Uzumaki Hoshiko's only memory of her mother was of a cloudless night, the stars shining bright. Mother and daughter had settled in the damp grass, Hinata's warm motherly arms had held her steadily and she had hummed an old lullaby long forgotten by the people of the Fire Country.
Hinata, that night, had promised Hoshiko that soon her father would end the war. Soon there would finally be peace, and Hosiko would be able to live her life to the fullest. It seemed like a dream so far out of reach, but she found herself clinging to it, desiring it. She wanted this peace that she had only seen in books. She wanted to see this ideal world her parents so vigorously fought for.
After her mother's death, Hoshiko lost grasp of the dream. Her father had secluded himself from the world and shut himself in his office. She rarely saw him, and when she did, he smelt of stale Ramen noodles and beer. An anxiety had settled within Hoshiko and she became isolated from the other children. They didn't like her; she was 'weird'. Sometimes, when exposed to certain events, she breathed abnormally and this scared the other children, for they did not understand that she had no control at times over her disorder.
Her therapist constantly reminded her that the only way she would gain control, is if she believed in herself again. But how could she believe in herself if she didn't even believe in the world?
Her life was bleak. She had no friends, and school was spent in solitude, usually in a dark corner where she lost herself in her books. Books were her only friends; her solace. And it was at the age of ten that the bane of her existence had noticed this.
"That is quite a thick book you got there," a voice, feminine, but filled a certain tone of danger, stated. Hoshiko looked up into a pair of eyes so blue, it would put even her father's to shame.
"So?" Hoshiko had asked defiantly. So what if the book was thick?
The woman smiled. At the time, Hoshiko had been too young to understand that the smile wasn't genuine, so she had returned the smile, thinking the woman approved of her endeavour to read a volume so beyond her age.
She did not see the woman again for several years, until she had challenged her father to a duel to the death. Strangely, Naruto had accepted without argument, despite his advisors' word against it. And so her father had met his fate, at the hands of the woman Hoshiko only learned later had been his first lover.
Yamanaka Ino was crowned Hokage, and by some sick twisted mind game, the woman had had the nerve to adopt Hoshiko, effectively pulling her away from the Hyuuga family's grasp and so Hanabi's help and little care vanished into thin air.
Hoshiko's anxiety worsened the years that followed. And that was not all, she started hearing voices, just little whispers, whom she had convinced herself belonged to her mother. Her mother was angry, her mother wanted her to kill Ino, that's what the voices said. And so Hoshiko waited for the moment she would exact her revenge. She endured Ino's abuse, while secretly training, just like her father's relative, Karin, had done.
Finally the day of her revenge had come! It was no secret that Ino's health had deteriorated as the years passed. Her strength was also slipping away, and yet nobody still had the nerve to challenge the Hokage. Most of Ino's rule had been that of tyranny, but there had been moments, acts that she had instilled that made the people fall at her feet and worship them. But Hoshiko was no fool and she was not going to fall for such petty tricks.
She challenged the woman to a duel to the death. She knew Ino would laugh in her face, she knew the woman would tell her; "Go home, little girl."
Instead she was greeted with a tired acceptance. And as Hoshiko drove her blade through Ino's chest, a mere ten minutes into battle, Ino smiled. Hoshiko was already at the age of twenty by this time, and unlike the time when she was a child, she knew this smile was genuine. It was a smile of genuine sadness, filled with such despair, that Hoshiko could not believe it came from Yamanaka Ino's face.
And then, with a single tear slipping from her cheek, Ino embraced her and whispered: "Forgive me, my little songbird."
Those five words marked the end of Hoshiko's sanity. For nothing made sense anymore. Her mother's whispers had faded and was replaced with Ino's whispers instead. Wherever Hoshiko went, Ino followed. But this Ino wasn't cruel, and she never addressed Hoshiko by name. No, this Ino had friends, a Kaguya and a Minato. Children, with hair as blonde as their mother's, and eyes as blue as their father's – her father's blue eyes. The four of them lived together in a large mansion, shared meals together and lived in a world of peace. Peace, the dream she had shared with her mother and never achieved. And as she watched them, she wanted it. She wanted a family, she wanted peace.
The Ino in her head also whispered of darker things, of dimension traveling and expanding the power over invading other minds. Hoshiko had studied the unusual all her life, so she listened and she memorised every word, every sentence. She realised Ino was getting ill, and while she hated the woman, a part of her felt pity for this angelic version of the bane of her existence.
So she studied and found the tiger seal that Ino was missing and inserted it into the equation. Ino's whispers vanished from her mind, and Hoshiko once again was alone, this time in a cell. But she had a new goal in life now. She was going to find a new life for herself, she was going to rewrite her own person. And Uzumaki Ino's Five Dimensions to Heaven was going to be her tool.
But before she could settle in a universe with her mother and father and have her happily ever after, she had one more task to do. It was the first and the last time she visited Yamanaka Ino's grave, where she found a letter enclosed in a box, entitled to her.
It only had a few words.
If you had been my daughter by blood, I never would have treated you the way I did.
Her therapist's mantra echoed through her head as she reread the letter ten times, but the control would not come. She ripped the paper to shreds and in her anger, activated the technique that would bring her freedom. She never expected to come face-to-face with the Ino that had loved her children so dearly.
Ino had tried to reverse the technique, in fear of the consequences. However, the force of it backfired, and Ino was sent spiralling into the wild unknown, exchanging her body with another. Hoshiko ended up stranded in Uzumaki Ino's dimension, alone and with a bump to the head and the link she had to the blond woman severed. She was found by a Shimura Ayaka, who took care of her. For a time, Hoshiko was calm, her previous madness forgotten. With Ayaka's assistance, she was given a home, a job and a history. But Ayaka had ulterior motives, and had threatened Hyuuga Hinata's life if Hoshiko did not brainwash the High Council, and continued to control their actions.
Hoshiko, who had missed her mother more than anything, did as she was told. For even if the woman in this dimension was not her mother, she was still Hinata. And for Hinata, she would do anything.
The bump to her head had addled her memories somewhat, and all she could remember of Ino was that she was angry...and the woman had to pay. Ino had taken something from her, and she wanted it back.
Months passed, and her memory slowly started to return, and with it the unexplainable anger. Hoshiko, now going by the name Astra, made her dislike for Ino, this time a much younger Ino stuck in the body of an older one, quite clear. And as the anger festered, the voices returned and whispered little notions into her ear.
"Why should Ino always get her happy ending?"
"Ino may have asked for forgiveness, but she didn't mean it."
The voices swept over Astra and had completely cut her from reality. She was so lost in the never-ending darkness that she didn't even realise the noise she had heard in the garden would be the downfall of her freedom. The strike to the back of her head effectively knocked her unconscious, and when she came to, she was met by the blank stares of her capturers, her father amongst them. But his presence was not the one that sent her into a wild fit of rage. Ino! Why was it always Ino!? Why couldn't the woman leave her alone?
"Why?" she croaked, her voice hoarse. "Why did you say that, Ino?"
It was at that moment that Uzumaki Hoshiko, who had almost forgotten what her name sounded like on her own lips, realised that what Ino had taken from her was her childhood. Ino had killed her father, adopted her for some unknown reason and abused her. Ino hadn't taken anything physical, and the damage was done. Ino would not be able to give what she had taken back.
"Why did you ask for my forgiveness?" Hoshiko sobbed as she struggled against the ropes that bound her to the chair. "Why did you look at me like you loved me, when I drove a sword through your heart?"
She did not receive a response, and rather it seemed like the group was ignoring her. The medic, a man she did not recognise turned to her father.
"Lord Hokage, please," the medic begged.
Naruto nodded, and motioned for Kurama to untie the ropes that bound Hoshiko to the chair. He did so, and lifted her into his arms with ease. He turned to the medic.
"Where are we taking her?" Kurama asked. The medic gave directions to the fox, and then two of them vanished in puffs of smoke, leaving the rest behind.
Sasuke sighed. "And now we still don't know what it was that she wanted."
"We wouldn't have gotten anything out of her," Naruto responded. "Let the medic take care of her. Let us worry about the High Council."
"Speaking of, what are you planning to do regarding Shimura?" Karin asked. Sasuke glanced at his wife, worry evident on his features, but she just smiled at him. He did not return the smile, but he took her hand in his and squeezed tightly. He was relieved that she was safe and unharmed.
"Are you planning to arrest Shimura?" Sasuke asked. "Because if you are, I'd like the honour of doing it."
Naruto shook his head, which led to the others in the room gaping at him in shock.
"She's a criminal!" Karin argued. "She is guilty of treason, you cannot just let her go. Do not make the same mistakes the Third made with Danzo."
Naruto seemed offended at the comment, because he glared coldly at Karin. She cowered under his intense gaze and shifted her own gaze to her feet.
"You misunderstand, Karin," Ino interrupted. "We do not have proper evidence to arrest her, only your word. Naruto plans to confront her and put her in a situation where she will be forced to admit her crimes."
All eyes turned to Ino in surprise, even Naruto looked shocked that she had already figured out what he was planning. She smiled and shrugged, she knew him, and she knew him well. She also knew that the way he would handle Shimura's case would also be different from what Sasuke and Karin wants.
"That is not a bad idea," Sasuke admitted as he tapped his chin. "How do you plan to do it?"
"I'm calling a High Council meeting," Naruto replied. "The shit's going to hit the fan, figuratively speaking."
Sasuke nodded, but Karin still seemed displeased.
"And...once she's admitted to being guilty?" she demanded.
"She will have a trial," Naruto said.
Sasuke and Karin's expressions both seemed to sour at this admittance. Suigetsu glanced at them nervously, feeling very out of place in this conversation.
"Don't you think she's passed the stage of trial?" Sasuke asked. Karin nodded in agreement. Naruto, however, tensed, and Ino could see he was not amused by being challenged by two people he trusted. She stepped closer to him, took his curled fist in her hand and forced it to uncurl by lacing her fingers with his. This seemed to calm him somewhat, and he squeezed her hand.
"If you are hinting that she should be executed on the spot," Naruto began, "then you two have clearly been living under a rock since I have become Hokage."
Sasuke and Karin looked taken aback by this, and Karin was ready to retort, but Naruto cut her off.
"Every human being, no matter what crimes they have committed, has a right to be given a second chance. And that means a fair and just trial, overseen by myself and a tribunal," Naruto stated, his voice flat and cold. "You know I do not commend the death penalty, and that if I can avoid it, I do."
Karin, again, wanted to speak, but Naruto's glare silenced her.
"I've never considered execution as the first option when it came to my enemies," Naruto continued. "I always tried to negotiate, to understand why they are doing what they are doing. If you still can't accept that this is who I am, then what have you been doing all these years of knowing me?"
Sasuke looked embarrassed as Naruto stated this, for as one of his oldest friends, he should have known all of this already. And he did, but his anger over Karin being taken has blinded him and in his rage he had spoken without thinking.
"Forgive me, Naruto," Sasuke muttered. "But we can't let her go unpunished."
"I never said she would not be punished," Naruto stated. "I simply said, she would not be executed without trial. The tribunal will decide her punishment."
"Not to insult you or anything," Karin interrupted, "but all your possible Tribunal candidates are currently under a Mind Control technique that makes them loyal to the very criminal they are supposed to charge."
"I've already considered that," Naruto responded. "And I already know which individuals I am going to ask to sit on the Tribunal. In fact, I'm going to separate the High Council from the Tribunal – their power cannot overlap, it is unbalanced."
"You can do that?" Suigetsu asked, surprised.
Naruto nodded. "Yes, as long as the Daimyo approves it."
"Do you know what that means!?" Suigetsu asked, suddenly excited. Sasuke and Karin stared at their friend and shook their heads. Ino was also confused, but Naruto seemed to know what Suigetsu was thinking, because he was smiling.
"No, please do enlighten us, Suigetsu," Karin grumbled.
"It was the Tribunal that found Juugo unstable and dangerous and thus charged him with imprisonment. If a new Tribunal is elected, we could request a retrial and Juugo could be freed!"
"If the Tribunal members don't make the same decision," Sasuke muttered. "Juugo's power is hard to control and there's many that fear it."
Ino, not fully understanding the extent of Juugo's powers, decided to step in. "What are his powers, exactly? I don't actually know what makes him so unstable. Is there nobody that can teach him to control it?"
Sasuke was about to answer, when a strange expression danced over his face. He blinked rapidly, and then his eyes widened as his gaze shifted to Naruto. Naruto lifted an eyebrow in curiosity at the strange gaze his friend was giving him.
"What?" he asked. "Oi, bastard, stop looking at me like that."
"Sasuke?" Karin tried snapping her husband from his shocked stupor, but she was unsuccessful. Even Suigetsu tried to snap him out of it by waving his hand in front of the Uchiha's face.
Finally, Sasuke snapped out of it, and started laughing. His friends and wife watched him with worried expressions as his laughter grew louder, to the point where he was laughing so wildly, he was bending over.
"What's going on?" Naruto demanded, completely confused.
Sasuke's laughter slowly died down, and he wiped some tears away that had formed as a result.
"Oh, dope, we are the most unintelligent and idiotic ninja in history," Sasuke snorted.
"Oh, really?" Naruto barked. "Do enlighten me as to why!"
"All these years the answer has been staring us in the face. Juugo needs to learn control. He can't do it the normal way, because then he would never have had the problem, but we all know someone who has the same abilities...and who never gives up on finding alternative ways to train and control power," Sasuke explained.
His friends still weren't seeing it, so with a laugh Sasuke smacked Naruto on the shoulder. "You, Lord Hokage, are a Sage."
Several seconds of quiet passed, and then Naruto gaped. "Oh my god!"
"Yes," Sasuke nodded.
"Oh my god, why did I not think of that!?" Naruto exclaimed. Ino looked confused, while Karin and Suigetsu were equally as shocked as the Hokage. In his excitement, Naruto turned to Ino and pulled her into an embrace. He spun her around, making her laugh, but she was still very confused.
"Oh, Uzumaki Ino, I could kiss you!" he exclaimed. His smile, however, faded when he realised the slip of his tongue. Ino smiled sadly at him as he stopped spinning her, but his hands remained firmly placed on her hips.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. She shook her head and cupped his cheeks.
"No need to apologise," she whispered back. "So, mind letting me on your epiphany?"
Naruto's smile returned. "Juugo's family is known for having a natural ability to absorb Natural Energy. Controlling it, however, is very difficult, and since he is continuously absorbing it, he can't keep it under check. Hence why he is unstable and can have some...episodes."
"Ah," Ino hummed. "And you being a Sage or whatever fixes this...how?"
Naruto was full-on grinning now. "Because a Sage is a master at gathering and controlling Natural Energy."
Ino blinked as the information settled.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, equally as excited now. "You can teach him to control it!"
"Or try and find a way to, yes," Naruto nodded. "And I think Sasuke and I would have completely kept forgetting this skill of mine unless you mentioned teaching him control. You, Ino, are a genius!"
Ino felt her heart flutter when he leaned in and planted a kiss on her forehead.
"This is good news," Ino hummed. "Shizuka wishes to visit him next week."
"Really?" Sasuke, Suigetsu and Karin asked, flabbergasted. "She wants to see him? And Kasumi?"
Ino nodded. "Yes. And she will be so happy to hear this great news."
And oh, was Shizuka of Nadeshiko overjoyed. When she had arrived at the gates of Konoha, Ino and Naruto were already waiting. Kasumi was a bright young girl, and very eager to meet her father. She was also curious, and continued to ask questions, some of them very random and misplaced. As they walked through the village streets, Ino explained how Juugo could have another trial, and if Naruto could prove to the Tribunal that he could help find a way for Juugo to learn control, he could be freed.
Shizuka had promptly halted in the middle of the street at the revelation and burst into tears. Kasumi, being the ever loving daughter, tried to console her mother to the best of her ability, but Shizuka had simply told the girl that she was crying 'happy tears' before embracing her.
Ino watched the scene with a smile, while Naruto was trying to come to terms with the fact that emotionally controlled Shizuka was crying in the middle of his village's streets. When she finally calmed down after a cup of tea, Shizuka was ready to be reunited with her lover.
The walk to his prison was slow and Ino could see the nerves settling as they got closer. Shizuka was especially on edge when they got inside and passed through the security, and Ino did not blame her. She hated the walls and seals too.
"Is this really okay?" Shizuka asked just as they were to enter Juugo's cell.
"Of course," Naruto replied with a smile. Shizuka nodded and turned to open the door. Naruto's arm wrapped around Ino's waist and he pulled her agains him. She looked up, surprised by his bold move. He grinned and whispered in her ear; "Let her go alone first."
The door creaked open, and Juugo, who had been reading, looked up, not having expected to have a visitor. When Shizuka walked through the door, his book clattered to the floor.
Their embrace was probably the most beautiful sight Ino had ever seen. And she could not help but cry with them.
A/N: Delayed update, I know. I won't make excuses, just know my life is crazy.
Starting to tie up loose ends - the next chapter will probably be the confrontation with the High Council (finally). I still can't give an exact number, but at this point in time it looks like there's three chapters left. And maybe I'll do an epilogue, so that will bring it to four. We'll see how it turns out.