AN: Just to clarify, Naruto is almost fifteen in this fiction. It always surprises me that no one in cannon questions the fact that Naruto failed the genin exam twice, and so took it before his teammates, and yet is younger than most of the rookie nine. Never made sense to me. Also, the Spirits will be getting a lot more explanation in the coming chapters now that the Wave Arc is done with; and I'm gonna go a little light on the AC content. It's a seasoning, not the main course. Onward!
Dull voices managed to thud their way through the darkness that enveloped his senses. The owner of those senses was somewhere soft, wrapped in cool material that slid under and over his bare arms and legs. He was about to drift back from his momentary awareness when a word made itself understood to his ears. Gato. Blue eyes flickered open, dazedly trying to identify his location. He was in a bed, that much was obvious, dressed in only his black boxers. The roof was wooden, old, slightly discoloured and warped. The air smelt of water and rice and alcohol.
"Tazuna's house," Naruto thought to himself, "Great. Means I've been out for a while." As he got dressed from his, thankfully at hand, backpack he let the memories of his fight on the bridge float to the front of his mind. The smell of blood and the colour red were prominent. Sighing, Naruto finished checking the straps that held his throwing knives. Though most ninja eschewed them because bulkier kunai or shuriken could do the same jobs as the knives, Naruto preferred them because he could pack fifty of the double-ended blades on his person and so had a rain of metal at his fingertips. After performing a quick recheck of his kit Naruto headed downstairs, where the voices that had awoken him had come from.
Kakashi, Sakura, Sasuke, and Yoshimori were sitting around the main table in the Tazuna Household; evidently talking about what had happened on the bridge.
"We need to wait for Naruto to wake up. The Hokage sent him as our backup and so he is to be a part of the decisions. That's final." Naruto chose that moment to clear his throat. Kakashi turned around and smiled through his mask.
"Ah, you're up sooner than I expected. How's your stomach?" Naruto took the question to inquire as to how his seal was holding up.
"Fine; what's going on in here?" While Naruto had questions about the events during the fight as well, about the fox's chakra, he figured those were best left to a time when he could ask it directly and in private.
"I was informing the team that, with Zabuza and Gato dead, we should be heading home soon. Tazuna shouldn't have any trouble with the bridge now; in fact the entire village is celebrating in the square over your triumph." Kakashi smiled smugly. "I even hear they're going to call it 'The Great Naruto Bridge' in your honour."
Naruto raised his brow in surprise. "Really?"
"You better believe it, man." Yoshimori looked up from his cup of tea. "They've got it carved into one end of the bridge already."
Naruto blinked, surprised, but before he could voice his confusion at the apparent celebration Kakashi spoke up again. "And… Well, I was about to tell the team about those pesky mercenary camps north of the village."
There was a crash in the doorway leading to the kitchen; Naruto and the other ninja turned to see Tsunami holding a hand over her mouth with an overturned pot of fresh tea at her feet, slowly spreading across the floor.
Naruto and the four comprising Team Seven were standing around the dinner table sans dinner and with a map spread out along its surface, courtesy of Tazuna. Naruto had just finished marking and describing, as best he could, the locations of the two encampments he had discovered on his first day in Nami no Kuni.
"Long story short is that we've two big boats in the north harbour and some kind of garrison out here. I didn't visit the garrison, but the gist that I got from the talk on the barge was that there were more men there than on the water; most of these guys are new hires, get seasick." Naruto gestured helplessly to Kakashi. "What's the call, taichou?"
Kakashi started at the honorific, but so fleetingly that Naruto was sure that the other genin missed it. The masked jonin cradled his chin in thought. He finally asked: "How many men were on the water when you were there?"
Naruto shrugged. "Hard to say. I was only ever on the barge, not Gato's ship. I'd guess about one hundred fifty, maybe two hundred. I can say that many of the men that came to the bridge were from the water; I recognised a lot of their faces." Kakashi nodded.
"There were three hundred bodies on the bridge when I went back to clean up this morning, give or take." Sakura and Yoshimori looked a little green at the thought of so many bodies; Sasuke paled a bit but otherwise didn't react. Kakashi continued.
"In war, you only set up a proper land operation if you have need of it. That there's a garrison at all suggests that there are far more men than the barge could support for any real length of time. Most of the resistance will be there; probably."
"So, what's the plan?" Kakashi was silent for several minutes.
"Are you okay with ending a few more lives?" The question caught Naruto off-guard; no one had asked how he had felt after defeating Mizuki after the man's defection. Then again, Naruto hadn't killed the chunin. Now that Naruto thought about it, the fact that he had killed didn't bother him so much as the fact that he hadn't been properly in control of himself at the time. Naruto nodded.
"I think I can handle it." Kakashi smiled at the blonde before clapping him on the shoulder and giving him a bracing shake.
"Okay. I want Sakura, Sasuke, and Yoshi to guard the village. We're going to warn the villagers that no one should be outside after dusk. You three are going to make sure that no opportunistic mercs get into the town, do whatever it takes to stop them if any show up." After receiving confirmation of his orders Kakashi pointed back toward the map.
"I'm going to take out the garrison; shouldn't be too difficult for me." He eye-smiled while holding the victory sign with his fingers.
"Naruto, you deal with the men on the boats. You've been there before; you know the general layout and how to get in already. I want you to take everyone there out, I don't really care how so long as it doesn't draw attention to yourself or make the thugs flee in every direction." Kakashi gave the blonde a pointed look that Naruto understood too well: no unleashing the Kyubi. Naruto nodded.
"Good. Your secondary objective is to poke around Gato's private boat. Find anything worth stealing and seal it into a scroll or two. Do you have any empty ones?" At Naruto's presentation of two scrolls full of empty sealing spaces and a raised eyebrow, Kakashi chuckled. "Right, sorry. Forgot.. With any luck he'll have had something valuable in there, and the thugs haven't wrecked anything too badly." Kakashi looked down over the map and clapped his hands.
"Alright, get your kits ready: we're in for a long night."
Naruto took his time heading towards the docks, passing on the ground through bushes and trees. Kakashi had determined that midnight was the time to strike and he had a few hours to set up. As he walked, careful not to trip over any roots or rocks, Naruto sent a questioning probe to the spirit sealed within him. The reply was prompt, though the beast's thoughts felt lethargic, seemingly spent from the previous day.
"You wish to know what occurred when you called on my powers, do you not?" Naruto gave a flickering thought of confirmation.
"Simply put, the instincts of your flesh overpowered the teachings of your morality." Naruto's brow furrowed.
"I don't understand." The shinobi felt a sigh from the fox.
"Your body has instinct and priorities that are separate from your mind. It wants to eat, sleep, fornicate; but the most powerful of these impulses is the drive to ensure its own survival. Normal humans can suppress and control these urges fairly well for those still bound to blood and bone, but we are different; our sealing partially separated your mind and soul from your flesh. When my power flooded your body, your baser drives and motivations were brought to the fore." Naruto received an image of an unnatural beast, snarling through large fangs and prowling an enclosure made of red fire.
"It the throes of your rage, your body would have killed everything around it to ensure its own existence. I channelled that anger by granting your flesh a portion of my own awareness and motivations, resulting in the vengeance that you meted out."
Naruto cleared a small hillock and saw the lights of the docks ahead; he settled against a tree to wait for midnight. "Why was my body so fixated on killing instead of running?"
There was a deep silence in the blonde's mind, the fox began to drift back into slumber. Just before its consciousness faded, it answered. "Because that is the way of humans."
A black-haired muscled man made a show of shoving others out of his path towards the travel barge that had become a sort of bunk-boat for both himself and his compatriots. Wood creaked under his feet and cries of dismay were heard as the brute helped himself to any exposed food or drink, to the detriment of the original owners. A captured and loosely bound wench was torn from the fumbling grasps of a drunken mercenary and thrown over a shoulder before he descended into the bowels of the ship. The Bear, as he was called, had taken a large storage space at the bottom fore as his own personal space; furnished sparsely though it was with only a mattress and two boxes, the room stank of his scent. The Bear placed the woman on the thin mattress before pulling at his shirt. Halfway through, with his head still covered, the Bear collapsed with a sigh. Standing just behind where his target had stood was a ninja. Tall and in black, his blue eyes the only thing uncovered.
The woman opened her mouth to scream, but found a hand pressed to her lips; stifling her cries. A low voice came to her. "When you hear no more movement, wait another hour before leaving. Stay in this room and you will not be harmed."
Her lungs burned from the lack of oxygen. She nodded once, desperate for air. When the hand had been removed from her mouth, when she had finally looked up from her deep gasping breaths, he was gone.
Naruto moved from shadowed corner to corner on the lower decks, killing the drunk or sleeping men room by room with an uncanny silence and speed. He noted that several compartments held multiple bunks but had only one, if any, occupant. Rationalising that the missing men had either been on the bridge or moved into the now vacant merchant ship nearby, Naruto pressed on.
The ship had three levels: the hold, the quarterdeck, and the main deck. The hold he had cleared: it had only been two sections with the one bear of a man. The quarterdeck had been more challenging, but not unduly so. The main deck, though, was exposed to any watchful eyes on the shore or the other ship; he didn't relish the thought of being caught by several dozen men in a brawl. Naruto exited the ship through the smoke pipe in the kitchen. He emerged slowly, casting his eyes about for any sign of movement.
There was none. The campfires had been extinguished, and no one was moving to relight them. Several uneven lumps were scattered around the main deck and the docks: still bodies, unbreathing. Naruto pulled himself along the side of the ship, as a large spider might, and pulled himself up to inspect one of the bodies. He nearly missed them. Two small holes were in the man's neck, slightly colder than the surrounding air. It was the same for the second man he checked.
Naruto pulled out a longer-than-normal kunai and palmed a throwing knife. The gangplank groaned as he stepped down slowly, avoiding the bodies laying about. The only lights from the surrounding area were drawing the blonde ninja like a moth to flame: Gato's own ship still possessed lit windows. More guards, dead. Naruto stepped down into the quarterdeck slowly, silence pressing in on his ears before a slight *thump* from below grabbed his attention. Naruto slid to the staircase and cautiously descended. Four men were on the floor, two captive women as well. Naruto checked their pulses alive; but unconscious. The women that was; the men were quite as dead as their companions above. Like the other ship, this hold was divided into two sections. A door beckoned.
Naruto heeded its call, opening the door slowly, thanking the gods that it didn't squeak. A slim figure in a familiar blue-green kimono stood facing the body of a man she had obviously just killed.
Haku turned and smiled, wearing no mask. "Naruto-sama; I have been expecting you."
Naruto did not loosen his grip on his weapons; even if the unexpected respect caught him by surprise. "Oh?"
"I followed you here, I saw that you might require aid." Naruto still stood motionless, at the ready, but coked his head slightly to the side.
"And why would you help me?" The young woman's smile did not falter, her hands did not shake, here eyes showed no deception.
"Because before he passed, Zabuza-sama asked me to follow you instead of following him into yomi."
The sounds of slaughter were in the air. Shouting and the clanging of metal, the pitter-patter of blood hitting stone, the snapping of bone and the squelching of meat. Haku had retreated to her master's side once the empowered blonde had begun his rampage, pulling the giant cleaver closer to its owner. She muttered under her breath, half-sobbing: "Gomenasai, Zabuza-sama. I've failed you, I failed to protect you, I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
She rocked back and forth, cold tears streamed down her face as she apologised again and again to the one who had pulled her out of the gutters and given her a true life. Zabuza groaned when she grasped his half-mangled wrist. She gasped and broke a shaky smile. "Zabuza-sama! You're alive! Let me-"
Before she could begin to move, the mist nin began to cough blood; staining his chin and neck. He chuckled hoarsely. "No, don't bother. I'm dead; my soul just hasn't been collected yet."
The fearsome man let his head fall sideways to watch the Konoha genin leap from one victim to the next, always moving, slashing, crushing. "It's beautiful, isn't it?" Haku said nothing, silently disagreeing.
"Hah," he winced, "you're too young to understand. He's magnificent. Able to call up all of the primal urges, all of our rage and wrath that is our legacy as humans, and then guide it! Hah!" More coughs wracked his frame. "You don't even feel his bloodlust anymore, do you Haku?"
She blinked then realised that, indeed, the foul and oppressive aura had nearly disappeared. "How could someone control so much malice, so much fear?"
She had been travelling with Zabuza for ten years, since she had been five, and in all of that time she had never felt her master exert such control over the power of fear. It had either been there, or not, and no one person was ever spared, could be spared, unless they were far, far away. Zabuza shuddered as he resisted the urge to expectorate even more.
"Any, anyone who can wield that kind of power without descending into madness, without turning on their comrades, that person would be one… one of a kind." Haku looked down as her master's voice began to grow fainter.
"Haku, follow that ninja. Protect him, because one day he will be great and being as, *cough,* as he is now he'll protect you forever." The nuke nin's eyes began to cloud over. The slaughter had finished, the perpetrator knelt and gazed at the sky as it began to rain down, as though to wash the young warrior of the blood covering his body.
"I can feel his strength. Give him… give him my sword. Follow him. Anyone that favoured by the gods, they will lead you to happiness." Zabuza let out a final sigh before his arm went slack and his neck loosened; a small smile on his face as his eyes closed. Haku sobbed once before she reached out to where she had dragged the giant blade, grasped it, then disappeared over the edge of the bridge.
Naruto stood, mouth agape under his mask, dumbfounded; whenever he thought back on the few moments he had been overtaken by the power of the Kyubi, never had he even considered that he could have appeared in anything but a negative light. Now, amidst the bodies of mercenaries that had been killed to aid him and facing the open face of the girl, Naruto wasn't so sure. He lowered the knives. "Well, if you feel that way… come on then."
Haku beamed and nodded. "My taichou told me to kill everyone aboard and steal anything of value Gato had here. His cabin's aft?"
Another nod. "Alright then."
The duo crept back up to the main deck and made their way toward the back of the ship where the entrance to a two-deck captain's cabin awaited. Within a few moments Naruto had picked the lock and the two entered a luxurious receiving room; complete with fixed tables and cabinets of high quality. Brass candelabras and illuminated screens lit the room. Naruto inspected each of the minor paintings on the walls while Haku investigated a large desk just before the large aft window.
"I've found nothing here save a few letters, Naruto-sama." The blonde ninja sealed away the letters, shaking off the novelty of someone referring to him as 'sama.'
"Below then." Down a small flight of steps lay the bedroom of the late Gato, complete with bed, wardrobe, and large hairy mercenary passed out drunk on the floor. Naruto wrinkled his nose at the man's smell before severing his spine. Haku had begun testing the wardrobe, searching for false panels or compartments. Naruto checked under the bed and found a small safe about thirty centimetres high and twice that wide. Grinning, the blonde latched onto the safe with chakra and pulled mightily. He nearly dislocated his arm for the trouble. Scowling, he flipped the mattress off of its frame and waved Haku over; they looked down on the door, only a small keyhole was visible. Naruto swore.
"Damn! That thing's too small for my lockpicks and I can't seal it away for later: too big." Haku tilted her head, a small frown on her face. She knelt before the safe and extended a hand. As Naruto watched water began to condense on her hand and flow toward the tip of her index finger, which she then placed over the keyhole. She waited a moment before twisting her hand ninety degrees, producing a small *click.* Haku smiled before stepping back and bowing respectfully. Naruto looked between the safe and his ally with raised eyebrows.
"Well, that's useful." Haku just smiled at the praise. Naruto shrugged before opening the safe. Upon doing so, he was nearly in danger of suffocating because the sight of gold and silver bars was enough to steal his breath; behind him, Haku gasped. Naruto stayed there a few moments more before shaking his head violently and retrieving one of his scrolls. A few deft movements and the precious metals were safely sealed away.
"I think that counts as 'everything valuable,' don't you?" Haku nodded. The pair emerged from the ship to the light of the moon, three-quarters full. Naruto's head began to buzz and he could have sworn that a soft pipe was being played; the disturbance ended in the next few moments. Naruto shook his head to clear it. Seeing the bodies of thugs arrayed over the docks the blonde had to ask: "Did you kill all of them?"
"Yes, Naruto-sama." The pale girl followed her statement with a slight pout, as though to ask if she had done something wrong. Naruto sighed.
"It's alright. I just need to find some way to get rid of the bodies." The blonde ninja formed a seal with his fingers before Haku could apologise, creating a veritable army of clones; at least two for each slain man. The doppelgangers immediately went to work: those who had manifested on Gato's ship went inside to retrieve the bodies of the dead men and sleeping women, the others began piling the rest of the corpses after rifling through clothes for anything valuable. Haku stared with wide eyes at the mass of clones and Naruto chuckled.
"C'mon. We've some ground to cover and some explaining to do to my taichou. Ought to be interesting."
It took several tense minutes of discussion and questioning, but Kakashi had eventually consented to allowing Haku to return to Konoha with Naruto "…so long as proper immigratory kekkei genkai procedures," were followed. That morning the jonin had explained what to expect upon return to the village as he wrote out a missive for the Hokage.
"When you arrive at the gates, let the guards know that you have a new blood limit for the Hokage. ANBU will arrive to escort you to one of the larger secure rooms in HQ to await the Hokage's attention; technically you could be made to wait there for months, but considering that this will be the first new bloodline in a very long time I wouldn't worry about that." Kakashi drew an odd symbol on the bottom right corner of the scroll, a circle made of two intertwining curved lines, and sealed it before handing the roll of paper to Naruto.
"Once the Hokage and the Head of Interrogation arrive they'll debrief you both, and then the issue will be brought before the City Counsel. They'll vote on whether to adopt you," he pointed to Haku, "into the village; if they accept you, there'll be quibbling as to who takes charge of you since you will be coming with no clan and no money." Haku stiffened, and Kakashi sighed.
"Because these laws haven't been altered since the village was formed there are certain things that can be done so that you have some say in the outcome." He raised a questioning eyebrow and Haku nodded; the blonde, however, looked a little unsettled at the prospect of facing down the Council. Kakashi chuckled.
"Alright then, here's what you'd need to do…"
Naruto made his farewells to Tazuna and his family the next morning, and laughed along with the old man as Inari declared that he wanted to become a ninja one day. He also gave a temporary goodbye to the other genin, offering a free meal on him once they returned; he was also assured by Kakashi that the jonin would fill in his students on Haku's political situation once Team Seven had left Nami no Kuni.
A few miles outside the village, Haku had met up with Naruto had asked that the pair detour from the road. The forest in the are was lush and green but the ground was wet, almost a bog. He followed the ice-wielder to a small campsite on a spit of dry land, little more than a fire pit with two bedrolls beside it. Zabuza's sword, Kubikiribocho, the Great Cleaving Blade, was leant against a nearby tree; gleaming in the dappled light of the small grove. Naruto grasped the hilt and lifted the blade above his head, admiring the edges of the mighty weapon. "Huh, I thought it would be heavier."
When Naruto voiced his thought to his companion she replied, "Zabuza-sama said that the blade would always be light to those who cannot use it properly."
Naruto frowned. Pulling his arm back, he tried to cut into the trunk of the tree that had served as the sword's stand. The blade barely sank into the bark, little more than the width of a kunai: without any weight behind it, the blade was nearly useless for breaking through armour of any kind, let alone blocking a heavy stroke from an enemy. Naruto sighed before settling into the lotus position and tying a strap through and around the blade. "Well, that just gives me one more thing to learn."
Once the blade had been firmly attached to the blonde nin's back, it had taken only a day's travel to arrive at the great gates of Konoha. Naruto cut quite the imposing figure, dressed all in black and with a large sword in tow, the sunset at his back; this was evident on the gate guards' faces when Naruto handed over the scroll requesting an audience with the Hokage. Within minutes most of Kakashi's assertions had proven true and the pair, Haku and Naruto, found themselves within a plain room with four chairs and a table; though the cyclopean jonin had been wrong about one thing: the Hokage apparently had given this matter his full attention, he had been waiting for them.
Hiruzen looked out from under his large red-and-white hat and smiled. "Naruto-kun, I was happy to hear about your return. Though I must admit that I am a bit surprised that you brought my attention to your arrival by announcing a new bloodline that wishes to join the village. Hello, young lady."
Haku bowed deeply at the waist as the aged man inclined his head. "Take a seat, the both of you. I'm sure that you have quite the story to tell. Naruto, why don't we start with your mission debriefing, hmm? Start once you left the Demon Brothers to Kotetsu and Izumo."
One Day Later...
Naruto fidgeted nervously, tugging at the ends of his sleeves and endlessly adjusting his weapons pouches; Haku stood as his left and a pace behind him awaiting, as was he, the summons from the Council.
The Hokage had gone in a half hour before to introduce the situation to the Councilmen and the information gleaned from the interrogation process. "Speaking of which…"
"Haku, does your head still hurt?" The slightly younger girl shook her head.
"It won't be a problem, Naruto-sama." The blonde frowned: that was not what he had asked. At his expression Haku lowered her head, a bit demurely, and said: "Yes, but not so much as an hour ago. And I expect that I will feel better still in another hour." Naruto smiled. A man with long blonde hair by the name of Inoichi had been present during the debriefing and had verified Haku's claims by means of entering her mind and examining her memories; and while he claimed that his intent was not to cause harm, Haku had been left with a very strong migraine afterwards. Any further conversation was cut off when the massive doors to the council chambers opened, beckoning the pair inside.
The Council Chambers were massive, with a ceiling over thirty feet high and a wide, amphitheatre seating with curved benches that faced the Hokage's seat. A low table stood to the Hokage's left and an aide took down the minutes of each meeting; several of the clan heads and the more wealthy merchants likewise had a scribe at their sides. As previously instructed Naruto and Haku stood to the Fire Shadow's right, maintaining a respectable distance, and awaited acknowledgment of their presence. A tall, pale man with dark hair and pale eyes was the first to do so.
"Hokage-sama, The Hyuga Clan respectfully asks as to why these two been brought before us? Surely we have the information we need to construct offers of citizenship for the young woman in question?" The Hyuga bowed his head toward Haku, so as not to be rude. The Hokage smiled before pulling a sheaf of paper toward himself and glancing over it.
"It seems that the ninja who has brought us this new bloodline, Uzumaki Naruto, has requested that she become his charge, as is his right by our laws." A flurry of whispers rose up at this; several merchants and not a few clans began skimming through documents at their places, looking for the basis of the claim. Hiruzen continued.
"By those laws all that is needed is the willingness of the nin and the prospective ward, an adequate financial standing, and the backing of two shinobi members of this council. Uzumaki-kun?"
Naruto stepped forward. "Honourable council; My name is Uzumaki Naruto. I submit, for your wise review, an assessment of my finances and holdings as well as a transcript of my debriefing with Hokage-sama, which occurred last night."
The blonde nin made several shadow clones, each one carrying a copy of the documents, and each delivered theirs to a separate councilmember and waited to be questioned. From Naruto's perspective, watching as some conversed with his doppelgangers and others simply read the file, the members were rather surprised at this rather unorthodox means of conversation. Naruto handed the only true copy of the reports to the Hokage.
After a half hour of deliberation, during which many of the clones were dismissed by the various councilmembers, four people stood. A man with dark hair and glasses, a tall man with his hair in a pineapple-like hairstyle, the Hyuga, and Inoichi Yamanaka. Inoichi spoke first. "While I am unable to cast my vote for Uzumaki-san, I wish to show my support."
The tall man nodded to Inoichi. "The Nara Clan recognises Yamanaka-san's support and casts its vote behind Uzumaki-san."
"The Aburame Clan would also like to vote in favour of Uzumaki-san." The Hyuga spoke last.
"Honourable Hokage, the Hyuga Clan support's Uzumaki-san's claim. I believe that three supporting clans is sufficient?" Hiruzen nodded and applied his seal to a document before him.
"Indeed it does, Hiashi-san. Let it be known, then, that Mmomochi Haku is now the ward of Uzumaki Naruto and he possesses all of the responsibilities and obligations that such an arrangement entails. Our business is concluded."
Later that day Naruto used some of his savings to move Haku and himself into a larger apartment. The move itself didn't take very long, Naruto not having much to begin with, but afterward he had insisted that they purchase more clothing for Haku; the only sets she owned were her battle-garb and two short pink kimono. After having discovered that, yes, Haku did have the same love of shopping that all females did, even if it was muted somewhat, Naruto flopped into his new bed with a distinct sense of exhaustion and a craving for sleep.
Which explains why he was, understandably, less than pleased to hear a voice crop up in his mind.
"Young one. There has been an… unforeseen matter that has come to hand." Naruto groaned into his pillow before giving the fox his full attention; anything that had it worried was cause for close attention.
"What is it?" Naruto's heart nearly stopped at the answer.
"'It' is me, you little brat, and I want to know why in yomi I'm staring a giant fox in the eye while standing in a kami-forsaken sewer!"