An Unwelcome Return
Not much was capable of shocking a veteran shinobi, especially one from a village as large as Konoha. For the room full of shinobi, their leaders sudden return from death was more than capable. When a meeting was called for all the highest ranking shinobi, many were worried about what it could entail; surprise meetings of such a scale were normally reserved for declaring wars. Nobody had expected the Fourth Hokage to be the one who addressed them.
"I know that it is a lot to take in, but I assure you that it is truly I, your Yondaime Hokage. I never truly died." Many of those present fidgeted uncomfortably. They all had the exact same question on their mind, but no one wanted to step forward and ask it. Noticing the air of discomfort, Minato spoke to reassure them.
"Do not worry about angering me. I'm sure that many of you wish to ask me questions and I assure you that you're allowed." Even with that, many in the crowd still looked unwilling to say anything, until a voice from the middle of the crowd spoke up.
"Why exactly did you disappear?" Judging by the attentiveness of the audience, that had been a question that many wished to ask.
"Hmmm, that's a difficult question to properly answer. A lot of the information is classified, but suffice it to say, it was deemed in the village's best interest that I disappear until a time when both the village and someone were ready." While most shinobi would normally believe the words any Hokage said, they weren't completely on board with his explanation.
Murmurs of discontent began to arise from multiple shinobi. Considering that Minato didn't actually answer the question with anything of substance, it wasn't that surprising. For Minato, things weren't going exactly as he had planned. He had hoped that his return would be met with jubilation, not distrust. He needed to at least give them something. Luckily he had planned on revealing this information anyway.
"Perhaps I can give you one of the more prominent reasons. As many of you might know, the jinchūriki of the Kyuubi was a part of this village until recently." Minato kept his face straight and voice steady as he mentioned his missing son. "However, that's not entirely true. In an act of subterfuge, I took the real jinchūriki with me. I trained her until I felt she was ready to become the protector of Konoha that she was always meant to be. She is my daughter, Narumi."
The entire meeting fell silent as everyone processed the news. Many were struggling to accept that the boy would had once been a part of their village was not actually the jinchūriki they had thought him to be. Most present never had an issue with the boy, but they all knew that his life had never been an easy one. Although they were uncomfortable with his treatment, they could understand the need for hiding the truth.
"Forgive me Hokage-sama, but I can't help think how much that boy, Naruto, looked like you." Minato almost flinched at the question. He had expected it to be asked, but had hoped it wouldn't be.
"Yes, that boy was my other child, Naruto." Once more no one in the meeting could find any words. To even contemplate how many times they had ignored the boy instead of helping him left them feeling uneasy. He was the son of one of their greatest heroes, whether or not that hero had left them, and they had failed to provide the support that he deserved.
At the same time, almost all immediately supported their own wayward leader. No matter his reasons, he had been willing to sacrifice someone near to his heart to protect the village in a time of need. He had given up much to protect them and in return they failed to protect a single child.
'As much as it pains me, they really did fall right in line after I revealed the truth. The very fact that I had to use my own mistakes to regain their trust hurts.' Not wanting to let anyone know how unhappy he was, he composed himself and motioned for their attention.
"I must ask something of you all. I fear in the coming days that we shall lose what peace we have and Konoha will once more need to be defended. I ask that you all stand behind me in protecting our great village." As the crowd cheered Minato couldn't help but smile. 'Perhaps things won't be as bad as I had feared.'
One of Many Hidden Bases
Naruto was relaxing after a long day of training. He rarely had time to laze around, quite frankly he was surprised that Orochimaru had decided to let him off earlier than usual. Normally he trained until he needed to rest. That or whenever Orochimaru had the compulsion to run some painful tests or experiment upon him some more.
Truth be told though, Naruto actually felt as if this life was marginally better than his previous one in Konoha. He was actually learning how to properly fight and protect himself. He also never wanted for anything, Orochimaru supplied anything he needed. Finally, Naruto knew that as long as he was useful, he wouldn't be killed. That was more than could have been said for his later years in Konoha.
Despite that, he was still unhappy with being forced to serve a madman. It wouldn't have been terrible had Naruto been like the others, who were allowed to leave and take missions. The fact that he was almost perpetually stuck in an underground base wasn't something he enjoyed. That also meant that he had to be around the snake bastard even more, which pissed him off. His life might be better, but he still hated Orochimaru's guts.
"Hello Naruto-kun." Of course that rotten bastard wouldn't leave him alone. He seemed to have an innate sense of when to arrive to best ruin Naruto's mood. Naruto's fists clenched in anger as he turned to face Orochimaru, who had, as always, snuck into his room quite easily.
"To what do I owe the great pleasure Orochimaru-sama?" The sarcasm was quite plain to hear in Naruto's voice. Despite the fact that Naruto was openly mocking Orochimaru, the man merely chuckled.
"Why, I'm here to talk to you about your parents and Konoha." That caught Naruto's attention. It also brought with it a jumble of mixed emotions that he really didn't feel like trying to sort out.
"Forgive me if I'm not in the mood to talk about that." Glaring at Orochimaru, Naruto entire posture indicated his anger. Not even the memory of a hundred instances of discipline could stop Naruto from standing up to Orochimaru now. Oddly enough, Orochimaru seemed pleased with his reaction.
"Don't worry, if you want I can do all the talking." The way Orochimaru was acting was throwing Naruto off. His was still pissed at the snake bastard, but that was now tinged with weariness.
"Shall I tell you a story? There was once a new family who were torn apart by foolish decisions and poor reasoning. They fled like cowards and left a newborn child to shoulder a terrible burden. That child grew up hated and abused, until one day it finally cracked. Cast away by all, the child rotted away. One day, it's family came back, without a care in the world, safe from the violence visited upon the child to once more take their rightful place. You were quite the convenient scapegoat Naruto-kun. They used you." The sheer delight with which Orochimaru taunted Naruto was sickening. It certainly was not the first time that Naruto felt like striking out against the man. He instead settled for an angry retort.
"No more than you have and are continuing to." If it was possible the glee in both the man's face and voice became even more evident.
"Kukuku, what I've done has made you greater, not diminished you. You should be thankful that I found you." As much as he hated to admit it, there was some truth behind the man's words. Naruto had certainly grown greatly during his time spent in hell. Whether it was under the knife or on the training field, all of Naruto's improvements were a direct result of Orochimaru's aid. Didn't mean that Naruto liked the man.
"I'd be thankful if I never saw you again." Chuckling, Orochimaru strode closer to Naruto who tried his best not to flinch.
"Now, now Naruto-kun, if you continue to be so ungrateful I may have to punish you. Besides, who else but I can lead you to the revenge that you desire?" The sudden change from insults to an offer of aid caught Naruto's attention.
"Who said I wanted revenge?" He'd be lying if he said the thought had never crossed his mind, but it certainly wasn't a goal of his. What was Orochimaru trying to get at?
"Oh come now Naruto-kun, you're feelings of resentment are clear for any to see. Why don't you act upon all that hatred and anger you feel? They deserve to face consequences for their actions and you should be the one to punish them." Naruto's eyes widened in surprise. Again, the thought had crossed his mind before but he hadn't actually considered going through with it before. Validation from someone else, even someone like Orochimaru, made the prospect seem more feasible. He looked down as the thought began to take hold of his mind.
"Punish them?" With a terrifying grin on his face Orochimaru nodded, not that Naruto could see. Opening his mouth to speak once more, Naruto looked up only to see an empty room. Although annoyed at Orochimaru's abrupt departure, Naruto was thankful for being left alone. He needed to think.
As usual, Kabuto was waiting for Orochimaru just outside Naruto's chambers. He always loved to inject himself into anything interesting that he could, doubly so when it involved Naruto.
"You are certainly fond of antagonizing the poor boy Orochimaru-sama." Kabuto's voice made it clear that he was amused by what had transpired.
"Everything I do, I do to help him. Don't you feel as if Naruto-kun deserves to strike back against those who made his life hell? I'm merely pushing him towards the correct answer. After all, a mind clouded by anger is so much more prone to make rash decisions. " Kabuto shook his head in disapproval, but the smirk on his face betrayed him.
"It sounds as if you are merely using him for your own ends. Manipulating a poor boy who has suffered to do your dirty work." Orochimaru chuckled disparagingly.
"It is just coincidence that our goals align. I must admit though, he certainly would be useful in aiding me. Having the son of the recently returned Yondaime Hokage attacking Konoha or even another target would certainly sow the seeds of war." Dropping his act, Kabuto couldn't help but laugh.
"All joking aside, do you really think he can be used effectively? He certainly has been outspoken in his distaste of you." It was Orochimaru's turn to laugh, a sound that Kabuto still found chilling.
"My plans are nowhere near complete. Pieces still need to moved and pawns gathered. The other side is also still shrouded in darkness. While I prepare, Naruto will continue to be slowly egged towards choosing to help of his own volition. He will be the catalyst that sets all others into motion."
"Should I keep an eye on him then?" Orochimaru was silent a moment before responding.
"Yes, but not right now. I have pressing matters for you to attend to. Let him stew on his own for now, already he has thoughts of revenge." Kabuto nodded but frowned.
"Pressing matters? That presents a problem. I will rarely be around to watch him as preparations increase, someone else should also watch him. Perhaps if we threw someone into his path he could be watched far better than even I could achieve." Orochimaru knew exactly what Kabuto was getting at. It was also an excellent suggestion, something he himself had been contemplating.
"Yes and I already have the perfect candidate in mind."
Minato was looking forward to this meeting slightly more than his last one. He was meeting with Konoha's two councillors, Mitokado Homura and Utatane Koharu, to speak about the current situation in Konoha. Both the councillors were getting on in years, but they both retained sharp minds that garnered them the respect of the shinobi of Konoha.
"We are grateful that you decided to speak with us Hokage-sama." Homura was a bespectacled man whose face barely showed his age, though both his grey hair and beard certainly did.
"Unfortunately, we meet under less than desirable circumstances." Koharu was not as fortunate as her fellow councillor and her age showed greatly in all of her features.
"Though I am glad to see the both of you again, I do not like the sound of that." Minato had been hoping that he would simply have to reiterate what he had told Tsunade and then perhaps discuss some current political matters.
"Allow me to get straight to the point by saying that your absence has caused as many problems as it may have solved." Koharu did not want to fool about with idle chatter and was cutting straight to the heart of the matter.
"While I agree with her sentiments, I wouldn't have been so blunt in delivering them." Minato wasn't happy that he was being spoken to so disrespectfully, but managed to keep his anger in check. The two only had Konoha's best interests at heart.
"Do you not wish to hear why I left?" While both councillors shook their heads, it was Homura who responded.
"Tsunade has already informed us and although we think the decision was rash, we respect it."
"Very well. Please explain what you said earlier, although perhaps you should remember who I am when speaking to me." Neither councillor seemed that bothered by the reprimand.
"Before that, could you tell us how your earlier meeting went?" Minato didn't like the implications of their question.
"It seemed to go rather well, although I was slightly worried at the beginning." Both councillors shared a pointed look before turning back to Minato.
"From what we have been able to gather, you are mistaken in your thinking. Danzo also separately confirmed our fears. It seems as if many shinobi are still rather bitter about your disappearance." Minato looked at Koharu in shock. From everything that he had been able to see, his return had been grudgingly accepted. Even worse, that was just the beginning of what Koharu had to say.
"Of course, that doesn't even begin to cover the villagers. While most shinobi will still follow any orders you give them, the civilians are significantly less loyal. There have been murmurs of discontent throughout much of the village. It seems as if they hold a hatred of you. When you left our village was still recovering and many see your disappearance as a great betrayal. There have been talks of open rebellion." Nothing could have prepared Minato for that.
"How can they possibly think that? I gave up my own children to protect them!" Once again the two councillors shared a look, although this time they were noticeably on edge due to the outburst.
"What is deemed to be true has little bearing on reality. They don't see it the same way and that difference in perception is what really matters. The reasoning behind your departure means little to them in light of the simple fact that you did leave."
Minato sat in a daze, unable to comprehend how everything was going so wrong. It all started with his return and learning that his son was gone. Now he's mistrusted by a portion of his shinobi and outright hated by a portion of the civilians.
"Perhaps we should speak of this when you are more settled Hokage-sama, you seem out of sorts. We shall continue to monitor the situation and take any appropriate actions in your stead." Not liking the truth behind the statement, Minato nodded nonetheless.
"You might be right. It seems as if both Konoha and I need some time." With that said, Minato left the two advisers. He was intent on finding his wife and daughter and relaxing at home. He needed time to think through everything.
The Next Day
Narumi was walking with her father through the streets of a village she had barely seen, but felt as if she knew intimately. All her life she had been told stories of Konoha and its people and she had grown to love them as if she too had been living amongst these crowded streets. However, not everything was exactly as she had imagined it. Where she had once imagined joyous people, she know saw either awe or contempt.
She had a feeling she knew why as well. There were those who couldn't believe that their saviour once more walked the street. Then there were those who couldn't believe that that very same saviour had abandoned them for so long. Hopefully with time everything would be righted.
"Otou-san, when are we going to be looking for Nii-san?" Her brother had been on Narumi's mind a lot lately. She had been so looking forward to finally meeting her brother only to find out that he was in trouble.
"I'm sorry to say Narumi-chan that we won't be able to search for him any time soon.
"What do you mean we aren't going out to search for Nii-san? What about striking at Orochimaru to help him out?"
"I'm sorry Narumi-chan, but we're in a difficult position at the moment. Attacking Orochimaru's base of operations is also out of the question." Narumi didn't care what kind of difficult position they were in. Her brother needed help and they were simply going to sit on the sides once more.
"I don't care about any of that! Nii-san needs our help!"
"I wish thing were as simple as that, I really do. The truth is is that our return hasn't been a welcoming one. Many of the shinobi are discontent and many civilians outright furious. If I was to leave once more, I fear what their reaction might be. By the same reasoning, I also can't simply order what essentially boils down to a declaration of war." Minato could barely look at his daughter; he found the ground to be much easier to stare at.
"But you're the Hokage, they can't stop you from doing whatever you like!" Sometimes Minato wished he could be as naive as his daughter.
"You cannot breathe a word of this to anyone, but there has been talk of rebellion. The disenfranchised of the village finally have a cause to rally behind and we would do well to avoid giving them more ammunition." Although Narumi was shocked at the thought of a rebellion, she still wouldn't stop trying to convince her father.
"You're just hiding behind more reasons while pretending like you aren't abandoning him again!" As soon as the words left her mouth, Narumi's eyes grew wide. While she was angry, she certainly hadn't meant to say anything cruel like that. Judging by how Minato had flinched as if struck, what she had said was indeed terribly cruel.
"I-I'm so sorry. I didn't mean that at all."
"No, I know how frustrated you're feeling right now. Please don't think I'm doing nothing though, Jiraiya has been tasked with searching for Naruto and I've also sent a squad I trust to help. Between them they should be able to find Naruto. For now we have to focus on the problems here in the village. We just have to place our trust in others for the moment. Once things are settled a more concentrated effort can be made to find him. We'll be able to go out and search for him together."
Narumi nodded in agreement, thankful that there was still effort being put into finding her brother. However, she still felt that it wasn't enough. She wanted to be out there searching as well. She would wait for a bit, trusting in her father's decision, but one way or another she would go out and search, with or without her father's blessing.
Still alive and back with the longest chapter yet. Unfortunately, my updates will continue to be slow as school has started and I'm incredibly busy. Hopefully once things calm down and become routine I'll be able to get back to more regular updates, but for now that's impossible. Also, that means I'm doing less proof-reading than usual, so you'll probably find a few more errors than usual.
I've always found it odd how Konoha automatically loves the returned Hokage. People usually tend to deal very poorly with being abandoned; isn't that the premise of most 'parents still alive' fics? I'm trying to portray characters realistically so I went with Minato being unwelcomed by most of Konoha. Also, Konoha only has two councillors, which makes me wonder how council bashing has become so popular, as there isn't even really one to begin with.
Awesome news, I have a brand new story out, The Folly of Man, which if you haven't read you totally should. It's certainly a lot different of a story than my other two, but I hope that it's still an enjoyable read.
Finally, a giant tree, really?