Chapter 4 – 'The Value of a Promise'
Ack, sorry for the delay. I tried to work on this but it sort of fell to the wayside.
A lot of this chapter depends on the mythos that kitsune cannot lie, and keep their promises, so just keep that in mind when you are reading!
Review, my minions!
Under normal circumstances, Naruto would say that his current activity of juggling several kunai in his hands was 'for training in being able to catch multiple objects moving at erratic angles in the heat of battle.' Most people were smart enough to not believe him, though a gullible few would fall for it when they saw that all three members of Team 3 were doing it.
Usually, Naruto did it to alleviate boredom – in his own little twisted view of the world, what better way to do that than to juggle sharp, pointy objects? Today, however, there were two other purposes to it. The first was closely related: as opposed to alleviating boredom, he needed something to pass the time. He had just finished using the same kunai in a ridiculously complex chakra control exercise, in which he stuck the handles of two kunai to a finger from each hand, before channelling some more chakra down the length of the kunais to their points so that while he was doing a hand-walk across the ground, the kunai would not stick in the soft earth. Although he was able to successfully pull it off, the sheer amount of concentration needed to manipulate his chakra and pull off a task of such finesse had exhausted him, requiring him to take some time to recover from his mental fatique.
The other reason he was doing it was that it was the odd hypnotism the rhythmic movements of the kunais was giving him, lulling him from his hyper-sensitive peak awareness state. No shinobi could be on guard at all times, or else he or she would start seeing shadows and threats everywhere. Between Inoka's father Inoichi and Shikake-sensei, Team 3 knew well the possible effects; insanity was one, burnout was another, with neither being good. Naruto definitely knew he didn't want to shoot his nerves, particularly considering he was only now beginning to come into the prime of his life.
It also allowed his mind to do more of the thinking, taking over from the instincts and natural reactions that had been ingrained into his body. For example, there was the matter of his little sister, Namikaze Kachu. He had briefly thought of murdering the Sandaime shortly after finding out about her for keeping her secret, but had decided that was not a wise idea. It was a good thing that he had not gone through with the plan, or else he would likely have ended up not ever being able to meet the one he called imouto.
It surprised him just how fierce his emotions were in that regard. The only thing that had connected them before had been blood. As a result, he had expected their relationship to start off somewhat awkwardly and be slow to develop. He was partially correct on the first assumption, and dead wrong on the second. Only a week had passed and already he was feeling just like what his mother had once told him he would be; a big brother.
That was food for thought, the flaxen-haired shinobi thought as he threw each kunai as it fell into his left hand in the blink of an eye, the five kunais forming the outline of a pentagon as they sunk into the base of a dead tree.
Retrieving the five kunai, his ear twitched as he caught a sound on the passing wind, one of a soft sob. Intrigued, he put away the weapons from in between his fingers, and focused on the noise, which was getting closer.
Crossing the clearing he was currently in, his unspoken curiosity to the source of the crying was answered as his little sister came in, and Naruto surveyed her appearance. It seemed that she had been crying for quite some time, if her dishevelled hair, and tear-streaked cheeks were anything to speak about. He was about to ask her what was wrong when she looked up at him, showing pink eyes. The next moment, he had to catch her as she slammed into him, grabbing his dark training tunic to use as her own personal handkerchief.
He wondered if the news about the Kyuubi had affected her that drastically, but let the question die on his tongue as soon as he tried to speak. Kachu was currently wailing away, and he knew it was better for someone to let out their emotions when they were sad before trying to talk to that person. He had been in that same position a few times before, after all, and letting out his tears had always lightened the burden of whatever had then weighed down on his shoulders.
It was still an awkward situation for him, however. Slowly, instinctively, he guided his arms and hands around his sister's backside, squeezing her gently to reassure her of his own presence, idly thankful he wasn't currently wearing his hard-to-wash sweater. His action paid off as after a minute, the choking spasms that came from Kachu's body began to lessen in both intensity and frequency, before finally dying out altogether. It was then that Kachu took a look up at her brother, green eyes to blue, and muttered out a forlorn "Aniki?"
"What is it, imouto?" Naruto asked, as he brushed away some of the stray tears left on her cheeks before they could dry up and blotch her skin. Of course, he was sure what the problem was about: the Kyuubi no Kitsune. He had, after all, mentioned it to her just last night. He had intended to give her a night to think over it before talking to her about it, but he had not expected her to have some sort of breakdown over the information if her crying was any tip-off.
"N-Naruto-aniki..." Kachu trailed off, seemingly incapable of saying anything beyond that. She felt like she was about to burst out into another crying fit. Feeling a strong grip squeeze her shoulder, she looked up at her brother again. Seeing him in his confident posture, she calmed down again, letting out a hiccup. "You said otou-san...sealed the Kyuubi in me?"
Ah, so he was right. Sitting her down on the grass, he decided maybe leaving her a night to think about it hadn't been the best idea. "Yes, he did." Pausing, he thought he had an idea of what specifically she might have been thinking. "But that does not make you Kyuubi. You and Kyuubi are separate beings."
Kachu hiccupped again, and shook her head. "I know that," she admitted, trailing off again before speaking up once more. "That I'm not the Kyuubi. But, Kyuubi...I've met him already."
When Naruto had told her about the true fate of Kyuubi, Kachu had felt her insides turn cold, as she quickly connected the dots. There was only one other being who she knew about that was inside of her, and the parallelism between what Kaen had told her of himself and the story of the Kyuubi cemented the fact that Kaen was the Kyuubi no Kitsune.
In her haste, she had yelled at Kaen. After all, the last few weeks had brought a whirlwind of emotions upon her, on finding out about her real parents, and her brother. Even if Rin nee-san had made a good substitute as a mother/sister figure, the point still stood: it was Kyuubi who was responsible for her parent's deaths and the fracturing of their family, and the Kyuubi was Kaen. She could hardly be blamed for such a thing.
But after she had left, she had begun to wonder: why had Kaen spoken to her all those times in her dreams? Had he been intent on the two getting to know each other before having something like this happen, and goading her about it afterwards?
And yet, she had seen his face as soon as she had left her dream. She had thought he was faking the anguish on his face, but why would he bother? More importantly, Kyuubi was supposed to be a celestial guardian of the Land of Fire, THE guardian. Why had he attacked Konohagakure?
The questions had haunted her throughout most of the night, but she stubbornly refused to dream again, even as she cried in fits. It was as the morning sun rose that she had finally tossed aside the blanket, with one thing on her mind: she would talk to her aniki. Surely he, being five years older than she, would have a better idea of what to do?
"What?!" Naruto hissed as soon as she said those words, quickly grabbing her outstretched hand. "What did the fox say?" At seeing Kachu's wince, he let go of his grip on her hand. "Sorry," he added, but his mind still running at a mile-a-minute on the main topic.
"He never introduced himself as Kyuubi," Kachu revealed. "He showed up in my dreams about a year ago, as a red-head about the same age as me, and said his name was Kaen." Slowly, the dams burst. "I thought he was a spirit of this place, which he confirmed, but..." Here, she bit her lip in worry.
"But even Kyuubi falls into that qualification," Naruto finished the sentence, his face back to its composed state. Had Kachu been even slightly experienced in reading facial language, she would have seen the barely-repressed tic above his eyebrow, or the tightening of his cheeks, but she had only a six-year-old's perception. As such, it was a surprise when Naruto stood up again. "Kachu-imouto," He began, "You said you met Kyuubi in your dreams?" It was rhetoric, but he wanted the question asked to lead into his idea. A nod came, and finally he took a deep breath before speaking again. "Would it be possible for me to meet the Kyuubi no Kitsune?"
That suggestion caught Kachu off-guard. "Y-you can do that?"
Naruto nodded, "I worked with a Yamanaka once, which is a clan that deals with mind techniques that can draw out memories, as well as therapy. As I am not a member of that clan, I could not learn their techniques, but I was allowed to learn the basic ability to intrude upon what is called a 'mindscape' or sometimes a 'soulscape', the bridging point between the mind, body, and spirit. If I were to meet Kyuubi, you would have to come with me." He scolded himself internally after he was finished speaking at his usage of the word 'intrude'. He had an idea, but he didn't want to scare his sister off with such a negative term.
He was in luck, however, as Kachu did not seem to notice. Instead, she was fretful. On one hand, she trusted her brother not to do anything harmful to her, and Kaen did not seem the type to attack her brother if the two met. However, she was still apprehensive about meeting Kaen again. Even though she still felt justified in having said what she had, she was beginning to feel more and more guilt with every passing minute about doing it.
But that was the crux of the matter, was it not? If she staved off from a reunion for too long, she would never have the strength of will to meet the kitsune face-to-face again. Tears threatening to fall again, she looked up at Naruto, and nodded again, "Hai."
Naruto, for his own part, sighed, and hoped the upcoming meeting would go well. "Very well, then," he said, before taking his right hand out and pointing his index finger at her forehead. "Shintenshin no Jutsu," he said, quickly feeling his consciousness slip away. While he might know the first part of this technique, the latter part had been forbidden from being taught to him by Inoka.
Naruto was mildly surprised at the state of Kachu's mindscape as he looked around. He had not really used this technique very often before, as Inoka was the main person to do this sort of thing. Even Itachi had a bloodline that was predisposed to making it easier for him, as the Sharingan was able to be used to cast and see through genjutsus, which were fields of chakra usage that dealt with the mind, and illusions. As such, it was only by Inoka's constant ramblings that he knew mindscapes were usually sterile, resembling a hospital corridor or a filing room.
In Kachu's case, however, he and his sister were both now present in the stereotypically 'evil' forest. Tall evergreens crowded together, their twisted branches curling around each other to further block out light. A thin haze further prevented visibility. Idly, he noticed that he was wearing a jacket sweater over top of his tunic, protecting him from the chill that seemed to permeate the air.
He paused to say something to Kachu, but then stopped to think about the situation he had just walked into. Mindscapes like this reflected traumatic pasts, yet his sister had been bright and cheerful only yesterday evening, up until he had revealed the Kyuubi's existence within her. Well, she had said that he had taken a human personification within her mindscape, and that the two had known each other for about a year. He would have to tread deftly in this situation.
"Kachu," the blonde-haired boy said as he turned around, bending down to come to eye level with her. Idly, he wiped away the tears that had come with her to her mindscape off of her whiskered cheeks. Getting back up, he surveyed the forest again, noting a small dirt path that led into the forest. Sighing and repressing his own fear at the eerie surroundings, he grabbed Kachu's hand, and led her into the forest.
Shortly after entering the twisted forest, maneuvering their way through mist along a single clear path, while dodging the mutated branches of the corrupted trees, Naruto heard sniffling. Walking in the general direction of the noise, he came out to a clearing, and quickly noted the boy in red and green curled up at the base of one of the trees. If the constant shaking of his shoulders was an indication, then the Kyuubi (Kaen, he corrected himself, as that was the name he had been provided with) was in turmoil currently. Still, it would not do for Naruto to let his guard down. This could be an elaborate trap, and he had not survived half a decade as a shinobi without taking precaution against possible traps.
"So," Naruto said, rather nonchalantly, taking off his jacket sweater and letting it disappear. "You are the Kyuubi?"
If Kyuubi (Kaen, he corrected himself again) were playing this as a trap to possess his host's body or escape from the seal somehow, Naruto had to admit the kitsune was playing it well. Kaen looked up lethargically. Spooked at the appearance of a newcomer, he asked, "Wh-who are y-you?"
"It is polite to answer one's question first before asking him your own question," Naruto pressed, not caring if he seemed to be rude just then.
Depressed, Kaen let his head sink down in between his legs again. "Yes, I am. I am the monster who attacked Konohagakure."
Naruto cursed internally. He sincerely hoped he didn't have to deal with someone who was full-blown emo. "Get up, please." Kaen, having had little stimuli to respond to in the last little bit, moved without even thinking, standing up, his body still slouched over.
"Good," Naruto nodded, pleased that at least Kaen's body still seemed to be reacting. Observing Kaen, he could see what a girl might see in him, his dark red hair and forest-green eyes contrasting well, particularly with his red-and-green outfit. He would undoubtedly grow up to be a handsome man (unless he was one already, Naruto reminded himself, thinking about kitsune and their shapeshifting abilities). Looking to his side, he noticed Kachu looking away, and nearly growled. He thought that he was going to have to face the Kyuubi no Kitsune in a battle of wills or something, and now it turned out that he was having to deal with childhood angst.
But, Kachu was his sister, and he would do whatever he could to help her out of this. Even if it meant having to push her into doing something she was unwilling to otherwise. "My name is Namikaze Naruto." He paused, then added, "I am Kachu's elder brother." That caught the redhead's attention. Grabbing Kachu by the shoulders, he forcefully swung her around again so that she was facing Kaen. "I do not know what happened here last night, but apparently the two of you had a misgivings of sort." Oh Kami, was he trying to help his sister and the Kyuubi reconcile?
"He-he killed our parents," Kachu suddenly said. Having gotten those first words out, the floodgates opened. "Then he tricked me into becoming friends with him, -hic- while pretending to not be the Kyuubi."
Naruto pursed his lips. So that was it. Kaen was the Kyuubi after all, and responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands. However, he was the mediator in this dispute between the two, so he needed to be fair.
"That is as it may be," Naruto said, "But surely Kaen has his reasons for doing both? At least hear him out first."
Both turned their attention to the third person in the forest, who quickly became introverted at the attention. After a few seconds, Kaen sighed, then started talking. "I was...forced...into attacking Konoha."
That struck Naruto hard. The Kyuubi no Kitsune had been forced into attacking Konoha? What could have done such a thing?
Kaen was reluctant to answer what had forced him into his actions, however, as he went onto the next question. "As for tricking you..." He shook his head furiously, "No, I didn't mean to trick you, Kachu!" He collapsed onto his knees, fists pounding the earth, as his eyes shook with anguish. "I...know I'm guilty...of killing your parents..." was all that could be heard out of the kitsune's anguished words.
Naruto was surprised at how quickly this reconciliation had gotten out of hand. He meant to stop it, but then decided not to. Something was telling him that this had to happen.
Kaen continued to talk, raising his head to show unshed tears threatening to get away from his eyeballs. "I...was lost, after I was sealed away. I hadn't wanted to attack Konoha, but I was made to, and I paid a price after. I didn't know what to do anymore." As he continued talking, his voice got steadier, his thoughts more coherent. "Then you came. You were my host, and the only person I had met in a long time. I was struggling for a companion, and you fit the bill. I-I", Here, he began to choke, "I didn't want to chase you off. Had I told you I was the Kyuubi, I thought you would be scared of me, and never want to have anything to do with me again. So, instead, I became, merely Kaen."
It is generally accepted that, not having experience on their side, children can be the cruellest of them all. A playground bully does wrong in abusing others, but he has the advantage of not knowing better, as even though his capacity for empathy might be greater than most adult's, his ability to wield that empathy is low. By the time he becomes an adult, he either has reformed, realising how he has hurt others, or he continues to be a bully, but now fully understanding that what he is doing is wrong.
Kachu, being only a six-year-old, solidly fell into the category of being a child. Though she was no bully, she could be rash, and had not thought too much about Kaen's side of things. She had automatically assumed he was guilty of trying to deceive her for malicious reasons, and so had told him off. She later realised she could be wrong, which was why she had asked Naruto for help, leading up to this situation.
Kaen had taken all the blame on himself, but even still she felt guilty over having yelled at him earlier. Hearing now that he had been controlled in some manner to attack Konoha was bringing that guilt to the forefront of the maelstrom of emotions that swirled within her.
She wanted to hate him. The last day had been one of the few times in her life that she had felt such strong negative emotions, and she needed something to direct her emotions at to make herself feel better. However, seeing Kaen now, crying, she was beginning to feel bad about earlier. She had truly hurt him, had she not?
She had stubbornly refused to consider making up before, and with good reason: Kaen had deceived her, after all. Even now, it would take some time before she could fully trust him again. But, she had given him the benefit of the doubt, and hearing why he had done what he had...
Well, she couldn't forget, but she could..."I-I forgive you, Kaen."
Naruto nearly yelped in surprise. One moment, Kaen was pleading with his sister. A few minutes later, Kachu had flat-out forgiven Kaen for all the things he had hurt her over. Sighing, he let the two talk for a bit longer, as he decided to not eavesdrop on their conversation, trusting that Kachu knew what she was doing.
In fact, if he had to admit to himself, he was jealous: watching earlier, that feeling had crept up once the expressions on both redheads began to lighten up. Kaen seemed to know Kachu better than he did. Of course, he had a year's advantage on Naruto, but it was the principle of the matter! He was Kachu's older brother, he had to look out for her!
It was an odd and dynamical relation the two shared, he mused. Looking over, he saw that the two were practically twiddling fingers again. Perfect, Naruto thought to himself. Taking advantage of the lull in their conversation, he sauntered over, shadowing both of them with their taller body, and grabbing their collective attentions. "Kaen, I need to talk to you, alone, for a while." Directing an innocent smile at his sister, he asked her, "I hope you don't mind, imouto?"
Kachu was blushing red again, and shook her head, "N-No, aniki."
Satisfied, Naruto grabbed Kaen's shoulders, and redirected him away, forcing them to walk away. "Wh-what's going on?" Kaen growled. "What do you want?" Naruto ignored the fox-spirit's protests, walking the both of them away until he finally stopped at a point in the clearing opposite Kachu.
Deeming them to be a sufficient enough distance away so that Kachu could not overhear them, Naruto turned to Kaen, and quickly dropped the loaded question. "What are your intents to my sister?" He asked in the most overbearing manner that he could, letting his brotherly instincts out at full blast.
Kaen jumped at the question, and nearly yelped in surprise at how direct Naruto had asked it.
"Just kidding," Naruto said, giving Kaen an eye-smile. Now that he was confident Kaen wasn't bent on attacking him as virtue of his being the Kyuubi, he wanted to play the overprotective big brother at least once. Besides, he was talented at reading body and facial language, having trained with a Yamanaka in the past: he would tell if Kaen was genuine and sincere with his conversation here and now.
"W-what was that about?" Kaen grumbled under his breath, his earlier depressed mood having all but vanished with the three-way conversation.
"I am curious about one thing, however," Naruto said slowly, ignoring Kaen's grumblings and prompting an interested 'Oh?' from the redhead. "How is it that you manage to have even the slightest bit of control over this mindscape. I would have thought that the Shiki Fuin seal that otou-san devised would have prevented you from doing such a thing."
Kaen shivered at the sweet but deadly tone in Naruto's voice, but decided there was no harm in letting Naruto know just what had happened to him six years ago, right after the sealing. Facing Naruto directly, he started, "Well, you see..."
*Flashback – Six Years Ago, The Mindscape*
More than just binding his powers, the Shiki Fūin had also affected his soul, which bore his collective experience of hundreds of years since he first formed as the strongest of the nine remnants of the Juubi. He still possessed all the memories, but they were peripheral to his consciousness, resembling that object that was always just out of the reach of your eyes. The Death God's seal had forced his mental age to regress as it worked. His emotional maturity had vanished alongside his mentality, marking a shift in his capacity to deal with the maelstrom of shock, panic and depression he was currently feeling. Shock, at having lost to a human. Panic, at the consequences of being bound by the Shinigami. Depression, at the realisation of all that had happened to him, and the cell that he had been thrown into, surrounded by a sewer. So caught up in his own self-denial as he was, Kaen missed the sound of footsteps echoing throughout the chamber he had found himself in. As it got closer, he noted it only as a part of the white noise, joining the dripping of water from wet bars.
"Kyuubi?" A harsh voice chimed, and this time the kitsune spirit looked up. "Why are you parading around as a human?"
"You!" The six-year-old hissed, leaping at the blond Hokage, intent on tearing the Yondaime apart for what he had done.
The soul fragment of Yondaime may have been only a shadow of the real Namikaze Minato, but he (it?) still had all the memories that the Yondaime's full soul had. As such, he (it?) stood right where he (it?) was, letting Kaen hit the bars before being repulsed by the Shiki Fuin. Letting the fox try its hand at trying to get out, the Yondaime fragment mused over the puzzle that had been presented to him (it?). Why would the Kyuubi be taking the form of a six-year-old boy when he had already been sealed away? It was then that it clicked in his (its?) head.
"The seal didn't just seal away your power, did it..." Minato said breathlessly, "It also sealed away your form, and your age."
Kaen stopped, a small sliver of rationality forcing its way to the forefront of his thoughts. "Yes...yes, it did," He hissed, his rage slowly taking over again. "You took everything from me. My power, my true body, even my memories are fogging, and now I'm locked away in a sewer!"
Minato mused over the situation as Kaen continued to rant. He (it?) knew that the Kyuubi was a celestial spirit of sorts, a kitsune, a being which was irrevocably bound to its word. The bijuu was currently in a state of panic, and perhaps he (it?) could get something favourable out of this. Testing a quickly-forming idea in his (its?) head, he (it?) threw out a conversational bait. "I know already that you did not intentionally attack the village," He (it?) said slowly, "But rather that Uchiha Madara forced you to. I cannot free you from this seal. However, would you do anything to be freed from this sewer environment?"
It was with a private glee that the Yondaime observed Kaen turn around from another bout of madness, and fall down on his knees. His hands together, he was practically begging. "Yes, please, I'll do anything, I promise!" The fox-human said, not realising the consequences of his words.
"Anything?" the Yondaime quietly asked. "Very well..." Pausing to quickly summarise his full demands in his head, he began, "You will not under any circumstances try to injure or possess my daughter, your host." Kaen's eyes widened slightly at that sentence as he realised what he had earlier done. "That includes trying to escape from her, as it will kill her, and quite possibly kill you." Pacing about, the Yondaime fragment finished off with his (its?) last condition, "And if you do somehow manage to escape, alive, you will not harm any member of Konohagakure no Sato unless you or a comrade are attacked, or you can justify it under a need for stability in the Elemental Nations." The Namikaze turned to face Kaen one last time, with a glint in his (its?) eye. "And if you ever come across Uchiha Madara, you must try to kill him."
The power that kept the fragment of the Yondaime's soul fragment corporeal was quickly running out, and with a sigh he (it?) slowly began to disperse, but not before touching the seal that barred the Kyuubi from the rest of the mindscape. The Shiki Fuin had, in a sense, multiple 'layers' to it. The innermost layers were the ones that irrevocably prevented Kyuubi from escaping his host, secured as the Yondaime was unwilling to risk the possibility of Kyuubi being malicious in his intent of attacking Konoha. Some of the outermost were ones such as a seal clause that prevented the kitsune from moving about his host's mindscape at all: those ones could be unravelled from the outside of the seal, a bargaining chip that the Yondaime had planned on using if need be. Finding that Uchiha Madara had caused Kyuubi to attack was not sufficient enough for him (it?) to give freedom to Kyuubi: after all, the fox might still hold hatred towards Konoha for defeating him. That he had given his word, however much unintentionally, was. With the promises Minato had secured from the celestial spirit, he (it?) knew he (it?) could unravel some of those layers, which he (it?) had just done.
With the soul fragment's disappearance, Kaen sat down again as he felt the weight of the deal he had made settle on him. He had indeed promised to do anything to get out of that sewer, and the Yondaime had fulfilled his side of the bargain. Unconsciously, the scenery began to chance to that of a forest. Even though he was already a creature of the flame, a fire still burned in a small pit in front of him. It was oddly reassuring, the touch of heat on his skin.
He could already feel the fatique seeping into his mental avatar. He had been just freshly sealed into a newborn, and although he had never been sealed before, he had been told once that it was a huge drain on the energy of that which had been sealed. When Kaen finally fell asleep, he would hibernate for five years.
Naruto was silent for a few moments, as he went over the scene in his head that Kaen had described. Then, he spoke, "So otou-san truly was a genius."
Kaen nodded in an apathetic manner. "He didn't need to request any of those conditions, but I guess he needed to be sure."
"Oh?" Naruto asked, surprised at what the Kyuubi was implying.
"Yes," Kaen responded, nodding again in a feverish manner. "I am...or was...the guardian spirit of the Land of Fire, Hi no Kuni...balance and stability of the land are...or were...my mandate."
The flaxen-haired shinobi strummed his lips. "I see," he quietly said. "Your...memories? Yes, your memories were sealed away? That doesn't quite to seem be the case."
The kitsune in human form furiously shook his head this time. "Not quite, no. I still have my...memories," he explained, struggling to come up with the right words and phrases to define his predicament, "But it's like a fog to me. I know many things, but I cannot apply them properly. I've been reduced to a child!"
Kaen had difficulty conveying what he wanted to say, but Naruto understood nonetheless. Besides knowledge and body, what separated men from boys, and elders from men, was experience. The way Kaen described it made it sound like the experience he had built up over the years had been invalidated. While an old man's memories of his young days would be vague and biased with nostalgia, Kaen's situation was in reverse. The rules had changed for the fox spirit, leaving him with his memories but unable to use them for any practical purpose.
Naruto could perhaps sympathise with Kaen's situation, but he was still wary. "And you are bound to those conditions that the Yondaime gave you?"
"Yes," Kaen growled. "Like I already told you, I would have already followed them anyways. He took advantage of me in my moment of weakness and forced me into them. I don't like that."
The Namikaze heir let his eyes narrow at that. "You might not like it, but I would have done the same in that situation." Seeing Kaen try to speak again, he held up his hand. "You must remember that otou-san had no guarantee that you would not have immediately tried to escape the seal right after." Pausing for a second, he added on, "Nor that you would not have tried to finish the job that had been started, even if you originally were under somebody else's control."
Kaen had no response to that.
Turning around, now assured that the fox meant no harm to his person, Naruto mused out loud, "However, Uchiha Madara...that is something that needs to be dealt with." Interesting, to finally learn what had caused the attack. Of course, how Madara, a founding father of Konoha, still lived, was an issue that needed to be dealt with.
The red-head was quick to dispense with a growl at the name. "Madarrrra..." he said, rolling the r with a slur, "I know not how, but he has evolved his Sharingan to a stage where he can manipulate a creature's own inner chakra flow. That was how he managed to force me into attacking Konoha."
That interested Naruto, as he turned around with a surprised look on his face. "Are you serious?"
Chakra was a mysterious thing, a component of life energy that Orochimaru of the Sannin had spent much of his life on researching. Even now, the usage of jutsus was crude and inefficient, and shinobi had to eat large amounts of food to keep up with the expended energy. Genjutsu, the art of illusions whereby the user would inject his chakra into his opponent's system, using it to distort his foe's perceptions, was about the purest form of chakra usage that had been devised. However, even genjutsu relied on a person's own chakra. Manipulating someone else's chakra was simply impossible.
Until now, it seemed.
"Yes," Kaen reaffirmed.
"I...see..." Naruto said, caught up in his own world again. I believe ji-san will have to hear about this. Truly, it was a troublesome dilemma. How could he fight someone who could use his own chakra system against him?
"Are you just about done?" A voice popped up next to Naruto, who would have jumped if not for the fact that he had detected Kachu walking over seconds ago.
"We are now, imouto-chan," Naruto responded, not losing a chance to tease his little sister with a double affectionate. It worked, if the small, sudden blush on her face was any indicator. Naruto was curious about one thing, however: looking around, he saw the fretful glances that Kachu had been sneaking at Kaen, and the dispassionate gaze Kaen kept as he stared away from the other two once Kachu had shown up. Suddenly, it clicked in his mind.
"Very well," he felt his lips moving, "I approve."
That caught the attention of both of the younger participants, who suddenly swung their heads around to look at him. Kachu in particular was nearly apoplectic with how quick she turned red. Even if she didn't understand what he was hinting at, her subconscious did to a degree. Pointing at him, she yelled "W-what do you mean?" with a slightly cute stutter.
"What do I mean?" Naruto parroted. What do I mean? He thought to himself. He saw the attraction between the two, even if it was a childhood crush on each of their parts. If they had already gotten over such an obstacle as Kaen being the Kyuubi no Kitsune, then the circumstances that they were in dictated a high chance of them eventually becoming smitten with each other. But could he, Kachu's older brother, her 'aniki', really be alright with that?
In the blink of an eye, he decided that he was alright with it. They were irrevocably bound for life, even if it was by a seal, and he had already been assured Kaen had no malicious intent towards Kachu. Additionally, Naruto knew that perhaps Kaen would be the only one to 'truly' know Kachu. Even as her older brother, he still had not met her until she was six, and he would only have a month to spend with her, and then be gone for another year. When the two finally reunited in Konoha, who was to say that he would not be gone most of the time, perhaps even on a long-term mission? Kaen apparently was the only companion she had her own age, even if it was an odd relationship.
"What I mean," Naruto began again, deciding to smooth his meaning up and redirect the implications elsewhere, "Is that I am OK with the two of you meeting up again." Looking at Kaen, he gave the fox-turned-human a hard stare. "You are the only companion her own age that she has, even if it is under unusual circumstances. Even I, her own brother, cannot be around for her all the time."
"So you mean..." Kaen started, then let out a sigh of relief. Silence dominated the scene for a few moments, before Kaen spoke up with a question. "Are you going to tell others...about me?"
Kachu gasped, not having thought about that. Naruto hummed to himself when Kaen had voiced his concern. It didn't take much for him to come up with his decision, which he gave right away before Kaen and Kachu could become anxious. "No," the flaxen-haired shinobi said bluntly. "I see no need to inform anyone about your relationship, not even Rin-san. Others might not take quite as kindly to hearing about the Kyuubi freely being able to communicate with his host." Of course, that created a problem as to how he might communicate to the Sandaime that Uchiha Madara was responsible for the Kyuubi attack. He would have to figure an alternative way out to prove that without implicating Kaen.
"I...see..." was all that Kaen had to say, before he did something that shocked Naruto. The kitsune bowed in front of Naruto, his head low. "I thank you, Namikaze Naruto." The image of the Kyuubi being submissive was quite the surprise.
"I...ah...shucks, no need to thank me," Naruto responded, before he felt a wave of fatique pass through his body. Kuso, already? Turning to face Kachu to bring her back into the conversation, he continued to talk to Kaen. "It was nice meeting you, Kaen...however, I am not a natural resident of this soulscape, and it costs me energy to stay here. I..." He gritted his teeth as his body was tiring out again, "Need to go soon."
Kachu wasn't one to be left out of the verbal communication, however. Moving forward, she grabbed Kaen's hands, gripping them hard in a show of companionship. Turning her green eyes around, she nervously spoke to her brother again. "Ah...aniki? Thank you...for e-everything..." She began to hiccup again.
"It was no problem," Naruto said, smoothly moving forward to pick her up as she relinquished her grip on Kaen. Finally feeling the conversation at an end, he turned to face Kaen one last time. "I hope to meet you again, Kaen," he said with a nod, one which the kitsune returned. As he felt himself fading away from the mindscape, he decided to interject with one last statement. "And if you ever break my sister's heart again...I'll destroy you."
It was totally worth it, Naruto mused as he finally faded out, to see Kaen's mortified expression.
As Naruto's avatar finally disappeared, so did Kachu, leaving Kaen all alone in the area. Looking to face the canopy of the forest clearing, he mused. It had been an odd turn of events. He had been devastated when Kachu had told him she hated him, which had led to his curling up and crying through the night. He may not have a strong grasp on his memories of his past, but he for sure knew that he had never felt these kinds of emotions. Was this what it mean to...live?
A gut-wrenching feeling, followed by a warm swell in his body. He had no name to give these feelings, no idea of what they meant. It would bear thinking.
As Kaen went to sit down at the tree base to take another nap, the events having emotionally exhausted him, he barely noticed the forest change: the mist dispersed, the trees turned from their gray gnarly forms to a regular brown, and the treetops broke to let in warm rays of light that lulled his still form to sleep.
The light of day pressed itself against Naruto's closed eyelids. Quickly shaking off the disorientation wrought by his mental perception in the transition from an otherworldly plane to the physical realm, he looked around, noting that barely a second had passed.
Kachu seemed to be standing upright again, though, as opposed to the dull gait she had come to visit Naruto with. Her pose did not last long, however, as she suddenly collapsed into his arms. Catching her quickly, Naruto was unsurprised. After all, it had been a very emotional day for her, by all accounts. As she looked up again at him, he had to stop himself from blushing at how cute she looked there, with her dimpled nose and her light frown. "Aniki?" She asked drowsily.
"Shush, now," Naruto said, putting a finger up to her lips, before picking her up in a fetal position. "It hasn't been that long of a day," He admitted, "But perhaps it's best you get some rest again. I still have three weeks left."
"Mmkay..." Kachu said, quietly, finally content with her lot in life. "When we get back...can you help me with Rin-nee-chan?"
"Hmmm...alright," Naruto responded, taking a slow walk, being careful not to sneeze with the red hair in his face. Idly, he looked up at the sun as he walked out. Amusing himself, he tried to assign a metaphor to the scene – the rising sun was the dawn of a new part of the lives of his sister and her prisoner.
That same red dawn metaphor would haunt the two years down the road, however.
Kachu felt revitalised by the day's events. It had been emotionally exhausting, and physically only a few hours had passed by for her. Most of all, however, was the promise Kaen had given to her while Naruto-aniki had turned away from their conversation.
"I promise," He had said, "That I will be your friend forever, and never try to deceive you again."
She would hold him to that.
Haha I told you that Yamanaka Inoka would actually have a use. In this case of the 'convenient plot device to get Naruto a technique that allows him to intrude on mindscapes'. She won't entirely be a throwaway character so we'll actually be seeing her in the future.
This is the end of the first story arc, which hopefully was satisfying to all you readers so far. The next arc of course will involve Kachu returning to Konoha with Rin, and all the drama that involves as the second Namikaze is unveiled to the public. As for what else happens, well, you'll just have to wait and see ;). I'll be working on a bit of A Midsummer Night's Dream before coming back to this, as I need time to flesh out the scenes in my head, which is usually the cause for me taking up to a week between chapters a lot of times with my fics (winter blues and university are responsible for my multi-month hiatuses). After all, I'm not copying canon nearly scene for scene with only a few gender benders and personality adjustments (oh snaps)! Truthfully, it really is just a simple matter of me needing to rejuice before I continue working on any one story, or else my writing becomes dull and uninspired. Like parts of this chapter were. Some of the scenes I had a difficult time figuring out how to end. Shit some of the conversation is stilted as well.
Actually, tbqh I should have proof-read this before putting it up but I really didn't feel like it. Oh well, sorry if it seems a bit jarring at times.
Twilight Dragoon Fighter: As you can see in this chapter, Kaen will NOT be getting out. Oh sure, he will eventually get out, it would be cruel of me not to let them get together in the physical plane, but for now they will get to angst over never being able to be together on the outside world, at least not until the solution presents itself. Besides which, it would be a simple cop-out if I did that; I mean, c'mon, the Kyuubi no Kitsune is out, and isn't utterly slaughtering everything that presents a threat to his romantic interest? Oro and three quarters of the Akatsuki would be mince-meat way too easily if I did that. Otherwise then I'd have to restrict his power like big big time.
Lil-lo: Unfortunately, I have a decent amount of the plot and timeline done up in my head. It's a bit hard to move their ages forward with how I have it worked out, plus it screws up some of the parallelism I have planned with canon.
schnookums: I shot for Kachu to be of the sort of light-hearted nature, but serious when needed. This chapter was a bit hard since Naruto sort of overshadows her, but her own character will break out fairly soon.