AN: Hey, folks. I sure have taken my sweet time with this chapter, didn't I? Oh well, couldn't be avoided. Now, instead of explaining why exactly I wasn't able to update sooner, since I don't think it really interests you, lets just skip to the part where I answer to the reviews, now shall we?
As usual, a big fat thanks to all of you.
Dragonheart0000, no worries, you didn't offend me. In fact, I think I should be apologizing because the way I have written my response to your last review might have been too harsh. Anyway, I'm glad you will give it a chance.
SineDei, I'm not really sure what you mean by 'someone older'. The only characters that are anywhere close to the required age group are Itachi and... well I can't think of anyone else. And I don't feel like making an OC for that.
MissFinnish, I think this chapter will answer your questions :)
jcogginsa, be proud, you are the first one to threaten me with death xD
Naruto-Cool, thanks for the review, but I'm not sure what you meant by saying you didn't mean to make it alert.
Insanity's Twin, yes the pink skin will heal. Will it make her drop dead gorgeous? Nah. She will be pretty enough, though, but I don't really intend to do great descriptions of her, unless you people insist on it.
TheHybrid02, well, I said that there would be no bashing, didn't I? :)
On with the story.
Uzumaki Naru hummed a pleasant tune to herself as she exited her apartment and turned the key, effectively locking it. It wasn't a strange occurrence for her to hum. She did a lot of humming back in the day. Lately however she never felt like humming, that is until about two weeks ago. Now her habit returned with a vengeance and Naru didn't mind it at all. The blond checked the clock, which hung on the wall inside her apartment and was visible through the window. Satisfied, she set out at a brisk pace for Shizune's clinic. Had she stayed behind for another five minutes she would have been surprised to find two visibly dishelved and mentally exhausted young people at her doorstep. Alas, she preferred to be punctual.
After a short walk she found herself before the by now familiar door with a metal plate hung beside it. The young blond entered and proceeded inside. She was enthusiastically greeted by Moegi and told that she was already being waited for. After entering Shizune's office and greeting each other the two got down to business.
"I am very pleased with the progress we make." Shizune started. "It shouldn't be much longer until your treatment is complete. Now, since you agreed to make me your house medic, I'd like to know whether you plan on continuing your kunoichi career."
Naru didn't really have to think about her answer, since despite everything that had transpired in her life so far, it had always been her dream to be a kunoichi and one day maybe even Hokage. Though that particular dream she always kept to herself.
"Yeah, I'll continue. But not after at least another month of vacation." She grinned.
Shizune smiled and nodded.
"I see. In that case, please do visit the clinic after every mission for checkups, though that goes without saying. Also, I'm going to take the liberty to show you some of the kunoichi tricks. After all, it is rather hard to cover your smell when you're on your period, for example."
Naru's eyes bulged.
"You mean there's a way to do that?! I've been found out on at least five infiltration missions because of that!" She slumped deeper into her chair with a grimace.
Shizune could only sigh. It was common for young kunoichi to be ignorant of the aforementioned techniques, be it because most of them had male instructors who in turn didn't know anything about them, or simply because said instructors assumed that their students were taught about it at the academy. Which sadly wasn't the case. Considering Naru's situation Shizune felt safe to assume that the girl had no clue about the topic and was right about it.
"Yes, certainly. I think I'll talk to Tsunade-sama about finding you a suitable instructor sometime soon. It seems that there is a whole lot of things that you weren't taught that could make your life as a kunoichi considerably easier."
The blond rubbed the back of her head.
"Yeah, I picked up on some stuff I overheard, but most of what I can do is self taught."
The dark haired medic made a note to talk to her patient later about that. After all, the girl survived S-ranked missions and even completed most of them successfully. If she taught everything she knew to herself, then there was no telling what she would be capable of if she learned more of the classic ninja arts. For now, however, it was time to continue the scars removal course.
Shizune motioned with her hand for Naru to follow and the two set out in the direction of the treatment room.
Fifteen minutes after arriving at the apartment which, according to the Hokage's note was inhabited by their sister, Sasuke's and Sakura's patience had almost reached it's limit. However, as the pink haired medic pointed out, breaking in was not an option. The girl was obviously not home which left the two wondering where on earth she might have gone. By now Sasuke regretted not staying a little longer and asking Tsunade about Naru's possible whereabouts.
He observed Sakura idly from the corner of his eye as he leaned against a wall. He could tell that she was nervous beyond belief, even more nervous than on some of the more dangerous missions they had been on. In his mind it was all pretty simple. Once they found their wayward sister they were taking her home and he could once again focus on his revenge, though that particular thought didn't seem quite as appealing as it did when he was younger. He might have spent a little too much time with Shikamaru, for he thought that hunting down his brother and killing him was too troublesome and not worth the effort.
He rubbed his temples in agitation. Sasuke would hate to admit it, even to himself, but he was probably just as nervous as Sakura. It had been a long four years without their blond sister to cheer them up with her stupid jokes and antics. He missed their morning ritual of trying to find out who could ingest more food in the shortest amount of time just as much as he missed her punches. She had alway been a bit more agile than him and always managed to secure at least one good hit on him if she wanted to. Never mind the fact that she got clobbered by Sakura after it.
Their blond sister was an enigma. She didn't do anything special but somehow she managed to hold their family together just with her presence. After her supposed death the people Sasuke had come to think of as a family were never the same. As expected of a woman in her situation, their mother blamed herself for what had happened and shut herself off from her two remaining children for the following year and a half, claiming that she was not good enough to call herself a parent. Even though with time she learned to deal with her guilt, it was still a rarity for her to smile or laugh from her heart.
Their father took it slightly better, but he too seemed to be heavily affected by it. Sasuke noticed that he was at work more often than not, obviously trying to busy himself until he forgot about his problems.
Sakura seemed to have recovered well from their loss, however whenever Naru's name was brought up the pink haired girl was never far from tears.
As for himself... He never accepted his blond sister's supposed death. He knew that the people who knew about the grief of the Haruno family whispered behind his back about him being in denial and maybe he was, but right now he had a solid proof of Naru's continued existance right here, in his sweaty palm.
The old apartment building was constructed in a way that had a balcony-like corridor leading the way from the stairs to a row of doors which were the entrances to the different lodgings. There were also windows, which led from the corridor into the apartments. Sasuke wasn't really surprised to see that there was only one flat that showed any signs of being lived in, seeing as the part of Konoha where the building was located was nearly deserted. He had to admit however that compared to other buildings in the vicinity, this one seemed to be in pretty decent shape.
He turned his head to look through the window and at the clock inside the room. By now it showed that they waited for half an hour. He pondered that it couldn't be much longer and sincerely hoped that everything was going to work out.
By the time Naru finally reemerged from Shizune's clinic it was already evening and the whole of Konoha was bathed in the red glow of the setting sun. She stretched, popping her elbows above her head with a satisfying sound. Leisurely she walked towards the abandoned part of Konoha she lived in, taking a small detour to Ichiraku's. With the take-out box of the ambrosia that was also known as ramen, she continued on her way.
The old man at the stand obviously didn't recognize her, which was just fine with her at the moment. Unlike Moegi, Teuchi and his daughter had all the time in the world to ask her many uncomfortable questions that she didn't feel like answering.
She vowed to reveal her identity to them once she was a little more confident in herself and more comfortable with the subject. For some reason she felt like it was her who did something wrong and not the council. She remembered reading about it in one of Sakura's magazines back when she still lived with her adoptive family. The article read that the general psyche of a female was somewhat different than that of a male, especially in the puberty which she had not yet left. It was said, that if a male was wronged in some way, he was likely to blame it on everyone but himself. A female on the other hand was more likely to accept it and assume that it was her own fault, all the while wondering what she had done wrong.
Naru frowned in disgust at her stupid hormones. Her derailed train of thought came back to more cheerful topics as the smell of her ramen reached her nose and brought a smile to her lips. The way she was heading home took her through one of the many shopping districts of Konoha and the blond turned her head left and right in curiosity. In one of the windows she spotted a jacket. Making a mental note to bring some money and buy it later she continued onwards. After all, something of such a lovely shade of orange had to be hers. She missed the color dearly since her wardrobe mostly consisted of awfully dark clothes that were suited for the missions but not for her personality. She still had her old clothes, but sadly she had grown out of them a long time ago.
Naru continued moving in the direction of her apartment in the same way, taking short breaks to gaze at something that she found interesting before walking further. It occurred to her that her female spirit must have been awakened because she felt the urge to go inside the shops and look around some more. She blamed her aforementioned hormones.
Another half an hour later finally found Naru in the block where the apartment complex she lived in was located. She thanked gods for the thermoplastic take-out box, which kept her ramen warm. Once she was in front of the building, her senses, sharpened by experience, began tingling but she ignored them. Once she ascended one flight of stairs however, she could no longer deny the two presences that were obviously lounging in front of her apartment.
Naru's hand reached to her thigh, where the kunai holster was usually located. Upon finding nothing she remembered that she left it inside her flat, together with the weapons pouch. That didn't mean that she was unarmed, however. Reaching inside the pocket of her pants she withdrew two gloves, which she had acquired about three years ago. After learning of her chakra affinity, which was wind, and finding out what exactly she could use it for, she came up with this idea. The gloves had small but noticeably sharp spikes protruding from the knuckles and along the lowest phalanges of the fingers. Originally they were used by some street thugs as a substitute for the more famous and safe iron knuckles, seeing as the gloves could easily break the hand inside of them if one punched too strong. Naru modified them a little, by putting some extra padding inside to dampen the impact. It would have probably not been enough if it weren't for her chakra. By channeling it through the gloves, or the spikes on them, to be precise, her fists turned into spears that could easily puncture stone and even steel if it wasn't too thick, with next to no impact. The best part however, was that it wasn't really draining on her chakra. It wasn't very fancy but it worked, as many shinobi who tried to kill her found out a moment before a fist sized hole was punched through them.
Carefully creeping further up the stairs, all the while trying to conceal her chakra, Naru advanced. Her senses told her that the two intruders were relaxed and obviously off guard. She felt herself cooling down a little. Had the guests had ill intentions in mind, they would have at least tried to hide their presence. The blond contemplated sending a shadow clone ahead to try and see what their reaction would be, but dismissed the idea, seeing as such a jutsu would not only alert them to her presence but could be also mistaken as a sign of hostility. She sighed and advanced further. Soon enough she reached the floor of her apartment. However she slightly miscalculated on the last step and a loud squeak resounded through the silent area, as the wooden floor betrayed her. Immediately she saw the two figures, which were covered in the shadow of one of the poles supporting the roof, turn their heads in her direction.
Before the blond kunoichi could so much as ask for their identities she was sent flying by one of the people, as the individual threw himself at her waist, effectively knocking the air out of her. It was so completely unexpected and fast that Naru didn't have any time to react, not to mention there was no place to dodge. Still in mid air, the offender attached to her person, the blond prepared to slam a wind-chakra charged fist through the attacker's head, when she heard an almost inaudible sob from the mop of pink hair that was resting directly under her breasts. Her punch halted, as she gazed at the girl, for it was obviously a female glomping her. And then Naru remembered that the two of them were still airborne. But it was too late and her back impacted with the floor.
Her view of the ceiling was suddenly blocked by the shadow of the second visitor as he leaned over to get a look at her.
"Hey." He said.
Still very much confused, with a sobbing girl clinging to her as if she were her last lifeline and a bit dazed from the fall, Naru could only retort in the same way she was greeted.
Tense silence filled the living room of the former jailer of the Kyuubi. After identifying the two as her adoptive siblings the group relocated itself inside her apartment, even though Naru felt inclined to just send them off and tell them to never return again. She couldn't bring herself to do it. Not to mention that Sakura's tear stained face was red and puffy and Naru felt that she should at least give her a chance to clean up. For some reason Naru felt glad that the apartment came together with the furniture.
But now she was left alone in the room with Sasuke. The dark haired boy looked at her across the table they were seated at with a serious expression. The blond noted that the usual frown or scowl she remembered him wearing all the time were not present. Instead his face actually betrayed some emotion! The world was going to end!
She chanced a look out of the window to see if maybe there were some flying pigs there or something equally as impossible, that would prove either her insanity or the approaching Armageddon. When none of the signs came she turned to look back at Sasuke. The Uchiha had schooled his features and leaned slightly forward.
"Where have you been?" He asked in a passive tone.
"On missions, mostly." She replied. The blond sincerely hoped that Sasuke felt just as nervous as she did, though if someone asked her for a reason she would probably not be able to answer.
Sasuke's face showed surprise at this revelation. He had assumed that she was captured and had just recently returned to the village... Now that he thought about it, his theory didn't make a lot of sense, seeing as the apartment was obviously in her possession for quite some time. She would have also returned to the Haruno household if everything was as simple as that.
"Then why did you leave?" He inquired.
"Because I wasn't a part of the family, obviously." Naru blurted out before actually thinking. She repeated the phrase so often to herself that every time the question rose up, be it from herself or someone else, she answered automatically.
Sasuke recoiled slightly but still visibly. That... hurt. More than he would care to admit.
"You... don't think of us as a family... Is that right?"
Naru frowned, this time taking her time to answer. After a while she was confident that she could express herself clearly.
"It's not like I don't think of you as a family. It was all of you together that had rubbed in the fact that I don't belong. I was never Naru, the daughter of Kana and Shen Haruno. Only Naru, the Dead Last, Idiot, or on occasion Annoying brat. What impression would you have had if you had been in my place? The best I can come up with is some annoying distant cousin that no one really cares about." She finally said. Even though she was nervous she began to slowly feel all the bitterness inside of her wanting to get out. She actually enjoyed it when Sasuke's face twisted, as if in pain, every time she reminded him of the names they called her. The sensation didn't last long however and she let out a sigh.
"Look. It was actually a combination of that and myself being stupid, ok? I'll admit that I should have at least told you that I'd leave, but I figured that you would throw a party to celebrate getting rid of me or something."
Sasuke studied her face in silence for a while before speaking.
"Do you really think we would have done something like that?"
No, she didn't really think like that, not now that she was older and more mature, but she still gave him a look that clearly said yes.
Sasuke leaned back into his chair, rubbing at his face with his palms. It was at this point that Sakura finally came out of the bathroom. Her eyes were still red and Naru got the impression that the girl would burst into tears again if she heard anything Sasuke had just gotten an earful of. The pink haired medic joined the two at the table and fidgeted.
Once again the room lapsed into silence.
Finally Sakura got up and made her way to stand in front of Naru, seeing as her chair was positioned at a ninety degree angle to the table.
"It...It's really you, isn't it?" She finally asked, dropping to her knees and trying to get a hold of the blond's hand. A pair of jade green eyes stared pleadingly into a pair of slightly scared and a bit confused sapphire blue ones.
"I think we've established that already." Naru retorted, while crossing her arms over her chest, thus effectively making them unavailable to the pink haired medic's hands, and averting her eyes.
Sakura looked hurt at that, but Naru decided that she had to be strong, no matter how much she wanted to just go back to the way the three of them used to be. She was used to telling herself that it was better that way, that it was a good thing that she left, but just seeing the two sent a warm feeling through her. Not only were they both alive, the two of them seemed to be doing pretty well for themselves. Sasuke was behaving like a human being, for example!
Sakura meanwhile slumped further down, so that now not only her knees but her bottom as well were resting o the floor. Her gaze settled somewhere between her kneecaps.
"I don't blame you for hating me... or any of us for that matter. It's just..." There was a sob and Naru could almost feel that this time the girl wasn't going to stop crying so easily. She looked fearfully at Sakura's head. The medic was clearly about to get emotional on the blond and Naru didn't think she would be able to handle it. How was she supposed to, if she didn't even know how she herself felt about all of this? She was glad that they were here and mad at them at the same time. There were a thousand conflicting emotions running through her head simultaneously. On one hand she just wanted to hug her pink haired sister and tell her everything that happened, while crying herself out, while on the other hand she wanted to close herself off from them once and for all. Why were they here now of all times? Where were they when she was alone on a dangerous mission with dozens of enemies breathing down her neck?
"It's just...we thought you were dead!" Sakura finished and once again threw herself at Naru, surrounding her with her arms. Naru was a bit shocked by that particular piece of news and didn't fend off the over emotional girl immediately. She even went as far as to pat her back.
"I don't hate you. And how did you come up with the idea that I was dead?" She asked while still awkwardly patting her back and looking at Sasuke in search of help.
The raven haired boy closed his eyes (whether it was in order to not witness the emotional scene before him or simply in contemplation, Naru didn't know). He took a deep breath before exhaling his answer.
"The council told us, when we were looking for you all over the place."
Sakura was still sobbing in Naru's shirt and didn't show any signs of stopping anytime soon. The blond had by now grown tired of patting her back and was absentmindedly rubbing soothing circles on it instead.
"Why did they lie to us?" The sharp question of Sasuke made Sakura hiccup loudly and look up at Naru's face, while disentangling herself from the blond.
Naru sighed tiredly. She really didn't feel like explaining all of this to them, since that would lead to Kyuubi, and then to the missions she had been on, including her imprisonment in one of the Sound outposts. However she felt that they weren't just going to leave the issue alone and figured that she could just tell them a part of the whole story.
"Basically they wanted to see me dead." She stated, gaining a startled gasp from Sakura and a widening of eyes from Sasuke.
Naru rubbed the bridge of her nose.
"Do you know about the Kyuubi?" She asked, and seeing the confusion on their faces decided to clarify. "You know, the huge fox like demon that almost destroyed Konoha?"
Sasuke rolled his eyes.
"We know what the Kyuubi is. What does it have to do with anything is what we don't understand. It's dead, isn't it?"
"Well, yeah, it is." Naru frowned, thinking about her choice of words once more. "The thing is...it wasn't really dead when the Fourth defeated it. You ever heard about Jinchuuriki?" She asked. To her surprise Sakura gasped and covered her mouth with a hand while Sasuke almost jumped out of his chair. "Judging by your reaction, I think you do." Naru stated.
Sakura nodded and opened her mouth to speak, only to hiccup again. Once she had her breathing under control she explained.
"In the chuunin exams, four years ago, there was this boy, Gaara. He had the Ichibi sealed into him at birth...And you had the Kyuubi?" She asked tentatively.
"Yeah, that pretty much sums it up." Naru confirmed.
Sasuke shook his head incredulously.
"And you knew the whole time? Why didn't you tell us?!"
"I didn't know myself, until our graduation. Remember that Mizuki incident?" Seeing the two nod, she continued. "Well, he tricked me into stealing the scroll of forbidden jutsu. That's where I learned the Kage Bunshin from, that saved my life and got me promoted to genin. Of course he wanted the scroll for himself, and as soon as he found me, he tried to kill me and Iruka-sensei who found me earlier. In the middle of all the 'I'm gonna kill you' stuff, he explained to me why all the adults seemed to hate my guts." Sakura's eyes widened a little in understanding of something, but she didn't comment on it.
Sasuke seemed to mull all of the information over, before asking his next question.
"So basically, the Third used you to make sure the more powerful clans wouldn't get their hands on me, right?"
"That and he used you to finally find someone to adopt me, though chances were that both of us would have remained orphans. I'm still a little surprised the Harunos agreed to it."
Sakura looked at the floor, not finding it in herself to argue.
Their talk was interrupted by a low growling. Both girls tuned to stare at the only male in the room.
"What?" Sasuke flushed. "I didn't eat anything since breakfast!"
Naru gazed longingly at the now empty takeout box. It's contents were spilled somewhere over the street down below, seeing as the ramen didn't survive the fall earlier in the day.
Sakura traced the blond's gaze and grinned a little.
"How about we cut the interrogation short for now and go to Ichiraku's? My treat." She offered generously.
Naru's head told her to refuse the offer, while her heart told her to go and spend some time with her lost siblings. She really didn't want them to go, right now. Her stomach couldn't form such complicated thoughts and simply demanded food.
The former Kyuubi vessel nodded in acceptance. Sasuke grinned and stood up, while Sakura rushed once gain into the bathroom to tidy herself up.
The walk to Ichiraku's was somewhat awkward. It had been so long since the three of them went anywhere together that the whole experience seemed surreal to all of them. It was dark by now and the streets were only lit by the moon and the stars above. Once they exited the more or less abandoned part of Konoha, the streets became brighter by the second. There were numerous shops and food stands that had lanterns hanging from their roofs and all of it together gave out a very comforting feeling. Naru was also very pleased to note that while she was together with Sasuke and Sakura, she didn't feel as out of place as she used to. What she wasn't pleased to note, and what had escaped her attention before, was the fact that both of them were a lot taller than her. Sakura was visibly shorter than Sasuke, but the top of Naru's head barely reached the medic's nose. The blond was always rather short, but it was made even more obvious by the presence of her visibly taller peers. Shrugging it off, Naru continued on her way.
They could already see the ramen stand in the distance when they were stopped by a voice from behind them.
Naru looked curiously as both Sasuke and Sakura let out an exasperated sigh and turned to face the man that had addressed them.
Upon turning around as well, she found the cyclops of a teacher that was her siblings' sensei. She mulled over in her head, why she so easily accepted them as her siblings, even though she was certain that she didn't feel that way before.
The man lazily turned a page in the orange colored book he was reading, before his eye traveled upwards to look at the trio. He raised an eyebrow at Naru, which she gladly returned.
"Hello sensei. What do you want? We were on our way to Ichiraku's." Sakura whined. The former Kyuubi vessel had to turn and stare at her in wonder, since she had never before heard the pink haired girl...well, whine about something. She either got angry or ignored it altogether.
"Nothing much. I was going to get something to eat myself. Mind if I join you?" He asked, his eye dropping lower until it once again rested on the pages of the book in his hand.
Sasuke rolled his eyes and looked questioningly at Naru, while Sakura seemed to be ready to tell him off. The blond shrugged and Sasuke sighed exasperatedly. Before the pink haired medic could open her mouth, Sasuke interrupted.
"Sure. Just keep that book to yourself."
Kakashi nodded and walked up to them until he was between Sakura and Naru. The four set off again. After a couple of steps in silence the cyclops decided to ask a question.
"So, Sasuke. Is this blond girl one of your fan girls?"
Sasuke gave him a look and leaned forward a little to see the expression on Naru's face.
Her expression was deceivingly passive as she pulled two gloves from her pocket and slipped them on, flexing her fists experimentally. It reminded Sasuke a lot of how Sakura did it with her own gloves, except Naru's had metal spikes protruding from them. While he doubted that she could punch as hard as Sakura, he was also not going to try and find out what trick there was to them.
He put his hand on Naru's shoulder and squeezed a little, praying that she would get the hint and let it slide. The blond looked up at him with a frown but pulled the gloves off and stuffed them back into her pocket.
"No, sensei. This is Uzumaki Naru, our adoptive sister. I think you've met her a couple of times before, though that was long ago." He clarified.
"Aah." The only visible eye on the man's face closed itself and formed the shape of an upside down 'u', giving the impression that he was smiling. "Sorry about that. So, how have you been? Have you made chuunin yet?" He asked, remembering some ordeal involving the girl and a traitor called Mizuki, which ended in Naru getting accepted as a genin.
"No, didn't have the chance." She supplied sullenly. Any further questions were left for later as they had arrived at their destination.
Naru inhaled deeply, savoring the rich smell of ramen. The four of them made their way inside the stand and onto the stools that stood in front of the counter.
As Naru ordered two bowls of miso and pork ramen, and her companions placed their orders as well, she couldn't help but feel content with herself. For now, she would forget about all the troublesome emotions and just spend some quality time together with her siblings and their annoying sensei. This time Naru blamed not her hormones, but rather her overly forgiving nature, but then again, was there really something to forgive?
AN: Actually I wanted the plot to advance a bit further than this, but oh well. Describing all the complicated emotions, while trying to not make everyone completely OOC was very tiring, so that's it for the chapter. PLEASE tell me if I messed up somewhere, because I'm pretty sure I did. I mean plotwise. This is the first time I'm writing out something so deeply emotional, and I'm afraid i didn't do very well on it...
-sigh-Anyway, hope to hear from you.