Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any related characters. Those belong to Masashi Kishimoto, and things would be a bit different in the manga if I were him. I make no money off this fanfiction, and merely write for the enjoyment of myself and others.

Author's Notes: This story came to me on a night of drunk channel- and internet-surfing. I happened upon an old episode of the Batman Animated Series from the 90s with Mr. Freeze on it, while also re-watching the recent Naruto Shippuden episodes with Kushina and the details of Naruto's birth. The amalgamation of these (you'll understand once you read the first few chapters how the influence came in), together with my somewhat perverted mind, is the result that you see here.

Be warned, this fic is right now rated T (largely language and violence), but in the future it WILL go up to M for sexual content. Also be warned that this is largely an Uzumakicest fic. In other words, incest, between Naruto and his mother and his sisters (that will be both heterosexual and lesbian relations - so if that also squicks you, please leave, I don't want to offend anyone), will be the main relationship. If you find any of that icky or squicky, I don't hold it against you one bit (everyone's got their own turn-offs), but I suggest that now is the best time to leave.

The official pairing (no plans to change it either) is Naruto/Kushina/Kasumi/Karin/Mei.

And this won't be like some of these other "Naruto leaves Konoha" fics where Naruto ends up going back and protecting the folks there who mistreated him, etc.. He'll visit for plot purposes, but they're not in his good books, and he won't be living there.

Anyway, for those that want to stay and read a hopefully enjoyable tale rather than the PWP stuff that is more common with themes like this; and also for my fellow perverts (all hail Jiraiya-sama!), we begin our tale, which is based all upon one single point of divergence at the beginning (see if you can spot it!) that eventually changes the entire Naruto world as we know it.

Please read and review!


Chapter 1: Loss


Konohagakure, Land of Fire

The earth shook as the demonic chakra of the Kyūbi no Yokō flared, trying to escape the barrier Minato Namikaze – known as Konoha's Yellow Flash, and more recently as the Yondaime Hokage – had placed around the clearing.

That yellow flash, which gave him his name, appeared at the edge of the inner part of the barrier, and faded to reveal him in his Kage robes, dusty and burned from his fights that evening. One fight with the entity that had found and summoned the Kyūbi, and one with the Kyūbi itself. His blood-streaked blond hair fell forward into his eyes as he stumbled slightly before catching himself.

He slowly set down the barely conscious red-haired woman he was carrying, his eyes fixed on the two children held tightly in her arms – one with hair as red as her own, the other with bright blond hair that showed his own contribution to their genes. He hardly knew her, his wife – Kushina Uzumaki. Sarutobi had, in the interests strengthening alliances, arranged Minato's marriage to the heiress of the Uzumaki clan at the beginning of the Third Shinobi World War.

They had wed in a small and rushed ceremony, having met only a day before the marriage. The alliance with Uzushiogakure – the land ruled by the Uzumaki clan – had helped Konoha survive the devastating war, though at the price of the complete eradication of Uzushiogakure. The Uzumaki were devastatingly powerful Shinobi, and while they had all died (all but the heiress, as far as could be found), they had taken an enormous chunk of the allied Sunagakure, Kumogakure, and Takigakure army with them – enough to allow Konoha to rally, and enough for the Suna-Kumo-Taki Alliance to splinter and fight amongst themselves. That had left Iwagakure as Konoha's only serious threat, and that was where he earned his 'flee-on-sight' classification as Konoha's Yellow Flash.

The war had ended not much more than a year ago, and that was as long as he'd had to get to know his wife, as well as her quiet prodigy of a son. During most of that time she'd been going through a long and difficult pregnancy – especially with twins – which had come to a head the day that the Kyūbi had been unleashed once more upon Konoha.

Minato sadly stroked her red tresses, wishing he'd had more time to get to know her, more time to continue to fall in love with her, but his time was soon to be up. And so was hers, according to the doctor who he had taken her from. The young man had stopped him moments before he left and explained he'd just given her a sedative for the pain, and he didn't think she'd live through the damage she'd taken from giving birth to their two daughters and a large piece of the ceiling of the hospital falling in on her during the Kyūbi attack.

Minato grit his teeth, and knelt down as he began the ritual of the Shiki Fūjin (Dead Demon Consuming Seal), having set up the Sealing Altar for their children, where he would seal part of Kyūbi's chakra in each, making them Jinchūriki.

As the Shinigami's terrifying visage appeared behind him, he turned solemnly to where Kushina lay breathing raggedly, clutching the infants to her chest. He reached down and gently pried first their blond-haired daughter, and then the redheaded infant, from her weak grasp as she whispered out a protest.

"M-Min-to…. p-please," she croaked out, her voice hoarse and her eyes barely open, the drugs in her system having nearly knocked her out.

"It'll be alright Kushina-chan," he said gently, ignoring the weak chakra chains that shot from her body, not even strong enough to do anything more than touch the children as he placed them both on the Sealing Altar. "Kasumi-chan and Karin-chan will be okay. Kyūbi's chakra will make sure of it. We're both dying, so I'll seal part of our souls inside with the seals to help guide them." He said as he stretched out his hand, the Shinigami's own ghostly hand following his direction to grasp onto the struggling Kyūbi and yank on its chakra.

'No,' Kushina tried weakly to protest, but she the sedative had numbed her mouth and throat, and as it set in she could no longer speak. She knew she wasn't dying. She knew the doctor who had taken over her care when the hospital had been hit, had no idea how to treat an Uzumaki. Her wounds were indeed grievous, but the Uzumaki Clan bloodline awarded those with it with enormous regenerative capabilities – something not shared with many, and thus the doctor's ignorance. It would take a week or more but she could be back on her feet.

As her husband used both hands to begin to seal the Yang half of the Kyūbi's chakra into Kasumi – their blond-haired child – and the Yin half into Karin, Kushina struggled once more to speak, but the drugs were too potent. 'Damn you,' she thought groggily toward the man who had treated her.

Minato had taken the doctor's word, never having fought alongside his wife or any other Uzumaki to know better or have seen the upper limits of their amazing regeneration – the time they'd spent together had seen her confined to the village and away from Shinobi duties as she became pregnant, her only activities restricted to continuing to train her young son. And now, because of that, because she couldn't stop him, he was going to take her soul from her, and leave their daughters without any parents. All because she'd been too weak.

A tear trickled down her cheek as Minato stretched shifted his hands and grasped her chakra chains, pulling them across her daughter's stomachs where the seal was now visible on each of them, as he completed the sealing ceremony.

"Naruto will take good care of them, Kushi-chan." Minato said, giving a final sad smile. "Make us proud, Kasumi, Karin."

Kushina felt her remaining energy drain from her body, down the chains and into her now crying daughters as the Eight Trigrams Seal flared brightly on Kasumi and Karin's stomachs. Her last thoughts as her mind faded were on her children. 'Please forgive me Kasumi-chan. Forgive me Karin-chan. You're my beautiful babies, and I love you with all my heart. I'm so sorry my musuko, my Naruto-kun. Kaa-chan wasn't strong enough for you –take care of your little sisters, they'll need you to be strong for them, with this burden that's been placed on them. Remember what I taught you about family. I love all three of you so much.'

Moments later, the cruel visage of the Shinigami disappeared with a flash, leaving only the bodies of Kushina Uzumaki and Minato Namikaze surrounding their daughters as they cried from the pain of the sealing and its forceful injection of a Bijū's chakra into their bodies.

The barrier surrounding the clearing, now deprived of its power source of Minato's chakra, failed with a crash, allowing those who had been waiting outside to enter.

One of those was a wizened old man with a graying hair and a small goatee – still dressed in his Shinobi battle armor he'd clad himself in to hold off the Kyūbi until Minato could arrive. Hiruzen Sarutobi walked forward, feeling the weight of the world press further on his shoulders. His successor, the Fourth Hokage, was dead, just as his career was beginning; sacrificed for his village like any Hokage was willing to do.

Now that duty fell once more onto him, Minato's death would force him to retake his role as the Third – Sandaime – Hokage, and deal with the aftermath of the devastation of the Kyūbi, as well as the care for Minato's daughters who he'd sacrificed for the village's sake to be cursed with the burden of being a Jinchūriki.

Sarutobi sighed heavily as his trusted ANBU companions moved forward and checked the body of their leader, and his red-haired wife.

The cat-masked ANBU who checked Kushina looked up at Sarutobi. "She's still alive. Her pulse is weak and she's unconscious, but she's still breathing," he said, just as glowing golden chains – which had disappeared during the sealing – shot out of her unconscious body and slowly entwined themselves around her like a cocoon.

Sarutobi frowned – perhaps he'd misunderstood what Minato had been saying – they'd only been able to hear bits of his conversation with his wife over the furious roars of the Kyūbi. "Take her to the hospital, along with the children. This is to be an S-ranked secret. No one hears about what happened here unless it is from me, understood?"

His ANBU nodded, and the cat-masked ANBU picked up the glowing form of Kushina and leapt off in the direction of Konoha General Hospital. Another ANBU – Rabbit – slowly lifted the crying children from the altar into each arm, and looked once more to Sarutobi before following his comrade, leaving Hiruzen alone to contemplate what he was going to do.

-oOo-

-oOo-

Great Western Forest, Land of Fire

Uzumaki Naruto pushed off from another tree branch as he and his squad leapt from tree to tree on their return home after over a week away. His dark red shirt rustled in the wind under his green flak vest, the Uzushiogakure swirl dotting its sleeves as well as the backs of the black fingerless gloves he wore.

He sighed to himself, trying to ignore the aches and pains that had developed over the mission – especially the large painful bruise on his back where he'd been hit by a chunk of flying debris. It was great to be headed home. Finally.

He brushed back at his unruly red hair as it dropped into his vision, and had to hide his smile at the thought of seeing his kaa-chan again. He only hoped he'd be there in time to welcome his little sisters into the world. He'd been a bit annoyed that his squad had been deployed so close to his mother's due-date, but that was the life of a ninja. Either way, he either had two imōtos or soon would, and he was overjoyed at that prospect.

His eyes drifted to the side, lighting upon his teammates. All of them were at least twice his own age of nine, and while that had caused some chafing and dissent amongst some of the other Jōnin in the village, the groups he'd been paired with thus far had not seemed to have a problem that one of their fellow Jōnin was so much younger than them.

Naruto was considered a genius – a Shinobi prodigy – much like Hatake Kakashi who had already paved the way for the general atmosphere of acceptance toward such a young Shinobi. The ANBU Black Ops had a lower age limit of 10 years old to join, though none had ever joined so young – Kakashi had thus far been youngest, joining at age 13. Naruto seemed ready to break that record, as several ANBU captains had brought him in this year for conversations about joining as soon as he turned 10.

When he did get the offer, he knew he would leap at it. There was nothing he wouldn't do to make his kaa-chan proud of him.

-oOo-

He'd been born to Kushina Uzumaki nine years ago, when his mother was a young ninja – only fifteen years of age. She'd fallen in love with her squadmate in Uzushiogakure, a second cousin named Hideki Uzumaki, and things had progressed a bit quicker than they'd planned. Naruto had never been able to know his father, though, as tragedy struck just months after his conception when both of Kushina's squadmates were killed on a mission.

Naruto had lived for five years in their village of Uzushiogakure, already training at the age of four with his mother who had by that time become a feared Jōnin in the Uzu ranks. It was then that the Third Shinobi World War had broken out, and the Shiokage – leader of Uzushiogakure, and Naruto's grandfather – had chosen to marry Kushina off to a Konoha-nin to shore up their peace treaty that had been on shaky ground since Mito Uzumaki's sudden and unexpected death years before in Konoha.

Forced to move to a strange new village with his mother, during the middle of the war, had been a difficult endeavor. Especially when word came that Uzushiogakure had been destroyed, despite the best efforts. Naruto had served in the front line in the last year of the war as a Chūnin, and it was there he had earned the promotion to Jōnin as the war ended a year ago.

That had led to the next trying experience in their lives, as he and his mother moved in with Minato Namikaze – now the Fourth Hokage. Naruto didn't hate the blond-haired man – hell, he was happy that his mother's arranged marriage had been with the kind-hearted Shinobi rather than the much worse alternatives.

He did resent Minato at the beginning, especially right after the marriage, for what he viewed as the man trying to take the attention of his kaa-chan away from him. But Minato had quickly realized the problem, and reassured him that he didn't want to steal Kushina away from her son, and that he knew he'd never be Naruto's true father, but hoped they could become friends.

It was Kushina telling Naruto that he would soon have a sibling – and taking him with her to see the sonogram of his little sisters – that had finally broken the ice completely between him and Minato, and he would always be grateful to the man for giving him siblings.

-oOo-

Naruto shook his head from his thoughts on the past, and turned to the present and began mentally writing the mission report he would submit. This was his third time out as squad leader of a Jōnin team, and had been the rockiest mission yet. They'd left well over a week ago to deliver top-secret documents to the Kazekage. He had no idea what the contents were, but assumed they had something to do with the peace treaty/alliance that had been struck between Sunagakure and Konohagakure at the end of the war. It had been somewhat difficult being in that village and keeping himself from lashing out at the people who had played a role in destroying his home, but he had a job to do and he had done it without complaint.

That part of the trip had gone off without a hitch, and only taken a little over three days to get there and deliver the papers– it was the returning that had been the trouble. On their way back they had been attacked by a group of rogue ninja – one of many that existed these days made up of Shinobi and fighters who had left their villages or become disenchanted with their causes during the war and banded together to live away from the Five Nations. Many had turned into little more than highway robbers or mercenaries, and it had been the former that they had met up with.

He and his squad had led the much larger force on a running fight across the forests of the Land of Rivers for several days before they were able to whittle them down enough to defeat them completely. His injuries were minor, but Haruka – a brown-haired woman in her early thirties – had broken her leg, and others had suffered varying levels of lesser injuries. That had slowed down their return, making it nearly a week since they'd left Sunagakure.

Naruto caught sight of a somewhat familiar tree – an oak that had been knocked over into a neighbor but continued to grow until the two had merged together, forming an arch underneath their trunks. That told him they were nearing the village, and the others quickly caught on as well, their attitude becoming much more upbeat than the weary silence they'd traveled in for the last few days.

Yoshi, a tall, dark-haired man who was twice Naruto's age, was in the front of their traveling formation, and Naruto frowned as he stumbled to a stop on a tree branch ahead of them. Naruto's hand dropped to fish out a kunai from the pouch he carried them in, when he heard Yoshi gasp.

Naruto pushed off hard from the next branch and landed nimbly next to Yoshi as their third member, Takumo – who had Haruka's arm slung over his shoulder – landed moments later.

"What the fuck?" Naruto muttered – while he hadn't inherited his mother's verbal tic of dropping a 'ttebayo or 'ttebane at the end of sentences, he'd certainly inherited her dirty mouth - even as similar expressions spilled from his companion's lips.

In front of them was utter devastation. Where once had been thick lush forest, now only splintered and burnt trunks littered the ground at the edge of what appeared to be a half-mile wide crater. The center was completely scoured, even the topsoil was gone, leaving only the bedrock, which normally rested several dozen feet below the surface in this area.

"What could have done this?" Yoshi asked quietly, stunned at the sheer scale of destruction.

Naruto's grip tightened on the kunai he'd drawn, and then looked over at his older teammates, his face grim and a knot growing in his stomach. "I don't know, but whatever did it, it's close to the village – it may be under attack right now. We need to double-time it. Haruka?" He asked, looking to the injured woman. "Can you handle it?"

"Hai, Naruto-taichō. I'm with you," she said, visibly biting back on the pain from her splinted leg.

Naruto's fingers itched to reach upward and grasp the handle of the long Uzumaki clan katana on his back for reassurance- his mother had gifted it to him upon his becoming a Jōnin – but he had to remain strong, keep his composure for his squad so that his own growing unease didn't spread to them.

His gaze turned in the direction of the village, still hidden by the trees on the other side of the crater, and he could see small plumes of smoke rising above the tree line. "Delta formation, and keep alert." He ordered tersely as he dashed across the edge of the crater and back into the forest on the other side, his squad following him, spread out and staggered in a crescent-shaped formation to prevent any one hit from taking out the entire team.

Minutes later they reached the edge of the forest, near the Hokage Memorial, and were confronted by more devastation. Large patches of the city were gone, either smoking in some places, or lying in rubble in others. There were no real sounds of fighting, and as he neared, he saw that the smoke plumes were villagers burning wood and other rubble.

They landed in front of the Eastern Gate, and were immediately confronted by a squad of tense Chūnin who demanded their identification and mission papers. Naruto's eyes fell upon one of the Chūnin he recognized, and handed him their documents. "What happened here, Jin-san?"

The heavy-set man looked up from their papers, and his jaw set. "Damn, you ain't heard?"

Naruto shook his head, "We've been out of contact with anyone but bandits for a week. Last people we talked to were in Suna."

Jin shook his head grimly. "Musta left right before the messenger birds got there. The Kyūbi attacked the village a week ago."

Naruto's gaze widened – that certainly explained the crater. From what he'd read, a Tailed Beast Ball could do that sort of damage, and the sort of damage he'd seen from above the village on their way in.

Jin sighed. "The Hokage's been waiting for you to check in, wants you to report to him immediately. Rest of your team can head in and get debriefed at Jōnin Command.

The knot in the pit of Naruto's stomach suddenly grew into an icy hand gripping at him. 'Why does Minato want to see me right away?' He wondered as he nodded to the Chūnin who let the team pass through the gate.

He turned to his team. "Yoshi, Takumo, get Haruka to the Hospital and then report to the command center. I'll go see what Hokage-sama wants."

They nodded, and he disappeared in a swirl of mist as he shunshined to a roof near the Hokage Tower, and leapt toward it, the uneasy feeling growing with each step he took.

-oOo-

-oOo-

Hokage Tower, Land of Fire

Hiruzen Sarutobi sat behind the desk he'd - just over a year before - expected to never sit behind again, and rubbed his head as the ANBU reporting Uzumaki Naruto's arrival in the village disappeared from the room. It was always difficult to break terrible news to someone, especially one so young… but what he had to do in addition to that weighed heavily on his conscience.

To tell the boy his mother lay in an irreversible coma, and his stepfather died saving the village was bad enough, but to lie to him about his sisters….

Hiruzen had spent the first three days after the Kyūbi attack juggling the rescue and recovery efforts as they dug people – both living and dead – from the wreckage left by Kyūbi, and spending his time with the Councils, both Shinobi and Civilian.

They had been left with the quandary of what to do with the two young Jinchūriki they'd been 'gifted' with. Many, knowing how Kyūbi had disappeared for years upon Mito Uzumaki's death, called for a 'mercy killing' of the children. Whether they had that as their real reason, or wanted revenge for deaths of loved ones, was hard to know, but fortunately somewhat cooler minds had prevailed.

As much as he wished it at times, this wasn't a dictatorship like in Iwa – that had been something the First Hokage had made sure of when he'd started the village all those years ago. The Hokage didn't have supreme authority over everyone, and the civilians had a great deal of power and influence – largely over civilian matters – as did the other Shinobi. As the young girls were - by definition - civilians, they had a large say in her fate.

Eventually, it had boiled down to – who would care for the girls, and what was best for the village in that decision. Minato's death had awoken a large amount of distrust toward Kushina and her son that had been hidden in his presence out of respect for their leader, a distrust of the foreign ninja and their loyalties. Most felt that the son – Naruto – was not only too young to care for even child let alone two, but also too unpredictable, too much of a loose cannon, to do so.

Sarutobi had found himself reluctantly agreeing. While the boy was a genius, an outright prodigy, his rather short career thus far had shown a recklessness, and unpredictability in the boy – taking risks that, while he usually came out on top, were very dangerous in reality. He really didn't want to risk a child in his care when he found out about his mother – who most that knew the Uzumaki knew what she was the center of his world.

His loyalties were a bit less worrisome, but Hiruzen knew the boy was still extremely proud of his birthplace, and didn't yet consider Konoha his true home. The Uzushio swirls plastered across his clothing – to a point where it was almost overkill – were testament to that. In the end, they'd decided it was best if the boy thought his sisters dead, and they be raised outside of clan influence – another topic of much debate the last few days – in an orphanage.

Hiruzen frowned, stroking his goatee, and looked up at the sound of a knock on the doors of the office. "Come!" He called, schooling his features.

The doors swung open, and a very battle-worn Naruto Uzumaki stepped in, his face streaked with dirt and a smear of blood, his clothes tattered in places.

He froze in mid-step when he saw who was sitting at the desk, and a look of concerned confusion passed over his face. "Ojii-sama? What are you doing here? Where's Minato?"

Hiruzen sighed, and gestured toward a chair. "Please, sit down Naruto-kun."

Naruto moved over to the chair, sitting down as he stared warily at the older man.

"Naruto…" Hiruzen began. "I don't know what you've been told so far, but the Kyūbi attacked the village a week ago. I'm sure you've already seen some of the destruction."

Naruto nodded. "We saw a crater a few miles outside the village. That was the Kyūbi, then?"

"That one was Minato's doing. He… somehow he teleported one of the Kyūbi's Tailed Beast Balls, and saved much of the village, as well as our monument. Unfortunately he couldn't save everyone, and many hundreds have died." Hiruzen smiled sadly at Naruto. "Minato saved so many, and defeated the Kyūbi… but at the cost of his own life, sealing the Kyūbi away into the death god Shinigami."

Naruto sat back, eyes wide with shock that the man he had started to become friends with – the man who was so powerful he outclassed Naruto's current level, which was impressive on its own, many times over – was dead.

"That's why you're here – you've taken back your old position," Naruto said slowly, his voice slightly betraying just how shaken he was by the news of Minato's death.

Naruto's head snapped up a moment later, realizing this would hurt his mother even more. "Kaa-chan – May I have leave to go to her, Hokage-sama?" Naruto asked, his muscles straining to keep himself from breaking decorum and dashing from the room.

Hiruzen's sad sigh made his stomach clench further. "I'm sorry, Naruto, but, your mother went into labor the night of the Kyūbi's attack. It was a trying birth, and she was injured severely when part of the hospital was hit. She's in a coma… and the doctors don't believe she'll come out. They think it's permanent."

"Wh-what?" Naruto managed to choke out, tears visible in his eyes as his face turned white. "Kaa-chan? You- you're lying, she's alright, she has to be alright," Naruto said, standing shakily.

"Naruto, I wish I could tell you it isn't true, but it is." Sarutobi said, standing as well, moving over to rest a hand on the boy's shoulder, bracing himself for what he knew was coming next.

"What about the babies?" Naruto asked in a voice that seemed a million miles distant.

"The babies – your sisters – they didn't survive. I'm very sorry, Naruto-kun." Hiruzen said, closing his own eyes at the lie.

Naruto stood there, his head bowed, his wind-swept red hair draping across his features as his shoulders shook almost imperceptibly for several minutes. Finally he spoke in a low, emotionless voice. "Hokage-sama, may I go to be with my mother? I'll turn in the mission report tomorrow… I need to be with her."

"Of course. I'll take you off the active roster for as long as you need, Naruto-kun. Go be with her, and talk to the doctors. There are some important decisions that will need to be made soon for her, so take your time," Sarutobi said softly.

Naruto nodded, and then slowly walked out of the room, stopping only once as Sarutobi called out after him.

"If you need anyone to talk to… my door is open, and I know your comrades will be more than willing to help you through this." Sarutobi said softly, and then watched Naruto nod once more and leave the room silently.

He walked back to the desk, feeling every year of his age as he reached for the hidden bottle of sake in one of the desk drawers, and took a long sip. He only hoped he hadn't made things worse than the possible alternatives with this decision – not that he'd really had any choice in this particular matter.

-oOo-

-oOo-

Konohagakure, Land of Fire

As a stoic-faced Naruto entered the hospital, he nearly ran into Haruka, who was hobbling on her way out, her leg in a cast as she used crutches.

"Hey, taichō, come to visit me already? I only just got patched up," she said brightly.

He tried, and failed to smile. "Sorry, Haruka-san, but you weren't the reason for my visit."

The older woman mock-pouted. "That hurts, taichō," she said, reaching up to touch her chest. "That's just not nice. So what're you here for? Did that Doton from their leader that hit you in the back do more than you were telling us?"

Naruto shook his head. "My mother," he said softly. "She was injured in the attack."

Haruka's face became serious, and she put a hand on his shoulder. "Well then, I won't keep you. Sorry for teasing you like that."

"It's alright, Haruka-san," he said, his voice weary. "Get better soon."

Naruto ran a hand through his red hair as he continued down the hall past his teammate, into the direction of the intensive care unit. He'd come to know the hospital pretty well, visiting several times with Kushina at her regular checkups, and visiting her when she volunteered during the last few months of her pregnancy at one of the reception desks - unable to do any serious physical activities and bored out of her mind if she wasn't keeping active in some way.

Naruto ignored the call of one of the receptionists as he strode past her toward the ward where he knew his kaa-chan was. She had to be okay. She was the only thing he had left, the only thing he truly cared about in this world – with his imōtosdead there was no one else but her – the doctors had to be wrong.

He reached the section he'd been looking for, and caught sight of his mother's red hair on one of the beds, as a nurse closed a curtain around her bed, and moved on to the next partition.

As his hand reached for the curtain, it seemed she noticed him, and called out with a biting voice. "Young man, you don't have permission to be here. This is the ICU, and I can't have little boys running around here," she said, making to slap his hand away from the curtain.

His own hand moved in a flash, and gripped her wrist so tightly her hand turned a sickly white. "My mother is in there, civilian-san," he said, turning his head so the glint of his Konoha headband caught her eye. "Unless you'd like to try stopping me, I'm going in see her."

"O-of course, sir, I'm sorry, I didn't realize. I'll let her attending doctor know you're here, and he'll talk to you when you're done." The woman said, shaking like a leaf.

Naruto released her hand, snorting in anger, and shoved the woman's presence from his mind as he stepped through the curtain, and caught sight of his kaa-chan once more.

She lay serenely on the bed, her long red hair spread out on the sheets around her. Wires and other devices were hooked up to her chest and arms under her hospital gown, and an IV was attached to her arm. He could see the fading hints of injuries on her face, and a quick glance at her chart showed her entire abdomen was bandaged, but what had been an injury from falling rubble was already healing, broken ribs setting into merely cracked ribs, pierced organs now almost completely back to normal, a compound fracture to her leg now little more than a healed line on an x-ray.

"Kaa-chan," Naruto whispered, a hint of desperation in his voice, as he reached up to rest his hand on her warm cheek.

"Please, kaa-chan, you can't leave me," he said, tears now streaming down his cheeks as he reached down and gripped her hand tightly, staring desperately at her with an anguished look in the stormy blue-gray eyes he'd inherited from her. He let his head sink down, and rested his face on her arm, hating himself for not having been here, not protecting her and his sisters like he should have.

Long minutes passed with no movement from Naruto, other than softly call to Kushina as he prayed for a reaction. Finally, a throat cleared behind him from the entrance to her curtained off room. Naruto stayed as he was for a few moments to collect himself, and then looked toward the intruder.

A tired-looking older woman wearing a doctor's white coat was standing there, his mother's chart in her hands. "You are her next of kin – Uzumaki Naruto?" she asked softly.

Naruto nodded slowly. "How is she?"

The doctor shook her head sadly. "Not well, I'm afraid. We aren't sure the exact cause, but while her body is healthy and recovering from injuries she sustained in the attack at an amazing rate, we can't detect any higher-level brainwaves. There's just enough of her brain active to keep her breathing, and her heart beating, and her body working, but no sign of any consciousness. It's like her mind is gone. I'm sorry, but we aren't sure there's anything that can be done for her…"

Naruto's gaze hardened. "There has to be something. She's an Uzumaki, and we have very strong regenerative abilities. She'll come back," he said, steely resolve in his voice. "Keep caring for her, and you'll see."

The doctor hid a cringe at his stubbornness, but knew it was best to let him work through his emotions rather than continue with the discussion right now. "Perhaps. We'll continue to observe her, and hope for the best. Perhaps in a week we can meet again and talk about options if there is no change?"

Naruto's eyes narrowed, but he bit back his initial response. "Fine," he muttered.

The doctor smiled sympathetically. "I'll go now, and let you be with her. Visiting hours are over in thirty minutes."

Naruto nodded, and the doctor leaving the room barely registered as he returned his gaze to the unconscious redhead on the bed. He grabbed one of her hands in both of his, and kissed the knuckles softly. "You'll get better, kaa-chan, or I'll find a way to bring you back to me. I love you," he whispered, before burying his face against her hospital gown, clutching her tightly.

-oOo-

-oOo-

One Week Later – Konohagakure, Land of Fire

It had been a long week, marked with hundreds of funerals. The one that had received the most attendance had been, of course, the funeral of Minato Namikaze, the Fourth Hokage. Everyone in the village had turned out for the sad event.

It had hurt Naruto even more when he found out that his sisters had been killed with a dozen other babies when an inferno had swept through the nursery ward, leaving little for those families – and him – to bury. A jar of ashes taken from the general location was all they had, and their names were transcribed on the civilian memorial with the others. He'd literally spent hours each day tracing his fingers over their names carved into the wall – it was all he had of Karin and Kasumi, the sisters he'd come to love but had never even been able to see.

When Naruto wasn't at the cemetery, he was usually either at his mother's side in the hospital, or in the darkened home their family had lived in.

That first night, after he'd been kicked out at the end of visiting hours, had set his routine for him, curling up in the master bedroom on his mother's side of the bed, sleeping fitfully and wracked with nightmares. It was only the visits of his teammates, or of Kakashi and Rin – who'd been students of Minato's – or the Hokage, that reminded him to even eat. During the day, when not visiting the graves of his sisters or stepfather, and when not at the hospital, he spent his time feverishly going through medical scrolls and books in their house and at the Konoha Library.

The talk with the doctor had come and gone the previous day, with him paying little mind to her suggestions that it was time to think about 'alternate care', or 'letting her go'. He'd wanted to throttle the woman at the first statement, as he'd heard whispers from the nurses during his visits saying much the same, talking about 'freeing up a bed'. That's all she was to them – another body in a bed, taking up space – and not the beautiful, loving and caring woman who meant everything to him.

It was the day after the talk that things first began to go downhill. His visit to his mother at the start of the day went by normal enough – he usually came in at the very beginning of visiting hours when few were around. It was later, when he was about to leave, that a discussion by several doctors outside the curtained off 'room' caught his attention, with the mention of the name 'Kushina'.

He stood from the side of the bed, and walked silently over to stand next to the curtain as the group of doctors, apparently unaware he was there visiting, discussed his mother.

"It's really hopeless," a female's voice said. "I've seen cases like hers plenty of times in the past. Their family keeps them alive for years, but they never wake up. She has absolutely no higher order brain functions, and we haven't even seen a hint of them possibly coming back. She's basically brain-dead."

"I know," said another, a nasally male voice. "But her kid needs some closure. We just need to give him a bit more time to realize she's not coming back, and he'll make the right choice to pull the plug."

There was a snort from a third person as several more muttered quiet agreements. "I don't care. We shouldn't have to waste resources and time like this for that little Uzushio brat to realize what everyone else already has. I've already requested permission from the Hokage to move forward in letting her die in peace. The Yondaime deserves to be buried with his wife, instead of having her rotting away in a hospital room because her delusional kid thinks mommy is going to come back. You've all heard about him – he's not exactly the most stable person anyways. I can hardly count the number of times I've had to patch up his teammates after his reckless stunts. We need to put her out of her misery and let the kid deal with-"

The doctor, a short, and stocky man with a long goatee, froze as he felt a sharp point dig into his back.

"Touch her, and you will die," a frighteningly cold and hard voice came from behind him as Killing Intent spiked through the air, making everyone in the area shake in fear at the oppressive feeling.

The man turned slowly and found himself shaking even harder as he looked into the gray-blue eyes of the boy he'd just been talking about. The look in them promised death, and seemed to stare straight through to his soul as the kunai tip that had been at his back now pressed into his stomach.

"B-boy, p-put the weapon away. I'm just telling the truth," the doctor said shakily.

"Touch her and you will die," Naruto repeated, and it didn't even sound like a threat, but more a matter-of-fact statement – the boy was completely serious.

"Y-you can't, you can't harm civilians." The doctor said, gaining a bit of courage as Naruto slid the kunai back into its pouch. "I'm sorry, boy, but you have to accept that your mother is gone – dead. She's not coming back. By the end of the week, we'll have met our responsibilities, and while you may be a Shinobi, you're not an adult and have no say in her treatment. The Board, along with the Hokage's approval, will decide how things go."

Naruto's eyes widened fractionally, and then he turned abruptly and began to stride away. "Remember my warning," he called out to the man, as he headed toward the Hokage Tower.

-oOo-

"I'm sorry Naruto, but you need to see this from their point of view," Sarutobi said, sadly. "We have some of the best doctors in the world working here, and they don't believe there is any hopeful prognosis for your mother. I agree that the doctor you told me about was out of line, but he was also telling the truth about our Village's laws. At the end of the week, if there's still no change, they will bring this before the Board, and then to me."

Naruto looked up at him with nearly impassive eyes, though Sarutobi could see hints of the pain in them. "Then tell them to keep her alive. Please, Hokage-sama… she's…."

"I know, Naruto-kun. You care for her greatly. But do you think she'd want to go on like this? Kept in a bed, in the hopes that a miracle will occur? Kushina wouldn't want you to let this tear you apart like you've been doing, Naruto. She'd want to rest, in peace, and for you to continue living and making her proud." Sarutobi said.

While he'd hated lying to the boy earlier, this time he hated having to tell him the truth. He'd even had one of his Shinobi contact Tsunade, the legendary medic. When she'd been told the particulars, and given a copy of Kushina's file, she'd sent the messenger back, stating that while Shinobi medicine could do a lot, this was not something they could solve and that there was little chance of any meaningful recovery.

"You know this is a Shinobi village, Naruto," a gravelly voice came from behind him. "We must make the hard choices every day of our lives, and we need the medical supplies that are being used right now in the wake of the Kyūbi's attack."

Naruto turned his head slightly to acknowledge the entrance of the Hokage's advisors, who he had known were listening in from an adjoining room. His eyes narrowed at the sight of Danzō, who had spoken.

"And if it were your mother, Danzō-sama?" Naruto asked.

"I would struggle the same, but let her go. The people deserve the closure, as does your mother, as do you." Danzō said fixing Naruto with a hard gaze from his single brown eye – the other hidden under a bandage wrap from some unknown injury that he'd had since before Naruto had come to the village.

"So, kill her because the people want her to be buried next to Minato-sama?" Naruto asked heatedly.

Danzō raised both hands, and waved them impatiently. "No, let her body chose to go where her spirit already has. If there was any hope that she would recover I would be the first to support you. This village needs strong Shinobi, especially now, and your mother was among the strongest we had. But now, that burden and legacy has been passed to you. It is up to you how you deal with it now."

Naruto gazed at the floor. 'Snake-tongued bastard' he thought angrily. 'He only cares about the village. That's all any of them care about. No one cares about kaa-chan… except for me. They care only for the village, and not for family. Kaa-chan always told me – Family First.' He froze slightly as an idea sparked in his mind. 'I'd have to be careful, but it could work.'

Finally Naruto looked up, gazing at the Hokage, and ignoring his advisors. "Give her until the end of the week, not sooner like that doctor was trying to push. Let me… say goodbye…" He said quietly.

Sarutobi inclined his head. "Of course, Naruto-kun," he said.

Naruto bowed slightly toward his superior, they watched as he left the room, his gaze downcast.

"Do you think he'll give her up, at the end of the week?" Homura murmured to Sarutobi and his fellow elders.

Sarutobi sighed. "I hope so. He can be hot-headed, but perhaps we've reached him." He shook his head. "While I still somewhat agree with our decision with his sister, I cannot help but wonder if he'd be clinging to his mother this much if we'd told him the truth."

Danzō shrugged slightly. "Perhaps. But equally likely he'd be even more stubborn about this, not wanting his sister to grow up without a mother. Besides, we agreed this was for the best of the village."

Sarutobi nodded slowly. If only the chill that appeared for a moment on his spine didn't make him feel that perhaps they were wrong…

-oOo-

-oOo-

Five Days Later - Great Western Forest, Land of Fire

Naruto leapt to the side as a kunai whistled past his head and slammed into a tree branch. "Damn it," he muttered, shifting his grip on Kushina's unconscious form so he didn't drop her as he pushed off a tree trunk to escape the paper bomb that had been attached to the kunai.

Bits of wood pattered against his clothing as he left the radius of the explosion. He'd figured he'd be followed the moment he'd taken Kushina from the hospital but this was much sooner than he'd thought they'd catch up. They must have set up some sort of watch over the hospital.

He'd spent the last thirty minutes trying to outrun this silent group of ANBU, but the addition of his mother's weight as well as their persistence was tiring him quickly.

He saw a clearing ahead, and leapt far across to the other side, placing his mother's body down. He pulled his katana from its sheath with a whisper of metal on leather, and leapt forward to meet his attackers.

He held the handle loosely as he moved his hand through a series of short handsigns. "Suiton: Mizu no Muchi (Water Style: Whip of Water)", he muttered as the moisture surrounding his left hand coalesced into a thin whip nearly 8 feet in length.

He shifted the full weight of the katana into his right hand, and slid a foot forward, into one of the Uzumaki starting stances for double-weapon fighting.

He caught the first ANBU off-guard – they hadn't expected him to suddenly stop fleeing – and managed to snap the whip around the man's legs, the high-pressure water cutting harshly into his skin as Naruto gave it a yank, pulling the man forward onto his blade, unable to change his momentum in mid-air.

The man gave a gurgle as Naruto let his body slide of the blade, and he got his first good look at the mask. "ROOT. I should have known, Danzō would be watching." He said.

The other three ANBU kept their distance, landing on each side of him, encircling him to keep him from escaping. They were about to leap forward and attack when a soft clearing of the throat echoed across the clearing. Naruto froze when he realized it had come from where he'd left Kushina, and then his head snapped toward the sound, to find the imposing form of Danzō standing over her.

"You masked your presence so well I didn't sense you," Naruto said, his muscles tensed. "I'm impressed, Danzō-sama. I'd thought perhaps civilian life had dulled your skills."

Danzō bent down, and grabbed Kushina's body, scooping her up with his right arm. "You flatter me, Uzumaki-san. I must compliment you as well. Few have lasted so long against my ROOT ANBU. I'm disappointed, though, that you chose to run from the village. I'd thought we'd gotten through to you. This woman," he said, shaking Kushina, as her head lolled back, her long red hair whipping around. He ignored a loud, almost feral growl from Naruto.

"She's gone." Danzō said. "There's no hope in reviving her. You could have become a great ninja and made her proud – honored her memory. Instead you clung to a dead woman, and decided to run. Did you really think you would get away? This woman and yourself represent the last of the Uzumaki clan. There are so many secrets waiting to be found in her body, and you could have been such a valuable asset. Konoha doesn't permit such treasures to leave so that others may gain them. You've chosen to become a missing-nin, and now you must pay the price," he finished, nodding to his ROOT, who moved slowly closer to the younger ninja.

Naruto smirked slightly. "That's where you're wrong, Danzō. I cannot become a missing-nin of a village that I was never part of. Look at the records, and you'll see. I was never legally a Konoha-nin. My mother and I came to the village during the turmoil of the war, and my paperwork was overlooked. I was, and still am, a Shinobi – the last Shinobi – of Uzushiogakure." Naruto said, tapping his hitai-ate, which Danzō realized didn't contain the leaf symbol, but rather the Uzushio swirl of the now-dead village he and his mother had come from.

Danzō's eyes widened slightly, and then hardened. "It is of no consequence, if none find your body. Take him."

As the three ROOT ninja leapt at him, mere feet away, he crossed the fingers of both hands into a hand-seal. "Who said we were here for you to take? Bunshin Bōdaina Bakuhatsu (Clone Enormous Explosion)!"

His body, and that of his mother, erupted into huge explosive balls of fire, incinerating the ROOT ninja, and blasting back the injured body of Danzō who'd attempted a Shunshin as the explosion began.

"How," Danzō gasped weakly as pain erupted from his now-missing and cauterized right arm, and his badly broken leg. 'How did that little bastard fool us? I checked his chakra levels before I revealed myself, to ensure it wasn't a clone. Was he able to pump that much power into a Shadow Clone? How….' were Danzō's last thoughts before he slipped into unconsciousness.

-oOo-

Valley of the End, Land of Fire

Miles away, at the Valley of the End, at the edges of the borders of the Land of Fire, a wide grin spread over the real Naruto's face as the memories of the clones washed over him.

It had been a risky gamble, but it had paid off. He had, in reality, left nearly a day before, smuggled out along with his mother in the bed of the wagon of a wandering merchant who had owed the Uzumaki Clan for saving his life during the Third War. Chakra-suppression seals on the wagon bed had prevented detection by the Chūnin guards as they left the village walls.

What he'd left behind, were clones of his own creation – something he'd been working on for several years, ever since his mother had taught him the Kage Bunshin Jutsu – a Jutsu that only a person with chakra reserves on par with an Uzumaki could use to its full potential.

He'd used a mix of storage seals and slow-release seals to pump chakra into the clones' bodies over the last several days, feeding them enough to keep them going without popping away on their own, and keeping enough in their bodies to make it appear as if they were the real deal – the main weakness of the Shadow Clone Jutsu was the fact that if someone knew the person's normal chakra amount, they'd be able – if they were good sensors – to know if the person recently used the jutsu, as it evenly divided the user's existing chakra. Without the seals there would have been the chance that someone would have suspected something was up.

As it was, the distraction a day after his actual escape had turned out perfectly. He had no doubt that Danzō had survived, but it was satisfying knowing he'd got in a good blow to the man, and bought himself plenty of time for his real escape.

Naruto looked down at his mother's serene face, readjusting his grip on her body. He pressed a cheek to her forehead, and took comfort in her presence. "Sarutobi was right, Konoha has some of the best doctors in the world. But only some. I'll find someone – some way, to help you, Kaa-chan"

He shifted the large scroll on his back that contained the few remaining belongings of the Uzumaki clan, including all of their jutsu scrolls, and Fūinjutsu instructional materials – their clan secrets. With them, and hopefully with help, he'd find a way.

He took one last glance back at the land that had given them shelter for many years. The land that had also taken so much away – his sisters, his stepfather, his mother's consciousness. "We'll find a new home, kaa-chan, one that cares more about family than about a village, and we'll rebuild our Clan there. Goodbye Karin-chan and Kasumi-chan, goodbye keifu-san." He said softly, before somberly turning from the Land of Fire, and walking across the border, toward their future.

-oOo-

-oOo-

-oOo-


A/N: Well, hope you guys enjoyed the chapter. To those that for whatever reason did not catch it, the point of divergence that set things off on this trail was the early, unexpected death of Mito Uzumaki (more on that in the future). Her death took the Kyūbi with her, causing it to take years to reform itself, and thus Kushina was never sent or requested to be a Jinchūriki, and instead remained for years in Uzushiogakure, leading to the things we see here.

Hope you all are interested in the story now, next chapter will be a large time-jump to ~12 years in the future, but don't worry, future chapters will explore what Naruto has been up to in the intervening years, through flashbacks and dialogue.

On a side note, Karin is an Uzumaki! Woohooo! I'd theorized as much since I first saw her character (red hair, temper, enormous chakra reserves to be able to do her heal-bite thing, etc.), but it's nice to see one of the recent Manga issues confirm it for me (and yes, the Karin in this story will be a slightly modified version of that Karin – doesn't exactly fit with the point of divergence being able to cause it, but I couldn't resist, she's one of my faves).

I haven't really determined any sort of update schedule, but perhaps I should to keep me structured. I'll think about it, but it shouldn't be more than one or two weeks between each chapter unless things are really crazy at school/work.

Anyway, please review, let me know what you thought. Constructive criticism is welcome, but please no flames – they only make us authors angry, and do nothing to help us improve our work.

Translations (most of you probably already know at least some of them as you're reading Naruto fanfiction, but just to cover bases, as well as some of the lesser-known ones):

-chan/-kun – Female/male familiar honorific (though chan can be used for males, usually only very young ones or in teasing), usually friends or family for older people, and used by adults toward kids.

-san – most common honorific, usually among equals or toward those of lower stature

-sama – more respectful honorific, used toward those of higher stature or authority, or sometimes age

Imōto – Younger Sister

Kaa-chan – Mother (more affectionate form, otherwise kaa-san)

Keifu – Stepfather

Musuko – Son

Taichō – Captain


o.O.o

P.S. - I've gotten a few reviews wanting me to change things so that Kushina wasn't with another man, and that Naruto is Minato's son and that canon is followed there. I hadn't realized that would even be a point of contention (and to me, it seems odd, given that she's gonna be with Naruto later in the story anyway). IN any case, I don't plan on changing it - the point of this story was to be an AU (warned right there in the summary)- alternate universe, where things are different.

If Kushina were the Kyuubi jinch. like one suggested I change it to, she'd be dead - the point of the entire change is that she didn't have the Kyuubi, and didn't go through the strain of the ripping of the Kyuubi out of her seal, and that's why she's alive. Anyway, hope it doesn't turn off too many people that Kushina was once intimate with someone years in the past (aside from Minato), but as I said, I have no plans to change it, so sorry to those who would like it changed.

And Naruto being Minato's son would also completely change his personality, and frankly have to change the entire story, his reasons for leaving Konoha, the intervening years, etc.

In the end, this story is about the present, not the past, so hopefully anyone that doesn't like that minor point about Naruto's biological father can look over/past it and enjoy the rest of the story for what it is.