The Sharpest Edge
Chapter I – Same Old Situation
"Die, demon spawn!"
"Go to Hell!"
"We're going to finish what the Yondaime started!"
Why are they hurting me?
This was what the young boy with blonde-hair – now blood-encrusted, and oceanic blue eyes – now dulled and blood-shot – thought as adults mercilessly attacked him, ravaging his small frame with vicious kicks.
What did I do to deserve this?
"Why won't you just die?" screeched one of the men, accompanying his fearful cry with a disturbingly violent kick to the blonde's face. The adult heard a – to his mind – satisfying sound of bones cracking. "Finally! We're getting somewhere," he gloated, feeling highly superior to the small boy who lay huddled on the ground – bruised, beaten and defeated.
Everything hurts. I don't...I don't want this anymore...
"Yeah!" jeered another. "Now, let's finish off the fox! Time to be–" The words died in his mouth as a kunai flashed through his heart. As the man's corpse fell to the floor, the adults looked about themselves fearfully, trying to determine where the attack had come from.
With measured movements, two ANBU appeared amidst the gathered mob and shielded the young boy from them. One of them knelt by the boy and examined his injuries. "My God..." he breathed, taking in the extensive wounds. He was barely recognisable as a human being – so thorough had their assault been. "How could they do this?" The ANBU raised his head. "Go home," he commanded the crowd.
"No way!" shouted the man who had broken the boy's face. "The demon must die, and we're going to make it happen. Now, step aside," he said, feeling extremely daring.
"I will not warn you again. Your fellow ignored Sandaime-sama's command; see where it got him? Do you wish to suffer the same? Now, go home," the ANBU repeated, already feeling for his kunai.
He felt a slight tug on his ankle. Shocked, he looked down into the tear-filled eyes of the boy. "Please, don't hurt them," he panted out, his body racked with pain. The ANBU could see it; the way the boy's body would shiver involuntarily.
"Why shouldn't I?" the ANBU asked, anger darkening his thoughts. Although he wanted nothing more than to end these miserable excuses for human beings, he also knew that he would listen to the boy's request, if he could give a valid enough reason to warrant it.
The boy ground out a small smile. "One day, I will be Hokage. I will protect all the people of Konoha." His smile became a bit brighter for a second before his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed.
"Hokage? They don't deserve you..." muttered the ANBU to himself. Ignoring the protests of the crowd, he scooped up the boy and faced them all. "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. This boy–"
"Is nothing but a demon in disguise!" shouted one of the crowd, drawing cries of agreement from several others. Their bloodlust was not yet sated.
"This boy is the only reason why you are still able to draw breath!" shouted the ANBU, and the crowd fell silent as they felt the killing intent flood in their direction. It was uncommon for an ANBU to be emotional, so for them to illicit such a response from this man meant that they had made a grievous error of judgement. "If not for his sacrifice and that of Yondaime-sama, this village would no longer exist. Who gave you the right to attack the saviour of this village?" The crowd mumbled to themselves, their earlier bravado falling flat in the face of a true threat. "Well? Does anyone have an answer? Speak!"
The tension was unbearable. Finally, one broke the silence. "The Yondaime should have just killed the beast when he had the chance!" A kunai, pressed to his windpipe, stopped the man cold.
"To scum like you, he will be called Yondaime-sama, am I understood?" The man rapidly nodded his head, ever mindful of the cold steel pressed to his skin. "I will be speaking to Sandaime-sama about this attack. Mark my words; if I were to have my way, not one of you would live to see tomorrow. Now, leave." His last words were brutally cold and remorseless. The mob crawled over one another in their haste to leave.
With the crowd finally dispersed, the ANBU took a closer look at the wounded child in his arms. "Forgive me, Naruto-kun," he whispered. "I should have been here to protect you." He turned to his fellow ANBU. "I will take the boy to the Hokage. Secure the area, and make any necessary preparations." With a swift salute, he was away, Naruto safely ensconced within his arms.
He rapped on the Hokage's door three times, waited a cautionary number of seconds, and walked in. "Ah, Kakashi, what brings you–" The greeting died on the aged Hokage's lips as he beheld a maskless Kakashi and a bloodied Naruto held tightly in the former's arms. "Naruto!" he cried as he got to his feet. "Lay him down on the desk, Kakashi," he ordered, before clicking his fingers.
Without hesitation, two more ANBU knelt at the Hokage's feet. "What are your orders, Hokage-sama?" asked one.
"Head to the hospital, and bring me two medical ninja. Do it quickly." With a short nod, they disappeared. The Sandaime turned his attention to Kakashi. "Tell me what happened, Kakashi, and do not omit a single detail."
So Kakashi told the Hokage everything that he had seen and heard, both the madness and the brutality. When he was finished, the Hokage was unsurprised to find a tear rolling down the ANBU's face. "Do not fear any longer, Kakashi. Naruto is safe now," he said kindly.
The ANBU from earlier shunshined before the Sandaime. "The medics will be here momentarily, Hokage-sama."
"My thanks," replied the Hokage smoothly, looking as Kakashi wiped away any evidence of his emotional weakness. By the time the two healers had reached the Hokage's office, Kakashi was standing resolutely to the side, mask back in place – both physical and emotional – while the Hokage stooped over Naruto's battered body. "My thanks for your speedy arrival," he said quickly, moving aside to let the med-nin see their charge. Both gasped in shock. "Help him."
While one of the healers immediately rushed to Naruto's side and ran through hand-seals, the other stood perfectly still, a sneer on her face. "Why?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Why should I heal him? Help him?" The sneer was more pronounced than before.
"Think carefully on what you say," warned the Sandaime. He was in no mood to verbally joust with anyone this night, particularly this uppity woman.
"Help me heal him," pleaded the first healer, her brow furrowed in concentration, her forehead smothered in sweat as she tried to heal him.
"Don't tell me you can forgive this beast?" she snapped. "Because of him, I lost...everyone..." Her fingers began to twitch menacingly.
Kakashi had seen and heard enough. With a well-aimed strike, the woman fell to the floor, unconscious. "Forgive me, Hokage-sama," he said contritely, "but I deemed her to be a threat to Naruto-kun's well-being."
The Hokage waved off his apology. "It's quite alright. Clearly, I am going to have to rethink placing her in the hospital if she can be quite so choosy about the patients she cares for." The Hokage turned to the first medic and graced her with a smile. "Thank you for helping Naruto, Hitomi."
Hitomi merely shook her head. "There's no need to thank me, Hokage-sama. My duty is to help those in need. Besides, Naruto-kun did not ask for this burden to be placed upon his shoulders."
Kakashi gave a smile behind his mask. Perhaps there was another who understood.
Minutes elapsed before Hitomi gave a sigh of relief. "I'm finished, Hokage-sama. What I have been unable to heal myself, Naruto-kun's 'tenant' is repairing. I imagine he will wake up in a couple of days."
"Thank you, Hitomi," said the Hokage, and he truly meant it.
Hitomi wasn't finished, though. "Of course, to make completely sure, I would like to check up on him tomorrow. Will this be okay?"
"That will be fine."
With a small smile, Hitomi ran her hand through Naruto's hair. "I'll see you tomorrow, Naruto-kun. Sleep well." Bowing to the Hokage and giving a short nod to Kakashi, she left the room.
Kakashi stared after her. "I didn't think there would be anyone who understood," he said after a few moments.
"She is a truly remarkable young woman," said the Hokage. "She lost both of her parents in the attack, yet she refuses to blame Naruto for it. Honestly, I am glad that she was one of the two medical ninja I summoned. I don't want to think of how things may have turned out if they had both been like..." He trailed off, his eyes indicating the other woman, slumped on the ground in unconsciousness.
"They wouldn't have gotten within five feet of Naruto-kun," swore Kakashi.
The Sandaime chuckled. "I don't doubt it. Now, we must decide what to do next. It seems clear to me that Naruto is not safe being left alone in the village."
"I agree, Hokage-sama, therefore, I have a suggestion." He steadied himself. "I would like to take Naruto-kun away from the village and train him personally." The Sandaime studied him with hooded eyes, so Kakashi continued. "Today's attack just proves that the majority of people in this village are far too closed-minded. If we hadn't have gotten to Naruto-kun when we did..."
He didn't need to finish his sentence. The evidence was in front of the aged Hokage's eyes. He sighed deeply. "You are correct, of course, Kakashi. Will you be comfortable doing this?" he asked.
"You have not long returned from an extended mission. Not only that, but will being with Naruto not dredge up uncomfortable memories of Minato?"
Kakashi allowed himself a small smirk, not that the Hokage saw it. "Honestly, if I didn't do this, I don't think I would ever be able to face Minato-sensei again." The Hokage suppressed a smile at Kakashi's words. "Not only that, if I were to abandon Naruto-kun now, I would be no better than the closed-minded people I've been condemning. I may be many things, but a hypocrite is not one of them."
"Very well. Hatake Kakashi, you are assigned the protection and training of Uzumaki Naruto. This will be classified as an A-Rank Mission. Do you accept?"
"The only considerations I ask are that you return to Konoha for a few days once a year. This is so I can see both Naruto's and your own progress. I expect you to maintain yourself, both mentally and physically, in case anything dire were ever to happen." Kakashi gave a short nod of agreement. "Also, I want you both to return so that Naruto can enrol in the Ninja Academy with his peers." The Sandaime came around to place a hand on Kakashi's shoulder. "Naruto is likely to be very distrustful of you at first. It will take a great deal of patience for him to open up to you."
"I understand, Hokage-sama," said Kakashi firmly. "I would never force Naruto-kun to do anything he doesn't want, aside from during training. At those times, I will be as forceful as is necessary. This will be for his own good."
"Agreed." The Hokage looked fondly upon the heavily asleep boy. "Sleep well, Naruto. Tomorrow will be a better day. Now, Kakashi, we will iron out the finer details." With a short nod, the two men began to work out a plan of action for Naruto and his future.
Naruto woke slowly, blinking his eyes. It was much too bright for his liking. He squinted as he tried to remember what had happened. The last thing he could remember, other than the searing pain making it difficult to breathe, was a kind voice, the first since he could remember. He was used to the glares, the badly concealed words of anger and the poorly veiled – and not veiled at all – threats, but someone who sounded appalled by what they were seeing was...different. "Where am I?" he wondered out loud.
"You are currently resting in my home, Naruto-kun," came a soft feminine voice. Naruto started in alarm and winced as the bruises on his body stretched awkwardly. "Stay calm, Naruto-kun. I will not hurt you."
Naruto stopped his upward momentum, but regarded the woman in front of him with jaded eyes. Just because she was speaking to him in a soft voice didn't mean that she wouldn't turn on him at any given moment. It was an unfortunate trend with the people in his life. He saw warm honey hair surrounding a delicately angled face, set with the brightest jade eyes he had ever seen. She smiled warmly at him. "How do you feel, Naruto-kun?"
He considered the question. Although he still felt a little sore, he supposed he wasn't too bad. "A little thirsty," he answered slowly, testing how far he could go with this surprisingly different woman.
"That can be easily remedied," she replied, sitting up immediately.
Naruto watched her leave the room, his mind in shock. She didn't shout at me. Not once.
"Here you are," came her melodic voice a few moments later, a glass in her dainty hands. Naruto gratefully accepted it. "Drink slowly," she advised, and Naruto nodded. Once he was finished, she took the glass from him and set it aside. "Feel better?"
"Yes, thank you," replied Naruto, before he studied her face some more. "Who are you?" he decided upon finally, not noticing how abrupt his question sounded.
Her lips parted for a second as she laughed lightly. "There's the Naruto-kun I know," she trilled, leaving Naruto thoroughly confused. "Well, in answer to your question, my name is Hitomi. This is my home, and you are my patient."
Naruto nodded slowly at her explanation. "Did he hurt them?"
"Did who hurt whom?"
"The ANBU who helped me," Naruto explained. "He seemed really angry."
Her mouth set in a familiar expression, one of fury. Naruto had seen it so many times, he had memorised the way the muscles of the mouth would change. He instantly recoiled from her.
Hitomi realised her mistake. "Oh, Naruto-kun, I'm so sorry. I'm not angry at you, honestly." Slowly, shakily, she reached out and held her palm out to him. "Naruto-kun?"
He looked from her eyes – steady warmth radiated from them once more – to her outstretched hand. What does she want me to do? Is she trying to show me that she doesn't want to hurt me? He didn't want to hope.
"I'm really not angry at you, I swear it. I'm...upset by what those people did to you." Her mouth took on a definite scowl.
"It's fine. I'm used to it."
The way he instantly said it, without any thought or preamble, made Hitomi's heart clench. Nobody should have to feel as though violent attacks were normal, yet alone one as defenceless as Naruto. What hope did he stand against people more than four times his age?
"You shouldn't have to be used to it, not at all."
The two fell silent for a moment. Naruto was absorbed in thoughts of how he had never seen this pretty lady with the kind eyes, while Hitomi was trying to reconcile this vulnerable Naruto with the rambunctious, always energetic boy who ran about the streets of Konoha declaring himself to be the next Hokage.
Finally, Naruto spoke up. "How long have I been here?"
Hitomi seemed grateful for the change of topic. "Almost three days. You've had me very worried, Naruto-kun."
"I'm sorry," he said automatically.
"It's nothing to apologise about," she said gently. "While you've been resting, I've been able to check you for any other injuries. Thankfully, any injuries you had are now gone."
Naruto nodded. This was the expected response. For as long as he could remember, it didn't matter how badly he was hurt, he would always be fully healed within a matter of days. "How much longer do I have to stay here?"
"Are you getting bored of my company?" asked Hitomi disarmingly.
"No, it isn't that," said Naruto, flustered. "I just don't want to put you out."
"Naruto-kun," began Hitomi seriously, "if I didn't want you here, I would not have brought you here in the first place, alright?"
"You're awake!" Those were the words that Naruto heard before a slight weight bounced onto the bed by Hitomi. A girl, about his age, with platinum-blonde hair and bright seaglass eyes, looked at him with a beaming smile.
"Here you are, Ino-chan," said Hitomi lovingly, an easy smile on her own face. "Naruto-kun, this is my daughter, Ino. Ino-chan, this is Uzumaki Naruto."
"Hello, Naruto-san," said Ino with a mischievous grin. "My name is Yamanaka Ino. Pleased to meet you!" Her eyes closed tightly as she beamed at the boy, who looked astounded. Never before had someone said that they were pleased to meet him, yet alone someone his own age...and the way she smiled at him. It made him feel somewhat lighter.
He couldn't help himself but to smile back at the girl with the bright eyes. "Hello, Ino-san, it's a pleasure to meet you as well," he said with a shy smile.
"Well now, can I leave you with Naruto-kun for a moment, Ino-chan?" asked Hitomi. "I have a few errands to run, and I don't want to leave him on his own."
"Okay," answered Ino with a short smile for her mother's benefit.
"Have fun, you two," said Hitomi as she took her leave.
Ino turned back to Naruto. "Are you feeling better?"
Naruto grinned brightly. "I'm feeling much better, thanks to Yamanaka-san."
"I helped as well," supplied Ino.
"You did?" he asked, surprised again that this girl would choose to willingly help him.
Ino giggled. "Of course I did! I fetched whatever Mom needed to help heal your wounds. They looked really bad," she ended in a whisper. "I thought you weren't going to wake up."
She looked on the verge of tears. Naruto realised that it must have been awful for her to see him, bruised and bloodied, barely moving, barely breathing. "Hey, Ino-san?"
"No need to cry!" he said loudly, drawing her attention in the most fabulous way imaginable.
"I wasn't crying!" she snapped as she gave him a playful nudge.
"That's good," he said, before lowering his voice to a whisper. "Crying doesn't change anything."
"What do you mean?"
"...It's nothing, Ino-san. Now, tell me, what do you want to be when you grow up?"
"I'm going to be the greatest kunoichi ever!" she said happily, her voice regaining its cheery quality. "Better than Tsunade-sama! That way, I'll be so strong, I can protect everyone I love."
"I know you can do it," said Naruto strongly, his voice ringing with belief. "I believe in you, Ino-san."
Ino flushed at his words. "Thank you, Naruto-san," she said shyly, her cheeks still a merry shade of pink. "What about you? What do you see yourself being in the future?"
"Me? I'm going to be the greatest Hokage, better than all the other Hokage combined! I'll be amazingly strong, and be able to use lots of amazing jutsu."
"That sounds...amazing," said Ino, cheekily borrowing one of Naruto's seemingly favourite words to complete her thoughts as to his future goals. She believed he could do it as well. Even though she had only spoken to him for a few minutes, she could see that he was determined to achieve his ambitions. "Well, I believe in you as well, Naruto-san. You will become the greatest Hokage ever; I just know it."
So, this is what it feels like to have somebody finally accept and believe in me. It feels...nice.
"Thank you, Ino-san," said Naruto breathily, not trusting himself to say anything more.
Time passed quickly for the two, asking and answering questions in equal amounts. Ino learned that Naruto possessed an almost unhealthy obsession with ramen; he enjoyed playing pranks on people; and he got hurt really badly on a regular basis. He hadn't meant to reveal that piece of information to her, but when she asked about where he lived, he couldn't give her an adequate answer. His vague gestures of "Wherever I fall asleep" didn't make sense to her. Surely he had a home to go to, right? She resolved to speak with her mother when she returned.
Naruto, meanwhile, learned that Ino was an only child, loved by both her mother and father. Her father was a part of Intelligence; his duty was to extract information from those who were unwilling to cooperate. Her mother, Hitomi, on the other hand, was nearly the complete opposite of her husband. As a medic, her duty was to see to the well-being of her patients. Ino had remarked that she was intending on learning the skills her mother employed so she could keep her future team healthy. Naruto thought it was a great idea, and told her so.
"How has the patient been?" asked Hitomi as she walked into the room, her eyes so warming.
"Naruto-san is looking much better," reported Ino, moving to her mother.
"I knew I could count on you, Ino-chan," smiled Hitomi as she ruffled Ino's hair playfully, earning her a pout. "Would you be a dear and help your father? He's in the kitchen."
"Okay," answered Ino instantly, already on her way out. "I'll be back soon, Naruto-san."
"Okay, bye," replied Naruto, giving her a small smile of farewell. Hitomi watched the two with a cautious tugging to her lips. The news she had to convey was going to prove monumental, and she wasn't sure if Naruto was ready. "Naruto-kun?"
"Yes, Hito-I mean Yamanaka-san?" he stammered.
Hitomi smiled softly. "Hitomi is fine," she said in a light tone, "Sandaime-sama wants to see you first thing tomorrow."
Naruto quaked. "Am I in trouble?"
"No, no, you aren't in any sort of trouble at all," she quickly reassured. "Truth be told, he wanted to see you today, but I wouldn't let him."
Naruto gaped. "You can tell the old man what to do? That's amazing, Hitomi-san! You must be super strong!"
Hitomi smiled at his exuberance. "Naruto-kun, it isn't right to call Hokage-sama an old man."
"But he is," said Naruto obliviously, "and besides, if Hokage-jiji has a problem with it, that's his problem. I'm going to be taking his job in the future."
The way his mouth split into a mischievous grin completely disarmed Hitomi, rendering the admonishment she had meant to employ meaningless. "What am I going to do with you?" she sighed, marking the way his chuckles sounded. They were still a bit forced, but Hitomi was pleased to see that, at least with her and Ino, Naruto seemed to be opening up. She hoped their interaction might ultimately help him. After all, if the Sandaime wanted Naruto's audience, it could only mean that something...troublesome was going to happen. "Now, Naruto-kun, I want you going to sleep. No 'buts,'" she added, noting the rebellious way Naruto had begun to move his lips. "You're still recovering, and your body needs all the rest it can get. Besides, if you behave, I might be persuaded to take us all out for ramen tonight," she tacked on as a seeming afterthought.
It was all Naruto needed to hear though, as he instantly lay back and got himself settled. "Ramen, yay!" whispered Naruto excitedly as his head hit the pillow.
"Rest well, Naruto-kun," breathed Hitomi, already retreating from the room. As she slid through and closed the door behind herself, she was met by a gaze so similar to her own. "Ino-chan, did you help your father?" Ino's bright smile answered the question. "Naruto-kun is resting for now, so let him be for a while, okay?"
"Oh, by the way, Ino-chan. How does ramen for lunch sound?"