A/N: Holy sweet hell, did this take awhile. I gotta tell you all, this took much longer to punch out than I thought it would. That said, I managed to get it out! Thank Manah for constantly naggi- er, supporting me when I was having trouble getting my thoughts together and my fingers to the keyboard.
That said, I want to answer a review left by someone who accused me of giving Naruto a stupid power and for not knowing what I was doing. You are free to your opinion, Manah and I will never deny anybody that. However, please do not assume that we'd be so stupid as to not have plans for solutions to his weaknesses. Naruto has his reasons for not showing his bloodline as well, which will be made more clear in the chapters to come. Also, he's a human with ice powers. NOT an ice cube. Where in the world you got the idea that he would MELT is beyond me. In the future, I suggest thinking a little harder before you go spouting such nonsense.
This is NOT a fic where the weaknesses of the kekkei genkai are easily overcome or have some ridiculous levels of power in exchange for an exuberant price. Naruto is weak to high temperatures, sure. But the limits are severe nausea and vomiting. NOT melting. And there are solutions in the future. So don't worry, everyone. We know what we're doing.
Mizuki wasn't an idiot. He was well aware that he probably wouldn't ever make jounin, thanks in part to the suspicions he had placed on himself in his entire career as a shinobi of Konoha. He knew that despite hiding a good amount of his skills in order to make his comrades underestimate him, he was average at best at combat. He was quite aware that Iruka was the only one who openly called him a friend, while his fellow shinobi and coworkers were only as nice and polite to him as their occupation called for. And he also knew that if he was to get anywhere in life, Orochimaru was his ticket to the top. To prove his loyalty, Mizuki was willing to steal a scroll of jutsu from the village he hated to call home, and blame it on the Kyuubi-incarnate.
And if he couldn't fool the damn fox into giving him (Mizuki) the scroll? Not a problem; Mizuki knew he could kill the failure.
Ah, how much one thinks they know.
"Shit shit shit!" Mizuki cursed to himself as he jumped out of the way of yet another hailstorm of knives (a part of his brain noted the irony of that choice of words) that sank up to the hilt in the tree behind him. At first Mizuki had thought that his opponent could only control his ice with physical contact. This had quickly been proven to not be the case when Naruto had swung his arm in a wide arc and sent several razor sharp blades of ice flying in the traitor's direction. The worst part was that Naruto had easily been one of the fastest and most accurate kunai throwers in the academy, though he wasn't that good with shuriken or senbon.
It turned out that he didn't need to be, since his accuracy and speed with those two weapon types were much higher when he was creating them from his own arms. And if those two were faster, then it stood to reason that the kunai were even more so. And for once, Mizuki was right on something pertaining to the blond. The kunai flew so fast that the only reason he had been able to dodge was by predicting the arc of the attacks from Naruto's wind-ups before launching them, and even then it was barely enough to keep him ahead of the projectiles.
So of course, seeing that he was outclassed at long range, Mizuki had tried to attack at close range. That also turned out to be a mistake. When Naruto had gone for a swipe of his claws Mizuki had instinctively blocked at the forearm, attempting to push the limb away from him and knocking the brat off-balance enough for Mizuki to kill him. In hindsight, Mizuki had to admit that that was a stupid idea. He had already seen the boy freeze the ground and even bring it up to stop a giant shuriken cold (Mizuki held back a groan at the unintentional pun as he dodged another salvo of the frozen knives). The sheer freezing speed and strength displayed at stopping his initial attack should have been a major indication of the boy's ability. And then for Mizuki to go right up and touch an area that was covered in ice? Not so smart.
Mizuki had barely gotten away from that, swinging a kunai in his unfrozen hand at the boy's eyes and forcing him to unfreeze his ex-teacher's arm in order to escape having his eyes carved out. Said eyes glared at the chunin in poorly disguised hatred, before widening at the sound of hissing coming from his feet. Having to abandon a prime opportunity to go end the fight, Naruto leapt up and back into the trees behind him, narrowly dodging the explosion by a hair. As his opponent retreated temporarily, Mizuki took the chance to collect himself and plan an attack, hoping that the heat from his explosive tag would be enough to buy him a few more seconds.
In the trees, Naruto was counting his lucky stars that he had shifted into the full form of the Fuyu no Kofuku at the start of the fight. While he was still weak to extreme heat, his tolerance in this form was upped to the point where the standard explosive tag barely did anything to him. As it was, his chakra was now leaking out and keeping the air around him nice and cold. It was the same chakra that he put into his candies when they were being made, hence why such a small thing worked so effectively. Naruto barely held back a laugh. The day he and the old man had discovered the properties of his cold chakra 'aura' was the day that they found out that he (thankfully) wouldn't melt from fire and the like as they feared.
Now, throw up all over the Hokage's robes from nausea? That, Naruto did. Served him right for shooting a huge ol' fireball at a poor defenseless kid.
The blond shook off the thoughts of the past, realizing that if he were to survive this he would need to stay focused. Mizuki apparently didn't know any jutsu, save maybe the academy three. Lucky for Naruto, in a way. Mizuki also didn't want to risk getting up close to face Naruto with taijutsu, and his weaponry was useless against the blond. On the downside, Mizuki was faster than he was, and skilled enough to read his movements and dodge accordingly. Also, while Naruto could keep creating weapons for as long as he had chakra, Mizuki had the lead in firepower. If he managed to get that giant shuriken to connect, or get a lucky hit with an explosive tag... Well, Naruto may not have to worry about melting, but he sure as hell had to worry about being blasted to chunks.
Naruto blinked, realizing that he had been caught up in his thoughts again. Shaking his head, he focused his gaze on Mizuki once more, observing his treacherous sensei break the thin layer of ice on his arm off with the handle of a kunai. The ice would have been thicker but the bastard had reacted fast, and Naruto doubted he'd be lucky enough to get in that close again. Still, maybe now would be a good time for 'that'. Naruto grinned, a crazy plan coming together in his mind. Oh yes. 'That' would be fun.
Keeping an eye on Mizuki, Naruto formed a hand sign, using the pointer and middle finger on both hands to make a cross. In a moment a plume of smoke rose up next to Naruto, and when it cleared an exact replica of the boy stood next to him. A Kage Bunshin; the result of Naruto's efforts in learning a jutsu from the forbidden scroll. He still hadn't perfected it though, since he had only just learned it. Five clones at a time was his limit. Any higher and they ended up being half Kage Bunshin, half... well, ice. 'Irritating.' Naruto thought to himself has he formed the hand sign for dog. 'But maybe I can use that for something one day?' As he finished his thought a hand made entirely of ice pulled itself out of Naruto's hair, and in a few seconds there was a copy of him made entirely of ice, its featureless face staring at its creator blankly as it waited for orders.
The Kage Bunshin, knowing its mission, gestured to its icy cousin, the Koori before the two bounded off through the treetops. The plan was simple. Those two would circle around and draw Mizuki's attention. The real Naruto's job was less action oriented, but just as fun. "Yeah," Naruto muttered, a vicious grin spreading on his face as he focused on the ball of ice forming between his hands. "Really shouldn't have pissed me off Mizuki-sensei."
Mizuki breathed a sigh of relief as the last of the ice on his arm fell to the ground, breaking into numerous more fragments as it joined its fellow chunks. His arm would be useless for awhile longer since the cold had been enough to numb the limb to the point that he couldn't even twitch a finger. He had to hand it to the damn fox; he was a dangerous opponent. He was still going to kill the brat, slowly and painfully for all the trouble he had caused. But he'd at least tell the little pain in the ass that he was better than was expected. As it was, Mizuki decided to take the chance given to him by the lull in the fight to his advantage. Grabbing his numb left arm with his right, he focused his chakra through the disabled limb, forcing the energy in him to circulate in an attempt to get the use of his arm faster.
Mizuki jumped, startled by the sudden shout from behind him. Dammit, was he really that out of practice from watching and teaching a bunch of wannabe punks that he couldn't even sense one sneaking up behind him? Shoving his frustration down he jumped away, turning around in mid-air to meet this latest assault and pulling his second shuriken from his back in preparation. The fox-brat had gone for a sneak assault, and had even brought a Bunshin to help. Upon getting a closer look at the clone Mizuki couldn't hold back his groan this time. More ice, and in Bunshin form this time! Wonderful! Even if he should have seen something like this coming it was still irritating as hell for Mizuki.
Still, a failure was a failure, and Naruto was proving why he was a failure right now. Announcing his attack, and with such a poorly crafted Bunshin was lower than a rookie mistake. With a grunt of effort he flung his large weapon at the obvious Bunshin, shattering it into bits. As the fragile construct broke down and dissolved Mizuki grinned in triumph. Seeing the Bunshin threw him off at first, but seeing how easily they fell filled the chunin with confidence.
"Is that the best you've got, fox?!" Mizuki crowed, his success in destroying the clone inspiring him to go on the offensive. "A pathetic excuse for a Bunshin and the same tired moves over and over again? I'm starting to wonder if I even needed to bother sabotaging your tests!" Closing the distance between them in a flash, Mizuki started lashing out with a flurry of savage punches and kicks and putting the blond on the defensive.
Naruto dodged to the best of his ability, leaning and ducking out of the blows as much as he could. But the chunin was quicker, had a longer reach and it was made painfully clear that he was superior in the field of taijutsu. Eventually, Naruto's luck ran out and he stepped back too far, losing his balance. Of course, Mizuki wasn't just going to let such an opening go. With a vicious cheer he lunged towards the smaller fighter and sunk his fist into his chest.
Mizuki's grin grew so wide it threatened to split his face. He'd sunk all of his weight into that punch, and hit in a prime spot on top of that. Such a blow would have broken a couple of ribs, maybe even have caused one to puncture a lung. Even if it didn't it sure as hell would slow him down. Mizuki was eager to see that brat try to resist him then. He was going to take it nice and-
Naruto exploded. He just up and vanished into thin air, filling Mizuki's face with smoke.
Huh. Either Mizuki didn't know his own strength, or he had been jipped.
A rustling in the bushes ahead set Mizuki off with a start. An ice kunai darted out from the foliage, aimed straight for his chest. Instinctually he leapt back to avoid it, the frozen blade flying underneath him and him getting some distance from those bushes. He hit the ground, and immediately slipped.
"What?!" His eye flitted to the ground, and he saw that the pieces of that icy Bunshin had spread out into glacial patches on the earth. Mizuki had stepped on one and lost his footing. That was really damn bad.
But then something caught his attention dead ahead. Naruto, the real Naruto, had burst out from the bushes, carrying a sphere of ice about the size of a bowling ball. Naruto hurled this ball with his augmented might in a straight line aimed right for Mizuki. The Chunin had a suspicion that the ice ball wasn't as light as Naruto made it look. If that hit him in the chest, it would be Naruto who could take things nice and slow.
"Don't fuck with me!" Mizuki snarled inwardly, and reacted in a way that surprised even him. With a quick burst of chakra to his sliding foot he turned a slip into a supercharged flip that, while making him land messily on all fours, ensured that the ice ball went soaring over his head. He grinned maliciously at Naruto as the weapon he'd no doubt spent all this time preparing now proved to be nothing.
The grin slipped a little as Naruto hit the deck.
The sound of the ice ball hitting a tree and shattering caught Mizuki's attention, and quick deductive reasoning suggested he ought to be watching his rear. Sharply he turned and saw a hail (damn it, not again!) of icicles firing from the same place the ice ball had struck. Icicles that were already mere feet away from turning him into a pin cushion.
"Damn it!" Mizuki grunted, crouching down and shielding his face from the icy blades. A cry of pain broke out his throat as his arm was pierced several times over. More shards hit the giant shuriken on his back and shattered, and the rest passed by completely. But the pain in his arm was incredible. Getting stabbed several times wasn't enough, but the ice was burning his flesh beneath the skin. "AARGH!"
If not for his ninja training Mizuki might have focused on ridding himself of that searing agony. But even a ninja of his caliber knew never to ignore an opponent who had just drawn your attention away from them. His sixth sense warned him of impending attack and he moved on impulse, grabbing the giant shuriken on his back and swinging it down. It was a saving move, for the edge of his weapon embedded itself deep in the ice covering Naruto's arm.
"GAH!" Naruto cried out. The ice around the shuriken edge began to redden.
"Heh heh heh. Did I get ya?!" the malice in Mizuki's voice was filled with a sick pleasure. He twisted his wrist ever so slightly and dug just that little bit deeper to make Naruto scream out in pain again. "What ya gonna do you little monster?"
Naruto glared at Mizuki, but the pain in his arm was so very intense. The blade hadn't cut deep through his flesh, but it was too deep in the ice for him to just pull out. He had to get the damn thing off of him or else Mizuki was gonna take his entire arm off, but that meant… no choice.
Naruto disengaged the Fuyu no Kofuku and the ice on his arm crumbled to the ground. He leapt back from Mizuki, who in turn jumped away from the ice sheets still around him. Naruto gripped his wounded arm tight in his hand. This was probably not a good idea, but he had to stop the bleeding somehow.
He took on the Fuyu no Kofuku again and froze his own injury. He was pretty sure his skin was impervious to frostbite, but he'd never tested it any deeper than that.
As Naruto saw to this Mizuki pulled the icicles out of his arm. Those wounds weren't deep either, but he didn't favor his health if he left it alone too long. As much as he was enjoying taking over a decade of frustration out on the nine tailed punching bag over there, he was getting to be in pretty bad shape himself. Luckily for him he had a plan that would make things all ok.
"How does it feel? Does it hurt?" he chuckled cruelly at Naruto, slipping his shuriken onto his back as he continued to goad the boy. "But that pain is barely an itch compared to the suffering you've caused you little piece of shit!"
Every word Mizuki uttered only made Naruto hate him even more. His blood boiled in his veins, threatening to melt the ice that coated his skin. "I got no idea what you're talking about!" he snarled through his teeth.
"Ha ha ha ha ha ha! That's exactly what I'm saying!" Mizuki bellowed a laugh and pointed accusingly at Naruto. "Just how selfish are you if you don't even get that?!" his mirth switched rapidly to fury and he started to yell. "Don't you realize that there isn't a living person in this village that doesn't want you dead?! You don't think there'd be a parade the next morning, people hanging your body from a tree for the little kiddies to hit with sticks?! The fact that you haven't killed yourself already is proof that you're nothing more than an evil, SCUM SUCKING DEMON!"
That was enough. Naruto refused to let this bastard say a single word more. He charged at Mizuki, screaming in anger, hurling ice kunai straight for the motherfucker. Mizuki grinned and turned on his heel, taking off for the trees and bounding across them. Naruto pursued from the ground, continuing to barrage him with icy shards.
The chase was long and arduous. Naruto kept low so not to give Mizuki a good angle with that giant shuriken of his, but it meant his own line of attack was just as tricky. Just as many of his ice kunai disappeared into the leaves as they did hit the branches and boughs, sticking in there. But not one of them managed to even scrape Mizuki.
Mizuki looked over his shoulder, but quickly drew back as an ice kunai whizzed past his face, almost taking out an eye. The brat was so desperate to take him down that he'd neglected to watch where they were going. He had no idea that they were literally on the verge of entering the village. And now Mizuki could enact his plan.
"ALERT! ALERT!" he bellowed at the top of his lungs. "THE KYUUBI IS ATTACKING!"
The sudden outburst shocked Naruto and he realized where they were approaching. He slid to a quick halt and in a panic he disengaged the Fuyu no Kofuku. Unfortunately that seemed to be exactly what Mizuki wanted, for the next instant Naruto's eyes were filled with the giant shuriken sailing in and arc straight for him.
Naruto just barely managed to roll out of the way, but he'd failed to take proper stock of his surroundings and collided with a tree. The shock cost him valuable seconds. Before he could hope to collect himself, his vision was filled again. Not by a shuriken, but by Mizuki.
The Chunin looked like he had just won the grand prize when he wrapped his hands around Naruto's throat, delighting in strangling him to death. Naruto wheezed and grabbed at Mizuki's wrists. This guy's grip was too strong, Naruto thought bitterly. Too many lonely nights could do that to a guy.
Now wasn't the time for jokes, as the stars appearing before his eyes suggested. He had to push Mizuki away or he was going to die here and now. His only hope was to use the Fuyu no Kofuku again. He tried to call on it, but to his horror he'd realized that he'd moved in and out of that form too often. It was slower now. Painfully slow. He wasn't sure he had the strength to call it out enough. And even if he did, would he be able to move to stop Mizuki from killing him?
Black edged in across the stars and Naruto's vision began to turn into night itself. His eyes rolled back as his lungs ached for air and his neck screamed silently for relief. All he could so was stare straight up at the constellations the lack of oxygen in his brain were painting for him. It was almost fascinating. He found the brightest star, the biggest star, shining directly above him. What was its name again?
No… wait… that wasn't a star at all.
Mizuki was laughing insanely and all Naruto could do was watch that shiny thing above him. It was… yes, it was one of his ice kunai. It was wobbling in the branch it was embedded in, shaken by the wind. In fact, it looked like it was-
Naruto's eyes widened as the ice kunai slipped out of the branch and began to fall straight down. There it was; a ray of hope. That hope surged him with adrenaline and allowed him to make a move he didn't think he had the strength to. He grabbed the kunai out of the air and swung it at Mizuki's face. The blade penetrated flesh, and did not leave it.
Mizuki screamed loud and shrill, falling off of Naruto and scrambling back. The ice kunai had penetrated both his cheeks, the tip protruding from the other side. He was blinded by the agony as he gripped the thicker end and dragged it out of his flesh, blood pouring down his neck as he did this. The pain grew too much and he yanked it out sharply, screeching inhumanly as the sounds came out of all three of the holes in his face.
"What's going on?"
Mizuki partially looked over his shoulder in shock, but realized quickly that the best case scenario had come for him. "The Hewbie ih hunning whyle!" he slurred, humiliated by his broken speech. He was far too angry to try and make his words clearer. Now that he had backup he could do whatever he wanted without accusations being set upon him. He grabbed a kunai and ran at the wheezing Naruto to finish the job.
He didn't get very far. A foot struck him at the side of his knee. It didn't buckle him. It snapped his leg at the joint. He fell to the ground screaming, one arm flailing above him. That arm was grabbed and was broken by a blow to the elbow. He was all out of breath and could only wheeze his pain himself. Then a hand grabbed him by the hair and pulled him back. Fear shot through him as he anticipated his throat being slit. But that didn't happen.
Instead he received a heel to his back, shattering his spine at the base. Pain overload and blood loss caused him to lose consciousness immediately.
Not twenty feet away, Naruto was staring dead ahead, color returning to his eyes as his breathing steadied. He held on to his throat as if afraid it would start convulsing of its own accord. He had heard Mizuki's screams, and eventually managed to look up at the person who had come to stand beside him.
"H-hey, baa-chan." He rasped with the weakest of smiles. "Where ya been?"
The mood in the Hokage's office was a rather mixed one. Naruto, who sat in front of the Hokage's desk, was equally tired and satisfied from his scruffle with Mizuki, but also resentment and and betrayal aimed at the aging ruler himself. The Hokage sat behind his desk, guilt slightly radiating off of him, though mostly hidden by a strong face. Tsunade herself stood next to Naruto, a hand covered in green chakra hovering over his throat, healing the damage inflicted by Mizuki and seemed to be avoiding picking a side in the confrontation about to commence.
Not surprisingly, it was Naruto who first got tired of the silence that filled the room. The boy had gotten more calm and thoughtful over the years, sure, but when he was frustrated he was still the first to usually break.
"Was any of it true, old man?" he growled, his eyes fixed entirely on the aged leader before him. The question wasn't just about what Mizuki said regarding the Kyuubi. Naruto was asking about all the answers that he had received up until that day. Every time he had gotten an answer, was it real the truth?
'Old man, why do the villagers don't like me?'
'Hey jiji, do you know my parents?'
'Do you think I have any family out there?'
'Is there any way to find out how I got my powers?'
"Hey jiji. I can trust you, right?'
Hiruzen, for his part, was remembering all the answers he had given to Naruto over the years. Half-truths, changing the subject. Outright lies at times. The only time he had ever answered the blonde with a full truth was when Naruto had asked if Naruto could trust him. To this day the old leader couldn't remember if he had hesitated in answering that question or if he had answered far too quickly. And now...
"Naruto, what would you have done if you had known before hand about the Kyuubi?" Hiruzen asked. "Can you honestly say that you wouldn't have struck back at anyone who insulted you?"
"Can you say that I haven't struck out at anyone who insulted me?" Naruto shot back. "I'm pretty damn sure that you've seen me play pranks, make an ice slick or two. Hell, you were the first one to laugh when I was brought in a few months ago after I flash froze that crabby lady's flower garden. Not once- once!- did I truly attack anyone. The closest were the ice slicks, and even then all that happened was they hurt their poor little asses! Do you believe for one fucking second that knowing about the Kyuubi would have changed everything about how I did things?"
Tsunade, having finished healing the boy, stepped back to the wall to watch the sparks fly. She had known that this was coming for a long time. She had thought it stupid to hide Naruto's jinchuriki status from the boy at the get go. She had seen a few times in the war when a jinchuriki lost control of their beast, either from anger or sadness, or just because they had given up entirely in being accepted and loved. And they had been jinchuriki who actually knew that they held a biju in them! True, they didn't always have control, but they and their teammates knew ahead of time that their resident demon time-bomb might go murder-crazy so that when it happened they could get the hell outta dodge.
But Konoha had the Kyuubi, the strongest biju of all. And even if they didn't train him to use its chakra, he should have still known about it. The Kyuubi's chakra reacted to negative emotions, according to Jiraiya, along with her grandmother and Kushina's notes. A shinobi would have to deal with many things out on the field, a lot of which would be enough to act as a trigger for Naruto to lose control. At the very least her old sensei was considering making it mandatory that whatever team Naruto ended up on his teammates would know about his burden. It wasn't so much to see if Naruto could work with teammates that might resent him, but for his future genin cell's safety.
"Naruto, please, you have to understand! I did this for your safety! Everything I did was for that!"
"Bullshit! Don't lie to me!"
"I'm not lying, trust me!"
"Oh now where did I hear that before?!"
Tsunade sighed. Forget his future team's safety, at this rate he wouldn't end up on a team. And if sensei didn't stop giving out tired old excuses soon, his safety (and hers as well) was in question. Time to step in. "Alright, the two of you. Knock it off before I knock you around."
The results were immediate. Both Naruto and the Sandaime closed their mouths, though the Slug Princess could tell that Naruto still had more than a few words that he so desperately wanted to share. Hiruzen merely tried to get his emotions under control once more. He surely had expected Naruto's anger, but he probably didn't expect to lose control of the conversation. Tsunade looked between the two of them, making sure that neither one would start shouting again. Once she was sure of it she decided to continue.
"There were reasons why this was hidden from you Naruto, and while I may not have agreed with all of them, I can understand some of them. The chief one being that on top of us having just been attacked with the Kyuubi and it being sealed inside of you, Konoha was weakened pretty badly. Sensei wanted to keep it quiet for a few years to let things settle down. But then some other things happened and sensei decided to keep it quiet for a few years longer. Somehow that became 'waiting until after you graduated.'" Tsunade sighed and closed her eyes, rubbing her forehead in annoyance. Naruto was supposed to be told when he was about four years-old, but then that crap with Kumo and the Hyuga happened. Because of that Hiruzen had decided that it was much too dangerous to tell Naruto at that point in time and had put it off.
On paper it made sense. Too bad the actual execution of the plan didn't appear to have worked so well, if Naruto's deepening scowl was any indication. Thankfully he no longer looked like he wanted to leap across the desk and tear out the old man's throat. Maybe it was because Tsunade hadn't given him a reason to distrust her. Sure she had hid stuff from him, but it was under her leader's orders that she had kept silent. At least her reasons for hiding answers from him made total sense, unlike some people.
Tsunade turned to her old teacher next, an 'I told you so' look on her face. "And you. I told you the last time we met that if this blew up in your face I'd be the first to let you know. Well, guess what sensei? You screwed up big time." The Sandaime bowed his head in acknowledgment of the statement, but his former student wasn't done yet. "And because of that, I'm going to tell him."
Hiruzen stood up in a hurry and slammed his hands on his desk, his sudden movement throwing the chair he had been sitting in backwards. Had it had more power or if the windows had been not as strong, Tsunade had no doubt that the chair would have gone through the glass. "You can't!" the Hokage shouted, startling even Tsunade at it's volume and the force behind the words. "He's not ready yet for that information! You know this Tsunade! Even Jiraiya agrees with me!" The older blonde narrowed her eyes at that comment.
"Implying that Jiriaya is an idiot or has actually been here to take care of his godson!" Tsunade snapped back, ignoring Naruto's stunned look and his sudden gasp at that revelation. Her gaze was fixed solely on the glare Hiruzen was leveling on her. "Oh don't give me that look! Yes I disobeyed an order and you know what? I'd do it again! In fact, I think I will! Naruto, guess what? I'm your godmother, SURPRISE!"
"TSUNADE! How dare you-!"
"Oh shut up." Tsunade replied flatly. "Let's face it, you screwed up and now it's blowing up in your face. You haven't been able to give Naruto even one reason why he should trust you. This is something he needed and wanted: someone that he trusts telling him the truth."
"Still..." the hokage tried to argue. Tsunade sighed deeply and resisted slamming her palm onto her forehead, if only to keep from accidentally knocking herself out.
"Oh for the love of..." she muttered darkly. "Naruto! Tell me, what do you get out of me telling you this?"
The blond boy looked up, a little surprised at the question. It was only there for a second before his face settled into a calm, relieved look. "One less doubt nagging at me in the night. The knowledge that I do have family. That's all I really wanted, Hokage-sama," He declared, looking up at the man he used to see as a grandfather. Hiruzen had to repress a wince, not only from the answer but also at the way Naruto addressed him. "Peace of mind."
The silence that followed that declaration was thick enough to stifle any fire left to continue fighting. For several minutes it stayed in the room, and it would have gone on longer if it hadn't been for the intercom on Hiruzen's desk sounding.
"Hokage-sama, Yuuhi Kurenai is here to see you as ordered. Shall I send her up?"
Hiruzen sighed, passing a glance over the other two occupants of the room. Tempers were still high, and nobody was in a mood to talk over things smoothly, least of all Naruto. Feeling a few years more fall onto his already weary shoulders, the Hokage pressed a button on the intercom to answer. "No, send her to the academy. Room three-hundred-and-four, and tell her that she'll be over seeing the re-examination of Uzumaki Naruto on the written portion of the graduation exam. He'll be there shortly with test in hand. Please also have Yuuhi-san prepare the room ahead of Naruto-kun for his comfort. She should know what I mean."
"At your word, Hokage-sama." came the reply before the intercom cut off with a sharp burst of static. Ignoring the suspicious glare from Naruto, Hiruzen pulled open one of his desk drawers and withdrew a sheet of paper from it. He held it out to the young blond, who took it from his leader's hands cautiously.
"What's this about, Hokage-sama?" Naruto asked, his eyes narrowed. Hiruzen held back a frown of his own at how the boy still wasn't addressing him like he used to. It seemed the hurt ran deep. Giving himself a mental shake the Sandaime focused on the question asked of him.
"Did I not promise earlier that if the sting went well, I would allow you a second chance at the graduation exam? Your fight with Mizuki, despite me having hoped that a fight would not have broken out, did serve as an impromptu make-up for the physical portion. Take this to the room I just mentioned, and give it a go. There's no time limit on this test, and feel free to ask questions so long as they don't pertain to the test. Good luck."
Halfway through his intsructions Naruto had taken the sheet from Hiruzen and stood up, staring down at the paper he held in his hands. He stayed that way for a full minute before he raised his head and looked the Sandaime in the eye. Another breath passed before he bowed his head in thanks before straightening up and leaving the room. As the door closed behind him Hiruzen turned a tired eye towards Tsunade. "I was expecting you to get there sooner, Tsunade-chan." He grumbled.
The female member of the Sannin raised her hands and shrugged. "Not my fault the brat picked a hiding spot that the ANBU couldn't find," she shot back. "Don't forget that your 'elite guards' were supposed to have followed Mizuki and keep an eye on Naruto after he left the tower. They're the ones that lost a fourteen year-old brat. What's the matter, did little Kurenai-chan's genjutsu get them too?"
The Hokage gave a soft chuckle as he walked out from behind the desk to stand in front of the pictures of his predecessors, himself, and his replacement. Bitterly, Hiruzen supposed that Minato could also be considered his predecessor. "Nothing of the sort, my dear." he said aloud. "True, Yuuhi-san is our best genjutsu user on active duty right now. And of course the wonderful display she created for Mizuki to see his fellow -well, ex-fellow -comrades surrounding him while a 'call' was put out for Naruto's supposed theft of the scroll was superb work. Naruto-kun is simply quite skilled at evasion and hiding, and sadly it seems that ANBU underestimated him and thus allowed him to easily slip by them. I shall be having words with them I think. I wanted Mizuki unharmed for his questioning."
"Tch!" Tsunade clicked her tongue in annoyance. "I don't see why you did. We already have an idea of who he was working for, and it was obvious from the start that he was a traitor and not going to go quietly. Why the hell did you want to take it easy on him?"
Hiruzen looked over his shoulder to frown disapprovingly at his former student. She, in turn, glared right back at him, unwilling to back down. "I am willing to give everyone a second chance, Tsunade." He reminded her. "Perhaps an agreement could have been reached, and he would have seen the error of his ways. Doing things like this without extending our hands in peace leads to constant strife, which will always lead to war."
Tsunade just snorted at her teacher's words and stomped towards the door. "And that's why, even if I wanted to, you would never let me be Hokage, Sarutobi-sensei." She declared, opening the door with more force than was necessary. Hiruzen could have sworn he saw the metal of the knob crinkle and bend to blonde's grip. "I'm not as foolish as to offer my hand to the snake once, let alone twice."
With those words Tsunade stepped out of the office, slamming the door behind her hard enough to make some of the light bulbs in the office break. Standing in a fittingly far darker room, Hiruzen gazed out of his window alone to look over his village, pondering his student's words.
A near empty room, conditioned to below average temperatures. The windows were wide open, the doors spread apart and the AC cranked up high. As if that weren't enough, Naruto was wearing several cooling pads under his clothes and had even soaked his shirt prior to starting the test. Add that all in with his trademark lollipop and he was just about as cool as he could hope to be in a country called Fire.
The exam was already underway, and Naruto was giving it his best shot. He had to note though that the tension felt so much higher when he was the only one being tested. There was the constant awareness that the exam overseer's eyes were incessantly upon him. Naruto did everything he could to ignore it, but he couldn't help his attention wandering every now and then.
The kunoichi by the name of Yuhi Kurenai was sitting atop Iruka's desk, watching him with those penetrating red eyes. Though Naruto was quite comfortable in the room, he felt a little guilty about forcing someone else to sit in this chilly place for his sake. There was no way Kurenai wasn't feeling the cold.
As if to confirm this, he took a closer look at her. At her legs, which she crossed. At her breasts, which she covered with her folded arms. At her face, which was giving him an inquisitive look. Naruto realised he'd perhaps not been as subtle as he thought, and returned hastily to his work with a blush.
Kurenai let out a sigh and relaxed again. "Boys will be boys." She thought about some men she knew who were a lot more unashamed in their ogling. "Idiots..." she realised then that she'd spoken aloud, and that Naruto was watching her. "Sorry, my mind was elsewhere."
"I noticed. I was wondering if I oughta say something or take advantage of it."
For that, Kurenai had to smile. Cocky though he may be, at least this kid was honest. He returned to his test with a satisfied look on his face and Kurenai returned to watching him properly. That said, considering all the fuss the Hokage made about giving Naruto a second chance at the written test, he wasn't wowing her with his progress. In fact from what she could see, he'd done little more than write his name.
"Getting started is always the worst part." Naruto scratched the back of his ear with the end of the pencil, frowning at his paper as if it had been printed in a foreign language. "I work better when my mind's already going, you know?"
Kurenai regarded this with cool curiosity. Though a class situation and a field situation were about as distant from one another as something could get, it wasn't a strong indicator if Naruto needed a kick start just to solve relatively simple...
She cut off her line of thought when she snuck a peak at the questions on Naruto's paper. Boy, the academy really cranked things up a notch since the time she was a student here. Not that she saw any problems that she couldn't answer fairly quickly, but some of the questions there reminded her of the sort of thing she'd seen at the Chunin exams when she was younger.
"I guess those rumours about the Sandaime favouring quantity over quality really were false."
Naruto was still staring hard at his paper. Though Kurenai wasn't sure she should be doing anything to help him, she admitted to feeling some sympathy for him with the problems he was facing. "If he needs a kick starter..." there was no time limit on this exam, and so long as the test wasn't the subject matter, talking a little should be fine. "If it's not too intrusive, there's something I've been wanting to ask you."
At this request Naruto looked up at Kurenai, his interest clearly piqued. "Go ahead." He remarked with a gesture of the pencil, before immediately putting his eyes back on the paper. "I can work and talk at the same time."
Again Kurenai found a smile coming to her. How could he work and talk at the same time when he couldn't work in the first place? Still, it was his test and he knew the risks, so if he accepted her conversation then she had no reason to feel guilty. "What exactly is your relationship with Tsunade-sama?"
Without taking his eyes off of his paper, Naruto gave her an answer. "If not for baa-chan I'd probably have died of heat exhaustion long ago." His brow shot up then, as if that were the jolt of inspiration he needed, and he started writing. "She's the one that understands my condition the best. That and... my other circumstance. Unlike everyone else, she doesn't care about that." He paused for a second. "Well, I guess there's Hokage-sama too."
Thinking he was going to elaborate on that, Kurenai waited. He never did however, and after making a decent start to his test, she noticed a lull beginning to form. For that, she decided to ask another question. "Are you upset with Hokage-sama, after learning what you are?"
Against her intentions, Naruto stopped his work following that question. He set his gaze outside and she realised that he was staring at Hokage Mountain in thought. "I guess I can't blame him for doing what he did." He began working again, though with rather less heart than before. "But that doesn't mean I have to forgive him for keeping something like that from me."
Kurenai opened her mouth to speak, but she stopped herself. Naruto was continuing to work away, but there was a look on his face that showed his thoughts were clearly elsewhere. "All I can do is hope that if I prove myself as a ninja, Hokage-sama will come clean and tell me just who the hell I really am."
For a moment only the sound of pencil scratching against paper was present in the room. For that duration Kurenai chewed on her lip, wondering if she should hold her tongue. It felt as though she would be doing a disservice to the Hokage if she didn't say what was on her mind.
"It's not easy being the Hokage." She could see Naruto was listening, even if he gave no indication. "You have to make some tough choices, sometimes without any time to think them over. It's only natural that mistakes are made from time to time."
A smile curled on the corner of Naruto's lips. "I don't presume to be constantly on top of Hokage-sama's list of priorities, but you make it sound as if there was never a moment in these past fourteen years where he could have realised what a bad idea this was and do something about it." The smile fell. "For every day he saw the people of this village hating me, he never once thought to change anything. That's the nature of the Hokage, I guess."
"Do you expect him to be able to change the feelings of everyone who lost someone when the Kyuubi attacked?" Kurenai's tone was sharp, and she felt herself becoming heated. But she stopped herself from stepping too far over the line, for the sake of composure. She reminded herself she was talking to a child and calmed down. "You're too young to understand the world of adults. As you grow up you start to see that even the simplest of decisions have to be weighed carefully."
Naruto had stopped his work when he noticed the change in Kurenai's manner of speaking. He'd kept his eyes on her and his mouth shut all the way to the end and beyond, thinking carefully about what she had just said to him. "What do you think about the Kyuubi?" he asked, the tip of his pencil tapping against his chin.
That line of questioning Kurenai had not been prepared for. She looked deep into Naruto's eyes and thought about why he was asking her something like that. Then she thought about what her honest answer might be. "I don't hold anything against you for being what you are."
Naruto blinked at her in surprise. For a few seconds it didn't seem clear how he was taking it, but then he started laughing, clapping his hands jubilantly. Taken aback by this, Kurenai had to enquire. "Did I say something funny?"
"No, I was just thinking you were right about something." Naruto actually wiped a tear from his eye as he started to calm down. "It's true that I don't get how the world of adults work, but I think I'm starting to understand." He pointed the end of his pencil at Kurenai. "If somebody asks you an awkward question, tell them what you think they want to hear instead."
There was an affronted expression upon Kurenai from this merrily given accusation, but Naruto didn't give her the chance to reply to it. "Then let me rephrase." Again with the pencil pointed at her. "How do you feel about the Kyuubi no Yoko? And by that I mean the demon, not me."
That question wounded Kurenai. She tried to think if what she said in any way indicated that she felt the Kyuubi and Naruto were one in the same. As she considered it, she realised that it was very easy to interpret her words in such a fashion. This discovery brought a pang of regret to her. She had never thought herself to be so tactless.
Knowing that she had to right this wrong, she gave a deep breath and answered honestly. "I was too young to be allowed to join in the counterattack against the Kyuubi." Even as she spoke those words, buried memories resurfaced with a haunting clarity. "All I could see was the monster in the distance, the destruction left in its wake, and the stories of those who survived the encounter with it."
For a long while Naruto watched Kurenai as her words carried off into silence. He was unsmiling now, for he could see that the kunoichi before him was reflecting on some tough times brought by the hands of the Kyuubi. He decided to lay off her and get back to his test, but there was something he had to say.
"A monster in the distance... I can almost imagine how the Kyuubi felt at the time."
This was not the sort of thing Kurenai was expecting to hear, least of all from the boy with the demon sealed inside him. It stirred something angry inside of her, but this time she kept it under cautious check, reminding herself of just who she was speaking to. "I don't think there's a single other person in this village who could make a claim like that." She sat back, uncrossing and crossing her legs again. "Then what do you think the Kyuubi is really like?"
"The Battle of Kannabi Bridge." Naruto jotted down that answer while thinking of what he would tell Kurenai. "By now? About the same as anyone that's been stuck in a hole for fourteen years, I guess."
Solemnly Naruto focused on his test, while Kurenai found herself unable to take her eyes off of him. To think of the Kyuubi in such human terms wasn't only something that she herself had never done, but something she could say with fair certainty that no one in the village had ever done. This boy sitting in front of her was so unbelievably different from everyone she knew, that she couldn't help listening to every word he had to say.
Naruto was drawing close to finishing his test, and there was one more thing Kurenai wanted to ask him.
"If you could talk to the Kyuubi, what would you say?"
For that, Naruto shot her another glance. "Hmm..." he murmured, returning his attention to his test. Though he continued to work, he was obviously thinking about that question. Kurenai sat in patient silence while he finished his exam, checked over his work, and got up to hand it to her. "I wouldn't say anything." He said, handing the paper over and smiling at her. "I'd listen."
With that he gave Kurenai a small wave and left the classroom. All the while Kurenai watched him go, lips parted in quiet wonder. The door opened and closed, but she still found herself staring. She could hardly believe the things she had just heard. When the shock of it all washed away, she found there was only one reaction she could give.
She too smiled.
The young boy that most people in the village hated and feared was perhaps one of the sweetest people she'd ever met in her life. To think that he could turn out like he had given the burden he bore was, to put it simply, invigorating. She slid off the desk and looked over the answers he'd given to the questions on the test. She found her smile to widen then. Though not perfect, she would be satisfied to pass him with these.
With a warm feeling in her chest, she left the classroom for the Hokage's office. She had a request to make.
Koori = Ice clone