Tale of the Setting Sun

Chapter 17: "A Will Inherited"

The last time Naruto had had a private audience with the Hokage, he had been six years old. The Hokage's office had seemed immense to him then, and the Hokage himself had been an alien, untouchable figure. But as he stood before the desk once more, the room, though big, was contained, and the man had never looked as weary as he did now.

"So you know the truth now," said the Hokage quietly, getting straight to the point. He was seated behind his desk; the white hat that signified his status cast shadows over his lined face.

"Yes," Naruto said simply, remaining stiffly in his standing position.

"Kakashi has filled me in on what he's told you, including the fact that he has suppressed the Taboo seal. But there are still certain things that he has wisely decided not to tell you...or perhaps he has forgotten them himself." With his wrinkled fingers steepled against each other on the desk, the Hokage looked straight at Naruto. "For the village, I sacrificed your childhood. You must despise me."

"...I don't know how I feel," said Naruto, slightly taken aback by the man's directness despite himself. "All I know is that my – the Fourth Hokage was the one who sealed the Nine-tails within me. And that for this, all the villagers hate me. Kakashi-sensei told me that there was an accident when I was six, but I recall that I was unwanted even before then."

"Even I do not still quite understand what happened the night the Nine-tails attacked Konoha," said the Hokage heavily. "But Naruto, did you know that Konoha has controlled the Nine-tails for several generations now? You are not our first jinchūriki. We had two before you...and they were both Uzumakis as well." Naruto's eyes widened by a margin. "Yes, your mother, Kushina Uzumaki, was the jinchūriki before you."

Naruto paused. "My mother..."

"And the one single thing that most weakens a jinchūriki's seal – that is, a jinchūriki's most vulnerable, natural state, is when she is giving birth." The Hokage nodded at Naruto's surprised expression. "Yes, your mother risked quite a lot when she became pregnant with you. I thought Minato would be able to suppress it, but somehow it escaped. I suspect there was a third party, but we've never found any leads in that investigation. Regardless, in the aftermath, Minato and Kushina both sacrificed their lives to seal it once more within you." His face darkened. "Unfortunately, the majority of the village was not aware that Kushina was pregnant. For her and your safety, Minato and Kushina kept her pregnancy a secret. And so, to this day, they still do not understand how it escaped. I believe some people who were not familiar with Kushina may have actually believed that she had released the Nine-tails itself."

"What?" Naruto cut in, his brow furrowed in thought. "Why did you keep it a secret after they died then? Why not tell everyone that I was their son, and that it wasn't her fault?"

"I may be Hokage, but even I do not have the power to control peoples' hearts," said the Hokage heavily. "Fear and prejudice are powerful forces. Following Minato's wishes – the surname 'Namikaze' was widely feared across the nations, and may have instigated assassination attempts against you – you were given your mother's name, 'Uzumaki.' With you being a newly born red-haired infant and having the last name 'Uzumaki,' I'm sure anyone could have connected the dots. But inevitably, rumors were spread. You would not be able to tell given Konoha's present prosperity, but back then, it was a time of great loss and uncertainty. Many people had died, and the great Fourth Hokage had even given his life to defeat the beast. It is unfortunate, but people who are grieving do not always look to reason, and you became an outlet for their pain. It didn't help that even some of the shinobi themselves held preconceived notions about jinchūriki, helping to set off what would soon become a village-wide movement against you Naruto." The Hokage paused. "You may not have been aware of it, but I always had at least two of my ANBU keep watch over you during your childhood. It was rare, but there were times they had to step in to prevent any bodily harm from happening to you."

"I remember," Naruto said quietly, thinking back to the time when the ANBU had scooped him up from inside his apartment.

"And yet, why didn't I step in?" The Hokage mused out loud, as if reading Naruto's mind. "Why didn't I act as a grandfatherly figure towards you? Why did I seal your memories?" Naruto nodded mutely. "When you were just an infant, I put you in the care of an ANBU-retiree – your caretaker. I had resumed my duties as the village's Hokage and there were many...many things to take care of. I was incredibly busy, but regardless, I checked on you every now and then. You must not remember me, but it was I who bought you your first book – a book of folk tales. And Kakashi was there as well – he carved you a set of wooden blocks.

This may very well have continued in this pattern, if another incident hadn't happened. Right before you turned six, an anonymous organization somehow received intel on you, and sent a squad to infiltrate the village and kidnap you. You were able to release some of the Nine-tails power, and you slaughtered them...but you lost control, and in the process, killed several civilians and ninja who were at the scene as well – including your caretaker."

His mouth turned dry as he rewound his memories back to the morning he had woken up on his sixth birthday to a cold, empty room.

"There was an immediate backlash. Civilians and ninja alike believed this only confirmed their worst fear: that the Nine-tails was taking over your conscious and would eventually be released once more. The most radical of them wanted you to be put down, but they had to be appeased with the application of a Taboo Seal, which's effects I believe Kakashi informed you on." The Hokage's eyes swept over Naruto's tersely set jaw and whitened knuckles, and gave a slight nod. "Your feelings of anger are to be expected. Even at such a young age, you had set yourself apart as a gifted child much like your father once was. And it is clear now, from the level of self-mastery you displayed during the Chūnin exams, that if we had informed you of your situation and taught you to control the Nine-tails, you would have succeeded. Yet, we treated you as an ignorant child – no, as an animal, pushing you back and forth at our slightest whims.

I cannot foresee the future. I had personally inspected Minato's seal, but there were certain elements that had never been used in a jinchūriki seal before. Knowing Minato as I did, I knew he would not have made a mistake – but there was always a feeling of unease whenever I saw you. Your red hair was a trademark of the Uzumaki clan and your whisker-like birthmarks were a result of your receiving your mother's influence while in her womb, but at the same time, you seemed like the very image of a Nine-tails that had been reborn incarnate. And so, I gave into the fears of an aging, feeble mind...

I see that I have given you much to think about. That is all I have to say, unless you have further questions, but all I ask is that you not blame the tool that carries out the hand's bidding; you may hate me as you wish, but I hope that you will keep considering Konoha your home. The villagers have not treated you fairly; they have trampled and spat on you when they should have loved and raised you as one of their own. But believe me when I say that their actions were not out of malice for you. They were a result of fear and uncertainty – a lack of belief in those that had died for the village. However, from having personally looked over your growth through such difficulty, I can now say with a sincere heart that I believe you have the strength to overcome this." The Hokage stopped for a second to bore his gaze into Naruto's. "You must have known this for a long time now but I have only just realized – you are strong, stronger than I had once thought. While I had once seen the Nine-tails in your red hair, all I see in it now is the will of fire that burns within you."

"...I see," said Naruto, carefully keeping his face blank. "Then there is just one question I'd like to ask, Hokage-sama." It was the Hokage's turn to blink; clearly, he had been expecting more of a reaction. "What seal did my father use on me, and how much control do I have over it?"

The Hokage slowly nodded. "Minato sealed half of the Nine-tails within you using the Eight Trigrams Seal, which is a special kind of seal that allows the vessel to access the chakra of the contained beast...and the other half, he sealed within himself using the Reaper Death Seal, which is a seal that requires the caster's death." The Hokage paused. "I do not believe your father intended it to be a curse, Naruto. Did you know, that at one point, Minato was considered the child of a prophecy, and fated to change the world? Jiraiya certainly thought so. However, I believe that Minato thought that it would be you, rather, who would revolutionize this world. And so, he left you this power in order to have the ability to do so."

Following the talk, the Taboo Seal was quickly and discretely removed. It was a brief affair; baring the back of his neck to the Hokage, the man made a twisting motion with an outstretched hand. There was a flash of white pain, and then there was nothing. Immediately, Naruto could feel the difference. As if a tightly contained, dense fog had suddenly been vacuumed away, the block in his mind disappeared, revealing the large tunnel he had seen earlier. For now, Naruto decided he would hold himself back from exploring it; the Hokage had warned him not to hurtle headfirst into the newly discovered sections of his memory. The influx of lost memories could confuse and overwhelm his brain and lead to possible complications. It would be better for him to let them return on their own – over time, piece by piece, they would fall naturally back into place. As for the Nine-tails itself, Naruto hadn't yet decided how to more formally approach it. According to the Hokage's explanation, he should be able to access its chakra, but just from his brief impromptu interaction with it during the exam, he knew it wouldn't be easy.

The sun was just beginning to set when Naruto finally returned to his apartment and lay face down on his bed.

Contrary to the carefully composed blank mask he'd presented to the Hokage, his mind was still caught up in a whirlwind of questions and indecision. He did not know what to believe. He had accepted the Hokage's explanation as sincere, but that did not mean he had to like it. Typical of a doting father, the Hokage had tried to cover for his ignorant children's behavior, but Naruto no longer needed their approval.

Speaking of fathers...it was still hard to take in that the legendary Fourth Hokage was his. And contrary to how Naruto had perceived it as a child, it had not been his father but his mother who'd been his connection to the Uzumaki clan. He had first felt betrayed that his parents had been the ones to seal the Nine-tails inside of him, but the realization that his mother had been the jinchūriki before him took some of the sting away. The Hokage had also said that his father had hoped he would be able to harness the Nine-tails' power for the sake of the world and by extension, the village. Whether or not that was true – the Hokage had been laying it on a bit thick near the end – he didn't care about any of that, or the will of fire. Why should he have the desire to believe, cherish and fight for the villagers when they would never do the same back for him?

Naruto shifted his grudging body around and looked up at the empty ceiling.

What he did want was to become strong, however – strong enough to be able to protect the people he did care about. And the only way to accomplish both would be to stay in Konoha.

The skies outside were dark when Naruto restlessly jumped to his feet and left the apartment. Wandering about through the marketplace which bustled with activity in the dinner rush – ignoring the looks, as always, that some of the passing villagers were giving him – he found his feet automatically moving him toward the direction of Ichiraku's, from which emanated the rich, heavy smell of ramen.

Lifting the entrance flap, he saw a flash of silver as one of the sitting customers turned around to look at him. Hesitating for a brief second, Naruto made his way past a rowdy crowd and sat next to its source.

"So – a miso pork ramen, large, extra garlic? The usual?" asked Ichiraku's owner, hanging over the counter; despite the hubbub he always seemed to be able to spot Naruto's telltale red hair.

"Yes please."

"Ah that's what I forgot." From beside him, Kakashi leaned his masked face against his hand. "Extra garlic on mine too, Teuchi."

"Coming right up," said the man, returning his attention to the boiling metal pots before him.

As they waited for their food, they sat there quietly, letting the outside conversations wash over them like white noise. And when their ramen bowls were set before them, they tucked in, making sure to slurp loud enough for the Ichiraku owner to hear. Only once both bowls were cleared and their stomachs verging on the uncomfortably full, did Naruto finally speak up. "What'd you think of my final match, sensei?"

"Hm?" said Kakashi distractedly, putting his book down. "Ah yes...that was an interesting move you did back then, Naruto. You might've gotten her, too, if you didn't slip up there at the end."

"So you noticed," Naruto nodded. "I'd thought about it in theory but I hadn't actually tried it before then. It was harder than I thought it'd be. What I did was, I made my chakra – "

"You made it dense to give it power, spun it in multiple directions to give it rotation, and then merged it together to give it stability. And...you messed up at the stability step. Am I right?"

Naruto blinked, and Kakashi let out a small chuckle. "Believe it or not, you're not the first person to have thought of that, Naruto. It's called the Rasengan. I'm curious though – how did you think of it?"

"That time back in Yugakure, when you used your Raikiri, it helped me realize that there's more to jutsu than hand seals," said Naruto. "It gave me the idea of channeling a certain amount of chakra to a certain area of the body to enhance its function – and for someone like me with excessive chakra stores, I knew I could somehow utilize the destructive power of pure chakra. Though I see now that it's harder than I thought it'd be to keep it under control..."

"I can teach you how to better stabilize it," said Kakashi, looking at Naruto. "If you'll let me."

Naruto could sense the second question that lingered unspoken in the air, but he had already made up his mind. "Yes sensei."

"Alright then," said Kakashi with a nod. "We'll get started right away. Meet me at field B tomorrow at seven am. Sharp." With a clatter of his chair, Kakashi got up to leave, tucking his precious book into a pouch on his side.

Naruto regarded him skeptically. "So you mean noon."

"A ninja always keeps his word, Naruto."

Ichiraku's owner cleared his throat meaningfully.

"Is that why you're leaving me the bill?" Naruto asked dryly.

"I only treat cute little genin. You're a chūnin now – you're one of them big boys. But you know, it's interesting..." Kakashi looked thoughtful.

"What is?" he asked, despite himself.

"Did you know that the Fourth was the one who invented the Rasengan?" Through his mask, Kakashi smiled at Naruto's dumbfounded expression before disappearing in a swirl of leaves.

It was a cold evening that day in Konoha. The last lights of the marketplace had expired, and the remaining stragglers of the night had turned in for the night. The only movements came from the moonlight reflecting off the slightly tilting masks of the ANBU that watched over the unsuspecting village from the tiled rooftops. From below their anonymous masks, their breath came out in white wisps that quickly faded in the night air.

At the base of the Hokage mountain was the Hokage's office. Heedless of the late hour, two figures stood stiffly in the dimly-lit room. One was the Hokage, dressed in the white robes of his office as usual. The other was a tall, elderly man with bandages covering half his face. The way they stood was familiar, but tense – they had known each other for a very long time now, but their relationship had grown colder over the years as the difference in their opinions of how matters should be dealt had increasingly diverged.

"So you told the jinchūriki the truth," said Danzō coolly.

Hiruzen tiredly folded his hands together. "Naruto already knew the truth. I owed him an explanation of it at the very least."

"What do you owe a jinchūriki?" Danzō scoffed. "That was foolish of you. What if he turns against us?"

"He won't," said Hiruzen.

"My sources tell me the boy isn't the type to be won over with flattery and praise."

"No...but underneath all of that, he is still just a boy." Hiruzen turned his head to look out the window at the Hokage monument. From where he stood, it was so close he could see the cracks along the carved mountainside. "He gets along with his team, and Kakashi will treat him well. That's why I put him there. And ultimately, Konoha is his home, regardless of how he has been treated. He won't so easily turn his back on it."

"We'll see." With an expressionless look on his face and a curt nod of his head, Danzō left. Hiruzen watched his departure with calculating eyes; he could tell Danzō was up to something again. He would have to keep a closer eye on him – whenever the man got that look on his face, something unexpected inevitably happened.

Folding his hands behind his back, Hiruzen slowly walked over to the window on the other side of his office. From there, he could look out over the entirety of the village. It always filled his heart with warmth to see the civilians going about their daily activities, the ninja rushing around to hand in their missions or slack off at Ichiraku's, the children at the Academy sparring with sweat on their brow...

His gaze alighted on one particular rooftop; its inhabitant was likely sleeping right now, but Hiruzen knew him to be one of the most gifted and hard-working genin – now chūnin – in the village. In any other circumstance, the boy would have been widely praised and acknowledged for his genius and resourcefulness, but fate had not been kind to him. And yet, even so, he persevered.

For the most part, Hiruzen hadn't lied to Danzō about Naruto. But there was one thing that he had said for the sole purpose of easing Danzō's paranoia – and that was that Naruto was just a boy.

But he wasn't just a boy.

Hiruzen may have been exaggerating at certain points at the time, but he hadn't been lying when he told Naruto that he saw a fire in him. At the moment, it was contained – but smoldering. Given time, he could see it turn into a great bonfire.

He wondered though – was it really the will of fire? Or was it something else?

A/N: Regarding the last chapter's reaction – I've never gotten so many quality/insightful reviews for one chapter before. I'm taken aback and grateful for each one, and if I wasn't able to reply to your review personally, sorry. Thanks to all for the feedback.

Edit: I've been getting a number of reviews complaining about how the village is treating Naruto, and I'm just gonna go ahead and tell you that the unsigned ones are going to be deleted. I am following canon in certain fundamental aspects, or at least my interpretation of it, and in canon, Naruto was not treated well. It may be a plothole, but it is a canon plothole created by Kishimoto, and I wrote my story with it in mind.