AN I want to thank Joe Lawyer for his input in this chapter. Thank you all for the wonderful reviews. I understand that the Kushina and naruto interaction is polarizing. Half the flames think Harry is Lucifer incarnate and the other half think he is being far too forgiving. I hope that despite the deeply cherished opinions of both camps you continue to enjoy the story.
At dawn Mito-dono appeared in Harry's new apartment. Kushina hadn't yet left and sat at the table while Harry prepared breakfast for himself. Kushina stood up and bowed to the older woman. In appearance, however, both women looked to be the same age.
"Grandmother Mito," Kushina greeted with a big smile.
Mito went over and patted Kushina's cheek. "It's good to see you, Kushina-chan. Have you offered yet to teach your son how to use chakra chains?" she added quickly.
'I think I can manage it myself,' Harry's fiery letters appeared between the two women while he stood not looking up from the stove.
Kushina cringed at his words and shrugged helplessly at Mito-dono. The older woman frowned. "My lord, Kushina's chains can subdue the tailed demons."
In answer Harry projected the single chain he had learned to form from his back. He caught a cup of tea in it and slowly extended the chain to deposit the cup on the table. He did all this without moving from his place by the stove.
"N-Naruto…it can help you control the fox if it breaks its word to you…I can teach you if you want," Kushina offered with her heart in her throat.
Harry raised his eyes heavenward and sighed. After a moment he brought his breakfast to the table and sat down. The women stayed standing, spirits as they were he didn't offer them anything to eat. Finally he nodded and waved his hand in the air, Thank you, Kushina, I will call you when I need you.'
Kushina sucked in sharp breath as if he had insulted her. "I guess it's too soon for you to call me mother." Harry made no answer, choosing only to sip his tea slowly. "Thank you for letting me stay the night, I'm glad we got to talk," she said and bowed. "By your leave?"
'You may go,' Harry wrote and made eye contact with her before she left. His face betrayed nothing of the turmoil he was feeling inside.
Once Kushina was gone Mito-dono sat down by Harry. She kept her silence as he finished his breakfast. For a long time they remained watching the sunrise through the large windows of his apartment. 'Grandmother,' Harry wrote at length. 'One day I will wipe out the tradition of human sacrifice.'
Mito-dono bowed her head slightly. The action made her earrings jingle loudly in the quiet of the morning. "I'm not proud of the legacy I left in Konoha."
'This practice is far older than you.' Harry gave her a kind smile.
"Yes, but the hidden village system was supposed to be a step toward peace. It was meant to protect our children. Your mother was a victim too."
'I know…I know,' his words flared with his anger. 'She was bought from her village because she had the bad luck of being born with that special chakra.' Mito made to interrupt but was halted by fury in her lord's eyes. 'Don't dress it up as some noble duty.'
"My lord, even if we didn't use children cursed with the biju as weapons, we would still need to trap them somehow," Mito said slowly, hoping he wouldn't lash out at her.
'And that's why I said that one day I will wipe out this tradition. I will find another way,' Harry vowed.
Mito-dono smiled beatifically. "I can feel the sincerity of your words in my spirit. Please allow me to help you on this quest." Harry blushed and looked away awkwardly after nodding in acceptance. Seeing his discomfort she changed the subject. "I have meditated on your sigil and created one." With that she spread out a ghostly scroll on the table. In the center was a water lily, with mirroring lightning bolts on its side. "A lily protected by antlers."
Harry stared at the symbol, looked at another way it did seem the lightning bolts were sharp antlers. 'How did you figure this out?' he asked, hiding his surprise. He hadn't spoken to her about his other life enough for her to know what these symbols would mean to him.
"It is strange, I had a vision," she said with a slight frown. "A white stag appeared to me but spoke with a woman's voice. In my vision it led me to a pool where one lily floated. When I looked into the pool, the antlers were reflected back, seemingly encasing the flower."
Harry's hands trembled. 'What did the stag say to you?'
"I don't understand it but the woman's voice said 'That most wonderful and terrible power has not faded between us, the veils will not keep us apart for long.'" Mito-dono observed Harry's round eyes that were filled with shock. "And then the stag dissolved as if it were made of white mist. What does it mean, my lord?" Harry dropped his head in his hands and tears dropped to the table. Worry gripped her and she tried to hold his shoulder and shake him. "What's wrong, what did I say?"
Harry raised his head and smiled at her. 'It means, my sweet, perfect, grandmother, that you spoke to my mother's patronus.'
Mito-dono was taken aback by his happy tears, she didn't understand. "Kushina?"
'No, my first mother, from my first life," Harry's letters explained. 'She must've gotten around whoever is watching them to talk to you.' For the first time Harry approached Mito-dono for a hug. 'Thank you,' his words flared with comforting warmth.
The older woman got a hold of herself quickly while putting away the latest revelation to meditate on later. "Well, now that we have a binding sigil for you, let's put it on the Root seal and give it to the Sandaime."
Harry sat looking at the anti-Root seal that he and his Uzumaki clansmen had designed. From what he and Mito-dono could see they had removed any links to kami that could be a problem for him later. In the center binding seal was his own sigil. The problem, however, was that it had no life. It was simply painted on. He could not feel any power from it like he could from other seals.
"You will have to associate a concept with it, my grandson. Every other sigil has some known idea behind it, be it wisdom, evil, speed, secret…" Mito-dono explained.
Harry sighed, frustrated with himself. Tying some sort of concept with his own mark smacked of the delusional pride to him. It went against his basic humility. And because he couldn't get over his own issues the sigil was lifeless.
What is death, little godling? Kyuubi's voice suddenly thundered inside Harry's head.
Shut up, Harry thought back at it.
To ascend you must understand your powers. It is not necessary to believe yourself to be a kami. Stop dithering like a filthy human,it roared and gave Harry an instant headache. Now listen and understand, death is no one thing, it is the end, yet it is a beginning, it is decay, yet it is seed to new life. It is the last horror, yet it's a final mercy, it coils around the soul like a snake and yet it's a release from burdens. So now, godling, think of the aspect of death you wish for this seal to call upon and redraw it.
Why are you helping me? Harry demanded.
I have explained myself once already, we are kin of a kind. Is it not the duty of the elder to aid the younger? The Kyuubi laughed.
End, cessation of all things, Harry thought to himself.
Yes, death is also inevitable. Very good, godling. And once this seal works and you have proof of my good faith you will let me heal your tongue.The Kyuubi's presence faded from his mind.
For a long moment Harry felt disoriented. Like he didn't know why he was sitting on the floor of his living room with a seal spread out. Mito-dono was watching him carefully. He wanted to allay her worry but he felt so detached. He cursed the demon for messing with his mind and senses. Harry resolved to call Kushina back sooner than later. He was going to need her help.
After a few long breaths he held the concept of death in his mind and redrew the seal. At once he knew it was different, the sigil had power.
"My, that is a strong seal. Let's deliver it to the tower," Mito-dono said excitedly.
Harry nodded and rolled up the seal and collected the scroll he had written a letter on to the Sandaime. He then traced the circle on his palm, making himself undetectable by any sense and disapparated to the tower.
Harry was in the Academy, this time as himself and not one of his clones. His fangirls had tried to swarm him until he'd hidden behind Sasuke. The boy's disgruntled glare kept them at bay and Harry took a seat one down from his old nemesis. Sasuke didn't do anything besides brood as per usual.
The time away from the village had helped Harry get a handle on his younger self's sensitivity. For one, Naruto's puppy love was well and truly gone. As a seventeen year old he could only look at the kids around him as 'ickle firsties.' So it was a little unnerving that he had his own admirers in the group. He couldn't decide if it was creepy or cute.
What truly bothered him was Hinata staring at him with a frown and her Byakugan active. Once or twice he had felt Shino's destruction bugs on him too. For some reason the ANBU Jr squad had taken an interest in him.
"Alright, time for ninjutsu practice. Replacement technique everyone!" Kotetsu shouted. The young man had been a little jumpy lately. He was working them into the ground. The Academy hadn't been this tough under Iruka.
When Harry made it out to the field he was suddenly joined by his old friends. Hinata still had her bloodline activated. Harry smiled and waved to them. They neither smiled nor waved. 'Did you want to practice together?' he spelled with his finger in the air.
Shino nodded from within his deep hood. "I think we would like that, Harry-san. I'm Shino, but you already knew that, I'm sure."
Harry blinked, adopting a confused look. 'We haven't met, but I would be happy to work with you.'
"Then please begin, don't let us stop you," Shino, the apparent spokesperson, said.
Harry nodded and making a hand-seal that he no longer needed performed the replacement jutsu. He heard Hinata's gasp when he appeared a little to the left of where he started. She was beaming at him, the previous unfriendly frown long gone. She nodded to the boys. Shikamaru caught his eye and smirked at him. Shino stepped forward and squeezed his shoulder. Hinata ran up to him and hugged him. Harry lost his breath and was forced to acknowledge the shy little girl had become very strong. "Welcome back, Naruto-kun," she whispered in his ear.
Harry was stunned. Seeing his surprise, she explained, "You have the exact same chakra network. No two people's network looks the same. And I've seen how your chakra moves when you do that technique before."
Harry cupped his hands and made flaming letters appear in them so no one else could see. 'This is a complete secret. No one but Tsunade and her apprentice know. Please, don't act too friendly with me until I'm ready.'
The other three exchanged a quick glance and gave him brief nods. Shikamaru ambled up and in a slightly loud voice said, "Hey, Harry-kun, I see you can do replacement without words, can you show us the trick?"
Others heard what Shikamaru said and soon joined the group. Harry grinned inwardly at his friend's cleverness. He'd explained away why they had been hanging out with him. He felt a burst of affection for the three.
There were some very good things in his second life.
Two weeks later
Mitarashi Anko didn't know if she should be pissed or happy. On the one hand the mission to locate Iruka had turned into a wild goose chase all over Fire Country. On the other because she was in the field she was serving as Konoha's eyes and ears on Root deployments around the country. What had at first seemed like an errand unworthy of her talents had turned into a hunter-nin cum infiltration mission.
It was wonderful being trusted by Konoha high command after all the years of suspicion because of her past association with Orochimaru. Unfortunately it was frustrating as Hell not being able to find a chunnin. A school teacher!
She was crouched on a fire escape in one of the shadier parts of Fire Country's Capital. A concealment jutsu had her blending in with the browns and blacks of her environment. Only a foot away from her was the window to an apartment she was canvassing. The hunt for Umino Iruka had led her there.
It was only an hour later that the door opened and she heard movement inside. Her snakes inside made a cry of alarm. In a heartbeat she was through the window and tackling the nin who was stabbing her snake. She struck at his nerve clusters and earned a slash across her breasts from the man. He went down hard but as she pounced to pin him a warbling sound started coming from him. She felt her legs and arms go numb at the sound and fell like a tree.
A toad hopped on her chest and licked her cheek. The saliva left behind chilled her face, forcing her to hiss in pain. The warbling stopped but she was now paralyzed by the spit of the toad. Belatedly she realized she had gotten caught in a toad genjutsu.
"How-do-you-have-toads?" she bit out.
The man she had spent a couple of months looking for entered her vision. He was rubbing furiously at the nerve clusters she had struck. "Mitarashi-san? Why did you attack me?"
Anko ignored his question. Her mind was working furiously. The only one she knew who could summon toads was Jiraiya of the Sannin. Was Iruka working for the man? But then what was he doing in the capital city which was fast becoming unfriendly for loyal Konoha Shinobi. And why didn't the Hokage know that Iruka was working for Jiraiya.
Given her life history she jumped to the only conclusion that made sense to her. Either one or both of them had betrayed the Hokage. "You...bastard! We thought you were abducted by Root and you've been free all this time!"
The man frowned at her. "You've really complicated things, Mitarashi-san. I really hope no one saw you come in here. I might have to kill you to prove my loyalty." With that he punched her hard across the face. Anko passed out.
When she woke up it was dark outside and the air was musty. Her eyes swam for a bit until she got a hold of herself and noticed they were inside a tunnel. For some reason she hadn't been tied. A lamp hung from the low ceiling casting light on four figures. They were arguing in low tones. Anko remained still and tried to find out their identities.
One was Iruka, his body hidden inside a large black cloak. Another was a tall man with a long ponytail, she recognized him immediately to be Jiraiya. The next person shocked her. It was Tsunade. No one knew where she was. Cat had passed on that the Hokage wanted to see Tsunade if Anko ran into her. The message had been passed to others as well, but the woman had simply disappeared off the map. The last was another woman but Anko did not recognize her.
"I couldn't exactly leave her there! Who knows when Root does their sweeps?" Iruka's voice suddenly rose.
"That's your job to find out, isn't it?" Jiraiya bit back.
"Why didn't you just tell sensei you had this boy working for you?" Tsunade whispered.
"Err...I forgot? I was a little preoccupied with other things. I've never had to tell sensei who is working for me before," Jiraiya grumbled.
Tsunade rolled her eyes. "Probably for the best. Given how deeply we've been infiltrated, Iruka's cover might not have stayed secure."
Anko rolled over and leapt to her feet. "I'd like to believe everything you've just said is the truth but I don't think it's beyond any of you to act out this scene either."
"Listen, girly, do you really think you are a threat to someone like me?" Jiraiya snapped. "You've shat all over the mission I'm running. Don't make me change my mind about making you pay for it!"
Tsunade sighed. "Tsk, leave the kids alone. Shizune, check on her. Make sure she's able. Who knows what his perverted toads did to her."
Anko stood a little wide eyed at being dismissed so easily. Iruka shot her an apologetic smile and shrugged. She let the brunette examine her who used healing jutsu to take care of the numbness. "So what the Hell is going on here?" Anko asked.
"Don't know how much to tell you, Mitarashi-san. It looks like you almost compromised Umino-san. I think if it were anyone other than you Jiraiya-sama would've really taken it out of your hide," Shizune said. "Do you have any other injuries? Have you been on this mission long?"
Anko shook her head. "I'm decent at medical techniques. I took care of myself. The mission has been long, but I can't say anything about it."
"Well, just sit and rest for a bit. The toad's venom will work out of your system in just a little bit, I've sped up the process." She smiled at her and went to join the others. A messenger snake left Anko's sleeve and disappeared.
"Umino," Anko called. "What happened when you were lead away by the Root ANBU?" Her question halted all conversation.
Iruka looked to Jiraiya for permission. The white haired man nodded and with a sigh Umino raised his shirt. White scars puffed up in two lines going across his stomach. Anko knew them to be scars left behind by a ninjato, the preferred blade of ANBU. "Mitarashi-san, you might not know but I used to assist the Hokage is the missions office. Because of this I'm very familiar with his seal that is stamped on all 'A' rank missions. Root led me out of the village and handed me a mission supposedly from the Hokage."
"Ohhh." Anko smirked. "You saw the stamp and noticed it was a forgery. Nice one, teach. How long did it take you to figure it out?"
Umino smiled and ducked his head. "I'm ashamed to say it was the second time I looked at the mission scroll which was three days after I had left the village. I have a fair sense of when I'm followed and watched. I didn't understand why ANBU were following me so I looked at the scroll again for clues. That's when I noticed it."
Anko nodded finding herself a little impressed. "I guess Root noticed when you figured it out and attacked?"
"Not right away. It wasn't until I tried losing them to circle back to the village. I was lucky enough to take them down but I was dying when Jiraiya-sama happened upon me. I've been working for him since."
"Any word on Uzumaki's whereabouts?" Anko asked.
Iruka seemed to age in front of her. "I will let Jiraiya-sama answer that question."
"Who is this Uzumaki?" Tsunade demanded before Jiraiya could say anything.
Anko was surprised to see herself pinned both by Tsunade's gaze and that of the nice med-nin who had helped her. "Um, Tsunade-sama, he's that boy…"
"Who?" Shizune asked, looking confused.
"He's the jinchuriki," Umino said quietly. "He was abducted by Root. I am close to him."
Tsunade hummed. "You're awfully quiet, Jiraiya, wasn't the boy your responsibility."
"Tsu-hime, not now." Jiraiya sighed.
"Surprising that someone could take him when you were protecting him," Tsunade continued. Anko felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise as the tension in the tunnel went up.
"I wasn't with him at the time," Jiraiya whispered. He shifted so that the lamp didn't cast any light on his face.
Umino was frowning. "I didn't know you knew Naruto personally, Jiraiya-sama. He's always been by himself. I thought he didn't have any family."
Anko cursed under her breath at Umino's cluelessness. Whatever was being unsaid between the two Sannin was volatile enough that it was making her want to run for her life. The idiot just had to go and add to the tension. The silence lengthened as Jiraiya refused to say anything more. Despite her better judgment Anko asked again, "What's the word on Naruto, Jiraiya-sama?"
"Danzo is claiming that he has Konoha's Jinchuriki. Iruka just reported to me that the Daimyo has proclaimed Danzo to be the new Hokage. Danzo declared that even though rebels hold the village right now," Jiraiya snapped, "he has Konoha's most powerful strategic weapon, the jinchuriki."
Anko noticed Tsunade and her assistant exchange a look of disbelief. She filed it away because she herself was stunned at this revelation. "That's not…how can the Daimyo do that!"
"He cannot remove or install a Hokage without the Jounin council's approval by law," Tsunade said. "How reliable is this information, Umino?"
"I heard the declarations myself but I haven't seen Naruto anywhere. I would think Danzo would parade him around if he had him, but on the other hand Naruto is loyal to the Sandaime, he wouldn't willingly go along with his enemies," Umino explained.
Anko laughed ruefully, "I miss him. I used to sic him and his friends on jounin all the time."
"Mitarashi-san!" Umino scolded.
"Sounds like Uzumaki had to watch out for himself all his life so he might be managing alright," Shizune said with some heat.
Anko was surprised to see the heretofore soft spoken woman look angry. That said, she agreed with the woman. "Only one more hated in the village than me is Naruto. But he's a fighter. The Sandaime is going to be furious that Danzo is using him to legitimize himself."
Tsunade scoffed. "One would think all this could've been avoided if he had a proper guardian."
Jiraiya cussed. "Why are you here, Tsunade?"
The blonde glared at him for his tone. "I ran into a seal I wanted you to take a look at for me."
"I have my hands full running this operation. Now that Danzo has somehow convinced the Daimyo to make him Hokage." He growled and then asked in an overly sweet tone, "Can what you need wait?"
"Fine," Tsunade said and turned to Anko. "You best get back to the village. Let the Hokage know what you saw here. You can send another messenger snake with news of impending civil war."
"What snake?!" Anko retorted with wide-eyed innocence.
"Huh, I missed that," Jiraiya said and frowned at her.
"Looks like that's become a habit with you," Tsunade said and waved at Shizune and Anko to follow her. Anko wondered if Tsunade enjoyed making Jiraiya feel like shit.
"Tsu-hime, we could use your help," Jiraiya said.
"I'm too busy," Tsunade said without turning around.
"Gambling isn't more important than this!" Jiraiya snapped.
"I don't want to hear that from a man who spends his time writing smut. Besides, I'm working on something for sensei." Tsunade punched a wall next to her, making it collapse and block off the tunnel behind her.
Anko felt cold sweat down her back but hurried to stay in step with Shizune. As expected, her traitorous master's teammates were just as monstrously scary as he had been.
"Your cognitive faculties were compromised, Mitarashi-san. You have been pushing yourself too hard," Shizune said quietly next to her. "An apprentice of the Sannin shouldn't have been taken down as easily as you were by Umino-san even with the toads."
"Who the fuck are you to critique me nurse-chan?" Anko said with a wicked twist to her lips.
"I'm a jounin of Konoha, a fellow apprentice of a Sannin, and your superior." She smiled at her gently. "And as your senior I'm giving you advice. Please take care of yourself."
"Girl, I've spent a lot of time picking up after Orochimaru's messes. Don't make yourself something we have to clean up too. That's what Shizune is trying to tell you." Tsunade sighed. "You don't have to answer for his sins."
Anko felt the words tear at her heart. She had long perfected a cheerful and irreverent shield to protect herself. The two women had brushed past them without thought. "I'll do better, Tsunade-sama, Shizune-senpai."
"Have you checked the seal, Shizune?" Tsunade asked her apprentice. Anko noticed the older Kunoichi lift up her sleeve to a seal that had been wrapped around her arm.
"All variables are good, Tsunade-sama. He's safe and healthy," Shizune reported with a relieved smile.
"Good. That's what I expected." Tsunade nodded and turned to Anko. "Now tell me that you have another messenger snake. I need to send something to the Hokage."
Anko quickly summoned a snake wondering if she was going to travel with the legendary Shinobi a little longer.
Sarutobi hadn't yet finished his response to the first snake messenger when another one appeared in his office. He barely restrained himself from smashing the poor creature. The silver cobra hacked up a scroll on his desk.
The man opened the scroll and was surprised to find Tsunade's script: Sensei, I have been carrying out the mission you assigned me the last time we met. Rest assured despite any news to the contrary you will hear. Do not tell anyone, I'm sure you understand why.
His mind as sharp as ever recalled his last conversation with Tsunade. He had asked her to do two things for him. One was to see him again before he died and to take care of Naruto. Her message could only be referring to the second request. He breathed in relief and laughed to himself. A flick of fingers set fire to the message.
He stood from his chair and threw open the window looking out at the village. He felt years younger at the news. Tsunade had kept faith, he couldn't be happier. Naruto had obviously found some way to her. He had only cautiously believed the ANBU Juniors that Naruto's clones had rescued him from the Root facility. It was good to have confirmation.
His old student must have picked up enough warnings on her travels to have gone underground with Naruto and was only now making contact with Jiraiya. All in all he was very pleased with Tsunade's caution. He wondered if that was the reason she had sent Harry-kun to him, so she could focus on protecting Naruto.
Now he felt bad for thinking his errant student had been simply dumping her own student on him. "Damn, I had better give the boy some bo-jutsu lessons after all," he decided as a way to assuage his guilty conscience.