Pre-Note: There seems to be some confusion about continuity in this story. I don't blame you, some very important things are different. Some of the points that have been lost:
- In this story Minato's family name is Uzumaki. I didn't choose that, DameWren did, as she wrote it before his family name was revealed.
- Sasuke was never dealt with in Two Halves, but at the beginning of Twice Shy, it was revealed that events had occurred as in canon: Sasuke left to join Orochimaru.
- Naruto's mother was known as Nanashi (which literally means "no-name"... or "seven deaths") however her real name is Kushina. She is from the west, not Whirlpool.
- Several characters have been getting little or no page time. Most of this is intentional.
Daisuke was hungry and felt he deserved a treat. And for him that treat was going to be a bowl of ramen at his mentor's favorite noodle stand: Ichiraku's. He'd spent the entire morning training the things Naruto had been teaching him, finally feeling that he was making progress.
The form of the Kaze was familiar yet frustrating, presenting an interesting counter-point to how most ninja thought of taijutsu. In Daisuke's experience, ninja thought of taijutsu as an alternative to using their chakra. But for the Kaze taijutsu was the primary way of utilizing it. Ninja were taught control, and yet Shino-Tsu-Hiko taught how to let it go.
And dammit if it wasn't hard.
He looked around as he was walking, his eyes drawn to the ominous doors of the distinctive Uchiha complex, made even more onerous by its lack of inhabitants. Daisuke scowled.
Clans all seemed to be bad news he thought. The Uchiha clan had been destroyed by one of their own who'd gone crazy, a product of the arrogance and lust for power that drove them. His clan hadn't been much different from what Naruto had told him.
Hatred and power made dangerous partners, and clans seemed to amplify that, allowing people to give justification to their desires which would otherwise serve to only ruin their own lives. And because clans represented family they stuck together, making it difficult at best for someone to really change the way they were.
Daisuke looked back at the dirt path, kicking a stone. He really wanted to see his family, and honestly couldn't wait to leave with Naruto whenever he was able to, but there was a part of him that was afraid. Afraid that he'd find the same coldness and calculation he'd seen in so many other faces. From what Naruto had said it sounded like they'd come to their senses, but it was that same madness that had probably cost him his parents and made him an orphan.
He sighed as he walked up to the ramen stand.
"Hey there Daisuke," the girl behind the counter called out with a friendly smile. Daisuke suddenly felt a bit uncomfortable at how bad he was with names, especially with someone so pretty, if not older. What was her name again? "What can we get for you?"
"One beef please," he said taking a stool at the empty stand. "Oh and add an egg please."
"Coming right up," Ayame replied cheerily. The pair in the kitchen began to dutifully prepare his order.
"Hey Daisuke!" he snapped his head around at the vaguely familiar voice. Bounding towards him was a brown-haired ninja he hadn't seen in a long time.
"Konohamaru, how's it going?" The slightly older boy gave him a partly feral grin as Daisuke finally noticed the two other ninja's behind the Third's grandson. Their Jounin sensei was nowhere in sight, so Daisuke figured that they'd just been let go. Of course Konohamaru would come straight to Ichiraku's. Much like Naruto, Konohamaru practically made a religion out of eating here.
"Pretty good. You?"
"Good. A lot's happened since you left. Plenty has changed in the last six months." Moegi and Udon sat down at the other end of the stand and ordered their meal from the smiling Ayame while the two talked.
"Like what?" Konohamaru asked. Daisuke thought about it for a moment, trying to find a good starting place.
"Well, when you left for your extended mission I was just starting my last term at the academy right? One of the teachers they had was from the west, or actually had just come back from the west, and he was teaching all about the clans there. Turns out it's where I came from. Or where my parents did…"
Konohamaru was intrigued. He'd become friends with the younger Daisuke while at the academy, and even though they were a year apart they had trained a lot together, so he was familiar with Daisuke's history, or lack thereof.
"Your parents were from the west?"
"Yeah. It gets better too. Our teacher knew their clan techniques and he's been training me on them ever since. He said that he'd take me out to see my cousin sometime after I become a genin."
"When is the exam, by the way?" Konohamaru moved to take a seat next to Daisuke as Ayame placed the bowl of beef noodle soup in front of the younger boy. He looked down and noticed not one but two eggs. This is why everyone kept coming back.
"Next week. You gonna order anything?" Konohamaru seemed surprised by the question before turning and placing his order with the helpful waitress. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure that I'm going to pass too. All the stuff Naruto is teaching me is—"
"NARUTO!" Moegi and Udon turned to look at their teammate in confusion. "HE'S BACK!" Daisuke looked at him oddly.
"Er, yeah. He was the guy that's been helping me. He was the teacher in my class."
Konohamaru said nothing for nearly a minute, his mouth opening and closing repeatedly as if his brain had shut off.
"Damn, the boss is always two steps ahead. I thought it was awesome how we had such a long important mission and then he goes and does this." He looked disgruntled but Daisuke thought he sounded more annoyed, like one would sound after hearing that the amount of homework had been doubled. "Well I've got to go see him then. It's been a long time."
"Wait a bit," Daisuke said, slurping up his meal as he talked. "He's pretty busy what with preparing for the Jounin exams and training with Jiraiya and spending time with his girlfriend."
"Speaking of girlfriends…" Konohamaru muttered. Daisuke followed his gaze and saw a familiar Hyuuga approaching. He scoffed.
"Maru, she hasn't said yes to you once." Konohamaru looked at him a bit exasperated.
"Well she'll come to her senses eventually." He waved at her as she got closer. "Oi! Hanabi-chan!"
Hinata's sister heard her name and looked over curiously. There was something familiar about that voice… Oh. And it was so peaceful and quiet while he was gone… She smiled softly as she changed direction to go say hi. He could be annoying but he was fun to be around.
"Welcome back, Konohamaru. I hope your mission went well." The Naruto-protégé smirked in a self-satisfied way, scratching the back of his head.
"Well of course! Not just anyone can guard the Daimyo's daughter!"
Hanabi smiled mischievously as she saw her opening. She loved teasing him, even if it was kind of a pain how he was always trying to ask her for a date.
"I bet you had to keep a close watch."
"I bet you personally made sure she was safe."
"Even when she took baths?" Konohamaru stopped and started to blush slightly while Daisuke burst into laughter. The Hyuuga grinned like a predator who'd trapped their prey. "I bet she was awfully pretty, being a noble and all. And I bet she was super impressed by a real ninja." She paused for a moment before swooping in for the kill. "Did our ickle Maru-chan become a man on this mission?"
Konohamaru tried to form words but they failed him, and his blush only deepened. Moegi who had been listening in rolled her eyes and turned to her own meal, but Udon spoke up.
"Don't tease him too much. She wouldn't take no for an answer."
Daisuke and Hanabi nearly fell over laughing as Konohamaru rounded on his teammate, jerked out of his speechless trance.
"Hey! It was only a kiss! And you said you wouldn't tell anyone!" Daisuke wiped the tears from his eyes, patting Konohamaru on the back.
"The Daimyo's daughter, huh? Score."
"It wasn't like that!" Konohamaru insisted. He glanced over at Hanabi who had stopped laughing and was giving him a more genuine smile. "I like someone else anyway."
She smirked and leaned in quickly, her mouth inches from his ear.
"Maybe one day you'll even get a real kiss," she whispered before running off on whatever errand she'd been on. Konohamaru was stunned and it was a few seconds before he even looked around to see where she'd gone to, but she'd already disappeared into the village.
"Quite the ladies man," Daisuke said innocently.
"Hmmm…" Tsunade didn't like what she was about to do, but when there was a choice between being Hokage and being Tsunade, she had an obligation to be the former. It was quite annoying.
"Hokage-sama," Shizune called out from the door. Tsunade looked up, her annoyance plain on her face.
"What is it?"
"Danzo is here to see you."
Tsunade groaned. Just what she needed… she was already in a bad mood without having to tolerate that codger.
"Send him in." Within moments Konoha's most secretive ninja entered her office and sat down in the open chair without preamble. Tsunade raised an eyebrow. He obviously had something specific he wanted to accomplish, but with Danzo it was rarely what he appeared to be doing. "What can I do for you Danzo, I'm busy with the upcoming Jounin exam schedule."
"That's what I wanted to discuss actually." That caught the Hokage off guard. Nothing about any of the exams ever interested Danzo. Unless… perhaps he had a ROOT candidate he wanted to co-opt.
"By all means," Tsunade said, setting her paperwork aside.
"I feel it's a bit premature to be pushing for Jounin rank with Hinata and Naruto. They both recently returned from a very long mission where we know little about what really happened with them."
"You'll need a better reason than that," Tsunade said plainly. She didn't have time for this.
"You still haven't briefed the council on their activities over the last three years where they had no contact with anyone from Konoha and spent all their time with a foreigner, who supposedly was training them to be better Konoha ninja.
"We know only the bare essentials. They travelled to the west, which should itself be a consideration, had a confrontation with a powerful clan over there and got into a battle with some Akatsuki members. This hardly seems like a good reason to put them up for Jounin, especially since neither are proper Chuunin."
"I gave them a fully valid field promotion," Tsunade told him. "They absolutely are ready to be Jounin, I assure you of that."
"Perhaps they are ready to be Jounin ninja, but are they ready to be Konoha ninja?"
"They never stopped being Konoha ninja," Tsunade replied. She was starting to get a headache… why had she not had some sake earlier?
"They were being trained by a foreign ninja. They weren't Konoha ninja when they returned."
Tsunade had to reign in her initial reaction, which was to throttle the man. How dare he say something like that about Naruto and Hinata, or about Sora.
"Sora is someone I trust completely, and she has made good on her end of the deal by coming to the village where she can help." Danzo cleared his throat.
"That's actually another matter where I believe you've erred. It is not something to take lightly to simply include a foreign ninja in the village, and it should have been something the council decided on."
"The council is for counseling. On this matter I require none."
Danzo stared at her silently for a few moments before replying in his gravelly voice.
"Perhaps a compromise then. Allow me to have a few ninja I trust vet them." Tsunade nearly snorted at the suggestion. When you were prepared for it Danzo was obscenely transparent. This whole conversation had been about creating a conflict so that it could be resolved with what he really wanted: access to the village's Jinchuuriki, the Hyuuga heiress and a powerful foreign ninja.
"And find them returned as loyal members of ROOT? I don't think so."
"ROOT was disbanded long ago, you know that." Tsunade rolled her eyes.
"Oh yeah, and I'm still 22. I've turned a blind eye to the fact that ROOT is still operating because you've kept them out of my hair, so how about this instead: you leave and in return I won't go about actually disbanding your secret police."
Danzo's face darkened. He had expected resistance, but not outright hostility or blunt confrontation. That hadn't been part of the plan.
Plan B then.
"Very well, I can't cure you of self-imposed ignorance." He rose slowly, bowed, and left without another word.
"Gah," Tsunade exclaimed after he'd left. "Why did I let the shrimp talk me into taking this job?" She reached into her bottom drawer and pulled out a bottle.
"How did the meet—" Shizune stopped as she saw the bottle on the Hokage's desk. "Tsunade!"
Yasu and Hinata sat at the dining room table in Naruto's house. He was out training, as he liked to spend most of his time, but Hinata needed a good chat and that's what she was here for.
"I don't understand what's gotten into my clan," Hinata said unsurely. "They were always strict, but they've become… paranoid. Xenophobic even. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense."
"Clans often get that way if they feel themselves falling behind," Yasu commented sagely. "As odd as it may sound, most clans try to simply change the rules so that they remain on top, instead of becoming better."
"But that's crazy," Hinata exclaimed. "When you meet a foreign ninja they don't care what rules you've invented, they just try to kill you."
"Of course," Yasu agreed. "But how many of your clan regularly go on missions where they might meet foreign ninja?"
Hinata stopped to think. Not too many. Neji was the most active ninja among their clan, and he was also the most talented in both their techniques and dealing with other ninja. Sure, the Hyuuga clan had plenty of Jounin and Chuunin to their credit, but most of them worked on clan duties or similar tasks. It was rare for a Hyuuga to leave the village, and one of the big reasons was that her clan was utterly paranoid of someone stealing their bloodline.
"I suppose you're right, but they lose their ability as ninja. It makes the clan weaker… much weaker."
"Well," Yasu said, smiling, "I guess you can change that once you become clan head." Hinata's face steeled.
"A lot of things will change once I become clan head."
Yasu nodded in agreement, and glanced over at Miki who was amusing herself with one of the toys she had. Clans had brought so much sorrow to the world… they brought grief to Nori's life, and then to Itachi's, who then brought it to hers. She frowned at that thought.
"You failed her," Yasu heard. Her eyes widened in surprise. That had been Nori's voice. "Because of you she doesn't have a father. She barely has a mother."
The words stung, but Yasu glanced at Hinata to see if she had heard the voice too, but the young Hyuuga heiress showed no signs of hearing Nori. She decided to ignore it. Even in the ninja world, hearing voices was a bad thing. But even as she put on a smile, Yasu felt the sting of the words she'd heard, and a sliver of doubt crept into her mind. Perhaps it was her fault…
Naruto was sitting in the lotus position, as he had done several times now. He had been able to vastly improve his control through his meditation type training, but he felt that he was still improving from it, and wanted to see how far it could push him.
He evened his breath, collected his chakra, and began to use intention. As it had each time before, he felt himself almost communicating with the world around him. Only this time, it seemed that he was communicating with the elements around him. It was strange. The wind was playful, the earth was very serious… all around him he felt the elements flowing through the world.
It would be nice if you were blowing the other way, Mr. Breeze, Naruto thought. It was a flippant thought, almost an instinctual reaction. He had felt like the wind was talking to him, and so he talked back. But to his surprise the wind responded and immediately began blowing in the other direction, directly into Naruto's face.
His focus immediately ceased, and his awareness with it; he was simply too surprised to continue holding it. The wind had responded? Had that been a coincidence? He settled himself back down and decided to check.
After centering himself once more, he pulled in his chakra and released it outward in a wave, the familiar feelings flooding over him. Hello there earth. Would you care to shift a bit? Naruto thought he felt something like an acknowledgment, but the ground didn't move. Wind? Would you mind swirling around me? This time the response was instant and precise, a soft swirl of air forming around him. Perhaps a bit stronger? The wind picked up and he could feel the miniature vortex. Thank you, that's enough.
The wind stopped and Naruto opened his eyes again. This was wildly different than anything he had ever seen before. It was as if he was carrying a conversation with the wind, and it was responding. That wasn't how jutsu worked. He knew several elemental jutsu, and there was nothing like this involved.
He saw some immediate advantages to what it was he was doing. First, it appeared that when properly in tune he could exert very fine control over what the wind was doing. Second, there was no real jutsu involved, and thus there was nothing to copy or steal. Much like seals, this was something he imagined you just had to learn. And the fact he'd never heard of it before suggested to him that perhaps no one had ever had enough chakra to do it before.
I wonder why the wind responded but not the earth? Naruto stood up and dusted himself up, deciding he needed to think about it for a while.
"You wanted to see us Baa-chan?" Tsunade scowled at him. She was already in a bad mood. Partly due to the conversation with Danzo, but also because of the reason she'd called Naruto and Hinata here.
"The Jounin pre-lims are coming up, brat." She paused for a moment. "The pre-lims aren't an elimination tournament, they are simply a showcase that allows the village elders to determine whether or not a ninja is worth to take the Jounin exam."
"C'mon Baa-chan," Naruto said, waving dismissively. "We already knew that."
"You will hold your match against each other."
The room became dead silent, and the expression on all three of their faces was frozen. Naruto broke first, his face very clearly betraying his anger and frustration.
"No!" Naruto shouted. Both Hinata and Tsunade jumped at his proclaimation, such was the veracity of his statement. "Not gonna happen. Figure something else out." His tone had lost the feel of friendly banter.
"Naruto-kun," Hinata said softly. "Tsunade-sama is the Hokage. Show more respect."
Tsunade winced again at Hinata's voice. The young Hyuuga wasn't blowing up at her, she sounded… hurt… betrayed. Disappointed.
"Hina-chan, it doesn't make sense. This is stupid."
"Naruto," Tsunade spoke with calm authority. "I am the Hokage. It's the job you want some day, right? Well when you're Hokage you need to do what's best for the village, even when it's inconvenient. You and Hinata know each other very well." The statement made Hinata blush slightly, although she thought the additional implications probably weren't meant. "The Jounin pre-lims are supposed to genuinely showcase what kind of Jounin each ninja would be. I can't find that out by putting you two up against anyone else."
"Hinata shouldn't have to do it," Naruto countered. "She's already had two matches to prove her skill."
"That's true," Tsunade said, nodding. "But the pre-lims are attended by some of the Daimyo's court. Unfortunately they would not be impressed to learn that Hinata has already had a few matches. I'm afraid there's very little way around it. I must have both of you compete, and the only good way to do that is to have you match against each other."
The room fell silent for a moment as Tsunade allowed them to take it in. She hated that she had to do this, but another part of her felt that it was good thing. Being a ninja was unfair and difficult. That was something that all Jounin had to have the ability to work past.
"When are the matches?" Naruto asked demurely. He had resigned himself to their upcoming fight.
Naruto and Hinata glanced at each other before turning back to the Slug Sannin.
"We'll be ready." With that, Naruto turned to leave. Hinata quickly bowed before following him out the door.
"Well, it could have gone worse."
The couple arrived at Naruto's house, Hinata closing the door behind them. She was very bothered, and it was clear Naruto was as well.
"Maybe it's for the best," Hinata offered. Naruto looked at her and raised an eyebrow. "At least we know that we won't really try to kill each other."
A faint smile graced Naruto's lips before he pulled her into a tight hug.
"That's my girl," Naruto whispered in her ear. "Always seeing the bright side."
Hinata blushed slightly, returning his embrace.
"Is… would it be alright if I stayed here tonight?" Hinata asked softly. Naruto lifted her chin up so that they were looking each other in the eye and placed a soft kiss on her lips.
"Of course." Naruto glanced around the house briefly. "I think Sora must be out right now. It's a bit late, so we should get to my room before she returns."
"What about Yaus and Miki?" Hinata asked.
"They're always asleep by now."
Sure enough, as they climbed the stairs Naruto paused and picked out the distinct sound of even breathing behind Yasu's door. They quietly entered Naruto's room and he shut the door behind them, letting out a heavy sigh as if to let go of the stress of the day. He turned back towards Hinata and they stared at each other for a moment before Naruto broke the silence.
"Er, I suppose we should get ready for bed…" They both began to blush, remembering the last time they slept here together. "Umm… did you want something to sleep in?"
Hinata hesitated but shook her head 'no' before reaching down and beginning to remove her outer layer of clothing. Naruto tore his eyes away, finding himself even more embarrassed since the room was well lit, and busied himself with taking his own clothes off.
By the time he was down to his boxers Hinata was already in the bed under the covers. She was staring at him oddly, and it actually made him look down and glance over his body just to make sure nothing was wrong.
"Uh… right then…" He walked over to the bed and lifted the covers only to immediately drop them in surprise. "Y—You're not wearing anything."
Hinata blushed profusely but forced a smile onto her face.
"I…" She stopped, unable to find the right words momentarily. "No matter what happens in the match, I love you."
Naruto smiled warmly. "I love you too." He looked down at himself once more. "Umm… Seems a bit unfair for me to be wearing something…"
"Eep!" Hinata squeaked in surprise at his comment as her eyes were drawn to his boxers unbidden. "That's alright," she muttered quickly. "I… I didn't do this to make you take… that off…"
Her shyness and honesty put Naruto at ease, and he felt his nervousness and insecurity begin to fade.
"No way," he said firmly. "Besides, for you, I'd do anything."
He hooked his thumbs in the waistband, and before she could reply, removed his last piece of clothing in one swift motion. Hinata felt her face burning up. The fast movement had naturally drawn her eyes right back to his waist, and once the boxers were off… she found she couldn't look away. She felt horribly embarrassed, and with great effort, looked at the ceiling instead. Naruto felt strangely in control. He reached for the covers and crawled underneath them, his body pressing up against hers.
They both were silent for several seconds, neither knowing what they should say or do.
"Umm…" Naruto began, glancing over at Hinata. She turned and faced him. "It… umm… well… was it alright?"
Like a brick through a stain-glass window, Hinata's nervousness was shattered. She burst into laughter, amused at his question. She'd seen him go into impossible situations without a second thought. The idea that something so simple could perturb him was both amusing and comforting.
"Yes," she replied after several moments of laughing. She reached her hand across his stomach and traced a few small circles on his skin. "More than alright." She paused for a moment. "Umm… what about me?"
Naruto stared into eyes for a few seconds before gazing away.
"Uh… I don't know." Hinata tried not to feel hurt. Didn't know?
"What do you mean?" she asked in barely a whisper.
"It's just… I looked away quickly, and I've never seen a girl's… I've never…" He looked back at her, exasperated. "I'm not sure what it's all supposed to look like…"
Sure, a part of Hinata was enormously embarrassed, but another part, the part that she was embracing, felt empowered. He was seemingly befuddled by her body. He liked the way she looked so much that he was getting flustered… it made her feel so beautiful. She debated with herself, but only for a moment.
"Fair's fair," she said before slipping out from the bed and standing, naked, next to where she'd been laying down. Naruto, who was feeling uncomfortable again, was avoiding looking at her. "Naruto-kun, it's alright. You can look."
He looked at her face for a few moments before his eyes slowly slid down her body. If there was a single word Naruto would use to describe the way she looked in all her natural beauty, it would be elegant. The curves of her body flowing into one another, a physical representation of harmony.
He tore his eyes away, realizing that he'd been staring at her feminine qualities. A small smile filled his features.
"More than alright," he said, answering her earlier question. "Perfect."
Hinata felt as if she was glowing as she climbed back into the bed, his praise ringing in her ears. It was so nice to be this close.
"Umm…" Hinata started. "Would you… like to touch?"
"… Touch?" Naruto parroted. Hinata lowered the covers so that her breasts were visible, only inches from him, her blush returning full force. He slowly reached his hand forward, as if entranced, and hovered over her chest for a few moments. Hinata finally grabbed his hand and guided it to her chest, the contact making her tingle. Naruto got a curious look on his face and gave it a light test squeeze. A squeak escaped Hinata's lips, the signal Naruto had come to learn meant he was doing something she liked. "They really are soft," he observed.
Naruto looked up at her face and smiled. His hand still on her, he leaned forward and placed his lips on hers, kissing her with a passion that took her breath away. She returned his kiss immediately, and moaned into his mouth slightly, a sound he had only heard from her a few times before.
Hinata wasn't sure how long they were like that, kissing each other while he tried to fondle her, but her thoughts were sidetracked as soon as she felt a firm protrusion on her leg. They pulled away from the kiss and stared at each other for a few more moments.
"We should try to get some sleep," she finally said. He made that pouty face at her that she found unbearably adorable.
"Because… I don't want to… go too far tonight. And if we don't stop, I might change my mind."
"How's that a bad thing?" he asked her, his pout still in full force. She laughed.
"Not tonight," she affirmed. "When… we go further… I want it to just be you and me, with nothing else to worry about."
Naruto nodded. She was right, they couldn't be up too late, and there were other people in the house. She layed herself across his chest and they slowly drifted off to sleep, each reveling in the feeling of their embrace.
Author's Note: No big author's note for this one. Thanks for all the feedback, and I hope that you're enjoying the story. The fic is going to pick up a lot in action from here on out.
This particular delay was due to my hard drive failing twice. That's right, this is the third time I've written this chapter. I can't say it got better each time, as I became more and more apathetic each time I had to write the chapter over, but I don't think it suffered, other than being tremendously late.
PS: There was a sentence in the first scene that escaped my edit hammer. A product of writing it three times. Thanks Oni for pointing it out.