"Another beautiful day in Konoha!" And, although there's not many days in the village of Konohagakure that the seemingly ever-optimistic Uzumaki Naruto wouldn't call beautiful, this one certainly was just that. It was mid-summer, and the sun was just breaking above the sky-line, it's rays creeping between the building's that made up the residential district of Konoha, giving light to the pathways that it's citizens used to go about their lives, carrying on their daily routines, in the peace and security that living within a shinobi village allowed them.
Of course, such security; such peace of mind, must come at a price. And nearly a complete year ago, the village of Konohagakure had paid that price in the blood of it's own. 'The Fourth Great Ninja War' had been a bloody, costly conflict; and one in which all of the five elemental nations earned the right to live in peace, to go about their daily lives knowing that they are relatively safe from attack. Naruto had fought - and won - against the last remaining member of the Akatsuki, and the leader of the force that threatened the freedom and the lives of both his friends, and the rest of the continent. Of course, he hadn't done this alone. The man who had impersonated Uchiha Madara, and called himself Tobi prior to the war had control of seven of the nine Bijuu - incredibly powerful constructs of chakra with the capability to kill thousands, level cities and cause natural disasters with but a swing of their tails.
He fought alongside his teacher Hatake Kakashi, and Maito Guy, Kakashi's long time rival and friend. Most importantly however, he fought alongside Kurama, the Bijuu that had been contained within him since birth, known to most as the Kyuubi - the Nine Tailed Fox. Kurama had been an adversary for much of Naruto's life, threatening to break free from it's restraints and destroy all that Naruto held dear; but had been won over by the unconditional compassion Naruto held for all things, including the Bijuu - despite their terrible history and reputation amongst humans, and Naruto's sheer determination and will.
On a separate front, the five Kage's fought another all powerful adversary, the reincarnated form of Uchiha Madara. The five held firm in the face of the man's nearly overwhelming power, and despite heavy injuries, they sealed the former Konoha ninja away, preventing him from taking any further life. Away from that conflict, yet another climactic battle between incredibly powerful shinobi took place. The former accomplice of Orochimaru, Kabuto had learned to use Sennin jutsu in order to amplify his own abilities as well as those the power he stole from his former master before his death. He used these new abilities to fight both Sasuke and Itachi Uchiha, who had been resurrected in a similar manner to Uchiha Madara.
Only Sasuke had been seen since, appearing before Naruto as exhausted and battered as the blonde was; warning him of the threat of Kabuto, whom he could not be sure had died in the fighting. In better shape than Naruto, Sasuke left his former best friend, knowing that his comrades were close, like Kabuto, had not been since the conclusion of the battle.
In the days and months since, Naruto had continued life as normally as could be for a shinobi of his ability, carrying out his duties and improving his skills with his usual gusto and enthusiasm, all the while maintaining his search for his estranged best friend. He had been awarded his status as a Jonin a few months after the conclusion of the battle, and although it was merely a formality, Naruto was typically elated by his achievement.
Naruto leapt from the balcony next to his rather modest apartment to the floor below, eliciting cursory glances from the early risers of Konoha, who reciprocated Naruto's warm grin with waves and smiles of their own. He stretched casually as he prepared to set off to begin his morning routine, brushing down his black and orange jacket that, although had become synonymous with him since his return with Jiraiya from their training trip, he now rarely wore for anything other than training. Setting off towards the training grounds at a light run, he simply allowed himself to enjoy the morning air in Konoha, and listen to the sounds of the village that he loved.
Hyuuga Hinata nervously fiddled with her combat trousers, something she had not done after receiving a summons from her father since the Chunin exams, after which he had noticeably softened his approach with her. But when she had received the summons, the member of the family that had passed on the request to her mentioned that Hiashi had seemed particularly distressed, visibly so, even to one without the mythical Hyuuga eyes.
She glanced either side of her, the highly polished and almost sterile floors and white washed wall of the hallway in front of her father's study only momentarily catching her eyes as she almost frantically tried to figure out what could have gotten her normally stoic father to drop his emotionless facade, in front of a Branch Family member - a sure fire sign of weakness, should news ever reach the elders; one that whilst not immediately dangerous, could be preyed upon by the ruthless and often bitter fools that made, in Hinata's eyes at least, far too many of the decisions on clan matters.
"Hinata, you may enter."
The voice was calm and controlled, and showed no signs of the distress she had earlier heard of, and momentarily held hope that there had been some kind of wild exaggeration as to the state of her father's emotions. Such hope was crushed, however, when she slid open the doors to her father's study and laid eyes on a broken, and utterly defeated man.
"Father-" Hinata's sentence was cut short almost as quickly as it had started by her father's raised hand, indicating for her to remain quiet.
"Hinata, I've called you here to apologise to you - I have failed." Hinata couldn't hide her surprise, but refrained from interrupting Hiashi from finishing what he had intended to say. "The elder's, as per the customs of the Hyuuga clan, have named an heir to the clan, and subsequently have issued an order for the branding of another sibling tomorrow evening."
Hinata was shaking, both angry and terrified at what her father would say next, as she knew what was coming, and she hated the elder's, and the ancient, ridiculous traditions of her clan for it.
"Hinata, you have been named as the heir to the Hyuuga clan, and Hanabi, your sister, will be branded tomorrow evening. I tried to stall them, for as long as I could, i really did but-"
This time it was Hinata who did the interrupting, signalling her impressive growth in maturity, as well as confidence.
"I understand, father; there is nothing you can do about it as the clan head, and I've watched you stave off their attempts to brand Hanabi since I was a little girl. But understand this, even if it requires me to relinquish my position as the heir to Hanabi, I will not let them brand my sister."
And with that, Hyuuga Hinata walked out of Hiashi's study with all the confidence and determination of Uzumaki Naruto himself. And for but a small moment, Hiashi's grief at the apparent fate of his daughters was superseded by the pride he felt at the strong woman, and shinobi that his eldest daughter had become. However, ultimately, he knew her daughters proclamations of defiance were completely frivolous. The elders would not be swayed so easily, not least by the words of one so young. Not only that, but Hinata was a Jonin level shinobi, who had displayed exceptional skill, had multiple links to several of the future clan heads, and with one of the most reputable young shinobi in the village, a certain Uzumaki Naruto.
Hanabi it would seem, was the polar opposite. She was eleven years old, and had been held back from the academy by law of the elders, and only versed in the most basic of the ninja arts, both Hyuuga and not; and showed no signs of reaching the heights that Hinata had and would continue to reach, let alone exceed them. Hiashi loved both his daughters equally, but could see no other alternative to the reality which he had proposed to his eldest. He could go to no-one outside the clan for help, for village laws protected clan affairs, even from the fiery Godaime Hokage, and resorting to violence would not do Hanabi any good. After all, the elders were experienced and strong shinobi in their own right, and he was certain that he would be bested by the six of them should he attempt a confrontation.
Hiashi allowed himself a long, hopeless sigh. He could no longer shield his daughter from the inevitable. He had failed, much as his father had failed to save his brother Hizashi from the seal, and his father before that.
Despite her confident front, Hinata had only managed to maintain it until she passed the threshold into her own living quarters, whereupon it took all of her will to prevent herself from collapsing into a heap of tears, sorrow and helplessness, something that the Hinata of old certainly would have done, when confronted with similar circumstances.
She of course knew that the elders would not be swayed by her words, no matter what kind of convincingly well thought out argument she could conjure. The stubborn old fools had made up their minds, and that would be that. This meant she would have to get creative. She knew that no outside help from the Hokage, or even the other clans would, even if they could, would be forthcoming. That left finding a loophole in Hyuuga clan lore, something that successive generations of Branch Hyuuga had tried to do to prevent the abhorrent treatment of that side of the family. It was an avenue that had been almost totally exhausted, and if their was a piece of lore that could circumnavigate the branding of Hanabi; it would be the elders themselves who kept it, and they certainly weren't going to allow Hinata anywhere near it.
That left her in a nearly totally hopeless situation. Her task was nearly impossible - a totally insurmountable mountain.
However, as soon as that notion passed through her brain, another followed it almost immediately. There was a shinobi in Konoha, whom had built their reputation on making the impossible, possible. for scaling that insurmountable mountain. She held no doubt that the man that she had admired for the first tentative years of her shinobi career, and had grown to love later on in life, would jump to help Hinata and Hanabi in such a moment of need. And she had no doubt, that Uzumaki Naruto would definitely be able to stop the elders from branding her sister tomorrow evening.
But it wasn't that simple. They would still need to find a way to prevent the sealing without resorting to aggression, or else Naruto would almost definitely be considered culpable, and any convictions would not only in all likelihood spoil his career - but also totally destroy his dream of becoming the Hokage. And she would definitely not allow that to happen, not on her or her sisters behalf.
It was a dilemma. Could she really ask that of someone she cared so much?
"Just ask him."
Hinata gasped and stiffened on reflex, she hadn't even heard her cousin Neji enter her room, let alone sensed his approach.
"It's pretty obvious what you're thinking- " Neji continued, exhaling deeply before taking a seat inside the room. "-Because I came to the same conclusion. Ask Naruto for help. When I think logically, I know there's nothing he could do, but-" Neji paused, looking for the right words, "- it's almost instinctual. Naruto gives hope to those who have none, and has done ever since he was a freshly graduated Genin. Not only is their no-one else outside this clan, besides from perhaps Lee and Tenten, that I'd trust enough to ask for help, he is the only one that I could trust to be successful."
Neji speaking so intimately spoke volumes for the gravitas of the situation, he abhorred the Caged Bird Seal more than even she did, and he alone of the two of them knew the terrible pain and turmoil it inflicted upon those that wore it. It spoke infinitely more for the person that Naruto had become to them all. But Neji's words still did not solve the dilemma that they faced.
"If we can't find a way to stop it with Naruto, he'll tear this place apart before he let them seal Hanabi, and the elders wouldn't hold back from pressing criminal charges against him Neji; and you know what that would do to his dream." Hinata replied, her voice low, almost as though she was 13 years old again, and lacking the confidence in herself that had practically erupted since Pein had invaded the village.
"And what is his dream Hinata?"
"To be Hokage." Hinata replied almost instantly, without even thinking.
"You've spent as much time with him than just about anyone recently, Hinata. Would you say that becoming Hokage is really his dream, or has it become a means to an end? A means of achieving an overall goal? When you have an answer to that, ask yourself which would hurt him more: Not being able to become Hokage, or the fact that one of his closest friends didn't come to him for help when she needed it the most?"
And with that, Neji left Hinata alone to her thoughts.
Neji was a prodigy, and incredibly intelligent, and was of course, completely correct. Perhaps in the past, Naruto's dream to become Hokage was just that, but as he had matured, so had his dreams. Becoming Hokage was to him, the ultimate way to protect the village, and all the friends he had in it. He lived to protect his friends, and the village he called home; he considered it his duty, his responsibility.
He had once said to her in a rare moment of quiet, that his friends had saved him from years of loneliness and grief, and in return, he would do everything in his power to ensure that they were happy. And as long as his friends were happy, that was all it took to ensure he was happy too. It didn't seem fair to her that he should feel so indebted to the people to whom he had provided so much joy.
He simply cocked to the side, a sure-fire sign of genuine confusion in the blonde, and said 'I don't get it.'
Hinata had initially reasoned that Naruto would be angry, or upset at her for not asking for help; and she was completely ready to accept that. But of course, she hadn't counted how Naruto's inner logic into the equation - he would sooner blame himself, irregardless of the fact that he could never of known that it was even happening, than blame Hinata.
The violet-eyed Hyuuga rose slowly from her seated position. She would tell Naruto, ask him for help. And she would at the same time, ensure that nothing he did in trying to do so would put his own dreams at risk. After all, that was what Naruto would do, right?
Naruto couldn't really tell how long he'd been meditating, everything but the natural energy all around him, and it's ebb and flow had been blocked out. He had improved no end with his sage jutsu, and could now hold it for a full twelve minutes in combat an invaluable increase in time, he felt. But there was more than that to it. Everything whilst he was in sage mode had been in enhanced, he could, just about extend the 'draw' of natural energy he was taking in, to the entire diameter of the village of Konoha, and whilst the range of his senses was far greater than that whilst in sage mode; everything within his 'draw' - the maximum range with which he could fully manipulate and precisely sense the natural energy that surrounded everything - he could 'see'. Iruka teaching his most recent class of shinobi hopefuls, Sakura busying herself with her duties in the hospital, Baa-chan utilising every ounce of shinobi talent she had to sneak a gulp of sake from the bottle she hid in her desk whilst Shizune wasn't looking; he could feel every single living thing in the village, from the smallest shrub, to Kakashi-sensei reading his pervy books.
And it made Naruto feel on top of the world.
He felt several of his Kage Bunshin disperse, breaking his concentration slightly as he processed their information. Much of it was mundane, day-to-day nonsense that he almost ignored. Some of it he spent more time mulling over. Interesting snippets of fuuinjutsu theory, another useful jutsu to learn, a variation on a katon jutsu he had already nailed.
Oh yes, times of peace had not dulled Uzumaki Naruto's hunger to be the best he could possibly be. It was partly because he knew exactly how powerful Sasuke had become, and despite that, the amount of trouble he had with Kabuto. He knew Kabuto nor Sasuke would be resting on their laurels, and just because nothing had been heard or seen from either didn't mean that they were no longer a threat to the village.
But mostly, it was because he simply loved to train. The feeling of joy that was provided by accomplishing something new, or mastering a technique, and more recently, simply knowing something he hadn't done before, had not diminished since he had graduated, all those years ago. His drive for improvement had driven him, eventually, to the Konoha library shortly after the war, and he had never looked back. Now, he ensured he had at least five Bunshin in their every moment it was open whilst he was in the village, picking the place clean for anything that could be of use. Of course, the Bunshin weren't particularly happy about it, as boisterous as they could be, even by his standards, because despite his drive to improve, books were still super boring; but he sure as hell wasn't going to do it himself, and it left him more time to deal with, as he liked to put it - the 'fun stuff'.
Still, despite his disdain for books, reading, and sitting still for more than five minutes at a time; he couldn't deny how good it had been for him as a ninja. He had never been stupid, and he had been well aware of his weaknesses as a shinobi, and the time his Bunshin had spent had invariably gone a long way to solving many of them. As well as that, it also helped foster an interest in fuuinjustu, the incredibly complex and intricate, notoriously difficult to master technique of using seals. Naruto had naturally defied all possible expectations - and taken to it like a fish to water. He was determined to master it, as no-one in Konoha was left who could, and he was sure that it is what both his late master Jiraiya and his father, the Fourth Hokage who died sealing the Kyuubi into Naruto the day he was born; seal masters in their own right, would have wanted.
Naruto broke from his already distracted train of thoughts, and turned his attention to the slowly approaching Hinata, whom he had sensed leave the Hyuuga compound, and had grown ever more hopeful that she would be paying him a visit, as she had come closer and closer. However, the happiness that resulted from the imminent arrival of one his closest friends, was dimmed as his heightened senses picked up certain things about her.
Her hands were clenched into fists, and were shaking almost indistinguishably. Her face was creased into a serious frown, and Naruto could sense her heartbeat was erratic, speeding slightly, before returning to normality and then raising slightly again. Naruto's first instinct was that he had done something to make her angry, but immediately disregarded that thought. Hinata was rarely angry at anyone, let alone him. No, she had been upset by something, and she was also slightly unsure of herself.
That brought a frown to his own face, his friend needed help, and was unsure whether to ask. She was also deeply upset about something, which meant that whatever problem she was having, it was serious.
"Hinata, what's the matter?" He tentatively questioned, as the Hyuuga entered the clearing in which he had been training. She instinctively looked to the grave after meeting his gaze, something she had not done in over a year.
"N-Naruto-kun-" The young Hyuuga winced at her own stutter, again something she had not done in what seemed like an age "I- well, Neji, my sister and I, need your help."
"You know you can ask me for anything Hinata, and I'll do my best to help you."
Hinata nodded, and began to explain, cautiously at first, growing more passionate as she forgot herself in the face of the adversity faced by her sister, the situation she and her clan was in, along with the difficulties and dangers associated with trying to overcome clan lore. By the time she had finished, Naruto had darkened considerably. Although he could not claim to do so with any of the same ferocity of those within the Hyuuga, he loathed the Caged Bird Seal, and everything it represented, and in a burst of childish naivety had vowed to put a stop to it many years before. Although maturity had complicated this goal somewhat, Uzumaki Naruto was a man of his word, and had never forgotten that vow, and would some day, help to stop it.
Today though, he was faced with a more immediate problem. How to prevent that fate from befalling Hanabi, Hinata's sister. He had only met her once or twice, but she had seemed pleasant enough, polite and civil in the way you might expect the daughter of a clan heir to be. Hinata had told him previously though, of her resentment of the elders from decreeing that she would learn only the very basic of the shinobi arts, as it was both un-befitting of someone to be married away when she was of age, and unappealing to potential suitors. Her older sister had done what she could to train Hanabi in secret, but there was only so much one could do when in a house filled with people who possessed eyes that could see through walls. Still, Hinata claimed she was still determined to become a shinobi, and Naruto could relate infinitely that determination in the face of adversity, and found himself more determined than ever to stop her being branded.
Of course, that still left the problem of actually doing so. He knew full well that many had tried, and failed, to avoid being branded, but that didn't blinker his determination.
"Hinata, you have my word that I will do anything I can to save Hanabi, and to do so, if possible, without grinding those bastard clan elders into the ground, okay?"
Naruto had only really added the second half of his promise because Hinata had seemed incredibly adamant about not turning them into a mushy pulp, an approach that had served Naruto incredibly well over the years; but, of course, should it come to that point, Naruto wouldn't hesitate to, uh, forcibly remove Hanabi from the clutches of the Hyuuga if he had to.
"First things first, though, we need some kind of plan." Naruto spoke with authority and seriousness, as though he was leading a mission, and Hinata had to admit, it was still a shock, even now, to see the degree to which he had grown. Naruto had become a leader. Someone capable of leading others into battle, and succeeding. "I know she's not allowed to get directly involved, but I have an idea, and I need to get permission from Baa-chan to do it. Neji is working on finding something in your own clan's writings, yeah?" Hinata simply nodded, assuming the role of a shinobi under his command as though it was the most natural thing in the world. Briefly, she considered that it was indeed natural, considering she was almost certainly speaking with the future Hokage.
"Good." Naruto continued, not aware of Hinata's inner dialogue. "It is probably a good idea to keep him with that, it might not have provided anything in the past, but it can't hurt to have all our bases covered, and if anyone's going to find anything there, it'd be Neji."
Wordlessly, a group of clones appeared behind the two of them, and almost immediately disappeared into the trees, each moving in different directions around the village.
"The clones I've just sent have gone to the other clans to ask for any help. They can't directly interfere, but from what I know of Konoha law, the piece of legislation that prevents the Hokage from stopping the practice of the Caged Bird Seal, is the same law that prevents the Hokage from interfering with clan affairs throughout the entire village. There has to be a law that holds precedence over the clan laws, and with any luck, one of the other clan heads will know something." Naruto then addressed Hinata more personally, losing the authority in his voice, once again becoming one of Hinata's closest friends. "What about Hanabi, she knows what's happening right? I think you should go check up on her, and let her know we're all fighting for her, and then meet me at the Hokage tower, okay?."
She had of course spoken to her sister before leaving to find Naruto, and had tried providing all the vague reassurances that she could. But even she would have to admit, she had been pretty unconvincing. But now it was different, now she had genuine hope. Just a few words, a brief plan of action spoken by Naruto, and now she believed, without a doubt, that they would save her sister from the Caged Bird Seal. She looked back to Naruto, and smiled a smile full of warmth, and gratitude for her renewed hope.
"Thank you, Naruto-kun. I will meet you at the Tower as soon as I can."
Naturally, Tsunade had been expecting his arrival, being as well informed about the goings on in her village as a Hokage should be, and had immediately rattled off a well thought out list of things she was not allowed to do, even though she was Hokage, and the exact reasons why. This was also the reason, she nearly fell out of her chair when Naruto simply replied with:
"I already knew all that Baa-chan, I didn't come here to get you involved."
She was so stunned and confused that she completely forgot the break the blonde's legs, heal them and the break them again for good measure for implying she was old.
"I did come to ask for a small favor though." Naruto probed, snapping the Hokage out of her stupor. She indicated for him to continue, unsure of the reason for his visit, if not to berate him for not breaking down the doors of the Hyuuga compound and stopping the sealing herself. "Well, I thought, that as a future candidate for the position of Hokage, it would be wise to allow me time to go ever some of the more obscure laws in Konoha, and some of the cases where these laws have been put into action. You know, for future reference?"
Tsunade couldn't keep the smirk off of her face. It was ingenious. He wanted access to the legislation of Konoha to try and find a way around the laws in place protecting the clans. If he could find a loophole, and the show that it had previously been legally exploited, the Hyuuga elders couldn't argue. Not from from a legal standpoint, anyway. And if they tried 'alternative' methods it was right back into her jurisdiction, and if anything else, she was renowned as being as vindictive as she was strong. And if was in the interests of improving the quality of the likely successor to her position, it couldn't be claimed that she had given him access to the legislature of Konoha for any reasons that weren't strictly professional.
"What a stellar idea Naruto!" She exclaimed smugly, as though it had been her plan all along. "I would suggest that you start with the laws concerning the clans of Konoha, as they are incredibly pertinent to any future Hokage." She tossed him the key to the room that was the legislative heart of Konoha, on the basement level where much of the restricted material within the village was kept. "Good luck, Naruto." He simply grinned at her as he left the office.
"Future Hokage, eh? As if gaki, as if."
Her words sounded as hollow as they actually were.
Naruto had become every bit the man his father had. It was only a matter of time before she would step down, a few years perhaps. And when she did, there was only really one person who could take her place.
As Naruto stepped out of the office he found Hinata waiting for him, as she said she would be.
"How is Hanabi doing?" Naruto asked tentatively as moved over to Hinata.
"As well as she could be. She's grateful that you're on her side though, after all, there's not many that haven't heard of what you've done for the village at this point. She's scared though, Naruto. It's an excruciating thing to have done to you, and Hanabi knows it. She also knows full well, that we're facing an uphill battle."
Naruto nodded solemnly. She was scared, and although she had people in her corner, she was alone and staring one a horribly cruel ordeal, right in the eyes.
"Well." He began, wanting to put all their focus on the task at hand - preventing that ordeal from ever taking place. "I managed to get permission from Baa-chan to access the records of the clan centered laws of the village, and case files that back the application of those laws up. That's our plan of attack. I said before that there must be a law, even a seemingly unimportant one, that has power over the clan legislation and can be exploited for our purposes; and this is where we're going find it, and use it to save your sister.
And so they searched, Hinata, Naruto, and half a dozen Kage Bunshin. They scoured the seemingly endless files, searched through every case settled in the court of law, from each and every petty gripe between clans, to large disputes involving multiple important clans. And they did so for hours. Searching on and on, long past the fall of darkness.
Hinata looked towards Naruto, hunched over a candle, hefty tome in hand, small particles of dust being dislodged with every turn of a weathered and worn page. She felt her eyelids exert their weight, eroding her will to continue. She fought and fought the urge to sleep, fought to continue to work for her sister, but it was a hopeless battle.
Naruto was so engrossed, he didn't even notice exhaustion claim Hinata for a few minutes. And when he did, he simply smiled and fetched her a blanket, and returned to their work.
He would carry on for the both of them. He wouldn't let his friend down.
"Haha! YES! I've found it, I've found it! Hinata, wake up I've found it!"
Hinata leapt to her feet at the noise, and was almost immediately captured into a hug by an overjoyed Naruto.
"Rise and shine, Hinata! I've found what we're looking for!" The words didn't quite penetrate the haze that had resulted from her long sleep. Her eyes wandered around the room. The clock, Naruto, the books and files, celebrating Kage Bunshin. Her eyes darted back to the clock, as horror welled up in her, not quite having realised what Naruto had been shouting about.
It was 4.30. PM. She had been allowed to sleep through nearly the entire day, they had an hour and a half to find what they needed! And that's when Naruto's words finally reached her brain, and she rushed to his side, as he excitedly flicked through the pages the book he had been searching.
"What did you find Naruto-kun?" Hinata asked frantically, fully removed from her earlier state of grogginess. Without even looking up he handed her an extract from the book.
Apparently the Daimyo had issued a law, some years prior to the invasion of the Kyuubi stating that 'the sacred bond of master and apprentice, one so intertwined with the ancient history of Hi no Kuni, shall take precedence over clan rituals, rites, ceremonies and duties; should it be required by the master, and agreed upon by the apprentice themselves. No clan may interfere with that bond at risk of a punishment as decided appropriate by the Hokage and Daimyo in a court of law'.
"So, now we just need to find a case where this law has actually been applied, in order to prevent the elders from disputing it, or exploiting the wording, and we've done it?"
"Yep!" Came the enthusiastic reply from Naruto, who had not let up his search while Hinata had been reading the extract. "I reckon if the sealing is taking place at 6pm, we have half an hour to find it, another half hour to convince Baa-chan and find somebody willing, then half an hour to get back to your home and put a stop to this."
A little over half an hour had passed before once again, what the pair had been seeking found it's way in front of Naruto's eyes.
"Jiraiya you brilliant old pervert!"
This had been the last thing Naruto had been expecting to find. Jiraiya of all people, had done attempted to enact the law himself on behalf of his very first apprentice, none other than Naruto's own father, Namikaze Minato, the Fourth Hokage.
"And so it is ruled by both the Sandaime Hokage, and the Daimyo of Hi no Kuni, that the head of the Namikaze clan is forbidden from permanently sealing the chakra of Namikaze Minato as a punishment for breaking the oaths of the Namikaze clan at the request of the Sannin Jiraiya and the agreement of the boy himself, and that the laws protecting the ways of the Namikaze clan from outside influence are of secondary importance to the laws pertaining to the roles and duties of the master and his apprentice."
Tsunade drew a deep breath. To be quite honest, she had grown to expect the impossible from Naruto, but even she had her doubts that he'd be able to pull this one out of the bag. Trust her old coot of a team-mate to be the one to make the finishing blow. Helping his apprentice, even from beyond the grave. Typical Jiraiya.
"Now, there is only one remaining issue. Who'll be the one to take Hanabi under her wing? The obvious candidates are the elite Jonin. However, Kakashi and Gai are out of the village, Kurenai's taken on a new team and Anko is, well, Anko. She wouldn't touch the kid with a barge pole. Most of the other Jonin are so newly promoted and inexperienced that I couldn't allow them to take on such a massive responsibility, or are out of the village, or already have teams of their own. Taking apprentice is a massive commitment, Naruto. Far beyond that of taking on a team of Genin."
Naruto frowned. He hadn't thought in detail about who would actually be available to take the girl on, he'd been too focused on the solution itself. Unfortunately, events would never allow him time to ponder a solution, as a profusely tired looking and out of breath Neji burst through the door.
"They've taken her in early! You only have a few minutes before they start the ritual to do something."
And just like that, in a split second, Naruto made one of the biggest decisions of his life.
"I'll do it." And in that same second, the entire room of Neji, Hinata, Shizune and the Hokage, dropped deathly silent. "I mean," the blonde continued sheepishly, "I have the ability, and have spent an entire year rounding out my abilities as a shinobi. Not only that, but I've been an apprentice myself, to one of the best masters in history, in fact, so I have a rough guideline to go by. And it would be good for me too, because I've got to take a Genin team anyways before I can take that hat for myself, so that my claim to be Hokage holds more weight, right Baa-chan? Training Hanabi to kick ass would be a great warm up to taking on three Genin myself, right?"
Tsunade's gut told her it was an incredibly bad idea to entrust an impressionable child to Uzumaki Naruto, but she couldn't fault Naruto's logic. Not only that, but as it stood, Naruto was the girl's last hope for a life outside of the thumb of the Main House of the Hyuuga clan. And hey, if Naruto could do half the job on her that Jiraiya had done on him, the village would have another capable ninja on their books, and that never hurt in the slightest.
"Fine. Uzumaki Naruto, you have my permission to take Hyuuga Hanabi as your apprentice, pending her agreement. Now get her out of there Naruto, I'll won't be far behind you with the paperwork proving that you've officially taken her as your apprentice."
Naruto didn't wait around long enough to say thank you, pulling on Kurama's chakra almost as easily as he called upon his own, he surrounded himself in the unmistakable golden glow of his chakra cloak, and disappeared in a lightning bright golden flash.
Hanabi, was terrified. Her sister, despite her efforts, hadn't been fast enough. The two elders standing over her had finished drawing the seal matrix over her forehead, and were now carrying out the long sequence of seals required to initiate the sealing sequence. The room used for this horrific ritual was one in the deep depths of the Hyuuga compound, a place where she had been forbidden from entering, where the lighting was sustained only by dim candles, often only illuminating people partially, making them appear more menacing than they ever had. Strange and outlandish weapons of nightmare adorned the walls of both the room and the hallways leading to it; horrible and malevolent iterations of swords, axes and spears, most likely trophies from ancient wars of the past, in the days before shinobi, and when the Hyuuga clan was a nomadic warrior tribe, gifted with incredibly sharp eyesight, a pre-cursor to their legendary Byakugan.
Hanabi's train of thought was brought to a halt by a piercingly bright light, signalling the start of the sealing, and she braced herself for an agony unimaginable to her.
Only it never came.
"If I were you, I'd step away from the girl right now."
Hanabi allowed herself a peak from her left eye, and was stunned at how bright the room had become. It was aglow, a golden light as if it was the sun itself penetrating the foreboding shadows that had been, and vanquishing them as though they were enemies. Behind her, stood a figure recognisable to the entire village as Uzumaki Naruto, the shinobi who had defeated Pein, and had become known as a war hero across the elemental nations for his accomplishments in the Fourth Great War. Not only that, but his anger was palpable in the room, and it resonated within his voice. He held a kunai with each hand against the throats of the trembling elders either side of her, causing them to shrink back in fear. The four other elders in the room were forced against the wall at the back of the room, as though Uzumaki's presence alone had forced them there. She had heard of 'killing intent', and was certain that this was it, but strangely it didn't worry her. It was as though rather than attack her as it had done the elders, it had surrounded her in a bubble, and inside it, she felt like she was untouchable.
"Don't worry Hanabi, they can't touch you with me here. I won't let them get anywhere near you."
Hanabi knew in her heart that was a ridiculous statement. Even her father, the strongest shinobi she had ever personally seen, could not stand against these six elders, masters of the Jyuuken. Yet, she was totally convinced by his words, almost as soon as he spoke them, she knew she was safe. Just like that.
"U-Uzumaki! This outrage will not be tolerated!" The most senior elder had risen to his feet, fighting against the overwhelming killing intent pouring from the blonde. "You surely know the rules preventing outside interference! The Hokage will be forced to punish you, whether she wants to or not." The man continued, edging towards Naruto. Hanabi glanced towards the shinobi that stood over her. Why had he risked himself like that for a relative stranger? The few and brief moments they had met before certainly shouldn't have warranted such a reaction. She didn't know what the punishment for the intervention would be, but she knew of the shinobi prisons of Konoha, she had heard grisly and chilling tales of the shinobi of the torture and interrogation branch of the ANBU black ops. Why would he risk himself for her?
"Take another step forward and I'll bring you down, old man." Another Naruto had appeared without warning behind the elder, kunai pressed against the man's jugular. Hanabi searched her mind for an explanation of an apparently solid Bunshin, but her knowledge of the ninja arts had been limited beyond the basics by the elders as according to them, her fate was to be a wife, not a shinobi, and she could find none.
"Naruto! Stand down!" A second voice, this time a woman. Hanabi turned to her left, where the entrance was located and found the source of the voice. The Hokage herself was here, along with Neji, Hinata and her father, who moved past the Hokage and arrived at her side, her sister trapping her in an embrace, declaring like Naruto had, that she would be safe now. She wouldn't have to be sealed.
"Ah, Tsunade-hime thank goodness you are here!" The elder who Naruto had threatened moments before began in a sickly sweet voice. "Unfortunately, I must inform you of the gross miscondu-"
"Shut your mouth you decrepit old fool." Tsunade snapped, cutting off the man's inevitable insipid speech about how 'regrettably, the Hyuuga clan will be forced to press charges against Uzumak-san'. "I'm not here on you're behalf." It was then she shifted her gaze to Hanabi, who had just escaped her sister's embrace in favor of standing up to match the rest of the room. "Now, Hanabi. I have some news for you. It transpires that one of the villages Jonin, has taken a particular interest in your development as a shinobi."
"I'm afraid Hanabi is not to become a shinobi, Hokage-sama." This time the elders voice had become sour, and mocking.
"And I thought I told you to shut your mouth." The Hokage's rebuttal was impatient. Truthfully, she just wanted to get to the bit that would shut them up, at least temporarily. "That Jonin, Hanabi, would be in this room. Uzumaki Naruto."
Hanabi's eyes widened at that. She had the chance to not only become a shinobi, but learn under one of the best in the village at that. It was everything she had dreamed about since it was revealed she was forbidden to become a shinobi.
"What about the clan? They wouldn't allow it." Hanabi started, not sure whether to believe that the Hokage's offer was even possible.
"If you decide to accept, the clan's wishes are irrelevant. You can refuse the Caged Bird Seal, and begin your shinobi training, as soon as Naruto and yourself are ready."
Hanabi turned to her sister and father for reassurance. Hinata nodded encouragingly, and even her father wore a smile on his face, one of the rare smiles she had seen. Then, she turned to the Naruto stood over her, assuming her was the real one of the two in the room, who simply grinned widely and scratched the back of his head. Looking back at the Hokage, she finally nodded firmly.
"I want to be a ninja, Hokage-sama. I accept."
"Excellent!" The Hokage beamed, brushing her hands together, as if she had just completed some kind of chore around the house. "I hope you don't mind Hanabi, but the papers have already been signed by your father, your legal guardian, on your behalf. You are officially the apprentice of Uzumaki Naruto."
"And I hope you don't mind, Tsunade, but I think you'll find the law of the Hyuuga clan takes precedence here, and the girl becoming a ninja is out of the question. Not only that, but we have a sealing to complete."
This time, it was Naruto who stepped forward, simultaneously dispelling his Kage Bunshin.
"And I'll think you'll find, that according to a law passed by the Daimyo of Hi no Kuni, 'the sacred bond of master and apprentice, one so intertwined with the ancient history of Hi no Kuni, shall take precedence over clan rituals, rites, ceremonies and duties; should it be required by the master, and agreed upon by the apprentice themselves. No clan may interfere with that bond at risk of a punishment as decided appropriate by the Hokage and Daimyo in a court of law'. This law was used by my own sensei, Jiraiya of the Sannin, to oppose the Namikaze clan before, and I am happy to take this to the shinobi courts if I have to. As a result, as Hanabi's master, I oppose the use of the Caged Bird Seal on my apprentice. As a result, it's her decision. And there's nothing you can do about it."
Naruto finally handed the copy of the legislation to the elder, who snatched it from his hands and furiously began to read. He could find no weakness in the documentation.
"Fine!" The man snarled, his anger finally breaking through his Hyuuga persona. "Take the girl! Make her a ninja. She is no longer one of us, and as such, is banned from visiting the compound, unless it is required by her duties. I expect her to have left the premises within the hour."
And with that parting shot, the elder left the room, accompanied by the five others, who had all remained silent throughout.
Naruto sighed almost perfectly in time with Tsunade. They had both suspected that he might react in such a way, and could see no way for Hanabi to remain in the compound safely, not whilst she was unable to defend herself against the threat of the elders taking 'clan law' into their own hands.
"Hanabi, we'll set you up with an apartment for no extra cost whilst you begin your training. You won't have to pay rent until you pass the Genin exam, and even then, it won't exactly be expensive. I have to warn you though, it will be pretty basic. Nothing like what you have here." The Hokage spoke carefully, clearly still deep in thought.
"I don't mind." Hanabi's answer was firm and confident, despite her mind racing as she tried to take in the rapid succession of major changes that were taking place in her life.
"We'll also give you a stipend to provide for food and essentials, again, until you reach Genin. Naruto will be able to show to your new place, and help you get settled in, so unless you've got any more pressing questions, I need to head back to my office. Naruto's uncanny ability to generate stupendous amounts of paperwork has apparently reared it's ugly head once again. Once you're settled in, come see me in my office with Naruto, and we'll go through things in a bit more detail, okay?"
Hanabi began to answer, but the Hokage had already turned heel, and began to make her way out of the room.
"Hanabi." This time the girls attention was grabbed by her father, his speech slow and deliberate, even for a man of few words as it was, seemingly searching for the right words to express what he was thinking. "I wanted to apologise. I haven't been the best father, to either of my daughters. I demanded too much too early from Hinata, nearly crushing her under ridiculous expectations. And I was unable to do anything to save you from the same fate that befell my brother. I can't tell you enough how sorry I am for that, and I promise to do all I can to aid you in your career as a shinobi. I will of course, ensure you and Uzumaki-san have access to whatever you may need from the clan's library so that you may master your Byakugan, and the techniques of the Hyuuga. They are most definitely your birthright, elders be damned. All that I will ask, is that you continue to make me as proud as you already do, not as a Hyuuga, but as your father."
"There's no need for an apology father, I understand how difficult it is for you to act as you'd like as both the head of the clan, and a father; and that you did your best to stop them from sealing me for as long as possible. The important thing is that it never happened. And I'll do my best to make everyone proud. You, Hinata and Uzumaki-sensei."
Naruto smiled warmly at his new students words, even though she was turned away from him. It reminded him, ever so slightly of the much too brief words he and his own father had shared within the seal he bore on his stomach. The sheer delight that his declaration of pride in Naruto had provided him was almost unmatched. Although, he would have to have words with his apprentice about all this Uzumaki-sensei nonsense. He knew he was know a super powerful ninja and stuff, but he abhorred formalities almost as much as he did as a fresh Genin. Even thoughts of 'Naruto-sensei' made him extremely uncomfortable.
Regardless, it was pretty clear to him that her head, and more importantly her heart, were in the right place. Never having exchanged more than pleasantries with the young Hyuuga had left Naruto with slight fears of a Neji-esque stick shoved where the sun definitely don't shine. He had beat it out of Neji, and Sasuke to an extent, although that was a work in progress. But he wasn't sure how he would approach a student with the same issue. Luckily, it seemed as though he wouldn't have to.
Her abilities, or even potential as a shinobi could be transformed by hard work, graft, and Naruto dared to think, good teaching. Deep rooted psychological issues in a student took a kind of finesse that he wasn't sure he could conjure.
Still, time to get the ball rolling, in a manner of speaking. There was work to be done before Naruto could even think about teaching Hanabi, and to say Naruto was excited, was predictably, an understatement.
"I hate to interrupt, I really do - but I think we should make a start on getting out of here, before the elders kick up a fuss. As much as I'd love to wring their necks, I don't really fancy the beating Baa-chan would mete out!"
"A wise suggestion Uzumaki-san. I trust that you would be willing to use your 'unique' abilities to speed up the process?"
"Why, Hiashi-sama, it would be my absolute pleasure!" Naruto's mock-civilised voice bought a nigh impossible detect grin to Hiashi's face, one which Hinata noted without reaction, grew as a dozen copies of Naruto appeared without so much as a trace of movement from the blonde.
"As it happens, I know exactly where Baa-chan has arranged for Hanabi to live and am already in possession of the keys, and would much appreciate it if Hinata would accompany my Kage Bunshin to help them set up Hanabi's stuff."
Hinata nodded, giving Naruto the largest smile she could muster before accompanying his Bunshin away. She would find some way to repay him, she really would. But for now, there was still work to be done.
"Why aren't I going with them?" Hanabi inquired, genuinely confused.
And a fair question it was, too. Logic would dictate that she should be the one to arrange her own living space, and she was definitely more than keen to actually see it. Naruto however, had other plans.
"Because, my brand new apprentice, tomorrow you begin your training to become a shinobi. And I couldn't possibly begin properly training you tomorrow, if I don't know where you already stand, can I? So, you and I, will be paying a visit to Training Ground 3, where we can get properly 'acquainted'."
And so it was, that in the dwindling light of a summer's evening. Hanabi stood opposite her new sensei, wearing the sparring robes customary of her clan, along with an improvised holster Naruto had provided 'for later'; apprehensive as to what he had meant by 'acquainted'. She had heard horror stories from Neji about his own sensei's crazy methods of training, and felt ever so slightly less confident that he had been exaggerating. Naruto it seemed, recognised her worries.
"So, first things first. Relax. We won't be doing anything overly difficult tonight, just a few basic exercises, and short practice spar and that'll be it. All I need is a rough guide as to where you are so I can figure out where to begin tomorrow, okay?" His words definitely put her at ease, although, she did notice he had specified 'tonight'. "Well then!" Naruto pressed on, seeing that Hanabi was considerably less tense than she had been before. "My name is Uzumaki Naruto, and from this point on, I'm your sensei. I don't mind what you call me, but I've never been one for formalities, so just 'Naruto' would be fine, or 'Naruto-sensei' if you'd prefer that. I know you've had a little bit of training before, so perhaps you'd better let me know what you've done so far"
This gave Hanabi some pause for thought. What exactly had she learned so far? In eleven years she had received only the bare essentials of training in the shinobi arts. In her earlier years, before Hinata had grown into the shinobi she currently was, the elders had encouraged her training, and she had been taught several of the most basic Jyuuken forms, and had practiced in the use of her Byakugan. However, as Hinata grew, the interest in Hanabi's training from anyone other than her father diminished, until it was proclaimed nearly five years ago that she would not become a shinobi, but instead be married outside of the clan, for it's benefit. Her sister, for her part, had helped her when and where she could; but with limited practice, there was only so much that could be done. She had only ever participated in a few real spars, and had never managed to master any of the basic weapon techniques that academy graduates were expected to know as par for the course.
In the end, she decided that embellishing her skills would likely get her nowhere, and honesty, no matter how embarrassing, was the best policy.
"Truthfully, I really don't know that much at all, Naruto-sensei. I've only really ever practiced the three basic forms of the Jyuuken, and only ever tried them in an actual spar a few times. I can freely activate my Byakugan, however, and also learned how to mold and discharge chakra as part of my Jyuuken and Byakugan training."
Naruto, acutely aware of how difficult it could be to admit weakness, particularly as a young person who aspired to become a shinobi, appreciated her honesty.
"That's absolutely perfect!" He exclaimed in response, confusing his young apprentice terribly. "All that means is that we have a clean slate to work with - no bad habits to iron out. Which, take it from me, is incredibly hard work to do. I would much rather have someone like you, someone I can make sure learns everything the right way, the first time; than someone like me at your age, entirely self taught, with bad habits and awful technique in just about every aspect of my skills."
Once again, Hanabi felt incredibly encouraged and relaxed at her sensei's words, he seemed to naturally know what to say to put her at ease about her meagre skills. Although, she somewhat doubted that the Uzumaki Naruto ever had so many 'bad habits' as he put it.
"Anyhow-" he continued, unaware of his student's thoughts. "- You'll notice that your holster is full of blunted practice kunai and some shuriken, too. The first thing we'll be doing is checking out your accuracy, agility and reactions. I'll start out standing still, with you throwing them my way, and me deflecting those that are on target. Then, we'll try the same thing with me moving around a little. Then, we'll swap. I'll throw some in your direction, and you can dodge or deflect as you see fit, okay?"
Hanabi gulped, even as she nodded and reached for her first kunai. It was, in her opinion, her very worst skill. Yet as she palmed the distinctive handle she realised the traditionally, the Hyuuga looked upon weapons training with a certain disdain. Supposedly, it was beneath them, and was not taught, and even Neji and Hinata had very limited ability with weapons. As a result she realised that she had unprecedented freedom. Technically, she was no longer a Hyuuga, and was no longer bound to tradition. She could learn jutsu, practice with weapons and use stratagems that would otherwise be looked down upon by her clan. On the other hand, she was still permitted by her father to learn the clan's techniques.
It was a privileged position, but as she launched her first kunai, she quickly realised that it was one that would require an unbelievable amount of work to make the most of.
It was difficult for Naruto not to grimace as Hanabi's first kunai flew wildly off the mark, disappearing into the lake that stood to the rear of the training ground that Kakashi had first given Team 7 the bell test all those years ago. It felt like an age ago that Naruto himself was first learning to throw kunai, and had forgotten how long it had taken him to grasp the nuances of the technique. Hanabi it seemed, had been shown the correct way before, but not practiced it regularly enough to learn it properly, and as a result, her first few attempts were painfully inaccurate. However, with each attempt, the girl had adjusted her aim and gradually, the kunai edged closer to the blonde himself, leading to him needing to shift his own kunai in front of his ribcage to deflect Hanabi's first on target attempt.
It was, unfortunately, to be her only on target attempt, however. After a few minutes of throwing, Naruto motioned for her to stop and drew out his own set of blunt kunai and began to throw them in Hanabi's direction. Her dodging abilities were much more up to scratch, and although he threw only slowly and deliberately, she ducked and sidestepped the kunai fairly fluidly, even as he increased the strength with which he threw them, indicating a relatively impressive reaction time.
"Right then!" The blonde called out, indicating a stop to the exercise. He made a mental note that Hanabi was already slightly winded after only a few minutes of exertion, something he had been expecting anyway. "All I need now is a quick spar to check out your taijutsu. For now, just focus on attacking me, I won't be attacking back."
And so she did. Carefully moving into a basic Jyuuken offensive stance, she moved towards Naruto and threw a straight jab - the most basic of the Jyuuken attacks. Naruto simply pushed her hand aside by the wrist, all the while stepping backwards, allowing her room to step into another attack. And so she did, throwing several jabs in the direction of Naruto's torso in succession, each of them being pushed away in a similar manner. Encouraged by Naruto's promise, she decided to try the first of the forms she had learned, shifting her body marginally sideways and jabbing with her right and then her left, using her torso to build momentum with her second strike despite the fact they had been blocked, twisting into a clockwise spin and bending at the knees aiming her right palm at Naruto's leg. The Jonin simply raised his leg, and stepped backwards to allow Hanabi to press once more.
Another left handed jab was aimed towards Naruto's chest, but this time he took a different approach. Stepping into Hanabi's attack, he used his own left hand to grab Hanabi's arm and used her own body weight and momentum against her, dragging her along her intended attack path towards the ground. Realising she was about to fall, she stopped trying to resist Naruto's arm, and on instinct alone maneuvered her body in a corkscrew fashion bringing her right palm to bear against the blonde, aiming to land a strike against his chest as she hit the floor, with a painful thump.
Naturally, she had been too slow, and Naruto was well out of her range as she struck.
"I think I've seen all I needed to see, Hanabi. From now on, we meet here every morning at 7am, six days a week. Today, Sunday, is your day off. And that is exactly what it means. You aren't to do anything other than study on your day off. No physical training whatsoever, otherwise your progress will suffer, understood?" Hearing Hanabi's answer in the affirmative, he continued. "As far as equipment and study material goes, I'll provide it all until you're a Genin. I know full well that the stipend doesn't stretch as far as you'd like it too; and even when you are a Genin, I'll help you out with some of the more advanced stuff. Now, we'll go chat to Baa-chan like she asked, and then you can go get some rest. and you'll need it, too. Because tomorrow - you take your first proper steps on the path to becoming a shinobi."
So I had an idea. Sue me. Came into my head late last night, and I ran with it. Had work during the day, so I finished it when I got back. I really wanted to do a fic where Naruto gets an apprentice, in the same way that he and the fourth were Jiraiya's, and Hanabi seemed a good candidate, just change the birthdate and we've got fresh canon-established ninja meat. Having said that, this Hanabi is an entirely new entity, as rather than growing up as the spoiled, talented younger sister; she has instead grown up in her sister's shadow, never having been touted as an heir in Hinata's place.
This is firmly a side project though, one of two in the works - as truth be told, I really want to do a Anko-is-Naruto's-Sensei story, because I love loads of the ones that I've read - and will in no way replace or supersede Inheritance in importance. Inheritance is my baby. A sprawling epic of magnificent proportions. I'm just running a little dry on inspiration, and this chapter took hold of me for now. Expect movement on that front soon.
Thanks for reading, and your ever eternal patience with dickhead writers like me, eternally being distracted with new ideas, real life issues and general lazy twatishness.