A.N.: Here I come with the beginning of my first multichapter story. I have several chapters prewritten, so the updates should be fast. Now enjoy.
A.N. 2: Now reposted with less grammar errors. Otherwise the chapter is still the same. I've checked my work recently and was appaled at the grammar of the earliest chapters. So here goes the corrected version. I hope this won't scare off readers with its atrocious grammar anymore. I plan to repost the whole story as soon as I'm done correcting it.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.
The council chamber of Konohagakure sometimes tended to be noisy, but today its occupants were really outdoing themselves. Sarutobi refrained from banging his head on the oaken table and for what felt like the hundredth day today ask himself, why did he ever take this job. There must have been some reason, but it currently eluded him.
"I say, this cannot be left, as it is," shrieked one councilwoman or other thus roughly waking the elderly Hokage from his introspection. He sighed in exasperation, quietly, so nobody would notice, and turned his attention to the bickering bunch of self-important diplomat-wannabes that made up most of the Council of Konoha.
"Can you please speak one at a time," he addressed them quietly. Somehow they still heard him and turned their heads to him. But it never occurred to them to tone down the racket. Quite the contrary, now they seemed to have their leader's attention, they tried to present their respective opinions at the same moment. Naturally, none of them could be heard clearly enough to understand. Not that Sarutobi needed to hear their words to know what it was about. The tone of their speech had been enough of a giveaway.
"Silence," he snapped at them. "Can you not behave like dignified officials?" The rebuke made them to back off slightly, but they were quickly gathering courage for another attack.
"As I was saying, Hokage-sama…" began a bolder one.
"I said silence," repeated Sarutobi in a more forceful tone. "No matter how upset you are with the issue at hand, we have to discuss it calmly like civilized people, not shout at each other like a bunch of unruly schoolchildren. Understood?" Nobody spoke, so the Hokage took it as a yes. "Well then. Now if you please, I think Koharu had the word last."
"Thank you, Hokage-sama." His old teammate rose to her feet. "Before I had been so rudely interrupted," she shot a pointed glare at the offender, "I was pointing out possible implications of today's incident."
Sarutobi somehow managed to keep the frown from appearing on his wrinkled face. That incident. What Kami did he piss of that it had happened before he could find another successor and bully him into taking the hat? As he kept one ear on Koharu's rant (he couldn't quite call it speech), his thoughts turned to what had occurred just this morning.
Chilly winds were enthusiastically chasing around dried brown leaves. Autumn had once again come to Konoha and turned the forest hiding the village cheerful shades of yellows and reds. One little boy was sitting on a low branch, enjoying the contrast the bright colors of the leaves made against grey-blue cloudy sky, while trying in vain to forget the cold his frayed white T-shirt was doing an insufficient job of keeping out.
Blue eyes scanned the village below. From his position near the top of the Hokage monument it seemed so small, like it was built entirely of dollhouses, and its inhabitants resembled ants. He loved this view. He couldn't see their eyes from here. And they couldn't see him.
Only a handful of people were out and going about their business, since the sun has just risen. Soon the streets will fill with the usual hustle and bustle of life, but so far only few merchants preparing for the day and shinobi going about their morning training routines could be seen.
"Hey, brat!" Oh, let's not forget the last couple of yesterday's drunkards, who had yet to stumble into their homes.
The boy startled and almost fell off his sitting place, but then quickly flattened himself against the tree trunk. Wide eyes quickly darted left and right from under messy yellow bangs. For a moment he hoped, that the two clearly inebriated men were speaking to someone else, but that hope was immediately squashed, as the pair unsteadily approached him.
He quickly went through his options. There weren't many of them.
Jump down and run? Though his branch was one of the lowest in the tree, it still was high enough for him to injure himself upon landing.
Climb down slowly? It didn't seem possible to make it in time, the men were already too close.
Stay where he was and hope they just came to wish him good morning? That didn't sound too likely. Especially when he took into consideration the expressions on their faces. He had seen such before and he got the chills every time he recalled those occasions.
He took the only remaining option. He started climbing upwards, small hands and feet finding enough purchase on the rough bark, trying desperately to get lost among the still thick leaves.
"Don't run, we just want to play," shouted one of the drunkards. 'Like I believe you,' thought Naruto. He had more than enough experiences with their kind. He didn't even look down, concentrating instead on his escape. "Hey, what are you doing, are you a fox or a squirrel?" He certainly wished he could turn into one.
"Come down, or we'll come for you," added his companion, a bulky man with dirty receding hair. He was treated to exactly the same response.
"Don't you make us angry, or else," threatened the first one, tall and lanky. By that time the boy disappeared among the branches. But then Naruto stepped on a thin branch, shaking it so an old bird's nest fell of and landed between the pair.
"Okay, demon, you asked for it," proclaimed the other one, and started for the trunk. "You shouldn't make fun of your betters." Naruto sped up his frantic ascent. When people started calling him that, it always meant bad news. He didn't exactly know why people insisted on treating him the way they did, but after being called nine-tail brat for about a hundred times he was beginning to get a vague idea. Despite what many people claimed, he wasn't a complete moron. Now if he could just figure out, what exactly had he to do with the fearsome demon, but he had nobody to ask. And the old man with the funny hat refused to answer him, always changing the subject instead.
The bulky man attempted to climb, but the level of alcohol in his bloodstream prevented him from succeeding. He picked himself from the ground, rubbing his sore backside. "Now you've done it, you beast," he snarled. He took a few steps back and then ran towards the tree, slamming into the trunk. The branch Naruto was just reaching for shook and he lost his hold. He tried to grab it again, but he lost his balance and started plummeting towards the ground. He tried to get hold on another one, but only hurt his fingers. The ground was approaching fast and he had no means to stop his fall. He closed his eyes.
He hit something hard. It hurt like he just broke his ribs, but he didn't hear anything snap. 'Just be thankful for small mercies,' he thought before ricocheting of whatever he hit and landing on the ground. He rolled a few times in the grass before coming to a stop. He opened his eyes warily.
"You bastard!" If they were angry before, now they sounded furious. "You hit Menma!" Ah, so that's what almost cracked his ribs. The fat man, who was apparently named Menma, was lying on the ground moaning and clutching his head, while the taller one was slowly making his way towards the downed boy.
Naruto didn't wait for anything, shakily climbed to his legs, all the while biting his lips to prevent himself from crying out in pain, and started off as fast as his wobbly short legs could carry him. He was quite fast for his age, lot of practice tends to have that effect, but unfortunately it wasn't fast enough. Rage seemed to have sobered up his pursuer and he quickly caught up with him.
Naruto felt a hand roughly grab him by his neck and lift him off his feet. He kicked wildly in panic. He felt his heel connect with something soft.
"Oooooh!" The hand holding him let go. He resumed running upon touching the ground. "You'll pay for this," promised his attacker. Naruto just ran.
Just like the last time, he didn't get far. Soon the hands were back grabbing him and this time his captor was wary of his frantically kicking feet.
"So, what are we going to do first, Menma," he asked his companion, who had finally regained his bearings.
"Hmmm," started the fat man thoughtfully rubbing his chin. "I say we hit him on the head, so he knows what is it like, when a stupid little demon runt jumps on yours."
"Don't be stupid," chided the other one. "You'll just knock him out and what would be the fun of this?"
"You're right, Kaji. We definitely cannot have that. So we just have to hit him somewhere else!"
"Now that's what I call an idea," grinned Menma evilly. "So, runt, you heard us. What say you, where should I hit first?" Naruto didn't bother to answer. The man didn't sound interested in his opinion anyway. "No suggestions? Pity. So let's just start…here." Naruto barely registered the last word, because pain just exploded in his already bruised ribs and his breath left him in a silent scream.
"Why so quiet," asked Menma while Naruto was desperately forcing his lungs to start working again. "I think we just have to teach this little bird to sing." He punched Naruto again. A small sigh was all that passed the boys lips.
"Not good enough," commented Kaji. "We'll have to continue the lesson." Two fists at once impacted on Naruto's ribcage. They robbed him of his breath just when he finally found it again.
"It seems this one requires a lot of tutoring."
"Yeah, he is pretty slow." All the while blows rained on their helpless little victim. He stopped struggling after a while, they held him securely. They eventually stopped. By the time Naruto felt like his whole body turned black and blue.
"So, little bird, how about singing now," asked Kaji. Naruto just hung limply in his grip. "Answer," he commanded and grabbed the boy's chin forcing him to face him. Something snapped inside Naruto and he bit into his captor's palm. Hard. His mouth filled with the salty taste of blood as his elongated canines broke Kaji's skin.
"He bit me," said the man like he couldn't believe, what just happened. "That fucking little shit just bit me!" Naruto cringed. He knew that now he was really in for it. He expected another punch, but instead the man just leaned closer to him.
"So the little bird can peck, but singing isn't his forte. I wonder how good he is at flying?" The proclamation was accompanied with such a sinister smile, that it nearly made Naruto's blood freeze. The occasional thrashings he could handle, he always recovered fast, but this went far beyond anything that had happened before.
"Let's try it out then," suggested Menma. They started walking leisurely towards the edge of the cliff.
Naruto was panicking. He began thrashing left and right, ignoring the pain in his abused little body, hands and feet lashing in every direction, but the rough hands held him fast. In front of him the panorama of Konohagakure no Sato was slowly revealing itself. Even now he couldn't help but admire its serene beauty. It occurred to him, that he should be more focused on trying to get away than admiring the landscape, but this was probably going to be the last time ever he could see it.
No! Something inside him woke up. I won't die here! I just cannot! He had felt like that before, just never so strongly.
They were already almost at the edge. Just a couple more steps and… He had no idea how, but he found the strength for one last desperate effort.
He wildly swung his body forward and than backward. His feet hit. His captor fell. He took off in a mad dash. Or at least attempted to. Strong finger closing around his ankle prevented him from getting far. He fell flat on his face. He kicked madly and managed to free his feet. Some little corner of his mind that wasn't crazy with fear took notice of the fact, that it was too easy. He scrambled to his feet, but the other one reached him. He just felt the fist aiming at the back of his head, even though he couldn't see it. With a speed he didn't know he possessed he half turned and struck at his attacker. There was a strange squelching sound. Then the fat assailant toppled backwards.
Naruto observed it with a sense of detached amazement. Had he really done this? The pain that had been bothering him so much just a few short moments before had somehow disappeared without him even noticing. He lifted his hand to inspect it. He didn't have much time for introspection. Kaji launched himself at him, screaming incoherently.
Naruto was operating on pure instinct, but it seemed to be somebody else's one. Instead of fleeing, he stood his ground. He punched the approaching man with all his might. He wasn't even surprised, when the attacker flew back. A part of his mind pointed out that there was no way it just happened, but nobody was paying it any attention.
The flying body reached the edge of the cliff. It seemed to have stopped, but then it started slowly sliding down.
"Kaji!" screamed the fat man and quickly reached for his comrade's hand.
Naruto's natural instincts finally took over. He turned around and flew. Behind he could hear the sounds of a man struggling to keep hold on a heavy burden followed by a high scream. He ran faster. He barely could hear the voice calling down all possible curses on his head over the sound of wind rushing past his ears.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Back in Council chamber~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Now you can surely see, just why is the monster so dangerous, Hokage-sama," finished the wizened councilmember.
"Well excuse me, but I still don't see it," answered Sarutobi evenly. "Uzumaki Naruto was just defending himself."
"But those red eyes…" started the old merchant, but the Hokage cut him off.
"Reported only by the true culprit of the crime. Surely you aren't going to believe anything a criminal makes up to earn himself a lighter sentence or even a pardon."
"You are forgetting the tainted chakra," added a self-righteous voice. "One of my clansmen was just nearby and felt it perfectly clearly."
"Is that so, Fugaku," asked Sarutobi. "When he was so close, why hadn't he heard the cries of a beaten child and intervened?"
"He wasn't that close," the head of the Uchiha clan clarified. "Not until the end."
"If you say so," replied the Hokage.
"What are you implying," asked Fugaku.
"Nothing," answered Sarutobi. "Should I have been implying something?"
"Of course not."
"Shouldn't we return to the matter at hand," suggested Inuzuka Tsume. "Not everybody here has a whole day for this."
"She is right," agreed Akimichi Chouza. "This could have been wrapped up an hour ago."
"Troublesome," muttered Nara Shikaku, but everybody ignored him.
"Yes, let's just finish it," said Satoru, one of the civilian councilmembers, enthusiastically. "So how are you going to punish the brat?"
"As I already said, I…" started Sarutobi, but Satoru cut him off.
"You can't let him get away with it! He killed one of our people!"
"Merely injured," corrected Sarutobi. "Kitahama Kaji survived his fall."
"Does it really count? He's been comatose since they picked him from the Nidaime's head. The medics say he would never fully recover."
"You seem to be forgetting who is the culprit and who the injured party," pointed out the old village leader.
"It doesn't really matter," Fugaku made his opinion known. "What matters is that the boy used Its power. Today it had been only two drunkards, but who would it be tomorrow?" He let his words echo through the chamber.
"Very true," nodded Satoru. "He mustn't be allowed to think he can get away with it."
"That power cannot be left uncontrolled," proclaimed Danzo. "We must…"
"I know your opinion on the matter, Danzo," the Hokage cut his rival off. "My answer hasn't changed." Danzo's single eyes shot him an unfriendly look.
"Still, we can't just let it slide," someone said.
"And what's worse, this might mean the seal isn't sufficiently holding the demon's power back," Homura added his two bits.
"The seal was done by the greatest sealmaster to ever live," Sarutobi reminded them. "Do you doubt the Yondaime's masterpiece?"
"He was in a hurry," Koharu pointed out. "It's all too easy to make mistakes under such kind of pressure."
"Both I and Jiraiya had examined the seal and neither of us found any weaknesses," Sarutobi reassured them.
"But one can never be too sure," Homura said.
"What can we ever be really sure about," the Hokage replied philosophically.
"So we have to make sure he never hurts anyone again," Satoru suggested. Sarutobi suppressed the brief urge to throttle him.
"We'll do no such thing," he stated.
"Than we will be forced to take necessary actions ourselves, since you don't seem to be willing to do what has to be done," Fugaku declared.
"Are you questioning my authority," the Hokage hissed dangerously. The temperature in the room seemed to have dropped several degrees. All the agitated councilors went suddenly very still. Even the Uchiha clan head squirmed uncomfortably under the aged leader's gaze. It took him a moment to gather the courage needed to speak.
"Forgive me, Hokage-sama, I was out of my place. I merely wanted to suggest the right course of action, and got carried away." He didn't sound repentant enough when he said it. "It is just my duty as an advisor to help my leader make the right decision, when he is hesitant."
"That's it, Uchiha-san," Sarutobi spoke icily. "You might give your advice, but you cannot make me accept it, if I don't deem it sound. Understood?" The clan leader nodded submissively, but the fires of defiance in his eyes burned brightly. It had become quite a common occurrence lately. Sarutobi frowned. This wasn't good at all. He'd have to look into it later, now he had a more pressing issue to deal with.
"Troublesome," the Nara clan head sighed. "Before this degenerates into a fight, can I suggest a solution I'm confident everybody will find acceptable?"
"Please speak up, Shikaku," said the Hokage. He was relieved that somebody turned the discussion away from the uncomfortable topic of Fugaku's loyalty and was curious to hear what the tactical genius had come up with.
"As I see it, there are two valid points. First: it was Uzumaki who was attacked and therefore can't be held responsible for merely defending himself. Second: some of the Kyuubi's chakra briefly leaked through the seal. While I have total faith in the Yondaime's work, I understand that not everybody can lay their worries to rest that easily. So I suggest we place Uzumaki with a guardian, who would be able to suppress the demon's power in the unlikely case it started leaking out again."
"That sounds all very nice," commented Satoru, "But where are you going to find one? It's not like people with such power just grow on trees. In fact, there haven't been one since the death of the First Hokage."
"Actually, there is one," corrected Shikaku. He looked at Sarutobi asking for permission to continue. The Hokage nodded slightly. He already caught on what Shikaku was proposing and he liked it, certainly more than any of the other suggestions. "You all know why Orochimaru had to flee the village," started the Nara. Some of the occupants of the room shuddered at the memory. Even after seven years the treason was still a raw wound. "Do you know exactly what experiment did he conduct before being found out?" The few recently instated members shook their heads. They knew the Snake Sannin worked with humans, most of whom have died, but that was the extent of their knowledge. "He tried to recreate the Shodai's Mokuton bloodline. He was successful." A startled gasp could be heard. "Although most of his subjects have died during the procedure, one of them has survived and gained the ability. He is now a shinobi of Konoha with a spotless record, if I'm not mistaken. I suggest we put Uzumaki into his care, he should be able to prevent any future incidents like this from occurring."
For a moment, the room was silent.
"Isn't he too young for this sort of responsibility," asked the Kurama clan head.
"No, he's almost all grown now and mature for his age."
"Would he really be able to keep the beast contained," one of the civilians on the council still wasn't convinced.
"The Shodai was able to keep around many great Bijuu as if they were nothing more than household pets, this young man would have no problem suppressing a little of overflowing chakra." The Professor's confident tone seemed to have done the job. There was some more discontent muttering, but eventually everybody agreed, that this was indeed the best solution.
"It is decided then," declared Sarutobi. "Uzumaki Naruto will be placed into the care of Tenzo."
At the same time the Council was discussing a young boy's fate, a young man had just closed the door of his temporary room quietly, removed his cat-faced mask, kicked of his sandals and plopped himself on the bed. He didn't have the energy to undress or even go to his regular apartment. He just wanted to rest, but despite closing his eyes even sooner than his head hit the pillow, sleep eluded him. Instead his thoughts took him back to the latest mission.
He had no idea where exactly did it go wrong. The moment he first noticed something wasn't as planned things were already in hell. They were surrounded and outnumbered and had to make a desperate break for it. There was no thought of trying to complete the mission; it had been an obvious setup. He would bet an S-rank pay that their target was never even there.
In the end only two of them have been able to get away and Tenzo had to carry his companion for the second part of the journey back. He had just dumped his teammate at the hospital and went to give his report to the commander. That man's gaze made him feel like he was personally responsible for the debacle.
Why did he join the ANBU anyway? The pay certainly wasn't worth it. The excitement, perhaps? No, that wasn't it either. Those cool masks? Ah, that was more like it. He loved the anonymity of it. When he donned it, nobody could recognize him. Nobody could look at him with those eyes. Nobody knew that he was a freak.
Just as he was finally about to drift off to sleep, a sharp knock on the door brought him back to wakefulness. "Are you there, Cat?" When Tenzo confirmed, the voice continued. "You are summoned by the Hokage."
Yes, some days Tenzo really had no idea, why he had joined ANBU at all.
Tenzo couldn't believe his ears when he heard what the Hokage wanted him to do. Him taking care of a child? He was the freak, he was never allowed anywhere near children. He was positive he would never get into consideration for prospective jounin-sensei. He came to understand it shortly after he had been rescued from Orochimaru's lab. And now they wanted him to take care of a four-year-old boy, no matter which one? He was good only for undertaking dangerous missions, until one day he didn't come back. The world must be coming to its end. Yet he felt oddly touched.
"Are you sure, Hokage-sama?" He didn't even know anything about childcare.
"Yes," the Third nodded. "It is the best solution."
'I wonder, what the other solutions are,' Tenzo thought but refrained from saying it aloud. He still didn't want to do it. But then… didn't he wonder what he was even doing in ANBU less than an hour earlier? A change of pace would be nice. He was already getting tired of the blood.
"I'll do it then."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Later that day~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Naruto was alone in his apartment. He had lived on his own ever since the orphanage had decided they didn't want anything to do with him and kicked him on the streets last year. He ha spent a week alone, hunting for scraps to eat, before the old man came and gave him this place. It wasn't anything fancy, but at least it had four walls and a roof that didn't leak too much.
He was currently at the sink, rubbing his clothes with soap, trying to remove the stains of blood and grass he had acquired earlier. The public laundry wash in the next street outright refused to serve him, claiming his dirty rags would just contaminate decent people's garments.
He sighed to himself. The laundry owner's attitude was quite common in the village. It made getting anything a challenge, but he was managing.
His musings were cut short by a soft knock on the door. He froze. Visitors were usually bad news. But then – bad news visitors seldom knocked. He jumped down from the stool he had been standing on and went cautiously to the door.
"Are you there, Naruto?" a voice from the other side inquired. The boy's face lit up with a smile.
"Old man!" He opened the door.
"Hello, Naruto," the Hokage smiled.
"Hello," started the boy, but than noted another man standing behind Sarutobi. He eyed the stranger warily.
"May we come in," the old village leader asked.
"Sure," Naruto nodded. The two visitors walked into what he passed as living room. "So, what are you here for," he asked cautiously.
"Say, Naruto, how would you like to live with someone?"
Tenzo watched the boy instantly go on guard. Big blue eyes flickered his direction. He tried to smile reassuringly, but he had no experience dealing with young children. It came out pretty lame. The boy didn't seem reassured at all. Just why did he agree to this? Must have been the sleep deprivation.
"Is it this man," Naruto guessed.
"Yes, Naruto," the Hokage confirmed. "This is Tenzo."
"Hello, pleased to meet you," he attempted a warm greeting.
"Hello," the boy replied halfheartedly. The boy's eyes were still bearing into him with a cautious look. He knew such eyes. He saw them often enough. Usually in the mirror.
It had been hard for him after he was freed from his torment. People kept watching him warily. What was he after whatever the traitor had done to him? Can he be trusted? Won't he just turn on us when we drop our guard? He wanted to reach to the friends he used to have before his ordeal, but they have grown distant. Even they couldn't stand to get close to him anymore. It had hurt. In a way, it hurt even more than Orochimaru's procedures. And the pain never quite went away. For a while, he tried to connect with a fellow survivor of the Snake Sannin's treachery, but it didn't work. She was just too different from him. So he had been mostly alone ever since.
Yet now, when he looked into the little boy's eyes, he felt like he just found a kindred spirit. So maybe this wasn't such a bad idea after all.
For Naruto's part, he didn't trust the stranger he was told would become his new guardian. When he had lived in the orphanage, many people came through and took out other kids becoming their guardians or even legal parents. But they never even considered him. Only one did. Naruto tried not to thing about that time. He was actually happy to land back in the orphanage two months later. So he wasn't thrilled to go with this stranger.
But than Tenzo smiled and it had been a real, kind smile. Naruto rarely saw such aimed his way. He smiled back. He dared to hope that things were actually starting to look up.
End of chapter one. I hope it wasn't lame.
Next time: Naruto is settling with Tenzo and growing up.