The Uzumaki Descendant

Posted: 11-07-14

Damn, it's been seven months since I last updated this, and I feel terrible about it. What can I say, life got in the way and I couldn't really bring myself to write more of TUD. Most of the time I just wrote down ideas I wanted to include and worked on NPR and other story ideas. But it's okay, I'm back now, and I'm fully focused on TUD at least for the new few months so I'll try to churn out as many chapters as I can.

It's selfish of me, but I suggest rereading the story if it's been a while since you last read it.

Unedited.


CH7: Ambitions


(Approximately 25 Years into the Future)

The Winter Empress was a fairly large ship of blue coloured steel and wood, approximately a hundred feet long, built to capacity to house a hundred crewmen in its quarters and exceptionally well armed with conventional weaponry as well as defensive barriers and sealing arrays. The crewmen wore the standard dark blue armour consisting of scales and plates over white overalls and happuri faceguards with the their nation's spiral symbol engraved on the centre of their foreheads. (1)

Seijūrō stood on deck by the starboard railing as the ship swayed over the waves. The mainland came within sight and even from a distance the beauty of Uzu no Kuni could not be understated, from its tall cylinder-shaped buildings to its well-maintained beachfronts and docks. It was a small wonder the country was often referred to as Rakuen, or Paradise,by visitors who had been and seen the greatness of its capital on the main island and the breath-taking natural beauty of her sister islands. In the short time since its resurgence the country had become known as a safe haven for intellectuals, a country that celebrated and encouraged knowledge, beauty and grace, and most of all, peace and tranquillity. The great capital of Kushina in particular had become known as a nexus of intelligence as the world's scholars strived for an invitation to go there.

The precise location of Uzu no Kuni was unknown to outsiders. Entry was permissible only on an invitational basis. Outsiders were required to apply for traveling papers on Nami no Shima, the trading port of the enigmatic country that, strangely enough, was governed almost solely by its civilian population. Nami no Shima, a once independent country, had become one of the world's most foremost trading destinations and was responsible for the vast majority of the country's revenue.

"You're looking homesick, kid."

Seijūrō turned to greet the man to whom the voice belonged. "Is that so, Uncle Inari?"

"Sure is, kid." Inari had grown into a unusually tall man in his early thirties of with cropped black hair and a light beard. He wore a sleeveless variant of the standard armour that allowed greater mobility his for muscular arms and carried a harpoon spear diagonally across his back. A jagged scar ran across the entire right side of his face. Despite his imposing figure he exuded an air of cheerful liveliness. Those less familiar with him knew him as The Great Spear of Uzu, a fearless warrior of the sea and fearsome commander of the Western Expeditionary Fleet.

Seijūrō had idolised the man since childhood and strived to emulate him.

"How are you finding your fist time at command?" Inari asked.

Seijūrō hesitated to answer. "The men don't respect me as their captain yet, not fully, not all of them," he admitted. "They think I am captain because of nepotism."

"Well, to some of them it might seem your old man give a brand new ship and sixty men to command to a snot-nosed brat barely out of his diapers," Inari barked a loud, boisterous laugh.

Seijūrō shook his head though he smiled despite himself. "Why do you think Father did it, why did he give me this ship and men to command?"

"Because you're a strong and capable young man with good instincts," Inari answered straight to the point.

"Is that why you're here to chaperone me?" the young captain asked. "If Father thinks I am capable then why are you here? No offense."

"None taken," Inari said with a shrug. "Look, I know you didn't want me here with you on your first voyage as a captain, and that's fine, but the reason I'm here is because your father asked me to have your back on this one."

"To babysit me," Seijūrō interpreted.

"To guide you," Inari insisted. "You might take me in a fight, but there's more to captaining a ship then putting people on ice."

Seijūrō had the grace to look somewhat embarrassed. "You disapprove?"

"What, of you putting those ships on ice?" Inari chuckled and shook his head. "No, that was amusing, and it sends a message without hurting people. I do disapprove of you going in on your own and leaving your men behind though."

"They weren't a threat," Seijūrō argued.

"No, of course not, not to you, but your men need to know you haven't changed since you got yourself promoted to a commissioned rank, Sei." Inari gestured to the lower decks where the men went about their duties. "You came up from the bottom, working your ass off and proving that you weren't just the bastard of our king, but you're a tough son of a bitch like the rest of 'em. You've fought with them and for them to get where you are. Don't put them at arm's length now you're leading them."

Seijūrō gripped the railings. "I don't want any of them to get hurt. I know I can't avoid it forever, but if I can keep all of them safe on my first voyage…"

"What, you think that'll be a sign you're a good captain?" Inari shook his head and then adopted a more serious expression. "Who do you think you are, kid?"

"Excuse me?" Seijūrō was taken aback by the unusual cold tone. "What do you mean?"

"Don't presume these men don't know what they've signed up for," Inari said harshly, his stern gaze unrelenting. "They're here because they want to protect their country and loved ones no matter what, and they're willing to risk their lives if need be. Don't look down on them just because you were taught how to fight by your old man."

"I… I'm sorry," Seijūrō lowered his head in shame. "You're right. I have been distant… I've become a stranger to my own men because I thought it would let me protect them but all it does is make them resent me."

"So long as your understand that the men on this ship are your brothers and trust them as much as they trust you, you'll be fine," Inari leant on the railing next to him, refraining from tussling the young man's hair like he used to do. "You're a captain now, Sei."

"Captain!"

Seijūrō turned to the shipmate calling his attention. "What is it?"

"We are approaching the water spout defence system, sir."

"I see, I will be there shortly." Seijūrō looked to Inari and nodded his thanks before heading to the upper decks to take command of the ship.

Inari watched the young captain go with an approvingly smile, only to realise his hand were frozen to the railing and chuckle. "Just like his old man. He really doesn't like being called a kid."

-ooo-

(Nami no Kuni)

Gatō sat by a fire in his quarters and read a light novel as he waited. For what precisely he was waiting for, he did not know. Only time would tell, and for the time being, it appeared he would live. He would live to serve a purpose, that to finance Nami no Kuni for as long as his wealth would allow it, before ultimately being killed by his captors. Gatō had made peace with his fate in a surprisingly short amount of time. He had never been one for denial.

800,000 ryō.

That's how much the supply freighter roughly cost him. Assuming the freighter would continue to come once a month and carry the same value worth of supplies, he would be losing close to ten million a year, and assuming he wouldn't be declared deceased or removed from his position, he would be allowed to live for some many years for Gato Industries, fortunately for the shipping tycoon, was worth an obscene amount of money, money that would keep him alive and comfortable for years to come, albeit not particularly well fed. But perhaps that would change some day.

Sealing patterns became visible on the walls.

'What'll it be today, some more brown muck?' the portly businessman thought as the door opened and the boy entered. The mere sight of him made his stomach uneasy. "Well if it isn't my gracious host. How do you fare on such a beautiful day – it is daytime, isn't it? I can't quite tell."

"You seem to have mistaken me for someone else," Shin said as he placed a tray of food next to him.

"Huh?" was Gatō's intelligent reply. "What are you talking about?" The boy looked identical to his accursed captor. "What are you, a clone?"

"My name is Shinachiku. You may call me Shin if it pleases you."

Gatō looked to the tray with disgust. Brown muck, again. "So you're a clone, huh?" He averted his gaze to Shin as his stomach churned pitifully at the scent of brown muck. "Like the others."

"No, not like the others," Shin said simply. "I am as close as it gets to the real me. You seem nauseous. Are you unwell?"

"You're not like the real you," Gatō said frowning suspiciously. "For starters you don't make me want to puke at the mere sight of you."

"Careful, Gatō-san," Shin warned mildly. "Amongst other things, I will be your attendant while Naruto-sama is away on business. I will personally oversee your wellbeing."

"The kid's gone then? On vacation or something, huh? Probably on my ryō too," Gatō said with a sour look. "So, how do I tell you apart when he gets back? Maybe you ought to change your appearance or somethin'?"

Shin considered the suggestion. "That is not a bad idea." The clone formed and hand seal and focused his chakra. A moment later his hair grew straight and red like a true Uzumaki of old and reached his shoulders. "That should do."

"Red, huh? Wouldn't be my first choice." Gatō shrugged as he laid down his book. "Since you're more amiable then the real you, how about some real food? You wouldn't believe what this stuff does to me." The portly businessman chuckled humourlessly at his own misfortune. "I actually grew up on worse shit than this but after experiencing the finer tastes in life for so long I simply can't go back."

"Perhaps if you cooperate," Shin considered. The clone reached into his cloak and withdrew a scroll. "The supply ship should be here soon. You will communicate another order for more supplies. This list contains all that what we require."

Gatō took the scroll of Shin and opened it, reaching for his reading glasses as he read the list. "There's no way this tiny country needs that many supplies. This is ten times more than your first request!"

"Request?" Shin smiled as though it were a particularly humorous joke. "Nami no Kuni was not without problems before you came and exacerbated them, Gatō-san. I suggest you see these requests as a way to make amends. Perhaps if you devote yourself to doing some good you might feel better about your situation."

"Tche!" Gatō scowled and handed back the scroll. "I might not like you either after all, kid."

"My name is Shinachiku." It appeared the clone shared his creator's distaste for disrespect. "I will accompany you to the communications room after you have finished eating to finalise the coordinates of the first supply ship."

Gatō waited for the door to close as Shin left and threw the tray of food across the room. At this rate his wealth would run out sooner than he had anticipated, and consequentially the need to keep him alive.

-ooo-

(Konohagakure)

"He'll be here soon." The Sandaime looked to Jiraiya as the sage browsed through his bookcases.

Jiraiya picked up a book and read its cover. The art of woodworking didn't strike him as a particularly interesting subject though he knew how to work with the material as far fūinjutsu went. "I know."

"I take it you'll be gone as soon as he's settled, then?" Hiruzen feigned indifference, but in truth felt his age now more than ever. At sixty-nine years old he was far removed from his prime. His relationship with Jiraiya had gotten marginally better over the years, and though there still remained some level of resentment between them, he knew he had a successor in him if it were absolutely necessary – even if Jiraiya didn't know it yet. "I ask because I've been feeling my age lately, Jiraiya."

"You should try a healthier diet," Jiraiya replied as he put away the book. "Don't give me that look," he said upon noticing Hiruzen's frown. "I thought I made myself clear."

"Find me a better candidate," the Sandaime replied knowing it wouldn't be as easy as it may have sound.

Jiraiya looked displeased. "There are plenty people better suited for the job than I am."

"Perhaps, but none that are strong enough to demand the respect of the shinobi world," Hiruzen countered. Jiraiya had never been his first choice to succeed him though he had considered him many times. Both as his sensei and, at a time, father figure, he knew him better than most, if not anyone. He knew his strengths and weaknesses, his shortcomings and vices, and yet he was still the best candidate in his mind.

The Toad Sage scowled. "Minato's former student-"

"Hatake Kakashi is respected, highly skilled and still has a good deal of potential left to realise, but he is not quite strong enough," Hiruzen summed up dismissively. "Any other candidates?"

The Toad Sage scowled. "We're not doing this again, old man."

"You act like assuming the mantle of Hokage is a death sentence, Jiraiya. Perhaps Naruto-kun will replace you when he is of age. You seem to think he has inherited quite a lot from his father." Hiruzen felt like teasing his former pupil. It was certainly not becoming of his age but there were only so few indulgences left to him.

To his surprise Jiraiya appeared rather disturbed by the notion. "We'll have to wait and see about that," he said. "I know it was for his own protection, but growing up in isolation won't make transitioning into life here easy on the kid. Taji thought as much, and she made a pretty convincing argument."

"That was years ago, and did she not later refuse your offer to raise Naruto in the countryside?" Hiruzen didn't quite follow.

"She did, but I think long term isolation took its toll on her as well," Jiraiya said. There was something simply off about his godson though he loathed to admit it. "By the time I offered it to her, she had already spent nearly a decade on the island. That's a lot time to be alone."

"I see." In truth Hiruzen had expected it. Very few SSS-rank missions were ever issued, and of the few that returned none were ever normal to begin with. Many spent the majority of their lives living amongst the enemy as a spy, befriending and earning the trust of those they would ultimately betray, or had committed unspeakable acts in the name of country and village and forever stained their soul in the process.

In his over forty years as Hokage Hiruzen had sent many men and women on such missions, often with chilling awareness that they would likely die or wish they had in a dark corner of their mind if they made it back, and the guilt always stayed with him. The majority of missions were successful even if the operator died in the process of accomplishing their vital missions, but there were a few Hiruzen regretted, a few whose suffering were for naught, who for all their effort and loyalty simply had served no true purpose. He was ashamed to admit it, but perhaps Taji had suffered a similar fate.

Perhaps her years of isolation could have been avoided or shortened significantly.

"Josanshi Taji will be honourably discharged from service when she returns."

"That seems like the right thing to do," Jiraiya agreed, a heavy look on his aging face. He, too, regretted her many years on the island. "I should have pushed her into leaving the island."

"We are both at fault here, Jiraiya," Hiruzen told his former student. "I must say, I am significantly more worried for Naruto-kun. His formative years were spent in isolation away from children his own age. Undoubtedly that will leave lasting effects."

"Sending him to the academy might do him some good," Jiraiya said after a long moment of silence. "Better late than never."

"From the way you describe him, Jiraiya, I don't think he will appreciate that," Hiruzen stroked his beard pensively. "No, I think he won't appreciate that at all."

Jiraiya folded his arms over his chest. "Yeah, well I'm his godfather. I might not have been around as much as I could or should have, but I still care for the kid. It's important he forges relationships with kids his own age."

"Occasionally having a hand in raising a godson from afar and raising him as your own flesh and blood from birth are two very different things, Jiraiya." The Sandaime looked across his desk for his pipe. "He will most likely resent you more for it."

"I know," Jiraiya acknowledged. "He has every right to resentment me, hate me even, and I deserve all of it. I'll still try my damn hardest to make sure he has some resemblance to normalcy though, for as long as he can afford it."

-ooo-

(Konohagakure Outskirts)

Naruto stood atop a tall hill staring to the far distance. He could see the village almost in its entirety; the thick forests that surrounded it, the nearby rivers and streams, and the mountainous terrain at the back of the village upon which the likenesses of the Hokage were engraved. He felt a strange feeling in his stomach as he took it all in. This was the place where he was born, the place where he would have grown up had his godfather and the Sandaime not decided to send him away for his safety.

For a moment he imagined what his life would have been like. How much different would his life have if he grown in Hi no Kuni, in Konohagakure? He doubted it would be similar to his upbringing under Hattori's stern hand.

'I have few fond memories of this place,' Kurama spoke up through their connection. 'Don't linger on what could have been. You are here now, this is who you are, and this place is merely a steppingstone to our future. Don't forget what we are truly here for.'

'I know, Kurama.' After one last linger look Naruto climbed down the hill and met Taji at the bottom of the dirt path.

"You ready to go?" she asked him with a motherly smile of concern. "It must be scary for you too. It's been a very long since I last saw the village. It's beautiful, isn't it?"

"It is." Naruto adjusted the straps on his shoulder and began walking down the track. "What will you do when we get back?"

"Hmm?" Taji had given it much thought over the years what she would do when the day came they returned. Returning to her old life as an ANBU operative was almost certainly out of the question. With the exception of her medical ninjutsu, which had undoubtedly improved over the years, the vast majority of her skills had simply dulled far too much to meet the high standards of the clandestine organisation. "I think I'll go work at the hospital. I've learned a lot thanks to the Uzumaki clan library. There is much I can share with the village and many lives I can save."

'Good,' he thought to himself. He could keep an eye on her and protect her if need be. Perhaps they could even find a cure to whatever Hattori had done to her. Perhaps then he wouldn't have to feel crushing guilt whenever he looked at her. Taji's episodes were becoming increasingly more difficult to deal with it. There was more he wanted to ask her, questions he had long since decided never to ask of her out of fear how she would answer them.

"Speak your mind," Taji encouraged. True to her maternal nature she could tell when something was bothering him, even if he tried to hide it.

Naruto hesitated for a moment. "Have you-" The words pained him just by giving them voice. "Do you ever regret leaving the village?" He couldn't bring himself to look at her. "You had friends here, people you cared about."

"Sure I have some regrets," Taji admitted easily. "But you're not one of them. I fell in love with you the moment I first held you. You were mine and that was all that has ever mattered to me since. I've never regretted any of it, not even for a second."

Her words meant the world to him, they filled him with a measure of gratitude happiness and love he could never truly put into words. They empowered him, gave him solace and strength, and yet he persisted. "But what about the life you had here?"

"What about it?" Taji smiled knowingly. "One day when you have kids of your own you'll understand that there is nothing more important in this world than family. I raised you like my own, Naruto-kun. You are my son."

He could only nod hid head as he knew his voice would have failed if he tried to convey his gratitude in words. A part of him worried still about something else.

Would he understand? Naruto wasn't like others his age, or people in general. He was different. It was a tragic truth but most would consider him damaged goods incapable of seeing the world the way they did, the way normal people did. He wondered what kind of father he would make when he inevitably settled down in order to ensure the survival of his lineage. It wasn't something most people thought about, aside from other clan heirs perhaps, but he doubted any of them were indoctrinated like he had been, that they were trained not to simply revive a clan but an entire country with it.

Hattori hadn't simply taught him the virtues of his clan or its history. The relic had seen to it that he parroted every last line fed to him about the superiority of the Uzumaki growing up, and that he knew just how great they were to make the weight on his shoulder all the more heavier.

'I'm getting ahead of myself,' he knew. There were still a great many things he had to do before he fathered heirs, and he was still young, a young man at least in body if not in mind. The weight of his responsibility still weighed heavily on his shoulders but the took comfort in knowing that he still had a few years to go.

"We're nearly there," Taji announced a significant period of time later. "Are you nervous?"

"No," he said.

His mother smiled the way only a knowing mother could. "Really?"

"Perhaps… I am a little anxious," he reluctantly conceded. He had a hard time keeping it together in Nami no Kuni. Konohagakure alone had at least a population a hundred times greater than that of the miniscule fishing island. It would also be the first he'd interact with people his own age, which could potentially be problematic if his experience with adults was any indication. Thus far, with the exception of his mother who loved him and Hattori who saw him as nothing but a tool, adults either feared him, resented him, or both. Suffice it to say, there was enough cause to be ill at ease.

Taji sensed his discomfort and ruffled his hair. She couldn't even remember the last time she had done that; her little boy was growing up fast. "Maybe you'll find yourself a nice girl there."

"That'll hardly be on my list of priorities," He lied as he permitted her to pinch his cheek playfully. It wouldn't do for his mother to coddle him once they arrived in Konoha where he would have an image to uphold, that of an heir to one of the world's most notorious bloodlines. "Mother, you know I love you, right?"

"Of course, you're Mama's little-" she caught her error before she noticed his light frown. "I'm sorry, I know you don't like it."

He wasn't going to lie to spare her feelings, even if he wanted to. He was born to lead, and it would hardly do for the ruler of a country to be treated like a child by anyone, not even his own mother.

"It's hard for me, you know," Taji said halfway between grumpy and sad. "It feels just like yesterday that we were leaving the village. I had you all to myself then, my beautiful little baby boy. You're almost all grown up now…"

"You're still young, Mother," Naruto reminded her. He wasn't placating to her, Taji still had enough years in her to have children of her own flesh and blood, even though he didn't particularly like thinking about it. "Perhaps you should find someone."

"Oh, I don't know!" Taji held her face in dramatic fashion. "It's been so long since I've been on a date, and I'm so old now! Who would want to go out with a single mother my age?"

"Any man remotely interested in intelligent, beautiful women." Perhaps he was placating to her now, though there was some truth to it. His mother was, objectively speaking, a very desirable partner for any man.

"What happened to marrying your Mama when you grew up, Naru-chan?" Taji crooned.

Suddenly there was an added weight in his step.

He had never said such a thing.

Not even as an innocent child before his ancestor had claimed him. The only logical explanation was that it was another fabricated memory.

"Don't limit yourself on my account, Mother," he decided to play along for now with a wincing smile.

The rest of the walk was much of a one-sided conversation. His mother was rather talkative; he figured she too felt some trepidation at the prospect of returning home after thirteen years. He didn't particularly mind, it was good to spend time with her while he could. Back on the island he was constantly busy training under his ancestor's watchful eye. It lightened his mood considerably simply hearing her voice free and happy, as opposed to the odd things she would say when experiencing one of her episodes, or the emotionless, monotone droning whenever Hattori manipulated her. He secretly prayed to find a way to liberate her when they were in the village, far removed from the relic's influence.

As they neared the village Naruto sensed they were being watched, presumably by ANBU. The observers followed them up until the point they came upon the gates to the village and then disappeared.

"Halt."

A group of Konoha shinobi met them at the gates. Taji produced a set of papers with a disarming smile. "Hokage-sama is expecting us."

The chūnin looked over the papers with a scrutinising eye, then nodded upon verifying their authenticity.

'Such an inefficient method,' Naruto thought as the papers were returned to them and they were allowed entry. He would make sure to devise a much more efficient method of identity verification when his time came to rule over Uzu no Kuni.

Taji went ahead as he stood a few feet away from the gates. He could see the dirt road stretch out and diverge into multiple paths. He took it all in for a moment; the shops, the vendors, the villagers going about their business, the shinobi stationed nearby, and so much more. It was the first time he had ever seen a lively village.

"Come on," his mother encouraged him.

Naruto took a few steps and stopped mere inches past the gate.

"Welcome home," Taji said smiling warmly.

Naruto blinked. Only now was he aware of the noise.

They were on the edge of the village and yet it was so loud. It was as though he had been deaf up until that moment, as though he had not truly been in the company of others. The people of Nami no Kuni were nowhere near this many, nor were they as loud, and the small fishing village was so tiny there were hardly any establishments to make note of it.

Konoha was entirely the opposite. It was big and loud and busy. He saw people as far as his eyes could see. Heard sounds for as far as his ears could hear, and caught the scent of countless smells he had never experienced before.

It was simply put overwhelming.

-ooo-

(Hokage Tower)

Hiruzen dismissed the ANBU knelt before him with a nod and then looked to Jiraiya. "He will be here very shortly, Jiraiya."

"If I didn't know better I'd say you sound nervous," Jiraiya smirked, arms crossed, and leaning on the wall again.

The God of Shinobi smiled grimly. "The last time I saw him he was a newborn," Hiruzen stuffed fresh tobacco in his pipe and lit it.

"Word of advice, don't treat him like you would treat Konohamaru," Jiraiya said stifling a yawn.

"Oh?" Hiruzen raised a questioning eyebrow. "I wasn't planning to but why do you say that?"

"I've noticed he doesn't like being treated like a child," Jiraiya said shrugging. "He is a teenager, I guess."

Hiruzen scratched his chin in though. "Very well, duly noted."

-ooo-

'Keep it together, Naruto,' Kurama warned, concern evident in his low voice. 'Your heart rate is skyrocketing.'

Naruto grunted his discomfort; he was hot and sweating profusely as they made their way through the crowded streets. 'What is happening to me?' His body was acting strange.

'You're having a panic attack.'

'Now?' It couldn't have happened at a worst time. Naruto cursed his weakness. His mother was revelling in their homecoming several paces ahead. 'What do I do?'

'Breathe,' Kurama instructed simply. 'Find some place quiet to regroup. If you keeps this up you will begin to hyperventilate.'

Naruto grit his teeth as he gripped his chest under his cloak. 'What if we're being followed? I can't let anyone see me like this.'

'You're not in any state to focus your sensory perception. That is a risk you will have to take.'

'Take over.'

'I will if you want me to but it's risky.'

Air evaded his lungs only for a short moment but it wasenough to catch Taji's attention when he gasped and half stumbled to regain his footing midstride. "Naruto-kun?" she was at his side immediately, steadying him.

"Not… here…" he managed.

Taji took him by the hand and lead him into an alley, steadying him against the wall. "Shallow breathing, clammy hands, dilated pupils," she listed as she examined his symptoms. "Naruto-kun, you're having an anxiety attack and it's causing you to hyperventilate. Don't worry, it's going okay. I had a suspicion this might happen. Hyper anxiety is common amongst – it doesn't matter, you're going to be fine, just breathe."

"How do I fix it?" he wanted to ask, but all he could manage was rasping sounds between gasping for air.

Taji channelled chakra to her hand and placed it on his chest. "Look at me, Naruto-kun. That's right, look straight into my eyes." Taji massaged his chest with circular motion.

Naruto jolted as he felt a mild electric shock course through his body. It literally shocked him out of his panic attack. His ability to breathe returned to him as he filled his lungs with air. He slid down the fall, eyes still wide with shock.

'How do you feel?' Kurama asked tentatively after a long silence. 'Naruto…?"

Naruto heard nothing, it all sounded muffled. Kurama's worried probes, his mother's voice, the noises coming from the streets – none of it registered as he sat there holding his chest, terrified for the first time in years.

'Switch with me,' Kurama ordered.

Switch.

It was the only word he recognised in his dulled state.

Kurama blinked through his host's eyes and looked up to Taji. His partner's surrogateput up a brave face but he sensed her fear. "He'll be fine."

Taji jumped, immediately noticing the change in her son's features. "Kyūbi…?"

"You might as well call me Kurama," the bijū said as he stood up. "Naruto isn't coping well with his anxiety. He has been losing it the moment he stepped foot in the village."

"I didn't think it would be this bad," Taji covered her mouth, tears prickling her eyes. "My baby…"

"He's not a child," Kurama said harshly, though his tone softened. "Naruto is strong. He will overcome this."

Taji swallowed thickly, wiping her tears with her sleeve. "What is happening to him now?"

"He instinctively shut himself in his conscious," Kurama answered glancing to the bustling street. "It's a defence mechanism he developed over the years to cope."

"Cope?" the former ANBU operative repeated confused. "Cope with what? He's not some damaged child or anything - Naruto had a perfectly happy childhood!"

Kurama stared at her in silence. 'Those false memories won't make things easier in the future.' Rather than saying anything, however, Kurama kept it to himself. The woman had her memories warped beyond recognition. She had no memory of the horrible things that been to her or Naruto and he would gain nothing from telling her the truth. "What was your mission?"

"Why do you ask?" Taji demanded suspicious of the bijū.

Kurama glowered impatiently. "Answer the question."

"To raise Naruto-kun on Uzu no Kuni and return him to Konoha when the time was right," the former ANBU relented under the bijū's glare.

The Kyūbi hesitated. Naruto would most definitely approve of his interrogating the woman, but his host had a blind spot when it came to her. "What do you think of Uzumaki Hattori?"

"What is with the question? Hattori-san is a lovely harmless old man, he always dotes on Naruto-kun," Taji found the courage to glare at the fox. "I know my son trusts you, but I don't like it when you take over his body."

"Tche!" Kurama stepped closer to the woman. 'As I thought, she won't be able to speak on Naruto's true intentions.'

Taji took an involuntary step back, intimidated but refusing to show it. "What are you doing?"

Kurama raised his host's clawed hand in front of her face. "Inemuri." The Forced Slumber took effect immediately as her eyes went blank and then closed as he fell over. Kurama set her down gently against the wall. As much as he distrusted her, he knew how much she meant to his host. 'Time to wake up, Naruto.'

-ooo-

(Uzu no Kuni)

Hattori opened his eyes and snarled having observed the scene unfold as the bijū interrogated his pawn. "Blasted fox." The relic had never been fond of the beast and could never understand his sister's affect for it, and now it threatened to become a thorn in his side – a thorn he mostly certainly did not need.

It was fortunate the beast did not ask too many questions, and from the look of it, it made sure to erase the woman's memories of their conversation. 'They are moving against me,' Hattori fumed quietly. 'Slowly but surely they will move from under my thumb and turn against me.' The boy's utter disregard for their plan in Nami no Kuni was all the proof he needed.

The fūinjutsu master ran a hand through the sparse strands of red hair in his white mane, cackling lowly. "Very well, boy. We shall play this game."

-ooo-

(Konohagakure)

Naruto regained his bearings standing in the alley, stumbling momentarily as Kurama relinquished control of his body. 'What did you do?' he demanded coldly upon seeing his mother unconscious. 'Kurama.'

He rarely took such a tone with his partner and the bijū knew that, prompting the fox to respond.

'What you should have done. I tested the parameters of the lies she lives.'

'You had no right,' Naruto said glowered inwardly in genuine anger. 'She is my mother, Kurama. There are lines not even you can cross!'

'She believes the old man is harmless,' Kurama told him without hesitation. 'She believes she raised you in peace and tranquillity and that you knew happiness when in truth you suffered. She has absolutely no idea what he did to you, what he made her do to you-'

'Enough!' Naruto clenched his fists tightly. In truth he wasn't angry with Kurama, or rather, not for the reasons he pretended to be. He knew his mother was not the same woman that had sacrificed her entire world for him, and he had his suspicions what his ancestor had done to hide that, but it made it no less aggravating, no less painful to hear it confirmed. 'I'm sorry…'

'As am I,' Kurama apologised. 'You are right, it was not my place.'

Naruto rubbed his face frustrated and sighed. 'It's okay, Kurama.'

'I would cross all of them if it was in your best interest, you know?' Kurama said a quiet moment later.

'What?'

'The lines, the parameters, the boundaries, whatever you wish to call them… If it means your survival, I do not care if you hate me, I will never stop protecting you, Naruto.'

Naruto was touched, truly and deeply, though he couldn't find the words or courage to express those feelings. 'I could never hate you, Kurama.'

'Then we should never forget that, no matter what the outcome of the challenges we face in pursuit of our paradise.'

'Warmed up to the idea, have you?' Naruto smiled inwardly. 'I'm glad, Kurama.'

'We should get going.'

A little known fact, Kurama was rather easily embarrassed by his feelings, what little he showed of them anyway. Naruto decided to move on quickly and woke his mother.

Taji stirred awake, blinking through unfocused eyes. "Naru-chan… What are we doing in this place?"

"You were tired and wanted a moment's rest," he replied. Lies always left a bad taste in his mouth, especially when it concerned his mother. More than that, however, it frightened him how easy it had become to lie to her. "The Hokage expects us, Mother."

Taji got to her feet almost immediately, rubbed her eyes and settled into a focused expression. "Let's go."

-ooo-

The walk to the Hokage Tower was shorter than expected. On the way Naruto found himself on increasingly more stares from older generations as well inexplicable giggling and looks from girls his own age as they followed his every step as though he was some foreign celebrity.

"Aren't you popular?" Taji had teased.

Naruto was more concerned with the stares from the adults. 'Why are they looking at me like that? It's like they've seen a ghost.'

'They must be confused by your resemblance to your father. He was loved and respected by these people.'

'That makes sense,' Naruto conceded though he wished the looks would cease. It made him uncomfortable and tense. He needed to relax.

Unfortunately the looks persisted all the way to the tower where even the guards regarded him with suspicion as they approached. They must have a stood out more than expected.

"State your business."

Naruto examined the guards. They were tall and heavyset and bore the Akimichi clan symbol on their garb. "Uzumaki Naruto. I am here to see the Hokage."

"My name is Josanshi Taji," Taji supplied as she produced their documents. "We are expected, Akimichi-san."

The Akimichi guards each perused the documents before returning them and stepping aside. "Welcome back, Josanshi-san."

Taji entered first and waited by the lobby. Naruto looked over his shoulder, an indulgent smile on his face. "Would you like to show us to Hokage-sama's office, ANBU-san?"

The Akimichi guards look perturbed and adopted suspicious looks. "Why are you being followed?"

A woman in ANBU guard with long purple hair and a cat mask appeared. "This way."

"Much obliged," Naruto nodded as the operative led the way inside. "I take it your subordinates won't be joining us?"

If the kunoichi was shocked she did an excellent at hiding it. "How long were you aware we were following you?"

"Your colleagues began to follow us within a mile or so from the village, I believe you joined them at the entrance." Naruto observed the ANBU closely with intrigue. If they had been close enough during his anxiety attack she was hiding it perfectly. "What is your name if I may ask, ANBU-san."

"You may call me Cat. Just Cat."

"My name is Uzumaki Naruto. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Cat."

"Likewise."

Taji looked upon them with a raised brow. "I thought you weren't going to embarrass them."

"It was not my intention to embarrass anyone," he denied smoothly as she joined them. "It has been years since you were last here, I figured we could use a guide."

"The Hokage's office is this way," Cat said as they passed the lobby and several bemused shinobi along the way.

"Wait a minute…" Taji said upon hearing her voice clearly. "That hair, the voice… Are you…?"

"I'd rather you not speak my name, Josanshi-senpai."

Naruto blinked. "You two know each other from when you were in ANBU?"

"That's right, though I almost didn't recognise you Yu- Cat," Taji laughed lightly. "Is he still around? You used to follow him wherever he went back in the day."

"You know I can't comment on that, Josanshi-senpai."

"Of course, of course," Taji nodded understandingly as they climbed the circular staircase. "Do you know who this is?" she asked looking to her son.

"I have my theories," Cat said though she didn't elaborate any further. "We're here," she announced a few minutes later as they finished climbing the stairs and arrived before a large oaken door. "Hokage-sama is expecting you."

"Thank you," Naruto nodded politely and followed his mother suit into the office, releasing a breath.

-ooo-

As the door to his office opened and in strode his two guests, Hiruzen truly felt as though time had truly flown. For a split second it was though Namikaze Minato strode into his office, young and handsome with gravity defying blond hair and piercing blue eyes. Then the Sandaime blinked and, for the first time in thirteen years, looked upon Uzumaki Naruto.

"We have returned, Hokage-sama," Taji said with a deep bow.

Hiruzen felt a pang of guilt. Her best years had been spent in isolation. Where once a beautiful young lady stood in his office taking on the burden of protecting the newborn son of her closest friend, there now was a mother in her place.

"How was the trip?" Jiraiya asked as they shared a brief embrace. "Good, I take it?" the Sannin asked looking at Naruto.

"Uneventful, Jiraiya-kyōfu," Naruto replied briefly looking into his direction before looking back to Hiruzen. He hadn't imagined the Sandaime Hokage of Konohagakure, the Professor, the God of Shinobi to be so… different from what he had expected. Nonetheless, he bowed, well aware of his manners and what was expected of him. "It's an honour to meet you, Hokage-sama."

"Forgive me," Hiruzen said as he rose from behind his desk to meet them. "It's been many years since I last saw you, Naruto-kun. You were just a newborn then," the Hokage smiled nostalgically in a grandfatherly fashion. "For a moment I believed I was going senile. You are the spitting image of your father. He was great man, Naruto-kun."

"Thank you," Naruto bowed again to be polite if nothing else.

"I suppose you have a lot of questions you would like to ask of me, Naruto-kun," Hiruzen said gesturing to the chairs in front of his desk and sat down again. "I too have some questions for you."

"Such as, Hokage-sama?" The heir drew a velvet chair by the desk and sat down next to his mother.

"Please, there is no need for such formality," Hiruzen waved his hand dismissively at his formality. "You are like a grandson to me, strange as that may sound."

'Be careful of this one, Naruto.'

'I know, Kurama.' Naruto smiled politely and nodded. He wasn't fooled by the Hokage's grandfatherly image. This was Sarutobi Hiruzen, the God of Shinobi, a shinobi for over 60 years. No shinobi lived that long without a certain affinity for deceit and deviousness. "Of course, Hiruzen-jiisama."

"Better," Hiruzen nodded encouragingly. "Taji, you have grown in beauty and grace since the last time I saw you all those years ago."

"Oh, please, there is no need for such flattery, Hokage-sama, I am practically an old lady now."

"Nonsense," the Sarutobi shook his head. "You have raised a fine young man, Taji. I can tell just by looking at him."

Naruto patiently observed them exchange pleasantries for a moment. "You said you had some questions for me, Hiruzen-jiisama?"

"Ah, yes," the Hokage looked at him with curiosity. "How strong are you, Naruto-kun?"

Naruto hid his surprise impeccably, especially given the circumstances. "Jiraiya-kyōfu is of the opinion-"

"Ah, yes, I have heard what Jiraiya had to say," Hiruzen interrupted smoothly with the same grandfatherly charm. "I'd like to hear what you think."

"I am capable," he stated neutrally a moment later, more curt than intended.

Taji looked worried. "He's just being modest, Hokage-sama. Naruto-kun is very strong for his age, he can protect himself."

It wasn't modesty but rather caution behind his choice of words. With every passing moment Naruto's evaluation of the Sandaime Hokage changed. He didn't need Kurama to sense the motives behind Hiruzen's words, as faint as it was. He was being tested, and something told him he had already failed.

Thankfully the Hokage took Taji's words into consideration as he leant back in his chair. "Naruto-kun, how would you feel about joining the academy for the rest of the year before becoming an official shinobi of Konoha?"

Naruto had prepared for such a situation, though he hadn't anticipated it would come up soon. 'As I thought, he believed I would object to joining the academy. I mustn't give him the impression that is the preferred outcome.' It was a test he should have anticipated though he knew how to pass it. "I am a newcomer, and when it comes to living in a shinobi village, I am completely unfamiliar with the social norms and standards. I trust your judgment, Hiruzen-jiisama."

"Then it's decided," Hiruzen smiled warmly. The faint animosity he sensed vanished completely. "I expect you will need some time to adjust to your new surroundings. It was my intention you return earlier, however your mother felt it was best you not return home until your training was complete. I believe you will like it here, Naruto-kun."

Naruto bowed his head as was expected of him. "I hope so too, Hiruzen-jiisama."

"Very well," the Sandaime said concluding. "You must be tired from your journey. I have taken the liberty of arranging living quarters in anticipation of your rival."

Naruto hesitated a moment. "If I may, I was told of an Uzumaki clan storage facility on the outskirts of the village, if possible I would like to reside there for the time being as I familiarise myself with the village."

"Informed by who?" Jiraiya asked arms crossed with suspicion. "Hattori?"

Naruto regarded his godfather with a nod.

"Those facilities are in ruin, Naruto-kun," Hiruzen said. "They have not been attended for many years. They simply would not be habitable in their current state."

"I could-"

"I'm afraid I must insist you stay within village walls," Hiruzen said with finality before he could finish his thoughts.

Naruto swallowed his pride and nodded his understanding. "I will trust your judgment, Hiruzen-jiisama." Whether it was a simple power play, mistrust or simply a desire to keep him within sight, Naruto knew the Sandaime had no interest in entertaining his proposal to personally renovate the Uzumaki facilities.

"Where will we live, Hokage-sama?" Taji inquired politely.

"Your father hailed of a small though very accomplished clan, Naruto-kun," Hiruzen said with a grandfatherly smile. "You will live in the house of your parents, a private residence near the Hyūga clan compound."

"That is… pleasing," Naruto bowed his head once more in thanks. His sentiments were genuine. He was curious to see the conditions in which his father, The Yellow Flash, had been raised, and lived with his mother until their final days.

Jiraiya stifled a lazy yawn. "You should run along now, kid. The old man and I have some unresolved business and I'm sure the two of you have some shopping to do for basic necessities." The Sannin withdrew a thick enveloped bulging with wads of ryō bills from his pocket and offered it to Taji. "Consider it an advance on your payment."

"Thank you," Taji said as she graciously accepted the envelope and then bowed one last time to the Hokage. "We'll be on our way then, Hokage-sama. I will report back tomorrow for debriefing."

"Very well," Hiruzen permitted. "One last thing, Naruto-kun," he said as they stood by the door. "You'll be expected at the academy tomorrow morning."

"Of course, Hiruzen-jiisama. I look forward to it," he lied as smoothly as his mother led him away.

'The old man is not to be underestimated regardless of the airs he puts on, Naruto.'

Naruto nodded as they left the building. 'I know, Kurama.'

-ooo-

Jiraiya regarded the Sandaime with a mix of suspicion and disapproval. "What the hell was that, sensei? Was it really necessary to treat him like a five year old?"

"You said he is rather prideful, so yes," Hiruzen replied mildly as he poured himself a glass of liquor. "That boy needs humbling especially because he is powerful."

"He's not going to turn into another Orochimaru," Jiraiya frowned at his former sensei. "And even if he was, do you really think treating him like that helps?"

"Please, Jiraiya, I could tell from a mere glance that boy is far more powerful than either you or Orochimaru ever were at that age," Hiruzen said as he reclined in his seat. "I can see his father's brilliance in him, as clear as day, and I can also see he is well aware of his own power. Now he will learn that power is not everything and that there are things outside of his control."

"Sounds to me like you enjoy your power plays wherever you can get them," Jiraiya said stubbornly. "You did it to us when we were growing up and now you're doing do it the kid."

-ooo-

(Clan District – Namikaze Household)

Naruto hadn't known what to expect of the house in which his father had grown up. He was aware of his father hailed from the small though accomplished Namikaze clan, a lineage of shinobi, a band of nomadic warriors whom originally hailed from Kaminari no Kuni and fought for the highest bidder. Their nomadic way of life as mercenaries eventually brought them to Hi no Kuni. The Namikaze were amongst the few clans to dare and defy the Uchiha, though they lost a great many more battles than they won, eventually dwindling the clan to but a few dozen. His great great grandfather Namikaze Shingari (2) was a renown shinobi and had earned the respect Tobirama Senju, whom later invited the Namikaze into the fold as one of Konohagakure's founding clans shortly after the Sarutobi and Shimura clans joined.

The Namikaze were amongst the first to join ANBU at its founding by Tobirama and gave their lives in service of Konoha as members of the clandestine organisation that reported directly to the Hokage. To those ignorant of Konoha's history, the Namikaze were simply one of many unremarkable shinobi families in Konoha, and those who had studied the village's history knew a number of chapters were written in their blood.

There were two clans particularly close to the Namikaze through their joint service in ANBU, the Hatake clan and the Kohaku clan. (3) For generations the three clans worked together closely to protect the village, and as a result their young were assigned to the same team much the same as those of the Yamanaka, Nara and Akimichi clans were. This relationship was strained, however, resultant from an incident during a critical missions prior to the Third Shinobi World War, during which legendary shinobi Hatake Sakumo choose to prioritise the lives of his teammates Namikaze Seijūrō, his grandfather, and Kohaku Kyōjō (4) at the cost of the mission, a failure that, in part, trigged the Third Shinobi World War.

As many of the Namikaze and Hatake in particular had died in the previous war, both clans were nearly extinguished by the end of the war, leaving his father and his pupil Hatake Kakashi as the sole survivors of their respective clans. The Kohaku clan, whom were notoriously difficult to work with, were given permission to relocate to a stronghold outside Konoha.

"I have never been as aware I am the last of my father's lineage as I am now," Naruto said aloud as his mother crossed the road ahead of him. "My father grew up in this house, he lived here with my mother, and I would have lived here with them if…" he trailed off, unable to finish the sentence and the implications it held.

Taji looked at him sympathetically but offered no words of comfort. He did not need or want them.

'Forgive me.'

'Forgive you for what, Kurama?' Naruto asked of his bijū partner. 'Forgive you for being sealed away for decades on end only to be enslaved in the short time you were freed from the seal? Do not ever apologise or ask my forgiveness for this again, Kurama. You were as much of a victim as my parents.'

'You know I was in control when I killed them.'

'I know… I also know you had been a prisoner for close to a hundred years. I've said it many times before, I do not blame you, rather I blame the man that extracted you from my mother's seal. He is the one responsible for my parents' deaths.'

'Madara.'

'Madara,' Naruto nodded his head as he, too, crossed the road and made his way past the low porch into the modest house. '

'If he is still out there, you will have your revenge if you stay in this village long enough. Your training will have been worth it-'

'We will speak of this later, Kurama,' Naruto said suddenly as he clenched his fists.

As though she sensed his anger, Taji turned with a concerned expression. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing is wrong," Naruto answered in a dull tone as he unclenched his fist and reigned in his emotions.

His dream of a paradise would some day become a reality, he had known that the day he determined to achieve it. It was a pure ambition, childish even, but he had meant every word he had ever spoken of his dream since. One day he would rule over a country that was prosperous and beautiful, a place where he and his offspring and would know peace.

Unknown to anyone but Kurama, however, the resurgence of Uzu no Kuni was not his sole ambition. There was one more ambition he held, a far more ominous desire he held with in a dark corner of his mind, a thirst for vengeance against the man whom had murdered his parents and robbed him of a life with them.

Uchiha Madara would rue the day he let Uzumaki Naruto live.


Author's Notes

And there you have it. It's not my longest chapter to date but I think it covers quite a lot of things.

Hiruzen being somewhat of a dick to Naruto serves a greater purpose than one might surmise from their exchange this chapter. Naruto will learn he has a long way to go as far as clan politics are concerned and this simply the first lesson of many. More will follow, in particular with the Hyūga clan as alluded to earlier on when he took custody of Irihi's eye.

As the last scene would indicate, there is more to Naruto than I let on in earlier chapters. He has only two goals in life, and one of them appears to have come to fruition in Seijūrō's time, who by the way, if it wasn't clear already, is Naruto's bastard son. And yes, Naruto becomes a king in the future, but more on that later.

Naruto's other goal, which is no less important, though I purposefully choose not to reveal it until he arrived in Konoha, is to kill Uchiha Madara. Before anyone asks: no, Kurama does not remember precisely who summoned him nor can he recall the chakra of the person who did but he the only one man to have ever summoned him is Uchiha Madara. For the time being, Obito is not a known quantity.

I suppose you could say Naruto is an avenger like Sasuke in a way, but I'd argue he's smarter about it and I will aim to demonstrate that as the story progresses.

For those interested, Seijūrō will be most prominently depicted in jumps to the future. He is Naruto's firstborn child and is quite an important character. I intend to introduce more characters in the future over time so you can get to know them and actually care about them. To that end I'll avoid having more than one OC pop up at a time.

That's all for now. Hope you enjoyed, and please review. Chapter 8 is well on the way.

Notes

(1) Imagine the same faceguard as Tobirama (and Yamato) only with a spiral emblem. In fact, the Uzu shinobi wear similar amour as well without the fur.

(2) Minato means harbour so figured I'd use a name in the same vein – sorta. Shingari means anchor.

(3) The Kohaku clan was first mentioned in the Twelve Ninja Guardian filler arc in Naruto Shippūden. In Naruto: Potential Realised I've written of an ANBU captain by the codename Rooster. His real name is Kohaku Shūichi and he was a teammate of Minato and Sarutobi Kaen.

(4) Kohaku Kyōjō was a teammate of Namikaze Seijūrō (Minato's father and Yūki Seijūrō's namesake) and Hatake Sakumo. Kyōjō means dogmatic and refers to the Kohaku clan's devoted nature.