This idea just freakishly took a hold on my brain, like all my other ones do. This story will feature a character death in the first chapter, Naruto becoming much more serious, and cooperating with the Kyuubi. It will feature a kickass Naruto. If you feel he is becoming too powerful, please explain why and I'll think about it. If I feel you're wrong, I'll explain why. If I think you're right, I'll do my best to correct it. As it is, this story will feature such a dramatic and sudden change of attitude in Naruto that it will be extremely difficult to keep it realistic, so please bear with me. I have a writing style, but by no means is it perfected.
I want to get this clear: I do not use spell check. I do not get a beta. I have no desire to get a beta. I will have some typos in here, because sometimes when I get into the typing my fingers get ahead of themselves. If you can identify it as a typo, please don't comment on it. If it's a spelling mistake that is either obvious or repeated, tell me and I'll commit it to memory. I always do that. As for another thing, I'm English, so I spell some words differently to how Americans would. For instance: gray-grey, mom-mum, color-colour. There are some words which are completely different, like what an American knows as a purse is caleld a handbag in England. For us, a purse means a wallet. Like something you keep your money in. For us, the work 'biscuit' applies to all of what Americans call 'cookies'. To us, 'cookie' only applies to choc-chip things. I'm still adjusting to the minor language divergence.
As far as I know, this is the first time this idea has been done. If not, please inform me and I'll apologize for being wrong. I think it's quite original, what do you think?
Other than that, I don't have much to say...except to enjoy the story. :D
If Naruto had been wiser, he maybe would have understood that even the smallest changes in the present could have consequences so far reaching it was indescribable. If Naruto had been initially stronger, perhaps he could have averted those changes completely. But as it was, Naruto was a genin. A sloppy and unfocused genin. His only experience was with the cruelties of life and the flaws of the human mind, which, while it would undoubtedly pave his path to wisdom, was not enough on its own. Because Naruto was fresh to battle, because he'd never had or wanted any semblance of thoughtfulness, everything changed. All the futures; the joys and pains of a world not yet tasted, it all scattered on the wind, where it fizzled away to nothing.
And thus, in consequence, a new future, with all of its challenge, erupted from a level surface like lava from a volcano. But, as with everything, the level surface had to first be established, and the one factor which changed everything had to first present itself, in all its orange glory.
"Hey, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asked, oddly quietly, mindful of his teammates but a short distance away, watching their charge like a hawk. With a silent sigh, Kakashi steeled himself for the inevitable onslaught of genin stupidity that ensued whenever the blond opened his mouth. He briefly glanced to his surroundings, taking in the trees, the earth, the sunlight through the leaves. Such was the joy of travelling. It was a shame they were being pursued. Kakashi was a true elite, and hadn't let his guard down since the first sign worthy of suspicion.
"Yes, Naruto?" Kakashi was mildly taken aback by the undecided look in his student's eyes, and the hesitance with which he continued.
"...I was wondering, seeings you have to teach me and all..." He shifted uneasily. He was probably going to ask an awkward question, like 'what's the deal with your eye?' or- "What's your whole view on me and, um, my tenant?" -not that. Of all the things he'd been expecting, that was the last thing! Honestly, where on earth had that come from? Eye suddenly wide, Kakashi lost his focus in a dangerous situation for the first time in years.
And, unfortunately, the enemy was intelligent enough to take advantage of it.
They exploded from the surrounding undergrowth like dysfunctional comets, twisting and crossing into their stances, positions, preemptive strikes. They spun, flipped out their chains, and within the span of the second they attacked. Kakashi, focus blown off by Naruto's very personal question, barely dodged enough to save his life. In fact, the thought of Kawarimi didn't even occur to him. In all the reaction of a startled civilian, Kakashi recoiled out of the way, lucky enough that he had his shinobi reflexes to recoil far enough. He escaped death, but that was inconsequential to him, especially seeing as the next second he was in a miasma of pain.
Naruto and Sakura, frozen with shock, jumped at their sensei's scream, and jumped into the fray, Sasuke arriving from beside Tazuna to join them. Sasuke began a monsoon of shuriken and kunai in the direction of one, forcing him to abandon his position to dodge. Sakura noticed that the man was now out of range, and deployed a kunai plus explosion tag at him, rushing with Naruto to begin an attack on the other. Apparently, Sakura's gambit had worked and the first was out of commission, as Sasuke sprung to join them.
The blond demon container winced at the sight of their opponent's gauntlets, huge and clawlike with their metallic sheen. He'd do his best to avoid those. As it turned out, Naruto's perception of the gauntlet granted him awareness that it was being swiped at him, and he ducked away, retreating a few meters to deploy three shadow clones in his aid.
It was all for nothing. Sakura had sprung up onto a tree to avoid a kick, and to throw a kunai which was very pointless considering it was evaded easily. Sasuke then took a risky move, throwing a punch that would leave him open to attack were it to miss.
And of course, it did miss. The attacker thrust forward his fist in a blow Sasuke couldn't possibly hope to avoid, that gauntlet would pierce into the artery in his left arm, he'd die.
There was one factor that prevented that.
Naturally, after he'd been injured he'd been considered out of the picture and no one spared him a second glance, but he'd accented very clearly that he'd die for his comrades. Here he was, living up to it by taking Sasuke's blow for him, right arm already mauled beyond recognition as having once been a limb. The gauntlet pierced into his chest, not reaching any vital organs but causing a deep and obviously serious injury. With that, Hatake Kakashi struck his last blow, voice like a whisper carried away by the wind.
"...Tsunagari no Shukumei....no jutsu." And he struck the the enemy, once. All of a sudden, both enemy and teacher dropped to the ground, Kakashi clutching his most recent wound with his only hand, and the attacker clutching the same spot, though there was no wound. His right arm hung limp as if it weren't there.
The enemy was obviously defeated. With that thought, all three students surrounded Kakashi with alarm. "Sensei!" Sakura cried, supporting him as he fell.
"Kakashi-sensei?!" Naruto sounded so shocked....poor kid. Kakashi managed a small smile, and gestured weakly to his ruined arm.
"This arm...came off right at the artery....I'd have bled to death anyway, and none of you are healers."
"What the hell, sensei?! What the fuck do you mean?!" Naruto sounded choked, angry in a way wet with tears. Sakura was trembling, eyes wide, and Sasuke seemed frozen in a silent state of shock.
"The gauntlet's poisoned....this is a good, deep wound, I'd say I've got enough of it to kill three men..." Kakashi abruptly began coughing, but suppressed it enough to carry on talking. "I told you, people who abandon their comrades are worse than trash. I've lived up to that, at least." He coughed once, and blood splattered to the ground. "That jutsu....it's called the 'Link of Destiny'. It links the user to the victim, and when the user is injured the victim gets the effects too....likewise, when I die, so will he."
"D-die?" Sakura asked, voice hardly a whisper.
"Look at me. I'm bleeding to death already, and this poison's fast working...I don't have more than a few minutes."
"Fuck no, sensei! We'll get you back to Konoha! You're not fucking gonna die! You're a jounin!" Naruto spat, eyes blazing.
"All running would do is make the poison spread quicker. We're much too far from Konoha...much too far." Kakashi glared at hs students, halting their protests. "Listen to me. This is my last advice to you. Those ninja were after Tazuna. He's hiding something. This mission is at least a B rank now, and there are probably going to be even stronger nins to come. They'll hunt you down. They'll kill you. It's too far away from Konoha." He stressed his point, as much as he could. "They will find you before you can get back. Your best chance is to go on. And Naruto..." He turned his attention to the stricken boy, thinking he owed him this much. "I have to answer your question."
"Sensei....!" Naruto choked out.
"At first...in the beginning....I hated you. I thought you were the one responsible. But then I saw you taking so much crap from those villagers...without even fighting back. I realized that if you really were responsible, you'd sooner kill them all rather than let them be so disrespectful. I don't hate you, Naruto. You're sloppy right now, you're a mess. But if you ever survive this shit, you'll grow." Sasuke and Sakura didn't understand. What was their sensei talking about? But evidently Naruto understood, and he looked more emotional than they'd ever seen him. His face was the picture of broken despair. "If you survive, ask Sandaime-sama about your father. You'll be a great leader, just like he was...." Kakashi managed a smile. "Protect your teammates. Survive. Do you understand?"
Naruto had long given up hopes of his sensei surviving. This was it. He opened his mouth, then closed it. he took a shuddering breath before replying. "Yes, sensei. Good luck." He lowered his head slightly, a respectful bow. The first and last time Kakashi would see it.
All three genin were taken aback by the relaxation of their sensei's features the next minute, like his purpose in life was fulfilled and he could finally rest. For the last time, his eye curved into that odd eye-smile of his, and he sighed. "See you in hell, kid." he rasped, defiant in the face of death. "Hopefully....not....too soon..."
The instant he uttered the last syllable, his fingers twitched and became taut. All expression vanished from his eye, and it became blank. A few meters away, the ninja gave a shuddering gasp and was still.
Hatake Kakashi, Copy-nin Kakashi, Sharingan no Kakashi....by some twist of fate, had ended.
And Naruto's life would never be the same again.
Team 7 sat there in blinding silence for several long, agonizing seconds, before Naruto astutely summed up the situation with one word.
"....Shit." As if that had been the trigger, Sasuke closed his eyes and was evidently attempting to calm himself through breathing exercises, but failing miserably. As well as that, Sakura began hyperventilating to the extreme, eyes wide with her terror and the tears that poured from them. Naruto frowned, trying to work out the jumble in his mind.
Kakashi-sensei was dead. It was likely there were very powerful ninja after them. If they attempted to return to Konoha, they would probably be caught before they got there. Confrontation was to be avoided at all costs, if at all possible. They had to continue with a B or higher ranked mission on their own. A fresh out of the academy genin team with no experience. They were on their own. Hopelessly outclassed, and on their own.
Naruto had to admit, the situation looked hopeless.
"You'll be a great leader, just like he was. Protect your teammates. Survive."
But when had he ever died under hopeless situations? He looked to his companions, who were extremely distressed and obviously not used to keeping their head in a crisis. Tazuna was a way away, slumped against a tree and staring at Kakashi's corpse, sweating bullets.
"Those ninja were after Tazuna. He's hiding something."
If anything, Naruto would take his sensei's last words to mind. He steeled himself, calmed to an extent he'd never done before, even when working out tactics to evade the villagers.
"Calm down?" Naruto tried, though it was a pathetic attempt and sounded like a question. His teammates barely noticed he'd spoken. It was a disaster. They couldn't keep their cool at all! And they were supposed to be ninja....sheesh.
Then Naruto remembered that they hadn't been through what he had. They'd never had experience with being in a situation with people that could kill you in pursuit. They'd never learned that panicking was the absolute worst thing you could do in a crisis. You couldn't plan, you couldn't fight, you couldn't run. In this respect, he was far more experienced than they were. This was his duty.
"Protect your teammates."
"You'll be a great leader."
"Calm down, all of you!" He near snarled, his sharp and authorative tone taking all three of his companions utterly by surprise. "Calm the hell down! Breathe! Remember the rule about how to act in a crisis! You never panic!"
They stared at him, wide eyed. Tazuna stammered nonsense, blubbering. "Shut up, old man. I'll talk to you in a minute." Naruto ordered, fixing his teammates with a hard look. He forced himself not to think about the corpse beside him, he couldn't afford to panic as well. They'd be doomed. He waited until Sasuke and Sakura were too baffled with him to be panicking anymore. Good. He'd distracted them. "Thank you." He sighed.
"What the hell, dobe?" Sasuke suddenly demanded. "What the hell was that all about? Ordering us about....tch."
"I was right, wasn't I?!" Naruto growled, and before Sasuke had a chance to say anything, he rounded on the pinkette. "Sakura! What's the rule about crisises and panicking?"
"Sh-shinobi rule number fourteen," Sakura stammered, wondering who this was and what he'd done with Naruto. "Above all things, in a crisis a shinobi must not lose his equilibrium. He must maintain complete focus or he will fail."
"Good." Naruto's voice was still harsh. He didn't feel like himself. "You're completely right. What kind of situation are we in right now, huh? A crisis! And what do you do?! You panic and start blubbering like scared civilians! Considering I'm the only one who didn't panic, I think you should shut up and listen to me!" Sasuke and Sakura stared at him with morbid shock, and a clear expression of 'what the fuck?'. This was not the idiot Naruto. This was....something different. "Finally." Naruto breathed out in a relieved sigh. "Right, so Kakashi-sensei's dead. We know that genin would never be sent on a b-rank mission unless they'd been training for years, and even then they usually have to be chuunin to take one. That means, even if we did have Kakashi-sensei, we'd be at a major disadvantage. The jounin sensei is supposed to protect their team, and he did. He saved your life, Sasuke, so he's done his job. Thing is, now we don't have a jounin to protect us anymore. We're in deep shit! We've got chuunin rank ninja and maybe even jounin after us, and we've got no way to send a message for reinforcements." Naruto took a deep breath, and continued.
"We've come over two hundred miles from Konoha. Our enemies are fast and strong, we've been travelling and we're tired and weak. We're in trouble. If we try to get back to Konoha, they'll catch us and they'll kill us. Even if we left the old man they'd probably still kill us for knowing too much about their operations. We're closer to Wave, much closer. We might actually stand a chance of getting there alive. We're gonna have to go ahead with this mission, against the odds." Sakura opened her mouth, wanting to say something but finding no words. She closed it again. As for Sasuke, he was trying to suppress his pride, because he understood that what the 'dobe' was saying made sense. He didn't know where all the logic had come from, but he wasn't complaining. He could barely think straight at the moment.
"We should set up camp for today. Hide all the evidence that there was ever a fight, and maybe they won't come as fast. We should get as much rest as possible...and we should take Kakashi-sensei's supplies. We can't let anything go to waste. Take the supplies of those dead ninja too. We need all we can get. I'll make some Kage Bunshin and they'll guard the camp while we rest. Once we've got all their stuff, teme, you can katon them. As for sensei..." Naruto shuddered. "We...should destroy his body too....but do it in a funeral-ish way. Properly. We can keep the ashes so he can be buried when we get back home. Who has a watertight container?"
Tazuna hesitantly raised his hand. "....Me? You'll have to clear the food out of it, though." He reached into his back hurriedly. Naruto raised an eyebrow and glared at him scathingly.
"About time you're good for something." he muttered to himself, then louder, he continued his orders. "What the hell are you waiting for? Get to it!" he glared, showing that he wasn't going to accept any shit from anyone.
"Dobe....why are you ordering us around?" Sasuke bit out, seeming frustrated and conflicted. Naruto sneered at him.
"Because I've been in situations when I needed to run for my life and make up a plan to survive. You haven't. I don't care how badly your ego will be bruised by listening to me, I don't care what fucked up emo problems you have, I know what to do and you don't. Maybe later when our lives aren't in danger we can argue about it, but for now shut up and for fuck's sake get to work. I'll set up camp for all of us, you start looting. Old man, stay where you are." Sasuke glared, and muttered something inaudible, but went with Sakura to begin on one of the enemies. Sakura suddenly realized that she'd killed someone, but admirably forced it to the back of her head. She couldn't afford to think about it now. She determinedly did not go near the corpse she'd accidentally caused.
Naruto, on the other hand, had created roughly twenty clones, five of which were guarding Tazuna, five of which were keeping watch on the surrounding forest, and the last ten which were helping Naruto set up the tents. He realized that technically, each of them could have their own tent now, due to Kakashi-sensei's death, but that wouldn't work for several reasons. One, they needed to cut as much weight as possible, travel as lightly as they could. Secondly, it had been Kakashi-sensei's. Ninja tools were one thing - they were meant to be used...but someone's belonging like that? No, it would be disrespectful.
He and Sasuke had shared a tent on the mission, and they'd complained about it until it became clear that it wouldn't change anything. Kakashi got his own tent because he was jounin, and Sakura got her own tent because she was a girl. He laid his late sense's tent aside, and set up Tazuna's tarp. He hadn't brought anything for shelter other than it, and that was fine with him. Old man had gotten his sensei killed.
He silently slipped next to his teammates, who were just about finishing up taking Kakashi-sensei's supplies. Quietly. Solemn.
"Well done." Naruto said quietly, not taking his eyes from the blank face of the man who'd been alive not an hour ago. Hesitantly, he reached out and closed the one visible eye. "We should cremate him with his mask and headband. A headband it an important thing to a ninja...and I'm sure that mask is something important too. We should respect his wishes for privacy. Do you think so?"
Oddly subdued, Sasuke gave a slight nod. "Yeah, dobe. I do."
"Yes..." Sakura whispered, voice saturated with emotion.
Naruto sighed, and gestured jerkily to the enemy corpses, long stripped of all poison and weapons and supplies....and money. "Burn them first and put the ashes in a bush or something. Make sure you don't burn any of the forest and make sure you burn them quickly enough that there's no smoke. We can't afford to be spotted. Try not to be too loud when saying the jutsu and tone down the chakra a bit. Okay?" Sasuke nodded in affirmation, and turned to the missing-nins. He breezed through th handseals, ending on the tiger seal, tora.
"Katon: Goukakyuu no Jutsu." Sasuke said quietly, lacking all the falir and ferocity of an attack. Nevertheless, the resulting flames burned the enemies to crisps in an instant, leaving only a pile of ashes. Quick as a flash, Naruto layered the spare tarp on it.
"We'll leave that on until we know it's not smoking. " Naruto explained. "This way even some of the burn smell is suppressed." He then bunched the sheet around the ashes, and carried them carefully over to a large thorny thicket, full of leaves and treacherous spines, and tipped the ashes in. He kicked the bush with his foot a few times until all of the ash had fallen between the thorn's grasp and out of sight. He turned. "That should do it. Now we should..." He swallowed. "Give Kakashi-sensei a sort of funeral. He'll have a proper one back in Konoha, sure, but we can't just burn him up without doing anything..."
"Yeah..." Sakura agreed, solemn and sad. Her voice was strained. Sasuke narrowed his eyes.
"You're doing a better job of this whole mess than I'd have thought, dobe. I agree, we should do a funeral...or something." He shrugged, leaving Naruto to wonder whether he'd been insulted or complimented. Probably both. Tch.
"Well, let's take sensei back to camp then. We can have some of the ration bars." He wrinkled his nose. Those bars were dry and tasted horrible....but hell, ninja life. Small murmurs of agreement wafted from his teammates, and they followed him to the secluded clearing where he'd set up camp. At a small mental nudge, his guard clones followed, pulling Tazuna along. The civilian looked extremely nervous. Naruto derived little satisfaction from that. "Tazuna. Container, please." Their escort started, and rummaged hurriedly, handing over a small rectangular container made of red wood apparently polished in something waterproof. It looked quite nice, actually. Naruto nodded approvingly. "Not bad. Thanks." Tazuna mumbled something incomprehensible, probably a 'you're welcome' or something.
He and his teammates set Kakashi down in the middle of the camp, all the while his clones took up position in the surrounding trees to keep watch effectively. Wordlessly, the three gathered silently around the body, Tazuna far away and excluded from the intimacy of mourning the dead.
At last, Naruto spoke, his voice reluctant and resigned. "...I suppose it's time to say bye."
"...Yeah." Sakura spoke softly. "Do you think we should...say what needs to be said alone, or not?"
Naruto pondered it for a moment. "I think...it would be better if we all heard each other. We are teammates after all, maybe we should start trusting eachother. I think....I think sensei would like that."
"...Me too, Naruto." Sasuke sighed, and Naruto couldn't be fussed to be surprised over the use of his name.
After a brief silence, Sakura spoke up timidly. "Well...should I go first?"
"...Sure, I guess. Sasuke?" Naruto shrugged weakly, and glanced to the Uchiha.
He simply beckoned with a nod of his head, obsidian gaze level, but softer and sadder than normal.
Sakura cleared her throat, and her voice at first wavered. "S...sensei...I never paid much attention to your training.....I'm sorry. Maybe if I'd listened and learned better, you wouldn't have d-died." She was barely aware of the others beside her. Though she felt them analyzing her speech, calculating and formulating their own opinions, it didn't seem to matter. "I was blind. You told us that being a ninja isn't a game. I...still didn't get it. Now I do, but it's too late, isn't it?" Her voice cracked a little, and her words flowed more easily despite how it trembled. It was funny how death always brought out what you really felt.
"This isn't a game. I've been...stupid, it's ridiculous. I've been more worried about boys and how I look than being a ninja. I'm sorry it took...this...to make me realize what this life of mine is now." All the while she spoke, her teammates listened and silently their opinions of her rose. If anything good could come from this disaster, maybe it would be the personality changes in those left behind. "I'm going to try my hardest from now on. I'll train and I...we...will survive. Ino can chase Sasuke if she wants, but I won't anymore. I need to get serious....sensei, I won't let you down if it's in my power." She bowed her head, cheeks flaming and suddenly extremely aware of the others, and the speech she'd given in front of them. She was slightly startled when Naruto rubbed her shoulder reasuringly with a small smile.
"Well said, Sakura." Again, no 'chan'. Perhaps he'd had the same 'be serious' epiphany as her. He glanced to the ebony-haired genin. "Sasuke...? Do you want to...." He trailed off, but it was obvious what he was asking. Sasuke nodded, and opened his mouth to talk. The ensuing speech was possibly the most either of them had ever heard Sasuke talk at one time.
"...I know, Kakashi-sensei, that like all humans, you definitely weren't perfect. You favoured me over Naruto and Sakura, because I'm the last Uchiha, and probably for other reasons I don't even know. None of us knew you. None of us knew who you really were at all. You were a good ninja....you probably wouldn't need that mask of yours to hide everything that needed to be hidden. I didn't know you, and for that, I am ashamed to say, I'm glad. I know what the death of someone close to you feels like, and I don't ever want that again, no matter how selfish it is. You've been a ninja for a long time, sensei. I'm sure you've had your share of dead comrades. They'll be waiting for you, I suppose, wherever it is we go...I bet death's a nice end for you, huh? And you get to uphold your strictest moral while doing it." Sasuke smirked, but the expression was curved with bitterness. "Rest in peace, Kakashi. I know I won't." He glanced, his eyes dull and dead, at Naruto, fixing him with a long and guarded stare. Sakura sat quietly, taking in Sasuke's words and trying to make sense of what it meant about his character.
Naruto gave a gusty sigh, and began. "I've got a lot to apologize for, I guess. I'm sorry for being such an idiot and not training harder. Old man Hokage said to me once that I'm potential incarnate, and I didn't know what he meant. I remember the day of graduation, when I learned a jounin-rank kinjutsu because I was so determined to. I suppose I know that if I've got the right resolve, there shouldn't be anything I can't do eventually. But I didn't get it, and I fucked up. Big time. I should have known not to ask a question like that in mission, even if it was supposed to be low risk." Naruto stared at the corpse, azure eyes dulled and tired. "I can't blame you for hating me. Everyone else did. They still do." A small smile struggled to his features. "But the fact that, in the end, you didn't hate me...thanks. There's not many people I've heard that from. I can't believe I let you, one of those people, die." He sighed again. "Still, it's what we do, isn't it? We fuck up and we learn from our mistakes, and we'll get stronger as long as we know we did fuck up. This situation looks hopeless right now, and I honestly don't know how we're gonna get through it alive. But I've never given up and I'm not going to start now." He scowled.
"I've got my resolve again, sensei. Before, I had nothing to fight for except a dream so far away it might as well be impossible. I'll get there eventually. I know I will. You said I'd be a great leader, sensei. I'll live up to that. I'll protect my comrades....my teammates, and I'll sacrifice what I have to, like Yondaime did. I've got people to protect, and I can't believe I didn't realize that. I've got a good grounding on how to survive when you think you're gonna die, and the world's out for your blood...maybe I'll be able to do this. Either I win, and we get through this and back home, alive. Or we die, and I'll see you in hell, just like you said." He gave a dark chuckle, which sounded unnatural from bright and cheery Naruto. "Whatever the hell, I'll give up whatever I need to as long as I keep us alive. My life, my soul....even my fucking humanity if I have to. I'd make a deal with the devil if it'd help, and I know you know what that means. Don't worry, I'll check for the fine print. I'm a shinobi, after all." He chuckled again, and the sound was somewhat choked, but lacking the dark undertone of his previous one.
"All of us will survive to get back home. Your sacrifice won't be for nothing, I'll make sure of that. I'll live to ask who my father was....and whoever he was, I'll live up to this expectation you have of me...whatever it is. Go in peace, sensei. Thank you....and...sorry." He stood, abruptly, and sent Sasuke a meaningful look. He understood, as did Sakura, who sadly backed away.
Sasuke's hands passed through the seals slowly, almost painfully so. He sighed, and spoke the words clearly. "Katon: Goukakyuu no jutsu."
All of them, all three plus Tazuna, watched as the corpse of a great man turned to ash, and no words were spoken. All three students bowed their heads, then Naruto rushed to conseal the minor amount of smoke. Together, they began gathering the ashes and storing them away into the well made mahogany box.
Overhead, the sun's fire died into the horizon, and the skies themselves split open and bled across the distance.
There was no disturbance in the night. Either way, Naruto did not get more than an hour's sleep at the time. The forest tormented him with its twisting shadows, and his only reassurance was the unchanged howling of the wind through the night. He mused that it was odd he'd find the wind comforting, and he shouldn't seeings as it helped cover the traces of enemies, but he found it oddly calming.
Into the long hours of the night, Naruto had much time to ponder over things. Evasion plans, strategies, thousands of 'what if' scenarios and what to do if they came about. He was mildly surprised strategy came so easily to him, then he remembered he'd been planning his pranks in a similar manner for a good while. It was like advanced sports. Play a prank, piss off villagers, try to escape alive. If they caught him there was no doubt what they'd do. He shivered. It didn't matter now, though. He was a ninja...his village-wide pranking days were over.
It baffled him how easy it was to slip into the mindset of a war veteran, ignore that a trusted and valued comrade had just died. It was all too simple to push that turmoil aside, to be dealt with later. He supposed he did that all his life - he bottled up the sadness and lonliness in every hour of the day, then when he was alone and safe he let it out. At the moment, he was most definitely not safe. Perhaps it was some sort of automatic sanity-protecting mechanism his brain had developed? He grinned slightly at the thought.
Then he mused on his fighting style. Like a beserker, power and no strategy. A straight on Kage Bunshin assault. It would be so much more effective if the damn things weren't so delicate. He started at the idea that suddenly came upon him. Maybe he could improve the Kage Bunshin? Unsure, he mused on the long string of handseals the jutsu demanded. He never did them all, it would take up too much time. Instead, he moved his chakra in the shapes of the handseals, much quicker than he could move his hands, and only showed the final seal. He concentrated, trying to remember what Iruka-sensei had said about the seals.
So Kage Bunshin was Inu, Tori, Uma, Hebi, Nezumi, Saru, Hitsuji, Tora, Hitsuji. Inu was one of the most common handseals to begin a jutsu on, it gave foundation and intent. Tori was a very erratic handseal, used for unusual jutsus and its instability had a tendancy to make the jutsu difficult or dangerous. To counter that, afterwards was Uma, the seal of stability. Uma 'smoothed' over chaos in a jutsu and made it less risky. If a person used a jutsu with Tori and not Uma, something was bound to fuck up. Hebi, the seal of intent. It was this seal which read the purpose of the jutsu and decided a rough outcome. The jutsus without it were those tricky ones that had completely different effects depending on the amount of chakra and so on. Without Hebi, an intended Katon jutsu could become a Suiton. Nezumi, after that, was the seal of imitation, the intent to mimic or copy something. That would explain the 'clone' part of the jutsu.
Then there was Saru, the seal of connection. It linked all the seals together and provided harmony among them, allowing them to all work together without deciding they each wanted to do something different.
Next was Hitsuji, the seal of force. If Hitsuji was among the seals for a jutsu, it implied that the user really had to focus and force the jutsu to work. It was probably that Hitsuji seal which made the Kage Bunshin so difficult to learn.
Tora. The seal of power. Tora represented brute strength in a jutsu, the potential for very scary greatness. The downside was that it was a very unstable seal, and usually needed one of the seals of balance to make it safe. All Katon jutsu contained Tora, but also contained Oushi, the seal of stability. Otherwise the fire would burn out of their control and wouldn't follow the chakra's commands. It was the same for all other jutsu involving Tora, even if they weren't Katon.
Kage Bunshin didn't have an Oushi seal at all. It had Hitsuji, Tora, and Hitsuji as its last seals! That was just...stupid. What idiot had thought it was a good idea to mix the seal of power and instability with two seals of force and pressure? That obviously made it really freaking hard to do, unstable, and really chakra consuming! Why the hell had no one studied the seals sooner?!
Naruto sat up, pondering his own question. According to the old man, most Jounin couldn't make more than four clones without seriously exhausting themselves. He wondered how big that made his reserves, if he could create hundreds without feeling it. He shook off that thought, and returned to the issue.
If most jounin could die from using it quite easily....that would definitely mean it should be a Kinjutsu, as it was. And because it was a Kinjutsu, and thus very few people even knew it, people assumed there was no use changing it. If it was forbidden, it was forbidden, end of story. He supposed that made sense.
He also supposed it was his duty to change that little fuck up.
Naruto wondered what seals to add in. Perhaps after the first Hitsuji he should add a Saru, to provide more link and cooperation. He nodded to that, then continued thinking. After the Tora, it needed an Oushi. No second thoughts, he added that to his mental seal list. After Tora it definitely needed some semblance of stability. He pondered adding a Hebi between Oushi and Hitsuji, to finalize the purpose and thus make the jutsu overall easier to perform. He nodded. That would work. He decided to test it out, and carefully ran slowly through the seals, with his hands as not to make any mistakes.
Inu, Tori, Uma, Hebi, Nezumi, Saru, Hitsuji, Saru, Tora, Oushi, Hitsuji. As soon as he formed the final seal, he didn't say a thing. Apparently, if you tried to tell a jutsu to be something it wasn't, it could have disastrous consequences. He waited.
Eight clones formed outside his tent, and Naruto started in surprise. He'd only put enough chakra in for five... He looked at them, who seemed momentarily confused, and then blinked at him uncertainly.
"Right..." he said quietly, mindful of his comrades asleep nearby. He walked out slowly and groggily. "Alright, you eight. What do you think?"
"Ehm...." One clone started, sounding oddly disturbed. "This does not feel like Kage Bunshin. You know, when you're a Kage Bunshin you can feel your chakra running out by the second. I....don't. It's weird."
The others nodded in agreement, as if under some great epiphany. "Yeah, it feels like we're realer, or whatever."
"Keep your voices down, idiots!" Naruto hissed through his teeth, while running over what the clones had said.
"...You do realize you just called yourself an idiot, right?" A clone sniggered.
"Shut it!" He snapped, voice still hushed. He inspected the clone that spoke. "You, hold still."
The clone knew what was coming. "Aw, hell." It whined. "Why do I have to be the test subject?" Naruto ignored it, and introduced his fist to its jaw. Much to his surprise, the very heavy blow merely sent the clone flying backwards, as if it had been the real thing that had been hit. It sat up abruptly, rubbing the point of contact. "Ow!" It complained. "What the....hell?" An expression of realization dawned on its face, as well as on the other clones.
"He didn't pop." Another clone remarked in amazement. Naruto blinked.
"Alright, I'll need to test on someone else. You." He pointed to another clone, then punched it just as solidly. It didn't even try to defend itself. Like the other clone, rather than dispelling, its body acted remarkably like a real one. "Okay...so we've confirmed that you lot can definitely take a hit. Let's see how far that goes." he grinned, and flipped out a kunai. He grabbed the arm of a third clone that hadn't been damaged yet, and made a sharp cut across the back of its hand.
"Do that more carefully, baka!" The clone huffed, wincing in pain a little, then stared in fascination at its wound.
The kunai had very much broken skin, and the wound was most definitely bleeding. Profusely. It whistled, impressed.
"That's a new one." It commented, eyed suddenly alight, then it blinked. "...It isn't healing." Of course, Naruto got the experiences of his shadow clones once they dispelled. So he knew what being one felt like. But, also, his shadow clones got all of his memories. Essentially, they were extremely fragile copies of him. These distinctly less fragile clones also had his memories, and so they knew that if they were the original, such a wound would already be healing.
This one wasn't.
Naruto huffed, feeling oddly pleased at his research. Obviously the Kyuubi didn't pass on to his clones, so they didn't have the advanced healing. But the whisker marks were more like birthmarks really, even if kyuubi did cause them. So those passed over. He wondered if his inhuman stamina had passed on or not.
"I don't think the furball's effects go over to clones." Naruto explained his theory. "We'll have to see what happens if someone cuts your throats, how much you can bleed, if you can use jutsu....we'd better get away from camp for this." Naruto scrawled a message in the fine earth of the clearing, in case they woke up. Experimenting with clones. Looks very promising. Won't go far. -U.N.
Naruto abruptly jumped into the trees, followed instantly by his clones. The bleeding one clutched its hand, feeling uncomfortable with the unfamiliar sensation of a constant wound. They stopped not far from the previous day's battlezone, but further into the treeline so as not to be in the open. Naruto stopped, and beckoned to an as of yet unharmed clone. "Right, I'm gonna try and kill you, okay?" He said pleasantly.
The clone looked very disturbed, and glared at him. "If you must..." Naruto grinned, and shoved a kunai into its throat, trying to to dwell too much on the thought that technically he'd just stabbed himself in the throat.
The cloan gave a very realistic choked gurgle, and when the kunai was removed it started bleeding like all hell. Naruto and the other clones watched, grossed out but morbidly interested, as the experiment struggled to keep its balance. Its grip on the branch loosened, gradually, and it dropped of the branch, eyes lolling. Naruto caught it by its jumpsuit, and inspected. His eyes widened. "It's like, dead. Not breathing. ANd it hasn't dispelled yet."
"Whoa." The clone with the bleeding hand remarked, though a little faintly. "Does it just stay there and rot, or what?"
Naruto shrugged. "Dunno. Let's see if I can dispell it." There were several ways a shadow clone could dispell. One, they ran out of chakra. Two, they were damaged. Three, they dispelled themselves mentally. Four, the creator dispelled them mentally. Obviously, point two didn't seem to apply to these clones, and the other three points remained untested.
"Ooh." A clone remarked. "It's really weird looking at yourself bleeding and dead."
"Tell me abou- hey, the hell?" He stared. "Fucking rigor mortis is setting in! Seriously, it's like you're actual copies of me....minus the fox and shit."
"Rigor mortis?" The others were fascinated. "Whatever, try dispelling him...it." One suggested, shuffling. It happened to be the bleeding one.
Naruto nodded, and focused on the mental release, on the dead clone in particular.
It went up in smoke, leaving no blood or evidence it had ever existed, and handing him all the grisly details of what it was like to be stabbed in the throat and die. Naruto's eyes widened and he smirked. "Well. That's one method confirmed. Who wants to try dispelling themselves?" The one with the injured hand volunteered.
"Please." It pleaded. "This fricken hand is really uncomfortable." Naruto nodded to it, and it concentrated. It disappeared, providing him with what wounds that didn't heal felt like.
"Okay, so that still works. Good." Naruto turned to the six still there. "Who wants to try a jutsu?"
"Me," A labrat volunteered, then at his master's affirmation did the final seal of the ordinary Kage Bunshin.
Ten appeared, with a disgustingly weak flare of chakra, in comparison to when he used the technique. The clone who'd attempted it looked slight winded. "Wow, that's pathetic." it winced. "I don't think I've got enough chakra for more than fifty clones."
Naruto gave the second-hand shadow clones a calculating look, then punched one. It dispelled. "Well, obviously second-hand kage bunshin act like normal ones with less chakra. So there's a flaw in you guys. Kill those second-hands, and someone have a quiet fight with someone else to see if you feel as strong and stuff." The poor second-hand clones were dispelled instantly, and a random two of the experimental clones went for eachother furiously, punching and brawling. To Naruto, they seemed just as fast as him, which was pleasing. After a good while of the two fighting, Naruto called them to a halt.
"Alright. How do you feel? Tired? Weaker than normal? What?" Naruto prompted. The clones grinned, evidently not tired at all.
"Just as strong as ever, boss! And I think we got the stamina and everything." One proclaimed.
Naruto shot his own grin back at them. "Great to hear it! Now, someone henge. I want to see if it holds after you die." He had an idea, and apparently the clones understood. Following the track of his mind, there were three who transformed. There was now a Sasuke, Sakura, and Tazuna there. He nodded approvingly, but winced. If he wanted to experiment he'd have to 'kill' them, per se, and considering their appearence it felt very wrong. A clone spoke up hesitantly.
"I'll do it if you want, boss." It offered, uneasy as he was, but understanding it was a lesser entity. He shot it a concerned but thankful look.
"I'll be getting the memories," He commented. "So I don't think it makes much of a difference...but yeah, thanks. Go ahead." Determinedly, the clone brandished a kunai and slit the throats of the three clones, carefully and quickly. They gurgled, much in the way of the first dead clone, and died in a very identical fashion too. To his delight, the henge didn't lift even after they were dead. he had no idea wy that was, but hell, he now had the best decoy in the world! He didn't smile though, because it made him feel incomparably sick to see his teammates dead like that. He dispelled the three, and looked to the three remaining. "Right, so that's good. I'm going to kill one of you and just leave you in the tent for the night, 'kay? I want to see if you'll last a long time." With that, he threw a kunai with impressive accuracy into a clone's throat. The poor thing choked, and died shortly after. Naruto made some more of the new clones, being careful with the handseals and getting a feel for them. Again, he didn't say anything, because he hadn't created a name for the jutsu yet.
There were ten clones, to replace the ones on guard. These were much more effective, anyway. He dispelled the normal shadow clones, feeling their memories of stillness return to him. He sent the new clones, plus the leftover experiments, to take their positions on camp perimeter. Meanwhile, Naruto erased the message in the dirt, pulled his clone's body into his tent, and fell asleep, feeling quite pleased with himself. The traumatic effects of the day were, as of now, temporarily forgotten.
"Psst, boss." A clone prodded him. "You told us to wake you up at dawn."
Naruto was about to resume his trademark 'not-a-morning-person' routine, but then recalled the severity of the situation, and got up instantly, ignoring the tired protests of his muscles. He inspected the clone body, lying nearby, and wrinkled his nose. It was cold now, and very pale. The blood had dried into a sickening, metallic mess, and when he flipped its arm it was revealed it was well into severe rigor mortis. Very stiff. They definitely lasted a while when dead....good. He nodded to the clone.
"Thanks. By the way, I thought of naming the jutsu Chikage no Jutsu. What do you think?"
The clone blinked. "Blood shadow. It fits, I suppose. Cause, like, we're you're shadows and we've got blood. Yeah, I think that works."
"Thanks." Naruto thanked, technically, himself, and exited the tent closely followed by his (live) clone. Another dropped down from a tree, next to Tazuna, and prodded him, not gentle in the slightest.
"Wake up. you fricken old drunk." The clone growled, irritated. The 'old drunk' did so immediately, brushing away from the unexpected assault with alarm. Naruto nodded approvingly.
"We're gonna have a word with you, once the others are awake." Naruto sneered, and approached Sasuke's tent. "Teme! Wake up, it's sunrise."
There came an irritated string of incomprehensible grumbling and curses, and Naruto took that as affirmation.
"Great! I'll just go wake up Sakura-cha....I mean, Sakura, then we can have breakfast and crap." He said cheerfully, and approached the pinkette's tent to do exactly that. "Sakura, it's dawn. We need to get moving." he spoke urgently, but considerably more respectfully, because she was a girl and highly liable to kill him. The hiss from inside told him that she was awake, and he hastily retreated as to preserve his life. He and his clones laid out the rations, noticing with approval that Tazuna had his own food. Very convenient.
A few minutes later, his teammates trudged wearily from their tents, dropping down and decending on their rather digusting breakfast with gusto. They were extremely hungry. Naruto was equally hungry, if not more so, but he still ate his portion reluctantly, listening to his clone giving a report. Apparently, this one had assigned itself as their organizer.
"So, obviously we act like the real deal, only with less chakra and...um...other crap, but it sorta goes further than that. Kage bunshin can't sleep, right? So they make perfect guards?" Naruto nodded in confirmation. "Well, our lot were knackered. We could barely keep our eyes open. In the end we made a couple second-hands to watch for us while we rested a bit."
Naruto frowned. "That means in the future, we'll have to create more of you and you'll haave to rotate shifts. Even if you do have to sleep, you're still more effective than the normal ones." The clone nodded sharply, then gestured to his bewildered teammates.
"What are you two going on about?" Sakura asked, pertubed.
Naruto grinned. "That's something I'll need to talk to you guys about. I'll definitely help our situation, at least a bit. But first, Tazuna, I think you've got an explanation for us." He smiled pleasantly at the old man, but the dark glint in his eye told him he was feeling anything but pleasant.
Tazuna gulped. And he spoke. He told of how Gato and his gang had moved in and practically destroyed their livelihood beyond repair, preyed upon them, and ruined them. He explained that their last hope was this bridge of theirs, it would be their escape. And despite the loss, despite the danger, Naruto pitied him. It wasn't as if they had a choice, anyway.
"...Right. So as well as high rank missing nin, we might be up against a mafia gang too." Naruto deadpanned. Then he cheered a little. "But I've got something that'll help. Listen up." Despite him being an utter idiot, he was obviously the only one around who knew what they were doing. "So, in the night, I couldn't sleep. And I started thinking about Kage Bunshin and how much more awesome it would be it if was more sturdy. So I thought about the handseals, and then remembered what Iruka-sensei told us about them in the academy....the first few seals are good and make sense, but the last three..." he gave them a knowing look. "They're Hitsuji, Tora, and Hitsuji again."
"What?!" Sakura burst out, eyes wide. "No Oushi at all?!"
"Nope!" Naruto cheerfully confirmed. "I guess that's why it's a Kinjutsu. But anyway, I thought about how freaking stupid that combination was, so I added in some handseals. Saru after the first Hitsuji and Oushi after Tora. So I tried it out....it was a helluva lot easier to actually do, and I think it took up less chakra, too. Not sure. But that's not the main thing." his eyes gleamed with triumph. "They're real, solid, flesh-and-blood clones! They don't dispell when they're injured, and they bleed and everything. And apparently they even get tired like normal people. I killed a few clones to see what would happen...and they don't even dispell after they die. Hang on." He rushed into his tent, and retrieved the clone corpse.
"Naruto, that's disgusting!" Sakura looked faintly green. Sasuke snorted, eying the clone with morbid interest.
He shrugged. "Experiment, Sakura. It needed to be done. This one I kept, to see if they can hold out. It's gone into rigor mortis, its blood has dried, it's cold....the clones act just like a real human body. But I can dispell them and they can dispell themselves. They can even use jutsu, but the ones I made didn't have much chakra. Not compared to me, anyway. We've started calling Kage Bunshin made by them 'second-hands', cause they're like second hand clones." He grinned. "I named it Chikage no Jutsu. Best part, if they use henge, even that doesn't release when they die."
Realization dawned on sasuke's face, and shortly after, Sakura's. "A perfect decoy. Faked death. Not bad, dobe. I want to learn that technique."
Naruto's demeanor abruptly changed, and he glared. "Hell no, bastard. This is one of my first jutsu...besides, it's a modified Kinjutsu. Who knows what it could do to normal people?"
"Normal people." Sasuke deadpanned. "What defines 'normal'?"
Naruto shifted suddenly, uneasy. "I have....a lot of chakra. I sort of figured that much from the Kage bunshin. Old man Hokage told me that an average jounin can make ten at most before suffering from chakra exhaustion. I can make over a hundred and not even feel the drain." They stared at him incredulously.
"...That's a lot of chakra, Naruto." Sakura pointed out timidly. "That much...you have more chakra than Sandaime-sama?"
Naruto frowned. "I....guess so. But, moving on, while we were talking my clones packed up. I've got a plan to help us out." The others instantly grasped their focus, forgetting Naruto and his outrageous chakra capacity for now. "I henge some Chikage into those attacker guys, and kill them and shit. Then..." He looked uncomfortable. "We make a clone of that jounin guy Asuma. That way if the enemy finds him, and traces of us, they'll know he was the commander to a genin team, but because Asuma isn't as well known as sensei was, they probably won't try to dissect him or something. We also put in a Tazuna decoy, and make it look like we failed protecting him. It should distract them for a while. Then I'll make a copy of us three, and I'll send those back in Konoha's direction. It'll seem like we're returning to report a failed mission. They might go after the fakes....but if they don't, they'll take a message to Konoha asking for reinforcements. If they do hunt down the clones, then, fuck, I suppose." He shrugged. "Meanwhile, I have some clones carry Tazuna. That way we can go through the trees and not leave tracks. What do you think?"
They stared. "I never knew you were a strategist, kid." Tazuna commented.
"I'm not," Naruto deadpanned. "I'm a prankster. When given an outline, materials, and objective I figure out what to do with them. I guess it helps with the real life stuff. So shoudl we do that?"
"S-sure." Sakura nodded. Sasuke grunted, but gave a small nod. Naruto smiled, then made the handseals, making sure to do them fast enough that no one could remember what they were. Four clones appeared, and instantly they transformed. The semblance of the two nins made Naruto want to attack them, violently. But he restrained himself. The other two were perfect copies of Asuma and Tazuna. The original Naruto handed Sasuke a kunai.
"Here, kill Tazuna-clone with that, would you?"
Sasuke smirked. "Gladly." And he threw it into the clone's throat. The poor things had such identical deaths. Meanwhile, the enemy's impostors mauled Asuma. Naruto didn't want to maim a comrade. Once they were done killing Asuma-clone to a sufficient degree, Naruto attacked them, angrily. They provided little to no resistance, and he tore at their clone bodies with two kunai in his hands. He growled.
"Dammit, I know those aren't real but they still piss me off."
"Same." Sakura muttered darkly, staring with satisfaction at the corpses. "Let's move them, shall we?"
So, on mutual consent, they moved the corpses to the former battlefield, careful not to leave a blood trail They organized them in a realistic way, and admired their handiwork.
"They look quite convincing." Sakura praised.
"Thank you." Naruto said modestly, then created another three Chikage. Two transformed into copies of his teammates, and ripped a few injuries in themselves to make it look more convincing that they'd been in a battle. They saluted, then dropped into character, and sped off to Konoha through the trees. Naruto made yet another clone, which slung Tazuna unceremoniously over its shoulder, and as if on some silent signal, they leapt forward on their paths to the future.
And so it began.
That has to be the longest opening chapter I've ever written. Hell, longest chapter. Don't expect them all this long. Anyway, this story basically features a kickass Naruto, and to a lesser extent, Team 7. Kakashi is obviously dead. That won't be changing. Things will speed up soon and there will be action scenes. Please review. :)