A/N: This story is a "spin-off" of The Empty Cage. Reading TEC is not required to understand what's happening in this story, but it would probably help considerably.
One moment Kuushou was "resting" in his room at the Yamanaka residence, his body sleeping while he planned and practiced. The next he experienced a sensation disturbingly similar to what the Death God had done to him during the sealing, only even more intense and abrupt.
The moment his senses cleared, he became aware of a most unpleasant feeling. His bed – normally quite warm and comfortable – was stiff, lumpy, and rather cool. A faint but incredibly foul odor assaulted his senses, equal parts mold, mildew, rancid food, and decomposing garbage.
Thirty minutes later he had established several facts. First, he was not in the Yamanaka Residence. Instead he was in an apartment in what looked to be the slums, and a quick look out the window had determined the source of at least part of the foul odor as an overly full dumpster located directly below.
Second, his container had changed overnight, the body no longer the finely tuned machine he had crafted through years of concerted effort. It was still clearly the same person, he noted, but the muscles were pathetic compared to his former state, and he was nearly six inches shorter than he was used to being.
Third, the calendar – which conveniently had the days crossed out as they passed – indicated that today was "Graduation Day! This time for sure, believe it!" Whoever had written this scrawl had nearly gouged through the paper in their haste but still managed to be legible, if barely.
Fourth, this was not a genjutsu of any sort, much as he might wish otherwise; or, if it was, then it was one crafted by Kami himself for reasons unknown. He could find no flaws or inconsistencies in his senses and his youki continued to course through his container's body unimpeded.
Deciding that he would play along with... whatever this was until he had more information, he donned the only clothing available: brightly colored orange pants and a similarly orange jacket over a black shirt, wondering the whole time who would even create such clothing, much less purchase four identical sets. The heavily patched state of the garments indicated that the owner had been using these jumpsuits for some time.
Kuushou drew one additional conclusion from what he had seen so far: he had not been the one in control prior to the... jump, change, switch, whatever it had been.
A quick check in the mirror confirmed that his whisker marks that Ino had dubbed "cute" - solely to annoy him, he was sure - were on prominent display, though his eyes were their normal blue hue, the pupils fully human in appearance. One last check around the apartment turned up a single kunai pouch, as heavily repaired as his clothing, and then he was out the door.
The apartment building, it turned out, was located in the civilian section of town, and a rather rundown part of it at that. He wasn't sure he'd ever actually set foot in this area before, but with the Hokage Tower as a landmark he established his bearings and quickly set off to the Academy.
As he made his way through Konoha, he began testing the limits of his body. He would sprint as fast as he could without the aid of chakra for a short distance, then jump back and forth rapidly, then stretch his limbs to the utmost, and so on. It no doubt looked strange to the civilians, but he had seen ninja do stranger things in the name of exercise. He found that he was in excellent shape... by civilian standards. His current body was literally years behind by his own, rather more exacting, standards. If he was forced to endure this body as he had his last, he would have to carefully consider just how quickly he could get it back into proper shape.
As Kuushou moved through the village, he didn't overlook the fact that no one greeted him. Shop owners and civilians who had welcomed his presence before refused to acknowledge him. Even calling out greetings and referring to them by name did not garner the desired reaction; instead they stiffened in alarm and regarded him suspiciously. Interesting.
He arrived at the Academy with fifteen minutes to spare, noting that the apparent indifference he had seen from the civilians extended to the teachers and students. His fellow students, who had previously sought out his advice and companionship whenever possible or looked on jealously from afar, glanced at him dismissively before returning to whatever they had been doing. Shrugging, he made his way over to Shikamaru and Chouji.
"Hey Shika, Chouji," Kuushou said, waving.
Chouji hesitantly waved back, looking a little uncomfortable. Shikamaru didn't even bother to raise his head off the desk. "What do you want, Naruto?" the Nara mumbled.
Kuushou blinked at the less than friendly response, but pushed forward anyway. "Want to play a quick game while we wait? It'll be a while before they get to our names."
Shikamaru did raise his head now, confusion clear on his face. "Why would I do that?" he asked. "No offense, but I don't think you'd be much of a challenge. Hell, do you even know how to play shogi? Troublesome..."
Well. Clearly things were very different here.
"Uh... never mind then," Kuushou said, pasting a look of disappointment on his face. He spotted Sasuke seated next to the window, an intense expression on his face as he stared at seemingly nothing. Shrugging, he plopped down in the seat next to him.
"Hey Sasuke, what's going on? You look kinda pissed."
Sasuke glanced at him briefly before returning his gaze to whatever mysterious and invisible object held his interest. "Hn," he grunted, and fell silent.
Very different. Sasuke wasn't the most talkative person he knew, not by a long shot, but he usually managed something more than monosyllabic responses and incoherent grunting.
Further questions were put on hold as the door to the classroom was thrown open and Sakura and Ino stumbled in, somehow managing to simultaneously keep each other from falling while trying to push the other away. It would have been impressive if it didn't look entirely unintentional.
They began arguing over who had entered the room first as he bounded to his feet and jogged over, smiling widely. "Hey, Ino-nee-chan!"
He knew the situation was far worse than he had first thought the moment the words left his mouth. In response to his greeting, the room fell silent and both Ino and Sakura turned to stare at him, identical looks of shock and disgust on their faces. Sakura's face quickly brightened as she pushed Ino forward. "He's looking for you, Ino-pig! You two can talk while I go sit with Sasuke-kun!"
Sakura began to step around him, already beginning to ignore him as she focused on Sasuke, but Ino reached out and grabbed her hair, yanking her backwards. "Not so fast, Forehead! I don't know what you promised him to get him to do this, but I'm not falling for it!"
Kuushou stared at them, a blank expression on his face as they once again began squabbling over who could sit next to "Sasuke-kun!" and completely ignoring his presence.
He resolved in that very moment to find out who had done this. He would find them, and ask them why.
And then he would obliterate them.
Kuushou sighed in irritation as he flipped over the test paper. Whoever had sent him into this... dream, universe, illusion, whatever it was, didn't have a very high opinion of his intelligence. Other than the simple genjutsu changing the order of the questions, the test was horribly simple, something second year students would be expected to score perfectly on. He also had his doubts about that genjutsu being an actual part of the test, since no one else had a genjutsu on their paper.
Of course, looking around, he wasn't sure the questions hidden under the genjutsu were standard either. His paper had fewer questions and the ones it did have looked shorter and simpler.
Once the hour allotted for the test was over, Iruka came by each desk and picked up the tests one by one. He had a proud smile on his face when he picked up Kuushou's test, and nodded encouragingly to him before continuing his rounds. He wasn't quite sure what to make of that.
Kuushou followed the rest of the class outside for the physical portions of the exam, which consisted of a simple speed trial, throwing accuracy, and a strength measurement.
"Uzumaki, Naruto!" Iruka called out from near the targets for the accuracy portion of the test. It took Kuushou several seconds to realize that they were referring to him. Uzumaki? He vaguely recalled that the container's mother had been an Uzumaki, but he had never gone by that name before.
"Now, remember Naruto, you only need to land seven out of ten to pass, and bulls-eyes give extra points," Iruka said encouragingly. Kuushou nodded distractedly as he picked up the kunai from the table nearby and whipped them towards the targets. He scowled as he felt his muscles protesting the movement slightly, throwing off his aim on a few of the shots. Only four out of ten bulls-eyes, and most of those were on the edge. Pathetic.
He nodded to Iruka and moved away from the table, filing away the look of shock on his teacher's face and the weird looks the other kids were giving him.
The next two tests went similarly; he had to boost his muscles with chakra to life more than fifty kilograms, and even with chakra he found that he had lost a full four seconds off his speed on the hundred meter dash.
It also became clear during the second test that the looks of shock were because he was doing so well, not because he was performing, as he felt in his own mind, so poorly. Most of the other students were unable to lift more than twenty kilograms, and many were much slower than him as well. It was like the entire Academy had taken a huge step backwards in terms of skill and conditioning.
"Alright students, head back inside for the jutsu portion of the exam!" Iruka called. The teacher's gaze kept shifting his way, his expression an odd mixture of pride and confusion.
Kuushou waited impatiently for his name to be called. He took his cue from the other students in the room and clapped politely as people returned bearing forehead protectors that marked them as successful graduates, only to stop when this garnered even more strange looks. This was getting very tiresome.
"Uzumaki, Naruto!" Iruka called again. Kuushou headed out the door and followed Iruka down the hall, ignoring the glances Iruka kept sending his way. Iruka lead him into another classroom down the hall, where Mizuki was already waiting inside, seated behind a table with a stack of papers and a handful of forehead protectors. A log, roughly three feet in diameter and four feet long, stood on its end in the middle of the room.
Iruka settled down into the other empty seat behind the table and cleared his throat. "Alright Naruto, you just need to perform the Basic Three; henge, kawarimi, and bunshin." His voice sounded odd as he said the last, and his face grew pensive.
Kuushou just nodded. Quickly forming the proper seals, he called out, "Henge!" A small puff of smoke later and he had changed into the image of the Third Hokage, down to the pipe. He waited for a moment before performing the kawarimi while still disguised, his voice also sounding like that of the Third Hokage as he spoke the name of the jutsu.
"Very good, Naruto!" Iruka said, smiling widely. "Now you just need to...," his voice trailed off as three more images of the Third Hokage appeared, all of them with similar smirks on their faces as they took a long puff on their still smoking pipes.
"That's... that's great, Naruto! You passed!" he exclaimed, reaching for a headband on the table. Kuushou noted that Mizuki seemed much less excited about the result than Iruka.
"I knew you could do it!" Iruka said, handing the forehead protector to Kuushou with a proud expression.
"Thank you, Umino-sensei," Kuushou said, bowing and accepting the headband. He turned and left the room, not noticing the frozen expression on Iruka's face, too occupied with trying to figure out what had happened to him and what role he was supposed to be playing.
He returned to the classroom, noting once again that the other students seemed shocked at his success. A quick scan revealed that only Hinata Hyuuga actually appeared happy about the situation. For some reason she was tucked in the back of the classroom, apparently trying to hide within a large coat.
No one had time to approach him, however, as Mizuki entered the room, looking tense. "Yamanaka, Ino, is the last test of the day. If she will come with me, the rest of you are dismissed. Please return tomorrow for further information." His eyes seemed to land everywhere except Kuushou as he attempted to casually peer about the room. The other students let out quick cheers as they hurried to leave the Academy and Ino stomped down the stairs to meet Mizuki, muttering about how this wasn't fair.
Kuushou left at a more sedate pace, strolling casually off the Academy grounds. He paused for a moment, pondering where to go, before he decided to head to the training grounds to see if his "private" section was still clear.
He'd barely reached the edge of the first training ground before he found himself surrounded by two squads of ANBU, all holding themselves in battle-ready stances. There was a noticeable tension in the air as one of them stepped forward slightly and spoke.
"Naruto Uzumaki, please come with us immediately," the raven-masked ninja said.
Kuushou shrugged and nodded, and quickly found himself whisked away. The group passed through several nondescript buildings and dimly lit tunnels before Kuushou was placed inside a room filled with only a single chair placed against the wall. The walls were smooth blocks of stone, and the door was bolted securely to the wall and made of solid steel.
"Interesting," Kuushou said, stepping into the room without concern. Maybe they were finally getting to the point of this little charade.
He waited in the room for roughly five minutes; five minutes he spent focusing on his other senses and mapping the movements of the ninja around him. He'd never bothered to memorize most of the signatures he felt, but he recognized Kakashi Hatake, Anko Mitarashi, Ibiki Morino, and, of course, Hiruzen Sarutobi. There were quite a few others that he vaguely recognized as members of ANBU.
He felt Anko and Ibiki pausing outside his door for a moment before the steel door was thrown open violently to slam against the wall with a loud bang. The two interrogators waltzed in, Ibiki's scarred face set in a sadistic leer and Anko playing up her sexy and insane look, toying suggestively with a kunai in her hand as she eyed him. Both hid it well, but they were more tense than he had ever seen them.
"Who are you?" Ibiki barked suddenly as he came to a stop in the middle of the room. The steel door was left wide open, no doubt to tempt him into trying to escape. He could feel the multiple lines of ninja lining every route away from the room just waiting for him to do such a thing.
Kuushou smirked slightly, remaining seated in his chair. He'd given up pretending to be "Naruto Uzumaki" the moment the ANBU had surrounded him; however they expected him to act was clearly very, very different from how "Naruto Yamanaka" acted. Better to stick with the role he knew.
"Who do you think I am?" Kuushou asked, smirking.
"We'll be asking the questions here, impostor!" Ibiki snarled. He twitched slightly before settling back into his stance. It seemed he wanted to move closer but was hesitant to do so for some reason. Anko had no such hesitation, strolling forward with an exaggerated sway of her hips and running one finger along his arm and across his chest.
"You can answer our questions," she purred in a sultry voice, "or we can make you." As she finished her sentence, she whipped the hand fondling the kunai forward. The blade left a long shallow gash on his cheek and nicked his ear before winding up buried several inches deep in the stone wall behind him.
Kuushou didn't so much as twitch. He waited a long beat before turning his head to face Anko and looking her straight in the eyes. She met his gaze, her own eyes glinting with madness. It was mostly an act, he knew, but one she had honed to perfection. Kuushou slowly, deliberately, lifted his hand to his cheek and wiped his finger along the cut. He watched as her eyes widened when the cut completely disappeared as his finger passed, and watched as they widened even further when the nick on his ear healed seemingly of its own accord.
He smirked as Anko slowly backed away, the madness fading from her eyes as the tension in the room picked up another notch. Both Ibiki and Anko tensed even further, their bodies nearly quivering in place, when three loud, echoing bangs sounded from down the hallway. Their eyes met briefly before they backed out of the room, swinging the door shut behind them.
Kuushou sighed; this was getting tedious, and apparently going nowhere quickly.
He stood and began slowly walking around the edge of the room, his head cocked to the side as he studied the stone walls. His attention was focused on the chakra signals down the hallway, where Anko and Ibiki were talking with the Hokage and several ninja that he thought were ANBU. Their chakra was highly agitated, and more ninja seemed to be running in every direction throughout the complex.
He contemplated breaking through the seal and ending this charade, but curiosity stayed his hand. Very few beings were capable of crafting an illusion this complete or moving him across the realms without his consent, and none of them would do so on a whim. Well, his brother might, but this illusion lacked all the earmarks of his brother's pranks. Kami was capable of it, certainly, but Kami was so wrapped up in his self-inflicted rules and higher purpose that it seemed unlikely he would act in this manner.
He put his contemplation on hold when he felt the Hokage approaching and moved back to his chair, assuming the same unconcerned, slightly impatient air he had maintained with Anko and Ibiki. This time the door swung open and the Hokage stepped into the room, alone.
Kuushou smiled and waved. "Hey, Hokage-jii-san," he said.
The Hokage flinched slightly. "Who are you?" he asked, his voice calm but firm.
"Naruto Yamanaka," he replied casually. "The real question is, who are you?"
The Hokage blinked. "What?"
"I have been trapped in some sort of genjutsu, or perhaps abducted and taken into a sloppy recreation of Konoha. You people got the outlines right, but the details are all wrong. First of all, everyone acts like I'm a retarded three year old, which is, frankly, rather insulting. Second, a lot of the businesses are in the wrong places. Third, you didn't even get my place of residence right."
The Hokage blinked several times before shaking his head. "An interesting story, but it is you who seems to have gotten the details wrong. You act nothing like Naruto-kun... Kyuubi."
Kuushou just cocked his head to the side. "Kyuubi? You mean the tailed beast? What does it have to do with this?"
The Hokage's fists slowly clenched. "Enough of your games, Kyuubi. How did you get out of your seal, and what happened to Naruto?"
"You aren't very good at this, you know. You've picked one of the few people who knows beyond a doubt that I am not the tailed beast sealed within me to make these accusations. Hokage-jii-san would never be that stupid." Kuushou paused for a moment, judging the Hokage's reaction, before he pushed the conversation in the direction he wanted. "What next? Are you going to have Shizune-nee-chan accuse me of being the tailed beast? Ino-nee-chan? 'Course, you already got her completely wrong too, along with the rest of the Clan Kids."
The Hokage was looking at him oddly now, no doubt thrown off by his words. Kuushou just smiled to himself and continued.
"Whatever plan you've got, you didn't think it through very well. The real Hokage is going to be looking for me, and you'll find out exactly why they call him the God of Shinobi, just like Fugaku and the rest of the Uchiha traitors did."
That certainly got a reaction; just not the one he had been anticipating. He had expected protestations that the old man before him was the real Hokage or further accusations that he was the "Kyuubi", not Naruto, which would then lead into discussions of how he could prove his claims. What he didn't expect was for the blood to drain from the Hokage's face – for a moment it even looked like the old man might keel over on the spot.
"What do you know about that?" the Hokage asked, his voice strained.
Kuushou blinked, partly in genuine confusion. "Everyone knows that you and the other clan heads took out Fugaku and a bunch of Uchiha when they tried to take over the village. Heck, that was years ago and people still talk about how you defeated Fugaku and his two best jounin on your own without getting a scratch."
Some of the color returned to the Hokage's face, but he still looked oddly pensive. He stared for a long moment before leaving the room, closing the door behind him.
He waited for twenty more minutes, tracking the motion of the ninja outside his room, before he found another familiar signature approaching his door: Inoichi Yamanaka.
The Yamanaka clan head entered the room slowly, keeping a careful eye on him even as a squad of ANBU filtered into the room behind him.
Inoichi cleared his throat and began speaking. "Hokage-sama has decided that there is some doubt as to the exact nature of your identity. As such, I have been ordered to perform a Mind Walk to confirm that you are in fact who you say you are."
Kuushou was surprised, though he didn't let it show. He had thought it was commonly known that the Yamanaka techniques did not work against him – unless he allowed them to, anyway, and no one other than Ino had that particular privilege – but apparently either no one knew that here or the rules were different. Of course, his experience with Ino had prepared him to mimic the effect of a Mind Walk on a normal human being well enough that Ino could find no flaws. They had initially done so as a mixture of practice for Ino and in preparation of someone catching them during one of their mental meetings. It seemed that would be coming in handy now.
"Ok," Kuushou said simply, waiting for Inoichi's inevitable question.
"... that's all? You're going to just let me enter your mind, just like that?"
Different world or not, illusion or not, he was still able to predict Inoichi well. "Of course. I trust you, Tou-san. Well, I would if you were actually my Tou-san. Since you aren't, whatever you try to do is naturally not going to work."
Inoichi jerked slightly, and the other ninja in the room shuffled uneasily. Shaking off his surprise, Inoichi flashed through the seals required for the jutsu.
It was a curious thing, watching Inoichi explore his false mindscape. The memories planted in the false mindscape started from roughly six months old and, with a few simple adjustments, included everything up to his time in the ANBU cell. Well, not everything; he had made sure to leave out some of the more... incriminating memories.
Inoichi started with today's memories, probably using events he could confirm as a baseline for exploring the rest of them. Ino claimed it wasn't strictly necessary, but comparing your own perspective and knowledge against that of the target supposedly deepened and clarified the experience... or something. Ino swore up and down that the difference was startling, but she could never demonstrate it during their sessions. Possibly it was unique to Yamanakas.
From that first memory, Inoichi oriented himself and headed straight for the oldest memories. He looked vaguely surprised, then increasingly disturbed as he followed them up through the years, the whole process taking mere minutes. Ino could manage a day's worth of memories in a minute of "real" time, but Inoichi's experience and skill were clear as he sifted through entire years of events with ease.
The moment he stumbled on the adoption was obvious, because he emerged from that particular set of memories looking stunned. Kuushou thought he could spot the Kumo incident and Itachi's "assassination attempt" as well, though he wasn't certain. After a few more minutes Inoichi vanished from the false mindscape, and Kuushou allowed his focus to return to outside his body.
He watched as Inoichi blinked rapidly before nodding gruffly. He made several hand signals: safe; probable; at ease. The ANBU in the room relaxed slightly after that. Inoichi turned and left the room hurriedly, throwing a few curious glances behind him as he did so.
He waited an entire hour this time, sitting in his chair in the middle of the room with a bored look plastered on his face. He considered attempting to talk to the ANBU who were watching him but eventually discarded the idea; he didn't recognize any of them by their chakra signatures and couldn't think of anything useful to say or ask.
Instead, he passed the time by stretching his senses as much as possible in an effort to identify where key people were located within Konoha. The Hokage was nearby, of course, along with all of his prominent ANBU. He couldn't sense Dragon, though, which was odd; given how seriously the Hokage seemed to be treating the situation, he would have expected the ANBU Commander to be nearby. Perhaps he was out on a mission.
Twenty minutes into his wait he had identified most of the Clan Heads and their children. He had failed to locate Mikoto Uchiha or the Ogawa Clan Head, however. In fact, he couldn't identify any of the Uchiha he had bothered to remember, aside from Sasuke.
He also couldn't identify Shizune or any of her medical staff. It was incredibly rare for Shizune to leave Konoha, and to take all of her staff with her?
He was busy trying to dredge up any memories that might identify the ANBU in the room with him – the one in the Cat mask he might have encountered before, he thought – when he felt the Hokage approaching his room once again.
The old man entered the room more slowly this time, a pensive expression on his face.
"Leave us," he said, stepping aside to allow the ANBU to file out of the room. They did so without complaint and closed the door behind them.
"Well, Naruto-kun, we seem to have a rather unusual situation on our hands," the Hokage began.
Kuushou just shrugged, his face impassive. "I'm biding my time until the real Hokage shows up," he said. "You guys aren't even all that inventive with the interrogation."
"Yes... about that. Inoichi gave his report and it was rather... convincing. We have been forced to acknowledge that you are, for all intents and purposes, Naruto Uzumaki – or rather, Yamanaka. This does not explain what happened to our Naruto, but Inoichi is convinced that you were brought here against your will and without your knowledge.
"The problem therefore is how to convince you that you are not trapped in a genjutsu or otherwise being misled. Is there anything you can think of that would convince you?"
"Any sufficiently complex genjutsu is capable of utilizing the target's own expectations against them in order to produce a suitably convincing illusion," Kuushou quoted. Noticing the Hokage's expression, he snapped, "That, right there. Why are you surprised?"
The Hokage looked faintly embarrassed, but answered nonetheless. "I am not used to hearing you – or Naruto, rather – speak so... knowledgeably."
"So that wasn't a mistaken impression, then. People really do think I'm an idiot."
The Hokage spluttered for a moment before sighing. "Essentially, yes. You- Naruto is not scholastically inclined. He enjoyed more physical pursuits and was rarely able to focus in the classroom."
"To the extent that passing the graduation exam was so out of character that you were convinced I was more likely to be a mindless engine of hatred and destruction?" he bit out. It wasn't even him, not really, but he'd spent a lot of time crafting his persona as the intelligent and studious Naruto Yamanaka, and he found the very idea that he would be viewed in such a poor light insulting.
"It was Iruka Umino who first voiced his concerns," the Hokage said, not answering his question directly. "Apparently you addressed him as 'Umino-sensei' during your test, something which Naruto-kun would never do. He had a rather friendly relationship with Iruka and always addressed him as 'Iruka-sensei'. Once we had reason to suspect that Naruto was not himself, the Kyuubi was the most probable explanation."
Kuushou maintained his glare for a long moment, enjoying the look of discomfort on the Hokage's face immensely, before he sighed and leaned back. "Fair enough," he said. "As for what would convince me this is real... two things.
"First, why did you react so strangely to the mention of the Uchiha incident?"
The Hokage flinched again. Kuushou frowned thoughtfully, realizing that this Hokage seemed to be much easier to read and was much more open with his emotions. He also seemed older and more frail than when he had last seen him. Several years older, in fact, although based on everything else he had seen the rest of the world was more or less equivalent to his own, time-wise.
"The Uchiha were not traitors," the Hokage said firmly. "All but one of them were killed when one of their own went rogue – according to the sole witness, the perpetrator had gone insane and massacred his own clan to 'test his capacity'."
"Obviously Sasuke is the survivor," Kuushou mused, "so who was the perpetrator?"
It took everything Kuushou had not to burst out laughing at that point. Itachi killing his own family? Not likely. Granted, this was apparently an entirely different world - and with the number of differences both subtle and large piling up before him it was becoming easier and easier to believe that particular scenario. Even so, the thought of someone like Itachi doing that, and for such a ridiculous reason as 'testing his capacity'... absurd. The man was S-ranked by the time he was fifteen; killing craftsmen and policemen would present no meaningful challenge.
Kuushou didn't let any of that show, of course.
"I suppose that isn't surprising," he said instead. "I'm sure that Inoichi told you that Itachi almost killed me when he betrayed Konoha."
"Yes...," the Hokage said slowly, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
"Moving on then... second, why was I not adopted by the Yamanakas?"
The Hokage sighed and wiped his hand over his face. "Well, the good news there is that no attempted murder happened for our Naruto. I can't speak to all of the reasons you were adopted in your world, but the counseling sessions I'm sure were a large part of that."
Kuushou just nodded, knowing that much should have been obvious from the memories Inoichi witnessed. "Why was I not adopted at all, then? Why am I living alone in that terrible apartment in the slums?"
The Hokage looked uncomfortable again. "There was no murder attempt, but there were a number of... incidents involving you when you were younger. You eventually asked to be allowed to live on your own, and it was decided that you might be more comfortable doing so. The city of Konoha provides a small stipend for orphaned children who are not adopted, but that apartment is about all you can afford."
"You were involved in a number of altercations with the other children which were escalating in intensity. Injuries were becoming more frequent, and the situation was not improving."
Kuushou found it interesting that the Hokage couldn't quite meet his eyes. He sat back, thinking over everything the Hokage had said, and more importantly what he hadn't said.
"Iruka Umino raised concerns, you said."
The Hokage's brow furrowed as he nodded.
"A school teacher knew enough to be worried that I was the tailed beast."
The Hokage grimaced, looking resigned.
"Everyone in Konoha knows, don't they? That's why they were so wary of me when I was headed towards the Academy this morning."
"Not everyone," the Hokage corrected quickly. "None of the children your age know."
Kuushou blinked, honestly surprised by that.
"Shino, Sasuke, and Hinata don't know?" He barely avoided adding Ino to that list, remembering just in time that the Yamanaka here weren't endangered by his youki... apparently, anyway. He cursed internally, trying to remember if any of the memories Inoichi had seen included that little tidbit or not. There was the meeting with the Hokage and Inoichi when he claimed to already know about his status as a jinchuuriki, but he didn't think that included the bit about the Yamanaka, did it?
"Should they?" the Hokage asked.
"Well, their bloodlines can easily identify my status as a jinchuuriki, if they knew what they were detecting. The fact that my chakra is different should be rather obvious, in any case."
"Which is easily explained as a new bloodline," the Hokage replied.
Kuushou paused before nodding thoughtfully. "That would work for a while, I suppose," he allowed. "Regardless, even if none of the children know, your wording implies that all, or at least most, of the adults do."
The Hokage sighed and nodded. "Despite my best intentions, your status had reached too many ears too quickly in the wake of the Kyuubi's attack. The damage to the village was extensive, and the majority of our efforts focused on saving those trapped in the rubble rather than information control. Preventing overzealous ninja and even civilians from 'finishing the job' was difficult enough at the time. It took a while for the fools to understand that doing so was just as likely to release the Kyuubi as anything."
Kuushou blinked for a moment before immediately shifting his focus inside the seal. If the Hokage believed that he would be released, that meant that the Death God had not told them everything here. Or, perhaps, that the seal itself was different. And if it was a different seal, perhaps he was not bound to be banished if he broke it.
His excitement faded as quickly as it came as he recognized the white walls and small doorways of his seal. This may be a different world, but either the seal was essentially the same or his old seal had come with him.
Disappointed, though not terribly surprised, he shifted his focus back outside his body and fixed his gaze on the Hokage once again.
"So all of that means that Naruto was hated or feared by the adults because they think he is the tailed beast, and that the children have been taught to hate and fear me as well. I was the one getting injured at the orphanage, wasn't I? They were beating me up more and more, and the adults in the orphanage were doing nothing to stop it. I was allowed to leave for my own protection."
The Hokage just nodded, shamefaced.
Kuushou grinned to himself. This Hokage had the same guilt complex as his own; worse, even, since he had so much more to be guilty about.
"Well, I have to admit that the different world theory looks more and more likely," he said, watching the Hokage's expression carefully. When he spotted the bit of happiness and anticipation shining in the old man's eyes, he continued, "Too many things are different for this to be an elaborate hoax, and a genjutsu is out since I would never have expected something that fucked up to happen to me in any world."
Messing with this Hokage would be even more amusing than messing with his own, Kuushou thought, enjoying the pained expression on the old man's face immensely.
A/N: As promised, here is Swapping the Cage moved into its own story. I'll be going through what I have in the Filing Cabinet, revising, editing, and breaking it into standard-sized chapters. This chapter came through with only minor revisions for things like wording and so on.
I did make a slight change to Kuushou's physical conditioning as measured in the Graduation Exam to be more consistent with how I portrayed it elsewhere. That change being that based solely on unaugmented physical condition, he is roughly in the middle of the pack. He had to boost his performance with chakra in order to perform as well as he did. Also added a line where he considers how to address that problem.
I'll commit to the same update schedule as Ramen Days, which is to say once a month, 5k+ words. That will be after I finish revising and breaking up what I already have posted, though, so expect three more chapters relatively soon.
Revised: 02-20-2012 - Typos - thanks to Shattered Silence for pointing them out!