[AN:] Selfish, annoying and irrelevant sarcastic comment by me toward a recent critique of butchery of the Japanese language removed. Many apologies. Hope you enjoy this chapter, I had trouble getting it written, and as always I'm not satisfied. I'm starting to anticipate finally completing this whole segment of the story and being able to go back and edit it into something I can be happy with, but that's still a long way off.
Problem with divider placing fixed.
Naruto hurried to the door to answer the incessant knocking. He adjusted the white civilian long jacket he was wearing and lifted his mask. Even in the privacy of his home he kept it around his neck, even if it wasn't pulled up. Beyond hiding the compulsive nosebleeds he'd realized it just plain made him look cool.
He paused for a moment before reaching the door as he saw who was beyond it. It was one of those white eyed guys like the old guy who had talked to him after he'd hurt his eyes. With a tug the door squeaked open and he peered at the slightly uncomfortable boy, who couldn't be any more than a year younger than he was.
"Hello? Can I help you?" Naruto asked in his best attempt at polite behavior. Half of the reason he bothered being more polite recently rested at the feet of Haku. She seemed especially abusive when he was rude, but let off quite a bit when he pretended he had 'manners'.
"Uzumaki Naruto-dono," the boy said as though the words nearly choked him, "Hyuuga Hiashi-sama has invited you and your parolee to attend a formal dinner at the Hyuuga estates in one week's time."
The boy handed over an envelope with the Hyuuga seal on the flap of the envelope. Naruto was quite surprised and unsure exactly what to do, so he simply bowed and returned a simple, "Thank you."
The boy gave a polite and uncomfortable nod before he disappeared at a quick pace leaving Naruto marveling at the exchange as he closed the door.
"What was that?" Haku asked as she walked back into his apartment. The fabric of one of the pink kimono she'd begun wearing again whispered as she walked toward him. He'd stitched the fabric he'd purchased into the same style as the one he had first seen her in.
"It's an invitation from those Hyuuga guys," Naruto said while staring at the letter with a confused expression before breaking the seal, "It's for both of us, to uh, eat there. What's a hakama?"
"You don't know what it is?" she asked before sighing, "Of course not. It's a man's formal divided skirt."
"Oh! So that's what it is. I knew that. I just didn't know what it was called," Naruto said with a goofy grin, "So the haori thing has to be the coat, right? I'm supposed to wear that sort of junk to the dinner. I don't get why anyone would get all dressed up to eat though."
Haku just shook her head without commenting, "I'll help you find one, okay? Like you said just a minute ago, 'it's alright', I'll help you" she said with a laugh.
Naruto eyed her nervously. Her 'helpfulness' the past several days made him feel like a deer living in close proximity to a pack of wolves who, so far, hadn't gotten too hungry.
"Fine, I'll help you get one that doesn't make you look like an idiot," Haku said, rolling her eyes. Keeping him all jumpy and paranoid was almost better than tripping him down flights of stairs or face first into disgusting things.
Naruto shrugged before replying, "I really have no clue what to do. I'm not even gonna wonder why that old guy wants me to eat over there. It's just strange that on my first real day off this would show up."
"It really is weird, isn't it?" Haku called from the small room between the kitchen and his bedroom that was nominally the 'sitting room', "Gai-sensei's team is out on a mission and your team isn't meeting this weekend. It's like there's nothing to do for once."
Naruto shrugged as he re-entered the room, "I already sent out a clone to find a spot to make a few more and read and talk over that new book Gai-sensei gave me," he said with a grin, "I had to promise to let them go swimming afterward, but it's worth not being stuck reading myself on my first full day off of training. Besides, they deserve at least a little happiness."
Haku shuddered silently. Whenever he spoke as though his Kage Bunshin were separate or unique individuals it gave her the creepy crawlies. He acted like they died when he dispelled them. She didn't know the first thing about the technique, but it was still incredibly creepy to hear him treat it like that.
"I hope those sorts of clothes aren't too expensive," Naruto said with a frown, "I've really dipped into my savings lately and it's already going to take longer than I wanted in order to save up enough."
"Enough for what? You've mentioned it like half a dozen times, but you never say what you're pinching pennies for. You're like a miser," Haku said and gave a shake of her head in frustration as she remembered some of his more 'creative' methods of getting by with the least amount of expense possible.
Naruto rubbed the back of his head. Sometimes he was really grateful his mask concealed most of his embarrassment.
"It's kind of stupid," he admitted sheepishly, "It's just… when I was little, I always wanted to know who my parents were. I asked Jiji if he could find them soon after I started ninja training, but he told me that it required an S-rank mission to find out that sort of thing on a ninja, because of how dangerous researching into a ninja's personal background can be, but he said that if I get strong enough to take S-rank missions he'd let me hire myself to do it."
"Wait… what?" Haku replied when confusion set in, "S-rank?"
So many things about Naruto never added up right. It wasn't just his incredible ignorance and his hidden brilliance, or the fact that he had an incredible kekkei genkai. That he was despised was entirely at odds with living in a village famous for adoring those who carried them. The way everyone treated him like a loser when it was obvious just from watching him improve that he was a true genius was another inconsistency that bothered her to no end.
However this was even stranger. Paternity research missions were always C-rank, unless the person they were searching for the parents of was of higher rank and then it matched the ninja's rank. For a ninja personally requesting their paternity be discovered, it was hardly ever higher than a C-rank, assuming that the search even required the person tracking down the paternity to even leave a village.
Naruto nodded, "I'm a long way away from being able to afford it though. It's why I'm trying to save up every bit I can. I've already blown through a quarter of what I made in the casino I went to before. Between that and the lack of missions," he said before trailing off and offering a shrug, "Sorry I've been such a penny pincher."
Haku frowned deeply enough to wrinkle her forehead. He seemed completely oblivious to the fact that the price was so unusual. The only reasons she could come up with would be if his parents were somehow high profile and the knowledge could be dangerous. Her frown deepened as she thought about the conflicting images of the Sandaime Hokage treating Naruto like a grandchild, or at least a favorite nephew, and his status as an orphan whom everyone seemed to naturally disdain.
"What's wrong?" Naruto asked as he stood in front of the window.
"Get a haircut," Haku snapped, unwilling to discuss the issues that had been niggling at the back of her mind for weeks like an itch she couldn't quite scratch, "You've let it get long. You've been refusing to have it cut so you could buy the fabric for these dresses, haven't you?"
Naruto blushed again under his mask and once it faded he lowered his mask and shrugged.
"I dunno. I think I look good with it a little longer. I look like a lion," he said with a bright laugh, "Or I could tie it in back and let the rest hang down."
He turned to the side and held the back part of his hair back, as though in a ponytail and the light struck him from the side, illuminating the folds of his white coat in the red dawn light, as though dancing flames licked up it. Haku's eyes went wide and she gasped before falling out of her chair.
"Are you okay?" Naruto asked as he rushed to her side.
"Bingo book," she mumbled as her brain misfired, "Namikaze… erp?"
"What?" Naruto asked in confusion.
"You just looked like someone from Zabuza-sama's old bingo books for a second there," she said as she calmed herself and pushed away the absurd thought the physical resemblance brought on. After all, he could be a Yamanaka just as easily, though beyond the Yondaime Hokage, Namikaze Minato, there weren't that many natural blonds in Konoha at all, and of those she knew of currently, other than the Yondaime, only the Yamanaka had blue eyes, like she'd been told Naruto possessed before his accident, as well. Besides the bingo book never mentioned any sort of healing kekkei genkai possessed by the Yondaime Hokage.
"Who?" Naruto asked curiously.
"It's stupid," Haku said with a dismissive wave, "It's just the longer hair."
"Tell me!" Naruto pleaded, "It could be a hint to who my parents are."
Haku snorted, "I doubt it," she said, "You looked like Namikaze Minato, the Yondaime Hokage, for a moment there."
Naruto laughed, "You're right, that is kinda silly," he said, "Like they'd really seal the… shit."
His eyes were wide open and he clamped his hands over his mouth at the slip of his tongue.
"Seal what?" Haku demanded as the hair on the back of her neck stood on end, a confirmation of a growing suspicion, "Does this have to do with the seal on your stomach? Damnit, just tell me something! You're confusing as hell, and you don't tell me anything."
Naruto looked horrified and backed away, "I can't," he whispered, "It's a secret."
Haku huffed, "Fine then," she said as she stared hard at him while her mind, something she'd always considered her sharpest tool, worked hard to puzzle it out from the evidence in front of her.
"You've got something sealed into you. You have whisker marks on your face. You have a kekkei genkai I've never heard of. Everyone seems to despise you even though Konoha is renowned for its adoration of kekkei genkai. You're an orphan who has the interest of the Hokage. You bear a striking resemblance to Namikaze Minato," she said, listing what she knew out loud before slapping her own forehead, "Jinchuuriki. Demons are used to create bloodlines too powerful to develop otherwise. Konoha was attacked by the Kyuubi no Kitsune… and it was defeated by the Yondaime."
"Oh sweet Susanoo," she whispered as she stared at an increasingly terrified Naruto, who had effectively confirmed her guess, "You look like the Yondaime because he sealed it into the only person he could trust with a kekkei genkai created using the Okami Bijuu [King of Tailed Beasts]. You're Namikaze Naruto, Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi no Kitsune!"
Naruto fainted dead away, hitting the floor with a dull thump.
"Sakura, honey," her mother's voice called from downstairs and Sakura bounded down the steps to find her mother waiting.
"Is daddy home momma?" Sakura asked hopefully. Her father had left on business to the capitol the day she had been told those horrible things by Haku. She still hadn't had an opportunity to talk to him, and she'd begun to feel uncomfortable around Sasuke-kun and a bit disappointed in herself for even giving it a second thought.
"No sweetie, but he sent a message ahead that he'd be here by tonight," her mother said, "There's someone waiting for you in the kitchen. It's been a while since I've seen you and Ino together. Are you two finished with your problems?"
Sakura looked confused and shook her head before walking into the kitchen and saw Ino sitting there in her purple dress with a tired look on her face. Her appearance immediately made Sakura uncomfortable. Ino never let herself look that worn out, even when she was completely exhausted. She was too vain to ever admit, or let herself look like she was tired.
"Hi Sakura," Ino said and Sakura was surprised at the absence of the usual taunting, "Do you have any time to get lunch?"
"Umm, I guess," Sakura replied nervously and followed Ino out of the house as her curiosity became too much, "So what's going on?"
Ino sighed, "Is it that obvious?" she asked and blew the lock of hair she always let hang down outside of her ponytail out of her eyes, "It's just tough stuff. It's scary isn't it? Being a kunoichi for real?"
Sakura shifted uncomfortably as Ino's words reminded her of her discussion with Haku, "Uh, maybe, I guess. What happened? Did you get hurt on a mission?" she asked, briefly terrified that one of the things Haku had mentioned may have happened. Even if they weren't friends anymore she still sort of cared about Ino, and would never wish something that horrible on anyone. Relief flooded her when Ino shook her head.
"It's Shikamaru," Ino said, making Sakura's head spin.
"Shikamaru got hurt on a mission? Wait, why would you look all tired because of it?" Sakura asked curiously.
"No, it was his father," Ino said softly, "Shikaku-san, umm; you know what the Nara clan does for the village, right?"
Sakura shook her head.
"They're head hunters, assassins for the village by contract," Ino said, "It's why they're paired with my family and Chouji's, because between the incredible straightforward power of the Akamichi clan and information extraction and battlefield control effects of my clan it forms a natural and powerful combination, one controller, one defender, and one striker."
"So what happened?" Sakura asked, unnerved at how Ino wasn't using her 'gossip' voice, but rather that worried tone she'd saved for Sakura alone during their early years in the academy.
"He was murdered while hunting down a ninja from Kumo," Ino said with a faraway look, "I was at the funeral. The person who did it took out his heart and sold his head to Kumo for the bounty. I heard my father talking to Chouji's when he was drunk that he was sure it was a missing nin named Kakuzu from Taki no Kuni."
"Oh… I'm sorry I guess. Your dad and his were close, right?" Sakura asked.
Ino nodded, "Shikamaru's been different since then. I mean he's still Shikamaru, but now he's so serious it's scary. My father says it's because Shikamaru has to work as hard as possible to become a jounin and assume the position as the head of his clan, so that they won't be without a leader for too long," she said with a frown, "It's like he's growing up, and dragging us all with him. I…"
"We spend all day training now. Before Asuma-sensei went easy on us, but since Shikamaru stepped up the pace it's like we all have to work ourselves senseless, and I refuse to be left behind by someone as naturally lazy as Shikamaru," she said with a scowl, "My parents and Chouji's have decided that it's time we really started learning our responsibilities. I mean, sure the Yamanaka clan have only been ninja for three generations, unlike Shikamaru's clan and Chouji's were samurai for nearly three hundred years while we were still merchants, but it's still a lot to live up to. Some of the things really bother me too."
"Like what?" Sakura asked, wondering if Ino had heard the same thing about Sasuke, "Is it about the Uchiha curse or something? I've heard about that superstitious junk, but I don't believe it."
Ino shook her head, "My father told me that it wasn't a foregone conclusion. He said that he was Itachi-san's psychological monitor when he was in the ANBU and that he managed to control it… oh shit," she cursed, something that Ino nearly never did, even in her tantrums, "Please forget I said that. It's an issue of patient confidentiality."
"Wait?! It's real?" Sakura asked in disbelief, "Isn't Itachi Sasuke's older brother, the one who killed his clan?"
Ino sighed and rubbed her temples. Sometimes she really wished her father hadn't begun to actually tell her things and make her learn about the other clans.
"Look, it's complicated, okay Sakura? I don't want to talk about it. I'm sure that Sasuke can learn to control it though, he just needs help. I don't believe any of the supernatural junk. My father says it's just a strange genetic variant of bipolar disorder, an even more unstable evolution of it, but something that can still be treated if not cured," Ino said, a bit surprised at the words coming out of her mouth. She couldn't believe how grown up she sounded.
Sakura was strangely silent until they arrived at the food stand and ordered.
"So you've been training a lot?" Sakura asked to break the uncomfortable silence.
"Yeah. My father is making me develop my skill with the Nawanuke no jutsu because it's sort of related to our clan's abilities somehow. I still don't get his explanation though. He's also gotten really strict about making sure I learn enough of our clan techniques and how we work as a clan in order to be accepted when the time comes," she said as she focused on her food, leaving Sakura aghast at the amount Ino was eating.
"Wow, Kakashi-sensei just makes us try to keep from getting beaten up while he goes at us," Sakura said and Ino shrugged.
"You were always good enough at the core arts that you didn't need to catch up like I did. That's what Asuma-sensei says. He's only just started us on mock combat scenarios so we get some experience fighting against enemies with unknown abilities," Ino commented around a mouthful of rice, "You're lucky you got put on such a strong team. Your sensei must be amazing if he's gotten you all to that stage already."
"Wha?" Sakura asked in confusion, "Umm, well, Sasuke-kun is as amazing as ever. He's gotten even stronger. But our teacher is lazy and always late, and Naruto is still an idiot… well sort of."
Ino watched the expressions on Sakura's face as they flicked past.
"I'm actually worried about Naruto," Sakura said while biting her lip, "Ever since he started spending so much time around Haku, a ninja who got recruited when we were in Nami no Kuni he's gotten weird. He doesn't intentionally act stupid so I'll hit him anymore, and it's been throwing me off. I mean, that's always been our thing you know?"
Ino snorted, "You and Naruto have a 'thing'?" she said before slurping at her milkshake, "That's news to me. I always thought it was because you and I were the queens of the academy and he was a Zero. Even Butakuri was more popular than Naruto."
Both girls shuddered at the memory of the morbidly obese asshole with poor personal hygiene.
"You know what I mean," Sakura said rolling her eyes, "He annoys me and I hit him and all is right with the world. But now he's always watching things and it's creepy. He's still an idiot, you know? But two days ago he beat Sasuke-kun in one of our straight taijutsu spars. It was really strange, because he's a lot slower and weaker than Sasuke-kun, but suddenly his whole body blurred as he whipped all the way around at the waist and hit him."
Sakura's eyes became distant as her terror at that moment hit her again, "Naruto looked so shocked after it happened, and Sasuke… I was really scared because I heard something snap, but Haku-san managed to stabilize him and repair his ribs enough for him to get to the hospital. That's why we didn't even have a team meeting this morning, because Sasuke-kun has to take it easy on his ribs for a day or two more," she said before shaking herself like a wet cat to chase away the memory.
"That's way weird," Ino said with wide eyes, "Naruto was always so slow in the Academy, just barely faster than a normal person who didn't use chakra. If he were much slower he wouldn't have been any faster than a civilian martial artist."
Sakura nodded, "And he's the one Kakashi-sensei focuses on the most in practice. Not in a good way though. It's just that he's the target of the most damaging and complex attacks. Kakashi-sensei says it's because he's targeting the weak link in the team, but I'm not stupid," she said with a frown.
Ino nodded as she leaned forward and listened to Sakura. While most people thought she was a gossip, in truth she was more of a listener. She had a great capacity for insight into relationships between people, at least when they didn't involve her directly, but she wasn't the best at intense observation or linear reasoning. It's why when she and Sakura had been friends she'd been the person she'd gossiped to the most. Sakura's habit of thinking out loud and the big brain that hid behind her forehead helped Ino fill in the blanks. Even now she was more than willing to listen to Sakura's 'rants'.
"Naruto scares me," Sakura finally whispered, "Physically I can still beat him in a strict fight, and I've started training really hard since our mission to Nami no Kuni, mainly to get Sasuke-kun's attention away from Haku-san. He watches her all the time, even if I know she doesn't like him, and I'm pretty sure it's because she's so strong. Naruto isn't as strong of a fighter as Sasuke-kun or as smart as I am, but he does things by improvisation that works out better than some of my best plans."
"Then it must mean that when you all work together your team is really strong," Ino said in interested tones. If Sakura was willing to give credit even to Naruto, Team Seven had to be really dangerous, considering it had the two best students in the class on it, and Naruto must have gotten a lot better in the past four months too.
Sakura gave a mirthless laugh, "Our teamwork sucks," she said glumly, "It's so frustrating, all of it."
"It does? I would have thought that between your 'thing' with Naruto and Sasuke-kun on your team it would be great," Ino said with a smirk and Sakura scowled.
"It's not that we can't make plans or follow them, it's just that we don't instinctively act like a unit. Naruto will run impromptu screens to get us out of trouble, and I try to set up tactical formations, you know, but it's still not all coming together," Sakura said discontentedly, "We don't have the 'synergy' Iruka-sensei always talked about."
Ino just nodded. She could see whatever Sasuke-kun and Naruto had going on between them would probably foul up any sort of synergy, so it was expectable.
"Ahh, that's really where our team shows its strength. We're probably not anywhere near Sasuke-kun's level, even if Shika has gotten really strong since then, but we work together really well," Ino said with a shrug.
"So piggy," Sakura said with a smirk, "Why did you want to talk with me?"
Ino shrugged, "No reason really billboard brow. I just wanted to talk to someone who wasn't a guy," she said, "It's a bit much, spending as much time with my team as I do these days."
Sakura laughed, "I know how that goes. Sasuke-kun is great, but being around Naruto and Kakashi all the time makes me want to tear my hair out in frustration," she said before continuing slowly, "This doesn't mean we're friends again though."
"Of course not," Ino said with a smirk, "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Sasuke winced as he stretched after his morning jog. His ribs were fine, but they wanted him to 'rest' anyway, until they weren't sore anymore. He couldn't afford to waste that much time though. He had to increase his mastery over his eyes. He still wasn't to the point where he could copy things perfectly at a glance, and most of the genjutsu it offered were still beyond his reach until he reached the fifth stage. If he could fully mature it though, he was certain that little would be able to stop his growth, and Itachi would be within sight.
A sudden prickling on the back of his neck, a sensation made familiar by his practices with Kakashi, made him roll away immediately as a trio of shuriken spun through where his back had been a moment ago.
'An attack?!' he thought as his mind kicked into fight mode and his Sharingan activated.
His eyes flicked around him for a moment before he sensed a branch in a distant tree that wasn't swaying properly and glared up at it.
"I know exactly where you are," he called out, "If you value your life you'll leave now."
A small smile spread across his face as the hope that the intruder wouldn't flee filled him. He needed a way to burn off his growing frustration. The person who threw those shuriken couldn't be that fast or he would have never dodged them in time. His eyes narrowed and his tomoe spun as three people moved from the tree line at once. They looked similar to the ANBU, save for the masks. They weren't in animal forms, but instead each mask bore the word 'Ne' on it.
The surreally fluid motions of the beings revealed them to be clones even before they stepped within the yet limited range of his stage four Sharingan. They weren't any sort of clone he'd seen before with the Sharingan, though his experience was notably limited to Kage Bunshin and standard Genbunshin. Maybe whoever was controlling them would display it for him to copy.
"Sending clones to do your work?" Sasuke taunted as they moved within range, "You'll have to do better than that."
"I have," a toneless voice echoed in his ear, just as a knee slammed into his healing ribs and he screamed in pain as he tried to land softly. The clones had disappeared as well.
"Your skills have not impressed me," the masked person, whose voice and height showed he couldn't be much older than Sasuke himself, spoke.
Sasuke hissed as he stopped clutching his ribs and stood, sending a spike of pain through himself before dashing forward and attacking. His hand passed straight through the boy and he frowned. He must have escaped somehow and left behind a Genbunshin, given that the boy's body was covered in the inky patterns that always appeared after a jutsu was used. He hadn't gotten a close read on how he'd done it, as the threads of chakra had emerged from the boy's body, rather than his hands, to form whatever jutsu he had used. The jutsu had been too fast for him to analyze it's components as it came together, at least without some down time to go over the memory.
The air blew out of him as the Genbunshin struck him with a thrust kick to the same weak ribs again. It was no longer covered in jutsu marks. They had suddenly faded all of the sudden, much to his confusion. Sasuke recovered well and his foot caught the Ne agent on the chin, putting enough distance between them for him to catch his breath. As he reviewed the memories of the blindingly fast jutsu he realized that it had been a sealless performance of the Nawanuke, just like Kakashi said could be done at high levels of mastery with the Rope Shedding art. It hadn't seemed that useful to him at the time, but he had just seen living proof of it.
As he dashed forward again he saw the process repeat itself, but he slipped around and wrapped a garrote of ninja wire, which Kakashi-sensei had said prevented the jutsu from passing through it, around his neck. The Ne agent gasped a ragged breath as Sasuke tightened the wire around his throat.
"You're no ANBU," Sasuke said with a smirk, "You're dead."
He jerked the wire as hard as he could and felt blood spray over his hands and a flood of satisfaction before it disappeared like fog on a hot day. It wasn't blood, but rather ink, and had coalesced into a message on the ground. He glared at it for several minutes before nodding and walking away toward the main house of the compound.
Naruto opened his eyes and found Haku kneeling above him with a concerned look.
"Are you okay?" she asked as he remembered what she had said aloud and gasped.
"I… umm… I can't be… I'm nothing special," he stammered out as his brain tried to jumpstart itself.
"People don't seal Bijuu into 'nothing special'," Haku countered and Naruto began shaking as he stared up at her with wide eyes, "What's wrong?"
"Y-you aren't scared of me? You don't hate me?" he whispered in disbelief and Haku snorted.
"I come from a place where kekkei genkai are just as hated and feared as Jinchuuriki, like that of the Sanbi," Haku said with a scowl, "You're a lot less insane than the one I've seen, but you don't scare me at all."
Naruto's mouth flapped open and closed several times before Haku smirked.
"Why would I be scared of someone I could thrash while half conscious?" she said before standing up and walking over to the futon, "The fact that you're the son of an S-ranked shinobi that every other shinobi experienced terror at the mere sight of scares me more."
Naruto shook his head, as he sat up, still uneasy about someone knowing his secret and afraid that if he said the wrong thing she'd treat him like everyone else did. He was fine with being disliked for being himself, but he didn't think he could handle her treating him like everyone else did because of it.
"I can't be. Jiji wouldn't lie to me like that," Naruto said firmly, "It's just not possible."
Haku smirked, "Then why was the sole living student of the Yondaime Hokage assigned as your sensei?" she asked and Naruto's eyes widened.
"Kakashi-sensei was the Yondaime's student?" he whispered and Haku rolled her eyes before smiling.
"That's what I just said."
"I can't… no… I mean… they never told me about the Kyuubi either until Mizuki-sensei broke the law," he whispered in a voice laden with betrayal.
His eyes hardened, "We're going to see Jiji," he said in a steely voice as he headed toward the door.
"Wait Naruto! Are you sure this is the best idea?" Haku called out as she ran to catch up with him and barely took the time to lock the door behind her. By the time they reached the street Naruto's loss of control over his emotions had him leaking chakra like a sieve and it carried his emotional state imbued within it on the winds for all to feel. The sheer density of it and the intense emotion was almost enough to make bile rise in her throat, despite having felt Zabuza-sensei's "killing intent".
This wasn't the bloodthirsty hate, or rage that she felt before, something quite a few ninja honed into a weapon to paralyze weaker foes in terror. This filled her with cold, deep in the marrow of her bones and made her ache with a sense of loss and betrayal that felt worse than any other ki [spirit/mood] she'd felt before. It was human suffering, loneliness, desolation, mixed with the recurring image of Zabuza-sensei plunging Kubikire Houchou into her chest over and over while laughing at her for believing she was anything more than a plaything. Every step required that she shake the image from her mind and fight the urge to cry.
She barely noticed the birds dropping from the air, or the civilians along the roadside collapsing and vomiting. She just concentrated on walking, avoiding stumbling, as she moved through a haze of chakra as thick as any elite jounin could muster and laden with a decade of suffering and betrayal.
"Naruto-san! Get control of yourself!" a voice shouted and Haku realized they'd reached the Hokage's tower.
"Where is Sarutobi," Naruto said and the Anbu instantly went on guard at both the tone and the name used, rather than Naruto's usual term of endearment.
"Who are you?" the Anbu demanded as he slipped into a ready stance.
"Apparently not who I thought I was. Where is Sarutobi?" Naruto said, "He's up there, isn't he."
"I'm right here Naruto," the Hokage called from the steps while motioning for the Anbu to stand down, "Please, you're making the villagers ill. Get control of yourself."
Naruto's face turned into a sour grimace as he realized he was leaking chakra, and finally noticed the civilians disabled on the ground nearby.
"Let's go up to my office, and you can tell me what's wrong," Sarutobi said in a concerned grandfatherly tone.
Naruto glared at him but followed him up the steps anyway. Once the door closed and they were inside the office Naruto sneered at him and spat venomously, "When did you plan on telling me who my father was?"
Sarutobi blanched and quickly made hand seals, separating them off in a small bubble of reality away from the Anbu hidden under genjutsu in the room to give privacy.
"Who did you hear your father was?" Sarutobi asked softly, "And who told you?"
"Haku-chan figured it out first," Naruto said, not letting the cold steel slip from his voice and Haku blinked at the first reappearance of the familiar suffix, "But once the evidence looked me in the face it became obvious. You've hidden things from me before, and you're hiding them now. Tell me! Was the Yondaime my father?"
His voice had become a shout by the end of his sentence and Sarutobi winced.
"Not officially," Sarutobi whispered, "Or you would be dead already."
Naruto felt his legs give out from under him and he slumped into the chair before pressing his face into his hands to hide his tears at the confirmation of Haku's guess.
"I… he wanted to protect you," Sarutobi said softly, "His enemies, if you officially existed as his son, they would have never relented on killing you. As it is, you're no more in danger than any other blond in Konoha, even less so since your accident."
"Why?" Naruto asked as he raised his face, rivers of tears dripping from his chin, "Why hide it from me though?!"
Sarutobi removed his hat and sat it down on his desk as his face sagged.
"Because you were young," Sarutobi said in a weary voice, "And you couldn't have kept it a secret if your life depended on it. You still have trouble with it. I'm willing to bet that you provided her with the information she needed to puzzle it out."
He cast a heavy glance at Haku who shrunk back into her chair. He should have expected this to happen. Given her scores on the test battery she'd been given soon after beginning her probation period he should have known that her intellect and Naruto's tendency to let things 'slip' when he was agitated or excited would cause this.
Naruto bit his lip as his face scrunched up in pain, "I… I know… but it… it hurt so much. I was all alone. It would have at least made me feel… like I was somebody," he sobbed, "How could he do it? How could he do this to me?"
Sarutobi was still staring at Haku and trying to decide what to do about her. Haku bit her lip and looked away. She knew that she knew too much, far to much, even for a potential kunoichi of the village, to let leave alive.
"Naruto," Sarutobi said slowly, "You realize that this girl, with a word she could condemn you, correct? Do you trust her with your life? More importantly if I know anything about you, do you trust her with the lives of everyone important to you?"
Naruto looked horribly confused and scrubbed his eyes as he thought before looking hard at her and seeing the fear and pleading in her eyes.
"I do," he said and Sarutobi nodded.
"Your father, he loved you, and he wanted you to be able to survive the dangers he saw for you in the future. The seal doesn't just contain the demon. It is killing it. Devouring it to change your body. It isn't the Kyuubi willingly healing you. It is the kekkei genkai that the seal has consumed it's energy to implant," Sarutobi said, "It is his legacy, and his last gift to you before he died. Don't doubt that he loved you."
Naruto's stomach felt like it was twisted into knots, "My father left me to be hated, teased, treated like trash, and he thought that a little physical healing would fix those wounds?" he growled out, his eyes flashing red for a moment, "Let me guess, my mother's still alive and abandoned me for my own good too, right? Like you keep me in the dark for my own good. It's always for my own good! At least enemies can only hurt my body!"
Sarutobi reeled under the accusations; each landing like a physical blow before he finally slapped his hands down on the table.
"ENOUGH!" he shouted, "It wasn't meant to hurt you. It was meant to keep you safe, so that when you became Jounin you could publicly accept your heritage! Your mother, fresh from a hospital bed fought alongside your father just to buy enough time to perform the jutsu, to keep you alive, and give you the protection he did."
Naruto gave a wan smile, "I'll never become chuunin. I've realized that by now. I learned how Chuunin are picked, and unless I personally save the lives of every person in the village a dozen times over, they'd never let me advance," he said with a bitter laugh, "A cheap bloodline for a dream that cannot be fulfilled."
He grimaced before his face tightened and he slammed his fist into the arm of the chair with a hard look on his face, "Screw that. Even if I'm a genin forever, I'll still become Hokage! Even if my father left me to the wolves and my mother went with him, then I'll just have to become better than him, so that I won't do the same stupid things!" he shouted defiantly before laughing manically to keep from crying.
"I won't ever give up. I heal right? No matter what, as long as I'm alive, right? That means I won't get old. I'll just have to stay alive then. I can be patient. I can wait until every person who remembers that the Kyuubi ever existed has died and then I'll become Hokage! I'll be even stronger because of it!" he shouted before he lost momentum and dropped back into his chair, sobbing relentlessly.
He looked up as he felt a warm hand on his shoulder and saw that the Sandaime had moved to stand beside him with tears running down his face as well.
"You'll become a great Hokage, Naruto," Sarutobi said softly, "You look and act more like your father every day, but I think you really will surpass him. Don't discount your greatest ability though, one no bloodline could ever duplicate. Your ability to change people's hearts will win out someday."
Naruto blinked up at him through blurry eyes and Sarutobi smiled and for the first time in his life Naruto was hugged. When the old man pulled away Naruto was staring at him in surprise.
"You make an old man strong enough to carry on long past his time," Sarutobi said as he moved back around the desk and sat down, "You have the will of fire, and it will eventually warm the hearts of those who cannot yet see who you really are."
Naruto bit his lip and nodded slowly as he tried to come to terms with the warmth that flooded his chest after being hugged, flushing the pain away.
"I guess… this means I'll have to work even harder, right?" Naruto asked softly, "Umm, I just have one question. Did the Yondaime, I mean, my father, leave anything behind for me?"
Sarutobi smiled, "Well, your father was a simple man. He refused to move into the Hokage estates even after he'd earned the title. In fact, your apartment is the only one in the complex that is actually owned by a person, you. Your father lived there even after he became Hokage," Sarutobi said and Naruto's face brightened.
"You mean Froggy was his? I found it under the floorboards!" Naruto said with wide eyes as he thought about his wallet and Sarutobi nodded.
"Your father didn't leave much in the way of ninjutsu techniques for you," Sarutobi said, "He didn't really have that many techniques either, only a bare handful of D-rank elemental ninjutsu that most ninja pick up by the time they've spent a year or two as chuunin, the Tajuu Kage Bunshin, and his own attack jutsu. The rest were fuuinjutsu that he never wrote down. He only explained enough of the Shiki Fujin for me to copy a reconstruction of it onto the scroll of Kinfuuin, and his others were never committed to paper."
"Oh," Naruto said as his heart fell.
"Wait, how did he become Hokage with so few jutsu?" Haku asked in confusion and Sarutobi laughed.
"Because he was the kind of oddball genius who made one jutsu do the work of twenty. He was a true master of each of the core techniques, and he researched the few other jutsu he used to such depth that he could do things with them that still astound me," Sarutobi said as he reminisced over his successor, "But his Fuuinjutsu skills were the most impressive. He controlled any battlefield he fought on using them, dictating the pace. His unconventional understanding of that art led him to create techniques that no one has been able to duplicate, like his famous Hirashin, a technique that removed the delay time, mass conservation and line of sight limitations from the Kawarimi no jutsu. He broke the back of an entire Iwa battalion moving for a surgical strike against the Shogunate the first time he used it in battle."
Naruto grinned broadly at the thought that his fuuinjutsu weren't a 'waste of time' like Sasuke said.
"I don't have any jutsu scrolls that I could give you, but he did entrust his journal to me," Sarutobi said as he wiped his blood along the bottom of one of the drawers of his desk and pulled out a slab of black glass with a stylized lock carved into the center of it, "He said that you should be able to read it with a little blood and chakra on the lock in the center."
Naruto hungrily accepted the book and bit his thumb hard enough to draw blood before pressing it against the lock and pushing chakra into it. The slab of glass warped and popped open, becoming a simple leather bound journal, if a bit thick. He quickly glanced inside at the first pages.
"Stupid Jiraiya-sensei wants me to start writing a journal to 'put some damn order' to my thoughts. Umm I guess I'll just write about what I'm working on right now. I've been pestering Mikoto-chan to write down the 'squiggly things' she sees when she watches me do the Henge with her Sharingan. I think they may be Fuuin. I'm gonna see if I can get her to help me figure out if hand signs are like fuuinjutsu. I've got a feeling about it."
The rest of the page was filled with intricate designs and the placeholder notation used in the other fuuinjutsu book Naruto had been given. He flipped ahead to the next page and it was a drawing of hands in various positions with little strands bending this way and that. Naruto's eyes widened as he stared at the pattern of lines he saw every time he performed the Henge drawn in the lines emerging from the hands. The next few pages were of different hand seals and pictures of Fuuin and lots of angry and frustrated comments before the final page showed a modified single hand sign, like the ones he'd taught Lee, but requiring the ability to control it outside the body to bend it in the right way.
"Haha! I'm right! Jiraiya-sensei nearly crapped himself when I turned into Tsunade-sama with a single hand sign right when he went to punch me. I pulled it off fast enough to actually beat Jiraiya-sensei! Who knew he turned into a sniveling crying wreck whenever someone who looks like Tsunade-sama goes to punch him?"
The next two pages were a list of ideas he wanted to try out using exploding tags for, including scaling it down and somehow using several of it's component sigils to cook ramen.
Naruto's eyes nearly popped out of his head and he closed the book as a huge grin spread across his face. The book wavered for a moment before becoming a slab of black glass with a lock on it once more.
"Thank you so much Jiji!" Naruto cried out as a massive smile nearly split his face, "This is the coolest!"
Sarutobi smiled broadly, "I don't think I need to tell you how important it is that you never let anyone see that unsealed. It may be a glorified paperweight otherwise, but if someone finds it lying around open, it's as good as a signed death warrant for you," he cautioned and Naruto nodded.
"As for what your mother left behind, you should be safe with it. It's a book on hand sign exercises and tricks to build speed amongst other things. She was a ninjutsu artist, and some of your father's ideas went into it. Other than that it was mainly a bunch of photographs, clothing, kitchen appliances, furniture and ninja tools," Sarutobi said, "If I remember properly she said she hid that manuscript inside a loose panel on the wall in the right corner of the bedroom closet, nearest to the window, in what is now Haku-san's room. She always intended to publish it one day, but never got around to it."
Naruto nodded rapidly.
"So, are you alright?" Sarutobi asked and both teens burst into laughter before answering in unison.
Sarutobi crooked an eyebrow but dropped the privacy jutsu before the two scurried out of his office. He shook his head as he removed the cloth pouch from his desk and packed some of it's fragrant contents into his pipe. After a conversation like that he really needed some smoke.
"Do you mind if I rest my tired bones here?" the bandaged old man asked as he settled onto the bench next to Sasuke and pulled his cane across his knees, "Beautiful days like this make me long for when I was young again."
Sasuke stared ahead toward the birds that were pecking the ground nearby.
"What did you want?" Sasuke asked.
"Do you know who I am?" Danzou asked slowly.
"Umm, no," Sasuke admitted as he glanced over at the old man with nervous eyes, "I mean, you're the one who sent me the message, but…"
Danzou nodded, "Then I've done my job. The short list of those who know my name is very short indeed," he said coolly, "I was a contemporary of the Sandaime, his superior before my injuries prevented me from taking the seat of Hokage. Still, I hold as much power as he does over this village."
Sasuke's eyes widened and Danzou chuckled softly, "This is a ninja village. Truly you don't expect things to be the way they seem. Consider yourself lucky. I've decided to take an interest in you. It would be a shame to see such talent go to waste, not when with a little assistance it could become the most powerful shinobi to walk the elemental nations," he said as his cobalt eyes slid smoothly away from Sasuke, having caught the body language he was looking for, doubt with a trace of hopefulness.
"How could you possibly help me? It doesn't look like you could do much in the way of a shinobi like that," Sasuke said while staring ahead toward the birds again.
"Do you know who taught the Legendary Sannin?' Danzou asked with a tiny smile.
"The Sandaime Hokage, of course. We learned that in the academy," Sasuke said.
"And indeed old Hiruzen did," Danzou said, "But he didn't understand one critical lesson of the shinobi way, one I think you know all too well already."
Sasuke's head whipped around to look at the old man suspiciously.
"Power comes with a price, and that you must be willing to pay that price to achieve it," Danzou said, "What the history books won't tell you is that Sarutobi's third student, Orochimaru, was expelled from the village for paying that price. They labeled him a traitor because of his research into bloodlines; however he was on the verge of a breakthrough that would have allowed Konoha to be the ultimate power. He was on the verge of being able to implant kekkei genkai, not through mere surgery, but by blood itself, like a natural user."
"And they kicked him out of the village for that?" Sasuke muttered with a scowl.
"It was because several of his patients died and the Hokage no longer felt comfortable with the experiment and needed a scapegoat," Danzou said.
"That Orochimaru must be incredibly powerful," Sasuke said.
"Yes, incredibly so. In fact I believe he is one of the top ten most powerful ninja in existence," Danzou said, "A shame he was a failure."
"A failure?" Sasuke gasped out, shocked that such a powerful ninja would be called such.
"Of course. He allowed his own emotional difficulties to interfere with his path to true power. He forgot the most vital part of being a shinobi," Danzou said, "At the time he was in line to become the Yondaime when the Sandaime stepped down, but since he was expelled his growth in power has slowed dramatically."
"What vital part?" Sasuke asked with rapt attention and Danzou knew he had him.
"A shinobi must be a figure of terror when he is not seen, but respected and honored when he is," Danzou said, "He forgot that the power that you can draw from yourself alone is limited by being but one. When you are honored and respected, then lesser people offer you their power for your own, to achieve your ambitions."
Sasuke stiffened, "The Uchiha clan has never needed other people's power," he said.
"Ahh, yes, your clan. How unfortunate. When Sarutobi heard that they were planning to seize power he had your brother trained to execute them. I guess it goes to show the true potential of an Uchiha when they are given the right opportunities," Danzou said, holding his silence the moment his gambit was played.
"I-Itachi… the Hokage ordered it?" Sasuke asked in a whisper.
"There was no choice. Your clan had collected nearly enough power through backdoor deals to rule Konoha uncontested. They became a threat to him," Danzou said, leaving his hand in that night entirely out of the conversation.
"I don't believe it. My clan would have never betrayed Konoha!" Sasuke hissed.
"They did not believe it was betrayal. They believed it was the destiny of Konoha to rule the elemental nations and bring peace to them," Danzou said, "And they knew that the generally peace loving Sarutobi would refuse to pay the price of true peace, rather than the cowardice and avoidance of the hardships that purchased peace he advocated. They forgot that the Sandaime wasn't always so peace loving, and that his arm was as strong as his ears were sharp."
Sasuke's fists clenched in anger and he felt his Sharingan activate in response.
"Your clan died because they failed to discover what Sarutobi taught to your brother," Danzou said, telling the full truth.
However he had no clue exactly what had allowed Itachi to control the taint for so long. It wasn't necessary to know either. He had a different, better solution, one that could both control the taint and make the kekkei genkai even more powerful.
"Your clan paid a price to create its kekkei genkai," Danzou said, "Immense power at a dangerous cost. Would you pay the same price?"
Sasuke was still numb from the man's words but he could definitely agree with that and nodded.
"The Sharingan's power causes a disorder that eats away at the mind. Think back to your youngest years. How many times have you heard that the Uchiha could not be defeated, that they were inherently better than all others?" Danzou asked, "And none have become Hokage thus far. None could stop your brother. The Sharingan does offer great power, but its side effects prevent those who are too weak from ever grasping it. That was what your brother was taught. That is what made him the most powerful Uchiha this village has seen since the death of the Shodai Hokage."
"You're lying. I'm not crazy," Sasuke hissed defensively.
"No, you're not, yet. But I'm sure that if you use your sharp intellect you can see the warning signs, from the crawling sensation in your head when you use it, to your growing anger and unwillingness to accept training," Danzou said with a smirk, "The side effect of its power has already begun to make you believe that you know more than one of the most elite jounin in the village."
Sasuke blinked rapidly for a moment before his jaw slowly opened and closed. If Kakashi had said something like that he would have ignored him, but this Danzou radiated a feeling of power that Sasuke had never experienced, even though he was a cripple. And it sounded so true coming from him.
"I was the one who trained Orochimaru when Sarutobi refused to let him surpass the teammates that he had outpaced," Danzou said in a relaxed tone as he stretched his arms, "I can stop the side effects that have prevented every Uchiha save for your brother from reaching the level of power they deserve. And when the time comes, you will be my successor, and achieve what your ancestors always desired, to lead this village into a new era, as the ultimate power. Your brother's death will be barely a drop in the bucket, an event you will disregard in mere months after your vengeance is complete. You have a larger destiny Uchiha Sasuke. To establish both your clan and Konoha in the place they truly belong."
Sasuke's breath was hitched in his chest as he listened to Danzou's smooth voice, carried away by the raw charisma the man radiated.
"When your training is complete you will swat your brother like a gnat," Danzou said, "And that future is yours if you choose it. Otherwise we both walk away from this, I forget I saw you here, and anyone else will assume that it's the madness of your bloodline causing delusions that I would offer you such power."
The final needle to his pride was too much and Sasuke snapped out, "What do I have to do?"
"Ahh, you show that you're a true ninja already, asking the price before accepting," Danzou said, knowing that in truth the Uchiha was hooked, netted and landed already and it was a mere formality. Children, especially those who were lonely, angry, and perhaps a little emotionally and psychologically unbalanced were so easy to convince. 'Ne' would never have been as successful otherwise.
[AN:] I finally found some time and the inspiration to write this. I nearly missed my personal deadline of getting it up this Tuesday. Blame it on bad fanfiction. I read one that started out decent but descended into such horror that it threw off my game. I was terrified that it had completely killed my mojo, and it affected not just my fanfiction, but my serious writing as well.
It took quite a while to get that particular mania I need to write going again, at least long enough to pump out this chapter. With my inspiration (a symptom of a mental disorder, most likely) back I sat down and clacked this out in a few hours, but even still I'm not satisfied, even though it covers all of the points I needed to hit in this chapter. I'm going to run over it a few times to catch as many grammatical errors as possible, but as always, I won't do any deep editing until I'm finished with the first major segment of the story and I'm ready to fix the whole horrid mess I've made of it so far into a coherent whole.
I intend to write this story in one year (in story) segments that will hopefully bring closure at the end of each while leaving plenty of hooks behind. I won't leave any segment I've begun unfinished, but I'm telling you as a precaution, so you know what to expect if my life becomes so wildly hectic I need to put the next segment on hold for a while.
With the upcoming chuunin exams arc, expect things to kick into high gear in terms of development, even though I'll probably be moving even slower through the timeline in order to address all of the events that will be coming together for this arc.
It's currently still the first day of April in the story. The first segments of the chuunin exams begin in the second week of May, leaving the finale in mid June (first day of the seventh moon if I'm getting this right).
Oh, and Sasuke's broken ribs: I didn't realize the connection between that and my own until I went to post it. Don't think of it as an insert, think of it as inspiration. I needed a nagging injury that would be annoying (even when healed) but not a show stopper.
Now that my manic ranting has exceeded my actual posting in length I think it's time to wish you all a fond farewell and hope you keep digging Fool's Gold.