As you may have noticed, I've decided to break this chapter up somewhat. The original Chapter 1 is now Chapters 1-4. I'm also putting Recca Potter down as its own story, independent of Appreciation Proper. Enjoy.
And yes, this means that more chapters will be coming.
This is my venture into the realms of what a commentator at TFF dubbed a "Stealth Crackfic". Everything is logically set up, logically developed... and leads to totally absurd results. It's a crackfic... only it makes sense.
It started out as an SI. Now... before you start gagging, it's grown and changed considerably... although Recca is still rather heavily based on me, and its roots show from time to time.
It all started out when Prince Charon posted a question: what would you do if you were a jounin instructor in Konoha? Well... I'm not the type to become one -- spectacularly so... and the image of me becoming one was just plain wrong. Because of that, I wrote out a few short scenes featuring what would happen... since the only way I'd ever become one was if I had a rather spectacular psychotic break.
Those scenes were rather well received, and I started the work fleshing them out into a full fic. In the process of doing so, however, things changed and evolved. Recca quickly grew from being a SI into becoming a true OC -- there are things that I understand (and understood when I started writing the story) that Recca does not, and vice-versa. Recca has his own quirks, his own way of thinking... his own life, in a strange way.
That, and he's perfectly aware of the meaning of the word "restraint" -- it's just not his kink.
It's important to note, however, that I started writing this in March of 2007. I've tried to keep the story compatible with recent canon revelations... but there were times when it was difficult to do so. Please forgive any revision errors that occur, especially given my next point.
Unfortunately, this hasn't been fully betaed. It HAS been through the first round of the beta process, but my beta has suddenly lost a lot of free time due to a new job, and I wanted to get this sent out before Christmas. C&C would be greatly appreciated... pun intended.
Twenty years. I'd been stuck in this world for more than twenty years. I'd stopped trying to get back home after Minato... no, it was best not to dwell on that. The past was the past, and I couldn't change it. In any case, I'd promised him that I'd help look after his legacy, and I'd keep that promise no matter what it took, no matter what it cost me.
Firming my resolve, I walked through the door.
"Right," I said, addressing the crowd of genin, "Team Seven, you're with me."
With those words, I headed to the roof of the Academy.
A Naruto Fanfiction,
Chapter One: Of Kitsune and Kaijuu, Part One
I do not own any of the series used or referenced in this story. Said series are the properties of their creators and/or publishers.
Interestingly enough, Naruto was the first one to arrive, quickly followed by Sasuke and Sakura. I smiled sadly at Naruto before turning to address my team.
"Right. Let's introduce ourselves, shall we? You can call me Recca. Why not my real name? I have yet to find anyone in Konoha who can correctly pronounce it. That being said, I like overkill and Ichiraku's ramen. I dislike habitual liars, bullies, child-abusers, traitors, and people who are obnoxious enough to disregard the dying wishes of someone who fucking sacrificed his soul by summoning the frigging god of death to protect them. I especially hate people who do that and then start singing the guy's praises every chance they get while treating his son like shit."
All of my three genin's eyes widened at that.
"Err... Sensei? Who would do that?" Sakura asked, surprised at the vehemence in my voice.
"Naruto? Care to answer that one?"
Naruto blinked. "Me?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "I was talking about your father, after all," I admitted. "And as for who would do it... most of Konoha."
I was greeted by stunned silence.
"Oh yeah," I added, "I also hate teachers who deliberately sabotage their students' training. Add that to the list. Needless to say, Naruto's Academy records spoke volumes to me. Did you know that they keep your old tests? More importantly, did you know that certain types of genjutsu leave traces that can be detected years later?"
Sakura and Sasuke's eyes widened at the implications of my statement, while Naruto just shrugged it off, an almost melancholic look crossing his face. I idly wondered if anyone had bothered to explain the difference between a bijuu and a jinchuuriki to him; I'd find out soon enough and the explanation shouldn't take too long.
"Now, then," I continued, "Usually, I'd tell you to follow my example and introduce yourselves, but I already know who each of you are, so I'll do it for you."
I pointed to Naruto. "You're Uzumaki Naruto. You like ramen, especially Ichiraku's. Your like of instant ramen is due to the fact that it's the only food you can afford to buy on a regular basis that isn't rotten or spoiled by the time you get it home. That, in turn, is because you aren't observant enough to notice that the shopkeepers keep giving you items that are already past-expiration and charging you prices that are, frankly, obscene. Your like of Ichiraku's, on the other hand, is thanks to the fact that they're not only cheap enough for you to eat there on a regular basis, but also thanks to the fact that they actually accept you, charge you normal prices, and treat you with a degree of kindness. Come to think of it, that's also why I like going there -- dealing with the usual hypocrites is rather trying on my nerves.
"Incidentally, add hypocrites to my earlier list. I don't like them, either.
"You view Iruka-kun as a surrogate father, Hokage-sama as a surrogate grandfather of sorts, and they, along with Teuchi-san and Ayame-san, make up the closest thing you have to a family. You also have a crush on Sakura-san and want to become Hokage.
"Frankly, I don't see the reasons for either of those last two. I'll help you on your way to becoming Hokage, but you're on your own with Sakura."
By this point, Naruto was in a sort of stunned silence, demonstrating his unpredictability once again -- I'd expected him to interrupt me at some point. Sakura's state of shock was expected, however, as was Sasuke's look of interest.
"You," I continued, pointing at the lone female of the group, "are Haruno Sakura. You have a rather substantial crush on Sasuke, which you've confused with true love. Frankly, you might be able to fall in love with him, but not until you get over the mental picture you've painted of him and start to learn about who he really is. Either way, I don't care as long as it doesn't affect your performance on missions.
"Following a similar pattern, you view Naruto-kun as obnoxious despite not knowing the reasons for his behavior and, in all honesty, not really knowing anything about him at all. As such, you've formed an instinctual dislike of him that blinds you to his positive qualities. Normally, I wouldn't care about that and just put you down in my head as romantically shallow, but that dislike is far more likely to directly influence our mission performance than your crush on Sasuke, so I'm making it my business. You don't have to like Naruto-kun, but you will work with him, and if I find you blaming things on Naruto without evidence or taking your frustrations out on him, you will not like my reaction. Am I clear?"
"Y-yes, Recca-sensei," Sakura answered, somewhat stunned.
Inwardly, I lowered my expectations of her somewhat. I had been counting on the relatively mild killing intent I had been giving off during my assessment of Sakura to keep her from interrupting me, but that question should have shocked her out of it. If she couldn't even speak normally afterwards...
Shaking myself out of it, I turned towards my last student. "You," I said, "are Uchiha Sasuke. You like brooding and obsessing over your older brother. You dislike anything that keeps you from going after him, and, to use your own words, 'useless, weak fan-girls'. Your dreams for the future are to kill your brother and to restore your clan.
"Most of this stems from the the so-called 'Uchiha massacre', which was essentially the events of the day when your older brother, whom you idolized at the time, decided to kill your entire family, including your more distant relatives. You were the only survivor, and even that was only because your brother decided to spare your life. Even so, he tortured you for three days subjective time using genjutsu to make you watch as he killed your parents over and over again. Before he left to live the life of a nukenin, he told you that if you wanted to become strong enough to kill him you should hate him, cling miserably to life, and so on, as well as conveying the means by which you could activate the highest level of your family's doujutsu, the so-called 'mangekyou sharingan'.
"Considering that you followed his advice, I am forced to conclude that you're a spectacularly gullible idiot. Fortunately for you, I want him dead as well. The chief difference between us is that I don't really care who offs the bastard. If you're stupid enough to follow his advice, the least I can do is ensure that you stand a chance at taking him down with you. And if it ruins your chances for restoring the Uchiha clan... well, I never did like your family much anyway. On the other hand, if you decide to kill someone who I actually like in order to get the power he used to kill your clan... I'll kill you myself."
I paused at that, before adding another off-hand comment. "Oh, and the same goes for becoming the butt-monkey of a fifty-year-old pedophile with a thing for snakes. I'd never live it down if one of my students did that."
That certainly got a reaction, as all three of my genin started yelling. I just smiled and used my infamous 'shut-them-up no jutsu', which was really just a fancy name for the combination of a seal-less genjutsu which interfered with the victims' vocal chords and a bit of killing intent.
Idly, I noted that projecting killing intent was a lot easier than it had been before... I sighed inwardly, knowing that dwelling on the past wouldn't do me any good.
"Right," I finished, "So you three are what I have to work with. Now, I'll need to talk to each of you individually at some point, assuming that you manage to pass tomorrow's test, but there are other things I need to take care of right now. Meet me at Training Ground Five at nine o'clock tomorrow morning. If you're late you'll automatically fail, and will be sent back to the academy for another year."
With that I dropped my jutsu and teleported away.
Later that afternoon I knocked on the door of Iruka's apartment. It had been a while, and we hadn't exactly parted on the best of terms, but this was the only way I could get the information I needed short of asking Sandaime or Naruto himself... and I didn't want to approach either of them. In the Third's case, that was due to an old promise, one which I suspected he had forgotten about, but... well, a promise was a promise. In Naruto's case, however, that was because the best way to approach him depended on the answer to my questions.
Regardless, that left Iruka as the only other option.
The door opening brought me out of my thoughts. "Hello, Iruka-kun."
"O... ojisan," he greeted, visibly surprised. "What brings you here?"
"I need to ask you something," I replied, my face becoming serious. "About Naruto-kun, that is."
Iruka's eyes widened. "Come in," he answered, stepping back from the door. "Would you like some tea?"
"No, thanks." I smiled at that. "It's getting late, and you know how that stuff affects me."
Iruka nodded and gestured to a chair. As I sat down I noticed that Iruka was getting slightly twitchy.
"You have something that you want to tell me," I observed.
Iruka sighed, slumping into a nearby seat. "You were right," he said after a few moments. "I'm sorry."
"You were a child. Children make mistakes. I'm just glad that you realized yours."
"What you said, back then," Iruka hesitantly began.
"It was true," I answered. "All of it was."
I nodded. "Yes."
Iruka just slumped bonelessly into his chair. "I think I see why you act the way you do," he said after a moment.
"Like I hate the village?" I asked.
"Yes," Iruka confirmed.
"Let me tell you a little secret," I replied. "I do."
Iruka just sighed at that. "I don't suppose I can blame you," he admitted.
After a few moments, I spoke up again. "Anyway, I wanted to ask you about Naruto-kun," I chimed in.
"After Mizuki told him that he was the Kyuubi," I began, noticing Iruka start at that, "and you told him that he wasn't, did anyone sit down with him and tell him the whole story?"
Iruka's eyes were wide at that. "Not that I know of," he answered after a moment, before pausing. "You mean you're going to tell him..."
I shook my head. "Politics," I replied. "Danzou made me promise not to tell him in exchange for him not blocking my efforts to become his teacher."
Iruka sighed. "And you value your promises enough to keep them, even when they're made to slime like him."
I nodded. "Yeah. Doesn't mean I'm not going to hint at it, though."
Iruka grinned for a moment before he slumped into his chair again. "It might not work," he told me. "Naruto's rather... dense."
I chuckled. "That's putting it mildly. Still, it should work... eventually."
Around dinnertime I, predictably, found Naruto at Ichiraku. Taking a moment to gather myself, I sat down next to him and spoke up. "One pork ramen, please," I said cheerfully, startling my student.
"Ah, Recca-san," the old man who ran the place greeted me. "How have you been lately?"
"Fine, Teuchi-san," I replied. "I just got assigned to teach a genin team -- Naruto-kun's, actually."
"Ne, Sensei, ojisan," my student chimed in, "you two know each other?"
I just grinned. "Best place in Konoha to get ramen," I confirmed. "I've been coming here to eat ever since... hmm..."
Teuchi smiled at both of us. "Actually," he said, giving Naruto a conspiratorial look, "he's the one who first showed Iruka-san this place."
My grin became a bit forced as I thought back to better times. "Your father used to like this place," I told Naruto. "He used to take me here every now and then... he made it his business to make sure I didn't have too many problems, and every few weeks we'd eat ramen and talk about jutsu construction." I sighed at that. "He was a good man, and I was honored to have known him."
Pulling myself from my moment of introspection I was surprised to see tears brimming in Naruto's eyes.
"I wanted to adopt you, you know," I continued as Teuchi put a bowl on the counter in front of me. "Unfortunately, the Council wouldn't hear of it. I guess I pushed a bit too hard, because they forbade me from even seeing you. It took... a lot of effort on my part... to get assigned as your sensei."
"But Recca-sensei, I..."
I smiled. "We'll talk about the overgrown fluffball later. Right now we have more important things to do -- I don't want our ramen to get cold."
Amusingly enough that served to throw Naruto into a state of near-panic as he inhaled his ramen even faster than normal, only briefly nodding my way as I told him to feel free to order as many bowls as he'd like, as I'd handle the bill. I just took in the sight as I finished my own bowl at a more sedate pace, taking a moment every now and then to watch as the bowls piled up in front of my ramen-loving student.
All good things must come to an end, however, and the companionable silence was no exception. As I finished my bowl, Naruto finally stretched back and yawned, a pile of at least twenty bowls stacked in front of him. Chuckling inwardly at my new student's metabolism, I took out my wallet and paid the rather substantial bill.
"Thanks, Recca-sensei," he cheerfully told me.
I just gave him another of the bittersweet smiles that had been gracing my face on an increasingly frequent basis. "It's the least I could do," I confessed. "Now, there's something we need to talk about."
Naruto's cheerfulness vanished, a surprisingly serious look appearing on his features.
"Meet you on top of the Fourth Hokage's head in ten minutes? I'll bring some yellow paint."
At Naruto's facefault I knew I had made the right decision.
Ten minutes later I smiled at Naruto's approach and gave the can of paint in my hand a shake.
"So, Naruto-kun," I said, "shall we get started? We can paint the Fourth Hokage's hair while we talk."
Naruto just blinked, tears of joy pouring down his face as he realized the meaning of my words.
"You know," I amusedly added after a moment, "your father never liked these faces -- he always said that they could use a little color." At Naruto's snicker I decided to continue. "Your painting of the monument the other day was one of the funniest things I've seen since the time Minato and I got together and tarred-and-feathered Danzou."
Naruto snickered for a moment before he decided to ask the obvious question. "Ne, Sensei, who's Danzou?"
I frowned. "Danzou is one of the major political figures in Konoha. The most important thing you need to know about him for now is that he's constantly making trouble for the Third Hokage. He opposed the Fourth Hokage, too, and he's been one of the loudest voices in Konoha's political scene for trying to have you killed."
Naruto just looked down at his feet. Seeing that reaction I walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Now, none of that," I chastised. "I spoke to Iruka-kun about what happened in the woods the other day, when Mizuki told you about the oversized fluffball that's stuck in your stomach."
Naruto looked up so quickly that I wondered for a moment whether or not he'd given himself whiplash.
"I thought that it would be for the best if you knew the whole story," I continued. "Before I start, though, you should know one important thing: you are not the Kyuubi. You are its jailer. It's sealed inside of you, yes, but you are you -- Uzumaki Naruto, future Hokage."
Naruto's eyes widened.
"Yes, Naruto-kun," I replied to the unasked question, "I think that you have what it takes to become Hokage, if that's what you want to do with your life." I sighed at that. "I wasn't lying when I said that I didn't see why you want the job." I shrugged and took my hand off my student's shoulder. "We'll talk about that later, though. For now, I have a story to tell you and we have a monument to paint."
After that it took almost no time for us to get started. Naruto used a system of ropes and a platform to lower himself while I just used chakra to stick to the monument. At Naruto's wide-eyed expression at the technique I just smiled and told him that it would be one of the first things I'd teach him.
"So," I said after a few minutes of painting, "let's start at the beginning. In this world there are nine... entities, beings of pure chakra that can take on the physical appearance of giant beasts. We call them the bijuu."
I smiled at Naruto as I jumped towards a spot that he'd missed, catching it with a layer of paint before I reattached myself to the monument.
"Are you following me so far?"
Naruto just frowned for a moment. "Sensei? What's 'chakra'?"
I chuckled. "It's the energy we ninja use to perform techniques," I answered. "I know they didn't talk about it much in the Academy, but for now all you really need to know is that the bijuu are made of it."
Naruto nodded his comprehension.
"As I said, there are nine of these bijuu. They're called that because each of them has a number of tails. The weakest of them is the one-tailed tanuki, Shukaku, which is currently sealed inside the Kazekage's youngest son."
My student startled at that news while I just snickered at the expression on his face.
"Yes, Naruto-kun," I confirmed, "you aren't the only one, but I'll get to that in a moment."
I made another leap at that, landing on another of the spikes of Minato's hair.
"In any case, the bijuu like to destroy things. We don't really know why, to be honest, but they do. Also, because they're beings of pure chakra, they have more raw power than any human. That isn't to say that they can't be defeated, because they can, but even Shukaku is an extremely difficult opponent. Kyuubi... well, he's the strongest of them, and you know what it took to stop him."
Naruto nodded somberly, a serious expression crossing his face as he stopped painting for a few moments.
"Anyway, because of this people have long sought to use the bijuu's power against their enemies. Over the years people have tried various things, but, in the end, we've only found one way to control the power the bijuu possess. Specifically, it is possible to seal one of the bijuu into a newborn infant. It's not easy to do so -- in fact, it's only possible by sacrificing someone's life. In other words, in order to put one of those things into someone, someone has to die."
Naruto's eyes widened at that.
"However," I added, "the children who'd had a bijuu sealed into them all developed unusual powers. In the eyes of the people who wanted to control the power of the bijuu this made the sacrifice worthwhile." I sighed at that, noticing that Naruto was still hanging on to my every word. "You have to understand that these were not... nice... people," I said after a moment. "To the sort of people who were doing those experiments people are just tools, and all they were doing was trying to create a better weapon to use against their enemies."
Naruto's pace slowed down as a sad look settled on his face.
"In time the practice became increasingly widespread, and the techniques for sealing the bijuu into children were perfected. The children with the misfortune to carry one of the bijuu became known as 'jinchuuriki', and time passed, bringing us to the events of thirteen years ago." I smiled at Naruto, finishing up another of the spikes of the Fourth's hair, before jumping to land in front of the platform Naruto was sitting on and unsealing another can of paint from the scroll in which I'd been carrying them.
Placing a new can next to Naruto I decided to pause for a moment. "So," I asked, "any questions so far?"
Naruto just got a look on his face that I could best characterize as halfway between thoughtful and constipated. After a moment, he spoke up. "But Sensei, I don't have any unusual powers."
I burst out laughing. "You don't, do you? Naruto-kun, you summoned over a hundred kage bunshin against Mizuki. I couldn't summon half that many -- the effort would kill me. I suspect that after you learn a bit more, you'll be able to use ten times that number without much strain."
Naruto's eyes widened in shock.
"More," I continued, "I've seen you recover in seconds from injuries that would take others weeks to heal. So, Naruto-kun, don't tell me that you don't have any unusual powers -- you just haven't been taught how to use them."
"Ne, ne, Sensei?" he asked, "Do you think it's something super-cool like-"
I interrupted him. "Naruto-kun, I know exactly what powers you get from the Kyuubi. Just remember one thing: if you depend on the fox for your strength, you'll never become Hokage. You'll never even become a chuunin. You'll be stuck forever as an object of fear and hatred. Worse, if you overuse the Kyuubi's power, the seal holding back the furball will weaken and eventually break, killing you and setting the fox free to try to finish what it started thirteen years ago."
Naruto became almost morose at that, setting his brush down on his platform.
"Don't worry," I continued. "The seal is incredibly strong. However, let's continue with what happened thirteen years ago, okay?"
My face took on a somewhat wistful expression as I thought back to better times. "Your father and I were friends," I told my student. "I wasn't a ninja -- I didn't become one until later -- but that didn't mean that I didn't know any ninjutsu." I smiled towards my student. "I'm not from Konoha," I added. "I was brought here by a ninja who was experimenting with summoning jutsu. Worse, he died summoning me, so I had no way to return home."
Jumping to another of the strands of Minato's hair I resumed painting.
"Anyway, the Fourth Hokage -- although he wasn't the Hokage at the time -- felt guilty about what had happened to me, so he helped me get settled in, and hired me to help him with one of his personal projects."
I stopped painting for a moment to look straight at Naruto. "The Fourth wasn't satisfied with the lack of alternatives to the creation of jinchuuriki, you see. He thought that it was inhumane and hated the idea of sacrifices, especially when they were human. He felt that there had to be a better way to stop the bijuu than condemning a child to bear the burden of carrying a monster."
"But, Sensei, he..."
I nodded. "I know. Let me finish, okay?"
Naruto gave me a somewhat sad smile and picked up his brush.
"So... that was my life before the Kyuubi attack. I split my time between the Fourth's project and searching for a way home. During the interim I somehow managed to befriend your father." I gave another wistful sigh. "I've never had many close friends," I confessed, "but those who I do make have always been extremely precious to me. Your father... Iruka-kun's parents..." I sighed again. "Almost every friend I had died during that damned fox's attack."
I took a moment to gather myself, noting that Naruto had become uncharacteristically morose and was idly swirling his paintbrush across the unpainted areas of Minato's forelocks in a seemingly random pattern.
"A lot of good people died back then," I added, "but I'm getting ahead of myself." Taking a breath, I decided to continue. "I never finished either of those projects," I finally said. "Sometimes, I blame myself -- maybe if I'd spent less time looking for a way home, my friends would still be alive. Still, there's nothing I can do about that. Just as I was making real progress on a way to destroy the bijuu..."
"The Kyuubi attacked," Naruto finished for me.
I nodded in acknowledgement. "Yes," I replied. "But even if my method wasn't complete, the Fourth Hokage was a master of sealing techniques. So, while a large portion of Konoha's ninja forces went off to buy time, the Fourth prepared his back-up plan." I sighed again. "You know what happened next. The Fourth died sealing the fox into your stomach, saving the village." I paused in my painting to wipe a few tears from my eyes. "I offered to be the sacrifice in his stead," I added. "I wanted to be the sacrifice instead of him. But... by sacrificing himself, the Fourth made a seal far stronger than he could have made using someone else. That and that was just the kind of man he was. He was the sort of person who'd rather die than see anyone precious to him hurt... and he viewed the entire village as precious to him."
I stopped painting and jumped back towards where Naruto was finally finishing up the area he was working on.
"Naruto-kun," I told him, "the seal he created... The Fourth was a master of sealing techniques. I'm nowhere near his level, even now... I can only begin to understand how that seal works, and even that's only due to the notes he left me. It's probably the single most incredible piece of work I've ever seen, and that's saying something when you consider where I grew up. Still, though... its design is completely different from the 'traditional' seals used to create jinchuuriki. Those seals were intended to give the container access to the power of their bijuu. Yours... yours is different. It's meant, first and foremost, to keep the Kyuubi locked up. The Fourth Hokage didn't want you to be a living weapon or a human sacrifice, like other jinchuuriki have been, and the seal reflects that."
By this point Naruto's eyes had dried up, and he wore a look of fierce determination on his face.
"After the sealing," I said, deciding to finish on this note, "the Fourth managed to survive long enough to say a few last words. He told the people present that you were his legacy and the newest hero of Konoha. He asked the village that he loved to take care of you and to treat you well. And, with that, he died."
I smiled at my student, putting my hand on his shoulder again. "There's more, of course," I said. "That was hardly everything. But... you know most of what happened after that, and I think I've given you enough to think about for tonight. Now, shall we finish our little decoration?"
The next morning, Konoha awoke to find that the Fourth Hokage's hair had been painted bright yellow... the same color as it had been in life.
At nine o'clock the next morning I arrived to find all three of my genin present. Idly noting that Naruto was smiling brightly, Sakura had a thoughtful look on her face, and Sasuke looked constipated, I pulled out a scroll, unsealed its contents, and sat down, ignoring the look of outrage that flashed across Sakura's face as she saw what I'd taken out.
"Right," I said, "It's customary to test each new genin team to see if they're worthy of becoming ninja. Kakashi has what he likes to call the 'bell test' and I'd adapt that, but, frankly, I couldn't keep the bells from you without killing you, and that'd utterly defeat the point. So, I worked out a different test."
Sakura's eyebrows twitched. Sasuke's eyes narrowed. Naruto smiled angelically, knowing instinctively that he'd like what would come next. The fact that I was sitting on an open crate full of toilet paper probably didn't hurt.
"Naruto-kun," I confirmed, "you'll probably like this." With that I pulled out a photo. "This," I continued, indicating the person in the picture, "is Danzou. He's a major political player in Konoha, and is known, among other things, for being one of the Third Hokage's chief political opponents. During a recent mission I discovered that he's also responsible for sending assassins after the Fourth Hokage's only son on no less than three occasions. Unfortunately I haven't gotten permission to off him yet, but that doesn't mean that we can't cover his house in toilet paper and paint him yellow. Get to it."
As my students set off I smirked. Danzou couldn't hold this against me -- it was simply an adaptation of the genin test he gave his students back when he taught his own team. Of course the toilet paper was new, and he'd used water-soluble paint... not to mention a volunteer target, but, still, it shouldn't take more than a week or two for his skin to return to its normal color. The itching should have died down by then, too, so I was perfectly safe.
With that thought I grabbed my camera and jumped to the rooftops, not wanting to miss the spectacle.
After my team passed their genin test I told them to meet me in the same place the next day and headed to get my photos developed. Saving the negatives of some of the choicer pictures for the next time I needed to blackmail the "former" head of the Root organization, I promptly made a few hundred copies of the remainder and spent a few hours posting them in various places across Konoha.
Smiling in satisfaction I paused for a moment as I realized that I'd missed a store in my campaign to buy out every place that sold toilet paper within a mile of Danzou's home before I stole his supplies for my test. I quickly rectified the error and spent the rest of the time until sundown coating rolls in itching powder and replacing the ones I'd taken from Danzou's bathrooms.
Of course Danzou would spot the powder before using the rolls -- he was, after all, a former shinobi, with all the paranoia that entailed -- but it was the principle of the matter that counted.
That done, I headed over to Sakura's house for our "talk".
Finding Sakura's home was easy; students' addresses were listed in the Academy records, after all. I'd have to rectify that problem eventually in Naruto's case, at least, but it was convenient for the time being. Locating Sakura's room was even easier, as she had a window facing the street. While such things were convenient and enjoyable for civilians, they were liabilities for ninja, especially high-profile ones like me. Smiling in remembrance at how Jin-sensei had drilled that lesson into me, I spent a moment debating whether or not to teach Sakura that lesson in the same manner as Jin-sensei had taught me.
It didn't take me long to decide -- the lesson really wasn't worth the effort that would go into replacing the explosive tags, although I supposed I could always substitute trinitrotoluene or cordite. It still wasn't worth the effort, especially if Mai came to investigate.
That decided, I walked up the wall and knocked on Sakura's window after taking a moment to ensure that she was decent. When she was actually stupid enough to open the window in response without checking who it was or taking precautions, however, I decided that there were some things that I just couldn't tolerate from my students, even if only because of professional pride. It took me less than a second to subdue her, holding her with a kunai to her throat and a hand over her mouth.
"Now, now, Sakura-chan," I said, grinning. "If I'd been an enemy, you'd be dead right now. Really, not only do you have a street-facing window in your bedroom, of all places, it's not even trapped. Worse, you just opened it without even looking to see who was there."
With that I withdrew my kunai, keeping my hand over my student's mouth while I said one last thing. "I'm going to let you go now, but you really need to be more careful in the future. As a ninja, things like that can get you killed."
That said, I removed my hand and released Sakura. Watching as she took a moment to gather herself and catch her breath, I decided to say one more thing before waiting for a response. "So," I finished, "I believe you have some things you wanted to ask me?"
As Sakura took a deep breath I tensed, my suspicions confirmed when she moved into an aggressive posture and leaned forward. Before she could shout, however, I once again demonstrated my 'shut-them-up no jutsu', effectively stopping her where she stood.
"Don't yell," I chastised. "We don't want to disturb the neighbors, and there's someone who lives around here who I really don't want to deal with right now." With that I dropped my jutsu and waited for Sakura to regain her composure again.
"Sensei," she said after a moment, "don't you think that was a bit excessive?"
I just smiled. "Would you have preferred it if I took a few explosive notes, stuck them to a rock, charged them, and threw the rock through your window? That's what my sensei did to teach me that lesson when I was a genin."
Sakura just blinked, stunned at that image as I turned serious.
"This isn't a game, Sakura-kun," I continued. "We're ninja. We're soldiers. Our job often requires us to kill our enemies before they can kill us. Open engagements are a part of that, true, but most of the day-to-day fighting takes place in the shadows. It's common practice to assassinate enemy ninja by sneaking into their homes and killing them while they sleep or by poisoning their food... and the enemy won't care if you're just a genin or not from a major family. A dead enemy is a dead enemy, after all. Worse, it's also common practice to kidnap enemy ninja so that they can be tortured for information."
Sakura's eyes had widened at that.
"That's why I made that point so thoroughly. Even if you're safe doing that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it only takes one time for you to wind up dead or worse. As such, I had to teach the lesson in a fashion that you weren't likely to forget."
Sakura nodded her comprehension, a serious expression on her face.
"Now," I asked, "what has this taught you?"
My lone female student wore a thoughtful expression for a moment before speaking up. "Not to open my window without checking who's there?"
I just shook my head. "That's a basic precaution, but it's better to stay away from windows, especially ones that face the street, and especially while you're sleeping. If you have to have one in your room, it's best to leave at least two layers of traps around it. Don't get me wrong -- windows are highly useful as entrance and exit points, and it's best to have one in case you need to leave the building in a hurry. It's just not a good idea to linger by them, and especially not to sleep by one, particularly one that hasn't been secured somehow. Opening one when you know someone is outside but you don't know who is just opening yourself up for an ambush. I'd never live it down if one of my students died because they made such an amateur error."
I chuckled for a moment.
"Also, it's best not to change in front of one, either, given the number of perverts around Konoha, but I really hope you already knew that."
Sakura just blinked, my final comment having effectively diffused the tension that had permeated the room throughout the lecture.
"Still, that isn't what I came here to talk about. Now, your questions?"
Sakura's features flitted from thoughtful to surprised to outraged before she visibly calmed herself. My estimation of her rose a notch at that. When she started to protest my statement that her feelings towards Sasuke were merely a crush and that she didn't really know anything about him, however, my opinion of her went back down. Fortunately, she was speaking in a normal tone, or I would have shut her up again, but I did eventually decide to interrupt.
"Before your confrontation with him after graduation," I asked, "did you even know that Sasuke is an orphan?"
As Sakura's eyes widened, I knew that it wouldn't take too much to drive the point in.
"Before my little speech yesterday," I continued, "did you know that the person who killed his parents -- along with almost every other Uchiha -- was his older brother? Did you know that Itachi -- that's his brother's name, by the way -- tortured him for three days after that, and that Sasuke only survived because Itachi spared his life? Do you know, even now, that Sasuke has dedicated his life to hunting Itachi down and killing him? I'm asking because those are some of the most fundamental aspects of Sasuke's character... and I know for a fact that most of his so-called 'fan-girls' don't know any of that.
"As for how I know, I've spent some time spying on your classes at the Academy and investigating your class. I approached several of you as possible intelligence sources, but was rather disappointed. Discreet questioning, however, revealed what I just told you about his little fan-club, although I suppose that it's not nearly as surprising to you as it was to me."
By this point Sakura had paled, and was now sitting on her bed.
"This is probably explainable by the fact that what happened isn't something that's talked about much, but most of Konoha knows at least the basics of what happened. Pretty much any sort of investigation into Sasuke's history by any of you could have produced that information. Instead, you spent your time spreading petty gossip about what he supposedly likes, even though very little of it was accurate. In the time I spent observing your efforts, it became abundantly clear that all any of you were doing was annoying him. Whatever Sasuke is looking for in a significant other, none of you had it."
Sakura reflexively asked her next question, although I could tell that her heart wasn't into it. "What do you think Sasuke-kun is..."
She blushed and stopped her question, but I decided to answer anyway.
"Combat effectiveness, probably -- he's pretty obsessed with strength, and I doubt he'd want someone who would easily fall victim to a repeat of what happened to his family or who couldn't help him get his revenge. As for the rest?" I shrugged. "I'm not sure what else you were lacking. There are several possibilities -- the right personality type, a certain body type, the correct genitalia... it could be any of them."
I shrugged. "But I don't care about any of that. Whatever he's looking for, it's none of my business... unless, of course, he starts hitting on me or decides to go to a fifty-year old pedophile with a thing for snakes. In all honesty, I don't think he's looking for romance right now, and I suspect he has too many issues to effectively sustain a romantic relationship anyway."
I paused for a moment, assessing Sakura's response. While she had shown signs of outrage at my off-hand suggestion that Sasuke was homosexual, those signs had been promptly subdued. In short, she was ready for the next bit.
Unfortunately, that's when we were interrupted as someone knocked on Sakura's door.
"Sakura-chan," someone called, causing me to freeze as I recognized that voice. "Are you alright?"
Deciding that action was definitely needed, I quickly signed for Sakura to keep quiet about my presence and hid under her bed as quickly as I could without alerting the person outside.
"I'm fine, Aunt Mai," my pink-haired student replied.
"Oh," that woman answered. "I thought I heard voices."
"It's nothing," Sakura called back. "I was just thinking out loud."
"Okay. If you need to talk about anything, feel free to ask."
Under Sakura's bed, I shuddered at the thought of anyone going to her for advice. Fortunately, that was the end of the exchange, as I heard her footsteps as she left. Quickly extracting myself from my hiding place, I dusted myself off and opened Sakura's window before gesturing for her to follow.
A few minutes later, we found ourselves in a nearby park perched in the branches of a convenient tree.
"She's your aunt?" I finally asked, my incredulity clearly showing in my voice.
My student just looked somewhat confused. "Yeah," she confirmed.
I just sat back in shock as a lot of Sakura's behavior suddenly made sense. At least she hadn't started a cult dedicated to "Sasuke-kun", and if that woman was one of her role models, that was actually showing quite a bit of restraint.
Mai had done that within a year of first meeting me, after all.
On the other hand, with her as an example, it would be pathetically easy to brainwash Sakura into being Naruto's devoted follower and willing slave. Inwardly frowning at the missed opportunity -- I had told Naruto that I wouldn't help him win Sakura's heart, after all -- I decided that my original plan was still viable with a few modifications.
Inwardly frowning again as I contemplated my previous evaluations of Sakura, I wondered just how much of her romantic advice had come from her aunt. Sighing, I came to a decision.
"Sakura," I said, "I'm afraid that I owe you an apology."
My sole female student's eyes widened in shock.
"For future reference, however," I explained, "your aunt is probably not the best person to talk to about love or romance. I'd advise ignoring what she says about that topic in the future."
I just interrupted her. "I happen to know for a fact," I said, frowning, "that the person she's... imprinted on... regards her as somewhat worse than a mere annoyance. Without getting into details, he once regarded her as just that -- annoying, but a mere background player. Her continual declarations were bothersome, but not something to be overly concerned with, and he simply did his best to ignore her.
"That changed shortly after the Kyuubi's attack. He had lost almost everyone he cared for during that incident and he was desperately trying to do his part to ensure that his closest friend's dying wish would be fulfilled, but he'd found his efforts blocked at every turn. He asked your aunt for help, telling her everything and practically pouring his heart out to her in hopes that she would use what resources she had to help him. In his mind, her doing so would have changed everything. It was, in a way, her chance to win him over."
All color had again fled Sakura's face by this point. "She refused, didn't she?"
"Worse," I replied. "Who do you think was responsible for blocking his efforts in the first place? Even after that conversation, she didn't stop, and she's still one of his major opponents, politically speaking... despite the fact that her declarations of 'love' and 'devotion' still haven't stopped or the fact that she still claims that her efforts were for his sake."
Noting that Sakura had managed to pale even further, I went for the final blow.
"So no," I finished, "I don't think your aunt is the best person to ask for romantic advice. I'm not even sure she knows what love is."
At that last comment Sakura blushed, the sudden loss of paleness doing nothing to mitigate her apparent shock.
"Sensei," she asked, "what do you think..."
Prior to seeing the expression on her face at that point, I would have thought it wasn't possible to combine girlish romantic embarrassment and that level of horrified shock into a single expression. I would have been wrong.
Fortunately, it wasn't much of a shock to me. I was putting Sakura under a great deal of emotional stress, and the best part was that questioning her family would only provide supporting evidence for what I'd said. In short, I was forcing her to re-evaluate her world view and shattering long-held beliefs. Eventually, she'd ask for help picking up the pieces, and I'd provide it. And if I did so in a way that shaped her loyalties into what I wanted them to become... well, that was expected of me.
The best part was that I wouldn't even have to lie. My goal, after all, was to make her belief system more congruent with reality, not less so.
Having judged that I had delayed enough to give the impression of thinking about her unspoken question, I spoke up. "That's... a pretty complex question," I answered. "There are a lot of things that we refer to with that word. If you're talking about interpersonal love, though, I'd say that the most important thing is acceptance. Basically, knowing who the person is, and accepting them as such... caring for who they are, faults and all.
"That's why I called what you had -- and perhaps still have -- for Sasuke a crush, by the way. You can't accept someone for who they are if you don't know who they are, and you can't accept someone's faults if you can't see them. Sasuke is an avenger. He wants, more than anything else, to avenge his family's murder."
I sighed. "The problem is that, in his quest for the 'power' to do so, he'd probably go so far as to betray the village or his team. It's a common story among shinobi, really, and I'm the poor sap who got stuck with the task of keeping him from doing so.
"If you became a shinobi because you want romance... well, I can always recommend you for courtesan training. Stories like Sasuke's are not exactly rare among ninja. The constant deaths, lies, and betrayals get to you... and far too many of us break under the strain. In my case, I deal with it by simply not participating. I've made my own path, one which doesn't involve lying or betraying those I care for. Others have their own methods -- Kakashi-san, for instance, is constantly late and spends most of his time reading porn as a sort of twisted tribute to a dead friend. Gai-san is... well... err..." I visibly shuddered. "If you meet him, you'll understand.
"Anyway, as I was saying, Sasuke has dealt with the tragedy in his past by focusing on the person he views as having caused it -- more specifically, by focusing on the goal of killing that person."
The embarrassment had vanished from Sakura's face as the look of horrified shock returned.
"The reason I wasn't very hard on you about your attitude towards Sasuke was that while you were setting yourself up for heartbreak, it wouldn't affect your ability to work on a team with him. If anything, it would help, although your behavior might annoy him, and I hoped that, in time, your image of him would become more congruent with reality.
"Your attitude towards Naruto-kun, on the other hand, was a different matter. You said he's annoying. I tend to agree, to an extent. Do you know why?"
Sakura just mutely shook her head.
"Naruto's past is, in many ways, even more tragic than Sasuke's. The important thing to realize, though, is that children aren't born knowing how to behave normally or how to be polite. They're taught, usually by their parents, and, all too often, by surrogates, such as caretakers or orphanage personnel. Socialization with peers is usually learned through practice. We keep those behaviors which are rewarded and discard those which are not." I shook my head. "Do you understand now? Naruto-kun has been alone his whole life. I told you what happened to his father, and his mother died shortly after he was born. He was placed with caretakers who hated and ignored him, and he's never had a friend his own age. Whenever he was nearby when something -- anything -- went wrong, he was the one blamed. If other children broke something and he was in the area, he was the one punished. From slightly before his second birthday up until he entered the Academy, the only people to ever show him kindness were the Third Hokage and the people who run his favorite ramen stand... even though it's only his favorite because they're the only ones who will actually serve him without making a show of their distaste or... worse."
I sighed for what felt to be the hundredth time. "He's loud because that's the only way he's been able to get people to listen to or even notice him, and has only recently realized that it's because they were deliberately ignoring him. He pulls pranks because he'd be in trouble anyway -- so he might as well know why. He was dead last at the Academy because his training was deliberately sabotaged.
"And, somehow, despite everything that happens to him on a daily basis, his desire to protect the village never wavers. He's determined to become Hokage -- to become a living shield to defend Konoha, despite knowing what that involves. He's willing to sacrifice his life to protect the very people who hate him."
I couldn't read the expression that crossed Sakura's face, but I thought I detected a bit of thoughtfulness.
"Hate him?" Sakura asked, parroting my last words.
"Yes," I confirmed. "If you think I'm going a bit far... well, we'll talk about that later. I just have two things to ask of you before I'll leave you to think over what I've said."
"First, Naruto really needs friends. I'm not going to ask you to date him or anything like that, but could you please try to get along with him?"
Sakura's expression shifted towards determination as she emphatically nodded. "Of course, Sensei," she replied. "And the other?"
"Well," I said, purposefully blushing a bit, "I told you that Naruto needs to develop his social skills, but... well..." I paused, shifting my body language to show a bit of embarrassment. "Anyway, I'm not exactly the best person to teach him. Could you... err... try to help him learn proper behavior? I'm not expecting miracles, but if he wants to be Hokage, he'll need to at least know how to be polite."
Sakura's nod of confirmation was less emphatic this time, but no less determined.
"Good," I stated. "I'll leave you to think about what I've said. If you have any questions... feel free to ask."
Giving Sakura one last, concerned smile, I made a hand-seal and teleported away.
I made it back to the roof of my apartment building before I collapsed in laughter. What had happened was just perfect.
"Brainwashing", in the conventional sense, was a ridiculously crude technique. The same could be said for most of the forms of pleasure/pain-based conditioning that were practiced in this world. The former counted on the "victim" not being able to see through the lies they were presented with or discovering the truth, and often produced what were effectively drones. The latter typically produced a need to submit to a "master"... which meant that their loyalties could be easily usurped by another, if the other party knew to do so.
Genuine loyalty was the best kind, but inducing it depended on telling the truth and on being trusted, as a single lie could send the whole house of cards crashing down. With what I was doing, I was effectively turning all of Konoha into my assistants.
Better yet, with Sakura no longer taking romantic advice from her aunt, she was likely to turn to other sources. With what I remembered from her... rants... about her sister's... tendencies, her sister at least understood the meaning of 'devotion', even if she took it a bit... overly far.
Of course, it didn't really matter whether or not Sakura really had been taking advice from her. It was likely she had been, going by her past behavior, but if she hadn't, my apology would only result in guilt on her part... guilt that I would ensure would be constructively channeled. After all, Sakura was, of all my team, the best candidate to use that, but I couldn't afford to give it to her until she reached a point where harming Naruto would be all but unthinkable for her.
I stopped laughing as I realized that I'd made a mistake in my shock at finding that Sakura was related to that woman. It wasn't too severe, and the situation could be salvaged, but I needed to do so.
Still, though, I had things to do before the day was out. Regaining my composure, I started roof-hopping towards the old Uchiha district in order to find my so-called "genius" pupil.
Finding Sasuke was hardly difficult. He was performing kata in his clan's primary training yard. As that was the first place I checked, locating him took less than ten minutes, most of which was spent in transit.
The Uchiha had favored what in the local terminology was a wind/lightning-based style of taijutsu. In other words, they'd dodge or block their opponents' strikes while searching for an opening in their defenses. When they found one, they'd pick their opponent apart with a series of precise, lethal strikes.
Sasuke, while obviously practicing from scrolls describing the kata for the style, didn't understand that aspect of the art. His form was textbook-perfect, but his execution... was a mess, to put it simply. Scrolls can't convey certain aspects of fighting styles, and his kata showed that perfectly. He was executing the kata as if it were what would be considered a fire/lightning style -- that is, he was trying to overwhelm the opponents' defenses with raw strength in order to create an opening.
While there were Uchiha who used that tactic, Sasuke didn't have the build to be one of them. Sighing, I decided to interrupt his "training".
It took only a few seconds to tie Sasuke to a nearby pole, something that was, frankly, embarrassing. I wasn't exactly known for my stealth, after all, and my taijutsu was worse than many genjutsu specialists'.
"Well," I cheerfully commented, "wasn't that pathetic."
My so-called "genius" student just glared at me.
"Oh, don't worry," I told him. "I told you that I'd help you to kill your brother, and that's exactly what I'm going to do. This conversation is just a necessary step on the road to doing that."
Considering that Sasuke looked interested, I decided to continue.
"As for why I tied you up and interrupted your training, your basic approach to that taijutsu style was incorrect. It's more of a wind style than a fire style, although you got the lightning elements correct. You have the wrong build for a strength-based style -- agility and speed will help you more."
Sasuke resumed his glare as I had to shut him up by pulling on the wires holding him in place. Perhaps adding my "shut-them-up" no jutsu to the mix was overkill, but I wanted him to listen.
"Now, now, Sasuke-kun," I continued, "I should know -- I remember fighting against that style when it was still widely practiced, after all. I did you a favor by pointing out your mistake. Besides, power isn't nearly as simple a concept as you've been led to believe... but I'm getting ahead of myself.
"You want to kill Itachi. Good. I want him dead... but I believe I already told you that, didn't I? You see, I know what Itachi's been up to lately, and his present objectives require the death of someone rather important to me. As I want my best friend's son to live a full, happy life, Itachi's continued existence is rather incompatible with my own goals.
"In short, I don't care how he dies. Whether you kill him or he chokes on a piece of pocky doesn't matter to me. As far as I'm concerned, he's an obstacle, something standing in the way of my dreams.
"As for how I know about what he's up to, he's joined an organization called 'Akatsuki' and I have an agent in the organization, which, by the way, is something that until now only two people in all of Konoha have known. I'm telling you so you won't ask stupid questions about how I know what I just told you.
"That being said, I'm probably the best person in the world to teach you how to kill that bastard. You see, I'm probably the strongest ninja in the world in terms of sheer power."
My student's eyes widened as he moved to talk, but was choked by the cords holding him in place.
"Oh, don't get me wrong," I commented, waving my hand dismissively, "I have my weaknesses -- everyone does. In my case, I suck at subduing people -- I usually can't take someone down without killing them." And everyone in the city they're in, and a good portion of the local wildlife, and... well, some things were better left unsaid. "That's a good part of why I didn't use the bell test, by the way, even though it is somewhat traditional. In your brother's case, I know of at least two weaknesses, and I could probably find more if I had more information about him.
"But that's also beside the point. If you want to kill him... well, you could always go to some pedophilic snake and learn all sorts of ninjutsu. Of course, that would involve becoming even worse than Itachi, not to mention becoming the butt-monkey of a fifty-year-old pedophile. Or... you could take my advice and kill him as a Konoha shinobi. It's really your choice in that regard. Just keep in mind what I told you earlier about the 'snake' option -- if you try that, I'll kill you.
"Now, though, we need to work on the first step towards attaining any goal: defining it. In this case, you want to kill your brother. Well, like I said, that's good. So, how have you envisioned it happening? Perhaps training until you're 'stronger' than him and confronting him, having some sort of epic battle which ends with him broken and bleeding at your feet and begging for mercy? Let me tell you this right now: if that's what you want, forget it. That's how samurai do things. We're not samurai -- we're ninja. If you want to become a samurai, of course," I commented, chuckling, "I'm pretty sure I can find you a trainer or two. That won't help you when Itachi poisons your food or kills you in your sleep, but they're the people who go for that sort of thing."
Sasuke just glared at me again. Frowning, I removed the genjutsu portion of my "shut-them-up" no jutsu. Unfortunately, my raven-haired student didn't recognize what I'd done.
"Now, the first step to getting what you want is deciding exactly what it is that you want. In this case, that means deciding what's important to you. Does it matter to you whether or not Itachi knows who killed him? Does it matter whether or not you kill him with your hands or kunai, or is offing him by poison acceptable to you? Keep in mind that the more restrictions you place on yourself, the more difficult your goal will become. If you insist on him knowing that it was you who ended his life, sneak attacks are out, and offing him in his sleep is also out of the question... and both offer better chances of success than just walking up to him and challenging him to a battle. If you insist on doing it with your own hands or weapons, that eliminates poison as a possibility, and I have some very effective poisons that you can use."
I chuckled at that last statement and unsealed a liter bottle of a clear fluid from the inside of my jacket.
"See this?" I asked. "It's called 'sarin', although it's also known as 'O-Isopropyl methylphosphonofluoridate'. Don't worry; I don't expect you to remember that last name. More to the point, it's a colorless, odorless, flavorless liquid. It dissolves in water, making the resultant mixture practically indistinguishable from the original fluid. When heated even slightly, it forms a colorless, odorless gas." I smirked. "It's also one of the most lethal poisons in existence. A single drop is more than enough to kill most people, and, potentially worse, it can be absorbed through the skin. In other words, you don't have to drink it -- a drop falling on your skin is enough to kill you. An open container in the same room will result in evaporation, leading to an invisible cloud of gas, of which a single breath can kill... although you don't even have to breathe it, so holding your breath won't work. And even if they're not exposed to a lethal dose, the victim is often crippled for life.
"Following exposure, the victim will experience some running of the nose, feel a bit tight in the chest, and have difficulty seeing in the dark. Not long after that, they'll have trouble breathing, feel sick, and start to drool. As the poison progresses through their system, they'll continue to lose control of their bodily functions. They'll vomit, urinate, and defecate, before losing control of most of their muscles. A little twitching and jerking later, they'll go comatose and suffocate amidst a series of convulsive spasms.
"This is the sort of weapon that ninja use, Sasuke," I told him. "It's a bit messy for my tastes, but it's something that I've found incredibly useful, especially since I'm immune to it. Ideally, when a ninja assassinates a target, the target never knows who killed them. So... is it important to you that Itachi knows it was you who ended his life? Is it important that you end his life with your hands?
"Think it over," I finished, smiling as I loosened Sasuke's bonds, "and get back to me when you're done. Once you've decided, we'll work on a plan. In the meantime, I'm going to be going over more normal lessons on ninjutsu, starting tomorrow."
Quickly freeing Sasuke, I muttered a quick good-bye before using shunshin no jutsu to leave. The emo-duck had enough to think over for now, even if it was tempting to throw in a tickle-me-Emo doll and instruct him to keep it intact until our next meeting.
Five minutes later, as I was heading to meet Naruto, my travels were interrupted by a small hail of kunai. Casually dodging, I noticed that my attacker was my recently-released "genius" of a student. I sighed and once again subdued him, tying him to a convenient tree.
Once again, it took me less than a minute... and this time I didn't have the advantage of surprise.
"Now," I said, shaking my head, "that was just pathetic. Care to tell me what the hell you think you were doing?"
Inwardly rolling my eyes as I heard the resultant spew of overly dramatic indignation mixed with teenaged emo-angst, I shook my head and shut him up again.
"Right," I stated. "To sum it up, you think that I don't understand what you're going through and are offended by my approach."
With that I glared at him, focusing a bit of killing intent into my gaze. "Do you think that you're the only one to lose your family?" I asked, allowing anger to seep into my voice tone. "Do you think that you're the only one to lose people you cared for to an act of betrayal by someone you trusted? Do you think it makes you special somehow?"
I turned around, shifting the wire in my hand so that my student wouldn't choke, and visibly took a series of breaths to calm myself before I turned back towards my student.
"Let me tell you something," I told him after a moment. "You're not unique in that regard. You're not the only one to lose your family. In fact, of our team, Sakura's the only one who still has hers. Naruto's family died the day he was born, and I'll never see my family again thanks to a particularly idiotic ninja. You're not the only one to lose everyone you care for. In fact, it's happened to me three times."
Sasuke's eyes widened at that.
"You're not even the only person to be betrayed by someone you trusted," I finished, the anger beginning to drain from my voice before it promptly reappeared as the subject changed. "Thanks to... well, thanks to a... certain person, I was forced to watch helplessly as my best friend's son was tortured for twelve years. So don't tell me I don't understand, Sasuke. I know what you've gone through quite well. I know the burning desire for vengeance, the feeling that you have nothing left, the hatred of those responsible for your loss...
"The difference between us, Sasuke, is that I know how to separate myself from those emotions, to try to look at things objectively and to ensure that I am not blinded by hatred. I know how to plan. I know how to break a task down into its components, and to analyze those in order to develop a way to achieve my goals. That's what I meant when I said that as you are, the best you can hope for is a mutual take-down.
"Your hatred, your anger... they can be weapons, yes, but only if you use them. There's a saying where I come from that, roughly translated, means 'rule your emotions, do not let your emotions rule you'. As you are, you are ruled by your emotions. You do not know how to focus them; how to make them your tool. As you are, your hatred, your anger... they only serve to weaken you.
"If you don't want to learn from me, I'll find you another teacher, although that will lower your chances of successfully killing Itachi. I can't help it in that case. Otherwise, search your heart for the answers to the questions I asked you earlier and tell me what you find when our team meets tomorrow. For now, I need to talk to Naruto-kun, so I guess I'll see you then."
With that I once again released Sasuke's bonds and used shunshin no jutsu to leave, although this time Sasuke had a thoughtful look on his face.
Finding Naruto was never a difficult task for me; I had spent enough time following him and learning his habits that I knew all of his favorite spots. It took all of ten minutes after I left the Emo Avenger behind to find Naruto, most of which was spent travelling between the first three places I checked.
In retrospect the fact that he'd be training should have been obvious. Like Sasuke, Naruto was running through kata in his favorite training yard. Like duck-boy, Naruto's kata were a mess. Unlike the brooding menace, Naruto's problems were due to the lack of availability of help, not the lack of the will or desire to seek it.
While Iruka-kun could probably help Naruto with the problem -- and certainly knew enough to do so -- he could only help so much thanks to other commitments, after all. I'd have to straighten out his form... correct his timing... I paused in my thoughts as I noticed a decidedly non-standard maneuver mixed in -- it was certainly an impressive improvisation for someone at his level, if I read the position of his imaginary opponent correctly.
Perhaps I would have less work cut out for me than I'd thought, especially if I could get a taijutsu expert or two to help, although I shuddered at the thought of exposing him to Gai. No... Gai was out. It would have to be someone else... someone who would know taijutsu well enough... and who wouldn't show up two hours late and spend most of his time reading porn instead of actually teaching. Jin-sensei was stuck at the border with Rock, so he was out... Hokage-sama was too busy... Tenzou might be able to help from time to time, but not on a regular basis without orders. Every other jounin I could think of wouldn't be willing to help, either because of the identity of the student or because of the identity of the person asking, or would provide help with an unacceptably high price.
Special jounin? I couldn't think of anyone.
Chuunin, then? Iruka was too busy... Kei or Yuri? I almost laughed at that thought. Even if they weren't out patrolling the border with Jin-sensei... no. Besides, I couldn't guarantee that they'd be willing to help, especially since they still blamed me for them getting that nickname.
I probably shouldn't have responded like I did to their introduction... even if they did consistently remind me of those old OAVs from my original world. Seriously, what on Earth was I supposed to say when I found out that my genin team-mates were going to be a red-headed girl named Kei and a blue-haired girl named Yuri, both of whom favored skimpy clothing, and who introduced themselves as "Konoha's Lovely Angels"?
All things considered, "Crap. I'm getting stuck with the frigging Dirty Pair," was a perfectly reasonable reaction. How was I supposed to know that they hadn't earned... err... that reputation yet?
Hell, how was I supposed to know that they would?
Noting that my mind had been wandering, I forcibly brought it back to the task at hand and realized that if Naruto were to get help from someone other than me, it would have to be from one of his fellow genin... most of whom would involve the same problems as with the jounin. In fact, the only person I could think of was... yes, that would work.
It looked like I had one more training exercise for my team.
I forcibly shifted my attention back to Naruto's training, noting that he had started target practice with his kunai. Overall his technique was reasonable, but his accuracy was sub-par. Iruka-kun must have worked with him on that, although...
Damn. It was probably the kunai, not Naruto's throwing technique. I'd have to test that theory, but if it was...
Deciding that I'd seen enough I jumped down from the tree I'd taken a position in, alerting Naruto to my presence. My favorite student quickly turned to face me, fingering a kunai and preparing to throw it before he recognized me.
"Good reflexes," I complimented him. "Could I see that kunai?"
Blinking and looking somewhat confused Naruto approached me and handed me his weapon. Giving the blond-haired jinchuuriki a smile I tested the weapon's balance before using a somewhat obscure technique to focus chakra into the blade.
The balance wasn't off, but the fact that the kunai promptly cracked when subjected to the stresses of the technique I used was rather telling of the quality of its metal. The fact that my smile promptly reversed itself probably spoke volumes to my student.
"We really need to get you better equipment," I commented, staring at the weapon. "That shouldn't have happened."
"Ne, Sensei, what was that?"
I looked up. "It's a quick way to check the quality of metal in a blade," I told him. "It's pretty easy to learn, but it ruins the weapon if it doesn't meet the standard you test it against, so nowadays it's mostly used by blacksmiths for quality control. I'll teach it to you sometime, if you'd like."
Naruto just nodded, his smile easily visible in the twilight.
"For now, though, I think you should know a few things." Frowning, I removed a few kunai from my belt-pouch. "First, I don't know about the rest of your weapons, but that one, at least, was... rather sub-standard. The amount of chakra I used was less than half what I use to test my own weapons, meaning that the metal was nearly two times worse than the minimum I'll accept for my own use." Admittedly, my standards were... unusually high, but when you considered that I paid more than fifty times as much for each of my kunai than most jounin were willing to spend on a disposable weapon, I thought that they were justified. Besides, I didn't consider my kunai quite that disposable, considering the sheer amount of effort it took to engrave a number of seals on them. Smiling, I handed the weapons to my blond-haired pupil. "I'll see about getting you some more... normal... kunai later, but here are a few of mine. They're a bit... special, so you should be able to get quite a bit of use out of them."
Special was a bit of an understatement. I had used several types of kunai over the years; these were my most "normal" variety, and the work-horse of my standard compliment of "normal" weapons. Basically, they were normal kunai that had been hardened to handle being wrapped in explosive notes and used to set off one of my C-4 bunshin.
Well, that and they had a few self-repair seals on them. Kunai that would survive the resulting explosion were... expensive.
Grinning, I decided to show Naruto the trick. "You see those seals on the side of the blade?" I asked, pointing to a series of intricate carvings about the size of the whites of my thumbnails.
"Yeah," Naruto replied, "What do they do?"
I just smiled and pulled out another of my kunai. After a moment of concentration I formed a blade of wind in my other hand, using it to nick the blade. "See that?"
"Yeah," my student answered.
"Well, watch this," I told him, cutting my hand, focusing a bit of chakra into my blood, and letting the blood fall onto the seals.
The nick promptly repaired itself, much to my student's amazement.
"Basically, if you focus a bit of chakra into an injury and let the blood fall onto the seals, they will repair the weapon. The more repairs that are needed, the more chakra the seals require. The blood is used as a medium of transfer. If the kunai are actually broken, you need to press the missing pieces back against the rest of the blade when you do it; the seals can't create metal, so while they can repair cracks or nicks pretty well, and can remove dirt or blood... they can even clean the blade, but if they're chipped the metal comes from the inside of the thickest parts of the blade. Too much, and you wind up with a hollow kunai that'll break very easily, so try to replace any bits that get chipped off before you try to repair them."
I was speaking from experience, of course. I lost more kunai that way... especially after they got blown to pieces... or shredded... or introduced to stresses beyond design tolerances.
Oh well. The hollow kunai were quite useful in their own way; filling them with C4 and an exploding tag created a rather inconspicuous frag grenade.
"Oh, and if the seals are broken, they don't work, so be careful with that part of the blade."
Naruto nodded eagerly before assuming a pensive look. "Sensei, I can't..."
I responded with a wistful smile. "Naruto-kun," I answered, "those kunai are rightfully yours. The seal design isn't mine, after all. There's actually a rather funny story to it, but the short version is that your father was the one who invented them. Just consider them repayment for the use I've been getting out of your father's work."
Naruto's eyes widened as he looked at the tiny seals in amazement. "Sensei," he said after a moment, "what... who..."
I just sighed. "Naruto-kun," I replied, "I won't lie to you. I told you that it took me a lot of effort to get this assignment. I had to make deals with people who I really... well, who I really don't like and would rather not deal with. I had to make some promises that I'd really rather not have needed to make. One of them was to Danzou."
"Please," I told him, "let me explain."
"Your father was one of Danzou's more... notable... political opponents, and was also rather popular, as was your mother. Had your parents' identities been publicly known, Danzou would never have been able to argue for your execution."
Naruto sat down, his eyes wide. I just shrugged inwardly at that; it wasn't like grass stains were much of a concern, seeing as I'd be trying to replace that jumpsuit shortly.
"You see, Danzou is among the more... traditionally minded... members of the village, which is a polite way of saying that he only views people as tools and only cares about their welfare as long as that benefits him. He views the seal on your stomach as an abomination... not because of the damage the Kyuubi caused, but rather because it's a 'waste of resources', to use his words. He wants you killed so that the Kyuubi will be... available... to seal into another child, using the more 'traditional' seals, which will allow him to use the child as a weapon."
Naruto had paled quite a bit.
"As I said," I continued, "had your parents' identities been known, he would have faced considerably greater opposition. Between the Hokage's and my own efforts, we managed to stop him... and, to be honest, his efforts were probably more effective than my own."
That was something of an understatement. The Third had simply refused to allow it, while I had buried explosives under the room in which the topic was being "discussed".
"That, of course," I added, "didn't stop him from sending assassins, but... well, I made sure that they stopped."
That was the polite way of saying that I hung the assassins I caught from the Hokage's tower by their intestines, with said entrails wrapped around their necks. The message was made more effective by the fact that most of them were still alive before I hung them and choked to death after a few hours. I never did find out who sent a number of them, but at least two were Danzou's doing.
Fortunately, they finally stopped entirely after the... incident... with the failed treaty with Kumo. My opponents were... considerably more careful... with taking action against me after that.
"To understand what happened, though, you need to understand that while the Third and I agree on a lot of things, we don't agree about everything. Your father was popular, yes, but he had a lot of enemies, both inside and outside the village. Sarutobi-sama believes that it's best that people not know who your parents were, to keep those enemies from trying to kill you. I believed that people should know, to help them understand your father's dying wishes. That's changed somewhat; what's done is done. Now... now I believe that you should know, that you deserve to know."
I sighed. "Unfortunately, Danzou told the council that I was lying when I tried to defend you by bringing up your parentage. The Third knows better, of course, but since he didn't want that to become common knowledge, he didn't say anything. When I mentioned that I don't lie -- it's a policy of mine; I'll leave things out or let people jump to conclusions, but I won't actually tell a falsehood. Anyway, when I brought that up, he claimed that I was deluding myself in my grief, that you were stillborn and that the Fourth used a random orphan, onto whom I was projecting my feelings."
I sighed again. "I know better, of course. I was there when you were born... I still remember the look of pride on your father's face when he looked at you, even amidst the chaos caused by the Kyuubi's attack. I remember him dying, voluntarily condemning his soul to eternal torment in order to protect you and the village, believing that you would grow up with your mother. I remember returning to the hospital carrying you, only to find that your mother had died..."
Several tears had escaped my eyes as I remembered the second time I had lost everything. After a moment I shook my head, forcing myself back to the story.
"In private, later, the Hokage and I had a shouting match over what had happened. Neither of us was exactly happy with the other at the time. That's how I know why he stayed silent.
"Regardless, Danzou also knew who your parents were. Their deaths were... convenient... for him, and the presence of an heir who could rally support for their political positions was... unacceptable to him. As such, he argued to discredit what I said and that was part of why he tried to have you killed. Even today, he fears you learning their identities, which is why, when I tried to get assigned as your sensei, he threatened to block the assignment. He could have; he has both the power and the influence to accomplish that."
Another sigh escaped my mouth as I finally got to the point. "To get the assignment, I had to promise him that I wouldn't tell you who your parents were, even though I desperately want to."
Naruto was clutching the kunai he had been inspecting earlier like it was a lifeline, with several tears falling down his face.
"It's okay to cry," I assured him. "As long as you don't wallow in your tears it actually helps a bit. Don't let your sorrow consume you, but if you hold back your emotions too much, they'll build up and break you. I know the teachers in the Academy tell you not to show what you really feel, but... that's stupid, really, even in the sense that they mean it."
With that I put a hand on Naruto's shoulder to comfort him. "Besides," I said, smiling, "even if I can't tell you who your father was, I can still tell you about him and drop hints. Your father was pretty famous, and if you can figure it out on your own..."
"I understand," he replied in a somewhat choked voice.
I sat down next to him and forcibly changed the topic. "So, would you like to hear the story behind those kunai?"
Naruto's smile suddenly reached his eyes as he nodded enthusiastically. "Yes," he exclaimed cheerfully, all signs of his previous sadness suddenly replaced with intense curiosity.
I grinned; thinking back to what had happened was always worth a chuckle. "Well, it started about two years before you were born. Your father had just had a... difficult day..." I paused, knowing that I couldn't tell him that he had smashed his desk in out of frustration with the paperwork; only one person in Konoha had that problem. "Anyway, he decided to go to one of the local bars. I usually don't drink, but he was... rather persuasive." In other words, he dragged me away from the project I was working on -- literally. "So, your father was pretty drunk, while I had switched my sake for some water; I think he was too smashed to notice, which is saying a lot... it was pretty hard to pull that trick on him most of the time, even if I bribed the bartender into helping. So, after hearing him rant for an hour or so about how evil the horrors he faced that day were..." They were mostly weapons requisition forms, with a few other supply requests thrown in on top of the usual missions and debriefings. "The conversation drifted to logistics -- more specifically, how often we needed to replace our weapons and how hard it was to do that when away on a prolonged mission, when he made a joke about how nice it would be if our weapons would fix themselves when they broke. He got a rather strange look on his face and started doodling on a napkin before passing out; I had to drag him home." Naruto's mother had not been amused. "Anyway, I kept his drawings, and when I showed them to him later he said they were a seal design." I chuckled a bit. "We refined the design somewhat -- it took me forever to understand how it worked -- and, after a few weeks, it became the seals that are on those kunai."
Naruto was staring at me with a look that was somewhere between awe and incredulity. "My father created this while he was drunk?" he asked.
I smirked. "When I asked, he told me that he came up with some of his best ideas when he was drunk and started muttering something about hiraishin."
"Hiraishin no jutsu was your father's most famous technique, one that earned him a good bit of his reputation. He'd use fuuinjutsu to create something called a 'jutsu-shiki' and attach it to something, usually a kunai. When he activated the jutsu-shiki, he'd instantly travel to it. I don't know the mechanics of how the technique worked, beyond the fact that he'd disappear and reappear in a flash of yellow light, but he'd use it in a number of rather inventive ways. In the war with Stone, for instance, he'd give kunai with attached jutsu-shiki to his allies and have them throw them into the middle of the enemy formations. Then he'd teleport in and wreak havoc before teleporting to the next kunai. Between that and the other uses of the technique -- he could create a jutsu-shiki on anything he could touch -- he became so feared that Stone actually ordered its ninja to retreat if they saw him in the area."
At that, Naruto's mouth dropped.
"I don't know much more than that about hiraishin, unfortunately," I told him. "I do, however, know the training method for another one of his jutsu, something called 'rasengan', although I've never been able to fully master it. I'll teach you that when you're ready; it builds on the water-walking exercise and you haven't learned that yet, so it'll take a bit, but it's on the list. It is part of your heritage, after all."
"Thank you, Sensei," Naruto replied, his sincerity showing in his voice.
"Well," I responded, "it's the least I can do. Still... becoming Hokage won't be easy, and you'll never do it if you just imitate your father. You'll have to make your own way, your own path." I grinned evilly. "And don't forget that you have my techniques to learn, as well. Even the simplest of my techniques can turn the tide of a war," I said, thinking of what a well-placed brick of C4 could do to a dam, "and I fully intend to teach you every single one that you can learn."
Naruto rather vocally protested that he could and would learn them all, something that I had anticipated.
"No, Naruto-kun, you can't. Some of my techniques would kill anyone but me who tried to use them," I said, thinking of Suiton: Sarinryuudan no jutsu, "and some of them just aren't suited for you. You can and will surpass me one day, but it'll be following a different path than I took, and the jutsu you learn will reflect that. Some of my jutsu will be more suited for Sakura-kun to learn and others will be more suited for Sasuke-kun. The point is that they won't be the same jutsu. No two people follow the same path as ninja, Naruto-kun. My job as a teacher is to guide you on your path, not to drag you down mine."
Naruto got a confused look on his face. I just chuckled at that.
"It will make more sense tomorrow, Naruto-kun," I clarified. "I'll be teaching you a bit about how ninjutsu work and why different people use different jutsu. For now, though, I wanted to talk to you about a few other things."
Naruto nodded his comprehension.
"First, the Third's law. Under its terms, only two people are allowed to tell people about your... prisoner... under most circumstances. Specifically, only the Hokage and you. The law was worded so that if you found out about it, you would be able to tell people. I advise you not to tell people you don't trust, obviously, but I think it would be a good thing if you could find someone who would accept you for who you are. Also, it only applies to telling people who don't know about the seal. If you tell someone about your... tenant... I can answer any of their questions or clarify things."
Naruto's emotions played around on his face for a bit. I smiled at his confusion.
"If you tell someone, it's a sign of trust. A secret like that can destroy a relationship, true, but the show of trust involved in revealing it means that your bond with them will become stronger if it survives. I'll do my best to ensure that you aren't hurt if you reveal it, and it's far better for someone to hear it from you than from someone else, especially someone who would only tell them a biased version of the story."
Naruto looked at me sadly. "Do you really think that anyone would..."
I sighed. "Yes, I do. I know of at least five people who know and care about you anyway, myself among them, and there are three people who I'm pretty sure would accept you if they found out the truth. There may be more, but I don't know."
I grinned. "The people who know and care for you are myself, Iruka-kun, the Third Hokage, Teuchi-san and Ayame-san. The people who I'm pretty sure would accept you are Hyuuga Hinata, Sarutobi Konohamaru and Uchiha Sasuke. In Sasuke's case, I don't think he'd care about the fox beyond the side-effects of having it sealed into you; in the others, I think that they would respond positively to the knowledge. Konohamaru would probably think that's it's 'cool', actually, although I'd advise not telling him since I'm not sure about his ability to keep his mouth shut."
"Hinata would probably cry for a bit before hugging you, although it could be the other way around. In her case, I don't think she'd care about the fox beyond its impact on your life."
"Do I think that?" I paused for a moment. "Honestly, there's part of it that I think you should hear from her, but I will tell you that Hyuuga Hinata is the most genuinely... kind... person I know. She hates to see people hurt, especially people she cares for." I sighed. "That's actually caused her quite a bit of trouble since she can't bring herself to go all out against her family. Regardless, I think she'd see and understand the pain you've gone through and respond according to that."
I smirked. "We're getting off-topic, though. The point is that you can tell people, and that there are some people who you might want to tell. Sasuke-kun and Sakura-kun, notably... they are your teammates, after all, and they'll at least have to know quite a bit about your abilities." I chuckled nervously and scratched the back of my head. "I'm going to have to tell them a bit about the side-effects of the seal, actually, so telling them the source of them isn't that much of a stretch. Besides, Sakura-kun might be a better choice to explain the details to you -- I'm not too good at doing that. I tend to make my explanations a bit too complicated, so..."
Naruto looked up. "You think that I won't understand?" he asked.
I shook my head. "I think that you'd understand more if Sakura-kun were to help me explain," I corrected. "I don't think you're stupid, just that you're not used to the way that I talk when I'm trying to explain technical issues like what I know of how the seal works and I don't think Sakura-kun would have the same problem."
Naruto nodded before he suddenly looked pensive. "Do you have to tell them about..."
I frowned. "They'll need to know that you have a lot more chakra than most people and that you heal quickly, at the very least. They're extremely likely to see both on missions. The fact that you have high stamina and a fast recovery rate are pretty much the same. They'll know that you have difficulty with precise control pretty quickly, too, so it's no use to hide that. The emotional resonance issue is also something that they'll probably notice on missions..."
Naruto just looked confused. At seeing that I just chuckled again.
"See what I mean?" I asked. "I meant the fact that you have more chakra when you're feeling a strong emotion," I clarified. "That's because of the way the seal works, actually; that doesn't happen with most people."
Naruto frowned, his features scrunched up in thought.
I chuckled in amusement. "You hadn't realized, had you?" I asked. "Well, it will become a lot more obvious during missions. It's the result of the seal being designed to help protect you from danger, after all."
Naruto's eyes widened as he started gaping. Personally, I thought it made him look a bit like a catfish.
"I told you before, didn't I?" I asked. "The Fourth didn't think of you as a monster or as a weapon. You were... important to him. He cared for you. He chose you as the fox's prison in large part because he couldn't think of anyone who he could trust more to bear the responsibility of protecting Konoha from the fox than he could trust you."
I put a comforting hand on my student's shoulder as his emotions once again turned towards sadness. Sooner or later I'd have to work with him on hiding his emotions more effectively but, for now, it was extremely convenient.
"He trusted the village to honor his dying request. He believed that they'd understand... that they'd see you as you are, not as what you protect them from. The fact that they didn't..." I sighed, pausing a moment to wipe a few tears from my face. "It's something that I'm not sure I'll ever be truly able to forgive them for."
Naruto's eyes widened in shock.
"Oh, don't worry," I reassured him. "I'm not going to go out and start killing them or anything like that. I think the best revenge... for me, anyway... would be to show them the truth, to let them see just who it is they've been treating as they have, to let them punish themselves with guilt. I would no more betray this village than you would."
Of course, that was because my first loyalty was never to the village in the first place, but Naruto didn't need to know that.
"We all have our reasons for fighting," I continued. "In my case, I protect Konoha because there are people who are important to me here, people like you, Hyuuga-sama, Sarutobi-san... That's why I fight -- to protect the people who are precious to me. That's why I am a ninja. Someday, you'll have to come to the same decision, to find your own reason... and, when you do, I'll do everything I can to help you along your way."
It probably wasn't a good idea for me to list my loyalties in order like that, but I was too emotionally involved in the conversation to care. I never did get around to discussing the rest of what I had originally intended; we spent the rest of our talk on minor things and telling Naruto a number of inconsequential stories about his parents. I had thrown enough emotional curveballs for the time being.
Eventually, I left. It was genuinely late and both Naruto and I needed our sleep. On the other hand, Naruto and Sasuke's tendency to train until late at night could be put to productive use, even if it did have disturbing implications in some ways.