Chapter 16

Hyuuga Clan Compound

"May I talk to you, Naruto?" The blond in question looked up to smile at the person asking. With his long, dark brown hair and his pale, violet flecked eyes, Hyuuga Neji was one of the most beautiful people he had ever met. And to think that he owed almost his entire way of life to this beautiful person.

It almost boggled Naruto's mind when he tried to think of the way his life would have been before he had met Neji.

"Sure," he replied instead, standing up from a tatami mat in the main room of their home and following him out into the wide expanses of the garden. "What do you want to talk about?"

"Anything, really," Neji replied, plopping down on the grass- with far more grace than Naruto could ever accomplish- and lying down on the dew-covered grass, "I just haven't been able to talk to you for the longest time. How are you preparing for the Academy exams?"

"I haven't been preparing that much," Naruto admitted, "Jiraiya had us learn our elemental affinities and taught us two elemental jutsus apiece. Most of our time was actually spent on… um, refining our instincts."

Neji grimaced, having tagged along on Jiraiya's homicidal spars a few times. As far as the brunette could tell, the Toad Sannin had become Lee's second favorite role model.

"That's still pretty advanced for pre-genin," Neji said, absently, not bothering to stop Naruto when the blond removed his head plate and began to play with his hair. "What else is going on?"

"Well, the intercontinental jinchuuriki mailing service is still going strong," Naruto reported, proudly, "Yagura made a schedule for each of the summons, so any single one wouldn't be on call constantly. The toads get the hours between daybreak and noon on Konoha time. I even got ero-jiji and the old man to join in."

Neji sweat dropped. "I don't suppose I can convince you to call them by their proper titles?" Naruto gave him a look. "I'll take that as a no then. And how is our only child?"

Naruto literally bounced with pride as he gave the news, "Gaara learned sand-gliding and heat-suppression last week! That's the Suna equivalent to our chakra control jutsus! He even made his first friend; a civilian girl by the name of Matsuri who played catch with him. Temari took some pictures to send us, although Gaara complained about overbearing family members. And he's been eating healthily-"

"That's good to know!" Neji said, hurriedly, holding up a hand to stop Naruto's waterfall of information, "Wait, how do you even know any of this? Gaara only mentioned the chakra control jutsus in his letter to me!"

Naruto blushed.

"You're one of those overbearing relatives Gaara is talking about, aren't you?" Neji asked, flatly.

"You can prove nothing!" Naruto said, vehemently, "Sasuke promised to hide any evidence!"

"You trust an Uchiha- the most flamboyant, and narcisstic, dramatic- Clan in Konoha to hide your evidence?" Neji said, in disbelief, "Why not just shout it out for all of Fire Country to hear?" Naruto refused to dignify that with a response that he had yet to think of.

"This wasn't what I had originally brought you out for though," Neji murmured, yawning slightly as Naruto curled up against him in the grass, "I wanted to ask why you had looked so down today."

Naruto murmured an answer against the side of Neji's jacket.

"A little louder, Naruto," the brunette said gently, pulling his face away, "I wasn't able to hear that."

"Today… was my father's birthday," Naruto answered, listlessly, not looking up at him.

"Are you sad that he's not here?" Neji prompted. The blond sighed.

"Yes, sort-of, I… do you think he'd be proud of me, Neji?" Naruto asked, suddenly, "Him, and my mother too, and anyone of the Uzumaki Clan- I- I-"

Neji chose his words carefully. "I cannot know for sure if they would be proud of you Naruto, however, in my experience, a parent who loves their child is always proud of them, and your parents undoubtedly loved you. Moreover, you have given them much to be proud of, and I, myself, am certainly proud of everything you've accomplished."

"I'm not a genius though," Naruto said, glumly, "Not like you or my Dad was. And, I don't think I want him to be proud of me, sometimes. It's just that my father makes me feel so angry, Neji."

"Is it because he sealed the Kyuubi into you?" Neji asked, quietly.

"Yes, and- and he left me!" Naruto burst out, "I know the village was in trouble, and I feel ashamed about it, but I can't help but be angry that he left me. He could have run away! I was his only child, but he attacked the fox anyway, even though he knew he was going to die! They both did! My mother had to hold her down with her chakra chains for my dad to perform the seal! She, at least, should have run! I could have had one parent alive…"

"I resent my father sometimes too," Neji said, softly, "I had originally blamed the Main House for sending my father's body to Kumo. Later, Hiashi-sama told me that it was his choice. And I was so angry at him. Angry that he chose his village instead of his own son. I vowed that I would never let my loyalty to my village supersede that of my loyalty to my Clan. I think I was wrong."

"Is it wrong to want to see your children grow up?" Naruto demanded, "Is it wrong to put your family first?"

"If you were the Hokage, than the entire village would have to be your family," Neji said softly, "Would you have made your father's choice, Naruto?"

"No!" Naruto shouted, but then he slumped on the ground, "…yes? I don't know! Maybe? I never want to be in that position, and that's why I'm so angry, because I know it's wrong to resent him. My father did what was right."

"For the people of Konoha," Neji said, darkly, "I don't feel very charitable towards them at the moment Naruto." The blond closed his mouth, and looked thoughtful for a minute.

"Do you think I could be a good Hokage, Neji?" Naruto asked.

"I think that you are a strong ninja, and a charismatic leader. I believe that your greatest goal is to protect your precious people," Neji said honestly, "You would make a wonderful Hokage, Naruto. Would that make you happy though?"

"What do you mean?" the blond asked.

"Every single Hokage, so far, has had an unhappy life," Neji answered, "The Shodaime died young at the hands of his best friend. The Nidaime had to sacrifice his life in an ambush against Kumo ninja. The Yondaime had the shortest reign of them all- he died by a forbidden kinjutsu that cost him his life, the life of his wife, and his son's childhood."

Naruto listened to this with quietly growing horror. It was a mark of his trust, or perhaps his dependence, on the jaded youth, that he did not stop Neji. It was yet another mark of his trust, that he listened to these damning words, rather than stop him.

"The Old Man lived though," Naruto said, "Not all Hokage's die young, Neji."

"He lives after the murder of his wife, son, and daughter-in-law," Neji corrected, "His second son was estranged from the family for over a dozen years. His grandson resents his position, and he can no longer implicitly trust his teammates."

"So, is that the price of being the Hokage?" Naruto frowned, "My death or the death and estrangement of those I love?"

"Hokage is not a position I aspire to, Naruto," Neji said, looking directly into Naruto's eye, "And my goal here is not to push you away from this goal. As you yourself taught me, fate is meaningless. I will support you if you want to be Hokage, but I will not advise it. I do not want to see you die."

"Am I willing to die for Konoha?" Naruto thought, "Yes... I can give up my life for the will of fire. Can I give up Neji's life? Can I see Hinata grow cold from me? Can I face Sasuke at the other side of the battlefield if I share the Shodaime's fate?"

"I can't watch you die," Naruto said, aloud, looking up suddenly, "I can't lose any of my precious people."

Neji raised an eyebrow, questioning the sudden declaration. Naruto simply frowned. He was the last Uzumaki, the last Namikaze... he might as well, have been the last Senju as well since Tsunade was too old to bear children. What would happen if he died? His Clan would die along with him.

Now that he thought about it, his father was incredibly irresponsible by becoming the Hokage when he was the last person in his Clan. After all, it wasn't like Naruto was born at that moment, was it? His father had a duty to his Clan, but like Neji had said, he chose his village first. He didn't pass along the Clan jutsu,or holdings, or relics. How many secrets of the Namikaze died along with the Yondaime's death? How many secrets of the Uzumaki died along with his mother?

Could he ignore his duty as well, especially as he had not one but three clans to preserve?

" Neji," Naruto decided quickly, " Do you think Hiashi-sama could teach me how to be a Clan Head?"

Suna Academy Grounds

"Then he's going to rip each of your limbs from their sockets and boil them in his special blood cauldron!" the small, dark haired girl waved her hands with wild, significant gesture, "And if he still feels peckish, he's going to gouge out your tongue and wrap it around your pickled eyeballs and eat it for dessert!"

Matsuri sweat dropped as the students in the Academy tried to teach her about the horrors awaiting the victims of the village bogeyman. Even as the young girl felt amusement at the outlandish claims, protective annoyance rose inside of her at the insult to her new friend.

"Gaara would never do anything like that!" Matsuri snapped, "He's really nice and he doesn't eat people!"

"Honestly," Matsuri thought with a huff, "Gaara doesn't even look threatening enough to hurt a fly! If these kids wanted to lie to me, than they could have at least picked a scarier person to lie about."

"I'm serious," the same girl insisted, "My mom even told me that he was a monster! Everyone knows that monsters eat kids."

"Monsters do," Matsuri agreed, "But Gaara is not a monster! He's the Kazekage's son, and he likes to play catch."

"One of the Kazekage's kids is a killer though," another kid said logically, "My dad told me that, and he's a jounin commander so he would know."

"I think that you're picking the wrong person," Matsuri said firmly, and then widened her eyes in recognition, "You're talking about Gaara's older brother, Kankuro! He doesn't like kids and he wears this freaky makeup all the time even though he's a boy." The other kids listened to this and gave it some serious consideration.

"Matsuri's probably right," another girl, this time with light honey-brown hair suddenly said, "If Kankuro is wearing makeup, then he must be trying to hide his monster face from everyone!"

"Kiya, that totally makes sense!" the first boy agreed, shuddering, "I feel really bad for this Gaara boy now. He has to live with a monster!" The other kids all gave each other deep, sympathetic nods that did not disguise their glee at cleverly discovering the older boy's secret identity as a child-eating monster.

"You should ask Gaara so he could prove it," another boy proposed, "If I lived with a monster, than I would know."

"I could do that," Matsuri said, pleased that they were no longer rudely insulting her friend.

Later in the day...

"Gaara, does your older brother eat people?" Matsuri asked, as the two children sat on top of a building, swinging their legs on the awning. Gaara's sand had neatly lifted the two so they could sit comfortably by the shade.

Said redhaired boy blinked at her curiously. "Kankuro, eating children?"

"Yes!" Matsuri nodded, emphatically, "Also does he like pickled eyeballs?" The redhead didn't have that much experience when dealing with friends (as Matsuri was, in fact, his first actual friend), so he dealt with this as he dealt with all problems that he had recently.

What would his mother, Naruto, do?

"He loves them," Gaara grinned, wickedly, "He eats them every day for breakfast. And he also enjoys taking long baths in the chilled blood of his enemies..."

Hyuuga Clan Compound

"This is the single worst idea you have ever had," Hinata said, darkly, as she woke up even earlier than normal, and made herself a breakfast, "It's not enough work to become genin next week is it? No, you want lessons on how to become a Clan Head. I hate you Naruto."

"I actually think it will come in handy," Sasuke, the ever-cheerful morning person, said, whistling as he buttered up a roll, "This is delicious Naruto. I didn't know you could cook."

"Go back to being an emo Sasuke," Hinata snapped, irritably, "The sun isn't even up yet!"

"We don't have any other free time, 'nata," Naruto reminded her gently, even as he grabbed her shoulders and pushed her out of the door, "You know that you didn't have to come."

"And leave you and Sasuke to your own machinations?" Hinata demanded, "Even if Neji was supervising, you two would get up to some kind of trouble!"

"Would you stop us?" Sasuke smirked. Hinata threw back her own grin.

"Not a chance," she threw back with a playful smile, "I just don't want to miss out on any of the fun."

The three-well, four, once a yawning and disgruntled Neji joined them- stepped into a large, tatami clad room where the tall, stern form of Hyuuga Hiashi sat before them. There was a pot of boiling tea and four seating places before him, where the others quickly took their place. Neji sat at Hiashi's right, with Naruto next to him, then Sasuke, and finally pale-eyed Hinata.

"I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised when I learned that you were all interested in Clan matters," Hiashi chuckled, "I assumed that it would take several years and threats to get any of you to learn this."

"It was all my idea, Father," Hinata beamed. The three boys present rolled their eyes, but unanimously decided that it would be more trouble than it was worth it to correct her... especially so early in the morning.

"Now, the position of Clan Head is far more than a ceremonial role," Hiashi began, "Historically the Clan Head position is a hereditary one from the line that is most directly connected to the founder of the Clan. The Clan Head usually shares power with a council of elders, although the council is technically only an advisory role. The responsibilities of the Clan Head include ensuring the well-being and prosperity of all Clan members, dealing with any infrastructure or financial problems in the Compound, passing on the knowledge and abilities of the Clan to a future generation, priming and teaching their future successor, who is usually the first-born child, and dealing with Clan relations with the rest of the village."

Hiashi paused to take a sip of his tea, and gestured for the others to pick up their own cup as well.

"Now, my first lesson will cover the proper allocation of resources among clan members. To begin with, Naruto, Neji, and Sasuke must write up an account of each of their Clan's respective holdings, lands, assets, debts, and liabilities. Neji is considered to be a member of all of Naruto's Clans by marriage, so I will hold him to gathering all of this knowledge as well. As your Clan is so small Naruto, you can bring all three of them together under one Clan name. At the moment, why don't you make Uzumaki the main clan branch and Namikaze and Senju the cadet branches?"

Naruto nodded, making a note of it in his paper.

"I know that the only other existing Senju, Tsunade, is technically the head of the Senju Clan," Neji interrupted, "She is also a terrible gambler. Did she gamble away all of the Senju Clan resources?"

"Excellent question, Neji," Hiashi nodded to the boy, "As to the answer, no. Tsunade forfeited her spot as head of the clan when she left Konoha for her period of self-banishment, so she cannot access the Clan resources. Although leaving the village does not equate to losing her position, she neglected to deal with any of the clan matters and cannot challenge Naruto's position, even if he is younger than her. Moreover, Naruto is male, which supersedes the female heir of the Clan. All clans work in a patriarchal basis, except for the Uzumaki clan, which insisted on equal gender bases, which is how Kushina became the last Head of her Clan. I have no sons and Neji is marrying outside of the Clan, so Hinata is free to inherit my position, unchallenged."

Sasuke looked extremely interested in that. "So, if I died, who would inherit the Uchiha Clan?"

"Most likely a distant cousin," Hiashi answered, contemplating the question, "If you do not have any recognized heirs, than the village will choose. Naruto is only distantly related to the Senju Clan, so he inherited his position, that way."

The Uchiha looked disgusted by that. "So if I want an actual Uchiha to inherit the Uchiha Clan..."

"You'll need to become a father before you can kill Itachi," Hinata finished for him, "What do you think the girls at school would do, if they found out about this." The look she received in answer was chilling.

"Don't you dare tell them," Sasuke said, a mixture of nervous terror and cold determination in his voice, "Sooner or later, one of them is going to resort to rapig me and thinking that they were actually doing me and my Clan a favor."

Uchiha Clan District

Sasuke's mother had once told him that he wore his heart on his sleeve. The young Uchiha had protested this vehemently, but the beautiful matriarch had only laughed and told him that she was proud of him for that. It was rare to find such open innocence in the Uchiha Clan.

Since that time though, Sasuke no longer wore his heart on his sleeve. He became cold, calculating and ruthless; consumed by vengeance against the man who had been a greater father figure to him than his own father. Sasuke knew that his mother would have cried if she had known what her baby boy would have become.

He had changed a little after he had made bonds with others. Naruto with his lightning quick smiles and even faster draw of kunai. Hinata with her gentle hand and devious mind. Neji with his indulgent smiles and unparalleled brilliance. Wily Hiashi, innocent Gaara, ambitious Hanabi, and even the powerful, caring Sandaime had found places within Sasuke's heart. Hell, he was even fond of the white-haired pervert.

Those were bonds that formed by accident. Had Sasuke known that these persistent people would slowly work their way into his heart- starting with damning blond idiot- than he would have stopped them. It was only after their creation that Sasuke became aware of it; the signs were in the approving eyes of the Hyuuga, the extra place setting at the dinner table, the tacit trust in the sharing of Clan scrolls. It was an 'I'm here'. An 'I'll stay'.

And it annoyed Sasuke to no end, that he wanted them to stay, and that he needed them to stay. It galled him to be so weak as to cherish every bento Hinata would make for his lunch or every lesson Jiraiya would give him when he could spare the time or every occurrence where Naruto would transform into him and lead his rabid fangirls away. He didn't want to be this week. He didn't want to need anyone. Not if they could be stolen from him by Itachi.

Itachi. That nam brought with it a wave of anger and dread and bitterness that made Sasuke's young bones grow heavy and his throat patch up. It brought images of a red-splattered katana and perfectly circular Sharingan eyes. Yet even worse than the fear and the anger, was the wave of nostalgia that it brought along. Itachi, more than anyone else, had made him into the person he was today.

His brother by blood. His father by role. His nightmare by choice.

"It always comes back to you, doesn't it, nii-san?" Sasuke asked aloud, choosing, though reluctantly, to call him by an old, beloved title, "You were the prodigy. Did the pressure break you and drive you to murder? Did you kill them just for a challenge? Were the villagers right all along; are you on the brink of madness?"

He walked past the cold, shadowy houses of his Clan District and came upon a small burial site. His feet took him, as always, not to his father's or his mother's grave, but to an uncut stone where a childish hand had messily carved out a name.

Uchiha Itachi.

The death date listed was the night of the Uchiha Massacre. The night Sasuke's brother had truly died.

"What was it, Itachi?" he was shouting now, his voice echoing against the cavernous space, "I can't believe what you say! I won't believe it!"

A powerful genjutsu, the remnants of that fated day burned inside his head as he fell, painfully, to the ground. Sasuke clutched at his throbbing temple, exercising his chakra around his mind like a cloak. Blood pooled below his eyes.

"Why Itachi? Why did you attack your family? Why did you only spare me?" Sasuke asked, gazing at the stone with bloodied eyes, "What have you left inside my mind?"

"What are you hiding from me, nii-san?"

Hokage's Office: Konohagakure

Hiruzen Sarutobi frowned as he looked over the letter sent to him by the Mizukage. The preposition was certainly... intriguing, and the terms were more than generous. If what Naruto had told him held true, then he wouldn't even have to hold back due to negative feelings. Not to mention that it certainly held true that this was necessary, in more ways than originally apparent. The relations between the five Kage villages will have to be stronger than ever before if they all hoped to survive Akatsuki's reformation.

The idea itself though, was radical in nature. The potential for it to go wrong was staggering, and yet, could he afford to lose it? Could Naruto handle this new challenge; more importantly, could he thrive under such terms? Yes, Hiruzen held great faith for his surrogate grandson. He was truly Minato and Kushina's son.

This, coupled with another letter sent by the renegade Uchiha, made up the Hokage's mind. Placing his pen against the clear paper, he began to write:

Dear Mizukage,

I have given your preposition much thought, and I believe that it will be beneficial to all involved if the terms are held in the spirit to which they were suggested. Therefore, I am pleased to accept on behalf of Konoha and it's subsidiary party (ies)...

I want to thank anyone who reviewed my story, but I also want to extend a special thanks to .Tempest who encouraged and inspired me to push away my writer's block and continue this story at a more serious, challenging level. This is the first of what I hope to be new, and original, chapters. Many of the stories I have read (and enjoyed) follow a standard format, that, frankly, I would like to turn upside down and shake around. If anyone has any ideas that they believe I should add on, then please PM or review, so I can make this the best story I've ever writte