Battousai's Apprentice: Chapter 19
"An alliance?" Naruto questioned before a look of recognition dawned upon his face. "You're the man mentioned by that ROOT captain…" he concluded, gaining a nod of approval from Danzo.
"Very good, Uzumaki," Danzo praised. "Yes, he was one of the ROOT agents who escorted you to the Elemental Countries. Seeing as he is one of my most skilled ANBU captains, I trust him and the rest of his men were up to the task of ensuring your protection and comfort?"
"Naruto-kun," Haku said softly, catching the samurai's attention before he could respond. "Who is he?"
Naruto sighed. "On the surface, he's a retired Leaf shinobi of renowned legend from all three Shinobi World Wars and an esteemed member of Konoha's elder council…A council who advises the Hokage and is second in power only to him." Naruto answered, all the while steely matching Danzo's knowing stare. "But behind the public façade, he's the commander of an elite and illegal army known only as 'ROOT.' An army that's a secret branch of Konoha's ANBU forces and was officially banned by the Sandaime Hokage a few years after the last Shinobi World War."
This tidbit of information made Haku obviously more concerned, her eyes furrowed in worry. "Why was it banned?" she asked tentatively, carefully opening one of her palms to accept a soldier pill discreetly slipped to her by her beloved.
"Because Hiruzen would rather stick his head in the ground and pretend the world can coexist with pacifist ideals." Danzo practically spat, briefly snarling in disgust before his face went blank once more. "Because of his arrogance like the majority of the village and his ridiculous dependence on a prophecy…A prophecy that solely revolves around you, Uzumaki Naruto."
"The fact that the senile and decaying fossil is a Kage of the most powerful village and believes in something so folly as a prophecy is ridiculous in itself." Naruto answered cooley. "But what I'm more concerned about is why you chose now to meet with me along with those two beside you? And more importantly, how you got past my barrier seals?"
"Ah," he said, tapping his cane lightly. "Good, you tend to get to the point quickly. First, allow me to introduce the lady beside me," he started, gesturing to the redheaded woman on his right. "This is…"
"Terumī Mei!" she chirped, giving off a beaming smile towards the young couple. "My apologies Danzo-san, but I'd prefer introducing myself if you don't mind."
Danzo just gave a nod. "Of course."
"Thank you," she said; her smile charming while turning her gaze back upon the two teens. "I hail from Kirigakure and similar to Danzo-san here, I also am the commander of a rebel army in Mizu no Kuni dedicated to overthrowing the current Mizukage."
Danzo narrowed his eyes at Mei, obviously annoyed at her blatant comparison. "I do not lead a rebel army, as you so eloquently hinted. And the purpose of ROOT is not towards overthrowing Konoha's Kage."
"No, but you would if it was necessary," Mei jabbed, a coy smile upon her lips. "And given your obvious resentment towards Hiruzen, you would actually take enjoyment out of the ordeal if it was the Sandaime Hokage himself you were overthrowing, isn't it true?"
Danzo just scowled further at Mei, giving the ground a stomp with his cane in impatience. "Enough!" he barked. "Just get on with it and stop wasting all of our time with this meaningless drivel!"
Mei crossed her arms and huffed, almost as if she was an immature child angered at being scolded by a parent. "Of course…" she mocked him. "I hope my future husband isn't grumpy like you when we're both old and wrinkly!" she snapped, pointedly ignoring Danzo's heated stare as she went back to addressing Naruto and Haku.
Both of them could only look at her oddly after her most recent behavior.
"Ahem. My apologies, young hero and heroine," Mei said with mirth, enjoying their skeptical expressions upon being referred to in such a way. "What? Did you both already forget the enormous impact you've had in Japan's recent civil war? Especially you, Naruto-kun…" she whispered omnomously.
Haku herself would have been rightfully annoyed at this other woman using such a suffix for her lover if the conversation right now didn't feel so dire and have a hint of trailing to something far more foreboding."
"You're both champions…idols to be looked up to in Japan and by its people," Mei finished. "So!" she exclaimed, going back to her usual mood. "It's only fitting that I address you both as such."
"No," Naruto denied, shaking his head. "Just because I'm seen that way by the side of victory doesn't set in stone how I'm this righteous figure you make me out to be…" he trailed off, watching with pity as Mei's face fell at his admission.
Naruto truly felt sorry for her. She was holding onto vastly naïve ideals while being a major part of a nation's brutal civil war. He knew how the disappointed outcome would feel for her just from firsthand experience alone regardless of which side achieves triumph.
And he could only pity her for it.
"As long as there are winners in this world, there will always be losers." Haku continued for him. "While Naruto-kun and I are so praised by the winners, we are seen as the exact opposite to those that are defeated."
"And we have always been villainized…seen as nothing more but monsters even by our own respective homes of birth," Naruto finished softly, his eyes directed to Danzo as he spoke and appearing to address him rather than Mei herself all of sudden. "Regardless of what path we choose or who was truly at fault, even our own births were looked down upon with condemned judgment. The reason I'm not a hero is simple…they don't exist. And I don't believe in them either."
Mei's face became hard as stone, her hands clenching tightly as her eyes bore down upon Naruto with an inferno of fire not seen during the conversation until now. "You're wrong." She claimed. "I believe in heroes!" She ignored Danzo's so-called subtle snort. "Have you always been this indoctrinated by Konoha's worth of your own sense of self?" Her tone was now far more serious than her usual playful one. "Or did the famed Battousai just lose all hope when he was brought to heel by that village and returned to them like he was their long-lost pet?"
"Shut up…" Naruto deathly whispered, his orbs of glaciers glaring dangerously at the woman after the suppressed feelings and memories her recent words stirred up within him. "Just shut the fuck up…"
But Mei only persisted as if she didn't hear him at all. "After all the adversity you've faced and the sacrifices made by those before you on the same path you're walking now, is this where it finally ends, Naruto-kun?" she spoke with pure conviction. "After all those earned victories and all the defeats you rose back up from?
Surprisingly, it was Haku who spoke up this time. "How dare you!" she hissed menacingly at Mei, now standing independently on her own thanks to the soldier pill she had taken earlier and the surge of anger she felt towards the Kage-level kunoichi's desrespect. "You know nothing…"
"I know nothing?" Mei mocked, her lips curled up in fury. "I know more than enough, little girl…" the redhead spoke in a threatening whisper. "I know how you originally came from a shabby little village in the middle of nowhere within Mizu no Kuni when Kiri's purge of kekkei genkai users was in its prime," she said. "Before your own father tried to senselessly murder his own family by helping a mob of his fellow blood-purist scum brutally murder his wife and then attempting the same on you…his own daughter and flesh of blood…" she trailed off, shaking her head in disbelief at the sheer insanity of it all. "Nothing more but single-minded animals. The lot of them!" Mei spat in disgust.
"Haku's eyes widened considerably, her bottom lip trembling in horror from what she just heard. "How did you…"
Mei's face remained fully serious. "I know because I was a kekkei genkai user myself growing up in Kiri those days so long ago. I've been in Naruto-kun's and your shoes long enough to fill up several painful lifetimes. And as for how I know of your own past…Oh come on, you should know that an old friend told me of course," she admitted, turning her head to glance at Zabuza to see him alongside Danzo, both watching silently to see how this scenario would finally play out.
"I see…" Haku said softly, staring down at the ground in shame. She had understood Mei's gesture and what it meant.
Zabuza got in contact with Mei regarding the situation here in Wave.
'And obviously the issue regarding me and Naruto-kun," Haku mentally concluded. 'The only question left is…how much does he know? And why did he contact her?'
As if Mei was reading the ice kunochi's mind, she just so happened to answer those questions herself. "You're perhaps wondering if he also saw everything between you two today," she asked, her eyes meeting the soft brown orbs of the raven-haired beauty. "How far you've really come as a kunoichi in terms of both power and skill…And if we both even know the vast extent of your loyalty and devotion to Naruto-kun here…"
"…And does he?" Haku asked tentatively after a few seconds of paused silence, unwilling to look at Zabuza now out of fear for seeing disappointment and betrayal on his face.
Mei closed her eyes and nodded. "Yes," she answered truthfully, now slowly walking towards her. "He knows everything. Just like how I know it was him that found you living on the streets as an orphan wanted by no one, struggling everyday just to survive."
"I was only able to survive on whatever scraps of food I could rummage for and begging from passersby," Haku continued her tale. "And then Zabuza-sama…He saved me. He gave me a purpose." She finally looked up at Mei, noticing how she was now only a couple feet away. "He took me away from that part of my world's pain and despair."
Mei nodded, her eyes softening in understanding. "Yes he did…And then he trained you. Instilled all his knowledge, skill, and effort unto you…" Mei smiled warmly at her own many memories of the man. "Took you fully under his wing and raised you as if you were his own daughter by blood…Whoever knew that eyebrow-less prick had a heart in the first place?" she rhetorically asked, turning her head again to smirk at Zabuza's growing tic mark before amusingly eyeing Haku's shocked features. "Yea, it shocked the hell out of me too once I placed all the pieces together…"
The ice angel gripped Naruto's hand for support as tears slowly leaked from her eyes, desperately looking at Mei now for anwers. "This…this is true? He really does…?"
Mei just sighed and slowly shook her head, letting out an amused chuckle. "Of course he cares about you, silly girl! He always had." She was now hearing the man's footsteps. "He told me after he somehow by some miracle convinced me to return back with him to Nami no Kuni just to see you two," she jokingly said, smiling softly while carefully cupping Haku's cheek with one hand. "But I knew that was true even more once I learned how he raised you from that orphaned little girl no one wanted to one of the world's strongest and most beautiful kunoichi…" Mei smiled sadly at that last part, her eyes locked upon Haku with a wistful gaze. "You're as gorgeous as your mother and she would have been proud of you just as much as Zabuza is right now."
"You…you knew my mother?"
Zabuza grunted as he stopped by Mei's side, placing his calloused hand upon Haku's shoulder. "We both did," he gruffly admitted. "I knew her mostly through Mei."
The ex-Kiri shinobi just sighed and did something nobody expected him to do.
He gently wrapped his arms around the girl and hugged her.
"I'm sorry, gaki."
Haku's eyes widened in shock.
"I know I'm not exactly the best role model or that much of a decent human being for that matter," he acknowledged. "I've always pushed you to your limits and you've never failed to do that and much more…And for that I thank you." He hugged her even tighter once he felt her silently sob into his chest.
Dammit, now she was even making him cry too!
Zabuza's own tears started to flow as he poured the rest of his heart out to her.
A heart he's locked away for far too long.
"I've always known you had potential…Too much potential to serve me as a mere weapon. You're one of the very few destined for something much more in this world, gaki. And even though I'm an asshole and a cold bastard around you and everyone else, I've always been proud of you as my daughter just as much as I am now."
Haku gasped at his confession, struggling to speak through her sobs. "B-but…I betrayed you. I lied…"
"Stupid girl…" he sighed. "You were just trying to protect me like you've done for most of your life, kid." Zabuza spoke quietly. "You know…when we first started on our road together, I always used to think you were just too soft and kind for my line of work." He then released Haku and placed his rough hands upon her shoulders, gazing at her with pride. "But I finally see now that it's much more than just that…You have a higher purpose just as much as you have a higher meaning to me than just a weapon…And I want you to be more than just that."
Zabuza scoffed, already knowing what she was about to say. "And I still never told you about your mother," he harshly reminded. "Even though my reason for doing so was to help harden you against the harsh realities of the shinobi world. "
Mei crossed her arms with a scowl on her face. "Which is what made you an idiot!" she scolded.
"Yea…it did" Zabuza silently admitted, much to Mei's surprise at his lack of pride. "So gaki, this makes us even," he said with a smirk before ruffling Haku's hair. "We'll just both do better next time for each other, right?"
Haku giggled at his antics, smiling up at the swordsman in relief. "Of course..." she happily conceded, sharing a smile with Naruto before hugging him out of pure joy.
And he truly was happy for her. He had hoped someday that such a revelation of truth between Zabuza and Haku would go over well and it went better than he had ever imagined and more. Just to see her smiling the way she was made his life even more worth living…
Mei couldn't help but be caught up in the happy occasion, a small part of her wistfully reflecting her own younger years of heartache and romance while she witnessed the devotion the two young lovebirds obviously had for each other. Oh, how she wished this was all just a fairytale with what was happening now as the classic happy ending!
But sadly like everything else in life, happy endings are as make-believe as the stories themselves, for she had no choice now but to interrupt the moment.
"I know there are heroes and heroines," Mei said suddenly, drawing everyone's attention to her yet again. "Haku-san, you and Naruto are living proof of this…People believe in you. You're both symbols of hope and belief to them." she spoke passionately. "The same people you sacrificed and bled for…It was them that gave you both the will to fight and to rise when you fall."
Naruto and Haku both looked at each other, recalling their shared motivations on Japan's battlefields from long ago. Regardless of who they both were fighting for, they were at least fighting for someone important to them.
"And it was because of them that you both fought for a higher purpose than yourself." She finished. "That's what heroes and heroines are…and that's what I believe you both to be…"
"Ahem…" Haku cleared her throat, desperately trying to find the words to begin. "Terumī -san…" she started. "Though I'm…flattered by your praise, why did you particularly seek us out now?"
Mei's eyes saddened. "Because Mizu no Kuni needs you both in those roles now more than ever…" she confessed. "I need…Kirigakure's future as a whole needs you two…just as Japan did."
The thump of a cane was heard from behind as Danzo walked forward to join them. "She's correct, Uzumaki," he agreed. "Even though I share little of the same beliefs Mei here does, both of us and Zabuza share one thing in common…We believe you're needed in the civil war of Kiri."
"What do you achieve from it, Danzo-san?" Naruto asked carefully. "And you could at least inform me of how you got through my barrier out good faith."
"Hmph. Before we discuss your first question further, I fully agree that it's only fair I answer your second one…by introducing a couple of long-lost relatives of yours," he disclosed as he snapped his fingers.
The effect was instantaneous when two female ANBU phased through the surrounding treetops and touched lightly upon the ground, their long red hair flowing with their graceful movements before they kneeled towards Danzo's form.
"Fox and Orge…remove your respective masks."
"Yes Danzo-sama," they both spoke in an emotionless tone, doing as ordered before revealing themselves as one having spectacles and red eyes along with slightly spikey hair, while the other girls' hair was even more untamed and spiked freely.
"Their real names are Uzumaki Karin and Uzumaki Tayuya…" Danzo divulged. "Children of Namikaze Kushina."
"What?" Naruto asked darkly, regarding the two kneeling redheads with venomous contempt.
((Authors Note: DUN DUN DUN! Hey, I apologize for taking longer than I said I would in releasing this update. When I first started this story, I wasn't having to deal with a clingly girlfriend, running a business, and attending more school. But I'll spare the rest of you from my bullshit excuses. The bottom line is that I need to get my shit together and manage my time better. Hope everyone had a good Christmas and nice start to the new year. I'll do my best to update at least every two weeks, but I can't always guarantee that.
But I promise that I'll at least damn well try. Hope you guys enjoyed this chapter and I'll at least wrap the meeting up by the next one. Some reviewers from last time had some concerns about how people got through Naruto's barrier and shit…And their worries were very well-founded. All I can say to my fellow readers is to please be patient with what is currently unknown in the story, as it will always be explained sooner or later..But not too later! ;) Until next time…Later Days.))