blade in time. It had always had the uncanny ability of finding its way back to him when he'd misplaced it in the past, and he could only hope that quirk was still in effect. It never occurred to him that the blade might be broken, or sold to a foreigner, no longer within Konoha's walls. It had, after all, been Uzumaki Kushina's first gift to him, and there was no way in hell he'd not find it. He just would, and that was that.
His mind made up, Minato started in on his warm-up as he considered the last subject: taijutsu.
Now this, he'd need to work on. Naruto was conscious of the fact that his form was average at best, and sloppy at worst. For the most part, it was the result of years of neglect by the Academy instructors, as so many things in his life were, and until Iruka had warmed up to him he'd been mostly self-taught. By the time the kind chunin had tried to help, it had been too late, and he'd didn't have enough time in his schedule anyway, no matter how much he tried. Three years of training with Jiraiya (again, his mind whispered) had helped, and his form had improved a lot, but it still wasn't up to par.
As he went through the motions of the first Namikaze kata, his arms and legs feeling clumsy and mal-adjusted to the flowing movements required of the style, Minato recalled that he didn't like Taijutsu that much – he'd always had a preference for flashy jutsus, and this had seemingly carried over in his second 'life'. However, as a jounin, and later (earlier?) Hokage, he knew that if he was to survive by more than sheer luck and the skin of his teeth, he had to develop his skills. Just like in the past.
He knew that Ebisu, the jounin-sensei of the Konohamaru corps, was watching, and so he had no fear that the taijutsu style he was using would be recognized. Starting the kata over again, and determined to get it right, Minato hoped no one who knew him would pop-in unannounced and that, if they did, he'd have enough advance notice to switch to a more regular taijutsu form. 'I'll have to go see Hime-nee again later, and convince her I don't need a baby-sitter,' he thought, careful not to glance in the direction of his 'hidden' watcher.
The next morning, the population of Konoha was subjected to one of Naruto's infamous pranks. You could hear the shrieks of surprise all over the place, even as the curses started.
Grinning like a loon, Minato jumped down from the telephone pole and in front of the seemingly-abandonned house. A few people passing by gave him weird looks, before hurrying away from the 'strange man', but he wasn't overly concerned. They were only civilians, and wouldn't see through the henge he'd used. Looking around one last time to make sure no-one was paying attention to him, Minato stepped forward and through the first set of blood-wards.
There was a moment during which he felt like pins and needles were piercing his skin all-over, but it was quickly past and his grin widened as he kept walking, knowing the wards had recognized him after over a decade of inactivity.
The front yard was small, but it felt like a jungle as no-one had bothered cleaning it in all those years. Minato however noticed a nearly-covered trail leading to the door of the place, and frowned slightly in confusion. Did someone make it past the wards? He shook his head. He had no remaining family, and the last person he could remember attuning the wards to was Kushina…
He shook himself once more – Kushina was dead and gone, and she would not approve of his mopping around for her. It didn't stop his heart from aching, or his eyes from stinging with unshed tears.
'A shinobi must not show emotions.'
The shinobi rule came back to him, and Minato pushed thoughts of the fiery-haired kunoichi out of his head. He'd always followed his own rules, and his old academy teachers had often told him he wouldn't make a good ninja. He smiled wryly, thinking back on the happier memories of his becoming Yondaime Hokage.
Ignoring the strange trail-that-shouldn't-be-there, Minato made his way to the door and turned the handle, stepping inside before anyone saw him. The inside of the Namikaze Family house was dusty and full of cobwebs in many places, but it was surprisingly neater than he'd expected. This time, Minato knew someone had come inside while he'd been 'away', although judging by the thickness of the dust layer it wasn't recent.
He was slightly more wary now, but walked in anyway, peering inside the rooms on the ground floor as he went – nothing seemed out of place, and when he reached for the various seals and wards that had been added to the house throughout the years – some by him, some by his predecessors – it was all working properly, if a bit slugishly, proving they hadn't been used for years, only laying dormant until he came. Trailing his hands along the walls and on the surface of the furniture, the Yondaime recalled happier times and memories of this place, when he'd still been just Minato, and not Yondaime-sama, or Minato-sensei, or the Yellow Flash of Konoha. Simpler times.
He had many regrets in life, he supposed, but meeting and falling in love with Kushina was not one of those, no matter how painful it was to think of all that could have been. She'd taught him many things, not the least of which was to live life to the fullest, never looking back, never having regrets. He'd tried his best to uphold those principles, if only unconsciously, and a true smile made its way on his face.
Minato made his way up the stairs and to the study, where he'd last left his notes on the Shiki Fūjin. The rest of the house was as dusty and invaded by spiders as the rest, and Minato disgustedly pushed away a particularly large cobweb out of the way as he stepped through the half-opened door to the study. The pins-and-needles sensation washed over him again, stronger than before as the additional wards and seals placed on the room reactivated and scanned him.
The place was a mess – literally. There were papers everywhere, scattered haphazardly and showing a clear urgency in the way books and scrolls were lying abandonned on the floor. A few ink blotches showed where he'd spilled the inkpots in his hurry, but no container remained next to them.
Weaving through the stacks of papers, overturned chairs and general chaos, Minato made his way to the windows and drew open the curtains, flooding the room with light – he didn't dare open them for some fresh air, much needed as it was. The current level of the soundproofing seals only worked as long as the windows were closed, and he didn't wish to attract anymore attention than necessary anyway – at least until he'd modified them.
What caught his attention though was the kunai planted on his desk, collecting dusk as much as the rest of the house but still sharp enough to reflect the sudden light. When he got close enough, Minato noticed that the kunai was pinning a note to the desk, addressed to 'Minato' in a spidery writing which left no doubt as to the author and supposed-intruder. The Yondaime smiled.
'Sarutobi-ojii-san, you meddling old coot...'
Grinning, Minato pulled off the kunai, absent-mindedly twirling it around his finger as he read the note:
If you're reading this note, I'm assuming I've been dead for some time, and you've recovered your memories.
A sad smile appeared on the blond's face as he recalled the Sandaime's death, four years ago. It had affected him deeply, losing someone he'd considered family – his only family at the time. He continued reading.
I am truly sorry I had to do this. You may not remember, but the consequences of your reverting to an infant were slowly killing you, and I had no choice but to try. I hope you forgive me for all I'm sure you had to go through.
If you're wondering how I got this here, I hope you still remember that you attuned me to the wards a few days before Kushina-chan, so I've hopefully been able to keep the place from falling down around you – you know how much I hate dust.
Minato chuckled once again, recalling the Sandaime was a clean-freak. He started to read again, leaning against the desk lightly.
There are a lot of things I need to tell you, and even more that I wish I could, but there's only so much that can be written on one piece of paper. As it is, I'll have to stick with the essentials.
First off, I'm sure you're questionning my not telling your true identity to certain people, and I can safely assume you've deduced why I haven't told some. Kazuma and Sachiko were extremely hard to convince too, but I didn't want to have them in trouble, as I'm sure you wouldn't. As for Jiraiya, Tsunade and Kakashi, I don't have very good excuses I suppose, and for that I apologize.
Kakashi was too young to properly care for a baby – and I must sadly say that it took him nearly ten years to warm up to "Naruto". He threw himself into ANBU afterwards, and had me most worried – I believe that, to this day, he still blames himself for your death everytime he looks at your younger self. I do hope you can help him somehow.
Tsunade left the village before I could even talk to her, and she only left a short letter behind to explain her departure – it is only my position as Hokage which prevented the council from declaring her a missing-nin, and she has refused all communication since then.
As for Jiraiya, he took your 'death' hard, and it is to my great shame that by the time I finished dealing with the aftermath of the attack and could find time to talk to him, he was also gone from the village.
For those three, and many others, you have every right to be angry with me, but I hope you'll find it in your heart to forgive an old man.
On another note, the council has been pestering me about turning you into a living weapon, moreso than our own shinobi are – do us all a favor and fire those idiots at some point. It will at least give me a good laugh from beyond the grave.
You may not be surprised that they tried to seize that which belongs to the Namikaze family – I've safeguarded it under the Sarutobi name. You can claim it back whenever you wish, although I've arranged it so all of it comes back to you by the time "Naruto" turns eighteen.
If you're wondering where your notes on the Shiki Fūjin are, look into that drawer (you know what I'm talking about) for it. I added some concealing seals as a precaution, but if anyone has made it inside this house to start with, I don't think they'd be much use. Oh well. I've also put your original medical records in there – I've had to do some serious string-pulling to make sure no one would look too closely. The medic who goes by the name of Toriyama Fuji is a good friend of mine, and has promised to keep watch on you until you feel ready for the truth to come out. You can trust him, though I haven't told him everything, namely your true identity. I leave it up to you to tell him (if you ever do so).
The monkey contract is also in one of your desk's drawers – pass it on to my grandson Konohamaru if you ever meet him, he's a sweet boy – you'll recognize him when he tries to ambush you for the Hokage position.
I wish you good luck with all that awaits you, especially if I'm no longer around to help you. You have a long road in front of you Minato, even longer than either of us imagined, but that's never stopped you before. I have every faith in you my boy.
Make me proud,
Laughing and crying all at the same time, Minato tucked away the letter and, wiping his face, started clearing out the mess, finding the menial task to be both therapeutic and soothing to his still fragile state of mind. From time to time he would chuckle or smile or make a grimace as one clone or another was dispelled and he got their memories. He had a fair number of them running around Konoha, with about a third under henge to further help his disguise, and one of his Kage Bunshin getting dispersed by an angry shinobi (to whom his clone had made the remark that he looked absolutely lovely in that particular shade of puke-green and neon-yellow) was quite amusing.
Tidying up the room, Minato sent a couple Kage-Bunshin through the house to do a general cleaning and taking stock of what was inside the house. He really wished he could take more time, but things were already going too fast. He'd overheard part of a conversation between two chunins at the gate that morning – something about more ANBU teams being sent out than usual, and restlessness in the northern countries where traders were starting to protest against the rise of taxes. Trouble was brewing, and Minato was running out of time and options.
"You don't have a lot of options.'
The voice was back. Minato groaned. 'You again? When am I going to be rid of you?'
'I'm afraid we're stuck together for life.'
'I'm glad you appreciate my sense of humor.'
'Considering you're me, that's an insult if I ever heard one.'
Voice #1, as Minato had decided to label it, huffed. 'Don't blame me if your sense of humor sucks. I'm just here for stress relief.'
Minato rolled his eyes, browsing through the notes still scattered around the spacious study – he'd never been the most organized person, but this was ridiculously messy, even for him. Of course, the fact that he'd been scrambling around to adjust the Shiki Fūjin in the midst of the Kyuubi's attack hadn't helped.
A partially unrolled scroll, half-hidden under yet another stack of notes, caught his eye, and Minato moved aside the papers, only to reveal a seal that he was both cursing and blessing at the moment, the seal which was responsible for his current predicament. His own invention, the Tsuchi-Joukai Rokuten Fūjin.
Unbidden, the memory of the first and last time he'd seen this seal used surfaced.
/ He woke up feeling heavy and light at the same time, his senses dulled beyond recognition.
'What the hell…?'
There was a throbbing pain in his head, and it felt like someone had plunged a kunai in his guts and twisted it around, taking special care to make it as painful as possible. Not a pleasant feeling.
'What happened? I don't remember.'
The pain in his midriff dulled slightly, although his headache remained, and he groggily opened his eyes. Everything was blurry, and in an odd perspective, and it took him a moment to realize it was because it was all so oversized compared to himself. He contemplated the idea that he'd somehow been transported to Mount Myouboku to the Toad Palace, before discarding it a total of three seconds later. The feeling of that place was missing from…wherever he was.
Something moved into his field of vision, and he concentrated to clear it. His efforts paid off, as the something reformed into the smiling – if rather worried – face of one Sandaime Hokage.
'Sarutobi?! What the HELL?! Did something go wrong with the sealing? Why aren't I dead?! Fuck, what about the village?'
He was starting to panic, his emotions going on overdrive, and he fought to keep them under control. Fought…and failed.
"Whoa, no need to cry Minato! I'm here, calm down." Came the soothing voice of the old man, and he picked him up - and wasn't that a wonderful piece of information – and made soothing motions on his back. He finally calmed down enough, gurgling in thanks.
'Wait a second…since when do I gurgle? And I know Sarutobi isn't that strong to be able to pick me up!' He glared as much as he could at the Sandaime. 'You better start explaining Jii-san!'
Upon seeing his glare, the Sandaime chuckled, before his expression switched to what Minato had privately dubbed as 'Hokage-mode', something he'd been told he also adopted when on the job, only that his eyes were apparently the scariest part. He had no idea what people meant when they said that. Pacing around the room while still holding him – he tried to ignore that fact for the moment - Sarutobi started talking:
"You'll be pleased to know that the Kyuubi no Kitsune is no longer a danger to Konoha, thanks to your valiant efforts."
Relief flooded him. 'Thank Kami-sama!'
"-the sealing on the other hand didn't go as planned." He glanced down. "I'm sure you've noticed things aren't as they used to be. It seems, in its desperation not to die, the Kyuubi did the impossible and defied the God of Death, effectively delaying its own demise."
'What did it do?'
As if hearing his thoughts, Sarutobi continued, a trace of humor permeating his voice. "You, my friend, have been turned into a newborn baby. Congratulations, it's a boy. Again."
"Let me explain, before you start to panic. The Kyuubi has been well and truly sealed, as you hoped, but it is my theory that it didn't die with you simply because your new body – which the demon provided – had barely developed chakra coils, which as such are able to accept and adapt to the youki, thus not killing you instantly.
"While this has preserved your life, the Shinigami cannot come and take your souls with him without use of another summoning. If you were to die now, the Kyuubi would escape unchecked, and I do not have enough strength to stop it, nor can Konoha suffer another attack."
The Sandaime stopped in front of the window, and he caught a glimpse of still-burning fires in the distance. It couldn't have been long since the sealing then.
"The council is demanding answers, Minato. However, I fear that if I tell them the truth, they will try and turn you into a merciless, emotionless killing machine. And at the same time, I cannot leave you as you are. Your memories and knowledge are that of an adult, not to mention the Hokage, and cannot be supported as active for long in a newborn's brain. I'm afraid I will have to seal them away, for your's and Konoha's sake. I'm sure you understand."
'Of course I understand, but how are you going to do that? There aren't any seals that can manipulate the mind that way, except for that one prototype…..Oh no. No no no, you aren't thinking of using that are you? They haven't been tested yet!'
The strange telepathy they'd shared seemed to have disappeared, as Sarutobi continued, saying the exact words he'd rather not hear. "I will be using the Tsuchi-Joukai Rokuten Fūjin. I know it is untested, but I don't have much of a choice. Even though I am no medic, I can tell by my basic scans that if I leave your brain under such stress for at most two more hours, you will die. And I simply can't let that happen, not when you've been given a second chance."
Minato wasn't sure he liked where the conversation was going, and expressed his displeasure by scrunching up his face. 'Fuck it Old Man! There's a reason I told you the seal wasn't ready! I'm the seals master here! If you put that thing on me as it is, there will be consequences, damn you!'
Nope, he really didn't like where this was going. Sandaime continued, ignoring his (mental) protests, turning his gaze back to the outside.
"I will be placing a secondary jikoku seal with it, so that you may regain them when you hit the 16-years mark. By then, you will undoubtedly be strong enough to defend yourself, and your body should have matured enough that it won't break under the pressure." Sandaime looked back down, a contrite smile on his face. "Don't look at me like that Minato, the only reason I waited so long to do this is because I wanted you to hear this conversation so you don't delude yourself later into thinking this is just a big joke."
'Oh yeah. Right. A joke. Of course. ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO YOURSELF OLD MAN?!'
Of course, the only thing he managed outwardly was scrunching up his face and balling his fists. Sarutobi chuckled again, moving away from the window and back to the crib, which he suddenly realized was in the middle of a seal array – the Tsuchi-Joukai Rokuten Fūjin, complete with ceremonial candles. An impending sense of doom settled over him.
'Well damn, he really is gonna put it on me. Wait…what about my friends? Jiraiya-sensei? Kakashi!?'
He never got any answers to these questions, and the last thing he remembered before searing pain and darkness was a whispered - almost imagined - "I'm sorry." /
Frankly, Minato didn't know if he should curse the Sandaime or not. The Tsuchi-Joukai Rokuten Fūjin may have prevented his death – again – and allowed him to escape the council's (and more importantly Danzo's) clutches, as well as preventing the Kyuubi's early release, but it had also messed up his mind, giving him a rather short attention span.
He hadn't been stupid per se, but a particular aspect of the seal was that it gave the user and/or victim the affects of minor dyslexia, making things that much harder to learn. Couple that with the neglect and downright discrimination from his teachers at the academy the second time around…
Aside from moments of sheer brilliance under pressure, where his mind went past the seal's influence, he'd been pretty much crippled mentally. That he'd gotten so far on sheer will and determination alone was commendable, and his survival to this point was nothing short of a miracle.
Minato raked a hand through his messy blond hair, absently noting the shriek of surprise from a civilian on the street – no doubt another victim of his prank. He grinned slightly, hoping it would be enough to distract his 'guardian angels'. Despite his talking to Tsunade, they still insisted on keeping a watch on him, even without any orders to do so in some cases. It was all good intentions, but it was quite restricting. He'd also noticed that he'd acquired quite a few more 'unofficial' watchers, whom he'd identified as the Rookie 9 (excluding himself and Sasuke-teme) and Team Gai.
He chuckled a bit as he thought of the younger generation – which he was part of now, and it still felt weird when he could remember going to class with their fathers and mothers. His friends had taken to following him around a lot, whenever they didn't have missions or other duties, and there was always a minimum of two extra watchers. They'd also tried (unsuccessfully) to pry information out of him on multiple occasions – both yesterday evening and this morning – Sakura going so far as to treat him to ramen, which he'd gladly accepted before skipping out of the shop straight after he finished eating, thus not letting her ask any 'innocent questions.'
Of course, they weren't really bad at it – Ino, Shikamaru and Shino were actually pretty good at information gathering, especially the kunoichi. But they weren't quite at the level of Morino Ibiki, or even Anko, and to someone who'd once been part of ANBU and had learnt the trade in the middle of war, their methods were still quite rough.
'They'll learn though – this generation promises to be much more powerful than their fathers.'
Pausing in his shuffling of papers, Minato wondered what things would have been like if "Naruto" had really been his son, if he and Kushina had actually had enough time to form a family, and Kyuubi had never attacked. Would they have been happy? Would his son (or daughter) have surpassed him? Would he have been like Konohamaru, refusing to drown in his father's shadow? Or like Asuma, who'd just faded into the background? Would his child have his looks, or Kushina's bright red hair? Blue or green eyes?
'So many possibilities, doors and windows closed all too soon…'
A tear ran down his cheek, and he hastily wiped it away. No use crying over what was done and gone, right?
But still, Minato wished he could have known that child, and a small part of him ached at the thought that they'd never be born. He ignored it for the moment, wondering at the same time if Teuchi would have more tea for him tonight. He'd certainly need it.
Hebi-teme: Snake-bastard – Naruto's nickname for Orochimaru
Genjutsu: Illusion techniques
Taijutsu: Hand-to-hand combat techniques
Ninjutsu: Ninja techniques – mostly combat and evasion. Kage Bunshin and Kawarimi are ninjutsu.
Fūinjutsu: Sealing techniques
Kenjutsu: Sword techniques
Hiraishin no jutsu: 'Flying Thunder God technique' – the Yondaime's signature move, which earned him the nickname "Yellow Flash".
Gogyo Fūjin: Five point seal – the one Orochimaru puts on Naruto back in the Chunin exams.
Henge no jutsu: Transformation technique
Kawarimi no jutsu: Replacement technique.
Tsuchi-Joukai Rokuten Fūjin: Six-point seal of Heaven and Earth. If you haven't guessed, that's the whiskers marks seal. My own invention, right down to the stupid name. I'm going with "Heaven" – the mind, or memories in this case – being bound to "Earth" – the body, or a physical mark, in this case the seals. There are six points simply because that's how many 'whiskers' Naruto has in canon.
Katana: Japanese sword
Kata: A pre-ordained series of moves in martial arts
AN: Woot, I'm back! So sorry it took so long, but I've been very busy (and stressed) and it is likely to continue for quite some time. As such, I'd like to apologize to you all for the long wait, and the ones that will probably follow. Updates will come, just not as often as before. (sigh)
Anyway, this story will probably come to an end soon – we likely have about….five chapters left? Maybe? Not sure. Hope you guys still like it.
I'm sure you've also noticed there is no Q&A section in this chapter. That's becauseI've had several people point out that the Q&A is too long, and that I should answer individual questions as they come up, as it adds too much to my word count. I'll try to avoid doing that in the future – previous chapters will be edited slightly, so don't be surprised if it pops up in your alerts, k?
Please leave a review – it feeds the muse(s), tells me what you think, and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy so I can write faster! XD