Time passed and I was getting better and better at my magical talents. Potions were like second nature to me, so long as I had the right ingredients. I've discovered that certain places have better results than others. Most of my plants I can get from the Yamamanaka Flower Shop, and the Old Man will buy me alcoholic ingredients if I explain what I need them for. But there are some things you just have to get yourself.
This list includes, but is not limited to: ninja dog fur for canine fertility potions (a major source of my income); Uchiha eyebrows (especially good for adding fire elements or illusion aspects to potions; I think it's the eyes); Konoha Tree bark, specifically from those trees made by the First Hokage, for growth, spirit, longevity and camouflage; giant snake scales, used particularly in escape potions; flesh eating slugs for dissolving potions; Nara deer horns for medicines (I use the dropped ones, not the fresh cut ones, since those are reserved specifically for the Konoha hospital); Shikamaru hairs for relaxation potions; Uchiha fangirl sighs (remarkably easy to hear, remarkably difficult to trap for later use) for entrancement aspects; and a few other things of low supply. While most of these things are considered odd, they seem to work best. Off them all, Uchiha eyebrows are the easiest to acquire. Now that I'm halfway decent at martial arts, I just pluck them out in a fight with Sasuke. I occasionally pay for them from off duty members of the clan ("I'll give you 50 ryo if you pluck your eyebrows and put them in this bag"), but I suspect most of them think I'm just reselling them to fangirls. I would never, ever feed someone's obsession like that.
...Unless it was to my distinct and great advantage.
So I had just acquired a decent amount of fur from Akamaru's family to make a new batch of fertility potions that Tsume had ordered. Their numbers were going down and the other ninja dogs were getting on in years, so the Hokage suggested my services instead of the medical corps. Now, when making a fertility potion, you need a stabilizing element and an element for controlling the target. Part of that is just pure will when making the potion. The other half is a physical symbol of that idea. And who better than the Hyuga Clan to symbolize control? After all, they keep 3/4 of their population in virtual slavery at all times. If that's not an obsession with control, I don't know what is.
So, I dressed up in my sneaking coat. It's a long duster I ordered through the Old Man, who had his people make it for me. I then added more than a little protection and what not to the inside. The damn thing will block a Juken strike anywhere it covers, not to mention make kunai and shuriken bounce off without a mark. The Old Man was suitably impressed and ordered a set of robes made the same way. His hat was strong enough now to have swords break on it. Yeah, I'm that damn good with seals and runes, and that was when I was only eight.
So, I wore my sneaking coat and crept into the Hyuga Clan Compound. Now, the clan head was, and is, a total putz. About the only people worthwhile in the entire Main Branch are his daughters and even then they're a bit strange at times. The one time I asked Hinata if I could have some of her hair for a project she started hyperventilating, turned red as a tomato and passed out in my arms. I didn't want to catch whatever she had, so I changed my approach thereafter. This time I was just going to sneak in and steal some hair from their brushes. Much safer for me, although the seal they enslave the Branch House with prevents the mojo from flowing right, so I needed Main Branch hairs.
I crawled along the wall, keeping my head down and made sure not to make the floor squeak. A little known fact, even to ninjas, floors squeak less if you move close to the wall, because that's where they have the most support and least flexibility. And if Hyuga don't know there's someone in their house, they aren't going to kick your ass. I made my way past the dining room where Putz-meister Clan Head was dealing with some other main branch men. Then I snuck into the change rooms near the bath. Now, while this would normally be considered peeping, I didn't think anyone would be actually bathing that late at night. The woman, I wasn't sure of her name, screamed as she realized someone was in the change room of the furo. This was an unsubtle command for every damn Hyuga to turn on their Byakugan and see me reaching for a hairbrush.
I would like to go on record and say that while their style is known as the Gentle Fist, they aren't actually gentle people. Luckily for me, the Hyuga Clan house was made with ricepaper walls, so the subsequent kick I got from Hiashi Hyuga sent me through the wall, out over the hedge, and into a koi pond. I got up after terrorizing the fish and started running away, but there is no damn way, no matter how awesome you are, for an eight year old to outrun a furious head of a ninja clan. He tossed me up in the air after realizing that his strike hadn't actually paralyzed me, then gave me a very not gentle punch to the solar plexus. Thank magic for protection seals! It was time to run and sneak and hide, most likely in that order. Actually, it had been that particular time the moment the woman screamed, but I don't always have the best reaction time. So I was on my feet and running. I punched downward with my kinetic rings and used the Newtonian forces to send me flying over the compound wall. Hiashi, being a jonin and all around badass when pissed, jumped the wall, followed by about half the branch house. I booked it, not that it mattered. I discovered that adrenalin is a very important thing; it allows you to do all sorts of thing you normally couldn't. Add a little magic boost to your feet, and you're able to keep ahead of all sorts of trouble.
Not so little known fact: the Uchiha compound is right around the corner from the Hyuga compound. Hiashi wasn't too hesitant to follow me, and where the Clan Head goes in a war-like maddened rage, pretty much the rest of the clan follows. So when I went over the wall, into the Uchiha compound, so did he. What neither of us knew was that this was the particular night that Itachi had decided to kill off his family. I didn't notice the bodies, (Itachi having been careful enough to drag them into the shadows,) but shadows don't stop the Byakugan. Another not so little known fact: Uchiha and Hyuga don't really like each other that much, so the they wasted no time ensuring that the remaining Uchiha were deeply in debt to the Hyuga clan by healing as many as they could, and saved those who would have normally bled out.
Hiashi, however, was entirely focused on me, so when I ran into a random building, so did he. I found out later that Sasuke was quite confused as to why I was running into his house. He was even more confused as to why there were Hyuga all over his clan's compound, but more on that later. I ran in the house and, in a moment of not quite wisdom, ran right between Itachi and his mother (the young man having already stabbed his father repeatedly; I think Freud would have something to say about that). The sword hit my duster, got tangled in the magically enhanced collar, but I didn't let that stop me. I kept on going because there was a much scarier man behind me. Itachi blinked, tried to understand where his sword went, and then was plowed over by Hiashi in the older man's attempt to get me. I made a right turn after exiting the back door and didn't stop running until I made it back to my apartment, Hyuga hairbrush in hand.
Out of a clan of nearly 200, seventeen survived, Sasuke the only male above age 2 with any hope of creating a new Uchiha generation in the future (save for Itachi, but that's a LONG story for another time). Well, better than having them all die off. The Hyuga haven't let them forget it, but both tend to ignore my contribution.
I later found out that the woman in the bath was Hinata's mother. We eventually made peace about the issue, not too difficult considering how things resulted and the fact that, unlike just about all my teachers, I'm not a pervert.
Well, I'd been in the Academy for three, almost four years at this point. I had no hope of graduating early considering my incredible lack of ability to do anything relating to ninjutsu proper. Genjutsu, granted it wasn't great, but I could fudge it with veils and illusions and a bit of sleight of hand; Taijutsu, well, Ole Pervy Sage had helped me with that and promised to come back every so often so long as I kept my practice up, and I had.
But Ninjutsu escaped me. I couldn't do a replacement technique to save my life. Instead I had reinforced my clothes, every set I wore, with special runes and sealing arrays that would let me shrug off anything but a direct headshot and I was working on fixing my fedora (ordered from something called Gato Industries), to be like a blast helmet. Those wonderful shielding seals protected me against heat, impact and slashing. Wind was easily countered with some alternate seals. When it came to combat, I bet I could have used magic to beat them all up if I pulled up enough energy, but that still didn't give me what I needed to get out of the academy. This had been a long standing issue with me that I'd tried to do over and over and over again.
I'd even tried some of the scrolls I'd "found" around town on other techniques. Sure, I could shape the power, because that's no different from focusing my Will to create a certain effect. If I pulled up the right amount of power and focused my will a certain way, I could mimic the Uchiha fire dragon technique or call up water to hit someone, or make enough force and wind to knock someone over and/or slash them, but the finer details? Forget it. I'd probably be able to do some basic tricks that don't involve hand wiggling, but anything beyond that was beyond me and that left me at the bare bottom of my Academy class.
This was a problem me and the Old Man were trying to fix. I remember when he called me into his office one day after classes.
"Naruto," the Old Man said in a tone that usually precedes me getting chewed out about something. I let out a sigh as I slid into the chair across from him.
"What did I do this time?" I asked, pondering how I was going to be punished this time. It had been a year since Itachi's little rumble in the compound and I hadn't done anything too bad since then. And hey, a whole bunch of people lived because of me! So it all ended up well.
"Nothing, this time," the Old Man said. "I've been thinking of your issues with ninjutsu and your talent for other skills and I've come to a conclusion that we need to make a better track for people of your abilities."
I perked up at this. This meant I might start my own plan.
"I've also been thinking about the glaring hole the Uchiha clan left," the Hokage continued as he leaned back into his chair and glanced at the portraits of those Hokage who went before him (and one who was both after and before him). "The Uchiha had a remarkably poor ability for completing investigations successfully. While many of the villagers are mourning their loss, the fact is that before the massacre, there were more complaints against the Military Police than open investigations."
"You're thinking of making me a cop's cop," I finished. "A Warden."
"Yes, something like internal investigations," the Old Man replied.
"Aren't I a little young for that kind of thing?" I asked. "Hell, I haven't even graduated yet."
He looked down at me with a kindly expression, one that I'd seen grandfather's give their grandchildren. It was an expression I missed most of my nine years at that point. "Naruto, I'm proud of your accomplishments. While your...methods have been... unorthodox, you deal with things in your own way, and have largely succeeded. You've shown a remarkable ability for investigations, no doubt from Bob's tutelage, and show quite a big of self initiative and a pleasant need to learn more, something that most teachers of any age appreciate."
"Thanks, Old Man," I said, and I meant it. People don't often talk to me that way. It feels nice to be appreciated, to be respected for your accomplishments. At the Academy, the other kids don't realize that my abilities don't set me behind them, it sets me aside from them, because my skill sets are very different. This has inevitably led to me being put down. I don't talk about it much, but it hurts, and I don't like bullies.
"With the vast majority of the Military Police dead, most of their tasks were pushed onto T&I," the Old Man explained. "They aren't truly equipped or trained for this kind of thing. Getting information from a missing ninja, sure! Interrogating a civilian who may have been beating his wife, or cheating on taxes or participating in unfair business practices, and then still following police procedure? Not so much." He took a puff off his pipe. "Which is why instead of ninjutsu lessons, you'll be going to T&I for instruction with the few remaining members of the Police Force. You are going to have years of training shoved into only a few hours each day, five days a week. You need to promise me to take this seriously."
I began nodding like I had never nodded before.
"Not just yes," I said. "HELL YES!"
"Good," he said. "But that doesn't mean you and Bob can slack off on your lessons, either!"
"You kidding?" I asked. "With the money I make from one ninja dog fertility potion I can feed myself for a month! I've got plenty of time to train now! There's no way I'm not slacking off!"
"So you don't mind meeting your new sensei for police related matters?" Sarutobi asked me. There was something about his smile that I didn't like and I caught his eye for just a little too long.
There's an ability that wizards have, naturally as part of their training in my particular form of magic that creates a temporary bond between another person. It's generally called a Soul Gaze. Capital letters, folks. There's that old line about looking into the abyss and how it looks back into you, and that's a close approximation as to what happens. You see the other person for who they truly are. There's no pretense, no illusions, or lies. There's occasionally some allegory and such, but mostly it's pretty blatant. I really try not to do it. I just barely don't meet people's gazes, staring at their noses or foreheads. Bob said that I don't always want to really see how people are inside, because the illusions we have of others is gone, all a wizard and their companion in the gaze sees is unadulterated truth. You can never forget what you see in a Soul Gaze.
I looked into the Old Man and I saw him older, much older than he really was. He was tired, feeling brittle and wishing he could just play with his grandkid and wanted more of them. All the same, while he was tired and brittle, his skeleton was made of steel that gleamed in the light of his knowledge and experience. Instead of his robes, he wore a set of samurai armor made of fire, steel and duty. Standing behind him was a large ape as tall as he was who was also an unbreakable staff. The Third Hokage's core, the very center of his being was propped up by arms made of, wood, water, and a strange yellow light that seemed to vanish off into the distance, yet remain close. I looked beyond the arms and saw them leading up to the Konoha monument, with the arms leading up to the dead Hokages. His body was surrounded by an aura of fire that seemed to hold him up even though he wanted to do nothing else but enjoy his retirement. The fire was duty, but at the same time it was the Will of Fire, the code that Hiruzen Sarutobi was so proud of, so dedicated to, something he inherited from the First and Second.
He was old and tired, but he wouldn't let himself rest until he found someone to take his place.
He was haunted too. As he walked, one foot in front of the other, his feet fell on the head protectors of hundreds of people. Clan symbols crunched like gravel under his feet. The Uchiha clan symbol was ground nearly to powder under his heel as it tried to attack his ankles. A red spiral lurked like a specter over his left shoulder, stalking his every move.
He looked at me with pride and a little regret. I think there was something more that I missed. At the end of the Soul Gaze, Hiruzen Sarutobi leaned down and gave me something. Looking down I realized it was Konoha. The moment before the gaze ended, he set his hat on my head.
I snapped back to reality and shook my head. I glanced up at the old man and saw him feeling the same. I looked down at my knees.
"Sorry, Old Man," I mumbled. Truth be told one of the things I had feared was having other people see me. I wasn't really sure what they would see. I'd seen what other people did when they saw me coming. People moved out of the way as if I'll infect them with something. They refused to acknowledge my presence at times. Other times they went out of their way to put me down. I didn't know why. I was worried, really worried that after looking at me, at seeing ME, those special people would look at me the same way.
A moment after my mumbled apology, he was giving me a hug. I'd had praising pats on the head before, or words of encouragement, but no one had ever done that for me. It wasn't until just then that I understood how much I needed it.
"You have nothing to apologize for, Naruto," he said. It was just for a moment, but I understood what I saw.
I smiled and hugged him back.
If you don't know, I'm really lucky. By that I mean REALLY lucky. I've never lost a bet. I've never lost a game of chance. The one time they had a slot machine at a place I used to go; I emptied it starting with only one ryo. I was really lucky the time I managed to earn a full spa treatment at the Hot Springs Resort in Tanazuka Gai, or whatever the place was called. I gave it to the Old Man as a birthday present.
But eventually Murphy and the damn law of his had to come back to even the score.
Three days after our Soul Gaze encounter, the Old Man called me into his office. He was there behind his desk as usual with a dark haired woman sitting in one of the chairs across from him. He gestured for me to take the other seat.
"Thank you, Naruto," he said. "I'd like you to meet your new sensei in police matters."
I looked at the woman and realized that Bob's talk about Murphy's Law was very, very true. Something went wrong, and it always tends towards the worst possible thing. Sitting in the chair next to me was none other than Mikoto Uchiha, wife of the former head of the Military Police, Jonin of Konoha, the scariest woman in Fire Country.
Shikamaru might think his mother qualifies. Tsunade and Anko might also dispute that fact, but I stand by my statement.
This is a woman who raised a guy who grew up to slaughter almost his entire clan in a night.
This was a woman who could probably take out Jiraiya permanently if properly motivated.
And she was now in charge of my education.
I looked back at the Hokage with horror on my face.
"But you said you didn't hate me!"
The Old Man had the gall to snicker, but I didn't have to look at her to see the tick mark on Mikoto-Sensei's face at my statement. Just to be safe, I slipped on my shield bracelet.
LAZY SQUIRREL'S NOTE: I'm alive! I'M ALIVE! Yes, I'm still here. I'm still working on these things, but other stuff has gotten in the way. So here it is, the next chapter. Oh, and I still don't own these things.