Chapter 21

Naruto was… at odds with himself, his emotions waging a war inside of him that he didn't know could exist. Normally when he was in such a state of turmoil, he would retreat into his mindscape and talk with Benihime… and he nearly did just now. It took him several moments to remember that she was no longer within his mind; only Sephiroth remained and he offered no answers. Had he relied on Benihime's presence for so long that he couldn't cope with what he was feeling on his own? Had he relied so much on her comforting aura? Then again, who can blame him? She had been the one that was always closest to him. Once again he was reminded of just how much he truly relied on her.

And more and more he found himself thinking of Haku and Yugito as well, which led to part of his self-conflict. He knew, for quite some time now, of the deep feelings he held for Hinata… yet he was finding that those same feelings were beginning to develop for Haku, Yugito and even Benihime. What troubled him the most was not the fact that he was beginning to develop these feelings for them… he was more worried how Hinata would act should she find out. Would she be angry at him? Would she accept it and understand? Would she come to love the ones he loved in the same way? So many questions, no answers for any of them, and no one to answer them; except, of course, Hinata. But the fear of her reaction kept his mouth shut.

Perhaps he should have mentioned this to Kaa-sama, as he had taken calling Kushina? He found it easier to refer to Diao Chan as mother and Kushina as kaa-sama, when trying to think about his two mothers. A thought struck him then… shouldn't he feel guilty about thinking about Kaa-sama so much and not as much about Diao Chan? He should, shouldn't he? After all, it was Diao Chan that had raised him for most of his life. She was the one he had always gone to when he needed an answer, always the one he went to for advice. Yet didn't he have the right to spend time with Kushina to make up for all those years they had been separated? There was more to it than that and he knew it. How long had he dreamed of making his biological parents proud of him? How often had he wondered if what he did made them proud?

And now he had the chance to make Kaa-sama proud of him. Speaking of kaa-sama, his blood boiled every time he thought of what had been done to her. Of how she had been betrayed by those she had sworn to protect…. held captive against her will… and who knows what else Danzou had done to her those six years he held her prisoner. The only thing he regretted was that he could not drive his sword into Danzou's traitorous heart. What made it worse was that the deceased Sandaime never told him about her and the onlyreason he found out about her when he was six was because of Diao Chan and Lu Bu adopting him. He held no doubt in his mind that had they not adopted him, Sarutobi would never have told him about his mother… or about his family in general.

The sense of betrayal he felt towards the man he had thought of as a grandfather ate at his heart. How many times had the late Hokage smiled at him and told him that he didn't know who his parents were? How many times had the old Hokage smiled and told him everything would be alright even though he knew of the harsh treatment Naruto faced by the villagers? Had Sarutobi even tried to find his mother when she disappeared? The more he thought about it, the angrier he became; the angrier he became, the more he felt Sephiroth's power flow through him. He wasn't completely sure why it was that the ex-SOLDIER's power could flow through him so easily and Sephiroth certainly wasn't offering any answers. He turned his thoughts away from all that, lest he destroy something in his growing anger. Instead he thought of the mission at hand.

They were staying at one of the port towns which dotted the coast of Hi no Kuni, trying to pick up any leads, or rumors, about this sea monster. So far they hadn't had any luck, though Yoruichi swears she felt a familiar presence from one of the surrounding islands. The neko demoness said that they'd stay here until they sorted this out… whether it was what they were looking for or not. Either way, even Naruto could tell that the villagers knew something that they weren't saying, or they were simply too afraid to talk. At any rate, Naruto hovered over the ocean, watching as boats made their rounds. He figured that if there really was a 'sea monster' then the boats wouldn't go near wherever it was. He had been watching them all day, and so far all of the boats avoided only one island. It wasn't the best of leads but currently it was their only one.

With that in mind, Naruto turned and flew back to their hotel. When he landed on the balcony Hinata was already telling Yoruichi about a story one of the fishermen's wives told her. Apparently in the past, people had been abducted and taken to an island, which was said to be haunted by a sea monster. Yoruichi asked if the wife had said which island, Hinata shook her head saying that the woman 'suddenly' remembered something important she had to do. Naruto smirked, telling them what he had observed during the day and suggested that they start their search there. Yoruichi agreed; however she told them that they'd go to the island tomorrow, giving them the rest of the day to prepare. That night found Naruto leaning against the wall, Hinata asleep next to him, her head resting on his shoulder. Thoughts of the unfairness of what happened to Kaa-sama continued to plague his mind, even as he drifted off into a restless sleep.

Sabaku no Gaara walked through the desert, on his way back to his home village of Sunagakure no Sato, the tanuki demon Shukaku right behind him. At first, Gaara had no clue what it would be like to travel with the tanuki demon… he quickly found out. He had expected Shukaku to be insane, mad, psycho… not perverted. Every time they stopped to rest in a town, or even if they were still traveling, Shukaku would go off after the first pretty woman he saw. Gaara never found out what Shukaku would say to the woman, but he suspected something rude, or perverted, if the red hand print on the tanuki demon's cheek was anything to go by. Well, at least Shukaku had the sense to hide his demon traits so that he looked like any other monk. Still, it was annoying as, more than once, Gaara had to drag the tanuki demon away so that they wouldn't take too long to get back to Suna. Gaara thanked whatever god was listening that he could still control sand.

Despite the massive headache that the tanuki caused him, Gaara couldn't help but wonder why it was that he was summoned back to Sunagakure. True, he was still a shinobi of Suna, that hadn't changed; but he thought that the village would be happy that the "monster" wasn't there anymore. Not that he fully blamed them either, considering how he had acted for the majority of his life. Not that it was his fault of course, having assassins after you since you were six years old would do that to anyone. He held his oh-so-wonderful father, the Yondaime Kazekage of Sunagakure, responsible for that. His father, Gaara was still loath to call that manby any such title, had sealed Shukaku into his infant self while he had still been in his mother's womb. Unfortunately the sealing process killed his mother when he was born but a few days later.

After that the Kazekage - Gaara decided once and for all to never call that man his father- thought he could mold Gaara into his perfect weapon… that plan backfired. That was when the assassins started to come, but none of them could kill him, the very grains of desert sand would leap to his defense. It wasn't until his own uncle, the only family member that Gaara thought had loved him, tried to kill him that his young mind shattered. He vowed then to love no one but himself and to fight for no one but himself, and until very recently that's what he had done. It wasn't until after the failed invasion of Konoha and staying with the Namikaze that Gaara had started to change. He wasn't sure when it was, nor was he completely sure how it happened. But the more time he had spent with the Namikaze, had watched Naruto spend time with his family, Gaara had started to wonder if he could be like that.

He was still out of touch with all of his emotions, but at least he wasn't blood thirsty and trying to kill everyone who crossed his path. Still though, not even his own siblings knew of his recent change, so then why had the village recalled him? Of course, he was still a Suna ninja and the village didn't need any other reason to call him back other than to have him within the village should they need him. He doubted though, that the village didn't hate him, but maybe… maybe they were letting go of their hatred. Or maybe he was just fooling himself with false hope. Well, either way until he returned, he wouldn't know… speaking of which, he saw the gates of Sunagakure appear. The closer he got to the gates, the easier it was to see the many people gathered there.

At the head of the group were his siblings, Temari and Kankuro, along with the village elders. Out of the corner of his eye, Gaara could see the perverted smile which crept onto Shukaku's face as he looked over the female villagers who were amongst the crowd. Gaara had to restrain himself from creating a massive hand out of sand to slap the sand tanuki over the back of his head. As Gaara stood before the crowd, one of the elders stepped forward, "With the death of your father, the Yondaime Kazekage, and since he never appointed anyone to be his successor, it falls to us to make that decision." Here one of the other elders took over, "We believe that there is no one more powerful in this village than you, and as such," the elder removed a hat from beneath his cloak, and presented it to Gaara. Gaara recognized it immediately, the white kanji for 'wind' surrounded by a blue diamond indicating the Kazekage's formal hat. "We would like you to be the Godaime Kazekage of Sunagakure no Sato."

Even though his outward expression never changed, for once in his life Gaara was speechless. They wanted him to lead the village? After everything that he had done? After all of their hatred made him what he was? They still wanted him to lead the village? Perhaps there was still a chance to change after all. Completely unsure of what to say, he reached out and took the hat, raising it up and placing it upon his head… and as he did, the gathered crowd let out a massive cheer for their new leader. If Gaara was a normal person and in touch with his emotions, he would have smiled at the sense of pride that filled his very body.

Mikoto made her way towards the Namikaze compound, a bag of sweets and tea held in her hand and the journal of her late husband tucked under her other arm. One might ask why she was going to the Namikaze compound, when both clans share an adversarial past. But she needed to talk to somebody about what she had read in her late husband's journal. Not that she was surprised about what she found, she always knew that he was capable of it but to find out he was going to go through with it? Who was she kidding, she always knew that her husband was going to try and take control of the village. What she found odd was that he would keep such thoughts and plans all written down where it could be easily found, but then she supposed that went along with his arrogance. Either way she needed to talk to somebody, she couldn't keep this to herself anymore and she couldn't tell this to her youngest son. So why had she decided to go to the Namikaze compound? She wasn't sure, but maybe it had something to do with Diao Chan's natural kindness.

Of course, Mikoto should show the journal to Tsunade, but she'd rather this remain secret. She didn't want to show this to the Hokage because she, or worst her children, might be held responsible for the plans of her late husband. She couldn't risk her own, or more importantly her children's, safety. When she had read it, Fugaku mentioned how Itachi appeared to become more and more distanced from the clan, he blamed it on the ANBU Black Ops missions, but she knew the real reason. Her eldest son's loyalties lay with the village of Konohagakure no Sato and not with the Uchiha Clan.

She knew her eldest son, after all, he told her things that he had never mentioned to his father. She remembered one time, it was during the Third Great Shinobi War and Itachi had been but four years old. He was so young back then and already he had seen so much war. Mikoto never wanted that for him but she knew better, knew, it was inevitable that he would see battles because they lived in a ninja village. Even so, she believed him to be too young to handle war, and he confided in her how much he hated it. That night he promised he'd become one of the strongest ninja to protect the village and prevent war from happening again.

If the coup d'etat had succeeded, a civil war would have waged within the village, and other countries may have taken the chance to strike at the village when it was weakened and a fourth shinobi war could have been started. If Itachi truly hated war, then he would have done everything that he could do to stop that from happening. She had no way of knowing if that is what Itachi really believed, if that was the reason he slaughtered the clan. It was solely based upon what he had promised when he was only four years old but…. she had nothing else to hold on to. She couldn't bear to believe that her son turned into a cold blooded killer. She wouldn't accept the fact; her eldest was many things and that wasn't one of them. Was that selfish of her? Was she merely deluding herself into believing that? Maybe, maybe not; but she wouldn't give up on her eldest.

She knocked gently on the Namikaze mansion's front door, waiting patiently for someone to open the door. Diao Chan greeted her with the same warm and gentle smile that was always present on her lips, inviting her inside and into the living room. They sat there for a bit, slowly eating the box of sweets Mikoto brought, and talking about unimportant things while they waited for the tea to be done. As the tea was served, Mikoto's earlier comfort disappeared, her face saddening as she stared down at her late husband's journal. Mikoto sipped her tea, trying and failing to calm her nerves; she didn't even know where to begin. How did you even begin to talk about this, 'So, my husband had been planning to overthrow the village leader'…. right that would go real well. Heaving a heavy sigh, Mikoto opened the journal to the plans her late husband laid out and turned it so that Diao Chan could read it. The Uchiha matriarch waited in silence as Diao Chan read it, staring down at her reflection in her tea. Silence reigned for several minutes and Mikoto's uneasiness continued to grow, questions of how Diao Chan would react constantly flowing through her mind.

Mikoto stared down into her cooling cup of tea, fear eating at her recently turned paranoid mind. What if Diao Chan rejected her and demanded she leave the house? What if she decided to tell the Hokage about this anyway and then what would happen? Mikoto rubbed her forehead, trying to dispel such thoughts. What was she thinking? She may not know Diao Chan all that well but she knew that went against Diao Chan's nature. Mikoto poured herself another cup of tea and took a sip, trying sooth her racing thoughts and only partially succeeding. Diao Chan's voice cut through Mikoto's inner ramblings, "There's more you wish to talk about than your late husband's ambitions." Mikoto almost chuckled at Diao Chan's insightfulness.

It was true, there was more she wanted to talk about, what Fugaku had written in his journal was merely an excuse. "You're right, I…. I wanted to ask how you raised Naruto so that he didn't hate the villagers after all they've done to him."

Diao Chan's brows knitted together as she tried to think of an answer. They sat in silence for several minutes, Diao Chan staring at the Uchiha matriarch and Mikoto staring down into her cup of tea. Eventually Diao Chan heaved a heavy sigh and looked down into her own cup of tea, "I don't think it was anything different than what a loving mother would show to her son. Maybe it's because of his personality; maybe it was how he was raised, and who's to say. But lately… lately…" Diao Chan paused, collecting her thoughts for several minutes until she once again spoke up, "You shared your clan's darkest secret with me and I find it only fair that I share one with you…" And so, Diao Chan told Mikoto about what happened to Namikaze Kushina.

Mikoto remembered Kushina, after all, who wouldn't remember the "Akai-Tenshi" but that wasn't why she remembered the red-haired kunoichi. When Kushina first came to Konoha all those years ago, she had been one of the first to try and befriend her. It wasn't an easy thing to do, Mikoto remembered many a time when Kushina would ignore her and just keep on training. Mikoto kept at it, eventually breaking apart Kushina's icy attitude and they became the best of friends. Even after Naruto was born and Benihime-sama was sealed into him, Mikoto continued to visit Kushina when she could. Of course she had little Sasuke to worry about but she brought him along sometimes. She actually found it funny that even though they were only a year old they had a small "rivalry". She even had Itachi baby-sit the two babies, whenever she and Kushina wanted to do something together for the night. But all that changed when Kushina went missing when Naruto turned three.

Of course, she had tried everything she could to help little Naruto, but her husband had done everything in his power to stop that. More than once she saw the police 'reports' disappear when it concerned the young Namikaze… of course it didn't help that Sarutobi had changed Naruto's clan name back to Uzumaki. At the time she still had a young Sasuke to raise; so the most she could do was have Itachi watch over Naruto whenever he wasn't on duty. As Mikoto continued to listen to Diao Chan, she found herself increasingly angry about what happened to one of her oldest friends. Mikoto could only wonder how Naruto felt when he found out about all this… it was a wonder that he didn't destroy the village in rage. While Diao Chan spoke, Mikoto saw her place her hand protectively over her stomach. It wasn't noticeable at all; in fact, if Mikoto herself hadn't been pregnant twice in her life she would not have seen it. That ever so slight "baby bump", as many mothers-to-be called it, which signified growing life within a woman.

So that was what had Diao Chan truly worried, that Naruto might not be the best big brother. Mikoto flashed back to when both of her children were younger, before the clan had been slaughtered and before Sasuke hated Itachi. They were the best of brothers, Mikoto nearly chuckled as she remembered Sasuke constantly pestering Itachi to play or train with him. Those were good times… happy times, when she didn't need to worry about her husband's ambitions; when she didn't need to worry about clan and village matters; when all she had to worry about was raising two boys into fine young men. Mikoto hastily wiped her eyes of any threatening tears and gently shook her head to dispel such thoughts.

Her thoughts turned to Sasuke, and how he has been acting lately. She had tried all that she could do to turn her youngest away from the path of revenge… but Sasuke was far too much like his father. He was stubborn, won't listen to anything that others say to him and always believes that he is right no matter what. That scared her far more than anything else could. She was scared that Sasuke was becoming the very thing that she hated the clan for becoming… and she had been unable to stop him. Had she done enough? Could there be something else that she could, and should have, done? What was the point in asking those questions now? She was merely torturing herself with self-doubt and pity. Mikoto sighed deeply, "Where did we go wrong in raising them?"

Mikoto really wasn't expecting an answer until Diao Chan spoke up, "All we can do is teach them… it is up to them to do with it as they see fit, or if they will listen to it at all."

I am so so so so so so so so sorry that it took me this long to to write out this chapter. The reason behind it was because it's so very emotional that it was hard to figure out the right thing to write. At any rate I believe that I've pulled it off quit nicely.

The part about Gaara was... actually I had almost forgotten that I left him Konoha, so I thought that this was a good way of showing how he changed. Can anyone guess who I based Shukaku's personality on? Any way... Naruto's way of thinking at the moment, now where have we seen that before? Mikoto going to talk to Diao Chan, how angry would Sasuke be if he every found out about that? No really, what did you think about that interaction between the two mothers?

Well, that's it for this chapter. I hope to have the next on out sooner.