Chapter 20 – Loss and Love
A/N: Okay, much like the Doom chapter (some 70,000 words for those who're interested) I have no idea where this one came from or how I wrote so much; I can't even begin to try and explain so I'll keep it short and sweet; read and enjoy.
Kurenai was known for being observant; it was, after all, a prerequisite of specialising in the genjutsu arts; so when the shinobi she equal parts admired for his skills and loathed for his habits walked into her favourite tea shop with an eye-smile on his face and no evidence of his favourite book anywhere on his person, she knew some kind of fix was in,
"Good morning Kurenai-san", Kakashi inclined his head to his fellow jounin-sensei, Kurenai nodding in response as the Copy-nin looked at the seat opposite her, "may I speak with you a moment?"
"Of course Kakashi-senpai", as always the youngest jounin in Konoha's forces remembered her manners and used the suffix out of a respect she rarely felt around the legendary pervert, though as the older man sat down opposite him she caught scent of a very familiar, very threatening odour and, after looking at his jounin uniform, her eyes widened,
"Senpai, is that...?"
"Hai, I'm afraid so – the reaction was worse than even I expected", Kakashi sighed heavily, once more remembering what had happened mere hours ago and the uncertainty that now hung over the fate of his genin cell like a funeral shroud, "in fact, that was what I wanted to talk to you about. You remember the, ah, unsightly scenes from yesterday?"
At that Kurenai did nod, once more feeling a little smug despite herself – for all his reputation as an A-ranked ninja and someone who could, in an absolute pinch, take the mantle of Hokage for the venerable Sandaime, Kakashi was the only jounin-sensei without a team in Konoha's chunin exams.
"I'm afraid I cannot allow you to enter", Kakashi repeated himself slowly, supremely unconcerned at the borderline lethal glare one of his students was shooting him as a result of his proclamation, "a full team of three is required and, as there are only two of you, Team Seven is not eligible to compete in this exam". Sasuke, of course, didn't seem to accept this very well; the Uchiha was virtually a hairs-breadth from breathing the fire his clan was famed for as the other student who had appeared in his shadow seemed torn down the middle between relief and rage; though she couldn't attempt promotion, she at least wouldn't have to go through the exams at least part of her must have known she wasn't skilled or strong enough to stand a chance in,
"But I'm ready for this", the rookie of the year demanded, apparently unconcerned of how uncomfortable this display was making his jounin-sensei and the amused expressions on the faces of the other teams as they walked past with all three members intact, "I can easily become a chunin..."
"I have no doubt", Kakashi cut him off with his typical bored tone, though right now he simply wanted both himself and his students to disappear; it was embarrassing enough being the only sensei who wouldn't have a team in the exams without Sasuke making a scene like this, "however you won't be becoming a chunin this time. Please meet up at the usual training ground tomorrow; I'll let Naruto know when I see him next but I'm afraid you'll have to leave now or I'll be forced to remove you".
It seemed for a moment that Sasuke was tempted, sorely tempted, to ignore the jounin's command and simply push past; however it appeared the Uchiha had at least enough sense to recognise a command when he heard one. Snarling, the last loyal bearer of the Sharinghan in Konoha turned on his heel and stalked away, shoving past his kunoichi team mate as Sakura's words seemed to die in her throat – even a fangirl knew when to keep her mouth shut it seemed. After following after the Uchiha with her eyes for a moment Sakura turned back to her teacher and the other sensei present, gave a quick but respectful bow and departed quickly, not wanting to stay the centre of attention for too long without Sasuke or Naruto to hide behind. Kakashi watched her go, inwardly a little relieved that at least one of his team had declined the obvious offer of promotion and realised that he wasn't ready for it (though to give him credit, Naruto was much improved over what he had been prior to the mission that appeared to have turned him from a brat to a ninja), though even as he did feel that relief, he found himself inwardly wincing about what was likely to happen tomorrow morning; just this once I'd best avoid the road of life – I have a horrible suspicion that if I turn up late at that team meeting it'll all be over bar burying the bodies.
"I was right to be worried", Kakashi admitted, indicating the blood on his vest as Kurenai's eyes widened alarmingly, "I spoke to Naruto at his apartment later that night and I have to say I was impressed by his reasoning about not attempting promotion".
"What did he say?" Despite herself Kurenai was intrigued by this – though one of her students had a very large and equally obvious crush on the blonde demon container, Kurenai herself had had relatively little direct contact with the jinchuuriki, least of all after the mission of his cell to Wave that had, Kakashi claimed, been a turning point in Naruto's life and ninja career,
"He can afford to be patient", the Copy-nin recited, explaining further as the genjutsu mistress as she appeared to consider this, "to be Hokage he needs to know a minimum of a thousand techniques, learn diplomacy, discipline and host of other things even before he reaches jounin or ANBU ranks. He said he wants to work out the other aspects of the ninja life that he failed to pay attention to first time around over the next six months, learning other skills and jutsus as he goes; depending on how well that goes he may attempt the chunin exams in six months, though I doubt he'll do so as a part of Team Seven". Seeing the blood spots on Kakashi's vest Kurenai shivered as she thought about what could have happened in training ground seven this morning,
"Was it that bad?"
"Yes", the older ninja sighed without a second thought, "when these exams are over I will formerly petition the Sandaime to disband my team; the differences are too great for any of them to reconcile now, least of all after Naruto told them a few home truths in no uncertain terms".
"Do I dare ask how bad it was?" Closing his single eye Kakashi sighed once more, the gesture making Kurenai lower her tea cup; for a veteran of war to be shaken by the actions of a team of genin was a serious thing indeed.
It was only as Kakashi began reciting the scene that had unfolded over the previous few hours and she felt her gorge rise and skin chill to goosebumps that she realised exactly how gifted Kakashi was at hiding his emotions in the face of such an emotional eruption.
As had become the habit recently Naruto was the last to arrive for their team meeting, about fifteen minutes after the time Kakashi had given; watching from his perch in a nearby tree, affording him a good view of the other two team members lying in wait for the jinchuuriki. Sasuke was pacing around, restless as a caged lion; though a welcome change from his normal brooding pose, the Copy-ninja felt the change could have been brought about by better circumstances. Sakura was silent, sitting in the shade and shooting glances at Sasuke, though she hadn't yet plucked up the courage to try speaking to him yet; even at this range Kakashi could all but taste the rage smoking off the last Uchiha. It would only take a little push, one nudge to the anthill of the raven-haired boy's rage and all would be realised in a scrabbling, biting tide that would consume all before it and, unless he was very much mistaken, that nudge would be coming from the short, orange-clad form now approaching the other two members of his team.
Glancing at the form of the jinchuuriki Kakashi found himself thinking about the recent past, most specifically the conversation he'd had the previous day after double-checking neither Sasuke nor Sakura were ready to go hunting the third team mate and let him know their displeasure. Not for the first time after the mission to Wave, almost five months ago, Kakashi found himself wondering if there had been something he'd missed, some trigger that he hadn't seen that had changed Naruto, slowly but surely, from the dead-last shrieking he was going to be Hokage to a calmer, more collected and, if the Copy-nin was honest with himself, a more professional and dangerous ninja. In the beginning he'd suspected the shock of seeing one of his comrades 'die', the subsequent release of the chakra of the demon he held and, following recovery, the funeral of someone who he had considered a friend in the way only Naruto could had been enough to shock him out of his former persona; after all; Kakashi thought ruefully to himself as one of his fingers tapped his slanted forehead protector in memory of what lay behind it and the sacrifice it represented; he wouldn't be the first who was affected by the loss of a comrade. Now though, he wasn't quite so sure – having heard Naruto's calm explanation of his reasons for turning down the chance of promotion and realising that, when he'd handed the slips out, Naruto's expression and body language had been less than ecstatic, the Copy ninja couldn't shake the nagging suspicion that he was missing something, something important. Before he could think too deeply on the matter however, he blinked as he realised the Uzumaki's approach hadn't gone unnoticed by the other two and he winced internally as, like he'd predicted, his appearance was the pebble that started the avalanche.
A moment later, he activated his technique to appear in front of his team before anything else happened and someone got seriously hurt.
Sasuke had been furious all night, barely able to sleep and training until he passed out from exhaustion; he had known his team was worthless and would only ever drag him down but this was ridiculous. The dobe had cost him a chance at getting stronger and he was already so far behind the traitor that he might never catch up and avenge his clan; that Naruto had tripped him up once more and restrained his progress due to his own incompetence was a matter too far – when this was over he would demand to be reassigned to a team with like-minded genin or, better, apprenticeship under a jounin who'd give him the training he required rather than a perverted, slacking scarecrow who burdened him with naught but useless teamwork exercises. He was so prepared, so waiting for the dobe to appear that he actually had to look twice to confirm he was actually there; as soon as he'd seen the target however, all bets were off and he stalked up to the dead-last,
"You've got a lot of nerve showing up here dobe", the Uchiha snarled, coming to a halt a foot or two away from the other genin, though Naruto seemed to find something on the ground more interesting than he did his team mate and, further incensed by this dismissal, he went on, "you cost me a chance at chunin because you're a damned coward! Even Sakura had more spine than you did and she's worthless", said pink-haired girl cringed at this harsh dismissal but Sasuke paid it no mind, continuing to lash his erstwhile team mate with his caustic tongue, "but you, because of you I'm stuck on this useless team with a fangirl, a sensei who's taught me nothing that could get me closer to killing that man and you, the worst student to drag his carcass out of the ninja Academy and who ran at the first sign of trouble! You're nothing Naruto, worse than trash – you abandoned us, some Hokage you'd make".
The Copy-ninja had heard everything (it wasn't that hard to listen in, the Uchiha wasn't trying to keep his voice down at all) and was expecting the worst at this point, ready to step in at needed. However it seemed that, quite luckily, Naruto was able to hold his temper; the jinchuuriki looked up at his team mate and held his gaze for a long, long second before, in silence, simply stepping to the side and past Sasuke, brushing him off as though he was unworthy of notice. Of course this jarred the Uchiha's ego to the extreme; Sasuke had a serious issue about being ignored and this was something Kakashi took advantage of all the time; however, though Sasuke was smart enough to realise that if push came to shove Kakashi could easily wipe the floor with him, he appeared to consider Naruto fair game. Whipping around with the speed of a cobra the Uchiha lashed out and grabbed his team mate's shoulder.
The following movement was so fast that Kakashi was momentarily taken aback; one minute Sasuke had his fingers digging into the Uzumaki's jumpsuit with enough force to turn his knuckles white, the next he was staggering backwards as Naruto had slid backwards and smashed a hard elbow into the raven's jaw with enough force to break his hold and send him reeling. With this done Naruto appeared to consider that all was satisfied and carried on walking, stepping forwards with purpose and nodding to Sakura, who sat stunned at this development; from his position however Kakashi could see Sasuke recovering and decided it was time to be somewhere else before the Uchiha did something rash that got either him, Naruto or both hurt.
With a characteristic plume of smoke team seven all looked around as their teacher appeared, at least two of the three genin noticing that, in showing up where he had, Kakashi had put distance between the two antagonists and defused the situation from turning nasty, at least temporarily,
"Good morning my cute students", the Copy ninja greeted, seemingly looking in two directions at once to keep all three in his monovision at once, "now I know some of you are upset at not being in the Chunin exams but I respected your right to make your own decisions and the rest of you should as well", Sasuke snorted at this, obviously not impressed and, perhaps noticing this, Naruto sighed and folded his arms,
"Yes Sasuke we all know your thoughts on the matter, as does everyone else within about a three-mile radius", he spoke tiredly, though there was a hint of sardonic humour in his tone as he went on, "and as far as I'm concerned they've vindicated my decision on the matter".
"What do you mean by that baka? We could have had a chance at chunin if you'd gotten your act together and backed us up instead of running away", Sakura pointed out, though there was a distinct lack of heat in her voice as she spoke; she could not, however, have expected what the result of such a statement was going to be.
Once upon a time this comment might have hurt the dead-last but now, something else that had changed over the past few months, Naruto merely cocked his head towards her and gave a smile that contained more than a trace of both a smirk and an evil-mannered humour,
"No Sakura"; no honorific again, this isn't the first time either; Kakashi merely listened apathetically as it appeared that Naruto's crush was well and truly buried as he went on with his bored explanation, "Sasuke and I might have had a chance of chunin; you fail in every department for chunin save chakra control and book smarts. You do as little training as Kakashi-sensei lets you get away with and none outside of team meetings, your chakra pool is downright pitiful and will never increase as you don't improve the physical element of your chakra by exercising and strengthening your body, though even if you did try and train hard I doubt it would matter because your diet is shot to hell, a result of your obsession with dieting and trying to look good for your Sasuke-kun. Apart from that, a mere scratch on the surface I might add, your uniform has as much use in practical stealth as mine does but unlike you I've got the training to make up for it, you've never set up a trap in your life, bottomed out a lot of the survival training sections of the Academy and due to your obsession with personal hygiene and fashion I could track you by scent to here from Konoha. Even now you're lying to both us and yourself, blaming me for not showing up when in reality you're grateful I didn't – it meant you didn't look weak in front of Sasuke and got you off the hook in case our team failed and you were outed as the weak link", his head suddenly shot up, eyes that were so often smiling now filled with a concentrated, cold blue fire that seemed to consume the last vestiges of Sakura's self-worth and pride as a kunoichi as he settled his weight onto his back foot and finished his comprehensive demolition,
"Am I wrong Sakura? Is anything I've said incorrect, or doing you down at all – if so speak now or forever hold your peace. In that case", after giving a few seconds' pause he carried on, tone never changing from a matter-of-fact, colourless tone, one that Kakashi himself might have used to deliver a verbal mission report, "I'm not saying this to hurt you or make you feel bad but because you need to hear it – at the level you are now and the way you're going in your career Konohamaru has a better chance of getting chunin than you do. Unless you change yourself, and change yourself radically, the only two options you've got at the minute to have a long life are to either remain a career genin or quit the ninja programme – try anything else and most likely the only things you'll end up with are your name on the Hero Monument and some compensation money for your family".
Harsh but, unfortunately, fair; though his words painful to hear Kakashi's professional side was actually somewhat relieved that someone had stepped in and told Sakura exactly what she needed to hear – he had been wrestling for a way to break the news to his kunoichi himself without breaking her heart. The emotional side of him, however, was only marginally less shocked than Sakura herself appeared to be; though he'd noticed the jinchuuriki's relationship with the girl had cooled noticeably since Wave, he'd never thought things could've gotten to this point. The cherry blossom for her part seemed to have been stunned into absolute muteness, so far gone into disbelief that even her old fallback; hit the baka until he squeals or apologises; was lost and adrift – a tear dripped from her eye and she looked down, unable to face Naruto after he'd torn her down so comprehensively and, worst of all, was right in all regards. The blonde looked away, apparently regretful that he'd been forced to administer a dose of such harsh medicine but resolute in doing so. Kakashi cleared his throat and made to try and clear the air but, before he could do so, the third member spoke up again,
"Dobe", Naruto looked over, right into Sasuke's blazing eyes even if his Sharinghan was inactivated at the minute, "fight me!"
Naruto merely blinked; apparently the question was unexpected,
"I said fight me", Sasuke repeated, stepping one foot forwards aggressively as he fell into the opening stance of his family's Intercepting Fist style, "you said you and I had a chance of chunin; well thanks to you we'll never know. You, chunin", he snorted dismissively, raising his fists, "don't make me laugh dobe; you don't and will never stand a chance against the ninja in those exams so you bottled out when you had the chance and because of that my chance to get the power I need avenge my clan was dragged down with you. So fight me", he declared, flaring his bloodline and inwardly gleeful as Naruto looked away, not meeting his doujutsu, "see if you can back up your words with your fists".
For a moment Naruto said nothing and neither did Kakashi – though he had hoped to avoid blood and violence if possible, the Copy-nin knew that the last Uchiha was one who held a grudge forever and would not be satisfied until the insult, as he saw it, the Uzumaki had laid at his feet was wiped away in blood; and it'll take a fist-fight to do that at the very least. So be it; Kakashi decided, stepping back and checking that the third member of this little dance wasn't going to get any ideas; if it looks like serious injury, maiming or murder I'll step in, otherwise just let them get on with it. Sasuke stood where he was, waiting for the answer to come and grinning savagely in anticipation as he saw Naruto push himself to his full height and face him again, though once more he didn't make eye contact, wary of the Sharinghan's power as was only right and proper for a clanless orphan and dobe,
"You know Sasuke, its odd; you talk about you revenge like it's the most important thing in your life but, if it was and we were actually fighting, you'd never have a chance to achieve it".
"What the hell are you talking about dobe? Have you lost your mind?"
"No but you've lost your legs"; Sasuke was on the absolute verge of just deciding to say screw it all and go in swinging before a quiet cough from over his shoulder made him whip around like a scalded cat, his eyes widening in horror as he beheld another Naruto standing there, a kunai held loosely in his hand as he smiled at the Uchiha; I never even sensed it was there. The chakra construct seemed to relish the confusion in the rookie of the year's eyes before it spoke for its creator, its bored tone seemingly echoing its master but with perhaps a bite more impatience in its voice than the real Naruto used,
"Well done Sasuke – not paying attention to your surroundings means you've just had a knife lodged in your spine. Right now the enemy is tearing your eyes out your skull for implantation into another host, your chakra's been sealed and your body prepped for transport so some other village can use your body and sperm to have a whole new generation of little Uchiha babies to fight for them. You failed to kill your brother but at least you managed to resurrect your clan, so one out of two ain't bad I guess. Are you getting the point yet?"
The Uchiha was reduced to spluttering as the clone burst into smirk and the voice of the original spoke up from over his shoulder, carrying on where the chakra construct had left off with more desperation and, unless Kakashi was hearing things, more outright frustration in his tone; something is going on here – Naruto's been acting strangely for weeks now. Firstly he was more tired and drained than before, about the same time he really started to ignore Sakura and not talk much to Sasuke; this apparent deterioration in teamwork, shaky at the best of times for Team Seven, had driven Kakashi to seriously considering not even offering the genin the applications to the exams but, in the end, he'd gone with it hoping it would show them all how much they needed to improve. Of course Naruto had scuppered that hope but, as his shortest student went on, the Copy-nin raised an eyebrow as it appeared that he was determined to teach the others the lessons the Chunin exams might have personally,
"None of us are ready for chunin", Naruto exclaimed, pointing first to Sakura and then the last Uchiha, "Sakura-chan's got a lot of work to do, you're so blinkered and arrogant that any ninja worth a damn could distract you into an ego-stoking contest until his team mate slit your throat from behind and I don't know enough about the basics and have more important things to deal with at the minute than try to go for a promotion I couldn't realistically achieve", the jinchuuriki paused to recapture his breath before wrapping up his tirade, "just swallow your pride, get your head out your ass and grow up! You're not Kami, you're not an elite and you're not guaranteed a vest just because of the eye-infection you call a bloodline; until you learn that Konoha doesn't revolve around you and your revenge on Itachi, and that people will not just drop everything to cram power and techniques they sweated blood to learn into your hands because you think you need and deserve them, you're going to stay both very disappointed and a genin".
When exactly did you grow up Naruto?; once more the former dead-last, and after that succinct summary of the situation he would forever be a former dead-last in Kakashi's mismatched eyes as he'd proved he'd completely outgrown that label with his maturity, had surprised all present. In fact so deep was Kakashi's contemplation of the situation that he didn't realise someone had taken offence to Naruto's words until a black blur rushed past him, Sasuke driven to beyond fury by his team mates' words. Kakashi started at this but, seeing the two ninja starting to spar as Naruto backed up, deflecting most of Sasuke's offense as the Uchiha sought to overpower him, decided to stay his hand for the moment; either Naruto would prove his point beyond all reasonable doubt (though in the jounin's mind he'd already done so by effectively 'killing' Sasuke before the other genin had ever noticed he was in danger), or he'd learn that honesty wasn't always the best policy. Though Sasuke did have serious problems with both his mentality and his attitude he was still the rookie of the year and outclassed his blonde counterpart in taijutsu, given a few more seconds he would break the blonde's guard though it had taken him a lot longer than Kakashi could remember it taking in the past, before the Uchiha's last punch, a straight right aimed at caving in Naruto's nose, there was an explosion of smoke and Sasuke stumbled forwards, red eyes already flaring at looking for his opponent,
"Bang!" The voice from the other side of the training ground was echoed as Naruto stepped into the clearing from the training ground, having completed his kawarimi with the shadow clone Kakashi had detected settle in position while the real one been lambasting his team mates, "That was an Exploding Shadow Clone Sasuke; you're dead again. You were too convinced you could roll me over in close combat you didn't even think to look underneath the underneath – because you rushed in and got yourself killed all that's left are me and Sakura and that probably wouldn't be too hard for the enemy to take down with our best fighter neutralised. That is what a chunin is", Naruto had never stopped talking as he stepped forwards towards the remaining trio, an inscrutable expression on his face, "it's not just about having speed or techniques or a bloodline, it's how you use it and how you can work with your team and we failed that test before we even began. We've got six months to do something about it though, so if Kakashi-sen..."
It was at that point that Sasuke finished the hand-seals he'd been making and faced his team mate again, his fingers clasped in the tora seal as he roared his technique aloud,
"Grand Fireball jutsu!"
A howling torrent of red and yellow flame sped across the training area, blackening the grass in its path and cloaking Naruto from view; the Uchiha cut off his technique looking grim but smirking even as Sakura screamed,
"Naruto!" Even as Kakashi tried to figure out exactly where Naruto was now, having detected the flare of chakra of another jutsu that the jinchuuriki must have used to get out the way of the technique, the cherry blossom rounded on her team mate, "what the hell, you could have..."
"A ninja takes every opportunity to kill his opponent", Sasuke recited, still looking smug as he watched the remainder of his technique burn out across the field, "dobe should've known that. He stopped me getting chunin; that means he's an oppon-aargh!"
It was at that point that the air just behind the Uchiha blurred and Naruto reappeared; the leaves were still flying around him, his shunshin still not complete as his fist shot out like a striking cobra, a brutal kidney punch that forced Sasuke to arch his back with a cry of pain. From the look on Naruto's face Kakashi had a suspicion with was only the beginning and, as he watched a knife-edge strike land with frightening power and accuracy right into the side of Sasuke's neck, he realised he was right; the jinchuuriki had been pushed too far and was going to take his pound of flesh from the genin who could have killed him. Kicking out the back of the Uchiha's knee and forcing his head back with the hand that had hit his neck and then moved up to fist in his hair, there was a flash of steel in Naruto's hand, Sakura screamed and before Kakashi could quite grip the orange-wearing blonde's hand, the final blow landed.
Sasuke fell, blood pouring in a sheet from the wound Naruto had carved in him and screaming in pain until Naruto dropped to one knee and the ring end of the kunai hammered into his temple, stopping his squeals of agony. Wiping the blade on the Uchiha's shirt Naruto stood back up, nothing but contempt on his face as he glared imperiously down on his team mate before turning up to look at his sensei, breathing heavily but tone forcibly calm as he looked up at the taller man,
"Kakashi-sensei, we might be both be ninja of Konoha but if Sasuke ever uses or I hear of him trying to use a potentially lethal jutsu on a fellow genin outside of a properly supervised sparring match the next line I draw with this blade will be through his eyes or his throat depending on how pissed I'm feeling; would you mind passing the message on when he wakes up?" Kakashi merely nodded, glancing down at the small puddle of crimson that was seeping over the ground from the thin slice Naruto had cut just under the cloth of Sasuke's headband, a monobrow of gore that was still spewing blood despite the thinness of the wound, "Apart from that I think things are a bit too hot here to do much training and we've all got important issues to deal with right now, least of all getting the teme to the hospital before he makes too much more of a mess on the floor; would you mind dismissing us all – I've said everything I needed to say".
"I can't say I approve of the method but you made your point Naruto", the jounin admitted, squatting down next to the unconscious Sasuke and looking at the cut again, "team dismissed; I will see you all here tomorrow. Sakura-chan can you get home on your own; I need to get Sasuke-kun to the hospital. I'll come and see you as soon as I've sorted him out".
The Haruno nodded dumbly, a faraway look still in her eyes as she mechanically stood up and started to slowly trudge back towards the village, head low and shoulders slumped, still trying to take in the message Naruto had all but forced her to see as the jounin gathered up his comatose student and activated his own movement technique towards the Konoha hospital.
Blinking her eyes in shock as Kakashi once more looked down at the blood spots speckling his uniform and recalled the frantic medics shouting for resources to take the injured Uchiha off his hands, Kurenai swallowed slightly before taking another sip of tea, considering the matter before speaking in a considering tone,
"So Naruto, you think what he's said and done have broken the team completely?" The Copy-nin chuckled mirthlessly,
"What little team there ever was in the first place, but it'd be unfair to place the blame on him alone; at least he admitted to his own defects at the same time as point out those of the other two. But you're right of course", the Copy-ninja sighed, massaging his single eye tiredly as he went on, "cell seven cannot continue in its current incarnation. I'll approach the Sandaime after the second exam; all I can do up until then is try to run as much damage control and pick up as many pieces as I can for all of them. And this, if you don't mind, is where I need your help Kurenai-san".
The kunoichi was professional enough to hide any reaction she might have had to this but, internally, she sighed in exasperation; every time, whenever a shinobi comes up with a problem to do with emotions or 'girl-things', the first response is to go talk to the nearest woman to sort out their issues. Still, Kakashi had at least had the decency to ask her outright rather than try to coerce of blackmail her into it and for that if nothing else she was forced to give him credit; therefore, after knocking back the dregs of her tea, Kurenai took down a breath and braced herself as she asked the loaded question,
"Let me guess, you wanted someone to talk to Sakura and let her know her team mate was just going through a hard time when he tore her down and didn't mean it?" To her slight surprise however, Kakashi shook his head,
"No, what Naruto said was true and to make sure she gets that message Sakura needs a teacher not a shoulder to cry on at the minute; added to that she's got a family and that Yamanaka girl for an emotional crutch if she needs them. No, out of all of them it's Naruto who concerns me at the minute", Kakashi leant forwards, chin on his fist as he regarded the genjutsu mistress with a calculating eye, "I had a feeling something like this was coming – you recall what happened in Wave?" Kurenai snorted,
"Doubt there's anyone under chunin who hasn't; last I heard though the little harum-scarum you're going on about was calming down after seeing his friend supposedly die in front of him", she considered before catching sight of the faded redness on Kakashi's vest and shivering slightly, "though going on what you just said earlier I doubt that applies any more".
"Probably not any more but, at first, I was impressed he was knuckling down and starting to become a ninja but a while ago that changed; at first he seemed to be upset about something for a few days but brushed it off, well, at least he tried to", Kakashi gave his famous eye-smile but Kurenai wasn't fooled for a second – out of all the ninja in Konoha perhaps only the Hokage himself was more accomplished at seeing through facades than Kakashi, though from what she'd heard Naruto was a master at portraying a false face to the world, "he couldn't quite stop himself becoming slightly more snappish and short-tempered though. I was actually expecting this kind of breakdown earlier; I doubt he really realises it but Naruto's the glue of Team Seven and when he stopped wanting to work it all started falling apart. It was what he said earlier though, that really stuck in my head; 'I've got more important things to deal with now'", Kakashi quoted, once more gaining Kurenai's attention as he elaborated on the situation as he saw it,
"As long as I've known him Naruto has had no other goal than becoming Hokage and getting people to respect him, see who he is rather than the demon – as best I can tell that goal has, if not changed, at least shifted to a more long-term plan. But I don't have any idea what that something else might be, if anything, and I can't exactly ask myself, much as I'd like to – he knows me too well for a start", seeing Kurenai's questioning look the Copy-nin held up a hand and answered her unspoken query, "and he sees me a lot more as a teacher and jounin than someone he can open up to. Ideally I would have asked Sandaime-sama but he's otherwise engaged; you were about the only other person I could think of who he at least knows about as a relatively friendly stranger and, apart from that, even if he would talk to me I know my limits Kurenai-san – I'm many things but a stable influence I most certainly am not, least of all in matters of trauma or recovery".
Despite herself Kurenai couldn't help but credit his argument; Kakashi was a good ninja but his heart was so well guarded and hidden she sometimes doubted the Copy-ninja himself knew where he'd left it last. As it was if what he was saying was true there was more than one potentially unstable jinchuuriki in Konoha and, as her current team was current in the somewhat-dubious hands of her friend Anko for the duration of the second exam, she was at a loose end for a week. With all this in mind and a little luck, she might have a chance of piercing a potential shroud of mystery around the boy for whom the Hyuuga on her team fanned a very bright flame for; in the end it really wasn't much of a decision to make. After mulling things over in her mind for a moment, Kurenai shook out her raven mane of hair and stood up, nodding at the Copy-nin as he too came to his feet and, out of gratitude, dropped enough ryo notes on the table to cover her bill and leave a generous tip,
"Fine then Kakashi; I'll deal with Naruto, you look after your kunoichi".
"Understood Kurenai-san, and thank you". With that, both jounin left the tea shop and went their separate ways into Konoha.
Naruto's address was no great secret; Kurenai had almost lost count of the number of times she'd heard muttered whispers of the 'demon brat's lair' going around the streets from civilians who either didn't know or didn't care how sharp ninja ears truly were. The jinchuuriki was located in one of the poorer areas of the village and the quickest route over there led the jounin through one of the main parks of Konoha; as it was quite a nice day and she was in no particular hurry, she was content to merely stroll towards her destination, taking her time to enjoy the sunshine, puzzle through in her mind how she was going to try and unknot the problem Kakashi had dropped into her lap and, most importantly of all, try to take her mind off how her team were faring in the chunin exams.
Fortunately a sudden shout caught her attention and, as she looked over, she found herself gifted with a key to whatever emotional armour the jinchuuriki might have been deploying to keep his sensei out of his personal life.
Glancing over and catching a flash of white in her vision Kurenai was momentarily taken aback; Hinata, but she's...oh, wrong Hyuuga; of course her genin were still in the Chunin exams, hopefully fighting their way through the Forest of Death for the next five days – it was the other Hyuuga heir who was stepping backwards and gracefully dodging the bull-rush of her opponent under the watchful eye of her Branch house minder. Having once been the carer of Hinata before she became a genin Kurenai had crossed paths with Hanabi once or twice before and found her, like most Hyuuga, a little too calm, cold and collected than would be considered normal or good for their health, but apart from that she seemed about as well-balanced as most of the clan heirs the jounin had ever met; and a good deal more so than most, if what Kakashi was saying earlier was true.
Contrary to a lot of public opinion, the girls' father Hiashi wasn't a completely ruthless bastard who'd judged his elder child a failure and tossed her aside; instead he had acknowledged and confided in private to Kurenai that Hinata took far too much after her mother to be a traditional Hyuuga ninja and was therefore merely taking steps to ensure she would not be burden on the clan as a whole. To that end he had engaged Kurenai's services to teach his eldest child genjutsu and, eventually, medical techniques, not usually areas the Hyuuga were well-versed in, while he and the rest of the council worked on moulding Hanabi into the next clan head; though of course he has yet to fill either of the girls in on his plan, meaning Hinata still thinks she's a failure and Hanabi has no problem beating down the sister who can't bear to hurt her.
"Ah, Kurenai-san, good morning", the sudden greeting snapped her out of her introspection and made her focus on the special jounin who was currently pushing his glasses up under his nose as he went on, "I trust you are well?" The jounin smiled and returned Ebisu's bow before answering,
"Hai, I'm struggling along like everyone else", she replied before looking over his shoulder and enquiring, "so, what's going on here then?"
"Ah, just a little high spirits", the special jounin admitted, his ears starting to redden as he recalled the actions of his student that had led to this impromptu sparring match, "I was instructing Konohamaru-san in basic taijutsu forms when he noticed Hanabi making, I assume, a mocking gesture towards him as she was moving past with her minder. This, regrettably, led to him calling her out; several unpleasant names later it escalated from there into the spar you see behind me. It's touch contact only, no chakra and I trust Moko-san to referee the bout implicitly; I doubt Konohamaru will win but, with a little luck, the defeat will spur him on and show him how much he needs to improve to be considered the best in his peer group, never mind replace his grandfather as Hokage".
"I see", Kurenai responded off-handedly, glancing over the teacher's shoulder in time to see Hanabi land what would have been a winding strike had the Hyuuga been using her Gentle Fist to Konohamaru's belly, though the smaller child didn't let her escape unscathed, clipping her shoulder with his retaliation strike, "ah, that reminds me; Konohamaru knows Uzumaki Naruto doesn't he?"
"Er, yes, the two have been introduced", Ebisu admitted, not wanting to dwell on those memories for too long if he could get away with it, "in fact I believe Konohamaru considers Naruto-san something of a superior and role-model – he's certainly been more receptive to what I've been trying to teach him since the day they met". At this Kurenai gave a mental nod as she made up her mind and solved the first part of Kakashi's conundrum; sorry Ebisu-san but it seems I'll be borrowing your student for a while – if nothing else he'll know which buttons to push to get a response from the jinchuuriki;
"That is good news; in that case Ebisu-san would you and your student mind accompanying me after this spar is completed?" As the special jounin glanced around with a questioning expression Kurenai indulged his curiosity with a quick but easily believable fib, "I need to speak to Naruto but I don't know where he lives – would you mind loaning me Konohamaru to find his apartment? And I thought you always called him Honourable Grandson?" At the latter question Ebisu let out a self-depreciating chuckle, rubbing the back of his neck,
"I did but it turns out he doesn't like the title; something Naruto-san found out believe it or not. As for the request I've no problem with it and I'm sure Konohamaru would jump at a chance to be schooled in basic chakra exercises by an undisputed master of the art..."
"Done", knowing what the teacher was angling for Kurenai decided it wasn't a bad deal; jounin-sensei were forbidden from seeing their charges until the five days of the second exam had elapsed so she had time on her hands and if she could make a favourable impression on the Hokage's grandson about the importance of chakra control there was a good chance the old man himself might find his interest piqued and look into improving the importance of genjutsu in the ninja forces, or even the Academy if she was really lucky. Satisfied, Ebisu nodded and beckoned her forwards just as the elder Hyuuga called time on the spar.
Konohamaru span backwards, his opponent doing likewise though neither dropped their guard, a mutual antagonism and grudging respect in their eyes as the elder Hyuuga coughed slightly to get their attention back on him and spoke clearly,
"A good spar the pair of you; you were both aggressive and but controlled with it and, though you made a few mistakes, both of you recovered them well and kept your guards tight".
"Yeah okay", not that it was bad to have a critique of his skills at all but there was one question Konohamaru was bursting to know the answer to, "who won?"
"Neither of you – the match was a tie"; the Sarutobi's face fell and jabbed a finger forwards,
"What, no way! I hit her more than she hit me!"
"True but most of those were glancing blows, though debilitating over time due to your strength", Moko explained gently, cool logic overriding childish indignation, "though Hanabi-sama managed fewer strikes in comparison she was more accurate and would have done more damage had she been using her chakra to enhance her Jyuuken strikes".
"Hmm, well, yeah, fair enough", beaten by these truths Konohamaru dropped his hand and decided that a draw actually wasn't that bad a result; gramps always said the Hyuuga were good at taijutsu, so if I'm getting a draw off one I must be doing something right; "boss told me about your pokey-fingers-of-doom; I'll get a better guard for next time". Hanabi opened her mouth to scoff at this but found herself beaten to the punch by the little brat's teacher, Ebisu clapping his hands before regarding his student through his dark glasses,
"Be that as it may I'm afraid the rematch will have to wait; now bow to your opponent", Konohamaru grumbled a bit at this; after all the white-eyed girl had insulted his boss and not apologised; but did eventually jerk his upper body forwards ins a sloppy motion, Hanabi returning the gesture with equal impoliteness before the special jounin went on, "good. Now Konohamaru-san, Kurenai-san here needs to speak to Naruto-san but neither she nor I know where he lives..."
"And you need me to track him down?" The boy second-guessed his teacher as he nodded and turned to the tall; and pretty – no, no bad Konohamaru – just because gramps dropped that book and you looked at it you can't become a pervert, the boss would never forgive you; "Okay then, no problem; he lives over that way, follow me and I'll take you to his block".
"Wait, do you mean Naruto as in Uzumaki Naruto?" Without even waiting for an answer Hanabi went on, "He is the boy that my sister..." She caught herself just in time; much as Hinata was a gentle soul at the best of times Hanabi was no fool – her sister had had a big hand in raising her due to the unfortunate death of their mother and that meant she probably had a lot of dirt on her imouto that she wouldn't think twice about unearthing if Hanabi gave the game away about the object of her affections, even if the boy in question remained stubbornly clueless about her intentions towards him, "...admires so much?"
"Yeah, Uzumaki Naruto's my boss", Konohamaru boasted, folding his arms and beaming proudly, "we're rivals to be the next Hokage". Despite herself Hanabi sneered slightly at this as she gave a caustic chuckle,
"Pardon my mirth that either of you could ever lead this village".
"Hey, don't bad-mouth the boss", Konohamaru warned her prickily, "he's a great ninja and he's taught me a lot".
"So I noticed", the Hyuuga drawled, though she doubted Konohamaru would ever see her words as a joke and instead sighed and looked up at her fellow clan member, "Moko-san, you are dismissed; I wish to see this Uzumaki Naruto with my own eyes and determine what it is about him that makes Hinata-san strive to be like him".
Moko considered this for a moment; as Hanabi's minder he was responsible for any harm that befell her in the course of his duties and, though he may appear cold and arrogant, Hiashi Hyuuga was known and feared as a man who tolerated no risk to the fates of his daughters, least of all following the tragedy that had almost lost him his daughter and cost Hizashi, a man Moko and most of the Branch house would have followed into Makai and back, his life. Many of the Branch house of the Hyuuga still nursed that grudge and thought that Hizashi had been sacrificed to appease Kumo rather than giving up his life for his brother out of love and sadly Hizashi's orphaned son was one of these, perhaps the worst if the way the boy threw himself into his training and belief in fate was anything to go by. However he knew Kurenai, having handed Hinata off to her some years previously before becoming the guardian of Hanabi, and respected the jounin as someone who had been both true to her duty and a good friend and confident of the heiress who reminded Moko so much of the Hyuuga clan's late and much lamented Isoko-chan – for these reasons the Hyuuga had no hesitation in handing over the reins of his duty to the red-eyed jounin with a shallow bow,
"As you wish Hanabi-sama; I leave her to your care Kurenai-san", the genjutsu specialist nodded appreciatively and watched as the elder Hyuuga left, smiling at his retreating back as she recalled the first time the two of them had met; and like most of the Branch he was reluctant to let their precious little 'Nata-chan go. They see her as the harbinger of a future where they don't have to walk around with a potential time-bomb engraved on this faces and, when she becomes head of the clan, I know she'll do just that.
That conversation, however, was for a later time; right now Kurenai had a job to do and wanted to get it over with quickly – as a result of this she turned to Konohamaru and spoke gently, not wanting to put the boy off with her striking and, some would whisper, semi-demonic appearance of red eyes and midnight hair,
"Very well then Hanabi-ch-san", she caught herself just in time; Hinata might have liked familiarity but she somehow doubted the same would be true of her little sister; Hanabi was a perfect little Hyuuga after all, "looks like you're with us for the time being. Kono – mind if I call you that?" The boy shook his head, reminding Kurenai of his uncle somewhat; though it did take him slightly longer to warm up to the 'Suma tag some of us labelled him with;
"Nope, but anyway, time's wasting and I need to ask the boss about training – come on", Konohamaru stepped forwards towards the western side of the park, "boss's place is this way".
It took about twenty minutes for the mismatched group to arrive at the apartment block where Konohamaru was sure Naruto lived – seeing the state of the place both Hanabi and Kurenai looked distinctly unimpressed, the Hyuuga going as far as to fold her arms and make a caustic comment,
"So this is it, the lair of your boss", she pointed out, Konohamaru looking over his shoulder as he led them over the threshold and into the lobby of the block, "somehow I understand now how your skills have developed; even the toughest weeds need a little manure to help them grow occasionally".
"Hey, I warned you once, do not insult the boss when I can hear you", the grandson of the current Hokage demanded, "even your pampered ass isn't immune to being kicked Blinky". Hanabi mottled at the insult and was about to retort when the two of them were cut off by Ebisu stepping between them and somehow fixing them both with a piercing glare simultaneously,
"Enough, both of you", he said sternly, instinctive respect for a sensei cowing both children and allowing him to go on, "now Konohamaru-san, where does Naruto-san live?" Somehow; despite half-expecting this reaction Ebisu couldn't quite stop his gut sinking as he saw the look on his student's face; that expression isn't reassuring me this is going to be a straightforward visit;
"Uhh", the Sarutobi managed a sheepish grin, "I know this is his block but I, uh, never found out which apartment is his exactly". Kurenai closed her eyes in annoyance for a minute but, quite fortunately, before she started to try and dictate a logical plan to ask is someone else in the apartment block where the jinchuuriki lives, there was a dismissive snort from somewhere closer to the floor and Hanabi smirked,
"So why don't we could use the sensible option and ask the person who can see through the walls to find him", she retorted, looking unbearably smug as she smirked at Konohamaru, "fortunately some of us have evolved a little beyond the monkeys we're named after".
The youngest Sarutobi felt his cheeks burning in rage as the girl slandered both himself and his clan but before he could get a word in edgeways the Hyuuga had made a few hand-seals and whispered something under her breath; instantaneously the veins around her eyes bulged and engorged as her bloodline engaged. For a second all was silent until, with a sudden flare of chakra to boost her movement, Kurenai dashed to the side and caught the collapsing girl as Hanabi slumped towards the floor, already pale face bleached to the pallor of sour milk as her eyes were widened in a sudden incoherent terror,
"Hanabi-san, Hanabi", keeping her voice soft and reassuring despite the sudden fear racing through her Kurenai nevertheless the demanded the information that seemed most important in this instance, "what is it, what did you see?" Her mouth worked soundlessly for a minute, the jounin could feel the little body shivering through her dress and was about to speak again when her voice, thin, reedy and a mere shadow of its former bombastic self, managed to eke out the word that had struck such terror into her soul,
"F, Fire", it wasn't fire exactly; even if she couldn't accurately describe what she'd seen it was the word that came closest to encapsulating the terrible redness that had seared into her Byakugan almost as soon as she'd activated it, "it's fire – he's burning!"
Mere moments later, guided by Hanabi's half-remembered directions as the Hyuuga refused to activate her doujutsu again and realising trying to talk Konohamaru into staying in the lobby was a wasted effort ('the boss is in trouble and you want me to stay here – screw that; Konoha nins stick together forever'), Ebisu was the first to make it to the door Hanabi had tremulously nodded was the right one and then shrank back as though afraid of what she might see behind it. Kurenai moved up into a position to back the special jounin up should he need it before nodding; seeing this reassurance Ebisu focussed his chakra, took a second to compose himself and then sent his foot thundering into the wooden door before him.
Konohamaru had never really thought of his teacher as a true ninja; Ebisu had been an instructor as long as the boy had known him and this had irrevocably coloured his view of the elite tutor. However deception was a ninja's most important skill and, seeing the way the door burst open, all but smashed off its hinges at the force condensed at the ball of the man's foot the Sarutobi found his eyebrows rising; he'd never thought his teacher could be so strong. Such thoughts were banished an instant later; Naruto might be in trouble in there and for some reason neither of the adults were moving – it was up to him to make the first move and he wasn't going to let his friend down. Taking a deep breath and his courage in his hands the grandson of the Sandaime rushed forwards into the room, missing as he did so the look of terror on the faces of the older ninja as he found himself regarding the sight before him and felt the shout in his throat die away to nothingness.
The main entrance opened into the main living area of the apartment; a rather antiquated style of decor that had mostly fallen out of fashion in Konoha now; right now though architectural aesthetics was the last thing on the Sarutobi's mind compared to what was currently in that room. Sat half-naked in his living room was the master of the house, cross-legged and in the centre of what looked like a corona of power; White-Eyes was right – it does look like fire; but it wasn't – even if he couldn't feel it, the mere sight of the unholy tangerine-coloured energy that surrounded the older boy was a clear hint that something was very, very wrong with the situation.
It was chakra, it had to be but even the look of this energy was foul – rather than the normal blue he was used to, or even the soothing green hue of the medical chakra his jii-san had sometimes used when he'd grazed a knee playing with other kids in the village, this chakra was blazingly orange, threatening and malevolent even if something was blocking its influence from affecting him, and all of the others with him as well. This was probably for the better because Konohamaru, even as naive as he was, had no illusions that had he been fully exposed to whatever devilry his boss was being wracked by, he and the other three around him would have been terrified into incoherence by the sheer presence of the boss's new, terrifying chakra signature. All that seemed to be holding back the flame Hanabi had glimpsed was the crude circle-like thing that seemed to have been painted on Naruto's abdomen and, as he glanced around in the brief second he could tear his eyes away from the silent, frozen figure before him, some other scraps of paper placed around the floor of the room, though before he could voice this theory the genin before them at last responded to the intrusion in his home.
Naruto's closed eyes snapped open and Konohamaru almost lost control of his bladder; this wasn't his boss he was looking at, it was something much more ancient, feral and dangerous. Gone were the serene, expressive blue orbs that seemed to see the best in life, they had been replaced by the baleful, glowing eyes of a carnivore, a predator with slitted pupils that rolled around in their orbits, looking at the intruders as though trying to decide which to spring on first. The twin hooded monstrosities locked onto him for the briefest of seconds and he quailed, all previous thoughts of his bravery forgotten – it was as though the Shinigami himself had gazed upon him and then moved on, deciding that now was not his time. All of the others seemed likewise paralysed by the sight of this liquid ferocity in the skin of a genin, a raw, untapped font of power that Naruto was now drinking from and using to brow-beat them all into submission,
"Get in, all of you", Konohamaru shuddered again; had he really thought the vision before him was bad? Naruto's voice, much deeper and darker than before even if his words were not a direct threat, nevertheless stated a command that would brook no opposition and none would oppose, too afraid of the otherworldly forces that he seemed able to wield as his whisker marks, much darker than before and seeming to twitch as though alive, scenting for prey as his lips moved and exposed his lengthened canines again,
"Get in. Shut the door. Stand there. Be quiet. All of you".
In the face of a chakra that only two of the four present had ever seen before, a half-faded nightmare of a ruddy glow on the horizon during Konoha's darkest night, there was no argument; his darkened eyes never leaving the boy before him Ebisu stepped forwards first, standing in front of everyone and displaying courage of the heart that his trembling body and sweat-beaded brow couldn't quite match. Kurenai followed reluctantly afterwards; she had tried to send a silent message to Hanabi with her hand but the Hyuuga had been too frightened to see it; Naruto, on the other hand, seemed supernaturally aware of his prey's desire to run and had snapped a burning gaze onto the genjutsu master, silently daring her to try and get one of the children who now knew his secret away. Kurenai was confident in her own abilities but jinchuuriki, especially those using the power of their prisoners, were supposed to be highly resistant to genjutsu and she didn't trust her strength would be enough to pin him in an illusion before he could lash out and harm either her or one of the children under her protection. Instead, with her face studiously neutral and trying to hide her own nerves, she stepped slightly to the side and offered her hand, speaking out the corner of her mouth,
"It's okay Hanabi", she managed to say in as reassuring a tone as she could manage, "I'll make sure nothing happens to any of us; just hold my hand for now and don't look". The Hyuuga didn't even answer, all propriety stripped away from her in the face of such soul-breaking power and she clutched at the jounin's arm, burying her face in Kurenai's thigh and trembling as the older woman moved into the room, silently reaching out and closing the door as Naruto had asked – in the current volatile situation it was best to obey the possessed genin's command and hope for the best.
As the dull thump of the wooden door swinging closed echoed around the apartment Naruto appeared to wince for a moment before seeming to focus on something else; his scarlet eyes closed once more and, almost immediately, the aura of power around him started to dim and die away. Before the quartet's eyes the foul red chakra began to fade, seeping back into the jinchuuriki's skin as the marks on his stomach shrank away to nothingness, disappearing just as the last of the red power dispersed into minor wisps of strength. As soon as this was done Naruto opened his eyes once more, now the usual deep blue they were all used to, and stood up, reaching for his jacket as he looked at each of them in turn with inscrutable eyes before speaking,
"Why are you all here?"
"We, ah..." at this point Ebisu felt his mouth dry up; why exactly are we here again?; he couldn't remember if Kurenai had ever actually told him, hell he couldn't really remember much of anything after seeing the power that could only have come from the Kyuubi, the demon that had cost the Fourth Hokage his life to seal into a boy who seemed content to let himself be used as a vessel for its dark malignancy, "we..." It was at this point his student could take no more,
"Boss", Konohamaru's voice wasn't particularly loud but neither ninja missed Naruto flinch at the sound; did the bijuu's chakra make his hearing more sensitive?; if so it was a weakness they could exploit if they had to escape later, "what was that, the whole red-glow thing – it was..."
"Be quiet", it wasn't quite a snap but there was more than a bite of impatience and, possibly, even desperation in Naruto's voice, Konohamaru immediately clamming up as the jinchuuriki turned a freezing gaze on him before he could go on, "I don't..."
Before he could finish whatever it was he meant to say it became academic; he was interrupted by another voice, a voice that spoke no words but was nevertheless understood by everyone present in the room – Naruto's face twisted into an expression that Kurenai had last seen on a man impaled by a Stone Spear jutsu as everyone else, herself included, felt their eyes grow huge and their skin pucker to gooseflesh as the noise went on. The jinchuuriki's eyes fell closed once more, his lips moving into words that Kurenai managed to lip-read as something along the lines of 'that's torn it' before he addressed them all again, his tone much more weary this time, the voice of a much older man in a young man's body as he asked in a much more respectful; human; tone this time,
"Wait here", he asked, turning around as he shucked on his jacket, his shoulders slumped in what looked like defeat as he massaged his forehead against the racket that had stirred him, "don't run – I'll find you if you try". It wasn't a threat, it was a tired promise that Kurenai was under no illusion he would fulfil but she did, could do, nothing to try and run, drained of every emotion save disbelieving shock as Naruto disappeared through a door that led off of the main room to somewhere. Blinking Kurenai was struck so dumb that she almost missed the release of pressure on her leg as Hanabi let go, even the heir of the noble clan shocked by the sound that had jarred them all and was, the kunoichi could hear, coming closer to them now. How the hell did Kakashi miss something like this?; the question forced its way to the forefront of her mind; all that talk of looking underneath the underneath and he doesn't see something that should have been staring him right in the face, and at the same time how did Naruto keep it under wraps?
Even as her befuddled brain tried and failed to compute these seemingly-impossible questions Naruto reappeared, the source of the disturbance in his hands and Kurenai and the rest of her party fell mute once more at the sight,
"Tha...", it was ironic that out of the group consisting of a jounin, special jounin, clan head and clan member, it was the youngest who was able to speak first, even if his tone was stuttering and his face appeared to be composed of about ninety percent eyes as he pointed at the squalling bundle with a shaking finger, "that's a..."
"She", Naruto cut him off with a stern but not unkind gaze as he rocked the most important thing in his life close to his chest, "is Uzumaki Hanamitsu", even as she watched on absolutely agog, Kurenai couldn't help but feel a small, primal part of herself drawn forwards as the Uzumaki looked down at the baby he claimed as his own and his expression morphed into something that couldn't be anything other than pure paternal pride, gentleness in his tone as he finished dropping his bombshell sentence,
"She's my daughter".
Unsurprisingly it took a little while for the pervading sense of disbelief to be cleared from the air, though this process was facilitated by Naruto formerly inviting them in and offering them something to drink from his moderate selection as a clone of his began preparing a feed of formula for his child. When all were settled in, or at least as settled as they were likely to be, the Uzumaki; or at least the elder Uzumaki, if what he was saying earlier was true; once more Kurenai felt her eyes drawn towards the baby now resting on her father's lap as Naruto sat down and found herself wondering just how much of this picture was still incomplete. Naruto would hardly be first shinobi to have gotten a girl in the family way and lived to regret the consequences but at the same time, this was the boy who was, or should have been, so clueless about love that he still pined after a girl who came within a hairs-breadth of a battery charge at the end of each team training session rather than the clan heiress who'd loved him almost since she'd laid eyes on him. Aside from that the baby herself didn't resemble Naruto at all, though as she was still so small, virtually a newborn if she was any judge, there perhaps wasn't much to compare to. Naruto took a moment to ensure the child he held was comfortable before looking to each of them in turn, his eyes fixing on one of the assembled as he began,
"I knew I couldn't keep her a secret forever, surprised it lasted this long to be honest; I knew sensei was getting suspicious but I assume you were the reason everyone came rushing up here?" Hanabi wasn't quite able to meet the Uzumaki's gaze but managed to nod, looking so much more like her sister than usual as she scrutinised the floor until Naruto's self-depreciated snort made her glance up once more,
"Yeah, I thought I had everything covered, never thought about the Byakugan though – I imagine the fox's chakra must have looked like a torch to you".
"Naruto-san", Ebisu's voice wasn't warning exactly but it had a sense of urgency about it as he indicated both his student and the Hyuuga heir, "they don't know and the law..."
"Doesn't apply to me, so it might as well be me who says it rather than risking someone else losing their head", the jinchuuriki pointed out succinctly, neatly trumping the teacher's ace before looking over at the other two children, Hanamitsu on his lap burbling happily as she seemed to realise she was the centre of attention and not disliking the feeling, "what you just saw there Konohamaru, Hanabi, was the chakra of the Kyuubi no kitsune".
"What! Ah, sorry", Naruto's sudden glare was enough to make even the normally headstrong Konohamaru apologise for disturbing the peace and potentially upsetting the baby – Naruto might consider him a friend but even after knowing of the girls' existence for less than fifteen minutes the Sarutobi knew he was now at best a distant second in Naruto's hierarchy of precious people, "didn't mean that, but jii-san said the fox was dead, the Yondaime killed it off by summoning the Shinigami".
"That's a lie, well, actually a half-truth; don't blame your grandfather", he admonished as Konohamaru suddenly started to look mutinous, "it was done to protect me, or at least try to. The Yondaime didn't kill Kyuubi, nothing that I or the shinobi world knows of can kill a bijuu – instead it was sealed into me, a newborn baby at the time; the Yondaime beat the Kyuubi by creating a jinchuuriki, a power of human sacrifice. What you saw then was me channelling the power of Kyuubi; if I have to I can tap into the fox's chakra but I have to train to be able to handle it, the more exposure I get the more I can safely use without going berserk and potentially killing everything around me. Even if Kyuubi's stopped trying to take over my body as much as he can when I'm using his chakra, it's that powerful it can overwhelm my mind with bloodlust and anger just by me using it. And yes, the seal you're looking at is what keeps Kyuubi in his cell", he tacked on at the end, thinly amused by the sight of Hanabi gasping and dropping her eyes, the veins around them shrinking as she disengaged her Byakugan though the image of the ink structure she had viewed on the Uzumaki's stomach wouldn't fade from her eyes; she's a bit more like her sister than she cares to admit – ah, I think it's cute;
"But if that is the case how did the power not affect us?" Ebisu asked, inwardly grateful that he wouldn't have a curious Konohamaru pestering him for answers that he couldn't give without fearing an ANBU ninjato swinging for his neck, "I was, if not fighting, at least close enough to see the Kyuubi that night and, that chakra", he shivered, not that Kurenai blamed him as she too relived that nightmare night and felt the old memories of the malignant hatred and rage in the air smash against her mind again, "it's not something easily forgotten – having been so close I'd have expected all of us to be... adversely affected by such exposure".
"You can thank those seals for that", Naruto nodded towards the small stack of paper slips he'd gathered up before inviting them in, his eyes growing distant and, perhaps, moist as memories danced through his mind of the girl he had known all too briefly and then lost forever, "apart from Hanamitsu-hime, the most important legacy her mother left me".
Melancholy seeped into the atmosphere as everyone seemed to sense the jinchuuriki's sense of loss before, gently clearing her throat, Kurenai tried to gently nudged Naruto on from his recollections,
"But, Naruto", he looked up at his name, subconsciously slipping his daughter back into a reclined position in one arm, seeking to rock her to sleep as the conversation began, "who was Hanamitsu-san's mother, and when you say she left do you mean...?"
"Yes; to my great regret my little girl will never know just how wonderful and brave her mother was first-hand", Naruto admitted, the constrained grief in his voice enough to make even the jounin lean forwards in sympathy before he somehow swallowed all that hurt back down to speak in a more factual tone, "but for this to make sense supposed I'd better start at the beginning", with that he leant back slightly in his chair just as a kage bunshin appeared from the kitchen, a small plastic bottle wrapped in a warm towel in its hand. In front of his audience Naruto accepted the bottle with a nod and, as the bunshin burst into smoke, squirted a small amount of the formula inside onto his forearm to test the temperature before, satisfied it wouldn't scald, he cradled Hanamitsu in one arm and lifted her head, encouraging her to suckle on the rubber teat as he looked up at his audience and spoke once more,
"It started in Wave..."
The celebrations were in full swing; he could hear them in the distance showing no sound of dying off even though it had been four days since Gato had met his end at the hands of the person Naruto considered the real hero of Wave; mind you, if he was alive to hear me say that he'd probably be chasing after me with that massive sword of his yelling he was a demon, not a hero. The thought of trying to outrun an angry Zabuza made Naruto smile for a brief moment before he sighed and looked forwards once more at the two graves before him, the massive, sinister form of the Kubikiri Honcho embedded in the soft loam providing a huge identification of who lay buried beneath the sod of the earth there.
Contrary to popular opinion Naruto did like the quiet at some times and for that reason had slipped away from the party held by the people of Wave in anticipation of the old drunk formerly finishing the bridge that had cost Zabuza, Haku and almost Sasuke their lives to protect. The teme in question was alive and kicking as usual, not as dead as he'd at first feared and with Sakura-chan now at his elbow every minute at the day; why though, I beat Haku, why does she still like him rather than me? It was a question he couldn't, or perhaps didn't want to answer, instead looking at the graves before him, remembering the battle on the bridge as best he could – Haku had died for Zabuza, who'd been betrayed by Gato and his thug army, who Zabuza had killed in revenge before dying himself; it was all so stupid and pointless, death over something made of concrete and mortar. I don't know – maybe when I become Hokage I can change it all, stop people like Gato making life miserable for everyone else. Maybe then there will be an end to it all and people will respect me; it was a nice idea, a good thought that brought him cheer in front of the graves of two people he would forever consider precious to him despite having known them only as enemies. With that in mind he came to his feet, bowed in respect to the two passed away shinobi and then whipped around, already armed with a handful of shuriken as he faced the person he'd heard a few seconds ago,
He'd been taken by surprise by Haku once before; recalling what had happened then and what it had led to Naruto had sworn to himself it wouldn't happen again and kept his senses sharp at all times, not willing to be ambushed again. He glared into the darkness, waiting for any potential attack to come before something shifted in the darkness and he tensed, ready to react at the slightest provocation until a voice came through and he relaxed fractionally,
"So, it is you after all".
"Uhh, thanks?" He offered carefully, not sure where the girl, for it was a woman's voice that came through to the darkness to him, was going with such an oblique comment, "But if your here to say thanks for saving your bridge my sensei was the one who beat Zabuza, and No-brows himself put down Gato so he's the hero really – I just got lucky". The other figure didn't answer but by the sounds of movement coming closer he squinted, just about picking out a silhouette in the darkness before speaking again,
"You're not here to desecrate these graves are you?" A sudden suspicion seized Naruto's mind and he slid back into his stance, ready to defend the resting places of his friends to the last, "I don't care if you're from Wave, these guys were good shinobi and deserve to rest in peace". The shadowy figure paused before advancing again, allowing Naruto to see her slightly more clearly and, as she'd expected, he lowered his kunai at the sight,
"Sorry but I'm not from Wave and didn't mean to interrupt your grieving; I am sorry for your loss", she gave a respectful bow both to Naruto and to the headstone the Kubikiri Honcho was represented before carrying on, "I came to you because, well, er..." She shied away slightly, apparently unsure how to go on before Naruto, even knowing virtually nothing about the fairer sex, felt something deep stir within the crevices of his being and belatedly recognised it as chivalry as he beckoned the girl forwards, reaching into his pocket for something he'd take from one of the buffet tables earlier,
"Sit down, we've got plenty of time; here", as a orphan who had often been unsure when and where his next meal was coming from hoarding and sharing food was as natural as breathing for the Uzumaki as he unsealed some cold cuts of meat from his storage scroll, "help yourself if you're hungry".
He didn't have to ask twice; the sight and scent of the food had been the magic words and almost before he knew what was happening the girl was attacking the scroll with the same ferocity he usually reserved for a bowl of Ichiraku ramen. Taking a step back as his new apparent friend continued to gorge, Naruto said nothing until she was apparently replete for the time being as she sat back on her haunches with an expression of pure bliss on her face,
"Wow, guess you must have been hungry", Naruto pointed out, grateful he'd taken so much as he wasn't expecting to get back to Tazuna's place until very late in the night, "but you said you came to me? Don't you mean you need my sensei – he's the jounin and team leader after all". The girl shook her head vehemently,
"No, no it's you, I know it is – I can feel the same chakra I did some days ago, though something's blocking a lot of it from my sight", she suddenly looked directly at him, a virtually naked need in her eyes as she carried on, "I came to you because, because I need your help! Something happened, something terrible that, I don't wanna think about it but, but I need you because you're the only one who could understand".
Oh please don't cry; Naruto like most young men absolutely hated the sight of a girl's tears and, as his last thought was not granted, he couldn't help but feel his spirits sink as he stepped forwards and, awkwardly, touched the stranger on the shoulder. Immediately after this he started; with a speed so fast he'd blinked and missed it she'd stepped forwards and snapped her arms around him like a vice, all but sobbing into his shoulder and speaking brokenly in between sniffles,
"Help me...please, please don't throw me away...", there was a sniffle in his ear that almost ripped his heart in two and out of instinct he hugged the distressed girl back, offering comfort with his body as he could, "I need, don't want to be left..."
"It, it's okay", he tried to comfort this stranger as best he could, the outright misery in her voice all but driving him to tears himself, "I'm not going anywhere; I won't leave you alone". After this he merely stood stoically still, supporting the girl's slim frame until, finally, her sobs started to die away and she stepped back, pawing at her eyes and she sniffed,
"All right", desperately trying to remember some of Iruka-sensei's lessons on coping and dealing with emotional trauma that he hadn't slept through, Naruto tried to keep as much of a lid on his nerves and trepidation as he could and asked the emotional girl as calmly as he could manage in the circumstances, "what's the problem? I'll try and help you as much as I can, but I'm pretty sure that Kakashi-sensei would be the better bet for making sure whatever's wrong gets sorted out right. If I can't help we'll go to him, sound fair?"
At this the girl seemed to flip personality completely; the tears dried away to leave behind a sad but sincere little chuckle as she stood up to her full height, about six inches taller than Naruto was himself; the jinchuuriki cocked his head before his eyes widened in horror as her hands moved to the top of the cloak she was wearing,
"Ah, not, its okay, I'm sure it's not that ser..."
It was at that point that the girl pulled her cloak away and Naruto fell mercifully mute, his gabbling dying away as his eyes bulged, mouth falling open as he saw the small but definite bump that protruded from her otherwise flat belly area; all was silent for a moment before the stranger pulled her cloak shut and spoke again with a teasing lilt in her voice,
"I don't know about you but as far as I'm concerned it's pretty damn serious", she pointed out before her voice softened into a more serious and sincere tone, "but while I'm not the first kunoichi to have to deal with something like this but", she turned her head away, suddenly shy as she fought to keep herself on track – after running for so long she for the first time had a chance of getting both herself and her unborn child safe and she was not going to lose it, "but, please hear me out – I'll tell you everything, after that you can decided if you still want to tell your teacher or not".
"That was the first time I saw Hana-hime", Naruto chuckled, shifting the baby over his shoulder and patting her back softly as he placed the now-empty bottle on the arm of his chair, "quite the unexpected introduction I'll admit but her mother was as good as her word – when I knew the full story I had to agree with her – I couldn't tell Kakashi-sensei anything. Hell I couldn't tell anyone about her, and I wouldn't be telling anyone now had you not gotten nosy and opened your eyes". His tone was only gently chiding rather than accusatory and that alone was all that allowed Hanabi to peek up at him and offer a weak smile before Kurenai, digesting what she'd heard so far and feeling a faint prickle of unease in the back of her mind, asked the killer question,
"I can guess you didn't abandon her and for that you are to be commended, highly commended in fact", the jounin smiled, a real warmth in the expression as she realised the jinchuuriki must have gone above and beyond the call of duty in not only taking in a pregnant woman, he was still raising her child even though she had passed away; and he did, has done so in fact, without anyone else knowing at all in the middle of a ninja village. A whole battalion of trained shinobi and none of us saw that he was hiding a new-born baby under our noses; "would you mind telling us who this beautiful little lady's brave kaa-san was?"
"A refugee", Naruto said at length, speaking as though the memory itself was excruciating for him; and it probably is; "there was a regime change, a violent one that swept all she'd even known to ruin. It killed, in fact executed would probably be a better word, her entire family, or at least those she considered family, the new people in power locking her village down all but enslaving her and her fellow ninja and villages. She had once been a kunoichi but under the new head of her village she was stripped of that title and everything else", his voice became harder as he went on, recalling the story he'd been told that night and once more silently swearing a bloody revenge against those who had led such a proud warrior to such a sorry end, though he drew the line at the violent genocide his prisoner had suggested as a solution to the problem, "many wanted her put to death but those that mattered, those in power decided she'd be more useful alive, at least for nine months or so".
Kurenai felt her insides knot into a cold, hard ball as a very dark, suffocating idea rose up in her mind but before she could voice it, someone else whose mind was shielded from the true horrors of ninja life by a young age spoke first,
"But, Naruto-san", Hanabi began, wondering at the odd time period; why keep someone alive so long – surely if you wanted information out of them you have to get it out of them as soon as possible, surely it'd be useless after such a long time; "why did these people keep her alive for such a long time, and how did she escape and find you in Wave?" At this question Naruto looked slightly less comfortable, obviously trying to think of a way to phrase the answer to this and, at length, eventually broaching the subject as gently as he was able to,
"How long does it take to make a baby Hanabi-san?" The Hyuuga considered this for a minute before her eyes widened and she clapped a hand over her mouth, horrified as she was able to put two and two together and draw the terrible conclusion that Naruto spoke again in a harsh, bitter tone, "The new rulers of her village wanted an heir to a power she had, one with no ties to the old regime that they could mould into their image of perfection, and they didn't want to wait for nature to take its course and let her find someone she loved. She was raped; she never said it outright but I'm not as dumb as I look, I can put the pieces together and come up with something that stinks", he spat the words bitterly, though his tone never changed in a manner that would have startled the baby he still had over one shoulder, "because of them and their insane ideas my Hanamitsu-chan is a wrath-child who will never know the woman who fought tooth and claw to bring her into a free world instead of a life of slavery and pain".
Oh Kami; she had been expecting it in her heart of hearts but still it was a terrible thing to hear – to be burdened with a wrath-child was one of the HanaH
fates all kunoichi lived in terror of, a permanent reminder of one of the ultimate evils a man could subject a woman to. That Naruto had taken in such a traumatised woman and was even now looking after a child he had no biological connection to... at that point someone else could hold their disgust in no longer, Konohamaru springing to his feet with his fists clenched and teeth bared,
"Mother-fuc-" he was cut off by a resounding thud, an empty baby bottle bouncing off his forehead as Naruto glowered,
"Language", the jinchuuriki warned harshly, the baby somehow having not moved from his shoulder despite him having thrown the bottle with pin-point accuracy and a speed even Tenten would have complimented him on, "no swearing in my house". He and the young Sarutobi had a stare-down that lasted mere seconds before Konohamaru relented and sat back down, offering his apologies as he did so as Ebisu, having swallowed hard at the truth he'd just been told, licked his lips and spoke in a tone of mingled awe and regret,
"A kunoichi to be respected and worthy of the highest praise", he said at length, inclining his head respectfully as he did so, "so your child is the inheritor of a bloodline of some kind I assume – from what little I know of the practices of other shinobi villages it seems the most likely reason for these... people", a host of other, more accurate words were crowding the forefront of his mind but out of respect for the jinchuuriki's desire to keep his child's ears unsullied from profanity he kept his language clean, "to force themselves upon her in such a manner".
"It does, I'll agree with you on that Ebisu-san", Naruto nodded, removing Hanamitsu from his shoulder and settling her on his lap once more at the same time as surreptitiously loosening the front of her swaddling blanket, "and there's not one day in my life where I wish my hime had inherited something as simple as a bloodline".
Before any of the assembled could question him he very gently laid a finger on the girl's shoulder and channelled his chakra; as he saw the faces of the foursome facing him whiten and then drop as the seal appeared, he spoke once more with finality in his tone,
"The girl who spoke to me at a graveside in Wave was Fuu of Taki, the jinchuuriki of the Seven-tailed beetle; from her, because of a seal as inhumane as any I've ever heard of used on her by the one who usurped leadership of Waterfall to ensure the bijuu would be transferred as soon as her child was born", he glanced down himself, lip curling at the sight of the thick black lines that stood out against his little girls' tanned skin and damned her to the hell that seemed to be a jinchuuriki's lot in life, "that burden has now passed to her daughter, Uzumaki Hanamitsu. Fuu begged me to take her in not for her sake but for the sake of her unborn child – she could sense I was also a jinchuuriki and therefore one of only eight other people in the world who truly knew of her burden; I swore an oath in my own blood that as long as there was breath in my body and life in my eyes I would protect both her and her child", there was a terrifying force in his eyes, even as they smouldered with unshed tears as he listened once more to Fuu's choked story, interspersed with bouts of tears as, in a place of safety, she was at last able to break down as she relived the trauma she had gone through and recant the sorry tale to the one who would be her saviour,
"It is a promise I will not fail to keep".
She believed him; she doubted anyone would have been there in that room listening to those words would have been able to disbelieve him. Naruto said nothing for moment, instead removing his finger from his child's shoulder and drawing the front of her blanket back over her chest, smiling as a singly chubby hand reached out clumsily and gripped his thumb; Hanamitsu, it seemed, had inherited her mother's curious nature; well, either that or Nanabi's already having an influence. The memory of the Taki girl demonstrating the chakra of her bijuu, a shining green and gold compared to the red horror that was the Kyuubi's power, shone in his mind for a moment before a sudden exclamation from in front of him roused him from his introspection, Hanabi with her bloodline active again as she pointed at the girl before him,
"So she, that little girl is a jinchun-", she screwed up her face for a moment but the exact pronunciation eluded her, "whatever that word was?"
"Jinchuuriki, and yes she is", Naruto confirmed, a blend of defiance and pride in his voice as he went on, "according to Fuu, Taki hasn't had much luck with its forbidden jutsu and this one was certainly that; the seal the new oyabun jounin used on her was designed to transfer the Nanabi's chakra to her unborn child slowly as her pregnancy developed, culminating in the bijuu's conscience being transferred when Fuu's seal would have been at its weakest, when she was giving birth. It was a delayed death sentence; Fuu-chan would carry her baby and die when she was born, leaving Hanamitsu-hime an orphan to be abused and turned into a weapon by Taki's new rulers; luckily though, the idiot who designed this power-grab never thought to do anything about Fuu-chan herself using the chakra of her bijuu to break out of that place".
"Taki", Ebisu thought for a moment, trying to recall something he'd half-overheard in the corridors of the Hokage tower, "yes, I think I was hearing rumours about that country, though as they haven't violated their non-aggression policy against Konoha and Fire country I don't think anyone's dug too deeply into the truth of what's actually going on in there now. With this information though, I think the Hokage may not remain neutral on the matter much longer".
"The Hokage", Naruto chuckled darkly, patting the tiny hand still latched onto his thumb with one of his fingers, "won't find out about this; perhaps I didn't make this clear enough Ebisu-san – what you know now goes no further than the four of you. Anyone else finds out about this", the eyes that had shone with the cold promise of a father to face death before letting his child face harm were now hooded, more calculating and ruthless as they moved around the room, fixing each of the assembled in turn with a dreadful gaze that told of nothing but sincerity, "I will hold you all personally responsible; I will find out which one of you metaphorically spilt your guts, then I will hunt you down and literally spill your guts".
"But, but boss", though the threat was enough to make him shiver; he'd seen that look before on the face of his grandfather, usually after he'd done something wrong and/or stupid and had to pay the piper for it, "why not jiji – you know he'd..."
"I know Ko, but the fewer people who know the fewer chances there are of news of Hanamitsu becoming public knowledge", Naruto explained, a trace of grim humour on his lips as he explained to the boy further, "I know the Third did the best he could for me but he couldn't stop Konoha as a whole finding out I existed as the prison of Kyuubi; if he, or anyone else for the matter, makes the same mistake with her all unholy hell is going to be let loose. The 'demon brat' looking after another little devil-spawn", his chuckle could have stripped the paint off the wall as visions of fire and death danced through his mind; though he would have died to protect Konoha, when it came to a contest between his child and his village there was no contest in his mind, "they'd be lighting torches in the streets, I'd be forced to kill a lot of people to try and teach them a message they didn't want to learn and if, Kami forbid, anything happened to my daughter because some idiot with more misplaced pride than brains got lucky, Kyuubi and I would leave Konoha as nothing more than a smoking crater in the earth".
That threat, delivered as a solemn promise than rather an empty boast, made a cold sweat break out over Kurenai's brow though, as the most senior ninja present, she found herself compelled to try and temper this potential threat the villages' safety even if, on an instinctual level, she could see and even empathise with where Naruto was coming from,
"Naruto-san", she began delicately, hoping against hope the jinchuuriki didn't take her next words as a source of offence; with his tampering in the Kyuubi's strength and the fact he now had a daughter to cherish and protect, Konoha's most surprising ninja was now even more unpredictable than ever, "you, would not attack this village?".
"Not unless they're stupid enough to provoke me – I believe under the shinobi charter I didn't forfeit the right to defend and, if necessary, avenge myself and my family when I put on this protector".
"But razing Konoha boss – ain't that a bit, I don't know, extreme?" Konohamaru pointed out before making, in his eyes, a very pertinent point, "After all, how are you gonna be Hokage if the village is gone?" To the consternation of both the jounin and the Academy student, Naruto merely snickered at this question before giving his answer,
"I'll tell you what Kurenai-sensei, Ko; when you get a family of your own I'll ask you the same question; wouldn't you destroy anyone, even if they were from Konoha, who directly threatened your son or daughter? If you say no to that question I'll acknowledge you as a better ninja than I'll ever be", he shrugged before he became more serious, both his hands around his daughter's stomach as the girl made gurgling noises that none save Naruto seemed able to decipher, subconsciously heeding his daughter's desire for comfort even as his tone hardened to ice as he recollected the feeling that had overwhelmed him over the past five months; the despair, the confusion, the slowly-blossoming the sense of belonging and having what he had always desired tempered with the knowledge that soon it would all come crashing down, the helplessness that he could nothing to prevent it and, at the last, the soul-crushing, agonising loss that had all but broken him before the new presence of caring for Fuu's legacy had forced him to put those feelings to the side and concentrate on his daughter,
"I was forced to watch the only girl I have ever loved, and who ever treated me as an equal rather than a dog that's rolled in the mud or a freak-show exhibit, fade away to nothingness due to a parasitic seal that neither of us could do anything about in case it hurt her daughter and her bijuu. I was with Fuu-chan through most of the second and all of the third trimester of her pregnancy; I watch Hanamitsu-hime grow, felt her kick even as the very fact she was going to be born was going to kill her mother; the one time I brought up the idea of abortion, even obliquely, I almost got sent through a dozen walls and had the absolute hell beaten out of me – Fuu-chan didn't care if she died as long as her child survived. A fellow jinchuuriki entrusted her daughter, someone she gave up her life for, to me, asked me to take care of her and teach her about her bijuu because she knew she wasn't going to be there to do it herself, and you ask me if I'd put the lives of a few bigots who know as much about fuuinjutsu as Sasuke-teme does about humility before that of Hana-hime? No, a thousand times no", he answered without a pause and in absolute sincerity, meeting any who dared look at him dead in the eye, "I will not put her at risk; I will stand before and kill man, beast, bijuu and Kami himself before I let them hurt or take my child from me and even if by some evil miracle I failed in that duty, I know someone else who wouldn't".
The challenge in his sudden smirk would have been enough to make even Ibiki shiver; certainly Kurenai didn't want to go down that road any further and was grateful when Hanabi, wiping her eyes on her sleeve for a moment, suddenly glanced up and met Naruto eyes to eye for a moment,
"But, and I don't doubt your... devotion to you daughter and her mother", she made that point very clear as Naruto glanced across at her askance, waiting for the Hyuuga to finish, "how did you manage to smuggle a kunoichi, especially a pregnant one from a foreign nation, into Konoha?"
It was a valid question, one Kurenai was kicking herself hadn't crossed her mind first but it appeared that Naruto, though he wanted to keep several things secret, wasn't afraid to let this piece of information slide into the open,
"Heh, tell you what – actually, what is your name; I can't just go around calling you Pocket-Hyuuga can I?" Hanabi scowled, whipping her head to the face to try and flay Konohamaru alive with her pupil-less gaze as the Sarutobi sniggered helplessly at his boss's wit, though typically of his hard-headed clan he remained pretty much oblivious to her scorn as she called on her inherent dignity and good breeding to answer the jinchuuriki's question,
"I would prefer it if you didn't; I am Hyuuga Hanabi, second-daughter to Hyuuga Hiashi and second-in-line..."
"I wanted your name not your life story", he cut her off dismissively, the abrupt shift in conversation leaving Hanabi floundering and Konohamaru in helpless peals of quiet laughter; the look on the her haughty little face was too good not to snigger at, "but since you asked Hanabi-chan, you're looking at the kid who was pulling pranks when he was younger than you and had the normal patrol routes of the ANBU mapped out by halfway through his first year in the Academy. Compared to that", the jinchuuriki shrugged, "getting Fuu-chan over that wall and into my apartment was a piece of cake".
Sliding open the window with a practised motion and stepping inside, Naruto turned back around and held out his hand, gripping the slim wrist that was placed into it and gently guiding the Taki jinchuuriki into her new home; fortunately, though the seal she'd told him about was starting to siphon off both her and the Nanabi's chakra into the embryo developing inside her, the effect wasn't yet so pronounced that she was having any difficulty in climbing walls or other such basic chakra manipulation exercises.
"So", coming to her feet and looking around the girl with the mint-green hair, a legacy of the chakra of her bijuu, turned to her new host, "this is where I'll be living until we see the old man?"
"Yeah, well, actually yes and no", Naruto admitted, one hand on the back of his neck and grinning awkwardly as Fuu raised an eyebrow towards him, "this is my place, actually it's my apartment block since no-one else lives here and you'll be safe here, but we're not seeing the Hokage".
That did make Fuu sit up and take note; having tailed Naruto and his team back to Konoha from Wave, following the trail of concealed storage scrolls her fellow jinchuuriki left for her en route and hiding in the place he specified until he'd come and picked her back up that night, one of the few things she'd gotten to know about the blonde was that he thought of the leader of his village as sort of an unofficial grandfather; so why would he try and keep me a secret, unless he's ashamed. She bit the inside of her lips, bitter memories of that night, what had been said to her by the men who had... luckily Naruto's voice cut off those memories before they could rise up and overwhelm her,
"Well, thing is I did some thinking on the way here and, to be honest, people here know I hold Kyuubi and, they hate me okay, outright hate me", that did take her surprise – even if he did contain a bijuu, how people could dislike this crazy blonde with atrocious fashion sense was a little beyond her, he was the most likeable person she'd ever met; save for... no, don't think about it; "they see me as the demon and ignore and despise me because of it. Jiji did his best but he couldn't stop this happening, I'm not running that risk with you".
Despite herself Fuu was a little touched by this but, having been on the run for such a long time, her immediate response was to try and answer any flaws she could see in the plan before her,
"Fair enough then but how are we going to survive? I can't just stay in here all the time, and even if I could what can I eat, what will I wear?"
"Thought about all that", Naruto answered, holding up his hands with fingers in a cross-seal; with a burst of smoke a perfect doppelganger appeared next to him, making Fuu's eyes widen,
"Shadow clones", Naruto corrected her, his duplicate also smirking as he moulded more hand-seals and, with a second burst of smoke, someone else she didn't recognise appeared out of the cloud, "they can use techniques and chakra like I can; I can teach you this so you can send clones out into Konoha to do what you want. I'm not sure how long it'll be possible for you to do the technique but", even someone usually as bullet-headed as him stopped short of tripping over the elephant in the room that neither of them wanted to talk about at the minute, "with help from the Nanabi you should have no problem".
"I hope not", Fuu agreed before looking around for something to take her mind off the cloud of gloom that seemed to have fallen over them, "so, uh, any chance I could have a shower before we think of anything else? I'm starving and haven't had a chance to clean up for weeks; I'm surprised you couldn't smell me following you when the wind was in the right direction". Naruto chuckled and pointed towards the hall,
"Down that way, second on the left; I should have some old clothes you can squeeze into – do you reckon all jinchuuriki's are midgets or is it just us?" He was just quick enough to duck the retaliatory slap the former Taki-nin sent his way, Fuu's face darkening as he took a jibe at her height,
"I am not a midget"; wow, do I really sound like that when I say the same thing?; Naruto found himself questioning his own former words as the girl regathered herself, once more sending a mental prang towards her bijuu as she recalled the Nanabi's habit for not letting its hosts age like normal children; though she was now seventeen she could have passed for a girl just out of the Academy as the bijuu still saw her as a caterpillar, not yet evolved into her adult form, "I've just aged very well. So then, I'll see you in a few minutes when you've got something cooked for us – after that we'll figure out what to do next".
"It wasn't easy but I eventually talked her around into not being seen or heard", Naruto admitted, glancing around the room as he went on, "I didn't go into anything explicit but I gave her gist of my life so far before I became a genin and in the end she agreed. After that we just had to work out ways to ensure no-one was going to blunder onto our secret – just for once Kyuubi's infamy came in handy", the jinchuuriki smirked caustically, remembering how Fuu's expression had lit up as she'd realised that, rather than just a single apartment, they effectively had an entire complex to play with, "no-one was going to live in the lair of beast after all". Both adults looked slightly uncomfortable at this, not quite able to meet the older jinchuuriki's gaze as Naruto went on, though luckily the two children present were so engrossed in the story they didn't think to question why Naruto would be forced to live alone,
"Luckily Fuu-chan had most of the answers to that problem; the people who've taken over Taki thought they were being smart when they tried to enforce her loyalty and bind up both her and Nanabi's chakra with seals but the morons never considered the fact that most of Waterfall's knowledge of sealing actually came from their former jinchuuriki. Fuu-chan never considered herself a fuuinjutsu genius but she was better, far better than anyone else I've ever seen with seals, partly due to her bijuu being less interested in combat than mine is and preferring to read and also because it was her duty as Taki's jinchuuriki to pass on her burden when the time came, a duty she couldn't perform unless she had a good grounding in the sealing arts. She was just grateful that her knowledge was enough to slip the chains they tried to force on her, get out of Taki and let her track down another jinchuuriki, and when we got here she put those seals to work fortifying this place up to the point where nothing short of a second bijuu would be able to break in".
"You mentioned those seals were sufficient to stop the Kyuubi's chakra affecting each of us", Ebisu recalled at length, himself something of a novice in the art as he liked to read up on the topic when he wasn't schooling Konohamaru, "if I were to guess they were created by her, I would then also assume Fuu-san was also skilled with seals to do with repulsion and reinforcement".
"As well as barrier seals, gravity seals, storage and trapping seals to name but a few", Naruto reeled off before jerking a thumb towards the door he'd gone through to retrieve Hanamitsu after she'd first started squalling, "basically we worked it out so that every so often we would shift apartment, not sleep in the same place too many nights in a row to lower the risk of someone breaking in and finding her while they were looking for me. Fuu-chan then took one room in every house and fortified it with every seal she knew about; these rooms are the ultimate last resort – you can't enter unless the seal is keyed to you directly and, since they were activated with the Kyuubi's and Nanabi's chakra as well as the blood of their hosts, if they backfire on you there's not going to be much left save dust and a lingering stink. If this entire building were to fall down each of those rooms and everything in them would be left intact; whenever I leave this apartment now Hanamitsu-hime is left in one of those rooms with all the seals primed and ready to activate; anyone so much as tries to snap through them they're in for a very nasty surprise".
"I don't doubt it", Ebisu shuddered; even with his very limited knowledge on the subject he could guess the results of trying to tear down a sealing matrix inked by a jinchuuriki; the demonic chakra would collide with that of the person trying to tamper with the seal – unless the person responsible for the tampering was inured to such exposure, chakra that potent would probably shatter the chakra pathways internally, literally boiling someone alive from the inside-out! A very unpleasant way to die; any thoughts he might have had of studying these seals were gone in an instant, replaced instead with a different question, "though I assume she taught you these seals as well before she, went into labour?"
At the reminder of the loss Naruto's face fell slightly though, with an effort of will, he managed to raise his head again and speak through his internal pain,
"The seals and a lot of other things; everything I am now as a ninja I owe to her", he said softly, glancing down at the top of his little girl's head; so glad she takes after Fuu-chan in that regard – seeing her hair will be like watching the grass grow; "though she was forced to slow down as her pregnancy advanced she was still able to teach me so much I started trying to get the D-ranks finished as quickly as possible to get back to her", he admitted, looking slightly abashed at the comment but unable to doubt its truthfulness as he went on, "chakra control, taijutsu forms, the importance of hand-seals and how to properly mould chakra through them – everything the Academy should have taught me Fuu-chan made sure I was perfect at. She was a miracle in human form; Taki must have been truly insane to hurt her and throw her away like they did – our Academy would be a hundred times the place it is now if she was working there with Iruka-sensei. I felt wretched, only learning what I without doing anything else beyond little things that she found important – nothing major, just like both of us putting on a henge and going somewhere to eat or just being there, being her friend", he broke off, wrestling down a deep breath before managing to carry on, once again cursing the low emotional intelligence quota of his older, idiot self,
"It wasn't until she'd been living with me for three weeks, far longer than it should have taken me to figure out how much she was hurting inside, that I realised why Fuu-chan was so happy just being where she was with someone she could really relate to".
It was tiring work, much more than he'd ever thought possible, by on the plus side of things Naruto was now more convinced than ever that the Kage Bunshin no jutsu was the greatest ninjutsu ever created.
It wouldn't have been possible for either himself or his new roommate to exist as they did without it; every time they shifted apartment, which was often and left up to him as he was the one with the manpower to make it happen; never mind if Fuu's virtually perfect chakra control and the assistance of the Nanabi made her almost as competent at his signature jutsu as he was, Naruto would not let her strain herself and potentially cause further complications to both herself and the baby by straining her chakra reserves. It was still taxing though, and Naruto knew that wasn't the worst of it; Fuu had been determined to earn her keep around the place even above and beyond sealing the rooms down with ink structures that made his head spin, but what she couldn't down as go out and work to earn extra income. Naruto's finances had never been that rosy at the best of times and now he was a genin he no longer qualified for Konoha's orphan stipend; not that it was ever worth very much but right now every little helps; and having an extra mouth to feed, to say nothing of providing the ink sticks and materials of Fuu's sealing techniques, was really starting to bite into what little liquid assets he'd ever had, but at the same time no matter how dire things got or if he had to skip a meal or two, it didn't matter, not really.
Not when Fuu and her baby, their baby, were already the best thing that had ever happened to him in his short but painful life so far.
Naruto had never known of ever had a family but now, even though it was only him and a virtual stranger from a distant land who had sought him out because he was there, he felt like he was starting to feel like he did have something most other people took completely for granted. Fuu-chan, though so much stronger than him it was frankly embarrassing, still needed him to survive and her baby needed the both of them; that idea of being wanted rather than shunned, of actually having people who needed rather than tolerated him was like a drop of water being poured onto the tongue of a dying man. He had responsibility now; he needed to earn enough money to ensure Fuu-chan and her baby would be healthy enough to survive, he had to train harder than he ever had before in his life to make sure that he'd be able to look after an infant when, the inevitable happened; damn, I so don't want to think about that right now; and as well as that he had to wise up about how to actually look after a baby.
He wasn't afraid to admit he'd been scared, hell he was still scared about what he'd gotten himself into; he'd never known a family or how to act around women or children at all but thankfully Fuu was so grateful to him taking her in that she seemed to take any mistakes he made in stride rather than lambasting him for them. As it was Naruto had gained so much more experience and knew so much more now than he had three weeks ago he sometimes had to stop and look at himself in a mirror to wonder if he was still the same person; not only was he working out with his team to look after himself and make sure no-one couldn't see the things he was trying to keep hidden, he had to take in a hundred and one other things to juggle as well. For the first time in his life he was grateful Kakashi-sensei was as lazy as he was; though he is watchful and always vigilant – I can't let my guard down around him even for a split-second; as that gave him time to keep all the separate balls he had up in the air moving without coming crashing down to the floor.
His first and most important step had been the one that cemented in his mind just how damned versatile the jutsu he'd filched from the Forbidden Scroll truly was – even now there wasn't a single hour of every day where he didn't mentally kick his own butt for just flicking over the detailed description of the Kage Bunshin in favour of trying to learn the actual technique. The fact that it had been Fuu, who was still a relative novice with the jutsu, who had figured out that shadow clones transferred their memories to those of the user when they died was a point of great jubilation and crushing humiliation all at once for the blonde jinchuuriki – how come he hadn't seen that before? Either way now though it was mostly academic; this memory transfer was a gift from Kami-sama as it allowed him, and actually them if Fuu-chan wished to join in, to multi-task – since the day Fuu-chan had mentioned that ability of the clones to him, almost in passing as she thought he already knew the secret, there hadn't been a single day where he hadn't had at least a dozen clones out doing the essential jobs that needed to be done for himself, his new guest and in preparation for the arrival of the guest some four or so months down the road.
He had clones acting as general dogsbodies and bodyguards for Fuu-chan when he wasn't home (he didn't care how many times she insisted she was fine and could manage on her own, they were staying and that was that, like it or lump it), clones in the library reading up on pertinent topics such as baby care and what to expect for the rest of the time Fuu-chan had left in the world (the images that had come through when one particular clone had dispelled while he was in the middle of a team spar had been enough to make him feel queasy, though luckily he was able to pass of the greenness of his complexion on the strength of the punch Sakura-chan had sunk into his gut rather than the particularly graphic images of the latter stages of the labour process that had just gate-crashed his mind) and clones that, in a pinch, could cover for him in team meetings when Kakashi-sensei actually took his eye off his porn long enough to get around to actually teaching them something.
I know he's big on the whole teamwork thing but that's all we ever do, and none of its helping; the jinchuuriki mulled the thought over in his mind as he clomped up the stairs towards the apartment he knew via his clones Fuu-chan had just finished 'redecorating'; teme'll get himself killed because he's an avenger and has to do everything himself, Sakura-chan just goes along with him and Kakashi-sensei doesn't seem to care – what, was one near-death experience just not enough for you or something? Sighing at the thought of his dysfunctional genin unit the Uzumaki shook his head; at least if nothing else the jounin's perpetual tardiness meant he had a fighting chance to earn some extra income in the lag between when the team meeting was supposed to start and when it actually did begin – there were always errands to run and, though most raw genin didn't know it, a steady trickle of missions so basic they didn't even constitute D-ranks that were stock-piled on the mission desk without even going through the Hokage first. Okay they paid absolute peanuts but even a few extra ryo might make the difference between stocking up on premium baby formula (the books had said he'd be needing a lot of that for the first six months or so) or having to buy the cheaper brands.
As he crested the stairs onto a landing Naruto for the first time felt weary; not tired like he usually was after a hard day on the training fields, but more ground down by the sensation of trying to fight too many battles on too many fronts and being slightly overwhelmed by it all; in a brief moment of introspection, he wondered if this was possibly what all fathers, or at least soon-to-be fathers, ever felt like after coming home from work. Well if it is or it isn't, it doesn't matter; he shook his head as though to dislodge the unworthy thoughts before squaring his shoulders and marching resolutely onwards; regardless of how I feel I'm not the one who matters here, Fuu-chan is and her child with her. So, enough feeling sorry for yourself; he summed up his mental pep-talk at the same time as reached into his pocket for his keys; though he'd originally wondered why Fuu-chan hadn't booby-trapped the front doors to only admit their chakras, he'd quickly cottoned on after she explained that having an entire apartment block full of doors that exploded at people who might have been popping in simply because they were new to the area and got lost was both unneighbourly and downright suspicious.
He let himself in quietly, knowing that the seals Fuu-chan had shown him briefly and promised she'd show him later on when the entire complex was locked down took a lot out of her to fully draw and activate, even with his clones helping in any way they could. For reasons that weren't entirely her own, the mint-haired girl liked to read or watch plants grow when she didn't have work to do, though she admitted that since she had left Taki and all her old life had represented behind she'd also been sleeping more and he didn't want to run the risk of disturbing her if he could avoid it. He'd felt all his clones puff to nothingness earlier so she should be on her own, though more to calm his own nerves than anything he carefully nosed around the entire apartment, softly calling her name,
"Fuu-chan, Fuu", oddly enough the bedroom was the last place he checked and he heard his fellow jinchuuriki prior to poking his head in and seeing her sprawled under the covers, flat on her back and apparently dead to the world, "heh, catching up on your beauty sleep huh? Well after all the stick you give me don't be offended if you get an earful about bushy bed-head when you wake-Fuu!"
His half-internal monologue was cut off as he saw the other jinchuuriki thrash around under the covers and caught a glimpse of her face; as the expression of fear and horror was picked out by the fading light Naruto was just for once grateful that the apartments of his block had blinds that didn't completely block out the sun. He was at her side in a heartbeat and feeling sick to his stomach the one after – Fuu was a pale ghost of her normal vivacious self, curled up and apparently shaking in the grip of a phantasm he couldn't see. He just about fought down the urge to shake her wake as even he knew enough to realise that was the worst thing to do to someone suffering a nightmare; instead he forced himself to take a deep breath and slowly take hold of her closest hand, grateful that she didn't pull away as he sat on the edge of the bed and began to do something he'd never done before or, prior to meeting the pink-eyed kunoichi from Taki, had any reason to believe he'd ever do in the future.
Naruto himself had often been accused of having no appreciation of beauty (in the eyes of most of the kunoichi the fact he even dared to disagree with or, worse still, even contradict Sasuke on occasion was proof of this) and this extended to a tin-ear for music. However over the past few weeks he and his clones had been paying more attention to the way families acted despite the hurt it caused him as he remembered his early, lonely years and had picked up a few things through simple observation; now, when his for want of a better word partner was suffering and in pain, one of those observations came back to the forefront of his mind and he acted upon it – wetting his lips and trying to ignore the sensations of awkwardness that sought to overwhelm him, the Kyuubi container began to sing a lullaby:
The snow falls densely, the hail falls densely! The snow falls densely, the hail falls densely!
It's falling and falling, collecting more and more.
The mountains and the fields are also wearing their cotton hats,
and in every tree flowers bloom.
It's still falling and falling, never stopping.
The dog is happy, running around the garden,
the cat is curled up under the kotatsu.
The snow falls densely, the hail falls densely!
The traditional winter's song was one he could remember easily even if he'd never sung it before, least of all in his own youth due to having no-one worth singing it with or to. However as he looked down at Fuu and watched her slowly, ever so slowly, begin to calm down, stopping her struggles as she seemed to react to the tune and noise, he realised this had been a very good time to break that particular duck – as he repeated the tune over and over again and saw the strong, bull-headed but still damaged woman before him released slightly from her night terror, Naruto came to an epiphany; if what I'm going through is typical for new fathers-to-be, then I'm damn lucky to be here to feel it.
Luckily Fuu awoke before his voice gave out; her eyes snapped open, rolling around as she glanced around frantically before yanking her arm away from whatever she could feel had hold of her hand; no, no I won't let you take me away – you don't own me! She drew in the breath to scream and tried to pull upon her chakra before a sudden call came to her ears,
"Fuu-chan, calm down", it wasn't their voices, no-one was hurting her and as she blinked, wondering why she was hearing someone who sounded a little like Shibiki, poor scaredy-cat Shibiki who had finally cast aside his cowardice to protect his loved ones, striking down three of their assailants and mortally wounding two more before being dragged down and slain by the remainder of the formerly ten-man squad, when the voice came through again, "it's okay, you're safe here. Think of the baby; calm down".
The voice had spoken the magic words; mention of the little life that grew within her was enough to activate Fuu's maternal instinct and smoother the panic that had been threatening to overwhelm her; focussing all her will she forced herself to drag down a deep breath of air, hold it and then release it some seconds later, the pause restoring some clarity to her formerly panicked thoughts. When she felt ready, the memories banished back to the closet they inhabited like a malevolent skeleton rattling its bones for another chance to force open its coffin and jump out to scare everyone, the jinchuuriki opened her eyes again and glanced around; within seconds she'd seen something she recognised, something she had learned to equate with safety, reliability and sheer cussed determination to care for those who had come into his path and her instinct took over before she could even hope to control it.
Naruto started slightly as his flatmate sprang at him but overall he wasn't all that worried; though he hadn't known her all that long and hadn't mentioned it out of politeness and the fact they both had more important things to deal with right now, it had quickly become apparent to him that Fuu was a bit of a cuddler. He therefore remained impassive as she wrapped her tan arms around him, not reacting save to embrace the girl in kind as he felt her shiver in his arms; must have been a bad dream – I'll have to ask but, if she doesn't want to talk about it, we leave it there and say no more about it. With this in mind the Kyuubi jinchuuriki waited until his Nanabi counterpart twitched to be free of his embrace before letting her go, Fuu settling back on her haunches as she yawned, still drained as he sleep had been anything but restful,
"Are you all right Fuu-chan?"
"I, I think so", the older girl tried to reassure him with a watery smile, "much better now you're here Naru-kun". Strangely enough Naruto did smile at this but it wasn't his normal grin; instead it was a more direct, slightly grim expression that suited his next words perfectly,
"What was the dream?"
"Nothing nice – I'm just glad it's over", she assured him, drowning out the ominous rattling from the closet in the back of her mind; no, I have to be strong now – Naru-kun's doing too much for me already, I can't ask him to listen to what happened in Taki as well; "how was your day?"
"Probably better than yours; come on", luckily Fuu had gone to sleep dressed and there would be no embarrassment as Naruto helped pull her to her feet, "let's get you something to eat Fuu-chan – believe me when I say ramen can make everything better". The Nanabi jinchuuriki wrinkled her face,
"Urgh, that is horrible; I'll have a salad thank you very much". Shaking his head at what he considered to be a lost cause, Naruto shrugged as he acquiesced to her demands,
"Fine, fine, blasphemer – just don't be upset when the ramen gods strike you down for your insult against the heavenly broth that is their bounty to the world. Are you sure the Nanabi's a beetle – the amount of vegetables you eat I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be a rabbit", he chuckled off the slap Fuu sent to his shoulder and led her towards the kitchen, the forthcoming issue that was looming up in the near future put on the back-burner for now.
It was not a problem that could be ignored forever; throughout the meal, what Fuu considered to be her flatmate's remedial training in the ninja arts and an introduction to the basics of fuuinjutsu, the time only loomed up ever further until it could be put off no longer. However neither appeared ready to be the one to put a toe in the stormy waters until the eleventh hour and, due to this, Naruto found himself squaring his shoulders in front of his bathroom mirror as he gave himself an internal pep-talk; okay, you can do this – it's just an idea to see if she can get to sleep better at night and if she says no you can both just forget about it and go from there. With this in mind and constantly reminding himself that this was completely for Fuu's benefit, Naruto slammed his toothbrush back in its holder, took a breath, all but wrenched open the bathroom door and strode outside just in time to catch sight of the girl at the source of his current issue and feel his nascent courage completely desert him.
Fortunately Fuu appeared to be as nervous as he did, not quite able to meet his eyes as she mumbled a hello, Naruto doing likewise as the silence then stretched between them; eventually however, with an almost audible twang, the tension grew too great and simultaneously both of them snapped,
"Naruto-kun..." After such bravery both were rebuffed and lapsed back into the quiet, though there was a slight grin on the faces of both jinchuuriki at the slight slip. Luckily before the situation was lost completely Fuu simply shook her head, sighed and stepped forwards, Naruto not resisting as she took him by the hand as gently as he had her earlier in the day and led him towards the apartments' single bedroom.
A few minutes later and Naruto was actually surprised he wasn't feeling more embarrassed than he was; now that he was pulling the covers up over himself and Fuu after switching the lights off, he was having a hard time remembering what all the fuss was about in his head. Though he was in bed with a girl, and a very attractive girl at that, the obvious course of action was about the furthest thing from his mind at the minute; all he was doing now was making sure Fuu slept well and, because of that, there was a minimal risk to the unborn child. His fellow jinchuuriki, for her part, didn't move as he curled up against her slim back, the warmth of both his body and his chakra was a comfort to her as Fuu, even in the short time she'd known the Uzumaki, had quickly come to realise that Naruto was a person who wouldn't, perhaps couldn't, bring himself to hurt those who were close to him; and Kami knows how; for some reason tears prickled the corner of her eyes, hormones driven into a frenzy by her ongoing puberty and pregnancy making her tearful and regretful for dragging a third party into the mess that was now her life; but he for some reason thinks a used, useless jinchuuriki girl is worth being close to;
"I'm sorry Naruto-kun".
On the verge of dropping off, Naruto heard those words and just about managed to reel himself back into consciousness, shaking his head muggily as he tried to understand what she was trying to say,
"I'm sorry", Fuu repeated, curling in on herself as abject misery rolled around in her guts, "for being such a nuisance, and so useless – if it weren't for me you could be training and working towards becoming Hokage. Instead you're stuck here looking after me and a baby that's not even yours, you didn't ask for..."
At that point she was hushed by a pair of fingers on her lips; Naruto had heard more than enough and his arm had snaked over her shoulder to silence her raving before they could go on too far. When he was certain she was going to remain quiet, he removed his finger and hitched himself in closer to her back, his answer all but whispered into her ear,
"Now you listen to me you silly girl", he began, his tone light but meaning well apparent as she smiled almost against her will at his gentle jibe, "you are not and have never been a burden; hell you've been here less than a month and I've learnt more off you than Kakashi-sensei ever managed to teach me in five times that. There are some days when I think the other two members of my team are out to try and drive me insane and only the thought of you keeps my head on my shoulders, and the temes on his as well for that matter. And as for this little lady or gentleman", even as Fuu felt a little water leak from the corner of her eyes as his words rocked her, she giggled a little as she felt the hand that had touched her lips trace its way down her side and come to rest across her bump, giving a soft squeeze as though trying to massage the unborn in her womb, "not even Kami-sama can make me her father but at the same token, not even Kami-sama will stop me being her dad".
Naruto wasn't sure exactly what the quiver than ran through his bed-partner's back meant but, a second later when the former Taki-nin rolled over and threw her arms around him, breathing heavily as she fought back tears, he realised it wasn't anything terrible and he must have said something right; good, after everything else Fuu-chan needs some good news now;
"One day Uzumaki Naruto", the tanned girl said stutteringly, eyes squeezed shut he wouldn't see the tears as she went on, "one day one lucky girl will finally notice you past that bastard of a team mate you seem to have and realise what kind of man you are. When that day comes and you're waiting for her at the altar with the sake and rings ready I'll be there, watching and smiling down on you, because you out of all the men Kami-sama dumped on this planet damn well deserve it".
"Well that won't be happening for a little while yet", Naruto pointed out sagely, not wanting to dwell on the topic of Fuu's forthcoming appointment with destiny at the birth of her child as it depressed him more than it did her, "so until then just get some rest Fuu-chan; thank the ancestors I've got the day off tomorrow, I need the rest and love her though I do one more complaint from Sakura-chan would probably be enough to send me completely around the twist!"
As Fuu giggled at that image her fellow jinchuuriki shuddered before relaxing, safe and secure in the presence of someone he considered more than a friend but certainly not a lover, perhaps the term fellow survivors was the most accurate – both were jinchuuriki, scorned, hated and used for the burdens they bore, but together they were safer and infinitely stronger than being alone. Eventually sleep spread a gossamer blanket over the two of them and, content, all three members of their very unusual family slept beneath the same covers, the same blankets and the same stars.
It was a pattern that would repeat itself virtually every night until the day Hanamitsu entered the world; a brief time of peace where a boy who had known nothing but scorn and hatred in his life was taught about companionship and love, and a girl who knew trauma re-learned what it was to feel safe and secure again.
It was a sudden cough that rouse him from his introspection; as he glanced up at the faces of his guests he realised what must have happened and ducked his head slightly in apology,
"Sorry about that", he admitted before a sudden warmth from underneath him opened up another avenue to get something out into the open; at the same time as getting something else in private, though it might be interesting seeing just how green Ko could go at the smell of a dirty nappy; "I sometimes drift off like that when I remember Fuu-chan too well. Anyway, excuse me but I believe Mitsu-hime needs a delicate touch to sort herself out".
"I see", realising what must have happened as the baby started squalling and Naruto lifted her slightly off his lap Ebisu stood up, eyes darting to the door as he checked for a chance to get out of the unexpected situation he'd been accidentally dragged into, "well Naruto-san, I believe we've intruded enough for one day. We'll give you some privacy for you and your daughter..."
"That won't be necessary"; I'm not sure I like that smile; the expression on the jinchuuriki's face was far too lazily sly for the special jounin to feel comfortable, a sentiment echoed, it seemed, by Kurenai as the sensei also stood and tried to defuse this potential bomb before it blew up and Naruto attempted to take hostages that would get him in even more trouble,
"Naruto-san, there's no reason for us to remain here further – you have our word, all our words that Hanamitsu-san's existence will be a secret, there's no reason for us to remain".
"There is, simply because none of you haven't even considered the fact that there's a missing piece in the picture so far. Kurenai-san, I'm guessing that even though you don't have any children of your own you could hazard a better guess than everyone else present how long it's safe to leave a baby alone. Not long is it", he must have seen her expression change because before Kurenai could answer he'd carried on, expression changing into a grin as he held his daughter with his arms, leaving his hands free, "luckily, due to the Kage Bunshin jutsu, she's got a constant minder at all times".
"Your shadow clones", Konohamaru was the first to voice his thoughts, "they let you look after her even when you're not here", a sudden flash of inspiration struck another member of the party; putting together what Kakashi had told her with what she knew now, Kurenai felt her eyes widen,
"That's why you didn't go for the Chunin exam isn't it? If you passed you were a lot more likely to be posted outside of Konoha..."
"...and leave Hanamitsu without a carer", Naruto finished for her, Kurenai feeling the humility that had risen up in her before surge once more – Uzumaki Naruto obviously knew when it was time to focus on your career and when it was time to put that on hold to concentrate on more important things. Naruto nodded at her guesswork, desperate to lay the groundwork so he could get his daughter off his hands and cleaned up; though they need to be ready for this to avoid a mass-panic if this introduction goes wrong;
"Yes in a way but you're only half-right; I would have missed her too much on border patrol but she would always have been with someone I trusted", he pointed out, explaining even as the two older ninja looked at him askance, "the shadow clone jutsu, it doesn't normally produce an infinite clone, that is, a clone that can exist independent of its maker indefinitely, but because of the way that jutsu works I can make it so, simply because when it splits my chakra to form the clone it splits my consciousness with it".
"But, how would the fact it has a consciousness make the clone last longer?" At that question, Ebisu felt a shiver of anticipation rush through him as he saw Naruto grin wolfishly,
"Because I don't have a single consciousness in my body, do I?"
Even as the faces as some of those assembled began to morph into expression of shock and horror, the deed was done; at Naruto's willing the shadow clone appeared as it had done countless times before but, even before the smoke was gone, all present knew this was no mere bunshin they were facing. Standing upright with power all but radiating off the orange form, the darkened whisker marks creased upwards as hellish red eyes once more swept the quartet present in the apartment and the apparition gave a dark smile, a prelude to the horror the summoned monster could potentially unleash to a village that was completely unprepared for such a savage assault. Standing alone and suddenly feeling very naked and exposed before the most powerful force in the Elemental Nations, all Konoha's genjutsu mistress and elite teacher could do was step in front of the children as a desperate last-ditch defence as the demon in diminutive form raised a single hand towards them and spoke in a voice deeper than an ocean trench and full to the brim with unfettered power.
In a way, as Konohamaru would admit to himself years down the line, there was a strange kind of irony that, while Uzumaki Naruto had impressed upon him the power of ninjutsu (and, inadvertently, the effect the female form could have on repressed old men such as his teacher and his grandfather), it was actually the meeting with the hidden burden of his rival that truly opened the young Sarutobi's eyes to the strength of the sealing arts.
Even though the bunshin the bijuu was possessing wasn't making any hostile moves Konohamaru was stunned into virtual incoherence just by the sense of sheer dominance the Kyuubi's avatar possessed; before its crimson vision he felt like a mouse before a particularly hungry tiger. In some ways it even hurt to look upon the beast that had nearly levelled the village before his birth but at the same time an aura of dark glamour radiated from the bijuu in the same way its chakra had shone around Naruto's seated form what felt like a life-time ago and simply demanded all attention be focussed on it. Before an octet of at best wary, at worst outright terrified eyes, the Kyuubi merely regarded them each in turn for a brief instant before giving a dismissive snort and turning back to the form of its host, reaching out,
"Sorry Kyu", Naruto said, breaking the wings of the fledgling protests before they could get off the ground with a nasty glare as he slowly placed the still-crying form of his daughter in the bunshin's arms, "you know the deal?"
"Hai, fortunately you humans live such fleeting lives; the idea of doing this for the rest of my immortal existence would be enough to break even me", the bunshin rumbled in a voice that certainly wasn't Naruto's, though as she listened in Kurenai could have sworn that, under the bombast, there was something else present in the pseudo-kitsune's tone; it sounds almost like... humming? Is he trying to calm Hanamitsu down in some way, like I would by talking or singing to her? The idea that the Kyuubi of all things could have taken an interest in the fate of Naruto's daughter was at the same time fascinating and terrifying – if that was the case and Hanamitsu had a proverbial fox riding on her shoulder the genjutsu mistress knew that, should anything untoward happen to the crying little girl the kitsune carried gently into the sealed room Naruto had pointed out earlier the Uzumaki's earlier predictions would probably come horribly true. The jinchuuriki himself might have been subdued from his rage but, save for possibly Sarutobi-dono or Jiraiya-sama, there was no ninja left in Konoha that could stay the Kyuubi's wrath a second time.
As the door swung shut behind the avatar of the kitsune and cut off Hanamitsu's crying Naruto turned back around in his seat to face them again, a slightly more abashed expression on his face as he gave a shrug and attempted to explain,
"Now you know what I mean when I say my daughter's never left alone; much as he'd snarl at me for saying it there's no stronger guardian in the world than the lord of all bijuu". Such was the surreality of the situation that it took a long, long minute for someone, Hanabi in fact, to whisper a question through the thickened atmosphere towards the jinchuuriki,
"The Kyuubi", she shivered at the idea; she hadn't even dared to activate her bloodline limit in the presence of the bijuu in case she was treated to a sight similar to the one that had started this whole ball rolling, "he, helps you look after your baby?"
"Pretty much", Naruto admitted, shrugging as he recalled the deal he'd thrashed out with the bijuu during one of their informal pow-wows after Fuu-chan had taught him how to initiate contact with his prisoner, "because he can effectively block out his sense of smell through that bunshin he gets nappy duties while I handle feeding and bathing, though sometimes he helps out with that when he feels like it".
"You can... communicate with the, ah, fox then?" Ebisu swallowed hard at this knowledge, the dread feeling in his gut only getting heavier as Naruto nodded,
"It'd be a bit hard to co-ordinate a baby-care plan if I couldn't wouldn't it?" He pointed out before sighing and continuing his story, "Fuu-chan, again, helped me out; Kyuubi doesn't care for Hanamitsu-chan because she's my daughter, he doesn't feel human emotions that way, none of the bijuu really do. He's only in on the deal because of what Hanamitsu-chan contains".
"Right in one", Naruto nodded at his subordinate's assessment of the situation, "right now, due to being sealed in my little girl, the seven-tailed bijuu is comatose in its new seal; that makes it unable to protect its host properly. Because of the fact her bijuu's out for the count Hanamitsu's very vulnerable, even more so than a normal infant, because she's a jinchuuriki and therefore a lot of people will be out to get her; Kyuubi and I were left with a human child and another bijuu who's for all intents and purposes helpless – the solution, the only solution, to this problem was to agree to disagree, put aside the fact we hate each other and work together until Hanamitsu-chan can stand on her own two feet. I wasn't, in fact I'm still not strong enough to protect her", Naruto's head dropped forwards at that admission, shame that his daughter was still in danger due to his failure until he took in a deep breath and carried on resolutely, "but with Kyuubi's help I'm working on that. You saw me training with his chakra; the red glow around me?"
"Yes", Hanabi shivered in disgust, that evil red flame in her mind once more as she relived a sight that she knew would forever haunt her nightmares, "I've never seen anything that, that..."
"I know", Naruto said sympathetically, remembering how much the damned fox's demonic chakra burned as it flowed through his system; and if it feels that rough, imagine how bad it must look; "but it's what I, we have to do – to make sure Hanamitsu and the Nanabi are safe we have to work together. The seals Fuu-chan taught me ensure no-one can feel the killing intent from his chakra while we're training, but when we go work together like that what's happening is he's feeding me his chakra and I'm learning to control it. This lets me have access to some of his powers if or when I need them and gets me used to his chakra; believe it or not it hurts like the devil to use demonic chakra; and by the same token while he's in bunshin form I can teach him ninjutsu and chakra control, not that he uses the former all that often because, and I quote, 'such useless monkey-tricks demean me'.
"And they do; even wearing this pathetic shell of mortality is an insult only the thought of the future payment I can extract from my would-be brother allows me to bear", the sudden growl made everyone jump, though Naruto quickly calmed down as the Kyuubi in his bunshin form handed him the squirming form of his daughter, the bunshin's other hand fisted in the top of a tightly-sealed bag and preventing any noxious vapours seeping out the top of it, "I am bound to no-one and nothing, care for no-one and nothing – I do this only so that the Nanabi will be eternally in my debt for the service I have done for it".
"Keep telling yourself that Fuzzy, one day you might actually believe it – you're not as flint-hearted as you like to think you are, one sniff of trouble threatening my little girl and you'd come running right after me. I'm just feeling sorry for her when she tries to bring any boyfriends home – they might survive past me but you, not a hope".
At the sound of Naruto's chuckle Kurenai found herself at first gawping at his insolence in the face of the Kyuubi, the demon that had almost levelled Konoha, and then having to suddenly stifle a chuckle as she caught a glimpse of the expression of the Kyuubi-bunshin – from the way his crimson eyes had darted from the bag in his hand to the spiky blonde hair of his jailor, she had a fairly shrewd idea what he longed to do with Hanamitsu's old nappy. However he seemed to constrain his wrath and stalk past, heading for the kitchen before pausing and turning back around to regard each of them in turn with a soul-burning glare,
"I have heard all my jailor has said and will tell you only this – he may have bonds to some of you but I do not. Cross us or reveal our secret and I will personally see to it that you scream for the mercy of the Shinigami before I let him claim you". Reinforcing the message with a blast of icy killing intent that made even Kurenai quake in her shoes the possessed clone turned back around and paced slowly into the kitchen; almost as if he's not used to walking on two legs as opposed to four; there was the sound of a bin opening and then slamming shut, the characteristic puff of a shadow clone dispelling and then, silence.
Naruto shivered for a moment, the small sliver of the Kyuubi's conscience returning behind the seal giving him a cold shudder before a sudden exclamation from Konohamaru made him glance up,
"Wow boss, that was awesome", the impressionable child had stars in his eyes as he reviewed what had just happened and realised how lucky he was to have Naruto as his boss, "you got the Kyuubi following orders!"
"Don't believe that Kono-kun, don't believe that for an instant", the jinchuuriki warned him, expression wary and grateful that the fox wasn't around to hear that comment, "it's true what he says, technically the other bijuu will owe him for his service, but I don't quite believe him when he says that's the only reason he pitches in with helping my hime", he smirked, recalling the first time he and the kitsune had managed to get the theory of implanting his consciousness into a shadow clone to work in practice, "after we got that technique to work I'm fairly certain he was grateful for the chance to stretch his legs, even if he had to look like me to do it".
"How long have you been able to, release the Kyuubi in such a manner?" Kurenai asked carefully, a little surprised but masking it as Naruto seemed to consider this for a moment prior to answering in a slow, considered tone,
"Since Fuu-chan was roughly seven, maybe seven and a half months gone", he admitted, not sure of the exact time frame as a lot of time seemed to have blurred into a monotonous haze in the months preceding and immediate aftermath of Hanamitsu's birth, "and it's because of that I think Kyuubi's not being entirely truthful when he says he's only doing this for a favour of the seven-tails", sadness seemed to seep into his smile somewhat as another memory, this one more painful and bittersweet, floated to the forefront of his mind,
"Given enough time Fuu-chan could make a good impression on anyone; he helped her out when I was working or training with my team. I've never asked exactly what the two of them discussed but, at the end, the fact he was the one who gave Fuu-chan a decent burial shows that he must have felt something for her".
Kyuubi had burst one of the half-dozen bunshin he left at the apartment to get the message to him; because of this he found himself rushing over the rooftops and trying to deny the slight tiredness tugging at him from the mass shadow clone barrage he'd used to finish the last D-rank team seven had been a part of. Thinking what was to come and feeling time had slipped through his fingers far too fast, Naruto fought down the sudden surge of panic that raced through him and tried to centre his mind on remembering what both he and Kyuubi had both read; just as well that shadow clone-thing we do transfers memories to both of us as both our minds are in the clone, though his is in control in that case. I'd never have been able to stomach those medical textbooks otherwise, even if that oversized fur rug kept dispelling right after reading the really gory bits, lousy kitsune. I just have to hope Kakashi-sensei brought the excuse that I was just so bored of the D-ranks I wanted to get it done quickly, I reckon he might be cottoning on though. Right now though, time to get to work; despite his mental fortitude though, as he saw his apartment block looming up in front of him, it was all he could do to keep his legs pumping him in the right direction rather than running away screaming from what he was likely to see there.
Fortunately Kyuubi and his own clones hadn't been idle while he'd been away; for almost as long as he'd had his new house guest they'd been busy reading up on and preparing for what was to be expected on the 'big day' as Fuu had jokingly referred to the day she finally went into labour. Working through a series of henges, the Kyuubi jinchuuriki had been able to purchase everything he needed for the baby and the birth itself as well as secure the information both he and Kyuubi would need to assist in the process (though technically the fox would have been able to go outside in a bunshin form, his chakra was so powerful it could easily be detected by any sensor ninja even half-focused in his direction – though one of the chakra-repression seals Fuu and now he could draw would reduce this risk, it simply wasn't worth it) and now, as he raced up the stairs and hastily unlocked the door to throw himself over the threshold, it was time to see if all the preparation was worth it,
"Fuu-chan? You", he called at one of the bunshin he could see poking its head around the door, "Where's..."
"Main room, all set up"; Naruto didn't so much as thank his clone before sprinting into the room, careful only to avoid slamming the door as he took in the scene before him, eyes everywhere at once.
The first thing that hit him was the smell, a mixture of medical antiseptic and bodily fluids; though in another place and another time Naruto might have been either embarrassed or grossed out by the sight of a young woman naked from the waist down right now he couldn't care less, instead stepping forwards and to the side of Fuu as his fellow jinchuuriki gasped in pain and exertion as the contractions wracked her,
"Fuu-chan, Fuu-chan talk to me", how he kept his tone so level he had no idea, groping downwards until he managed to grab hold of her closest hand, "it's okay, just remember to breathe".
"Not, bloody easy", the girl gasped back, a slight pause in the process allowing her to regather herself prior to the labour progressing, "gaahhh, damn this, hurts! The seal..." Prompted into action by the reminder Naruto glanced down at her stomach, seeing with distaste the blackened markings on the belly of the girl who, had circumstances been different, he would have been honoured to have as a wife regardless of his age,
"Okay Fuu-chan, I'm going to start channelling my chakra into it now", he did so, scowling for a moment at the symbols that would mean Fuu's death; but I couldn't touch – Fuu-chan overheard the seal wasn't made by anyone in Taki, they got it from somewhere else. It works by over-writing her original seal and merging it with the chakra of the foetus as it develops, eventually transferring the whole seal and the bijuu inside it from mother to baby. It's a Kami-damned abomination; he glared hatefully at the runes that were condemning someone he loved to death and swore a solemn promise in the back of his mind; and if I ever find the bastard who created it I'll make him die a thousand deaths for the pain he's putting us through.
At that moment Fuu let out a screech of pain as another contraction forced her muscles into spasm, Naruto felt his chakra being drained by the seal and he forgot such thoughts of revenge, whispering instead words of comfort even as he fought to keep his eyes dry as he was forced to watch one of his most precious people in the world pass away in front of him.
How long the labour lasted and he was forced to listen to the sounds of Fuu crying out in pain with a bale fuuinjutsu matrix sucking the chakra out of him he could not have said; it blurred into a monotonous shade of grey as he was crushed between the ambivalence of grief and hope for the future until at last, a third voice broke in on the conversation,
"I can see the head", he looked over wildly at where the Kyuubi-bunshin was attending the, for want of a better phrase, business end of the labour and, seeing the grave expression on the face of the humanised bijuu, he felt his heart leap into his chest and turned back to Fuu, her face drawn and strained as the shock and loss of chakra were combined to make her normally tanned skin pale and drawn,
"It's nearly there Fuu-hime", he said in a whisper, biting his bottom lip to drown out his urge to cry with pain; I will not make the last thing she has to see in this life me sobbing my eyes out, it'll be her son or daughter and nothing else; "one last push".
He would never be sure if the Nanabi jinchuuriki heard him but she did tense up, a final, bestial bray of agony and massive drain of chakra from the seal on her stomach making Naruto grit his teeth and stifle a curse before he was able to watch it fade away – good riddance to bad rubbish as far as he was concerned. He lingered on this thought for less than an instant, however, as the small, cramped room his clones and Kyuubi had transformed into a makeshift delivery suite was lit up by a different noise, Kyuubi's kage bunshin standing up tall with a small, red figure on it, having wiped the worst of the fluids off of the newborn with a selection of freshly washed and pressed towels, presenting the baby forwards with a terse sentence,
"It's a female". Nodding, Naruto took the baby girl in both hands, ignoring the pain that flared up dully from the hand that had been in contact with Fuu's seal and had been burnt by the chakra backlash, and spoke in a trembling whisper,
"Hear that Fuu-chan, it's a little girl, your daughter", he smiled as he gently lay the baby on her mother's chest and folded the arms of the former jinchuuriki around the swaddled infant, not able to control his tears this time as the senses of elation and grief collided inside of him with the force of squabbling gods, "she, she's gonna b, be so much like you; I, I'll teach her all 'bout the, bijuu, an' how much you l, l, loved her..."
He could say no more, go on no longer; instead with tears of sheer misery rolling down his face, he placed his hands on the inert girls' shoulders and slowly raised her upright, a final embrace for the deceased jinchuuriki as her daughter, their daughter, was held between them, supported by both parents even as the man who would be her father wept bitter tears and silently raged against the fate that had stripped his beloved from him while her mother, at last released from the pain and strife of her life, still seemed to smile down on the daughter she cradled in her arms.
Not even death, it seemed, could dim Fuu's love for the child that had inadvertently killed her.
Eventually, or at least what felt like an eventually in the bleak place that was a life having just lost the one person he'd ever had who could possibly comprehend the hell that was his daily existence, Naruto found himself shaken gently back to reality by a hand on his shoulder. Blinking, he slowly lowered Fuu's body back to the small cot it had been resting in and, though it ripped his heart to do so, gently prised the little girl from her grip, fresh tears in his eyes as he took a deep, snuffling breath down and looked up through blurred vision to see Kyuubi looking down at him impassively,
"It is time Naruto".
"No", surely not even a bijuu could be so hard-hearted as to want to simply get rid of the evidence so soon after her death – didn't her daughter; what name did she want for a girl – I can't remember; deserve to be with her mother a little longer, "no, she can..."
"Look to the living", the bunshin's voice was firm but not unkind as he looked from the seated form of his host to the corpse in the cot, an inscrutable expression on his face and the fire in his eyes dimmer and darker than Naruto could ever remember seeing it, "the kit needs you, the vixen is beyond all help".
Naruto gritted his teeth, wanting to lash out, scream, cry and hit something but a yell from the baby thrust all those thoughts from his head and, instead, he stood stiffly, moving like an automaton towards the exit of the small room to give Kyuubi space. At the door however, he paused as the bijuu spoke again,
"I have no love for your kind Naruto"; like I'd have never guessed that?; after everything else had been run through the emotional mangler this evening, it seemed he only had cynical sarcasm left in his thoughts though even this was tempered as he saw the clone straighten up, having pulled all the blankets over Fuu's body to for a kind of rough shroud, "but this one, who would save one of my brethren as well as her own kit, I cannot hate".
Despite everything that sentence made Naruto smile sadly, though he said nothing as the kitsune lowered his head, focussed his chakra and vanished in a plume of red fire, a shunshin powered by his chakra powerful enough to take both bijuu and body out of the village without anyone being any the wiser, shielded as the technique was from external detection by Fuu's and, as his skill in the art had progressed, Naruto's fuuinjutsu as well. As his tenant disappeared the surviving jinchuuriki slowly stumbled towards the main room of his apartment, his new daughter still in his arms and still crying as he let his legs go from under him and flopped on the settee, glancing down at the babe once or twice as he caught his first proper look at the child that had cost his Fuu-chan her life.
She was tanned, skin the same colour as her mother, though it was impossible to see the shade of her hair; her eyes were different though, probably the legacy of her rapist of a father; not that she'll ever find out about that. Now though, time to work; wordlessly summoning some shadow clones to do the running about and prepare something for his little girl to eat, Naruto began rocking her backwards and forwards gently, crooning the same little lullabies he'd used on her mother as she slowly began to settle down, lulled into the land of nod by her father's voice.
As he waited for the bijuu to return from his grisly errand of ensuring Fuu-chan's body was given a proper, respectful funeral, Uzumaki Naruto was left alone in his apartment, his newborn daughter in his arms and his first foot firmly on the road of full-time fatherhood.
"From what I told me later Fuu was cremated by Kyuubi's fox-fire", Naruto recited dully, not wanting to dwell on the topic for too long, "he scattered her ashes in the forests around Konoha; it was peaceful there, I think she'd have liked it. But that is the story, how I gained a daughter and Konoha got its second jinchuuriki", he glanced up once more to see the impact of Hanamitsu's story on his audience of four before moving on to the meat of the issue, "having heard it, I trust you'll honour my request and keep her existence a secret?"
No-one seemed to argue, in fact it seemed Hanabi was wiping her eyes to keep them clear of tears while Ebisu, though it was impossible to see a lot of his face due to the glasses he wore, was regarding the floor and apparently lost in his thoughts. Kurenai looked to be on the verge of saying something before, with a single movement, Konohamaru forced himself upright and strode over to the seated jinchuuriki, Naruto's eyes on him the whole way until they widened as the younger child came to a halt a respectful distance in front of him and looked him full in the face, his request forthright and brusque as though fighting its way clear of the nerves that had choked it earlier,
"Hey boss, can I hold her a minute?"
"Uhh", Naruto, like most new fathers, was understandably a little shocked by this but nevertheless eventually complied, gradually holding out Hanamitsu for the younger child as Konohamaru extended his arms, tongue poking out the corner of his mouth as he did his best to follow the boss's orders to the letter,
"Keep your arms steady, support her head and, that should do it; don't drop her", the last piece of advice was delivered in a semi-joking tone but Konohamaru obeyed as though it were a decree of Kami-sama himself, virtually rigid as he gazed down at the tiny face in his arms that blinked up at him with large, brown eyes. Swallowing hard, the young Sarutobi found himself smiling slightly as the baby appeared to reach up towards him with a single pudgy arm, chuckling a little as he cocked his head towards her,
"Wow, just when I thought it couldn't get any harder to replace jii-san I found out I've got another rival for the big hat", he pointed out breezily, trying to speak through a suddenly constricted throat as the enormity of what was going ion finally crashed down on him; the boss has a baby to look after, a real live human baby, and he's having to do it on her own – that's not fair, there must be something I can... wait, that would work!; "well boss, if you need someone to baby-sit her I reckon I should have a few nights a week free when I can sneak out the compound". Naruto's eyebrows rose for a moment before he chuckled, accepting his daughter back from the younger boy and inwardly chuckling as Hanamitsu burbled slightly, apparently having had her interest piqued by the stranger she'd just been introduced to,
"Thanks for the support Ko, just don't get in trouble and for the love of Kami don't bring anyone back here when I'm not around".
"I will see to it that he does not Uzumaki-san, personally if needs be", Ebisu assured the jinchuuriki, standing up after dragging down a deep sniff of air through his nose before scrutinising the young father more closely, a more warning tone in his voice now, "however, though I can't and wouldn't even try to force you to do anything, I will suggest strongly that you do eventually break the news to other people you believe you can trust. You said yourself this cannot remain a secret forever; better, I believe, to end it on your own terms than risk it being breached by a stranger". Sensing an opportunity, Kurenai moved in,
"He's right Naruto-san; in fact I was asked to come here by your sensei himself following your, actions on the team training grounds; you're right to think Kakashi's getting suspicious, it was just good luck he asked me to come and talk things through with you rather than appear himself. If nothing, or no-one else you must inform Sandaime-sama – not only is he a great benefactor to you and a man who will do all in his power to defend your daughter, the fact you've failed to disclose the fact Konoha now possess a second jinchuuriki of all things, whatever your reasons for doing so, may very well constitute treason".
"As opposed to putting a big neon sign over my daughter's head saying 'future perfect weapon here' of course", Naruto cut back witheringly, expression studiously blank as he stared the genjutsu mistress down, "I'm not stupid, I knew one of the options the old man had to shoot down continually was me being 're-educated' to become a 'great shinobi' for this village, for which read 'mindless killing machine with an off-switch'. No, not now and not for a while yet; I have thought about contacting jiji but", he held up a hand, "that will have to wait until the Chunin exams are over; firstly because he'll be rushed off his feet with the exams and secondly because I've got some clones ripping the Konoha library's legal section apart looking up the clan laws. As Hanamitsu-hime's not biologically mine technically I've no claim over her so I need to fill out the adoption papers and get them signed to become her guardian, then after that because I'm a ninja I have full responsibility for her, the council won't have a say on her fate – with things the way they are now I'd have no legal recourse to stop the civilian council putting her into an orphanage save putting a kunai through the eye-socket of anyone who tried".
"You've put a lot of thought into this", Kurenai was forced to concede after a moment's thought; he has as well, he won't allow any decisions to be made on his daughter until the ball's in his court; "very well, you have my word what has been said here goes no further than these walls; I'll tell Kakashi you're bearing up well and just got sick of the Uchiha's attitude and pointed out the Sakura girl's weaknesses". Naruto nodded in thanks before squirming in his arms brought his attention back to more pressing matters and he looked to his four house-guests,
"My thanks Kurenai-sensei, the rest of you", he inclined his head respectfully before glancing down at his little girl, "still, time is getting on and I'm afraid I have other things to do. Remember that you've given me your word of secrecy and that the Kyuubi is vengeful when his temper is stirred".
With that final warning in their ears each of the Uzumaki's impromptu house guests bowed themselves out of the apartment, Naruto and his daughter accompanying them to his front door before closing it gently as their footsteps echoed down the hallway and receded to nothingness. As soon as they were gone the Kyuubi container slumped against the door and slid down to the floor, forehead almost on his knees as Hanamitsu was cradled against her father's belly, starting to cry a little as Naruto heard his prisoner speak once more,
"You should have just killed them".
"Oh and that wouldn't have looked suspicious? Four people go missing, one of them a jounin who was directed to my flat last, yeah", he snorted at the Kyuubi's over-simplified view of the world, "that would've gone down real well. Leave the thinking to me; you just deal with the mindless random destruction". A dark chuckle echoed in his head,
"My pleasure insect; see to the kit, her crying is becoming tiresome". At this point Naruto did chuckle, having been waiting for this moment for some time,
"Before you wouldn't have even noticed; someone feeling the ice around their heart starting to melt slightly?"
The language that met his ears at that proclamation were enough for Naruto to consider the entire day a success; even as he stood up and rocked his daughter back to sleep, the jinchuuriki found himself looking out of his window and smiling slightly as he watched the sun reach its zenith over the mountain of the Hokages; those who watch over the villages eternally. Well, if you are; he let out a sigh as he stepped forwards and sat back down on his settee, looking down at his child with a smile of joy tinged with trepidation at the uncertain future, now ever more uncertain due to the random elements he'd been forced to bring into the equation as he finished his silent prayer to the spirits of the deceased (and still living) village leaders; look over me while I watch over Hanamitsu-chan. And if Fuu-hime is up there with you; a tear welled up from the corner of his eye as he thought of his loss once more, though he wiped it away before it could drop onto his daughter's scrunched-up face; tell her she's forever in my thoughts, and I miss her more than I could ever say.
Omake 1 – Price of Progress
As soon as he'd knocked on the door and heard the footsteps coming his way, Kakashi had been expecting a rough response and, seeing the door open and a mop of familiar pink hair appear just below his eye line, his realised he wasn't going to be disappointed,
"Hello; oh, you..." recognition flared in the older womans' eyes, "...you're Sakura-chan's sensei aren't you? What have you said to her – she's been locked in her room ever since she's got back, won't open up to anyone and she was in tears when she came in! What's happened; has that little monster on her squad...?"
"Haruno-san", Kakashi cut in politely, not wanting to hear the reputation of one of his squad members besmirched even if he was the reason he was here now, "this is a matter for team seven and, as jounin instructor for team seven, I am here to take responsibility for and rectify the situation in any way I am able to. However, this won't be possible if I remain on the doorstep and Sakura-chan remains locked in her room – may I come in and see my student?"
Luckily the woman he assumed was Sakura's mother let him in without further ado and she did heed his advice to leave both himself and Sakura alone during their discussion; just as well, I didn't want to have to use privacy seals unless I had to. With this in mind Kakashi came up to the door on the first floor that was helpfully highlighted with a large ceramic cherry tree in full blossom with the word 'Sakura' written underneath it, no doubt a present or gift from a travelling merchant or festival of some kind that the girl had kept and hung on her bedroom door. Regarding it for a moment Kakashi nodded before, gathering himself and putting himself in the right frame of mind, he knocked smartly on the door before him,
"Sakura-chan, it's Kakashi-sensei", like all professional ninja the last Hatake identified himself before requesting entry, "may I come in?"
There was a watery-sounding noise that could have meant anything but Kakashi deciphered it as a yes, opening the door slowly and checking for traps as he went just in case his kunoichi booby-trapped her room. Fortunately she didn't and the jounin was allowed to let himself in without incident, finding himself standing in a relatively small room that wasn't, as he'd feared, as pink as he was expecting. Instead it was an off-white mostly, trimmed in a steel shade around the edges and containing the normal things a just-teenage girl would need for life in general – there was a wardrobe, a dresser with several different cosmetic products on it, a few posters tacked onto the walls including what looked like a hand-drawn and inked portrait of the Uchiha family crest, one medium sized bed and, most importantly, one pink-haired genin kunoichi curled up in a huddle of misery on top of said bed. Seeing all this and coughing slightly to get her attention, the Copy-ninja spoke first,
"Sakura-chan, can I sit down?" She gave another murmur that could have meant anything, though as the bedsprings creaked under the weight of the jounin as he sat down at the foot of the bed she seemed to uncurl herself somewhat, revealing a blotchy face streaked with dried tears and marred by an expression of dumb misery as she looked over at the jounin. Kakashi merely eye-smiled back at her for the moment, wondering exactly the best way to go about this before the sound of his student's voice shocked him slightly; strange, I wasn't expecting her to take the lead;
"Was he right?"
Whatever flaws could be lain at the door of the Haruno scion beating around the bush certainly wasn't one of them; Kakashi blinked as he digested the question for a moment before, realising exactly what she was asking, he was forced to glance down and nod slowly,
"I'm afraid so Sakura-chan". Her face and body collapsed in tandem, forehead falling to her knees as she choked and began to sob again, castigating herself over and over she once more relived the moment when Naruto of all people had ripped the rose-tinted glasses from her face and smashed them to atoms beneath the cold, hard heel of reality as he saw it,
"Hai", Kakashi's voice was yet another dagger plunged into the last vestiges of her self-confidence and self-worth; all that time at the Academy, so long spent trying, and for what? It was all for...; "for now".
The jounin's cryptic remark was enough, just enough, to catch Sakura's attention; with an effort she twisted her head around to gaze up at her sensei as he sighed and explained the point he'd made,
"I have been trying to find a way to say what Naruto put into words so bluntly for some time now – in that regard he has done me a favour. Both you and Sasuke have serious issues, all of which he illustrated in no uncertain terms a few hours ago; the question is now", he looked at her directly with steel in his one visible eye, all traces of his normally impassive manner gone as he locked stares with her, not letting her look away as he asked his next, final question,
"What are you going to do about it?"
Whatever Sakura had been expecting it probably wasn't that; her green eyes widened as she recoiled slightly as though singed by the question,
"What, what do you mean?"
"Naruto was right; for a ninja you are lazy and have completely the wrong attitude towards most aspects of ninja living in general", he affirmed ruthlessly without so much as a flinch on his part, "I offered team seven the chance to participate in the Chunin Exams not because I thought you'd be promoted but to show you all what it meant to be a ninja, something I thought none of you have yet learned, though I will admit that in that belief Naruto proved me wrong. However, now you know that and you've had your flaws pointed out, my question to you is what do you plan to do about it; will you stay as a career genin or try to do something about your weaknesses – I'm your sensei and will help you as much as I can but I can't drag that vest over your head on my own. The one who earns it has to be you".
Kakashi had never been one for motivational speeches; in fact he was more the strong, silent type when he could get away with it; but he wouldn't have been human if he hadn't felt the urge to pat himself on the back for that bit of impromptu grand-standing. However as Sakura slowly stood up, looking towards her dressing table, the Copy-nin tensed himself for a moment as he watched her look into the mirror for a moment before reaching for a kunai she had resting on her dressing table. Kakashi wouldn't allow his student to even attempt to end her life but, as he heard her voice, he cautiously began to feel slightly more confident as he listened to her next question,
"How long until is it until the next exam Kakashi-sensei?"
"Six months", he replied off-handedly, eyes not stopping reading the situation as he saw it, still ready to step in if he thought it necessary, "though where it is hasn't been finalised". The back of Sakura's head bobbed at the answer before she spoke again,
"Can you make me into a candidate in that time?"
"I can certainly try". The head bobbed once more before one of the cherry blossom girls' hands reached back and seized a handful of her hair, the kunai glinting as it too was raised; Kakashi didn't move a muscle as the knife began its work and ribbons of severed hair began to float to the floor until, eventually, there was a pile of it on the floor around Sakura's feet and he heard her speak again,
"Long hair is easy to grip, grants an enemy easy purchase and can be used to break your neck easily", she recited as though from a textbook, still not turning around her to face her sensei as her shoulders shook from either mirth or sadness, without seeing her face Kakashi couldn't tell which, "they taught us that in the Academy; I haven't been paying attention to many of the lessons I learnt there".
"It's never too late to listen", Kakashi assured her, eye-smiling again as he stood up and regarded his student's no profile, "normal training ground, normal time; now you and hopefully Sasuke had had your eyes opened, I'll be able to start drilling you three into becoming chunin. And no", as Sakura span around with an almost hungry gleam in her eyes he held up a hand, "before you ask I can't in any good conscience even try to train you now – you're not in the right frame of mind to train safely. Have a night to rest and I'll see you tomorrow".
Fortunately Sakura seemed to have enough respect for her sensei not to argue with this logic and instead merely bowed in respect; with a wave Kakashi departed, leaving Sakura to her own devices for the time being. As she watched her bedroom door close behind him the kunoichi looked to the kunai in her hand, a wisp of her formerly long hair clinging to the blade and shuddered, putting the weapon down hastily. Glancing down, the Haruno found herself surprised that she didn't cry again at the sight of her shorn locks; must have run out of tears to cry; a bitter smile tugged at her lips as she looked around for a ribbon to put up her shortened hair with; now though; for the first time in a long time the kunoichi looked in the mirror and saw Haruno Sakura rather than a future Uchiha Sakura; it's time to stop hiding and hoping for a price to come rescue me. Right now this princess is going to have to learn how to fight and kill on her own!
She had six months and, as she looked to the calendar that hung on a corner of her wardrobe and flipped through the pages to a date she then annotated in red, she swore to herself that by the end of those six months she would be able to look her sensei in the eye and say, chunin or not, that she was a kunoichi worth his time and effort.
Omake 2 – Army of Two
All I wanted to do was speak to jiji regarding my little girl; even as the thought rattled around Naruto's mind as he went flickering towards yet another enemy and blasting him through a row of seating with a chakra-infused punch, some part of his now-Kyuubi-influenced mind chuckled with dark irony at the way things had turned out; I did not asked to be stood right at ground zero for when the Fourth Shinobi World War kicked off!
He had only attended the damned finals to both get a chance to see Sarutobi in the aftermath and cheer on the rest of the Konoha rookies who were still involved; however that nice simple plan seemed to have gone horribly to pot when some genius decided it would be fun to attempt to cast a mass sleep-inducing genjutsu on the entire arena, smoke bombs had gone off in the Hokage's box and all hell had started breaking loose. Separated from his team as they weren't present (Kakashi-sensei had given them the day off so he was assuming Sasuke was at home brooding, training or both while Sakura-chan, with new short hair and a dangerous glint in her eyes, had immediately requested a day of one-on-one tuition following Naruto voicing his desire to spend the day at the Chunin exams cheering on his friends, something the masked smut-reader had eye-smilingly agreed with) Naruto was left to his own devices to react as best he could and, seeing the unfamiliar head bands heading in his direction, he did the best thing he could think of in the circumstances in the following order; swear profusely, send warning and a request for back up – the Kage bunshin he summoned had barely enough time to realise it was corporeal before it had the instruction screamed into its ears and a punch to the face dispelled it,
"Invasion! I've got the arena; make sure they don't get to us through the walls!"
Even before the smoke vanished Naruto had called upon all the strength of his tenant he could safely handle and disappeared in a streak of red, hammering into the front rank of the enemy like a thunderbolt and stopping the attackers before they could strike the incapacitated civilians around him. Screams were heard around him and he was sure some of the shuriken and kunai that bounced of his shield of red chakra were thrown by people that were supposed to be on his side but, as he spied his next prey trying to escape the arena and felt a second flare of twin power from across the village, his elongated fangs twisted into a chilling smirk as he hurtled towards the next fight before him.
Just this once, though he'd never admit it, he was grateful that there was one trick used by the over-evolved ape he was sealed into that he had picked up.
Without it he would never have had the opportunity to get his claws dirty without first overwhelming his jailor, a task that the advent of the baby he handed off to one of the boy's shadow clones had made all but impossible now. Almost thrusting the chakra construct towards the apartments' bolt-hole, the bunshin currently occupied by a sliver of the Kyuubis' personality barked it orders over the sound of Hanamitsu's crying, speed more necessary than care at this critical stage,
"Get her safe, activate the seals; nothing comes in, you don't come out".
"Right", seeing the bunshin run for safety Kyuubi waited only until he felt the seals around the bolt-hole flare to life before rushing towards the window and shooting through it like an arrow, his beautiful, malevolent chakra flaring around him with such power that the concrete beneath his feet splintered to dust as he landed in the street. The yells of panic and horror were music to his ears, the taste of terror a fine wine to his senses as he registered the nearest threats through eyes that weren't his and grinned wolfishly; the huge heads towering in the distance were probably going to be no overall threat to him, but a little light exercise was better than none at all. Channelling his dark energy about him in a swirling nebula of malevolent force he roared out his challenge, leaping onto the roof and racing towards the snakes that were heading for the wall, a stray thought crossing his mind and making him snarl in anticipation as he upped his speed even more, looking for battle to blunt the bitter taste left in his mouth; before I killed this village because it was there and I was forced to, now I kill for it to save one of my own – Nanabi the second you wake up the pay-back you'll owe me will be legendary for this!
Temari cursed it all; cursed her father for starting this stupid invasion, cursed Chiyo-baasama for sealing a demon into her littlest brother, cursed said brother for not being strong enough to resist his innate bloodlust and starting to transform into the Shukaku in the middle of the arena before the correct time and cursed the Konoha ninja who'd wounded Gaara and driven him to this state. Originally she'd dismissed the bestial ninja as another soon-to-be red smear on Gaara's battle sand but he'd been more intelligent and dangerous than any had realised; his original drilling attack had been held at bay by the automatic sand defence but when the boy's henged partner has spun right into the back of the original attack, the resultant torque and rotation had for the first time undone the protection of the sand demon and the Inuzuka had ended up scratching her brother on the chest. It wasn't a deep wound, flesh-deep but to Gaara, who had never before experienced pain or seen his own blood, it was a traumatic event that the Shukaku had seized upon. Because of that the signal had to be sent early, the plan was in disarray and she and Kankuro were left trying to drag her half-crazed brother away so he could recuperate prior to unleashing his inner beast,
"Get his arm 'Mari", Kankuro yelled at her, trying to reach his brother through the residue of sand that still caked him, "we'll have to haul ass out of here, it's getting too hot!"
"Right", she'd already seen the way out – all she could do now was pray Gaara remained lucid enough to let them get away long enough before giving way to Shukaku's psychosis completely, "to my left, out the main door and we'll link with the breeching for..."
Something akin to a red comet slammed into the ground not ten feet from the rushing trio and Temari found herself cut off as the dust cleared and she beheld a second monster standing before her, two tails of pure red chakra waving lazily behind it as the breath in her lungs froze solid with dread. Standing to its full height the beast glared at her with eyes that drowned her in horror, a single claw pointing towards the three of them as it made a declaration in a voice of thunder,
"Put him down and give yourselves up; you have no hope of winning now". Temari tried to reply but, before she could so much as recollect her scattered thoughts, both she and Kankuro were sent flying from what looked like an explosion of sand around their brother. The Sand kunoichi landed hard and rolled, feeling something inside her give with a dull little snap; probably a rib gone; and levered herself up on one elbow just in time to see her youngest brother standing alone as he always had, facing down the red-cloaked demon with the sand of his own slithering up one side of his body,
"You! You will confirm my existence – Mother wants your blood!"
Okay; unlike the jinchuuriki, for as soon as he'd tapped into the Kyuubi's power he'd been under no illusion that one of the competitors in this exam had been like him and housed a demon within a seal on his belly, though his seal appeared weaker than his own; he's completely out of his mind and I don't want this to turn into a blood-bath. Right, he's going down now – thanks for this Fuu-chan; without a second thought Naruto made to end the fight before it even began – before Gaara could react it seemed he'd thrown himself forwards, one of the most powerful sealing techniques he knew bursting into life on his fingertips as the Kyuubi cloak rushed ahead of him. Either the other container didn't know of his power or thought his shield was invincible – either way it quickly became academic as the chakra collided. Kyuubi's power, so dangerous it could burn through chakra repression seals with ease even when it wasn't being consciously channelled, cut through the sand shield and sand armour as though it were paper and, before the other boy's teal eyes could widen in horror, Naruto's hand followed it, his fingertips colliding with the soft flesh of the other jinchuuriki's gut as he roared his technique aloud,
The effect was instantaneous; cut off from his bijuu's power Gaara was rendered as helpless as Hanamitsu; huh, lazy jinchuuriki; Naruto felt nothing but a vague contempt as the smaller child slid off his hand to sprawl on the ground comatose as he looked down on what he could have turned into had he not been raised right and moulded by the distant hands of the Sandaime and Kakashi-sensei; relying on the bijuu for everything and not training yourself – sloppy and useless. Now though, that's over; whipping around the victorious jinchuuriki glared at the other two shinobi he assumed were either the handlers or the relations of the genin he'd just downed and repeated his earlier demands,
"Give up and Konoha will show you mercy; you cannot win". It looked like the taller boy was ready to make a fight of it but, after glancing to his sister who was cradling her side and his insensate younger brother, quickly lowered his guard and stepped back. Seeing this Naruto launched himself forwards, the tails of his chakra cloak whipping out almost as an afterthought and clocking each of the other genin in their respective temples as he ran between them, leaving all three members of the same family unconscious in his wake as he sprinted and leapt towards the purple obelisk that had sprung up atop the viewing area of the arena and pulsed with deadly power.
Ibiki was a man who considered himself a realist; if he thought a situation was hopeless he said so, if he thought a plan was foolish he would voice his concerns regardless of the ranks involved and, if he was scared, he would admit to such a flaw in the privacy of his own mind, somewhere that had proven to be invulnerable to even the most despicable tortures that could be inflicted on a human being.
Because of this realism, even though nothing changed in his grim expression or his flint-like eyes, he was easily able to admit to himself that if Uzumaki Naruto ever went off the deep end Konoha and everyone in it would be fighting a losing battle just to survive.
Some minutes ago it had been grim and unpleasant on the front lines; the first of the snake summons had reached the walls and started battering through them with reinforcements en route; each summon had also been backed up by a large number of Oto and Suna ninja, forcing the Konoha forces to keep their heads down under a rain of projectile weapons and jutsu as the summons tried to force a breach in the leaf villages' walls. Though careful counter-attacks had driven back one or two of the snakes and dismissed at least two as well as leaving about a dozen enemy dead before the wooden structures, it had seemed a breach had been mere seconds away and Ibiki had been a hairs-breadth from giving the order to fall back before a crimson flare had races over head and the entire battle had been changed in an instant.
Before the claws the single figure had shrouding the lower portion of his arms the thick scales of the snakes had been no defence; designed to be summoned for battering down solid but immobile structures their size had worked against them and they couldn't hit something so small and fast as it had virtually danced with them, darting around their faces and jaws before retaliating with strikes to the eyes other, more vulnerable areas. In the aftermath of the Kyuubi jinchuuriki's counter-attack there were at least three gargantuan corpses around the foot of Konoha's walls, the snakes completely dead and unable to de-summon themselves, while the rest had been driven back to the summon realms as the demons' power had waxed strong and crushed them before him. As he gazed down from the ramparts the head of the T&I division watched unmoving as the jinchuuriki's wrath was turned upon the men who had followed the snakes; though he couldn't hear anything, he was certain he could see the possessed genin laughing amid the beating, though at least the deaths, when he did kill his enemies, were relatively clean even as the other ninja on the wall backed up the jinchuuriki with expertly-thrown kunai to whittle down the numbers a bit as the Kyuubi continued his rampage.
"Hmm", the musing voice from the side of him made the special jounin turned to see a tall man with wild silver hair standing next to him, following the jinchuuriki's path of devastation with inscrutable eyes, "I had heard from sensei that Naruto-kun had made contact with the beast but he never mentioned this level of potential control of its chakra".
"Control?" One of the chunins who'd had the misfortune to be on wall patrol before this whole mess kicked off snorted in disbelief, spearing his finger towards where the red-shrouded figure was still raising hell at the feet of Konoha's walls, "You call that being in control?" Jiraiya's answering gaze could have frozen a river and almost cost the loud-mouth control of his bladder as the sennin answered harshly,
"You're still alive aren't you? For me, that's control".
With that in mind the Konoha forces atop the wall fell silent and watched the massacre occur before them.
On the battlefield, Kyuubi merely laughed.
Landing atop the roof Naruto was half-expecting to be accosted by the ANBU who were patrolling around the barrier like snapping wolves but, to his surprise, they did nothing but continue to fire jutsus into the barrier before them. Probably don't want to tangle with the 'possessed' kid; he thought sourly before looking at the barrier in front of him; it was a fuuinjutsu of some kind, obviously a strong barrier seal sustained by the power of more than one ninja. Experimentally lashing out with a chakra claw Naruto was disappointed but not surprised to see that the Kyuubi's chakra couldn't pierce through the barrier, though it did leave a ripple running through the solid shield; so then, it's far from perfect – no time to try and deconstruct it, have to break through it with brute force. Okay, know how this works in theory; trying to centre himself Naruto reached into his mind and sought to control, rather than merely use, the inhuman force flowing through his chakra network as he picked a target through the purple veil he could see; let's see if I can make it work in practise.
Seeing the face before him crease up in sick delight Sarutobi felt the shock almost seize him up; he was far past his prime physically, only his agile mind and decades of experience was allowing him to keep up with Oroichimaru as his traitorous student, blade held aloft in his tongue to free his hands, rushed through some seals and intoned a technique that made his blood run cold,
"Edo tensai – Impure World Resurrection!"
"No", Sarutobi tried to disbelieve that even a man as twisted as Oroichimaru would go so far into forbidden ninjutsu but, as the first coffin began rise from the roof, he could deny it no longer, "you desecrate the dead Oroichimaru; you've damned your own soul interfering with the spirit world!"
"Kukukukuku", the mocking, hissing laugh was his only answer as the white-skinned sannin watched his plan come to fruition at last – soon the Leaf would burn at the hands of three of its former heroes, "but as I am immortal and a perfect being, what need do I have for my soul to be pure? You never understood my genius sensei, now I will give you final proof that I, not that Namikaze brat, should have ascended to the role of Hokage!"
"Never", heart hardened as his shuriken jutsu stopped the final coffin rising, Sarutobi steeled himself for what was likely to be his final fight, "I will put you down myself Oroichimaru; while I am alive you will never claim that seat you snake". The snake merely grinned more widely as the lids fell off the coffins and the Sho and Nidaime Hokages appeared,
"How touching, this old reunion", his voice oozed greasily as he reached for the sealing tags that would transform the legends into his slaves, "don't worry sensei, when they are through you will be joining them forever!"
It was at that point that, just outside the barrier, a boy with sweat streaming down his face compressed the technique he'd never used before and, seeing it was as good as it was ever going to be, took aim as best he could, the name of the technique growled from the corner of his mouth just before he released it,
"Twin-tail", he thrust his arm forwards, letting the power explode, "Menacing Ball!"
One minute he was facing his old teachers, the next he was blinking after-images out of his eyes; what looked like a stream of pure vermillion energy had roared forwards right in front of him, smashing through the barrier with impunity if the sudden quartet of curses he could hear suddenly were anything to go by. Even as he looked at the results of the technique that had ruptured the barrier he found himself having to suddenly stifle a laugh; both the former Hokages were gone forever, returned to their peaceful rest while their summoner was almost no better off. Oroichimaru had been closer to the river of chakra than he had and was suffering for it, covered in chakra burns and with what looked like one hand completely obliterated by the passage of power, reaching as it had been for the back of the Shodaimes head at the time. The fingers of the Snake sannin's other hand seemed to have been fused together by the terrible heat and power but not removed entirely, though even as both sensei and former student looked on in horror at Oroichimaru's injuries, a sudden flash of movement informed the Snake sannin that he had more pressing issues to deal with at the minute.
Only his instinctive dodge saved his face from being ripped off; instead he took a quartet of scratches down his cheek and a fractured jaw from the swipe ad Naruto rocketed into the fight, down to a shroud of only one tail as the menacing ball had taken a lot out of him but still ready and able to fight, snarling at the sennin as he launched himself into the attack again,
"You attacked the Hokage", he didn't even answer his rhetorical question, preferring instead to spend his effort on tearing the traitor's remaining limbs off, "die!" The Snake sannin snarled and slithered away from the berserk jinchuuriki and coughed up a new body to fight again only to find himself blocking Sarutobi's sudden attack; however the second he tried to form a defensive jutsu he realised with horror a second problem and stared in horror and the mangled wreckage of his arms,
"You", he screamed at the jinchuuriki as he ran and dodged as best he could – bereft of hands and fingers the sannin couldn't craft a defensive jutsu, "what have you done!"
"Not enough yet", Naruto assured him grimly, lashing out with another chakra claw that cost the snake a lock of hair to escape, "Kyuubi's chakra is a venom snake, worse than even yours. There's no healing those wounds – you are forever crippled".
Hearing this, and with the knowledge that ninjutsu were likely lost to him for now what remained of Oroichimaru's sanity slipped another few degrees; with an incoherent scream the Snake sannin spat his sword towards the jinchuuriki, confident that Kusanagi would be enough to cleave through the chakra shroud and kill the jinchuuriki underneath. It might have done just that had not a third party interfered, the diamond staff form of Enma blocking the weapon with a clang and, before the traitor could capitalise on his teacher being over-extended, Naruto made his move; a chakra claw shot out and, in a split-second, Oroichimaru was screaming again as his tongue was seized in a grip of flame,
"Burn you bastard", Naruto commanded, trying to squeeze even harder and rip the vile organ out by the roots, "you threaten my village, my Hokage – burn in Makai!" Luckily Oroichimaru's mind, brilliant as it was, could see a way out of the situation, desperate was it was; with a bite and a swift regurgitation the jinchuuriki was left holding nothing but a severed tongue as the mastermind of the now-failed invasion of Konoha screamed out his last command,
"Retreat!" The Sound Four, tussling as they were with the ANBU and just about holding their own through use of their Cursed Seals, immediately disengaged and rushed to aid their master, this action aided as Sarutobi, realising Oroichimaru was no longer a threat, ordered his soldiers to clear the village of invaders as the treacherous sannin was borne aloft and away from the fight, his body crippled and favoured weapon abandoned as a testament to the might of the Kyuubi.
Watching his student disappear for a moment left a bitter taste in Sarutobi's mouth; twice he'd had the snake in his grasp and twice Oroichimaru had slithered free; but considering what he was looking at now considered his ex-student the lesser of two potential evils. Approaching the jinchuuriki he considered a grandson with Enma ready in his hands, Sarutobi cleared his throat and spoke, all the while praying internally that he wouldn't be forced to kill his heart and put a rogue jinchuuriki down today,
"Naruto-kun", the jinchuuriki didn't answer, instead tracking the sky with his eyes as he watched his prey depart, Oroichimaru's tongue still in his hands and smouldering as the Kyuubi's chakra began consuming it, "Naruto, is that you?"
"Hai", the voice and the answer was enough to make the Sandaime relax if not completely lower his guard; the Kyuubi was known to be a tricky beast on occasion, "Kyuubi was making hay and raising hell outside the main walls up until a couple of minute ago, then he dispelled – I'll tell you later", unless the Sandaime was reading things wrong the possessed genin appeared to sigh at the look of incomprehension on his pseudo-grandson's face as he spoke on, "we've got a lot to discuss jiji".
"Indeed", the old man muttered before hearing the clamour of battle in his ears again and reminding himself that there were still enemies running amok in his village, "we'll deal with it after this battle is over". Naruto merely gave a wolfish grin, yanking on the disembodied tongue in his hand and pulling the sword it still gripped into his hand, taking a few experimental swipes with the legendary blade before turning back to the Sandaime,
"Wouldn't have it any other way jiji – lead on!"
With that the Sandaime Hokage and the Kyuubi jinchuuriki leapt off the roof and back into the thick of the fray.
Omake 3 – No Holding Back
It was a sad but true fact of life that the cause of most ninja deaths was not kunai, or jutsu, or suicide or even a more skilled enemy or even that leveller of even the most skewed playing field, one split-second of bad luck; no, instead what led to most ninja meeting the Shinigami a good deal earlier than they might have liked was their own arrogance and inherent belief in their own superiority. Thus it was that, when Uchiha Itachi and Hoshigaki Kisame were appointed to track down and 'retrieve' their target earlier, they didn't give a thought to the fact the boy might actually be dangerous to them until it was far too late.
In all honesty they'd seen the warning sides; upon entering Konoha the whole village had been abuzz with the rumours and tales of how the demon-brat was getting too strong and that he'd soon rise up and destroy them, or that he was a future protector of the village who'd saved the Hokage and defeated Oroichimaru himself. The villagers, and in fact even some of the shinobi, had been divided into those two camps and placed the village into a state of virtual civil war, but despite all the rumour and counter-rumour the Akatsuki agents had been able to locate where their target was now and moved to pursue their quarry without anyone being any the wiser that they had ever been within the Hidden Leaf village. They tracked the jinchuuriki to a village celebrating a festival, waited for a suitable opportunity to divert the attentions of the boy's protector and, when the time was right, made their move by simply walking into the small hotel he and his sensei had rented a room in and knocking on the door to his room.
In doing this however, they were ignorant of many different variables that, had they not been so secure in their knowledge that they were both S-ranked shinobi and therefore beyond the reach of any mere genin, they might have stopped to consider. The first of these was why had Naruto and his sensei chosen this particular tavern, a run-down, ramshackle affair, to stay in rather than, for instance, a hotel closer to the centre of town and the action? Going low-key might have been the answer, but to compound that original error neither of them considered what their prey might have been doing in the time-lag between him arriving and them showing up to collect him. They knew virtually nothing concrete about Uzumaki Naruto's skill or abilities and, as the jinchuuriki opened the door to his room and heard the demands of the two cloaked strangers, both were caught completely and fatally flat-footed as, rather than trying to run, the boy instead merely smirked coldly and uttered a single word,
The idea of the seal drawn under the tatty mat that covered the upstairs hallway was one Naruto himself had theorised but never had time to run through with Fuu-chan due to time delays; however having been introduced to Jiraiya and finding out the pervert was a seal master in his own right he had presented his ideas; after a little fine-tuning, the Toad Sage had declared his seal ready, even offering to be the first to field-test the matrix to see if it would have the desired effect. It was, as most good ideas were, a simple extrapolation on a basic principle; chakra was made up of two energies blended together by the shinobi to form a jutsu, reinforce or the body or do a whole host of other tricks, so if someone was to destabilise that mix within the chakra coils the ninja would be left without chakra until the disturbance was gone. Naruto's seal, which he had, after much deliberation, called the Ripple seal after Jiraiya described the feeling of his spiritual and physical energies being jolted in his system like being in a pool of water after someone had thrown in a stone, was designed to flare out a large burst of pure spiritual energy that would destabilise the chakra of all ninja, including the one who activated the seal, within radius of the burst. It was a trap, pure and simple, designed to cut a ninja off from the source of their strength and, as Naruto activated it right under the feet of the Akatsuki, its first live-action test began in real-time.
The effects were apparent immediately; the bunshin burst into smoke as its chakra shell was destabilised but more importantly both S-ranked ninja were caught out, not even Samehada bale to help its wielder as it consumed only chakra, not energy. Both ninja were professional enough not to panic at the unknown however and, given a mere ten seconds or so, about as powerful as Naruto could make the effect of the Ripple seal without overloading the matrix, would have been back to full fighting potential. However no competent ninja set only a single trap; the ripple spread outwards from the source and brought with it catastrophe.
A mere second after the Ripple seal was activated, the excess spiritual energy triggered a second set of seals Naruto had inked onto the wall in invisible ink, hidden from all sight as well as that of the Sharinghan; as these were triggered they let out great flashes of light and sound that deafened and blinded all both nuke-nin, rendering them unable to even perceive their doom as the last set of seals were activated and a low rumbling filled the air.
Three seconds after the ripple began, the walls of the building glowed in certain places for a second before, with a cataclysmic boom, every single one of the load-bearing walls of the entire building was blown apart by the explosive seals written on them. Bereft of support, the roof and walls all caved in completely, the house reduced to wreckage as though hit by the fist of an angry Kami.
Shinobi without their chakra are merely human and humans, no matter how skilled, do not survive an encounter with several tonnes of falling masonry.
Some minutes later two other figures walked onto the scene of devastation and, with a gesture, one of them created several copies of himself that started to sift through the rubble as the other, holding a baby in a single strong arm and gently tickling her under the chin with a thick finger, watched on and whistled at his godson's ingenuity,
"Heck of a plan kid", Jiraiya complimented, turning away so that Hanamitsu wouldn't see, even by accident, the first scraps of blood-flecked cloth the clones were pulling out of the trap, "heard of bringing the house down and I usually wouldn't mind, but next time could you please drawn the explosive runes on someone else's house! This place wasn't cheap you know?"
"I'll pay you when I cash in the bounties", Naruto assured him, eyes not leaving the pile of broken stones before him as he watched his former hunters unearthed by his clone workforce; Jiraiya, by now looking completely the other way as the smell of fresh blood hit the air, spoke over his shoulder,
"No need, the place was falling down anyway; apart from that, there's two names we can scratch off the list, though just remember you won't be able to pull a trick like that all the times, we were just lucky we're in a secluded area. And we might need to take some of the Akatsuki alive for questioning if we can". At that last part the jinchuuriki snorted,
"Hah, if they're lucky enough to survive me you can have them; up until then these...men", he refrained from swearing around his child, just as he prevented Jiraiya from being a pervert and potentially corrupting his little girl in the same way, "are after my child and myself – as far as I'm concerned that makes overkill mandatory. Hmm, interesting", as one of his bunshin came up to him with a large sword hilt and pieces of a broken blade in its hands Naruto had to smirk, the comforting weight of his other blade slung over his shoulder as he considered the matter, "I've been looking for an off-hand weapon; wonder if Tenten-chan would make me a jitte if I gave her the rest of this sword?"
"I would hope so, that's a rare blade you've just shattered there", Jiraiya pointed out, inwardly wincing about the potential repercussions should this little event reach the ears of the Hidden Mist village; Naruto would be in their Bingo book quicker than a Yellow Flash for smashing Samehada like that; "still, seal up what you want and let's get out of here; I've got information on my team mate but it won't be good for long, she moves around too much".
As the big man began to pace off into the distance Naruto merely nodded and drew out a sealing scroll, looking down on the mangled corpses before him with nothing but contempt and disgust on his face as he thought about what the Toad sage had told him about the goals of the organisation known as Akatsuki; you want all the bijuu do you, killing of the jinchuuriki to get their beasts? Well news for you assholes; he thought with venom as he swiftly stroked out a sealing matrix on a piece of pristine parchment; a fox in a corner is dangerous but a fox with cubs is a whole different beast. One might give you a nasty nip, but don't be surprised when the other one rips your throat out!
Omake 4 – A Lesson in Timing
"Voice down, she's sleeping, and just for the record I don't like this any more than you do, in fact I like it less. Now where in the thousands hells is my – aha, there it is?" Humanity, or at least living as a human for the past few months seemed to have affected the Kyuubi worse than the bijuu had realised; the way he fisted his hands in his hair was certain a gesture more human than he would normally show as he looked towards his host,
"But, what about the appointment? You know I can't go out there, I'll be discovered and the kit put in danger – shouldn't we swap duties?"
"No, the others on this bloody hunt would sniff you out in a second even with your seals on", Naruto assured the bunshin as he slipped his shuriken pouch around his waist before pausing for a second with a chuckle, "quite literally in the case of Kiba. Anyway, you're in a ninja village so do as the ninja do – improvise". The humanised form of the Kyuubi, once more in its bunshin form, merely snarled once more as it looked at the problem focussing around Hanamitsu and the fact that Naruto himself had just been called away on a mission he simply couldn't turn down before, realising the battle was lost for the moment, it instead punched the jinchuuriki on the shoulder hard enough to leave a bruise, speaking as the its creator winced and rubbed his sore arm,
"Just make sure you leave some for me – I have history with the Uchiha clan that can only be expunged in blood". Regathering himself Naruto merely returned the bijuu's feral smirk and retaliated with a punch of his own,
"Believe me if I say nothing else when I tell you the second I catch up to that teme there'll be blood alright, and none of it will be mine".
With that said and duty done Naruto let himself out his apartment, the door closing softly behind it as he rushed off to the mission as Kyuubi looked towards the room where Hanamitsu was now sleeping and tried very hard to think of something very clever that would get him out of the quandary Naruto had landed him in with his absence.
I swear I should have just slit that bastard's throat when I had the chance; still, hindsight was always twenty-twenty and Naruto had no chance to undo the past now – all he could do was plan for the future, a future involving a lot of pain, blood and beatings for one Uchiha Sasuke. Since the explosive end to the Chunin exams and his return with Jiraiya as an escort to the now-Godaime Hokage (which had been a lot easier than anyone had expected, mostly due to the unwitting influence of Hanamitsu – the second he'd seen the legendary Sannin and her apprentice almost going completely gaga over his child, Naruto had been forced to give credit where it was due; for all his posturing and perverted hobbies, Jiraiya was a truly ruthless shinobi when he wanted to be and wouldn't scruple to use any weapon or tool available to him). He'd not had a lot to do with his team. He'd heard Sasuke had been assaulted or something at his clan home while most of the villages' attention had been focussed on the almighty brawl at the walls or in the stadium itself and managed to get himself badly beaten up and with a new seal of some kind on him. He'd not really caught up with Kakashi since the Copy-nin, like all the jounin, was running himself ragged to keep up the appearances of Konoha's strength, so all he knew was what Shikamaru had gasped at him on the doorstep of his home; Sasuke had gone off the deep end and was now trying to desert Konoha so a team of genin and chunin, the only forces Tsunade had immediately to hand, were being scrambled to bring him and the Sharinghan back.
He was at the gates in five minutes, greeted by one of the two chunin running this show; Akamaru barked a greeting as his master, looking pensive, glanced up and nodded a greeting,
"Hey Naruto, glad you could make it to this cluster".
"Tell me about it", the genin nodded tiredly before raising an eyebrow at the Inuzuka's new vest, "suits you; you wear it well".
"Yeah, well, someone has to so it might as well be me", his boastful reputation was one of the things Kiba had lost following the invasion of the Chunin exams and his near-death experience in the aftermath; after having been drawn against Gaara of the Desert in the finals and, following using a smoke bomb spiced up with several inhalable chakra poisons that the jinchuuriki's sand hadn't been able to block, he had been the first person in living memory to draw blood from the Ichibi container. Following everything going to seed, the Inuzuka had next been seen outside the hospital area of the arena, his jounin-sensei having frantically pulled him out from under the corpses of the three ninja he and Akamaru had pulled down as they'd attempted to assassinate the injured, Kiba's team mates among them as they had fallen in earlier matches against their cousin and Gaara's sister respectively. Typical, the one time I get a red-hot woman giving me mouth-to-mouth I'm out cold and can't remember it; the idea that Kurenai had been forced to resuscitate him prior to a medical ninja arriving to treat him had shown him how close to the edge he had come and shaken him deeply enough to lose a lot of his former hot-headedness, a good thing since his performance in the exam had been judged as worthy of a chunin. That was in the past now, all that mattered was the mission before them and as soon as Shikamaru returned from his round-up of everyone he could find, it would start,
"I still think you had the right idea though", the sudden comment made Naruto glance across and see the Inuzuka fold his arms, "stay out of it, get promoted in the field; the exams aren't worth it". Naruto chuckled,
"Shika's been rubbing off on you", he pointed out, Kiba shrugging with a hint of a grin on his face before he perked up, nose to the wind as he scented the new arrivals,
"Here we go then; okay Shika, who'd you – oh, guess we really have to be scraping the bottom of the barrel if you're involved". The object of his sneer merely attempted to look disdainful, though the dressing down he'd received from the Third Hokage in the aftermath of the exams for the damage he'd done to the heir of the Main Branch of his clan still rankled almost as much as the year-long ban he had on attempting promotion again,
"I am merely following orders".
"Good, just do it better than you did your sensei's", Kiba snorted before looking past the Hyuuga and raising his eyebrows as he noticed the last arrival, though before he could say anything Shika had spoken up,
"Sorry Sakura-san, Tsunade-sama herself forbade you from this mission – even if she's healed you, you might not be over any concussion yet".
Sakura?; having not had a lot of time to socialise with his former team since that fateful morning when he'd broken them all apart, Naruto turned and felt himself look on in surprise at the pink-haired girl as she stepped forwards with a slight limp. Though she looked superficially the same, no-one who'd known the old Sakura would have missed the slight muscular definition, the more practical garb and, most tellingly, the steely glint in the eye of this new version even if there was mottled bruising on her face and the slight hitch in her step showed of deeper injuries,
"I know", she answered the Nara before looking across from him, "you're leading this mission Inuzuka; get a scent off of this". Something flashed towards the air, a kunai that Kiba caught negligently before getting a closer look at it and nearly dropping it out of shock,
"This is..." he regarded the Haruno with a new respect in his eyes as he glanced between the bloody knife and her, "...you did this?" Sakura snorted, still disappointed with herself for letting the last Uchiha escape,
"I'd have done a lot worse if it'd been a fair contest; bastard blind-sided me but he won't be running to the snake with any great speed", she smiled wolfishly before cursing in pain as the motion pulled at her bruises, "Naruto, please bring the son of a bitch back so I can kick his ass one-on-one".
"If there's any left when I'm through with him he's all yours Sakura-chan", Naruto assured her with a smile of his own before his eyes softened in benevolence, "now get yourself to hospital and get checked".
"Right, good luck all of you", with that the kunoichi turned on her heel and moved off, walking gingerly but with her head held high, knowing she'd given her all and injured the traitor that had tried to leave her village.
All five of the rescue team watched on as she left, the silence broken eventually by a low whistle of Kiba as he took a lungful of the dagger's lethal cargo and assured himself of the scent,
"She's turned into a really tough chick", he said half to himself before stashing the bloody kunai and smirking, "I like it! Still, right now we're moving out and the trail goes that way; teme get up front, use those eyes of yours to see any danger and try not to get yourself killed, Naruto you're next with me, Chou and Shika rear-guard, you two work together well already. Clear?" There was mutual nod at the Inuzuka's barked instructions before they all set off, Naruto stepping back slightly to drop closer to Kiba and breath from the corner of his mouth to the chunin running alongside him,
"Why'd you get Neji ahead; your nose is stronger than his sight?" Kiba merely smiled coldly, pointing out the Hyuuga in front of them leaping through the trees like a silent ghost,
"Because with that get-up and the size of his ego he's too big a target to miss, figuratively or literally; plus with his Kaiten technique he's a convenient meat-shield that no-one's going to cry over if he doesn't come home". Naruto thought this over for a moment before resuming his original pace and position, himself not enamoured by the elder Hyuuga's action towards his cousin as he'd been in the stands that day and, as a father, condoned brutality towards family members in any form,
About the same time her cousin as being castigated for his shameful actions, another Hyuuga was having a close encounter of her own that would, though she didn't know it, lead to severe repercussions throughout the entire clan; waiting for her escort at the end of the class with perfect Hyuuga poise and grace, Hanabi was jerked violently out of her introspection by the impact of something small and hard on the back of her head. Whipping around but seeing nothing, she was able to activate her bloodline limit just in time to both dodge a second projectile and identify her assailant; only one being she knew had chakra that colour. Swallowing down her trepidation and forcing herself to walk forwards one pace at a time casually, Hanabi moved towards the Academy fence line where the bunshin was waiting and, when she was close enough, breathed her question out the corner of her mouth,
"What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you or the monkey-boy", the Kyuubi answered in as soft a growl as he could manage, his giveaway red eyes hidden by the goggles Naruto had once worn in his youth and then donated to the bijuu to help with his disguise, "I can find no-one else. I need one of you to do me a favour".
That caught Hanabi completely out of the blue; what can I do that the Kyuubi no kitsune can't?; rather than keep the bunshin waiting as she knew he didn't have long before the repression seals he wore were burnt away trying to keep his chakra constrained, the Hyuuga asked her question quickly and was once again reduced to blinking stupidly as the humanised bijuu answered,
"The kit has an appointment with the healers of your tribe; something about 'shots' she needs to have". Hanabi gasped; of course, she'd be about that age now wouldn't she – damn, hasn't time flown?;
"Oh, I see; where's...?"
"On a mission".
"And Konohamaru's ill", she closed her eyes with a shudder, already knowing just how bleak this situation now was; it's up to me because there's no-one else who can help – oh I am so going to be grounded from here until Kami-sama calls for the final judgement for this;
"Okay Kyuubi-sama, I'll help; just stand back a bit, I haven't fully mastered the henge yet..."
A few moments and a puff of smoke later, Hyuuga Hanabi left the Academy grounds under the henge of a non-descript child and, as soon as she was a safe distance away, made herself towards the apartment block owned by the jinchuuriki of Konoha as fast as she could manage without disrupting her technique, doing for the first time something no Main Branch Hyuuga had ever done before in the history of Konoha.
Because of this action, it should have come to no-one's surprise that, having heard the breathless report gasped at him from Moko-san that his daughter had not been at the Academy to have been picked up by her minder as she should have been, Hyuuga Hiashi put the entire clan of high alert and mobilised every ninja, active and retired, of his clan to find his absent daughter.
Shikamaru was worried.
Not because he and his team were trapped underneath a dome of earth that was slowly sucking their chakra dry; well at least not entirely. They had caught up to their quarry and that was a plus, and outnumbered them by a factor of one and a half (Akamaru didn't quite count as an extra one despite his master's assurances). All they needed to do now was get out this hole they were in, but Shikamaru found his planning strategies disturbed by the grin that had appeared on the face of one Uzumaki Naruto – last time he'd seen the orange-wearing genin with an expression like that he hadn't been able to sleep for almost a week afterwards.
Curse the inventor of super-grade caffeine supplements, curse them to eternal damnation!
Instead, before he or Kiba could give and order, Naruto had spoken without turning around, pointing to Neji,
"You, make yourself useful and tell me where this fat bugger's stood".
"And what right have you...?" As a longer blade that had been sheathed across Naruto's back appeared at the side of his neck as though by magic, the Hyuuga wisely fell quiet and activated his bloodline silently; within the dome all was still until, gingerly removing his throat from the danger area as he pointed,
"Uhh, the chakra is most concentrated there". Naruto nodded, apparently unaffected by the chakra drain that was making the rest of his squad breath slightly heavier as he looked towards the area the Hyuuga had highlighted and raising his sword again,
"Perfect; now hold still you baka, and this won't hurt a bit..."
As the genjutsu specialist of the Sound Four it was Tayuya who was the most sensitive to the presence and absence of chakra in the environment; therefore as her team mate's technique suddenly ended she quickly glanced over from where she was helping lever the barrier containing Oroichimaru-sama's new vessel into Kidoumaru's arms in time to see the powerhouse of her team slump forwards suddenly before being blasted backwards as a monstrous fist suddenly broke through the earth dome, shattering the technique completely. Shit; whipping out her flute and ignoring the spider-nin's grunt as he had to take up the slack unexpectedly, the kunoichi took up a battle-stance and prepared to play her flute as she realised Jiroibi was well and truly dead before there was a sudden rush of displaced air and something wet splashed against her cheek. Shaking her head to make sure she wasn't blinded, she flashed a glance towards the source of the fluid and found herself having to fight down the urge to re-introduce her breakfast to the world.
Sakon, leader of the team in the absence of the terminally-ill Kayuga, was collapsing to his knees with his throat slit cleanly from ear to ear; without any of them even realising it one of the Leaf-nin had used a shunshin technique and assassinated their team leader with such professionalism and ruthlessness even the Oto honour guard was caught off-guard. Before she could speak or even think to defend herself it hit her; a killing intent so cold and so potent that it stole the very breath from her lungs rushed over both her and her partner, Kidoumaru letting the barrel collapse to the floor with a thud as the monster before them reared back and roared its challenge to them both,
"Surrender or die!"
Man I'm grateful I leant to channel Kyuubi's killing intent and use his chakra to enhance my vocal chords, and that's enough of that; seeing movement snaking towards his ankle she slashed down with the Kusanagi sword once more, a little surprised that none of the Sound ninja noticed the blade her held despite the fact he'd had the handle re-worked into a more comfortable grip for himself. When in doubt, kill them twice; the sage advice from both Kyuubi and Jiraiya, oddly enough, was a mantra he lived by now and as his sword transfixed the supposed corpse through the sternum he was finally pleased that the body was now truly dead and turned his bale attention to the only two living members of the Sound team, both paralysed by his bijuu's killing intent. Without preamble he stalked over to the closest one, a girl, and seized her hard by the hair, dragging her head back and silencing her struggles and swearing with the kiss of cold steal against her neck,
"Right, you", he relaxed his voice and killing intent slightly before he put anyone, especially his own friends, into a coma from Kyuubi's presence, "Sasuke's in that barrel and it's covered in seals; tell us how to get him out".
"Yes me, now speak up before I make you a head shorter than you are now".
"Oh", Kyuubi's wicked humour seemed to be affecting him more and more as he smirked across at the captive kunoichi's partner, silently daring him to attempt a rescue, "I'm the guy with the sword, I make the rules".
"No, I mean you can't open the barrel", the six-armed ninja gabbled desperately, cold sweat trickling down the back of his neck in a river; he was scared of Kimimaro, he was more scared of Oroichimaru but whoever this ninja in front of him was outright petrified him, "the seals, they're restraining the action of the Curse Seal; if they're broken even for an instant Sasuke-sama will die".
"Really?" Naruto glanced from his prisoner to the barrel, a sudden evil expression on his face as he seemed to weigh up his options, "Bonus".
"Naruto!" The shout from Shikamaru made the jinchuuriki look over, the Nara pale-faced but still standing despite exposure to Kyuubi's murderous urgings; impressive, though I guess he's got experience in standing up to scary things – even Kyuubi himself would probably back down when faced with an angry Nara Yoshino wielding a newspaper; "Our order are to bring him back alive if we can".
For a long minute the Nara was afraid that the Uzumaki would just ignore his order and, if he was honest, he doubted the ability of anyone else present to stop him, so when Naruto eventually nodded grudgingly it was all he could do not to let out a breath of relief as it seemed the genin was holding himself back from potential homicide of a Konoha ninja despite said ninja's questionable loyalty. Instead the girl he held in his hand suddenly hissed in pain again as Naruto yanked on her hair again and spoke,
"How long does he need to stew for?"
"D, don't know", Tayuya grated through gritted teeth, trying to ignore the pain ripping the roots of her hair, "different for each person; you need us though, the seals are linked to our Cursed seals, without them they'll unravel and he'll croak". Naruto seemed to consider this and for a second Tayuya began to hope that her desperate bluff had been believed before her head was forced around to look at the captor directly in the eye,
"Know what I think? I think you're full of crap"; okay, I'm dead then – well, it's not so bad and I'll leave him with a going-away present; even as she tried to gain enough spit into her arid mouth to say farewell to this asshole with, he spoke again, "however you've got information on the snake that jiji wants dead so you're worth more breathing than in a box – fine then, don't move", with a practised motion the jinchuuriki stabbed Kusanagi into the forest floor and drew his other weapon, the kunoichi gasping as he placed the flat of the smaller blade against her back,
"What are...no", she tried belatedly to fight, recognising the technique as something similar to the one Jiroibi used but much faster, "let go, let me go!"
"It won't kill you", Naruto assured her tonelessly, taking her punches without so much as a grunt as, eventually, her struggles weakened and leant into his hand more and more until, chakra exhausted, she collapsed to the floor insensate. Her team mate attempted to run, going to far as to spit a golden substance out of his mouth and fashion it into a shield-type structure that he used to block Naruto's first swipe with his smaller jitte before it fell apart and he too was seized by the jinchuuriki, the genin this time flinging his opponent to the floor and planting a knee in his back to avoid the assault of his six arms until the knife had done its work and rendered his opponent helpless. Standing up and re-sheathing his jitte at the same time as retrieving Kusanagi, Naruto's attention was focussed on the rest of the group as he heard Kiba's sudden call,
"What in the name of every Kami, oni and ancestor was that Uzumaki?"
"That was me in a bad mood", he answered succinctly, thinly amused at the awed and horrified looks he was getting from his friends as he looked back at the barrel where his former team mate was ruminating under the effect of the Cursed chakra, "and it's only going to get worse the second teme over there pops out the box; I've got better things to do than sit here waiting for him. However", stalking back over to his team Naruto flopped cross-legged to the floor, the rest of the team scuttling away from him as he set a burning glare on the barrel in front of him as though daring it to try and move away from him, "as I don't have a lot of choice, looks like we're camping out for a while; I don't want to be in Konoha when Sasuke emerges out that cocoon, there are laws against brutalising clan heirs after all. Out here though", his chill smirk was enough to give even Neji a case of the shivers, "no defence and, I trust, no witnesses".
Each of the other present genin and chunin all swapped glances before coming to consensus and silently electing Shikamaru as spokesman,
"Just don't kill him Naruto"; sorry Sasuke but in a choice between us and you, let's face it, it was always going to be you; to his relief the Uzumaki nodded and resumed his staring contest with the contained Sasuke was hidden in before a second voice caught his ears,
"Uzumaki-san", obviously now Neji wanted to be respectful, not wanting to be next on Naruto's hit-list, "I saw that, jitte of yours, it was consuming the chakra of your enemies; how did it do so if you don't mind my asking?" Glancing down at the small off-hand weapon that had once been one of the legendary swords of the Mist Naruto patted the handle with fondness and chuckled before answering the Hyuuga,
"Ask your team mate, her father and she were the ones who forged it"; well, once they woke up from the fainting spell they had after seeing the broken pieces of Samehada that is; "until then, let's just wait it out for a while".
Wow, she really has gotten bigger since I saw her last; the idea of how quickly babies grew wasn't lost of Hanabi as she was forced to stop for a minute and stretch off her arms without breaking the image of the henge she'd been using all throughout the trip to Uzumaki's apartment, picking up Hanamitsu and taking the little girl, now a whole four months old, to the clinic, trying to hold in a wince as the needle was inserted smoothly into the baby's arm and trying to hush her as she started to cry before bowing to the smiling nurse and leaving for the last and most delicate stage of her enforced absence from the clan grounds. She was under no illusion that she would have been missed by now and had already had been forced to duck into several alleyways Konohamaru had shown her to avoid detection; though not illegal, it was heavily frowned upon for the Hyuuga to use the Byakugan in Konoha without a good reason as it made some people uncomfortable; though if ever there was a situation where that rule could be waived it's now, an unsealed heir of the Main Branch running around. Okay; with a breath she took up her burden with both hands again and tried to triangulate the way she needed to go now with the safest but most direct route now; these alleys are inter-linked for the next six streets, after that I have to run along the main road for about three hundred paces, that'll be a pain with the clan on my...;
The voice made her thoughts, breath and body freeze simultaneously; she'd heard it only a handful of times before and none of them had boded anything good. Swallowing hard and with countless scenarios of her own messy doom spinning through her head the youngest heir of the Hyuuga Main Branch clan slowly pivoted on the spot, wondering just how badly her father was going to take this scene; young daughter, in a henge, in an alleyway, carrying a baby – oh yes; she wasn't disappointed as she watched the normally blank expression of her father drop into absolute horror and shock as the scene bored into his mind – it was only lucky he'd disengaged his Byakugan after penetrating her henge; without that small mercy Hanabi was under no illusion Hiashi would have seen the Seal on Hanamitsu's belly and things would have gotten very ugly from there; I am so very, very doomed;
"Ah, tou-san", only she of all the Hyuuga could get away with calling the head of the clan anything other than –sama, though as she saw her father's numb vision span up towards her she couldn't help but feel a sudden urge to laugh at his dumbstruck expression – it was likely to the first, last and only time she'd ever see her father looking so outright gobsmacked, "believe it or not I can explain everything..."
The sun had begun to set and darkness was encroaching about as gradually as Naruto's friends were edging away from him; as time had rolled on just waiting for Sasuke to make his grand appearance it seemed a shield of repressed fury was slowly expanding from Naruto's body and none of them wanted to provoke it in case the person generating it turned his anger on them. The consequences of poking this particular bear were all too apparent as the corpse off to the side of him proved; it had been about an hour ago where Akamaru had let out a yip of warning and Kiba had straightened, thrusting his own nose to the air before hurling himself into a combat stance, the rest of the team with one exception following suit as the Inuzuka growled,
"Company, incoming", and a mere few seconds later a stranger landed in the clearing, albino and sickly-looking with two red dots above his eyebrows as he glanced around dismissively before settling his gaze on the two unconscious Oto-nins being guarded by Chouji and Neji,
"Trash, they have failed Oroichimaru-sama; I will kill them as soon as I have recovered the newest vessel for my mas...terrr..." He tailed off at that point, unable to finish his sentence or much of anything else at all as his eyes fell closed and last thoughts of shock filled his fading, dying mind.
A large amount of unbreakable steel straight through the chest tends to do that to person, even one with supposedly undefeatable bones.
All was quiet in the clearing again, the remainder of the Konoha rescue force falling into horrified silence as Naruto's blade, fresh from extending at a speed the eye couldn't follow and impaling the arriving Oto-nin through the heart, then began to retract more slowly, dragging the transfixed body with it. Naruto gave no notice of this save to slowly extend his closest leg until it was parallel with his sword, halting the progress of the corpse until it slipped clear of the metal and was flicked away by the toe of the Uzumaki's sandal, the last of the Kayuga clan left sprawled on his back and peaceful in death as his killer wiped the blade of his weapon on the grass beside him and slid it slowly back into its sheath before, noticing the scrutiny of the others, spared them a glance and a cold, callous smile,
"Long speeches piss me off".
The silence was broken only by a horrified gasp as someone put the pieces together and realised what he'd just seen; face paler than even traditional Hyuuga standards dictated, Neji pointed a shaking finger at the sheathed longsword and stuttered its name,
"K, Kusanagi, the Longsword of the Heavens", he recited, having heard of every famous blade in the elemental Nations about as frequently as he had the Flames of Youth, the downside of having a weapon mistress on his team, "how do you have it?"
"I ripped it out of Oroichimaru's mouth, along with his tongue", Naruto's answer was so deadpan and so naturally spoken that there was no possible way it could be a lie though no-one felt the need to the question further; Naruto's mind was already back on the box in front of him and it seemed he didn't want to be disturbed. Therefore all settled back down and didn't say a word as they all watched and waited, half-hoping that Sasuke would hurry up and finish whatever he was doing before whatever was left of Naruto's patience gave way and they were forced to carry a body home, and half-hoping the Uchiha would have the good sense to stay hidden until Naruto decided it wasn't worth his time and simply carried him, barrel and all, back to the village.
Fortunately Naruto's patience seemed to just about last longer than the Uzumaki's fuse, though the reaction to the sealed container suddenly starting to glow an ominous purple prior to simply exploding and revealing the Uchiha was about as bad as some of the retrieval team had started to fear. No sooner had Sasuke stood up and started cackling dementedly than the laughter and the breath was hammered out of him as Naruto went from nothing to lethal in the space of a split-second, a haymaker of a right hand smashing into Sasuke's solar plexus, lifting him off his feet and hurling him helplessly towards the nearest tree. Naruto had followed him there with an evil intent about him and the punishment for the Uchiha had started.
That had been several minutes ago and the Uzumaki didn't look like he was slowing down in the least; even as he winced and grimaced in sympathetic pain for the last Sharinghan wielder, who's face now resembled raw hamburger meat than a human being, Chouji couldn't help but shake the feeling that Naruto wasn't doing this because he actually wanted to hurt Sasuke. He wasn't flinging wild blows and strikes like he had in the past, each one was precisely aimed and did as much damage as the genin wanted it to but no more; similarly, the blonde's face was fixed into an expression that spoke more of world-weary stoicism than it did of wild rage. Body on fire son, brain in the fridge; for some reason the Akimichi heir heard his father's voice echo in his mind as he watched Naruto work, pummelling his treacherous team mate until, with a finality that shocked everyone present, he hopped forwards and drove his knee right into Sasuke's already bruised, hurting stomach. The Uchiha's swollen eyes bulged almost comically as his knees went to water and he stumbled forwards, the knee removed as an elbow slammed down with pin-point accuracy into the space between Sasuke's shoulder blades, pitching him face-first to the floor. Naruto stood over him, seemingly considering something for a moment before his hand reached towards the pommel of one of his swords, speaking to himself as he pulled the weapon free,
"Ah what the hell; should work and even if it doesn't no great loss".
"Naruto no!" Shikamaru's fingers flew through the seals for his signature jutsu but his speed was six months slower than Narutos as, with a final look downwards to make sure of his target, the blonde jinchuuriki bent down and jabbed the tip of the jitte that had once been Samehada right into the heart of the corruption Oroichimaru had planted on the last Uchiha.
Neji saw the seal virtually explode in a mess of ink and blood but, more than that, through his doujutsu he also saw the vile purple chakra it had contained sink into the blade and try to merge with it, subvert it until a new horror appeared and forced him to shut off and then close his eyes; whatever the flare of red chakra had been that had consumed the purple invader like a roaring fire tipped onto dry kindling, he was sure it boded nothing but ill. However for the time being it appeared Naruto had it under control, pinning Sasuke to the floor with a knee even as the taller body screamed in agony as the Curse seal was ripped from his chakra coil. It took a mere moment that the Hyuuga was certain Sasuke would remember for a lifetime before, with an effort, Naruto heaved himself back upright and wiped the bloody tip of his blade against Sasuke's shirt to clean it,
"There, that should do it; can I leave this with the two of you?" Shikamaru and Kiba both started at being pointed out by a ninja they would both now agree was far beyond them in terms of skill and sheer power but, before they could reply, a thin, rasping voice interrupted them,
"My, my power", even Naruto, it seemed, was slightly surprised Sasuke could talk after the thrashing he'd put him through, "you took, my..."
"It was never your power to have teme", the blonde told the raven coldly; Sasuke, however, even if he couldn't stand, seemed determined to argue to toss,
"But, I must, kill..."
"Itachi is dead", Naruto's voice suggested he could have been discussing the weather but Sasuke couldn't have appeared more shocked if he'd suddenly found out the Kyuubi was alive and well, his horror only growing more pronounced as his team mate explained, "he attacked my sensei and I while we searched for the Godaime; my sensei and I killed him. Your clan is avenged, may their spirits rest in peace yadda, yadda, yadda; Shika can I get out of here, I've got more important things to do than deal with the cleanup of this mess?"
"Uhh", caught slightly flat-footed by the sudden shift in conversation, the Nara floundered for a minute before he nodded and gave his assent, "yeah, sure; there's supposed to be a speech I have to give but..." it was at that point he realised he was talking to empty space and scattered leaves as Naruto had simply disappeared, "...it's too troublesome for me to try and remember it".
"Where have you been?" Okay, this is already sounding like bad news;
"Mission took some time, where's...?"
"The den of the, uh, the Blinkies", Kyuubi admitted, unable to recall the name of Hanabi's tribe and instead settling for Konohamaru's favoured form of address for the white-eyed humans. Naruto felt his jaw drop and numbing coldness sweep over him before he pulled himself back together and controlled himself – now was not the time to get angry; Sasuke did a fine enough job of taking my rage thank the Kami; now was the time to get answers and think about what to do next,
"Their den would be nothing but a ruin by now if they'd even tried", Kyuubi assured him before rubbing his fingers under his goggles, another human gesture Naruto doubted the bijuu even knew he'd picked up, "so what now oh all-knowing daddy? I know Hanamitsu-kit was taken to the healers by Hanabi; she was the only trusted person I could find; but on the way back she was taken to the Blinky den. I have watched the tracking seals on her ever since then but she moved around the den slowly – no harm has befallen her yet".
"And no harm ever will", Naruto sighed, steeling himself for what was to come and hoping he could restrain Kyuubi's more destructive urges as he looked to the now-grinning doppelganger, "you know what's coming next right?" The grin only widened,
"The end of hiding like a kit evading trappers?"
"Looks that way – I just hope baa-chan can swing it with the council when we're done so don't do more collateral than you have to", he said warningly before turning to the door, Kyuubi following almost gleefully after him once he'd slapped on another sealing tag that would temporarily disguise his distinctive chakra signature, leaving the apartment just in time to hear his containers' final words,
"Let's bring our daughter home".
Omake 5 – Hell Hath No Fury...
Sighing slightly Moko tried to reason thins through in his calm, middle-aged mind but found himself failing utterly; it was expected that all children would go through a slight rebellious phase (even Hinata-sama, who had never said anything bad about anyone in her life, had once risked her father's wrath by hiding a copied photograph of Uzumaki Naruto's school picture under her pillow), but what unearthly reason had possessed the younger child of Hiashi-sama to roam the streets of Konoha alone, unprotected, in the henge of a stranger and with a strange baby of all things in her arms. It was not unheard of, though extremely rare, for Hyuuga kunoichi to emerge with child during the course of their duties but Hanabi was nowhere near old enough to conceive and, even if she had, there was no way she'd have hidden a pregnancy from her eagle-eyed father.
Whatever was going on here Moko wasn't aware of the full story but he did know it was taking a toll on Hanabi herself; the youngster was normally the picture model of restraint and Hyuuga decorum but now, waiting to be summoned before her father and the clan elders, she was fidgeting and squirming incessantly, a little furrow in her otherwise flawless forehead telling the elder Hyuuga that whatever was on her mind was a weighty subject indeed. He glanced around once more, wondering if he might get the chance to speak to the heiress before the council was called into session but, as one of the Main Branch appeared at the door as silent as the grave and as grave as silence itself, he merely smoothed himself down mentally and approached the clearly troubled girl,
"Hanabi-sama", there was no inflection or emotion in his colourless voice, "the council will see you now". She nodded, once and stood upright, though as she did and was out of sight of her peer in the Main branch, she hastily dropped that mask and whispered hurriedly,
"Where's the girl, the baby?"
"Safe" was all Moko had time to murmur back before he turned back around, the other guard not having the slightest inkling of the conversation that had gone on. Hanabi relaxed slightly at that; if a Hyuuga guardian said something was safe, they meant it was completely safe; but even so, as she passed into the main meeting room of the Hyuuga clan, she couldn't help but feel a little chill run up her spine – she was already late and knew the Kyuubi knew exactly where Hanamitsu-chan was; should any of her clan do anything stupid now, Hanabi doubted very much there would be a Hyuuga clan in Konoha by the time the sun set.
Something is very wrong here; as always Hiashi's expression gave away nothing but seeing his youngest and, at the moment, most favoured heir almost stumble towards the seating area before the council and almost botch adopting the traditional seiza stance, he could only wonder what had possessed her earlier in the day and, most importantly, who's child was it she had been found with. The baby in question was in good hands at the moment; Hiashi had his detractors but he certainly wasn't heartless enough to leave an infant without succour until it could be returned to where it came from; but, as his daughter faced the council, he had to ponder if Hanabi would be able to say the same about herself by the time this session was ended,
"Hanabi-san", he began formerly, "you have been brought before this council to explain your absconding from the normal traditions of this honourable clan earlier today. I will not repeat the conduct, all here know of your actions, but would hear of any defence you may have prior to passing judgement". Hanabi seemed to ruminate on this for a minute before inclining her head and speaking,
"Honourable council, I ask to speak freely and without pressure from my father to attempt to divert a potential catastrophe for our clan". What game are you playing here Hanabi?; to ask to speak freely was an unusual request but, wanting to get this business out the way and resolved quickly, Hiashi nodded his ascent,
"Tou-san where the hell's the baby".
That threw Tora amongst the pigeons and no mistake; for a second Hiashi thought he might have to be ordering some of the elders to be carried out of the meeting hall feet-first after the fit of the vapours Hanabi's coarse words had caused but they seemed to recovered eventually; more's the pity – but still..."
"Remember your place girl", one of the senior council members trumpeted before degenerating into a coughing fit; seeing an opportunity while they were still reeling Hanabi seized her inner Konohamaru, forced the delinquent-brat part of her personality to put his nose to the grindstone and went hell for leather for the meat of the issue,
"I know my place and I also know that if I don't get that little girl back to her father before he gets annoyed the place this clan will have in the future will be the village cemetery", her tirade was so forceful she stood up on one knee, further violating the codes of her clans' conduct, "he'll already be missing her and believe me the last thing you want is for him, in fact either of them, to come conducting a house-call".
It was at that point that karma played its hand and before the council could recover from her demands, a low sound echoed throughout the entire Hyuuga complex; a billowing, swelling 'whooomp!' noise that had all Hyuuga all over the complex activating their Byakugan to try to find out what the hell was going on.
Hanabi, on the other hand, didn't need to bother,
The gates of the Hyuuga clan were a thing of ornate beauty, often considered something of an unofficial landmark of the Leaf village and manned day and night by at least two members of the Branch house of the family. They were imposing, defensible, a masterpiece of architectural engineering and, to the two beings that were approaching them with one purpose in mind, an obstacle that needed to be cleared out the way.
"Oi, you", Naruto smiled thinly at the sight of the Hyuuga guard, a member of a clan it was supposed to be impossible to surprise, starting at his shout before he made his demands plain, "open up; you've got something of mine in there and I intend to collect it, now".
"You, you", the other guard managed to stutter before turning the full force of the patented Hyuuga glare onto the jinchuuriki, though he didn't actually activate his bloodline, "you have no business with our esteemed clan. Leave now or we will throw you away like the trash you are". Hearing his partner next to him growl under his breath, Naruto sighed and turned towards the bunshin, meeting him eye to goggle-concealed eye as he held out a hand,
"They just never learn do they? Oh well, we tried diplomacy; time to put the 'crash' into gate-crash".
As he had learnt from Jiraiya in the month or so the two of them had been searching for Tsunade, the Yondaime Hokage had been famous for two signature jutsu; the Hirashin had made him a legend but the other, lesser-known Rasengan was equally unique to him and, to those who had seen its power first hand, equally as feared. Having been introduced to the technique by the Toad Sage, Naruto had been surprised by Kyuubi's observation that the technique actually resembled the opening stages of the Imari, the tailed-beast ball the bijuu were so fond of slinging around like it was going out of fashion; with this in mind and the assistance of his inner demon, Naruto had been able to not only win a bet against the future Godaime Hokage (and batter Oroichimaru's assistant, an oily little snake called Kabuto, into a greasy little smear without Kyuubi with repeated usage of his new technique), he had impressed Jiraiya so much by not only learning his old student's technique but surpassing it that the old pervert had made a solemn promise to train him to be capable of fending off the Akatsuki until Hanamitsu was old enough to be trained to use the Nanabi's chakra and help him out herself. The result of this off-the-record training hadn't been seen by anyone in the Hidden leaf yet, least of all the Hyuuga and, feeling generous, Naruto decided to share it with them, just this once.
The two gate guards didn't seem all that perturbed as the two almost-identical figures before them all but linked hands until they both noticed what looked like a shining sphere was taking form between the palms of their hands; this wasn't too bad until the sphere started to enlarge from the size of a walnut, to a child's ball – by the time it reached about the size of a human head they started edging away from the gate, seeing from the obviously-crazed genin's face exactly where he was aiming. Though he could do the normal Rasengan one-handed this new variant he hadn't quite mastered yet, needing another hand to keep the external shell strong enough so that it wouldn't destabilise in flight until it hit the target; his best ever range was about thirst paces and this was easily inside that so, as he felt the technique click and complete, Naruto had no compunction about suddenly thrusting his arm forwards and yelling aloud,
A moment later, whistling an idle tune and tipping a nod to the two stunned gate guards, he started walking towards the cloud of debris his technique had created.
Along with the rest of the clan Hanabi had raced outside towards the source of the commotion, fingers tightly crossed that the Kyuubi and his container weren't out for noble Hyuuga blood. As she beheld the cloud of debris in the background she could only wince and pray her family wasn't next in line as, like a pair of wraiths moving through a pall of hellfire, the twin purveyors of such devastation stepped forwards and glared at the crowd forming in a semi-circle around them. Neither side seemed to want to blink first until, with a voice that was nearly a growl, Naruto spoke a single word,
"Hanabi-san", the named Hyuuga gasped and tried to push her way through the crowd, bumping into legs and jabbing the odd tenketsu until, at last, she burst free of the press and into the space between her clan and the jinchuuriki duo, the last part of Naruto's question asked as soon as he saw her, "where is she?"
"Uhh, she's ah"; how can Hinata-chan cope like this every day?; the thought of turning into a nervous wreck like her sister was enough to make her swallow her trepidation and answer the question, "she's safe Naruto-san, I don't know exactly where but she is safe".
"I see", the blonde nodded before closing his eyes for a brief second and glancing across as the tracer seal he had on his daughter was activated and he homed in on her location, "never mind Hanabi-san – it had to happen – keep an eye on them". The last part was spoken to the bunshin by the side of him and it smiled, though as the intruder in his clan home began to advance almost menacingly towards one side of the Hyuuga blockade he paused at a sudden shout,
"Uzumaki-san", having just about recovered from the sight of seeing his front gate blown sky-high, Hiashi focussed on the here and now to try and recover both his dignity and his clan, "what right do you have to enter our grounds and destroy our monuments; I should have you dragged before the council in chains and consigned to a shinobi prison for the rest of your miserable life!"
"You first Hyuuga-san", the boy said back, a layer of silk in his voice that seemed to be edged with steel as he turned back around and started walking again, "last time I checked, kidnap was a much more serious offence than mere property damage".
Even as the head of the clan tried to puzzle out such a random threat Naruto blasted through part of the crowd with the killing intent he borrowed from his bijuu and, seeing the one member of the clan who held his little girl, smiled as he realised that Hanabi had been right in that much at least.
Ano, ano; it wasn't meant to be like this – what would Naruto-kun say if he saw her holding a baby? He would assume all the wrong things about her, she knew he would; not for the first time in her life Hinata found herself wishing she was anywhere other than where she was right now as her childhood crush approached, smile on his face even as she looked down with a burning face. Terror shackled her limbs so well she couldn't even shuffle away, instead left only to feel her cheeks cremate themselves as her long-term crush came within arms-reach of her, then looked down; no, no she's not mine, I'm just...;
"Heh, I see what Hanabi meant about safety; couldn't have asked for a better pair of hands"; eh?; whatever Hinata had been expecting that hadn't been it, in fact her shock was so great she all but allowed Naruto to take the little baby girl that had been thrust into her arms by Moko following her sister being found almost without protest, "thanks for that Hinata-chan, I owe you one". As a pair of pale eyes flickered between the blonde and the baby he now held a sudden, absolutely horrible thought forced its way to the forefront of Hinata's mind and her body almost shut down on instinct as she caught enough breath to stutter once more,
"Ano, she, she is...yours?"
"Yep, Uzumaki Hanamitsu; say hi to Hinata-chan hime", the baby seemed to burble in response, her dark brown, almost black eyes having never left Hinata's face, a fact Naruto quickly noticed, "heh, I think she likes you, we might have to visit again". He smiled up at Hinata but, seeing her face crumpling and tears prickling the corner of her eyes, his increased ability to recognise emotions told him she was definitely upset about something and, more importantly, how to go about setting it right,
"It's a long story Hina-chan; come on", he offered with a kind smile, the Hyuuga drying her tears as she looked up at him, "I'll tell you, and the others who'll no doubt catch up to us, at Ichirakus after Ayame-chan's stopped beating me to death for not introducing her new adoptive niece to her". Still in a daze more than reality Hinata could do nothing more than shake her head and totter along in his footsteps, though she got no further than five or so steps when the word Naruto had been expecting to hear rang out and he reacted as quickly as a reflex,
"Demon!" With a whistle and a clang, the Hyuuga woman who had shouted suddenly fell mute as the blade of the Kusanagi stopped a foot short of her, its new owner glaring at her and not retracting the lethal sword as he felt the atmosphere thicken and sought to defuse it before someone else decided to teach the hostile crowd a new meaning of the phrase 'tough love',
"The venerable Sandaime has stepped down but not out; his law still stands until either he or I choose to end it", the jinchuuriki decreed, Kusanagi retreating an inch at a time before shoot back to the hilt almost entirely, Naruto for his part smirking before looking at the bunshin he'd brought with him, "besides, if you want to see a demon you're looking in the wrong place".
Almost as soon as he'd said it screams started to issue from the assembled Hyuuga as some of them activated their Byakugan and saw the awful truth of their second house-guest; before the hysteria could grow and turn either to panic or violence, it was smothered by a blast of icy killing intent that affected all present save two, Naruto shielding both Hanamitsu and Hinata from Kyuubi's ire as the bijuu bunshin spoke,
"It is said that if you step on a kitsunes' tail it will curse you, and this is true", the bunshin began, slowly removing the goggles wrapped around his forehead and revealing the tell-tale glowing of its terrible vermillion eyes, a cruel smirk on its lips as it finished its dreadful promise, "however if you threaten or harm a kitsune's kit it will not curse you, it will simply kill you. Hanabi-vixen was delivering the kit to the healers, a task I could not perform and for that, she has my thanks", the Hyuuga in question wasn't sure if she should blush or grin as the rest of her clan took a subconscious step backwards from around her as the bijuu nodded towards her before speaking again, "you, however, impeded our kit in returning to the den with our kit. I trust there will be no further...misunderstandings; I would hate to have to show you just how true that second proverb is".
In the face of a bijuu's smile Hiashi merely nodded; what more could he do against the thing that had all but destroy Konoha on its own some years ago and was now stood in the wreckage of the door to his home? Satisfied with this Naruto made to leave the compound only to find himself suddenly blocked in by another set of people, this time friends he did know, all of whom were staring slack-jawed at where Hanamitsu was starting to cry out in her father's arms. Slowly hushing his child and trusting Kyuubi to watch his back for Hyuuga reprisals, Naruto stepped forwards and nodded at each of the other chunin and genin,
"Wow, you guys really did work fast to get back here; mission finished okay?"
"Yeah", Kiba replied faintly, he, the rest of the Sasuke retrieval team and Sakura, who'd met them at the doors of the hospital and joined them in rushing to the source of the explosion they'd heard after slugging the unconscious Uchiha in the jaw, still almost hypnotised by the revelation that Naruto, the dobe and dead-last of his Academy year wasn't just a more deadly killer than he'd previously realised, he was a father as well, "Sasuke in hospital, prisoners in prison and, and... who, when?"
"Long story", Naruto said aloud before sighing, Hanamitsu by now bawling her eyes out in his arms, "still, no time like the present, unless of course those clowns decide they want to ruin it for us".
That statement was enough to break the eye contact of everyone from the new infant in the group and, seeing the blank-faced ANBU facing them, each of the ninja present, without realising it, stepped closer to the ninja father even as the leader of the ninja elite spoke out the demands of his master,
"Uzumaki Naruto, you will place the child on the ground and step away".
"And leave her for you lot to pick up", the jinchuuriki snorted, "I don't think so".
"You will comply or we will use force".
"Really? Sounds like fun, what do you think Kakashi-sensei?"
"Maa", the jounin who had appeared atop one of the still-mostly intact Hyuuga gateposts had his Sharinghan exposed and no porn in sight as he eye-smiled towards his student, "I'd like to think that even Ne are smart enough not to step upon the fox's tail like this, though I would like an explanation as to how this all happened without me knowing Naruto".
"Cross my palm with Ichiraku ramen and all will be revealed sensei", his student assured him even if his eyes never left the enemy, "so, you really think it's a good idea to have a dust-up in the middle of Konoha, right here right now?"
"I am a tool of the council; you will comply".
"Well you got the tool bit right; anyway, don't the ANBU serve the Hokage, not the council? If that's the case, why don't you ask her what you should be doing right now, or in fact Sarutobi-jiji, he might have been retired for a few weeks but I'm sure he mostly remembers the rules".
As if his words were a summoning jutsu the two named ninja did indeed appear, accompanied by Jiraiya who had been in the Hokage tower at the time Naruto had knocked on the Hyuuga's door and quickly deciphered the most likely reason behind the breach of the peace. Standing tall in their full glory, the Slug Queen and God of Shinobi started down the Root and without preamble, the current Hokage spoke in a voice of thunder,
"The council have gone too far this time", she declared, all but breathing fire as she looked at the dark side of the Konoha forces, "I know who you all are; ANBU of Root, supposed to have been decommissioned years ago – this is treason and treachery and will be burnt out of the Great Tree by any means necessary. I will have none of the ninja of my village go against the laws laid down by the Hokage..."
"Ah, hate to cut you off there baa-chan", Tsunade whipped around to see Naruto looking apologetic, though her anger melted to nothingness at the sight of her surrogate great-grandchild calming down and trying to stick her thumb in her mouth, "but technically they are upholding the law".
"Amendment seven, or six, one of the two, to the S-ranked law decreed by the Sandaime Hokage concerning Uzumaki Naruto", the jinchuuriki began, grinning at the Root forces and gleefully anticipating the carnage to come; just a shame I'll miss it – Hanamitsu's too young to see something like that. I knew sneaking into the Hokage tower again to look at the official copies of the birth and adoption laws would pay off, otherwise I'd never have found out about this little nugget of information; "it states something along the lines of 'any woman found having or to have had sexual relations with Uzumaki Naruto shall be put to death for treason. Any woman falling pregnant by Uzumaki Naruto will come to term with the child and then be put to death for treason. Any child of Uzumaki Naruto shall be immediately removed from its parent and either, if I remember rightly, euthanized, donated to experimental medical kinjutsu research or trained into a perfect weapon for the Leaf'. Signed off by the council if not the Hokage himself and somewhat harsh in my opinion, but technically they're just doing their..."
He got no further as a streak of silver shot through the air; next minute the leader of the Root found himself in the unenviable position of being eye to eye with a very irate Hatake Kakashi, a Raikiri already crackling along his arm and the shinobi himself not afraid to use it,
"Take me to your leader", the son of the White Fang growled, the lightning in his palm spitting and crackling as it ionised the air as he shook the fake ANBU like a trapped rat, "Right. NOW!"
"And take use there too"; never before had anyone present seen Sarutobi look so possessed by incandescent rage; it was a face that would have made Oroichimaru himself back down as his gnarled fingers clenched along the spine of his walking stick, itself a dangerous weapon in the hands of the monkey commoner, "it appears the council has overstepped its boundaries".
"For the very last time", Tsunade finished for her teacher, knuckles whitening as Jiraiya nodded, so far gone into outright rage that he couldn't even speak, instead merely cracking his neck and glaring at the Hokage tower as though his eyes alone could bring the whole thing tumbling down to rubble. For a moment everything, even the very air itself, was still until with a flurry of leaves, all the four most powerful shinobi in the Leaf vanished, leaving behind nothing save the knocked out bodies of the squad that had come to separate Naruto from his daughter.
Seeing the sprawled bodies before him Naruto whistled appreciatively before turned to the rest of his thunderstruck friends,
"Well, that went about as well as I'd expected; so then, off to get ramen and I'll explain everything there".
"But, but why would they want to", having started medical training at Kakashi's prompting Sakura knew how medical kinjutsu were created and the thought of using anyone, let alone a baby for such a purpose made her feel sick, "to hurt a child, least of all one as small as this, just because of your name?"
"I'll explain later Sakura-san", Naruto assured her, setting off from the wrecked entrance to the Hyuuga clan and feeling Kyuubi's bunshin dispersed from within the compounds wall, leaving behind the kind of mass mental trauma that would probably have the Yamanaka clan rubbing their hands with glee at the amount of money they were going to make through their counselling services, "I doubt it'll be a secret very long after this. All you need to know for the minute though, as the village council is now finding out, is that Maki hath no fury like a father, or a kitsune or a grandparent, denied his child for any reason!"
A/N: I really, really wish I knew where all these words came from; if I did and could control it somehow I'd be able to make a mint writing novels, retire somewhere warm and sunny and live out my life in peace. However I can't, I'm stuck here behind a desk most of the time and I'm just hoping you enjoyed this latest offering of mine. What next for Uzumaki and Hanamitsu (the name mean nectar, in case you didn't know); would anyone in the village be foolish enough to try and tear them apart? Could Naruto find love and a new mother for his child? What happens when the Nanabi awakens? Would Kyuubi ever let 'his' kit get a boyfriend? Questions for other writers to answer for now, I must depart – until the next time, ja ne!