disclaimer: i don't own any part of naruto
The Chain of Change
Naruto woke up when someone entered his room.
The height of the too-bright sun that peeked through the window shades indicated mid-afternoon. He felt like someone had run him over with a truck.
The voice was cool and precise. Naruto recognized it, but didn't say anything. He moved a little and frowned as his elbow came into contact with another body, warm and curvy and still asleep.
"Fuck," he muttered. Apparently last night had gotten a little out of hand. He didn't even remember when he'd acquired the bedmate.
"Namikaze Naruto, I am here to escort you back to your village."
His visitor might as well have been talking to a wall. Naruto had no desire to be awake. He turned over on his stomach and mashed his pillow over his head in an attempt to block out all auditory and visual stimuli.
"I have been instructed to use force if you do not comply," his visitor continued, with infuriating calmness.
One bleary eye regarded the wolf-masked ANBU from underneath the pillow. "I'm not going anywhere. Tell that bastard that he can go to hell," came the eloquent reply.
If Naruto was baiting the Konoha-nin, then it seemed to do the trick. Wolf ripped the pillow from Naruto and snarled, "'That bastard' is your father and the finest hokage Konoha has ever seen!" One hand rose in preparation to deliver a heavy cuff.
The blow never landed. Suddenly Naruto was sitting upright, his hand capturing the ANBU's wrist in a powerful grip. For a minute, the room was silent, save for the sound of Wolf's heavy breathing. Then Naruto said, slowly,
"Get out of my apartment."
His voice was quiet, but his eyes had become very, very cold. There was suddenly something terrifying about him, a feeling of dangerousness that could hardly have been attributed to the blond at first glance. As if there were something that stood behind him, some door that had been opened to reveal an ancient rage, terrible and patient.
To his credit, the ANBU refused to be cowed.
"Hokage-sama has ordered for you to be declared a missing-nin unless you return with me to Konoha. Today."
There was a creaking of bones as the grip on his wrist tightened, painfully.
Underneath his mask, the ANBU wore a small smile of satisfaction. "Then kill me and find out."
Naruto let go. All of the strength seemed to seep out of him as he collapsed onto his bed. The girl sleeping next to him stirred, moving the sheets to expose just enough to make the ANBU look away. Seeing this made Naruto smile wickedly.
"She's not bad, if you want a go, Wolf-san." To be honest, he didn't know how she was at all. Last night was lost in a haze of booze and drugs. He was only saying it to get a rise out of the masked nin.
"Get up." The disgust in the ANBU's voice made Naruto's smile widen.
"All right, you got me, I'm going."
Wolf waited impatiently as Naruto stretched prodigiously and padded into the bathroom to shower, as if this were any other morning – or afternoon. The ANBU had little idea why the Hokage was recalling this delinquent now. If it had been up to Wolf, the cocky little bastard could go on wasting his life to his heart's content, wallowing in every cesspool known to the elemental nations until he either ended up a homeless addict or died of an overdose. But blood ran deep – even bad blood. Wolf knew that better than anyone.
Naruto's apartment had all the markings of a temporary home. There was no sign than an attempt had been made to make the place more habitable. The blond had never really unpacked, his clothes lying in a pile over a black duffle bag. The kitchenette was devoid of any dishware or cutlery, although it boasted an excess of empty bowl ramen containers. Even the bed was barely more than a metal frame with a mattress, although the blond had apparently sprung for some nice sheets, being the hedonist that he was.
Speaking of hedonism. There was an empty handle of liquor on the ground next to the bed, and another lying half-empty alongside it. There were also a few crumpled squares of white paper next to them. Wolf had no illusions about what they had once contained. He supposed that he should make some attempt to rouse the girl and send her home before she woke up on her own to an abandoned apartment. But the sight of her only made him angry. She, along with the refuse that littered the floor, was the symbol of Naruto's wasted life, of his reprehensible choices and his disgusting excess.
Many a time the Hokage had broken down in front of his most trusted ninja, both in fury and in desperation. No one had any idea where Naruto went wrong. He had been a happy child, polite and morally upright, until one day, when he just suddenly… wasn't. It had been such a drastic change that the Hokage had suspected genjutsu, ordering Itachi, the scion of Konoha's infamous Uchiha clan, to personally take a look at the boy. Itachi had reported no externally-derived abnormalities, but he had looked troubled after talking to Naruto – a rarity for the normally stoic ANBU. Then again, the next week Itachi had massacred most of his clan, so there was no telling what had been going on in the man's head.
There was an abrupt sound as Naruto shut off the shower. A few minutes later, he stepped out of the bathroom, toweling off his hair and wearing only a pair of boxers. Sensing the frown underneath Wolf's mask, he smirked and said, "Like what you see?"
"Pack," the ANBU barked. "And do something about your guest."
Naruto tapped a cigarette out of its pack as he idly watched Wolf's exchange with the guard. After less than a minute, the guard gave a smart salute and shouted something at another nin stationed a little further down. Then the gates of Konoha opened with a loud groan.
The blond formed a quick succession of seals with his free hand and lit his cigarette with a snap of his fingers. He inhaled deeply, enjoying the subtle changes in Wolf's body language that signaled disapproval.
"Let's go," the ANBU growled. "The hokage wants to see you immediately."
"What a pain," Naruto muttered.
They had covered the distance to Konoha in just about two days. Wolf had set an exhausting pace, but Naruto, much to the ANBU's secret annoyance, had not suffered much from it. Despite everything, the blond was a talented ninja, and his stamina outstripped that of most of his peers, Wolf included.
The two walked to the hokage's tower like civilians. Very few people along the way recognized Naruto, and no one chose to remark on the boy's return; the hokage's son was a touchy subject in Konoha.
"I don't see anyone I know," the blond commented as they made their way through mazelike streets.
"The rest of the Rookie Nine are chuunin now," Wolf said. There was an acidic edge to his voice. "Except for Neji, who made jounin last year. Naturally, they are all kept very busy with missions."
"And poor me, still a lowly genin."
There were a thousand things that Wolf wanted to say in response to that. Instead, he kept silent as they approached the looming tower. The ANBU at the doors let them in without question.
The hokage was behind his desk, signing documents. Time had been kind to Namikaze Minato. The daily stresses of his position had done little to mar the youthfulness of his features. But as he looked up to see the ANBU escort Wolf and his son into his office, the lines on his face seem to deepen, and the shadows under his eyes grew starker, until he seemed to wear the mask of an old man.
Wolf noticed it, and inwardly seethed at the effect Naruto had on his father.
"Hi there," the boy said offhandedly, as if he hadn't been three years missing. "Why did you have Kakashi call me back?" Wolf flinched at the identification, earning another of Naruto's wicked smiles. "You think I'm stupid enough to not recognize the voice of my own jounin-sensei?"
Minato put down his pen and leaned back tiredly. He did not stand up.
"Naruto. It's been a long time."
The smile immediately vanished from his son's face, replaced by an angry glower. "You brought me back here as the hokage," Naruto snapped. "Don't start talking to me as my father."
"All right then," Minato conceded. They had already treaded this ground three years ago, again and again, and each time, fruitlessly. The older blond's voice became cool and impassive, but his expression remained weary. "Naruto, I have ordered your return on behalf of Konoha and the Council. The elemental countries are drawing closer to war, and your skills are needed here."
The boy remained silent, but his anger did not dissipate.
"I am reforming Team Seven under Hatake Kakashi. You will report to him as your commander from today on."
There was a sudden flare of wind-imbued chakra as Naruto exploded.
"Team Seven?! I'd rather be declared a missing-nin and hunted down like an animal than let them fuck with me again!" The air lashed violently around them like a wild storm. It was an impressive display of elemental chakra, but the hokage refused to be fazed.
Stone-faced, Minato said, "Then that can be arranged."
Kakashi looked away. He knew how much the older blond suffered to utter those words. How had it come to this – that a father would need to say such a thing to his only child?
Naruto narrowed his eyes. The wind around them sharpened. Kakashi felt its dangerous pressure against his skin and wondered why the ANBU hadn't come charging into the office yet.
Minato said softly, "I will put you down myself if that is what it comes down to."
At first Kakashi thought Naruto was going to attack his own father, but then the wind chakra let up and the boy slumped in defeat. When he looked back up, there was no acknowledgement of either of their presences in his eyes. It may as well have been the gaze of a dead thing.
Mechanically, Naruto said, "I will report to Hatake-san tomorrow morning. I request permission to be dismissed."
"I am assigning Mouse and Eagle to keep watch over you," the hokage said. "Dismissed."
"I have no right to call myself a father," Minato said. "Sometimes I wish that the Kyuubi had taken me along with it."
Kakashi couldn't think of anything to say to that, so he said nothing.
"Where did you find him?" The hokage asked, rubbing his forehead tiredly with one hand.
"A small village near Water Country."
"Was he by himself?"
"Yes," Kakashi lied smoothly. "He had his own apartment."
"Did he seem all right to you?" There was a dry twist to the blond's voice.
"For the most part. He didn't seem very happy to be coming back here."
"Kakashi," Minato said suddenly. His expression was somber. "I know my son – and his vices. You don't have to protect me from the truth."
The silver-haired jounin licked his lips uncertainly. Then he pulled up his mask so that he could look his sensei in the eye.
"When I found Naruto, he was in bed with a girl that I don't think he knew. He had been drinking."
Kakashi looked away. "Minato-sensei…"
"I want to hear it, Kakashi."
The jounin said slowly, "I think – that he's been using drugs."
Minato sighed, long and drawn-out, the sound of the life departing a dying body.
"What am I going to do? He's in no position to be serving actively, but I've put him in that spot. Fuck, I even threatened to kill him. My own son."
Kakashi began, "The Council –"
"Fuck the Council," Minato snarled, surprising his former student with his viciousness. "If it weren't for the sake of this village, I would happily see those bastards dead." Desperately, he said, "I wish I could step down."
But they both knew that he couldn't. That war was coming to Konoha, plain and simple, and that without the Yellow Flash to lead it, their village would not make it out of the pending conflict on top. And the Land of Fire had far, far more to lose than any of the other elemental countries.
The Fourth was the most talented ninja Konoha had ever produced. But here, in this expansive office with his only surviving student, he was a failure, a man who couldn't put the welfare of his only child before the demands of his job.
Kakashi arrived at the training grounds to see Naruto idly leaning against the fence, smoking, while his two teammates stood next to each other, some distance away.
The blond looked up as he approached, flicking the ash from his cigarette. "Mornin', commander."
The jounin winced at the high-pitched voice. Though Hanuro Sakura had matured, the pitch of her voice had not mellowed and it still had a way of grating on his nerves.
"Why is Naruto here?"
It was a valid question, and from the stares his two students were giving him, it was one that they expected an answer to. Kakashi sighed and glanced at the blond in question. "You want to tell them?"
"The hokage recalled me to active duty," Naruto said shortly. "He reformed Team Seven. So here I am."
"Kakashi-sensei." It was the normally taciturn Uchiha Sasuke. "He has defected before. How do we know that we can trust him?"
Naruto favored him with a cold, twisted smile. "The hokage gave me a pretty clear choice – either join up with you guys, or be put down. He even offered to do the deed himself. Pretty considerate of him, considering how busy he is."
Sasuke looked away in disgust. Kakashi felt a sudden throbbing at his temples. It was going to be a long morning.
Author's Note: If you took the time to read this, please let me know how I'm doing. I'm kind of writing this one out of my ass, so if the characters came out all wrong, I apoligize, and can only say that -- in my defense -- it is technically AU.