The edits were primarily grammatical, and I changed something in every paragraph, that's how bad it was, but hopefully it reads better now.
Disclaimer: Anything you recognize isn't mine.
Title: Sealed in a Coffin
Summary: When the third member of Team 7 dies, the Council must beg Uzumaki Naruto to join it so that Team 7 can enter the Chuunin Exams.
Author's Note: I haven't written creatively in at least a year and it's been many many years since I wrote fanfiction, so I apologize in advance for any grammar, formatting, or plotline issues. I don't have a beta, but I do reread over most of the chapter multiple times. Reviews are welcome, but not necessary. For me, this was just a nice exercise to ease me back into writing. :)
I hope you enjoy it.
YOU SHOULD PROBABLY READ THE BOLD RANT BELOW. THE MAJORITY OF IT IS USEFUL! I moved this to the bottom earlier, but people kept reviewing with comments that the rant below explains. Seriously.
To all the people who have hated this story because of its premise and finished reading the first chapter or more just to complain and rant, I'm so glad you read this (the story) because there's nothing that I like more than wasting an imbecile's time. I mean, really. This chapter is long. Spend your time doing something you like, not reading a story you can't believe in. If you can't suspend your belief, then get out. I'm tired of reading reviews that are nothing but nagging in hopes that there's something useful for me in there. I'm thankful for criticism, but criticism isn't the same as pettiness.
For people on the cusp of this:
1) Yes, I know that the Hokage should have more power over the Council since Konoha is a shinobi village, but the Sandaime lets his village get away with a lot; he's democratic. If I were him and decreed the 'you can't talk about the Kyuubi' law, I would have executed the people myself. In the village square. With a rusty guillotine, and then proceeded to divvy up their body parts for scientific research.
2) Chapter two mentions Naruto's name meaning 'Fishcake.' YES, I KNOW THAT IT MEANS 'MAELSTROM!' Geez. It's a joke. My mom writes in simplified Chinese while my dad writes traditional; jokes like this are pretty common in my household. I didn't realize that people would get up in arms about it! Because quite honestly, I know that you're annoyed that there are ignorant people out there who do mess this up, but to those of us who read and write Asian languages, this is usually just a funny anecdote to tell someone during an elevator ride.
3) If you have questions about the garden, wait.
4) If you have questions about the title, wait.
5) For the complaint that Kurama is too gary-sue: He's a demon. He's lived for millenia, and you think that he has problems with politics, etiquette, and jutsus? He's had plenty of time to mess up, so he has nothing left to really screw up. Why doesn't he just take over the world, then? Because he's probably done that before, and it probably didn't amuse him, that's why. I see no reason to give Kurama weaknesses, at least, not in the same way that I give Naruto weaknesses. KURAMA IS A DEMON; HE CANNOT DIE; WHAT KIND OF LAME-ASS DEMON KEEPS SCREWING UP AFTER CENTURIES OF PRACTICE?
6) For those that hate what I did with Sakura's parents; suck it up. It's fanfiction canon that Naruto's house gets broken into all the time; this is no different. Why did I bother with that scene? Because I wanted to show that Kurama isn't going to lie down quietly; he has an agenda and nothing will stop him.
*That's all for now. If I get any reoccurring complaints again, I'll post it here. :) I hope that by putting this at the beginning of chapter 1, I can save some time for people.
Sorry to all the people with lovely criticisms or encouraging things to say. I do hope that anything I post here helps you, and thank you, thank you, thank you, for everything.
Uzumaki Naruto knew from a young age that he wasn't like other children. Other children weren't spit upon or mugged; they weren't thrown out of shops and refused service. They weren't guilty until proven innocent. They were loved and cherished like a precious treasures. He didn't mind though, because sure he didn't have a mom or a dad, but he still had his precious people. He had Hokage-jiji and Itachi-san and Iruka-sensei, all whom taught him just the same.
Hokage-jiji taught him how to deal and sort with paperwork, even though Naruto wasn't going to have any when he was Hokage.
Itachi-san taught him all about being a proper shinobi. He taught him how to throw kunai and shuriken, taught him all of his hand seals, his katas… taught him little things every time they met.
But Iruka-sensei was the best. Most of the time, he taught Naruto how to cook, clean, read, write, do laundry, boring stuff, but every once in a while, Iruka would teach him how to prank.
Naruto loved pranking.
He promised the Hokage not to prank him so much because the old man was busy, but everyone else was fair game. And Naruto was all for equality.
He painted the Hokage Mountain, tarred and feathered shinobi, rigged the sound of bees to play every time his least favorite shopkeepers left their shops, making them duck and cover (he thought it was only fair, since they always upped their prices when their least favorite demon child came in). After a month of constant pranking, Iruka made him promise that he would lay off for a while; civilians were jumpy and already paranoid shinobi were becoming even more paranoid.
Naruto agreed, if only because he figured that the anticipation was worse than anything he could think of.
And though his favorite people (who were also the most awesome people in the village, dattebayo!) taught him many things, the one thing that Naruto really wanted to learn was the only thing that they outright refused to tell him: why he was hated. It was a hatred that shinobi and civilians alike agreed on, no matter the vast amount of differences between the two.
At first he thought that it was just one of those things that he would learn with age. All the adults knew it. Maybe his family did something bad, and he would learn about it in an Academy history book. But if that was true, then there was no reason that he couldn't be told right now, right? There was no reason that he had to wait until he was older; he was already six.
The Hokage was very strict on the subject and made Naruto swear that he wouldn't go digging for information. Naruto had never seen the old man so serious, so he agreed. That old man didn't become Hokage for nothing, after all; he'd probably whoop Naruto's ass into next year if he disobeyed.
Asking Iruka made the man stare silently before drilling Naruto on exactly what the villagers did to make him come to the conclusion that they hated him. Iruka in mother-hen mode was a little like a massacre, so Naruto didn't ask him anymore for the sake Konoha's civilians.
Itachi handled the question eloquently. He patted Naruto's head and told him that if he had enough breath to ask questions, he had enough breath to run faster (except that there were less words said and more interpreted silences. It didn't matter though, because Naruto was quickly becoming proficient in Uchiha-ese).
At the end of his lesson, Itachi told him that if the Hokage ordered it, as a good shinobi, he had a duty to follow that order, so Naruto pretended to ignore the glares and focused on his training because that's what good shinobi do. Jiji would tell him when the time was right.
But then jiji said that he couldn't be a shinobi because of the stupid Council.
"But you're the Hokage! They hafta listen to you!" he screamed. He remember Itachi's hand on his head, stilling him
"I wish that were true, my boy…"
"But I'm gonna be Hokage! I'm gonna make the villagers respect and love me, and I'm gonna protect them and save them and-" he screamed, but the old man just smiled sadly at him, the wide brim of his hat dipping down.
"Naruto, Naruto. I know." And he looked so sad when he said those last two words that Naruto stopped his rampage.
"But why?" He asked curiously. It couldn't be jiji's decision if he looked so sad after telling him.
The Hokage gave a weary sigh and pressed a palm against his temple.
"… Is it… is it because of the thing you can't tell me? The reason why the villagers all hate me?" Naruto asked quietly. Itachi dropped his hand to Naruto's shoulder and squeezed gently.
"Then why can't you tell me what it is?! Why does it stop me from being a shinobi? AM I GOING TO DIE? IS THAT IT? I HAVE AN INCURABLE DISEASE?!" the boy shrieked. The other two people in the room gave external sighs.
"No, you don't have a disease, Naruto, but Hokage-sama, perhaps this is the time-" Itachi began.
"Weasel." The Hokage shot him a stern look, but Itachi was unfazed.
"With all due respect, sir, it's more harmful for him not to know. He's already thinking of worse situations," he said. Sarutobi agreed, a little. Naruto had an over-active imagination and would no doubt theorize a worse truth than just being a jailer. Not that being a jinchuuriki wasn't a terrible burden, it was, but at least Naruto's seal was stable. And other than making him the village pariah, sealed demons almost always gave some advantages to their hosts.
Sarutobi stared sadly at his young charge. The Council was afraid that the fox would escape if Naruto learned to utilize chakra. They didn't understand anything about the seal, no matter how many times Sarutobi assured them. Some days Sarutobi wanted to leave the ignorant people on the Council with an unstable jinchuuriki just so that they could see what a living, ticking time bomb was really like. Naruto was nothing like them; he was stable, cheerful, driven…
"Alright," he groused. Naruto's ears perked up.
"What do you know about the Third Shinobi War?" he started.
"The Fourth Hokage kicked butt?" Naruto sheepishly rubbed the back of his head. History never stuck with him.
"Yes, that is true," Sandaime gave a short chuckle. "But there was also a great, nine-tailed demon called the-"
"Kyuubi," Naruto finished. Then he gasped. The Hokage frowned.
"Yes, Naruto, but how did you know that?" The boy shifted from side to side.
"Er… some of the shop keepers call me 'Kyuubi brat' or 'demon scum.' It isn't too hard to put the two together, old man," he replied sheepishly. Itachi's lips pressed together in a firm line while the Sandaime reigned in his anger.
"Naruto. I want you to know that you're not the demon, just its container. The Fourth Hokage wanted you to be known as a hero after he sealed the Kyuubi in you as a baby."
"It's okay, old man! I knew that already! Besides, I'll be fighting for them, so they'll see that I'm not the Kyuubi," Naruto grinned, his left hand holding Itachi's arm as he gestured wildly. Itachi's lips quirked upwards in a fond smile.
"Naruto, they won't let you go to the Academy-" the Hokage said.
"Well…" Naruto thought for a moment, and then his face brightened. "Don't worry jiji! They just don't want me fightin', right? I can just be like your student Tsunade-baa-san! I'll be a super good medic and save thousands of lives and then the village will respect me and then I'll become the Hokage, believe it!" Naruto nodded his head self-assuredly. Sarutobi laughed. No one could suppress Naruto's optimism.
"That's a good dream, but you have a little too much chakra to have fine control over it, Naruto."
"How can ya know that yet?! I don't even know how to use this 'chakra,'" the blond boy replied with air quotes. Itachi swatted his head.
"It's what you use to make a henge, Naruto." Sarutobi could've swore that he saw Itachi's eye roll underneath an askewed Anbu mask that covered only the top part of the teen's face.
"Intuition. But there is an art that I believe that you would excel in, and if you master it, even the Council couldn't hold you back," Sarutobi began.
The boy's blue eyes grew larger as he gazed happily at him. Something that would make those old farts accept him? Dattebayo! Of course he would take it!
"Yeah, old man! I'll be so good at whatever it is that the world shall know me as the god of whatever it is! …Er… what is it?"
Sarutobi chuckled. If Minato's son didn't inherit some of his intuition in Fuuinjutsu, Sarutobi Hiruzen would eat his Hokage hat.
Just a week later, he and Iruka helped Naruto move into the Namikaze compound. He only said that the previous owner wouldn't mind Naruto moving in, and that the compound was well-protected from intruders and that there was a veritable library of fuuinjutsu scrolls. Naruto took it with the grace of a child who listened to his elders when it suited him, and he didn't even question the Hokage when the old man asked him to smear a little blood of his blood on the door. (He learned later that it was a Clan preservation seal that would only disengage when someone with a blood bond to the family smeared blood on it, and that led to him finding out who his father was.)
Iruka helped the boy acquaint himself with his new home while Sarutobi walked around the compound. Iruka didn't know what he expected, but he didn't expect to see dustless room stripped of personality but still full of furniture. Even the Hyuuga clan's rooms had more personality than this! The living room was colorless, but the couch was comfortable and the bookcases looked sturdy but didn't have a single book on them. As he inspected the rooms, checking for traps, he heard Naruto's exclamations of happiness.
"Look! Iruka! Hot water!"
"No more mold in my kitchen!"
"Sugoi! All of the windows have glass!"
And not for the first since he'd met Naruto, Iruka considered killing the orphanage matron.
"Come on, Naruto. Let's go pick a bedroom for you," Iruka ushered the boy into a hallway. The compound wasn't large, but it was built in a square formation with a courtyard in the middle. When guests entered, they passed through a long walkway where herbs, fruits, and vegetables were grown on both sides. Then, after they took off their shoes in the entryway, a sliding door in front of them opened to expose the view of the courtyard within, which held flowers instead of food, and a large, clear pond in the middle. Around the large pond was smaller ponds which held varieties of fish.
Traveling through the hallways on either side led to the kitchen, empty rooms, and several studies (without books). It puzzled Iruka when he explored, but the Hokage chuckled at his confusion and called for Naruto to him. They stood at the back of the back of the compound, in a hallway that faced the tall, stone wall that encased the compound.
"Naruto, could you please smear a little more of your blood on this wall?" the Hokage said. Naruto quirked a brow.
"Ok, jiji, but I think you might be going c-r-a-z-y…" but he did as he was told. The wall shimmered for a moment before a door appeared.
"Oh, good. I wasn't sure if the seals were deteriorated too much for that to work," the Hokage chuckled. Iruka's and Naruto's jaws hit the floor.
"…Ji-jiji! Is that what I'm gonna learn?" the boy exclaimed excitedly. The Hokage opened the door and nudged the two towards a previously hidden hallway.
The newly uncovered rooms had enough personality to make up for the frontal rooms. They were bright and eclectic. Orange chairs sat in a room with a purple couch in the secondary living room. The bedrooms were small, but cozy. Sarutobi stood next to Iruka, speaking softly.
"After the hundredth assassination attempt, the owner moved his living quarters back here and sealed them up. Only people without harmful intent and loyalty to the family can come through. He kept those front rooms for entertaining formal guests and assassins. I asked him what happened if someone tried to land in the "backyard," and he said that the assassin would sail over the actual rooms and land on the roof of the back of the square. Ingenious, really." Namikaze Minato was such an extraordinary shinobi that it made his death fatal blow to Konoha's power and made Sarutobi's search for a second successor that much harder. But if Minato was extraordinary when he picked up fuuinjutsu in his twenties, then Naruto would be legendary if he started now.
"I understand that you requested to live with Naruto, but your move and his disappearance from his apartment without a change of address would raise questions, especially so close to the Kyuubi festival. Eventually, someone is going to follow you and end up here. Now, I firmly believe in Minato's seals, but I don't expect anyone else to have the same blind devotion as me. I hope that after you've seen Minato's handiwork that you could entrust Naruto's safety to this house," Sarutobi finished. With his peripheral vision, he saw the sad understanding in Iruka's eyes. It'll be alright; it wasn't like Sarutobi banned them from having ramen together.
After they left, Naruto paced around his new bedroom nervously. Iruka made some fried rice before he left, looking decidedly uncomfortable in the pink and white kitchen; jiji, on the other hand, seemed perfectly at home. They left right after dinner, but before that, they left several books on chakra, history, etiquette, and calligraphy. Fuuinjutsu, jiji explained, would only work if Naruto fixed his handwriting, which looked like meaningless fuuinjutsu diagrams themselves.
Naruto stacked the books on the floor by his bed and willed himself to sleep, but sleep didn't come easily. He had to succeed. Jiji said that if he managed to learn fuuinjutsu, there was no way that the Council could refuse to let him be a shinobi, but what if he wasn't good at it? What if he couldn't do it at all?
No. He could do it! He wouldn't let any of his precious people down.
"Hey Naruto, I have an assignment for you," Iruka said, holding a slightly crumpled mission report at arm length as he glared at it.
"Yeah, sensei?" Naruto swung his legs off the stool and ambled to the man's side. Iruka directed a sigh towards the ceiling.
"A new missions desk chuunin let this report through, but it's practically illegible. I was wondering if you could transcribe it for me. Usually I'd hunt the shinobi involved, but you need to practice your handwriting, and this mission isn't classified."
Naruto nodded his head, took the report, and went to sit on his stool again. After a week of studying the books, he'd only made progress on the calligraphy. He'd felt stupid after rereading the same passage about chakra for the third time, then failing to do the chakra control exercise that the chapter outlined after trying for the whole day, but Iruka assured him that he only needed better studying methods. Iruka's kind words encouraged him to try harder.
Naruto squinted at the pages.
"This isn't so bad, sensei! We could both easily read this!" he exclaimed. Iruka smiled.
"That's because I'm constantly grading Academy students' essays, and your handwriting used to be as bad as that. Trust me; we're a part of the small percentage of shinobi that can read that report."
"Whatever, sensei." Iruka's chuckled at Naruto's consequential pout. Iruka would have liked to say that the two sat in silence and were extremely productive, but silence was never possible when Naruto was involved. He would transcribe a paragraph, then a nin would arrive to turn in his report, which Iruka would look over and mostly likely reject (because for some ungodly reason, most nin, especially Anbu, thought that they could get away with turning in reports with five lines and written on the back of a muddy receipt just because the mission was classified and no one other than the Hokage would read it), and Naruto would rapid fire questions about shinobi life. Within two hours, Iruka warded off five death threats, none of which had to do with Naruto's secret.
"How much have you finished?" Iruka asked an hour before his shift was over. Naruto sat beside him, tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth as he concentrated on forming his letters.
"Almost there!" Naruto waved a dismissive hand towards Iruka, who smiled to himself and kept quiet until the boy finished.
"All done!" Naruto thrust a finished, transcribed report under Iruka's nose. The man hummed and began leafing through the papers. He circled several spelling errors that Naruto made. Then, he handed the marked paper back. Naruto groaned.
"Your handwriting has definitely improved, but you made some mistakes. I expect a revised copy tomorrow." Naruto wasn't tricked by those eye-smiles; the man was pure evil.
"If you do well tomorrow, I promise to treat you to Ichiraku's."
"Mmff? Itachi? Waah you doin' here?" He mumbled as he faced the shadow crouched on his window sill. The man's Anbu mask was skewed on his face, so that Naruto could see the spinning wheels of the Sharingan.
"I'm going to be leaving Konoha for a while. I-"
"Wait! Why?! You can't lea-"
"Naruto. I'm leaving. I'm here to tell you that you should start to harness the Kyuubi's power."
"Its… power? But I don't want to be a demon!"
"Don't be foolish. You two are separate beings, but you can draw on the beast's chakra, which is more potent than human chakra. It'll be best if you learn to utilize it," Itachi finished. With the moonlight framing his crouched figure, Itachi looked more like an Anbu than all the times that Naruto saw him bloody and triumphant in the Hokage's office. He nodded mutely.
"What about your brother? He'll miss you." 'I'll miss you.'
Itachi sighed: partly fond, partly exasperated.
"Do not worry about my brother; that's taken care of," and then he leapt off the window sill and down the wall. If not for the Uchiha massacre that happened that same night, Naruto would have sworn it was all a dream.
"Why did Itachi leave?" he asked the next morning. When the Hokage didn't answer him, Naruto didn't ask him again. The old man had bigger and more important things to do than to sugarcoat things for a child, even if Naruto didn't need that kind of care.
It didn't make sense for Itachi to murder his entire clan, but, Naruto supposed, if he had to, Itachi wouldspare his younger brother. That ruled out an imposter because any imposter would have let Itachi's mom and dad live too.
But Itachi wasn't blood-thirsty. He didn't play games or joke around, but he was still a good person and unrelatedly, the perfect Anbu. For him to kill his clan…
… and for him to visit Naruto the same night…
"Are you sure that I can't go to the Academy?" He never met Itachi's younger brother, but surely they could be friends.
"…I'm afraid not, Naruto… but how are your studies coming along? I heard from Iruka-kun that your calligraphy and handwriting has really improved."
None of the occupants in the room commented on the blatant misdirection.
Later, when Itachi was declared a nukenin, Naruto wondered if jiji was going senile, because even he knew that Itachi didn't kill without orders from a superior.
(Unless the orders were from jiji and the old man was fooling everyone.)
For the first time, Naruto felt a drop of gratefulness towards the Council, because there was a dark side to everything, and for shinobi, this was it.
"Make sure that your hand is steady."
"Your last stroke was a little sloppy."
"Is the ink too watery?" Iruka twittered above Naruto, scrutinizing the soon-to-be explosive tag.
"I got this, sensei!" the boy snapped back, but Iruka saw the beads of sweat on the blond's face. Before they could purchase the appropriate paper, the Hokage informed them about the dangers of an incorrect seal, complete with a slideshow of pictures.
"Are those fu-"
"Yes, sensei. They're pointed in the right direction." Naruto rolled his eyes as he stood up and admired his handiwork. The complete seal was obviously drawn by an amateur, but it was precise enough for the seal to still work. Well, hopefully.
"Ready sensei?!" Naruto turned expectantly at Iruka. Iruka gave a quick prayer to the shinobi gods and nodded. The duo stood in one of the lesser used training grounds, one filled with enough potholes and rocks for them to hide behind.
"Okay. Kage no Bushin!" And a second Naruto popped onto the field. That jutsu was the first one he'd ever learned, and a kinjutsu at that. The Hokage stressed the importance of its secrecy, but taught it to the blond anyways because using solid clones allowed Naruto to test seals without being in any real danger.
"Heya Boss!" it waved.
"Ok soldier! Time to activate the explosive tag!"
The original Naruto and Iruka hid behind a rock.
"Here I go!" the clone screamed.
…pop!… BBBBBBBBBBBBBBAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM MMMM!
Iruka immediately pulled a standing Naruto down behind the rock, crouching down as small as they could go. All around them tree branches and debris flew. The all-encompassing light left spots in their eyes minutes after they'd closed them. In his head, Iruka thanked the Hokage for teaching Naruto shadow clones.
"Er… so we know that it works?" Naruto stated hesitantly. Iruka held a hand to his heart; teaching Naruto was more dangerous than assassinations.
"…yeah… maybe less chakra next time?" he replied when his heartbeats returned to normal.
"…yeah… that stupid clone put his all into it, too enthusiastic… but at least he popped before the exploding tag ignited. It would have sucked to die that way…"
They stood up and stared at the center of the training grounds, taking in the crater and the scorch marks on the trees. Anbu arrived an instant later, questioning them and assessing the damage, but the duo stared absently at Naruto's handiwork.
They spent the next three months working exclusively with different types of explosive tags, if only so they could create a controlled version of the huge explosive they saw with the first tag.
"Old man! I can earn my keep now!" Naruto stood on the other side of the Sandaime's desk, head lolling left and right on the wood. Two years of living in the compound and eating healthy did wonders to the boy's stature. He was still a little on the short side, but now he was at a healthy weight.
"I've told you before, Naruto, that your allowance is from the orphan fund-"
"-I know that, but you and Iruka-nii are always giving me gifts or treating me to ramen. I just wanted to make some money so that I could take you guys out to ramen…" the boy blushed, looking away from the Hokage even though his head was still on the desk.
Sarutobi chuckled. The blond must have found out that Iruka's birthday was coming up soon.
"Okay, Naruto. What are you suggesting?"
"So, last Friday I was with Iruka-nii at the missions desk, and this Hunter came in with this head wrapped up in a shirt, and Iruka shrieked because it smelled to high heaven and was dripping everywhere! The hunter said that she had to drop off the head immediately because she was dripping all over the floor too," at this, Naruto motioned with his arms the size of the wound. Sarutobi nodded.
"And she dropped off these slashed scrolls. I knew they were storage scrolls, so I asked sensei why didn't she just put the head in there, but apparently damaged scrolls can't be used because the seal is disrupted, and apparently scrolls like that are always damaged in a fight because they're so noticeable, so I said, why don't they just carry smaller scrolls? But then sensei said that the seals can't be condensed to fit in that tiny space." Naruto stopped and rummaged through his pockets.
"So, I thought, why don't they just put shrinking seals on the scrolls, because I'd just read about them. Turns out, they're a little too big to put on the handle of the scroll, which is where I would put it. I mean, it guess that I could integrate it with the storage seal, but then there's always a chance that I might make the item super tiny… And the storage seal stable, and I'm not good enough yet to mess with time-space seals, so this way's just easier. I made some modifications to the shrinking seal, just several substitutions, and after several tries, I made what I wanted!" He lifted his hands and in them was a scroll the size of finger.
"And it's super easy to use! At first I made the seal activated by putting chakra in it, but I thought, what if someone poached it? I mean, if kids can pickpocket, then there's no reason that shinobi can't pickpocket each other, right? So I made it blood activated, like the clan house seals, and bam! Personalized Hunter nin scrolls!" He held one out.
The Hokage picked it up and inspected it. The seals were clean, free of errant twigs in the brush, and the seals were simple enough that he mostly sure what was going on. Amazing. If this worked as well as Naruto said, the Hunters would be worshipping the boy!
"But I'm not sure about deterioration of the seal. All the scrolls said that it wouldn't last more than ten years, but I'm almost positive that it'll last at least seven. But if they need for it to last longer, I could-"
"No, no. Hunter nin usually retire before their tenth year. And we could issue new ones after five years. But, who is this scroll attuned to?"
"Oh! Well, that one's mine. I've been field testing it with groceries and stuff. It's held up for two months so far." Sarutobi stared incredulously at Naruto's peace sign.
'This boy…' he thought fondly.
"Alright. Could you make one for me? I need to present it to the Oinin Captain for approval, then I'll need you to make more so that they can do actual field testing. If they like it, I'll draw up a contract for you, and we'll bring Iruka to make sure that you understand everything."
"Yatta, old man! I already made a complete seal; I just need your blood to complete it." At this, he drew out a normal sized scroll and held it sideways to the Hokage.
"Just put several drops of blood in the middle of that circle there. On both sides," he pointed to the center of the handle, where a clear spot was, surrounded by tiny fuuinjutsu scribbles.
"What happens if blood gets on the seal instead of in the center?" He asked curiously.
"Nothing, really. That just makes the scroll smell faintly of blood. If the blood only gets in the circle, then the seal absorbs it all," he shrugged. "I figured it's not such a big deal as long as you don't stab yourself too deep to get some blood."
The Hokage bit his thumb and let several drops of blood land into each circle. The blood instantly disappeared. Nodding to himself, Naruto took back the scroll and drew a symbol over the circle where the blood disappeared into, "so that blood relatives can't use it," he supplied.
Sarutobi nodded. Angry relatives stealing family heirlooms was a common problem, one that was hard to fix since blood seals were considering the most secure.
A firefly light flashed from the sealed end as Naruto put chakra in it.
"All done!" the scroll remained its original size. "So, to make it smaller and back, just rub little of your blood on the handles and push some chakra into it as well. Oh, and the blood needs to be fresh, so if the owner dies, it's gonna be a pain to force open the seal, and you can't open the scroll unless it's in its original form, so the size seal doubles as a security thing." Naruto finished proudly.
Sarutobi mentally agreed that it was well deserved.
"I'll send a messenger hawk after the Oinin captain has decided."
"Ok jiji! But he's going to agree because I'm awesome! Dattebayo! Take that, stupid Council!" Naruto yelled, shaking his fists angrily at the sky as he walked out of the office.
After learning the Academy three, it seemed as if Naruto's interest in the shinobi arts dwindled. Iruka didn't know whether to be happy or concerned because Naruto's disinterest was proportional to his devotion to fuuinjutsu. He still did his taijutsu katas, but he had virtually no interest in ninjutsu.
Iruka never though that there would be a day when he encouraged a student to learn the subject. They usually did just fine with that themselves.
He'd brought several scrolls with D-ranked jutsus to the compound and introduced each one to Naruto. The boy listened attentively, but after a moment's thought, he reached for the Doton. Really? Out of a pile with Katon (always a favorite), Suiton, Futon, and Doton techniques, the boy chose Doton. Really?
"Er… are you sure?" Iruka stared at the scroll as if it were the goldfish in a pile of trout.
"Huh? Of course! This is perfect for filling up any holes I make on the training grounds! Last time we tested that exploding tag, jiji made me fill in all those holes by myself while you were at the Academy teaching. I mean, sure, I got paid, but I wasn't allowed to use Kage Bushin at all!" he wailed.
'Put that way…' Iruka shook his head. At least Naruto picked a useful (to him) jutsu instead of a flashy one.
'When did he start growing up?' he thought fondly. True to karma, Naruto made the hand seals right there. In the living room.
…ru—m-b-l-e… rum—bl—e… rumb-le… rumble…. RUMBLE…. RUMBLE RUMBLE RUMBLE-
And then an earthen wall sprang up from the floorboards, ruining everything in its path.
"Hehe…probably should have done that outside." Naruto scratched the back of his head sheepishly.
'Hello, kit.' Naruto craned his neck as he glanced at the giant demon fox in his head… stomach… body. Whatever.
"Kyuubi," he replied. The fox stared at him for several seconds more before laying down and resting his head on his front paws.
'You have finally taken that cursed man's words to heart,' it stated, yawning. Its long canines glinted dangerously in the dim light.
"Itachi? Yeah…" Naruto mumbled distractedly, still taking in the sight of the demon fox. A demon in his body! He watched the flowing tails, thrumming up and down impatiently, the sharpened claws, the elongated canines, the smug grin… If anything was nightmare personified, it would be this.
The fox gave him another disinterested glance before closing its eyes.
"I want to offer a truce," the boy said. The Kyuubi slept on.
'So that I won't try to devour your soul whole? Again?'
Naruto remembered the last time he almost died while testing a new seal. Not fun times.
"Yes. But because I think that your chakra could be key to making some of the more intricate seals work." Or kill him. But Fortune favors the bold, and he was certainly being very bold.
'And why, puny human, should I care about that?'
This was it. His ace in the hole.
"Because I think that I can give you a corporeal form. I-"
'Impertinent brat! Do not lie to me! The Shinigami's will cannot be bypassed!' It reared its head, tailed lashing at the sewer walls as its angry eyes bore into Naruto's soul. The boy willed himself to speak, but his legs trembled.
He took in a deep breath.
"STUPID FOX! Do you think that I would offer something like that if I wasn't sure that it could happen?! No one's stupid enough to lie to a freakin' demon! I've been in library for months reading the theoretical Uzumaki scrolls. The seals are complete, but are 'impossible' only because the energy required to fuel one is astronomical. That's where you come in. Teach me how to harness your chakra like Itachi said, and I can create a bushin body for you."
'Hm, tell me, boy, what use would I have for a bushin body?'
"Well… um… the seals create an elemental bushin, which are linked closely with nature. Because of the matrices, you should be able to channel natural chakra to strengthen your body so that your body won't be weak to the opposite chakra nature. And if I pump enough chakra into the seals, your body won't dispel with hits."
'… show me these seals, kit. Your idea has merit, but I will judge its practicality myself,' Kyuubi said quietly, eyes opening.
"Um, how do I do that?"
'Just think of the memory, and I will be able to see it.'
The sewer walls shimmered before color bled onto them. Naruto spun around in circles, fascinated as his memories played on the wall for the Kyuubi to see.
"The author of the scrolls said that whenever he tried to create one of those bushin, the seals on his hands, the second and third, fizzled out. He theorized that it was because he didn't have enough chakra or chakra control to make the chakra flow into the symbols and stay there. The one on the ground worked fine, though.
I figured that if I used your chakra, which is stronger, I won't have to worry keeping a steady amount flowing to the seals as much; I'd just have to put in a little bit of your chakra once or twice to activate the seals."
'And if you screw up, you could explode your hands off,' Kyuubi snorted. Naruto grimaced at the thought.
"And then you'll just heal them. Because I don't think that you want a hands-less vessel if you can help it, and I would have blown off my hands for you," Naruto replied cheekily. Kyuubi's canines made another appearance as it grinned.
'I could kill all of you once I'm in that bushin.'
"I thought about that too. Only your spirit would transfer into the bushin; your chakra and essence would still remain with me. And since natural chakra is less potent than demon chakra, any techniques that you'll try to use will probably fail. So you'll just be able to roam around. I mean, this place is pretty depressing," he spread his arms around. Water dripped from the sewer ceiling. At least, he hoped it was water.
'… you have thought this through. I approve. You may call me Kurama, kit.'
"Er… thank you, Kurama-sama."
'I am surprised, though, that you did not ask me why I destroyed your miserable village,' Kurama asked off-handedly as Naruto was preparing to leave. The boy looked up.
"Honestly? I'm afraid of your answer." With a rueful smile, Naruto disappeared from his mindscape.
When he was in a mood, Naruto tended to his garden. The courtyard usually maintained itself, considering that it was just full of decorative, pretty flowers. The only thing he found a practical use for were these purple flowers that grew on the roots of Japanese maple by the largest pond. He'd read in one of the books that it was good for coughs and fevers; it was also fragrant and slightly sweet so he frequently boiled it with his tea. The other flowers were only good for attracting bees, which he wasn't fond of at all.
The front yard, however, was filled with useful plants. Along the eastern wall was a large garden already tilled and planted. There were rows for eggplants, carrots, vegetables of all types, and surrounding that plot were fruit trees, but only one of each fruit. It gave him just enough for the season. He could just plant some more if he wanted to sell some.
Along the western wall, beyond poisonous berry bushes, was a plot full of herbs. Naruto and Kurama spent weeks there with an assortment of gardening and plant books, trying to figure out what each herb was. So far, they'd only identified the common ones, such as an herb that he could ground up and make into a paste for burns, and one for itching. He also figured out what poison ivy was the hard way, when he touched a vine growing along the wall.
Naruto realized early on that he could transfer his chakra into the ground and into the plants, which made them healthier. They didn't grow any faster, but once they were done, they rarely had any mutations from crop diseases. That, and channeling chakra made his plants sensitive to him, or more precisely, his chakra.
Once, when Iruka came to visit, they'd entered the herb garden to pick some tea leaves. Iruka approached some of the flowers, fascinated because he'd never seen any like them in Konoha, but as soon as he touched them, they closed. Vines shrank from him too. But when Naruto came up behind him, exclaiming how weird that was, the flowers reopened and vines poked at his ankles.
"Huh. That's strange," he shrugged, but Iruka stood there, thinking.
"You feed them your chakra, right?" he asked.
"Well, yeah. I do the same thing as when I walk on water, but you know, on earth." Naruto shrugged.
"I wonder what would happen if I fed them my chakra… could I try?" Naruto nodded.
Iruka started to spread his chakra into the ground, but the ground repelled it.
'Could it be that the ground is too saturated with Naruto's chakra? What about the air?' Iruka asked himself curiously. He stopped channeling his chakra to his feet and instead made the hand seals.
"Mizu no Bushin!" he cried out loud. A watery image appeared for a second before it dissipated. Seconds later, tree roots shot out of the ground and wrapped themselves around his legs. He stood, trapped and dumbfounded for several minutes before turning towards Naruto, "Well, it looks like I don't have to worry about ninja breaking into your home." Iruka's eyes held a glint as he imagined what would happen to enemy shinobi. He'd only used a minimum amount of chakra because the air was extremely humid, and it wasn't that hard to draw out the water, but if he'd put in any more chakra… he didn't doubt that the root would've encased him, and that the twitching vines would've been added to the fray as well.
"Er, sorry, sensei," the blond apologized as he coaxed the vines to let the man go. Iruka waved his hand dismissively and smiled.
"Don't worry about it, Naruto. They're a good defense. Come. Let's finish picking the tea leaves."
Naruto researched more into giving Kurama a solid form, but was reluctant to try anything until he could copy the seals perfectly. His calligraphy was passable now, much better than most adults and on par with the leaders of the Noble Clans, but it still lacked the easy grace of the calligraphy in the scrolls he read.
A man named Jiraiya added small flourishes to his symbols that didn't affect the seal, but made it more like a design; it also assured that if someone tried to copy it exactly, they would fail if they so much as accidentally made a stroke a millimeter off since it was hard to decipher the necessary from the adornments. Naruto liked to look at his designs, but if he adapted it, it would become cumbersome for very complex seals.
Uzumaki Mito looped her symbols together (when she wasn't drawing teaching diagrams), which must have worked for her, but wouldn't work for him. She could string four separate seals together and make them look like one large one. With a cursory glance, it would look like a very intricate seal, but upon closer inspection, one could spot the separate, simple seals. For her to know exactly which extraneous stokes she could add to confuse enemies and discourage the copying of her original seals spoke to her proficiency. Naruto wasn't that proficient yet, or maybe ever, but she really did have nice handwriting; he liked to read it.
Naruto liked Namikaze Minato's seals the best. They were clean and precise, each character exactly where it should be. They looked like they were easy to copy until Naruto tried, and realized that a stroke too long or too short, a flick at the wrong angle, or lines too thick made the entire character grossly mutated. Every mistake was emphasized.
But he was still inexperienced. He still had time to develop his own style.
He was about to dip is brush into the inkwell for some more practice when his wrist gave a twitch. He sighed; that was Kurama's signal that he should take a break.
"Baka fox, I need to practice to be fuuinjutsu master," he grumbled, but headed towards the kitchen for a snack anyways.
'Brat. You'll never be a decent ninja if you don't practice your other skills,' Kurama growled. 'You have an enormous amount of chakra, yet you don't feel a need to use it. What a waste.' He was sick of watching the boy kneeling on the ground painting squiggly figures. He wanted some action, dammit.
"I use it," the boy shrugged, "I just feel that it's more useful to channel my chakra into the soil to grow my plants. They filter out the poisonous properties of your chakra and use the natural part to their advantage. This way, I'm slowly increasing my capacity while having fresh fruits and vegetables," he shrugged as he grabbed a plate of onigiri and headed towards the courtyard. He loved sitting by the ponds.
The fox mumbled something about how he'd prefer some meat, and maybe a little more eggplant.
'Why don't you use it around Konoha? You'd have a very loyal forest at your beck and call,' Kurama sneered.
Naruto snorted. "And have the chakra sensors on my tail? No thank you. And I saw how violent the plants added when Iruka-sensei used his chakra; if I kept spreading my chakra like I do here, no shinobi would be able to practice ninjutsu again."
Kid was smarter than Kurama gave him credit for.
Naruto walked on top of the largest pond, small ripples spreading from his feet. In his cage, Kurama rolled his eyes; Naruto did chakra control exercises, but didn't use any techniques that required fine control.
'You do know that I am a veritable wealth of ninjutsu, right?'
"And?" Naruto closed his eyes and meditated.
'I could teach you.'
'Brat. I know that you love your fuuinjutsu and all, but ninjutsu has its own perks. You shouldn't dismiss it.'
"I know. It's just… the Council won't let me into the Academy, but jiji said that I had a chance if I learned fuuinjutsu because not many people know it. If I don't master it, then I can't convince the Council that I'm ready to be a shinobi, and then what's the point of knowing ninjutsu? All shinobi know ninjutsu, but not a lot know about fuuinjutsu. I need to prove that they need me, then I can help protect the village…" the boy stared sadly at his food. Kurama stayed silent.
'… brat. Your Council's stupid. You may not be a master now, but you're still young. But I can help you show them that you're irreplaceable.'
"Really?" Naruto looked up from his food even though there was no one in front of him. He should really try to make more progress on creating a body for Kurama if he wanted to avoid feeling like a crazy person.
'Do not doubt me, gaki. I've lived longer than all the miserable humans in your Council combined. Because of your huge chakra reserves, I can teach you demon jutsus. Of course, they're more effective with my chakra, but they'll also be twice as destructive. Because of the amount of chakra needed, it'll practically assure that if anyone other than another jinchuuriki tried to copy the jutsu, they'll be so drained afterwards that they'll feel the chakra drain for days,' Kurama chuckled. That'll show those spinning eyed bastards.
Naruto smiled brightly.
"Rama-chan! That's great! You're like, the best demon ever!" Naruto exclaimed excitedly.
'Don't call me that!'
"Rama!" To be able to do jutsus, like a real shinobi! Iruka would be so happy!
"YOU WHAT?" Pasta fell from Iruka's open mouth. Naruto grimaced.
They were in Iruka's apartment, where Naruto made pasta for his favorite sensei. It was something that Kurama, an unexpected, but fantastic cook, suggested. Maybe they could add in more poblano peppers next time?
"What? You always wanted me to learn ninjutsu." Naruto's forehead crinkled.
"I DID, BUT NOT FROM IT!" Iruka shrieked, then he whispered, "What if it tries to get out?"
"Er… I don't think that he'd do that."
Iruka's eyes narrowed.
Naruto gulped. He probably shouldn't tell Iruka that he already promised the demon a body…
'Tell him that it's because of the seal,' Kurama murmured sleepily.
"It's because of the seal?"
Iruka's eyes narrowed into fine slits before he pointed his fork in Naruto's face.
"Are you sure? What are you hiding from me?"
"…" Naruto went cross-eyed staring at the fork. He blinked as he looked away from it and sighed.
"He just doesn't want a weak vessel, sensei. He told me that they're others like me, and that they'll probably come after me at some point because some of the other demons are c-r-a-z-y. If I die, then he dies, so he's trying to keep me alive for as long as possible."
Iruka sank back into his chair, a hand held to his forehead.
"Alright, but I think that we should tell Hokage-sama immediately," he finally said.
By the time that Naruto was eleven, he was proficient enough in fuuinjutsu to create minor seals, several which were used by the Anbu Corps, and had a long-standing contract with the Oinin for personalized, shrinking bounty scrolls, which gave him a steady income, unlike his commissioned work with the Anbu. The nin quickly overcame their hatred of the boy when faced with the usefulness of his creations.
He was still a long way from being a master, even with his growing list of achievements. The Hokage remarked that it was amazing what he accomplished already, and that he would contact his student Jiraiya to help Naruto with some of the theory that he was having trouble with. It was a shame that Kurama didn't know much about fuuinjutsu because the fox was really good at explanations.
'But,' Naruto supposed, 'If he understood seals, he could probably find a way to meddle with the Shiki Fuuin… yeah…'
He was, however, scarily proficient with his wind affinity. He knew many demonic jutsus, but he never felt the need to use them. All he needed was to weave some of his chakra into the air, let it circulate for a little, and then he could just will the wind to do his bidding. He practiced his control until it was so precise that he started to cut dead blooms on his rose bushes with wind, instead of finding a pair of scissors.
It also helped with creating a solid body for Kurama. With his affinity attuned as it was, it was easy for him to make a wind clone. The only issue was that Kurama refused to let him use any more than half a tail of demon chakra until he managed to strengthen the compound's wards so that the Anbu couldn't detect them. That day wasn't far away. Naruto already made adjustments to the seals he found in the scrolls, and he'd already found and modified the seals already in place.
'Stop being nervous. Nervousness makes your lines sloppy.'
Naruto took a calming breath before finishing the seals on his hands, which trailed up his arms. Today was the day he was going to give the Kyuubi a body. They'd modified the original seal slightly, made the body stronger at the cost of tying it to the compound. Last week, Naruto placed seals on each wall that would amplify the natural energy in the compound so that the body could fully sustain itself.
They rehearsed this a hundred times: went over the hand seals, practiced each inked seal, practiced wind manipulation, practiced, practiced, practiced. And now, it was opening night.
Naruto stood in the front yard where the atmosphere was already saturated with his chakra. Plants swayed towards him, their leaves brushing against his skin comfortingly.
The circular seal that Naruto drew on the ground was already imbued with his chakra and was pulling in wind like a cyclone.
'Draw out my chakra slowly, kit.'
Naruto focused on wild chakra that thrashed around in his coils, condensing it as he pulled it towards hands. He'd increased his capacity to two tails, which would hopefully be enough.
The seals glowed red as wisps of demonic chakra swirled through the ink, encompassing his hands. He concentrated on looping the majority of it around his fingers.
He flashed through the hand seals just as he felt his coils burn.
"Kaze no Bushin!" He felt all of the demonic chakra being pulled to his hands, then felt it disappear. The more he pumped into his hands, the faster he felt it disappear. It felt as if he was pumping chakra into a black hole.
'Do I even have hands anymore?' he wondered to himself and the seals pulled and pulled at the demonic chakra, and when there was no more, it started pulling on his.
'Shit,' he thought as it kept pulling. He tried to break his hands free from the ram seal, but the pressure of chakra kept his hands still. He'd closed his eyes earlier because of the bright flash that the circular seal gave off, but he opened them now. In front of him was a dark red tornado that was barely being constrained to the seal. He looked up to see a hazy image of the fox's predatory face.
'Oh Kami. I destroyed Konoha…' Horrified, he passed out.
Naruto opened his eyes to see a shock of red hair. He felt like crap, especially when he struggled to sit up, but at least his home was still standing, and he wasn't being restrained by Anbu, so either Kurama didn't destroy Konoha or everyone else was dead.
"Kit. You may never feel this again because you will never do something this stupid again. Chakra exhaustion! With reserves like ours, it should be an impossibility!" a red-haired male threw his arms up in the air and scowled at the sky before turning back to Naruto, who raised an eyebrow. Was Kurama always this dramatic?
"Chakra exhaustion! You could have stopped. Should have stopped it! We didn't wait this many years only to have you die! Once you felt it pulling on your chakra, you should have stopped the flow immediately! It's not like we couldn't try once again once you learned to control more of my tails! I've been trapped in that stupid seal for twelve years; a few more weren't going to hurt!" The man continued his rant. Naruto scratched the back of his head sheepishly.
"Gomen, Rama-nii. I figured that if we kept pushing it back, I'll never happen. And you can teach me taijutsu properly, now. I've always been bad at it…" Naruto pushed his bottom lip outwards and made his eyes as big and watery as possible. Kurama twitched. The boy looked like a newborn baby kit.
"Fine," he huffed. "But you're on bed rest for the rest of the week." The red-head pierced Naruto with a glare before heading towards the door. The man somehow managed to find a white and red kannushi to fit him, although he wasn't wearing the hat, which just wasn't fair because all Naruto ever found in the compound were pots and pans.
"But," the fox paused dramatically at the doorway, "the week after will be hell week for you."
Naruto groaned and covered his head with his sheets.
True to his promise, taijutsu training was like a cruel, constant mugging.
They had matches where Kurama would thoroughly trash Naruto until the boy felt like he was black and blue, but he benefited greatly from the brutal hands on learning. He was never going to be a calculating fighter, especially not with an opponent as fast as Kurama. He had to rely on his instincts to fend off the fox, and with each passing day, his body felt lighter as he dodged. His footwork was shoddy, but after slipping, twisting his ankle, and some advice, it was improving.
He worried about not learning standard taijutsu, but Kurama assured him that this was better. A set style made moves predictable; certain stances were awkward to defend or attack with. By training Naruto's instinctive side, he'd be able to defend or attack no matter his position. Incorporating styles could always come later.
In the name of making Naruto's instincts sharper, the demon ambushed the boy at all hours. He flew from the ceilings, from shadowed corners, from ponds, everywhere. The only thing Naruto was grateful for was that the fox could only channel natural chakra, and that was only for his body to sustain itself, not for him to use.
"… Team Seven, Hayasaki Akio, Haruno Sakura, and Uchiha Sasuke, your sensei is Hatake Kakashi…"
When Iruka left the Academy, he sighed with relief. He had a couple weeks of vacation to look forward to before a remedial class for the genin that failed their sensei's test started. Two weeks of sleeping in and not having to grade papers. Maybe he'd visit Naruto.
'He would have graduated with this class…' Iruka thought sadly. Was Naruto aware that this could've been his graduation day?
'Probably not, but I should bring some Ichiraku ramen over just in case,' he chuckled.
"This is foxfire. It cannot be doused by water, but it doesn't have to burn either. It doesn't even have to be hot. Most of its properties are generally up to the caster." Kurama demonstrated with a red flame nestled in his palm. With a bored expression, he lowered his hand until the flame slid from his palm and floated on the ground.
"In some places, they're called will-o'-the-wisps." And the flame split into smaller ones, each bobbing up and down in a line. Naruto watched, entranced, as they lit up the walkway.
"Now, write the demon seal for protection on the palm that you're going to use to summon the fire so that you won't accidentally burn off your hand on your first try."
Naruto did as he was told.
"Foxfire isn't created like a jutsu; it's more like making your chakra so dense that you can see it."
Naruto focused, much like when he created Kurama's body.
A spark flew into the air, but soon fizzled out. Naruto scrunched up his nose in dismay.
He forced more chakra into his palm. An ember glowed atop the protection seal. Excited, he pushed more.
"Dang it!" he yelped as the doorbell rang. Foxfire spewed from his palm and landed on the ground.
Kurama raised his head and faced door.
"It's your sensei," he shrugged before turning back towards Naruto and simultaneously stomping out the foxfire before it burned any flowers.
"Iruka? Yay!" the blond rushed past Kurama before turning back sharply.
"Shoot. He doesn't know about you! What do we do?!" the boy panicked.
"Tell him the truth. It's not like you could ever keep a secret from him anyways," the man shrugged. It was true; Naruto was a horrible liar, especially to his precious people.
"Right. 'Hey, sensei! This is the Kyuubi. I made him a body. No, he's not going to destroy Konoha. Why? Oh, he just promised me that he wouldn't.' Uh huh. That's going to go well," was the sarcastic reply.
"Foxes do not break their promises." Kurama shrugged his shoulders again.
"Hey! Maybe you could hide in your room? He might not stay long. He could just be here to ask me out to ramen!" Naruto chirped excitedly.
"If you think that I'm going to hide like some star-crossed lover-"
"Naruto! Are you home?" Iruka's worried voice carried over the wall.
"Coming, sensei!" Naruto called back. He gave Kurama a dirty look.
"Fine. But let him down gently. Don't illusion fox ears and nine tails like you did last week. I thought that I was going to die of a heart attack," Naruto spat.
Naruto stomped over to his door, trying to fuel his anger so that nervousness wouldn't take over. How would sensei respond to Kurama's presence?
He opened the front door with forced cheer. Iruka frowned a little as he held up the bags of ramen.
"Was I interrupting something?" Naruto felt a twinge of guilt at the man's apologetic look. Kami. He was going to hell. With Kurama.
"Er. No. I was just practicing a jutsu," he mumbled as he ushered Iruka in.
"Oh! That's great! What jutsu was it? Do you need help?"
"Ah, thanks sensei! C'mon. Let's eat in the courtyard today; the champagne roses are in full bloom."
When they arrived at the courtyard, Kurama was nowhere to be seen. Naruto gave an internal sigh of relief. He led them to a grassy patch in front of the roses, where the scent of the blooms wafted gently.
They set up their food as if they were on a picnic.
"Itadakimasu!" Naruto exclaimed as he dug in. Iruka shook his head with a smile before eating his own bowl.
Between slurps of his ramen, Naruto managed to ask, "So, sensei, what's up? You're usually not out this early on a weekday."
"Oh, well, today was the genin graduation day, so I'm on vacation for two weeks," Iruka said hesitantly. Naruto put his chopsticks down and smiled.
"Don't worry about it, sensei. I got over that a long time ago. And besides, I wouldn't be able to focus much on fuuinjutsu if I was in a genin team! Fuuinjutsu isn't much of a team sport," Naruto laughed.
"But you've been working on ninjutsu! And I saw what you did with your wind affinity and the leaves last week. Even if I don't approve of using chakra to rake leaves." Naruto ignored Iruka's pointed stare.
"Oh! And you said you were working on a jutsu before I knocked. What was it?" the chuunin asked curiously.
Iruka swung around with a kunai in his hand as Naruto choked on his noodles.
Kurama raised an eyebrow at the two of them, hands demurely slotted in his sleeves. If Naruto didn't know better, he would have thought that the man really was a priest.
"Who are you?" Iruka growled as he hid Naruto behind him.
"He's- cough cough –"
"A mentor," Kurama finished for him.
"My name is Kaneshiro Kurama. It's a pleasure to meet you." The fox bowed, a pleasant smile plastered on his face.
"Oh! I'm Umino Iruka. It's nice to meet you Kaneshiro-san," Iruka blushed in embarrassment. Behind him, Naruto cursed. 'Stupid fox.'
"Pardon me, but Naruto's never spoken about you. How long have you been teaching him?" Iruka curiously asked. Naruto cursed again.
"Not very long, Umino-san. We met-"
"HE'S THE KYUUBI!" Naruto interrupted. Kurama's eye twitched at the outburst. Really. He'll probably have to start etiquette lessons with Naruto if this was how he dealt with sensitive issues.
"NARUTO! You're not-" Iruka started to say, but then glanced at Kurama. "Er… he's not in his right mind, haha. He must be coming down with a fever. I'll go…" the man was at a loss.
Kurama sighed. He did that a lot. Sometimes he wished that he was asleep and back in the seal.
"Naruto is perfectly coherent. He lacks a single subtle bone in his body, but he's perfectly fine," at this, the red head rolled his eyes. "I am indeed the Kyuubi, although my real name is Kurama."
Iruka froze. He gave a calculating stare towards Kurama, evaluating his golden eyes and red hair, as if he could spot a pair of foxy ears or sense a hint of demonic chakra.
And then a pair of red, furry fox ears popped amidst the red hair.
Several things happened simultaneously.
Iruka threw every jutsu he knew at the demon.
The plants sprung to life, wrapping and pulling at Iruka, trapping him within seconds. Naruto thanked Kami that the roses hadn't so much as twitched, which was a miracle because they'd liked Kurama better and would be slice into Iruka without mercy.
"Well, Naruto. If you'd let me do this my way, Iruka-sensei wouldn't be in this predicament." The fox had the guts to chuckle merrily.
Iruka cursed like a sailor behind a vine.
"I can't just LIE to sensei! And YOU! What did I tell you about that illusion?!" Naruto fumed. He frantically started petting at the roots and vines, coaxing them to let the brunette go. They loosened, but didn't fully release the man.
"Please. You're the one who told me to let him down gently. And then you had the gall to blurt out the truth." Kurama knelt towards a root and hummed it a lullaby. It unwound itself, briefly caressed the fox's cheek, and then dug itself back into the ground. Kurama smiled before covering the hole.
Naruto turned stubbornly away.
"Er, sensei. Let me explain."
"MMMFFFGHHGHGH!" He screamed through the vine.
"Hanako…" Kurama warned. The vine shrank away, sadly trailing on the ground before returning to its place wrapped around a pillar.
"…you named it?" Naruto asked incredulously.
"…it's boring when you're out…" Kurama attempted to shrug, but it was more of an ashamed shuffle.
Iruka was NOT amused.
"So, you're trying to tell me that you made the Kyuubi, the nine-tailed beast, a body because you were sorry for him?! Are you sure he hasn't been influencing you? THIS IS WHY WE DIDN'T WANT YOU TO SPEAK WITH IT!" Iruka tried valiantly to restrain his temper and anxiety.
"I needed his chakra; Itachi-nii said so! And this way, I have free reign over it, and he teaches me how to use it without poisoning myself!"
"Itachi told you what? When?"
Naruto stared straight into Iruka's eyes and said, "He told me the night of the Uchiha Massacre. He came to my window before he left."
"No. He didn't hurt me or anything. He just told me he was leaving Konoha and to learn to use the Kyuubi's chakra."
"…well… he was always fond of you. But are you sure that the Kyuubi, Kurama, isn't influencing you?"
Iruka gave a sharp look towards Kurama, who they ignored until now. The man casually sipped his tea.
"Yes. The only way for me to return to Naruto's body and control my chakra is if I dispel this clone. Which I'm not willing to do… yet. And I see no reason why I shouldn't teach Naruto how to use demonic powers; he's hardly the only jinchuuriki." Another infuriating calm sip of tea.
"And you can't leave this compound?" Iruka pressed.
"Well, we haven't tried, have we?" Kurama smirked nastily, "But, we're almost positive that if I were to go outside the compound, this body would weaken. It wouldn't "die" because it consumes natural chakra, which is everywhere, but if I didn't consume enough of it in time, it would simply dissolve. Wind chakra is never very stable."
"See, sensei? It's all under control!" Naruto exclaimed, large puppy-dog eyes prepped and firing.
Iruka didn't look convinced, at least, not until he made Naruto explain the seals in detail.
"Ah~ I think it would be best to explain the seals to the Hokage at the same thing," Kurama suggested genteelly. Iruka looked as if he wanted to protest on principle, but stopped when he realized that it was a good idea.
"That's right, Naruto. We have to tell the Hokage." Iruka stood and dragged the boy towards the front door.
The plants and Kurama waved goodbye.
Some days, Naruto wished that he didn't want to be Hokage. This was one of them.
The old man took it as well as a cat to cold baths.
Naruto might have burst an eardrum when the Hokage screamed himself hoarse in anger. He swore that he heard Kurama laugh inside his head.
The Hokage marched over to the Namikaze compound, summoning contract ready just in case the fox became violent. They didn't find him in the front rooms or the courtyard. When Iruka and Sarutobi started to panic, Naruto pointed out that Kurama had access to the inner rooms.
They found him. In the bathtub. Completely at ease with them being in the bathroom with him.
"Hello. Oh, you look older than I remember, Professor," Kurama smiled.
Enma in staff form pierced through bathtub, tile, and concrete. It, unfortunately, did not pierce any foxy bits.
"I swear that it's not poisoned. Rama-chan would never poison food that he made himself," Naruto said matter-of-factly. His two guests gave cautious pokes at the spaghetti squash on their plates.
Dinner was a tense affair. Naruto tried in vain to strike up light conversation. He started off with, "Oh! Kurama's an awesome cook! This one time he made…" and "The sugar camellias aren't doing so well because of the humidity…" but the responses were always curt. While he was debating on the next topic, Kurama managed to slide in his own topic.
"…so, it looks like you rebuilt Sector C after one of my tails knocked it down," Kurama stated off-handedly.
'Oh Kami. Why doesn't he shut up? Rama… shut up, please…' Naruto pleaded to every deity he could think of.
Sarutobi gritted his teeth.
"…it's been rebuilt better. But it's a relief to see that you've shrunk a lot." The Hokage stabbed at his squash viciously.
"Yes, well, I wouldn't trade it for anything," the fox replied simply.
Iruka looked up from his plate.
"What do you mean by that?" he asked. Kurama faced him.
"I usually cannot come to this world without being summoned. It's different not having a master to follow orders from."
"Then why did you attack Konoha?" Iruka demanded.
"You should probably ask Uchiha Madara why he summoned me, then," was the breezy reply. The other two men sat frozen in shock.
"What are you talking about?! Madara is dead!" Iruka hissed. The Hokage held his tongue, but it was clear that he had things he wanted to ask as well.
"You don't have to believe me. But rest assured that when I meet that man again, because I will meet him again, I'll make sure that not even the dust of his bones is left." If Kurama had his fox ears, they would've been flat against his head.
"Are you sure that-" the Hokage began.
"No,I just tend to ignore people who try to enslave me," Kurama snapped sarcastically.
Naruto watched the argument with wide eyes.
"Um… who's Madara?" the blond asked.
Kurama, who was about to retaliate against something that the Hokage had said, snapped his mouth shut.
"We will discuss this later," he growled to Sarutobi, who gave a curt nod in response.
Naruto knew better than to whine about being in the dark. It was like 'the Kyuubi conspiracy' all over again, except that this time the Kyuubi really was involved. He'd just call this one 'the Kurama conspiracy.'
"…so… Kurama's current body can't leave the compound, so…"
Maybe Naruto would take Kurama up on his offer of teaching the boy how to speak in public without stabbing himself in the foot.
"It's more out of laziness than inability. I see no reason for me to leave the compound in the foreseeable future, unless your villagers do something to Naruto." Kurama threatened. "Though you can be assured that if I do leave the compound, I will probably venture to other villages. If I wreak havoc, it'll be there, not here."
Iruka and the Hokage didn't look very reassured, but both nodded their heads anyways.
"Practice fuuinjutsu and your jutsus. I'll be in the frontal rooms with the Hokage if you need me." Kurama ruffled Naruto's blond hair as he spoke.
A week passed since the disaster dinner and 'the Kurama conspiracy.' Naruto and Kurama spent the week after theorizing on how weak Kurama's body would be out of the compound, and if there was any way to strengthen it. Would they have to paint seals on the body or would they have to alter the original seals and remake the whole body again?
If only the matter was as simple as Kurama wandering around outside for a while and noting the changes to the body. Sure, it'll be fine if the body only lost some power, but there was also the chance that some of the winds would escape, leaving a weakened, smaller, possibly translucent Kurama. Worst case scenario? The seals on the body's arms dissolve and all of the contained winds are let go. Considering how the sealing nearly drained both Naruto's and what Naruto could access of the Kurama's chakra, there were many, possibly vicious, winds. If released, tornados could rip apart their section of Konoha.
Naruto glanced down at the modified lightning seal in front of him. Originally, it was meant to zap its surroundings if requirements weren't meant. Usually, it would be blood because the seal was used most often to protect personal property. Naruto's version, however, was modified to respond to chakra. This made it highly unstable, but according to Uzumaki Mito's scrolls, he could integrate elemental seals with a special stability seal. He also added a self-sustaining seal that would draw chakra from nature instead of from the sealer. It wasn't like his garden was lacking in any.
Naruto snapped his fingers.
Tiny tornados danced atop his seal, depositing chakra onto his lines. After chakra training with Kurama, Naruto had no need for actual jutsus when it came to wind; he only needed to think, and wind responded. Consequently, it made learning other jutsus extremely hard since he wasn't used to rigidity in chakra.
When the tornados were completed absorbed into the seal, Naruto glanced at it again to check for mistakes. Then he sank the scroll into the pond in front of him, which glowed briefly.
He smiled. If any chakra other than his, the Hokage's, or Iruka's touched any of the courtyard water, tornados would spring up and incapacitate the intruder. The genius thing was that the tornados wouldn't harm anything with the courtyard's natural chakra, since that was its chakra source and recognized it as brethren.
The compound would be the safest haven Naruto could make it.
'Well,' Naruto thought smugly to himself, 'this is the first time that I wished that someone would attack me.'
Satisfied with his accomplishment, Naruto began practicing Kurama's demonic jutsus.
"Magen: Hakai (Destruction)," he muttered. His chakra spread out from his body like sound waves, and once they came into contact with a solid object, chakra wrapped around it. His fingers tingled as the illusion touched the walls of the compound.
He opened his eyes.
Around him, decayed trees and plants gave birth to maggots and worms. The soil was so dry that it cracked and crumbled with every step that he took. Gone were the bright colors of his flowers. In their place were drab tones of dark brown and black.
This was the most recent jutsu that Kurama taught him. Naruto had been afraid that he wouldn't have been able to do it because it was a genjutsu and he didn't have a fine-tuned enough chakra control for that, but Kurama allayed his fears. Demonic Illusions were chakra sucking death traps.
This one was his favorite because it convinced the enemy that there was nobody around for miles and that this was already a wasteland. If anyone touched a parasite or maggot, the thing would wiggle just as if it were real because a part of the illusion was fuelled by the enemy's own imagination. The only downside was that if Naruto was too far away from the point where he cast it, the entire illusion would dissolve since it needed a constant supply of chakra.
Kurama shrugged at this limitation when Naruto brought it up. He said that in his prime, aka when he was not stuck in Naruto's body, he could be half across a country and the illusion could still hold. Then Naruto replied that Kurama could cross that distance with three steps.
Kurama scowled and told him to practice harder.
As of now, Naruto didn't have any issues with the jutsu. He could keep it up for days without feeling so much as a dent in his chakra capacity, but he was still manipulating the smells. The area smelled like smoke, but little else. He experimented with making the air heavy with humidity, but that atmosphere didn't feel natural with the scenery. Sometimes the soil was damp, sometimes the tree bark didn't break off like it would in reality…
'Well, since I'm not allowed to pull pranks, I need to utilize my creativity somewhere else,' Naruto thought sullenly.
He drew a seal in the ashy earth and smiled when the area around him became a swamp. Maybe he could put a sea serpent in the swamp; that'd be interesting.
"Hokage-sama. I would like to request a C-ranked mission for Team 7."
Sarutobi looked up at Kakashi, masking his disbelief. The jounin's theory was that a C-ranked mission would motivate his team to work harder. Preposterous. If Kakashi's genin refused to do D-ranks, then they could well quit, in Sarutobi's opinion. But the Council was once again meddling in his affairs.
Something needed to be done about that.
"You have a mission to Wave, escorting and protecting a bridge builder named Tazuna."
Team 7 trudged to the gates of Konoha, carrying the corpse of their third member, Hayasaki Akio. The boy's honey-colored hair peeked from beneath the white cloth wrapped around his body, and Kamizuki Izumo could see trails of blood stained to his hair. He didn't doubt that if he pulled the covering lower, he would see a slashed throat and a thin stretch skin that prevented complete decapitation. He nudged his partner, Hagane Kotetsu, awake.
As the chuunin in charge of manning the gates, they were required to inspect all incoming persons, but one look at Hatake Kakashi's expression convinced them that they could make an exception. Losing your first genin was always the hardest, and Kakashi was no different. His gravity-defying hair was streaked with mud and blood; his hands were raw; the cut on his knee was barely scabbed over, and the bags underneath his eyes were as dark as an Uchiha's hair. This wasn't the first death that the Copy-Cat nin had seen, it wasn't even his youngest death, but losing a genin fresh from the Academy felt different from losing a battle-weary comrade who had already come to terms with the dangers of the job.
Izumo and Kotetsu both nodded to their senpai, eyes averted from the corpse. Kakashi's uncovered eye flicked towards them before he grimly nodded back. He gently herded the rest of his genin towards the Hokage Tower so that they could report in their mission. The Uchiha scowled at his sensei's actions, but didn't vocally protest. The pink-haired female nodded, her eyes flickering back to the corpse in her sensei's arms before walking ahead of him.
At the Academy, being a ninja seemed like a game, where studying tactics and learning the rules were easy ways to level up; she'd known, but not realized that death was an option until she saw arterial blood spurting from Akio's body, his body hanging in the mist moments after Zabuza's sword finished its swing, before it collapsed, dragged down by indifferent gravity. She hadn't realized that ninja missions weren't like the survival retreats at the Academy, where she could trust the other students to play by the rules and where she trusted her instructors to keep her safe. In the real world, you couldn't guarantee anything. She didn't regret learning this lesson; she only regretted that her teammate died for it.
She felt the curious glances of the civilians as they made their way to the Tower. She wished that they could run atop the roofs to avoid the stares, but they had travelled nearly nonstop since they left Wave. Her body and her mind felt exhausted. Her feet dragged even as she pulled them up. Occasionally she snuck looks at Sasuke, but her crush seemed untouched by the events in Wave; he didn't see Akio die, not like she did. When Sasuke reminisced about this mission, he would remember awakening his coveted Sharingan; she would remember, the swing of a blade, a spray of blood, and the cold seeping into her skin from Akio's rigid body. She'd remember this mission as the first time she considered quitting being a kunoichi.
She'd remember Akio's body in her memories, his clothes fluttering as he ran in front of her. She'd been protecting Tazuna then, poised and nervous. She'd been watching Sasuke's fight so intently, fearing for her crush's life so emphatically, that she hadn't realized that Zabuza had moved away from Kakashi until he was in front of her. Akio noticed. He flung his skinny body against that giant sword, and he died for her inattention. She was a moment too slow, a lot too weak, and Akio, the boy who crushed on her since their Academy days was killed in front of her. He didn't even have last words to say.
A sliced windpipe prevented a lot of things.
Kakashi-sensei retaliated, his anger fueling his adrenaline. Zabuza was dead within minutes, but by the time Kakashi enacted his revenge he was suffering from chakra exhaustion, and Gato was already waiting for them with fresh muscle. The only thing to be thankful for was that Haku stopped his fight with Sasuke, stunned by the death of his mentor and (less so) by Gato's treachery.
When Gato's men charged, Sakura was thankful for Haku's anger because the boy destroyed those thugs, and the ones that he didn't, Kakashi decapitated, and the ones that survived that, the makeshift civilian army rounded up. But there she was, guarding Tazuna with trembling legs while the corpse of her dead teammate lay in front of her. She couldn't bear to look at it.
After it was all over and Kakashi wrapped up the body, her sensei placed a hand on her shoulder and told her that it wasn't her fault that Akio died. Like it wasn't her fault that she was weak and unprepared. He told her that as their sensei, the blame lay with him, as if Tazuna's lie didn't factor in. As if Kakashi was expected to be able to fight nuke-nin and watch over his students at the same time.
"Hokage-sama will see you now."
The voice jolted her awake. The receptionist nodded them in, but Sakura couldn't see more than her two feet. She felt Kakashi nudge her back, and she moved forward, but it was mechanical. She couldn't feel the air in her lungs or the ground underneath. She could feel her skin paling as the blood drained from it; if they weren't already walking into the Hokage's office, she would have begged her sensei to let her go. Her stomach lurched.
"Team 7," Hokage-sama said. She raised her head, but she purposely kept her eyes unfocused so that she couldn't see his expression.
"Hokage-sama. Team 7, reporting in," Kakashi replied. He placed the corpse by his feet; his summon dogs alerted the Hokage earlier about Akio's state and a shinobi from the crematorium stood by the wall.
"Kakashi," Sarutobi sighed when the genin were dismissed. He let silence hang in-between them for several minutes, puffing smoke into the room as he debated his options. Hayasaki-kun was an orphan, so there were no parents to inform of his death, and as such he would be immediately cremated after a small viewing. His death, however, was still a great loss to the village and would not be ignored as easily as 'out of sight, out of mind.'
"As I understand it, there wasn't much your team could do under the circumstances. What I'm afraid of, however, is that the apprentice, Haku was it?, will seek revenge against you," he said. Kakashi's back was as straight as his face was blank.
"I do not think that he would be foolish enough to come after me after his mentor failed to kill me. He fled as soon as Gato was disposed of, and he took his mentor's body with him. If he was intent on revenge, he could have attempted to kill me while I was weak from chakra exhaustion," Kakashi stated. Sarutobi could see the logic in that. He only feared that a boy who lost his mentor wouldn't be thinking rationally.
"I see. Team 7 will be on leave for the next week while the Council and I will attempt to find another genin to take Hayasaki-kun's place. Until then, Team 7 is barred from missions. Dismissed." The week off would give the team time to reflect on the Wave mission.
"Yes sir." The jounin left in a swirl of leaves.
Sarutobi sighed again; there would be another name on the memorial stone tomorrow morning.
Although he had said that he would attempt to find another genin, Sarutobi knew that there weren't any of the right caliber available in the Academy. As soon as Uchiha Sasuke graduated from the Academy, the Council had decided that Team 7 would take Konoha's upcoming Chuunin Exams. They wanted to give the last Uchiha a home-field advantage and didn't want to risk his capture or death if he went to another village's exam.
Being so soon after graduation meant that the only students that were in the Academy were either remedial genin who didn't pass their sensei's test or students who were months away from graduating; both were completely inexperienced. Additionally, none of the remedial genin had profiles that would work with Team 7, and none of the current students stood out as extremely capable. The Chuunin exams were months away, but good teamwork took longer than that to cultivate, and if Kakashi focused wholly on the team for the next few months just so that they could pass those portions of the Exams, then the genin would be lacking in individuals skills. Or Kakashi would only focus on Sasuke's newly awakened Sharingan, something that only he could do.
No, whomever Sarutobi chose to be the third member of Team 7 would have to be Chuunin level without the rank and able to train Sakura while Kakashi focused on Sasuke's Sharingan. Currently, there was only one possible person whom he could think of, but the Council would never agree. And if they did reluctantly agree, Naruto-kun wouldn't.
'At least, not without some conditions.' Sarutobi smiled at that thought.
A/N: After a reviewer's comment that he/she disliked having the rant at the beginning, I have moved this to the end, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't read it. :(