Puppets of the Leaf
Naruto's eyes opened and, with a groan, he recognized the sterile white ceilings of the Hospital room he was now occupying.
He hadn't realized anyone else was in the room, but in less than a moment his vision was filled with the concerned green eyes of his pink-haired teammate.
"H...hey Sakura..." He tried to sit up, however his head still swam with vertigo, a result of exhausting so much of his chakra, and he had to lean back down.
"Don't...just rest..." he said as she helped ease him back down. "..here drink this..."
She pressed a cup to his lips and poured some cool water into his mouth.
"Only a few hours." she said replacing the cup on a table next to his bed. She then made a note of what time he woke up on his medical chart,then headed for the door.
"I have to go, they're still bringing in the wounded, but I'll let Sensei kn ow your awake, In the meantime...just try to rest, and I'll check in on you later."
Naruto was relieved that she seemed to be ok. He'd never tell her, but he was proud of how well she was doing as a medic.
"What about Hinata-chan?"
Sakura paused at the door and turned to look at him. "she was brought in just before you were. Her arm was torn up pretty badly, broken forearm and she dislocated that same shoulder...but other than a few minor chakra burns... she be ok." She smiled weakly at him, and he could see how tired she was. The aspiring medic then opened the door and disappeared into the hall, however this gave him a brief look out into said hallway to see what he could only describe as pure chaos. Doctors were screaming out orders left and right while nurses ran back and forth carrying bags of blood. Men and women were screaming out in pain.
The flood of noises were drowned out again as the door clicked shut behind her. Naruto tried to look around him, and saw that a curtain had been pulled across between him and the other bed.
He glanced out of the rooms only, fairly large window. He couldn't see any of the village from where he lay, but the view he had of the sky was soothing to him, and he soon found his eyes closing once again.
It must have been several hours later, when Naruto heard a lighthearted giggle coming from somewhere within the room. He opened his eyes to see his Sensei sitting in the window reading his little orange book. Zabuza's sword sat leaning against the wall next to the open window.
"Yo..." The Jonin put away the book and approached the bed.
"How are you feeling, Naruto?"
"Like I used up all me chakra then got his by a solid wall of sand...You?" This time when Naruto tried to get up, he didn't get as dizzy and was able to move to a full upright sitting position.
The Jonin's one visible eye smiled at him. "Good, then I guess you're well enough to receive visitors."
"Hai, hai, he's been waiting in the hallway for you to wake up."
As he said this the older ninja walked over to the door and opened it a crack, speaking to someone outside. Then, he stepped aside opening the door. Stepping aside, a man in light gray robes walked in slowly. He had shoulder length black hair and white eyes. His arm, and part of his face were bandaged.
"Uzumaki-sama..." He bowed low in respect. "I am glad to see you well."
Naruto studied his face for a moment, not recognizing him, though he looked some what familiar. Naruto had never had much contact with members of their clan, other than Hinata and Neji.
"Uhh...thanks...I'm sorry, you are?"
The man, about Kakashi's age, smiled. "It's ok, I didn't really expect you to recognize me. I just wanted to thank you for protecting Hinata-sama like you did, as well as the whole village." he bowed low again in thanks as Naruto, finally placed him.
Ohh, I see you were one of those guys trying to protect Hinata and her father from Gaara...um...?"
"Yes, my name is Hyuga, Himoto. My brother Hieh, also wished me to express his gratitude. He would've come himself, however he is still with Hinata-sama."
"Uhh...don't worry about it...how is she anyway?"
"She is well. She awoke not long ago, and inquired about you, which I why I was able to come pay my respects, you see."
Naruto was beginning to grow warm as the blood rushed to his face with all the praise and thanks the man was lavishing on him.
"I...it's ok...really you guys don't have to thank me... What about her dad, is he ok?" He asked urgently, trying to change the subject.
At this question, Himoto cast his eyes downward, and he shook his head sadly.
Naruto's shoulders dropped. I'm...sorry..."
He was at a loss for words, though he didn't know the man personally, and despite everything he had heard about his treatment towards Hinata, he had come to respect him for his actions during the invasion.
The silence permeated the room for a moment, before Himoto, bowed again in thanks and left the room.
Afterward, Naruto was still quiet. To distracting him, Kakashi sat on the end of the bed and told him about each of the Rookie Nine.
He told him how Sasuke had been off training on his own, ever since the end of the war. "perfecting a new technique" he had told Kakashi. Naruto had been surprised to learn that it was now the second day after the fighting stopped.
Sakura, he knew was still helping out in the hospital, though the doctor had ordered her to bed to recover her strength. She was back at work that very morning.
He laughed when he found out that Shikamaru, after running into his team in the stadium, had been ordered to spend the invasion in a shelter protecting the civilians there. Naruto could just picture the Nara debating with himself about weather it was more troublesome to be out fighting for his village, or stuck in a confined space with Ino.
Shino, who had also been near the stadium at the time, has been told to escort a group of walking wounded to the hospital, and was then tasked to defend the building with several others.
Akamaru had spent the invasion trying to wake up Kiba, who had fallen asleep with the civilians. A fact that Naruto made a note to tease him endlessly about.
Naruto breathed a bit easier knowing that all the people he cared about were ok...except...
"Ne, Kakashi-sensei, what about the Old Man? What happened with that Snake-teme?"
The Jonin visibly flinched, and Naruto sat bolt up right despite the slight pain involved with the movement.
Kakashi refused to meet his gaze and Naruto had his answer.
He fell quite again in a silent prayer to the man who had been a grandfather to him. To Kakashi, it seemed as though the bright light that had always possessed Naruto had gone out of him in that instant.
Kakashi got up to leave after patting the boy's shoulder for support.
"By the way, Gai said to let you know that Ten-ten has your puppets at her fathers shop, and you can pick them up whenever you feel up to it, but you'll have to get that giant one yourself, it was too big to move."
Naruto looked up blankly, now worrying about more of his friends, and feeling guilty that he hadn't asked sooner.
"...what about Neji and Lee, are they ok too?"
The Jonin looked back over his shoulder. "Lee was fighting in the stadium along with us. He's fine except for some torn ligaments."
Naruto felt a lump in his throat. "...and Neji?"
Kakashi didn't answer, he just looked over at the other bed in the room, the one hidden behind the curtain. His gaze lingered there for a moment then he walked out into the hallway.
Naruto stared at the curtain. All the time he'd been awake, he wasn't even aware that anyone else was in the bed.
"...Neji...?" There was no response.
Cautiously, Naruto threw off his blanket and slid off the bed. His legs wobbled a bit as the dizziness returned, but he had to see for himself.
Using a chair for support, Naruto made his way to the curtain and pulled it aside.
A breath he hadn't even known he was holding escaped him as he looked down on the young Hyuga. He had been expecting some gruesome injury, or for him to be covered in bandages from head to toe rather than just around his forehead.
Instead he was just lying there, as if in a deep sleep.
Naruto picked up his medical chart from the end of his bed and looked it over.
Name: Hyuga, Neji
Sensei: Might Gai
Massive neurological trauma to the Frontal Lobe.
Keep on Life support.
The rest went on to list the various treatments and medications he had received.
"Neji, man...what the hell happened to you?"
"He's still not awake yet?"
Naruto turned to the doorway to see the doctor that had treated them both the last time they were there enter the room.
The man walked over to them and took the chart from Naruto giving it a once over and making a not or two.
"It's good to see you up and around at any rate. How are you feeling?"
"A little tired."
"That's to be expected, but I'll have to give you a quick examination to see if you are fit to be released. We still have a lot of wounded and we'll need to room."
"I understand. Do you know...what happened to him?"
"Well..." He said glancing at Neji again. "The report I read, stated that he was hit by an enemy genjutsu of an unknown type. He's been in a coma ever since."
Naruto thought this odd, since he had fought Neji, he didn't think he was the kind of person who would allow himself to be hit like that.
"It's odd...I always thought that the Hyuga Bloodline made genjutsu useless against them..."
The doctor seemed to shrug this off though as a 'live and learn' thing. "Still the incident was witnessed by one of their Elders, so I guess they would know better than me."
Naruto nodded absently. Something didn't feel right about this, his mind attributed it to seeing one of his friends in such a condition, but still...his heart told him otherwise.
Shortly after the Doctor completed his examination of Naruto, Izumo, one of the proctors from the Chunin Exam, entered the room to make a report of everything Naruto had seen during the invasion. It hadn't taken long for the boy to recount everything that had happened to him, but he made sure that he left out the parts concerning the Demon Fox, however Izumo, having already gathered a report from ANBU about it, asked him directly for the information, specifically if there was any chance the Demon could be breaking free.
To Naruto's surprise the questions were asked without malice. In fact the Chunin was quite respectful during that part, and almost relieved and friendly when Naruto assured him the Fox was contained.
Now the young Puppeteer found himself outside walking the streets of the village, after being released from the hospital, and visiting Lee and the others who were still there, Hinata however he learned had been taken back to the Hyuga compound for further treatment.
He wasn't sure how to feel about that. He had wanted to offer his condolences to her about her father, but...he just could find the words to do so.
The village was a wreak. There wasn't an undamaged building anywhere in sight, as he walked in the general direction of his home. The more he saw the more depressed he became.
Now he wasn't quite sure what to do with himself. Izumo had said he was on suspended duty so he could rest up. No missions or training would be allowed while things were being worked out.
That was fine, he didn't much feel up to anything like that anyway. Down the street he could see Ichiraku's, one wall had a hole in it, but there was a table outside the stand, and he could see the old man and his daughter filling bowls for a small line of people.
He thought about getting some himself, but decided that he just wasn't hungry. The idea of eating Ramen only reminded him of when the Hokage had taken him there for his last birthday for and all he could eat meal.
Finally he decided to just go collect his puppets and then go home. He could at least see Tenten and maybe she could tell him something about Neji.
But as it turned out, she wasn't at home, her Father however had been glad to see that he was ok. He helped Naruto re-seal his puppets into their scrolls and then informed him that he'd have to go get his giant fox himself, since it was too large for the man to move himself.
He remembered Kakashi telling him this also, and thanked him for his help. As he was leaving though, the man told him how sorry he was about the Hokage, and that he knew they had been close.
It was like a stab in an already wounded heart.
Naruto looked up at the mountain of sand covering his puppet. All he could see from this side was one giant blue eye and an outstretched paw, which Naruto sat down on, pulling one knee close to his chest as he set his chin on it.
"I heard it was an impressive battle."
Naruto turned to find his old academy instructor walking into the clearing.
Iruka sat next to him on the paw and whistled up at the sheer size of the puppet his 'little brother' had created. This brought a small smile to his face, the first since he had woken up in the hospital.
"So you heard about the Third then..." It wasn't a question.
"You know...The Third Love this village with all of his heart. When the Fourth died an the Third took office again...he said that it was the job of the Hokage to defend the village...and that giving their lives in service to their home and people was something they were all glad to do."
Naruto pondered that for a moment, and could see the old man saying it with a smile.
"He loved you like a grandson, Naruto...the Hokage's not supposed to play favorites, but...I think he knew that one day you'd be sitting in his chair."
Naruto chuckled a bit at this. "...Hai...I know."
The two sat engaged in small talk about the Hokage for a while until silence overtook them, and they just sat enjoying the peace of the forest, and the gentle breeze in the air.
After a few minutes of this, Iruka nudged Naruto with his elbow. "So...can you really move this thing? I mean...it's huge."
Naruto smiled, a real smile as they stood up and Naruto attached his chakra strings to the puppet through the sand. It took some wiggling, but slowly the large fox rose from the sand.
For effect, Naruto had it shake itself in the manner of a living canine, dowsing them both with loose sand. Iruka glared at Naruto halfheartedly.
Ignoring his old teacher Naruto began to inspect his creation.
It's surface had been singed to a nearly crimson orange, and several cracks had formed along it's body, however it was still somewhat sound and, aside from it's missing tail, would take surprisingly little time to repair. The metal joint on the leg that had come off had even fused back on due to the intensity of the Demon's chakra.
"Wow...I can't believe you can even make it move, let alone fight effectively with it..."
Iruka took a few steps forward to get a closer look.
"Well I wasn't really expecting to use it at all...I only built it to teach that Perverted Sage a lesson. I didn't even equip it with any weapons...and it takes a lot of concentration...if there were two enemies, I'd have been screwed. It's size requires all ten of my chakra strings."
Iruka looked at him in pride as Naruto resealed the puppet along with it's missing tail back into it's scroll which he slung on his back. 'You really have grown Naruto...'
"Come on, I promised Ayami-chan we'd stop by for lunch so she could fuss over you."
After a brief lunch at Ichiraku's, Iruka left saying that he had things to do, and that he would see Naruto later.
So now Naruto found himself standing in front of a large pile of rubble...which used to be his home. The image of one of Shukaku's massive Air Bullets crashing it's way through the village, and right through his building.
Not far from the rubble was his refrigerator, which was lying on top of his couch. There was no other recognizable sign of the rest of his furniture. In sheer frustration, Naruto kicked at a large piece of wood, that might have been a table...or a door.
He didn't even bother to see where it landed, as his attention was now fixed on what had been sitting under it.
Sudden horrified realization gripped him as he picked up the small black scroll and dusted it off. He knew the scroll well, it had been one of many that he had read over the course of his life. In all he had five similar to the one in his hand, along with two much larger ones, that contained all the knowledge of puppetry, given to him by his first sensei, Elder Chiyo of Suna.
They were all lost in the sea of rubble before him.
With nothing else to do he quickly began looking, and kept at it for a few hours, only coming up with one of the larger scrolls, the first set he had completed, and one of the other small scrolls.
There was still a long way to go.
Naruto was loosing track of time, to him it felt like nearly the entire day had passed since he'd begun his search, but when he checked the angle of the sun, it had only been an few hours.
He still hadn't looked through all of the rubble, but was determined to do so.
Soon he heard the sounds of running footsteps coming from around the corner.
"KONOHAMARU-KUN! Wait! Come back..."
Naruto had just barely registered the name when a small boy in a long blue scarf came rushing around the corner with tears streaming from his eyes.
The boy kept running right passed him, but stopped when he noticed that his feet no longer touched the ground.
He looked around him in shock to see that he was being held up in the air by a group of chakra strings.
He followed them to their source to see Naruto looking at him with an expression of concern.
"Konohamaru, what's going on?" He asked as he let the boy down and took a step forward, only to be knocked back as the Thirds grandson barreled into him.
"BOSS!" The boy cried as he threw his arms around Naruto's waist and began to sob louder.
Naruto returned the kids desperate hug, and saw an out of breath Moegi and Udon coming towards them.
After getting Konohamaru to let go and calm down a bit he sat them all down on his refrigerator and tried to get the whole story out of them.
Apparently he had just found out about his Grandfather from his Uncle Asuma, Shikamaru's sensei, and was so upset he ran away from his uncle.
Naruto tried his best to console the boy and his friends, and wound up repeating much of what Iruka had told him only hours before. Finally Konohamaru had stopped crying, but was still in a somber mood, which just broke Naruto's heart.
"Hey...how about you three helping me out with something?"
The three perked up a bit at their hero asking for their help.
"With what Naruto-nisan?"
"Well I need to find more of these black scrolls in that pile over there..." He held up one of the small scrolls he had found.
He didn't even get to finish before the three ran headlong into the pile and began to work their way through it.
Shaking his head Naruto joined them in the search just as Moegi began jumping up and down while holding one of the missing small scrolls.
It took nearly till sundown, but the four of them managed to find the two remaining small scrolls plus the other big one, which had been stuck in a tree.
The three much happier, and dirtier children were once again sitting atop the refrigerator, listening to Naruto describe, much exaggerated for them, his battle with Gaara.
"Ohh so this is where you three are..."
Naruto and the others turned to see Kakashi and Ebisu striding towards them. The grey-haired Jonin, looking at what was left of Naruto's apartment building as they went.
"Honored Grandson, I have been looking all over for you."
"We've been helping Naruto-nisan look for his scrolls." Answered Moegi, while the other two nodded in agreement.
Ebisu almost looked as though he was ready to deliver one of his lectures, and the children knew it, however, considering that they were ok, and with all they'd been through today, he thought better of it.
"I see, but you had best get home. There's still a curfew in effect for all academy students."
The children looked disappointed, but reluctantly got down off of the fridge. Moegi and Udon, living in the opposite direction of Konohamaru started walking together into the fading light, while the Thirds grandson lingered for a moment to give his hero another hug.
"And you Uzumaki-san, I'm afraid that the curfew applies to Genin as well."
Naruto jerked a thumb at the pile of rubble next to them.
"I am home."
This caught Konohamaru off guard, as if it hadn't dawned on him why, exactly, they were looking for the scrolls in the rubble to begin with.
"You...you lived here Boss?"
"Mmhhmm..." He nodded with a smile.
In response the boy grabbed his arm and began pulling on it. "C'mon, you can stay with me!"
Naruto balked at that, trying comically to keep his balance, while the, surprisingly, strong boy seemed intent on dragging him all the way home. He shot a glance to the two Jonin, only to receive smiles and a nod of approval from Ebisu.
Naruto had just enough time to grab his few belongings, which they had placed into his backpack, no slightly ripped in places from being in the fallen building, and followed the excited child to his home, which shocked Naruto because it was located directly next to the Hokage's tower.
Naruto stared open-mouthed at the immaculately kept gardens and the flowing, tranquil ponds. "Konohamaru...this place is amazing."
"Yup." There were a few servants around here and there tending to the houses needs, but otherwise there were very few people in the area.
"Are you sure your parents will be ok with this?"
They boy's head dropped sullenly as they walked. "...They're...with Grandpa..." A tear rolled down the boys cheek, shortly followed by a second, and Naruto mentally slapped himself.
'Great going, Dobe!'
"Hey, I'm sorry..." Konohamaru shook it off.
"No, It's ok, they died a long time ago, It was just me and Grandpa here."
"What about your Uncle?"
"Well, Uncle Asuma is technically, my godfather, but he was always gone on missions stuff so I came here after Dad died."
They entered the main household and Konohamaru showed him around.
"How old were you?"
"Three...here, this is my room!" The boy was getting really excited, and Naruto was amazed at his resiliency. Already without parents, he had just lost he Grandfather and was all along in this big house, yet he still had a smile on his face.
'...well I guess he's not alone...I'm here...'
Naruto took the tour of the room, there were a lot of pictures, even on of him with Konohamaru and his friends, taken just before the Exam started. Clothes were piled up in a corner, and small toys littered the room. All in all it matched the boys energy and personality perfectly.
After a moment they returned to the small living room where her had left his belongings, and they just decided to relax for a while. Konohamaru pulled out a Shogi board from a closet, and began to set it up for them.
Naruto wasn't very good...but then neither was Konohamaru, so it was still a close match. Eventually they grew bored and began inventing outlandish moves and rules that defied the very laws of physics. Soon Konohamaru randomly stood up and pronounced himself the winner on account of the fact that he had made the first move.
They both laughed too hard for Naruto to protest.
"Hmm?" the blonde replied as he reset the board.
"Where's your family?" Konohamaru asked hesitantly.
The puppet user never even paused. "I don't have one."
Konohamaru looked shocked. For the most part, all of his contact with the older ninja had been about playing games, or just having fun. They had never actually talked like this before.
Naruto finished setting up the next game. "Nope, never knew my parents, I'm not even sure if they're alive or not."
He was speaking nonchalantly, as if the topic didn't bother him at all. But Konohamaru could see different.
"You...you don't even know who they are?"
Nope...It's ok though, I had the 'Old Man'. Your Grandfather checked in on me when he could, to make sure I was ok or that I didn't need anything."
The game tiles clicked as he made the first move.
"In fact... he was the one to took me to Suna when I was a kid, that's where I first learned about puppets."
The boy's eyes lit up. "Woa, really?"
"Yup..." at that, Naruto used nearly invisible chakra strings to lift the Shogi tiles off of the board and used them to 'attack' the boy before him. In response Konohamaru invented a new Jutsu that involved hitting Naruto with a pillow as hard as he could.
Soon a servant came to tell them that dinner was ready. The old woman was smiling at their antics and as the two walked by she whispered, "Thank you..." into the blonds ear.
Over dinner, Konohamaru asked a lot of questions about Suna, and what Naruto had done there. Naruto answered the questions, except those about Chiyo, and after dinner he gave him a few demonstrations with his old marionette.
Eventually Konohamaru began to yawn, and Naruto walked him back to his room and put him to bed. As he was about to walk out though, Konohamaru asked another question.
"Hey, Boss...could you...teach...me to use...puppets...too..."
The question had caught Naruto off guard. He had never thought of teaching others how to use them, he wasn't even sure how to go about doing so. He wished, not for the first time, that he could ask Chiyo's advice.
"We'll see." It wasn't the best answer he could give at that moment, but when he was answered by snores, he wasn't even sure the kid had heard him.
It rained the next day, as all of the ninja in the village gathered on top of the Kage Tower, to pay their respects.
Naruto stood in line with his team, and the Konohamaru Corps at the sides. Kakashi, Ebisu, and Iruka behind them.
Everyone was dressed in black, and stood silently as the two counsel members, Homura and Koharu, spoke at the head of the gathering.
"We are here today to honor those who gave their lives to defend our home." The two elders turned and as one everyone gathered on the roof top bowed in respect to the displays set out before them.
To Naruto's right, Konohamaru sounded like he was trying to hold back his tears, so when they all stood back up, Naruto placed his hand on the boy's shoulder in support. Konohamaru rubbed his eyes clear and smiled up at him.
The gesture didn't go unnoticed. Several of the older ninja present, including Iruka and Asuma, smiled too.
Soon all those gathered took turns approaching the table containing the picture of the Third and the Battle Helmet he had worn.
As Naruto approached, his attention was drawn to the tables other occupants. A picture of a man with blond hair and white and red garment of some kind upon which sat a strange three pointed kunai.
Naruto knew the man instantly, there were few who would fail to recognize the greatest ninja in the history of the village. However he was curious as to the reason for it's presence here, now, when he had died a long time ago.
He, along with his team placed their flowers on the table, and said a small prayer before moving on.
As the funeral came to a close, and the people either left or began moving through all of the pictures looking for their loved ones, Naruto found himself continuously looking back at the picture of the Fourth.
"Naruto, you coming?" The blond turned to see Sakura looking at him expectantly. Sasuke was standing not far behind her.
"...what?...no, I think I'll stick around for a while. Thanks though." In truth he was waiting for Konohamaru, as he had promised to take him and his friends for lunch.
"I'll see you guys later."
Sasuke just turned and walked away, while Sakura hesitated for a bit. "Ok, but remember we're meeting tomorrow at the bridge at 8:00 am."
Naruto gave her a smile. "Hai."
She nodded back and followed their other teammate to the stairs.
After they had gone, Naruto noticed that Konohamaru was still talking with Iruka, so he made his way back over to the Kage's pictures, wanting to get another look at the Fourth's famous battle cloak. However , just beyond the first table he spotted Hinata, her arm still in a sling, standing in front of the fathers picture.
Naruto continued past the first table, intending to see if she was ok, but was stopped by an older man, a Hyuga, when he stepped purposefully in front of him.
Naruto looked back at his penetrating stare without flinching, a feet that surprised the older man.
"I just wanted to pay my respects to Hinata-chan and her father. Please let me through."
By now they had attracted the attention of several others, including Hinata.
"Hinata-sama in in mourning. As are we all for Hiashi-sama's passing." His voice suddenly took on a sneer of contempt. "Besides, the heiress of our clan has no place associating with... your kind!"
Naruto bristled at the, clear, meaning of the man's words. He would love nothing more than to teach the arrogant prick a lesson, however he was conscious of where he was at the moment.
So instead he simply ignored the man altogether. He turned to address his friend and former class-mate directly, who had been watching the exchange with a blush on her face.
"Hinata-chan...I'm sorry... about your dad, I mean. But I'm glad you're doing better."
He kicked himself. It seemed a fairly pathetic thing to say. However the girl's blush deepened.
Naruto, not having much else to say, was about to turn around and leave, but stopped.
"...And...I hope Neji gets well again soon too..."
This caused Hinata, who, along with her sister, were being ushered away towards the stairs, to whirl around so fast she was going to fall over.
"W...what about Neji-nisan?"
Naruto's eyes narrowed. "You...haven't heard?"
"Uzumaki! Hinata-sama has been through quite enough already without you disturbing her further!"
Naruto continued to ignore him. "When I woke up in the hospital... he was lying in the bed next to mine...in a coma."
The eyes of several Hyuga widened in shock, and a small murmur had begun to build among those who could hear them.
He nodded. "The doctor said he was hit by some kind of genjutsu that..."
"I SAID ENOUGH!"
Now the eyes of all those left at the funeral were directed towards them, and the Elder Hyuga looked around in exasperation before leaning in close to Naruto.
"You walk a dangerous line, Uzumaki, for defying me so."
"And I'm not a member of your clan...so don't expect me to kiss your ass."
Naruto wasn't quite sure what had come over him, but this guy just seamed to scream 'bad-guy'. He just knew that he was up to something.
"Be thankful you are not...Demon!"
The man straitened and led the rest of his clan away.
Naruto stared at his back. "Don't worry...I am."
The young Puppeteer felt someone step up behind him, and turned to see his sensei standing there, his book nowhere to be seen.
"You need to watch yourself around that one, Naruto. He has many connections within the village, and almost as much power as the Hokage. He is a very dangerous man."
"I know, Sensei."
Kakashi nodded and then indicated for him to follow. It was only now that Naruto noticed that almost everyone who had attended the funeral had left, and Kakashi was leading him towards a small group of people, most of whom he knew.
Asuma nodded towards him in greeting. "Hey kid, thanks for looking after my nephew for me like you did. I...I haven't had much time for him lately..." The Jonin had adopted a look that almost made him look ashamed.
"It's no sweat, really..."
"Ahem..." The council member, Homura cleared his throat to get every ones attention.
"If you would please...we have business to discuss."
Naruto was now even more confused as Homura nodded to Izumo and Kotetsu, the two Chunin exam proctors.
"Well...as you know of course the exam was never actually finished...however we believe that we have seen enough throughout the rest of the exam, as well as the individual matches to come to a conclusion."
The Chunin opened a file he had with him, and Naruto looked to his teacher for an answer to his confusion. Kakashi, who he could tell was smiling, wouldn't meet his gaze.
"Now, " Izumo continued. " During the first part of the exam, it was noted that only a very few participants were caught cheating less than three times, which was the record of recent years."
The most outstanding of which, from the Leaf, was Aburami Shino...who was later eliminated during the preliminary matches a month ago." The other Chunin filled in.
"How did I do?" Naruto asked, curious to see if anyone managed to catch on to his use of Kyu. Izumo smiled.
"Naruto you were caught once taking something out of your hip pouch, but the proctor who saw it could not identify what is was. Now that you mention it...I was a bit curious about it myself..."
Naruto's smile broadened. "It was video screen, I have small camera's built in to the eyes of my little fox puppet."
The two recalled seeing the puppet during his preliminary exam, and nodded.
Kakashi shook his head. "Naruto, remind me to talk to you about keeping your techniques secret."
"Ibiki-sama also noted you for dispelling the killing intent and stress he had been building to put added pressure on the examinees, and that you managed to inspire courage in those left, even those from other villages. This is a very important thing for a team leader, and was one of the leading contributions to our decision."
"Tch...troublesome..." It was only then that Naruto noticed that Shikamaru was standing next to his sensei.
"As for you, Shikamaru...-"
" I believe we can skip though the report, we have all read it and the two candidates were there, they know what happened during the rest of the tests." interrupted Koharu in an impatient voice.
"A...ano, Kohura-sama...of course we can...The information we have gathered from the exams, in addition to your actions during the invasion, indicate that out of all those remaining participants, you two...Nara Shikamaru and Uzumaki Naruto...are the only ones qualified for promotions at this time."
Naruto was struck speechless, which in itself was amazing. He had to shake his head several times to make sure he wasn't imagining this.
'...me...i passed the exam...'
"Sarutobi Asuma...Hatake Kakashi..." Koharu continued. "As the instructors of the candidates...do you endorse their promotion?"
They both nodded. "Hai...I, Hatake Kakashi, Leader of Team 7...fully acknowledge the skill of my student, Uzumaki Naruto and support his promotion to the rank of Chunin."
Naruto looked up at him blankly. He had always wanted to be recognized be those around him...but to hear it declared so openly by his own sensei gave him a feeling that was difficult to describe.
Asuma spoke in a similar fashion in favor of Shikamaru.
The two council members hesitated for a moment, almost as if reluctant to continue.
"Very...well. As of this moment, Nara Shikamaru and...Uzumaki Naruto...are hereby promoted to the rank of Chunin...congratulations."
Naruto cheered, while Shikamaru just grumbled. "...man, what a drag..."
Kakashi and Asuma both reached around their students and placed a light protective vest around their shoulders. Shikamaru's was two-toned, the lighter section being tan, like his normal jacket, while to top part was the traditional olive.
Naruto looked down at his to see that it was a dark gray, almost black in color with an orange swirl on the back instead of the usual red.
"As Chunin, you both will have greater responsibility to the village than before. You will be required to lead teams in the field, especially now that we are officially at war with both the Sand and Sound villages."
"Once the new Hokage arrives, you will both have to present yourselves to finalize the paperwork for the promotion, however, due to recent...losses, we felt it was important to familiarize you both with your new rank as quickly as possible."
The part about a new Kage had caught Naruto's attention. "Excuse me...whats this about a new Kage?"
Homura looked at him in obvious annoyance. "We are in a state of war. If we delayed in choosing a new Hokage, than other villages might see it as a weakness and choose to join with our enemies."
Naruto nodded...it made sense, but still didn't answer all of his questions. "Who is it?"
"Funny you should ask, Gaki."
The sound of wood tapping on the tile of the roof echoed over them, and Naruto turned to see Jiraiya approaching.
"I'm leaving now to go retrieve her. Want to come?"
Naruto grew excited at the prospect of getting out of the village for a while.
"Out of the question." Naruto turned to see Homura glaring at the older ninja. "We suffered too many losses in the invasion, not to mention the many more who were wounded. I'm afraid we cannot allow even one of our Chunin to leave the village on an assignment like that."
Naruto looked distraught, he really wanted to go, but nodded. "They're right Ero-sanin, as much as I'd love to go, I'm needed here. I need to learn exactly what my new duties will be."
The blonds utter exceptance of the Council Members order thoroughly shocked the Thirds old teammates, Not to mention Kakashi and Jiraiya.
But neither could fault him. He loved his village and was absolutely protective of it.
"Ok, I'll see you what I get back then, Brat. It should only be a few days at most." That last seemed to be more directed at the two Council members, more than at him. Jiraiya then diapered in a puff of smoke.
Koharu turned to address the boys, together. "As Uzumaki-san has yet to be officially cleared for duty, you will both have rest of the day off, however tomorrow you are to report to the Academies Administration office. You will both be following Izumo and Kotetsu's orders for the time being."
Without another word, the two elder shinobi descended stairs and disappeared into the building, while to two aforementioned Chunin smiled at them both.
"Don't worry guys, we wont be doing anything much on your first day." States Izumo. Kotetsu winked at them before they too left via the stairs.
Now left alone with their Sensei's, the two newly appointed Chunin stood in silence for a moment before a loud grumble issued from Naruto's stomach.
The blond rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, and turned to look at Kakashi.
Kakashi had a sinking feeling in his stomach, and silently mourned the anticipated loss of most of his money.
"Ahh... That was good Kakashi-sensei...It's too bad Shikamaru and Asuma-sensei couldn't come too."
Naruto patted his stomach in contentment. They had gone for lunch at Ichiraku's and Naruto had eaten his fill, much to the delight of the stand owner and his daughter, and they were now walking around the village together. Kakashi had his face hidden behind his book, as usual, and only the fact that is was being held upside down showed that anything was wrong.
Naruto looked up at him when he didn't respond and saw the state of his book.
Still no response.
Now worried, Naruto tapped him on the arm. The only other time he had seen him like this was during the wave mission after their first encounter with Zabuza.
The sudden contact was like a splash of cold water on him, and he nearly dropped the book.
"Ok... what's wrong..."
Kakashi looked at the boy walking alongside him in his new Chunin Vest, which he had ordered for him after learning of his impending promotion. Busho, the man who owned the weapons shop that Naruto frequented, took only two hours to complete it and didn't even charge him.
"...Naruto...now that you are a Chunin...there are somethings i need to tell you. I've been looking forward to telling you this since you entered the academy...but now that it's come to it...I'm having trouble finding the words."
The seriousness of the situation threw Naruto off a bit and he began looking around them to distract himself, and just then noticed where they were.
"The training grounds?"
Kakashi nodded and indicated that he should follow as he led them to the memorial stone.
The last time Naruto had seen it was when he had overheard Kakashi talking to his dead teammate and sensei.
The stone itself contained a lot more names than before, many having been added within the last few days. Naruto hadn't realized how many people had died in the invasion.
Kakashi knelt down and ran his fingers over the names.
"I once told you about this stone and those who have their names on it..."
Naruto nodded in response. "Hai...I remember...you said that your friends are on it..."
Kakashi nodded and pointed to one name in particular, which Naruto read aloud over his shoulder.
"My best friend, and Sasuke's cousin actually, he sacrificed his life to save both mine and our other teammate during the Rock-Leaf War. I had lost my eye and he gave me one of his before he died."
Naruto nodded in understanding. '...oh so that's how he got the Sharringan...'
After a moment of silence in which Kakashi seemed to be debating something, he moved on to another name, one that Naruto was slightly familiar with.
"...Namikaze...Minato...oh your old sensei...his names a lot farther down, when did he die?"
Kakashi closed his eyes tightly. "He died...the night the Kyubi attacked the village."
It was like a hard slap to his face. For a moment his hand drifted to his stomach, where the seal was located.
Kakashi didn't let him finish.
"No Naruto...you did nothing wrong. It's because of you that the Fox was able to be stopped."
Naruto nodded. "The Fourth...why did he pick me?"
Kakashi took a deep breath, as if he were about to let himself fall into a ravine.
"And for that matter, why was his picture at the funeral next to the Thirds when he died so long ago?"
The breath was stuck in his throat, and he had to cough to clear it. "You...you haven't heard?"
"Naruto...when Orochimaru trapped the Third and a few others in his barrier, he preformed, well, a summoning of sorts, which called three people from the dead to do his fighting for him."
Kakashi nodded. "He called on the First, Second and Fourth Hokage's, raising them from the dead, and made them all slaves to his will. The Fourth managed to break free and was the one who defeated the traitor."
"The Fourth...was there...alive...and fighting that bastard...and I missed it?"
The blond began ranting about how unfair it was that he hadn't been there to see his, and every child's, hero in the flesh. I took Kakashi a minute to get him settled.
"Naruto, do you know what would have happened if you had been there to see him? Hinata, as well as her clansmen, probably would have been killed, not to mention how many others would have died if you hadn't gotten Gaara out of the village."
Naruto looked crest-fallen. "Yeah, I know. I just still wish i could have seen him in action."
"Me too." He placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. "But...He did get to see you in action... from a distance anyway."
Naruto looked up sharply at that. "He...what?"
"You were pretty far away, but it's still hard to miss a fight between three beings of that size."
This statement made Naruto's day. However before he could lose focus on what was going on, Kakashi brought him back to the matter at hand.
"Now, Naruto the thing i brought you here to talk about..."
"Ohh, yea...your sensei..."
Kakashi turned back to the stone, and Naruto was reminded, again of the time he eavesdropped on his sensei.
"... as i was saying; before he died, I made a promise to him...that when you were ready I would give you something..."
Naruto noticed that the man's hand had disappeared into his hip pouch, and he seemed to be getting increasingly nervous.
Kakashi-sensei, what's wrong? Why would your sensei even know anything about me?"
Kakashi met the boy's gaze. "Naruto... he was your... the... one who sealed the Fox into you..."
Kakashi flinched at himself. 'Coward...just tell him, you owe them both that much!'
"Whoa...your sensei was the Fourth! Awesome!"
"You didn't know?"
"Nope, how could I? I've never heard him called by his real name before...it was always just...The Fourth."
Kakashi nodded. It was true, of course. Minato had been the greatest Hokage this village had ever known, people referring to him by his title was simply a sign of respect. But it only seemed to make this even harder.
"Well at least that explains why you were telling him i was ok."
The Jonin blinked a few times. "What?"
"I kind of overheard you talking to the stone when you had me meet the pervert here, to fix my seal."
'oh...that's why he asked about him that night.'
"Yes, that's part of it anyway...Look Naruto, what I'm about to tell you is something that I've kept from you for way too long...and for that, I'm sorry."
Kakashi took a small wrapped up bundle from his pouch and handed it to the bewildered boy. Who began to unwrap it gently, his hands started trembling.
"...Minato-sensei didn't just choose you to house the Fox..."
The object Naruto held in his hands was a small crimson leather bound book with a spiral stamped on the cover in gold-leaf.
"...he chose you because he knew he could entrust the safety of the village to you..."
Naruto carefully opened the book and looked down on a picture of a blond man standing next to a beautiful woman with red hair. She was sitting on a bed and in her arms she held a small wrapped bundle, also with blond hair and three whisker marks on each cheek.
"...because he was your father..."
The boy's grip on the book grew tighter and now his entire body was shaking.
A single tear rolled down his cheek and fell onto the picture.
For several long moments the two were silent, as Naruto flipped through the pages of the small photo album's various pictures of his father, one with Kakashi's team, a few with the white-haired pervert, and even a few with the Third.
For the most part, however the photo's contained the Fourth...his father...and the red headed woman sharing happy moments with one another.
"This...this is my Mother...?" his voice was low, more a statement than a question.
"Hai...Uzumaki Kushina. You are a lot like her. She loved a good prank, and was always making others smile." The Jonin laughed as he was lost in some far off memory of her, even Naruto smiled. It wasn't much...but it was a connection to her. Something he could think about and say, 'I bet Mom would love this!'
"Uzumaki...Kushina..." Naruto began to scan the monument around where his fathers name was listed.
"She's not there Naruto."
The blonds head whipped around to meet the eyes of his sensei. "Then she's...?" His voice was filled with a sort of desperate hope.
Kakashi hated to crush it.
"We...don't know. On the night of the Kyuubi attack, she was in the hospital, recovering from your birth. Naruto...the entire wing was destroyed...we...never found her body."
"So...there's still a chance she's alive?"
"*sigh* Naruto listen...nobody wants to believe that more than I, but it was just so long ago...If she did survive...we would have found her by now."
Naruto's eyes dropped. His hope and heart thoroughly shattered.
"She was loved by a lot of people in this village, so much so that, no one could bear to see her listed among the dead, so in the official records, she is listed as MIA."
For a long time neither of them said a word to one another. Naruto looked again through the album, but kept coming back to the first picture, the one of him with his parents...the only moment they would ever have together.
After wandering around a bit, Naruto headed back to the Hokage's mansion, his mind was still working on overload, trying to sort out today's events. First he had been promoted, and then Kakashi told him about his parents...
He had every Orphan's dream, other than them coming back that is, not only were his parents famous and powerful, but, and most importantly, they hadn't abandoned him. There had been times, in his childhood, when the questions about them had kept him up crying for days on end. And now those questions were put to rest.
He entered the large house, still unsure, and a little uncomfortable about staying there, and threw himself down at the table of the main room, his album sitting in front of him. It was now his most precious possession.
After a while, Kotetsu and Izumo entered the room carrying two boxes and placed them on the table as well.
Naruto eyed them as the two Chunin began sorting through the contents.
"What are those?"
"The Hokage's armor, from the funeral." answered Izumo.
"We need to make sure they are all packed away before being placed back in the vault." his partner finished.
Naruto nodded and was about to go back to the room Konohamaru had insisted he use, when Kotetsu placed a white piece of fabric on the table. It had red markings on the trim.
Izumo looked at Naruto, and saw where his focus was smiling at the obvious hero-worship.
"Yup...the Fourths Battle Cloak."
Naruto cautiously approached the cloak. It was the same one as in the pictures he had been staring at for the last few hours. His father had worn it personally.
He reached out a hand cautiously, and stopped short of touching it, conscious of who else was in the room.
"Do you think, I could..."
Izumo looked at his partner. They didn't know about Naruto's relationship to the Fourth, and Kakashi had been explicit that he not tell anyone just yet. It would still be far too dangerous.
They had every right to deny him his request. It was in fact, their job to do so.
Kotetsu looked back at the boy and nodded briefly. "Ok, go ahead, but don't get it dirty or damage it, or else it'll be our jobs!"
Naruto hesitated a bit, then with trembling hands he picked up and unfolded the garment. It was very lite, but made from some tough material he couldn't identify.
He knew he shouldn't, but couldn't help himself. Naruto slowly slipped one arm into the cloak's sleeve, followed by the other and as the cloth settled around his shoulders a feeling of safety and warmth enveloped him. And he wondered if this was how it felt to be hugged my ones parent.
A gentle cough from Izumo brought him back to reality. "...oh...sorry...I..."
"Don't worry about it. I don't think I could've resisted any better than you did."
"But, still...do you mind...we aren't the only ones in the house after all." Kotetsu helped Naruto take the cloak off, and the boy noticed that it was still too large for him.
'...maybe one day...when I've had a chance to grow into it...'
"Here, would you take this into the Training room for us?" Izumo handed Naruto the box containing the Thirds armor, and with a last look at the cloak as Kotetsu, almost reverently refolded it, did as he was told.
Izumo, after he was out of ear-shot turned to his partner with a strange look. "Did you see that?"
Kotetsu let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. "Yea...he looked just like him..."
As Naruto slid open the training room door, He saw Asuma and Konohamaru kneeling before a large Ape. It was dressed in expensive looking clothing, and had a leaf headband on it's head.
Their business evidently finished, the Ape looked at Naruto with a nod, before vanishing in a puff of smoke.
Naruto walked over to them with a smile.
"Is that my father's armor?"
The boy nodded. And as he looked for a place to put it he noticed that an entire wall was filled with armor set on stands in an awe inspiring display. One of the stands was empty and he placed the box in front of it.
"Hey Konohamaru, Asuma-sensei...I just came to drop that off. I don't want to interrupt you so..."
The Jonin smiled. "Nah don't worry about it. We were just going over my fathers will."
Naruto looked saddened by the reminder of the Third's passing. "Oh, I see."
"Actually it's good your here. This was with his will...It's addressed to you."
Asuma held up a letter with Naruto's name printed across the front.
The blonds eyes widened.
'...the Old Man left me something in his will?...'
Carefully, Naruto broke the Kage's seal on the back and opened the letter.
I know that some of the most important advice you gotten in your life has been through the use of scrolls and letters...So why should I break with tradition, hmm...
First...You must know that it has been a great honor for me to have been entrusted with the keeping of your training scrolls, and I know with no doubt in my mind, that you will be the finest Puppet Master the world has ever seen.
However I must now, at the end, ask you to do something for me. With my passing, my son is all the family that Konohamaru has left. I would ask you to look after him when you are able. I know he looks up to you like and older brother. Knowing this, would bring peace for me.
Now...after making such a request of you...I must now beg your forgiveness. So much of your past has been kept from you your whole life. Once, when you were a child, you asked me about your parents. It pained me more than you, can know, that I could not answer your questions. And it pains me still, that I cannot do so here. There are many reasons why such information has been kept from you, and I hope you will understand, but I have little doubt that all will soon be revealed.
However, this much I can say; Your mother once entrusted something to me. Something which she made me promise to give to you when you were ready to have it. Seeing you compete against Kiba in the preliminary rounds proved to me that you were.
It is hidden in my family's personal vault, which my son has access too. He will know which box to retrieve. I regret that I will not be able to see what use you will put it too.
Naruto...you more than anyone else in your age group embody the Will of Fire which burns within the hearts of all those who dwell in the Leaf. I am putting all my faith in you to keep the Will burning for all those who will come after...For that is the true role of the Hokage.
I know you will be a great Hokage one day.
The Third Hokage of the Village Hidden in the Leaves
A silent tear rolled down he cheek as he read the letter again, then handed it to Asuma.
"Oh ok, I think I know which one he meant. I have a meeting of the Jonin to attend, but I'll get it for you right after. You be here?"
Naruto nodded as he looked around the room at the various types of armor. Then a tight grin slowly spread across his face.
"Hey, Sensei...What are you going to do with the Thirds armor?"
A.N.: Oh My God, That was a pain to write. I had so many ideas kicking around in my head for sub plots I was going to go insane. Still I got a few in and I hope they meet with your approval.
Thank you all for the great reviews. Keep sending them, I'll keep writing.
Next Chapter: Naruto begins new duties as Chunin. How will Sasuke react?